The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories calledSHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALAS 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 IX
Chapter 27 What Dreams are Made of
That night after the feast
After the lengthy feast Xena carried the small child slumped over her shoulder back to the cottage. Once inside she gently lay the youngster on the large familiar pallet. "Ok it is way past your bedtime Monster," she whispered hoping not to wake the child.
As the mother started to unlace the small boots the childs eyes flickered open. "Momma is the party over?" she asked with a yawn.
Xena yanked off one boot and tossed it the ground. "Yes its over." She arched a brow. "I thought you were sleeping," she replied with a slight frown.
Tarren smiled and lifted her head off the pallet. "I was Momma but now Im awake."
"Uh huh you were probably just pretending to be asleep because you wanted me to carry you here you lazy little brat," she said tickling the childs bare foot.
The little girl giggled loudly and tried to pull her foot out of reach of her mothers fast hands. "No Momma I was really tired and youd have carried me back anyway."
Xena grinned and leaned down to kiss the child on the cheek. "I know you were tired baby and youre right I would have carried you anyway." She said softly again tickling the little girl. "You are just so smart."
Tarren twisted and turned as her mother yanked off the second boot exposing a second bare foot to the cool air. "Momma Im not tired now," she moaned, rolling across the pallet out of her mothers reach.
The warrior shook her head and made a failed swipe in the childs direction. "Oh no you dont. You are going straight to bed. It is very late and Im tired," she said sternly wiggling her finger for the child to return to the place in front of her.
The youngster gave an evil little chuckle not unlike her mothers and then slid to the floor sliding quickly beneath the bed. "Gotta catch me," she crooned.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head. "Tarren I am not in the mood to play. Its very late and its time to go to bed, so I want you to come up here and get undressed," she said in a parental scold to an empty pallet.
The only thing the warrior mother heard in response to her demand was the sound of another muffled chuckle and the repeated taunt. "Ya gotta catch me Momma."
Xena let out a long breath and let her head drop a bit. "Ok you want to be caught. Ill catch you but when I do youre gonna be very sorry," she warned. The warrior immediately dropped to her knees and slid her hand under the pallet. "Cmere you little Monster," she said reaching her hand as far underneath as it would go. The warrior had to admit the child had positioned herself in a very tight little spot.
The little girl moved back until she was almost against the wall. "Careful Momma youre too big to get under here," she said with a broad smile. "You might get stuck."
That final taunt was a bit too much for the Warrior Princess to bare. "Oh you think so huh?" The mother pushed herself further under the bed until she was nearly in enough to reach of her child. "Oh Ive got you now Naughty."
Tarren shook her head. "Bad Momma." She grinned and reached inside her tunic pulling out the beloved single red feather. When she felt the warrior was sufficiently pinned beneath the pallet the child tickled her mothers nose with the tip of the plume. "Tickle tickle tickle." The youngster laughed uncontrollably as her mother tried unsuccessfully to grab the feather.
Xena tried to swipe the small torturous device away but just as the youngster had suspected she was stuck and without much room to maneuver found it difficult to disarm the child. "Tarren stop that," she ordered in as parental a tone as she could muster given her circumstances.
The little girl continued. "Feels good doesnt it Momma?" she asked running the little plume across her mothers ear.
"No it doesnt," she said with a slight growl.
The youngster chuckled as she continued her play. "I got ya now Momma," she crooned.
However what the little one did not see was the warriors hand reaching out to grab the childs leg. "Now Ive got you Naughty," she yelled victoriously getting a firm grip on the little girls ankle.
Tarren pushed her feather back inside her tunic and tried to pull away from her mothers titan like hold. "No dont wanna go to bed," she yelled twisting in all directions in an attempt to be set free.
Xena smiled and worked her way back from underneath the pallet keeping a tight hold on the childs leg. "Too bad. You are going to bed and for being such brat you dont get any more tickles," she scolded, knowing how much the child enjoyed the lighthearted play at bedtime.
The child frowned and wiggled from left to right. "Im not tired Momma."
The warrior sighed as her large body cleared the pallet. She unfolded her legs and
readied herself to give one final yank to bring the struggling child out with her.
"Yes you are." The mother smiled and gave a gentle yank to the childs leg
but her hand only slid along the now loose britches, so that when she stood all the
warrior had in her grip was a small pair of unlaced trousers. "Why you naughty little
girl," she said with a smirk staring at the empty pants. She dropped them over a
chair and let her voice drop to a more serious tone. "Tarren playtime is now over.
I want you to come out from under that bed or else."
There was no response.
The mother took a deep breath and shook her head. "Ok you asked for it and youre gonna get it." With a fast swipe the warrior lifted one side of the bed into the air, but when she looked underneath the child was no where to be found. "Damn! The little monster got away from me," she mumbled in disbelief.
The warrior glanced around the room looking for some sign of where her youngster was now hiding. She allowed both her expression and her tone to become parental and a bit threatening "Tarren Im gonna count to 10 and if you dont come out on your own youre gonna lose your slingshot for a week."
The little girl knelt quietly behind the small stack of wood in the corner where she had found refuge. She thought of her beloved slingshot as she considered her mothers threat. A week was a long time to go without pelting someone. However to give up now would mean an admission of defeat and an immediate trip to the pallet without so much as a tickle.
Xena closed her eyes as she counted. "1
Through the darkness she heard a breath being taken in and then exhaled. She grinned and
glanced over at the woodpile and saw the small shadow of the childs tunic showing
through a crack in a log. "6
There were just some things more important than pelting people for a week.
The mother knew her stubborn youngster had made a decision to stay hidden so she moved quietly to the little girls hiding place as she continued her count. "9 and 10!" She reached her arms down and grabbed for the tunic but when she lifted it in the air found it too was empty. She smiled proudly at her small childs use of imagination. "You are getting good too good. I think Momma is gonna have to teach Little Tarren a little lesson," she whispered to the now still room. Xena tossed the tunic beside the britches and sat on the pallet with her arms folded. "Ok youngster you want to hide from me? Thats just fine. But now Im gonna hide from you and when I catch you I am gonna put you over my knee," she announced in a low husky voice that meant business.
The little girls eyes went wide at the words being spoken "Over the knee? On top of the big one and the little one?" She thought as she rubbed her backside fiercely still feeling her mothers best efforts on her bottom echoing loudly. "No slingshot for a week and now over Mommas knee," she mumbled as she considered her next move. She poked her head out from the dark wooden beam she had been hidden behind. Tarren glanced around the room but her mother was no where to be seen. She swallowed hard. "Momma?" she whispered. The little girl dropped to the floor. "Im ready to come out now Here I am."
The half-naked child looked behind chairs and under tables but the warrior was not in sight. Tarren knew that her mother was somewhere close by and the large hand could come at any moment and from any direction. "Momma Im here and Im done playin and Im ready to go to bed now," she said in a pleading tone.
Again there was no response.
Deciding that the best idea was to show repent, the child slowly made her way over to the pallet ready to put herself to bed. However, before she could lift one leg onto the bed a large hand slid from underneath the mattress and grabbed the child by the waist.
Tarren, startled, jumped back at the sudden movement, but once she realized that the hand had an arm and a body that belonged to her mother she let out a deep breath. "Momma you scared me," she said with a frown.
The warrior said nothing. She slid from underneath the mattress keeping a very tight hold on her wayward child. The mothers eyes were wild and her expression filled with determination.
The little girl swallowed hard. "Momma would a sorry help?" she asked with
Still the large figure said nothing. The warrior dropped down on the pallet and with a quick yank pulled the small and now frightened youngster over her lap. She held her hand up in the air as if ready to deliver a fast swat.
Tarren closed her eyes and bit her lip ready to receive what she was sure would be an echo of the big one.
Xena grinned as she looked at the small form waiting to have her already well-spanked bottom paddled. "I told you that you were going over my knee and I meant it. Now you are going to get exactly what you deserve," she said stiffly. The mother let her hand fall but instead of a swat her fingers opened up and fell in a dance on the childs bare legs.
Tarren giggled wildly feeling relieved that her mother had a sense of humor, a strange one, but still a sense of humor.
The warrior mother kept the little girl pinned over her lap as she continued the tickling. "So you want to be naughty and hide from you mother when its bedtime?" she asked, running her fingers methodically over the most sensitive spots on the childs body. She paused and ran her fingers across the youngsters bottom and up her back. "Tickle me with a feather will you? Think youre so cute huh?" she said with a chuckle.
The little girl giggled and laughed until she could no longer stand it. "Momma I give up," she yelled, knowing she was in no position to even attempt to reach for her mothers hands.
Xena smiled and dropped her head low enough to whisper in the childs ear. "If you want me to stop then you have to say it," she teased.
Tarren shook her head. It was bad enough to have been tricked into reveling herself but to break under torture was unthinkable. "No."
The mother shrugged and the tickling continued. "Fine suit yourself. I can keep this up for a few days."
The child swallowed hard at the thought of even a few more minutes. "Ok Momma Ill say it."
Xena stopped and flipped the child over to face her. "Go ahead Im waiting," she said with a satisfied grin.
The youngster smiled broadly at the gentle expression of love in her mothers eyes. "Ok Momma, Youre the best hider in the whole world."
Xena tickled the childs stomach. "And?"
The youngster thought for a moment and grinned. "And I love my Momma lots," she replied apologetically for having left out such an important part.
The warrior nodded her approval. "Thats better young lady." She cocked a brow and her voice became more serious. "And?"
The childs smile disappeared and she lowered her eyes. "And I should come out when you say its not playtime cause I haffta go to bed when you say so."
The mother nodded and lifted the youngster in the air. "Thats right you a very naughty little girl and you are going to bed right now." She cradled the child close to her and kissed her forehead before dropping the child on the pallet.
The little girl smiled happy to have a mother who knew how to play like a kid and still be a mother when she needed one.
Xena took a deep breath and walked over to the clothing satchel. She turned and stared at the small form lying on the pallet and shook a warning finger. "Dont you move. I mean it this time."
Tarren knew from her mothers tone that this time she was serious. "Yes
Momma," she replied obediently.
The mother grinned. "Sure now its yes momma but before it was gotta
catch me," she mumbled with a crooked smile.
The child fell back on the pallet and lifted her legs in the air. "Did ya have fun at the feast Momma?" she asked as she counted her toes for accuracy.
Xena grinned and removed a small nightshirt from the bag. "Yes I did and did
you?" She knew the child had enjoyed herself because Tarren had not only eaten
everything in sight but the Amazon warriors had done everything from tossing the child in
the air to making her the top of their traditional pyramid. Even Eponon had been seen with
the warriors child perched on her shoulders. However after the youngster had been
warn to a frazzle she was quickly deposited in her mothers lap for which Xena was
Tarren rolled over on her stomach and swung her leg over the side of the bed. "Uh huh Ive never seen an entire turkey thrown across a room like that before," she said still in awe of the memory of the headless and featherless bird in flight.
The warrior cringed realizing there were still many details about the Amazon brawl that she had yet to be told. "Yeah well Im sure that was a real treat." She closed her eyes and smiled as she returned to the pallet and removed the remainder of the little girls clothes. "Ok Monster lets get the nightshirt on."
The naked child stared at the cloth in her mothers hand and frowned. "Ahh Momma not the one grandma bought me. I dont like it. It has fuzzy things all over it," she moaned.
Xena grinned knowing the wool could be a bit much. "Im sorry Tarren but the
nights are getting colder and I want you to start wearing the heavy shirts now so put
those little arms of your up in the air," she said in a stern parental tone.
The little girl frowned but did as she was told. "Fuzzy little things I dont like them," she mumbled.
The warrior mother shook her head as she listened to the childs complaint.
"Yeah I know
theyre fuzzy." She picked the little girl up and
placed her tenderly beneath the blankets. "Now get under those covers and get right
to sleep," she ordered.
The child wiggled down beneath the blankets. "Arent you coming to bed Momma?" she asked with a wide-eyed stare.
Xena sat on the edge of the pallet running her hand along the side of the small childs face. "No not right now. I want to talk to Gabrielle alone for a bit."
The youngster moved in closer hoping to have a secret shared. "About what?"
"That does not concern you," she replied tapping the childs bottom lightly. "And before you get any ideas about listening in on my conversation remember what happened the last time your little ear was where it didnt belong," she said with an arched brow.
Tarren bit her lip and shook her head. "You swatted my little butt real good," she replied feeling the large hand making contact just from the memory of the event.
"Yes I did and we dont want that to happen again. Do we?" the mother asked.
Tarren shook her head vigorously. "No we sure dont Momma."
Xena nodded approvingly and gave her youngster an affectionate kiss on the cheek. "Good then you just stay in the pallet and go to sleep and Ill be just outside the door if you need me."
"Yes Momma." The child stared at her mother for a long moment and then reached her arms up to hug the warrior. "Love ya Mommy."
There was that word again. That one simple title change seemed to rearrange the very essence of the warriors soul. The mother squeezed the child gently. "I love you too Monster." She grinned and placed the child back on the pallet and shook a warning finger. "But youre still out that slingshot for a week."
The little girl rolled out her lower lip. "Ahh Momma."
Xena smiled and rubbed the youngsters head affectionately. "Well maybe if
you are really good youll get it back sooner," she said taking the toy
and placing it on the table beside the bed so the little girl could still see it.
The child frowned knowing the slingshot was officially out of commission for a full week. "Ill try Momma," she replied with a heavy sigh.
The warrior mother suppressed a grin at he childs overly dramatic response. "You just do that." She gave the little girl one final kiss and then placed her saddlebags on the side of the pallet. "Gnight."
Tarren yawned and slid the beloved leather sacks under her blankets. "Gnight Momma." She rolled on her side and dropped her head into the pillow.
Xena stared at the small form until she heard the childs breathing slow and the four little fingers make their way into the little ones mouth. She shook her head at the action knowing it was a bad habit that she should discourage, but instead she wiped a way a few stray hairs and placed a gentle kiss ever so tenderly on the youngsters soft cheek. "Mommy huh?" she whispered as she placed the slingshot in the little girls grip wondering what other surprises this small waif would offer.
With a deep sigh the warrior headed out the door to see her waiting friend.
Tarren opened one eye to make sure her mother was gone and then she slid out of the pallet. She reached beneath the mattress and pulled out the heavy bag of coins. The child quickly placed them in her satchel and then jumped back in the bed. She gave her actions some thought and then again slid out of the bed. The youngster quietly removed a small piece of parchment from the bards sack and then took a quill and moved beside the fire for light where she penned a fast letter. After completing this most important message she returned the quill to the table, placed the scroll in her satchel and hopped back in bed moments before the door swung open.
Xena poked her head in to see that her child was safe and still asleep and then closed it quietly.
Tarren let out a long breath. "Whew that was real close," she whispered happily gripping her slingshot .She let her head fall back against the pallet eager to organize her plans.
Outside the door
Xena closed the door quietly and shrugged her shoulders.
Gabrielle let out a long breath and smiled. "Is she asleep?"
"Im not sure. The little monster is in the pallet." The mother shook her head. "But I know I heard her little feet moving in there."
The bard leaned against the cottage and stared up at the night sky. "Xena she was probably just getting a mug of water or something." She turned and faced her friend. "Not everything Tarren does means trouble."
The warrior mother chuckled a bit and moved beside her friend. "Gods you really have been away too much," she teased.
Gabrielles smile disappeared and she lowered her head a bit. "I know I
The warrior closed her eyes and shook her head. She had not meant the words as anything more than a joke. "Gabrielle stop it. Just stop it." She let out a long breath. "I already told you that I think you are doing what you need to do and Tarren is starting to understand that too."
The bard tilted her head to one side and glanced at the warrior. "Do you really think so?" she asked hoping this was more than a show of stoic compassion.
Xena placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Yes I really do think so. She hated the idea of you telling other kids stories." She paused. "Just give her a little more time to find her own way to tell you," she said softly.
The young woman smiled and stared at her best friend. "You know you are amazing. You just never fail Xena," she stated.
The warrior tossed her head back. "Gabrielle have you been smoking Amazon wacky weed? I have failed many times in my life." Her words were mixed with confusion and concern.
The bard shook her head. "Maybe But not now and even out of your darkest moments something innocent and beautiful grew Tarren." She smiled a bit at the thought.
Xena pressed her arms tightly against her chest. "I cant take too much credit for that Gabrielle. I wasnt around that kid for so long." She took a deep breath. "Tarren is my daughter and I dont even know how old she is." The warrior waved a hand in the air. "I am guessing shes about six but I dont even know how or why." She faced her friend. "What kind of mother does that make me?" she asked with a heavy sigh.
The younger woman shook her head. "Oh dont underestimate yourself Xena. Youre with her now and that is really all that matters." She lifted her eyes tot the stars as she spoke. "I see the way she looks at you. I see the depth of the love she has for you and that you have for her. It doesnt matter how young she is or why. What matters is that she loves you."
Xena swallowed hard at the heartfelt words her friend was now speaking. "She loves you too and you know it," she replied quietly.
Gabrielle moved a few steps away and turned. "Yeah but its not the same. Xena you are her mother and thats the way it should be." She shook her head. "Youre also that little kids hero and she hangs on every word you speak." The bards voice became a bit softer and she moved back beside her friend. "Even when you punish her she can feel the love." She sniffled a bit. "Her and that little system of hers. The big one." She grinned and wiped away a tear. "All anyone has to do is watch you two together to see that you are bound by a force that not even the gods of Olympus could ever break," The young woman shook her head. "You just do it all so right and you dont even know it."
Xena waited for her friend to finish and then gathered her thoughts speaking in as soft a tone as she knew how. "Gabrielle it may look like it comes easy but Im not always sure of what Im doing. This entire mother thing is still so new." She looked to the dark sky. "I worry about that little kid every minute of every day and when she misbehaves I pray to the gods that Tarren understand how much I hate to punish her." The warrior faced her friend. "It rips me up inside. Id never tell her this but she gives me that wide eyed double dimpled stare of hers and even I melt inside."
Gabrielle spoke with frustration. "But you do what you feel needs to be done anyway because you love her. Say it Xena. I know you tell Tarren all the time but let me here you say it." It was more of a challenge then a request.
There was no hesitation. The warrior mother stared oddly at her friend but spoke the
words immediately. "I love my little girl with all my heart Gabrielle."
The bard closed her eyes and threw her arms up in the air." "You see youve even mastered love warrior." She felt her tension drain away. "There was a time when you couldnt stand the touch of a friendly hand and now you speak your heart openly," she said I such a soft whisper it was barely audible.
Xena turned so she was now staring at her best friend. "To you and to Tarren
maybe." She paused. "And do you think I could have ever learned to do that
without you?" she asked remembering a hard-nosed warrior of not too long ago.
The younger woman jumped forward her voice becoming a bit harsh. "Come on Xena dont overestimate my importance in your life."
The warrior yanked on her friends arm. "And you stop underestimating it Gabrielle," she said with greater force. She shook her head and tried to soften her words. "Before we met I was lost and unsure. I was alone. You showed me the way. You helped keep me on the right path. I could never have made it through so many things together. If it were not for you ."
The words were cut short by a statement filled with guilt and venom. "Xena if it were not for me you would have two children now instead of one." The words had been spoken.
The warrior closed her eyes as she thought of her dead son. "Gabrielle we put that
behind us," she replied with tightened lips.
The bard lowered her eyes and shook her head. "No Xena That was before Tarren came. One day she is going to ask just how Solon died and you are going to have to tell her something." She came face to face with the warrior. "Will you lie to her or will you tell her that my daughter killed him and that she would never have done that had I acted the way you said I should in the beginning."
Xena could feel the fury building inside of her. This was not a subject she wished to
discuss. "First of all Gabrielle when Tarren is old enough to know the whole
truth we will tell her the truth and she will understand just as I do
Gabrielle forced an odd smile across her face. "What is it you understand now Xena that you can make Tarren understand later? I know you feel his absence. Gods I feel it too and ."
The warrior placed an arm of sudden understanding around her friends shoulder. "Gabrielle I do miss him. He was my son and I will always miss him, but his death was not your fault any more than Hopes birth was mine." She closed her eyes. "I blamed myself for a long time for causing you to the loss of someone that was part of you. I told you to kill your child Gabrielle " She cleared her throat. "Ya know Tarren asked me to tell her about the greater good and I did. Shes just a little kid and I know she doesnt really understand but now she knows its something important." The warrior gazed off into the distance. "I also told her that she was my greatest good and that she would come before anything else in this world and I really meant it. She could turn into a bachae tomorrow and I would defend her with my life."
Gabrielle placed her hands over her face as if trying to hide from the truth. "Youre her mother and it should be your first and foremost job to protect her and love her no matter what she does. Xena, If you dont then who will?"
The warrior nodded. "Exactly! And I know that as her mother its my responsibility to not just love her but protect her at any cost." She turned away. "But when you had Hope I wasnt thinking of you as a mother with those feelings. I was thinking of you as a victim of this evil thing." She lowered her eyes as she thought of the past with all its losses. "Gabrielle, something terrible happened and I lost my son and I mourned his loss and now he lives in my heart forever." Xena pointed to Gabrielle. "But you never had the chance to mourn the loss of the child Hope might have been if things had been different. I am sorry for that my friend because I can still feel your pain."
Tears streamed down the bards face. "I never thought it showed. I didnt want to say anything to upset you."
Xena let out a long cleansing breath. "Gabrielle you can always come to me. We are family. Together you and me and Tarren are going to make things right. Solon is gone and I never had a chance to be a mother to him. Thats a mistake I made, but Tarren is here and I dont plan to make the same mistake twice." She paused and patted her friends hand. "You can let that little girl fill at least part of that empty spot Hope left inside of you if you let her."
The bard closed her eyes. "She already does Xena."
The warrior smiled and gave her friend a gentle nudge. "Good. Because we both you in our lives."
Gabrielle smiled and turned to her best friend. "But youre her mother
and I can never share that role in her eyes."
Xena nodded knowing her small daughter was very big on labels and very sure that her mother was the one and only Momma. "Well youre right. There can only be one Momma, but there can also only be one Gabby. You can create your own place in her heart."
The bard closed her highs and grinned. "You know you just did it again."
The younger woman stared at her friend. "You just opened up your mouth and said all the right things. How do you do it Xena? I am never that sure of anything I do."
Xena stretched her arms and leaned against the hut. "Gabrielle I had a very god teacher." She paused realizing the compliment was not enough. Her voice became soft and maternal. "Follow your heart and your instincts and have faith in what you believe in and you will do just fine princess. You have everything you need inside of you. You just need to believe in yourself."
The bard blinked in understanding and then gave her friend a lopsided smile. "So you really think Tarren is on the path to forgiving me?"
Xena thought of the private conversations she had with her child. "Yeah Im sure of it."
The warrior leaned back and let out a long breath. "Did I tell ya that shes been calling me Mommy sometimes," she said with a newly found pride in the word. "Its almost like shes not sure if shes allowed to say it or not." She scratched her head. " I guess Ill have to talk to her about that. I want her to know that she can call me what she is most comfortable with," she said with a broad smile hoping to hear more of the new title. She took a deep breath and thought about this little person who had changed her entire world. "Its just that she ." Xena choked a bit before she could finish the sentence.
"Its Ok I understand." Gabrielle smiled and touched her friends hand knowingly. The warrior nodded knowing this person sitting beside her was the only one who could possibly know the depth of such a great gift. It was as if somehow the warrior mother was being given time back with her child that she felt she had lost forever.
Xena cleared her throat and pointed to a rolled parchment in the bards hand. "Whats that?" she asked hoping for a new subject.
The bard shrugged. "I wrote Tarren a new story. Do you want to hear it?" she asked with a wide grin.
The mother arched a brow. "Am I in it?"
The younger woman chuckled a bit at the silly question. "Of course, she wouldnt like it much if you werent."
The warrior grinned knowing it was the truth. She smiled and relaxed against he hut
taking in the cool night air. "Sure my bard. Tell me a story."
Gabrielles eyes went wide at the statement. "You are kidding right?" She stared at the gentle expression of her best friend. "Huh you really have changed.
"Do you want to hear some poetry I wrote?" the young woman asked with a
The warrior shook her head. "I havent changed that much."
The two friends sat side by side staring up at the night sky as they had once before wondering how a small child had and would still later their lives.
Later that night
Tarren slid from the bed quietly hoping not to wake the sleeping warrior. That could be difficult since one never knew if Xena was asleep or pretending to be asleep. The youngster craned her neck over the large body and stared at her mother for some sign of movement. Satisfied that the warrior was lost in Morpheous the child picked up her satchel and headed out the door. She paused for a moment and took one long glance at the sleeping bard before letting her bare feet lead her into the cold night air.
The half-dressed child walked across the compound careful not to step on so much as a stick that might alert a patrol to her presence. She had a few things she wished to accomplish and she knew there was only so much time left in the hourglass before Xena realized that the she was missing.
With all the agility and finesse of a Warrior Princess in training the child slid through the window of a certain Amazon princesss office. Once inside she walked around the room rubbing her shoulders and her legs trying to find warmth in the enclosed structure. "Shoulda warn the woolly socks or something," she said through chattering teeth.
The little girl made her way through the dark room feeling around on the floor for what she knew could not be far way. Her small hand slid over a pile of rolled parchments sitting near a small shoot. The child looked at the growing heap of scrolls containing questions that strangers had to ask of her friend and wondered if leaving her own parchment among them would be a good idea. With a shrug she pulled the small scroll from her satchel and placed it at the very top of the pile hoping it would be read first and soon. "Ok Gabby, I did like Momma said and I decided how I felt," she whispered to the empty office. After repositioning the scroll several times with a slide to the left or a tuck to the right the youngster again slid out the window into the cold night air.
Tarren grinned and shivered, as she stood in the shadows outside a small hut she had heard belonged to a certain instructor and her teenage daughter. The child knew that Gruella had gone on some kind of scouting mission because she had seen her depart along with two dozen other Amazons on horseback. That meant Lexus was alone.
The child blew the warm air from her lungs into her cupped fingers wishing she now had woolly gloves as well. "Ok first I gotta keep my promise to Boralla," she whispered as she took three large paces away from the hut. "There now Im not fibbing or nothing," she said with satisfaction.
Tarren looked carefully at the supplies she had gathered from around the camp. She made sure that each item was for community use and therefore nothing that could be labeled as stolen merchandise. She rubbed the seat of her nightshirt. "No dont want that con se quence," she muttered. With a deep breath and a smile the child began putting her plan of what she considered a fair trade into action.
Meanwhile back at the cottage
Xena rolled over and let out a short breath. Her arm fell to the side and much to her surprise there was plenty of room to stretch out. She opened one eye and patted the top of the now empty side of the pallet. "Tarren," she whispered scanning around the hut. The mother rose from the bed and walked through the hut. "Tarren." Her voice was becoming a bit louder as she realized her young child was obviously absent.
With a thud the warrior dropped onto the bed and started to dress. "Kid never listens I say dont go out alone at night. Of course the first thing shes gonna do is go out at night." The mother eyed the small boots sitting in the corner. "And without her boots on," she yelled with such force that it woke her sleeping friend.
"Whuh happened? Did you say something Hercules dear?" she muttered, still half asleep.
Xena grinned a bit at the content of her young friends dream state. "Sorry no its just me. Go back to sleep."
The bard wiped the sleep from her eyes. "Xena? Oh Uh " She blushed realizing the last word she had spoken had been. "What are you doing up?"
The warrior laced up her boot and stood. "Tarrens not here. Im going
to look for her."
The young woman rolled on her back and yawned. "Oh she probably just went to use the woods or something." She yawned again. "Relax."
The warrior shook her head. "Nope, she doesnt use the woods alone at night anymore. She doesnt like the dark and frankly with everything going on around here I dont like her out alone."
Gabrielle opened her eyes wider realizing this was yet another change that had occurred in her absence. "Oh well Ill help you look." She started to rise.
"No you stay here in case she comes back." Xena picked up the small pair of boots and held them in the air. "She even went out there with nothing on her feet," she growled. "Ill be back." With those words spoken the mother walked out into the night in search of her small daughter.
Back on Tarrens trail
After making sure that her trap had been set well and was at least three paces away at all times, the child smiled with satisfaction and moved onto her final destination. The cold night air was running through her like a splash of cold water but her nights work was almost complete.
The youngster could feel the cold air beating against her bare toes as she approached the queens personal quarters. She stared up at the doorway not having expected there would be guards there. The child took a deep breath and walked up to the door only to have two staffs cross in front of her to block her entrance.
Tarren looked up at the two large Amazon guards and frowned. "I wanna see Ephiny."
One guard smiled. "Youngster you are going to catch your death walking around like that." She motioned to the childs flimsy attire and lack of shoes. "You best get back to your cottage. Queen Ephiny is asleep and has left strict orders not to be disturbed."
Tarren held tightly to her parchment and satchel. This was going to take a bit of finesse. The little girl took a step back folded her arm against her chest and stood as straight as she could. "I wanna see queen Ephiny now," she hissed. She glared at the pair that blocked her path. Ephiny!" she yelled as loud as her small lungs would allow.
Before the guards could make an attempt to silence the child the large wooden door swung open and the tall Amazon rushed out. "What is it? Who yelled?" The half-dazed queen had her sword in hand ready to fight off an army of attackers.
The guards bowed their heads and one spoke. "I am sorry my queen but the child
yelled before I could stop her. I will take her back to the school."
Ephiny let her eyes drop down until they made contact with the familiar little form. "Tarren." She placed a halting hand in the air realizing this was one of the few Amazons who had not yet met the child. "I wouldnt touch her if I were you. Thats Tarren." She pointed to the little girl. "Shes Xenas daughter and her mother would not be too happy if you did and neither would I."
The guard stood at attention. "I apologize but I didnt know your majesty."
"Yeah well now you do." Ephiny lay her sword across her chest and looked at the smiling little girl. With a quick breath she grabbed the youngster by the arm and pulled her into the cottage. Before closing the door she turned to her guards. "I am not to be disturbed. I do believe that is the second time I am stating that tonight," she said with a growl.
The two Amazons lowered their heads and with a heavy sigh Ephiny closed the door. She pushed the shivering child over to the fire and placed a blanket around her. "Artemis hold me. What are you doing walking around half bare with no boots on in the middle of such a cold night, " she scolded placing her weapon on the table beside her. The Amazon felt the cold skin on the child and tried to rub her extremities warm.
Tarren closed her eyes and wiped her nose as she felt the feeling slowly returning to her feet. "I need your help Ephiny."
The queen looked at the serious expression on the childs face and then twisted her lips. "Does Xena know where you are?" Before the child could answer the Amazon shook her head. "Wait dont answer that of course she doesnt." Ephiny let out a long breath as she realized is only a matter of time before the warrior came in search of her child.
The little girl dropped her satchel to the floor and handed the queen her drawing. "Will ya help me?" she asked in a pleading tone.
Ephiny unrolled the parchment and smiled at the sight of the now finished drawing. "With what Junior?"
The child shook her head and gave the Amazon a slight elbow in the side. "Ya
The queen sat back in a chair and held the blanketed child in front running her hands fiercely up in down the small form in an effort to make the youngster warm. "Ahh yes the big secret." She grinned at the memory of what the child had shared with her while they were still on the trail. "I thought you were gonna do it alone."
Tarren lowered her head a bit and shrugged. "I cant. Im too small." This was a tough thing to admit. "And Im running out of time. Will you help?" she asked with desperation.
"I know Im gonna be sorry for this." Ephiny leaned back in the chair
and closed her eyes. "What did you have in mind?" she asked, realizing this was
the question that would not solidify her involvement in anything that was to come.
Tarren dropped the sack of money on the table as she explained the entire problem and what she needed to do.
Ephinys jaw dropped as she looked at the gold coins and heard the entire secret
of Nalas gift revealed. "Tarren you are asking a lot." She looked at the
fortune sitting before her. "Xena is gonna be awful mad at you when she finds
youve done this."
The little girl lowered he eyes. "I know and if I haffta get the big one again I will. I dont care." She paused and gave a quick rub to her backside. "Well I do care but I promised Nala and she was my only friend until Momma and Gabby came. Now I have a family and lots of friends including you right?" This was a sneaky maneuver.
The queen grinned at the manipulative child standing before her. "Yeah including me."
Tarren moved in closer and slid onto Ephinys lap wrapping her little arms around the queen. "And friends help each other. Thats what you said."
Ephiny nodded as she looked into the same blue eyes as the Warrior Princess. "I did say that," she replied with a nod.
The child lay her head down on the queens shoulder "So will you help me? Please."
The Amazon sighed and ran her hand down the little girls back. "You sure do fight dirty." She stared at the rolled parchment and then the sack of gold sitting on the table beside her. "Yeah Ill help."
Tarren smiled broadly and hugged the queen with all her might. "Thanks Ephiny!"
The Amazon patted the childs back again. "Yeah well I want you to know that I am not doing this because you sweet talked me into it. " She lifted the child off her lap and got to her feet. "Im doing it because I happen to agree with this Nala. I think this is a great gift and if Xena lets us live that long I think shell agree too." The Amazon shuddered at her friends expression when she found the gold coins missing. She quickly placed both the rolled drawing and the sack of gold coins in a lock box positioned behind a mask on the wall.
Tarren hugged her friend who only smiled at the exuberant child. "I dont care why you do it. I just wanna see Mommas face when were done."
"Oh yeah well I just hope we both live that long," she mumbled. Ephiny ran
her hands through Tarrens hair and let out a quick breath as she stared at the
ceiling. "Artemis I hope you are watching over this kid. Shes gonna need your
help and so am I," she said in a not so silent prayer.
Tarren frowned at her friends less than optimistic attitude. She shook a warning finger. "And you wont tell anyone anything until its all been done right?" she asked, folding her arms tightly against her chest and arching a small brow.
"Gods so much like Xena," she thought. Ephiny grinned. "Right, its a secret."
The youngster twisted her lip and studied her friends eyes. "No matter what happens?"
The Amazon nodded her agreement. "No matter what happens," she repeated.
Tarren tilted her head to one side and gave a long hard stare at the queen, "Warriors oath?"
Ephiny frowned. She had not realized the child was aware of such binding things and if the queen agreed then these words would seal her fate. She knelt in front of the youngster. "Are you sure about this Tarren? You could just tell your momma," she said hopefully.
The child shook her head. "No I promised Nala and Momma says a promise is as important as anything." She arched her brow as high as she could and let her voice drop as low as she could get it wishing there was a little husky sound instead of a squeak. "Warriors oath?" she repeated.
The queen closed her eyes and nodded. "Yes I give you my warrior s oath that your secret will remain with me."
The child smiled happy that her promise would now be kept and Nalas gift would become a reality. "Thanks Ephiny."
The queen grabbed the childs hand and started for the door. "Yeah thank me
after I pull this off. In the meantime I better get you back to bed before
Ephinys sentence was cut short by a slight commotion outside the cottage. "Too late," she muttered. All that was heard was the sound of a few spoken words and then two large forms being tossed easily to the ground. There was a knock at the door and when the queen opened it she was not surprised to see saw a large muscular woman wearing black leathers and an angry expression standing in the doorway.
"Am I the only one who sleeps at night?" the queen asked with a slight frown,
as she poked her head out to see her two fallen guards stumbling to get to their feet. She
shook her head at their obvious inability to do so. "Hi Xena." She gave the
warrior a crooked smile. "Let me guess. They told you I was sleeping and wasnt
to be disturbed."
Xena nodded and looked passed the queen at the small child wrapped in a blanket standing behind her. "Yeah can you imagine that?" she asked making no effort to hide her anger. She pointed to the little girl. "I believe you have something of mine," she said walking into the cottage and standing in the spot directly in front of her daughter. The mother folded her arms against her chest and in her huskiest tone spoke to her child. "What are you doing here?"
The youngster swallowed hard not sure what to say. "I
wanted to say
goodnight to Ephiny?" she asked wondering if that was a fair response.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head. "Try again," she ordered.
The little girl bit her lip and lowered her eyes. "I just wanted to talk to her private Momma." She glanced up at the angry warrior. "Just like you wanted to talk to Gabby alone."
Ephiny grinned at the comparison but seeing the look of parental judgment on her friends face just bit her lip and slid quietly back into her chair.
Xena bent down enough to allow her own eyes meet with her childs. "And It
couldnt wait until day light?" she scolded.
The child ran her hands along the heavy blanket she was now wearing and shook her head. "No Momma. Theres too many people around and Ephiny is awful busy, so I wanted to come when she wasnt doing nothin important."
The queen shook her head and let her head fall against the back of the chair. "Yeah why do I need sleep? Its not like I ever get tired," she mumbled.
The mother shook her head and looked from the queen to her daughter as if trying to put
the meaning of their meeting together. "I tracked you all over this camp youngster
." Xena removed the blanket and saw the child was wearing nothing but a
nightshirt and bare feet. "Tarren are you trying to get sick? You walked all the way
over here with no clothes or shoes," she scolded. The absence of boots she knew about
but she had hoped the child had the good sense to dress before leaving the hut.
Tarren lowered her eyes and stared at her dirty feet. "Yes Momma."
Xena stood straight up shook her head and pointed toward the door. "Move it," she ordered. "This is not the time or place to continue this." She closed her eyes. "Get over to the doorway but dont you stick one toe outside," she yelled.
"Yes maam." The child tip toed slowly passed her mother only to have the large muscular maternal hand swat her blanketed bottom hard enough to make the child yelp loudly and skid to the door. "Owe!" she murmured as she reached beneath her covering to comfort her warrior mothers favorite target.
Ephiny closed her eyes and whistled. "Ooh that had to smart," she groaned getting to her feet to see her visitors out.
Tarren bit her lip and stood in the doorway rubbing her sore and still blanketed
bottom. "Bye Ephiny."
The Amazon mother shook her head knowing her reaction would have been the same had it been her son that disappeared in the middle of the night half dressed. "Gnight Junior."
Xena took a few strides toward the door pausing in front of the queen. "I
dont suppose you wanna tell me what this was all about," she said quietly.
Ephiny shrugged. "Sorry but I took a warriors oath," She replied with a hard swallow.
The child sighed with relief hearing that those words and that swear meant something.
"Uh huh." Xena nodded and with one sweep picked the little girl up into her
arms. "You young lady are in a lot of trouble," she warned making sure the
blankets were wrapped tightly around the child before they walked into the cold night air.
Tarren lay her head on her mothers shoulder and sighed as they headed back to the cottage. "Yes maam." She glanced at the queen wiggling a few fingers of thanks for all she had done and would do.
Ephiny waved goodbye to her little friend and then stared down at her two fallen guards. She shook her head. "Gods dont you two know better than to stand between Xena and her kid?" she asked with a heavy sigh.
With a slight grumble the queen closed the door deciding that her sleep would last longer without the help of her Amazon escort.
Chapter 28 Stuff Happens
Back at the cottage
The warrior took quick strides back to the hut. As Xena walked in still carrying the
child in her arms, Gabrielle picked her head up off the pillow and yawned. "Gods you
found her. Where was she?" she asked in a half sleepy voice.
Xena placed the now sniffling child on the floor and reached for a pan filled with warm water. She placed the youngsters dirty, ice cold feet in the water and caressed them gently as she spoke to her friend. "Oh Tarren just decided to go out for an evening stroll," she said through clenched lips. "But I finally found her at Ephinys," she pointed to the child. "This kid was wearing nothing but this nightshirt," she said with a heavy sigh and a light growl.
Gabrielle looked at the teary youngster who was rubbing her eyes with the balls of her
fists but saying nothing in her defense. "Oh Tarren why would you do something like
that? Its dangerous to go out alone at night and you could get sick walking around
with no clothes on. You know youre not allowed to leave the hut area," she said
in as stern a voice as she could muster.
The child said nothing but just sniffled and started to cry.
The bard frowned and tapped her larger friend on the shoulder. "Why is she crying
so much?" she asked noting the youngster was shedding more than a few tears.
Xena reached for a towel and dried the little girls feet and lifted her small daughter into the pallet placing three heavy blankets on top of her. "Maybe because I took her behind the cottage and put her over my knee for a bit before I brought her in here," she said staring down at the sniffling youngster.
Gabrielle fell back on the bed. "Oh Xena." She paused and let out a long breath. "That kids never gonna sit down again."
The mother shook her head. "Maybe not but she will learn to do what she is told even if she is doing it standing on her feet most of the time," she said in a scolding tone staring at her youngster.
Tarren hugged her pillow as she sobbed. "Momma gave me another spankin on
my butt and then she said I was real naughty," she whined, rubbing the sting of the
three swats away with both hands.
Xena removed her boots and leathers and shook her head. "No Momma just gave you a warning. Believe me Momma thought real hard about giving you a very long spanking for doing something so stupid. Consider your self lucky and pray to the gods that I am not as angry in the morning as I am right now," she said in a parental tone that was both calm and filled with concern for the half-frozen child.
Tarren pulled the blankets over her head but the bard and warrior could still hear her crying.
The warrior let out a quick breath and leaned toward her friend. "I only gave her a few fast little swats on the butt for scaring the Hades out of me and wandering off in the dead of night nearly naked. I dont know what shes crying so much about," she whispered
Gabrielle placed her hands behind her head and sighed. "Huh Probably its the three fast swats on top of the big one and the little one thats doing it." The young woman glanced over at the hysterical form covered in blankets "Although I must say shes being a bit dramatic even for Tarren."
The mother let the air drain from her lungs and allowed her muscles to ease. "Yeah
well believe me if she hadnt gotten the big one yesterday she would have
gotten it tonight for sure." Xena ran her hand along the side of her own face and let
out a long breath. She moved to the other side of her pallet and got underneath the
covers. The warrior glanced over at Gabrielle. "Sure you dont wanna try my
You know the one with all the hugs and kisses and stuff," she said
with a smirk
The young woman shook her head. "Nope I think Ill stick to telling stories at bedtime," she replied dryly. "That is if she ever wants to hear one again," she mumbled turning on her side.
Xena ignored her friends words deciding she already had enough to deal with. She pulled the child closer to her so the youngster could feel the warmth of her mothers body. The warrior wanted to keep the little girl as warm as possible after being in the cold night air for so long.
Tarren struggled and cried a bit in her mothers hold but the Xena held her gently
in place. "Now stop that. Behave yourself," she quietly scolded.
Tarren cried louder and turned to face her mother burying her face in the warriors shoulder as she sobbed. Xena let out a long breath and rubbed the youngsters back affectionately. "Ok enough crying. Shh What are all the tears for anyway? Three well deserved swats on your bottom?" she asked in disbelief that so many tears would come from so few spanks.
Tarren thought about her mothers fast hand and the slight sting she felt from it. "No Momma Its not just my spankin alone." She had actually gotten much less than she had expected for being caught but the thought of her mothers disappointment when she found out the coins were gone was almost too much for the little girl too bare.
The childs tears muffled a bit but continued until the mother lifted the little girl in her arms and held her tightly. "Ok Momma is here. Everything is gonna be fine. Quiet down." She held the little girl closer and spoke in her softest tone. "So if its not the spanking then what is it?"
The large blue eyes on the tear stained face looked up at her mother. "I did something real bad and Im afraid youre gonna hate me," she replied quietly.
The mother cradled the child beside her. "Tarren how many times do I have to tell you that I could never hate you? You are my little girl and I love you even when you are naughty and sneak out in the middle of the night with no clothes or boots on to do gods knows what." She closed her eyes trying not to imagine what the child had been up to. "So tell me what you did that was so bad," she said in a soothing and maternal tone. Xena stroked the little girls back and hummed to her until the child had quieted enough to speak.
The youngster took a deep breath and laced her arms around her mothers neck holding tighter than the warrior thought possible. "Sorry Momma but I cant tell ya. I really wanna but I cant. Please dont hate me. I just wanna do something good."
Xena was not quite sure what the little girl was talking about but it didnt
really matter. The most important thing was that Tarren knew she was loved no matter what.
You go to sleep and we will talk about this
in the morning."
The little girl bit her lip and stared at her mother. "I had to talk to Ephiny Im sorry."
The warrior pulled the child in beside her and yanked the covers up around the little girls neck. "Tarren I said its Ok now. Well talk about it in the morning. Right now all I care about is that you are safe and healthy so stay close to me and keep warm," she replied in a gentle whisper.
The little girl sniffled and nuzzled in closer to her mothers shoulder. "I really love ya lots Mommy." She lay her head down and after a few more sniffles and with the aid of her mothers soothing massage and a gentle hum soon fell right to sleep.
Xena let out along breath smiled and kissed the sleeping childs cheek tenderly. "I love you too Monster."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head deeper into the pillow as she listened to the heartfelt exchange of love and understanding between mother and daughter. In all her time traveling with the pair she had never heard the two so open and free with their feelings. They truly were of one heart.
As the bard listened to the exchange she shed a tear and then smiled. "Amazing simply amazing."
The following morning
The warrior shook her head as she continued her movement. "And
you were wearing nothing on your feet and just a nightshirt Tarren. Gods you could have
gotten very sick," she scolded.
The child again stared up at her mother. "Yes maam."
Xena stopped and looked down at the contrite little girl. "Do you have anything else
to say?" she asked realizing the child was remaining respectful but still
Tarren rubbed her backside hoping her mother did not feel a need to make any more points for a while. "Im real sorry Momma," she replied with a single tear.
When Xena saw the stray drop of water on the childs face edging its way down the
small cheek she threw her arms up in the air. "I just dont know what to do with
you anymore. No matter what I say or do you just ignore me," she said in a softer but
still parental tone.
The child felt the room spin and tried to steady herself to remain as still as was expected. "Im real sorry Momma," the child repeated, hoping that saying it twice would make a difference.
The mother let the last of her frustration drain away and she walked in circles around the room. "Tarren, I wanted to spend the entire day doing stuff with you. I wanted to take you fishing and tracking." She rubbed her temples and shook her head. "How can I do that now? How can I do that after the way you have behaved these last few days?" She stopped turned and started her circular movement in the opposite direction. " I thought you learned something from everything I said yesterday but I guess I didnt make myself very clear. I guess Im just not doing a very good job."
The youngsters eyes went wide and she shook her head vigorously. "No Momma
you do real good. Its not your fault Im naughty." The child
watched her mother walk in circles until she felt so dizzy she had to steady herself by
reaching for a chair. "But I guess you dont wanna spend the day with me
now," she muttered. "I dont blame ya. After all I do get in lots of
trouble all the time."
Xena closed her eyes and shook her head. This admission was not what she was looking
for. She glanced back at the sullen child and felt all her resolve melt away. "Of
course I want to spend the day with you." She knelt in front of her small daughter.
"You know how scared I was when I woke up and you were gone?" she asked, hoping
that those words would show the child that her actions were guided by love.
Tarren shook her head. "Real scared?" she asked thinking that was the obvious answer.
The mother nodded. "Yeah real scared and I was even more scared that youd get sick."
The youngster lowered her eyes and let her voice drop to a near whisper. "Im sorry Momma."
"Yeah I know you said that many times already." The warrior took one last glance at her small child. She knew Tarren always found it difficult to be confined to a village. That seemed to be when the youngster found herself in the most trouble. Xena had to feel for the little kid. She was not having a bad day She was having a bad week. The mother smiled and got to her feet. "Look lets just put all our sorries away and behave ourselves today. OK?"
Tarren wiped her eyes dry and reached out to hug her mothers legs. "Yes Momma."
Xena returned the embrace and rubbed the little girls back. "Ok then Ill go tell Boralla to pack us a big lunch," she said moving toward the door. "You take your boots off. I want to put those socks on your feet before we go." However, before she could say another word or take another step the mother heard the sound that sent a chill up her spine and fear racing through her thoughts.
The warrior turned around hoping that it would be the only one of its kind. "Gods
bless you," she said quietly as she studies her child.
The little girl reached for a cloth and wiped her nose. "Thank you Momma."
The mother nodded and walked slowly over to the small form still wiping her face.
"Tarren how do you feel?" she asked with trepidation.
The little girl smiled broadly. "Fine Momma."
There was another sneeze.
The mother dropped down in front of the little girl and ran her hand over the
youngsters forehead. "Tarren dont fib to me," she said with firm
The child rolled out her lip and shifted from leg to leg as she tried not to look at her mother. "Well I am feeling a bit yucky but I can still play with ya," she replied eager to go fishing and tracking with her mother.
"Not today," was the immediate reply. Xena shook her head and lifted the little girl into the air and back on the pallet. She removed the child boots and clothes and placed her back under the blankets. Again she felt the little girls head. It was warm and Xena was worried. She threw a few extra logs on the fire and reached for her medicinal pouch. "Ok Monster well have you good as new in no time," she said with a nod as she put a pot of water in the fire.
Tarren turned around to see her mother was working with the all too familiar tea herbs. "Oh no," she muttered, covering her face with the blankets in an effort to hide from the inevitable.
In moments Xena had mixed a concoction of teas and herbs into a drink and poured it
into a mug. She sat on the side of the pallet and with a sigh removed the youngsters
coverings. "Here baby drink this," she said softly running a damp cloth across
the childs face.
The little girl sniffed at the mug and wrinkled her nose. "Do I haffta?" she asked with a pout.
The mother leaned in beside her and kissed the little girls forehead. "Yes you do and you know it."
The child squeezed her nose between her two fingers and allowed her mother to force the vile liquid down. "Yuk!"
Xena cringed as the last of the foul smelling medicine was swallowed. "I know it
tastes bad but it will help with the fever." She dropped by the side of the pallet
and again ran a cool cloth across the youngsters warm forehead. "Dont
worry baby. Momma is here and Im gonna take good care of you."
Tarren ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, as she tasted her mothers version of care. She often wondered if Argo objected to so much of her tail being used in these teas. "Arent we gonna play today Momma?" The little voice was low and sad at the thought of missing her big play day.
Xena lay on the pallet beside the child allowing the youngster to cuddle in beside her.
"No baby youre sick and you have to stay warm and under those blankets until
you are all better." She paused. "Dont worry well go tracking again
the very first day youre all better."
The youngster lowered her eyes. "Im sorry Momma."
Xena considered the childs words and turned to face her. "Shh hey its Ok. Kids get sick and their Mommas take care of them. Thats part of the system too," she replied hoping that adding to the youngsters system would make the situation easier for her to accept.
"You bet it is so I want you to just lie under those covers and stay warm and let
me do my job because
The child finished the sentence, "Because you really love youre work Momma," she said with an innocent smile.
The warrior mother closed her eyes and let out a quick breath. "Yes I love my work very much Monster." She got off the pallet and tucked the blankets up close. "Do ya want anything?"
The little girl rolled on her side. "Can I have a drink? Im awful thirsty."
Tarren had just passed on a chance to ask for a pony and Xena knew that was a sure sign that the child felt worse than she was admitting.
The mother placed a loving kiss on the little girls warm face and moved over to
the side of the room to retrieve a large pitcher of water and a mug. She filled the mug
and held it up to her childs lips. "Her ya go. Drink it all down," she
The child nodded and gulped the water until the mug was empty. "All gone."
"Good girl." Xena tried to smile but her concern was becoming more obvious. "Now you try and get some rest while I send to the kitchen for some hot food."
Tarren smiled at her mother and then coughed. "Ok Momma Ill try and sleep." She paused. "Its awful hot in here though. Do I haffta keep all these blankets on?" she asked trying to kick them away.
The warrior mother quickly pulled the blankets into place knowing the little girl was feeling the heat of the fever. "Sorry little one but you need the warm blankets. " She ran her hand along the youngsters face. "Tell ya what You lay there and try to sleep and as soon as I send for the food Momma will give you a nice rub down that will make you feel cool. OK?"
A massage from Xena was always a treat but a regular rub down with promises of cooling off a hot body was a gift. "Sure Momma." The child flipped over on her stomach eager for the rubbing to begin. "Ill wait right here for ya."
Xena smiled weakly and moved over to the door. She slipped outside and when she saw a familiar face walking by she called to her. "Eponon!"
The weapons master grinned and approached her friend. "If youre
looking for a baby sitter just forget it
Every time that kid and I are alone I get in
as much trouble as she does," she said with a frown.
Xena shook her head. "No I dont need you to watch her. Do me two favors. Go over to the kitchen and tell Boralla that I need some hot broth and then find Gabrielle." She paused and took a deep breath. "And tell her Tarren is sick."
Eponons smiled disappeared. "The little warrior is sick? Can I help? Do you need anything."
Xena could not help but smiles at her friends sudden show of concern. "Just
the broth and the message delivered. Thanks Eppy."
Eponon nodded and Xena watched the weapons master use all her Amazon speed to move across the compound eager to do anything to help the warriors child.
Xena walked back into the cottage and noticed that the child had thrown all the blankets to the floor. She rushed over and picked them up placing them quickly back over the sick child. "Tarren you have to keep these on. You have to stay warm, " she scolded.
The little girls face immediately filled with tears. "Momma the blankets are too heavy. Everything feels real heavy. Take them off Mommy please." She kicked her feet under the blankets and rolled around.
The mother placed a calming hand on the childs chest. "Shh Tarren I cant. You need to be warm. I know it doesnt feel good but you need to leave them on." Xena reached for another helping of teat and put the mug to the youngsters lips. "Here drink this."
This time the medicine was swallowed in gulps without a single complaint or objection. "Want Mommy Want Mommy ." The tears streamed down the little girls face.
Xena placed the empty mug on the floor and slid on the mattress beside the child wrapping her arms around the small form. "Mommy is right here baby."
Tarren nuzzled into the warriors side fidgeting until she felt her mothers hand touch her cheek. That action seemed to soothe and calm the sick child. "Mommy?
The childs eyes focused on the warrior. "Im sorry I got sick Im sorry I did the bad thing."
The warrior mother closed her eyes and pulled the little girl closer deciding that she herself would act as a warming blanket. "Its Ok we all get sick. I told you that. Youre just giving me a chance to do my job."
The child tried to smile. "Mommy I wanna tell ya what I did. I dont want you to hate me but I dont wanna keep any more secrets from ya."
The mother ran her hand along the childs face. "Monster you dont have to tell me anything. I followed you last night and I saw the little trap you set for Lexus." She grinned a bit. "But I took it down so dont go expecting to hear how a certain teenager walked out her door only to find herself covered in a bucket full of day old oatmeal."
Tarrens eyes went wide. "Ya knew I did that?" The little girl smiled. "And youre not mad?"
"Well last night I was a bit mad." She arched a brow. "That was a very naughty thing to do." Again the warrior smiled. "But Im not mad anymore. I sort of understand why youd want to get even with Lexus."
The youngster twisted her lips in a frown. "Then whyd you take the trap apart?"
Xena held the child closer and tapped the small nose with the tip of her finger. "Because my little Monster just because Lexus is a rotten and mean kid doesnt mean you need to take lessons." She paused and smiled. "Besides Lexus got what she deserved." The mother thought of the humiliating beating the teenager and her friends had taken at the hands of Gabrielle and Ephiny.
"Ya mean cause Gabby kicked her butt?" she asked with an evil smile.
The mother turned her head quickly. "How did you know that?"
The little girl immediately covered her mouth realizing she had just made two mistakes.
She had said the forbidden words and broken a promise. "Uh
told me." The child coughed and grabbed onto the side of her mothers arm.
"But please dont ask me to tell ya who told. Ill never see another Flappy
Jackie again," she said pleadingly.
The warrior mother patted the childs back until the coughing fit passed. She offered up another mug of water and watched with great concern as the child drank. Xena placed the mug back beside her and wrapped her arms tightly around the child. "Relax I wont ask you, but you remember its a secret. I dont want Gabrielle to know that you know. OK?" she said softly, thinking of the old cook with the big mouth who had said too much.
Tarren coughed again and the warrior rose from the bed bringing the blanketed child
with her. She sat beside the fire keeping the child covered nestled her close to her chest
as she sat in a chair beside the hot flames. "Its Ok baby."
Tarren took a deep breath and Xena could see the tears pouring down her small cheeks. "Dont wanna be sick Mommy. Dont like being sick. Make it go away please," she begged.
The mother kissed the youngsters forehead and nuzzled her head against the childs face. "I wish I could Monster. Id trade places with you if I could." She closed her eyes knowing how sick the child was. "But I promise you that I am gonna make you all better. Ok?"
The confident words seem to calm the youngster. "Yes Momma. I trust you. Youre the mommy."
The warrior felt a lump forming in her throat as she considered the new importance of those words. "Yeah thats right Im the Mommy."
Tarren wiggled in her mothers lap trying to find comfort in all the heat that surrounded her small weak form. "Momma?"
"Can I tell you what I did that was bad now?"
The warrior arched a brow as she stroked the little girls head. "Ya mean you did something else besides set that trap for Lexus?" she asked with disbelief.
Xena smiled and kissed the childs cheek. "You can tell me anything you want but you dont have to."
The child considered the offer deciding if she should indeed snitch on herself.
"Are ya mad at me for getting sick?"
"Are ya mad at me for going out last night when I wasnt supposed too?"
Xena shook her head and tightened her hold. "Not anymore youngster. Im just worried about you now," she replied quietly.
The child touched her mothers face. "Why?"
The warrior rocked the small form in her arms. "Because you are my baby and
youre sick and I worry about you all the time." She paused. "I just want
you get better real fast."
"Oh." The child bit her lip. "Momma I thought on it and I decided I wanna tell ya what I did bad. It was something real naughty and you are my Momma so you should know."
"Hmm this sounds serious." Xena stared at the stoic expression on her little ones face. "When did you have time to be so naughty?" she wondered.
The little girl was surprised by the question. "Oh I always have time
Momma." She lowered her head a bit. "I know if I tell you what I did Ill
get a spankin probably even the big one." She swallowed hard. "But I
dont wanna keep any secrets from ya if I dont haffta."
Xena nodded as she ran another cooling cloth along the childs forehead.
"Well I appreciate that," she replied with a slight smile
"Will you try not to get real mad?" the little one asked hopefully.
The warrior nodded. "Uh huh."
"Will I have to get my spankin now or can I wait until the room stops spinning?" the youngster asked with a sigh realizing by speaking her mind she was sealing her fate.
Xena chuckled a bit as she tried to imagine what crime her daughter felt so sure would earn her such punishment. "Tarren, there will be no spanking, so if you want to tell me what naughty thing you did then go ahead."
Tarren played with her mother straps as she considered the best way to say want she needed to say. Obviously her mother did not realize how serious an offense she was talking about. "I took the gold coins Momma."
Xena paused in her rocking for a long moment and glanced at the little girl.
"Tarren why would you do that? I told you that we were gonna bury them." She let
out a calm but quick breath. "What did you do with them?" she asked sternly.
The little girl felt tears rushing down her cheeks. "I cant tell ya Momma Youll take them away and bury them and then we wont be able to make Nalas dream come true." She coughed as her tears turned into heavy sobs. "And then and then Ill have broken my word and I wont never become a Warrior Princess like you." She looked up at her mother. "I wanna be just like you." The words we filled with pure love and admiration.
Xena closed her eyes and let her own tear escape. She picked the little girl up and put her over one shoulder as she ran her hand up and down the sweaty back. "Its Ok Tarren. Its Ok. I dont care about the coins. I only care about you." She shook her head. "You leave the coins where they are and let Nalas dream be whatever it was meant to be. Right now I just want you to get well. That is the only thing that matters to me little one." The warrior held tightly to her child angry with herself for not handling the issue of the money better so that the youngster had not felt forced into the cold night to hide them.
The child felt a heavy cough break through her lips as she spoke through broken sobs.
"Ya mean it Mommy? I can make Nalas dream happen and keep it a secret and ya
wont hate me?" she asked hoping she had heard the words spoken correctly.
The mother closed her eyes and shook her head. "Hate you? Little girl if I loved you anymore than I already do ." She swallowed hard. "I love you baby girl. That will never change."
The childs face lit up. "Really Momma
I got someone real
good to help me so ya dont have to worry about nothin."
Xena smiled now knowing why the child had gone to Ephiny in the middle of the night. "Good thats very good. You just tell me when this big surprise is ready and Ill be there." She made a mental note to have a long talk with the Amazon queen.
"So Momma am I gonna get a spankin now?" the youngster asked sure that this fell under the category of stealing or something else very bad.
"No you are not going to get a spanking." She hugged the little girl. "You just see that you get well real fast and that will be good enough for me," she replied giving the child a soft squeeze.
The little girl hugged her mother grateful for the undying love and understanding she was being offered.
Just as Tarren had calmed down and settled into her mothers loving hold, the door flung open and Gabrielle and Ephiny rushed into the cottage.
"How is she?" the bard asked, kneeling beside Xena and running her hand over
the childs burning face.
Xena stood and placed the child reluctantly back on the pallet. She moved over to the table and worked on mixing a poultice as she let her eyes fall on the body of her small daughter. "She has fever chills its moving toward her chest and I need to stop that."
Ephiny stood beside her large friend and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Anything I can do?" she asked with noted concern.
Xena looked from the sick child to her Amazon friend and nodded. "Yeah Eph, you can make my baby girls surprise everything she wants it to be and I dont give a damn if you use every single coin in the bag to do it," she whispered.
The queen closed her eyes and nodded. "You have my word Xena." Ephiny gave a final nod and walked out the door to make her word good and leave this family in peace.
Gabrielle dropped beside the child and grabbed her hand. "Tarren its
Gabrielle," she whispered as if the child would have forgotten so soon.
"I know who ya are." The little girl smiled and touched her friends
face. "Hi Gabby. Did you get my note?" she asked with a broad smile.
"What note?" the baffled young woman asked.
The little girl coughed again and whispered her response. "I left it for ya with the letter other people gave you. Ya know the ones wanting to tell ya stuff." The child frowned at the lack of understanding. "Ya know in your office the dear Gabby scrolls," she said with a frown.
The bard wiped away a tear as she thought of the still unanswered notes from strangers lying in a pile on the floor of the place that she had been working. "Honey if you wanted to talk to me why didnt you just come to me?" she asked wiping stray hairs from the childs face.
Tarren looked up at her mother who nodded. The time had come to tell all. "I was afraid," the youngster muttered
Gabrielle dropped her head to one side. "Of what?"
The child let her fingers twist at the layers of blankets. "That you wouldnt want to talk to me anymore." She coughed so loud that Xenas eyes flared at the sound. The mother frowned wishing she could draw her sword and slay whatever evil made her child sick.
Tarren glanced up at her friend trying to offer an understanding smile. "Ya do
have other kids to play with now and youre an Amazon so you wont be coming
with us when we leave," she said staring down at her own fingers. Again the child
coughed followed by a sneeze.
The bard swallowed and turned to the warrior whose eyes were filled with both concern and fear. Xena went to work more diligently on her paste and the bard turned back to the little girl. "Now I wan t you to listen to me Tarren. I dont want to play with other kids and I am not staying with the Amazons." Gabrielle closed her eyes and kissed the little girls hand. "I always want to stay with you and I always want you to be able to talk to me" She paused and lowered her eyes. "And when you and that big leather pillow of yours leave you better believe Im going with you." She wiped away a tear. "You couldnt leave me behind if you wanted to brat. Ask your mother because she tried it ounce." She motioned to the warrior.
The little girl looked past the bard at then stared up at her mother who forced a smile. "Uh yeah its true. Shed just follow us anyway, so we better just take her with us."
Tarren coughed and the bard held the child close to steady her.
Xena rushed to the side of the pallet with a mug of water and placed it to the youngsters lips. "Ok Monster take a drink come on."
The little girl again swallowed the entire contents of the mug. Xena kissed her daughters forehead and handed the bard a damp cloth. "Run this over her forehead while I finish making the poultice." The two friends eyes met and in one glance wall the mutual concern ad love for this child was shared.
Gabrielle nodded and dabbed the sweat from the youngsters brow. "So Gabby ya
sorries?" the child asked as she watched her friend carefully
drain the rag in a basin of cold water.
The bard tried to smile but could not help letting a tear fall. "Yeah I do." She took a deep breath. "Me first Im sorry that I havent been there for you when you needed me and that I broke my promise about staying with you. Im real sorry I didnt come for lunch the other day and ."
The child covered the bards mouth with her hand. "Ok thats enough of your sorries." She shook her head knowing her chatty friend could go on all day. "My turn Im sorry I didnt talk to ya when you came looking for me and Im real sorry I didnt tell you how much I missed ya." She lowered her eyes "I know Mommy says that youre only doing what you do cause its for the great goody thing."
The bard felt her tears flow and she wrapped her arms around the sick child. "Thats right brat the great big goody thing."
Xena cleared her throat and smiled as she watched her family made whole once again.
Tarren patted the bards arm gently. "Its OK Gabby you dont haffta cry. Im not mad at ya. We traded sorries and I still love ya," she explained hoping the teary woman would calm down.
Gabrielle dried her eyes with the edge of the blanket and let her hand run along the
little girls face. "Oh you know me. I always cry." She took a deep
breath. "And I love you too
very much. Dont you ever forget that."
The child smiled and then coughed a bit harder than usual and Xenas expression went dark. She moved quickly to the side of the pallet and lifted the little girl into her arms. Clearing the table with a fast swipe of her foot she lay the coughing child down on the wooden surface. "Gabrielle get the poultice and some fresh towels," she yelled as she removed the childs clothes leaving her lying bare on the table.
"Mommy?" The little girl cried between coughs. "I want Mommy Mommy." She reached up her hands to touch the warriors face.
A large hand met them and held them in her own. "Still right here with you baby. Mommy is still right here," the mother whispered.
Gabrielle listened to the tender exchange and in that moment realized just how much these two had grown in the short time she had been away. Tarren was now at a time of her greatest fear and weakness calling out in the most basic maternal code for the one person her heart was connected with, her mommy.
The warriors touch seemed to immediately soothe the child and Xena kissed the youngsters fingers. "Tarren I have to put a poultice on your chest and you wont like it but I have to do it," she said in a near whisper.
The youngster bit her lip and let her eyes lock with her mothers. "Whats a poul tice?"
Xena took a deep breath not quite sure how to explain. "Its a paste that Ill put on your chest to make all the bad stuff inside go away. It may feel real heavy and hot but its gonna do really good stuff."
The warrior mother shook her head. "No but it will feel sort of yucky."
The youngster swallowed hard. She could see that her mother did not wish to cause her even the slightest discomfort. "Its Ok Momma. I trust you. Ill try and be good."
Xena closed her eyes and smiled. "You are very good and dont you forget it." She took the bowl from the bard and started spreading the mixture across the little girls chest. "You cry if you want. You can even yell if you need to and Ill hold you. Ok?" She wanted the child to know that there was no shame in being afraid.
Tarren shook her head. "I may cry a little but I wont yell." She bit
her lip as she felt the paste burning her chest. "Im
Princess ya know." The tears were streaming and the little
girls cheeks were red as fire.
Gabrielle grabbed hold of the childs hand and Xena worked quickly to cover the little girls chest with the paste and then covered it with a cloth. "You sure are."
The child felt her lip quiver and her breathing slow to a wheeze. "Mommy?"
The warrior pulled a fresh nightshirt from the clothing bag and with the bards help dressed the youngster. She looked into the soft blue eyes of her little one and swallowed hard. "Yeah."
Tarren grabbed hold of her mothers arm. "Can ya still hold me even though Im a little warrior princess?" she asked quietly.
Xena glanced at her friend and then her small daughter. She lifted the child immediately into her arms. "You just try and stop me," she said in the softest and most loving tone the bard had ever heard.
The warrior cradled the little one over her shoulder stroking her back. She took a deep breath and looked at Gabrielle. "Were gonna need a few things. We have to keep the fever down and make sure she stays warm. Go over to the healers hut and get as many ingredients for more poultices as you can. Then ask Boralla to send over lots of hot broth." She paused. "And ask Ephiny if there is a volunteer to do laundry. The poor kid is sweating through the sheets and nightshirts so fast that ."
The bard held up a hand. "Ill take care of it. You just stay here with Tarren and Ill get everything we need." She placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Shell be Ok. Shes got the best healer around with her and the best mother," she said with assurance.
Xena closed her eyes and nodded as she continued to cradle the weepy child. "Thanks."
The bard nodded and took one last glance at the ailing youngster. She leaned over the
warriors shoulder and kissed the child. "Be back in a little bit Ok?"
The little girl reached out a hand and touched the young womans face. "Will ya tell me a story when ya come back?" she asked with a raspy voice.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh you better be ready to hear lots of stories little girl."
Tarren smiled and with a cough leaned back into her mothers safe hold. "My mommy," she whispered possessively.
Xena squeezed her child and nodded to the bard who quickly sprinted out the door.
It was only a matter of hours before the entire village knew of the childs illness and had formed into small crowds outside the hut.
As Gabrielle now joined again by Ephiny entered the cottage they were greeted by crowds of concerned Amazons wanting to know how the littlest warrior was doing.
Even Gabrielle had to admit that it was quite a site to see Eponon doing laundry, but when the weapons master heard that something was needed for the child she would allow no other Amazon to even join in the task.
Ephiny nodded at Xena who was lying on the pallet beside her small daughter. She walked
past Gabrielle and immediately sat on the bed beside the youngster. "Hey Junior. I
guess this will teach you to go out at night without your Momma Huh?" she said giving
the warrior a look that spoke of mutual understanding and concern.
The child nodded and reached up and held tightly to her mother. It was obvious to all that the youngster in this weak and vulnerable state was more dependent on her mothers love and presence than ever before.
Ephiny wiped a few stray hairs away. "Look Ive gotta go now. Ill come
back and see you later." Se shook a warning finger. "As queen I am ordering
you to behave and do what your mother tells you to do," she said with as much
authority as she could muster.
Tarren smiled weakly and coughed. "Sure Ephiny. Did ya ."
The queen nodded. "Yup Ive already got it started so dont you worry about a thing."
Tarren grinned and nodded at her regal friend. "Thanks."
The queen started to rise and then paused and pulled a long colorful feather from inside her cuff and handed it to the child. "I almost forgot. I have a present for you."" She placed the plume in the childs hand. "When Queen Mussona heard you were ill she plucked that from her very own headpiece just for you."
The youngsters eyes widened as she stared at the multi-colored feather. "For
me?" She glanced up at Ephiny. "Why?"
"Because she likes you."
Tarren wasnt sure that she had ever even been introduced to this queen but none the less a new feather was a new feather. She tucked it under her pillow but then pulled on the Amazons arm. "Ephiny its a nice feather and every thing I mean I like it but I still like yours the best," she said with a smile.
The queen leaned over and kissed the child on the forehead. "Thanks Junior."
Ephiny took a deep breath and placed a hand on Xenas shoulder. "Hey shell be fine. Relax a bit. Shes a strong little kid and Im betting she has your recuperative powers." She grinned a bit. "She has everything else."
Xena nodded. "Thanks Eph."
The queen nodded and again departed eager to see if Shellopa and Solari had returned
As the hours passed Gabrielle attempted a few stories only to find that the child was too feverish to really pay attention to anything she said.
Xena lay on the pallet beside her daughter wiping away sweat with a damp cloth and humming to her.
The bard took a deep breath and stretched her limbs out. "Im going to run over to the kitchen and get some more broth. Were almost out." She ran her hand from the warriors arm down to the childs face. "Xena shell be Ok." She counted that as the 100th time she had said that in a few hours and was no longer sure just who she was now trying to convince.
The warrior nodded and tried to smile. "I know she will."
Gabrielle patted her friends arm and headed out the door wanting to make a quick stop at her office before the kitchen.
Chapter 29 Revelations
At the office
The princess walked passed the questioning eyes of the Amazons and straight into her office. She knelt before the pile of scrolls beneath the window and ran her hands through them until she found a small rolled parchment with a familiar piece of leather tied around it.
The princess held the little scroll in her hands and dropped to the floor bringing her legs in close as she unrolled the message.
I no you R a amezon and cant play withh me no moor but I just wanna say I luve ya an I mis ya an I was sorrys 4 not bein nice to ya. My momma say I has to no U is inportent an real buzy with stuf but I miss ya lots an I wants u 2 B my Gabby foreva even if ya R a amezon an cant plays withh me no moor luv Tarren XXXXOOOO
The princess felt the tears racing down her cheeks as she read the letter for second time. "Damn kid Her spelling will never get any better if she doesnt practice more," she mumbled placing the small scroll in the pocket of her skirt. She took a deep breath and kicked the remaining scrolls away with the side of her foot. Her stray tears turned to sobs as she thought of the sick child and the words on the parchment.
After a few moments she gathered her thoughts and wiped her eyes. She removed the bonnet that identified her as royalty and placed it on the desk and reached for a basket from beneath the desk piling the Amazon scrolls inside. With a deep breath she walked out the door. Seeing Ephiny in the distance she walked up to her friend and handed her the basket.
Ephiny looked from the scrolls to her friend. "Whats this?" she asked a
The bard swallowed hard. "People who need a leader. Amazons that need wisdom." She paused. "I cant offer them either but perhaps you can." She ran her hands through her blond hair. "Im sorry Ephiny but as soon as Tarren is well enough Im going to tell Xena I want to move on. I just cant help anymore. I just dont know ." Rather than finish the last sentence with a face full of tears the bard turned and walked away.
Ephiny stared at the basket full of questions and called to her friend. "Gabrielle wait!"
The young woman did not turn but kept walking her chosen path.
Back at the cottage
Xena sighed as she gave the little girl some more tea to sip. "Cmon I know it taste bad but it helps with the fever and thats whats important," she said sternly.
The youngster bit her lip and shook her head. How much of Argos tail could anyone bare? She covered her mouth and spoke through the separations in her tiny fingers. "You drink it first Momma," she mumbled.
The warrior stared into the mug of white goo and wrinkled her own nose at the odor. "Im not sick little girl and you are."
"Momma you said we were partners," the child replied with a wide eyes stare. "Didnt ya mean it?"
The mother took a deep breath and nodded. "Of course I mean it." Xena closed her eyes took a sip and grimaced at the taste. "Ok now your turn," she said squinting her eyes and lowering the mug.
Tarren smiled at the expression on her mothers face. "Tastes real good doesnt it Momma?" she asked with a giggle. The little girl took a drink from the mug and made a similar expression. "Yuk!"
The warrior placed the mug on the table beside the pallet. "I agree." She wiped the hair from the childs face and was about to take her place on the pallet beside her daughter when there was a knock at the door. She grumbled as she got to her feet. "Gabrielle and Ephiny wouldnt knock so it must be ." Xena opened the door and as she expected was greeted by Shalia. "Well I cant say Im surprised. Whenever there is trouble you seem to be on hand to help," she said with a bit more cynicism than she intended.
The young Amazon, a bit flustered by the reaction, lowered her eyes. "I am sorry. I did not mean to intrude. I just wanted to see how little Tarren was feeling. I will come back at another time." The young woman turned to leave.
"No wait." Xena ran her large hand over the top of her head and rubbed her own temples. "Im sorry. Im just tired and You are always welcome here Shalia. Tarren would love to see you. Please come in." Her voice softened and a slight smile appeared as she waved a hand to motion the young woman in.
The Amazon took a moment and then stepped through the doorway. "Are you sure?"
The warrior grinned. "Very sure. As a matter of fact if you could sit with Tarren for just a minute I need to go get some broth from the kitchen. I sent Gabrielle for it a while ago but she didnt come back. Have you seen her?"
The Amazon nodded. "I would be happy too stay with Tarren," she replied with
a broad smile. Her tone changed as she spoke of the bard. "Gabrielle is praying for
the child in the temple of Artemis." She lowered her eyes. "She has removed her
bonnet Xena and told Ephiny she no longer wishes to hold the title of princess of the
Xenas eyes flared at the thought of her friend giving up something she knew was so important to her. "What? Why?"
Shalia shrugged. "I believe she fights her own battle inside." She stared at the warrior. "She is torn between what she feels right now. It can be very hard to choose wisdom over following your heart." She closed her eyes. "I know."
The warrior let out a long cleansing breath. "Ill talk to her later," she replied with a frown.
The young amazon tilted her head to one side and stared at the leather clad woman before her. "Xena there are some battles that we must fight alone."
"Uh huh." Xena nodded in understanding of this odd young Amazon's wisdom and walked out of the cottage to get the broth for her sick child.
Shalia moved beside Tarren and sat on the edge of the pallet. She touched the childs hand and felt the heat emanating from it. "So my little friend. How are you feeling?" she asked in a soft and tender tone.
Tarren coughed a bit but smiled when she turned her head and saw Shalia. "Hi when did you get here?" the child asked with a grin.
Shalia ran her hand over the youngsters forehead. "Just now. Your mother went to get you some broth, so I will sit with you until she returns." She paused and ran her hand just above the youngsters chest and frowned. "I would guess that you are not feeling very well." The words were solemn and serious.
"No but Momma says shell make me all better and I believe Momma."
Shalia smiled at the childs faith. "And so she shall but perhaps you would like a drink of water now?" she asked hopefully
Tarren picked her head up a bit and opened her mouth. "Uh huh I get awful thirsty," she replied feeling the dryness around her lips.
The young woman reached for the mug and filled it with water. But before she handed it to the child she yanked a small vile from her cuff and added two drops of the contents to
the drink. After giving the liquid a slight swirl she held it to the youngsters lips. "Here drink this and youll feel much better."
Tarren eyed the vile in her friends hand. "Whats that?" she asked
with all the curiosity of a small child.
Shalia looked at the thing tube with the silver inlays similar to that on the bracelet Tarren now wore. "Oh this is a very old recipe of a secret medicine." She stared at the vile for a moment and then placed it underneath the childs pillow as she watched her drink the water. "There is quite a lot in that vile and I am entrusting it to you Tarren. Just two drops in water can help a fever feel better very fast, but I must ask you to make this our secret. Can you do that? Can you put that in your treasure bag and not tell anyone where you got it from for a while?" she asked in an almost parental tone.
The little girl let out a breath as the last of the water filled her mouth "Even momma?"
The Amazon nodded "Yes my little friend especially your momma."
The child bit her lip as she considered the secret. "For how long?"
"Not long." Shalia smiled. "Lets say that it will be our secret only until you tell your momma your big secret. Ok?"
Tarren scratched her head. "Well Ok if you say so Shalia." She bit her lip again. "Will you tell me another story."
Shalia smiled. "Yes but only a short one. You should be sleeping."
The youngster smiled and placed her head on the Amazons lap.
Shalia grinned and ran her head through the childs hair. "Once long ago
there was a place on the top of a mountain called Arteris. It was a beautiful place filled
with colorful flowers and running streams. It had everything that made the world
beautiful. Some even said it was a gift from the gods themselves. On the highest peak of
this mountain lived a little girl named Lerna. Now little Lerna had never left her
mountain home and she was a very curious little girl. All she ever knew was the beauty and
safety of Arteris."
Tarren smiled at the fact there would be a child in the story. "Did she have a mommy?"
The youngster bit her lip. "A daddy?"
Shalia shook her head. "No."
The little girl thought for a moment. "Did she have a Gabby?"
The Amazon smiled and rubbed the little ones back. "Uh no. Only a few are lucky enough to have both a mother and a Gabby," she replied seriously.
Tarren grinned satisfied that she had more than the child in the story did. "Ok go on please."
Shalia smiled and bowed her head. "Anyway, one day Lerna went against her
mothers wishes and climbed down the mountain just to see what was down there. It was
a long climb and she barely made it to the bottom."
The youngster sighed remembering her own trip up Mt. Polaris back in Amphipolis. "Uh oh someones gonna get the big one," she said in a hushed tone.
Shalia grinned. "No Tarren, Lernas mother was not as attentive as your momma so she did not even know her child had gone right away."
The little one shook her head. "Hmm bad momma."
The young Amazon suppressed a smile and continued. "When Lerna got to the bottom of the mountain she realized that there was no more beauty to be found there then in the place she had just come from. As a matter of fact it wasnt nearly as nice as Arteris was. And she missed her mother, Lytrell, and wished to return to her place high on top of the mountain."
Tarren shrugged. "Why didnt she just climb back up?"
Shalia let out a long breath. "Well she wasnt strong enough. It was much
easier to go down the mountain than climb up."
The little girl twisted her lips and considered it. "I bet could do it but Im a Warrior Princes ya know and if I couldnt do it alone then Momma would help me, but I sure would get the big one when we got back on top," she said with a whistle.
Shalia chuckled. "I am sure."
Tarren stared up at her friend. "So what happened to Lerna?"
The Amazon smiled at her young friend. "She got down on her knees and prayed to Artemis to help her return to her home."
"Did she get help?"
"Yes Artemis appeared and told the child that she would return her to the mountain for a price."
The youngster shook her head and slid back on the pallet. "Uh oh theres always a catch with grown-ups. What was the price?"
Shalia sighed heavily. "That she never ever leaves the mountain top ever again," she replied sadly.
Tarren thought about some of the prices she had paid for making mistakes that had kept her standing at supper for more than a few nights. "Ahh big deal! If thats where her momma was then thats where she wanted to go anyway. Right?" The child turned her head for confirmation.
The little girl smiled ready to finish the story herself. "So then Artemis put the
kid back with her mother and then she got the big one for going down in the first
place and they lived happy ever after. Right?"
Shalia shook her head. "No Tarren, you see Lernas mother finally realized that her child had traveled into the world below and she herself decided to climb down and find her." She paused. "The mother even made a vow that she would never return to Arteris until she found her daughter."
The little one arched a brow and coughed a bit. "And?"
Shalia ran her hand over the little girls chest as if blanketing it with a touch.
"Well Lerna was returned tot he mountain as Artemis promised and her mother Lytrell
spent the rest of her days searching for a child she would never find."
Tarren frowned at the ending. "But Lerna was home."
Shalia nodded. "Yes."
"And her momma was looking for her?"
The youngster yawned and leaned on her side. "Why didnt her momma just go home?"
The amazon pulled the blankets over the small form. "Because Tarren, Lytrell did not know Lerna was back on the mountain and she did not wish to go home without her. She spent her life looking for Lerna just as Xena would look for you if you were ever lost."
The child considered the comparison. "But Id never go away from Momma and she could always find me cause shes a great tracker and a Warrior Princess ya know." She took a deep breath. "But I still say Id get the big one when momma did find me."
Shalia laughed and rubbed the childs head. "You are probably right, but the
lesson of the story is that when two people are meant to be together or share one heart
then they should never choose separate paths. They should have faith in one another and
stand as one person. Do you understand?" she asked hopefully.
The youngster yawned. "Uh huh. I understand that Im staying with my momma." She smiled. "Lerna should have stayed with hers." The youngster frowned. "Thanks for the story Shalia but it would have been better if there had been a dragon that swallowed someone or a warlord that got his butt kicked by Lytrell," she said matter of factly. She gave her friend a tired glance. "Next time?"
The Amazon smiled as she watched the child fall off to sleep. "Yes, perhaps next time my little friend," she whispered placing a soft kiss on the youngsters forehead.
Xena returned with a pot of broth in time to hear the last of the story being told. She glanced over and saw that her small child was now fast asleep. "I dont know how you did it and I dont even care but thank you again." She shook her head. "I seem to say that to you a lot." She stared at the woman. "Shalia I know there is something very unique about you. You step lighter then anyone even me And you always do or say the right thing. Who are you?" she asked feeling her senses coming alive at the mystery.
It was a point blank question.
Shalias expression turned a bit cold. "Xena I am just an Amazon. My name is Shalia and I wish to do nothing but help my people and right now your little daughter as well." She tilted her head to one side. "I have my special gifts just as you and Tarren do. There are some things you should not question but merely accept at face value," she said with a voice that spoke of many years of experience.
The warrior considered the cryptic but honest response. The Amazon owed her no
explanations and Xena knew it. "Youre right. Youve been nothing but a good
friend to us both since we arrived here and here I am trying to
Shalia placed a gentle hand on the warriors arm. Xena could not help but notice that while the touch had an unusually soothing feel it was also quite cold. "You are tired. You need your rest as much as Tarren does. Why dont you sleep? I will post a guard to see you are not disturbed." The words were spoken but heard almost as an echo in a dream.
The warrior yawned. All of a sudden her daylong vigil was catching up to the mother. "Maybe youre right." She walked past the Amazon and slid into the pallet beside her child wrapped her arms gently around the youngster and in a moment she too fell asleep.
Shalia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Protect them," she whispered tot he air above before leaving the hut.
The little girls eyes flickered open. "Momma." She looked around at the unfamiliar foliage. "Why are we sitting in a tree Momma?" she asked with a yawn.
The warrior placed a lone finger over her lips to quiet the child and pointed to the invading Amazons below.
The little girl rolled out her lower lip and started to rise. "Uh oh Lets go kick some butt Momma."
The warrior immediately placed a firm hand on the child. "You just stay where you
are. Its bad enough
." Shocked by the childs sudden burst of energy
the mother placed a hand on the youngsters forehead. The fever was gone.
"Tarren youre not even warm anymore. How do you feel?" she asked trying
unsuccessfully to contain her relief.
The little girl shrugged. "Im tired Momma, but I can still kick some butt if youre ready."
The warrior kissed the little girl on the cheek and said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever god had watched over her small daughter. "Ok no butt kicking for you, but I do have an idea. However, were gonna have to work together and be very careful. Ok?"
The youngster smiled. This would be her first official partnership with her warrior mother. "Yes Momma."
Xena grinned and revealed her plan.
Queen Mussona stood beside Ephiny ready to do battle as well. "Penela you dare to invade one of your sister tribes. I will hunt you down myself," she growled, taking a step forward. "No one here killed your daughter."
Before another word could be spoken a small voice broke through the crowd. "I did it."
Ephiny glanced past Penela and saw Gabrielle approaching. The younger womans demeanor was calm but her face was tired and without conviction. "Gabrielle what are you saying you didnt kill her. What are you doing?" the queen asked taking a careful step toward her approaching friend.
The bard moved closer to the group. "Im preventing more worthless bloodshed Ephiny. Thats what Im doing." She motioned up to the seated queen and then to the Amazons still fighting around them. "I will give my life gratefully to save the lives of all of these people," she said with her chin held high.
Penela stared at he young woman and shook her head knowing this girl could not have struck down her warrior daughter. "Who are you child?" she asked with a smirk.
This was the one question the bard did not have answer to. She had been asking herself the very thing all morning. "I am Gabrielle and I take responsibility for the death of your daughter so please tell your Amazons to cease their attack and I will go with you willingly," she replied quietly.
Penela smiled at the thought of a convicted murdered guilty or not. "Cease her," she yelled.
However, before the bard could be taken there was the familiar sound of a battle cry singing through the air and the great Warrior Princess landed in front of her friend sword drawn. She kicked two approaching guards to the ground and took a steady position in front of Gabrielle. "I dont think I want you to do that," she hissed waving her blade up at Penela.
Penela glared at the leather-clad warrior. "Who are you?"
The warrior offered an evil smile. "I am Xena."
Penela took a deep breath but remained calm. "I have heard of you."
Xena arched her brow and let her voice drop to a threatening tone. "Good then you know that my army is the biggest and most ruthless in all of Greece, so lay down your weapons before I order them to attack." She glanced around the village. "These Amazons are my property."
Ephiny frowned at the warriors choice of tactic but said nothing.
Penela dismounted and faced the great warrior. "How do I know you eve have an army?" she asked motioning to he all too quiet woods.
Xena laughed wickedly. "Oh you want a demonstration." She pointed her blade at the neck of the old queen and purred. "Very well a small one just for you " She looked around and took a deep breath. "Warrior I give you the order to take one Amazon down but only one. The rest are mine," she yelled.
There was silence and then somewhere in the back of the crowd there was a groan and the sound of a body sliding to the ground. "Hmm guess thats one the archer got," the warrior said with a smile hoping Tarren had at least aimed for one of the opposing Amazons.
Penela looked to the trees in disbelief. "I never even saw the arrow."
Xena took a step forward pushing her blade forward. "And you wont see the others either so lower your weapons before I tell my army to open fire," she ordered through clenched teeth.
Penela knew of Xenas reputation and while she had come to seek revenge for the death of her daughter the queen had not come to see her other daughters killed. She raised her arm in the air and then lowered it and in moments the sounds of staffs and sword being tossed to the ground were all that could be heard. Ephinys people gathered the weapons and formed the prisoners in the center of the compound beside their old queen.
Penela turned to look for the Warrior Princess but Xena had disappeared as fast as she had come. The old queen glared at Ephiny. "Do what you will to us. The rest of my people will come. The death shall be avenged," she said with a mix of pain and venom.
Ephiny eyes shot through Penela like sharp daggers. "You foolish old woman. I have
lost one maybe even two scout parties searching for the killer of Tyrell and you dare
to enter my lands and raise a sword to me in a time of peace," she seethed.
Penela took a step forward and even Ephiny could see the loss of the daughter was weighing heavily on the old queens heart. "I want the killer of my child."
Ephiny let her muscles ease a bit as she realized that this woman was just a mother who had lost her child. "So do I," she said emphatically.
Penela motioned to the bard. "What of that one? She even confessed." Now the
old queen was desperate to blame anyone.
Ephinys expression softened a bit as she stared at her young friend. "That Penela is Princess Gabrielle and you could take a few lessons in leadership from her We both could." She bowed her head. "She was willing to take responsibility for a death she did not cause just so she could save the lives of my people and yours."
Penela stood straight and regained her stoic composure. "You are just lucky to have been saved by the Warrior Princess and her great army," she said with a touch of venom.
Ephiny glanced at Gabrielle who shrugged her own lack of understanding.
All questions were answered when Xena appeared holding a small child wrapped in blankets and holding a slingshot in one arm and her sword in the other. The mother smiled and pointed her sword once again at Penelas throat. "Id like you to meet my army."
A horrified look came over the old queens face and she glanced at her warriors hoping one amongst them would offer understanding. She stared at the little girl in awe and disbelief. "One small child?"
"Yup." Xena pushed the point of her blade just enough to show she was
serious. "And shes my small child. Your presence here caused me to take
my sick little girl out into the cold and for that I might just slit your throat."
She glanced at Tarren. The childs eyes were wide with expectation. "Or
not." She sheathed her sword and kissed her youngster affectionately. "You did
really good baby," she said to the now smiling child.
Tarren raised her chin in the air and swung her slingshot in front of her. "I got one didnt I Momma?" she asked proudly.
Xena nodded and gave the youngster a gentle squeeze. "Yes you did."
The child stared at the old queen. She had the largest bonnet of feathers the child had ever seen. "Ooooh shes got lots of feathers." She fingered her mothers armor. "Momma do ya think she needs that many?" she asked hopefully.
Xena stared at the old Amazon and nodded. "Yeah she sure does have lots of them." She arched a brown and glared at the woman making her warning clear. "Penela I think a feather is more than a fair trade for sparing your life dont you?" she purred.
The old queen looked from the warrior to the child and let out a long breath. She reached into her bonnet and yanked out a plume offering to hand it to the child only to have the warriors hand meet it first. "Ill give it to her for you. Thanks." Xena faced her little one and grinned. "Here ya go you little feather monster," she said, kissing the little girls head and squeezing her tight still relieved that the youngster was no longer with fever. "How are you feeling now?"
"Good Momma. Wanna go pelt a few more of the naughty Amazons?" She rubbed her hands together hopefully.
The warrior gave Ephiny a lopsided smile and then looked back at her small daughter. "No youve done enough pelting little girl."
The child rolled out her lower lip "Well then can I see the one I got?"
Xena considered the sight of an angry Amazon with a growing headache from the thud of a rock hitting them in the back of the head. She turned and looked in that direction and just as she feared Eponon was now getting to her feet rubbing the back of her neck. "Uh No youre going back into your warm bed," she replied with parental authority.
"But Momma you said I was better," the youngster argued.
The mother sighed. "You are but youre still sick and I want to see that you stay better so you are going back to bed. No arguments." This word was final.
The child frowned and pressed her arms against her chest. "But Im the
army," she moaned.
The warrior mother arched her brow and lowered her voice. "And Im the Warrior Princess in charge of the army and your mother. Care to make a complaint?" she asked with a warning stare.
Tarren swallowed hard and unfolded her arms. "No Momma. Ill go back to bed," she replied quietly.
Xena grinned and again kissed the child. "Good girl. Ill be there in a little while." She handed the youngster to Gabrielle who was grateful just to hold her. "Would you take her back?"
The bard nodded and said a silent prayer to Artemis to thank her for any efforts she
had made on behalf of this small wonder. "Id love too."
Tarren wrapped her arms around her friends neck and Xena smiled as she heard the child chattering about how the warrior had given her a bunch of rocks and left her in the tree to hit the naughty Amazons. The warrior mother knew this was a story that would be told and retold many times.
Ephiny smiled as she watched the pair walk off. "Xena that is some kid you have there."
The warrior nodded in agreement. "Thanks Eph I think shes pretty special too."
Once she was sure her child was out of earshot the warrior turned to Penela "If you were not so old I would cut you in two for what you did," she said with venom.
Penela thought of the sick child and felt her resolve melt a bit. However she remained stoic in her stance. "I did what I have a right to do to avenge my childs death." She glared at the warrior. "I hope you are proud of your little trick A mere child was your army?" She shook her head. "Is that how my daughter was killed as well? Did you trick her with a baby in the trees or just stick a sword in her back," she yelled.
Xena closed her eyes fighting the impulse to knock this old queen right on her royal. "You heard Ephiny tell you that no one here killed your daughter. Didnt your returning band of assassins tell you that?" she asked wanting the old queen to know that her plan had been foiled early on.
Penela had a look of genuine shock at the words. "What are you talking about?" She let her eyes wander tot he skies above. Tyrell went out on her own. She felt that an alliance might threaten her place as my successor. By the time I found out her plans it was too late." She focused on Xena. "I never sent her anywhere and as for her friends they never returned either."
Xena looked at Ephiny. This news destroyed the theory of Tyrells own band killing her.
However, before another word could be exchanged a horse with the body of one young Amazon slumped in the saddle, rode into camp. The skittish animal came to an obedient halt when Xena grabbed the reigns. "Whoa boy!" She calmed the horse and gently pulled the body from the saddle.
Ephiny looked at the face of the young Amazon and her head dropped to her chest. "Thats Mela. She was one of Shelopas messengers." The warrior listened for a heat beat but hearing none shook her head and lowered the young woman to the ground. She pulled an arrow from the girls back and broke it in half. "They got her while she was retreating bastards." Xena could feel her blood turn to ice at the thought of yet another senseless death of a mere youngster.
Penela pushed her way through the crowd. "What is this all about?" she asked
wondering what all the commotion was about.
Ephiny caressed the young Amazons face and shook her head. "Its about cloud people and the ground opening up," she yelled repeating the old queens words as the only answer she had to this mystery.
Penelas eyes went wide as she heard the legendary words spoken. "What of the
cloud people? Why do you speak of things like that?" she asked in a cold and low
Ephiny stared at the old queen. "You know of these cloud people?" she asked in disbelief that such a race actually existed.
Xena glanced over at the young Amazons saddle and noticed a small sack tied tot the saddle. She pushed past the group back to the horse and removed it. She removed the metal object inside and handed it to Ephiny.
The Amazons eyes grew wide and her hands shook as she stared at the ancient
object. "It cant be," she said her face turning white.
Xena looked at the odd insignia on the front of the helmet. "What is it Eph?" she asked noting the genuine fear on her usually stoic friends face.
Ephiny looked to Mussona and Penela who shared the looks of fear and shock. She swallowed hard and pointed to the symbol of an ancient sword on the front of the helmet. "Xena, that is the sign of an Argonian Warrior." She paused and took a deep breath. "The ones of the legend I told Tarren of."
Penela ran her own fingers along the cool metal. "The cloud people," she whispered.
Xena threw a halting in the air. "Now just wait." She pointed to Ephiny. "You said that these Argonians were sent into some sort of oblivion by Artemis like a 100 summers ago." She pointed to Penela. "And you keep calling them cloud people." She placed her hands on her hips. "Would someone mind shedding just a little light for me."
Penela lowered her eyes and let her muscles ease. She turned to Ephiny. "It looks as if I owe you an apology Queen Ephiny. My daughter was killed by something hideous." She let her shoulders drop and all of a sudden the great queen of the east appeared old. "Tyrell," she mumbled. Her aids rushed to her side to hold the old woman and Xena caught her before Penela fell to the ground.
"Get her to the healers hut," the warrior barked.
At the hut
Penela pushed the healer away tiring of being doted over. "Enough I am old and you have no cure for that." She took a deep breath and stared at Ephiny and Mussona and back to Xena. "What do any of you really know of the Argonians?" she asked catching her breath.
Ephiny stepped forward. "What we all know is the same. Our people once mated with
them until they tricked Queen Reea into believing there would be a joining and then they
attacked and scattered the Amazons."
The old queen shook her head and forced a sick smile. "Childs fairy tales." Penela swallowed hard. "And do you know how they managed to take an entire nation of Amazons so easily?" she asked with a sigh.
Mussona was the first to respond. "No."
Penela slid from the healers table and stared off into the distance. "They
worshipped a god of the sky of their own making called Perin and it is said that Perin put
the touch of the clouds in their hands. They could call upon the very sight of the highest
mist and that is what they did. They called to the clouds to drop from the sky while they
hid in the trees and while our people, women and children alike struggled to find their
families and their homes in the smoky mist they attacked
slaughtering as many as they
could. They did not care if their victims were old or children. They wanted mates and
slaves and resistance meant a horrible death."
Xena swallowed hard at the image of children being cut down as they ran. "But I thought Artemis sent them away," she said quietly.
Penela laughed a bit. "She imprisoned them in the most hideous place she could think of the void of darkness that lives below us the abyss. She offered them an eternity of suffering for the crimes against the Amazons. But after so many summers it looks like they have escaped or that someone let them out," she replied in a near whisper.
Ephiny took a deep breath and steadied herself against a wall. "This is all so
much. How come I never heard this part of the story?" she asked remembering how she
had always maintained an image of brave Amazons fighting rather than running.
Penelas expression became soft and maternal. "Because child we the older leaders decided through the generations that it was best that our children be told only of the great Reea and the noble Amazons and spare our descendants the cold hearted nightmares of the evil Argonians." She lowered her eyes. "But now it seems the nightmare walks amongst us again."
Ephiny paced nervously back and forth. "No not again. Our people will not got through this again." She called to a guard and one appeared in an instant. "Triple the sentry around the village and tell Eponon I want to see her."
The guard sprinted out the door.
Xena moved closer to her friend. "Ephiny what are you thinking of doing?" she asked concerned by her amazon friends lack of rational thinking.
The queen turned on her heal and faced the warrior. "Im going to war
I am going to find them before they find us," she replied with a seething
tone the warrior recognized all too well.
The warrior let out a long breath and shook her head. "You cant not yet. We need to have a plan and at least take time to think about how ."
The angry queen held up a halting hand. "No Xena! My warriors and friends my people are either dead or prisoners of these creatures. I will not wait any longer," she declared.
Xena could see that her friends mind would not be changed. "Then Im going with you."
Ephiny shook her head and tried to calm herself as she spoke. "No Xena. I need you stay behind because if I fail then you and your plan will be our only hope."
Back at the cottage
Gabrielle caressed the small childs face finding it hard to believe the fever had
come and gone so fast. "So do you wanna hear a story now?" she asked with a
Tarren nodded. "Uh huh but tell me why the bad Amazons attacked first."
The bard slid onto the side of the pallet and let out a long breath. "Because they thought we did something bad to one of their people and they were really upset," she replied hoping that was enough of an answer.
The child frowned and gave the bard a raised brow. "Was someone here naughty that I dont know about?"
The young woman smiled and shook her head. "No these people just thought someone was naughty. You know how silly we grown ups can be."
The child leaned up against her friends shoulder and nodded. "Yeah you need a system like me and Mommy have."
Gabrielle grinned at the little girls use of maternal title. "We sure do brat." She tried to smile "How about that story?" she asked giving the youngster a gentle nudge.
Tarren nuzzled closer making sure she was comfortable. "Ok go ahead Gabby."
The bard smiled and placed a loving arm around the youngster. "Once upon a time
there were three travelers. One was A warrior princess."
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes." She continued. "One was a bard."
Tarren patted her friends arm. "You Gabby?"
The young woman smiled happy for the familiar interruptions. "Yes and the third
and most loved by all was a very small princess."
"A Warrior Princess in training like me?" the child asked hopefully.
"Yes it could even be you Tarren."
The child sighed and lay her head down on her friends stomach anxious for more of the story. "Ok go ahead. Its good so far."
Well they three traveled around a lot and did lots of good things
to help people. The Warrior Princess fought all kinds of bad people and was very well know
"Thats my Mommy," the child stated proudly.
"Yes it is." Gabrielle felt her eyes tear a bit as she continued. "And the little princess was just like her momma in so many ways that the bard often found it hard to believe that she could be so lucky as to have not one but two of these very wonderful people in her life."
Tarren smiled and then bit her lip. "Gabby did the little princess get in lots of
trouble and get spankins and stuff from her Warrior Mommy Princess?" she asked.
The bard wiped a few stray hairs from the childs cheek and nodded. "Well yes the little princess did find it hard to stay out of trouble and the warrior mother was pretty strict but only because she loved her so much."
The youngster let out a sigh and shrugged. "I figured that. Ya even got a system in the story."
Gabrielle smiled a bit. "One day the bard decided that she wanted to be a princess too and have people respect her and need her the way they did the Warrior Princess, so she told herself that she was an Amazon Princess," she said, staring up at he ceiling thinking of the days events.
Tarren rolled on her side to face her friend. "But Gabby you are and Amazon Princess."
The bard pushed the child gently back into the pallet. "Shh this is a story." She lowered her eyes. "So the bard turned princess put on all these feather s and walked around the village telling everyone what she thought and trying to polish and fix things that really werent broken."
The youngster twisted her lips at the idea of fixing something that did not need repair. "Why Gabby?"
The bard closed her eyes and let her voice become low. "Because she didnt really know how to be a princess so she tried to learn how to act like one."
"Was it real important to her?" the child asked with concern.
Gabrielle thought for a moment and then shook her head. "She thought so for a while and then one day she realized something very important." She faced the little girl "You see she had been watching the Warrior Princess taking care of the little princess one day when it suddenly occurred to her that just putting on a few feathers and walking around telling people what to do did not make a good princess."
"What does?" the youngster asked eager for information.
The bard thought of her leather bound friend and smiled. "Well being like your Momma and knowing when to act and when to react and knowing when to say something and when not to." She smiled. "You see Tarren the bard learned that being a princess came from inside." She pointed tot he childs heart. "And it was most important to be a good person before you were anything else."
The child giggled at the touch. "So what happened to the three travelers
Gabrielle kissed the little girl on the cheek. "I think that the Warrior Princess learned that being a Momma was more important than even being a princess. The bard learned that she liked being just a bard for the moment and that having the her two friends really close all the time was more important than anything else." She paused. "You see the bard loved them both very much and the little princess was very special to her."
Tarren smiled at the way the three familiar travelers remained a family. She ran her fingers up her friends shoulder. "Uh Gabby Did the little princess get a spankin for anything new that ya know of?" she asked with a broad smile.
The bard chuckled a bit and pulled the little girl closer. "Not that I remember Tarren."
The youngster sighed with relief. "Did the three live happy ever after?"
Gabrielle smiled as she considered her response. "I think so honey but I do know one thing for sure."
The bard tickled the childs side. "That the Warrior Princess and the bard both loved the little princess very much and they both always hoped she knew that," she said softly.
Tarren grinned and hugged her friend tightly to thank her for the story. "I think
she woulda known that Gabby. Ill bet she was a real smart little kid."
Gabrielle returned the embrace. "Good."
The little girl leaned back. She was certainly hearing her share of strange stories today "But ya know Gabby it would been a better story if maybe the little princess had gotten to kick a dragons butt or something."
Tarren was eager to hear a story about a little kid and a dragon and some butt kicking.
The bard smiled and wrapped her arms around the child. "Next story Ok?"
The child frowned knowing Shalia had made the very same promise. "Uh huh."
The door to the cottage swung open and Xena walked in. Seeing Tarren was awake she
forced a smile. "Gabrielle Ephiny really needs to speak to you right now."
The bard kissed the little girl and rose from the pallet. "Ill be back."
The bard started to walk past her friend and was stopped by the large hand. "What
you did out there was pretty stupid. You could have been killed." She closed her
eyes. "But Im really proud of you for trying to do it."
Gabrielle nodded. "Thanks." She moved closer to her friend and let her voice drop to a whisper. "What does Eph need to see me about. Whats happening?" she asked confused by her friends anxious demeanor.
Xena closed her eyes and let out a long breath. "War Gabrielle. Were going to war." The words rung through the air like a distant bell chiming in the wind.
TBCNeed I tell you to feed Little Ego? J Shes very hungry and we have a long way to go. Part ten is in the works so write with your thoughts. Fantimbard@aol.com
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