Disclaimer: See Part 1
I am grateful for your patience, readers. This story arc covers six moons, but it real time it has been more like eighteen months. Poor Gabrielle is living through an elephant's gestation period.
I am hopeful that my “life” challenges will be somewhat righted in the next six moons and I can devote more time to our Birdie. If you have forgotten, Amphipolis is sheltering Aurora and Gaius, sister and nephew of the great Roman Dax. Rome is expected to land at Potidaea and the militia of the Conqueror plans to stop them before they leave their ships. Rufus of Titus of Rome is expected, and he is of a nasty temperament which rivals his father's. He also intends to take Aurora back to Rome, no matter what.
Part 11 of The Birdie Series
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard...
Clack Clack Clack!!! Battle staffs clashed rapidly.
“Aurora,” the battling bard remarked, “You are holding back... Don't.” she punctuated the command with a rap of her staff to her opponents behind.
“Gabrielle,” her friend laughed, “Ouch, and you are PREGNANT?!!? Have you forgotten?”
“No, and the good thing about carrying a child of Artemis is.... Artemis watches...” The small blond woman who was indeed ‘with child”, jammed her stick into the ground and executed a neat cartwheel over her friend.
“Now, come for me, don't worry!! This is self-defense, Aurora, and gods forbid it please, but I need you strong just in case.”
“Say no more,” the dark haired woman sighed, “You asked for it.”
Another building I have neglected to talk about because it's major meaning was “fertilizer” to me, is the horse barn. Yes, the horses lived there and produced copious amounts of fertilizer which was cleaned daily by… whoever had the pleasure. But there was a nice carpentry shop in the rear of the building. Though it was open to anyone, my Baba Xe used it the most, and it was in the shop I found her now.
“Grandba says supper in half a candle mark,” I delivered my message. “Whatcha doin'?”
Baba positioned the long piece of wood down on the table and planed a miniscule shaving from an edge.
“See if you can figure it out,” as always, the Conqueror was fully focused.
I wandered around her work silently.
She held it her index finger balancing the exact center.
“It looks like a blade from Uncle Talus's windmill.” My best guess.
“Good girl, watch.” She spun the blade expertly stopping just shy of dealing me four impressive whacks.
“WOW, “ I was impressed. “It almost flies, Baba.”
“It is meant to fly. I am making it for your mother. Try it.” A toss.
A catch and my fingers scrutinized the silky wood, “It is really nice, Baba; it's beautiful.”
“Try it; form and function are required,” she ordered.
Spinning the blade, I delivered three deep cuts to an innocent hay bale.
“It functions,” I returned the staff, “Wow again.”
“Don't tell her yet, “ Baba dropped a hand on my shoulder as we exited the shop, “I would like to surprise her.”
“Are you going to give it to her for Solstice?” We arrived at the inn.
“No, much sooner,” her tone invited no further questions, and I complied.
“Vix, I am going to Amphipolis; would you like to come?”
“Wha?” her friend was off guard. “The whole tribe's gone only three days past, to ‘elp out with the Romans.”
“I am going now,” Rachelle replied, “I need to be with Birdie.”
“And ya needs ta not go alone,” her elder said firmly, “You take off alone on such a jaunt, queen or not, I'll put ya over my knee. With all due respect a course.”
Rachelle's laughter was a delight to hear, “You wouldn't.”
“Shall I show ya then?” The Queen found herself over the older warrior's lap in a heartbeat.
“Please, Vix, I won't go without you; I asked you, didn't I?” there was no sound of a queen at all in the voice.
Vix let her big hand fall on the queen's backside one time firmly.
“That's ta be certain, ya do...” She put the girl back on her feet.
“You took quite a risk there, warrior, “ granite green eyes met Vix's dark orbs. “You could be in big trouble, trying to whack the Queen...”
“It don't matter ta me none,” Vix sensed the need in the queen for a hug and she opened her arms. The girl fell into them readily, and Vix tightened the embrace. “I loves ya little girl an I'll do whatever it takes ta keep ya safe.”
There was a quiet sniff from her arms, “I love you too, Vix.” Just a whisper.
A child this girl had never been. So the old warrior held the embrace and began a slow rocking back and forth, humming quietly and feeling the tension in Rach's body cautiously ease into the tender loving care.
Baba was going to allow me to practice with the militia!!! I was so excited, and invisible rock put me flat on the way. I hopped up hoping no one had witnessed the moment of klutz.
“Grace: an admirable trait in a warrior.”
Minotaur Shite. Of course, the Conqueror would see me.
Scrambling up quickly, I returned to my fast pace.
“Birdie!” a command. I turned. “Wait.”
“Is that?” she pointed at the sky.
Sigh, and I had come so close. “It is, Baba Xe, “ICARUS!”
The golden raptor had very likely spotted me a long time ago, but she immediately alighted on my arm, restoring a bit of pride.
Baba's hand was tense on my shoulder, “So we have approximately a seven day before Rome arrives; a two day's march to Potidaea will give us ample time to rest and to prepare.”
“That was the plan, Baba.”
I winced at the ear splitting whistle the Conqueror issued to summon the ranks. They arrived double time.
“Change of plans, Boys. Go gather your gear and be ready to march to Potidaea within two candle marks.”
There were several murmurs of “yes My Lady's” as the members broke into brisk jogs toward the village.
I dug around in my pockets frantically, both to hide my disappointment at not being included in the militia, and to feed Icarus, who was clearly ravenous. Her obsidian bright eyes were sending a piercing message of “Feed me or feel my beak!”
Fortunately my fingers closed on a packet of deer jerky. It might have been there a few days, but she wouldn't mind that. I turned aside to allow her to tear into the jerky and to sling a few stupid tears from my eyes.
Baba's long legs carried her about seven strides before she missed me. She turned, sky eyes flashing and returned in three strides.
“Birdie,” she began and looked into my eyes. Hers became soft waves washing.
“Let me see if I can contribute,” she drove a big hand deep into a pocket. “Whoo hoo!” she had located a piece of jerky as well. “Here, good girl,” Icarus was not turning down any food. She did not eat much when she was on watch, and she might have flown for a complete cycle of candle marks to bring word.
We stood in silence until Icarus, sated for the moment, launched herself into the sky.
“She is a beautiful bird, “Baba said, “You are blessed with your animal helpers, as are we.”
I managed a nod and to mumble, “I know, Baba.”
“Birdie, I know you are disappointed that I did not include you in this battle.”
I remained silent; there was no use in being a baby about this. She finally turned me and we began walking, her arm fell about my shoulders squeezing tightly.
“Baba, you better go and get ready, “my voice was garbled.
“I am always ready, “ she smiled; “I only need bid farewells to the people I love most. You are first.”
I studied our boots pacing together with soft jingles.
“Are you listening?” she said quietly.
“Yes, My Lady.”
“You remember I said there was a special job for you here?”
“Yes, My Lady.” Awesome Bird dog, what could it be? Fertilizer?
Baba stopped and turned me to face her, warrior's hands on my shoulders.
“I am very serious, Birdie, “ The azure eyes assured me and I straightened.
“While I am gone you are to be second in command, next to your mother,” she said. “That will be a little dicey since she is with child, and you may find yourself at odds with her, especially if there is trouble.”
“Do you think there will be trouble, Baba?”
“There can always be trouble, Little Bird.”
“I know that Baba,” Patience, Bird; I could feel the serious nature of this talk.
She sighed, “All right, “ she shifted her feet.
I shifted mine and waited.
“I hope you are up for this.”
“I am, My Lady.”
“I don't much care for this situation, but there is really no choice at this point. We need to stop Rufus and Rome before they come NEAR Amphipolis.”
“I understand, Baba.”
“So, between you and me, YOU will be in command of our village.”
My eyes must have popped a bit because she chuckled.
“I do not expect for you to get into serious contention with your mother, but I do want her protected. She has always been very active in her pregnancies; I often wonder if that is the source of your ‘bouncy' nature.”
Now I chuckled.
“I am leaving Atticus, Aurora, Gaius, your Grandba, and Scrubby with you. Jory and Jojo are well versed enough in cooking and feeding to take care of the militia, so we are going to have them drive the cart.”
“Agreed, “I responded, “Though Grandba would never admit to how much it tires her.”
“Oh, don't think I don't know better than that...” Baba Xe rolled her eyes; I smiled.
We began to walk again slowly.
“Tell me, Birdie,” she began again, “If there were going to be an attack on a fortress of some kind, what time of day would you select?”
“Anytime between dusk and dawn, “ it was the right answer. “ An attacker wants the element of surprise, which cannot be achieved at midday.”
“Good,” she said, “So based on that information, at what times will you post yourself, Atticus, and Scrubby at watch?”
“Scrubby during the daylight, “I answered, “Atticus and I can cover the dusk and dawn times perhaps switching out some so the other can catnap a little.” I already knew that if I was in charge, I would not be sleeping much. Gulp.
“Baba, so you expect trouble?”
She sighed and watched our pacing shadows in front of us. “I don't know, Bird. I know that with our intense Spartan training, and with the aid of our Amazon warriors, we can hold fast at Potidaea.” She paused, “But I never take anything for granted when it comes to Rome.”
Gulp again. Well, that was disturbing. And ME in charge? My mouth filled with cotton.
“Hush Little One, you have been sulking since you heard of this conflict, “ Sometimes I forget Zephyr is ever with me and always in my head.
“Your mother is already a flash fire with that new bladed staff, “ Baba Xe almost seemed to be talking to herself, “and she has trained Aurora very well; I am impressed with her potential.”
“Gaius is a pretty good fighter for a kid, gods forbid it comes to that, “ Suddenly I realized just how much torture I had put my parents through over the years. Good fighter or not, I didn't want Gaius to ever have to pick up a sword.
“You have the look of epiphany, “ Baba remarked.
“The look of huh? Sorry My Lady” Keep it formal Bird. No “huhs”... I winced thinking of the rap on the head I would have received from my mother for the utterance of such a word.
“Epiphany, “ she repeated. “I know that word is in my poet daughter's vocabulary, “she knocked on my head, just like Mama G would have done.
“Little Mistress, epiphany means that suddenly, you ‘get' it. It means that suddenly, finally, all the candles become bright in your mind."
Ah yes, the Bird knew that word.
“So share,” Baba commanded.
I ran an extra affectionate hand between Zephyr's ears, gratitude my friend.
“I don't know where to start, Baba,” why was my voice shaking? That was no tone for a warrior given charge of guarding Amphipolis.
“How about a short version.”
I looked at the ground, “I just realized how much Minotaur shite I put you and Mama G through during my younger days.”
“Because I don't want anything to happen to Gaius. I mean, I really don't want him anywhere near danger.”
“Wha Hoo!” Baba punctuated her elation with a swat to my behind which made me hop. “I told your mother that someday you would grow up.”
“Baba Xe, “ now I really felt horrible. “Baba Xe, I am so sorry.” I could not stop tears now.
My Baba Conqueror spun me face to face again. She gripped my shoulders with strength that did not hurt.
“Birdie, you need feel no guilt. As you may recall, you paid a few pretty stiff prices for your antics.”
“But nothing,” Conqueror steel in her voice informed me this was not debatable. With sudden gentleness, she pulled me close. I concentrated on the sound I had most loved since infancy. The words came from her heartbeat.
“You have been a joy to raise, kiddo. A JOY. And besides, your mother and I knew that a combination of the two of us.... we knew there would be challenges.”
“And there were...” I muffled into her chest with a sniff.
“And there were. But believe me kiddo, we loved you from the minute you came into being, every step you took, every word you wrote, and every boneheaded... “ She paused, “Sorry, that word just came out.”
I snorted into her chest, “It's a good word, Baba Xe.”
“Yes, but it diverted me from the point, which is our unconditional love for you has never ever faltered, and it never will.”
I lifted my head to meet her eyes which now were filled.
“I know that, Baba. I just hope to make you proud.”
“Birdie, “ we began ambling again, the inn was close. “Birdie girl you always make me proud.”
“Child, you will catch your death, “ Vix mild scolding brought a smile to Rachelle's face.
“I'm coming, Vix, “ she said as she turned an entered the cave.
Vix was stirring something in a pot which smelled fantastic. “Sit down here and eat some of this soup, “ she commanded.
Rach accepted the steaming bowl. “Isn't it wonderful that we can now purchase dried soup stuff, Vix?” she allowed the steam to warm her nose. “I can't believe that we need only add water, and like magic, there is soup!”
“It may not be magical, but it sure tastes fine on a cold evening, “ Vix slurped from her large wooden spoon, “Bread, My Queen?”
“Indeed, my friend; you warmed it too?”
“Not sa hard when there's a fire, little one. What are you and yer fox lookin at out there in the chill?”
“I don't believe I have ever seen so many stars, Vix,” the girl reached for her mug of tea, “I know that it's cold, but the stars are so beautiful, I can't quit watching them. I went out to tether the horses so they can come to the front of the cave if they are cold, but then, I was stuck on the stars again.”
“BRRRRRRGH!! Tad too cold for these old bones, “ Vix refilled her mug.
Rach rose and fetched the sleeping furs, “I remember Birdie telling me that there is a warm place...” she kicked off a soft boot to feel with bare toes, “Here. Birdie thinks there is a hot spring beneath the cave, but it's close to this wall, I think.” The girl ran her hands over the grey stone.
“Yes, here. C'mere Vix, Put those groany bones up against this wall.”
“Ugh!” Vix extended a hand which Rach grasped and pulled up hard, “Ya better not be funnin' with me girlie.”
Rach put her hands on her hips, “Would I fun you over something important, Vix?”
“Nah, lass, never, “ The grey hair brushed up against the wall and the warrior settled in her hips to the warmth, “this is nice.” In a moment the woman was snoring gently.
Rach covered her friend carefully and without noise. Then she returned to the stars; she could not break away from them.
“Someday, I will meet you Marcus, “ she whispered, “But for now, I thank you for the warmth, safety, and for watching over my Birdie.”
When shivering set in, she returned and lay down her blond hair brushing the iron grey head. Putting an arm around her silver fox, she drifted into sleep.
When the full militia of Amphipolis, under command of The Conqueror convened, it was a sight to see.
They assembled at the appointed time dressed for travel. The travel uniform was more pragmatic than the full dress “to impress”. I always thought the travel gear somehow looked more dangerous. Buckskin pants with several pockets, packs which had extra straps for carrying up to a hundred arrows. Water skins hung from both sides and likewise did the sword and bow. The new shields, slid into ties on the pack as well. It was very nicely put together, but it did take time to don all the gear and it required a buddy system. They could choose whether to wear sturdy gladiator type sandals and add the leg armor later or simply to go with the all-purpose boots. Most were in boots, winter solstice had not yet come, so it would be chilly enough.
As I watched them assemble it was still difficult not to feel a tad of envy.
“Your responsibilities here are paramount,” there was that fox in my head again. “Little Mistress, do you realize that your Baba Xe has in effect left the fortress in your hands?”
Minotaur Shite. “Not until you put it into such CLEAR words, dear fox,” I replied, “Do you ever fear that you will say too much?”
An audible fox snort was next. It was NOT in my head, and it was loud. “ Never one time yet,” she said, “But I do not lose hope.”
I tugged her ear and received a friendly nip to the hand. Quick like a fox, my Zephyr.
Silence fell when the Conqueror appeared. I was nearly a warrior grown, but the sight of her still raised the hairs on my arms. A hand reached for mine; my mother had come to stand beside me. The grip tightened.
“She is so beautiful, your Baba,” Mama said quietly. “You look a good deal like her, you know.”
“Oh please, Mama,” I whispered, “Baba is taller by four hands, and I could never stand long hair.”
“Not exactly like her,” emerald eyes held mine, “but you are enough like her, that I shall feel no fear of harm while you are in charge.”
I choked on that; she patted my back until I regained composure. “Mama, I hope I can live up to your regard,” I coughed.
“Well,” my Baba Xe addressed the crowd which had gathered in the runway between the inn kitchen and the stables. “Do I have infantry?”
“MY LADY!” a shout from a hundred men.
“MY LADY!” Fifty on horseback in the rear.
“Do I have Amazons?”
“My Lady!” whooped as only Amazons can...
“Do I have feeders?”
“My Lady!” Jory and Jojo were in the loaded wagon tied with a tarp and huge jugs of water riding either side.
“My Lady!” three Amazons waved bags.
The Conqueror stood tall and eyed her troops. “Does anyone hear know of anyone missing?”
A slight chuckle preceded a rousing, “HERE My LADY!!”
“GOOD.” She answered. “A quarter candle mark to say your farewells.”
The ranks broke as quickly as they had assembled. As I watched young men wrap big arms around wives, children and sweethearts, I felt a jolt of longing—Rach. But it stepped aside quickly as the Conqueror stepped in front of me. I came to attention and met her eyes.
Hands again on my shoulders; she stooped to meet my eyes, “Birdie, “ her voice was soft, “Birdie, I leave everyone I love most in the world in your hands.”
Another coughing fit followed; Mama extended a water skin, and I gulped.
One hand rose and fell again to my shoulder, “I have every confidence in you, Bird. You will take care of your mother and Grandba and your baby sister.”
Something swelled inside then; perhaps it was my heart.
“I won't let you down, My Lady,” my shoulders straightened and I raised her hand from my shoulder to kiss it. She in turn drew me close to kiss the top of my head.
“I love you, kiddo,” she whispered, “Never, ever doubt it.”
I stepped back, “and I love you, Baba.”
She smiled, touched a lock of my hair, and stepped to my mother.
There were few words between them; exchanges were made with their eyes and then their lips.
When mother stepped back, I realized just then how difficult it was for HER to remain behind.
“Be well and be safe, Big Warrior,” she whispered, as tears ambled down her cheeks, “and come back to me; I love you.”
Baba Xe pulled my mother into her own body then; I fancied I saw the light of two souls becoming one.
“I love you like no other, Little Bard,” she whispered, “I shall return to you, always.”
My mother took my hand again and we watched Baba embrace my white haired Grandba. There was no need for words between them at all.
And the Conqueror worked down the farewell line of us, Aurora received a kiss on the head; Gaius, a smile and ruffled hair, Atticus, the warrior's grip and likewise Scrubby.
When she turned, her second commanders were holding Argo. She smiled, shook her hair back, and I saw the Warrior come into my Baba Xe; she became taller, the blue silk of her shirt waved in the breeze and her silver breastplate caught sunlight. She mounted Argo, and Argo became the War horse; the Spirit entering caused her to rear. Baba and the horse were one; she drew the Tide from its sheath at her back and waved it.
“Are we ready my friends?” the warrior roared.
“YES MY LADY,” the stables seemed to shake with thunder.
“Then, forward!” The Conqueror rode to the front of her army. She looked back once to blow my mother a kiss, and then they were gone.
All this time
I've sighed and whined
Let me fight, because
I know I'm right for
Whatever evil, friend or foe
I'm fully trained
Please let me go
To finally take some
Bad guys OUT.
Casts a doubt.
Now I pray that I can
Be what's needed
If or when it
Robin of Amphipolis
To Be Continued...
Please direct comments or curses to firstname.lastname@example.org and again Thank you for hanging in there with Birdie and me....
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