Xena Warrior Mother Series - Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part IX
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.
Chapter 27 – What Dreams are Made of
That night after the feast…
After the lengthy feast Xena carried the small child slumped over her shoulder back to the cottage. Once inside she gently lay the youngster on the large familiar pallet. "Ok it is way past your bedtime Monster," she whispered hoping not to wake the child.
As the mother started to unlace the small boots the child’s eyes flickered open. "Momma is the party over?" she asked with a yawn.
Xena yanked off one boot and tossed it the ground. "Yes it’s over." She arched a brow. "I thought you were sleeping," she replied with a slight frown.
Tarren smiled and lifted her head off the pallet. "I was Momma but now I’m awake."
"Uh huh you were probably just pretending to be asleep because you wanted me to carry you here you lazy little brat," she said tickling the child’s bare foot.
The little girl giggled loudly and tried to pull her foot out of reach of her mother’s fast hands. "No Momma I was really tired and you’d have carried me back anyway."
Xena grinned and leaned down to kiss the child on the cheek. "I know you were tired baby and you’re right I would have carried you anyway." She said softly again tickling the little girl. "You are just so smart."
Tarren twisted and turned as her mother yanked off the second boot exposing a second bare foot to the cool air. "Momma I’m not tired now," she moaned, rolling across the pallet out of her mother’s reach.
The warrior shook her head and made a failed swipe in the child’s direction. "Oh no you don’t. You are going straight to bed. It is very late and I’m tired," she said sternly wiggling her finger for the child to return to the place in front of her.
The youngster gave an evil little chuckle not unlike her mothers and then slid to the floor sliding quickly beneath the bed. "Gotta catch me," she crooned.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head. "Tarren I am not in the mood to play. It’s very late and it’s time to go to bed, so I want you to come up here and get undressed," she said in a parental scold to an empty pallet.
The only thing the warrior mother heard in response to her demand was the sound of another muffled chuckle and the repeated taunt. "Ya gotta catch me Momma."
Xena let out a long breath and let her head drop a bit. "Ok you want to be caught. I’ll catch you but when I do you’re gonna be very sorry," she warned. The warrior immediately dropped to her knees and slid her hand under the pallet. "C’mere you little Monster," she said reaching her hand as far underneath as it would go. The warrior had to admit the child had positioned herself in a very tight little spot.
The little girl moved back until she was almost against the wall. "Careful Momma you’re too big to get under here," she said with a broad smile. "You might get stuck."
That final taunt was a bit too much for the Warrior Princess to bare. "Oh you think so huh?" The mother pushed herself further under the bed until she was nearly in enough to reach of her child. "Oh I’ve got you now Naughty."
Tarren shook her head. "Bad Momma." She grinned and reached inside her tunic pulling out the beloved single red feather. When she felt the warrior was sufficiently pinned beneath the pallet the child tickled her mother’s nose with the tip of the plume. "Tickle… tickle…tickle." The youngster laughed uncontrollably as her mother tried unsuccessfully to grab the feather.
Xena tried to swipe the small torturous device away but just as the youngster had suspected she was stuck and without much room to maneuver found it difficult to disarm the child. "Tarren stop that," she ordered in as parental a tone as she could muster given her circumstances.
The little girl continued. "Feels good doesn’t it Momma?" she asked running the little plume across her mother’s ear.
"No it doesn’t," she said with a slight growl.
The youngster chuckled as she continued her play. "I got ya now Momma," she crooned.
However what the little one did not see was the warrior’s hand reaching out to grab the child’s leg. "Now I’ve got you Naughty," she yelled victoriously getting a firm grip on the little girl’s ankle.
Tarren pushed her feather back inside her tunic and tried to pull away from her mother’s titan like hold. "No don’t wanna go to bed," she yelled twisting in all directions in an attempt to be set free.
Xena smiled and worked her way back from underneath the pallet keeping a tight hold on the child’s leg. "Too bad. You are going to bed and for being such brat you don’t get any more tickles," she scolded, knowing how much the child enjoyed the lighthearted play at bedtime.
The child frowned and wiggled from left to right. "I’m not tired Momma."
The warrior sighed as her large body cleared the pallet. She
unfolded her legs and readied herself to give one final yank to bring the struggling
child out with her. "Yes you are." The mother smiled and gave a gentle
yank to the child’s leg but her hand only slid along the now loose britches,
so that when she stood all the warrior had in her grip was a small pair of unlaced
trousers. "Why you naughty little girl," she said with a smirk staring
at the empty pants. She dropped them over a chair and let her voice drop to
a more serious tone. "Tarren playtime is now over. I want you to
come out from under that bed or else."
There was no response.
The mother took a deep breath and shook her head. "Ok you asked for it and you’re gonna get it." With a fast swipe the warrior lifted one side of the bed into the air, but when she looked underneath the child was no where to be found. "Damn! The little monster got away from me," she mumbled in disbelief.
The warrior glanced around the room looking for some sign of where her youngster was now hiding. She allowed both her expression and her tone to become parental and a bit threatening "Tarren I’m gonna count to 10 and if you don’t come out on your own you’re gonna lose your slingshot for a week."
The little girl knelt quietly behind the small stack of wood in the corner where she had found refuge. She thought of her beloved slingshot as she considered her mother’s threat. A week was a long time to go without pelting someone. However to give up now would mean an admission of defeat and an immediate trip to the pallet without so much as a tickle.
Xena closed her eyes as she counted. "1…2…3…4…5…."
Through the darkness she heard a breath being taken in and then exhaled. She
grinned and glanced over at the woodpile and saw the small shadow of the child’s
tunic showing through a crack in a log. "6…7…8…."
There were just some things more important than pelting people for a week.
The mother knew her stubborn youngster had made a decision to stay hidden so she moved quietly to the little girl’s hiding place as she continued her count. "9…and 10!" She reached her arms down and grabbed for the tunic but when she lifted it in the air found it too was empty. She smiled proudly at her small child’s use of imagination. "You are getting good…too good. I think Momma is gonna have to teach Little Tarren a little lesson," she whispered to the now still room. Xena tossed the tunic beside the britches and sat on the pallet with her arms folded. "Ok youngster you want to hide from me? That’s just fine. But now I’m gonna hide from you and when I catch you I am gonna put you over my knee," she announced in a low husky voice that meant business.
The little girl’s eyes went wide at the words being spoken "Over the knee? On top of the big one and the little one?" She thought as she rubbed her backside fiercely still feeling her mother’s best efforts on her bottom echoing loudly. "No slingshot for a week and now over Momma’s knee," she mumbled as she considered her next move. She poked her head out from the dark wooden beam she had been hidden behind. Tarren glanced around the room but her mother was no where to be seen. She swallowed hard. "Momma?" she whispered. The little girl dropped to the floor. "I’m ready to come out now…Here I am."
The half-naked child looked behind chairs and under tables but the warrior was not in sight. Tarren knew that her mother was somewhere close by and the large hand could come at any moment and from any direction. "Momma I’m here and I’m done playin and I’m ready to go to bed now," she said in a pleading tone.
Again there was no response.
Deciding that the best idea was to show repent, the child slowly made her way over to the pallet ready to put herself to bed. However, before she could lift one leg onto the bed a large hand slid from underneath the mattress and grabbed the child by the waist.
Tarren, startled, jumped back at the sudden movement, but once she realized that the hand had an arm and a body that belonged to her mother she let out a deep breath. "Momma you scared me," she said with a frown.
The warrior said nothing. She slid from underneath the mattress keeping a very tight hold on her wayward child. The mother’s eyes were wild and her expression filled with determination.
The little girl swallowed hard. "Momma would a sorry help?"
she asked with hard swallow
Still the large figure said nothing. The warrior dropped down on the pallet and with a quick yank pulled the small and now frightened youngster over her lap. She held her hand up in the air as if ready to deliver a fast swat.
Tarren closed her eyes and bit her lip ready to receive what she was sure would be an echo of the big one.
Xena grinned as she looked at the small form waiting to have her already well-spanked bottom paddled. "I told you that you were going over my knee and I meant it. Now you are going to get exactly what you deserve," she said stiffly. The mother let her hand fall but instead of a swat her fingers opened up and fell in a dance on the child’s bare legs.
Tarren giggled wildly feeling relieved that her mother had a sense of humor, a strange one, but still a sense of humor.
The warrior mother kept the little girl pinned over her lap as she continued the tickling. "So you want to be naughty and hide from you mother when it’s bedtime?" she asked, running her fingers methodically over the most sensitive spots on the child’s body. She paused and ran her finger’s across the youngster’s bottom and up her back. "Tickle me with a feather will you? Think you’re so cute huh?" she said with a chuckle.
The little girl giggled and laughed until she could no longer stand it. "Momma…I give up," she yelled, knowing she was in no position to even attempt to reach for her mother’s hands.
Xena smiled and dropped her head low enough to whisper in the child’s ear. "If you want me to stop then you have to say it," she teased.
Tarren shook her head. It was bad enough to have been tricked into reveling herself but to break under torture was unthinkable. "No."
The mother shrugged and the tickling continued. "Fine suit yourself. I can keep this up for a few days."
The child swallowed hard at the thought of even a few more minutes. "Ok Momma…I’ll say it."
Xena stopped and flipped the child over to face her. "Go ahead I’m waiting," she said with a satisfied grin.
The youngster smiled broadly at the gentle expression of love in her mother’s eyes. "Ok Momma, You’re the best hider in the whole world."
Xena tickled the child’s stomach. "And?"
The youngster thought for a moment and grinned. "And I love my Momma lots," she replied apologetically for having left out such an important part.
The warrior nodded her approval. "That’s better young lady." She cocked a brow and her voice became more serious. "And?"
The child’s smile disappeared and she lowered her eyes. "And I should come out when you say it’s not playtime cause I haffta go to bed when you say so."
The mother nodded and lifted the youngster in the air. "That’s right you a very naughty little girl and you are going to bed right now." She cradled the child close to her and kissed her forehead before dropping the child on the pallet.
The little girl smiled happy to have a mother who knew how to play like a kid and still be a mother when she needed one.
Xena took a deep breath and walked over to the clothing satchel. She turned and stared at the small form lying on the pallet and shook a warning finger. "Don’t you move. I mean it this time."
Tarren knew from her mother’s tone that this time she was serious.
"Yes Momma," she replied obediently.
The mother grinned. "Sure now it’s yes momma but
before it was gotta catch me," she mumbled with a crooked smile.
The child fell back on the pallet and lifted her legs in the air. "Did ya have fun at the feast Momma?" she asked as she counted her toes for accuracy.
Xena grinned and removed a small nightshirt from the bag. "Yes
I did and did you?" She knew the child had enjoyed herself because Tarren
had not only eaten everything in sight but the Amazon warriors had done everything
from tossing the child in the air to making her the top of their traditional
pyramid. Even Eponon had been seen with the warrior’s child perched on her shoulders.
However after the youngster had been warn to a frazzle she was quickly deposited
in her mother’s lap for which Xena was grateful.
Tarren rolled over on her stomach and swung her leg over the side of the bed. "Uh huh I’ve never seen an entire turkey thrown across a room like that before," she said still in awe of the memory of the headless and featherless bird in flight.
The warrior cringed realizing there were still many details about the Amazon brawl that she had yet to be told. "Yeah well I’m sure that was a real treat." She closed her eyes and smiled as she returned to the pallet and removed the remainder of the little girl’s clothes. "Ok Monster lets get the nightshirt on."
The naked child stared at the cloth in her mother’s hand and frowned. "Ahh Momma not the one grandma bought me. I don’t like it. It has fuzzy things all over it," she moaned.
Xena grinned knowing the wool could be a bit much. "I’m
sorry Tarren but the nights are getting colder and I want you to start wearing
the heavy shirts now so put those little arms of your up in the air," she
said in a stern parental tone.
The little girl frowned but did as she was told. "Fuzzy little things…I don’t like them," she mumbled.
The warrior mother shook her head as she listened to the child’s
complaint. "Yeah I know…they’re fuzzy." She picked the little
girl up and placed her tenderly beneath the blankets. "Now get under those
covers and get right to sleep," she ordered.
The child wiggled down beneath the blankets. "Aren’t you coming to bed Momma?" she asked with a wide-eyed stare.
Xena sat on the edge of the pallet running her hand along the side of the small child’s face. "No not right now. I want to talk to Gabrielle alone for a bit."
The youngster moved in closer hoping to have a secret shared. "About what?"
"That does not concern you," she replied tapping the child’s bottom lightly. "And before you get any ideas about listening in on my conversation remember what happened the last time your little ear was where it didn’t belong," she said with an arched brow.
Tarren bit her lip and shook her head. "You swatted my little butt real good," she replied feeling the large hand making contact just from the memory of the event.
"Yes I did and we don’t want that to happen again. Do we?" the mother asked.
Tarren shook her head vigorously. "No we sure don’t Momma."
Xena nodded approvingly and gave her youngster an affectionate kiss on the cheek. "Good then you just stay in the pallet and go to sleep and I’ll be just outside the door if you need me."
"Yes Momma." The child stared at her mother for a long moment and then reached her arms up to hug the warrior. "Love ya Mommy."
There was that word again. That one simple title change seemed to rearrange the very essence of the warrior’s soul. The mother squeezed the child gently. "I love you too Monster." She grinned and placed the child back on the pallet and shook a warning finger. "But you’re still out that slingshot for a week."
The little girl rolled out her lower lip. "Ahh Momma."
Xena smiled and rubbed the youngster’s head affectionately.
"Well maybe if you are really good you’ll get it back sooner,"
she said taking the toy and placing it on the table beside the bed so the little
girl could still see it.
The child frowned knowing the slingshot was officially out of commission for a full week. "I’ll try Momma," she replied with a heavy sigh.
The warrior mother suppressed a grin at he child’s overly dramatic response. "You just do that." She gave the little girl one final kiss and then placed her saddlebags on the side of the pallet. "G’night."
Tarren yawned and slid the beloved leather sacks under her blankets. "G’night Momma." She rolled on her side and dropped her head into the pillow.
Xena stared at the small form until she heard the child’s breathing slow and the four little fingers make their way into the little one’s mouth. She shook her head at the action knowing it was a bad habit that she should discourage, but instead she wiped a way a few stray hairs and placed a gentle kiss ever so tenderly on the youngster’s soft cheek. "Mommy huh?" she whispered as she placed the slingshot in the little girl’s grip wondering what other surprises this small waif would offer.
With a deep sigh the warrior headed out the door to see her waiting friend.
Tarren opened one eye to make sure her mother was gone and then she slid out of the pallet. She reached beneath the mattress and pulled out the heavy bag of coins. The child quickly placed them in her satchel and then jumped back in the bed. She gave her actions some thought and then again slid out of the bed. The youngster quietly removed a small piece of parchment from the bard’s sack and then took a quill and moved beside the fire for light where she penned a fast letter. After completing this most important message she returned the quill to the table, placed the scroll in her satchel and hopped back in bed moments before the door swung open.
Xena poked her head in to see that her child was safe and still asleep and then closed it quietly.
Tarren let out a long breath. "Whew that was real close," she whispered happily gripping her slingshot .She let her head fall back against the pallet eager to organize her plans.
Outside the door…
Xena closed the door quietly and shrugged her shoulders.
Gabrielle let out a long breath and smiled. "Is she asleep?"
"I’m not sure. The little monster is in the pallet." The mother shook her head. "But I know I heard her little feet moving in there."
The bard leaned against the cottage and stared up at the night sky. "Xena she was probably just getting a mug of water or something." She turned and faced her friend. "Not everything Tarren does means trouble."
The warrior mother chuckled a bit and moved beside her friend. "Gods you really have been away too much," she teased.
Gabrielle’s smile disappeared and she lowered her head a bit.
"I know I have."
The warrior closed her eyes and shook her head. She had not meant the words as anything more than a joke. "Gabrielle stop it. Just stop it." She let out a long breath. "I already told you that I think you are doing what you need to do and Tarren is starting to understand that too."
The bard tilted her head to one side and glanced at the warrior. "Do you really think so?" she asked hoping this was more than a show of stoic compassion.
Xena placed a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder. "Yes I really do think so. She hated the idea of you telling other kids stories." She paused. "Just give her a little more time to find her own way to tell you," she said softly.
The young woman smiled and stared at her best friend. "You know you are amazing. You just never fail Xena," she stated.
The warrior tossed her head back. "Gabrielle have you been smoking Amazon wacky weed? I have failed many times in my life." Her words were mixed with confusion and concern.
The bard shook her head. "Maybe…But not now and even out of your darkest moments something innocent and beautiful grew…Tarren." She smiled a bit at the thought.
Xena pressed her arms tightly against her chest. "I can’t take too much credit for that Gabrielle. I wasn’t around that kid for so long." She took a deep breath. "Tarren is my daughter and I don’t even know how old she is." The warrior waved a hand in the air. "I am guessing she’s about six but I don’t even know how or why." She faced her friend. "What kind of mother does that make me?" she asked with a heavy sigh.
The younger woman shook her head. "Oh don’t underestimate yourself Xena. You’re with her now and that is really all that matters." She lifted her eyes tot the stars as she spoke. "I see the way she looks at you. I see the depth of the love she has for you and that you have for her. It doesn’t matter how young she is or why. What matters is that she loves you."
Xena swallowed hard at the heartfelt words her friend was now speaking. "She loves you too and you know it," she replied quietly.
Gabrielle moved a few steps away and turned. "Yeah but it’s not the same. Xena you are her mother and that’s the way it should be." She shook her head. "You’re also that little kid’s hero and she hangs on every word you speak." The bard’s voice became a bit softer and she moved back beside her friend. "Even when you punish her she can feel the love." She sniffled a bit. "Her and that little system of hers. The big one." She grinned and wiped away a tear. "All anyone has to do is watch you two together to see that you are bound by a force that not even the gods of Olympus could ever break," The young woman shook her head. "You just do it all so right and you don’t even know it."
Xena waited for her friend to finish and then gathered her thoughts speaking in as soft a tone as she knew how. "Gabrielle it may look like it comes easy but I’m not always sure of what I’m doing. This entire mother thing is still so new." She looked to the dark sky. "I worry about that little kid every minute of every day and when she misbehaves I pray to the gods that Tarren understand how much I hate to punish her." The warrior faced her friend. "It rips me up inside. I’d never tell her this but she gives me that wide eyed double dimpled stare of hers and even I melt inside."
Gabrielle spoke with frustration. "But you do what you feel needs to be done anyway because you love her. Say it Xena. I know you tell Tarren all the time but let me here you say it." It was more of a challenge then a request."
There was no hesitation. The warrior mother stared oddly at
her friend but spoke the words immediately. "I love my little girl
with all my heart Gabrielle."
The bard closed her eyes and threw her arms up in the air." "You see you’ve even mastered love warrior." She felt her tension drain away. "There was a time when you couldn’t stand the touch of a friendly hand and now you speak your heart openly," she said I such a soft whisper it was barely audible.
Xena turned so she was now staring at her best friend. "To
you and to Tarren maybe." She paused. "And do you think I could have
ever learned to do that without you?" she asked remembering a hard-nosed
warrior of not too long ago.
The younger woman jumped forward her voice becoming a bit harsh. "Come on Xena don’t overestimate my importance in your life."
The warrior yanked on her friend’s arm. "And you stop underestimating it Gabrielle," she said with greater force. She shook her head and tried to soften her words. "Before we met I was lost and unsure. I was alone. You showed me the way. You helped keep me on the right path. I could never have made it through so many things together. If it were not for you…."
The words were cut short by a statement filled with guilt and venom. "Xena if it were not for me you would have two children now instead of one." The words had been spoken.
The warrior closed her eyes as she thought of her dead son.
"Gabrielle we put that behind us," she replied with tightened lips.
The bard lowered her eyes and shook her head. "No Xena…That was before Tarren came. One day she is going to ask just how Solon died and you are going to have to tell her something." She came face to face with the warrior. "Will you lie to her or will you tell her that my daughter killed him and that she would never have done that had I acted the way you said I should in the beginning."
Xena could feel the fury building inside of her. This was not
a subject she wished to discuss. "First of all Gabrielle when Tarren
is old enough to know the whole truth we will tell her the truth
and she will understand just as I do…now."
Gabrielle forced an odd smile across her face. "What is it you understand now Xena that you can make Tarren understand later? I know you feel his absence. Gods I feel it too and…."
The warrior placed an arm of sudden understanding around her friend’s shoulder. "Gabrielle I do miss him. He was my son and I will always miss him, but his death was not your fault any more than Hope’s birth was mine." She closed her eyes. "I blamed myself for a long time for causing you to the loss of someone that was part of you. I told you to kill your child Gabrielle…" She cleared her throat. "Ya know Tarren asked me to tell her about the greater good and I did. She’s just a little kid and I know she doesn’t really understand but now she knows it’s something important." The warrior gazed off into the distance. "I also told her that she was my greatest good and that she would come before anything else in this world and I really meant it. She could turn into a bachae tomorrow and I would defend her with my life."
Gabrielle placed her hands over her face as if trying to hide from the truth. "You’re her mother and it should be your first and foremost job to protect her and love her no matter what she does. Xena, If you don’t then who will?"
The warrior nodded. "Exactly! And I know that as her mother it’s my responsibility to not just love her but protect her at any cost." She turned away. "But when you had Hope I wasn’t thinking of you as a mother with those feelings. I was thinking of you as a victim of this evil thing." She lowered her eyes as she thought of the past with all its losses. "Gabrielle, something terrible happened and I lost my son and I mourned his loss and now he lives in my heart forever." Xena pointed to Gabrielle. "But you never had the chance to mourn the loss of the child Hope might have been if things had been different. I am sorry for that my friend because I can still feel your pain."
Tears streamed down the bard’s face. "I never thought it showed. I didn’t want to say anything to upset you."
Xena let out a long cleansing breath. "Gabrielle you can always come to me. We are family. Together you and me and Tarren are going to make things right. Solon is gone and I never had a chance to be a mother to him. That’s a mistake I made, but Tarren is here and I don’t plan to make the same mistake twice." She paused and patted her friend’s hand. "You can let that little girl fill at least part of that empty spot Hope left inside of you if you let her."
The bard closed her eyes. "She already does Xena."
The warrior smiled and gave her friend a gentle nudge. "Good. Because we both you in our lives."
Gabrielle smiled and turned to her best friend. "But you’re
her mother and I can never share that role in her eyes."
Xena nodded knowing her small daughter was very big on labels and very sure that her mother was the one and only Momma. "Well you’re right. There can only be one Momma, but there can also only be one Gabby. You can create your own place in her heart."
The bard closed her highs and grinned. "You know you just
did it again."
The younger woman stared at her friend. "You just opened up your mouth and said all the right things. How do you do it Xena? I am never that sure of anything I do."
Xena stretched her arms and leaned against the hut. "Gabrielle I had a very god teacher." She paused realizing the compliment was not enough. Her voice became soft and maternal. "Follow your heart and your instincts and have faith in what you believe in and you will do just fine princess. You have everything you need inside of you. You just need to believe in yourself."
The bard blinked in understanding and then gave her friend a lopsided smile. "So you really think Tarren is on the path to forgiving me?"
Xena thought of the private conversations she had with her child. "Yeah I’m sure of it."
The warrior leaned back and let out a long breath. "Did I tell ya that she’s been calling me Mommy…sometimes," she said with a newly found pride in the word. "It’s almost like she’s not sure if she’s allowed to say it or not." She scratched her head. " I guess I’ll have to talk to her about that. I want her to know that she can call me what she is most comfortable with," she said with a broad smile hoping to hear more of the new title. She took a deep breath and thought about this little person who had changed her entire world. "It’s just that she…." Xena choked a bit before she could finish the sentence.
"It’s Ok I understand." Gabrielle smiled and touched her friend’s hand knowingly. The warrior nodded knowing this person sitting beside her was the only one who could possibly know the depth of such a great gift. It was as if somehow the warrior mother was being given time back with her child that she felt she had lost forever.
Xena cleared her throat and pointed to a rolled parchment in the bard’s hand. "What’s that?" she asked hoping for a new subject.
The bard shrugged. "I wrote Tarren a new story. Do you want to hear it?" she asked with a wide grin.
The mother arched a brow. "Am I in it?"
The younger woman chuckled a bit at the silly question. "Of course, she wouldn’t like it much if you weren’t."
The warrior grinned knowing it was the truth. She smiled and
relaxed against he hut taking in the cool night air. "Sure my bard. Tell
me a story."
Gabrielle’s eyes went wide at the statement. "You are kidding right?" She stared at the gentle expression of her best friend. "Huh you really have changed.
"Do you want to hear some poetry I wrote?" the young
woman asked with a smirk.
The warrior shook her head. "I haven’t changed that much."
The two friends sat side by side staring up at the night sky as they had once before wondering how a small child had and would still later their lives.
Later that night…
Tarren slid from the bed quietly hoping not to wake the sleeping warrior. That could be difficult since one never knew if Xena was asleep or pretending to be asleep. The youngster craned her neck over the large body and stared at her mother for some sign of movement. Satisfied that the warrior was lost in Morpheous the child picked up her satchel and headed out the door. She paused for a moment and took one long glance at the sleeping bard before letting her bare feet lead her into the cold night air.
The half-dressed child walked across the compound careful not to step on so much as a stick that might alert a patrol to her presence. She had a few things she wished to accomplish and she knew there was only so much time left in the hourglass before Xena realized that the she was missing.
With all the agility and finesse of a Warrior Princess in training the child slid through the window of a certain Amazon princess’s office. Once inside she walked around the room rubbing her shoulders and her legs trying to find warmth in the enclosed structure. "Shoulda warn the woolly socks or something," she said through chattering teeth.
The little girl made her way through the dark room feeling around on the floor for what she knew could not be far way. Her small hand slid over a pile of rolled parchments sitting near a small shoot. The child looked at the growing heap of scrolls containing questions that strangers had to ask of her friend and wondered if leaving her own parchment among them would be a good idea. With a shrug she pulled the small scroll from her satchel and placed it at the very top of the pile hoping it would be read first and soon. "Ok Gabby, I did like Momma said and I decided how I felt," she whispered to the empty office. After repositioning the scroll several times with a slide to the left or a tuck to the right the youngster again slid out the window into the cold night air.
Tarren grinned and shivered, as she stood in the shadows outside a small hut she had heard belonged to a certain instructor and her teenage daughter. The child knew that Gruella had gone on some kind of scouting mission because she had seen her depart along with two dozen other Amazons on horseback. That meant Lexus was alone.
The child blew the warm air from her lungs into her cupped fingers wishing she now had woolly gloves as well. "Ok first I gotta keep my promise to Boralla," she whispered as she took three large paces away from the hut. "There now I’m not fibbing or nothing," she said with satisfaction.
Tarren looked carefully at the supplies she had gathered from around the camp. She made sure that each item was for community use and therefore nothing that could be labeled as stolen merchandise. She rubbed the seat of her nightshirt. "No don’t want that con…se…quence," she muttered. With a deep breath and a smile the child began putting her plan of what she considered a fair trade into action.
Meanwhile back at the cottage…
Xena rolled over and let out a short breath. Her arm fell to the side and much to her surprise there was plenty of room to stretch out. She opened one eye and patted the top of the now empty side of the pallet. "Tarren," she whispered scanning around the hut. The mother rose from the bed and walked through the hut. "Tarren." Her voice was becoming a bit louder as she realized her young child was obviously absent.
With a thud the warrior dropped onto the bed and started to dress. "Kid never listens…I say don’t go out alone at night. Of course the first thing she’s gonna do is go out at night." The mother eyed the small boots sitting in the corner. "And without her boots on," she yelled with such force that it woke her sleeping friend.
"Whuh happened? Did you say something Hercules dear?" she muttered, still half asleep.
Xena grinned a bit at the content of her young friend’s dream state. "Sorry no it’s just me. Go back to sleep."
The bard wiped the sleep from her eyes. "Xena? Oh…Uh…" She blushed realizing the last word she had spoken had been. "What are you doing up?"
The warrior laced up her boot and stood. "Tarren’s not
here. I’m going to look for her."
The young woman rolled on her back and yawned. "Oh she probably just went to use the woods or something." She yawned again. "Relax."
The warrior shook her head. "Nope, she doesn’t use the woods alone at night anymore. She doesn’t like the dark and frankly with everything going on around here I don’t like her out alone."
Gabrielle opened her eyes wider realizing this was yet another change that had occurred in her absence. "Oh well I’ll help you look." She started to rise.
"No you stay here in case she comes back." Xena picked up the small pair of boots and held them in the air. "She even went out there with nothing on her feet," she growled. "I’ll be back." With those words spoken the mother walked out into the night in search of her small daughter.
Back on Tarren’s trail…
After making sure that her trap had been set well and was at least three paces away at all times, the child smiled with satisfaction and moved onto her final destination. The cold night air was running through her like a splash of cold water but her night’s work was almost complete.
The youngster could feel the cold air beating against her bare toes as she approached the queen’s personal quarters. She stared up at the doorway not having expected there would be guards there. The child took a deep breath and walked up to the door only to have two staffs cross in front of her to block her entrance.
Tarren looked up at the two large Amazon guards and frowned. "I wanna see Ephiny."
One guard smiled. "Youngster you are going to catch your death walking around like that." She motioned to the child’s flimsy attire and lack of shoes. "You best get back to your cottage. Queen Ephiny is asleep and has left strict orders not to be disturbed."
Tarren held tightly to her parchment and satchel. This was going to take a bit of finesse. The little girl took a step back folded her arm against her chest and stood as straight as she could. "I wanna see queen Ephiny now," she hissed. She glared at the pair that blocked her path. Ephiny!" she yelled as loud as her small lungs would allow.
Before the guards could make an attempt to silence the child the large wooden door swung open and the tall Amazon rushed out. "What is it? Who yelled?" The half-dazed queen had her sword in hand ready to fight off an army of attackers.
The guards bowed their heads and one spoke. "I am sorry
my queen but the child yelled before I could stop her. I will take her back
to the school."
Ephiny let her eyes drop down until they made contact with the familiar little form. "Tarren." She placed a halting hand in the air realizing this was one of the few Amazons who had not yet met the child. "I wouldn’t touch her if I were you. That’s Tarren." She pointed to the little girl. "She’s Xena’s daughter and her mother would not be too happy if you did and neither would I."
The guard stood at attention. "I apologize but I didn’t know your majesty."
"Yeah well now you do." Ephiny lay her sword across her chest and looked at the smiling little girl. With a quick breath she grabbed the youngster by the arm and pulled her into the cottage. Before closing the door she turned to her guards. "I am not to be disturbed. I do believe that is the second time I am stating that tonight," she said with a growl.
The two Amazons lowered their heads and with a heavy sigh Ephiny closed the door. She pushed the shivering child over to the fire and placed a blanket around her. "Artemis hold me. What are you doing walking around half bare with no boots on in the middle of such a cold night, " she scolded placing her weapon on the table beside her. The Amazon felt the cold skin on the child and tried to rub her extremities warm.
Tarren closed her eyes and wiped her nose as she felt the feeling slowly returning to her feet. "I need your help Ephiny."
The queen looked at the serious expression on the child’s face and then twisted her lips. "Does Xena know where you are?" Before the child could answer the Amazon shook her head. "Wait don’t answer that…of course she doesn’t." Ephiny let out a long breath as she realized is only a matter of time before the warrior came in search of her child.
The little girl dropped her satchel to the floor and handed the queen her drawing. "Will ya help me?" she asked in a pleading tone.
Ephiny unrolled the parchment and smiled at the sight of the now finished drawing. "With what Junior?"
The child shook her head and gave the Amazon a slight elbow
in the side. "Ya know…my secret."
The queen sat back in a chair and held the blanketed child in front running her hands fiercely up in down the small form in an effort to make the youngster warm. "Ahh yes the big secret." She grinned at the memory of what the child had shared with her while they were still on the trail. "I thought you were gonna do it alone."
Tarren lowered her head a bit and shrugged. "I can’t. I’m too small." This was a tough thing to admit. "And I’m running out of time. Will you help?" she asked with desperation.
"I know I’m gonna be sorry for this." Ephiny leaned
back in the chair and closed her eyes. "What did you have in mind?"
she asked, realizing this was the question that would not solidify her involvement
in anything that was to come.
Tarren dropped the sack of money on the table as she explained the entire problem and what she needed to do.
Ephiny’s jaw dropped as she looked at the gold coins and heard
the entire secret of Nala’s gift revealed. "Tarren you are asking a lot."
She looked at the fortune sitting before her. "Xena is gonna be awful mad
at you when she finds you’ve done this."
The little girl lowered he eyes. "I know and if I haffta get the big one again I will. I don’t care." She paused and gave a quick rub to her backside. "Well I do care but I promised Nala and she was my only friend until…Momma and Gabby came. Now I have a family and lots of friends including you right?" This was a sneaky maneuver.
The queen grinned at the manipulative child standing before her. "Yeah including me."
Tarren moved in closer and slid onto Ephiny’s lap wrapping her little arms around the queen. "And friends help each other. That’s what you said."
Ephiny nodded as she looked into the same blue eyes as the Warrior Princess. "I did say that," she replied with a nod.
The child lay her head down on the queen’s shoulder "So will you help me? Please."
The Amazon sighed and ran her hand down the little girl’s back. "You sure do fight dirty." She stared at the rolled parchment and then the sack of gold sitting on the table beside her. "Yeah I’ll help."
Tarren smiled broadly and hugged the queen with all her might. "Thanks Ephiny!"
The Amazon patted the child’s back again. "Yeah well I want you to know that I am not doing this because you sweet talked me into it. " She lifted the child off her lap and got to her feet. "I’m doing it because I happen to agree with this…Nala. I think this is a great gift and if Xena lets us live that long I think she’ll agree too." The Amazon shuddered at her friend’s expression when she found the gold coins missing. She quickly placed both the rolled drawing and the sack of gold coins in a lock box positioned behind a mask on the wall.
Tarren hugged her friend who only smiled at the exuberant child. "I don’t care why you do it. I just wanna see Momma’s face when we’re done."
"Oh yeah well I just hope we both live that long,"
she mumbled. Ephiny ran her hands through Tarren’s hair and let out a quick
breath as she stared at the ceiling. "Artemis I hope you are watching over
this kid. She’s gonna need your help and so am I," she said in a not so
Tarren frowned at her friend’s less than optimistic attitude. She shook a warning finger. "And you won’t tell anyone anything until it’s all been done right?" she asked, folding her arms tightly against her chest and arching a small brow.
"Gods so much like Xena," she thought. Ephiny grinned. "Right, it’s a secret."
The youngster twisted her lip and studied her friend’s eyes. "No matter what happens?"
The Amazon nodded her agreement. "No matter what happens," she repeated.
Tarren tilted her head to one side and gave a long hard stare at the queen, "Warrior’s oath?"
Ephiny frowned. She had not realized the child was aware of such binding things and if the queen agreed then these words would seal her fate. She knelt in front of the youngster. "Are you sure about this Tarren? You could just tell your momma," she said hopefully.
The child shook her head. "No I promised Nala and Momma says a promise is as important as anything." She arched her brow as high as she could and let her voice drop as low as she could get it wishing there was a little husky sound instead of a squeak. "Warrior’s oath?" she repeated.
The queen closed her eyes and nodded. "Yes I give you my warrior s oath that your secret will remain with me."
The child smiled happy that her promise would now be kept and Nala’s gift would become a reality. "Thanks Ephiny."
The queen grabbed the child’s hand and started for the door.
"Yeah thank me after I pull this off. In the meantime I better get you
back to bed before…."
Ephiny’s sentence was cut short by a slight commotion outside the cottage. "Too late," she muttered. All that was heard was the sound of a few spoken words and then two large forms being tossed easily to the ground. There was a knock at the door and when the queen opened it she was not surprised to see saw a large muscular woman wearing black leathers and an angry expression standing in the doorway.
"Am I the only one who sleeps at night?" the queen
asked with a slight frown, as she poked her head out to see her two fallen guards
stumbling to get to their feet. She shook her head at their obvious inability
to do so. "Hi Xena." She gave the warrior a crooked smile. "Let
me guess. They told you I was sleeping and wasn’t to be disturbed."
Xena nodded and looked passed the queen at the small child wrapped in a blanket standing behind her. "Yeah can you imagine that?" she asked making no effort to hide her anger. She pointed to the little girl. "I believe you have something of mine," she said walking into the cottage and standing in the spot directly in front of her daughter. The mother folded her arms against her chest and in her huskiest tone spoke to her child. "What are you doing here?"
The youngster swallowed hard not sure what to say. "I…err…wanted
to say goodnight to Ephiny?" she asked wondering if that was a fair response.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head. "Try again,"
The little girl bit her lip and lowered her eyes. "I just wanted to talk to her private Momma." She glanced up at the angry warrior. "Just like you wanted to talk to Gabby alone."
Ephiny grinned at the comparison but seeing the look of parental judgment on her friend’s face just bit her lip and slid quietly back into her chair.
Xena bent down enough to allow her own eyes meet with her child’s.
"And It couldn’t wait until day light?" she scolded.
The child ran her hands along the heavy blanket she was now wearing and shook her head. "No Momma. There’s too many people around and Ephiny is awful busy, so I wanted to come when she wasn’t doing nothin important."
The queen shook her head and let her head fall against the back of the chair. "Yeah why do I need sleep? It’s not like I ever get tired," she mumbled.
The mother shook her head and looked from the queen to her daughter
as if trying to put the meaning of their meeting together. "I tracked you
all over this camp youngster and…." Xena removed the blanket and saw the
child was wearing nothing but a nightshirt and bare feet. "Tarren are you
trying to get sick? You walked all the way over here with no clothes or shoes,"
she scolded. The absence of boots she knew about but she had hoped the child
had the good sense to dress before leaving the hut.
Tarren lowered her eyes and stared at her dirty feet. "Yes Momma."
Xena stood straight up shook her head and pointed toward the door. "Move it," she ordered. "This is not the time or place to continue this." She closed her eyes. "Get over to the doorway but don’t you stick one toe outside," she yelled.
"Yes ma’am." The child tip toed slowly passed her mother only to have the large muscular maternal hand swat her blanketed bottom hard enough to make the child yelp loudly and skid to the door. "Owe!" she murmured as she reached beneath her covering to comfort her warrior mother’s favorite target.
Ephiny closed her eyes and whistled. "Ooh that had to smart," she groaned getting to her feet to see her visitors out.
Tarren bit her lip and stood in the doorway rubbing her sore
and still blanketed bottom. "Bye Ephiny."
The Amazon mother shook her head knowing her reaction would have been the same had it been her son that disappeared in the middle of the night half dressed. "G’night Junior."
Xena took a few strides toward the door pausing in front of
the queen. "I don’t suppose you wanna tell me what this was all about,"
she said quietly.
Ephiny shrugged. "Sorry but I took a warrior’s oath," She replied with a hard swallow.
The child sighed with relief hearing that those words and that swear meant something.
"Uh huh." Xena nodded and with one sweep picked the
little girl up into her arms. "You young lady are in a lot of trouble,"
she warned making sure the blankets were wrapped tightly around the child before
they walked into the cold night air.
Tarren lay her head on her mother’s shoulder and sighed as they headed back to the cottage. "Yes ma’am." She glanced at the queen wiggling a few fingers of thanks for all she had done and would do.
Ephiny waved goodbye to her little friend and then stared down at her two fallen guards. She shook her head. "Gods don’t you two know better than to stand between Xena and her kid?" she asked with a heavy sigh.
With a slight grumble the queen closed the door deciding that her sleep would last longer without the help of her Amazon escort.
Chapter 28 – Stuff Happens
Back at the cottage…
The warrior took quick strides back to the hut. As Xena walked
in still carrying the child in her arms, Gabrielle picked her head up off the
pillow and yawned. "Gods you found her. Where was she?" she asked
in a half sleepy voice.
Xena placed the now sniffling child on the floor and reached for a pan filled with warm water. She placed the youngster’s dirty, ice cold feet in the water and caressed them gently as she spoke to her friend. "Oh Tarren just decided to go out for an evening stroll," she said through clenched lips. "But I finally found her at Ephiny’s," she pointed to the child. "This kid was wearing nothing but this nightshirt," she said with a heavy sigh and a light growl.
Gabrielle looked at the teary youngster who was rubbing her
eyes with the balls of her fists but saying nothing in her defense. "Oh
Tarren why would you do something like that? It’s dangerous to go out alone
at night and you could get sick walking around with no clothes on. You know
you’re not allowed to leave the hut area," she said in as stern a voice
as she could muster.
The child said nothing but just sniffled and started to cry.
The bard frowned and tapped her larger friend on the shoulder.
"Why is she crying so much?" she asked noting the youngster was shedding
more than a few tears.
Xena reached for a towel and dried the little girl’s feet and lifted her small daughter into the pallet placing three heavy blankets on top of her. "Maybe because I took her behind the cottage and put her over my knee for a bit before I brought her in here," she said staring down at the sniffling youngster.
Gabrielle fell back on the bed. "Oh Xena." She paused and let out a long breath. "That kids never gonna sit down again."
The mother shook her head. "Maybe not but she will learn to do what she is told even if she is doing it standing on her feet most of the time," she said in a scolding tone staring at her youngster.
Tarren hugged her pillow as she sobbed. "Momma gave me
another spankin on my butt and then she said I was real naughty,"
she whined, rubbing the sting of the three swats away with both hands.
Xena removed her boots and leathers and shook her head. "No Momma just gave you a warning. Believe me Momma thought real hard about giving you a very long spanking for doing something so stupid. Consider your self lucky and pray to the gods that I am not as angry in the morning as I am right now," she said in a parental tone that was both calm and filled with concern for the half-frozen child.
Tarren pulled the blankets over her head but the bard and warrior could still hear her crying.
The warrior let out a quick breath and leaned toward her friend. "I only gave her a few fast little swats on the butt for scaring the Hades out of me and wandering off in the dead of night nearly naked. I don’t know what she’s crying so much about," she whispered
Gabrielle placed her hands behind her head and sighed. "Huh…Probably it’s the three fast swats on top of the big one and the little one that’s doing it." The young woman glanced over at the hysterical form covered in blankets "Although I must say she’s being a bit dramatic even for Tarren."
The mother let the air drain from her lungs and allowed her
muscles to ease. "Yeah well believe me if she hadn’t gotten the big
one yesterday she would have gotten it tonight for sure." Xena ran
her hand along the side of her own face and let out a long breath. She moved
to the other side of her pallet and got underneath the covers. The warrior glanced
over at Gabrielle. "Sure you don’t wanna try my job…You know the one with
all the hugs and kisses and stuff," she said with a smirk
The young woman shook her head. "Nope I think I’ll stick to telling stories at bedtime," she replied dryly. "That is if she ever wants to hear one again," she mumbled turning on her side.
Xena ignored her friend’s words deciding she already had enough to deal with. She pulled the child closer to her so the youngster could feel the warmth of her mother’s body. The warrior wanted to keep the little girl as warm as possible after being in the cold night air for so long.
Tarren struggled and cried a bit in her mother’s hold but the
Xena held her gently in place. "Now stop that. Behave yourself," she
Tarren cried louder and turned to face her mother burying her face in the warrior’s shoulder as she sobbed. Xena let out a long breath and rubbed the youngster’s back affectionately. "Ok enough crying. Shh…What are all the tears for anyway? Three well deserved swats on your bottom?" she asked in disbelief that so many tears would come from so few spanks.
Tarren thought about her mother’s fast hand and the slight sting she felt from it. "No Momma…It’s not just my spankin…alone." She had actually gotten much less than she had expected for being caught but the thought of her mother’s disappointment when she found out the coins were gone was almost too much for the little girl too bare.
The child’s tears muffled a bit but continued until the mother lifted the little girl in her arms and held her tightly. "Ok Momma is here. Everything is gonna be fine. Quiet down." She held the little girl closer and spoke in her softest tone. "So if it’s not the spanking then what is it?"
The large blue eyes on the tear stained face looked up at her mother. "I did something real bad and I’m afraid you’re gonna hate me," she replied quietly.
The mother cradled the child beside her. "Tarren how many times do I have to tell you that I could never hate you? You are my little girl and I love you even when you are naughty and sneak out in the middle of the night with no clothes or boots on to do gods knows what." She closed her eyes trying not to imagine what the child had been up to. "So tell me what you did that was so bad," she said in a soothing and maternal tone. Xena stroked the little girl’s back and hummed to her until the child had quieted enough to speak.
The youngster took a deep breath and laced her arms around her mother’s neck holding tighter than the warrior thought possible. "Sorry Momma but I can’t tell ya. I really wanna but I can’t. Please don’t hate me. I just wanna do something good."
Xena was not quite sure what the little girl was talking about
but it didn’t really matter. The most important thing was that Tarren knew she
was loved no matter what. "I know…Shh…It’s Ok…You go to sleep and we will
talk about this in the morning."
The little girl bit her lip and stared at her mother. "I had to talk to Ephiny…I’m sorry."
The warrior pulled the child in beside her and yanked the covers up around the little girl’s neck. "Tarren I said it’s Ok now. We’ll talk about it in the morning. Right now all I care about is that you are safe and healthy so stay close to me and keep warm," she replied in a gentle whisper.
The little girl sniffled and nuzzled in closer to her mother’s shoulder. "I really love ya lots Mommy." She lay her head down and after a few more sniffles and with the aid of her mother’s soothing massage and a gentle hum soon fell right to sleep.
Xena let out along breath smiled and kissed the sleeping child’s cheek tenderly. "I love you too Monster."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head deeper into the pillow as she listened to the heartfelt exchange of love and understanding between mother and daughter. In all her time traveling with the pair she had never heard the two so open and free with their feelings. They truly were of one heart.
As the bard listened to the exchange she shed a tear and then smiled. "Amazing…simply amazing."
The following morning…
The warrior shook her head as she continued her movement. "And
you were wearing nothing on your feet and just a nightshirt Tarren. Gods you
could have gotten very sick," she scolded.
The child again stared up at her mother. "Yes ma’am."
Xena stopped and looked down at the contrite little girl. "Do
you have anything else to say?" she asked realizing the child was
remaining respectful but still uninformative.
Tarren rubbed her backside hoping her mother did not feel a need to make any more points for a while. "I’m real sorry Momma," she replied with a single tear.
When Xena saw the stray drop of water on the child’s face edging
its way down the small cheek she threw her arms up in the air. "I just
don’t know what to do with you anymore. No matter what I say or do you just
ignore me," she said in a softer but still parental tone.
The child felt the room spin and tried to steady herself to remain as still as was expected. "I’m real sorry Momma," the child repeated, hoping that saying it twice would make a difference.
The mother let the last of her frustration drain away and she walked in circles around the room. "Tarren, I wanted to spend the entire day doing stuff with you. I wanted to take you fishing and tracking." She rubbed her temples and shook her head. "How can I do that now? How can I do that after the way you have behaved these last few days?" She stopped turned and started her circular movement in the opposite direction. " I thought you learned something from everything I said yesterday but I guess I didn’t make myself very clear. I guess I’m just not doing a very good job."
The youngster’s eyes went wide and she shook her head vigorously.
"No Momma you do real good. It’s not your fault I’m naughty."
The child watched her mother walk in circles until she felt so dizzy she had
to steady herself by reaching for a chair. "But I guess you don’t wanna
spend the day with me now," she muttered. "I don’t blame ya. After
all I do get in lots of trouble all the time."
Xena closed her eyes and shook her head. This admission was
not what she was looking for. She glanced back at the sullen child and felt
all her resolve melt away. "Of course I want to spend the day with you."
She knelt in front of her small daughter. "You know how scared I was when
I woke up and you were gone?" she asked, hoping that those words would
show the child that her actions were guided by love.
Tarren shook her head. "Real scared?" she asked thinking that was the obvious answer.
The mother nodded. "Yeah real scared and I was even more scared that you’d get sick."
The youngster lowered her eyes and let her voice drop to a near whisper. "I’m sorry Momma."
"Yeah I know you said that many times already." The warrior took one last glance at her small child. She knew Tarren always found it difficult to be confined to a village. That seemed to be when the youngster found herself in the most trouble. Xena had to feel for the little kid. She was not having a bad day…She was having a bad week. The mother smiled and got to her feet. "Look lets just put all our sorries away and behave ourselves today. OK?"
Tarren wiped her eyes dry and reached out to hug her mother’s legs. "Yes Momma."
Xena returned the embrace and rubbed the little girl’s back. "Ok then I’ll go tell Boralla to pack us a big lunch," she said moving toward the door. "You take your boots off. I want to put those socks on your feet before we go." However, before she could say another word or take another step the mother heard the sound that sent a chill up her spine and fear racing through her thoughts.
The warrior turned around hoping that it would be the only one
of its kind. "Gods bless you," she said quietly as she studies her
The little girl reached for a cloth and wiped her nose. "Thank you Momma."
The mother nodded and walked slowly over to the small form still
wiping her face. "Tarren how do you feel?" she asked with trepidation.
The little girl smiled broadly. "Fine Momma."
There was another sneeze.
The mother dropped down in front of the little girl and ran
her hand over the youngster’s forehead. "Tarren don’t fib to me,"
she said with firm command.
The child rolled out her lip and shifted from leg to leg as she tried not to look at her mother. "Well I am feeling a bit yucky but I can still play with ya," she replied eager to go fishing and tracking with her mother.
"Not today," was the immediate reply. Xena shook her head and lifted the little girl into the air and back on the pallet. She removed the child boots and clothes and placed her back under the blankets. Again she felt the little girl’s head. It was warm and Xena was worried. She threw a few extra logs on the fire and reached for her medicinal pouch. "Ok Monster we’ll have you good as new in no time," she said with a nod as she put a pot of water in the fire.
Tarren turned around to see her mother was working with the all too familiar tea herbs. "Oh no," she muttered, covering her face with the blankets in an effort to hide from the inevitable.
In moments Xena had mixed a concoction of teas and herbs into
a drink and poured it into a mug. She sat on the side of the pallet and with
a sigh removed the youngster’s coverings. "Here baby drink this,"
she said softly running a damp cloth across the child’s face.
The little girl sniffed at the mug and wrinkled her nose. "Do I haffta?" she asked with a pout.
The mother leaned in beside her and kissed the little girl’s forehead. "Yes you do and you know it."
The child squeezed her nose between her two fingers and allowed her mother to force the vile liquid down. "Yuk!"
Xena cringed as the last of the foul smelling medicine was swallowed.
"I know it tastes bad but it will help with the fever." She dropped
by the side of the pallet and again ran a cool cloth across the youngster’s
warm forehead. "Don’t worry baby. Momma is here and I’m gonna take good
care of you."
Tarren ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, as she tasted her mother’s version of care. She often wondered if Argo objected to so much of her tail being used in these teas. "Aren’t we gonna play today Momma?" The little voice was low and sad at the thought of missing her big play day.
Xena lay on the pallet beside the child allowing the youngster
to cuddle in beside her. "No baby you’re sick and you have to stay warm
and under those blankets until you are all better." She paused. "Don’t
worry we’ll go tracking again the very first day you’re all better."
The youngster lowered her eyes. "I’m sorry Momma."
Xena considered the child’s words and turned to face her. "Shh hey it’s Ok. Kids get sick and their Momma’s take care of them. That’s part of the system too," she replied hoping that adding to the youngster’s system would make the situation easier for her to accept.
"You bet it is so I want you to just lie under those covers
and stay warm and let me do my job because…"
The child finished the sentence, "Because you really love you’re work Momma," she said with an innocent smile.
The warrior mother closed her eyes and let out a quick breath. "Yes I love my work very much Monster." She got off the pallet and tucked the blankets up close. "Do ya want anything?"
The little girl rolled on her side. "Can I have a drink? I’m awful thirsty."
Tarren had just passed on a chance to ask for a pony and Xena knew that was a sure sign that the child felt worse than she was admitting.
The mother placed a loving kiss on the little girl’s warm face
and moved over to the side of the room to retrieve a large pitcher of water
and a mug. She filled the mug and held it up to her child’s lips. "Her
ya go. Drink it all down," she instructed.
The child nodded and gulped the water until the mug was empty. "All gone."
"Good girl." Xena tried to smile but her concern was becoming more obvious. "Now you try and get some rest while I send to the kitchen for some hot food."
Tarren smiled at her mother and then coughed. "Ok Momma I’ll try and sleep." She paused. "It’s awful hot in here though. Do I haffta keep all these blankets on?" she asked trying to kick them away.
The warrior mother quickly pulled the blankets into place knowing the little girl was feeling the heat of the fever. "Sorry little one but you need the warm blankets. " She ran her hand along the youngster’s face. "Tell ya what…You lay there and try to sleep and as soon as I send for the food Momma will give you a nice rub down that will make you feel cool. OK?"
A massage from Xena was always a treat but a regular rub down with promises of cooling off a hot body was a gift. "Sure Momma." The child flipped over on her stomach eager for the rubbing to begin. "I’ll wait right here for ya."
Xena smiled weakly and moved over to the door. She slipped outside and when she saw a familiar face walking by she called to her. "Eponon!"
The weapon’s master grinned and approached her friend. "If
you’re looking for a baby sitter just forget it…Every time that kid and I are
alone I get in as much trouble as she does," she said with a frown.
Xena shook her head. "No I don’t need you to watch her. Do me two favors. Go over to the kitchen and tell Boralla that I need some hot broth and then find Gabrielle." She paused and took a deep breath. "And tell her Tarren is sick."
Eponon’s smiled disappeared. "The little warrior is sick? Can I help? Do you need anything."
Xena could not help but smiles at her friend’s sudden show of
concern. "Just the broth and the message delivered. Thanks Eppy."
Eponon nodded and Xena watched the weapon’s master use all her Amazon speed to move across the compound eager to do anything to help the warrior’s child.
Xena walked back into the cottage and noticed that the child had thrown all the blankets to the floor. She rushed over and picked them up placing them quickly back over the sick child. "Tarren you have to keep these on. You have to stay warm, " she scolded.
The little girl’s face immediately filled with tears. "Momma the blankets are too heavy. Everything feels real heavy. Take them off Mommy please." She kicked her feet under the blankets and rolled around.
The mother placed a calming hand on the child’s chest. "Shh Tarren I can’t. You need to be warm. I know it doesn’t feel good but you need to leave them on." Xena reached for another helping of teat and put the mug to the youngster’s lips. "Here drink this."
This time the medicine was swallowed in gulps without a single complaint or objection. "Want Mommy…Want Mommy…." The tears streamed down the little girl’s face.
Xena placed the empty mug on the floor and slid on the mattress beside the child wrapping her arms around the small form. "Mommy is right here baby."
Tarren nuzzled into the warrior’s side fidgeting until she felt her mother’s hand touch her cheek. That action seemed to soothe and calm the sick child. "Mommy?’
The child’s eyes focused on the warrior. "I’m sorry I got sick…I’m sorry I did the bad thing."
The warrior mother closed her eyes and pulled the little girl closer deciding that she herself would act as a warming blanket. "It’s Ok we all get sick. I told you that. You’re just giving me a chance to do my job."
The child tried to smile. "Mommy I wanna tell ya what I did. I don’t want you to hate me but I don’t wanna keep any more secrets from ya."
The mother ran her hand along the child’s face. "Monster you don’t have to tell me anything. I followed you last night and I saw the little trap you set for Lexus." She grinned a bit. "But I took it down so don’t go expecting to hear how a certain teenager walked out her door only to find herself covered in a bucket full of day old oatmeal."
Tarren’s eyes went wide. "Ya knew I did that?" The little girl smiled. "And you’re not mad?"
"Well last night I was a bit mad." She arched a brow. "That was a very naughty thing to do." Again the warrior smiled. "But I’m not mad anymore. I sort of understand why you’d want to get even with Lexus."
The youngster twisted her lips in a frown. "Then why’d you take the trap apart?"
Xena held the child closer and tapped the small nose with the tip of her finger. "Because my little Monster just because Lexus is a rotten and mean kid doesn’t mean you need to take lessons." She paused and smiled. "Besides Lexus got what she deserved." The mother thought of the humiliating beating the teenager and her friends had taken at the hands of Gabrielle and Ephiny.
"Ya mean cause Gabby kicked her butt?" she asked with an evil smile.
The mother turned her head quickly. "How did you know that?"
The little girl immediately covered her mouth realizing she
had just made two mistakes. She had said the forbidden words and broken a promise.
"Uh…well…someone told me." The child coughed and grabbed onto the
side of her mother’s arm. "But please don’t ask me to tell ya who told.
I’ll never see another Flappy Jackie again," she said pleadingly.
The warrior mother patted the child’s back until the coughing fit passed. She offered up another mug of water and watched with great concern as the child drank. Xena placed the mug back beside her and wrapped her arms tightly around the child. "Relax I won’t ask you, but you remember it’s a secret. I don’t want Gabrielle to know that you know. OK?" she said softly, thinking of the old cook with the big mouth who had said too much.
Tarren coughed again and the warrior rose from the bed bringing
the blanketed child with her. She sat beside the fire keeping the child covered
nestled her close to her chest as she sat in a chair beside the hot flames.
"It’s Ok baby."
Tarren took a deep breath and Xena could see the tears pouring down her small cheeks. "Don’t wanna be sick Mommy. Don’t like being sick. Make it go away please," she begged.
The mother kissed the youngster’s forehead and nuzzled her head against the child’s face. "I wish I could Monster. I’d trade places with you if I could." She closed her eyes knowing how sick the child was. "But I promise you that I am gonna make you all better. Ok?"
The confident words seem to calm the youngster. "Yes Momma. I trust you. You’re the mommy."
The warrior felt a lump forming in her throat as she considered the new importance of those words. "Yeah that’s right I’m the Mommy."
Tarren wiggled in her mother’s lap trying to find comfort in all the heat that surrounded her small weak form. "Momma?"
"Can I tell you what I did that was bad now?"
The warrior arched a brow as she stroked the little girl’s head. "Ya mean you did something else besides set that trap for Lexus?" she asked with disbelief.
Xena smiled and kissed the child’s cheek. "You can tell me anything you want but you don’t have to."
The child considered the offer deciding if she should indeed
snitch on herself. "Momma?
"Are ya mad at me for getting sick?"
"Are ya mad at me for going out last night when I wasn’t supposed too?"
Xena shook her head and tightened her hold. "Not anymore youngster. I’m just worried about you now," she replied quietly.
The child touched her mother’s face. "Why?"
The warrior rocked the small form in her arms. "Because
you are my baby and you’re sick and I worry about you all the time." She
paused. "I just want you get better real fast."
"Oh." The child bit her lip. "Momma I thought on it and I decided I wanna tell ya what I did bad. It was something real naughty and you are my Momma so you should know."
"Hmm this sounds serious." Xena stared at the stoic expression on her little one’s face. "When did you have time to be so naughty?" she wondered.
The little girl was surprised by the question. "Oh I always
have time Momma." She lowered her head a bit. "I know if I tell
you what I did I’ll get a spankin probably even the big one." She
swallowed hard. "But I don’t wanna keep any secrets from ya if I don’t
Xena nodded as she ran another cooling cloth along the child’s
forehead. "Well I appreciate that," she replied with a slight smile
"Will you try not to get real mad?" the little one asked hopefully.
The warrior nodded. "Uh huh."
"Will I have to get my spankin now or can I wait until the room stops spinning?" the youngster asked with a sigh realizing by speaking her mind she was sealing her fate.
Xena chuckled a bit as she tried to imagine what crime her daughter felt so sure would earn her such punishment. "Tarren, there will be no spanking, so if you want to tell me what naughty thing you did then go ahead."
Tarren played with her mother straps as she considered the best way to say want she needed to say. Obviously her mother did not realize how serious an offense she was talking about. "I …took the gold coins Momma."
Xena paused in her rocking for a long moment and glanced at
the little girl. "Tarren why would you do that? I told you that we were
gonna bury them." She let out a calm but quick breath. "What did you
do with them?" she asked sternly.
The little girl felt tears rushing down her cheeks. "I can’t tell ya Momma…You’ll take them away and bury them and then we won’t be able to make Nala’s dream come true." She coughed as her tears turned into heavy sobs. "And…then…and…then…I’ll have broken my word and I won’t …never…become…a Warrior Princess like you." She looked up at her mother. "I wanna be just like you." The words we filled with pure love and admiration.
Xena closed her eyes and let her own tear escape. She picked the little girl up and put her over one shoulder as she ran her hand up and down the sweaty back. "It’s Ok Tarren. It’s Ok. I don’t care about the coins. I only care about you." She shook her head. "You leave the coins where they are and let Nala’s dream be whatever it was meant to be. Right now I just want you to get well. That is the only thing that matters to me little one." The warrior held tightly to her child angry with herself for not handling the issue of the money better so that the youngster had not felt forced into the cold night to hide them.
The child felt a heavy cough break through her lips as she spoke
through broken sobs. "Ya mean it Mommy? I can make Nala’s dream happen
and keep it a secret and ya won’t hate me?" she asked hoping she had heard
the words spoken correctly.
The mother closed her eyes and shook her head. "Hate you? Little girl if I loved you anymore than I already do…." She swallowed hard. "I love you baby girl. That will never change."
The child’s face lit up. "Really Momma…cause…I got someone
real good to help me so ya don’t have to worry about nothin."
Xena smiled now knowing why the child had gone to Ephiny in the middle of the night. "Good that’s very good. You just tell me when this big surprise is ready and I’ll be there." She made a mental note to have a long talk with the Amazon queen.
"So Momma am I gonna get a spankin now?" the youngster asked sure that this fell under the category of stealing or something else very bad.
"No you are not going to get a spanking." She hugged the little girl. "You just see that you get well real fast and that will be good enough for me," she replied giving the child a soft squeeze.
The little girl hugged her mother grateful for the undying love and understanding she was being offered.
Just as Tarren had calmed down and settled into her mother’s loving hold, the door flung open and Gabrielle and Ephiny rushed into the cottage.
"How is she?" the bard asked, kneeling beside Xena
and running her hand over the child’s burning face.
Xena stood and placed the child reluctantly back on the pallet. She moved over to the table and worked on mixing a poultice as she let her eyes fall on the body of her small daughter. "She has fever…chills…it’s moving toward her chest and I need to stop that."
Ephiny stood beside her large friend and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Anything I can do?" she asked with noted concern.
Xena looked from the sick child to her Amazon friend and nodded. "Yeah Eph, you can make my baby girl’s surprise everything she wants it to be and I don’t give a damn if you use every single coin in the bag to do it," she whispered.
The queen closed her eyes and nodded. "You have my word Xena." Ephiny gave a final nod and walked out the door to make her word good and leave this family in peace.
Gabrielle dropped beside the child and grabbed her hand. "Tarren
it’s me…Gabrielle," she whispered as if the child would have forgotten
"I know who ya are." The little girl smiled and touched
her friend’s face. "Hi Gabby. Did you get my note?" she asked with
a broad smile.
"What note?" the baffled young woman asked.
The little girl coughed again and whispered her response. "I left it for ya with the letter other people gave you. Ya know the ones wanting to tell ya stuff." The child frowned at the lack of understanding. "Ya know in your office…the dear Gabby scrolls," she said with a frown.
The bard wiped away a tear as she thought of the still unanswered notes from strangers lying in a pile on the floor of the place that she had been working. "Honey if you wanted to talk to me why didn’t you just come to me?" she asked wiping stray hairs from the child’s face.
Tarren looked up at her mother who nodded. The time had come to tell all. "I was afraid," the youngster muttered
Gabrielle dropped her head to one side. "Of what?"
The child let her fingers twist at the layers of blankets. "That you wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore." She coughed so loud that Xena’s eyes flared at the sound. The mother frowned wishing she could draw her sword and slay whatever evil made her child sick.
Tarren glanced up at her friend trying to offer an understanding
smile. "Ya do have other kids to play with now and you’re an Amazon so
you won’t be coming with us when we leave," she said staring down at her
own fingers. Again the child coughed followed by a sneeze.
The bard swallowed and turned to the warrior whose eyes were filled with both concern and fear. Xena went to work more diligently on her paste and the bard turned back to the little girl. "Now I wan t you to listen to me Tarren. I don’t want to play with other kids and I am not staying with the Amazons." Gabrielle closed her eyes and kissed the little girl’s hand. "I always want to stay with you and I always want you to be able to talk to me" She paused and lowered her eyes. "And when you and that big leather pillow of yours leave you better believe I’m going with you." She wiped away a tear. "You couldn’t leave me behind if you wanted to brat. Ask your mother because she tried it ounce." She motioned to the warrior.
The little girl looked past the bard at then stared up at her mother who forced a smile. "Uh yeah it’s true. She’d just follow us anyway, so we better just take her with us."
Tarren coughed and the bard held the child close to steady her.
Xena rushed to the side of the pallet with a mug of water and placed it to the youngster’s lips. "Ok Monster take a drink…come on."
The little girl again swallowed the entire contents of the mug. Xena kissed her daughter’s forehead and handed the bard a damp cloth. "Run this over her forehead while I finish making the poultice." The two friend’s eyes met and in one glance wall the mutual concern ad love for this child was shared.
Gabrielle nodded and dabbed the sweat from the youngster’s brow.
"So Gabby ya wanna…trade…sorries?" the child asked as she watched
her friend carefully drain the rag in a basin of cold water.
The bard tried to smile but could not help letting a tear fall. "Yeah I do." She took a deep breath. "Me first…I’m sorry that I haven’t been there for you when you needed me and that I broke my promise about staying with you. I’m real sorry I didn’t come for lunch the other day and…."
The child covered the bard’s mouth with her hand. "Ok that’s enough of your sorries." She shook her head knowing her chatty friend could go on all day. "My turn…I’m sorry I didn’t talk to ya when you came looking for me and I’m real sorry I didn’t tell you how much I missed ya." She lowered her eyes "I know Mommy says that you’re only doing what you do cause it’s for the great goody thing."
The bard felt her tears flow and she wrapped her arms around the sick child. "That’s right brat…the great big goody thing."
Xena cleared her throat and smiled as she watched her family made whole once again.
Tarren patted the bard’s arm gently. "It’s OK Gabby you don’t haffta cry. I’m not mad at ya. We traded sorries and I still love ya," she explained hoping the teary woman would calm down.
Gabrielle dried her eyes with the edge of the blanket and let
her hand run along the little girl’s face. "Oh you know me. I always
cry." She took a deep breath. "And I love you too…very much. Don’t
you ever forget that."
The child smiled and then coughed a bit harder than usual and Xena’s expression went dark. She moved quickly to the side of the pallet and lifted the little girl into her arms. Clearing the table with a fast swipe of her foot she lay the coughing child down on the wooden surface. "Gabrielle get the poultice and some fresh towels," she yelled as she removed the child’s clothes leaving her lying bare on the table.
"Mommy?" The little girl cried between coughs. "I want Mommy…Mommy." She reached up her hands to touch the warrior’s face.
A large hand met them and held them in her own. "Still right here with you baby. Mommy is still right here," the mother whispered.
Gabrielle listened to the tender exchange and in that moment realized just how much these two had grown in the short time she had been away. Tarren was now at a time of her greatest fear and weakness calling out in the most basic maternal code for the one person her heart was connected with, her mommy.
The warrior’s touch seemed to immediately soothe the child and Xena kissed the youngster’s fingers. "Tarren I have to put a poultice on your chest and you won’t like it but I have to do it," she said in a near whisper.
The youngster bit her lip and let her eyes lock with her mothers. "What’s a poul…tice?"
Xena took a deep breath not quite sure how to explain. "It’s a paste that I’ll put on your chest to make all the bad stuff inside go away. It may feel real heavy and hot but it’s gonna do really good stuff."
The warrior mother shook her head. "No but it will feel
sort of yucky."
The youngster swallowed hard. She could see that her mother did not wish to cause her even the slightest discomfort. "It’s Ok Momma. I trust you. I’ll try and be good."
Xena closed her eyes and smiled. "You are very good and don’t you forget it." She took the bowl from the bard and started spreading the mixture across the little girl’s chest. "You cry if you want. You can even yell if you need to and I’ll hold you. Ok?" She wanted the child to know that there was no shame in being afraid.
Tarren shook her head. "I may cry a little but I won’t
yell." She bit her lip as she felt the paste burning her chest. "I’m…I’m…a
little Warrior…Princess ya know." The tears were streaming and the little
girl’s cheeks were red as fire.
Gabrielle grabbed hold of the child’s hand and Xena worked quickly to cover the little girl’s chest with the paste and then covered it with a cloth. "You sure are."
The child felt her lip quiver and her breathing slow to a wheeze.
The warrior pulled a fresh nightshirt from the clothing bag and with the bard’s help dressed the youngster. She looked into the soft blue eyes of her little one and swallowed hard. "Yeah."
Tarren grabbed hold of her mother’s arm. "Can ya still hold me even though I’m a little warrior princess?" she asked quietly.
Xena glanced at her friend and then her small daughter. She lifted the child immediately into her arms. "You just try and stop me," she said in the softest and most loving tone the bard had ever heard.
The warrior cradled the little one over her shoulder stroking her back. She took a deep breath and looked at Gabrielle. "We’re gonna need a few things. We have to keep the fever down and make sure she stays warm. Go over to the healers hut and get as many ingredients for more poultices as you can. Then ask Boralla to send over lots of hot broth." She paused. "And ask Ephiny if there is a volunteer to do laundry. The poor kid is sweating through the sheets and nightshirts so fast that…."
The bard held up a hand. "I’ll take care of it. You just stay here with Tarren and I’ll get everything we need." She placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder. "She’ll be Ok. She’s got the best healer around with her…and the best mother," she said with assurance.
Xena closed her eyes and nodded as she continued to cradle the weepy child. "Thanks."
The bard nodded and took one last glance at the ailing youngster.
She leaned over the warrior’s shoulder and kissed the child. "Be back in
a little bit Ok?"
The little girl reached out a hand and touched the young woman’s face. "Will ya tell me a story when ya come back?" she asked with a raspy voice.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh you better be ready to hear lots of stories little girl."
Tarren smiled and with a cough leaned back into her mother’s safe hold. "My mommy," she whispered possessively.
Xena squeezed her child and nodded to the bard who quickly sprinted out the door.
It was only a matter of hours before the entire village knew of the child’s illness and had formed into small crowds outside the hut.
As Gabrielle now joined again by Ephiny entered the cottage they were greeted by crowds of concerned Amazons wanting to know how the littlest warrior was doing.
Even Gabrielle had to admit that it was quite a site to see Eponon doing laundry, but when the weapon’s master heard that something was needed for the child she would allow no other Amazon to even join in the task.
Ephiny nodded at Xena who was lying on the pallet beside her
small daughter. She walked past Gabrielle and immediately sat on the bed beside
the youngster. "Hey Junior. I guess this will teach you to go out at night
without your Momma Huh?" she said giving the warrior a look that spoke
of mutual understanding and concern.
The child nodded and reached up and held tightly to her mother. It was obvious to all that the youngster in this weak and vulnerable state was more dependent on her mother’s love and presence than ever before.
Ephiny wiped a few stray hairs away. "Look I’ve gotta go
now. I’ll come back and see you later." Se shook a warning finger. "As
queen I am ordering you to behave and do what your mother tells you to
do," she said with as much authority as she could muster.
Tarren smiled weakly and coughed. "Sure Ephiny. Did ya…."
The queen nodded. "Yup I’ve already got it started so don’t you worry about a thing."
Tarren grinned and nodded at her regal friend. "Thanks."
The queen started to rise and then paused and pulled a long colorful feather from inside her cuff and handed it to the child. "I almost forgot. I have a present for you."" She placed the plume in the child’s hand. "When Queen Mussona heard you were ill she plucked that from her very own headpiece just for you."
The youngster’s eyes widened as she stared at the multi-colored
feather. "For me?" She glanced up at Ephiny. "Why?"
"Because she likes you."
Tarren wasn’t sure that she had ever even been introduced to this queen but none the less a new feather was a new feather. She tucked it under her pillow but then pulled on the Amazon’s arm. "Ephiny it’s a nice feather and every thing…I mean I like it but I still like yours the best," she said with a smile.
The queen leaned over and kissed the child on the forehead. "Thanks Junior."
Ephiny took a deep breath and placed a hand on Xena’s shoulder. "Hey she’ll be fine. Relax a bit. She’s a strong little kid and I’m betting she has your recuperative powers." She grinned a bit. "She has everything else."
Xena nodded. "Thanks Eph."
The queen nodded and again departed eager to see if Shellopa
and Solari had returned yet.
As the hours passed Gabrielle attempted a few stories only to find that the child was too feverish to really pay attention to anything she said.
Xena lay on the pallet beside her daughter wiping away sweat with a damp cloth and humming to her.
The bard took a deep breath and stretched her limbs out. "I’m going to run over to the kitchen and get some more broth. We’re almost out." She ran her hand from the warrior’s arm down to the child’s face. "Xena she’ll be Ok." She counted that as the 100th time she had said that in a few hours and was no longer sure just who she was now trying to convince.
The warrior nodded and tried to smile. "I know she will."
Gabrielle patted her friend’s arm and headed out the door wanting to make a quick stop at her office before the kitchen.
Chapter 29 – Revelations
At the office…
The princess walked passed the questioning eyes of the Amazons and straight into her office. She knelt before the pile of scrolls beneath the window and ran her hands through them until she found a small rolled parchment with a familiar piece of leather tied around it.
The princess held the little scroll in her hands and dropped to the floor bringing her legs in close as she unrolled the message.
I no you R a amezon and cant play withh me no moor but I just wanna say I luve ya an I mis ya an I was sorrys 4 not bein nice to ya. My momma say I has to no U is inportent an real buzy with stuf but I miss ya lots an I wants u 2 B my Gabby foreva even if ya R a amezon an cant plays withh me no moor luv Tarren XXXXOOOO
The princess felt the tears racing down her cheeks as she read the letter for second time. "Damn kid…Her spelling will never get any better if she doesn’t practice more," she mumbled placing the small scroll in the pocket of her skirt. She took a deep breath and kicked the remaining scrolls away with the side of her foot. Her stray tears turned to sobs as she thought of the sick child and the words on the parchment.
After a few moments she gathered her thoughts and wiped her eyes. She removed the bonnet that identified her as royalty and placed it on the desk and reached for a basket from beneath the desk piling the Amazon scrolls inside. With a deep breath she walked out the door. Seeing Ephiny in the distance she walked up to her friend and handed her the basket.
Ephiny looked from the scrolls to her friend. "What’s this?"
she asked a bit baffled.
The bard swallowed hard. "People who need a leader. Amazons that need wisdom." She paused. "I can’t offer them either but perhaps you can." She ran her hands through her blond hair. "I’m sorry Ephiny but as soon as Tarren is well enough I’m going to tell Xena I want to move on. I just can’t help anymore. I just don’t know…." Rather than finish the last sentence with a face full of tears the bard turned and walked away.
Ephiny stared at the basket full of questions and called to her friend. "Gabrielle wait!"
The young woman did not turn but kept walking her chosen path.
Back at the cottage…
Xena sighed as she gave the little girl some more tea to sip. "C’mon I know it taste bad but it helps with the fever and that’s what’s important," she said sternly.
The youngster bit her lip and shook her head. How much of Argo’s tail could anyone bare? She covered her mouth and spoke through the separations in her tiny fingers. "You drink it first Momma," she mumbled.
The warrior stared into the mug of white goo and wrinkled her own nose at the odor. "I’m not sick little girl and you are."
"Momma you said we were partners," the child replied with a wide eyes stare. "Didn’t ya mean it?"
The mother took a deep breath and nodded. "Of course I mean it." Xena closed her eyes took a sip and grimaced at the taste. "Ok now your turn," she said squinting her eyes and lowering the mug.
Tarren smiled at the expression on her mother’s face. "Taste’s real good doesn’t it Momma?" she asked with a giggle. The little girl took a drink from the mug and made a similar expression. "Yuk!"
The warrior placed the mug on the table beside the pallet. "I agree." She wiped the hair from the child’s face and was about to take her place on the pallet beside her daughter when there was a knock at the door. She grumbled as she got to her feet. "Gabrielle and Ephiny wouldn’t knock so it must be…." Xena opened the door and as she expected was greeted by Shalia. "Well I can’t say I’m surprised. Whenever there is trouble you seem to be on hand to help," she said with a bit more cynicism than she intended.
The young Amazon, a bit flustered by the reaction, lowered her eyes. "I am sorry. I did not mean to intrude. I just wanted to see how little Tarren was feeling. I will come back at another time." The young woman turned to leave.
"No wait." Xena ran her large hand over the top of her head and rubbed her own temples. "I’m sorry. I’m just tired and…You are always welcome here Shalia. Tarren would love to see you. Please come in." Her voice softened and a slight smile appeared as she waved a hand to motion the young woman in.
The Amazon took a moment and then stepped through the doorway. "Are you sure?"
The warrior grinned. "Very sure. As a matter of fact if you could sit with Tarren for just a minute I need to go get some broth from the kitchen. I sent Gabrielle for it a while ago but she didn’t come back. Have you seen her?"
The Amazon nodded. "I would be happy too stay with Tarren,"
she replied with a broad smile. Her tone changed as she spoke of the bard. "Gabrielle
is praying for the child in the temple of Artemis." She lowered her eyes.
"She has removed her bonnet Xena and told Ephiny she no longer wishes to
hold the title of princess of the tribe."
Xena’s eyes flared at the thought of her friend giving up something she knew was so important to her. "What? Why?"
Shalia shrugged. "I believe she fights her own battle inside." She stared at the warrior. "She is torn between what she feels right now. It can be very hard to choose wisdom over following your heart." She closed her eyes. "I know."
The warrior let out a long cleansing breath. "I’ll talk to her later," she replied with a frown.
The young amazon tilted her head to one side and stared at the leather clad woman before her. "Xena there are some battles that we must fight alone."
"Uh huh." Xena nodded in understanding of this odd young Amazon's wisdom and walked out of the cottage to get the broth for her sick child.
Shalia moved beside Tarren and sat on the edge of the pallet. She touched the child’s hand and felt the heat emanating from it. "So my little friend. How are you feeling?" she asked in a soft and tender tone.
Tarren coughed a bit but smiled when she turned her head and saw Shalia. "Hi when did you get here?" the child asked with a grin.
Shalia ran her hand over the youngster’s forehead. "Just now. Your mother went to get you some broth, so I will sit with you until she returns." She paused and ran her hand just above the youngster’s chest and frowned. "I would guess that you are not feeling very well." The words were solemn and serious.
"No but Momma says she’ll make me all better and I believe
Shalia smiled at the child’s faith. "And so she shall but perhaps you would like a drink of water now?" she asked hopefully
Tarren picked her head up a bit and opened her mouth. "Uh huh I get awful thirsty," she replied feeling the dryness around her lips.
The young woman reached for the mug and filled it with water. But before she handed it to the child she yanked a small vile from her cuff and added two drops of the contents to
the drink. After giving the liquid a slight swirl she held it to the youngster’s lips. "Here drink this and you’ll feel much better."
Tarren eyed the vile in her friend’s hand. "What’s that?"
she asked with all the curiosity of a small child.
Shalia looked at the thing tube with the silver inlays similar to that on the bracelet Tarren now wore. "Oh this is a very old recipe of a secret medicine." She stared at the vile for a moment and then placed it underneath the child’s pillow as she watched her drink the water. "There is quite a lot in that vile and I am entrusting it to you Tarren. Just two drops in water can help a fever feel better very fast, but I must ask you to make this our secret. Can you do that? Can you put that in your treasure bag and not tell anyone where you got it from for a while?" she asked in an almost parental tone.
The little girl let out a breath as the last of the water filled her mouth "Even momma?"
The Amazon nodded "Yes my little friend especially your momma."
The child bit her lip as she considered the secret. "For
"Not long." Shalia smiled. "Let’s say that it will be our secret only until you tell your momma your big secret. Ok?"
Tarren scratched her head. "Well Ok if you say so Shalia." She bit her lip again. "Will you tell me another story."
Shalia smiled. "Yes but only a short one. You should be sleeping."
The youngster smiled and placed her head on the Amazons lap.
Shalia grinned and ran her head through the child’s hair. "Once
long ago there was a place on the top of a mountain called Arteris. It was a
beautiful place filled with colorful flowers and running streams. It had everything
that made the world beautiful. Some even said it was a gift from the gods themselves.
On the highest peak of this mountain lived a little girl named Lerna. Now little
Lerna had never left her mountain home and she was a very curious little girl.
All she ever knew was the beauty and safety of Arteris."
Tarren smiled at the fact there would be a child in the story. "Did she have a mommy?"
The youngster bit her lip. "A daddy?"
Shalia shook her head. "No."
The little girl thought for a moment. "Did she have a Gabby?"
The Amazon smiled and rubbed the little one’s back. "Uh no. Only a few are lucky enough to have both a mother and a Gabby," she replied seriously.
Tarren grinned satisfied that she had more than the child in the story did. "Ok go on please."
Shalia smiled and bowed her head. "Anyway, one day Lerna
went against her mother’s wishes and climbed down the mountain just to see what
was down there. It was a long climb and she barely made it to the bottom."
The youngster sighed remembering her own trip up Mt. Polaris back in Amphipolis. "Uh oh someone’s gonna get the big one," she said in a hushed tone.
Shalia grinned. "No Tarren, Lerna’s mother was not as attentive as your momma so she did not even know her child had gone right away."
The little one shook her head. "Hmm bad momma."
The young Amazon suppressed a smile and continued. "When Lerna got to the bottom of the mountain she realized that there was no more beauty to be found there then in the place she had just come from. As a matter of fact it wasn’t nearly as nice as Arteris was. And she missed her mother, Lytrell, and wished to return to her place high on top of the mountain."
Tarren shrugged. "Why didn’t she just climb back up?"
Shalia let out a long breath. "Well she wasn’t strong enough.
It was much easier to go down the mountain than climb up."
The little girl twisted her lips and considered it. "I bet could do it but I’m a Warrior Princes ya know and if I couldn’t do it alone then Momma would help me, but I sure would get the big one when we got back on top," she said with a whistle.
Shalia chuckled. "I am sure."
Tarren stared up at her friend. "So what happened to Lerna?"
The Amazon smiled at her young friend. "She got down on her knees and prayed to Artemis to help her return to her home."
"Did she get help?"
"Yes Artemis appeared and told the child that she would return her to the mountain for a price."
The youngster shook her head and slid back on the pallet. "Uh oh there’s always a catch with grown-ups. What was the price?"
Shalia sighed heavily. "That she never ever leaves the mountain top ever again," she replied sadly.
Tarren thought about some of the prices she had paid for making mistakes that had kept her standing at supper for more than a few nights. "Ahh big deal! If that’s where her momma was then that’s where she wanted to go anyway. Right?" The child turned her head for confirmation.
The little girl smiled ready to finish the story herself. "So
then Artemis put the kid back with her mother and then she got the big one
for going down in the first place and they lived happy ever after. Right?"
Shalia shook her head. "No Tarren, you see Lerna’s mother finally realized that her child had traveled into the world below and she herself decided to climb down and find her." She paused. "The mother even made a vow that she would never return to Arteris until she found her daughter."
The little one arched a brow and coughed a bit. "And?"
Shalia ran her hand over the little girl’s chest as if blanketing
it with a touch. "Well Lerna was returned tot he mountain as Artemis promised
and her mother Lytrell spent the rest of her days searching for a child she
would never find."
Tarren frowned at the ending. "But Lerna was home."
Shalia nodded. "Yes."
"And her momma was looking for her?"
The youngster yawned and leaned on her side. "Why didn’t her momma just go home?"
The amazon pulled the blankets over the small form. "Because Tarren, Lytrell did not know Lerna was back on the mountain and she did not wish to go home without her. She spent her life looking for Lerna just as Xena would look for you if you were ever lost."
The child considered the comparison. "But I’d never go away from Momma and she could always find me cause she’s a great tracker and a Warrior Princess ya know." She took a deep breath. "But I still say I’d get the big one when momma did find me."
Shalia laughed and rubbed the child’s head. "You are probably
right, but the lesson of the story is that when two people are meant to be together
or share one heart then they should never choose separate paths. They should
have faith in one another and stand as one person. Do you understand?"
she asked hopefully.
The youngster yawned. "Uh huh. I understand that I’m staying with my momma." She smiled. "Lerna should have stayed with hers." The youngster frowned. "Thanks for the story Shalia but it would have been better if there had been a dragon that swallowed someone or a warlord that got his butt kicked by Lytrell," she said matter of factly. She gave her friend a tired glance. "Next time?"
The Amazon smiled as she watched the child fall off to sleep. "Yes, perhaps next time my little friend," she whispered placing a soft kiss on the youngster’s forehead.
Xena returned with a pot of broth in time to hear the last of the story being told. She glanced over and saw that her small child was now fast asleep. "I don’t know how you did it and I don’t even care but thank you…again." She shook her head. "I seem to say that to you a lot." She stared at the woman. "Shalia I know there is something very unique about you. You step lighter then anyone …even me…And you always do or say the right thing. Who are you?" she asked feeling her senses coming alive at the mystery.
It was a point blank question.
Shalia’s expression turned a bit cold. "Xena I am just an Amazon. My name is Shalia and I wish to do nothing but help my people and right now your little daughter as well." She tilted her head to one side. "I have my special gifts just as you and Tarren do. There are some things you should not question but merely accept at face value," she said with a voice that spoke of many years of experience.
The warrior considered the cryptic but honest response. The
Amazon owed her no explanations and Xena knew it. "You’re right. You’ve
been nothing but a good friend to us both since we arrived here and here
I am trying to…."
Shalia placed a gentle hand on the warrior’s arm. Xena could not help but notice that while the touch had an unusually soothing feel it was also quite cold. "You are tired. You need your rest as much as Tarren does. Why don’t you sleep? I will post a guard to see you are not disturbed." The words were spoken but heard almost as an echo in a dream.
The warrior yawned. All of a sudden her daylong vigil was catching up to the mother. "Maybe you’re right." She walked past the Amazon and slid into the pallet beside her child wrapped her arms gently around the youngster and in a moment she too fell asleep.
Shalia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Protect them," she whispered tot he air above before leaving the hut.
The little girl’s eyes flickered open. "Momma." She looked around at the unfamiliar foliage. "Why are we sitting in a tree Momma?" she asked with a yawn.
The warrior placed a lone finger over her lips to quiet the child and pointed to the invading Amazons below.
The little girl rolled out her lower lip and started to rise. "Uh oh…Let’s go kick some butt Momma."
The warrior immediately placed a firm hand on the child. "You
just stay where you are. It’s bad enough…." Shocked by the child’s sudden
burst of energy the mother placed a hand on the youngster’s forehead. The fever
was gone. "Tarren you’re not even warm anymore. How do you feel?"
she asked trying unsuccessfully to contain her relief.
The little girl shrugged. "I’m tired Momma, but I can still kick some butt if you’re ready."
The warrior kissed the little girl on the cheek and said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever god had watched over her small daughter. "Ok no butt kicking for you, but I do have an idea. However, we’re gonna have to work together and be very careful. Ok?"
The youngster smiled. This would be her first official partnership with her warrior mother. "Yes Momma."
Xena grinned and revealed her plan.
Queen Mussona stood beside Ephiny ready to do battle as well. "Penela you dare to invade one of your sister tribes. I will hunt you down myself," she growled, taking a step forward. "No one here killed your daughter."
Before another word could be spoken a small voice broke through the crowd. "I did it."
Ephiny glanced past Penela and saw Gabrielle approaching. The younger woman’s demeanor was calm but her face was tired and without conviction. "Gabrielle what are you saying you didn’t kill her. What are you doing?" the queen asked taking a careful step toward her approaching friend.
The bard moved closer to the group. "I’m preventing more worthless bloodshed Ephiny. That’s what I’m doing." She motioned up to the seated queen and then to the Amazons still fighting around them. "I will give my life gratefully to save the lives of all of these people," she said with her chin held high.
Penela stared at he young woman and shook her head knowing this girl could not have struck down her warrior daughter. "Who are you child?" she asked with a smirk.
This was the one question the bard did not have answer to. She had been asking herself the very thing all morning. "I am Gabrielle and I take responsibility for the death of your daughter so please tell your Amazons to cease their attack and I will go with you willingly," she replied quietly.
Penela smiled at the thought of a convicted murdered guilty or not. "Seize her," she yelled.
However, before the bard could be taken there was the familiar sound of a battle cry singing through the air and the great Warrior Princess landed in front of her friend sword drawn. She kicked two approaching guards to the ground and took a steady position in front of Gabrielle. "I don’t think I want you to do that," she hissed waving her blade up at Penela.
Penela glared at the leather-clad warrior. "Who are you?"
The warrior offered an evil smile. "I am Xena."
Penela took a deep breath but remained calm. "I have heard
Xena arched her brow and let her voice drop to a threatening tone. "Good then you know that my army is the biggest and most ruthless in all of Greece, so lay down your weapons before I order them to attack." She glanced around the village. "These Amazons are my property."
Ephiny frowned at the warrior’s choice of tactic but said nothing.
Penela dismounted and faced the great warrior. "How do I know you even have an army?" she asked motioning to he all too quiet woods.
Xena laughed wickedly. "Oh you want a demonstration." She pointed her blade at the neck of the old queen and purred. "Very well a small one just for you…" She looked around and took a deep breath. "Warrior I give you the order to take one Amazon down but only one. The rest are mine," she yelled.
There was silence and then somewhere in the back of the crowd there was a groan and the sound of a body sliding to the ground. "Hmm guess that’s one the archer got," the warrior said with a smile hoping Tarren had at least aimed for one of the opposing Amazons.
Penela looked to the trees in disbelief. "I never even
saw the arrow."
Xena took a step forward pushing her blade forward. "And you won’t see the others either so lower your weapons before I tell my army to open fire," she ordered through clenched teeth.
Penela knew of Xena’s reputation and while she had come to seek revenge for the death of her daughter the queen had not come to see her other daughter’s killed. She raised her arm in the air and then lowered it and in moments the sounds of staffs and sword being tossed to the ground were all that could be heard. Ephiny’s people gathered the weapons and formed the prisoners in the center of the compound beside their old queen.
Penela turned to look for the Warrior Princess but Xena had disappeared as fast as she had come. The old queen glared at Ephiny. "Do what you will to us. The rest of my people will come. The death shall be avenged," she said with a mix of pain and venom.
Ephiny eyes shot through Penela like sharp daggers. "You
foolish old woman. I have lost one maybe even two scout parties searching for
the killer of Tyrell and you dare to enter my lands and raise a sword
to me in a time of peace," she seethed.
Penela took a step forward and even Ephiny could see the loss of the daughter was weighing heavily on the old queen’s heart. "I want the killer of my child."
Ephiny let her muscles ease a bit as she realized that this woman was just a mother who had lost her child. "So do I," she said emphatically.
Penela motioned to the bard. "What of that one? She even
confessed." Now the old queen was desperate to blame anyone.
Ephiny’s expression softened a bit as she stared at her young friend. "That Penela is Princess Gabrielle and you could take a few lessons in leadership from her…We both could." She bowed her head. "She was willing to take responsibility for a death she did not cause just so she could save the lives of my people and yours."
Penela stood straight and regained her stoic composure. "You are just lucky to have been saved by the Warrior Princess and her great army," she said with a touch of venom.
Ephiny glanced at Gabrielle who shrugged her own lack of understanding.
All questions were answered when Xena appeared holding a small child wrapped in blankets and holding a slingshot in one arm and her sword in the other. The mother smiled and pointed her sword once again at Penela’s throat. "I’d like you to meet my army."
A horrified look came over the old queen’s face and she glanced at her warrior’s hoping one amongst them would offer understanding. She stared at the little girl in awe and disbelief. "One small child?"
"Yup." Xena pushed the point of her blade just enough
to show she was serious. "And she’s my small child. Your presence
here caused me to take my sick little girl out into the cold and for that I
might just slit your throat." She glanced at Tarren. The child’s eyes were
wide with expectation. "Or not." She sheathed her sword and kissed
her youngster affectionately. "You did really good baby," she said
to the now smiling child.
Tarren raised her chin in the air and swung her slingshot in front of her. "I got one didn’t I Momma?" she asked proudly.
Xena nodded and gave the youngster a gentle squeeze. "Yes you did."
The child stared at the old queen. She had the largest bonnet of feather’s the child had ever seen. "Ooooh she’s got lots of feathers." She fingered her mother’s armor. "Momma do ya think she needs that many?" she asked hopefully.
Xena stared at the old Amazon and nodded. "Yeah she sure does have lots of them." She arched a brown and glared at the woman making her warning clear. "Penela I think a feather is more than a fair trade for sparing your life…don’t you?" she purred.
The old queen looked from the warrior to the child and let out a long breath. She reached into her bonnet and yanked out a plume offering to hand it to the child only to have the warrior’s hand meet it first. "I’ll give it to her for you. Thanks." Xena faced her little one and grinned. "Here ya go you little feather monster," she said, kissing the little girl’s head and squeezing her tight still relieved that the youngster was no longer with fever. "How are you feeling now?"
"Good Momma. Wanna go pelt a few more of the naughty Amazons?" She rubbed her hands together hopefully.
The warrior gave Ephiny a lopsided smile and then looked back at her small daughter. "No you’ve done enough pelting little girl."
The child rolled out her lower lip "Well then can I see
the one I got?"
Xena considered the sight of an angry Amazon with a growing headache from the thud of a rock hitting them in the back of the head. She turned and looked in that direction and just as she feared Eponon was now getting to her feet rubbing the back of her neck. "Uh…No you’re going back into your warm bed," she replied with parental authority.
"But Momma you said I was better," the youngster argued.
The mother sighed. "You are but you’re still sick and I want to see that you stay better so you are going back to bed. No arguments." This word was final.
The child frowned and pressed her arms against her chest. "But
I’m the army," she moaned.
The warrior mother arched her brow and lowered her voice. "And I’m the Warrior Princess in charge of the army and your mother. Care to make a complaint?" she asked with a warning stare.
Tarren swallowed hard and unfolded her arms. "No Momma. I’ll go back to bed," she replied quietly.
Xena grinned and again kissed the child. "Good girl. I’ll be there in a little while." She handed the youngster to Gabrielle who was grateful just to hold her. "Would you take her back?"
The bard nodded and said a silent prayer to Artemis to thank
her for any efforts she had made on behalf of this small wonder. "I’d love
Tarren wrapped her arms around her friend’s neck and Xena smiled as she heard the child chattering about how the warrior had given her a bunch of rocks and left her in the tree to hit the naughty Amazons. The warrior mother knew this was a story that would be told and retold many times.
Ephiny smiled as she watched the pair walk off. "Xena that is some kid you have there."
The warrior nodded in agreement. "Thanks Eph I think she’s pretty special too."
Once she was sure her child was out of earshot the warrior turned to Penela "If you were not so old I would cut you in two for what you did," she said with venom.
Penela thought of the sick child and felt her resolve melt a bit. However she remained stoic in her stance. "I did what I have a right to do to avenge my child’s death." She glared at the warrior. "I hope you are proud of your little trick…A mere child was your army?" She shook her head. "Is that how my daughter was killed as well? Did you trick her with a baby in the trees or just stick a sword in her back," she yelled.
Xena closed her eyes fighting the impulse to knock this old queen right on her royal. "You heard Ephiny tell you that no one here killed your daughter. Didn’t your returning band of assassins tell you that?" she asked wanting the old queen to know that her plan had been foiled early on.
Penela had a look of genuine shock at the words. "What are you talking about?" She let her eyes wander tot he skies above. Tyrell went out on her own. She felt that an alliance might threaten her place as my successor. By the time I found out her plans it was too late." She focused on Xena. "I never sent her anywhere and as for her friends…they never returned either."
Xena looked at Ephiny. This news destroyed the theory of Tyrell’s own band killing her.
However, before another word could be exchanged a horse with the body of one young Amazon slumped in the saddle, rode into camp. The skittish animal came to an obedient halt when Xena grabbed the reigns. "Whoa boy!" She calmed the horse and gently pulled the body from the saddle.
Ephiny looked at the face of the young Amazon and her head dropped to her chest. "That’s Mela. She was one of Shelopa’s messengers." The warrior listened for a heat beat but hearing none shook her head and lowered the young woman to the ground. She pulled an arrow from the girl’s back and broke it in half. "They got her while she was retreating…bastards." Xena could feel her blood turn to ice at the thought of yet another senseless death of a mere youngster.
Penela pushed her way through the crowd. "What is this
all about?" she asked wondering what all the commotion was about.
Ephiny caressed the young Amazons face and shook her head. "It’s about cloud people and the ground opening up," she yelled repeating the old queen’s words as the only answer she had to this mystery.
Penela’s eyes went wide as she heard the legendary words spoken.
"What of the cloud people? Why do you speak of things like that?"
she asked in a cold and low tone.
Ephiny stared at the old queen. "You know of these cloud people?" she asked in disbelief that such a race actually existed.
Xena glanced over at the young Amazon’s saddle and noticed a small sack tied tot the saddle. She pushed past the group back to the horse and removed it. She removed the metal object inside and handed it to Ephiny.
The Amazon’s eyes grew wide and her hands shook as she stared
at the ancient object. "It can’t be," she said her face turning white.
Xena looked at the odd insignia on the front of the helmet. "What is it Eph?" she asked noting the genuine fear on her usually stoic friend’s face.
Ephiny looked to Mussona and Penela who shared the looks of fear and shock. She swallowed hard and pointed to the symbol of an ancient sword on the front of the helmet. "Xena, that is the sign of an Argonian Warrior." She paused and took a deep breath. "The ones of the legend I told Tarren of."
Penela ran her own fingers along the cool metal. "The cloud people," she whispered.
Xena threw a halting in the air. "Now just wait." She pointed to Ephiny. "You said that these Argonians were sent into some sort of oblivion by Artemis like a 100 summers ago." She pointed to Penela. "And you keep calling them cloud people." She placed her hands on her hips. "Would someone mind shedding just a little light for me."
Penela lowered her eyes and let her muscles ease. She turned to Ephiny. "It looks as if I owe you an apology Queen Ephiny. My daughter was killed by something hideous." She let her shoulders drop and all of a sudden the great queen of the east appeared old. "Tyrell," she mumbled. Her aids rushed to her side to hold the old woman and Xena caught her before Penela fell to the ground.
"Get her to the healer’s hut," the warrior barked.
At the hut…
Penela pushed the healer away tiring of being doted over. "Enough I am old and you have no cure for that." She took a deep breath and stared at Ephiny and Mussona and back to Xena. "What do any of you really know of the Argonians?" she asked catching her breath.
Ephiny stepped forward. "What we all know is the same.
Our people once mated with them until they tricked Queen Reea into believing
there would be a joining and then they attacked and scattered the Amazons."
The old queen shook her head and forced a sick smile. "Child’s fairy tales." Penela swallowed hard. "And do you know how they managed to take an entire nation of Amazons so easily?" she asked with a sigh.
Mussona was the first to respond. "No."
Penela slid from the healer’s table and stared off into the
distance. "They worshipped a god of the sky of their own making called
Perin and it is said that Perin put the touch of the clouds in their hands.
They could call upon the very sight of the highest mist and that is what they
did. They called to the clouds to drop from the sky while they hid in the trees
and while our people, women and children alike struggled to find their families
and their homes in the smoky mist they attacked…slaughtering as many as they
could. They did not care if their victims were old or children. They wanted
mates and slaves and resistance meant a horrible death."
Xena swallowed hard at the image of children being cut down as they ran. "But I thought Artemis sent them away," she said quietly.
Penela laughed a bit. "She imprisoned them in the most hideous place she could think of…the void of darkness that lives below us…the abyss. She offered them an eternity of suffering for the crimes against the Amazons. But after so many summers it looks like they have escaped or that someone let them out," she replied in a near whisper.
Ephiny took a deep breath and steadied herself against a wall.
"This is all so much. How come I never heard this part of the story?"
she asked remembering how she had always maintained an image of brave Amazons
fighting rather than running.
Penela’s expression became soft and maternal. "Because child we the older leaders decided through the generations that it was best that our children be told only of the great Reea and the noble Amazons and spare our descendants the cold hearted nightmares of the evil Argonians." She lowered her eyes. "But now it seems the nightmare walks amongst us again."
Ephiny paced nervously back and forth. "No not again. Our people will not got through this again." She called to a guard and one appeared in an instant. "Triple the sentry around the village and tell Eponon I want to see her."
The guard sprinted out the door.
Xena moved closer to her friend. "Ephiny what are you thinking of doing?" she asked concerned by her amazon friend’s lack of rational thinking.
The queen turned on her heal and faced the warrior. "I’m
going to war Xena…I am going to find them before they find us," she replied
with a seething tone the warrior recognized all too well.
The warrior let out a long breath and shook her head. "You can’t…not yet. We need to have a plan and at least take time to think about how…."
The angry queen held up a halting hand. "No Xena! My warriors and friends…my people are either dead or prisoners of these creatures. I will not wait any longer," she declared.
Xena could see that her friend’s mind would not be changed. "Then I’m going with you."
Ephiny shook her head and tried to calm herself as she spoke. "No Xena. I need you stay behind because if I fail…then you and your plan will be our only hope."
Back at the cottage…
Gabrielle caressed the small child’s face finding it hard to
believe the fever had come and gone so fast. "So do you wanna hear a story
now?" she asked with a smile.
Tarren nodded. "Uh huh but tell me why the bad Amazons attacked first."
The bard slid onto the side of the pallet and let out a long breath. "Because they thought we did something bad to one of their people and they were really upset," she replied hoping that was enough of an answer.
The child frowned and gave the bard a raised brow. "Was someone here naughty that I don’t know about?"
The young woman smiled and shook her head. "No these people just thought someone was naughty. You know how silly we grown ups can be."
The child leaned up against her friend’s shoulder and nodded. "Yeah you need a system like me and Mommy have."
Gabrielle grinned at the little girl’s use of maternal title. "We sure do brat." She tried to smile "How about that story?" she asked giving the youngster a gentle nudge.
Tarren nuzzled closer making sure she was comfortable. "Ok
go ahead Gabby."
The bard smiled and placed a loving arm around the youngster.
"Once upon a time there were three travelers. One was A warrior princess."
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes." She continued. "One was a bard."
Tarren patted her friend’s arm. "You Gabby?"
The young woman smiled happy for the familiar interruptions.
"Yes and the third and most loved by all was a very small princess."
"A Warrior Princess in training like me?" the child asked hopefully.
"Yes it could even be you Tarren."
The child sighed and lay her head down on her friend’s stomach anxious for more of the story. "Ok go ahead. It’s good so far."
"Thank you…Well they three traveled around a lot and did
lots of good things to help people. The Warrior Princess fought all kinds of
bad people and was very well know and respected."
"That’s my Mommy," the child stated proudly.
"Yes it is." Gabrielle felt her eyes tear a bit as she continued. "And the little princess was just like her momma in so many ways that the bard often found it hard to believe that she could be so lucky as to have not one but two of these very wonderful people in her life."
Tarren smiled and then bit her lip. "Gabby did the little
princess get in lots of trouble and get spankins and stuff from her Warrior
Mommy Princess?" she asked.
The bard wiped a few stray hairs from the child’s cheek and nodded. "Well yes the little princess did find it hard to stay out of trouble and the warrior mother was pretty strict but only because she loved her so much."
The youngster let out a sigh and shrugged. "I figured that. Ya even got a system in the story."
Gabrielle smiled a bit. "One day the bard decided that she wanted to be a princess too and have people respect her and need her the way they did the Warrior Princess, so she told herself that she was an Amazon Princess," she said, staring up at he ceiling thinking of the days events.
Tarren rolled on her side to face her friend. "But Gabby you are and Amazon Princess."
The bard pushed the child gently back into the pallet. "Shh this is a story." She lowered her eyes. "So the bard turned princess put on all these feather s and walked around the village telling everyone what she thought and trying to polish and fix things that really weren’t broken."
The youngster twisted her lips at the idea of fixing something that did not need repair. "Why Gabby?"
The bard closed her eyes and let her voice become low. "Because she didn’t really know how to be a princess so she tried to learn how to act like one."
"Was it real important to her?" the child asked with concern.
Gabrielle thought for a moment and then shook her head. "She thought so for a while and then one day she realized something very important." She faced the little girl "You see she had been watching the Warrior Princess taking care of the little princess one day when it suddenly occurred to her that just putting on a few feathers and walking around telling people what to do did not make a good princess."
"What does?" the youngster asked eager for information.
The bard thought of her leather bound friend and smiled. "Well being like your Momma and knowing when to act and when to react and knowing when to say something and when not to." She smiled. "You see Tarren the bard learned that being a princess came from inside." She pointed tot he child’s heart. "And it was most important to be a good person before you were anything else."
The child giggled at the touch. "So what happened to the
three travelers Gabby?"
Gabrielle kissed the little girl on the cheek. "I think that the Warrior Princess learned that being a Momma was more important than even being a princess. The bard learned that she liked being just a bard for the moment and that having the her two friends really close all the time was more important than anything else." She paused. "You see the bard loved them both very much and the little princess was very special to her."
Tarren smiled at the way the three familiar travelers remained a family. She ran her fingers up her friend’s shoulder. "Uh Gabby…Did the little princess get a spankin for anything new that ya know of?" she asked with a broad smile.
The bard chuckled a bit and pulled the little girl closer. "Not that I remember Tarren."
The youngster sighed with relief. "Did the three live happy
Gabrielle smiled as she considered her response. "I think so honey but I do know one thing for sure."
The bard tickled the child’s side. "That the Warrior Princess and the bard both loved the little princess very much and they both always hoped she knew that," she said softly.
Tarren grinned and hugged her friend tightly to thank her for
the story. "I think she woulda known that Gabby. I’ll bet she was a real
smart little kid."
Gabrielle returned the embrace. "Good."
The little girl leaned back. She was certainly hearing her share of strange stories today "But ya know Gabby it would been a better story if maybe the little princess had gotten to kick a dragons butt or something."
Tarren was eager to hear a story about a little kid and a dragon and some butt kicking.
The bard smiled and wrapped her arms around the child. "Next story Ok?"
The child frowned knowing Shalia had made the very same promise. "Uh huh."
The door to the cottage swung open and Xena walked in. Seeing
Tarren was awake she forced a smile. "Gabrielle Ephiny really needs to
speak to you right now."
The bard kissed the little girl and rose from the pallet. "I’ll be back."
The bard started to walk past her friend and was stopped by
the large hand. "What you did out there was pretty stupid. You could have
been killed." She closed her eyes. "But I’m really proud of you for
trying to do it."
Gabrielle nodded. "Thanks." She moved closer to her friend and let her voice drop to a whisper. "What does Eph need to see me about. What’s happening?" she asked confused by her friend’s anxious demeanor.
Xena closed her eyes and let out a long breath. "War Gabrielle. We’re going to war." The words rung through the air like a distant bell chiming in the wind.
Need I tell you to feed Little Ego? J She’s very hungry and we have a long way to go. Part ten is in the works so write with your thoughts. Fantimbard@aol.com
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