Birdie’s Song II by Onesockbard

Birdie’s Song II
by Onesockbard

I am Robin of the Warrior
And the Bard.

I was born in the eighth year after the Conqueror began to change.  There is no reason to here recount the story of Xena the Warlord, who in her early years committed terrible deeds, or of Xena the Destroyer of Nations who committed even more terrible and terrifying atrocities. My story begins with Xena Warrior Princess, a woman who desired to atone for her for her terrible past and to seek a bit of peace in her present life.  The gods sent Gabrielle the Bard to help light her way; their travels and commitment to the greater good are legendary, and their love story is unparalleled by any other of its kind.   We know the stories.  Their lives are our lodestars.

The Warrior Princess didn’t come to power by “conquering” as such; oftentimes life presents people with situations demanding that someone step forward.  So it was with my Baba Xe.  That particular area of mountainous Greece was without strong and honest leadership at the time, and it was being invaded constantly by raiders of every ilk, but in particular, the Romans.    Xena of Amphipolis and her partner Gabrielle the Bard had no desire to live or lead in Athens, so they made their home, and therefore a  kind government, outside of Amphipolis, the town of Xena’s birth.    It had all of the environmental necessities, and it was defendable.   Cyrene, Xena’s mother, was still making her good living from the now famous “Cyrene’s Inn and Tavern”; Toris, Xena’s older brother was around to lend a hand while running his construction business, and the merry Amazons were nearby neighbors.

As I have said,“The Conqueror” title was really wrong for my Warrior parent.  She should have been called “The Defender”.  The Conqueror title came from her fearsome fighting skills, another characteristic unmatched and unparalleled in truth or legend…  But truly the power and loyalty she was given, she gained by defending the land, her family and her friends.   As more and more people began to despise the tyranny of  Rome, it was inevitable that an army would form to serve Xena the Conqueror.  Eventually, a small but beautifully built fortification surrounded the heart of Amphipolis, with turrets, and walls within walls that had living quarters for over one hundred soldiers on site.  An additional  two hundred soldiers lived in reserve in the surrounding farms.  And no one would question the loyalty of the fierce Amazons- their numbers were around one hundred in the immediate, with ties to two other tribes within a day’s ride.  Gabrielle was still their Queen by right of caste.

Even with all of their civic responsibilities, the Warrior and the Bard would steal away on Argo occasionally and go camping to enjoy the company of only each other like the old days.   One chilly but perfect night of romance there came an incredible shower of shooting stars that  surrounded  them as they made love.   They always told me that I must have been conceived on that night.  The gods blessed them for keeping them out of the hands of Rome.   Even though I was a surprise, I believe that they must have wanted me; children were painful subjects in both of their histories, and perhaps the gods meant for me to mend a few wounds.   Gabrielle, my Mama G, carried and gave me birth, but from my first appearance, it was extremely evident that I was very much of Xena’s blood as well.   When I began to speak, I called her my Baba Xe, and did so for all of my life.  They named me Robin after a bird that made her nest outside the castle window near the room where I was born.  The eggs hatched on the day of my birth.  “Birdie”, was the name given to me by the army when the Conqueror presented me to them.  I was very tiny, with little skinny legs even as a toddler always running among their great boots with an unruly patch of dark hair sticking straight up; Birdie was the name that stayed.  Even though I was somewhat of a “miracle child”, I was accepted well enough, as Xena and Gabrielle had always been capable of miraculous works.

From my birth, I was around warriors and learned their ways. When Xena and Gabrielle were in Amphipolis village, with Cyrene and Toris, they were  family and very informal.  But their main living quarters were in the fortress, near the armies; and life there was more formal.  They never asked for the titles of Conqueror and Queen, but people called them such, and to a certain extent, they had to accept those titles and responsibilities.   So did I.

One of my early memories was that I found a sword that one of the soldiers had carelessly left within my reach, I made my way to the top of the fortress wall dragging the thing with me, and I stood proudly on top on slightly wobbly legs like the Conqueror herself.  The Conqueror herself spotted me, she performed one of her gymnastic running flips,  landed it perfectly ; she quickly disarmed me, did a front flip back to safety handing me to the Queen who carried me away for an intense series of soft words and gentle swats that conveyed her displeasure with my activities. The Conqueror proceeded to hunt down the careless owner of the sword and nearly wring that soldier’s ears from his head while kicking his rump for leaving his weapon within reach of a four year old.  My infatuation with weapons and warfare began quite early on.

Public school troubled me socially.  I did not seek conflict, but it found me.   My size and unusual home life made me a target and I never backed down.   I also possessed a ferocious sense of fair play and took the parts of any other youngsters who were picked on regardless of the reasons. And I was always the victor, because I never ever quit; it didn’t matter to me how big my opponent was, or how much blood was drawn.

My Mama G refused to deal with my fights.  She dealt with my character, honesty, soul searches, homework, integrity, and just about everything else.  But she considered physical altercations, Baba Xe’s area.  When I was sent home from school for fighting, she sent me with an evil eye to the armory to help Scrubbers until Baba Xe arrived later.  Every soldier in the army was responsible for cleaning his own armor, but Scrubbers taught me how to make every nook and cranny shine.  Scrubbers had ridden with Xena the Warlord, and if he was in a rare mood, he would tell me stories while I sat with him and polished; I really quite enjoyed spending time with the old fellow. He made himself scarce though, when we heard the musical jingle of my Baba’s boot buckles approaching.  She would stride into the armory, pull up one of the large wooden stool furnishings directly in front of me, sit down on it with her arms folded across her chest, give me the direct, blue lightening gaze that  disintegrated any untruth in mid air, and simply say,

“Tell me.”

She would then decide if my altercation was justifiable, and if it were, we went up to dinner.  If she determined that the episode was just a case of my hot temper and willfulness, my backside would suffer that powerful sword hand applied until she witnessed my “darkness” dissolved to tears and the good Birdie was returned. She was adamant about that.  And to be honest, I did know better. Fortunately, most of my fights, she deemed fair enough.

After I tolerated the village school for two years, my parents hit upon the idea of educating me with the Amazon students.   That suited me well, because half of the day was spent at staff work and archery, and I was among youngsters better suited to my own personality.   As I came of age though, it became more apparent that I was advanced of most students, and it was decided that my Mama G would school me in the mornings, and I would work with Baba and the army in the afternoons.  I preferred the company of my parents to most anyone else I knew anyway; I took a more serious attitude about life than did most youth.  I divided my time studying the skills of a warrior, studying literature, and  writing in my journal.

On rare occasions, I liked to go up to the inn and watch my grandmother cook for the inn.  I loved to sit on top of the big counter across the kitchen, sometimes with Zephyr in my lap,  chatting to her just about everything a child can talk about, while she directed a steady stream of samples for me to taste.

One day I asked my Grandba Cyrene about the Tide.  I just couldn’t imagine that she had ever been the owner of such a sword, and yet, it was an heirloom piece, so it must have been hers at one time.   But she was my GRANDMOTHER.  Yes, she made the best muffins in mountainous Greece, but was it possible that she was former owner of the TIDE?  I remember asking her one day in a rather cavalier manner while licking a wooden spatula…

“So Grandba, the Tide truly once was your weapon?”

She had been stirring a huge delicious smelling pot of something with a large metal spoon with her back toward me.   She straightened her shoulders.

“Is it so difficult for you to imagine, Birdie?  Your old Grandba being a warrior?”

“Wellll…”  I had to be careful..” It’s easier for me to imagine you being the greatest cook in the world.”  I grinned.

WHOOOOOOOOAAAAAAMPPP!!!!

The large spoon hummed and vibrated in the wooden doorframe right beside my head, having been hurled from across the room by my grandmother.  I looked at the spoon.   The metal bowl had buried itself deeply into the wood not unlike a dagger.   I looked at my Grandba who was returned to stirring her stew again with a different spoon and humming a little mindless tune..

I swallowed… “Grandba?”

“Yes, lass.”

“The Tide WAS your sword.  Whoa!”

She turned around and winked at me,

“Run along now little Bird; Grandba’s got a big lot of folks comin’ in tonight.”

At dinner, Baba Xe nearly fell out of her chair laughing at my story.

Mama G looked at me more seriously, “You weren’t disrespectful to Grandba, were you, Birdie?”

“Oh, no, Mama… But I think perhaps I haven’t been respectful enough!”

My mother looked thoughtful, “and perhaps I haven’t been either.”

BabaXe kept laughing.

“What?” Mama  with a hint of danger in her eyes.

“Well what DID you think? The woman raised ME after all.  That woman could whip more Romans with a cooking utensil than the average innkeeper, I’ll tell you.  Cyrene is a force to be reckoned with, and to be respected.”

“Whoa.”

Thus I came of age and was appointed to the station of my Baba Xe’s squire, (after our run-in with Feisal) and it was a job I took very seriously.   The Conqueror’s livery had to be kept immaculate, and I looked after my own and the Queen’s as well.   The Conqueror’s crest was a blue fire- spewing dragon on a crashing tide of ocean green encircled by silver stars.  We wore this on a tapestry overlay over black leggings , wool sweaters, and boots.  I thought it was the most beautiful uniform anyone could possibly wear, and I knew- as most did- that it was based on my parents’ extraordinary eye colors.  A primarily male army needed something more, hence,  the dragon, which is a historically ferocious and fantastically mythical creature which seemed to suit everyone.  Even the Amazons had the crest tooled and painted on their arrow quivers.

After my sword was broken in the duel with Feisal, Baba Xe said I wasn’t allowed to have another until I was thirteen seasons old and could show better judgment.  It was an unhappy situation for me, but there was no discussion to be had about it..   I had to content myself with becoming more expert with the staff, and bow.  I was quite good with the first and excellent with the bow.  It came to me naturally, after spending time training with the Amazons.

What I couldn’t quite do, and what frustrated me to no end was catch arrows.  This skill eluded me by a fine margin, but it did elude me.  It was a difficult skill to practice as well, as it required someone to shoot arrows in order for me to catch them. Sometimes I could drag Ephiny or one of the soldiers out to shoot for me, but none of them ever wanted to shoot for any extended amount of time.  Because this skill  so eluded me, I became obsessed ; there were numerous stories of the Conqueror saving people by catching an arrow or a crossbow bolt at the final time’s measure.  I knew the key had to be constant practice.

Finally I hit upon a method of simply shooting the arrows straight up into the air and then maneuvering to catch them as they fell back to earth.  This didn’t  work if the sun was in my eyes, but I thought I could perfect the method of practice, and I could practice it  alone.  One evening I had just notched the fourth arrow impatiently ready to let it fly, when quite by surprise, I felt myself yanked up by the collar of my shirt, and the seat of my pants set on fire by several hard whacks.  Baba Xe immediately knelt down with her hands on my shoulders eye to eye with me while I tried not to cry.  Her sword hand packed a wallop.

“Do you know why, Birdie?”  She searched my eyes intensely.

I shook my head side to side feeling the streaks of tears down my face despite my best efforts.

“Ok.”

She took my bow, notched an arrow and shot it straight up into the air over our heads.  She pulled me tightly against her, arm around my shoulders.  We both looked up.

“Do you see the arrow, Birdie?”

“No Baba.”

“Now?”

“No.”

“It must be coming, Birdie, don’t you see it?”

The tears ran faster.

“Where is the arrow, Birdie?”

I could see only the sun’s glare..

“I don’t know, Baba..”

“HERE!”

Her voice and hand struck with the speed of a snake directly in front of my eyes.  It held the arrow- feathers vibrating.  A thin trickle of blood ran circling her wrist from the fine slice the arrowhead had laid into her palm.   She put the arrow on the ground wiped her hand with a handkerchief from her pocket and returned it to my shoulder as she looked at me again …

“Now you know why I tanned you, don’t you, Birdie?”

I sniffed and lowered my eyes.   She lifted my chin with a gentle finger.

“Don’t you, Birdie?”

“Yes my lady.”

“Soooooo, why?”

“I was doing something dangerous.”

“Why was it dangerous?”

A little sigh and hiccup.  “Shooting the arrow straight up makes it difficult to see and it could come down into my head or face.”

“It could hurt you very seriously or even kill you, Little Bird.”

“I’m sorry, Baba.”

“It’s ok, Birdie, but don’t ever let me catch you doing that again.”

“You won’t, Baba.”

“Ok, give me a hug.”

I put my arms around her neck and she lifted me completely off the ground for a moment- like I was four seasons old instead of twelve.  It felt good; I gave a little relaxed sigh and she put me back on my feet.

We began walking in to the fortress quietly, her hand on my shoulder.  I was chastened but not discouraged.

“Baba Xe, how long did it take you to learn to catch arrows?”

“Took awhile, Birdie.”

“Will you shoot for me sometime?”

The cool darkness hid her face, but I could hear her soft chuckle as she tousled my hair, and then let her hand drop to give me an affectionate swat.

“Yes, my very impatient fledgling.”

“It’s important, Baba.”

“I know, Birdie, I know…”

We stepped into the fortress…

“Go wash up, kiddo.”

She kissed my head.. “I love you, Birdie; you know that?”

I put my arms around her waist and listened to her heart a moment

” I love you too, Baba…”

In the bedroom, as the Conqueror changed clothing, she accepted a strong, deep embrace from behind by a blond head.  She turned for a welcoming kiss.

“Hey,”  Rainforest eyes read hers.  “ Are you all right ?  You and Birdie seemed locked into something  intense walking in from the field.”

The taller dark head rested on the blond one and sighed,” We were.  I had to come down on her pretty hard about the way she was using her bow and arrows.”

“She wasn’t hunting indiscriminately, was she?”

“No; Birdie would never do that.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“She was practicing something in a very unsafe manner and I put her right about it, that’s all.” The blue eyes filled, “But I didn’t let her know how badly she scared me.

The green ones softened.  “It’s tough, isn’t it?”

Tears ran over the Conqueror’s cheeks and the Queen brushed them away with gentle fingers.

“I’d rather ride out against a thousand Roman troops.”

The blond head wrapped her arms back around her lover,  listened to the Conqueror’s heartbeat and rubbed her back soothingly.

“She’s such a great kid, and she always means well.”

“She’s very impatient.”

Blue eyes met green eyes; “Wonder where that comes from?”

they said in chorus with a chuckle.

“Well, fortunately, you only need to tell Birdie once, “

offered the Bard, “she’s a quick study since she was very small.  She understands correction and usually she doesn’t defy it.  We are lucky about that with her…                    Do you want to talk about it, Xena?”

The Conqueror shook her head slinging tears from her eyes,

“nah, it would only scare you, and she won’t do it again.  I was emphatic with her.”

“Ok, then…”

Gabrielle took the beautifully sculpted face in her hands and gazed into the sky of her warrior’s eyes…

” Then you let it go and move on too.”

“Ok.” The eyes blinked the last tears away and enveloped the bard’s hands in her own as she was assured calmly.

“Birdie knows how much we love her and that we would never hurt her except by necessity of commanding her wayward attention sometimes…    I am sure that she’s over it already.”

I was seated on the hearth in the great dining hall enjoying the flames and patting Zephyr when my parents entered.   I had changed into a silk shirt and vest, combed my hair and tried to look more presentable…  Mama G crossed the room to me, gave me a hug and brushed back my hair from my face.  Zephyr looked up at her adoringly as well.  I rose as my mother inquired,

“Hi Little Bird; how was your day?”

I hugged her back and met the Conqueror’s eyes over her shoulder.

“Good,” I smiled, “Educational.”

It was my Baba Xe who put her hand into my hair gently, pulled my head to her chest and kissed it.

The next morning, Thomas, one of the outer guards, came in with a message from the Amazons that Roman troops had been seen on the march coming toward Amphipolis.  Possibly three hundred, possibly more.

“Why don’t they leave us be?”  Our Lady Queen sounded almost petulant as she gazed across the valley.  “We do not bother them; we ask nothing of them, and yet they must come and harass us at least once or twice a year.”

“Rome wishes to rule the world,” said her tall and dark partner who was donning heavy leather boots that came well above the knee. “Amphipolis Fortress is a sizable thorn in Rome’s side because we are self sufficient, self governing, we bow to no one, and the gods favor us.”

The Queen crossed to encircle the Warrior’s waist with her arms.

“So once or twice a year Rome must come and try to take it all away from us.”

The Conqueror lay her head on the blond one.  “and they never will; I can promise you that. Not as long as I draw breath.”

Gabrielle broke from her decisively, “ I am coming with you.”

“It’s not necessary, Love; we don’t look for much more than a sizable skirmish.  We should be able to ride out with a few catapults and some Greek fire and run them back home quickly enough.  The Amazon scouts said most were on foot.”

The Amazon Queen strode across to her wardrobe to  fetch and slip her sais into the straps on her boots.

“Nevertheless.   Call it intuition.  Call it whatever you wish.  I am coming with you.”

The blue eyes studied her.

“Never could stop you.  Put on your armor.”

I tapped at the door with my foot as I was buried in livery and leather.  When the door swung back I staggered inside and dropped the heavy tapestry on the oversized couch.

“Livery delivery, my ladies.”

My mother was buckling a wide belt around her woven leather armor.

“Thanks you, Honey.”

I helped her slip the dragon overlay on and buckle the fastenings at the sides.  Baba Xe pulled hers on herself;  the dragon on her overlay wore a small crown.  I helped her adjust her weaponry- a dagger in each boot, a dagger and a short sword with the chakram at her waist, and the Tide at her back.  So much added weight, yet she moved as gracefully, and as light of foot as always.

“Argo is ready with your pike and plenty of arrows, “ my squire’s report ran crisply. “Anything else you desire we can add before we ride out.”

I turned to my mother.

“As with you My Lady.  Your staff is in its holster on one side and the Amazon sword on the other of Wendy.”

Baba Xe  tugged a strap through, “Birdie, you will not like this, but you are not going.”

I looked at her completely dumbfounded,” Baba, I’m your squire now; I must be with you.”

She continued to buckle and fasten straps all over without meeting my eyes, because she knew that I would be irate.

“Baba, I am your squire, I HAVE to go! It’s my job now; don’t make me stay here; I won’t stay here!”

Angry tears stung my eyes.

“Birdie.” My mother’s voice pierced my anger.  “Birdie, watch your temper.”

“But Mama!!”

“Birdie, that’s my decision.”

The deeper voice of the warrior brought discussion to an end.

She finished fastening and began her departure from the room.  She stopped beside me and lifted my chin with her hand.

She smiled gently, “Birdie I know that you are angry and I am sorry.  You have worked hard at being a squire and if it were anyone but the Romans, I would let you go.  But it’s just too dangerous.  They would like nothing more than to kidnap the child of the Conqueror for ransom; I can’t begin to bear the thought of you in their hands, Birdie, do you understand?”

“Yes ma’m, “ was my answer, but I wouldn’t look at her; the disappointment was too great.  She smiled again, ran her hand through my hair and held my head to her a second, and walked through the door.

“Mama,”

“Birdie, you heard her.  No discussion.  Honey, I know it may seem unfair, but she’s right in this case.  Rome is a terrible enemy, and if you fell into their hands, what would they do to you?  Your Baba is right.  I can’t think of it either.”

“But Mama,” Furious tears were falling; I didn’t often regress to this level, but my outrage was intense.

“Birdie.”

I said no more but stood helplessly as she finished her gear and made ready to depart.   Before she walked out, I tolerated her embrace sullenly.  She pulled my head to give it a gentle kiss and dipped her head to look into my eyes.

“This shouldn’t last long we hope; Scrubbers will keep you informed, ok?”

“ok.”

“I love you Little Bird.”

How many times  I would flog my conscience in the days to come for my silent response to those words.  One should ALWAYS respond to those words.

Gabrielle the Bard ponders leaving Birdie behind as she rides forth to confront the Romans

If sapphire lightening

Tears wounds in the sky,

The warrior seeks me

By and by.

To no one else

My warrior yields,

Her soul lies down

In my green fields.

And from our union

A wondrous birth-

Raven haired mix

Of fire and earth.

We ask for wisdom

And patience to guide,

This miracle child

Of darkness and light.

From her storm cloud eyes

Fierce teardrops fall

My heart of earth

Must feel them all.

Please all gods watching

Keep our child safe,

And send my love

To light her way.                                 

Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Part 2

The first excuse I could offer would the location of my bedroom window. It was a large window, my bedroom was in the west tower, and it sat higher than most of the trees. I loved to perch in the wide stone frame when the weather was good and watch the activities being practiced on the half dozen military fields below. How could any able bodied person witness daily, the drills and skills of such avid fighters and not wish to become involved? Even the few times my mother had grounded me for a day or so, it was light duty for me, because my room was such a pleasant place to spend time. My desk with my journals and drawing papers were close by, so when I tired of one occupation, it was easy to take up another.

So it was standard operating procedure that Zephyr and I were watching when the Amphipolis Army moved out to meet the Roman legion coming to invade our territory. Xena the Conqueror ran a beautiful force, and it was always a stunning sight. They were not an ostentatious army like the legions with their high step march, loud cadences, and expensive shiny armor and weaponry. The army of the Conqueror presented itself as more like a well trained Olympic Team; every person walking with the easy confident stride of constant athletic training, and every weapon was carried for use and not for show. War is always terrible, but as a member of the Conqueror’s Army, one could march into a fight with faith in one’s comrades, full knowledge that no back would be left unprotected; and that no soldier would be left behind… ever.

My parents were in the rear- Gabrielle the Bard on Wendy, the delicate black and white mare who understood the bard’s riding skills and carried her bravely though every conflict. She was completely surrounded by Amazon warriors who had managed to make the fast journey in time to join this battle. Their loyalty to their Queen was unshakable and deeply heartfelt. As she blessed her warriors, my Mama G’s bright hair caught the sun’s rays which distinguished her as a small angel in the masses.

Nearby rode Xena the Conqueror, taking a final inventory, unmistakably in charge, sitting Argo’s saddle like woman and horse were the same being; while the warhorse danced sideways quite as alert as the leader. When the palomino and the paint joined the straight ranks at the back edge of the army, I saw my Lady Queen’s hand reach and grasp the Conqueror’s larger hand for an instant, and an energy- intangible and indestructible- passed between them. Then Xena straightened, raised her head, and her voice rang over the group,

“To arms!”

The entire militia stopped on that command. They waited quietly but the tension was electric in the air. I heard her voice,

“Ho!”

And with a light sing song version of her “yiyiyiyyiyi!” the march began perfectly, powerfully in step, with the backs of their ocean colored overlays blowing like a rolling wave of crashing water. Nothing would stand against them.

My heart beat leaped and I glanced at Zephyr who was looking at me intensely.

“It’s a bad idea, Zephyr.”

She licked her chops and gave an insistent little whine.

“Baba Xe will have my hide.”

She whined again and stamped her paws impatiently on my lap

“If you really want to go, I’ll take you, but you must be sure.”

Zephyr whined and added a little growl.

“Zephyr, can you say, ‘yi yiyiyiyiy’?”

“ yip! Yip !yip! yip !yip!”

“Close enough, good girl!”

Like all soldiers I kept a field pack ready with a change of clothing, a knife, and a flint for fire starting and a water skin ready in my wardrobe. My pack was customized as well with a little pouch on the side to carry Zephyr. I placed my black fox into her pocket, belted the waist and chest straps about me securely, opened my bedroom door and looked both ways. Deserted. On velvet boots I took the stairs, carefully avoiding the tenth step which always emitted a loud squeak. I knew that Grandba Cyrene would be in the Fortress’ large kitchen preparing her famous “after battle- Baklava”, and that she would be more intent on her cooking than listening for her escaping grandbirdie. I crept past the kitchen, beyond the door, and ran toward the stable as soon as she turned to open the big oven doors.

Galto, the big stable hand was my next obstacle, and he gave me a quizzical look, but I smiled and said, “Hi, Galto… just visiting Hades…” and walked right past him like it was an ordinary day. Galto was a little bit slow, and it would take him a moment to suspect anything. Now if Scrubbers was in the armory and not the stable, I would be free… I arrived at Hades’ stall and walked to the entrances of that section of stalls at either end. Nothing. Scrubbers must be in the armory. If I hurried, I could make it. My conscience chided me for both avoiding and deceiving two people that I loved; this would exact a price in trust with them. But that would come later. Right now there was some place that I wanted to be, and the price seemed worth it.

Hades, despite his terrific size, had become my horse. His stable stall had a small foot ladder by which I could climb aboard his back, which was very helpful with my field pack and Zephyr. I also hung my bow and a dozen arrows, two fair sized daggers, and after some thought, I took an Amazon sword that was hanging in another stall. It had been there for days and nobody had claimed it… That would mean even more trouble with Baba, but I was not going to enter a battlefield without a sword. I had already committed myself to trouble; I might as well take a sword.

Having readied my horse for the situation, I led Hades to the great stable door. There was a hawser on it that I could tug and using my full strength, could walk the door open enough for us to slip outside. Hades stood accommodatingly beside the water trough so I could climb up to get astride him.

“Are you ready, Zephyr? We are likely to go hard at times.” I heard a little whine, and she settled deeply into the bag where there was a window from which to extend her nose and watch the world. We left the village centre at a quiet pace; it seemed virtually deserted, and though I might have heard my name, just as we left the main gate. I did not look back.

“And are you ready, Hades?”

Hades’ answer was to increase into a steady gallop, straight for the massive dust cloud a few leagues ahead of us. The horse knew far more about going into battle than I did. As his mighty hooves cut though the distance, the first of my senses alerted was my hearing; there was a dull roar, which intensified as we covered the space between. I cannot describe the roar. It was otherworldly.

In short time, I could feel the heat rising from the din, than smell the sweat, both human and horse, mixed with other excrements I will not detail here, except to say, that they are a less glorious side of war

As Hades pounded us along the perimeter of the teaming mass of conflict I began to pick up the details- the sounds of battle- the clash and clang of metal, the screams and groans of human and beast, war cries and pleading, prayers and tears.

Then there was an occasional sprong of the catapult and the whoooooshhhh of the ball of Greek fire as it left the cup, the soft THUNK as it struck its target, which then accelerated louder cries of pain and misery.

. I could also hear quiet airy hisses of bows and arrows and the grunts when they found homes in the hearts of their targets as well.

Hades was an experienced warhorse carrying an inexperienced warrior; he galloped courageously, directly into the center more quickly than I was aware, and all I could do was cling closely to his neck, absolutely terrified.

What had I done?

All around me were the Conqueror’s Army fighting furiously to drive the Roman legions into retreat. The Roman army fought in a stagnant tradition of sword slash, push, shield, sword slash, try to gain ground, sword, chop, and repeat.

The Conqueror’s army used swords, hands, kick boxing, and head butting; the entire body was a weapon. The Romans didn’t know what tool might strike what parts of their bodies next. It was thrilling to watch; I was mesmerized by the whole scene as if it were some kind of surreal puppet show. But I felt a slight tingling at my back, and a ringing in my ears- perhaps it was instinct- perhaps dumb luck. Happily the Amazon sword left its sheath just in time to block a blow from a gladiator- style sword swung right at my leg. The jar of the blow nearly took my sword from my hand and brought a clear realization that I was far out of my league. Hades carried me safely away from that attacker and I had a moment to recollect, and Zephyr squirmed in the pack.

“Sorry girl,” I said,” I will try to leave this madness; Baba was right. Maybe we can return to the fortress quietly and they will never know we were here.”

I guided Hades into a wide arc aimed toward Amphipolis when I saw them.

They were fighting back to back, just like I had heard in myriads of stories, Xena Warrior Princess and The Battling Bard of Potedia; the Warrior neatly running through, gutting from stem to stern, air flip kicking, and reverse stabbing any enemy who came near her, and the Battling Bard twirling her staff like a pinwheel first forward, then reverse battering the head, legs, torso, or any other body part of foolish Romans who came near her big stick. I couldn’t help but stop and watch the legends who were my parents prove once again that they were indeed legendary; the stuff of bards’ songs.

But during my moment of admiration, my mother sensed my presence and I felt the burn of jade eyes across the field, I saw her lips move a silent, “Bir-die”, but in that instant my life became nightmare.

A Roman centurion moved parallel to my location and fired his crossbow pointblank at Mama G whose eyes were distractedly locked on me, her problem child.

Mama!” the scream was ripped from me as I launched myself over Hades’ head in an attempt to catch the crossbow bolt. It was very close, but I couldn’t do it; I could not catch the bolt.

All things tragic take on a slow motion quality. This was tragic.

As the crossbow bolt struck my Mama Gabrielle, the entire left side of her head exploded in blood. In the same moment, Baba Xe whirled around crying out her name and caught the falling bard. As she supported Mama G in one arm, her eyes locked on me. In a tearful fury, I had drawn my dagger leaped upon the archer, and in one quick slash, removed the man’s hand that held the crossbow. As he stood screaming, clutching his spurting stump, I ran back to Hades and pulled the Amazon sword. Raising it over my head, I charged the man again.

“BIRDIE! NO!”

Baba’s voice rang out across the chaos. It halted me for a half breath. That was all that was necessary for the singing chakram to slit his throat, and coat me in a spray of red mist. I lowered the sword trembling violently now, sick to my stomach. My feet staggered somehow to Hades who immediately bent his front leg to give me a step up hop and flip into his saddle. My sobs verged on hysteria; vertigo nearly threw me off, but Hades turned his great head to nose me back upright enough to stay put.

As if there had been a silent signal, suddenly, the Conqueror and the Queen were completely encircled by fierce Amazon warriors facing outward, threatening woe anyone who would challenge that force. The rest of the Amphipolis army had also become something terrifying; it was as if every soldier suddenly doubled in strength. It was a trick that I had seen my Baba Xe perform in battle when she unleashed her dark side. Seeing their beloved Queen so seriously wounded unleashed a dark side in the militia heretofore unknown even to themselves. The Romans had no choice but to turn tail and run for their lives. The army’s ferocity knew no limits, I knew nothing but tears, and Hades knew only to run. He carried me far into the darkening evening.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It may have been three candle marks before we stopped; I have no way of knowing for certain. It was farther from home than I had ever been on my own. There was a quiet wooded glen, with a cold clear stream, and Hades picked it as our place to rest; he was very thirsty.

I tumbled from the saddle, having the presence of mind only to loosen the straps a bit, and to free Zephyr from the rucksack, before I rolled into a ball of weeping misery. My head throbbed, my stomach lurched, and I could hardly catch my breath from crying.

Every time I closed my eyes I saw my Mama G’s head burst open bright red, and the retching began; my desire was to crawl inside myself and disappear into the darkness of my own soul.

When my eyes opened, there was nothing but the pitch black and the roaring sound the water made as it washed its way through the stones, the stuttering sobs which remained unceasing, and the loneliness of my chosen plight. So again my eyes would squeeze shut and see that horrible vision of my mother. I couldn’t stop the abusive cycle in my replaying my head and heart.

I curled into the fetal position to conserve a little warmth, and yet my hair was plastered to my head with perspiration; the hellish visions of reality had made me feverish.

I don’t know how much of the night I lay trembling before a warm and gentle tongue began to clean the tears from my face with a little whine, and a cool nose, pushed through my hair tenderly.

“Zephyr, Mama’s dead.” I whispered, and wept anew, but it was only weeping. My fox came to me then, curled up next to my stomach where I could put my arms around her, she nuzzled and made soft murmurings that comforted me enough, and finally, we slept.

The heavy door to the Conqueror’s bedroom was kicked open by a large booted foot. The striking face of the warrior was gaunt, as she laid her soul mate carefully on the oversized bed, and the fortress healer and his assistant provided extra linens under the pillows to catch the oozing blood.

“Head wounds,” the healer said, “They bleed bloody awful.”

Xena shot him a grim look,

“It’s a bloody awful head wound, I’m afraid. It was a big heavy cross bolt. See here how much swelling there is in addition to the gash? “

The healer looked again and hissed, “You are right, My Lady. Hopefully it’s only a concussion, and some blood loss. We won’t know for sure till she wakes and we can take account of the confusion she suffers…” He dabbed gently at the bloody blond hair, and then looked at the warrior who had buried her head in her arms. My Lady, we can clean her up a bit, and then call you if you want to assist with the stitching. IF you should wish to step out, stretch, have a drink, gather your wits.” He gave her his best wise old healer smile.

She returned the smile. “Are you issuing a prescription?”

“For the moment, My Lady… only half a candle mark or so. The Queen will neither wake, nor will she feel any pain.”

“For a moment then.” She exited, and went straight to Birdie’s room and entered with a knock and statement, “Birdie, I will skin you ali—“

No Birdie.

“Birdie!” She looked in the wardrobe; no field pack. “Birdie?” No Zephyr.

“Zeus’s Rotten Thunderbolts!! BIRDIE!!”

Boots thundered down the stairs and out to the stable to search the stall she knew would be empty. She jogged around a corner and crashed into Scrubbers. They looked at each other helplessly. The blue eyes brimmed with too much emotion in this day.

“Lass, I tried to stop her, I did.”

“You couldn’t have stopped her, Scrubby. I know that. But what will I tell her mother when she wakes up?” The glacier blue eyes brimmed with unshed water.

Scrubbers stepped forward to take commander’s shoulders in his hands.

“Don’t you worry, now Lass. I and Thomas and the lads.. We’ll get right to searchin and we’ll find young Robin and bring her home. You go up and stay with the Queen. We’ll find her.”

“Scrubby..”

He shook her gently but firmly…

“Do as I say, Lass.”

She swallowed and then acquiesced. “For tonight, anyway, Scrubby. Till the Queen wakes.”

“Good lass.”

She strode toward the fortress, the gait of the Conqueror back. She turned,

“Scrubby.”

“Yeah, Lass.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s my pleasure, Lass.”

“For all you do with Birdie.”

“She’s a handful and a hoot, that one.”

He could see her smile in the dark, as he turned and shouted, “Thomas! Get the horses, we’re going out!”

===================================================

Soft whining brought me from the darkness. My mental functions were completely foggy, and I squinted in the sunlight. I could hear Hades’ hooves moving about, and gradually, the previous day’s events made their way into my thoughts. I curled into a little ball and let the silent steady tears come again hoping death would take me too. But the whimper came again accompanied by a sharp bark to get on with it. I shook the tears from my eyes and rolled up.

Zephyr lay beside two fat doves that she was presenting as a gift, her tail flickering back and forth.

“Zephyr,” I tried to sound severe,” you know you are not to kill birds; you know how much Mama hates…..” Stop. Stop it.

“So Zephyr, are you hungry? Let’s gather some wood.” I went about finding dry wood and building a circle of stones to contain a fire. This chore took me out to Hades who had discovered an open meadow nearby and was grazing contentedly. He was happy to see me though, and whickered gently when I tugged his saddle off completely. There was a wild crabapple tree right at the edge of the forest, and I quickly scrambled into the lower branches to fetch a few fresh ones for him. He appreciated those too; all the gods knew he deserved them.

But Zephyr was waiting for meat, so I struck the flint and breathed gently on the fragile sparks until the tiny flame came to life. A fire was always an improvement to one’s situation.

I took the doves to the creek and cleaned them with my dagger, all the while talking to Zephyr who sat watching me with interest.

“Only this once, Zephyr. From now on I will catch fish. Birds are rather special to me, and I’d rather you didn’t kill them. But I understand that you were very hungry, and I do appreciate your effort. “

She gave me that tilted head look that always signified to me that she understood.

I skewered the small pieces of poultry on sticks to cook, and made my way back to the creek to see what I could do about myself. There was a bar of soap in the field kit, so even though the water was very cold, I opted to strip and wash completely. Zephyr stood guard while I scrubbed the matted dirt and blood out of my hair and my clothing while trying not to think about how it came to be there. There were several flat stones being warmed by the sun along the bank, so I spread my laundered clothing about on them. The clean dry heavy cotton trousers and blue tunic from my pack felt very good, but I did not put on my dragon overlay; I did not feel worthy of the livery. But the doves were ready, and Zephyr and I polished them off quickly.

“ Good job, and thanks, Zephyr.” I said to her. She gave me grave look in return. “Now we need to make a plan, my friend.”

-++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sunrise found the warrior out on the bedroom balcony watching. In the far distance, she could see the ghostly forms of horses returning to Amphipolis. The long unruly shock of white hair on one rider identified him as Pluto “Scrubbers,” her dear old friend… She could see no sign of a smaller rider with them.

The railing of the balcony took the weight of the powerful shoulders and arms as she held her head in her hands allowing a few tears to escape. Where was that damn kid? The series of events were a mangled blur in her mind- the devastating crossbow hit, Birdie slicing the man’s hand off cleanly, freezing Birdie’s next impulse with her own voice and chakram spin, catching and cradling her partner’s bloody head. Xena paused. Did Birdie believe that Gabrielle had been killed? She dismissed that. It was too horrible to think of; Birdie would have made certain: she was level headed- a fighter, wasn’t she?

She walked back inside the bedroom and looked at her partner. The blond hair had been washed as had the rest of the bard, and some color hand returned to the sleeping countenance. One side Gabrielle’s face looked perfectly normal. It was the injured side that was more frightening, with the bruise extending halfway down the cheek, and stitches extending from the eyebrow all the way back to the ear tip. But the breathing was quiet and regular. Both Xena and the healer knew now that it was just a matter of when Gabrielle’s body felt recovered enough from the tremendous shock it had withstood to awaken and to rejoin those who loved her. Loved her more than life itself.

The conqueror met her searchers at the entrance. Scrubbers wouldn’t meet her eyes, and she put her hand on his defeated shoulder.

“Scrubby, it’s ok.”

“We only came back to fetch provisions, Lass. Then we’re back on it I promise ye. No little Birdie girl will outwit three of the Conqueror’s finest.”

The Conqueror smiled. “Scrubby, you know she’s tricky.”

The smile was returned. “Ay Lass, she is..”

“Go rest a bit now. If the Queen wakes, I will join you later on..”

The warrior had just turned back to the fortress when she heard her name.

The older woman was out of breath from hurry. But she immediately embraced her strong and capable daughter.

“Xena, I just heard everything. I saw Birdie ride out yesterday, the little rascal, even shouted to her, but she never looked back.”

The warrior was trembling slightly in her mother’s arms. “Mother, I don’t know what to do; I need to go and look for Birdie, but I can’t bear to leave Gabrielle either.” Tears were filling the eyes of the greatest fighter in Greece, and her mother patted her back.

They turned and began walking arm in arm into the fortress.

“There my dear. Give it some time and try not to worry yourself to death. Gabrielle should wake soon, and you will be able to think more clearly then. For now, let the men search for Birdie. I will take the wagon and go myself, but I make no promises about what I will do to the little scamp if I find her.”

“You have my blessing, Mother,” smiled the warrior, “and I will be in line to have my turn, once we make certain that she is safe. I only hope that the situation is that simple.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Grandba Cyrene. She sat down in one of the large overstuffed chairs in the sitting room off the kitchen.

“ Birdie may believe that Gabrielle was killed and that the Queen’s death is her fault. Otherwise, I believe that she would have come home. Yes, she knew that she would be in trouble with me, but that alone would not have kept her away. The other possibility worries me, Mother. But yet there is little action to take on either front at this point.” Her head dropped.

“Honey?”

“I feel completely helpless, Mama.”

Cyrene looked up at her tall daughter and ran her hands up the powerful corded arms and tugged a little. Like a toppling tree, the Conqueror knelt first to one knee, then the other, and then she laid her head in her mother’s lap and began to weep.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Night has fallen

Dark and deep.

Horse and fox

Close watch will keep.

Safe abed

In healing sleep,

The bard will drift,

The child may stir.

But on this day

Of few words spoken,

Too much of her heart

Is broken,

The warrior weeps…

Part 3

The best plan that Zephyr and I had constructed thus far was to keep following the water. My parents had taught me this at a tender age-when one has no other direction or clue, always follow water. The trail along the water was rising and that suggested that eventually there might be mountains and the possibility of caves for better shelter. We couldn’t continue to count on fair weather every night. I walked along leading Hades so that he could find his own footing; the trail was quite stumbly with rocks, and he had run hard enough for three horses escaping the battle yesterday. Zephyr believed it was her job to explore in some depth the peripheries of our path. So far she had ambushed only a few ground squirrels, and quail-but they were dangerous in the mind of a black fox.

I worked hard at paralyzing my thought processes, but there were times of utter failure. No matter how my mind ran the equation of events, it kept working out that had I not gone to the battlefield, had Mama G not frozen her sights on me, and had the archer not locked his crossbow on HER, my beloved mother would still be alive. Was there any possible way that she survived? No, the wound was too horrific; no hope should be held out for such a reprehensible child as I.

Would the Furies come to punish me, or were they already with me? Every time I determined that surely my body must be emptied of every last tear it could manufacture, more came unbidden, and I fell into a chasm of despair – -a mental darkness in which I became lost. But after some unmeasured time, awareness would return, with the cool nose and tongue of my fox -coaxing me back with worried little whines and my steadfast horse standing patiently waiting. It was right that the gods sent to me these silent friends for this difficult time. I could have asked for no better.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was the second morning since the skirmish. The army had actually come from the battle very well, no deaths, a dozen wounded, seven seriously, and one missing- an officer. The Conqueror was on her balcony as always pondering these matters while watching Apollo drive his chariot across the sky, and she offered a private plea that he send her wayward youngster in the direction of home. Though Xena had ridden out on Argo in the four directions from the fortress, the previous day, she could pick up no trail of Birdie. Apparently, the girl had remained on the back of Hades, and while Hades’ hooves were larger than many, there had been so much activity in the vicinity, it was impossible to pick up any clear tracks to follow a distance… As more time passed, the more it seemed likely, that indeed, Birdie had taken the blame for Gabrielle’s injury, or death, in Birdie’s mind anyway, and that the girl had self-exiled from Amphipolis. Xena felt very sure of Birdie’s reaction because it would have been the reaction of the warrior at such and age and situation– to run.

As the Conqueror passed through the heavy double doors and quietly placed her mug of tea on the table in front of the fireplace, she felt them first, the intense gaze weak, but true.

“Gab?”

Spinning around, she met the tired but clear jade eyes fixed on her. Xena leaped over the edge of the bed and planted herself in the chair beside her lover, taking the thin hand in her own tenderly.

“Welcome back, Gabrielle.”

The pale hand brushed the tan cheek to catch the involuntary tears that fell, even though Xena’s face was a vision of joy and relief.

“How do you feel?” came the soft question.

“Thirsty,” was the answer.

Her lover poured water from a nearby pitcher into a cup, eased the bard into a slight sitting position against her chest, and helped her take a sip of water, and then another…

“Easy, babe… easy… slowly at first.”

“That tastes good, thanks,” said the bard, easing back down. “I feel like someone has put a pot over my head and is constantly banging on it with a metal spoon. That’s a vast improvement over when it felt like an enormous ball of Greek fire.”

Xena kissed her hand and brushed the blond hair behind the delicate ear.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to have you back.”

“It’s nice to return; I didn’t like where I was.”

“Gab,”

“Xena, I know about Birdie.”

The Conqueror’s head dropped to the bed for a moment, the pale hand stroked the dark hair.

“I also know that for the moment, Birdie is ok.”

The head lifted. “How?”

“It’s difficult to explain; I will show you sometime when I am feeling a bit stronger-perhaps tomorrow?”

The warrior gave her a slightly puzzled look,

“Fine, I guess.”

“You’ll just have to trust me for now… I wish I knew more, but wherever she is, she’s alive at least.”

“Well, that’s some relief anyway; much better than knowing absolutely nothing about Birdie, and watching you lie there unconscious.” Xena sighed, “I guess I can live with that much improvement for the time being, but now that you are on the mend, I am going out to FIND our kid.”

“That could be difficult, Xe, if she doesn’t want to be found.”

A silent warrior gave the bard another drink…

“Are you hungry?”

“Of course.” A smile,

“Is there something sweet of Grandba’s over there?””Yes,” the warrior laughed, leaped across the room and fetched the goodie laden tray.

“Oh, yummm..”

“You are better already, aren’t you?”

“Yeah hmmmm. Be stronger in no time.”

“You are taking on my recuperative powers, perhaps?”

“Must be your mother’s food.”

“Could have helped.”

“Xena, “the voice took a sober timbre.

“Yeah..”

“Birdie thinks that what happened to me is her fault, doesn’t she?”

A pause while the warrior shifted in the chair.

“Yes, I believe she does, and not only that– she may believe that you are dead.”

“Oh, gods,” now the green eyes filled. “Poor Birdie.'”

” I am very worried about her,” said the warrior, “I vacillate between extreme worry and extreme irritation, and thoughts of how much trouble she will be in.”

“Sounds like Baba’s mad,” said the bard…

“Baba’s been to Hades and back worrying and is still worried to death about our kiddo… She is good at evading searchers. Isn’t that something? Xena the Conqueror can’t find her own kid “sighed the warrior, “All the gods on Olympus know that I just want her to come home.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was a stunningly beautiful evening. We had stopped in the foothills enjoying the extraordinary light effects the sun can have when it mixes with the natural filters an ever changing landscape can provide. Hades was searching out good grazing, and combined with the crab-apples I was able to harvest here and there, we were keeping him fed relatively well. Zephyr was again checking the perimeters of our camping spot, but I expected her to join me at the clear pool where I was preparing to do some fishing.

Soon, Zephyr’s large black ears peeked from the cattails along the water. I readied my bow and arrow, took careful aim, shot into the water, and proceeded to pull in a good sized fish by the cord which was tied to the arrow.

“It’s not a bad method is it, Zephyr?” I asked my fox, “Fishing is one of the few skills I’ve never needed to do the same way Baba Xe does. She tried to teach me, but I rejected her way. She didn’t like that. So I gave it a try, but Zephyr, Baba’s way is too quiet and TOO SLOW!! She just stands motionless, in the water waiting for fish to swim by and then she grabs them barehanded! My way is a better way and I said so!”

Another fish came in view of my arrow. I shot it and pulled it in straight away, enough for our supper. I took the two fish to the bank of the pool to clean them. Zephyr came over to watch.

“Well, I thought Baba might wallop me right there, but Mama,”

A swallow and pause,

“Mama told us both to stop it. Mama G said that we both were exhibiting HUBRIS over fishing for heaven’s sake. FISHING..”

I completed the fish chore and hiked up the bank to start the fire.

“Do you know what hubris is, Zephyr? It’s excessive pride. The gods reward courage and punish pride. You could have hubris because you are a black fox, and black foxes are rare, Zephyr… Did I show hubris the day we went to the battle, my friend?”

The sparks caught the dry kindling which I blew gently, and then added larger twigs to the size of a good evening blaze within the circle of stones. Zephyr lay near by staring into the flames while I checked the fish again for bones and added a little salt. Then I sat down beside the warmth as well.

“Perhaps I did, Zephyr, Maybe that’s why we are on the run now… maybe I was too proud in thinking it was time for me to go to war. That is why you and I are on this journey. For certain, something was wrong.”

I turned the fish over.

“Sure do wish you could talk, Zephyr.” She looked at me sympathetically, her yellow green eyes intent on my face.

“Nobody beats you as a listener though, Zephyr, Nobody.”

I removed a cooking stick and took a couple of bites from it. Then I held the stick for Zephyr who politely slid her bite from it. It had cooled enough for her then. We repeated the routine with another stick.

“Fair enough.” I smiled at my dining partner. “Perhaps I can remember how Mama G made some of her soups, Zeph. Fish sticks are going to become tiresome.”

My head drooped with my mood.

“I miss them so much, Zephyr. Do you suppose there would be any chance Baba would want to even have me around, when I am responsible for Mama’s death?”

My eyes filled, but I kept myself in check.

“I wouldn’t want me around.”

Zephyr was by my side immediately. I eased my body down, making a pillow of my arm, and my fox lay down beside me. We watched the flickering firelight, and as the woods sounds came on in the darkness, silent tears dropped into the dry dust beneath my head.

******************************************************************

Cyrene drove the team into the stables and lifted her long skirts to climb down from the wagon. Galto the big stable hand was there to offer her a bear like paw of a hand down.

“Thank you, Galto. Time was I wasn’t so fat, and I could still sit astride a horse, you know? ”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Time was, the Tide was mine.”

“Yes, my lady.” She gave him an older version of “The Look”.

“Ahhhhhhhh. Get on with you then…”

Cyrene had decided to stay at the fortress for as long as was necessary to find Birdie. Xena the Conqueror might be “The Conqueror” to many folk, but she was only Xena, her daughter, to Cyrene, and her daughter was in crisis, there was no doubt of that. Cyrene had spent a good part of the day out with the team trying to gain any kind of fix on a direction her grandchild might have ridden. But with no luck.

The older woman released a heavy sigh, as she entered the kitchen and poured herself a cool cider. When she had passed the Tide on to Xena, she had hoped a good bit of the stress would go with it. She smiled to herself. That had been self delusional. The wearing and tearing that life places on human beings isn’t handed down with an heirloom sword.

Cyrene had been somewhat of an unwilling recipient of the Tide. But her mother, Xena’s grandmother, Xenarone had been a great warrior, protecting the same general Amphipolis area during a time when there were constant raids by vagabond tribes of barbarians.

Xenarone had been tall, with icy blue eyes and dark hair that turned silver-white before her twenty-fifth season. The Tide had been a gift to Xenarone from the goddess Athena. Cyrene had always wondered at the special relationship that her mother had with the goddess, but she it was not her place to ask. When Xenarone took a fatal blow from the barbarian, Zon, it was Athena who stood at her death bed, rather than Cyrene. And it was Athena who handed The Tide to Cyrene, who had never been so frightened in her life. Well, no matter. Cyrene had never shamed The Tide, she had handled it well enough, along with raising three children, and Amphipolis had never been enslaved.

But when Cortez arrived to challenge Amphipolis, Cyrene knew it was time for her to give The Tide to her own daughter, Xena, who at fifteen seasons already exhibited signs that her grandmother Xenarone’s blood ran very strong and wild in her young body.

Xena had defeated Cortez, but then she rejected the goodness of the Tide and went her own dark path for many years. Cyrene had kept the sword safe for the day her daughter found her soul again and came home.

And she had. Gabrielle was as much a daughter to Cyrene as Xena. The returned Conqueror was the happy loving child, Cyrene had known in the pre- Cortez days, and Amphipolis couldn’t be in safer hands. But when Birdie came into her life, Cyrene had witnessed even more growth in her warrior daughter. Cyrene had watched Xena grow from a soul-mate, lover. responsible daughter, conqueror/ commander of armies, into a woman who was also a firm, loving, warm, patient, and tender parent as well. Birdie was a vital part the complicated person Xena Warrior Princess had come to be.

Cyrene put her face in her hands, sat down, and allowed a few tears to escape. She felt in her ageless bones, that despite her small stature, Birdie possessed many of the finest traits of Xenarone and Xena, Add to that the heart and soul of the Bard, and Birdie might be the greatest of all of them. But she would need the guidance and nurturing of all who knew her to keep her from straying from the light as Xena had done. However, they had to locate the missing child.

There was a stir at the door and she looked up to see Scrubbers standing with two cold beers.

“I was wonderin’ if the lady might use some company and comfort after a long day.”

“You, Scrubby,” smiled Cyrene, “Have beautiful timing.”+

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We had been climbing for awhile. I no longer knew a plan at all except to stop climbing. If we reached a place of shelter, I would call it a day, because I could tell that Zephyr and even Hades were tired. The mountain was very steep, but we were still following the water. There was a muffled, but steadily increasing roar which would indicate a waterfall in the future, though we apparently came no closer no matter what distance we walked.

So when we arrived at a clearing with a flat area suitable for a fire, shade for Hades to rest and drink, I designated it our stop for the night. We needed a new plan. Not only was my physical journey becoming more lost and wayward by the day, it felt as though a similar event was happening in my mind. Talking everything over with Zephyr was perhaps not quite enough.

Soon the evening’s spearing of fish was cooking. While completing the final steps of washing myself and my laundry, I found myself staring into the rushing water. Where to next and for what purpose? How should I come by money? This was not the future which came in daydreams when sitting in my high window sill watching Baba Xe’s army.

Depression was dogging me. I was spreading my clothing to dry, as was my habit, when I saw Zephyr’s ears turn in an opposite direction very quickly followed by her head. I listened intently, climbed quickly from the water, dried and dressed, and ran up a dusty path out of the noise of the water to listen again. Zephyr was practically connected to my leg; her fur was standing as straight as her ears, and she whined and stamped her little paws.

“Easy girl, easy….” I whispered, but in spite of my warnings, “ZEPHYR!” the fox suddenly bolted straight and fast ahead of me. Sprinting back to camp nearby, I threw the Amazon sword over my shoulder and went to catch her.

A smile came to me while pondering all of the ways the fox would suffer for running off with out even a look back; must be the way my Baba and Ma…

Stop. Stop thinking.

Up a steep scramble ahead and then I was peering at a large clearing backed by a cliff, a trickle of a waterfall, and a small cave. It was exactly what we had been seeking for shelter. However, it was already occupied by a good sized man, near twenty stone, I reckoned, with fair freckled skin, red hair and beard. Zephyr sat beside him, tail flickering in a friendly manner.

The man was filthy, like he had been dragged behind a horse, and as my observations became more focused, it became apparent that his hands were bound and that he was covered in cuts and abrasions. Worst by far was a long, festering and deep wound to his left leg. My limited experience surmised it to be an axe wound. I had never seen such an angry wound; it would have stopped any man or beast, no matter how determined.

My fox is usually a fair judge of character, but caution kept me from showing myself immediately. However, the big man spoke first.

“Whoever you are, you must see that I cannot hurt you. See my leg and you’ll know the reason. My name is Atticus of Amphipolis.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The first rays of sunlight entered the vast bed chamber and along with the heat generated by the fire place, the temperature was warming nicely. The pale hair and foggy malachite eyes fluttered open and the head rotated carefully on the pillow to discover a pair of robin’s egg orbs already staring at her in a manner that suggested their owner had been awake for awhile.

“Good morning,” the bard said softly.

“You don’t know how good it is to wake to your eyes, and to wake to your awareness again, “whispered her soul mate. “I just can’t do without you for very long, Gabrielle; the world stops…” The eyes were bright.

A gentle touch moved through the dark tresses.

“It’s alright. I’ve got you now. ” A pause while she took account of herself.

“I’m feeling much better; want to see Birdie?”

“Ummm hummm.”

“Then be with me…”

“Gab, are you?,,”

“Xena, I don’t mean making love like rutting Minotaurs at the feast of Dionysus.”

A big smile.

“more like… butterflies, perhaps?”

“Ok.”

The dark head moved adjacent to the blond head and tender lips with quiet and warm breath moved lightly from the edge of her ear, along her jaw, and slowly down the pale neck and collarbone. Large hands began to unbutton the sleep shirt, while the bard’s performed the same duty and moved the warrior’s garment away from tan, strong, beautifully sculpted shoulders. These simple acts elevated heartbeats and breathing in both bodies simultaneously. The shirt slid down muscular hips and Gabrielle’s fingers danced across them, the tips scooting up the powerful back and ribs, full hands under to linger on the breasts, and back up to rest on the shoulders.

The warrior put her finger on her soul mate’s nose, “You remain as still as possible. I’ll do the work. You’re hurt.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes, and felt the warrior rise suspended effortlessly above her by her arms. Beginning with a deep and lingering kiss, Xena worked her way down the bard’s body with kisses, tastes, at times just breathing pauses, butterfly touches, moving slowly, languidly, lower allowing the heat to build. Then she would rise with a warm sigh and begin again, a light sheen of perspiration casting a defining glow to the warrior’s muscles as she moved down her lover’s quietly rising receptiveness. The warrior moved like a dolphin- diving, cresting, gently riding her lover’s swelling body like a wake. Kiss, rise, ride, swell, repeat. Kiss, again, linger.. Every moment, every breath, they came closer to the edge – where it seemed the wave MUST crash over the seawall, then the warrior would suspend herself again- above. The bard opened her eyes and gazed into her lover’s, intense with desire,

“Tease.”

A smile. “Don’t want to hurt you.”

“Allow the wave to wash over me this time, and be with me,” were the whispered directions, ” and then lie with me on the quiet shore with your eyes closed; just listen to my voice, when we arrive, be with me in the quiet..”

“All right,” Xena began her kisses again progressing, but the bard’s mouth kept hers this time, and her hands moved over the warrior’s suspended body, as the kiss drove deeper, until the warrior gently lowered herself to her lover, to hold her while the ocean swells rose and fell, and rose again and fell back, then crested like a tsunami to flow over all, any barriers in its path, nourishing, relaxing, easing, smoothing.. loving… . The soul mates lay together of one mind, one heart, one vision, one soul, in the quiet, in the place of stillness, together for a time unmeasured.

“Xena,”

“Ummmm”

“You are with me on a clean sandy beach?

“The sea is aquamarine?”

” ummmm… yesss.”

“Is it evening?”

“yes.”

“Lift your head and look far down the beach, as far as you can on the horizon. What do you see?”

“I see a small bright blue star, just above the beach line.”

“Xena, that’s Birdie.”

“It is?”

“Yes.”

“When did this happen?”

“The day she was conceived. I’ve always come to this beach in meditation. Birdie appeared there one day as the little blue star. It’s her life force. Remember a season ago when she had the coughing illness? The star was a putrid yellow color. Then it became blue again. So Birdie is ok. I know it.”

The Conqueror shifted herself down, wrapped her arms around the bard’s body and rested her head inside her arm. She took in a deep breath.

“How did you do that? How did you take me with you?”

“The Bard of Potedeia has many skills.”

Soft chuckle..

“That gives me great relief. Now if only we can find the Little Bird in this reality.”

The Amazon Queen gathered her Conqueror in closely.

“We will, or she’ll come home.”

Tears formed and slid down the sides of the bard’s head, stinging her injury badly, but she did not release her warrior.

“Birdie must be feeling some of our fear and love despite her own pain. Perhaps she will find the courage to begin the journey home.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And Bard.
Life lessons
Come hard.
Destroyed is
My reach
When there was
So much left to teach.
Now is no one left
To tell me truth,
If the Bard’s words
Go unspoken?
And none to fight
The demon night
When the Warrior’s
Heart is broken?
So demon night
Become my light,
The stars will
House my heart,
And pray the
Furies stay away
The bards left out that part.

Part 4

Amphipolis! The last word I intended to hear out here in the rough was Amphipolis! Home, so far and right in front of me. My knees trembled with indecision. But not for long.

“Show yourself, little one,” the deep voice rumbled,” I am master sergeant with the Conqueror’s Army, and we don’t wait kindly.”

There was an authority in his voice that demanded I step from my hiding place.

“Why you are just lass,” he said, lowering his bow and arrow. “Why are you and a fox out this far alone, girl? How have you made it on your own?”

Zephyr reevaluated her loyalties and returned to me.

“We’ve done all right, sir. “was my answer. “How did you come to be here, sir?”

“First things first, “he said, ” What’s your name, child?”

I hung my head. “My name is “Toady, sir.”

“Where are you from, Toady?”

“No place, sir.”

“Here now, everyone is from someplace and some people.”

“Not thisToady. sir.”

He waited a moment. My turn then.

“How did you hurt your leg, sir?”

“Well, Toady there was a battle a day and a half’s ride from here, near Amphipolis; ever hear of Amphipolis, or the Conqueror?”

“No. sir.”

“Well there was a big battle near Amphipolis; I was hurt in it.”

My eyes ran over the wound.

“I have some supplies in my camp; can probably help a bit with that leg, sir.”

“Whatever you have, lass. I won’t be going anywhere, my fever’s raging.”

“I’ll just go down, put out my fire, and move stuff up here. Coming, Zephyr?”

We walked down the hill; my mind was racing everywhere.

“What do you think, Zephyr? Shall we trust him? No matter. Baba Xe and Mama G have never passed a traveler in need. That is their code, and regardless of what has happened, I will continue to live by the code that they have taught me.”

It was quick work to extinguish the fire, collect my pack and weapons, and lead Hades up the path. The horse didn’t mind the move, and I quickly rekindled a fire near Atticus, and walked back down to the pool to catch some fish… At least four fish, tonight, I decided. The man looked hungry. My work was done silently, but I found myself glad for company of the human kind; someone who needed me.

After I had the fish staked out to cook, I looked around.

“Lord Atticus, have you a bowl or a helmet, or something in which we can boil water? That would be the place to begin with your leg.”

He tossed an armored helmet to me and I filled it with water and set it on the fire. I looked in my pack and began to cut up pieces of my livery. It had been in the pack since the battle; I had no plans to ever wear it again. Cut it into long strips it should be unrecognizable to him, because it was smaller and of a different material than core soldiers’ anyway.

The fish was ready and I carried him a piece and some water from his water skin. He finished two fish and half of another in no time.

“Toady lass, you are my hero today.” He smiled.

Zephyr and I finished the fish and I fetched the helmet with the hot water in it from the fire.

“That view will probably change, sir.” I said, carrying it towards him with my rag strips. Taking my dagger, I cut the trouser material away from his wound. It was ghastly looking, with yellowish pus seeping out. I folded one of my rag strips into the hot water and said, “Take hold, Lord Atticus; this will not be pleasant.”

“Ay Lass.”

He set his teeth, but made no outcry. If I had ever doubted that he served in my Baba Xe’s army, those doubts were dissipated by his stoic forbearance of the first aide. It had to have given him more agony than any he had born so far. But we kept a steady soak in the hot water until the infection burst, which did illicit a groan from him at last.

“Lass, “he whispered weakly, “are we nearly finished? It’s about all I can do.”

“Yes sir, we are,” I said… soaking up the nasty stuff and hanging the rags in the creek to rinse while I packed the leg in warm rags.

“Lord Atticus, you must drink all the water you can sir, for your fever.”

He gave me a smile. “Aye ma’m, Toady. You are no Toady; you are an angel, lass.”

It felt good to smile.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Whoa,” Xena dismounted and walked to a small circle of stones at the edge of a rushing creek side. It was Birdie’s fire sight-small, neat– created just the way they had taught her to build one. Stirring among the ashes, she found tiny bits of dove bones. Zephyr must have provided those, because Birdie would never have hunted birds; it went against her daughter’s own personal code of character. All of the evidence was stone cold at least a day gone. She had run a long way from home. Too far for the warrior to follow tonight. She would go back home and lay in supplies to continue the search in a journey of however far it took. Damn kid. Tears came unbidden. What she would do to that birdie girl when she found her… She shook her head and allowed herself a small smile. Now that she was certain her child was alive, she could comfort herself somewhat by dreaming of consequences for Birdie. She swallowed. But not too many. First things first. Had to find the kid… Had to carry her home to safety and warmth first.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I hoped the larger fire wasn’t drawing the attention of anything or anyone dangerous. We had arranged a sleeping place for Atticus to be near to the fire as possible, because his fever was very high. He still seemed to know me, but the recognition came and went. I did my best to keep him warm, make him drink, and bathe his face and arms when the fever took hold to burn him up. I kept soaking the leg as well, because there was still infection leaking from it occasionally, although it was draining more clear matter with blood now. I hoped that it meant a critical turning point.

“ROSE!!” the scream pierced the night, just as I had settled a bit, “Get under the bed!! Take the boy! Talus, go with your mother, do as I say lad!”

I was up in an instant, “Please, Lord Atticus. Hush. You’ll bring people to us. I can’t have people here.”

Zephyr was already beside him looking very concerned, tilting her head at him.

“ROSE!!” He screamed again.

Finally in desperation, I threw two handfuls of water in his face. That woke him. He stared at me breathing hard…

“Sorry, sir.” I apologized. “You were dreaming.” I bathed his face again which was burning up. He laid his head back; he was unaware of me.

“Here Lord Atticus, drink.” I gave him the water skin. He looked at me wildly but took the drink.

Please don’t let him die. Please all the gods on Olympus don’t let him die. I cannot cope if he dies; not someone else.

“Please Sir, drink some more.”

He did drink a bit for me, lay back down, falling immediately into unconsciousness.

I stayed by him, bathing his face, his wrists, and making him sip water when he woke until dawn; it was very close to morning anyway.

“Mama!” I woke sitting straight up. That hadn’t happened in awhile. Obviously this was not a night for sleeping. Might as well wait out what little was left.

Apollo’s gray rise brought a gloomy mist. I gathered more wood and stoked the fire for more warmth and sat quietly.

Zephyr waited beside me, waiting to see what would happen with Atticus before we went foraging for breakfast. I rose and sent Hades on his way to find his own breakfast. He had become very good at going out and returning at noontime and evenings, to be near us and the fire. It might have been the crab apples, but we hoped it was the company too.

I tried to return quietly, but Atticus was watching me. He had green eyes, not like my mother’s, more of a hazel green, but they gave me thought of her.

“Toady.”

Gods, he knew me. Weak, but he knew me. His skin was cool to touch, and even the leg looked less angry. Perhaps we had passed a crisis. I gave him extra packing under his head and covered him again, and left him with the water skin and went to find blackberries and fish. He fell into a deep sleep and didn’t stir until the food was ready.

“Toady, do ya think I could sit up?” he asked softly.

That seemed like a good sign. I shoved the saddle close to where he lay and then took hold of both arms and leaned back with all my weight. He made a face, but pulled himself up enough to brace against the saddle.

“You are a tough little Toady, ”

I laughed. It felt good. Looking at his leg, I could see bits of new pink skin filling in.

“You are on the mend, sir,” Was my comment. We ate our breakfast in silence, and I went to fill the water skins again. We sat quietly a moment and I felt his eyes on me, so my gut reaction was to take the first offensive and ask my questions before he asked his.

“Lord Atticus, what happened to you?”

“Pretty simple and stupid, really,” was his reply, taking another long swig of water,

“I was in too deep in the enemy ranks, separated from my squad; battle frenzy is the only excuse I can offer. Didn’t even see who gave me the axe wound, and then a young Roman officer took me prisoner, he roped me like a bloody steer, damn him; he bound my hands and I was on foot behind his horse.. Dragged sometimes. But then one of our lads killed him and the horse towed me a long way before the rope came undone and I was able to slip away, run into the forest and make my way up here. By that time, I was near dead of blood loss. Would be stone cold had you not found me, Toady. Helpless, foodless, practically weaponless.”

He paused. “You are Robin of the Warrior and Bard, aren’t you, lass?” His voice was very gentle.

My eyes didn’t meet his. “How did you know?”

“Didn’t at first, but the time has made me see that you favor them both. One is my commanding officer, whom I hold in the highest esteem, and the Queen, I respect and would defend like my own wife.”

I hesitated but I am not a good liar. “I’m Birdie, not Toady.”

“Are you now?” Pleased to make your acquaintance, Birdie not Toady, and thank you for saving my life.”

“It was little I did, Lord Atticus.”

“It was a great deal to me, Birdie.”

He was quiet a moment, sipping water. “I know you another way, lass.”

“Really, sir?”

“I have a son; his name is Talus. Smallish, blond hair; he has a withered foot?”

I smiled. “Talus is your son? I like Talus.”

“You fought for him.”

“I did, “my answer carried no hubris,” “Bullies were shoving him around because he is a bit different. I take issue with that kind of behavior. ”

He grinned, “You were my son’s first hero. He still talks about you. A fierce little girl fighter who took on the masses; ‘ Battlin Birdie’, he calls you.”

My turn to laugh. ” Think it went ok in the armory that day, too.”

“Sorry, Lass?”

“My ‘altercations’ are evaluated by the Conqueror; she deemed that fight justified, fortunately for my hindquarters.”

He laughed, ” Ah, so the Conqueror approved the fight for Talus?”

“Yes sir, she did.”

Another pause.

“Birdie, girl, why are you out here?”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Xena was completing the inventory of her field pack. All that was left to do was to organize Argo and she would be prepared for several days in the rough. She would not return without Birdie this time.

“Xe, are you sure?”

The warrior’s hand was gentle on her soul mate’s back. She turned into the hug.

“Gabrielle, love, I know your heart, but you are still prone to the occasional dizzy spell. I can’t have you falling off a horse and re -injuring your head. Besides, what if Birdie should come home? You must be here.”

The Conqueror sat on the bed, and looked seriously into deep forest eyes.

“I won’t stay gone more than four passes of Apollo. If she can’t be found in that amount of time, we will need to form a different plan.”

“I’m not even thinking of that,” whispered her soul mate.” You will find Birdie.” Hands were clasped; light and dark heads rested against each other.

There was the sound of heavy feet in the hall and doors slamming, which led to knocking on their door with fervor. The warrior and the bard looked at each other, with knowledge that once again, the greater good had arrived to interfere with their lives.

“Conqueror, sorry to bother you, but it’s raiders. Decendents of Zon by their banner!”

Xena blew straight upward and threw her field pack across the room. “Zeus’s bloody rotten thunderbolts!”

Tears ran down her face, and as she strode purposefully to the weapons locker fetched the Tide, strapped it to her back and was marching toward the door before she was blocked by the small blond bard who wrapped a loving body slam around the warrior.

“It’s a small setback, Xe, and we know Birdie’s ok. Settle down, Conqueror, I know that you are frustrated.” Slowly, firmly she slowed the charge.

The warrior rested her chin on her soul mate’s hair. “I want Birdie home.”

“She will be– I know it.” soothed Gabrielle. ” Now go kick around a few raiders.”

“All right, ” a grim smile.

“Sorry I’m not up to speed.”

A stern look, “YOU stay right here, my bard.”

“Yes ma’m.”

“I love you.”

“You, too-always.”

The Conqueror took the stairs two at a time and ran toward the main gate lifting her head to throw a wild grin at her army as they came running from every direction.

“C’mon boys! Yiyiyiyiyiyi! ” Xena sprinted toward the towers of the main gate.

She trotted up the seventy steps to the top of the wall where she could gain perspective on the raid. There appeared to be more than the usual number of Zon’s descendents, but that created no problem. The Amphipolis Fortress was constructed for defense The Descendants of Zon had been attacking the Amphipolis area once every four or five moons ever since the days of Xenarone and Zon as reminder to the citizens of Amphipolis that they still existed and had the means to attack. But Xena the Conqueror was the greater force to be reckoned with as she shouted orders.

“Are the wall catapults ready?” The affirmative signal came.

“Load them with Greek fire,”

“Are the Amazons here and ready release the first volley of arrows?”

The Amazons signaled, “Completely ready”.

“Excellent.”

“Are the hand to hand fighters on the wall to take out the first scramblers?”

“We are ready, Conqueror.”

“Superb”.

“Are the runners with the blades stationed to work up and down their areas to discourage those who would try to come in and open the gates? ” ”

“Perfect, “she growled, twirling the Tide.

As her army’s eyes looked to her, dark hair blowing, boot stance wide apart, livery flapping in the breeze high on the wall , a heavy-set barbarian in a hairy cloak found purchase at the top of the wall, only to have the Tide rammed into his throat while Conqueror’s boot shoved his head backwards. He lost his grip and fell with a roar smashing into two of his comrades on the way down. This she did while jumping into a half-twist side kick into the groin of another hairy fellow who had made his way to the top of the wall and thought to take her from the side. She pulled the Tide from the throat of the enemy falling backwards into air and thrust it into the heart of the gentleman she had just side-kicked. He had not been invited, after all. She addressed her troops.

“This, my friends, will be nothing more than a live drill for us! Yiyiyiyiyiyiy!” And the militia brought their defense full on.

The barbarians had prided themselves on the construction of two large siege engines to front their attack .But mere construction is only part of the battle. An army must be competent to use the engine. The DOZ had not sufficiently rehearsed with their machine and were somewhat slapstick in their attempts at doing any real damage with the engine although they managed three stout rams at the main gate. Eventually though, one engine was taken out with two direct hits of Greek fire. The other was captured on foot by a dozen of the Conqueror’s own led by Galto and Thomas. The Conqueror’s “boys” simply swarmed the siege engine, scrambling to the top, and slashed, chopped, and kicked every barbarian who tried to regain the engine . Eventually, there were enough of the Amphipolis Militia to roll the great battle weapon inside the main gate of the fortress. It was an awesome capture. Galto and Thomas would later be decorated for outstanding service and given raises for their bravery and determination.

The DOZ was driven back by mid-morning and the militia had them completely on the run by noon. Then there was nothing to do but clean up the mess, assess damages, and account for any wounded and prisoners. Xena walked down the stairs from the wall, blood and gore splattered, with a cut on her left cheek, and various cuts on her hands, and a savage smile on her face, which was greeted in turn by every one of her soldiers she met. And every single warrior she encountered on her walk, received a personal handshake shake, a smile, and a hearty Conqueror, “well done!”

Her duty fulfilled, her expression changed completely as she made her way back into the fortress to her soul mate, and to begin once again, the search for Birdie.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My tale took some time to recount, and it was the first time it was spoken aloud, but Atticus listened gravely, and waited patiently through the times my voice choked. But it came to an end. After enduring his silence a few moments, I spoke,

“Lord Atticus that is why I told you that you would not consider me an angel, once you knew my story.”

“There’s quite a lot to ponder there, Birdie,” he said. “But if you don’t mind, I will offer a few opinions, as friend. As a friend who’s just a mite older than you; you are my friend, you know, Lass. You bloody saved my life. Will you listen to me, Birdie?”

“Yes, sir.” I had come to trust the man in very short time.

“From what you tell me, lass, only thing that you have done wrong is disobey the Conqueror’s order to stay in quarters. Now Birdie that was wrong, parent or no, orders is orders, and she will deal with you on that for certain. We in her army follow the Conqueror’s orders; she’s just not to be trifled with, lass. But your mama, Birdie. That weren’t your fault. And whether or not the queen is alive or gone, your Baba Xe NEEDS you with her. There’s no question about that, girl. And it’s bad that you have stayed away instead of going in to face the truth, Birdie. If you were a full grown man, I’d call you a coward. But you are a child; a child who has made some mistakes and found the price to be very high, haven’t you?”

By this time, I couldn’t see him for the tears. Zephyr laid her head on my lap, and Atticus reached out a kindly hand and I scooted over by him to lean on his big soft shoulder. He patted my head gently with his huge hand while he waited for me to speak.

“I think that we had better go home Lord Atticus.”

“There’s a good lass.”

“Shall we start tomorrow; give you one more night’s rest?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

My heart felt unfettered as I headed toward the pool to catch fish for our dinner. I actually felt young and light again, and skipped down the path jumping over bushes. Zephyr ran along beside me looking up at me as if she knew, and I reached down to ruffle her fur.

“We’re going home, girl.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Hold still, “the bard gave a stern look to the warrior while cleaning the scratches on her face. “You won’t be going anywhere on the road without your injuries dressed, so just settle yourself and be patient, Xena.”

Azure eyes were sullen.

“Xena.”

Then they smiled, and the blond smacked the dark tresses in the head. “Be cooperative. Just because you kicked the DOZ’s butt…”

“Yes, we did that…”

“Are you going to give it another day before setting out for Birdie?”

“Gods be dammed could be two, now, Gabrielle. Barbarians did some damage to the main gate with their bloody siege engine and I want that at least well on the way to repaired, before I set off. How is the blue star holding?”

“It’s holding. Actually it’s getting brighter”

“Perhaps that’s a good sign?”

“We can only hope.”

“Gabrielle, I will start at first light on the gate repair, and try to ride out tomorrow night for Birdie.”

“Xena, let’s just see how everything goes. You have so much stress right now…”

“Yes, and to top it off, it’s going to storm…”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Our first night on the return was status quo, which was good since we were descending the mountain, and the footing was tricky at best. Naturally, we lost our good weather when we turned back toward the great valley which was the main route to Amphipolis. But nothing lasts forever, and I didn’t mind. Atticus said it wasn’t that terribly far; I had been in such an emotional state, that my concept of distance was faulty. I gave Atticus a boot up into Hades’ saddle and took the lead rope to walk along, Zephyr beside me. The rain wasn’t unbearable, but it wasn’t pleasant. My thoughts were everywhere but on the steps that went one before the other, however.

“What are you thinking of, Birdie lass?”

“My Grandba’s good soup, Lord Atticus. I don’t ever need to eat fish again. ”

He laughed, throwing his head back, and it made the rain less miserable.

“I’ll be glad for my warm fireplace and my wife Rosey and my son’s company.”

“Tell me about Talus, Lord Atticus.”

“He’s a quiet lad, but a good one. Loves to read, doesn’t speak without thinking, good to his mother, and he likes to carve animals out of wood.”

My boots took a dozen paces… “So I would like your Talus.”

“You would, Birdie.”

I didn’t like to be so exposed in the valley. It had been days since we had seen the wide open spaces and it felt much too vulnerable. Atticus was in similar mind, because he sat taller and kept his eyes going in a constant circular scan.

“How is the leg?” was my inquiry after mid morning.

“Not so bad. Need to get off this monster and elevate it for a bit of a break, I think.”

We did after awhile. I left him with his leg propped up on the saddle while I took the skins to go to find water. There was an area where all of the reeds were bowing in the same direction which I followed and soon enough, the reeds dampened and then there was water. I lay on my belly and drank my fill, scrub my face and hair. It was very cold and refreshed me. Zephyr shook her fur on me and she gave me a pleased fox face when I laughed.

As we approached Hades, I could hear voices and one of them was not Atticus. Zephyr’s fur stood up, and she snarled; Zephyr never snarled, and she showed her teeth. I dropped and bellied in closer. There was filthy fat man in a hairy coat with his sword pointed at Atticus who still lay on the ground.

“I ain’t seein’ no ways yer stoppin’ me takin’ this fine amenal.” Hairy man was saying. ” so I’ll be a’doin just that.”

“That kind sir would be a serious mistake.” spoke Atticus with a twinkle in his eye. “Mesteak, I see no mesteak,”

“I’m the mistake.” were my words as I rose with an arrow notched in my bow.

Hairy man laughed. “I see, it’s a wee sprat of a gerl, that’s the mesteak. C’mon little gerly.”

My first arrow hit him in the side of the left knee. He screamed and went down. I reached his side in five strides and shot a second arrow dead next to the first at point blank range. He screamed louder. The third arrow went into his thigh. The fourth, I pointed at his head.

“BIRDIE!! Stop it lass. Stop it. Think of your folks. Let him go.”

The hairy man was still rocking on the ground and moaning. I drew my dagger and cut off the arrows near their entry points which caused higher pitches in his outcries, but he could walk.

“Leave us.” I said to him. “If you so much as glance at my horse again, I will kill you before you take another breath.”

The hairy man pulled himself to his one good leg and hobbled away. He didn’t look back.

I saddled Hades, helped Atticus into the saddle, handed him the water skin, and we continued.

Evening came. It had begun to rain again – a hard driving black rain that seemed to hang from the sky in great dark ropes that flogged us with every step. I could hardly tell the differences among the rain, Hades, Lord Atticus and Zephyr. But on the horizon there was a soft glow and it gave me the strangest tingle in my soul that after how long-a seven day away in the rough. I might be seeing the glow of life from Amphipolis. Home. I turned back to Atticus with the question in my face, and he nodded.

Wrapping my coat closer my staggering foot speed increased. . Whatever was left of my family was within that glow, I needed to arrive at the gates before losing all courage.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Gabrielle rose and crossed to peer again into the rain. 

“What is it, Gab?”

Silence.

“It’s Birdie isn’t it? Is she coming?”

The warrior came to the window to stare into the dark deluge with her soul mate.

“I don’t know, Xena something is different.”

There was a knock at the door and the warrior crossed to answer it. 

“Begging your pardon, but we need to inform Your Ladies that Lord Atticus is returned…”

“That’s wonderful news, Eurylocus, is he well?”

“Yes your ladies, but..”

“What is it Eurylocus?”

At this point there was vibrating clap of thunder and an insistent scratching at the window. A little whining. Gabrielle went to the window and let in a bedraggled black fox.

“It’s Zephyr!”

“That’s just it, Conqueror. Atticus rode in on Hades.”

Sapphire met jade…

The jade directed.

“I will attend to Zephyr and prepare the largest hot bath for you… GO.”

Xena took the two flights downstairs in two steps. Atticus was being helped down from Hades. He met her eyes.

“Half a league out, Lady; she’d come no further, Conqueror. The big oak.”

Xena pushed past him.

“Conqueror!” She turned.

“The lass saved my life, My Lady. She nursed me back to health. I had a hand in her return, but I wouldn’t be here at all if not for her. ”

Xena extended her arm and they clasped each other in the warrior’s handshake. He met the famous azure eyes directly.

“So don’t be too hard on her, My Lady Conqueror.”

In the next breath, the woman he addressed had vanished

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The giant oak kept some of the downpour from me as I huddled among the roots shivering and considering my next direction. Then, it no longer mattered as I felt her presence, a tall shade cutting a shape in the endlessly dark and drenching deluge. She stood silent as the tree; I dared not raise my head. A hand was extended to me.

“Birdie,” very quietly.

“Baba?” my voice cracked on the name, tears began; I reached upward. The strong hand clasped my smaller one. The voice still, quiet, sure.

“Birdie, it’s ok.”

No more words now, but she tugged gently then pulled me up and completely into her arms like a small child. I wrapped myself around her as a vine does an oak, the rain blending us into one mass of human feeling. She held me very closely, rubbing first my back, then her hand on my head, in my hair, and I could feel the warmth of her fresh tears on my face, mixing with mine.

“Birdie, your mother… she’s ok.”

I pulled away, “Mama’s alive, Baba?”

White teeth showed in the darkness, “She had a bad injury and concussion, but she’s fine, Birdie. She’s probably going to have your hide. Right after I do.”

“Baba…” I could hold my sobs no longer then, and she walked around in a circle with my head on her chest, humming a little tuneless soothing sound. It took me back to when I was very small and she would come in to comfort me when I had so many nightmares. She carried me up and down the floor in her powerful arms, so strong, so calm. Baba Xe was always a safe place. I was returned to that safe place again, and it calmed me.

“We better be going in; your Mama G will be going mad to see you.”

She let me down, and I put my arm around her waist and leaned against her and we walked toward the fortress. The rain was subsiding now and I could see the moonlight streaming through the dissipating clouds.

“Baba.”

“Yes, Little Bird.”

“I guess there’s some explaining to do…”

She chuckled.

“Quite a bit, My Little Bird. Quite a bit to answer for. But I am proud of what you did for Atticus.”

“He’s a very nice man.”

“He is indeed. And you don’t need to explain anything tonight, Birdie. We are just so glad that you are home. There’ll be time enough for explanations after you are clean and dry and rested. Tomorrow we can worry about explanations, ok?”

“Yes, my lady…”

She kissed my head, as we entered the fortress, and my lady mother grabbed me away into a soul encompassing bear hug. I had thought to be finished with crying but seeing her well and whole destroyed any resolution of that type. I remember saying, “Mama, ” and that we were in a tearful heap on the floor for awhile. It was a joyful thing to see her.

Mama hustled Baba and I into the biggest bathtub in the fortress, where she scrubbed me down. (glorious hot water).. and put me into a nightshirt. They took me into their bed chamber where Mama had made the sitting couch into a bed for me in front of the fire. Zephyr was clean and dozing on the rug. My parents tucked me in and stayed by me listening to parts of my story until I could talk no more. Then they retired with promises to continue in the morning. I woke up once and pondered gratefully the soft bed, the fire in the fireplace, and my contented fox curled up on the rug. My eyes wandered across the room to the warrior and the bard sleeping in a peaceful embrace, illuminated by the three-quarter moon. It was surely good to be home.

*********************************************************

We may run
We may hide
We may crawl as deep
As we can inside.

We may go as far
As we can go
Do as much as
We can alone–
And then it’s time
To go back home.

Part 5

The following morning Mama G and I were sitting at her table having the mother of all heart to heart chats. Baba Xe had gone to work with the army at repairing the damage of the main gate by the DOZ’s… She and I would talk later in the day.

I have discovered that there is no limit on the amount of tears a human being can shed; at least when Mama G is talking to me; they keep leaking out one by one by one. But after hedging for a time, I asked her point blank,

“Mama, was it my fault you were shot?”

She reached across the table for my hands and held them tightly in hers.

“Birdie, I want you to stop feeling that my injury was your fault. ANYTHING Little Bird, ANYTHING can happen in a battle. Nothing is predictable. The Fates spin measure and cut. I could be hurt at any time, at any place. Just because you happened to be there and I happened to see you at that moment, doesn’t make my injury your fault. Life happens.”

And so it followed,

“Then Mama was I a coward for running away?”

Her eyes flashed and her grip tightened.

“As long as I have known you, Birdie, I have never seen you act in a cowardly fashion. Although I might wish you hadn’t run away, you didn’t run because you were a coward. You ran because the situation was emotionally overwhelming for you. The situation was more than many adults are prepared to deal with. If I could change one thing in the way you behaved, it is that you might have returned sooner for your Baba’s sake.”

She paused for a moment and then spoke softly,

“Birdie, You KNOW what your responsibility was in that situation, Honey; you are fully aware of which of your actions you will be held accountable.”

My eyes could not meet hers,

“I know Mama G. I wish I had never left my room.”

“And you have a good idea of why we wanted you to stay behind now, don’t you?” She continued gently.

“Yes m’am.”

She pushed back from the table.

“Well, I am not going to work you over on that topic, because your Baba Xe will take care of that thoroughly I can promise you that.”

“Yes m’am, I know she will.” I was blinking tears again, gods!

She smiled at me sympathetically and brushed her fingers along my hairline.

“Don’t look so doomed for this life, Birdie; your Baba loves you, or she wouldn’t even be bothered with you. And it is to your credit that you performed brave and honourable deeds during your time in the field. But your Baba is also a commander, and Xena the Conqueror cannot tolerate insubordination. Do you realize that you have done what her officers and even her lowest ranking soldiers would NEVER do? This is no small thing, Birdie. She said for you to go to the armoury and wait for her.”

I shot my eyes at her with a sigh.

“Well, we know what happens there.”

She laughed and gave me a little swat as I turned.

“There are lessons to be learned, and messages to be clarified, kiddo, and it’s likely to be the hard way.”

I acquiesced, did an about face and walked toward the armoury.

“Birdie, ”

I turned back.” She took my head in her hands, and touched our foreheads together, her kind jade eyes calming mine.

“You know it will be ok, don’t you? Don’t be afraid, ”

She wrapped her arms around me closely, and then pushed back smiling with tears forming in those beautiful eyes.

“You are going to have sore tail feathers for a day or so, but it will be ok, right? Your Baba loves you so very much, and so do I.”

I blinked rapidly,” I know, Mama G. Baba’s disappointment and anger are as painful for me as anything she will do to my backside.”

“Well, perhaps some of that can soon be over with, and we can move forward from this.” She kissed my hair… “Go on now.”

Baba made me wait.

I had spent a good amount of time in the armoury in the past season. At present, the sun chariot had gone some distance, and I had time to consider how different my parents were when they dealt with me.

Baba Xe was tough, swift, and thorough. She set rules for reasons and expected that they be followed. Disobedience was not an option. If I broke a rule, I could expect fast and firm retribution. I didn’t mind as much as one might think, because if nothing else, Baba was consistent. Even though it hurt, there were no surprises ; we always talked about what I had done wrong , she made very sure I understood my error; it was over quickly, I paid my debt; I was forgiven, and we moved on; we had things to do; she was Xena the Conqueror. I knew that she loved me fiercely, but she also molded the warrior in me with high expectations; she made me better.

Mama G on the other hand could bring me to tears using only her words and eyes. She knew the questions to ask, the tone of voice to use, and the amount of disappointment to show. She rarely laid a hand on me; she didn’t need to; she knew how to make me hurt inside and how to use the hurt I inflicted upon myself. Sometimes she went through some gentle physical chastening to give me the release of tears so she could provide the comfort and forgiveness that I needed. Gabrielle the Bard loved and watched over me with complexity and nuance. She was raising a poet. And she made me better too.

I thought I had figured them out. Maybe every kid thinks he or she has his or her parents figured out. Delusional.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Conqueror was consulting with her soul mate.

“So what about Birdie?

“I don’t know Gabrielle, that kid. On the one hand, she acted to save your life, she survived in the rough for almost a seven day on her own, and she brought back Atticus who would have died otherwise. Those are adult issues, and she did perform well, as well as any of us might have.”

“Yes she did,” said the Lady Gabrielle. “Birdie’s behavior has brought us as much pride as aggravation, lately.”

“Gods be damned enigmatic adolescence,” sighed Xena, as she sat on the bed. ” And Birdie stands at the very beginning of this difficult age. The girl will make me old.”

Gabrielle moved toward the warrior so that she could wrap her arms around the bard’s small waist and hold the dark head to her body in a comforting hug.

“If she had done what I told her to do in the FIRST PLACE, so much heartache might .have been avoided, especially for Birdie! I don’t know how she dealt with the belief that you were dead, and that I might blame and hate her…. That had to have been a horrible burden for her.”

“Xena,” the bard asked softly, “Do you believe that punishment is the only answer?”

“Absolutely not, Gabrielle,” was the quick answer, “I just believe that it is the place to begin. Birdie is wracked with guilt and exhaustion. Taking a little hide from her will make her feel better. She needs to be held responsible for her primary defiance so that she can let it go of the guilt and begin to work through all of her issues.”

“That makes sense. So, will you punish her as the Conqueror or as her Baba?”

“Well, since the conqueror might take a bullwhip to her, Gabrielle, I will discipline Birdie as my child.”

She smiled up at her lover, friend, wife, soul mate.

“Well, as YOUR child, Gabrielle.”

“Hey!”

The bard took Xena’s strong callused sword hand in hers, smoothing it back and forth, and met the azure eyes.

“Birdie has a huge heart.”

“In truth, we could not ask for a more wonderful child, but she does maintain a very obstinate streak.” The Conqueror growled a bit shaking her head.

.

“Xena “laughed the Bard, “she’s OUR kid.” If one of us had told the other to stay here while one or the other of us had gone off to fight Romans, would either of us have stayed behind obediently?”

The warrior’s eyes laughed as she kissed her soul mate.

“Well I know for certain that you would have followed and certainly landed yourself in some sort of enormous trouble…”

“Perhaps.” Gabrielle took the hand again. “And there would have been consequences… I have felt in my heart, that it was almost impossible to expect Birdie to remain behind; I am not sure that we should ask her to do that again. But that is a discussion for another time. At present, she’s disobeyed both of us, and I too, promised her dire consequences for that next time it happened. But I know how to bring the tremendous guilt Birdie is carrying to the surface. I will work on her heart and soul later on- after you set her straight on the obedience path.”

The bard reflected and continued.

“Our wayward fledgling needs to spend some intense quality time in the armoury with you, Xena, but I think it needs to be with her Baba, and not with the Conqueror.”

The conqueror put her hands on the bard’s shoulders.

“My goal is to make it quality time, Gabrielle,” she looked into the distance considering for a moment,

“And when her body is chastened, you will work on her spirit? Reiterating everything there is to learn from this? Gods, Gabrielle, when I think of the days she was on her own. ” she shook her head again and shuddered.

The arms went around the waist and the blond head snuggled in close.

“Count on it. Count on extra assignments, heart to hearts, staff drills; Birdie will be learning from this experience for a long time.”

She sniffed a little as tears came unexpectedly, “All of us will be learning from this experience for quite some time, I expect.”

One tear rolled down her face.

“Damn, I’m such a softy when it comes to Birdie.”

Xena blinked tears back herself.

“Yeah, me too; don’t tell anyone.”

That earned her another green eyed smile and kiss.

“Good luck, Baba.”

The conqueror turned and began to walk toward the armoury briskly, jamming her hands into her pockets, looking inward to find the steel necessary to deal with her Birdie.

“Thanks,”

She tossed back a smile.

“One might think it would be easier to discipline my own child than the army of Amphipolis, but that is not the case.”

“No, Xena, I know how difficult it is for you. “

Encouraged the Bard.

“But it’s all about love, Baba; you remember that.”

“I will.”

“You remind Birdie.”

“I shall.”

================================================================

Finally the musical jingle of the buckles on The Conqueror’s boots could be heard approaching. It was both a twist on my raw nerves and a relief, and my stomach turned itself wrong side out. I had been in trouble many times in my short life, but this time I had transgressed at a new level, and so I was feeling a new level of anxiety. There was a fire in the hearth and torches in the sconces. Baba Xe entered the room and quickly walked the circle, checking the doors to make sure we would have privacy. Then she pulled two great wooden stools over by the fireplace, removed her long dark coat, hung it on one of the iron hooks, then seated herself on one of the stools and propped her boot on the other. Her eyes were direct, solemn, all business.

“Come here Birdie,”

She pulled me between her legs and began unfastening the ties on my everyday dragon livery regarding me thoughtfully all the while. The overlay would protect my posterior, and therefore it had to come off.

“Did we ever tell you what the silver stars represent on our crest, Birdie?”

“No Baba.”

What a strange question to ask me while she’s preparing to skin my butt good.

“The stars represent YOU. The miracle of how you came to us.”

“They do, Baba?”

“Umm Hmmm..” She finished unfastening the overlay portion of the livery.

When she pulled it over my head and set it aside, she spoke even more surprising words,

“I think I made a mistake with you.”

That was a totally unexpected statement, and it is likely that my countenance communicated such. She rested her arms on my shoulders and regarded me with a deep breath that blew my hair.

“Tell me, Birdie, why did I forbid you to ride out to meet the Romans?”

“You were afraid that I might be captured and held, or tortured for ransom by the Romans.”

“That was the reason that I gave to you, but that was only one reason; it wasn’t the main reason. Perhaps if I had talked to you longer, you might have understood better and not have followed. I don’t know.”

She held her head in her hands, obviously a bit agitated by her thoughts.

I waited quietly, my hands on her knees until she looked up at me.

“The main reason, my little Bird, is that you are TOO good.”

“I don’t understand, Baba.”

She put her big hands around my waist and pulled me closer, lacing her fingers behind my neck.

“Do you remember when we talked about Cortez?”

“Yes, your first venture into warfare.”

“Do you remember how old I was?”

“Fifteen, Baba.”

“Putting aside for the moment, the obvious reasons why a parent doesn’t want her offspring ever going to ANY battlefield, Birdie, you have all of the natural fighting talent at twelve that I did at fifteen. You have the quickness, the instincts, and the coordination. You have the potential to become a great fighter.”

That made me feel proud, but pride would not be well received at the moment. She kept her hands locked behind my neck looking directly into my eyes.

“What you do not have is the rage, and I intend to see that you do not develop that anger, Birdie. When I witnessed your attack on the archer who had shot your Mama G, you had rage. Murderous rage. Atticus has told me since, that you had a similar problem with the barbarian and Hades. Perhaps both times you had cause, but I will not ever allow you to kill unless it is to save yourself. I do not want you engaged in warfare yet, you are much too young. It is darkness, Birdie, and it will take you on a nightmare journey. Add the terrific guilt you carried when you believed your Mama G to be dead, and you blamed yourself… Those feelings feed a dark beast that festers inside; such a beast can devour a person’s soul. ”

I was still wary of what sort of response to give, so I simply said, “Yes, my Lady.” That was always safe.

“That same kind of raging beast took me down a long , lonely, desperate path before I met your mother, and I will do whatever it takes to keep you from ever taking a step into that darkness , no matter what your potential is as a warrior. I am trying to protect you from another part of your potential. The dangerous part. Do you understand me, Birdie?”

“I think I do, Baba”

My gaze went internal for a time.

“I believe that I have seen some of the darkness.”

“Do you agree that it is dangerous?”

“Yes, Baba.”

“Why?”

I considered for another moment. My memory played flashes of a Roman centurion with a spurting stump instead of a hand, the stench and slickness of blood and excrement on a field, trying to scrub blood from my hair in a cold creek, a man writhing and screaming on the ground with three arrows in his leg-all of these sights circulated vividly in my mind’s eye.

“The darkness is a place that I know is very dangerous, yet for some reason I do not fear it, Baba.”

She gave me a grim smile, “I was afraid that would be your answer. It is the darkness; you are my child and therefore will not have enough fear.”

She paused.

“Birdie, your Mama G and I want to keep you on a path in the light as best we can, and you do well enough on your own most of the time. I also want you to know that I am very proud of how you survived in the rough all of those days. I am especially proud of how you took care of Atticus, not many people could have or would have done so much for him.”

I lowered my head humbly.

“Thank you my Lady; I tried to do what you and Mama G have taught me.”

“Yes, you do try most of the time to do as we have taught you, but not ALL of the time. Sometimes you lose your way, don’t you?”

She lowered her head to look up into my eyes, and held them.

“Birdie, I cannot excuse your flagrant disobedience of my direct orders which were to remain here at the fortress. Those had nothing to do with Atticus and you know that. What kind of parent or commander would I be if I ignored such insubordination? Had you not completely disregarded my instructions to remain HERE, we all might have been spared some complicated heartache, right?”

The Conqueror’s steel edge came into her voice, and I knew that was not a good sign for me.

“Yes, My Lady,” I kept my voice soft, “I’m sorry, My Lady.”

“Sorry doesn’t excuse a very poor decision, but I am glad that you realize that you have apologies to make; Look at me, Birdie. ”

I did, meeting the eyes just like my own, only hers were full of firm resolve, and I swallowed and tried to take responsibility and be brave. She kept her grip on my shoulders, but it was surprisingly light. Other kids have asked me how tough it must be to have the Conqueror “handle “me. She was as light handed as Mama G, except when the occasion called for her to be tough.

“If you were merely any court squire and not my child, I would dismiss you outright; if I were still a Warlord, I would take the bullwhip to you.”

My head went down again; my legs were shaking a little, though it wasn’t truly out of fear; this was very intense. Baba was giving me a “talking to” that was almost out of character; she usually just went straight to tanning my hide and was done with it.

She pulled me closer and began to put my hair in order gently, just as if we were having an ordinary talk by the lake instead of discussing the worst thing I had ever done.

“Fortunately for you, you are both a squire and my child; you will remain my squire, so I can continue your training and keep you to a strict routine. And very fortunately for you, I am no longer a warlord. But I think that you know what I am going to do…”

“I do, Baba.”

The tears were already collecting in my eyes; I just needed to have it over with now. I gathered my breath, leaned across her lap, took hold of the legs of the stool, and whispered, “I’m ready, Baba.”

She laid her hand firmly on my back to hold me down, but then, strangely, she gave me a little rub which was almost comforting. I knew what was coming was deserved but failed at keeping my tears controlled. I shook my head impatiently; usually I was tougher than this.

Baba took a deep breath and said,’ I think we’ve had this appointment for awhile, Little Bird.”

And indeed we had. I knew that Baba Xe would give me the tanning of my life the moment I decided to leave the fortification against her instructions. It was time to pay that price. I closed my eyes and waited, felt her intake of breath …

Baba’s powerful hand never fell. Instead she pulled me up, gripped my shoulders in a little shake as her voice trembled,

“I can’t; I should… I should wear out your little hide, but I cannot do it…”

She flung her head back impatiently and I saw tears fly from her eyes, and then her big hands were on my shoulders again. Those beautiful clear sky eyes kept overflowing; I didn’t know what to say. Baba Xe walloped my backside soundly when I needed it, without hesitation. It wasn’t fun for either of us, but sometimes I did really stupid things, and it was necessary to emphasize a lesson learned, clear the air, and move on. This was a first.

“Birdie, I almost gave up when I thought I had lost you and your Mama G… It seemed as if you might never come back, and that she might never wake up. My heart was too empty and frightened to bear it. And then your mother woke up and I thanked the gods, but we knew nothing about you; I thought I had lost my little birdie girl. My heart, my life.”

Her voice broke. Her head dropped, she continued to tremble.

Witnessing her in such a state awakened a world of new remorse in me. That I could have caused my Baba Xe, the bravest person I knew, such fear; I put my arms around her neck.

“Baba I am so sorry, I should have stayed in my room like you told me to, when you went to fight the Romans.. but then when Mama was shot, I shouldn’t have run away. Baba, I was so wrong.”

I could feel deep sobbing in her shoulders and it frightened me. Xena the Conqueror- to see her human, lonely, frightened. And I had left her all alone.

Atticus was right; it had been cowardly of me to run.

“Baba?” I tried to stroke her hair, like she always smoothed mine, “Baba, I’m real sorry; please tell me what I can do. ”

The greatest warrior in all of Greece was weeping in my arms. I didn’t know what to do except hold her. So I did for a time.

She gave a great sigh and lifted her Aegean eyes, still brimming but calmer. She had needed the release of tears. She threw her hair back a bit, composing herself, and stood up, cupping my face in her hands, the electric blue of her eyes riveting mine.

” You will make an honest attempt to do better about obeying me, whether I am Baba or Conqueror? That’s all I ask right now, Birdie. You must trust me enough to obey me; I make rules to keep you safe.”

“I promise, Baba…”

She let me go with a rather disgusted snort. I didn’t know if it was at me or herself, but she hadn’t skinned me; I looked up at Xena the Conqueror, who still had tears in those legendary eyes. Baba Xe who was MY hero, was smiling back at me.

“Baba.”

“Yes, Little Bird.”

“I’m sorry that I put you through so much worry and stuff.”

She put her arm around me, squeezed me, and mussed my hair.

“It’s ok; you are forgiven. Go see your mother and tell her that I am off on Argo awhile to clear my head, ok? She will understand.”

“I love you, Baba, ” my voice cracked.

She pulled my head to her and kissed the top, which was exactly what I needed her to do.

“I love you too, Birdie; more than ever, I think.”

And she left me-standing in the armory.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My Mama G had spent a good bit of time in convalescence, her concussion had been severe, and only recently had there been talk of her return to regular duties. I supposed that also meant duties regarding me.

Standing in her doorway, I observed her completely absorbed in her journal, the slight frown on her brow, the intensity of focus, and the stillness of her body while she considered what to write. It was coming on to later evening now, and the sun cast different angles of light on her hair and face. My mother, Gabrielle the Bard, was surely one of the most beautiful women in the world, even with her bandaged head. Xena the Conqueror was incredibly gorgeous with her Arctic eyes, raven tresses, titanic stature, passionate personality; she was absolutely stunning. But for the personification of a beauty and goodness which began within a person and moved to glow quietly and apparently to everyone with whom she came in contact– that was Gabrielle.

There was a small foot stool beside the large bed on which I placed myself to wait patiently. She laid down her quill and reviewed what she had written, allowing her hand to fall into my hair unaware, and idly drag back and forth. I leaned against her leg with a melancholy sigh. After a bit I could feel her eyes on me.

“Do you have sore tail feathers, Birdie?”

I shook my head, “Actually, Mama G, Baba couldn’t do it.”

Mama G looked at me down at me with raised eyebrows. “She couldn’t?”

“No. She tried; I thought she would give me a good one, and she meant to, but when we came to the real thing- she couldn’t do it Mama. We– I put her through too much; Baba is low on toughness right now.”

I butted my head against her leg with a sniffle. Mama G put her journal aside and kept her hand still in my hair.

“She’s gone for a ride on Argo; she said that you would understand.”

“I do,” was the soft answer. Our Baba always rides to clear her mind of anxiety, stress. My injury and your antics have been very difficult for her.”

“Yes my Lady, I know,” I mumbled, “We talked a long time- about everything I did, and what would happen to me if she were still a warlord. She put me over her knee and she stopped. I put her through an awful lot, Mama G. You should be sort of mad at me too, I guess. ”

Mama G had listened quietly and I felt her hand fall off my hair and take hold of my collar.

“Well, my little Bird, didn’t I promise you much tougher times if you disappeared from home without permission again?”

The hand had begun a firm and insistent pull; I found myself following it slowly and feeling the catch of the other hand tugging me up hand over hand until I joined her on the bed, facing her.

“Yes M’am.”

Now the involuntary tears were back. Today had been an emotional camel ride.

“Didn’t we talk once about the fact that even warriors should be a little bit afraid of their mothers?”

“Yes M’am.”

“Tell me.”

Softly spoken, but a direct command, green eyes all business.

Wow. Just like Baba Xe.

I dropped my eyes.

“Well, Baba Xe was proud that I survived in the rough and took care of Atticus.”

“I am very proud of those things too, Birdie, but don’t change the subject. Right now we are talking about why my little warrior should be afraid of her mother. ”

With this comment, Mama G quickly tugged me across the bed, so that I was positioned over her lap and locked under her arm.

“But Mama, don’t you always say one must take the bad with the good?” (It was worth a shot. And no, I would never have said that to Baba Xe.)

There was a pause.

“This is a dangerous position, Birdie, I think if I were you, reassurance that my child isn’t making wise remarks would be in order.”

Nice try, Bird dog. An acquiescent sigh. I took hold of the pillow – didn’t bury my face in it, but my answer was muffled,

” Yes, m’am. I left the fort, which was direct insubordination, sneaked away from Grandba and Scrubbers, rode to the battle scene, tried to kill the Roman who shot you, ran away for a week, tried to kill the hairy man who wished to steal Hades, and you didn’t know where I was the entire time.”

” UMMM HMMMM.”

She drummed her fingers on my backside. Might as well tell her. She would find out.

“Oh, and I took a sword.”

Another pause. Longer.

Uh oh.

“You What?”

Now there was going to be real trouble.

“Didn’t think it was smart to go to a battle without a sword, Mama.”

“You’ve been grounded from swords for quite some time, have you not?”

“Yes M’am.”

“You obtained the sword?”

“In the stable.”

“I see, so you found this sword, conveniently placed when you needed it, rather like when you were four years old?”

“Yes m’am. Something like that.”

She took a firm hold of me and delivered good swift whack.

Wow. Just like Baba Xe.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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The bard looked up from her journal with a smile, when the door opened a candle mark or so later. A streak of ebony fur flew across the room, leaped upon the bed, circled three times and nuzzled in closely to the small shaggy headed sleeper with her head in her mother’s lap.

A kiss was exchanged, a touch on the cheek, “There’s food on the table by the fire.”

“I picked up something at Mom’s before I rode.”

“Was it a good ride?”

“Perfect. It was as if Argo needed it as much as I did. It helped.”

“C’mere, Big Warrior.”

Xena slid under the covers next to her partner and relaxed against the blond woman’s shoulder.

“Funny, you don’t smell like a horse.”

“Baths in the stables-a Conqueror touch.”

“I might add, one of your best. “Thank you, my Queen.”

The Conqueror snuggled in a little closer, and the Bard brushed a lock of hair from her face.

“I heard that you’re a softy, Baba.” Very gently.

Instantly azure eyes filled.

“I’m sorry, Gab, never had one bit of difficulty walloping that kid when she needs it, but this time-I just…. I’ll get to her later…” she expelled a big breath.

“Hey,” the blond eyebrows rose with some amusement, “I handled the quality time with Birdie.”

“You?”

“I did.”

“But that’s my job!”

“No it isn’t, “said her partner, “Birdie is OURS. And you have been through enough traumas this week. More than enough. I have had more bed rest. Besides, Birdie needed to learn that I have just as much tough love for her little butt as you do when necessary. It was necessary, and I am tougher than I thought.” She smiled down upon and kissed the little warrior’s slumbering head.

The big warrior sank into the bed with a relieved sigh, “I love you.”

Green eyes met blue eyes then returned to playing with the small head of hair , ” Sometimes I wonder if we are too hard on her, but then I remember that she isn’t far from the age when you led your first army into battle, and I ran away from home to follow an ex- warlord.”

She smiled and shook her head,

“Not to mention Birdie’s own list of transgressions. Did you know that she took a sword?”

“Well, sort of. One doesn’t go into battle without a sword, Gab. She didn’t use it.”

“Did you even discuss the sword in your armory chat?

“Well, no I for-” “Never mind, I covered it…” The green eyes rolled and then smiled with a shaking head, “Warriors.”

The blue eyes laughed silently, but sobered,

“You know we are right to be vigilant with her, Gabrielle. Birdie is quick and talented and will try ANYTHING, often without considering the consequences fully. But that is part of being a child. We must make it constantly clear to her that we love her unconditionally, but we have set boundaries for her safety, and we will hold fast those boundaries. “

“Actually, I think that she understands that better than some children. During our sensitive chat, she kept saying how much she missed us, being with us; I believe she was talking about a feeling of safety .” said her mother.

The bard continued to stroke her child’s hair and received a look from the fox.

“Don’t you look at me that way, Zephyr; consider yourself lucky that you are a fox.”

Another look.

“It was all your idea, wasn’t it?”

Then fox put her head down near Birdie again.

“That’s what I thought.”

“And you aren’t quite off the hook either, Baba.”

“I’m not?” a smile.

“For the next fortnight, Birdie is going to do two extra candle marks of work duty per day with us. One candlemark with you on staff work, until I’m one hundred per cent, and that shouldn’t be long, the other half of which can be arrow catching if you like. Every bad staff miss should wind up smartly across her backside too.”

“I can do that, “was the chuckle…

“And the other candle mark she will spend writing, “continued the bard mom, “writing, reflecting, learning, re-writing, this entire edifying episode.”

It’s a good plan, Mama G,” said the warrior, “Our Birdie will grow from it. Shall I carry her to bed?”

The bard continued to tenderly stroke the small dark head in her lap, for a moment.

“Let her stay tonight; she’s peaceful now, and you were right, she hasn’t been. She had many many tears in her, far more than I gave to her; Birdie is a tough kid, and she doesn’t cry much, even after a session with you in the armoury. So there was a surplus built up inside her that needed releasing, just as you thought. I just let her cry and talk until she went to sleep.”

The emerald eyes became watery. The smaller sleeper moved and whimpered a little until Gabrielle offered a hand which her daughter grasped tightly in her slumber. It eased her.

“Big lessons for my little bird.”

The warrior leaned across the bard and kissed the slumbering shaggy head wordlessly. As she withdrew, she paused and kissed the shaggy blond head.

“Gabrielle, perhaps it was right that you were the parent to take her to task on this; since she thought she had lost you forever. This way, you are very much alive, firmly holding her responsible, but also loving and gentle as only you can be; this way she will never ever forget.”

“It felt right,” said the bard, softly, “And I don’t believe that she will forget, none of us will.”

The warrior was gazing pensively at the ceiling. She turned to her bard, “‘it’s a beautiful night,”

“Is it? Not too cold?”

“Tolerable, the fire’s good to last.”

The bard smiled, “Do it.”

The warrior rose and climbed to the top of the heavy, ornately carved wooden headboard. Stretching to her full height, she pushed back panels in the similarly decorated ceiling from a point midway above the bed. Walking across the mattress g, she climbed to the top of the footboard of their huge bed and pushed ceiling panels the opposite way. Then she rejoined the bard under the heavy covers.

“Truly a, stroke of architectural genius,” whispered Gabrielle as her eyes scanned the starry heavens. Xena pulled her close and said, “I think I see a Minotaur.”

“No it’s a pig, “laughed her soul mate, “see the snout and the curly tail?”

A light yip came from the foot of the bed… “Oh, Zephyr says it’s a fox.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Epilogue

What we refer to as my “time in the rough” is moving slowly into the realm of quiet memory now. The final days of my extra duty are coming to a close, and the return to a normal routine will help. This part of my discipline has been intense, but positive. The warrior and the bard are nothing if not thorough.

My staff skills have improved by at least double. Mama G is almost fully recovered from her injury and there is nobody any better at staff fighting than the Queen of the Amazons. Every pass or parry I miss brings her next swak swiftly against my backside; it makes me hop up and down a bit from the sting, and she can’t help but laugh.

A couple of times Grandba has come out of the kitchen and had her turn at me and she is no slouch with the staff either. I was pretty sore at first, but Grandba says that when one behaves like a rump roast, one should expect to be tenderized. So I take it in stride and improve by necessity. The only person who has born me no ill will was Scrubbers. He only put his hand on my head and told me that next time I should come to him.

Baba Xe has been shooting arrows for me as well and yesterday I tagged one! She said that to tag an arrow is the first vital step in catching one, because I have marked a moment in the arrow’s flight and can place myself there. With more practice, it is possible now. I will catch arrows.

That same day Baba Xe and Mama G gave a gift to me to commemorate this entire period of my life. It is a silver pendant made in Chin by a wise woman they met while travelling many years ago. The pendant has the Yin and Yang symbol carved on the back of a turtle. Mama G said it was perfect for me because I will always be working to balance the forces of light and darkness in myself. The turtle will remind me to be patient and wise, and it also symbolizes my innate feelings for animals. It is beautiful– strung on a leather cord and I haven’t taken it off. I told them it almost makes up for the fact that I can’t have a sword for another four moons. We all laughed about that.

Evening meals have been informal during these extra drill days, at times taking them outdoors while we watch the sun go down. It has been peaceful, and I have enjoyed it, and so far they have honoured my request for no fish. Then we go to the fortress, bathe, and meet in the common room where I write for another candle mark- sometimes longer. At first I resisted; I didn’t want to delve too deeply into this experience. But the Bard stood over me with a stick, or rather a quill, and she sat beside me and wrote as well, so I began to look forward to the sessions. Baba Xe sits by the fire doing some militia scroll work, fixing furniture, or sharpening the Tide in that meditative way she has, singing when she doesn’t know that she’s singing. The third activity is what we like to hear best; if the warrior is singing, all is well in our world.

I write about these past few weeks because they are paramount in my mind. My mother the Bard says that I have lived a “coming of age” story, a period or an event in which one leaves childhood behind and approaches the threshold of adulthood. I don’t see how a singular event can cause one to grow up so quickly, but she says that’s not entirely what it means, and that I will discover more as I continue to reflect and write about it…

Talus and I have become friends. Yesterday he came to the fortress with a gift, a wooden fox carving in exquisite detail. He even captured the slightly tilted head of Zephyr. He said it was a gift for bringing his father home, but I told him that Atticus and I brought each other home. Talus has now a special shoe which elevates and strengthens his withered foot, and while he won’t be running races, he is sufficiently perambulatory that I won’t be fighting any bullies for him. I like Talus; it is good to finally have a friend that is my age with whom to ride and talk.

The greatest change is internal. There is darkness in me now. It was born the day I cut off a man’s hand for shooting my Mama G with a crossbow. It was cultivated when I shot a DOZ man’s leg full of arrows for trying to take my horse. I ventured outside the safety of the Amphipolis Fortress and something came back with me. If it is not darkness, it is sadness; perhaps disappointment with life or myself. If it is not a “coming of age” it is the end of some part of innocence or childhood.

Baba Xe knows. We haven’t discussed it in depth, but we don’t need to, not yet. One day she watched from a distance, as I practiced archery and dagger throwing. I missed my mark only once, and then only by a slight measure. Mama G had left early to assist Grandba with a culinary experiment that evening, so it was only the two of us. As I walked away from the fields, she joined me. Baba’s hand came to rest gently on my shoulder, followed by a quiet question.

“You have it, don’t you Little Bird?

“Have what, Baba?”

“Birdie, you know.”

“Yes, Baba, I think so.”

I expected that she would be angry, but she sighed and put her arm around me resting her head atop mine.

“I’m sorry, Little Bird.”

“You’re not mad at me, Baba?”

“No Birdie, I’m sorry you will have to deal with it, but honestly, it’s rather to be expected. You must mind yourself carefully; it can have you in serious trouble before you know it’s loose. The only choice is for you to learn to control the darkness and not allow the darkness to control you.”

“Yes, m’am.”

“The first and best advice I will give you is to stay around your mother. She is the best remedy. Or if you find yourself becoming too lost or mired too deeply, come to me, and I’ll beat it out of you.”

Her voice sounded teasingly menacing, but I knew she spoke the words with love.

“Thanks, Baba.”

Her kiss to my hair lingered longer than usual.

“I am no expert at ‘sensitive chats’ Birdie, but I will do my best to guide you with this and do whatever you need.”

“Thanks, Baba.”

“And sometimes my guidance may not be what you think is necessary.”

“Yes, Baba.”

But you must trust me, Birdie, even if it hurts. Can you do that, Birdie?”

“Always, Baba.”

And that was the truth.

I wonder how many young people could honestly speak those words. But other young people are not being trained to be great and honourable warriors. Other young people are not being taught to reflect measure and write poetically about their deeds at the end of the day. But I am not other young people.

I am Robin

Of the Warrior

And the Bard.

What is learned here

Is only a part

On the journey of hearts.

There are dragons for certain,

There’ll be bridges

To build,

Over all of life’s floods.

I will swim, march fight,

And yes shed some blood.

Can I climb the zenith?

Find my own strength?

Face the dark angel,

Know that

Pain begets growth,

Angels will weep,

Or laugh in the rain.

The soul is resilient,

Begin once again,

It’s never the same.

All is love and hate

Light and dark

Joy and pain

Yin and yang

Youth and age

Peace or rage

Sun and moon

Late or soon

Fire or lake

Give and take

Smiles and tears

And all our fears.

But I am Robin

For songs

I have the bard inside,

For danger

I have the warrior

To guide,

And beyond this place

There be dragons.

The journey is the destination…

The end.

Continued in The Little Warrior

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