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The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authorís permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALAíS GIFTS, and HOME SWEET HOME. You really MUST read those stories first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Epilogue|
Xena Warrior Mother Series
The Little Thief of Hearts
Chapter 4 Ė To be the Warriorís Daughter
Xena entered the room and placed her sword on the table beside the bed. She stared at the sleeping form of her young daughter hugging tightly to the warriorís saddlebags for the familiar comfort that the child seemed to find in them. She shook her head and let out a breath when she saw the dry tears on the sides of her childís cheek.
The warrior knelt beside the bed and gave the youngster a gentle nudge. "Hey monster...itís time for supper," she whispered, giving the little girl a gentle kiss on the cheek.
Tarren rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fists and blinked at her mother. "Iím not hungry," she answered, nuzzling back against the saddlebags once again. They were not exactly a replacement for her mother, but the familiar leathery smell made her feel that Xena was not too far away. The small child had come to sleep with them as another child might a rag doll.
The warrior sighed and rubbed the little girlís back. "Come on ...Weíll have dinner. Then you and Gabrielle and I can go for a walk. Weíll play that game you like...picking out the different faces of the gods in the stars," she whispered, hoping to elicit a response of any kind from the sullen child.
Tarren shrugged. "I donít want to, Momma," she replied in a tender whisper.
Xena rubbed the little girlís arm affectionately. "Tarren, baby, you have to eat, so come on...for me?" she asked not wanting to force the youngster.
Tarren stared at the soft pleading eyes of her mother and slid off the bed as if no strength were left in her small body. "Ok, if you really want me to," she replied quietly.
Xena did not waste a minute. "Yes, I want you to very much," she answered, reaching down and picking the little girl up in her arms. The warrior frowned a bit at the thought that the youngster somehow felt even lighter than usual. The child wrapped her legs around Xenaís waist and tucked her little head against her motherís chest. The warrior mother lovingly stroked her childís back as they moved into the dining area. Xena knew something was wrong but wasnít exactly sure what it might be.
Gabrielle had placed the last of the plates on the table and offered the warrior a gentle smile as she saw the pair come in view. "Hey, look whoís here," the bard said with a broad smile, moving toward Xena and the clinging child.
The warrior mother shook her head signaling the bard not to approach. Gabrielleís soft smile quickly turned dim at the sight of the little girl clutching so tightly to her mother.
Xena sat down in her usual seat and did not even try to turn little Tarren around. She just let the child hold tightly, allowing her daughter to feel the warmth and safety she knew the youngster needed to know were hers.
Cyrene entered with a large pot ready to serve her family a hearty meal. She smiled broadly at the sight of the familiar figures seated at her table. However her smile seemed to fade when she noticed the somber expressions and Xena gently caressing the burrowing Tarrenís back.
"What is all this about?" the older woman asked, waving her hand across the table.
Xena motioned to the clinging youngster by removing her hands and showing how the child was still tightly attached.
"Oh," the innkeeper said knowingly. "Someone has been missing her mother, I see," she said with a grin.
Tarren thought about the older womanís words and squeezed the warrior even tighter. She had missed Xena, but she had missed her mother more. She missed the woman who bathed her, who tucked her in at night, and who she instantly could pick out of a crowd as her own mother. She missed Gabrielle too. The bard had been deep in her scrolls ever since they had arrived in Amphipolis. It seemed to Tarren that all this village living had somehow separated the three leaving Tarren very much alone...again.
Gabrielle passed out the food. Hoping to break the eerie silence she spoke. "Hey, if anyone is interested, I have a new story to tell tonight," she offered with enthusiasm, trying to get the little girlís attention.
Tarren said nothing but just lay limp in her motherís lap.
Xena shook her head and let out a long breath. "Ok, thatís enough, Tarren. You can turn around and eat your supper," the warrior whispered softly into the youngsterís ear.
The little girl looked up at her mother, her eyes filled with an empty sadness. It was as if she had just been sent into the cold night all alone, but she obediently turned around and started eating the food on her plate never saying a word.
Xena rubbed the little girlís back as she watched the child dutifully eat everything on her plate including the vegetables without so much as a complaint.
"Momma, can I go back to my room now?" she asked, showing the warrior she had finished her meal.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and Cyrene and then back at Tarren. "Donít you wanna hear Gabrielleís story? And I thought we were going for a walk together," she replied, rubbing the little girlís cheek gently with the back of her hand.
"Iím tired. I can hear Gabbyís story another time and you donít need me to walk. May I go back to my room, Momma?" she asked politely, her eyes looking as if they might fill with tears at any moment.
Xena nodded. "Sure baby...if thatís what you want," she replied quietly, lifting the little girl off her lap.
The warrior mother sighed as she watched the child slowly retreat back to the sleeping chambers.
"Whatís wrong with her?" the bard asked, her voice filled with obvious concern.
Xena shrugged. "I dunno.... Maybe sheís just sulking cause I gave her a few swats for setting that mud trap," the warrior said grimly, hoping that was not the case.
Cyrene let out a deep breath dropping her fork in her plate with a loud clank. "Are you two that blind? Canít you see that the little one misses her family?" she scolded the two younger woman seated at the table.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shook her head. "Mother, we are all right here," the warrior replied, confused by Cyreneís statement.
Cyrene sipped at a mug of ale and pointed at the pair, "Have you been here, daughter? Xena, did you really need to do that sword drill thing today?" she asked, shaking her finger at the warrior.
Xena shook her head remembering the way Tarren had wanted to stay with her early that morning and again as she was leaving for her drill, "No Mother, I guess it could have waited," she replied, falling against the back of the chair.
Gabrielle pointed at the warrior. "You know, sheís right, Xena. You should have stayed with Tarren, instead of practicing," the bard said quietly agreeing with the innkeeperís assessment.
The warrior frowned at her friendís desire to parrot Cyreneís words.
Cyrene quickly turned her attentions to the bard.
"And you young lady...Did you really need a new story when you have hundreds in that head of yours?" she asked, her voice filled with a parental authority that was all too familiar to the young woman.
Xena smiled knowing it was now the bardís turn under the finger of shame.
Gabrielle shook her head knowing that Cyrene was right. "No I guess not," she replied sadly, remembering the way Tarren had come to her room wanting attention only to be turned away.
Cyrene stared at the two women and sighed. "Tarren feels you both slipping away, and Xena, she feels she is losing her mother to a town full of strangers. If you are going to be a mother, Xena, then you should know that everything you ever knew or enjoyed is gone...Itís all now second to that little girlís needs. Your life now belongs to her, Xena, and right now what she needs is you...both of you, very close," the grandmother said sternly, reaching to fill her mug with more ale.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and lowered her eyes. "Youíre right mother...I should have known," the warrior said rubbing her hands together.
Cyrene laughed. "No daughter, even the Warrior Princess canít know everything from the start. You must learn just as Tarren does...by making mistakes...Youíll know as you go along," she replied with a simple grin.
The grandmother got to her feet and started to clear away the dishes. She shook a warning finger at her younger companions. "Now then, tomorrow you are both spending the day with Tarren, doing whatever she would enjoy doing. Right now, Gabrielle is going to ready her story, and you, Xena, are going to go talk to your daughter," she ordered.
The warrior got to her feet and smiled at her mother, "Yes maíam." Xena kissed the older woman on the top of the head as she passed by, "Thank you, oh wise one."
Cyrene grinned and looked at the now sullen bard. "Donít you have a story to do?" she asked, pointing at the rolled parchment in the young womanís lap.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes...I guess," she replied with a sullen look.
The older woman grinned, "Well then, get to it young lady. Tarren will be fine...trust me," she said winking at the bard.
Gabrielle rose from her seat and kissed the older woman on the cheek, "Yes Maíam," she said quietly, grateful for Cyreneís wisdom.
Xena walked into the familiar room and stared for a brief moment at the small figure curled up on the bed. She wanted to get her thoughts straight before she spoke. The warrior removed her armor and then gently lay down on the large pallet beside the child.
"Tarren?" she whispered, running her hand on the childís arm.
"Yes maíam," the small voice obediently whispered.
"Can you help me with something?" the warrior asked.
The child turned to face her mother not sure what she could ever do to help the Warrior Princess but was quite eager to try.
"What Momma?" the youngster asked.
"Well, I feel sort of bad," the warrior said in a low, somber voice.
"Well, I think I may have hurt someone that I really care about. I didnít mean to do it, but I think I did, and now I donít know how to make them feel better, and that makes me really sad," the warrior said in a soft voice as she caressed the childís face.
The little girl studied her motherís expression wondering just who the warrior had injured that made her feel so badly.
"Whoíd you hurt Momma...Grandma?" the youngster asked, thinking those two were always good for a fight.
"Nope," Xena replied quickly.
"Gabby?" the child asked, sure it must be the bard since her feelings were quite important to the warrior.
"Nope," Xena said once again, sorry that her daughter had not placed herself at the top of the list.
"Who?" the youngster asked crawling closer eager for information on this ailing stranger.
"You, my little one," the warrior mother said, running her hand down the side of the youngsterís cheek.
Tarren lowered her eyes and dropped her head down on the pallet. "Me?" the little one asked, not sure why her feelings mattered so much to everyone. "What makes you say that, Momma? Itís not your fault that you get tired of me being around," the child said quietly, fingering the laces on her motherís boots.
The warrior lifted the youngster off the bed and held her firmly above looking into the childís eyes with a serious and stern gaze. "I donít ever want to hear you say that again, young lady...I love having you around. I miss you when youíre not with me," she scolded, feeling the lump in her throat moving.
Tarren looked down at her mother with an expression of equal emotion. "Even when Iím bad and get mud all over you?" the youngster asked, lowering her eyes.
The warrior smiled and brought the child close to her chest, "Most especially when your bad and get mud all over me," she replied, wrapping her arms tightly around her daughter.
The child once again attached herself to her motherís neck. "Then how come you and Gabby donít play with me anymore? How come you leave me alone so much?" she asked tears streaming down her small cheeks.
Xena let out a deep breath and tightened her embrace on the child. "Cause sometimes, baby...grown-ups forget and make mistakes just like kids...I guess Gabrielle and I both felt that, with so many other people around, you would just prefer to spend time with other kids or doing things without us. Tarren, I guess I should have known youíd want to be with me just as much as I have wanted to be with you, daughter. Ya know, you and I share the same heart, little girl, so, when you hurt, I hurt too," Xena said feeling the moisture in her own eyes start to travel.
Tarren let her head drop closer to her motherís shoulder, and Xena could feel the youngsterís shivers once again. "Are you hurting now, Momma?" she asked, wanting to make her motherís pain go away if she could.
The warrior nodded. "Yeah, I am...I guess Iím not much of a warrior huh?" she asked, thinking of what all the men she had once led into battle would say about their fearless leader if they could see her now.
Tarren shook her head. "No Momma, youíre the best warrior in the world...Youíre Xena, Warrior Princess," the child stated proudly, her voice filled with a new enthusiasm.
Xena chuckled a bit and rubbed the little girlís back feeling a tear run down her own cheek, "Well, thatís just a title, baby. It doesnít mean much, especially if Iím not doing a very good job as your mom," the warrior answered in a near whisper.
The child quickly picked her head up and stared into the warriorís face. She bit her lip when she saw the tears in her motherís eyes. "No, youíre the best... I wouldnít want anyone else to be my momma except you. I just...canít tell...anyone that youíre my momma, and that makes me feel bad," she said slowly, hoping this revelation did not add to her motherís sadness.
Xena let out a long breath and pulled the youngster in as close to her as she could. She hoped for some words of wisdom to ease her daughterís pain. This pain the warrior herself knew too well. "I know it hurts baby. It makes me feel really bad too, but ya know I figure that as long as we have each other, we donít need to care what strangers know or think. Iím just sorry I havenít been there as much as you needed me to be lately," the warrior said, wiping stray hairs from her daughterís face.
Tarren thought about her motherís words but said nothing. It really wasnít that simple from where the small child stood, but there was no easy way to say that to her mother. How could she explain to the Warrior Princess what it was like to be ten and not feel like you really belonged to anyone? Tarren knew her mother was trying very hard to apologize for something, though the child wasnít sure exactly what Xena had done wrong. However, at that moment all that mattered to Tarren was that she was no longer by herself and that Xena really loved her. Her mother had returned to her, and Tarren knew that the warrior would not leave her alone again.
Xena closed her eyes thinking of the pain her absence had caused the child. "Iím sorry, little one. I should have been paying more attention. I am so sorry...forgive me?" she asked with broken voice.
Tarren wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her tunic. "Itís Ok, Momma. I forgive you. I make lots of mistakes all the time, and you forgive me," the youngster said with a refreshing smile.
The warrior grinned. "What would I do without you, little one? I love you so much, Tarren," the warrior mother said hugging the little girl close to her.
"I love you too, Momma" the child whispered, laying her head down, as she ran her fingers across the small, blue amulet hanging from the thin chain around her neck.
Tarren closed her eyes thinking of Nala, hoping the old woman could hear her thoughts. If only she could ask the old mystic what to do. Then maybe she and her mother wouldnít be so sad all the time.
The little girl lay in her motherís arms content with receiving the warrior's love and affection. She was relieved to know that Xena loved her so much that she would humble herself to apologize to a child. However, the youngster did not feel burdening her mother with the depth of all her little worries was appropriate. Tarren felt compelled to do something to prove herself worthy of being the great Warrior Princessís child. She had to find a way to show her mother that she could be proud of her. Then, Xena would surely want to tell the world she was her daughter. She needed a plan. She needed help, and as she rubbed her small amulet that is exactly what she asked for.
The breeze blew through the window once again, making the room grow colder. A sweet smell hung in the air.
"Soon, little one,"the soft wind sweeping through the room seemed to say.
Xena felt the chill and placed blanket over her daughter, fearing the temperature was going to drop rapidly that night. She got up from the bed kissing the youngster on the cheek.
"Iíll be right back. I want to get some wood and get a good fire going in here. It looks like itís gonna be a cold night. Boy, am I glad I have my own personal bed hog to keep me warm," the warrior said with a slight grin, wiping the wetness from her cheeks.
Tarren reached up from the blankets and touched her motherís face tenderly. "You coming back, Momma?" she asked, not wanting the warrior to leave her side.
Xena squeezed the little girlís hand. "You just let someone try and stop me," she replied, lifting her sword in the air and placing it in its sheath to demonstrate to the child how serious she was about returning.
"Can I come with ya?" the little girl asked, hoping she would be allowed to follow.
Xena smiled. "Actually, I was sort of hoping you might want to, Tarren. But you must keep that blanket on. Itís gotten really cold out, and I wouldnít want my favorite little monster getting sick," the warrior said hoisting the child onto her back.
The youngster giggled as she rode on her warrior motherís back heading out of the room. Tarren turned her head to glance back to the bed and saw a shimmering figure standing by the open window. Her eyes popped open.
"Who are you?" the child whispered, squeezing her mother so tightly the warrior stopped.
The figure put a finger over its lips to let the child know its presence was a secret she should keep.
"What did ya say, baby?" the warrior mother asked, stopping long enough to look back at her daughter.
Tarren looked to where the translucent figure had stood. She was eager to tell her mother about its presence, so the warrior could make whatever it was go away, but it was already gone.
"Uh, nothing, Momma. I was just wondering if we could get some warm cider... It did get sort of cold," she said quietly, yanking at her motherís shoulder signaling to the warrior that she wanted to be held in front of her.
Xena stopped and with a quick slide brought the little girl into her arms. Tarren grabbed onto her motherís neck still peering back at the room.
"Hot cider sounds good to me," the warrior said with a grin patting the youngsterís back.
The child lowered her head under the warriorís protective arms. The little one blinked her eyes to make sure the shadow had not reappeared in front of her. She did not want to tell Xena about a phantom that no longer existed. The warrior might think she was coming down with a fever and force the vile white tea into her as a precaution. The youngster frowned at the mere thought of the odor and opted to keep her mouth shut.
Xena held the child tightly as she moved out of the room and into the very warm inn. The warrior was a bit puzzled by how much colder her bedroom was than anywhere else in the structure. However, she placed the thought to the side of her mind and brought her attention back to the bundle in her arms.
"Hey, if itís not too cold outside, we can still go for that walk with Gabrielle... If you want to, that is," the warrior said quietly, still confused by the warmth of the inn.
Tarren nodded. "Sure, Momma. Letís go for a very long walk and listen to Gabby tell stories and then go to bed really...really...really late," the child replied softly, afraid of what monster might be waiting in the room at bedtime.
Xena chuckled thinking her daughter was going to milk the warriorís guilt for all it was worth. The warrior mother prayed silently to the gods that the youngster did not choose this moment to ask for a pony. "Sorry, not too late, little girl. We three have a big day planned tomorrow," Xena said pulling the blanketed child in closer to her face.
"We do?" the child asked, with surprise.
"Yup!" her mother responded.
"What are we doing?" the little girl asked with so much excitement she nearly fell from the warriorís hold.
"Hold on there, monster...I dunno. What would you like to do?" she replied.
"Swimming!" the two, said in unison.
Gabrielle was right. They were the same person but divided disproportionately into two separate vessels. Tarren giggled as her mother tossed her in the air. Soon, the youngster had forgotten all her problems, including the strange figure that had greeted her in the darkness of her room.
Tarren spent the night lying happily in her motherís lap as the bard told her new story tot he crowded inn. The child had to admit the story was worth the wait. Gabrielle had managed to add a sea monster and a dragon to a story that Xena had said only involved a big fish and a small lizard, but Tarren didnít care. She listened, hanging on every word as the bard stared at her. The child knew that while she spoke to the entire room, Gabrielle was really directing the story just to her. The bard would wave her arms slowly in the air and move just in front of the captivated little Tarren just before sheíd throw her hands up in surprise.
"Then the mighty Warrior Princess thrashed the evil dragon with her trusty blade," the bard screamed, using her fingers to show the size of the dragonís teeth.
This act left the awed youngster both giggling and clinging tightly to her motherís arms for safety, just in case anything so large ever decided to visit during the bardís wonderful tale. Xena just sat there, trying not to laugh at both her overly dramatic friend and her extremely innocent young daughter.
After a long night, Xena carried the sleepy child back to the room and put her to bed. "Iíll be right back," the warrior mother said, tucking the child neatly under the covers.
Tarren yawned and nodded but sat up making it clear that she had no intention of going to sleep until her mother returned.
Xena let out a quick breath as she noticed the room was now quite warm again. "Huh, thatís strange," she murmured, heading back to the inn to help her mother with the clean up.
Tarren yawned again but waited patiently for her mother to return. A breeze blew the shudders wide open, and the room filled with that strange sweet odor once again. The little girl sank under her blankets as the room grew colder and colder.
"Momma," she mouthed, but no sound came out.
The little girl pulled the blankets over her head hoping they would offer some kind of protection from the shimmering figure that suddenly stood beside her once again.
"Hey, Iím not gonna hurt you, ya know,"the friendly voice whispered.
Tarren poked her head out. "You better go. My momma is Xena, the Warrior Princess, and she wonít be too happy when she sees you in here...You donít wanna make her mad," the child warned. "And...and... Iím gonna call her right now," the youngster said in a shaky voice.
The shimmering figure stared down at the little girl and grinned.
"Ahh yes, I am well aware of your motherís temper. Well you can call her if you want to. You are right. Sheíll come running sword and chakram in hand. But when she gets here, she wonít see me unless I want her too, and I donít really want her too...just yet. Of course, you know sheíll think youíre getting sick and...."
The child frowned and finished the sentence before the ghost could speak, "And sheíll make me take that awful medicine...Yuk!" the child moaned.
The shimmering figure laughed loudly. Tarren noticed that as it moved, the colors of its body changed a bit making it seem like a running stream going in circles.
"Who...are...you? Why...are...you here?" she asked, fearing this was some demon that took naughty children away to some place where only vegetables were served at mealtime. The youngster groaned, knowing she shouldnít have hidden some of the confections under the mattress so she could eat them in the middle of the night.
The shimmering figure jumped on the bed beside the little girl trying to make itself quite comfortable.
Tarren just stared at the apparition frozen with fear at the close proximity of this ghostly figment.
"I am your Uncle Lyceus, Tarren, and I am here because you asked for help."
Chapter 5 Ė A Ghost of a Chance
"Momma!" the youngster screamed at the top of her mighty little lungs.
Sure enough within seconds the door flew open bringing three figures racing in: a well-armed Warrior Princess, an Amazon Queen with a ready staff, and an innkeeper armed with a large frying pan.
Xena quickly scanned the room looking for the assailant that had dared to attack her child, but saw no one.
"What happened?" she asked anxiously, still scanning the perimeter of the room for anything that might have made a hasty escape.
"I wouldnít have done that,"Lyceus said placing his hands behind his head ready for the show to begin.
Tarren quickly grabbed hold of her mother and pointed to the ghost beside her.
"He...he...wonít go away," she screamed burying herself quickly under her motherís large arms.
Gabrielle lowered her staff and Cyrene just stared blankly at her frying pan.
Xena raised her eyebrows looking at the empty bed and then back at her daughter.
"Tarren," the warrior called but the child did not answer.
The youngster had taken immediate refuge practically beneath her mother and was busy trying to find a way to burrow under the warriorís legs so as to get behind her.
The warrior looked to her mother and the bard and again to her daughterís...feet. This was the only part of the child that was still visible at this point. Xena sheathed her sword and hoisted the little girl from the blankets.
"Tarren calm down. There is nobody here. Now tell me what happened," Xena said placing a protective arm on the still shaking youngster.
The little girl looked at her smiling uncle and immediately tried to dive back under the warrior halted only by her motherís fast hand. "What is going on?" the warrior asked, her voice mixed with concern and frustration over what she hoped was not one of her daughterís practical jokes.
Tarren pulled her motherís arms around her body and pointed to the figure that obviously only the youngster could see. "Make him leave!" the child ordered, having found a new source of bravery in her motherís presence.
"Hi, Sis,"Lyceus said wiggling his fingers playfully in front of the warriorís face.
Xena looked once again to the empty place on the bed and then at her daughter. "Tarren, there is no one there," she said calmly, staring down at her frenzied child.
"Yes there is, Momma. Heís sitting right over there and heís waving to you," the little girl murmured, not appreciating her ghostly uncleís idea of fun.
"I told ya they canít see me...Hi, Mom...nice frying pan," Lyceussaid with a chuckle.
Xena shook her head. "Tarren baby, there is nobody here except you and me and Gabrielle and your grandmother. Thatís it...You were just having a nightmare," the warrior mother said lifting the youngster up and placing her back under the covers.
"No...No...Itís Uncle Lyceus...Heís standing next to Grandma," she cried, pulling the blankets over her head.
"I sure have missed you, Mom,"Lyceus whispered, kissing the older womanís cheek.
Cyrene rubbed her face and shook her head. "I have dishes to do. Goodnight, Granddaughter," the older woman said with a grin.
Xena looked at the bard and then pulled the covers off her daughterís face. "Is he gone, Momma?" she whispered.
Xena shrugged at Gabrielle and then nodded. "Oh yeah, baby. He left. Said to tell you goodbye," Xena said in a near whisper, hoping her daughter would allow the imaginary friend to disappear.
Tarren peaked under her motherís arm and saw Lyceus staring oddly at Gabrielle.
"Hey kid, whose this?"he asked with an eager grin as he walked around the bard.
"Gabrielle... Heís... not... gone," the child cried, quickly diving under the blankets again so as not to be seen at all.
Xena looked at the bard. "Ya know, this is all your fault for telling her that scary story," the warrior chided as she tried to coerce her daughter from her hiding place.
"Me? I just told a story, Xena.... How was I supposed to know sheíd react like this?" the bard said with a frown, twirling her staff right through Lyceus.
"Whoa, that might have hurt.... If I were still alive,"he said backing away from the amazon. "Yup Xena, she would be a friend of yours," Lyceus groaned running his fingers up and down his sisterís spine.
The warrior felt a chill move up her back. "Tarren, please come out from there," she said quietly as she yanked at he childís blankets. "Iíll slay the ghosts and dragons with my sword if you point to where they are," the mother said, hoping that playing a long would end the game sooner.
The child did not move.
"Tarren, come out here!" the warrior gently scolded, but the youngster stayed buried beneath the blankets.
"No! Not until he leaves," the muffled little voice called out.
"Ya better come out, little one. Sheís getting angry," Lyceus warned leaning on the bed once again.
Gabrielle covered her mouth to hide her amusement at the warriorís predicament, but Xena was not finding any humor in the situation.
"No!" the child yelled again, but this time the warrior had not even had a chance to ask her to do anything.
The now frustrated mother stood. "Thatís it!" she said sternly lifting the child and all her blankets into her arms and seating herself and her large bundle in the chair on the opposite side of the room.
Xena peeled all the covers away until she could see the blue eyes of her daughter looking up. "Is it safe?" the child asked, looking around the room.
Xena shook her head. "Not for you if I find out this is your idea of a joke," she warned.
Tarren spotted her uncle on the bed and made an attempt at burying herself in her blankets once again, but Xena pinned the child firmly in place on her lap. "Thatís quite enough Hide and Find Me, little one," she said holding the child tightly against her chest. "Tarren, there is nobody here. YouĎre just having a nightmare," the warrior mother said gently, staring down at her still frightened daughter.
"But Momma, I wasnít asleep," the child moaned falling against her motherís chest.
Tarren started to cry and the warrior let out a quick breath, cradling the youngster in her arms. She felt the childís forehead and then nodded to Gabrielle. "Ya know, she may be coming down with something. These quick changes in the weather can do that," the warrior said, her frustration now turning to concern.
"Uh-oh,"Lyceus groaned, covering his mouth, to signal his niece what was next.
Tarren grinned a bit at the silly ghostís dramatics, but then returned to the safety of her motherís familiar shoulder.
"Xena, do you want me to get the tea?" the bard asked placing a gentle hand on the childís forehead to offer her own assessment.
Tarrenís eyes shot open as soon as she heard the question. "No Momma...Please, not the tea. I swear I wonít see anything anymore...I promise," the child begged.
Xena shook her head. "Sorry little one, but we have to be sure you stay well," she said wrapping the little girl back in the blankets.
"Yeah Gabrielle, you better get it, and make sure you use the big mug. I want to knock this thing out of her system before it gets any worse," Xena said carrying the now cringing child back to the bed and throwing two extra blankets over her.
"But Momma..." the child murmured.
Xena silenced her with a quick stare and the child lay her head down on her pillow with her uncle sitting right beside.
"Well, you canít say I didnít warn you, kid,"Lyceus said, his voice sympathetic to his young niece's plight.
Gabrielle left the room, and Xena sat on the pallet rubbing her daughterís face.
"Hmm, sheís softened a bit,"Lyceus said noting the concern in his sisterís face.
Tarren looked at her uncle with her lower lip pushed out in an unforgiving pout.
He looked at the child and shrugged his shoulder innocently. "What...What did I do? So you didnít listen, and now youíre not talking to me?" the ghost asked.
Tarren acted as if he did not exist and just looked up at her mother.
"Momma, Iím not sick...I donít want the tea," the youngster moaned.
Xena lay down beside her daughter. "Well, want it or not, you have to drink it. It will keep you well," she said kissing the youngsterís forehead.
"Is that my sister?"Lyceus asked, awed by the affection she had just displayed with such ease.
Gabrielle entered the room with a very large mug of hot goo and handed it to Xena.
"Thatís the largest mug I could find," the bard said sitting on the foot of the bed.
Tarren turned away from the vile odor, not wanting to smell it much less drink it.
"Oh gods, what is that awful stench?"Lyceus asked, holding his nose between his fingers.
Tarren sealed her lips together and buried her head in her motherís side.
The warrior frowned at this familiar ritual. "Hey, donít make me do this the hard way, young lady," she said with parental authority.
"Hey Xena, give the kid a break. That stuff smells like something you found under the stable,"the uncle said shaking his head. "Gods, I think Iím gonna be ill," he moaned, waving his hand in front of his face to move the aroma of the medicine away.
Tarren burrowed her head deeper in the warriorís side. "NO!" she yelled.
Xena took a deep breath, "Tarren, you get up here and drink this or else," she ordered in a no nonsense tone.
Lyceus stared at his sisterís parental expression and then poked his niece in the side. "Uh, I think you better get up here. From the look in my sisterís face, there are worse things than drinking that stuff...that will happen if you donít," he said grimly.
The youngster slowly came to the surface and opened her eyes wide as she looked at her mother and then the bard.
"Stand proud, kid. Iím right here with ya,"Lyceus said moving to the far side of the room.
Tarren opened her mouth, and Xena placed the mug on her lips watching to make sure the child finished every last drop.
"Good girl!" she said softly kissing the little girl on the head and handing the now empty mug to the bard.
"YUK!" Tarren and Lyceus said in unison.
Xena grinned a bit knowing the medicine tasted awful, but the warrior felt it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to Tarrenís health. "I know it was pretty bad, and Iím sorry baby. But Iím sure youíll feel much better for having taken it, " she whispered, her voice now gentle and full of sympathy.
The child just looked at her mother, feeling a bit frustrated by the warriorís inability to see the figure beside the child.
"Xena, it sure is cold in here. Maybe you should get that fire going again," the bard said feeling the chill run up her body.
The warrior rubbed her own arms, "Yeah thatís a good idea..." she replied. "Tarren, you stay in that bed. Iíll be right back. No getting out from under the covers, understand?" she asked, sternly.
The child nodded still trying in vain to get the taste of the drink she was sure contained part of Argoís tail out of her mouth.
"Yes Momma," she whispered.
The warrior tasseled the childís head and left with the bard.
Lyceus leaned in close to his niece. "Iím sorry, Tarren. I didnít know it would be that bad. I did try and tell ya," he said apologetically.
The youngster had now resolved herself to having a ghostly uncle that only she could see as a roommate. She folded her little arms tightly against her chest in Xena fashion and glared at him. "Is this your idea of helping me?" she asked with a cold little stare.
Tarren lay on the bed refusing to acknowledge her Uncleís presence. Her mother had returned long enough to build a roaring fire and then returned to the inn once again.
"Ahh come on Tarren I said I was sorry. I just came to help ya. Give me another chance. I can help you with Xena. I know youíve been feeling bad about not being able to tell people sheí s your Mom,"he said leaning against the bed.
He had said the magic words.
The child turned quickly around and stared at the shimmering uncle she had never met. "I wanted Nala. How come she didnít come?" she asked, her voice still a bit unsteady.
"Hey kid who better to help you with my big sister than me. Believe me nobody knows better than me what ití s like to walk in her shadow,"he said with a grin.
Tarren sat up in the bed and stared up at her shimmering uncle. "Ok you can help, but no more getting me in trouble," she moaned, still trying to get the vial taste flavor off her lips.
He crossed his heart eager to make a pledge. Uh...sorry thatís not worth too much is it?" he asked dropping his hand
the little girl shook her head. "Nope guess not, but Iíll trust you anyway...for now. Ok so whatís your plan?" the child asked eager for whatever help she could get.
"Well if you want Xena to realize what a mistake it is to not tell people your her daughter, you have to make her miss ya a bit.
"Well how do I do that?
"Easy stop calling her Momma."
The child shook her head wondering how such an approach would get her to her objective, "Huh?"
"Look...Sheíll get all worried and miss hearing it so much that sheíll be begging you to say it all the time. Trust me the plan will not fail. You just have to let her know that itís all or nothing,"he said, with finality.
Tarren lay back on the bed considering the idea. "I dunno...It sounds sort of like I could get in trouble...Wonít she get angry?" the child asked, considering the ramifications of such a possibility.
Lyceus shook his head and waved his hands dramatically in the air. "For what? Doing what your told. She said call her Xena so call her Xena all the time. It will drive her crazy, and there wonít be a thing she can do about it since it was her idea in the first place. Hey you wanted help right?"
"Yeah...I guess," the youngster muttered, hoping this was truly a helpful thing.
"Well thatís why I was sent...to help."
"Ok Iíll try it, but I better not get in trouble cause of you," she warned, dropping her head on the pillow with a thud.
"Good girl. Youíll see weíll have this problem licked in no time...might even get a pony out of it,"he said, letting his voice drop to a whisper on the final words
Tarrenís eyes flew open. Another magic word had been spoken.
"Ya think?" The childís voice was filled with excitement.
"Maybe...Ya see when you make Momís feel guilty enough you never know what youíll get."
The youngster nodded allowing this new bit of information to sink in. Xena walked in the door stretching out her arms and yawning. She sat down in the chair and started to remove her armor. She soon noticed the little girlís eyes were wide open.
"Hey I would have thought that tea would have knocked you right out. What are you still doing awake?" she asked laying on the pallet beside her child
"Uh...I was just waiting for you. I couldnít sleep," the youngster replied with a yawn.
"Well Iím here now little one, so go to sleep," the warrior whispered, placing a gentle arm around the child and kissing her forehead.
Tarren bit her lip ready to begin the plan. "Ok... Gínight ...Xena," she whispered, turning quickly so as not to have to face her motherís angry expression.
The warrior turned her head and stared at her daughter. ĎAhh must be the medicine. Sheís half-asleep,í the warrior thought at hearing her name mentioned.
"Gínight baby," she answered, closing her eyes.
The child frowned at her motherís lack of response, but the uncle just waved his hand.
"Ahh sheís just too tired...You wait and see."
The little girl closed her eyes eager for the morning to come so she could see just what her uncleís plan might bring.
Chapter 6 Ė Plans to be Made
The following day Gabrielle and Xena spent all of there time with Tarren trying to
reestablish any break in their familial link that might have occurred in their brief moments of separation. At little Tarrenís request, the trio had been fishing, swimming and played more games of Hide and Find Me then the warrior cared to count. Xena had to admit Tarren seemed to be finding her with great ease today where as normally the child could never even come close to locating the Warrior Princess in hiding. Xena could not decide if the youngster had suddenly become the worldís greatest tracker or the warrior herself was slipping. Either way it was something worth thinking about.
The bard and the warrior sat quietly under a tree looking out over the village while Tarren went running happily in the open field. "You know Xena. This is the calmest Iíve ever seen you," the bard whispered to the warrior who was reclining peacefully beside her.
The warrior kept her hands folded behind her head and her eyes closed. "Thatís because itís nice and quiet here," she said with a peaceful smile and a relaxing breath.
The bard giggled at the sight of her mellow friend, "Oh come on Xena weíve been here over a week and you canít tell me you arenít itching to move on and throttle a warlord can you?"
The warrior grinned and stared at the bard. "Well maybe I am getting a bit antsy about getting back on the road, but Iíll last...a little bit longer...like I said it is quiet here," she repeated, enjoying relaxing under the shadow of the small oak she had found shade in.
After a morning of keeping up with Tarren even the warrior mother was truly exhausted.
Gabrielle smiled as she noted the small figure jump from a tree with a thud and start running toward them, "Uh...Xena you really think this is a nice quiet spot donít you?"
The warrior nodded with satisfaction. "Yup!" she replied, as she cocked her head to the side hearing the sounds of small footsteps approaching.
With a giant leap the small figure leapt into the air and landed in a skid beside the warrior. "Hello!" the youngster said with a wide smile.
Xena opened one eye and looked at the bard, "Thanks for the warning."
"You are quite welcome," she replied with a smile.
The warrior sighed and stared at her grinning daughter. "Well so much for quiet," Xena said with a smirk, wrapping an arm around the youngster. The child grinned and just leaned in beside her mother ready to rest for a moment and wanting to check to make sure her mother was still just where she had left her.
"What have you been up to?" the warrior mother asked, afraid what the response might actually be.
The youngster leaned against the tree and shook her head. "Nothing...I was just hanging upside down in that tree," she replied, pointing to a large willow on the other side of the clearing.
Xena and Gabrielle eyed the large high branches the child was motioning to.
"Tarren what did I say about high trees?" the warrior asked in a slightly scolding tone.
The youngster tilted her head. "You said not to climb them. You didnít say not to hang from them," the child said with a proud grin.
The warrior mother shook her head, let out a long breath and looked at the bard for help, but there was little to be found.
"Iím sorry Xena, but you didnít exactly tell her that she couldnít hang from the branches," the young woman answered, trying to maintain a diplomatic tone.
The warrior frowned, "Whose side are you on Gabrielle?"
The young woman leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes. "I am on the side of peace and justice of course," she replied carefully folding her hands behind her head.
Xena grinned at her friendís relaxed pose, "Huh...Ok Iíll remember that the next time she puts a snake in your bedroll."
The bard opened her eyes and frowned, realizing that there were too often times when she needed the warriorís assistance in such matters. "Tarren you heard your mother...no hanging from the high branches," the bard ordered, offering her larger friend a quick smile to let her know she had changed sides.
Xena scrunched her lips together and shook her head knowing there was no force in the words, "Sorry bard but your on your own now."
The young woman shrunk back against the tree resigned to the fact that she would need to keep an eye out for things that might crawl around uninvited in her bedroll.
Xena looked back at Tarren. She studied the still grinning face of her daughter, placing her hand on the child chin, "No climbing the high trees, no swinging, and no hanging. As a matter of fact, donít even look at them and weíll all be better off," she said softly, closing her eyes once again hoping to find that feeling of peace once again.
The child folded her arms against her chest to show her mother her dissatisfaction at yes another rule she was being given to follow, "How am I supposed to know when a tree is too high?"
"Ahh Sis she climbs really well and you should see her swing. Tarren tell her itís not fair since she did that stuff when she was a kid,"Lyceus sulked as he shimmered into existence beside his niece.
The warrior glanced over at the child letting out a short breath. "Well if you have to ask yourself that question than the tree is too high," she said with a smile, gently patting the youngsterís cheek.
Tarren twisted her mouth into a sulking frown and fell back against the tree. "Thatís not fair. You did that stuff when you were a kid. I never get to do anything fun," she moaned, looking up at her ghostly uncle for continued support.
Xena sat up a bit, keeping a constant stare down on her pouting child to remind the youngster once again of the difference in their size.
"Tarren what I did or did not do when I was a kid is not the issue. You do as I say not as I do or did young lady, and you do it because I say so," she replied in a parental tone, wondering just who was feeding the child all this information.
Tarren merely pushed her lower lip out in a distinct pout knowing that the Ďbecause I say soí clause of her motherís vocabulary generally ended all negotiations.
"Oh yeah I get to do a drill with the...big stick. I get to study the stars and... the scrolls, and I get to go to bed just as...everyone else is having... fun...Why canít I do what... I want?" she muttered, wondering if her mother was still even paying attention.
"Thatís it kid. You tell her,"Lyceus encouraged, moving beside his now agitated warrior sister.
The warrior mother smiled broadly at the bard to let the young woman know she was reaching her limits of explanation. "Your turn," Xena said waving her hand in the air to offer the voice of diplomacy a shot at dealing with the stubborn child.
Gabrielle cleared her throat and leaned over to face the child, "Tarren...honey thatís all just part of being a kid. You have people that watch over you, protect you, love you, and make sure you do all the right things...Sometimes that means you donít get to do the everything you want or even the same things as adults because you are not an adult. Itís all because people care about you," she said with a gentle but still diplomatic tone.
Xena smiled at her friendís words, "That was really very nicely said Gabrielle."
"Why Thank you Xena," the bard replied.
"It smells like Argo droppings to me,"Lyceus said holding his nose.
"Yeah it smelled like Argo droppings to me too," the child murmured.
Xenaís smile quickly disappeared as she stared down at her daughter, "What was that?"
The youngster bit her lip and folded her arms stubbornly against her chest saying nothing knowing she was now in trouble.
Xena slowly got to her feet pulling Tarren up beside her. "Ok young lady choose the tree you havenít watched," she said sternly, waving her hand at the open field of trees.
"Tarren you werenít supposed to repeat that,"the ghost groaned.
Xena placed her hands on her hips and bent to face her youngster. "Excuse me little girl. What I say or donít say doesnít matter. You will mind your manners and watch your mouth young lady," the warrior scolded.
The youngster glanced up at her mother and swallowed hard, realizing she had just unintentionally spoken out loud. "Yes maíam," she said quietly pointing to a tree in the distance that she was now sure she would be facing for quite a while.
The warrior shook her head trying to drain some of her frustration. "Thatís more like it. Ok now you go face the tree until I tell you to stop. Do not move from that spot until you are ready to have a better attitude. Understand?" the mother scolded.
Gabrielle watched the exchange with sadness. Both she and Xena had hoped to make this a very pleasant and enjoyable day for Tarren, but the child seemed Hades bent on pushing her way into trouble.
The youngster gave her mother one more pitiful stare and than dragged her feet off toward the tree to carry out the familiar sentence of watching tree bark grow. "Yes Xena," the daughter moaned.
Gabrielle cocked an eyebrow having noticed how the child was now constantly calling her mother Xena. ĎStrangeí the bard thought as she watched the child stomp away.
Lyceus took up a position beside Tarren as if he were meant to share in the punishment as well. "Sorry kid...Itís a small set back but the plan is going great," he said holding his chin high.
Tarren frowned. "I donít think this plan of yours is so great...Iíve called Momma, Xena, all morning and she hasnít said anything about it," she mumbled under her breath as she headed for the penalty tree.
"Hey give it a chance kid. Canít ya see how sheís bothered by it?"he said pointing back to the warrior.
Tarren turned around and watched her mother sliding comfortably back against the tree and frowned. "I donít think itís bothering her at all. Maybe she just prefers I donít call her Momma at all...Maybe sheís sorry she ever found me at all...Maybe she really just doesnít want me to be her kid, " the youngster said with a groan, feeling her angst growing as each thought jumped to another conclusion.
"Donít be silly. Itís bothering her a lot...Sheís just real good at hiding stuff like that...trust me. Hey didnít I help you find your mother every single time during that game of Hide and Find me?"
Tarren grinned a bit. "Yeah I guess so...It was lots of fun. Did ya see the look on Mommaís face every time I yelled got ya?" the child giggled.
Lyceus laughed loudly and followed his niece to the tree wondering why his sister was truly not reacting as planned and predicted.
Gabrielle watched the child go and shook her head, "Xena she sure is acting strange today. Maybe you should talk to her."
The warrior glanced over at the child now defiantly facing off with a tree and just slid back down to her own place of comfort. "Nope Iíve tried talking to her. Iím all talked out Gabrielle. Sheís just getting a bit too big for her britches. Iíve been understanding, affectionate, and down right wonderful...If you want to talk to her then please be my guest. I would love to watch you work your magic," she replied, settling back in her spot to enjoy the quiet once again.
The bard nodded, "I think I will. Maybe you should watch how a little carefully placed diplomacy and rational explanation can work over intimidation," she said, jumping to her feet anxious to give the warrior a lesson in parenting.
ĎThis might even make a good scroll,í the bard thought.
Xena just smiled, "Oh I know exactly where she needs a little carefully placed diplomacy," the warrior murmured. "But please go ahead... Iíll be watching Gabrielle."
With a slight frown at her less that agreeable friend, Gabrielle headed toward the large tree where Tarren was standing. She approached the child cautiously not wanting to seem the least bit threatening. "So having a good time?" the bard asked with a grin.
Tarren turned her head and looked at her friend. "Yeah Gabrielle Iím having a great time. Can I go now?" she asked, hoping the bard was bringing a pardon from the leather-clad warden.
"Uh...No...Xena still wants you watching the tree. I just came over to chat," she said standing beside the youngster.
"Great wanna join me with this good time?" the little girl asked with a sly grin.
"Hey donít wise off to the blond. I think Iím in love with her."Lyceus begged, sighing heavily as she stared at Gabrielle.
Tarren faced her uncle. "Would you go away. Your gonna get me in trouble," she muttered to the shimmering figure at her side.
Gabrielleís mouth dropped open, "Excuse me young lady, you are already in trouble. Do you want to be in more?" the bard asked, tapping her foot anxiously on the ground, waiting for an apology.
"Hey kid does my sister make you watch trees often?"Lyceus asked bored already by the lack of movement and lack of interest that tree bark showed.
"Yes," the child answered with a frown.
The bard placed her hands on her hips and leaned gains the tree staring down at the child. "So you want me to go over there," she said pointing back toward Xena. "And tell your mother that youíd like to be in more trouble," she chided.
Tarren threw her arms quickly in the air realizing Gabrielle had mistaken her conversation with the ghostly uncle as answers to her questions. "Uh no Gabby donít do that. Iím sorry... I was just talking to myself...thatís all...really...Donít tell Xena please," she begged, offering her friend a wide-eyed stare of innocence.
Gabrielle thought about it and let out a quick breath. It was time to try to use the brain over brawn method. She stood beside the child facing the tree, "Uh huh...Hmm this could get a bit boring after a while," she said with a frown, grateful her own mother had never been so imaginative when it came to discipline.
"Gee I kind of enjoy it," the child murmured, finding it difficult to keep her pouting to herself.
"You are not following the plan. The blond is supposed to be on our side. Stop being such a brat. Sheís trying to be nice."
Tarren could not stand her uncleís interference any longer, and she didnít know why he insisted on referring to her friend by the color of her hair. "Would ya stop that. Itís just Gabrielle...Iím not listening to you anymore," the youngster said, covering her ears to emphasize her point to the ghost.
Gabrielle took a deep breath shocked by the normally affectionate childís bad attitude. She pulled Tarrenís hands from her ears and faced the youngster. "Look Tarren your behavior lately has been a bit obnoxious even for you. How about telling me whatís bothering you?" she asked in a stern tone, letting the little girl know she was no longer playing.
"Look kid just do what I say for a little while please...." the uncle begged.
The child shook the bardís hold off to turn away from the phantom. "No I just wanna to do what I wanna to do. I donít want to listen to you anymore. You are no help at all," the frustrated child yelled, kicking the tree in front of her.
Gabrielleís smile faded and she stared at the youngster. "Tarren you are really pushing it. I would suggest you take a peace of advice. Your mother is at the end of her rope with you. I would not push her any further than you already have," she advised, her face turning a bit red, from her own building frustration.
"Oh come on Tarren I think Iíve got a great plan,"the ghost sulked.
Tarren turned away from her shimmering uncle and faced Gabrielle, "Why should I care what you think anyway. Go bother Xena?" the child yelled hoping her Lyceus would leave her to suffer in peace so she could continue her conversation with Gabrielle.
The bard stared at the child oddly making note of the second time the youngster had passed on the chance to refer to the warrior as her mother in the privacy of their surroundings.
"Look kid Iím only trying to help like you asked."Lyceus replied, moving behind Gabrielle hoping to catch his nieceís attention.
The bard looked down at the now angry youngster and shook her head bewildered by the childís sudden range of emotion, "Tarren...." she started but before she could finish the youngster just turned her back.
"Go away. I donít want any help ...Iíd rather watch the tree!" she yelled, motioning the shimmering figure away with the wave of a hand.
The bard felt the coldness in the childís words pierce her heart and the dejected young woman slowly moved back to Xena, who had not even been watching the exchange.
Satisfied that her uncle had been momentarily silenced, Tarren turned looking for Gabrielle, but was saddened to see she had already walked away.
Lyceus leaned against the tree, "Great Tarren! Gabrielle thinks you were talking to her. Now weíre really in trouble."
Tarren leaned her head against the tree. "We? Oh Uncle Lyceus this is a very bad plan...a very bad plan," she cried.
Gabrielle took her seat beside the warrior under the shady tree.
"So how did it go?" the warrior asked, smiling but not opening her eyes.
The bard slid down to the ground her face broken and hurt from the youngsterís rejection, "Iím afraid she did not want to talk to me."
Noting the pain in her friendís voice, the warrior opened her eyes, "Hey are you Ok? What did she say to you?" the warrior mother asked, parental anger slipping into her tone as she started to rise.
The bard shook her head, "Xena itís not what just she said itís the way she said it. She is so...I dunno...I think there is something really bothering her...I mean she basically told me to get lost. Tarren has never spoken to me like that before," the young woman replied sadly, dropping her head down.
Xena wiped the dust from her leathers and shook her head at the amazon queen. "And she never will again...Gabrielle whatís bothering her, is that sheís taking advantage of you and acting like a spoiled little brat...Tarren!" the mother yelled, motioning for the child to return to her.
"Uh Oh now weíre...I mean youíre gonna get it,"Lyceus warned.
"Thanks Uncle Lyceus but I think even I knew that. Momma sounds real mad. Is this all part of the plan too?" she asked, hoping it just might be.
The shimmering figure shrugged and shook its head not quite sure how to respond.
Tarren slipped over to her motherís side keeping her eyes focused down at her feet.
"What?" she muttered, not wanting to look at her motherís face.
The warrior mother shook her head and tugged on the youngsterís ear to remind the child just whom she was speaking too.
"Ouch!" the child yelped staring up at her obviously frustrated mother.
"You will look at me when I am speaking to you little girl and what is not an acceptable response is it?" the warrior mother chided.
"Oooh...that had to smart," Lyceus whispered,covering his own ears protectively.
The child bit her lip. "No maíam itís not," the child replied obediently.
Xena looked at Gabrielle who just gave the warrior a sullen glance.
"Ok unlike Gabrielle I donít accept your bad manners young lady. I am going to give you one chance to tell me what has been eating at you today. Iíve asked you a number of times and you say there is nothing wrong and yet you act more like a little...." the warrior began.
"Yeah sheís been acting like a little you Xena,"Lyceus chuckled as he listened to his sisterís scolding.
Tarren smiled at her uncle confused by the comparison. "A little you?" she asked with a grin, wondering just what he meant by those words.
Gabrielle covered her face with both hands not wanting her own expression to be seen by either the child or the warrior.
The warriorís eyes grew wide at the disrespectful statement from her daughterís lips. She took a deep breath and stared down at the child allowing her dark eyes to weigh heavy on the little oneís face. The peace and serenity of the quiet was now gone.
"Ok thatís that. All we wanted was to have a nice day together. We wanted to spend time with you, but you have been doing is acting like a spoiled brat. Now you get your little butt back to the inn and go straight to bed. You will not be enjoying this beautiful day with us, and you better have some better answers for me when I get back," she scolded, pointing toward the inn at the bottom of the hill.
Tarren kicked the dirt in front of her with the tip of her boot. "I donít wanna go to bed." the child whined, staring at the bard still seated under the tree and then back to her mother whose muscular form was beginning to tense.
Lyceus could not help but notice how the expression on his sisterís face was changing, "Kid go to bed...trust me itís the safest place right now. We have to rethink the plan a bit."
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and stared up at the sky trying to find an extra ounce of patience to use in this moment. She let her tongue move slowly around the inside of her mouth as she considered the stubborn youngster in front of her. After what seemed like a long moment the mother took a deep breath and then brought her focus back on her daughter.
"Tarren you take your little behind and you walk down to that inn...go straight to your room and go to bed. I donít want to hear another...word...or sound out of you...If I do then Iíll be going back to the inn with you...Got me?" she asked in a husky whisper, bending a bit to stare at the child, so as to make her point clear.
"Tarren now would be a good time to call a retreat,"the uncle warned, stepping away from the familiar tone in his sisterís voice.
"Yes maíam," she moaned, kicking the dirt and frowning at her mother as she slowly started her descent into exile. "Plan stinks..." she murmured.
Xena shook her he head and frowned wondering what was making her usually respectful child so indignant. "Can you believe her? All day we have been doing anything and everything she asked of us and this is how she behaves like this. For two dinars...." The warrior mother began, trying to rein in her mounting frustration and confusion.
The bard cut her off before the warrior could finish the sentence. The usually gentle young woman watched the youngster head down the hill and remembered the childís rude behavior, "Xena right now for just one dinar Iíd help you."
Tarren kicked the stones in front of her as she made her way back toward the inn occasionally staring back up the hill at Xena and Gabrielle wondering how could they ever understand the weight on her small shoulders.
"Thanks a lot Uncle Lyceus. Because of you and your plan Iím being sent to bed. If I hadnít listened to you then Iíd be fishing and swimming with Momma and Gabby now instead of having to go to inn," she mumbled, giving the phantom an occasional glance out of the corner of her eye.
"Iím sorry Tarren. I donít know what went wrong. Iíll make it up to you. Weíll play games and stuff while I come up with a new and even better plan...youíll see," he said trying to offer the child a bit of enthusiasm.
Tarren frowned hoping her uncleís next plan was far better than his first.
"I dunno maybe we should just give up. So far since youíve been here Iíve had to take bad medicine, gotten Momma and Gabby mad at me, and now I have to spend the day in my room," she exclaimed, waving her small hands in the air in surrender. "I give up. Iím never gonna have a real mom like other kids do," she said quietly, dropping her chin to her chest.
All Tarren had wanted was for Xena to claim her as her daughter in public. She did not care about the risks her mother warned of. She just wanted to have a mom that she could call openly. The warrior had taken the child all over Amphipolous and everywhere they went the youngster was introduced as just "Tarren" making her feel more like a possession than Xenaís daughter. Even Argo was identified as Xenaís horse. Xena had explained to the child in great length the danger in sharing the truth. However after a while the small child was beginning to wonder whether it was really Xenaís concern or disgrace that kept her from sharing the youngsterís identity with the world.
As Tarren approached the Inn she saw a large man talking with Cyrene outside. She motioned for the youngster to approach, which she did.
"Oh Gods Mom canít you se the kid is not in the mood to chat with anyone."
"Good child Iím glad youíre here. There is someone Iíd like you to meet," the innkeeper said with a smile.
Tarren shook her head. "Sorry Cyrene I have to go to my room. Masterís orders," the child replied stiffly.
"Master...Oh Sis would love that,"the ghost said with a chuckle.
The older woman caught her granddaughter by the arm. "Not so fast little one. We always have time to show good manners," she said in a parental tone placing the child squarely in front of her.
"Tarren make a run for it. Sheís got the use your good manners speech on hand and that usually means trouble,"the uncle warned.
"I canít do that," the child sullenly replied to her uncle.
Cyrene shook her head at the childís obvious disrespect for her instructions. "Young lady you can and will show your good manners or I will tell your...Xena," she responded, firmly holding the youngster in place.
Tarren dropped her head in her hands. ĎBy the gods itís happening again,' she thought.
The child tried to ignore her ghostly uncle and concentrate on the solid forms around her. Yes ma am...Iím sorry," she whispered, hoping to avoid any more trouble with her own mother than she already had.
"Well that is much better," the grandmother said in a softer voice. She waved her hand to the tall man beside her. "Tarren this is Toben. He went to school with your...My daughter. This is Tarren she travels with Xena now," the grandmother stated, finding it more and more frustrating not being able to call Tarren her granddaughter.
"Oh Zeus not Toben. Sis always said he was a Centaurs butt."
The child sighed at the once again impersonal introduction. "Hi!" she said giving her the man a passing glance. She had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling at her uncleís words.
Toben dropped to one knee and rubbed the childís head like he was shining boots. "Well Tarren it must be offal exciting for you traveling with the great Warrior Princess. You know we were best friends as children," he said with a smile, patting the little girl on the head like a faithful dog.
"Oh please...friends...She thought you were an annoying twerp,"Lyceus moaned.
Tarren stared at the tall man but said nothing anxious to have these polite introductions come to an end, so she take her ghostly uncle and play warlord in the confines of her room.
Toben looked at Cyrene and then motioned to his wagon where two smaller figures had been waiting for him. One boy was a rather chunky little fellow a few summers older than Tarren. The other was nearly full grown, but thin and wiry looking. They approached at their fatherís bidding.
"These are my sons Tetran and young Milo," Toben said proudly, pointing to each boy in turn.
Tarren eyed the figures quickly and nodded a hello.
"Hi!" the younger boy said with a friendly smile.
"Zeus someone married him and...even...never mind...Yuk Iíd rather smell that tea than watch this."Lyceus groaned pacing around the Toben family.
"Hi," Tarren replied, still anxious to get to her room, play a few games, and go to bed as ordered by her already angry mother.
The older boy just looked at little Tarren with half smile as if sizing her up for his amusement.
"Hey what are you looking at my niece like that for twiggy?"the uncle asked trying in vain to push the solid form of Tetran further away.
Cyrene looked at the youngsters and smiled. "Well Tarren I need you to entertain the boys while Toben and I finish some business inside," the grandmother said motioning the little girl forward.
Tarren started to open her mouth in protest but could tell by the look in her grandmotherís eyes that any infraction would be passed straight away to Xena. The youngster did not need any more troubles than she already had, so she just hung her head in surrender, "Yes maíam."
"Oh...no Mom ...donít do that...This guy over here...Tetran... is trouble. I just know it. Donít make her stay ...Xena wants the kid in her room...Mom...."he pleaded to a mother that could not hear his cries.
"But what about what Xena told me about going to my room?" the child asked, hoping the warriorís word would mean something.
The womanís face went blank, "NO butts I think Xena would agree that this is the polite way to behave," Cyrene responded with a stare that told the child she would not take no for an answer.
The youngster frowned and faced the boys as Cyrene went back into the inn with Toben.
Tarren looked at her uncle who was just shaking his head in disbelief.
"So whatís it like...traveling around with the great Xena and Gabrielle?" Milo asked eagerly, with awe like wonder in his eyes.
"I like this kid,"Lyceus said noting how his eyes lit up when he said Xena and Gabrielle.
The little girl shrugged not in the mood to really tell tales of their lives on the road and her lack of freedom. "No big deal... fires...warlords...big sticks...that kind of stuff," she murmured, wondering how long it would take her grandmother to finish her business.
Tetran folded his arms and stared down at the child. "Donít waste your time Milo. Sheís just a little kid. The way I hear it Xena keeps her around as a servant just so she has someone to polish her boots," he said with a spiteful glare.
"Him I donít like,"the phantom uncle said pointing at Tetran.
Milo shook his head and glanced at his older brother "Tetran thatís not very nice. Sheís a friend of Xena. Father will be angry," he warned.
Tarren looked at the portly boy with gratitude for his attempted defense and then set her sights on the young man in front of her, "Iím not Xenaís servant...Iím her...." Tarren came very close to spilling it all, but at the last second held back revealing the secret. She suddenly remembered all the bets she lost that had her polishing boots and was a bit confused about how much truth might be in Tetranís words.
"You tell him kid,"Lyceus cheered, hoping his niece had more to say.
"The young mad stared down at Tarren and smiled, "So you think you are more than a little servant huh? You think that you are good enough to be a friend of Xenaís? You donít even know who your folks are. Xena just keeps you around out of pity. Of course you do know there is a word for kids that donít know who their parents are...I do believe itís...little bastard," he said with a loud laugh, waving a single finger in front of the child.
"Tarren I canít hit him, but if I could I would. Kick him in the knee or something,"Lyceus growled.
The young man did not have to say anymore. She had heard that word for the first time at the age of five and while she wasnít sure exactly what it meant, she knew that it was not a nice thing to be called. Before Tetran could spit out another word the little warrior princess kicked him in the groin and knocked him in the jaw leaving a very shocked Tetran lying on the ground, gasping for air and wiping blood from his lip.
The angry little child stood over him, "Say it again," she hissed, ready to grab for her chucks and finish the job.
Lyceus stood proudly beside his niece, "Gods I wish I had been able to do that. That was great. That was much better than just kicking him in the knee. Xena is gonna be so proud."
Tarren took her eyes off of the bully on the ground long enough to look at her shimmering uncle. Ya really think?" she whispered, hoping it were true.
He nodded and held up his hand to give her the O.K. signal and Tarren smiled.
Hearing all the commotion Cyrene and Toben came racing out the door to find a boy of about 17 summers lying on the ground in front of a little girl 10 summers old.
"What in Hades is going on out here?" the older woman yelled, protectively standing in front of Tarren.
Toben pulled his fallen son to his feet. "What happened?" he yelled staring at the young manís bloody lip.
Tetran stared at the child. "That little kid attacked me for no reason at all father. I couldnít very well hit her. I mean sheís just a little girl," he stated, trying to show how he had taken the punch only as a way to save the youngster from injury.
"Oh you are such a liar,"the ghostly uncle said moving back and forth through Tetran.
Tarren jumped from behind Cyrene ready to take another shot at the fibbing bully, "Donít let that stop you ya big...." Cyrene grabbed the youngsterís arms to hold her back and covered the childís mouth with her hand not wanting the sentence finished.
All eyes soon fell on young Milo, "What happened?" Toben asked staring down at his younger son. The boy looked at the anger in his brothers eyes and then his father, "I...err...really wasnít watching Poppa," the boy replied letting his head drop shamefully.
"Gods they're both little Tobens. Not a spine between them,"the ghost condemned.
Tarren struggled to get free, wanting another shot at Tetran. If she was going to get in trouble for this then it might as well be worth while. Cyrene held the youngster in place with difficulty.
"You go to your room," she ordered, pushing the little girl toward the inn door. "And you just wait until Xena finds out," the grandmother warned, as the child reluctantly went inside.
"But Mom she didnít...You should have heard what that little ...Tetran said. Youíd...oh whatís the use,"the uncle moaned, disappearing through the door heading for Tarrenís room.
Cyrene lowered her eyes "Iím sorry Toben. I donít know whatís gotten in to her. She really is a very gentle little one," the grandmother said with a sigh.
Toben looked at his son and shook his head. "Itís all right Cyrene. I doubt that anyone here is innocent," the man replied, glaring at his elder boy.
The innkeeper nodded thankfully. "Perhaps we had better discuss this later when my daughter returns," Cyrene said with a breath, deciding this was Xenaís responsibility to deal with.
"Yes maybe that would be best. Besides I would love to see her...Itís been too long," he said with a smile, motioning his sons to return to their wagon. The older boy wiped the blood from his lip and glared at his young brother for not fabricating a worthy story in his defense.
Tarren lay on her bed smiling wickedly at he memory of blood draining from the lip of that big mouth bully. She could still picture the look of shock on his face when he landed on the ground with a thud.
Lyceus leaned up against the wall trying to think of the right thing to say to comfort his niece. "Look Tarren donít let my mom get to you. Sheís old and a bit out of touch. Xena would have done just what you did...trust me... Sheíll be proud," he said, lying on the bed beside the child, staring up at the ceiling.
"Ya really think so Uncle Lyceus? Proud enough to tell people Iím her kid?" the child asked, hoping that she had finally done something to earn the title.
The uncle looked at his young niece and smiled. "Tarren sheís proud of you already. I can tell, and Iím real proud of the way you took that overgrown pimple down," Lyceus said softly.
Tarren grinned at the shimmering figure. "Thanks Uncle Lyceus" she replied for once glad that he was with her.
The smiles on both faces quickly faded when they heard the loud footsteps of the Warrior Princess heading in heavy strides toward the room. Xena entered the chamber slamming the door behind her. She walked right over to the bed never taking her eyes off her young daughter. "What happened?" she asked, letting her eyes scan the child to make sure there were no injuries just as Cyrene had stated.
The youngster was quick to realize that her motherís expression held no pride but instead disappointment and anger. The youngster lowered her eyes realizing that all her hopes of a proud look in her motherís eyes had been dashed once again.
"Nothing," the child replied simply, deciding that there was no reason to add to her motherís shame by telling the warrior what people thought of the youngster. Tarren felt sure that if she shared the facts with her mother, the warrior would surely never want anyone to ever know she was her daughter.
"Tarren what are you doing? Tell her what happened,"Lyceus begged.
The warriorís eyes flared at the childís lack of cooperation and detail about ht even she had just been informed of. "Nothing? You just gave a bloody lip to a boy for nothing," Xena responded, knowing there was much more to it.
The child shook her head and lowered her eyes. "I didnít like the way he looked at me," the youngster replied, not wanting her mother to know what Tetran had called her.
"Uh...Tarren youíre playing with real fire here...tell Xena what happened,"Lyceus begged, wishing Xena could see him for a few minutes so he could explain.
The little girl shook her head making it clear she had no intention of talking.
The warrior lifted the child off the bed and held her in the air, "I want to know Tarren. What happened?" she asked again through tightened lips.
The youngster said nothing but merely turned her eyes away. "Iím not telling! You can do what you want to me but I still wonít tell," she cried fighting the tears in her eyes.
"Gods kid donít cry. Just tell Xena what happened. Sheíll understand. Hades sheíll go out and kick the old manís butt, "the uncle said quietly.
"No!" Tarren cried, wiping tears from her eyes.
Xena shook her head and sighed confused by the youngsterís burst of emotion. She placed the child back on the pallet and took a deep breath. The warrior knew there was more to this story than she was getting. Tarren would not hit someone without some kind of provocation. The warrior mother placed the little girl in front of her and knelt down. "Tarren for the love of the gods...What is going on with you? Talk to me. I canít help you if you donít talk to me," she said gently, trying to offer comfort for a pain she was not sure the source of.
The little girl looked up at her mother wishing she could tell her all she felt inside, wanting to share the burden of being the warriorís daughter. The Warrior Princess could never understand what it meant to have a mother for the first time in your life, one you were proud of, and not even being able to share it with anyone. But the child just lowered her eyes feeling she was already too much of a burden to the great warrior.
"Iím sorry," was all the little one would murmur.
Lyceus quietly listened to the exchange and looked at his sister almost tempted to appear, but then just sat back down on the bed. "Ahh Xena donít punish the kid. She was just sticking up for herself," he whispered.
Xena stood and let out a long breath, trying to reign in her frustration. "Ok...young lady you get to bed. I'll find out on my own what happened and then you and I will talk again little one," she said quietly, pointing to the bed.
The youngster climbed onto the large pallet and just lay there lifeless staring up at the ceiling. Xena could not help but see how still and sad her little girl had become. It was as if the child felt nothing anybody said or did could hurt her anymore than she already was.
The warrior rubbed her arms as she felt a cold shiver run through her. As she left the room, she made a mental note to check the seal on the window for a leak.
Tarren lay on the bed crying and Lyceus followed Xena out determined to help his niece somehow. As the warrior entered the inn her mother quickly greeted her.
"Did you punish her?" Cyrene asked stiffly.
The warrior sat next to the bard who was wondering the same thing. "No mother!" she replied reaching for a mug of ale.
The older woman threw her head back in shock. "Xena you canít allow the child to just go around starting street fights with strangers. Even you never did that," Cyrene said with a shrug.
"Actually she did that a lot Mom. You just never knew it,"Lyceus said with a chuckle.
The warrior frowned and shook her head, "Mom I am not going to punish Tarren when I donít even know why she hit the boy."
"Good for you Sis,"the ghost cheered.
"Well if I were you...." Cyrene began.
Xena raised a halting hand. "Mom I think weíve already covered this. You are not me and I am not you," she answered with a quick smile.
"Mom somethingís burning in the kitchen,"Lyceus said pointing toward the other room, wanting his mother to depart.
The older woman sighed and nodded. "Yes wells he is YOUR daughter. You do what you feel is best with her," the older woman replied, heading into the kitchen.
The warrior mother shook her head and glanced at the still silent bard, "Now sheís my daughter. All week sheís been HER granddaughter."
The bard leaned on the bar sipping at her mug of cider, "Xena what do you think happened? I know Tarren has been hard to deal with today, but just hitting someone for no reason. Thatís not her. I just know somethingís bothering her," the young woman said with a frown.
"Oh Gabrielle I knew you were our friend...keep going,"Lyceus said with a dopey grin.
Xena nodded in agreement, "I know but what is it that would make her knock a boy nearly twice her age and size down?" the warrior replied with a quick grin.
"I saw that Xena," the bard admonished.
"I did not!"
"Uh yes you did Xena,"Lyceus said with a nod.
"Yes you did. Youíre proud of her for knocking him down...admit it," the bard scolded.
The warrior lost her smile, "Of course not Gabrielle. You know better than that. I was actually just thinking that his father, Toben, once made a remark about my mother being "alone" and I knocked him flat on his back too."
"Hey how come you never told me that. Iíd have knocked him on his flat head."Lyceus groaned.
The bard shook her head, "Oh gods Tarrenís you all over isnít she?" the young woman moaned
The warrior frowned at the less than complimentary remark and shook her head. "Yeah...and thanks!" the warrior said quietly.
"Thatís not what I meant...Itís just that...Well Tarren likes to do everything you do Xena and she tries to be just like you...." the young woman stumbled. "Tell me what did your mother do when you hit Toben?" the bard asked with a gentle grin.
Cyrene answered from the kitchen. "Had her standing at meals for a week," Cyrene said loudly.
"Gods where was I when this happened...living in the barn or something. Nobody ever told me anything," Lyceus moaned pacing around the inn.
The warrior nodded at the bard and then grimaced at the old memory. "The thing my mother never knew is why I hit him. He called her a harlot!" Xena whispered, not wanting her mother to hear.
"He did what...why that little...Let me be alive just for a few minutes...Whereís my sword...."the uncle begged to the gods.
Gabrielle folded her arms in contemplation. "Do you think that something like that happened with Tarren?" she asked.
"How come a man can never find his sword when he wants it."
The warrior shrugged, "I dunno with that little kid anything is possible. But I am not going to punish her without knowing why she did it," the warrior mother said stiffly, remembering the feeling of betrayal she had felt toward her own mother.
"Thatís my big sister talking."Lyceus cheered, heading back to the room.
Tarren lay on the bed wiping tears from her eyes wondering just when life had gone so wrong. She had lost Nala and that was a bad thing. She had found Xena and Gabrielle and that was a good thing. Then Xena had revealed she was the childís real mother and that was a very good thing. The more the youngster thought about it the more confused she became over just how things had gotten to such a sad state.
The little girlís thoughts were interrupted by an odd hissing sound at the window.
The little girl went to the window where a small portly boy was waiting.
"Milo what are you doing here? Iím in enough trouble." she whispered, looking at the boy hiding in the stall beneath the shudders.
The young boy tried to smile. "Iím sorry Tarren. Tetran shouldnít have said what he did.
You had every right to hit him and boy you knocked him good," he said with a smile.
The youngster studied the chubby boy with confusion. "Milo you mean youíre happy I hit your Brother?" she asked, confused by his wide smile.
"Yeah well he hits me... all the time," the boy replied, lowering his eyes.
"Poor kid...I knew I liked him...He must take after his mother,"the returning uncle said as he shimmered in beside Tarren.
"Thatís why I didnít tell my father what Tetran said. I knew heíd get me if I did," the boy continued, feeling the weight of his shame.
Tarren smiled and shook her head. She felt a bit sorry for the rather chubby kid, "Itís Ok Milo...Itís not your fault."
Miloís eyes perked up happy the little girl was not angry with him for his lack of chivalry. "Did ya get paddled?" he asked, biting his lip.
The child shook her head wondering just when that was going to happen. The waiting was the worst part. "No my...err...Xena...came in before and I was sure she was gonna but then she left. I didnít tell her what happened and I know sheís sort of mad at me for that too. She probably just wants to cool off before she comes back, so you better get out of here," the little girl whispered, motioning the boy away.
The young boy nodded, "Iím sorry Tarren."
She shrugged her shoulders, "Itís Ok Milo...it was worth it."
Gabrielle watched from the doorway as the young boy slipped away.
"Who was that?" the soft voice asked.
"Ya know I really do like her. Ya think sheíd have liked me,"Lyceus asked
Tarren ignored her uncle and turned quickly, a bit startled by the bardís entry. "Oh...that was...just Milo. Please donít tell Xena," she said with a frown.
The bard nodded and pointed toward the bed. "Ok I wonít, but what do you say you and I have a little chat?" the young woman asked.
The youngster shrugged deciding that talking with Gabrielle had never done any harm. She sat down on the bed beside the gentle bard.
"So whereís Xena? I figured sheíd be back by now," the child asked, trying to hide the fact that she was a bit nervous over her fate.
"You mean you figured sheíd come in and punish you for hitting Tetran," Gabrielle said with a heavy sigh, rubbing the little girlís back.
The child nodded and lay back on the bed, "Well she still might. Sheís really upset with you, but sheís more worried than anything else. We both are. Xena doesnít want to punish you Tarren. She just wants to know whatís wrong. Please tell me whatís bothering you," the young woman pleaded.
"Tarren maybe she can help us...tell her." Lyceus whispered.
The child looked into the gentle eyes of the young woman who was more than a friend but not quite a mother. Gabrielle had always been there to hold her and care for her when she was in trouble with Xena or her mother was not available.
"Gabby I canít...Youíll tell Xena, and I donít want her to know. Sheíll just be
more disappointed ...never mind," the little girl replied, kicking the toes of her boots together.
The bard took a deep breath and placed a gentle arm around the youngster. "Well Xenaís your mother Tarren and sheís my best friend, but if you want to tell me something as a secret, I wonít tell her...I promise!" the young woman swore.
The child studied her friendís face and considered the offer.
"So tell me why you hit that boy," the bard said quietly.
"Wow what a woman...I mean what a great friend,"Lyceus said with a cough.
Tarren stared at the gentle expression on her friendís face and then back at her ghostly uncle who was giving a nod of approval, "You promise you wonít tell Xena?
The bard nodded and crossed her heart, "You have my word."
The youngster fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. "Well he told me that I was nothing but Xenaís servant and he called me a little...bastard," the young child said matter of factly.
What!" the bard yelled, jumping off the bed.
"Yup bet you didnít expect that one did ya? I think someone owes my little niece an apology,"Lyceus said with a smirk.
The bardís jaw dropped and her eyes flew open. "Tarren! He said what? " Gabrielle could feel her anger welling and she soon wished she had a few moments alone with that boy. She looked across the room wondering if her staff was readily available, but then took a deep breath to try and regain her composure. "Tarren first of all I donít ever want to hear you repeat that word. Do not ever let Xena hear you say it like that."
The young woman shuddered just at the thought of the expression on her friendís face if Tarren told her of what had transpired. The bardís angst was growing and the child could tell, "Tarren are you telling me that the boy just called you a...." She could not finish the sentence. "Why didnít you just tell us? Why didnít you just tell Xena?" she asked.
"Wow Gabrielle is pretty and smart and understanding and sheís got such a fire in her too,"Lyceus said with a sigh staring at he bard.
The child shrugged and flopped on the bed again, "Gabby Iíve been called it before ...Itís no big deal...Momma...I mean Xena would have just been embarrassed cause of me...more than she already is I guess...Itís no big deal," the sullen youngster replied.
"Hey it is too a big deal...." the ghost yelled, realizing that his niece was truly upset.
The bard grabbed the childís arm and yanked her to her feet in front of her. "No you are wrong...very wrong...First of all you are not a ...what that boy said. Second that is not something anyone should ever be called...and what young lady has ever given you the idea that Xena is anything but proud of you. Tarren she loves you so much and she is very proud of you. Donít you know that yet?" she scolded.
"You tell her Gabrielle!"
The childís eyes lowered. "Sure Gabby, if you say so," the little girl murmured, still feeling, as though she was merely a responsibility Xena had been stuck with.
Gabrielle grabbed the child by the arms and forced her to pay strict attention to the words she said, "I do say so!"
Tarren nodded at her friend and grinned a bit, "Then itís Ok that I hit Tetran?"
The bard thought about the right thing to say and wasnít quite sure how to answer that question. "Well...err...No itís never right to hit someone for saying something you donít like, but I do understand why you hit him and I think Xena would too if...."
"Huh! What do you mean the kid shouldnít hit have hit him. Lady my sister would have throttled the twerp for saying that to Tarren,"Lyceus groaned, wishing he could council the bard on appropriate fight etiquette.
The child quickly pulled away, "No! You promised you wouldnít tell Momma...I mean Xena."
The bard touched the youngsters shoulder gently, "Tarren I only meant that you should tell her. She loves you so much Tarren and itís tearing her up knowing you are hurting and not knowing why or how to help."
The youngster turned quickly to face her friend. "Gabrielle how is Momma gonna help? She wonít even tell anyone here that Iím her kid," the child cried. "Iím...just Tarren...her...her...That kid that travels with her...." the little one said with a tear.
The bard wiped the childís tear away and let out a deep breath of understanding.
"Do you know what itís like to be Xenaís kid?" the youngster asked, letting her tears flow freely. "Gabby I just wanted to have my own mom and now that I do she wonít even let me call her momma in front of people. I forget sometimes and I call her Momma when Iím supposed to say Xena and...Sometimes I just forget...Gabby Iím not allowed to tell anyone...Thatís why people think Iím a little...."
The youngsterís eyes were now red and filled with tears. The concerned bard just held the child affectionately stroking the little girlís back wishing she had easy answers for the little one.
Gabrielle stopped her with a raised hand before the child could finish the sentence. "Say it and I swear Iíll spank you myself," the young woman said stiffly.
Tarren closed her mouth believing that the young woman truly would, at that moment, follow through with the threat. The child quietly fell back on the bed and the bard sat beside her wiping the tears from the youngsterís cheeks.
"So is that why you started calling her Xena again? I havenít heard you say momma all day...I know sheís missed hearing it," the bard said softly, wondering why Xena had not mentioned it to the child herself.
Tarren lay comfortably in the bardís embrace happy for the affection. "Gabby she didnít even notice. I mean she didn't get mad or anything when I said Xena. I thought for sure she'd at least yell at me for doing it so much, but I guess she's just happy I don't call her Momma anymore," the youngster said quietly, nuzzling beside the bard.
"She was just fibbing when she said she missed it. Boy if I fibbed like that...Xena wasnít even mad at me for doing it...She didnít even care... Probably doesnít want anyone knowing about me anyway. Sheís Xena Warrior Princess ...What am I?" the child murmured, wiping a tear from her cheek.
"Hey Tarren thatís not true...Youíre my niece. You're Xenaís daughter. You are very special,"the uncle said quietly. For the first time he realized that his assignment was much more serious than he had ever thought. He had been treating his task as a game rather than a real problem.
Gabrielle reached down and pulled the youngster into her arms, "Tarren none of that is true...You are Tarren daughter of Xena and very special to Gabrielle...You are a wonderful, loving, and gifted little girl. You are so special to all of us Tarren. You will never even know the holes you fill in both our lives," the bard replied in a cracking voice, thinking of both Hope and Solan.
"Wow do you always know what to say like that?" the ghostly uncle asked, feeling his own failings in helping Tarren.
The child let her tears spill as she held onto the bardís soft shoulder, "Momma say she doesnít want anyone to know who I am cause she says I could get hurt, but Gabby it hurts now," the child cried, gripping tightly to the bard.
The young bard held the little one tightly, rocking her in her arms wishing to the gods that she had never made that promise to not tell Xena.
"Iím sorry I was mean to ya this morning Gabby...It wasn't you I...." I didnít...Uncle Lyceus...." The bard silenced her with a hug, "Hey itís Ok...I think I understand...Shh"
"What does your Uncle have to do with this?" the young woman asked suddenly confused by the change of topic.
"Heís hear with me Gabby...He tells me what to do...He came to help me with Momma but so far his plans donít work at all," she cried.
The bard held the child tightly for the first time realizing just how serious the problem had become. She and Xena had definitely spent too much time away from the child. The bard kissed the sobbing youngster who she was sure was now imagining ghostly uncles to make up for she and Xenaís absence.
Gabrielle held the child in her arms and caressed the sobbing childís back lovingly. She looked at the small form in her arms and let out a deep breath. "By the gods what am I going to tell Xena," the bard whispered.
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