~ Mr. Turnip Head Rides Again ~
by Kristien Damon
a.k.a. Lawlsfan
8/6/2000

General Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures 1995-2000. I’ve borrowed a couple of those characters, but the ideas incorporated into this tale are solely the property of the author (me). This story may not be copied and/or reproduced in any form without express written consent from the author. Oh, and I of course will not be acquiring any financial gain from the writing of, or online publishing of, this little tale. It’s just for fun.

Special Dedication: This story is dedicated to my friends and fellow bards extraordinaire, Lariel and Kamouraskan, who simply could not believe that any type of ‘serious’ story with such a turnipy title could possibly be written. Well it took a while but here it is guys. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. <g>

Feedback is always welcome at: lawlsfan@xenaeyes.com. Don’t be shy; please write and let me how you feel. I tend to break out in hives if I don’t get any mail on a story.

Now on to the story…

 

"Xena, quick. You have to come see this." An excited Gabrielle grabbed the warrior by the hand and tried to drag her companion to her feet. She quickly found out it wasn’t easy to move a stubborn ex-warlord who was intent on spending her afternoon doing absolutely nothing. Matter of fact the bard seemed to recall a little donkey friend she used to have who balked just about as well. Not that she was comparing Xena to an ass but if the shoes fit... 

"Gabrielle, I’m right in the middle of reading the Athens Times here," Xena said with a smirk as she unrolled another arms length of scroll and studied it intently, adding to the already large pile of parchment lying at her feet. "Did you now that Hercules had dinner with Mistress Tiberius and her son last month, and then got his hair cut at the local…?"

"Xena, please. You’ve been at that for hours." 

"But Gabrielle, it’s not often I get to catch on up on the news." The warrior casually unrolled another arms length. "Yeah here’s a good one. Man believes he was abducted by strange creatures from the sky." 

"And you call that news?" Gabrielle crossed her arms and sighed. Suddenly her eyebrow arched. "Anything in there about us?" 

"Nah. And yes, it’s news." Xena said pointedly. "Hey, if it’s in the news scroll, it must be fact." 

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and began tapping her toe, her impatience rapidly mounting. Hmm, perhaps a different strategy would work. Xena is a mother after all. "Well I’ve got some real news for you if you’re interested, Warrior Princess." 

"Hmm?" Xena kept reading undaunted. 

"Do you know what your daughter is doing now, Xena?" 

At these words the warrior suddenly perked up and a deep frown etched its way across her forehead. She quickly set the scroll aside and studied the bard’s face. "What?"

Trying to keep a straight face, Gabrielle decided to let the warrior squirm a little while longer. She casually picked a bit of something from under her fingernail and studied it intently. 

"WHAT?" Xena said again with a bit more urgency, her patience thin to begin with and getting thinner by the candle drip. She was envisioning all kinds of childish mishaps and pranks. After all she’d been a kid once. She shuddered at that thought. 

"Finally, I’ve got your attention." The bard grinned wryly. "And no, it’s nothing like the last time, don’t worry." Her eyes literally sparkled with mischievousness as she added, "Nothing’s on fire." 

Xena finally recognized the playfulness in the bard’s expressions and released her innate motherly ‘what happened now’ expectations allowing her heart to slow to its normal rhythms.  

"All right, so what’s she doing then?" she said calmly, albeit a bit breathlessly. 

Gabrielle chuckled softly then reached out and grasped Xena’s hand and finally drew her to her feet. "Come on warrior, I’ll show you."  

They headed across the courtyard of the Amazon village to a small, fence-enclosed area where a small group of children were busily playing and totally oblivious to their approach. 

Xena immediately spied Eve’s raven colored head amidst the other youngsters. She watched as her progeny suddenly lifted her head toward the heavens and let loose a rather shaky but nonetheless effective and very familiar vocalization. 

"Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi! 

All the other children started giggling and clapping their hands together in sheer delight as Mr. Turnip Head, wielded by his mistress Eve the Mighty, continued to outwit all his enemies, the green egg men and the gorgons. He’d valiantly dance around, flipping over them and sweeping their little legs out from under them with his own before pouncing upon them and tickling the life out of them. And with each new victim that fell, the crowd of young amazons cheered with wild abandon. 

Mr. Turnip Head was a simple toy made of carved wood, in the shape of a turnip (of course), with painted blue eyes and pink lips locked in a lopsided grin, a stuck on nose, removable ears, and legs with bright red painted on boots. Not exactly the portrait of a fearless warrior but nonetheless in the eyes of a child he would always be victorious against all the ruthless and evil in the world. 

Xena grinned broadly as she recalled that she’d had a toy just like this one when she was a girl. Before she knew it she was lost to her memories…

 

????????????

 

The young girl hid beneath the tarpaulin listening to the raindrops pelting against its weathered surface and growing ever more restless as the wagon beneath her rumbled along far too slowly. Snugging the blanket up around her small form, she tentatively poked her head out from under the tarp but hurriedly pulled it back in when a large drop of water splayed across her eye causing a sting. Rubbing her eye gingerly she decided that maybe the least amount of exposure would be best under these conditions and thrust her small hand out instead, grabbing the hem of the coat in front of her and giving the soggy fabric a hardy yank. 

"Mother?" 

The rain-drenched owner of the coat turned and looked down at the small lump fidgeting beneath the cover behind her. "Yes my love?" She watched the hand disappear and then reappear shortly thereafter with a carved wooden toy in its grip. 

"Um…Mr. Turnip Head wants to know when will we get home," the young girl said, waggling the carving at her mother’s face. 

Grinning down at the toy with its big black eyes, bulbous stuck-on nose, stubby legs with bright red painted on boots, and squat, round body resembling – a turnip (of course), mother noticed that one ear was missing and the other was upside down and on the wrong side of his face. No wonder he was restless, it appeared he’d been having a rather rough time of it. She chuckled inwardly. 

"Well dear," the woman hesitated when the little hand suddenly thrust the toy closer to her face, begging for his inclusion, "and Mr. Turnip Head, we should be there in about two candle marks." Turning back toward the front she urged the horse into a slightly faster trot. "Is Mr. Turnip Head enjoying his ride sweetie?" 

The hand disappeared beneath the cover again. "Oh yes, except he really misses his friends." 

"I’ll bet he does." 

"Uh huh. He does. He miss Toris too."  

"Me too sweetie. But maybe if you close your eyes for a while when you wake up, we’ll be there." 

The woman grinned as she listened to her daughter whispering in conspiratorial tones to her little turnip friend. They were most certainly up to something, some adventure was definitely unfolding beneath the tarp in that wagon headed for home. 

Mother and daughter rolled along in silence for several moments, each lost in her own world and both wishing they could blink their eyes and already be at home in the warmth and dry. Suddenly the hush was broken. 

"Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" 

The woman nearly jumped from the wagon at the sound of her daughter’s abrupt and unexpected vocalization. Her hand clutched at her chest as a shaky smile crossed her lips. "Xena! What in the world…?" 

The girl popped out from beneath the tarp and grinned, her bright teeth glowing in the low, stormy light. She chuckled heartily. "Oh mother, he did not scare you did he?" 

The woman turned toward her mischievous progeny again, dropped the reins into one hand, and tenderly reached down to stroke the girl’s raven-colored hair. "Just a tiny bit," she said as she smiled into the blinking blue eyes searching her face. "It’s all right. What was that?" 

The girl grinned broadly. "Mr. Turnip Head was just having words with the evil old gorgon." 

"Oh dear," the woman exclaimed playfully as she turned toward the front, took up the reins in both hands again, and clucked softly at the horse. "That didn’t sound like words." 

"Oh no mother," the girl giggled softly, "he uses that to dis…to dis…" 

"To disturb the gorgon?" 

A heartier chuckle erupted from the girl. "No, to distak his emenies." 

"Oh, you mean to distract his enemies?" 

"Right, deestrak them. That way he can get them right where he wants ‘em." A devilish snigger erupted. "I’m gonna try it on Toris when we get home." 

It was the woman’s turn to chuckle heartily as she reached behind her again to stroke her daughter’s rapidly dampening hair. "All right Xena. Now, I think you should slide back under the tarp and stay out of this rain. I don’t want you to catch…"

 Thud! Thud! Clunk, clunk, clunk…

The wagon beneath them jolted suddenly, then startled to vibrate and wobble precariously. Xena’s head popped out from under the tarp again, her wide eyes instantly capturing her mother’s worried expression. "Mother?"

"I think we’ve hit something and broken a wheel." The woman said as she pulled back on the reins bringing the horse to a stop. The wagon lumbered to a halt beneath them, coming to rest with a definite lean to the front and right. 

Both Xena and her mother slid over carefully and gazed down over the side at the mangled wheel. They turned to each other, and as her mother smiled reassuringly, Xena grinned and abruptly thrust Mr. Turnip Head out from under the tarp. "Can we help?" she said sheepishly. Her mother shook her head, pulled the tarp up over her daughter’s head, sighed deeply, and then stepped down off the wagon to see what she could do to get them out of this mess. 

****** 

They’d been there for candle marks it seemed to Xena as she watched her mother struggling to remove the broken wheel from the axle. She wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do with it when she got it off but it was better than just sitting in the rain, which continued to fall fast and furious. Her mother’s hair was matted to her face and there was a thick layer of mud along the bottom of her skirt as well as caked across her shoes. She looked downright miserable and the youngster wished silently that her brother Toris were there to help them.  

Toris wasn’t much bigger than her but at least he was a little bit stronger, seeing as he was a boy. She grinned broadly at the thought of her older brother lying face down in the dirt with her seated astride him pinning his arm behind his back and telling him to ‘call uncle’. Sure he was stronger -- maybe, but certainly not faster, and she just seemed to have all the moves. All it took was one quick and unpredictable sweep of her leg and he was flat on his back. Then she’d pounce, and deftly placing her fingers at strategic locations, she’d get in a good tickle until he’d collapse weak with laughter, leaving him open to her every devilish whim. It worked every time. She looked at her rain-soaked mother struggling with the wheel and her grin slowly faded into a frown. Yep, sure could use Toris right now. 

Moments later another wagon came into view over the crest of the hill. It was heading toward them but in the opposite direction. Spying it first, Xena jumped up and started bouncing in the bed of the wagon causing the entire carriage to shudder. "Mother! Look!" She pointed down the road and her mother followed her excited gesture. Hurriedly the woman got up and ran into the middle of the road waving her own arms and nearly slipping and falling in the mud during the process.  

The wagon slowed to a stop along side them and the man driving looked them over, frowning deeply at what he saw: a woman and a young girl alone in a driving rain with a broken down wagon to boot. Sometimes the gods are just too cruel, he thought as he set the brake on his own rig and stepped down into the road beside the soaked and mud covered woman.  

With her long hair getting wetter and wetter and starting to matt to her face like her mother’s, Xena silently slipped down beneath the tarp again and waited to see what assistance this stranger could or would offer them. 

The man politely tipped his hat sending a tiny river of collected rainwater down the front of him then casually strolled around to check out the broken wheel. "Hmm, looks like you got a bit of trouble there," he said quietly as he studied the damage. Glancing into the bed and spying two very piercing blue eyes studying him from under the tarp, he winked and heard a bright little cackle erupt from the hidden lurker. Turning toward the woman again he held out his hand. "Name’s Hero." 

"Cyrene." She smiled then glanced uneasily at the broken wheel. 

He followed her gaze, sighed, and scratched the back of his neck while he pondered their options; there didn’t seem to be many. "Well, I don’t see as how we’ll be able to do anything about this out here," he said quietly. "There’s a village bout a half a candle mark west of here. We could take the wheel there and have it fixed in no time." 

Cyrene glanced at his wagon tentatively; it was loaded down in building supplies with hardly enough room for an extra wagon wheel. "Are you sure it wouldn’t be too much trouble?" 

"Nah, no trouble. I’ll just make some room in the back there and we’ll be on our way." He started toward his own rig. 

"But we…" Cyrene hesitantly started after him. 

"No sense you sitting out here in the rain and waiting, madam. There’s a nice warm tavern there and I’m sure your lil' one is getting hungry." 

At the mention of her, Xena poked her head out from under the tarp, grinned at her mother and then watched with anticipation as the man started unloading some of his lumber onto the side of the road. All of the sudden she was simply tingling with excitement at the prospect of an adventure. Gods know she loved adventures. But as she studied the serious faces of her mother and the stranger while they worked, she also wished to the gods that she had someone closer her own age here to enjoy the adventure with her. Of course Toris loved adventures too. She sighed. Too bad he hadn’t come along. Nah, he just had to go hunting with the other boys. Well one thing was for sure; she’d make certain he knew what he’d missed when she got home. Shivering slightly, she felt a stream of rain rolling underneath her collar and down her back and in frustration she turned her head up toward the sky and let loose her fiercest cry in hopes that the gods would hear it and stop making them all wet to the bone.  

"Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" 

Startled, Hero dropped an armful of lumber clattering onto his foot and stared at the youngster. Cyrene quickly put her hand over her mouth to hide the amused smile that threatened to capture her face and hurried over to help him remove his appendage from the tangled mass of wood. 

Xena watched her mother and the stranger for several moments in amused silence when she spied a small head tentatively rise up from beneath a tarp on the man’s wagon. The head was crowned with wispy thatches of hair that were nearly the color of the sun, and beneath the bangs was one of the cutest little pixyish faces she’d ever seen. The young strangers studied each other for a long time; neither girl’s gaze wavering in the slightest as blue eyes locked onto green in unspoken communication. Suddenly the little pixy’s lips spread into a broad smile showing two sets of perfect incisors and not much more than gums, top and bottom. At the sight Xena’s own lips curled into a wry grin. 

Hero had finally extricated himself from the wood when he suddenly noticed the youngster poking her head out and getting rather wet. Frowning, he reached for another armful of lumber and pulled it from the back of his wagon. "Sprout!" he shouted over a low rumble of thunder. "Now you get back down under that tarp and stay there, ya hear!" 

Xena watched as the little golden haired sprite immediately slipped back down into her shelter. Brushing her own rain drenched hair from her eyes she grinned as she listened to murmuring chatter arising from beneath the tarp under which the younger girl had disappeared. Then her grin turned into a chuckle when she suddenly heard a tentative attempt at mimicking her own cry. 

"Ay…da-da-da…ay-ayi-ayi…ay-ay…ayi."  

Xena’s chuckling exploded into hardy laughter as she watched her mother and Hero stop unloading lumber and stare bemusedly at the back of his wagon, then shift their gazes toward her. It was all she could do to keep from falling out of her own wagon as she clutched her stomach and doubled over with tears running down her already rain soaked face. And then to add to the simple pleasure of the moment, suddenly the sun burst onto the scene from behind the clouds, the rain ceased, and Xena just knew that the gods had heard her call and granted her wish all in one swoop of their magical powers. She grinned with sheer delight as she reached down under the tarp, pulled out Mr. Turnip Head, and let loose yet another shrill yell.  

"Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!"  

Almost immediately and just as she had anticipated, the tiny sprite rose up again from hiding and grinned at her, the wisps of golden-hued hair framing the little one’s pixyish face brightly reflecting the newly arrived sunlight into Xena’s amazed eyes. Playfully dancing Mr. Turnip Head along the edge of the wagon for her newfound friend, Xena elicited a hearty chuckle and excited hand-clapping dance from the youngster before once again doubling over in laughter herself.  

Yep, the gods had really gone and done it this time hadn’t they. 

***** 

The children and their respective parents arrived at the village a little after the sun had peaked in the sky. Hero went immediately to the local carpenter’s shop to see about getting the wheel repaired while Cyrene gathered up her daughter and their new little friend and headed directly for the tavern.  

As they strolled down the street Xena insisted on walking a little ahead of her mother chatting merrily to the sprite as they went. Cyrene had to chuckle at the site of her daughter with her gangly legs, and the little one tagging along right on her heels trying hard to keep pace, although it turned out to be three steps for every one of Xena’s. Her tiny legs couldn’t have moved any faster but she was persistent in her pursuit. Every once in a while Xena would stop and put her arm across the little one’s shoulder to keep her from getting underfoot or run over by a passing wagon in the street and Cyrene noted that Sprout seemed absolutely enamored by her daughter. Her face was just beaming with innocent delight. Oh, this could be trouble, mother thought as they headed up the steps and into the tavern. 

In the tavern the children quickly took up a position at the largest table in the room and proceeded to begin playing with Mr. Turnip Head and an assortment of Xena’s other toys that had chosen to make the trip with them. Every once in a while Xena would delight her new little friend with her yodeling cry, eliciting sharp squeals of delight and hand clapping from Sprout along with a grin running from ear to ear. Before long there were other children attracted and gathering around them, chanting and laughing brightly. And of course, Mr. Turnip Head was in rare form, leaping and kicking, rolling and punching…oh, and of course flipping. Flipping was a big hit with the children because every time he flipped they were treated to a yodeling display. 

It was several candle marks later, after several helpings of grilled fish and potatoes that Cyrene saw Xena settle back into her seat and contentedly pat her full belly. And sure enough, Sprout quickly followed suit. Mother couldn’t help herself; she chuckled softly. But her amusement was short-lived when a few moments later she noted that the little one appeared a bit flushed as she sniffled and coughed, then laid her head down on Xena’s shoulder, closed her eyes, and stuck her thumb in her mouth. It appeared that a bit of her youthful fire had been dampened. 

"Xena, I think your friend isn’t feeling well," Cyrene said quietly as she leaned over and placed her hand on Sprout’s forehead to feel for a fever, finding that indeed the little one seemed to be burning up. "I think you better go get her father." 

Xena glanced at the little girl resting quietly against her shoulder and stroked her wispy hair tenderly then looked at her mother with concern blanketing her face. Sprout stirred slightly and snuggled in closer to her. 

Cyrene smiled reassuringly at her daughter. "It’s all right. I’ll hold her while you’re gone." She lifted the tiny girl into her arms and rocking her gently, sat down at an adjoining table. 

Sprout stirred again and her eyes fluttered open slightly. She muttered something that sounded like gibberish to Cyrene but registered an awful lot like ‘Xena, don’t leave me’ to the youngster studying her with anxious blue eyes. 

Xena leaned over and carefully placed a kiss on her little friend’s forehead. "I’ll be right back Sprout. I won’t leave you," she whispered, then turned on her heels and quickly headed for the door and down the street to the carpenter’s shop. 

She located Hero in the shop and, in a nearly breathless account, told him the story then led him back to the tavern as fast as her legs could carry her. They burst through the door and Xena didn’t slow down until she was once again at her friend’s side. 

"What is it?" Hero said as he gazed down at his daughter resting uneasily in Cyrene’s arms. Her cheeks were very ruddy with fever and her golden hair was beginning to mat to her face from the sweat that beaded across her forehead. 

"I’m not sure. She seems to be very feverish and hasn’t opened her eyes since I sent Xena to get you." 

Hero quickly approached the bar. "Where’s the apothecary in this town?" 

"Down the street on your right," said the tavern keeper. 

"Looks like we’ll be needing two rooms," Hero quickly added as he fumbled with his money pouch for some dinars. 

"Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it," the tavern keeper said. "Is on the house. Second and third rooms, down the hall on the left.  

Hero nodded his thanks then hurried back to his daughter and gathered her into his arms. Cyrene and Xena followed closely behind as he carried the youngster to their room. 

"And may the gods smile favorably on your little one," the tavern keeper called out after them. 

 

The sun was just beginning to slide below the horizon outside the window as Hero carefully laid Sprout on the bed then quickly departed for the apothecary. Xena sat down on the bed next to her friend and picked up her hand, holding it gently in her own and every so often patting it just to let Sprout know she was still there. Meanwhile, Cyrene filled a basin with water and placed a cooling rag on the child’s forehead. Sprout moaned softly but did not awaken. Her breathing was starting to come in shallow and increasingly labored puffs.  

Xena could tell that her friend was severely ill and getting much worse with each passing moment. She was very troubled. "Mother?" she said quietly. 

"Yes dear?" 

The youngster looked worriedly at her mother with her blue eyes tearing slightly. "Do you think she’s gonna---you know---" She hesitated as though searching for the words then gazed down upon her friend again as a tear rolled slowly down her cheek. "Get better?" 

Cyrene placed her hand tenderly on her daughter’s shoulder and squeezed. "With you here to take care of her I’m sure she will, Xena." 

Xena patted the little girl’s hand again. "Come on Sprout. You can do it." Reaching into her bag of toys she quickly extracted Mr. Turnip Head and placed him on the pillow next to the girl’s head. "Mr. Turnip Head wants you to come out and watch him kick evil butt." 

Cyrene smiled approvingly as she dipped the cloth into the water again and replaced it upon the girl’s forehead. "That’s it Xena, just keep talking to her."  

Sprout coughed and her eyes fluttered open. She looked at Xena and her lips briefly curled into a thin smile before she closed her eyes and fell back into her feverish stupor. 

"I just know she’ll be all right," Xena said thoughtfully as she smiled up at her mother. "The gods couldn’t be that cruel." 

Cyrene reassuringly nodded her concurrence then left the room to get more water. This time her eyes were tearing. 

As the door softly closed behind her mother, Xena leaned over and kissed Sprout on the forehead. "You know how Mr. Turnip Head can take a lickin’ and keep on kicking?" The little girl’s eyes fluttered slightly as though she was trying to respond yet remained closed. "Well," Xena continued in a hushed whisper. "You can too. And you know what else?" She brushed a strand of matted blonde hair off the girl’s forehead. "I need you to get better so’s you can share in all the adventures with us. You’re my best friend, Sprout. For always and always." 

Moments later, Hero burst into the room with the healer close on his heals. The healer smiled at Xena then quickly gauged the little girl’s condition. Afterward he motioned for Hero to step back outside into the hallway. Xena followed their every move uneasily but held fast to her friend’s tiny hand. She watched them conversing just outside the door. 

"Sir, your daughter has the fever severely and unless we can get it under control quickly she may not live through the night," the healer stated matter-of-factly. 

Hero slumped back against the wall, his face pale. "What can we do?"  

The healer continued. "First we need to cool her down as fast as we can." He peeked into the room and looked about. "We’ll need a small tub filled with very cold water." 

"We can get that," Hero said softly. "What else?" 

"She’ll need to be submersed in it until the fever breaks. I’ll give you some herbs that should help also. Mix them in hot water. You’ll have to try to get her to take them somehow. It won’t be easy." 

"Right, what else?" 

The healer looked toward the bed then placed his hand lightly on Hero’s shoulder. He tried to smile reassuringly but Hero could still see the doubt in his eyes. There just wasn’t much else that he or they could do.  

"Just be with her, my friend," the healer said quietly then turned and left the inn, nodding at a quickly returning Cyrene as he passed. 

Hero looked into the room and watched Xena stroking and patting his daughter’s hand. When Cyrene came up beside him he smiled at her then nodded toward the two girls on the bed. "She’s in good hands I think." 

Cyrene smiled. "Yes, the best." Then she touched his arm and they headed into the room to begin a long and substantially sleepless night. 

***** 

The sun beaming brightly through the window and the sound of birds chirping loudly just outside awoke Xena from her fitful slumber. She opened her eyes slowly and looked around her. Her mother was nowhere to be seen but Hero was sound asleep in the chair in the corner, his head resting back against the wall, and he was snoring softly. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she felt a soft stirring next to her and sat upright on the bed. When she looked down she saw two sleepy green eyes staring back at her. She smiled brightly. 

"Hi," she said quietly, holding her finger up to her lips and nodding toward the sleeping man in the chair. 

Sprout giggled softly then nodded her head. "Hi, E-e-ena."  

Xena grinned playfully then reached down and tickled the little girl in the ribs. "Hey, who you callin’ a hyena?" 

Sprout giggled louder then coughed several times and Xena quickly reached down to pull the covers up and snugged them up under the little girl’s chin. "You feelin’ better?" 

"Ah-huh," Sprout said, nodding her head affirmatively. 

"Good, cause I missed you." 

The little girl continued to nod her head in agreement. "Ah-huh." 

"You’re my best friend," Xena said with a broad grin. 

"Ah-huh." 

Hero suddenly stirred and shifted in the chair causing it to squeak loudly under his weight. The two girls remained silent for a few moments studying him. He appeared to be still sleeping. 

Xena felt a tiny hand grab her own. 

"Ah-way, E-e-ena," Sprout said, grinning from ear to ear. "Ah-way en ah-way." 

Xena looked at her little friend and chuckled. "You heard me last night didn’t you?" 

Sprout nodded her head again. "Ah-huh." 

"Well it’s true you know. We’ll be friends forever." Xena smiled brightly. "You and me and Mr. Turnip Head of course." 

"Now what’s all this chatter about?" a voice suddenly boomed out from behind them. 

Startled, the two girls turned to see Hero standing over them grinning. He nodded at Xena. "How about we go get some breakfast and you can bring something back for my little one." 

Xena nodded her head enthusiastically. Then kissing the sprite on the forehead, she hopped from the bed and bounded out the door, narrowly missing and nearly knocking her mother over as the startled woman was just preparing to knock.  

"Xena!" Cyrene called after her speeding progeny. 

"I’ll be right back!" Xena shouted over her shoulder as she scurried at full tilt down the hallway toward the tavern. 

"Breakfast calls," said Hero as he fluffed the pillows under his daughter’s head and tucked the blankets in around her. 

"Right," Cyrene said amusedly as she watched her daughter disappear around the corner. "So how’s the little one doing today?" She walked across the room and laid her hand on Sprout’s forehead. "Hmm, amazing. Very little fever." 

Hero nodded his head. "Yep, I think we’re very lucky that your little one was here to help us out of this spot." 

Sprout nodded her head enthusiastically. "Ah-huh. E-e-ena." 

"Can never underestimate the power of friendship can we?" Cyrene said thoughtfully then chuckled softly as she watched Sprout pick up Mr. Turnip Head and whisper into his ear conspiratorially. She wasn’t quite sure what the gibberish meant but she had the feeling that her daughter was about to become the victim of a playful plot. It was an extremely good sign.

 

Xena soon returned with a tray loaded down with fruits, eggs, and cheeses. And to wash it all down, some goat’s milk and apple juice. After they’d gobbled every last bite, the youngsters spent the rest of the morning playing and laughing, with Sprout occasionally taking a much need nap to restore her strength. Cyrene and Hero could only shake their heads at how fast the little girl was recovering. But they both sensed that Xena’s presence during the little one’s recuperation was somehow a gods-send in this particular case. Sprout was absolutely enamored with her new friend, and by the look in Xena’s eyes, the feeling was quite mutual. Neither parent had ever seen two children so absolutely enraptured by one another from the start, and regardless of their age difference. Love at first sight, Cyrene mused as she sipped a cup of tea and worked on repairing one of Xena’s shirts. 

"Well ladies, I need to go take care of some business," Hero said as he headed for the door. "Sprout, you behave and try not to wear yourself out." 

"Ah-huh," Sprout said nodding her head exuberantly.  

Xena chuckled as a spiky wisp of the sprite’s hair bobbed up and down with each nod of her little head. Spitting a bit of saliva into the palm of her hand, she reached out and slicked the fly away locks back into place. "There, all better," she said brightly. 

Roughly a candle mark later they heard a commotion out in the street and Xena headed for the window with the sprite hot on her heels. Peering out into the street, she noticed out of the corner of her eye, the little one trying to stretch as far as she could to see out but to no avail. Xena grinned and lifted the little girl up into her arms. They continued peering out the window together. 

At first there didn’t appear to be anything going on. Xena scanned the street up and down and then something in a nearby alley, which ran between two buildings, caught her eye. Her mouth dropped open at what she saw. 

There was Hero being held against the wall of a building against his will by a rather burly man. The man was holding a knife at his throat and threatening him loudly. Xena couldn’t quite make out what was being said but she could tell from the postures and the knife that there was definitely trouble afoot. 

"E-e-ena, yook!" Sprout pointed excitedly in the direction of the alley, her brain also registering danger. "Papa!" She looked up into Xena’s face, her eyes pleading. 

Xena sprang into action. She quickly set the sprite down on the floor and vaulted toward the door, leaving her mother in a wide-eyed trance. Before Cyrene could even blink her daughter was out the door and sprinting as fast as her legs could carry her toward the alley. 

"Xena!" Cyrene called out frantically after her daughter but there was no response as the girl quickly disappeared from view. 

"Yook!" Sprout said as she grabbed Cyrene’s hand and dragged her to the window.  

Cyrene picked the little girl up and followed her excitedly pointing finger toward the alley. She covered her mouth in astonishment at what she saw. "Oh my gods."

Moments later they heard an all too familiar sound. 

"yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" 

Of course the robber heard it too, and as he turned to see what or who was making it, something hit him squarely between the eyes, nearly knocking him senseless. He dropped the knife and tottered slightly but it was just enough of a distraction for Hero to gain the advantage. He quickly grabbed the man’s arm and using all the leverage he could muster flipped him over his shoulder. The thug landed on his back with a loud thud. Hero quickly pounced on him and drew back his fist then let loose with a stiff jab right between the eyes. The robber’s orbs rolled back into his head and then closed. He was out cold. 

Hero had just grabbed his fist into his other hand and begun rubbing it gingerly when he sensed movement out of the corner of his eye and jumped up again ready for still more action. But to his surprise he found a young girl, with raven black hair and eyes the color of the sky above, smirking at him. He watched her reach down and pick up a small wooden toy, carefully replacing one of its loosely dangling ears and adjusting one of its legs back into place. When she finished her smirk spread into a broad grin. Hero responded in kind then slowly faded. 

"Xena, that was a very dangerous thing to do you know?" he said quietly. 

Xena nodded her head affirmatively but continued right on grinning. 

"Well," Hero scratched the stubbles along his chin creating a raspy sound. "I guess I should thank you young lady." 

"Oh no, it was just part of the adventure," Xena said. She glanced down at the unconscious robber and began chuckling. "It was fun." 

Hero started to rise to his feet and paused looking down at his unfortunate attacker. "Not for him," he said than broke into a chuckle himself. He walked over and draped his arm comradely across the youngster’s shoulder as they headed back toward the inn. 

 

The minute they entered the room Sprout ran toward them and grabbed Xena’s leg, squeezing it in a bear hug. Xena glanced at her mother and blushed. After several moments the little girl finally released her hold and raced to her father. He scooped her up into his arms and gave her a squeeze. Sprout was beaming from ear to ear as she gazed at her father and then at Xena. Back and forth her eyes went until she finally pointed at the latter and giggled joyously. 

"E-e-ena!" 

It was quite obvious to everyone in the room that the little girl named Sprout had found her true hero. 

***** 

After another night of rest Sprout seemed to be recuperated enough to travel. So with the sun just peaking over the nearby ridge, they packed up their belongings and headed back to where they’d left the broken down wagon. As soon as they arrived Hero proceeded to make short work of returning the repaired wheel to the axle. When he had finished Cyrene helped him reload his lumber into his wagon while Xena and the sprite chattered and played along the side of the road. Too soon it seemed to the children the lumber was all loaded and Hero was ready to head for home. It had certainly turned out to be a much longer trip than he’d expected. He reached for his daughter’s hand but she pulled away with a defiant look blanketing her tiny features.  

"Sprout. You come along now," Hero said as he tried again to corral his progeny. She deftly skittered away from his grasp and quickly latched onto Xena’s leg, her bright green eyes simply daring her father to try to pull her away.  

"Ah-way, E-e-ena!" she said defiantly. 

Hero grabbed her arm and tried to pry her away from Xena but quickly found that a tiny girl can be nearly as strong as an oxen when she’s set her mind to stay and play a while longer with her new friend. The tug of war continued for some time with Hero becoming progressively more agitated and Sprout beginning to sob but still not relenting her grasp on Xena’s leg.  

"Ah-way---ah-way---ah-way---" the little girl chanted over and over. 

Xena looked at her mother and shrugged. Finally, she leaned down and whispered something into Sprout’s ear then smiled reassuringly and handed the little one her treasured Mr. Turnip Head toy. As though someone had flipped a switch Sprout suddenly stopped crying and through her sniffles managed a smile as she finally released her grip on Xena’s leg to gather the toy into her chest. Hero took the opportunity to quickly take her hand and lead her to the wagon. He lifted her up and placed her into the back then before anything else could happen he quickly climbed aboard the front and with a cordial nod of his head to Xena and Cyrene, clucked to the horses and they were off.  

Sprout hunkered down in the back of the wagon with Mr. Turnip Head held snuggly against her chest. "Bye E-e-ena," she said softly then waved her tiny hand as they pulled away. 

Watching them roll away, huge tears began to slide down Xena’s cheeks. "Always," she whispered. Then as the wagon disappeared in the distance, she suddenly lifted her head toward the sky and sent a chastising yell to the gods for taking her little friend away. It just wasn’t fair after all they’d been through together, all the adventuring and fun. It should just go on forever. 

"Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!"  

The sound of her call reverberated down the valley and about the hills, and she wondered for a moment if it would find its way not only to the gods, but also to a tiny set of ears beneath golden wisps of hair. She was sure it had and thought, somehow, that she could almost hear a reply. 

But one thing was for certain in her young mind as she climbed up into the wagon beside her mother for the journey home. Xena just knew that from this moment on, she’d never trust those cruel gods again… 

???????????? 

"…Amazing little toy. It’s really kept Eve occupied and sure is entertaining to the other children. Not to mention, me." Gabrielle said. She smiled brightly then glanced over at the warrior who seemed a million miles away and didn’t appear to have heard a word she’d said.  

"Xena?" 

The warrior was wrested from her childhood memories by the bard gently shaking her shoulder. She grinned wryly at her longtime companion. As Gabrielle smiled back Xena was suddenly struck by how the bard’s golden-hued hair seemed to be reflecting the afternoon sunlight into her eyes. She blinked repeatedly but the familiar image remained inexplicably compelling for some other reason than it was just Gabrielle in all her usual radiantly beautiful glory. I just can’t put my finger on it… 

"You alright?" Gabrielle said as she studied her partner’s eyes and wondered at her suddenly odd behavior. 

The warrior nodded and slowly turned back toward the play yard. "You know Gabrielle, I used to have a toy like that," she said thoughtfully. 

"Really? A Mr. Turnip Head?" 

"Yep, just like that one. But I gave it away." The warrior smiled at her remembrance of the look on that little blonde girl’s face so long ago. She glanced over at her companion again, momentarily wondering, then shook her head. Nah, can’t be. 

But Xena just couldn’t shake the feeling she had deep inside that something about this whole event was just too coincidental. And so, the question begged to be asked. "So where’d Eve’s toy come from again?" She waited expectantly if not a bit hopeful for the answer. Is there possibly something about Gabrielle that I don’t know after all this time? 

"Well actually Lila brought it for Eve when she was here to visit last time." 

"Oh," Xena said quietly, the subtlest hint of disappointment in her tone. She slowly turned back toward the play yard and shook her head in wonder. Just how many of these things can there be in this world anyway? She’d always thought hers to be rather unique. 

The two companions continued watching in comfortable silence as the children played. Too soon it was getting late and mothers were starting to gather their children from the play yard. But there was one tiny tot with sparkling brown eyes who seemed very reluctant to go. She appeared to have eyes only for Eve and when her mother reached over the fence to gather her up she nimbly scampered away and latched onto Eve’s hand, her eyes filling with tears and her lower lip trembling in a pout. Her mother moved closer and reached again but the little one shook her head fiercely and stomped her foot.  

It was a scene playing out all too familiar to one warrior princess, who felt an odd fluttering in and around her heart. 

The game of wills continued for a few moments until Eve looked at her own mother and shrugged, then leaned over and whispered something into the little one’s ear and handed her the Mr. Turnip Head. The girl smiled joyously, displaying two sets of perfect incisors and not much more, planted a kiss on Eve’s cheek, and then trotted off with her mother toward their hut, occasionally looking back over her shoulder, waving and grinning from ear to ear. 

Xena and Gabrielle both watched this display with a look of astonishment on their faces. After a long pause and a lot of pondering. The bard was first to break the silence. 

"Xena?" 

"Hmm, yeah Gabrielle?" Xena said, shaking her head again in disbelief. This is just too coincidental.

"Why do I feel like we’ve --- like you --- and I…?" Gabrielle turned toward the warrior, her finger tapping lightly against her chin as she spoke. "Xena, who’d you give your toy to when you were a child?"  

"I gave it to a little blonde girl. She must have been about two winters old. Hmm, let’s see now. What was her name…?" 

"You know, I had one too for a while," Gabrielle interposed softly. 

Xena could feel her heart jump at this revelation. "You did?" 

"Ah-huh," Gabrielle continued thoughtfully. "And it’s funny because I gave mine to Lila when she was about five winters old. See, she simply refused to leave me so that she could go with father to visit Granny. And giving her a little piece of me was the only way she’d…" 

Xena spun around and stared at Gabrielle with a look as though some mystical realization had struck her right between the eyes. Tears began welling up and threatened to spill over her cheeks as she reached over and pulled the shocked bard into a tight embrace, crushing the smaller woman tightly against her chest. 

"You! You’re my little Sprout aren’t you?!" the warrior said exuberantly. 

Gabrielle was absolutely stunned. She was still trying to fit all the pieces together as she managed to pry herself loose and gazed up into Xena’s elated face. "Xena, no one has called me Sprout since…" she hesitated, her voice quivering slightly as she realized what had happened so many years ago. 

"It is you!" Xena said excitedly. "How could I not have known it before?" 

"It was a long time ago, Xena. And of course, I barely remember any of it myself. I was only a little over two winters old according to the story my father used to tell of how Mr. Turnip Head came into our lives." The bard grinned wryly. "Funny thing how the Fates work sometimes, huh?" 

Xena gathered her companion back into her arms, gently this time, and rested her chin on the top of the smaller woman’s head. "Yeah, funny," she said quietly as she stroked the soft blonde hair under her hand and winked at her daughter who was studying them from across the play yard. Then she looked toward the sky and whispered, "Thank the gods for funny things." 

Gabrielle pulled back and looked at her friend with a somewhat bewildered expression. It wasn’t often that Xena thanked the gods for anything, they weren’t exactly on the best of terms. "Xena, you all right?" 

The warrior pushed the bard out to arm length and gazed deep into her green eyes. She smiled. "I’m fine---friend." 

Seeing the absolutely delighted light in her friend’s eyes, Gabrielle relaxed. After a few moments of simply basking in it, she suddenly smirked and squeezed the warrior’s hand as she turned and started heading toward their hut. "Always and always," she said over her shoulder as she walked away, stopping to lay her arm across Eve’s shoulder as the youngster trotted over to join her. 

"Make that forever, Sprout," Xena whispered as she watched the two strolling slowly away. Life is just so amazing sometimes, she mused as she broke into a jog and scooped her daughter up into her arms. "Hey Evie. I wonder where Mr. Turnip Head will show up next?" She grinned broadly at Gabrielle. "Seems he really gets around." 

The bard chuckled as she reached over and swiped a bit of dark brown hair out of Eve’s eyes. "Eve. I’ve got a story to tell you. It’s called Mr. Turnip Head Rides Again and it’s all about friendship and heroes. Once there was the cutest little girl name Sprout. She was just so-o-o-o irresistibly cute…" 

Xena rolled her eyes and smirked as they ducked into their hut. Just where does that bard get all her inspiration anyway? Oh that’s right---me. Her smirk dissolved into a broad grin as she sat Eve down on a chair and settled herself in for a tall tale, with undoubtedly just a hint of truth to it. 

"And she met this really, really cute little girl named E-e-ena who was also very, very brave…" Gabrielle continued as she started to prepare the evening meal. 

All right, so maybe there is a whole lot of truth in this tale. But who’d ever believe that a simple toy carved of wood into the shape of a turnip, with painted on blue eyes and pink lips locked in a lopsided grin, a stuck on nose, removable ears, and legs with bright red painted on boots, could bring so much joy to so many different people. 

Xena closed her eyes and listened to Gabrielle spin her yarn about friendship and heroes and simpler times. She settled back in her chair and just let the words wash over her, as she drifted back in her mind to a time when men were men, and toys were toys, and with a simple flick of her wrist she brought a man to his knees with one very special toy. Grinning wryly she ran her fingers along the edge of her chakram. Seemed things hadn’t changed all that much. 

The End

 


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