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The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors 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, and NALAS GIFTS. 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.
Sex - Nope
Comfort/hurt- well you may need a Kleenex in a few spots if youre like me.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Epilogue|
Home Sweet Home
Chapter 1 Shadows of Goden
The blackness came again like a rush of chills over a fever racked body. The crystal forms were raining from the roof of the cavern. The once bright sparkling colors were all now mixed with blood. Where was Xena? Slowly the walls started to collapse on the already narrow cavern and the young child was caught in the center with no means of escape. Where was Xena? The blood that had covered the floor was slowly rising up to the youngsters face. Soon she would be completely covered with it and unable to see or breathe fresh air. The child could no longer move. She could not even wipe the red stains from her face. A giant hand was approaching and it was covered in blood. "Momma!" the child cried.
"Momma!" Tarren screamed jumping from her bedroll like a spring that had been uncoiled. Her small body was soaked with sweat and shivering from the nightmare she had just escaped again.
Xena quickly grabbed the child, drawing her close to her chest and rocking her. "The same night mare again...little one!" she whispered as she pressed the youngsters sweaty form close to her, stroking her back tenderly hoping to ease the shivers that ran over her daughters body.
The child held onto her mothers arm trying to find her place back in the real world. Tears spilled from the youngsters eyes as she tried to recount the dream. "I ...was... back in the cave... and the crystals were falling...and...the bloody hand was coming...and..." she said in a trembling broken shiver.
Xena rocked her child slowly as she wrapped her large muscular arms tightly around the little girl. "Shh I know...Im here. Its just a nightmare. Its not real Tarren," she said quickly, hoping to bring the youngster back to reality.
Gabrielle glanced up from her bedroll wiping the blond mass of hair from her face. Seeing the frazzled look on her warriors face and the shaking child in Xenas arms, the bard knew it had happened again. Gabrielle quickly rose from her blankets and settled in next to her companions. Stroking the youngsters head for comfort, she whispered to the warrior, "By the Gods Xena, not again. Thats the fourth night in a row shes had these nightmares."
Xena nodded as she protectively embraced her daughter. " I know...I know," she said quietly, trying to form some plan of action in her mind against the demons that attacked her child in the middle of her sleep.
The warrior mother slowly got to her feet keeping Tarren cradled in her arms. She looked over at the bard and said with a sigh, "Come on lets get her down to the stream and get her cleaned up and into some dry clothes. The poor kids sweat right through these again."
As they had done for nearly a week, Xena carried the little girl in her arms down to whatever river or stream was near their camp while Gabrielle grabbed towels and some fresh clothes and followed. It had become a ritual of sadness and suffering for all three of the travelers.
Xena placed the youngster near the edge of the water and slowly stripped off her sweaty undergarments, placing her gently in the cooling waters. Tarren held tightly to her mother as the great warrior ran her large hand gently over the childs skin and hair hoping the fresh water would bring back the reality of where she was and the safety of who she was with.
Tarrens grip on her mothers arm remained iron clad and her youthful blue gaze never left Xenas. "Momma... I dont want to go to sleep anymore," the youngster cried holding Xenas arm so tightly the warrior was sure the circulation was slowing.
The warrior mother grimaced knowing that her child was looking to her for help and comfort, but Xena did not know what more she could do. She wished she could join the youngster in her nightmares and help her fight her way through them, but she couldnt.
She could only look sadly down at her child as she washed the cold water over her face and tried to smile as she spoke, "Hey there only nightmares Tarren. Theyre not real. Im always right here beside you. Im not gonna let anything happen to you. I promise."
Gabrielle approached with the towel and soon Tarren was once again dry and dressed. The youngster still wore the splint on her foot that had been injured in the cave-in nearly a week ago, and it was a constant reminder of the pain the child had felt and obviously still did.
Gabrielle looked at the dripping youngster and smiled weakly. "Hey are you just do this so you can go swimming at night brat?" she asked with a forced grin.
The child tried to smile and nodded a bit wanting to join in her friends humor, but finding it too difficult. "Gabby I dont wanna go to sleep," she repeated.
The bard crumbled a bit at the childs plea and reached out to touch her hand. Gabrielle looked at Xena. The warrior was tired. She had been up with Tarren every night. Xena was plagued with concern over the youngsters nightmares and it was beginning to take its toll on her. The warrior mother just stared at the green eyes of her best friend not knowing what answer to give. She finally sighed and got to her feet. "Come on little girl well help you find some happy mischief in those dreams of yours," she said quietly moving back towards camp.
The bard followed slowly, yawning as she stretched out her own tired muscles.
When the trio returned to camp, Gabrielle reached down to the fire and mixed the usual potion that helped Tarren find gentle sleep. Xena did not like using her medicines for such a purpose, but her daughters lack of time in the land of Morpheous was effecting her health, not to mention Gabrielle and Xenas
The bard handed Xena the mix of tea and returned to her bedroll knowing the rest of the night would now be quiet. Tarren eagerly gulped the liquid regardless of its fowl odor knowing it would offer her a peaceful slumber. "Hey slow down," the warrior said taking the empty mug from the youngster and gently pushing her back into her bedroll.
"Momma!" she cried as Xena started to rise and walk towards the fire.
The warrior mother quickly returned to the little ones side and took Tarrens trembling hand, "Hey, I was only going to put the mug back youngster. Im right here."
A single tear ran down the childs cheek. "No dont go. Promise you wont go," she cried using all her strength to try and hold her mother in place.
Xena sighed and lay back next to her daughter and whispered, "Im not going anywhere. Im right here with you." For the fourth night in a row the warrior mother slept at her daughters side with the small child clinging to her through out the night.
When morning finally arrived, Tarren woke with a smile as if the night before had never happened. It was the same each and every day since the cave-in at Goden.
Gabrielle eyed the smiling youngster with confusion, as she stood next to the warrior just out of earshot of the child who was busy wrapping her bedroll and packing her satchel. "Xena I dont get it. How can she be so happy in the morning and so terrified at night?" the bard asked.
Xena turned and looked at the gentle innocence on her daughters face. She was thankful that the youngster could find peaceful thoughts in the daylight that avoided her when she slept. The warrior smiled as she eyed her young daughter burying her head completely inside her satchel in search of some lost treasure. "The memory is too painful for her Gabrielle. She only deals with it at night because she is forced to let her guard down. She has buried that fear and that pain so deep inside that when shes awake she doesnt know it exists," the warrior replied with a deep breath.
The bard sighed and then stopped a yawn. "Well what are we gonna do? I cant bare to see her suffering like that Xena," she said with concern.
The warrior nodded in agreement. "I know...She just needs time. When shes ready then shell talk about it. Until then Gabrielle theres not much we can do," she said with a scowl, heading back into the center of camp.
"OK you its time for another days ride," Xena said with a simple grin crouching don low enough for Tarren to hop on her back.
The youngster stared down at her still bandaged foot. "When can we take that off?" she asked pointing towards the splint.
Xena knelt down and examined the wound. "Well Id say in a few days, but are you really sure that you are so anxious to have it come off little one?" the warrior asked with a warning smile, reminding the child that she had not forgotten about her promise.
Tarren swallowed hard as she stared at her foot and then back at her mother. "Actually Im sort of fond of it ya know Momma. It doesnt have to come off. I like it," she said with a weak grin.
Xena nodded. "Uh huh... Thats what I thought...well it will be off in a few days and then you and I have an appointment little one," she said lifting the child onto her back.
Tarren tried to look a bit dazed. "Appointment? Hmm I dont remember making an appointment with anyone...sorry Momma you must have me confused with someone else on your list," she whispered, as she wrapped her arms around her mothers neck.
The bard chuckled at the youngsters ability to find humor in something Xena took very seriously. Tarren was definitely not going to make it easy on her mother to keep that promise.
Xena lifted the child higher into the air, "Nope you are the only one on my list right now little girl. Dont worry Ill REMIND you all about it when the time comes."
The youngster groaned at her mothers determined words. "Gabby will you talk to her please!" she begged, reaching a hand down to the more lenient bard.
Gabrielle looked at Xena considering a defense, but the look in the warriors eyes told her that this was not one of those moments to challenge her. "Sorry brat, not this time!" she said patting the youngsters back.
Tarren dropped her head wearily on the warriors shoulder. "Ya know Id run away from home right now if I could run," she murmured.
Xena grinned and winked at the bard. With a quick flip she brought the child in front of her. "You would huh?" she asked with a look of true sadness.
The pouting child leaned on her mothers chest. "Yes I would and youd miss me lots," she said with a slight grin waiting for the warriors response.
"Well I wouldnt want that to happen. Youre right Id miss you an awful lot and be really worried about you while you were gone," Xena said quietly staring at the bard, trying not to smile at her daughters discreet game of make Momma Feel Bad.
"Yeah Id miss you too!" the bard said, lowering her head to stare at her boots as she walked
Tarren, realizing she was being teased, eyed them both and slowly shook her head. "I dont stand a chance do I?" she asked, knowing her intended threat was not gonna help her situation.
Xena considered the words and shook her head. "Nope sorry afraid not little one. Your fate is pretty well sealed on this," she said without question.
The child moaned and then lay her head back down quickly falling asleep. The nights of restless sleep and nightmares were catching up to the little girl. Xena lowered her eyes and quickly noticed that her daughter was napping. "Well lucky her," she said with a yawn.
The bard yawned as well, "Yeah...Xena about Tarren...Do you really have to punish her? I mean I know what she did was wrong, but shes been through so much, and now these nightmares. Is it really needed?"
The warrior let out a long tired breath as she held tightly to her child. "Gabrielle believe me the last thing I want to do is punish her, but its for all the reasons that you just mentioned that I have to. She doesnt really understand that the reason she got hurt was because she didnt listen to us. Her memory of ALL of that happened in Goden stops with the cave-in. Tarren forgets how and why she wound up in there in the first place. She has to take responsibility for her actions Gabrielle. THAT is the only way we can make sure she doesnt do something like this again," Xena sighed and repositioned the child closer to her. "This kid feels guilty about something and it is tearing her up inside...and perhaps the only way shell find peace in her dreams is to let go of the guilt," the warrior finished with a tired frown
The bard considered her friends wisdom and smiled. "Hey your getting pretty good at this mothering stuff ya know," she said poking the warrior gently in the side.
Xena grinned and stared at the sleeping child, "Yeah well...SHE makes sure I get a lot of practice."
"She sure does warrior. She sure does," the young woman said with a grin.
As the days slowly passed the trio came closer to Amphipolous. Xena estimated that they were only about two days travel from her village. She was anxious to see her mother and her home again. They made camp in a small grassy clearing just above a narrow stream. It would be their last night on the road before reaching Amphipolis. Gabrielle set up the camp while Xena examined Tarrens splint knowing it was passed time to remove it.
"Tarren this has to come off," the warrior repeated for the fourth time, gently tugging at the bandage.
The youngster was quietly sitting by the fire staring at the small flames saying nothing. In the past few days the child had become sullen and moody and down right irritable. Xena and the bard tried to be tolerant because they knew the child was still plagued by nightmares and a lack of sleep.
Xena moved in beside her child. "Hey Im talking to you," she scolded, bringing the little girls attention quickly to her.
Tarren stared at her bandaged foot and then into the blue gaze of her mothers eyes. "I dont want it off. I like it," she said with a slight pout.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shook her head trying to contain her frustration at the childs stubbornness. "Tarren we have been over this 145 times in the last eight days, and frankly Ive had enough of it. You no longer have a choice. It is coming off right now," the warrior mother ordered.
The youngster looked at Gabrielle whose face was worn with exhaustion from lack of sleep. "Tarren honey just let Xena take it off," she said with a quick yawn, but the warrior child stubbornly shook her head.
Xena frowned and let out a deep breath. "Thats it! I have been nice. I have been patient. I have even been sweet, but even I have my limits," she yelled, quickly removing the youngsters bandage and pulling her slowly to her feet.
"Now I want to see you walk on it. I want to know if it hurts when you step on it, and before you get any ideas little girl, I want you to know that I expect the truth," Xena warned with a shaking finger.
Tarren looked at her naked foot and then at her mother. She took a quick step. It actually felt good to stand again. The child walked easily just as Xena had dictated.
"How does it feel?" the bard asked, as she watched the youngster move.
"A bit stiff, but it... doesnt hurt." she whispered, sounding a bit sorry that it didnt.
Xena sighed with relief. "Thank the Gods. Now put your boot on and come with me," she said quietly.
The child reluctantly reached down and lifted her boot on and again took a slow step. Xena nodded at the bard and grabbed her fishing pole with one hand and Tarrens hand with the other. "Well be back in a bit Gabrielle," she said rolling her eyes at her daughters dramatics." Come on!" she said dragging the child down the path behind her.
Little Tarren looked at Gabrielle as if Xena were leading her to the gallows. The child waved at the bard as if it were the last time they would ever see each other on this side. The bard had to grin at the little ones overly acted angst, but still she waved a quick farewell and then leaned back on her bedroll for a needed nap.
Xena and her young daughter headed down to the stream. The child was unusually quiet and the warrior knew why. She herself would be happy when this whole incident with Goden was behind them. When they reached the waters edge the warrior dropped her pole and turned to face her daughter. "Ya know Tarren, you have not been the easiest kid to live with these last few days. But thats Ok because Im not always the easiest person to be around either. However this whole thing has gotten way out of hand and it ends right here and right now. You did something wrong...very wrong and you nearly got yourself killed. Thats why you still have the nightmares," Xena said feeling a surge of emotion welling within her. "I know that you are NOT afraid of anything that might happen to you, but you see I AM. I worry about you. I care about you. Can you understand that Tarren?" she asked, trying to show her daughter what was truly inside her own heart.
Tarren nodded as she let her young eyes meet her mothers blue stare. The warriors tone softened a bit as she saw the child already had a tear running down her cheek.
Xena could not help but hug the youngster. "You are such a little brat sometimes," she said cupping the girls face in her hands. "Now lets get this over with, so I can catch dinner," she said quickly kneeling and placing the child over her knee. The warrior had no anger only a burden of responsibility. She wasted not a single moment or an ounce of her gentle strength following through on her promise. Soon the youngster was once again reminded of the painful price for disobeying her warrior mother.
It was not long before the cranky child was sulking by the side of the stream while her mother fished for dinner. "Are you gonna cry all day?" the warrior asked, looking wearily over her shoulder at the youngster.
The child nodded and turned her head away.
"Ok suit yourself," the warrior said with a sigh.
Xena quickly pulled a fish from the stream and tied it onto the already heavy string on the ground beside her feet. As the warrior examined the fish on her line she decided there was more than enough to feed the trio. She picked up her pole and the fish in one hand and motioned for the child to follow.
The sulking youngster only rolled on her side purposely avoiding her mothers gaze. "Dont wanna go," the child murmured.
"Ok have it your way," the warrior said slowly.
Xena quickly lifted Tarren up with her free hand and threw the weepy youngster over her shoulder. The child struggled a bit but a quick warning glare from her mother put an end to that fast.
As they entered the campsite Xena smiled at the sight of the sleeping bard. She knew Tarrens nightmares had robbed her friend of her sleep, so she was not about to wake her up. Xena placed the child on her feet and looked down at her. "It about time you started earning your keep around here again little girl. You clean the fish while I get some more wood, and dont wake Gabrielle up," she said quietly.
The teary eyed youngster looked at the seriousness in her mothers eyes and reluctantly took the fish to be cleaned. Xena was about to leave when she saw the child rubbing her bottom gingerly. She moved up beside her and placed a tender arm around her. "Hey brat who loves you?" she asked tugging at the childs ear gently.
The youngster slowly looked up at her mother and saw the genuine concern and love in her gaze. "You do...I guess," Tarren whispered.
Xena threw her head back in surprise. "You guess? Hey do you see anyone else wearing out their hand on your little butt when you do stuff that could get you killed?" she asked feeling a lump in her own throat forming.
The child wiped her eyes and bit her lip, "Nope just you."
Xena lifted the little girl into her arms and hugged her. "Well then, I repeat myself. Who loves you? And you better get it right this time." she said slowly running her hands down the childs side.
The youngster cocked her head and raised her eyebrows suddenly, for no real reason, remembering the sight of her mothers bloody hands outside the cave in Goden. "You do!" she answered without question in her voice.
Xena nodded approvingly. "Thats right, and I dont ever want you to forget it," she said gently squeezing her daughter. Tarren nodded and much to the warriors surprise, hugged her mother tightly, laying her head quietly on Xenas shoulder.
The warrior mother kissed the youngsters head and sighed, happy to have her daughter back. "Now start cleaning those fish," the warrior ordered, placing the child on the ground.
Tarren looked at her mother strangely. "Something about the hands," the child thought, but she couldnt quite remember. She was lost in a memory of the past and couldnt break her concentration on the palms of her mothers hands.
"Tarren...Tarren," Xena said quietly, trying to bring the child back to reality without waking Gabrielle.
"Huh...yes Momma," she replied, not sure what she had been thinking of a moment ago.
Xena studied her daughter. "Hey are you Ok?" she asked placing a gentle hand on the youngsters head.
Tarren swallowed hard and nodded not sure she was being truthful in her response, and Xena just stared at her confused by her daughters expression
"Well then you get those fish cleaned. Ok?" the warrior repeated.
The child bit her lower lip. "Yes maam," she said with a mock salute wiping the last of her tears away with her sleeve.
Xena smiled and touched the youngsters cheek. "And dont wake Gabrielle," she repeated slowly, so the little girl was sure to hear each word.
Tarren looked down at the snoring bard and frowned. "Youre not gonna cook are ya Momma?" she asked.
The warrior cocked her head. "Hey it wont kill ya for one night. Gabrielle needs a break," she said quietly heading out to the woods.
Tarren stared at the napping bard and then the fish. She wanted Gabrielle to wake up so she would cook and, so she would give her warmth and compassion she had come to expect from the bard at moments like this. However Xena was pretty adamant about letting her sleep, so the youngster tried to be as quiet as she could while cleaning the fish. It was purely an act of the fates when the frying pan hit the rock making such a loud crashing sound that the bard jumped from her bedroll.
"Oh youre awake. Momma said to let you sleep," the child whispered, trying to show her friend her tears.
Gabrielle steadied herself on a tree and ran her hands through her hair trying to bring her senses back to reality. The bard looked down at the youngster making an effort to clean the fish while wiping tears from the corners of her eyes with the ends of her sleeves. The gentle bard wasted no time dropping down next to her young friend and placing a loving arm around the little girl.
"Tarren, honey are you Ok?" she asked, looking into the childs tear stained face.
The youngster nodded, but when the bard opened her arms Tarren did not hesitate to accept the offer for some attention and affection from her companion.
"Hey what are all these tears for? Its all over now. Let it go honey. Shh its Ok. At least you dont have that splint on anymore. You can run around and now Xena wont have to carry you anymore," the bard whispered rocking the youngster in her lap.
Tarren sniffled. She was happy at the thought of being able to run and play but her happiness was cut short by the thought that Xena would not carry her anymore. She had come to enjoy riding on her mothers back and being with her all the time. Now she was sure shed be left alone just like in the darkness of the cave.
"Momma is probably happy to be rid of me," she thought as she tightened her hold on the bard.
Gabrielle noticed a tear running down the childs cheek and wiped it away thinking that the warrior must have made quite an effort on the youngsters backside. She had no idea why the tears were really falling.
The bard knelt on the ground and lowered the childs head gently into her lap stroking her hair gently with one hand while she finished with the fish with the other.
"You just lie there and relax. Ill finish this," she said quietly cleaning the fish before her.
Tarren started to protest not wanting to get in trouble for disobeying her mothers order. "But Momma said..." the child started to whisper.
"Xena is not here right now, so Im in charge. So you do as I say and just lie there," she ordered, glancing down at the child with her emerald eyes.
The youngster buried her head in the bards soft lap and smiled as her friend caressed her back. "Ok Gabby you are the boss," she said with a wide grin.
Gabrielle nodded her head. "Its about time someone realized it," she said with a quick smile.
Chapter 2 To Tell the Truth
Xena walked into camp with an armload of wood and dropped it at her feet when she saw the bard wide-awake and cooking. Tarren slept in her lap being given a casual loving glance from Gabrielle every once in a while.
"What in Hades temple is going on here?" the warrior yelled. "Tarren!" she said slowly reaching out for the youngster.
The child quickly jumped to her feet and took a safe position behind Gabrielle. "Gods Xena what is all the fuss?" the bard asked, facing off with her large friend.
Xena placed her hands on her hips and stared at her daughter who was carefully hidden behind the bard.
"I told her to let you sleep and to clean the fish," she said trying to reach around the bard for a hold on little Tarren.
Gabrielle stood squarely in front of the child. "Xena she didnt wake me. I got up on my own. I TOLD her to relax while I cleaned the fish. She was only doing what I said Xena," the bard scolded, throwing a protective arm over the little girl.
Xena threw her arms up in the air and smiled though it was not a smile of joy but frustration. "You are so gullible!" she laughed, pacing around the small camp.
When she stopped she pointed to the ground in front of her. "Tarren please come over here right now," she ordered in a no nonsense parental tone.
The youngster slowly slid out from behind the weary bard and moved to the position her mother had chosen. The warrior looked at Gabrielle and then Tarren and smiled oddly.
"Now youve never lied to me Tarren and thats something Im pretty proud of, so dont start now. Got it?" she asked quietly, leaning down to face the youngster.
The child nodded. "Yes Ma am."
Xena paced around her daughter as if she were a witness on the stand. "Good girl. Now tell me how Gabrielle came to wake up," the warrior mother said sternly.
The youngster shuffled nervously as she stared back at the bard.
"Look at me when Im talking to you Tarren," the warrior mother said.
Tarren looked up at her mothers face. She knew that Xena expected the truth.
The little girl could not help but wipe a tear away as she stared at the steady gaze of her warrior mother waiting for her reply.
"I dropped the frying pan," the child whispered.
Xena closed her eyes and shook her head as the image entered her mind of the loud sound sending the poor sleeping bard jumping to her feet. The warrior ran her hand down the front of her face and looked at Gabrielle who was puzzled by the admission.
"Accidentally or on purpose?" the warrior asked sternly, while staring at the waiting bard.
The child shrugged her shoulders. "Both I guess!" she said simply, hoping that was enough of an answer.
The warrior groaned and waved her hand in the air to show that she was right.
Tarren could not help but fixate her eyes on the shape of her mothers hand. There were five fingers and it was a large hand, but there was something about it that made her stare at it. She felt lost by the sight of it. The little girl quickly looked down at her own hands and then back at her mothers and couldnt understand her own fascination and fear.
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and gave cat like smile to the bard. She seated herself quietly on a log waiting for the bard to respond and take charge of the situation.
Gabrielle shook her head and moved towards the child who was now staring down at the fire with an unknown fear shooting through her body. The youngster was still staring at her own empty hands when Gabrielle startled her with a touch.
"Why Tarren? You know how tired Ive been from staying up with you. Why would you do that?" the bard asked bringing the little girls blue eyes to meet her own emerald gaze.
The youngster bit her lip and faced her friend with a look of guilt and shame.
"Im sorry Gabby I just wanted you awake cause...."
The warrior waited to hear the response.
"Because why?" the young woman asked again.
The child fidgeted a bit.
"Well Momma was gone and I didnt want to be by myself," she whispered lowering her head not wanting Xena to see her tears.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and swallowed hard as she heard the childs words. She smiled at the warrior. This was the first time that Tarren had ever admitted that the bards touch meant something to her.
"Tarren why didnt you just tell me or Xena that you were afraid to be alone?" she asked, placing a gentle hand on the little girls back.
The youngster shrugged. "I didnt want anyone getting mad at me or thinking I was a baby," she murmured, wiping a tear away with her sleeve.
Xena took a long deep cleansing breath allowing all her frustration to subside.
Gabrielle smiled and embraced the youngster still staring at the now seated warrior.
"Tarren nobody would get mad at you for being afraid, and nobody thinks youre a baby, but youre not a grown-up either, so you dont have to try and act like you are. You can be afraid and tell us. Well understand. Right Xena?" the young woman asked looking at her now sullen friend.
Xena placed her head in her hands and rubbed her eyes.
"Tarren come here please," she said softly.
Tarren released the bard and moved to her mothers side unsure of what to expect.
The warrior mother carefully lifted the youngster up and placed her gently in her lap.
"Tarren you can always come to me or Gabrielle with a problem. If anything is bothering you or you have something to say nobody is gonna get mad at you. You have to learn to trust that. I know its not easy, but we cant read minds. If you didnt want to be left alone you should have told me. I would have taken you with me. Theres nothing wrong with being afraid," she said wiping the tears from her daughters face.
Tarren laid her head down on her mothers familiar shoulder finding that place which was now her own. "You would have taken me with you even though I can walk now?" she asked.
Xena nodded. "Of course!" she said confused by the childs statement.
Xena lowered her voice to a near whisper, "Tarren just because I dont need to carry you around anymore doesnt mean that I wont want to."
The youngster bit her lip and spoke quietly, "I liked spending time with you Momma. With my foot hurt, you took me everywhere with you...Now you dont have to and I dont wanna be alone...I dont like being alone. I get scared when you leave that you wont come back."
Xena looked at the bard and back to the small form in her lap. She closed her eyes in complete understanding. "Tarren I will never leave you. You dont have to be afraid. You couldnt get rid of me if you tried kid. Youre stuck with me. And I will happily take you anywhere I can with me, but it would be nice if you walked once in a while just so your legs dont turn to mush," the warrior said with a smile, tickling the little girls side.
The youngster grinned a bit but did not give the response the warrior had hoped for.
"You mean it. You really still want me with you even though you dont HAVE to have me there?" she asked leaning her head gently on the warriors shoulder letting fresh tears fall.
Xena raised her eyebrows confused by the childs sudden fear of her rejection. "Tarren, of course I want you with me. Why would you ever think otherwise? You know I want you with me. What is all this about?" she asked sternly, hoping to get to the root of the youngsters fears.
The child fingered the warriors armband playfully and said nothing.
Xena shook her a bit. "Hey are you still with me?" she asked and the child just nodded.
Tarrens expression was far away and Xena could feel the shiver run through her daughters body. The warrior mother tightened her hold on her daughter. "Hey what is it?" she asked concern filling her voice.
The little girl lifted her eyes and stared at her mother sadly. " Momma can I see your hands?" she asked sounding a bit dazed.
Gabrielle stared at the warrior who reluctantly offered the child her hands for inspection.
Tarren ran her fingers over the healing scars that were reminders of how fiercely her mother had dug through the rock to get to her. Xena had never told Tarren anymore then she had injured her hands during the earthshake. She had never told her how she had dug bear handed through the sharp stones until her palms bled.
"I did that to you. Thats my fault" she whispered, gently running her fingers along the closed wounds.
Xena turned the childs head to face her. "Hey its nothing, and why in Hades would you ever think these would be your fault little one?" the warrior scolded.
Tarren looked at her mother biting her lip as she touched the warriors hands.
"Momma if I lied to you would I get in trouble?" she asked staring oddly at the woman whose love she needed most.
Xena raised her eyebrows wondering why there was a sudden change in subject. "Tarren how many times have I told you not to be afraid to tell me the truth?" she asked
The little girl nodded, "Lots Momma, so then the answer is yes?" she asked still running her small finger over the warriors open hand.
Xena sighed and nodded, "Yes the answer is yes. If you lied to me then youd get in trouble."
Tarren looked at Gabrielle who had quietly seated herself next to the Xena. The child said nothing more but continued touching her mothers open hand. Xena looked at the bard for support.
"Tarren did you lie to us about something?" Gabrielle asked studying the childs face.
The youngster shook her head vigorously. "No...Momma lied to me," she whispered.
Xena looked as if an anvil had just been dropped on her foot. "Wait a minute little girl. When have I ever lied to you?" the warrior asked quickly.
The child sniffled and again ran her fingers along her mothers scarred hands as if it were a ritual. "You said that you hurt your hands in the earthshake and the truth is you hurt them trying to dig me out of the cave right?" she asked looking at her mother for confirmation.
Xena swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes thats true sweetheart. I did hurt my hands digging at the cave, but I didnt lie to you. Tarren, I just didnt want you feeling bad about it, so I didnt tell you how I hurt them," she said softly, trying to calm her own pangs of remorse at the pain she felt her omission had caused her child.
This was what the nightmares had been about. This is why there was always a large bloody hand in all the childs visions.
The child shook her head and clung tightly to her mothers neck. Xena did not know what else to do accept wrap her arms tighter around the little girl.
"Momma I saw you and Gabby digging me out. I saw how hard you were digging. I could see it. I could see you...crying. Its my fault you got hurt. Its my fault," she moaned, burying her head in her mothers chest.
Gabrielle wiped a tear from her own eye, "Well I think you were right Xena. This sure does explain a lot."
Xena nodded as she stood with the sobbing youngster in her arms. "Yeah...but not what to do about it...unfortunately...Come on little one. I think its time you and I had a little chat about guilt," the warrior mother said softly.
She carried the hysterical youngster off into the woods, feeling a need to share a private moment with her daughter.
Xena moved slowly back to the spot by the water where she had fished earlier. She kissed they youngsters forehead as Tarren sobbed into her mothers shoulder. The warrior found a small rock to sit on, cradling the little girl as she spoke softly, "Tarren."
The child heard her name and obediently focused her eyes on her mother.
The warrior took a deep breath trying to find the right place to start. "Now listen. I didnt tell you exactly how I hurt my hands because I didnt want you to feel just how you are feeling now. That was wrong of me maybe...I dont know...I just wanted to protect you...that is sort of my job ya know," she said with a slight smile.
The youngster sniffled and fidgeted with her mothers armband again.
Xena removed a small piece of cloth from her cuff and wiped the childs face dry. "Gee youre crying more now then when I spanked you ya little brat," she teased, trying unsuccessfully to lighten the childs mind a bit.
The youngster only rubbed her backside and started to cry all over again. "Great going Xena," the warrior murmured, clearly chastising herself for saying the wrong thing.
"Ok enough tears, enough crying little one. Tarren I want you to listen to me," she ordered, and the child stared into her mothers soft blue gaze once again.
Xena held up her hand showing the small scar on her hand to the little girl. "What do you see when you look at this?" she asked.
The child bit her lip and touched the wound gently. "A bad cut Momma," she whimpered.
The warrior shook her head and looked at her hand. "Well ya know what I see? I see something that reminds me just how much I love you and how I never want to lose you. That little cut tells me that I have a daughter that needs me. I sort of hope that it never goes completely away because its not something I ever want to forget," she said softly caressing the little ones face.
The child stared at her mother, "You mean you dont hate me for causing you so much trouble?"
Xena wrapped her arms around her daughter and shook her head. "Hate you? Little one, I could NEVER hate you. I may get angry with you. I may punish you when you misbehave, but I love you Tarren. You are my daughter. You are the center of my world youngster. Can you understand that?" she asked running the back of her hand against the childs soft cheek.
Tarren nodded, let out a deep breath and leaned on her mother. "But Momma I still feel bad cause you got hurt cause of me," she said.
Xena smiled knowing exactly how the child was feeling.
"Well let me share a secret with you...something just between the two of us," the warrior said quietly.
The childs ears perked up at the thought of such a trust.
"To tell you the truth, Ive been feeling sort of guilty myself. You see if I had not left you to help those strangers then you never would have gone to the cave and gotten hurt. I should have been with you because Im your mother and Im supposed to take care of you. I wasnt with you for so many years Tarren. Now I want to spend every minute with you. I want to make up for all the time we lost. That is something I have nightmares about Tarren. You see Im really afraid of losing you," the warrior mother said in a broken voice, as a tear ran down her face.
Tarren raised her eyebrow in Xena fashion, "Youre really afraid of losing me?" she asked in awe of the thought of being so important.
Xena nodded and squeezed the youngster tighter needing to feel her close.
"But you shouldnt feel bad about that Momma. You were just doing what you thought was right. Its not your fault I got hurt," she said, wiping the warriors tears away with her mothers cloth.
Xena took the little cloth from her daughter and kissed the childs hand, "Well its not your fault that I got hurt either then now is it because sometimes things just happen. Right?"
Tarren chewed her lip and shook her head, " I guess not Momma."
Xena smiled and wrapped her arms tightly around her child bringing her close to her chest and resting her chin on the little girls head. "Tarren I want you to know how sorry I am that I wasnt there for you when you needed me. I shouldnt have left you and Gabrielle when I knew something was gonna happen. We should have all stayed together. You two are first and foremost in my life and I will never again put someone else before you. I wont ever take the chance of losing you again," she vowed.
Tarren hugged her mother and grinned a bit. "You dont have to worry about me Momma. Im not going anywhere. Youre stuck with me. Why you couldnt get rid of me if you tried," she said with a sly grin, repeating the warriors earlier words.
Xena chuckled. "I wouldnt have it any other way my little one...Well then no more guilt," the warrior mother, said holding up her scarred hand.
The child nodded. "You too Momma!"
Xena smiled at her daughter. "Tarren what do you see when you look real hard?" she asked pointing to her hand.
"That my mom loves me," the youngster quickly answered, wrapping her arms around her mothers neck.
Xena let tears run down her cheeks and squeezed the little girl with all her gentle might.
"Thats right little one...Youre mother sure does love you," she whispered.
Tarren looked at Xenas face which was now soaked with tears. "Now youre crying," the child said with a frown.
Xena laughed wiping the wet from her face, "Yeah it must be catching or something. Hey I want you to make me a promise."
The child nodded happy to offer anything to this woman who offered her so much. "I want you to promise me that youll tell me when you want to spend time with me, and that youll just ask if you want a ride on my back...You see I enjoy those times as much as you ...maybe more!" Xena said with a gentle smile.
Tarren nodded, "I promise Momma!" she replied with a grin.
Xena rubbed the youngster's face. "Now that you got poor Gabrielle up and cooking, I think we both owe her the pleasure of our company, so lets dry are tears and go back to camp and see what kind of meal the little bard has to torture us with," she teased.
Xena took a deep breath and stood ready to go back to camp. Tarren waited for a moment considering her mothers earlier request.
"Momma?" she called bringing the muscular warrior to a halt.
"Yes," Xena said turning to face her child.
"How about that ride?" Tarren asked with a slight grin.
The warrior shook her head and smiled and cupped her hands together. Tarren ran to her mother placing her foot in the cup and flipping over onto Xenas back.
"Very good little one," she praised with a grin.
Tarren wrapped her hands around Xenas neck and happily rode back into camp on the back of her warrior mother.
After finishing supper that night the trio lay in the grass blissfully staring up at the stars in the sky. "Momma where do you think Nala is right now? The Elysian fields?" the youngster asked with a bit of sadness in her voice.
The warrior smiled. "Well if thats where good mystics go then yes Id say that is exactly where she should be, but something tells me she goes to a better place than even that little one," Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle thought about her friends words and let out a sigh. "Tarren I was wondering. How did you see Xena and me digging when you were in the cave?" she asked leaning on her elbow to face the child.
Tarren thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "I dunno. You were just there...so was Nala. It was like a dream but my eyes were open. I could see you and Momma, but when I tried to touch you then you disappeared. Then Nala came and told me that everything would be all right and I guess I fell asleep," the youngster replied, happy that the memory did not seem so painful anymore.
The bard let out a breath and fell back staring up at the sky once again amazed by yet another wonder. "Wow! How is that possible?" she asked her large friend.
Xena stared at the young woman for a moment and then smiled. "Gabrielle anything is possible. Arent you the one who always tells me that?" she asked.
The bard grinned. "Sure warrior throw my own logic back in my face rather than give me a real answer, " she said with a grin.
Tarren pointed to a shooting star and giggled. "Look!" she said excitement filling her voice.
For a moment the trio watched the oddity of nature pass wondering what it was and then sighed in unison happy to return to their relaxing observations.
Tarren rolled on her side and climbed across her mothers stomach eliciting a loud groan from the warrior. "Hey Im not a tree trunk ya know," she teased tickling the childs side.
The youngster laughed and rolled over the warrior positioning her self carefully in the nook between Gabrielle and Xena.
"Weve got company?" the bard said with a smile.
Xena rubbed her stomach. "I know...I felt her coming," she replied with a gentle grin.
Tarren looked from one and then to the other and frowned. "Ok now Im not gonna tell you what Nala said about the cave," the youngster warned, folding her arms against her chest in a pout.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and smiled.
The warrior lifted the youngster up so that she could lie comfortably across her chest. "Ok little one...What did Nala tell you?" she asked, rubbing the little girls back lovingly.
Tarren grinned at her small victory and began her story. "Nala said that the crystal cave was very special...She said that when you were inside you could feel the presence of all those you loved...so I saw you and Gabby and Nala," the youngster said with a yawn.
Xena and Gabrielle both smiled at the childs affectionate words. Again the youngster yawned. "Ok thats enough philosophy and star gazing for one night. Its time for you to get to bed," the warrior mother said, rising to her feet and pulling Tarren up behind her.
For once the youngster didnt argue, but quickly lowered herself into her bedroll. Before the warrior could even pull the covers around her head, Tarren was fast asleep. "Goodnight Little One," she whispered, placing a gentle kiss on the youngsters head.
Xena then returned to her place next to Gabrielle staring up at the stars.
"It sure has been an interesting few months Xena," the bard said with a twisted smile.
The warrior nodded in agreement considering all that had happened.
"Let see you found out you had a daughter. We fought an entire village to save her. You met an old friend and bid her farewell... We fought a Warlord's entire camp... Tarren ran away and found out she was your daughter... You saved the souls of Goden... We survived an earthshake and little Tarren got trapped in a cave...Yup Id say its been a pretty full couple of months, " the bard said carefully eyeing her friend.
Xena nodded. "Yeah but nothing really too out of the ordinary in my mind. Yours?" she asked with a slight grin.
The bard sighed, "Nope, of course nothing will compare to Tarren meeting your mother. That should be something worthy of Salmoneus selling tickets for," the bard said with a giggle.
The warrior groaned at the thought. "Look well just have to stay between them," she said stiffly.
The two friends thought about it and then laughed continuing to watch the stars and consider the new meaning of their lives.
In the morning when Xena woke she could not help but smile when she noticed, while Tarren had slept through the entire night, she had still crawled into her mothers bedroll. The child was now closely nuzzled next to the warrior. "All right little one have it your way for now." she whispered pulling the blankets closer to the childs body.
The little girl moved her hand just a little not quite ready to let the warrior get up. Xena lay back feeling truly content with her best friend and her daughter at her side she was going home with a feeling she had not felt in many summers, happiness.
Chapter 3 Home Sweet Home
As they walked along the trail towards Amphipolous, Xena could not help but realize how tired her traveling companions were. They were only a few hours from the village but it was getting late and Gabrielle and Tarren were obviously exhausted. Tarren had been riding on her back the last few hours and Gabrielle had volunteered to ride Argo.
That in itself was a clue to the warrior just how tired the young woman truly was. Xena sighed heavily, realizing that the pair needed rest, and that her return home would have to wait another day. She gently lowered Tarren to the ground.
"Ok you two lets make camp. Well get to Amphipolous in the morning," she said with a sigh.
Tarren yawned and stretched out her muscles. "Tired Momma?" the child asked
The warrior grinned at her daughter. "Oh yeah I just cant go another step," she teased.
The bard slipped off Argos back and leaned heavily on her staff for support.
"Well if you insist Xena," she yawned.
The warrior smiled at her friend. "Uh yeah I do...Gabrielle theres a hill at the end of this path with a small stream...we can even go for a swim," she said looking behind her, knowing she would see a wide smile on her daughters face. However when she turned around all she saw was the spot the little girl had been standing in and the quick tracks she was now making for he cooling waters ahead.
"Tarren Come back here!" she yelled, but the child just kept going in search of the stream.
"Of all the harpies in Hades...." the warrior cursed jumping into Argos saddle.
"Gee arent you glad she can run now Xena?" the bard asked with a snicker.
Xena frowned. "Oh yeah Im just thrilled, but she wont be when I catch up to her," she hissed, kicking the horse into action.
Gabrielle shook her head with a grin, knowing for sure that things were now definitely back to normal.
Xena tethered Argo to a nearby tree as she watched her daughter happily playing in the water. The warrior stared angrily out at the splashing child. "You know better than to run of like that. How many times have I told you not to leave my sight on the road." she scolded.
The youngster wiped the water from her face and smiled. "But Momma you said wed go swimming. I was just running ahead to make sure the water was...err...cold," she said quickly.
Xena shook her head at the childs fabricated logic. "Oh and I guess you didnt hear me calling you?" she asked in a parental tone.
Tarren shrugged. "Yeah ...but I couldnt make out exactly what you... were saying." she whispered lowering her eyes a bit.
The warrior folded her arms in frustration. "Come over here." she ordered, pointing to the ground before her.
The child looked at her mothers angry face and moved further back into the stream. "Whats gonna happen if I do?" she asked staring into the warriors eyes.
Xenas lips tightened. "Well come over here and find out my little one," she purred.
Tarren thought of her still sore bottom and shook her head. "Well then what happens if I dont get out?" she asked with a childish grin.
The warrior started to remove her armor realizing quickly the youngsters logic.
Tarren knew she was in trouble no matter what she did, so strategically the most logical thing to do was nothing. "Well Tarren I guess youve got me. No matter what happens youre in trouble. Youre in one of these lose or lose situations," Xena said throwing her hands in the air.
Before Tarren could even respond, the warrior dove into the water and came up searching for her stubborn daughter. However the child was no where to be found. Xena quickly scanned her surroundings and when she caught sight of the grassy knoll she had just left, saw her young daughter waving to her.
"Hi Momma. You said to get out and I got out. I always do what my mother says," she recited dutifully.
Xena had to suppress a grin and the youngsters maneuvers. She was a quick one.
The warrior mother slowly exited the stream and when she reached the child grabbed her by the arm forcing a parental tone in her voice. "Dont you EVER run off on me like that again young lady. Do you understand?" she yelled, staring down at the sad eyes of her young daughter.
Tarrens smile faded as she realized just how upset her mother appeared to be. "Im sorry Momma. I was just playing," she said lowering her head.
Xena stared down at the contrite dripping child and shook her head as she remembered another youngster who would have done the same thing many summers ago. That child had wished for understanding from her own mother that she never got. "Yeah well... dont do it again," she said tasseling the little girls wet hair.
Tarren nodded and the warrior released her hold.
Xena let out a long breath and grinned. "Now go get my saddlebags off of Argo ya little monster," she said sending the child on her way with a fast swat. The youngster cringed a bit at the falling hand with the important message attached, but the child thanked the Gods that there was not another to follow.
Gabrielle soon joined the pair in the clearing, and after an early swim and a quick meal the weary travelers turned in for the night. Xena wanted to get up early to make up for the traveling time she had sacrificed for her companions.
Sunrise was coming and the Warrior Princess stood at the edge of the clearing looking over the hill. The wind blew threw her dark mane as she inhaled the gentle smells of her familiar surroundings. She looked off in the distance to the village below she had known as a child and could not help but smile. Slowly the leather clad warrior turned and looked at the two sleeping figures in her small camp. She grinned slightly and shook her head standing right above them.
"If it were up to you two wed sleep all day...Now get up," she ordered.
There was no movement just the gentle grumbling of the tired figures hidden beneath the blankets. Xena threw a small log on the fire and stirred the stew in the pot from the night before. She waved her hand in the bards direction so that the smoke from the pot would wash over her. The aroma of the simmering food was enough to help a sleepy Gabrielle emerge from her covers. She smiled and stretched her arms upward to the sky.
"Good morning...Mmm...Smells good if I do say so myself," she said with a yawn.
"Huh I figured the smell of food would wake you up," the warrior teased.
Gabrielles smile was quickly replaced by a mock pout. "Well good morning to you too Warrior Grouch!" she said with a hiss.
Xena smiled at the bard. "Im sorry Gabrielle, but getting you to leave that bedroll is harder than fighting 10 warlords with one hand tied behind my back," she teased tasting the stew.
Gabrielle got to her feet and twisted her face into a frown. "Well Warrior Grump lets not get started on your faults...I mean maybe I sleep so late because you keep us traveling for ten hours a day...Of course the great Warrior Princess NEVER tires...just us mere mortals...and another thing..." she rambled.
The warrior chuckled at her young friends temper and threw her hands up in surrender. "Ok, Ok I give up...I yield to you my bard...youre right. I should take into consideration that you are not as ...well kept up as I am," she said with an evil smile, turning her back on her friend.
Xena could feel the steam emanating from the young womans face, but did not turn around to face her. Just as the warrior suspected there was a quick whoosh in the air and the sight of the bards staff whirling quickly through the wind.
"Well see whos not well looked after." the bard seethed. But before the Amazon Queen could hit her target the Warrior Princess merely back flipped in the air landing right behind her. The bard angrily threw her staff to the ground and Xena chuckled at her friends frustration.
"Better luck next time Gabrielle," she teased.
"Xena I really hate when you do that," the bard yelled.
The warrior straightened her leathers and examined her fingernails as she walked past her friend. "I know you do," she purred, gently tugging on the bards hair with a grin.
Gabrielle s anger slowly deflated as she noted what a playful mood Xena was really in. "Well I guess its worth a little humiliation to see you so happy and relaxed," the bard said with a smile reaching down to attend the stew.
"Thank you my friend," the warrior said with a bow and a smile.
Gabrielle looked over at the still sleeping child. "Tarren could sleep through anything," the bard giggled pointing at the still sleeping youngster.
Xena locked her arms against her chest and stared at her sleeping young daughter. "Yeah I know. I think she must be taking lessons from you," she said with a snicker.
The bard frowned a bit at the remark and turned back to her food.
Xena knelt beside the sleeping child and gently rustled the blankets. "Tarren its time to get up," she whispered, but the child only pulled the bedroll over her head.
"Tarren!" the warrior scolded, but the child just smiled in her dream state and remained in the land of Morpheous.
Xena threw her arms up in the air. "Gods shes WORSE than you are," the warrior moaned.
Gabrielle could not suppress a giggle as she eyed the sleeping child with pleasure. "Oh Xena let her rest a bit longer," she replied.
The warrior paced around the youngster a bit trying to decide her next move. She had an evil glint in her eye that the bard knew too well. Gabrielle licked her fingers as she watched her large friend wear out a path in the grass.
"Xena what are you thinking?" she asked cautiously.
The warrior s body had grown a bit tense at the childs failure to rise. "Gabrielle if we were attacked right now that kid would be killed in her sleep. I have told her 100 times that she must learn to listen to the sounds around her and be more aware when we are on the road. Its about time she learned a valuable lesson about ...staying alert," she said sternly, pointing to the youngster.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet and positioned herself between the warrior and Tarren. "Now Xena come on...shes just a little kid and that water is way too cold to just get dumped in," she warned.
Xena smiled and easily lifted the bard to one side. "Well I seem to recall it did you a world of good on more than a few occasions," she said evenly, as she approached her daughter who had just assumed a fetal position.
The determined warrior quickly reached down and grabbed the youngsters wrist ready to carry her off for a morning dunking. Before she could gather the child, Tarren lifted both legs in the air catching the Warrior Princess slightly off guard. The youngster pushed with all her might rolling with her mother onto the grass beside her bedroll. The child then quickly jumped on top of the warrior with a loud thud.
Gabrielle was astonished by the youngster's quick reflexes and fell back on the ground laughing at the warriors predicament. "Gee Xena I guess shes not as light a sleeper as you thought. You really showed her how to stay alert," she laughed, catching the warriors harsh stare.
Xena smiled at the child perched on top of her. "Good morning Momma!" the youngster said with an impish grin.
Xena nodded approvingly at the childs maneuver and then with a quick flip tossed her over her arm and back onto her blankets with a thud. Tarren giggled and the warrior rolled on her side and swatted the childs bottom with her hand before jumping to her feet. The little girl yelped being instantly reminded of a very tender spot once again.
"Good morning little one." Xena said with a devilish grin, pulling the pouting child to her feet.
Gabrielle could not help but feel for the little princess. She knew better than most what a wicked sense of humor the warrior could have. "Xena," the bard scolded, but the warrior gave her a look of complete innocence.
The great warrior folded her arms and rocked on her heels smiling as she stared at her daughter. While the warrior was happy Tarren was quick to react to her attempt to take her from the bed, she was not too thrilled with her lying there waiting for Xena to do it.
The child flashed her youthful blue gaze at Xena, biting her lip in frustration at her mothers torment. The little girl turned to Gabrielle who opened her arms to embrace the chastened youngster. Tarren eyed her mother with a bright twinkle in her eye just to let her know where the bards allegiance was at that moment. A small smile passed across her face as Gabrielle rubbed the childs head soothingly.
"Its Ok honey...Big bad Xena is just playing," she said giving the warrior a disapproving glare.
Xena watched in awe at the way Tarren could manipulate the little bard with the blink of an eye. She shook her head and smiled. "Well you two can stay here and sweat if you want, but Im going for a nice cooling swim before we head to the village," Xena said turning to leave. She knew she had said the magic word. Tarren quickly broke her hold with the bard and jumped in her mothers path.
"Can I come?" she begged, her eyes filled with a childs anticipation.
Xena looked up at the sky and then down at her daughter folding her arms as if contemplating the idea. "Hmm I dont know, the way you behaved towards me this morning I should have you polishing my boots right now," she said gently scolding the youngster.
Tarren lowered her head in defeat and Xena let out a dramatic sigh tasseling the youngsters hair, "Come on I was just teasing. That was a very nice little move of yours little girl, but dont ever try it on me again," she warned, with a gentle tap on the cheek.
Tarren smiled and Xena lifted her up, throwing the child up over her shoulder. The youngster giggled loudly as her mother ran towards the water. "Lets see if youre still laughing when I throw you in ya little monster," she teased tossing the youngster in the air as she moved down the path.
Gabrielle stood alone in camp looking around at the bedrolls and the great war-horse. "No you two just go have fun...Ill pack up the camp...really I dont mind," she said to Argo with a heavy sigh.
However before the bard could even stir the now burning stew, she heard a small voice scream from below, "Come on Gabby were waiting for ya."
A broad smile quickly came across the bards face, "Argo I guess s youll have to take care of things here," she said with a smile. The horse whinnied in protest and the bard giggled. With a quick skip the young woman dashed down to the river to join her friends, her family in a relaxing morning swim.
As Gabrielle and Xena dried themselves on the shoreline Tarren still splashed happily in the water. Xena noted with pride the quick easy strokes the youngster took as she swam through the stream. She had become a very good swimmer under Xenas instruction, in only a few months. More than that she was developing a true respect for the nature around her. Xena had taught her that any opponent whether it is man or force of nature should ever be underestimated and always respected. The child seemed to form her life around the philosophy that the warrior had knitted for her. Gabrielle caught the smile of the warrior as she watched the child. She poked her friend in the ribs.
"Why dont you ever tell her how proud you are of her?" she asked.
Xena sighed a bit and then met the bards soft gaze. "Shes cocky enough already," the warrior mother said with a grin.
The bard smiled. "Yeah if she were any more cocky shed be you right?" she said teasingly.
Xena swallowed the words as she stared at her friend. A smile slowly crept across her face. "Yeah I guess thats what Im afraid of," she whispered thinking of a much darker Xena of the past.
The warrior sat beside the bard pulling her legs closely to her chest as she watched the happy child splashing in the water. " Gabrielle, I see in her the child I once was, full of energy, and mischief, and wanting excitement and adventure. Shes totally defiant or tries to be," she said with a chuckle, "I had my mother and brothers to keep me in check and still it did no good. I still turned into ya know..." she said her voice turning more serious, "Well I wont let that happen to her. I dont care how tough I have to be on her."
Gabrielle smiled at put a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Xena ...look at her...I mean really look at her," she ordered and the warrior stared at the innocent face of her young daughter doing back flips off a small rock in the center of the stream and giggling.
"Momma watch me," she yelled and then moved to a much higher rock.
Xena raised a halting hand. "Tarren thats too high. The waters not deep enough," she warned.
Tarren looked at her mother sticking her lower lip out for a sympathetic reprieve. "Momma I can do it," she whined, moving closer onto the larger rock eager to impress her warrior mother.
Xena shook her head. "No you cant and you wont try it. The waters too shallow," she repeated waiting for the child to lower herself down from the forbidden spot.
The youngster stood on the high rock looking down into the water and then back at her mother, and then down into the water once again as if trying to decide the value of the attempt. Xena could see the thoughts going through the little girls head. She stood to her full height and pointed a warning finger at her daughter. "I am not going to say this again. Get off that rock young lady," she scolded.
Tarren slowly slid from the large rock with all its temptations back to the smaller one with its safety from both shallow water and her mothers wrath. "Yes ma am," she murmured, not even trying to hide the look of disappointment on her face.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle and took a deep breath. She could see the hurt in her daughters eyes, as the child lay motionless in the water. "Hey little girl lets see some more of those back flips. You were doing those really well," Xena said with a slight grin.
Tarrens eyes lit up in a flash, happy to perform for her mother and even happier to know that the warrior had been watching her. "Ok Momma," she said with a wide smile, and once again resumed the back flips off the small rock.
Xena sat back down and looked at her best friend with a smirk, "You were saying."
The bard smiled and placed a tender hand on Xenas shoulder. "Hey you did great. You handled that just perfect. Xena you are such a good mother to her. I want you to really take a good look at her right now," the bard ordered.
Xena let out a small breath and then looked again at her little girl doing acrobatics in the stream and waving every time she landed in the water. The warrior mother had to suppress a smile. "Ok Im looking...shes a cute little kid," she said with a proud smile.
The bard let out an exacerbated huff. "Warrior take a harder look. With everything that has happened to her that little girl has no anger...She has no hatred...Shes a very happy, intelligent, and loving little kid. You cant deny her the very dreams you once had for yourself just because you got lost for a while. Besides she has both you and me to guide her now and WE wont let her make the wrong choices. Xena she really loves you...Zeus! She worships you. Tarren wants to be just like you, not the Xena of the warlord days, but the Xena that is here now. Thats the person who does so much good for so many. Thats the mother who cares for her when shes sick, whacks her little butt when shes bad, and lets her tag along even when she would like some time alone. Youre the Xena that comes to her rescue and the one that tucks her in at night. Thats the Xena she wants to be like, and I cant think of anything better to aspire to," the bard finished with a soft smile.
The warrior looked at her friend studying her soft expression. "Still and always the wise little bard huh?" she said choking on the words a bit as she let her arm fall around her friends shoulder.
"Well of course while your keeping her on the straight and narrow who do you think keep you there?" the young woman asked with a laugh.
Xena smiled knowing there was actually more truth in those words then her friend realized. She rubbed her eyes a bit trying to fight the emotion she had welling within her. "Come on we better get moving," she said quietly.
The Warrior Princess stood and pulled the last of her armor on and called to her daughter. "Tarren come on its time to go," she called motioning for the little girl to leave the water.
"Ahh come on Momma ...a bit longer," she whined.
Before Xena had a chance to respond Gabrielle took a position close to the waters edge. With a stern face she scolded, "Hey you heard your mother...move it."
The warriors mouth clamped shut and the confused child swam quickly to her mothers side staring oddly at the bard as the warrior dried her off. Gabrielle peered at the pair and then whispered in the warriors ear, "Well I cant always let you be the bad guy now can I?"
Xena smiled with gratitude. "Always full of surprises my little bard arent we?" she asked.
Gabrielle just winked at Tarren who giggled, and with all the mock authority she could muster the bard growled, "All right you two I said move it...We still have a camp to pack up...I dont want to be lying around her all day...lets go." Gabrielle then stomped quickly back towards camp hoping her warriors would follow.
Tarren stared at her mother and then at the figure of the bard heading up the hill alone. "Did Gabby have too much sun Momma?" she asked.
Xena laughed. "Definitely little one," she said with a nod, throwing the still dripping and giggling child over her shoulder and running up the path to join their new leader.
Xena could not help but smile at the youngster who was playing in the trees above as they moved into Amphipolous. The trees were low enough for Tarren to swing from without Xena worrying about her falling. Gabrielle poked her friend and giggled, "Shes back!"
Xena gave her friend a stoic nod. "Well shes been sitting still for over a week. What do you expect? I guess thats about a lifetime for her," she said.
Gabrielle watched the youngster swing happily from tree to tree giggling as she moved.
"Well even if she is a bit wild, Im sure happy to see her smiling and full of so much life again," the bard said with a smile.
The warrior nodded in agreement, "Me too my friend...me too," she replied.
As they neared the end of the path Xena stopped and took a deep breath of the familiar site of her home village. She recognized every house and every hill around her. "Well lets get going," she said with a grin anxious to get moving and to see her mother.
Gabrielle looked up in the tree. "Come on Tarren. Its time to go," the bard called.
The youngster was hanging upside down from a branch not allowing her hands to touch the ground. "Nah you go...I wanna stay here," she said swinging back and forth.
"Tarren you know how anxious Xena is to get home. This is not a good time to act up," she warned.
Xena tried to ignore the exchange behind her as she looked happily at the village of her childhood. But after a while the bickering was getting on her nerves. She turned quickly on her two traveling companions. "Thats enough!" she yelled, walking over to the bard and the bat like child still swinging in the tree. "You two could wake a Titan," she scolded in frustration, "Now whats going on?"
Gabrielle pointed to the youngster hanging from the tree. "Isnt it obvious. Little Xena wont get out of the tree," she said with a scowl.
Xena smiled at the comparison and watched the child swinging back and forth. "Gabrielle your problem is that you need to act instead of react...let me show you," she said pointing to her daughter. "Tarren its time to go. Are you gonna get out of that tree?" the warrior asked gently, watching the little girl sway back and forth.
"NO!" the disobedient youngster said firmly, happy to watch the world from upside down and not anxious to spend time in any village.
Xena nodded with understanding and with a quick swipe of her arm grabbed the swinging youngster by the legs and tossed her over her shoulder landing a brisk swat firmly across Tarrens behind. The youngster winced but knew better than to struggle. "Are you ready to go now Little One?" she asked the small youngster slumped over her shoulder,
"Yes ma am," she moaned still feeling the echoing sting of her mothers large hand.
"You see Gabrielle act dont react," the warrior said with a grin, placing the child on the ground in front of her.
The bard nodded and stared down at the now humble child. "Yup but that routine only works for you warrior," she said with a smile.
The warrior folded her arms in contemplation of her friends wisdom. "True we do each have to find our own methods my friend," she said with a sly grin. Xena then quickly turned her attention to the sulking youngster and shook her finger in warning. "Now before we go any further young lady I want to make a few things clear. When we get to Amphipolous I want you on your best behavior. No wising off to my mother, no being disrespectful to anyone, no running off on your own, no arguing, no complaining, and you do what I say...got it?" she scolded gently.
The child frowned. "So Im not supposed to have any fun at all Momma? Why am I being punished? I didnt do anything wrong." she murmured.
Xena hid a smile and the bard turned away before she broke out into a bellowing laugh at the little ones idea that a visit to Cyrenes was indeed a punishment. "Did you understand what I just said little girl?" the warrior mother asked, trying with difficulty to maintain a serious parental pose.
The child nodded. "Yes ma am" she grumbled. Tarren then quietly walked past her mother and picked up her satchel and started dragging her feet towards Amphipolis for what she hoped would be a very short visit.
"Poor kid acts like shes being sent to prison," the warrior said with a chuckle.
Gabrielle considered the words. "Hmm well your mother..." she started.
Xena stopped the bard with a harsh gaze. "Will be very happy to see us, so we better get moving...Oh and Gabrielle what I just said to Tarren now goes for you too," Xena said with a wicked smile.
The bard bowed her head in mock submission. "Yes my princess whatever you say," she teased.
Xena bowed her head in kind. "Thank you my Queen," she said with a smirk. The warrior then looked ahead at the waiting child slumped against a tree dragging her satchel in the dirt. She handed the bard Argos reigns and moved to catch up with Tarren. She eyed the sulking youngster knowing that this trip was not exactly her idea of fun. "Come on," she said quietly, dropping to the ground offering the child a ride on her back.
Tarren quickly accepted the offer with a broad smile. "Hmm maybe with no warlords or monsters to fight we can have some fun anyway," The child thought hoping Amphipolous was not as boring as she thought it would be and this Cyrene was not as much of a pain as Gabrielle seemed to hint.
Xena strode through the village carefully pulling the reigns of the great horse beside her. She was captivated by the familiar sounds and smells that told her she was really home. Gabrielle noted a new calm had come over the warrior as they headed towards Cyrenes Inn. The bard remembered there was a time not so long ago when the warrior would not have been welcome here...when her own mother had denied her...when she would have been ashamed to return. But now the wounds were healing and Xena found a renewed comfort in this place called Amphipolous.
Tarren sat high on her mothers shoulders studying the village around her. "Yuk! Farmers!" she mumbled never realizing that anyone had heard her, especially Xena.
The warrior mother quickly brought the child to the ground before her. "Whats wrong with farmers?" she asked through tightened lips and a harsh gaze.
The youngster took a few steps back. "Nothing I guess...If you like digging in the dirt all day then I guess its Ok... just not just much fun," she replied in a shaky little voice.
Xena stepped forward menacingly, not happy at the disrespect her daughter had for these people who worked hard to earn an honest living to raise their families. Gabrielle quickly noted that the calm was gone and stepped between the warrior and her daughter. "Now Xena Im sure she didnt mean it the way it came out.... Right Tarren?" she asked eyeing the child.
The warrior mother waited for a confirmation, but the little girl just looked around her and then at Xena. " I just meant they were...boring," she said simply.
Gabrielle sighed and fumbled over her words. "Tarren help me out here will ya...Im trying to save your butt," she moaned.
Xena gently lifted the bard to one side and slowly knelt down to face her child. She gripped Tarrens arms firmly and spoke in a stiff whisper, "Apparently I did not make myself clear before. Now you listen to me little girl because I am only gonna say this one more time. "Tarren tried to back away and the warrior mother merely lifted her in the air bringing them face to face. "Tarren this is my home and these are my people. They are good people, each and every one of them. The work they do is hard, but honest, so dont you dare disrespect them. YOU will treat each and every person here with the dignity and respect you would want to be treated with because if you dont...If you dont my little one than I promise you that you and I will have a big problem. So one more wise remark...one more act of disobedience and you and I will have yet ANOTHER of our private discussions...understand?" Xena said in her low husky voice.
Tarren swallowed hard and nodded quickly. "Yes maam...err...understood completely," she said anxiously.
Xena forced a smile and kissed the youngsters forehead. "Good...Im glad to hear that little one...very glad to hear that!" she said placing the shaken child on the ground. The warrior then turned on her heal and continued on her way. The little girl stayed frozen in the spot her mother had just placed her glancing carefully at the dirt beneath her feet. Gabrielle moved ahead trying to calm her friends frustration.
Tarren just stood in place eyeing the faces of the farmers working in the field around her. She barely noticed the large open hand that dropped out in front of her. "Are you coming or do you need me to carry you?" Xena asked with a stiff grin.
The youngster placed her hand in her mothers and bit her lip.
"Brat" the warrior mother said with a slight grin.
The child smiled, as she felt her mother gently squeeze her hand as they walked. She knew that Xena was still angry with her, but that this person would truly love her no matter what she did.
"Behave yourself," was all the bard could whisper in a pleading tone as the trio headed for the inn.
Nobody noticed the dark figure watching the trio from the distance. His eyes were filled with hatred and his mind was as black as his soul was empty. He laughed as he watched the three companions enter the Inn. "Soon Xena Warrior Princess...soon I will have my revenge," the figure whaled disappearing into the crowd of villagers.
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