A story of Birdie, the twelve year old daughter of the warrior and bard in a Conqueror setting. Birdie continues to fly in my head, which is a happy thing.
Disclaimer: All of the usual suspects apply. Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures and none of us, though I think that we love them more. I have borrowed them and will return them in mint condition. Birdie, (Robin of the Warrior and Bard), Hades the horse, and Zephyr the fox, are mine, and hopefully will stay with me awhile. Missy Good's Dori is adorable, but I know the middle school age very well and find them soooooooo darn interesting. Hopefully, Birdie is going to take me through a few stories; she is good therapy. Many thanks also to VX, my Xenite buddy who reads and tells me what works.
Subtext: understood and beautiful
Violence: It's that XWP setting, you know?
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I am grateful to you for taking the time to read. Thanks to everyone in the Xenaverse for BEING out there. It gives us a place to be happy. Battle On….and to those of you who feed this little bard. A very big THANK YOU…
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard.
Birdie’s Song Part II
The first excuse I could offer would the location of my bedroom window. It was a large window, my bedroom was in the west tower, and it sat higher than most of the trees. I loved to perch in the wide stone frame when the weather was good and watch the activities being practiced on the half dozen military fields below. How could any able bodied person witness daily, the drills and skills of such avid fighters and not wish to become involved? Even the few times my mother had grounded me for a day or so, it was light duty for me, because my room was such a pleasant place to spend time. My desk with my journals and drawing papers were close by, so when I tired of one occupation, it was easy to take up another.
So it was standard operating procedure that Zephyr and I were watching when the Amphipolis Army moved out to meet the Roman legion coming to invade our territory. Xena the Conqueror ran a beautiful force, and it was always a stunning sight. They were not an ostentatious army like the legions with their high step march, loud cadences, and expensive shiny armor and weaponry. The army of the Conqueror presented itself as more like a well trained Olympic Team; every person walking with the easy confident stride of constant athletic training, and every weapon was carried for use and not for show. War is always terrible, but as a member of the Conqueror’s Army, one could march into a fight with faith in one’s comrades, full knowledge that no back would be left unprotected; and that no soldier would be left behind... ever.
My parents were in the rear- Gabrielle the Bard on Wendy, the delicate black and white mare who understood the bard’s riding skills and carried her bravely though every conflict. She was completely surrounded by Amazon warriors who had managed to make the fast journey in time to join this battle. Their loyalty to their Queen was unshakable and deeply heartfelt. As she blessed her warriors, my Mama G’s bright hair caught the sun’s rays which distinguished her as a small angel in the masses.
Nearby rode Xena the Conqueror, taking a final inventory, unmistakably in charge, sitting Argo’s saddle like woman and horse were the same being; while the warhorse danced sideways quite as alert as the leader. When the palomino and the paint joined the straight ranks at the back edge of the army, I saw my Lady Queen’s hand reach and grasp the Conqueror’s larger hand for an instant, and an energy- intangible and indestructible- passed between them. Then Xena straightened, raised her head, and her voice rang over the group,
The entire militia stopped on that command. They waited quietly but the tension was electric in the air. I heard her voice,
And with a light sing song version of her “yiyiyiyyiyi!” the march began perfectly, powerfully in step, with the backs of their ocean colored overlays blowing like a rolling wave of crashing water. Nothing would stand against them.
My heart beat leaped and I glanced at Zephyr who was looking at me intensely.
“It’s a bad idea, Zephyr.”
She licked her chops and gave an insistent little whine.
“Baba Xe will have my hide.”
She whined again and stamped her paws impatiently on my lap
“If you really want to go, I’ll take you, but you must be sure.”
Zephyr whined and added a little growl.
“Zephyr, can you say, ‘yi yiyiyiyiy’?”
“ yip! Yip !yip! yip !yip!”
“Close enough, good girl!”
Like all soldiers I kept a field pack ready with a change of clothing, a knife, and a flint for fire starting and a water skin ready in my wardrobe. My pack was customized as well with a little pouch on the side to carry Zephyr. I placed my black fox into her pocket, belted the waist and chest straps about me securely, opened my bedroom door and looked both ways. Deserted. On velvet boots I took the stairs, carefully avoiding the tenth step which always emitted a loud squeak. I knew that Grandba Cyrene would be in the Fortress’ large kitchen preparing her famous “after battle- Baklava”, and that she would be more intent on her cooking than listening for her escaping grandbirdie. I crept past the kitchen, beyond the door, and ran toward the stable as soon as she turned to open the big oven doors.
Galto, the big stable hand was my next obstacle, and he gave me a quizzical look, but I smiled and said, “Hi, Galto... just visiting Hades...” and walked right past him like it was an ordinary day. Galto was a little bit slow, and it would take him a moment to suspect anything. Now if Scrubbers was in the armory and not the stable, I would be free... I arrived at Hades’ stall and walked to the entrances of that section of stalls at either end. Nothing. Scrubbers must be in the armory. If I hurried, I could make it. My conscience chided me for both avoiding and deceiving two people that I loved; this would exact a price in trust with them. But that would come later. Right now there was some place that I wanted to be, and the price seemed worth it.
Hades, despite his terrific size, had become my horse. His stable stall had a small foot ladder by which I could climb aboard his back, which was very helpful with my field pack and Zephyr. I also hung my bow and a dozen arrows, two fair sized daggers, and after some thought, I took an Amazon sword that was hanging in another stall. It had been there for days and nobody had claimed it... That would mean even more trouble with Baba, but I was not going to enter a battlefield without a sword. I had already committed myself to trouble; I might as well take a sword.
Having readied my horse for the situation, I led Hades to the great stable door. There was a hawser on it that I could tug and using my full strength, could walk the door open enough for us to slip outside. Hades stood accommodatingly beside the water trough so I could climb up to get astride him.
“Are you ready, Zephyr? We are likely to go hard at times.” I heard a little whine, and she settled deeply into the bag where there was a window from which to extend her nose and watch the world. We left the village centre at a quiet pace; it seemed virtually deserted, and though I might have heard my name, just as we left the main gate. I did not look back.
“And are you ready, Hades?”
Hades’ answer was to increase into a steady gallop, straight for the massive dust cloud a few leagues ahead of us. The horse knew far more about going into battle than I did. As his mighty hooves cut though the distance, the first of my senses alerted was my hearing; there was a dull roar, which intensified as we covered the space between. I cannot describe the roar. It was otherworldly.
In short time, I could feel the heat rising from the din, than smell the sweat, both human and horse, mixed with other excrements I will not detail here, except to say, that they are a less glorious side of war
As Hades pounded us along the perimeter of the teaming mass of conflict I began to pick up the details- the sounds of battle- the clash and clang of metal, the screams and groans of human and beast, war cries and pleading, prayers and tears.
Then there was an occasional sprong of the catapult and the whoooooshhhh of the ball of Greek fire as it left the cup, the soft THUNK as it struck its target, which then accelerated louder cries of pain and misery.
. I could also hear quiet airy hisses of bows and arrows and the grunts when they found homes in the hearts of their targets as well.
Hades was an experienced warhorse carrying an inexperienced warrior; he galloped courageously, directly into the center more quickly than I was aware, and all I could do was cling closely to his neck, absolutely terrified.
What had I done?
All around me were the Conqueror’s Army fighting furiously to drive the Roman legions into retreat. The Roman army fought in a stagnant tradition of sword slash, push, shield, sword slash, try to gain ground, sword, chop, and repeat.
The Conqueror’s army used swords, hands, kick boxing, and head butting; the entire body was a weapon. The Romans didn’t know what tool might strike what parts of their bodies next. It was thrilling to watch; I was mesmerized by the whole scene as if it were some kind of surreal puppet show. But I felt a slight tingling at my back, and a ringing in my ears- perhaps it was instinct- perhaps dumb luck. Happily the Amazon sword left its sheath just in time to block a blow from a gladiator- style sword swung right at my leg. The jar of the blow nearly took my sword from my hand and brought a clear realization that I was far out of my league. Hades carried me safely away from that attacker and I had a moment to recollect, and Zephyr squirmed in the pack.
“Sorry girl,” I said,” I will try to leave this madness; Baba was right. Maybe we can return to the fortress quietly and they will never know we were here.”
I guided Hades into a wide arc aimed toward Amphipolis when I saw them.
They were fighting back to back, just like I had heard in myriads of stories, Xena Warrior Princess and The Battling Bard of Potedia; the Warrior neatly running through, gutting from stem to stern, air flip kicking, and reverse stabbing any enemy who came near her, and the Battling Bard twirling her staff like a pinwheel first forward, then reverse battering the head, legs, torso, or any other body part of foolish Romans who came near her big stick. I couldn’t help but stop and watch the legends who were my parents prove once again that they were indeed legendary; the stuff of bards’ songs.
But during my moment of admiration, my mother sensed my presence and I felt the burn of jade eyes across the field, I saw her lips move a silent, “Bir-die”, but in that instant my life became nightmare.
A Roman centurion moved parallel to my location and fired his crossbow pointblank at Mama G whose eyes were distractedly locked on me, her problem child.
“Mama!” the scream was ripped from me as I launched myself over Hades’ head in an attempt to catch the crossbow bolt. It was very close, but I couldn’t do it; I could not catch the bolt.
All things tragic take on a slow motion quality. This was tragic.
As the crossbow bolt struck my Mama Gabrielle, the entire left side of her head exploded in blood. In the same moment, Baba Xe whirled around crying out her name and caught the falling bard. As she supported Mama G in one arm, her eyes locked on me. In a tearful fury, I had drawn my dagger leaped upon the archer, and in one quick slash, removed the man’s hand that held the crossbow. As he stood screaming, clutching his spurting stump, I ran back to Hades and pulled the Amazon sword. Raising it over my head, I charged the man again.
Baba’s voice rang out across the chaos. It halted me for a half breath. That was all that was necessary for the singing chakram to slit his throat, and coat me in a spray of red mist. I lowered the sword trembling violently now, sick to my stomach. My feet staggered somehow to Hades who immediately bent his front leg to give me a step up hop and flip into his saddle. My sobs verged on hysteria; vertigo nearly threw me off, but Hades turned his great head to nose me back upright enough to stay put.
As if there had been a silent signal, suddenly, the Conqueror and the Queen were completely encircled by fierce Amazon warriors facing outward, threatening woe anyone who would challenge that force. The rest of the Amphipolis army had also become something terrifying; it was as if every soldier suddenly doubled in strength. It was a trick that I had seen my Baba Xe perform in battle when she unleashed her dark side. Seeing their beloved Queen so seriously wounded unleashed a dark side in the militia heretofore unknown even to themselves. The Romans had no choice but to turn tail and run for their lives. The army’s ferocity knew no limits, I knew nothing but tears, and Hades knew only to run. He carried me far into the darkening evening.
It may have been three candle marks before we stopped; I have no way of knowing for certain. It was farther from home than I had ever been on my own. There was a quiet wooded glen, with a cold clear stream, and Hades picked it as our place to rest; he was very thirsty.
I tumbled from the saddle, having the presence of mind only to loosen the straps a bit, and to free Zephyr from the rucksack, before I rolled into a ball of weeping misery. My head throbbed, my stomach lurched, and I could hardly catch my breath from crying.
Every time I closed my eyes I saw my Mama G’s head burst open bright red, and the retching began; my desire was to crawl inside myself and disappear into the darkness of my own soul.
When my eyes opened, there was nothing but the pitch black and the roaring sound the water made as it washed its way through the stones, the stuttering sobs which remained unceasing, and the loneliness of my chosen plight. So again my eyes would squeeze shut and see that horrible vision of my mother. I couldn’t stop the abusive cycle in my replaying my head and heart.
I curled into the fetal position to conserve a little warmth, and yet my hair was plastered to my head with perspiration; the hellish visions of reality had made me feverish.
I don’t know how much of the night I lay trembling before a warm and gentle tongue began to clean the tears from my face with a little whine, and a cool nose, pushed through my hair tenderly.
“Zephyr, Mama’s dead.” I whispered, and wept anew, but it was only weeping. My fox came to me then, curled up next to my stomach where I could put my arms around her, she nuzzled and made soft murmurings that comforted me enough, and finally, we slept.
The heavy door to the Conqueror’s bedroom was kicked open by a large booted foot. The striking face of the warrior was gaunt, as she laid her soul mate carefully on the oversized bed, and the fortress healer and his assistant provided extra linens under the pillows to catch the oozing blood.
“Head wounds,” the healer said, “They bleed bloody awful.”
Xena shot him a grim look,
“It’s a bloody awful head wound, I’m afraid. It was a big heavy cross bolt. See here how much swelling there is in addition to the gash? “
The healer looked again and hissed, “You are right, My Lady. Hopefully it’s only a concussion, and some blood loss. We won’t know for sure till she wakes and we can take account of the confusion she suffers...” He dabbed gently at the bloody blond hair, and then looked at the warrior who had buried her head in her arms. My Lady, we can clean her up a bit, and then call you if you want to assist with the stitching. IF you should wish to step out, stretch, have a drink, gather your wits.” He gave her his best wise old healer smile.
She returned the smile. “Are you issuing a prescription?”
“For the moment, My Lady... only half a candle mark or so. The Queen will neither wake, nor will she feel any pain.”
“For a moment then.” She exited, and went straight to Birdie’s room and entered with a knock and statement, “Birdie, I will skin you ali---“
“Birdie!” She looked in the wardrobe; no field pack. “Birdie?” No Zephyr.
“Zeus’s Rotten Thunderbolts!! BIRDIE!!”
Boots thundered down the stairs and out to the stable to search the stall she knew would be empty. She jogged around a corner and crashed into Scrubbers. They looked at each other helplessly. The blue eyes brimmed with too much emotion in this day.
“Lass, I tried to stop her, I did.”
“You couldn’t have stopped her, Scrubby. I know that. But what will I tell her mother when she wakes up?” The glacier blue eyes brimmed with unshed water.
Scrubbers stepped forward to take commander’s shoulders in his hands.
“Don’t you worry, now Lass. I and Thomas and the lads.. We’ll get right to searchin and we’ll find young Robin and bring her home. You go up and stay with the Queen. We’ll find her.”
He shook her gently but firmly...
“Do as I say, Lass.”
She swallowed and then acquiesced. “For tonight, anyway, Scrubby. Till the Queen wakes.”
She strode toward the fortress, the gait of the Conqueror back. She turned,
“It’s my pleasure, Lass.”
“For all you do with Birdie.”
“She’s a handful and a hoot, that one.”
He could see her smile in the dark, as he turned and shouted, “Thomas! Get the horses, we’re going out!”
Soft whining brought me from the darkness. My mental functions were completely foggy, and I squinted in the sunlight. I could hear Hades’ hooves moving about, and gradually, the previous day’s events made their way into my thoughts. I curled into a little ball and let the silent steady tears come again hoping death would take me too. But the whimper came again accompanied by a sharp bark to get on with it. I shook the tears from my eyes and rolled up.
Zephyr lay beside two fat doves that she was presenting as a gift, her tail flickering back and forth.
“Zephyr,” I tried to sound severe,” you know you are not to kill birds; you know how much Mama hates…..” Stop. Stop it.
“So Zephyr, are you hungry? Let’s gather some wood.” I went about finding dry wood and building a circle of stones to contain a fire. This chore took me out to Hades who had discovered an open meadow nearby and was grazing contentedly. He was happy to see me though, and whickered gently when I tugged his saddle off completely. There was a wild crabapple tree right at the edge of the forest, and I quickly scrambled into the lower branches to fetch a few fresh ones for him. He appreciated those too; all the gods knew he deserved them.
But Zephyr was waiting for meat, so I struck the flint and breathed gently on the fragile sparks until the tiny flame came to life. A fire was always an improvement to one’s situation.
I took the doves to the creek and cleaned them with my dagger, all the while talking to Zephyr who sat watching me with interest.
“Only this once, Zephyr. From now on I will catch fish. Birds are rather special to me, and I’d rather you didn’t kill them. But I understand that you were very hungry, and I do appreciate your effort. “
She gave me that tilted head look that always signified to me that she understood.
I skewered the small pieces of poultry on sticks to cook, and made my way back to the creek to see what I could do about myself. There was a bar of soap in the field kit, so even though the water was very cold, I opted to strip and wash completely. Zephyr stood guard while I scrubbed the matted dirt and blood out of my hair and my clothing while trying not to think about how it came to be there. There were several flat stones being warmed by the sun along the bank, so I spread my laundered clothing about on them. The clean dry heavy cotton trousers and blue tunic from my pack felt very good, but I did not put on my dragon overlay; I did not feel worthy of the livery. But the doves were ready, and Zephyr and I polished them off quickly.
“ Good job, and thanks, Zephyr.” I said to her. She gave me grave look in return. “Now we need to make a plan, my friend.”
Sunrise found the warrior out on the bedroom balcony watching. In the far distance, she could see the ghostly forms of horses returning to Amphipolis. The long unruly shock of white hair on one rider identified him as Pluto “Scrubbers,” her dear old friend... She could see no sign of a smaller rider with them.
The railing of the balcony took the weight of the powerful shoulders and arms as she held her head in her hands allowing a few tears to escape. Where was that damn kid? The series of events were a mangled blur in her mind- the devastating crossbow hit, Birdie slicing the man’s hand off cleanly, freezing Birdie’s next impulse with her own voice and chakram spin, catching and cradling her partner’s bloody head. Xena paused. Did Birdie believe that Gabrielle had been killed? She dismissed that. It was too horrible to think of; Birdie would have made certain: she was level headed- a fighter, wasn’t she?
She walked back inside the bedroom and looked at her partner. The blond hair had been washed as had the rest of the bard, and some color hand returned to the sleeping countenance. One side Gabrielle’s face looked perfectly normal. It was the injured side that was more frightening, with the bruise extending halfway down the cheek, and stitches extending from the eyebrow all the way back to the ear tip. But the breathing was quiet and regular. Both Xena and the healer knew now that it was just a matter of when Gabrielle’s body felt recovered enough from the tremendous shock it had withstood to awaken and to rejoin those who loved her. Loved her more than life itself.
The conqueror met her searchers at the entrance. Scrubbers wouldn’t meet her eyes, and she put her hand on his defeated shoulder.
“Scrubby, it’s ok.”
“We only came back to fetch provisions, Lass. Then we’re back on it I promise ye. No little Birdie girl will outwit three of the Conqueror’s finest.”
The Conqueror smiled. “Scrubby, you know she’s tricky.”
The smile was returned. “Ay Lass, she is..”
“Go rest a bit now. If the Queen wakes, I will join you later on..”
The warrior had just turned back to the fortress when she heard her name.
The older woman was out of breath from hurry. But she immediately embraced her strong and capable daughter.
“Xena, I just heard everything. I saw Birdie ride out yesterday, the little rascal, even shouted to her, but she never looked back.”
The warrior was trembling slightly in her mother’s arms. “Mother, I don’t know what to do; I need to go and look for Birdie, but I can’t bear to leave Gabrielle either.” Tears were filling the eyes of the greatest fighter in Greece, and her mother patted her back.
They turned and began walking arm in arm into the fortress.
“There my dear. Give it some time and try not to worry yourself to death. Gabrielle should wake soon, and you will be able to think more clearly then. For now, let the men search for Birdie. I will take the wagon and go myself, but I make no promises about what I will do to the little scamp if I find her.”
“You have my blessing, Mother,” smiled the warrior, “and I will be in line to have my turn, once we make certain that she is safe. I only hope that the situation is that simple.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Grandba Cyrene. She sat down in one of the large overstuffed chairs in the sitting room off the kitchen.
“ Birdie may believe that Gabrielle was killed and that the Queen’s death is her fault. Otherwise, I believe that she would have come home. Yes, she knew that she would be in trouble with me, but that alone would not have kept her away. The other possibility worries me, Mother. But yet there is little action to take on either front at this point.” Her head dropped.
“I feel completely helpless, Mama.”
Cyrene looked up at her tall daughter and ran her hands up the powerful corded arms and tugged a little. Like a toppling tree, the Conqueror knelt first to one knee, then the other, and then she laid her head in her mother’s lap and began to weep.
Night has fallen
Dark and deep.
Horse and fox
Close watch will keep.
In healing sleep,
The bard will drift,
The child may stir.
But on this day
Of few words spoken,
Too much of her heart
The warrior weeps…
to be continued..
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