Six Moons Part IV
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard.
At this point in my song, I have never referred to the armory except as the main setting where Baba Xe doled out my discipline. In fact, it was a place which was otherwise very useful. All armor was stored and maintained there, and in the rear of the building was the forge. Somewhere in the depths of the Conqueror’s mind, either from her vast reading on the subject of war, or from a battle she had either witnessed or fought, she got the notion that a shield should serve as more than just an instrument of protection. Most shields had only one hand hold affixed to the back. Baba Xe reasoned that a second handle would fasten the shield to both the wrist and forearm. If then a bit of edge was ground at the bottom of the shield, it could become a convenientdeterrent when whirled in a circle. The militia was not a large army; they were always outnumbered, so a warrior, finding himself surrounded, could simply spin like a dancer and injury could be done to several opponents in a singular motion..
Atticus was the main blacksmith for the militia, and it was he who I was involved with today.
“Tis ok, Birdie, t’would try the patience of a goddess.”
“Give me one more chance, Atticus,” I was determined to overcome my innate jumpiness at this.
Atticus gave the billows a blow and fetched an iron handle from the flames. I received it carefully in my gloved tongs and held it to the shield. This time I kept my focus when he brought his heavy hammer down on the glowing ends. After about six blows to each end, he picked up the shield in both hands to dunk it in cold water. Steam rose from the tub.
“Ay, there ya are!” He was pleased, “Good work, Birdie. I told ya the fire was only sparks.”
My heart smiled with a bit of pride. This had been a tricky business for me, but the shield improvements were vital to the militia, and I wanted to contribute in any way possible to prove my courage , my usefulness, to Baba Xe.
“This is so cool,” I remarked picking up a smaller shield. “With bands for the hand and the forearm, the shield is a formidable weapon too.” I brandished the shield in a circle; it was like throwing a chakram minus the release.
“I can finish these big fellows m’self, Birdie, “ Atticus directed me with his tongs, “They are gonna take two rounds anyway. Why don’t you go back to sharpenin’? Bet Talus would welcome your company.”
“Yes, Sir,” I was glad to get away from the heat, “You stay hydrated, Sir. Do you need more water yet?”
He glanced to his right, “Yeah, I could do with another bucket before you leave.”
It was a sizable bucket, and it took three drawings to fill it from the well. Despite my best intentions, water slopped on my boots as I hauled it to the blacksmith.
“Thanks, Birdie,” He kissed the top of my head. His lips were the only part of his body that weren’t black. I drew three dippers of water for him which he quickly chugged; I resolved to return every half candle mark to check on him. Atticus was a tough old bird, yet that did not change my first memory of him as an injured soldier.
Talus was in a different part of the armory, cooler, but certainly noisy in its own way.
“Would you like me to pump for you, Talus?”
A relieved grin was my answer. I took his place and began working the foot pedal spinning a whetstone the size of a wagon wheel. A strong adult could work the wheel rather easily, but for those of us yet to gain full weight, it required cussed willpower. My taking over the pedal allowed Talus to move opposite me and to concentrate on his work: the sharpening of metal shields.
“I will spell you in a bit, “ I yelled above the whining of metal to stone, “You are bound to be tired.” The nearby water bucket with dipper served two purposes here, for thirst and for cooling the friction of steel on stone. We did three shields; I knew Talus was far better at the sharpening part; his artistic hands were steadier, even with his handicapped finger.
“I’d rather do this if you don’t mind, Bird,” he answered, “I am pumped out and more weary of trying to do both.”
“Fine,” I poured a dipper of water on the spinning stone, “Say the word.” I knew next to nothing of shields as arms and was fascinated by the entire idea. But a singular sharpened edge transformed the shield into a lethal weapon. Perhaps not so finely tuned as a sword, but this work made two weapons per soldier and those who carried javelins had three. I had been practicing my throws with a light sharpened stick, and Baba Xe had seemed pleased with my progress. I was glad to add the skill to my collection although sword, chakram, shield, javelin, and bow and arrows could not be used practically without Hades to carry the burden.
My thoughts were interrupted by Talus,” Ho, Bird,” he sighed, “ let’s take a break.”
Both of my legs were already tired, so agreeing was easy.
We sat together on a bench.
“B’wanthaf?” Talus had stuffed almost an entire half of his sandwich in his mouth.
“I’m good…” The guy was starving.
“S’ corn bmeef.”
“Talus, just eat, my friend; I had a big breakfast.”
“Mme too,” Talus was growing every day it seemed. He was almost a full head taller than I and he was skinny as a sword; he could not be full.
“Papa says I will be big as he is. Think so, Bird?”
“You are already almost as tall, Tal…”
“What happened to you? Got the shorts?”
That deserved an arm punch, which I delivered.
“Mama says I am not likely to grow much bigger, But GrandBa says Baba Xe never quit growing.”
He washed down the sandwich with two dippers of water. Then he gave my back a pat.
“Perhaps ya won’t have to defend ME anymore, not that I’m not grateful ya did when we wuz younger.”
“You are my friend…. Oldest and dearest, Talus. I am always in your corner.”
He gave me a smelly sideways hug, “Phew, Talus, I said nothing of smell.”
We laughed then and after big swigs of water, continued our work.
“Lookin’ for a new challenge?”
Rachelle sighed, this opening remark from Vix often boded ill. But she was Queen and determined to fulfill her duties.
“What is it, Vix? Come.” Her friend crossed the Queen’s hut and sat down on a driftwood stool. Rach had crossed to pour two mugs of tea; the morning sea breezes had become chillier and forecast the change of seasons.
“Thankya luv,” Vix sipped the hot cinnamon flavor, “Ah that warms the bones,” she declared.
“Keeps you healthy, too, “ Rach took a lengthy sniff of hers and then held the mug to warm her hands. “What’s up?”
“ ‘Adabit of misbehavior,” Vix sighed, “Two of our younger ones, ‘Dash and Flow’.”
“The twins? I think I’d be misbehaving too if the fates had laid such names on me.”
Vix chuckled, “Ay, their names are not sounded like the highest bar.”
“What did they do?”
“Public drunkenness- in the village.”
“Really,” the Queen’s eyebrows lifted, “Yes, that is misbehavior; the tribe’s relationship with the village is important.”
“Well, ‘tis a matter for the Queen, for sure.”
“What did they do?”
“Just general fallin’ down drunk and disorderly, ya know? Them twins have always been more than their Ma could handle.”
“Vix, I am younger than they are; how can I judge them?”
“Age has nuthin’ to do with it, Little Queen; judging is more about wisdom, and ya got plenty of that for someone young.”
“Are there witnesses to their behavior?”
“A few, yes, M’Lady.”
“Let me think about it; call court to convene for them tomorrow afternoon.” Rach hastily quilled the summons on parchment and handed it to her friend.
“Post this at the big kettle, and then please come back to me so we can talk about this.”
“Always at your service, My Queen.”
I had been training with the troops. I was as good with a spear, shield and sword as any of them. The only disadvantage was my size; I just wasn’t as big or strong as most of the men. Today would be a telling day; Baba was dividing the militia into two teams to scrimmage... a test of their newly acquired Spartan skills.
I ate a light breakfast desiring to be lean and mean for the trial. Rising quickly, I turned to run upstairs.
“Birdie,” Baba’s big hand was on my shoulder. “Why don’t you take Gaius to the swimming hole today?” She looked over my head almost preoccupied, which was good since my entire being was furious.
“But Baba, today is important on the practice field, Baba?” a near whimper.
“The weather will soon change and this may be the last day you can swim. Gaius would love it don’t you think?”
“Hey B!!!” the bouncy voice came from the bouncy boy. “Hey B, they tell me we can go roaming today and perhaps swimming? I have to admit, swimming is the only thing I miss about Rome. Cool, huh?”
Baba’s big hands turned me in the direction of the voice. Above the boy’s dark hair stood Mama G and Aurora on the staircase. So it had all been decided.
“I packed a wallopin’ good lunch for you two growing gazelles,” Grandba added, cheerfully patting a folded bundle. Even Grandba.
This would be no time to argue. A scene could only end with Baba taking me to the armory, and that would scar the absolute worship which shown in my little friend’s eyes.
“All right,” I sighed, “Let me grab a few things from my room. Gaius, would you fill a few water skins for us?”
“Sure, Bird,” I’ll be waiting for you outside,” he fairly hopped over the kitchen stoop to the courtyard.
Furthermore, to argue would disappoint my young charge. They had me.
Looking at no adult, I strode up the staircase. My mother stopped me a stair below her and kissed my forehead, “Good girl,” she whispered.
Her affirmation did not stop the angry tears welling which I slung away as I gathered my sword and chakram. Zephyr looked at me solemnly.
“Little Mistress, I know that you are hurt, but it is for the best, “her voice was soft in my mind.
“I know it,” Hers were the first eyes I could meet, “But it is still very disappointing.”
“I know, love,” she said, “but I am very proud of you for not protesting.”
“You obviously didn’t read my mind,” I choked out. “Disappointing” was a gods be damned understatement.
“Yes I did,” her furry head came under my hand, “and I am proud of you.”
“Oh Zephyr,” I knelt and burrowed into her fur, “When will I finally be a warrior?”
“Come,” she said, “It matters not to you, but I am glad you will not go to war.”
It sounded so simple when she said it. Why must my heart and instincts always be at such odds?
The entire tribe had filed in and around the fire circle where court would be held for the errant twins.
Rachelle sat in the queen’s chair. Only Vix’s steadying presence kept her from being lightheaded.
There had been several eyewitnesses, as well as reports from the village. The behavior described was indeed atrocious. It didn’t take the “wisdom” of a queen to see that. It was also apparent that the girls were not contrite. Their mother, Char, a well-respected “gatherer” for the tribe was in tears as she described her futile attempts to control the girls and how disrespectful they were.
It was obvious to Rach that restriction of some nature was a must; the majority of amazon faces she beheld showed anger and disgust. Something had to be done.
She rose from her chair and began to pace. Rain, her faithful fox stuck by her side.
“I have discussed this matter at length with many elders of the tribe. This is the first court of my “queendom”, she smiled, “for lack of a better word. “It is apparent that you girls need attention. You are fortunate that Amazons banned flogging quite some time ago, or you would feel more attention than you wish, I assure you.”
Her statement received a double smirk. It rankled the queen; she had whomped on her own Birdie for far less.
“l did learn about creative discipline during my time in Amphipolis, so dear twins, I am remanding you to ‘’fertilizer duty’ for the next full moon. This means you are in charge of cleaning the horse yard and spreading the waste appropriately into the common garden. That will happen daily. In addition during this time you will clean, bury or burn the leavings of the tribe’s latrine and build a new one, a nicer one, I think...” She paused. Two pairs of dark eyes were firing arrows at her.
Rach stood still facing the tribe, “I also command that from this day, until you are ready to leave your mother’s hut, you will serve her in the manner she has earned. That means bringing her meals in hut if she wishes, cleaning the hut, caring for her horse and seeing that there is always fresh water available.”
She inhaled and lifted her eyes. “I charge this entire tribe to monitor the behavior of these girls at all times, but most especially,to monitor how they treat their mother. Now KNEEL BEFORE YOUR QUEEN.”
Even Vix was surprised at her friend’s rock steady assertiveness. What was even more surprising was that the twins knelt.
Rachelle, Queen of the Amazons by the Sea looked down at the girls.
“See that you do as commanded by your queen,” she said softly, “Testing me is not advisable.”
“Yes, My Lady, “ two soft whispers.
Rach looked out at the tribe. There were many smiles.
“Court is dismissed at this time; if problems continue, I shall not hesitate to reconvene.”
“My Lady, My Lady....” the tribe returned to daily chores.
Rach made it to her hut before she retched. She sat down on her cot trying to still her spinning vision.
“Here little queen, drink this, “ a mug of steaming mint tea was placed in her hands.
“Thank you, Vix,” she whispered and sipped, “Oh, that helps; thank you friend.”
“Girl,” her elder’s voice swelled with pride, “Ya done good.”
I had quite a bit more fun with Gaius at the swimming hole than I intended to have. There was just no way to sulk in the company of one who adores you. And It was a good break. Hades enjoyed the longer trip and stretched his legs; Zephyr streaked along with us; just flashes of black and silver in the tall autumn grass.
We did all the standard tricks done when one is young and in water. Gaius’s favorite was when I would dunk down deep so he could stand on my shoulders. Then I would burst up like a geyser tossing him head over butt who knows where. The reward was his intensifying giddy giggles even when we were both worn out.
We had lunch; (Thanks Grandba!), and had sprawled back to take the sun induced nap. We would have to start home soon; Baba Xe had been quite adamant about our required return before dark. Hades and Wendy remained nearby grazing lazily.
A soft ‘whuffing’ sound awakened me at full alert. I felt the presence of a rarely seen, but often spoken of Greek brown bear. I forced myself to make no motion but listen. There was a whining bawling sound which confirmed my worst imaginings; there was a cub. Minotaur Shite!!
I reached out to Zephyr; thanks be to Artemis I did not need to speak; she led the horses a safe distance away. She did not want to leave me, but I assured her I would call if her help was needed.
“Little Mistress, I am going to trust you,” she spoke into my mind, “I will watch the horses, but you must call for me.”
Now. I squeezed the boy’s smaller hand and spoke softer than a whisper.
“Gais, wake up, but do not move.”
His dark eyes leaped open, and his hand trembled in mine. I banished a memory of Baba Xe saying similar word to me, “we are in trouble...” when the Romans took us.
“We have a situation, but if you do exactly what I say, we should be ok. Squeeze if you understand.”
My hand felt the pressure.
“When I say ‘go’, I want you to run as fast as you can to the swinging tree and climb as high as you can. Do not look back, no matter what you hear; Do not look until you are as high in that tree as a bird, understand?”
“What about you, Birdie?’
“I will be ok. I am of Artemis, and bears are of Artemis, so we should be able to work it out. Give me just a moment now and then on my mark, you scamper your butt up that tree, got it?”
I hoped I was up to the trust the kid placed in me.
“Mother Artemis,” my eyes were closed and my heart spoke, “My Lady, I need your help if you will lend it.”
The goddess entered my mind’s eye immediately. She was as striking as ever, clothed in purple and turquoise, mahogany skin, and amber eyes framed by ebony and silver hair.
“It’s been awhile, Little Bird, “ she spoke, “You know you needn’t always wait until you are in trouble to call on me.”
I blushed, abashed, which she alleviated immediately. “But this was a very good time to call, and I commend you for it, Birdie.”
“Thank you, My Lady.”
There was a slight squeeze of my hand; poor Gaius. I simply nodded slowly negatively and he remained still.
“Tell me what you intend to do and I will supplement it if necessary, little one.”
“My first concern is the boy, My Lady. I have directed him to shimmy up the tree on my mark.”
“Good so far, but then....”
Yeah, bird dog, but THEN?
“I will follow as best I am able, but his safety is paramount.”
“Good Girl, “ the goddess approved, “But it is not likely you will make the tree without mother bear noticing you.”
“I was afraid you would say that. I do not wish to harm her, My Lady, I couldn’t even if I wanted to because my weapons went with the horses. (DUH! Bird) But regardless, I would give my life for the boy’s safety.”
“My Little Bird is growing up,” there was warmth in the goddess’s voice which soothed my anxiety. “Let me speak to the bear.”
“One more second, Gaius, hold on, kid.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Trust me, Gaius. The mark will be soon.”
The presence shimmered into my mind again.
“My Lady,” I waited.
“Mother Bear has no wish to harm you or your little friend, Birdie. She does have trust issues with mankind and thus may make a show.”
“Make no eye contact; your only wish is to join Gaius in the tree.”
“Yes, My Lady.”
“The she bear is thirty paces behind your head. You will need to block her to insure the boy’s safety. If she finds you brave enough, she will allow you safety as well. If you threaten her or her cub, she is very likely to try to kill you.”
“I understand, My Lady.”
“Then commence, child. I bless you.”
I sprang to my feet, reaching for my sword which wasn’t there. Gaius’s footsteps ended, so I knew he was ascending the tree.
The bear erected herself on her hind legs. She was big. Though I kept my eyes downcast, she bellowed a chilling roar. Then she came down to all fours and began swinging her head back and forth. Her claws were terrifying; one swipe could disembowel me.
“Now, child. RUN!!”
I ran; I did not look back; I put complete faith in My Lady Artemis and Mother Bear. It was very difficult because I sensed hot heavy breath nearing me.
“Giving you a boost, Birdie.”
What felt like an enormous hand scooped under my butt and flung me high ‘ I managed to grab the branch near Gaius.
“Birdie, you FLEW!” he exclaimed.
“Fear, kiddo,” I said quietly, “Fear can do amazing things.”
Eyes closed I whispered, “Thank you, My Dear Lady, Thank you.”
I listened to the goddess address the bear, “Friend Bear, these young ones mean you no harm. They are like your own cub, frightened and defenseless. The girl is my own child.”
The bear cub came to nuzzle its mother and I was surprised and honored to hear the she bear’s voice.
“Tell the girl, I will be her ‘Mecho”; she has a new friend. If she needs me, she needs only to call ‘Mecho’.”
“I bless you, Mecho and cub,” Artemis said gravely, “Go home in peace and find your dinner gathered and waiting for you.”
The bear rose up again and touched her nose to the black and silver hair. “Gratitude, My Lady Goddess of the Wild. Gratitude.”
I climbed down quickly and turned to lend a hand to Gaius, “My gratitude as well, My Lady. My deepest gratitude.”
There was a chuckle like thunder, “You are welcome dear one,” she looked above my head, “Zephyr returns leading your horses. If you ride hard, you can be home before the Conqueror’s deadline.”
“Thank you again, “ I breathed, “It would be an unkind end to escape a bear, only to be skinned by Baba Xe.”
“There are all kinds of bears in this life, Birdie, “ The goddess’s laughter faded, “You will learn.” And her image faded away.
“Birdie?” Gaius began.
“I will tell you on the way home, kiddo. Hop on Wendy and hang on.”
“Ok,” he swung up on Mama G’s paint, “It was an awesome day, Birdie.”
“I have to agree, G,” Hades felt so big and strong after I had felt small and weak.
“But let’s work on how we will tell this story, Buddy.”
“We want to communicate this adventure carefully, so that it does not scare any of our ‘grown ups’.”
“Oh, I get it now,” he grinned, “Start talking.”
It was growing dark and an anxious bard walked to the practice fields.
Xena felt her arrival and trotted over. Gabrielle said nothing but ran gentle finger tips over the numerous, bleeding graze wounds on her warrior.
“What? Is Birdie not back?” The Conqueror was in full mode.
“She’s been back for candle marks; we are all wondering when you will break for the day and come to supper...”
“We may never eat again,” Definitely full mode.
“Xena...” moving into a sensitive, REALLY sensitive chat. “Xena, you are exhausted and bleeding. I am sure if you are in this state, your militia is close to collapse.”
“We are not getting it right. There are holes in the phalanx and that is unacceptable.”
“You need to come in for the night. You need to eat and soak in the tub. Xe...” a careful pause, “You are obsessing already. This is only the first scrimmage.”
“The hawk can show any day now Gabrielle. We have to be ready.”
“And you will be,” Gabrielle insisted.
She raised her voice, “Guys! Go in for tonight. Eat soup, rest, eat a good breakfast and be back out here at a candle mark after sunrise.”
The militia hesitated looking to the Conqueror.
“Your Queen commands it!”
She fielded the flash of azure lightning with ease, by raising determined eyes of forest green.
“Your Queen commands it,” she reached to stroke the side of her warrior’s face.
With a soft growl, the Conqueror turned, “YOU HEARD HER!!” she thundered.
The militia began breaking up, headed for the inn. Many were limping.
“Yes My Lady, Yes, My Lady, Yes, My Lady....” echoed in the night.
And the towering commander knelt in front of Gabrielle. “Yes, My Lady,” she whispered.
The bard pulled the dark head to her waist, stroking the sweaty tresses. After a moment, the warrior wrapped her arms around the small figure to receive the comfort and love which never, ever faltered.
I sat in my window, concentrating on the moon. Zephyr was right next to me and she fixed on me with quiet amber eyes.
“Birdie, are you there?” I closed my eyes to feel the comfort in Rach’s voice.
“It’s so good to hear you.”
“How are you?”
“I seem to be pretty busy, but I don’t feel very useful,” I sighed.
“Seems I do lots of babysitting.”
“Gaius, the boy?”
“And that doesn’t make you feel important enough?”
Why did everything sound different when Rachelle said it?
“No, Rach, he’s important, in fact, I am very fond of him.”
“It’s just not fighting.”
I sent Zephyr a look before her gentle chuckle came through.
“It’s not fighting,” a sigh.
“Well if it’s any help, your consort and queen is quite happy you are not going to be in the midst of battle. I am a little young to be a widow.”
She always made sense. Minotaur shite. I knew better than to argue.
“How are you, Rach?”
“I miss you. It’s difficult being queen. If it weren’t for Vix, I would be lost.”
I settled back in the window frame, “Rachelle, you have more good sense than many adults I know. I bet you are a great queen. I know you are.”
“Thanks,” there was just a slight shiver in her inflection. “It would be easier if you were here to lean on.”
“I am always here and always there for you to lean on, Rach. I am as close as your heartbeat.”
Big points Bird Dog.
“I love it when you say things like that, Birdie. It makes me feel stronger.”
“When you need strength, put your hand on the coin around your neck. You will feel me. I can always feel you.”
“I will,” she promised.
Wow. Was it possible that Rach truly did need me? Crazy little Robin of the Warrior and the Bard?
“You are coming for Solstice, aren’t you?” easy inquiry, don’t let on that you will die if she doesn’t, Bird Dog.
“Of course, hopefully your little war will be over.”
“I think so,” speculation, but it was coming upon us quickly, “And you need to come and meet our new Singer. I think she will be here by then.”
“I can hardly wait,” she sighed, “I love you Robin of Amphipolis.
“And I love you, My Lady, My Queen.”
“Rain is tired; I better go,” she whispered.
“Ok, remember what I said, Rach. Close as your heartbeat.”
“And I am as close as yours.”
Zephyr shook her head a little, “Your conversation must have been intense, Little Mistress. I have a bit of a headache.”
“Here, I’m sorry Zephyr, “ Crossing quickly, I brought her a bowl of water. “Drink, you need to drink and rest.”
“I will if you will, Little Mistress.”
“Agreed.” I put my arm around her and she hopped into my bed.
“Thank you, Zephyr,” I whispered, stroking her silky coat.
“You are welcome, Little One, “ the response, “Now let us seek Morpheus.”
I turned on my side and she snuggled into me. After whispering thanks to the moon, I matched my breathing with hers and drifted into tranquil sleep.
I do so wish to be the best of
Warriors who can bear the tests
Of battle frenzy flinging blood
Even the thought accelerates
The blood of life in my own veins
A darkness which may never change
Save a glance from eyes of granite green
Soothes the beast- head, heart and breast.
And I grow quiet and recall,
How very much I am truly blessed.
Robin of Amphipolis
To be continued......
Return to the Academy