Birdie’s Song IV – The Nightmare by Onesockbard

Birdie’s Song IV – The Nightmare
by Onesockbard

I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard

The silver buckles jingled faintly as I bounded to my feet..

I walked around the dining room, stomping from stone to stone, listening to the tinkle of the buckles and enjoying the sturdy bumpfing sound of the heels and soles. Zephyr followed, sniffing at the new leather smell.

“Well, how do they feel, little one?” My Grandba queried.

“Unbelievable. Grown up. Serious. Wonderful. Thank you.” I threw my arms around her. “I can’t believe these are for me, Grandba!”

“I remembered how happy your Baba was the day we bought her first pair of solid boots.”

“Yes, I had begged for them for a season.” recalled Baba Xe.”

“I have to say, it was a proud day for me when I gave you those boots.” smiled her mother.

“Did you know I still have them?”

“Do you, now?”

“Stored in a box; couldn’t part with them.”

“Really ?” Cyrene seemed startled.

“Well, you wouldn’t allow me to wear them for the first moon.”

The Conqueror obviously still felt a certain resentment over that. “So they are in pretty good— well, no, they are not in good shape; I wore them.. night and day; I even slept in them at first.”

Blue eyes looked up and found the entire room listening; the Conqueror was rarely so forthcoming with personal history.

“What?” her eyes darkened and so did her voice.

“What?”

Normal conversation resumed immediately.

My own mother had put her arm around me, “Now they aren’t for your every single day rough and ready stuff,” she flashed a slightly evil eye. “Of course now that you are thirteen winters, you might not be quite so likely to jump into every mud hole that you encounter.”

She shared a look with Zephyr.

“Not in my new boots, My Lady Mother.” I stood proudly. “My Amazon soft boots will still be my daily attire. I’ll wear these for the longer horse trips and for more formal occasions. ”

“Did you see that there is a built in dagger sheath on the right boot?” My warrior parent pointed out.

“Yes, it’s perfect for my dagger; I must try it.” I turned to run toward my tower room.

“Robin of the Warrior and Bard,” my full name from my mother, halted me in my new boots’ tracks.

“We aren’t finished with you, “She was smiling.

“Oh.” I returned obediently and sat back down.

“Xena, you have a gift for Birdie.”

“Gift? Humpf. “Her voice was gruff, but dancing sparkles in the indigo eyes betrayed her. “Let me see.”

She leaned far back and made great pretense of searching underneath her chair. What she brought forth was a long brown parcel tied with string and my hopes were increased.

“And what might this be Birdie?”

“I am sure I do not know, Baba.”

“You don’t know?”

“Cannot fathom.”

She grabbed me tickling , “You little storyteller.”

After sufficient giggles, she turned me loose to examine the package; my hands shook almost beyond the articulation required to unwrap string and paper.

At long last, my sword. MY SWORD. I was speechless- stunned beyond expression.

“I made it for you.” My Baba Xe remarked mildly.

Wordlessly, I took her large hands in mine, and when she felt mine shaking, she gathered me into her lap for a very unconqueror-ish moment. Tears were squeezing from my eyes and I sniffled slightly.

“Here now,” she pulled me back, “none of that. It’s your birthday.. Only happiness allowed.”

“This is happiness, Baba,” I exploded from her lap.

“Well, pick it up and try the weight and balance of it.”

My sword resembled the Tide, but it was smaller and lighter- customized for someone my size. The bronze hilt had the shape of the Tide, but instead of the paua shell of the mother sword, its inlaid parts were bright silver. The hilt was wrapped in soft black leather and the blade was buffed so brightly I could see my face. As I took the grip, it felt immediately like a natural extension of my arm.

“And, “The Warrior waited.

I jogged a distance from the party group, spun it thrice around my wrist and completed the first drill holding it like a spear. Then I tossed it high into the air and watched it catch the light; as it fell back down, I took a step forward and caught it neatly behind my back. Stealing a glance toward my mother, I noted that she had closed her eyes. Swinging it back around hard, I gave it one more toss into the air while performing a front flip catching the sword on the horizontal in flight so that I landed with it in full ready position, and spun in a circle.

“Baba, it is PERFECT, “my voice and face must have beamed, “I love it.”

“You’ll have to practice with it some,” just a shadow of a smile on Baba’s face, “But it seems a good fit.”

“Aww, don’t want to nick it!”

“That is what a sword is for, Birdie. Its job is to take the nicks so that you do not. You will sharpen the nicks out.”

“Child of my heart, you come home with too many nicks in that sword too often, and it will take residence under my bed.”

“Ah Mama,” a little whiny for a warrior.

In truth, I wondered when she would assert herself, but still the protest had to be made.

“Gab,” Now the Big Warrior spoke softly, guardedly, “We talked about this.”

Mama G smiled at Baba, “And we will never stop talking about it, Xena, NEVER.”

Baba sat back with a smile at me; we were whipped by the little blond; she could do us both with one finger.

I shot her my most innocent grin, but she didn’t buy it for a heartbeat, and raised her eyebrows.

“Come here to me my fledgling.”

I obeyed; she wouldn’t take my new sword this quickly, even if she wanted to. It was my birthday; she’d wait until after the party.

“I have a gift for you as well.”

This package was of similar size to the other.

“Did you make me a sword too, Mama?” That earned me a light cuff to the head, a smile, and a tug down onto the ottoman in front of her

” It isn’t a sword, but I too made your gift , Little Bird.”

It was the scabbard. The back was of stiff black leather with the laced front of brown leather; it would match any pair of boots. The front had been beautifully tooled with the crest of the Amphipolis dragon and circling stars. But what was most striking was an inlaid silver piece at the doubled folded top – a small silver robin carrying its own feather as a quill. It was a functional work of art and a scabbard fit for royalty.

Again I was gobsmacked. Stunned beyond belief.

“Turn it over, Birdie. ”

On the backside, was a pocket laced on three sides with a flap that tied. Inside was leather bound journal which kept several parchment pages, a tiny flat jug of ink, and a quill. The scabbard had removable clips to be attached to armor, or it also had a handsome strap which would go across my body.

I felt quite splendid when I donned all of my presents. There could not be a happier kid of thirteen winters anywhere in all of Greece. I had new well made boots, boots fit for fighting. I had a sword of my own, designed for me by the greatest Warrior of the age, and a beautiful carrier for the sword which declared fully who I was-a junior member of the Militia of Amphipolis, a warrior, a writer, and just me—Birdie, inlaid in pure silver. It was a statement of my identity, now in my thirteenth season, a young person coming into her own.

Shaking back her bright blond hair, the Amazon Queen came to me now and brushed my dark hair back from my forehead before leaving a gentle kiss there.

“Happy Birthday, Little Bird.”

“Thank you, Mama G.”

I put my arms around her waist and lay my head on her shoulder a moment. That moment and motion brought back a hundred memories of the times I had been in that same position at different stages of my life. There were the times she had carried me as a drowsy toddler from an evening of stargazing, or carried the same weeping toddler with a scraped elbow or hurt feelings after a tumble on the cobblestones. As I grew older, there were times my tears fell on her shoulder after she spent a couple of candle marks of coaxing the truth of a wayward deed I had committed. And it was the same shoulder where I found comfort following the times she deemed it necessary to be firm in her discipline of me. But no matter my need or situation, there was always the warm strong shoulder, the gentle words, the encompassing arms. Always. Perhaps I would write tonight.

I met her eyes in my most grown up fashion.

“My Lady Queen, the scabbard is a precious gift; I will cherish it always.”

I stood back and included Baba with my gaze and a hand.

“And the same with the beautiful sword My Lady Conqueror, I promise to never bring you shame with it.”

The Conqueror stepped forward to kiss the top of my head and then clasp my arm in the warrior’s handshake.

“You are very welcome, Little Bird. And we like those promises. However, it’s your birthday, and we should be partaking of your Grandba’s FEAST!”

We made good work of it; Grandba had made my favorite foods. I was just finishing my carrot cake and sneaking Zephyr a bite when the great dining hall door blew open with a crash against the wall. A tall figure covered in furs stomped in from the snowy outside.

It was my Uncle Toris.

“Happy Birthday Birdie,” he said, shaking the snow from his dark hair.

“You already missed the party,” the sarcastic tone of Baba Xe.

Whenever I was around my Mama G and Aunt Lila, I always wished for a sibling; exposure to the relationship between my Baba Xe and Uncle Toris, however, made me glad to be an only child.

“I’m sure Mom’s got a bit of this or that left over.” He said pointedly. “And I’m sure that Birdie isn’t going to reject a gift.” He handed me a parcel.

“Thanks for remembering, Uncle Toris, “I gave him a smile. Though I saw him seldom, I liked the man who favored my Baba Xe and me so much in looks, and he had always seemed fond of me.

It was a rag doll.

“Little old for dolls, and she never played with them anyway,” another remark from Baba.

I studied it carefully. It was dressed trousers with little laces up the sides, and a leather tunic and boots. It had black spun hair and blue button eyes. Under its arm was a stuffed black fox, and in the other hand it carried a little sword.

“Actually, Uncle Toris, I quite like it. Is it me? And did you make it?”

His sky blue eyes sparkled and he flashed the smile that made him look so much like his younger sister.

“Tried my best, Birdie.”

I gave him a shy hug which he returned. “Thanks Uncle Toris. It’s nice. I won’t be playing ‘dollies’ with it, but that’s not what it’s meant for, is it?”

“No, not so much, Birdie.”

“I will take good care of it; it’s very special. Thank you again.”

“You are welcome, little niece..”

Tables were cleared, candles extinguished; it had been a superior evening. My mother came over to put her arm around me with a smile.

“Come along birthday girl, let’s go put away your new things and make you sleepy,”

“G’night everyone!” I raised my voice. “Thank you for the best birthday ever!

Everyone was filing out, either giving me a hug or a bit of tousled hair, everyone but Baba Xe and Uncle Toris. Uncle Toris had taken a seat at the table and was slurping hot soup Grandba had brought, and some tea. Baba Xe did no more than sit and glare at him as she had since he had entered the door. I made my way over to Baba and gave her a hug and kiss good night. She returned it warmly.

“We’ll have to begin sword lessons again, right?”

“I am ready anytime, Baba.”

She flashed the quick smile that could illuminate the darkness in a room and gave me a little pat.

“Perhaps tomorrow then?”

“Tomorrow is great, Baba.”

I did an about face, and she went back to glowering at her brother.

“Why don’t they like each other?” I asked Mama G as we ascended the stairs, Zephyr’s bushy tail dancing merrily ahead of us.

“Ohhh Birdie, they do like each other; they just don’t show it well. Sometimes people harbor resentments from childhood, even though they are no longer children.” Mama’s hand moved up my back and squeezed the back of my neck. We entered my room.

“If I had a big brother, we wouldn’t be like that.” I said confidently, as she found my nightshirt, I washed up in the big bowl of water in the corner.

She laughed. “I would wager, Birdie that you would be worse.”

“Hah! Huh uh!” was my retort.

She gave me a light smack to the back of my head, “and my point is made.”

###########################################################

“So,” intoned the Conqueror, “What brings you to this neck of the woods, my brother? Mother certainly would like to see you more often than she does.”

“I know,” Toris stared into his soup, “the country life is wonderful, Xena, but it is more demanding than I ever thought. I love my wife, the boys and the farm is beautiful, but it’s not an easy life out there. It’s always something.”

“That is very true,” admitted his younger sister. “There is seldom a free moment to just be with friends and family.”

“But I should do better; I know that, sis,” The trademark sapphire eyes met the Conqueror’s own, “It takes such a long time to ride into town and back, and I am not easy with leaving my family alone for that amount of time.”

“Are there problems out there?”

“I am afraid that there will be. Something is brewing on the farms closer to town. I have been talking with different farmers on my way in. That’s why I was so late.”

Xena leaned forward, “What kind of problems, Toris? ”

“Something is killing livestock.”

She sat back.

“But that is nothing new; Wolves, bears, mountain lions. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the predator is, and tracking it down, isn’t it?”

“No, sis, this is different. I walked out to a few kills. Natural predators don’t eviscerate their prey. And that is what this is… There isn’t any meat taken, like a wolf or a lion would take to feed itself or its young. Only the entrails are removed. It’s bizarre, Xena, even chilling.”

The Conqueror leaned forward, her interest engaged,” Are the killings random, or is there a pattern?”

“The only patterns thus far are the eviscerations and the animals taken are swine and rams.”

“Well, that is a pattern, “Xena put a boot up on the table.

Toris smirked, “Bet you wouldn’t do that if Gabrielle were down here.”

Xena smiled, “Bet you are right.”

################################################################################################

Mama G walked over to my big window while I washed my feet. Zephyr was making certain that I did them correctly. Sometimes she is a very nosy fox.

“Birdie.”

“Yes’m,” I was drying the left foot, and feeling clean enough to hop into my bed. However, over on the red loveseat were my sword and scabbard begging for just one more look. I padded over and sat down, sliding the blade out to admire the weight and flash of it.

“Why are there so many candle drippings in this window?”

I fitted the blade back into the scabbard and slipped the strap over my head. My clean feet went into my new boots and I stood up, completely garbed, except for the fact that I had on my striped nightshirt.

Mama G turned around.

“Why Birdie? Birdie.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“Birdie, you will NOT be sleeping in your new presents. OFF. Right now.”

She walked toward me.

“Mama, I was just trying them one more time.”

“OFF.”

She reached me and helped me raise the scabbard strap over my head and laid it on the couch.

“Sit.”

She tugged off the new boots and left them on the floor by the sword and scabbard.

“Now they stay there. Understood?”

Silence.

“Robin of..” “Underrrrstoood.” “Birdie, honey, it is dangerous to sleep with a sword.”

Sigh.

“Now come on, let’s get you into bed, it’s very late for little warriors.”

I climbed into my bed and she pulled up the covers and snugged them around me.

“Mama, don’t you think at thirteen winters that I might be too old or too big for you to tuck me in?”

Her forest eyes softened, and she reached up to push back my hair.

“No Birdie, there are some things you will never be too old or too big for me to do for you. ”

I looked at her a moment then dropped my eyes.

“Good.”

She reached for my head again making me look at her, “So are you going to tell me about the sizable accumulation of candle drippings in your window sill?”

Don’t know why this was hard to give up. I played with the coverlet.

“Bad dreams, Mama. Really bad. When I wake up, I can’t stand for it to be dark. So I have been leaving candles burning.”

The jade gaze softened again, “I’m sorry Little Bird, what we will need to do is find you a lantern then. It is less dangerous to burn all night than an open candle. Can you tell me about the dreams?”

“I’d rather not, Mama.”

“Why not?”

Her hand was ever gentle in my hair.

My eyes were filling just thinking about it; be tough now.

“Because they are about you and Baba.”

“Oh Honey,” She leaned over me in a comforting embrace; I wrapped my arms around her neck and shoulders. The tears squeezed out. Zephyr gave me an approving look from the foot of my bed. She knew that my nights had been troubled.

Mama G sat back and caught my tears with her fingertips. I did the same on her face. We smiled at each other; at times we were so very alike.

“How long has this been going on, Birdie?”

“Around a seven day, I’d say.”

“Perhaps you are approaching your first cycle and your body is just going somewhat wonky. I am going down to fetch a long burning lantern for you now. And if you have a nightmare tonight sufficient to wake you, You COME to us, you hear me? I will be angry if you don’t, little girl.”

“Yes M’am.”

She smiled, sniffed and one more tear found its way down her tender countenance.

“I love you, Birdie; do you have any idea how much?”

“I don’t know Mama, but I love you just as much.”

I sat up for one more quiet hug. After a moment we felt a furry nose squirming between us and an impatient squeal, and we chuckled.

“Zephyr wants in on the affection.”

+++++++++++

Mama G returned with the long burning lantern and we exchanged a “sweet dreams.” Then I was alone. The wind blew my window shutter noisily and I hopped out to go and secure it more tightly.

“Why don’t we look at what Marcus has done to the sky tonight, girl?”

I smiled at Zephyr. When I opened the shutter I was nearly undone to find my hawk.

“Icarus? My pretty bird. Have you been sleeping here?”

She just gave me her angry eyes and groomed her feathers. I went to my field pack and fetched her a bite of dried meat.

“So how have you been? Icarus had been fine. “Will you protect me girl? I have been having unwelcome visitors in the night.”

She cocked her head at me seriously as if to say that she would do her best.

As she flew away, I secured the shutter. Walking back to my bed, I considered the sword and scabbard again. Gliding silently over to the loveseat, I took the sword within the sheath and carried it back to my bed. Zephyr gave me a reproachful look.

“I know Zephyr; she will skin me if she catches me with this in my bed, so it’s imperative that she does not catch me, right?”

Zephyr just laid down her sleepy head as if to say,” you’re on your own”.

I slipped the sword in its tooled leather casing next to me on the sheets. Placing my hand on it, I allowed Morpheus to come and do his work.

################################################################

The Bard turned over when the Warrior slid under the heavy coverlet with a contented sigh,”C’mere.”

“ummmm brrrrrr, you feel good.” Their combined body heat didn’t take long to warm the bed.

“Did you have a good talk with Toris? Did he stay downstairs with Mom tonight?”

“Yes, once we quit circling each other and yes, Mom is thrilled to have the first son with her.”

“Good.”

“He told me about some problems in the outlying farms, Gabrielle.”

“Really…” The bard was drowsy.

“Strange stuff. Pig eviscerations.”

“What?” Gabrielle came fully awake. “That’s horrible.”

“Yes, I don’t like the sound of it. I need to ride out there and see for myself.”

“Well that doesn’t put the best pictures in my head before sleeping… I’ll have nightmares like Birdie.”

“Is the kid having nightmares?

“For the past seven day. She’s been leaving a candle burning all night they’ve been so bad.”

Xena came up on an elbow, “Did she tell you what the dreams were about?”

“She’d rather not; Xena they are about us.”

“I don’t like the sound of that, Gab.”

“Me either. I believe tomorrow, we better sit with her and make her tell us. I don’t know if it means anything at all, but it is unsettling.”

“I agree. We better talk about it first thing in the morning. Perhaps she was so excited tonight that she won’t have bad dreams.”

“She had a great birthday, didn’t she?”

“She’s a great kid.”

“I know another great kid.”

“You do?”

“ummm hmmm, lying next to me, she smells very sexy and warm…”

“Keep talking..”

####################################################################

I was enveloped by a blood red fog; it hung about my neck and ankles like chains. There were dead animals strewn about on both sides of my path, cows and pigs mostly, but there was a horse now and again. My sword was on my back, and its weight was a comfort. I came to a river, looked for a bridge, but there was none so I had to ford it on foot. My Amazon boots soon turned red; the river ran with blood.

On the far banks I could see Mama G and Baba Xe kneeling across from each other. My heart was encouraged and I swam through the horror and my feet felt the rocks on the other side. I called to them, but neither noticed me. That was when I saw that each had a child lying on the grass in front of her. Baba had a golden haired boy and in front of Mama was a small girl with strawberry blond hair. I didn’t understand the lack of attention to my call, and I kept walking toward them. As I approached, I continued to plead for response until Baba and Mama lifted their heads simultaneously to look at me. Their eyes- the whites and colors of their eyes- had turned completely black.

A huge being swirled in the fog and formed between them then; a man shape with horns as big and tall as a mountain ram might have. He wore a loin cloth and his body was covered with a black oily hair. His eyes were the same black color as my parent’s except for a gleaming amber center in each one under bushy brows. His lips were black as well and his teeth were oversized and hung down like fangs.

He was laughing a thunderously deep laugh that resonated with no joy. In his arms was Zephyr, blood dripping from her closed eyes and tongue. The sight elicited an agonized cry from me as if my soul were torn in half.

#####################################################################

“Birdie, Birdie, honey, wake up. You are dreaming.” Cool cloth on my forehead. Cool hands rubbed my arms. Low gentle voices. Soft fur and a cold nose under my hand. I was delivered, my bed; the dream was gone, for now.

“Birdie, come back now, it’s safe.” I felt my head raised and rested on a muscular knee and a large hand running through my hair gently. Baba?

My eyes opened to look into the concerned sea green eyes of my mother.

‘”Mama? Baba?” my voice sounded hoarse, raspy,” You are ok? Is Zephyr ok?”

“Shhhhhhhhh…” the lower voice of Baba was soothing, “Birdie, everyone is fine. We heard you in distress and came to check on you. It must be a very bad dream, Little Bird.”

Mama patted my burning face and sweat drenched hair with her cool cloth.

“There now, you are safe, Honey. It’s ok.” She raised her eyebrows at me.

“Although, little bird child, if your eyes weren’t already so teary, I would give you a few firm tears for finding this sword in bed with you after we had our conversation about it.”

She gave me her LOOK. Baba had THE LOOK, so did Mama.

“Well, the sword was with me in my dream,” I offered sheepishly; there was no good excuse. “It was good to have it with me. But I’m sorry, Mama.”

Contrition was my true feeling at that point; the dream had unraveled any pretense; I didn’t want to think of those cold black eyes.

“It’s ok,” Her eyes saw into me, softened and warmed. “This time.”

She took my hand in both of hers; the gesture eased me.

“I believe, Little Bird,” Baba Xe’s low voice rumbled with authority, “that you had better tell us about your dreams.”

Written by Birdie on the evening of her 13th winter 

My Baba’s shoulder
Will hold my head,
When I need strength,
When life is dangerous.
The Warrior’s sword
Protects with love.
I lay me down
In her safe arms,
And close my eyes
On Baba’s shoulder.

On Mama’s shoulder
Soft tears are shed,
When I need shelter,
When life is painful.
The Poet’s heart
Protects with love.
My soul is safe
In gentle hands,
So tears may fall On Mama’s shoulder.

Part 2

Gabrielle awakened the next morning and lingered a bit longer in the bed; they had sat with Birdie until very late, listening to the narrative of her nightmare. The bard cast a glance to her right and noted that the sky blue eyes were wide open and staring at the ceiling.

“Have you been awake long?” she caressed the dark tresses with the back of her hand.

“I don’t believe that sleep ever came to me,” was the haunted answer, “Gods be damned, Gabrielle, I wanted that chapter of our lives to be completed and banished forever, and Minotaur shite if it doesn’t keep reappearing time and time again! I feel like a turtle dumped on its back, kicking helplessly, FURIOUSLY.” The Conqueror covered her face with her hands in frustration.

Silent tears ran down the sides of her head into her pale hair as Gabrielle lay quietly by her soul mate glaring hard into the ceiling-imploring it for answers.

“Xena, have we done something terribly wrong?” There was a tremor in her voice.

Her warrior rose to an elbow and looked down at her concerned, “What do you mean by ‘something terribly wrong’ Gabrielle?”

The kindly bard didn’t move and the continued river of tears pooled and made wet spots on her pillow on either side of her head.

“We work for the greater good, we do our best to help those in need, we protect those we love, and we protect everyone else we are able to protect. But Xena this demon of darkness, Dahak, chooses us as his portal into the world, time and time again. Why do WE continue to be his chosen entrance?”

The Conqueror knew there was no simple answer for this, the most complicated reoccurring aspect of their lives. She slid her strong arm and shoulder under her soul-mate’s head and neck, to help hold the weight of the thoughts pressing on the sensitive bard’s mind.

“I wish I had an explanation for you Gabrielle,” her low voice sighed. “But I do not believe that we have done anything wrong. Perhaps the situation just never really ended all those years ago when I became so obsessed with defeating Caesar that I forgot to look out for you. Khrafstar’s cult was able then to take advantage of your trust, your blood innocence, and to use you-mind and body. Certainly that was the worst mistake of my life-and..”

The Bard’s gentle finger touched her lips.

“Xena, my love, my life. There is no reason for us to drag ourselves back over those fiery nails is there? We know the story; it is petrified water under the bridge, love. Leave it. I think that perhaps Dahak is like a snake that will seek till it finds a crack in the stone bridge wall and then use it to enter. It may have nothing to do with how we are behaving. Regardless, I believe that Birdie is the latest crack, and I don’t know if I can survive watching her being victimized by Dahak. I WILL NOT give him another child.”

A sob escaped; she clamped her hand over her mouth to capture it.

The warrior leaned over the small Amazon Queen and held her as tightly as she could, feeling the sobs shake her soul mate’s body.

“Gabrielle, I know I can’t stand it.” She whispered. “I just don’t know what to do.”

For The Conqueror found herself in similar shape. The bard’s arms reached up and encircled the dark headed woman with strength. Eventually, the near panic of the pair quieted, and they found the peace and power that their love had always built bit by bit for whatever seemingly impossible situation was given to them.

The warrior leaned back on her elbow again. Verdigris eyes met azure and the plan was known almost without words.

“We will just have to love her and guide her through it,” the bard whispered. “There is no map to follow, Xena. We must be united in our support and our protection of her.”

“Do not worry about that, Gabrielle,” sighed the Conqueror. “I learned those lessons years ago.”

“What I hate is that we will just have to wait and watch for his moves.”

“Yes. I hate that as well, but there is no other course. We must wait and watch—carefully.”

####################################################

“I’m not allowed to use my new sword?” My voice was carefully controlled. Even if one is a new adolescent, one is careful about one’s “attitude” with the Conqueror.

“Not just yet,” She handed me an old wooden sword thing, of similar shape to my new sword, and actually very close to the weight.

She smiled, “Put the new one down, Birdie.”

I sighed and walked over to the edge of the field slipping the scabbard over my head and placing it carefully in the soft grass.

“Watch it for me, Zephyr.” The fox lay down with a careful eye on my prize.

“Birdie, we know that you have an abundance of natural talent with a sword, so we are going to begin to work on the aspects of sword fighting that do not come quite so easily for you.”

I frowned at her, “Such as?”

Hadn’t ever given it much thought.

“Breathing.”

“BREATHING? Don’t I breathe, Baba?”

She laughed. “Not ordinary breathing, Birdie, CONTROLLED breathing. Such as when you practice yoga and meditation with Mama G.”

“Oh. What does that have to do with sword fighting?”

“Everything. Allow me. Stand here with your practice sword in the position of ‘Namaste’.”

“Namaste it is, Baba Xe.”

And next I felt the back handed smack of the flat of her wooden sword across my butt as she landed the front flip behind me and bounced away grinning.

“Baba! Unfair!”

I charged her with an overhand swing; she caught it easily and flipped me back. I did anticipate that move however,and returned the counter swing to tap her leg on the side.

“Not bad, kiddo.”

She leaped into the air twirling in a spin which landed another smack on me.

“Ouch. Shite!!”

“Birdie….. Decorum….”

She stood twirling the sword as if it were a dinner knife.

“Phooey!!”

She laughed again.

“Now, be ready!”

She came at me full out then ; I blocked the overhead, parried from the right, the left, the upswing, a circular, jumped over a low slash at my feet, and managed a front flip of my own, which carried me over her entirely; I threw my sword backwards in time to block her downswing without watching, then turned and blocked two more sides and one right at my head which I ducked, another circular swing, a diagonal slash, and then collapsed to my knees.

The Conqueror walked over to me, took me by the collar, hauled me to my feet and listened to me gasping for air.

“Not bad; catch your breath, “she said calmly.

I leaned over slightly putting my hands on my knees to study the ground, utterly spent. I was immediately straightened by a third good smack of the wooden sword to my backside. It occurred to me at that moment that Baba Xe had neither broken a sweat nor altered her slow and steady breath.

“Birdie, if you control your breathing you can fight forever. ”

The Conqueror’s iceberg eyes gentled when they fell on me.

What else could I do but stand in front of her, hands in prayer position, head bowed.

Namaste, the divine in me honors the divine in you, Baba Xe.

The teacher has taught; the student has learned.

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

Cyrene looked up from her mixing bowl when Gabrielle entered the large, well-appointed, inn kitchen which was the older woman’s domain.

“What brings my favorite fair-haired daughter to visit this morning?” She wiped off her hands and came immediately to take the bard by the shoulders.

“You look exhausted, child; tell me- what is it?”

The gruff and kindly innkeeper pulled the young woman whom she considered her own down into a chair at the table and put a mug of warm tea into her hands, allowing only a moment to pass before she joined her.

“Now, tell me.” Attention fully focused.

The bard spoke into her tea.

“We need to ask an enormous favor of you, Mother Cyrene.” She didn’t look up.

Cyrene’s hand moved across the table and clutched the poet’s; both hands were thin and strong, no ladylike softness there.

“Whatever it is, I will do it, Gabrielle.”

“We need for you to tell Birdie our story of Dahak.”

Cyrene was startled, but she rallied, “Of course I will honey, if I must. May I ask wh…….oh gods, Gabrielle?”

Her voice lowered; her eyes widened; she sat back in the chair.

Tears fell from the Bard’s lashes, but she still would not meet the innkeeper’s eyes.

“We believe that he is trying to find a way ‘in’ again. Birdie is having a nightmare which is a near dead ringer for the funeral we conducted for Solon and Hope, only…” her voice drifted….” Only Dahak is there too, Mother Cyrene, and Birdie knows NOTHING of that history, Mother Cyrene, NOTHING!”

The resolve broke and she leaned forward into Cyrene’s shoulder.

The older woman stroked the blond head.

“Gods Gabrielle.”

She pushed her daughter’s head back to look at her directly,” Know you now that I will do whatever it takes to protect ALL of you. Whatever it takes, Gabrielle.”

She wiped the tears falling from the green eyes with her sturdy thumbs.

Gabrielle smiled a little and sniffed a lot.

“That is a comfort, Mother Cyrene. We don’t want you to tell Birdie every ghastly detail. But she needs to know some of the story and neither Xena nor I can bear to tell her; and I am not sure we would know how just WHAT to tell her. But we agreed that we trusted you to tell her the kindest, fairest, most objective account. I know that it’s a lot of responsibility to place on you Cyrene, but..”

Cyrene’s part in this new chapter became crystal clear to her at that moment. “I am honored by your trust.” She spoke in a rock calm voice, ” If you can give me a little idea of what you need for me to tell the child, I will do it for Birdie and for you.”

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

Hard hot earth slammed into my back, but I managed to bring my sword between my neck, his wicked saber, and his fetid breath. Greasy saliva dripped in my face.

Think! Think through the revolted lurching in my gut. I rolled up my knees and feet than thrust them into his crotch and focusing all my power, flipped him over my head and onto his back which bought me a moment or two.

Scrambling to my feet, I readied my sword knowing that my time was limited; he was much heavier; he would recover quickly and without injury. I tried to regulate my breathing-slow, in and out controlled, the same, no matter how many times he slashed at me.

We fought in an arena of dead livestock- stacked four and five deep. All of the animals had their bellies slashed open revealing cavernous interiors.

At opposite ends of the heap eyes locked were the boy and the girl from the previous dream. I could make no sense of the surroundings at all except to speculate that the man/beast thing with the demonic amber eyes and horns had eaten the livestock innards, and he meant to put me on the menu. It seemed that the other children should help me, but they remained uninvolved.

He came at me hard; I met him by kicking a boot into his gut, and this time gained the leverage to flip over him with a twist and slash a cut into his back as I landed. He shrieked as if the demons in the underworld should hear him and exploded in a red mist which splashed into my face drenching my senses with the coppery smell of blood.

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

I jerked wide awake, panting, sweating, but whole in my bed without waking the entire fortress. Zephyr was giving me a very concerned look.

“I’m ok, girl,” she nuzzled her head under my trembling hand, while I caught my breath.

” Wish these gods be damned dreams would stop Zephyr; I can barely recall what complete night’s sleep was like, my friend.”

She continued to look at me.

“Zephyr,” I looked down. My sword was in my bed again. There was blood on it.

“Zephyr!”

I recoiled, nearly climbing the wall in horror. My fox was immediately in the bed with me licking my hand and then my face-the best way she could give me comfort. She sat by me until I could calm down.

“OOO, oooooooo brother.. This is trouble, Zephyr, real trouble.”

There wasn’t a lot of blood on the sword; I carried it to my wash basin and rinsed it off. But there were a few blotches on the sheets. The fox just looked at me.

“Zephyr, What am I going to do?”

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

“There now,” my mother left the bundle on the mattress when she carried out the sheets.

“You can try out any of those supplies, and let me know what works for you. There is also that handy little item that your Baba invented for the days we were out in the field or in battle. You might come to prefer those over all others; she and I do-they are so much less trouble-just an absorbent little rolled up plug thing with a string, but they work very well. ”

She gave me one of those sad/happy motherly little smiles that mothers give you when you do something wonderful and grown up, and you don’t have the foggiest idea what that is.

“My little girl becomes a woman. Wow. Let me know if you have cramps, Birdie or if you feel bad. We have a whole line of teas for that. Just lie down for awhile now Honey..”

I turned over on my side, and she pulled the covers over me.

“Nap a little and stay relaxed. The first day is the worst. You will feel better tomorrow as you begin to accept the changes your body is going through.” She looked far away.

“I remember… but you don’t want to hear that now, do you? Just take a little nap, Birdie.”

I watched her leave; the deception of my mother tortured me. She had made assumptions, true, but I had not corrected her. However, what ACTUAL information had I with which to correct her ? Zephyr gave me a reproachful look.

“Well what would you have done, Zephyr? Said, ‘oh mama I had this bloody awful nightmare, and when I woke, guess what, there was blood?’ I don’t think so, missy- know- it- all- foxy.”

Zephyr lay her head back down beside me. I stared into her fur, rubbing it hard.

“Girl, if only you could answer me.”

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

“Take a walk with me, Grandbirdie,” my grandmother extended her hand late that afternoon.

I had been headed to the stable to talk to Hades; he must have been feeling neglected lately, but something told me to go with Grandba

,”May Zephyr come?”

“Of course, Grandbirdie, ” I caught up with her and we took the stone path that cut through her famous rose garden behind the kitchen and wound itself around and through a grove of oaks out to the practice fields. She walked quietly with her head down watching the stones in a manner which I had come to associate with serious conversation on the horizon. Finally, I put my arm through hers and offered,

“What is it, Grandba? Have I done something wrong?”

She squeezed my arm next to her, “No Birdie child, no. I have a story to tell you and I am simply struggling for the right words.”

“Well,” I told her, “Mama G always says to ‘speak from the heart.’ Baba Xe says to ‘spill it’.”

Grandba laughed, “A more perfect portrait of your parents has never been painted in words,” she chuckled, “I will do some of both, Birdie, but I want you to listen with your heart, all right?”

She dropped our arm link and grasped my hand; I felt concerned as my Grandba was seldom at a loss for words. Zephyr pacing beside me had worry in her deep eyes.

“Birdie, your Mama G and your Baba Xe had children before they had you.”

“I know that Grandba, but I know nothing about them, I know only that they never speak of them,” my words were soft and I clutched her hand tightly; the timbre of the conversation was making me very uneasy.

“Yes, it was a dark time for them. Your Baba Xe had a son when she rode as a Warlord. His name was Solon. Solon didn’t know that Xena was his mother. She never told him, because she felt it might have endangered his life; Xena the Destroyer of Nations had many enemies who would have used him against her somehow or even killed him. So she left Solon to be raised by a tribe of centaurs whom she trusted, and he grew strong and brave. She was very proud of him.”

I remained silent walking, listening, and my hand brushing Zephyr.

“Your Mama G had no such pleasant experience, Birdie. Her innocence-her blood innocence and her bodily innocence were taken by a wicked cult searching for a person just like her to sacrifice in order to bring a force of evil they worshipped into this world. They deceived her and they succeeded. Gabrielle was impregnated by the personification of the evil force-the demon Dahak, and Xena delivered the little girl within two days. Your Mama G named her Hope, for the hope she had of recovering from her terrible ordeal. But Hope was not good, Birdie; she was the spawn of evil, and not even Gabrielle’s love could cure her.”

What a terrible thing my parents had been through. I thought of the calm steady courage of my Baba Xe, and the gentle unconditional love of my Mama G, and it pained me to think of them suffering this personal trial. It brought tears to my eyes.. I squeezed my Grandba’s hand.

Grandba took a very deep breath. “Are you able to hear the worst of it, Birdie?”

I stopped and looked at her taking both of her hands in mine,” How can it be worse, Grandba?”

She led me to a stone bench in the garden, sat down and looked at me.

“Birdie, dear child….Hope and Solon were directly and indirectly responsible -each for the death of the other.”

I said nothing, but allowed it to settle in. It was as if someone had hit me in the stomach with a board. No wonder my parents never spoke of them. They who might have been an older brother and sister to me– dead because of each other.

Grandba was speaking again,” It’s a more complicated story than that, Birdie, but it’s all you need to know at this point. It created an emotional abyss between your Mama and Baba for awhile, but they were able to work through it and come round to each other stronger than ever. The price was very high, Birdie, but their love was more than equal to it. And that is what you must remember.”

There were no words for my feelings at that moment. It was mind boggling. That children played an unhappy part in their past, was known to me, but I had no idea. My eyes were on the ground, and I said what I was thinking,

“They must be rather disappointed in me, huh, Grandba?”

She took my face in her hands,” Now why would you say such a thing, Grandbirdie?”

“Well, I’m not a son, they didn’t name me Hope, and I give them a good deal of trouble sometimes.”

Grandba rose to her feet and extended her hand once again.

As my hand joined her rough work worn hand, she began talking, “Grandbirdie, that is part of what makes you so very special.. You are both your Baba Xe and your Mama G in one child, brought forth as a gift from the gods, girl! It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes; it doesn’t mean that you are perfect, but you fill every heart you meet Grandbirdie. Never have any doubt of that.”

She was quiet again, and I felt that I must ask.

“Grandba, why did you tell me this?”

She sighed and then spoke very casually, “It’s Dahak, Birdie. We think that he is trying to return to our world again, through your nightmares and perhaps through you.”

The world began to spin, “Grandba, “my voice shook so badly, the words would hardly form.

“Tell me if I am correct in my descriptions; Solon had longish blond hair and blue eyes like Baba; Hope had rather reddish blond hair and green eyes like Mama’s, am I right?”

She was quiet a moment before she answered slowly, “Yes, Birdie.”

I made it to a rosebush before everything I had eaten that day came back up. I was on my knees retching helplessly; Grandba came to me calm and collected. Even in my wretched state, I considered that perhaps Baba must have inherited some of those qualities from Grandba.

“Sorry about the bush, Grandba; it was sudden.”

I stammered, dripping, leaning over. Her cool hand lay on my forehead, holding me steady, and she produced a hankie from the place grandmothers always have hankies –to wipe my face.

“It’s quite alright, Grandbirdie; I should have expected it.” Her voice was low and soothing, “feeling better?”

“A little.”

She put her arm around me and we made our way back to the kitchen. Zephyr licked my hand, and I gave her a pat, “I’m ok, girl.”

“So what shall I do, Grandba?”

“I don’t know Birdie,” we walked into the kitchen and she began to prepare a stomach settling mint tea for me.

“You will need to chat with your parents about this. It will be easier on all of you since now they know that you have the background.”

“I wonder why they couldn’t tell me themselves, Grandba, not that you weren’t fine to tell me.”

“It was just too painful for them Birdie; it was a horrible time for them; they hate to speak of it.”

“Ok.” There was nothing but to accept that. Perhaps it was too painful for them to speak of even to me.

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

My sword flashed and slashed, this time fighting the two children who also had swords, but neither was very good with the weapons. By practicing my breathing, I was able to fight them both at the same time. The blonde boy had the completely black eyes, and the girl had not only had the black eyes, but also a set of the long curved horns atop her head.

The demon Dahak was standing behind, chewing on a bloody leg of pork and laughing. The knowledge was given to me that I would have to slay both children to get to Dahak. So I fought using all of the techniques I knew-the flips and parries, all of my agility.

Then the girl, Hope, killed the boy, Solon. She simply ran at him when he wasn’t looking and impaled him with her horn.

While she was distracted by her kill, I leaped into the air with a spinning slice and took her horns and then her head. I looked at my sword expecting blood, but there was none. The children had been mere apparitions- shades- non realities.

That left me facing Dahak. His glowing amber eyes petrified me; his fangs dripped a substance that sizzled on the ground. He threw back his horned head and began to laugh at me,

” SO ROBIN CAN KILL! Just like her parents; just like her mother.”

His voice sounded like thousands of voices,

” SHE IS NO BETTER THAN ALL THE REST OF THEM. I will have her blood innocence. THIS SHALL BE —child’s play.”

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

I came awake with a gasp of breath, in my mother’s arms — safe for the moment.

“Mama, did I wake you; did I make noise?” trying to regulate my breathing again; it felt good to snuggle into her chest and allow her to rock me back and forth comfortingly as if I were four instead of someone old enough to learn sword craft.

“No, no noise, Birdie I awakened and sensed your distress so I came and found you tumbled clear out of your bed and into the floor.”

Her presence eased my hard breathing, and I began to relax in her reality.

“But Birdie.”

“Yes, Mama.” The dream was beginning to recede. I leaned back into her shoulder.

“You need to tell me about this.”

Keeping me in one arm, she reached to her side, and brought forth my newly bloodied sword.

In the end, there is always only the truth.

“Mama, I honestly do not know how that is happening.”

Birdie?”

“Honestly. If I did, I would tell you.”

In my dream I had slain apparitions; there should be no blood.

She was silent for a moment.

“I believe you Birdie.”

Then the door opened and Baba Xe entered with thunder clouds in her eyes.

It was then that other noise became apparent to me, a muffled roar–people below my window talking, shouting, a small mob sounding very upset. I had no idea about what; the convergence of an angry mob did not often occur under the government of the Conqueror and Amazon Queen.

“Birdie, front and center,” Baba Xe commanded in the Conqueror’s voice. I left my mother’s arms immediately and stood before her.

“I need to ask you some questions, and I need for you to tell me the truth.”

“Yes, I will My Lady,” I was frightened, but resolved to bring no more shame than was already visited upon my parents.

“Birdie,” she leveled those icy blues that boded bad times for liars. “Give me your sword.”

I turned around, “Mama,” she handed it to me, almost reluctantly. I in turn surrendered it to Baba Xe, who appraised it, taking in the blood.

“Can you explain the blood, Birdie?”

“No Baba, I cannot.”

I wondered what would happen to me. This was the Conqueror I was facing, not just my Baba. Would she have me imprisoned or whipped? In this situation, I could expect no favors. My head was bowed and my knees shook.

She stood looking at my sword in her hands, the sword she had made for me; the one that I had promised would bring her no shame. Well it hadn’t taken me long to break that promise. I felt her eyes slicing into the top of my head trying to read my soul. Then she turned and left.

My mother was there as I sagged.

“It’s ok, Birdie, “she whispered, “She believes you.”

“How can you tell, Mama?” I leaned my head back against hers.

“You forget that I have known her a very long time.”

Outside, I heard my Baba Xe’s voice in the tone of command.

“My friends. You are upset because of the slaughter of your livestock. I understand. I will look into this problem and take care of it very soon. Until then you must trust me as you always have.”

There was a bit of muttering.

“Please.”

That was a word they didn’t often hear from their leader. The group disbanded and shuffled away. Inside I could hear heavy boot steps clonking around and further loud voices. It then sounded as if someone pounded a table.

“Toris, I don’t care what the evidence is, I will not just hand my kid to a lynch mob. What is the MATTER with you? Since when did family take a back seat to live stock?”

I could hear the deeper voice of my uncle, and then, “Because I am the Conqueror, that is why!”

And then a door slammed.

The jingle of her boot buckles ascending the stairs made me uneasy, even though she had just turned away an entire lynch mob who wanted my head.

Perhaps they might have been easier to face. She came into my room where I remained standing and sat down on the loveseat.

“C’mere, Birdie,” she said almost gently. I walked over, as did my mother, joining Baba on the red couch. I stood in front of them.

“We must talk Little Girl.”

“Baba..” my voice was shaking.

“Birdie, sit down.”

I dropped to the floor. Zephyr came and put her head in my lap. Stroking her head helped me talk.

“I have been having nightmares for some time now.”

“Birdie, some of those people reported seeing you in their fields killing their livestock in the middle of the night or dark hours of the morning. They report that you are in some kind of berserker combat mode.”

I was completely bewildered.

“If that is the case, I am sleepwalking, Baba, for I have no awareness of it.”

I buried my head in Zephyr’s fur retching as realization hit me,

“It explains the blood, doesn’t it, Baba? How many have I killed?”

“Yes Little Bird, it does; and dozens, I am afraid.”

This time I made it to my chamber pot before becoming ill.

“Gods, Baba, Mama.” The tears ran down my face; some kind of disgusting mucus was dripping from every orifice in my head.

I curled up on the rug. Zephyr curled up beside me.

“How can this be happening? Baba? Mama?”

“The only explanation is Dahak.” Baba stretched back with her hands locked around a knee. We must find a way for you to destroy Dahak. We must train you to fight him on the spiritual plane. And I am sorry Little Bird, but we may need to bind you and keep watch over you at night until we do.”

What was there for me to say?

“Mama, Baba-I trust you.”

My sword is small
My scabbard new,
My fox is fierce
My heart is true.
If the demons come
To take the light,
If the fortress fails
To stay the night.
I will fight the dark
With all my might,
Still I am only
Birdie.

Part 3

I flashed my very best “pitiful eyes” to my mother,

“No sword?”

She snorted and flicked my bangs playfully,

“No Sword. No Discussion.”

Her volume gentled, “Besides, Birdie, your Baba and I will be right here. You will not need your sword so close. Right Baba Xe?”

“Absolutely,” the lower voice assured me as the Conqueror of all the lands we see tucked me under the sheets so tightly we were like parts of a bed sandwich.

“Now. Sleep.” It was an order.

Worth the risk.

… “No story? No song?”

“Biiirrrdddiieeee….” A sigh.

“Please? How often do I have both of you here with me at bedtime unless I’m sick? And remember, I am growing up very quickly, and might not even want to ASK for this in a few years.”

Two versions of THE LOOK were catapulted in my direction. I hid behind the covers and tried one more sweetened request.

“Please? I promise to go to sleep ever so fast.” Very best big blues.

Zephyr snuggled up and put her nose on my belly, adding her soulful eyes to the show.

The bard looked at the warrior.

“Think we can still do it?”

The warrior cleared her throat and sounded a deep resonating hummmmm. She smiled at the bard.

I put my hand on Zephyr’s head.

“You listen now, girl, ”

My whisper was soft so as not to break the kindling magic, “this is my favorite thing in the whole wide world.”

The Bard looked away a moment and then directly into the Warrior’s eyes to speak,

“The sun lies down to rest..”

Her words were crooned in the warrior’s deep alto voice, as the bard spoke the next line,

The birds fly home to nest..”

Immediately the words became song..

“The moon knows it’s her time..”

A slight melodic rise on the word it’s, and fall on time.

“To sail the sky and shine..”

My parents were in such perfect alignment with each other-such perfect harmony–

“The little stars sparkle bright..”

The bard spoke the words; the warrior sang the words, and a lullaby was born.

“in wakeful children’s eyes…”

in a rich and soothing voice that few people knew the Conqueror possessed.

But when gentle night falls deep…”

And ever since I had been a baby, I had been the one and only receiver of these lovingly woven lullabies.

“All little birdies sleep….”

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

“She’s out, like a little campfire in the rain; so is Zephyr.”

“It’s never failed, no matter how tired or sick or upset she is.”

“Well, it’s a beautiful voice you have Big Warrior.”

“Hmmmmm… I believe it’s been enriched by being desperately in love with a poet.”

“Do you?”

“Ummmmhmmm…”

“Xena, you are nuzzling me in that way.”

“What way?”

“Xena, should we in here?

“Oh but we are GOOD.. So quick.. so quiet.”

“You devil warrior you…”

“Well, Gabrielle, all holy Hades may break loose later. We might as well relax a little while if we can. ”

“You’re convincing me… .”

“I have so doggone many talents.”

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

“Come to me little one,”

The horned demon beckoned to me from across the space. The carrion arena had reached a new height.

I drew my sword and approached him. We circled each other. Suddenly Mama G was between us.

“Mama, get away!” I shouted and pushed her aside slashing at the demon who produced a pig to shield himself. My sword slash disemboweled the critter and Dahak dug his claw inside and tasted the offal.

“Such a good little provider you are Birdie,” he smiled showing bloody teeth.

“You know my name?” I asked in a voice that did not sound like my own.

The blond boy appeared, far away and to the right. So did a ram. It came at me and I banged its horns with my sword making it turn toward Dahak.

“Are you Solon?”

His eyes changed from black to a familiar blue.

“You are, then; is Hope here as well?”

Solon looked over his shoulder. The smaller redhead stood behind him. Her eyes remained black.

“Silence!!!” Dahak shrieked. He charged me, wielding his sword overhead. I managed to block the blow but the intensity brought my sword down on my own head and drove me to my knees. He laughed and turned around to slash down again. I only had time to stabilize my own sword, and brush some blood from my eyes.

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

“Thank you for bringing the horses, Toris.”

“No problem, sis. Gab, did you learn anything by following Birdie?”

“Yes.”

The horses plodded quietly in the moonlight.

“The poor kid is going through Hades, Toris. She is killing the animals; that’s why there has been blood on her sword and in her bed; I don’t want to even TELL her that. But it isn’t her doing; it’s Dahak’s. His shape was not quite apparent to us; it’s almost foggy. But I recognized the horns; it’s Dahak alright. But it seems that this time, he is here for Birdie.”

“How were you able to stop her, Gabrielle?”

“I am not sure exactly what happened. When I tried to intervene in her nightmare/reality, she knew me, though she was still sleepwalking. Then she was beaten in some kind of invisible sword encounter and went down with a head wound. When Xena picked her up, the head wound healed. Dahak subdues Birdie, but he cannot afford injure her badly, because he still has need of her. Xena and I are going to try to travel into the spiritual realm with Birdie next time to see if we can’t assist her in battling Dahak. He can’t handle three of us.”

The Conqueror had taken two giant strides and leapt upon Argo’s back, cradling a slumbering Birdie in her blood splattered night clothing. Gabrielle swung astride Wendy wearing Birdie’s sword and sheath. Zephyr padded over to look up at Gabrielle.

“Zephyr, would you like to ride? Wendy isn’t too tall, jump up!” She patted the saddle.

The little ebony fox jumped up across the Amazon’s lap and settled in; she was exhausted from running, watching, and worrying and was happy to accept some fur stroking. Stroking the soft fur was a quieting thing to the Bard’s spirit as well.

The trio rode silently back to Amphipolis.

“I paid the farmer for his animals.” Toris broke the silence.

“Thank you again, Toris. You have been a great help in this. I don’t who else we might have asked,” Gabrielle spoke softly.

“Glad to be of assistance,” The older brother inclined his head forward to the dark figure with the child in her arms. “She’s pretty upset, isn’t she?”

“We’re all upset, Toris. I don’t know what we are going to do.” The bard lowered her head. The moonlight caught a flash of tears.

His strong hand reached out and grabbed her shoulder, “Hey now, buck up little sis. We will find a way.”

She put her hand over his and gave him a weak smile, blinking bravely,” We will, Toris; but it’s so very hard when it’s our kid.”

“I know, “he whispered softly, “It must be excruciating. But we will be OK. That is a special kiddo you have there; think of what she has already survived. She’s a fighter, that one.”

“Thanks.” She squeezed his hand.

I awakened to the sound of birds cheeping outside the window but I was no longer in my room. Instead I was in my Mama and Baba’s bed in a completely different nightshirt, and it seemed that I was unusually CLEAN. Zephyr was curled up at the foot of the bed, and my parents were still snoozing quietly in their embrace of sleep. I slid out of the bed and moved like a breeze down the hall to my room. Zephyr’s clicky claws were soon behind me, but she woke no one.

Once inside, I slipped on my blue tunic, my laced pants, and my boots. I was running a comb through my mop of hair when the bloody nightshirt in my washbowl caught my eye. My stomach lurched. I walked over to my sword standing in the corner. Also bloody.

“Minotaur Shite, Zephyr,” I leaned my head on the wash basin before I picked up the nightshirt to clean the blood from my sword. “Now what have I done?”

“A great deal of damage in your sleep, Birdie,” the Conqueror’s deep voice turned me around to face her. “But it is Dahak’s doing and not yours.”

“So you followed me, Baba?”

“Yes, we did, Little Bird,” she walked over to me and placing a steering hand behind my head, led me to the red couch to sit.

“It wasn’t easy to keep up with you once Dahak took possession; he moves very quickly” she continued in a low calm voice, “You climbed the fortress wall like a squirrel and flew down a rope on the other side; your hands should show rope burns, See?”

She took my hands in hers palms up; my hands were scraped and burned, nearly to blood- and I wouldn’t have known the reason.

“He took you to the second farm outside Amphipolis where you began to fight some unseen foe. That is where you began some evisceration of animals. ”

I swayed a little on the seat, but her hand locked on the back of my neck.

“It is NOT YOU, BIRDIE. KNOW THAT.”

She was very firm, piercing my eyes with hers.

I took hold.

“I am guessing, at this point, that you are the tool by which he feeds. When he is on this plane of existence, he cannot kill for himself, and therefore must have you kill for him, to provide his disgusting diet of animal offal and entrails. I suppose he is working to gain a certain amount of physical strength.”

“Baba.” “Yes, Birdie.”

“I am sick.” “Ok, Little Bird.”

Chamber pot again. Zephyr licked my face.

When I finished, she suggested we go to clean the various dishes in my room. I was happy to go outside. I carried the chamber pot and she gathered my wash basin and bloody nightshirt.

On the stairs, we met my mother.

It was difficult to face her, “Morning Mama G.”

She lifted my chin, “Morning Little Bird. Going out to do some washing? Mind if I come?” I shook my head.

The latrine was a tidy simple shed near a clear stream perhaps one hundred steps from the fortress. I dumped my barfings down the hole and brought my little pot around to the stream to clean it. Baba was working on my basin and Mama was scrubbing the blood from my nightshirt. Zephyr sat on the bank watching the operation.

“So,” Mama said in a very low, very casual tone, “you did not begin your moon cycles, did you, Birdie?”

“No, Mama G, I did not.”

My guilt was extreme, but so was my relief, that she should now know the truth.

“But I didn’t know how to tell you the other.”

My eyes did not look toward hers. Zephyr bumped me with her nose as if to say, “Told you.”

“Well, shall we save small issues till later?”

She put a hand, cool and damp from the stream on the back of my neck and into my hair.

“Dahak is the bigger danger.”

My sigh and relief were deep.

“Thanks, Mama.”

The next voice was Baba’s, “Your lessons in fighting, Little Bird are going to accelerate a good bit more than you bargained for. We must teach you to fight and defeat Dahak in the spiritual realm. But the next time you venture there, you are not going alone.”

I stood before both of them with my clean chamber pot as if it were the primary weapon, “I’m in your hands, Baba Xe.”

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

“How was today’s lesson?” the Bard looked up from her journal as her soul mate entered the room.

“She’s much better at controlling her breathing now,” chuckled the Warrior, “Now that I have convinced her it’s the key to longevity in a sword fight. We worked on balance and timing today; both of those factors come much more naturally to Birdie than breathing correctly. Breathing takes patience and focus; Birdie is a little short in both of those areas, but she is young, and it’s only natural.”

“What did you do today? Did you put her through some of those horrible drills you used to torture me years ago?” The Bard shook her head at her own memories returning.

“Yes, I did, “The Conqueror smiled as she landed on the bed beside her lover. “I put her up on that narrow beam out in the practice field and made her fight me from that point. Poor kid, she only fell off about twelve times. I took pity on her and caught her twice.”

“Evil Baba,” a cuff in the stomach.

“Then, I made her ‘read’ me for the other half of the lesson. Gave her only a shield, no sword. She had to read me through about fifty attacks from a standing position. I stood, I attacked, she blocked. Stand, attack, block. Stand, attack, block. Over and over and over. She improved after the first twenty attacks. But I wore the kid out.”

“Xena,” a sigh.

“Gabrielle, THIS HAS TO BE DONE. You forget BIRDIE MUST BE A WARRIOR as well as a poet. I know that you don’t like it; I myself wish it could be another way. But Birdie MUST be able to defend herself and to defeat her enemy if that is what is required of her. Dahak is coming for her. If for some reason we are unable to enter the spiritual realm with her to help her face Dahak, she must be prepared to face him on her own!”

The Conqueror’s tension had coiled like an angry serpent, and then it seemed to collapse.

Gabrielle propped herself up to look at her soul mate.

“Xena, I know that, love, “she spoke gently, sparing a finger to catch

the single tear escaping the sapphire eye.

“And I have absolute faith that our child will be ready to defeat whatever Dahak brings. I have absolute faith, Birdie is being trained by the best teacher she could have.”

“We can only hope,” the warrior spoke softly,” I have a terrible fear that whatever we do, it will not be enough.”

“Why do you feel that way,” the bard took her by the shoulders in a near panic, “Xena! Tell me! Why do you feel that way?”

The sky blue orbs met hers, “I see you have the same fear, Gabrielle.”

The forest eyes lowered.

“I do, Xena.”

“So why don’t you answer the question?”

There was a pause.

“I feel that whatever we do will not be enough,”

A pause.

“Yes, why?”

“Because it wasn’t enough…. before.”

The Conqueror reached for her soul mate pulling her down so that they faced each other on the bed and laced her hands behind the bard’s neck.

“Gabrielle,” she said softly,” Dahak nearly took us from each other the first time, and he DID take both….”

She swallowed.

“He took both of our children.”

She closed her eyes.

Gabrielle scooted over and snuggled in; the powerful arms enfolded her tenderly. The Warrior spoke once more.

“By the Gods, Gabrielle; Dahak will not take our Birdie.”

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

The Demon waited for me; the boy and the girl flanked him left and right, with flames between. I knew now from my Grandba’s story that they must be Solon and Hope. It was my logic that they should be willing to help me if they knew who I was. But they didn’t, and that became my mission this time, to make them know me. As I ran to both meet and avoid the demon, I presented my case to my somewhat siblings,

“Solon, son of Xena, if the blood of the Warrior Princess does run in you, will you not help me to defeat this demon?’

His black eyes cleared for a moment. “Who are you?” His voice had a hollow otherworldly quality to it.

“I am Robin of the Warrior and Bard.” He kept walking toward me.

“Why should I care and what is gained for me if I help you, Robin of the Warrior?”

“I shall tell our mother and she would be proud.”

He stopped and considered this; the black eyes became blue.

Dahak was engaging me by this time. I jumped up avoiding the low swing of his saber and then met his mid slash driving it to the ground. I immediately came back up in a slice that took one horn from his ugly head. He staggered away howling. My drills with Baba Xe had increased my strength. The opportunity to address the girl was very brief.

“Hope, daughter of Gabrielle, if the blood of the Bard of Potidaea runs in you, will you not help me?”

Her voice carried the same otherworldly quality as Solon’s but it had a deeper lonelier timbre to it, as if the wind moaned her words for her. She was a small girl.

“Why should I care, and what is gained for me if I should help you, Robin of the Bard?”

“I would tell our mother that there was good in you after all, and it would heal part of her broken heart.”

She stopped to consider this, and I fancied a greenish hue showed momentarily over the black in her effervescent eyes.

I felt the heat at my back, turned and slashed just at the moment to take Dahak’s second horn from his head. He fell to his knees with a shrieking howl that stirred the whirlwinds blowing and I was pulled and then pushed back into the howling vortex..

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

Into my bedroom, and into my own bed. Zephyr lay with her head on my stomach.

“Zephyr, where is my sword, is there blood?” The bindings had held. My wrists were rubbed nearly to blood in the leather straps going from my bed posts to my wrists. I looked across the room at my sword.

No blood. Thank the gods. No livestock slaughter tonight.

“Zephyr, will you go and fetch Mama or Baba to unbind me please?”

Well, at least we were beginning to understand who and what the enemy was. Something and someone inside and outside the realm of the ordinary. I was to blame and not to blame. Perhaps with the aide of The Warrior and the Bard, I could find a way to defeat this evil. But I knew deep down inside, that my parents had fought this force before and yet it returned. If it were to be defeated once and for all, it was up to me. Where that feeling came from, I couldn’t say, but it was very strong. The final defeat of Dahak was up to me.

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

I danced on the balls of my feet a little trying to find courage.

“Baba, you need to come at me with all you have, I guess,”

“Birdie, there is no guessing.”

My head dropped, “Sorry, I feel woefully inexperienced at this.” She placed her hand on my shoulder.

“And that is why we will stay with the wooden swords just a while longer, Little Bird”

Silence from me.

“BIRDIE.”

A little slap to my backside with the sword.

“Yes, Baba.”

“Look at me.”

I did.

“You are Robin of the WARRIOR and the Bard right now. You must think WARRIOR, Birdie. You hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Birdie.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

“Good. Now. Do the flying flip shot again.”

We stepped back four strides and ran toward each other. When she raised her sword, I slashed it to the ground and took a step leap kick from both of our hilts. She grabbed me right out of the air and set me firmly in front of her. Her eyes flashed blue sparks.

“You must go much higher, Birdie.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

“You must believe that you can fly, Birdie.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

“There are no limits except those a warrior places on herself.” She put her finger to my forehead.

“Yes, My Lady.”

“Now FLY, ROBIN OF THE WARRIOR!”

Four strides back.. The wooden Tide slashed, I met it and drove it to the ground, slammed my boot on the hilts, and—– flew-above—!

Success!

I landed behind her and gave her a light swat in the backside with my “pirate’s sword”, as I had named it.

She turned around slowly and raised her eyebrow.

“Good job, Little Bird.”

“Thank you, Baba.”

She yanked me under her arm roughly and kissed my hair. It felt like a blessing.

I would take Dahak now.

Or perish.

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

It was not an unfamiliar story; they had told me the tale of Mama G going to fight Alti, and the ritual she had gone through to attain the spirit world. It was not a voyage I had wanted to take personally anytime soon. But there was no choice; I had to try.

Finally I loosed the arrow and it flew straight to its mark in the heart of the deer.

Baba Xe did the butchering and drained the amount of blood needed for the ritual. Mama G was having trouble with it too, I could see it in her eyes; – many difficult memories for her.

They painted the deer’s blood patterns on my cheeks and forehead; I even managed to sip some without losing my guts. As the “present realm” began to fade, they eased me down on the blankets.

“Take the chakram.” Baba handed it to me with a slight smile.

“Chakram? No chakrams here.”

I picked up the joke woozily. About two seasons ago I had “experimented” with the chakram, sans permission or supervision. (It was temporary insanity.)

When Baba and I left the armory after dealing with that little mistake, it had become my habit to remark, “Chakram? No chakrams here,” any time that particular weapon was mentioned.

It became a family joke.

I didn’t need to see that chakram again until I was at least eighteen winters old.

Bring in all the demons you want. No chakrams here.

“Appreciate it, Baba, but this has to be just me, my sword, and maybe Zephyr.” I reached over and slapped a bit of deer blood on the fox’s nose, to her displeasure.

“Birdie.” My mother was troubled; I squeezed her hand.

“Birdie just have a look around; take note of the layout then,” were my battle teacher’s instructions, “Do not try to engage him this time.”

“I may not have a choice Baba.”

My mother’s eyes were clear marsh grass as I was sucked away… into a vortex between planes of the real world and the spiritual dream-like place where a demon waited for me.

“Should we have told her?” Gabrielle took the three fingers of blood and dragged them across each cheek and her forehead.

“No, because then she would have been distracted watching for us to appear. I have worked too hard with Birdie on FOCUS to become the very thing that ruins it when she needs it most.”

The Bard decorated her Warrior’s face in like fashion. She then locked eyes with Xena as she drank from the hind’s blood and prepared for the disorienting journey from the corporeal to the spiritual realm. Xena finished the ladle of blood and set it aside. The couple whose previous journeys to this land were made at great cost joined hands and drew strength of character, heart and soul from each other to join their daughter in this latest challenge from the dark forces. Eyes remained locked as the tingling and vertigo began. The grip of hands tightened.

And then. nothing.

Nothing at all.

Something kept them from making the passage with Birdie. Xena rose and threw the chakram with a fury that caused the weapon to slice through three trees before it returned to her hand. Gabrielle only buried her face in her hands and wept.

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

If they were Solon and Hope; why would they not help me? If this were truly a battle between good or evil, they should be more inclined to help me. But they knew nothing of me. As I approached the demon, I presented my case to my siblings once again.

“Solon, son of Xena, if the blood of the Warrior Princess does run in you, will you not help me to defeat this demon that damns us all?”

His black eyes cleared for a moment to a sapphire blue.

“You do know my mother?” he said, and his voice echoed as from a mountain valley.

“I do, Solon; she is my parent as well.” His eyes met mine and this time accepted the truth of my statement.

“Who are you?” it was a simple question.

“As I told you before, I am Robin of the Warrior; I am your sister.”

The simple answer.

The girl, Hope was chuckling in a voice that was not a little girl’s.

“Ah, Robin of the Warrior and the BARD, you grace us with your honorable presence at last,” she purred. She threw a fireball at me which Zephyr caught in her mouth and dropped.

” Oh, and her fuzzy little god fox is come as well.”

“Cease at once, Hope,” Solon commanded.

“Will you help me Hope? For the sake of our mother Gabrielle?” I asked her directly. “She suffered much for you.”

The girl looked at her feet. When she raised her eyes, they were green.

“I will help you in whatever way I am able, Robin of the Bard, and we can only pray that the price will not be too high.”

Her voice changed to the terrible echoing thunder again,

“But know you this; whatever help I can give-it will be very limited, and you will be in grave danger. I cannot control Dahak’s power within me but for a breath at a time, and what I control I am given is volatile.”

“Thank you, Hope.” My response was sincere. “I will tell our mother. And ours the same, Solon.”

He gave me a smile that reminded me of Baba.

“How does she fare, my mother?” he asked.

“Do you not listen to her?”

“I do, but please tell me anyway.”

“She fares well, Solon; she is one of the greatest warrior/rulers of our age.”

“Tell her I am proud.”

“I will Solon.”

The vortex was pulling me.

“Till the next meeting then, my brother, my sister.” I looked from one to the other.

“Till then,” they spoke in unison.

And I had only a moment to grab Zephyr by the scruff as we were dragged on the return through the vortex.

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

My eyes opened and gazed into two sets of very concerned orbs hovering over me.

“Hi,” Mama G, Baba Xe.”

“Hi Birdie.” Mama ran her fingertips through my hair. She had been crying. “How are you?”

“Well, I think we have a plan.”

“You talked to them,” Baba the warrior, inquired.

“Yes. It will do no good to take your weapons, Baba. It’s all me. But I will take Zephyr.”

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

The next night we made ready. I had a bowl of my Grandba’s soup, changed into my chain mail shirt, my new boots and sword and scabbard, and my parents and I walked out to the back practice fields.

We build a large fire, and they spread out blankets while I paced around. Then it was time again.

I knelt before them; Mama G made no effort to hide the tears traveling down her face. I hugged her.

“Mama, don’t worry,” putting my fingers under her chin, I lifted her face in the fashion she had done to me so many times in my life. I wiped a tear from her cheek.

“I will be fine.”

She said nothing, but simply kissed my forehead a long moment, and then bent to kiss Zephyr on her nose.

Baba Xe looked at me straight in the eyes-sapphire to sapphire.

“Tonight you are ‘of the warrior’, my little Robin.” She said softly.

“I am of the warrior, My Lady. Indeed, I am of the Conqueror.”

My voice was steady. She offered me the warrior’s arm clasp, and I gripped it hard.

Her hand fell to Zephyr’s head who gazed at her seriously.

With no further words, they painted me with the hind’s blood, the streaks down from cheekbone to chin, across the forehead, and on Zephyr’s nose. Then I received the vile traveling tonic.

Warrior’s Lullaby

Sheath now your sword
No blood to shed
All cries are still
Lay down your head.

Look to the star
Evening is come
Peace will reign here
Til rise of the sun.

quiet your heart
From rampaging beat
Far from the roar
Of thundering feet.

Sleep under angels
Robed in moonbeams
Sheltering warriors
In search of sweet dreams..

Gabrielle the Bard

Part 4

We walked into a blood red mist, with no awareness of our location or our enemy. Drawing the Baby Tide, I placed my hand on Zephyr’s head. She had assumed her god fox form; her fur was twice as thick; she stood taller, and her eyes glowed with flaming amber.

“Thank you, Zephyr.” I whispered. Her time as the deity fox was brief, and she only assumed it to protect me; her lives as a god fox might be numbered, but she gave them to me when I needed her.

Sounds of snapping snarling and meat ripping drifted to my ears. The silhouette–tall with the curved horns was a gray outline. Dahok was feeding on the hind, and looked up at me with gore around his mouth. The momentary disgust I felt sapped the strength from my first assault, and he slammed me to the ground with a casual back stroke from his horny clawed fist.

He tossed his head in a guttural laugh spewing bloody meat from his mouth. That arrogance gave Zephyr the opportunity to charge from his left; she got a good snap at his arm, was gone before he could react, and she took a chunk. This enraged him and as he roared, head to the sky, one of his horns was sliced from his head by a bright sword with the shape of a bolt of lightning.

“Birdie, it’s all I am allowed!”

I sought the voice and found it in the blond boy trotting away from our battle returning to the Elysian Fields.

“Tell my mother hello and ask her to talk to me more; I can hear her.”

The face with eyes like mine flashed a smile like Baba Xe’s and waved.

“I will Solon, and thank you!!”

I returned the wave as the figure disappeared in the mist. My brother.

I flattened myself to the ground as Dahok’s sword came within a breath of my head. It took him a moment to remove it from the earth; I could gather myself to fly; and so I did, from the slamming of the hilts of our swords, I made the leap over Dahok’s head, high as Baba Xe’s little warrior and landed perfectly, standing behind him and plunged my sword directly into his back, not once but twice.

He howled with a sound that the deepest demons must have heard, and it chilled me. Zephyr was back then, and she made the opportunity to dodge in quickly for a slash to his hairy leg. This brought forth another roar, and then he was upon me; I didn’t know that he could move without my seeing his motion.

Once again my mighty Baby Tide kept his sword from my face, his demonic countenance, and the stench of all he consumed on his breath. My arms trembled; it was not a good time to feel weak at my gut. I closed my eyes to gather courage, and then re- opened them.

A low hum, reached my ears, and then a small sword sliced through the beast’s remaining horn as if it were parchment. Dahak screamed as if mortally wounded, and fell away from me slashing backwards at whatever had attacked him.

It was Hope. Her eyes found me with a sea green cast- exactly the color of our mother’s eyes.

“Thank you little sister!”

I rolled to my feet and charged Dahak. Zephyr appeared, took his throat in her fangs, and bit down as I slashed his head from his body with one great blow of the Baby Tide. I grabbed it by the stump of the horn and held it high.

“Hear me well,” my voice remained soft and steady as I gazed into the face of my parents’ great enemy,

“I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, and I command thee now to be gone.”

A thousand shrieking voices flew howling from within the body and head. They surrounded us in a screaming maelstrom echoing in a deafening chorus for three revolutions and then returned to the body and fell silent, leaving us standing on a pile of blowing ashes. All was still. Quiet.

Hope approached me. Her eyes were reverting rushing like a withdrawing wave to black.

“Robin, you must now kill me.”

Her voice was dropping in timbre to the otherworld sound.

“I cannot,” my voice was weak even as I knew the price of victory.

” You MUST,” the green in her eyes was fading fast,

“Hear me, you MUST, Birdie. I cannot remain this way; if you hesitate longer it will be too late, my father will return through me, and we will be loose again.”

“Hope….. my little sister…”

“Promise me one thing, Birdie.” She struggled to maintain a human voice.

“I promise,” I said, raising my sword.

“Tell our mother, ”

The eyes shone green one last time, and I sought courage and coldness within myself to do what had to be done.

“to talk to me; I can hear her.”

The emerald was fading faster now. She lunged quickly and stabbed blade sharp finger nails into the sides of both of my legs; they sliced in like knives, and blood began to run. The pain fortified me, but not enough.

“Do it quickly, Fool!” she snarled, eyes rolling back in her head.

Her eyes were black, the voice was morphing into many voices, she flicked her claw forward, and grabbed Zephyr’s front paw, snapping her leg like a twig.

DO IT!” her voice changed-the demon was reclaiming her.

Zephyr cried out; something she never did, and that was enough.

I lunged forward driving the sword into my sister’s breast as deeply as I could. A sob choked me as a roar emerged from the creaking maw of the underworld was opened wide behind her. I saw the scarlet eyes of countless demons waiting for her to rejoin them.

Hope locked her eyes with mine one last time as she faded to dust, and blew away in the wind, forcing me to feel every heartbeat of her sacrifice.

I knelt beside, Zephyr who was whimpering softly.

“I am sorry, girl,” my tears fell in her dark coat.

She licked my face tenderly, as my patient Zephyr always did, and she waited quietly until I could collect myself. Then I stood, gathered her into my arms and began limping toward a place in the mist where there appeared to be a bit of light; a place which my heart was telling me was the way out.

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

Every step was painful and caused blood to run down my legs, and jarred Zephyr so that she whimpered with her broken paw. But there had to be a way to walk out this time; we had fought too hard. Dahak was dead, and my spirit felt very near to it, so my brave boots carried me toward the source of what called to my heart.

And at last there were shapes, I feared they might be tricks of the eyes, but thankfully the shapes took form, substance, and were recognizable in the mist. My heart was true, one shape tall and dark, and one shape small and light. Sleep transcended to waking, and we journeyed out of the nightmare into the arms of the real waiting world.

Mama immediately took Zephyr from me, receiving a gentle lick on the face from the shaky animal.

“She’s hurt, her paw; we must help her,” were the words I managed, before my legs gave out and Baba Xe swept me up in her arms.

I allowed my head to fall tiredly on her shoulder with a grateful sigh.

“Baba, we got him.”

“Shhh, Little Warrior sleep now.” Were the soft words spoken into my damp hair.

And so the Warrior and the Bard carried us home.

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

“I know what is eating away at her,” the Bard said softly, while brushing her hair. “And it’s far more than the infections in her legs. She behaves as if nothing is wrong, practices her light sword drills, writes in her journals and worries about Zephyr, but she is not ok, Xena. Something has ripped her to shreds inside.”

“Well, it was a bloody journey we took all those years ago my love, but yours was the bloodier,” the warrior was taking off her armor, “and while one would not classify this as a ‘sensitive chat’, I cannot help but feel that Birdie is wandered into your space now.”

“Yes, space I know all too well,” whispered her soul mate. “I must make her talk about it a little. It will haunt her forever, but she must speak of it once and realize that the Fates are not fair, and she is forgiven. Then she can begin to live with herself and heal.”

“You know the territory Gabrielle, though I am not proud that you know it better than I,” the Conqueror came to wrap her strong arms around her lover.

The Bard looked up and smiled.

“Xena, you taught her what she had to do to physically defeat Dahak. But something else has happened too; something hard, that she isn’t talking about. You trained her; you gave her the strength and mental toughness to fight part of the battle. Now I will teach her to work with it, write about it, and weave it into the tapestry that is her life. Time has taught me wisdom, love, forgiveness ; these things keep us moving along in the river of life. We do our best and we love each other, and that is all we can do. Those are my lessons for Birdie now.”

She sighed. “But I have to unlock those little warrior barriers and find my child first.”

The Warrior turned Gabrielle around to lock her fingers behind the blond hair and look deeply into her soul mate, her LIFE mate’s eyes.

“How am I so fortunate to walk life’s path with you?” she said softly, “I love you Gabrielle, go to Birdie–find the poet. I will come by and by.”

“I will watch for you Xena,” the woman with bright hair returned, “It shouldn’t take too long; I know the way into Birdie.”

She turned to go and looked back.

“Xena, I Love you; I am the lucky one. I would have never survived all of those years ago without YOU.”

The Conqueror’s smile shone like a sunbeam breaking through a thunderstorm -all for that simple sentence.

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

Zephyr limped over with me to answer the door when we heard the light knock.

Ah, my mother.

I smiled at my fox,” The day of reckoning, Zephyr.”

She said nothing but entered, took my hand, and closed the door. I had been expecting this visit and actually felt somewhat relieved that she was here. She led me to the love seat-our place.

Mama sat quietly and looked at me for a long time, but I couldn’t meet her eyes; didn’t trust myself.

Finally, “How are your legs, Birdie?”

“Much better, Mama G, the infections are almost well.”

“Are you being vigilant with the cleaning? Puncture wounds are the very dickens.”

“Part of the ‘hero package’, Mama?”

The eyes darkened.

“That isn’t sarcasm, is it, Birdie?”

Lose the attitude, Bird.

“No, M’am. I am careful with the cleaning.”

Much better.

“And how is Zephyr?”

She received a soft head in her lap for an answer.

“Zephyr has better than average recuperative powers, Mama.”

“I should have guessed.” A little roll of the eyes.

I smiled at the floor.

“And how is your heart, Birdie?”

Steady, Bird.

“Not quite so good, Mama.”

“Why is that, Birdie girl?”

The touch of two gentle fingers to my forehead.

Swelling silence.

Patiently, “Birdie.”

“Mama, I’ve done so many terrible things; can’t even remember which were in this world, and which were in the spirit world. I don’t even know to whom or where to go to ask forgiveness.” The words came from a tightly clenched place.

“Birdie, you are already forgiven.”

I laughed bitterly.

“Mama that just isn’t possible. You don’t even know everything that I’ve done.”

“Birdie, I don’t know how to illustrate for you the fact that there are very rough places, even EVIL times in this life, which we pass through, and though they are horrible, we DO pass through them and go on. The trick is the moving on, Little Bird.”

I sat stony still, unrelenting in my self flagellation.

“Birdie.”

“Yes, Mama G.”

“Do you remember when you were very young, we took a few days’ camping trip in the canoe? We were hiking in the woods and came across the fresh carcass of a fawn. You were very upset by it and wanted to give the fawn a proper funeral pyre and, Baba wouldn’t allow it?”

I looked at her with recollection,” Yes, I remember that. Baba said only, ‘mountain lion,’ picked me up, and we double timed it back to the canoe, cast off and continued down the river. I kicked and cried the entire return hike over the ‘fawnie’. But she kept me pinned to her side like a sack of potatoes and continued walking, no matter how much I carried on.”

My parent smiled, “Yes, when you finally cried yourself to sleep in the canoe later, I mentioned that perhaps she could have tried to explain her actions to you a little better, but she didn’t see it that way. To your Baba Xe, the lion’s fresh kill was the only explanation, and her first priority was to get us to safety, back into the river, no matter what kind of problems we gave her. You were too young to understand then, but do you understand now?”

“Yes, I do understand much better.”

“That is how it is with life Birdie, very dangerous times and threats to our lives occur and all we can do is what we MUST, grab the hands of our loved ones, and run back to the river. There simply isn’t time to explain, or to make everyone understand or agree. There is only time to act, and we sort it out later.”

I was listening to her.

“You just need to sort this out now; you need to talk to me, my Little Bird. I know what you need.” she said very gently, “She rose and held out her hand.

“Stand up, Birdie.” I did so knowing what she was going to do, and I followed the protocol, but entered a soft protest,

“Mama, am I not too big or too old for this now?”

“Birdie.”

The voice was soft not angry, but insistent as my mother had always been; her hand remained extended and I grasped it, allowing her to tug me to my feet. I met her eyes and as always, saw love in them, and so gave her my trust to help me.

As always, she turned me sideways to her and pushed me over slightly. Then she administered a swift swat to my backside.

“That is only to begin.”

I wondered where it would end, though it didn’t hurt; Mama very rarely gave me these gentle smackings to cause me pain. She was trying to break down the barriers which held in the grief and guilt I was carrying inside, daggers clawing my guts raw; hammers in my head.

“Yes, Mama, “response was part of the ritual; the tears were already forming; she was wise-my little mother.

Then, she caught me off guard, by taking a firm grip and landing three stinging whacks. When she reached for my head and raised my chin, my tears were barely contained, and so were hers, but her voice was steady, and she held up a finger.

“You lied to me, kiddo. Not maliciously, you were frightened and confused, but you did misrepresent the truth about the blood.”

Well, for that offense, she was letting me off easy.

“I know, Mama; I’m really sorry, Mama.”

Tremendous contrition- I hung my head a good bit more like a nine winters’ old kid than thirteen. But it was good to clean my soul of it, and she put her hand to my cheek telling me the issue was at rest.

The next easy strike of her palm freed blinking streams of tears down my cheeks, and her touch comforted me traveling up through the back of my hair. The walls were crumbling; she could see that.

“That is for thinking any of this was your fault when you were demon possessed. It couldn’t be further from your fault. Birdie, Honey, remember I have experience; I know this.”

“Yes, M’am,” my voice choked.

The next swat was even more light- handed.

“This only because you need it; let it go, come back to the river.”

She ran her other arm across my shaking shoulders in an embrace pulling me close to her.

The tears flooded my cheeks now.

“Mama.”…. Let it out…

“What is it Little Bird? Tell me.”

I heard my voice stammer the words.

“Mama, I had to kill Hope.”

She paused.

“I know Birdie.”

I looked at her.

“How?”

My mother has such beautiful eyes; they are even more beautiful when they glisten with tears.

“Because there is no other end for her, Birdie; I know that too. She is like the mountain lion.”

“But Mama, there was some good in Hope. She helped me before Dahak took her back. She wanted me to tell you…”,

“Tell me what, Birdie? What message could Hope send to me?”

She had a slightly puzzled look on her face.

I was shaking and unable to speak well.

“To ask you to please talk to her; she can hear you.”

Gabrielle the Bard closed her eyes smiling a little, and she took a deep breath that seemed to reach to the bottom of her soul.

“Oh, Birdie.”

I continued bravely.

“You didn’t name her badly, Mama; she hears you still; we never totally lose Hope.”

She gathered me into her arms completely then, raised her palm slightly, and allowed the final swat to feather across my backside, as only my gentle mother could, and it brought me totally into her loving authority.

“And that one is because I love you, Birdie.. I- do- love- you…”

Trembling, rigid with remorse, I choked hoarsely,

“Still, Mama?”

“Always,” the whispered answer.

And from an abyss of agony, an anguished sob erupted,

“Mama.”

Keep talking. Say it.

“I didn’t want to kill her, Mama.”

“Of course you didn’t want to kill her; you had no choice.”

She swallowed hard, a memory of her own, but the strength of her arms encircling my body never wavered.

Sounds traveled up from deep inside me -those of a wounded animal; guilt held my soul in a wretched illness.

“Will I ever be the same again, Mama?”

Would there always be specters watching me now?

“No honey, you won’t ever be the same again. Even in the spiritual realm, killing changes everything.”

My weary head went home to her shoulder then, where rivers of tears could safely fall; her small strong arms held me, guided me, and like a paper fan we folded softly to the floor. She kept moving a soothing stroke through my hair as she leaned back against the red loveseat where we worked out so much of my life; she held me closely, calming me, soothing me, whispering,

“But you will be better Birdie; you will be stronger, sadder, and wiser inside; you will have grown, but you will never be too old or too big for me. You are my own Birdie and I am so proud of you. We have a little way to go yet, but now we’ve begun Birdie, now you can begin to heal..”

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

The Conqueror entered and spent a soft moment gazing at the scene by the love seat. The bard was dozing with her head propped back against the cushions; Birdie was curled almost fetal like in her arms, head in her lap, sleeping very peacefully, with dried tracks of tears evident on her face. Zephyr watched over both ears flicking. Xena gave her a pat.

Gabrielle opened an eye to smile at her soul mate.

“Looks as if you performed some Mama G magic,” remarked the Warrior.

“Cracked open and cried out.” The bard yawned and stretched a little.

Xena knelt and scooped her daughter into her arms easily.

“Go on and get ready for bed Gab, I’ll put Birdie in her nightclothes and bring her in with us tonight.”

“Not too big, huh?”

“Never.” “Good,” The bard ran a tender hand through her daughter’s dark hair. “This is likely the best sleep she has had in a fortnight.”

“Go,” ordered the Conqueror, “We’ll be right there.”

Zephyr kept a watchful eye as Xena laid the girl carefully on her bed. She unbuckled the boots and placed them under the frame, then undid the top button on the dark trousers and slid them off easily.

“Dahak takes his toll on your appetite, doesn’t he, kiddo?” she said to the sleeping child. She unlaced the tunic and pushed the arms through the sleeves. She sat quietly studying the dark skin and just the beginning of budding breasts.

“Not going to be a little girl forever are you Birdie?” she asked softly, “But thank all the gods no cycles yet or Dahak might have done worse to you.”

Xena shook out the nightshirt she had retrieved from a drawer under the bed, and leaned the child against her own body while she worked the shirt over the shaggy head and the small muscular arms into the striped sleeves, smoothing it over her back.

“You sure are out cold, kiddo,” she chuckled to herself. Then impulsively she wrapped her arms around the girl protectively and buried her face in the dark hair in a most un- Conqueror-ish gesture.

“Stay my little girl a little while longer, Bird.”

She looked at Zephyr, “You neither saw nor heard that.”

Zephyr merely blinked.

The Bard’s breathing was even and quiet when the warrior laid Birdie gently within her arms. Gabrielle turned on her side and snuggled the girl closely to her. Xena eased in the bed and spooned herself around the Bard allowing her long arm to float across both her soul mate and her child protectively, and the tips of her fingers just grazed the black fur of Zephyr.

The moon smiled a celestial blessing on the family of four this night, and there was peace.

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

I awakened with no fear, no blood, and no monsters. Peace. It was dark, but the moon was shining in on us. My mother’s arm pressed near to me, and my Baba Xe’s lay across both of us and even one long fingertip reached Zephyr who was curled to me like she always did. The peacefulness and quiet felt strange after what we had been through.

I meditated a moment on the profound power of love. I had come close to believing that nothing could defeat Dahak nor could anything make me feel remotely whole or clean again. But Dahak had been defeated once more, by the only force that could defeat evil. Love.

We were ordinary people practicing extraordinary love. I had been able to join with my brother and sister of the past to destroy a terrible evil, because of our tremendous love for our parents, and their love for us. Love was our safe passage through the maelstrom. Even the daughter of a demon carried a little flickering flame of love, and she helped me, because we shared the same loving mother. And however dark the world may appear, the offspring of love is–no matter how faint– Hope.

“Birdie, Birdie!! G’day, M’Lady Queen.”

The skinny but growing taller by the candle mark, tow-headed best friend of Birdie stood on the steps of the fortress.

“Hello Talus; seems like forever since we’ve seen you around,” Gabrielle ruffled the messy hair which in color was so like her own.

“My family was in Athens a seven day, M’Lady Queen, “he said politely, “my mother has a sister there.”

“What did you think of the big city, Talus?”

“Not too much really, M’Lady,” the boy wrinkled his nose. “No space there for a fox or hawk or any animals, just people shouting and fighting and carryin’ on. I was glad to come back home.”

“What are you two off and about today?” the Conqueror’s deep voice joined the conversation.

“We are just going riding in the countryside and enjoy the weather and space I think. Birdie is taking her scrolls and drawings. I am taking some carvings; whaddaya think?” He pulled out a wooden pig and a ram to show.

“Whoa, Talus, do you have any blanks in there?” The heads of Amphipolis said nearly in unison.

“Why certainly, your graces, why?”

“I heard Birdie say just the other day, that she would like a carving of Hades.”

“Really? My Lady Queen?”

“Yes, Talus, I think she would like that.”

” That’s splendid to know. I will begin today then. I am always owing her a carving; she helps me with my schoolwork all the time you know. Thanks yer majesties.”

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

“Hi Talus, “I came downstairs, pack on my back, and Zephyr by my side. ” Sorry to keep you; We were just changing Zephyr’s dressing on her paw. It’s almost healed. Are you ready to go?”

“Ready as Romulus, Birdie.” He grinned at me. “Didja miss me, Birdie? Bet it’s been awful quiet without old Talus about eh?”

I laughed and slapped at his head, “Deadly quiet, Talus. Nobody to go trouble hunting with; I am glad that you are back!”

I turned to my parents to receive any final instructions or the usual warnings. Both sides of my head were kissed at the same time, and I held to both my parents’ waists a little longer than usual.

Mama G put her hand in my hair and looked into my eyes, “Home before dark, Little Bird.”

“Right she is, Birdie.” Chimed the Conqueror.

“I will be, My Ladies.” I smiled at both of them, “I love you.”

My feet bounced down the stairs, my sword swinging gently on my back.

“Birdie, “my mother called.

I turned back immediately, “Yes, Mama G?”

The emerald eyes flickered at me; she shook her head.

“Have a great time.”

“Ok, C’mon Talus, Zephyr!”

We leaped aboard Hades and rode into the day’s adventure; Zephyr was running almost as well as usual in her travel bandage. She had remarkable recuperative powers.

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

“What was that?” the Conqueror asked her soul mate as they watched their daughter ride into the cool midmorning sun.

“Oh,” smiled the Bard, slipping an arm around the powerful body, “I was going to admonish her to NOT ‘spy on the DOZ’, or to NOT go ‘skinny dipping’, or ‘ to NOT shoot the tail feathers off the older Amazons when they weren’t looking.”

She chuckled. “But then I thought, after all she’s been through, Birdie deserves a day of good old adolescent devilment, doesn’t she?”

Xena grinned and growled, “But if she’s reported, especially by the Amazons, we’ll have to discipline her.”

“I am already prepared, “answered her devilish partner, “Let’s ‘ground’ her out at the beautiful swimming hole where the waterfall is, and hit her with some really good food.”

“We could spend the night, if we really want to teach her a lesson, “the Conqueror’s eyes were sparkling like the Aegean Sea.

“Well, I will begin work on the menu for the punishment, “said the Bard with a cheerfully raised eyebrow. “Then, when Birdie comes home this evening, all we need to do is make her confess.”

“But what if she doesn’t do any of those things, Gabrielle?”

“Xena.” A roll of eyes, “This is Birdie.”

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

Well for some reason, I was grounded that night, and it was a very strange punishment. But we had a great camping trip, Marcus had worked wonders with the new star formations, and Baba and Mama Xe weren’t mad at me at all. I figured they hadn’t heard about the tadpoles in the public baths yet, and perhaps with a little luck, they wouldn’t.

Anyway it was good to be gone a night, because it gave Grandba and Uncle Toris a chance to have something done in the rose garden that I had asked them to do as a special favor.

“And why are we doing this?” Toris complained a little, but not too much, because he actually enjoyed spending a little more quiet time with his mother. He lifted the horizontal seat to the pedestals of the marble bench and secured them.

“Because Birdie asked,” was the answer. The older woman finished tamping down the earth around the second of the young oak trees they had planted at the end of the walkway in her rose garden.

“There. That will be very nice, don’t you think? As the trees grow older they will provide a bit of shade if one wants to sit a moment in transition from the practice fields to the fortress.”

“Simply because Birdie asked?”

Toris wasn’t letting this go. He had never received things as a youth, for the solitary reason of asking.

“Birdie never asks for much of anything without a good reason, Toris,” his mother gave him her version of the LOOK.

“For an only child, she is remarkably unspoiled. She wanted this to be a surprise for Gabrielle and Xena, and she will share with me her reason by and by. Now a final touch.”

Cyrene removed a small stone birdbath from its wrappings, toddled it over, placed it between the trees.

“Did Birdie request that as well?” her uncle questioned.

“No,” smiled her grandmother. “I thought it would look nice here, and I was right.”

They walked a little way from their handiwork and up the stone path a bit to look back. It was indeed a beautiful little place of sanctuary.

“Thank you son,” Cyrene looked adoringly into the man’s handsome face as she took his arm.

“You are most welcome, My Lady Mother,” the white teeth flashed the sky blue eyes sparkled as they strolled slowly up the winding stone walkway.

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

When we returned to Amphipolis Fortress the next afternoon and had cleaned and stored away all of our gear, I asked Mama G and Baba X if they would go for a walk with me in Grandba’s rose garden. At the very end of the garden, Grandba and Uncle Toris had planted two very young oak trees side by side, but with plenty of grow room between them. There was brand new marble bench placed facing the trees.

“This is lovely, Birdie, but what is the occasion?” Mama G, sat on the bench and closed her eyes allowing the breeze to pass through her hair. Baba X sat down by her and ran her arm across the back of the bench to tug on Mama’s bright shaggy locks.

“I agree, Birdie, but what do you have in mind with this, kiddo?” she asked.

Big brave breath.

“This is the place for you to come and talk to Hope and Solon.”

Was my little speech, “Both of them requested that you talk to them more; they can hear you, and they want to hear you.. So I thought of this, and Grandba and Uncle Toris planted it for you while we were gone.”

For a long moment they said nothing, and I feared it was the wrong thing to do.

“Birdie, C’mere.”

I went to them and knelt between them in front of the bench, “I am sorry Baba, Mama, if you don’t like it. I wanted you to like it.”

Mama pulled my head to her in both hands and kissed it.

“Birdie, honey. We LOVE it. It was a beautiful and unselfish idea. Thank you. Was the birdbath your idea as well?”

“No, actually, Mama. That must have been Grandba; but it’s nice, isn’t it?”

There were two young bluebirds bathing as we spoke.

“We are proud of you, kiddo. And we love you.”

Baba rarely said the ‘proud’ word. It made my heart beat faster.

“Well I will leave you with it, and go back to change Zephyr’s bandage.

“Birdie,”

“Yes, Mama?”

She took my head in her hands again looking it over.

“After you finish with Zephyr, go and fetch all of the paraphernalia we need to cut your hair.”

“Aww, Mama.”

“Baba Xe…..?” She looked to the Warrior.

The Warrior gave me an appraising look.

“Birdie, little warriors might ride Shetland ponies, but they mustn’t resemble Shetland ponies.”

“C’mere Birdie,” my mother had my head again. Carefully she smoothed the hair back from my eyes and then pushed it around my ears, studying it carefully on both sides.

“Look Xena, she has streaks of white- in the front, and over her ears. Souvenir of Dahak, I am afraid.”

“Or you may be like your great grandba, Birdie, and have white hair very young.”

“If someone doesn’t cut it all off first.”

My retort which brought me a smile and little swat.

“See you at the fortress, Little Bird.”

“Yes My Ladies-C’mon Zephyr.”

I turned back briefly, “I love you.”

Those words couldn’t be said often enough lately.

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

“I can’t believe that she thought of this little spot for us,” Gabrielle was wiping away tears. “She can be very considerate and sensitive at times.”

“Well, this whole nightmare business was a character builder; it would have been so for anyone.”

The Conqueror stretched her long legs out from the bench.

“But this is a very nice idea. A little more meditation wouldn’t hurt any of us. The birdbath is my mother’s way of placing Birdie here too.”

“Well, now that I know that Hope can hear me, perhaps I will talk to her some,” mused the Bard. “It’s an interesting thought. I will have to mull that around a bit. But I know one thing for certain.”

“What do you know, my love?”

“I am one lucky bard. In addition to having the greatest WARRIOR ‘in all the lands we can see’ in my life, I also have the greatest KID ‘in all the lands we can see’ in my life.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“What if I were to tell you that I have it on very good authority that the ‘greatest kid in all of the lands we can see’, was SEEN putting tadpoles in the Amphipolis Public Baths yesterday?”

The verdigris eyes looked heavenward.

“She didn’t.”

“And that many of said tadpoles became frogs today?”

Xena tugged the blond hair and smiled.

“She did.” Gabrielle blew a raspberry.

The azure eyes sparkled.

“She most certainly did.”

“Well I would have to think that it must be the WARRIOR in her.”

“Why?”

“It’s quite a STRATEGIC act.”

“Ha!! I would tend to think that it’s the quality of the BARD in her.”

“Why???”

“Because it’s so very CREATIVE.”

The warrior and the bard looked at each other and what began as a low chuckle, built into good rolling belly laughter. They tumbled from the bench together into the soft grass and began the first of many happy times under the peaceful watch of the two young oaks.

Birdie’s Song
If danger enters,
Should there be death,
When I’m too weary,
Resolve’s exhausted,
My Baba’s Tide
Will turn the sea.
My Mama’s staff
Will guard her back,
And hope’s regained.

If demons enter,
Should nightmares come,
My sword is small,
My fox is frightened.
When all seems lost,
The Warrior’s courage,
The Poet’s heart,
Protect with love.
I lay me down
In gentle arms
They take me home.

There is rough water
But I’ll be strong.
My heart is brave,
My soul is safe.
The path is long,
And life is hard.
But I will sing,
Along the river,
That I travel
With the warrior
And the bard.

The End

Continued in A Day in the Life

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s