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 author’s 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 calledSHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, HOME SWEET HOME, and Little Thief of Hearts 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.
Xena Warrior Mother Series –Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part X
Chapter 30 – Full Circle
After watching Gabrielle mumbled something under her breath about foolish warriors the young woman stomped out of the hut in search of Ephiny.
Xena said a silent prayer for her regal friend as she watched the angry bard depart. "Gods Eph I hope you have your armor on." She looked across the room at her small child and sighed. The mother sat on the edge of the pallet and ran her hand over her little one’s forehead to make sure it was still indeed cool. "How are you feeling?" she asked with a slight grin.
"Good Momma. Can I get up now?" the youngster replied already starting to rise.
The warrior gently pushed the little girl back on the pallet and pulled the covers up. "Sorry Monster, but no you won’t be able to get out of bed for a few days."
The child poked out her lip and folded her arms against her chest as she stared at her mother. "But Momma my fevers gone and you said…."
Feeling the weight of the entire day suddenly crashing down on her shoulders, the warrior mother snapped. "Tarren don’t argue with me!"
Tarren’s eyes grew wide with surprise at the sudden scolding tone. She shrunk back beneath the blankets quietly. "Yes ma’am."
Xena shook her head and let out a deep breath. She leaned over and picked the small child up in her arms. "I’m sorry Monster. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I’m just a bit tired." She squeezed the youngster tightly as if almost afraid to let go.
The little girl stared at her mother’s worried expression and bit her own lip. "Momma what’s wrong?" she asked with noted concern.
The warrior mother forced her voice to a gentle whisper and nuzzled the little one close. "What makes you think something is wrong?" she asked, hoping to push away the reality of the outside world if even only for a few hours.
Tarren pointed to the warrior’s forehead and frowned. "Cause you got the funny lines on your head."
Xena reached a hand above her brow and surely enough felt the wrinkles. "I do don’t I?"
"Yes Momma," the child replied with a nod.
The warrior grinned at the little girl’s astute observation. "And you figure that means something’s wrong huh?" she asked, running the side of her hand through the youngster’s mop of hair.
Xena lifted the girl in the air and with a few strides took a seat by the fire. She placed the little girl on her knee and stared at her for a moment. "You are a very smart little kid." She took a long breath as she tried to explain the events that were about to take place. "Tarren there are some very bad men out in the woods and there could be a lot of fighting. I would take you far away if I could baby, but you’re still too sick to travel in the cold night air, so I guess one of the things I’m worried about is that I won’t be able to protect you as much as I should." The words were soft and soothing but filled with concern.
Tarren smiled broadly. For a minute she was afraid it was something serious. "You always take good care of me Momma," she replied, giving the warrior a reassuring hug.
Xena closed her eyes and held the child closer. "I do huh?"
Tarren opened her eyes as wide as she could and locked her gaze with her mother’s "Yes Mommy."
That one word brought all the reassurance the warrior mother ever needed to hear. It seemed to hold a certain magic all of its own.
Xena held the child playfully in the air above her. "And I always will Monster." She stared at the small amulet around the child’s neck and her eyes narrowed a bit. As she seated the child close to her chest the mother’s voice became more serious. "But Tarren, I want you to promise me that if you ever get in real trouble like when you were stuck in that cave in that you won’t wait for me to come. I want you to use the amulet Nala gave you to help you," she said fingering the odd blue stone with the supposed magical gift to offer assistance when broken and chanted properly over.
The child glanced down at the amulet and without hesitation shook her head. "No Momma. You’ll always come for me." She again smiled broadly to show of the depth of her love and strength.
Xena sighed heavily at the words. She could not force the youngster to use the gift nor did she want to shatter the little one’s faith in her mother’s love. "Tarren…."
The words were low but adamant. "No Momma, Nala said I get to use it when I feel I need it and with you hear I never need it."
The mother stroked the side of the little girl’s face and smiled. Perhaps a little turn of the words might persuade the child to protect herself if ever needed. "Ok Tarren, Please promise me that if you ever get in real trouble and I don’t come fast enough that you’ll break the amulet so you can come and help me."
The child’s eyes flew open. "Me help you?"
"Yup just like you did today by being my army," the warrior replied proudly.
Tarren chewed on her lower lip as she considered this new and quite important responsibility. She grinned. "Ok Momma if you’re ever in trouble I’ll break it and I’m not sure what will happen but I’ll come and help ya."
This was not exactly what the warrior had hoped for but perhaps it would be enough to save her child’s life if Xena was just a step too far. "Thank you baby." She kissed the child’s cheek tenderly.
The youngster fiddled with the mother’s straps. "Will you be going away to fight without me?" she asked lowering her eyes, afraid of the response.
Xena shook her head. At least for the time being she would be remaining with Tarren at the village. "And leave my army behind? No I’ll be staying here with you little one." She paused. "But I’m gonna have lots of work to do and I…."
Tarren jumped up in her mother’s lap clinging to the side of the armor. "I can help Momma. Let me stay with you please. I’ll be real quiet. Please don’t make me be without you," she begged.
Xena ran her hand over the small child’s face. The look of innocence and unquestionable love never ceased to amaze her. "Ok I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll set up an office in here but only if you take a nap right now." She glanced at the ceiling as she spoke. "And if you are really quiet then you can…."
Before Xena could finish the sentence she heard the sound of instant snoring.
The warrior grinned and arched a brow. "I mean a real nap youngster."
Tarren opened one eye and smiled. "Ok Momma but I’m not real tired right now. Can you sing to me so I can sleep?" she asked in a near whisper.
"My pleasure Monster." The warrior mother was more than happy to offer such comfort. In the face of all the evil that now surrounded them all this one innocent child needed to find peace was a soft lullaby. Xena cradled the little girl close and offered melody until the child was fast asleep.
At the queen’s office…
Gabrielle paced around the office trying to make sense of the words she had just heard. The bard now knew all about the dead Amazon messenger and the mythical Argonian cloud people and was now listening to Ephiny’s plans to attack without hesitation.
"That’s ridiculous. What makes you think you won’t be taken or worse just like Solaria and Shelopa’s groups were," the bard said with the wave of her hand.
The queen moved around the room adding to her already ample armor. She slid her heavy leather cuffs with the silver studs on and the large hand hammered metal belt that protected her waist. "I don’t know but I have to do something. I sent them out there. I sent them all out there," she said in an angry rambling. She paused and stared at her friend. "These are my people. Do you understand that? I am supposed to protect them and while I have been celebrating Artemis and playing with children my warriors, no my family, have been either killed or kidnapped. That stops now and damn the cost."
Gabrielle’s tone softened a bit a she realized that queen’s actions were based as much on love as they were on her need for vengeance and action. "Ephiny, you’re the queen and the leader of these people. You can’t just go off without so much as a thought to the consequences without even attempting other methods. You’ll just get yourself killed."
The words of the bard fell hard on the queen’s ears. Ephiny was prepared to offer her life to Artemis for her people and this young woman dared to question her. "What the hell are you saying?" she asked with misdirected venom.
The bard took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I am saying that maybe we can negotiate with these people or at least find out why there doing what there doing rather than add to the already spilled blood." She paused. "If any of the Amazons are still alive and you just rush in looking for a fight you could endanger them all."
"Negotiate with Argonians?" Ephiny swallowed hard and yanked the bard by the arm. "Come with me." She dragged her friend to a building where another lone Amazon stood shedding tears for, Mela, the messenger who had died in attempt to warn her queen of the impending danger.
Ephiny walked quietly into the sacred mourning area and saw Shalia standing over the young Amazon crying. She bowed her head to the large statue of Artemis and moved in closer to her ward. "Shalia?"
Startled by the words, the younger Amazon turned quickly wiping the tears from her eyes. "Yes…Ephiny …I am sorry…I…." She pointed to the dead woman. "She was my friend," she said in a near whisper.
The queen cocked her head to one side and stared at the still form on the table. "I didn’t think you even knew her," she said placing a maternal hand on the young girl’s shoulder.
Shalia swallowed hard and shook her head. "It is not so big a village that even I don’t know everyone." She bowed her head slightly and turned to leave the room. "We are all family Ephiny." With those final teary words the young Amazon ran out the door.
"Yeah we are." Ephiny shook her head and motioned the bard toward the body. She removed a blanket that covered the dead girl. "You see this child laying here on the table. She was killed while retreating Gabrielle. She had an arrow in her back. Does that tell you what you are dealing with?" she asked, trying to hold back her anger and her tears.
The bard looked at the youthful face of the girl lying before her and closed her eyes. No matter how many times she saw the face of death the gut wrenching feeling of disgust never disappeared. "Eph what I see is the body of a dead girl. Someone who died long before there time and perhaps never even had a real chance to live." She turned and faced her seething friend. "And if you rush out of here with no thought of what or where to go then I think I will see the body of many more just like her."
The queen sighed and felt the muscles in her body tense. She did not wish to speak of logic or even the good and the bad of things. She just wanted to find her people and feel the blood of the enemy that had killed without thought or reason. "Well you don’t have to agree with me Gabrielle just obey me. Taking your bonnet off and turning your head does not free you of your responsibilities here. You are and shall act as an Amazon princess in my absence. " She paused and let her words soften a bit. "Just like you did when you offered your life to save that of the tribe today."
Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "I can’t Ephiny. I don’t want to be a part of something that leads to a bloody and pointless war. There is an enemy and I don’t even know why they are here and what they want. I don’t want to be part of making a war. I want to be part of forming a peace." She thought of Xena’s words. "Fighting is always a last resort."
Ephiny took one final look at the young dead girl and then spoke in a tone that was filled with both love and hate for the world around her. "Sometimes you must have war to have peace Gabrielle. Think about that princess." She turned and walked out the door eager to continue her own preparations and perhaps even think of her young friend’s words.
Now alone, Gabrielle again glanced at the young girl on the table draped in a mourning robe. "No there must be another way and I have to find it," she muttered.
As she started out the door she was stopped by the sudden appearance of Shalia.
"Princess do not do what you are thinking of doing. The Argonians will only hurt you," she warned in a voice that was no longer filled with tears but now with anger equal to Ephiny’s
Gabrielle tilted her head to one side wondering how this young Amazon could have a clue as to what she was thinking of doing. She smiled and placed a friendly hand on the young woman’s shoulder. "Shalia, I don’t know what you think I am planning, but right now I was just going back to the cottage to see Xena and Tarren. Wanna come?"
Shalia stated at the princess for a long moment and then shook her head and lowered her eyes. "No thank you. I wish to remain with my friend a bit longer." She looked past the bard to the dead girl.
"Ok then you stay as long as you need." Gabrielle replied softly, before walking out the door.
Once alone again, Shalia moved beside the body and picked up the arrow that had been pulled form this dead stranger’s body. "I’m sorry my child. I am so sorry, " she whispered as the tears once again streamed down her face.
Back at the cottage…
Xena cleared the table in the center of the sleeping area and had spread maps over the top by the time Gabrielle returned.
Tarren lay sleeping soundly in her pallet for which the mother was grateful. Hearing the familiar footsteps she tilted her head a bit but did not turn. "Did you talk to her?"
The answer was fast and filled with anxiety. "Yes."
Xena continued studying the maps of the surrounding areas. "And no luck. Right?"
Gabrielle folded her arms against her chest and leaned against the table "Yeah and no luck. She is as stubborn as…."
The warrior tilted her head and faced her younger friend. "As me?" she asked with a slight grin.
The bard let out a long breath and allowed a slight smile. "No Xena you’re still the queen of that."
The warrior returned to her work. "Thanks."
Gabrielle paced around the room in circles as she considered the seriousness of the situation they were facing as well as Ephiny’s determination to just ride off and battle the unknown. "She’s just being so self centered. If she were truly thinking of her people then Ephiny would know…."
Xena turned suddenly on her friend. Her voice became a bit defensive. "Hey Gabrielle she is thinking of her people! The Amazons are our friends but they are Ephiny’s family and her responsibility." She leaned on the table and exhaled. "If that was you or Tarren out there I’d be riding through Hades myself to find you, so don’t blame Eph for her feelings." Her voice softened. "She cares and she’s a good leader."
The bard lowered her head a bit. "But Xena you always tell me to use wisdom before weapons and you are not even trying to talk to Ephiny."
The warrior nodded and placed a pin on the map in front of her. "That’s because nothing I say to her right now will change her mind. She knows what I think, where I am and what I am doing and if we’re lucky she’ll calm down enough to listen to reason." She glanced up. "If not she’ll do what she feels is right."
"So then I guess you agree with Ephiny about the fighting?" the young woman asked with a sigh.
Xena shook her head. "No I don’t." She glanced back at her sleeping child. "I will do anything to prevent a war with these strangers Gabrielle." She stood to her full height and fingered her chakrum "However if it comes down to a fight then I will stand beside Ephiny."
Gabrielle tossed her arms up in the air. "Well I don’t agree with any of it." She resumed her pacing. "These mythical creatures from a fairy tale supposedly come to life after 100 summers and just start picking off Amazons." She shook her head. "And now we are going to send a war party to kill that which we are not even sure exist."
Xena let the air drain from her lungs. "I don’t know anything about these Argonians but Gabrielle there are two young girls dead and many missing Amazons. That is quite real. Someone killed those girls and probably have the rest of the tribe captive." She paused as she felt her muscles tense at the thought. "Eph has to do what she feels is right just like we would. All we can do is support her decision…at the moment."
Gabrielle paced back and forth finding it hard to accept any of this warrior logic. "She’s gonna get herself killed and for no reason." She shook her head. "She doesn’t even know what these Argonians of this legend want if that’s even who it is." The bard leaned against the table. "Maybe it’s someone who just wants us to think it’s these ancient mythical men."
Xena let out another long breath. Gabrielle was not making mapping easy. "Maybe but you are missing the point. This is Ephiny’s call and we are here to help." She pointed to the child in the bed. "And to make sure she stays safe."
The bard’s voice immediately softened and her focus shifted. She sat beside the sleeping child. "Gods Xena, the mere thought of Tarren being in the middle of a war zone…."
"I know." Xena placed a few more pins on the map and tightened her lips. "Well I intend to fortify this place so nothing gets in and I am waiting for Mussona and Penela to come and look over these plans I have." She pointed to the maps. "This is the area that we found Tyrell and this is where we guessed Solari to be heading." The warrior pointed to an even smaller area close by "And this is where I figure Sheloppa was taken."
Gabrielle moved in beside her friend ad stared at the markings. "Why there?"
Xena pointed to a large mountain with several cave openings. "Tyrell spoke of the ground opening up and swallowing everyone up and Penela said Artemis had condemned the Argonians to the darkness beneath us. So I figure there must be some kind of underground caverns in which they get around. If we can convince all the surrounding tribes to send their warriors and join forces with us we might just have a chance at making a surprise attack." She straightened up. "In the meantime I’m thinking of a small rescue party slipping through the back trails to the caves."
The bard looked closer at the markings and then her tall friend. "A rescue mission?"
"Yeah I think if we move close enough to daylight that perhaps we can make it to the caves without a problem," the warrior replied with a sigh.
"I’m not sure but something tells me that the Argonians have problems with light. Tarren and I were out in the area where we found Tyrell for hours and nothing happened to us."
The bard let her green eyes intensify their focus on the warrior. "So?"
Xena took a deep breath. "Gabrielle if these creatures have been living in darkness for 100 summers then their vision has to have been effected."
The bard’s expression became a bit confused. "Why?"
Xena moved around the table motioning to room around them. "Haven’t you ever walked out of a very dark room and into the strong sunlight?"
"And your eyes had trouble adjusting for a bit. Right?" the warrior asked with a slight grin.
Xena shook her head wondering why her very intelligent friend seemed a bit less than at her peak today. "Now imagine what it would be like if you were in that dark for 100 years and someone lit all the candles around you so it was suddenly as bright as sunlight."
The younger woman’s eyes grew wide with understanding." Ouch!"
The warrior smiled at her friend’s final grasp of the meaning of the words. "Exactly and that is to our advantage."
Gabrielle smiled at her warrior friends thinking. Xena was definitely one of the greatest tacticians in the world. "What about this cloud thing that comes down? That mist probably helps protect them and if they’re as blind as you think they are probably quite accustomed to moving without sight."
This was a valid point.
"I have a few thoughts on evening the sides with that," the warrior replied with a crooked grin
Gabrielle shook her head knowing that Xena was never without a plan. "Sounds intriguing."
"Oh it’s original…if it works," the warrior replied with a smirk. Her face became more serious. "However we will still need support from the other tribes."
The bard nodded in understanding. "Penela and Mussona have already sent for their people but the other tribes won’t come just because we ask them. Some will think it’s a ploy in the negotiations," she replied with a frown.
Xena tapped a small pointer on the edge of the table as she considered this dilemma. "Well we have to convince them otherwise Gabrielle."
"You’re the bard. Use your gift," the warrior replied with a soft smile.
The younger woman let out a long breath. She was tired and felt drained of all the beauty that made her feel like a bard. "Xena I have no idea what to say," she replied sadly.
Before the warrior could offer a word of support, a small voice squeaked from the pallet. "I got an idea Momma."
Xena dropped her pointer on the table and shook her head. She glanced over at the now wide-awake form of her young daughter. "You young lady are supposed to be fast asleep," she scolded quietly.
Tarren yawned and rolled on her side. "But I got a thought Momma."
Xena sat on the side of the pallet and ran her hand over the child’s forehead making sure it was still cool. "Ok Monster, what’s your thought?" she asked, too happy her child’s fever had not returned to discourage the youngster from offering an idea.
"Well ya see…." She bit her lip. "Momma is it ever Ok to fib?" the child asked, wanting to make sure she was not bringing any trouble on herself.
The mother glanced at the bard who just grinned. Xena turned back to the waiting child. This was a tricky question. "Tarren it’s never Ok for you to fib to me or Gabrielle." She paused as she considered the rest of the world. "But tell me your thought and then I’ll tell you if it’s Ok to fib to someone else in this particular situation."
"Oh I’d never fib to you Momma even if it meant getting a spankin," the child stated proudly.
This was a true statement.
Xena nodded and patted the child’s arm. "Good girl. Now what’s your thought?"
Tarren grinned wickedly. "Well ya know Momma when you tell me we’re havin vegeterribles for supper I move real slow cause I don’t like them." She paused as she considered the taste of the healthy foods often heaped on her plate. Her mind wandered a bit. "How come I haffta eat them anyway?" she asked with a distinct pout.
Gabrielle chuckled a bit at the warrior’s dilemma, which only earned her a harsh stare from the leather-clad figure.
It was never easy getting a direct answer out of Tarren especially when vegetables were involved.
The mother pursed her lips together and arched a brow. This was not a time for offering explanations on the importance of a well-balanced meal. "Because I said so. Good enough?"
Tarren tried to arch her own brow as high in response but could only get it to go up part way. "Yes Momma."
Xena looked at the now silent child knowing her words of finality had made the youngster pause. She took a deep breath and softened her tone. "Tarren baby, what’s your idea? I really want to hear it."
The little girl smiled at her mother’s interest. "Ok Mommy if ya really wanna." She cleared her throat. "Ya see if you tell me where having yucky stuff for supper I don’t wanna come but if you tell me we’re having sloppy cheese I run real fast cause I really like sloppy cheese stuff."
Xena glanced at Gabrielle who shrugged.
The mother looked back down at her child waiting for the idea to be revealed. "And?"
Tarren frowned at her parent’s lack of understanding of the obvious. "Well why do ya haffta tell anyone you only have vegetables. Can’t ya tell them ya got sloppy cheese?" she asked with a broad smile.
Xena grinned and kissed the little girl on the cheek and hugged her tightly to her chest. "Yes we can do just that and you my little Monster are a genius just like Momma," she said with a smile and a wink.
Tarren’s face glowed at the powerful words her mother had just bestowed upon her. "Wow! Thanks Momma." She wasn’t exactly sure what a genius was but she was sure it was a good thing and any comparison to Xena was definitely a compliment in her daughter’s eyes.
Gabrielle watched the gentle exchange with a smile but then tilted her head to one side. "I don’t get it. Why are sloppy cheese sandwiches going to get them here?" she asked wondering if the mother was just humoring the little girl.
Xena placed the child back in the blankets and with a few tucks and a final kiss she got to her feet and faced her friend. "They’re not but you’re words are. Send messages telling each of the opposing tribes that a battle for leadership over the newly formed alliance of tribes has broken out and they will all be here to compete for their place as leaders." She walked around the cabin. "Be convincing so that they’ll all want to come with many warriors as a show of strength."
Gabrielle’s face lit up with excitement. "Perfect…She is a genius," she replied motioning to the child watching from the pallet.
Tarren listened to the new and improved plan and shook her head. "Huh…Sloppy cheese woulda been enough to get me to come," she muttered.
Xena folded her arms against her chest and rocked back on her heals. "Well of course she’s a genius." She winked at the child again. "After all she is my daughter."
The bard looked from the grinning warrior to the smaller but equally grinning child. The expressions were exactly the same. She smiled and shook her head. "You’re both nothing but a couple of hams," she replied.
The warrior nodded. "Yup but we’re smart hams." She glanced over at the youngster. "You my little ham go back to sleep." She gave her friend a more serious look. "And you get started on those letters."
Tarren yawned and burrowed into her mother’s saddlebags. It was no use trying to offer any more insight to the grown-ups when they were only going to complicate it anyway.
Gabrielle immediately sat down at the table and penned the needed letters and handed them to Xena.
The warrior read the dramatic writings and smiled. "Very good my bard. This will have them on horseback before the ink dries," she said with a smile. "Ok I’ll go tell Eph and get these on their way. Stay with Tarren?"
The bard nodded and sat on the bed beside the child. "Sure I would be happy too."
Xena smiled at the pair now lying side by side and then departed.
Once sure her mother was gone the child leaned in closer to her friend. "Gabby?"
The bard turned her head and slid her arm under the youngster’s shoulder and brought her in beside her. "Yes brat."
"Do you think maybe a genius deserves some candy?" the youngster asked, knowing her mother would never allow any more confections since she had already had more than a few with her medicine.
The bard smiled not knowing of the previous delights that had been consumed. She paused as if giving the question great thought. "Well let’s see you have been an army and a genius in one day. I would think so." She reached for the bag and offered a hunk of chocolate to the salivating child. "Here genius."
The youngster immediately shoved the candy into her mouth eager to destroy all evidence before the warrior returned. "Thanks Ga bb y." It was definitely hard to talk with chocolate filling your throat.
Gabrielle stared at the child for a long moment. Tarren was so innocent and full of love and the bard did not wish to see her tainted by even the sight of war. Even if Xena’s plan to bring the Amazons together worked it still meant there would be a war. It only gave their side a greater advantage. It was at that moment the bard made a decision to do something she had been contemplating since seeing the body of the dead messenger.
The young woman cuddled next to the chocolate faced little girl and allowed her voice to become soft and soothing. "Tarren?"
The child licked her fingers as clean as she could but was unaware of the stains over and around her lips. "Yes."
The bard eyed the chocolate stained youngster. "I need to do something really important and I want you to do me a favor."
The child glanced at the sack of candy and smiled hopeful that this favor came with a reward.
Gabrielle smiled and handed the youngster another hunk of chocolate. "You know you are a very spoiled little girl," she said with a smirk.
Tarren immediately devoured the offering. "It’s Ok Ga..bb…y Mooma says the same thinn..g" This was one tough piece of candy but it finally went down and the child grinned. "What do ya need Gabby? Ya want me to kick someone’s butt for ya?" she asked hopefully.
The bard tried to keep a serious face at the offer. "No honey but thank you and you better not let your mother hear you saying those words or it’s going to be your little butt that gets kicked." She sighed knowing she should scold the child herself but just couldn’t bring herself to even say no to the little girl at this moment. She ran her hands through the child’s thick mop of waves and smiled. "First I want you to know that whatever happens I love you very much and what I choose to do now is part of that great goody your momma spoke of."
Tarren frowned at the tone in her friend’s voice. "What you gonna do?"
Gabrielle hugged the child close to her. "Never mind that now. Just promise me that you will remember that I love you and I will always be with you in here." She pointed to the child’s heart. "Do you understand?"
The little girl looked at her friend’s hand planted squarely on her chest and then at the soft green eyes. "It’s Ok Gabby I love ya too," she replied, unsure of how else to reply.
The bard smiled at the way the youngster admitted her love so freely. "I know you do brat and I want to thank you for that wonderful letter you wrote me. It meant a lot but from now on if you want to talk to me you just tell me. OK?"
The child lowered her eyes. "You won’t be too far away will ya Gabby?" she asked fearful of her friend’s absence.
The bard again pointed to the child’s heart. "Tarren I am always right in there even when I’m not here in this room. Can you remember that honey?"
Tarren bit her lip sensing an odd tone to her friend’s voice. "Is that the favor?"
Gabrielle shook her head and slid off the bed. She pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill and scribbled something on it and rolled it up tight handing it to the child. "No I want you to give this to Xena when she comes back. Ok?"
The child fingered the small note and twisted her lips. "Can I read it?"
The bard shook a warning finger at the youngster "No you may not read it. That’s part of the favor," she said in as parental a voice as she could muster.
The little girl tightened her grip on the parchment and rolled out her lower lip to show her dissatisfaction. "Why not? We’re supposed to be a family ya know."
The bard felt her stern pose melt away and she dropped beside the bed. "I know honey and we are a family." She smiled at the words she had always hoped to hear the youngster speak freely. "But you and Xena have secrets and sometimes grown-ups have secrets too. This note is sort of a special message between your Momma and me. Can you promise me you’ll give it to her without looking at it?" she asked hopefully.
Tarren frowned and tucked the small scroll underneath her pillow. "Ok I won’t peak, but then next time you have to send me a secret note like ya did Mommy."
Fair was fair.
The bard grinned at the way the child kept switching back from the choice of titles she gave Xena. "That’s a fair trade honey." She kissed the little girl tenderly on the cheek. "Thank you." She tucked the covers in tightly around the small child and kissed her again. "You get some sleep."
The youngster yawned and cuddled against the bard’s soft hand. "Ok Gabby I’ll sleep if you promise me a story later."
The bard nodded hoping she was making a promise she could keep. "Later honey."
The small child closed her eyes and smiled. "I sure have missed ya Gabby. I’m glad you’re back with Momma and me where ya belong. We’re…." She yawned again. "A family ya know."
"Me too honey…me too." She wiped a tear from her cheek as she caressed the side of the child’s face. When she was sure the little one was asleep the young woman stood. "I love you Tarren. Don’t forget that," she whispered to the now sleeping child.
Xena returned to the cottage followed by Mussona, Penela and Ephiny only to find Shalia sitting with Tarren.
The warrior scanned the hut. "Where’s Gabrielle?" she asked a bit surprised by her friend’s absence.
The young Amazon stood. "I am not sure. She asked me to come stay with Tarren while she ran and errand of some kind." She motioned to the youngster fidgeting with the blankets. "She said Tarren would explain it to you." With those words spoken the young woman quietly departed.
The youngster’s eyes flickered open and she yawned. She glanced up and smiled at her mother. "Hi Momma. Can I have some candy?"
The warrior moved beside the pallet and wiped remnants of chocolate from the child’s face with back of her thumb. "It looks like you already had enough," she said in a half scolding tone. She reached for a cloth and cleaned the very reluctant little girl’s face. "Do you know where Gabrielle went?" she asked as she wiped the last of the evidence from her child’s lips.
Tarren stared at the large bag of confections on the floor and smiled. "Fair trade Momma? I tell you what I know and you give me some candy."
It was a rare situation to feel you had Xena over a barrel.
The warrior arched her brow and pressed her arms against her chest. "You want to talk fair trade? Ok I’ll tell you what. You tell me where Gabrielle went and I might not give your little bottom a swat for not answering my question the right way. Is that fair enough for you?"
Tarren rolled out her lip and lowered her eyes. "Yes Momma. That sounds real fair." She swallowed hard and handed her mother the scroll trying to avoid the angry blue stare that was now focused on her. Xena did not like the idea of her child attempting blackmail especially at such a serious time. "Momma Gabby didn’t tell me where she was going but she said to give you this." She smiled a bit. "And I didn’t peak or nothing."
The warrior mother nodded as she took the small scroll. She glanced at the innocent eyes of her little girl and tasseled the child’s hair affectionately. "Naughty." She leaned back on the pallet next to her child and read the note.
The three queens stood in the background eyeing the warrior’s well-marked map.
The warrior read the letter out loud:
I have to try and do it my way. Please understand. Make Ephiny and Tarren understand. I have to do this. It has to stop somewhere. Please tell Tarren how much I love her and you too my friend. Love Gabrielle.
Tarren leaned in close to her mother as she finished the last line. "I don’t understand Momma. What’s Gabby gonna do?"
Xena’s face went blank as she crumpled the scroll in her hand.
Hearing the last of the words read aloud, Ephiny moved in beside her friend. "Damn it she’s gonna try and negotiate with the Argonians."
Xena slid off the pallet and shook her head. "And I showed her just where to go." She reached for her sword. "Foolish…We have to stop her."
Ephiny stepped in front of her warrior friend. "No Xena, this is my fault. I shouldn’t have dismissed her ideas. Some of what she said to me was true and I should have listened to her. We should think before we fight." She paused "Let me go."
The warrior was about to argue until she saw the terrified look on her child’s face. The youngster reached out her small hands and pulled on the warrior’s arm. "Mommy, Where’s Gabby?" she asked.
Xena lifted the child into her arms and held her tight against her chest. She glanced at Ephiny as she spoke to her little one. "She went to try and help some people," she replied softly.
The youngster made no attempt to hide her concern. "Will she be alright?"
Ephiny took the crumpled parchment and tossed it on the table in front of her fellow queens and looked directly at Tarren. "She’ll be fine Junior."
Xena placed the child back in the pallet. "Yeah Gabrielle will be fine baby just until I get my hands on her." She moved forward and drew her own sword. "Eph she’s my best friend and…."
The words were cut off by a whispering plea. "Xena you have a sick kid to look after and an army to form. I have a princess that I chased away when she was trying to share her ideas and I am going to bring her back even if it is strapped over a saddle." The words were low enough so the youngster could not hear but filled with enough force to let the warrior know she was serious.
Xena fought every fiber in her body but lowered her blade. "Ok Eph I’ll give you a chance to catch her but…."
The queen nodded her head knowing her time to accomplish the task would be short. "I know Xena. You just take care of Junior and get these Amazons of mine whipped into shape. I’ll be back." She moved over and tasseled the little girl’s hair. "Stay out of trouble youngster," she warned with a smile.
Tarren nodded and watched as her regal friend walked over to the two queens. Ephiny addressed them both. "You two would do well to listen to Xena. It might just save us all," she stated before walking out of the cottage.
Mussona and Penela both bowed respectively to the younger queen who was now showing them the meaning of faith and loyalty.
Xena closed her eyes for a moment but then opened them and glanced at Tarren. She did not want the little girl aware of the great danger involved. "I could use an assistant with
that map. If I wrap you up in blankets and bring you over to the table will you be real quiet and hand me the markers when I ask for them?"
The child’s eyes went wide and her mouth opened. "Yes Momma I’ll be real good."
The mother sighed and lifted the child into her arms and began explaining her plans without use of anything but locations to the two remaining queens.
When Ephiny stepped outside the door she was surprised to find Shalia waiting. "Hey kid what are you doing hanging around here? Don’t you have a class to teach over at the school?" she asked with a mix of maternal and majestic concern.
"Someone is covering it for me." Her words gained force as she grabbed the queen’s arm. "Ephiny please don’t go," she said in the most pleading tone the older Amazon had ever heard.
The queen cocked a brow and stared at her young ward as they moved across the compound to the stables. "I have to Shalia and you know that." She paused. "How did you know I was going anywhere?" she asked, wondering if she needed to have a long conversation with the girl about eavesdropping.
Shalia ignored the question. She just stepped in front of the queen before she could enter the stable. "Then don’t go alone. Let me come."
Ephiny shook her head and tried in vain to pass the girl but Shalia was not budging. "No you are not coming. This is something I do alone." She paused and stared at the young girl. "Shalia please move aside. I need to get my horse." Her words were mixed with frustration and confusion.
The response was firm and held more force than the queen had ever heard spoken from the girl. "No!"
Ephiny took a step back and let out a long breath wondering if little Tarren was now giving lessons. "Shalia I am losing my patience." She folded her arms against her chest in a parental pose. "In all the summers that you have been in my house I have never had to raise a hand to you but so help me youngster if you don’t get out of my way…You are not too old to be put over my knee." The words were firm and quite serious.
Shalia lowered her eyes and stepped to the side allowing the queen to pass. "Yes Ephiny." The response was so soft and filled with defeat that the older Amazon regretted having made the treat.
The queen motioned young aids away and placed a saddle on her own horse. She could not help but stare at the now sullen form of her ward. She took a deep breath as she finished the last strap on the cinch. "Shalia I appreciate your concern but you are not even a warrior."
The younger woman looked up at the figure of the person who had been the closest thing to a parent she had known in many years. "I will become one if it will mean you won’t go. I will go in your place. I don’t want anything to happen to you. The people need you now more than ever and I…care about you."
Ephiny could not help but pause at this sudden show of emotion. "Shalia what’s with you lately?" She pulled on the reigns of her horse and placed a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. "This is not like you. You know I don’t care if you are a warrior or not. I just want you to be you and to be what you were meant to be." Her voice softened. "You are a good kid and that’s enough."
Shalia swallowed hard and her eyes welled with tears as she responded. "You were the only one Ephiny. You were the only one who took me in when I had no where to go and you offered me your house and your protection. You trained me and cared for me and I don’t want you to go away now." She again lowered her head.
Ephiny closed her eyes. "All these years I have waited for her to open up and she picks now, " the older Amazon thought. She lifted the girl’s chin up with a single finger and saw a wealth of love and devotion staring back at her. "Shalia I promise I will be back and when I return you and I will have this talk. We should have spoken long ago about your place in my family youngster."
The queen wiped a stray tear from the girl’s face and gave her a pat on the shoulder before mounting her horse. "You behave yourself. Don’t let me come back and find you wrecked the place," she said with a smirk. Her expression turned a bit more serious as she looked down at the still determined girl. "And don’t get any ideas about following me or I really will kick your butt. Don’t think I haven’t done it because I don’t care about you Shalia. I care a lot. You just never needed it. Follow me and I’ll think different. Understand?"
The young Amazon nodded and let her shoulders drop as she watched her queen. "You have been both mother and father to me for many summers and I love you Ephiny," she said in a near whisper.
The usually stoic queen swallowed hard at the unusual display of emotions. The girl who had been a part of her house for all these summers had for the first and only time expressed something more than obedience and loyalty to the queen. She was showing affection for the person who was her family. "I know and I …love you too youngster." With those words spoken the queen sped off in the direction she knew her friend had taken leaving a teary eyed Amazon behind.
Shalia stood alone and felt a single tear fall down her cheek as she watched the queen ride away. "Goodbye Ephiny."
Chapter 31 – The Things We Cannot Change
On the trail…
Gabrielle rode slowly down the trail. Not being accustomed to riding alone, she did not wish to make her debut as a diplomat with a broken leg. She patted the side of the dark horse’s mane. "Ok boy lets just work together and we’ll both do just fine." She looked at the trees and then the small piece of parchment that she had drawn a miniature of Xena’s map on. She gave a yank to the reign and was about to move to the left when she heard a branch break in two behind her.
The bard swallowed hard and closed her eyes waiting for some large cloud to fall from the sky. "I come in peace. I don’t wish to fight but only to talk," she said offering her hands up to show there was no weapon present.
The voice from behind took a moment and then responded stiffly. "Well I mean to cause you great harm princess."
Gabrielle turned her head and let out a long breath when she saw the sour expression of Ephiny. She was easily settled in a large mount. "Eph before you blow a feather let me explain," she replied quickly.
The queen motioned her horse forward and raised a halting hand in the air. "No you will be silent. I will speak." The words were so authoritative that the bard was quickly silenced. She had never been spoken to with such fervor.
Gabrielle sat silently on the horse waiting for the long and she was sure loud lecture to begin.
Ephiny took a long breath as she prepared to speak words she had never heard herself say before. "Gabrielle, I was wrong. I should have listened to what you had to say. We do need to know as many of the facts as possible before we go running into an ambush." She paused. "I don’t want my people killed. "We need people like you Gabrielle. People who are not afraid to challenge the ways of the leaders when they do not believe it is what is best for the tribe." She frowned a bit. "But don’t go making a habit of it."
Gabrielle blushed at the unexpected compliments. "Thanks Eph I am glad you realized…."
Her words were cut short by another halting hand. "However if you ever pull another half brained stunt like this again what Xena doesn’t rip in half I will." Her voice became scolding. "Going off on your own into the middle of gods know what to meet with these creatures is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen."
The bard grinned at the scolding. "Ephiny I didn’t know you cared so much," she replied with a smirk.
The queen let out a long breath and shook her head. "Everyone has something to say. What happened to the days when it was a bow and a "yes my queen and no my queen?"" she asked with a sigh.
Gabrielle moved up beside her friend. "They went away when the Amazon people were blessed with a leader with the ability to listen to everyone."
"Uh huh. I think it all started when I met that little kid of Xena’s. Something about that youngster always makes me buckle." She shook her head and smiled. "My own son doesn’t do that."
Gabrielle grinned as she thought of Tarren. "She has her mother’s touch."
Ephiny grinned and turned her horse. "Speaking of Xena, let’s get back before she comes looking for both of us." She closed her eyes. "She may not be as understanding as I am."
The bard thought of the expression her large leather bound and often over protective friend would have. She shivered at the mere thought. "No I don’t think she will be." She looked down the trail. "But Eph I still believe we can try and talk to these Argonian people."
The queen let out a long breath and motioned her friend to take the point on the narrowing path. "Gabrielle we will but not here and not now and certainly not alone, so lets just get back to the village and start acting as a team."
Gabrielle smiled to herself as she realized that Ephiny really valued her words and was eager to start working under more than just he concept of kill and be killed. "Yes my queen."
Ephiny gave her a crooked smile and motioned down the trail. "Uh huh…get going before I kick you royal pain in my butt all the way back home."
The bard grinned a bit. After having been in the solitary of the woods for a long while she had come to think perhaps her idea of finding these strange Argonians was no better thought out than Ephiny’s original desire to rush in and fight the unknown.
Gabrielle smiled happily as she rode down the path with her friend close behind. "You know Eph, I think if we approach this the way Xena has planned that we can get that surprise drop and then force whoever is behind this to listen." She closed her eyes. "But if Solari and the others have been murdered I’ll understand you wanting the criminals brought to justice even if…." She frowned at her friend’s lack of response. "Hey are you listening to me?"
The bard turned to see a dark horse with no mount being engulfed in a mist dropping slowly from the sky. Her eyes flew open. "Ephiny!" She could see dark figures in the trees waiting to fall on top of her. Again she called. "Ephiny!"
There was the distant clashing of blades and a familiar voice. "Run Gabrielle. Take care of the tribe." Then there was silence.
Gabrielle turned ready to enter the smog to find her queen and friend but remembering what the Ephiny had said about the tribe always coming first, turned away. She kicked the horse into a gallop as she felt the movement of the figures above.
The inexperienced young rider moved as quickly as she could. How could she outrun them when the others had not? She remembered the arrow that had been removed from the young messengers back and dropped to the side of the saddle holding on for dear life. "Oh horse get me back the village alive and without an arrow in me and I’ll have a statue put up in your honor," she whispered, feeling the ominous figures closing in fast above her.
They moved through the trees like hungry animals.
Gabrielle took a deep breath as she realized she had no hopes of outrunning these creatures. She closed here eyes. "Artemis forgive me and watch over my people." She thought of Xena and Tarren. "And my family."
The horse came to a sudden halt and the bard dropped to the ground ready to accept her fate standing. There was a familiar battle yell from behind her and then a breath of fire sprayed through the air above.
The Warrior Princess had arrived.
The flames both scorched and blinded the approaching attackers long enough for Xena to position Argo in front of her friend and reach a hand down. "Get up fast."
The bard wasted no time in obeying that command and jumped into the saddle behind the warrior. "How did you…."
Xena shook her head. "It’s the light from the fire. I was right. They’ve been down below so long that the bright light blinds them and so does the flame." She looked around. "Where’s Ephiny?" she asked noting the queen’s absence.
Gabrielle lowered her head and swallowed hard. "They got her."
"Damn." The warrior poured another portion of fluid from her flask into her mouth and with the touch of a small flame spit out another fireball. Noting all the dark figures fall back and the cloud disappearing, she kicked her great horse into a gallop that would bring the pair back to safety.
Back at the village…
As they entered the compound Xena and Gabrielle were immediately met by a large group of Amazons. "Secure the trails. No one goes out of the village for any reason," the warrior commanded.
The younger woman slid out of the saddle and shook her head as she looked at Xena. "It’s my fault they got her. I should have stayed and…."
The warrior pushed her friend to one side. "Now is not the time for should haves Gabrielle. These people need leadership and like it or not you are now their queen. If you want to help Ephiny and everyone else then put your own feelings aside and think of what they need," she said in a quiet but commanding tone.
The new queen nodded and raised her chin high in the air. She moved into the center of the compound to address the waiting Amazons. Gabrielle held up her hands as she had seen Ephiny do so many times and there was silence. "Ephiny has been taken by the…Argonians." She paused as she heard the murmurs of disbelief go through the crowd. "But we’re gonna get her back and every other Amazon even if we have to tear apart half these lands to do it." The words were spoken with such venom and commitment that there were cheers from the crowd.
Eponon approached from the center of the group bearing the queen’s bonnet. She placed it on Gabrielle’s head. The weapon’s master swallowed hard and closed her eyes. "Your majesty we await your commands."
The bard looked at the warrior who did nothing more then give her protégé a look that said this was her decision. Gabrielle nodded in understanding and turned to her tribe. "Then ready yourself for war."
The warrior mother lowered her eyes and patted Argo’s neck. "Well girl it seems like no matter where we run it follows us. Doesn’t it?"
The horse whinnied in agreement.
Eponon bowed her head. "Who will lead us in the rescue mission?"
A husky voice from behind responded. "I will."
Gabrielle turned suddenly. "Xena you but…."
The warrior held up her hands and shook her head. "I’m the only one Gabrielle. Besides I owe Ephiny that much," she replied thinking of her all the efforts the queen had made on both her and Tarren’s behalf.
The new queen swallowed and nodded her approval "Xena will lead the mission."
The warrior closed her eyes and took a step forward. "Ok Eponon we’ll need 10 of the best warriors. I want to keep this small and quiet. The idea is to try and slip in and out this time. We leave in an hour." The words were those of the Warrior Princess giving an order that would not dare be disobeyed.
Eponon nodded and sprinted off to choose their people.
Xena looked off into the distance and saw a lone Amazon standing close to the woods. She called to her. "Shalia." But the young woman for once did not respond but merely walked off to be alone and deal with the loss of her only family.
At the cottage…
Xena walked in and Tarren jumped out of the bed and raced past Boralla and leapt into her mother’s arms. "Momma did ya find Gabby?"
The child smiled. "Of course you did you’re my momma and the Warrior Princess." She paused. "Ya know I think Gabby should get the big one for scaring us like that." The youngster bobbed her head up and down as she considered what her mother’s actions should be in this matter.
Xena held the child close to her chest but ignored the words. She glanced at the old cook who had stayed with the youngster. "Did she behave?"
Boralla nodded. "Of course."
Xena grinned at the bag of confections on the table. "How much candy did you give her?"
The old cook cleared her throat and shrugged. "Oh just a few pieces but she’s been sick and…."
The mother wrapped her arms around the little girl and hugged her. "Never mind. It doesn’t matter. She can have it if she wants it right now." Xena smiled and kissed the child’s cheek as she placed her back in her blankets. She glanced up at Boralla. "Ephiny was taken."
Tarren’s eyes went wide at hearing this news as well.
The old cook swallowed hard at the words. "My little Ephiny?"
Xena nodded and placed a hand on the old woman’s arm. She knew what these words meant to the cook. "Yeah Boralla but we’ll get her back. Could you do me a favor? Shalia is alone and…."
Boralla straightened up and cleared her throat of the tears that were welling deep within. "Say no more I will find the child."
Xena again patted the old woman’s arm and smiled. "Thank you."
Boralla forced a grin and walked out of the hut with her head held high.
The warrior watched the old cook go and stared at the now sullen face of her young child. "Hey Monster how are ya feeling?
"Ok…Momma where’s Ephiny?" the youngster asked, wondering who had gotten her friend.
Xena slid on the pallet beside the child and placed a loving arm around her. "The bad people have her Tarren, but we’re gonna get her back and that’s something I need talk to you about."
The child lowered her eyes and fiddled with her mother’s straps. "Why?"
Xena ran her hands through the little girl’s hair and shook her head at the unruly mop. "Because baby, I’m gonna have to be one of the people that goes to get her back."
Tarren jumped from the blankets on top of her mother’s chest pulling at the armor. "No Mommy…No not you. You can’t go. You can’t."
The mother pulled the struggling child close. "I have to baby," she whispered.
The little girl could feel the tears welling inside her and tried to force them back. "Then take me with you Mommy. I’ll be good. I can fight too."
Xena smiled and wiped the first tear from the little girl’s cheek. "I know but I need you to stay here and…."
The child shook her head vigorously. "No you said you’d never leave me behind. You promised." The tears were now falling without a chance of being held back.
The warrior mother cuddled the little one next to her cheek. "Tarren listen to me. I am the only one now that can lead this party. I know the area and I’m the Warrior Princess remember?" She paused as she considered saying something that would make sense to
the very young child. "It’s for the greater good."
The little girl clung to her mother’s arm as she sobbed. "You…said I…was your great goody," she replied through broken sobs.
Xena lifted the child and cradled her as she would a baby in her arms. "You are baby girl and the only way to make sure you stay safe is to go get those bad people before they try and get here."
Tarren calmed a bit as her mother rocked her in her cradled arms. "But Mommy I wanna come with ya. I don’t want you to go. I wanna stay with you always. Please let me come with ya. I’ll be real good." The little voice was filled with such a pleading tone that Xena could feel her own insides breaking down.
The warrior cleared her throat and her mind. Someone had to be strong and it was her job to be that someone. "Hey enough. You are really good and I can’t take you with me. You know it’s not safe so just forget it." She paused and let her tone soften. "I would always take you with me if I could but this is one of those moments when I can’t so you have to stay here an get all better and help Gabrielle." She swallowed hard. "Ya know she’s the queen until Ephiny returns."
Tears streamed down the little girl’s face as she reached up and held onto her mother. "I know I’m supposed to care about the great goody and stuff but I don’t want you to go Mommy. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t go away."
The warrior mother closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. She held the little one as close as she could and rubbed her back soothingly. "Now you listen to me youngster. All I ever hear from you is how you are a little Warrior Princess. Now that I’m asking you to show me that you are you’re making it really tough on me to do what I have to do," she said in a soft and understanding voice.
Tarren crawled into her mother’s side and nuzzled as close as he could to the warrior’s face. "I don’t wanna play Warrior Princess no more if it means you’re gonna go away without me."
Xena felt a single tear fall down her own cheek. She was now sure nothing she said would convince this small child of the importance of her departure. "Tarren you may not understand this now but someday you will. I have to go. Now I have an hour before I leave. We can either spend it crying or you can help me with my big plan so that I can come back to you all the sooner." She kissed the child’s head and caressed her back as she spoke.
The youngster sniffled and rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fists. "Ya want my help?"
The mother pulled a cloth from her cuff and wiped the child’s face and eyes. "Of course I do."
Tarren sniffled again and stared at her mother. "With what?"
Xena shook her head as she wiped the remnants of more chocolate from the child’s mouth. "Well ya see these bad people have a real sneaky way of fighting. They hide in clouds…sort of like smoke from a fire and it makes it hard to see them."
Tarren lay her head down on her mother’s chest and clung to the armor. "If you can’t see them then how can they see you?" she asked, nuzzling close.
"That’s a good question. I think they’ve been in a very dark place for a long time and they’re sort of used to moving around without a lot of light so they can see much easier then we can at night or in a fog," the mother replied quietly.
"So how can I help ya Momma?" the youngster asked with a wide-eyed stare.
Xena smiled and hugged her child. "Well baby, I have an idea on how to make the fight a bit more fair but It’s gonna take dome real sneaky thinking and I think the two of us together will come up with something really good."
"Ok I’ll help ya cause you need me." The little girl lowered her head. "But I still don’t want ya to go Mommy."
Xena lifted the child further into her arms and stood. "I know and I don’t wanna go but you have my solemn oath as a warrior that I will be back for you real soon."
"A real warrior ‘s oath?" the child asked wanting to be sure.
The mother grinned, lifted the child into the air and headed over to the table ready to share her plan with her little partner. "You better believe it." She smiled and hugged the little girl. "And I want you to promise to behave for Gabrielle while I’m gone. I don’t want to come back and here you wrecked the place again," she said as sternly as she could.
When the child wasn’t looking the warrior wiped away a stray tear of her own.
Tarren played with the straps on her mother’s armor. "I’ll be good but I’ll miss you lots," she said in a low and shaky voice.
Xena nodded. "I’ll miss you too." She held the youngster close to her heart. "So let’s say we get you bundled in blankets and we get to work on momma’s idea. Ok?"
The child wiped her eyes for one last time and nodded. "Sure Momma. Let’s get started so you can kick butt and come home."
The mother ignored her child’s choice of words and closed her eyes offering a silent prayer hoping the gods were listening to her plea to watch over her daughter.
Xena stared at the odd contraption now mounted in the wagon and grinned.
It was a large bellows from the blacksmith’s shop modified with funnels to expand both the distance and space the air it spewed covered. The thought was that the expenditure of air would act like wind blowing out a flame and hopefully push the mist away.
The warrior glanced at her friend who was also studying the invention. "Well Queen Gabrielle I hope this will help."
The new queen nodded as she examined the large invention. "It’s a brilliant idea. Coloring it with dye so it looks like leaves in the forest was genius."
Xena smiled as she stared at the now dark green wagon. "That was my little girl’s idea," she stated proudly.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes and turned to face her friend. "How is she doing?"
The mother let her shoulder’s slump a bit and kicked the wheel of the wagon with the tip of her boot. "Not too good. I left her in your office with Shalia but I know she’s trying real hard not to break down again. "She let out a long breath. "I don’t think she’ll make it long." The mother paused and shook her head. "Poor little kid feels like I’m running out on her…again."
Gabrielle placed an understanding hand on her friend’s shoulder. "You’re just doing what you have to do Xena."
The warrior nodded. "Yeah I know. I’m doing it al for the greater good. I’m supposed to repent and make up for my past sins and do good for the world." Her voice became a mixture of anger and frustration. "Well when do I stop Gabrielle? When does my little girl stop paying for my past mistakes?" She lowered her head and her voice. "When can I just be her mother for a little while without having to grab my sword and chakrum?"
These were questions without real answers.
The new queen nodded in understanding. "Anytime you want Xena." If only it were that simple.
The warrior cleared her throat and nodded. She glanced at her friend and took a deep breath. "Yeah well when this is all said and done we are going to find a place where nobody knows us and we are taking a break." The words were strong and final
Gabrielle smiled at the thought. "I’m with you warrior. A vacation with just the three of us sounds great. We have to spend the winter somewhere off the road anyway so why not make it some place secluded."
Xena closed her eyes and let out another breath. "Good then it’s settled. When we finish with all of this we go find some cave to hide in until winter is over."
The bard chuckled a bit. "I think we’ll have to do better than a cave."
The warrior smiled weakly. "Ok no cave. I don’t care where it is just so long as we can have time to be ourselves and I don’t have to hear the words Warrior Princess accept maybe out of Tarren’s mouth." She smiled as she thought of the way her youngster had taken to playing Warrior Princes in an attempt to imitate her mother.
Gabrielle nodded. "Agreed!" She looked at her large friend and lowered her head. "Xena I wish you weren’t going. I should go."
The warrior smirked at the thought. "No you have no field experience and these people are going to need your negotiating skills when those other tribes arrives." She smiled "You’re gonna have to do some pretty fast talking bard."
The new queen nodded. "I can do that."
Xena gave her friend a gentle nudge. "I know." She lowered her eyes. And Tarren…."
Gabrielle placed a hand on her friend’s arm. "I’ll take care of her but just until you get back." She swallowed a large lump of tears. "No one but the hand of the Warrior Princess can guide that child. You must stay on the same path. You must travel the same road together. Promise me Princess. Promise me that you will keep her with you always."
Xena cocked her head to one side. "Why would you say that? You know I can’t take her with me. It’s tearing me in two to leave her behind."
Gabrielle stared at her friend oddly. "I know that. All I said was I’ll take care of her until you get back."
The warrior cocked her brow in confusion. "Oh I thought… I heard Nala’s…never mind." She bobbed her head slowly up and down and moved a few stones away with the tip of her boot. "I better go say goodbye to her. We have to get going.
Gabrielle nodded and without warning reached out and hugged her stoic friend. "You take care of yourself and come back fast. I won’t be able to handle that kid of yours for more than a day and you know it."
Xena grinned knowing a day was a lot to ask. "I’ll be back. Don’t worry I will be back."
At the royal office…
Shalia sat beside the small pallet staring quietly at the sullen little girl. "Tarren I know you are scared for your mother but I promise you that she will be safe."
Tarren fidgeted with her slingshot as she glanced up at the young Amazon. "I know…but…I’m gonna miss her an awful lot while she’s gone. I should go with her. She needs me." The child opened her eyes wide. "Mommy and me are partners ya know."
The young Amazon nodded her head slightly. "I know you are but right now she needs you to stay here so she does not worry about you."
The child shrugged her shoulders "Ahh Momma will still worry even if I don’t come." She bit her lip. "Cause she loves me ya know."
"You are very smart little Tarren," the Amazon replied running her hand over the youngster’s face. "She loves you very much."
Tarren stared at her slingshot for a moment and then back at her friend. "I’m real sorry that Ephiny was taken by the bad people. I know she’s like your momma so you must be real upset."
Shalia closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Yes well Tarren, sometimes we must say goodbye to those we care about even if it’s for just a little while." Her voice was soft and her thoughts distant. "It can be very…hard."
The youngster rolled on her side and clung to her friend’s arm. "So if you know how hard it is then will you tell Momma to let me come. She might listen to you. You’re awful smart."
Shalia patted the small hand and shook her head. "I am sorry Tarren but this is one time that you must do as your mother tells you."
The little girl immediately fell back on the pallet tossing her slingshot to the end of the bed. "Why?"
The words of the young Amazon became serious. "Because what waits out there is not for a baby to see and you’re mother will need you healthy when she returns. Do you still have the vile I gave you?" she asked with the tilt of her head.
Tarren wiped a stray tear from the corner of her eye and nodded. "Uh huh."
The young Amazon shook a warning finger. "Good! Remember what I told you. When it is needed just two drops in the water and the fever will go away. Give it to your mother as soon as she returns. Do you understand?"
The child nodded. "Shalia are you going away too?" she asked wondering why her friend did not pass on the vile herself.
The woman’s voice became soft and tender and she closed her eyes as she replied. "Yes Tarren. I will be going with Xena."
Before the youngster could respond a husky voice from the doorway answered. "No you won’t! You’re staying right here."
Shalia turned her head and stared at the stoic expression on the face of the great Warrior Princes. She stood as tall and straight as she could. "I’m going Xena and you can’t stop me." The words were filled with a strength and conviction the warrior had not heard from this girl.
The warrior placed her arms against her chest and twisted her lips. "Wanna see me stop you?" she asked with the flex of a muscle.
Tarren listened to the exchange with awe. She had never heard anyone stand up to her mother like that. The child was grateful this was one time it was not her who was the focus of the steady blue stare.
Shalia took a stride closer to the warrior. "Xena I will travel with you or behind you. Ephiny is my family and I will not be left behind in this attempt to rescue her or any of my people."
Xena’s muscles eased as she remembered that this girl was a member of Ephiny’s house. How could she deny her the chance to find the only family she had? "But you can’t even fight Shalia," she explained.
The young woman kept her head held high. "Then I shall drive the wagon."
Xena stared at the determined look on the young woman’s face and nodded. "Ok you can come, but you’ll ride on a horse. I want you to stay real close to me. Got it?"
The young Amazon bowed her head. She then turned and moved back toward Tarren. Shalia smiled and ran her hand over the delicate silver bracelet on the child’s wrist and kissed the little girl on the cheek. "When you look at this promise me that you will think of me."
The child reached up and hugged her friend. "I love ya Shalia."
The young woman returned the gentle embrace. "And I love you to little Tarren…always."
Shalia gave one final glance to the small form in the bed, bowed her head again to her new leader and walked out of the cottage ready to take part in the mission of her people.
Xena took a deep breath and sat on the side of the pallet that had been moved into Gabrielle’s office. "Are ya warm enough?" the mother asked tucking the blankets around the child’s chin.
"Do you need anything?" the mother asked, noting the tears already starting to fall down the youngster’s cheeks.
The child aimed her widest blue eyes at her mother’s already glassy stare. "Uh huh."
Xena leaned in closer. "What Monster?"
Tarren bit her lip and swallowed before she whispered the words that she knew were both honest to speak and painful to hear. "My Mommy."
The warrior mother took a deep breath. "Ouch that one really hurt Monster." She lifted the little girl onto her lap and held her tightly against her chest. The child immediately started fiddling with the leather straps on the armor behind her mother’s back.
"Tarren, I need you too but we’ve talked about this and you know I have to go." She paused and swallowed hard hoping to force the lump in her throat down. Leaving her child alone under any circumstances had become difficult but leaving her in a possibly dangerous situation while sick was almost too much for the mother to bare. "Baby, Momma has to go now and it would really mean a lot to me to know that you’ll stay warm in these blankets, take your medicine, and do what Gabrielle tells ya while I’m gone."
The little girl gave a hard tug at the strap settled between her fingers and much to her surprise it came off in her hand. She swallowed hard and tossed the leather strap to the pallet before her mother could se it. After all a farewell hug was better than a farewell spanking. "I’ll…Uh…try Momma," she replied with a broken voice as she used the tip of her toe to pull the blanket over the now torn away piece of leather.
Xena pulled the youngster forward and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. Her voice became soft and tender and filled with all the love she had for this little one. "I want you to know that you are the most special thing in my life and I love you very much." She closed her eyes. "Nothing will keep me from coming back for you. Ok?"
The child nodded and reached down under her pillow for an odd shaped parchment with an object wrapped inside. "I got ya a present but I want you to promise ya won’t open it until you’re on your way."
The mother smiled and tucked the small gift in her cuff. "You have my word baby." She hugged the little girl as tight as she could and fought back tears. "I love you so much."
The small child felt the warmth of her mother’s body and the familiar smell of leather soothing her. "I love ya too Mommy…lots."
The warrior grinned at the affectionate term. She had come to like hearing the new maternal address and often wished the youngster would use it. The mother smiled and placed the still weak child back in her pallet. Xena wiped her own eyes dry when she heard Gabrielle enter the room. The warrior mother leaned down and gave her little girl one final kiss. "Behave yourself."
The child swallowed hard and wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "Don’t let the bad cloud people get ya. Ok Momma?"
The warrior smiled when she remembered her young daughter’s dream that contained a description of these evil monsters. "Don’t worry. I won’t." She glanced at Gabrielle who nodded knowingly and then the Warrior Princess headed out the door ready to lead a small party of Amazons into the unknown.
Tarren let the tears fall steadily down her cheeks as she heard the familiar sound of Argo’s hooves beating against the dirt far into the distance. She now knew her mother was gone but was not sure when she would return.
Gabrielle pulled a chair from behind the desk and seated herself next to the crying child. "Do you want some water or maybe something to eat?" she asked wiping tears away from the youngster’s face with the edge of her thumb.
The small child stared out the door as if waiting for her tall muscular mother to reappear at any moment. "No thanks Gabby...I’m not real hungry," she replied through a soft sob.
Gabrielle reached over and hugged the youngster as tightly as she could hoping the touch would offer some comfort. "Is there anything I can get you honey?" she asked wanting to relieve all of the pain she knew this little girl was feeling inside.
The child looked at her friend and nodded. "I don’t know. Can you get my Mommy?" she asked, her tears now turning into waves of sobs.
The tears poured down the youngster’s face and the new queen could do little more then hold the small and very frightened child in her arms. "Shh…It’s Ok she’ll be back honey. I promise."
Tarren clung to the bard’s shoulder as she cried. "I want her now Gabby."
The new queen fought back her own tears knowing it was she who now needed to be strong. "I know you do, but I could sure use your help myself right now."
Tarren’s tears turned to sniffles as she thought of being of help to the queen of the Amazons. "With what?"
The bard grabbed a small cloth and wiped the little girl’s eyes as she spoke in a soft and loving tone. "Well I’ve never been a queen before and I’m not like Xena. I can’t lead people the way she does so I’m not real sure how to act like she does." The words were filled with insecurity and fear.
The little girl sniffled again and ran her hand down the bard’s single blond braid. "Momma says that it’s Ok to play Warrior Princess and stuff as long as I know who I really am and that being me is all she wants." She wiped tears from her eyes with the back of her small hand. "Maybe you should just be a Gabby instead of trying to play like you’re a Warrior Princess." She thought of her favorite game and the number of times that it had caused her mother to give her a sore bottom. "It can get ya in trouble sometimes ya know."
"I know." The queen considered the message in both Xena and Tarren’s words. They seemed to almost be spoken with one voice. "You think that being a Gabby is good enough?" she asked considering just what a Gabby might be good for.
The little girl nodded. "Uh huh I think that’s real good and so does Momma. She told me so."
Gabrielle held her head high and opened her eyes wide. "She did?"
The little girl sniffled and lowered her head. "Yes."
Gabrielle smiled and ran a gentle hand down the child’s face. "Well then I guess until Ephiny returns these people are going to have a bard for a queen." She bit her lip as she remembered one of her more parental duties. "I have to go get your medicine from the hut. Will you be Ok alone for a bit or do you want me to send someone in to stay with you?" she asked wishing Shalia had remained as a source of added comfort.
The child pulled the covers around her and shook her head. "I’ll be Ok until you get back Gabby," she replied forcing a slight grin for her friend’s benefit.
The bard kissed the little girl on the head and got to her feet. "I’ll be back as fast as I can."
Tarren watched her friend depart and pulled the leather strap from under her covers and stared at it. "Boy Momma’s gonna be mad." She sniffed the leather and smiled at the familiar smell. She tucked it under her pillow and lay her head down to try and rest just as she had promised her mother. However the minute she closed her eyes the familiar but somewhat altered nightmare returned as a vision.
A large cloud hovered over the top of the trees deep in the woods where the scouting party was now searching. The Warrior Princess was riding below when the first of the cloud men fell to the ground. "Momma get out of the way." Xena slid from Argo’s back only to have a large tribe of the dark skinned figures drop from the trees. "Momma get out of the way." The Warrior twirled her sword with great expertise taking down monster after monster but as the cloud came closer to the ground more and more of the dark figures appeared. "Momma get out of the way." Xena was doing her best to fight them off but before she knew it she was surrounded and there was no place left to go. She watched in agony as Queen Ephiny was swallowed up into the heavy mist never to be seen again. Xena lashed out her blade and tossed her chakrum in the thickening air but the strange cloud was engulfing her...choking the very life from her body. "Momma run." There was the whistling sound of an arrow and then darkness. A lone body slid to the ground lifeless but the child could not see who it was. "Mommy get out of the way!"
With sweat pouring down her forehead the youngster popped up from the pallet breathing so heavily she could not catch her breath. She stared at the empty room around her and then thought of the nightmare that had been plaguing her since the body of Tyrell had been found. "I’m coming Momma." The child jumped out of bed and as quickly as she could dressed in the lightest clothes she could find in the clothing bag. "Don’t worry Mommy the army’s coming," she whispered placing her chucks in her boot and her slingshot on the fancy silver buckle at her side. The youngster slid out the window ready to join her mother in a battle with the unknown.
After mixing the white powder into a fine enough mix to make tea, Gabrielle returned to find the youngster was gone leaving only a small scroll behind. "By the gods. Where is she?" she scanned the room. "Tarren!" When there was no reply she picked up the small parchment and felt her heart sink as she read the words.
Doont woory. Gonnna ta help my momy. A warier prinses neeeds a armee an momy neeed me…Ya b a good qleen. Luv Tarren
Gabrielle dropped the scroll to the floor and without thought ran out the door. She called to the guard with an authority she had never felt and a determination she had never before known. "Get my horse now!"
On the trail…
Xena moved along the trail quietly. She had waited until they were a few miles from the village before removing the small package from her cuff. Making sure she could view the item privately as she rode, the mother unwrapped the parchment and found a familiar blue amulet inside. She closed her eyes and ran her fingers around the object. "Oh Tarren no," she whispered, knowing her small child had offered her the only form of protection the youngster had in her absence. Tarren was offering her gift of protection to her mother.
Xena took a long breath and read the scroll that had been included…
I wanna u 2 b safe nala sed this cood help if ya neeeds it. Luv Tarren
The warrior mother placed the amulet and note back in her cuff. "Tarren baby, Momma would never use that. It was meant to keep you safe and I don’t even know the chant," she whispered to the air around her. "But don’t worry little one I’ll bring it back to you," she vowed, wishing she could turn and ride back to restore the item to her child at that moment. Somehow it’s absence from the little girl made the mother feel as if the youngster was less protected and she was not even sure what would happen, if anything, if the child did break the amulet.
Shalia moved up beside her leader. "What did you say Xena?" she asked having heard the faint whisper.
The warrior shook her head. "Oh nothing I was just thinking about…."
The young Amazon nodded. "You were thinking of Tarren," she said without question.
Xena sighed as she faced the strange girl. "Yes but how did you know that?"
The young Amazon had a very concerned look on her face. "I too was just thinking of her at this moment," she said turning and glancing at the trail behind them. "Do you mind if I ride back a bit and make sure we have lost none of our supplies?" she asked anxiously.
The warrior glanced at the wagon. It appeared to have everything that they needed attached but there was no reason to take chances. "That’s a good idea but don’t be gone too long. I want to take a rest up ahead in a clearing and start getting things organized before we get any closer to the caves."
Shalia nodded and turned her horse. With the kick of a heel she had the animal in a slow but steady trot back toward the village.
Further back on the trail…
The little girl moved as quickly as she could trying to follow the tracks of the large wagon. She had been moving, nonstop in the trees for a long while hoping to make up the distance she had lost.
Tarren was cold and wishing she had worn her heavier tunic as her mother had instructed. Her cough had returned and the aches were starting to run through the muscles in her small body but she would not turn around. "Got to get to my Momma. She needs me," she said as she forced her steps along the branches. However the cough and the cold forced her to drop from the trees onto the dusty trail. Once on the solid ground, she fell to her knees. "Mommy," she called.
Miles ahead a Warrior Princess pulled on the reigns of her horse as she felt a shiver run down her spine.
The little girl stumbled but again got to her feet and started moving as she felt the cooling air blend with her senses. "I’m coming Mommy. The army is…." She fell to the hard trail and this time could not rise.
A figure on a horse dropped down beside her and with no effort hoisted the small child into her arms and jumped back into her saddle.
Tarren coughed loudly as she felt a warm blanket being placed over her body. "Mommy?" The child looked up at the face of the rider. "Shalia?"
The young Amazon nodded and held the shivering child close to her as she turned her horse and headed back toward Xena. "Tarren you should have stayed at he village. Now you are sick again and your mother will be very angry. This will make her job very difficult." There was an unfamiliar frustration and concern in the young woman’s voice. "Your mother should give you the big one."
Tarren coughed again and felt the young Amazon tighten her hold. "I’m sorry but I gotta see Momma. I gotta help her. She can’t do it without me. We need each other Shalia. You don’t understand. We share…."
The young Amazon’s pose softened a bit as she finished the bleary eyed youngster’s words. "One heart child…I know. I will take you to your mother because I now have no choice but she will not be pleased."
Tarren snuggled in close to her friend trying to find warmth in the blanket. "No I guess she’ll be pretty mad," the little one muttered.
This was not something the child had really considered.
Xena held up a halting hand and all the riders came to an immediate rest. She recognized this as the place she and Tarren had found Tyrell. "Dismount but stay close. We take a five minute rest and move on to the caves," she said with a voice of complete command.
Eponon jumped from the saddle and moved beside the warrior. "Where’s Shalia?" she asked looking around the group for the young Amazon the weapon’s master had not wanted to bring along. She knew the young girl lacked skill as a fighter but as Ephiny’s family she also knew the girl was entitled to take her place in the search.
Xena glanced back on the trail. "She should be…." The warrior saw the form of the familiar rider approaching with a small child in her arms. The mother’s eyes grew wide with fear and anger. "Tarren!"
Xena raced to the young Amazon’s mount and reached up to take her now wheezing child. The little girl immediately threw her weak arms around the great warrior. "Momma." She laced her fingers around her mother’s neck and squeezed as tight as she could.
"Tarren!" The warrior shook her head and held onto the little girl as she looked up at Shalia. "Where did you find her?" she asked with concern and frustration.
The young Amazon shook her head and dismounted. "Lying on the trail a few miles back. She is sick."
Tarren was indeed now very sick.
The warrior mother held the child close to her and let her voice drop to a scolding but concerned tone. "Bad girl! You’re a very naughty little girl. I swear if we were not in the middle of no where I’d give you a spanking you would most certainly never forget," she yelled.
The child coughed again but still tightened her hold on her parent. "That’s what Shalia said you’d do," she replied quietly.
Xena’s voice softened a bit as she listened to the youngster’s cough. "Well she’s right. You deserve a good spanking for doing something so stupid," she scolded. She glanced at the warrior’s watching in the distance and let out a long breath.
The mother shook her head and moved further away from the crowd. She could feel the child’s head burning with fever. "Tarren what did you think you were doing?" she asked wrapping the child tightly in blankets. She removed her own cape and added it to the coverings.
The small child reached up her hand and touched her mother’s face as she spoke in a soft whisper. "Nala said we got to stay together or else bad stuff would happen, so I’m stayin with you cause you’re my mommy and I love ya and I wanna help."
The mother felt her frustration and fear build at the sight and sound of her now ill child. "You young lady are going back to the village just as fast as I can put you up on my horse."
The little girl coughed again and Xena knew it was a bad sign. She held the youngster as still as she could until the coughing fit passed and the little girl’s lungs were free. "No Mommy…Tarren stay with you." She fidgeted around in the tight hold delirious from the sudden burst of fever that was now ravaging her body. "If ya send me back I’ll follow ya again. I don’t care if I get the big one. I wanna be with you." Tears streamed down the hot cheeks of the small child and she turned her head into her mother’s chest to hide them from the stranger’s watching from the distance.
"Damn it Tarren." Xena held tightly to the small child rocking her in her arms protectively as she reached for her medicinal pouch and pulled out a mix of the white powder. There was no time to make a tea or even a fire. She opened the little girl’s mouth and placed the powder on her tongue. The mother held the youngster’s lips tightly closed around the nozzle of a water bag until she was sure the mixture had been forced down.
Tarren struggled at the vile tasting mixture being placed on her pallet but Xena’s hold was tight.
Once the mixture had been swallowed and the child had calmed a bit the warrior mother motioned to Shalia who immediately came to her side. "Hold onto her for a minute. I need to talk to Eponon." She left the youngster in the young Amazon’s care and moved to the center of the group to talk with her friend.
Shalia waited for the warrior to be out of ear shot before she spoke. "Tarren where is the vile of medicine I gave you?" she asked staring hopefully at the little girl’s treasure bag.
The child coughed again and let her head fall onto her friend’s shoulder. "Under the pillow…it’s safe...Don’t worry…I won’t peak…Under the pillow Shalia," she replied somewhat delirious.
The young Amazon shook her head. "Oh Tarren, I told you to keep it with your treasures."
"Sorry I forgot. I’m sorry." The tears were now falling for no real reason other than the pain of having failed her mother and now her friend.
Shalia cradled the small child close to her as she watched Xena approaching Eponon. "It will be alright child. Your mother will take you back to the village and as soon as you return you must tell her about the vile and make sure she gives you two drops in the water. Can you remember that?" she asked trying to see if the youngster was coherent enough to understand what she had just said.
The child nodded. "Yes Shalia…two drops in the water as soon as Momma and me get back. It’s under the pillow," she said with a long drawn out cough that sounded like wind passing through a tunnel.
Xena turned when she heard the terrifying sound. "I’ve got to hurry," she mumbled. She pulled the weapon’s master to one side. "I have to take Tarren back. You’ll have to lead the mission."
Eponon’s eyes grew wide at the thought. She was anxious to take charge but not at the risk of her queen and friends. "Me?"
The warrior nodded. "Yeah you. I’m a liability now Eppy. I’m thinking more about my sick little kid then the welfare of the people. A good leader knows when to step aside." She placed a hand on her friend’s shoulders. "Look you get the Amazons to the mouth of the caves and wait. I’ll get Tarren settled back at the village and get back as fast as I can."
Before the warrior could say another word the mist appeared out of no where.
Xena motioned the Amazons into a circle. "Shalia you and Tarren get as far back as you can," she yelled. She glanced at her soldiers. "Everyone else ready your swords for a fight," she said though clenched teeth.
Chapter 32 - Sacrifices
Shalia stalled as she watched the clouds that sat naturally in the sky drop to the ground. But as if shaken by the trees themselves she lifted the little girl into her arms and placed her safely behind the wagon under a fallen tree. The young woman then covered the child with her own body as she herself watched the battle begin.
Xena stayed out front with her sword drawn and her chakrum ready. "Eppy get that cloud out of my face," she ordered.
Eponon immediately jumped into the wagon and using all the muscles in her body as one started jumping up and down on the newly transformed bellows sending a wave of fresh air in a fast breeze past Xena clearing the foggy air in front of the warrior. "Come on you dirty sons of bachae come out and fight face to face," she muttered, knowing the attackers were not far.
In a moment a large dark figure jumped from the tree and Xena caught him midsection with her sword. Turning on her heal, she caught another man with the hilt of her sword sending him instantly to the ground. She stared at him for a moment. The body was dark but wrinkled and the eyes nearly red and practically covered over with skin. The bodies were consumed by hair accept for the arms which had a tattoo of a sword clearly showing. If not for the tattered pieces of skin they wore as clothing the warrior would have been hard to separate these creatures from a herd of large wolves.
The warrior kept her blade moving as she yelled her next command. "Eponon the torches." She glanced at Shalia to see that she and her child were still safe and then moved back into the fight.
Eponon poured the appropriate liquid into a funnel of the bellows. "Amazons down!" she yelled as she put a torch to the tip and pumped on the contraption sending a wave of fire into the path of the attackers.
Xena and her followers covered themselves on the ground as the flames shot passed them over head. Shrills and cries of creatures being burned alive hung in the air along with the heavy smell of charred flesh.
When the flame retreated, Xena jumped to her feet. "Amazons forward,’ she yelled wanting to use the moment of confusion to take as many Argonians down as possible.
In moments the Argonians began dropping from the trees. Some dead or dying from the burst of the flame and others ready to meet their opponents head on. Even without their protective cover of cloud they were fierce fighters. The Amazons fought blade to blade with their attackers.
Seeing a group of five approaching the wagon, the warrior tossed her chakrum adding five more souls to those that Hades already counted in his charge. Xena‘s head turned suddenly when she heard the whistle of arrows. "Get down," she yelled. However, Eponon took one in the shoulder and the pumping of the clearing air stopped.
Again the cloud started to fall.
Xena moved back toward the wagon. "Eppy you Ok?" she asked, concerned for her friend.
The weapon’s master struggled to her feet with a sword in her hand and an arrow in her shoulder. "Yeah just bring them my way," she seethed fighting the urge to succumb to the pain.
Shalia sat with Tarren protectively nestled below her so the youngster could neither view nor hear anything more than muffled sounds. "What’s happening Shalia? I can’t see. I wanna see Momma kicking butt."
The young Amazon positioned herself completely over the little girl. "Nothing happening up here is for you to see little Tarren," she replied firmly as she herself watched the battle. The young woman’s vision suddenly traveled to the trees far ahead of the fighting. She saw an archer settled on a branch taking aim at Xena. The Amazon girl who was no warrior screamed and jumped from her spot of safety. "No!"
Hearing the warning word the now released child jumped up as well and instinctively screamed. "Mommy get out of the way."
Hearing both her small child’s warning cry and the sound of a whistle in the air, the warrior turned ready to catch the arrow. However before she could reach her hands out to stop the flying point a young Amazon of not more than 17 summers stepped in front of the Warrior Princess and allowed the arrow to pass through her body instead of Xena’s.
All seemed to move in slow motion as Xena tried in vain to push the girl out of the path of the arrow but it was too late.
Tarren watched in horror as her friend slid to the ground. "Shalia," she cried, trembling from both the sight of the young woman’s demise and the fever that was now rushing through her body.
Xena grabbed Shalia as the arrow made it’s way through her chest. She shook her head and held tightly to this young warrior, her voice becoming a mixture of anger and fear. "Shalia, no don’t. Why? I could have…."
The young woman forced a smile and covered her friend’s mouth with her cold fingers. "You are Xena Warrior Princess and I am just Shalia. Remember? It seemed like a fair trade." She coughed and Xena examined what she knew was a fatal wound. "Take care of Tarren…Princess Warrior. She is your reason and your mission. Do not ever forget that my friend." There was an odd look of peace on the girl’s face. "Tell Ephiny I am with her." With those words she was gone.
The warrior watched as her young friend’s eyes closed. "You were the truest warrior I eve knew and you will not be forgotten my friend." She held her for a moment and then without thinking threw her chakrum in the direction of the attacker bringing him and the branch he had been perched on the ground.
Her focus changed to the look of horror and fear on her young daughter’s face. "Tarren get down behind the wagon," she yelled moving tot he child and pushing her back into her hiding place. She stared at the little girl for a moment. "Now you stay here and don’t move," she ordered, watching as the tears fell down her daughter’s cheeks. She wanted to hold her and console her and explain about death but this was a battle and one her small child should not be anywhere near.
Tarren glanced up at her mother. "Mommy?" Her expression was blank and her face white. She coughed loudly and Xena placed the blankets over the youngster.
The warrior looked in the direction of the battle and then back at her sick child. "Stay here baby and don’t watch," she whispered as she started to move back toward the fight.
The weak child grabbed at her mother’s arm. "Only…thing …brighter…than…."
Xena turned and placed a gentle hand on the youngster’s face. "I know baby. Me too. Now stay there and soon I’ll take you far away from here. I promise."
The child nodded and fell back into her coverings too tired and afraid to even want to do more than rest.
The famed Warrior Princess twirled the blade in her hand and growled as she ran into the center of the battle once again. There was fire and pain in her heart for the death of Shalia and the danger that Xena’s sick little girl was now in.
Soon other Amazons had taken over the bellows and the clouds were starting to fade once again. The warrior swung her sword wildly in every direction taking down one attacker after another. The only thing that paused her rage over the useless death of a young girl were two words that cut through her heart like a blade.
The Warrior Princess heard the call and vaulted in the air yelling her battle cry louder and with more force then had ever been heard before but it was too late.
The Argonians retreated and the Amazons yelled victoriously but when the mother returned to the place she had left her child all she found was a small child’s slingshot and a pouch filled with a little girl’s most private treasures.
"Tarren!" She scanned the area but there was no sign of her child. "Tarren no!" The scream could be heard ringing through the forest and all the way to the gods of Mt. Olympus.
The small and now sick child of Xena the Warrior Princess was gone.
Feed little Ego with your thoughts and ideas J
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