The child leaned on her mothers shoulder but continued to look at the bard. "Really Gabby The way I like them made?" she asked with a bit of excitement.
Xena again shook her head again at the young woman, but the bard ignored her.
maybe. Id have to check with the acting queen over there,"
she replied, throwing a hand back toward Ephiny.
The amazon sighed wondering why everyone was making such a fuss over what the child did or did not want to do. She was a child and therefore should do what she was told without question. "Whats a sloppy cheese sandwich?" she asked, deciding even the name sounded a bit repulsive.
Gabrielle looked at her amazon friend and frowned, "Dont ask."
The child considered all the offerings that were being made to her and shrugged. She looked from one adult to the other. "Momma you promise you and Gabby will stay with me the whole time no matter what?"
The warrior mother nodded and gently caressed the side of the childs cheek. "Yup! You dont really think Id let you wander off and get in trouble again now do you?" she asked holding up her right hand for the child to see.
Tarren smiled and reached up to touch her mothers palm. "Is that for me to hold onto Momma?"
Xena smiled softly. "You better believe it monster. I want you with me at all
times," she replied softly.
Tarren looked at her mother and Gabrielle and smiled. She could see that both women were truly concerned with her feelings and had no intention of leaving her by herself.
Xena took this as a sign that all was decided. "Well then its settled. In
the morning we head for the amazon village. Ok?" she asked the still grinning
youngster in her lap.
Tarren let her eyes lock with the stranger. She knew the woman did not like her and that her presence was somehow pulling Gabrielle away.
The youngster stared up into her mothers loving eyes. "Do I have
Xena could see that one glance at Ephiny had changed the youngsters disposition completely. The childs smile was gone and she was now once again sulking quietly.
Xenas response was gentle but firm, "Not really."
"I dont wanna go!" the child yelled, deciding at the last minute that she did not wish to share her mother or her Gabby with anyone.
Xena shook her head deciding the time for negotiations was now over. She let her voice become stern and parental, "Im sorry Tarren, but thats where we are heading."
The child lowered her eyes and moved slowly off her mothers lap.
The warrior watched the child heading back to her bedroll. The movement confused Xena. "Hey where are you going? I thought we were going swimming together."
"I dont wanna go anymore. Go swim with the amazon. Im going back to my bedroll," the little girl mumbled, kicking her blankets and dropping on top of them.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes at the sight. "Look Xena, Amphipolis took a lot out of
her. I dont want to push her. We dont have to go to visit the amazons now.
Well visit another time," she whispered with a soft smile.
Ephiny listened but could not believe what she was hearing.
Xena frowned and shook her head knowing how important this trip was to her friend. "No Gabrielle, its about time Tarren learned that not everything we do is just for her."
The warrior mother let out a long breath as she watched the youngster clinging to her blankets. She stood and walked over to the small form and lay down beside her.
"Hey I want to talk to you," she whispered.
Tarren rolled over and looked at her mother. "Yes maam," was the rather formal reply.
Xena grimaced at the childs response knowing the youngster usually only answered
that way when she was in trouble. "Now you listen to me little girl. Gabrielle really
wants to visit the village. Its important to her. She does a lot of nice stuff for
both of us and I think we can do this for her without making her feel bad. Dont
Tarren poked her lower lip out. "But I dont wanna," the little girl groaned.
Xena lifted the little girls chin with her finger and quietly scolded, "Young lady Gabrielle didnt want to fall off that horse you got on but she did. She cooks for you. She helps you with your scrolls and plays with you even when youre being naughty. Id be really disappointed to think you couldnt do this one thing for her."
The child bit her lip not liking the sound of her mothers dissatisfaction, "You would be Momma?"
The warriors face was stern but her eyes were gentle and understanding to the childs discomfort at entering yet another unfamiliar place. "Yes I would."
The little girl ran her fingers up and down her mothers arm. "You promise youll stay with me all the time?"
Xena smiled knowing the childs stubborn nature was fading away. "You just
try and get rid of me monster," she replied kissing the little girl on the forehead.
"Ok Momma Ill be nice, but just for you and Gabby," she whispered, still seeing the amazon seated in the distance.
Xena kissed the youngsters cheek and then pointed toward the now quiet bard. "Good girl. Im very proud of you. Now I want you to go tell Gabrielle."
Tarren walked over to Gabrielle and placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Its Ok Gabby. I dont mind going to the amazon village for a while as long as you wanna go," she said staring at Ephiny.
The bard smiled and took the little girl into her lap. "And will you be on your
Tarren looked at her mother not realizing that was part of the deal as well.
Xena arched an eyebrow to let the child know she was always expected to be on her best behavior even though she rarely was.
The child put aside all her plans of terrorizing strangers just long enough to answer, "Ok Ill behave as best I can as soon as we get there." Those last few words were spoken so low even the warrior did not hear them.
Gabrielle squeezed her tightly. "Thank you brat. I know we are gonna have a great time," she said glancing at the now silent amazon.
Tarren grinned at her friend and then headed back toward her mother grabbing the warriors hand and trying to pull her down to the water. "Come on Momma lets swim."
Xena lifted the youngster over her shoulder and started down toward the lake. "Well if youll excuse us I have a child that needs a good dunking," she said with a grin, gently patting the little girls back.
Ephiny watched the pair depart and smiled at Gabrielle. "By the Gods, Xena sure has changed," she said with a definite awe in her voice.
Gabrielle poked at the still cooking fish and smiled to herself, "Yeah Tarren brings out something very special in her."
The amazon nodded at the thought her large friend had found happiness, "Im glad."
"So am I."
"But what about you?" the woman questioned.
Gabrielle leaned back against a log and looked at her friend for a moment before speaking. "I cant explain it Eph but having Tarren around has helped me to deal with my feelings for both Hope and Solon and well she just fills in a lot of the gaps for both of us," she replied softly.
The amazon regent smiled happy that both her friends had found peace with their demons. Perhaps there was something very special about this child she had yet to see or understand.
After a full day of playful swim Xena returned with a sleeping child in her arms.
Gabrielle smiled at the familiar sight. "Hey its about time you two got back. Supper is ready," she said sternly, motioning toward the fish she had prepared.
Xena held onto her sleeping child and took a seat beside the amazon, grinning wickedly at her friend.
Ephiny just shook her head, smiled and took some food grateful for any well-cooked meal.
Gabrielle smiled as she handed her friends each a plate and Xena waved the fish under Tarrens nose hoping it would wake her. The child opened one eye and stared at the food.
The little girl reached her hand toward the warriors saddlebags where she knew the confections were hidden. "I'd rather have candy," she whispered.
Xena quickly slid the bags out of reach with her foot. "Fish now and maybe candy later," she said handing the youngster her plate to hold.
The child sighed and eased herself back against her mothers chest. "Fish now, candy later for sure?" she asked looking up at her mother with an innocent smile.
Xena looked at Gabrielle who giggled at the negotiations.
The warrior stuck a forkful of her own food in the childs mouth. "Fish now, vegetables now, later candy and then you go to sleep," the mother replied sternly.
Tarren heard the words and twisted her lips in thought. "Momma Fish now, vegetables never, candy for sure, and we both go to sleep," she answered with a giggle.
Xena sighed at the childs tactical eating style. "Young lady it is fish right now, vegetables right now, candy later if you behave. Then you are going to sleep, negotiations over," the mother stated with parental authority. "Vegetables are good for us," the warrior added with little enthusiasm.
Xena arched her eyebrows at the child to let her know the games were officially over.
Tarren shrugged trying to decide if she had gotten anything out of the dealings. "Yes Momma," she said biting into the fish and vegetables on her plate, making faces as the small mushrooms made their way down her throat.
Ephiny chuckled at the sight.
Gabrielle frowned at the amazon as she watched the little girls dramatic increase with each bite, "Oh good Eph. Encourage her."
When Tarren had finally finished the last bite she waved the plate in front of her mother to show it was empty.
The warrior smiled, bringing the saddlebags back over with her boot. "I get the hint go ahead."
Tarren leaned over and rummaged through the bags until she pulled out a large sack of confections. She took a piece out and dropped it into her mouth with a smile and handed the bag to Xena who did the same. Gabrielle and Ephiny each joined in the delight and soon everyone had a smile on their face. After a second piece had been distributed to all, Xena placed the bag back in the saddlebag.
"No more you'll get sick," she said sternly to the little girl who groaned as the bag of sweets was once again hidden.
The child moaned as the warrior lifted her off her lap. "And now its bedtime little girl...." the mother said motioning toward the bedrolls.
Tarren skidded over to Gabrielle and gave her a big hug. "Gnight gabby," the youngster whispered squeezing the bard with all her might.
Gabrielle welcomed the loving embrace and smiled. "Have a nice trip to Morpheous honey and save some of those dragons for me," she replied, giving the little girl a quick kiss.
Tarren looked at Ephiny and frowned. However knowing how particular her mother and Gabrielle were about manners, the child knew she would not escape saying something to the guest. "Gnight," the child mumbled before returning to her mothers side.
The warrior mother lifted the little one into her arms and carried her over to the blankets. She removed her daughters tunic and britches replacing it with a fresh nightshirt. Tarren kicked her boots away as Xena gently placed her young daughter in the blankets. She covered the youngster and kissed her on the cheek, "I love you monster," she whispered.
"I love you too Momma," the child replied with a yawn and a smile.
The warrior started to rise when a small hand reached up and grabbed her arm. "When are you gonna go to sleep Momma?" the little girl asked in such a pleading voice that even the amazon smiled.
Xena looked back at her two friends and then to her daughters wide eyes. "Right now it seems," the mother replied with a grin of surrender as she stripped off her armor and nuzzled herself beside the child.
Ephiny watched in absolute awe. "Artemis be called. I think I just saw Hades freeze over," the amazon groaned as she looked at the sight of Xena Warrior Princess cuddling with her child.
Later that night
Gabrielle had stayed up later than her companions adding a few ideas to her scrolls as well as some thoughts to her new diary. She looked at the sleeping amazon and then the warrior nestled with a small child under one arm. She grinned noting how both woman had their weapons placed precisely in the same position close to their sides, easy to be grabbed if their was trouble that needed their attention.
"Warriors" she mumbled. The young woman shook her head and yawned. She lowered herself into the warm blankets of her bedroll eager for some sleep. Pulling her covers closely around her neck she settled in for a peaceful journey to Morpheous.
Suddenly the bards eyes flew open and she jumped form the blankets screaming.
In a moment both Xena and Ephiny were both on their feet, swords in hand ready to defend their friend to the death.
"What is it?" the warrior yelled scanning the camp for an intruder.
The bard pointed to her bedroll and Ephiny slowly pulled back the blankets to find a small and quite harmless garden snake taking refuge in the womans bedroll.
Xena and Ephiny looked at the snake and then back at the bard. "Thats what made you yell my queen?" the amazon asked, trying to hide her disbelief.
"I dont like snakes crawling around in bed with me," the bard defended, rolling her eyes at the sight of the slimy creature.
Ephiny grinned and looked at the slightly agitated warrior. "Now how would a snake get into Gabrielles bedroll?" the amazon regent asked with a grin.
Xena nodded and looked down at her still sleeping child. It was amazing to all that the bards screams neither disturbed nor surprised the child.
The warrior placed her sword back on the ground and knelt beside the small form. "Tarren," the mother whispered.
The childs gentle breaths suddenly turned into heavy snoring.
Xena tapped the child on the shoulder. "Nice try. I know you are awake" the mother informed the youngster.
Tarren turned her head slightly and grinned at the warrior. "Hi Momma. Why is everyone up? Its late ya know. We really should get some sleep," she said starting to lay her head back down.
The warrior mother shook her head and lifted the youngster to her feet. "Not so fast little girl. Did you put that snake in Gabrielles bedroll?" she asked the child who had been previously convicted of this very crime.
Tarren looked at the angry face of the bard and then the questioning look of her mother.
"Maybe," she replied lowering her head a bit.
Xena glanced back at Gabrielle who covered her face with both hands.
"Young lady that is not an answer to my question. Did you or didnt you?" the mother asked again.
"Did I or didnt I what Momma?" the child inquired.
Ephiny leaned up against a tree eager to see how the mighty warrior handled this situation.
Xena stood up and gave her youngster a warning glance and spoke in a tone that said no nonsense would be tolerated, "Tarren you know exactly what I am asking you. Did you put the snake in Gabrielles bedroll?"
The youngster bit her lip and nodded. "Yes maam."
Xena let out a long breath and pointed to the snake. "What have I told you about doing that. If Gabrielle rolled over she could crush that poor creature," the mother scolded.
Gabrielle poked her friend in the arm. "Thanks for the concern warrior," she chided.
The warrior frowned. "Im sorry Gabrielle. Im still half asleep."
The mother turned her attention back to the child. "Well?" she asked, waiting for a response.
"Im sorry Momma," the child replied looking up at her frustrated parent.
"Uh huh," she answered motioning toward Gabrielle.
The little girl looked up at the bard and opened her eyes as wide as she could. "Im sorry Gabby. It was just for fun," the child whispered, trying to show some repent.
The bard let out a quick breath and grinned. "Its Ok Just keep your little friend out of my bedroll. Understand?" she answered giving the child a gentle tap on the cheek.
The youngster nodded and then looked back up at her still agitated mother. Xena shook her head and let out a short breath. She pointed at the snake still nestled in the bards bedroll. "Go get it," she said with a grin, sending the child on her way with a gentle swat.
Tarren reached into the bedroll and lifted the little snake up. She walked over to the nearest tree and released it back into the woods, "Bye Ephiny. Go back where you belong. Momma and Gabby dont want you hear," she yelled, as she watched the snake slither away.
The amazons eyes went wide. "Ephiny?" she asked, wondering why she had just had a snake named after her.
Gabrielle tried to smile. "Err well Tarren names everything. Its a real compliment. Right Xena?" the bard asked, looking to the warrior for help.
Xena nodded. "Oh yeah. I wish I had a snake named after me, " she replied with a chuckle.
The youngster returned to her mothers side and looked up at the warrior. "Ephiny went away. Shes going back where she belongs Momma. I dont think shell bother us again," the child said proudly.
Xena nodded and pointed to the bedroll. "Good now you get your little bottom back where it belongs and dont let me here another peep out of you until morning young lady," the mother replied sternly.
Tarren lowered her eyes and obediently crawled back into her bedroll. "Yes maam," she whispered.
The bard shook out her blankets and then made a bed she felt comfortable sleeping in while Ephiny returned to her own blanket mumbling something about snakes and spoiled brats.
Xena shook her head as she stared down at the very quiet figure in the blankets below her. She lowered herself to the bedroll and tapped the little girl on the shoulder.
The youngster turned around. "I didnt make a peep Momma," the child whispered.
Xena grinned and opened her arms pulling the youngster in close to her. "I know you didnt. I missed it. Go ahead peep all you want," the mother replied.
Tarren lay comfortably in her mothers gentle embrace happy she could appreciate a good joke. "Momma?"
"Yes baby," the mother answered in a gentle voice.
Xena smiled and glanced down at the grinning child. "Ill give you a peep," she mumbled, running her fingers over all the ticklish spots on the childs sides.
Tarren giggled wildly for a few moments and then was silenced by a gentle hug from her mother letting the child know it was now time to sleep.
The following morning Xena woke her companions early anxious to get an early start on the road. After a hot breakfast the warrior stood by Argo ready to toss the saddle on. She called to her daughter wanting her to place the childs secret bag of money in its hiding place.
Tarren glanced at her mother and then the stranger in camp and shook her head holding tightly to her bag of treasures that held the gold coins. Xena had yet to see anything more than a large sack of coins. She knew nothing of the contents and had not yet found a way to approach the subject. However she knew that she could not go on traveling with this load under her saddle forever.
Xena sighed at the stubborn child and then looked at Ephiny. "Uh Eph would you mind covering your eyes for a bit?" she asked her friend.
The amazon gave the warrior a confused look but turned away just the same.
When she was satisfied the stranger would not see the youngster handed her mother the large bag of coins which Xena wearily put on her horses blanket before placing the saddle on top.
"Sorry girl. It wont be for long. I promise," the warrior whispered to her faithful mount.
The horse whinnied in protest but allowed the added weight just the same.
Soon the trio plus one amazon acting queen were on their way again.
Ephiny stared oddly at the child as the group moved down the trail
"Gabrielle do you mean to tell me that Xena is really this little brat's mother?" the amazon asked, still trying to soak in all the events of the last day.
The bard frowned at her friends attitude. "Ephiny Tarren is a good little kid. She's just a bit ...well...wild...We have to keep a tight rein on her and Xena would not take kindly to you calling her a brat like that. I don't either," she warned.
Ephiny threw her hands up in surrender, "Sorry I just meant...Well I never saw Xena as the maternal type... After Solon ...Well you know what I mean."
The smiled as she watched Tarren slowly walking ahead of them hitting targets with her slingshot. "Yeah well things change Eph Things change."
Tarren decided to start gathering ammunition for her toy. Xena had told her to look for small round flat rocks.
"How's this one?" the child asked waving a pebble in front of her mother.
Xena glanced at it and tossed it away, "Too small."
The child immediately handed her another one, "This one?"
Xena again looked at the pebble and tossed it away, "Too big"
Before the child could hand her another rock the mother stopped and glanced down at the youngsters hands and noticed the child had a large sack of rocks ready to be inspected.
The warrior mother grinned running her fingers through the collection. "Tarren why don't you just let me see the bag?" she asked, reaching out her hand.
The child thought about it and nodded realizing it would take much less time.
Xena paused and went through the child's sack pointing out the good and the bad in the group. She then took a pebble and placed it in the slingshot and positioned the child in front of her.
"OK get your eyes on a target and pull the band all the way back. Don't let go until you're sure you've got it and then ."
The child released the band hitting the side of a tree squarely.
"Good you hit the tree," the mother said proudly.
The youngster frowned motioning to a large boulder on the side of the road, "But Momma I was aiming for the rock."
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well you were close. It tales a bit of practice. You and I will work on it later OK?" she asked the disappointed youngster.
Tarren smiled at the thought of being trained in this new art of weaponry by her very own warrior mother. "Thanks momma," she replied, offering the warrior a hug around the waist.
Xena returned the embrace and lifted the little girl over her shoulder.
Ephiny smiled. "Well she sure is an affectionate little kid. Ill say that," the amazon whispered, having thoughts of her own son.
Gabrielle saw the glassy look in her companions eyes and touched her shoulder. "Yeah well she didnt have many people to hug her before Just one very special old woman named Nala. Tarren needs all the love she can get now." The bard let her thoughts travel for a moment and then looked at the amazon once again. "Hey you havent said much about Xenon. How is he doing?"
The amazon smiled proudly. "Well hes gotten pretty big. Centaurs grow very fast. Right now hes staying with his grandfather in the centaur village." Her voice became somber. "With all the commotion going on with the tribes, I felt it was best."
Gabrielle nodded in understanding. "You miss him. Huh Eph?"
Ephiny gave her friend a look of surprise. "Of course I miss him. Hes my son. I would die for that kid," she replied without hesitation.
Gabrielle smiled and motioned toward the warrior in the distance playing with her own child, "So why do you think its any different for Xena?"
Ephiny swallowed hard and stared at her friend but could say nothing.
By late afternoon Xena had decided to ride on ahead and make sure the road was clear while she tried to find a good place to camp.
"I wanna come," the child yelled.
Xenas expression was worn but tolerant, "No Tarren."
The youngster folded her arms against her chest and moved in right beside her mother, who was busy tightening the cinch on Argos saddle, "Why not?"
The warrior mother dropped her head having said these same words 10 times in the last 10 minutes, "It might be dangerous Ill be back soon."
Tarren kicked the dirt with her boot and turned away, "No! I wanna go with
Xena grinned at the childs stubborn nature and rubbed her daughters head affectionately, "Im sorry you cant baby. You have to stay here."
The childs stubbornness was turning into a defiant tantrum. "No!"
The warrior mother shook her head at the youngsters now inappropriate tone, "Tarren do I sense those naughties coming back?"
The child cocked her head and stared up at her mother. The warrior had to bite her lip to keep from smiling when she noticed how the youngster arched her eyebrows to show her displeasure. "Maybe if you go away without me then they will come back," she replied smugly.
Xena grabbed Argos reigns and patted the horse gently. She then bent down and whispered to her little shadow. "And maybe if those naughties show up while I am gone Ill just have to tan your little backside when I do get back," she replied with a grin, giving her child a gentle swat on the bottom before jumping into the saddle.
The little girls shoulders slumped knowing she had just been defeated in
battle. "But Momma, I wanna be with you," the child whined.
Xena leaned down and gave her daughter a gentle smile. "I know you do and I want you with me, but sometimes we have to be apart for a little while, and this is just one of those times .understand?"
Tarren shook her head. "No maam."
The warrior sat tall in the saddle and stared at he small child at her side. She dropped her voice to its lowest tone, "Well Im sorry you dont understand, but I have to go and I want you to behave while Im gone. Do you understand that?"
The little girl lowered her head and backed away from the horse knowing there was no chance of her being allowed to follow. "Yes Momma."
Xena leaned down and tasseled the little girls hair. She gave the bard and amazon a quick nod and looked back at the sad face of her young daughter. "Behave yourself youngster."
Tarren nodded and gave her mother the saddest pout she could manage knowing that it would have an effect.
Xena clutched her chest and smiled. "Ouch that was a good one."
The little girls eyes went wide with excitement. "Can I come?"
The warrior mother chuckle. "Nope! It wasnt that good," she replied, kicking at Argos side and heading off down the trail.
Gabrielle smiled as she watched Tarren anxiously look down the path as her mother rode away without her. Xena had left instructions that her companions and child stay behind while she rode on to make sure the road ahead was safe and to find a suitable campsite. It was a hot muggy day so Gabrielle was grateful for the rest.
"Look at her Eph." She pointed at the child. "Xena just left and Tarren is already waiting for her to come back. She just can't stand it when she's not here," the young woman said with a smile.
Ephiny glanced at the youngster and shook her head. "Huh, Xena a mother I mean a real mother...playing the part and everything Damn that will turn more heads than two centaurs climbing a tree," she rambled.
Gabrielle threw up a halting hand to defend her best friend. "Hey you know you'd be surprised. She's really a very good mother. She loves that little monster more than anything." Her voice became softer as she watched the child. "There is a very special bond between them Its more than just because theyre mother and daughter...Its like one fills a void for the other one. "Gabrielle smiled. "But I have to tell you that even Xena has to watch that kid every minute to keep her out of trouble," she whispered staring at the little girl still standing in the middle of the road looking longingly down the path her mother had taken.
Ephiny walked beside her friend. "And you?" .
Gabrielle grinned. "I keep them both out of trouble," she replied with a laugh.
Tarren turned and walked back beside the bard. "Gabby I'm hot. I wanna go swimming," the child whined still angry at her mothers departure.
The bard shook her head and rubbed the youngsters head. "Well maybe Xena will find water close by and we can camp soon," the young woman replied with a gentle smile.
The child kicked the dirt in frustration and moved paces ahead of the pair.
Ephiny raised her eyebrow at the childs behavior. "Little grumpy isn't she?"
Gabrielle grinned at the still frustrated child walking ahead. "Yeah she is. When we were in Amphipolis Xena made her take a nap in the afternoon, so she could stay up late while I told stories at the inn. Now every afternoon she gets like this because shes used to having a nap. Its a vicious circle."
The amazon nodded thinking once again of her own son and wishing she was with him.
Tarren eyed a large pool of mud on the trail ahead. Her eyes filled with delight at the sight. It looked cold and wet and quite comforting to one left without her mother.
The child pointed to the mud as she tugged her boots off. "Gabby look!"
The bards eyes flew wide as she raced to grab the youngster, but before she could Tarren jumped right into the center with a big splash.
Gabrielles shoulders slumped. "NO!" She looked at Ephiny whose expression was one of absolute amazement. The young woman stared blankly at the child sitting in the mud pool. "By the Gods Tarren, Xena is going to kill you...and me for letting you do that," she cried looking at the child splashing in the mud.
Tarren smiled and shook her head. "It's Ok Gabby. Momma likes playing in the mud. We do it at the river all the time. Besides if she had taken me with her this would never have happened, so its all her fault," she replied with a reassuring grin.
The bard took a parental pose reaching a hand to the youngster. "Well you do not play in mud with your clothes on young lady and certainly not in the middle of a trail," she scolded.
Ephiny leaned up against a tree and watched in delight as her rightful queen tried to get a rein on the little Xena.
"Get out of there this instant," the bard ordered.
Tarren shook her head not wanting to leave the coolness of the mud. "Don't wanna Gabby," the child replied laying back.
Gabrielles face filled with frustration. "Tarren my patience is wearing thin. I am hot and I am tired and I am not looking forward to explaining this to Xena. Now you get your little butt out of that mud right now," she demanded.
Ephiny chuckled when the child did not move and the young woman gave her regal friend a warning look to silence her.
Tarren grinned at the bard and submerged. She came up covered completely in mud and giggling wildly.
Gabrielles face went white with of shock and horror. "Tarren that's it. I may not be as big as your mother, but I can still put you over my knee and make your little bottom sting a bit," she growled in a tone the child recognized as closer to Xenas than her friends.
The youngsters smile disappeared. Gabrielle had never spanked her but had threatened to on a few occasions when the young woman was really angry. Tarren knew better than to push the bard past the point of testing her.
"Ok I'll get out," she murmured standing in the puddle.
Gabrielle nodded approvingly. "Good choice," she replied reaching out a hand.
Tarren moved to take the out stretched hand but before she could, Gabrielle lost her footing and landed headfirst in the mud right next to the child.
The little girls mouth dropped open as she watched her friend fall but then giggled loudly as the young woman steadied herself. "Gabby are you Ok?" she asked with a smile.
Gabrielle glared at the child. "You are in so much trouble little girl," she replied, wiping the mud from her face and arms.
Ephiny's laughter echoed through the forest as she stared at her friend in the mud.
Gabrielle moved her concentration from Tarren to her regent and acting queen, "Ephiny do you think it is so funny to leave your queen sitting in the mud?" she yelled, deciding for the moment title was needed.
The words ended the amazons laughter. "I'm sorry Gabrielle but you two are like a bad comedy act. Ill help you out," she chuckled offering her hand to the young woman.
The bard shook her head and reached for the amazons hand, but Ephiny slipped on the same spot and soon joined the pair in the middle of the mud pool.
Tarren laughed wildly as she splashed mud in the air happy to have company in the coolness of her muddy lake.
Gabrielle looked at the less than regal expression on Ephinys face and laughed.
"Well you know, it is sort of funny now Ephiny!" the queen chuckled.
The regent looked at the undignified gook covering her body and frowned.
"You pulled me in," the amazon accused.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I did not."
You did too," the regent replied, wiping the mud from her cheek.
Gabrielle grinned and tossed a small splattering of mud at her amazon friends face.
Ephiny wiped the mud from her eye and gave an evil smile to her queen.
"Rightful queen or not this is war Gabrielle!" she declared slinging a ball of mud at the bard.
Tarren watched the two women fight but moved out of the distance of being hit with their ammunition. The sound of a horses whinny and the sight of a warrior princess frowning down at the trio soon cut the laughter of the friends short.
"Uh Xena youre back. I can explain," the bard moaned, trying to crawl out of the mud.
Xena nodded as she leaned on her saddle. "Good I cant wait," she replied evenly staring down at the muddy trio.
Ephiny interrupted the conversation. "Actually I would be the best to explain."
Soon the two women started to argue and the warrior silenced them both with a two-fingered whistle. "Thats enough," she groaned, rubbing the sides of her temples.
The warrior mother pointed to her daughter who was still sitting quietly to the side of the pool happily floating in the mud.Xena dismounted and took a position a few paces away. "You, get out of the mud and tell me what happened," the mother ordered.
The child quickly crawled out of the mud and stood before her mother who was looking more than just a little annoyed by her childs condition.
Ephiny and Gabrielle climbed over each other trying to do the same but kept sliding back into the pool.
"Wait why are you asking a little kid to explain?" the amazon asked, finally making it to solid ground.
Xena looked from her daughters face to the amazon. "Simple. You will tell the story to protect Gabrielle...Gabrielle will tell the story trying to protect Tarren, but Tarren knows better than to lie to me," the warrior replied. The mother glanced down at her filthy child and sighed. "You'll tell me everything that happened... Right?" she asked looking down at a mud monster resembling her daughter.
The youngster nodded, "Yes of course Momma."
Xena folded her arms and stared at her daughter waiting for the story to begin, "Well?"
Tarren lowered her eyes and looked back at Gabrielle, "Ya see Momma, I was real hot...and I saw the mud and jumped in and Gabby got mad and she tried to pull me out. She fell in and Ephiny laughed and then she fell in and she said Gabby pulled her in, but she didn't...and then they started a really great mud fight and then you came." The child finished the tail with one long breath.
Ephiny looked down at the bard and grinned. "Well I have to admit, the little brat sure tells it like it is," she whispered.
Xena nodded at her daughter and looked at the Gabrielle and Ephiny who shrugged their agreement at the assessment of the events the child had recited.
The warrior mother shook her head and looked at her daughter. "And why did you jump in the mud young lady?" she asked, lowering her gaze to stare directly into her childs eyes.
The reply was simple and short. "I was hot Momma."
Xena took a deep breath and stared up at the sky and back at her muddy daughter.
"Tarren if you had a clean spot on you I swear I'd...." She took another breath before she spoke. "Youngster you get your little butt up ahead of Argo and wait for me, but don't you dare touch my horse with those dirty little hands of yours," she ordered motioning up the road.
The little girl nodded and pointed to her boots. "I have to get my boots and stuff Momma," she whispered.
The warrior looked at the childs legs and for the first time realized her feet were caked with mud but bear. "You don't have boots on!" the mother yelled slapping her own forehead in disbelief.
The child shook her head. "No Momma. You just bought me those boots. I wouldn't get mud on them...on purpose," she replied proudly.
Xena turned away and counted to 10 just as Cyrene had told her. " 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ." She took a third and final breath and walked over and picked up the childs boots securing them to the saddle along with her satchel. The warrior looked at her two friends, shook her head and took a few strides back to her child. She let out a deep breath and lifted her muddy form into her arms.
"You can't walk barefoot. I'll carry you," she groaned as the mud oozed down her arms.
Tarren smiled at her mother and kissed her cheek leaving a muddy lip print. "Muds cold, isn't it Momma?" she asked with a grin, but the warriors blue glare said she did not appreciate this particular coolness.
The child noticed her mothers stoic expression and lay her head down on the warriors shoulder. "Did I do something wrong Momma?" she asked with an innocent stare.
"Yes you did something wrong!" she replied without hesitation.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and Ephiny who were awaiting instructions from their leader.
Xena shook her head as she looked at the pair covered in mud trying in vain to clean themselves off. "Ok my queens there is a lake about a mile up the road. I guess with all things considered we had better camp there." She pointed up the road. "I'm gonna take Tarren up ahead and get her bathed. You two bring up the rear but stay down wind of my horse," she ordered, noting that the women didnt smell too good for some reason.
Tarren glanced into the woods at a small creature that had just passed behind the bard and the amazon. "Look Momma its a stinky kitty," the child whispered, pointing to a small black and white animal that was settled by the now silent women.
Xena shook her head and turned to look back. "Whats a stinky kitty?" the mother asked with a slight frown.
The child pointed to the animal and Xenas face went white and she quickly jumped on Argo deciding there were some things much worse than a muddy horse. It was one thing to die for a friend it was another to suffer a fate worse than death.
Ephiny and Gabrielle watched as the warrior made a suddenly hasty exit with her child in hand. Tarren smiled and waved to the pair as they faded out of vision.
Gabrielle waved back wondering why Xena was finding Tarrens filth suddenly such an urgent issue. "I dont know what her hurry is Eph. That kid is going to be just as muddy no matter when she reaches the lake. Now she has to clean Argo too. I just dont get it," the bard muttered pondering her friends actions.
The amazon glanced to the side and noticed the same small creature Xena and Tarren had seen. Knowing how the bard felt about animals crawling too close by, she tried to motion Gabrielle slowly away. "Uh ya know we should get going," she whispered, gently pushing the bard forward.
Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. "Hey whats your rush Eph. I am in no hurry to listen to Xena tease me about all of this," she replied motioning to her mud covered body.
Before the amazon could say another word the bard noticed a small furry black and
white animal moving right beside them.
The rightful queen of the amazons opened her eyes wide. "Skunk!" she yelled sprinting down the path hoping to escape the inevitable.
Ephiny covered her nose as she watched her friend take flight along with the now startled skunk. "You can run my queen, but this is one thing that is going to follow us no matter where we go," she moaned, walking up the trail trying to maintain as much dignity as a person covered in mud and smelling like skunk possibly could.
Chapter 3 One Step too far
Tarren splashed in the cold water as Xena washed the childs hair for the third time trying to get the last of the mud out. Her skin was raw from the warrior scrubbing so hard and she was getting a bit anxious since her mother had not said a word.
"Momma are you mad at me?"
Xena nodded her head. "Yes Tarren I am very angry with you," the mother replied.
The childs shoulder slumped, "Why I just wanted to cool off. You said mud was good for cooling things off."
The warrior sighed. "I meant fevers Tarren not children. You do not jump into a mud pool with your clothes on. You do not jump into a mud puddle at all," she scolded.
The youngster turned around and faced her mother, "But kids like mud. You said so yourself Momma," she reminded, giving the warrior her most innocent stare.
Xenas' eyes softened at the words being thrown back at her. "Ya know youngster it always amazes me how you seem to listen to me when it suits you," she chided.
Tarren bit her lip wondering to what extent of trouble she was in. "Am I gonna get a spankin Momma?" she asked holding her breath for an answer.
The warrior mother let out a quick breath." Do you think you deserve one?"
The child considered the question knowing there was no right answer. "I'm just a kid. How should I know?" she asked, lowering her eyes so her mother couldn't see her face.
Xena shook her head and lifted the childs chin. She was touched by both the innocence of the child and her honesty, "No you are not gonna get a spanking, but no more mud baths. You got it?"
Tarren's eyes grew wide with relief and she smiled, "Yes momma No more baths," she repeated.
The warrior grinned and dunked the child under the water. "I said no more mud baths There will be plenty of regular baths in your future little one."
Tarren frowned at the correction. "Oh yeah Momma, that's what I meant."
Xena sighed as she motioned toward the shore. "Uh huh." The warrior lifted the child above her head playfully. "Now were getting out. I think we've both had enough baths for one day."
The child patted her mothers arm. "Lets go swimming Momma."
Xena shook her head. "Nope youre taking a nap and I have to go see about Gabrielle and Ephiny."
Tarren struggled a bit wanting to go for a swim. "I dont wanna I like it in the water"
Xena held the youngster firmly under one arm as she headed for land. "Tarren!"
The youngster managed to slip free and would have swam away had it not been for her mothers warrior fast reflexes catching her by the arm. "I said nap little girl and I meant it. I think youve caused enough trouble for one day," she scolded throwing the child over her shoulder.
Tarren kicked her feet trying to be set free. "No Im still hot. Im staying here!" the child yelled.
Xena put the little girl down on a grassy spot by the edge of the water and shook her finger while she scolded, "If you dont watch your behavior with me young lady, Im gonna give you a very hot spot on your little backside."
The cranky child stood quietly deciding she wasnt as hot as she thought. "Yes maam."
Xena knew her young daughter was in need of a nap so she dried and dressed her child and positioned her near the small fire she had built. "Now you stay here and go to sleep," she ordered.
Tarren rolled in her blankets and pointed at the two lonely figures seated on the far side of the meadow. "Can I say hello to Gabby?"
Xena shook her head. "Nope! You need a nap and Gabrielle is not in a very good mood right now"
The child giggled a bit. "Why Momma? Because of the stinky kitty?"
Xena gave her daughter a blue eyed stare to let her know that she did not find the situation amusing. "Yup!"
Tarren inched her way closer to her mother as the warrior fumbled through her medicine pouch. "Is she mad at me Momma?" The question was filled with innocence and concern.
The warrior shook he head and smiled at the child. "Yeah just a bit, but shell get over it. Now stop stalling and go to sleep. I have to take some leaves over to them to help get rid of the smell"
The youngster kicked at her covers and Xena quickly smoothed them out. "Are you
mad at me too Momma?"
The warrior mother kissed her daughters cheek and grinned. "No I cant be mad at you. Im your mother its against the rules. Now got to sleep you little monster."
The youngster yawned and rolled over trying for once to do as she was told.
The warrior moved to the other side of the small meadow where another fire had been built. She shook her head as she stared at the still dripping Gabrielle and Ephiny. The warrior stopped a good 20 paces away noting the shift in the wind was bringing the vile odor a bit too close for comfort.
Xena looked away so her friends could not see her nose wrinkle at heir closeness. "Did ya burn your clothes?"
The bard spoke through clenched teeth. "Yes and my favorite skirt I might ad," she replied folding her arms to show her displeasure.
Ephiny shrugged at her friends antics over some mere clothing. "Xena do you have the stuff?"
The warrior took a few more steps back and nodded. She tossed the amazon a small pouch of leaves.
Gabrielle looked at the pouch as Ephiny removed a handful of large dark leaves. "What is that for? she asked.
Xena knew this was not going to be an easy thing for Gabrielle to hear. "Uh well you have to rub those all over your body to get the stench out. It should be gone by nightfall I hope."
Ephiny grabbed some of the mint leaves and started rubbing her skin.
The bard held her nose and moved a few paces away from the amazon. "Gods Xena that is strong."
The regent glared at her queen and nodded. "Wanna know what you smell like now?"
Gabrielle shook her finger at the amazon. "No worse than you do!"
Xena held up a hand. "Hey thats enough out of both of you. I swear Id knock your heads together if you didnt smell so damn bad."
Gabrielle was quick to show her muscular friend the hurt in her eyes at such a
Its nice to know who your friends are Xena."
The warrior let her tone become softer as she spoke, "Look Im sorry but theres nothing else I can do. Use that on yourselves and the smell should be gone by nightfall. Youll be able to join us for dinner and sleep in your bedrolls by then."
The bard frowned and began the process of scratching her skin with the leaves.
Xena knelt down as she watched her friends rub their skin raw. "Look you two relax. I will catch dinner and do the cooking for you and Tarren."
Gabrielle cocked her head to one side and grinned. "Please Xena she really doesnt deserve such a harsh punishment."
The warrior nodded at he friend. "Very funny Gabrielle, Ya know this wouldnt have happened if you two hadnt decided to play warlord in the mud."
Gabrielle dropped her leaves, got to her feet and started to move closer to Xena. "We were not playing It just sort of well happened."
The warrior was quick to back off another 10 paces leaving a very hurt expression on her friends face. "Ok Whatever you say just stay right there."
The young woman returned to her seat and began scrubbing again.
Xena knew her motions had upset her friend. "Look Gabrielle Im sorry. I feel bad about this. Id come sit with you if I didnt have to take care of Tarren."
"You would?" the bard asked.
Xena grinned. "Sure I would!"
Ephiny held up a hand to stop the friends chatter. "Do you mind saving this reunion to a time when I want to listen to either one of your voices."
Gabrielle looked at he amazon and frowned. "Well excuse me. What is your problem Aside from the all too obvious one?"
Ephiny pointed to the child sleeping by the distant fire. "That kid started this whole thing," she yelled. "Your daughter jumped in the mud."
Xena nodded unsympathetically. "My daughter is a child and I would think that two grown women not to mention amazon royalty could handle her for a little while. What is your excuse for the mud fight your majestys?" she asked, tossing sticks on their fire.
"Actually it was a very pretty sight Queen Gabrielle and Queen Ephiny. You both set a wonderful example I might add."
Gabrielle fidgeted a bit, "You're not gonna let us forget this are you warrior?"
Xena shook her head and smiled, "Never my bard. This is valuable information."
Ephiny looked again at the sleeping child, "Hey what about her. This whole thing started because she misbehaved. You're yelling at us. What about the little kid? You let her off scot free?"
Xena looked back at her daughter and smiled, "Eph, first of all I decide when and if my daughter needs to be punished. Second, Tarren knows what she did was wrong and I'm satisfied with that. She is after all just a kid and they do love mud but then again so do some grown ups I know." she replied with an evil grin.
Gabrielle looked over at Tarren and shook her head. "Look at that little mud monster. She causes all this havoc and then falls right to sleep."
Xena nodded as she got to her feet. "Yeah well I better get back to that little monster before she gets into trouble." There was a pause. "Uhm Could you two do me a big favor?"
Ephiny shrugged eager to do something useful. "Sure what?"
Xena slowly backed away as she spoke, "Well the wind has shifted. Could you sort of move to the other side of the fire?"
Gabrielle picked up a stick and Xena took that as a good sign to depart.
The bard dropped her weapon and watched the chuckling warrior sprint away. "Thats right Xena run before a I come over there and give you a big hug," she yelled.
The bard shrugged as she watched her amazon friend methodically bathe in leaves. "Well you cant say it ever gets dull around here," she said with a smirk.
Ephiny nodded in agreement as she smiled at her fellow stinkmate, "Well Gabrielle, Ive only been with you for one day. I cant wait to see what another one brings."
Gabrielle smiled as she began her medicinal rub down once again. "You may regret those words my friend."
Luckily the leaves had done their job and the smell had dissipated enough for the two women to rejoin the main camp by nightfall. It also ensured that Gabrielle did the cooking much tot he pleasure of all especially the warrior.
Gabrielle handed out the plates to her companions.
Tarren sleepily arose from her blankets and joined the others by the fire.
The bard smiled. "Look who's up,"
The youngster hugged her friend happy to see she had returned. "Gabby youre back and you dont stink bad anymore." The child sniffed the bards arm. "Well you dont smell like stinky kitty anyway. Now you smell like medicine. Yuk!"
Gabrielle considered her own odor and frowned. "Thanks Tarren."
The youngster placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Its Ok Gabby I still love you."
Gabrielle hugged the child tightly giving her a gentle swat on the backside. "No more mud!"
Tarren glanced over at her mothers blue stare and swallowed before answering. "Uh no Gabby me and Momma talked about it. Mud is best for fevers and when you have clothes off. You and Ephiny should remember that too," the child chastised.
The amazon glared at the youngster wishing someone would take charge of this child.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and grinned. "Oh I promise I will make sure I take all my clothes off before I go near any mud Tarren. You have my word."
The youngster shook her finger at the bard, "And stay away from stinky kitties too?"
Gabrielle once again looked at Xena who smiled and held her nose to define the childs vocabulary.
The young woman chuckled and again hugged the child. "Oh I will definitely stay away from stinky kitties honey. Anything else?"
Tarren glanced at her mother and then the fish on the plate. "Uh yeah gabby who cooked the fish?"
Gabrielle held back a giggle when she saw the warriors face turn cold. "I did honey. Uh I cooked the fish."
Tarren sighed with relief. "Whew for a minute I was afraid Momma had," the child replied.
Xena tapped her fingers on her leg as she tried to remember the joys of motherhood.
Tarren gave a glance to the amazon and then moved beside her now insulted mother. She nudged Xena's arm wanting to sit in her lap, but the warrior didn't budge. "Momma!" she yelled pleadingly.
"I wanna sit with you," she whispered.
The warrior locked her arms against her legs. "I dunno if I want you too after what you said about my cooking," she teased.
The child put a hand on her mothers head and patted it gently as if offering her sympathy and support," Its Ok Momma. You have lots of other skills."
Gabrielle and Ephiny both chuckled at the statement and the warrior playfully grabbed the child and pulled her onto her lap. "You are so lucky I love you monster. Nobody else would get away with an insult like that but you monster."
"I didnt mean to insult you Momma," she replied sadly.
Xena cradled the child close to her chest and grinned. "I know Im just playing with ya. You didnt insult me."
Tarren smiled and happily let the warrior bounce her from one leg to the other.
After a bit she handed the youngster her plate and started enjoying her own meal.
Ephiny watched the maneuver with surprise. She looked at Tarren skillfully try and maneuver the vegetables away from her meal and smiled. Xena did not even have to look at her daughter to know what she was trying to do.
"You can move them all you want, but the only way they are leaving that plate is going into your mouth little one," she announced while still eating her own food.
Tarren frowned and ate the vegetables dramatically once again acting as if they were poisoning her.
This time Gabrielle laughed as did Ephiny and Xena.
"Ok enough already...." the bard groaned reaching for the still partially full plate.
Tarren smiled and leaned back against her mothers chest comfortable to feel so close in the darkness.
Xena cradled the child next to her and leaned back against a tree. She drew her sword and began sharpening it slowly.
"If you want to keep them then you have to take care for them little one," the mother declared never taking her eye off her blade.
The child frowned and reached into her boot pulling out her chucks.
Xena handed the child a soft cloth and watched as the youngster started polishing them.
This was one task Tarren did not wish to imitate. The warrior insisted that the child polish the weapons at least twice a week. However it never quite went the way she hoped.
The youngster dropped the cloth and displayed her wands. "Im done. Youre slow Momma."
Xena glanced down at the unpolished wands and frowned. "You call that polished?"
The warrior mother placed her sword on the ground and picked up the cloth and then took the wands from the child. She used great force rubbing the metal until it was shining brightly.
She handed the child the wands and nodded before picking up her sword once again. "Now thats polished, " she declared.
Tarren nodded as she looked at her shiny chucks. "Yup Momma nobody polishes like you do," she replied, placing the beloved heirlooms in her boot.
Gabrielle chuckled at the familiar ritual and Xena winked at her friend to remind her that the child had not fooled her for a minute. The warrior was happy to polish the wands for the child, but even happier to let the little girl think she was getting away with something for a change.
Tarren just lay back against her mothers chest smiling as she watched the warrior sharpen her blade.
Ephiny noticed that the youngster didn't move a muscle. Apparently she was quite used to sitting there while Xena worked. "Amazing," the amazon mumbled to herself as she drew her own sword and started the same ritual.
Night came and Tarren was soon asleep in her mothers arms. Xena carefully placed her in her blankets and gently kissed the childs cheek.
The soft side of her friend she had never witnessed moved Ephiny.
The warrior took her blankets and lay them in the spot next to her child. Xena was settled for rest when Ephiny noticed the small figure quickly inch over to her mother, nudging the warrior until she was granted entrance right beside her. The mother sighed and looked over at her daughter.
"Comfortable?" she asked with a grin.
The youngster nodded and threw her arm across the warriors stomach.
Xena shook her head and lifted the sleepy child right beside her tucking her neatly under one arm. "If you are gonna keep doing this at least let me get comfortable," she whispered.
The youngster giggled and shook her head, so Xena tickled her until she let the warrior have her blankets and a bit of space.
"Now go to sleep," the mother ordered.
"Pony?" the child whispered.
The mother shook her head and smiled, "No pony. Sleep!"
Tarren frowned and moved back hogging all the space once again. "Pony," she whispered with a yawn.
The warrior mother gave her a gentle squeeze. " Sleep right now!" she said in a parental tone that made the youngster sigh. "No pony."
Xena smiled and Ephiny watched in awe as the two princesses fell asleep.
Later that night
Gabrielle once again slid into her blankets eager for a peaceful night. However it was not long before the young woman jumped out of her blankets screaming once again.
Ephiny again raced to her queens side, but Xena just leaned on her elbow and gave her daughter a gentle poke. "Young lady did you put a snake in Gabrielles bedroll again?"
The youngster yawned and shook her head. "No Momma."
Xena sighed with relief and turned her attention to the bard and amazon. Ephiny slowly removed the blanket to find a small baby chipmunk sleeping peacefully on the bards bedroll.
The warrior covered her face with one hand and tapped the child on the shoulder. "Tarren did you put a baby chipmunk in Gabrielles bedroll?" she asked, her voice filling with frustration over another interrupted nights sleep.
The youngster bit her lip and nodded, "Yes Maam."
Xena got to her feet and pulled the little girl up beside her. "I have had it with this game Tarren. No more putting creatures in Gabrielles blankets, and one more prank and Im gonna give you a good swat." she scolded to let her child know this time she meant business.
The youngster bit her lip lowered her eyes realizing that she had just been declared naughty once again.
The warrior mother pointed to the bards bedroll and the sullen child slowly walked over and picked the little chipmunk up and cradled it in her hands. She looked up at Gabrielle "Sorry Gabby," she whispered and then returned to her blankets still holding onto the little animal.
The bard looked at the warrior who just shook her head. "Oh dont give me that look Gabrielle. She has to learn that its not always play time ." The warriors words lost force as she retreated to her own bedroll.
Ephiny and Gabrielle returned to their own blankets and soon fell asleep.
Xena lay there staring down once again at the small quiet figure beside her. "Hey arent you gonna let that little critter go?" she asked, noticing the child was still holding the small animal.
Tarren shook her head. "No I want something to cuddle with and little Xena likes sleeping with me," she replied.
The warrior felt the knife of guilt pierce her heart as she heard the little creature referred to as little Xena. The mother leaned over and ran her hand along the childs cheek. "Hey I thought you were my little bed hog. Im not so sure I wanna share," the mother whispered softly.
The child turned around and looked up at her mother and then the chipmunk. "Cant she stay for a little while Momma? She has no where else to go," the child begged.
Xena shook her head and kissed her young daughters cheek. "Ok she can stay
until tomorrow and then she goes back to the wild where she belongs
The youngster nodded. "Thanks Momma You still want me to be your little bed hog even though I was naughty?" she asked with a wide-eyed stare.
Xena lifted the little girl onto her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around her. "Hey you know I wouldnt be able to sleep without you monster."
Tarren smiled and kissed her mothers cheek and lay her head down on the warriors shoulder to sleep.
Xena grinned as she watched a small chipmunk take up refuge on her other shoulder.
"Little Xena" the warrior mumbled with a smile.
It was the middle of the night when Tarren popped her head up from the blankets. She stood ready to move, but Xena quickly grabbed her leg.
"Where do you think your going little girl?" she asked without opening her eyes.
The child paused knowing she had been snared by her mothers large hand. "I can't sleep. I wanna go for a walk Momma." she whispered.
Xena opened one eye knowing that the child was not going back to sleep now. She wearily sat up in her blankets and pulled the child onto her lap. "It's the middle of the night and you think youre going for a walk all alone? Tarren do you like using my bedroll at supper?" she asked with slight grin.
The child shook her head and nuzzled Little Xena.
"No Momma but Little Xena and me are not tired and everyone else is sleeping," she whispered.
Xena shook her head sorry that the day had not exhausted the child into slumber. "Ok I'll sit up with you until it's time to get up, but don't you ever think of wandering off in the middle of the night understand," she quietly scolded.
Tarren lowered her eyes and nodded. She snuggled in close to the warrior leaning against her chest as Xena stroked her head.
The child glanced over at the sleeping amazon and up at her mother. "Momma what's the Amazons like?" she asked.
The warrior thought about it for a minute. "Well it's like most villages...I mean everyone has their jobs, but the amazons are warriors Tarren. They always have been a very proud race of people."
Tarren frowned a bit. "Are they all like Ephiny?" she murmured.
Xena pulled the little girl closer and wrapped the blankets around her. "What do you mean?"
The child fidgeted a bit before answering "Well I don't think Ephiny likes me Momma."
The warrior gently caressed her daughters face. "Well Tarren she doesn't even know you yet. Give her a chance little one. YOU have not exactly shown her your best side today now have you?" she asked
The child shook her head. "I dunno. Do I have a best side Momma?" she asked staring up at the warrior for a judgment of her profile.
Xena kissed the childs cheek gently and pet Little Xena with her fingers. "To me every side you have is the best side, but if we're talking about strangers then I'd have to say that warm little smile of yours wins people over the fastest little one."
Tarren giggled, "It doesn't work on you Momma."
Xena grinned and tickled the childs side. "How do you know?"
The child shrugged. "Does it Momma?"
Xena wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter. "Tarren you don't have to have anything work on me. You are my daughter and I love you. You and I are part of each other. We are stuck with each other kid. We're in it together for the long haul baby."
Tarren smiled at the thought if being stuck together with her mother like a sloppy cheese sandwich. "What about Gabby?" she asked, hoping there was enough cheese to make all three stick.
"I'm sort of stuck with both of you." A voice from the blankets moaned lifting her head.
Xena waved her hand apologetically. "I'm sorry. We didn't mean to wake you."
Gabrielle grinned at her sly friend. "Give me a break warrior. Yes you did," she whispered.
Xena smiled and shrugged.
Gabrielle sat up in her blankets and yawned. "So what's this about anyone leaving?"
Tarren looked at her mother and then Gabrielle. Both women were waiting for some response from the now quiet child. "Well I was just wondering...Are you gonna leave us when we get to the amazon village. I mean if youre like a Queen or something are you gonna wanna stay there?" she asked, biting her lip and lowering her eyes.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and sighed finally realizing why the child disliked Ephiny and the idea of visiting the village so much. She placed a gentle hand on the childs face. "No of course not honey. The amazons are my friends Tarren, but you and Xena are my family. We stick together. Right Xena?" she asked staring into the gentle blue eyes of her dearest friend
The warrior nodded and smiled at the bard. "Like I said were stuck with her."
Tarren smiled broadly and reached up and hugged the young woman. "I dont mind be stuck gabby."
Xena winked at her friend. "I dont mind being stuck either," the warrior said softly.
Gabrielle wiped a tear from her eye finding it hard to believe that she was so important to these two people that filled her own heart.
Soon al three were nuzzled under one set of blankets, a very content child sandwiched in the middle with a small chipmunk in her hands
The amazon lay still allowing the youngsters private words to echo in her ears. I dont think Ephiny likes me.
The regent rubbed her eyes and swallowed hard as she prayed to her goddess. "Artemis help me. I dont want the kid to think I dont like her," she whispered so no one but the wind and the keen ears of a warrior princess could hear.
To be continued .
Need I tell you people how hungry my little pet Ego gets? <G>
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