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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 12 - The Forgiving Tree

The youngster walked slowly beside her mother who had not said a single word to her since arriving. Tarren kept her eyes focused on the tips of her boots as Xena unsaddled Argo and then headed toward the inn.

"Momma?" the youngster whispered.

"Not a word...not a single word do I want to hear from you," the mother seethed.

Tarren could tell that her mother was well past anger. She had a cold icy glare the child had never seen before. Xena took the child by the arm and firmly led her back to her room. The youngster dropped her satchel on the bed and glanced behind at her motherís frozen stare.

"How could you do something like this?" the mother asked, her voice filled with fear for what might have happened and a lack of understanding for her daughterís desire to be left alone.

"I just...Iím sorry Momma," was all the child could manage to say.

Xena fought her urge to punish the youngster for her misdeeds. She had made a vow to herself long ago never to discipline her child while she had an ounce of anger in her.

 

The warrior looked at her daughter and shook her head.

"Sorry doesnít cut it Tarren. You have no idea what you did. You have no idea what could have happened, and you hurt people. Gabrielle fell off her horse rushing to get to Potedia because of your little game. And you being left here all alone...anything could have happened...Going to the gaming house...Gods Tarren, I have never been so ashamed of you as I am right now," the warrior mother scolded.

Tears ran down the childís face. "But Momma I didnít mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted to...Iím sorry...Do you forgive me?í she asked in a low sullen tone, her eyes filled with tears.

Xenaís expression was a mix of pain and fear as she looked at the small form sitting before her asking for another chance.

"No Tarren itís just not that easy this time. Right now you stay in this room. I donít really want to talk to you right now. I need to calm down before you and I discuss this," the warrior mother said, closing the door behind her, leaving the youngster alone once again.

Xena took long angry strides back to the bar. She reached over and pulled out a mug filling it with her favorite port, hoping it would help drain some of her angst.

"Ok so Iím a lousy mother," she murmured to the empty inn.

The shimmering figure beside her shook its head.

"No Sis youíre a great mother, and Tarren is a great little kid."

The warrior dropped her mug as she stared at the face of her long dead brother now sitting right beside her.

The warrior looked at the mug still full of port. "Oh come on I only had a sip of this," she yelled to the gods.

The figure laughed and stood. "Itís really me Sis or well... my spirit. Iíve sort of been keeping Tarren company lately," he said staring at the floor.

Xena blinked her eyes a few times and then stood staring at the figure of a very young boy who had tagged along with her from birth and had died so tenderly while in her command.

"Lyceus is it really you?" Xena asked with a tear.

"In the flesh... well you know what I mean," he said.

Xena reached a hand out to touch her brotherís face and let out a breath as it went straight though the shadowy form. "You mean you really have been with Tarren? Why are you even here?" she asked, regaining her composure a bit.

"Well Tarren asked for help and I was sent. I have to tell you Sis... I have not done a great job. Iím the one, who told her to call you Xena and to go up the Mountain, " he confessed.

"Lyceus why?" Xena asked, wishing he were solid just so she could box his ears.

"Well Xena...She was trying to prove herself to you. The little kid needed to see that it wasnít necessary. Tarren needed to know how much love you have for her. The kid just had to see it rather than just hear it. Look Xena I donít have much time...Tarren screwed up today big time, but sheís a good little kid. She has a good heart. The kid is just really too young to understand things you feel she should. Actually Xena the truth is that sheís not nearly as old as you think she is...Tarren is still just a baby...Youíve got your work cut out for ya...."

Xena cut her brother off with the wave of a hand. "What do you mean sheís not as old as I think she is and sheís still just a baby? Why do I have my work cut out for me?" the warrior mother asked, wondering what all this cryptic information about her child meant.

"Well Uh...Iím not allowed to explain that...Youíll find out when you need to, but donít worry youíll be happy cause sheís gonna be with you a very long time. Now donít ask me more because I canít say more..." he begged.

Xena let her head drop on the bar with a loud thud. This day was just getting better and better.

"Ok Lyceus What do you want from me?" she asked, leaning her head on the palm of her hand.

"Look Sis...I know youíre upset and confused, but so is the kid. Tarren is very special and just know that you and she are going to be together for a lifetime. She needs you to guide her and teach her and love her much more than you are aware. Just do like youíve been doing Xena."

 

Xena lowered her head remembering her harsh words and the childís insurrection, "Yeah Iím doing a stellar job little brother." she replied with a frown.

Lyceus pointed to a rolled up piece of parchment on the floor. "Pick it up Xena," he said.

The warrior reached over and picked up the small parchment and read it out loud.


1 .By Momma birthdy present.

2. Eat lotts of candy.

"Uh...she got pretty sick on that one."

3. Swing from tree...not too hi.

4.No bath

5.No vegtbles

6.Go to play house Momma says I cant go in.

The warrior chuckled. "This was why she wanted us out of the village...To swing from a tree and eat too much candy," Xena said with a grin.

Lyceus smiled. "Yeah well she wanted to know what it was like in the adult world, and I think she found out pretty fast that she likes your world much more. She missed you Xena. The poor kid didnít realize that sending you away actually meant you wouldnít be there if she needed you, and she needed you pretty much right after you left. You can take a look at Momís kitchen and see that." he said with a shudder.

The warrior looked back to the room and shook her head not ready for any more bad news.

"What am I supposed to do with her?" she asked, shaking her head and staring at the misspelled words on the parchment.

"What youíve been doing...being a good mother. She loves you Sis but she needs you to accept her out in the world. I know youíre scared, but you have to have faith. That little one is watched over by many. Telling people sheís your daughter will give her more protection than you think and nobody will ever take her away from you Sis.... I promise. Just have faith in yourself and the fates.

Xena wiped a tear from her eye as she stared at her brother. "Ya know when you died...I...."she began.

"I know Xena. You made mistakes and then you turned your life around. Gods isnít Tarren lucky to have someone whoíll make sure she doesnít make the same mistakes and will love her no matter what. Iím proud of my big sister Xena."

The warrior closed her eyes and tears ran down her cheeks. "Lyceus I miss you so much," she said softly, wishing she could just touch his face.

"I miss you too, but hey Iím never that far away. Look Iíve gotta go...Keep thinking of me Sis. I love hearing about your life and Tarren...and...Xena do you think Gabrielle would have liked me?" he asked, with a boyish grin.

Xena stared at the young boy shimmering before her and smiled, "Most definitely."

In a flash she was gone.

Xena looked once again at the list in her hand and smiled. All her anger was gone, replaced by the warmth of her brotherís visit and the love for a very little girl alone in her room. The warrior paused for a minute as she thought about all he had said. She then slid from the stool and headed back to Tarrenís room ready to deal with her very young daughter.

The warrior opened the door and was horrified to find the pallet empty and the window open. Tarren was gone.

The warrior searched the inn and the stables and was about to head to the village when a soft familiar whisper ran through her mind.

"Go to the tree Sis. Sheís at our tree. She needs ya Xena...hurry."

 

Tarren dropped beneath the familiar willow a bit exhausted from the long walk. Night was falling and she was alone in the dark, but she needed to visit the tree and seek its wisdom.

The child looked up at the old willow. "Ya gotta help me. I did something bad and Momma wonít forgive me. I donít know where else to go," the child cried.

"Hey donít cry Tarren. Your Mommaís coming."

 

Tarren turned her head to find seated next to her a familiar shimmering figure.

"Uncle Lyceus!" she cried, so happy to see him return she wished she could actually hug him. "Iím sorry...I asked...ya to go away...."she said quietly, lowering her eyes.

"Hey itís Ok. Did ya have fun in the playhouse?"

"No it was really bad in there. In smelled and there wasnít even anything to play with. A big man tried to take my satchel, but Momma showed up and...well...Mommaís real mad at me...I guess I did something pretty bad huh?" the child whispered.

"Yeah well letís just say you wonít be getting a pony out of this, but sheís not mad at you anymore Tarren. Sheís just really worried. You scared her when you sent her away. It made her feel bad to think you didnít want her around."

"I didnít mean to do that...I just...wanted...to get her a present and have some fun," the child murmured.

"I know that and you know that and Sis knows that too now. Sheíll be here real soon. Sheíd have been here sooner, but she was looking all over for ya. Sheís real worried about you kid. I think she must love you an awful lot."

"Ya think Iím gonna get in big trouble?" the child asked, hoping her uncle had inside information.

"Well I donít know. Do you think someone who loves you and worries about you as much as your mom does should punish you for what you did today? If they love you that is."

"Well...I guess if they love ya then they would...." the child said hesitantly.

"Well then you answered your own question. See how easy it was."

 

"Uncle Lyceus, is it sort of the way Momma got mad at you because you worried her so much when you ran away after you broke her slingshot? You cried," the child murmured.

"I did not cry...I sniffled a bit...but yeah itís sort of the same accept youíre her kid which makes you much more important to her than me. Iím just her brother...Itís not really the same thing, but it is still the same story ya know. I mean you came here looking for forgiveness the same way I did right?"

"Yeah...Momma said the tree has powers," the child said patting the bark.

"Hmm I thought I told her that after I broke her precious slingshot

The child nuzzled close to where the shimmering figure sat hoping to gain some comfort.

"Uncle Lyceus what happened to Mommaís slingshot after it broke?" she asked.

"Well she fixed it and gave it to me and then ...I lost it in the woods," he said with a grin, remembering the look on Xenaís face when he told her.

The child lay silent for a moment considering her bad plan. "Uncle Lyceus ya think Momma is gonna spank me?" she asked, now concerned with the fate of her bottom

"I donít know. Maybe youíll have to decide if you think she should. I mean you guys have a system all your own. Right?"

The child yawned and dropped her head to the side. "Yeah right...So are you gonna stay with me?" the youngster asked, finding it hard to keep her head up.

"Just until your mom gets here and then I have to go back kid, but Iíll be keeping an eye on you."

"Will you say hello to Solon and Nala for me?" she asked with another yawn

"I sure will kid...I sure will."

"I love you Uncle Lyceus, " the child whispered before falling off to sleep.

"I love you too Tarren," the shimmering figure whispered before fading out of existence.

 

The wind blew on the old willow and the leaves started to fall blanketing the sleeping child warmly beneath them.

 

 

Xena kicked Argo into a full gallop and headed for the old tree. When she arrived she found her young daughter asleep under the willow. The warrior sighed with relief, staring at the familiar scene that was now before her. She walked over and nudged the little girl.

"Tarren wake up," she whispered, pulling a stray leaf from the youngster's hair.

The little girlís eyes flickered open, "Momma?"

The warrior mother nodded, "Yes itís Momma, and you better have a damn good reason for being here young lady. You are already in trouble up to your eyeballs. I tell you to stay in your room and you come here," she scolded with a broken voice, bringing the little girl to her feet.

Tarren stared at her mother and Xena just reached out and embraced the child. "You had me scared to death youngster. Iíve been looking all over for you," she said squeezing the child.

Tarren smiled knowing this was just how the story was supposed to go.

"Youíve been looking a long time Momma?" she asked, eager to hear that she had been.

"Yes!" the warrior, replied sternly.

"Were you real worried?" the child asked with a grin the warrior couldnít see.

 

Xena placed the child in front of her as she crouched on the ground in front of her daughter. "Very worried...Now why would you want to do that to me?" she asked softly, touching the little girlís cheek, wishing she could take back her harsh words from earlier.

 

Tarren tilted her head wondering why this was being asked. It was after all not part of the story she was told.

The little girl decided that her mother must have forgotten how the tale went, so she would offer her a bit of help.

Xena looked at the child waiting for an answer but the child said nothing. She merely moved the warriors arm from her leg and quickly placed her small form across her motherís lap.

The warrior mother looked down at the child with confusion. "What are you doing?" the mother asked.

"Iím waiting," she replied lying still on her motherís leg.

"For what?" the mother asked with confusion, staring down at the back of her childís head.

Tarren turned around and stared up at her mother. "For my spankin. It is part of the system ya know? Ya see you hit Lyceus, but he was just your brother. Itís not the same. Iím your kid, so we figured that you must have been much more worried about me. I figured that Iíd get a spankin for worrying ya so much " she said turning her head and closing her eyes tightly, once again waiting for the hand of retribution to fall.

Xena lifted the child gently off her lap trying not to smile. "Tarren is that why you came here? You wanted to play out the story because you wanted to be forgiven?" she asked, stroking the little girlís face.

Tarren again stared at her mother, a bit frustrated in the delay and deviation from plot.

The child again said nothing trying to figure out her motherís obvious strategy. The youngster tried to remember the story, but couldnít seem to find these particular words anywhere in the dialogue she remembered.

"Oh...I get it," the youngster said with a frown, finally realizing why her mother was not up to speed on the story.

Xena cocked her head. "Ya do?" she asked, eager for the child to share the information.

Tarren nodded and quickly unlaced her breeches and dropped them. She then once again leaned over her motherís lap.

"What did ya do that for?" Xena asked again pulling the child quickly up.

Tarren let out a long breath wondering why she had to explain the obvious to a grown up.

"Momma...I figure the reason you havenít spanked me yet is cause your still real mad about what I did today. At first I figured youíd just give me a swat, but then I realized that you must have been real worried looking for me and even madder at me when you found me. When Iím really... really bad you always say your gonna drop my britches before I get paddled, so I figured that since you love me so much and you were so worried that you must want to give me a britches down spankin. I have, after all, been very bad today Momma." the child said with a sigh, for the third time lying over her motherís lap.

Xena bit her lip and stared at the small form stretched across her knee. The warrior was trying not to chuckle at something her daughter obviously took very seriously.

"Oh I see...and after I give you this britches down spanking what will I do?" the mother asked, eager for further direction from her informative child.

The little girl turned her head a bit so she could see her motherís face. "Then youíll have to forgive me the way you did Lyceus. Then you canít be mad at me anymore for what I did," she answered in a near whisper.

The warriorís smile faded as understanding for her daughterís logic came over her. She slowly lifted the child up and looked into her eyes.

"Tarren I donít have to spank you to not be mad at you. What you did was very wrong and you may very well wind up over my knee when all this is finished but not because Iím mad you now. Youíre my daughter and I ...."

The sight of her young daughterís head drooping cut off the warriorís words.

"Donít you love me Momma?"

"Yes of course I love you baby. I love you more than anything in the world but...."

"Werenít you worried about me the way you were Uncle Lyceus?"

"Of course but Tarren but...."

"Donít you want to forgive me like tree tells ya to?" she asked motioning to the willow.

The warrior looked into the wide eyes of her innocent young child and shook her head.

"You do know as the mother in this situation that itís me who says when itís time to put you over my knee," she replied with a soft smile.

The child nodded. "Sorry...Is it time now Momma?" she asked, never realizing she was taking away from her motherís job.

Xena closed her eyes. While the dutiful part of her said the child deserved to be punished for her many misdeeds. The other part, the part that was looking into this youngsterís soft loving gaze, was finding it hard to muster the parental disciplinarian inside. All Xena really wanted to do was hold her child and protect her from the world that might harm her.

The warrior mother shook her head and touched the childís cheek, "Tarren I do forgive you... I donít need...."

The warrior stopped short when she realized that her daughter had somehow come to equate her version of the story of Lyceus and the tree with a resolution to this entire ordeal. Xena looked at the childís sullen expression and sighed.

"Yes itís time," the mother said stiffly, making a grand attempt at regaining her stoic composure.

Tarren smiled and then once again dropped over her motherís lap. Xena took a deep breath not wanting t administer this punishment, but realizing that her daughter expected it as a way to be sure she was both loved and forgiven the way Lyceus had been many years ago.

Xena tightened her lips and straightened up. "Now then...I donít know why Iíve been letting you try and talk me out of this. Itís just not gonna happen young lady. You had me looking all over, and I was worried to death about you," she said mustering as much of a scolding tone as she could for her young daughterís benefit.

The warrior mother leaned over and glanced at her child. "Ahem...Tarren, so how much of a spanking do you think this is gonna be?" she asked, hoping a few quick swats would suffice.

The child thought about it and then turned her head a bit. "Well we figured youíd be real mad at me for what I did today and since you love me so much this might be the worst spankin I ever got. Itís Ok Momma ...Iím ready." she whispered.

"Great...Iím not," the warrior murmured. Xena cleared her throat. "Well you are absolutely right. After the way you behaved today young lady and since I really do love you so very much, I hope you are ready to have the sorest little bottom in Greece," she answered, shaking her head, wondering if she was playing out her part correctly.

Tarren closed her eyes, "Yes Momma Iím ready," the child replied quietly.

Xena took a deep breath and shook her head before letting her hand fall on the childís bottom. Tarren grabbed her motherís leg, holding tightly as the warrior motherís hard palm fell fast and obediently in a steady cadence of whacks.

The warrior mother always made very sure her hand never fell any faster or harder than she felt was appropriate for spanking a youngster of Tarrenís small size and young age. Xena hated punishing her child, so it was never less than she felt was needed or a bit more than she felt had to be.

The warrior mother gave her naughty young child exactly what she had expected, the worst spanking little Tarren had ever gotten.

When Xena was finished she lifted the youngster to her feet and cringed at the tears she saw in her little girlís eyes. The child rubbed her bottom gently and Xena could feel her own tears welling.

"Well young lady I hope you learned your lesson. Because if you ever do anything like this again the spanking you just got now is gonna feel like a tap on the shoulder compared to what Iíd give you next time, " the warrior said hoping nobody would mind if she added a few lines of her own truth.

The youngster wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to caress the very tender spot. Her mother had kept her word and given her a spanking that was longer than any sheíd ever gotten.

"No Momma it wonít ever happen again...Is the spankin over now?" she asked, trying not to let her tears spill.

Xena closed her eyes as she stared at her little girl. "Yes...itís all over," she said gently kissing the little girl on the cheek.

The warrior mother got to her feet and turned away so the child could not see the tears in her own eyes fall.

"Momma?"

"Yes Tarren," she replied with a cracking voice.

"Do you think if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter instead of your brother and youíd just given her the worst spankin ever that it would be all right if she cried a lot?" the child asked with a sniffle.

 

Xena turned around and opened her arms deciding a few tears falling down her own face wouldnít be so bad either. "Yes daughter...I think it would quite all right," she replied.

Tarren jumped into her motherís arms and the warrior squeezed her tightly trying to rein in her own emotions as she kissed the little girlís face and rubbed her back letting the child cry freely on her shoulder.

"Momma?" the child sobbed.

"Yes baby?" the warrior mother whispered lifting the little girl in the air and cradling her in her arms.

"Do ya think if Uncle Lyceus had been a girl, and your daughter, and had just gotten the worst spankin ever that youíd stay with her and maybe sing her to sleep?" she said tears poring out of her eyes.

The warrior grinned. "Well if all that was the case and this was my daughter we were talking about then yes Iíd stay with her and sing for her. Of course Iíd really have to feel that she had learned her lesson," the warrior whispered, cradling the child against her chest.

"Momma?"

"Yes baby,"

"I learned my lesson. Can you sing to me?" the child begged.

 

Xena swallowed hard as she held the youngster astonished by her childís endless amount of love and devotion. In the few months they had been together Xena had woven her life around this little girl and now could not and would not accept a life without her. She kissed the childís wet cheek as she walked.

"Well first things first little girl. As soon as we get back you are getting a bath because you smell like the inside of that gaming house and...cheese?" The warrior took a sniff of the childís tunic and shook her head.

"Then you and I have a long list of things to discuss. Or more accurately I am going to talk and you are going to listen. We are far from through little daughter, and when Gabrielle and Mother...Tarren where is your grandmother?" the warrior asked, stopping in mid stride.

 

The sniffling child tightened her grip around her motherís neck and lowered her head closer to her shoulder. "You already forgave me right Momma?" the youngster asked.

"Yes Tarren now where did you send your grandmother?" the warrior asked, concerned for the childís imagination having sent Cyrene off a cliff.

"The edge of the village...somewhere," the child replied.

"Which edge Tarren. That covers a lot of ground," the mother responded.

"I dunno. The note just said to go to the edge of the village cause there was someone who needed a...midwife...Momma whatís a midwife?" the little girl asked, wiping her tears.

Xena covered her face with her hand and ran it slowly down to her mouth. "You sent my mother to the entire edge of Amphipolis looking for a woman in need of a midwife?" the warrior mother asked, not sure if she should laugh or cry, but knowing Cyrene would not return until she found the woman in need.

"Yes Momma. Did I do something bad again?" the child asked, a fresh batch of tears brewing in her eyes.

The warrior mother kissed the childís cheek and grinned. "Yes you did, but I love you anyway ya little monster," she said hugging the child tightly.

Xena walked on grateful that her daughter had not asked about the definition of a midwife again, as she was not up to the telling. She smiled at the sniffling child nestled safely in her arms as she wondered how long it would before Gabrielle and Cyrene returned.

 

 

Later that night Tarren lay still sniffling on the bed having been tucked in tenderly by her mother.

Gabrielle had returned so exhausted from her long walk that she merely asked if the child was living or dead and then fell into her bed. There was still no sign of Cyrene.

After their time at the Forging Tree, Xena had taken Tarren back to the inn. The mother had carried her to the privacy of their room for a long bath and given a full night of lectures on the difference between good and bad and right and wrong and what she accepted as appropriate behavior for her young daughter. Tarren had stood quietly for the entire scolding knowing better than to interrupt or argue.

Xena entered and undressed for bed. She slid onto the pallet and stared at her contrite child.

"Momma?" the child whispered.

"Yes."

"Are you done yelling at me?" she asked, covering her head with the blankets just in case.

"Yup but before you ask me little girl, you are still confined to your bedroll for one week," the mother ordered, her frustration now quite real.

"Oh but Momma thatís worse than staying here. I get to look at all the trees and stuff and canít climb any of it," the child moaned.

Xena took a deep breath as she lay staring up at the ceiling. "Yup and you wonít do any fishing or swimming either young lady. Youíll be working on your scrolls starting with the one where you write 100 times each: I will not copy someone elseís handwriting. I will not tell lies. I will not go places my mother tells me I am not allowed to go, I will not wander off alone, and my mother loves me very much. It will give you a chance to think about everything you did wrong," the warrior mother replied, smiling to herself that the youngster had not noticed the last one she had just added.

Tarren cringed under the repetition of the added punishment her mother had added since they had returned to the inn.

 

The child bit her lip and opened her eyes wide hoping for a bit of mercy. "But Momma we only have one more day left in Amphipolis. Am I gonna be in my room for that too?" she asked, hoping she would not be.

Xena lifted the little girl into her arms holding her high above her head. "Tarren tomorrow my mother will see her kitchen. Gabrielle will wake up feeling all the aches of falling off that horse. Baby your room may be the only safe place for you, so yes, you will spend the day in here," she said with finality, bringing the child into a loving hug right away.

Xena wanted to make sure Tarren understood the difference between an angry mother and the reputed angry warrior she would never allow the child to see. She wanted the youngster to know that she would never leave her and would always love her the way a mother should.

The child turned and stared at her mother giving her the best sad face she could muster. "Momma if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter and just gotten the worst spankin ever would there be any chance of her getting a pony?" she asked.

The answer was deadpan, "Not unless she was ready to ride it."

"Just checking," the child murmured, gently rubbing her backside, not really wanting to even see a pony for a while.

Xena kissed her daughter and gently rubbed the childís back as she held her. The warriorís thoughts were of Lyceus and that brought a gentle smile to her face.

Xena had chosen not to tell Tarren about her brother paying the warrior a visit. She felt that Tarren needed to have that private little adventure all to herself. Besides it avoided an entire topic of where and how ghosts come from that the warrior did not wish to have.

The warrior mother quietly placed a loving arm around her small daughter and remembered Lyceus words about Tarren being a baby and much younger than she thought. It was a puzzle that somehow Xena knew would be solved in the near future. In the meantime the warrior was content to hold her young child closely.

Tarren sighed and nuzzled next to her motherís chest.

"Momma?"

"Yes."

"Will you sing to me now?"

Xena kissed the little girl on the cheek and grinned.

"With pleasure my very little one. I was sort of hoping you would ask."

 

Chapter 13 Ė The Day After

In the morning Xena arose deciding it was time to go in search of her mother. As she readied herself to exit the inn the grandmother entered looking exhausted and done in.

"Mother your back. I was just going looking for you," the warrior said with a sigh of relief.

"Why daughter didnít Tarren tell you about the message?" she asked, dropping into a chair.

"Yes but...."

"Iím sorry dear, but it was a long birth and it took much longer than I thought. I did not mean to worry you little one. Now I have one day left. Whereís my granddaughter?í she asked, wanting to spend every minute with the dear little girl.

"Sheís in her room. So you mean there really was a woman in need of a midwife?" Xena asked, with a puzzled look.

"Yes dear of course...Gods I need a cup of tea. Why donít you get little Tarren? I want to spend some time with her," the grandmother said with a smile.

"Uh sorry mother but sheís being punished...no exceptions this time," the warrior said firmly.

"But why dear? What could the little imp have done since Iíve been gone?" she asked.

Xena weighed it out in her mind trying to understand how her mother had actually

Found a fictitious woman in need on he edge of Amphipolis, but then decided to file it in her mind with the rest of the mysteries in her life. Xena weighed it out and decided that telling her mother of Tarrenís misdeeds at that moment might not be best.

The older woman entered the kitchen in search of her tea.

The warrior soon heard a loud shrill, "Xena!"

Xena entered the kitchen, which was covered floor to ceiling in sticky cheese.

"Who did this to my kitchen?" Cyrene asked, holding a mug caked in cheese.

Xena thought about it. "Tarren did it Mother. Thatís one of the reasons sheís in her room," the warrior replied, knowing she was holding back a bit.

The older woman looked around the kitchen and sighed. "How? Why? Never mind...Donít tell me...just clean it up," she said quietly, deciding she herself was now in need of rest.

Cyrene shook her head and headed back to her room.

Gabrielle stumbled into the kitchen a bit later rubbing her aching back. "Good morning," the young woman said with a slow staggered breath.

Xena glanced over at her sore friend and offered her a sympathetic sigh. "How are you feeling? Gabrielle do you want me to look at you back?" she asked with great concern.

The bard backed away. "No I donít want anyone to touch me. I donít even want anyone to look too hard at me. It would hurt too much," she said reaching for a mug of tea and instead getting a handful of gooey cheese.

"What happened in here?" she asked letting her eyes scan the cheese-covered walls. The bard held her hand in the air before the warrior could speak, "Wait donít tell me...Tarren?"

Xena nodded and offered her friend a cloth to wipe her hand with.

"Well it looks like she inherited your cooking abilities," the bard chided, dropping the cloth and sipping her tea.

Xena could see the pain in her friendís face. "Gabrielle why donít you go back to bed and relax or take a hot bath...I have to clean up this mess but Iíll get you the water Ok?" the warrior offered, feeling guilty since it had been her child that had caused the problems.

The bard nodded appreciatively and limped back to her room.

Xena stared at the ceiling full of cheese wondering just how it got there, but not really wanting to ask her daughter for fear she might actually tell her. "Sloppy cheese sandwich" the warrior muttered as she scrubbed the goo away.

 

Gabrielle lay in a relaxing tub of hot water when a small figured appeared by her door being propelled forward by a larger more intense form. The child walked slowly over to the bardís tub keeping her head down so she couldnít see her friendís eyes.

"Hi Gabby," the child said with the wave of her hand.

The bard was silent.

The youngster leaned against the tub letting her finger run across the top of the water occasionally glancing up to see if the young woman would acknowledge her presence.

"Iím sorry for what I did Gabby. I didnít mean to get you hurt," the little girl whispered.

The bard turned her aching neck around just enough to face the child and winced for having made the move.


"Xena told you that you had to apologize right?" the young woman asked sternly.

The youngster nodded, "Uh huh."

The bard eased herself back into a comfortable position. "Well you have so now you can go back to your room and stay there," she ordered.

The child stared at her unusually angry friend, "But Gabby I really didnít mean...."

Gabrielle did not allow the child to finish. "Tarren whether you meant to or not you did it. First you scared the Hades out of me by having me think my home village was in danger and then I fall off the horse...Only to find out it was just all a little childish game. Do you have any idea how far I walked just because I was worried about you?" she chided.

The child shook her head. "No but Momma gave me a hot bottom," she said quietly, deciding that warm did not seem to do her motherís efforts justice.

"Lucky Momma," the bard replied, trying in vain to control her own frustration.

Tarren looked at her friend and lowered her eyes at the lack of sympathy she was receiving. "And Iím stuck in my bedroll for an entire week and...."

The bard threw up a halting hand. "Tarren I get the message. Xena punished you and thatís all well and good, but I myself do not really want to chat about it right now, so just go to your room," she demanded.

The youngster bit her lip and looked to her mother who was standing in the doorway. The warrior motioned the child to approach, which she gladly did.

"I donít think Gabby wantís me to apologize anymore Momma," the child said sadly, looking up at the warriorís soft gaze.

Xena took the youngsterís hand and lead her out into the hallway. "Look sheís just upset right now. Give her a chance to calm down and you can try again later. You go back to your room," she whispered, patting the child gently on the back.

The youngster started to move and then turned suddenly reaching up to embrace her mother. "I almost forgot...Happy Birthday Momma," she whispered.

The warrior smiled. "Thank you baby," she replied lifting the little girl and hugging her tight.

Xena watched sadly as the sullen little form returned to her bed. The warrior then entered the bardís chamber settling her self on the side of the tub.

"Gabrielle was that really necessary? She was just trying to apologize," the mother defended.

Gabrielle let out a long breath. "I know Xena, but she canít go on thinking that when she does something wrong you punish her and good old Gabrielle will forgive her no matter what. Look I just need a little time to myself right now Xena," the young woman replied, splashing the water in frustration.

The warrior threw her hands in the air. "Ok Gabrielle have it your way, but arenít you the one that always tells me to remember that she is just a small child," the warrior said softly, turning on her heal to leave the room.

Xena stood in the hallway looking at all the closed doors, ĎMother is fast asleep, Tarren is probably crying herself to sleep, Gabrielle needs time to herself...OK Iíll just go for a ride on my horse. Itís my birthday," the warrior mumbled heading out to the barn.

 

 

Cyrene stood in the kitchen preparing the mid-day meal wondering where Xena had gone. Gabrielle wandered in feeling a bit more relaxed and eager for some conversation.

"Whereís Xena?" the young woman asked.

"I donít know. I havenít seen her all morning. Sheíll be back when sheís ready or needed," the innkeeper said with a smile.

The bard nodded and took a mug of cider from the counter, but merely stared at it.

"So are you still angry with the little one for sending you to Potedia?" the grandmother asked.

Gabrielleís snapped her head up in surprise.

Cyrene smiled. "Yes child my daughter thinks her mother a deaf fool. I heard all about Little Tarrenís exploits and yours. How is your back dear?" she asked, showing a motherís genuine concern.

Gabrielle rubbed her lower spine and grinned, "Well my pride is broken, but the rest of me will survive."

Cyrene nodded and patted the young womanís arm gently, "And the little one. Are you still angry with her?" she repeated.

The bard sipped her cider and let out a quick breath, "I take it that you are not. I know Xenaís not, so I guess that makes me the dragon in the house."

Cyrene laughed. "No child you are not a monster. You have every right to be angry. Xena canít be mad at the child. She is Tarrenís mother. Xena knows the child depends on her for everything. My daughter is too good of a mother to not love that child no matter what she does. Tarren needs that and Xena will never turn away from her baby. She loves her too much," the grandmother said with a smile.

Gabrielle leaned against the counter and grinned. "You know Cyrene I never thought Iíd see the day that Xena was more understanding and compassionate than me. I mean she has always been so tough and ready to fight, but with Tarren...."

Cyrene finished the sentence. "With Tarren her heart is open and her love spills out faster than she can handle child. She is the little one's mother. That is how it should be," the grandmother answered.

Gabrielle nodded. "Then why am I so mad at Tarren and why arenít you?" she asked, remembering that the child had sent the grandmother somewhere as well, but knowing little else.

The grandmother chuckled and wiped her hands on her apron, "Gabrielle you canít hold a grudge against a child for being a child even if they are a being a very naughty child at the time. Thatís like being angry with a blind man for being blind. Tarren canít help being a little one."

The bard smiled knowing that the older womanís words were correct.

"Besides if I know my daughter that little scamp wonít be sitting comfortably for a while. Sheíll think more than twice before she does anything like that again," the grandmother finished.

The bard sipped at her cider and grinned. "I was pretty hard on Tarren this morning. I treated her like she was an adult and I shouldnít have. She just scared me so much. I thought my village was under attack. I thought Tarren was in danger. I guess I should go talk to her like sheís a kid. Iíve sort of missed the little brat and to tell you the truth Iíve felt pretty rotten about it all morning," the bard said with a gentle smile.

The young woman started to turn when she paused and looked at Cyrene. "I donít know if there will be time to say this or not. We are leaving awfully early in the morning, but I wanted to thank you for...well being so kind. I have to admit I had a few trepidations about coming here, but Cyrene you have taught me a lot in these last few weeks. I want to thank you for treating me like family," Gabrielle said quietly with a tear in her eye.

The older woman smiled and embraced the bard, "Gabrielle when are you going to get it through your head that you are family...daughter...Now leave me to my cooking and go talk to Tarren."

 

 

The bard entered the room and found the small figure hugging her motherís saddlebags fast asleep on the large pallet. She crawled in the bed beside her and gently kissed the youngsterís cheek.

"Momma?" the sleepy child asked, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

"No sorry itís just the grouch from next door," the bard whispered.

"Gabby? What are you doing here? I thought you didnít want me around," the little one said making no effort to hide her hurt, holding firmly to Xenaís saddlebags.

The bard placed an arm around the youngster and lay her head down on the childís pillow. "Iím sorry Tarren. I didnít mean what I said. I was just really upset and in a lot of pain. I know you were trying to apologize and Iím sorry I was so mean...forgive me?" she asked nuzzling next to the little girl.

Tarren thought about it. "Yeah Iím not mad at ya Gabby. I donít blame you for not wanting to talk to me. Momma said that what I did was really bad," the child murmured.

Gabrielle nodded. "Yup well sheís right, but that doesnít mean I should have been so mean to you this morning honey. I should have listened to everything you had to say. I was just really upset. Tarren itís not right to send people away. You make them feel bad. Its also not nice to tell someone that a person they care about might be hurt. That scares them too. I know when I thought you might be hurt I was really scared," the young woman said softly, wiping stray tears from the childís cheeks.

Tarren turned and faced her friend. "You were?"

"Yes very scared. I wouldnít want to lose you," the bard replied with a smile.

"Are you sure?"

"Very sure. I wouldnít know what to do without you," the young woman said hugging the child tightly.

"Iím sorry Gabby. I didnít mean for you to get hurt or to scare anyone," the child replied letting a tear fall down her cheek.

"I know you didnít. Shh itís Ok. Now tell me what happened while I was gone," the bard whispered, holding the youngster in her arms.

Tarren wiped her eyes and grinned at the memory of how her adventure had started. "Well I made a sloppy cheese sandwich and it was really good. Can we make them on the trail Gabby?" she begged.

"Weíll see," the bard replied, remembering the way Cyreneís kitchen had suffered during the making of this meal.

"I ate too much candy and got sick, and I went into the playhouse but it really wasnít much of a playhouse. I got to use my chucks, and Momma came in and wrecked the place. She got real mad at me and wouldnít forgive me for what I did. So I went to the Forgiving Tree so sheíd have to. Then Momma came and I got a spankin cause Momma was so worried about me. Anyway she forgave me like she did uncle Lyceus. We came back here and Momma yelled a lot. Now I have to stay in my bedroll for a week and write all the stuff I did wrong down on scrolls, so I know not to do them again," the youngster orated, letting out one long breath at the end.

The bard was amazed at how the child seemed to get that out in one sentence. "Oh... well...it sounds like you had a very full day and that your mother definitely covered all bases," the young woman replied, amazed at how Xena managed to do everything so precisely and without doubt.

 

Gabrielle stroked the childís face, as she lay comfortably next to her, grateful for the youngsterís love and angry with herself for forgetting, even for a moment, that Tarren was just a child.

"Gabby?"

"Yes honey."

"Is Momma back. I wanna give her the birthday present I got."

The bardís eyes flew open and she jumped up in the bed. "By the gods Xenaís birthday is today and we have people coming for a party tonight," she yelled.

Gabrielle started pacing around the room, "Let me think. Where would she go?"

"Gabby?"

"Not now honey."

"But Gabby I know where Momma is."

"You do...where?"

"Are you gonna go get her?"

"Yes."

"Can I come?"

"No you are being punished. I canít take you with me."

"Then Iím not telling. I wanna to see Momma on her birthday too," the stubborn child decided.

Gabrielle knelt beside the bed hoping to negotiate. "Tarren we are having a surprise party for Xena tonight. If you tell me where she is Iíll go get her and Iíll talk her into letting you come out of your room for a little while," the bard offered.

The youngster shook her head. "Donít wanna see a room full of people I have to say Xena in front of," the child sulked.

"Ok...what if I throw my bedroll on top of Xena's?" she asked.

The youngster shook her head. "Youíd do that anyway," the child said with a frown.

"Ok I donít have time to argue with you. You can come, but if Xena kills me itís on your head brat," the bard said with a tired grin.

Tarren hopped off the bed eager to lead the way. "And I want sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night for dinner," she added.

The bard cringed at the thought of the childís invention but she was desperate. "Why you little...All right and sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night," the young woman said with a frown.

The child slipped her boots on and took the bardís hand. "Momma went to Uncle Lyceus grave to say goodbye," the youngster offered with a sigh.

"Why didnít I think of that?" the bard asked, slapping her forehead.

"Because Momma and me share the same heart," the child replied, proudly repeating her motherís words.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Thatís not all you two share believe me," the bard said with a sly grin, grabbing the child and heading out the door.

 

 

 

Xena sat beside the sarcophagus wishing her brother would appear. She asked him in her thoughts to show himself. The warrior had lay flowers on the tomb and said private prayers but he was not to return. She just sat here thinking of her lost brother.

There was the sound of footprints and skidding in the dirt outside and the warrior smiled to herself knowing she had been found.

"Well Lyceus we have company," she said with a grin.

Gabrielle walked in alone and waved to the warrior seated by the grave. "Hi...Happy Birthday...Sorry I forgot this morning," the bard said quietly, feeling a ton of guilt for both her bad mood and forgetting her friendís birthday.

Xena stood and shook her head. "Forget it Gabrielle. You were in a lot of pain," the warrior replied with a smile. She turned and leaned up against the wall staring at her friend. "However, my ears told me two pair of feet had arrived. Could my hearing be going already? I am getting older you know, but Gabrielle I am sure you wouldnít dare bring...."

Before the warrior could finish her thought a small figure came racing in with a wide grin. "Hi Momma...happy birthday again," the little voice squealed as the youngster ran past the bard stopped only by the solid and stoic form of her mother.

"Young lady what are you doing out of your room and here?" the warrior mother asked with a forced scowl.

The youngster looked up at her mother who seemed much taller than usual. "Well I was the only one that knew where you were, so Gabby had to take me with her to find ya, and weíre having sloppy cheese tomorrow for dinner," the child stated.

The warrior frowned at the bard who just shrugged.

"Well how did you know where Iíd be?" the mother asked with a grin.

"Uncle Lyceus told me," she whispered.

The warrior smiled and dropped her façade of anger. She lifted the little girl into her arms. "I should be angry with you, but since itís my birthday I donít wanna be." she said, kissing the child and tossing her playfully over her shoulder.

"Are you ready to go?" the bard asked with a broad smile, happy that her friend was not upset that she had released the little inmate.

"Sure...wouldnít want to ruin the party now would I?" she asked the giggling child

"You knew?" the frustrated bard asked, gently punching her friend in the arm. "How? We didnít even tell Tarren until today."

The little girl giggled and looked at the bard. "We have many skills," the youngster replied with a mischievous little grin.

The warrior chuckled and brought the child back in front of her.

Gabrielle slapped her forehead. "By the gods there really are two of them," she moaned.

 

 

 

Xena suffered through the party being polite to people she didnít really know and trying to spend time with those she did. After a while the warrior started to feel crowded by all the attention and sought refuge back in her room where Tarren was still confined.

"Hi!" the mother said slipping quietly into the chamber.

The child looked up from a plate of cake and the warrior noticed there were already two empty plates beside her. The youngster glanced at her mother, white frosting covering most of the childís face. "Hi Momma...good cake," the child said with a frosty smile.

The warrior arched her eyebrows as she reached for a damp cloth and started cleaning the remnants from the childís mouth. Tarren squirmed a bit but after a quick warning look from her mother submitted to the cleaning.

"Who brought you all this cake? I swear Tarren you are gonna be sick," the mother groaned, removing the final plate from the childís hands.

"You and Grandma and Gabby" the child said methodically pointing to each plate in turn.

Xena handed the youngster a mug of milk to wash down the sugarfest. "Well it seems that sneaking food to the prisoner is not such an original idea," she said with a grin.

"Howís your party?" the child asked, happy to be left in her room rather than with a group of strangers.

"Well itís sort of crowded and loud and definitely missing something," Xena said with a long breath.

"What?" the child asked.


"You," the mother replied with a soft smile.

The warrior lifted the child off the bed and over her shoulder and carried her into the inn. She tried to quiet the crowd with polite requests but it took a two-fingered whistle to get their attention. When the room was quiet the warrior spoke still holding a yawning Tarren in her arms.

"First of all I would like to thank everyone for coming. Itís always nice to share my birthday with so many friends and my family, but this birthday is a very special one for me because I recently was given a very special gift, which I would like to share with you. Iíve tried to keep this gift a secret because it means so much to me, but the truth is that it means so much to me that I canít help but share it. Everyone I would like to introduce you to Tarren, a little girl that I am very proud to say is my daughter," the mother said kissing her daughterís cheek.

Gabrielleís mouth dropped and Cyrene just started to applaud, as did everyone else in the room. Xena caught sight of Toben and couldnít help but smile at the way he shrunk in the crowd. Her mother had invited him before the incident and in the name of mending fences he had the nerve to show up.

The little girl looked to her mother with wide eyes. "But Xena you said...."

The warrior silenced her with a single finger over her lips. "Never mind what I said before and listen to what I just said. You are my daughter and that is not something I wish to keep a secret anymore. Iím too proud of it, so itís my birthday present to myself. That means I better not hear another Xena out of you again young lady," she said with a crooked smile.

Tarren threw her arms around her motherís neck and hugged her. "Yes Momma... That is not something you will ever have to tell me twice," the child replied, clinging to her mothers neck.

Seeing that look of absolute joy in her childís eyes told the warrior that she had done the right thing.

 

 

As the party came to a close and the last of the guests had left, Xena was left with an armload of sleeping child in her lap.

The warrior eyed with pride the new boots from her mother and the leathers from the bard.

Gabrielle reached for Tarren and the warrior gently placed the child in her friendís arms.

"Momma " the sleepy form muttered with a wide smile.

Gabrielle grinned. "I donít think there is one person in this room that she didnít remind that you were her mother. Xena you did the right thing for both of you," she said warmly.

"You know this is gonna make it harder on us to watch her," the warrior replied, feeling a bit of guilt at not having told the bard first.

Gabrielle gave the warrior an angry stare. "Hey nobody is gonna hurt this kid. You and I are just gonna make sure of that. Got it warrior," she demanded.

"Got it," the warrior said with a thankful smile.

Gabrielle heaved the load in her arms to one side. "Ok brat time for you to find Morpheous, but donít get to used to the trip. The Princess will have us up early I am sure," the young woman said with a chuckle.

The child smiled and without opening her eyes whispered, "Thatís my Momma."

 

"By the gods she introducing you to people in her sleep," the young woman said with a smirk.

Xena grinned and kissed her daughters cheek as the bard carried away, "Gínight Monster."

The warrior walked into the kitchen and touched her motherís shoulder.

"Mom weíre leaving early, so I wanted to say...thank you. This time here with you has been a great experience for me. I got to know my mother again and she got to know my daughter. Thank you for everything youíve done and said...Itís good to know I can come home again."

The older woman turned and wiped a tear from her eye.

"Daughter now that you know the way you better not wait so long to come back here. I am going to miss you all so much, and the little one. I want you to know how proud I am of you. What you did tonight for Tarren was a wonderful thing. She now has a place to belong just like you do. You take care of her. Donít let her wrap you too tightly around that finger of hers. Make sure you all stay warm and eat well and.... Oh Xena take care of your self and them. Watch over my granddaughter," she said with a teary smile.

Xena nodded. "Mom are you gonna be alright?"

"Yes daughter Iíll be fine, but you better be back for a visit before solstice or Iíll be joining you on the road," the older woman warned.

"Yes maíam we will be back I promise, and you are welcome on the road with us anytime," Xena said, making a mental note to be back well before solstice.

The warrior gave her mother a final hug and headed back for sleep knowing that there were as many tears in her motherís eyes at the parting as there were in her own

The familiar figure shimmered into existence beside Cyrene. "Well we did it Mom. Theyíre on the right path, but I am sure gonna miss them," Lyceus said staring at his motherís wet cheeks.

Cyrene turned her head slightly to the side and smiled, "I will miss them too son, but donít worry theyíll be back."

 

 

 

Tarren lay on the bed smiling at the memory of being introduced as Xenaís daughter. Her eyes flickered open when a familiar figure shimmered in the spot beside her.

"Uncle Lyceus youíre back," the child yelled.

"Shh I can only stay for a second. How was the party? Mom makes good cake right?"

"Yup and Momma told everyone Iím her kid, so itís not a secret anymore," the youngster said proudly.

"I know she did a real brave thing, and now I want you to promise me that youíll try hard to stay out of trouble just for a little while. She worries a lot about you so give her a break for a few days at least."

"Iíll try but it wonít be easy," the child said with a frown.

"Well you give it your best shot, and would ya do me a favor?"

"Sure!"

"Would you give Xena something for me?"

"Uh huh."

The ghostly figure moved his hand and a small wrapped package appeared on the bed.

"You tell her that I said happy birthday Ok kid."

Tarren nodded and the figure shimmered away just as the door opened.

"Who were you talking to?" the warrior asked the yawning child.

"Uncle Lyceus wanted me to give you a present and tell you he said happy birthday" she yawned pointing to the package.

Xena picked up the present and smiled, "Well then I guess I should open it."

Tarren nodded and yawned once again.

Xena removed the wrapping and inside found a carefully hand carved piece of branch with an old piece of stretch vine centered across the middle. The warrior smiled as she eyed the most prized possession of her youth.

She closed her eyes. "Thank you little brother" she thought.

The warrior held the item in her hands. "Ya know Tarren when I was a little kid this was the thing I loved most. Now you are little one, so I want you to have it," she said turning to find that the youngster was once again fast asleep.

Xena leaned over and kissed her daughterís cheek tenderly and then placed the slingshot in her hands, hoping the child would have dreams of slaying dragons with one small pebble.

 

Epilogue

Leaving Amphipolis had been hard for Xena, but it had been harder for Cyrene. The trio had gotten up early and traveled most of the day not quite sure just where they were heading, but anxious for some knew adventure. The bard was busy readying their first camp.

Xena leaned up against a tree staring up at the evening sky. She could not forget the vision of the tears in her motherís face as they departed. The warrior looked over at her own little daughter reluctantly confined to a bedroll, arms folded stubbornly to show her dissatisfaction at the idea of being punished.

The warrior mother smiled as she watched the child put her fingers inside her satchel and pull out the little musical flute Cyrene had given her.

The warrior quickly confiscated the item and placed it back in the satchel. "Oh no you donít. That goes right back in the bag little girl. You are being punished. That means no fun at all while you are on that bedroll. You just lie there and think about everything you did wrong and everything Iíve said in the past few days." the warrior said, thankful for a weekís worth of silence.

The child opened her eyes wide and stuck her lower lip out in that all too familiar distinct pout. "But Momma I wanna go play," she begged.

Xena knelt beside the child and gently tasseled the youngsterís hair. "Sorry monster, but thatís how it is. Now I have to go get some firewood, so Gabrielle can make those messy cheese sandwiches of yours," she replied kissing the little girl on the cheek and getting to her feet.

Gabrielle walked over to Xena and gently pulled her friend to the side.

"Uh Xena...How are you gonna keep her in bed every evening. Sheíll be up all night Xena. Just who are you trying to punish Tarren or us?" she asked poking her friend in the ribs.

Xena thought about it. Gabrielle was right. Tarren had too much energy to begin with. If she slept in the evening she would be awake in the middle of the night. However, the warrior mother stood firm. Sentence had been passed and there was no going back on it now.

"Sorry Gabrielle it looks like weíre all gonna suffer together. Remember we are family and what one gets we all share," she said with a grin.

The bard shuffled her feet a bit. "Maybe you could...."

Xena held up a halting hand. "Donít even think about it. The punishment stands," the mother replied stiffly.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Fine, but donít expect me to be my bright and cheery self in the morning," the young woman growled, heading back toward the fire.

The warrior sighed as she looked back at the child, "Gabrielle, Iím gonna go catch some fish just in case youíre meal doesnít turn out to be edible," the warrior said with a sly grin.

"Never thought I'd be anxious for fish again," the bard murmured, staring at the frying pan and the hunk of cheese she would have to melt to keep her promise to Tarren.

 

 

The warrior sighed as she reached for a pole. Leaving Tarren behind meant fishing alone. She had actually become dependent on her young daughterís laughter and company while she fished. Truly this punishment was gonna be hard on both of them.

Tarren heard the word fish, saw her mother reach for a pole and started to rise.

Xena noticed the movement out of the corner of her eye. "Get your little bottom back on that bedroll young lady," the warrior scolded and the child dropped to her blankets quickly.

"But Momma I wanna come with you," she cried.

Xena shook her head wishing she could say yes. "Sorry baby but you know you have to stay in the bedroll. And I better not come back to hear youíve moved off that blanket. Understand?" she asked with a parental tone.

The youngster wiped a tear from her eye and lowered her head into her arm.

"Yes maí am," she murmured.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle who could easily see this was tearing the warrior up more than spanking the child did.

With a quick huff Xena headed down the trail to catch an auxiliary meal.

 

 

Gabrielle rubbed the sniffling youngsterís back tenderly. "Hey itís only for a week. Thank the gods! And you should do like Xena said and think about what you did to get yourself into all this trouble," the young woman warned, throwing sticks on the small fire.

Tarren turned on her elbow and faced the bard. "But Gabby I never even got to give Momma her birthday present," she cried.

The bardís eyes went wide and she shook her head. "Tarren why didnít you give it to her at the party yesterday?" she asked, knowing the child had been anxious to deliver this surprise present

"There were too many people around. I wanted to give it to her by myself or at least when it was just the three of us. Itís the first birthday present I ever got for Momma," she sniffled, lowering her head back on the blanket.

Gabrielle dropped her head onto her hands and lay down next to the youngster. "Itís real important to you that you give it to her now isnít it?" she asked kissing the childís forehead.

The child buried her head in the bardís shoulder and nodded. "Gabby I just wanted to give her something from me, thatís all. You and Momma always buy me stuff, so I wanted to get you stuff too," the child replied.

Tarren reached into her satchel and picked out a well-wrapped package and handed it to Gabrielle. "I missed your birthday, so I wanted to get this for ya now," the child whispered, handing it to the bard.

Gabrielleís eyes lit up realizing this was a gift for her. "Tarren you didnít have to do that. My birthday was months ago," the young woman answered, sitting up to stare at the item.

The child grinned. "But I wasnít here, so it really didnít count," the youngster replied, deciding her presence was needed for such events to actually be real.

Gabrielle smiled and kissed the youngsterís head, "Sometimes you can be so sweet."

"Open it Gabby," the child begged, anxious to see if the bard liked the present.

Gabrielle pulled at the small cord, which was neatly tied around the burlap wrapping. When she removed it the contents were revealed and the bardís eyes flew open with surprise.

In the young womanís hands was a carefully bound book of parchment with a small lock on the side.

"Itís so you can keep a diary just like Nala did," the youngster said with grin.

Tears ran down the bardís face as she let her hand flick through the empty pages.

"Tarren this is wonderful. I mean...Thank you...But it must have cost ...Where did you get the money? Xena and I give you a dinar a week allowance." she questioned, looking oddly at the youngster.

Tarren fidgeted a bit. "Momma says youíre not allowed to ask questions about gifts, but I paid for it with my money. I swear." The child said seriously, holding up her hand.

The bard shook her head and hugged the youngster, tears freely flowing down her cheeks. "This is the best gift I have ever gotten honey," the young woman replied holding the child close to her heart and kissing her over and over.

Tarren pulled back a little. "So you like it?" she asked with a smile.

The bard tickled the child and again hugged her. "I am going to write in it every day. Iím gonna write all my thoughts about everything including Xena and you my little friend. Lots about you," she said with a warm smile.

Tarren grinned at her friendís happiness but then the smile disappeared as she felt the weight of the other package in her satchel.

"I wish I could give Momma her gift," she said with a sigh.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked at the sullen child. She took a small piece of parchment from her bag and wrote on it.

"Go...run down and give your mother her gift, but then come right back here," she said, handing the child the folded parchment.

Tarren swallowed hard and shook her head, "Oh no Iím not leaving by bedroll. Momma said to stay right here and Iím staying right here. I donít wanna get my backside warmed again so soon," the child adamantly informed the bard, rubbing the still tender spot.

The bard smiled and caressed the childís cheek. "Itís Ok you just give her that note I wrote. Donít read it. You just give it to her. It says I sent you down.... Now go before I change my mind," she said pulling the child to her feet.

Tarren looked at the folded note and then wrapped her arms around her friend. "Thanks Gabby. I love you," she whispered.

The bard kissed the childís forehead. "I love you too brat. Now get outta here before I realize what Iím doing," the young woman said with a grin.

Tarren reached into her satchel and pulled out another package and quickly skidded down the path. The bard opened the first page of her diary and to her surprise was a note written in a childís hand.

"Gabby, I am sorry I scared you so much sending you a way. I dont eva want ya to go away again. I love ya. You and Momma are mine. Happy Birthdy. Big hug -Tarren

A single tear ran down the bardís face as she watched the child scoot down the path. She then looked again at the note with all its misspelled words. "Truly the best gift I have ever been given," she whispered, holding the diary tightly in her hands.

 

 

Xena sat by the water and pulled another fish in dutifully. All of a sudden fishing seemed more like work and less relaxing knowing there was a little girl not far away, crying because she couldnít join her in the familiar venture.

The warrior let her blue eyes settle on the calm waters of the stream as she cast her line out once again. Her muscles relaxed and she smiled at the sound of silence. In a flash her face went blank and she frowned and without turning she spoke.

"Argo better be on fire because thatís about the only reason I could understand why a certain little girl would disobey me and come down here when she knows she is not allowed to leave her bedroll," the warrior mother scolded.

Tarren swallowed hard and Xena turned to face the youngster. The nervous child held tightly to her package and handed her mother the bardís note. Xena took it and read it quickly all the while keeping a firm eye on her young daughter.

"Xena If you trust me then let Tarren stay with you just this once. I told her she could come down, so if you want to be mad at someone be mad at me. But if you trust me then let her stay. She has something important she want s to give you." Gabrielle

The warrior mother thought about the childís recent imitations of the bardís handwriting but then dismissed the thought. Xena knew that her maternal hand had fallen long enough where her daughterís little backside would feel quite a sting for a while, so the warrior was confident her child would dare not risk making a similar mistake again so quickly.

Xena pushed the note into her cuff and sat on a small rock beside the still standing youngster. Her muscles eased and she nodded at the little girl. "Ok Gabrielle thought it was important for you to be here. I trust her. Now you tell me what is so important," she said wiggling her finger for the child to approach.

Tarren shuffled her feet a bit. " I...just...wanted to give you. I never got to give you your birthday present Momma," she replied, lowering her eyes.

Xena shook her head and smiled. "Tarren I told you that you didnít have to get me a present," she said gently, concentrating on her daughterís unease.

The mother reached out a hand. "Come here," she said softly, lifting the little girl into her lap. The warrior grinned at her. "Well letís have it," she said, placing out a hand for the important present.

Tarren gave her mother the package, and Xena smiled oddly at the youngster as she held the wrapped object in her hand.

"What are you so nervous about little one? Itís Ok youíre not in trouble for coming down. You had Gabrielleís permission...relax," she said caressing the little girlís back.

The child shook her head. "I know Momma. Itís not that. I just want you to like the present I got ya," she whispered, letting her head drop over the warriorís shoulder.

Xena stared at the still wrapped package in her hands. "I love it Tarren," the mother replied without hesitation, still eyeing the burlap.

The child mouth opened wide and she lifted her head. "But Momma you havenít even opened it," she moaned.

The warrior wrapped her arms around the youngster and hugged her. "Tarren I love it already because itís something that came from your heart. It doesnít matter what it is...Itís your thoughts that make it special to me," she whispered.

Tarren shrugged a bit confused by the words and annoyed that after all the trouble she went to get the item her mother would have been satisfied with a burlap bag.

"Will ya open it anyway?" the child asked anxiously.

Xena smiled and started to unearth a small wooden box inside the bag. The warrior eyed the craftsmanís ship of the container and looked at her child who was biting her lip anxiously waiting for the unveiling.

Xena quickly lifted the lid of the box open and her eyes flew open. She stared at her daughter as she caressed the sheathed knife inside with the tips of her fingers. "Tarren where did you get the money for this?" she asked, praying it was not something the child had merely obtained without funds.

The child frowned. "You said no asking questions about gifts," the youngster responded, getting a bit annoyed at all the adults in her life not knowing the rules about presents.

The warrior mother gave her child a warning glance that said this was not a rule without exceptions.

The youngster let her shoulders drop knowing one of her secrets was about to be revealed.

"OK I have money that Nala gave me. She said some of it was mine to do with as I wanted as long as it was Ok with you, and the rest of it ...Well thatís for something secret. I promised Nala I wouldnít tell you that until it was ready," the child said running her small fingers over her motherís arm.

Xena glanced at the knife and then pulled the child closer to her chest. "Tarren this knife had to cost a lot of money. Baby I donít want you wasting Nalaís savings on things for me," she said quietly, hoping the child understood.

Tarren lowered her eyes. "You donít like it Momma?" the little one whined.

The warrior shook her head and hugged her child, "No baby I love it. I mean itís beautiful. But Tarren itís very expensive."

The little girl wiped a tear. "But you said money didnít mean anything if it didnít make people we care about happy. I wanted to get you something that would make you happy. I broke your knife in Rasa and I felt real bad about that. So I wanted to get you a new one...one that wouldnít break again," she replied with a sniffle, thinking she had once again failed to do the right thing.

Xena kissed her daughterís forehead wanting to explain but finding it difficult. "Tarren just how much money did Nala leave you for this surprise youíre supposed to get us?" the mother asked, knowing her daughter had no concept of the value of money.

The child shook her head, "Momma you said I didnít have to show you my treasures until I was ready and Iím not ready yet." The child paused. "But... if you tell me I have to...Then Iíll get them and show ya," she said softly, lowering her eyes, ready do whatever her mother decided was right.

The warrior mother considered the situation. She did not wish to force her daughter into sharing any treasures or secrets before she was ready. That was more important than anything else at the moment was.

"No daughter you take as much time as you need to show me your treasures, but as for carrying large amounts of money. Tarren you are just a little kid and...."

Tarren interrupted before her mother could complete the condemning sentence. "But Momma that money is for a gift for you and me and Gabby. I made a promise. You wouldnít want me to break a promise. Would ya?" the child asked innocently.

Xena shook her head feeling trapped by her own code. "No I wouldnít, but from now on you will hide that money under Argoís saddle. Nobody else will look at it, but I donít want you carrying it...Ok?" she asked, hoping this momentary solution would help until she could come up with something better.

The child thought about it. It sure would lighten the satchel if she put the large sack up there. "Ok but only the big bag... The smaller one is mine and solstice is coming up," she replied with a smile.

Xena shook her head at the thought of this child carrying around a large sack of money and a smaller one. This was something that would definitely be discussed in greater length at a future time, but for the moment the warrior agreed.

"Ok for right now weíll leave it like this, but little one this is something we will talk about quite a lot in the days to come. You are not to buy anything without my permission. Youíll just have to survive on that dinar a week I give you," she said stiffly, letting her daughter know this was not a point of negotiation.

Tarren shrugged not really thinking of any more sheíd actually need, "Yes Momma."

The warrior mother nodded and turned her attention back to the knife in the box. She pulled it out and noted the handle was made of solid gold and the blade crafted by one of the best masters in Greece. She felt the sharp edges and smiled.

"Itís beautiful Tarren. Thank you," the mother said softly, kissing the youngsters cheek.

The child smiled at the look of satisfaction on her mother face.

"Momma did ya see the picture of Amphipolis?" the child asked, pointing to the handle with new enthusiasm.

Xena turned the knife over and sure enough there was an etching of her home village.

"Now you wonít have to get lonely for Grandma and home," the child said with a grin.

Xena wiped her eyes and gently touched her daughterís cheek. "Well little one you sure did think of everything," the mother replied, holding the child on her lap and wrapping her arms gently around her.

"Press the button Momma," the little girl begged, eager to see her motherís expression at the added surprise.

Xena looked to the side of the knife and found a small protruding piece of metal. She pressed her thumb on it and watched in awe as two smaller knives sprang up beside the larger blade.

"Wow!" the warrior said with a child like grin.

Tarren giggled. "Thatís what I said when the man in the shop did it," she whispered.

Xena pressed the button a second time and the knives disappeared. She looked at the knife and then her childís glowing face.

"Tarren the knife truly is a thing of beauty and amazement and so are you my little daughter. You are truly the greatest gift I have ever been given by the gods," she said in a very serious tone.

Tarrenís eyes went wide knowing her mother was sharing her true heart, "Me Momma?" she asked.

Xena put the knife down and pointed to her daughter, "Yes you. You are my heart little girl and donít you ever forget it," she answered, pulling the child into a tender hug.

"I love you Momma," the little girl whispered as the warrior wiped a tear from the childís cheek.

"And I love you too daughter," she replied, glancing down into the innocent and loving face of the small child who had so quickly captured her heart.

Xena kissed the youngsterís head and held her for a minute.

"I wrote you a note. Gabby said you put those in gifts and stuff, so I did." the child said, slowly rising from her motherís lap.

Xena pulled the parchment out of the box and carefully slipped the sheathed knife into her boot feeling the cool metal against her calf. As the warrior was about to read the note Tarren started to head back toward camp.

"Hey where are you going?" Xena asked, wanting her daughter to remain.

"Momma, you said Iím not allowed to leave my bedroll, and I promised Gabby Iíd come back right after I gave you the gift," the child answered in a sad tone.

Xena was tempted to renounce her sentence right there but knew that it was the wrong thing to do. She watched unhappily as her little girl headed back to camp to the confinement of her bedroll. She sighed and looked again at the knife and then read the parchment.

For my Momma. I wood never want anyone else to evr b my Momma. Dont ever go way with out takin me and I wont go without you. Happy birfday love you lots. Your kid Tarren

The warrior princess bit her lip as she felt the lump in her throat grow larger. Xena carefully folded the parchment and placed it in her armor for safekeeping. She picked up the fish and headed back to camp. When she got there she noticed Tarren was already fast asleep on her bedroll.

Gabrielle sat by the fire flipping her hands through the diary. Her face was a bit read and swollen. Xena eyed the sleeping youngster sadly and sat beside the bard.

"Whatís that?" the warrior asked, pointing to the book.

Gabrielle said nothing but handed the warrior her gift careful to point out the inscription inside. "Itís a diary...She wants me to keep a diary like Nala did. She thinks I should right down all the things I donít talk about...smart little kid huh?" she asked with a tear.

 

Xena nodded and showed the bard her own piece of parchment.

Gabrielle read it and sniffled. "Well Iíd say that kid definitely knows how to hit the spot when she wants to," the bard said handing the warrior back the paper.

Xena grinned and took out the knife Tarren had given her and handed it to Gabrielle.

"By the gods Xena...Thatís solid gold!" she exclaimed, observing the artistry of the weapon. "Where did she get the money for this stuff?" the bard asked.

The knife was truly a fine piece of work and quite pretty to look at, but it was the small piece of parchment with all the misspelled words of love that the mother held tightly to.

The warrior took a moment to explain and the words left the bard speechless.

"So what are you going to do?" she asked, concerned the child might be hurt if someone tried to take the money.

Xena shrugged. "Well for the moment sheís gonna put it under the saddle. Hopefully she won't take too long to share what this big gift of Nalaís might be. Besides itís probably just a bunch of coins that donít add up to all that much...I hope," she said, hoping the old mystic had been wiser than to leave this child with her entire fortune.

Xena put the thought out of her head and looked at the sleeping child. "Ya know just when I think I know everything about that kid she surprises me with something totally new. I admit it Gabrielle. That kid has me tied around her finger," the warrior said with a grin.

Gabrielle nodded as she glanced down at the diary. "I know exactly what you mean, so I guess we can add mother to your list of many skills now," the bard said poking her friend gently in the ribs.

Xena smiled hoping that was the truth. "Yeah well I get a lot of help with that skill," she replied, placing a gentle hand on her friendís shoulders.

The bard grinned and eyed the string of fish the warrior had returned with.

"So what are we going to have for dinner?" the young woman asked.

Xena looked at the fish ready to be cleaned and cooked and chuckled. "I guess weíll be dining on sloppy cheese tonight Gabrielle," the warrior said with a shrug.

Those magic words brought the sleeping child back from Morpheous. Her eyes flickered open.

"Did someone say sloppy cheese?" the little one asked with a yawn.

The child waited obediently on her bedroll for permission to get up. Xena shook her head and felt her resolve once again dissipate. She wiggled her finger motioning the youngster to approach.

Tarren slid to her motherís side. Xena grinned. "Yeah someone said sloppy cheese ya little monster," she replied, opening her arms and allowing the child to pounce in her lap.

Xena kissed the little girlís head and held her tightly on her lap. "Ok so how do we make these wonderful meals?" the mother asked, waiting for instructions on how this dish was prepared.

Tarren was happy to offer details on just how she had accomplished the task, much to the dismay of her mother and the bard.

"Ok so letís throw the cheese in the hot pan," the child yelled reaching for a bulk of cheese.

The warrior pulled the little hand back into place. "Not so fast, I have a better idea," she said putting the youngster on the ground and taking a larger pot, filling it with water and placing it on the fire below the frying pan.

Gabrielle smiled as she heard the water boil. "Why Xena thatís a great idea. Maybe weíll get you cooking one of these days yet," the bard said with a grin.

The warrior shook her head. "Nope picked that trick up watching metal being melted for swords for my army," she said with a wide smile, letting the bard know the cooking duties were still all hers.

Tarren watched as the bard placed the cheese in the pot and it slowly melted. The youngster waited with anticipation but nothing happened. Finally Gabrielle dipped the hunks of bread in the hot cheese and put them on plates to be passed around.

"Hey this is pretty good," the warrior said with a grin, biting into the melted cheese sandwich.

Tarren stared at her plate that had a neatly carved piece of bread with evenly melted cheese over it.

"But itís not sloppy. There was no flying cheese or anything," the little girl moaned.

The bard bit into her sandwich. "Hey this is good...Tarren why arenít you eating?" the young woman asked.

"Itís not sloppy...There was no splattering or flying cheese or anything," the child repeated, wondering where all the fun had gone.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and they both chuckled a bit. "Well Iím sorry but tonight youíll just have to settle for a neat sloppy cheese sandwich. I promise you it will taste the same," the mother answered, again pulling the little girl onto her lap.

Tarren sulked a bit for the lack of fireworks that should accompany the meal preparation. However the child wisely decided that a small victory was better than none at all. Not everyone could get something right on the very first try, and Xena was right it did taste just as good.

 

Later that night, Gabrielle sat writing in her diary and Xena was busy sharpening her sword. Every once in a while the warrior mother would glance over at her sleeping child who had been tucked neatly into her bedroll hours earlier.

"She sure is wiped out," the warrior mother said with a grin.

"Well itís been a long day. Maybe weíll get lucky and sheíll sleep all night," the bard said with a chuckle, knowing that would not be the case.

Xena sheathed her sword and sat beside the slumbering child wiping stray hairs from the youngsterís forehead and starring intensely at the childís face.

"Gabrielle how old do you think Tarren looks?" the mother asked.

"I donít know...Why?" the young woman replied.

"I mean have you ever really looked at her. Does she look ten to you?" Xena asked, still staring at the little girlís round cheeks and large eyes.

"Well actually I never gave it much thought, but now that you mention it she is a bit small. I guess she does look younger. Why?" the bard asked, now staring intently at the child herself.

"Oh nothing...Just something Lyceus had said to me, thatís all. Iím sure itís no big deal," the warrior replied, once again placing the thought to the back of her mind.

Xena had told her friend about the ghostly visit. At first Gabrielle was a bit nervous at a ghost that had been wandering around behind their backs for an entire week. But after a while the young woman was relieved to know that Tarren had not been hallucinating and that Xena had found some peace with her brotherís loss.

The bard shrugged it off deciding if it was important Xena would share it another time. "Speaking of Lyceus. I want to put something about him in my diary, but I never met him so Iím not sure what to say.

Xena smiled at her friend and then lay down making herself comfortable on the blankets beside her young daughter.

"Do you think Lyceus would have liked me?" the bard asked with an innocent smile

"Yup! Most definitely," the warrior replied with a chuckle. "Most definitely."

Gabrielle smiled at the words and started to write once again. Xena stared at Tarren. She had to grin at the way the youngster held tightly to the warriorís saddlebags in one hand and her newly obtained slingshot in the other. The child had a slight smile on her face even as she slept and the warrior could only imagine that her adventurous youngster was having dreams of taking down monsters with a single pebble.

She stroked the childís back affectionately and pulled the blankets up around her shoulders, so she would not feel the night air.

The still sleeping youngster pushed the beloved saddlebags to the side and slid to her motherís side nuzzling in under the warriorís arm. Without ever even opening an eye the child threw her arm over Xenaís midsection and whispered, "Youíre my Momma."

Xena shook her head and grinned. She leaned over and kissed the little girlís cheek, "Thatís right baby. Iím your Momma...Now and forever."

 

The End...never.

Chapter   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   Epilogue

As always I hope you enjoyed reading this story half as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am already hard at work on my next epic tail of the trio called Legend of the Last Amazon. My stories get longer and more complicated each time, so I would expect this was too be pretty in-depth, and have many surprises. As always Little Ego and I await your feedback on this our latest venture as well as the ones to come.

E-mail Fantimbard@aol.com


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