First, please allow me to apologize for my snail-mail pace in writing this year. There have been reasons, but they are coming under the control of Birdie with help from her friends, and with the patience of those of you who have been so polite and encouraging.
I hope that a little summary will help to “return”, and you won't need to go back and read “Gone, 1, 2 and 3 “again, as I did. (Embarrassing).. Rachelle has been taken to Abdera to be Queen of the Amazons by the Sea. Birdie, of course, felt the "consort" pull, and her own “heroic” impulsiveness and, as usual, she set off for Abdera at once without giving her family notice. Xena and a small party of Amazons and militia have set off to collect her, leaving Gabrielle in charge of Amphipolis, which will soon be under attack by Rankor and his brigands.
The part of "Vix and Phyn" is dedicated to my oldest online Xenite friend, VX, who has suffered a loss this year. Without her encouragement, (yes and a kick in the pants sometimes) Birdie might not have stayed around...
And always thanks to my beta reader, Trace the Tyrant, who is patient, willing, capable, and always supportive.
Part 10 of The Birdie Series
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard…..
The sun was rising and Gabrielle raised a hand to shade her eyes against the glare. The diminutive queen was flanked by burly men, Atticus to her right, and Argus to her left. She noted that Talus had come with Atticus for his "coming of age" exposure to "diplomacy". Atticus would send him running if the situation became unmanageable.
Caleb stood just in front of her, close enough for her to lay a soothing hand to the small of his back when she witnessed his trembling threatened to overtake his whole body.
“Pro'bly be a candle mark or so, M'Lady, “his voice shook like his body, “Since they didn't come last night, they'll be sleepin' it off for a bit.”
The delay had been anticipated by Cyrene; Gabrielle felt loving warmth for the tough little woman as she manhandled a cart through the kitchen door and into the courtyard. It was laden with muffins and tea.
“Go give her a hand, Caleb. That cart is heavy.” The boy was gone before she finished her sentence.
Birdie's best friend, Talus, widely considered the “artist in residence” of Amphipolis had presented the Conqueror and Queen with a set of one hundred mugs, hand ground from selected river stones, “S'os you can't bust ‘em, “ he had stated proudly. They had been used often, particularly in situations when the militia was “at watch”.
Fine as the mugs were, they made a heavy cart. Gabrielle smiled as the boy grasped the forward handle and began tug the load up the ramp to the wall. The bard didn't miss smiles and sparkles in both pairs of eyes which stated their warm bond.
Caleb saw the cart to the top of the watch wall and then as Cyrene commenced tea service ladled from the huge kettle which rode beneath the cart, the rowdy haired boy appeared at his queen's side again, more like a wraith child than human.
“M'Lady,” he was breathless, “Is it all right for me to ‘elp the Lady Cyrene?”
“Of course, Caleb; you will know when I need you.”
“Yes'm,” he was back at the cart within the next three blinks. Gabrielle cast a fond glance. Having Caleb work part time in the kitchen had been an excellent idea.
She caught herself gnawing at her thumbnail and gave herself a little shake. It was a deplorable habit, but it was life long, and she could not seem to break herself, no matter how much Xena hated it. This stressful waiting was perfectly conducive to her habit of beavering her nails to the quick.
So the queen reviewed. Along the top watch wall of the fortress, stood the finest archers from both the militia and the Amazon tribe. If Rankor were foolish enough to actually try an attack on the fortress, the archers would make quick work. However, if something catastrophic occurred, and the archers fell, the master swords players were the second line of defense, again a mix of militia and Amazon. The queen mused, mixing the warriors as had been done, had only seemed to strengthen the resolve of all. It was highly unlikely that the walls or gate would be breached, but if the gang had the unfortunate “luck” to do so, they would meet a swift and deadly response from Jom and the DOZ. The “hairy fellas” were positioned throughout the interior. Gabrielle felt the smile in her mind. Yes, Rankor and company would rue the day they had decided to attack Amphipolis.
“Don't need to ask that one; I know what she takes, lad,” Cyrene's voice had both a gruffness and warmth, which pierced the bard's reverie and reminded her of someone tall, dark and beautiful as well.
“Ummm, nectar of the gods, Mother C,” Gabrielle held the stone mug in both hands warming them as she sipped. Perfect. Heavy on the honey, but she liked it that way; she was allowed a few indulgences even with battle on the horizon.
“Saved one for you, dear,” a dark chewy muffin was placed in her hand.
“Thank you, Mother C, I know that those are the first to go,” she filled her mouth with rich whole grain, nuts, butter, and yes, more honey.
She took an additional sip of tea, and her gaze returned outward again, fully focused.
Bring it on, Rankor.
Our final crossing was swampy; I had tasted the water and found that it was brackish. This was unfamiliar ground for all three of us.
“What do you think, Zephyr?” the fox was nearly always my first consultant. “This stuff seems very tricky to me. I can't work out how deep or wide the water is at any certain place.”
She paced back and forth quickly. “Perhaps the answer is in the grass, Little Mistress.”
“Ok, but tell me.”
“Search for a spot where the swamp grass is of consistent height. See how it appears taller and shorter at places?”
“So a consistent height will give us a consistent depth, or that is your theory.”
“I like it. It certainly makes more sense than I have been able to work out. Lead on.”
She ran ahead and I followed, leading Hades.
It wasn't too far, before she was trotting back and forth, back and forth, her keen eyesight gauging conditions that as a human, I could not imagine. She stopped fairly shortly. “Little Mistress, what do you think of this?”
I dismounted and took Hades' lead to my fox's choice spot .
“It looks consistent to me,” I gauged the height of grass as best I could.
“Will you check the depth, please?” Her thoughts conveyed her anxiety. Zephyr would be very glad to see the final water crossing behind us.
Plunking down on my rump, I began to unbuckle my boots. A heavy weariness came over me as if it rode the breeze. That consort of mine had better be glad to see me. I looped the straps into opposite buckles and tied them to Hades' saddle horn. Back down on my butt again to roll up my trousers to my knees. It would be good to greet Rach in a fairly dry state.
“NO!” the thought hit my mind before I asked Zephyr if she would need carrying.
“Your flood,” I shrugged back to her as I waded into the marsh. The water was oddly warm, and murky enough to hide my feet. Unsettling. I like to see what I am walking into. The good news was the water was shallow, just above my ankles; however, I did not care for the capricious bottom. An oozing mud combined with grasses and the random sharp stone made me very cautions. Zephyr followed closely, her steps very dainty, a very near prance, even for the fox. For Hades this was nothing, and he clopped behind almost impatiently. I hoped all on Mt Olympus were having a good chuckle.
Xena hunkered down and studied the water. Go north to find a shallower spot She angled her head at the foamy wash. “The tide is going out.” She announced to the group as she rose. “It shouldn't be long before we can cross here.” She bent to unbuckle her boots, stepped out of them and tried to roll up her leather pants. Impossible. With an irritated snort, she stalked over to where Argo waited patiently. Inside the first panel of her saddle bag was a towel. Stripping to her under wraps, she stuffed the pants inside the bag and then carefully laid her boots across the saddle.
Flashing her famous “LOOK” to her party, she wrapped the towel about her waist...
“Whadareyalookinat?” it wasn't quite a bellow, but everyone jumped. “Didja think Xena the Conqueror didn't wear skivvies? I would suggest that you follow my example!”
She stepped into the water, “There is an underwater bridge here, but it is only wide enough for a horse, so mind your step, and do not allow your horses to drink; I don't much care for the quality of this water. Come.” This word assured Argo that her rider would not lead her astray. Xena gave a quick glance backward and chuckled softy. Amazon warriors and enlisted men were all stripping down to their, “unmentionables”. The looser clothing of the Amazons would have rolled up well enough, but nobody was taking any chances. If the Conqueror was crossing this barrier in her skivvies, they most certainly would too.
“My Lady,” the soldier presented himself smartly before the queen. “The east watch reports a cloud of dust on the horizon. We have observed it for a half candle mark, and it is advancing.”
Though she was not near him, Gabrielle felt Caleb stiffen. “It's ‘im, M'Lady.”
She turned to the messenger who was fiddling with his overlay, “Thank you....?”
“Tobe, My Lady. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He kissed her hand and then tugged at the neck of the overlay.
Where did we find this one? The Queen asked herself, and did he ever wear clothing?
She smiled graciously, “Thank you Tobe. Please convey my apologies to the troops for requiring full dress uniform; it is a tad warm for them, but I wanted The Amphipolis Militia to communicate a very unified and sharp greeting.”
“Yes, M'Lady,” Tobe smiled then. “We look good, don't we?”
“We look splendid. Tell them.”
“Yes, M'Lady. Your leave, M'Lady?”
“Indeed,” he did have extremely good manners. Never judge a man by an itch. “And also tell the troops; Caleb, you run the other wall... Tell everyone to be ready for an encounter in the next half candle mark.”
“My Lady?” Caleb's eyes told her that he did not want to leave her side.
“Honey, you need to run off your nerves,” she placed her hands on his shoulders lightly, and then ruffled his hair. “It won't take long at all; go.”
He was gone in a flash.
“Good call, My Lady Queen,” the bombastic voice of Argus was oddly gentle. “The kid worships you.”
Gabrielle shook back the feathers and leather of her full Amazon Queen regalia. She lowered her head and quickly scooped the tears away from her eyes with her fingertips. Her gaze followed the bright shock of hair, so nearly the color of her own as the boy trotted along easily, pausing to give the word.
Finally she addressed Argus, “Caleb will be our hero today,” her voice shook but she brought it under control quickly. A hard swallow, “I only hope that we can be worthy of him.”
Jubilation filled my spirit; we had crossed the swamp without incident!
“Things are looking up, Zephyr,” the happy thoughts flowed from me. “Shouldn't take more than two candle marks to Abdera.” I closed my eyes for a moment, searching for Rachelle. Yes, I could feel her spirit; consorts were granted the gift from Artemis. Did she know that I was close?
“My Queen, are you well?” Tosh, the queen's tall and striking cousin remained several steps away from the blond girl staring out to sea.
The sage colored eyes were lost in the waves; she selected a line of foam in the distance, watched it journey to the sand and then withdraw, leaving life and death in its wake. Tiny cochina shells were exposed by the wash, and they immediately began reburrowing into the wet sand. If cochina was slow, it was a quick snack for a foraging shore bird.
“My Queen?” Rachelle shook herself and brought her eyes and attention to her cousin.
“Tosh, don't call me, ‘Queen', you know that I dislike it,”
Her cousin's dark eyes warmed, and she approached the large stone, which held the young queen.
“May I join you then, Cousin?”
“Of course,” Rach scooted over a bit, and her athletic cousin was beside her in one bound.
Rach gave her a disgusted look, “It took me many breaths and many thoughts to attain this position.” She looked down, “See, I ripped my fingernails.”
Tosh took the right hand which had one bloody nail into both of hers.
“Healer, heal thyself.” Tosh shook back her short golden hair. She was extremely soft spoken for a person who could easily compete in the Olympic Celebration in Athens, were she not female.
Rachelle took the liberty of leaning against the strong shoulder. “If only I could...”
“You miss Birdie?”
“With every heartbeat.”
“I'm sorry little coz,” Tosh's arm wound around her relative, strong and warm.
“Missing Birdie is painful enough. But I actually miss Amphipolis. I miss Auntie Pony and Effie tremendously. They are good parents.”
Tosh was silent.
“I miss the Conqueror and Queen, as well. Xena isn't half as scary as she seems. Well, most of the time.” Rach paused. “I miss them very much.”
“The life of the Seaside Amazons no longer pleases you?” Tosh couldn't keep the hurt from her voice.
Sensing it quickly, Rach wrapped her arms around the rock hard waist. “Toshy, it isn't that,” she gulped back tears. “I do love it here, and I love YOU best!” But she drew away and recommenced her study of waves.
“My relationship with the sea is love/hate,” she mused. “The sea gives generously to us, our food our home, and often, peace. However, the sea has taken my parents from me, and now it calls me home, from a different place that feels like home to me. Tosh,” the young queen steadied her nerves, “Tosh, Birdie wears my earring.”
The comforting arm was removed immediately, “Truly?” the word was dry in Tosh's throat, “Truly that was a decision that you made entirely on your own?”
The blonde head hung down, “Yes. I knew it, Tosh. I knew and felt that it was right.”
“Rachelle... the elders...” there was a hush of fear in her cousin's voice.
The little blonde puffed up like a guinea hen, “I am sorry, Tosh, but I AM the QUEEN, and the elders have no say in which I pick to love for life.”
Tosh shook her head gently at her rebellious cousin, ”well, Rachy... they will believe that they DO.”
The “rescue party” negotiated the low-water bridge with the exception of Pony, who went sprawling headfirst into the drink. She rose, furious as Poseidon himself to hear laughter from her companions.
“Whatare ya chowder heads laughing at?” she bellowed, drawing a sopping sword. There was instant silence. Eponin was a grieving mother, after all.
She held them a long moment, brandishing the blade in a slow circle.
“GOTCHA!” A louder bellow than the first. She threw back her mass of mahogany locks and cackled with evil glee.
She was still chuckling as she met the Conqueror away from the group.
Xena clapped her old friend on the back. “Good job,” the sky blues twinkled, “we needed a bit of mirth. You would think crossing the water in their skivvies would have sufficed, but they were an awfully serious group for folks in their underwear.”
Pony snorted, “I thought so as well, Xena. We needed a kick. Laughter is always a great kick of energy.”
Eponin of the Forest Amazons and Xena the Conqueror understood each other very well. Whether it was weapons, or battle, or kids, or volume of voice, they “got” each other.
“Look now my Equine friend,” the Warrior Princess draped a long arm across her friend's shoulders.
“Lookatem'” Xena didn't quite sneer, “They are waiting for us to put our pants back on,” she shrugged, “I guess.”
Their little party heard the remark, because foot shuffling and throat clearing ensued. But no action.
“GITCHERBRITCHES ON!” the weapons master employed her mighty roar once more.
This time, there were a few chuckles exchanged as the group began digging into saddle bags.
Xena's “britches” were in place of course, and she sat astride Argo. “Hurry up.” Her voice was low, but as she turned the palomino's head, she heard massive scuttling behind her.
Tosh gazed toward the sun's decent over the waves.
“Vix remains grieving for Phyn,” she murmured.
“She does,” Rachelle's eyes followed her cousin's to the solitary figure perched upon another of the large stones which scattered the beach.
“Her grief is deep and prolonged,” Tosh remarked, “Does she eat and drink now?”
“Yes, praises to Artemis,” the young queen's were shadows of green granite. “I should talk to her. When one's life mate is taken by the sea, it is customary to keep watch for one moon. Vix has remained watching far over that time.”
“Perhaps she hopes that Poseidon will take her as well,” offered her quiet cousin, “Artemis would never allow that to happen, even if she so wished.”
“I can only imagine,” Rach brushed away a tear as she thought of her own life mate.
Wide open meadow. Perhaps three candle marks of travel in unencumbered space. It looked simple.
“We are on the home stretch now, my friends,” Leaning forward I patted briskly Hades broad neck. “I appreciate your never-faltering loyalty.”
“It is a good that you have certain loyalties, Little Mistress.”
I dismounted; we could take a short break. After two nights and three days of hard travel, some personal grooming was in order. I did not want to greet Rach smelling like my loyal friend, Hades.
I dismounted; we could stand a short break.
“You are becoming quite blunt with your opinions, Friend Fox,” my thoughts travelled.
“Do you remember my boys, Silver and Rain?”
“Of course, Zephyr,” I tucked the leads into a loop in the saddle and gave Hades a pat. He could graze freely, but remain within sight.
“I found that at a certain level in their development, gaining their attention required bluntness and perhaps even a bite on the head.”
“To?” my head buzzed.
“To encourage them to heed their mother who is older and wiser.”
“Oh,” I returned, “They were obviously in that ‘difficult' stage of adolescence.”
“Point taken, Zephyr,” I didn't want my head bitten, however gently.
Opening a water skin filled from the last crossing, I began scrubbing my “stinky parts” and then rinsed and applied sandalwood oil.
“Shall I check you, Little Mistress?”
Involuntary eye roll, “Yeeeesssss.”
Her nose scanned me quickly. “Enormous improvement.” She pronounced.
“Thank you, Mistress Fox,” I rolled my smelly clothing into a wad and searched out my “next to best” pants, (the best were of course, my leather pants), and my next to best tunic, which was the color of water at a distance, and clean under wraps. I then brushed my boots with my dirty clothes, rolled up my sleeves, and felt- presentable. Well there was my hair, but there was little chance of improving it.
“No offense to you, Hades, but shall we walk?” I took his lead; and of course a horse is not offended if his rider walks. This would take somewhat longer to arrive, but I would smell good.
A thought leaked into my brain as we began strolling: Rachelle would be glad to see me, of course, but the circumstances of my arrival would not meet her approval. She would very likely give me a few “whomps” to convey that. I did love the girl, but she could pack a swift whomp. A sigh. Rachelle accepted the whole of the package that made me Robin of Amphipolis, and so I did accept the entire package that was Rachelle of Abdera by the Sea.
“Little Mistress, are we going in the right direction?” my fox interrupted my musing.
“By the sun we are, Zephyr.”
“Only checking to make sure. You were in a dream world, Little Mistress.”
“Thank you for allowing that, Zephyr.”
“We are coming close; I can smell the sea.”
“And how is that, Zeph? I have never seen, touched, or smelled the sea.”
My fox padded several paces, “ It smells somewhat like the rain, but there is a different element,” she sniffed the air again. “It smells endlessly large, and it smells of fish, many fish.”
“That is quite a bit of information from your snout,” I remarked, “I wish I had your heightened senses, Zephyr.”
“My senses are telling me that there are wildflowers ahead. Perhaps a greeting gift for our Lady Rachelle?”
“Fantastic idea!” I fairly skipped ahead to the large patch of yellow and purple. “The colors are beautiful!”
I worked out a bouquet of the two colors—needed something else. Ahead were purple daisy-like flowers with yellow centers. Perfect.
“I believe that those are weeds, Little Mistress.”
“Well, I think that they are pretty, Zeph,” My hand was entirely into the clump of color when a cold chill caused goose bumps to run my spine and body ; my mouth felt filled with dust.
All Greeks hate snakes: it is inherent in us. But our country has few snakes, and only a couple of those were venomous. I have always treated our fear as a near “race memory”, for as far back as anyone could recall, parents had threatened bad children with Medusa of the Snaky Locks. If a very naughty child did not improve his or her behavior, the parents just MIGHT call the Gorgon to come and take the miscreant child away. Medusa punished bad children with a glance, and the child would spend eternity as stone.
Of course, Mama G had never threatened me that way, but she did tell me the story of how Medusa's hubris had brought her fate. My mother was not one to rule by fear.
However, it was by the lessons of my Baba Xe that I now judged myself to be in serious trouble. Occasionally, we had happened upon across the Ochia , but after Baba had killed one, we studied it thoroughly. I knew how to identify the snake by markings, movement, size, and what would cause the snake to strike.
This knowledge was a day late and a dinar short, as the snake had already sunk its fangs deeply into my left forearm.
“Minotaur Shite!!” The flowers tumbled from my hand, and I sank to my knees. Vertigo was immediate.
A throbbing cloudiness consumed all my senses, but I was aware that Zephyr had attacked without a sound.
“Zeph.” My thoughts could not connect, but the fuzzy vision of my fox shaking the snake came through. “Zephyr!” The snake's body snapped against itself in the ferocity of the swinging head and gripping teeth.
Her thoughts were savage, primal, protective, and silent. She had bitten into the serpent behind its head, and as it wasn't quite as long as I am tall, the god fox had appeared. My own Zephyr could not have killed such a heavy snake.
She dropped the body and it lay motionless. Satisfied with her kill, she grabbed the creature mid-point this time and carried it some distance away. Snakes alarmed Hades.
“Little Mistress,” the worried thoughts of my smallish sable fox returned. Her nose and tongue investigated me quickly.
“Zephyr, my dagger,” my arm felt three times normal size. A fuzzy glance told me the feeling was no illusion.
“No, child, you are much too disoriented and ill for that treatment. You risk further injury and illness. Come.” She tugged at my tunic; nausea had overtaken me.
“I cannot, Zephyr,” I retched the thoughts and words.
“Little Mistress, you MUST!” She scampered about and took my collar in her teeth.
“I will barf again,” The pain in my head had disoriented my bearings; Vision was very blurry, and all I could hear was a blacksmith pounding iron on the anvil of my head.
A firm push rolled me over, and again, and again. It was Hades. He knew what Zephyr wanted, though I did not and could not care.
My body continued to heave, producing nothing. My stomach began to hurt with the seizing. “Hades,” I whispered, “Good boy, but make it quick. I thought Perseus killed Medusa, Zeph.”
My dark coated friend had circled around watching Hades, and now she grabbed my tunic at the shoulder and tugged firmly, “Only a short distance more, Little Mistress.” Her thoughts pleaded.
I managed to tuck my boots against my butt and shoved.
“Good girl, now half again, child.”
Despite disorienting flames engulfing all of my senses, I complied. Death drifted through my thoughts; this was the pain of death, and I fancied the form of the “real” Hades standing, watching over me in his midnight robes.
My vision was fading to black, but I witnessed my fox drag a red-veined, badly swollen arm into a small creek. It sparkled brightly, which hurt my head, but the pain in my arm stabilized as a hot throbbing.
My fox was in my head , “Little Mistress, I must go for help. The cold will slow the spread of the poison for a short while. Do you heed, Robin of Amphipolis?”
The use of my formal name always made me attend promptly. I lifted my good arm to stroke the silky fur. “Not too far now, Zeph. Perhaps a quarter candles mark or a half.”
“I will bring help, Little one,” My state was such that it was nightmarish to see my dearest pet and friend shake herself slightly to become the size of a wolf with flaming eyes.
The god fox licked my cheek, “Hold tight Child. Use that stubborn will of yours to stay alive.”
I kissed the nose that was lowered to me, “Hades will guard me, Zephyr, and don't worry.”
And then it was all darkness.
“Easy....” Gabrielle felt the tension in Caleb's shoulders as the approaching dust cloud detailed itself to be riders on horseback. “Count them,” she needed to occupy the boy's mind. A tattered and dirty red banner identified the group under a black “R”.
“Thirty or so, M'Lady,” he whispered, “'at's always the size of ‘is band, give or take. Some are killed; some will join; none will quit.”
“Come, Lad,” it was the gruffness of Cyrene now calmed him, “Help me trundle the cart down for restocking.”
The relief washed over the boy's body. “Yes'm”, he muttered and went to her gladly.
The Amazon Queen squinted at the group. “The glass”, she scolded herself and retrieved it from a leather pouch. It was another of the Conqueror's inventions; certain combinations of glass could enhance distance sight. Xena had worked alongside the village glassblowers with her idea, and had brought it to fruition. Though all knew Xena the Conqueror was anyone's equal and more in battle, few knew that she was actually very clever as well.
“Thirty of them- we should be more than able to protect Amphipolis.....” her thoughts roamed. Why are roving brigands always so filthy? No time, all men, don't care. Some are killed, some join, no one quits.
Caleb's remark struck her. Caleb HAD quit, hadn't he? Would Rankor kill his own son?
He would NOT. She was decisive. She hoped the Conqueror's wrath would be enough to protect the boy for a few days.
Eyes closed, she extended her mental energy, “Icarus.” The gang's hoof beats grew louder. “My Lady Artemis, Icarus, please.”
A weight dropped lightly on her shoulder. “Good girl.” The hawk accepted the dried fishy tidbit. “Icarus, there is little time. Study the boy who works with Cyrene.”
Affirmation came as the hawk launched to circle the boy. Cyrene looked towards Gabrielle and nodded. She would tell the teen about the goddess sent bird.
The bard turned her attention to the situation at hand. The hoof beats were becoming more audible, like the distant thunder of a rising storm.
Rachelle stood quietly surveying the huge stone which held Vix. Her patience was tried; it felt like a candle mark before the elder warrior broke her meditation and turned vacant eyes to the young queen.
“Who are you, child,” her voice was hoarse with neglect, “why do you disturb me in my grief?”
“May I join you? “ Rach was surprised to hear her own voice sound timid.
The woman's gaze returned to the sea, but she gave a sharp nod of affirmation.
The rock was three times the height of Rachelle, but she walked to the rear and discovered the dents and protrusions which gave passage to the top.
The granite green eyes studied the iron grey hair for several moments. The woman wore her hair long; it extended almost to her hips. It was veined with silver and quite beautiful; Rach had seen few Amazon warriors with long hair. It was either cut short or braided; nothing could interfere with weapons handling.
Rach unwound the strap of her water skin and silently offered it to Vix. After a bit of suspicious eye contact, Vix took the skin and drank deeply. She returned the skin with a nod of thanks, and then the abyss of sorrow and loneliness recaptured her attention in the steady waves.
The young queen resolved to sit beside the wounded warrior for as long as it took to reach her. She settled her backside into a smooth place in the dark stone.
But what could she say to this warrior? At just over fourteen seasons round, Rachelle had experienced the death of loved ones more than some. Her parents had been lost at sea before she was aware. Others tried to tell her bits and pieces of memories, but she really knew only that her “provider/warrior” parent had been athletic and kind- much like Tosh in fact. Her mother had been gentle and patient. Betha had often told Rach that she thought perhaps Poseidon had taken them together, because they were so deeply in love.
When she was very young, that had seemed a cruel statement to Rachelle; couldn't the God of the Sea have left her one parent?
But then Birdie had come into the young healer's life, and also Auntie Pony, Effie, and the Ladies Xena and Gabrielle. She understood better now.
The flow, crash and retreat of the waves were hypnotic. The tide was coming in, and her footprints were already washed away forever. This activity gave her musing to the fact that while Artemis was the Goddess of the Amazons, Poseidon often ruled the Amazons by the Sea by proximity. There was little help for what forces beyond her grasp could decide. Rach shook herself from the revere.
“My honored tribe mate, my elder, how long have you been here? The tribe brings food and drink, I know, but these can only keep the body alive.”
The statement broke through the warrior's tired trance, and dark eyes trained upon this unusual youngster. “Who are you, Child?”
The voice, low-pitched and hoarse with disuse grumbled with the waves crashing on the stone.
The girl inhaled deeply, but she did not need to answer.
“You are Rachelle, of the warrior Rush, and her life mate Shell; you've come to be our queen.”
Rach could only nod.
“They were taken before you were even one seasons round of age, and Betha the healer raised you as her own.”
This was important news.
“My elder, what were my parents like?”
A deep sigh, “Rush was as fine a warrior as any Amazon tribe could have. Her life mate, Shell the Queen, was noted for her sensitivity and people skills. Members of the tribe came to her for counsel, both community and personal. She was an extremely popular queen, and the grief was great when they were taken. Since then, we have ‘tried' other queens, since you were very young, and then you were gone. They did not work out so well.” The dark eyes studied the girl. “You have the hair of Rush, but the eyes of Shell.”
The laugh lines in the warrior's face shifted, “And please, Child, call me Vix. I have no need to be reminded that I am an elder, Little Queen.”
“Please then, Vix....do not call me Queen, I have no idea of the task.”
The tired gaze met the bright eyes of youth. “I would not think so. Haven't you been near Amphipolis for eighteen moons or so?”
“Yes ma'am, I have lived with my aunt, Eponin of the Forest Amazons, and her life mate, Ephiny.”
“Hmmmmmmm,” the dark gaze returned to the sea.
Risky, very risky. Rachelle reached for the sun baked hand. There was tree trunk strength in it.
There was no reaction; Rach increased the pressure.
“Vix, my honored tribe mate, I have need of you; I will need your guidance in the coming moons.”
This time, the older warrior's eyes registered surprise as she turned her regard back to her young queen.
“The dead never leave us, Vix. Is Phyn not with you ‘inside'? Do you not feel her heart beating next to yours?”
The larger hand finally returned pressure. “You know much of love to be so young, Queenie.”
Rach laughed and witnessed a dance of mischievous humor in the dark eyes. “I know about bonds, Vix, but not nearly as much as you do.”
Vix was casting a weary glance at the horizon again. “Phyn is with me, Child.” She closed her eyes and inhaled the salt air. “I was only hoping...”
“That Poseidon would take you as well? Not going to happen.” Rachelle surprised herself at the assertiveness in her voice.
That statement again gained the warrior's attention, this time with a hint of amused surprise.
Rach untangled her legs and rose to her feet, still clasping the strong hand. “Come.” She met the older woman's eyes without hesitation. “The tribe needs you; I need you.”
The response was a hoarse rumbling chuckle and the hand withdrawn, “I reckon I best obey my Queen.”
Both found their ways down the giant watching stone. On the sand, the young queen extended her hand and it was met with the exchange of the warrior to warrior grip to the elbow.
“Vix, my tribe mate,” Rachelle increased the squeeze of her smaller hand against the wood hard arm, “You honor me.”
“Ahh, lass,” Rach saw light come back into the tired eyes, “My Little Queen, it is you who honor me.”
Ephiny leaned forward to whisper gentle encouragement to Otto. The party had been at a fast gallop for nearly a half candle mark now, and she could barely see Xena and Argo far ahead.
“It's ok, boy... you are doing your best under the circumstances.”
They had been cruising along at a steady slow canter when suddenly the Amazon had witnessed her friend sit up sharply, almost as if she sensed a message in the wind. Without a word she had increased the speed by double. The party members behind were riding forward to cast quizzical glances at the Regent, but she had no answer. The Conqueror had received a clear message of fierce intensity. Whatever it was demanded speed. There was nothing to do but follow.
“Zephyr,” something was causing my body to thrash and seize, but I couldn't connect with it mentally; I couldn't connect.
A gentle whinny and the nudge of a soft nose came through. Hades was concerned.
“Hades,” I tried to stroke his nose, but I could not command my hand. My horse was insistent on rolling me even further into the cold creek. My left arm was leaden and dead; it felt wooden and useless.
“Ok boy, I'll drink,” Even turning my head slightly hurt as if there was a throwing ax splitting it in two. I could taste the water however and tried to take it in at every possible spot. Something in my mind told me to keep calm, and keep drinking and dunking my whole body as much as possible. But the effort was fast becoming beyond my ability.
“Zephyr?" Hurry, girl.”
Rachelle couldn't deny the good feeling of success as she walked arm in arm with Vix along the tide. She knew that she had cultivated a warm friendship with the woman which would come to her assistance, no matter the case. Her contented sigh was assaulted by a grim attack of clairvoyance and she stopped in her tracks.
“My Lady?” Vix was immediately sensitive to her queen's change in mood.
“Zephyr,” Rach whispered to herself. “Vix, I must beg your leave for now; I am summoned.”
“Summoned?” the other woman was puzzled, but supportive, “Here, take the water skin, girl; I will catch up.”
“Thank you, Vix,” a final squeeze and Rach broke into a full sprint.
“Zephyr, I come!” she sent mentally, “Thank you Lady Artemis for this great gift.”
Rankor had arrived. Gabrielle observed his easy dismount, his contained and remote countenance, and his tall and straight body. He dashed her good will away, when he hurled his dagger as hard as he could into the great wooden gate of Amphipolis. It vibrated audible challenge.
“I seek Xena the Conqueror!” His stance was as wide as his shoulders, arms akimbo.
Gabrielle removed her headdress and stepped upon the box which enhanced her stature. She was careful to keep her belly behind the stone.
“Xena the Conqueror rides the field, Sir.” She lifted her chin and her voice soared in command.
“And left you, little lady, in charge?” Rankor arrogantly turned away with a rude laugh. There was a collective sound, wooden clacks as bows came to hands and creaked with the sliding of arrows into the notches
Atticus drew his sword,” I'd watch that yap o' yours, Bandit, “ his face was flushing red, “That little lady is Gabrielle of Potidaea, the Battln' Bard, and Queen of the Amazons and Amphipolis!”
Gabrielle put a hand on his shoulder, “Archers, ease.” The order was shouted left and right by the bellows of Atticus and Argus. The archers came to half-draw, though Gabrielle noticed, as did Rankor, that every single arrow was pointed at Rankor and his band.
It would only take her word, “Loose”, and the gang of outlaws would be riddled with arrows, four or five each at the least. The leader turned quickly to his men and gave a nod; the attitudes of the group considerably humbled. When Rankor faced the fortress again, his demeanor was quiet.
“I beg your pardon, M'Lady,” he bowed his head respectfully, “Actually; I may have scanned a scroll or two of yours in Athens.”
“Archers ease,” the bard said quietly, and her captains echoed the order. But she said nothing to Rankor. He needed to prove himself as Caleb's father.
The bandit walked closer to the wall. “Courageous,” Gabrielle thought to herself. He did look like Caleb. His hair was almost the same color as Caleb's, only he wore it long, pulled back, and bound by a leather thong. She put the glass to her eye. Yes, Rankor had Caleb's beautiful, almost violet eyes as well.
“I have been rude,” he continued. If the Conqueror is afield I cannot settle our issues; however, there is the second issue of my son.”
Gabrielle set her voice to royalty, “Caleb has made a home with us, sir, he......”
“HIS HOME IS WITH ME!!” Rankor lived up to his name. “GIVE ME MY SON!”
Another deep breath, “Caleb is a son of Amphipolis, now good sir. I believe you left him behind wounded, after our first encounter.”
The tall man stood silent. When he spoke again, he leveled his eyes at all which threatened him; his body language was puffed with power.
“If he is truly a son of Amphipolis, then Xena the Conqueror will answer my challenge. I demand he be released to me, and that you give me the direction of the Conqueror.”
Quiet. Gabrielle merely waited and watched, but her right arm stretched out to find Caleb in her embrace.
“And if I refuse to surrender, Caleb?”
The darkness of the smile was frightening; Rankor was Rankor, and he had not become so by backing down. “If you refuse to give him to me, my band will attack this fortress. We have no chance of winning, but there will be a mighty bloodbath.”
“M'Lady, I must go,” Caleb shook out of the queen's arm. “Ya don' want him to attack. He will lose his own life and those who ride with him before he be yieldin'”
The bard turned him to put her hands on his shoulders, “Caleb, I do NOT want to do this. We can fight them.” A stray thought noted that the boy was not only much taller than she, but also his shoulders were wide and proud. Cyrene was feeding him well body, mind, and spirit.
“Pardon, M'Lady, but no,” she felt the shaking under her hands. “I know he'll do it, and I want no part of nobody dyin' on my be'alf.”
The bard placed her hand in the small of the boy's back, “I understand that sweetheart,” she said quietly. “You are braver than most, Caleb of Amphipolis.” She pulled his head down to kiss his forehead.
Caleb accepted the kiss as a blessing. “I'll survive, M'Lady,” there was pride in his young voice, just changing into the deeper tones of a man. “I am Caleb of Amphipolis now, and I promise you, M'Lady, that all will be well.”
He turned smartly then and began descending the stone stairs. Cyrene grabbed him by an arm, and he stooped to kiss her hair, and then he lifted her off her feet in a slow loving circle. When he set her down again, Cyrene took Caleb's head in her strong hands. They needed no words.
The Robin falls;
Her wings are down,
The fox will fly
To Abdera town.
To seek a Queen
Though young she is,
And guide her back
The Conqueror rides
Her senses keen
Swift Argo carries her
To the scene.
My favorite queen
Needs no advice,
She knows that love
I watch them all
For all do know---
I will help,
If asked .
Artemis, Goddess of the Moon
(To be continued.)
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for reading, and especially your patience for and loyalty... It keeps me going.
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