Birdie’s Song I
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
I jogged along the forest path, hoping that my faster pace might overtake her without detection. How delusional that was! Black leather riding boots with silver buckles jingled faintly as her long leather clad legs strode powerfully up the rising path. The sleeves of her full length charcoal overcoat signified her rank: four cobalt stars topped by a silver crown, while her thick ebony hair, reaching midway down her back, moved back and forth over the hilt of the sword she carried across her shoulder. I studied that sword; a legendary weapon called The Tide with its bronze hilt and paua shell settings and it was HER sword to wield until it was time to pass it to her daughter, as it had been passed down to her.
I shuddered a little with a memory of a time when seeking a diversion during a long court meeting; I had reached for the sword and run my fingers lightly over the shells of the hilt marveling at its beauty. Faster than I could draw breath, I found my head held back by the hair, the Tide’s point at my throat, while Her Majesty’s icy indigo eyes appraised me quickly. She let me go with a brisk cuff to the back of the head. “Don’t ever touch my sword; you could be killed, “she said gruffly.
“I’m sorry, My Lady,” was all I could manage stumbling back clamping down on the tears that threatened to betray me.
“Don’t be sorry; that can kill you too, “came the brief retort and her attention returned to the meeting.
My mind refocused on the path in front of me; my reverie had cost me distance; I sprinted to try to catch up with the tall figure, and nearly ran myself through on the Tide. She grabbed me by the collar, twisted me sideways, and delivered a sharp smack to my backside with the flat of her sword.
“What in BLAZES are you doing here; Birdie, I could have injured you!!” She shook me angrily. I stared at the silver armor she wore under her coat and noted the pewter gauntlets on her wrists.
“You are going to fight someone. Who?” I asked, ignoring her question at my peril.
“A duel. Answer me, Birdie.” Her voice carried a stern edge.
I looked into the clear sky color of my own eyes reflected in her breastplate before raising them to meet hers directly.
“Your Majesty left the palace all alone, without a second or even a squire to help you at your task. I was worried.” My breath caught in a nervous gulp waiting for her answer.
“Birdie…..” There was a heavy sigh, as she looked over my head, digging her boot toe in the dirt a moment.
“You will bring us both a world of trouble; you know that?”
I dropped to one knee. “It’s my responsibility alone, your Majesty; you did not invite me.”
“But if I do not send you home immediately, the blame is mine as well.”
“You can say that I begged, Baba, and so I am, “Her eyes softened just a tad at the name, “Furthermore, if you send me back, I will only follow you again, as soon as you cross the next hill. Please don’t make me go back. I am twelve winters old now; it’s time for me to come with you to try my skills!”
She put her hand on my shoulder collaring my passion, “That is not what I want for you, Birdie. When you pick up a sword, you become a target.”
I placed my hand over hers on my shoulder and met her eyes again. “There isn’t much choice, My Lady; I am your heir, after all. The heir inherits the whole of it.”
She smiled at me while pushing my dark hair back, a very gentle gesture for the Conqueror.
“My hair, my eyes, too much of my temperament, I am afraid, but you will need that, since you have your mother’s stature and the soul of a poet.”
“Please, you’ve got to take me with you, Baba Xe.”
She was going to; I could see it in her face.
“You know our Queen will have your hide?”
I smiled, “She’s had it before…”
She gave me a little pat on the back, “Alright then, I do suppose it’s time.”
I couldn’t contain my grin. “Thank you My Lady!”
We began to move at a fast trot then, and I was glad that I had set myself the task of running a league or two daily now, and I kept up with her well enough.
“Are you armed?” The question was growled at me.
“Yes, My Lady, with the sword you gave to me at Solstice, and I am wearing my chain mail shirt.” I drew back my own dark coat with its scarlet stars on the sleeves.
“Not bad,” she mused, “you will remain uninvolved, or it won’t be just your mother the Queen you must answer to, do you understand me?’ No matter what you may see happen to me. Is that clear, Birdie?”
Our boots kept time on the forest floor. “I understand, Baba.”
We crested a hill just at the edge of the forest and ran down into a valley. Baba Xe put her hand out to slow my progress and we swam on our bellies up the next incline to peek over the following ridge.
In the center of the meadow was a large swarthy man in chain mail sitting astride an equally large black horse. The man was glaring our direction as the horse danced in energetic circles.
“That “whispered Baba “is none other than King Feisal of the Peloponnesus. He has serious issues with me, the biggest of which is that I rule this portion of Greece, and that I am a woman. I have to fight him once a season, but it’s really only a practice challenge; I don’t even tell your mother about it anymore. But every time I best him, his hatred of me intensifies. He is a dangerous man.”
At this point Feisal flung the horse around and bellowed “BACK!” to the trees on the other side. I thought this rather strange behavior, but it seemed that perhaps there was some motion in the far bushes. I resolved to keep watching in that direction.
The horse circled back again and stood still. It was a beautiful animal.
“Xena Warrior Princess, “King Feisal yelled to the meadow once again. “I challenge you once and for all, here and now, for power over my part of Greece and to the death.”
Baba Xe looked at me and winked, “That’s my cue, Birdie… here.” I helped her shrug out of her coat which left her in her leather pants, boots and a blue silk shirt with her silver breast plate and gauntlets shining. She stepped into the sunlit meadow with a broad smile, “Feisal, you fool, when will you learn that it is Xena the Conqueror? Shall I teach you again?”
“You, woman, will teach me NOTHING!” he roared as he stabbed his spurs into the side of the huge stallion. The horse responded with a frightening charge; his great hooves thundered toward The Conqueror who stood quite calmly twirling her sword and watching him. I wasn’t even worried. I had watched Baba Xe in enough battles to know that she nearly always just sidestepped the first pass, and that is exactly what she did this time. Feisal nearly threw himself out of his saddle trying to take off her head with his enormous sword which she gracefully inclined to one side, and left him swinging furiously at empty air. He yanked the horse’s mouth around and it reared in response nearly bucking him off a second time.
“Ah, as graceful as a butterfly, ” Baba X laughed. “Or a pregnant camel!”
I wondered if I would ever be that good-good enough to taunt my enemies. It always scared me when she did it, but there was a reason that my Baba Xe was the Lord Conqueror of Greece of the Mountains. She was not only THAT good, she was breathtakingly good; I never tired of watching her and trying to memorize her moves.
Feisal appeared to study his old enemy just a moment before kicking his mount into another dust flinging rampage. My parent held her ground, and it felt wrong to me somehow ; she anticipated another swing of the broadsword, but I saw his boot leave the stirrup.
“Baba! He’s jumping!” Both my motion and my shout were involuntary. The sapphire eyes snapped at me briefly, but as Feisal leaped from his horse, she vaulted straight into the air over him and tucked into a perfect somersault behind him.
“Birdie! Off the field NOW!” she commanded and only just caught the backhanded blow of Feisal’s next strike on her pewter gauntlet. She parried his next attempt with the Tide and forced him back two slashes while hopping over a low strike.
“Birdie, where are you?” she called, her eyes never leaving Feisal.
“I’ll tell you where the little Tweet is, “Feisal foamed.” She’s next in my pot for dinner, though there’s little meat on her!”
“I’m good, Baba; I’m out of the way. Take him!”
“Where?” she bellowed.
“To your right.”
The Conqueror spared a rightward glance for me- a near fatal mistake. In her lapse of attention, Feisal nearly gutted her with a surprise upward angled rip from the ground. A hair’s movement and the heavy sword left only a thick groove in her breast plate, but it sliced through the shirt into skin and jarred into the gauntlet causing her hand to fumble the Tide. Miraculously, Feisal’s mind opened to me like a scroll, and I knew he would flip his blade up and ram it into the Lord Conqueror’s unprotected shoulder and neck as her timing ran a quarter breaths off while she accounted for me.
But my timing was right on. Loosing my own young war cry, I reached King Feisal in three giant strides, managed to parry his strike, but it broke my light sword. My leap slammed both of my boots into his head sideways with my full weight. With satisfaction, I saw his helmet fly off, but my triumph was cut short by the dagger he ripped from his belt and stabbed into my thigh. As I curled into the fetal position clutching the bloody wound, I saw Feisal thrown down -helpless as a turtle on its back and the shadow of the Lord Conqueror rise like a specter over him with the Tide at his throat.
“Feisal, there is little of me that is civilized right now. I would suggest that you leave as fast as you can or so help me all the Gods on Olympus I will dismember you slowly, painfully until you beg for death. ” She didn’t move the sword. He slid delicately from under the blade, and crabbed away to find his footing. He was slinking toward his black steed while she shifted her attention to me. “Leave the horse, Feisal.” He threw her a murderous look, but began to walk away…
“Let me take a look, Birdie. Let go, I’ve got it…” She cut away my soaked trouser leg with her small belt knife. “Deep, and painful, but I don’t think he got the artery; the bleeding is slowing.” She ripped off the sleeve of her shirt and wrapped it around the top of my leg.
“Baba!” I whispered intensely.. She gave me a crooked smile, picked up the Tide, flipped it up with both hands and drove it backward powerfully into Feisal who stood behind her, dagger raised. I watched the blood seep from between his teeth as she gave the Tide a savage twist, and yanked it free.
“Idiot,” she muttered, wiping it on the grass before sliding it back in to its scabbard.
“Dead idiot now. ” I whispered.
Baba Xe smiled, tightening the wrap around my leg and tucking the edges inside each other giving them a pat. “Guess I lost my practice dummy.”
I laughed, but dizziness interfered.
“Hey,” She put her hand on my forehead. “You are likely in some shock.” Rising, she rolled Feisal’s body into a nearby ravine for the crows. Then she approached the black stallion, hand out, “Steady there, big guy. You’re a fine fellow, aren’t you?” He snorted and pawed the dust; he wanted to trust her, but his former master had not fostered trust. Baba eased one foot at a time toward him crooning gentle reassurances; she was a marvel with horses. When she touched the beast’s nose and began an easy stroking of it, he became a quiet pony, and I knew that we would have another good mount for the royal stable.
This reminded me of the woods. I rolled up and eased weight onto my injured leg. Still another in an entire day of bad decisions, the cut oozed blood at every step, but I wasn’t going very far.
“Birdie! What are you doing on that leg?”
“Have to check on something, Baba.” I didn’t have to look back to imagine the look in her icy eyes; the Conqueror had been pushed as far as she could on this day.
At the edge of the forest I stood silent. Moments passed and then there was a stirring in the leaves and a weak whining. Crouching low, I moved toward the sound and discovered a rare black fox kit, only about six or seven weeks old.
“Hello pretty girl,” I spoke to her softly, “Come with me now, ok? You need a new home.” She sat studying me seriously with her silver-tipped tail curled neatly around her feet, and she tilted her head to one side. Then she seemed to make up her mind and padded over. I lifted her gently and she settled immediately into my arms; her bright green eyes quickly adjusted to viewing the world from this vantage. Her fur was shining silk like the Conqueror’s hair. Her warmth engrossed me as I limped back to where Baba Xe had the black horse standing quietly beside her now. Dark threats were flashing from her eyes, but she took the fox from my arms and gave her a pat before, easing me to the ground. Turning, she poured water on a piece of linen from a skin that the horse had been carrying. She loosened the cloth above the wound and blood came freely. I caught my breath, it throbbed with every beat of my heart; my fox came and licked my hand.
Expertly, Baba retied the cloth, and the pain subsided a little. “Wish I had my healer’s kit; would have brought it, except I THOUGHT I was alone..” She looked at me very directly. “If you plan to serve as my squire, you need to improve at following orders.”
“I know My Lady.” I hung my head. She looked back to my leg.
“That was a good move on Feisal; it broke your sword, didn’t it?” She reached for my hair and pulled up my head to meet her eyes.
“It’s possible that you saved my life,” she continued, “and a good soldier knows when to act and have the outcome be positive. You also took this wound. I am proud of you, Birdie. But I should tan your hide as well, you know that.” Sometimes it was tough to be the Conqueror’s own; she expected much, and she corrected a poor or a dark decision with a hard hand.
“I know My Lady, “I blinked back tears; soldiers don’t cry. “I am sorry, My Lady.”
She smiled then, and it was like the sunrise; her hand became gentle on my head. “It’s ok, we were lucky this time. I just wish I had my kit.”
“I have one.” So intent was our conversation, neither of us had seen the shadows fall across us. The Conqueror rose immediately taking into her arms the small woman with hair like bright sunlight who was our Queen, the Lady Gabrielle. Two extra soldiers of the Conqueror’s army remained a discreet distance.
“How did you find us?” I smiled up at her as she knelt with the healer’s kit and began to untie the bandage on my leg.
“How do I ever find either of you? I stood very still and FELT you… and followed that bond. It comes in handy when my family neglects to tell me where they are going.’
She raised her hand in the face of our explanations. “There will be plenty of time later to chat. What is important now is to get everyone able to travel and home.”
I could hear very little of what my parents said on the way home. I was under the influence of a numbing herb and drowsed in the saddle of the black horse we named Hades, with my fox in my arms.
“You take her with you on these exciting adventures and then it is up to me to do the difficult stuff; discipline her for disregarding rules we both have laid down for her safety.” Said the Queen pacing along beside her lover.
Xena looked at her askance, “That’s not entirely true; I gave her a good whack, when I caught her… You know that I am stricter with Birdie than I am with any young soldier in my army, even though she is better than any I have ever trained.”
“But Xena, that doesn’t mean she should follow you at whim; I thought she must be with you, but I couldn’t help but worry; you should have sent her home… and who was this Feisal anyway? And do you need stitches in your arm?”
The Conqueror took her hand, “No, it’s only a scratch, and, a loud and angry king I have fought with for years; a very minor player, and I tried to send Birdie back until she reminded me of this irritating little blond who followed me once upon a time. It’s difficult for me to be hard on her when I see you peeking through.”
That brought a smile, “Really?”
“She said, “You’ve got to take me with you.” Now what was I going to say to that? I know that it was a weak decision… But she is ready to come with me more and to be my squire, Gabrielle; it’s in her blood, and it won’t be denied. The sword handling she demonstrated on Feisal today was absolutely top drawer.”
Gabrielle sighed… “Sword handling? Xena, she is a CHILD, a gifted child, yes, and I know how much she is like you, but I must hold her to the boundaries we set for her, or she may be hurt more seriously than she was today. Do you remember how you guarded my blood innocence? Am I wrong in this thinking?”
The Conqueror put her arm around the Queen and walked with her silently for several paces before turning to kiss her wife’s bright hair.
“Our child is so fortunate to have you as a mother. You underestimate yourself… My discipline is tough- directly to the point; I am training her to lead armies, to assess combat situations, give and follow orders, even though I don’t want that for her. I am teaching her because she has the gift, and I won’t allow her to follow darkness, although it may be in her. And I will guard her blood innocence, with all that is in me.”
“She worships you…”
“And she adores you; Gabrielle; there is as much of you in Birdie as I; perhaps even more. Be your gentle self in dealing with her; she is as sensitive as you are and were at her age; she will feel whatever you convey and take the lesson to heart.”
The following mid afternoon, I was sitting in my bedroom window watching Baba Xe’s army executing drills with envy when I felt the Queen’s presence in the doorway.
“I was wondering if I could have audience with Princess Robin of Xena the Conqueror and Gabrielle Bard of Potedia.”
My leg caused me to wince as I stood respectfully, “Absolutely, My Lady. Why do you speak to me so formally?”
She walked into my room closing the door, ” I thought that perhaps such an important warrior who was making big independent decisions now might wish to be addressed in that fashion.”
I shook my head as the ocean spray eyes held mine steadily until I dropped mine again…Mama G crossed the room and put her hands on my shoulders.
“Sit.” I did on the small red loveseat while she looked down at the top of my head. Then she pulled my head into a hug against her body and I wrapped my arms around her waist. My eyes filled involuntarily.
“You are trembling, Birdie; are you afraid of me?” She spoke very softly.
“No Mama G, I am not afraid of you.”
She stroked my hair gently, steadily. “Then what is it, Little Bird?” After a sniff and sigh, I managed, “Just rather take a hundred beatings than have you mad at me Mama G. I can’t stand having you mad at me.”
She put her hands on either sides of my face then and made me look into her wise forest eyes.
“Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, I am not mad at you; I was very worried about you and upset. That is because if anything had happened to you… ”
She sat down by me. “Let’s check your wound.”
I propped up my boot and untied the lacings on the sides of my cotton trousers. My mother undid the bandage and ran her fingers expertly over the tidy stitches she had put into the skin.
“I see no infection, but it’s a deep wound and the skin is warmer to the touch than I like. There is likely to be some infection later, but hopefully not too much.”
I sighed. Infections hurt. She gave me a light punch on the arm. “All part of the Hero Package, kiddo.”
I smiled at her, “What else comes with the Hero Package, Mama G?”
She leaned back and the faraway bardic sparkle came into the emerald eyes.
“Oh, travel, hardship, fights, lots of fights, free meals, no meals, jail cells, death, wounds, horse chases, chases on foot, swimming, stitches, exhaustion, gratitude, ingratitude, persecution, pride, satisfaction, happiness, but really, almost never–regret.”
I finished lacing the side of my trousers around the bandage.
“I feel rather like such is my destiny, My Lady,” My eyes did not seek her approval.
Her laughter surprised me.
“Well of course it is your destiny, Birdie; I just want you to TELL ME before you go running off into dangerous situations so I can either ground you immediately, or go with you!”
Not knowing what to say, I just looked at her.
“And don’t give me that ‘I can’t help it, I’m a warrior’ look either, kiddo, I don’t buy it!” She rose, ” Stand up, Birdie..”
I did and she quickly turned me by one arm and gave me one, two, three good swats on the backside. They carried just enough sting to free my tears.
“Hey.” She took my head to her shoulder and stroked my hair gently, until I was quiet. Then she pushed me back and made me meet her brimming eyes.
“That didn’t hurt too much now did it?”
Only my gentle mother who rarely laid a hand on me would ask that question of the warrior with a wound I was trying to be. It was the right question.
“Only my feelings, my lady.” I gave her a weak smile. “In truth, I looked for much worse.”
“In truth you should have it, “she growled with a smile as she sat again on the loveseat pulling me down beside her so I could lean against her relaxed. “And should you ever disregard all our rules again in such fashion you shall feel much worse. But Birdie, that would break my heart, and I hope you won’t push me that far.”
“My Lady, I promise, I will not, “I whispered with a sniff.
“Do you have any idea of what it would do to me if I lost you, Birdie?” her voice trembled.
It was as if the moon fell on my head. I slid off the couch onto my knees in front of her with her hands in mine.
“My Lady, My Mama G; I so sorry, “I whispered, “The opportunity presented itself and I took advantage without considering.” The tears came freely again.
She leaned forward and took my head in her hands, “Birdie, look at me.”
No one in the world had more beautiful eyes than my mother.
“You are a gift from the gods, my only child; you know that?”
“You just aren’t sure which god, right?” I managed a smile, which she returned. “We’ve always thought Aphrodite, Athena, or Artemis… But regardless of any of that, Birdie, you are the miracle of Baba Xe’s and my own life,” she finished softly, “I can’t lose you.”
“Can you forgive me?” I whispered.
She pulled my head into her lap, “already have, kiddo. I can never stay upset with you very long.”
We sat quietly a few moments while she played with my hair and I rested my head in her lap thinking.
“Mama, can I ask you a question?”
“Does it bother you that I look so much like Baba and not so much like you?”
She chuckled. “You can’t believe how much you are like ME, Birdie. Your Baba tells me something everyday.”
“C’mon, get up,” She pulled me to my feet, and we stood nose to nose. “Your hair, “she mussed mine.
“It’s dark, but it’s straight, thick and shaggy like mine. You are exactly my height, and I doubt that you will grow much more, yet you eat everything in sight. You are quick tempered but willing to talk things out. Look at our hands,” She placed our palms together. “They are a perfect match, Birdie. Skilled at fighting, but able to write poetry as well. Strong yet gentle. You are brave, kind, fun, intelligent, sensitive, and into trouble now and again. You may look a good deal like your Baba Xe, Birdie, but you are my child on the inside.”
There was nothing to do but hug her with all my might because I was so happy to be her child.
“Now,” the Queen returned. “Where is your little fox?” Has she hidden away with all of this family drama?”
“Probably,” I knelt and crawled about looking under my bed, “Zephyr, where are you?” The bright green eyes blinked at me from the dark.
“It’s ok, girl. C’mon, nothing to be frightened of,” I patted the floor and my black fox kit crept out quickly from her hiding place and into my arms. I stood stroking the silky fur.
“Zephyr, this is my Mama G, Mama, this is Zephyr, my fox.”
“Hello Zephyr,” My mother’s hand gently scratched the little animals ears, “Birdie, she is beautiful.”
We think that Feisal killed her mother and perhaps the other kits on his way to the duel,” I nuzzled the black ears softly, “Zephyr followed him, but he was engaged in battle before he could kill her. At one point he shouted at the woods without provocation, so I knew something was amiss over there. I found her just prior to your arrival in the meadow.”
“Will she allow me to hold her?” Mama’s eyes were serious.
“She’s very shy, but I think so. Zephyr, our mother the Queen will take you, ok? She likes baby foxes.”
The silver-tailed fur ball made the transfer quite calmly.
“Here we are Zephyr. You are a beautiful girl, yes you are.” The bonding was immediate; Zephyr licked her face.
We both laughed and Zephyr tilted her head at us in her studious way and I heard that my laugh was also like my mother’s.
The Queen inclined her head but didn’t surrender Zephyr. “Let’s go find your Baba Xe and have some dinner.”
As we came down the last of the stairs and out into the brilliant autumn evening, I tried to be off hand in remarking,” You know, Mama G, that I will be going with Baba as her squire now when there are problems in the field.”
There, the truth was told, but my breath was held. The Queen was silent for several steps, and then she shook her head and then gave me a mischievous smile. “I know Birdie, I’ll be going too.”
She shifted Zephyr to one arm, and lifted a leg of the elegant trousers she wore to reveal her sais strapped to her boot.
The look on my face made her chuckle. “Had you going for a minute there, didn’t I, Birdie?”
I sighed and ruffled Zephyr’s ears, “You did.”
“Just because you’re a warrior doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be a little afraid of your mother, “she mused, her eyebrows rising into her hairline.
“That, my Lady, will not be a problem, “I shot her a sideways grin, as we approached the drilling field and heard the clash of swords.
“One more thing,” We paused at the edge of the field, “Will you read this and help me with it? It came to me after the past couple of days.”
I took a folded parchment from inside my vest and handed it to her.
A question appeared on her face. “Wonderful”. She gently surrendered the sleepy Zephyr and opened it. A smile appeared as her eyes scanned the lines.
The poem was placed carefully into her pocket; her arm went across my shoulders and squeezed proudly.
“That’s my girl.”
She kissed my hair, and together we walked onto the field into the setting sun to find our Conqueror.
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard
My life is hard.
Death comes for me
Riding a black horse.
His teeth drip blood.
I freeze in his icy shadow.
My sword is small.
The Warrior steps
In front of me.
Her dark hair shelters,
Her eyes flash lightening
Their swords clash.
The thunder deafens,
My eyes shut in fear.
I awaken near
Cradled in her cloak.
The night is clear
The demon is gone.
I ask, “What is your source?
You reach down inside
And do the things you cannot do,
You face down hell.”
She smiles, “Gabrielle.”
Life comes for me
Riding a sea monster,
Its fangs are terrifying,
The water confuses me
My ship is small.
The Bard takes my hand
To steer my sail.
Her eyes the color of ocean foam
Find the North Star to guide us home.
I awaken near
Cradled in her love.
The night is clear.
I ask, “What is your source?”
She smiles, “The Warrior sets my course.”
I am Robin
Of the Warrior and Bard
And there will be times
My life is hard.
I will not trade it.
I have no fear.
My source will be
Their legendary bond,
Will guide me.
And if I founder,
I know they’ll find me.
Continued in Birdie’s Song II