Well, it hasn't been QUITE so long this time, but if you have forgotten (and you have every right to have forgotten) we last left our intrepid Birdie with a serious snakebite, Xena on her way to Abdera, and Gabrielle facing down Rankor. Rankor's son Caleb left the shelter of Amphipolis in order to save lives, even though his life with his father is very rough. So without further delay…..
Part 10 of The Birdie Series
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard….
PAIN… had Zeus struck me with his lightning bolt? I felt agony in my arm, but clarity still eluded me. Minotaur shite, Mother of all Minotaur's shite, who was sawing through my arm?
“Good girl,” I heard a soft voice, familiar, but it could not be, could it? “Nasty stuff in there, eh?”
“Very nasty, Lady Xe; you won't mind if I hope to never see worse.”
A low chuckle, “Well, kiddo, if you mean to be a healer, sometime's healing is nasty. And it comes between the nastiness of living and dying. Such is the healer's domain.”
THAT VOICE… I knew that voice...
“She's trying to come out of it, Lady Xe. Should I dose her again?”
“Nah, the worst is over, there's only healing now and that is mostly up to Birdie.”
MY NAME. THAT IS MY NAME .
“Will we suture it, Lady?”
“No, I want it to drain for a day's round of candle marks. Do you have the bandages?”
Something cool was pressed against my arm and it was held by the wrappings being administered.
“Go ahead and ask…”
BABA? Was it Baba?
A giggle I knew well. “ About the potato, My Lady…?”
“Actually, it's a technique I picked up in Britannia. The potato draws infection out.”
“Really, Lady Xe. I have heard of it, but I always thought it was an ‘old wives' tale”.”
I could feel the eyes though mine were closed.
“Are you calling me an ‘old wife', Rachelle?”
“Absolutely NOT, Lady Xe!”
A cool wrap was placed on my forehead as my head was moved into someone's lap. Was it really Rachelle?
I heard the deep chuckle that was singularly my Baba Xe's. But why she here, and wait, my thoughts were clearing. I would be in such trouble.
“Hey,” the voice was Baba Xe's, “Hey Little Bird, come back to me now.”
“Baba…” my voice sounded very far away. “Baba Xe, is that you?”
Her strong hand was in my hair, “Yes, Honey… it is I... Baba Xe.”
I heard another voice.. “And…” the tone was expectant as usual.
“Rach.” Tears began to flow. She held me tightly. “No tears Birdie; not good for healing.” But I could feel her tears in my hair.
Baba Xe rose. I felt panic, “Baba, you're not leaving?”
“No, sweetie, I'm not going ANYWHERE without YOU.” She leaned over to kiss my forehead. Then she held Rach's eyes, “I think that I am going to find Vix, and some food and drink, and perhaps a soak …”
“Don't worry, Lady Xe, you know I won't leave her.”
“Rachelle.” The warrior paused at the door.
“Yes, My Lady?”
“Call me, Xe.” I could feel the blue twinkle.
“Are you certain, My L…? Xe?”
“Ummm Hmmm, “ she left the girls with a glittering smile.
Ephiny had ridden past the guards by privilege of the Regent Tassels on her saddle. It didn't take long to scan and find Xena, who was standing next to an older warrior who was a close match for height.
“Don't even say it, Xena,” she reigned in Otto and slid quickly to face the women. “Don't!”
Vix gave the Conqueror a quizzical smile, “Are you so informal with all of your followers, Conqueror?”
“No,” the warrior princess stepped forward to grasp the Regent's arm and then pull her into a hug. “Only my oldest friends may speak so rudely.” She chuckled and put a hand on Vix's shoulder.
“Ephiny, Regent of the Amazons of the Forest, meet Vix,”
Vix stepped forward to clasp the arm, “Actually Vix of Vix and Phyn of late.”
Ephiny's eyes widened, “Vix and Phyn… we teach of you in our Amazon history classes don't we?”
A slight blush colored the older warrior's face. “Yes, that was me and my life mate.”
“You turned the battle for Zoe of the Rocks, did you not?”
The pewter- haired Amazon kicked a rock, “Aye, we happened along at the right time.”
“You did indeed,” the Regent tightened her clasp, “Vix, I am so sorry for your loss of her. She must have been quite somebody.”
There was the typical shake of the head which cleared a warrior's eyes of tears. “She was that, Regent… she was quite something.”
“So,” Xena cleared her throat dramatically, “What took you so long?”
Ephiny kicked a dirt clod onto the black boot with buckles. “Not all of us have god speed horses.”
At that moment a second Amazon warrior arrived, in a leaped dismount before the horse stopped. She looked at Xena who cast her eyes at the healer's hut.
The warrior didn't quite tear off the door by its leather hinges, but she put a strain on them.
“That would be Eponin, our young queen's aunt?” Vix commented.
There were quiet squeals from the interior.
“Yes,” Ephiny smiled at the hut, “she is Rach's aunt. But she belongs a little bit to me as well.”
“She's a fine girl and she will be a great Amazon Queen, I think,” Vix tempered the compliment, “She is young.”
“She is a fine healer, young or not,” Xena chimed in, “We might have lost Birdie if not for Rachelle.”
“Sooooo that was your signal that made you ride all Hades away from us?” Ephiny tried to keep the tone light.
“Yes, Eph….” The Conqueror began kicking rocks again.
Vix observed the regent simply wait. The Conqueror and the Regent were old friends indeed, it was easy to note.
“It was, ahhhh,” Xena wouldn't look up at all, “an Ochia bite.”
“By the gods, Xena!” Ephiny grasped her friend by the shoulders, “and she is recovering?”
Vix intervened as she saw teardrops in the dust, “Yes, Regent, Birdie will recover fully, I think, though there may be some scarring. Our, YOUR little Rachelle did the initial treatment, and the Conqueror did the rest.”
“Thank you, Vix,” Ephiny moved beyond Xena giving her a friendly slap on the shoulder.
The Conqueror finally shook away the tears. “Thanks Vix, “ her voice was hoarse and shaking.
“Come, Conqueror,” Vix took hold of the legendary sword arm, “I will buy you an Amazon ale.”
“Oh, gods!” now the warrior princess could laugh, “That stuff puts me on the ground!” But she allowed herself to be led away.
“Oh, the Seaside version is far smoother that typical Amazon ale, “ Vix chuckled a little, but kept the arm. Rach had been right. She was needed.
“Icarus,” Gabrielle could hardly unwrap the message tube she was so anxious. But she finally succeeded. Cyrene was standing nearby; she knew whatever the message's words, the bard would need a hug.
“All fine, Birdie fine.” Exasperated, Gabrielle leaned into the sturdy mother in law. “Perhaps we should try to engage Pegasus for our message boy. Oh, not you, sweetie, you do a fine job,” Cyrene fished a morsel from her pocket that was pleasing to the hawk and wrapped an arm around the blonde.
“Believe Pegasus is taken, sorry lass,” She squeezed the compact waist.
Gabrielle sniffed back a tear, “Oh, Mother C, you know that Hermes himself could not bring enough information.”
“I know dear, I know…” Cyrene stroked the stressed head. “But we know that everyone's ok, right?”
The evergreen eyes brimmed; the thick blonde locks fell forward to hide tears streaming down perfect cheekbones. “Mother C., has Xena never told you about my ‘sight'?”
The workworn hands covered both of the bard's while she gathered herself. There was the warmth, strength, and unconditional love in the touch. Cyrene was mother to her as well, and she simply waited.
Gabrielle swallowed, “I have a—connection—to both Xena and Birdie, Mother C. It's rather abstract, but it allows me to know things.”
Older saphire orbs ragarded her seriously, “Tell me.”
“I can put myself in a very still part of my mind,” the tears were slowing,” doing this takes me to a beach, oddly, and on the horizon are two stars. Birdie's life force is a white star, and Xena's is a larger blue star.”
Cyrene blinked, “That is extraordinary, Gabrielle, what a precious gift.”
“I know. It's most likely from Artemis because I am Birdie's mother, but later on Xena appeared as well. Xena and I transcend earth, life, death, and beyond, so it wasn't greatly surprising.”
“I know that dear, “ Cyrene kept her voice low and quiet, “So tell me now what Xena isn't telling us.”
Tears returned, “I went to the beach last night, Mother C. Xena's star was bright and strong, though the blue was slightly dull; I know that she is tired, weary.”
“And our Birdie?”
Gabrielle dropped her eyes again, struggling with sobs, “Birdie's star is barely flickering, Mother C.”
The innkeepper simply extended her arms then to catch her faltering daughter. The Amazon Queen knew the bedrock strength of those arms, built in a lifetime of work and struggle.
After a time, the bard quieted and Cyrene pushed her back, lifting the chin with a finger so eyes were met.
“Sweetie, both of them are ALIVE. If Birdie were……” she choked on her own thoughts, and now the bard put her hands on the smaller shoulders, “You would know, right?”
A heavy sigh, “Yes, Mother C. I would know.”
They embraced fully then, “We will have to trust them with patience, my girl.” The mother of the warrior rolled her eyes a little at her own statement.
“Ohh, you know that I TRUST them, Mother C. It's not about trusting them; I just don't trust the rest of the world's reactions or distractions for them.”
This brought a full laugh from the innkeeper.
There was a silhouette framed in the doorway of the hut. I couldn't identify it, and the sun blazed into my headache.
She realized that, “Sorry kid,” The door was closed quietly.
“Eff__Effie?” I struggled both to heist myself on my elbows and contain the immediate tears that came.
“Yes, Birdie, it's me, and you lie back,” She sat on my cot and taking my bad arm, gently pushed me back down.
“No,” my emotional need for her was too great; I pushed back up to lean against her.
“Here, tell me if this hurts,” she managed my weak body about and carefully into her lap. I gazed into the familiar dark eyes which held tears as well.
She squeezed, “you've lost weight; you feel like a little bird.”
“Do I? It's all so blurry to me, Effie.”
She put my head on her shoulder. I wasn't used to “Mama G” gentle treatment from my Amazon warrior godmother. Her arms tightened the hug.
“Too blurry my god daughter, to realize that you are in trouble in just about every possible way there is to be in trouble.”
Big sigh, “Well, I had hoped to keep that part blurry just a while longer.”
Her hand came up into my hair. “You can remain blurry for a little while longer, Birdling.”
Tears began again and I burrowed my face into her shoulder.
“Shhhh.. hey, don't cry, kiddo,” she tightened the embrace and gentled her voice, “You still have some fever and crying will make that worse.”
A losing battle. I cry easily when I run fever.
“Robin of the Warrior and Bard, rein those tears in, NOW.” She gave me a slight shake.
Some part of me obeyed my Regent's command with a shuddering sigh.
“Effie, where is Baba Xe?” the tears threaten again.
Effie's voice was soft in my ear, “she's here, kiddo; she and Rach worked on you for a while. Think that Pony has taken Rach to her hut for a talk and nap, and your Baba went for ale with Vix.”
“An older Amazon? Very strong?” My mind was clearing.
“Yes, she is a good friend to Rachelle, even though she is recently acquired.”
“Right, Kiddo. Now ease this way, “ she gently moved my legs from her lap, “Can you sit?”
I grabbed the edges of the cot and nodded though the tremble in my body was on my nerves.
Effie quickly crossed to dip mugs of fresh cold water from the large skin in the Healer's Hut.
“Good girl, now.” She placed a bracing arm behind me, “Drink.” I emptied the mug in one drink; it tasted wonderful.
Effie rose again to refill the mug for me, “Thanks Effie that is good stuff.” She finally drained her own and crossed again. I shook my head no when she waved the question to me with t he ladle. She pointed at my mug, “Keep drinking.”
She sat down again so I could lean against her. “We'll be pouring water down that throat at every chance, so get used to it, kid,” Tears were coming again, I sniffed them back. “Look at me,” My Effie, firm and kind, like nearly all the adults in my life. “There is some bad stuff we need to wash out of you, clean out your gizzard,” This came with a gentle poke at me and I managed a smile at our old joke.
“Let me look, now,” I was eased back into place on the pillows.
“I haven't been aware of much, Eff. What is the candle mark?”
“Ummmm,” she was concentrating on unwinding the bandage, “way after mid-day. I would think that it's time to look at this.”
“You smell good, Effie.”
A deep chuckle, “ Birdie if I smell good after spending the past three days on a horse, than you are still in danger kiddo.”
“You smell familiar.” Mutter the explanation.
Her feathery touch was interrupted by a shadow at the door. She stood immediately saying, “I will be back later with Rach and some chow.”
No words were spoken as I was enveloped in the cedar/rubbed leather smell of my Baba Xe. I tried very hard not to cry, but she didn't try at all. Baba cried like a warrior, no sounds but breathing and sniffs. Her hand held the back of my head to her chest, minding carefully the injured arm.
“Oh Birdie, “ I could feel the strength of the Conqueror regaining control. When she pushed me back, I could not meet her eyes.
“Baba,” I felt so tired, “Baba I was so stupid...”
Didn't need to see her eyes to feel them, “Indeed, Little Bird, I had hoped that you would mature over time and learn to make better decisions.” Her quiet voice cut into me.
“I was an idiot. I am so hung up on Rach, Baba. I was an idiot: I am so sorry…”
“Here Baby, no… don't cry,” she took me all the way into her lap, and began a slow rocking motion, “Don't worry about anything now, Little Bird. I need for you to focus on being well.” The rocking soothed me.
I sighed into her chest weakly, “But Baba I know that you are mad at me and that makes my health more ‘hazardous'.”
A good sound to hear then, the chuckle beginning deep until it flowed out in her easy laugh.
“Later for that, Birdie.. I do believe you are up for a bandage change….”
“Yes, Ma'am,” very meek.
“Ephiny began, didn't she?”
“Yes, Baba, and she made me drink water.”
“Good for her,” Baba's hands were so large but so gentle when she was healing. “Hold on, here.”
I obediently held the end of the bandage while she fetched another mug of water for me, some liquids and a clean bandage from a shelf near the water.
“Drink,” she continued unwrapping.
I had to ask, “What does the potato do, Baba?”
“It draws out infection among other things. We worked pretty hard to suck the venom out of you, kiddo. If Rach hadn't arrived so quickly, you would have been gone, Birdie.” Her eyes filled again, “I have sent word to your mother that we are O.K. It's really neither a lie nor the truth, but she will know, and your Grandba is there to help.”
“Baba, I'm so sorry,” My eyes were tearing again.
“Stop it, let's concentrate on this arm.”
“Yes, Ma'am,” the arm looked horrific, redness and pus oozing about three quarters of my forearm.
“I think that your arm will eventually be healed, Bird. Rach treated the bite well and quickly. You don't know how sick you have been though. You owe that girl.”
“I do, Baba,” tried not to wince as she poured a liquid on the arm that bubbled and stung.
“Easy, I know it hurts, but it's better than losing your arm, right?” She took a clean cloth then and began drying it. “See the blackened skin, Birdie? I have to keep removing it and cleaning out the infection for a good while. The bite tried to kill your arm, but it didn't kill you.” She looked at me directly, “You are one puny looking kid though. Guess I need to postpone whipping your little butt for all this.”
Though it made my heart tremble a little, the warrior in me responded, “I would appreciate it if you did wait for awhile, Baba. I am not up for much.”
She chuckled again, “not to worry, little Bird, Artemis declared this an Amazon offense and any discipline you receive will be by Amazons.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Yes, it should, somewhat…” she was snipping away dead skin, “But you know that even the Conqueror is not so hard hearted as to add futher punishment to what you have brought on yourself. Birdie. Hold still, now.” She was snipping away the black dead skin. It didn't hurt too much. I was strangely distanced from the fact that this was my arm.
“I don't know what Ephiny and your mother have in mind for you, but I will tell you that your mother is very upset.”
“I know that, Baba.”
“And you know that of any trouble you manage to get into, what I find most difficult to forgive is if you put your mother through Hades.”
Tears formed again, “I know, Baba.” There was no excuse to offer; there was only taking responsibility for my actions.
“Enough for now, Little Bird. You know you needn't ever fear either myself or your mother.”
“I know that, too, Baba.”
She sighed as she crossed the hut again taking my mug with her. After adding another assortment of herbs to the mug, she stepped outside. When she returned, the mug was steaming.
“Let me sit behind you,” I propped up and she slid in behind me so I could lean against her chest, very like Vix had done.
“Drink.” A soft command and I tried to comply, but, “YUK, Baba that tastes like Minotaur….”
“And you will drink it without a word every time I hand it to you.” I felt the steel of her body and the slight edge in her voice.
“Yes, Ma'am,” meekly I sucked down another slurp without complaint.
She relaxed against the pillows and I relaxed against her. “To be completely honest Birdie, you come by your hair-brained, impulsive, heroic tendencies quite naturally.”
The tea was easing everything about me, “What did you do, Baba?” Couldn't stifle a yawn.
“I think there will be plenty of time to tell you some tales, Birdling,” she wrapped her arms around me tightly. “You just lie still, turn that brain off, and let the tea work its sleeping magic.”
“Yes, Ma'am, “I whispered as my head nodded against her shoulder. I was in “very respectful” mode even as the night took me. No sense in making things worse.
Rankor raised his right hand to signal all stop for evening camp. Caleb had to admire the discipline with which a band of killers and thieves set about the settling for the night.
“Come Lad,” Cookie appeared at his mount, “I got permission for ya to ‘elp me.
Lids covered the violet eyes in gratitude to the gods, “thanks, Cookie.” He began the painful task of dismounting. Yesterday he could barely slide from the horse; the swelling and sorted bruises from the beating did not fare well in the saddle for a day. He slowly swung his right leg across the saddle. Cookie's hand steadied him as he dropped to the earth.
“Ahhhh,” he blinked, “Think I'm abit better, Cookie, not nearly so stove up.”
“Aye, well walk stove up if ya know what's good for ya,” The old man's graveled voice cautioned, “Don't need ta be signalin” Rankor that ya can take another one.”
Caleb added an extra hitch to his steps, yet he could not take his eyes away from his father. Since the initial beating, (which was the rule for a deserter to the band) Rankor had been strangely lenient with him. This was in some ways, more frightening to him than any physical harm Rankor could deal. No hope; never hope.
“Taters,” the old fellow pointed to a rumpled sack and handed him a small knife. Dragging the dusty sack to perch carefully on a log, he began rooting through the potatoes, cutting off any parts that were still good, and tossing them into the main pot already steaming on a well laid fire. Though the work was simple, for the first time since he had been taken at Amphipolis, Caleb felt some easing of the tension which had gripped him like the hand of Zeus himself. This was familiar, and Cook was standing for him; perhaps he might survive. He watched the band practicing sword play; if he had his sword, he could show them some moves. Nah, his sensible side spoke, that would only annoy his Da. Da was alpha wolf of this pack; that could never be challenged. Best leave that thought behind. Caleb raised a dusty hand to move his unruly hair out of his eyes. There, a small golden hawk circled. Ya, send that thought wit da bird.
Gabrielle stood alone on the city wall watching the night come. The numerous and varied birds that made the giant oak their homes were landing on different branches. Ok. patina eyes fluttered closed and the bard slowed her breathing.
At first she was startled by the soothing Ohummm which resonated throughout her body. Her sight had never used sound effects before. The expectant mother opened her eyes as she steadied herself on the wall with one hand and allowed the other to fall gently to her belly.
“Thank you, Little Singer,” she whispered, “ You have become quite a source of comfort to me and quickly.”
No words this time, only the steady ohmmmmm, and Gabrielle walked the beach of her sight barefooted in the waves. Xena's star the highest and largest was brighter, but thank the gods, so was Birdie's. Tears seeped through her closed lashes….. something new? Yes, a tiny emerald colored star.
Her own emerald orbs opened to give gentle regard once again to her belly. She was beginning to show now, and she caressed the tiny lump tenderly, “Is that you, My Little Singer? Is that your life force glittering now on my beach?”
“Yes, Mama,” no resonation from her belly, but she was sure the wind whispered the words as it tousled her own wheat hair.
The words came quickly then:
Good night, My Love, My Soul, My life,
Come home soon and into my arms.
May Artemis keep you as you ride.
Good Night, My child, My heart, My own,
Please know that your mother loves you
And needs you safe, so far from home
Good Night, Little Singer, My Comfort, My light,
I had no idea of the gift I carry.
Your presence steadies me deep inside.
Good Night, My Goddess, My teacher, my guide
My family, my friends, and our Caleb too,
Please spread your great arms over all tonight
Good Night, Good Night all stars shining bright
Let none forget the power above and trust that
To guide all home under the same starlight.
Gabrielle looked then to the stars, studying every single star within her vision, “Good Night, My Love, Good Night My Children, and all thanks to you, Mother Artemis.” The bard turned and descended the stone stairs into Amphipolis.
(to be continued) PROMISE!!! Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you for your patience and support. Special thanks, as always to Trace the Tyrant, who keeps me on the path, and to VX… thank you “forever and always”.
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