Birdie’s Song V – A Day In The Life by Onesockbard

Birdie’s Song V – A Day In The Life
by Onesockbard

I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard

A Cold nose. Intense eyes.

Groan.

“ Zephyr, you are ready to go out, right?”

Patience.

Zephyr is patient.

Quiet licking of her chops. Then the return of intense gazing. Hazel eyes with more intelligence than most humans framed by scatterings of white hairs in silky black fur. How was I so lucky?

“Ohhh Kay. BRRRRR.”

Move it.

“Quick quick quick, Zephyr…” I rolled out, tugged on my trousers and heavy socks which stuffed into my boots, threw on my wooly mid length coat, scrubbed at my face and scratched hair, trying to wake up. At the doorway to my room my travel pack awaited my departure. In addition to its usual items, it contained a towel, soap, and other toiletries which I tried my best to organize the evening before. From a strap on the pack there dangled my small sized bow and quiver set; one I had received from my parents when I was but seven winters old, but easily portable and quite lethal.

Zephyr scampered down the stairs ahead of me and out into the crisp frosty morning. Grandba as usual had already been up for a candle mark or so fixing breakfast for the inn guests connected with the fortress. I captured a clay mug of steaming tea on my exit from the kitchen.

“BIRDIE!!!”

My Grandba’s voice followed me as I trotted out to catch my fox.

“I’ll be back for the rest, Grandba! “ I threw back over my shoulder.

Grandba Cyrene fussed at me for drinking too much tea. She thought I should have more milk to grow up big and strong like Baba Xe and Uncle Toris. But while I had my Baba’s features and many of her characteristics, most thought I would achieve the smaller stature of my mother, Gabrielle the Bard, milk or none. Since arriving at the grand age of thirteen winters, I had grown not at all.

Zephyr was in a rare mood and performed a circular chase of her silver tipped tail in the sunlight a few paces in front of me. She was Queen of the Fairy Foxes dancing to my laughter. It was a perfect morning at the Fortress of Amphipolis.

I entered our family latrine and Zephyr headed for the bushes behind it. A private latrine was one of the few luxuries the Conqueror status provided us, but it was a greatly appreciated one, especially on” chili night” for the army. And even then if the wind was right we weren’t spared the aroma of one hundred men and Cyrene’s special chili. It was enough to make the gods cry.

But a private latrine was no warmer, and I was quick and sprinting for the creek where I made short work of shooting Zephyr’s breakfast with my bow and arrow. She ate Cyrene’s Inn food the remainder of the day but in the mornings, she loved a fresh fish, and I loved Zephyr. She then enjoyed her breakfast while I bathed in the section of the creek which was fed by an underground hot spring. That was also a private Conqueror family section, secret and a wonderful luxury. On a chilly morning like this, to not freeze one’s arse becoming presentable for the day was a preferable beginning. I did a quick but thorough wash all over, and a final plunge in the colder water to rinse my hair. Baba Xe always said a warrior must take the cold water. I am not sure why, but the shock was invigorating, so the theory must have held some merit. I was reaching for the remainder of my mug of tea, when it was pulled away and replaced with a mug of hot cider.

“Ahhhh Mama!!”

“Ahhhh, Birdie!!!” Was the return.. “You know better.”

“But Maaa Maaa!!”

“See? You are whining, and that’s too much tea…”

“Mama.”

“Bird.”

” That’s final, “in her tone. A gentle, directive pat to my backside. I butted my head to her shoulder took a breath and sought acquiescence.

A pause and then the sing song voice vibrated softly.

“Good morning, Little Bird.”

She always won. Sigh.

“Morning’ Mama.”

Arm around me and stroking my hair… this was a better way to begin the day anyway.

“You are going to school today, aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to.”

“Buuuttt.”

“Have to.”

Wasn’t arguing with her anymore. The Amazon school required that I attend so many days per season’s rotation to be properly educated. I was being quite properly educated by my mother the Bard; however society had its thoughts and requirements as well.

“You can manage. It’s the last of this seven day,” she kissed my hair. “Be a good Bird now.”

How could I maintain moodiness with that sweet talk?

“’K Mama.”

Radiant smile and hair tousle. Approval lightened my heart.

We both turned to witness the view of my Baba Xe emerging from the cold rinse.

A raven h aired goddess, walking in a slow motion; she didn’t seem to mind the chill of the water or air. Sparkling drops of water caught the sunlight from her tanned skin which covered the perfectly toned and knotted muscles of her warrior’s physique. There were two sketches in my book which tried to capture that “Ares Chosen” mystique, but I’ve never shared them. They would probably only get me into trouble. When I am older, and everyone can realize that I am only an artist trying to capture the beauty of my parent and hero. Mama would understand. I am not sure Baba would because she doesn’t realize her stunning effect on us ordinary mortals.

She wrung water from her hair over a shoulder and began to pat herself with her towel, ending with wrapping it around her blue/black tresses and slipping into her leather pants.

The azure eyes flicked to us, “What?” She growled.

“Nothing.”

“WHAT?”

I hurriedly kissed Mama G, “Got to go get breakfast. Bye Baba, Bye Mama, Come, Zephyr.”

A touch to my hair arrested my flight and drew me back for a kiss,

“Be good, Birdie.”

“Yes, My Lady Queen.” I flashed a quick smile.

“What was that all about?”

The Conqueror finished dressing and sat down on the bank as the Bard entered the warm water.

“In what order?”

The sunlight hair shook a little, ducked under and began to scrub. Then she choked, as suddenly she was pulled under again by a second body that had entered the pool with her.

“Weren’t you finished?”

“Decided I wasn’t clean enough.”

The sky blue orbs twinkled as strong fingers skipped lightly down the bard’s ribs one at a time.

Gabrielle leaned back comfortably in the powerful arms.

“There are times that I would gladly return to the ‘terrible twos’ with our kid. Then I was pretty sure I had the upper hand PHYSICALLY anyway. Everything must be debated these days.”

“Such a wonderful age; I remember it well. I believe that is why my mother always kept a switch in sight until I was at least sixteen seasons.”

“Really?”

“Didn’t say she used it. But I knew that she would. Do you remember much about your first visit to Amphipolis, my bard?”

“I would hope that I could, since it was the most important day of my life.” The light and the dark heads touched in fond remembrance.

“When you came upon that little scene at the Inn–”

“You mean when the villagers were ready either to stone you or to rip you limb from limb?”

“Yes love; DO YOU REMEMBER who had taken possession of my sword?”

Pause.

“Your mother.”

“Exactly. And how did you think she came into possession of that sword?”

The Bard turned around and faced the Conqueror,

“Well, Xena, I guess I’ve never given it much thought.”

“I can tell you; she held out her hand, and she gave me THE LOOK.”

“And the ‘Destroyer of Nations’ surrendered her sword.”

“Absolutely. Figured she still had that switch somewhere.”

The Bard strangled on her bathwater laughing, “Oh Xena, that’s priceless; you have to let me write that in a scroll.”

“Not on your life.”

“PLEASE?”

“NOPE. That was merely an example of the unlimited power of motherhood … meant encourage you with Birdie.”

“Oh, the never-ending battle to keep the little warrior properly afraid of her mother.”

“It’s really not that difficult. Just requires a good bluff most of the time, and I think you have that part down rather well.”

“You are right. But it’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it?”

The Conqueror settled back for a soak.

“I think it’s easier to run the entire Amphipolis Militia myself.”

The warrior’s fingers again walked up the bard’s sides, turned to gentle palms and traveled over the firm breasts under water, causing chills despite the warmth of the spring.

“You? The world’s champion bluffer? You could bluff the Gorgon Medusa.”

“I could bluff Medusa, but I can’t always bluff Birdie.”

The bard did a lazy float over to face the warrior nose to nose.

“How about me? Can you bluff the bard?”

“Bluffing the bard is not my wish.”

A low chuckle. The lips met in a lazy kiss and the bard brought her compact body down to wrap her legs around the waist of her warrior, as her own hands moved forward to cherish the beautiful breasts under her finger tips.

“Then by all means,” she dropped all pretense, “Let’s play.”

The water temperature rose even more after that.

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

The Amazon camp was a candle mark’s walk back of Amphipolis Fortress. I nearly always took the “emergency or fast route” which was against the rules for me, but I hadn’t been caught very often. There was a set of swinging vine/ropes that ran among a dozen trees between the fortress and the camp. I took the first from its holder, standing at the top of the fortress wall and look down at Zephyr.

“I will meet you at the camp, girl.”

She gave me an affirmative look, turned and ran. She would make the camp more quickly than I; her broken foreleg was back to normal function now. Baba was an excellent healer of animals as well as humans.

I leaned back to gain momentum, and took the deep swing to the first tree. It was the most difficult flight, because the wall didn’t have good height from which to reach the first branch. Consequently, there were camouflaged steps of bark in the tree trunk which I climbed higher into the next swing tower. I threaded the vine through the stone weight to send it back to the wall. That was the tricky part; the throw back. I had to hit the wall at the catch place for the next traveler. It was the difficulty for the entire route, the resetting of the ropes. Back when I first began taking the vines, I had to climb down many times and trees to carry the ropes back on foot. After a few such episodes I practiced my marksmanship, and it took a big distraction to make me miss. This one was perfect.

Dropping down two branches, I unwound the next length of vine/rope for the next swing. I checked my sword, secured a strap on my scabbard, leaned back and felt the quick breeze blow back my hair along with the belly drop before I slammed my boots on the next small platform, and wrapped my forearm about the catch branch. With half a dozen of these swings to make to the Amazon camp, it was not an easy trip to make, but it certainly beat a candle mark’s uneventful hike.

Zephyr sat waiting for me at the final tree, her tail flicking back and forth, as I sent the final vine back to the former tree, and dropped down the join her.

After a casual loiter to make sure nobody had taken hard notice of my method of entering the Amazon camp, I walked in the direction of the school hut. My arrival should have blended in fairly well with the ordinary bustle of the camp; many dwellings in the camp were tree homes, and there was always a great deal of tree activity. My Mama G’s tribe had been fairly nomadic until she and Baba Xe had settled in at Amphipolis Fortress. The tribe had taken up a semi-permanent residence in the heavy forest out side. It was a beautiful forest, rich with game and hiding places. Different patrols of the Amazons rotated by quarters scouting hunting, serving in the Conqueror’s Militia, and governing the camp. And when the Amphipolis army needed the Amazon warriors, of course they were there in full number.

The school hut was a ground level dwelling. Entering, it came to my attention that Regent Ephiny was our teacher today. That brought joy to my heart. The Amazon warriors also rotated the duties of instructing the youth, and Ephiny was my favorite teacher. She was also an old family friend since long before I was born, and my godmother.

As the before school preparations were going on, and I was taking my scroll and quill from my pack, she walked over to me.

“Took the high road Birdie?” she looked at me with just a hint of a smile in her crisp dark eyes.

“Uh, hi Effie, “I spoke just above a whisper. ’Effie’ was my name for Ephiny when I was first learning to speak, and it had remained, like so many pet names in my life. But it was a private name; we were formal in school.

She removed a thin twig with a growth of leaves from my shoulder and hit me lightly on the nose with it, and fired sharp snaps from her eyes.

“It’s a dangerous route to come by yourself, Birdie, no matter how well you think you have it mastered. That’s why we have the fifteen winter rule, which is?”

The twig tapped me again, and I recited dutifully,

“’Every Amazon under the age of fifteen winters must have an experienced adult with her in order to use the vines route to and from the camps’.”

My hair fluffed forward into my eyes with the brisk smack that was applied to the back of my head.

“GOOD! You know that rule! How old are you?”

“Just turned thirteen winters, Regent Ephiny.” I tried a sheepish grin.

She crossed her arms and continued, “The Look.”

“Therefore,”

“Broke the rule, Regent Ephiny; sorry.”

The grin wasn’t working.

She gave an exasperated sigh and brought her hands to her hips.

“Birdie, I know that you are as good at the vines as the rest of us, but you mustn’t take them ALONE! Even most adults don’t swing them alone, because a fall is a guaranteed injury, and one might not see any help for candle marks when another Amazon may happen by the vines .”

She was right of course; my gaze dropped.

“Birdie, look at me.”

Head up, take it like a warrior.

“This is your last warning on this rule, babe. Next time, I will not only tell your parents; but also I will tan your hide myself, are we clear?”

It was a pretty formal threat.

“Yes m’am, Regent Ephiny.”

She pulled my head under her chin briefly and gave it a gentle knock, “I love you, kid; you know that?”

“Yeah, Effie.” I sighed; it wasn’t working out to be my day.

She pushed back and looked at me.

“All right then, where’s Zephyr?”

“Thanks, Regent Ephiny.” Not all the teachers would allow Zephyr; I turned my head, “Hey girl!”

Zephyr had been waiting for the invitation. She was by my side immediately, and lay down, with her dark head on her paws and her tail wrapped neatly around the whole of her.

Ephiny pushed me back down on my student’s stool with a smile and she strode to the front.

She merely waited until everyone gave her full attention. She had mine even though Evaline wanted my attention as well.

Evaline was a young fourth level Amazon, who would probably never make first level warrior, and she had an enormous crush on me. There was nothing particularly WRONG with Evaline, but she was NOT my type; I didn’t even have a type yet, but it was not Evaline. Evaline would always be a guard, a cook, a mender of armor and weapons but never a user of those items. Since I considered myself practically a warrior, (well, nearly) my type would need to have some leanings towards that ability.

I could feel her pasty blue eyes boring in on me even as Ephiny waited for us to settle down.

“Hi Birdie!!” Her whisper was subtle as a donkey’s bray.

“Hi Evaline, hush. Regent Ephiny’s looking.”

All I needed was more trouble from my godmother.

“How have you BEEENN BIR-DIE?” She kept it up. I rolled my eyes inwardly.

My parents are a double edged sword when it comes to the general treatment of the public. My Mama G demands that I be more than civil and display good manners to everyone we meet. The Conqueror says I don’t have to like anyone that I don’t damn well want to like.

It’s an issue. Baba has an innate suspicion of most people, and Mama has an innate trust of most people. But the bottom line is that while I do have a warrior’s instinct about whether or not the folk I meet on a daily basis are trustworthy or not, I am still quite young; Mama G will skin me if word should come to her that I have been rude to someone with no provocation. And Baba Xe agrees that I should do nothing that will cause my mother to skin me.

That simplifies matters.

“I’ve been fine Evaline; now we better pay attention before we get into trouble, ok?”

Gods help me, I winked at her.

That was probably a mistake, but she had to be quiet. Ephiny was beginning the Morning Prayer to Artemis and to be called out during Morning Prayer was very serious. So she hushed and bowed her head.

“Archery this morning.” Said Regent Ephiny, and there was quiet rejoicing. A “hands on “day!

“But first on a small piece of parchment, write down for me at least three different kinds of arrows and their purposes.”

That was easy for me as I had been working in archery since I was five winters old. There were all kinds of arrows made from light and heavier weights of wood, different types of feathers which affected faster or slower flights and or different colors or entire breeds of bird feathers to denote different tribes of Amazons, and finally arrowheads, hunting arrowheads, target arrow heads; I knew all of them. The challenge was to write it all on a very small piece of parchment. I was still writing when Regent Ephiny called time, and I hadn’t even begun how to put arrows together.

She bopped me on the head with the collection of parchments saying, “Time’s up, Birdie; you hold the rest of us from going outside.” When all eyes in class were glaring at me, I surrendered the page, even though I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

She placed the parchments in her bag, smiled, and said, “Go-“

and we flew for the practice course.

It was a beautiful day, sunny breezy and bright. . Ephiny had divided the class into two groups so that one group was shooting under her instruction while the other was changing arrows and cords for the next target. We then waited in line while Regent Ephiny worked with two at once, checking our form and stance at the targets. We had been through one time at the kneeling position, and were working back through a second round, when it happened. Evaline and Arrot.

Arrot was the bully of our Amazon training class. Everyone knew it; she was bigger by nearly half than most of us; her mother was a warrior scout, which meant she was gone a good bit of the time, and her father was rumored to be a “hairy fella”. So while there were defendable reasons for Arrot to be a bully, we were no longer little kids, and we wished she could temper some of her unkind personality traits. Arrot began to bother Evaline, during the slower space when we were changing bow cords and arrows for the next round. In hindsight, perhaps Arrot liked Evaline, but she had a very poor method of showing it.

“Hey Evalinny, “she said, bumping into her hard, “do ya still like old dumb Birdcrap of the Conqueror?”

“Quit it Arrot.”

Evaline didn’t much care for her.

“Waaaat, Evenline?? Too good for me?”

“Not that, Arrot, just don’t bother me,” Evaline tried to walk away.

“But Evaleeeeene!!” Arrot bumped her again with a big whine; Evaline was knocked to the ground.

I stepped in then–damn hero package.

“Just leave her alone, cantcha, Arrot?”

Grateful eyes from Evaline, and a very sarcastic tone from Arrot.

“Oooooh.. now we all must tremble. Birdturd of the Warrior and Bard has spoken!”

I don’t know exactly what happened. But the girl who was half again larger than I, was left sitting on the ground rocking back and forth holding her arm—very likely broken.

And I was standing over her.

Minotaur Shite.

I took a sheet from the pad in my scabbard. Quickly scribbling a note on the parchment my mother had meant for poetry, I handed it to Evaline.

“Will you please give this to Regent Ephiny for me Evaline, and tell her what happened?”

“’course Birdie, you was defendin’ me.”

“Yeah, suppose so, Evaline, but I was wrong. I am sorry, Arrot.”

I knelt beside her.

“Here.”

I knew some of the pain relieving pressure points from Baba Xe, and I pushed one lightly just above her elbow.

“Does that help at all?”

“Abit, Birdie, thanks.”

Arrot managed a little smile.

I looked at her seriously; this deed would forge a bond.

“Arrot, I will take all of your class notes and stay to do any of your village chores that you cannot perform because of this injury, ok?”

I helped her sit up to support her arm better.

“Even though you were being very unkind to Evaline , and you were calling me rude names, I should not have lost my temper, and I regret that you are hurt.”

“S’ok Birdie, I kinda brought it on.” She murmured. “I’ll tell the Regent; don’t worry.”

Sigh.

“Well, obviously this wasn’t my day to come to school, so I’ll be leaving now.”

“Birdie, should you leave?”

Evaline asked- a perfectly good question.

“I just can’t take anymore right now, Evaline; I need some personal space to think. All this trouble will be waiting for me tonight when I arrive at home, you can be sure of that.”

“We’ll explain for you, Birdie,” she smiled at me.

I hoped that this hadn’t increased her crush.

“I”LL EXPLAIN. “ Arrot spoke up.

I knelt beside her again and offered her warriors’ arm grip to her good arm. She took it.

“ Thank you, and I am truly sorry to have hurt you, Arrot.”

“It’s ok, Birdie. Really.”

She appeared to mean it. But it was no excuse.

I stood and adjusted my equipment.

“Come on Zephyr.”

We left the Amazon camp at an easy jog going north toward the mountains.

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

Prayer to Artemis

Goddess of the Moon
Huntress and protector
Of the woods
Who hath chosen
The Amazon Nation
To be thy own.
Bless us this day.
Keep us united
As we dwell
In your house,
As we glean
From your creatures,
Our shelter and our
Sustenance.
Keep us a strong
And independent
Nation, Mother
Artemis,
For our honor,
Loyalty, our
Lives and praise
Belong to thee.

Part 2

I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard

The sea green eyes flicked backward and up as a picnic basket was lowered over the rear support of the marble bench, near the sanctuary for Solon and Hope. A good sized boot with jingling buckles appeared next followed by the other; and the remainder of the leather clad warrior joined her bard.

“May I disturb your reverie?” light indigo eyes twinkled politely.

“With food? Always.” The quick reply. “What are we having?”

“ummmm smoked fish, fresh bread, cheese, wine, water, song, nut bread, and perhaps some love if you are lucky, ” The dark eyebrows waggled, and she inventoried the meal.

“Sounds like a brilliant menu,” chuckled the bard leaning back for a stretch. “It was time for me to move.”

“Been here awhile, then?”

“Yesssssss”

“So this talking to Hope—it’s a good thing for you?”

A deep breath was taken and released.

“It is. I didn’t realize that there was so much that I wanted to tell her. After, ‘sorry I poisoned you’.. You know.” Green eyes fluttered down.

A loaded silence.

“Sorry.”

The warrior recovered gracefully,

“Don’t be. I was wondering if you would rather eat before we have this discussion though.”

“Good idea.”

There was a quarter candle mark of companionable munching.

Another stretch, leaning back, and a deep breath, this time from the warrior— first jab.

“So. After you apologized for poisoning Hope, what have you talked about??

“Xena.”

“Your words, Bard.”

“Your inflection, Warrior. It cuts like a blade.”

A lean and long warrior’s arm moved behind the smaller shoulders and snugged the bright haired poet closer to touch dark hair with light.

“Shall we start over?”

Double Deep breaths.

“Please.”

Tears fell from forest eyes.

The bard eased into the leathered shoulder where she knew there was always comfort and strength for her. Except…

The Conqueror felt it in her; a cold still place even after so much time.

“I am so sorry I didn’t do this for you on that horrible day, Gabrielle. I was paralyzed by my own rage and grief.”

Pensively, quietly, “There is no space for me to hold anything against you, Xena and I don’t. We both made terrible mistakes.”

“But I left you to nurse a grudge, and I was older, and had I been wiser, might have headed off the entire debacle.”

“Xena, that’s hindsight. Everyone has perfect vision in hindsight.” She adjusted her head against the shoulder. ” It was the worst day in our history. I have moved past it —mostly. It catches up with me sometimes.”

“I wish you could forgive yourself, Gabrielle.”

“Never.”

“Why not? What purpose does it serve?”

The fair hair came off the shoulder to gaze at the Conqueror.

“Pardon me; Look who is talking?”

The arm was removed.

“That’s different.” “How?”

“It’s just different.”

“Why? Because it’s my sin and not a ‘Sin of the Warrior Princess’. Does that make it any less of a sin?”

The Warrior sighed and leaned forward to retrieve a medium sized branch from the grass. She slammed it into the ground, removed the Tide from its scabbard on her back, and commenced to shave the branch of its bark and leaves methodically, but with cold efficiency on every side. Then she split the sick in half, then in quarters, then…

“Xena.”

“Yeah.” She was chopping the stick into small pieces beginning at the top now.

“What are you doing?”

“Wondering why I even try to engage in these conversations with you.”

The Bard snorted– snickered through her tears. Then she punched the warrior on the arm.

“Ouch!”

Gabrielle leaned across the Conqueror and retrieved the sword with authority, “Give me that.”

Sniffing and shaking the final tears away, the Amazon Queen slid the legendary sword back into its sheath on her soul mate’s back. She took the callused hand in her own and raised it to her lips.

“I love you; my behavior doesn’t show it. Forgive me?”

The clear sky eyes were steady meeting hers. And her smaller hand was raised to the warrior’s lips with a promise.

“You’ve done nothing to forgive; I love you. Nothing will ever change that Gabrielle. Nothing in our history; nothing in our future, will ever change that.”

The Bard’s eyes told her Warrior that she had chosen the right words.

Hands clasped, they gazed at the young trees bending with the directing breezes.

“So what do you tell Hope?”

The green eyes considered deeply, looking at the trees.

“Well, there is only a small part of Hope that isn’t consumed by the demon, and I don’t know when she listens. It’s odd, Xena. I feel like I speak to a candle in a cave, but it doesn’t matter, there is a flame there nonetheless, right? I always thank her for helping Birdie… and then I tell her stories.”

That brought the rare radiant smile.

“I think that is wonderful, Gabrielle.”

“Do you?”

“Fantastic. I bet Solon is listening as well.”

” I hope so.”

Another quiet moment. Then the warrior spoke.

“Shall we make a new promise?”

“No more regrets?” The bard read her mind.

“Stories of love and courage.”

“I like that idea.”

“Done.”

The Conqueror rose quickly and in the same motion, swept her soul mate from the bench completely into her strong and loving arms. The Bard took the face that held the sapphire eyes into her gentle hands, and gazed into her lover’s soul as the warrior began to turn slowly in a circle that further tightened their embrace and dismissed the rest of the world.

The young oaks bowed and waved approval.

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

We followed water out of habit. Just trekking off willy nilly into the woods was a very good way to become lost and water is food, direction, and company. The chilly breeze and the steady complicated rushing sounds of the cold river always sooth the heated flow of my thoughts eventually. How had I managed to leave my bed with such good intentions early in the day, and before lunch, create total disaster?

Zephyr padded along at my side giving me an occasional inquisitive stare.

“You and your optimistic “fairy fox dance,” I grumbled at her. “It was certainly no prediction of how MY day was going to play out; I might as well not even go home tonight, Zephyr. Mama G and Baba Xe might have managed the ‘vines’ indiscretion’ but the vines plus the broken arm on Arrot? I don’t see a good end to my day at all.”

The fox came nearer to me and put her head under my hand, gave it a little toss and a gentle lick.

I looked down at her.

“Oh Zephyr, it’s not your fault at all.”

She knew that; she just felt bad for me.

“Well, do you have any suggestions?”

Lunch.

“Always the girl with the simple solution, aren’t you?”

Another nosing.

“Suppose we might as well.”

Sigh.

“I’ll have to do this the hard way, you know. You be ready.”

We found a relatively quiet place where the water was pooling. I pulled off my boots and rolled up my pants above my knees. In my haste to depart the Amazon practice fields I did not bring an archery set, so it was fishing “Baba’s Way” or bare handed, and it was not my favorite method. I took off my vest, pulled the long tails of my shirt out , tied them to keep them dry, and waded into the cold water.

All right. Focus. Be one with the water- one with the fish. Be absolutely still. Meditate. One with the water-one with the fish.

Zephyr, if you are hungry, you better quit laughing!!”

That black fox was sitting on the bank showing every one of her teeth in an enormous foxy smile. She knew how hopeless was at this.techique.

One with the water, one with the fish. Absolutely still. Feel the energy of the fish as it fins into my space. Feel it ,… patience…. feel it. THERE!!

I stuck my head underwater.

“Minotaur SHITE!!! ALMOST!!” Sputtering and spitting.

Zephyr was rolling over and over now laughing. I know she was.

“ZEPHYR!!”

She sat up at attention.

Sorry.

“Well you ought to be.”

I pushed my wet hair back. Concentrate, gods, I hated fishing this way!! Again… one with the water, one with the fish… patiently, wait for it, wait for it, GOTCHA!!!!

I threw the fish right at Zephyr. She ducked and gave me an offended look.

“That will do for both of us, girl; that is the sum total of my bare handed fishing!”

Zephyr fetched the fish, and carefully tore the head off, and it was yet big enough for both of us thanks to the merciful gods.

Firewood next. Zephyr was good at that. She would eat fish raw, but I wouldn’t, so she had learned that I needed firewood, and it was a variation on the game of fetch. She brought several midsized sticks to make up for her laughing.

I had my flint in my small pack and it wasn’t long before we had a cheery flame, which helped dry my hair and pant-legs. I filleted the fish, added the touch of salt I found in my pack, and lay it on a frame of green sticks, that I fashioned with my boot knife.

“Seems like old times, Zephyr.”

Well not the best of old times.

We shared the fish and had a drink from the stream. I stretched out to rest a while and ponder the next step. There was a rustle nearby. Zephyr’s head rose in high alert.

“What is it girl?”

I sat up looking. Neither of us moved. Silence in the forest.

At the narrowest part across the river, first dark linings, then the silver rims of large ears, a black muzzle, and then yellow eyes appeared.

“Well hello fellow.”

He wasn’t looking at me.

“Well, go see about him then.”

She crossed the river in one bound.

“Zephyr.”

She looked back.

“Will you catch up later then?”

I was on my own.

“She will return, Birdie; you are her first love.”

“Marcus?”

“Tis I, little friend.”

“You show up at the oddest times.”

“I think my timing is perfect.”

“Impeccable timing, Marcus. I was wishing for you.”

“Thank you my friend.”

He appeared sitting by me, arms resting on his knees.

“You look well, Marcus; how is the afterlife?”

“It’s good, my friend. I stay busy, healthy, happy. It far exceeds anything I ever had in the former life.”

“I’m glad.” I said to him. I truly was.

“You are doing wonderful work with the stars. There are nights I could look forever at the patterns, Marcus.”

“Well, it was your idea after all.”

“How does that work out, Marcus? I wrote the story and you now have the job?”

He chuckled.

“Fortunately, not EVERYTHING happens just that way, Birdie, or all of us in the afterlife might be performing some very funny functions. But there are some myths that are spoken, and they become well, they BECOME.”

“Wow. That is mind boggling, Marcus.”

“Did you ever find out if you were accepted to the Academy of Bards?”

“Not yet.”

“You’ll get in.”

“I don’t know, Marcus.”

“I do.”

” I don’t know about much.” I drew in the dirt with a stick.

“Are you talking about that trouble you had at school?”

“I messed up, didn’t I Marcus?”

He thought a moment.

“I’d have to go with a yes, and no,, Birdie.”

“Well, at least I wasn’t completely wrong.”

“You were right to stand up FOR Evaline, and right to stand up TO Arrot. You didn’t mean to injure her.”

“Marcus, that sounds good to me.”

“But where you went awry was when you left the premises.”

“But I had to leave, Marcus; I was overwhelmed. It was a frustrating morning.”

“The too much tea, the vines, then the broken arm…”

“Exactly.”

“But now you have skipped school, and no one knows where you’ve been, and you know that is always brings a price.”

“Yes, I know.”

“So why do you do it, Bird?

I threw the stick at the water.

“Ohh, I don’t know, Marcus! Situations become pile up at the door, and I have to find some space to think. I know it’s not the best decision, but it just happens. There is too much, and I need to get off alone with just Zephyr in the quiet.”

“Well, you must decide if the solitary time is worth the consequences you must pay, Birdie.”

” But I do feel kind of somewhat a little bit calmer.”

It was lame; the truth is, I run when I am overwhelmed; I panic.

“Birdie.”

“Yes.”

“That makes no sense.”

“I know it; but it’s the best I’ve got right now, Marcus.”

We both laughed then.

Zephyr returned and sat quietly.

“Have fun, girl?”

She gave me a withering look.

“That is a definite ‘none of your business’, Birdie.”

“Sorry.”

“Did your Grandba ever make anything of my silver ring?”

“Not that I know of, Marcus. Actually, I need to give it to her again. Think it slipped her mind.”

“Tell her to look in a leather pouch under the clothing in the bottom drawer of the green chest.”

“I will, Marcus. What will she find?”

“Ah ah ah, Patience, my fledgling friend. There are things we celestial beings are privy to a bit sooner than you earth bounds, that’s all.”

“Marcus.”

“Patience. Work on patience, little girl.”

“Marcus. You are annoying. It’s a good thing that I am so very fond of you.”

“And I of you, my little bird.”

“You have that ‘time’s up’ sound in your voice, Marcus.”

“You are perceptive.”

I touched my head to his.

“Any advice for my trouble, old friend?”

“My usual, little sister. Be brave, be honest, be responsible for your actions, be loving, be strong, be humble.”

“I try, Marcus.”

“I know that you do, Birdling. And you do a good job.. I watch and listen, and I am proud of you.”

“Are you really, Marcus?”

“Yes I am; when I am not, I will tell you. Don’t worry. Now be good, my girl.”

One cannot hug a ghost, so I closed my eyes and just felt his spirit fill and move within me for a moment.

“I will Marcus. Thank you for coming, and come back to me, soon.”

“Love you, Birdie….”

The stars in his dark eyes were the final things to fade.

“Love you, Marcus.”

Zephyr and I sat quietly listening to the rush of the river for awhile, allowing our acclimations to return to reality.

“Well girl,” her eyes closed under the brisk rubbing my hand gave to the top of her head,” Reckon it’s time we made our way home to face the various kinds of music that await me, right?”

She gave me an affirmative look and a touch with her nose. Time to go home to Amphipolis, a nice dinner and an evening by the fireplace for black foxes. It probably wasn’t going to be that pleasant for me, but I would handle it. Be brave, be responsible for my actions, be strong, be humble, that was what Marcus said. I re-adjusted my sword and scabbard, and then slung the strap of my smaller sling pack going across my chest the other way. We turned our noses toward Amphipolis. Only a dozen steps from the river, Zephyr stopped; her ears went straight up.

“What is it now, girl?”

My feet were quiet and I listened carefully, my ears dissecting sounds of the woods, one at a time. The river on the stones, the wind in the trees branches, a squirrel scampering in the dead leaves beside us, an unidentified bird call, the low rumbling purrrrr of a mountain lion watching…

My hand played with Zephyr’s furry head and I looked down at her.

“It was YOUR idea that we get out of bed today, wasn’t it?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

“Eph!” The Amazon Queen gave the formal salute to her Regent, fist on heart, then warrior’s handshake, then the very Gabrielle signature warm hug.

“Ephiny, it’s been far too long, my friend. But you look sound and healthy.”

“My Queen, I am happy to see you as well.” the regent returned the emotion deeply, fondly, and continued, “It seems as if there is always so much to do in the camp, and it keeps me from coming to the fortress as often as I would like, or at least for the REASONS, that I would like.” She looked down and toed the dirt with her soft boot a bit.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Gabrielle picked up the signal immediately. “You are the bearer of bad news aren’t you?”

“Well, that depends on how your majesty wishes to handle it,” The hazel-eyed officer spoke quietly but not without a smile, “The situation exists mostly between me and my goddaughter.”

Gabrielle sighed, “Why I am not surprised? She tumbled a little out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. Something happened at school?”

The Amazon shook her head, “The kid is the product of her parents, I will give her that; and she is truly growing up, Gab. You will be proud of most of this.”

“Just tell me, Ephiny.” Mama G’s eyes closed patiently.

“Well,” The Amazon led her Queen to a fallen log and they sat down together, “Birdie put a minor fracture in the school bully’s arm, but following that, she practiced her first aide, and applied a light pressure point for pain.”

Gabrielle’s eyes were closed and her hands were folded in her lap.

“There’s more, “the regent smiled, “Arrot, the bully, told me herself that she deserved what Birdie gave her. Told me that she was picking on another girl, and that she, (Arrot) was calling Birdie names. Birdie took her down easy, and she is also going to do her scroll work and chores that Arrot will struggle with while she is mending. In other words, the bully is now a fan of Birdie. The kid has the diplomatic skills of her mother the bard wouldn’t you say?”

“I would have to say that’s not bad at all. I was able to talk and squirm my way out of quite a lot of trouble in my youth, even before Xena.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes heavenward with a sheepish grin.

“But Gabrielle, I am here because Birdie then left school without permission-without notifying me; and that, I cannot abide.” Ephiny’s voice had gained an edge to it.

“I understand completely, Eph, and Xena will skin her alive for doing that. It’s an unfortunate habit Birdie has; she would never run from a fight, but she panics when emotions or people become too complicated. It’s actually a trait I believe that comes from our warrior princess, that’s why she is trying to teach her better ways. So far she hasn’t succeeded.”

“Well, Xena doesn’t need to deal with it if I am here; it’s a school related issue. Where is the kid?”

The bard’s eyes froze along with her heart, “You mean she never returned to school?”

The regent’s eyes understood, “and she hasn’t come home?”

As the mutual realization dawned on the two women, the long shadow of the conqueror approached with her easy gait and smile.

“Welcome Ephiny, “she clasped the Amazon’s arm in the powerful warrior’s handshake, “It has been too long; I am glad to see you.”

Blue eyes took brief account of green.

“What is wrong?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

I turned both my sling pack and my scabbard forward so they made a kind of X carrier in front of my body. Zephyr was looking dubious.

“Sorry girl, it’s the best I have right now, unless you can climb a tree on your own.”

Well, of course foxes don’t climb trees, how ridiculous.

I picked her up, fortunately Zephyr is a small black fox, and threaded her through the X of the carry straps. She grunted and licked my face.

“I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s only until I can find you a good fork in the tree.”

She groaned and whined as I began to climb. We were perhaps sixty hands from the ground when the mountain lion came into view. My speed increased, which was fortunate, because our predator quickly caught our scent. She looked up, licking her lips and exposing long teeth.

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

“And then she left? I will kick her butt,” the Conqueror said, pacing.

“No, that’s why I’m here,”Chuckled the Amazon Regent.

“I wonder if any other local kid has so many big names after her,” mused the mother/ bard. “That would be tough. Xena the Conqueror, the Battling Bard of Potidaea, and the Regent of the Amazon Nation, all after the same little thirteen winters old butt.”

“Gabrieeeelllle. How many times has she done this? Disappeared without notice?” The sapphires flashed.

“I know my love, but again, she is THIRTEEN. Let’s remember that as well. And there are three of us. We can’t all clobber her.”

“I don’t believe that Birdie left school because she was afraid that I would punish her,” Ephiny spoke thoughtfully. “Birdie left camp because the day just wasn’t working out well for her. I had already chewed her ears for taking the vines route in.”

“Oh, she broke the vines rule as well? She really was having a prize winning day,” growled the Conqueror. “That kid!!”

“Xena.” Said the Bard very softly, “Who TAUGHT her to take the vines route? Who took her swinging on it when she was just old enough to walk?”

There a brief pause.

“Oh.”

“Regardless,” spoke the bard in the continuing voice of reason, “You two take a walk; give ME a little space, so that I can meditate a moment and make sure that Birdie is ok.”

“C’mon Eph, we’ll walk ahead to the tavern and begin our plan.” Xena took her arm. “Actually, if I know my kid, she’s on her way home before dark. She is pretty good about that.”

Gabrielle breathed very deeply, one, two, three breaths. Focused, concentrated…The verdigris eyes closed; the vast blue ocean washed calmly in and out…slowly, flowing up on the sand and back out… Longer, quieter, focus….. a small blue star on the horizon.. Present, but flickering. Fine, but possibly in danger.

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

“Zephyr, we have a problem.”

The lion completed a third leap up the tree during which she stretched a huge paw with deadly extended claws. I had managed to put Zephyr in a wide fork in the tree and thus relieve her of her uncomfortable seating in my makeshift harness; however, she was shaking so badly at the threat of our attacker, I was afraid she might actually fall out of the tree.

She called to me with a little whimper. When I looked at her, Zephyr’s eyes had the fiery flare of her god-fox form.

“It won’t help in this situation, Zephyr, but thank you.”

If Zephyr were human, she would have shrugged. Instead, she made a sound part way between a snort and a snert, and I laughed. It is wonderful, even in the worst of times, to have a black fox as one’s soul mate.

The lioness leaped again and would have had my foot but I lifted it watching her. My sword was ready, but I did not want to hurt the lioness. Our choices were limited. Her last leap caused her to fall back on her side though, and I could see the milk buds on her belly. Never mind. I could not hurt her. So-Plan beta.

“Lady,” I called down to her, “Please do not attack us. I see that you need to feed your young, but we would not be a good meal for them. I have no wish to harm you and I will help you to catch fish to feed your babies if you will allow us to come down without killing us.”

The lioness made one greater leap and her claw ripped into my pants, but I rapped her nose with the flat of my sword, and discouraged her once again.

She lay on the ground looking up at me.

“Please Lady,” I kept talking to her, and she rolled up to look at me. “If you spare me and my fox, I will bring you milk from the Inn for your babies.”

“Portia, stand away.”

The rich commanding woman’s voice floated across the evening breeze. Soft boots appeared beside the lioness, who stood quickly and took her place beside them as if she were a simple house cat. I could see that the boots were embroidered with beautiful metallic threads, and that they housed dark toned lengthy legs. A light colored soft skin tunic, embroidered with more of the incredible thread, covered a slim muscular body. The hair was dark with silver streaks like moonlight shining in it, and the eyes were an untamed flecked golden color-the eyes of the lioness. An Amazon sword set with flashing jewels was at her waist and an ornately carved archery set was at her back.

The voice spoke again, “Come here, little sister, “and Zephyr leaped from nearly seventy hands high in the tree to land safely in the woman’s arms. She spoke once more,

“Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, do you know who I am?”

I remained in the tree but bowed my head respectfully,

“Yes, My Lady,” my voice shook with involuntary fear.

“You can only be Artemis, Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, Protector of Expectant Mothers, young children and animals, and Keeper of the Amazon Nation.”

(Continued)

++++++++++++++++++++++++=

Artemis

Amber fire
Sears straight past
Pretenses of human
Barricades.
A golden vessel of heat,
Omnipotent curiosity
Strides upon me like
A road.
Gathering,
Apprising,
KNOWING.
Through my eyes, I am
Stripped bare naked.
My story
In its entirety
Told.
My mind, my thoughts,
My imagination, my joy,
My success, my failures,
My secrets, my shame,
My wounds, my scars,
My very soul
Belong to her.
I am held helpless
In her hands
In an instant,
In that singular
Glance of the goddess.

Part 3

Gabrielle entered Cyrene’s tavern scanning for her favorite warriors who were immediately distinguishable, even in the crowded drinking hole.

She fielded the question in the Conqueror’s eyes -” Yes, Birdie is fine. She may be on an adventure; her star is flickering, but she is safe.”

“Her star?” Ephiny looked confused.

“Gabrielle has an internal tracking system on our wayward child which can come in quite handy at times,” the low voice of the warrior carried the relieved but ominous quality it so often did when she spoke of her daughter.

“”It’s a little difficult to explain, so please just trust me,” smiled the bard.

“Always,” the word from her Regent.

“Anyway, I am ‘monitoring’ her and will keep you informed,” the ivy eyes warmed on both of them as she pushed her hair over her ear. “What are you drinking?”

“Cider,” Cyrene passed another earthenware mug across the bar. “Everyone is staying on her toes until my Grandbirdie is safe and sound.”

The three mugs were raised to her words.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Before inhaling my next breath, I stood before the goddess. Artemis possessed the ability to cast her will by thought and make it so. It was quite unsettling. My eyes remained lowered; I had never pondered being in the presence of a goddess, and even then certainly not by myself. I was terrified of breaking some arbitrary rule of protocol with Artemis—well known for her caprice.

“Hummmm..” she turned from me and strode away gracefully, with the big cat following docilely. “You are smaller than I thought you would be.”

“Perhaps, I am not at my full growth yet My Lady Goddess,” was my murmur, “why should you be concerned with my size?”

My head twitched with the impact of a sharp slap to my cheek, the sting and heat caused a single tear in the eye above it. The goddess had not turned.

“Have the warrior and the bard raised you to be insolent?”

The voice floated back to me, quiet and deadly.

My head was bowed again, “No My Lady Goddess, quite opposite in fact. My apologies for my tone; I am called out quite often for it.”

Zephyr looked up at me pressing her head tightly to my leg protectively—fearfully.

Artemis turned back with a surprising smile.

“Well I would expect neither weakness nor meekness from you, child.”

Because I had no idea how to reply, I remained silent.

“Is it your habit to avoid others’ eyes when you greet them, or is it just rudeness to me?” the voice carried command, as much command as my Baba Xe’s and likewise the element of danger.

This was not going well; I slowly dropped to my knees.

“My Lady Artemis, please be assured that disrespect is far from my intention. If you please, my Lady— I am afraid.”

The chuckle was haughty, arrogant.

“But are you not Robin of the Warrior, the Conqueror, the Destroyer of Nations, Xena Chosen of my brother, Ares?”

“Yes, My Lady.”

“So you should NOT be afraid.”

Whatever I do or say will be wrong.

“My Lady, I have met my share of enemies and I have fought my share of battles during my few winters of life. I know the courage of the Warrior. I am also Robin of the Bard; I know wisdom and caution. You are my first encounter with an Immortal. Please understand, that whatever my demeanor is, it should not be read as disrespect.”

Soft fur leaned next to me and gave me comfort. I put my arm around Zephyr and the rise and fall of her quiet breathing stilled my panic.

Fingers crept under my chin; my eyes were raised to meet the majestic mahogany countenance. The intensity which fairly blazed from the amber eyes was unblinking; I felt as if her gaze pierced through my eyes into my mind, my thoughts, my imagination, my emotions, my secrets, my shame, my very soul. The effect caused me to tremble. The fingers issued a slight pressure and I was raised to my feet not under my own power. The fingers then left me.

The goddess knelt to study Zephyr.

“The fox takes good care of you, doesn’t she?”

“Zephyr is the miracle of my life, My Lady Artemis; she is precious beyond measure.”

“She is my gift to you.”

My tongue was very dry and caused me to choke a little.

” Ah, that explains why she is extraordinary, My Lady.”

I knelt beside my fox then and ran my hand along the black silky fur looking deep into Zephyr’s eyes.

“I have no way of expressing my gratitude for such a gift, My Lady; how may I serve you?”
Another smile, “You do well enough, Robin of the Warrior and the Bard. For the greater part I am well pleased with the progress of your life. Xena and Gabrielle are doing a splendid job with you. “

My curiosity blazed, but I did not wish to invite another slap.

“My Lady Artemis, may I venture another question?”

“Yes child.” She approved of my manner this time.

“Are you my mother?”

Her laughter made the leaves fall from the trees. Even the lioness and Zephyr were amused.

“No Robin. You have a wonderful mother. Am I the immortal power behind the gift of your birth to the warrior and the bard? Yes, I am.

No response came from me. Gobsmacked.

The goddess touched me again- this time gently moving her fingers into my hair and pushing it back from my eyes, playing with it a strand at a time. I did not tremble.

“You wonder what this means. It will mean more and more with time, Birdie. Within you, there is the roadmap to rule as the next Warrior Princess, a Conqueror, to become the Queen of the Amazons, and/or to be known as one of the great bards of your time. This is no small path of expectation. But you will have guidance. You have Zephyr, you have Marcus,”

She saw the question in my eyes.

“Yes, Marcus is also a gift from me.”

“Thank you My Lady Artemis; he is good counsel.” I looked down again. My eye lashes were wet, why?

“And you have Xena the Conqueror and Gabrielle the Bard, the finest parents any child could hope to have. I have also handpicked your godmother, Ephiny of the Amazon Nation, and she will begin to play a larger part in your upbringing, since you have come of age.”

I sighed. “So very many people to please.”

She didn’t quite chuckle, “You are a challenge to rear Birdie; it will not take an entire village to raise you, but then again, you have a goddess watching. I should say too, that now and again, you will answer to ME.”

The shaking was back; it was difficult to stand. But she had called me “Birdie”; she indeed had all knowledge.

“So take care with your life, Robin of Amphipolis. I am known for my love, protection, and guidance for those who are loyal to me. But I do NOT suffer fools.”

“I am well aware of that My Lady Artemis, “my voice a whisper now, “I will try my best to never disappoint you.”

She took my head in her great hardwood colored hands, and I felt her lips touch my hairline ; a kiss that which burned like a small brand. The back of her fingers caressed my cheek with a touch as gentle as my own Mama G would have used. I closed my eyes as a cool breeze passed through my hair.

Zephyr and I stood alone in the clearing.

The dark furry head looked up at me; I looked down at her. I knelt down beside my four legged companion, and buried my face in her ruff for a moment.

“Zephyr, let’s really try to make it home this time.”

She agreed.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The bard opened her eyes. “She is coming much closer now; it shouldn’t be long.”

Ephiny closed her eye and released a breath. “All thanks to Mother Artemis then. You better tell Xena before she breaks that window.”

The Conqueror had stood by the tavern’s main window as the afternoon passed on, and her body language bristled with impatience. One might think the window would shatter if it did not fill with a scene that suited her soon.

Gabrielle slipped from the stool and went to her soul mate. The uniformed shoulder visibly relaxed as the bard reached up and laid a gentle hand upon it. The sky colored eyes turned to look down at the hand.

“Good news for me?”

“She’s on her way, I think.”

“Bad news for her.”

The dark head shook side to side.

The fair head leaned against the back.

“I wish we didn’t have to move from being worried about her to being angry with her, Xena.”

The Conqueror sighed and returned her gaze to the window reflecting.

“Birdie must learn to make better decisions. She KNOWS better than to do this Gabrielle. How many times have we walked this painful road with her?”

“That is why I believe that either one— what we are doing is not working, or two—it’s just Birdie’s way, and we must accept it—find a way to modify how we cope with her character—her personality. ”

The Conqueror turned around and looked at the Bard.

“Sorry Mama G. I don’t accept the fact that our kid can just run away for most of the day without a word to us, and do so without consequence. There is danger out there, and Birdie is too young. Perhaps in a winter or two, I will be more lenient, but she must prove herself as well.”

A third head joined the duo. It was covered in golden brassy curls and accented with bright dark eyes.

“Pardon me, but may I poke my big Amazon nose in here? She is my student and my godchild, and I did come all this way to see her.”

Ephiny stood grinning with fresh mugs of cider. The threesome sat at one of the rough hewn tables.

After a thoughtful sip, Ephiny sat twirling her mug in her hands searching for words.

“I would like to ask for your trust in me to deal with Birdie on this particular issue. The rules she violated were at the Amazon school, and it’s about time Birdie had a taste of our discipline. She is an Amazon princess after all, and she should answer to the Amazons. Not to mention it might give you two a bit of a breather.”

The warrior and the bard eyed each other.

“Ephiny, to be honest it would be a relief for me,” said Gabrielle. Sometimes it seems as if Birdie is nothing but troubles large and small, and it would be nice to have some help. I do trust you of course. You are our oldest dearest friend, and Birdie loves you very much.”

“Can you be firm enough with her?” was Xena’s question, “She’s an articulate kid; she can spin a good line of sweet talk.”

“Xena, remember I raised a centaur.” Ephiny chuckled.

“And she’s also very sensitive,” were the next words of the Conqueror in a near whisper.

The Bard’s eyes twinkled at the warrior and then the regent.

“I will be tough with kid gloves, my friend.” The Amazon godmother reached for the warrior’s rough hand. “I love that kid like she is my own; you know that.” Her dark eyes filled but she blinked them away.

The mood changed quickly.

“You’re going to give her the “Amazon arrow” aren’t you?” Gabrielle’s eyebrows rose with a little smile.

“With your permission. It’s standard operating procedure for what she’s done.” Ephiny looked seriously from green eyes to blue.

“I think it’s great. Let her have it.” The bard finished her mug and sat back.

“What is the Amazon Arrow?” the warrior was lost.

“It’s the Amazon version of your mother’s switch,” chuckled the bard. “It’s a special arrow shaft, a bit thinner, and without an arrow head. When I took classes with the Amazons, I took a couple of licks with one out of curiosity. It stings, but it’s certainly lighter fare than the flat of a sword.”

“Well, perhaps a dose of Amazon arrow coming from Effie will get through that woodpecker head of hers. “ sighed the Conqueror, “ We aren’t doing very well.”

“I would like for Birdie to spend more time at the camp if possible, “mused her godmother. “Pony, — Eponin will be returning soon with her niece, a girl near Birdie’s age. Her name is Rachell, and she is of “royal lineage’ from a sister tribe near the sea. I thought perhaps they could train some together.”

“Is that all you are thinking, Amazon?” Gabrielle grinned.

“Yeeeeesssss. I do not dabble in the ways of Aphrodite.” replied the regent shaking her head vigorously, “You are speaking to someone who has loved both a centaur and Eponin; I would never predict nor try to direct that goddess. The Goddess of Love does what she will.”

“I would agree,” said the warrior… “And our Birdie is a long way from romance yet. She is interested in the arts of battle and actually, in being a scholar to a certain extent. I just wish she could stay out of trouble.”

“You two go to meet her, “directed the Amazon Queen. “I will prepare a bath, a little food, and wait for her in her room. Xena be sure to remind Birdie that her first chore will be to refill the tub in the morning and you can then leave her to Ephiny’s instruction. I am considering grounding her for this sixth and seventh day as well.”

Both warriors looked at the bard.

“Do you think that is necessary?” the Aegean eyes looked hurt and the voice was wistful, “I am free from the militia these two days. We put in a hard five day and so took them off.”

A gentle hand stroked the dark hair.

“Sorry big warrior, I do,” the bard said softly, “I want to talk to Birdie quite a bit and I want her to write.”

The soulful skies caused the bard to cave with a slight eye roll.

“Tell you what; if Birdie is diligent, I will free her on seventh day, and you two can do something fun.”

She was rewarded with a big smile, and she shook her head with deep affection and chuckled.

“Go on now,” she aimed a light kick at the backside of the big warrior, as she and the Amazon went to meet the little warrior and her fox coming home from their adventure.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Apollo had begun his descent as Zephyr and I turned onto the wide road into Amphipolis. We stood a moment on the rise and looked down at the fortress. Two figures were walking out of the gates; I recognized one immediately as Baba Xe by the long confident stride and the Tide swinging at her back. The other was not Mama G, though. Another warrior by her gear… ah, Effie. She had come from the Amazon village seeking me. This was not good. Be brave; accept responsibility for your actions, Bird. Take a deep resigned breath.

I looked at Zephyr with a sigh and a shrug, and she answered in fox, bumping against my knees as we hurried to meet the warriors.

It was comforting to bury my face in the leathery smell of Baba Xe’s every day armor; it was good to feel her arms around me at the end of this very strange day, even though I knew that she would soon be dispensing disciplinary measures. It felt like I had been away for a very long time.

She pushed me back and looked at me carefully. “You are all right? No injuries anywhere?”

“I am fine, Baba. Tired, and hungry, but a little calmer in my spirit.”

“You know that you are in some trouble, Little Bird.”

“Yes, Baba, I know that.”

Be humble.

She sighed, shook her head gently, ruffled my hair and touched her head down to mine.

“Your mother and I are leaving the disciplinary action to your godmother this time, Birdie. You broke Amazon rules, so Ephiny has our permission to deal with you first and firmly. Can you be comfortable with that?”

I looked into the dark eyes of my Effie, my godmother, my teacher, and saw only love and concern in them.

“Yes Baba, I am responsible to Regent Ephiny for my actions.”

Baba Xe raised her eyebrows, “We will talk further of your disappearing problem later. Your mother wanted me to tell you that the bathing tub will be ready and you will need to fill it again first thing in the morning.”

She turned to my godmother, hands on my shoulders, giving me to the Amazon Regent’s charge.

“Ephiny, the guest room is yours tonight, of course.”

“Thanks, Xena.”

We had arrived and so stopped above the landmark giant oak a quarter candle mark outside the gates.

Baba kissed my hair, “Be good Little Bird.”

“Yes m’am.” I said to her disappearing back. Zephyr gave me a mournful stare and left me to the music.

I turned to Regent Ephiny, who was gazing at me in rather amused fashion. I decided to be formal.

“How is Arrot, Regent Ephiny?”

“Arrot is fine, Birdie,” she began a slow stroll with me and put a casual arm around my shoulders. “The break is minor, and you did a good job treating it. Actually, you are something of a hero among your classmates now.”

My head stayed down.

“However.”

The fingers on my shoulder drummed a few beats.

Be strong. But my voice wasn’t strong.

“You are pretty mad at me, aren’t you Effie?”

She stopped and whipped me around to face her; her eyes were snapping.

“Birdie, I was so worried when you just left! How could you do that? Can you imagine the grip fear took on my heart when I came to Amphipolis looking for you, and you were missing from here as well?”

She gave my shoulders a slight shake, and we began walking again. The agitation was coming from her in waves. Effie had a rather stormy personality, and I was about to feel its effects.

She stopped again and her eyes went into the past,” I have known Xena and Gabrielle for such a long time, Birdie; I have watched them go through happy times and hard times, and they have seen me through the same. We are family; so that makes YOU FAMILY to me as well, kid.”

Both of her strong warrior’s hands were on my shoulders again and she forced me to meet her eyes.

“And one thing I shall NEVER witness again– is Xena and Gabrielle working through—living through– the loss of a child. I hope that I will not have to whip your butt too many times to make you understand that, Birdie.”

She closed her eyes, remembering a different time, then returned to me with a deep breath, and cocked her head gazing at me with firm eyes, “However, I will do whatever it takes.”

Her dark eyes filled but did not spill, a true Amazon.

And finally, I did understand.

Perhaps my exposure to Hope and Solon had clarified my horizons; perhaps Effie chose the words that penetrated my thinking at last. Perhaps I was growing up. But I finally got it. Everyone knew that I was capable of taking care of myself well enough when I wandered off, but it wasn’t just about me, was it? The people who loved me, worried about me; and my absences without notice brought great trepidation to my loved ones because of their past experiences. I should be more sensitive and respectful of my family and friends; it was selfish of me to disregard their feelings.

“I understand, Effie.” I hung my head and swallowed, “You’re going to give me the Amazon arrow, aren’t you?”

I had heard about it from the other Amazon kids and figured my transgression would merit the punishment.

She chuckled without mirth, but also without anger.

“Yes, that is what we do to naughty little Amazons, and what I will do to my naughty little runaway goddaughter.” She put a finger under my chin to make me meet her eyes again.” You frightened me, Bird.”

I blinked back a tear, “I’m really sorry, Effie. Can we get it over with?”

Her answer was to spin me around, draw a thin arrow shaft from her scabbard and deliver four lightning fast strokes across my backside before I could even brace myself. Then she turned me back to face her, and squeezed my shoulders, “You won’t ever subject us to a day like this again, will you? Please promise me, Birdie,”

Very un-Amazon tears escaped her dark eyes. I wrapped my arms around her waist ; her arms came around my shoulders quickly and her hand up into my hair, and we stood without a sound for a time. I spoke first.

“I’m sorry that I worried you so much.” I sniffed, working at hiding my tears, determined to take it like an Amazon. “It won’t happen again. I will always find a way to contact you.”

“That’s all I can ask, babe.” She pushed me back again… “You ok?”

Swallow.

“Yes m’am.”

Be brave. Take the consequences.

“Stings a bit.”

She pulled my head to hers chuckled, and sniffed herself. “It’s supposed to sting, Birdie. I got a few Amazon arrows in my day; it stings properly.”

She ruffled my hair.

“But you’re ok? You’ll live?”

“Yes m’am. You aren’t mad anymore?”

“Birdie, I was never mad. Well maybe a little mad. But no babe. I love you. Always will.”

“Love you, Effie.” Managed it, whispering.

I rested my head on her chest, asking for just a little more comfort, and she continued to hold me which was probably against protocol. Amazon leaders especially usually took a Spartan view of discipline. Then she pushed me back, and I collected myself.

“So let’s get you home to the Amazon Queen.”

She kept her arm around me; that was nice of her.

I leaned a little into her shoulder, but my eyes were dry.

“Hope Mama doesn’t whack me as well.”

“She won’t. They deferred the entire honor to me this time. Though I would imagine you are in for a ‘sensitive chat.’”

“Believe me, there will be a lot of ‘sensitive chatting’”, Effie.”

We both laughed then, and I felt much better.

“What are Arrot’s camp chores, Effie?”

“Oh, “ Effie counted on her fingers,” she carries the big wood for the main fire circle, she carries water to the kitchen, and she chops firewood for the kitchen every day, in addition to her school duties, which are just to line up the stools, and sharpen quills.”

“I will come and do all of Arrot’s chores. I told her I would.”

“You don’t need to do them every day, Birdie. Just come early on school days, and perhaps you can stockpile enough to last.”

“Ok then, sounds like a good plan.”

“That is walking in— NOT coming by the vines.”

“Yes M’am.”

“My threat about the vines still stands; you remember that, Birdie.”

“Absolutely, Effie.”

I flashed her very best ‘sincere’ look.

But it wouldn’t quite hold, and a snicker escaped.

“You……” She rolled her eyes, her hand caught me with a light smack in the back of the head, and we walked through the gates together –laughing.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Using the bathing room was a luxury. It was almost like a reward to someone who was in a spot of trouble. But I would feel it in the morning when the chore of refilling the auxiliary tank fell to me. It meant twenty trips from the bathing stream toting two large buckets on a yoke to refill the tank for the next bath, as well as replenishing the firewood for the heater. Baba Xe could of course, order any of the militia to do the job, but we used the bathwater, and so we always refilled.

The light snack my mother had prepared of thick dark bread and soft cheese disappeared while I stripped out of my clothing and boots. There was also a pitcher of Grandba’s cider which quenched my thirst.

It was ambrosia to my body to soak in the hot water and it released my exhaustion which was greater than I had realized. I turned to check my posterior and found a couple of thin red lines that were only slightly tender. Ephiny was an expert at all things Amazon, and she had made an impression that had nothing to do with the arrow. I promised Effie in my heart that she and I would not repeat that experience again, if I could help it.

Donning the nightshirt and cotton leggings Mama had left in the room for me, I padded my way to my bedroom. The door was open to my parent’s room, and Baba Xe stepped out and put a gentle clothesline across my shoulders.

“You ok?” her voice was soft and low.

“I’m fine, Baba.”

She gave me an appraising look, moving her hand through my hair, to my shoulders, adjusting the silver streaks over my ears. And then she pulled me to her closely.

“Not too tough was she?”

“Not as tough as you are.” Her hand continued to rub my back gently, “But she made me realize some stuff, Baba. I’m going to do much better when I have to disappear. It won’t happen anymore. Promise.”

She spoke from the top of my head and I could hear the words originate from her chest in a low resonation accompanied by the beat of her heart.

“That is the important thing, Little Bird. That we know, Ok?”

She continued as she pushed me away, “Your mother is going to ground you for sixth and seventh day.”

She allowed that to sink in along with my eyes and then she stooped to look into them.

“But she will shorten the term to only sixth day if you are good, and we will do something more fun on seventh day, ok?”

She rose to full height again with both sets of spirits, “You can stay out of trouble for ONE day, Birdie?”

“I can, Baba.”

“Then go and get your ‘sensitive chat’”, she directed me with a brisk swat that reawakened Effie’s stripes, “and mind you listen to your mother.” She pointed a finger at me.

“I will Baba,” my steps took me beyond her but then turned back. “Actually, I always listen to both of you even though it might not seem that way.”

“You try Honey; I know that, “ her voice was gentle.

My ears twitched. Baba Xe to my memory had never called me “Honey”—that was Mama G’s word.

“Night Baba, Love you.”

The Conqueror smiled at me, “Love you back my Little Bird.”

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

“What shall I say to her, Zephyr?” Gabrielle looked into the deep golden eyes of the black fox. “We have had this discussion more than once, and still—when Birdie is faced with situations that overwhelm her; when too many problems knock at her door, she runs away.”

The fox listened carefully and did not waver in her gaze at the bard.

“I know—perhaps it IS similar to how Xena became a warlord and it is certainly how I came to follow Xena, right? I was overwhelmed with boredom and ordinary living though. Still—you make a very good point, Zephyr—I DID run away.”

The fox licked her hand gently.

“But nobody worried about us, Zephyr—or at least not much. And there is SO VERY MUCH DANGER out there just waiting to spring on a thirteen winters old kid, not to mention the child of the Conqueror.”

Zephyr’s eyes looked right into the bard’s soul.

Gabrielle sighed.

“Yes I did encounter a Cyclops right off—how did you know that? But that brings up another point, my foxy friend. I had Xena to protect me—to rescue me—when I found myself in trouble.”

The white socks on the fox stamped a little.

“She has YOU? Not the same, Zephyr.”

The fox barked indignantly.

“Yes well, you are right, ‘so far has been so good’. But Zephyr, there are parts of this issue that simply are not up for discussion, ok?”

The fox laid her head in the bard’s lap and accepted the gentle stroking.

“Do you believe that we are too hard on her, Zephyr?”

The dark head lifted and green eyes were met again by golden. Gabrielle then felt another gentle lick of her hand.

“You don’t feel we are too hard; you just can’t watch, right?”

The head in her lap sighed.

Both heads lifted at the sound of light footsteps in the hall.

Gabrielle kissed the black fur on her lap.

“Thank you for the support, Zephyr, it really helped me.”

She received a nosing of her hand.

“Stay around. We are just going to talk.”

The fox lifted her head and stayed by her legs as the door opened.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

My mother and my fox were a peaceful greeting committee at the end of this long long day. Zephyr padded over immediately and put her head under my hand to sniff and nose me a bit, checking to see that I was well and reasonably happy. She wanted more because she sat down looking at me. I knelt down.

“Hi girl,” just a whisper. “How are you doing? Did you tell Mama G all about our adventures?”

“She wasn’t able to tell me every detail,” my mother’s sea foam eyes held mine and she patted the red loveseat beside her, “I believe that she left several parts for you to tell.”

Obediently I took my place next to her on the couch. The red loveseat had been a fixture in my room for as long as I could remember, and likewise so had it been the place where my mother and I talked. It was an icon in my short life. I settled back into the cushions and closed my eyes.

“Sooooooooooo… how was that Amazon Arrow?” she had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“Think it’s funny do you?” I answered, “It’s not real funny, My Lady. It stings.” I poked her in the ribs.

She chuckled, “I know; I had a little Amazon education, remember? But it’s supposed to sting, right?”

Then her voice dropped to a low and gentle timbre. “Makes an impression that way.”

Her arm crept along the back of the loveseat, her hand tickled the back of my neck, and I surrendered gladly to the coaxing by scooting a little closer and leaning my head on her shoulder. Her arm came around and her hand stroked my hair.

“I gather an impression was made.”

“Yes, Mama G, an impression was made.”

By the gods, why was it so easy for my eyes to dampen in the presence of my mother?

“Effie wasn’t too hard on you, was she?”

“Of course not, Mama. She just made me understand some stuff better.” I looked at her and blinked the first run of tears. “ I won’t disappear without notifying you somehow again, ok?”

She pulled me in close, enveloping me in the safety of Mama G, which I still needed at thirteen winters.

“I am glad to hear that Birdie; you know it scares us when we don’t know where you are.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

I recalled something. “Actually I have been working on something for a while that may help. We can try it now.”

Going to my desk drawer, I retrieved a flat thin whistle carved from a piece of pine. I went to my large window, opened one side of it, and blew the whistle into the night. It made a high airy sound.

“The idea is that Icarus will hear it if she is anywhere nearby and come to me.” I returned to the loveseat. “Then I can send you messages via golden hawk—if she comes.”

“I’m glad that you understand how much we worry and that you are going to work on that. It makes me happy.” My mother’s smile made me happy.

Zephyr licked both of our hands as if to say, “I knew you could do this.”

Another deep breath for me, “There’s something else to tell you about what happened today.”

“You mean Arrot? Regent Ephiny told us all about that, Birdie. I am not sure that I fully approve, but it sounded like you handled it pretty well over all. I am proud that you are going to the camp to take care of Arrot’s duties while she is indisposed. Your Baba may have more to say about the ways we handle bullies, but that is something of an ongoing discussion, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is an ongoing discussion, and no, what I have to tell you isn’t about Arrot, Mama.”

She closed her eyes.

“What else happened today, Birdie?”

“It wasn’t bad, Mama.”

I was at a loss. How does one speak of meeting a goddess?

The forest green eyes opened and they were steady.

“Tell me.”

“Mama. ………. I met the Goddess Artemis today.”

The forest eyes closed again.

“Mama, did you hea….?”

“I heard you, Little Bird..”

“Well?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but how did you know, Birdie?”

I cleared my throat.

“A mountain lion treed Zephyr and me. She summoned it to her side, and then she called to Zephyr who jumped into her arms from very high in the tree. In my next breath I was before her on the ground without climbing down. She turned her back and walked some distance from me and yet slapped my cheek when she perceived an attitude of mine was insolent.”

Mama listened, “That sounds like Artemis. What else happened, and how did she appear?”

It was easier to talk because Mama believed me.

“She was tall and regal. She had skin the color of mahogany, black hair with moon-silver streaks in it, and golden eyes like the lion. She wore a decorated Amazon sword and an ornate archery set. She was very beautiful, Mama, but she was frightening as well.”

“What more, Birdie?”

The hard part.

“She told me that Zephyr was her gift to me, Mama. That is why she is such an extraordinary fox.”

Mama smiled, “Well, I think we knew that..”

“And she told me that I am her gift to you and Baba.”

Mama blinked, and her eyes filled.

“Mama?”

“Oh, it’s ok, Honey. It’s nice to finally know. Artemis. I will know who to thank now.”

“Really?”

“Really.” She kissed my forehead.

“She also told me that she would be watching me; that she holds me accountable to her now. And that she has no use for fools.”

“Well your Baba and I have not raised a fool.”

I smiled.

“And then she kissed me. Right at the hairline; it burns, see?”

Mama bent my head, pushed my hair away and looked.

“You didn’t find someone to give you a tattoo out there today, did you Birdie?”

“No Mama, there was no place to have a tattoo done.”

She had made it clear to me from a very young age that I was never to get a tattoo. It puzzled me, because she had one; I had seen parts of the dragon’s head or tail peeking from her upper and lower back at times, but it was not a topic she discussed with me. I had asked and the answer was that she would tell me when I was older and in the meantime if I came home with a tattoo before the age of twenty two winters, she would have both the hide that held the tattoo and the rest of my hide as well. Baba Xe had backed her up firmly.

“Well, you have a small mark on your head near the hairline. It’s the letter alpha with the cross bar drawn as an arrow. I will ask Ephiny, but I have a feeling that this is something that Artemis gave to you.”

She drew it in her hand for me. “Similar to that, Birdie.”

“She only kissed me, Mama, “My eyes blinked with confusion, “but it burned.”

“I will ask Ephiny if she is still awake,” she sat back, “I have a pretty good idea, but she will know for certain.”

“For now, my tired wandering Bird, bedtime. You have had a long day.” She went to my desk and began removing what we called “reflection candles” from the top drawer and fitting them into the holders across the top of my desk. Each candle burned about half a candle mark and she set in a dozen.

“Oh, this goes for tomorrow too, “she smiled into my big eyes, “But it might be good if you could do one candle tonight. You won’t drift right into sleep anyway, will you?”

I stared at them. “That’s quite a lot of reflection, Mama.”

The verdigris eyes were grave. “It is indeed, my little bard. I believe you have quite a bit of reflecting to do.”

I rose, walked to the desk and sat down pulling out the parchment and quill. Zephyr rested her head in my lap, golden eyes looking up at me seriously.

Mama G stood by until she saw me lose myself in the candle flame, and then she kissed the top of my head.

“I Love you Little Bird.”

I leaned into the hug, “ Love you back, Mama G.”

A loud commotion at my window turned our heads quickly.

“Icarus!” I hopped up and over immediately to give her a dried meat reward. She hopped aboard my arm and I carried her over to Mama who stroked her head with one finger.

“Mama, it worked!” I was triumphant.

“It did, Birdie.” Despite my checkered day, she was proud of me.

“Now if I find myself too far away, I will call Icarus, send a message to you in her little leg case, and you won’t be so worried.”

A light touch fell on the back of my neck and squeezed firmly, “Birdie, the plan with Icarus is splendid, and I am fine with her use in an emergency, but the Icarus plan will NOT give you free rein to just venture away at whim. I want you to be very clear about that. If you are at all able, you had better tell me IN PERSON when and where you are going someplace, do you understand?”

Icarus and I looked at each other; Zephyr and I looked at each other.

“Yes m’am, I understand.” My quiet answer.

I moved to allow Icarus to perch on a wooden dowel near the window so that she could take her leave at will.

Arms came around me from behind.

“I believe we were saying, ‘I love you Little Bird’.”

My hands fell on the hands around my waist and I leaned my head back.

“And I love you, Mama G.”

A soft kiss to my cheek and a gentle pat returned me to my desk.

“G’night.” Was the final word as Zephyr once again laid her head in my lap, and I began to write.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The long form of the Conqueror was stretched diagonally across the bed dozing lightly when the bard peeked into their large bedroom. One sapphire eye opened quickly and then shut again as Gabrielle made her way to the bed and rested her head on the firm belly. The strong callused hand automatically began to touch her hair and fall gently down the side of her face in a loving caress.

“How was the ‘sensitive chat’ with the Birdling?” a yawning question.

“Fine. You know, she gets herself into trouble quite a bit, but she always learns from it, Xena. She’s pretty smart..” The blonde head on the belly mused.

A deep chuckle, “Hmmmmmmmm.. Now who does that sound like? Darn it, that reminds me of someone.” Another yawn, “ Gets herself into trouble. Ooooofff!!”

The warrior received a sharp smack in the gut.

“Get up Warrior, we need to go and see if Ephiny is still up.”

“Isn’t it rather late, Gabrielle? Can’t it wait…”

“No, it can’t.”

The big warrior had no choice but to slide into her boots and follow her soul mate down the hall to the fortress guest room. Gabrielle knocked softly.

“Eph? You still awake? It’s me and Xena.”

The door was opened and a disheveled Amazon in a sleeping shift held her room lantern in their faces.

“Is it Birdie, Gab? Come in. Damn, I thought I left the kid on pretty good terms. Is she ok? Was I too rough? Damn, I’m sorry Xena, Gab..”

“Eph,” Warrior to warrior, Xena put a hand to her shoulder. “You did great with Birdie. I’ll hire you as permanent disciplinarian; you got through to her, and I appreciate it. Gabrielle has something to ask you. “

“Oh good. Well, let’s sit down.”

They entered the simple but cozy guest room of the fortress and sat at the little rough table, much like those in the tavern.

“Ephiny,” Gabrielle began, “Have you ever seen the ‘Mark of Artemis”?

“Only in scrolls,” said Ephiny, “the goddess hasn’t left it in too many places.”

“What does it look like?”

“Here, I’ll show you, “Ephiny lighted a candle from the lantern, and dripped a bit of wax into a large shallow knothole in the table. Then she drew the sign of Alpha with the arrow as the crossbar with a fingernail.

Gabrielle released a heavy sigh that blew her hair up.

“I knew it.” She said.

“What?” both warriors said in unison.

“Birdie met Artemis in the woods today.”

“What?” from Xena.

“Whoa!!” from Ephiny.

“Yes, well it’s a long story, but there is even more than the story, my beloved warriors. First—Xena—Artemis did give us Birdie.”

The indigo eyes softened.

“However when they parted company, Artemis kissed Birdie on the top of her head.”

“Sounds innocent enough, “Ephiny ventured.

“Except Birdie said it ‘burned’. When I looked, there was a sign, Eph, a mark, right at her hairline.”

“The Mark of Artemis.” The Amazon finished for her. “Whoa.”

“I feel like a wingless Pegasus here; will somebody please fill me in?” asked the Conqueror at the end of her patient voice.

“It means that Artemis has marked her, Xena,” explained the Amazon Regent, “we don’t know for what. She could be the next Queen of the Amazons; she could be the next Conqueror of Greece or its greatest Bard. All we know is that the Goddess Artemis herself has chosen Robin of the Warrior and the Bard for something very special.”

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

It was another bright crisp morning in the Amazon camp near Amphipolis. Zephyr yawned as she watched me chop the last of the medium size wood into uniform pieces for the Amazon stoves. We were loading the logs into a carrier with handles on each side that Arrot and I could tote to the kitchen together for the day’s cooking.

“Are we about finished, Arrot?” I shouted to the woods.

“Just one more I think, Bird,” came the invisible answer.

“A little longer, Zephyr, “I smiled at my fox, “Just enjoy the sunlight and ponder upon your gentleman friend.”

The remark made me the recipient of a very nasty look.

Ephiny was jogging in to camp; it appeared that she had been out for her morning run and meditation before school began. Spotting me, she detoured a bit coming to a stop with a smile.

“Morning Effie,” I continued to chop on the log that challenged me.

“Hi Birdie,” she took inventory of our labors, “looks like you have sufficient kitchen wood for the day, and you two don’t want to be late for school now; we are finally beginning crossbow, which was your main goal in returning to the Amazon school, right?”

“At last!” I was enthusiastic and quickly fastened the hatchet to a loop on my belt and finished arranging the sticks into the carrier.

I felt her hand on my shoulder and an accompanying chill.

“Bird…..” Effie had reached under the collar of my tunic, and she was now twirling a small twig with leaves on it in front of my face. I broke in to a cold sweat all over.

“Birdie, if this…….?” Her eyes began to snap, “If you came here by the vines, you are in soooo much t–… “

CCCRASSSSSHHHHSHHHHHBUSHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

“AAARROOOOTT!!” an entire branch fell on my head engulfing me in leaves, twigs, and branches.

“GOTCHA Birdie!! AWHHH. Heloo Regent Ephiny!!” Arrot stood at semi attention, her bad arm still in a sling, but her good arm full of the branch she had just smashed down on me.

“Arrot, what in Hade’s Blazes are you doing?” Ephiny sputtered at the completely illogical scene.

“Sorry Regent, m’am. Just a little game of revenge me and the Bird girl have going here. Right now, I am winning. But sorry. We shouldn’t be playing around.”

“Yes Regent Ephiny –we are playing a game, apologies m’am.“

I straightened to attention as well, despite twigs and leaves hanging from every part of my body.

Ephiny glared at both of us.

“Zephyr, is that the truth?”

The fox sat by me at attention, silver tipped tail wagging.

The Amazon Regent walked around and glared at the back of our heads. Then she put her face in between the two of us.

“Both of you had better be at school ON TIME! Is that clear?”

“Yes M’am Regent Ephiny.”

She gave us a light double head smack using both of her hands simultaneously. The she turned and jogged toward camp.

My entire body relaxed with the sigh of relief.

“By the gods! Brilliant move, Arrot. You just saved my hide. I owe you.” I held out my hand.

“Happy to save your scrawny arse, Birdlegs.” Arrot was very pleased, then shyly, “ Do you think you might show me a little of the vines route when my arm is well?”

“Of course Arrot, but it’s a risky business in more ways than one, you know.” The warning was given.

“That would be great, Birdie.”

Arrot grasped my arm and we locked to each other in a friendly warriors’ clasp which from then on, would never fail.

“C’mon then, we better hurry,” I clapped her strong shoulder; we collected the firewood together, and began a quick march toward the Amazon camp, following the merry silver tail of Zephyr.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
BIRDIE BY CANDLELIGHT

A day in the life

Is only one stone-

Part of a temple

Of gratitude

A home

for the heart,

A shelter constructed

For difficult days

fraught

With conflict, cowardice

Retreat, intimidation.

Or to celebrate days

Of success, jubilation.

This day in my life

A goddess appeared,

Her amber eyes

Flashed.

Told me why

I am here.

For courage, truth,,

Responsibility

and no fear,

Of my future

Even if I am

Afraid.

But all of the days

of my life

love surrounds me.

Should I lose my path,

Go astray,

It will find me.

My family and friends

are the love

That will bind me-

To this life,

To this day,

And tomorrow.

Robin of the Warrior and Bard
The End
Continued in Rachelle

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