Disclaimer: 

The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the author’s permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, and HOME SWEET HOME You really MUST read those stories first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.

 

Xena Warrior Mother Series – Story 5

The Little Thief of Hearts - Part IV

By Fantimbard@aol.com

 

 Part 4 -

 

Chapter 10 – Plans of Her Own

 

Gabrielle left the youngster lying on the pallet to finish her sentence of confinement.

Tarren waited for her friend to be long out of earshot and then hopped off the bed in search of her absent uncle.

"Uncle Lyceus?" the youngster called, but there was no response.

"Uncle Lyceus where are you?" the child yelled, and the shimmering figure suddenly appeared in a corner of the room.

The child smiled at the sight. "Hey where have you been? I haven’t seen you since I fell asleep on that cliff," the youngster chided.

"I…didn’t think…you’d want to see me…I’ve done nothing but get you in trouble…You could have been killed on that mountain, and I know Sis really let you have it too…I’m sorry Tarren…I guess I just can’t help. They should have sent someone else," Lyceus said shrinking against the wall in the corner of the room.

The child stood beside her uncle and shook her head. "It’s Ok Uncle Lyceus…Momma came to get me, so I didn’t get hurt. And I even got to put a flag on Momma’s pole," the little one said with a far away smile, still remembering the glorious sight.

"But ya still haven’t gotten what you want. She still hasn’t told anyone you’re her kid, and ya got your butt paddled to boot," he said kicking the tip of his shimmering foot into the floor.

"Yeah well…that’s true. Your plans are not very good, but I know you try real hard to help. Momma was real worried about me, and Gabby says that’s a good thing cause it tells ya how much someone cares. Besides I think Momma has made it clear that she’s not gonna change her mind…it’s not important really," the child replied quietly, trying to find a positive side to her situation.

Lyceus shook his head. "No Tarren you’re wrong. It’s real important that Xena tell people who you are. It’s important for both of you. Ya don’t understand…I was sent to…."

The child thought about her uncle’s words and interrupted before he could say the word plan. "Look Uncle Lyceus do you really want to help me with something important?" she asked.

 

The ghost nodded. "Of course anything."

 

"Anything?" the little girls asked, hoping that covered the full scope of her mind.

 

"Sure what did ya have in mind?" the ghost asked, eager for a chance to do something right.

"Well we’re gonna be leaving Amphipolis soon, and I haven’t gotten to see much of where Momma grew up. I’d sure like to have one day to explore all by myself. Besides I need to get Momma a birthday present," the child said with a sigh.

"But Tarren Xena is never gonna let you wander around alone. You’re just a little kid. You’re not even allowed out of your room right now. If you try and take off she’ll tan your little behind again for sure."

"Well maybe Momma and Gabby and Grandma will be suddenly called out of town and I’ll be left here alone for just a little while," the youngster replied with a grin.

"Tarren that will never happen," Lyceus said firmly.

"Oh it might if we help just little," the sneaky child whispered.

"What? No…I’m not going to allow you to be left alone here…I’ll tell Xena and boy will you get it," he chided.

The youngster tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. "Look you said you would help. Besides I just wanna get Momma a birthday present and have some fun. I might as well get something I want since Momma is never gonna tell anyone I’m her kid. And as long as people don’t know I’m Xena’s kid they won’t care what I do or don’t do. Are you gonna help me or not?" she asked, giving her shimmering uncle a sad pout.

"Tarren…."

"You said anything…and you did get me in trouble with Momma," she reminded him, rubbing her bottom again to send the point home.

 

"Oh Ok, but I know this is a very bad idea."

 

The youngster jumped up with excitement eager to share her plan with Lyceus.

That night Xena lay in bed watching Tarren as the child slept. The warrior was thinking of Solon and all the losses in her life. She touched the youngster’s face as she slept and kissed her cheek, "I give you my vow little one. No matter where we go or what we do, I will never let anything take you from me."

The warrior mother put her hand protectively over her small daughter and watched carefully to make sure nothing would dare to harm her.

 

The following morning Tarren awoke and noticed Xena was, as usual, already up. The child dressed and ran to the kitchen hoping she was not going to be confined to her room for yet another day.

Tarren felt that Xena and Gabrielle never let her out of their sight long enough to do anything fun, and Tarren desperately wanted to get Xena a birthday present on her own. She decided that it was best to forget her wishes of grandeur of being called Xena’s kid and go back to life as just a kid enjoying what she did best, everything she shouldn’t. Inspired by her uncle’s previous plans, the child decided to come up with a plan of her own. The thing the little girl forgot was how badly a Lyceus plan always turned out.

 

When she reached the kitchen Tarren noticed that the inn already had a few people in it.

"Hi Grandma" the youngster said with a cautious stare, scanning the room with her eyes trying to spot her mother’s large form.

The older woman smiled and reached out to hug the youngster. " How are you doing little one?" she asked, sympathetic to the child’s plight, and feeling a bit responsible for sharing the story that encouraged her misdeed.

"I’m Ok," she said with a mischievous grin, realizing that a bit of guilt from her grandmother might come in handy.

The older woman kissed the child’s cheek and offered her some warm bread and cheese for breakfast along with the usual mug of milk.

"Uh where’s Momma?" the youngster asked, her eyes peering out into the inn, but not spotting the warrior.

"Oh she’s around…Why?" the grandmother asked, wondering if she might be of some service.

"Well I’m not sure if I’m allowed out of my room or not, so I figured I’d better ask her," the child replied with a wide-eyed stare of innocence, hoping her grandmother would rush to her defense.

"Oh you really don’t think my mother is going to offer you any sympathy after what happened yesterday…forget it," the shimmering uncle said with a yawn as he sat on the scalding stove.

"Well I am sure Xena will send you right back to bed. She was pretty upset last night. You scared her pretty good child, but maybe…if…I ask her to let me take you shopping with me she’ll at least let you out for that. Would you like to go?" the older woman asked with a wink

 

"Son of Zeus Mom if I had done what she had done…Gods you sure have changed."

Shopping was not exactly what Tarren had hoped for, but she would take anything she could get. She needed to get out of the inn long enough to get a few supplies and some help in order to put her plan into action.

Before the little girl had a chance to respond a husky voice from the doorway spoke.

"Where will you go?" the warrior mother asked, staring down at her daughter.

"Ok Tarren here comes the end of your big plan and it’s a good thing too."

Tarren looked at Xena and Cyrene and then frowned at the chatty ghost.

"Daughter you should not listen in on private conversations," the grandmother admonished.

Xena just cocked her head and smiled.

The warrior eyed her young daughter. "Good morning Tarren and were you making plans to go out today?" the mother asked, moving in beside her child.

"Nope kid you are staying right here."

The youngster bit her lip trying to ignore her uncle’s lack of faith. "Uh good morning Momma…I just wanted to know you if I was allowed out of my room today?" the child asked, trying to keep her eyes low.

The child felt sure that if Xena could see straight into her eyes, at that moment, all her secrets would be instantly revealed.

The warrior mother shook her head. "Sorry no, but you are staying in your room for the rest of the day and tomorrow little girl. I want you thinking about what I said yesterday," the mother replied sternly, reaching for an apple from the counter.

"Told ya. Now let’s go back to the room and play warlord."

The child lowered her head and started dragging her feet back toward the bedroom feeling that her plan now had no hope. "Yes ma’am," she squeaked.

Xena grinned as she watched the sullen little figure pass by her. The warrior mother had to admit the child had a lot of nerve to think she would be allowed to wander again after her most recent exploits.

 

Cyrene took a deep breath and faced her daughter. "Xena do you think that perhaps I could at least take her shopping with me for a little while. I would like to spend some time with Tarren before you leave," Cyrene asked, in a pleading tone, the warrior had never heard from her mother before.

"Mother! What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this child has planned?"

"Snitch," the little girl mumbled under her breath, forcing her uncle into a silence.

The warrior looked at her mother’s face and then the small figure, which had paused in the doorway waiting for a response.

"Mother…I just can’t…She is…fine…take her shopping, but then it is straight back to her room when you return," Xena said surrendering, to the pouting faces around her.

Even the great warrior could not handle being ambushed from both ends of the family tree.

"Xena you fell for that. By the gods Sis can’t you tell when you are being manipulated."

Cyrene removed her apron and smiled. "Thank you daughter," the older woman said kissing the warrior’s cheek, as she entered the inn to get her things.

"Well it looks like I’m gonna have to handle this situation all on my own."

Xena nodded and stared down at the child waiting for direct instructions from her warrior mother. The warrior knelt down beside her daughter and shook a warning finger.

"Now I’m letting you go because I want you to spend time with your grandmother, but Tarren I swear you had better behave yourself. I don’t want to here of so much as one misdeed on your part. Do you understand?" she asked in a parental tone, which left no room for questions.

The child nodded. "Yes Momma…I’ll be good," she replied with her most innocent stare.

"No she won’t Sis. She is about to do something very bad I tell ya…very bad."

Xena got to her feet and looked down at her child. She grinned and gave the youngster a gentle kiss on the head. "Ok then have a good time, but behave yourself," she warned once again.

Tarren felt a slight pang of guilt as she looked up into the loving eyes of her mother. The child hoped that her uncle was wrong and that her plan would be a great success.

Cyrene returned to the kitchen and motioned for her granddaughter to take her hand.

Tarren kept a close eye on her mother’s gaze as she walked past the warrior.

"Coming?" the child, asked her sulking Uncle

"Uh…No I need a rest…You go ahead," he said contemplating a course of action.

Xena glanced at her daughter and was somewhat surprised that the little girl would want her presence knowing she would be watching the child’s every move.

"Nope! I am trusting you to behave yourself," the mother replied sternly

 

"Huh…Ok…Bye Momma, the tiny voice squeaked with a wave.

Xena wiggled her fingers in farewell. "Remember what I said," she responded, before biting into her apple.

The child just stared at her mother and allowed Cyrene to lead her out of the inn.

 

 The warrior leaned up against the counter shaking her head, and Gabrielle walked in with a plateful of empty mugs.

"Hey where’s Cyrene?" the young woman asked, scanning the kitchen.

"Look guys I have to go get some advice about all this. You’ll have to manage without me for a bit."

Xena looked at her friend and smiled at the young woman’s somewhat disheveled appearance. Cyrene had put Gabrielle to work busing tables, feeling that her story telling was not straining enough for the bard’s character growth.

"She took Tarren shopping," the warrior replied with a smirk.

The bard dropped the tray on the counter with a crash, making no attempt to hide her frustration, "Oh she did and just who is watching the inn today?" she asked.

Xena thought about it and her shoulder’s slumped. "Well…I guess we are," the warrior moaned, reaching for her mother’s apron.

The bard frowned. "Well that’s just great warrior because those people by the door would like three plates of your mother’s eggs," the bard said with quick grin.

Xena moved toward the stove. "Not a problem. I have many skills. I can cook a few eggs. Where is the frying pan and…the eggs?" the warrior asked, looking around the room.

The Amazon Queen pushed the Warrior Princess to the side. "You may have many skills, but cooking is not one of them. We all know that. You bus the tables and I’ll cook the food. It will prevent a village outbreak of food poisoning," the young woman muttered, reaching for the pan and a basket of eggs.

Xena grinned and backed away from the stove. "Ok you’re the boss Gabrielle. I’ll go wait on tables," the warrior answered with a glint in her eyes.

The bard turned before the warrior could exit. "Uh Xena would you mind telling me why Tarren is out shopping when we both agreed she would spend the rest of our time here in her room?" the young woman asked with a scowl.

The warrior leaned against the doorway and let out a deep breath. "Mother wanted to spend some time with her, so I gave the kid a few hours parole to be with her. Gabrielle I don’t know when we’ll get back here again, so when Mother asked I just couldn’t say no," the warrior replied with a heavy sigh.

Gabrielle nodded. "Well my big tough warrior. Your daughter, who is supposed to be grounded, is out shopping and having fun while we are now stuck here inside cooking and cleaning dishes. Would you like to tell me just who you think you’re punishing?" the bard asked, holding the frying pan menacingly in the air.

Xena thought about it and frowned. "That little scamp…She did again," the warrior mother said with a grin. "How does she always manage to turn things around like that?" the muscular woman asked.

Gabrielle smiled and started cracking eggs into the large pan. "Easy she’s your daughter," the bard mumbled, with a quick grin.

  

Cyrene walked through the village stores proudly introducing Tarren to every person she knew. While she was not being identified as a blood relative, the child’s grandmother did have a certain way of letting people know how important the youngster was in her family unit.

At first Tarren enjoyed the attention, but after a while she felt she was being made a spectacle of.

"Grandma can we go look for a present for…Momma?" she asked quietly, looking around to make sure the coast was clear before she said the words.

Cyrene smiled at the child. "Ok dear …well what did you want to buy?" the grandmother asked, thinking how cute it was for the to child want to spend her weekly dinar on Xena’s birthday.

The child sighed. "I dunno…I’m not sure, but I want it to be a surprise," the youngster said quietly.

Tarren passed by a weapons shop and tried to drag her grandmother inside. Cyrene quickly pulled the child to a halt. "No that is not an appropriate place for a little girl. If Xena wants something from in there then she can buy it herself," the older woman said sternly.

The child was about to argue the point when she remembered her mother’s stern warning about behaving herself and not letting her hear about ‘one misdeed.’

"Yes ma am," the little one replied, heading away from the place she knew had what she was looking for.

Any doubts about the need of her plan were now gone. If she was to accomplish all her goals, the plan needed to be put into action quickly.

Cyrene pulled Tarren into Etos's shop feeling it was a much better place for her granddaughter to be. The child looked around as if shopping. She already knew what she wanted her mother’s gift to be, and it was not to be found in Etos shop.

However on the counter was a small wooden pipe with finger holes.

"What does it do?" she asked the friendly man behind the counter.

He grinned at the youngster, picked it up and blew into it. "It makes sounds little Tarren…like music if you play it right," he replied with a grin.

"Try it," Etos, said handing the toy to the eager child.

Tarren blew into it and smiled at the little toot it made.

Cyrene could not help but grin at the simple pleasure she saw in her granddaughter’s eyes playing with such a toy.

"Etos we’ll take it," she decided, reaching into her pouch for some dinars.

Tarren turned around to face her grandmother. "No…Cyrene…You don’t have to buy it for me," the child argued, knowing Gabrielle or her mother would surely buy her such a toy if she really wanted it.

The grandmother’s face became cold at being called Cyrene by her grandchild.

It had taken the grandmother long enough to get the child to accept her only to be robbed of her title by her own daughter’s rules.

"Young lady you are not arguing with me are you?" she asked her tone more parental than Xena’s ever was.

The youngster smiled and shook her head. "No ma’am," she replied, now happy to follow Xena’s rules on obeying her elders.

The older woman nodded. "Good thing. Now as I said Etos we will take that and give this youngster whatever else it is she wants," the grandmother said with finality.

Tarren’s eyes grew wide at the invitation or order that had just been mandated by the current person in charge of her. This had potential to be a very good day.

 

 

Tarren shopped all day with Cyrene, and when they finally returned, the youngster found herself carrying a load of packages most of which contained items her grandmother had bought for her.

As they entered the now empty inn, the child dropped the parcels quickly on the table in front of Xena and Gabrielle.

Cyrene could not help but notice how tired the two young women looked. After all, the inn appeared quite empty.

"What did you two do …buy half of the village?" Xena asked staring at the bundles.

The bard chuckled sorry she had not joined them on the shopping spree.

Tarren, still fearing another of her mother’s scolding, waited for permission to stay. The warrior shook her head and patted her leg motioning the child to take comfortable refuge on her lap. Tarren grinned and happily slid onto her mother’s legs, exhausted from the haul.

"Now daughter...Tarren needed a few things, so I bought them for her," Cyrene said with conviction, knowing Xena might protest.

"Mother you didn’t have to buy her anything. She really doesn’t need anything. We took her shopping many times, and bought her everything she needed and many things she did not," Xena said quietly, staring at the bard for support.

The youngster ignored the adult ramblings and reached for the bag of confections Etos had given her.

Xena quickly took the bag from the child’s hands, "Mother you bought her candy. She’s being punished and you bought her candy," the warrior scolded, noting that the bag was already half gone.

"Now Xena in a few days you and Gabrielle and Tarren will be on your way. Would you deny me a little time to spoil my only grandchild?" she asked, her eyes nearly brimming with tears.

The warrior sighed and shook her head feeling trapped by the words. "No mother, of course not," she replied softly, dropping the sack of candy back on the table.

Tarren reached for the older woman’s arm and pulled her down for a hug. "Thank you Grandma," the child said politely.

The youngster was finally realizing the importance of grandmother’s and wished she had more.

The older woman rubbed her hand along the child’s tender cheek and smiled, happy to have her title back. "You are quite welcome granddaughter," she answered before heading into the kitchen to see what was left of her domain.

 

Tarren again reached for the bag of confections triumphantly, but the warrior quickly pushed them out of reach.

"Don’t even think about it. The last thing you need is any more sugar. Besides while your grandmother may have forgotten that you are being punished, I have not, " she whispered in the child’s ear.

This action elicited a fast moan from the youngster who longed to be filled up with confections, but her whining was quickly silenced by her mother’s stare.

Tarren slid against her mother’s chest quietly fiddling with one package. She slowly pulled out her little wooden instrument and started to blow on it.

Xena covered her ears. "Oh no...Please tell me she did not buy you something that makes noise," the warrior mother groaned, staring at the bard.

"Xena it’s just a little flute. I’ll teach her how to play it," the bard said with a grin.

The warrior grimaced. "That’s just what I’m afraid of," the mother murmured.

Xena looked sternly at her daughter. "Ok fess up…What else is in these bags that you conned your grandmother into buying?" the warrior asked, with a slight scowl.

The child’s eyes dropped. "Momma…I didn’t ask her to buy anything...I swear. She told me I shouldn’t argue, so I didn’t. You told me to behave myself, so I did," the child defended innocently.

Xena twisted her face and glanced into the youngster’s wide blue eyes and grinned. "Ok I’m sorry…Tell me what else she bought ya monster," the warrior replied with a soft smirk.

Tarren leaned back on her mother’s chest and pointed to the different packages. "Well those aren’t mine…She bought me clothes, a new satchel, and some other things that are not really important," the child replied, not really wishing to display everything.

Xena picked up a small narrow package that had a familiar shape and feel to it. She tapped it on the table.

"What’s this?" the warrior mother asked eyeing the item closely.

The bard smiled as the child struggled to find an answer other than the truth without lying.

"Well that’s…I forget. I love ya Momma," she replied letting her eyes drop to the side as she nuzzled affectionately against her mother’s shoulder.

Xena grinned at the youngster’s sudden urge to offer such warmth and handed the package to the bard. "Uh huh well since you forgot we’ll just have a little peak inside. Gabrielle if you please?" the warrior asked, patting her daughter’s back gently.

The bard removed the wrapping and inside was a carved wooden handle with a wide stretchy bad attached across the middle.

"Xena is this what I think it is?" the young woman asked with a grin.

The warrior reached over and took the item. She held it in her hand just in front of her daughter’s vision. "Yup it’s a slingshot," she answered, with a frown.

The warrior mother pulled the child forward so that she could look into the youngster’s eyes. "Tarren how many times have you asked me for one of these?" the warrior asked, waving the slingshot in front of the child.

The little one’s shoulders slumped, " Twelve," she answered quietly.

The warrior nodded feeling it was probably more but settling on that number. "And what have I said all twelve times?" she asked sternly.

Tarren bit her lip. "You said…no," she whispered, wanting to bury her head back in her mother’s shoulders, but being pinned in place by the warrior’s strong grip.

"Then why do you have one now?" she asked, letting the child see the coolness of her gaze.

Tarren shifted a little in her mother’s lap trying to get her thoughts straight. "Well cause grandma said I should have anything I wanted and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t ask her for the pony since I figured you’d want to get me that," she replied with a hopeful grin.

The warrior mother shook her head. "Oh you are just full of surprises little one. Well there will be No slingshot, and No pony, and now that your shopping spree is over, I think it’s time for you go back to your room and take a nap. Gabrielle and I will just take a look at these packages of yours to make sure there are no other surprises that you’ve smuggled in," Xena said stiffly, lifting the youngster off of her lap.

"Ahh do I really have to go back to my room?" the youngster moaned, staring longingly at the soon to be absent slingshot.

Xena turned in the chair and faced her daughter letting the child clearly see the lack of humor in her mother’s eyes. "Young lady if I were you I’d get used to being in your room since you may be there for quite a while," the mother scolded.

Tarren bit her lip and looked to the bard and her mother, "But…."

Xena slowly rose to her feet and pointed the way. "Move it," she ordered, sending the child quickly on her way with a brisk swat.

The child skidded through the inn and into her room without muttering another word.

"Little monster," the warrior mother mumbled, sitting herself in front of the mound of packages.

Gabrielle smiled at the youngster’s attempt at regaining her freedom and then stared at the slingshot now in her hand. "Xena would it be so bad to let her have this," the bard asked, holding the toy in the air.

Xena shook her head a bit. "Gabrielle you are as bad as my mother. I’m trying to teach Tarren right from wrong and my mother is buying her candy and toys, and now you want me to give her a slingshot?" the baffled mother asked.

The young woman shrugged. "Well I didn’t mean this moment, but would it be so bad to give her one to play with?" she asked, pulling the band back and aiming the empty sling at the warrior.

Xena sighed at her young friend’s inability to follow through on Tarren’s discipline.

"No I guess not. I had one when I was a kid, but I don’t want her going behind my back to get stuff. She has to learn that when I say no that I mean no," the warrior thundered, stuffing the small package of confections in her hand and heading in the direction of the bedroom.

The bard nodded in agreement as she watched her friend depart. "Uh Xena where are you going?" the young woman asked with a smirk.

Xena stopped and slowly turned around. "I’m just going to make sure that Tarren is in bed the way she’s supposed to be," the warrior mother said evenly, starting on her way once again.

"Oh…Why are you taking the candies with you?" the young woman asked with a broad smile.

Xena let out a deep breath and turned. "Well…I might get hungry on the way back there Ok?" she replied with a quick glare.

Gabrielle playfully aimed the slingshot at her friend wishing she had a small pebble to aim. "Sure…you big, bad, tough warrior mother you," the bard said with a giggle.

Xena did not even bother to turn around. She decided it was best to quit while she was behind rather than try and offer a failed justification for her actions.

 

 

 

Tarren lay on the bed looking up at the chandelier that moved a bit as the wind blew at the chains it hung from.

"Hmm here’s a ride I haven’t tried," she murmured.

The youngster quickly jumped from the bed and grabbed onto the large wooden wagon wheel chandelier, dangling in the air as she swung quickly back and forth careful not to let the candles fall. She used her legs to kick to make the motion faster until the child was flying nearly the full length of the floor and giggling wildly as she sliced through the wind.

"Wheeeeeeee," the little one yelled, as the light fixture offered flight.

 

Xena opened the door and ducked as she saw the airborne child heading her way. As the laughing child made her way toward the doorway, the warrior grabbed the youngster’s waist in one hand and stopped the chandelier cold with the other. The fun was officially over.

Xena looked at the child hanging in her grip and shook her head, "Just what do you think you’re doing? That is not a toy," she scolded.

Tarren looked up at her mother and tried to grin. "Sorry Momma, but you never said I couldn’t play with it," she said proudly.

The warrior mother placed the child on her feet and steadied the chandelier as best she could. "No I didn’t…but I did tell you to go take a nap. Now get into that bed," she ordered, sending the youngster sprinting toward the pallet.

Xena slowly moved toward the pallet shaking her head in disbelief. "What am I gonna do with you?" the agitated warrior asked, staring at the reclining child. "I can’t leave you alone for a minute without you getting into trouble," she groaned.

Little Tarren lowered her eyes under her mother’s scolding and then just buried her head in the pillow ignoring her mother’s obvious frustration.

"Young lady you will look at me when I am talking to you," the mother said sternly.

The child’s face went blank. Her eyes grew wide and welled with tears, and her lower lip started to quiver a bit as she looked up at her scolding mother’s harsh expression.

Xena bit her lip and tried to shake off her frustration. "You are gonna …give me gray hairs…" the mother muttered, slowly falling on the pallet beside her daughter, realizing that she just couldn’t muster any anger toward this child.

Xena just lay on the Pallet, shaking her head, and looking up at the still slightly swinging chandelier.

The youngster said nothing but merely looked obediently to her mother. Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "You do know that you are a spoiled brat and your grandmother would have both our heads if she knew you were doing that?" she asked with a crooked smile, pointing to the swinging object above them.

The child blinked and the warrior watched a tear fall.

"Ok, Ok…I surrender. Please no more tears," the warrior said softly, rubbing the little girl’s head. "I know you just want to have some fun and run through the woods…I know your anxious to leave…So am I …but you have to try and behave yourself Tarren," the mother warned, trying to explain the obvious.

The youngster crawled closer to her mother and lay her head down on her chest. "Are ya still mad at me Momma?" she asked, her voice low and subdued.

 

The warrior shook her head and pulled the little girl further into her lap. "No monster…but your gonna have to give me one big hug to get off the hook," she said softly.

The child smiled and threw her arms quickly around her mother’s neck squeezing as tight as she could.

 

Xena wrapped her arms lovingly around the child. "Ok your off the hook," she whispered, staring into her daughter’s eyes. "The slingshot however, is still going back young lady, and I don’t appreciate you getting your grandmother to buy it when you knew I had said no," Xena quietly scolded.

The child looked at her mother with her lower lip pushed out in a hopeful pout. "But I wanted it Momma. I never get anything I want," she whined, fingering the laces on her mother’s armband.

Xena gave the child a look of false pity. "Tarren when you earn something you can have it. Sneaking around behind my back to get something is not gonna get you anything but in trouble with me. Remember that," she said kissing the youngster’s forehead, "Now go to sleep, and no more swinging from the chandelier…got it?" she asked, pointing to the still swaying fixture.

 

The child nodded. "Yes Momma," she replied, pulling out her little flute and giving it a quick toot knowing it would irritate her mother.

Xena turned and smiled at her small daughter, "Nice…very nice. Wait until we are back on the road little one. Remember your grandmother is not coming with us. So there will be a moment when it’s just you, me and that flute," she said with an evil smile.

"Grandma said to write to her if you took it away," the child answered with a grin.

Xena’s mouth opened wide at the child’s words, but then she just smiled. "Tell me daughter do you think you can run as fast as you can write," she asked in a low husky voice.

The child quickly shoved the toy under her pillow, deciding it was not a good time to be teasing her mother.

The warrior grinned at the wisdom her daughter had shown.

"Momma?" the youngster whispered as the warrior started to leave.

Xena turned expecting the words she was about to hear.

"I’m not tired. I wanna stay with you and Gabby," she whimpered, reaching a needy arm up to her mother.

The warrior sighed and returned to the side of the pallet. "Tarren first of all you need to take a nap. Second of all you know that you are being punished and have to stay in your room," she said stiffly.

Tarren bit her lower lip and glanced up at her mother. "How long Momma? How long do I have to stay in my room for?" the little girl asked, with a soft innocent stare that was quickly melting the warrior’s resolve.

"I haven’t decided yet, but I promise that you are in here for the rest of the day," the warrior replied, knowing the time was getting shorter and shorter.

"But I don’t wanna be by myself. I want you to stay with me. You said that we are a

family and what one gets we all share, so if I’m in trouble shouldn’t you have to stay in here with me?" she asked, hoping she had finally found a piece of logic that worked.

Xena shook her head at the child’s words and smiled knowing she was being reeled in.

"Those words you remember…Why can’t you ever remember when I say things like; no you can’t have a slingshot or no you can’t climb that tree?" she asked, expecting no response.

The mother grumbled as she watched the innocent eyes of her young daughter widen. "Ya don’t want to be alone huh? Ok scoot over ya little monster. I’ll stay with you just until you’re asleep. I am not the one being punished after all, you are," she said lying on the pallet next to her daughter.

The child slid over on the pallet to offer her mother some space, but gave the warrior a wounded frown. "Momma is staying with me punishment?" she asked.

Xena covered her face with her hands knowing she had said the wrong thing. "No baby…I love staying with you, but…." she began.

The warrior looked into the large open eyes of her daughter who was now awaiting an explanation. Xena let out a long breath and reached in her side pouch, pulling out the sack of candy and handing it to the youngster.

"Let’s get comfortable. We are both gonna be here for a while it seems," the warrior said with a grin.

Tarren looked at her mother and smiled happy to know they truly were a family. She quickly jumped to the woman’s side and lay her head comfortably on her mother’s chest as she picked through the bag of candy for one she liked. She then handed the bag back to her fellow inmate who did the same.

Xena lay on the pallet and watched as the chandelier finally came to a slow stop.

"Tarren?"

"Yes Momma."

"What was it like?"

"What was what like Momma?"

"Swinging from the chandelier? I always wanted to do that."

"It was fun Momma. You wanna do it now?"

"Nope! I’m too big and you’re too small."

"Well we could always swing Gabby on it."

The warrior chuckled at the image and hugged the little girl with all her gentle might. "You are so bad sometimes monster," she said with a wide grin, kissing her daughters cheek.

"Momma will you sing for me?" the child asked looking up at the warrior pleadingly.

Xena frowned a bit, "You know little girl I do believe you really are spoiled," she replied in a soft voice.

"Please Momma," the child said quietly.

Xena’s heart melted at the quiet tone in her young daughter’s voice. It made her want to sing for the child. "Ok but you better go to sleep," she scolded.

The child leaned over and buried her head in her mother’s side and Xena smiled at the ease with which her daughter found a comfortable spot. She wrapped her arms around her little one and pulled her in close and then sang a song of gentle dreams.

 

 

Chapter 11 – Working Against the System

 

Milo all you have to do is deliver the message," Tarren begged.

"No I’ll get in trouble," the boy groaned.

"No you won’t. No one will ever know," she whispered to the open window in her room.

The portly boy sighed. "Look Tarren you’re just a kid…they’ll go easy on you, but I’m 13 almost 14 they’ll hang me," he replied swallowing hard.

The youngster sighed, irritated at the boy’s obvious cowardice in the face of battle. "Look Milo you still owe me for squealing to Xena about me going climbing. Right?" she asked.

The boy nodded feeling a slight weight of guilt wash over him. "Ok I’ll do it, but I just know this isn’t a good idea," he said taking the two parchments that the child had been trying to shove into his hand for nearly an hour.

Xena had reduced Tarren’s sentence from confinement to her room to confinement to the inn. That way the warrior felt she could still make her point, not feel so guilty, and know where Tarren was at all times.

The youngster waited until Xena had gone to practice with her sword and Gabrielle had gone to do some last minute shopping before she began her work. Gabrielle had left the youngster strict instructions to study her scrolls, so Tarren was making use of the bard’s lesson of practicing her letters by practicing Xena and Gabrielle’s handwriting.

Tarren entered the kitchen and took a small parchment from her tunic. "Grandma some man said to give you this message," the child lied.

The plan was now officially underway. There was no turning back.

The older woman smiled at the child and took the parchment. "Thank you dear," she replied.

Cyrene’s face turned blank. "Oh dear there’s a young woman stuck in a wagon outside of town in serious need of a midwife," she said with a sigh.

The little girl shrugged. "Well is that something you’d be needed for?" the little girl asked, not quite sure what a midwife was, but trusting her uncle’s judgment on this.

The older woman nodded.

"Well Grandma what are you waiting for?" the child asked.

Cyrene stared at her granddaughter. "Tarren my dear. Xena and Gabrielle are both out and I will not leave you here alone," she said firmly.

The youngster sighed, but this was something she had counted on.

The child moved slowly to the door and opened it a bit. She then quickly turned to face her grandmother.

"Gabby’s on the other side of the street. I’ll go stay with her, so you can go. Bye Grandma," the child yelled, racing out the door before Cyrene could see the bard for herself.

Tarren jumped into the bushes as her grandmother raced out the door trying to catch the fleeing child.

On cue Milo walked by. "Hi, Cyrene Poppa asked me to tell you he’d be buy tomorrow with your order," the boy said, eyeing the bush beside him.

The older woman glanced over his head not really hearing the words. "Uh yes …Ok Milo," she replied, her eyes scanning the streets for Tarren.

The boy shifted nervously from one leg to another. "Uh… I saw Gabrielle and boy she sure has bought a lot of stuff. It’s a good thing…. Little Tarren showed up to help her with the…err…packages," he said, his voice shaking a bit under the pressure of the lie.

The older woman stared down at the boy and smiled. "Milo you saw them together, Gabrielle and Tarren?" she asked.

"Yes ma’am I have seen them together," he answered, realizing that it wasn’t a total lie if he didn’t say when.

Cyrene sighed with relief and headed for the barn ready to make a hasty buggy ride to the far outskirts of the village. "Thank you Milo dear," she said patting the boy’s arm as she passed him.

Tarren slid out from behind the bush and tapped Milo on the shoulder. "That was really good Milo. Grandma will be gone for hours, " the child whispered, as she watched Cyrene take off at top speed in her wagon.

The boy shook his head. "Tarren this is not a good idea. I just know you’re gonna get in trouble," the boy warned.

The child gave Milo a dissatisfied look. "Nobody will ever even care if it was me who sent the messages. Every one will think it was just a practical joke, and they’ll all think it was real funny. You’ll see…Now come on Milo you still have two messages to deliver," the child ordered pointing the way down the street.

Milo nodded and dragged his feet reluctantly in search of Gabrielle.

The trembling boy found the bard shopping in a local merchant’s material shop. He took a deep breath before approaching her.

"Hi Milo" she said to the nervous boy as he came closer.

The boy nodded…"Uh… Hi…I …Uh…Xena…message…." he mumbled, trying to remember what he was supposed to do.

The young woman placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Something you need?" the gentle bard asked.

Milo swallowed hard at the bard’s touch and nervously handed her a small parchment and ran off.

The bard shook her head as she watched the youngster make a hasty retreat.

"Gabrielle we need to get to Poteda. There is warlord threatening your village. I am leaving now. Will meet you there. Don’t worry about Tarren. I have her. Just get going." Xena

The bard stared at the writing wondering why Xena would send such a message with Milo, and why she had misspelled Potedia. She also noticed how poor the warrior’s handwriting had become.

‘She’s going to have start doing Tarren’s lessons if she keeps this up’ the bard thought.

Gabrielle decided the errors must have been made in the warrior’s haste to get the message written and quickly realized that her home was in trouble and her family needed her. She shoved the parchment in her bag and ran to the stables. She hated riding, but Potedia was almost a full days walk. She needed a horse to make it there by nightfall.

 

Milo watched the warrior as she drilled with the sword.

"Magnificent" he whispered.

Xena flung the blade to the left and the right and easily back behind her. Milo closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them she was gone. He craned his neck trying to see her from the bush he was seated in, but she was no longer on the practice field. All he could see was Argo tethered to a tree.

"What are you doing here Milo?" a husky voice from behind asked.

The boy jumped to his feet nervously. "I…I…I was waiting for you to be finished," he replied, trying to keep his voice from cracking.

The warrior sheathed her sword and grinned at the youngster. "Well in the future you should know that it’s dangerous to come up on me when I’m practicing," she warned.

The boy nodded in understanding, and Xena leaned against the tree smiling. "So what can I do for ya? Someone giving you a hard time and you want me to rough him up?" she teased.

Milo shook his head and handed his final parchment to Xena. "I’m supposed to give ya this," he said backing away.

Xena looked at the crumbled parchment and then the nervous boy. "Who gave this to you Milo?" she asked moving closer.

The boy shrugged. "Just some man…He said to find you fast…err…I gotta go. My Mom’s waiting supper." he replied sprinting toward the path back toward the village.

Xena shook her head and looked at the parchment.

"Xena Poteda is being threatened by some warlord. I have to get home. Please hurry. Don’t worry about Tarren. She is with me." Gabby

The warrior stared at the message and frowned. Gabrielle had misspelled Potedia, her home village, and the bard was much too good with the quill to write so sloppy.

‘Gabby? And why would "some man" give Milo a note from Gabrielle,’ the warrior wondered.

Xena folded the message and put in neatly back in her cuff not willing to take any chances. Something didn’t seem right. She kicked at Argo’s heals anxious to catch up to Gabrielle and Tarren to find out just what was going on.

Milo watched from the hill as the warrior took off at full gallop. She was moving fast and would surely catch up to Gabrielle quickly.

Milo swallowed hard realizing Tarren’s plan already had a few problems. The child had expected the pair to meet in Potedia. That would have given Tarren an entire day to herself. Things were not going well, but the wayward youngster didn’t even know it.

 

When enough time had passed that Tarren was sure Milo had delivered the messages, she decided to make a meal for herself. She could hear her stomach rumbling and there was suddenly no one around to fix that problem. However the youngster didn’t know how to cook any better than her mother and she wasn’t supposed to play with flint by herself.

The child sighed and put one of her grandmother’s aprons on. She took some cheese and bread out of the cold cabinet, but a frown crossed over her face as she eyed the familiar trail food. The youngster wanted to be served something hot.

The little girl let her fingers drum on the edge of the stove. She soon realized that it was still quite hot. It was definitely hot enough for a little experiment.

Tarren grinned as she took a big pan and placed it on the stove. She dropped a hunk of cheese in it followed by a slab of bread. The youngster then waited, hoping it would make the food warm enough to eat.

The cheese soon started to bubble and then boil and then spray in every direction it could find including the ceiling. The little girl fell to the floor and under the table waiting for the food to halt its attack. Smoke started to billow from the pan and Tarren grabbed a water skin, spraying the pot down.

The child waved the smoke away with her hand hoping there was something left to eat. She lifted a fresh slab of bread and dipped in the still bubbling cheese. The youngster took a bite and her eyes lit up with delight. It was a bit sloppy but the cheese tasted good hot.

"Hmm a sloppy cheese. Alone for only a few minutes and already I’ve discovered a great meal. I wish Momma and Gabby were here to see this," she said with a smile, devouring another sloppy cheese sandwich.

 

Carefree and fully fed the child headed into the village anxious to get started on her big adventure. She could not help wondering where her uncle had shimmered off too, but it really wasn’t important at the moment

The little girl wanted to make her most important stop first. She walked into the weapons shop and handed another falsified parchment out. It was written in a handwriting as close as Tarren could get to her mothers and it instructed the man behind the counter to give Tarren the item of her desire.

"Did Xena trust you with money for something like this child?" the weapons master asked, doubting the authenticity of the document and that Xena would entrust a weapon in the hands of such a small child.

The youngster stomped her foot feeling insulted by the merchant’s lack of trust. The child turned around and looked into the satchel that held all her private treasures. She smiled just to run her small hands over a few familiar items, but then fingered her way to the large heavy sack filled with many gold coins.

 

Nala had obtained a small amount of wealth as a mystic, and when she died the old woman had left all of it to the child with the understanding that the youngster would use most of it to buy a very special and specific gift for she, Xena and Gabrielle. It was to be a secret and that made it very difficult. The child had not figured out how to accomplish the old mystic’s request yet, so she was sure Nala wouldn’t mind if she spent just a little on gifts.

Tarren took out one gold coin, wondering if it was enough. She had no real sense of the value of money. Xena gave her a dinar a week as an allowance, but she rarely had to spend it since either her mother or the bard usually purchased what the child wanted with their own money.

The child placed the gold coin firmly on the table. "Xena said she wants the best you have. She is after all the Warrior Princess, so don’t give her any junk that would break like if ya tried to untie someone stuck on a pole," she said quietly, remembering such an incident of not too long ago.

"What will this get?" the youngster asked fingering the coin.

The weapons master’s eyes flew open at the site of the precious gold coin. "Why child that will get her the very best in the store with change," he replied with a broad smile, realizing that Xena must want a very special weapon indeed.

Tarren grinned as the man filled her order and to her delight handed her a gift she felt quite worthy of her mother. She placed the wrapped package in her satchel and moved on.

The child took out a parchment, which contained a list of things she hoped to accomplish before everyone returned. There was much to do and little time to do it. Tarren stopped at Etos and purchased a large bag of confections, which she ate on her way to her next goal.

 

 

Xena raced along the path until she caught site of a dark steed and a limping bard pulling the horse by its reigns.

"What happened to you?" the warrior asked, jumping off Argo and examining her friend’s limp.

"I was riding so fast to get to Potedia that I fell off the horse. Now you know why I like to walk. It doesn’t hurt as much as when you fall down," the young woman said rubbing her back.

"Are you Ok?" Xena asked with genuine concern.

"Yeah I just want to get to Potedia. I’m worried about my family. Why don’t you ride on without me? I’ll catch up," the bard said nervously, afraid of what might be happening in her home village.

Xena nodded ready to depart, but then looked around the trail. "Where’s Tarren?"

The bard looked at the warrior oddly. "What do you mean where’s Tarren. She’s with you. Your message said so," the bard informed her, pulling out her piece of parchment and waving it in the air.

Xena took the piece of scroll from her friend and compared it to her own.

"My message? Gabrielle I never sent you a message. You sent me one," the warrior stated, showing the bard her own note.

"I never sent you a message you and Xena I think I know how to spell Potedia," the young woman said with a frown.

The two women looked at one another and then the warrior’s eyes grew cold and feral.

"Tarren!" the pair said in unison.

Xena mounted Argo, and offered her hand to the ailing bard.

"No you get to Tarren. I’ll just slow you down. If she’s alone then she could be in trouble. I’ll follow," the bard said, motioning the warrior away.

Xena nodded and kicked her mount into action at a steady pace back toward Amphipolis.

"Sorry about asking the horse to throw you Gabrielle, but I needed to slow you down a bit, so Xena could catch up," Lyceus said with regret.

 

 

Tarren was walking along the streets of Amphipolis studying her list when Lyceus suddenly appeared beside her.

"How’s it going kid?"

"Hi Uncle Lyceus," she yelled, happy for some company. "Things are…well…Ok…I guess…I do sort of miss Momma and Gabby," the child said sadly, dropping her head, wishing her mother would return and spoil her fun.

The little girl’s eyes brightened as she remembered the package. "I did get Momma a present. Wanna see?" she asked eagerly.

 

"Uh maybe later, so I guess you got everyone out of town Ok huh?"

 

"Yeah they’re gone…I’m all alone," she replied sadly. "Where have you been?" she asked the ghost.

"Oh me…well…I had to go see my…boss. She likes to keep track of what’s going on, so I had to give her a full report. It’s no big deal…just standard scroll work."

Tarren swallowed hard." You…err…report what happens here to someone else Uncle Lyceus?" she asked with a sigh.

"Yeah but you have nothing to worry about. After all you’ve got a full proof plan right?" Lyceus asked.

The child nodded. "Uh yeah…It’s a good plan…great plan " the child murmured, wondering when the fun would start.

"Ok good so then where do we go first?" he asked hoping Xena would arrive soon.

Tarren had already swung from a tree and found it was little fun without Xena and Gabrielle to watch. The candy she was eating was starting to make her feel extremely ill.

"Ya know Tarren you don’t look so good. How much of that stuff did you eat?" the uncle asked noting the size of the bag of confections.

Tarren turned the burlap upside down to show it was now empty.

"You ate it all?"

The youngster nodded and then quickly sprinted to the woods where with a few heaves she quickly emptied her stomach of all the delicious candy she had just devoured.

"Oh…Zeus on earth … Are you Ok? That looked…well…bad," he moaned.

The now ashen child let out a deep breath, wishing that her mother were there to offer assistance and comfort.

"Come on let’s go back to the inn and you can lay down," Lyceus said, hoping to keep his niece out of trouble until his sister returned.

"No I wanna go to the playhouse first," the child replied, pointing to the Gaming House.

"Uh Tarren that is not a place you want to go…Kids are not allowed in there."

"Now you sound like Momma…I just wanna look inside. Now Momma says you have to go away if I want you to, so I want you to go away for a little while," she ordered, wishing the ghost to disappear.

 

Before the shimmering figure could respond he faded from reality muttering something about Xena’s big mouth.

 

The child wiped her hands together and smiled as she headed for the large man standing by the doorway. "I…have a message for…Dicen…err…from Xena," the child said with a weak grin.

The man with a bandaged arm and bruised head looked down at the familiar child and nodded. He went inside and returned with a small skinny man in the silky robes.

"You have a message," the man squeaked, jabbing the child with his finger.

"Yeah," she replied handing him her last piece of falsified parchment.

 

"Let the kid peak inside…or else." Xena Warrior Princess

 

The skinny man swallowed hard at the thought of ‘what else’ meant and motioned the child inside not sure why the warrior would want such a young child in his establishment.

Tarren walked around and looked at all the games and tables where people were putting large sums of money down. There was laughing and drinking and Tarren was sure something had died in there since it smelled pretty bad.

"So kid ya wanna play a game?" the man asked with a wicked grin.

The child shrugged wondering where all the toys and things to climb over were. This was not much of a playhouse.

"So kid ya wanna try your luck once?" the silky man asked once again.

Tarren took another fast look around the place and decided there were much better ways to spend her ‘fun’ time. She started to leave when a familiar wall of a man stood in front of her blocking the child’s exit.

"Sorry but nobody leaves without having their bags checked, so let’s see the satchel," the giant said with a toothless grin.

The youngster shook her head holding tightly to her bag of treasures.

The angry titan reached down to grab the child’s satchel and received a 10-year-old foot in the gut for the effort. The man winced a bit, but was quick to grab Tarren’s arm making her squeal from the pain of his unfriendly grip.

Tarren jerked away, reached into her boot, and pulled out her chucks swinging them freely at the giant’s head sending him falling backward. People in the house stopped to applaud the youngster and Dicen shrunk back into the crowd afraid Xena would appear at any minute.

Tarren held the chucks protectively in front of her preparing for the man to attack. He picked up a large piece of wood and held it high above his head ready to strike.

The youngster fell back knowing there was no place to run and this Titan standing over her would offer no mercy. She wanted to cry out for her mother, but she knew the warrior was too far. The foolish little child knew all too well since she had been the one to send her mother away. Tarren felt truly all alone now and was greatly missing and needing both her mother’s protection and comfort.

"Give me the satchel," the large man repeated ready to swing.

Tarren closed her eyes ready to face her fate like a true daughter of the Warrior Princess.

The child pushed away the urge to cry and instead shook her head to let the brute know that the satchel and all it’s treasures were hers.

"What if she doesn’t want to give it to you?" a husky voice from the doorway asked.

Tarren’s eyes lit up knowing her mother had arrived just as she always did, not a moment too soon.

The warrior quickly drew her sword and waved it at the giant. "I thought I told you to play nice," she purred, kicking the man forward and using her sword to cut his wooden weapon into pieces.

Xena grabbed Tarren with a free hand and tossed the child safely under a table.

The warrior mother smiled at the men that dare approach looking to test their luck against the Warrior Princess.

Xena vaulted in the air landing on a gaming table knocking all the bets to the ground.

Dicen shrunk in a corner as he watched his gaming house being torn to shreds by angry gamblers and one very angry warrior mother.

Xena waited for the commotion to be in full motion before she grabbed her child and sprinted out the door. The warrior couldn’t help but smile knowing the cost Dicen would incur from the devastation.

 

Chapter 12 - The Forgiving Tree

 

The youngster walked slowly beside her mother who had not said a single word to her since arriving. Tarren kept her eyes focused on the tips of her boots as Xena unsaddled Argo and then headed toward the inn.

"Momma?" the youngster whispered.

"Not a word…not a single word do I want to hear from you," the mother seethed.

Tarren could tell that her mother was well past anger. She had a cold icy glare the child had never seen before. Xena took the child by the arm and firmly led her back to her room. The youngster dropped her satchel on the bed and glanced behind at her mother’s frozen stare.

"How could you do something like this?" the mother asked, her voice filled with fear for what might have happened and a lack of understanding for her daughter’s desire to be left alone.

"I just…I’m sorry Momma," was all the child could manage to say.

Xena fought her urge to punish the youngster for her misdeeds. She had made a vow to herself long ago never to discipline her child while she had an ounce of anger in her.

 

The warrior looked at her daughter and shook her head.

"Sorry doesn’t cut it Tarren. You have no idea what you did. You have no idea what could have happened, and you hurt people. Gabrielle fell off her horse rushing to get to Potedia because of your little game. And you being left here all alone…anything could have happened…Going to the gaming house…Gods Tarren, I have never been so ashamed of you as I am right now," the warrior mother scolded.

Tears ran down the child’s face. "But Momma I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted to…I’m sorry…Do you forgive me?’ she asked in a low sullen tone, her eyes filled with tears.

Xena’s expression was a mix of pain and fear as she looked at the small form sitting before her asking for another chance.

"No Tarren it’s just not that easy this time. Right now you stay in this room. I don’t really want to talk to you right now. I need to calm down before you and I discuss this," the warrior mother said, closing the door behind her, leaving the youngster alone once again.

Xena took long angry strides back to the bar. She reached over and pulled out a mug filling it with her favorite port, hoping it would help drain some of her angst.

"Ok so I’m a lousy mother," she murmured to the empty inn.

The shimmering figure beside her shook its head.

"No Sis you’re a great mother, and Tarren is a great little kid."

The warrior dropped her mug as she stared at the face of her long dead brother now sitting right beside her.

The warrior looked at the mug still full of port. "Oh come on I only had a sip of this," she yelled to the gods.

The figure laughed and stood. "It’s really me Sis or well… my spirit. I’ve sort of been keeping Tarren company lately," he said staring at the floor.

Xena blinked her eyes a few times and then stood staring at the figure of a very young boy who had tagged along with her from birth and had died so tenderly while in her command.

"Lyceus is it really you?" Xena asked with a tear.

"In the flesh… well you know what I mean," he said.

Xena reached a hand out to touch her brother’s face and let out a breath as it went straight though the shadowy form. "You mean you really have been with Tarren? Why are you even here?" she asked, regaining her composure a bit.

"Well Tarren asked for help and I was sent. I have to tell you Sis… I have not done a great job. I’m the one, who told her to call you Xena and to go up the Mountain, " he confessed.

"Lyceus why?" Xena asked, wishing he were solid just so she could box his ears.

"Well Xena…She was trying to prove herself to you. The little kid needed to see that it wasn’t necessary. Tarren needed to know how much love you have for her. The kid just had to see it rather than just hear it. Look Xena I don’t have much time…Tarren screwed up today big time, but she’s a good little kid. She has a good heart. The kid is just really too young to understand things you feel she should. Actually Xena the truth is that she’s not nearly as old as you think she is…Tarren is still just a baby…You’ve got your work cut out for ya…."

Xena cut her brother off with the wave of a hand. "What do you mean she’s not as old as I think she is and she’s still just a baby? Why do I have my work cut out for me?" the warrior mother asked, wondering what all this cryptic information about her child meant.

"Well Uh…I’m not allowed to explain that…You’ll find out when you need to, but don’t worry you’ll be happy cause she’s gonna be with you a very long time. Now don’t ask me more because I can’t say more…" he begged.

Xena let her head drop on the bar with a loud thud. This day was just getting better and better.

"Ok Lyceus What do you want from me?" she asked, leaning her head on the palm of her hand.

"Look Sis…I know you’re upset and confused, but so is the kid. Tarren is very special and just know that you and she are going to be together for a lifetime. She needs you to guide her and teach her and love her much more than you are aware. Just do like you’ve been doing Xena."

 

Xena lowered her head remembering her harsh words and the child’s insurrection, "Yeah I’m doing a stellar job little brother." she replied with a frown.

Lyceus pointed to a rolled up piece of parchment on the floor. "Pick it up Xena," he said.

The warrior reached over and picked up the small parchment and read it out loud.


1 .By Momma birthdy present.

2. Eat lotts of candy.

"Uh...she got pretty sick on that one."

3. Swing from tree…not too hi.

4.No bath

5.No vegtbles

6.Go to play house Momma says I cant go in.

The warrior chuckled. "This was why she wanted us out of the village…To swing from a tree and eat too much candy," Xena said with a grin.

Lyceus smiled. "Yeah well she wanted to know what it was like in the adult world, and I think she found out pretty fast that she likes your world much more. She missed you Xena. The poor kid didn’t realize that sending you away actually meant you wouldn’t be there if she needed you, and she needed you pretty much right after you left. You can take a look at Mom’s kitchen and see that." he said with a shudder.

The warrior looked back to the room and shook her head not ready for any more bad news.

"What am I supposed to do with her?" she asked, shaking her head and staring at the misspelled words on the parchment.

"What you’ve been doing…being a good mother. She loves you Sis but she needs you to accept her out in the world. I know you’re scared, but you have to have faith. That little one is watched over by many. Telling people she’s your daughter will give her more protection than you think and nobody will ever take her away from you Sis…. I promise. Just have faith in yourself and the fates.

Xena wiped a tear from her eye as she stared at her brother. "Ya know when you died…I…."she began.

"I know Xena. You made mistakes and then you turned your life around. Gods isn’t Tarren lucky to have someone who’ll make sure she doesn’t make the same mistakes and will love her no matter what. I’m proud of my big sister Xena."

The warrior closed her eyes and tears ran down her cheeks. "Lyceus I miss you so much," she said softly, wishing she could just touch his face.

"I miss you too, but hey I’m never that far away. Look I’ve gotta go…Keep thinking of me Sis. I love hearing about your life and Tarren...and…Xena do you think Gabrielle would have liked me?" he asked, with a boyish grin.

Xena stared at the young boy shimmering before her and smiled, "Most definitely."

In a flash she was gone.

Xena looked once again at the list in her hand and smiled. All her anger was gone, replaced by the warmth of her brother’s visit and the love for a very little girl alone in her room. The warrior paused for a minute as she thought about all he had said. She then slid from the stool and headed back to Tarren’s room ready to deal with her very young daughter.

The warrior opened the door and was horrified to find the pallet empty and the window open. Tarren was gone.

The warrior searched the inn and the stables and was about to head to the village when a soft familiar whisper ran through her mind.

"Go to the tree Sis. She’s at our tree. She needs ya Xena…hurry."

 

Tarren dropped beneath the familiar willow a bit exhausted from the long walk. Night was falling and she was alone in the dark, but she needed to visit the tree and seek its wisdom.

The child looked up at the old willow. "Ya gotta help me. I did something bad and Momma won’t forgive me. I don’t know where else to go," the child cried.

"Hey don’t cry Tarren. Your Momma’s coming."

 

Tarren turned her head to find seated next to her a familiar shimmering figure.

"Uncle Lyceus!" she cried, so happy to see him return she wished she could actually hug him. "I’m sorry…I asked…ya to go away…."she said quietly, lowering her eyes.

"Hey it’s Ok. Did ya have fun in the playhouse?"

"No it was really bad in there. In smelled and there wasn’t even anything to play with. A big man tried to take my satchel, but Momma showed up and…well…Momma’s real mad at me…I guess I did something pretty bad huh?" the child whispered.

"Yeah well let’s just say you won’t be getting a pony out of this, but she’s not mad at you anymore Tarren. She’s just really worried. You scared her when you sent her away. It made her feel bad to think you didn’t want her around."

"I didn’t mean to do that…I just…wanted…to get her a present and have some fun," the child murmured.

"I know that and you know that and Sis knows that too now. She’ll be here real soon. She’d have been here sooner, but she was looking all over for ya. She’s real worried about you kid. I think she must love you an awful lot."

"Ya think I’m gonna get in big trouble?" the child asked, hoping her uncle had inside information.

"Well I don’t know. Do you think someone who loves you and worries about you as much as your mom does should punish you for what you did today? If they love you that is."

 

"Well…I guess if they love ya then they would…." the child said hesitantly.

 

"Well then you answered your own question. See how easy it was."

 

"Uncle Lyceus, is it sort of the way Momma got mad at you because you worried her so much when you ran away after you broke her slingshot? You cried," the child murmured.

"I did not cry…I sniffled a bit…but yeah it’s sort of the same accept you’re her kid which makes you much more important to her than me. I’m just her brother…It’s not really the same thing, but it is still the same story ya know. I mean you came here looking for forgiveness the same way I did right?"

"Yeah…Momma said the tree has powers," the child said patting the bark.

"Hmm I thought I told her that after I broke her precious slingshot."

 

The child nuzzled close to where the shimmering figure sat hoping to gain some comfort.

"Uncle Lyceus what happened to Momma’s slingshot after it broke?" she asked.

 

"Well she fixed it and gave it to me and then …I lost it in the woods," he said with a grin, remembering the look on Xena’s face when he told her.

 

The child lay silent for a moment considering her bad plan. "Uncle Lyceus ya think Momma is gonna spank me?" she asked, now concerned with the fate of her bottom

 

"I don’t know. Maybe you’ll have to decide if you think she should. I mean you guys have a system all your own. Right?"

The child yawned and dropped her head to the side. "Yeah right…So are you gonna stay with me?" the youngster asked, finding it hard to keep her head up.

 

"Just until your mom gets here and then I have to go back kid, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you."

"Will you say hello to Solon and Nala for me?" she asked with another yawn

"I sure will kid…I sure will."

"I love you Uncle Lyceus, " the child whispered before falling off to sleep.

"I love you too Tarren," the shimmering figure whispered before fading out of existence.

 

The wind blew on the old willow and the leaves started to fall blanketing the sleeping child warmly beneath them.

 

 

Xena kicked Argo into a full gallop and headed for the old tree. When she arrived she found her young daughter asleep under the willow. The warrior sighed with relief, staring at the familiar scene that was now before her. She walked over and nudged the little girl.

"Tarren wake up," she whispered, pulling a stray leaf from the youngster's hair.

The little girl’s eyes flickered open, "Momma?"

The warrior mother nodded, "Yes it’s Momma, and you better have a damn good reason for being here young lady. You are already in trouble up to your eyeballs. I tell you to stay in your room and you come here," she scolded with a broken voice, bringing the little girl to her feet.

Tarren stared at her mother and Xena just reached out and embraced the child. "You had me scared to death youngster. I’ve been looking all over for you," she said squeezing the child.

Tarren smiled knowing this was just how the story was supposed to go.

"You’ve been looking a long time Momma?" she asked, eager to hear that she had been.

"Yes!" the warrior, replied sternly.

"Were you real worried?" the child asked with a grin the warrior couldn’t see.

 

Xena placed the child in front of her as she crouched on the ground in front of her daughter. "Very worried…Now why would you want to do that to me?" she asked softly, touching the little girl’s cheek, wishing she could take back her harsh words from earlier.

 

Tarren tilted her head wondering why this was being asked. It was after all not part of the story she was told.

The little girl decided that her mother must have forgotten how the tale went, so she would offer her a bit of help.

Xena looked at the child waiting for an answer but the child said nothing. She merely moved the warriors arm from her leg and quickly placed her small form across her mother’s lap.

The warrior mother looked down at the child with confusion. "What are you doing?" the mother asked.

"I’m waiting," she replied lying still on her mother’s leg.

"For what?" the mother asked with confusion, staring down at the back of her child’s head.

Tarren turned around and stared up at her mother. "For my spankin. It is part of the system ya know? Ya see you hit Lyceus, but he was just your brother. It’s not the same. I’m your kid, so we figured that you must have been much more worried about me. I figured that you’d spank me for worrying ya so much " she said turning her head and closing her eyes tightly, once again waiting for the hand of retribution to fall.

Xena lifted the child gently off her lap trying not to smile. "Tarren is that why you came here? You wanted to play out the story because you wanted to be forgiven?" she asked, stroking the little girl’s face.

Tarren again stared at her mother, a bit frustrated in the delay and deviation from plot.

The child again said nothing trying to figure out her mother’s obvious strategy. The youngster tried to remember the story, but couldn’t seem to find these particular words anywhere in the dialogue she remembered.

"Oh…I get it," the youngster said with a frown, finally realizing why her mother was not up to speed on the story.

Xena cocked her head. "Ya do?" she asked, eager for the child to share the information.

Tarren nodded and quickly unlaced her breeches and dropped them. She then once again leaned over her mother’s lap.

"What did ya do that for?" Xena asked again pulling the child quickly up.

Tarren let out a long breath wondering why she had to explain the obvious to a grown up.

"Momma…I figure the reason you haven’t spanked me yet is cause your still real mad about what I did today. At first I figured you’d just give me a swat, but then I realized that you must have been real worried looking for me and even madder at me when you found me. When I’m really... really bad you always say your gonna drop my britches before I get paddled, so I figured that since you love me so much and you were so worried that you must want to give me a britches down spankin. I have, after all, been very bad today Momma." the child said with a sigh, for the third time lying over her mother’s lap.

Xena bit her lip and stared at the small form stretched across her knee. The warrior was trying not to chuckle at something her daughter obviously took very seriously.

"Oh I see…and after I give you this britches down spanking what will I do?" the mother asked, eager for further direction from her informative child.

The little girl turned her head a bit so she could see her mother’s face. "Then you’ll have to forgive me the way you did Lyceus. Then you can’t be mad at me anymore for what I did," she answered in a near whisper.

The warrior’s smile faded as understanding for her daughter’s logic came over her. She slowly lifted the child up and looked into her eyes.

"Tarren I don’t have to spank you to not be mad at you. What you did was very wrong and you may very well wind up over my knee when all this is finished but not because I’m mad you now. You’re my daughter and I …."

The sight of her young daughter’s head drooping cut off the warrior’s words.

"Don’t you love me Momma?"

"Yes of course I love you baby. I love you more than anything in the world but…."

"Weren’t you worried about me the way you were Uncle Lyceus?"

"Of course but Tarren but…."

"Don’t you want to forgive me like tree tells ya to?" she asked motioning to the willow.

The warrior looked into the wide eyes of her innocent young child and shook her head.

"You do know as the mother in this situation that it’s me who says when it’s time to put you over my knee," she replied with a soft smile.

The child nodded. "Sorry…Is it time now Momma?" she asked, never realizing she was taking away from her mother’s job.

Xena closed her eyes. While the dutiful part of her said the child deserved to be punished for her many misdeeds. The other part, the part that was looking into this youngster’s soft loving gaze, was finding it hard to muster the parental disciplinarian inside. All Xena really wanted to do was hold her child and protect her from the world that might harm her.

The warrior mother shook her head and touched the child’s cheek, "Tarren I do forgive you… I don’t need…."

The warrior stopped short when she realized that her daughter had somehow come to equate her version of the story of Lyceus and the tree with a resolution to this entire ordeal. Xena looked at the child’s sullen expression and sighed.

"Yes it’s time," the mother said stiffly, making a grand attempt at regaining her stoic composure.

Tarren smiled and then once again dropped over her mother’s lap. Xena took a deep breath not wanting t administer this punishment, but realizing that her daughter expected it as a way to be sure she was both loved and forgiven the way Lyceus had been many years ago.

Xena tightened her lips and straightened up. "Now then…I don’t know why I’ve been letting you try and talk me out of this. It’s just not gonna happen young lady. You had me looking all over, and I was worried to death about you," she said mustering as much of a scolding tone as she could for her young daughter’s benefit.

The warrior mother leaned over and glanced at her child. "Ahem…Tarren, so how much of a spanking do you think this is gonna be?" she asked, hoping a few quick swats would suffice.

The child thought about it and then turned her head a bit. "Well we figured you’d be real mad at me for what I did today and since you love me so much this might be the worst spankin I ever got. It’s Ok Momma …I’m ready." she whispered.

"Great…I’m not," the warrior murmured. Xena cleared her throat. "Well you are absolutely right. After the way you behaved today young lady and since I really do love you so very much, I hope you are ready to have the sorest little bottom in Greece," she answered, shaking her head, wondering if she was playing out her part correctly.

Tarren closed her eyes, "Yes Momma I’m ready," the child replied quietly.

Xena took a deep breath and shook her head before letting her hand fall on the child’s bottom. Tarren grabbed her mother’s leg, holding tightly as the warrior mother’s hard palm fell fast and obediently in a steady cadence of whacks.

The warrior mother always made very sure her hand never fell any faster or harder than she felt was appropriate for spanking a youngster of Tarren’s small size and young age. Xena hated punishing her child, so it was never less than she felt was needed or a bit more than she felt had to be.

The warrior mother gave her naughty young child exactly what Tarren had expected, the worst spanking the she had ever gotten.

When Xena was finished she lifted the youngster to her feet and cringed at the tears she saw in her little girl’s eyes. The child rubbed her bottom gently and Xena could feel her own tears welling.

"Well young lady I hope you learned your lesson. Because if you ever do anything like this again the spanking you just got now is gonna feel like a tap on the shoulder compared to what I’d give you next time, " the warrior said hoping nobody would mind if she added a few lines of her own truth.

The youngster wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to caress the very tender spot. Her mother had kept her word and given her a spanking that was longer than any she’d ever gotten.

"No Momma it won’t ever happen again…Is the spankin over now?" she asked, trying not to let her tears spill.

Xena closed her eyes as she stared at her little girl. "Yes…it’s all over," she said gently kissing the little girl on the cheek.

The warrior mother got to her feet and turned away so the child could not see the tears in her own eyes fall.

"Momma?"

"Yes Tarren," she replied with a cracking voice.

"Do you think if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter instead of your brother and you’d just given her the worst spankin ever that it would be all right if she cried a lot?" the child asked with a sniffle.

 

Xena turned around and opened her arms deciding a few tears falling down her own face wouldn’t be so bad either. "Yes daughter…I think it would quite all right," she replied.

Tarren jumped into her mother’s arms and the warrior squeezed her tightly trying to rein in her own emotions as she kissed the little girl’s face and rubbed her back letting the child cry freely on her shoulder.

"Momma?" the child sobbed.

"Yes baby?" the warrior mother whispered lifting the little girl in the air and cradling her in her arms.

"Do ya think if Uncle Lyceus had been a girl, and your daughter, and had just gotten the worst spankin ever that you’d stay with her and maybe sing her to sleep?" she said tears poring out of her eyes.

The warrior grinned. "Well if all that was the case and this was my daughter we were talking about then yes I’d stay with her and sing for her. Of course I’d really have to feel that she had learned her lesson," the warrior whispered, cradling the child against her chest.

"Momma?"

"Yes baby,"

"I learned my lesson. Can you sing to me?" the child begged.

 

Xena swallowed hard as she held the youngster astonished by her child’s endless amount of love and devotion. In the few months they had been together Xena had woven her life around this little girl and now could not and would not accept a life without her. She kissed the child’s wet cheek as she walked.

"Well first things first little girl. As soon as we get back you are getting a bath because you smell like the inside of that gaming house and…cheese?" The warrior took a sniff of the child’s tunic and shook her head.

"Then you and I have a long list of things to discuss. Or more accurately I am going to talk and you are going to listen. We are far from through little daughter, and when Gabrielle and Mother…Tarren where is your grandmother?" the warrior asked, stopping in mid stride.

 

The sniffling child tightened her grip around her mother’s neck and lowered her head closer to her shoulder. "You already forgave me right Momma?" the youngster asked.

"Yes Tarren now where did you send your grandmother?" the warrior asked, concerned for the child’s imagination having sent Cyrene off a cliff.

"The edge of the village…somewhere," the child replied.

"Which edge Tarren. That covers a lot of ground," the mother responded.

"I dunno. The note just said to go to the edge of the village cause there was someone who needed a…midwife…Momma what’s a midwife?" the little girl asked, wiping her tears.

Xena covered her face with her hand and ran it slowly down to her mouth. "You sent my mother to the entire edge of Amphipolis looking for a woman in need of a midwife?" the warrior mother asked, not sure if she should laugh or cry, but knowing Cyrene would not return until she found the woman in need.

"Yes Momma. Did I do something bad again?" the child asked, a fresh batch of tears brewing in her eyes.

The warrior mother kissed the child’s cheek and grinned. "Yes you did, but I love you anyway ya little monster," she said hugging the child tightly.

Xena walked on grateful that her daughter had not asked about the definition of a midwife again, as she was not up to the telling. She smiled at the sniffling child nestled safely in her arms as she wondered how long it would before Gabrielle and Cyrene returned.

 

 

Later that night Tarren lay still sniffling on the bed having been tucked in tenderly by her mother.

Gabrielle had returned so exhausted from her long walk that she merely asked if the child was living or dead and then fell into her bed. There was still no sign of Cyrene.

After their time at the Forging Tree, Xena had taken Tarren back to the inn. The mother had carried her to the privacy of their room for a long bath and given a full night of lectures on the difference between good and bad and right and wrong and what she accepted as appropriate behavior for her young daughter. Tarren had stood quietly for the entire scolding knowing better than to interrupt or argue.

Xena entered and undressed for bed. She slid onto the pallet and stared at her contrite child.

"Momma?" the child whispered.

"Yes."

"Are you done yelling at me?" she asked, covering her head with the blankets just in case.

"Yup but before you ask me little girl, you are still confined to your bedroll for one week," the mother ordered, her frustration now quite real.

"Oh but Momma that’s worse than staying here. I get to look at all the trees and stuff and can’t climb any of it," the child moaned.

Xena took a deep breath as she lay staring up at the ceiling. "Yup and you won’t do any fishing or swimming either young lady. You’ll be working on your scrolls starting with the one where you write 100 times each: I will not copy someone else’s handwriting. I will not tell lies. I will not go places my mother tells me I am not allowed to go, I will not wander off alone, and my mother loves me very much. It will give you a chance to think about everything you did wrong," the warrior mother replied, smiling to herself that the youngster had not noticed the last one she had just added.

Tarren cringed under the repetition of the added punishment her mother had added since they had returned to the inn.

 

The child bit her lip and opened her eyes wide hoping for a bit of mercy. "But Momma we only have one more day left in Amphipolis. Am I gonna be in my room for that too?" she asked, hoping she would not be.

Xena lifted the little girl into her arms holding her high above her head. "Tarren tomorrow my mother will see her kitchen. Gabrielle will wake up feeling all the aches of falling off that horse. Baby your room may be the only safe place for you, so yes, you will spend the day in here," she said with finality, bringing the child into a loving hug right away.

Xena wanted to make sure Tarren understood the difference between an angry mother and the reputed angry warrior she would never allow the child to see. She wanted the youngster to know that she would never leave her and would always love her the way a mother should.

The child turned and stared at her mother giving her the best sad face she could muster. "Momma if Uncle Lyceus had been your daughter and just gotten the worst spankin ever would there be any chance of her getting a pony?" she asked.

The answer was deadpan, "Not unless she was ready to ride it."

"Just checking," the child murmured, gently rubbing her backside, not really wanting to even see a pony for a while.

Xena kissed her daughter and gently rubbed the child’s back as she held her. The warrior’s thoughts were of Lyceus and that brought a gentle smile to her face.

Xena had chosen not to tell Tarren about her brother paying the warrior a visit. She felt that Tarren needed to have that private little adventure all to herself. Besides it avoided an entire topic of where and how ghosts come from that the warrior did not wish to have.

The warrior mother quietly placed a loving arm around her small daughter and remembered Lyceus words about Tarren being a baby and much younger than she thought. It was a puzzle that somehow Xena knew would be solved in the near future. In the meantime the warrior was content to hold her young child closely.

Tarren sighed and nuzzled next to her mother’s chest.

"Momma?"

"Yes."

"Will you sing to me now?"

Xena kissed the little girl on the cheek and grinned.

"With pleasure my very little one. I was sort of hoping you would ask."

 

 

Chapter 12 – The Day After

 

 

In the morning Xena arose deciding it was time to go in search of her mother. As she readied herself to exit the inn the grandmother entered looking exhausted and done in.

"Mother your back. I was just going looking for you," the warrior said with a sigh of relief.

"Why daughter didn’t Tarren tell you about the message?" she asked, dropping into a chair.

"Yes but…."

"I’m sorry dear, but it was a long birth and it took much longer than I thought. I did not mean to worry you little one. Now I have one day left. Where’s my granddaughter?’ she asked, wanting to spend every minute with the dear little girl.

"She’s in her room. So you mean there really was a woman in need of a midwife?" Xena asked, with a puzzled look.

"Yes dear of course…Gods I need a cup of tea. Why don’t you get little Tarren? I want to spend some time with her," the grandmother said with a smile.

"Uh sorry mother but she’s being punished…no exceptions this time," the warrior said firmly.

"But why dear? What could the little imp have done since I’ve been gone?" she asked.

Xena weighed it out in her mind trying to understand how her mother had actually

Found a fictitious woman in need on he edge of Amphipolis, but then decided to file it in her mind with the rest of the mysteries in her life. Xena weighed it out and decided that telling her mother of Tarren’s misdeeds at that moment might not be best.

The older woman entered the kitchen in search of her tea.

The warrior soon heard a loud shrill, "Xena!"

Xena entered the kitchen, which was covered floor to ceiling in sticky cheese.

"Who did this to my kitchen?" Cyrene asked, holding a mug caked in cheese.

Xena thought about it. "Tarren did it Mother. That’s one of the reasons she’s in her room," the warrior replied, knowing she was holding back a bit.

The older woman looked around the kitchen and sighed. "How? Why? Never mind...Don’t tell me…just clean it up," she said quietly, deciding she herself was now in need of rest.

Cyrene shook her head and headed back to her room.

Gabrielle stumbled into the kitchen a bit later rubbing her aching back. "Good morning," the young woman said with a slow staggered breath.

Xena glanced over at her sore friend and offered her a sympathetic sigh. "How are you feeling? Gabrielle do you want me to look at you back?" she asked with great concern.

The bard backed away. "No I don’t want anyone to touch me. I don’t even want anyone to look too hard at me. It would hurt too much," she said reaching for a mug of tea and instead getting a handful of gooey cheese.

"What happened in here?" she asked letting her eyes scan the cheese-covered walls. The bard held her hand in the air before the warrior could speak, "Wait don’t tell me…Tarren?"

Xena nodded and offered her friend a cloth to wipe her hand with.

"Well it looks like she inherited your cooking abilities," the bard chided, dropping the cloth and sipping her tea.

Xena could see the pain in her friend’s face. "Gabrielle why don’t you go back to bed and relax or take a hot bath…I have to clean up this mess but I’ll get you the water Ok?" the warrior offered, feeling guilty since it had been her child that had caused the problems.

The bard nodded appreciatively and limped back to her room.

Xena stared at the ceiling full of cheese wondering just how it got there, but not really wanting to ask her daughter for fear she might actually tell her. "Sloppy cheese sandwich" the warrior muttered as she scrubbed the goo away.

 

Gabrielle lay in a relaxing tub of hot water when a small figured appeared by her door being propelled forward by a larger more intense form. The child walked slowly over to the bard’s tub keeping her head down so she couldn’t see her friend’s eyes.

"Hi Gabby," the child said with the wave of her hand.

The bard was silent.

The youngster leaned against the tub letting her finger run across the top of the water occasionally glancing up to see if the young woman would acknowledge her presence.

"I’m sorry for what I did Gabby. I didn’t mean to get you hurt," the little girl whispered.

The bard turned her aching neck around just enough to face the child and winced for having made the move.


"Xena told you that you had to apologize right?" the young woman asked sternly.

The youngster nodded, "Uh huh."

The bard eased herself back into a comfortable position. "Well you have so now you can go back to your room and stay there," she ordered.

The child stared at her unusually angry friend, "But Gabby I really didn’t mean…."

Gabrielle did not allow the child to finish. "Tarren whether you meant to or not you did it. First you scared the Hades out of me by having me think my home village was in danger and then I fall off the horse…Only to find out it was just all a little childish game. Do you have any idea how far I walked just because I was worried about you?" she chided.

The child shook her head. "No but Momma gave me a hot bottom," she said quietly, deciding that warm did not seem to do her mother’s efforts justice.

"Lucky Momma," the bard replied, trying in vain to control her own frustration.

Tarren looked at her friend and lowered her eyes at the lack of sympathy she was receiving. "And I’m stuck in my bedroll for an entire week and…."

The bard threw up a halting hand. "Tarren I get the message. Xena punished you and that’s all well and good, but I myself do not really want to chat about it right now, so just go to your room," she demanded.

The youngster bit her lip and looked to her mother who was standing in the doorway. The warrior motioned the child to approach, which she gladly did.

"I don’t think Gabby want’s me to apologize anymore Momma," the child said sadly, looking up at the warrior’s soft gaze.

Xena took the youngster’s hand and lead her out into the hallway. "Look she’s just upset right now. Give her a chance to calm down and you can try again later. You go back to your room," she whispered, patting the child gently on the back.

The youngster started to move and then turned suddenly reaching up to embrace her mother. "I almost forgot…Happy Birthday Momma," she whispered.

The warrior smiled. "Thank you baby," she replied lifting the little girl and hugging her tight.

Xena watched sadly as the sullen little form returned to her bed. The warrior then entered the bard’s chamber settling her self on the side of the tub.

"Gabrielle was that really necessary? She was just trying to apologize," the mother defended.

Gabrielle let out a long breath. "I know Xena, but she can’t go on thinking that when she does something wrong you punish her and good old Gabrielle will forgive her no matter what. Look I just need a little time to myself right now Xena," the young woman replied, splashing the water in frustration.

The warrior threw her hands in the air. "Ok Gabrielle have it your way, but aren’t you the one that always tells me to remember that she is just a small child," the warrior said softly, turning on her heal to leave the room.

Xena stood in the hallway looking at all the closed doors, ‘Mother is fast asleep, Tarren is probably crying herself to sleep, Gabrielle needs time to herself…OK I’ll just go for a ride on my horse. It’s my birthday," the warrior mumbled heading out to the barn.

 

 

Cyrene stood in the kitchen preparing the mid-day meal wondering where Xena had gone. Gabrielle wandered in feeling a bit more relaxed and eager for some conversation.

"Where’s Xena?" the young woman asked.

"I don’t know. I haven’t seen her all morning. She’ll be back when she’s ready or needed," the innkeeper said with a smile.

The bard nodded and took a mug of cider from the counter, but merely stared at it.

"So are you still angry with the little one for sending you to Potedia?" the grandmother asked.

Gabrielle’s snapped her head up in surprise.

Cyrene smiled. "Yes child my daughter thinks her mother a deaf fool. I heard all about Little Tarren’s exploits and yours. How is your back dear?" she asked, showing a mother’s genuine concern.

Gabrielle rubbed her lower spine and grinned, "Well my pride is broken, but the rest of me will survive."

Cyrene nodded and patted the young woman’s arm gently, "And the little one. Are you still angry with her?" she repeated.

The bard sipped her cider and let out a quick breath, "I take it that you are not. I know Xena’s not, so I guess that makes me the dragon in the house."

Cyrene laughed. "No child you are not a monster. You have every right to be angry. Xena can’t be mad at the child. She is Tarren’s mother. Xena knows the child depends on her for everything. My daughter is too good of a mother to not love that child no matter what she does. Tarren needs that and Xena will never turn away from her baby. She loves her too much," the grandmother said with a smile.

Gabrielle leaned against the counter and grinned. "You know Cyrene I never thought I’d see the day that Xena was more understanding and compassionate than me. I mean she has always been so tough and ready to fight, but with Tarren…."

Cyrene finished the sentence. "With Tarren her heart is open and her love spills out faster than she can handle child. She is the little one's mother. That is how it should be," the grandmother answered.

Gabrielle nodded. "Then why am I so mad at Tarren and why aren’t you?" she asked, remembering that the child had sent the grandmother somewhere as well, but knowing little else.

The grandmother chuckled and wiped her hands on her apron, "Gabrielle you can’t hold a grudge against a child for being a child even if they are a being a very naughty child at the time. That’s like being angry with a blind man for being blind. Tarren can’t help being a little one."

The bard smiled knowing that the older woman’s words were correct.

"Besides if I know my daughter that little scamp won’t be sitting comfortably for a while. She’ll think more than twice before she does anything like that again," the grandmother finished.

The bard sipped at her cider and grinned. "I was pretty hard on Tarren this morning. I treated her like she was an adult and I shouldn’t have. She just scared me so much. I thought my village was under attack. I thought Tarren was in danger. I guess I should go talk to her like she’s a kid. I’ve sort of missed the little brat and to tell you the truth I’ve felt pretty rotten about it all morning," the bard said with a gentle smile.

The young woman started to turn when she paused and looked at Cyrene. "I don’t know if there will be time to say this or not. We are leaving awfully early in the morning, but I wanted to thank you for...well being so kind. I have to admit I had some trepidation about coming here, but Cyrene you have taught me a lot in these last few weeks. I want to thank you for treating me like family," Gabrielle said quietly with a tear in her eye.

The older woman smiled and embraced the bard, "Gabrielle when are you going to get it through your head that you are family…daughter…Now leave me to my cooking and go talk to Tarren."

 

 

The bard entered the room and found the small figure hugging her mother’s saddlebags fast asleep on the large pallet. She crawled in the bed beside her and gently kissed the youngster’s cheek.

"Momma?" the sleepy child asked, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

"No sorry it’s just the grouch from next door," the bard whispered.

"Gabby? What are you doing here? I thought you didn’t want me around," the little one said making no effort to hide her hurt, holding firmly to Xena’s saddlebags.

The bard placed an arm around the youngster and lay her head down on the child’s pillow. "I’m sorry Tarren. I didn’t mean what I said. I was just really upset and in a lot of pain. I know you were trying to apologize and I’m sorry I was so mean...forgive me?" she asked nuzzling next to the little girl.

Tarren thought about it. "Yeah I’m not mad at ya Gabby. I don’t blame you for not wanting to talk to me. Momma said that what I did was really bad," the child murmured.

Gabrielle nodded. "Yup well she’s right, but that doesn’t mean I should have been so mean to you this morning honey. I should have listened to everything you had to say. I was just really upset. Tarren it’s not right to send people away. You make them feel bad. Its also not nice to tell someone that a person they care about might be hurt. That scares them too. I know when I thought you might be hurt I was really scared," the young woman said softly, wiping stray tears from the child’s cheeks.

Tarren turned and faced her friend. "You were?"

"Yes very scared. I wouldn’t want to lose you," the bard replied with a smile.

"Are you sure?"

"Very sure. I wouldn’t know what to do without you," the young woman said hugging the child tightly.

"I’m sorry Gabby. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt or to scare anyone," the child replied letting a tear fall down her cheek.

"I know you didn’t. Shh it’s Ok. Now tell me what happened while I was gone," the bard whispered, holding the youngster in her arms.

Tarren wiped her eyes and grinned at the memory of how her adventure had started. "Well I made a sloppy cheese sandwich and it was really good. Can we make them on the trail Gabby?" she begged.

"We’ll see," the bard replied, remembering the way Cyrene’s kitchen had suffered during the making of this meal.

"I ate too much candy and got sick, and I went into the playhouse but it really wasn’t much of a playhouse. I got to use my chucks, and Momma came in and wrecked the place. She got real mad at me and wouldn’t forgive me for what I did. So I went to the Forgiving Tree so she’d have to. Then Momma came and I got a spankin cause Momma was so worried about me. Anyway she forgave me like she did uncle Lyceus. We came back here and Momma yelled a lot. Now I have to stay in my bedroll for a week and write all the stuff I did wrong down on scrolls, so I know not to do them again," the youngster orated, letting out one long breath at the end.

The bard was amazed at how the child seemed to get that out in one sentence. "Oh… well…it sounds like you had a very full day and that your mother definitely covered all bases," the young woman replied, amazed at how Xena managed to do everything so precisely and without doubt.

 

Gabrielle stroked the child’s face, as she lay comfortably next to her, grateful for the youngster’s love and angry with herself for forgetting, even for a moment, that Tarren was just a child.

"Gabby?"

"Yes honey."

"Is Momma back. I wanna give her the birthday present I got."

The bard’s eyes flew open and she jumped up in the bed. "By the gods Xena’s birthday is today and we have people coming for a party tonight," she yelled.

Gabrielle started pacing around the room, "Let me think. Where would she go?"

"Gabby?"

"Not now honey."

"But Gabby I know where Momma is."

"You do…where?"

"Are you gonna go get her?"

"Yes."

"Can I come?"

"No you are being punished. I can’t take you with me."

"Then I’m not telling. I wanna to see Momma on her birthday too," the stubborn child decided.

Gabrielle knelt beside the bed hoping to negotiate. "Tarren we are having a surprise party for Xena tonight. If you tell me where she is I’ll go get her and I’ll talk her into letting you come out of your room for a little while," the bard offered.

The youngster shook her head. "Don’t wanna see a room full of people I have to say Xena in front of," the child sulked.

"Ok…what if I throw my bedroll on top of Xena's?" she asked.

The youngster shook her head. "You’d do that anyway," the child said with a frown.

"Ok I don’t have time to argue with you. You can come, but if Xena kills me it’s on your head brat," the bard said with a tired grin.

Tarren hopped off the bed eager to lead the way. "And I want sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night for dinner," she added.

The bard cringed at the thought of the child’s invention but she was desperate. "Why you little…All right and sloppy cheese sandwiches tomorrow night," the young woman said with a frown.

The child slipped her boots on and took the bard’s hand. "Momma went to Uncle Lyceus grave to say goodbye," the youngster offered with a sigh.

"Why didn’t I think of that?" the bard asked, slapping her forehead.

"Because Momma and me share the same heart," the child replied, proudly repeating her mother’s words.

Gabrielle shook her head. "That’s not all you two share believe me," the bard said with a sly grin, grabbing the child and heading out the door.

 

 

 

Xena sat beside the sarcophagus wishing her brother would appear. She asked him in her thoughts to show himself. The warrior had lay flowers on the tomb and said private prayers but he was not to return. She just sat here thinking of her lost brother.

There was the sound of footprints and skidding in the dirt outside and the warrior smiled to herself knowing she had been found.

"Well Lyceus we have company," she said with a grin.

Gabrielle walked in alone and waved to the warrior seated by the grave. "Hi…Happy Birthday…Sorry I forgot this morning," the bard said quietly, feeling a ton of guilt for both her bad mood and forgetting her friend’s birthday.

Xena stood and shook her head. "Forget it Gabrielle. You were in a lot of pain," the warrior replied with a smile. She turned and leaned up against the wall staring at her friend. "However, my ears told me two pair of feet had arrived. Could my hearing be going already? I am getting older you know, but Gabrielle I am sure you wouldn’t dare bring…."

Before the warrior could finish her thought a small figure came racing in with a wide grin. "Hi Momma...happy birthday again," the little voice squealed as the youngster ran past the bard stopped only by the solid and stoic form of her mother.

"Young lady what are you doing out of your room and here?" the warrior mother asked with a forced scowl.

The youngster looked up at her mother who seemed much taller than usual. "Well I was the only one that knew where you were, so Gabby had to take me with her to find ya, and we’re having sloppy cheese tomorrow for dinner," the child stated.

The warrior frowned at the bard who just shrugged.

"Well how did you know where I’d be?" the mother asked with a grin.

"Uncle Lyceus told me," she whispered.

The warrior smiled and dropped her fašade of anger. She lifted the little girl into her arms. "I should be angry with you, but since it’s my birthday I don’t wanna be." she said, kissing the child and tossing her playfully over her shoulder.

"Are you ready to go?" the bard asked with a broad smile, happy that her friend was not upset that she had released the little inmate.

"Sure…wouldn’t want to ruin the party now would I?" she asked the giggling child

"You knew?" the frustrated bard asked, gently punching her friend in the arm. "How? We didn’t even tell Tarren until today."

The little girl giggled and looked at the bard. "We have many skills," the youngster replied with a mischievous little grin.

The warrior chuckled and brought the child back in front of her.

Gabrielle slapped her forehead. "By the gods there really are two of them," she moaned.

 

 

 

Xena suffered through the party being polite to people she didn’t really know and trying to spend time with those she did. After a while the warrior started to feel crowded by all the attention and sought refuge back in her room where Tarren was still confined.

"Hi!" the mother said slipping quietly into the chamber.

The child looked up from a plate of cake and the warrior noticed there were already two empty plates beside her. The youngster glanced at her mother, white frosting covering most of the child’s face. "Hi Momma...good cake," the child said with a frosty smile.

The warrior arched her eyebrows as she reached for a damp cloth and started cleaning the remnants from the child’s mouth. Tarren squirmed a bit but after a quick warning look from her mother submitted to the cleaning.

"Who brought you all this cake? I swear Tarren you are gonna be sick," the mother groaned, removing the final plate from the child’s hands.

"You and Grandma and Gabby" the child said methodically pointing to each plate in turn.

Xena handed the youngster a mug of milk to wash down the sugarfest. "Well it seems that sneaking food to the prisoner is not such an original idea," she said with a grin.

"How’s your party?" the child asked, happy to be left in her room rather than with a group of strangers.

"Well it’s sort of crowded and loud and definitely missing something," Xena said with a long breath.

"What?" the child asked.


"You," the mother replied with a soft smile.

The warrior lifted the child off the bed and over her shoulder and carried her into the inn. She tried to quiet the crowd with polite requests but it took a two-fingered whistle to get their attention. When the room was quiet the warrior spoke still holding a yawning Tarren in her arms.

"First of all I would like to thank everyone for coming. It’s always nice to share my birthday with so many friends and my family, but this birthday is a very special one for me because I recently was given a very special gift, which I would like to share with you. I’ve tried to keep this gift a secret because it means so much to me, but the truth is that it means so much to me that I can’t help but share it. Everyone I would like to introduce you to Tarren, a little girl that I am very proud to say is my daughter," the mother said kissing her daughter’s cheek.

Gabrielle’s mouth dropped and Cyrene just started to applaud, as did everyone else in the room. Xena caught sight of Toben and couldn’t help but smile at the way he shrunk in the crowd. Her mother had invited him before the incident and in the name of mending fences he had the nerve to show up.

The little girl looked to her mother with wide eyes. "But Xena you said…."

The warrior silenced her with a single finger over her lips. "Never mind what I said before and listen to what I just said. You are my daughter and that is not something I wish to keep a secret anymore. I’m too proud of it, so it’s my birthday present to myself. That means I better not hear another Xena out of you again young lady," she said with a crooked smile.

Tarren threw her arms around her mother’s neck and hugged her. "Yes Momma… That is not something you will ever have to tell me twice," the child replied, clinging to her mothers neck.

Seeing that look of absolute joy in her child’s eyes told the warrior that she had done the right thing.

 

 

As the party came to a close and the last of the guests had left, Xena was left with an armload of sleeping child in her lap.

The warrior eyed with pride the new boots from her mother and the leathers from the bard.

Gabrielle reached for Tarren and the warrior gently placed the child in her friend’s arms.

"Momma " the sleepy form muttered with a wide smile.

Gabrielle grinned. "I don’t think there is one person in this room that she didn’t remind that you were her mother. Xena you did the right thing for both of you," she said warmly.

"You know this is gonna make it harder on us to watch her," the warrior replied, feeling a bit of guilt at not having told the bard first.

Gabrielle gave the warrior an angry stare. "Hey nobody is gonna hurt this kid. You and I are just gonna make sure of that. Got it warrior," she demanded.

"Got it," the warrior said with a thankful smile.

Gabrielle heaved the load in her arms to one side. "Ok brat time for you to find Morpheous, but don’t get to used to the trip. The Princess will have us up early I am sure," the young woman said with a chuckle.

The child smiled and without opening her eyes whispered, "That’s my Momma."

 

"By the gods she introducing you to people in her sleep," the young woman said with a smirk.

Xena grinned and kissed her daughters cheek as the bard carried away, "G’night Monster."

The warrior walked into the kitchen and touched her mother’s shoulder.

"Mom we’re leaving early, so I wanted to say…thank you. This time here with you has been a great experience for me. I got to know my mother again and she got to know my daughter. Thank you for everything you’ve done and said…It’s good to know I can come home again."

The older woman turned and wiped a tear from her eye.

"Daughter now that you know the way you better not wait so long to come back here. I am going to miss you all so much, and the little one. I want you to know how proud I am of you. What you did tonight for Tarren was a wonderful thing. She now has a place to belong just like you do. You take care of her. Don’t let her wrap you too tightly around that finger of hers. Make sure you all stay warm and eat well and…. Oh Xena take care of your self and them. Watch over my granddaughter," she said with a teary smile.

Xena nodded. "Mom are you gonna be alright?"

"Yes daughter I’ll be fine, but you better be back for a visit before solstice or I’ll be joining you on the road," the older woman warned.

"Yes ma’am we will be back I promise, and you are welcome on the road with us anytime," Xena said, making a mental note to be back well before solstice.

The warrior gave her mother a final hug and headed back for sleep knowing that there were as many tears in her mother’s eyes at the parting as there were in her own

The familiar figure shimmered into existence beside Cyrene. "Well we did it Mom. They’re on the right path, but I am sure gonna miss them," Lyceus said staring at his mother’s wet cheeks.

Cyrene turned her head slightly to the side and smiled, "I will miss them too son, but don’t worry they’ll be back."

 

 

 

Tarren lay on the bed smiling at the memory of being introduced as Xena’s daughter. Her eyes flickered open when a familiar figure shimmered in the spot beside her.

"Uncle Lyceus you’re back," the child yelled.

"Shh I can only stay for a second. How was the party? Mom makes good cake right?"

"Yup and Momma told everyone I’m her kid, so it’s not a secret anymore," the youngster said proudly.

"I know she did a real brave thing, and now I want you to promise me that you’ll try hard to stay out of trouble just for a little while. She worries a lot about you so give her a break for a few days at least."

"I’ll try but it won’t be easy," the child said with a frown.

"Well you give it your best shot, and would ya do me a favor?"

"Sure!"

"Would you give Xena something for me?"

"Uh huh."

The ghostly figure moved his hand and a small wrapped package appeared on the bed.

"You tell her that I said happy birthday Ok kid."

Tarren nodded and the figure shimmered away just as the door opened.

"Who were you talking to?" the warrior asked the yawning child.

"Uncle Lyceus wanted me to give you a present and tell you he said happy birthday" she yawned pointing to the package.

Xena picked up the present and smiled, "Well then I guess I should open it."

Tarren nodded and yawned once again.

Xena removed the wrapping and inside found a carefully hand carved piece of branch with an old piece of stretch vine centered across the middle. The warrior smiled as she eyed the most prized possession of her youth.

She closed her eyes. "Thank you little brother" she thought.

The warrior held the item in her hands. "Ya know Tarren when I was a little kid this was the thing I loved most. Now you are little one, so I want you to have it," she said turning to find that the youngster was once again fast asleep.

Xena leaned over and kissed her daughter’s cheek tenderly and then placed the slingshot in her hands, hoping the child would have dreams of slaying dragons with one small pebble.

 

Epilogue

Leaving Amphipolis had been hard for Xena, but it had been harder for Cyrene. The trio had gotten up early and traveled most of the day not quite sure just where they were heading, but anxious for some knew adventure. The bard was busy readying their first camp.

Xena leaned up against a tree staring up at the evening sky. She could not forget the vision of the tears in her mother’s face as they departed. The warrior looked over at her own little daughter reluctantly confined to a bedroll, arms folded stubbornly to show her dissatisfaction at the idea of being punished.

The warrior mother smiled as she watched the child put her fingers inside her satchel and pull out the little musical flute Cyrene had given her.

The warrior quickly confiscated the item and placed it back in the satchel. "Oh no you don’t. That goes right back in the bag little girl. You are being punished. That means no fun at all while you are on that bedroll. You just lie there and think about everything you did wrong and everything I’ve said in the past few days." the warrior said, thankful for a week’s worth of silence.

The child opened her eyes wide and stuck her lower lip out in that all too familiar distinct pout. "But Momma I wanna go play," she begged.

Xena knelt beside the child and gently tasseled the youngster’s hair. "Sorry monster, but that’s how it is. Now I have to go get some firewood, so Gabrielle can make those messy cheese sandwiches of yours," she replied kissing the little girl on the cheek and getting to her feet.

Gabrielle walked over to Xena and gently pulled her friend to the side.

"Uh Xena…How are you gonna keep her in bed every evening. She’ll be up all night Xena. Just who are you trying to punish Tarren or us?" she asked poking her friend in the ribs.

Xena thought about it. Gabrielle was right. Tarren had too much energy to begin with. If she slept in the evening she would be awake in the middle of the night. However, the warrior mother stood firm. Sentence had been passed and there was no going back on it now.

"Sorry Gabrielle it looks like we’re all gonna suffer together. Remember we are family and what one gets we all share," she said with a grin.

The bard shuffled her feet a bit. "Maybe you could...."

Xena held up a halting hand. "Don’t even think about it. The punishment stands," the mother replied stiffly.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Fine, but don’t expect me to be my bright and cheery self in the morning," the young woman growled, heading back toward the fire.

The warrior sighed as she looked back at the child, "Gabrielle, I’m gonna go catch some fish just in case you’re meal doesn’t turn out to be edible," the warrior said with a sly grin.

"Never thought I'd be anxious for fish again," the bard murmured, staring at the frying pan and the hunk of cheese she would have to melt to keep her promise to Tarren.

 

 

The warrior sighed as she reached for a pole. Leaving Tarren behind meant fishing alone. She had actually become dependent on her young daughter’s laughter and company while she fished. Truly this punishment was gonna be hard on both of them.

Tarren heard the word fish, saw her mother reach for a pole and started to rise.

Xena noticed the movement out of the corner of her eye. "Get your little bottom back on that bedroll young lady," the warrior scolded and the child dropped to her blankets quickly.

"But Momma I wanna come with you," she cried.

Xena shook her head wishing she could say yes. "Sorry baby but you know you have to stay in the bedroll. And I better not come back to hear you’ve moved off that blanket. Understand?" she asked with a parental tone.

The youngster wiped a tear from her eye and lowered her head into her arm.

"Yes ma’ am," she murmured.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle who could easily see this was tearing the warrior up more than spanking the child did.

With a quick huff Xena headed down the trail to catch an auxiliary meal.

 

 

Gabrielle rubbed the sniffling youngster’s back tenderly. "Hey it’s only for a week. Thank the gods! And you should do like Xena said and think about what you did to get yourself into all this trouble," the young woman warned, throwing sticks on the small fire.

Tarren turned on her elbow and faced the bard. "But Gabby I never even got to give Momma her birthday present," she cried.

The bard’s eyes went wide and she shook her head. "Tarren why didn’t you give it to her at the party yesterday?" she asked, knowing the child had been anxious to deliver this surprise present

"There were too many people around. I wanted to give it to her by myself or at least when it was just the three of us. It’s the first birthday present I ever got for Momma," she sniffled, lowering her head back on the blanket.

Gabrielle dropped her head onto her hands and lay down next to the youngster. "It’s real important to you that you give it to her now isn’t it?" she asked kissing the child’s forehead.

The child buried her head in the bard’s shoulder and nodded. "Gabby I just wanted to give her something from me, that’s all. You and Momma always buy me stuff, so I wanted to get you stuff too," the child replied.

Tarren reached into her satchel and picked out a well-wrapped package and handed it to Gabrielle. "I missed your birthday, so I wanted to get this for ya now," the child whispered, handing it to the bard.

Gabrielle’s eyes lit up realizing this was a gift for her. "Tarren you didn’t have to do that. My birthday was months ago," the young woman answered, sitting up to stare at the item.

The child grinned. "But I wasn’t here, so it really didn’t count," the youngster replied, deciding her presence was needed for such events to actually be real.

 

Gabrielle smiled and kissed the youngster’s head, "Sometimes you can be so sweet."

"Open it Gabby," the child begged, anxious to see if the bard liked the present.

Gabrielle pulled at the small cord, which was neatly tied around the burlap wrapping. When she removed it the contents were revealed and the bard’s eyes flew open with surprise.

In the young woman’s hands was a carefully bound book of parchment with a small lock on the side.

"It’s so you can keep a diary just like Nala did," the youngster said with grin.

Tears ran down the bard’s face as she let her hand flick through the empty pages.

"Tarren this is wonderful. I mean…Thank you...But it must have cost …Where did you get the money? Xena and I give you a dinar a week allowance." she questioned, looking oddly at the youngster.

Tarren fidgeted a bit. "Momma says you’re not allowed to ask questions about gifts, but I paid for it with my money. I swear." The child said seriously, holding up her hand.

The bard shook her head and hugged the youngster, tears freely flowing down her cheeks. "This is the best gift I have ever gotten honey," the young woman replied holding the child close to her heart and kissing her over and over.

Tarren pulled back a little. "So you like it?" she asked with a smile.

The bard tickled the child and again hugged her. "I am going to write in it every day. I’m gonna write all my thoughts about everything including Xena and you my little friend. Lots about you," she said with a warm smile.

Tarren grinned at her friend’s happiness but then the smile disappeared as she felt the weight of the other package in her satchel.

"I wish I could give Momma her gift," she said with a sigh.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and looked at the sullen child. She took a small piece of parchment from her bag and wrote on it.

"Go…run down and give your mother her gift, but then come right back here," she said, handing the child the folded parchment.

Tarren swallowed hard and shook her head, "Oh no I’m not leaving by bedroll. Momma said to stay right here and I’m staying right here. I don’t wanna get my backside warmed again so soon," the child adamantly informed the bard, rubbing the still tender spot.

The bard smiled and caressed the child’s cheek. "It’s Ok you just give her that note I wrote. Don’t read it. You just give it to her. It says I sent you down…. Now go before I change my mind," she said pulling the child to her feet.

Tarren looked at the folded note and then wrapped her arms around her friend. "Thanks Gabby. I love you," she whispered.

The bard kissed the child’s forehead. "I love you too brat. Now get outta here before I realize what I’m doing," the young woman said with a grin.

Tarren reached into her satchel and pulled out another package and quickly skidded down the path. The bard opened the first page of her diary and to her surprise was a note written in a child’s hand.

"Gabby, I am sorry I scared you so much sending you a way. I dont eva want ya to go away again. I love ya. You and Momma are mine. Happy Birthdy. Big hug -Tarren

A single tear ran down the bard’s face as she watched the child scoot down the path. She then looked again at the note with all its misspelled words. "Truly the best gift I have ever been given," she whispered, holding the diary tightly in her hands.

 

 

Xena sat by the water and pulled another fish in dutifully. All of a sudden fishing seemed more like work and less relaxing knowing there was a little girl not far away, crying because she couldn’t join her in the familiar venture.

The warrior let her blue eyes settle on the calm waters of the stream as she cast her line out once again. Her muscles relaxed and she smiled at the sound of silence. In a flash her face went blank and she frowned and without turning she spoke.

"Argo better be on fire because that’s about the only reason I could understand why a certain little girl would disobey me and come down here when she knows she is not allowed to leave her bedroll," the warrior mother scolded.

Tarren swallowed hard and Xena turned to face the youngster. The nervous child held tightly to her package and handed her mother the bard’s note. Xena took it and read it quickly all the while keeping a firm eye on her young daughter.

"Xena If you trust me then let Tarren stay with you just this once. I told her she could come down, so if you want to be mad at someone be mad at me. But if you trust me then let her stay. She has something important she want s to give you." Gabrielle

The warrior mother thought about the child’s recent imitations of the bard’s handwriting but then dismissed the thought. Xena knew that her maternal hand had fallen long enough where her daughter’s little backside would feel quite a sting for a while, so the warrior was confident her child would dare not risk making a similar mistake again so quickly.

Xena pushed the note into her cuff and sat on a small rock beside the still standing youngster. Her muscles eased and she nodded at the little girl. "Ok Gabrielle thought it was important for you to be here. I trust her. Now you tell me what is so important," she said wiggling her finger for the child to approach.

Tarren shuffled her feet a bit. " I…just…wanted to give you. I never got to give you your birthday present Momma," she replied, lowering her eyes.

Xena shook her head and smiled. "Tarren I told you that you didn’t have to get me a present," she said gently, concentrating on her daughter’s unease.

The mother reached out a hand. "Come here," she said softly, lifting the little girl into her lap. The warrior grinned at her. "Well let’s have it," she said, placing out a hand for the important present.

Tarren gave her mother the package, and Xena smiled oddly at the youngster as she held the wrapped object in her hand.

"What are you so nervous about little one? It’s Ok you’re not in trouble for coming down. You had Gabrielle’s permission...relax," she said caressing the little girl’s back.

The child shook her head. "I know Momma. It’s not that. I just want you to like the present I got ya," she whispered, letting her head drop over the warrior’s shoulder.

Xena stared at the still wrapped package in her hands. "I love it Tarren," the mother replied without hesitation, still eyeing the burlap.

The child mouth opened wide and she lifted her head. "But Momma you haven’t even opened it," she moaned.

The warrior wrapped her arms around the youngster and hugged her. "Tarren I love it already because it’s something that came from your heart. It doesn’t matter what it is…It’s your thoughts that make it special to me," she whispered.

Tarren shrugged a bit confused by the words and annoyed that after all the trouble she went to get the item her mother would have been satisfied with a burlap bag.

"Will ya open it anyway?" the child asked anxiously.

Xena smiled and started to unearth a small wooden box inside the bag. The warrior eyed the craftsman’s ship of the container and looked at her child who was biting her lip anxiously waiting for the unveiling.

Xena quickly lifted the lid of the box open and her eyes flew open. She stared at her daughter as she caressed the sheathed knife inside with the tips of her fingers. "Tarren where did you get the money for this?" she asked, praying it was not something the child had merely obtained without funds.

The child frowned. "You said no asking questions about gifts," the youngster responded, getting a bit annoyed at all the adults in her life not knowing the rules about presents.

The warrior mother gave her child a warning glance that said this was not a rule without exceptions.

The youngster let her shoulders drop knowing one of her secrets was about to be revealed.

"OK I have money that Nala gave me. She said some of it was mine to do with as I wanted as long as it was Ok with you, and the rest of it ...Well that’s for something secret. I promised Nala I wouldn’t tell you that until it was ready," the child said running her small fingers over her mother’s arm.

Xena glanced at the knife and then pulled the child closer to her chest. "Tarren this knife had to cost a lot of money. Baby I don’t want you wasting Nala’s savings on things for me," she said quietly, hoping the child understood.

Tarren lowered her eyes. "You don’t like it Momma?" the little one whined.

The warrior shook her head and hugged her child, "No baby I love it. I mean it’s beautiful. But Tarren it’s very expensive."

The little girl wiped a tear. "But you said money didn’t mean anything if it didn’t make people we care about happy. I wanted to get you something that would make you happy. I broke your knife in Rasa and I felt real bad about that. So I wanted to get you a new one…one that wouldn’t break again," she replied with a sniffle, thinking she had once again failed to do the right thing.

Xena kissed her daughter’s forehead wanting to explain but finding it difficult. "Tarren just how much money did Nala leave you for this surprise you’re supposed to get us?" the mother asked, knowing her daughter had no concept of the value of money.

The child shook her head, "Momma you said I didn’t have to show you my treasures until I was ready and I’m not ready yet." The child paused. "But… if you tell me I have to…Then I’ll get them and show ya," she said softly, lowering her eyes, ready do whatever her mother decided was right.

The warrior mother considered the situation. She did not wish to force her daughter into sharing any treasures or secrets before she was ready. That was more important than anything else at the moment was.

"No daughter you take as much time as you need to show me your treasures, but as for carrying large amounts of money. Tarren you are just a little kid and…."

Tarren interrupted before her mother could complete the condemning sentence. "But Momma that money is for a gift for you and me and Gabby. I made a promise. You wouldn’t want me to break a promise. Would ya?" the child asked innocently.

Xena shook her head feeling trapped by her own code. "No I wouldn’t, but from now on you will hide that money under Argo’s saddle. Nobody else will look at it, but I don’t want you carrying it...Ok?" she asked, hoping this momentary solution would help until she could come up with something better.

The child thought about it. It sure would lighten the satchel if she put the large sack up there. "Ok but only the big bag... The smaller one is mine and solstice is coming up," she replied with a smile.

Xena shook her head at the thought of this child carrying around a large sack of money and a smaller one. This was something that would definitely be discussed in greater length at a future time, but for the moment the warrior agreed.

"Ok for right now we’ll leave it like this, but little one this is something we will talk about quite a lot in the days to come. You are not to buy anything without my permission. You’ll just have to survive on that dinar a week I give you," she said stiffly, letting her daughter know this was not a point of negotiation.

Tarren shrugged not really thinking of any more she’d actually need, "Yes Momma."

The warrior mother nodded and turned her attention back to the knife in the box. She pulled it out and noted the handle was made of solid gold and the blade crafted by one of the best masters in Greece. She felt the sharp edges and smiled.

"It’s beautiful Tarren. Thank you," the mother said softly, kissing the youngsters cheek.

The child smiled at the look of satisfaction on her mother face.

"Momma did ya see the picture of Amphipolis?" the child asked, pointing to the handle with new enthusiasm.

Xena turned the knife over and sure enough there was an etching of her home village.

"Now you won’t have to get lonely for Grandma and home," the child said with a grin.

Xena wiped her eyes and gently touched her daughter’s cheek. "Well little one you sure did think of everything," the mother replied, holding the child on her lap and wrapping her arms gently around her.

"Press the button Momma," the little girl begged, eager to see her mother’s expression at the added surprise.

Xena looked to the side of the knife and found a small protruding piece of metal. She pressed her thumb on it and watched in awe as two smaller knives sprang up beside the larger blade.

"Wow!" the warrior said with a child like grin.

Tarren giggled. "That’s what I said when the man in the shop did it," she whispered.

Xena pressed the button a second time and the knives disappeared. She looked at the knife and then her child’s glowing face.

"Tarren the knife truly is a thing of beauty and amazement and so are you my little daughter. You are truly the greatest gift I have ever been given by the gods," she said in a very serious tone.

Tarren’s eyes went wide knowing her mother was sharing her true heart, "Me Momma?" she asked.

Xena put the knife down and pointed to her daughter, "Yes you. You are my heart little girl and don’t you ever forget it," she answered, pulling the child into a tender hug.

"I love you Momma," the little girl whispered as the warrior wiped a tear from the child’s cheek.

"And I love you too daughter," she replied, glancing down into the innocent and loving face of the small child who had so quickly captured her heart.

Xena kissed the youngster’s head and held her for a minute.

"I wrote you a note. Gabby said you put those in gifts and stuff, so I did." the child said, slowly rising from her mother’s lap.

Xena pulled the parchment out of the box and carefully slipped the sheathed knife into her boot feeling the cool metal against her calf. As the warrior was about to read the note Tarren started to head back toward camp.

"Hey where are you going?" Xena asked, wanting her daughter to remain.

"Momma, you said I’m not allowed to leave my bedroll, and I promised Gabby I’d come back right after I gave you the gift," the child answered in a sad tone.

Xena was tempted to renounce her sentence right there but knew that it was the wrong thing to do. She watched unhappily as her little girl headed back to camp to the confinement of her bedroll. She sighed and looked again at the knife and then read the parchment.

For my Momma. I wood never want anyone else to evr b my Momma. Dont ever go way with out takin me and I wont go without you. Happy birfday love you lots. Your kid Tarren

The warrior princess bit her lip as she felt the lump in her throat grow larger. Xena carefully folded the parchment and placed it in her armor for safekeeping. She picked up the fish and headed back to camp. When she got there she noticed Tarren was already fast asleep on her bedroll.

Gabrielle sat by the fire flipping her hands through the diary. Her face was a bit read and swollen. Xena eyed the sleeping youngster sadly and sat beside the bard.

"What’s that?" the warrior asked, pointing to the book.

Gabrielle said nothing but handed the warrior her gift careful to point out the inscription inside. "It’s a diary…She wants me to keep a diary like Nala did. She thinks I should right down all the things I don’t talk about...smart little kid huh?" she asked with a tear.

 

Xena nodded and showed the bard her own piece of parchment.

Gabrielle read it and sniffled. "Well I’d say that kid definitely knows how to hit the spot when she wants to," the bard said handing the warrior back the paper.

Xena grinned and took out the knife Tarren had given her and handed it to Gabrielle.

"By the gods Xena…That’s solid gold!" she exclaimed, observing the artistry of the weapon. "Where did she get the money for this stuff?" the bard asked.

The knife was truly a fine piece of work and quite pretty to look at, but it was the small piece of parchment with all the misspelled words of love that the mother held tightly to.

The warrior took a moment to explain and the words left the bard speechless.

"So what are you going to do?" she asked, concerned the child might be hurt if someone tried to take the money.

Xena shrugged. "Well for the moment she’s gonna put it under the saddle. Hopefully she won't take too long to share what this big gift of Nala’s might be. Besides it’s probably just a bunch of coins that don’t add up to all that much…I hope," she said, hoping the old mystic had been wiser than to leave this child with her entire fortune.

Xena put the thought out of her head and looked at the sleeping child. "Ya know just when I think I know everything about that kid she surprises me with something totally new. I admit it Gabrielle. That kid has me tied around her finger," the warrior said with a grin.

Gabrielle nodded as she glanced down at the diary. "I know exactly what you mean, so I guess we can add mother to your list of many skills now," the bard said poking her friend gently in the ribs.

Xena smiled hoping that was the truth. "Yeah well I get a lot of help with that skill," she replied, placing a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulders.

The bard grinned and eyed the string of fish the warrior had returned with.

"So what are we going to have for dinner?" the young woman asked.

Xena looked at the fish ready to be cleaned and cooked and chuckled. "I guess we’ll be dining on sloppy cheese tonight Gabrielle," the warrior said with a shrug.

Those magic words brought the sleeping child back from Morpheous. Her eyes flickered open.

"Did someone say sloppy cheese?" the little one asked with a yawn.

The child waited obediently on her bedroll for permission to get up. Xena shook her head and felt her resolve once again dissipate. She wiggled her finger motioning the youngster to approach.

Tarren slid to her mother’s side. Xena grinned. "Yeah someone said sloppy cheese ya little monster," she replied, opening her arms and allowing the child to pounce in her lap.

Xena kissed the little girl’s head and held her tightly on her lap. "Ok so how do we make these wonderful meals?" the mother asked, waiting for instructions on how this dish was prepared.

Tarren was happy to offer details on just how she had accomplished the task, much to the dismay of her mother and the bard.

"Ok so let’s throw the cheese in the hot pan," the child yelled reaching for a bulk of cheese.

The warrior pulled the little hand back into place. "Not so fast, I have a better idea," she said putting the youngster on the ground and taking a larger pot, filling it with water and placing it on the fire below the frying pan.

Gabrielle smiled as she heard the water boil. "Why Xena that’s a great idea. Maybe we’ll get you cooking one of these days yet," the bard said with a grin.

The warrior shook her head. "Nope picked that trick up watching metal being melted for swords for my army," she said with a wide smile, letting the bard know the cooking duties were still all hers.

Tarren watched as the bard placed the cheese in the pot and it slowly melted. The youngster waited with anticipation but nothing happened. Finally Gabrielle dipped the hunks of bread in the hot cheese and put them on plates to be passed around.

"Hey this is pretty good," the warrior said with a grin, biting into the melted cheese sandwich.

Tarren stared at her plate that had a neatly carved piece of bread with evenly melted cheese over it.

"But it’s not sloppy. There was no flying cheese or anything," the little girl moaned.

The bard bit into her sandwich. "Hey this is good…Tarren why aren’t you eating?" the young woman asked.

"It’s not sloppy…There was no splattering or flying cheese or anything," the child repeated, wondering where all the fun had gone.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and they both chuckled a bit. "Well I’m sorry but tonight you’ll just have to settle for a neat sloppy cheese sandwich. I promise you it will taste the same," the mother answered, again pulling the little girl onto her lap.

Tarren sulked a bit for the lack of fireworks that should accompany the meal preparation. However the child wisely decided that a small victory was better than none at all. Not everyone could get something right on the very first try, and Xena was right it did taste just as good.

 

Later that night, Gabrielle sat writing in her diary and Xena was busy sharpening her sword. Every once in a while the warrior mother would glance over at her sleeping child who had been tucked neatly into her bedroll hours earlier.

"She sure is wiped out," the warrior mother said with a grin.

"Well it’s been a long day. Maybe we’ll get lucky and she’ll sleep all night," the bard said with a chuckle, knowing that would not be the case.

Xena sheathed her sword and sat beside the slumbering child wiping stray hairs from the youngster’s forehead and starring intensely at the child’s face.

"Gabrielle how old do you think Tarren looks?" the mother asked.

"I don’t know…Why?" the young woman replied.

"I mean have you ever really looked at her. Does she look ten to you?" Xena asked, still staring at the little girl’s round cheeks and large eyes.

"Well actually I never gave it much thought, but now that you mention it she is a bit small. I guess she does look younger. Why?" the bard asked, now staring intently at the child herself.

"Oh nothing…Just something Lyceus had said to me, that’s all. I’m sure it’s no big deal," the warrior replied, once again placing the thought to the back of her mind.

Xena had told her friend about the ghostly visit. At first Gabrielle was a bit nervous at a ghost that had been wandering around behind their backs for an entire week. But after a while the young woman was relieved to know that Tarren had not been hallucinating and that Xena had found some peace with her brother’s loss.

The bard shrugged it off deciding if it was important Xena would share it another time. "Speaking of Lyceus. I want to put something about him in my diary, but I never met him so I’m not sure what to say.

Xena smiled at her friend and then lay down making herself comfortable on the blankets beside her young daughter.

"Do you think Lyceus would have liked me?" the bard asked with an innocent smile

"Yup! Most definitely," the warrior replied with a chuckle. "Most definitely."

Gabrielle smiled at the words and started to write once again.

 

Xena stared at Tarren. She had to grin at the way the youngster held tightly to the warrior’s saddlebags in one hand and her newly obtained slingshot in the other. The child had a slight smile on her face even as she slept and the warrior could only imagine that her adventurous youngster was having dreams of taking down monsters with a single pebble.

She stroked the child’s back affectionately and pulled the blankets up around her shoulders, so she would not feel the night air.

The still sleeping youngster pushed the beloved saddlebags to the side and slid to her mother’s side nuzzling in under the warrior’s arm. Without ever even opening an eye the child threw her arm over Xena’s midsection and whispered, "You’re my Momma."

Xena shook her head and grinned. She leaned over and kissed the little girl’s cheek, "That’s right baby. I’m your MommaNow and forever."

 

The End…never me just keep on going.

As always I hope you enjoyed reading this story half as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am already hard at work on my next epic tail of the trio called Legend of the Last Amazon My stories to get longer and more complicated each time, so I would expect this was too be pretty in-depth, and have many surprises. As always Little Ego and I await your feedback on this our latest venture as well as the ones to come.

E-mail Fantimbard@aol.com

 

 


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