Home Sweet Home
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called
SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, and NALAS GIFTS. 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.
Comfort/hurt- well you may need a Kleenex in a few spots if youre like me.
Chapter 1 Shadows of Goden
The blackness came again like a rush of chills over a fever racked body. The crystal forms were raining from the roof of the cavern. The once bright sparkling colors were all now mixed with blood. Where was Xena? Slowly the walls started to collapse on the already narrow cavern and the young child was caught in the center with no means of escape. Where was Xena? The blood that had covered the floor was slowly rising up to the youngsters face. Soon she would be completely covered with it and unable to see or breathe fresh air. The child could no longer move. She could not even wipe the red stains from her face. A giant hand was approaching and it was covered in blood. "Momma!" the child cried.
"Momma!" Tarren screamed jumping from her bedroll like a spring that had been uncoiled. Her small body was soaked with sweat and shivering from the nightmare she had just escaped again.
Xena quickly grabbed the child, drawing her close to her chest and rocking her. "The same night mare again little one!" she whispered as she pressed the youngsters sweaty form close to her, stroking her back tenderly hoping to ease the shivers that ran over her daughters body.
The child held onto her mothers arm trying to find her place back in the real world. Tears spilled from the youngsters eyes as she tried to recount the dream. "I was back in the cave and the crystals were falling and the bloody hand was coming and " she said in a trembling broken shiver.
Xena rocked her child slowly as she wrapped her large muscular arms tightly around the little girl. "Shh I know Im here. Its just a nightmare. Its not real Tarren," she said quickly, hoping to bring the youngster back to reality.
Gabrielle glanced up from her bedroll wiping the blond mass of hair from her face. Seeing the frazzled look on her warriors face and the shaking child in Xenas arms, the bard knew it had happened again. Gabrielle quickly rose from her blankets and settled in next to her companions. Stroking the youngsters head for comfort, she whispered to the warrior, "By the Gods Xena, not again. Thats the fourth night in a row shes had these nightmares."
Xena nodded as she protectively embraced her daughter. " I know I know," she said quietly, trying to form some plan of action in her mind against the demons that attacked her child in the middle of her sleep.
The warrior mother slowly got to her feet keeping Tarren cradled in her arms. She looked over at the bard and said with a sigh, "Come on lets get her down to the stream and get her cleaned up and into some dry clothes. The poor kids sweat right through these again."
As they had done for nearly a week, Xena carried the little girl in her arms down to whatever river or stream was near their camp while Gabrielle grabbed towels and some fresh clothes and followed. It had become a ritual of sadness and suffering for all three of the travelers.
Xena placed the youngster near the edge of the water and slowly stripped off her sweaty undergarments, placing her gently in the cooling waters. Tarren held tightly to her mother as the great warrior ran her large hand gently over the childs skin and hair hoping the fresh water would bring back the reality of where she was and the safety of who she was with.
Tarrens grip on her mothers arm remained iron clad and her youthful blue gaze never left Xenas. "Momma I dont want to go to sleep anymore," the youngster cried holding Xenas arm so tightly the warrior was sure the circulation was slowing.
The warrior mother grimaced knowing that her child was looking to her for help and comfort, but Xena did not know what more she could do. She wished she could join the youngster in her nightmares and help her fight her way through them, but she couldnt.
She could only look sadly down at her child as she washed the cold water over her face and tried to smile as she spoke, "Hey there only nightmares Tarren. Theyre not real. Im always right here beside you. Im not gonna let anything happen to you. I promise."
Gabrielle approached with the towel and soon Tarren was once again dry and dressed. The youngster still wore the splint on her foot that had been injured in the cave-in nearly a week ago, and it was a constant reminder of the pain the child had felt and obviously still did.
Gabrielle looked at the dripping youngster and smiled weakly. "Hey are you just do this so you can go swimming at night brat?" she asked with a forced grin.
The child tried to smile and nodded a bit wanting to join in her friends humor, but finding it too difficult. "Gabby I dont wanna go to sleep," she repeated.
The bard crumbled a bit at the childs plea and reached out to touch her hand. Gabrielle looked at Xena. The warrior was tired. She had been up with Tarren every night. Xena was plagued with concern over the youngsters nightmares and it was beginning to take its toll on her. The warrior mother just stared at the green eyes of her best friend not knowing what answer to give. She finally sighed and got to her feet. "Come on little girl well help you find some happy mischief in those dreams of yours," she said quietly moving back towards camp.
The bard followed slowly, yawning as she stretched out her own tired muscles.
When the trio returned to camp, Gabrielle reached down to the fire and mixed the usual potion that helped Tarren find gentle sleep. Xena did not like using her medicines for such a purpose, but her daughters lack of time in the land of Morpheous was effecting her health, not to mention Gabrielle and Xenas
The bard handed Xena the mix of tea and returned to her bedroll knowing the rest of the night would now be quiet. Tarren eagerly gulped the liquid regardless of its fowl odor knowing it would offer her a peaceful slumber. "Hey slow down," the warrior said taking the empty mug from the youngster and gently pushing her back into her bedroll.
"Momma!" she cried as Xena started to rise and walk towards the fire.
The warrior mother quickly returned to the little ones side and took Tarrens trembling hand, "Hey, I was only going to put the mug back youngster. Im right here."
A single tear ran down the childs cheek. "No dont go. Promise you wont go," she cried using all her strength to try and hold her mother in place.
Xena sighed and lay back next to her daughter and whispered, "Im not going anywhere. Im right here with you." For the fourth night in a row the warrior mother slept at her daughters side with the small child clinging to her through out the night.
When morning finally arrived, Tarren woke with a smile as if the night before had never happened. It was the same each and every day since the cave-in at Goden.
Gabrielle eyed the smiling youngster with confusion, as she stood next to the warrior just out of earshot of the child who was busy wrapping her bedroll and packing her satchel. "Xena I dont get it. How can she be so happy in the morning and so terrified at night?" the bard asked.
Xena turned and looked at the gentle innocence on her daughters face. She was thankful that the youngster could find peaceful thoughts in the daylight that avoided her when she slept. The warrior smiled as she eyed her young daughter burying her head completely inside her satchel in search of some lost treasure. "The memory is too painful for her Gabrielle. She only deals with it at night because she is forced to let her guard down. She has buried that fear and that pain so deep inside that when shes awake she doesnt know it exists," the warrior replied with a deep breath.
The bard sighed and then stopped a yawn. "Well what are we gonna do? I cant bare to see her suffering like that Xena," she said with concern.
The warrior nodded in agreement. "I know...She just needs time. When shes ready then shell talk about it. Until then Gabrielle theres not much we can do," she said with a scowl, heading back into the center of camp.
"OK you its time for another days ride," Xena said with a simple grin crouching don low enough for Tarren to hop on her back.
The youngster stared down at her still bandaged foot. "When can we take that off?" she asked pointing towards the splint.
Xena knelt down and examined the wound. "Well Id say in a few days, but are you really sure that you are so anxious to have it come off little one?" the warrior asked with a warning smile, reminding the child that she had not forgotten about her promise.
Tarren swallowed hard as she stared at her foot and then back at her mother. "Actually Im sort of fond of it ya know Momma. It doesnt have to come off. I like it," she said with a weak grin.
Xena nodded. "Uh huh Thats what I thought well it will be off in a few days and then you and I have an appointment little one," she said lifting the child onto her back.
Tarren tried to look a bit dazed. "Appointment? Hmm I dont remember making an appointment with anyone sorry Momma you must have me confused with someone else on your list," she whispered, as she wrapped her arms around her mothers neck.
The bard chuckled at the youngsters ability to find humor in something Xena took very seriously. Tarren was definitely not going to make it easy on her mother to keep that promise.
Xena lifted the child higher into the air, "Nope you are the only one on my list right now little girl. Dont worry Ill REMIND you all about it when the time comes."
The youngster groaned at her mothers determined words. "Gabby will you talk to her please!" she begged, reaching a hand down to the more lenient bard.
Gabrielle looked at Xena considering a defense, but the look in the warriors eyes told her that this was not one of those moments to challenge her. "Sorry brat, not this time!" she said patting the youngsters back.
Tarren dropped her head wearily on the warriors shoulder. "Ya know Id run away from home right now if I could run," she murmured.
Xena grinned and winked at the bard. With a quick flip she brought the child in front of her. "You would huh?" she asked with a look of true sadness.
The pouting child leaned on her mothers chest. "Yes I would and youd miss me lots," she said with a slight grin waiting for the warriors response.
"Well I wouldnt want that to happen. Youre right Id miss you an awful lot and be really worried about you while you were gone," Xena said quietly staring at the bard, trying not to smile at her daughters discreet game of make Momma Feel Bad.
"Yeah Id miss you too!" the bard said, lowering her head to stare at her boots as she walked
Tarren, realizing she was being teased, eyed them both and slowly shook her head. "I dont stand a chance do I?" she asked, knowing her intended threat was not gonna help her situation.
Xena considered the words and shook her head. "Nope sorry afraid not little one. Your fate is pretty well sealed on this," she said without question.
The child moaned and then lay her head back down quickly falling asleep. The nights of restless sleep and nightmares were catching up to the little girl. Xena lowered her eyes and quickly noticed that her daughter was napping. "Well lucky her," she said with a yawn.
The bard yawned as well, "Yeah Xena about Tarren Do you really have to punish her? I mean I know what she did was wrong, but shes been through so much, and now these nightmares. Is it really needed?"
The warrior let out a long tired breath as she held tightly to her child. "Gabrielle believe me the last thing I want to do is punish her, but its for all the reasons that you just mentioned that I have to. She doesnt really understand that the reason she got hurt was because she didnt listen to us. Her memory of ALL of that happened in Goden stops with the cave-in. Tarren forgets how and why she wound up in there in the first place. She has to take responsibility for her actions Gabrielle. THAT is the only way we can make sure she doesnt do something like this again," Xena sighed and repositioned the child closer to her. "This kid feels guilty about something and it is tearing her up inside and perhaps the only way shell find peace in her dreams is to let go of the guilt," the warrior finished with a tired frown
The bard considered her friends wisdom and smiled. "Hey your getting pretty good at this mothering stuff ya know," she said poking the warrior gently in the side.
Xena grinned and stared at the sleeping child, "Yeah well SHE makes sure I get a lot of practice."
"She sure does warrior. She sure does," the young woman said with a grin.
As the days slowly passed the trio came closer to Amphipolous. Xena estimated that they were only about two days travel from her village. She was anxious to see her mother and her home again. They made camp in a small grassy clearing just above a narrow stream. It would be their last night on the road before reaching Amphipolis. Gabrielle set up the camp while Xena examined Tarrens splint knowing it was passed time to remove it.
"Tarren this has to come off," the warrior repeated for the fourth time, gently tugging at the bandage.
The youngster was quietly sitting by the fire staring at the small flames saying nothing. In the past few days the child had become sullen and moody and down right irritable. Xena and the bard tried to be tolerant because they knew the child was still plagued by nightmares and a lack of sleep.
Xena moved in beside her child. "Hey Im talking to you," she scolded, bringing the little girls attention quickly to her.
Tarren stared at her bandaged foot and then into the blue gaze of her mothers eyes. "I dont want it off. I like it," she said with a slight pout.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shook her head trying to contain her frustration at the childs stubbornness. "Tarren we have been over this 145 times in the last eight days, and frankly Ive had enough of it. You no longer have a choice. It is coming off right now," the warrior mother ordered.
The youngster looked at Gabrielle whose face was worn with exhaustion from lack of sleep. "Tarren honey just let Xena take it off," she said with a quick yawn, but the warrior child stubbornly shook her head.
Xena frowned and let out a deep breath. "Thats it! I have been nice. I have been patient. I have even been sweet, but even I have my limits," she yelled, quickly removing the youngsters bandage and pulling her slowly to her feet.
"Now I want to see you walk on it. I want to know if it hurts when you step on it, and before you get any ideas little girl, I want you to know that I expect the truth," Xena warned with a shaking finger.
Tarren looked at her naked foot and then at her mother. She took a quick step. It actually felt good to stand again. The child walked easily just as Xena had dictated.
"How does it feel?" the bard asked, as she watched the youngster move.
"A bit stiff, but it doesnt hurt." she whispered, sounding a bit sorry that it didnt.
Xena sighed with relief. "Thank the Gods. Now put your boot on and come with me," she said quietly.
The child reluctantly reached down and lifted her boot on and again took a slow step. Xena nodded at the bard and grabbed her fishing pole with one hand and Tarrens hand with the other. "Well be back in a bit Gabrielle," she said rolling her eyes at her daughters dramatics." Come on!" she said dragging the child down the path behind her.
Little Tarren looked at Gabrielle as if Xena were leading her to the gallows. The child waved at the bard as if it were the last time they would ever see each other on this side. The bard had to grin at the little ones overly acted angst, but still she waved a quick farewell and then leaned back on her bedroll for a needed nap.
Xena and her young daughter headed down to the stream. The child was unusually quiet and the warrior knew why. She herself would be happy when this whole incident with Goden was behind them. When they reached the waters edge the warrior dropped her pole and turned to face her daughter. "Ya know Tarren, you have not been the easiest kid to live with these last few days. But thats Ok because Im not always the easiest person to be around either. However this whole thing has gotten way out of hand and it ends right here and right now. You did something wrong very wrong and you nearly got yourself killed. Thats why you still have the nightmares," Xena said feeling a surge of emotion welling within her. "I know that you are NOT afraid of anything that might happen to you, but you see I AM. I worry about you. I care about you. Can you understand that Tarren?" she asked, trying to show her daughter what was truly inside her own heart.
Tarren nodded as she let her young eyes meet her mothers blue stare. The warriors tone softened a bit as she saw the child already had a tear running down her cheek.
Xena could not help but hug the youngster. "You are such a little brat sometimes," she said cupping the girls face in her hands. "Now lets get this over with, so I can catch dinner," she said quickly kneeling and placing the child over her knee. The warrior had no anger only a burden of responsibility. She wasted not a single moment or an ounce of her gentle strength following through on her promise. Soon the youngster was once again reminded of the painful price for disobeying her warrior mother.
It was not long before the cranky child was sulking by the side of the stream while her mother fished for dinner. "Are you gonna cry all day?" the warrior asked, looking wearily over her shoulder at the youngster.
The child nodded and turned her head away.
"Ok suit yourself," the warrior said with a sigh.
Xena quickly pulled a fish from the stream and tied it onto the already heavy string on the ground beside her feet. As the warrior examined the fish on her line she decided there was more than enough to feed the trio. She picked up her pole and the fish in one hand and motioned for the child to follow.
The sulking youngster only rolled on her side purposely avoiding her mothers gaze. "Dont wanna go," the child murmured.
"Ok have it your way," the warrior said slowly.
Xena quickly lifted Tarren up with her free hand and threw the weepy youngster over her shoulder. The child struggled a bit but a quick warning glare from her mother put an end to that fast.
As they entered the campsite Xena smiled at the sight of the sleeping bard. She knew Tarrens nightmares had robbed her friend of her sleep, so she was not about to wake her up. Xena placed the child on her feet and looked down at her. "It about time you started earning your keep around here again little girl. You clean the fish while I get some more wood, and dont wake Gabrielle up," she said quietly.
The teary eyed youngster looked at the seriousness in her mothers eyes and reluctantly took the fish to be cleaned. Xena was about to leave when she saw the child rubbing her bottom gingerly. She moved up beside her and placed a tender arm around her. "Hey brat who loves you?" she asked tugging at the childs ear gently.
The youngster slowly looked up at her mother and saw the genuine concern and love in her gaze. "You do I guess," Tarren whispered.
Xena threw her head back in surprise. "You guess? Hey do you see anyone else wearing out their hand on your little butt when you do stuff that could get you killed?" she asked feeling a lump in her own throat forming.
The child wiped her eyes and bit her lip, "Nope just you."
Xena lifted the little girl into her arms and hugged her. "Well then, I repeat myself. Who loves you? And you better get it right this time." she said slowly running her hands down the childs side.
The youngster cocked her head and raised her eyebrows suddenly, for no real reason, remembering the sight of her mothers bloody hands outside the cave in Goden. "You do!" she answered without question in her voice.
Xena nodded approvingly. "Thats right, and I dont ever want you to forget it," she said gently squeezing her daughter. Tarren nodded and much to the warriors surprise, hugged her mother tightly, laying her head quietly on Xenas shoulder.
The warrior mother kissed the youngsters head and sighed, happy to have her daughter back. "Now start cleaning those fish," the warrior ordered, placing the child on the ground.
Tarren looked at her mother strangely. "Something about the hands," the child thought, but she couldnt quite remember. She was lost in a memory of the past and couldnt break her concentration on the palms of her mothers hands.
"Tarren Tarren," Xena said quietly, trying to bring the child back to reality without waking Gabrielle.
"Huh yes Momma," she replied, not sure what she had been thinking of a moment ago.
Xena studied her daughter. "Hey are you Ok?" she asked placing a gentle hand on the youngsters head.
Tarren swallowed hard and nodded not sure she was being truthful in her response, and Xena just stared at her confused by her daughters expression
"Well then you get those fish cleaned. Ok?" the warrior repeated.
The child bit her lower lip. "Yes maam," she said with a mock salute wiping the last of her tears away with her sleeve.
Xena smiled and touched the youngsters cheek. "And dont wake Gabrielle," she repeated slowly, so the little girl was sure to hear each word.
Tarren looked down at the snoring bard and frowned. "Youre not gonna cook are ya Momma?" she asked.
The warrior cocked her head. "Hey it wont kill ya for one night. Gabrielle needs a break," she said quietly heading out to the woods.
Tarren stared at the napping bard and then the fish. She wanted Gabrielle to wake up so she would cook and, so she would give her warmth and compassion she had come to expect from the bard at moments like this. However Xena was pretty adamant about letting her sleep, so the youngster tried to be as quiet as she could while cleaning the fish. It was purely an act of the fates when the frying pan hit the rock making such a loud crashing sound that the bard jumped from her bedroll.
"Oh youre awake. Momma said to let you sleep," the child whispered, trying to show her friend her tears.
Gabrielle steadied herself on a tree and ran her hands through her hair trying to bring her senses back to reality. The bard looked down at the youngster making an effort to clean the fish while wiping tears from the corners of her eyes with the ends of her sleeves. The gentle bard wasted no time dropping down next to her young friend and placing a loving arm around the little girl.
"Tarren, honey are you Ok?" she asked, looking into the childs tear stained face.
The youngster nodded, but when the bard opened her arms Tarren did not hesitate to accept the offer for some attention and affection from her companion.
"Hey what are all these tears for? Its all over now. Let it go honey. Shh its Ok. At least you dont have that splint on anymore. You can run around and now Xena wont have to carry you anymore," the bard whispered rocking the youngster in her lap.
Tarren sniffled. She was happy at the thought of being able to run and play but her happiness was cut short by the thought that Xena would not carry her anymore. She had come to enjoy riding on her mothers back and being with her all the time. Now she was sure shed be left alone just like in the darkness of the cave.
"Momma is probably happy to be rid of me," she thought as she tightened her hold on the bard.
Gabrielle noticed a tear running down the childs cheek and wiped it away thinking that the warrior must have made quite an effort on the youngsters backside. She had no idea why the tears were really falling.
The bard knelt on the ground and lowered the childs head gently into her lap stroking her hair gently with one hand while she finished with the fish with the other.
"You just lie there and relax. Ill finish this," she said quietly cleaning the fish before her.
Tarren started to protest not wanting to get in trouble for disobeying her mothers order. "But Momma said..." the child started to whisper.
"Xena is not here right now, so Im in charge. So you do as I say and just lie there," she ordered, glancing down at the child with her emerald eyes.
The youngster buried her head in the bards soft lap and smiled as her friend caressed her back. "Ok Gabby you are the boss," she said with a wide grin.
Gabrielle nodded her head. "Its about time someone realized it," she said with a quick smile.
Chapter 2 To Tell the Truth
Xena walked into camp with an armload of wood and dropped it at her feet when she saw the bard wide-awake and cooking. Tarren slept in her lap being given a casual loving glance from Gabrielle every once in a while.
"What in Hades temple is going on here?" the warrior yelled. "Tarren!" she said slowly reaching out for the youngster.
The child quickly jumped to her feet and took a safe position behind Gabrielle. "Gods Xena what is all the fuss?" the bard asked, facing off with her large friend.
Xena placed her hands on her hips and stared at her daughter who was carefully hidden behind the bard.
"I told her to let you sleep and to clean the fish," she said trying to reach around the bard for a hold on little Tarren.
Gabrielle stood squarely in front of the child. "Xena she didnt wake me. I got up on my own. I TOLD her to relax while I cleaned the fish. She was only doing what I said Xena," the bard scolded, throwing a protective arm over the little girl.
Xena threw her arms up in the air and smiled though it was not a smile of joy but frustration. "You are so gullible!" she laughed, pacing around the small camp.
When she stopped she pointed to the ground in front of her. "Tarren please come over here right now," she ordered in a no nonsense parental tone.
The youngster slowly slid out from behind the weary bard and moved to the position her mother had chosen. The warrior looked at Gabrielle and then Tarren and smiled oddly.
"Now youve never lied to me Tarren and thats something Im pretty proud of, so dont start now. Got it?" she asked quietly, leaning down to face the youngster.
The child nodded. "Yes Ma am."
Xena paced around her daughter as if she were a witness on the stand. "Good girl. Now tell me how Gabrielle came to wake up," the warrior mother said sternly.
The youngster shuffled nervously as she stared back at the bard.
"Look at me when Im talking to you Tarren," the warrior mother said.
Tarren looked up at her mothers face. She knew that Xena expected the truth.
The little girl could not help but wipe a tear away as she stared at the steady gaze of her warrior mother waiting for her reply.
"I dropped the frying pan," the child whispered.
Xena closed her eyes and shook her head as the image entered her mind of the loud sound sending the poor sleeping bard jumping to her feet. The warrior ran her hand down the front of her face and looked at Gabrielle who was puzzled by the admission.
"Accidentally or on purpose?" the warrior asked sternly, while staring at the waiting bard.
The child shrugged her shoulders. "Both I guess!" she said simply, hoping that was enough of an answer.
The warrior groaned and waved her hand in the air to show that she was right.
Tarren could not help but fixate her eyes on the shape of her mothers hand. There were five fingers and it was a large hand, but there was something about it that made her stare at it. She felt lost by the sight of it. The little girl quickly looked down at her own hands and then back at her mothers and couldnt understand her own fascination and fear.
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and gave cat like smile to the bard. She seated herself quietly on a log waiting for the bard to respond and take charge of the situation.
Gabrielle shook her head and moved towards the child who was now staring down at the fire with an unknown fear shooting through her body. The youngster was still staring at her own empty hands when Gabrielle startled her with a touch.
"Why Tarren? You know how tired Ive been from staying up with you. Why would you do that?" the bard asked bringing the little girls blue eyes to meet her own emerald gaze.
The youngster bit her lip and faced her friend with a look of guilt and shame.
"Im sorry Gabby I just wanted you awake cause ."
The warrior waited to hear the response.
"Because why?" the young woman asked again.
The child fidgeted a bit.
"Well Momma was gone and I didnt want to be by myself," she whispered lowering her head not wanting Xena to see her tears.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and swallowed hard as she heard the childs words. She smiled at the warrior. This was the first time that Tarren had ever admitted that the bards touch meant something to her.
"Tarren why didnt you just tell me or Xena that you were afraid to be alone?" she asked, placing a gentle hand on the little girls back.
The youngster shrugged. "I didnt want anyone getting mad at me or thinking I was a baby," she murmured, wiping a tear away with her sleeve.
Xena took a long deep cleansing breath allowing all her frustration to subside.
Gabrielle smiled and embraced the youngster still staring at the now seated warrior.
"Tarren nobody would get mad at you for being afraid, and nobody thinks youre a baby, but youre not a grown-up either, so you dont have to try and act like you are. You can be afraid and tell us. Well understand. Right Xena?" the young woman asked looking at her now sullen friend.
Xena placed her head in her hands and rubbed her eyes.
"Tarren come here please," she said softly.
Tarren released the bard and moved to her mothers side unsure of what to expect.
The warrior mother carefully lifted the youngster up and placed her gently in her lap.
"Tarren you can always come to me or Gabrielle with a problem. If anything is bothering you or you have something to say nobody is gonna get mad at you. You have to learn to trust that. I know its not easy, but we cant read minds. If you didnt want to be left alone you should have told me. I would have taken you with me. Theres nothing wrong with being afraid," she said wiping the tears from her daughters face.
Tarren laid her head down on her mothers familiar shoulder finding that place which was now her own. "You would have taken me with you even though I can walk now?" she asked.
Xena nodded. "Of course!" she said confused by the childs statement.
Xena lowered her voice to a near whisper, "Tarren just because I dont need to carry you around anymore doesnt mean that I wont want to."
The youngster bit her lip and spoke quietly, "I liked spending time with you Momma. With my foot hurt, you took me everywhere with you...Now you dont have to and I dont wanna be alone I dont like being alone. I get scared when you leave that you wont come back."
Xena looked at the bard and back to the small form in her lap. She closed her eyes in complete understanding. "Tarren I will never leave you. You dont have to be afraid. You couldnt get rid of me if you tried kid. Youre stuck with me. And I will happily take you anywhere I can with me, but it would be nice if you walked once in a while just so your legs dont turn to mush," the warrior said with a smile, tickling the little girls side.
The youngster grinned a bit but did not give the response the warrior had hoped for.
"You mean it. You really still want me with you even though you dont HAVE to have me there? she asked leaning her head gently on the warriors shoulder letting fresh tears fall.
Xena raised her eyebrows confused by the childs sudden fear of her rejection. "Tarren, of course I want you with me. Why would you ever think otherwise? You know I want you with me. What is all this about?" she asked sternly, hoping to get to the root of the youngsters fears.
The child fingered the warriors armband playfully and said nothing.
Xena shook her a bit. "Hey are you still with me?" she asked and the child just nodded.
Tarrens expression was far away and Xena could feel the shiver run through her daughters body. The warrior mother tightened her hold on her daughter. "Hey what is it?" she asked concern filling her voice.
The little girl lifted her eyes and stared at her mother sadly. " Momma can I see your hands?" she asked sounding a bit dazed.
Gabrielle stared at the warrior who reluctantly offered the child her hands for inspection.
Tarren ran her fingers over the healing scars that were reminders of how fiercely her mother had dug through the rock to get to her. Xena had never told Tarren anymore then she had injured her hands during the earthshake. She had never told her how she had dug bear handed through the sharp stones until her palms bled.
"I did that to you. Thats my fault" she whispered, gently running her fingers along the closed wounds.
Xena turned the childs head to face her. "Hey its nothing, and why in Hades would you ever think these would be your fault little one?" the warrior scolded.
Tarren looked at her mother biting her lip as she touched the warriors hands.
"Momma if I lied to you would I get in trouble?" she asked staring oddly at the woman whose love she needed most.
Xena raised her eyebrows wondering why there was a sudden change in subject. "Tarren how many times have I told you not to be afraid to tell me the truth?" she asked
The little girl nodded, "Lots Momma, so then the answer is yes?" she asked still running her small finger over the warriors open hand.
Xena sighed and nodded, "Yes the answer is yes. If you lied to me then youd get in trouble."
Tarren looked at Gabrielle who had quietly seated herself next to the Xena. The child said nothing more but continued touching her mothers open hand. Xena looked at the bard for support.
"Tarren did you lie to us about something?" Gabrielle asked studying the childs face.
The youngster shook her head vigorously. "No Momma lied to me," she whispered.
Xena looked as if an anvil had just been dropped on her foot. "Wait a minute little girl. When have I ever lied to you?" the warrior asked quickly.
The child sniffled and again ran her fingers along her mothers scarred hands as if it were a ritual. "You said that you hurt your hands in the earthshake and the truth is you hurt them trying to dig me out of the cave right?" she asked looking at her mother for confirmation.
Xena swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes thats true sweetheart. I did hurt my hands digging at the cave, but I didnt lie to you. Tarren, I just didnt want you feeling bad about it, so I didnt tell you how I hurt them," she said softly, trying to calm her own pangs of remorse at the pain she felt her omission had caused her child.
This was what the nightmares had been about. This is why there was always a large bloody hand in all the childs visions.
The child shook her head and clung tightly to her mothers neck. Xena did not know what else to do accept wrap her arms tighter around the little girl.
"Momma I saw you and Gabby digging me out. I saw how hard you were digging. I could see it. I could see you crying. Its my fault you got hurt. Its my fault," she moaned, burying her head in her mothers chest.
Gabrielle wiped a tear from her own eye, "Well I think you were right Xena. This sure does explain a lot."
Xena nodded as she stood with the sobbing youngster in her arms. "Yeah but not what to do about it unfortunately Come on little one. I think its time you and I had a little chat about guilt," the warrior mother said softly.
She carried the hysterical youngster off into the woods, feeling a need to share a private moment with her daughter.
Xena moved slowly back to the spot by the water where she had fished earlier. She kissed they youngsters forehead as Tarren sobbed into her mothers shoulder. The warrior found a small rock to sit on, cradling the little girl as she spoke softly, "Tarren."
The child heard her name and obediently focused her eyes on her mother.
The warrior took a deep breath trying to find the right place to start. "Now listen. I didnt tell you exactly how I hurt my hands because I didnt want you to feel just how you are feeling now. That was wrong of me maybe...I dont know I just wanted to protect you that is sort of my job ya know," she said with a slight smile.
The youngster sniffled and fidgeted with her mothers armband again.
Xena removed a small piece of cloth from her cuff and wiped the childs face dry. "Gee youre crying more now then when I spanked you ya little brat," she teased, trying unsuccessfully to lighten the childs mind a bit.
The youngster only rubbed her backside and started to cry all over again. "Great going Xena," the warrior murmured, clearly chastising herself for saying the wrong thing.
"Ok enough tears, enough crying little one. Tarren I want you to listen to me," she ordered, and the child stared into her mothers soft blue gaze once again.
Xena held up her hand showing the small scar on her hand to the little girl. "What do you see when you look at this?" she asked.
The child bit her lip and touched the wound gently. "A bad cut Momma," she whimpered.
The warrior shook her head and looked at her hand. "Well ya know what I see? I see something that reminds me just how much I love you and how I never want to lose you. That little cut tells me that I have a daughter that needs me. I sort of hope that it never goes completely away because its not something I ever want to forget," she said softly caressing the little ones face.
The child stared at her mother, "You mean you dont hate me for causing you so much trouble?"
Xena wrapped her arms around her daughter and shook her head. "Hate you? Little one, I could NEVER hate you. I may get angry with you. I may punish you when you misbehave, but I love you Tarren. You are my daughter. You are the center of my world youngster. Can you understand that?" she asked running the back of her hand against the childs soft cheek.
Tarren nodded, let out a deep breath and leaned on her mother. "But Momma I still feel bad cause you got hurt cause of me," she said.
Xena smiled knowing exactly how the child was feeling.
"Well let me share a secret with you...something just between the two of us," the warrior said quietly.
The childs ears perked up at the thought of such a trust.
"To tell you the truth, Ive been feeling sort of guilty myself. You see if I had not left you to help those strangers then you never would have gone to the cave and gotten hurt. I should have been with you because Im your mother and Im supposed to take care of you. I wasnt with you for so many years Tarren. Now I want to spend every minute with you. I want to make up for all the time we lost. That is something I have nightmares about Tarren. You see Im really afraid of losing you," the warrior mother said in a broken voice, as a tear ran down her face.
Tarren raised her eyebrow in Xena fashion, "Youre really afraid of losing me?" she asked in awe of the thought of being so important.
Xena nodded and squeezed the youngster tighter needing to feel her close.
"But you shouldnt feel bad about that Momma. You were just doing what you thought was right. Its not your fault I got hurt," she said, wiping the warriors tears away with her mothers cloth.
Xena took the little cloth from her daughter and kissed the childs hand, "Well its not your fault that I got hurt either then now is it because sometimes things just happen. Right?"
Tarren chewed her lip and shook her head, " I guess not Momma."
Xena smiled and wrapped her arms tightly around her child bringing her close to her chest and resting her chin on the little girls head. "Tarren I want you to know how sorry I am that I wasnt there for you when you needed me. I shouldnt have left you and Gabrielle when I knew something was gonna happen. We should have all stayed together. You two are first and foremost in my life and I will never again put someone else before you. I wont ever take the chance of losing you again," she vowed.
Tarren hugged her mother and grinned a bit. "You dont have to worry about me Momma. Im not going anywhere. Youre stuck with me. Why you couldnt get rid of me if you tried," she said with a sly grin, repeating the warriors earlier words.
Xena chuckled. "I wouldnt have it any other way my little one Well then no more guilt," the warrior mother, said holding up her scarred hand.
The child nodded. "You too Momma!"
Xena smiled at her daughter. "Tarren what do you see when you look real hard?" she asked pointing to her hand.
"That my mom loves me," the youngster quickly answered, wrapping her arms around her mothers neck.
Xena let tears run down her cheeks and squeezed the little girl with all her gentle might.
"Thats right little one...Youre mother sure does love you," she whispered.
Tarren looked at Xenas face which was now soaked with tears. "Now youre crying," the child said with a frown.
Xena laughed wiping the wet from her face, "Yeah it must be catching or something. Hey I want you to make me a promise."
The child nodded happy to offer anything to this woman who offered her so much. "I want you to promise me that youll tell me when you want to spend time with me, and that youll just ask if you want a ride on my back You see I enjoy those times as much as you maybe more!" Xena said with a gentle smile.
Tarren nodded, "I promise Momma!" she replied with a grin.
Xena rubbed the youngster's face. "Now that you got poor Gabrielle up and cooking, I think we both owe her the pleasure of our company, so lets dry are tears and go back to camp and see what kind of meal the little bard has to torture us with," she teased.
Xena took a deep breath and stood ready to go back to camp. Tarren waited for a moment considering her mothers earlier request.
"Momma?" she called bringing the muscular warrior to a halt.
"Yes," Xena said turning to face her child.
"How about that ride?" Tarren asked with a slight grin.
The warrior shook her head and smiled and cupped her hands together. Tarren ran to her mother placing her foot in the cup and flipping over onto Xenas back.
"Very good little one," she praised with a grin.
Tarren wrapped her hands around Xenas neck and happily rode back into camp on the back of her warrior mother.
After finishing supper that night the trio lay in the grass blissfully staring up at the stars in the sky. "Momma where do you think Nala is right now? The Elysian fields?" the youngster asked with a bit of sadness in her voice.
The warrior smiled. "Well if thats where good mystics go then yes Id say that is exactly where she should be, but something tells me she goes to a better place than even that little one," Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle thought about her friends words and let out a sigh. "Tarren I was wondering. How did you see Xena and me digging when you were in the cave?" she asked leaning on her elbow to face the child.
Tarren thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "I dunno. You were just there so was Nala. It was like a dream but my eyes were open. I could see you and Momma, but when I tried to touch you then you disappeared. Then Nala came and told me that everything would be all right and I guess I fell asleep," the youngster replied, happy that the memory did not seem so painful anymore.
The bard let out a breath and fell back staring up at the sky once again amazed by yet another wonder. "Wow! How is that possible?" she asked her large friend.
Xena stared at the young woman for a moment and then smiled. "Gabrielle anything is possible. Arent you the one who always tells me that?" she asked.
The bard grinned. "Sure warrior throw my own logic back in my face rather than give me a real answer, " she said with a grin.
Tarren pointed to a shooting star and giggled. "Look!" she said excitement filling her voice.
For a moment the trio watched the oddity of nature pass wondering what it was and then sighed in unison happy to return to their relaxing observations.
Tarren rolled on her side and climbed across her mothers stomach eliciting a loud groan from the warrior. "Hey Im not a tree trunk ya know," she teased tickling the childs side.
The youngster laughed and rolled over the warrior positioning her self carefully in the nook between Gabrielle and Xena.
"Weve got company?" the bard said with a smile.
Xena rubbed her stomach. "I know I felt her coming," she replied with a gentle grin.
Tarren looked from one and then to the other and frowned. "Ok now Im not gonna tell you what Nala said about the cave," the youngster warned, folding her arms against her chest in a pout.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and smiled.
The warrior lifted the youngster up so that she could lie comfortably across her chest. "Ok little one What did Nala tell you?" she asked, rubbing the little girls back lovingly.
Tarren grinned at her small victory and began her story. "Nala said that the crystal cave was very special She said that when you were inside you could feel the presence of all those you loved so I saw you and Gabby and Nala," the youngster said with a yawn.
Xena and Gabrielle both smiled at the childs affectionate words. Again the youngster yawned. "Ok thats enough philosophy and star gazing for one night. Its time for you to get to bed," the warrior mother said, rising to her feet and pulling Tarren up behind her.
For once the youngster didnt argue, but quickly lowered herself into her bedroll. Before the warrior could even pull the covers around her head, Tarren was fast asleep. "Goodnight Little One," she whispered, placing a gentle kiss on the youngsters head.
Xena then returned to her place next to Gabrielle staring up at the stars.
"It sure has been an interesting few months Xena," the bard said with a twisted smile.
The warrior nodded in agreement considering all that had happened.
"Let see you found out you had a daughter. We fought an entire village to save her. You met an old friend and bid her farewell... We fought a Warlord's entire camp... Tarren ran away and found out she was your daughter... You saved the souls of Goden... We survived an earthshake and little Tarren got trapped in a cave Yup Id say its been a pretty full couple of months, " the bard said carefully eyeing her friend.
Xena nodded. "Yeah but nothing really too out of the ordinary in my mind. Yours?" she asked with a slight grin.
The bard sighed, "Nope, of course nothing will compare to Tarren meeting your mother. That should be something worthy of Salmoneus selling tickets for, the bard said with a giggle.
The warrior groaned at the thought. "Look well just have to stay between them," she said stiffly.
The two friends thought about it and then laughed continuing to watch the stars and consider the new meaning of their lives.
In the morning when Xena woke she could not help but smile when she noticed, while Tarren had slept through the entire night, she had still crawled into her mothers bedroll. The child was now closely nuzzled next to the warrior. "All right little one have it your way for now." she whispered pulling the blankets closer to the childs body.
The little girl moved her hand just a little not quite ready to let the warrior get up. Xena lay back feeling truly content with her best friend and her daughter at her side she was going home with a feeling she had not felt in many summers, happiness.
Chapter 3 Home Sweet Home
As they walked along the trail towards Amphipolous, Xena could not help but realize how tired her traveling companions were. They were only a few hours from the village but it was getting late and Gabrielle and Tarren were obviously exhausted. Tarren had been riding on her back the last few hours and Gabrielle had volunteered to ride Argo.
That in itself was a clue to the warrior just how tired the young woman truly was. Xena sighed heavily, realizing that the pair needed rest, and that her return home would have to wait another day. She gently lowered Tarren to the ground.
"Ok you two lets make camp. Well get to Amphipolous in the morning," she said with a sigh.
Tarren yawned and stretched out her muscles. "Tired Momma?" the child asked
The warrior grinned at her daughter. "Oh yeah I just cant go another step," she teased.
The bard slipped off Argos back and leaned heavily on her staff for support.
"Well if you insist Xena," she yawned.
The warrior smiled at her friend. "Uh yeah I do...Gabrielle theres a hill at the end of this path with a small stream...we can even go for a swim," she said looking behind her, knowing she would see a wide smile on her daughters face. However when she turned around all she saw was the spot the little girl had been standing in and the quick tracks she was now making for he cooling waters ahead.
"Tarren Come back here!" she yelled, but the child just kept going in search of the stream.
"Of all the harpies in Hades ." the warrior cursed jumping into Argos saddle.
"Gee arent you glad she can run now Xena?" the bard asked with a snicker.
Xena frowned. "Oh yeah Im just thrilled, but she wont be when I catch up to her," she hissed, kicking the horse into action.
Gabrielle shook her head with a grin, knowing for sure that things were now definitely back to normal.
Xena tethered Argo to a nearby tree as she watched her daughter happily playing in the water. The warrior stared angrily out at the splashing child. "You know better than to run of like that. How many times have I told you not to leave my sight on the road." she scolded.
The youngster wiped the water from her face and smiled. "But Momma you said wed go swimming. I was just running ahead to make sure the water was err cold," she said quickly.
Xena shook her head at the childs fabricated logic. "Oh and I guess you didnt hear me calling you?" she asked in a parental tone.
Tarren shrugged. "Yeah but I couldnt make out exactly what you were saying." she whispered lowering her eyes a bit.
The warrior folded her arms in frustration. "Come over here." she ordered, pointing to the ground before her.
The child looked at her mothers angry face and moved further back into the stream. "Whats gonna happen if I do?" she asked staring into the warriors eyes.
Xenas lips tightened. "Well come over here and find out my little one," she purred.
Tarren thought of her still sore bottom and shook her head. "Well then what happens if I dont get out?" she asked with a childish grin.
The warrior started to remove her armor realizing quickly the youngsters logic.
Tarren knew she was in trouble no matter what she did, so strategically the most logical thing to do was nothing. "Well Tarren I guess youve got me. No matter what happens youre in trouble. Youre in one of these lose or lose situations," Xena said throwing her hands in the air.
Before Tarren could even respond, the warrior dove into the water and came up searching for her stubborn daughter. However the child was no where to be found. Xena quickly scanned her surroundings and when she caught sight of the grassy knoll she had just left, saw her young daughter waving to her.
"Hi Momma. You said to get out and I got out. I always do what my mother says," she recited dutifully.
Xena had to suppress a grin and the youngsters maneuvers. She was a quick one.
The warrior mother slowly exited the stream and when she reached the child grabbed her by the arm forcing a parental tone in her voice. "Dont you EVER run off on me like that again young lady. Do you understand?" she yelled, staring down at the sad eyes of her young daughter.
Tarrens smile faded as she realized just how upset her mother appeared to be. "Im sorry Momma. I was just playing," she said lowering her head.
Xena stared down at the contrite dripping child and shook her head as she remembered another youngster who would have done the same thing many summers ago. That child had wished for understanding from her own mother that she never got. "Yeah well dont do it again," she said tasseling the little girls wet hair.
Tarren nodded and the warrior released her hold.
Xena let out a long breath and grinned. "Now go get my saddlebags off of Argo ya little monster," she said sending the child on her way with a fast swat. The youngster cringed a bit at the falling hand with the important message attached, but the child thanked the Gods that there was not another to follow.
Gabrielle soon joined the pair in the clearing, and after an early swim and a quick meal the weary travelers turned in for the night. Xena wanted to get up early to make up for the traveling time she had sacrificed for her companions.
Sunrise was coming and the Warrior Princess stood at the edge of the clearing looking over the hill. The wind blew threw her dark mane as she inhaled the gentle smells of her familiar surroundings. She looked off in the distance to the village below she had known as a child and could not help but smile. Slowly the leather clad warrior turned and looked at the two sleeping figures in her small camp. She grinned slightly and shook her head standing right above them.
"If it were up to you two wed sleep all day Now get up," she ordered.
There was no movement just the gentle grumbling of the tired figures hidden beneath the blankets. Xena threw a small log on the fire and stirred the stew in the pot from the night before. She waved her hand in the bards direction so that the smoke from the pot would wash over her. The aroma of the simmering food was enough to help a sleepy Gabrielle emerge from her covers. She smiled and stretched her arms upward to the sky.
Good morning Mmm...Smells good if I do say so myself," she said with a yawn.
"Huh I figured the smell of food would wake you up," the warrior teased.
Gabrielles smile was quickly replaced by a mock pout. "Well good morning to you too Warrior Grouch!" she said with a hiss.
Xena smiled at the bard. "Im sorry Gabrielle, but getting you to leave that bedroll is harder than fighting 10 warlords with one hand tied behind my back," she teased tasting the stew.
Gabrielle got to her feet and twisted her face into a frown. "Well Warrior Grump lets not get started on your faults I mean maybe I sleep so late because you keep us traveling for ten hours a day Of course the great Warrior Princess NEVER tires just us mere mortals and another thing..." she rambled.
The warrior chuckled at her young friends temper and threw her hands up in surrender. "Ok, Ok I give up I yield to you my bard youre right. I should take into consideration that you are not as well kept up as I am," she said with an evil smile, turning her back on her friend.
Xena could feel the steam emanating from the young womans face, but did not turn around to face her. Just as the warrior suspected there was a quick whoosh in the air and the sight of the bards staff whirling quickly through the wind.
"Well see whos not well looked after." the bard seethed. But before the Amazon Queen could hit her target the Warrior Princess merely back flipped in the air landing right behind her. The bard angrily threw her staff to the ground and Xena chuckled at her friends frustration.
"Better luck next time Gabrielle," she teased.
"Xena I really hate when you do that," the bard yelled.
The warrior straightened her leathers and examined her fingernails as she walked past her friend. "I know you do," she purred, gently tugging on the bards hair with a grin.
Gabrielle s anger slowly deflated as she noted what a playful mood Xena was really in. "Well I guess its worth a little humiliation to see you so happy and relaxed," the bard said with a smile reaching down to attend the stew.
"Thank you my friend," the warrior said with a bow and a smile.
Gabrielle looked over at the still sleeping child. "Tarren could sleep through anything," the bard giggled pointing at the still sleeping youngster.
Xena locked her arms against her chest and stared at her sleeping young daughter. "Yeah I know. I think she must be taking lessons from you," she said with a snicker.
The bard frowned a bit at the remark and turned back to her food.
Xena knelt beside the sleeping child and gently rustled the blankets. "Tarren its time to get up," she whispered, but the child only pulled the bedroll over her head.
"Tarren!" the warrior scolded, but the child just smiled in her dream state and remained in the land of Morpheous.
Xena threw her arms up in the air. "Gods shes WORSE than you are," the warrior moaned.
Gabrielle could not suppress a giggle as she eyed the sleeping child with pleasure. "Oh Xena let her rest a bit longer," she replied.
The warrior paced around the youngster a bit trying to decide her next move. She had an evil glint in her eye that the bard knew too well. Gabrielle licked her fingers as she watched her large friend wear out a path in the grass.
"Xena what are you thinking?" she asked cautiously.
The warrior s body had grown a bit tense at the childs failure to rise. "Gabrielle if we were attacked right now that kid would be killed in her sleep. I have told her 100 times that she must learn to listen to the sounds around her and be more aware when we are on the road. Its about time she learned a valuable lesson about ...staying alert," she said sternly, pointing to the youngster.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet and positioned herself between the warrior and Tarren. "Now Xena come on shes just a little kid and that water is way too cold to just get dumped in," she warned.
Xena smiled and easily lifted the bard to one side. "Well I seem to recall it did you a world of good on more than a few occasions," she said evenly, as she approached her daughter who had just assumed a fetal position.
The determined warrior quickly reached down and grabbed the youngsters wrist ready to carry her off for a morning dunking. Before she could gather the child, Tarren lifted both legs in the air catching the Warrior Princess slightly off guard. The youngster pushed with all her might rolling with her mother onto the grass beside her bedroll. The child then quickly jumped on top of the warrior with a loud thud.
Gabrielle was astonished by the youngster's quick reflexes and fell back on the ground laughing at the warriors predicament. "Gee Xena I guess shes not as light a sleeper as you thought. You really showed her how to stay alert," she laughed, catching the warriors harsh stare.
Xena smiled at the child perched on top of her. "Good morning Momma!" the youngster said with an impish grin.
Xena nodded approvingly at the childs maneuver and then with a quick flip tossed her over her arm and back onto her blankets with a thud. Tarren giggled and the warrior rolled on her side and swatted the childs bottom with her hand before jumping to her feet. The little girl yelped being instantly reminded of a very tender spot once again.
"Good morning little one." Xena said with a devilish grin, pulling the pouting child to her feet.
Gabrielle could not help but feel for the little princess. She knew better than most what a wicked sense of humor the warrior could have. "Xena," the bard scolded, but the warrior gave her a look of complete innocence.
The great warrior folded her arms and rocked on her heels smiling as she stared at her daughter. While the warrior was happy Tarren was quick to react to her attempt to take her from the bed, she was not too thrilled with her lying there waiting for Xena to do it.
The child flashed her youthful blue gaze at Xena, biting her lip in frustration at her mothers torment. The little girl turned to Gabrielle who opened her arms to embrace the chastened youngster. Tarren eyed her mother with a bright twinkle in her eye just to let her know where the bards allegiance was at that moment. A small smile passed across her face as Gabrielle rubbed the childs head soothingly.
"Its Ok honey Big bad Xena is just playing," she said giving the warrior a disapproving glare.
Xena watched in awe at the way Tarren could manipulate the little bard with the blink of an eye. She shook her head and smiled. "Well you two can stay here and sweat if you want, but Im going for a nice cooling swim before we head to the village," Xena said turning to leave. She knew she had said the magic word. Tarren quickly broke her hold with the bard and jumped in her mothers path.
"Can I come?" she begged, her eyes filled with a childs anticipation.
Xena looked up at the sky and then down at her daughter folding her arms as if contemplating the idea. "Hmm I dont know, the way you behaved towards me this morning I should have you polishing my boots right now," she said gently scolding the youngster.
Tarren lowered her head in defeat and Xena let out a dramatic sigh tasseling the youngsters hair, "Come on I was just teasing. That was a very nice little move of yours little girl, but dont ever try it on me again," she warned, with a gentle tap on the cheek.
Tarren smiled and Xena lifted her up, throwing the child up over her shoulder. The youngster giggled loudly as her mother ran towards the water. "Lets see if youre still laughing when I throw you in ya little monster," she teased tossing the youngster in the air as she moved down the path.
Gabrielle stood alone in camp looking around at the bedrolls and the great war-horse. "No you two just go have fun Ill pack up the camp really I dont mind," she said to Argo with a heavy sigh.
However before the bard could even stir the now burning stew, she heard a small voice scream from below, "Come on Gabby were waiting for ya."
A broad smile quickly came across the bards face, "Argo I guess s youll have to take care of things here," she said with a smile. The horse whinnied in protest and the bard giggled. With a quick skip the young woman dashed down to the river to join her friends, her family in a relaxing morning swim.
As Gabrielle and Xena dried themselves on the shoreline Tarren still splashed happily in the water. Xena noted with pride the quick easy strokes the youngster took as she swam through the stream. She had become a very good swimmer under Xenas instruction, in only a few months. More than that she was developing a true respect for the nature around her. Xena had taught her that any opponent whether it is man or force of nature should ever be underestimated and always respected. The child seemed to form her life around the philosophy that the warrior had knitted for her. Gabrielle caught the smile of the warrior as she watched the child. She poked her friend in the ribs.
"Why dont you ever tell her how proud you are of her?" she asked.
Xena sighed a bit and then met the bards soft gaze. "Shes cocky enough already," the warrior mother said with a grin.
The bard smiled. "Yeah if she were any more cocky shed be you right?" she said teasingly.
Xena swallowed the words as she stared at her friend. A smile slowly crept across her face. "Yeah I guess thats what Im afraid of," she whispered thinking of a much darker Xena of the past.
The warrior sat beside the bard pulling her legs closely to her chest as she watched the happy child splashing in the water. " Gabrielle, I see in her the child I once was, full of energy, and mischief, and wanting excitement and adventure. Shes totally defiant or tries to be," she said with a chuckle, "I had my mother and brothers to keep me in check and still it did no good. I still turned into ya know " she said her voice turning more serious, "Well I wont let that happen to her. I dont care how tough I have to be on her."
Gabrielle smiled at put a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Xena ...look at her...I mean really look at her," she ordered and the warrior stared at the innocent face of her young daughter doing back flips off a small rock in the center of the stream and giggling.
"Momma watch me," she yelled and then moved to a much higher rock.
Xena raised a halting hand. "Tarren thats too high. The waters not deep enough," she warned.
Tarren looked at her mother sticking her lower lip out for a sympathetic reprieve. "Momma I can do it," she whined, moving closer onto the larger rock eager to impress her warrior mother.
Xena shook her head. "No you cant and you wont try it. The waters too shallow," she repeated waiting for the child to lower herself down from the forbidden spot.
The youngster stood on the high rock looking down into the water and then back at her mother, and then down into the water once again as if trying to decide the value of the attempt. Xena could see the thoughts going through the little girls head. She stood to her full height and pointed a warning finger at her daughter. "I am not going to say this again. Get off that rock young lady," she scolded.
Tarren slowly slid from the large rock with all its temptations back to the smaller one with its safety from both shallow water and her mothers wrath. "Yes ma am," she murmured, not even trying to hide the look of disappointment on her face.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle and took a deep breath. She could see the hurt in her daughters eyes, as the child lay motionless in the water. "Hey little girl lets see some more of those back flips. You were doing those really well," Xena said with a slight grin.
Tarrens eyes lit up in a flash, happy to perform for her mother and even happier to know that the warrior had been watching her. "Ok Momma," she said with a wide smile, and once again resumed the back flips off the small rock.
Xena sat back down and looked at her best friend with a smirk, "You were saying."
The bard smiled and placed a tender hand on Xenas shoulder. "Hey you did great. You handled that just perfect. Xena you are such a good mother to her. I want you to really take a good look at her right now," the bard ordered.
Xena let out a small breath and then looked again at her little girl doing acrobatics in the stream and waving every time she landed in the water. The warrior mother had to suppress a smile. "Ok Im looking shes a cute little kid," she said with a proud smile.
The bard let out an exacerbated huff. "Warrior take a harder look. With everything that has happened to her that little girl has no anger She has no hatred Shes a very happy, intelligent, and loving little kid. You cant deny her the very dreams you once had for yourself just because you got lost for a while. Besides she has both you and me to guide her now and WE wont let her make the wrong choices. Xena she really loves you Zeus! She worships you. Tarren wants to be just like you, not the Xena of the warlord days, but the Xena that is here now. Thats the person who does so much good for so many. Thats the mother who cares for her when shes sick, whacks her little butt when shes bad, and lets her tag along even when she would like some time alone. Youre the Xena that comes to her rescue and the one that tucks her in at night. Thats the Xena she wants to be like, and I cant think of anything better to aspire to," the bard finished with a soft smile.
The warrior looked at her friend studying her soft expression. "Still and always the wise little bard huh?" she said choking on the words a bit as she let her arm fall around her friends shoulder.
"Well of course while your keeping her on the straight and narrow who do you think keep you there?" the young woman asked with a laugh.
Xena smiled knowing there was actually more truth in those words then her friend realized. She rubbed her eyes a bit trying to fight the emotion she had welling within her. "Come on we better get moving," she said quietly.
The Warrior Princess stood and pulled the last of her armor on and called to her daughter. "Tarren come on its time to go," she called motioning for the little girl to leave the water.
"Ahh come on Momma ...a bit longer," she whined.
Before Xena had a chance to respond Gabrielle took a position close to the waters edge. With a stern face she scolded, "Hey you heard your mother move it."
The warriors mouth clamped shut and the confused child swam quickly to her mothers side staring oddly at the bard as the warrior dried her off. Gabrielle peered at the pair and then whispered in the warriors ear, "Well I cant always let you be the bad guy now can I?
Xena smiled with gratitude. "Always full of surprises my little bard arent we?" she asked.
Gabrielle just winked at Tarren who giggled, and with all the mock authority she could muster the bard growled, "All right you two I said move it We still have a camp to pack up I dont want to be lying around her all day lets go." Gabrielle then stomped quickly back towards camp hoping her warriors would follow.
Tarren stared at her mother and then at the figure of the bard heading up the hill alone. "Did Gabby have too much sun Momma?" she asked.
Xena laughed. "Definitely little one," she said with a nod, throwing the still dripping and giggling child over her shoulder and running up the path to join their new leader.
Xena could not help but smile at the youngster who was playing in the trees above as they moved into Amphipolous. The trees were low enough for Tarren to swing from without Xena worrying about her falling. Gabrielle poked her friend and giggled, "Shes back!"
Xena gave her friend a stoic nod. "Well shes been sitting still for over a week. What do you expect? I guess thats about a lifetime for her," she said.
Gabrielle watched the youngster swing happily from tree to tree giggling as she moved.
"Well even if she is a bit wild, Im sure happy to see her smiling and full of so much life again," the bard said with a smile.
The warrior nodded in agreement, "Me too my friend me too," she replied.
As they neared the end of the path Xena stopped and took a deep breath of the familiar site of her home village. She recognized every house and every hill around her. "Well lets get going," she said with a grin anxious to get moving and to see her mother.
Gabrielle looked up in the tree. "Come on Tarren. Its time to go," the bard called.
The youngster was hanging upside down from a branch not allowing her hands to touch the ground. "Nah you go I wanna stay here," she said swinging back and forth.
"Tarren you know how anxious Xena is to get home. This is not a good time to act up," she warned.
Xena tried to ignore the exchange behind her as she looked happily at the village of her childhood. But after a while the bickering was getting on her nerves. She turned quickly on her two traveling companions. "Thats enough!" she yelled, walking over to the bard and the bat like child still swinging in the tree. "You two could wake a Titan," she scolded in frustration, "Now whats going on?"
Gabrielle pointed to the youngster hanging from the tree. "Isnt it obvious. Little Xena wont get out of the tree," she said with a scowl.
Xena smiled at the comparison and watched the child swinging back and forth. "Gabrielle your problem is that you need to act instead of react...let me show you," she said pointing to her daughter. "Tarren its time to go. Are you gonna get out of that tree?" the warrior asked gently, watching the little girl sway back and forth.
"NO!" the disobedient youngster said firmly, happy to watch the world from upside down and not anxious to spend time in any village.
Xena nodded with understanding and with a quick swipe of her arm grabbed the swinging youngster by the legs and tossed her over her shoulder landing a brisk swat firmly across Tarrens behind. The youngster winced but knew better than to struggle. "Are you ready to go now Little One?" she asked the small youngster slumped over her shoulder,
"Yes ma am," she moaned still feeling the echoing sting of her mothers large hand.
"You see Gabrielle act dont react," the warrior said with a grin, placing the child on the ground in front of her.
The bard nodded and stared down at the now humble child. "Yup but that routine only works for you warrior," she said with a smile.
The warrior folded her arms in contemplation of her friends wisdom. "True we do each have to find our own methods my friend," she said with a sly grin. Xena then quickly turned her attention to the sulking youngster and shook her finger in warning. "Now before we go any further young lady I want to make a few things clear. When we get to Amphipolous I want you on your best behavior. No wising off to my mother, no being disrespectful to anyone, no running off on your own, no arguing, no complaining, and you do what I say got it?" she scolded gently.
The child frowned. "So Im not supposed to have any fun at all Momma? Why am I being punished? I didnt do anything wrong." she murmured.
Xena hid a smile and the bard turned away before she broke out into a bellowing laugh at the little ones idea that a visit to Cyrenes was indeed a punishment. "Did you understand what I just said little girl?" the warrior mother asked, trying with difficulty to maintain a serious parental pose.
The child nodded. "Yes ma am" she grumbled. Tarren then quietly walked past her mother and picked up her satchel and started dragging her feet towards Amphipolis for what she hoped would be a very short visit.
"Poor kid acts like shes being sent to prison," the warrior said with a chuckle.
Gabrielle considered the words. "Hmm well your mother " she started.
Xena stopped the bard with a harsh gaze. "Will be very happy to see us, so we better get moving Oh and Gabrielle what I just said to Tarren now goes for you too," Xena said with a wicked smile.
The bard bowed her head in mock submission. "Yes my princess whatever you say," she teased.
Xena bowed her head in kind. "Thank you my Queen," she said with a smirk. The warrior then looked ahead at the waiting child slumped against a tree dragging her satchel in the dirt. She handed the bard Argos reigns and moved to catch up with Tarren. She eyed the sulking youngster knowing that this trip was not exactly her idea of fun. "Come on," she said quietly, dropping to the ground offering the child a ride on her back.
Tarren quickly accepted the offer with a broad smile. "Hmm maybe with no warlords or monsters to fight we can have some fun anyway," The child thought hoping Amphipolous was not as boring as she thought it would be and this Cyrene was not as much of a pain as Gabrielle seemed to hint.
Xena strode through the village carefully pulling the reigns of the great horse beside her. She was captivated by the familiar sounds and smells that told her she was really home. Gabrielle noted a new calm had come over the warrior as they headed towards Cyrenes Inn. The bard remembered there was a time not so long ago when the warrior would not have been welcome here when her own mother had denied her when she would have been ashamed to return. But now the wounds were healing and Xena found a renewed comfort in this place called Amphipolous.
Tarren sat high on her mothers shoulders studying the village around her. "Yuk! Farmers!" she mumbled never realizing that anyone had heard her, especially Xena.
The warrior mother quickly brought the child to the ground before her. "Whats wrong with farmers?" she asked through tightened lips and a harsh gaze.
The youngster took a few steps back. "Nothing I guess If you like digging in the dirt all day then I guess its Ok just not just much fun," she replied in a shaky little voice.
Xena stepped forward menacingly, not happy at the disrespect her daughter had for these people who worked hard to earn an honest living to raise their families. Gabrielle quickly noted that the calm was gone and stepped between the warrior and her daughter. "Now Xena Im sure she didnt mean it the way it came out . Right Tarren?" she asked eyeing the child.
The warrior mother waited for a confirmation, but the little girl just looked around her and then at Xena. " I just meant they were boring," she said simply.
Gabrielle sighed and fumbled over her words. "Tarren help me out here will ya Im trying to save your butt," she moaned.
Xena gently lifted the bard to one side and slowly knelt down to face her child. She gripped Tarrens arms firmly and spoke in a stiff whisper, "Apparently I did not make myself clear before. Now you listen to me little girl because I am only gonna say this one more time. "Tarren tried to back away and the warrior mother merely lifted her in the air bringing them face to face. "Tarren this is my home and these are my people. They are good people, each and every one of them. The work they do is hard, but honest, so dont you dare disrespect them. YOU will treat each and every person here with the dignity and respect you would want to be treated with because if you dont...If you dont my little one than I promise you that you and I will have a big problem. So one more wise remark one more act of disobedience and you and I will have yet ANOTHER of our private discussions understand?" Xena said in her low husky voice.
Tarren swallowed hard and nodded quickly. "Yes maam err...understood completely," she said anxiously.
Xena forced a smile and kissed the youngsters forehead. "Good Im glad to hear that little one very glad to hear that!" she said placing the shaken child on the ground. The warrior then turned on her heal and continued on her way. The little girl stayed frozen in the spot her mother had just placed her glancing carefully at the dirt beneath her feet. Gabrielle moved ahead trying to calm her friends frustration.
Tarren just stood in place eyeing the faces of the farmers working in the field around her. She barely noticed the large open hand that dropped out in front of her. "Are you coming or do you need me to carry you?" Xena asked with a stiff grin.
The youngster placed her hand in her mothers and bit her lip.
"Brat" the warrior mother said with a slight grin.
The child smiled, as she felt her mother gently squeeze her hand as they walked. She knew that Xena was still angry with her, but that this person would truly love her no matter what she did.
"Behave yourself," was all the bard could whisper in a pleading tone as the trio headed for the inn.
Nobody noticed the dark figure watching the trio from the distance. His eyes were filled with hatred and his mind was as black as his soul was empty. He laughed as he watched the three companions enter the Inn. "Soon Xena Warrior Princess soon I will have my revenge," the figure whaled disappearing into the crowd of villagers.
Chapter 4 Mothers and Daughters
"Mother." Xena called as she entered the empty tavern. It was early and the Inn was not yet even open. The warrior quietly listened to the sounds of the silence, and then from the kitchen came the familiar sight of Cyrene rubbing her hands clean on an apron.
"Xena my little one you are home," she yelled with joy, running up to embrace her large daughter who easily lifted the older woman off her feet.
Tarren heard her mother being referred to as little one and wondered just whom the older woman might be addressing.
Cyrene quickly turned to Gabrielle. "Ahh and my other daughter. Gabrielle how are you dear?" she asked cupping the young womans face tightly in her hands and hugging her.
"Hello Cyrene. Its good to see you," she answered, embracing the woman and trying to get the feeling in her cheeks back.
Cyrene then turned to the smallest figure of the trio who had taken up a safer position behind her own mother. The older woman s face went blank and then her smile grew broad. "By the gods Lyceus...I mean Tarren you must be Tarren. I heard so much about you in Xenas letter " she said slowly staring at the childs face.
Cyrene looked to her daughter with an odd stare. Xena had written about Tarren, but had failed to mention a few VERY important details about the child that now traveled with her. Xena had not thought it really safe or appropriate to tell her mother about Tarren being her daughter in a letter. Xena looked at Cyrene and shrugged.
"Tarren meet your grandmother," she said quietly.
Cyrene stared at her daughter for a drawn out moment, letting her know that a long private talk was in order later. The warrior leaned against a table and frowned in understanding knowing this would not be a very pleasant conversation.
The older woman then turned her attention back to the child before her. "Well Tarren this is an unexpected surprise. Its not every day you get the gift of a grandchild," she said with a tear, reaching out to touch the child.
Tarren quickly backed away behind Xena again, not wanting this strange person getting to close. Xena sighed and gently pulled her forward. "Tarren say hello," she whispered
The child looked at her mothers dark gaze and lowered her eyes to the floor.
Xena shook her head. "Mother Im sorry. Shes just having a bad day," the warrior said regretfully.
Cyrene gently lifted the childs chin with her finger. "Whats wrong cant you speak child?" she asked. Tarren looked once again at her own mother whose expression was one of a parent getting a bit frustrated. Cyrene noted the exchange and nodded in understanding. "Well child you dont have to speak if you dont want to," she said softly, bringing the little girl close to her chest in a friendly embrace.
Tarren allowed the hug happy for some affection after her own mothers recent scolding.
Cyrene looked up at her own daughter and frowned. "Now Xena you stop intimidating this poor little girl," she warned, shaking her finger at the leather-clad woman.
The warriors mouth dropped open, "Mother shes been misbehaving all morning Im just "
Cyrene silenced her with a wave and took the youngster by the hand placing a gentle and protective arm around her. "Hmm seems I can remember a certain little girl that used to misbehave around here on a daily basis," the older woman said with a grin.
Xena put her hands on her hips defiantly. "Yes mother and I remember what happened to her when she got caught," she said with a smirk.
Cyrene waved her off. "Oh you deserved what you got and probably more since I could never even catch you half the time," she said with a smile.
Tarren looked at the older woman with awe. She had never heard anyone talk to Xena like that. "Perhaps she would be a good friend to have after all," the youngster thought.
The bard giggled at the image of a little Xena running from her mother and the warrior glared at her friends obvious amusement. "Whoops sorry!" the bard, said covering her mouth and seating herself at the table.
Cyrene once again looked at the youngster beside her. "Now Xena you cannot tell me that this adorable innocent little imp could ever cause you such a great fuss," she said patting the child head.
Tarrens eyes went wide as this stranger spoke in her defense. She smiled broadly at this woman and Xena could feel her own frustration mounting. She was about to argue the point when her mother silenced her with the wave of her hand. "Xena you know better than to argue with your mother," she warned.
The Warrior Princess closed her mouth and shook her head, "Yes ma am," was all that she could say.
Tarren started to giggle and then quickly covered her mouth as she caught her own mothers stare beating down on her.
Cyrene looked lovingly into the young face of the child that had both her daughters eyes and the expression of her long dead son. She took the childs satchel off and handed it to Xena. "This little one should not be carrying such a heavy load shame on you Xena," she scolded.
Xena surrendered to her fate and just nodded. "Oh yes mother your right I wouldnt want her to bruise her little body with this great big bag of her things," she said mockingly.
Cyrene frowned at her daughters lighthearted attitude but then her smile returned. "I am sure that you are all tired, so Xena why dont you and Gabrielle go take baths while Tarren and I get aquatinted. Ive made up three rooms in the back for you," she said with a smile.
Cyrene took the childs hand and started for the kitchen. "Tarren I do believe that I have some milk and cookies you would enjoy," she said happily.
The youngster looked at Xena oddly. The warrior mother never let her have such foods before meals. "But mother she has not even had mid day meal yet," Xena said quickly.
Cyrene waved her off. "Nonsense Xena go bathe and rest. Ill see to the little one," she said with a grin.
Tarren looked to Xena and then to Cyrene not exactly sure which way to go, but since Xena seemed to be listening to the older woman the youngster figured this was a good path to follow. She threw the warrior a quick mischievous smile. "Yeah you go take a bath Momma. You need your rest. Youve got save your strength," she said with a teasing glint in her eyes.
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and gave the youngster her patented Warrior Princess stare. "Tarren, would you like to find out just how much strength I have right now?" she asked sending an instant message with her dark blue gaze. Tarren understood the meaning and her smile slowly faded as she was dragged into the kitchen.
Gabrielle had been watching the entire exchange with amusement and saying nothing. She placed a gentle hand on the tense warriors shoulder. "Look Xena, your mother just found out she has a granddaughter. Let her spoil her a bit," she said softly.
The warrior shook her head in frustration. "Hmm she never let me have cookies and milk before a meal," the warrior moaned, grabbing the belongings and heading back to the rooms.
Gabrielle sighed at the sight of her friend storming away. "Yup its always so nice to come home," she murmured.
The bath water caressed the great warriors muscles as she allowed the suds to envelop her skin and her mind releasing all anxiety. However her sword and her chakrum were placed close by just in case trouble did break out. A good warrior was always prepared.
Gabrielle shuffled in from her adjoining room with her hair neatly wrapped in a cloth and wearing a large towel. "Hello Xena," she said as she flopped on the warriors bed. "I must have taken two buckets of road dust off of me...I feel wonderful," the bard mused.
The warrior nodded and smiled as she felt her body go limp in the soothing bath water.
The young woman stretched out on the bed allowing the soft breeze from the window to caress her dampened skin. "Hmm so I filled the other tub whose turn is it to give the brat a bath this time?" she asked, smiling affectionately at the thought of the coming battle.
Suddenly the calm from Xenas face was replaced with a scowl. The warrior rose from the tub pulling a soft sheet around her muscular form. " I will be most happy to give my little princess a bath myself Gabrielle I look forward to it actually Yup a little quality time alone yup all alone," she purred.
The bard shuddered at the childs fate. "Now Xena I know Tarren has not exactly been on her best behavior today, but she hasnt done anything really wrong either. If shes doing something thats bothering you then talk to her," she instructed.
Xena pulled a white cotton shift over her head and grinned. "Not exactly what I had in mind," she said with a wicked smile.
Gabrielle stood and faced her friend. "Xena she hasnt done anything wrong yet," the bard hissed.
The princess grimaced a bit under her friends stare, "Yet is the operative word my friend. The way shes going its only a matter of time. Oh and when she does I will be so happy to wipe that smug little grin of hers off her face. Did you hear that little monster tell me to go take a bath?" she asked with a grin, as she pulled her leathers on.
Gabrielle threw her arms up in the air. "Xena dont confuse your anger with your mothers actions with Tarren acting like well Tarren. You told her to behave herself and I think you scared the Hades out of her, so shes trying," she replied.
"I did, didnt I," Xena said with a smile of satisfaction.
The bard gave the warrior a stern look, and Xena nodded at her friend. "All right...all right As long as she behaves herself then I will too," she said quietly as she stood, "Besides I dont think my mother would let me near her right now."
Gabrielle giggled. " She does seem to have Cyrene under her spell doesnt she I swear that child could charm the thunder away from Zeus," the bard said with a chuckle.
Xena grinned at the image of little Tarren carrying off the Gods thunder, but then suddenly the warriors smile faded and her face grew sad and empty. "Shes sees my brother in Tarrens face Gabrielle she looks so much like that him sometimes I forget myself," she whispered, lost in her own thoughts.
The bard felt her friends pain, but the warrior soon smiled again and jumped to her feet. The sadness of the brother lost was quickly replaced with the memory of the daughter found. And once again Xena smiled at her friend. "You take your nap my bard. Ill see to my daughters bath I promise Ill be good," she said raising her hands in the air.
Gabrielle studied her friends eyes and noted the sincerity. "All right then," she said, and with a yawn and a stretch the bard returned to her own room to sleep.
Feeling refreshed and renewed Xena strode to the kitchen where she could hear her mother s voice telling tales of her misspent youth and the sound of childish laughter. "By the goods no!" she groaned, rushing in, but she could tell by the smirk on her daughters face that she was too late.
"Hi Momma have a nice bath?" the youngster asked wickedly, as she chewed on a cookie leaning up against the stove where Cyrene was cooking.
The warrior nodded at her daughter and stared at Cyrene. "Mother what have you been filling her head with?" she asked with a frown.
The older woman shrugged. "Oh she just wanted to hear some stories about when you were little. You were such a naughty little one sometimes, " she said, squeezing her daughters chin.
"Remember the time " Cyrene began.
The warrior sighed and put up a halting hand. "Please mother no stories. Tarren gets into enough trouble without any suggestions," she warned staring, at her daughter.
Tarren smiled broadly and shook her finger at the warrior. "Really Momma Im surprised at you, such behavior from a future Warrior Princess. All these dangerous things you did. Stk. stk. stk.," she said with a giggle, eyeing her frustrated warrior mother.
"You never mind what I did or didnt do young lady. You just get yourself to your room. Its time for you to take a bath," she ordered, hoping to avoid having to explain any of her childhood.
The youngster frowned trying to avoid the subject of a bath. "Uh Momma did you really bury a kid up to his neck in dirt cause he called you a " she began. The warrior raised her hand not wanting to recall the entire memory. Xena nodded. "Yes I did, but what Im sure what my mother didnt tell you is that when she found out what I had done she paddled me so I couldnt sit for a week. Same as I would do to you if you pulled a stunt like that," she warned, lowering herself down to meet her daughter's eyes.
Tarren bowed her head under her mothers harsh gaze.
"Xena there is no need to scare the little one. SHE hasnt done anything wrong," Cyrene scolded, putting an arm around Tarren and leading her to a small table. "Here sit down child," she said softly
Before Tarren could object the older woman pushed her down into the chair soliciting a loud yelp from the youngster that quickly sprung to her feet. "Ouch!" she cried, rubbing her still tender bottom carefully.
Xena could not help but smile at her conniving childs dilemma. The warrior merely stood there rocking back on her heals and grinning. "Uhh something wrong Tarren?" the warrior mother asked.
The youngster bit her lip and glanced at her mother for a little sympathy but found none.
Cyrene looked at her daughter and then the child. "Xena you spanked this child?" she asked.
"Yes mother I did," the warrior said politely, folding her arms and relaxing at the thought of what at that brief moment seemed like a pleasant memory.
"For the love of Zeus why?" Cyrene asked caressing the youngsters head.
"Because she deserved it and she needed it mother," was the warriors fast and solemn reply. She did not feel a need to explain, even to her own mother, how or why she disciplined her child.
Cyrene shook her head in frustration at her unyielding daughter and turned her attention back to Tarren. "More milk dear?" she asked.
Before Tarren could respond Xena held up her hand. "Sorry Mother but its time for her bath and a nap Tarren lets go," Xena said quickly, motioning for the doorway, her face now very serious.
Cyrene started to protest, but the warrior stood firm. She would not allow her authority to be challenged where her daughter was concerned. It had taken too much time and effort to get to the level of understanding the two shared. Xena gave the youngster a long hard glance. "Tarren go to your room and get ready for a bath. Ill be there in a minute," she instructed in a no nonsense tone. Tarren looked to Cyrene for help but the older womans gaze was now locked with Xenas.
Sensing the little girls attempt at a coup Xena yelled, "NOW!" and with that one single word the youngster sprinted quickly past the warrior as fast as her feet would carry her.
Xenas eyes followed the child pleased with her quickness to opt to obey her command. Perhaps she was learning after all. Xena looked at Cyrene a moment longer and shook her head. "Mother," she whispered and then turned on her heal and headed for the room.
When Xena entered the room Tarren, much to the warriors surprise was already obediently sitting in the tub washing herself. Xena closed the door behind her and moved over to the tub. "Here give me that You never get behind your ears," she said, taking the cloth from the youngster.
Tarren swallowed hard and waited for her mothers scolding to begin, but Xena just gently washed the childs hair never saying a word. When the warrior had finished bathing her, she held up a large towel and motioned for the little girl to get out of the tub, which she did quickly and quietly.
Tarren bit her lip as she stared at her mother who was sitting on the edge of the bed drying the child. "Momma?" she whispered.
"Yes," the warrior mother responded, never straying from her task.
"Are you gonna Am I in trouble?" she asked quietly.
The Warrior Princess did not even look up. "Why do you think you should be?" she asked with a crooked smile.
Tarren thought about it for a moment. "Im never really sure Momma," she said lowering her eyes a bit.
Xena half-smiled and turned the youngster to face her. "Well Ill admit I was a bit angry at you before, but Im not anymore. I know your trying to behave and you just cant resist the urge to ask lots of questions about me even when you know Id rather you didnt," she said with a grin.
The child let out a long breath and quickly threw her arms around her mothers neck.
"Well what was that for?" Xena asked, wrapping her arms around her daughter.
The little girl smiled. "Cause I missed ya and cause you knew I was just playing. I didnt really like staying with Cyrene. I was just waiting for you to come get me," she said with a childish grin.
Xena let her eyes grow wide. "Oh is that right? You missed me that much while you were eating all those cookies?" she asked with a smirk.
Tarren lowered her head a bit. "Momma you told me to not argue. I was only doing what you told me to do," she said quietly, searching for a loophole in her defense.
Xena nodded her head and smiled at her daughter. "I guess you were at that little one," she said pulling Tarren gently onto her lap.
The youngster sat comfortably against her mothers chest. "Momma, Cyrene said I have my own room. Do I have to sleep so far away?" she asked with a hopeful look in her eyes.
Xena kissed the youngsters cheek gently and shook her head. "No sweetheart. You can sleep in here with me if you like. Id sort of like the company," the warrior replied, not wanting her daughter to feel bad about her need to be close.
The youngster nuzzled her head into Xenas shoulder and smiled. "Dont worry Momma. Youll never be lonely with me around. I wont let you be alone for one second. I promise," she said quickly.
Xena bit her lip trying not to chuckle at the childs honesty. "Im sure you wont, and I would not have it any other way little girl," she said squeezing the child tightly.
Tarren giggled as the warrior tickled her side, but then her thoughts focused more on the stranger in the kitchen. "Momma do you and your Cyrene always fight?" she asked
The warrior sighed feeling a bit guilty at the example she had set. "Well no not always, but weve never been what you would call very close. We are just very different people. Sometimes that just makes it hard for us to agree on things. That makes us argue a little. We still love each other though," she said softly, thinking of the woman who had raised her alone.
The youngster leaned her head against her mothers shoulder, once again wanting to feel her closeness. "We wont fight will we Momma? Were close arent we?" she asked, hugging the warriors neck hoping for the right response.
Xena smiled and embraced her youngster. "Little one, if you and I were any closer wed be the same person sometimes Im afraid we are," she said, kissing the childs forehead.
Tarren smiled at the thought of her being so much like Xena. "Im sorry about what I said about the farmers Momma I didnt mean to say anything bad I " she began.
Xena stopped her. "Hey I know. Its Ok I shouldnt have come down so hard on you. I do still remember what it was like to be a little kid ya know?" she whispered.
Tarren giggled at the thought of Xena ever being little. "When you are little a small village of farmers seems pretty boring, but trust me Tarren as you get older you come to appreciate that there is nothing more valuable as home, friends and family," she said, stroking her daughters back.
The child thought about it for a moment. "Wheres my home Momma?" she asked staring into her mothers blue eyes.
Xena rubbed the youngsters cheek with her hand. "With me little one. My home is now your home whether we are here or on the road. Your home will always be with me," she said softly, and Tarren just lay against to her mothers chest as the warrior rubbed her back gently.
There was a knock at the door and Cyrene walked in. She could not help but smile with surprise as she saw her daughter, the Warrior Princess, playing the role of a nurturing mother. "I didnt mean to interrupt. The little ones room was empty, so I came here to see if she needed anything," the older woman said quietly, realizing she had intruded on a private moment.
"Its Ok Mother Tarren and I like to share a room. Besides I dont want you using up a third room for us. Well be just fine bunking together. Right?" she asked, looking down at her child.
Tarren nodded and quickly buried her head back in her mothers chest trying to hide again from the stranger at the door.
Xena looked at her mothers puzzled expression and lifted Tarren off her lap and motioned for her to go to the other room. "Gabrielles sleeping in her room. You go lie down in there with her for a while," she said gently, and the child slowly walked into the other bedroom.
Still feeling the need for the attention of her family Tarren snuggled in on the bed next to Gabrielle. The movement startled the bard. "What the?" she said groggily looking down at the small form lying next to her.
The young woman smiled. "Ok kid you can stay, but lets not make a habit of this. Its not often I get an entire bed to myself," she teased. Wrapping a loving arm around the tiny form, the pair happily heading on the way to Morpheous.
Xena stared at her mother for a long moment. She dried the water from her leathers and then placed the cloth back on her bed. "Im sorry mother. I didnt meant to be disrespectful to you," she said softly.
Cyrene smiled and ran a soothing hand over the soft skin of her daughter. "No little one it is I who am sorry for interfering where I should not. She is your daughter. Please tell me of her," she begged, motioning for Xena to follow her back to the kitchen.
The warrior nodded her head and followed her mother. The two women sat at the large table in the center of the Inn drinking Ale as they spoke. The great warrior shared her most recent tales and adventures including how she came to find Tarren. Cyrene could only shudder at how the child had survived so long in such a "savage way." Xena bit her lips at her mothers choice of words not wanting to start another argument.
"Shes a tough little kid mother shes had to be, but she also has a very warm and gentle heart. She needs a lot of attention," the warrior said with a sigh, sipping at her mothers brew.
Cyrene covered her daughters hand with her own. "Daughter do not blame yourself for things you did not know of. The most important thing is that she is with you now, and youre going to raise her the right way. She loves you Xena. That is plain to see, and I know you love her I see it in your eyes when you look at the child," she said.
The warrior smiled. "Yeah I guess the little brat sort of grows on ya, but if you think I got into trouble This one needs a tether I turn my back for one second and shes running off down some trail or fighting with some road tramps," she said with a sigh.
Cyrene gasped at the thought of the little girl in such a situation. Xena just shook her head and smiled proudly. "Then she gives me that innocent little smile that mischievous little grin knowing the entire time shes doing something wrong and just daring the world and me to challenge her can you imagine?" she asked with a chuckle.
Cyrene gave her daughter a knowing stare. "No I cant possibly know what you are talking about Xena," she said with an odd smile.
The warrior lowered her eyes under her mothers gaze and then both women broke into a loud laughter over the comparison. "All right so I was no darling either, but I had you from day one. Tarren has been alone so long," the warrior s voice faltered, "Sometimes I have to be so hard on her to make sure she follows the rules. The way we live the consequences are just too great to allow even a small infraction. It tears me up inside to punish her Mother, but it seems to be part of my weekly routine lately," she said with a somber look.
Cyrene nodded in understanding. "Its not easy to watch your child suffer Xena. It is even harder to be the one that causes the pain even if you know its for their own good. Just remember daughter, temper your need for discipline and obedience with love and affection. She needs that just as much dear," she said patting her daughters hand gently.
Xena allowed the words to soak in and smiled. It felt good to be home and able to confide her deepest feelings to her mother. Cyrene stood to refill their mugs and then quickly turned to face her daughter with a more serious face. "But if you ever catch her fighting with road tramps again you paddle her good daughter," she ordered.
The warrior held back a laugh and nodded obediently, "Yes mother."
Xena was enjoying the quiet conversation with this woman she felt she barely knew anymore. They shared the ale as Cyrene shared her wisdom, but the moment was quickly shattered by the older womans need to have the world her way. "So how long before you are ready to return to Amphipolous for good and give that child a proper home?" she asked.
The words came crashing down on Xena like thunder from the sky. "Mom we wont be returning to Amphipolous. We are just visiting. After we leave here well be stopping in Potedia and then well go wherever were needed," she said.
The older woman sighed. "Xena Tarren is just a little girl. That is no life for her. She needs stability. This wandering around the countryside, playing hero may be fine for you and Gabrielle, but Tarren is just a small child. She needs a home and a family," Cyrene lectured.
Xena dropped her mug on the table trying to control her frustration.
"Mother Tarrens home is with me and Gabrielle. We are her family. Right now our place is on the road. I dont know where it will be in the future, but for right now that is where I am, so that is where she stays...with me," she said quickly, trying to let the anger out of her words.
Cyrene stood and faced her daughter. "You would keep that youngster on the road living like a savage in the wilderness," she yelled.
Xena turned her back on her mother feeling the words hit her like bricks. "Savages mother? Well thank you very much. I should have guessed you would not approve of anything I did, even how I choose to raise my daughter. Well it doesnt matter...This is my life and I like it and whether you believe it or not she likes it. And that is the way it is going to stay," she seethed.
Cyrene slammed her own mug on the table. "Xena you are the most stubborn I have to go get dinner on the table. Please wake Tarren and Gabrielle," she said quickly walking to the kitchen.
Xena stood staring up at the ceiling praying to all the gods on Olympus to give her strength to endure her mothers judgments. "Well so much for that warm mother daughter thing we had going Mom," she murmured as she walked back to the rooms.
The war torn warrior entered the room where the two figures slept totally enveloped in each others comfort. Xena smiled at the closeness the two had had established in such a short period of time. She stared at them both wondering if there was any truth to what her mother was saying. She shook her head and smiled a bit.
"Come on you two get up. Mom has dinner ready," she said poking the bard.
Neither seemed eager to rise so Xena quickly lifted a pillow and threw it at the sleeping forms. Gabrielle was the first to jump reaching quickly for her staff. Noticing it was only Xena, she gave her friend a crooked smile and dropped her staff, leaning back on her arms. "Well good morning or afternoon or whatever," the bard said with a yawn.
The warrior nodded, "Its actually closer to evening, but thats Ok you were tired," she said wearily.
Gabrielle noticed the tired look on her friends face and sighed. "Did you ever get any sleep Xena?" she asked.
The warrior sat on the side of the bed shaking her head. "No I was talking with my mother," she replied with a frown.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Xena whatever she said...its just not true." the bard said knowing her friend was upset by something Cyrene had said.
Xena stared at her best friend. "Well talk about it later Gabrielle," she said motioning towards the youngster who she was not quite sure was still asleep.
The bard nodded in understanding and poked the youngster gently in the ribs. "Hey brat wake up If you gonna share my bed your gonna share my misery I have to get up, and so do you," she said with a yawn.
The youngster growled as she turned over on her side and opened her eyes, smiling at her mother. "Hi," she said with an innocent childs smile.
"Hi yourself," Xena replied, reaching over and pulling the child from the blankets. Tarren looked at her mother and threw her arms quickly around the warriors neck with an unexpected hug. Xena raised her eyebrows but returned the embrace.
"What was that for?" the warrior asked, staring gently at her young daughter.
The child shrugged. "I dunno It looked like another one of those times ya needed a hug," she said with a smile.
The warrior looked at he bard and closed her eyes. "Well you know something little one, you were right. I did need that and I thank you," she said rubbing the childs cheek.
Tarren jumped off the bed. "Anytime Momma," she said with a grin.
Xena shook her head in wonder at her daughters love. "Get dressed its supper time," she said softly.
Gabrielle got out of the bed nearly tripping on the sheet that wrapped her body. She fell towards the warrior and Xena reached out and caught the bard before she hit the floor. "Thanks," the young woman said, trying to regain her lost dignity.
Tarren giggled wildly at the clumsy bard and Xena threw her a quick glare to silence her.
"Anytime my bard anytime," she said with a simple smile.
Gabrielle nodded and reached for her bag ready to dress. Tarren was already dressed as she threw on her soft deerskin tunic and stuck her beloved chucks in her left boot. Xena frowned at the childs need to carry them, but said nothing. She just gave her a warning glare to let the youngster know she had better not see them leave her boot. Tarren smiled at her mother as she noted the chakrum attached to her side. The silent conversation these two were sharing fascinated the bard. The warrior folded her arms fully across her chest to remind the child who was boss and the youngster just giggled bouncing up and down on the bed, not the effect the warrior mother had hoped for.
"Sorry Momma but I know all your secrets now," the child said jumping off the bed, flipping through the air in a somersault, and landing on her feet by the door.
Xenas eyes went wide as she watched the childs short but difficult maneuver. Tarren offered her famed mischievous grin and waited for her companions to join her.
"Like mother like daughter hey warrior," the bard said poking her friend in the arm.
Xena looked at her child and grinned. "Yup I guess so," she replied.
The trio quickly left for supper with the still angry grandmother.
Cyrene quietly placed the plates in front of each of the seats as her visiting family entered the room. "I hope youre all hungry, " she said with a smile pointed at Gabrielle. "I made lots," she said tapping the bards cheek.
Gabrielle frowned at the warrior. "Why does she always look at me when she says that Xena. Have you been telling her I eat like an army again?" she asked ready to poke her friend in the ribs again.
The warrior shrugged and took a seat next to her friend trying not to smile. "Later warrior," the bard whispered.
Tarren ignored the prepared chair preferring instead her mothers soft lap. The warrior moved back and let the child jump into her lap, knowing she was still in need of her closeness. "You can stay as long as you behave yourself," she said with a grin.
The child leaned back on the warriors chest and smiled. "Who me Momma?" she asked winking at the bard.
"Yeah you," Xena said tickling the child into a wild giggle.
Cyrene entered with a stern glare. "Is that appropriate manners for the table," she asked.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and sighed. "No mother," she said simply.
"Tarren dear why dont you come sit next tome. Ill get you a soft pillow if you like," she said.
The child shook her head. "Id rather stay here with Momma," she said fiddling with the warriors armband.
"Its Ok Mother. Shes fine where she is," the warrior added.
Cyrene sighed and nodded. "Of course dear," she said with a forced smile.
Gabrielle covered her face with her hands knowing this was gonna be a very long meal. "Can I help Cyrene?" the bard asked but the older woman just waved her off.
"Thank you but I can manage dear," she said looking at the gentle young woman gratefully. Cyrene passed out plates with roasted pork, large potatoes, carrots, and honey biscuits all of Xenas favorites. The warrior could feel the guilt meter starting to rise as she stared at her mother. "Thank you," she said, eagerly accepting a plate.
Xena held Tarrens hands back from starting. "We all start together when we are seated at a table like this," she whispered in the childs ear. The little girl frowned and eagerly waited for Cyrene to seat herself so they could eat.
"Well child dont wait for me. Dig in," the grandmother said.
Tarren quickly did as she was told and started to eat her meal. Xena just sighed. "Thanks Mother I just told her to wait," she said simply.
Cyrene sat down and shrugged. "Sorry dear I didnt know you ate so formally in your little travels," she groaned.
Gabrielle started to raise her fork and paused as those words hit her ears. "Actually Cyrene we have our meals on plates, with forks, seated around a fire just like this. The only difference is that Tarren would know better than to speak rudely to anyone sharing our meal," the bard said with a cat like grin.
Xenas mouth dropped as she watched the young bards temper start to flare.
Tarren lowered her head to pay better attention to her meal rather than the "adult" conversation going on around her. She was not too happy to hear her name mentioned so much in this conversation.
"Of course dear I didnt mean anything by it," Cyrene replied with a forced smile of her own.
Gabrielle nodded and then gave Xena a quick stare warning her that she had better have a good explanation for whatever was going on. Xena could see her friends frustration starting to build, so she tried to change the subject as she ate. "So mother how has business been?" she asked.
Cyrene waved her hands in the air. "Oh its been so busy it never seems to stop. Its getting more and more crowded with every passing night. Sometimes it can be hard doing it alone but I manage daughter," she said quickly.
Xena felt the guilt meter rising inside of her.
Gabrielle dropped her fork in her plate staring at her large warrior friend waiting for her to respond, but she said nothing. "So Cyrene have you considered hiring more help?" the bard asked, deciding that if Xena wouldnt speak up then she would.
"Yes dear but this has always been a family business, and its hard to have strangers working so close," she answered staring at Xena.
The guilt meter just went through the roof.
Tarren listened to the entire exchange in disbelief. She was not exactly sure who was mad at who or why, but she knew something was wrong. She only hoped she wasnt gonna be the one to get in trouble in the end. Having finished most of her food, the child pushed her plate away.
Gabrielle noted the untouched carrots and pointed to them. "Eat!" she ordered with more frustration towards Cyrene then Tarren coming out. The child shook her head and leaned back on her mothers chest not wanting to touch the carrots.
"Tarren eat the vegetables," Xena said quietly handing the little girl her fork. The youngster groaned but quickly pulled the plate in front of her again ready to swallow a carrot.
"Xena if she doesnt want to eat them then dont force her," Cyrene warned.
Tarren smiled and happily pushed the plate away once again.
That was the last straw. The warriors eyes lit up. "Mother I know what Im doing. Tarren eat the carrots," Xena said firmly.
Again the child pulled the plate in front of her and started to chew on the vegetables.
"How could you know what youre doing. Youve been a mother for all of two months. I have raised three children including you little one...Tarren you dont have to eat that," Cyrene said with maternal authority.
The child wearily pushed the plate away confused by all the yelling over a few carrots.
Xenas eyes went wild as she stared at her mother. "First of all Mother it has been a long while since I was a "little one", and while you may have raised three children you are not raising this one. I am...Tarren eat!" the warrior mother ordered in a no nonsense parental tone that made it clear to the child whose words to head.
The little girl pulled the plate in front of her and started devouring the carrots before Cyrene could alter the command again. She was eating so fast that she began choking on the vegetables and coughing. Xena and Gabrielle patted the youngsters back as she spit out the vile vegetables.
Cyrene got to her feet and ran to the child side. "Now see what you did by trying to force her," the older woman scolded. She reached out to touch the child, but Tarren pulled quickly away burying herself in Xenas shoulder.
The warrior mother tried to soothe her daughter by rubbing her back. Gabrielle handed her a mug of water and soon the child quieted and just lay panting in her mothers arms.
"Im sorry Tarren," Xena whispered, gently rubbing the childs head.
The warrior glared at her mother as she lifted the youngster to her feet. "Gabrielle please take Tarren back to the room," she said, watching the bard gently take the confused childs hand and lead her back to the sleeping chambers.
Xena looked at her mother as she threw the napkin from her lap onto the table.
"Mother theres a storm coming in and I want to check on Argo and the rest of the stock. We will talk when I get back," she said evenly, never taking her eyes off Cyrene.
Gabrielle sat beside Tarren on the edge of the bed. "Are you Ok?" the bard asked.
The little girl nodded. "Why are they fighting over carrots so much Gabby?" the child asked, leaning on her friend for support.
The bard smiled and stroked the childs hair. "I don know honey. Xena and Cyrene have never been really close, but I know they have been trying very hard to get closer to be more of a family to each other. Sometimes Cyrene can be "
The child frowned. "A big pain in the..." she started.
The bard covered Tarrens mouth before the child could finish the sentence. "Dont even say it. Dont ever let Xena hear you say it. You can think it if you want, but dont ever say it. Shes still Xenas mother and your grandmother, and whatever is going on is between the two of them and we just have to let them settle it," she said softly.
Tarren held her breath falling back on the bed. "Thats easy for you to say. Youre not the one theyre fighting on top of," she whined.
The bard lay back beside the child feeling sympathy for the youngsters obvious confusion, wishing she could give her answers that she didnt have yet.
"Gabby is this my fault?" she asked with a tear falling down her cheek.
The bard quickly embraced the child. "No honey This is not your fault. This is just how Xena and her mom get along sometimes. That happens in families sometimes. You and Xena get mad at each other, but you always make up. Xena and I fight, but we always get over it right?" she asked quietly, holding the child tightly.
The youngster shook her head. "Momma would never let us fight over carrots," she whispered.
The bard shook her head realizing that Tarren really didnt understand that this went deeper than vegetables. "Well dont you worry. You and your mom are too close to fight like that. Beside do you think Id ever let that happen? Id knock you both around if you acted like that," she said with a teary grin.
Tarren giggled as she let her head fall on the bards arm. "Well then its a good thing we have you isnt it Gabby. You wont ever leave will ya?" she asked holding onto her friend.
The bard smiled "Not a chance kid. Not a chance," she whispered, still wondering what was going on with Xena and her mother, and wishing she could throw her two dinars in.
The warrior secured the barn as the dark clouds moved quickly overhead.
"Argo my friend. I thought things could change, but I guess I was wrong. I am never going to survive this visit," she said stiffly patting the horses mane gently. Xena cocked her head to one side as she heard the soft steps of the bard enter the barn.
"Hows Tarren?" she asked without turning.
Gabrielle considered the question. "Confused, scared, angry How should she be?" the bard chided.
Xena took a deep breath and faced her friend. "I know I know...Its my fault. I should have just backed off," she said folding her arms and leaning against the railing.
The bard shook her head in disbelief. "Youre fault? Xena, that was Cyrenes fault. She had no right to interfere," the young woman scolded.
"Gabrielle it doesnt matter anyway. Were leaving in the morning," she said stiffly.
The bards eyes went wide. "What? But we just got here. You wanted to heal the wounds with your mother. You wanted to spend time with her and give Tarren a chance to get to know her. What happened?" the young woman demanded.
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Well it just wont work. I wont have Tarren put in the middle of my problems with my mother. You saw what happened to that poor kid tonight. I will not allow that to happen again Gabrielle," she said evenly, trying to control her frustration.
The bard moved up next to her friend and placed a gentle hand on her arm. "Xena just what did happen tonight? I know you and your mother have never exactly seen eye to eye but you two are going at it like two dogs fighting over a bone. What did she say to you this afternoon?" the bard asked.
The warrior shook her head and faced her friend. "Look Gabrielle my mother has never approved of me. I cant say that I blame her based on my past, but even now she thinks we live like "savages" because we travel around so much. She thinks I should move home and raise Tarren here," Xena said, trying to hide the hurt from her mothers words.
The bards face grew cold and angry. "Hey you listen to me warrior. You have never taken that from anyone, and I dont want to see you start now. We are not savages. We live an exciting and thrilling life and we help people Xena. Tarren is well cared for and well looked after. Her studies are far better than if she were in school with 30 other kids, and I cant imagine her being more loved. Xena you are a good mother to that little girl. Do NOT let Cyrene tell you otherwise," she ordered, feeling the depth of emotion welling inside of her.
The warrior smiled at the faith in her friends voice. "Thank You Gabrielle. I appreciate your support, but Im afraid my mother will never understand. I wish Well wishes just dont always come true," she said with a sigh.
The bard shook her head staring back towards the Inn. "We cant leave yet Xena. Tarren already thinks this is her fault somehow. If we go then you will never convince her otherwise," the bard said with a frown.
Xena dropped her head down. "What? Why would she think that?" She asked.
The bard shrugged. "Maybe because it seems to her that you and Cyrene started fighting the minute her name was brought up?" she asked quickly.
The warrior mother stood straight. "Well I wont have that Gabrielle. Mother and I will just have to get along while we are here. Ill work it out. Dont worry. Just promise me youll stay out of it," she said firmly.
The bard gave her friend an innocent look. "Me?" she asked.
Xena twisted her lips as she looked at her friends face, "Uh huh."
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her friends arm knowing this would not be easy for her.
"Hey the skies are gonna open up any minute. Lets get inside," Xena said, forgetting the bard never actually made a promise.
Xena entered the tavern followed by the bard. The warrior motioned for the bard to check on the child and she quickly moved passed Cyrene.
"Mother the animals are secure in the stable," she said stiffly.
Cyrene nodded her thanks, "Good now lets talk."
Cyrene started to say something, but the warrior held up a hand halting her. "Please Me first. Mother for a dinar I would leave here in the morning rather than have Tarren stuck in the middle of this. However my daughter seems to feel this is somehow her fault, and I wont have her leaving here feeling that way, so you and I are just gonna have to put our differences aside for her sake," she said quickly.
The older womans face went blank when her daughter said she wanted to leave. She had never wanted to drive her away. She only wanted her home, but she did not know how to tell her that without fighting. Cyrene was a proud woman and weakness was not an option.
"Xena I never meant Im sorry," was all she could say.
Her mothers sudden softness and emotion confused the warrior. "Mother I dont wish to fight with you...I know you dont approve of me but ." she began. A loud clap of thunder above quickly halted her words.
The warrior was about to continue ignoring the startling weather when the bard came skidding in. "Xena you better come. Shes under the bed crying, and I cant get her to come out," the bard said quickly.
Xena took a deep breath as her face filled with a deep concern. Tarren was terrified by the sound of thunder. Xena thought it must be somehow connected to an entry in Nalas diary about how the child was lost in a thunderstorm at the tender age of three.
Gabrielle stopped Cyrene from following. "Wait! They need to be alone and I have something to say," she hissed.
Chapter 5 Voices of the Past
The older woman stared down at Gabrielle who she considered a second daughter.
"I was raised to respect my elders, and I try. However Xena is my best friend and the way you are treating her is wrong," the young woman said sternly.
Cyrene started to protest and the young bard silenced her with a scowl, "Look I dont want to interfere between you and Xena, but I think there are a few things you should know. First of all we dont live like savages. Yes we live under the stars and sometimes its hard, but mostly its a beautiful thing. We travel around and we help people. Xena has given her life over to serving the greater good. She has given her heart and soul over to raising that child. How dare you condemn her for choosing to raise her in a world she feels most suitable in a life you know nothing about. People admire your daughter...I admire her little Tarren worships her, but Xena came here because she wanted to see you, her mother. The last few months have been really hard on her. She nearly lost Tarren in a cave-in. I saw the pain in her eyes as she dug through stone with her bare hands fighting to get to that little girl. You will never know how much that child means to her to both of us. But you should know that she came home because she needed your love, your support, and the understanding of her own mother. You passed judgment on her the minute she walked in the door," the bard scolded, trembling at the way she was addressing her best friends mother.
Cyrenes face went cold, "Now you listen to me young lady "
Gabrielles eyes were welling with tears forced out by the pent up emotion she was feeling. "No you listen Cyrene, better yet come with me," she said, taking the womans arm and gently leading her to the room Xena shared with her daughter. "Do you know why Xena and Tarren are sharing a room?" the bard asked.
The older woman shrugged. "Xena said that she didnt feel it was necessary to take up three rooms, Cyrene said quickly.
Gabrielle shook her head. "No its because Tarren doesnt like to be that far from her mother. She gets scared at night. Xena always keeps her very close," the bard said, slightly opening the door so Cyrene could get a glimpse of her daughters private world.
Xena looked under the bed and saw a shivering little form wrapped in blankets sobbing.
The warrior mother smiled. "Hey Tarren would you please come out from under there?" she asked softly.
There was another loud clap of thunder and the youngster just froze in place staring at her mother. Xena sighed, "Come on honey. Give me your hand. I wont let anything happen to you. You trust me dont you?" The large muscular figure reached her hand under the bed hoping the child would take it.
Tarrens tears continued but she stretched out a small shaking hand to Xena, who slowly pulled the trembling child and a mass of blankets into her arms.
"Hey now. Whats all this hiding under the bed?" she asked cradling the youngster.
The child held tightly to her mother as the thunder continued to roll over. " Make it stop Momma!" she cried, burying her head in the warriors side.
Xena shook her head. Im sorry little one, but I cant do that. Besides the thunder cant hurt us in here. Its just a loud sound. Im right here with you, and I promise you nothing is going to hurt you," she whispered, rocking the youngster in her arms.
"Its too loud. I want it to stop," the little girl cried trying to cover her ears.
Xena looked into the teary eyes of her daughter and could feel her pain. "Hey listen thunder is just old Zeuss way of letting off a little steam. Its his way of letting us know that hes gonna give us the gift of water from the sky. Its sort of like my battle cry .Its his way of letting everyone know whats coming. Now theres nothing wrong with that is there? I mean you wouldnt want me to stop using my battle cry would ya?" she asked wiping the childs tears away.
The youngster shook her head. "No Momma then nobody know it was you coming," she sniffled.
Xena smiled at her daughter, "Well then what do you say we let Zeus have his fun and make all the noise he wants tonight?"
The child let her head fall on her mothers shoulder feeling protected from the thunder and the world around her. "Ok but you gotta stay here with me," she said taking the warriors hand.
"Now where else would I go?" the warrior asked simply, leaning back on the large pallet, pulling Tarren right beside her and humming a soft soothing tune while she stroked her daughters back.
The bard quietly closed the door allowing the moment to become private once again.
"You see Cyrene, Xena is a great mother. She may not be kind of mother you were or the kind of mother I had, but shes wonderful mother to Tarren. That little girl loves her and respects her. She may not raise her in the conventional way, but shes teaching her to have respect for everyone and everything around her. Shes showing her all the beauty and yes the bad in the world, and shes teaching her what it means to really be loved unconditionally. Ya know Cyrene I wish my mother had been more like Xena. Tell me could you do any better that?" the bard asked slowly walking back to her own room, wondering if she had just made a huge mistake.
Cyrene leaned her head on the wall just outside her daughters room door and ran her hands over the wood. She could hear Xena humming and soon the childs tears were replaced with a playful giggling. The warriors mother leaned against the door feeling the tears fall from her eyes for the mother she knew she was never able to be.
The following morning Tarren walked into the kitchen where Cyrene was busy making breakfast. "Good morning Tarren," she said with a smile.
"Good morning" the youngster grumbled. The little girl did not like the way this stranger was making her mother sad and she intended on make her feelings known.
"Would you like some breakfast little one?" the grandmother asked, offering the child a biscuit.
The little girl stared at the food and shook her head not wanting to accept anything from this intruder. The older womans face went blank as she lowered her hand turning away from the child.
Xena entered the kitchen and gently kissed her mother on the forehead. "Good morning mother," she said obediently. Cyrene nodded and tried to smile.
The warrior dismissed her mothers obvious displeasure and turned her attentions towards her own child. "So brat are you ready for a day filled with seeing my old stomping grounds?" she asked, tasseling the youngster's head.
The child glared at Cyrene. "I dunno is SHE coming?" the child asked pointing to her grandmother.
The warriors face turned hard quickly. "What was that you said young lady?" she demanded to know.
Tarren glanced at he angry face of her mother. "I dont wanna to go if shes coming," the child repeated, keeping a steady glare on Cyrene.
Xena bent down and faced her daughter. "Young lady you had better apologize to your grandmother right now for being so rude and disrespectful." she ordered.
Cyrene quickly interceded. "Xena its all right. She has a right to feel that way," she said quietly wiping her hands on her apron.
The warrior shook her head. "No mother it is far from all right. She has no right to speak to you that way and I wont have it. Tarren I am waiting to hear that apology NOW!" she yelled, her voice raising with parental authority.
The youngster curled her lips and locked her arms against her chest tightly saying nothing.
Xena sighed and took a step back. "Mother I apologize for her behavior," she said looking at her mother with sincere regret. She then turned her attention back to her daughter. "You little girl are going straight back to your room and wait for me," she said sternly pointing the way.
Tarren bit her lip and started moving slowly towards the door.
"I think if I were you Id move a little faster young lady," Xena said, letting the child see the anger in her eyes.
Tarren saw the look and quickly sprinted back to the room.
Xena let out a long breath as she watched the child go. "I really am sorry Mom. I will talk to her. Shell apologize," the warrior vowed. Before Cyrene could say another word Xena disappeared out the door.
Gabrielle entered the kitchen with a yawn. "Good morning," she said, hoping the older woman was not angry with her for her ranting the night before. "Cyrene Im sorry about last night I shouldnt have said anything," the bard said touching the older womans arm.
Cyrene shook her head. "No child, you did me a favor. I never realized how much I really did judge Xena, but the truth is dear I love her so much I miss her so much I just want her to be close," she said wiping a tear.
The bards face went blank and she hugged the older woman, "Why dont you just tell her how you feel? She would love to hear that. She needs you Cyrene, more now than ever."
"I will talk with her when the time is right dear. Now is not the time. Ive caused enough trouble as it is," Cyrene said wringing her hands together nervously.
The bard cocked her head in confusion. "What are you talking about? Xena loves you," she said placing a hand on the older womans shoulder.
"Yes but the little one hates me. She as much as said so a few minutes ago, and Xena got angry with her. Now the young one is being punished because of me," Cyrene said slowly, feeling the weight of the guilt on her shoulders.
The bard threw her hand over her head in frustration. "Where was this all gonna end," she thought. "Cyrene whatever lesson Xena chooses to teach Tarren is one she needs to learn. Its not your fault. Shes a little kid and a bit of a spoiled brat at times. Xena wills straighten her out fast youll see." Gabrielle slumped into a nearby chair hoping she was right.
The warrior entered the room and grimly noticed the small figure lying on the large pallet sulking. "Well what should I do with you?" she scolded, staring at the youngster, "I know you know better than to speak to anyone like that, none the less my mother," she warned.
Tarren child looked at her mother. "She makes you unhappy. I dont like her anymore," she said quietly, as she stared at the tips of her boots.
Xena shook her anger off realizing that all of this was still as a result of the previous night. "Tarren what happens between me and my mother is as private as what goes on between you and I. You will treat her with respect and you must apologize to her," she said evenly, sitting on the bed beside her daughter.
The child shook her head stubbornly. "No!" she yelled, testing the warriors resolve.
Xena took a deep breath and slowly exhaled trying to find an inner calm. "Ok Tarren, Im gonna give you a choice. You will apologize to my mother and really mean it, or I will put you over my knee right here and right now and then, oh then, you will apologize. Its up to you," the warrior mother said in a husky voice, folding her arms tightly against her armored chest sure the little girl would show wisdom.
Tarren shook her head holding tightly to her anger and her stubborn Xena like pride.
"No I wont do it and you cant make me," she said stiffly, finding it hard to believe that her mother would actually punish her for refusing to bow to an enemy.
Xena shook her head in disappointment at her childs choice. "Why did it always have to be the hard way? Why couldnt Tarren just once make the situation easier for both of them?" Xena thought as she reluctantly reached took the child by the arm. The warrior let out a deep breath not sure which frustrated her more the youngsters failure to apologize or her blatant disobedience of the warrior mothers command. Things had definitely not turned out the way she had planned.
"Ok we will just see about that little girl," she said with a scowl. Then without hesitation she began an all too familiar ritual of landing her large muscular hand against the childs small tender bottom. "You tell me when you are ready to apologize little one, and Ill let you know when Im finished," she said allowing the reluctant cadence to continue. It was not long before Tarren realized that her mothers resolve was definitely greater than her own ability to tolerate the warriors hand. She had tried to out bluff the Warrior Princess and lost.
"Ok Momma Ill apologize. Ill apologize," she whined, through her steady flow of tears.
Xena lifted the youngster off her lap, placing the chastened child in front of her, staring sadly into the wide blue eyes of this little girl who had her heart. The warrior mother wiped the youngsters tears away with the side of her hand not sure who was hurting more at that moment. She took a quick breath and stood grabbing Tarrens hand. "Good and you better say it real nice about it," she gently scolded, taking the youngster back towards the kitchen.
Tarren sniffled as she stared up at her stoic mothers face. All the child had wanted was to get rid of the person who was hurting Xena. She hadnt meant to disrespect her own mother and get into so much trouble. Things were definitely not going the way she had planned.
The bard frowned when she caught sight of the teary eyed Tarren and the still tense Xena entering the kitchen. The warrior quickly placed her sulking daughter in front of her.
"Tarren has something to say to you Mother. Right?" she asked glancing down at the small form.
The youngster wiped her eyes with her sleeve and bit her lip. "Im sorry I was rude to you. I shouldnt have said what I said. Im sorry," she said quietly, staring at the older woman.
Cyrene swallowed hard at the sight of her humbled granddaughter. "Its all right little one. We ALL make mistakes and say things we really dont mean. Later we wish we could take them back and say what was really in our heart, but it can be difficult sometimes," Cyrene whispered, staring at Xena while directed her words to Tarren.
The confused youngster looked up at her equally confused mother for instructions. The warrior broke with her mothers gaze and looked own at her teary child. "Ok young lady you go to you room. I think you need to spend the day in their thinking about the difference between right and wrong," she said sternly, pointing towards the door.
The little girl looked sadly at her mother and then at the sympathetic bard. Slowly she made her way back to her room feeling abandoned and betrayed.
"Really daughter do you need to punish her any further? She looks so hurt and alone as it is," the grandmother said sympathetically.
Xena smiled at her mothers concern. "Mom she needs to learn the difference between right and wrong. A few days on her feet and a few hours in her room are not gonna kill her," she said quietly.
"A few days on her feet more like a few weeks," the bard murmured, remembering how long the child used the warriors bedroll to sit at meals after Xenas previous paddling.
Xena stared at her young friend. "Gabrielle!" she said in a warning tone.
The bard threw her arms up in surrender. "Did I say that out loud...sorry Ya know I sort of mouthed off to your mother myself last night, so I dont really deserve to go out either. Why dont you and your mother go out for a nice walk and chat, and Ill just stay here and relax. Ill keep an eye on Tarren, maybe read a good scroll," the bard said trying to quietly slip past her large friend.
The warrior grinned and grabbed the young woman quickly by the arm. "And just what did YOU say to my mother dear bard?" she asked, smiling at the young woman squirming to break free of her tight warriors grasp.
"Oh this and that," Gabrielle said with a weak smile, "But I already apologized so you dont have to ask me to Xena."
Cyrene placed a gentle hand on her daughters arm. "Xena let her go. She was trying to help," she said softly.
The warrior looked at her mother and then the bard and released her friend. "Fine if you are gonna act like a disobedient child then you should be treated like one. I asked you to stay out of this, but you didnt listen, so you can spend the day in the room with Tarren, Gabrielle," Xena scolded, pointing towards the rooms.
"Xena I am a grown woman. You cant ground me," the bard said with a fast smile, waving a warning finger at the warrior.
The warrior folded her arms in front of her and grinned. "I think I just did, so unless you need some help finding your way there, I suggest you go to your room," she ordered.
The bards jaw dropped. "Xena! You cant " she said in disbelief.
The look in the warriors eyes said that she was definitely serious and that Gabrielle had better vacate the room quickly. "Ok fine have it your way, but you better learn how to cook while your hear. It will be a cool day in Tartarus before I make you another meal," the young woman growled as she headed for the door.
Xena merely smiled and gave a quick wave to her friend, "Uh huh," she said, hoping the bard would not follow through on that threat.
"Well mother it looks like its just you and me," she said running her fingers nervously across the counter.
Cyrene smiled and patted her daughters cheek. "Dont be so hard on them. They are only doing what they do because they love you so much. Tarren was trying to stand up for you, and that Gabrielle has turned into quite a young lady. She has a lot more wisdom than you give her credit for," Cyrene said, taking her daughters arm, and leading her out into the streets of Amphipolis.
"Oh no mother thats where youre wrong. I never underestimate the bard," the warrior said with a smirk, thinking of the look of indignation on Gabrielles face after being confined to the Inn, "I am sorry if she interfered. She leads with her heart, but she means well. Sometimes she just needs to be reminded that even SHE does not have all the answers."
Cyrene nodded, "Yes she has a pure heart Xena. She is a good friend to both you and my granddaughter. You do realize she wanted us to have a chance to talk. That is why she confessed," the older woman said with a chuckle.
The warrior sighed at her silly friends dramatic attempt to arrange for this private time between she and her mother. "Yes mother I know. Im not angry with her. I really just wanted to spend some time with you, and at the same time teach Gabrielle a lesson about keeping promises. Besides she wanted to stay with Tarren. She is my daughters greatest source of comfort at times like this," she said quietly.
Cyrene placed a loving arm on her daughters shoulder. "I am sorry Xena. If I had not been so pig headed and foolish these last few days none of this would have happened," she replied lowering her eyes a bit as they walked.
Xena felt a rush of relief over her mothers apology. She had hoped they could reach some sort of common ground and maybe now they could. "Well mother I could have been a bit more understanding too, but Tarren still needs to learn the meaning of respect. Besides I was far from thrilled with the way she blatantly disobeyed me when I asked her to apologize. That little girl tends to get a bit big for her breeches now and again and needs a little reminder as to just who is in charge. Look Mother, I know why she did what she did, but you know that doesnt make it right. I gave her a choice and the little monster made the wrong one. That is not your fault," she said gently patting her mothers hand.
Cyrene smiled knowingly at her daughter, "Well I guess I would have done the same thing if I had been you. Im just grateful those days are gone for me. Punishing you always broke my heart in half Xena."
The warrior lowered her eyes at the memory of the look of sadness eyes in little Tarrens eyes as Xena had lifted her from her lap. "Yes mother I know exactly what you mean," the warrior said with a sullen stare.
The two women smiled at each other and allowed the moment to be silent for a while as they walked slowly through their home village. "Its still beautiful hear. I love coming home," Xena said as the gentle wind whipped through he hair.
"I wish you would stay Xena, but if you cant do that I do hope you will come much more often. I miss you so much and I worry when you are not here," she said with a soft smile. The warriors heart sank as the strong woman she had known as a child let down her shields to show her true feelings.
Xena was about to answer when a strange dark figure came forward blocking the womens path. Xenas eyes went cold and her muscles stiff and she quickly drew her sword.
"Metilius!" she seethed, staring at a face she had not seen in a dozen summers and hoped she would never see again. He had been the father of her best friend Terius of her youth. The young woman had joined Xena and her brother in their battle to free Amphipolis from Cortez. When the village had been attacked Terius stood with a sword in her hand ready to fight while her father had run for safety. The young woman had been left when a soldier had caught her with his blade. She lay there bleeding to death while the cowardly Metilius watched from the safety of the hills.
The older man was large, his eyes wild and crazed with a plague of unresolved hatred.
He stood before Xena and Cyrene wearing only a moth eaten robe. His hair was long and unkempt, and his face weather beaten and unshaven. At his side was an old but well sharpened sword that he carefully caressed as he stared at the Warrior Princess.
"I thought you left this village yeas ago," the warrior growled, tightening her grip on her sword as she felt the dark memories of the past coming alive.
Cyrene gently pulled her daughter back, and the stranger smiled wickedly.
Metilius smiled and studied the warrior and her mother for a moment before he spoke.
"Cyrene, and of course the mighty Warrior Princess, Xena. Yes, I left but I was never so far that I could not see could not watch and wait for your return," he answered with a dramatic an unbalanced wave of his hands.
Xenas expression turned to one of disgust and disdain for the figure that stood before her. "Well Im here so what do you want?" she asked stiffly.
"What could I possibly want from the one responsible for the death of my daughter blood your blood Xena," he laughed, dancing in a circle.
The warrior waved her blade in the air. "Well then if you think you can take it...come get it," she purred, pushing her mother out of harms way.
The crazed man licked his lips eager to taste Xenas blood, but he hesitated. This was too quick. There would be no suffering. "No Xena, not so easy My daughter did not know when she would die. She suffered and youll suffer too just like she did just like I have for more than 12 summers," he groaned, glaring into the warriors icy blue eyes
"I didnt kill your daughter Metilius, Cortezs men did," she answered, waiting for the man to pull his sword.
His eyes went wild and he covered his ears as if to keep the pain from escaping.
"No you brought the fight to our village. We stood because we were fools that followed you like sheep to a slaughter," he hissed at the warrior.
"Your daughter died like my brother did, fighting for something she believed in. She was a brave woman and my best friend. You would have know that had you been man enough to stand beside her rather than running when she was attacked," the warrior said, trying in vein to control the anger at the memory of her fallen friend. "Now either draw your sword or shut your mouth," she ordered.
The man reached for his blade but Cyrene jumped quickly between them before a blade could take flight. "No! No more Metilius many good people died on that day including my son. It was not Xenas fault. She saved our village. Those that died did not die in vein. It took me many years to realize that. Let the hatred stop," she pleaded.
Xena stared at her mother taking in each supportive word she spoke as a breath of new strength.
The old mans face went blank for a moment as he stared at Cyrene. "Woman you and I were once friends and for that I walk away now. However Xena we will meet again and you will know the pain of the loss I have felt before you die at my hand," he warned, stepping back and with a crazed laugh. Metilius then dashed quickly into the crowd lost from sight.
Xena frowned and sheathed her sword. "Mother you could have be killed doing that," she scolded.
Cyrene looked into her daughters eyes noting the depth of her concern. "So could you daughter. Hes a madman. He has become lost so deep in his guilt and hatred that he will never find his way back. A man like that has no fear because he has nothing to lose. He is not afraid to die. I believe he welcomes death," she whispered grabbing her childs arm. "Promise me you will stay away from him Xena," she begged.
The warrior looked into the gentle face of the woman who had raised her, who loved her and frowned. "Ill try Mother, but if he comes after me again then you must let me deal with him. I wont be looking over my shoulder for the likes of that coward," she replied with disgust at the harsh memory of her friend falling as her father ran for the hills.
Xena had arrived in time to fight Cortezs men off, but Terius was too badly wounded to survive. She died in the warriors arms with one word on her lips, "Freedom!"
Cyrene nodded. "Very well daughter, but its best to leave the past where it belongs in the past," she said slowly. The older woman took a deep breath and forced a smile, grabbing her daughters arm again. "Come, let us not let that old fool ruin our day of rest. Walk with me daughter. Tell me of the life you live and the pain you have endured. I wish to share these things with you as best I can," she said.
Xenas gaze softened and she walked quietly with her mother telling of her greatest horrors and her greatest hopes, but her thoughts were still of the dark figure from her past that she knew would one day return.
Tarren lay on her bed crying into her pillow. Gabrielle entered and slowly lowered herself beside the child. "Tarren, come on stop crying," she whispered, but the youngster merely burrowed deeper into her blankets. "I cant talk to you if you wont even look at me," the bard said softly patting the youngsters back.
The child turned slowly and Gabrielle could see how hard shed been crying. "Shh tell me what happened," the bard whispered, placing a gentle arm around the youngsters shoulder.
Tarren sniffled, playfully pulling at the young womans hair. "I told Cyrene I didnt want her to come with us today, and I got in trouble cause I didnt want to apologize," she cried.
The bard shook her head and lay down next to the little girl, "Well I warned you to stay out of it kid. Well I guess your pretty mad at everyone especially Xena huh?"
The youngster quickly nodded. "She punished me cause she loves Cyrene more than me," she moaned leaning on her side to face the wall.
The bard shook her head in disbelief. "Tarren that is not true and you know it," she scolded.
The child said nothing but merely lay back on the bed feeling the truth throbbing beneath her.
"Tarren let me ask you a question. Why didnt you want Cyrene to come today?" the young asked.
The little girl folded her arms across her chest. "Cause she makes Momma unhappy and that ruins everything," the child said quickly.
The bard nodded. "Well why do you care if Xenas unhappy?" she asked poking the girl gently.
Tarren looked at her friend oddly. "Cause shes Xena shes my friend and MY mom," she answered, not sure why Gabrielle was asking silly questions.
The bard nodded again. "Well that makes perfect sense to me accept for one thing. Did it ever occur to you that Xena might get just as upset when she saw that HER Mom was unhappy?" the young woman asked, patting the childs arm.
Tarren thought about the comparison and shook her head. "No Gabby I guess not," she replied quietly.
"Why not? Dont you think that Xena could love her mother as much as you love yours?" the bard asked hoping to make her point clear.
The confused youngster settled quietly into her friends arms, "But Gabby, Cyrene has been mean to Momma. Why would she care about how Cyrene feels?" the little girl asked, pondering the question on her own as well.
The young woman smiled as she stroked the child head. "Well Tarren when you misbehave Xena gets angry with you, but it doesnt change the way she feels about you. I mean she still holds you when you cry right?" she asked.
The child nodded. "Yeah thats when Momma sings to me. I like that," she said with a quick smile.
"Youre angry with her right now, but you still love her right?" the bard asked softly.
The child paused for a moment. "Yeah I guess," she said with a sniffle.
Gabrielle tickled the youngster hoping for a more accurate answer, "You guess huh?"
"Ok I do I do I still love Momma stop!" she laughed in a pleading tone.
"Then why cant Xena and Cyrene be angry at each other, but still love each other enough to care about each others feelings?" the young woman asked, knowing she was making headway.
The youngster shrugged feeling like she had been backed into a tight corner. This was her time for sympathy and attention and all they were talking about was Cyrene and Xena.
The bard smiled realizing the little girl was lost in the logic. She shook her head and squeezed the youngster tightly. "Some day youll understand Tarren. Right now lets stick with the basics. You were disrespectful to Cyrene and you got in trouble for it. Plain and simple," she said sternly. "Right?" she asked eyeing the fidgeting child.
The youngster frowned and nodded.
"Good now we understand each other cause Xena and Cyrene went for a walk and are hopefully having a nice mother daughter chat, and when they get back I want you to apologize to Xena so we can get back to acting like a family should. Ok?" she asked rubbing the childs head affectionately.
Tarren rubbed her bottom gingerly and gave the bard her best pout. " No I wont. Momma didnt have to spank me," she mumbled.
The bard leaned in close to the childs ear. "I think you forget who you re talking to Tarren. I know you, and I know Xena. Id say that if she did it then its because you left her no choice Hmm?" she questioned, turning the little girls face around to look at her.
The child frowned remembering the option her mother had given her and the choice she had mistakenly made. "Well she didnt have to hit so hard. Gabby Im never gonna learn to ride a horse like Momma at this rate," she whined.
The bard chuckled a bit at the childs constant desire to duplicate Xenas actions. "Now Tarren you wouldnt want Xena Warrior Princess to get a reputation for doing things half heartedly. Would you?" she asked, running her fingers along the youngsters side.
The child frowned and looked at her friends gentle eyes. "I could have lived with it this once," she said with a slight grin and a sniffle. The little girls thoughts were quickly interrupted by the bards extended stay inside on such a beautiful day.
"Hey Gabby what are you doing here? Why didnt you go with Momma and Cyrene," she asked as the bard rubbed the childs back.
Gabrielle fidgeted a bit trying to come up with an honest yet dignified answer. It was impossible. "Err well I thought they needed to spend some time alone. Besides I think Im sort of grounded," she said with a chuckle.
Tarren looked at her friend with a strange stare. "But Gabby youre a grown-up. Grown-ups dont get grounded," she said, with a look of youthful awe.
The bard smiled. "Hmm, tell that to your mother," she said with a smirk.
The child could not help but laugh, and Gabrielle was happy that even her humiliation had ended the childs tears. "Hey Gabby what did you do to get in that much trouble with Momma?" she asked playfully teasing the bard.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the youngster and smiled. "Well lets just say youre not the only one, who has a big mouth around here," she answered.
Tarren dried her tears and smiled at her gentle companion. She reveled in the warmth and company of her friend. "Hey Gabby do ya think that Cyrene would punish Momma if she talked back to her," she asked, wondering just how old or big one had to be to be released from a mothers rule.
The bard laughed wildly as she tried to get the image in her mind. "Hmm that is a very interesting question youngster a very interesting question indeed," she said with a smirk
Soon the two wayward inmates settled back for a long day of solitary confinement.
Metilius watched from behind the large oak tree as Cyrene and Xena laughed in each others arms. The two women looked so happy and full of life that the dark figure felt a rush of anger and hatred just at the sight of their happiness. "Laugh now Warrior. Soon you will only have tears and then only pain and death," he murmured, letting the whites of his clenched teeth show through his smile.
Cyrene and Xena entered the tavern laughing. It was late and the pair actually had felt a bit guilty leaving Gabrielle and Tarren alone all day. They opened the door to Xenas room and found just what the warrior expected. The bard was sprawled out on the large pallet with Tarren tucked neatly at her side. The floor was scattered with scrolls, the bards staff, Tarrens chucks, two well-used pillows, a few plates of sweet food, and the warriors whip.
"The poor dears. Xena we should have come back sooner," Cyrene said, wearily looking down at the exhausted partners in crime.
The warrior shook her head and picked her whip up off he floor and frowned. She quickly surveyed the debris. "Mother Gabrielle spent the day reading Tarren stories and playing games with the little monster. This was not a punishment. It was a carnival," the warrior said waving her hand across the room. Xena pointed to the staff and chucks. "Lets see they were using these and then they had a pillow fight oh and look they were jumping rope with my whip yes mother they suffered terribly," the warrior said with a husky chuckle.
Cyrene laughed at her daughters assessment of the evidence. "Maybe you would have enjoyed it more here dear," she said slowly.
Xena patted her mothers hand and smiled, "No I can toss them around every day. Its not often I get to spend a day with you. It meant a lot to me."
"And to me as well daughter lets do it again soon," the grandmother replied.
The warrior nodded. "Id like that," she whispered kissing her mothers cheek. "Now lets get these two on their feet. If Gabrielle is gonna tell stories in the Inn tonight youre gonna have to get her up. Ill take care of Tarren," Xena said with a deep breath, staring down at the small figure wrapped tightly in the bards arms.
Cyrene nodded and quickly pulled the young woman to her feet.
"And then the giant Cyclops came..." the weary bard said, still half asleep.
"Yes dear" the grandmother chuckled leading the bard to the kitchen for some strong tea.
Xena sat on the edge of the bed and stared into the face of her sleeping daughter. The little girl looked so innocent lying there. She looked so small that the great warrior had to swallow hard at the still fresh memory of the spanking she had dutiful administered to the stubborn little imp. "Well you got me again little one," she whispered gently wiping the childs hair from her face.
Tarrens eyes flickered open and the child rubbed them with the balls of her fists. The child opened her eyes wide and stared up at her mother.
"Well?" the warrior asked quietly.
Tarren looked up at her mother not quite sure what to say, "Well what Momma?"
"Well what have you learned today?" Xena asked, leaning in closer to the child.
Tarren thought about the question and everything Gabrielle had said to her earlier. The child wanted her answer to be as accurate as possible, so she was giving it a lot of thought. "Well I guess you love your mom no matter what sort of like I love mine no matter what," the youngster whispered, fiddling with the warriors wrist cuff nervously.
Xena considered the cryptic way the words were put together and knew the bards handy work was there. She couldnt help but smile. "Thats right Tarren I love you no matter what. Thats part of what being a Mom is about," she said gently lifting the sleepy child into her arms.
The child quickly embraced her long absent mother with a quick yawn. "Im sorry Momma. I just didnt want her to hurt you anymore," she said grabbing onto the warrior mothers neck for support.
Xena rubbed the childs back and twisted her lips. "I know Tarren and I appreciate your concern...really I do BUT there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. And what you did today was wrong. You should have come to me and told me how you felt and maybe I could have straightened you out on a few things before you got yourself in trouble. Things can be very complicated between parents and children," Xena said with a long drawn out sigh.
Tarren dramatically rubbed her bottom once again. "Hmm doesnt seem too complicated for you," she whined.
The warrior mother grinned and kissed her daughters forehead. "Well it may not always be so simple, but I hope you and I will always be able to talk to each other like we do now," Xena said squeezing the youngster in her arms.
The child nodded. "Of course Momma Youre my best friend, and youre my Mom," she said hugging the warrior.
Xena smiled at the words and for the first time, felt sure she was taking her daughter down the right path. "Good! Little one Cause You are much than just my best friend," she said quietly. She stood picking the youngster up with her. "Im sorry I was gone so long. Did ya miss me or are you still mad at me?" she asked.
"Well I missed ya, but Im still real mad at you ya know But dont go away again for so long Ok," the little girl answered with a quick grin.
Xena nodded, "Ok Princess next time you get in trouble, Ill stay with ya. Ok?"
Tarren started to smile but then quickly frowned at the thought of a next time.
The warrior laughed and tossed her daughter in the air holding her in place. "Now then little girl tell me which one of you had the very bad idea of using my whip as a jump rope?" she asked the dangling child.
Tarren giggled wildly as her mother tossed her in the air. "Uhhh well do I have to tell?" she asked not wanting to tell on anyone, especially herself.
The warrior grinned. "No you dont have to tell. Besides I already know," she said tickling the youngster into a giggle and bringing her back down to her chest for a long loving hug.
Xena entered the bards room slowly. The young woman was busy changing for a night of story telling. Gabrielle acknowledged the warriors presence with a stiff nod.
"Have a nice day with your mother I hope?" she asked with a quick but slow smile.
The warrior nodded sitting on the bed feeling a bit of guilt for her earlier desertion.
"Mother told me what you said last night I guess I should thank you for interfering," she said softly.
The bard turned and gave a mock smile to the warrior. "Oh it was nothing and you need not thank me for warrior. Sending me to my room for the day like I was Tarren was thanks enough," she chided.
Gabrielle was not gonna make this easy and Xena knew it.
"Look Gabrielle Im sorry, but you were out of line with what you did. You told me you would not involve yourself between me and my mother, and then you did," the warrior scolded trying to find a loophole to crawl through.
The bard held her chin high in the air as she walked past her large friend. "I never promised any such thing. Besides if I left it up to you two to talk things out then wed all be praying to the Gods for mercy," she said with a snicker.
Xena stood trying to maintain her stoic poise. "Look I just wanted to apologize and tell ya that I really appreciate you staying with Tarren the way you did," she said quickly.
The young bard raised her hand in the air. "Hey I love Tarren. I didnt mind staying with her, but then again I didnt have much choice I believe I was grounded by a certain Warrior Princess," she said shaking her finger in the air, as if trying to remember just who that person was.
Xena frowned at her young friends inability to accept her apology. "Look Gabrielle " she said quickly, but the bard stopped her with a dark stare. "Oh dont tell me Ive made you angry Xena. Please no dont tell me...Im being sent to bed without supper No wait I know, youre gonna spank me," the young amazon queen said, throwing her arms in the air with mock fear.
The warrior cleared her throat and stood overshadowing her young friend. "Maybe I will if you keep this up," Xena said with an evil smile.
Gabrielle looked into her large friends eyes and noted that there was a serious threat behind the smile. "Apology accepted," she said quickly, deciding the fun was now over.
Xena nodded, "Uh huh thats what I thought. Now hurry up and get dressed. Mother needs help in the kitchen and were it," she said stiffly, heading out the door. Before Xena left she turned to address the bard unable to let an opportunity pass. "Oh and Gabrielle?" she said
The bad turned to answer, "Hmm?"
"Your punishment is over you can come out of your room now," Xena said with a chuckle and a broad smile.
"Thanks a lot you great big warrior " she murmured under her breath, but then smiled to herself knowing her friend had found peace with her mother
Chapter 6 Night and Day
The foursome seated themselves for a quick dinner before the Inn got too busy. This time Tarren didnt even ask, but just quickly jumped in the warriors lap forcing Cyrene to smile. Xena definitely had a way with that child. Only Xena could punish this youngster in the morning and have her happily bouncing into her lap by evening meal.
Cyrene placed a large pot on the table filled with beef stew. The bard was quick to note there were no vegetables in it. She smiled at the older woman. "Not taking any chances are ya?" the young woman chuckled, as she took in the aroma of the spices.
The older woman shook her head and grinned. "Why Gabrielle I dont know what you are talking about," she said with an innocent wink.
Tarren eyed the food happy there were no vile vegetable in the mix, but she waited for Cyrene to sit just as Xena had instructed the night before. The grandmother nodded at her daughter noting the child was retaining her manners. Xena merely smiled and tasseled the youngsters head. It was a quiet meal between the three adults. Tarren did not speak to Cyrene, but merely maintained a very polite and respectful distance. The child had placed the responsibility for her sore backside squarely on the shoulder of that woman and Cyrene knew it. The little girl merely finished her meal and leaned back against her mothers chest to relax, carefully listening to the grown ups chat about cooking, shopping, and people of the village.
As the evening turned into night the Inn filled with customers. Xena walked over to the small child standing in the doorway of the kitchen. "Ok you its time for bed," she said taking the childs hand.
"But Momma, Gabby hasnt told any stories yet. I want to hear them," she pleaded giving her mother an innocent stare.
Cyrene turned from her cooking to face her own daughter. "Dear let her stay up for a while please?" she asked, hoping her daughter would accept the request. Xena looked into the eyes of her child and then at her mother and let out a surrendering breath.
"Ok you can stay up for a little while but you sit at the table in the back where I can keep an eye on ya. Dont move from that spot," the warrior replied.
The child nodded and quickly ran to the table where Gabrielle was reading over her scrolls. Xena watched as the bard placed a gentle hand on the childs shoulder and let her sit in her lap as she read.
"You are very lucky daughter." The older woman said, staring past Xena at the sight of her younger companions. "They love each other like family. You have a wonderful friend and a beautiful little girl," she said with a proud stare.
Xena turned to her mother with an expression softer than the warrior usually showed. "Thank you Mother Look I know Tarren has been a bit distant, but I promise shell come around. Give her a little time," she said gently.
"Daughter that child has no use for me in her life. I can understand that. I cant live the life you do. I dont wield a sword I am not a warrior or a bard, and as far as she can see all I have brought her grief," she whispered wiping her hands on her apron as she always did.
The warrior shook her head. "No mother thats just because she hasnt gotten a chance to know you Youll see " she said touching the older womans hand gently.
Cyrene nodded, "Maybe dear maybe," she said hopefully, and Xena stared at her friend and daughter again hoping what she was saying was indeed true.
That night Gabrielle told story after story captivating her audience, especially little Tarren who never seemed to tire of the warrior and bard tales. Xena was busy helping Cyrene move food and drink from table to table and keeping an eye on the crowd making sure there were no troublemakers in the group. The warrior quickly threw a loud mouth out on his ear when he had too much ale and not enough sense to leave on his own.
Tarren giggled quietly as the man flew out the door and then quickly turned her attentions back to Gabrielle. The bard waved her hands in the air to emphasize the large size of the six-headed Gorgon that Xena had slain to save a village from annihilation. The warrior listened and frowned slightly as she recalled the reality of a two-headed Gorgon she slay to save a small family of travelers. Yet when she glanced at Tarrens smile she too grinned. The child was laughing at the Xenas obvious discomfort at the bards exaggeration.
Xena gave her daughter a crooked smile and joined her at the table. "I take it you are enjoying the stories," she said handing the little girl a mug of sweet cider and grabbing a mug of ale for herself.
Tarren giggled again. "Ya know big as you are in Gabby's stories. I dont know how you fit through the door Momma," she said with an impish grin.
The warrior pulled the youngster out of the chair and onto her lap tickling her as she squirmed. "Oh you are so funny You just wait until your bath tomorrow morning. Then well see whose laughing," Xena said with a sly smile.
The youngster continued to giggle. "Hey isnt it Gabbys turn to give the bath?" she asked, looking forward to finding a new place to hide from the bard. Tarren had come to enjoy the torture she got to give the bard on bath days.
"Nope! I decided to give her some time off from your tricks monster. Im gonna give you ALL your baths this week," Xena said pinning the youngster tightly against her chest.
"Oh no " the child moaned, knowing there would be no running from the tub for a while.
Xena raised her eyebrows at the little girls reaction to the news. "Thats right so you better behave yourself and start being nicer to me," the warrior mother teased, squeezing the still giggling child in her lap.
Cyrene approached the table and smiled at the sight of her daughter and granddaughter enjoying each others company.
"Six," Xena said.
Tarren shook her head, "Nope eight," she argued.
"Whats going on?" Cyrene asked quietly standing to the side of the pair.
The warrior pointed up at her friend on the podium. "Were just having a bet to see how much Gabrielle exaggerates this story. Last time she told it there were three Titans, so now we figure there will be more. The loser has to clean the winners boots," she said, tugging gently on her daughters ear, to remind her there was now a third party at the table.
"Yeah and I want mine polished real nice," the child said with a grin, ignoring the warriors tug and the woman at the side of the table.
Xena shook her head, "Well then you better start polishing them little one. You have yet to win a bet, so dont get your hopes up. I always win," the warrior said winking at her mother. Unfortunately even when she did win, Xena usually wound up polishing not only her own boots but Tarrens as well. The childs doe eyes and pouting lip had greater power than the warrior cared to admit.
The trio stared at the bard and waited for the winner to be declared. Gabrielle was approaching the crucial part in the story. " And then just as we thought it was safe, Xena was faced with eight of the largest Titans youve ever seen," the bard said, raising her hand in the air to emphasize their height.
Tarren raised her hands in victory and winked at the bard who quickly winked back.
Xena frowned at her defeat and the subtle signal between Tarren and Gabrielle. "Hey what was that all about?" she asked, looking into the youngsters eyes.
"What was what Momma?" the child asked innocently.
The warrior looked at the bard who was deep in the middle of her story and then at her daughter knowing she has been taken. "Ok little one you win this time, but remember whose bed you want to sleep in tonight," she said with an evil grin, "Id keep one eye open if I were you little one."
The childs face turned quickly from a smile into a pout, and Cyrene shook her head.
"Xena you lost fair and square. Pay off," the grandmother admonished.
The warrior shrugged and glanced at the sulking child pressed against her chest. "Ok mother Ill polish her boots," she groaned playfully turning Tarren upside down to examine the leather. The youngster giggled loudly as Xena held her high in the air examining the little ones boots.
"Well Tarren I guess the easiest thing to do would be to just get a cloth and start polishing Are ya ready?" she asked staring down at the laughing youngster. The child laughed uncontrollably and tried to speak, but when she started to cough Xena quickly brought her back to her lap and offered her a drink, "Ok enough playing Ill polish the boots in the morning," the warrior said with a deep breath.
Tarren leaned against her mothers shoulders examining her own boots. "Nah you just bought these for me last week Momma. Theyre still clean," she said with a smile.
The warrior grinned. "Hmm thats right I guess the bets off then," she said taking a long drink of her ale.
The child shook her head. "Nope a bets a bet Momma, so since my boots are so new I want you to polish Gabbys boots instead," she said winking again at the bard.
The warriors jaw dropped, knowing for sure that she had been set up. "Why you little traitor ." she chuckled, running her hands up and down the youngsters side and cupping the little girls mouth with her hand, so the patrons could not hear her daughters pleas for mercy.
The childs face went red with laughter until Xena released her. "Did you two set me up?" the warrior asked, letting her dark blue eyes lock with her daughters little twinkle.
Tarren shrugged, "I dunno maybe, but Momma you never said we couldnt talk about the story before Gabby read it," the child stated matter of factly, trying very hard not to look her mother in the eye.
Xena frowned and stared at Cyrene and then her little daughter. "Youre in trouble ya know brat," she said with a sly smile. The child giggled and nodded lying happily back in her mothers arms.
"Yup, but at least I dont have to polish any boots," the youngster said with a smile.
The warrior sighed and stared at the bard on stage, not relishing the idea of polishing her friends dirty boots.
"Well Im glad you are having such a good time Tarren," Cyrene said softly, wanting the youngster to give her a chance to make amends.
"Yes ma am," was the childs only response.
Xena frowned and whispered in her daughters ear, "Be nice!"
Tarren scrunched her face up in a childish pout and stared at Xena. "I am nice," she whispered.
Xena gave her a soft blue glare, Be nicer for me the one who is gonna bathe you in the morning," she said with a smirk.
Tarren sighed at her mothers warning words and then turned to face Cyrene and forced a slight smile. "Cyrene why don't you sit with me and Momma for a while?" she asked hoping the woman would refuse.
The older woman stared at the child and smiled thankfully, "Id like that Tarren. Thank you dear."
Tarren looked quickly at her mother not grateful for the new visitor she had forced her to encourage. "I want a pony," the little girl whispered, figuring Xena owed her that much.
The warrior squeezed her daughter tightly. "One more word out of you and Ill get you a pony to ride ALL day tomorrow," she warned, gently patting the childs backside
Tarrens face went white at the thought and Cyrene touched her granddaughters hand.
"Whats the matter Tarren? Are you sick? You look pale dear?" Cyrene asked with concern.
The child quietly slumped back against the warriors chest wondering if running away from home was an option. The thought quickly faded when she realized that wanting to take Xena and Gabrielle with her would really disqualify it as truly running away.
"No mother shes fine. I think she was just excited thinking about what she'd like to do tomorrow," the warrior said with a grin, giving her daughter a dramatic bear hug.
The older woman stared at the pair knowing there was some kind of secret communication going on but not wanting to interfere again. "Oh well perhaps we could all go on a picnic up on the hill," she said with a hopeful smile.
Xena patted her daughters leg. "Well Tarren how does a picnic sound? We could fish and swim and maybe do a little riding if youre good if thats what you would like little one?" she asked quietly, hoping the child was getting the message.
Tarren knew that the offer for riding was one that meant she could either ride on the hard saddle or on a soft bedroll depending on her reaction at that moment. The unhappy youngster nodded at the grandmother, "Sure Cyrene, that sounds like fun," she said, hoping she was sounding more enthusiastic then she felt.
The older woman nodded happily and rose from the table needing to return to the attention of her Inn. Xena looked at her daughter and grinned, feeling a bit guilty at the tactics she had resorted to, to get Tarren speaking to Cyrene. "That was very good. Im very proud of you," she whispered in the childs ear.
"You didnt exactly give me a choice Momma," she whispered back, letting her chin droop sadly on her chest.
The warrior mother thought about it. " Hmm didnt I whoops sorry about that," she said with an almost innocent look.
The child gently poked her mother in the side and smiled. "I want a pony," she wined.
"No!" the warrior said firmly having heard this request 100 times in the last two weeks.
"Why not? the little one asked, acting as if she might cry.
Xena turned the youngster around so they were facing each other. "Well for four good reasons Youre not old enough, youre not responsible enough, you dont behave enough, Id rather have you ride with me, and if none of those sound good enough go with my favorite an yours cause I said so," Xena said with finality.
The child folded her arms and grumbled realizing that was really only three real reasons. "Well are you ever gonna teach me how to ride Momma?" she asked tilting her head back a bit.
The warrior bounced the little girl on her knee. "Yup! As soon as you can sit in that hard saddle for a month straight," she said quickly.
The childs shoulders slumped in defeat. "Damn Ill never learn to ride," she moaned.
The warrior mother frowned and then turned the youngster around to face her once again, "Nope, not if I ever hear you swear again you wont little girl," she said quickly.
"Sorry Momma," the child said quietly, giving her mother the most innocent face she could muster.
Xena nodded and settled back to listen to the bard finish her story, "Uh huh!"
As the evening came to an end the bard told her last story and thanked the kind people for their applause and their generosity. She quickly slipped over to the table to join Xena and Tarren, who was already yawning.
Gabrielle poked playfully at the sleepy child, "Gee I hope I wasnt boring you."
The youngster shook her head, "No Gabby you were real good, and Moms gonna clean your boots," she said with a quick giggle.
The warrior frowned and nodded at the bard.
Gabrielle smiled and put her feet up on the table in front of her warrior friend, "Why Xena I didnt know you cared about the shine on my boots."
The warrior raised her eyebrows pushing the young womans dirty boots off the table. "Dont push it Gabrielle," she warned.
The bard put her hands up in surrender and winked at Tarren who quickly returned the action, making sure her mother witnessed the exchange.
"And will you two stop doing that," Xena said firmly, tiring of the private signals the two had established at her benefit. The two friends just giggled and the warrior just sighed with contentment happy to be in the company of those she cared so much for.
Tarren yawned again and Xena stood lifting the child into her arms, "Ok you monster time for bed. I should have put you to bed hours ago."
"But Momma, Im not even tired," the child said, staring into her mothers gentle eyes trying hard not to yawn.
"Uh huh Well youre going to bed anyway young lady, and I dont want any more arguments," she said firmly heading towards the room.
"Come on Gabby?" Tarren yelled, reaching out her hand, wanting the bard to follow.
Gabrielle smiled at the youngster, "In a bit honey. Ill be in later to say goodnight." The bard scanned the room grimly noticing the piles of dirty dishes around the Inn. "Much later," she said with a groan
Xena gave her daughter a quick stare and the child sighed. "Goodnight Cyrene," she murmured, and the older woman popped her head from the kitchen. "Good night little one," the grandmother said happily.
Xena opened the door to the sleeping chamber and tossed the youngster playfully on the bed, yanking off the little girls boots. Tarren struggled to get out of her tunic and trousers as the warrior reached into her bag for a nightshirt. When the child was placed neatly under the covers, the warrior sat on the side of the bed staring down at her daughter. "Ill be back after I help Mother clean up, so dont go hogging all the blankets," she said with a grin.
The child smiled a bit and then her features became more determined, "Momma can I ask you a question?"
Xena leaned on one arm facing her daughter. "Sure Whats on that mischievous little mind of yours now?" the warrior asked, gently running her hand along the youngsters cheek.
Tarren thought for a moment. "Well I was just wondering. Youd never leave me here would ya?" she asked her eyes falling a bit afraid of the answer.
Xenas face went blank. "No! Tarren Ive told you I would never leave you anywhere. You belong with me and thats where you are staying kid," she said softly, staring at the little girl. "Why would you think otherwise?" the warrior asked, wiping stray hairs from the little ones eyes.
"Well you and Cyrene were talking yesterday, and I heard her say something about me living here," she said biting her lip nervously.
Xena ran her hand tenderly along the youngsters face. "Well that explains a lot doesnt it," she whispered to herself.
The warrior put her arm around the childs neck and pulled her next to her. "Tarren my mother is lonely for me sometimes, so shed like me to be here more. Shed like to watch you grow up, but sweetheart I told her that your place is with me no matter where I go and right now we like the life we have right?" the warrior asked, hoping the little girl did truly enjoy the way they lived.
The child nodded. "Of course Momma," she said with a broad smile.
"Good then I dont want to hear anymore of this stuff about me leaving you behind. Where I go you go my little shadow. I told you, you are stuck with me. You and Gabrielle and me are a team. Were a family understand?" she asked, waving her finger at the small form.
Tarren looked up at her mother. "Ya mean it. You wont leave me for anything?" she asked looking hopefully at the person whose love meant the most to her.
Xena nodded and hugged the child tightly. "Not for anything or anyone monster," she answered gently tugging at the little ones chin.
The warrior mother pulled the covers up over the child and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. "And one more thing little girl, no more listening to other peoples conversations I know just how hard youd have to listen for you to have heard any of that private conversation," she said with a quick frown.
The youngster smiled weakly and pulled the covers over her face.
The warrior nodded realizing that her little girl had very big ears. "Hmm thats what I thought Well dont let me catch your little ear where it shouldnt be or your little behind is gonna be in big trouble," she warned, staring down at the covered youngster.
The child peaked her head out to respond. "Yes Momma," she said quietly.
Xena shook her head and rubbed the youngsters cheek. "And remember what I said about those covers Ya little bed hog," the warrior mother said with a grin.
Tarren giggled and reached up to hug her mother. "I love you Momma," she said softly, and the warrior closed her eyes soaking in the words.
"I love you too little one," Xena said kissing the childs cheek, before returning to an Inn full of dirty dishes.
The following morning Xena opened her eyes ready to rise. She was very careful to get out of the pallet without waking the youngster beside her wrapped in all the blankets. "Little bed hog," she whispered, kissing the childs cheek gently and smiling.
The warrior quickly filled the tub with water and quietly slipped in for a soothing bath. Just as she was relaxing her eyes fell upon the bed and noticed it was now empty. She smiled as her eyes scanned the room looking for her little sniper. She closed her eyes and without turning threw an arm behind the tub and lifted the youngster to her feet, yanking her into the tub with a splash.
Tarren spit water out in every direction and laughed wildly. "I almost had ya," she yelled.
The warrior shook her head. "Nope! I heard the floor board creak...sorry," she said staring at the still dressed youngster standing in the tub.
The child frowned. "Well Ill get ya next time," she groaned ready to exit the water.
Xena smiled and quickly pulled Tarren back in. "Where do you think your going young lady As long as you have already invaded my peaceful bath, you may as well finish the job," he said with a wicked grin.
Tarren splashed the water hard in Xenas direction. "I dont wanna!" she whined.
The warrior shook her head as she yanked the youngsters soaking nightshirt off and tossed it to the ground beside the tub. "Well arent we just full of courage this morning? Well want to or not youre here and youre staying, so you might as well enjoy it," Xena said quietly, pulling the youngster in front of her and beginning the arduous task of getting her clean.
Tarren pushed her lip out and reluctantly succumbed to her fate of being made clean. "Momma can we go for a walk around the village alone this morning?" the little girl asked hopefully.
The warrior smiled at her daughters desire to spend time alone with her, but shook her head. "Sorry sweetheart but we promised your grandmother wed go on that picnic," she replied as she rubbed the suds into the little girls hair.
The childs shoulders slumped in disappointment. "Great, I dont even wanna go," she whined.
Xena shook her head and pulled the childs face tightly next to hers. "Hey Im getting a little tired of this attitude of yours. Now you knock it off before you find yourself involved in another one of our private chats," she warned, returning once again to her task of making the unwilling wash.
The little girls eyes closed and she said nothing but sat there obediently while she was bathed. The warrior grimaced at the now silent child. "Look if you behave yourself this morning then you and I will go walking around the village alone tomorrow OK?" the warrior asked, tugging gently at the childs hair.
The youngsters frown quickly turned into a smile. "Ya mean it?" she asked eagerly.
The warrior splashed the grinning child with water. "Yeah I mean it ya spoiled little brat," she said quietly. The youngster giggled and sent the wave of water back at her mother. Soon yet another water fight was underway.
Cyrene heard the noise and came running in. "What is all the racket in here?" she yelled eyeing her descendants in the tub and noting the wet floor. Cyrene looked at her daughter and then the child who had quickly slid behind her. "Xena you should know better. Look at this floor. I hope you know your gonna clean this up young lady," she said firmly.
The warrior nodded at her mother as the youngster behind her giggled. Xena reached a hand under the water and began tickling the childs side as she answered Cyrene, "Yes mother well clean it up."
The older woman nodded at her daughter as the young bard casually walked in. "By the gods what happened in here?" the young woman said waving at the floor as if shed never seen water before. Xena merely frowned at her friends dramatics.
"My daughter, the Warrior Princess is allowing a water fight in MY Inn," she said stiffly staring at the warrior daughter.
Gabrielle put both hands on her hips in mock surprise. "Cyrene I am so sorry. I can only apologize for their behavior. I should tell you this happens all the time. I try and warn them, but your daughter never listens to me, and the little one just follows Xenas example," the bard said with a dramatic sigh.
Xena growled at the bards betrayal, but said nothing waiting for there to be no witnesses before she extracted her revenge.
"Well she should listen to you Gabrielle. Its obvious to me that you are the one of good sense here," Cyrene said staring at her daughter and the giggling youngster hiding behind her.
"Well I dont want you to worry about a thing Cyrene. I will make sure they clean this mess up before we leave," the young woman said, leading the innkeeper to the door.
Cyrene nodded at the bard. "Thank you Gabrielle. They BOTH seem to need a baby-sitter, and I am leaving you in charge," she chided, closing the door behind her.
Tarren slipped out from behind the warrior. "Whew! Now I know where you got your temper from Momma," the child said with a sigh and a whistle.
The warrior mother eyed her daughter. "Hmm something to think about isnt it?" she whispered once again starting to tickle the child.
Gabrielle slowly turned facing the wet pair in the tub. "Hold it you two. Xena you heard your mother, Im in charge," she said with authority, moving next to the tub carefully kicking away the wet clothes that had been tossed to the floor.
"Oh really my bard. Well did you happen to wonder how you were gonna enforce that authority?" she asked with an evil grin.
Gabrielle smiled as she leaned on the tub next to her muscular friend, running her small finger in circles over the surface of the water. "Well if I were you I wouldnt push my luck warrior. You are in enough trouble with Cyrene as it is. Dont make me have to call your mommy warrior," she teased.
Xena smiled wickedly at her own daughter who gave her a wink and a nod in understanding. "Well Gabrielle like you always say we are a family, so what one gets we all share," she said moving menacingly close to the young woman.
Without warning the mother and daughter combined their efforts yanking the fully dressed bard into the tub with a loud splash! The angry young woman stood in the water glaring at the laughing warrior and her smaller twin.
"Gabby you really should try taking your clothes off before you bathe," the youngster teased.
Xena leaned back against the tub smiling at her now wet friend, "Share and share alike my bard. Thats what you always say."
The bard nodded as she wiped the dripping water from her face. "Very funny both of you it took me an hour to get my hair dry," she moaned, thrashing water at the pair. Xena and Tarren quickly splashed water back and the bard was now completely soaked.
"Thats it! This is war," the amazon queen declared, and soon the water was once again splashing all over the room.
Outside the door the older woman laughed loudly at the antics of her daughter and her family, happy that this was the type of love they found in each others company, as they traveled the world.
Chapter 7 What we do for Love
An hour later, Tarren slowly skulked into the kitchen trying to get past Cyrene before she was spotted.
"Well is that floor in there cleaned up?" the woman asked without turning.
"Just like Xena how do they do that?" the child thought.
"Momma and Gabby are cleaning it up now," she said quietly trying to get something to eat without drawing too much attention to herself.
The grandmother turned and studied the youngster. "And how is it you got out of helping little one?"
The youngster shrugged. "Momma says she doesnt need my kind of help right now," the child said repeating the warriors words.
Cyrene laughed and handed the youngster a honey biscuit and a mug of milk. "I used to say the same thing to your mother when she got under foot. Somehow I always got the feeling that she did it just to get out of helping though," the older woman said with a grin, sipping at a mug of hot tea.
The youngster lowered her eyes and for the first time in days smiled at the woman. "You werent really mad at Momma for making a mess were you?" she asked gulping her milk.
Cyrene shook her head at the childs perceptiveness. "No little one but that will be our secret," she said with a smile, and Tarren just nodded.
The youngster turned to leave and ran into the wall like structure of her mothers legs.
"I thought you went to get more towels you little scamp. Get your little butt back in that room and help clean up that floor," the warrior scolded, pointing back to the room. The child quickly swallowed the last of her biscuit and ran past the warrior, barely missing her muscular hand from reaching its small target as she slid by.
Xena watched the child go and shook her head. "You really didnt think I would be fooled by that old routine did you mother?" she asked with a smile, reaching for a mug of tea.
The older woman chuckled and shook her head. "No daughter No more than I was," Cyrene said with a smirk. The two women smiled knowingly at each other and knocked together two mugs of tea toasting their own maternal brilliance.
Tarren entered the room with a pile of towels to sop the wet floor. The bard sighed as the child dropped them squarely in front of her.
"Thanks" she groaned, spreading them out across the still wet floor.
"Where's Xena?" she asked, not seeing the warrior bringing up the rear.
The child licked her fingers. "Momma is talking to Cyrene. She said you should finish up," the youngster said, slowly flopping on the bed.
"That figures. She makes the mess and I have to clean it up," the bard grumbled.
Gabrielle looked at the little girl and spotted a few crumbs on the youngsters tunic.
"Tarren you had food?" she asked longingly, hearing the rumbling in her own stomach grow louder.
The child nodded. "Yup! Honey biscuits," she replied with an impish grin.
The bard licked her lips and the little girl reached inside her tunic revealing a second biscuit. Tarren jumped to her feet and handed it to the bard. "I didnt forget ya Gabby," the child said with a quick grin.
The young woman wrapped her arms around her young friend. "Oh I can always count on you my little brat," she said with a smile, taking a small bite from the hot biscuit that was nestled in her hand. Before she could take a second bite there was a loud thud outside the window.
"Is that wind?" Tarren asked, moving towards the shudder.
As the little girl poked her head out the window, a large man holding a knife to her throat quickly pulled her from the floor.
"Now dont say a word and maybe you will both live to see the next solstice," he whispered.
The bard eyed her staff sitting in the corner and then the youngster kicking in the mans folded arm. There was no way to reach it without putting Tarren in danger.
"Lock the door girl," the stranger said motioning to Gabrielle.
The bard slowly backed up and turned the key in the lock. "Look I dont know who you are or what you want, but you better put her down right now," she warned trying to position herself closer to the man.
The old man smiled and his eyes went wild with the challenge. He tightened his grip on the childs neck, pressing the steel of the knife close to her skin. "Tell her to stop fighting me, or Ill slit the babies throat here and now," he snarled.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and steadied her gaze on Tarrens eyes, which were full of both fear and anger. "Tarren this is a time for wisdom. Stop fighting him." she ordered, hoping the child understood that this was not the moment to question her words.
The youngsters eyes welled with tears as she lay limp in the strange mans grasp. "Very good little girl," he said stroking her hair with the back of his blade.
"What do you want?" the bard asked, trying to control her urge to rush the large man and free her young friend from his grasp.
"Why I want you both of you," he said with a wild wicked laugh, telling the bard that this man was not one to be toyed with.
Xena and Cyrene finished packing the basket for the picnic. "Arent those two done yet?" Cyrene asked.
The warrior shook her head. "Ill go help them finish," she said with a sigh, feeling a slight rush of guilt for not doing her fair share of the clean up. When the warrior got to the door she found it locked. "Ok you two, very funny. Open the door, and Ill help you clean up," the warrior said quickly. There was no reply.
"Hey I mean it open the door right now Tarren Gabrielle!" she scolded.
Still there was no reply.
The warrior felt her frustration building. "You two are really gonna be sorry if you dont open this door," she warned.
Xenas anger quickly turned to concern when she put her ear to the door and heard nothing but the sound of the wind blowing through an open window. She quickly kicked the door open snapping the lock from the frame. The warrior drew her sword as she rushed in and saw nothing but a heap of wet towels and a piece of parchment with the message. "Feeling the pain of your loss yet Warrior!"
"Metilius" she growled, gripping tightly to her sword.
Cyrene came rushing in behind Xena. "What s going on " she started to say, but was silenced by the empty room, and the sight of her daughter carefully holding her sword as she peered out the window.
"By the gods Xena, What happened? Where are Tarren and Gabrielle?" she asked, her voice shaking at the possible answer.
"Metilius took them. Im going after them mother," she said with a growl, jumping out the window and rushing for the barn.
The older woman ran out of the Inn and into the barn. She quickly began saddling a horse that was stabled beside Argo. "Where do you think you are going mother?" Xena asked with a scowl.
"With you Xena. Gabrielle is like a daughter to me and that child IS my granddaughter, so dont argue. I may not be a warrior but I can still hold my own," Cyrene said jumping into the saddle of the large dark steed. Xena shook her head in amazement at this woman who had made her eat her vegetables, but here was no time to Argue. With a kick of her heals, Xena Warrior Princess was on her way with a warriors mother riding quickly behind.
Xena carefully followed the trail of the Metilius. He was making no effort to hide his tracks wanting the warrior to follow. She could see the tracks of two horses. One carried two figures and the other carried one. Xena figured that either Gabrielle and Tarren
were bound on one horse, or the crazy man had little Tarren tethered in front o f him. Both images made her warrior blood boil.
Cyrene stared down at the tracks and looked to her daughter for instruction.
"Mother he will be expecting me," she said with a frown looking up the hill to where she thought the trail ended.
The grandmother nodded. "Yes daughter, but he wont be expecting us," Cyrene replied.
The warrior smiled a bit as she contemplated a plan of action.
Metilius carefully tied the bards hands and feet and pushed her into a chair inside the small cabin he had called home for a dozen summers. The young amazon would make no attempt to fight while Tarren was present. She did not want to risk the youngster being injured. The mad man finished tying his victim and then turned to the warriors child.
"And you little baby Do I need to tie you up too?" he asked, laughing at the little girl who stood trembling in front of him.
The youngster looked at her friend struggling in her bondage and quickly reached into her boot for her chucks. The mans laughter and the sight of Gabrielle tied up was enough to help push her fear away. "Let my friend go," the little one ordered, kicking the kidnapper in the groin and then hitting him squarely in the face with the chucks.
Gabrielle struggled against her bonds and pleaded for Tarren to stop knowing the child was up against a lunatic, but the youngster ignored her friends pleas. The large mans eyes turned to fire as he caught the childs weapons in mid air. Tarren back flipped a few feet away and front kicked him in the midsection making the man grimace, but his eyes went wild and he grabbed for the childs throat. There was not enough room to run or vault, and without her weapons the little warrior was defenseless.
"Tarren," Gabrielle screamed, as she struggled to get free.
The small child, daughter of the Warrior Princess fell quickly to the ground as the large mans hand landed roughly across her head knocking the little one to the floor and into darkness.
The bard stared down at her young friend. "Tarren " she whispered, but the youngster did not move. She just lay there, her small body appearing lifeless and still.
Metilius tied the little girls hands and feet and dropped her small form in the chair next to the bard.
"That child needs to learn some manners," he said with a wild glare making the usually gentle bard wish she could be set free just long enough to throttle this stranger.
"Shes a little kid. What kind of an animal are you, to do that to a little kid?" she screamed, wanting to break free from her bonds and hold her best friends child safely in her arms.
The dark mans face went blank as he stared at the youngster. A strange calm came over him as he reached onto a table and pulled out a water skin gently splashing the youngsters face with water. He then turned to face Gabrielle.
"You are so much like my little Terius." he whispered to the bard. His voice was low and soothing and he blinked constantly as he studies the young woman. "Dont worry Poppa is here child. I will not let the warrior kill you again," he said stroking Gabrielles face.
Gabrielle looked at him oddly hoping that playing along would free she and Tarren.
"Oh Ok Poppa could you untie me? My wrists really hurt a lot." she whispered gently, hoping to make use of the mans leap from reality.
The large man caressed the bards cheek. "I didnt mean to run Terius. I wanted to stay with you. I was afraid so afraid," he cried.
The young womans eyes grew wide as she watched the man transform once again. Soon the soft spoken gentle soul turned once again into the raging lunatic, slapping the face of the bard, sending her bound form hurling back.
"Dont try to fool with me girl, and if that brat so much as moves again, Ill cut her open," he warned, slamming the door to the small room they were now confined too.
Gabrielle ignored the sting in her face and tried to move next to the child. "Tarren honey, wake up Tarren can you hear me?" she asked, but the youngster was lost in a world of complete darkness.
Chapter 8 And Justice for All
Xena sat in a tree outside the small cabin that she knew contained her best friend and her daughter. She watched patiently as the old lunatic peeked out the window.
"I know you are out there Xena, watching and waiting, but it wont do you any good. Theyre both already dead Can you feel the pain warrior? Can you feel my pain?" he yelled to the empty clearing.
Xena tried to allow her logic to win over her feelings, knowing that the mad man would not kill his hostages until he had what he wanted, her. She whistled twice and watched as a dark cloaked figure seated upon a large war-horse rode quickly through the edge of the clearing and into the trees behind the cabin. Metilius ran from the cabin with his sword in his hand. "Coward You cant run from me warrior," he yelled, chasing after the dark figure on Argo.
Xena grinned and jumped to the ground. "Go Mom," she whispered, as she slid to the interior of the cabin. Once inside she went from room to room calling, "Tarren! Gabrielle!"
It was like music to her ears when she heard the bard call, "Xena were in here."
The warrior quickly moved to a small door at the back of what looked to be a kitchen of some kind. She entered the room and her heart sank to the inner most part of her soul when she saw her best friends swollen face and her child, slumped unconscious on the chair with a large lump forming on the side of her forehead.
The warrior growled at the thought of the man who had done this but moved quickly to untie the bard and her daughter.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet hugging the warrior. "Where is he?" she asked staring down at Tarren, wanting her own vengeance.
"Mother is leading him away for the moment," she said quickly.
Xena lifted Tarren into her arms and examined the lump on her daughters head, dabbing it with some water. "Tarren baby, wake up Come on honey wake up," the warrior mother said softly fighting the lump in her throat.
"Momma!" the child whispered, staring blankly at the familiar figure above her.
"Of course its Momma. Who else would it be?" she asked choking on the words.
The youngster started to rise and the warrior gently pushed her down. "No sweetheart, You cant get up yet. You have a bad lump on your head. You just stay still. Ill carry you," she said softly, lifting the child easily into her arms, and holding her tightly against her chest.
"My chucks?" she asked in a low broken voice, tears racing down her cheeks.
Gabrielle reached down and picked up the wands displaying them for he child to see. "Thanks Gabby," the little one said with a weak grin, and the bard smiled at the youngster.
"Anytime kid," she said gently touching the childs hand. Xena eyed the weapons and then the bard anxious to know exactly what had happened. But knowing details were not as important as getting her friend and daughter to safety.
Xena moved slowly through the cabin listening to the sounds around her. She wondered just how far her mother had been able to lead the man before he realized that he had been tricked. Her worst fears were quickly brought to reality as she heard the crazed mans voice outside the cabin.
"Xena Warrior I have something you may want," he hissed.
The warrior looked out the window and saw the old lunatic with his sword pressed against Cyrenes throat. He laughed at the concern in Xenas eyes.
"Now you just come on out of there. Surrender yourself to justice, and maybe, just maybe I wont slit her throat," he said.
Xena glared at the man and turned laying Tarren gently down on a table. She kissed her daughters cheek and started for the door.
"No Momma dont go!" the child cried, grabbing onto the warriors arm.
Xena stared down at her daughter wishing she could stay and hold her. "I have to honey, but dont worry Ill be back. I promise," she whispered, caressing the youngsters cheek with the back of her hand.
Gabrielle put an arm on her friends arm. "Xena hes crazy," she warned.
The warrior smiled at her friend, "Gabrielle he has my mother, " she whispered, again looking down at her own child.
"You two stay right here. Dont move from this spot for anything understand?" the warrior ordered.
The bard nodded and Xena could only smile at her friend, knowing she wanted more than anything to help in this battle, but the child just stared at her mother with tears in her eyes.
"Momma!" she cried, reaching for her mothers arm.
"Tarren stay here, right here. Gabrielle will take care of you until I get back," she said sternly. The child could feel the tears rushing down her cheek as she watched her warrior mother leave the cabin.
Xena moved quickly to face the mad man who held her mother in his filthy grip.
"Well, well the great Warrior Princess. You dont seem so mighty now do ya," he laughed.
Cyrene cringed under the tight hold of Metilius, and Xena felt her rage building at the sight.
"Now then warrior drop your sword," he ordered.
Xena reached behind her and took her sword from its sheath dropping it quickly to the ground in front of her.
"Now let her go," she ordered, slowly moving towards the crazed old man.
Metilius just laughed wildly. "What? Why, the fun is just beginning. Now throw that spinning disc of yours next to the sword," he said with a wicked smile, carefully placing his blade next to Cyrenes face.
"Dont do it daughter think of the little one. She needs you," the grandmother said with a proud glare.
Xena nodded at her mother. "She needs us both Mother, and she shall have us both I promise," she whispered. The warrior fingered her chakrum and then dropped it in the dirt beside her sword.
Metilius pointed his sword at Xena and laughed. "What makes you think I will let any of you live warrior? You killed my daughter and now Im gonna kill everything dear to you, and then Im gonna kill you slowly," he said with a roar.
Gabrielle watched from the window, trying to think of something that she could do to help her friends. She noted how closely the blade was held to Cyrenes neck and knew one wrong move could cost the woman her life. The bard watched the tense muscles of her large friend. Xena was anxious at the sight of her mothers pain, and she wanted more than anything to end this nightmare.
Tarren listened quietly to the exchange outside, and when she heard Metilius say he would kill her mother, slipped off the table, chucks in hand and raced out the door before the bard could stop her.
"Momma!" the youngster yelled, falling in front of the warrior.
Xena quickly pulled the child safely in front of her.
"Momma," she whispered again, her legs giving quickly out from under her. The warrior stared at her daughter noting the lump on her head was larger than she had thought.
"Get back inside," Xena yelled in a low husky voice, closing her eyes to hide the tears in her own eyes.
"Wait!" the old man ordered. "Xena you have a daughter?" he asked with a crazed laugh, turning the direction of his sword slowly from Cyrene to the child.
Those words had sealed this mans fate.
Tarren clung to her mothers armor trying to stand straight. The blow to her head had left the little girl dazed and unsteady. Xena watched the mad man in front of her with one eye and dropped to her knee protectively in front of her daughter. "I told you to stay inside. Why cant you ever do what your told?" she scolded in a broken husky whisper, tears filling her eyes at the sight of her injured child.
Tarrens lip quivered as she stared at the dark blue gaze of her mother. In that one single moment she saw all the anger, love, fear, and rage that was in the womans heart.
"Im sorry Momma. I just wanted to give you something," she whispered, slowly dropping her chucks on the ground beneath her, out of the sight of Metilius.
Xena stared at the weapons and shook her head in wonder. "Go back inside little one," she said gently kissing the youngsters cheek and slowly lifting the chucks into her left hand.
"Oh how sweet I think Ill kill your child first Xena," he said with a growl.
Xena quickly pushed Tarren back in the cabin into the bards waiting embrace. The young woman this time held the child firmly in place not allowing her to even watch the exchange.
Having heard Metilius threaten the life of her granddaughter gave Cyrene a courage and strength she never knew she had. The grandmother quickly elbowed the man in the gut throwing him off balance enough for Xena to lift the chucks in the air spinning them into a small cyclone as they flew through the air wrapping tightly around Metiliuss throat sending him to the ground. The great Warrior Princess lifted her sword and vaulted over her mother yelling her famous battle cry.
The old man pulled the wands from his neck and grabbed his sword. "Very well Xena, you can go to Hades first," he said waving his blade in the air.
Xena smiled with relief as she watched her mother reach the cabin with the bards help. Wit her family now safe the Warrior Princess was free to use all her many skills. She warrior playfully tossed her blade form hand to hand. "Come on Metunius take your best shot," she said through clenched teeth, remembering the lump on her daughters head and the red mark on the bards cheek.
The madman swung his blade and the warrior blocked it and kicked him to the ground with an easy blow. The large man rolled in the dirt and jumped to his feet. Xena could not help but find some pity for this lost soul that stood before her.
"Your daughter was my friend, and she died because she had a father who was a coward and a fool," Xena hissed, as her sword clashed with the man in battle. "Now I dont want to kill you Metilius so drop your sword," she begged, hoping he would surrender.
The crazy mans rage erupted as the memory of that day came flowing back to him. He swung his sword at Xena with all his might but it was a move made in vein. The warriors expert blade caught him in the midsection and he slid slowly to the ground.
Gabrielle came running to her friends side as the man lay dying. He looked up at the bard and smiled." Terius my daughter, Forgive me," he said, before closing his eyes and heading to wherever lunatics spend eternity.
Xena sheathed her sword and closed her eyes asking forgiveness from her friend of long ago. "Find peace old man," she said throwing a cloak over the fallen figure from a time long ago.
Cyrene could not contain the small child any longer. She burst out the door and ran to the warrior stopping only a few feet away. Xena turned and looked at her daughter.
Momma," the little girl whispered, not quite sure if her presence was welcome.
The warrior mother saw the innocent face of her young daughter looking up at her. Xena let out a long breath and dropped to her knees, allowing the child to fall into her embrace.
"Are you Ok Momma?" she asked as she saw a tear fall down the warriors cheek.
"I am now little one I am now," Xena said softly, holding her child closely.
"Are you mad at me?" Tarren asked, staring longingly at the chucks lying in the dirt at the warriors feet. She wanted them back, but wasnt sure if this was a good time to bring it up.
Xena shook her head and picked the wand weapons up and handed them to her young daughter. "No Im not mad at you," she said cradling the injured youngster.
"Am I in trouble?" the child asked quietly.
Xena smiled. "Brat you are always in trouble," she said with a laugh, caressing the childs cheek.
"Can I have a pony?" the little girl asked with a sly grin.
Xena stopped and stared in disbelief at the youngsters persistence. The warrior mother laughed and then answered finally, "No pony!"
Chapter 9 Forever Together
Tarren lay squirming on the bed as the warrior placed the poultice on the injury.
"Will you stay still," Xena ordered. The anxious child just stared at the faces of her mother, Cyrene, and Gabrielle.
"I want to go on the picnic," the child whined.
The older woman smiled, "Dont worry little one. There will be plenty of picnics for us to go on when you are up and around," the grandmother said softly.
Xena carefully bandaged the wound. "Now you are gonna have to stay in bed for the rest of the day, and I dont want any arguments. Your head has a bad bruise and you have to stay still to let it heal. No getting up," the warrior mother ordered, gently fingering the youngsters chin.
The child said nothing but looked longingly out the window wanting to go play. "Can I have a pony?" she asked with a mischievous glint.
Xena looked at her mother and the bard who both chuckled at the request. The warrior frowned as she stared at her daughter. "No, for the very last time, you cannot have a pony," she gently scolded.
The child started to get out of the bed. "If I cant have a pony then Im getting up," the youngster said with a smirk.
The warrior mother gently pushed her back onto the large pallet. She quickly held up
her hand with the tiny scars in the center and pointed to it. "Tarren tell me what you see," she said quietly.
The youngster smiled eagerly at her mother. "We played this game already Momma. I see that my mom loves me," the child said quickly, happy with herself for knowing the answer.
The warrior nodded. "Very good little one. Thats right. What else do you see?" she asked.
The child looked at the hand again and shrugged. " I dunno what?" she asked with a confused look.
Xena grinned and lowered her face so close to her young daughters that they were nose to nose. "You see the hand thats gonna warm your backside if you try to get out of this bed again before I say you can," she warned, tenderly rubbing the childs face.
Tarrens smile disappeared, "Yes Momma," she moaned and the warrior mother smiled. "Good now you lie here and relax. Gabrielle will tell you a story and then Ill come back in and stay with you in a bit," she said quickly.
The child grabbed her mothers hand. "You wont be long will ya Momma?" she asked with pleading innocent eyes.
Xena shook her head and kissed the youngsters forehead. "No honey just long enough to take care of Argo." she said with a gentle smile.
Gabrielle touched Xenas shoulder, and the warrior stood looking into the swollen face of her young friend. "How are you doing?" she whispered to the bard.
The young woman nodded. "Im Ok. It takes more than a mad man to knock an amazon queen down warrior," she said quietly.
The warrior wrapped a loving arm around her friend, grateful for everything she always was and would be for the warrior and her daughter. Gabrielle smiled. "Hey relax warrior you dont think some big guy knocking me around is gonna hurt me do ya?" she asked with a tender look.
Xena shook her head and caressed the wound on the young womans face. "When I come back, youre my next patient," she said pointing to the small swelling on the bards cheek.
Gabrielle nodded and then sat beside the child ready to tell her story. Xena slipped out of the room before Tarren could notice.
"Gabby you dont look so good," Tarren whispered, gently touching the bards face.
Gabrielle kissed the youngsters hand. "Hey brat you are not exactly looking like a 100 dinars yourself, " she whispered fighting back a tear. The bard quickly crawled on the pallet next to the child ready to begin telling a wondrous tale.
Can I have a pony?"
The bard smiled. "Switching strategies hey kid Well it wont work No pony yet," she said with a playful giggle. Tarren smiled broadly knowing that she had found a new allie in her fight for her pony.
Xena strode out to the barn and unsaddled Argo and began rubbing her down. The warrior was quiet and stoic and lost in thought. She turned quickly when the small figure of her mother came up behind her.
"Are you all right daughter?" she asked.
"Sure, Mom Im not the one who got hurt."
Cyrene took her daughters arm and forced her to face her. "Xena I am your mother and you cant hide from me anymore than Tarren can hide her pain from you. I see the wound inside."
Xena dropped the brush to the ground and slumped to her knees. "Mother I nearly lost her. I nearly lost her again, "the warrior daughter said with a broken voice. Cyrene held her daughters head in her hands burying it deep within her chest, stroking the Xenas head lovingly.
"No child you did what every mother does. You protected her. Xena every day we walk on this earth we stand the chance of something taking our life from us. Its just part of the fates wishes. That child is alive and well because she has a mother that loves her. Dont think of what might happen, daughter. Be thankful for what did not. She is your daughter Xena and I cannot think of better hands for her to be in and a better person to raise her than you. I am very proud of you my daughter very proud." Cyrene said holding her chin high in the air as she spoke.
Xena looked at her mother astonished by the words she was hearing. "Youre proud of me?" she asked. Cyrene nodded. "Of course daughter you are my greatest accomplishment."
Xena held her mother not wanting to let go feeling safe in the arms of this woman who now loved her unconditionally.
Cyrene gently closed the door after the sleeping forms of her daughter and granddaughter neatly sleeping in each others embrace.
Gabrielle turned to the older woman, "Both sound asleep?" she asked.
"My daughter is exhausted and the youngster is wide awake I am sure," the older woman said with a chuckle.
The bard smiled as she followed Cyrene back to the kitchen for some tea. The older woman sighed. "Well I guess after all thats happened you three will want to get going as soon as the little one is well."
Gabrielle shook her head and sipped at her tea. "Well actually Cyrene, Xena and I were talking about it and since we have no dragons to slay or warlords to crush at the moment, we thought wed stay a bit longer."
The older woman smiled at the news.
"Xenas birthday is coming up next week, and I think she would much rather spend it here than anywhere else," the bard said with a quick smile.
Cyrene jumped back with excitement. "Child I cannot remember the last time Xena spent her birthday here. We can have a party."
Gabrielles face went blank. "A party? Uh You know Xena shes not big on parties."
Cyrene shrugged. "Oh well well just have a small party."
The bard shook her head knowing better than to try and argue with the warriors mother,
"Ok if you insist. Youre the boss Cyrene."
The older woman nodded. "That I do... and that I am," she said with a wide smile. Soon the two women were lost in gentle laughter as they began planning a warrior birthday bash.
Xena rolled her eyes gently as she stared at the child nuzzled closely at her side. "I know you are not asleep Tarren," she said with a twisted grin.
The youngsters eyes popped open. "Howd you know?" she asked, disappointed that she had been discovered.
The warrior grinned. "I have many skills little one. Besides Im your mother. Havent you learned that you cant hide anything from me?" she teased.
Tarren giggled rolling on her side to face the warrior. "Hmm I guess not. Can I get up now?" she begged.
Xena shook her head. "No, you cant get up now. You have to stay still until I am sure your head wound is healing," she ordered, tucking the little girl safely under her arm.
It had actually been more than a day since the child had been hurt and the warrior felt confident that the wound was healing, but she felt better with the youngster lying safely at her side.
"But I wanna get up!" the child whined.
The warrior held her hand up in the air showing the little girl the small scars again, reminding the child of all they represented.
The youngster groaned and sulking buried her head in her mothers chest, pulling the blankets over her head so as not to be seen. Xena chuckled at the action and slowly peeled the blankets away until she could see her daughters blue eyes looking up at her.
"Tomorrow you can get up and run around and see what kind of trouble you can get into, but right now I want you here with me," the warrior said quietly pulling the child beside her.
Tarren pursed her lips together in a smirk. "Well if you cant live without me," she said with a quick grin.
Xena nodded. "No I cant not for a minute you little monster," the warrior said squeezing the child tightly.
Tarren smiled at her mothers desire for her company, but then quickly became lost in a passing thought. "Momma why did that man want to hurt us?" she asked remembering the large mans fist falling against her face.
Xena s hold tightened on her daughter and she stroked the youngsters wound gently.
"Sometimes people get lost Tarren, and they cant find their way back. His heart was lost in a time long ago, and he was not able to escape the pain and anger of his own failings, so he wanted to hurt other people hoping it would set him free. Do you understand?" she asked slowly.
The youngster shook her head. "Nope, not at all! But it doesnt matter cause you stopped him Momma, and Grandmother did pretty good for an old woman that is."
Xena smiled to herself hearing her daughter refer to Cyrene as Grandmother for the first time. She was sure in time that they would all find a neutral ground on which they could strengthen their bonds as a family.
"Yeah she did pretty well, but I wouldnt let her hear you call her an old woman Tarren," she said with a chuckle.
The child raised her eyebrow and shrugged not sure why the facts would bother the old woman. However having found Xenas words safer to follow than to ignore the child made a mental note. "No calling the old woman an old woman."
Xena lay back and thought about her mother. The woman who had raised her, had taken care of her, had been a mother first and foremost, risked her life in true warrior fashion to save the ones she loved. She smiled realizing for the first time that she had as much to learn about her own mother as Cyrene had to learn about her.
"Momma?" the small voice whispered again.
"Yes Tarren," the warrior said wearily, wishing the child would go to sleep.
"About the pony?" the child whispered softly.
The warrior smiled in the darkness of the room and turned on her side to face the youngster. "Tarren taking care of another living thing is a big responsibility and not one you are old enough or ready for. It is a privilege you have not yet earned little one, so NO PONY!" she said firmly, playfully poking the youngsters side.
The little girl shrugged knowing she would have to find more wisdom and better weapons for this battle to be one. "Momma?" she whispered again and the warrior frowned at the still wide-awake youngster.
"Yes Tarren," she said softly, not wanting the little girl to hear her impatience.
"Which am I a responsibility or a privilege?" the child asked not sure which was better.
The warrior mother smiled broadly as she thought about the question. Xena pulled the youngster into her arms holding her in the air above her. "You my little princess are both!" she said bringing her little girl close to her chest for a gentle hug. "You are definitely both!"
I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please look for the next story in my Tales of Tarren Series called The Little Thief of Hearts. Please know that all comments are welcome and appreciated. I am a very hungry bard, so please feed me. Fantimbard@aol.com
fan fic index <> homepage