First, I must ask forgiveness for the length of time between parts of this story. When one's life changes, it can turn a person more topsy-turvy then even she realizes. But Birdie is essential to my good mental health, and I believe that both of us are doing much better. It has been a long journey… just like “Gone”… but we are finding our ways.
To review for those (or all) who have forgotten, Birdie left Amphipolis to follow Rachelle to her home tribe in Abdera when that tribe needed Rach to be queen. True to her nature, Birdie just left to follow, despite the fact that she knew it was wrong to worry her family, and even Zephyr didn't approve.
Xena, Ephiny, Pony and others followed Birdie. Gabrielle remained in Amphipolis to be “in charge” and also because she is with child.
Birdie was bitten by a deadly Ochia snake, very close to her destination. Zephyr ran for Rach, and she managed to treat the worst effects of the bite in time. Xena arrived later and has assisted in Birdie's recovery.
So this begins… with Birdie's convalescence and healing.
Thanks always to VX, who reads it “raw”. And many thanks to Trace the Tyrant, my patient beta reader, for always making me better
Part 10 of The Birdie Series
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard….
“Hey,” Ephiny's voice was gentle as she approached her old friend who had retired to a small rise not far from the camp. The Conqueror appeared frozen in her regard for the stars which were brilliant in the cold sky.
“Hey,” after a moment, Xena broke her intense stare and turned to the Amazon.
“Wow, it's beautiful out here, Xe.” Ephiny's dark eyes scanned the endless celestial display.
“See, there is Draco, there is Orion, many patterns are unusually clear tonight,” The cerulean orbs followed her own long finger pointing out the constellations.
“So all that ‘it's a bear, it's a pig, it's a bird' stuff that you and Gabrielle carry on is just teasing?”
“My, aren't we the observant little Amazon,” a wryness in the response.
“I've known you longer than dirt, oh Dangerous One,” Ephiny was in a mood, but she shifted when the sapphire eyes cast downward.
“Yes, you have,” her friend's voice was lower than usual.
Ephiny decided on time, “You can see so much more of the sky, than in the hill country, can't you?”
“I love the addition of the music of the waves washing too,” admitted the Conqueror.
They both soaked in the quiet show of nature for a time.
“Well,” Ephiny kicked a sand clod, “Are you going to share with an old friend or shall I just mosey on back to camp?” Silence. “Kick a seashell if it helps.”
Xena found a good sized clam shell and sent it to the sea. “Nothing so much, Eph; I miss Gabrielle.”
“Ok, how about sharing things that I DON”T know?” the Amazon backed a step away; she was pushing, but she met the lightning gaze steadily. “Of course you miss Gabrielle; I miss Gabrielle which is why I am bugging you. She would want me to.”
The warrior kicked another shell; the Amazon was relieved that she wasn't the shell.
“Sometimes…” kick. “Gabrielle and I spent all those seasons on the road star-gazing.”
Now the boot was drawing circles in the sand, “Sometimes, when I look at the stars, I can feel Gabrielle is looking at them too.”
Ephiny chuckled, “No surprise there, my friend. You two have an uncommon bond. Let me guess; Gabrielle misses you too.”
“Come,” Ephiny stretched a bit to place her arm around the tall warrior's shoulders, “Let's go back to camp and eat. I think we are allowing Birdie out of the healer's hut for dinner tonight.”
“Can't miss that,” Xena endured the touch. “Little Brat.”
“Yeah, but she's OUR little brat,” Ephiny steered her friend. “We need to bring her out here before we head back to Amphipolis.”
“Yeah, we do,” the warrior walked head down, “We will do quite a lot before we head back to Amphipolis. Have to get the kid, ‘road ready'.”
“She is weak,” the main fire at camp was in view, “but she's a tough little gal.”
“She is that,” Xena finally placed her arm around her friend, “must be that Amazon influence.”
Two sets of chuckles echoed in the silent evening as they returned, kicking whatever unfortunate item in the path out of sight...
I couldn't ever say exactly how many days recuperation were spent in the healer's hut.
My blunted awareness noted the comings and goings of the Amazons: a fish hook in the thumb, the “bad hop” of a practice arrow, a jellyfish sting. (Not even an Amazon warrior can pretend there is no pain with that.)
Rachelle seemed to be everywhere between her duties as healer and as queen. She attended to me regularly, but she kept her attention strictly on the snake bite. I knew better than to push; I was meek and cooperative. But the fall of the other “buckskin boot” would come.
When I was allowed to attend the evening campfire to eat “regular” food, my strength began to mend. It was difficult to be patient with my body; I was sick of being sick and the hut had begun to feel like a prison. But I did not push; it was not my decision. Oddly, I often have these gains in wisdom after an episode of utter foolishness.
Ephiny was the first. I was finishing my breakfast of dark chewy, fish shaped muffins with Rach's wonderful spread when my godmother's silhouette darkened to hut door.
“Feel like a bit of swordplay?”
By the gods, yes, but again… slow, Bird… slow.
My primary concern receded when she tossed me a wooden sword which was practically weightless.
I rose and examined the piece.
“Gorgeous, isn't it? Driftwood.” Effie was reading my mind.
“Awesome,” I ran my hand over the oiled wood, “It's more a work of art than a weapon. Do you think I can make one to take to Talus?”
She held hers to the sun and squinted a practiced eye on the workmanship, “I doubt that, Birdie, but we can certainly gather a few likely pieces. Driftwood carving is about finding the object in a medium which has been shaped by the sea. Fascinating.”
I pulled on my soft boots, “It feels wrong to fight with them; they are too pretty.”
“Not to worry,” she slammed her sword into the doorframe and checked, “Beautiful and tough, just like…”
“An Amazon warrior,” I finished her thought.
“Come along, Birdling.” I followed her into the worst possible place - the center of the village near the fire pit.
Focus, Bird. Most will not even care how rusty your skills are.
It felt good to MOVE. I parried four of her advances but missed a thrust which awarded me a smart whack with the flat of the wooden sword.
“Minotaur S…'” an eyebrow was raised in a fashion I was too familiar with. “Shhhtings! To be so light, the thing stings!”
That brought a smile and we recommenced. Roughly a quarter candle mark and three “shhtings” later, the Regent held her sword in front of her eyes and bowed her head. I returned the respectful end with profound gratitude. As I bent catching my breath, a rough hand went through my hair and a water skin was presented.
“Drain it,” was the command, “I have another.”
Since the snake encounter, water seemed the very stuff of life to me; I felt the cold wash through my body.
“Pretty bad, right?” I panted.
Her hand pulled at the back of my neck and remained in light control as we returned to the healer's hut.
“Could be worse,” she remarked, “could be so much worse.” The strong fingers squeezed my neck at the door, “Lie down.”
No argument from me..
The next morning, I felt the price…After a lengthy conversation with myself; my body did roll from the cot. Fortunately no one was at the main fire to witness my limping arrival and departure, so I took the food and returned to the hut. After eating, I began a series of stretches which Baba practiced daily; she had been after me to incorporate the series daily as well. Now I saw the need. Slurping the cooling tea, my eyes were caught by a new shadow.
“So you are released to collect your breakfast in camp now, and you prefer to eat alone?
The young queen's voice followed the shadow.
“Ephiny drilled me yesterday,” I tried a smile.
“And now you are embarrassed to show weakness in public?” She tossed a pine staff into the air, “Well bad news my beloved, I am here to put your through the same.”
I studied the staff admiring the ocean-themed carvings, “This tribe is very artistic, Rach.”
She tossed the answer over her shoulder, “The sea inspires, I suppose.” She stopped by the well to sling three skins across her body. Her strides took us toward the beach.
I finally found the legs to catch her, “Rach.”
She didn't ignore me, but her distance was evident. I felt the familiar fretting in my stomach.
When we reached a clean stretch of beach, she dropped the skins and surveyed the area. Then she stripped off her outer tunic and boots. Feeling even more nervous, I followed suit stealing a quick drink .
She saluted, her staff in “ready”, “Glad to see that you are staying hydrated,” she remarked.
“I am either drinking or in the latrine.” a tiny sparkle showed in her eyes.
“Good Girl,” you can't flush your system enough this next moon.”
“Yes'm” I groaned as she dumped me on my butt the first time. Sigh. Time to deal with the queen.
My mother had made no slouch of a staff fighter of me, but Rach was, of course, an expert. I made a mental note that she and Mama G should spar sometime. Staffing in the sand was a different experience though, and I wondered if even my mother would need to adjust. Sand was soft to land upon, but there was a slight drag in foot motion which needed accommodating.
Rach was merciless. Every miss was answered with a rap on my rear. By quarter candle mark's end, I was holding on raw gut power. She finished me properly, putting me flat on my rump, sopping wet from a combination of seawater and sweat, and staring into icy granite eyes behind the ornate staff on my chest. Conquered.
She sighed, went to ready position, and extended a hand. I took it silently and was reminded that Rach was very strong. It was not something she emphasized, so I did forget at times. I was resolved to take whatever she needed to “dish out”, as she HAD saved my life, and she was… the love of my life.
“Drink,” A command I was accustomed to hearing from the tribe members whom I hadn't been introduced to yet. They all knew who I was.
I gazed at her mid drink, “Drain it,” she commanded, “I have more.”
We gained the summit of the dune and paused as she surveyed her tribal home.
“It's beautiful here,” I said softly, “But I would miss the winters.”
She stared straight ahead, “Change can be good. One grows from change.”
She was keeping a chilly distance, which I didn't push. Just wait.
“One more thing, Birdie,” she was in full queen mode; I recognized it easily. Deliberately, she set down the skins and took my staff, tossing it to the group. She brought her staff to ready, and I just caught the tears accumulating in her patina eyes.
Whap, whap, whap, whap, the staff rapped my head, my butt, my head, my butt, not hard, but smartly, and tears came to me as well.
“Rach, I'm sorry,” that was all; there were no excuses or explanations from me; I only waited.
Her decision came quickly; she pulled me into a fierce embrace. For several moments, there was just shoulder sniffing.
“Birdie, I have never been so frightened in my life,” she whispered, “you realize that ‘Queen's Consort' is a lifetime commitment?” Her embrace squeezed more tightly.
“Yes,” It wasn't a sob, exactly.
She pushed me away, “Well, you don't act like you know it.”
“Rach… it was stupid. I know….”
“Then, WHY?” her hand smacked across my head pushing a curtain of hair into my eyes. I was slow to put words together, so she smacked my head again, “WHY?”
“I…. I couldn't stand it, Rach…” my voice cracked. Very uncool voice, very un-warriorish voice. “You.. were..just… gone , and I couldn't stand it...” Great reason, Bird dog, speaking it aloud made it seem more immature. But it was all I could offer.
She took me in her arms again, and we sighed together reaching “our place”, our peace. Her hand ran up the back of my head.
“Birdie, I‘ve never doubted your heart; it's why I love you. Your head, on the other hand,” she released me with a final light smack to the offending part, “your head needs work.” We smiled at each other, “Birdbrain.”
I walked over and retrieved the items. She shook her head and extended her hand again, “Come,” she had this queenly command thing down well. “Let's clean you up; I have to go be Queen.”
Caleb had made his way around half the camp picking up various cutlery and a few generic gourds for drink, when Cain hobbled to join him.
“Sorry Lad, I didn't tell ya, but yer Da decided late last night we would stay over a day or two to hunt and smoke some meat. We are going abit low on it.”
“Oh, that's fine Cookie, “the tall boy smiled, “I had only just started...”
“We need to gather the mess of ‘em anyway, Lad, “the old man placed a gentle hand on the sturdy shoulder, “I like to give the stuff an extra wash when we stay over. You know… hot water. The boys don't fall sick so much it seems to me.”
“Makes sense,” Caleb kept his voice low, many of the bandits were still snoring away their evening intake of ale. “The Conqueror is very strict about hygiene; baths no less than three times a week--- course,” he chuckled softly, “I take one as often as I can; most days are sweaty and smelly.”
“Well, ya were a mite ‘under bathed' as a youngin', “the cook sounded apologetic,” I did the best I could wit ya.”
Caleb went on, missing the tone of the old man, “But you would be surprised at how many get the “tap” for not bathing. The second time yer ‘tapped', they say the Conqueror herself drags ya from yer bunk, throws ya inna bath, and SUPERVISES!'
Cain let out a guffaw at that, covering his mouth, “Oh thadda cure ya inna hurry, wouldn't it? I can't imagine what it would be like to serve a woman warrior.”
Caleb stopped, “She's no woman, Cookie; she's the Conqueror. Well, she's no different than a man, no….. She IS a woman… a gorgeous woman, but ya better not say so.” The boy's fair skin was radish red; he sighed, “She's Xena the Conqueror and she's earned the title and the respect of all of us.”
“You've found a place there, ‘aven't ya, Son?” the question was gentle.
“Ay, Cookie, I have,” Caleb straightened, “I am chief assistant cook and junior militia in training.”
“Like to cook, do ya?”
“I do. Didn't know I liked it, but I do.”
“Well, pr'aps ya come upon that natural.”
“Think so, Cookie?”
“Yah,” the old man paused, “Growing up in the gang here, with nought but me doin' yer nappies and yer feedin'.”
“Hey,” Caleb laid a gentle hand on the stooped shoulder, “You did good with me, Cookie.”
“Only did m' best, “ the boy saw tears in the old man's faded blue eyes, but he knew better than to acknowledge what might be a weak moment. Such were not allowed in Rankor's gang. “Wish ah coulda done more fer yah.”
“Cookie,” now the boy raised the old man's chin to meet his violet gaze, “You did just right with me. Don' ya think I turned out all right?”
Now the tears did run down the wrinkled face. “I'm proud of ya, son. I am. And…,” his voice dropped to a much lower pitch, “I think perhaps yer pa might be somewhat.”
“He's got a strange way o' showin' it if he is,” steel entered the boy's voice and he looked away.
“He weren't always so bad, ya know.”
“I know, Cook. He went bad when my mother died in birthin' me; it's why ‘e hates me.” A melancholy note entered soft voice, “I wish I'd known her.”
“You woulda adored her, just as he did, “the old man's eyes were far away. “She was gorgeous lookin'—you have her hair,” He gave the taller boy's wheat hair a stroke and they began walking again. “And SMART, she was a whiz, she was…”
Caleb paused, “Do you know her name, Cookie? Pa,” his throat went dry saying the word and he swallowed hard. “Pa would never tell me.”
“Her full name, I nv'r did know,” Cain was seeing the beauty in his mind. “We all called her ‘Cally'; yer abit named for ‘er, Lad.”
Now the boy's eyes were damp, “He named me for my mother, “ he whispered, “He could ‘ardly stand the sight o' me, but he named me for her.”
“Aye, Lad, ‘e did.” Was the confirmation.
“she musta been really somthin', Cook.”
“Oh, she was, Lad, she was...”
They had both made the camp circle now and collected the gear. “I'll go fetch water in the big cauldron, Cookie.” Caleb made his way closer to the fire pit and picked up the heavy pot. He took long strides toward the large stream nearby but turned back, “Tanks for the talk, Cookie.” He held the old man's eyes steady and then turned back to his chore.
“Anytime, Lad,” Cain began sorting the pots to be boiled but he watched Caleb depart, “I luv ya, Ladies.”
But no one heard the soft confession.
Clad in Amazon work-out gear, Gabrielle sauntered into the kitchen and drew the eyes of the Amphipolis innkeeper. “You still have your staff, don't you Mother C?”
Stunned and perhaps alarm showed in her mother-in law's ever bright blue eyes. “Well, yes, My Dear. What do you have in mind?”
In answer, the queen plunked a stack of neatly folded clothing on the counter.
Amazon work out gear. “These should fit.”
“Gabrielle, you know how much I love you, but have you gone completely daft?”
It was the first time Cyrene had heard laughter come from her beloved girl in far too long.
“No, Mother C. I am trying to save some sanity as best I know how.”
“By?” the innkeepers arms were akimbo now. It was plain that the sanity issue was still in question.
The fair haired queen executed a perfect routine which could put a person down ; head, neck, waist, crotch, knees. Five swings. “I would like for you to help me work the troops.”
Cyrene turned back to the dishes, “So you are daft,” she chuckled into the suds, “My Lady Queen.”
The verdant eyes were turned on her full force, “Mother C, please? I think it would be good for both of us, and it would surprise the ‘shite', (sorry) out of the militia.”
The silvery head lifted and stared out her window briefly, and then she turned to her Daughter with her own wicked smile, “Well….. When you put it THAT way, dear.” She dried her hands, “Jorry?”
The tall quiet girl appeared from the dining hall, “Jorry, Love would you mind finishing the breakfast dishes? Our Queen wants me to help her work the troops.”
This brought a rare smile from the solemn girl, “One condition, Ma'am if I may be so bold?”
“Of course, Sweetie, “Cyrene extended an arm and Jorry moved in quickly to the waist hug. Gabrielle felt her heart swell; Cyrene of Amphipolis never ran out of love. “There aren't too many dishes left; do you have an appointment?”
“No, Ma'am, “Jorry lowered her eyes; she was so shy, “But I would luv to come and watch when I'm finished.”
Cyrene collected the bundle of clothing, “You best should come, child,” she tossed over her shoulder, “It should be very interesting, including the last time you see ME alive.” She retired to her bedroom with a single braying honk.
Gabrielle joined Jorry at the sink, grabbing a dish towel. Jorry was still surprised at the “unqueenlyness” of her queen.
“I take it, Cyrene has lost none of her skill,” she spoke very quietly.
“Oh No, My Lady, she has NOT,” Jorry hummed her own tune as she worked on the egg pan. “Actually, she makes Scrubby work with her at least every seven day.” The clean pan went into the rinse water, “She is a wonder, she is…”
Gabrielle paused drying the pan, “She would train you, I am certain, Jorry. Or you can come to my next class.”
The head bent to scrubbing, “Oh, no, My Lady,” she murmured, “I got no skill.”
The queen put a soapy hand on her hip, “Jorry, do you think that I began with skill?”
Jorry continued scrubbing; Gabrielle realized she had put the shy girl in a bad spot. So she laid the soapy hand gently on the tall girl's shoulder. “Jorry, we all begin at nothing. Every woman needs to know some kind of self defense. Actually….” She reflected, “I believe that such is a law of Xena the Conqueror.”
Jorry said nothing, but Gabrielle ascertained a twinkle in the girl's eye.
“Which shall it be then?” the queen pursued, “I will collect clothing and staffs for you—practice and weapon.”
The last pot was cleaned, “If it suits My Lady and doesn't offend, I would like to learn from Lady C.”
“Done!” Gabrielle felt genuine warmth from the girl. Good. Get the girl out of her shell.
“So we're ready then?” an authoritative voice rang above the kitchen. The girls turned to regard the entrance of their elder.
Cyrene of Amphipolis was well past sixty five seasons round now and though she was not tall, she remained as fit and trim as ever. She carried a staff, darkened by time and the natural oil of hands. It was adorned at either end with carved owls of bone, Athena's bird.
The bard's expressive eyes widened to the point that Jorry tried to cover a sudsy snicker. It cost her a light snap with the dish towel.
The diminutive woman executed a very complicated ten spots maneuver with her staff, “I like these clothes, Gabrielle; any chance that I might keep them?”
“They suit you perfectly,” an admiring response, “I will see that you have some soft boots as well.”
“Actually,” Cyrene ducked her head in a manner that reminded Gabrielle greatly of Xena, when she announced a “skill”, “Actually, I staff fight barefoot.”
The queen and Jorry exchanged another look as the innkeeper marched out the door. “C'mon then,” she commanded.
“I will be there as soon as possible, My Lady, “ Jorry's eyes were shining stars.
The emerald eyes met the girl's with laughter in them, “Better hurry,” she trotted out the door, “Cyrene may take all of them down in the first quarter candle mark.”
I hurriedly slurped my morning tea to wash down the muffin, for I had a good idea of what this day would bring.
The shadow in the door way, stooped as she entered. Like the others, Baba Xe carried three water skins, but they were larger. She also carried the Tide.
I ducked under my cot and Zephyr pushed the Baby Tide out to my hands, “Thanks Zephyr, “ The scabbard went across my body and I realized that Zephyr had “said” very little to me since the snake bite. She had been a constant underneath the cot of course, and she had comforted me often when I had nightmares about snakes. She left once a day making short trips to feed and run, and I knew that she was there, but she had not spoken to me. I resolved to ask her later.
Baba said nothing as we walked toward the beach. I knew it would be wiser to speak when addressed. It was a relief to be somewhat familiar with the beach; I might not make a complete fool of myself in the different footing sand required.
Baba dropped the skins, kicked off her boots and stripped to an Amazon fighting shirt, a sleeveless shell woven of light leather and soft netting line.
I mimicked her motions and a similar shirt hit me in the gut, as I tugged at my boots. “Thanks,” I quickly slipped out of my tunic and into the shirt. The Baby Tide felt heavy. Deep breath, Bird dog, you are out of shape and likely to get your ass whupped.
A water skin sailed in the air, and I caught it.
“Drink before we begin,” she commanded, “Promise me that you will drink every time you feel thirst; I won't return you to your mother both dehydrated and ‘snake bit'.”
“Yes, My Lady,” Four big swallows, and I assumed a ‘ready' position.
“And, settle yourself, Birdie,” Baba's eyes were gentle, though her body language was every bit Xena the Conqueror, “We are going to keep it very simple, and then just run the strength exercises.”
I nodded nervously despite her words; how is one meant to “fight” or even “work-out” with the Conqueror and not be a little stressed?
“All right, ‘defend one',” she brought the Tide straight down at my head, and my body reacted automatically swinging the Baby Tide into a horizontal block.
“Defend two, “ this was a side to side slash meant to cut a person in half; I did the slight stomach suck, went on tiptoe and blocked with the Baby blade down.
“Good,” eyebrows rose. She lunged at me with an overhead swath which demanded that I tuck and roll, coming quickly to my feet behind her. I needed a drink.
“What are you waiting for, Bird? Press your advantage!”
…I didn't want to.
She turned her head slightly, jarring me with one icy eye. “Robin of Amphipolis, you WILL fight as you have been trained to fight.”
With a breath that was part sigh, I ran at her back with a two handed grip coming down toward her right shoulder. She left the sand into a back flip, over my head and landed behind me. I felt a slight sting of the Tide's blade smack my backside, “You're dead,” she chuckled.
Her big hand fell on my neck, “Get a drink,” we both partook, and she sensed my discomfort.
“It isn't as bad as it feels, Birdie, Really,”
“It doesn't feel very good, Baba.”
“That is because you are at about seventy percent of normal, kiddo. I have no doubt that you would manage in a brawl. Your one hundred percent fighting skills would beat nearly anyone.”
“Do you think so, Baba?” I didn't want to cry, but tears gathered.
“Birdie, I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it true; you know that.”
Nothing but tears.
“Hey,” she put both hands on my shoulders, “Look at me. Birdie…. Look… at… me.”
I just managed it.
“Birdie, I don't tell you often, but you are an extraordinary fighter. Extraordinary.” She looked out at the sea, “Fortunately, you haven't had many encounters that call for your premium skills; your mother would kill me.”
We both chuckled then, and my tears made spots in the sand. Her hand was gentle in my hair.
“We are likely to meet Rankor on our way home,”
My eyes snapped up to hers at once, “Rankor?”
“Yes,” she sighed, “I will tell you more about it later on, but suffice it to say, Birdie; I will need you at one hundred percent.”
I looked at her straight on, as one of her militia, “I will be ready, Baba.”
Both swords fell to the sand; she picked me up in a Conqueror- sized bear hug.
“Baba, I'm so sorry.” I whispered.
She stroked my hair and swayed back and forth, “I know you are sorry, Little Bird.” After a moment, she put me on my feet.
“Ephiny and I have been talking, and we think it best that she carry out ‘part one' of your ‘discipline by Amazon only.' Your mother, of course will handle ‘part two'. See, she comes…”
I hadn't noticed my godmother's approach. Baba surrendered me with a clap on my shoulder. But she held my eyes for another moment. “This is meant to help you, Birdie,” she said quietly, “I know how much guilt you feel, and that must be addressed before we journey back. Like I said, I need….”
“Me at my best,” I said steadily, “Baba Xe, I will be ready.”
Baba's hand lingered in my hair until Ephiny arrived. Zephyr was with her.
“Eph, she is all yours.” Baba began striding away from the beach, whacking at sea grass with her sword ; Zephyr silently fell in beside her.
Ephiny put her arm around my shoulders. “Let's take a walk, kiddo.”
My arm encircled her waist out of habit despite my sure knowledge that the Amazon arrow was coming. My head stayed down; I had no words.
We walked a long while down the beach, and then up into a more wooded area. “This has been so difficult for your Baba Xe,” Effie said quietly, “Artemis declared your actions to be Amazon offenses, and therefore all disciplinary actions should be carried out by Amazons only.”
I thought of my Baba Xe walking on the beach alone, “I bet she would be skinning me alive right now, wouldn't she? No, I know she would be skinning me alive.”
Effie turned me and took me by the shoulders directly, “It's not even that, Birdie; it's the disappointment, the worry, the hurt that both of your parents suffered because of YOUR thoughtlessness. Consequences are only a small part.” She gave me the slightest shake, “Why did you do it, Bird? Why didn't you ask ?”
That was fairly easy to answer, “Heard one of the men in the army say it once, ‘easier to ask forgiveness than permission'. … they wouldn't have let me come, Effie.”
Ephiny shook her head slowly, her dark eyes very serious , “There is some fault in that line of thinking Little Bird, as you will find out.”
“Effie, I know it was wrong, and you are going to give me the arrow…”my voice trembled against my will.
She sighed and steeled herself, “Yes, I am. A dozen of the best.”
Minotaur shite and yipes that would hurt. It was warrented. Be a warrior.
“C'mon.” I had heard that voice before.
I followed her to a fair sized stump on which she propped a boot. She patted her strong knee, “According to Amazon laws of conduct, one who commits this type of inconsiderate ‘boo boo' would be restrained to a branch of a tree. But since you are my goddaughter, and I happen to love you very much, we will make this more personal.”
I didn't know if that was good or bad for my backside; didn't matter, the shame was paramount.
“Hurry up, kid, and drop those britches while you're at it.”
So it was going to be some really tough love. I did as she asked and came to stand to her right side in my loin wrap. As she pulled me across her knee, she said quietly, “I love you, Birdie.” She drew the thin rod from her quiver.
Closing my eyes, I awaited the sharp sting.
It did not come. Instead, my britches were yanked up, and the rest of me yanked front and center locked in by Effie's snapping dark eyes.
“SIT.” She pointed at the stump. I fastened my pants and stumbled backward onto the stump. There was a LOADED silence while I waited and watched my godmother pace back and forth. Had this been Baba Xe, I would know certainly that she was angry. So I was quiet in the presence of my godmother's anger.
“Be very glad, young Robin that you are NOT in the Amazon camp; I would hate to see our strongest warriors draw blood on you.” Yes, she was angry.
My breathing already labored, caught, and I choked. It would not be checked until Effie looked at me, sighed, and brought her water skin to my lips.
“Drink.” One gulp, two... She pulled it back. “Settle down, kiddo. Drawing blood was the old Amazon way. It can be difficult to get your complete attention at times.”
Her hand rubbed my back. I tried, but now the tears were flooding my face; I hoped I wouldn't wet my pants; my body was acting independently of my mind.
My dear godmother, a leader and a warrior in her own right, cast her gaze heavenward for help, “Dear Artemis's arrows..” But she was on her own.
“Come on. Up.” Her strong grip pulled me from the stump, and she took the seat. Just as efficiently, she pulled me down between her knees and wrapped her arms around me.
“Effie, I'm so sorry,” just managed it before she could hear the sob. She felt it though and began a silent, rubbing of my shoulders and head, which gradually eased me, but I hung on to her gauntleted arms. They were not as big and strong as Baba Xe's, but they served very well.
Her voice was quiet in my ear, “Artemis called all of us out on this one, kiddo. Amazon discipline only.”
I sniffed, shaking my head. “That's why Baba will barely talk to me?”
“She is in a bad spot, Birdie. You are her child, and she must find a way to deal with you without offending the goddess. But I can assure you, your Baba Xe would take no pleasure, no satisfaction, no feeling of … well, ‘revenge' for lack of a better word, from punishing you.”
“Oh Effie, I know it's not any of those things. I know that.”
“Think for me, Bird. How many times have you been spared disciplinary action, because while you often TRAIN with the militia, and you possess even better skills than most, you are disciplined lightly-- because you are NOT an enlisted member?”
My heart pounded; new tears threatened.
“I don't know Effie, lots and lots of times…” my misery approached again.
She ran her hands beneath my arm pits, “Stand up... do it...” She spun me about to face her.
I didn't feel like standing, and I could not meet her eyes.
“I would subtract one ‘lots',” she chuckled quietly, “however, you are aware.”
“Yes ‘m,” I didn't feel like talking.
“Birdie, your Baba Xe is so proud of you,” Ephiny took my shoulders now and shook gently. She could shake me till my head snapped off; I was deep in despair with myself.
“I…. I make a lot of mistakes, Effie. I don't think things through to the end. And I am too young to enlist.”
“EXACTLY,” I found myself wrapped in a fierce embrace. “You are a KID.” She allowed that to sink in somewhat before she struck next.
“My question to you right now, Birdie is, ARE YOU AN AMAZON?”
It was a gut punch. By the gods, how many holes were in my head? I am an Amazon as surely as I am a trainee for the militia. I am Amazon by birth; I am ---oh Artemis-- meant to be royalty…The race of my thoughts was checked.
“You are an Amazon, kiddo, and we live by a very strict code.” Her embrace grew stronger, “I swear to Artemis, if I wasn't quite certain that your Mama G is going to give you quite a dose of tough love, I would so whip your little butt…” her voice faded into a growl. I had to smile through my shame and tears. She was very like my Baba Xe.
Finally I managed to speak into her chest, “Eff, I know I was wrong. It was wrong to just leave… but…”
She sighed into my hair, “Birdie, I know that you are in deep with Rach; I know that this coming separation will make you feel as if your heart is torn out.”
My head fell; tears were silent now.
She pushed me back and lifted my chin with a calloused hand, “But that is no excuse for what you did, kiddo. You had us worried sick.”
I tried to escape her eyes, but she would have none of it. “It was very poor behavior, Birdie, neither worthy of an Amazon princess, nor worthy of Robin of the Warrior and Bard. You are better than this.”
I wished she had whipped me; it wouldn't come close to hurting as much as her words.
But what are you Bird dog? Time to find out.
“What can I do, Ephiny?”
She pushed me back from her and held out her arm; instinctively, I grasped it tightly with my return of the warrior's sign of agreement, of friendship, of loyalty, and of powerful love.
She seemed to grow taller then, and it was Ephiny, High Regent of the Forest Amazons who held my eyes and said, “Do you swear to me, Robin of Amphipolis, and Amazon by birth, that you will mind your personal behavior to the best of your ability from this day on? No excuses.”
Her hand trembled on my arm. “Do you swear in front of our Goddess Artemis? Amazon and Warrior's Honor?”
I squeezed her arm tightly and placed my right fist over my heart, “I swear.”
“Good enough then,” Her eyes sparkled and she tousled my hair. “Let's go find Xena Warrior Pudding Cup and eat. I am starving.”
That brought a slight chuckle at last, “Effie,' Pudding Cup'?”
She stopped and cocked a familiar eyebrow. I sometimes forgot that my godmother had a very long history with my parents.
“Warrior's Honor, Bird.” She blew a raspberry into my hair.
We returned in the same manner that we had departed her arm around my shoulders and mine around her waist. It felt so good, I could have walked forever.
It was night again, and again Gabrielle the Bard stood on the fortress wall stargazing. The “work out” with the troops and Cyrene had been quite a “hit”, she smiled to herself. Cyrene had whacked more of the guys off their feet than she had. It had taken any lingering hubris out of the younger troops in a big hurry. The older members knew better than to underestimate anyone, any WOMAN, and in Amphipolis, any WOMAN WITH A STAFF.
The queen had announced that staff work would be conducted once a week for those who wished to improve. She felt there would be good attendance, and Cyrene was going to assist. Despite what they had just endured, the announcement brought cheers from the boys.
Of course all of the militia revered Cyrene as their cook and as a mother figure at times. But now, there would be a new respect. Gabrielle shook her head again; she had never seen Jorry laugh so much. She wondered if Jorry had ever laughed so freely in her life. It had been a successful idea all around. She only wished that Xena and Birdie could have seen it.
The evergreen eyes stared at the half moon and closed ; she could feel that her warrior was doing the same. The poet's hand brushed her belly gently; she had fancied a time or two that the child within her was giggling during the staff exercise. It was going to be a new experience with this little Singer; she was glad that she would have help.
The feather nib stroked ink on the parchment.
The days' cycles turn -waking, working, eating, sleeping,
But every walking, talking, breath of me misses you.
A tree struck by lightning may survive,
Though hollowed, disfigured, charred and scarred.
Does it live or despair? Its limbs cannot reach
For light; the branches do not bloom; phantom memories
Cannot flower; they ache for what is absent, what
Is taken. My soul is lonely, it needs its mate.
A solitary search through forsaken fog,
Like a compass sans star, functional,
But the aim is not true; it endures, but it is lost.
Words are inadequate to capture and convey
The echoing ache of life without you.
But words and thoughts through star light,
Are all that I can send,
From this distance.
The bard read through her words, rolled up the parchment and took a last look at the stars.
“Good night, my love, “she whispered. Then descending the stairs she looked back once with a wicked grin.
“I think it's a pig. Don't you see the snout and tail?”
(To be continued.)
Please send comments and …. Complaints for my tardiness to firstname.lastname@example.org Birdie and I
Are grateful for your patience.
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