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Disclaimer:

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
by Fantimbard@aol.com

 

Chapter 10 Ė Plans of Her Own

Gabrielle left the youngster lying on the pallet to finish her sentence of confinement.

Tarren waited for her friend to be long out of earshot and then hopped off the bed in search of her absent uncle.

"Uncle Lyceus?" the youngster called, but there was no response.

"Uncle Lyceus where are you?" the child yelled, and the shimmering figure suddenly appeared in a corner of the room.

The child smiled at the sight. "Hey where have you been? I havenít seen you since I fell asleep on that cliff," the youngster chided.

"I...didnít think...youíd want to see me...Iíve done nothing but get you in trouble...You could have been killed on that mountain, and I know Sis really let you have it too...Iím sorry Tarren...I guess I just canít help. They should have sent someone else," Lyceus said shrinking against the wall in the corner of the room.

The child stood beside her uncle and shook her head. "Itís Ok Uncle Lyceus...Momma came to get me, so I didnít get hurt. And I even got to put a flag on Mommaís pole," the little one said with a far away smile, still remembering the glorious sight.

"But ya still havenít gotten what you want. She still hasnít told anyone youíre her kid, and ya got your butt paddled to boot," he said kicking the tip of his shimmering foot into the floor.

"Yeah well...thatís true. Your plans are not very good, but I know you try real hard to help. Momma was real worried about me, and Gabby says thatís a good thing cause it tells ya how much someone cares. Besides I think Momma has made it clear that sheís not gonna change her mind...itís not important really," the child replied quietly, trying to find a positive side to her situation.

Lyceus shook his head. "No Tarren youíre wrong. Itís real important that Xena tell people who you are. Itís important for both of you. Ya donít understand...I was sent to...."

The child thought about her uncleís words and interrupted before he could say the word plan. "Look Uncle Lyceus do you really want to help me with something important?" she asked.

The ghost nodded. "Of course anything."

"Anything?" the little girls asked, hoping that covered the full scope of her mind.

 

"Sure what did ya have in mind?" the ghost asked, eager for a chance to do something right.

"Well weíre gonna be leaving Amphipolis soon, and I havenít gotten to see much of where Momma grew up. Iíd sure like to have one day to explore all by myself. Besides I need to get Momma a birthday present," the child said with a sigh.

"But Tarren Xena is never gonna let you wander around alone. Youíre just a little kid. Youíre not even allowed out of your room right now. If you try and take off sheíll tan your little behind again for sure."

"Well maybe Momma and Gabby and Grandma will be suddenly called out of town and Iíll be left here alone for just a little while," the youngster replied with a grin.

"Tarren that will never happen," Lyceus said firmly.

"Oh it might if we help just little," the sneaky child whispered.

"What? No...Iím not going to allow you to be left alone here...Iíll tell Xena and boy will you get it," he chided.

The youngster tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. "Look you said you would help. Besides I just wanna get Momma a birthday present and have some fun. I might as well get something I want since Momma is never gonna tell anyone Iím her kid. And as long as people donít know Iím Xenaís kid they wonít care what I do or donít do. Are you gonna help me or not?" she asked, giving her shimmering uncle a sad pout.

"Tarren...."

"You said anything...and you did get me in trouble with Momma," she reminded him, rubbing her bottom again to send the point home.

 

"Oh Ok, but I know this is a very bad idea."

 

The youngster jumped up with excitement eager to share her plan with Lyceus.

That night Xena lay in bed watching Tarren as the child slept. The warrior was thinking of Solon and all the losses in her life. She touched the youngsterís face as she slept and kissed her cheek, "I give you my vow little one. No matter where we go or what we do, I will never let anything take you from me."

The warrior mother put her hand protectively over her small daughter and watched carefully to make sure nothing would dare to harm her.

 

The following morning Tarren awoke and noticed Xena was, as usual, already up. The child dressed and ran to the kitchen hoping she was not going to be confined to her room for yet another day.

Tarren felt that Xena and Gabrielle never let her out of their sight long enough to do anything fun, and Tarren desperately wanted to get Xena a birthday present on her own. She decided that it was best to forget her wishes of grandeur of being called Xenaís kid and go back to life as just a kid enjoying what she did best, everything she shouldnít. Inspired by her uncleís previous plans, the child decided to come up with a plan of her own. The thing the little girl forgot was how badly a Lyceus plan always turned out.

 

When she reached the kitchen Tarren noticed that the inn already had a few people in it.

"Hi Grandma" the youngster said with a cautious stare, scanning the room with her eyes trying to spot her motherís large form.

The older woman smiled and reached out to hug the youngster. " How are you doing little one?" she asked, sympathetic to the childís plight, and feeling a bit responsible for sharing the story that encouraged her misdeed.

"Iím Ok," she said with a mischievous grin, realizing that a bit of guilt from her grandmother might come in handy.

The older woman kissed the childís cheek and offered her some warm bread and cheese for breakfast along with the usual mug of milk.

"Uh whereís Momma?" the youngster asked, her eyes peering out into the inn, but not spotting the warrior.

"Oh sheís around...Why?" the grandmother asked, wondering if she might be of some service.

"Well Iím not sure if Iím allowed out of my room or not, so I figured Iíd better ask her," the child replied with a wide-eyed stare of innocence, hoping her grandmother would rush to her defense.

"Oh you really donít think my mother is going to offer you any sympathy after what happened yesterday...forget it," the shimmering uncle said with a yawn as he sat on the scalding stove.

"Well I am sure Xena will send you right back to bed. She was pretty upset last night. You scared her pretty good child, but maybe...if...I ask her to let me take you shopping with me sheíll at least let you out for that. Would you like to go?" the older woman asked with a wink

 

"Son of Zeus Mom if I had done what she had done...Gods you sure have changed."

Shopping was not exactly what Tarren had hoped for, but she would take anything she could get. She needed to get out of the inn long enough to get a few supplies and some help in order to put her plan into action.

Before the little girl had a chance to respond a husky voice from the doorway spoke.

"Where will you go?" the warrior mother asked, staring down at her daughter.

"Ok Tarren here comes the end of your big plan and itís a good thing too."

Tarren looked at Xena and Cyrene and then frowned at the chatty ghost.

"Daughter you should not listen in on private conversations," the grandmother admonished.

Xena just cocked her head and smiled.

The warrior eyed her young daughter. "Good morning Tarren and were you making plans to go out today?" the mother asked, moving in beside her child.

"Nope kid you are staying right here."

The youngster bit her lip trying to ignore her uncleís lack of faith. "Uh good morning Momma...I just wanted to know you if I was allowed out of my room today?" the child asked, trying to keep her eyes low.

The child felt sure that if Xena could see straight into her eyes, at that moment, all her secrets would be instantly revealed.

The warrior mother shook her head. "Sorry no, but you are staying in your room for the rest of the day and tomorrow little girl. I want you thinking about what I said yesterday," the mother replied sternly, reaching for an apple from the counter.

"Told ya. Now letís go back to the room and play warlord."

The child lowered her head and started dragging her feet back toward the bedroom feeling that her plan now had no hope. "Yes maíam," she squeaked.

Xena grinned as she watched the sullen little figure pass by her. The warrior mother had to admit the child had a lot of nerve to think she would be allowed to wander again after her most recent exploits.

 

Cyrene took a deep breath and faced her daughter. "Xena do you think that perhaps I could at least take her shopping with me for a little while. I would like to spend some time with Tarren before you leave," Cyrene asked, in a pleading tone, the warrior had never heard from her mother before.

"Mother! What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this child has planned?"

"Snitch," the little girl mumbled under her breath, forcing her uncle into a silence.

The warrior looked at her motherís face and then the small figure, which had paused in the doorway waiting for a response.

"Mother...I just canít...She is...fine...take her shopping, but then it is straight back to her room when you return," Xena said surrendering, to the pouting faces around her.

Even the great warrior could not handle being ambushed from both ends of the family tree.

"Xena you fell for that. By the gods Sis canít you tell when you are being manipulated."

Cyrene removed her apron and smiled. "Thank you daughter," the older woman said kissing the warriorís cheek, as she entered the inn to get her things.

"Well it looks like Iím gonna have to handle this situation all on my own."

Xena nodded and stared down at the child waiting for direct instructions from her warrior mother. The warrior knelt down beside her daughter and shook a warning finger.

"Now Iím letting you go because I want you to spend time with your grandmother, but Tarren I swear you had better behave yourself. I donít want to here of so much as one misdeed on your part. Do you understand?" she asked in a parental tone, which left no room for questions.

The child nodded. "Yes Momma...Iíll be good," she replied with her most innocent stare.

"No she wonít Sis. She is about to do something very bad I tell ya...very bad."

Xena got to her feet and looked down at her child. She grinned and gave the youngster a gentle kiss on the head. "Ok then have a good time, but behave yourself," she warned once again.

Tarren felt a slight pang of guilt as she looked up into the loving eyes of her mother. The child hoped that her uncle was wrong and that her plan would be a great success.

Cyrene returned to the kitchen and motioned for her granddaughter to take her hand.

Tarren kept a close eye on her motherís gaze as she walked past the warrior.

"Coming?" the child, asked her sulking Uncle

"Uh...No I need a rest...You go ahead," he said contemplating a course of action.

Xena glanced at her daughter and was somewhat surprised that the little girl would want her presence knowing she would be watching the childís every move.

"Nope! I am trusting you to behave yourself," the mother replied sternly

 

"Huh...Ok...Bye Momma, the tiny voice squeaked with a wave.

Xena wiggled her fingers in farewell. "Remember what I said," she responded, before biting into her apple.

The child just stared at her mother and allowed Cyrene to lead her out of the inn.

 

 

The warrior leaned up against the counter shaking her head, and Gabrielle walked in with a plateful of empty mugs.

"Hey whereís Cyrene?" the young woman asked, scanning the kitchen.

"Look guys I have to go get some advice about all this. Youíll have to manage without me for a bit."

Xena looked at her friend and smiled at the young womanís somewhat disheveled appearance. Cyrene had put Gabrielle to work busing tables, feeling that her story telling was not straining enough for the bardís character growth.

"She took Tarren shopping," the warrior replied with a smirk.

The bard dropped the tray on the counter with a crash, making no attempt to hide her frustration, "Oh she did and just who is watching the inn today?" she asked.

Xena thought about it and her shoulderís slumped. "Well...I guess we are," the warrior moaned, reaching for her motherís apron.

The bard frowned. "Well thatís just great warrior because those people by the door would like three plates of your motherís eggs," the bard said with quick grin.

Xena moved toward the stove. "Not a problem. I have many skills. I can cook a few eggs. Where is the frying pan and...the eggs?" the warrior asked, looking around the room.

The Amazon Queen pushed the Warrior Princess to the side. "You may have many skills, but cooking is not one of them. We all know that. You bus the tables and Iíll cook the food. It will prevent a village outbreak of food poisoning," the young woman muttered, reaching for the pan and a basket of eggs.

Xena grinned and backed away from the stove. "Ok youíre the boss Gabrielle. Iíll go wait on tables," the warrior answered with a glint in her eyes.

The bard turned before the warrior could exit. "Uh Xena would you mind telling me why Tarren is out shopping when we both agreed she would spend the rest of our time here in her room?" the young woman asked with a scowl.

The warrior leaned against the doorway and let out a deep breath. "Mother wanted to spend some time with her, so I gave the kid a few hours parole to be with her. Gabrielle I donít know when weíll get back here again, so when Mother asked I just couldnít say no," the warrior replied with a heavy sigh.

Gabrielle nodded. "Well my big tough warrior. Your daughter, who is supposed to be grounded, is out shopping and having fun while we are now stuck here inside cooking and cleaning dishes. Would you like to tell me just who you think youíre punishing?" the bard asked, holding the frying pan menacingly in the air.

Xena thought about it and frowned. "That little scamp...She did again," the warrior mother said with a grin. "How does she always manage to turn things around like that?" the muscular woman asked.

Gabrielle smiled and started cracking eggs into the large pan. "Easy sheís your daughter," the bard mumbled, with a quick grin.

 

 

Cyrene walked through the village stores proudly introducing Tarren to every person she knew. While she was not being identified as a blood relative, the childís grandmother did have a certain way of letting people know how important the youngster was in her family unit.

At first Tarren enjoyed the attention, but after a while she felt she was being made a spectacle of.

"Grandma can we go look for a present for...Momma?" she asked quietly, looking around to make sure the coast was clear before she said the words.

Cyrene smiled at the child. "Ok dear ...well what did you want to buy?" the grandmother asked, thinking how cute it was for the to child want to spend her weekly dinar on Xenaís birthday.

The child sighed. "I dunno...Iím not sure, but I want it to be a surprise," the youngster said quietly.

Tarren passed by a weapons shop and tried to drag her grandmother inside. Cyrene quickly pulled the child to a halt. "No that is not an appropriate place for a little girl. If Xena wants something from in there then she can buy it herself," the older woman said sternly.

The child was about to argue the point when she remembered her motherís stern warning about behaving herself and not letting her hear about Ďone misdeed.í

"Yes ma am," the little one replied, heading away from the place she knew had what she was looking for.

Any doubts about the need of her plan were now gone. If she was to accomplish all her goals, the plan needed to be put into action quickly.

Cyrene pulled Tarren into Etos's shop feeling it was a much better place for her granddaughter to be. The child looked around as if shopping. She already knew what she wanted her motherís gift to be, and it was not to be found in Etos shop.

However on the counter was a small wooden pipe with finger holes.

"What does it do?" she asked the friendly man behind the counter.

He grinned at the youngster, picked it up and blew into it. "It makes sounds little Tarren...like music if you play it right," he replied with a grin.

"Try it," Etos, said handing the toy to the eager child.

Tarren blew into it and smiled at the little toot it made.

Cyrene could not help but grin at the simple pleasure she saw in her granddaughterís eyes playing with such a toy.

"Etos weíll take it," she decided, reaching into her pouch for some dinars.

Tarren turned around to face her grandmother. "No...Cyrene...You donít have to buy it for me," the child argued, knowing Gabrielle or her mother would surely buy her such a toy if she really wanted it.

The grandmotherís face became cold at being called Cyrene by her grandchild.

It had taken the grandmother long enough to get the child to accept her only to be robbed of her title by her own daughterís rules.

"Young lady you are not arguing with me are you?" she asked her tone more parental than Xenaís ever was.

The youngster smiled and shook her head. "No maíam," she replied, now happy to follow Xenaís rules on obeying her elders.

The older woman nodded. "Good thing. Now as I said Etos we will take that and give this youngster whatever else it is she wants," the grandmother said with finality.

Tarrenís eyes grew wide at the invitation or order that had just been mandated by the current person in charge of her. This had potential to be a very good day.

 

 

Tarren shopped all day with Cyrene, and when they finally returned, the youngster found herself carrying a load of packages most of which contained items her grandmother had bought for her.

As they entered the now empty inn, the child dropped the parcels quickly on the table in front of Xena and Gabrielle.

Cyrene could not help but notice how tired the two young women looked. After all, the inn appeared quite empty.

"What did you two do ...buy half of the village?" Xena asked staring at the bundles.

The bard chuckled sorry she had not joined them on the shopping spree.

Tarren, still fearing another of her motherís scolding, waited for permission to stay. The warrior shook her head and patted her leg motioning the child to take comfortable refuge on her lap. Tarren grinned and happily slid onto her motherís legs, exhausted from the haul.

"Now daughter...Tarren needed a few things, so I bought them for her," Cyrene said with conviction, knowing Xena might protest.

"Mother you didnít have to buy her anything. She really doesnít need anything. We took her shopping many times, and bought her everything she needed and many things she did not," Xena said quietly, staring at the bard for support.

The youngster ignored the adult ramblings and reached for the bag of confections Etos had given her.

Xena quickly took the bag from the childís hands, "Mother you bought her candy. Sheís being punished and you bought her candy," the warrior scolded, noting that the bag was already half gone.

"Now Xena in a few days you and Gabrielle and Tarren will be on your way. Would you deny me a little time to spoil my only grandchild?" she asked, her eyes nearly brimming with tears.

The warrior sighed and shook her head feeling trapped by the words. "No mother, of course not," she replied softly, dropping the sack of candy back on the table.

Tarren reached for the older womanís arm and pulled her down for a hug. "Thank you Grandma," the child said politely.

The youngster was finally realizing the importance of grandmotherís and wished she had more.

The older woman rubbed her hand along the childís tender cheek and smiled, happy to have her title back. "You are quite welcome granddaughter," she answered before heading into the kitchen to see what was left of her domain.

 

Tarren again reached for the bag of confections triumphantly, but the warrior quickly pushed them out of reach.

"Donít even think about it. The last thing you need is any more sugar. Besides while your grandmother may have forgotten that you are being punished, I have not, " she whispered in the childís ear.

This action elicited a fast moan from the youngster who longed to be filled up with confections, but her whining was quickly silenced by her motherís stare.

Tarren slid against her motherís chest quietly fiddling with one package. She slowly pulled out her little wooden instrument and started to blow on it.

Xena covered her ears. "Oh no...Please tell me she did not buy you something that makes noise," the warrior mother groaned, staring at the bard.

"Xena itís just a little flute. Iíll teach her how to play it," the bard said with a grin.

The warrior grimaced. "Thatís just what Iím afraid of," the mother murmured.

Xena looked sternly at her daughter. "Ok fess up...What else is in these bags that you conned your grandmother into buying?" the warrior asked, with a slight scowl.

The childís eyes dropped. "Momma...I didnít ask her to buy anything...I swear. She told me I shouldnít argue, so I didnít. You told me to behave myself, so I did," the child defended innocently.

Xena twisted her face and glanced into the youngsterís wide blue eyes and grinned. "Ok Iím sorry...Tell me what else she bought ya monster," the warrior replied with a soft smirk.

Tarren leaned back on her motherís chest and pointed to the different packages. "Well those arenít mine...She bought me clothes, a new satchel, and some other things that are not really important," the child replied, not really wishing to display everything.

Xena picked up a small narrow package that had a familiar shape and feel to it. She tapped it on the table.

"Whatís this?" the warrior mother asked eyeing the item closely.

The bard smiled as the child struggled to find an answer other than the truth without lying.

"Well thatís...I forget. I love ya Momma," she replied letting her eyes drop to the side as she nuzzled affectionately against her motherís shoulder.

Xena grinned at the youngsterís sudden urge to offer such warmth and handed the package to the bard. "Uh huh well since you forgot weíll just have a little peak inside. Gabrielle if you please?" the warrior asked, patting her daughterís back gently.

The bard removed the wrapping and inside was a carved wooden handle with a wide stretchy bad attached across the middle.

"Xena is this what I think it is?" the young woman asked with a grin.

The warrior reached over and took the item. She held it in her hand just in front of her daughterís vision. "Yup itís a slingshot," she answered, with a frown.

The warrior mother pulled the child forward so that she could look into the youngsterís eyes. "Tarren how many times have you asked me for one of these?" the warrior asked, waving the slingshot in front of the child.

The little oneís shoulders slumped, " Twelve," she answered quietly.

The warrior nodded feeling it was probably more but settling on that number. "And what have I said all twelve times?" she asked sternly.

Tarren bit her lip. "You said...no," she whispered, wanting to bury her head back in her motherís shoulders, but being pinned in place by the warriorís strong grip.

"Then why do you have one now?" she asked, letting the child see the coolness of her gaze.

Tarren shifted a little in her motherís lap trying to get her thoughts straight. "Well cause grandma said I should have anything I wanted and thatís what I wanted. I didnít ask her for the pony since I figured youíd want to get me that," she replied with a hopeful grin.

The warrior mother shook her head. "Oh you are just full of surprises little one. Well there will be No slingshot, and No pony, and now that your shopping spree is over, I think itís time for you go back to your room and take a nap. Gabrielle and I will just take a look at these packages of yours to make sure there are no other surprises that youíve smuggled in," Xena said stiffly, lifting the youngster off of her lap.

"Ahh do I really have to go back to my room?" the youngster moaned, staring longingly at the soon to be absent slingshot.

Xena turned in the chair and faced her daughter letting the child clearly see the lack of humor in her motherís eyes. "Young lady if I were you Iíd get used to being in your room since you may be there for quite a while," the mother scolded.

Tarren bit her lip and looked to the bard and her mother, "But...."

Xena slowly rose to her feet and pointed the way. "Move it," she ordered, sending the child quickly on her way with a brisk swat.

The child skidded through the inn and into her room without muttering another word.

"Little monster," the warrior mother mumbled, sitting herself in front of the mound of packages.

Gabrielle smiled at the youngsterís attempt at regaining her freedom and then stared at the slingshot now in her hand. "Xena would it be so bad to let her have this," the bard asked, holding the toy in the air.

Xena shook her head a bit. "Gabrielle you are as bad as my mother. Iím trying to teach Tarren right from wrong and my mother is buying her candy and toys, and now you want me to give her a slingshot?" the baffled mother asked.

The young woman shrugged. "Well I didnít mean this moment, but would it be so bad to give her one to play with?" she asked, pulling the band back and aiming the empty sling at the warrior.

Xena sighed at her young friendís inability to follow through on Tarrenís discipline.

"No I guess not. I had one when I was a kid, but I donít want her going behind my back to get stuff. She has to learn that when I say no that I mean no," the warrior thundered, stuffing the small package of confections in her hand and heading in the direction of the bedroom.

The bard nodded in agreement as she watched her friend depart. "Uh Xena where are you going?" the young woman asked with a smirk.

Xena stopped and slowly turned around. "Iím just going to make sure that Tarren is in bed the way sheís supposed to be," the warrior mother said evenly, starting on her way once again.

"Oh...Why are you taking the candies with you?" the young woman asked with a broad smile.

Xena let out a deep breath and turned. "Well...I might get hungry on the way back there Ok?" she replied with a quick glare.

Gabrielle playfully aimed the slingshot at her friend wishing she had a small pebble to aim. "Sure...you big, bad, tough warrior mother you," the bard said with a giggle.

Xena did not even bother to turn around. She decided it was best to quit while she was behind rather than try and offer a failed justification for her actions.

 

 

 

Tarren lay on the bed looking up at the chandelier that moved a bit as the wind blew at the chains it hung from.

"Hmm hereís a ride I havenít tried," she murmured.

The youngster quickly jumped from the bed and grabbed onto the large wooden wagon wheel chandelier, dangling in the air as she swung quickly back and forth careful not to let the candles fall. She used her legs to kick to make the motion faster until the child was flying nearly the full length of the floor and giggling wildly as she sliced through the wind.

"Wheeeeeeee," the little one yelled, as the light fixture offered flight.

 

Xena opened the door and ducked as she saw the airborne child heading her way. As the laughing child made her way toward the doorway, the warrior grabbed the youngsterís waist in one hand and stopped the chandelier cold with the other. The fun was officially over.

Xena looked at the child hanging in her grip and shook her head, "Just what do you think youíre doing? That is not a toy," she scolded.

Tarren looked up at her mother and tried to grin. "Sorry Momma, but you never said I couldnít play with it," she said proudly.

The warrior mother placed the child on her feet and steadied the chandelier as best she could. "No I didnít...but I did tell you to go take a nap. Now get into that bed," she ordered, sending the youngster sprinting toward the pallet.

Xena slowly moved toward the pallet shaking her head in disbelief. "What am I gonna do with you?" the agitated warrior asked, staring at the reclining child. "I canít leave you alone for a minute without you getting into trouble," she groaned.

Little Tarren lowered her eyes under her motherís scolding and then just buried her head in the pillow ignoring her motherís obvious frustration.

"Young lady you will look at me when I am talking to you," the mother said sternly.

The childís face went blank. Her eyes grew wide and welled with tears, and her lower lip started to quiver a bit as she looked up at her scolding motherís harsh expression.

Xena bit her lip and tried to shake off her frustration. "You are gonna ...give me gray hairs..." the mother muttered, slowly falling on the pallet beside her daughter, realizing that she just couldnít muster any anger toward this child.

Xena just lay on the Pallet, shaking her head, and looking up at the still slightly swinging chandelier.

The youngster said nothing but merely looked obediently to her mother. Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "You do know that you are a spoiled brat and your grandmother would have both our heads if she knew you were doing that?" she asked with a crooked smile, pointing to the swinging object above them.

The child blinked and the warrior watched a tear fall.

"Ok, Ok...I surrender. Please no more tears," the warrior said softly, rubbing the little girlís head. "I know you just want to have some fun and run through the woods...I know your anxious to leave...So am I ...but you have to try and behave yourself Tarren," the mother warned, trying to explain the obvious.

The youngster crawled closer to her mother and lay her head down on her chest. "Are ya still mad at me Momma?" she asked, her voice low and subdued.

 

The warrior shook her head and pulled the little girl further into her lap. "No monster...but your gonna have to give me one big hug to get off the hook," she said softly.

The child smiled and threw her arms quickly around her motherís neck squeezing as tight as she could.

 

Xena wrapped her arms lovingly around the child. "Ok your off the hook," she whispered, staring into her daughterís eyes. "The slingshot however, is still going back young lady, and I donít appreciate you getting your grandmother to buy it when you knew I had said no," Xena quietly scolded.

The child looked at her mother with her lower lip pushed out in a hopeful pout. "But I wanted it Momma. I never get anything I want," she whined, fingering the laces on her motherís armband.

Xena gave the child a look of false pity. "Tarren when you earn something you can have it. Sneaking around behind my back to get something is not gonna get you anything but in trouble. Remember that," she said kissing the youngsterís forehead, "Now go to sleep, and no more swinging from the chandelier...got it?" she asked, pointing to the still swaying fixture.

The child nodded. "Yes Momma," she replied, pulling out her little flute and giving it a quick toot knowing it would irritate her mother.

Xena turned and smiled at her small daughter, "Nice...very nice. Wait until we are back on the road little one. Remember your grandmother is not coming with us. So there will be a moment when itís just you, me and that flute," she said with an evil smile.

"Grandma said to write to her if you took it away," the child answered with a grin.

Xenaís mouth opened wide at the childís words, but then she just smiled. "Tell me daughter do you think you can run as fast as you can write," she asked in a low husky voice.

The child quickly shoved the toy under her pillow, deciding it was not a good time to be teasing her mother.

The warrior grinned at the wisdom her daughter had shown.

"Momma?" the youngster whispered as the warrior started to leave.

Xena turned expecting the words she was about to hear.

"Iím not tired. I wanna stay with you and Gabby," she whimpered, reaching a needy arm up to her mother.

The warrior sighed and returned to the side of the pallet. "Tarren first of all you need to take a nap. Second of all you know that you are being punished and have to stay in your room," she said stiffly.

Tarren bit her lower lip and glanced up at her mother. "How long Momma? How long do I have to stay in my room for?" the little girl asked, with a soft innocent stare that was quickly melting the warriorís resolve.

"I havenít decided yet, but I promise that you are in here for the rest of the day," the warrior replied, knowing the time was getting shorter and shorter.

"But I donít wanna be by myself. I want you to stay with me. You said that we are a

family and what one gets we all share, so if Iím in trouble shouldnít you have to stay in here with me?" she asked, hoping she had finally found a piece of logic that worked.

Xena shook her head at the childís words and smiled knowing she was being reeled in.

"Those words you remember...Why canít you ever remember when I say things like; no you canít have a slingshot or no you canít climb that tree?" she asked, expecting no response.

The mother grumbled as she watched the innocent eyes of her young daughter widen. "Ya donít want to be alone huh? Ok scoot over ya little monster. Iíll stay with you just until youíre asleep. I am not the one being punished after all, you are," she said lying on the pallet next to her daughter.

The child slid over on the pallet to offer her mother some space, but gave the warrior a wounded frown. "Momma is staying with me punishment?" she asked.

Xena covered her face with her hands knowing she had said the wrong thing. "No baby...I love staying with you, but...." she began.

The warrior looked into the large open eyes of her daughter who was now awaiting an explanation. Xena let out a long breath and reached in her side pouch, pulling out the sack of candy and handing it to the youngster.

"Letís get comfortable. We are both gonna be here for a while it seems," the warrior said with a grin.

Tarren looked at her mother and smiled happy to know they truly were a family. She quickly jumped to the womanís side and lay her head comfortably on her motherís chest as she picked through the bag of candy for one she liked. She then handed the bag back to her fellow inmate who did the same.

Xena lay on the pallet and watched as the chandelier finally came to a slow stop.

"Tarren?"

"Yes Momma."

"What was it like?"

"What was what like Momma?"

"Swinging from the chandelier? I always wanted to do that."

"It was fun Momma. You wanna do it now?"

"Nope! Iím too big and youíre too small."

"Well we could always swing Gabby on it."

The warrior chuckled at the image and hugged the little girl with all her gentle might. "You are so bad sometimes monster," she said with a wide grin, kissing her daughters cheek.

"Momma will you sing for me?" the child asked looking up at the warrior pleadingly.

Xena frowned a bit, "You know little girl I do believe you really are spoiled," she replied in a soft voice.

"Please Momma," the child said quietly.

Xenaís heart melted at the quiet tone in her young daughterís voice. It made her want to sing for the child. "Ok but you better go to sleep," she scolded.

The child leaned over and buried her head in her motherís side and Xena smiled at the ease with which her daughter found a comfortable spot. She wrapped her arms around her little one and pulled her in close and then sang a song of gentle dreams.

 

Chapter 11 Ė Working Against the System

Milo all you have to do is deliver the message," Tarren begged.

"No Iíll get in trouble," the boy groaned.

"No you wonít. No one will ever know," she whispered to the open window in her room.

The portly boy sighed. "Look Tarren youíre just a kid...theyíll go easy on you, but Iím 13 almost 14 theyíll hang me," he replied swallowing hard.

The youngster sighed, irritated at the boyís obvious cowardice in the face of battle. "Look Milo you still owe me for squealing to Xena about me going climbing. Right?" she asked.

The boy nodded feeling a slight weight of guilt wash over him. "Ok Iíll do it, but I just know this isnít a good idea," he said taking the two parchments that the child had been trying to shove into his hand for nearly an hour.

Xena had reduced Tarrenís sentence from confinement to her room to confinement to the inn. That way the warrior felt she could still make her point, not feel so guilty, and know where Tarren was at all times.

The youngster waited until Xena had gone to practice with her sword and Gabrielle had gone to do some last minute shopping before she began her work. Gabrielle had left the youngster strict instructions to study her scrolls, so Tarren was making use of the bardís lesson of practicing her letters by practicing Xena and Gabrielleís handwriting.

Tarren entered the kitchen and took a small parchment from her tunic. "Grandma some man said to give you this message," the child lied.

The plan was now officially underway. There was no turning back.

The older woman smiled at the child and took the parchment. "Thank you dear," she replied.

Cyreneís face turned blank. "Oh dear thereís a young woman stuck in a wagon outside of town in serious need of a midwife," she said with a sigh.

The little girl shrugged. "Well is that something youíd be needed for?" the little girl asked, not quite sure what a midwife was, but trusting her uncleís judgment on this.

The older woman nodded.

"Well Grandma what are you waiting for?" the child asked.

Cyrene stared at her granddaughter. "Tarren my dear. Xena and Gabrielle are both out and I will not leave you here alone," she said firmly.

The youngster sighed, but this was something she had counted on.

The child moved slowly to the door and opened it a bit. She then quickly turned to face her grandmother.

"Gabbyís on the other side of the street. Iíll go stay with her, so you can go. Bye Grandma," the child yelled, racing out the door before Cyrene could see the bard for herself.

Tarren jumped into the bushes as her grandmother raced out the door trying to catch the fleeing child.

On cue Milo walked by. "Hi, Cyrene Poppa asked me to tell you heíd be buy tomorrow with your order," the boy said, eyeing the bush beside him.

The older woman glanced over his head not really hearing the words. "Uh yes ...Ok Milo," she replied, her eyes scanning the streets for Tarren.

The boy shifted nervously from one leg to another. "Uh... I saw Gabrielle and boy she sure has bought a lot of stuff. Itís a good thing.... Little Tarren showed up to help her with the...err...packages," he said, his voice shaking a bit under the pressure of the lie.

The older woman stared down at the boy and smiled. "Milo you saw them together, Gabrielle and Tarren?" she asked.

"Yes maíam I have seen them together," he answered, realizing that it wasnít a total lie if he didnít say when.

Cyrene sighed with relief and headed for the barn ready to make a hasty buggy ride to the far outskirts of the village. "Thank you Milo dear," she said patting the boyís arm as she passed him.

Tarren slid out from behind the bush and tapped Milo on the shoulder. "That was really good Milo. Grandma will be gone for hours, " the child whispered, as she watched Cyrene take off at top speed in her wagon.

The boy shook his head. "Tarren this is not a good idea. I just know youíre gonna get in trouble," the boy warned.

The child gave Milo a dissatisfied look. "Nobody will ever even care if it was me who sent the messages. Every one will think it was just a practical joke, and theyíll all think it was real funny. Youíll see...Now come on Milo you still have two messages to deliver," the child ordered pointing the way down the street.

Milo nodded and dragged his feet reluctantly in search of Gabrielle.

The trembling boy found the bard shopping in a local merchantís material shop. He took a deep breath before approaching her.

"Hi Milo" she said to the nervous boy as he came closer.

The boy nodded..."Uh... Hi...I ...Uh...Xena...message...." he mumbled, trying to remember what he was supposed to do.

The young woman placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Something you need?" the gentle bard asked.

Milo swallowed hard at the bardís touch and nervously handed her a small parchment and ran off.

The bard shook her head as she watched the youngster make a hasty retreat.

"Gabrielle we need to get to Poteda. There is warlord threatening your village. I am leaving now. Will meet you there. Donít worry about Tarren. I have her. Just get going." Xena

The bard stared at the writing wondering why Xena would send such a message with Milo, and why she had misspelled Potedia. She also noticed how poor the warriorís handwriting had become.

ĎSheís going to have start doing Tarrenís lessons if she keeps this upí the bard thought.

Gabrielle decided the errors must have been made in the warriorís haste to get the message written and quickly realized that her home was in trouble and her family needed her. She shoved the parchment in her bag and ran to the stables. She hated riding, but Potedia was almost a full days walk. She needed a horse to make it there by nightfall.

 

Milo watched the warrior as she drilled with the sword.

"Magnificent" he whispered.

Xena flung the blade to the left and the right and easily back behind her. Milo closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them she was gone. He craned his neck trying to see her from the bush he was seated in, but she was no longer on the practice field. All he could see was Argo tethered to a tree.

"What are you doing here Milo?" a husky voice from behind asked.

The boy jumped to his feet nervously. "I...I...I was waiting for you to be finished," he replied, trying to keep his voice from cracking.

The warrior sheathed her sword and grinned at the youngster. "Well in the future you should know that itís dangerous to come up on me when Iím practicing," she warned.

The boy nodded in understanding, and Xena leaned against the tree smiling. "So what can I do for ya? Someone giving you a hard time and you want me to rough him up?" she teased.

Milo shook his head and handed his final parchment to Xena. "Iím supposed to give ya this," he said backing away.

Xena looked at the crumbled parchment and then the nervous boy. "Who gave this to you Milo?" she asked moving closer.

The boy shrugged. "Just some man...He said to find you fast...err...I gotta go. My Momís waiting supper." he replied sprinting toward the path back toward the village.

Xena shook her head and looked at the parchment.

"Xena Poteda is being threatened by some warlord. I have to get home. Please hurry. Donít worry about Tarren. She is with me." Gabby

The warrior stared at the message and frowned. Gabrielle had misspelled Potedia, her home village, and the bard was much too good with the quill to write so sloppy.

ĎGabby? And why would "some man" give Milo a note from Gabrielle,í the warrior wondered.

Xena folded the message and put in neatly back in her cuff not willing to take any chances. Something didnít seem right. She kicked at Argoís heals anxious to catch up to Gabrielle and Tarren to find out just what was going on.

Milo watched from the hill as the warrior took off at full gallop. She was moving fast and would surely catch up to Gabrielle quickly.

Milo swallowed hard realizing Tarrenís plan already had a few problems. The child had expected the pair to meet in Potedia. That would have given Tarren an entire day to herself. Things were not going well, but the wayward youngster didnít even know it.

 

When enough time had passed that Tarren was sure Milo had delivered the messages, she decided to make a meal for herself. She could hear her stomach rumbling and there was suddenly no one around to fix that problem. However the youngster didnít know how to cook any better than her mother and she wasnít supposed to play with flint by herself.

The child sighed and put one of her grandmotherís aprons on. She took some cheese and bread out of the cold cabinet, but a frown crossed over her face as she eyed the familiar trail food. The youngster wanted to be served something hot.

The little girl let her fingers drum on the edge of the stove. She soon realized that it was still quite hot. It was definitely hot enough for a little experiment.

Tarren grinned as she took a big pan and placed it on the stove. She dropped a hunk of cheese in it followed by a slab of bread. The youngster then waited, hoping it would make the food warm enough to eat.

The cheese soon started to bubble and then boil and then spray in every direction it could find including the ceiling. The little girl fell to the floor and under the table waiting for the food to halt its attack. Smoke started to billow from the pan and Tarren grabbed a water skin, spraying the pot down.

The child waved the smoke away with her hand hoping there was something left to eat. She lifted a fresh slab of bread and dipped in the still bubbling cheese. The youngster took a bite and her eyes lit up with delight. It was a bit sloppy but the cheese tasted good hot.

"Hmm a sloppy cheese. Alone for only a few minutes and already Iíve discovered a great meal. I wish Momma and Gabby were here to see this," she said with a smile, devouring another sloppy cheese sandwich.

 

Carefree and fully fed the child headed into the village anxious to get started on her big adventure. She could not help wondering where her uncle had shimmered off too, but it really wasnít important at the moment

The little girl wanted to make her most important stop first. She walked into the weapons shop and handed another falsified parchment out. It was written in a handwriting as close as Tarren could get to her mothers and it instructed the man behind the counter to give Tarren the item of her desire.

"Did Xena trust you with money for something like this child?" the weapons master asked, doubting the authenticity of the document and that Xena would entrust a weapon in the hands of such a small child.

The youngster stomped her foot feeling insulted by the merchantís lack of trust. The child turned around and looked into the satchel that held all her private treasures. She smiled just to run her small hands over a few familiar items, but then fingered her way to the large heavy sack filled with many gold coins.

Nala had obtained a small amount of wealth as a mystic, and when she died the old woman had left all of it to the child with the understanding that the youngster would use most of it to buy a very special and specific gift for she, Xena and Gabrielle. It was to be a secret and that made it very difficult. The child had not figured out how to accomplish the old mysticís request yet, so she was sure Nala wouldnít mind if she spent just a little on gifts.

Tarren took out one gold coin, wondering if it was enough. She had no real sense of the value of money. Xena gave her a dinar a week as an allowance, but she rarely had to spend it since either her mother or the bard usually purchased what the child wanted with their own money.

The child placed the gold coin firmly on the table. "Xena said she wants the best you have. She is after all the Warrior Princess, so donít give her any junk that would break like if ya tried to untie someone stuck on a pole," she said quietly, remembering such an incident of not too long ago.

"What will this get?" the youngster asked fingering the coin.

The weapons masterís eyes flew open at the site of the precious gold coin. "Why child that will get her the very best in the store with change," he replied with a broad smile, realizing that Xena must want a very special weapon indeed.

Tarren grinned as the man filled her order and to her delight handed her a gift she felt quite worthy of her mother. She placed the wrapped package in her satchel and moved on.

The child took out a parchment, which contained a list of things she hoped to accomplish before everyone returned. There was much to do and little time to do it. Tarren stopped at Etos and purchased a large bag of confections, which she ate on her way to her next goal.

 

 

Xena raced along the path until she caught site of a dark steed and a limping bard pulling the horse by its reigns.

"What happened to you?" the warrior asked, jumping off Argo and examining her friendís limp.

"I was riding so fast to get to Potedia that I fell off the horse. Now you know why I like to walk. It doesnít hurt as much as when you fall down," the young woman said rubbing her back.

"Are you Ok?" Xena asked with genuine concern.

"Yeah I just want to get to Potedia. Iím worried about my family. Why donít you ride on without me? Iíll catch up," the bard said nervously, afraid of what might be happening in her home village.

Xena nodded ready to depart, but then looked around the trail. "Whereís Tarren?"

The bard looked at the warrior oddly. "What do you mean whereís Tarren. Sheís with you. Your message said so," the bard informed her, pulling out her piece of parchment and waving it in the air.

Xena took the piece of scroll from her friend and compared it to her own.

"My message? Gabrielle I never sent you a message. You sent me one," the warrior stated, showing the bard her own note.

"I never sent you a message you and Xena I think I know how to spell Potedia," the young woman said with a frown.

The two women looked at one another and then the warriorís eyes grew cold and feral.

"Tarren!" the pair said in unison.

Xena mounted Argo, and offered her hand to the ailing bard.

"No you get to Tarren. Iíll just slow you down. If sheís alone then she could be in trouble. Iíll follow," the bard said, motioning the warrior away.

Xena nodded and kicked her mount into action at a steady pace back toward Amphipolis.

"Sorry about asking the horse to throw you Gabrielle, but I needed to slow you down a bit, so Xena could catch up," Lyceus said with regret.

 

 

Tarren was walking along the streets of Amphipolis studying her list when Lyceus suddenly appeared beside her.

"Howís it going kid?"

"Hi Uncle Lyceus," she yelled, happy for some company. "Things are...well...Ok...I guess...I do sort of miss Momma and Gabby," the child said sadly, dropping her head, wishing her mother would return and spoil her fun.

The little girlís eyes brightened as she remembered the package. "I did get Momma a present. Wanna see?" she asked eagerly.

 

"Uh maybe later, so I guess you got everyone out of town Ok huh?"

 

"Yeah theyíre gone...Iím all alone," she replied sadly. "Where have you been?" she asked the ghost.

"Oh me...well...I had to go see my...boss. She likes to keep track of whatís going on, so I had to give her a full report. Itís no big deal...just standard scroll work."

Tarren swallowed hard." You...err...report what happens here to someone else Uncle Lyceus?" she asked with a sigh.

"Yeah but you have nothing to worry about. After all youíve got a full proof plan right?" Lyceus asked.

The child nodded. "Uh yeah...Itís a good plan...great plan " the child murmured, wondering when the fun would start.

"Ok good so then where do we go first?" he asked hoping Xena would arrive soon.

Tarren had already swung from a tree and found it was little fun without Xena and Gabrielle to watch. The candy she was eating was starting to make her feel extremely ill.

"Ya know Tarren you donít look so good. How much of that stuff did you eat?" the uncle asked noting the size of the bag of confections.

Tarren turned the burlap upside down to show it was now empty.

"You ate it all?"

The youngster nodded and then quickly sprinted to the woods where with a few heaves she quickly emptied her stomach of all the delicious candy she had just devoured.

"Oh...Zeus on earth ... Are you Ok? That looked...well...bad," he moaned.

The now ashen child let out a deep breath, wishing that her mother were there to offer assistance and comfort.

"Come on letís go back to the inn and you can lay down," Lyceus said, hoping to keep his niece out of trouble until his sister returned.

"No I wanna go to the playhouse first," the child replied, pointing to the Gaming House.

"Uh Tarren that is not a place you want to go...Kids are not allowed in there."

"Now you sound like Momma...I just wanna look inside. Now Momma says you have to go away if I want you to, so I want you to go away for a little while," she ordered, wishing the ghost to disappear.

 

Before the shimmering figure could respond he faded from reality muttering something about Xenaís big mouth.

 

The child wiped her hands together and smiled as she headed for the large man standing by the doorway. "I...have a message for...Dicen...err...from Xena," the child said with a weak grin.

The man with a bandaged arm and bruised head looked down at the familiar child and nodded. He went inside and returned with a small skinny man in the silky robes.

"You have a message," the man squeaked, jabbing the child with his finger.

"Yeah," she replied handing him her last piece of falsified parchment.

 

"Let the kid peak inside...or else." Xena Warrior Princess

 

The skinny man swallowed hard at the thought of Ďwhat elseí meant and motioned the child inside not sure why the warrior would want such a young child in his establishment.

Tarren walked around and looked at all the games and tables where people were putting large sums of money down. There was laughing and drinking and Tarren was sure something had died in there since it smelled pretty bad.

"So kid ya wanna play a game?" the man asked with a wicked grin.

The child shrugged wondering where all the toys and things to climb over were. This was not much of a playhouse.

"So kid ya wanna try your luck once?" the silky man asked once again.

Tarren took another fast look around the place and decided there were much better ways to spend her Ďfuní time. She started to leave when a familiar wall of a man stood in front of her blocking the childís exit.

"Sorry but nobody leaves without having their bags checked, so letís see the satchel," the giant said with a toothless grin.

The youngster shook her head holding tightly to her bag of treasures.

The angry titan reached down to grab the childís satchel and received a 10-year-old foot in the gut for the effort. The man winced a bit, but was quick to grab Tarrenís arm making her squeal from the pain of his unfriendly grip.

Tarren jerked away, reached into her boot, and pulled out her chucks swinging them freely at the giantís head sending him falling backward. People in the house stopped to applaud the youngster and Dicen shrunk back into the crowd afraid Xena would appear at any minute.

Tarren held the chucks protectively in front of her preparing for the man to attack. He picked up a large piece of wood and held it high above his head ready to strike.

The youngster fell back knowing there was no place to run and this Titan standing over her would offer no mercy. She wanted to cry out for her mother, but she knew the warrior was too far. The foolish little child knew all too well since she had been the one to send her mother away. Tarren felt truly all alone now and was greatly missing and needing both her motherís protection and comfort.

"Give me the satchel," the large man repeated ready to swing.

Tarren closed her eyes ready to face her fate like a true daughter of the Warrior Princess.

The child pushed away the urge to cry and instead shook her head to let the brute know that the satchel and all itís treasures were hers.

"What if she doesnít want to give it to you?" a husky voice from the doorway asked.

Tarrenís eyes lit up knowing her mother had arrived just as she always did, not a moment too soon.

The warrior quickly drew her sword and waved it at the giant. "I thought I told you to play nice," she purred, kicking the man forward and using her sword to cut his wooden weapon into pieces.

Xena grabbed Tarren with a free hand and tossed the child safely under a table.

The warrior mother smiled at the men that dare approach looking to test their luck against the Warrior Princess.

Xena vaulted in the air landing on a gaming table knocking all the bets to the ground.

Dicen shrunk in a corner as he watched his gaming house being torn to shreds by angry gamblers and one very angry warrior mother.

Xena waited for the commotion to be in full motion before she grabbed her child and sprinted out the door. The warrior couldnít help but smile knowing the cost Dicen would incur from the devastation.

 

Continues here

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