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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 7 Ė The Trouble with Tarren
The bard walked quietly back into the inn. She could tell that Xena had been waiting for her to come out with some great discovery of information.
Noticing that the young woman had been crying, the warrior jumped to her feet.
"Gabrielle what did she say to you now?" the warrior asked
The bard shook her head. "No Xena, itís not like that. Youíre gonna be mad at me not Tarren," she replied, quietly, slipping into the chair at her friendís table.
The warrior sat back down and looked at the young woman with confusion. "Why whoíd you hit?" she asked with a slight grin.
The bard smiled for a moment but then her expression turned serious once again, "Xena... the only way I could get Tarren to tell me what was bothering her was to promise...not to tell you."
The warriorís eyes went cold and she lowered her head a bit, "So she told you and you canít tell me" she replied, feeling the pain of her daughterís lack of trust.
The bard nodded knowing the words were hurting her friend.
Xena and Tarren had been sharing secrets for a while. The warrior was proud of the fact that they had become so close and cold talk openly to each other. Xena always felt that Tarren was most eager to tell her mother everything and anything. Now the warrior was being shut out and she did not know why.
Xena sat there silently wondering what mistake she had made to cause this rift. "So what am I supposed to do Gabrielle?" the warrior mother asked, throwing her arms up in the air.
The bard sat quietly beside her friend, "Xena weíve been through a lot together. Do you trust me?" she asked softly.
The warrior frowned, "Gabrielle of course I trust you. Thatís a ridiculous thing to ask," she replied, sipping at her mug of ale.
The young woman leaned in closer to her friend, "Then trust me now...Donít punish Tarren," she said quietly.
Xena studied her friendís serious expression and let out a deep breath, "Gabrielle I canít just let her go around hitting people for no reason...Motherís right about that...I hate to say. Besides she has been getting a little bit too obnoxious for even my taste."
Gabrielle sat back in her chair and drummed her fingers on the table nervously, "Well Xena...maybe itís all sort of connected. Maybe there is reason everything is happening and you have to find out what it is before you decide what the best action to take is."
The warriorís face was mixed with understanding and frustration knowing that the bard had the answer she sought. "Gabrielle I donít like all this game playing," she replied, running her hands up and down her face.
The bard patted her friendís arm. "Look Xena you asked me to help you raise Tarren. Well this is one of those moments when you have to decide whether you want my help or you just want a baby-sitter," she said firmly.
Xena nodded and placed a gentle hand on her friendís shoulder. "Of course I want your help," she replied with a smile.
"Ok I wonít punish her," she replied with a crooked grin, wishing she had someone like Gabrielle to come to her defense when she was a child.
The bard smiled and leaned back in the chair with a relaxing sigh. "Good now got talk to her, so she knows youíre not mad at her," she ordered.
Xena raised an eyebrow at the request but got to her feet and headed back to the room.
The warrior mother walked into the chamber.
As soon as Tarren saw her mother, the child jumped to her feet ready to accept her punishment and get it over with.
Xena shook her head and took a seat on the side of the pallet. "Relax I just want to talk to you," she said softly.
Lyceus stared at his sister. His concern for his niece, now so much greater. He had been playing with her problems as if it were a game and now he was realizing this was all too serious a situation.
The child looked at her with confusion. She was sure that this had bee the moment of retribution and yet her mother seemed to have no interest in anything but chatting. Tarren wondered when life had gotten so complicated that event he things she was sure of were not dependable.
Xena wiggled her finger motioning the child to approach and she did.
The mother lifted the youngster onto her lap and paused for a moment before she spoke, "Tarren...I donít know what is bothering you. I thought that you and I were close...close enough where you felt you could tell me anything. Iím sorry if Iíve done something to make you think you canít. Maybe I can help if you let me," she said quietly, wishing for some clue to what was bothering her child.
Tarren lowered her eyes in shame realizing that her mother had no anger, but only hurt for the childís failure to share the truth with her, "You havenít done anything...Itís just...well...There's just..." she began, but stopped not knowing how to say what she felt.
"Tarren tell her how you feel. Tell her how you really feel deep down inside."The ghost begged.
"No...I canít" the youngster replied, staring at her shimmering uncle.
Feeling he had served his niece poorly Lyceus disappeared, wanting time to re-think his own purpose.
Xena lifted the childís chin with her finger, "No? How do you know if you donít tell me?" she asked.
Tarren dropped her head on her motherís shoulder and ran her arms around her neck holding on tight.
Xena could feel the shaking in the childís body and the warrior mother wrapped her arms protectively around her youngster, "Hey itís Ok...Iím here for you. You come to me when you are ready little one...Iím not going anywhere." The mother whispered, stroking the little girlís back.
The childís tears fell as she nuzzled in to her motherís chest wanting to be held forever.
Xena looked up at the figure standing in the doorway and shrugged.
Gabrielle nodded at the warriorís actions knowing that to be held in her motherís arms was exactly what Tarren needed.
Xena stayed with Tarren until the child had cried herself to sleep in her motherís arms. The warrior then placed the youngster gently in the pallet and watched over her until she was sure the child had found a peaceful place in the land of Morpheous. With a gentle kiss and a silent promise to return, she had gone for a walk in the night air hoping to clear her head and make some sense of what was going on.
The warrior sat outside the inn staring up at the stars longing to be on the road heading off to some place where she felt she could do some good. Right now she did not even feel like she could help her own daughter.
Lyceus sat beside her staring up at the same sky wondering how he could help both his niece and his sister.
Gabrielle walked out and took a deep breath of the night air. "Hey...dinar for your thoughts," she whispered, hoping to nudge her silent friend into a little conversation.
The warrior glanced at the bard, "Well you were right there is definitely a lot more to this than some silly fight or Tarren just missing us," she replied quietly, as she ran a whetstone methodically up and down the edge of her blade.
"Hey Xena Iím trying to think do you think you could stop doing that for a bit?"Lyceus asked, annoyed by the constant screeching noise.
The bard nodded and sat beside her friend. "Iím sorry I canít tell you what she said Xena, but I donít think it would be a great idea for anyone if I lost her confidence right now," the young woman said with a frown.
"Yeah nobody likes a squealer right Xena,"the ghost said wanting to give his sister a gentle poke in the ribs.
Xena nodded and continued her task with the blade. "No Gabrielle I donít want you to do that. Tarren has a right to her privacy. I want her to trust you just like I do," the warrior replied with a gentle grin.
Gabrielle let out a quick breath wanting to do something to help both her friends find peace. "Xena I want you to know that the reason Tarren hasnít told you is not because she doesnít trust you or because she doesnít want to. That kid has it in her head that sheíll hurt you she just doesnít want to hurt you."
The bard folded her arms in frustration.
"Yeah Xena that kid really loves you. She worships the ground you walk on,"Lyceus said with a grin.
The warrior sheathed her sword and lowered her eyes, knowing the bard was trying very hard not to tell her what the problem was, "Thanks that means a lot to me."
Gabrielle thought about it for a minute and stood, "Look this is ridiculous. I canít help her if she wonít tell you, and I canít tell you. Maybe you can figure it out on your own...with a bit of help," the bard said with a grin.
"Great idea. Why donít we just act it out like in a play?"the ghost said with a laugh.
The warrior thought about the young womanís idea and felt it sounded like a strategically good idea, "Ok...Iím listening," she replied, ready to play the bardís game.
The bard smiled enjoying the chance to use her imagination. "What have you noticed has been sort of different in the last day?" she asked.
The warrior frowned at the cryptic clue. "Gabrielle can you be a bit more specific?" the frustrated warrior begged.
"Bad clue Gabrielle."
The bard shook her head realizing this might be harder than she thought. "Well I for one have noticed the word Xena being thrown around a lot."
"Uh that would be my fault Sis...sorry!"
The warrior thought about it and frowned, "Yeah I know. I figured she was just getting even with me for leaving her alone so much. I didnít say anything cause ...well...I guess she has a right to be angry. You know weíve been meeting so many strangers lately that Iím never sure whether she should call me Xena or...."
The warrior face went blank.
"Thatís it isnít it? This has something to do with meeting all these people and not being able to tell anyone sheís my daughter," the warrior cringed.
"Xena you guessed it. Do you guys play this game a lot?"
The bard swallowed hoping she had just not given away the childís secret, "Hey I never said that."
"Ya know you have the most beautiful green eyes Gabrielle,"Lyceus mooned, staring at the bard.
The warrior nodded, "No you did not my friend." "What about the fight?" she asked.
The bardís eyes went cold as she paced around in circles. "Well letís just say I wouldnít mind five minutes alone with that Tetran myself," she hissed.
The warrior smiled at he friendís flaring temper, "Whew! That bad huh? Well maybe itís best you canít tell me," the warrior said with a curious grin.
"Oh tell her. Iíd love to see her kick a little butt while Iím here."
The bard nodded, "I would say so."
Xena sat back and studied the stars again.
"Well Gabrielle this is a problem I already knew about. Tarren has been bringing it up here and there, and I have tried very hard to explained why itís necessary to have her call me Xena. What more can I do? she asked, feeling the situation weighing heavily on her own shoulders.
"Well maybe you should spend some more time alone with her. Show her how you feel rather than just telling her. Maybe then sheíll open up to you. Oh and Xena I would say that Tarren started calling you Xena sort of hoping youíd notice and maybe even be bothered by it," she whispered, wanting to point her friend in the right direction.
The warrior nodded, "Well I blew that one. I just figured it was best to let her have her mood. You know my mother is right. You are wiser than I give you credit for," the warrior said with a smile.
The bardís face went blank. "YOUR mother said that about me?" she asked with a grin.
"Gods a girl my Mom would have even liked."
When Tarren awoke the following morning she was unhappy to find Xena was already gone from the bed. The youngster jumped from the pallet eager to search the inn. Gabrielle stopped the half-dressed youngster with a fast arm as the child rushed into the crowded inn wearing little more than a nightshirt.
"Hey where do you think youíre going young lady? You need a bath and some clothes before you can make a debut in here," she said sternly, turning the child around and pushing her back toward the room.
"Whereís Xena?" the youngster asked, as she reluctantly was dragged back to the sleeping chamber.
The bard frowned wishing she had a complete answer to that question. The warrior had gone out quite early for a ride and had yet to return.
"She went out for a ride. Sheíll be back later. In the meantime itís my turn to give you a bath," Gabrielle said with a grin.
Lyceus yawned as he rose from the floor and stretched out his shimmering form.
Gabrielle removed the childís nightshirt and motioned her to the already filled tub in the center of the room.
"Hey turn around," the child yelled to her uncle as the bard started to undress her.
"Oh...yeah...sorry...."the uncle moaned, facing the wall, his shimmer turning a bit red.
The bard gave the child a puzzled look but turned away so as not to embarrass the suddenly bashful child. "You know Iíve seen your naked bottom more than a few times Tarren. Since when are you so shy?" she asked, waiting for the youngster to get in the tub.
Tarren waited to make sure her uncle had turned away and then yanked on Gabrielleís arm. "Hey are you giving me a bath or not?" she asked, wondering if she had to stay in the cold draft all morning.
The bard turned to face the child once again. "I thought you wanted me to turn around while you got in," she said with a smirk, motioning the youngster into the tub.
Tarren quickly realized her signals and conversations were getting crossed once again. "Uh...err...Nah I was just teasing." the child replied, giving the water a quick splash. "I thought it was...Momma...I mean Xena who was giving me my baths now, and why didnít she take me riding with her?" the child asked quietly slipping into the large tub.
The bard sighed at the ease with which the child gave into a task she knew the little girl despised. Gabrielle had actually come to enjoy the challenge of bathing Tarren. This was too easy, and the bard knew that the childís thoughts were of her absent mother.
The bard began the washing process without any argument from the still form obediently sitting in the water. "I think she just wanted to go out and have some time alone. You know how she gets. Itís that big strong warrior thing...The village is getting a bit too crowded for her I think," the young woman replied, hoping the warrior would be back soon.
"Are you done yet?"the ghost asked, tiring of watching the wall.
"No!" the child thundered.
"Tarren I swear sheíll be back," the young woman said sternly, wondering why the child would think otherwise.
Tarren sank her shoulders into the water and glanced at Gabrielle. "Momma...Xena just didnít want me with her cause she Ďs mad at me for not telling her what happened yesterday," the child moaned, biting her lip.
Gabrielle shook her head. "No Tarren she is not angry with you at all. She is worried about you. Your mom wants to help you and she doesnít know how. You donít know how hard that is for her. She loves you brat," the bard replied, playfully tugging at the youngsterís wet hair.
The child said nothing but lowered her eyes not believing that her mother was anything but disappointed in her.
Gabrielle scrubbed the youngsterís hair. "How about a story?" she asked, hoping to brighten the childís face while they both waited for Xena to return.
Tarren shrugged as if it didnít matter one way or the other.
"Oh yes please I love stories,"the shimmering figure said starting to turn.
"Hey turn around...Iím not wearing any clothes," the child ordered her ghostly relative.
Gabrielle dropped the wash cloth. "Tarren I am not in the mood for these games of yours. I know you are in the tub and we donít generally bathe with clothes on young lady. Do you want to hear the story or not?" the bard asked, a bit frustrated by the childís pranks.
"Oh kid please Iíd love a story."
The bard got a firm grip on the child and forced her quickly back into the water. "Excuse me? Tarren Iím trying to help you. I saved your little bottom last night. Iíve been sticking up for you to Xena, and all Iím getting in return is your lip. Iíve had enough of it young lady," the bard scolded, in a parental tone, she was unaware she even possessed.
Tarren sank in the tub under the bardís reprimand. "Iím sorry...I didnít mean anything," the child replied, giving the young woman her best wide-eyed look.
Gabrielle turned her head, took a deep breath and nodded, "Thatís more like it, but one more little comment and youíll be on your own with Xena," she warned, shaking her finger for emphasize.
"Yes maíam," the child whispered, lowering her eyes.
Gabrielle threw her head back at being addressed in such a formal manner. Tarren never offered her that type of title nor did she expect it. The bard let out a deep breath and kissed the youngster on the cheek, fearing her scolding had been a bit harsh.
She patted the childís arm gently. "Ok...I forgive you...Now let me tell you about how Xena and I first met. You see I wasnít always the wise old woman you see before you," she said with a smile.
Tarren looked at her but said nothing.
"Oh I have to hear this,"the ghost said.
Tarren frowned at her uncle but said nothing for fear of getting in more trouble.
Gabrielle looked surprised by the childís reaction. She had always loved any and all Xena stories.
"You want to hear something else?" she asked the sullen child.
The child glanced at her friend and shook her head. "No...Gabby I wanna hear about how you met Xena," she replied.
Gabrielle stared at the childís uneasy expression and then began. "Well...yeah...Ok...I was actually from a small village called Potedia. My village had been attacked by these really bad men and I was being taken away to be sold as a slave. Anyway, your mom saved me...all of us...and I was so impressed with the way she stood up for us that I wanted to go with her when she left. I wanted excitement and adventure. I wanted to be just like Xena. So I asked her to take me with her," the young woman said with a grin, remembering the scene.
Tarren gave her uncle a glare but said nothing for fear she might offend the bard.
The child turned slightly to face the young woman, "And she said yes right?" the child asked, enjoying the story a bit.
The bard shook her head and smiled. "Nope actually she said NO!" she chuckled.
"Yup thatís Xena...canít stand a tag along."
The confused child threw her arms over the edge of the tub and stared at the bard. "Then howíd you wind up traveling with her?" she asked, finally finding interest in the story.
The bard moved the wash cloth up and down the childís arms and neck. "Well I sort of...followed her...Believe me it wasnít easy. I nearly got eaten by a Cyclops," she recounted with a shiver.
The child grinned a bit at the thought of Gabrielle being on a plate, "So where was Xena going? Where did ya follow her to Gabby? Howíd you get her to let ya stay?"
Lyceus chuckled and sat down and closed his eyes trying to imagine the adventure-taking place.
The bard grinned at the youngsterís sudden barrage of questions. She was now sure she had the childís complete attention, "Well Xena was coming here...She wanted to see her mother. It had been years since she had been come home."
Tarren accepted a towel as she got out of the tub and then sat on the edge of the bed while Gabrielle gently brushed her hair.
"So she came here and...well... the people here were not to eager at first to see her...not even your grandmother," the bard said with a frown.
"Why?" the youngster asked, finding it hard to imagine anyone not welcoming her mother openly.
The bard stumbled a bit, realizing she had just wandered into a shady area.
Xena had told Tarren how she had once been a bad warlord and hurt many people and how she was trying to make up for all the bad things she had ever done. The warrior wanted her daughter to understand that she was not always a good person and that she had made many mistakes in her past. However the warrior had never gone into too many details, fearing the child was not yet old enough to deal with it.
Gabrielle continued brushing the youngsterís hair and stumbled a bit. She was trying very hard to make this story suitable for small ears without losing the moral.
"Well Tarren because...The people here were remembering the old Xena. You know how your mom told you sheíd been really bad and then wanted to change. Well it was very hard for people to give her a chance to be...different," the bard said quietly, awaiting the youngsterís reaction.
Tarren popped up from the bed eager to defend her mother. "But why Momma was sorry she was bad. She wanted to be good. When Iím really bad Momma spanks me," the child said with a frown. "But then tells me she loves me. Momma says that no matter what I do sheíll always love me and give me another chance. Why couldnít everyone just give her a chance? She is a Princess ya know?" the youngster informed the now smiling bard.
Gabrielle hugged the youngster. She was intrigued by the childís undying devotion.
The bard grinned at the little girlís comparison of Xenaís dark warlord days to the childís inability to stay off her warrior motherís knee.
"Well Tarren itís not exactly the same thing, but I do agree with you. People should have been willing to let her change," the young woman said holding the child on her lap.
The child shrugged. "Grown-ups make everything tough. Momma and me have our very own system. Wanna hear?" the child asked eagerly.
The bard nodded knowing quite well what the "system" was, but interested in Tarrenís interpretation.
The child leaned back against the bardís shoulder. "Well If Iím good and I do what Iím told then I can have almost anything I want...Except for things Momma says I shouldnít have like swords and stuff and well ...a pony," the child stated leaning back in the grinning bardís arms.
"If I donít do what Iím told or Iím bad then she Momma says Iíll get nothing but my bottom warmed. That makes us both sad," the child said glumly. Gabby why do they call it getting your bottom warmed? It sure feels awful hot when Momma does it?" the youngster asked, a bit lost in her own train of thought.
The bard smiled at the childís innocent assessment of how simple the world should be. Gabrielle was grateful to be invited into the little girlís private thoughts and find they were so filled with love and understanding.
"I donít know Tarren. Maybe because not everyone is lucky enough to have Xena as their mom," the bard replied with a tear, realizing how much the child truly loved her mother without question. Xena set the rules and Tarren understood that and accepted it happily. Life was quite simple to her and for that Gabrielle was grateful.
"Well I still think grown-ups make a big deal over stuff, " the child moaned.
"I agree," the young woman said, squeezing the child gently, wishing she herself could see the world that way again.
Lyceus lowered his eyes knowing that his sister had suffered far more than anyone had ever realized. His death had been put her over the edge. That was a burden he carried on his shoulders even now.
"Well...now everyone knows sheís good. She helps people and stuff. Right?" the child, asked hopefully.
The bard smiled and stroked the childís back. Xena was right. The youngster would never accept the idea that anyone could not adore her mother. "Yup!" the young woman replied, knowing in her own heart how much the warrior had given and lost in the past few years while trying to make amends.
Tarren smiled at the happy ending and quickly realized the story was not yet over.
She turned around and faced her friend, eager for the story to continue, "So what happened next gabby?" she asked as the bard ran the towel over the still wet youngster.
"Well...letís see...I sort of showed up and helped Xena out by talking the villagers out of err...yelling at her," the young woman said quickly, not thinking an image of the villagers wanting to stone her mother was a good one for the child to have.
The youngsters jaw dropped open, "You saved Xena?" she asked with a smile.
The bard nodded. "Well sort of, but hey you know we look out for each other Tarren. Thatís how it is between friends. She watches my back and I watch hers, and we both watch yours," she replied, tweaking the little girls nose.
Tarren lay against the bardís shoulder. "Tell me more," the child demanded.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms gently around the small form. "Well there were these bad men that were gonna attack the village and Xena fought the leader, and won. That made them all leave. After that she and Cyrene started...well...trying to become friends again."
"That was a really nice story. You were right to leave out all the bad spots. No kid should ever hear that stuff about her mom ...or sister.
Tarren eyed the bard strangely as she tugged at the heavy towel around her body. "So howíd you get to travel with Xena? If she said no...When Momma says no it usually means No," the youngster stated.
The bard grinned as she reached for the childís clothes. "Well she tried to send me away, but I followed her. I was planning to stick with her until she needed help, but I wasnít very good at making fires and stuff back then, so I wandered into her camp. I guess she sort of felt bad for me because she didnít try and send me away the way I thought she would. As a matter of fact Tarren for a long time I really thought she would send me home. I knew I caused her a lot of trouble, so I was just always sure she was going to send me away, but she never did. We were friends...We became best friends...Family...and now here we are," the young woman finished.
"Xenaís lucky to have you Gabrielle and so is Tarren,"Lyceus said, kissing the bardís forehead.
The youngster thought about the bardís story. "Well if you were just a villager. Howíd you learn to fight with the staff and howíd you become and Amazon Princess and how...."
Gabrielle silenced the child with the wave of a hand.
"Tarren thatís another story for another time. Now lets get you dressed." she said with a grin.
The youngster dodged the young womanís efforts to take her towel and dress her, wanting instead to hear more about the adventures.
"Gabby how come you never tell anyone about the story where you saved Xena?" she asked.
The bard tried once again to reach for the youngsterís towel, but the child took a fast step away. "Tarren your mom is the real hero to the world. I just watch her back while she working. My job is to always bring up the rear," she said with a smile.
Tarren ran across the other side of the room not wishing to be dressed. "Doesnít it bother you when people think youíre just a...bard?" she asked not wanting to hurt her friendís feelings.
The young woman tried in vain to circle around and grab the child. She sighed and dropped back on the pallet deciding eventually Xena would return and deal with this part of the chase herself.
The bard sat on the bed and eventually the youngster sat beside her waiting for an answer. Gabrielle shook her head and glanced down at the difficult child. She smiled and placed a gentle arm around the youngster.
"Tarren when you are sure of yourself you have nothing to prove to anyone else," she replied with conviction.
The youngster shook her head. "But Gabby Iíve seen you fight. Mommaís told me how much youíve helped her and how you risked your life to save people. Donít you want people to know who you are?" the little girl asked.
Gabrielle laughed and wrapped her arms around the youngster, "No Tarren it doesnít matter much...Ok sometimes it bothers me...but for the most part I realized that it doesnít matter what other people think. I proved myself to me and I think I proved myself to Xena and thatís all thatís important. Itís only important what the people I care about think of me, and Xena and I hope you, know who I am and thatís good enough. But mostly itís important what I think of myself. We know who we are and we donít have to prove anything to strangers Tarren," Gabrielle said with a hug and a gentle smile, hoping the child understood the depth of the message she was trying to share.
"Thatís what Momma said...We shouldnít care what other people say or think," the child murmured, wondering if her mother would ever return.
Tarren shrugged off the fear and looked up at the bard. "So howíd you prove yourself to Xena?" the child asked.
The bard shook her head, "Well kid...That took a long time, and a lot of mistakes, but your mom tried to be patient and was always there to bail me out when I needed her help."
"Yeah and Gabrielle bailed me out on more than just a few occasions herself, but she always leaves that part out of the story as well," A husky voice said from the doorway.
Tarrenís eyes flew open as she saw the tall muscular figure of her mother leaning against he doorframe.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded knowingly at her friend.
"Xena youíre back. I thought you wanted to be alone," the youngster yelled, sliding over to the warrior and standing before her.
The warrior mother grinned at the child wearing nothing but a towel, staring up at her.
"Nope! What I was really hoping was youíd be up when I got back, so Iíd have someone to spend the day with," the warrior replied, rubbing the side of the little girlís face.
The youngster grinned and hugged her motherís waist. The warrior mother lifted the child into her arms and squeezed her tightly.
"So are you up for a little riding and fishing little one?" she asked staring into the eyes of her young daughter.
The child nodded quickly, "Yes maíam!" the child responded.
Xena nodded and placed the little girl on the ground, "Good then get yourself some breakfast and weíll get started."
The child started to sprint out of the room, but was quickly grabbed around the waste by her warrior mother.
"Not so fast little girl...I would really appreciate it if you put some clothes on first," the mother said dropping the child on the pallet.
The bard watched with a smile as the warrior easily got the child to dress. When the warrior finally pulled the tunic over the youngsterís head the child was pronounced dressed. Xena wiped a few stray hairs from the little girlís face staring lovingly at her young daughterís innocent face.
Xena took a deep breath and gave the child a gentle swat across her bottom to send her on her way. "Go!" she said with a grin, pointing toward the kitchen.
Tarren hugged her mother and jumped off the bed. She ran over and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.
"Thanks for the story Gabby," she whispered and vaulted out of the room eager to spend the day with her mother.
Xena smiled at the bard. "That was a great story. A little lacking in detail, but a nicely told...thank you," she said softly, sitting on the pallet.
Gabrielle nodded. "Well I sort of hoped it might help to let her know that in time she wonít care what anyone thinks."
The warrior smiled. "Gabrielle, Do you ever regret...."
The bard threw up a halting hand.
"Xena the answer was and always will be no. I would not change my life for anything. You are my best friend, and for as much as I know Tarren fills the empty spot that losing Solan left. She fills a part of what I lost had things been different with Hope...If that makes any sense," she said lowering her head, hoping her friend would not mind the comparison.
Xena approached the bard and put a gentle arm around her shoulder. "It makes all the sense in the world, and someday I hope that kid realizes how truly lucky she is to have you around," the warrior said with a gentle grin.
The bard wiped a tear from her eye. "Hey donít get all mushy on me warrior. I have work to do on my scrolls and you have a very anxious little girl waiting to spend a day with her mother," she replied, trying to hold onto her emotions.
Lyceus expression was dark and there were tears in his eyes. "Gods I have missed so much!"
Chapter 8 Ė Truth be Told
Tarren skidded to a halt in the kitchen. "Hi Grandma," she said with a sly grin.
The older woman nodded, "Hello Tarren and where are you off to in such a hurry?" she asked, wondering why the child was not in her room.
The youngster smiled as she downed a few biscuits and drank mug of milk that Cyrene put before her. "Momma is taking me riding and fishing again today," the little girl answered with a smile.
The older woman frowned, "Oh really...I thought you would at least be spending some time in your room," the grandmother replied stiffly.
The child nodded at the frustrated older woman. "Ya know grandma...I thought so too but Momma said she wants me to go, and sheís the boss," the youngster grinned.
Cyrene frowned at her daughterís failure to discipline the child appropriately and returned to her cooking. "Yes she is...I guess," she said quietly.
The child thought about the story the bard had shared with her and wondered if Xena had ever needed to prove herself to anyone. There seemed to be no greater source of information around than the all-knowing grandmother.
"Grandma can I ask you a question?" the child asked, chewing on her biscuit.
Cyrene studied the little girlís innocent smile and nodded.
"Did Momma ever have to prove anything when she was a kid?" she asked, hoping she was not giving away too much.
The older woman looked at the child. "What do you mean dear?" she asked, giving the child a puzzled look.
"Well I mean did Momma ever do anything cause she wanted to show everyone she was ya know...good enough to be ...I dunno," The childís words fell short and the old woman smiled.
The grandmother smiled at the youngsterís question. "Oh I see...Well I do remember once when Xena was about 14 she wanted to compete in the boys athletic competitions. I said no because I felt it was...well...not very lady like," Cyrene said with the wave of a hand.
The youngster frowned, "Well dear I thought I was raising a young lady not a Warrior Princess."
The child grinned deciding that this was too old a mistake to be angry with her grandmother over.
"Err... Mom that would this may not be a good story to tell her,"Lyceus warned as he moved into the kitchen beside Tarren.
"Shh," the child admonished the ghost.
"Well dear do you want to hear or not?" the grandmother asked, confused by the youngsterís reaction.
"Yes Grandma," the child replied with a chuckle.
"Well ...Xena got angry with me and the boys all teased her because she didnít get to enter. My Xena did not like being teased. She told them sheíd take them on one at a time or all at once, but the boys knew better even then," the older woman fondly.
"They sure did,"Lyceus said proudly.
Tarren smiled wanting more of this story. "So what did she do?" she asked.
Cyreneís smile faded and her face went blank. "Xena told them that she was going to climb Mt. Polis. It is the tallest peak here and there are all kinds of jagged edges that run along the cliffs. Grown men donít dare climb it, so Xena had to prove that she was different ...that she was special...that she was one of a kind," the older woman responded, lost in the memory.
"She still is Mom...She still is."
The childís eyes grew wide, "And did she? Did she climb it?"
The older woman smiled at the excitement in the child's eyes. She led the youngster to the window and pointed to a large mountain just in the distance.
"You see that mountain little one. That is Mt. Polis and atop that mountain sits a small flag made from an old piece of cloth. It has Xenaís name on it, and on a clear day, you can see the little flag still flying in the wind. No one has ever climbed that mountain accept my daughter," Cyrene stated with pride.
"I asked her if I could come and she said no,"Lyceus pouted.
The child stared at the large mountain and swallowed hard. "Momma climbed that when she was just a kid?" she asked, staring at the tall rock formation in the distance.
Cyrene nodded, "Yes and no boy or man ever dared to tease her again after that. They all knew that there was something special about her. She was one of a kind," she whispered, staring off into the mountain of memories.
"Ya know Mom you just gave me a great idea!"
The childís eyes were lost in a trance of the cliffs in the distance trying hard to see the small flag.
"Hey what are you two looking at?" a husky voice said from behind as she hoisted her youngster up in the air and over her shoulder.
Cyrene looked at her daughter and grinned. "Oh we were just having a little walk down memory lane," she replied, returning to her work.
Xena put the child down on the counter. "Mom weíre gonna be out all day so donít hold supper for us Ok?" she asked, kissing her motherís cheek.
Cyrene nodded. "Yes dear I heard. Xena do you really think...."
The warrior stopped her. "Yes mother I really do think. Come on Tarren. Those fish wonít wait all day ya know," she said grabbing the little girl and heading out of the kitchen.
"Bye Grandma," the child said quietly.
The older woman shook her head. "Enjoy yourselves children," Cyrene replied with a frown, feeling she was watching two children depart instead of one.
Xena gave her mother a quick stare and just walked away with Tarren hanging over her shoulder.
Xena left Tarren outside the inn door and headed for the barn. "You wait right here while I saddle Argo," the mother ordered
Tarren nodded and obediently sat herself under a small tree.
"So itís a day of fishing and swimming huh? Well I canít wait. Xena was always lots of fun to play with,"the shimmering figure said, making his way through the inn door.
Tarren looked over at her Uncle and bit her lip. "Uncle Lyceus. Do you mind if just Momma and me go? I mean can you stay here?" she asked, wanting a little privacy and not eager to risk anymore trouble.
The ghost shrugged. "Sure if thatís what you want, but what about the plan? I think I have a great idea for a new plan," he answered, disappointed at not being able to follow.
Tarren smiled. "Later...Ok?" she asked.
"Oh...Ok sure...Iíll be here waiting.... All alone...."
"Go play with Gabrielle...." the child suggested, deciding the two could play nicely together.
The uncle smiled. "Yeah that could be lots of fun," he said shimmering back into the inn.
Tarren sighed with relief as she watched him go. She saw her mother leading the war-horse from the stall and eagerly rushed to her side.
After a fast ride on Argo Tarrenís eyes were open wide and full of life. It did Xenaís heart good to see her daughter smile so brightly after a night of misunderstood tears. The warrior decided to return to the familiar willow she and her daughter had enjoyed just days earlier. Xena jumped off of Argo pulling Tarren slowly down behind her.
"Well did we go fast enough for ya monster?" she asked tossing the little girl in the air.
The youngster shook her head, "Nope!"
The warrior smiled knowing her child was being quite honest. No matter how fast she made Argo gallop, Tarren always wanted it to be faster.
"When will you teach me to ride?" the child asked, reaching up to pat the war-horses neck.
Xena grinned, looked at Argo and then her daughter, "When you can stay...."
The child finished the sentence for her mother. "Out of trouble for a month straight...thatís what I thought," she said with a frown, having heard the words so may times before.
The child just shrugged and patted Argoís side once again. "Sorry girl. It looks like Iím never gonna get to drive," the youngster with a sigh.
Tarren kicked a stone with her boot to let her mother know she was not satisfied with the arrangement, but then headed for the water, pole in hand.
Xena eyed the mare and smiled. "Well thatís one less thing I need to worry about at the moment," she whispered to the horse.
Tarren was hard enough to keep hold of on foot. Xena had terrible visions of what it might be like to track her if she was given control of a horse.
Xena moved beside her daughter and cast Tarrenís line far out into the stream and handed the child her pole.
"Xena how come you took me fishing today?" the youngster asked, still hoping the Xena plan might have some success.
"Could it be that I just wanted to spend a day with my daughter?" she asked with a grin confused by her child still referring to her as Xena.
The youngster shrugged, "I dunno...Is that why? Yesterday I figured I was in trouble, and today you take me fishing. I donít get it," the little girl said staring up at her muscular mother.
The warrior tasseled her daughterís hair and gave her a crooked grin, "Tarren stop trying to figure everything out and just be happy weíre here...Letís just enjoy the day. Ok?"
The child bit her lip and nodded deciding fewer questions were better at the moment.
After a day of fishing and riding Tarren happily sat beside a fire watching Xena try and cook the fish they had caught, "Well it may not be as good as Gabrielleís but I think itís edible," the warrior said with a smile.
The child looked at her mother and took the plate of food not saying a word but merely staring at the food.
"Xena can I ask you something?" the child said slowly, pushing the food on her plate around.
The warrior sat beside her daughter and nodded. "Sure whatís on your mind?" she asked, staring down at the child beside her.
"Well...I was wondering...Are you ever sorry you found me?" the youngster asked, lowering her eyes and waiting for a response.
The warriorís smile faded and she put the plate down, quickly reaching out and pulling the child to her feet. "NO! Of course not! Why would you ever say a thing like that?" she asked, her voice filled with a frightened motherís angst.
The youngster merely lowered her eyes again. "Well...I mean...I would understand if you were. I do get in a lot of trouble, and you do get awful mad at me sometimes," she replied tilting her head a bit so she could see her motherís eyes.
The warrior mother let out a long breath and gently pulled the child into her arms. "Tarren come here baby," she said placing the youngster in the center of her lap.
"First of all, I didnít find you, I went looking for you. Thereís a big difference. When I found out I had a daughter all I wanted was to find her...to find you. I never knew what a wonderful, loving, special little girl you were until you came to be such a big part of my life. Canít you understand that are the greatest gift Iíve ever been given?" she asked, wrapping her arms tightly around the youngster.
"I donít feel like a gift. How come Iím always getting in so much trouble?" the child whispered, letting her head drop on her motherís shoulder.
Xena smiled at the question. "Well...because youíre my daughter and trouble is sort of in your blood. But Tarren I only scold you or punish you because I love you. You know that. I want to make sure you grow up right and learn all the things that you need to learn. So when you do something wrong...straightening you out is part of my job. Itís not the best part...but still something I have to do because I care about you. Do you understand?" the warrior asked, giving her child a gentle squeeze.
"What is the best part?" the youngster asked with a grin, anxious to know how she actually made her motherís life better.
Xena stood cradling the child in her arms. "Moment just like this little one," she whispered, kissing the youngsters forehead.
Tarren smiled at the gentle touch of her motherís hands and the soft smile the warrior was offering. She quickly threw her arms around her motherís neck. "I like being with you too," she said with a giggle.
Xena tossed the little girl in the air playfully. "Thatís because Iím and such a good cook...right?" she asked with a wicked grin.
Tarren laughed loudly as her mother playfully pinned her to the ground but refused to answer her motherís question.
The warrior twisted her face into a playful smile and started the familiar ritual of tickling the child into submission.
"Am I a good cook?" she asked, running her fingers wildly across the little girlís side.
"Nope!" came the muffled little voice.
"Hey is that any way to talk to your mother?" Xena asked with a grin, as she pulled the child to her feet and handed her back her plate.
"Sorry but you said Iím not allowed to lie," the youngster replied with a grin.
"You are such a little monster. Just for that you get two helpings," the warrior said with a wicked smile, adding more fish to the plate.
Tarrenís eyes went wide as she stared at the large pile of burned food on her plate. She glanced at her smiling mother. "Do I really have to eat this?" she asked wide-eyed, wondering how long that it would be before she spit it up.
Xena looked at the food on the childís plate and then on her own and tossed them both away. "Nah...you donít deserve my cooking," the warrior replied with mock frustration.
Tarren stared at her motherís expression and frowned. "Iím sorry...Iíll eat it if you want me too," the youngster offered, thinking she had hurt her motherís feelings.
Xena smiled at her daughterís concern. "Itís Ok baby. It didnít smell to good to me either," she replied with a chuckle, handing the youngster a portion of cheese and bread from her saddlebags.
Tarren sighed with relief thankful she had not truly offended her mother. Her eyes lowered a bit as she pondered the events of the day before.
"Xena can I tell you a secret?" she asked, not sure how well this was going to be received.
The warrior mother leaned on the log her daughter was sitting on, stretching out her long legs. "Sure you can, but then I get to tell you one too...Ok?" she replied, anxious for her daughter to share her demons.
The youngster thought about it and smiled, "Yeah Iíd like that Xena," she said, sliding off the log right beside her mother.
"Promise you wonít laugh?" the child asked, staring at her mother with a serious look of concern.
"I promise," the warrior said, holding up her hand up to show her promise would be kept.
Tarren grinned and then tried to begin her story. "Well ...I have...I mean...." the child started, stumbling over her words.
"Tarren what is it?" Xena asked leaning in close, and placing a concerned hand on her childís shoulder.
The youngster felt her teeth sinking into her lower lip. "Well...Uncle Lyceus has been sort of staying with me. He wonít let you see him. Is that Ok...I mean that he stays a little while?" she asked, forgetting she had never asked for permission to have a guest.
Xena covered her mouth with her hand hiding a smile. She quickly regained her composure and gave the child her most serious look.
"Well he is family, so I guess he can stay for a little while as long as he behaves himself," the warrior mother said, finding it hard to hide her amusement at her daughterís inventing an imaginary relative.
The youngster sighed with relief grateful her mother was being so understanding.
"Well...Ya see Xena...He says heís trying to help, but all heís done is get me in trouble," she moaned, slumping against the log with dramatic gesture.
The warrior mother folded her arms tightly against her chest and smiled as she watched her daughter immediately imitate the motion. "Hmm that could be a problem. So itís Uncle Lyceus that keeps getting you in trouble?" she asked with a nod.
The youngster nodded. Uh huh...I donít want to hurt his feelings, but I donít know how to make him leave," the child said quietly, staring up at her mother for an answer.
Xena closed her eyes and thought the situation over. She knew it was wrong to tell her daughter she didnít believe her, but she didnít want the youngster blaming a "ghost" for her own misdeeds.
"Well Tarren a ghost can only stay with permission. If you ask him to leave and really mean it then he has to go. Itís in the first scroll on haunting," the warrior replied, acting as if she were still considering the problem.
The youngsterís ears perked up. "Ya mean it. All I have to do is tell him to go and he has to leave?" she asked, her voice filled with excitement.
"Yup," the warrior said her composure still stoic.
Tarren slid back against her motherís side and smiled, "Then Iíll ask him to leave sometime...maybe," she replied, wanting to give the matter more thought.
"Good then maybe youíll stay out of trouble," Xena said, closing her eyes as if making it a prayer.
The child stretched out her arms and shrugged. "Maybe," she said simply.
"Maybe? Iíll give you a maybe," the warrior mother mumbled.
The child smiled and said nothing.
Xena patted her lap signaling the youngster to approach. Tarren eagerly flopped on her motherís legs and nestled against her shoulder anxious for a quick cuddle.
"Now then I guess itís my turn right?" she asked positioning the child in her arms.
"Sure Xena," the youngster said with a giggle.
The warrior mother frowned. "Ya see thatís just what I wanted to ask you...Why are you calling me Xena? I thought you liked calling me Momma," the mother said with a soft smile.
Tarren nodded, "I do...You are my Momma," the child replied quietly, patting her motherís arm.
"Uh huh...Then why did you stop?" she asked, confused by her daughterís mixture of emotions.
"Well...Will Uncle Lyceus get in trouble if I tell ya?" she asked, trying to decide if this was snitching.
Xena rolled her eyes a bit and then shook her head. "Uh no I promise your uncle will not get in any trouble," she replied, trying to contain her amusement at her daughterís childish game.
"Well Ok then...Ya see Xena...uncle Lyceus told me to stop calling ya Momma, so youíd really miss it...I didnít understand it, but he said it was part of his plan. He said that if I was gonna get what I wanted then I had to listen to him. Uncle Lyceus said I might even get a pony," the child stated matter of factly.
Xena bit her lip and nodded thinking she had just figured out her childís strategy. "Oh I see...So this was all Uncle Lyceus idea and he has a plan...Thatís great...and you might even get a pony...Boy that must be some plan," she answered, trying to hide the angst in her voice.
"So whatís your secret Xena?" the youngster asked leaning in close eager for the exchange.
The warrior mother smiled and pulled the youngster in closer. "Well ya see when you started calling me Xena yesterday I didnít say anything. I was actually pretty upset, but I figured that you were just having a really bad day and weíre all allowed at least one bad day once in a while," she began.
"I have lots of bad days," the child said with a frown.
"I know baby and weíre gonna fix that. Ya see I have a plan too," she whispered.
Tarren turned around excited by yet another big idea that she was to be a part of.
"Really what?" she asked, her voice filled with youthful awe.
Xena repositioned the child on her lap. "Well let me explain this first. Ya see yesterday was a bad day, but today is a whole new day Tarren. Now you and I have talked about why you have to call me Xena in public, but when you call me Xena in private or when weíre not with strangers itís not right," the warrior said with a quick nod.
"Why Xena?" the child asked with a playful grin, knowing this was one of those moments.
The warrior shook her head at the youngsterís failure to get the point.
"Well because Iím your mother and you should care about my feelings and show me respect. Itís one thing to do something because youíre trying to protect someone. Thatís a good thing. Itís sort of another to do something to try and... well get something you want or get your way like you said Uncle Lyceus told you to do...Thatís a bad thing. Do you think Lyceus will understand?" she asked quietly, rubbing her daughterís arm gently.
"No not really Xena," the little girl replied, sure he would not.
The warrior mother tapped Tarrenís leg and let out a short breath knowing her child was now being purposely stubborn. She leaned back and held her child tightly.
"Well then allow me to make this very simple for both of you. When we are in public you must call me Xena because we donít want bad people knowing who you are. However any other time you will call me Mother, Mom, or Momma but not Xena...Do you understand little one?" she asked in a stern parental tone.
The child nodded realizing that revealing everything about the plan might not have been such a good idea. Lyceus was not gonna be happy at the way things turned around.
"Yes Momma," the youngster replied, lowering her eyes under her motherís constant stare.
"Good! Because if I ever think you are calling me Xena for any other reason...you know like because you want a pony and I wonít get it for you. Well then I know a little girl who is gonna get a very sore little bottom from both her mother and Xena. Now Shh it is our secret. Do we understand each other youngster?" she asked gently squeezing the childís shoulder.
"Yes Momma," the little voice murmured.
The warrior smiled. "Now thatís more like it. I have truly missed hearing that word little girl," she said kissing her daughterís cheek.
Tarren looked up at her motherís gentle expression realizing for the first time that her mother really had been upset by the absence of being called Momma. The threat actually thrilled the child because she knew it meant that Xena liked having her as a daughter.
The more the child considered it, the happier she became.
"Ya mean it? You really have missed it Momma?" she asked, overflowing with excitement.
The warrior nodded. "Of course I have. How many times have I told you I hate hearing you say Xena?" she asked a bit surprised that her daughter was taking her serious warning about manipulation with such joy.
Tarren threw her arms around her motherís neck. "Ya really mean it. Youíd give me a real spankin if I called you Xena right now?" the child asked, eager for a response.
Xena let out a quick breath. "Yup...Care to test it and make sure?" the warrior asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Uh...No Momma...I believe you...No need have a test," the child replied, quickly burying herself under her motherís large arm.
Xena grinned at the innocence of her young daughter and kissed the childís forehead. "You can baffle the mind sometimes little one," she said with a smirk.
Tarren grinned. While she was still not yet able to call Xena her mother in public and she had yet to get a pony, she knew that she was at least important enough to her mother to have the warrior make such a big deal out of being called Momma. Somehow that gave the child a warm feeling and made the fact that she couldnít share it with the world just a bit less important.
Tarren lay on her motherís lap considering all she had said and remembering what Gabrielle had told her about family. She picked her head up and glanced at her motherís soft expression.
"Momma if I tell you why I hit Tetran will I get punished?" she asked, fingering the warriorís armor as she spoke.
The warrior mother tilted her head. "Thereís a chance. It really depends on why you did it, so you have to decide whether itís worth the risk baby," she responded, looking down at her daughter.
The child considered it and shrugged leaning in a little closer to her mothers shoulder for comfort, "Well I donít want to keep a secret from you even if it does get me Iíll get in trouble," the child said with a shrug.
Xena wrapped her arms around her small daughter, hoping that the youngsterís decision would not put her in a position of having to punish this child whose love she needed so much.
"Well then go ahead," the warrior mother whispered, preparing her self for anything.
The little girl let out a long sigh, "I wasnít gonna hit him Momma. Grandmother made me talk to Tetran and Milo while she went inside. I tried to go to my room like you said, but she said I had to be polite. Then Tetran said you only kept me with you to polish your boots," the child muttered, focusing her eyes on the flames in the fire.
The warrior mother closed her eyes tightly, realizing for the first time how difficult things could be for Tarren to explain to strangers. "So thatís why you hit him?" she asked, lifting the little girl into her arms.
The youngster shook her head and Xena noticed a tear running down Tarrenís cheek. "No Momma...I hit him cause he called me a little...." The youngster stopped, remembering Gabrielleís warning about repeating this word.
"Can I whisper it Momma?" she asked, staring into her motherís large blue eyes.
Xena swallowed and leaned her head down for the child to speak in her ear. The warrior motherís eyes flew open and the blue gentle pools turned quickly into a rage of angry waves. The warrior mother bit her lip trying to control the anger she was feeling inside.
"THATíS why you hit him?í she asked, sorry she hadnít been there to cover the youngsterís ears and deal with Tetran herself.
The youngster nodded. "Iím sorry Momma. He was just sort of smiling when he said it and I know I shouldnít have hit him, but Uncle Lyceus said I should, so I did. I mean I have been called a little...." she began.
Xena silenced her by placing her large hand over the little girlís mouth. "Donít you dare repeat that ever again," the warrior scolded.
Tarrenís mouth shut quickly not sure what everyoneís fascination with this word was. She settled back against her motherís tight grip and noticed the muscles on Xenaís body were now taught and the child was sure she was in for it.
"Momma am I gonna get in trouble for hitting Tetran?" the child whispered.
The warrior broke her concentration on her own thoughts of revenge and stared down at her young daughter. "No...Of course not...Tarren why didnít you come to me? Why didnít you tell me?" she asked her voice tender but filled with angst.
The youngster shrugged her shoulders not sure of what to say. "Well I didnít want to cause you anymore trouble Momma. You were already mad at me, and besides he wasnít so big. I didnít need you to hit him for me," she replied with a grin.
Xena closed her eyes, smiled and opened her arms. The little girl happily put her arms around her motherís neck and the warrior hugged her protectively.
"Tarren heís just a kid. I wouldnít have hit him...much...I would have gone to his father and let him deal with it...probably...Nobody has the right to ever say anything like that to you. You are my daughter, and nobody talks to you like that. Do you understand?" she asked, shaking the child a bit to emphasize the strength of her feelings.
The child nodded slowly as the tears ran down her cheeks. "Yes maíam...Iíll tell you if someone says it again, but itís really no big deal. Iím not even sure what the word means. Uncle Lyceus said I should tell you, but I didnít think youíd really want to know since...Well since...I just didnít think youíd want to know," she said with a sniffle.
Xena shook her head and brought her youngster in close, "It is a big deal...a very big deal...and you just make sure that you never bother to find out what the word means. Your Uncle Lyceus was right. You should have told me," the warrior said, wishing her brother had truly been there to offer her daughter comfort.
"Iím sorry Momma," the child said in a whisper.
Xena picked the little girlís chin up with a single finger and shook her head, "No Iím the one, who is sorry," the warrior answered with a broken voice hugging her child tightly.
"Momma?" the youngster whispered.
"Yes baby?" the mother replied in a tender voice.
"When you were a kid did you really say Toben was a Centaurís butt?" she asked, eager for an answer.
The warriorís mouth dropped open not quite sure how to respond, and wondering just how her daughter might have known such a secret from her youth.
Chapter 9 - Like Mother like Daughter
Xena kicked the heels of the Great War horse into a gallop and quickly made it back to the village. It was past dark when she arrived and Tarren was fast asleep in her arms when she entered the inn. All the pain and suffering her daughter had been feeling was now rushing through her own body. Xena could feel the rage burning inside of her every time she looked into the innocent young face of the child sleeping in her arms.
Xena closed the door behind her eager to put Tarren to bed and pay a visit to an old friend. When she turned she saw Cyrene and Gabrielle sitting with Toben. The man got to his feet with a smile, but the warrior was past happy reunions.
"Gabrielle would you please put Tarren to bed?" Xena asked, handing the bard the sleeping child.
"Oh Xena am I glad you are here. Mom thinks Tarren is gonna apologize for hitting the little weasel. You wonít let that happen will ya?"he asked staring down at his slumbering niece. "Gee sheís cute...Looks like me donít ya think?"
The bard stared at her friend for a moment. "Xena whatís..." the young woman began.
The warrior flashed her a look that told the bard all she needed to know. "Yup thatís the look I thought Iíd see when Tarren told you," she murmured, taking the child back toward the room.
Lyceus stood in front of his sister and saw the look of rage in her eyes. "Uh Oh move the furniture. Sheís gonna hit someone and Zeus if your listening please let it be Toben," the uncle begged.
"So Xena my old friend has that little scamp been keeping out of trouble?" Toben asked with a smile, reaching out a friendly arm.
Gabrielle turned back to see Xenaís fist crashing into Tobenís nose and the man go crashing to the floor. The bard looked at the stirring figure in her arms and rushed back to the privacy of the sleeping chambers.
"Oh no this is not for you to see," she whispered, knowing Tarren had enough fight in her without needing encouragement from seeing her mother hit Toben.
"Ooh that had to hurt. Well Sis I see you still have that soft touch of yours," the uncle said with a grin.
Cyrene jumped to her feet and stood in front of her daughter. "Xena what is the meaning of this? Why did you hit Toben?" she demanded to know.
The warrior straightened up and stared down at her childhood nemesis. "Because his son is too young for me to hit...right now," she replied evenly.
Toben slowly got to his feet wiping the blood from his lip, "Xena by the gods what is it with you people?" he asked steadying himself from the blow.
Cyrene stood in front of her daughter making no effort to control her anger. "Now you may be the great Warrior Princess to the rest of the world, but here you are my daughter, and I want an explanation now!" Cyrene scolded.
"Yikes! Sis I havenít seen her that mad since we buried Toben up to his neck in dirt,"the uncle said with a laugh.
Xena let her eyes drop from her target and nodded at the older woman.
"Ok Mother...You want to know why I hit him? You want to know why Tarren hit Tetran?" she asked.
The older woman nodded and Xena reached down and whispered the answer in Cyreneís ear. It wasnít long before it was Xena restraining her own mother from taking a swing at the already bloodied Toben.
"Oh Xena let her go. Better yet get her the frying pan. I have always wanted to see her use that,"he begged.
Hearing the loud commotion of voices, Gabrielle raced back into the room, "Ok! Ok that is enough of the hitting, and will you all quiet down before you wake Tarren," the young woman scolded. "You are supposed to be setting examples for that child and look at you," she admonished.
"To think I was gonna marry you,"the uncle said folding his arms and leaning against the bar.
Xena and Cyrene each took a step back both lowering their eyes a bit. Toben stood safely beside the bard and sighed with relief.
"Thank You Gabrielle. Now will someone please tell me what is going on here," Toben asked, still wiping the blood from his lip.
The bard looked at the warrior and Cyrene and quickly realized that the job of telling this man had fallen to her. She leaned over and whispered what the man's son had said to Tarren and the fatherís jaw dropped. Suddenly he started laughing.
"Thatís what this is all about. Look Iíll admit Tetran should not have said what he said, but between us grownups what Ďs the big deal. She is a little bastard isnít she?" he asked with a wide smile.
Before Xena or Cyrene could reach him the bard had knocked the man out cold with one good punch.
The warrior and her mother stood staring at Gabrielle. The angry bard glanced down at the now unconscious man and shook her head.
"I really donít like that word," she scolded to the fallen Toben.
Lyceus just stood still with his mouth wide open and staring at Gabrielle.
The young woman then turned to Xena holding her hand up in the air. "Ouch!" she groaned as she tried to move it.
The warriorís expression quickly changed from shock to a smirk.
"Gabrielle nice shot...Hand hurts doesnít it?" she asked with a proud smile, examining the bardís wrist.
"I think I broke it," she squeaked.
Xena flexed it a bit, "Nope but you definitely sprained it. Mother lets get killer here some cold clothes. Iíll put the trash out for ya," Xena said staring down at Toben.
The warrior lifted the man to his feet, "Wakey...wakey old friend...time for you to go," she said grabbing the man by the scruff of the neck and tossing him out the door.
When the smiling warrior turned around, she was met by a small figure rubbing her eyes, standing in the hallway half-dressed and only half awake.
"What happened?" the child asked with a yawn.
Xena bit her lip and looked at Gabrielle.
Cyrene was putting cold clothes on her hand and smiling until she saw Tarren.
"Gabby what Ďs wrong with your hand?" the child asked skidding over to her friends side.
The bard tried to smile, "Oh itís nothing. I...just sort of ran it into something," she said glancing at the warrior for help.
Xena looked at her mother and then the bard and frowned knowing the responsibility of explanation was on her shoulders. The warrior mother swept the youngster into her arms and headed for the room.
"Hey you know your not even supposed to be up little girl," the mother said with a grin.
Lyceus still had not moved.
Tarren yawned as she lay in her motherís strong arms. " But I heard a noise, and it woke me up," the little girl replied innocently.
Xena finished undressing her child and placed the youngster in the bed, pulling the covers around her.
"Momma what did Gabby run her hand into?" she asked looking up at her mother for answers.
The warrior slid down to her knees and leaned on the edge of the pallet facing her young daughter. She would not lie to the child. "Well Gabrielle hit Toben," she replied, trying not to grin at the memory.
"Why?" the youngster asked with surprise.
Xena wiped the hair from her daughterís face and smiled. "Because he said something that really wasnít very nice and she was much closer than I was," Xena responded, wishing she had indeed been closer.
The childís eyes opened wider. "Was it what he said about me?" she asked, lowering her eyes.
The warrior mother nodded, "Yeah...he sort of repeated what his son had said, and Gabrielle doesnít take to kindly to anyone hurting people she cares about Tarren," the warrior whispered.
Tarren reached out and touched her motherís face, "Gabby hit him cause he called me a...."
Xena covered the childís mouth once again, "I think weíve heard about enough of that word young lady," she said sternly.
Tarren nodded and the warrior mother removed her hand. "But Momma why would Gabby do that? She doesnít think you should hit people for things they say," the confused child said quietly.
Xena shook her head. "Because she loves you. Sometimes I donít think you realize just how much little one," she replied, tenderly kissing the childís forehead "Now you go to sleep, and I do not want you teasing Gabrielle about this," she said stiffly.
The child nodded. "I wouldnít do that Momma," the youngster replied with an angelic grin.
Xena raised an eyebrow not exactly sure if that was truth, "Well see that you donít." she said getting to her feet. "Now you get to sleep. Iíll be back in a while," she whispered, tucking the childís blankets tightly around the small form.
Tarren nodded and then snuggled into the blankets on the large pallet. As the door closed Xena looked back to see the youngster on the bed had a very broad smile on her face.
The following morning Tarren quietly tried to get out of bed but was stopped by a large arm being thrown across her small body, "Where do you think youíre going so early?" Xena asked without opening her eyes.
"I want to go exploring on my own today," the child whispered, again trying to get up.
The warrior opened her eyes and shook her head. "Sorry...No that is just not gonna happen...You are not familiar enough with the village and you know that you must have one of us with you when you go anywhere. Thatís the rule Tarren, " Xena sleepily said staring at her daughter.
The child sighed, "But Momma I want..."
The warrior grumbled and pulled the youngster in so close she was practically beneath her. "Tarren it is so early in the morning...Itís even too early for me to want to be up. Now you wouldnít want to make Momma moody so early in the morning would you?" she asked with a soft stare of her blue eyes.
Tarren shook her head. "No Momma...I wouldnít want to make you moody at anytime of the day," the child answered.
The warrior smiled and wrapped her arms around her daughter, "Good girl...Then go back to sleep," she said quietly.
Tarren frowned but obediently buried herself beneath the blankets once again allowing her motherís embrace to keep her in place. She wanted to get up and find her uncle. She had not seen him since the morning before and she was worried about him.
After an hour of wiggling and sliding Tarren had managed to slip from her motherís grip and quietly slide out of the bedroom. She walked into the inn calling out to her uncle.
"Uncle Lyceus?" she whispered, not wanting to wake her mother.
The child scanned the room and saw the shimmering figure standing by the bar with his mouth wide open and his jaw dropped in surprise.
"Uncle Lyceus are you all right?" she asked shaking the ghost back to her reality.
"Uh...Uh... Uh...yeah... She hit him...Gabrielle hit him,"he murmured as if still trying to digest the sight.
The youngster frowned at the dopey look on her uncleís face. "Hey have you been standing there all night? I thought you were supposed to come up with a new plan. Your last one wasnít so great. It hurt Mommaís feelings and nearly got me in a lot of trouble," she warned.
The ghost let out a breath. "Iím sorry kid. I guess I havenít been much help have I?" he asked bowing his head.
The youngster looked at the shimmering figureís color fade and grinned. "Itís Ok Uncle Lyceus. I know your next plan will be better. You do have another plan donít you?í she asked, hoping she had not experienced his best idea already.
Lyceus knelt beside his niece and frowned. "This is real important to you isnít it kid...Ya know that Xena tell people sheís your mom huh?"
The youngster nodded. "How would you feel if you couldnít tell people Grandma was your Mom?" she asked with a frown.
Lyceus shook his head. "Well Ok I get your point. Iíve got another plan, but I should tell you that itís dangerous."
Tarren grinned widely. She liked the plan already. "Tell me," she begged.
When Xena woke an hour later she noticed Tarren was already gone. The warrior dressed and greeted her mother in the kitchen, "Mother have you seen Tarren?" she asked, reaching for a mug of tea.
The older woman nodded. "She said you told her to get you a new whetstone, and sheíd be right back. Come to think of it she has been gone for a while," Cyrene said with a shrug.
Xena slammed her fist down of the counter beside her mother startling the woman. "I told her she was not to leave this place without one of us with her," she seethed.
The warrior mother was angry that the youngster had disobeyed her and that she had lied to accomplish it.
Cyrene shook her head and turned to face her daughter. "Xena sheís a little girl. She wants to explore just like every other small child does," the grandmother defended.
The warrior shook her head. "I understand that Mother, but you see sheís not like every other little kid...Sheís my little kid and that changes everything," the warrior hissed.
The older woman turned to face her daughter. "Yes it does Xena. It leaves her caught between two worlds," she said softly.
Xena shook her head in frustration, "Mom what are you talking about?"
Cyrene rubbed her hands on her apron and motioned for her daughter to sit which she reluctantly did. "Xena I know that you want to protect Tarren more than anything. I know that losing ...Solon...leaves a darkness in your heart. I know what it means to lose a child. However you cannot keep the world from knowing who she is forever just because something might happen to her. That is no life for her dear. It leaves the little one torn between being your friend and being your daughter. Your love means a lot to her, but your accepting her as your child in front of the world means just as much...maybe more. She needs to feel security and have an identity that is not a secret. Sheís a child and one who happens to be proud of her mother. Tarren needs to be able to point to you and say thatís my mother. Otherwise Xena, you are only offering her half a place in your world...the half that doesnít involve anyone but those you hold dearest," Cyrene finished softly, patting her daughterís hand.
Xena sat quietly thinking about her motherís words. She had never really considered the greater pain that Tarren might feel from not being able to tell people she was Xenaís daughter. She had never really considered anything more than her safety.
The warrior let out a deep breath and looked into the eyes of her mother. "Mom there is a part of me that knows you are right and another part of me that would rather do anything than take even a slight chance of someone hurting her because of who I am," she said, quietly letting her fingers drum on the table.
Cyrene kissed her daughterís head. "I know dear, but it is something you should think about...for her sake," the grandmother replied.
Xena got to her feet and kissed the older womanís cheek. "I will think about it Mother. I promise...Thank you," she said heading for the doorway.
Cyrene called after her, "Xena where are you going. You havenít even had breakfast."
The warrior turned and smiled at her mother. "Iím going to find my daughter mother and she better have a new whetstone in her hand when I do," the warrior said shaking her head.
Tarren walked through the village toward Mount Polis. Lyceus walked closely beside her, hoping he had give his niece the right advice. The little girl had such a determined look on her face that Lyceus had to grin. Gods she was the spitting image of his sister when she made that face.
"So are we clear on the plan?"he asked.
"Yup...I climb up MT. Polis just like Momma did when she was a kid. I put my flag next to hers and she is so proud of me that she just canít wait to tell everyone Iím her kid.
Right?" she asked the shimmering figure beside her.
"Uh tell me the part about how I canít get in trouble for this?" she begged, looking at the spirit moving beside her.
"Look Xena did this when she was much older than you, and nobody has done it since. If you do it youíre only following her example. She canít get mad at you for doing something she did. Itís not...ethical,"he said with a nod.
Tarren bit her lip. "Ethical? Whatís that?"
"It means itís not gonna happen so donít worry about anything but getting up that mountain," he said with bravado.
"You are sure about this right?" she asked a bit nervously.
"Hey itís a good plan, but if youíre scared to make the climb...."
Tarren stopped and faced her Uncle. "Hey Iím not scared of making the climb...Iím scared of getting in trouble. There is a big difference. The fall can only kill me. Momma wonít be that gentle," she said staring at her uncle.
Lyceus thought about it for a moment and recounted his logic, "Nope Iím right...youíll see."
Tarren was determined to prove to everyone, including herself that she was worthy of being the Xenaís daughter.
"Hey where are ya going? " a small voice from behind asked.
Lyceus and Tarren both turned around. It was Milo and he was smiling from ear to ear as he ran along side of them.
"I canít tell ya. Itís a secret," Tarren whispered, winking at Lyceus.
The boy jumped quickly in front of her. "Come on I can keep a secret," he whined.
Tarren frowned at the round figure in front of her but remembered how he had come to her window to apologize the night before. "Oh Ok, but you canít tell anyone," she warned, continuing on her journey.
"Tarren what are you doing? Itís just supposed to you and me."
The little girl leaned toward her uncle. "Iíve got an idea," she whispered.
The boy nodded and eagerly waited for the secret to be revealed. "What? Whatís your idea? Whatís your secret?" he begged.
Tarren looked up at the boy straightening her shoulders just like her mother did.
"Iím gonna climb Mount Polis!" she said proudly.
The young boys jaw dropped at the thought. "But nobodyís ever climbed that...accept Xena." he said slowly, choking a bit on the words.
Lyceus shook his head, "I think heís gonna throw up. Are you all right kid?"
The child smiled and nodded. "Thatís why Iím going up. Iím gonna show everyone that Iím not just Xenaís servant...Iím...Milo can I really trust you to keep a secret?" she asked eager to tell someone her lineage.
"No Tarren donít do it. Itís not part of the plan,"Lyceus begged.
"Hey everyone will know soon enough," she whispered with a smile.
She looked around to make sure there were no other ears present. "Well Xenaís my mom...my real mom, but Iím not supposed to tell anyone," she said lowering her eyes.
The boy stopped in his tracks. "Youíre kidding...for real...sheís your mom...Xena?" he asked, his voice reaching a high octave on the last word.
The child nodded. "Yeah but she wonít let me tell anyone. Actually Milo youíre the first person I ever got to tell," she said with a strange frown.
The boy was awe struck by the words, "Well Tarren you can trust me. I wonít tell a soul no matter what. I promise," he said with a smile.
The child nodded at him hoping that was really the truth and wondering what Xena would do to her when she found out the youngster had told someone.
"So why are you climbing up that old mountain anyway?" he asked as they approached the base.
"Well Momma did it when she was much older than me, so I figure that if I do it now then sheíll have to be proud of me and sheíll really want to tell everyone Iím her daughter," the child replied, biting her lip.
Milo looked at the youngster with an odd expression. "Tarren thatís sure a long way to climb just to tell people who your mom is. What are you gonna do when Xena finds out?" he asked with a shudder, wondering what an angry warrior mother looked like.
Tarren winked again at her shimmering uncle and smiled, "Milo you said it yourself...She did the same thing when she was a kid. I canít get in trouble if she did it too," the child replied, now sure her uncleís logic was sound.
Milo shook his head indicating he was not as confident. "Well...I guess...so...." he said with a shrug.
Lyceus looked up the mountain. It was much taller and the edges were much sharper than he remembered.
"Uh Tarren Iíve changed my mind. This is a bad idea. It is a very bad idea. You could get hurt. I think we should think of a new plan," the uncle said firmly.
The little girl stomped her foot in the dirt. "No...You said this was a good plan. Donít try and talk me out of it now. Iím climbing," the child yelled.
"Hey I wasnít trying to talk you out of it. I was just saying it sure is awful high," Milo moaned.
"Now you listen to me little girl. I am your uncle and youíll do what I tell you to do," he said trying to get Xenaís parental tone down.
Tarren giggled at the silly phantom uncle and turned her attention back to the mountain.
"Well I guess I better get started. Hey Milo can ya do me a favor? I figure Iíll be down in a few hours, but if Iím a little late tell Xena Iíll miss dinner. Ya know they may want to have a big party to celebrate when I come down," the child said with a broad smile, having visions of cake and candy and Xena saying, ĎThatís my kid.í
Milo nodded. "Sure Iíll tell her," he said in a shaky voice, afraid of the warriorís wrath.
Lyceus watched his small niece start to climb Mount Polis and shook his head, knowing for sure that he had made another huge mistake.
Xena and Gabrielle scoured the town in search of Tarren, but nobody had seen her. It was getting late in the day and the warrior and bard were frantic with worry.
"Gabrielle where could she have gone. You donít think she ran away do you?" she asked, trying to maintain her stoic Warrior Princess composure.
The bard shook her head. "Xena of course not. Sheís probably just went off somewhere to play, knows we are looking for her and is afraid to come back because she thinks sheís in trouble," the young woman said with a heavy sigh.
The warrior pursed her lips into a frown as she scanned the village around her. "She thinks right. Just wait until I find her. Sheíll never sit a saddle again," the warrior mother hissed.
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her friendís arm sensing her obvious concern.
The young woman was about to say something comforting when she noticed a small round figure heading toward them. "Hey that kid...Milo...he knows Tarren. I saw them talking the other day," the bard said moving toward him.
Milo swallowed hard as he stared at the pretty bard and then at the large muscular figure of the warrior.
"Hi Milo" the bard said softly.
He nodded a hello, but glanced up at the scowl on Xenaís face and said nothing.
"Howís your Father doing?" she asked with a smile.
The boy shook his head allowing his eyes to make contact only with the bard. "Well he has a swollen lip and a black eye, but he said the bandits didnít get any of his money," Milo replied proudly.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another and Xena just shrugged. They did not see a reason to change the youngsterís view of his father by labeling him a liar.
The bard smiled at the boy. "Well thatís good Milo. We wouldnít have wanted those bandits to get his money...Right Xena?" the bard asked, gently poking her friend in the ribs.
Xena folded her arms and placed them tightly against her chest. "Yeah we wouldnít have wanted that," she replied evenly, making the bard give her a warning glance.
"Milo weíre looking for little Tarren. Have you seen her?" the young woman asked gently.
The boy lowered his eyes and then glanced up at the stoic warrior who was eagerly awaiting a reply. "Well...sort...of...Iím supposed to tell you sheíll miss dinner," he said not wanting to look up at the reputed Warrior Princess.
Xena flashed a quick look at Gabrielle and then knelt down next to the boy. "Milo where is she?" the warrior mother asked.
Milo shook his head. "I promised Tarren...I wouldnít tell," he said biting his lip, fearing what the warrior might do to him.
Xena took a deep breath and softened her tone. She was no longer the stoic warrior, but just a concerned mother. "Milo I am really worried about her and I need to find her. She could be in trouble. You wouldnít want that would you?" she asked, hoping the boy would sense her urgency.
Milo looked at the bard and then the warrior and shook his head. Xena wasnít at all what he expected. The boy could tell that she was genuinely concerned about Tarren.
The warrior placed a gentle hand on the boyís shoulder. "Milo where is she?" she asked.
Milo bit his lip knowing he was breaking a promise but afraid that Tarren was in danger. She had started her climb early that morning and he had waited at the base until late afternoon and she had not returned.
"Sheís just trying to prove that sheís good enough," the boy whispered.
Gabrielle looked at Xena whose concern was building. "Good enough for what Milo?" the young woman asked.
The boy swallowed hard and then looked at the warrior. "To be...your...daughter," he said quickly, lowering his eyes.
The bardís face went blank at the thought of what Tarren might do to try and prove such a thing. She could not help but remember their previous conversation where the bard had told the youngster how she herself had tried to prove herself to Xena.
"By the gods Xena...She wants to prove herself worthy...just like I did. This is my fault. She got the wrong message from the story I told her," the bard said shaking her head.
Xena got to her feet. "No Gabrielle this is not your fault. Itís mine I should have done something different to make her understand," she said quietly.
The warrior studied the boy in front of her carefully, "Milo where is Tarren? I really need to find her before she gets hurt," she said with all the parental authority she could muster.
The boy recognized the dangerous tone and quickly turned and pointed to Mount Polis. "She went up there," he said slowly.
Xenaís face went white, "Gabrielle get Argo and some food and water, blankets, medical pouch, and meet me outside the inn fast," the warrior demanded, making no effort to hide her frantic concern.
Milo tugged at the warriorís leather trying to get her attention. She stopped long enough to look down at the boy.
"Something else Milo?" she asked.
"Are you...really...Tarrenís mom?" he asked.
Xena smiled at the round-faced boy and nodded. "Yes Milo but for right now thatís our secret...Ok?" she asked tasseling the youngster hair.
He smiled and nodded at his new friend as she sprinted off toward the inn.
The wind was getting stronger as Xena and Gabrielle made there way to the base of the Mount Polis where Milo said Tarren had gone up.
"By the gods Xena," the bard exclaimed, as she stared up at the high peak.
Xena nodded as she allowed her eyes to travel up the familiar outline of the mountain.
"Yeah I know...Believe me itís as bad as it looks. Itís not as high as it is sharp," she said remembering her own climb many years before.
The great warrior quickly grabbed her supplies and started the climb as darkness loomed overhead. Xena moved as quickly as she could, reaching carefully for each and every rock as best as she could remember.
The wind had started to pick up making it harder to hold on. She was less than half way up when she noticed a small figure lying on a ledge just above her.
"Tarren," the warrior mother cried.
Xena jumped on to the ledge and quickly wrapped the small figure in blankets. She looked over the childís body as best she could in the moonlight and was grateful there were no cuts or bruises. The youngster had merely passed out from exhaustion.
Xena looked below into the darkness. It was not safe to climb down in the blackness and she was close enough to make it to the top. The warrior knew there was a cave up top where they could find shelter.
"Momma," the child whispered as Xena hoisted the child onto her back.
"Iím right here baby," she said softly, using her whip to securely tie the youngster to her back.
"I got tired...I didnít make it...Iím sorry," she whispered still half asleep.
The warrior mother shook her head just as she started to climb, "You did just fine little one. You did just fine. Now just hold on while we finish the job together," she said, once again starting her climb to the top of Mount Polis.
Lyceus sat on the ledge and watched his sister start the climb with is niece tucked safely behind. He rubbed the wetness from his shimmering eyes.
"Iím sorry Sis. Itís all my fault. I should never have come back. I thought I could help, but I guess I...just donít know how," he said, settling back against the rock staring into the abyss.
Xena stoked the flames of the small fire she had built inside the cave. Tarren was still fast asleep and the warrior could see the exhaustion in her daughterís eyes. When the youngsterís eyes flickered open Xena reached into her satchel and took out the cheese and bread the bard had packed.
"Hungry?" the warrior, asked handing the food to the child.
Tarren eyed the offering as she sat up. "Momma...howíd you know where I was? Did Uncle Lyceus tell ya?" she asked with a grin, hoping her uncle had finally chosen to show himself.
The warrior frowned, "No Uncle Lyceus did not tell me," the warrior replied sternly, not in the mood for ghost stories or games.
"Then how Momma? Milo?" the child said with a frown, falling back on her bedroll.
"Hey you better thank Milo. He was worried about you Tarren, and so were Gabrielle and Mother and Me!" the warrior mother scolded.
The youngster lowered her eyes. "Iím sorry...Momma," she said quietly.
Xena shook her head. "Oh no...Sorry is not good enough. Why would you do something like this Tarren? First you disobeyed me by even leaving the inn, you lied to your grandmother, and then you came up here, which you knew was dangerous. You could have been killed trying to make this climb," the warrior yelled as she paced around the perimeter of the cave.
The child bit her lip. "But you did it Momma. You climbed up here when you were 14 cause you wanted to prove you were as good as the boys in the village," the child said quietly, hoping her uncleís logic had indeed been sound.
Xena tilted her head and stared at her daughter. "Where did you here that?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Grandma told me," the youngster answered with a slight grin.
The warrior frowned, "Your grandmother and I are going to have a long talk about what she tells you, and you just better wipe that smile off your face little girl," the warrior mother growled.
Tarren started to get out of her blankets and Xena held up her hand. "Donít you dare even think of getting up. You stay under those blankets young lady," the mother ordered.
The child quickly fell back under the blankets leaning up against the wall of the cave to watch her mother pace.
Tarren could hear the fierce wind outside whipping at the trees in the distance. "Momma Iím sorry I didnít make it all the way up like you did," the little girl murmured, knowing her mother must be disappointed.
Xena let out a deep breath and shook her head, dropping beside the child. "Tarren I donít even know what you wanted to prove by climbing this mountain," she said trying to soften her tone.
The young child let a tear fall from her eye. "I just wanted you to be proud of me," the child whispered dropping her head to the ground.
Xena took a deep breath and put her arm around her daughter. "Tarren I am proud of you. In the last few months that we have been together I have come to know a very loving, gentle, and gifted little girl, and I am very proud to say she is my daughter. You donít have to climb a mountain to make me proud. Little one you have nothing to prove to anyone," the mother explained.
Tarren just lowered her eyes.
Xena picked the blanketed child up and placed her neatly in her lap. "Baby I would love to tell the world who you are. I just donít want anything to happen to you Tarren. I couldn't bear losing you the way I lost Solon. When your brother died, I felt something inside of me die too. I didnít protect him the way I should have Tarren. I wasnít with him when I should have been, so I never really got to know him. I never got to be a mother to him. I will not lose my daughter too. I love you and need you too much little girl," she said with a cracking voice, holding her child closely.
Tarren shook her head. "But Iím not going anywhere Momma. Iím not even allowed to go out at night by myself. How could anyone hurt me?" she asked, leaning on her motherís shoulder.
Xena sighed and lifted the youngster into her arms holding her tightly to her chest. "Oh...Tarren what am I gonna do with you? I love you so much ya little monster. Donít you ever run off like that again. Donít you ever scare me like that again," the warrior scolded, fighting back tears.
The little girl, for the first time, realized that she had actually scared Xena by trying to climb the mountain and somehow that knowledge added to her faith in her motherís love.
The child crawled closer to her motherís shoulder and ran her arms around her motherís neck.
"Iím sorry. I wonít leave you ever again Momma. I promise," the child vowed.
Xena grinned and wrapped the blankets tightly around her child, holding her daughter protectively through the night.
As dawn approached the warrior packed up the supplies and left the cave with Tarren on her heals. "Come on we better get going. Mother and Gabrielle are gonna be worried sick," Xena said with a sigh, pointing to the edge of the cliff not really in the mood to make the long journey down.
"Momma can I see your flag before we go?" the youngster asked with a smile.
Xena shook her head. "I guess...You sure have gone to enough trouble...I guess you should get that much out of it," the warrior mother said with a grin.
She took the childís hand and led her to the small clearing on the edge of a cliff and pointed to a small stick placed firmly in the ground supported by a bunch of large rocks.
Tarren smiled as she leaned against her motherís side and Xena had to grin as she remembered her own journey up that mountain just to place that small flag there.
"Hey monster do you want to put a flag of your own up?" she asked, hoping it would offer the child some kind of satisfaction.
Tarren looked at her mother, "But I didnít make it all the way by myself," she said sadly.
The warrior nodded. "No but I told you a while ago that from now on you and I do it together...everything. So maybe the best place for you to put your flag would be on the same pole as mine. I mean we are a team," she said with a soft grin.
Tarren nodded and hugged the large warrior who quickly lifted the child into the air.
"Well come on we donít have all morning...lets make a flag," the warrior mother said with a grin, holding her daughter tightly.
Together the two emptied their satchels in search of cloth and quills. When the pair was finally ready to descend, Tarren looked to the cliff where the old marker of Xenaís now had two flags on the same pole swaying in the wind.
Xena tied Tarren onto her back with her whip again and started carefully down.
"Momma can we go riding together again this afternoon?" the youngster asked, hoping for more time with her mother.
The warrior chuckled a bit. "Tarren arenít you forgetting a few minor things that may have you in a bit of trouble? Letís see like lying, disobeying me, climbing this mountain," she replied with a gentle smile as she started down.
The child wrapped her arms loosely around her motherís neck and shook her head. "Nope cause Grandma told me how you did the same thing, so you canít punish me for doing the very same thing you did when you were a kid," the child answered proudly.
The warrior grinned and turned her head a bit to face her daughter. "Oh is that right? Well Iím afraid it doesnít quite work like that," the mother replied.
Tarren swallowed hard and felt her voice go a bit hoarse. "But...you did it Grandma told me the story," the child moaned.
Xena shook her head. "Hmm did she happen to mention that she was waiting at the base of the hill for me when I got down and that when she was done being happy to see me that I couldnít sit down for a week?" the warrior asked with a smile.
The child shook her head. " No Momma...she left that part out," the youngster whispered.
Xena grinned as she made her way skillfully back down. "Well little one...fear not because I will not leave that part of the story out of for you...Oh no I promise you that you will get the entire story and more from me," the warrior mother replied with a quick nod. "Yup the entire story," she repeated, as she reached for every sharp rock.
The youngsterís shoulders slumped and she wondered where Lyceus had disappeared too.
This seemed like another one of his plans going very wrong.
Xena noticed the silence from the small figure behind her. "Hey you wanted to be like me...well ya gotta take the good with the bad daughter," she said without hesitation.
Tarren said nothing but merely lay her head on Xenaís shoulder.
The warrior felt the childís head drop and paused in her efforts. "Tarren?" she whispered.
"Yes Momma," the child replied, wondering just how much more help her uncle was going to give her before leaving.
"I love you," the warrior mother said gently.
The child smiled. "I love you too Momma," she replied, burying her head deeper into the warrior side rather than look down.
"So like mother like daughter huh?" the warrior asked with a grin, as she carefully eyed her footing on each rock.
Tarren caught a glance of the two flags on the pole waving in the distance and grinned.
"Yeah I guess...Like mother like daughter," she said with a smile.
Tarren lay on the large pallet staring up at the ceiling, fresh tears still covering her face. Xena had kept her promise and made sure the misguided child got the entire story and more. She left nothing to the imagination and was quick to make it clear how lying, disobeying and running off to climb dangerous mountains might have painful repercussions when ones mother found out.
The punishment may have only lasted a short while, but that was long enough when your mother was Xena.
The child gently rubbed her sore little bottom with both hands hoping to make the sting of her motherís echoing hand lesson a bit. The long scolding lecture even went on for hours. The warrior mother had left with the command that her daughter remain in her room until further notice. The child was now lying there allowing her thoughts to jump between the size of her motherís hand and the whereabouts of her ghostly uncle when Tarren heard a familiar sound at he window.
The little girl wiped the tears from her eyes and moved over to t he window where a portly boy was waiting. "Milo?" she asked quietly.
"Hi," the chubby boy said with a smile, poking his head just inside the window.
The girl nodded, "Hi," she replied falling back on the pallet.
"Iím sorry I told on you, but you were up there a long time," he said, leaning in to see if the youngster was going to forgive him
The child nodded, "Itís Ok...I needed Xenaís help. I got sort of...stuck. You did me a favor I guess...thanks," she said with a slight grin, turning on her side to face the boy.
Milo noticed the tears on the Tarrenís face. "Xena paddled ya huh?" he asked, trying to hide the guilt in his voice.
The little girl rubbed her bottom gently. "Momma calls it getting her point across or making her thoughts clear or having a private chat...Thatís a favorite," she replied, dropping her head onto the edge of the bed.
The boy grimaced at the thought of the large warriorís hand ever making him a target. "Iím sorry Tarren," the boy said contritely.
The youngster shook her head, "Donít be Milo it was worth it," she said pointing up to the top of Mt. Polis where the boy could see two flags now swayed on the same pole.
Milo allowed himself a wide grin. "Wow...I wish I could show my brother that. That would make him eat his words. Poppa whipped him good for what he said to ya," the boy said with a smile.
Tarren grinned at the thought of the big bully sharing a similar discomfort, but the little girl heard the sound of footsteps so she motioned for Milo to leave.
The youngster quickly jumped on the pallet and waited for the door to open afraid her mother was returning with a few more points to make. The child was quite relieved when the door opened and Gabrielle popped her head in.
"So how are you doing?" the bard asked, moving slowly into the room and sitting beside the child.
The youngster shrugged. "Momma made her thoughts very clear and got her point across quickly and it was a private chat where she did all the talking," she murmured rubbing her backside, deciding that if no one else were going to feel sorry for her situation then she would carry the burden alone.
The bard grinned at the way the child had described the warriorís actions and wiped the childís tears from her face, "Hey you know she just did it because she loves you Tarren," the young woman said with a soft smile.
Tarren shrugged, "I know...I guess," she replied with a frown. "Sometimes I just wished she didnít love me so much," she said rubbing her bottom once again.
The bard chuckled and reached out to hug the child. "You donít mean that you little brat," she responded.
The child smiled a bit. "Well I guess not...but I sure wish she had a smaller hand," the little one replied, still holding on to the bard.
Gabrielle sat beside the youngster wrapping one arm around her so the child could easily find comfort on her shoulder.
"Hey Iíll tell you a secret. Xena and I were looking for you all day. When she found out you went up Mt. Polis she was really scared Tarren. I havenít seen her that scared since you were buried in the cave-in. It was very windy and dangerous to climb, but she didnít waste a breath heading up after you...Do you know why?" the young woman asked.
The child shook her head wanting to hear the bard say the words. "Because she loves you brat," the bard replied, poking gently at the childís side.
Tarren let out a breath and smiled knowing the words were indeed true. She stared at her friend as the young woman who was busy wiping the childís tears ways, her eyes quickly catching Gabrielleís bandaged wrist.
"Gabby howís your hand?" the child asked.
Gabrielle lowered her head a bit. "Itís Ok ...just a sprain," she replied not wanting to be forced to offer an explanation on the injury.
Tarren ran her small hand over the bardís wrist and bit her lip. "Thanks Gabby...." the child said with a smile.
The bard grinned at the little girl. "For what?" she asked, caressing the little oneís cheek, and wiping away tears.
"For hurting your wrist for me," the child replied with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded at the youngster realizing that Xena had told Tarren the truth about the incident. "Your welcome...Hey I couldnít let someone getting away with calling my favorite brat..." she began.
The child quickly covered her friendís mouth, "No... no... weíre not allowed to use that word," the youngster said with a mischievous grin.
The bard smiled and removed the small hand. "I wasnít going to but thank you for reminding me," Gabrielle said softly, kissing the childís cheek.
Tarren reached up and hugged her friend tightly. "I love ya Gabby," the child said holding tight.
The bard smile turned into a blank face full of tears. "I love you too brat," she replied holding the youngster in her arms, grateful that the child knew how much she meant to her as well as Xena.
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