Xena Warrior Mother Series Story 5
The Little Thief of Hearts Part 2- conclusion
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALAS GIFTS, and HOME SWEET HOME You really MUST read those stories first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.
Part 2 -
Chapter 4 To be the Warriors Daughter
Xena entered the room and placed her sword on the table beside the bed. She stared at the sleeping form of her young daughter hugging tightly to the warriors saddlebags for the familiar comfort that the child seemed to find in them. She shook her head and let out a breath when she saw the dry tears on the sides of her childs cheek.
The warrior knelt beside the bed and gave the youngster a gentle nudge. "Hey monster its time for supper," she whispered, giving the little girl a gentle kiss on the cheek.
Tarren rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fists and blinked at her mother. "Im not hungry," she answered, nuzzling back against the saddlebags once again. They were not exactly a replacement for her mother, but the familiar leathery smell made her feel that Xena was not too far away. The small child had come to sleep with them as another child might a rag doll.
The warrior sighed and rubbed the little girls back. "Come on Well have dinner. Then you and Gabrielle and I can go for a walk. Well play that game you like picking out the different faces of the gods in the stars," she whispered, hoping to elicit a response of any kind from the sullen child.
Tarren shrugged. "I dont want to, Momma," she replied in a tender whisper.
Xena rubbed the little girls arm affectionately. "Tarren, baby, you have to eat, so come on for me?" she asked not wanting to force the youngster.
Tarren stared at the soft pleading eyes of her mother and slid off the bed as if no strength were left in her small body. "Ok, if you really want me to," she replied quietly.
Xena did not waste a minute. "Yes, I want you to very much," she answered, reaching down and picking the little girl up in her arms. The warrior frowned a bit at the thought that the youngster somehow felt even lighter than usual. The child wrapped her legs around Xenas waist and tucked her little head against her mothers chest. The warrior mother lovingly stroked her childs back as they moved into the dining area. Xena knew something was wrong but wasnt exactly sure what it might be.
Gabrielle had placed the last of the plates on the table and offered the warrior a gentle smile as she saw the pair come in view. "Hey, look whos here," the bard said with a broad smile, moving toward Xena and the clinging child.
The warrior mother shook her head signaling the bard not to approach. Gabrielles soft smile quickly turned dim at the sight of the little girl clutching so tightly to her mother.
Xena sat down in her usual seat and did not even try to turn little Tarren around. She just let the child hold tightly, allowing her daughter to feel the warmth and safety she knew the youngster needed to know were hers.
Cyrene entered with a large pot ready to serve her family a hearty meal. She smiled broadly at the sight of the familiar figures seated at her table. However her smile seemed to fade when she noticed the somber expressions and Xena gently caressing the burrowing Tarrens back.
"What is all this about?" the older woman asked, waving her hand across the table.
Xena motioned to the clinging youngster by removing her hands and showing how the child was still tightly attached.
"Oh," the innkeeper said knowingly. "Someone has been missing her mother, I see," she said with a grin.
Tarren thought about the older womans words and squeezed the warrior even tighter. She had missed Xena, but she had missed her mother more. She missed the woman who bathed her, who tucked her in at night, and who she instantly could pick out of a crowd as her own mother. She missed Gabrielle too. The bard had been deep in her scrolls ever since they had arrived in Amphipolis. It seemed to Tarren that all this village living had somehow separated the three leaving Tarren very much alone again.
Gabrielle passed out the food. Hoping to break the eerie silence she spoke. "Hey, if anyone is interested, I have a new story to tell tonight," she offered with enthusiasm, trying to get the little girls attention.
Tarren said nothing but just lay limp in her mothers lap.
Xena shook her head and let out a long breath. "Ok, thats enough, Tarren. You can turn around and eat your supper," the warrior whispered softly into the youngsters ear.
The little girl looked up at her mother, her eyes filled with an empty sadness. It was as if she had just been sent into the cold night all alone, but she obediently turned around and started eating the food on her plate never saying a word.
Xena rubbed the little girls back as she watched the child dutifully eat everything on her plate including the vegetables without so much as a complaint.
"Momma, can I go back to my room now?" she asked, showing the warrior she had finished her meal.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and Cyrene and then back at Tarren. "Dont you wanna hear Gabrielles story? And I thought we were going for a walk together," she replied, rubbing the little girls cheek gently with the back of her hand.
"Im tired. I can hear Gabbys story another time and you dont need me to walk. May I go back to my room, Momma?" she asked politely, her eyes looking as if they might fill with tears at any moment.
Xena nodded. "Sure baby if thats what you want," she replied quietly, lifting the little girl off her lap.
The warrior mother sighed as she watched the child slowly retreat back to the sleeping chambers.
"Whats wrong with her?" the bard asked, her voice filled with obvious concern.
Xena shrugged. "I dunno . Maybe shes just sulking cause I gave her a few swats for setting that mud trap," the warrior said grimly, hoping that was not the case.
Cyrene let out a deep breath dropping her fork in her plate with a loud clank. "Are you two that blind? Cant you see that the little one misses her family?" she scolded the two younger woman seated at the table.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shook her head. "Mother, we are all right here," the warrior replied, confused by Cyrenes statement.
Cyrene sipped at a mug of ale and pointed at the pair, "Have you been here, daughter? Xena, did you really need to do that sword drill thing today?" she asked, shaking her finger at the warrior.
Xena shook her head remembering the way Tarren had wanted to stay with her early that morning and again as she was leaving for her drill, "No Mother, I guess it could have waited," she replied, falling against the back of the chair.
Gabrielle pointed at the warrior. "You know, shes right, Xena. You should have stayed with Tarren, instead of practicing," the bard said quietly agreeing with the innkeepers assessment.
The warrior frowned at her friends desire to parrot Cyrenes words.
Cyrene quickly turned her attentions to the bard.
"And you young lady Did you really need a new story when you have hundreds in that head of yours?" she asked, her voice filled with a parental authority that was all too familiar to the young woman.
Xena smiled knowing it was now the bards turn under the finger of shame.
Gabrielle shook her head knowing that Cyrene was right. "No I guess not," she replied sadly, remembering the way Tarren had come to her room wanting attention only to be turned away.
Cyrene stared at the two women and sighed. "Tarren feels you both slipping away, and Xena, she feels she is losing her mother to a town full of strangers. If you are going to be a mother, Xena, then you should know that everything you ever knew or enjoyed is gone Its all now second to that little girls needs. Your life now belongs to her, Xena, and right now what she needs is you both of you, very close," the grandmother said sternly, reaching to fill her mug with more ale.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and lowered her eyes. "Youre right mother I should have known," the warrior said rubbing her hands together.
Cyrene laughed. "No daughter, even the Warrior Princess cant know everything from the start. You must learn just as Tarren does by making mistakes Youll know as you go along," she replied with a simple grin.
The grandmother got to her feet and started to clear away the dishes. She shook a warning finger at her younger companions. "Now then, tomorrow you are both spending the day with Tarren, doing whatever she would enjoy doing. Right now, Gabrielle is going to ready her story, and you, Xena, are going to go talk to your daughter," she ordered.
The warrior got to her feet and smiled at her mother, "Yes maam." Xena kissed the older woman on the top of the head as she passed by, "Thank you, oh wise one."
Cyrene grinned and looked at the now sullen bard. "Dont you have a story to do?" she asked, pointing at the rolled parchment in the young womans lap.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes I guess," she replied with a sullen look.
The older woman grinned, "Well then, get to it young lady. Tarren will be fine trust me," she said winking at the bard.
Gabrielle rose from her seat and kissed the older woman on the cheek, "Yes Maam," she said quietly, grateful for Cyrenes wisdom.
Xena walked into the familiar room and stared for a brief moment at the small figure curled up on the bed. She wanted to get her thoughts straight before she spoke. The warrior removed her armor and then gently lay down on the large pallet beside the child.
"Tarren?" she whispered, running her hand on the childs arm.
"Yes maam," the small voice obediently whispered.
"Can you help me with something?" the warrior asked.
The child turned to face her mother not sure what she could ever do to help the Warrior Princess but was quite eager to try.
"What Momma?" the youngster asked.
"Well, I feel sort of bad," the warrior said in a low, somber voice.
"Well, I think I may have hurt someone that I really care about. I didnt mean to do it, but I think I did, and now I dont know how to make them feel better, and that makes me really sad," the warrior said in a soft voice as she caressed the childs face.
The little girl studied her mothers expression wondering just who the warrior had injured that made her feel so badly.
"Whod you hurt Momma
Grandma?" the youngster asked, thinking those two were always good for a fight.
"Nope," Xena replied quickly.
"Gabby?" the child asked, sure it must be the bard since her feelings were quite important to the warrior.
"Nope," Xena said once again, sorry that her daughter had not placed herself at the top of the list.
"Who?" the youngster asked crawling closer eager for information on this ailing stranger.
"You, my little one," the warrior mother said, running her hand down the side of the youngsters cheek.
Tarren lowered her eyes and dropped her head down on the pallet. "Me?" the little one asked, not sure why her feelings mattered so much to everyone. "What makes you say that, Momma? Its not your fault that you get tired of me being around," the child said quietly, fingering the laces on her mothers boots.
The warrior lifted the youngster off the bed and held her firmly above looking into the childs eyes with a serious and stern gaze. "I dont ever want to hear you say that again, young lady I love having you around. I miss you when youre not with me," she scolded, feeling the lump in her throat moving.
Tarren looked down at her mother with an expression of equal emotion. "Even when Im bad and get mud all over you?" the youngster asked, lowering her eyes.
The warrior smiled and brought the child close to her chest, "Most especially when your bad and get mud all over me," she replied, wrapping her arms tightly around her daughter.
The child once again attached herself to her mothers neck. "Then how come you and Gabby dont play with me anymore? How come you leave me alone so much?" she asked tears streaming down her small cheeks.
Xena let out a deep breath and tightened her embrace on the child. "Cause sometimes, baby grown-ups forget and make mistakes just like kids I guess Gabrielle and I both felt that, with so many other people around, you would just prefer to spend time with other kids or doing things without us. Tarren, I guess I should have known youd want to be with me just as much as I have wanted to be with you, daughter. Ya know, you and I share the same heart, little girl, so, when you hurt, I hurt too," Xena said feeling the moisture in her own eyes start to travel.
Tarren let her head drop closer to her mothers shoulder, and Xena could feel the youngsters shivers once again. "Are you hurting now, Momma?" she asked, wanting to make her mothers pain go away if she could.
The warrior nodded. "Yeah, I am I guess Im not much of a warrior huh?" she asked, thinking of what all the men she had once led into battle would say about their fearless leader if they could see her now.
Tarren shook her head. "No Momma, youre the best warrior in the world Youre Xena, Warrior Princess," the child stated proudly, her voice filled with a new enthusiasm.
Xena chuckled a bit and rubbed the little girls back feeling a tear run down her own cheek, "Well, thats just a title, baby. It doesnt mean much, especially if Im not doing a very good job as your mom," the warrior answered in a near whisper.
The child quickly picked her head up and stared into the warriors face. She bit her lip when she saw the tears in her mothers eyes. "No, youre the best I wouldnt want anyone else to be my momma except you. I just cant tell anyone that youre my momma, and that makes me feel bad," she said slowly, hoping this revelation did not add to her mothers sadness.
Xena let out a long breath and pulled the youngster in as close to her as she could. She hoped for some words of wisdom to ease her daughters pain. This pain the warrior herself knew too well. "I know it hurts baby. It makes me feel really bad too, but ya know I figure that as long as we have each other, we dont need to care what strangers know or think. Im just sorry I havent been there as much as you needed me to be lately," the warrior said, wiping stray hairs from her daughters face.
Tarren thought about her mothers words but said nothing. It really wasnt that simple from where the small child stood, but there was no easy way to say that to her mother. How could she explain to the Warrior Princess what it was like to be ten and not feel like you really belonged to anyone? Tarren knew her mother was trying very hard to apologize for something, though the child wasnt sure exactly what Xena had done wrong. However, at that moment all that mattered to Tarren was that she was no longer by herself and that Xena really loved her. Her mother had returned to her, and Tarren knew that the warrior would not leave her alone again.
Xena closed her eyes thinking of the pain her absence had caused the child. "Im sorry, little one. I should have been paying more attention. I am so sorry forgive me?" she asked with broken voice.
Tarren wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her tunic. "Its Ok, Momma. I forgive you. I make lots of mistakes all the time, and you forgive me," the youngster said with a refreshing smile.
The warrior grinned. "What would I do without you, little one? I love you so much, Tarren," the warrior mother said hugging the little girl close to her.
"I love you too, Momma" the child whispered, laying her head down, as she ran her fingers across the small, blue amulet hanging from the thin chain around her neck.
Tarren closed her eyes thinking of Nala, hoping the old woman could hear her thoughts. If only she could ask the old mystic what to do. Then maybe she and her mother wouldnt be so sad all the time.
The little girl lay in her mothers arms content with receiving the warrior's love and affection. She was relieved to know that Xena loved her so much that she would humble herself to apologize to a child. However, the youngster did not feel burdening her mother with the depth of all her little worries was appropriate. Tarren felt compelled to do something to prove herself worthy of being the great Warrior Princesss child. She had to find a way to show her mother that she could be proud of her. Then, Xena would surely want to tell the world she was her daughter. She needed a plan. She needed help, and as she rubbed her small amulet that is exactly what she asked for.
The breeze blew through the window once again, making the room grow colder. A sweet smell hung in the air.
"Soon, little one,"
the soft wind sweeping through the room seemed to say.
Xena felt the chill and placed blanket over her daughter, fearing the temperature was going to drop rapidly that night. She got up from the bed kissing the youngster on the cheek.
"Ill be right back. I want to get some wood and get a good fire going in here. It looks like its gonna be a cold night. Boy, am I glad I have my own personal bed hog to keep me warm," the warrior said with a slight grin, wiping the wetness from her cheeks.
Tarren reached up from the blankets and touched her mothers face tenderly. "You coming back, Momma?" she asked, not wanting the warrior to leave her side.
Xena squeezed the little girls hand. "You just let someone try and stop me," she replied, lifting her sword in the air and placing it in its sheath to demonstrate to the child how serious she was about returning.
"Can I come with ya?" the little girl asked, hoping she would be allowed to follow.
Xena smiled. "Actually, I was sort of hoping you might want to, Tarren. But you must keep that blanket on. Its gotten really cold out, and I wouldnt want my favorite little monster getting sick," the warrior said hoisting the child onto her back.
The youngster giggled as she rode on her warrior mothers back heading out of the room. Tarren turned her head to glance back to the bed and saw a shimmering figure standing by the open window. Her eyes popped open.
"Who are you?" the child whispered, squeezing her mother so tightly the warrior stopped.
The figure put a finger over its lips to let the child know its presence was a secret she should keep.
"What did ya say, baby?" the warrior mother asked, stopping long enough to look back at her daughter.
Tarren looked to where the translucent figure had stood. She was eager to tell her mother about its presence, so the warrior could make whatever it was go away, but it was already gone.
"Uh, nothing, Momma. I was just wondering if we could get some warm cider... It did get sort of cold," she said quietly, yanking at her mothers shoulder signaling to the warrior that she wanted to be held in front of her.
Xena stopped and with a quick slide brought the little girl into her arms. Tarren grabbed onto her mothers neck still peering back at the room.
"Hot cider sounds good to me," the warrior said with a grin patting the youngsters back.
The child lowered her head under the warriors protective arms. The little one blinked her eyes to make sure the shadow had not reappeared in front of her. She did not want to tell Xena about a phantom that no longer existed. The warrior might think she was coming down with a fever and force the vile white tea into her as a precaution. The youngster frowned at the mere thought of the odor and opted to keep her mouth shut.
Xena held the child tightly as she moved out of the room and into the very warm inn. The warrior was a bit puzzled by how much colder her bedroom was than anywhere else in the structure. However, she placed the thought to the side of her mind and brought her attention back to the bundle in her arms.
"Hey, if its not too cold outside, we can still go for that walk with Gabrielle... If you want to, that is," the warrior said quietly, still confused by the warmth of the inn.
Tarren nodded. "Sure, Momma. Lets go for a very long walk and listen to Gabby tell stories and then go to bed really really really late," the child replied softly, afraid of what monster might be waiting in the room at bedtime.
Xena chuckled thinking her daughter was going to milk the warriors guilt for all it was worth. The warrior mother prayed silently to the gods that the youngster did not choose this moment to ask for a pony. "Sorry, not too late, little girl. We three have a big day planned tomorrow," Xena said pulling the blanketed child in closer to her face.
"We do?" the child asked, with surprise.
"Yup!" her mother responded.
"What are we doing?" the little girl asked with so much excitement she nearly fell from the warriors hold.
"Hold on there, monster...I dunno. What would you like to do?" she replied.
"Swimming!" the two, said in unison.
Gabrielle was right. They were the same person but divided disproportionately into two separate vessels. Tarren giggled as her mother tossed her in the air. Soon, the youngster had forgotten all her problems, including the strange figure that had greeted her in the darkness of her room.
Tarren spent the night lying happily in her mothers lap as the bard told her new story tot he crowded inn. The child had to admit the story was worth the wait. Gabrielle had managed to add a sea monster and a dragon to a story that Xena had said only involved a big fish and a small lizard, but Tarren didnt care. She listened, hanging on every word as the bard stared at her. The child knew that while she spoke to the entire room, Gabrielle was really directing the story just to her. The bard would wave her arms slowly in the air and move just in front of the captivated little Tarren just before shed throw her hands up in surprise.
"Then the mighty Warrior Princess thrashed the evil dragon with her trusty blade," the bard screamed, using her fingers to show the size of the dragons teeth.
This act left the awed youngster both giggling and clinging tightly to her mothers arms for safety, just in case anything so large ever decided to visit during the bards wonderful tale. Xena just sat there, trying not to laugh at both her overly dramatic friend and her extremely innocent young daughter.
After a long night, Xena carried the sleepy child back to the room and put her to bed. "Ill be right back," the warrior mother said, tucking the child neatly under the covers.
Tarren yawned and nodded but sat up making it clear that she had no intention of going to sleep until her mother returned.
Xena let out a quick breath as she noticed the room was now quite warm again. "Huh, thats strange," she murmured, heading back to the inn to help her mother with the clean up.
Tarren yawned again but waited patiently for her mother to return. A breeze blew the shudders wide open, and the room filled with that strange sweet odor once again. The little girl sank under her blankets as the room grew colder and colder.
"Momma," she mouthed, but no sound came out.
The little girl pulled the blankets over her head hoping they would offer some kind of protection from the shimmering figure that suddenly stood beside her once again.
"Hey, Im not gonna hurt you, ya know,"
the friendly voice whispered.
Tarren poked her head out. "You better go. My momma is Xena, the Warrior Princess, and she wont be too happy when she sees you in here You dont wanna make her mad," the child warned. "And and Im gonna call her right now," the youngster said in a shaky voice.
The shimmering figure stared down at the little girl and grinned.
"Ahh yes, I am well aware of your mothers temper. Well you can call her if you want to. You are right. Shell come running sword and chakram in hand. But when she gets here, she wont see me unless I want her too, and I dont really want her too just yet. Of course, you know shell think youre getting sick and
The child frowned and finished the sentence before the ghost could speak, "And shell make me take that awful medicine...Yuk!" the child moaned.
The shimmering figure laughed loudly. Tarren noticed that as it moved, the colors of its body changed a bit making it seem like a running stream going in circles.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" she asked, fearing this was some demon that took naughty children away to some place where only vegetables were served at mealtime. The youngster groaned, knowing she shouldnt have hidden some of the confections under the mattress so she could eat them in the middle of the night.
The shimmering figure jumped on the bed beside the little girl trying to make itself quite comfortable.
Tarren just stared at the apparition frozen with fear at the close proximity of this ghostly figment.
"I am your Uncle Lyceus, Tarren, and I am here because you asked for help."
Chapter 5 A Ghost of a Chance
"Momma!" the youngster screamed at the top of her mighty little lungs.
Sure enough within seconds the door flew open bringing three figures racing in: a well-armed Warrior Princess, an Amazon Queen with a ready staff, and an innkeeper armed with a large frying pan.
Xena quickly scanned the room looking for the assailant that had dared to attack her child, but saw no one.
"What happened?" she asked anxiously, still scanning the perimeter of the room for anything that might have made a hasty escape.
"I wouldnt have done that,"
Lyceus said placing his hands behind his head ready for the show to begin.
Tarren quickly grabbed hold of her mother and pointed to the ghost beside her.
"He he wont go away," she screamed burying herself quickly under her mothers large arms.
Gabrielle lowered her staff and Cyrene just stared blankly at her frying pan.
Xena raised her eyebrows looking at the empty bed and then back at her daughter.
"Tarren," the warrior called but the child did not answer.
The youngster had taken immediate refuge practically beneath her mother and was busy trying to find a way to burrow under the warriors legs so as to get behind her.
The warrior looked to her mother and the bard and again to her daughters...feet. This was the only part of the child that was still visible at this point. Xena sheathed her sword and hoisted the little girl from the blankets.
"Tarren calm down. There is nobody here. Now tell me what happened," Xena said placing a protective arm on the still shaking youngster.
The little girl looked at her smiling uncle and immediately tried to dive back under the warrior halted only by her mothers fast hand. "What is going on?" the warrior asked, her voice mixed with concern and frustration over what she hoped was not one of her daughters practical jokes.
Tarren pulled her mothers arms around her body and pointed to the figure that obviously only the youngster could see. "Make him leave!" the child ordered, having found a new source of bravery in her mothers presence.
Lyceus said wiggling his fingers playfully in front of the warriors face.
Xena looked once again to the empty place on the bed and then at her daughter. "Tarren, there is no one there," she said calmly, staring down at her frenzied child.
"Yes there is, Momma. Hes sitting right over there and hes waving to you," the little girl murmured, not appreciating her ghostly uncles idea of fun.
"I told ya they cant see me Hi, Mom nice frying pan," Lyceus
said with a chuckle.
Xena shook her head. "Tarren baby, there is nobody here except you and me and Gabrielle and your grandmother. Thats it You were just having a nightmare," the warrior mother said lifting the youngster up and placing her back under the covers.
"No No Its Uncle Lyceus Hes standing next to Grandma," she cried, pulling the blankets over her head.
"I sure have missed you, Mom,"
Lyceus whispered, kissing the older womans cheek.
Cyrene rubbed her face and shook her head. "I have dishes to do. Goodnight, Granddaughter," the older woman said with a grin.
Xena looked at the bard and then pulled the covers off her daughters face. "Is he gone, Momma?" she whispered.
Xena shrugged at Gabrielle and then nodded. "Oh yeah, baby. He left. Said to tell you goodbye," Xena said in a near whisper, hoping her daughter would allow the imaginary friend to disappear.
Tarren peaked under her mothers arm and saw Lyceus staring oddly at Gabrielle.
"Hey kid, whose this?"
he asked with an eager grin as he walked around the bard.
"Gabrielle Hes not gone," the child cried, quickly diving under the blankets again so as not to be seen at all.
Xena looked at the bard. "Ya know, this is all your fault for telling her that scary story," the warrior chided as she tried to coerce her daughter from her hiding place.
"Me? I just told a story, Xena . How was I supposed to know shed react like this?" the bard said with a frown, twirling her staff right through Lyceus.
"Whoa, that might have hurt . If I were still alive,"
he said backing away from the amazon. "Yup Xena, she would be a friend of yours," Lyceus groaned running his fingers up and down his sisters spine.
The warrior felt a chill move up her back. "Tarren, please come out from there," she said quietly as she yanked at he childs blankets. "Ill slay the ghosts and dragons with my sword if you point to where they are," the mother said, hoping that playing a long would end the game sooner.
The child did not move.
"Tarren, come out here!" the warrior gently scolded, but the youngster stayed buried beneath the blankets.
"No! Not until he leaves," the muffled little voice called out.
"Ya better come out, little one. Shes getting angry
," Lyceus warned leaning on the bed once again.
Gabrielle covered her mouth to hide her amusement at the warriors predicament, but Xena was not finding any humor in the situation.
"No!" the child yelled again, but this time the warrior had not even had a chance to ask her to do anything.
The now frustrated mother stood. "Thats it!" she said sternly lifting the child and all her blankets into her arms and seating herself and her large bundle in the chair on the opposite side of the room.
Xena peeled all the covers away until she could see the blue eyes of her daughter looking up. "Is it safe?" the child asked, looking around the room.
Xena shook her head. "Not for you if I find out this is your idea of a joke," she warned.
Tarren spotted her uncle on the bed and made an attempt at burying herself in her blankets once again, but Xena pinned the child firmly in place on her lap. "Thats quite enough Hide and Find Me, little one," she said holding the child tightly against her chest. "Tarren, there is nobody here. Youre just having a nightmare," the warrior mother said gently, staring down at her still frightened daughter.
"But Momma, I wasnt asleep," the child moaned falling against her mothers chest.
Tarren started to cry and the warrior let out a quick breath, cradling the youngster in her arms. She felt the childs forehead and then nodded to Gabrielle. "Ya know, she may be coming down with something. These quick changes in the weather can do that," the warrior said, her frustration now turning to concern.
Lyceus groaned, covering his mouth, to signal his niece what was next.
Tarren grinned a bit at the silly ghosts dramatics, but then returned to the safety of her mothers familiar shoulder.
"Xena, do you want me to get the tea?" the bard asked placing a gentle hand on the childs forehead to offer her own assessment.
Tarrens eyes shot open as soon as she heard the question. "No Momma Please, not the tea. I swear I wont see anything anymore I promise," the child begged.
Xena shook her head. "Sorry little one, but we have to be sure you stay well," she said wrapping the little girl back in the blankets.
"Yeah Gabrielle, you better get it, and make sure you use the big mug. I want to knock this thing out of her system before it gets any worse," Xena said carrying the now cringing child back to the bed and throwing two extra blankets over her.
"But Momma " the child murmured.
Xena silenced her with a quick stare and the child lay her head down on her pillow with her uncle sitting right beside.
"Well, you cant say I didnt warn you, kid,"
Lyceus said, his voice sympathetic to his young niece's plight.
Gabrielle left the room, and Xena sat on the pallet rubbing her daughters face.
"Hmm, shes softened a bit,"
Lyceus said noting the concern in his sisters face.
Tarren looked at her uncle with her lower lip pushed out in an unforgiving pout.
He looked at the child and shrugged his shoulder innocently. "What What did I do? So you didnt listen, and now youre not talking to me?" the ghost asked.
Tarren acted as if he did not exist and just looked up at her mother.
"Momma, Im not sick I dont want the tea," the youngster moaned.
Xena lay down beside her daughter. "Well, want it or not, you have to drink it. It will keep you well," she said kissing the youngsters forehead.
"Is that my sister?"
Lyceus asked, awed by the affection she had just displayed with such ease.
Gabrielle entered the room with a very large mug of hot goo and handed it to Xena.
"Thats the largest mug I could find," the bard said sitting on the foot of the bed.
Tarren turned away from the vile odor, not wanting to smell it much less drink it.
"Oh gods, what is that awful stench?"
Lyceus asked, holding his nose between his fingers.
Tarren sealed her lips together and buried her head in her mothers side.
The warrior frowned at this familiar ritual. "Hey, dont make me do this the hard way, young lady," she said with parental authority.
"Hey Xena, give the kid a break. That stuff smells like something you found under the stable,"
the uncle said shaking his head. "Gods, I think Im gonna be ill," he moaned, waving his hand in front of his face to move the aroma of the medicine away.
Tarren burrowed her head deeper in the warriors side. "NO!" she yelled.
Xena took a deep breath, "Tarren, you get up here and drink this or else," she ordered in a no nonsense tone.
Lyceus stared at his sisters parental expression and then poked his niece in the side. "Uh, I think you better get up here. From the look in my sisters face, there are worse things than drinking that stuff that will happen if you dont," he said grimly.
The youngster slowly came to the surface and opened her eyes wide as she looked at her mother and then the bard.
"Stand proud, kid. Im right here with ya,"
Lyceus said moving to the far side of the room.
Tarren opened her mouth, and Xena placed the mug on her lips watching to make sure the child finished every last drop.
"Good girl!" she said softly kissing the little girl on the head and handing the now empty mug to the bard.
"YUK!" Tarren and Lyceus said in unison.
Xena grinned a bit knowing the medicine tasted awful, but the warrior felt it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to Tarrens health. "I know it was pretty bad, and Im sorry baby. But Im sure youll feel much better for having taken it, " she whispered, her voice now gentle and full of sympathy.
The child just looked at her mother, feeling a bit frustrated by the warriors inability to see the figure beside the child.
"Xena, it sure is cold in here. Maybe you should get that fire going again," the bard said feeling the chill run up her body.
The warrior rubbed her own arms, "Yeah thats a good idea " she replied. "Tarren, you stay in that bed. Ill be right back. No getting out from under the covers, understand?" she asked, sternly.
The child nodded still trying in vain to get the taste of the drink she was sure contained part of Argos tail out of her mouth.
"Yes Momma," she whispered.
The warrior tasseled the childs head and left with the bard.
Lyceus leaned in close to his niece. "Im sorry, Tarren. I didnt know it would be that bad. I did try and tell ya," he said apologetically.
The youngster had now resolved herself to having a ghostly uncle that only she could see as a roommate. She folded her little arms tightly against her chest in Xena fashion and glared at him. "Is this your idea of helping me?" she asked with a cold little stare.
Tarren lay on the bed refusing to acknowledge her Uncles presence. Her mother had returned long enough to build a roaring fire and then returned to the inn once again.
"Ahh come on Tarren I said I was sorry. I just came to help ya. Give me another chance. I can help you with Xena. I know youve been feeling bad about not being able to tell people she s your Mom,"
he said leaning against the bed.
He had said the magic words.
The child turned quickly around and stared at the shimmering uncle she had never met. "I wanted Nala. How come she didnt come?" she asked, her voice still a bit unsteady.
"Hey kid who better to help you with my big sister than me. Believe me nobody knows better than me what it s like to walk in her shadow,"
he said with a grin.
Tarren sat up in the bed and stared up at her shimmering uncle. "Ok you can help, but no more getting me in trouble," she moaned, still trying to get the vial taste flavor off her lips.
He crossed his heart eager to make a pledge. Uh
sorry thats not worth too much is it?" he asked dropping his hand
the little girl shook her head. "Nope guess not, but Ill trust you anyway for now. Ok so whats your plan?" the child asked eager for whatever help she could get.
"Well if you want Xena to realize what a mistake it is to not tell people your her daughter, you have to make her miss ya a bit.
"Well how do I do that?
"Easy stop calling her Momma."
The child shook her head wondering how such an approach would get her to her objective, "Huh?"
"Look Shell get all worried and miss hearing it so much that shell be begging you to say it all the time. Trust me the plan will not fail. You just have to let her know that its all or nothing,"
he said, with finality.
Tarren lay back on the bed considering the idea. "I dunno
It sounds sort of like I could get in trouble
Wont she get angry?" the child asked, considering the ramifications of such a possibility.
Lyceus shook his head and waved his hands dramatically in the air. "For what? Doing what your told. She said call her Xena so call her Xena all the time. It will drive her crazy, and there wont be a thing she can do about it since it was her idea in the first place. Hey you wanted help right?"
I guess," the youngster muttered, hoping this was truly a helpful thing.
"Well thats why I was sent to help."
"Ok Ill try it, but I better not get in trouble cause of you," she warned, dropping her head on the pillow with a thud.
"Good girl. Youll see well have this problem licked in no time might even get a pony out of it,"
he said, letting his voice drop to a whisper on the final words
Tarrens eyes flew open. Another magic word had been spoken.
"Ya think?" The childs voice was filled with excitement.
"Maybe Ya see when you make Moms feel guilty enough you never know what youll get."
The youngster nodded allowing this new bit of information to sink in. Xena walked in the door stretching out her arms and yawning. She sat down in the chair and started to remove her armor. She soon noticed the little girls eyes were wide open.
"Hey I would have thought that tea would have knocked you right out. What are you still doing awake?" she asked laying on the pallet beside her child
"Uh I was just waiting for you. I couldnt sleep," the youngster replied with a yawn.
"Well Im here now little one, so go to sleep," the warrior whispered, placing a gentle arm around the child and kissing her forehead.
Tarren bit her lip ready to begin the plan. "Ok Gnight Xena," she whispered, turning quickly so as not to have to face her mothers angry expression.
The warrior turned her head and stared at her daughter. Ahh must be the medicine. Shes half-asleep, the warrior thought at hearing her name mentioned.
"Gnight baby," she answered, closing her eyes.
The child frowned at her mothers lack of response, but the uncle just waved his hand.
"Ahh shes just too tired You wait and see."
The little girl closed her eyes eager for the morning to come so she could see just what her uncles plan might bring.
Chapter 6 Plans to be Made
The following day Gabrielle and Xena spent all of there time with Tarren trying to
reestablish any break in their familial link that might have occurred in their brief moments of separation. At little Tarrens request, the trio had been fishing, swimming and played more games of Hide and Find Me then the warrior cared to count. Xena had to admit Tarren seemed to be finding her with great ease today where as normally the child could never even come close to locating the Warrior Princess in hiding. Xena could not decide if the youngster had suddenly become the worlds greatest tracker or the warrior herself was slipping. Either way it was something worth thinking about.
The bard and the warrior sat quietly under a tree looking out over the village while Tarren went running happily in the open field. "You know Xena. This is the calmest Ive ever seen you," the bard whispered to the warrior who was reclining peacefully beside her.
The warrior kept her hands folded behind her head and her eyes closed. "Thats because its nice and quiet here," she said with a peaceful smile and a relaxing breath.
The bard giggled at the sight of her mellow friend, "Oh come on Xena weve been here over a week and you cant tell me you arent itching to move on and throttle a warlord can you?"
The warrior grinned and stared at the bard. "Well maybe I am getting a bit antsy about getting back on the road, but Ill last a little bit longer like I said it is quiet here," she repeated, enjoying relaxing under the shadow of the small oak she had found shade in.
After a morning of keeping up with Tarren even the warrior mother was truly exhausted.
Gabrielle smiled as she noted the small figure jump from a tree with a thud and start running toward them, "Uh Xena you really think this is a nice quiet spot dont you?"
The warrior nodded with satisfaction. "Yup!" she replied, as she cocked her head to the side hearing the sounds of small footsteps approaching.
With a giant leap the small figure leapt into the air and landed in a skid beside the warrior. "Hello!" the youngster said with a wide smile.
Xena opened one eye and looked at the bard, "Thanks for the warning."
"You are quite welcome," she replied with a smile.
The warrior sighed and stared at her grinning daughter. "Well so much for quiet," Xena said with a smirk, wrapping an arm around the youngster. The child grinned and just leaned in beside her mother ready to rest for a moment and wanting to check to make sure her mother was still just where she had left her.
"What have you been up to?" the warrior mother asked, afraid what the response might actually be.
The youngster leaned against the tree and shook her head. "Nothing I was just hanging upside down in that tree," she replied, pointing to a large willow on the other side of the clearing.
Xena and Gabrielle eyed the large high branches the child was motioning to.
"Tarren what did I say about high trees?" the warrior asked in a slightly scolding tone.
The youngster tilted her head. "You said not to climb them. You didnt say not to hang from them," the child said with a proud grin.
The warrior mother shook her head, let out a long breath and looked at the bard for help, but there was little to be found.
"Im sorry Xena, but you didnt exactly tell her that she couldnt hang from the branches," the young woman answered, trying to maintain a diplomatic tone.
The warrior frowned, "Whose side are you on Gabrielle?"
The young woman leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes. "I am on the side of peace and justice of course," she replied carefully folding her hands behind her head.
Xena grinned at her friends relaxed pose, "Huh Ok Ill remember that the next time she puts a snake in your bedroll."
The bard opened her eyes and frowned, realizing that there were too often times when she needed the warriors assistance in such matters. "Tarren you heard your mother no hanging from the high branches," the bard ordered, offering her larger friend a quick smile to let her know she had changed sides.
Xena scrunched her lips together and shook her head knowing there was no force in the words, "Sorry bard but your on your own now."
The young woman shrunk back against the tree resigned to the fact that she would need to keep an eye out for things that might crawl around uninvited in her bedroll.
Xena looked back at Tarren. She studied the still grinning face of her daughter, placing her hand on the child chin, "No climbing the high trees, no swinging, and no hanging. As a matter of fact, dont even look at them and well all be better off," she said softly, closing her eyes once again hoping to find that feeling of peace once again.
The child folded her arms against her chest to show her mother her dissatisfaction at yes another rule she was being given to follow, "How am I supposed to know when a tree is too high?"
"Ahh Sis she climbs really well and you should see her swing. Tarren tell her its not fair since she did that stuff when she was a kid,"
Lyceus sulked as he shimmered into existence beside his niece.
The warrior glanced over at the child letting out a short breath. "Well if you have to ask yourself that question than the tree is too high," she said with a smile, gently patting the youngsters cheek.
Tarren twisted her mouth into a sulking frown and fell back against the tree. "Thats not fair. You did that stuff when you were a kid. I never get to do anything fun," she moaned, looking up at her ghostly uncle for continued support.
Xena sat up a bit, keeping a constant stare down on her pouting child to remind the youngster once again of the difference in their size.
"Tarren what I did or did not do when I was a kid is not the issue. You do as I say not as I do or did young lady, and you do it because I say so," she replied in a parental tone, wondering just who was feeding the child all this information.
Tarren merely pushed her lower lip out in a distinct pout knowing that the because I say so clause of her mothers vocabulary generally ended all negotiations.
"Oh yeah I get to do a drill with the big stick. I get to study the stars and the scrolls, and I get to go to bed just as everyone else is having fun Why cant I do what I want?" she muttered, wondering if her mother was still even paying attention.
"Thats it kid. You tell her,"
Lyceus encouraged, moving beside his now agitated warrior sister.
The warrior mother smiled broadly at the bard to let the young woman know she was reaching her limits of explanation. "Your turn," Xena said waving her hand in the air to offer the voice of diplomacy a shot at dealing with the stubborn child.
Gabrielle cleared her throat and leaned over to face the child, "Tarren honey thats all just part of being a kid. You have people that watch over you, protect you, love you, and make sure you do all the right things Sometimes that means you dont get to do the everything you want or even the same things as adults because you are not an adult. Its all because people care about you," she said with a gentle but still diplomatic tone.
Xena smiled at her friends words, "That was really very nicely said Gabrielle."
"Why Thank you Xena," the bard replied.
"It smells like Argo droppings to me,"
Lyceus said holding his nose.
"Yeah it smelled like Argo droppings to me too," the child murmured.
Xenas smile quickly disappeared as she stared down at her daughter, "What was that?"
The youngster bit her lip and folded her arms stubbornly against her chest saying nothing knowing she was now in trouble.
Xena slowly got to her feet pulling Tarren up beside her. "Ok young lady choose the tree you havent watched," she said sternly, waving her hand at the open field of trees.
"Tarren you werent supposed to repeat that,"
the ghost groaned.
"Well you said it," the child whispered to the phantom beside her.
Xena placed her hands on her hips and bent to face her youngster. "Excuse me little girl. What I say or dont say doesnt matter. You will mind your manners and watch your mouth young lady," the warrior scolded.
The youngster glanced up at her mother and swallowed hard, realizing she had just unintentionally spoken out loud. "Yes maam," she said quietly pointing to a tree in the distance that she was now sure she would be facing for quite a while.
The warrior shook her head trying to drain some of her frustration. "Thats more like it. Ok now you go face the tree until I tell you to stop. Do not move from that spot until you are ready to have a better attitude. Understand?" the mother scolded.
Gabrielle watched the exchange with sadness. Both she and Xena had hoped to make this a very pleasant and enjoyable day for Tarren, but the child seemed Hades bent on pushing her way into trouble.
The youngster gave her mother one more pitiful stare and than dragged her feet off toward the tree to carry out the familiar sentence of watching tree bark grow. "Yes Xena," the daughter moaned.
Gabrielle cocked an eyebrow having noticed how the child was now constantly calling her mother Xena. Strange the bard thought as she watched the child stomp away.
Lyceus took up a position beside Tarren as if he were meant to share in the punishment as well. "Sorry kid Its a small set back but the plan is going great," he said holding his chin high.
Tarren frowned. "I dont think this plan of yours is so great Ive called Momma, Xena, all morning and she hasnt said anything about it," she mumbled under her breath as she headed for the penalty tree.
"Hey give it a chance kid. Cant ya see how shes bothered by it?"
he said pointing back to the warrior.
Tarren turned around and watched her mother sliding comfortably back against the tree and frowned. "I dont think its bothering her at all. Maybe she just prefers I dont call her Momma at all
Maybe shes sorry she ever found me at all
Maybe she really just doesnt want me to be her kid, " the youngster said with a groan, feeling her angst growing as each thought jumped to another conclusion.
"Dont be silly. Its bothering her a lot Shes just real good at hiding stuff like that trust me. Hey didnt I help you find your mother every single time during that game of Hide and Find me?"
Tarren grinned a bit. "Yeah I guess so It was lots of fun. Did ya see the look on Mommas face every time I yelled got ya?" the child giggled.
Lyceus laughed loudly and followed his niece to the tree wondering why his sister was truly not reacting as planned and predicted.
Gabrielle watched the child go and shook her head, "Xena she sure is acting strange today. Maybe you should talk to her."
The warrior glanced over at the child now defiantly facing off with a tree and just slid back down to her own place of comfort. "Nope Ive tried talking to her. Im all talked out Gabrielle. Shes just getting a bit too big for her britches. Ive been understanding, affectionate, and down right wonderful If you want to talk to her then please be my guest. I would love to watch you work your magic," she replied, settling back in her spot to enjoy the quiet once again.
The bard nodded, "I think I will. Maybe you should watch how a little carefully placed diplomacy and rational explanation can work over intimidation," she said, jumping to her feet anxious to give the warrior a lesson in parenting.
This might even make a good scroll, the bard thought.
Xena just smiled, "Oh I know exactly where she needs a little carefully placed diplomacy," the warrior murmured. "But please go ahead Ill be watching Gabrielle."
With a slight frown at her less that agreeable friend, Gabrielle headed toward the large tree where Tarren was standing. She approached the child cautiously not wanting to seem the least bit threatening. "So having a good time?" the bard asked with a grin.
Tarren turned her head and looked at her friend. "Yeah Gabrielle Im having a great time. Can I go now?" she asked, hoping the bard was bringing a pardon from the leather-clad warden.
"Uh No Xena still wants you watching the tree. I just came over to chat," she said standing beside the youngster.
"Great wanna join me with this good time?" the little girl asked with a sly grin.
"Hey dont wise off to the blond. I think Im in love with her."
Lyceus begged, sighing heavily as she stared at Gabrielle.
Tarren faced her uncle. "Would you go away. Your gonna get me in trouble," she muttered to the shimmering figure at her side.
Gabrielles mouth dropped open, "Excuse me young lady, you are already in trouble. Do you want to be in more?" the bard asked, tapping her foot anxiously on the ground, waiting for an apology.
"Hey kid does my sister make you watch trees often?"
Lyceus asked bored already by the lack of movement and lack of interest that tree bark showed.
"Yes," the child answered with a frown.
The bard placed her hands on her hips and leaned gains the tree staring down at the child. "So you want me to go over there," she said pointing back toward Xena. "And tell your mother that youd like to be in more trouble," she chided.
Tarren threw her arms quickly in the air realizing Gabrielle had mistaken her conversation with the ghostly uncle as answers to her questions. "Uh no Gabby dont do that. Im sorry I was just talking to myself thats all really Dont tell Xena please," she begged, offering her friend a wide-eyed stare of innocence.
Gabrielle thought about it and let out a quick breath. It was time to try to use the brain over brawn method. She stood beside the child facing the tree, "Uh huh Hmm this could get a bit boring after a while," she said with a frown, grateful her own mother had never been so imaginative when it came to discipline.
"Gee I kind of enjoy it," the child murmured, finding it difficult to keep her pouting to herself.
"You are not following the plan. The blond is supposed to be on our side. Stop being such a brat. Shes trying to be nice."
Tarren could not stand her uncles interference any longer, and she didnt know why he insisted on referring to her friend by the color of her hair. "Would ya stop that. Its just Gabrielle Im not listening to you anymore," the youngster said, covering her ears to emphasize her point to the ghost.
Gabrielle took a deep breath shocked by the normally affectionate childs bad attitude. She pulled Tarrens hands from her ears and faced the youngster. "Look Tarren your behavior lately has been a bit obnoxious even for you. How about telling me whats bothering you?" she asked in a stern tone, letting the little girl know she was no longer playing.
"Look kid just do what I say for a little while please
." the uncle begged.
The child shook the bards hold off to turn away from the phantom. "No I just wanna to do what I wanna to do. I dont want to listen to you anymore. You are no help at all," the frustrated child yelled, kicking the tree in front of her.
Gabrielles smile faded and she stared at the youngster. "Tarren you are really pushing it. I would suggest you take a peace of advice. Your mother is at the end of her rope with you. I would not push her any further than you already have," she advised, her face turning a bit red, from her own building frustration.
"Oh come on Tarren I think Ive got a great plan,"
the ghost sulked.
Tarren turned away from her shimmering uncle and faced Gabrielle, "Why should I care what you think anyway. Go bother Xena?" the child yelled hoping her Lyceus would leave her to suffer in peace so she could continue her conversation with Gabrielle.
The bard stared at the child oddly making note of the second time the youngster had passed on the chance to refer to the warrior as her mother in the privacy of their surroundings.
"Look kid Im only trying to help like you asked."
Lyceus replied, moving behind Gabrielle hoping to catch his nieces attention.
The bard looked down at the now angry youngster and shook her head bewildered by the childs sudden range of emotion, "Tarren ." she started but before she could finish the youngster just turned her back.
"Go away. I dont want any help Id rather watch the tree!" she yelled, motioning the shimmering figure away with the wave of a hand.
The bard felt the coldness in the childs words pierce her heart and the dejected young woman slowly moved back to Xena, who had not even been watching the exchange.
Satisfied that her uncle had been momentarily silenced, Tarren turned looking for Gabrielle, but was saddened to see she had already walked away.
Lyceus leaned against the tree, "Great Tarren! Gabrielle thinks you were talking to her. Now were really in trouble."
Tarren leaned her head against the tree. "We? Oh Uncle Lyceus this is a very bad plan a very bad plan," she cried.
Gabrielle took her seat beside the warrior under the shady tree.
"So how did it go?" the warrior asked, smiling but not opening her eyes.
The bard slid down to the ground her face broken and hurt from the youngsters rejection, "Im afraid she did not want to talk to me."
Noting the pain in her friends voice, the warrior opened her eyes, "Hey are you Ok? What did she say to you?" the warrior mother asked, parental anger slipping into her tone as she started to rise.
The bard shook her head, "Xena its not what just she said its the way she said it. She is so I dunno I think there is something really bothering her I mean she basically told me to get lost. Tarren has never spoken to me like that before," the young woman replied sadly, dropping her head down.
Xena wiped the dust from her leathers and shook her head at the amazon queen. "And she never will again Gabrielle whats bothering her, is that shes taking advantage of you and acting like a spoiled little brat Tarren!" the mother yelled, motioning for the child to return to her.
"Uh Oh now were I mean youre gonna get it,"
"Thanks Uncle Lyceus but I think even I knew that. Momma sounds real mad. Is this all part of the plan too?" she asked, hoping it just might be.
The shimmering figure shrugged and shook its head not quite sure how to respond.
Tarren slipped over to her mothers side keeping her eyes focused down at her feet.
"What?" she muttered, not wanting to look at her mothers face.
The warrior mother shook her head and tugged on the youngsters ear to remind the child just whom she was speaking too.
"Ouch!" the child yelped staring up at her obviously frustrated mother.
"You will look at me when I am speaking to you little girl and what is not an acceptable response is it?" the warrior mother chided.
"Oooh...that had to smart," Lyceus whispered,
covering his own ears protectively.
The child bit her lip. "No maam its not," the child replied obediently.
Xena looked at Gabrielle who just gave the warrior a sullen glance.
"Ok unlike Gabrielle I dont accept your bad manners young lady. I am going to give you one chance to tell me what has been eating at you today. Ive asked you a number of times and you say there is nothing wrong and yet you act more like a little ." the warrior began.
"Yeah shes been acting like a little you Xena,"
Lyceus chuckled as he listened to his sisters scolding.
Tarren smiled at her uncle confused by the comparison. "A little you?" she asked with a grin, wondering just what he meant by those words.
Gabrielle covered her face with both hands not wanting her own expression to be seen by either the child or the warrior.
The warriors eyes grew wide at the disrespectful statement from her daughters lips. She took a deep breath and stared down at the child allowing her dark eyes to weigh heavy on the little ones face. The peace and serenity of the quiet was now gone.
"Ok thats that. All we wanted was to have a nice day together. We wanted to spend time with you, but you have been doing is acting like a spoiled brat. Now you get your little butt back to the inn and go straight to bed. You will not be enjoying this beautiful day with us, and you better have some better answers for me when I get back," she scolded, pointing toward the inn at the bottom of the hill.
Tarren kicked the dirt in front of her with the tip of her boot. "I dont wanna go to bed." the child whined, staring at the bard still seated under the tree and then back to her mother whose muscular form was beginning to tense.
Lyceus could not help but notice how the expression on his sisters face was changing, "Kid go to bed trust me its the safest place right now. We have to rethink the plan a bit."
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and stared up at the sky trying to find an extra ounce of patience to use in this moment. She let her tongue move slowly around the inside of her mouth as she considered the stubborn youngster in front of her. After what seemed like a long moment the mother took a deep breath and then brought her focus back on her daughter.
"Tarren you take your little behind and you walk down to that inn go straight to your room and go to bed. I dont want to hear another word or sound out of you If I do then Ill be going back to the inn with you Got me?" she asked in a husky whisper, bending a bit to stare at the child, so as to make her point clear.
"Tarren now would be a good time to call a retreat,"
the uncle warned, stepping away from the familiar tone in his sisters voice.
"Yes maam," she moaned, kicking the dirt and frowning at her mother as she slowly started her descent into exile. "Plan stinks " she murmured.
Xena shook her he head and frowned wondering what was making her usually respectful child so indignant. "Can you believe her? All day we have been doing anything and everything she asked of us and this is how she behaves like this. For two dinars ." The warrior mother began, trying to rein in her mounting frustration and confusion.
The bard cut her off before the warrior could finish the sentence. The usually gentle young woman watched the youngster head down the hill and remembered the childs rude behavior, "Xena right now for just one dinar Id help you."
Tarren kicked the stones in front of her as she made her way back toward the inn occasionally staring back up the hill at Xena and Gabrielle wondering how could they ever understand the weight on her small shoulders.
"Thanks a lot Uncle Lyceus. Because of you and your plan Im being sent to bed. If I hadnt listened to you then Id be fishing and swimming with Momma and Gabby now instead of having to go to inn," she mumbled, giving the phantom an occasional glance out of the corner of her eye.
"Im sorry Tarren. I dont know what went wrong. Ill make it up to you. Well play games and stuff while I come up with a new and even better plan youll see," he said trying to offer the child a bit of enthusiasm.
Tarren frowned hoping her uncles next plan was far better than his first.
"I dunno maybe we should just give up. So far since youve been here Ive had to take bad medicine, gotten Momma and Gabby mad at me, and now I have to spend the day in my room," she exclaimed, waving her small hands in the air in surrender. "I give up. Im never gonna have a real mom like other kids do," she said quietly, dropping her chin to her chest.
All Tarren had wanted was for Xena to claim her as her daughter in public. She did not care about the risks her mother warned of. She just wanted to have a mom that she could call openly. The warrior had taken the child all over Amphipolous and everywhere they went the youngster was introduced as just "Tarren" making her feel more like a possession than Xenas daughter. Even Argo was identified as Xenas horse. Xena had explained to the child in great length the danger in sharing the truth. However after a while the small child was beginning to wonder whether it was really Xenas concern or disgrace that kept her from sharing the youngsters identity with the world.
As Tarren approached the Inn she saw a large man talking with Cyrene outside. She motioned for the youngster to approach, which she did.
"Oh Gods Mom cant you se the kid is not in the mood to chat with anyone."
"Good child Im glad youre here. There is someone Id like you to meet," the innkeeper said with a smile.
Tarren shook her head. "Sorry Cyrene I have to go to my room. Masters orders," the child replied stiffly.
"Master Oh Sis would love that,"
the ghost said with a chuckle.
The older woman caught her granddaughter by the arm. "Not so fast little one. We always have time to show good manners," she said in a parental tone placing the child squarely in front of her.
"Tarren make a run for it. Shes got the use your good manners speech on hand and that usually means trouble,"
the uncle warned.
"I cant do that," the child sullenly replied to her uncle.
Cyrene shook her head at the childs obvious disrespect for her instructions. "Young lady you can and will show your good manners or I will tell your Xena," she responded, firmly holding the youngster in place.
Tarren dropped her head in her hands. By the gods its happening again,' she thought.
The child tried to ignore her ghostly uncle and concentrate on the solid forms around her. Yes ma am...Im sorry," she whispered, hoping to avoid any more trouble with her own mother than she already had.
"Well that is much better," the grandmother said in a softer voice. She waved her hand to the tall man beside her. "Tarren this is Toben. He went to school with your...My daughter. This is Tarren she travels with Xena now," the grandmother stated, finding it more and more frustrating not being able to call Tarren her granddaughter.
"Oh Zeus not Toben. Sis always said he was a Centaurs butt."
The child sighed at the once again impersonal introduction. "Hi!" she said giving her the man a passing glance. She had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling at her uncles words.
Toben dropped to one knee and rubbed the childs head like he was shining boots. "Well Tarren it must be offal exciting for you traveling with the great Warrior Princess. You know we were best friends as children," he said with a smile, patting the little girl on the head like a faithful dog.
"Oh please friends She thought you were an annoying twerp,"
Tarren stared at the tall man but said nothing anxious to have these polite introductions come to an end, so she take her ghostly uncle and play warlord in the confines of her room.
Toben looked at Cyrene and then motioned to his wagon where two smaller figures had been waiting for him. One boy was a rather chunky little fellow a few summers older than Tarren. The other was nearly full grown, but thin and wiry looking. They approached at their fathers bidding.
"These are my sons Tetran and young Milo," Toben said proudly, pointing to each boy in turn.
Tarren eyed the figures quickly and nodded a hello.
"Hi!" the younger boy said with a friendly smile.
"Zeus someone married him and even never mind Yuk Id rather smell that tea than watch this."
Lyceus groaned pacing around the Toben family.
"Hi," Tarren replied, still anxious to get to her room, play a few games, and go to bed as ordered by her already angry mother.
The older boy just looked at little Tarren with half smile as if sizing her up for his amusement.
"Hey what are you looking at my niece like that for twiggy?"
the uncle asked trying in vain to push the solid form of Tetran further away.
Cyrene looked at the youngsters and smiled. "Well Tarren I need you to entertain the boys while Toben and I finish some business inside," the grandmother said motioning the little girl forward.
Tarren started to open her mouth in protest but could tell by the look in her grandmothers eyes that any infraction would be passed straight away to Xena. The youngster did not need any more troubles than she already had, so she just hung her head in surrender, "Yes maam."
"Oh no Mom dont do that This guy over here Tetran is trouble. I just know it. Dont make her stay Xena wants the kid in her room...Mom...."
he pleaded to a mother that could not hear his cries.
"But what about what Xena told me about going to my room?" the child asked, hoping the warriors word would mean something.
The womans face went blank, "NO butts I think Xena would agree that this is the polite way to behave," Cyrene responded with a stare that told the child she would not take no for an answer.
The youngster frowned and faced the boys as Cyrene went back into the inn with Toben.
Tarren looked at her uncle who was just shaking his head in disbelief.
"So whats it like traveling around with the great Xena and Gabrielle?" Milo asked eagerly, with awe like wonder in his eyes.
"I like this kid,"
Lyceus said noting how his eyes lit up when he said Xena and Gabrielle.
The little girl shrugged not in the mood to really tell tales of their lives on the road and her lack of freedom. "No big deal fires warlords big sticks that kind of stuff," she murmured, wondering how long it would take her grandmother to finish her business.
Tetran folded his arms and stared down at the child. "Dont waste your time Milo. Shes just a little kid. The way I hear it Xena keeps her around as a servant just so she has someone to polish her boots," he said with a spiteful glare.
"Him I dont like,"
the phantom uncle said pointing at Tetran.
Milo shook his head and glanced at his older brother "Tetran thats not very nice. Shes a friend of Xena. Father will be angry," he warned.
Tarren looked at the portly boy with gratitude for his attempted defense and then set her sights on the young man in front of her, "Im not Xenas servant Im her ." Tarren came very close to spilling it all, but at the last second held back revealing the secret. She suddenly remembered all the bets she lost that had her polishing boots and was a bit confused about how much truth might be in Tetrans words.
"You tell him kid,"
Lyceus cheered, hoping his niece had more to say.
"The young mad stared down at Tarren and smiled, "So you think you are more than a little servant huh? You think that you are good enough to be a friend of Xenas? You dont even know who your folks are. Xena just keeps you around out of pity. Of course you do know there is a word for kids that dont know who their parents are I do believe its...little bastard," he said with a loud laugh, waving a single finger in front of the child.
"Tarren I cant hit him, but if I could I would. Kick him in the knee or something,"
The young man did not have to say anymore. She had heard that word for the first time at the age of five and while she wasnt sure exactly what it meant, she knew that it was not a nice thing to be called. Before Tetran could spit out another word the little warrior princess kicked him in the groin and knocked him in the jaw leaving a very shocked Tetran lying on the ground, gasping for air and wiping blood from his lip.
The angry little child stood over him, "Say it again," she hissed, ready to grab for her chucks and finish the job.
Lyceus stood proudly beside his niece, "Gods I wish I had been able to do that. That was great. That was much better than just kicking him in the knee. Xena is gonna be so proud."
Tarren took her eyes off of the bully on the ground long enough to look at her shimmering uncle. Ya really think?" she whispered, hoping it were true.
He nodded and held up his hand to give her the O.K. signal and Tarren smiled.
Hearing all the commotion Cyrene and Toben came racing out the door to find a boy of about 17 summers lying on the ground in front of a little girl 10 summers old.
"What in Hades is going on out here?" the older woman yelled, protectively standing in front of Tarren.
Toben pulled his fallen son to his feet. "What happened?" he yelled staring at the young mans bloody lip.
Tetran stared at the child. "That little kid attacked me for no reason at all father. I couldnt very well hit her. I mean shes just a little girl," he stated, trying to show how he had taken the punch only as a way to save the youngster from injury.
"Oh you are such a liar,"
the ghostly uncle said moving back and forth through Tetran.
Tarren jumped from behind Cyrene ready to take another shot at the fibbing bully, "Dont let that stop you ya big...." Cyrene grabbed the youngsters arms to hold her back and covered the childs mouth with her hand not wanting the sentence finished.
All eyes soon fell on young Milo, "What happened?" Toben asked staring down at his younger son. The boy looked at the anger in his brothers eyes and then his father, "I err really wasnt watching Poppa," the boy replied letting his head drop shamefully.
"Gods they're both little Tobens. Not a spine between them,"
the ghost condemned.
Tarren struggled to get free, wanting another shot at Tetran. If she was going to get in trouble for this then it might as well be worth while. Cyrene held the youngster in place with difficulty.
"You go to your room," she ordered, pushing the little girl toward the inn door. "And you just wait until Xena finds out," the grandmother warned, as the child reluctantly went inside.
"But Mom she didnt You should have heard what that little Tetran said. Youd oh whats the use,"
the uncle moaned, disappearing through the door heading for Tarrens room.
Cyrene lowered her eyes "Im sorry Toben. I dont know whats gotten in to her. She really is a very gentle little one," the grandmother said with a sigh.
Toben looked at his son and shook his head. "Its all right Cyrene. I doubt that anyone here is innocent," the man replied, glaring at his elder boy.
The innkeeper nodded thankfully. "Perhaps we had better discuss this later when my daughter returns," Cyrene said with a breath, deciding this was Xenas responsibility to deal with.
"Yes maybe that would be best. Besides I would love to see her Its been too long," he said with a smile, motioning his sons to return to their wagon. The older boy wiped the blood from his lip and glared at his young brother for not fabricating a worthy story in his defense.
Tarren lay on her bed smiling wickedly at he memory of blood draining from the lip of that big mouth bully. She could still picture the look of shock on his face when he landed on the ground with a thud.
Lyceus leaned up against the wall trying to think of the right thing to say to comfort his niece. "Look Tarren dont let my mom get to you. Shes old and a bit out of touch. Xena would have done just what you did trust me Shell be proud," he said, lying on the bed beside the child, staring up at the ceiling.
"Ya really think so Uncle Lyceus? Proud enough to tell people Im her kid?" the child asked, hoping that she had finally done something to earn the title.
The uncle looked at his young niece and smiled. "Tarren shes proud of you already. I can tell, and Im real proud of the way you took that overgrown pimple down," Lyceus said softly.
Tarren grinned at the shimmering figure. "Thanks Uncle Lyceus" she replied for once glad that he was with her.
The smiles on both faces quickly faded when they heard the loud footsteps of the Warrior Princess heading in heavy strides toward the room. Xena entered the chamber slamming the door behind her. She walked right over to the bed never taking her eyes off her young daughter. "What happened?" she asked, letting her eyes scan the child to make sure there were no injuries just as Cyrene had stated.
The youngster was quick to realize that her mothers expression held no pride but instead disappointment and anger. The youngster lowered her eyes realizing that all her hopes of a proud look in her mothers eyes had been dashed once again.
"Nothing," the child replied simply, deciding that there was no reason to add to her mothers shame by telling the warrior what people thought of the youngster. Tarren felt sure that if she shared the facts with her mother, the warrior would surely never want anyone to ever know she was her daughter.
"Tarren what are you doing? Tell her what happened,"
The warriors eyes flared at the childs lack of cooperation and detail about ht even she had just been informed of. "Nothing? You just gave a bloody lip to a boy for nothing," Xena responded, knowing there was much more to it.
The child shook her head and lowered her eyes. "I didnt like the way he looked at me," the youngster replied, not wanting her mother to know what Tetran had called her.
"Uh Tarren youre playing with real fire here tell Xena what happened,"
Lyceus begged, wishing Xena could see him for a few minutes so he could explain.
The little girl shook her head making it clear she had no intention of talking.
The warrior lifted the child off the bed and held her in the air, "I want to know Tarren. What happened?" she asked again through tightened lips.
The youngster said nothing but merely turned her eyes away. "Im not telling! You can do what you want to me but I still wont tell," she cried fighting the tears in her eyes.
"Gods kid dont cry. Just tell Xena what happened. Shell understand. Hades shell go out and kick the old mans butt, "
the uncle said quietly.
"No!" Tarren cried, wiping tears from her eyes.
Xena shook her head and sighed confused by the youngsters burst of emotion. She placed the child back on the pallet and took a deep breath. The warrior knew there was more to this story than she was getting. Tarren would not hit someone without some kind of provocation. The warrior mother placed the little girl in front of her and knelt down. "Tarren for the love of the gods What is going on with you? Talk to me. I cant help you if you dont talk to me," she said gently, trying to offer comfort for a pain she was not sure the source of.
The little girl looked up at her mother wishing she could tell her all she felt inside, wanting to share the burden of being the warriors daughter. The Warrior Princess could never understand what it meant to have a mother for the first time in your life, one you were proud of, and not even being able to share it with anyone. But the child just lowered her eyes feeling she was already too much of a burden to the great warrior.
"Im sorry," was all the little one would murmur.
Lyceus quietly listened to the exchange and looked at his sister almost tempted to appear, but then just sat back down on the bed. "Ahh Xena dont punish the kid. She was just sticking up for herself," he whispered.
Xena stood and let out a long breath, trying to reign in her frustration. "Ok young lady you get to bed. I'll find out on my own what happened and then you and I will talk again little one," she said quietly, pointing to the bed.
The youngster climbed onto the large pallet and just lay there lifeless staring up at the ceiling. Xena could not help but see how still and sad her little girl had become. It was as if the child felt nothing anybody said or did could hurt her anymore than she already was.
The warrior rubbed her arms as she felt a cold shiver run through her. As she left the room, she made a mental note to check the seal on the window for a leak.
Tarren lay on the bed crying and Lyceus followed Xena out determined to help his niece somehow. As the warrior entered the inn her mother quickly greeted her.
"Did you punish her?" Cyrene asked stiffly.
The warrior sat next to the bard who was wondering the same thing. "No mother!" she replied reaching for a mug of ale.
The older woman threw her head back in shock. "Xena you cant allow the child to just go around starting street fights with strangers. Even you never did that," Cyrene said with a shrug.
"Actually she did that a lot Mom. You just never knew it,"
Lyceus said with a chuckle.
The warrior frowned and shook her head, "Mom I am not going to punish Tarren when I dont even know why she hit the boy."
"Good for you Sis,"
the ghost cheered.
"Well if I were you ." Cyrene began.
Xena raised a halting hand. "Mom I think weve already covered this. You are not me and I am not you," she answered with a quick smile.
"Mom somethings burning in the kitchen,"
Lyceus said pointing toward the other room, wanting his mother to depart.
The older woman sighed and nodded. "Yes wells he is YOUR daughter. You do what you feel is best with her," the older woman replied, heading into the kitchen.
The warrior mother shook her head and glanced at the still silent bard, "Now shes my daughter. All week shes been HER granddaughter."
The bard leaned on the bar sipping at her mug of cider, "Xena what do you think happened? I know Tarren has been hard to deal with today, but just hitting someone for no reason. Thats not her. I just know somethings bothering her," the young woman said with a frown.
"Oh Gabrielle I knew you were our friend keep going,"
Lyceus said with a dopey grin.
Xena nodded in agreement, "I know but what is it that would make her knock a boy nearly twice her age and size down?" the warrior replied with a quick grin.
"I saw that Xena," the bard admonished.
"I did not!"
"Uh yes you did Xena,"
Lyceus said with a nod.
"Yes you did. Youre proud of her for knocking him down admit it," the bard scolded.
The warrior lost her smile, "Of course not Gabrielle. You know better than that. I was actually just thinking that his father, Toben, once made a remark about my mother being "alone" and I knocked him flat on his back too."
"Hey how come you never told me that. Id have knocked him on his flat head."
The bard shook her head, "Oh gods Tarrens you all over isnt she?" the young woman moaned
The warrior frowned at the less than complimentary remark and shook her head. "Yeah and thanks!" the warrior said quietly.
"Thats not what I meant Its just that Well Tarren likes to do everything you do Xena and she tries to be just like you ." the young woman stumbled. "Tell me what did your mother do when you hit Toben?" the bard asked with a gentle grin.
Cyrene answered from the kitchen. "Had her standing at meals for a week," Cyrene said loudly.
"Gods where was I when this happened living in the barn or something. Nobody ever told me anything,
" Lyceus moaned pacing around the inn.
The warrior nodded at the bard and then grimaced at the old memory. "The thing my mother never knew is why I hit him. He called her a harlot!" Xena whispered, not wanting her mother to hear.
"He did what why that little Let me be alive just for a few minutes...Wheres my sword ."
the uncle begged to the gods.
Gabrielle folded her arms in contemplation. "Do you think that something like that happened with Tarren?" she asked.
"How come a man can never find his sword when he wants it."
The warrior shrugged, "I dunno with that little kid anything is possible. But I am not going to punish her without knowing why she did it," the warrior mother said stiffly, remembering the feeling of betrayal she had felt toward her own mother.
"Thats my big sister talking."
Lyceus cheered, heading back to the room.
Tarren lay on the bed wiping tears from her eyes wondering just when life had gone so wrong. She had lost Nala and that was a bad thing. She had found Xena and Gabrielle and that was a good thing. Then Xena had revealed she was the childs real mother and that was a very good thing. The more the youngster thought about it the more confused she became over just how things had gotten to such a sad state.
The little girls thoughts were interrupted by an odd hissing sound at the window.
The little girl went to the window where a small portly boy was waiting.
"Milo what are you doing here? Im in enough trouble." she whispered, looking at the boy hiding in the stall beneath the shudders.
The young boy tried to smile. "Im sorry Tarren. Tetran shouldnt have said what he did.
You had every right to hit him and boy you knocked him good," he said with a smile.
The youngster studied the chubby boy with confusion. "Milo you mean youre happy I hit your Brother?" she asked, confused by his wide smile.
"Yeah well he hits me all the time," the boy replied, lowering his eyes.
"Poor kid I knew I liked him He must take after his mother,"
the returning uncle said as he shimmered in beside Tarren.
"Thats why I didnt tell my father what Tetran said. I knew hed get me if I did," the boy continued, feeling the weight of his shame.
Tarren smiled and shook her head. She felt a bit sorry for the rather chubby kid, "Its Ok Milo Its not your fault."
Milos eyes perked up happy the little girl was not angry with him for his lack of chivalry. "Did ya get paddled?" he asked, biting his lip.
The child shook her head wondering just when that was going to happen. The waiting was the worst part. "No my err Xena came in before and I was sure she was gonna but then she left. I didnt tell her what happened and I know shes sort of mad at me for that too. She probably just wants to cool off before she comes back, so you better get out of here," the little girl whispered, motioning the boy away.
The young boy nodded, "Im sorry Tarren."
She shrugged her shoulders, "Its Ok Milo it was worth it."
Gabrielle watched from the doorway as the young boy slipped away.
"Who was that?" the soft voice asked.
"Ya know I really do like her. Ya think shed have liked me,"
Tarren ignored her uncle and turned quickly, a bit startled by the bards entry. "Oh that was just Milo. Please dont tell Xena," she said with a frown.
The bard nodded and pointed toward the bed. "Ok I wont, but what do you say you and I have a little chat?" the young woman asked.
The youngster shrugged deciding that talking with Gabrielle had never done any harm. She sat down on the bed beside the gentle bard.
"So wheres Xena? I figured shed be back by now," the child asked, trying to hide the fact that she was a bit nervous over her fate.
"You mean you figured shed come in and punish you for hitting Tetran," Gabrielle said with a heavy sigh, rubbing the little girls back.
The child nodded and lay back on the bed, "Well she still might. Shes really upset with you, but shes more worried than anything else. We both are. Xena doesnt want to punish you Tarren. She just wants to know whats wrong. Please tell me whats bothering you," the young woman pleaded.
"Tarren maybe she can help us tell her." Lyceus whispered.
The child looked into the gentle eyes of the young woman who was more than a friend but not quite a mother. Gabrielle had always been there to hold her and care for her when she was in trouble with Xena or her mother was not available.
"Gabby I cant Youll tell Xena, and I dont want her to know. Shell just be
more disappointed never mind," the little girl replied, kicking the toes of her boots together.
The bard took a deep breath and placed a gentle arm around the youngster. "Well Xenas your mother Tarren and shes my best friend, but if you want to tell me something as a secret, I wont tell her...I promise!" the young woman swore.
The child studied her friends face and considered the offer.
"So tell me why you hit that boy," the bard said quietly.
"Wow what a woman I mean what a great friend,"
Lyceus said with a cough.
Tarren stared at the gentle expression on her friends face and then back at her ghostly uncle who was giving a nod of approval, "You promise you wont tell Xena?
The bard nodded and crossed her heart, "You have my word."
The youngster fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. "Well he told me that I was nothing but Xenas servant and he called me a little bastard," the young child said matter of factly.
What!" the bard yelled, jumping off the bed.
"Yup bet you didnt expect that one did ya? I think someone owes my little niece an apology,"
Lyceus said with a smirk.
The bards jaw dropped and her eyes flew open. "Tarren! He said what? " Gabrielle could feel her anger welling and she soon wished she had a few moments alone with that boy. She looked across the room wondering if her staff was readily available, but then took a deep breath to try and regain her composure. "Tarren first of all I dont ever want to hear you repeat that word. Do not ever let Xena hear you say it like that."
The young woman shuddered just at the thought of the expression on her friends face if Tarren told her of what had transpired. The bards angst was growing and the child could tell, "Tarren are you telling me that the boy just called you a. " She could not finish the sentence. "Why didnt you just tell us? Why didnt you just tell Xena?" she asked.
"Wow Gabrielle is pretty and smart and understanding and shes got such a fire in her too,"
Lyceus said with a sigh staring at he bard.
The child shrugged and flopped on the bed again, "Gabby Ive been called it before Its no big deal Momma I mean Xena would have just been embarrassed cause of me more than she already is I guess Its no big deal," the sullen youngster replied.
"Hey it is too a big deal ." the ghost yelled, realizing that his niece was truly upset.
The bard grabbed the childs arm and yanked her to her feet in front of her. "No you are wrong very wrong First of all you are not a what that boy said. Second that is not something anyone should ever be called and what young lady has ever given you the idea that Xena is anything but proud of you. Tarren she loves you so much and she is very proud of you. Dont you know that yet?" she scolded.
"You tell her Gabrielle!"
The childs eyes lowered. "Sure Gabby, if you say so," the little girl murmured, still feeling, as though she was merely a responsibility Xena had been stuck with.
Gabrielle grabbed the child by the arms and forced her to pay strict attention to the words she said, "I do say so!"
Tarren nodded at her friend and grinned a bit, "Then its Ok that I hit Tetran?"
The bard thought about the right thing to say and wasnt quite sure how to answer that question. "Well err No its never right to hit someone for saying something you dont like, but I do understand why you hit him and I think Xena would too if ."
"Huh! What do you mean the kid shouldnt hit have hit him. Lady my sister would have throttled the twerp for saying that to Tarren,"
Lyceus groaned, wishing he could council the bard on appropriate fight etiquette.
The child quickly pulled away, "No! You promised you wouldnt tell Momma I mean Xena."
The bard touched the youngsters shoulder gently, "Tarren I only meant that you should tell her. She loves you so much Tarren and its tearing her up knowing you are hurting and not knowing why or how to help."
The youngster turned quickly to face her friend. "Gabrielle how is Momma gonna help? She wont even tell anyone here that Im her kid," the child cried. "Im just Tarren her her That kid that travels with her ." the little one said with a tear.
The bard wiped the childs tear away and let out a deep breath of understanding.
"Do you know what its like to be Xenas kid?" the youngster asked, letting her tears flow freely. "Gabby I just wanted to have my own mom and now that I do she wont even let me call her momma in front of people. I forget sometimes and I call her Momma when Im supposed to say Xena and Sometimes I just forget Gabby Im not allowed to tell anyone...Thats why people think Im a little...."
The youngsters eyes were now red and filled with tears. The concerned bard just held the child affectionately stroking the little girls back wishing she had easy answers for the little one.
Gabrielle stopped her with a raised hand before the child could finish the sentence. "Say it and I swear Ill spank you myself," the young woman said stiffly.
Tarren closed her mouth believing that the young woman truly would, at that moment, follow through with the threat. The child quietly fell back on the bed and the bard sat beside her wiping the tears from the youngsters cheeks.
"So is that why you started calling her Xena again? I havent heard you say momma all day...I know shes missed hearing it," the bard said softly, wondering why Xena had not mentioned it to the child herself.
Tarren lay comfortably in the bards embrace happy for the affection. "Gabby she didnt even notice. I mean she didn't get mad or anything when I said Xena. I thought for sure she'd at least yell at me for doing it so much, but I guess she's just happy I don't call her Momma anymore," the youngster said quietly, nuzzling beside the bard.
"She was just fibbing when she said she missed it. Boy if I fibbed like that Xena wasnt even mad at me for doing it She didnt even care... Probably doesnt want anyone knowing about me anyway. Shes Xena Warrior Princess What am I?" the child murmured, wiping a tear from her cheek.
"Hey Tarren thats not true Youre my niece. You're Xenas daughter. You are very special,"
the uncle said quietly. For the first time he realized that his assignment was much more serious than he had ever thought. He had been treating his task as a game rather than a real problem.
Gabrielle reached down and pulled the youngster into her arms, "Tarren none of that is true You are Tarren daughter of Xena and very special to Gabrielle You are a wonderful, loving, and gifted little girl. You are so special to all of us Tarren. You will never even know the holes you fill in both our lives," the bard replied in a cracking voice, thinking of both Hope and Solan.
"Wow do you always know what to say like that
?" the ghostly uncle asked, feeling his own failings in helping Tarren.
The child let her tears spill as she held onto the bards soft shoulder, "Momma say she doesnt want anyone to know who I am cause she says I could get hurt, but Gabby it hurts now," the child cried, gripping tightly to the bard.
The young bard held the little one tightly, rocking her in her arms wishing to the gods that she had never made that promise to not tell Xena.
"Im sorry I was mean to ya this morning Gabby...It wasn't you I...." I didnt Uncle Lyceus ." The bard silenced her with a hug, "Hey its Ok...I think I understand Shh"
"What does your Uncle have to do with this?" the young woman asked suddenly confused by the change of topic.
"Hes hear with me Gabby He tells me what to do He came to help me with Momma but so far his plans dont work at all," she cried.
The bard held the child tightly for the first time realizing just how serious the problem had become. She and Xena had definitely spent too much time away from the child. The bard kissed the sobbing youngster who she was sure was now imagining ghostly uncles to make up for she and Xenas absence.
Gabrielle held the child in her arms and caressed the sobbing childs back lovingly. She looked at the small form in her arms and let out a deep breath. "By the gods what am I going to tell Xena," the bard whispered.
Chapter 7 The Trouble with Tarren
The bard walked quietly back into the inn. She could tell that Xena had been waiting for her to come out with some great discovery of information.
Noticing that the young woman had been crying, the warrior jumped to her feet.
"Gabrielle what did she say to you now?" the warrior asked
The bard shook her head. "No Xena, its not like that. Youre gonna be mad at me not Tarren," she replied, quietly, slipping into the chair at her friends table.
The warrior sat back down and looked at the young woman with confusion. "Why whod you hit?" she asked with a slight grin.
The bard smiled for a moment but then her expression turned serious once again, "Xena the only way I could get Tarren to tell me what was bothering her was to promise not to tell you."
The warriors eyes went cold and she lowered her head a bit, "So she told you and you cant tell me" she replied, feeling the pain of her daughters lack of trust.
The bard nodded knowing the words were hurting her friend.
Xena and Tarren had been sharing secrets for a while. The warrior was proud of the fact that they had become so close and cold talk openly to each other. Xena always felt that Tarren was most eager to tell her mother everything and anything. Now the warrior was being shut out and she did not know why.
Xena sat there silently wondering what mistake she had made to cause this rift. "So what am I supposed to do Gabrielle?" the warrior mother asked, throwing her arms up in the air.
The bard sat quietly beside her friend, "Xena weve been through a lot together. Do you trust me?" she asked softly.
The warrior frowned, "Gabrielle of course I trust you. Thats a ridiculous thing to ask," she replied, sipping at her mug of ale.
The young woman leaned in closer to her friend, "Then trust me now...Dont punish Tarren," she said quietly.
Xena studied her friends serious expression and let out a deep breath, "Gabrielle I cant just let her go around hitting people for no reason Mothers right about that I hate to say. Besides she has been getting a little bit too obnoxious for even my taste."
Gabrielle sat back in her chair and drummed her fingers on the table nervously, "Well Xena maybe its all sort of connected. Maybe there is reason everything is happening and you have to find out what it is before you decide what the best action to take is."
The warriors face was mixed with understanding and frustration knowing that the bard had the answer she sought. "Gabrielle I dont like all this game playing," she replied, running her hands up and down her face.
The bard patted her friends arm. "Look Xena you asked me to help you raise Tarren. Well this is one of those moments when you have to decide whether you want my help or you just want a baby-sitter," she said firmly.
Xena nodded and placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Of course I want your help," she replied with a smile.
"Ok I wont punish her," she replied with a crooked grin, wishing she had someone like Gabrielle to come to her defense when she was a child.
The bard smiled and leaned back in the chair with a relaxing sigh. "Good now got talk to her, so she knows youre not mad at her," she ordered.
Xena raised an eyebrow at the request but got to her feet and headed back to the room.
The warrior mother walked into the chamber.
As soon as Tarren saw her mother, the child jumped to her feet ready to accept her punishment and get it over with.
Xena shook her head and took a seat on the side of the pallet. "Relax I just want to talk to you," she said softly.
Lyceus stared at his sister. His concern for his niece, now so much greater. He had been playing with her problems as if it were a game and now he was realizing this was all too serious a situation.
The child looked at her with confusion. She was sure that this had bee the moment of retribution and yet her mother seemed to have no interest in anything but chatting. Tarren wondered when life had gotten so complicated that event he things she was sure of were not dependable.
Xena wiggled her finger motioning the child to approach and she did.
The mother lifted the youngster onto her lap and paused for a moment before she spoke, "Tarren I dont know what is bothering you. I thought that you and I were close...close enough where you felt you could tell me anything. Im sorry if Ive done something to make you think you cant. Maybe I can help if you let me," she said quietly, wishing for some clue to what was bothering her child.
Tarren lowered her eyes in shame realizing that her mother had no anger, but only hurt for the childs failure to share the truth with her, "You havent done anything Its just well There's just " she began, but stopped not knowing how to say what she felt.
"Tarren tell her how you feel. Tell her how you really feel deep down inside."
The ghost begged.
"No I cant" the youngster replied, staring at her shimmering uncle.
Feeling he had served his niece poorly Lyceus disappeared, wanting time to re-think his own purpose.
Xena lifted the childs chin with her finger, "No? How do you know if you dont tell me?" she asked.
Tarren dropped her head on her mothers shoulder and ran her arms around her neck holding on tight.
Xena could feel the shaking in the childs body and the warrior mother wrapped her arms protectively around her youngster, "Hey its Ok Im here for you. You come to me when you are ready little one Im not going anywhere." The mother whispered, stroking the little girls back.
The childs tears fell as she nuzzled in to her mothers chest wanting to be held forever.
Xena looked up at the figure standing in the doorway and shrugged.
Gabrielle nodded at the warriors actions knowing that to be held in her mothers arms was exactly what Tarren needed.
Xena stayed with Tarren until the child had cried herself to sleep in her mothers arms. The warrior then placed the youngster gently in the pallet and watched over her until she was sure the child had found a peaceful place in the land of Morpheous. With a gentle kiss and a silent promise to return, she had gone for a walk in the night air hoping to clear her head and make some sense of what was going on.
The warrior sat outside the inn staring up at the stars longing to be on the road heading off to some place where she felt she could do some good. Right now she did not even feel like she could help her own daughter.
Lyceus sat beside her staring up at the same sky wondering how he could help both his niece and his sister.
Gabrielle walked out and took a deep breath of the night air. "Hey dinar for your thoughts," she whispered, hoping to nudge her silent friend into a little conversation.
The warrior glanced at the bard, "Well you were right there is definitely a lot more to this than some silly fight or Tarren just missing us," she replied quietly, as she ran a whetstone methodically up and down the edge of her blade.
"Hey Xena Im trying to think do you think you could stop doing that for a bit?"
Lyceus asked, annoyed by the constant screeching noise.
The bard nodded and sat beside her friend. "Im sorry I cant tell you what she said Xena, but I dont think it would be a great idea for anyone if I lost her confidence right now," the young woman said with a frown.
"Yeah nobody likes a squealer right Xena,"
the ghost said wanting to give his sister a gentle poke in the ribs.
Xena nodded and continued her task with the blade. "No Gabrielle I dont want you to do that. Tarren has a right to her privacy. I want her to trust you just like I do," the warrior replied with a gentle grin.
Gabrielle let out a quick breath wanting to do something to help both her friends find peace. "Xena I want you to know that the reason Tarren hasnt told you is not because she doesnt trust you or because she doesnt want to. That kid has it in her head that shell hurt you she just doesnt want to hurt you."
The bard folded her arms in frustration.
"Yeah Xena that kid really loves you. She worships the ground you walk on,"
Lyceus said with a grin.
The warrior sheathed her sword and lowered her eyes, knowing the bard was trying very hard not to tell her what the problem was, "Thanks that means a lot to me."
Gabrielle thought about it for a minute and stood, "Look this is ridiculous. I cant help her if she wont tell you, and I cant tell you. Maybe you can figure it out on your own with a bit of help," the bard said with a grin.
"Great idea. Why dont we just act it out like in a play?"
the ghost said with a laugh.
The warrior thought about the young womans idea and felt it sounded like a strategically good idea, "Ok...Im listening," she replied, ready to play the bards game.
The bard smiled enjoying the chance to use her imagination. "What have you noticed has been sort of different in the last day?" she asked.
The warrior frowned at the cryptic clue. "Gabrielle can you be a bit more specific?" the frustrated warrior begged.
"Bad clue Gabrielle."
The bard shook her head realizing this might be harder than she thought. "Well I for one have noticed the word Xena being thrown around a lot."
"Uh that would be my fault Sis...sorry!"
The warrior thought about it and frowned, "Yeah I know. I figured she was just getting even with me for leaving her alone so much. I didnt say anything cause well I guess she has a right to be angry. You know weve been meeting so many strangers lately that Im never sure whether she should call me Xena or ."
The warrior face went blank.
"Thats it isnt it? This has something to do with meeting all these people and not being able to tell anyone shes my daughter," the warrior cringed.
"Xena you guessed it. Do you guys play this game a lot?"
The bard swallowed hoping she had just not given away the childs secret, "Hey I never said that."
"Ya know you have the most beautiful green eyes Gabrielle,"
Lyceus mooned, staring at the bard.
The warrior nodded, "No you did not my friend." "What about the fight?" she asked.
The bards eyes went cold as she paced around in circles. "Well lets just say I wouldnt mind five minutes alone with that Tetran myself," she hissed.
The warrior smiled at he friends flaring temper, "Whew! That bad huh? Well maybe its best you cant tell me," the warrior said with a curious grin.
"Oh tell her. Id love to see her kick a little butt while Im here."
The bard nodded, "I would say so."
Xena sat back and studied the stars again.
"Well Gabrielle this is a problem I already knew about. Tarren has been bringing it up here and there, and I have tried very hard to explained why its necessary to have her call me Xena. What more can I do? she asked, feeling the situation weighing heavily on her own shoulders.
"Well maybe you should spend some more time alone with her. Show her how you feel rather than just telling her. Maybe then shell open up to you. Oh and Xena I would say that Tarren started calling you Xena sort of hoping youd notice and maybe even be bothered by it," she whispered, wanting to point her friend in the right direction.
The warrior nodded, "Well I blew that one. I just figured it was best to let her have her mood. You know my mother is right. You are wiser than I give you credit for," the warrior said with a smile.
The bards face went blank. "YOUR mother said that about me?" she asked with a grin.
"Gods a girl my Mom would have even liked."
When Tarren awoke the following morning she was unhappy to find Xena was already gone from the bed. The youngster jumped from the pallet eager to search the inn. Gabrielle stopped the half-dressed youngster with a fast arm as the child rushed into the crowded inn wearing little more than a nightshirt.
"Hey where do you think youre going young lady? You need a bath and some clothes before you can make a debut in here," she said sternly, turning the child around and pushing her back toward the room.
"Wheres Xena?" the youngster asked, as she reluctantly was dragged back to the sleeping chamber.
The bard frowned wishing she had a complete answer to that question. The warrior had gone out quite early for a ride and had yet to return.
"She went out for a ride. Shell be back later. In the meantime its my turn to give you a bath," Gabrielle said with a grin.
Lyceus yawned as he rose from the floor and stretched out his shimmering form.
Gabrielle removed the childs nightshirt and motioned her to the already filled tub in the center of the room.
"Hey turn around," the child yelled to her uncle as the bard started to undress her.
the uncle moaned, facing the wall, his shimmer turning a bit red.
The bard gave the child a puzzled look but turned away so as not to embarrass the suddenly bashful child. "You know Ive seen your naked bottom more than a few times Tarren. Since when are you so shy?" she asked, waiting for the youngster to get in the tub.
Tarren waited to make sure her uncle had turned away and then yanked on Gabrielles arm. "Hey are you giving me a bath or not?" she asked, wondering if she had to stay in the cold draft all morning.
The bard turned to face the child once again. "I thought you wanted me to turn around while you got in," she said with a smirk, motioning the youngster into the tub.
Tarren quickly realized her signals and conversations were getting crossed once again. "Uh err Nah I was just teasing." the child replied, giving the water a quick splash. "I thought it was Momma I mean Xena who was giving me my baths now, and why didnt she take me riding with her?" the child asked quietly slipping into the large tub.
The bard sighed at the ease with which the child gave into a task she knew the little girl despised. Gabrielle had actually come to enjoy the challenge of bathing Tarren. This was too easy, and the bard knew that the childs thoughts were of her absent mother.
The bard began the washing process without any argument from the still form obediently sitting in the water. "I think she just wanted to go out and have some time alone. You know how she gets. Its that big strong warrior thing The village is getting a bit too crowded for her I think," the young woman replied, hoping the warrior would be back soon.
"Are you done yet?"
the ghost asked, tiring of watching the wall.
"No!" the child thundered.
"Tarren I swear shell be back," the young woman said sternly, wondering why the child would think otherwise.
Tarren sank her shoulders into the water and glanced at Gabrielle. "Momma Xena just didnt want me with her cause she s mad at me for not telling her what happened yesterday," the child moaned, biting her lip.
Gabrielle shook her head. "No Tarren she is not angry with you at all. She is worried about you. Your mom wants to help you and she doesnt know how. You dont know how hard that is for her. She loves you brat," the bard replied, playfully tugging at the youngsters wet hair.
The child said nothing but lowered her eyes not believing that her mother was anything but disappointed in her.
Gabrielle scrubbed the youngsters hair. "How about a story?" she asked, hoping to brighten the childs face while they both waited for Xena to return.
Tarren shrugged as if it didnt matter one way or the other.
"Oh yes please I love stories,"
the shimmering figure said starting to turn.
"Hey turn around Im not wearing any clothes," the child ordered her ghostly relative.
Gabrielle dropped the wash cloth. "Tarren I am not in the mood for these games of yours. I know you are in the tub and we dont generally bathe with clothes on young lady. Do you want to hear the story or not?" the bard asked, a bit frustrated by the childs pranks.
"Oh kid please Id love a story."
"Ok one more word and you have to leave," the child whispered to her uncle, leaning half way over the tub.
The bard got a firm grip on the child and forced her quickly back into the water. "Excuse me? Tarren Im trying to help you. I saved your little bottom last night. Ive been sticking up for you to Xena, and all Im getting in return is your lip. Ive had enough of it young lady," the bard scolded, in a parental tone, she was unaware she even possessed.
Tarren sank in the tub under the bards reprimand. "Im sorry I didnt mean anything," the child replied, giving the young woman her best wide-eyed look.
Gabrielle turned her head, took a deep breath and nodded, "Thats more like it, but one more little comment and youll be on your own with Xena," she warned, shaking her finger for emphasize.
"Yes maam," the child whispered, lowering her eyes.
Gabrielle threw her head back at being addressed in such a formal manner. Tarren never offered her that type of title nor did she expect it. The bard let out a deep breath and kissed the youngster on the cheek, fearing her scolding had been a bit harsh.
She patted the childs arm gently. "Ok I forgive you Now let me tell you about how Xena and I first met. You see I wasnt always the wise old woman you see before you," she said with a smile.
Tarren looked at her but said nothing.
"Oh I have to hear this,"
the ghost said.
Tarren frowned at her uncle but said nothing for fear of getting in more trouble.
Gabrielle looked surprised by the childs reaction. She had always loved any and all Xena stories.
"You want to hear something else?" she asked the sullen child.
The child glanced at her friend and shook her head. "No Gabby I wanna hear about how you met Xena," she replied.
Gabrielle stared at the childs uneasy expression and then began. "Well yeah...Ok I was actually from a small village called Potedia. My village had been attacked by these really bad men and I was being taken away to be sold as a slave. Anyway, your mom saved me all of us and I was so impressed with the way she stood up for us that I wanted to go with her when she left. I wanted excitement and adventure. I wanted to be just like Xena. So I asked her to take me with her," the young woman said with a grin, remembering the scene.
Tarren gave her uncle a glare but said nothing for fear she might offend the bard.
The child turned slightly to face the young woman, "And she said yes right?" the child asked, enjoying the story a bit.
The bard shook her head and smiled. "Nope actually she said NO!" she chuckled.
"Yup thats Xena cant stand a tag along."
The confused child threw her arms over the edge of the tub and stared at the bard. "Then howd you wind up traveling with her?" she asked, finally finding interest in the story.
The bard moved the wash cloth up and down the childs arms and neck. "Well I sort of followed her Believe me it wasnt easy. I nearly got eaten by a Cyclops," she recounted with a shiver.
The child grinned a bit at the thought of Gabrielle being on a plate, "So where was Xena going? Where did ya follow her to Gabby? Howd you get her to let ya stay?"
Lyceus chuckled and sat down and closed his eyes trying to imagine the adventure-taking place.
The bard grinned at the youngsters sudden barrage of questions. She was now sure she had the childs complete attention, "Well Xena was coming here...She wanted to see her mother. It had been years since she had been come home."
Tarren accepted a towel as she got out of the tub and then sat on the edge of the bed while Gabrielle gently brushed her hair.
"So she came here and well the people here were not to eager at first to see her...not even your grandmother," the bard said with a frown.
"Why?" the youngster asked, finding it hard to imagine anyone not welcoming her mother openly.
The bard stumbled a bit, realizing she had just wandered into a shady area.
Xena had told Tarren how she had once been a bad warlord and hurt many people and how she was trying to make up for all the bad things she had ever done. The warrior wanted her daughter to understand that she was not always a good person and that she had made many mistakes in her past. However the warrior had never gone into too many details, fearing the child was not yet old enough to deal with it.
Gabrielle continued brushing the youngsters hair and stumbled a bit. She was trying very hard to make this story suitable for small ears without losing the moral.
"Well Tarren because The people here were remembering the old Xena. You know how your mom told you shed been really bad and then wanted to change. Well it was very hard for people to give her a chance to be different," the bard said quietly, awaiting the youngsters reaction.
Tarren popped up from the bed eager to defend her mother. "But why Momma was sorry she was bad. She wanted to be good. When Im really bad Momma spanks me," the child said with a frown. "But then tells me she loves me. Momma says that no matter what I do shell always love me and give me another chance. Why couldnt everyone just give her a chance? She is a Princess ya know?" the youngster informed the now smiling bard.
Gabrielle hugged the youngster. She was intrigued by the childs undying devotion.
The bard grinned at the little girls comparison of Xenas dark warlord days to the childs inability to stay off her warrior mothers knee.
"Well Tarren its not exactly the same thing, but I do agree with you. People should have been willing to let her change," the young woman said holding the child on her lap.
The child shrugged. "Grown-ups make everything tough. Momma and me have our very own system. Wanna hear?" the child asked eagerly.
The bard nodded knowing quite well what the "system" was, but interested in Tarrens interpretation.
The child leaned back against the bards shoulder. "Well If Im good and I do what Im told then I can have almost anything I want Except for things Momma says I shouldnt have like swords and stuff and well a pony," the child stated leaning back in the grinning bards arms.
"If I dont do what Im told or Im bad then she Momma says Ill get nothing but my bottom warmed. That makes us both sad," the child said glumly. Gabby why do they call it getting your bottom warmed? It sure feels awful hot when Momma does it?" the youngster asked, a bit lost in her own train of thought.
The bard smiled at the childs innocent assessment of how simple the world should be. Gabrielle was grateful to be invited into the little girls private thoughts and find they were so filled with love and understanding.
"I dont know Tarren. Maybe because not everyone is lucky enough to have Xena as their mom," the bard replied with a tear, realizing how much the child truly loved her mother without question. Xena set the rules and Tarren understood that and accepted it happily. Life was quite simple to her and for that Gabrielle was grateful.
"Well I still think grown-ups make a big deal over stuff, " the child moaned.
"I agree," the young woman said, squeezing the child gently, wishing she herself could see the world that way again.
Lyceus lowered his eyes knowing that his sister had suffered far more than anyone had ever realized. His death had been put her over the edge. That was a burden he carried on his shoulders even now.
"Well now everyone knows shes good. She helps people and stuff. Right?" the child, asked hopefully.
The bard smiled and stroked the childs back. Xena was right. The youngster would never accept the idea that anyone could not adore her mother. "Yup!" the young woman replied, knowing in her own heart how much the warrior had given and lost in the past few years while trying to make amends.
Tarren smiled at the happy ending and quickly realized the story was not yet over.
She turned around and faced her friend, eager for the story to continue, "So what happened next gabby?" she asked as the bard ran the towel over the still wet youngster.
"Well...lets see I sort of showed up and helped Xena out by talking the villagers out of err yelling at her," the young woman said quickly, not thinking an image of the villagers wanting to stone her mother was a good one for the child to have.
The youngsters jaw dropped open, "You saved Xena?" she asked with a smile.
The bard nodded. "Well sort of, but hey you know we look out for each other Tarren. Thats how it is between friends. She watches my back and I watch hers, and we both watch yours," she replied, tweaking the little girls nose.
Tarren lay against the bards shoulder. "Tell me more," the child demanded.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms gently around the small form. "Well there were these bad men that were gonna attack the village and Xena fought the leader, and won. That made them all leave. After that she and Cyrene started well trying to become friends again."
"That was a really nice story. You were right to leave out all the bad spots. No kid should ever hear that stuff about her mom or sister.
Tarren eyed the bard strangely as she tugged at the heavy towel around her body. "So howd you get to travel with Xena? If she said no When Momma says no it usually means No," the youngster stated.
The bard grinned as she reached for the childs clothes. "Well she tried to send me away, but I followed her. I was planning to stick with her until she needed help, but I wasnt very good at making fires and stuff back then, so I wandered into her camp. I guess she sort of felt bad for me because she didnt try and send me away the way I thought she would. As a matter of fact Tarren for a long time I really thought she would send me home. I knew I caused her a lot of trouble, so I was just always sure she was going to send me away, but she never did. We were friends We became best friends Family and now here we are," the young woman finished.
"Xenas lucky to have you Gabrielle and so is Tarren,"
Lyceus said, kissing the bards forehead.
The youngster thought about the bards story. "Well if you were just a villager. Howd you learn to fight with the staff and howd you become and Amazon Princess and how ."
Gabrielle silenced the child with the wave of a hand.
"Tarren thats another story for another time. Now lets get you dressed." she said with a grin.
The youngster dodged the young womans efforts to take her towel and dress her, wanting instead to hear more about the adventures.
"Gabby how come you never tell anyone about the story where you saved Xena?" she asked.
The bard tried once again to reach for the youngsters towel, but the child took a fast step away. "Tarren your mom is the real hero to the world. I just watch her back while she working. My job is to always bring up the rear," she said with a smile.
Tarren ran across the other side of the room not wishing to be dressed. "Doesnt it bother you when people think youre just a bard?" she asked not wanting to hurt her friends feelings.
The young woman tried in vain to circle around and grab the child. She sighed and dropped back on the pallet deciding eventually Xena would return and deal with this part of the chase herself.
The bard sat on the bed and eventually the youngster sat beside her waiting for an answer. Gabrielle shook her head and glanced down at the difficult child. She smiled and placed a gentle arm around the youngster.
"Tarren when you are sure of yourself you have nothing to prove to anyone else," she replied with conviction.
The youngster shook her head. "But Gabby Ive seen you fight. Mommas told me how much youve helped her and how you risked your life to save people. Dont you want people to know who you are?" the little girl asked.
Gabrielle laughed and wrapped her arms around the youngster, "No Tarren it doesnt matter much...Ok sometimes it bothers me but for the most part I realized that it doesnt matter what other people think. I proved myself to me and I think I proved myself to Xena and thats all thats important. Its only important what the people I care about think of me, and Xena and I hope you, know who I am and thats good enough. But mostly its important what I think of myself. We know who we are and we dont have to prove anything to strangers Tarren," Gabrielle said with a hug and a gentle smile, hoping the child understood the depth of the message she was trying to share.
"Thats what Momma said We shouldnt care what other people say or think," the child murmured, wondering if her mother would ever return.
Tarren shrugged off the fear and looked up at the bard. "So howd you prove yourself to Xena?" the child asked.
The bard shook her head, "Well kid That took a long time, and a lot of mistakes, but your mom tried to be patient and was always there to bail me out when I needed her help."
"Yeah and Gabrielle bailed me out on more than just a few occasions herself, but she always leaves that part out of the story as well," A husky voice said from the doorway.
Tarrens eyes flew open as she saw the tall muscular figure of her mother leaning against he doorframe.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded knowingly at her friend.
"Xena youre back. I thought you wanted to be alone," the youngster yelled, sliding over to the warrior and standing before her.
The warrior mother grinned at the child wearing nothing but a towel, staring up at her.
"Nope! What I was really hoping was youd be up when I got back, so Id have someone to spend the day with," the warrior replied, rubbing the side of the little girls face.
The youngster grinned and hugged her mothers waist. The warrior mother lifted the child into her arms and squeezed her tightly.
"So are you up for a little riding and fishing little one?" she asked staring into the eyes of her young daughter.
The child nodded quickly, "Yes maam!" the child responded.
Xena nodded and placed the little girl on the ground, "Good then get yourself some breakfast and well get started."
The child started to sprint out of the room, but was quickly grabbed around the waste by her warrior mother.
"Not so fast little girl I would really appreciate it if you put some clothes on first," the mother said dropping the child on the pallet.
The bard watched with a smile as the warrior easily got the child to dress. When the warrior finally pulled the tunic over the youngsters head the child was pronounced dressed. Xena wiped a few stray hairs from the little girls face staring lovingly at her young daughters innocent face.
Xena took a deep breath and gave the child a gentle swat across her bottom to send her on her way. "Go!" she said with a grin, pointing toward the kitchen.
Tarren hugged her mother and jumped off the bed. She ran over and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.
"Thanks for the story Gabby," she whispered and vaulted out of the room eager to spend the day with her mother.
Xena smiled at the bard. "That was a great story. A little lacking in detail, but a nicely told thank you," she said softly, sitting on the pallet.
Gabrielle nodded. "Well I sort of hoped it might help to let her know that in time she wont care what anyone thinks."
The warrior smiled. "Gabrielle, Do you ever regret ."
The bard threw up a halting hand.
"Xena the answer was and always will be no. I would not change my life for anything. You are my best friend, and for as much as I know Tarren fills the empty spot that losing Solan left. She fills a part of what I lost had things been different with Hope If that makes any sense," she said lowering her head, hoping her friend would not mind the comparison.
Xena approached the bard and put a gentle arm around her shoulder. "It makes all the sense in the world, and someday I hope that kid realizes how truly lucky she is to have you around," the warrior said with a gentle grin.
The bard wiped a tear from her eye. "Hey dont get all mushy on me warrior. I have work to do on my scrolls and you have a very anxious little girl waiting to spend a day with her mother," she replied, trying to hold onto her emotions.
Lyceus expression was dark and there were tears in his eyes. "Gods I have missed so much!"
Chapter 8 Truth be Told
Tarren skidded to a halt in the kitchen. "Hi Grandma," she said with a sly grin.
The older woman nodded, "Hello Tarren and where are you off to in such a hurry?" she asked, wondering why the child was not in her room.
The youngster smiled as she downed a few biscuits and drank mug of milk that Cyrene put before her. "Momma is taking me riding and fishing again today," the little girl answered with a smile.
The older woman frowned, "Oh really I thought you would at least be spending some time in your room," the grandmother replied stiffly.
The child nodded at the frustrated older woman. "Ya know grandma I thought so too but Momma said she wants me to go, and shes the boss," the youngster grinned.
Cyrene frowned at her daughters failure to discipline the child appropriately and returned to her cooking. "Yes she is I guess," she said quietly.
The child thought about the story the bard had shared with her and wondered if Xena had ever needed to prove herself to anyone. There seemed to be no greater source of information around than the all-knowing grandmother.
"Grandma can I ask you a question?" the child asked, chewing on her biscuit.
Cyrene studied the little girls innocent smile and nodded.
"Did Momma ever have to prove anything when she was a kid?" she asked, hoping she was not giving away too much.
The older woman looked at the child. "What do you mean dear?" she asked, giving the child a puzzled look.
"Well I mean did Momma ever do anything cause she wanted to show everyone she was ya know good enough to be I dunno," The childs words fell short and the old woman smiled.
The grandmother smiled at the youngsters question. "Oh I see Well I do remember once when Xena was about 14 she wanted to compete in the boys athletic competitions. I said no because I felt it was...well...not very lady like," Cyrene said with the wave of a hand.
The youngster frowned, "Well dear I thought I was raising a young lady not a Warrior Princess."
The child grinned deciding that this was too old a mistake to be angry with her grandmother over.
"Err... Mom that would this may not be a good story to tell her,"
Lyceus warned as he moved into the kitchen beside Tarren.
"Shh," the child admonished the ghost.
"Well dear do you want to hear or not?" the grandmother asked, confused by the youngsters reaction.
"Yes Grandma," the child replied with a chuckle.
"Well Xena got angry with me and the boys all teased her because she didnt get to enter. My Xena did not like being teased. She told them shed take them on one at a time or all at once, but the boys knew better even then," the older woman fondly.
"They sure did,"
Lyceus said proudly.
Tarren smiled wanting more of this story. "So what did she do?" she asked.
Cyrenes smile faded and her face went blank. "Xena told them that she was going to climb Mt. Polis. It is the tallest peak here and there are all kinds of jagged edges that run along the cliffs. Grown men dont dare climb it, so Xena had to prove that she was different that she was special that she was one of a kind," the older woman responded, lost in the memory.
"She still is Mom...She still is."
The childs eyes grew wide, "And did she? Did she climb it?"
The older woman smiled at the excitement in the child's eyes. She led the youngster to the window and pointed to a large mountain just in the distance.
"You see that mountain little one. That is Mt. Polis and atop that mountain sits a small flag made from an old piece of cloth. It has Xenas name on it, and on a clear day, you can see the little flag still flying in the wind. No one has ever climbed that mountain accept my daughter," Cyrene stated with pride.
"I asked her if I could come and she said no,"
The child stared at the large mountain and swallowed hard. "Momma climbed that when she was just a kid?" she asked, staring at the tall rock formation in the distance.
Cyrene nodded, "Yes and no boy or man ever dared to tease her again after that. They all knew that there was something special about her. She was one of a kind," she whispered, staring off into the mountain of memories.
"Ya know Mom you just gave me a great idea!"
The childs eyes were lost in a trance of the cliffs in the distance trying hard to see the small flag.
"Hey what are you two looking at?" a husky voice said from behind as she hoisted her youngster up in the air and over her shoulder.
Cyrene looked at her daughter and grinned. "Oh we were just having a little walk down memory lane," she replied, returning to her work.
Xena put the child down on the counter. "Mom were gonna be out all day so dont hold supper for us Ok?" she asked, kissing her mothers cheek.
Cyrene nodded. "Yes dear I heard. Xena do you really think ."
The warrior stopped her. "Yes mother I really do think. Come on Tarren. Those fish wont wait all day ya know," she said grabbing the little girl and heading out of the kitchen.
"Bye Grandma," the child said quietly.
The older woman shook her head. "Enjoy yourselves children," Cyrene replied with a frown, feeling she was watching two children depart instead of one.
Xena gave her mother a quick stare and just walked away with Tarren hanging over her shoulder.
Xena left Tarren outside the inn door and headed for the barn. "You wait right here while I saddle Argo," the mother ordered
Tarren nodded and obediently sat herself under a small tree.
"So its a day of fishing and swimming huh? Well I cant wait. Xena was always lots of fun to play with,"
the shimmering figure said, making his way through the inn door.
Tarren looked over at her Uncle and bit her lip. "Uncle Lyceus. Do you mind if just Momma and me go? I mean can you stay here?" she asked, wanting a little privacy and not eager to risk anymore trouble.
The ghost shrugged. "Sure if thats what you want, but what about the plan? I think I have a great idea for a new plan," he answered, disappointed at not being able to follow.
Tarren smiled. "Later Ok?" she asked.
"Oh Ok sure Ill be here waiting . All alone ."
"Go play with Gabrielle ." the child suggested, deciding the two could play nicely together.
The uncle smiled. "Yeah that could be lots of fun," he said shimmering back into the inn.
Tarren sighed with relief as she watched him go. She saw her mother leading the war-horse from the stall and eagerly rushed to her side.
After a fast ride on Argo Tarrens eyes were open wide and full of life. It did Xenas heart good to see her daughter smile so brightly after a night of misunderstood tears. The warrior decided to return to the familiar willow she and her daughter had enjoyed just days earlier. Xena jumped off of Argo pulling Tarren slowly down behind her.
"Well did we go fast enough for ya monster?" she asked tossing the little girl in the air.
The youngster shook her head, "Nope!"
The warrior smiled knowing her child was being quite honest. No matter how fast she made Argo gallop, Tarren always wanted it to be faster.
"When will you teach me to ride?" the child asked, reaching up to pat the war-horses neck.
Xena grinned, looked at Argo and then her daughter, "When you can stay ."
The child finished the sentence for her mother. "Out of trouble for a month straight thats what I thought," she said with a frown, having heard the words so may times before.
The child just shrugged and patted Argos side once again. "Sorry girl. It looks like Im never gonna get to drive," the youngster with a sigh.
Tarren kicked a stone with her boot to let her mother know she was not satisfied with the arrangement, but then headed for the water, pole in hand.
Xena eyed the mare and smiled. "Well thats one less thing I need to worry about at the moment," she whispered to the horse.
Tarren was hard enough to keep hold of on foot. Xena had terrible visions of what it might be like to track her if she was given control of a horse.
Xena moved beside her daughter and cast Tarrens line far out into the stream and handed the child her pole.
"Xena how come you took me fishing today?" the youngster asked, still hoping the Xena plan might have some success.
"Could it be that I just wanted to spend a day with my daughter?" she asked with a grin confused by her child still referring to her as Xena.
The youngster shrugged, "I dunno Is that why? Yesterday I figured I was in trouble, and today you take me fishing. I dont get it," the little girl said staring up at her muscular mother.
The warrior tasseled her daughters hair and gave her a crooked grin, "Tarren stop trying to figure everything out and just be happy were here Lets just enjoy the day. Ok?"
The child bit her lip and nodded deciding fewer questions were better at the moment.
After a day of fishing and riding Tarren happily sat beside a fire watching Xena try and cook the fish they had caught, "Well it may not be as good as Gabrielles but I think its edible," the warrior said with a smile.
The child looked at her mother and took the plate of food not saying a word but merely staring at the food.
"Xena can I ask you something?" the child said slowly, pushing the food on her plate around.
The warrior sat beside her daughter and nodded. "Sure whats on your mind?" she asked, staring down at the child beside her.
"Well I was wondering Are you ever sorry you found me?" the youngster asked, lowering her eyes and waiting for a response.
The warriors smile faded and she put the plate down, quickly reaching out and pulling the child to her feet. "NO! Of course not! Why would you ever say a thing like that?" she asked, her voice filled with a frightened mothers angst.
The youngster merely lowered her eyes again. "Well I mean...I would understand if you were. I do get in a lot of trouble, and you do get awful mad at me sometimes," she replied tilting her head a bit so she could see her mothers eyes.
The warrior mother let out a long breath and gently pulled the child into her arms. "Tarren come here baby," she said placing the youngster in the center of her lap.
"First of all, I didnt find you, I went looking for you. Theres a big difference. When I found out I had a daughter all I wanted was to find her to find you. I never knew what a wonderful, loving, special little girl you were until you came to be such a big part of my life. Cant you understand that are the greatest gift Ive ever been given?" she asked, wrapping her arms tightly around the youngster.
"I dont feel like a gift. How come Im always getting in so much trouble?" the child whispered, letting her head drop on her mothers shoulder.
Xena smiled at the question. "Well because youre my daughter and trouble is sort of in your blood. But Tarren I only scold you or punish you because I love you. You know that. I want to make sure you grow up right and learn all the things that you need to learn. So when you do something wrong straightening you out is part of my job. Its not the best part but still something I have to do because I care about you. Do you understand?" the warrior asked, giving her child a gentle squeeze.
"What is the best part?" the youngster asked with a grin, anxious to know how she actually made her mothers life better.
Xena stood cradling the child in her arms. "Moment just like this little one," she whispered, kissing the youngsters forehead.
Tarren smiled at the gentle touch of her mothers hands and the soft smile the warrior was offering. She quickly threw her arms around her mothers neck. "I like being with you too," she said with a giggle.
Xena tossed the little girl in the air playfully. "Thats because Im and such a good cook right?" she asked with a wicked grin.
Tarren laughed loudly as her mother playfully pinned her to the ground but refused to answer her mothers question.
The warrior twisted her face into a playful smile and started the familiar ritual of tickling the child into submission.
"Am I a good cook?" she asked, running her fingers wildly across the little girls side.
"Nope!" came the muffled little voice.
"Hey is that any way to talk to your mother?" Xena asked with a grin, as she pulled the child to her feet and handed her back her plate.
"Sorry but you said Im not allowed to lie," the youngster replied with a grin.
"You are such a little monster. Just for that you get two helpings," the warrior said with a wicked smile, adding more fish to the plate.
Tarrens eyes went wide as she stared at the large pile of burned food on her plate. She glanced at her smiling mother. "Do I really have to eat this?" she asked wide-eyed, wondering how long that it would be before she spit it up.
Xena looked at the food on the childs plate and then on her own and tossed them both away. "Nah you dont deserve my cooking," the warrior replied with mock frustration.
Tarren stared at her mothers expression and frowned. "Im sorry Ill eat it if you want me too," the youngster offered, thinking she had hurt her mothers feelings.
Xena smiled at her daughters concern. "Its Ok baby. It didnt smell to good to me either," she replied with a chuckle, handing the youngster a portion of cheese and bread from her saddlebags.
Tarren sighed with relief thankful she had not truly offended her mother. Her eyes lowered a bit as she pondered the events of the day before.
"Xena can I tell you a secret?" she asked, not sure how well this was going to be received.
The warrior mother leaned on the log her daughter was sitting on, stretching out her long legs. "Sure you can, but then I get to tell you one too Ok?" she replied, anxious for her daughter to share her demons.
The youngster thought about it and smiled, "Yeah Id like that Xena," she said, sliding off the log right beside her mother.
"Promise you wont laugh?" the child asked, staring at her mother with a serious look of concern.
"I promise," the warrior said, holding up her hand up to show her promise would be kept.
Tarren grinned and then tried to begin her story. "Well I have I mean ." the child started, stumbling over her words.
"Tarren what is it?" Xena asked leaning in close, and placing a concerned hand on her childs shoulder.
The youngster felt her teeth sinking into her lower lip. "Well Uncle Lyceus has been sort of staying with me. He wont let you see him. Is that Ok I mean that he stays a little while?" she asked, forgetting she had never asked for permission to have a guest.
Xena covered her mouth with her hand hiding a smile. She quickly regained her composure and gave the child her most serious look.
"Well he is family, so I guess he can stay for a little while as long as he behaves himself," the warrior mother said, finding it hard to hide her amusement at her daughters inventing an imaginary relative.
The youngster sighed with relief grateful her mother was being so understanding.
"Well Ya see Xena He says hes trying to help, but all hes done is get me in trouble," she moaned, slumping against the log with dramatic gesture.
The warrior mother folded her arms tightly against her chest and smiled as she watched her daughter immediately imitate the motion. "Hmm that could be a problem. So its Uncle Lyceus that keeps getting you in trouble?" she asked with a nod.
The youngster nodded. Uh huh I dont want to hurt his feelings, but I dont know how to make him leave," the child said quietly, staring up at her mother for an answer.
Xena closed her eyes and thought the situation over. She knew it was wrong to tell her daughter she didnt believe her, but she didnt want the youngster blaming a "ghost" for her own misdeeds.
"Well Tarren a ghost can only stay with permission. If you ask him to leave and really mean it then he has to go. Its in the first scroll on haunting," the warrior replied, acting as if she were still considering the problem.
The youngsters ears perked up. "Ya mean it. All I have to do is tell him to go and he has to leave?" she asked, her voice filled with excitement.
"Yup," the warrior said her composure still stoic.
Tarren slid back against her mothers side and smiled, "Then Ill ask him to leave sometime maybe," she replied, wanting to give the matter more thought.
"Good then maybe youll stay out of trouble," Xena said, closing her eyes as if making it a prayer.
The child stretched out her arms and shrugged. "Maybe," she said simply.
"Maybe? Ill give you a maybe," the warrior mother mumbled.
The child smiled and said nothing.
Xena patted her lap signaling the youngster to approach. Tarren eagerly flopped on her mothers legs and nestled against her shoulder anxious for a quick cuddle.
"Now then I guess its my turn right?" she asked positioning the child in her arms.
"Sure Xena," the youngster said with a giggle.
The warrior mother frowned. "Ya see thats just what I wanted to ask you
Why are you calling me Xena? I thought you liked calling me Momma," the mother said with a soft smile.
Tarren nodded, "I do You are my Momma," the child replied quietly, patting her mothers arm.
"Uh huh Then why did you stop?" she asked, confused by her daughters mixture of emotions.
"Well Will Uncle Lyceus get in trouble if I tell ya?" she asked, trying to decide if this was snitching.
Xena rolled her eyes a bit and then shook her head. "Uh no I promise your uncle will not get in any trouble," she replied, trying to contain her amusement at her daughters childish game.
"Well Ok then Ya see Xena uncle Lyceus told me to stop calling ya Momma, so youd really miss it I didnt understand it, but he said it was part of his plan. He said that if I was gonna get what I wanted then I had to listen to him. Uncle Lyceus said I might even get a pony," the child stated matter of factly.
Xena bit her lip and nodded thinking she had just figured out her childs strategy. "Oh I see So this was all Uncle Lyceus idea and he has a plan Thats great and you might even get a pony Boy that must be some plan," she answered, trying to hide the angst in her voice.
"So whats your secret Xena?" the youngster asked leaning in close eager for the exchange.
The warrior mother smiled and pulled the youngster in closer. "Well ya see when you started calling me Xena yesterday I didnt say anything. I was actually pretty upset, but I figured that you were just having a really bad day and were all allowed at least one bad day once in a while," she began.
"I have lots of bad days," the child said with a frown.
"I know baby and were gonna fix that. Ya see I have a plan too," she whispered.
Tarren turned around excited by yet another big idea that she was to be a part of.
"Really what?" she asked, her voice filled with youthful awe.
Xena repositioned the child on her lap. "Well let me explain this first. Ya see yesterday was a bad day, but today is a whole new day Tarren. Now you and I have talked about why you have to call me Xena in public, but when you call me Xena in private or when were not with strangers its not right," the warrior said with a quick nod.
"Why Xena?" the child asked with a playful grin, knowing this was one of those moments.
The warrior shook her head at the youngsters failure to get the point.
"Well because Im your mother and you should care about my feelings and show me respect. Its one thing to do something because youre trying to protect someone. Thats a good thing. Its sort of another to do something to try and well get something you want or get your way like you said Uncle Lyceus told you to do Thats a bad thing. Do you think Lyceus will understand?" she asked quietly, rubbing her daughters arm gently.
"No not really Xena," the little girl replied, sure he would not.
The warrior mother tapped Tarrens leg and let out a short breath knowing her child was now being purposely stubborn. She leaned back and held her child tightly.
"Well then allow me to make this very simple for both of you. When we are in public you must call me Xena because we dont want bad people knowing who you are. However any other time you will call me Mother, Mom, or Momma but not Xena
Do you understand little one?" she asked in a stern parental tone.
The child nodded realizing that revealing everything about the plan might not have been such a good idea. Lyceus was not gonna be happy at the way things turned around.
"Yes Momma," the youngster replied, lowering her eyes under her mothers constant stare.
"Good! Because if I ever think you are calling me Xena for any other reason you know like because you want a pony and I wont get it for you. Well then I know a little girl who is gonna get a very sore little bottom from both her mother and Xena. Now Shh it is our secret. Do we understand each other youngster?" she asked gently squeezing the childs shoulder.
"Yes Momma," the little voice murmured.
The warrior smiled. "Now thats more like it. I have truly missed hearing that word little girl," she said kissing her daughters cheek.
Tarren looked up at her mothers gentle expression realizing for the first time that her mother really had been upset by the absence of being called Momma. The threat actually thrilled the child because she knew it meant that Xena liked having her as a daughter.
The more the child considered it, the happier she became.
"Ya mean it? You really have missed it Momma?" she asked, overflowing with excitement.
The warrior nodded. "Of course I have. How many times have I told you I hate hearing you say Xena?" she asked a bit surprised that her daughter was taking her serious warning about manipulation with such joy.
Tarren threw her arms around her mothers neck. "Ya really mean it. Youd give me a real spankin if I called you Xena right now?" the child asked, eager for a response.
Xena let out a quick breath. "Yup Care to test it and make sure?" the warrior asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Uh No Momma I believe you No need have a test," the child replied, quickly burying herself under her mothers large arm.
Xena grinned at the innocence of her young daughter and kissed the childs forehead. "You can baffle the mind sometimes little one," she said with a smirk.
Tarren grinned. While she was still not yet able to call Xena her mother in public and she had yet to get a pony, she knew that she was at least important enough to her mother to have the warrior make such a big deal out of being called Momma. Somehow that gave the child a warm feeling and made the fact that she couldnt share it with the world just a bit less important.
Tarren lay on her mothers lap considering all she had said and remembering what Gabrielle had told her about family. She picked her head up and glanced at her mothers soft expression.
"Momma if I tell you why I hit Tetran will I get punished?" she asked, fingering the warriors armor as she spoke.
The warrior mother tilted her head. "Theres a chance. It really depends on why you did it, so you have to decide whether its worth the risk baby," she responded, looking down at her daughter.
The child considered it and shrugged leaning in a little closer to her mothers shoulder for comfort, "Well I dont want to keep a secret from you even if it does get me Ill get in trouble," the child said with a shrug.
Xena wrapped her arms around her small daughter, hoping that the youngsters decision would not put her in a position of having to punish this child whose love she needed so much.
"Well then go ahead," the warrior mother whispered, preparing her self for anything.
The little girl let out a long sigh, "I wasnt gonna hit him Momma. Grandmother made me talk to Tetran and Milo while she went inside. I tried to go to my room like you said, but she said I had to be polite. Then Tetran said you only kept me with you to polish your boots," the child muttered, focusing her eyes on the flames in the fire.
The warrior mother closed her eyes tightly, realizing for the first time how difficult things could be for Tarren to explain to strangers. "So thats why you hit him?" she asked, lifting the little girl into her arms.
The youngster shook her head and Xena noticed a tear running down Tarrens cheek. "No Momma I hit him cause he called me a little ." The youngster stopped, remembering Gabrielles warning about repeating this word.
"Can I whisper it Momma?" she asked, staring into her mothers large blue eyes.
Xena swallowed and leaned her head down for the child to speak in her ear. The warrior mothers eyes flew open and the blue gentle pools turned quickly into a rage of angry waves. The warrior mother bit her lip trying to control the anger she was feeling inside.
"THATS why you hit him? she asked, sorry she hadnt been there to cover the youngsters ears and deal with Tetran herself.
The youngster nodded. "Im sorry Momma. He was just sort of smiling when he said it and I know I shouldnt have hit him, but Uncle Lyceus said I should, so I did. I mean I have been called a little. " she began.
Xena silenced her by placing her large hand over the little girls mouth. "Dont you dare repeat that ever again," the warrior scolded.
Tarrens mouth shut quickly not sure what everyones fascination with this word was. She settled back against her mothers tight grip and noticed the muscles on Xenas body were now taught and the child was sure she was in for it.
"Momma am I gonna get in trouble for hitting Tetran?" the child whispered.
The warrior broke her concentration on her own thoughts of revenge and stared down at her young daughter. "No Of course not Tarren why didnt you come to me? Why didnt you tell me?" she asked her voice tender but filled with angst.
The youngster shrugged her shoulders not sure of what to say. "Well I didnt want to cause you anymore trouble Momma. You were already mad at me, and besides he wasnt so big. I didnt need you to hit him for me," she replied with a grin.
Xena closed her eyes, smiled and opened her arms. The little girl happily put her arms around her mothers neck and the warrior hugged her protectively.
"Tarren hes just a kid. I wouldnt have hit him much...I would have gone to his father and let him deal with it probably Nobody has the right to ever say anything like that to you. You are my daughter, and nobody talks to you like that. Do you understand?" she asked, shaking the child a bit to emphasize the strength of her feelings.
The child nodded slowly as the tears ran down her cheeks. "Yes maam Ill tell you if someone says it again, but its really no big deal. Im not even sure what the word means. Uncle Lyceus said I should tell you, but I didnt think youd really want to know since Well since I just didnt think youd want to know," she said with a sniffle.
Xena shook her head and brought her youngster in close, "It is a big deal a very big deal and you just make sure that you never bother to find out what the word means. Your Uncle Lyceus was right. You should have told me," the warrior said, wishing her brother had truly been there to offer her daughter comfort.
"Im sorry Momma," the child said in a whisper.
Xena picked the little girls chin up with a single finger and shook her head, "No Im the one, who is sorry," the warrior answered with a broken voice hugging her child tightly.
"Momma?" the youngster whispered.
"Yes baby?" the mother replied in a tender voice.
"When you were a kid did you really say Toben was a Centaurs butt?" she asked, eager for an answer.
The warriors mouth dropped open not quite sure how to respond, and wondering just how her daughter might have known such a secret from her youth.
Chapter 9 - Like Mother like Daughter
Xena kicked the heels of the Great War horse into a gallop and quickly made it back to the village. It was past dark when she arrived and Tarren was fast asleep in her arms when she entered the inn. All the pain and suffering her daughter had been feeling was now rushing through her own body. Xena could feel the rage burning inside of her every time she looked into the innocent young face of the child sleeping in her arms.
Xena closed the door behind her eager to put Tarren to bed and pay a visit to an old friend. When she turned she saw Cyrene and Gabrielle sitting with Toben. The man got to his feet with a smile, but the warrior was past happy reunions.
"Gabrielle would you please put Tarren to bed?" Xena asked, handing the bard the sleeping child.
"Oh Xena am I glad you are here. Mom thinks Tarren is gonna apologize for hitting the little weasel. You wont let that happen will ya?"
he asked staring down at his slumbering niece. "Gee shes cute
Looks like me dont ya think?"
The bard stared at her friend for a moment. "Xena whats " the young woman began.
The warrior flashed her a look that told the bard all she needed to know. "Yup thats the look I thought Id see when Tarren told you," she murmured, taking the child back toward the room.
Lyceus stood in front of his sister and saw the look of rage in her eyes. "Uh Oh move the furniture. Shes gonna hit someone and Zeus if your listening please let it be Toben," the uncle begged.
"So Xena my old friend has that little scamp been keeping out of trouble?" Toben asked with a smile, reaching out a friendly arm.
Gabrielle turned back to see Xenas fist crashing into Tobens nose and the man go crashing to the floor. The bard looked at the stirring figure in her arms and rushed back to the privacy of the sleeping chambers.
"Oh no this is not for you to see," she whispered, knowing Tarren had enough fight in her without needing encouragement from seeing her mother hit Toben.
"Ooh that had to hurt. Well Sis I see you still have that soft touch of yours,
" the uncle said with a grin.
Cyrene jumped to her feet and stood in front of her daughter. "Xena what is the meaning of this? Why did you hit Toben?" she demanded to know.
The warrior straightened up and stared down at her childhood nemesis. "Because his son is too young for me to hit right now," she replied evenly.
Toben slowly got to his feet wiping the blood from his lip, "Xena by the gods what is it with you people?" he asked steadying himself from the blow.
Cyrene stood in front of her daughter making no effort to control her anger. "Now you may be the great Warrior Princess to the rest of the world, but here you are my daughter, and I want an explanation now!" Cyrene scolded.
"Yikes! Sis I havent seen her that mad since we buried Toben up to his neck in dirt,"
the uncle said with a laugh.
Xena let her eyes drop from her target and nodded at the older woman.
"Ok Mother You want to know why I hit him? You want to know why Tarren hit Tetran?" she asked.
The older woman nodded and Xena reached down and whispered the answer in Cyrenes ear. It wasnt long before it was Xena restraining her own mother from taking a swing at the already bloodied Toben.
"Oh Xena let her go. Better yet get her the frying pan. I have always wanted to see her use that,"
Hearing the loud commotion of voices, Gabrielle raced back into the room, "Ok! Ok that is enough of the hitting, and will you all quiet down before you wake Tarren," the young woman scolded. "You are supposed to be setting examples for that child and look at you," she admonished.
"To think I was gonna marry you,"
the uncle said folding his arms and leaning against the bar.
Xena and Cyrene each took a step back both lowering their eyes a bit. Toben stood safely beside the bard and sighed with relief.
"Thank You Gabrielle. Now will someone please tell me what is going on here," Toben asked, still wiping the blood from his lip.
The bard looked at the warrior and Cyrene and quickly realized that the job of telling this man had fallen to her. She leaned over and whispered what the man's son had said to Tarren and the fathers jaw dropped. Suddenly he started laughing.
"Thats what this is all about. Look Ill admit Tetran should not have said what he said, but between us grownups what s the big deal. She is a little bastard isnt she?" he asked with a wide smile.
Before Xena or Cyrene could reach him the bard had knocked the man out cold with one good punch.
The warrior and her mother stood staring at Gabrielle. The angry bard glanced down at the now unconscious man and shook her head.
"I really dont like that word," she scolded to the fallen Toben.
Lyceus just stood still with his mouth wide open and staring at Gabrielle.
The young woman then turned to Xena holding her hand up in the air. "Ouch!" she groaned as she tried to move it.
The warriors expression quickly changed from shock to a smirk.
"Gabrielle nice shot Hand hurts doesnt it?" she asked with a proud smile, examining the bards wrist.
"I think I broke it," she squeaked.
Xena flexed it a bit, "Nope but you definitely sprained it. Mother lets get killer here some cold clothes. Ill put the trash out for ya," Xena said staring down at Toben.
The warrior lifted the man to his feet, "Wakey...wakey old friend time for you to go," she said grabbing the man by the scruff of the neck and tossing him out the door.
When the smiling warrior turned around, she was met by a small figure rubbing her eyes, standing in the hallway half-dressed and only half awake.
"What happened?" the child asked with a yawn.
Xena bit her lip and looked at Gabrielle.
Cyrene was putting cold clothes on her hand and smiling until she saw Tarren.
"Gabby what s wrong with your hand?" the child asked skidding over to her friends side.
The bard tried to smile, "Oh its nothing. I just sort of ran it into something," she said glancing at the warrior for help.
Xena looked at her mother and then the bard and frowned knowing the responsibility of explanation was on her shoulders. The warrior mother swept the youngster into her arms and headed for the room.
"Hey you know your not even supposed to be up little girl," the mother said with a grin.
Lyceus still had not moved.
Tarren yawned as she lay in her mothers strong arms. " But I heard a noise, and it woke me up," the little girl replied innocently.
Xena finished undressing her child and placed the youngster in the bed, pulling the covers around her.
"Momma what did Gabby run her hand into?" she asked looking up at her mother for answers.
The warrior slid down to her knees and leaned on the edge of the pallet facing her young daughter. She would not lie to the child. "Well Gabrielle hit Toben," she replied, trying not to grin at the memory.
"Why?" the youngster asked with surprise.
Xena wiped the hair from her daughters face and smiled. "Because he said something that really wasnt very nice and she was much closer than I was," Xena responded, wishing she had indeed been closer.
The childs eyes opened wider. "Was it what he said about me?" she asked, lowering her eyes.
The warrior mother nodded, "Yeah he sort of repeated what his son had said, and Gabrielle doesnt take to kindly to anyone hurting people she cares about Tarren," the warrior whispered.
Tarren reached out and touched her mothers face, "Gabby hit him cause he called me a ."
Xena covered the childs mouth once again, "I think weve heard about enough of that word young lady," she said sternly.
Tarren nodded and the warrior mother removed her hand. "But Momma why would Gabby do that? She doesnt think you should hit people for things they say," the confused child said quietly.
Xena shook her head. "Because she loves you. Sometimes I dont think you realize just how much little one," she replied, tenderly kissing the childs forehead "Now you go to sleep, and I do not want you teasing Gabrielle about this," she said stiffly.
The child nodded. "I wouldnt do that Momma," the youngster replied with an angelic grin.
Xena raised an eyebrow not exactly sure if that was truth, "Well see that you dont." she said getting to her feet. "Now you get to sleep. Ill be back in a while," she whispered, tucking the childs blankets tightly around the small form.
Tarren nodded and then snuggled into the blankets on the large pallet. As the door closed Xena looked back to see the youngster on the bed had a very broad smile on her face.
The following morning Tarren quietly tried to get out of bed but was stopped by a large arm being thrown across her small body, "Where do you think youre going so early?" Xena asked without opening her eyes.
"I want to go exploring on my own today," the child whispered, again trying to get up.
The warrior opened her eyes and shook her head. "Sorry No that is just not gonna happen You are not familiar enough with the village and you know that you must have one of us with you when you go anywhere. Thats the rule Tarren, " Xena sleepily said staring at her daughter.
The child sighed, "But Momma I want "
The warrior grumbled and pulled the youngster in so close she was practically beneath her. "Tarren it is so early in the morning...Its even too early for me to want to be up. Now you wouldnt want to make Momma moody so early in the morning would you?" she asked with a soft stare of her blue eyes.
Tarren shook her head. "No Momma I wouldnt want to make you moody at anytime of the day," the child answered.
The warrior smiled and wrapped her arms around her daughter, "Good girl Then go back to sleep," she said quietly.
Tarren frowned but obediently buried herself beneath the blankets once again allowing her mothers embrace to keep her in place. She wanted to get up and find her uncle. She had not seen him since the morning before and she was worried about him.
After an hour of wiggling and sliding Tarren had managed to slip from her mothers grip and quietly slide out of the bedroom. She walked into the inn calling out to her uncle.
"Uncle Lyceus?" she whispered, not wanting to wake her mother.
The child scanned the room and saw the shimmering figure standing by the bar with his mouth wide open and his jaw dropped in surprise.
"Uncle Lyceus are you all right?" she asked shaking the ghost back to her reality.
"Uh...Uh... Uh...yeah She hit him Gabrielle hit him,"
he murmured as if still trying to digest the sight.
The youngster frowned at the dopey look on her uncles face. "Hey have you been standing there all night? I thought you were supposed to come up with a new plan. Your last one wasnt so great. It hurt Mommas feelings and nearly got me in a lot of trouble," she warned.
The ghost let out a breath. "Im sorry kid. I guess I havent been much help have I?" he asked bowing his head.
The youngster looked at the shimmering figures color fade and grinned. "Its Ok Uncle Lyceus. I know your next plan will be better. You do have another plan dont you? she asked, hoping she had not experienced his best idea already.
Lyceus knelt beside his niece and frowned. "This is real important to you isnt it kid Ya know that Xena tell people shes your mom huh?"
The youngster nodded. "How would you feel if you couldnt tell people Grandma was your Mom?" she asked with a frown.
Lyceus shook his head. "Well Ok I get your point. Ive got another plan, but I should tell you that its dangerous."
Tarren grinned widely. She liked the plan already. "Tell me," she begged.
When Xena woke an hour later she noticed Tarren was already gone. The warrior dressed and greeted her mother in the kitchen, "Mother have you seen Tarren?" she asked, reaching for a mug of tea.
The older woman nodded. "She said you told her to get you a new whetstone, and shed be right back. Come to think of it she has been gone for a while," Cyrene said with a shrug.
Xena slammed her fist down of the counter beside her mother startling the woman. "I told her she was not to leave this place without one of us with her," she seethed.
The warrior mother was angry that the youngster had disobeyed her and that she had lied to accomplish it.
Cyrene shook her head and turned to face her daughter. "Xena shes a little girl. She wants to explore just like every other small child does," the grandmother defended.
The warrior shook her head. "I understand that Mother, but you see shes not like every other little kid Shes my little kid and that changes everything," the warrior hissed.
The older woman turned to face her daughter. "Yes it does Xena. It leaves her caught between two worlds," she said softly.
Xena shook her head in frustration, "Mom what are you talking about?"
Cyrene rubbed her hands on her apron and motioned for her daughter to sit which she reluctantly did. "Xena I know that you want to protect Tarren more than anything. I know that losing Solon leaves a darkness in your heart. I know what it means to lose a child. However you cannot keep the world from knowing who she is forever just because something might happen to her. That is no life for her dear. It leaves the little one torn between being your friend and being your daughter. Your love means a lot to her, but your accepting her as your child in front of the world means just as much maybe more. She needs to feel security and have an identity that is not a secret. Shes a child and one who happens to be proud of her mother. Tarren needs to be able to point to you and say thats my mother. Otherwise Xena, you are only offering her half a place in your world the half that doesnt involve anyone but those you hold dearest," Cyrene finished softly, patting her daughters hand.
Xena sat quietly thinking about her mothers words. She had never really considered the greater pain that Tarren might feel from not being able to tell people she was Xenas daughter. She had never really considered anything more than her safety.
The warrior let out a deep breath and looked into the eyes of her mother. "Mom there is a part of me that knows you are right and another part of me that would rather do anything than take even a slight chance of someone hurting her because of who I am," she said, quietly letting her fingers drum on the table.
Cyrene kissed her daughters head. "I know dear, but it is something you should think about for her sake," the grandmother replied.
Xena got to her feet and kissed the older womans cheek. "I will think about it Mother. I promise Thank you," she said heading for the doorway.
Cyrene called after her, "Xena where are you going. You havent even had breakfast."
The warrior turned and smiled at her mother. "Im going to find my daughter mother and she better have a new whetstone in her hand when I do," the warrior said shaking her head.
Tarren walked through the village toward Mount Polis. Lyceus walked closely beside her, hoping he had give his niece the right advice. The little girl had such a determined look on her face that Lyceus had to grin. Gods she was the spitting image of his sister when she made that face.
"So are we clear on the plan?"
"Yup I climb up MT. Polis just like Momma did when she was a kid. I put my flag next to hers and she is so proud of me that she just cant wait to tell everyone Im her kid.
Right?" she asked the shimmering figure beside her.
"Uh tell me the part about how I cant get in trouble for this?" she begged, looking at the spirit moving beside her.
"Look Xena did this when she was much older than you, and nobody has done it since. If you do it youre only following her example. She cant get mad at you for doing something she did. Its not ethical,"
he said with a nod.
Tarren bit her lip. "Ethical? Whats that?"
"It means its not gonna happen so dont worry about anything but getting up that mountain," he said with bravado.
"You are sure about this right?" she asked a bit nervously.
"Hey its a good plan, but if youre scared to make the climb ."
Tarren stopped and faced her Uncle. "Hey Im not scared of making the climb Im scared of getting in trouble. There is a big difference. The fall can only kill me. Momma wont be that gentle," she said staring at her uncle.
Lyceus thought about it for a moment and recounted his logic, "Nope Im right youll see."
Tarren was determined to prove to everyone, including herself that she was worthy of being the Xenas daughter.
"Hey where are ya going? " a small voice from behind asked.
Lyceus and Tarren both turned around. It was Milo and he was smiling from ear to ear as he ran along side of them.
"I cant tell ya. Its a secret," Tarren whispered, winking at Lyceus.
The boy jumped quickly in front of her. "Come on I can keep a secret," he whined.
Tarren frowned at the round figure in front of her but remembered how he had come to her window to apologize the night before. "Oh Ok, but you cant tell anyone," she warned, continuing on her journey.
"Tarren what are you doing? Its just supposed to you and me."
The little girl leaned toward her uncle. "Ive got an idea," she whispered.
The boy nodded and eagerly waited for the secret to be revealed. "What? Whats your idea? Whats your secret?" he begged.
Tarren looked up at the boy straightening her shoulders just like her mother did.
"Im gonna climb Mount Polis!" she said proudly.
The young boys jaw dropped at the thought. "But nobodys ever climbed that accept Xena." he said slowly, choking a bit on the words.
Lyceus shook his head, "I think hes gonna throw up. Are you all right kid?"
The child smiled and nodded. "Thats why Im going up. Im gonna show everyone that Im not just Xenas servant Im Milo can I really trust you to keep a secret?" she asked eager to tell someone her lineage.
"No Tarren dont do it. Its not part of the plan,"
"Hey everyone will know soon enough," she whispered with a smile.
She looked around to make sure there were no other ears present. "Well Xenas my mom my real mom, but Im not supposed to tell anyone," she said lowering her eyes.
The boy stopped in his tracks. "Youre kidding for real shes your mom Xena?" he asked, his voice reaching a high octave on the last word.
The child nodded. "Yeah but she wont let me tell anyone. Actually Milo youre the first person I ever got to tell," she said with a strange frown.
The boy was awe struck by the words, "Well Tarren you can trust me. I wont tell a soul no matter what. I promise," he said with a smile.
The child nodded at him hoping that was really the truth and wondering what Xena would do to her when she found out the youngster had told someone.
"So why are you climbing up that old mountain anyway?" he asked as they approached the base.
"Well Momma did it when she was much older than me, so I figure that if I do it now then shell have to be proud of me and shell really want to tell everyone Im her daughter," the child replied, biting her lip.
Milo looked at the youngster with an odd expression. "Tarren thats sure a long way to climb just to tell people who your mom is. What are you gonna do when Xena finds out?" he asked with a shudder, wondering what an angry warrior mother looked like.
Tarren winked again at her shimmering uncle and smiled, "Milo you said it yourself She did the same thing when she was a kid. I cant get in trouble if she did it too," the child replied, now sure her uncles logic was sound.
Milo shook his head indicating he was not as confident. "Well I guess so ." he said with a shrug.
Lyceus looked up the mountain. It was much taller and the edges were much sharper than he remembered.
"Uh Tarren Ive changed my mind. This is a bad idea. It is a very bad idea. You could get hurt. I think we should think of a new plan," the uncle said firmly.
The little girl stomped her foot in the dirt. "No You said this was a good plan. Dont try and talk me out of it now. Im climbing," the child yelled.
"Hey I wasnt trying to talk you out of it. I was just saying it sure is awful high," Milo moaned.
"Now you listen to me little girl. I am your uncle and youll do what I tell you to do,
" he said trying to get Xenas parental tone down.
Tarren giggled at the silly phantom uncle and turned her attention back to the mountain.
"Well I guess I better get started. Hey Milo can ya do me a favor? I figure Ill be down in a few hours, but if Im a little late tell Xena Ill miss dinner. Ya know they may want to have a big party to celebrate when I come down," the child said with a broad smile, having visions of cake and candy and Xena saying, Thats my kid.
Milo nodded. "Sure Ill tell her," he said in a shaky voice, afraid of the warriors wrath.
Lyceus watched his small niece start to climb Mount Polis and shook his head, knowing for sure that he had made another huge mistake.
Xena and Gabrielle scoured the town in search of Tarren, but nobody had seen her. It was getting late in the day and the warrior and bard were frantic with worry.
"Gabrielle where could she have gone. You dont think she ran away do you?" she asked, trying to maintain her stoic Warrior Princess composure.
The bard shook her head. "Xena of course not. Shes probably just went off somewhere to play, knows we are looking for her and is afraid to come back because she thinks shes in trouble," the young woman said with a heavy sigh.
The warrior pursed her lips into a frown as she scanned the village around her. "She thinks right. Just wait until I find her. Shell never sit a saddle again," the warrior mother hissed.
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her friends arm sensing her obvious concern.
The young woman was about to say something comforting when she noticed a small round figure heading toward them. "Hey that kid Milo he knows Tarren. I saw them talking the other day," the bard said moving toward him.
Milo swallowed hard as he stared at the pretty bard and then at the large muscular figure of the warrior.
"Hi Milo" the bard said softly.
He nodded a hello, but glanced up at the scowl on Xenas face and said nothing.
"Hows your Father doing?" she asked with a smile.
The boy shook his head allowing his eyes to make contact only with the bard. "Well he has a swollen lip and a black eye, but he said the bandits didnt get any of his money," Milo replied proudly.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another and Xena just shrugged. They did not see a reason to change the youngsters view of his father by labeling him a liar.
The bard smiled at the boy. "Well thats good Milo. We wouldnt have wanted those bandits to get his money Right Xena?" the bard asked, gently poking her friend in the ribs.
Xena folded her arms and placed them tightly against her chest. "Yeah we wouldnt have wanted that," she replied evenly, making the bard give her a warning glance.
"Milo were looking for little Tarren. Have you seen her?" the young woman asked gently.
The boy lowered his eyes and then glanced up at the stoic warrior who was eagerly awaiting a reply. "Well...sort of Im supposed to tell you shell miss dinner," he said not wanting to look up at the reputed Warrior Princess.
Xena flashed a quick look at Gabrielle and then knelt down next to the boy. "Milo where is she?" the warrior mother asked.
Milo shook his head. "I promised Tarren I wouldnt tell," he said biting his lip, fearing what the warrior might do to him.
Xena took a deep breath and softened her tone. She was no longer the stoic warrior, but just a concerned mother. "Milo I am really worried about her and I need to find her. She could be in trouble. You wouldnt want that would you?" she asked, hoping the boy would sense her urgency.
Milo looked at the bard and then the warrior and shook his head. Xena wasnt at all what he expected. The boy could tell that she was genuinely concerned about Tarren.
The warrior placed a gentle hand on the boys shoulder. "Milo where is she?" she asked.
Milo bit his lip knowing he was breaking a promise but afraid that Tarren was in danger. She had started her climb early that morning and he had waited at the base until late afternoon and she had not returned.
"Shes just trying to prove that shes good enough," the boy whispered.
Gabrielle looked at Xena whose concern was building. "Good enough for what Milo?" the young woman asked.
The boy swallowed hard and then looked at the warrior. "To be your daughter," he said quickly, lowering his eyes.
The bards face went blank at the thought of what Tarren might do to try and prove such a thing. She could not help but remember their previous conversation where the bard had told the youngster how she herself had tried to prove herself to Xena.
"By the gods Xena She wants to prove herself worthy just like I did. This is my fault. She got the wrong message from the story I told her," the bard said shaking her head.
Xena got to her feet. "No Gabrielle this is not your fault. Its mine I should have done something different to make her understand," she said quietly.
The warrior studied the boy in front of her carefully, "Milo where is Tarren? I really need to find her before she gets hurt," she said with all the parental authority she could muster.
The boy recognized the dangerous tone and quickly turned and pointed to Mount Polis. "She went up there," he said slowly.
Xenas face went white, "Gabrielle get Argo and some food and water, blankets, medical pouch, and meet me outside the inn fast," the warrior demanded, making no effort to hide her frantic concern.
Milo tugged at the warriors leather trying to get her attention. She stopped long enough to look down at the boy.
"Something else Milo?" she asked.
"Are you really Tarrens mom?" he asked.
Xena smiled at the round-faced boy and nodded. "Yes Milo but for right now thats our secret Ok?" she asked tasseling the youngster hair.
He smiled and nodded at his new friend as she sprinted off toward the inn.
The wind was getting stronger as Xena and Gabrielle made there way to the base of the Mount Polis where Milo said Tarren had gone up.
"By the gods Xena," the bard exclaimed, as she stared up at the high peak.
Xena nodded as she allowed her eyes to travel up the familiar outline of the mountain.
"Yeah I know Believe me its as bad as it looks. Its not as high as it is sharp," she said remembering her own climb many years before.
The great warrior quickly grabbed her supplies and started the climb as darkness loomed overhead. Xena moved as quickly as she could, reaching carefully for each and every rock as best as she could remember.
The wind had started to pick up making it harder to hold on. She was less than half way up when she noticed a small figure lying on a ledge just above her.
"Tarren," the warrior mother cried.
Xena jumped on to the ledge and quickly wrapped the small figure in blankets. She looked over the childs body as best she could in the moonlight and was grateful there were no cuts or bruises. The youngster had merely passed out from exhaustion.
Xena looked below into the darkness. It was not safe to climb down in the blackness and she was close enough to make it to the top. The warrior knew there was a cave up top where they could find shelter.
"Momma," the child whispered as Xena hoisted the child onto her back.
"Im right here baby," she said softly, using her whip to securely tie the youngster to her back.
"I got tired I didnt make it Im sorry," she whispered still half asleep.
The warrior mother shook her head just as she started to climb, "You did just fine little one. You did just fine. Now just hold on while we finish the job together," she said, once again starting her climb to the top of Mount Polis.
Lyceus sat on the ledge and watched his sister start the climb with is niece tucked safely behind. He rubbed the wetness from his shimmering eyes.
"Im sorry Sis. Its all my fault. I should never have come back. I thought I could help, but I guess I just dont know how," he said, settling back against the rock staring into the abyss.
Xena stoked the flames of the small fire she had built inside the cave. Tarren was still fast asleep and the warrior could see the exhaustion in her daughters eyes. When the youngsters eyes flickered open Xena reached into her satchel and took out the cheese and bread the bard had packed.
"Hungry?" the warrior, asked handing the food to the child.
Tarren eyed the offering as she sat up. "Momma howd you know where I was? Did Uncle Lyceus tell ya?" she asked with a grin, hoping her uncle had finally chosen to show himself.
The warrior frowned, "No Uncle Lyceus did not tell me," the warrior replied sternly, not in the mood for ghost stories or games.
"Then how Momma? Milo?" the child said with a frown, falling back on her bedroll.
"Hey you better thank Milo. He was worried about you Tarren, and so were Gabrielle and Mother and Me!" the warrior mother scolded.
The youngster lowered her eyes. "Im sorry Momma," she said quietly.
Xena shook her head. "Oh no Sorry is not good enough. Why would you do something like this Tarren? First you disobeyed me by even leaving the inn, you lied to your grandmother, and then you came up here, which you knew was dangerous. You could have been killed trying to make this climb," the warrior yelled as she paced around the perimeter of the cave.
The child bit her lip. "But you did it Momma. You climbed up here when you were 14 cause you wanted to prove you were as good as the boys in the village," the child said quietly, hoping her uncles logic had indeed been sound.
Xena tilted her head and stared at her daughter. "Where did you here that?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Grandma told me," the youngster answered with a slight grin.
The warrior frowned, "Your grandmother and I are going to have a long talk about what she tells you, and you just better wipe that smile off your face little girl," the warrior mother growled.
Tarren started to get out of her blankets and Xena held up her hand. "Dont you dare even think of getting up. You stay under those blankets young lady," the mother ordered.
The child quickly fell back under the blankets leaning up against the wall of the cave to watch her mother pace.
Tarren could hear the fierce wind outside whipping at the trees in the distance. "Momma Im sorry I didnt make it all the way up like you did," the little girl murmured, knowing her mother must be disappointed.
Xena let out a deep breath and shook her head, dropping beside the child. "Tarren I dont even know what you wanted to prove by climbing this mountain," she said trying to soften her tone.
The young child let a tear fall from her eye. "I just wanted you to be proud of me," the child whispered dropping her head to the ground.
Xena took a deep breath and put her arm around her daughter. "Tarren I am proud of you. In the last few months that we have been together I have come to know a very loving, gentle, and gifted little girl, and I am very proud to say she is my daughter. You dont have to climb a mountain to make me proud. Little one you have nothing to prove to anyone," the mother explained.
Tarren just lowered her eyes.
Xena picked the blanketed child up and placed her neatly in her lap. "Baby I would love to tell the world who you are. I just dont want anything to happen to you Tarren. I couldn't bear losing you the way I lost Solon. When your brother died, I felt something inside of me die too. I didnt protect him the way I should have Tarren. I wasnt with him when I should have been, so I never really got to know him. I never got to be a mother to him. I will not lose my daughter too. I love you and need you too much little girl," she said with a cracking voice, holding her child closely.
Tarren shook her head. "But Im not going anywhere Momma. Im not even allowed to go out at night by myself. How could anyone hurt me?" she asked, leaning on her mothers shoulder.
Xena sighed and lifted the youngster into her arms holding her tightly to her chest. "Oh Tarren what am I gonna do with you? I love you so much ya little monster. Dont you ever run off like that again. Dont you ever scare me like that again," the warrior scolded, fighting back tears.
The little girl, for the first time, realized that she had actually scared Xena by trying to climb the mountain and somehow that knowledge added to her faith in her mothers love.
The child crawled closer to her mothers shoulder and ran her arms around her mothers neck.
"Im sorry. I wont leave you ever again Momma. I promise," the child vowed.
Xena grinned and wrapped the blankets tightly around her child, holding her daughter protectively through the night.
As dawn approached the warrior packed up the supplies and left the cave with Tarren on her heals. "Come on we better get going. Mother and Gabrielle are gonna be worried sick," Xena said with a sigh, pointing to the edge of the cliff not really in the mood to make the long journey down.
"Momma can I see your flag before we go?" the youngster asked with a smile.
Xena shook her head. "I guess You sure have gone to enough trouble...I guess you should get that much out of it," the warrior mother said with a grin.
She took the childs hand and led her to the small clearing on the edge of a cliff and pointed to a small stick placed firmly in the ground supported by a bunch of large rocks.
Tarren smiled as she leaned against her mothers side and Xena had to grin as she remembered her own journey up that mountain just to place that small flag there.
"Hey monster do you want to put a flag of your own up?" she asked, hoping it would offer the child some kind of satisfaction.
Tarren looked at her mother, "But I didnt make it all the way by myself," she said sadly.
The warrior nodded. "No but I told you a while ago that from now on you and I do it together everything. So maybe the best place for you to put your flag would be on the same pole as mine. I mean we are a team," she said with a soft grin.
Tarren nodded and hugged the large warrior who quickly lifted the child into the air.
"Well come on we dont have all morning lets make a flag," the warrior mother said with a grin, holding her daughter tightly.
Together the two emptied their satchels in search of cloth and quills. When the pair was finally ready to descend, Tarren looked to the cliff where the old marker of Xenas now had two flags on the same pole swaying in the wind.
Xena tied Tarren onto her back with her whip again and started carefully down.
"Momma can we go riding together again this afternoon?" the youngster asked, hoping for more time with her mother.
The warrior chuckled a bit. "Tarren arent you forgetting a few minor things that may have you in a bit of trouble? Lets see like lying, disobeying me, climbing this mountain," she replied with a gentle smile as she started down.
The child wrapped her arms loosely around her mothers neck and shook her head. "Nope cause Grandma told me how you did the same thing, so you cant punish me for doing the very same thing you did when you were a kid," the child answered proudly.
The warrior grinned and turned her head a bit to face her daughter. "Oh is that right? Well Im afraid it doesnt quite work like that," the mother replied.
Tarren swallowed hard and felt her voice go a bit hoarse. "But you did it Grandma told me the story," the child moaned.
Xena shook her head. "Hmm did she happen to mention that she was waiting at the base of the hill for me when I got down and that when she was done being happy to see me that I couldnt sit down for a week?" the warrior asked with a smile.
The child shook her head. " No Momma she left that part out," the youngster whispered.
Xena grinned as she made her way skillfully back down. "Well little one fear not because I will not leave that part of the story out of for you Oh no I promise you that you will get the entire story and more from me," the warrior mother replied with a quick nod. "Yup the entire story," she repeated, as she reached for every sharp rock.
The youngsters shoulders slumped and she wondered where Lyceus had disappeared too.
This seemed like another one of his plans going very wrong.
Xena noticed the silence from the small figure behind her. "Hey you wanted to be like me well ya gotta take the good with the bad daughter," she said without hesitation.
Tarren said nothing but merely lay her head on Xenas shoulder.
The warrior felt the childs head drop and paused in her efforts. "Tarren?" she whispered.
"Yes Momma," the child replied, wondering just how much more help her uncle was going to give her before leaving.
"I love you," the warrior mother said gently.
The child smiled. "I love you too Momma," she replied, burying her head deeper into the warrior side rather than look down.
"So like mother like daughter huh?" the warrior asked with a grin, as she carefully eyed her footing on each rock.
Tarren caught a glance of the two flags on the pole waving in the distance and grinned.
"Yeah I guess Like mother like daughter," she said with a smile.
Tarren lay on the large pallet staring up at the ceiling, fresh tears still covering her face. Xena had kept her promise and made sure the misguided child got the entire story and more. She left nothing to the imagination and was quick to make it clear how lying, disobeying and running off to climb dangerous mountains might have painful repercussions when ones mother found out.
The punishment may have only lasted a short while, but that was long enough when your mother was Xena.
The child gently rubbed her sore little bottom with both hands hoping to make the sting of her mothers echoing hand lesson a bit. The long scolding lecture even went on for hours. The warrior mother had left with the command that her daughter remain in her room until further notice. The child was now lying there allowing her thoughts to jump between the size of her mothers hand and the whereabouts of her ghostly uncle when Tarren heard a familiar sound at he window.
The little girl wiped the tears from her eyes and moved over to t he window where a portly boy was waiting. "Milo?" she asked quietly.
"Hi," the chubby boy said with a smile, poking his head just inside the window.
The girl nodded, "Hi," she replied falling back on the pallet.
"Im sorry I told on you, but you were up there a long time," he said, leaning in to see if the youngster was going to forgive him
The child nodded, "Its Ok I needed Xenas help. I got sort of stuck. You did me a favor I guess thanks," she said with a slight grin, turning on her side to face the boy.
Milo noticed the tears on the Tarrens face. "Xena paddled ya huh?" he asked, trying to hide the guilt in his voice.
The little girl rubbed her bottom gently. "Momma calls it getting her point across or making her thoughts clear or having a private chat Thats a favorite," she replied, dropping her head onto the edge of the bed.
The boy grimaced at the thought of the large warriors hand ever making him a target. "Im sorry Tarren," the boy said contritely.
The youngster shook her head, "Dont be Milo it was worth it," she said pointing up to the top of Mt. Polis where the boy could see two flags now swayed on the same pole.
Milo allowed himself a wide grin. "Wow I wish I could show my brother that. That would make him eat his words. Poppa whipped him good for what he said to ya," the boy said with a smile.
Tarren grinned at the thought of the big bully sharing a similar discomfort, but the little girl heard the sound of footsteps so she motioned for Milo to leave.
The youngster quickly jumped on the pallet and waited for the door to open afraid her mother was returning with a few more points to make. The child was quite relieved when the door opened and Gabrielle popped her head in.
"So how are you doing?" the bard asked, moving slowly into the room and sitting beside the child.
The youngster shrugged. "Momma made her thoughts very clear and got her point across quickly and it was a private chat where she did all the talking," she murmured rubbing her backside, deciding that if no one else were going to feel sorry for her situation then she would carry the burden alone.
The bard grinned at the way the child had described the warriors actions and wiped the childs tears from her face, "Hey you know she just did it because she loves you Tarren," the young woman said with a soft smile.
Tarren shrugged, "I know I guess," she replied with a frown. "Sometimes I just wished she didnt love me so much," she said rubbing her bottom once again.
The bard chuckled and reached out to hug the child. "You dont mean that you little brat," she responded.
The child smiled a bit. "Well I guess not but I sure wish she had a smaller hand," the little one replied, still holding on to the bard.
Gabrielle sat beside the youngster wrapping one arm around her so the child could easily find comfort on her shoulder.
"Hey Ill tell you a secret. Xena and I were looking for you all day. When she found out you went up Mt. Polis she was really scared Tarren. I havent seen her that scared since you were buried in the cave-in. It was very windy and dangerous to climb, but she didnt waste a breath heading up after you Do you know why?" the young woman asked.
The child shook her head wanting to hear the bard say the words. "Because she loves you brat," the bard replied, poking gently at the childs side.
Tarren let out a breath and smiled knowing the words were indeed true. She stared at her friend as the young woman who was busy wiping the childs tears ways, her eyes quickly catching Gabrielles bandaged wrist.
"Gabby hows your hand?" the child asked.
Gabrielle lowered her head a bit. "Its Ok just a sprain," she replied not wanting to be forced to offer an explanation on the injury.
Tarren ran her small hand over the bards wrist and bit her lip. "Thanks Gabby ." the child said with a smile.
The bard grinned at the little girl. "For what?" she asked, caressing the little ones cheek, and wiping away tears.
"For hurting your wrist for me," the child replied with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded at the youngster realizing that Xena had told Tarren the truth about the incident. "Your welcome Hey I couldnt let someone getting away with calling my favorite brat " she began.
The child quickly covered her friends mouth, "No no were not allowed to use that word," the youngster said with a mischievous grin.
The bard smiled and removed the small hand. "I wasnt going to but thank you for reminding me," Gabrielle said softly, kissing the childs cheek.
Tarren reached up and hugged her friend tightly. "I love ya Gabby," the child said holding tight.
The bard smile turned into a blank face full of tears. "I love you too brat," she replied holding the youngster in her arms, grateful that the child knew how much she meant to her as well as Xena.
Chapter 10 Plans of Her Own
Gabrielle left the youngster lying on the pallet to finish her sentence of confinement.
Tarren waited for her friend to be long out of earshot and then hopped off the bed in search of her absent uncle.
"Uncle Lyceus?" the youngster called, but there was no response.
"Uncle Lyceus where are you?" the child yelled, and the shimmering figure suddenly appeared in a corner of the room.
The child smiled at the sight. "Hey where have you been? I havent seen you since I fell asleep on that cliff," the youngster chided.
"I didnt think youd want to see me Ive done nothing but get you in trouble You could have been killed on that mountain, and I know Sis really let you have it too Im sorry Tarren I guess I just cant help.
They should have sent someone else," Lyceus said shrinking against the wall in the corner of the room.
The child stood beside her uncle and shook her head. "Its Ok Uncle Lyceus Momma came to get me, so I didnt get hurt. And I even got to put a flag on Mommas pole," the little one said with a far away smile, still remembering the glorious sight.
"But ya still havent gotten what you want. She still hasnt told anyone youre her kid, and ya got your butt paddled to boot," he said kicking the tip of his shimmering foot into the floor.
"Yeah well thats true. Your plans are not very good, but I know you try real hard to help. Momma was real worried about me, and Gabby says thats a good thing cause it tells ya how much someone cares. Besides I think Momma has made it clear that shes not gonna change her mind its not important really," the child replied quietly, trying to find a positive side to her situation.
Lyceus shook his head. "No Tarren youre wrong. Its real important that Xena tell people who you are. Its important for both of you. Ya dont understand I was sent to ."
The child thought about her uncles words and interrupted before he could say the word plan. "Look Uncle Lyceus do you really want to help me with something important?" she asked.
The ghost nodded. "Of course anything."
"Anything?" the little girls asked, hoping that covered the full scope of her mind.
"Sure what did ya have in mind?"
the ghost asked, eager for a chance to do something right.
"Well were gonna be leaving Amphipolis soon, and I havent gotten to see much of where Momma grew up. Id sure like to have one day to explore all by myself. Besides I need to get Momma a birthday present," the child said with a sigh.
"But Tarren Xena is never gonna let you wander around alone. Youre just a little kid. Youre not even allowed out of your room right now. If you try and take off shell tan your little behind again for sure."
"Well maybe Momma and Gabby and Grandma will be suddenly called out of town and Ill be left here alone for just a little while," the youngster replied with a grin.
"Tarren that will never happen,"
Lyceus said firmly.
"Oh it might if we help just little," the sneaky child whispered.
"What? No Im not going to allow you to be left alone here Ill tell Xena and boy will you get it,"
The youngster tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. "Look you said you would help. Besides I just wanna get Momma a birthday present and have some fun. I might as well get something I want since Momma is never gonna tell anyone Im her kid. And as long as people dont know Im Xenas kid they wont care what I do or dont do. Are you gonna help me or not?" she asked, giving her shimmering uncle a sad pout.
"You said anything and you did get me in trouble with Momma," she reminded him, rubbing her bottom again to send the point home.
"Oh Ok, but I know this is a very bad idea."
The youngster jumped up with excitement eager to share her plan with Lyceus.
That night Xena lay in bed watching Tarren as the child slept. The warrior was thinking of Solon and all the losses in her life. She touched the youngsters face as she slept and kissed her cheek, "I give you my vow little one. No matter where we go or what we do, I will never let anything take you from me."
The warrior mother put her hand protectively over her small daughter and watched carefully to make sure nothing would dare to harm her.
The following morning Tarren awoke and noticed Xena was, as usual, already up. The child dressed and ran to the kitchen hoping she was not going to be confined to her room for yet another day.
Tarren felt that Xena and Gabrielle never let her out of their sight long enough to do anything fun, and Tarren desperately wanted to get Xena a birthday present on her own. She decided that it was best to forget her wishes of grandeur of being called Xenas kid and go back to life as just a kid enjoying what she did best, everything she shouldnt. Inspired by her uncles previous plans, the child decided to come up with a plan of her own. The thing the little girl forgot was how badly a Lyceus plan always turned out.
When she reached the kitchen Tarren noticed that the inn already had a few people in it.
"Hi Grandma" the youngster said with a cautious stare, scanning the room with her eyes trying to spot her mothers large form.
The older woman smiled and reached out to hug the youngster. " How are you doing little one?" she asked, sympathetic to the childs plight, and feeling a bit responsible for sharing the story that encouraged her misdeed.
"Im Ok," she said with a mischievous grin, realizing that a bit of guilt from her grandmother might come in handy.
The older woman kissed the childs cheek and offered her some warm bread and cheese for breakfast along with the usual mug of milk.
"Uh wheres Momma?" the youngster asked, her eyes peering out into the inn, but not spotting the warrior.
"Oh shes around Why?" the grandmother asked, wondering if she might be of some service.
"Well Im not sure if Im allowed out of my room or not, so I figured Id better ask her," the child replied with a wide-eyed stare of innocence, hoping her grandmother would rush to her defense.
"Oh you really dont think my mother is going to offer you any sympathy after what happened yesterday forget it,"
the shimmering uncle said with a yawn as he sat on the scalding stove.
"Well I am sure Xena will send you right back to bed. She was pretty upset last night. You scared her pretty good child, but maybe if I ask her to let me take you shopping with me shell at least let you out for that. Would you like to go?" the older woman asked with a wink
"Son of Zeus Mom if I had done what she had done Gods you sure have changed."
Shopping was not exactly what Tarren had hoped for, but she would take anything she could get. She needed to get out of the inn long enough to get a few supplies and some help in order to put her plan into action.
Before the little girl had a chance to respond a husky voice from the doorway spoke.
"Where will you go?" the warrior mother asked, staring down at her daughter.
"Ok Tarren here comes the end of your big plan and its a good thing too."
Tarren looked at Xena and Cyrene and then frowned at the chatty ghost.
"Daughter you should not listen in on private conversations," the grandmother admonished.
Xena just cocked her head and smiled.
The warrior eyed her young daughter. "Good morning Tarren and were you making plans to go out today?" the mother asked, moving in beside her child.
"Nope kid you are staying right here."
The youngster bit her lip trying to ignore her uncles lack of faith. "Uh good morning Momma I just wanted to know you if I was allowed out of my room today?" the child asked, trying to keep her eyes low.
The child felt sure that if Xena could see straight into her eyes, at that moment, all her secrets would be instantly revealed.
The warrior mother shook her head. "Sorry no, but you are staying in your room for the rest of the day and tomorrow little girl. I want you thinking about what I said yesterday," the mother replied sternly, reaching for an apple from the counter.
"Told ya. Now lets go back to the room and play warlord."
The child lowered her head and started dragging her feet back toward the bedroom feeling that her plan now had no hope. "Yes maam," she squeaked.
Xena grinned as she watched the sullen little figure pass by her. The warrior mother had to admit the child had a lot of nerve to think she would be allowed to wander again after her most recent exploits.
Cyrene took a deep breath and faced her daughter. "Xena do you think that perhaps I could at least take her shopping with me for a little while. I would like to spend some time with Tarren before you leave," Cyrene asked, in a pleading tone, the warrior had never heard from her mother before.
"Mother! What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this child has planned?"
"Snitch," the little girl mumbled under her breath, forcing her uncle into a silence.
The warrior looked at her mothers face and then the small figure, which had paused in the doorway waiting for a response.
"Mother I just cant She is fine take her shopping, but then it is straight back to her room when you return," Xena said surrendering, to the pouting faces around her.
Even the great warrior could not handle being ambushed from both ends of the family tree.
"Xena you fell for that. By the gods Sis cant you tell when you are being manipulated."
Cyrene removed her apron and smiled. "Thank you daughter," the older woman said kissing the warriors cheek, as she entered the inn to get her things.
"Well it looks like Im gonna have to handle this situation all on my own."
Xena nodded and stared down at the child waiting for direct instructions from her warrior mother. The warrior knelt down beside her daughter and shook a warning finger.
"Now Im letting you go because I want you to spend time with your grandmother, but Tarren I swear you had better behave yourself. I dont want to here of so much as one misdeed on your part. Do you understand?" she asked in a parental tone, which left no room for questions.
The child nodded. "Yes Momma Ill be good," she replied with her most innocent stare.
"No she wont Sis. She is about to do something very bad I tell ya very bad."
Xena got to her feet and looked down at her child. She grinned and gave the youngster a gentle kiss on the head. "Ok then have a good time, but behave yourself," she warned once again.
Tarren felt a slight pang of guilt as she looked up into the loving eyes of her mother. The child hoped that her uncle was wrong and that her plan would be a great success.
Cyrene returned to the kitchen and motioned for her granddaughter to take her hand.
Tarren kept a close eye on her mothers gaze as she walked past the warrior.
"Coming?" the child, asked her sulking Uncle
"Uh No I need a rest You go ahead,"
he said contemplating a course of action.
Xena glanced at her daughter and was somewhat surprised that the little girl would want her presence knowing she would be watching the childs every move.
"Nope! I am trusting you to behave yourself," the mother replied sternly
"Huh Ok Bye Momma, the tiny voice squeaked with a wave.
Xena wiggled her fingers in farewell. "Remember what I said," she responded, before biting into her apple.
The child just stared at her mother and allowed Cyrene to lead her out of the inn.
The warrior leaned up against the counter shaking her head, and Gabrielle walked in with a plateful of empty mugs.
"Hey wheres Cyrene?" the young woman asked, scanning the kitchen.
"Look guys I have to go get some advice about all this. Youll have to manage without me for a bit."
Xena looked at her friend and smiled at the young womans somewhat disheveled appearance. Cyrene had put Gabrielle to work busing tables, feeling that her story telling was not straining enough for the bards character growth.
"She took Tarren shopping," the warrior replied with a smirk.
The bard dropped the tray on the counter with a crash, making no attempt to hide her frustration, "Oh she did and just who is watching the inn today?" she asked.
Xena thought about it and her shoulders slumped. "Well I guess we are," the warrior moaned, reaching for her mothers apron.
The bard frowned. "Well thats just great warrior because those people by the door would like three plates of your mothers eggs," the bard said with quick grin.
Xena moved toward the stove. "Not a problem. I have many skills. I can cook a few eggs. Where is the frying pan and the eggs?" the warrior asked, looking around the room.
The Amazon Queen pushed the Warrior Princess to the side. "You may have many skills, but cooking is not one of them. We all know that. You bus the tables and Ill cook the food. It will prevent a village outbreak of food poisoning," the young woman muttered, reaching for the pan and a basket of eggs.
Xena grinned and backed away from the stove. "Ok youre the boss Gabrielle. Ill go wait on tables," the warrior answered with a glint in her eyes.
The bard turned before the warrior could exit. "Uh Xena would you mind telling me why Tarren is out shopping when we both agreed she would spend the rest of our time here in her room?" the young woman asked with a scowl.
The warrior leaned against the doorway and let out a deep breath. "Mother wanted to spend some time with her, so I gave the kid a few hours parole to be with her. Gabrielle I dont know when well get back here again, so when Mother asked I just couldnt say no," the warrior replied with a heavy sigh.
Gabrielle nodded. "Well my big tough warrior. Your daughter, who is supposed to be grounded, is out shopping and having fun while we are now stuck here inside cooking and cleaning dishes. Would you like to tell me just who you think youre punishing?" the bard asked, holding the frying pan menacingly in the air.
Xena thought about it and frowned. "That little scamp She did again," the warrior mother said with a grin. "How does she always manage to turn things around like that?" the muscular woman asked.
Gabrielle smiled and started cracking eggs into the large pan. "Easy shes your daughter," the bard mumbled, with a quick grin.
Cyrene walked through the village stores proudly introducing Tarren to every person she knew. While she was not being identified as a blood relative, the childs grandmother did have a certain way of letting people know how important the youngster was in her family unit.
At first Tarren enjoyed the attention, but after a while she felt she was being made a spectacle of.
"Grandma can we go look for a present for Momma?" she asked quietly, looking around to make sure the coast was clear before she said the words.
Cyrene smiled at the child. "Ok dear well what did you want to buy?" the grandmother asked, thinking how cute it was for the to child want to spend her weekly dinar on Xenas birthday.
The child sighed. "I dunno Im not sure, but I want it to be a surprise," the youngster said quietly.
Tarren passed by a weapons shop and tried to drag her grandmother inside. Cyrene quickly pulled the child to a halt. "No that is not an appropriate place for a little girl. If Xena wants something from in there then she can buy it herself," the older woman said sternly.
The child was about to argue the point when she remembered her mothers stern warning about behaving herself and not letting her hear about one misdeed.
"Yes ma am," the little one replied, heading away from the place she knew had what she was looking for.
Any doubts about the need of her plan were now gone. If she was to accomplish all her goals, the plan needed to be put into action quickly.
Cyrene pulled Tarren into Etos's shop feeling it was a much better place for her granddaughter to be. The child looked around as if shopping. She already knew what she wanted her mothers gift to be, and it was not to be found in Etos shop.
However on the counter was a small wooden pipe with finger holes.
"What does it do?" she asked the friendly man behind the counter.
He grinned at the youngster, picked it up and blew into it. "It makes sounds little Tarren like music if you play it right," he replied with a grin.
"Try it," Etos, said handing the toy to the eager child.
Tarren blew into it and smiled at the little toot it made.
Cyrene could not help but grin at the simple pleasure she saw in her granddaughters eyes playing with such a toy.
"Etos well take it," she decided, reaching into her pouch for some dinars.
Tarren turned around to face her grandmother. "No Cyrene You dont have to buy it for me," the child argued, knowing Gabrielle or her mother would surely buy her such a toy if she really wanted it.
The grandmothers face became cold at being called Cyrene by her grandchild.
It had taken the grandmother long enough to get the child to accept her only to be robbed of her title by her own daughters rules.
"Young lady you are not arguing with me are you?" she asked her tone more parental than Xenas ever was.
The youngster smiled and shook her head. "No maam," she replied, now happy to follow Xenas rules on obeying her elders.
The older woman nodded. "Good thing. Now as I said Etos we will take that and give this youngster whatever else it is she wants," the grandmother said with finality.
Tarrens eyes grew wide at the invitation or order that had just been mandated by the current person in charge of her. This had potential to be a very good day.
Tarren shopped all day with Cyrene, and when they finally returned, the youngster found herself carrying a load of packages most of which contained items her grandmother had bought for her.
As they entered the now empty inn, the child dropped the parcels quickly on the table in front of Xena and Gabrielle.
Cyrene could not help but notice how tired the two young women looked. After all, the inn appeared quite empty.
"What did you two do buy half of the village?" Xena asked staring at the bundles.
The bard chuckled sorry she had not joined them on the shopping spree.
Tarren, still fearing another of her mothers scolding, waited for permission to stay. The warrior shook her head and patted her leg motioning the child to take comfortable refuge on her lap. Tarren grinned and happily slid onto her mothers legs, exhausted from the haul.
"Now daughter...Tarren needed a few things, so I bought them for her," Cyrene said with conviction, knowing Xena might protest.
"Mother you didnt have to buy her anything. She really doesnt need anything. We took her shopping many times, and bought her everything she needed and many things she did not," Xena said quietly, staring at the bard for support.
The youngster ignored the adult ramblings and reached for the bag of confections Etos had given her.
Xena quickly took the bag from the childs hands, "Mother you bought her candy. Shes being punished and you bought her candy," the warrior scolded, noting that the bag was already half gone.
"Now Xena in a few days you and Gabrielle and Tarren will be on your way. Would you deny me a little time to spoil my only grandchild?" she asked, her eyes nearly brimming with tears.
The warrior sighed and shook her head feeling trapped by the words. "No mother, of course not," she replied softly, dropping the sack of candy back on the table.
Tarren reached for the older womans arm and pulled her down for a hug. "Thank you Grandma," the child said politely.
The youngster was finally realizing the importance of grandmothers and wished she had more.
The older woman rubbed her hand along the childs tender cheek and smiled, happy to have her title back. "You are quite welcome granddaughter," she answered before heading into the kitchen to see what was left of her domain.
Tarren again reached for the bag of confections triumphantly, but the warrior quickly pushed them out of reach.
"Dont even think about it. The last thing you need is any more sugar. Besides while your grandmother may have forgotten that you are being punished, I have not, " she whispered in the childs ear.
This action elicited a fast moan from the youngster who longed to be filled up with confections, but her whining was quickly silenced by her mothers stare.
Tarren slid against her mothers chest quietly fiddling with one package. She slowly pulled out her little wooden instrument and started to blow on it.
Xena covered her ears. "Oh no...Please tell me she did not buy you something that makes noise," the warrior mother groaned, staring at the bard.
"Xena its just a little flute. Ill teach her how to play it," the bard said with a grin.
The warrior grimaced. "Thats just what Im afraid of," the mother murmured.
Xena looked sternly at her daughter. "Ok fess up What else is in these bags that you conned your grandmother into buying?" the warrior asked, with a slight scowl.
The childs eyes dropped. "Momma I didnt ask her to buy anything...I swear. She told me I shouldnt argue, so I didnt. You told me to behave myself, so I did," the child defended innocently.
Xena twisted her face and glanced into the youngsters wide blue eyes and grinned. "Ok Im sorry Tell me what else she bought ya monster," the warrior replied with a soft smirk.
Tarren leaned back on her mothers chest and pointed to the different packages. "Well those arent mine She bought me clothes, a new satchel, and some other things that are not really important," the child replied, not really wishing to display everything.
Xena picked up a small narrow package that had a familiar shape and feel to it. She tapped it on the table.
"Whats this?" the warrior mother asked eyeing the item closely.
The bard smiled as the child struggled to find an answer other than the truth without lying.
"Well thats I forget. I love ya Momma," she replied letting her eyes drop to the side as she nuzzled affectionately against her mothers shoulder.
Xena grinned at the youngsters sudden urge to offer such warmth and handed the package to the bard. "Uh huh well since you forgot well just have a little peak inside. Gabrielle if you please?" the warrior asked, patting her daughters back gently.
The bard removed the wrapping and inside was a carved wooden handle with a wide stretchy bad attached across the middle.
"Xena is this what I think it is?" the young woman asked with a grin.
The warrior reached over and took the item. She held it in her hand just in front of her daughters vision. "Yup its a slingshot," she answered, with a frown.
The warrior mother pulled the child forward so that she could look into the youngsters eyes. "Tarren how many times have you asked me for one of these?" the warrior asked, waving the slingshot in front of the child.
The little ones shoulders slumped, " Twelve," she answered quietly.
The warrior nodded feeling it was probably more but settling on that number. "And what have I said all twelve times?" she asked sternly.
Tarren bit her lip. "You said no," she whispered, wanting to bury her head back in her mothers shoulders, but being pinned in place by the warriors strong grip.
"Then why do you have one now?" she asked, letting the child see the coolness of her gaze.
Tarren shifted a little in her mothers lap trying to get her thoughts straight. "Well cause grandma said I should have anything I wanted and thats what I wanted. I didnt ask her for the pony since I figured youd want to get me that," she replied with a hopeful grin.
The warrior mother shook her head. "Oh you are just full of surprises little one. Well there will be No slingshot, and No pony, and now that your shopping spree is over, I think its time for you go back to your room and take a nap. Gabrielle and I will just take a look at these packages of yours to make sure there are no other surprises that youve smuggled in," Xena said stiffly, lifting the youngster off of her lap.
"Ahh do I really have to go back to my room?" the youngster moaned, staring longingly at the soon to be absent slingshot.
Xena turned in the chair and faced her daughter letting the child clearly see the lack of humor in her mothers eyes. "Young lady if I were you Id get used to being in your room since you may be there for quite a while," the mother scolded.
Tarren bit her lip and looked to the bard and her mother, "But ."
Xena slowly rose to her feet and pointed the way. "Move it," she ordered, sending the child quickly on her way with a brisk swat.
The child skidded through the inn and into her room without muttering another word.
"Little monster," the warrior mother mumbled, sitting herself in front of the mound of packages.
Gabrielle smiled at the youngsters attempt at regaining her freedom and then stared at the slingshot now in her hand. "Xena would it be so bad to let her have this," the bard asked, holding the toy in the air.
Xena shook her head a bit. "Gabrielle you are as bad as my mother. Im trying to teach Tarren right from wrong and my mother is buying her candy and toys, and now you want me to give her a slingshot?" the baffled mother asked.
The young woman shrugged. "Well I didnt mean this moment, but would it be so bad to give her one to play with?" she asked, pulling the band back and aiming the empty sling at the warrior.
Xena sighed at her young friends inability to follow through on Tarrens discipline.
"No I guess not. I had one when I was a kid, but I dont want her going behind my back to get stuff. She has to learn that when I say no that I mean no," the warrior thundered, stuffing the small package of confections in her hand and heading in the direction of the bedroom.
The bard nodded in agreement as she watched her friend depart. "Uh Xena where are you going?" the young woman asked with a smirk.
Xena stopped and slowly turned around. "Im just going to make sure that Tarren is in bed the way shes supposed to be," the warrior mother said evenly, starting on her way once again.
"Oh Why are you taking the candies with you?" the young woman asked with a broad smile.
Xena let out a deep breath and turned. "Well I might get hungry on the way back there Ok?" she replied with a quick glare.
Gabrielle playfully aimed the slingshot at her friend wishing she had a small pebble to aim. "Sure you big, bad, tough warrior mother you," the bard said with a giggle.
Xena did not even bother to turn around. She decided it was best to quit while she was behind rather than try and offer a failed justification for her actions.
Tarren lay on the bed looking up at the chandelier that moved a bit as the wind blew at the chains it hung from.
"Hmm heres a ride I havent tried," she murmured.
The youngster quickly jumped from the bed and grabbed onto the large wooden wagon wheel chandelier, dangling in the air as she swung quickly back and forth careful not to let the candles fall. She used her legs to kick to make the motion faster until the child was flying nearly the full length of the floor and giggling wildly as she sliced through the wind.
"Wheeeeeeee," the little one yelled, as the light fixture offered flight.
Xena opened the door and ducked as she saw the airborne child heading her way. As the laughing child made her way toward the doorway, the warrior grabbed the youngsters waist in one hand and stopped the chandelier cold with the other. The fun was officially over.
Xena looked at the child hanging in her grip and shook her head, "Just what do you think youre doing? That is not a toy," she scolded.
Tarren looked up at her mother and tried to grin. "Sorry Momma, but you never said I couldnt play with it," she said proudly.
The warrior mother placed the child on her feet and steadied the chandelier as best she could. "No I didnt but I did tell you to go take a nap. Now get into that bed," she ordered, sending the youngster sprinting toward the pallet.
Xena slowly moved toward the pallet shaking her head in disbelief. "What am I gonna do with you?" the agitated warrior asked, staring at the reclining child. "I cant leave you alone for a minute without you getting into trouble," she groaned.
Little Tarren lowered her eyes under her mothers scolding and then just buried her head in the pillow ignoring her mothers obvious frustration.
"Young lady you will look at me when I am talking to you," the mother said sternly.
The childs face went blank. Her eyes grew wide and welled with tears, and her lower lip started to quiver a bit as she looked up at her scolding mothers harsh expression.
Xena bit her lip and tried to shake off her frustration. "You are gonna give me gray hairs " the mother muttered, slowly falling on the pallet beside her daughter, realizing that she just couldnt muster any anger toward this child.
Xena just lay on the Pallet, shaking her head, and looking up at the still slightly swinging chandelier.
The youngster said nothing but merely looked obediently to her mother. Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "You do know that you are a spoiled brat and your grandmother would have both our heads if she knew you were doing that?" she asked with a crooked smile, pointing to the swinging object above them.
The child blinked and the warrior watched a tear fall.
"Ok, Ok I surrender. Please no more tears," the warrior said softly, rubbing the little girls head. "I know you just want to have some fun and run through the woods I know your anxious to leave So am I but you have to try and behave yourself Tarren," the mother warned, trying to explain the obvious.
The youngster crawled closer to her mother and lay her head down on her chest. "Are ya still mad at me Momma?" she asked, her voice low and subdued.
The warrior shook her head and pulled the little girl further into her lap. "No monster but your gonna have to give me one big hug to get off the hook," she said softly.
The child smiled and threw her arms quickly around her mothers neck squeezing as tight as she could.
Xena wrapped her arms lovingly around the child. "Ok your off the hook," she whispered, staring into her daughters eyes. "The slingshot however, is still going back young lady, and I dont appreciate you getting your grandmother to buy it when you knew I had said no," Xena quietly scolded.
The child looked at her mother with her lower lip pushed out in a hopeful pout. "But I wanted it Momma. I never get anything I want," she whined, fingering the laces on her mothers armband.
Xena gave the child a look of false pity. "Tarren when you earn something you can have it. Sneaking around behind my back to get something is not gonna get you anything but in trouble. Remember that," she said kissing the youngsters forehead, "Now go to sleep, and no more swinging from the chandelier got it?" she asked, pointing to the still swaying fixture.
The child nodded. "Yes Momma," she replied, pulling out her little flute and giving it a quick toot knowing it would irritate her mother.
Xena turned and smiled at her small daughter, "Nice very nice. Wait until we are back on the road little one. Remember your grandmother is not coming with us. So there will be a moment when its just you, me and that flute," she said with an evil smile.
"Grandma said to write to her if you took it away," the child answered with a grin.
Xenas mouth opened wide at the childs words, but then she just smiled. "Tell me daughter do you think you can run as fast as you can write," she asked in a low husky voice.
The child quickly shoved the toy under her pillow, deciding it was not a good time to be teasing her mother.
The warrior grinned at the wisdom her daughter had shown.
"Momma?" the youngster whispered as the warrior started to leave.
Xena turned expecting the words she was about to hear.
"Im not tired. I wanna stay with you and Gabby," she whimpered, reaching a needy arm up to her mother.
The warrior sighed and returned to the side of the pallet. "Tarren first of all you need to take a nap. Second of all you know that you are being punished and have to stay in your room," she said stiffly.
Tarren bit her lower lip and glanced up at her mother. "How long Momma? How long do I have to stay in my room for?" the little girl asked, with a soft innocent stare that was quickly melting the warriors resolve.
"I havent decided yet, but I promise that you are in here for the rest of the day," the warrior replied, knowing the time was getting shorter and shorter.
"But I dont wanna be by myself. I want you to stay with me. You said that we are a
family and what one gets we all share, so if Im in trouble shouldnt you have to stay in here with me?" she asked, hoping she had finally found a piece of logic that worked.
Xena shook her head at the childs words and smiled knowing she was being reeled in.
"Those words you remember Why cant you ever remember when I say things like; no you cant have a slingshot or no you cant climb that tree?" she asked, expecting no response.
The mother grumbled as she watched the innocent eyes of her young daughter widen. "Ya dont want to be alone huh? Ok scoot over ya little monster. Ill stay with you just until youre asleep. I am not the one being punished after all, you are," she said lying on the pallet next to her daughter.
The child slid over on the pallet to offer her mother some space, but gave the warrior a wounded frown. "Momma is staying with me punishment?" she asked.
Xena covered her face with her hands knowing she had said the wrong thing. "No baby I love staying with you, but ." she began.
The warrior looked into the large open eyes of her daughter who was now awaiting an explanation. Xena let out a long breath and reached in her side pouch, pulling out the sack of candy and handing it to the youngster.
"Lets get comfortable. We are both gonna be here for a while it seems," the warrior said with a grin.
Tarren looked at her mother and smiled happy to know they truly were a family. She quickly jumped to the womans side and lay her head comfortably on her mothers chest as she picked through the bag of candy for one she liked. She then handed the bag back to her fellow inmate who did the same.
Xena lay on the pallet and watched as the chandelier finally came to a slow stop.
"What was it like?"
"What was what like Momma?"
"Swinging from the chandelier? I always wanted to do that."
"It was fun Momma. You wanna do it now?"
"Nope! Im too big and youre too small."
"Well we could always swing Gabby on it."
The warrior chuckled at the image and hugged the little girl with all her gentle might. "You are so bad sometimes monster," she said with a wide grin, kissing her daughters cheek.
"Momma will you sing for me?" the child asked looking up at the warrior pleadingly.
Xena frowned a bit, "You know little girl I do believe you really are spoiled," she replied in a soft voice.
"Please Momma," the child said quietly.
Xenas heart melted at the quiet tone in her young daughters voice. It made her want to sing for the child. "Ok but you better go to sleep," she scolded.
The child leaned over and buried her head in her mothers side and Xena smiled at the ease with which her daughter found a comfortable spot. She wrapped her arms around her little one and pulled her in close and then sang a song of gentle dreams.
Chapter 11 Working Against the System
Milo all you have to do is deliver the message," Tarren begged.
"No Ill get in trouble," the boy groaned.
"No you wont. No one will ever know," she whispered to the open window in her room.
The portly boy sighed. "Look Tarren youre just a kid theyll go easy on you, but Im 13 almost 14 theyll hang me," he replied swallowing hard.
The youngster sighed, irritated at the boys obvious cowardice in the face of battle. "Look Milo you still owe me for squealing to Xena about me going climbing. Right?" she asked.
The boy nodded feeling a slight weight of guilt wash over him. "Ok Ill do it, but I just know this isnt a good idea," he said taking the two parchments that the child had been trying to shove into his hand for nearly an hour.
Xena had reduced Tarrens sentence from confinement to her room to confinement to the inn. That way the warrior felt she could still make her point, not feel so guilty, and know where Tarren was at all times.
The youngster waited until Xena had gone to practice with her sword and Gabrielle had gone to do some last minute shopping before she began her work. Gabrielle had left the youngster strict instructions to study her scrolls, so Tarren was making use of the bards lesson of practicing her letters by practicing Xena and Gabrielles handwriting.
Tarren entered the kitchen and took a small parchment from her tunic. "Grandma some man said to give you this message," the child lied.
The plan was now officially underway. There was no turning back.
The older woman smiled at the child and took the parchment. "Thank you dear," she replied.
Cyrenes face turned blank. "Oh dear theres a young woman stuck in a wagon outside of town in serious need of a midwife," she said with a sigh.
The little girl shrugged. "Well is that something youd be needed for?" the little girl asked, not quite sure what a midwife was, but trusting her uncles judgment on this.
The older woman nodded.
"Well Grandma what are you waiting for?" the child asked.
Cyrene stared at her granddaughter. "Tarren my dear. Xena and Gabrielle are both out and I will not leave you here alone," she said firmly.
The youngster sighed, but this was something she had counted on.
The child moved slowly to the door and opened it a bit. She then quickly turned to face her grandmother.
"Gabbys on the other side of the street. Ill go stay with her, so you can go. Bye Grandma," the child yelled, racing out the door before Cyrene could see the bard for herself.
Tarren jumped into the bushes as her grandmother raced out the door trying to catch the fleeing child.
On cue Milo walked by. "Hi, Cyrene Poppa asked me to tell you hed be buy tomorrow with your order," the boy said, eyeing the bush beside him.
The older woman glanced over his head not really hearing the words. "Uh yes Ok Milo," she replied, her eyes scanning the streets for Tarren.
The boy shifted nervously from one leg to another. "Uh I saw Gabrielle and boy she sure has bought a lot of stuff. Its a good thing . Little Tarren showed up to help her with the err packages," he said, his voice shaking a bit under the pressure of the lie.
The older woman stared down at the boy and smiled. "Milo you saw them together, Gabrielle and Tarren?" she asked.
"Yes maam I have seen them together," he answered, realizing that it wasnt a total lie if he didnt say when.
Cyrene sighed with relief and headed for the barn ready to make a hasty buggy ride to the far outskirts of the village. "Thank you Milo dear," she said patting the boys arm as she passed him.
Tarren slid out from behind the bush and tapped Milo on the shoulder. "That was really good Milo. Grandma will be gone for hours, " the child whispered, as she watched Cyrene take off at top speed in her wagon.
The boy shook his head. "Tarren this is not a good idea. I just know youre gonna get in trouble," the boy warned.
The child gave Milo a dissatisfied look. "Nobody will ever even care if it was me who sent the messages. Every one will think it was just a practical joke, and theyll all think it was real funny. Youll see Now come on Milo you still have two messages to deliver," the child ordered pointing the way down the street.
Milo nodded and dragged his feet reluctantly in search of Gabrielle.
The trembling boy found the bard shopping in a local merchants material shop. He took a deep breath before approaching her.
"Hi Milo" she said to the nervous boy as he came closer.
The boy nodded "Uh Hi I Uh Xena message ." he mumbled, trying to remember what he was supposed to do.
The young woman placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Something you need?" the gentle bard asked.
Milo swallowed hard at the bards touch and nervously handed her a small parchment and ran off.
The bard shook her head as she watched the youngster make a hasty retreat.
"Gabrielle we need to get to Poteda. There is warlord threatening your village. I am leaving now. Will meet you there. Dont worry about Tarren. I have her. Just get going." Xena
The bard stared at the writing wondering why Xena would send such a message with Milo, and why she had misspelled Potedia. She also noticed how poor the warriors handwriting had become.
Shes going to have start doing Tarrens lessons if she keeps this up the bard thought.
Gabrielle decided the errors must have been made in the warriors haste to get the message written and quickly realized that her home was in trouble and her family needed her. She shoved the parchment in her bag and ran to the stables. She hated riding, but Potedia was almost a full days walk. She needed a horse to make it there by nightfall.
Milo watched the warrior as she drilled with the sword.
"Magnificent" he whispered.
Xena flung the blade to the left and the right and easily back behind her. Milo closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them she was gone. He craned his neck trying to see her from the bush he was seated in, but she was no longer on the practice field. All he could see was Argo tethered to a tree.
"What are you doing here Milo?" a husky voice from behind asked.
The boy jumped to his feet nervously. "I I I was waiting for you to be finished," he replied, trying to keep his voice from cracking.
The warrior sheathed her sword and grinned at the youngster. "Well in the future you should know that its dangerous to come up on me when Im practicing," she warned.
The boy nodded in understanding, and Xena leaned against the tree smiling. "So what can I do for ya? Someone giving you a hard time and you want me to rough him up?" she teased.
Milo shook his head and handed his final parchment to Xena. "Im supposed to give ya this," he said backing away.
Xena looked at the crumbled parchment and then the nervous boy. "Who gave this to you Milo?" she asked moving closer.
The boy shrugged. "Just some man He said to find you fast err I gotta go. My Moms waiting supper." he replied sprinting toward the path back toward the village.
Xena shook her head and looked at the parchment.
"Xena Poteda is being threatened by some warlord. I have to get home. Please hurry. Dont worry about Tarren. She is with me." Gabby
The warrior stared at the message and frowned. Gabrielle had misspelled Potedia, her home village, and the bard was much too good with the quill to write so sloppy.
Gabby? And why would "some man" give Milo a note from Gabrielle, the warrior wondered.
Xena folded the message and put in neatly back in her cuff not willing to take any chances. Something didnt seem right. She kicked at Argos heals anxious to catch up to Gabrielle and Tarren to find out just what was going on.
Milo watched from the hill as the warrior took off at full gallop. She was moving fast and would surely catch up to Gabrielle quickly.
Milo swallowed hard realizing Tarrens plan already had a few problems. The child had expected the pair to meet in Potedia. That would have given Tarren an entire day to herself. Things were not going well, but the wayward youngster didnt even know it.
When enough time had passed that Tarren was sure Milo had delivered the messages, she decided to make a meal for herself. She could hear her stomach rumbling and there was suddenly no one around to fix that problem. However the youngster didnt know how to cook any better than her mother and she wasnt supposed to play with flint by herself.
The child sighed and put one of her grandmothers aprons on. She took some cheese and bread out of the cold cabinet, but a frown crossed over her face as she eyed the familiar trail food. The youngster wanted to be served something hot.
The little girl let her fingers drum on the edge of the stove. She soon realized that it was still quite hot. It was definitely hot enough for a little experiment.
Tarren grinned as she took a big pan and placed it on the stove. She dropped a hunk of cheese in it followed by a slab of bread. The youngster then waited, hoping it would make the food warm enough to eat.
The cheese soon started to bubble and then boil and then spray in every direction it could find including the ceiling. The little girl fell to the floor and under the table waiting for the food to halt its attack. Smoke started to billow from the pan and Tarren grabbed a water skin, spraying the pot down.
The child waved the smoke away with her hand hoping there was something left to eat. She lifted a fresh slab of bread and dipped in the still bubbling cheese. The youngster took a bite and her eyes lit up with delight. It was a bit sloppy but the cheese tasted good hot.
"Hmm a sloppy cheese. Alone for only a few minutes and already Ive discovered a great meal. I wish Momma and Gabby were here to see this," she said with a smile, devouring another sloppy cheese sandwich.
Carefree and fully fed the child headed into the village anxious to get started on her big adventure. She could not help wondering where her uncle had shimmered off too, but it really wasnt important at the moment
The little girl wanted to make her most important stop first. She walked into the weapons shop and handed another falsified parchment out. It was written in a handwriting as close as Tarren could get to her mothers and it instructed the man behind the counter to give Tarren the item of her desire.
"Did Xena trust you with money for something like this child?" the weapons master asked, doubting the authenticity of the document and that Xena would entrust a weapon in the hands of such a small child.
The youngster stomped her foot feeling insulted by the merchants lack of trust. The child turned around and looked into the satchel that held all her private treasures. She smiled just to run her small hands over a few familiar items, but then fingered her way to the large heavy sack filled with many gold coins.
Nala had obtained a small amount of wealth as a mystic, and when she died the old woman had left all of it to the child with the understanding that the youngster would use most of it to buy a very special and specific gift for she, Xena and Gabrielle. It was to be a secret and that made it very difficult. The child had not figured out how to accomplish the old mystics request yet, so she was sure Nala wouldnt mind if she spent just a little on gifts.
Tarren took out one gold coin, wondering if it was enough. She had no real sense of the value of money. Xena gave her a dinar a week as an allowance, but she rarely had to spend it since either her mother or the bard usually purchased what the child wanted with their own money.
The child placed the gold coin firmly on the table. "Xena said she wants the best you have. She is after all the Warrior Princess, so dont give her any junk that would break like if ya tried to untie someone stuck on a pole," she said quietly, remembering such an incident of not too long ago.
"What will this get?" the youngster asked fingering the coin.
The weapons masters eyes flew open at the site of the precious gold coin. "Why child that will get her the very best in the store with change," he replied with a broad smile, realizing that Xena must want a very special weapon indeed.
Tarren grinned as the man filled her order and to her delight handed her a gift she felt quite worthy of her mother. She placed the wrapped package in her satchel and moved on.
The child took out a parchment, which contained a list of things she hoped to accomplish before everyone returned. There was much to do and little time to do it. Tarren stopped at Etos and purchased a large bag of confections, which she ate on her way to her next goal.
Xena raced along the path until she caught site of a dark steed and a limping bard pulling the horse by its reigns.
"What happened to you?" the warrior asked, jumping off Argo and examining her friends limp.
"I was riding so fast to get to Potedia that I fell off the horse. Now you know why I like to walk. It doesnt hurt as much as when you fall down," the young woman said rubbing her back.
"Are you Ok?" Xena asked with genuine concern.
"Yeah I just want to get to Potedia. Im worried about my family. Why dont you ride on without me? Ill catch up," the bard said nervously, afraid of what might be happening in her home village.
Xena nodded ready to depart, but then looked around the trail. "Wheres Tarren?"
The bard looked at the warrior oddly. "What do you mean wheres Tarren. Shes with you. Your message said so," the bard informed her, pulling out her piece of parchment and waving it in the air.
Xena took the piece of scroll from her friend and compared it to her own.
"My message? Gabrielle I never sent you a message. You sent me one," the warrior stated, showing the bard her own note.
"I never sent you a message you and Xena I think I know how to spell Potedia," the young woman said with a frown.
The two women looked at one another and then the warriors eyes grew cold and feral.
"Tarren!" the pair said in unison.
Xena mounted Argo, and offered her hand to the ailing bard.
"No you get to Tarren. Ill just slow you down. If shes alone then she could be in trouble. Ill follow," the bard said, motioning the warrior away.
Xena nodded and kicked her mount into action at a steady pace back toward Amphipolis.
"Sorry about asking the horse to throw you Gabrielle, but I needed to slow you down a bit, so Xena could catch up,"
Lyceus said with regret.
Tarren was walking along the streets of Amphipolis studying her list when Lyceus suddenly appeared beside her.
"Hows it going kid?"
"Hi Uncle Lyceus," she yelled, happy for some company. "Things are well Ok I guess I do sort of miss Momma and Gabby," the child said sadly, dropping her head, wishing her mother would return and spoil her fun.
The little girls eyes brightened as she remembered the package. "I did get Momma a present. Wanna see?" she asked eagerly.
"Uh maybe later, so I guess you got everyone out of town Ok huh?"
"Yeah theyre gone Im all alone," she replied sadly. "Where have you been?" she asked the ghost.
"Oh me well I had to go see my boss. She likes to keep track of whats going on, so I had to give her a full report. Its no big deal just standard scroll work."
Tarren swallowed hard." You err report what happens here to someone else Uncle Lyceus?" she asked with a sigh.
"Yeah but you have nothing to worry about. After all youve got a full proof plan right?"
The child nodded. "Uh yeah Its a good plan great plan " the child murmured, wondering when the fun would start.
"Ok good so then where do we go first?"
he asked hoping Xena would arrive soon.
Tarren had already swung from a tree and found it was little fun without Xena and Gabrielle to watch. The candy she was eating was starting to make her feel extremely ill.
"Ya know Tarren you dont look so good. How much of that stuff did you eat?"
the uncle asked noting the size of the bag of confections.
Tarren turned the burlap upside down to show it was now empty.
"You ate it all?"
The youngster nodded and then quickly sprinted to the woods where with a few heaves she quickly emptied her stomach of all the delicious candy she had just devoured.
"Oh Zeus on earth Are you Ok? That looked well bad,"
The now ashen child let out a deep breath, wishing that her mother were there to offer assistance and comfort.
"Come on lets go back to the inn and you can lay down,"
Lyceus said, hoping to keep his niece out of trouble until his sister returned.
"No I wanna go to the playhouse first," the child replied, pointing to the Gaming House.
"Uh Tarren that is not a place you want to go Kids are not allowed in there."
"Now you sound like Momma I just wanna look inside. Now Momma says you have to go away if I want you to, so I want you to go away for a little while," she ordered, wishing the ghost to disappear.
Before the shimmering figure could respond he faded from reality muttering something about Xenas big mouth.
The child wiped her hands together and smiled as she headed for the large man standing by the doorway. "I have a message for Dicen err from Xena," the child said with a weak grin.
The man with a bandaged arm and bruised head looked down at the familiar child and nodded. He went inside and returned with a small skinny man in the silky robes.
"You have a message," the man squeaked, jabbing the child with his finger.
"Yeah," she replied handing him her last piece of falsified parchment.
"Let the kid peak inside or else." Xena Warrior Princess
The skinny man swallowed hard at the thought of what else meant and motioned the child inside not sure why the warrior would want such a young child in his establishment.
Tarren walked around and looked at all the games and tables where people were putting large sums of money down. There was laughing and drinking and Tarren was sure something had died in there since it smelled pretty bad.
"So kid ya wanna play a game?" the man asked with a wicked grin.
The child shrugged wondering where all the toys and things to climb over were. This was not much of a playhouse.
"So kid ya wanna try your luck once?" the silky man asked once again.
Tarren took another fast look around the place and decided there were much better ways to spend her fun time. She started to leave when a familiar wall of a man stood in front of her blocking the childs exit.
"Sorry but nobody leaves without having their bags checked, so lets see the satchel," the giant said with a toothless grin.
The youngster shook her head holding tightly to her bag of treasures.
The angry titan reached down to grab the childs satchel and received a 10-year-old foot in the gut for the effort. The man winced a bit, but was quick to grab Tarrens arm making her squeal from the pain of his unfriendly grip.
Tarren jerked away, reached into her boot, and pulled out her chucks swinging them freely at the giants head sending him falling backward. People in the house stopped to applaud the youngster and Dicen shrunk back into the crowd afraid Xena would appear at any minute.
Tarren held the chucks protectively in front of her preparing for the man to attack. He picked up a large piece of wood and held it high above his head ready to strike.
The youngster fell back knowing there was no place to run and this Titan standing over her would offer no mercy. She wanted to cry out for her mother, but she knew the warrior was too far. The foolish little child knew all too well since she had been the one to send her mother away. Tarren felt truly all alone now and was greatly missing and needing both her mothers protection and comfort.
"Give me the satchel," the large man repeated ready to swing.
Tarren closed her eyes ready to face her fate like a true daughter of the Warrior Princess.
The child pushed away the urge to cry and instead shook her head to let the brute know that the satchel and all its treasures were hers.
"What if she doesnt want to give it to you?" a husky voice from the doorway asked.
Tarrens eyes lit up knowing her mother had arrived just as she always did, not a moment too soon.
The warrior quickly drew her sword and waved it at the giant. "I thought I told you to play nice," she purred, kicking the man forward and using her sword to cut his wooden weapon into pieces.
Xena grabbed Tarren with a free hand and tossed the child safely under a table.
The warrior mother smiled at the men that dare approach looking to test their luck against the Warrior Princess.
Xena vaulted in the air landing on a gaming table knocking all the bets to the ground.
Dicen shrunk in a corner as he watched his gaming house being torn to shreds by angry gamblers and one very angry warrior mother.
Xena waited for the commotion to be in full motion before she grabbed her child and sprinted out the door. The warrior couldnt help but smile knowing the cost Dicen would incur from the devastation.
Chapter 12 - The Forgiving Tree
The youngster walked slowly beside her mother who had not said a single word to her since arriving. Tarren kept her eyes focused on the tips of her boots as Xena unsaddled Argo and then headed toward the inn.
"Momma?" the youngster whispered.
"Not a word not a single word do I want to hear from you," the mother seethed.
Tarren could tell that her mother was well past anger. She had a cold icy glare the child had never seen before. Xena took the child by the arm and firmly led her back to her room. The youngster dropped her satchel on the bed and glanced behind at her mothers frozen stare.
"How could you do something like this?" the mother asked, her voice filled with fear for what might have happened and a lack of understanding for her daughters desire to be left alone.
"I just Im sorry Momma," was all the child could manage to say.
Xena fought her urge to punish the youngster for her misdeeds. She had made a vow to herself long ago never to discipline her child while she had an ounce of anger in her.
The warrior looked at her daughter and shook her head.
"Sorry doesnt cut it Tarren. You have no idea what you did. You have no idea what could have happened, and you hurt people. Gabrielle fell off her horse rushing to get to Potedia because of your little game. And you being left here all alone anything could have happened Going to the gaming house Gods Tarren, I have never been so ashamed of you as I am right now," the warrior mother scolded.
Tears ran down the childs face. "But Momma I didnt mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted to Im sorry Do you forgive me? she asked in a low sullen tone, her eyes filled with tears.
Xenas expression was a mix of pain and fear as she looked at the small form sitting before her asking for another chance.
"No Tarren its just not that easy this time. Right now you stay in this room. I dont really want to talk to you right now. I need to calm down before you and I discuss this," the warrior mother said, closing the door behind her, leaving the youngster alone once again.
Xena took long angry strides back to the bar. She reached over and pulled out a mug filling it with her favorite port, hoping it would help drain some of her angst.
"Ok so Im a lousy mother," she murmured to the empty inn.
The shimmering figure beside her shook its head.
"No Sis youre a great mother, and Tarren is a great little kid."
The warrior dropped her mug as she stared at the face of her long dead brother now sitting right beside her.
The warrior looked at the mug still full of port. "Oh come on I only had a sip of this," she yelled to the gods.
The figure laughed and stood. "Its really me Sis or well my spirit. Ive sort of been keeping Tarren company lately," he said staring at the floor.
Xena blinked her eyes a few times and then stood staring at the figure of a very young boy who had tagged along with her from birth and had died so tenderly while in her command.
"Lyceus is it really you?" Xena asked with a tear.
"In the flesh well you know what I mean,"
Xena reached a hand out to touch her brothers face and let out a breath as it went straight though the shadowy form. "You mean you really have been with Tarren? Why are you even here?" she asked, regaining her composure a bit.
"Well Tarren asked for help and I was sent. I have to tell you Sis I have not done a great job. Im the one, who told her to call you Xena and to go up the Mountain,
" he confessed.
"Lyceus why?" Xena asked, wishing he were solid just so she could box his ears.
"Well Xena She was trying to prove herself to you. The little kid needed to see that it wasnt necessary. Tarren needed to know how much love you have for her. The kid just had to see it rather than just hear it. Look Xena I dont have much time Tarren screwed up today big time, but shes a good little kid. She has a good heart. The kid is just really too young to understand things you feel she should. Actually Xena the truth is that shes not nearly as old as you think she is Tarren is still just a baby Youve got your work cut out for ya
Xena cut her brother off with the wave of a hand. "What do you mean shes not as old as I think she is and shes still just a baby? Why do I have my work cut out for me?" the warrior mother asked, wondering what all this cryptic information about her child meant.
"Well Uh Im not allowed to explain that Youll find out when you need to, but dont worry youll be happy cause shes gonna be with you a very long time. Now dont ask me more because I cant say more "
Xena let her head drop on the bar with a loud thud. This day was just getting better and better.
"Ok Lyceus What do you want from me?" she asked, leaning her head on the palm of her hand.
"Look Sis I know youre upset and confused, but so is the kid. Tarren is very special and just know that you and she are going to be together for a lifetime. She needs you to guide her and teach her and love her much more than you are aware. Just do like youve been doing Xena."
Xena lowered her head remembering her harsh words and the childs insurrection, "Yeah Im doing a stellar job little brother." she replied with a frown.
Lyceus pointed to a rolled up piece of parchment on the floor. "Pick it up Xena," he said.
The warrior reached over and picked up the small parchment and read it out loud.
1 .By Momma birthdy present.
2. Eat lotts of candy.
"Uh...she got pretty sick on that one."
3. Swing from tree not too hi.
6.Go to play house Momma says I cant go in.
The warrior chuckled. "This was why she wanted us out of the village To swing from a tree and eat too much candy," Xena said with a grin.
Lyceus smiled. "Yeah well she wanted to know what it was like in the adult world, and I think she found out pretty fast that she likes your world much more. She missed you Xena. The poor kid didnt realize that sending you away actually meant you wouldnt be there if she needed you, and she needed you pretty much right after you left. You can take a look at Moms kitchen and see that." he said with a shudder.
The warrior looked back to the room and shook her head not ready for any more bad news.
"What am I supposed to do with her?" she asked, shaking her head and staring at the misspelled words on the parchment.
"What youve been doing being a good mother. She loves you Sis but she needs you to accept her out in the world. I know youre scared, but you have to have faith. That little one is watched over by many. Telling people shes your daughter will give her more protection than you think and nobody will ever take her away from you Sis . I promise. Just have faith in yourself and the fates.
Xena wiped a tear from her eye as she stared at her brother. "Ya know when you died I ."she began.
"I know Xena. You made mistakes and then you turned your life around. Gods isnt Tarren lucky to have someone wholl make sure she doesnt make the same mistakes and will love her no matter what. Im proud of my big sister Xena."
The warrior closed her eyes and tears ran down her cheeks. "Lyceus I miss you so much," she said softly, wishing she could just touch his face.
"I miss you too, but hey Im never that far away. Look Ive gotta go Keep thinking of me Sis. I love hearing about your life and Tarren...and Xena do you think Gabrielle would have liked me?" he asked, with a boyish grin.
Xena stared at the young boy shimmering before her and smiled, "Most definitely."
In a flash she was gone.
Xena looked once again at the list in her hand and smiled. All her anger was gone, replaced by the warmth of her brothers visit and the love for a very little girl alone in her room. The warrior paused for a minute as she thought about all he had said. She then slid from the stool and headed back to Tarrens room ready to deal with her very young daughter.
The warrior opened the door and was horrified to find the pallet empty and the window open. Tarren was gone.
The warrior searched the inn and the stables and was about to head to the village when a soft familiar whisper ran through her mind.
"Go to the tree Sis. Shes at our tree. She needs ya Xena hurry."
Tarren dropped beneath the familiar willow a bit exhausted from the long walk. Night was falling and she was alone in the dark, but she needed to visit the tree and seek its wisdom.
The child looked up at the old willow. "Ya gotta help me. I did something bad and Momma wont forgive me. I dont know where else to go," the child cried.
"Hey dont cry Tarren. Your Mommas coming."
Tarren turned her head to find seated next to her a familiar shimmering figure.
"Uncle Lyceus!" she cried, so happy to see him return she wished she could actually hug him. "Im sorry I asked ya to go away ."she said quietly, lowering her eyes.
"Hey its Ok. Did ya have fun in the playhouse?"
"No it was really bad in there. In smelled and there wasnt even anything to play with. A big man tried to take my satchel, but Momma showed up and well Mommas real mad at me I guess I did something pretty bad huh?" the child whispered.
"Yeah well lets just say you wont be getting a pony out of this, but shes not mad at you anymore Tarren. Shes just really worried. You scared her when you sent her away. It made her feel bad to think you didnt want her around."
"I didnt mean to do that I just wanted to get her a present and have some fun," the child murmured.
"I know that and you know that and Sis knows that too now. Shell be here real soon. Shed have been here sooner, but she was looking all over for ya. Shes real worried about you kid. I think she must love you an awful lot."
"Ya think Im gonna get in big trouble?" the child asked, hoping her uncle had inside information.
"Well I dont know. Do you think someone who loves you and worries about you as much as your mom does should punish you for what you did today? If they love you that is."
"Well I guess if they love ya then they would ." the child said hesitantly.
"Well then you answered your own question. See how easy it was."
"Uncle Lyceus, is it sort of the way Momma got mad at you because you worried her so much when you ran away after you broke her slingshot? You cried," the child murmured.
"I did not cry I sniffled a bit but yeah its sort of the same accept youre her kid which makes you much more important to her than me. Im just her brother Its not really the same thing, but it is still the same story ya know. I mean you came here looking for forgiveness the same way I did right?"
"Yeah Momma said the tree has powers," the child said patting the bark.
"Hmm I thought I told her that after I broke her precious slingshot
The child nuzzled close to where the shimmering figure sat hoping to gain some comfort.
"Uncle Lyceus what happened to Mommas slingshot after it broke?" she asked.
"Well she fixed it and gave it to me and then I lost it in the woods,"
he said with a grin, remembering the look on Xenas face when he told her.
The child lay silent for a moment considering her bad plan. "Uncle Lyceus ya think Momma is gonna spank me?" she asked, now concerned with the fate of her bottom
"I dont know. Maybe youll have to decide if you think she should. I mean you guys have a system all your own. Right?"
The child yawned and dropped her head to the side. "Yeah right So are you gonna stay with me?" the youngster asked, finding it hard to keep her head up.
"Just until your mom gets here and then I have to go back kid, but Ill be keeping an eye on you."
"Will you say hello to Solon and Nala for me?" she asked with another yawn
"I sure will kid I sure will."
"I love you Uncle Lyceus, " the child whispered before falling off to sleep.
"I love you too Tarren,"
the shimmering figure whispered before fading out of existence.
The wind blew on the old willow and the leaves started to fall blanketing the sleeping child warmly beneath them.
Xena kicked Argo into a full gallop and headed for the old tree. When she arrived she found her young daughter asleep under the willow. The warrior sighed with relief, staring at the familiar scene that was now before her. She walked over and nudged the little girl.
"Tarren wake up," she whispered, pulling a stray leaf from the youngster's hair.
The little girls eyes flickered open, "Momma?"
The warrior mother nodded, "Yes its Momma, and you better have a damn good reason for being here young lady. You are already in trouble up to your eyeballs. I tell you to stay in your room and you come here," she scolded with a broken voice, bringing the little girl to her feet.
Tarren stared at her mother and Xena just reached out and embraced the child. "You had me scared to death youngster. Ive been looking all over for you," she said squeezing the child.
Tarren smiled knowing this was just how the story was supposed to go.
"Youve been looking a long time Momma?" she asked, eager to hear that she had been.
"Yes!" the warrior, replied sternly.
"Were you real worried?" the child asked with a grin the warrior couldnt see.
Xena placed the child in front of her as she crouched on the ground in front of her daughter. "Very worried Now why would you want to do that to me?" she asked softly, touching the little girls cheek, wishing she could take back her harsh words from earlier.
Tarren tilted her head wondering why this was being asked. It was after all not part of the story she was told.
The little girl decided that her mother must have forgotten how the tale went, so she would offer her a bit of help.
Xena looked at the child waiting for an answer but the child said nothing. She merely moved the warriors arm from her leg and quickly placed her small form across her mothers lap.
The warrior mother looked down at the child with confusion. "What are you doing?" the mother asked.
"Im waiting," she replied lying still on her mothers leg.
"For what?" the mother asked with confusion, staring down at the back of her childs head.
Tarren turned around and stared up at her mother. "For my spankin. It is part of the system ya know? Ya see you hit Lyceus, but he was just your brother. Its not the same. Im your kid, so we figured that you must have been much more worried about me. I figured that Id get a spankin for worrying ya so much " she said turning her head and closing her eyes tightly, once again waiting for the hand of retribution to fall.
Xena lifted the child gently off her lap trying not to smile. "Tarren is that why you came here? You wanted to play out the story because you wanted to be forgiven?" she asked, stroking the little girls face.
Tarren again stared at her mother, a bit frustrated in the delay and deviation from plot.
The child again said nothing trying to figure out her mothers obvious strategy. The youngster tried to remember the story, but couldnt seem to find these particular words anywhere in the dialogue she remembered.
"Oh I get it," the youngster said with a frown, finally realizing why her mother was not up to speed on the story.
Xena cocked her head. "Ya do?" she asked, eager for the child to share the information.
Tarren nodded and quickly unlaced her breeches and dropped them. She then once again leaned over her mothers lap.
"What did ya do that for?" Xena asked again pulling the child quickly up.
Tarren let out a long breath wondering why she had to explain the obvious to a grown up.
"Momma I figure the reason you havent spanked me yet is cause your still real mad about what I did today. At first I figured youd just give me a swat, but then I realized that you must have been real worried looking for me and even madder at me when you found me. When Im really... really bad you always say your gonna drop my britches before I get paddled, so I figured that since you love me so much and you were so worried that you must want to give me a britches down spankin. I have, after all, been very bad today Momma." the child said with a sigh, for the third time lying over her mothers lap.
Xena bit her lip and stared at the small form stretched across her knee. The warrior was trying not to chuckle at something her daughter obviously took very seriously.
"Oh I see
and after I give you this britches down spanking what will I do?" the mother asked, eager for further direction from her informative child.
The little girl turned her head a bit so she could see her mothers face. "Then youll have to forgive me the way you did Lyceus. Then you cant be mad at me anymore for what I did," she answered in a near whisper.
The warriors smile faded as understanding for her daughters logic came over her. She slowly lifted the child up and looked into her eyes.
"Tarren I dont have to spank you to not be mad at you. What you did was very wrong and you may very well wind up over my knee when all this is finished but not because Im mad you now. Youre my daughter and I ."
The sight of her young daughters head drooping cut off the warriors words.
"Dont you love me Momma?"
"Yes of course I love you baby. I love you more than anything in the world but ."
"Werent you worried about me the way you were Uncle Lyceus?"
"Of course but Tarren but ."
"Dont you want to forgive me like tree tells ya to?" she asked motioning to the willow.
The warrior looked into the wide eyes of her innocent young child and shook her head.
"You do know as the mother in this situation that its me who says when its time to put you over my knee," she replied with a soft smile.
The child nodded. "Sorry Is it time now Momma?" she asked, never realizing she was taking away from her mothers job.
Xena closed her eyes. While the dutiful part of her said the child deserved to be punished for her many misdeeds. The other part, the part that was looking into this youngsters soft loving gaze, was finding it hard to muster the parental disciplinarian inside. All Xena really wanted to do was hold her child and protect her from the world that might harm her.
The warrior mother shook her head and touched the childs cheek, "Tarren I do forgive you I dont need ."
The warrior stopped short when she realized that her daughter had somehow come to equate her version of the story of Lyceus and the tree with a resolution to this entire ordeal. Xena looked at the childs sullen expression and sighed.
"Yes its time," the mother said stiffly, making a grand attempt at regaining her stoic composure.
Tarren smiled and then once again dropped over her mothers lap. Xena took a deep breath not wanting t administer this punishment, but realizing that her daughter expected it as a way to be sure she was both loved and forgiven the way Lyceus had been many years ago.
Xena tightened her lips and straightened up. "Now then I dont know why Ive been letting you try and talk me out of this. Its just not gonna happen young lady. You had me looking all over, and I was worried to death about you," she said mustering as much of a scolding tone as she could for her young daughters benefit.
The warrior mother leaned over and glanced at her child. "Ahem Tarren, so how much of a spanking do you think this is gonna be?" she asked, hoping a few quick swats would suffice.
The child thought about it and then turned her head a bit. "Well we figured youd be real mad at me for what I did today and since you love me so much this might be the worst spankin I ever got. Its Ok Momma Im ready." she whispered.
"Great Im not," the warrior murmured. Xena cleared her throat. "Well you are absolutely right. After the way you behaved today young lady and since I really do love you so very much, I hope you are ready to have the sorest little bottom in Greece," she answered, shaking her head, wondering if she was playing out her part correctly.
Tarren closed her eyes, "Yes Momma Im ready," the child replied quietly.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head before letting her hand fall on the childs bottom. Tarren grabbed her mothers leg, holding tightly as the warrior mothers hard palm fell fast and obediently in a steady cadence of whacks.
The warrior mother always made very sure her hand never fell any faster or harder than she felt was appropriate for spanking a youngster of Tarrens small size and young age. Xena hated punishing her child, so it was never less than she felt was needed or a bit more than she felt had to be.
The warrior mother gave her naughty young child exactly what she had expected, the worst spanking little Tarren had ever gotten.
When Xena was finished she lifted the youngster to her feet and cringed at the tears she saw in her little girls eyes. The child rubbed her bottom gently and Xena could feel her own tears welling.
"Well young lady I hope you learned your lesson. Because if you ever do anything like this again the spanking you just got now is gonna feel like a tap on the shoulder compared to what Id give you next time, " the warrior said hoping nobody would mind if she added a few lines of her own truth.
The youngster wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to caress the very tender spot. Her mother had kept her word and given her a spanking that was longer than any shed ever gotten.
"No Momma it wont ever happen again Is the spankin over now?" she asked, trying not to let her tears spill.
Xena closed her eyes as she stared at her little girl. "Yes its all over," she said gently kissing the little girl on the cheek.
The warrior mother got to her feet and turned away so the child could not see the tears in her own eyes fall.
"Yes Tarren," she replied with a cracking voice.
"Do you think if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter instead of your brother and youd just given her the worst spankin ever that it would be all right if she cried a lot?" the child asked with a sniffle.
Xena turned around and opened her arms deciding a few tears falling down her own face wouldnt be so bad either. "Yes daughter
I think it would quite all right," she replied.
Tarren jumped into her mothers arms and the warrior squeezed her tightly trying to rein in her own emotions as she kissed the little girls face and rubbed her back letting the child cry freely on her shoulder.
"Momma?" the child sobbed.
"Yes baby?" the warrior mother whispered lifting the little girl in the air and cradling her in her arms.
"Do ya think if Uncle Lyceus had been a girl, and your daughter, and had just gotten the worst spankin ever that youd stay with her and maybe sing her to sleep?" she said tears poring out of her eyes.
The warrior grinned. "Well if all that was the case and this was my daughter we were talking about then yes Id stay with her and sing for her. Of course Id really have to feel that she had learned her lesson," the warrior whispered, cradling the child against her chest.
"I learned my lesson. Can you sing to me?" the child begged.
Xena swallowed hard as she held the youngster astonished by her childs endless amount of love and devotion. In the few months they had been together Xena had woven her life around this little girl and now could not and would not accept a life without her. She kissed the childs wet cheek as she walked.
"Well first things first little girl. As soon as we get back you are getting a bath because you smell like the inside of that gaming house and cheese?" The warrior took a sniff of the childs tunic and shook her head.
"Then you and I have a long list of things to discuss. Or more accurately I am going to talk and you are going to listen. We are far from through little daughter, and when Gabrielle and Mother Tarren where is your grandmother?" the warrior asked, stopping in mid stride.
The sniffling child tightened her grip around her mothers neck and lowered her head closer to her shoulder. "You already forgave me right Momma?" the youngster asked.
"Yes Tarren now where did you send your grandmother?" the warrior asked, concerned for the childs imagination having sent Cyrene off a cliff.
"The edge of the village somewhere," the child replied.
"Which edge Tarren. That covers a lot of ground," the mother responded.
"I dunno. The note just said to go to the edge of the village cause there was someone who needed a
Momma whats a midwife?" the little girl asked, wiping her tears.
Xena covered her face with her hand and ran it slowly down to her mouth. "You sent my mother to the entire edge of Amphipolis looking for a woman in need of a midwife?" the warrior mother asked, not sure if she should laugh or cry, but knowing Cyrene would not return until she found the woman in need.
"Yes Momma. Did I do something bad again?" the child asked, a fresh batch of tears brewing in her eyes.
The warrior mother kissed the childs cheek and grinned. "Yes you did, but I love you anyway ya little monster," she said hugging the child tightly.
Xena walked on grateful that her daughter had not asked about the definition of a midwife again, as she was not up to the telling. She smiled at the sniffling child nestled safely in her arms as she wondered how long it would before Gabrielle and Cyrene returned.
Later that night Tarren lay still sniffling on the bed having been tucked in tenderly by her mother.
Gabrielle had returned so exhausted from her long walk that she merely asked if the child was living or dead and then fell into her bed. There was still no sign of Cyrene.
After their time at the Forging Tree, Xena had taken Tarren back to the inn. The mother had carried her to the privacy of their room for a long bath and given a full night of lectures on the difference between good and bad and right and wrong and what she accepted as appropriate behavior for her young daughter. Tarren had stood quietly for the entire scolding knowing better than to interrupt or argue.
Xena entered and undressed for bed. She slid onto the pallet and stared at her contrite child.
"Momma?" the child whispered.
"Are you done yelling at me?" she asked, covering her head with the blankets just in case.
"Yup but before you ask me little girl, you are still confined to your bedroll for one week," the mother ordered, her frustration now quite real.
"Oh but Momma thats worse than staying here. I get to look at all the trees and stuff and cant climb any of it," the child moaned.
Xena took a deep breath as she lay staring up at the ceiling. "Yup and you wont do any fishing or swimming either young lady. Youll be working on your scrolls starting with the one where you write 100 times each: I will not copy someone elses handwriting. I will not tell lies. I will not go places my mother tells me I am not allowed to go, I will not wander off alone, and my mother loves me very much. It will give you a chance to think about everything you did wrong," the warrior mother replied, smiling to herself that the youngster had not noticed the last one she had just added.
Tarren cringed under the repetition of the added punishment her mother had added since they had returned to the inn.
The child bit her lip and opened her eyes wide hoping for a bit of mercy. "But Momma we only have one more day left in Amphipolis. Am I gonna be in my room for that too?" she asked, hoping she would not be.
Xena lifted the little girl into her arms holding her high above her head. "Tarren tomorrow my mother will see her kitchen. Gabrielle will wake up feeling all the aches of falling off that horse. Baby your room may be the only safe place for you, so yes, you will spend the day in here," she said with finality, bringing the child into a loving hug right away.
Xena wanted to make sure Tarren understood the difference between an angry mother and the reputed angry warrior she would never allow the child to see. She wanted the youngster to know that she would never leave her and would always love her the way a mother should.
The child turned and stared at her mother giving her the best sad face she could muster. "Momma if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter and just gotten the worst spankin ever would there be any chance of her getting a pony?" she asked.
The answer was deadpan, "Not unless she was ready to ride it."
"Just checking," the child murmured, gently rubbing her backside, not really wanting to even see a pony for a while.
Xena kissed her daughter and gently rubbed the childs back as she held her. The warriors thoughts were of Lyceus and that brought a gentle smile to her face.
Xena had chosen not to tell Tarren about her brother paying the warrior a visit. She felt that Tarren needed to have that private little adventure all to herself. Besides it avoided an entire topic of where and how ghosts come from that the warrior did not wish to have.
The warrior mother quietly placed a loving arm around her small daughter and remembered Lyceus words about Tarren being a baby and much younger than she thought. It was a puzzle that somehow Xena knew would be solved in the near future. In the meantime the warrior was content to hold her young child closely.
Tarren sighed and nuzzled next to her mothers chest.
"Will you sing to me now?"
Xena kissed the little girl on the cheek and grinned.
"With pleasure my very little one. I was sort of hoping you would ask."
Chapter 13 The Day After
In the morning Xena arose deciding it was time to go in search of her mother. As she readied herself to exit the inn the grandmother entered looking exhausted and done in.
"Mother your back. I was just going looking for you," the warrior said with a sigh of relief.
"Why daughter didnt Tarren tell you about the message?" she asked, dropping into a chair.
"Yes but ."
"Im sorry dear, but it was a long birth and it took much longer than I thought. I did not mean to worry you little one. Now I have one day left. Wheres my granddaughter? she asked, wanting to spend every minute with the dear little girl.
"Shes in her room. So you mean there really was a woman in need of a midwife?" Xena asked, with a puzzled look.
"Yes dear of course Gods I need a cup of tea. Why dont you get little Tarren? I want to spend some time with her," the grandmother said with a smile.
"Uh sorry mother but shes being punished
no exceptions this time," the warrior said firmly.
"But why dear? What could the little imp have done since Ive been gone?" she asked.
Xena weighed it out in her mind trying to understand how her mother had actually
Found a fictitious woman in need on he edge of Amphipolis, but then decided to file it in her mind with the rest of the mysteries in her life. Xena weighed it out and decided that telling her mother of Tarrens misdeeds at that moment might not be best.
The older woman entered the kitchen in search of her tea.
The warrior soon heard a loud shrill, "Xena!"
Xena entered the kitchen, which was covered floor to ceiling in sticky cheese.
"Who did this to my kitchen?" Cyrene asked, holding a mug caked in cheese.
Xena thought about it. "Tarren did it Mother. Thats one of the reasons shes in her room," the warrior replied, knowing she was holding back a bit.
The older woman looked around the kitchen and sighed. "How? Why? Never mind...Dont tell me just clean it up," she said quietly, deciding she herself was now in need of rest.
Cyrene shook her head and headed back to her room.
Gabrielle stumbled into the kitchen a bit later rubbing her aching back. "Good morning," the young woman said with a slow staggered breath.
Xena glanced over at her sore friend and offered her a sympathetic sigh. "How are you feeling? Gabrielle do you want me to look at you back?" she asked with great concern.
The bard backed away. "No I dont want anyone to touch me. I dont even want anyone to look too hard at me. It would hurt too much," she said reaching for a mug of tea and instead getting a handful of gooey cheese.
"What happened in here?" she asked letting her eyes scan the cheese-covered walls. The bard held her hand in the air before the warrior could speak, "Wait dont tell me Tarren?"
Xena nodded and offered her friend a cloth to wipe her hand with.
"Well it looks like she inherited your cooking abilities," the bard chided, dropping the cloth and sipping her tea.
Xena could see the pain in her friends face. "Gabrielle why dont you go back to bed and relax or take a hot bath
I have to clean up this mess but Ill get you the water Ok?" the warrior offered, feeling guilty since it had been her child that had caused the problems.
The bard nodded appreciatively and limped back to her room.
Xena stared at the ceiling full of cheese wondering just how it got there, but not really wanting to ask her daughter for fear she might actually tell her. "Sloppy cheese sandwich" the warrior muttered as she scrubbed the goo away.
Gabrielle lay in a relaxing tub of hot water when a small figured appeared by her door being propelled forward by a larger more intense form. The child walked slowly over to the bards tub keeping her head down so she couldnt see her friends eyes.
"Hi Gabby," the child said with the wave of her hand.
The bard was silent.
The youngster leaned against the tub letting her finger run across the top of the water occasionally glancing up to see if the young woman would acknowledge her presence.
"Im sorry for what I did Gabby. I didnt mean to get you hurt," the little girl whispered.
The bard turned her aching neck around just enough to face the child and winced for having made the move.
"Xena told you that you had to apologize right?" the young woman asked sternly.
The youngster nodded, "Uh huh."
The bard eased herself back into a comfortable position. "Well you have so now you can go back to your room and stay there," she ordered.
The child stared at her unusually angry friend, "But Gabby I really didnt mean ."
Gabrielle did not allow the child to finish. "Tarren whether you meant to or not you did it. First you scared the Hades out of me by having me think my home village was in danger and then I fall off the horse Only to find out it was just all a little childish game. Do you have any idea how far I walked just because I was worried about you?" she chided.
The child shook her head. "No but Momma gave me a hot bottom," she said quietly, deciding that warm did not seem to do her mothers efforts justice.
"Lucky Momma," the bard replied, trying in vain to control her own frustration.
Tarren looked at her friend and lowered her eyes at the lack of sympathy she was receiving. "And Im stuck in my bedroll for an entire week and ."
The bard threw up a halting hand. "Tarren I get the message. Xena punished you and thats all well and good, but I myself do not really want to chat about it right now, so just go to your room," she demanded.
The youngster bit her lip and looked to her mother who was standing in the doorway. The warrior motioned the child to approach, which she gladly did.
"I dont think Gabby wants me to apologize anymore Momma," the child said sadly, looking up at the warriors soft gaze.
Xena took the youngsters hand and lead her out into the hallway. "Look shes just upset right now. Give her a chance to calm down and you can try again later. You go back to your room," she whispered, patting the child gently on the back.
The youngster started to move and then turned suddenly reaching up to embrace her mother. "I almost forgot Happy Birthday Momma," she whispered.
The warrior smiled. "Thank you baby," she replied lifting the little girl and hugging her tight.
Xena watched sadly as the sullen little form returned to her bed. The warrior then entered the bards chamber settling her self on the side of the tub.
"Gabrielle was that really necessary? She was just trying to apologize," the mother defended.
Gabrielle let out a long breath. "I know Xena, but she cant go on thinking that when she does something wrong you punish her and good old Gabrielle will forgive her no matter what. Look I just need a little time to myself right now Xena," the young woman replied, splashing the water in frustration.
The warrior threw her hands in the air. "Ok Gabrielle have it your way, but arent you the one that always tells me to remember that she is just a small child," the warrior said softly, turning on her heal to leave the room.
Xena stood in the hallway looking at all the closed doors, Mother is fast asleep, Tarren is probably crying herself to sleep, Gabrielle needs time to herself OK Ill just go for a ride on my horse. Its my birthday," the warrior mumbled heading out to the barn.
Cyrene stood in the kitchen preparing the mid-day meal wondering where Xena had gone. Gabrielle wandered in feeling a bit more relaxed and eager for some conversation.
"Wheres Xena?" the young woman asked.
"I dont know. I havent seen her all morning. Shell be back when shes ready or needed," the innkeeper said with a smile.
The bard nodded and took a mug of cider from the counter, but merely stared at it.
"So are you still angry with the little one for sending you to Potedia?" the grandmother asked.
Gabrielles snapped her head up in surprise.
Cyrene smiled. "Yes child my daughter thinks her mother a deaf fool. I heard all about Little Tarrens exploits and yours. How is your back dear?" she asked, showing a mothers genuine concern.
Gabrielle rubbed her lower spine and grinned, "Well my pride is broken, but the rest of me will survive."
Cyrene nodded and patted the young womans arm gently, "And the little one. Are you still angry with her?" she repeated.
The bard sipped her cider and let out a quick breath, "I take it that you are not. I know Xenas not, so I guess that makes me the dragon in the house."
Cyrene laughed. "No child you are not a monster. You have every right to be angry. Xena cant be mad at the child. She is Tarrens mother. Xena knows the child depends on her for everything. My daughter is too good of a mother to not love that child no matter what she does. Tarren needs that and Xena will never turn away from her baby. She loves her too much," the grandmother said with a smile.
Gabrielle leaned against the counter and grinned. "You know Cyrene I never thought Id see the day that Xena was more understanding and compassionate than me. I mean she has always been so tough and ready to fight, but with Tarren ."
Cyrene finished the sentence. "With Tarren her heart is open and her love spills out faster than she can handle child. She is the little one's mother. That is how it should be," the grandmother answered.
Gabrielle nodded. "Then why am I so mad at Tarren and why arent you?" she asked, remembering that the child had sent the grandmother somewhere as well, but knowing little else.
The grandmother chuckled and wiped her hands on her apron, "Gabrielle you cant hold a grudge against a child for being a child even if they are a being a very naughty child at the time. Thats like being angry with a blind man for being blind. Tarren cant help being a little one."
The bard smiled knowing that the older womans words were correct.
"Besides if I know my daughter that little scamp wont be sitting comfortably for a while. Shell think more than twice before she does anything like that again," the grandmother finished.
The bard sipped at her cider and grinned. "I was pretty hard on Tarren this morning. I treated her like she was an adult and I shouldnt have. She just scared me so much. I thought my village was under attack. I thought Tarren was in danger. I guess I should go talk to her like shes a kid. Ive sort of missed the little brat and to tell you the truth Ive felt pretty rotten about it all morning," the bard said with a gentle smile.
The young woman started to turn when she paused and looked at Cyrene. "I dont know if there will be time to say this or not. We are leaving awfully early in the morning, but I wanted to thank you for...well being so kind. I have to admit I had a few trepidations about coming here, but Cyrene you have taught me a lot in these last few weeks. I want to thank you for treating me like family," Gabrielle said quietly with a tear in her eye.
The older woman smiled and embraced the bard, "Gabrielle when are you going to get it through your head that you are family daughter Now leave me to my cooking and go talk to Tarren."
The bard entered the room and found the small figure hugging her mothers saddlebags fast asleep on the large pallet. She crawled in the bed beside her and gently kissed the youngsters cheek.
"Momma?" the sleepy child asked, wiping the sleep from her eyes.
"No sorry its just the grouch from next door," the bard whispered.
"Gabby? What are you doing here? I thought you didnt want me around," the little one said making no effort to hide her hurt, holding firmly to Xenas saddlebags.
The bard placed an arm around the youngster and lay her head down on the childs pillow. "Im sorry Tarren. I didnt mean what I said. I was just really upset and in a lot of pain. I know you were trying to apologize and Im sorry I was so mean...forgive me?" she asked nuzzling next to the little girl.
Tarren thought about it. "Yeah Im not mad at ya Gabby. I dont blame you for not wanting to talk to me. Momma said that what I did was really bad," the child murmured.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yup well shes right, but that doesnt mean I should have been so mean to you this morning honey. I should have listened to everything you had to say. I was just really upset. Tarren its not right to send people away. You make them feel bad. Its also not nice to tell someone that a person they care about might be hurt. That scares them too. I know when I thought you might be hurt I was really scared," the young woman said softly, wiping stray tears from the childs cheeks.
Tarren turned and faced her friend. "You were?"
"Yes very scared. I wouldnt want to lose you," the bard replied with a smile.
"Are you sure?"
"Very sure. I wouldnt know what to do without you," the young woman said hugging the child tightly.
"Im sorry Gabby. I didnt mean for you to get hurt or to scare anyone," the child replied letting a tear fall down her cheek.
"I know you didnt. Shh its Ok. Now tell me what happened while I was gone," the bard whispered, holding the youngster in her arms.
Tarren wiped her eyes and grinned at the memory of how her adventure had started. "Well I made a sloppy cheese sandwich and it was really good. Can we make them on the trail Gabby?" she begged.
"Well see," the bard replied, remembering the way Cyrenes kitchen had suffered during the making of this meal.
"I ate too much candy and got sick, and I went into the playhouse but it really wasnt much of a playhouse. I got to use my chucks, and Momma came in and wrecked the place. She got real mad at me and wouldnt forgive me for what I did. So I went to the Forgiving Tree so shed have to. Then Momma came and I got a spankin cause Momma was so worried about me. Anyway she forgave me like she did uncle Lyceus. We came back here and Momma yelled a lot. Now I have to stay in my bedroll for a week and write all the stuff I did wrong down on scrolls, so I know not to do them again," the youngster orated, letting out one long breath at the end.
The bard was amazed at how the child seemed to get that out in one sentence. "Oh well it sounds like you had a very full day and that your mother definitely covered all bases," the young woman replied, amazed at how Xena managed to do everything so precisely and without doubt.
Gabrielle stroked the childs face, as she lay comfortably next to her, grateful for the youngsters love and angry with herself for forgetting, even for a moment, that Tarren was just a child.
"Is Momma back. I wanna give her the birthday present I got."
The bards eyes flew open and she jumped up in the bed. "By the gods Xenas birthday is today and we have people coming for a party tonight," she yelled.
Gabrielle started pacing around the room, "Let me think. Where would she go?"
"Not now honey."
"But Gabby I know where Momma is."
"Are you gonna go get her?"
"Can I come?"
"No you are being punished. I cant take you with me."
"Then Im not telling. I wanna to see Momma on her birthday too," the stubborn child decided.
Gabrielle knelt beside the bed hoping to negotiate. "Tarren we are having a surprise party for Xena tonight. If you tell me where she is Ill go get her and Ill talk her into letting you come out of your room for a little while," the bard offered.
The youngster shook her head. "Dont wanna see a room full of people I have to say Xena in front of," the child sulked.
"Ok what if I throw my bedroll on top of Xena's?" she asked.
The youngster shook her head. "Youd do that anyway," the child said with a frown.
"Ok I dont have time to argue with you. You can come, but if Xena kills me its on your head brat," the bard said with a tired grin.
Tarren hopped off the bed eager to lead the way. "And I want sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night for dinner," she added.
The bard cringed at the thought of the childs invention but she was desperate. "Why you little All right and sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night," the young woman said with a frown.
The child slipped her boots on and took the bards hand. "Momma went to Uncle Lyceus grave to say goodbye," the youngster offered with a sigh.
"Why didnt I think of that?" the bard asked, slapping her forehead.
"Because Momma and me share the same heart," the child replied, proudly repeating her mothers words.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Thats not all you two share believe me," the bard said with a sly grin, grabbing the child and heading out the door.
Xena sat beside the sarcophagus wishing her brother would appear. She asked him in her thoughts to show himself. The warrior had lay flowers on the tomb and said private prayers but he was not to return. She just sat here thinking of her lost brother.
There was the sound of footprints and skidding in the dirt outside and the warrior smiled to herself knowing she had been found.
"Well Lyceus we have company," she said with a grin.
Gabrielle walked in alone and waved to the warrior seated by the grave. "Hi Happy Birthday Sorry I forgot this morning," the bard said quietly, feeling a ton of guilt for both her bad mood and forgetting her friends birthday.
Xena stood and shook her head. "Forget it Gabrielle. You were in a lot of pain," the warrior replied with a smile. She turned and leaned up against the wall staring at her friend. "However, my ears told me two pair of feet had arrived. Could my hearing be going already? I am getting older you know, but Gabrielle I am sure you wouldnt dare bring
Before the warrior could finish her thought a small figure came racing in with a wide grin. "Hi Momma...happy birthday again," the little voice squealed as the youngster ran past the bard stopped only by the solid and stoic form of her mother.
"Young lady what are you doing out of your room and here?" the warrior mother asked with a forced scowl.
The youngster looked up at her mother who seemed much taller than usual. "Well I was the only one that knew where you were, so Gabby had to take me with her to find ya, and were having sloppy cheese tomorrow for dinner," the child stated.
The warrior frowned at the bard who just shrugged.
"Well how did you know where Id be?" the mother asked with a grin.
"Uncle Lyceus told me," she whispered.
The warrior smiled and dropped her façade of anger. She lifted the little girl into her arms. "I should be angry with you, but since its my birthday I dont wanna be." she said, kissing the child and tossing her playfully over her shoulder.
"Are you ready to go?" the bard asked with a broad smile, happy that her friend was not upset that she had released the little inmate.
"Sure wouldnt want to ruin the party now would I?" she asked the giggling child
"You knew?" the frustrated bard asked, gently punching her friend in the arm. "How? We didnt even tell Tarren until today."
The little girl giggled and looked at the bard. "We have many skills," the youngster replied with a mischievous little grin.
The warrior chuckled and brought the child back in front of her.
Gabrielle slapped her forehead. "By the gods there really are two of them," she moaned.
Xena suffered through the party being polite to people she didnt really know and trying to spend time with those she did. After a while the warrior started to feel crowded by all the attention and sought refuge back in her room where Tarren was still confined.
"Hi!" the mother said slipping quietly into the chamber.
The child looked up from a plate of cake and the warrior noticed there were already two empty plates beside her. The youngster glanced at her mother, white frosting covering most of the childs face. "Hi Momma...good cake," the child said with a frosty smile.
The warrior arched her eyebrows as she reached for a damp cloth and started cleaning the remnants from the childs mouth. Tarren squirmed a bit but after a quick warning look from her mother submitted to the cleaning.
"Who brought you all this cake? I swear Tarren you are gonna be sick," the mother groaned, removing the final plate from the childs hands.
"You and Grandma and Gabby" the child said methodically pointing to each plate in turn.
Xena handed the youngster a mug of milk to wash down the sugarfest. "Well it seems that sneaking food to the prisoner is not such an original idea," she said with a grin.
"Hows your party?" the child asked, happy to be left in her room rather than with a group of strangers.
"Well its sort of crowded and loud and definitely missing something," Xena said with a long breath.
"What?" the child asked.
"You," the mother replied with a soft smile.
The warrior lifted the child off the bed and over her shoulder and carried her into the inn. She tried to quiet the crowd with polite requests but it took a two-fingered whistle to get their attention. When the room was quiet the warrior spoke still holding a yawning Tarren in her arms.
"First of all I would like to thank everyone for coming. Its always nice to share my birthday with so many friends and my family, but this birthday is a very special one for me because I recently was given a very special gift, which I would like to share with you. Ive tried to keep this gift a secret because it means so much to me, but the truth is that it means so much to me that I cant help but share it. Everyone I would like to introduce you to Tarren, a little girl that I am very proud to say is my daughter," the mother said kissing her daughters cheek.
Gabrielles mouth dropped and Cyrene just started to applaud, as did everyone else in the room. Xena caught sight of Toben and couldnt help but smile at the way he shrunk in the crowd. Her mother had invited him before the incident and in the name of mending fences he had the nerve to show up.
The little girl looked to her mother with wide eyes. "But Xena you said ."
The warrior silenced her with a single finger over her lips. "Never mind what I said before and listen to what I just said. You are my daughter and that is not something I wish to keep a secret anymore. Im too proud of it, so its my birthday present to myself. That means I better not hear another Xena out of you again young lady," she said with a crooked smile.
Tarren threw her arms around her mothers neck and hugged her. "Yes Momma That is not something you will ever have to tell me twice," the child replied, clinging to her mothers neck.
Seeing that look of absolute joy in her childs eyes told the warrior that she had done the right thing.
As the party came to a close and the last of the guests had left, Xena was left with an armload of sleeping child in her lap.
The warrior eyed with pride the new boots from her mother and the leathers from the bard.
Gabrielle reached for Tarren and the warrior gently placed the child in her friends arms.
"Momma " the sleepy form muttered with a wide smile.
Gabrielle grinned. "I dont think there is one person in this room that she didnt remind that you were her mother. Xena you did the right thing for both of you," she said warmly.
"You know this is gonna make it harder on us to watch her," the warrior replied, feeling a bit of guilt at not having told the bard first.
Gabrielle gave the warrior an angry stare. "Hey nobody is gonna hurt this kid. You and I are just gonna make sure of that. Got it warrior," she demanded.
"Got it," the warrior said with a thankful smile.
Gabrielle heaved the load in her arms to one side. "Ok brat time for you to find Morpheous, but dont get to used to the trip. The Princess will have us up early I am sure," the young woman said with a chuckle.
The child smiled and without opening her eyes whispered, "Thats my Momma."
"By the gods she introducing you to people in her sleep," the young woman said with a smirk.
Xena grinned and kissed her daughters cheek as the bard carried away, "Gnight Monster."
The warrior walked into the kitchen and touched her mothers shoulder.
"Mom were leaving early, so I wanted to say thank you. This time here with you has been a great experience for me. I got to know my mother again and she got to know my daughter. Thank you for everything youve done and said Its good to know I can come home again."
The older woman turned and wiped a tear from her eye.
"Daughter now that you know the way you better not wait so long to come back here. I am going to miss you all so much, and the little one. I want you to know how proud I am of you. What you did tonight for Tarren was a wonderful thing. She now has a place to belong just like you do. You take care of her. Dont let her wrap you too tightly around that finger of hers. Make sure you all stay warm and eat well and . Oh Xena take care of your self and them. Watch over my granddaughter," she said with a teary smile.
Xena nodded. "Mom are you gonna be alright?"
"Yes daughter Ill be fine, but you better be back for a visit before solstice or Ill be joining you on the road," the older woman warned.
"Yes maam we will be back I promise, and you are welcome on the road with us anytime," Xena said, making a mental note to be back well before solstice.
The warrior gave her mother a final hug and headed back for sleep knowing that there were as many tears in her mothers eyes at the parting as there were in her own
The familiar figure shimmered into existence beside Cyrene. "Well we did it Mom. Theyre on the right path, but I am sure gonna miss them," Lyceus said staring at his mothers wet cheeks.
Cyrene turned her head slightly to the side and smiled, "I will miss them too son, but dont worry theyll be back."
Tarren lay on the bed smiling at the memory of being introduced as Xenas daughter. Her eyes flickered open when a familiar figure shimmered in the spot beside her.
"Uncle Lyceus youre back," the child yelled.
"Shh I can only stay for a second. How was the party? Mom makes good cake right?"
"Yup and Momma told everyone Im her kid, so its not a secret anymore," the youngster said proudly.
"I know she did a real brave thing, and now I want you to promise me that youll try hard to stay out of trouble just for a little while. She worries a lot about you so give her a break for a few days at least."
"Ill try but it wont be easy," the child said with a frown.
"Well you give it your best shot, and would ya do me a favor?"
"Would you give Xena something for me?"
The ghostly figure moved his hand and a small wrapped package appeared on the bed.
"You tell her that I said happy birthday Ok kid."
Tarren nodded and the figure shimmered away just as the door opened.
"Who were you talking to?" the warrior asked the yawning child.
"Uncle Lyceus wanted me to give you a present and tell you he said happy birthday" she yawned pointing to the package.
Xena picked up the present and smiled, "Well then I guess I should open it."
Tarren nodded and yawned once again.
Xena removed the wrapping and inside found a carefully hand carved piece of branch with an old piece of stretch vine centered across the middle. The warrior smiled as she eyed the most prized possession of her youth.
She closed her eyes. "Thank you little brother" she thought.
The warrior held the item in her hands. "Ya know Tarren when I was a little kid this was the thing I loved most. Now you are little one, so I want you to have it," she said turning to find that the youngster was once again fast asleep.
Xena leaned over and kissed her daughters cheek tenderly and then placed the slingshot in her hands, hoping the child would have dreams of slaying dragons with one small pebble.
Leaving Amphipolis had been hard for Xena, but it had been harder for Cyrene. The trio had gotten up early and traveled most of the day not quite sure just where they were heading, but anxious for some knew adventure. The bard was busy readying their first camp.
Xena leaned up against a tree staring up at the evening sky. She could not forget the vision of the tears in her mothers face as they departed. The warrior looked over at her own little daughter reluctantly confined to a bedroll, arms folded stubbornly to show her dissatisfaction at the idea of being punished.
The warrior mother smiled as she watched the child put her fingers inside her satchel and pull out the little musical flute Cyrene had given her.
The warrior quickly confiscated the item and placed it back in the satchel. "Oh no you dont. That goes right back in the bag little girl. You are being punished. That means no fun at all while you are on that bedroll. You just lie there and think about everything you did wrong and everything Ive said in the past few days." the warrior said, thankful for a weeks worth of silence.
The child opened her eyes wide and stuck her lower lip out in that all too familiar distinct pout. "But Momma I wanna go play," she begged.
Xena knelt beside the child and gently tasseled the youngsters hair. "Sorry monster, but thats how it is. Now I have to go get some firewood, so Gabrielle can make those messy cheese sandwiches of yours," she replied kissing the little girl on the cheek and getting to her feet.
Gabrielle walked over to Xena and gently pulled her friend to the side.
"Uh Xena How are you gonna keep her in bed every evening. Shell be up all night Xena. Just who are you trying to punish Tarren or us?" she asked poking her friend in the ribs.
Xena thought about it. Gabrielle was right. Tarren had too much energy to begin with. If she slept in the evening she would be awake in the middle of the night. However, the warrior mother stood firm. Sentence had been passed and there was no going back on it now.
"Sorry Gabrielle it looks like were all gonna suffer together. Remember we are family and what one gets we all share," she said with a grin.
The bard shuffled her feet a bit. "Maybe you could...."
Xena held up a halting hand. "Dont even think about it. The punishment stands," the mother replied stiffly.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Fine, but dont expect me to be my bright and cheery self in the morning," the young woman growled, heading back toward the fire.
The warrior sighed as she looked back at the child, "Gabrielle, Im gonna go catch some fish just in case youre meal doesnt turn out to be edible," the warrior said with a sly grin.
"Never thought I'd be anxious for fish again," the bard murmured, staring at the frying pan and the hunk of cheese she would have to melt to keep her promise to Tarren.
The warrior sighed as she reached for a pole. Leaving Tarren behind meant fishing alone. She had actually become dependent on her young daughters laughter and company while she fished. Truly this punishment was gonna be hard on both of them.
Tarren heard the word fish, saw her mother reach for a pole and started to rise.
Xena noticed the movement out of the corner of her eye. "Get your little bottom back on that bedroll young lady," the warrior scolded and the child dropped to her blankets quickly.
"But Momma I wanna come with you," she cried.
Xena shook her head wishing she could say yes. "Sorry baby but you know you have to stay in the bedroll. And I better not come back to hear youve moved off that blanket. Understand?" she asked with a parental tone.
The youngster wiped a tear from her eye and lowered her head into her arm.
"Yes ma am," she murmured.
Xena glanced at Gabrielle who could easily see this was tearing the warrior up more than spanking the child did.
With a quick huff Xena headed down the trail to catch an auxiliary meal.
Gabrielle rubbed the sniffling youngsters back tenderly. "Hey its only for a week. Thank the gods! And you should do like Xena said and think about what you did to get yourself into all this trouble," the young woman warned, throwing sticks on the small fire.
Tarren turned on her elbow and faced the bard. "But Gabby I never even got to give Momma her birthday present," she cried.
The bards eyes went wide and she shook her head. "Tarren why didnt you give it to her at the party yesterday?" she asked, knowing the child had been anxious to deliver this surprise present
"There were too many people around. I wanted to give it to her by myself or at least when it was just the three of us. Its the first birthday present I ever got for Momma," she sniffled, lowering her head back on the blanket.
Gabrielle dropped her head onto her hands and lay down next to the youngster. "Its real important to you that you give it to her now isnt it?" she asked kissing the childs forehead.
The child buried her head in the bards shoulder and nodded. "Gabby I just wanted to give her something from me, thats all. You and Momma always buy me stuff, so I wanted to get you stuff too," the child replied.
Tarren reached into her satchel and picked out a well-wrapped package and handed it to Gabrielle. "I missed your birthday, so I wanted to get this for ya now," the child whispered, handing it to the bard.
Gabrielles eyes lit up realizing this was a gift for her. "Tarren you didnt have to do that. My birthday was months ago," the young woman answered, sitting up to stare at the item.
The child grinned. "But I wasnt here, so it really didnt count," the youngster replied, deciding her presence was needed for such events to actually be real.
Gabrielle smiled and kissed the youngsters head, "Sometimes you can be so sweet."
"Open it Gabby," the child begged, anxious to see if the bard liked the present.
Gabrielle pulled at the small cord, which was neatly tied around the burlap wrapping. When she removed it the contents were revealed and the bards eyes flew open with surprise.
In the young womans hands was a carefully bound book of parchment with a small lock on the side.
"Its so you can keep a diary just like Nala did," the youngster said with grin.
Tears ran down the bards face as she let her hand flick through the empty pages.
"Tarren this is wonderful. I mean Thank you...But it must have cost Where did you get the money? Xena and I give you a dinar a week allowance." she questioned, looking oddly at the youngster.
Tarren fidgeted a bit. "Momma says youre not allowed to ask questions about gifts, but I paid for it with my money. I swear." The child said seriously, holding up her hand.
The bard shook her head and hugged the youngster, tears freely flowing down her cheeks. "This is the best gift I have ever gotten honey," the young woman replied holding the child close to her heart and kissing her over and over.
Tarren pulled back a little. "So you like it?" she asked with a smile.
The bard tickled the child and again hugged her. "I am going to write in it every day. Im gonna write all my thoughts about everything including Xena and you my little friend. Lots about you," she said with a warm smile.
Tarren grinned at her friends happiness but then the smile disappeared as she felt the weight of the other package in her satchel.
"I wish I could give Momma her gift," she said with a sigh.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked at the sullen child. She took a small piece of parchment from her bag and wrote on it.
"Go run down and give your mother her gift, but then come right back here," she said, handing the child the folded parchment.
Tarren swallowed hard and shook her head, "Oh no Im not leaving by bedroll. Momma said to stay right here and Im staying right here. I dont wanna get my backside warmed again so soon," the child adamantly informed the bard, rubbing the still tender spot.
The bard smiled and caressed the childs cheek. "Its Ok you just give her that note I wrote. Dont read it. You just give it to her. It says I sent you down . Now go before I change my mind," she said pulling the child to her feet.
Tarren looked at the folded note and then wrapped her arms around her friend. "Thanks Gabby. I love you," she whispered.
The bard kissed the childs forehead. "I love you too brat. Now get outta here before I realize what Im doing," the young woman said with a grin.
Tarren reached into her satchel and pulled out another package and quickly skidded down the path. The bard opened the first page of her diary and to her surprise was a note written in a childs hand.
"Gabby, I am sorry I scared you so much sending you a way. I dont eva want ya to go away again. I love ya. You and Momma are mine. Happy Birthdy. Big hug -Tarren
A single tear ran down the bards face as she watched the child scoot down the path. She then looked again at the note with all its misspelled words. "Truly the best gift I have ever been given," she whispered, holding the diary tightly in her hands.
Xena sat by the water and pulled another fish in dutifully. All of a sudden fishing seemed more like work and less relaxing knowing there was a little girl not far away, crying because she couldnt join her in the familiar venture.
The warrior let her blue eyes settle on the calm waters of the stream as she cast her line out once again. Her muscles relaxed and she smiled at the sound of silence. In a flash her face went blank and she frowned and without turning she spoke.
"Argo better be on fire because thats about the only reason I could understand why a certain little girl would disobey me and come down here when she knows she is not allowed to leave her bedroll," the warrior mother scolded.
Tarren swallowed hard and Xena turned to face the youngster. The nervous child held tightly to her package and handed her mother the bards note. Xena took it and read it quickly all the while keeping a firm eye on her young daughter.
"Xena If you trust me then let Tarren stay with you just this once. I told her she could come down, so if you want to be mad at someone be mad at me. But if you trust me then let her stay. She has something important she want s to give you." Gabrielle
The warrior mother thought about the childs recent imitations of the bards handwriting but then dismissed the thought. Xena knew that her maternal hand had fallen long enough where her daughters little backside would feel quite a sting for a while, so the warrior was confident her child would dare not risk making a similar mistake again so quickly.
Xena pushed the note into her cuff and sat on a small rock beside the still standing youngster. Her muscles eased and she nodded at the little girl. "Ok Gabrielle thought it was important for you to be here. I trust her. Now you tell me what is so important," she said wiggling her finger for the child to approach.
Tarren shuffled her feet a bit. " I just wanted to give you. I never got to give you your birthday present Momma," she replied, lowering her eyes.
Xena shook her head and smiled. "Tarren I told you that you didnt have to get me a present," she said gently, concentrating on her daughters unease.
The mother reached out a hand. "Come here," she said softly, lifting the little girl into her lap. The warrior grinned at her. "Well lets have it," she said, placing out a hand for the important present.
Tarren gave her mother the package, and Xena smiled oddly at the youngster as she held the wrapped object in her hand.
"What are you so nervous about little one? Its Ok youre not in trouble for coming down. You had Gabrielles permission...relax," she said caressing the little girls back.
The child shook her head. "I know Momma. Its not that. I just want you to like the present I got ya," she whispered, letting her head drop over the warriors shoulder.
Xena stared at the still wrapped package in her hands. "I love it Tarren," the mother replied without hesitation, still eyeing the burlap.
The child mouth opened wide and she lifted her head. "But Momma you havent even opened it," she moaned.
The warrior wrapped her arms around the youngster and hugged her. "Tarren I love it already because its something that came from your heart. It doesnt matter what it is Its your thoughts that make it special to me," she whispered.
Tarren shrugged a bit confused by the words and annoyed that after all the trouble she went to get the item her mother would have been satisfied with a burlap bag.
"Will ya open it anyway?" the child asked anxiously.
Xena smiled and started to unearth a small wooden box inside the bag. The warrior eyed the craftsmans ship of the container and looked at her child who was biting her lip anxiously waiting for the unveiling.
Xena quickly lifted the lid of the box open and her eyes flew open. She stared at her daughter as she caressed the sheathed knife inside with the tips of her fingers. "Tarren where did you get the money for this?" she asked, praying it was not something the child had merely obtained without funds.
The child frowned. "You said no asking questions about gifts," the youngster responded, getting a bit annoyed at all the adults in her life not knowing the rules about presents.
The warrior mother gave her child a warning glance that said this was not a rule without exceptions.
The youngster let her shoulders drop knowing one of her secrets was about to be revealed.
"OK I have money that Nala gave me. She said some of it was mine to do with as I wanted as long as it was Ok with you, and the rest of it ...Well thats for something secret. I promised Nala I wouldnt tell you that until it was ready," the child said running her small fingers over her mothers arm.
Xena glanced at the knife and then pulled the child closer to her chest. "Tarren this knife had to cost a lot of money. Baby I dont want you wasting Nalas savings on things for me," she said quietly, hoping the child understood.
Tarren lowered her eyes. "You dont like it Momma?" the little one whined.
The warrior shook her head and hugged her child, "No baby I love it. I mean its beautiful. But Tarren its very expensive."
The little girl wiped a tear. "But you said money didnt mean anything if it didnt make people we care about happy. I wanted to get you something that would make you happy. I broke your knife in Rasa and I felt real bad about that. So I wanted to get you a new one one that wouldnt break again," she replied with a sniffle, thinking she had once again failed to do the right thing.
Xena kissed her daughters forehead wanting to explain but finding it difficult. "Tarren just how much money did Nala leave you for this surprise youre supposed to get us?" the mother asked, knowing her daughter had no concept of the value of money.
The child shook her head, "Momma you said I didnt have to show you my treasures until I was ready and Im not ready yet." The child paused. "But if you tell me I have to Then Ill get them and show ya," she said softly, lowering her eyes, ready do whatever her mother decided was right.
The warrior mother considered the situation. She did not wish to force her daughter into sharing any treasures or secrets before she was ready. That was more important than anything else at the moment was.
"No daughter you take as much time as you need to show me your treasures, but as for carrying large amounts of money. Tarren you are just a little kid and ."
Tarren interrupted before her mother could complete the condemning sentence. "But Momma that money is for a gift for you and me and Gabby. I made a promise. You wouldnt want me to break a promise. Would ya?" the child asked innocently.
Xena shook her head feeling trapped by her own code. "No I wouldnt, but from now on you will hide that money under Argos saddle. Nobody else will look at it, but I dont want you carrying it...Ok?" she asked, hoping this momentary solution would help until she could come up with something better.
The child thought about it. It sure would lighten the satchel if she put the large sack up there. "Ok but only the big bag... The smaller one is mine and solstice is coming up," she replied with a smile.
Xena shook her head at the thought of this child carrying around a large sack of money and a smaller one. This was something that would definitely be discussed in greater length at a future time, but for the moment the warrior agreed.
"Ok for right now well leave it like this, but little one this is something we will talk about quite a lot in the days to come. You are not to buy anything without my permission. Youll just have to survive on that dinar a week I give you," she said stiffly, letting her daughter know this was not a point of negotiation.
Tarren shrugged not really thinking of any more shed actually need, "Yes Momma."
The warrior mother nodded and turned her attention back to the knife in the box. She pulled it out and noted the handle was made of solid gold and the blade crafted by one of the best masters in Greece. She felt the sharp edges and smiled.
"Its beautiful Tarren. Thank you," the mother said softly, kissing the youngsters cheek.
The child smiled at the look of satisfaction on her mother face.
"Momma did ya see the picture of Amphipolis?" the child asked, pointing to the handle with new enthusiasm.
Xena turned the knife over and sure enough there was an etching of her home village.
"Now you wont have to get lonely for Grandma and home," the child said with a grin.
Xena wiped her eyes and gently touched her daughters cheek. "Well little one you sure did think of everything," the mother replied, holding the child on her lap and wrapping her arms gently around her.
"Press the button Momma," the little girl begged, eager to see her mothers expression at the added surprise.
Xena looked to the side of the knife and found a small protruding piece of metal. She pressed her thumb on it and watched in awe as two smaller knives sprang up beside the larger blade.
"Wow!" the warrior said with a child like grin.
Tarren giggled. "Thats what I said when the man in the shop did it," she whispered.
Xena pressed the button a second time and the knives disappeared. She looked at the knife and then her childs glowing face.
"Tarren the knife truly is a thing of beauty and amazement and so are you my little daughter. You are truly the greatest gift I have ever been given by the gods," she said in a very serious tone.
Tarrens eyes went wide knowing her mother was sharing her true heart, "Me Momma?" she asked.
Xena put the knife down and pointed to her daughter, "Yes you. You are my heart little girl and dont you ever forget it," she answered, pulling the child into a tender hug.
"I love you Momma," the little girl whispered as the warrior wiped a tear from the childs cheek.
"And I love you too daughter," she replied, glancing down into the innocent and loving face of the small child who had so quickly captured her heart.
Xena kissed the youngsters head and held her for a minute.
"I wrote you a note. Gabby said you put those in gifts and stuff, so I did." the child said, slowly rising from her mothers lap.
Xena pulled the parchment out of the box and carefully slipped the sheathed knife into her boot feeling the cool metal against her calf. As the warrior was about to read the note Tarren started to head back toward camp.
"Hey where are you going?" Xena asked, wanting her daughter to remain.
"Momma, you said Im not allowed to leave my bedroll, and I promised Gabby Id come back right after I gave you the gift," the child answered in a sad tone.
Xena was tempted to renounce her sentence right there but knew that it was the wrong thing to do. She watched unhappily as her little girl headed back to camp to the confinement of her bedroll. She sighed and looked again at the knife and then read the parchment.
For my Momma. I wood never want anyone else to evr b my Momma. Dont ever go way with out takin me and I wont go without you. Happy birfday love you lots. Your kid Tarren
The warrior princess bit her lip as she felt the lump in her throat grow larger. Xena carefully folded the parchment and placed it in her armor for safekeeping. She picked up the fish and headed back to camp. When she got there she noticed Tarren was already fast asleep on her bedroll.
Gabrielle sat by the fire flipping her hands through the diary. Her face was a bit read and swollen. Xena eyed the sleeping youngster sadly and sat beside the bard.
"Whats that?" the warrior asked, pointing to the book.
Gabrielle said nothing but handed the warrior her gift careful to point out the inscription inside. "Its a diary She wants me to keep a diary like Nala did. She thinks I should right down all the things I dont talk about...smart little kid huh?" she asked with a tear.
Xena nodded and showed the bard her own piece of parchment.
Gabrielle read it and sniffled. "Well Id say that kid definitely knows how to hit the spot when she wants to," the bard said handing the warrior back the paper.
Xena grinned and took out the knife Tarren had given her and handed it to Gabrielle.
"By the gods Xena Thats solid gold!" she exclaimed, observing the artistry of the weapon. "Where did she get the money for this stuff?" the bard asked.
The knife was truly a fine piece of work and quite pretty to look at, but it was the small piece of parchment with all the misspelled words of love that the mother held tightly to.
The warrior took a moment to explain and the words left the bard speechless.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked, concerned the child might be hurt if someone tried to take the money.
Xena shrugged. "Well for the moment shes gonna put it under the saddle. Hopefully she won't take too long to share what this big gift of Nalas might be. Besides its probably just a bunch of coins that dont add up to all that much I hope," she said, hoping the old mystic had been wiser than to leave this child with her entire fortune.
Xena put the thought out of her head and looked at the sleeping child. "Ya know just when I think I know everything about that kid she surprises me with something totally new. I admit it Gabrielle. That kid has me tied around her finger," the warrior said with a grin.
Gabrielle nodded as she glanced down at the diary. "I know exactly what you mean, so I guess we can add mother to your list of many skills now," the bard said poking her friend gently in the ribs.
Xena smiled hoping that was the truth. "Yeah well I get a lot of help with that skill," she replied, placing a gentle hand on her friends shoulders.
The bard grinned and eyed the string of fish the warrior had returned with.
"So what are we going to have for dinner?" the young woman asked.
Xena looked at the fish ready to be cleaned and cooked and chuckled. "I guess well be dining on sloppy cheese tonight Gabrielle," the warrior said with a shrug.
Those magic words brought the sleeping child back from Morpheous. Her eyes flickered open.
"Did someone say sloppy cheese?" the little one asked with a yawn.
The child waited obediently on her bedroll for permission to get up. Xena shook her head and felt her resolve once again dissipate. She wiggled her finger motioning the youngster to approach.
Tarren slid to her mothers side. Xena grinned. "Yeah someone said sloppy cheese ya little monster," she replied, opening her arms and allowing the child to pounce in her lap.
Xena kissed the little girls head and held her tightly on her lap. "Ok so how do we make these wonderful meals?" the mother asked, waiting for instructions on how this dish was prepared.
Tarren was happy to offer details on just how she had accomplished the task, much to the dismay of her mother and the bard.
"Ok so lets throw the cheese in the hot pan," the child yelled reaching for a bulk of cheese.
The warrior pulled the little hand back into place. "Not so fast, I have a better idea," she said putting the youngster on the ground and taking a larger pot, filling it with water and placing it on the fire below the frying pan.
Gabrielle smiled as she heard the water boil. "Why Xena thats a great idea. Maybe well get you cooking one of these days yet," the bard said with a grin.
The warrior shook her head. "Nope picked that trick up watching metal being melted for swords for my army," she said with a wide smile, letting the bard know the cooking duties were still all hers.
Tarren watched as the bard placed the cheese in the pot and it slowly melted. The youngster waited with anticipation but nothing happened. Finally Gabrielle dipped the hunks of bread in the hot cheese and put them on plates to be passed around.
"Hey this is pretty good," the warrior said with a grin, biting into the melted cheese sandwich.
Tarren stared at her plate that had a neatly carved piece of bread with evenly melted cheese over it.
"But its not sloppy. There was no flying cheese or anything," the little girl moaned.
The bard bit into her sandwich. "Hey this is good Tarren why arent you eating?" the young woman asked.
"Its not sloppy There was no splattering or flying cheese or anything," the child repeated, wondering where all the fun had gone.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and they both chuckled a bit. "Well Im sorry but tonight youll just have to settle for a neat sloppy cheese sandwich. I promise you it will taste the same," the mother answered, again pulling the little girl onto her lap.
Tarren sulked a bit for the lack of fireworks that should accompany the meal preparation. However the child wisely decided that a small victory was better than none at all. Not everyone could get something right on the very first try, and Xena was right it did taste just as good.
Later that night, Gabrielle sat writing in her diary and Xena was busy sharpening her sword. Every once in a while the warrior mother would glance over at her sleeping child who had been tucked neatly into her bedroll hours earlier.
"She sure is wiped out," the warrior mother said with a grin.
"Well its been a long day. Maybe well get lucky and shell sleep all night," the bard said with a chuckle, knowing that would not be the case.
Xena sheathed her sword and sat beside the slumbering child wiping stray hairs from the youngsters forehead and starring intensely at the childs face.
"Gabrielle how old do you think Tarren looks?" the mother asked.
"I dont know Why?" the young woman replied.
"I mean have you ever really looked at her. Does she look ten to you?" Xena asked, still staring at the little girls round cheeks and large eyes.
"Well actually I never gave it much thought, but now that you mention it she is a bit small. I guess she does look younger. Why?" the bard asked, now staring intently at the child herself.
"Oh nothing Just something Lyceus had said to me, thats all. Im sure its no big deal," the warrior replied, once again placing the thought to the back of her mind.
Xena had told her friend about the ghostly visit. At first Gabrielle was a bit nervous at a ghost that had been wandering around behind their backs for an entire week. But after a while the young woman was relieved to know that Tarren had not been hallucinating and that Xena had found some peace with her brothers loss.
The bard shrugged it off deciding if it was important Xena would share it another time. "Speaking of Lyceus. I want to put something about him in my diary, but I never met him so Im not sure what to say.
Xena smiled at her friend and then lay down making herself comfortable on the blankets beside her young daughter.
"Do you think Lyceus would have liked me?" the bard asked with an innocent smile
"Yup! Most definitely," the warrior replied with a chuckle. "Most definitely."
Gabrielle smiled at the words and started to write once again. Xena stared at Tarren. She had to grin at the way the youngster held tightly to the warriors saddlebags in one hand and her newly obtained slingshot in the other. The child had a slight smile on her face even as she slept and the warrior could only imagine that her adventurous youngster was having dreams of taking down monsters with a single pebble.
She stroked the childs back affectionately and pulled the blankets up around her shoulders, so she would not feel the night air.
The still sleeping youngster pushed the beloved saddlebags to the side and slid to her mothers side nuzzling in under the warriors arm. Without ever even opening an eye the child threw her arm over Xenas midsection and whispered, "Youre my Momma."
Xena shook her head and grinned. She leaned over and kissed the little girls cheek, "Thats right baby. Im your Momma Now and forever."
The End never.
As always I hope you enjoyed reading this story half as much as I enjoyed writing
it. I am already hard at work on my next epic tail of the trio called Legend
of the Last Amazon My stories to get longer and more
complicated each time, so I would expect this was too be pretty in-depth, and
have many surprises. As always Little Ego and I await your feedback on this
our latest venture as well as the ones to come.
As always I hope you enjoyed reading this story half as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am already hard at work on my next epic tail of the trio called Legend of the Last Amazon My stories to get longer and more complicated each time, so I would expect this was too be pretty in-depth, and have many surprises. As always Little Ego and I await your feedback on this our latest venture as well as the ones to come.
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