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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 authorís 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, NALAíS 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.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Epilogue|
Xena Warrior Mother Series
The Little Thief of Hearts
Chapter 1 Ė Fishing for Answers
"The warrior lurked in the trees covered by the fragile branches and camouflaged by the dark leaves that hung around her torso. She could see the large figure below and was just waiting for the right moment to reveal herself and launch a fierce attack on her victim. It was a perfect spot for an ambush. She had found a branch that hung directly over the pathway, and there was no place for the target below to run. In a moment the warrior would fall from her cover and take down her nearly worthy opponent. Surely this would be another great day of victory for the great Warrior Princess.
She looked as the figure came to a halt right below. This was too easy. A gift from the gods for one who did not need such presents. The mighty warrior leapt like a tiger from the tree falling on top of its prey."
"Got ya," the child cried as she sailed through the air reaching for her mother below.
Xena did not even have to look up to know that her small daughter was falling from above. She smiled and merely took a step back catching the vaulting youngster by the leg letting her dangle in mid air as she looked down at the now irritated little girlís face.
"Oh Momma...." Tarren whined, still thinking about all the failed thoughts of grandeur that had passed through her head as she had sat waiting on the branch above.
"Sorry, my little one, but I heard the leaves rustle. You did manage to hide at least five minutes longer this time. You did very well. Iím proud of you," Xena said with a grin, placing the youngster on her feet.
Xena had gotten up early that morning to take her young daughter to the far off woods to spend a quiet day alone. After going for a long, playful swim together, the warrior mother had promised her daughter a game of Hide and Find Me, little Tarrenís favorite thing to play. It was the first time since they had arrived in Amphipolis that mother and daughter had been able to get a day alone together, just the two of them. Gabrielle was buried deep in her scrolls back at the inn, and the warrior had promised her child a day of swimming and fishing mixed with a few chores in the village.
"Ok, Momma, now you hide and Iíll find you," the youngster said, anxiously grabbing her motherís hand and trying with all her might to get the large warrior to budge.
Xena just stood there solid and stoic not giving an inch.
The youngster finally slumped to the ground from exhaustion. "Please Momma," she begged, opening her eyes as wide as she could, staring into the gentle blue gaze of the leather-clad figure that stood over her.
Xena smiled at the pleasant request. "Ahh the magic word. Ok... if youíre sure you feel like looking that long again," she replied with a teasing grin.
The child folded her arms together stubbornly and pointed to the woods. "Go hide," she ordered. It was becoming obvious to Xena that young Tarren did not appreciate her motherís humor.
The warrior smiled wickedly knowing her daughter was getting a bit agitated by her lack of success at winning this game. Tarren often found Gabrielle when they played but never did she find Xena. The warrior mother often left clues so the youngster could more easily follow her moves, but Xena did not wish to make it too simple for she wanted Tarrenís to earn her rewards.
The warrior turned the child around so she was facing the tree. "Ok...Ok...Start counting, brat," she said, gently kissing the childís head and then quickly slipping off behind her.
Tarren grinned and covered her eyes. "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9," she said so quickly that it sounded like one long word. The youngster knew she was supposed to count to 20 but felt her mother already had too much of an advantage as it was.
The little girl looked down at the ground and saw the trail the warrior was leaving. Xena was making no real effort to cover her tracks, and the child was taking this gift gratefully. She followed the prints to the far end of the clearing and sadly looked up into the tall trees where the tracks stopped.
The youngster bit her lip and twisted her face in frustration. "Thatís not fair, Momma. Iím not allowed in the high trees," she yelled letting her shoulders sag in defeat.
As Tarren stared up into the trees waiting for a response, a large hand sprung from the grass below grabbing the youngsterís foot and pulling the child to the ground. Tarrenís eyes grew wide with fear until she saw the dry grass move away and her warrior mother rise from the ground.
"Got ya now, ya little monster," Xena said crawling from her earthy hideout wrapping her arms around the now giggling child.
"Momma...that was good," the child yelled, jumping on her mother who was now pulling the grassy camouflage from her armor.
Xena looked at the awe struck expression on her daughterís face and smiled pulling the child close to her. "So you thought I was in those trees, aye little girl? You were not about to go looking up there were you?" she asked, raising her eyebrows to let the youngster know that her answer at this moment was very important.
"No Momma," the child quickly answered with an innocent smile.
The warrior grinned hoping the little girlís words were true. She let out a deep breath and jumped to her feet pulling the youngster up beside her. "Good! Well then, little one, itís time to take our nap," the warrior mother said with a smile, grabbing her daughterís hand and leading her toward their small campfire.
"No, I wanna play the game...one more time," the child begged, staring up at the large muscular figure beside her.
Xena let out a deep breath. "Nope.... Weíve played 10 times Tarren.... Thatís six more than I originally said we would play. Itís nap time now," she said sternly.
The child sighed and let her shoulders slump. Feeling her motherís grip on her hand ease a bit, the youngster quickly broke Xenaís hold and ran back toward the clearing laughing at her own escape.
"Tarren, you get back here right now," Xena called, sprinting in the direction of her fleeing daughter.
"Gotta catch me, Momma," the child yelled, zig zagging around the clearing trying to avoid her motherís quick grasp.
Xena could not help but smile as her daughter tried to escape an unwanted sleep. "Oh, Iíll catch you, ya little monster, and then you are gonna be real sorry," the warrior said, slipping back toward the woods.
Tarren picked up her pace running in circles knowing her mother could not be too far behind. The youngster could feel her heart beating faster as the excitement of the chase grew. She turned and looked at the high grass of the open field hoping to see where Xena had positioned herself, but there was no sight of her. The little girlís smile faded wondering where her mother had gone.
"Momma," the youngster whispered as she moved into the clearing.
There was a loud familiar battle cry and then the Warrior Princess vaulted from only the gods know where, landing right behind little Tarren.
The little girl turned and swallowed hard at the sight of her warrior motherís less than pleased expression.
"Hi Momma," the youngster said weakly, wiggling her small fingers in greeting.
The warrior mother grabbed the child securely by the ear. "I do believe I said nap time, young lady," she replied sternly, staring at her struggling young daughter.
"Ooh...ooh...Iím sorry...I was just playing with ya," the child moaned as she struggled to be set free from her motherís tight grip.
Xena let out a deep breath and released her daughter, giving her child a stern look to let her know she was still a bit angry with the youngster for not doing as she was told.
"Move it," the large woman ordered in a parental tone, pointing toward camp.
The little girl lowered her head and slowly started dragging her feet back to the waiting bedroll. "Iím sorry, Momma," she murmured as she walked with the warrior just a step behind.
Xena could not hold onto her anger any longer. Her quick strides suddenly turned to a slow walk. The youngsterís innocent plea for forgiveness melted all her frustration. She let her frown dissipate and a slight grin cross her face at the thought of her childís playful antics.
"Itís all right...ya little monster," she said, playfully grabbing the child and tossing her over her broad shoulder.
Tarren reached around and gave her mother a quick loving hug and Xenaís resolve was gone. "Ok ...one more game and then a nap young lady!" the warrior, exclaimed with a quick breath, dropping the youngster slowly to her feet.
Tarren smiled, turned, hugged her mother and then sprinted off into the field to hide.
The warrior mother shook her head and leaned against a familiar old willow as she watched the fire cooking their breakfast. "Xena youíve gone soft," she whispered to herself covering a grin with the palm of her hand.
Xena knew it was important for both her and Tarren to share these private moments, but it was most especially crucial for little Tarren who she knew was still finding the lengthy visit to the warriorís home village difficult. Amphipolis had so many old friends, Xena often would stop to say hello or be coerced into sharing a drink with someone from her past. Certain obligations seemed to go with being the Warrior Princes and a returning daughter of the village as well. Sometimes, that left little Tarren without her motherís presence -- something Xena didn't like to do at all. The warrior mother still cringed every time she saw the now healing wound on her youngsterís forehead. She sighed heavily knowing it was as a result of her being the warriorís child. That mad man from her past had left that small red bruise on her daughterís forehead that would be, for at least a few weeks, a constant reminder to Xena just how dangerous any place could be for Tarren. Yet the little girl seemed to allow her bright and eager smile to push past all of the horror and move on unaffected by the event.
Xena let her thoughts wander a bit as she cautiously scanned the area, searching for her young daughter, knowing the child would pop out of somewhere at any moment. She moved slowly to the left of a large tree and studied the now covered little tracks. The youngster had obviously opted not to travel far in hopes her mother would think she would go for the less obvious hiding places. Hearing a rustle in the leaves behind her, Xena back flipped many feet over a small bush.
"Got ya," the warrior yelled, playfully reaching into the bush for what she believed was the lurking child.
Instead Xena pulled out a half-grown beaver trying to make its way back to the water.
"Youíre not my daughter," she said with a grin, setting the animal down to find its own mother.
The warriorís eyes continued to scan the field. "Very good little one...very good," she whispered.
Xena slowly moved into the smaller grouping of high trees hoping her daughter had learned her lessons well enough to stay out of them. That was a discussion the warrior didn't want to have again, especially not on such a relaxing day. She cocked her head to listen to the sounds of the nature around her. All seemed normal except for a very slight, muffled giggle that could only belong to a certain warriorís child.
Xena smiled and without warning vaulted in the air, landing beside a fallen log her daughter had neatly tucked herself under.
"Found ya!" the warrior yelled as she grabbed for the child who was covered with bark.
Tarren giggled wildly.
"Momma, teach me to go that high," the little girl begged, as she removed herself from the cover she had hoped to use as camouflage to startle her searching mother.
The warrior picked the child up and kissed the youngsterís forehead as she playfully threw her into the air while heading back toward camp.
"Nope!" the warrior said.
"Why not?" the youngster whined.
"Cause for a little kid you go high enough already," Xena said, tossing the child in the air once again.
"I want to go higher...like you, Momma," the little girl eagerly replied.
The warrior mother had to smile at her daughterís eagerness to imitate her every move.
"Someday, little one...maybe," she said gently kissing the childís cheek and slipping under a comfortable old tree beside the small fire in the camp. "In the meantime let me relax and enjoy the quiet while you take a nap," Xena said with a yawn, as she gently pulled the little girl beside her under the old willow.
"Sleep," the warrior mother ordered, covering her frowning daughter with a blanket and then falling back against the tree with a relaxing sigh.
The child reluctantly lay still as her mother got comfortable under the old tree.
"Do I have to be quiet for a long time?"
The warrior opened one eye. "Just a little while, baby. Now, just take your nap. We have to go into town and do some chores soon, but then weíll come back and fish here after," Xena said smiling as she closed her eyes.
The child frowned at the thought of both a nap and going to the village. Tarren was much more content to spend time alone with her mother in the middle of the empty clearing than the streets of any village.
There was a long pause.
"Iím not tired. I donít need a nap."
"Yes, you are, and yes, you do. You just donít know it.... Now, go to sleep," she ordered, tucking the little girl tightly under her long arm.
Tarren looked at her relaxing mother and then the branches in the tree above. "But Iím not sleepy. I donít need a nap!" the youngster protested loudly.
Xena turned her head and faced her daughter raising an eyebrow at the tone in her childís voice. "Is there something else you need instead, my cranky little one?" she asked quietly.
Tarren swallowed hard and shook her head, "No, Momma...A nap will be just fine.... Iím napping now...see Momma." There was the sound of an overly dramatic yawn and followed by loud snoring coming from a small figure suddenly pretending to be fast asleep.
Xena closed her eyes once again, "Uh huh... I thought you might change your mind."
The child opened one eye and smiled, burrowing her head in her motherís side trying to find her comfortable spot. Xena was still wearing her armor, which made this a real challenge. The child tried to be quiet but found it quite difficult.
"Momma?" she called.
"Yes Tarren," the slightly agitated mother replied.
"How long do I have to nap?" the youngster whined.
"A little while," the warrior said with a deep breath.
"Whatís a little while?" the child asked, hoping that time had already passed.
"Until I say you can get up," the mother said, trying to remain calm.
"Ok, Momma," the youngster answered, realizing that the time was all at her motherís discretion.
The child dropped her head back into position, and Xena smiled letting her arm fall over the small form, blanketing it protectively.
There was another long pause.
"Momma?" the little voice whispered.
The warrior opened one eye and stared at her daughter who was very much awake.
"Yes, daughter," she said glancing at the child, letting her fingers drum on her chest.
"Was I quiet long enough?" the child begged.
Xena grinned and reached out to pull the youngster on top of her. "Longer than I ever thought you could be, little girl," she said, running her fingers up the childís tunic to the sensitive ticklish spot on her stomach.
Tarren laughed wildly. "Stop it, Momma," she giggled.
Xena shook her head and continued to let her fingers dance on the little oneís bare skin. "Nope, youíre being very naughty... cause you wonít let me sleep and you wonít take your nap the way your loving mother told ya too," the warrior said, still running her hands up and down the childís body
"Ok, Ok...Iíll be quiet...I promise... Iíll take a nap," she laughed, begging for mercy.
Xena stopped the torture and relaxed with a smile once again, leaving the little girl pinned against her chest.
"Momma?" the tiny voice squeaked.
The warrior opened one eye.
"Yes" the mother responded, wondering what it might take to make this child tired.
"Do you want me to sit under another tree so you can sleep?" the little girl whispered sadly, staring at her motherís tired expression.
The warrior mother frowned and wrapped her other arm around her daughter pinning her in place. She smiled at the innocent question and kissed her childís forehead tenderly. "Donít you dare, ya little monster. Your job is to stay here and make sure I donít get a moment's peace, and youíve been doing really well, so donít even think of leaving," Xena teased, yanking the child close to her.
The little girl grinned relieved her mother did not wish her to move away, "Momma?"
Xena opened both eyes and looked up at the little girl who was nestled on her chest peering down into her eyes. The warrior mother had to smile at the impish grin the child had and the softness in her wide blue eyes. "Yes, sweetheart," she replied eager to answer any question this little one might have.
The child shrugged her shoulders and smiled, "Oh nothing...I just wanted to see if you were asleep yet."
Xena quickly wrestled the little girl into her lap as she sat up. The warrior smiled and once again ran her hands up and down the childís side, "You little brat...Iím gonna...."
Tarren giggled wildly and slid down beside her mother, staring at the warriorís content smile. "Momma, you sure like sitting under trees lately," the child said with a grin.
The warrior opened her eyes and with a quick swipe threw the youngster across her legs pinning her playfully underneath one. "Yeah, so whatís wrong with setting under a tree?" she asked tickling the childís sides.
Tarren giggled, "Nothing...I just didnít think you liked sitting still that much," she replied, trying to keep her motherís fingers from tickling her.
Xena lifted the child above her and then lowered her gently onto her lap pinning her firmly in place with the lock of her arm. "Well Iíll tell you Tarren. THIS tree is very special to me," she said patting the bark of the old willow behind her.
Tarren looked at the tree. It was tall, what Xena would consider a high tree...totally off limits to climb.
"So whatís so special about it?" the child asked, staring into her mother's eyes.
Xenaís voice became soft, and she ran the back of her hand affectionately across her daughterís face. "Well, Iíve never really told you much about my brother, your uncle, Lyceus. Gods, how he would have loved you...would have spoiled you to death," she whispered, gently poking the youngster in the side.
Tarren smiled and leaned against her motherís chest. "I like him already.... Tell me the story," she ordered, ready to be coddled.
Xena grinned at her daughterís eagerness for any information she could get. "Yes
Maíam...Well, Lyceus was always tagging around after me...wanting to do what I did and go where I went. He could be a bit of a pest sometimes," Xena said with a smirk.
Tarrenís eyes went wide, and she looked up at her mother. "Momma, am I a pest?" she asked.
Xena rubbed the youngster's head affectionately, " Most definitely."
Tarren smiled and leaned back, getting comfortable, in her spot. "Good!í she whispered.
Xena chuckled at the childís delight at being a pest, but continued with the story. "Well, most of the time I didnít mind Lyceus tagging after me. I sort of like it..." she began.
"Momma, do you like it when I tag along?" the child interrupted.
Xena squeezed her daughter tightly. "Yes, I love it when you tag along," the warrior said quickly, wanting to get back to her story. "Well... I had carved this slingshot out of a large branch and a piece of vine from a tree. It took me a week to get it just the way I wanted it, but it was much better than the ones sold in the store," Xena said with a satisfied smile remembering the prized toy.
Tarren looked up once again. "Momma, whatís a slingshot?" she asked.
Xena sighed. "Itís sort of a catapult that you hold in your hand. You put a pebble in the center of the stretchy part and you pull it back, and the rock flies through the air," the warrior replied, most satisfied with her description.
Tarren smiled broadly. "Great! Can I have one?" she asked eagerly, reaching around to touch her motherís face.
Xena shook her head in denial sorry she had ever added the details. "No, you cannot have one. Youíll only get in trouble with it, or shoot your eye out," she said stiffly, repositioning the youngster closer to her.
"Thatís not fair," the child murmured, as she lay back down.
Xena smiled at the grumbling child. "Are you gonna let me finish this story?" she asked, lightly swatting the youngster on the leg.
The child nodded obediently and the warrior grinned knowing her daughter now had slingshots on her mind.
"Ya see, Tarren, this thing meant a lot to me, and Lyceus knew it. He really admired it, but I told him that he couldnít play with it," Xena whispered smiling at the memory.
"Hmm, you wouldnít let him have one either," the little one mumbled.
Xena frowned and gave the youngster a gentle swat on the backside. "IF you have something to say, then say it. Otherwise, let me finish the story," she scolded.
Tarren quickly covered her backside with her hand to protect it from any future, more serious attack her little mouth might bring. "Sorry, Momma," she replied, wanting the story to continue.
Xena turned the childís face toward her knowing the little girl meant no disrespect. "Itís Ok baby," she said, kissing her daughterís head.
The warrior leaned back against the tree. "Now, where was I?" she asked, trying to remember where she had left off in her tale.
"You werenít letting Lyceus have a slingshot either," the youngster replied with a grin.
Xena frowned at the childís idea of help. "Thanks a lot, daughter...Anyway, one day he took it without asking me and broke it. Rather than tell me, he tried to just put it back, hoping I wouldnít want to play with it for a while. Well, when I found it, I was really mad. I knocked Lyceus down and told him he couldnít follow me anymore," Xena said softly, with a tear from a moment long past.
Tarren turned around staring up at her mother, "Boy, Iíll bet Lyceus was scared," the youngster yelled, eager to share her youthful insight.
Xena rubbed the childís cheek, "Scared? Why would you say he was scared, baby?" she asked, stroking the little girlís head.
The child closed her eyes and slowly lowered her head back to her motherís shoulder. "Well, maybe he was afraid you didnít love him anymore," she answered, her eyes filled with understanding for a little boy, an uncle, she never knew.
Xena kissed the childís forehead, trying to understand her daughterís thoughts. "Maybe, little one...but I wasnít really angry at him very long. In a few hours I was wondering where he was and went I looking for him, but I couldnít find him anywhere," the warrior said with a far away look in her eyes.
Tarrenís mouth opened wide. "He ran away cause he figured you didnít want around anymore," she yelled, eager to share her version of the story.
Xena thought about it and smiled. "I guess so, baby.... I guess thatís what he thought, but he was wrong," she replied, bringing the child up to her chest and wrapping her arms tightly around her.
"Did you find him, Momma?" the little girl asked quietly, now nuzzling comfortably next to her motherís cheek.
Xena smiled. "Yes, daughter, I found him. It took me half the day, but I found him sleeping right here under this tree. I had been so worried about him that I wasnít sure if I should knock him around again or hug him," the warrior said fondly, recalling that moment.
Tarren giggled at the dilemma, knowing what her motherís choice would be. "So, what did ya do?" she asked.
Xena stretched out her arms and yawned. "Well, first I hugged him. Then, I hit him so hard I thought he would cry all day. I told him never to scare me like that again," she said with a short breath and a smile.
Tarren nodded, "So, he was really crying?" she asked, awed by this unknown uncleís fate.
Xena nodded. "Well, just a little bit, but I didnít really hit him that hard. I just wanted him to know how much he scared me. He told me how sorry he was for taking the slingshot, and we spent the rest of the day sitting under this old tree just talking.
I think it was the first time he realized how much he really meant to me. I told him I wasnít mad at him anymore, and he said that it was the power of the tree that made me forgive him. He said that if you listened real close you could hear it whisper to you," the warrior said with a sly grin, staring down at her now wide-eyed daughter.
The little girl quickly jumped up and put her ear to the bark
"Did ya hear what the tree said, Momma?" she asked leaning up against the tree.
"No, what did it say?" the warrior answered in a whisper, not wanting to interfere with her daughterís game.
"It said, Xena...get Tarren a pony and a slingshot," the youngster replied softly, glancing at her mother with one eye, hoping for a good reaction.
Xena nestled closer to the tree and put her own ear to the bark, eager to play along.
"Nope, baby, I think you heard it wrong. It said ...Xena...put Tarren over your knee. Sheís being a real...brat," the warrior whispered staring at her daughterís now suddenly blank expression.
Tarren frowned and hastily put her ear closer to the tree again. "No, Momma, I think what it really said was, "Let your mother sleep Tarren. She is very tired,'" the child said giving her mother her best little grin.
Xena nodded, placing her ear back to the tree. "Ya know, Tarren, I think you Ďre right. I think thatís exactly what it said," she replied, playfully reaching for her daughterís arm.
The child sighed with relief at the plan that almost backfired on her.
Xena smiled at her daughterís valiant attempt at getting what she wanted and then eased back down to the ground taking the little girl gently beside her.
"So anyway, daughter, we started calling this the Forgiving Tree, and through the years, whenever one of us was mad at the other, we would eventually wind up here. Somehow, we always managed to work things out. So, you see, this tree is very special and very powerful, little one," the warrior mother whispered, tickling the child playfully.
Tarren nodded and hugged her mother to thank her for the story. "Well, if it can get someone out of trouble with you, I guess it would have to be pretty powerful, Momma," the youngster said with a broad smile.
Xena nodded. "You better believe it, ya little monster," she said tickling the child once again.
"Momma?" Tarren screamed with laughter.
"What? What? What?" the warrior repeated standing and tossing the child over her shoulder, realizing that sleep was not about to happen for either at this moment.
"Can I have a slingshot?" the youngster begged putting her hands together to show her sincerity.
Xena chuckled at the sight. "NO!" she said with finality.
Tarren frowned but decided a different approach was in order. "Then can I have a pony?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
Xena held the youngster up in front of her, "Tell me the truth. Are you ever gonna stop asking me that?"
The child thought about it for a moment. "Are ya ever gonna get me one?" she asked, quietly.
Xena smiled and let out a deep breath. "Maybe, when youíre much older," she replied with a sigh.
Tarren grinned since this was the only thing more than a NO she had ever gotten from her mother on the subject. "Well, Momma, maybe when Iím much older, Iíll stop asking," she answered with a mischievous wink.
The warrior chuckled. "Why you little monster. Thatís it, you're getting a spanking," the warrior teased, playfully throwing the youngster over her knee. Tarren squirmed and giggled trying to break free.
"No, Momma," she begged, trying not to laugh too hard, knowing her mother was teasing.
Xena held one hand high in the air just so Tarren could see it. "Are ya gonna behave?" she asked glancing at the childís smile.
Tarren quickly nodded.
"Are ya gonna eat my cooking?" the warrior mother asked with an evil grin deciding she might as well cover all bases.
The child frowned but again nodded, turning bright red with laughter.
"Are ya gonna stop asking me for things like slingshots and ponies?" Xena asked, showing the child that she might strike if the wrong answer was heard.
Tarren turned her head slightly so as to see the soft loving gaze staring down at her. The youngster smiled and looking into the gentle eyes of her mother. The child truly did love this person who had changed her world and offered her the sanctity of her heart.
Tarren shook her head and closed her eyes always a bit unsure of her motherís reactions to anything. "Nope," she answered bravely.
Xena let her hand fall but with no impact. Tarren giggled with delight at outwitting her mother. The warrior mother picked the youngster up and held her like a sack under one arm as she headed to the fire and their now burning breakfast.
"Daughter, you are gonna give me gray hairs," Xena said with a grin.
Tarren watched the back of her motherís boots, as she walked, "I am not."
"Ya are too!"
"Ya are too!"
"Already have, Iíll bet," the warrior said with a grin, flipping the child over to face her.
"Did not," was the childís insistent response as she lay in her motherís arms.
"Ok, I did," the child said with a wicked little grin.
The warrior smiled at the clever maneuver the child had made and tossed her over her shoulder once again, ready to share a peaceful morning meal before heading into the village.
Chapter 2 Ė Are You My Momma?
"Cause I said so."
"Thatís not a reason."
"Itís the only one you need to hear, little girl."
"But I want it."
" Iím sorry but no, and that is the last I want to hear about it!"
"Youíre making me angry, and I know you really donít want to do that. Do you?"
"Good... then not another word about it."
"But I want it..."
"I said no! I swear if I hear one more word about it...Iím gonna give you a good swat."
"Was that a word, young lady?"
The private whisperings stopped. The child quickly dropped the object in her hand, and her mother let out a frustrated breath. Tarren stared at the small slingshot Xena had told her she could not have.
ĎYouíll take your eye out or youíll take someone elseís out,í Xena had scolded, placing the object back on the counter.
Tarren fingered the edges of the wooden handle, her head filling with dreams of taking down dragons and evil warlords with one small stone.
The warrior mother sighed as she stared at the now sullen face of her young daughter looking longingly at the youthful weapon. She hated to deny her the toy, but could not get the image of the youngster sitting in the trees pelting passers by with pebbles, leaving Xena with a trail full of apologies to make. The warrior mother was suddenly wishing she had chosen to leave the story telling to the bard.
The warrior handed the young man in the mercantile a few dinars for the items on her motherís list and then motioned for Tarren to follow. The youngster dragged her feet slowly behind her mother, making sure the warrior knew just how unhappy she was about not getting her way.
Xena stared down at her child trying not to smile at the youngsterís overly dramatic look of disappointment. "Ok, you have a choice, little girl...cause Iím not spending the day staring at that sad puss. You either get a new attitude, or Iím taking you right back to the inn, and then Iím going fishing," she warned, watching the youngsterís eyes grow wide at the empty threat.
Tarren looked up at her mother with her eyes wide and lower lip quivering.
Xena had to admit she was good with the lip. "Donít give me that look, young lady. You are not getting the slingshot. Live with it. I have bought you everything you wanted, including a new fishing pole, so I donít want to hear anything about that slingshot," she said sternly, staring down at her young daughterís pouting face.
The little girl shrugged. "Yes Maíam," she replied quietly, knowing this was yet another battle that would have to be fought on another day.
The warrior mother nodded and offered the little girl her hand. Tarren accepted it and started walking along the streets of Amphipolis. As the youngster gleefully eyed the different booths of merchants, her thoughts of slingshots faded and a new list of things wanted danced in her head.
Xena noticed the childís smile as she looked at all the different objects on display. The warrior mother had to smile at her young daughterís interest in having everything she ever touched. She grinned and made a mental note never to let Tarren and Gabrielle shop alone.
Xena stopped and pointed to the blacksmith shop. "Ok, here is where we go next. I have to pick up a new cinch for Argoís saddle," she said pointing towards the store. "After that, we can go test out that new pole, have dinner under the stars, and maybe, if youíre good, take another swim," the warrior mother said quietly, bending down to face her young daughter.
The child could not help but grin at the tender smile her mother was now offering. "Ok Momma," she said with a soft smile, letting her know that she was forgiven for not having yet purchased the wanted slingshot.
The warrior put a single finger to her lips to silence the youngster. "Tarren baby, out in public like this...itís Xena...remember," she said softly, trying not to chastise the child.
The youngster frowned at the memory of the many lectures her mother had given on the importance of keeping the youngster safe and not letting strangers know she was the warriorís daughter. The child frowned, but nodded obediently, "Yes Xena."
The warrior mother sighed and tasseled the childís hair. "Good girl," she replied, turning to walk into the blacksmith shop.
Xena watched the small figure behind slumping against the railing of the door. She knew it was hard for the child to remember to change titles, but if the warrior was to keep her daughter safe, that meant keeping the childís identity a secret for as long as possible.
The warrior mother felt a pang of her own pain at hearing her daughter call her Xena. She had come to much prefer the bubble in the little oneís voice when she was called ĎMomma.í Xena stopped and stared at the small figure for a moment.
"Tarren, you stay right there. Donít you dare move and no wandering where I canít see you," she warned, knowing her daughter was a bit too eager to explore.
The child nodded and without turning to face her mother replied, "Yes, XENA!"
The warrior took a deep breath at the sound of her name being said once again and quickly went inside to conduct her business now eager to leave the crowds of the village and peering eyes.
Tarren frowned at the back of her motherís head as the warrior disappeared inside the shop. "Sheís my momma. Why canít I call her momma?" the youngster murmured under her breath, angry at having to call her own mother Xena like the rest of the world.
Little Tarren folded her arms, looking around the village for something that might get her mind off her troubles. She spotted a small shop on the other side of the street. In the window were all kinds of toys and bright colored objects. It was just the thing to cure what ailed any child. The youngster glanced behind and saw Xena was deep in conversation with a man over just how she wanted her precious cinch prepared.
The little girl slowly slid across the street careful not to be seen by the Warrior Princess. Every once in a while the child would glance back to see if her mother was still inside the shop. Yet, by the time Tarren made it to the store with all the eye-catching objects, she had completely forgotten about her mother and the words of warning. The youngster entered the small store and was amazed by the counter filled with different types of confections.
"Wow!" she yelled, her eyes going wide at the sight of the ultimate happiness for any child
"Looks good, doesnít it, child?" a large man asked from behind her.
As Tarren turned, a rather portly figure with a wide smile overshadowed her. His cheeks were bright red and his face filled with lines of many summers past. The way the manís skin shimmied as he spoke made not starring impossible for the little girl.
"Well child, are you gonna just look, or would you like to taste something?" he asked, handing the silent little girl a sample which she happily accepted.
Tarrenís eyes lit up with delight as the small lump of chewy sugar melted in her mouth and slid down her throat. The youngster approached the counter, eager to make a purchase. She thought about what Gabrielle had always told her about bargaining but decided something as precious as this was not to be toyed with.
The large man grinned at the little girlís obvious delight at his gift and headed behind the counter ready to wait on his young customer.
Tarrenís smile broadened sensing the gentle giant was being truly kind in his offering. She looked into his large, brown eyes and saw that even they smiled when he spoke. It made her feel a warm rush of comfort she had not known since she and Xena had entered the village. Tarren reached inside her pouch and slowly pulled out one of her weekly dinars and placed it on the counter.
"How much can I get with that?" she asked, her wide eyes scanning the many different shapes and sizes of the candy before her.
"Too much... Iím afraid," the man said with a big, belly laugh.
Tarren giggled. This man was truly a source of entertainment. Even his stomach moved like waves in the river when he laughed. His smile seemed to travel from his eyes straight down to his toes in one, large ripple.
"Well, Iíll take as much as I can get," she said, with all the authority her small form could muster.
The man nodded and reached for a sack. "I donít know you, child, and I know all the children of Amphipolis. What is your name?" he asked, filling the burlap with various candies.
"Tarren. Whatís yours?" she asked, quickly deciding to sample the merchandise once again.
"Why Iím Etos. This is my shop. It is good to make your acquaintance little Tarren," he said still filling the already overflowing bag.
Tarren had already stuffed three pieces of candy in her mouth and was having difficulty talking while none-the-less chewing. She nodded a greeting and tried to speak. "Hewwo, Etos," the little girl replied, trying unsuccessfully to swallow.
Etos laughed and bent over the counter to stare into the little girlís eyes. "Does your
Momma know you spend this much money on candy?" he whispered, trying to make it sound like a secret they shared.
Tarren thought about the manís question and wondered if he was one of the few who knew Xena was her mother or if he was asking a more general question. The child shook her head deciding it was better to be safe than really sorry.
"I donít have a momma...anymore," she said glumly, shoving more candy in her mouth.
The large man frowned. "Iím sorry, my little friend. Do you have someone who cares for you?" he asked in a gentle tone.
Tarren nodded. "I guess I do," was the reply she offered, thinking of the mother who was forcing her to now call her Xena.
All of a sudden the thoughts of her mother, Xena, came rushing back to the youngster.
ĎThe blacksmith shop...Momma...waiting...oh no...gotta hurry,í she thought as she anxiously turned to leave.
Etos grinned as the child headed for the door. "Wait, you forgot your candy," he called bringing the child to a fast halt.
Tarren quickly turned to accept her important purchase.
"Donít eat it all that at once. Youíll get sick," he said with a wink as he handed the youngster a large sack of confections.
The child stared at the hefty mound of delight her money had bought. It took both of her small hands to hold it all. She peered into the bag, nearly burying her face, and then looked back at the friendly man.
"All this?" she asked, finally getting the candy in her mouth to go down her throat.
Etos nodded and handed the child her change. "Yes, child, and about half your money back. I didnít want to burden your arms too much," he whispered with a twinkle and a wide pleasant grin.
Tarren glanced at the bag again and smiled broadly at the kind man. "Thanks, Etos," she said with a smile, finally turning to leave.
Her steps were instantly halted by the sight of a large, leather-clad warrior standing in the doorway, with a very angry look on her face.
Tarren took a step back toward the counter, and Etos chuckled, thinking the child was merely startled by the presence of the famed Warrior Princess.
"Do not be afraid, child. This is Xena, the Warrior Princess. She is a very good friend," he said, reaching out a friendly arm to the woman.
Xena took her eyes off Tarren long enough to welcome her old friend with a hearty arm shake. "Hello, Etos. How are you?" she asked with a smile.
He nodded. "Well, I canít complain, Xena. Iím always picking up new customers," he said with a grin, pointing toward the little girl now frozen in her tracks.
Xena moved in next to her daughter and looked down at her. The warrior motherís hands were locked on her hips in parental anger. "Yes, I can see that...even little ones that arenít supposed to be here," she scolded, letting her eyes lock with the youngster's.
Tarren swallowed hard and pushed the large sack of confections up toward her mother. "Uhh, piece of candy ...Xena?" she asked, hoping to bribe her mother out of her unhappy expression.
The warrior shook her head. "No, thank you. We do not eat candy before meals, now do we, little girl?" she asked, taking the sack from the youngsterís hands and frowning at the weight of it.
Xena quickly placed the candy in her saddlebag.
Tarren let out a long moan of defeat as the delightful sugars being taken from her sight possibly never to be seen again. Then, she became silent when her warrior motherís blue glare focused on her again, reminding the child that she was in no position to complain.
Etos noted the exchange and smiled.
"You know the child, Xena? Is this the one your mother speaks so proudly of...the little girl who travels with you?" he asked, his eyes wide with excitement.
The warrior nodded but never took her eyes off Tarren, "Yes, old friend, this is Tarren...the naughty child who travels with me and today seems to ignore everything I say," the warrior mother replied, scowling at her young daughter.
Tarren swallowed hard and decided this might be a good time to retreat. She tried to slip passed her mother, but the warriorís hand caught her by the scruff of the tunic.
"Not so fast, young lady," the warrior mother scolded, staring down at her child. She excused herself to Etos and gently pulled the little girl away from the counter.
"Now I told you to wait for me outside the blacksmith shop. I told you not to move. Iíve been looking in every store for you Tarren," she whispered, all the while keeping a false smile on her face for the shopkeeperís benefit. Xena allowed her eyes to flash a warning message to Tarren to inform her child that this conversation would not be finished here and now.
Etos laughed and interrupted the warriorís quiet chastisement. He had seen too many parents and children in his many summers to not know a good scolding when he saw it.
"Xena...the child just came in for some candy, like another little girl I used to know did fairly regularly," he said with a gentle smile, trying to rush to the defense of the wayward youngster.
The warrior looked at this gentle man from her past and grinned letting out a deep breath. "Yes, old friend. I remember those days well," she replied with a smile, turning her attentions to Etos and a time long ago.
Tarren was relieved to have her mother's concentration broken. The youngster started to glide slowly past the warriorís back but Xena threw an arm behind her to hold the child in place.
"Donít you move a muscle, young lady," she commanded never turning around but merely sensing the childís attempted escape.
The child froze in her spot.
Etos laughed again. "Sheís a sly one. You must have your hands full, Xena," he said with a grin.
Xena looked over her shoulder at the little girl now standing like a stone statue. "Yeah, that she is and that I do, Etos.... Well, I have to take this sly one fishing, even though she has not been behaving herself," the warrior said, shooting the youngster a raised eyebrow. "So, I better get going. It was good to see you, Etos," she said with a friendly grin, once again taking his arm in hers.
Etos nodded, "You too, Xena. Please come back again, and give my best to your dear mother."
The warrior winked at the large man and grabbed her daughter securely by the hand and started to exit.
"It was nice to meet you, little Tarren," the gentle giant said with a wave.
The sullen little girl looked up at her mother and then at the jovial man behind her. "Bye," she said, sure she would never see a living soul again.
Xena stopped in the street just outside the blacksmith shop and glanced down at her child.
"You and I, young lady, are going to have a long talk about your wandering off. However, right now, I have to finish at the blacksmith shop. You will just stay right where you are...right in this very spot," she scolded.
The child lowered her eyes, not wishing to see the look of frustration she anticipated seeing in her mother's eyes.
Xena positioned the child against the blacksmithís building, marking a spot in the dirt with her finger. She pointed to it. "You, little girl, had better be standing right there when I come out," she ordered pointing to the box she had just made.
Tarren bit her lips and looked up at her mother, a single tear racing down her cheek, "Iím sorry...Xena," she whispered.
The warrior mother felt the words tugging at her heart and shook her head releasing some of her frustration from her daughterís disobedience. "Look, Tarren...just stay still for a few more minutes. Then, we can leave the village, Ok?" she asked in a softer tone.
Tarren nodded and lowered her eyes once again, "Yes Ma'am."
Xena placed her arm around the contrite child's shoulder. "Itís Ok, monster. You're not in trouble. I just donít wanna lose you," the warrior said affectionately hugging her daughter.
Tarren wiped the tear from her cheek and looked up at her motherís now gentle expression, "You donít?"
"No, I donít," the warrior said, wiping the youngsterís cheeks dry with her thumbs.
Tarren reached up and hugged her mother back, holding her for several moments as she basked in the closeness of her touch.
The warrior lifted the youngster off the ground, as both accepted a loving embrace before the mother returned her child to the ground. The little one looked up and smiled grateful for the affection her mother was always so willing to offer.
"Can I ask a question...Xena?" she murmured.
The warrior was definitely starting to dislike the sound of her own name, but she nodded, sliding along the wall next to her daughter, "Yes, you can."
Tarren pointed to a building on the other side of the village. There, a large group of men were laughing and stumbling outside the door. Hanging around them were some women wearing strange clothes or not many clothes at all.
"Whatís that place?" the child asked.
Xena looked to the distance and grinned. "That, youngster, is a gaming house. Sort of an adult playhouse," she said with a sly smile
Tarrenís smile widened. Finally Amphipolis had something of value to offer. An entire building dedicated to play. "Can I go in?" she asked eagerly
Xena shook her head strongly. "I said adult, little girl," she warned.
Tarren frowned, leaning back against the building with a thud. "When will I be old enough to go in?" she asked in a sulking tone.
The warrior looked back at the building and the drunken fools who were leering at the women that entered. "Never... Nope, you WILL Never be that old!" the warrior mother said firmly.
Tarren stuck her lip out and opened her eyes wide again. "Can I just peak inside?" she asked, softly touching the dirt with the toe of her boot.
Xena covered her face with her hands, wanting to scream to the gods for mercy. "No, you may not peak inside. You may not even walk next to the building. As a matter of fact, turn around. I donít even want you facing it," she said turning the childís shoulders to face the other, more family-oriented side of the village.
The little girlís shoulders slumped, "But...."
Xena shook her finger in warning. "No buts. Donít move...Not a muscle...Not a pace...Iíll be out in a little while, and I want to see you just where I left you," she ordered. Then Xena walked back inside the shop murmuring something about kids, gaming houses and slingshots under her breath.
Tarren looked at the side of the village Xena had made her face. It was boring, homes and nothing but farmers. The youngster could hear the loud, thunderous laughter coming from the direction of the building she wasnít even supposed to face. Slowly, Tarren turned her head. She saw her mother, leaning comfortably against the counter and having a rather long discussion with a group of people that had just entered the shop.
ĎPerhaps she will stay a while and chat,í the child thought.
Tarren heard a loud burst of laughter again and could not help but turn to face the gaming house. Carefully, she looked into the store once more, leaning under a window so as not to be spotted. The youngster considered her options. If she ran real fast around the back of the building, she could get a peak in the forbidden place and still get back before Xena came out. Confident that her plan was worthy of a real warrior, the little girl slowly slipped behind the blacksmith shop bobbing and weaving behind trees until she was near enough to the gaming house to smell the liqueur on the breaths of the men stumbling outside.
Tarren leaned against a tree giggling quietly at the sight of a silly man who refused to walk straight. He seemed to think he had an invisible friend beside him to whom he was directing a rather lengthy conversation.
"This is a strange place, " the child whispered to the tree. It was just too good for her youthful curiosity to resist. She wanted to get a bit closer.
Slipping from the tree to just outside the door, the little girl tried to slip her head inside the doorway. She was quickly shoved to the ground by a large wall of a man with muscles that would make even Hercules wince.
"Ouch," the child yelped she landed in the dirt with a thud.
"No kids allowed," he growled, moving menacingly closer to the youngster.
Tarren started to reach into her boot hoping her small chucks could protect her from whatever this large force of nature had planned. Before she could touch them, she noted that the sun over her head had suddenly disappeared and a shadow...a long shadow...the shadow of the Warrior Princess was now behind her.
The child swallowed hard and stared at her motherís harsh, blue gaze, and then back at the still approaching giant, not quite sure who was her true adversary was at this moment.
Xena lifted the little girl to her feet and quickly pushed her protectively behind her. Now, she eyed the Titan in front of her and smiled. "So you like to shove little kids around, big fella. How about pushing someone who can push back," she purred.
Tarren watched as the large wall of a man threw a fist at her mother. Xena easily deflected it, tossing the man quickly on to his back. He jumped to his feet, but before he could move forward, was kicked in the gut and face by the warriorís foot, and crumpled into a heap in the dirt.
A small man dressed in fine satin robes came running out. "What is all the racket?" he yelled in a high pitched shrill, staring at his now former bodyguard lying in the dirt.
"Oh, hello Xena.... Is there...a problem?" the small man asked with a shaky voice.
The warrior pointed to the tough guy at her feet and then glared at the satin covered little man, "Dicen, you need to go a little higher up on the food chain for your help. THAT one likes to pick on little kids...and the one he happened to pick on today is with me," she warned, grabbing the shaking manís robes and lifting him off his feet.
Dicen glanced at the little girl standing back by the tree and shook his head, "Xena, Iím so sorry.... I promise it wonít happen again," he said throwing his hands up defensively.
Xena looked at the slight man with disgust and then back at her daughter, "No, youíre right. It wonít," she said glancing at her small daughter.
The warrior dropped the little man. Stepping over the fallen monster, she crouched down beside him. "Hey, big guy, if I ever see you touch that kid again, or touch any kid for that matter, Iíll be back, and I wonít play so nice," she said patting him on the back.
Xena then quickly walked to Tarren, stopping only long enough to grab her childís hand. The warrior mother said nothing but merely pulled the child behind a building, far from the gaming house or the ears of strangers. She wanted to speak privately to her wayward daughter.
Leaning the youngster against the building and shaking her finger at her, Xena scolded, "When I tell you to stay put, you do it, young lady. Do you understand me? I told you NOT to even look at that place, but, the next thing I know you are right there...not only looking but nearly inside.... That ape could have hurt you. You had me looking all over for you AGAIN. What do you have to say for yourself?" she asked, her tone loud and filled with a mother's irritation with a naughty childís bad behavior.
The youngster nodded, "Yes Momma...Xena...I mean...I just wanted a little peak... I didnít mean to ...Iím sorry," the child said, confused by whether this was a private or public moment. She wiped a tear from her eye and kept her stare low from her motherís sight. "Iím real sorry. Am I gonna get in trouble?" she asked, her voice breaking with all the mixtures of feelings she had from this visit to Amphipolis.
The warrior mother leaned against the building, trying to let her frustration drain away. She looked down at the confused and sullen form awaiting her judgment. "Ya know, if you didnít look so pathetic right now, Iíd tan your little backside for pulling a stunt like that," she warned, gently swatting the little girlís leg.
Tarren lowered her eyes even further trying not to let her mother see just how sorry she really was.
The warrior let out a long breath. Xena knew that the confinement to this strange place with all the new faces and the added complication of calling her mother Xena was weighing heavily on Tarren. She picked the little girlís chin up with her finger.
"Come on. Itís pretty obvious what you need is some time alone with your wonderful and extremely understanding mother," the warrior said with a grin.
The child nodded, happy to be leaving the streets of Amphipolis with all its crowds and peering eyes. "Yes Xena," she said quickly.
The warrior stopped in her tracks as they headed down the path out of the village. "Hey what was that?" she asked, picking the little girl up and holding her high above her.
Tarren giggled a bit. "Oh, Iím sorry...Yes Momma," she said, hugging the warriorís neck happily.
"Much better, little one. I like that much better," Xena replied, returning the gentle embrace as she moved down the path.
"Me too, Momma," the youngster replied with a tear the warrior never saw fall.
Tarren sat on the edge of the stream holding her new pole over the water. They had arrived at the peaceful fishing spot once again and the child was anxious to try her newest possession.
"Iím getting hungry. Havenít you caught anything yet?" the warrior teased, lying back on the grass beside her daughter watching the youngster fish.
The child frowned. "Momma, youíre scaring the fish," she protested.
"Sorry," the warrior said with a guilty grin.
Tarren frowned as she studied the waters. No fish were tugging at her new line.
Xena had to feel for her young daughter who was not having a good day. The warrior reached over and tapped the child on the shoulder.
"Maybe the fish donít know itís a brand new pole. Let me try," she said with a grin.
Little Tarren was grateful to hand the pole over to a new victim. She lay back in the grass happy to watch her mother fish and waiting to take a teasing poke at her inability to catch anything.
Xena turned the fish in the spit while the sulking child just stared blankly at the traitorous pole. The warrior grinned at her daughter. "Hey, you called them over. I just yanked them out for ya," she said, hoping to make her child feel better about the warriorís ability to catch fish right away.
The youngster just frowned. Nope, today had not been a good day.
Xena handed the child a plate and watched as the little girl pushed the food around.
"Whatís wrong?" the mother asked, watching at her child.
"Nothing," the youngster replied, still playing with her food.
"Tarren?" the warrior whispered.
"Yes Momma," the sullen little girl replied.
"Come on...tell me whatís bothering you," Xena whispered, moving next to her youngster.
"Well...I donít like Amphipolis, Momma.... I wanna leave," the child finally admitted.
"Why?" the warrior mother asked, knowing this entire visit had been a strain.
"I just do," was all the little girl would say.
The warrior placed her plate down and held out her arms to her daughter. The affectionate child crawled into Xenaís lap and lay her head against her motherís chest burying it deep in a small corner. Since Tarren only did this when she was tired, scared, sick or in trouble, her mother knew that something was really bothering her.
She kissed her daughterís forehead while lovingly hugging the little girl.
"Hey I know itís hard not to be able to tell people who you are. Itís hard for me, too. I mean... I hate hearing you call me Xena. I sort of miss hearing you say Momma," she admitted in a gentle whisper.
"Ya do?" the youngster asked awed by such a discovery.
"Yeah, I do," her mother responded, surprised that her child would think otherwise.
Xena repositioned the child closer to her. "But, Tarren, I want you to be safe, and that means we have to be careful who we tell. I donít want anything to happen to you. Do you understand, baby?" she asked in a cracking voice, knowing her daughter was feeling great pain.
"Yes Momma...I understand," the child whispered, when in truth she really didnít understand at all. However, Tarren could tell that the subject upset her mother, and the child did not wish to cause her any more trouble than she felt she already had.
Xena smiled at her youngsterís response and changed the subject. "Good.... Now then, young lady, what is all this running off when I tell you to stay still? You have been very naughty today, even for you, " she said, tickling the little girlís side.
The child giggled and tightened her hold on her motherís neck. "I donít know, Momma.... I just wanted to see things. I just wanted to see..." she said quietly, holding firmly to her motherís neck.
Xena let out a deep breath, knowing that her daughter had inherited her sense of adventure. The warrior looked down at her daughter who was now nuzzled closely into her side. "Well baby, itís good to want to see new things, but itís bad to try to see things that you are not supposed to and very bad to make your dear mother wonder where you are. So we wonít do that again, will we?" she asked, tugging at the childís ear as she spoke.
The youngster shook her head and smiled, "No Momma, we wonít do it again."
Xena stared down at her daughterís smile and allowed her own expression to become more serious. "Good thing... because Iíd hate to have to drop your little britches and give you a good spanking if you did do it again," she said slowly, letting each word be heard clearly by the little ears below.
Tarrenís smile disappeared. She was no longer sure whether her mother was teasing or not. She glanced slowly up at the warriorís steely blue gaze and in a quick instant knew she was not kidding.
"No...Momma, we wonít ever do that again...not ever," the youngster swore, hiding her eyes in her motherís muscular arm.
Xena smiled, happy to know that her message got across with a simple sentence.
"Iím glad we agree on that, little one. From now on I think it's best if you stay with me when we are in the village. We work much better as a team. Besides Iím beginning to think the reason the Gods gave me two hands was to hold a sword in one and you in the other. So if we are in the village, you are attached to this hand...got it?" she asked, holding her right hand up in the air.
The child looked at the familiar hand and swallowed. "Yes Momma...hold your hand...Stay with you.... I got it or I get it...I got it," she whispered, hoping the gentle scolding was now over.
The warrior mother nodded deciding enough had been said on the subject. "Good then, letís eat that fish I caught with your new pole," she said teasingly.
The youngster stayed in her spot on the warriorís lap and reached down to grab her plate. Somehow, knowing these were traitorous fish did not make them taste any better. Xena just smiled lying back against the familiar tree, pulling her child close to her, happy to have a little private time with her daughter to talk and find comfort in one another's love.
After consuming the fish, Tarren eagerly eyed her motherís saddlebag.
"Momma?" the little girl whispered
"Yes?" her mother replied, sensing a familiar ring to this conversation.
"We had our meal...."
"Yeah...and..." the warrior said, confused by the obvious announcement.
"Well...all that candy is going to melt in this hot sun," the youngster dutifully informed her, as she eyed the still saddlebags.
The warrior had to hide a smile knowing the proximity of the confections had been on the childís mind since they had made camp. She also noted that since the sun was nearly ready to leave the sky that the sun was far from hot.
"You, little one, never know when to stop pushing your luck," she replied with a chuckle. "Ok...only one piece...since I know you already stuffed at least two in your mouth back at the store," she said with a slight frown.
The child nodded, gleefully reaching for the saddlebag. She stuck her head in searching for the sack of candy. The warrior had to chuckle at the sight of the half-buried child with her small bottom sticking up in the air, searching with such determination.
The youngster grinned with satisfaction as she dragged the bag of sweets out, placing them squarely on the ground in front of her. "Four, Momma.... I had four pieces at the store," she replied with a broad smile.
"Four! Tarren your gonna get sick," the warrior admonished, tempted to remove the bag before the child could do more damage.
"No I wonít, Momma, I promise," the child said obediently, biting her lip and waiting to be told she could still have the candy.
Xena let out a long breath and shook her head, "Go ahead."
The child dropped the delightful treat in her mouth and smiled. She handed her mother the bag. After popping a piece in her own mouth, the warrior wore a similar expression of ecstasy.
"By the Gods, Tarren ...Donít let Gabrielle see these.... Sheíll have us both on vegetable diets for the next month," the warrior said quietly, as she leaned back enjoying the melting sugar.
Tarren chuckled as she watched her mother close the sack and place it again in her saddlebags. "I wonít tell, Momma, but ya know Gabby can always find food," the child answered with a sly smirk.
The warrior grinned and pulled her daughter playfully over her legs. "Now thatís not a very nice thing to say. You really do need a good swat," she said teasingly.
"No Momma, Iíll be good," the child laughed, as the warrior dropped her hands and tickled the youngster into a laughing frenzy
"Youíll be good, huh," the warrior repeated, running her fingers down the childís side.
"Yes...yes," the youngster giggled.
"Are you sure?" Xena asked continuing the torture.
"Yes Momma," the little girl screamed, trying in vain to escape her motherís quick fingers.
"Are you real sure?" the mother asked once again, as she yanked off the youngsterís boot and started to tickle her bare foot.
"Yes...Iím real sure," she replied, panting for air as she grabbed at her motherís arms.
Tears ran down the little girlís cheeks from the torturous and delightful tickling of her motherís fingers. Xena let out a deep breath as she turned the little girl over peering into her daughterís wide, blue eyes.
"So, I think weíve made it clear that you're gonna be good, right?" she said with a wicked smile, waving her fingers in the air as if ready to strike.
Tarren smiled at the warriorís gentle expression, reached her arms in the air, and grabbed onto her motherís neck embracing her in a tight and meaningful hug.
Xena cocked her head as she accepted the affectionate childís embrace. "Hey... hey, whatís all this about?" she asked lifting the little girl into the air as she stood.
"I...I...Iíve just missed being with ya, Momma," Tarren said quietly, a single tear running down her cheek.
Xena wrapped her arms around her daughter and held her in one arm as she grabbed her saddlebags ready to head back to the inn. "Well...Iíve missed you too, baby. Look, we are only gonna be here in Amphipolis a bit longer. Then, weíll be back on the road again. So, if you can just behave yourself that long...." Xena started.
The child just lay her head down on her motherís shoulder pressing hard against it.
Xena could feel a slight shiver run through the youngster's body, making the warrior drop the saddlebag and hold Tarren tightly with both arms.
"Ok... Ok... Iím right here, little one.... I Ďm right here," Xena whispered, cradling her small daughter.
Xena could ask no more questions because her young daughter did not seem to have answers for why her tears fell. All the warrior was sure of was that her daughter was feeling a pain that the warrior could not heal, and that made it a pain they shared. She held her tightly until the sun started to disappear from the sky above. Then, the warrior mom headed back to the inn with Tarren still clinging tightly to her chest.
Chapter 3 Ė A Lonely Heart
Xena walked into the inn still cradling the child in her arms. It was late. Cyrene was already sleeping, but Gabrielle was waiting at the door with a smile.
"Well, I guess you two had a good time," the bard said with a grin, pointing at the exhausted, sleeping youngster clinging to the warrior's shoulder.
Xena nodded. "Yeah, we did," the warrior replied with a chuckle. "But she was into everything. If there was a wrong thing to do, she did it. Then every time Iíd yell at her or think she needed a little of my parental direction, sheíd give me those big doe eyes, and I just couldnít raise a finger," the warrior said, moving back toward the room with the bard following behind.
Gabrielle chuckled. "Xena, you have been at her mercy from the day you found her. Admit it. This kid has you tied around her little finger," she whispered, not wanting to wake the child.
The warrior started to protest and then just smiled as she put the little girl down on the large pallet and tugged at her small boots. "Ok, I admit it. She works around me pretty good sometimes, but even she has a line not to cross. When she crosses it, believe me, she knows it," the warrior said with a familiar frown.
The bard nodded in understanding having watched the child stand at meals on more than a few occasions as a result of crossing that very line.
Gabrielle smiled at her friend, but her smile faded when she saw the warriorís expression change suddenly. "Whatís wrong?" the young woman asked, seeing a look of concern in the warriorís face.
Xena stared at the child laying innocently in slumber on the large pallet. She pulled gently at the youngsterís boot and tunic as she thought about what she wanted to say.
"Gabrielle, am I doing something wrong?" Xena asked, as she pulled the last of the child clothes off and tossed the blanket over the small form.
The bard smiled and placed a gentle hand on her friendís arm. "Xena, why would you ever think that? Youíre doing a great job. Tarren loves you, " the young woman replied softly, motioning to the child now curling up in the blankets.
Xena let out a breath and sat on the edge of the pallet running her hand gently over the childís face. "Gabrielle, something is bothering her, and she wonít tell me what it is. She says she wants to leave Amphipolis, and..." she began.
"Well, who doesnít?" the bard interrupted, not realizing she was speaking out loud.
"Gabrielle, are you here to help or what?" the warrior asked, not even trying to hide the frustration she felt.
"OOPS, sorry.... Go ahead," the young woman replied, placing her hand over her own mouth to make sure she didnít slip again.
Xena let out a breath and looked back at the sleeping child. "Sometimes, I see tears running down her cheeks, but when she sees me coming, she wipes them away and acts like they never fell. At night she cries out for me, but, when I wake her up to show her Iím right beside her, she grabs onto me like we hadnít seen each other in years," the warrior mother said quietly, letting her hand run down the length of her daughterís face.
Gabrielle took a place on the pallet beside Xena and looked down at Tarren, "Well...have you tried talking to her?"
The warrior just shrugged, "Yup. She says nothing is wrong, but I know that is not the truth."
"Xena, you know, weíve spent an awful lot of time here. Tarren has never been in a village this long. Iíll bet the little monkey is just overly anxious to be swinging in trees, fishing with you, sleeping under the stars, and seeing a few bad guys get beat.... I know I am," the bard answered with a grin.
"I dunno...Maybe youíre right..." the warrior replied with a tired sigh.
"Six days more, Xena," the bard said rubbing her friendís shoulderís like she was entering a prize fight.
"Actually, itís more like five and a half days," the warrior replied with a grateful grin.
The bard chuckled and patted her friendís back, "Ok, five and a half it is."
Xena reached down and kissed the youngsterís cheek, and Gabrielle did the same.
The two friends, ready for a nice cup of hot tea before turning in, got up to leave the room.
A small voice from the blankets squeaked, "If we leave real early in the morning, itís really only five days."
The warrior and bard stopped and turned around.
"Sheís awake," the bard said, astonished that the youngster had lay still so long.
The warrior moved over to the side of the pallet wondering just how much her daughter had heard. "Young lady, how long have you been listening to our conversation?" she asked, in a parental tone.
The little girl kept her eyes closed as she spoke. "Momma, you woke me up. Howís a kid supposed to get any sleep if you two talk right over her," she moaned, rolling on her side, never answering the question her mother had asked.
Xena scrunched her lips together and looked at the now grinning bard.
"Gabrielle, the Little Princess is talking back to her mother again. I do believe a lesson is in order," Xena said, pointing to the youngsterís feet.
The bard nodded and quickly grabbed Tarrenís bare feet. "Yup, Iíd say so, Xena."
Feeling Gabrielle grab her, the youngster knew what was about to happen. Tarren sprung up from the pallet wide-awake, trying to move, but Xena pinned her underneath one arm. Together, the two friends started tickling the eavesdropping child. Tarren begged for mercy as her mother once again ran her fingers up and down the little girlís bare sides and stomach. The bard chuckled as she let one finger run up and down the child's naked foot.
"So, are ya gonna show some respect to your elders, little girl?" the warrior asked, letting her fingers move quickly over the laughing child.
"Yes, Ma'am...Iím sorry, Momma...I wonít listen to you and Gabby talking again," she replied, through giggles and pants for air.
The bard let her fingers stop and threw the blankets over the childís feet. "I think she got the message, Xena," the young woman said, getting to her feet.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and then Tarren and shook her head. "Nope, I donít think so," she whispered, as she let her hands move further down the covers. Tarren screamed with laughter, lurching forward as Xena tickled the youngsterís bare legs. Xena laughed and picked the little girl up in her arms, tossing her in the air.
Gabrielle smiled as she watched the usually stoic warrior turned into a playful parent by this little impís smile.
The warrior mother let out one final breath and gently placed the child on the pallet once again, pulling the covers over her. "Now, you go to sleep," she ordered kissing the little one on the nose.
Tarren smiled at her mother and waved to the bard.
"I want a story," she said softly.
"No story," the warrior said turning to leave.
"Why not?" the little one begged.
"Cause itís late, and weíre all tired," Xena said, placing her hand on the door.
"Iím not tired," Tarren said with a wide grin, ready to exit the bed.
"Yes, you are, so get your little backside back in that bed," the warrior mother ordered.
Gabrielle covered her mouth with both hands, enjoying this exchange to the point of tears.
"I am not," the little girl yelled.
"You are too," the warrior replied, feeling the muscles in her neck tighten.
Before Tarren could give her automatic response, Xena stopped the child with the wave of a hand, "Oh no, not again.... Tired or not...You go to sleep because I said so, young lady," the warrior stated with finality.
"Ohhhhh," the child whined, kicking her feet over the side of the bed.
"Tarren?" Xena asked in a controlled whisper.
"Yes, Momma," the child replied, still letting her legs swing freely.
"Sleep!" she commanded.
"But I want a story," the youngster moaned.
"You had a story today," Xena said slowly, closing her eyes.
The bard looked at the warrior. "Xena, you told a story and I missed it," the young woman said with obvious disappointment.
"Yeah, tell it again, Momma," the child said with a mischievous grin, knowing she had gotten Gabrielle on her side.
"No, go to sleep," the warrior said, taking a deep relaxing breath.
"Not tired," the youngster whined, folding her arms against her chest in Xena style.
"Tarren," the warrior mother called, with a strange smile on her face.
"Yes, Momma," the little one answered, wondering why her mother was smiling.
"If I have to come over there, we are both gonna be sorry. Now, do I need to come over there?" Xena asked, ready to take a step.
"No, Momma," the child replied, letting her lip start to quiver, as she tucked herself back into bed.
"Then I would suggest you not argue with your extremely tired mother," the warrior mother said slowly, once again ready to leave the room.
"Yes, Momma," the tiny voice squeaked again from under the pile of blankets she had sought refuge under.
The bard looked at the exacerbated warriorís face as the child quietly crawled further under the blankets until completely covered.
"Well, sheís going to sleep, Xena," the young woman said with a frown, staring at the now still form buried under the covers.
Xena ran a hand down her face to show her surrender, "Ok...Gabrielle, if you get us some tea, Iíll tell you both the story ...again."
The warrior moved over and pealed the blankets off her daughter, "Ok, one quick story, ya spoiled brat, and then itís bedtime...got it?" Xena asked with a slight smirk.
The youngster nodded and smiled up at her mother, "Yes, Momma, whatever you say."
"Yeah right...scoot over, ya little brat," the warrior mother said, pulling the little girl playfully onto her lap.
Xena told the tale of the Forgiving Tree once again, but this time covering her daughterís mouth so she could not interrupt when slingshots were mentioned. The bard watched in awe at the way her friend, the great Warrior Princess, turned bard to tell this story of love to her child.
When she was finished, Xena slid from the pallet. "Now, you go to sleep, little girl," she said in a parental tone.
"I will, Momma...Gínight Gabby," the child whispered, pulling the blankets over her head and moving to the center of the pallet.
"G'night, honey," the bard replied softly, heading for the doorway.
Xena watched as the child moved into what she knew was the warriorís portion of the bed. "Get comfortable, little one, but, when I come back, if youíre still hogging that bed, Iím gonna just sleep right on top of you," she said winking at the bard.
The youngster quickly moved back to her own side of the bed, not wanting to test how much of her motherís weight she could endure.
"Gínight, Momma," the small voice whispered.
"Gínight, Baby," Xena said with a smile, closing the door.
Less than hour later, Xena walked back into the room, eager for some rest after such a long day. She scanned the pallet to make sure she was being granted her rightful space and noticed the bed was quite empty. She allowed her eyes to travel the room wondering where the child, who should be fast asleep, had gone. The warrior saw the open window and felt a rush of fear as she grabbed for her sword and ran to the opening. However she came to an abrupt halt when she saw a small figure huddled in a bedroll lying on the floor right below the window, fast asleep.
Xena sheathed her blade and stared down at the child not sure whether she wanted to hug her for being so damn cute or give her a quick swat for scaring the daylights out of her. The warrior mother let out a long breath of relief and stared out the window. The stars were out. It was a clear and cool night, and Tarren was obviously longing for the road more than her mother had thought.
The warrior mother crouched beside the child and pulled the blankets close around her neck. "Ok, monster, have it your way," she whispered.
The warrior stood and looked at the large empty pallet. "Well, it looks like I get a bed to myself for once," she said with a satisfied smile. Xena quickly removed her armor and dressed for bed lying happily in the large soft pallet.
"Yup, all to myself" she murmured stretching out her legs comfortably. She closed her eyes and an eerie silence fell over the room. Soon, the warriorís eyes opened. She sprung up in the bed frowning. The warrior slid off the comfortable pallet, grabbed her own bedroll, and laid it out on the floor beside her daughter.
"Ok, brat, I admit it. I canít sleep without you," Xena said softly, reaching out her arm to embrace the child.
Tarren smiled and quickly burrowed her head into her motherís side.
Xena grinned knowing the child had heard her. "Well, Iíll never call you a light sleeper again, but I will remember this on those cold mornings when you act like you're fast asleep and canít get up," the warrior mother whispered.
The youngster frowned at having given away one of her best secrets, but then just nuzzled closer to her mother.
"Uh huh, thatís what I thought," Xena said sternly.
The warrior placed her arm around her small daughter and tucked her in protectively beside her. And for the first night in nearly two weeks, they spent a peaceful night underneath the stars.
The following morning, Xena awoke with a yawn. She felt an ache in her back that she never got sleeping on the soft grass or dirt, which conformed a bit more, to her body. She looked to her side and saw Tarren was already gone. As a matter of fact, the child had covered the warrior in her own bedroll before leaving her mother.
"What a good little kid," Xena whispered as she got to her feet trying to stretch out the kinks in her back.
It was at that moment that she noticed the sight of her small daughter sleeping happily stretched across the entire pallet. The warrior shook her head, "What a rotten little kid," she muttered with a smirk.
"OK, two can play at this game," the warrior murmured, anxious to teach her daughter a lesson about playing tricks on one's mother.
The warrior quickly dressed and starting filling the tub with water. When she was done, she crawled on the pallet beside her sleeping child.
"Tarren," she whispered, running her finger along the childís side.
The child buried her head in the pillows.
"Come on, monster. It's bath time," the warrior mother said standing tall and yanking the blankets off.
The child opened both eyes. "I just had a bath, Momma," she moaned.
Xena smiled. "Well, today you get an EXTRA bath cause you are just so damn cute," she said with a wicked grin
Tarren suddenly remembered that she had left her mother on the floor, but rather than explain, the child decided to see how much fun Xena would be.
"Momma...it was just ...I mean...you were so tired..." the child started to say, sprinting out of the bed and trying in vain to make it to the door. Xena merely vaulted in the air landing in front of her.
"Now... now.... Donít be naughty and make me unhappy, little one. Do what I say and get in the bathtub like a good girl. Momma is gonna give you a nice long, very long, bath" she whispered, clapping her hands together and then pointing to the tub.
The little girl let her shoulder slump realizing there was no escape. Xena smiled and lifted the youngsterís nightshirt off and tossed the child in the tub with a splash.
"Now, let me see, where is that scrub brush...I wanna make sure I keep my little girl clean," the warrior mother said, with a wry smile.
Tarren quickly submerged in the water hoping she could hold her breath longer than her mother could wait. Xena merely reached her hand in the tub and pulled the child back to the surface, "Well, look what I caught, and I didnít even need a pole."
"Ahh, Momma. I donít need a bath," the youngster protested.
"Oh yes, you do," Xena replied, making lather in her hands with the soap.
"No, I donít," the child whined, deciding this was not her idea of fun.
"I am your mother, and I say you need a bath, so you get a bath," she said firmly.
The child slumped against the side of the tub sorry she had ever left her mother sleeping on the floor without any explanation.
The warrior proceeded to scrub the little girl from head to toe, making sure every spot was washed at least three times. Tarren moaned and groaned as her mother spent an hour vigorously cleaning the child.
"There, clean and as shiny as a new pair of boots," Xena said with satisfaction, handing the little girl a towel and drying her off.
"Momma?" the child murmured, realizing she had made a huge mistake.
"Yes," Xena replied quietly.
"Are you mad at me?" the child asked, knowing her motherís smile was not a truthful one.
The warrior opened her mouth in mock surprise. "No baby. I just wanted to make sure you that you were extra clean...Thatís all. As a matter of fact, Iím gonna make sure you stay clean all day, so, if you get any dirt on you at all, Iíll be there to give you another bath," the warrior said, placing her arms firmly against her chest. She then kissed the youngster's forehead, "Hurry up.... Weíre gonna be late for breakfast.
Xena looked back at the child as she pulled her boots on. She pointed a finger at her and grinned. "My...my, you certainly do shine," she said proudly.
"Momma?" the little girl asked, trying to decide the best course of action.
"Yes, Tarren," was the simple reply.
"If I say Iím sorry, will you let me be dirty again?" the child begged.
Xena bit her lip to keep from smiling. At least the kid knew when she was beat.
"Hmm...I dunno. Try it," she purred.
"Momma, Iím sorry I left you sleeping on the floor while I slept in the bed," the little girl murmured, hoping this confession would free her from her motherís humor.
Xena heard the words, but they didnít satisfy her. "Nope, just doesnít sound right.... Try again," she said putting her hand up to her ear as if to hear better.
Tarren knew what her mother wanted, but it just didnít seem fair. The youngster bit her lip and sunk back on the bed. "Iím sorry I was a ...brat," she whispered.
"Thatís it! Thatís the one!" the warrior said triumphantly.
Xenaís face turned serious for a second. "Ok, you little wise guy, go get yourself dirty, but pull a stunt like that on me again, and youíll get three baths a day for a month," she said stiffly.
The youngster shuddered at the thought. "I promise, no more tricks, Momma," the child said heading for the door.
The warrior grinned and pointed toward the kitchen. "Breakfast," she said with a half smile.
The little girl stared at the warrior sadly. Making her mother think she had slept in the bed all night had at least gotten her a little more of the warriorís time. In fact, the child had only gotten up a few moments before and sprawled across the bed hoping her mother would seek some kind of playful vengeance. However, a bath was more than she had expected.
The child sighed knowing she was about to face yet another day without Xena or Gabrielle. She dragged her feet toward the door.
"Today, please," Xena said waiting in the doorway.
The youngster grinned knowing her mother was still in a playful mood. The youngster readied herself for action as she tried to slide past the warriorís morning wake up call. However, Xenaís hand was just too fast and caught the youngster squarely on the bottom as she slid by.
"Momma!" the youngster chuckled as she skidded toward the kitchen.
Xena smiled wickedly, "Good morning to you too, little one."
The warrior leaned against the back of the empty bar, still trying to stretch the kinks out of her back.
"Hey, whatís with you?" the bard asked, watching her friend trying to reach for the ceiling.
"Tarren decided she wanted to sleep under the stars last night, so I slept on the nice hard floor with her under an open window," Xena replied, rubbing her aching back.
The bard moved behind her friend and positioned her hands along the spine as Xena had taught her, trying to find the spot on the warrior back to loosen the knot.
"Oh, that is so sweet," the bard answered, thinking of the pair having a camp out inside.
"Yeah, thatís what I thought, until I woke up this morning and found that the little monster had left me on the floor while she slept in the bed," the warrior said with a smirk.
"Oh...well.... That explains a lot...sort of...." Gabrielle replied, running her hands stiffly against the warriorís spine.
Xena grimaced a bit, "To the left more.... What are you talking about? Explains what?"
The young woman paused in her efforts long enough to explain. "Well actually Xena, you are my second patient this morning. Tarren came looking for these same services before the sun ever rose. She woke me up saying her back hurt.... I was sort of wondering why she didnít wake you. I know sheíd not want to pass a chance to get you to rub her back..." the bard said with a smile, knowing how the affectionate child loved her motherís back rubs.
The warrior let out a relaxing sigh as the bard found the spot that ached. "So why did she let me think she slept there all night? It just got her an unwanted bath, and we know how she hates baths..." the warrior said with a twisted smile
The bard could not help but smile at her friendís failure to understand the obvious. "Hmm, maybe she hates baths, but she loves you. Even a bath must have looked pretty good if it got you to stay with her a bit longer this morning..." the young woman stated, with a quick smile.
"Damn...and I go and give the kid a bath," the warrior moaned, feeling guilty for teasing the child so long.
Gabrielle laughed, "You have to admit, she is a clever little thing."
The warrior nodded, "Yeah, sheís she so clever I spent an hour bathing her this morning. Believe me, I donít think she enjoyed our extra time together," she replied with a look of parental guilt.
The bard giggled. "I dunno about that...Tarren is pretty easy to please when it comes to spending time with her mom...You two are so much alike, it scares me," she said, finally finding the spot on the warrior back that offered some relief.
"Ahhhhhhhh thatís it...Yeah, well, there is one big difference between us," the warrior said with a grin, standing comfortably once again.
"Whatís that?" the bard asked eagerly.
"Size!" Xena replied with a chuckle.
The two friends laughed until they caught sight of a small figure working her way slowly to the pair.
"Good morning, Gabby," the youngster said with a half smile.
The bard reached over and kissed the youngsterís forehead. "Morning, Tarren...sleep well?" she asked, trying not to giggle.
The child smiled and started to nod but noticed the frown on her motherís face and shook her head. "Err, no, not really," she replied.
Xena dropped her chin on her hand and stared down at the child. Gabrielle laughed and watched as the little Xena approached cautiously. "What are we doing today?" she asked, glancing at both Gabrielle and Xena.
The bard looked at the warrior who let her head fall into her hands.
"Well, Iím sorry, honey, but today I have to work on my scrolls. I have to get some new stories down to tell at the inn tonight," the young woman said quietly, placing a gentle hand on the childís cheek.
"Again?" the youngster moaned.
The bard touched Tarrenís chin. "Yes, again...As a matter of fact, I have to get to work now... See you two later," she said, moving back to the solitude of her writing.
The warrior stared down at her child and then decidedly took the youngsterís hand pulling her back into the quiet of the storeroom. "All right, young lady, itís confession time. Why didnít you tell me you slept on the floor the entire night?" she asked, trying to sound annoyed.
The child lowered her eyes, "You never asked me," the youngster said nervously, realizing sheíd been caught in, well, a lie of sorts.
Xena covered her face with both her hands trying to control her frustration and amusement. "Tarren, you know what I thought, and you let me think it. Why?" she asked, folding her arms tightly against her chest awaiting a response.
"I just wanted you to play with me for a while," the child murmured sadly, staring up at her mother.
"Well why didnít you just say that, Tarren?" Xena asked, her voice gentle and calm.
"Cause you spent all day with me yesterday and I didnít want to bother you. Youíre always so busy," the child said dropping down on a barrel with a thud.
Xena let out a long breath and sat beside her daughter. "Tarren, I love being with you. Itís not a bother...itís the best part of my day. Itís just that right now, I have to help Mother out. Weíll be leaving soon...very soon, and she wonít have me around to help anymore, understand?" the mother asked, placing a gentle hand on her daughterís head.
The youngster nodded, not really understanding at all but wanting to remain on her motherís good side. "Yes Momma, " she answered dutifully.
Xena knew the childís heart was not in the response and that she really didnít understand, but the warrior resolved herself to being unable to divide herself anymore than she already was. She turned the childís chin to face her. "And another thing, young lady, if your back was bothering you, why didnít you tell me?" she scolded.
"I didnít want to...err...bother ya. I think I tired ya out yesterday, Momma," the youngster responded with an innocent stare.
Xena smiled and tasseled the childís hair. "You sure did, but that is no excuse, little girl. Whatís the rule?" she asked gently patting the childís leg.
Tarren stood as she repeated rule number 112, "If something is hurting me, tell Momma, right away...no excuses...no exceptions," she said stiffly, turning around for her motherís approval.
Xena tried not to smile at the youngsterís serious oration of this important rule. "Yes, thatís right...so come over here," the warrior mother said, motioning the child to stand before her.
Tarren obediently moved to the spot in front of her mother and looked into the gentle stare of the warriorís eyes.
Xena smiled. "Turn around," she said, twirling her finger to indicate the motion.
The youngster did as she was told, and Xena let her skilled fingers run up and down the childís spine until she found the tiny spot on the childís back that she knew would release the ache.
"Better?" the warrior asked.
The youngster nodded. "Yes Momma.... Thank you," the youngster said quietly, grateful for the relief.
Xena looked into the little girlís eyes and shook her head. "You're welcome, daughter, and if you need anything again, you better tell me. No more games. If you want something or need me, you call... and call quick," she ordered.
Tarren looked up at her mother, hoping her gaze was still as gentle, "Yes Maíam...Iím sorry...Are ya mad at me?" the child asked, not exactly sure whether she had done something wrong or not.
The warrior mother shook her head and opened her arms, "Nah, but you better have one good hug for me, little one."
Tarren grinned and reached up to embrace her mother, who lifted the child off the floor squeezing her tightly. "Ok, that was good!" she said kissing the youngster on the cheek and placing her back on the ground.
"Did ya have breakfast?" the warrior asked, pushing the childís hair off her face.
The youngster nodded as she leaned against her mother wanting to hold on longer.
Xena rubbed the little girlís back knowing the child wanted to be with her, "Well then, youíre all set, Iíd say."
Tarren let her head fall back and looked straight up at her mother. "Are you gonna stay with me at all today, Momma?" she asked, hoping today would be different then most days in Amphipolis.
Xena let out a long breath and knelt down to face her sulking child. "Sorry, baby, but your grandmother has a list of things for me to do," she said showing the child a rather lengthy parchment with chores needing to be done.
"Can I help ya?" the little one begged, wanting to be with Xena more than she would admit.
Xena smiled. "Well, I do appreciate the offer, but Iím sorry, Tarren. Most of these things involve the bar and moving heavy stuff around. Itís not safe for a little kid to be around. Besides, Iíd rather you were outside playing and having a good time," the warrior mother replied, lifting the child in the air.
"May I go swimming?" the youngster asked politely, dropping her head lazily on her motherís shoulder.
"Nope! Sorry, monster, you know you canít swim alone. You canít go any further than just outside the inn. I want you where I can see you. Believe me, little girl, I will be watching, so you better not wander off. Remember our discussion on that subject," the warrior said sternly as she placed the child back on the floor and headed out of the storeroom.
Tarren remembered the warning and nodded. "Itís Ok, Momma, it wouldnít have been any fun alone anyway," she murmured as she shuffled her feet behind her mother.
Xena could see the sullen look in her daughterís eyes, so she knelt beside her. "Hey, no sulking. We did have all day together yesterday, and, when Iím finished, weíll have some time. Soon weíll be back on the road, and weíll be fishing and swimming. Bet you're gonna be sick of the sight of me," she said, staring at the long list, while at the same time trying to get some enthusiasm in her daughterís face.
"Iíd never get sick of being with you," the little girl whispered so low even the warrior with her acute hearing didnít hear the words.
Xena studied the list and frowned. "My mother's out of her mind if she thinks Iím doing...." she started. Noticing the child still was at her side, she did not finish the sentence.
"I thought you were going outside," the warrior said with a grin.
The child shrugged. "What am I supposed to do for fun while your helping Grandma?"
"Make your own fun...You were creative enough to get me to sleep on the floor. I have faith that you will find a way to amuse yourself," Xena said with a slight chuckle.
Tarren thought about it for a moment and then frowned. "Ok, Iíll...go...make...fun," she mumbled shuffling out the door.
The warrior shook her head, "Remember what I said about wandering, young lady," the warrior called, but the child was already out the door.
"Well, at least one of us will have a good time," Xena mumbled, looking over Cyreneís list once again.
Soon, Xenaís time was once again consumed by her motherís list, visiting with people she never really knew and trying to maintain her sanity with her motherís constant child rearing advice. The warrior kept reminding herself that she only had to make it to the end of the week. After all, this was really no harder than being tortured in a dungeon, dragged by a horse, or fighting Calisto... or was it?
Tarren was slowly but surely getting frustrated at having to share both her mother and the bard with so many strangers. So much time without someone watching allowed the child the freedom to get in more trouble than usual. However she was determined to take her motherís advice and make her own fun. Tarren had hoped that if she could stir a bit of a fuss, sheíd get the attention she was used to from Gabrielle and Xena.
The youngster hoisted the bucket of mud over the tree. She grinned widely hoping her trap would catch something big. She poured the mud into the already large puddle that stood in front of the entrance to Cyreneís Inn. Many strange people coming in and out all day so the child was sure she could find at least one gullible victim.
She eyed the puddle proudly jumping in once herself just to feel the delight of it. The child heard her stomach grumble loudly. This experiment would have to wait until she got something to eat.
The youngster happily trailed in the back door straight through the kitchen smiling wickedly at the absence of all family. She grabbed some biscuits and cheese and a mug of milk.
Cyrene walked in and at first smiled broadly at the sight of her granddaughter, but her smile faded fast when she saw the muddy tracks on her clean floor.
"Tarren what are you doing trailing mud into my kitchen?" the grandmother scolded.
The little girl looked down at her feet not sure what the big deal was. "I was playing. I guess it stuck to me," the child said with a gentle smile.
The older woman felt her frustration build as she stared at the globs of muddy little tracks on her once clean floor. "Young lady, you are going to clean this mess up!" she yelled, her eyes growing wide with anger.
The child only smiled. "Grandmother, is this one of those times when you act mad, but youíre really not?" Tarren asked with an innocent grin.
Cyrene threw her hands in the air, "No! This time I am quite angry little one. Xena! Xena!" she called and the warrior quickly sprinted into the kitchen, sword in hand, hoping for a long fight with whatever warlord was attacking the inn.
"Mother, whatís wrong?" the warrior asked, sword in one hand, chakram in the other, eager for a small war.
The older woman pointed to the floor. "Your daughter..." she began.
Xena placed her chakram back at her side and sheathed her sword. She raised a halting hand in the air. "Wait, Mother, if she is being called my daughter, this canít be good," the warrior said leaning against the doorway and peering into the kitchen. She smiled as she watched her daughter dutifully finished the last of her mug of milk. Xena then looked down to the floor and saw the muddy tracks. She covered her face with both hands hoping it was just a mirage.
"Oh Tarren..." the warrior mother said with a weary sigh.
"Momma, did I do something wrong?" she asked with wide eyes.
"Well...your grandmother doesnít like when we bring outside inside, baby. So why donít you take those muddy feet of yours back outside where they belong," she said with a soft grin, motioning toward the door.
Cyreneís eyes flared. "What? Thatís it? You arenít even gonna make her clean it up?" the older woman yelled
Xena shook her head as she watched her daughter staring innocently back at her.
"Mother, Iíll clean it up. Relax, kids like mud," she said winking at her daughter and waving her hand behind her back, telling the little girl now was the best time to leave.
Tarren smiled at Xena, happy to have a mother who understood her as well as the finer things in life. Life was too short to deal with a ranting grandmother. The child had business to attend to and an experiment to finish.
The youngster approached her mud pool with one last, large bucket and dumped it in. Next, she covered it with a few twigs and a pile of carefully placed leaves. She took three paces from the edge of the puddle and placed a dinar on the ground and climbed into the tree and waited. Xena was right. Making your own fun was a good thing. Tarren heard the door to the inn open and quickly covered herself in the thick of the trees above, trying not to giggle. She heard the footsteps and the "Ahh" of someone spotting some free money. Then, there was the splash of them falling into her little mud trap as they tried to pick up the coin. The youngster giggled as she looked down to see just what greedy fool she had caught. Unfortunately, what she saw looking back at her was a very angry warrior mother, covered in mud and holding a single dinar tightly in her hand.
Tarren lay on the bed rubbing her already red eyes. Things were definitely not going as planned. She had gotten her motherís attention, but not what she had hoped for. Xena had made it pretty clear that setting mud traps outside the inn, or anywhere else for that matter, was not an acceptable form of play. She had made it abundantly clear, Tarren thought, as she remembered the large muddy hand falling on her backside with a warning not to do anything like that again. Even just a quick swat from her motherís hand left a very meaningful impression. The warrior mother had even confiscated the little girlís dinar as an added lesson.
After a few hours the door opened and a clean but still somewhat miffed warrior mother entered the room.
"Iím sorry, Momma," the child said quietly sitting up in the bed.
"You said that already," Xena replied sternly.
"Oh...sorry," the child said falling back on the pallet.
Xena sat on the side of the bed and looked down at the drooping chin and teary eyes of her young daughter. "Ok, you little mud monster, you can go out if you want, but I donít want anymore trouble today. Iím too tired.... Motherís still having fits about her floor, and Gabrielle is working on her scrolls, so in other words... behave yourself," she said with a grin, patting the childís leg.
Tarren got out of the bed and walked behind her mother. "Can I stay with you, Momma?" she asked hoping the warrior would let her follow.
Xena looked down at her daughter with a slight frown, "Sorry, little one but I have to go do my sword drills, and you know thatís the one place you canít come."
The youngster sadly dropped back on the bed. The warrior could not help but feel for the childís desire to follow. "Look, Iíll be back in a few hours, and then Iíll play with you, OK? Momma just needs a few hours to herself so she doesnít go insane," she said hoping to elicit a grin from her daughter.
Tarren just nodded kicking her feet lazily over the bed. "Sure, Momma...later," she said slowly, staring down at the floor and kicking her feet over the side of the bed.
The warrior mother left wishing she could offer her daughter more comfort, but she could not stay with her every minute of every day, and some places she just could not take her.
Tarren lazily dropped off the bed and headed into Gabrielleís room. She slid through the door quietly and watched as the bard wrote carefully on her scroll. The youngster stood for a long moment hoping to be noticed.
After a few minutes, she squeaked out a simple, "Hi!"
The bard turned and smiled at the youngster. She reached out a hand, motioning her to approach. "Well hello. I hear you have been a very busy little girl today," the bard said with a grin, remembering the sight of the warrior heading down to the stream to wash the mud off.
Tarren dropped her head sadly. "Oh, it been a real bad day, Gabby," she said dramatically, hoping her friend would forget her scrolls and pay her some attention.
The young woman gave the child a quick sympathetic hug, "Oh well, Iím sorry to hear that, brat," she said softly, before returning to her scrolls.
The youngster stared at her friend writing so diligently on her parchment.
"Do you wanna play a game or go outside with me, Gabby?" Tarren asked hopefully
The bard sighed, "Iím sorry, honey, but I have to finish with this story, so I can have it ready for the reading at the inn tonight. Whereís Xena?" she asked, surprised that the little shadow was not lurking behind the larger form.
"Sword drill," the child mumbled.
Gabrielle looked at her unfinished scroll and then the frowning child. "Look, give me a few hours to finish up, and then weíll go shopping" she said with a grin.
The youngster dropped her shoulders at the thought of another walk through Amphipolis. She turned to leave, "Thanks, but Momma took me shopping already, and I donít think I wanna do that again," she whispered, closing the door behind her before the bard could reply.
Gabrielle stared at her parchment knowing she had little time to finish and started once again to write. She turned to address Tarren but noticed with a heavy sigh, that the child was already gone. However the young woman made a mental note to spend time with Tarren later.
The little girl returned to her room and flopped on the pallet. Tears ran down her cheeks as she lay on the lonely bed staring at the blank ceiling. "Nala," she whispered, fingering the small blue amulet around her neck. "Nobody, wants me anymore.... I canít even call Xena...Momma now...I donít understand. What did I do wrong? I miss you, Nala.... I miss you so much. Iím all alone," the child cried, burrowing her head in the pillow and letting her trail of tears lead her to the land of Morpheous.
A strong breeze blew through he open window and blanketed the sobbing child. Somewhere out in an empty field a Warrior Princess wielding a sword in form felt a strong breeze and a shiver ran through her body. Somehow, she knew it was time to go back to the inn.
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