Six Moons Part III
(In case you may have forgotten, and who would blame you?) Amphipolis has received refugees from Rome… Aurora and her son Gaius, relatives of Dax, the only Roman Xena has honored as friend. They are in hiding from Rufus, evil son of Titus. A full legion of soldiers is expected to try to recollect the two, and Xena is preparing the militia and its allies. Birdie is becoming fond of Gaius, who is young and holds her hero and she is also practicing the ways of “bigsisterhood”. Meanwhile, Rachelle reigns as Queen and Healer of the Amazons by the Sea, but she misses her consort and takes comfort from Vix, her friend and Rain, son of Zephyr.
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard.
Rachelle allowed her tears to fall into the cleansing water of her clean up bowl. They did not go unnoticed; a large gentle hand fell upon her shoulder and squeezed message.
“Ya did good wid that one, Little Queen. It was rough.”
Rach gave into it and turned into the warm embrace of Vix. “I hate it when they cry, Vix; it hurts me so much.”
Vix pushed her away and raised the girl’s head with two fingers. “Child, ya did what ‘ad to be done. T’were a vile infection. Nuthin’ would do but ta lance it.”
“I know,” the shaky voice came from the Amazon’s bosom. “Jell will feel much better by tomorrow. It’s just …. Sometimes it’s horrifying what happens to our bodies, and she was too young to understand.”
“Ay, but the poison flowed,” the big Amazon shuddered; “Another seven day could’a killed the wee girl. Ya know that.” She took the girl back into her arms, “Ya know that because you are a gifted healer.”
She felt the girl sigh and the tightness in her body ease. “Vix, I don’t know what I’d do without you,” there was a slight sob in the voice. “Birdie’s gone, and now Ephiny and Pony; I am so lucky to have you.”
“Ah, yer lucky I’m too old and fat to fight,” was the reply.
“No, that is not it,” the young queen’s granite green eyes hardened at her friend, “You could fight with the best of them, Vix. You are a gift to me from Artemis as sure as Rain is.”
A soft nose touched her leg and she dropped a hand to the silver head.
Now there were tears in the elder’s eyes, “girl if I am a gift from Artemis; may the goddess help us if she gives us a punishment…”
Her remark brought the hoped for chuckle, and Rach clapped the solid shoulder. “Let’s go find something to eat, dear friend,” some of the queen’s command had returned to her voice, “We can hope clam chowder is not in the tribe pot; I couldn’t stomach it after….”
“Oh gods!” her friend groaned, “Ya hadda say that? I’ll never eat it again, ya scamp!” She was allowed to give her queen a head rub for that, and they exited the healer’s hut laughing.
The collision of our wooden swords reverberated to my elbow. “Good work, G, I can feel a difference from even yesterday.”
“Really, B? Ya think so???----HEY!” he yelped as I executed a ‘Baba Xe’ over his head flip and landed a light slap with the flat of my practice sword to his rear end. Baba still did that to me….often.
His hair was pleasant to ruffle, and he always grinned, “Flattery is the best distraction, G, and you know that a warrior….”
“…Must never lose focus.” He finished for me with a sigh.
“Even the loss of one eye-blink’s focus could get you killed.”
The dark head ducked and cheeks reddened. I collected his sword and my other hand fell gently to the back of his neck.
“But just think, G; only two days ago, you were clueless.”
A grin from ear to ear, “Totally.”
He was a fun kid. “Hungry?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Always,” he brightened quickly, “especially for GrandCy’s cookin’”
We had spent out time together crafting nouns of proper address for him. “GrandCy” was the most creative, we borrowed Lady Xe and Lady G from Rachelle’s words, and of course, “B” and “G” were self-explanatory. “Lady A” was the only one I had to remember.
Lady Aurora kept pretty strict boundaries on her son; they were in hiding.. Baba Xe had set boundaries as well: inside the fortress and surrounding village, they were free to go where they pleased, but neither could venture outside the walls without a militia chaperone. I counted as such for Gaius and was discovering my own protective feelings manifest for the boy.
Fortunately, Mama G and Lady A had hit it off famously, having both “children” and writing in common.
I had read a few of Lady A’s stories and found them fascinating. Her work portrayed the “little folk” of Rome, the street vendors, the step-in shops, the prostitutes around the Coliseum, and even the poor men whose job it was to drag dead gladiators to blood drenched rest. One man had said he was glad to perform his job, no matter how ghastly, because it meant the fighting men were finally at peace.
I vowed to visit the Coliseum someday to see the “games” personally. It just didn’t seem possible, that Rome should consider blood baths “entertainment”. Hearing so did not improve my opinion of the aristocracy at all; I had hated Rome since birth; it was in my blood. It was not my fight though; I shuddered to think how many ways Baba Xe would skin me for entertaining thoughts of whom she considered to be her most deeply personal enemy.
“Birdie,” G said as we returned at a leisurely pace from our second work out of the day, “Why do they call her the ‘Conqueror? I think she is nice, now that I know her.”
How does one answer a little kid? Sincerely and honestly, nothing less. He was young, but he was extremely bright and mature; I talked to him as if he were a peer.
“’The Conqueror’ is an unfortunate nickname which later on became a title,” I began, “People can do some regrettable deeds in their youth and nicknames, or titles can stick. What if I began calling you ‘Stinky’ for obvious reasons….”
He giggled, a rare sound which I loved to hear, “But then when you were grown you were still known as ‘Gaius the Stink’?”
An elbow jabbed my ribs, “You better not!” still snickering.
I rested a hand on the back of his neck. It was a gesture my parents had used; a gentle hand placed such had always meant to listen seriously to what was coming.
“Before she met Mama G, my Baba Xe was a not so nice person…”
The day previous we had discussed how two women could have a baby. The boy was ravenous for every word I could tell him about the gods and goddesses, and he was not at all surprised to learn Rome had “stolen” the tales from the Greeks.
“Our walk is too brief for me to tell you the entire story before lunch, “I surmised, “Butwhen my Baba Xe was about my age, Amphipolis was attacked by a cruel warlord. Under siege, Baba Xe was the person who ‘stepped up’ in defiance. She raised an army and led it to defeat and drive away the invaders. Amphipolis was safe, but the price came high to ‘The Conqueror’. Just think what such a title expects from a person.”
“That she hafta always conquer,” my boots on his feet kicked a rock. He loved those boots as much as I had.
“And her activities caught the attention of Aries.”
“Mars?” G stopped still, “Really?”
“And even worse,” We both stopped now, and he took my hand instinctively; he seemed to know that big kids need to hold hands sometimes.
“Her little brother, Lyceus was killed in battle,” my eyes dampened; I now understood why Baba Xe’s grief for the younger boy had ripped her apart.
Gaius nodded and kicked another rock
“So she was angry for a long time; Aries fed her anger and encouraged her to conquer the world. It was a really dark time in my Baba Xe’s life.” Actually, it was difficult for me to believe my own parent had been a ruthless warlord, though at times, I witnessed a shadow drape her eyes and felt the same shadow stir in me.
We paused outside the inn. “Eventually, Baba Xedetested herself so much, she was prepared to take her own life…”
My statement elicited huge dark eyes and another, “Really?”
My hand returned to his shoulder, “But the gods are good because my Baba Xe crossed life paths with my Mama G at that very moment. My mother needed rescuing and my baba needed light for her soul. They have been together ever since, and before I was born, they travelled together and helped people in trouble. It’s all in my mother’s scrolls which are kept at the Royal Academy of Bards in Athens.”
“Gosh, your Mama must be a great writer, “ I was a little surprised that Gaius had heard of the place, but he often surprised me.
“They settled down here at last for Grandba and for my Uncle Toris,” I continued ready to wind it up, “But believe me, Gaius, “ I lifted his chin with a finger, “If someone or something needs ‘conquering’, there is no one her equal.”
He reached for my hand as we entered the door, “I guess Rufus and Caesar think they are…”
The aroma of lamb stew and hot bread hit my nostrils, and I gave the youngster a gentle push through the passage. “I promise you kiddo; they are WRONG.”
The Conqueror sat in the largest chair, but the war council table was round.
Eponin folded tree root arms and dropped her head to her chest. “Ah, Xe,” she sighed, “I sure wish I could tell ya yer barkin’ mad, but,” a second sigh, “Yer not, yer right on the noggin as always.”
Chief Jom had been listening to all parts of the conversation; he brought a fist the size of a small tree stump to tap the table lightly. “Our people…. Bad feeling at Rome,” he circled the room with the fist, “Way back… my father’s father and more back.” His dark eyes flashed in the curtain of his long white hair, as he opened the fist, “My people, Jom’s tribe. We with Xena; all. Till die.”
The big man rose then; the Conqueror quickly gained her feet to clasp his forearm in an iron warrior’s bond.
Those who knew the Conqueror well might have seen glimmers of tears in the sapphire eyes. But only one knew her well enough, and the bard came to her full stature, threading her arm into Xena’s—to assure stability in her soul mate’s moment.
The dark head lowered in humility, “My friends, it is always good to hear the words. I take nothing for granted, butthat is doubled if ‘Rome’ visits the conversation.”
“Well, just so you know, then…” Pony came to her feet. Others followed suit until the table was a loop of solidly clasped hands and arms.
“Whatever and whenever,” the Conqueror spoke in her feral growl, “Let Rome send what it must, but it will fall to the United Militia of Amphipolis!”
“YES!” the chorus rattled the timbers; Cyrene and her helpers glided about refilling mugs with ale.
Xena picked up her mug and studied its contents, “At this point I should say something grand, like ‘to war and to victory’,” her voice was soft; the bard slid an arm around the tree trunk waist. “I don’t want to say that, “ an uncharacteristically vulnerable tone, “I want to say…”
“To Friends!” She raised her mug.
“To friends!” the echo.
“To Family and home!”
The repeat intensified.
“And to protecting them,” a pause….
“TOGETHER!!” The Conqueror’s roar resounded and elicited the same from her companions.
Downstairs, Gaius and I had just crossed the kitchen stoop.
“What’s happening, Birdie?” he looked upward and then turned round black orbs to me.
I felt the fortress shake up through my feet. Again, my hand passed through his thick hair. “I think we may go to war, kid.”
The atmosphere had settled as hunger was sated by the large bowls of lamb and potato stew covered in brown bread; all served by the innkeeper herself.
Gabrielle leaned in to whisper to her partner, “Broccoli for later then, love.”
The statement froze the mahogany hand in delivery of a steaming shelf of bread. The bard chuckled as she received a private, “LOOK”.
The blonde queen didn’t mind. She sensed considerable easing of tension in her warrior’s frame. Good. It was a challenge to keep directing small arrows of light into the Conqueror’s heart, especially when Rome was involved. Caesar could too easily draw her lover’s soul back into darkness. The bard offered a silent prayer to Artemis that one day, the darkness would go entirely, whether by the death of Caesar, or by peace with him; it did not matter to the poet. She had spent seasons praying for peace but had concluded it was highly unlikely. The bard could not remember a time when Caesar had not topped Xena’s hate list.
Now the Conqueror spoke, “We shall reconvene at sundown, friends if you should like to take a walk or clear your mind in other ways.” One cobalt eye winked and it brought a chuckle. “Mother! Please show yourself.”
The diminutive innkeeper was right outside the door.
“I am grateful and I know our friends are grateful for your culinary efforts this day.” Her tall daughter’s statement was accented by ‘here here’s’, and the banging of cups on the table.
Aurora stood and simply began clapping her hands. The rest of the table joined her and the applause made Cyrene blush and lower her bright blue eyes.
“Tis no labor to serve friends,” she muttered.
Chief Jom spoke, “is hard work, make GOOD food.” He pointed a huge finger, “You, Innkeeper, BEST.”
Then there were cheers.
Vix paused her barefoot sand slogging to shade her sight with a salute. It was as she had guessed, the little queen sat on the watching rock in communion with the sea. The elder sighed and shuffled the remaining distance, stooping once to collect an unusual conch shell.
“Lass,” she called up to the girl, “Don’ make me come clambering up there; ya need to come ‘ome; dinner is up.”
Rachelle broke her revere and cast her friend a soft message with granite green eyes. She rose and began the decent. “Thank you, Vix, “she murmured, “I lost track of time.”
A gentle arm fell across her shoulders and she returned the affection by hanging her fingers in the broad leather belt.
“Do I detect a wee bit a loneliness in my wee queen?”
There was no hiding true feelings from the older woman. A sigh, “I miss my girl, Vix; I miss my Birdie.”
She cast her free arm without looking to stroke the soft head of Rain.
“Dat fox goes evr’where with you, don’t he?”
“Indeed, he is a goddess granted gift, Vix.”
“Well it’s easy to see his devotion to you.”
“He is part of my soul, “Rach matched steps with her friend, “But so are you, Vix.”
“Now we talked about this,” the woman protested.
The girl simply clutched the woman tightly with both arms. “I love you Vix. I really do.”
The old warrior ran an arm across her eyes quickly, “Well, “ her voice was husky, “I loves you too, Rachelle, Queen of the Amazons by the Sea. I loves you too.”
They continued the beach trek in comfortable silence until entry into the Amazon village.
“A legion,” were the Conqueror’s first words when the table had reconvened. “I am guessing a legion.”
The meeting was entering the second candle mark after dinner. Logistics cast a more somber tone.
“By the gods, “ Gabrielle whispered to herself, “A legion.”
“At stretchin’ total, we are but five hundred, “ Ephiny remarked, “We must pray to both Artemis and Athena.”
“Aye, we’re badly outnumbered, “ Pony grumbled.
The warrior pushed herself away from the table. “Leonidas held back an invasion of thousands at Thermopylae, “ She folded her arms.
“Xe, they were SPARTANS,” Pony shook her head.
The bard spoke, “So do you say, Eponin of the Amazons, so do you say our Amazons are inferior to Spartans? I think NOT.” No input allowed. “We need only a bit of Spartan training.”
“And who will provide that?” Pony closed her eyes and slapped herself in the head, “Sorry, I needn’t have asked that one.”
“Right,” purred the Conqueror. “I have done Spartan training; women were trained as well as men, you know.”
“I know,” thankfully, Cyrene was coming around with hot cider. Pony hid her face behind her mug.
“As Amazon weapons master, I will rely on you heavily, Eponin.” Xena felt a pinch; she didn’t quite jump.
“Enough torture, “ whispered the blonde, “your point is well made.”
“Hairy tribe have heavy leather shields,” the chief spoke up.
“Good man,” the leader said, “Scrubby…”
“I’ll leave now if it pleases, M’ Lady, “ the older man was already up, “I needs ta inventory our shields and spears.”
“Dismissed, “ a smile of approval, “It is all about the shields.”
Apollo was peeking when Gabrielle spotted her chum’s tall form in the mist. She waved and quickly linked arms with the Roman woman, never missing a stride.
The two had made it habit to walk the circumference of the fortress at least once and sometimes twice in the early mornings, before Amphipolis came to full activity. It was a ritual which both women enjoyed and needed: Aurora for general stress, and Gabrielle for stress, but also for Singer, who was causing a prominent lump in her mother’s belly.
“Good morning, my friend,” Aurora studied her companion’s features. Small in stature, mighty in heart, thick hair like summer wheat fields, ivory skin, and eyes in a constant morphing mood of emerald. No one would argue that Xena the Conqueror was bestowed with near goddess magnificence, but Gabrielle was striking in a different way. A loving heart the source, and all of the bard’s gifts came from within. She was extraordinary.
She was also a swift walker; Aurora focused on speed for the moment.
“How’s our little one?” she asked.
The queen rolled her eyes and groaned, “By the gods—if this one would allow me to remain asleep for longer than a candle mark between good kicks!” She chuckled fondly and stroked the hump. “I think she is impatient to join all the excitement, and that would be a ‘no-no’, little one.”
Aurora laughed, “Gaius did his share of kicking, and then he was a sizable chunk of baby boy!”
“He’s a beautiful boy, Aurora,” they turned the corner near Talus’s shop. “My Birdie truly enjoys him.”
“Birdie is a wonderful influence on Gaius and I appreciate it more than I can say, “ the dark haired mother commented. “In Rome, Gaius never had any GOOD friends; we were afraid he could be taken and ransomed because of Dax’s stature in the army, and then, well, it became far more dangerous after his death.”
Gabrielle slowed the pace and tucked her arm in the other woman’s arm more securely, “Does Gaius have a father?”
The march stopped.
“He must never know this,” Aurora’s eyes filled, “I know I can trust you.”
She was drawn into a warm embrace, “Of course you can trust me, Aurora. I must reserve the right to tell Xena; we keep no secrets from each other and you know you can trust her as you do me.”
“You may tell her, “ Tears were leaving streaks on the aquiline features. “Only Gaius must not know. He considered Dax his father, or the only father he ever knew.”
“Sit,” the bard drew her friend to one of many stone benches in Amphipolis. She brought Aurora’s hands to her own heart as she sensed a heavy burden. “Tell me.”
A sigh began, “When I was only fourteen season’s round, I was raped.”
Tears gathered in the bard’s eyes, rain in a forest. She tightened her grip with an extra squeeze and banished memories of a conjured dark lord.
“And worse,” Aurora laughed, bitterness in the timbre. “My rapist was none other than Titus, father of Rufus.”
“By the gods…”
“So you see, not only is it impossible for Rufus to win my affection, it is immoral.”
“And his father would never confess such to his son.”
“No, and my brother … my good good brother was bonded in service to Titus. He hated the man every step, every breath, but he could never show it; Titus fed us. But Dax was changed by Xena and Birdie, “ Aurora continued, “I credit your family with restoring my brother’s faith in decent folk. You know he would have loved to be in the militia.”
The bard looked far away, “They had a special connection. My Xena felt only raw hatred for anyone or anything which was unfortunate enough to be associated with Rome. Dax changed those feelings. She always felt to know a man such as Dax was an honor.”
“Ah, warriors….” Aurora began walking again. The bard’s embrace of her arm tightened. “Warriors are a breed apart.”
“Well said, “the blond agreed, “I am an accomplished fighter, but I do not really consider myself a ‘warrior’.”
“Whatever the definition of such is…”
“Good question, let me cogitate on that awhile,” the return. She reached into a pocket and withdrew a handkerchief to mop her brow. The yellow bangs stuck to her forehead.
“Finding it humid are we?” Aurora followed suit. “This should count as three laps today.”
“Sounds good to me; that’s our story and we are sticking with it.”
Gabrielle was rewarded with her friend’s rare and melodiousamusement as they entered the inn together.
“You have so many neat friends, “ Gaius carefully stroked the feathered head of my hawk.
“Yes, this one is a beauty,” I fed her some scraps of dried meat. “Icarus is a gift, just as Zephyr is.”
“So you were born lucky, or were you born special?”
There was a question. “Both,” I answered. “Luckier than many and lucky to be special. Here, you try…”
Gaius warily extended the meat to Icarus. She snatched it; he withdrew his hand quickly.
“Good work,” I said, “you don’t want your hand to be between Icarus and food; her beak is sharp.”
“She is beautiful,” the boy was completely infatuated.
“Here, give her another bite while I tell her about her next job.”
Gaius stripped the meat into small pieces and the hawk focused.
“Icarus, this is very important,” I caressed my small hawk’s head and feathers, “youare to fly to Mount Olympus and to circle it for a several days. A large army arrive by sea from the east. When you see it, fly home to me. Do you understand?”
Icarus snapped at the final tidbit in the boy’s hand. The shimmering head pivoted, and fiery amber eyes blazed; she flapped her wings, soared into an upper eastern current and disappeared.
“So she will warn us?” the boy took my hand.
“She will, “ I looked up again and spotted a tiny speck on the horizon. “Icarus will take care of us. Don’t worry, kiddo.”
“Ok,” the dark head was bowed.
“Hey, “I stopped and put my hands on his shoulders, “What is it, G?”
“Nothing,” he wouldn’t meet my eyes, so I did the old finger under the chin bit. It had been used on me enough.
“Gaius, I am your friend. You can tell me.”
Abruptly he threw his arms around my waist and buried his head into my chest. I brought my own chin to rest on soft hair.
“Are you afraid?”
The head nodded.
“It’s ok to be afraid, Gaius, and it is more than ok for you to tell me. It’s what friends do.”
The embracestiffened; dampness penetrated my tunic.
“You are afraid something bad could happen to your mom, or me, or anyone else in Amphipolis?” I prodded.
“Uh huh,” he finally looked up. I ran my thumbs beneath his eyes to clear the tears. “Bad stuff happens when armies march, Birdie.”
“Hey, hey,” I knelt to be at eye level with the boy, “It will be ok, Gaius.”
“Promise?” Complete trust.
Was it a wise promise? Doesn’t matter now, Bird dog, you made it; now you must keep it.
And it already wasn’t ok the next morning when I awakened to the very rare sound of my parents arguing. They had their contentious moments, but they were usually not audible to the public.
“Xena, I am a grown-up now, and I do not always have to do what you say!!” My mother sounded defiant; I would be busted in the next breath for such attitude.
“Gabrielle, you are PREGNANT; why are you even arguing with me?”
I imagined the scene .Tall dark and dangerous with arms open wide, small fair and deadly, with arms akimbo in vehemence.
“Because you are planning to confront Rome based from my hometown, Xena. POTEDIA? My parents are gone, but I still know a few folks.”
“I am ‘with child’, yes, Xena. Being so does not permit you to treat me as if I were Birdie.”
“Yikes!” I said to Zephyr, “Should I be hurt?”
“No, little mistress, there is no reflection on you. We should not be listening.”
“Can’t help it.”
“Put your pillow over your head.”
“Then I can’t hear.”
Had to dodge a nip in the nose.
“Gabrielle, there will be plenty to do here. You can back up Birdie…”
“Huh!” I thought to Zephyr, “Minotaur shite’n way for me to hear that! Of course I can’t go; I am never allowed to go.”
“Little Mistress, you are headed for trouble before you even leave this bed.” Zephyr’s thoughts were firm. “I do not advise continuing your current frame of mind.”
“Well I am angry, Zephyr! When will I be ‘warrior enough’ to actually FIGHT our enemies?”
“Dear one, your parents are discussing the eligibility of your mother’s fighting,” Zephyr closed her eyes, “May I please suggest that you go back to sleep for a moment and then, we can begin this morning anew?”
She was right. I slammed my head back into the bolster, but there was no returning to sleep. The voices had decreased in volume so I could not know the resolution.
But I was mad.
Bright son of Daedalus
Fell from the sky
Admonished not to
Fly too high-
Icarus was young
Could not comply
His father wept in grief
My Queen, my children
There are two
A warrior’s view
That war is hell
I cannot choose
Who dies and who stays well.
My little Bird has tasted blood
Inside her my own darkness dwells,
Better checked by Gabrielle
Who fights as well
As I do.
Artemis, I do not pray
Too often, but I ask today, please
Shield my family from this hate
Inside of me for Rome.
Please keep them safe
They are my home.
……………..Xena the Conqueror
(to be continued...) Promise, I have already begun!!! Comments and curses gladly received by firstname.lastname@example.org and continued gratitude for all affection for our Birdie girl…
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