The continuing story of Birdie, the young adolescent daughter of the warrior and bard in a light –handed Conqueror setting. Birdie is a kid who is not only coping with adolescence; she is also coping with the yin and yang of being the offspring of a warrior and a bard. And of course, her parents are not just any warrior and bard.
Disclaimer: All of the usual disclaimers. Xena and Gabrielle and Cyrene still belong to Renaissance and Universal and all those business people; they belong to none of us, even though our love has kept them alive for years and doing very well. Robin of the Warrior and Bard, (Birdie) Zephyr the Fox, Hades the Horse, Icarus the Hawk, and so on, live in my head and I hope will continue to do so.
Subtext: of course…Violence: sometimes.. But in both cases, I try to be more concerned with writing well than with being graphic.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and receive my deepest gratitude for being out there and taking time to read. We play important parts for each other in the joy that we find in the Xenaverse. Battle on…
And thanks always to my main reader, VX
Birdie’s Song II The Little Warrior Part 2
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
The grey before dawn found me in my Grandba’s huge kitchen watching her cook breakfast for the inn guests. She was packing a large leather sack with trail food and what appeared to be an extra special lunch for two.
“Hey,” Grandba waved her spoon at the furry nose that came over the edge of the counter.
I patted her head. “Sorry Granba. Your food is too enticing for her.”
My grandparent gave me a scowl, “The animal isn’t allowed in here and you know it, Grandbirdie.”
I sighed and gave Zephyr a look. She trotted outside the door to sit patiently. Grandba finished the sack and tied the canvas straps, and I slung it over one shoulder. She cupped my face with in her strong rough hands.
“You and Xena stay out of trouble, Grandbirdie,” she said gruffly, “If you don’t there’ll be no muffins for a fortnight, you hear me?”
“We’ll be fine, Grandba.” I assured her.
“The two of you alone? I have my doubts, “she smiled, “Your Baba may be the Conqueror of all within our sight, but she’s still my little Xena, and you are my little smaller than Xena.”
She then pulled me into her ample bosom which while it nearly smothered me, also always smelled of warm fresh bread. She kissed my forehead and I kissed her cheek.
“Love you, Grandba,” my distance from her grew, but I heard her give Zephyr a pat.
“Zephyr love, it’s nothin’ personal, foxie. No animals in the kitchen. Here, honey.” A smile formed on my face as I knew Grandba was giving Zephyr a tidbit of sausage or what from the kitchen.. Then the soft paws marched by my side.
“You have quite a way with people, Zephyr.” I let my hand fall gently on her head and she nudged my hand with her nose.
Our horses were standing side by side with my parents as a study in contrasts. Hades looked like my Baba Xe, tall, powerful, dark, while Argo favored my Mama G, powerful in her way, but smaller and a mix of much lighter colors. The woman of light colors approached me now as I handed Baba Xe our food sack.
“I liked your poem,” she gave me an appraising look which always made me shift my boots somewhat. How often does a person know the source of a poem anyway, but then when one’s MOTHER is Gabrielle the Bard? Suffice it to say, she knows me better than I want to be known at times. So I stood in front of Mama G just kicking dirt.
“It took some time to write didn’t it ?” she put her fingers under my chin and pulled my gaze up to meet hers.
“ Yes, My Lady, it did.”
“Well then, it will take some time to discuss, won’t it? I shouldn’t have said anything right now. I’m sorry, Birdie.” She said softly.
“ No, it’s ok, Mama, I’m glad you liked it, “ I mumbled. “But yes, it would be nice to talk, if you have any suggestions. Perhaps tonight?”
“Of course, Little Bard,” she put her arms around me and the words came into my ear gently.
I pushed back from her.” Little Bard, Mama?”
“That is what I said.”
“Wow.” I stood a little straighter and smiled into her eyes.” Thanks.”
“Don’t be growing a big head, now.”
“No chance of that today, My Queen.” I gave her a mock salute.
“No I don’t suppose there is..” Her arms enveloped me again closely.
“Behave yourself today, Birdie; learn from the best there is, ok?”
“I love you.”
“I love you back, Mama.”
She gave me a love pat, and I unfastened the springy stirrup which was attached a little bit lower to the mounting side of my saddle. It gave me a little bounce step up high into Hades’ saddle I then leaned down to fasten it at equal level to the other. Baba Xe had Mama G in her arms and their heads were together- that intangible power passing between them that no poet could capture in words. Finally they exchanged a quick kiss and Baba Xe flew onto Argo without taking her eyes from Mama G’s eyes.
“Be careful, My Love, “ soft words from the Bard
“Always, My Love, “from her Warrior the Conqueror.
I rode our ahead to give them that moment; the intensity was overwhelming me. That I was the product of such a love overcame me at times, and there was nothing to do but keep moving.
Baba Xe caught up with me near the big oak outside the gates..
“Hey, Birdie!” I turned and waited.
“I wasn’t leaving you, Baba.”
Argo galloped alongside.
“See that you don’t little squire; every order you fail to follow will be considered in our quality time.”
I sighed, it was like a hanging sword over me.
“All that said, Little Bird, I’ll race you to the first pass. EEEEEEE Yahhhh!!!”
Hades and I were left in the dirt for some moments in absolute shock. Did she say RACE? Her trail of dust was growing smaller, so we kicked it in. Hades began to build his speed, but he was carrying the supplies; he was the larger, stronger horse and I was the lighter weight, so actually in a race, we were fairly evenly matched. Baba was wearing her everyday outfit, the leathers, boots, dark coat, blue silk shirt, and silver breastplate and gauntlets; she was armed simply with the Tide and chakram. I was dressed in similar fashion, only I wore a chain mail shirt under my coat, daggers in my boots, I preferred cotton pants with leather lacings, a quiver of arrows at my back and a bow at my saddle. I was STILL grounded from carrying a sword, but that would be lifted in another fortnight or so if I stayed out of serious trouble. We were gaining on Argo now, almost even with her tail.
“Good boy, Hades, you are doing great,” I said to my horse, as he drummed up even with the golden palomino and her rider. The Conqueror gave me a sideways glance, leaned forward, whispered one word into Argo’s ear, and they were gone, leaving a dumbfounded Hades and me behind as if we were standing still.
But I returned the flashing smile as we trotted up to the first pass finish. Argo didn’t even look winded.
“Baba, you have secrets, “I gave her a look.
“Perhaps I do, “she said in that trademark rumbling low voice that made all listen. “Just because one can ride well and fast, doesn’t mean one will win every race, my little Bird.”
She laughed an easy genuine laugh that was good to hear. I realized that my Baba Xe was happy to be away from the fortress for a day, free of Conqueror responsibilities. I resolved to behave myself and make the day a good one for her.
“Now, which way to the DOZ?”
“The upper trail here, Baba.” Hades and I took the lead up a slowly climbing rocky trail back into the mountain pass.
“This trail becomes rather steep doesn’t it?” the low voice murmured behind me.
“Yeah, sometimes, Baba,” I said. “We’re careful though. If the trail is recently washed out, I always dismount and lead Hades. We should do that now.”
“Birdie, Birdie, Birdie…” floated up to my ears.. And I smiled to myself... Just then a ball of black fur hit me in the back of the knees.
“Hi, Zephyr. You caught up!” She gave me an offended look, “Sorry girl, you were just keeping the rear watch, weren’t you?” Much better.
“Birdie,” my taller companion called, “take a right up ahead, that smaller path. Do you see it?”
“By the forked birch, Baba Xe?”
“That’s it. Ever go that way?”
“So take a detour, but you will need to walk in front of your horse, the trail is quite narrow.”
I did so and led Hades up the stubbly trail. It was steep and hot, but we persevered.
“What is up here, Baba?”
“You will see very soon. It’s worth it, Little Bird.”
I began to understand what she was saying as a resonating roar met my ears. Within the next two turns we were brought into view of a cascading waterfall which seemed to reach almost into the clouds. At its finsh was a deep clear pool which fed the stream we had followed.
I looked back at Baba Xe in delight.
“ Can’t believe we just rode by this time after time. It’s outstanding!! And its all your secret, Baba? ”
“I don’t believe that many people find it, Birdie.”
I quickly steered Hades to a comfortable place; I loosened his entire load to make him easier, to allow him to drink and dunk his head in the cool water as deeply as he wished. Zephyr had already buried her head and was shaking water furiously. I stripped down quickly and was just pulling off my second boot when I was scooped up from behind in strong hands and carried under the Conqueror’s arm as if I were a sack of potatoes as she dashed into the water. Potatoes don’t squeal like puppies though.
We played in that pool for a couple of candle marks and it was the best time I can remember spending with Baba Xe since I was very small. It was time spent with my Baba only’; the Conqueror didn’t ever show. We competed at who could stay underwater longer, then she threw me off her shoulders high into the air, so I could do the perfect dive, and we invented a new game called “dragon” in which we competed to see who could spit the biggest furthest stream of water at each other and while emitting huge loud bellows . We laughed and giggled and sputtered. Then we stretched out in the sun to dry falling into a quiet nap after which we ate Grandba’s perfectly delicious lunch. I had always worshipped my Baba Xe, but I was to witness more of the person my Mama G loved that morning than I ever had been before, not just the greatest warrior in all the lands we knew of, but someone who was funny, playful, gentle and sweet.. It was rather melancholy to end it, but as the saying goes, all good things must. We were back in our serious clothes and just preparing to mount up when she looked at me a moment.
“Thanks for this, Baba,” I said to her, “it was perfect.”
“It was fun for me as well, Birdie,” she flashed that gorgeous smile, “We will do it again soon.”
One might blame our state of relaxed happiness as the cause of being made such easy victims. Baba had turned her head back to talk to me, and as a result, probably did not have her senses as highly tuned as usual. Neither were mine. The Romans had climbed trees in the pass and they threw four ropes with hooked weights around her from both sides of the path, while someone small and fast struck her hard in the side of the head with a staff. Fortunately, she had time to flip backwards from the saddle but she landed badly on one ankle, being unable to balance correctly with the yanking of the ropes.
She shouted, “Argo, GO! Birdie, GO”, but the golden horse was the only one who succeeded. Argo was like my Zephyr; she knew understood everything that Baba Xe said, so she made an escape.
I was incapacitated by ropes as well, so dumbstruck was I by witnessing the fall of my Baba Xe. However I noticed that Zephyr disappeared into the woods; they would never know that she existed.
The Roman patrol must have been watching us a good while and formulated a very concise plan. We had simply let our guard down. It was a very bitter lesson for me, early on and it would never happen to me quite that way again. I watched as four soldiers took Baba down; they were giants; I had never seen such huge men. Each of them had an enormous spear, and he ran it through a part of her clothing and into just enough skin to pin her. She had also taken a hard fall from Argo to make certain the horse had been able to run away. It was worse for me to see my hero battered than if it had happened to me personally. Yanked from my saddle, the ropes circled me several times, and then someone put his sandaled foot on my head to tighten the knot. I bit the toe, which earned me a curse and a swat to the head.
“Birdie,” Baba ordered, her voice wheezing, barely coherent. “Behave.”
This earned her a kick in the gut. It didn’t faze her; the look she gave her kicker should have killed him. I looked around. It appeared we were captured by a scouting patrol of Romans. Their leader, by his swagger and his ornate cloak strutted to her side and stood looking down at her smugly satisfied with himself. He was heavy-set man, with the short curly haircut, coffee bean eyes, leather clothing and shining brass armor, and sandals with heavy leather straps that reached upward around his thick hairy legs.
“I am wondering today, how Titus Maximus could be so fortunate as to simply come across Xena the Conqueror bathing alone with only her squire for company.
He mused. “ Delivering you to our Emperor, my dear Conqueror, will greatly accelerate my career in Rome.”
“It’s just your lucky day, Titus. You caught me on the only day off I’ve taken in seasons,” She growled, “and my squire is of no use to you. She’s very green; let her go; she’ll keep her mouth shut. I am your pay off.”
I wanted to say something, but her eyes stopped me cold. If she could get me out of the situation, she wanted me to run. But I would not leave her.
“Something wrong, My Lady?” Scrubbers took hold of Gabrielle’s elbow as she leaned against the stable wall.
The small queen pushed her hair back from her face and closed her eyes a moment.
“I don’t know, Scrubby, I’ve suddenly gone just a bit dizzy,” she went inward a moment. “Actually, perhaps I won’t ride just now; perhaps, a stretch on the bed for awhile might be better.”
“You are the Queen, “smiled Scrubbers, “Your wish…”
Gabrielle gave him a playful pat on the arm, “‘The Queen’ wishes that you wouldn’t call her, ‘the Queen’.”
“Very well, My Lady,” laughed the former rider with the Warlord Xena. “But that’s as low as I go m’am.”
The emerald eyes twinkled at him as she slid out the large stable door, “Thanks Scrubby.”
Outside she immediately put both hands to her head which was throbbing. It was a quick trip across the courtyard into the fortress and upstairs into the large royal suite. Kicking off her boots, she crawled into the middle of the bed, and sat cross-legged, with eyes shut, hands in lotus position on her knees, concentrating on her breathing, breathing in, breathing out, and in, and out… firmer, quieter.. in and out…focus… inside… the beach… the sky… a small blue star on the horizon.. bright… GOOD. Higher still, where was it? There. The larger silver star… bright, but not as bright as usual. Gabrielle steadied her breathing and sent a message to that star. “I’m coming.”
The afternoon waned. The situation didn’t make sense, but that was because there was little honor in the Roman leader. They were a scouting party of some kind just out surveying the lay of the land. When Titus came upon Xena the Conqueror, he saw the lay of his life change instead. However, because he was a big man with a small mind, it appeared that he would take his pleasure playing with us first, and then drag us to Rome, claim his reward, and live happily ever after. The patrol lay around eating and drinking without much ambition, so we had ample opportunity to observe them. It was foreign to me to see soldiers so lethargic- so uninspired. Baba was well secured by ropes; I was not as well secured, but she would not allow me to even entertain any plan of escape on pain of worse punishment at her hand than the Romans’. I believed her, but my little bird voice told me that our survival would fall on my wits. The most recent kick Titus had dealt Baba was to her head and had put her unconscious with blood seeping from her hairline. I was fretting and it showed, for soon his thick laced sandals were in front of my eyes.
“On your feet Conqueror’s squire.” He pulled me up by the hair. I only just refrained from trying a kick in his privates.
“What does her Conquerorship call you?”
I could smell the stale wine on him. His men lay around the fire in different wine induced poses; there were eight of them. One was by the tent though, washing dishes and clothing. He had brought us bread and drink earlier, and I had taken notice of his kind eyes. He was perhaps fifteen or sixteen winters old.
Titus received no answer from me.
“I said what does the Conqueror call you, girly?” he was louder. My refusal made him angry. Good.
“Insubordinate are we? Marcus!” The boy halted his duties and came immediately to his master’s side.
Titus drew his sword. The gentle brown eyes I had admired in Marcus earlier showed a flash of dread, and then they closed.
“Let’s show this little girl how we handle insubordinate squires in Rome, Marcus.”
“My name is Clio, sir.” I spoke quickly. “Marcus has not been insubordinate.”
The boy bowed his head and clenched his hands into tight fists.
The flat side of the heavy Roman sword slammed into Marcus’s slightly built backside. Marcus rose on his tiptoes with a grimace and then let himself down without a sound.
The second blow opened his eyes and the tears filled them, but this time there was also anger. I didn’t blame him. This was just the cruelty of a bully and a tyrant.
“Looks like enough of a lesson to me, Titus.”
The always cool conversational tone of Xena the Conqueror drew all attention to her standing in her relaxed athletic pose. Even with dried blood on the side of her head, disheveled, beaten, with bound hands, she was magnificent.
“What is the problem? Is my squire being disrespectful?”
“Just a might, Conqueror,” growled Titus, glowering at me. “I was just going to give her a lesson in humility.”
“The squire of the Conqueror is specially chosen.” Baba kept the very casual tone,
”She answers to no one but me. Isn’t that correct, Clio?”
She limped over to me to lift my chin, her eyes slicing into mine with cold intensity.
“Yes, my Lady Conqueror,” my answer was meek; I dropped my eyes, in keeping with the ambiance we were creating.
“Clio, it doesn’t matter if a superior is Greek, Roman, or DOZ, that person will always be superior to YOU, child. Perhaps you need some extra emphasis on that attitude.”
She looked at Titus.
“No one disciplines my squire but me, Lord Titus. It is necessary for the maintenance of discretion, obedience, and safety that my squires answer to me and no one else. I will punish Clio.”
She looked over the group. Limping to one of the lieutenants she spoke, “May I borrow your sword, sir to discipline my young squire? The sword of your Lord Titus would break bones in my Clio.”
The soldier shot Titus a questioning look, and Titus nodded. Baba walked toward me slowly, showing no pain for her injured ankle, twirling the sword, testing the weight against her hand; it was a much lighter sword. I began to worry. Baba had never given me the flat of her blade—well not seriously, a light swat now and then, but I had heard many personal accounts of the painful a punishment a flat side could deliver. There was something about the way thin metal could slice the air that made the extra fast resulting swat to one’s backside the champion of stinging chastisement. Baba would never have used one on me. She and Mama G believed they could do quite well enough on my backside with a firm and loving hand.
But Baba was having her hands unbound even as shackles were locked on her feet, so any thoughts she had of escaping with a sword were dashed. I swallowed as she limped towards me with that sword realizing that we had become the centre of attention. There was a soldier on each side of her as she stopped and stood looking at me. She gave a little sweeping motion with the sword to the soldiers,
”A little personal private space if you don’t mind.” Then she put her hand on .my shoulder and spoke, “Take off your coat, Clio.”
I did as I was told.
Hands went to my knees.
She was going to do it; I was going to feel the flat of a sword. I closed my eyes.
The breath flew out of me; a flash of light enveloped my body originating at a searing hot brand spreading across my backside. I caught my breath hard; the flat of the sword’s reputation was well deserved. She put her hand gently on my shoulder.
“Again, Clio.” My hands reached my knees again; my eyes were wet, I took another breath.
My body straightened up involuntarily. It hurt almost as much as when Feisal stabbed me, but that was only one time; tears flooded my eyes, but willpower locked down any outcry.
“One more time, “Baba whispered, and I heard a tremble in her voice.
“Yes, My Lady Conqueror, “I whimpered.
This time her other arm came across the front of me shoulder to shoulder—as near to an embrace as she could manage, and just barely, her lips on my hair; from that embrace her strength flowed into me. The third wallop hurt, but I was able to shake it off quickly.
She turned me towards her and said firmly, “Clio, I hope that you have learned that you must be always be obedient, subordinate, respectful.”
“Yes, My Lady Conqueror.” I said it so the Romans could hear, even though my voice shook terribly.
“Now go to bed immediately. No food for you.”
“Well done, Conqueror,” Titus was laughing,” at least we agree on a few things; subordinates must be kept subordinate, and the best way to do that is by beating them with regularity.”
“Yes, Titus, I do agree.” Baba Xe gave him a cold smile. “People who serve must remember their places, and if they forget, they must be reminded. Even the young ones.”
“Come, eat a bit,” bellowed Titus. “You will be the crown in my political career when I deliver you to Caesar. I should pick your brain first.”
I don’t know how long I lay in the dark, trembling, either from the shock of what had happened, or the cold; it didn’t matter.
“There is my tough little Bird,” the whisper was soft, gentle. “Come here, baby, I am very sorry.”
The familiar voice caught, and a callused hand reached over my back to pull me into strong comforting arms; my trembling subsided.
“Birdie, we swore we’d NEVER punish you with anything but an open hand; we agreed that if you couldn’t be reached with our guiding hands, we would look for another way. “
Tears began to flow from me like melting icicles; I had held my breath since the punishment, but I kept my sobs quiet- melding into her body. Tenderly she held my head to her shoulder rubbing my back until I quieted and could speak,” It’s ok Baba. Reckon I’ve had it coming for a good while.”
“Not like that, Birdie. Never like that.”
She sniffed, and I saw the streaks of tears on her face in the moonlight. She swallowed and then asked softly,
“Do you understand why I did it?”
“Sort of. I figured you were at least a little bit mad because I was being stupid.”
She stroked my hair in the darkness.
“No, Birdie, I couldn’t take the risk of Titus touching you. He had decided that you must be punished; therefore, I chose lay the blade on you myself, rather than to allow one of those Roman PIGS come anywhere close to striking you.”
She kept stroking my hair and drew her own shuddering breath.
“But it had to be convincingly severe, honey, or they would have beaten you again. Birdie; you saw their cruelty to Marcus. It entertains them. “
She then raised her head alertly. It was Marcus, creeping silently in the dark.
“My Lady Conqueror, I’ve brought some things to ease Clio,” his whisper was barely above a breeze. “It’s a bit of a salve and some numbing weed. It helps me. There’s also some bread since she missed dinner.”
“Thanks, Marcus,” I whispered, “Why would you care to be kind after they made you an example to me?”
“That? It was nothing.” He said, with a slight smile.
“ I am their punching bag nightly before they drink themselves unconscious. Your show spared me a night. That’s why I brought the medication to you. “
He ducked his head as if embarrassed. Then he looked up.
“You were wise to punish Clio yourself, My Lady Conqueror. Titus would have broken bones in one as small as she; a squire is nothing more than a piece of game like a rabbit or deer to them. He would have thought nothing of crippling her.”
“And you, Clio, “he whispered, “You were very brave. I don’t even know you but I was proud.”
“Why should you care, Marcus?” Baba asked, not rudely.
“My grandmother was from Amphipolis. I loved to hear the stories of Xenarone.”
“Ah then you are Greek, I thought as much.”
“Yes My Lady Conqueror.”
“Do you want to come with us when we escape, Marcus?” I asked munching on the bread.
“Shouldn’t the Conqueror ask that question and not her squire?”
Marcus gave me a rather severe look, even in the darkness.
A soft chuckle from Baba,
“You will have to excuse Birdie, Marcus. She’s a bit bold for her britches sometimes. You would think the state of her arse would keep her quiet right now.” She gave my pants a little tug.
I was quickly chastened. “Sorry Baba.”
“‘Baba, Birdie?” Marcus was clueless.
She is Robin of the Warrior and Bard. But her friends call her Birdie. And for the time being, you will call her Clio. No one should know that she is mine.”
“Yes My Lady Conqueror. “ He chuckled, “That is wonderful. It gives me even more hope. Two of you!!”
“You’d best be back in your sleeping quarters, Marcus. We’ll talk again. And we WILL get out of this.” Baba told him.
“Thank you My Lady. Good Night, My Lady. Good Night, Bir—Clio.” He scuttled away quickly.
“So then there were three. Things are looking up, “said Baba, in a stronger voice. “Let’s try some of this stuff on your backside, Birdie. Drop those britches.”
I tugged them down over my smarting tail feathers, and she mixed the salve and numb weed together and smoothed it on gently. The fire was eased.
“Good.” whispered my Baba., as she tucked my head inside her arm, “Now go to sleep, Clio. Tomorrow, change will come.”
Daylight found Gabrielle securing her staff to Wendy’s saddle. She then slid the Amazon sword into the sheath at her back and checked the sais at her boots. She walked past Wendy to stroke the soft nose of the golden Argo who had appeared in the night. The horse without rider had shaken everyone and brought all sorts of faithful family forward to help. She cast a glance at her intrepid rescue crew: Cyrene and Scrubby on the wagon, Ephiny and Eponin riding bareback with bows and swords, and Thomas and Galto bringing up the rear. Perhaps not the most handsome posse, but the posse with the greatest heart for certain.
“Gabrielle, do we know where we are going?” Cyrene asked quietly.
“Basically, we are following my hunch, “was the bard’s answer, “but my hunch about my family is usually correct.”
“Then we’re wid ya lass,” came the gruff voice of Scrubbers.
“That we are my Queen, “called Ephiny, while Eponin raised her bow, and Thomas and Galto merely saluted.
The bard smiled at all of them . The Conqueror’s most loyal.
“We are off then,” she said softly and gave Wendy’s reins a little shake…
Eurylocus then came jogging from the gate. Gabrielle closed her eyes.
“Don’t even say it.”
“My Lady, “
“DO NOT EVEN SAY IT!!”
He stepped back.
She ran her hand through her bright hair, gave an enormous sigh, and spoke.
“My Lady, it’s the DOZ.”
“I KNEW IT!! FREEZIN” FRICKIN, FROZEN, DUCKIN MINOTAUR SHITE!!!”
“They always do this!”
“Every time we need to take care of personal emergencies, the stupid DOZ attack!! I swear, someone on Olympus is involved in this. ! Coincidence just does not cut it!”
She swung herself out of Wendy’s saddle.
“Well, I have everyone here at least. Cyrene, Scrubby, will you please secure the domestic areas, particularly the rear residential areas? Thomas, Galto, fetch the militia, and set up. We will need to quickly ready the new siege engines inside the lower parts of the wall; can you do that? Gods. They’ve not even been tested, do you realize that?
Ephiny, Eponin can you send runners to double check everyone and report back to me? We know about their new siege engines, and we are trying new defense ones as well. It makes me nervous. What am I forgetting? Yep, I wish the Conqueror was here too!”
Her group smiled at her as they broke ranks. Scrubbers threw back a grin, “You are doing fine your Majesty!! “
“Thanks, Scrubby. “ it warmed her. “I am going to the wall.”
“Be careful Lass!”
The Roman patrol was striking camp just after daylight; obviously, it was time to move on. Baba watched them calmly, seated with her bound hands and feet and bloody head beginning to look a bit grungy, nevertheless, she never lost her regal bearing.
Titus strutted over to us, “On your feet, ladies, it is time to make our way to Rome, and to my new life.”
“Is that what you think my capture will bring to you, Titus,” Baba said with a sneer, “Don’t you know that Caesar has no loyalty to one person? Loyalty lasts a day in Rome. You would do better to come to Amphipolis and join us.”
Titus bellowed with laughter until he had tears in his eyes.
“You have taken too many blows to the head Conqueror!” he said with a snort, “Do you have any idea what the bounty is on your lovely head?”
Baba rolled up to her feet, shackles and all and looked at him square in the eye.
“Release my squire, Clio,” she said,” She is worth nothing and will say nothing if my orders are such.”
Baba Xe had to have known that her request was hopeless, but I suppose she had to try. And when he laughed again, I guess she had her fill of it, because she leaped upon him wrapping her wrist ropes around his neck. She managed to swing around with both feet and slam his first rescuer in the gut. Titus was a bright purple before one of the big centurions, Felix, they called him, clubbed her nearly unconsciousness again with the hilt of his sword. He slammed her once, and she went to her knees; he would have done so again, but I stepped in front of him.
“Can’t you see she’s down, Master Felix, I whispered. “She’s no good to you dead.”
He locked eyes with me.
“Very well,” he said, “Far less mobile then.”
He grabbed the back of her injured foot and twisted. Baba grunted and immediately flipped around, despite her near unconscious state, but I didn’t know if he had managed to re-injure her ankle or not. Damn him.
I was worried about the beatings she continued to take at the hands of men nearly twice her weight. It was too much even for her, and every encounter weakened her. Titus had regained both breath and feet by now and he took advantage of the opportunity to swing his fist into the side of her head. I jumped with both feet and all of my weight on his big toe, breaking it I hoped.
“You little piece of shite!! I’ll strap every bit of your scrawny hide!” he screamed as he backhanded me.
A cold realization that he would do just that hit me he stumbled toward me unbuckling his heavily studded belt. I scrambled backwards, but could not gain my feet. Well, perhaps I would pass out quickly.
“Master!” it was Marcus who called, “The gods are watching!”
I couldn’t fathom what he was talking about, but I looked in the direction Marcus pointed, and not a stone’s throw away, sat Zephyr, but not the Zephyr I knew.
This was a Zephyr who was much larger and deadly fierce; her teeth were bared with great fangs and her eyes glowed dangerously yellow. A reverberating snarl made my skin become goose flesh, but I knew she wasn’t after me. Perched on Zephyr’s back was Icarus. Only the eyes of the hawk had changed, but they too, glowed with yellow flames. As Titus turned to look at her, Icarus gave an ear splitting shriek and flew straight at his head. He immediately fell to his knees covering his eyes while she beat him with her wings. Zephyr was circling him by this time as well, snarling and taking quick snaps which drew bits of blood. With Titus thus occupied, I managed to call,
And my hawk came to me. I tore a piece of my shirt and wondered how to communicate. I crawled to Baba’s side and dipped a thin twig in the blood from her head. On the tunic, I drew a sun and “N”. My intent was “One day north, “but it would be a miracle if anyone could understand it. Nevertheless, I tucked the scrap into the band on her leg, gazed into her eyes and said, “Icarus, Home.”
Zephyr, heard me then as well. With one more snap at the coward, Titus, she looked at me and her eyes were of my own little fox.
I held her in my heart, for my fox was my love.
“Zephyr, can you go to Mama and bring her?”
She looked at me intensely and then turned and ran. Icarus was only a spot in the distance by now. I held little hope that deliverance would come from this event, but it was all that we had. So my heart clung to it. I collected my wits, strode deliberately to Felix and stood before him humbly. I had an idea that Titus would not trouble us for some time, as he remained cowed and sniveling.
“Master Felix, if you will give me water and a cloth, I will ready the Conqueror as best I can for travel and offer no trouble.”
It seemed to be the best avenue for the time being. Neither of us were up for much physical conflict. Baba must rest, even if the rest forced our distance. He nodded approval, and I collected a small pan of water, and a clean rag; I also began to tear strips from the cleanest parts of my tunic.
I knelt by Baba and began to clean the blood from her head. Fortunately none of the gashes were large, but the bruising and swelling were impressive. Her face winced involuntarily as I dabbed gently at the dried blood. Then I began placing the cool rags on the injuries. Blue eyes began watching me before long.
“So how is the rescue going, Birdie?” she murmured.
“Don’t know yet, but we are working on it,” my voice was low, “the swelling appears to be lessening in your ankle, Baba. Perhaps it’s healing.”
“My famous recuperative powers, “she laid back with a sigh. “Sometimes I wish I could just take a seven day in bed.”
“Why don’t you Baba?” I looked at her, “As long as I’ve known you, you’ve never spent more than two days in bed, and you were either very ill, or very injured. Right now, you MUST REST, because we won’t escape at all if you are hurt again.”
The regionally famous eyebrow went into her hairline at me.
“Listen to the little conqueror.”
I wilted, quickly into tears. “Sorry, Baba.”
She took my hand.
“No, Little Bird, I am sorry, You are doing well, and I am following your lead for now. But if I speak of change… be ready to follow mine, are we agreed?”
“Yes m’am.” That was a relief.
I moved my cold rag to her head.
“I believe that Zephyr or Icarus or both will get word to Amphipolis.”
“You know what worries me, Birdie.”
“It’s when they always show . The worst possible time, and that would be now; don’t you agree?”
My answer was an affirmative snort. “I just hope my god/creatures can manage to break through all of the confusion.”
Baba Xe smiled one of her knowing smiles, “Your god/creatures, Birdie, seem to have their assignments well under control. Did you know?”
I just smiled. My animals were very special.
“Well, Baba, “I whispered, “Here we go.”
Lieutenant Dax was striding over briskly. He looked down at us in an impatient, but not completely unkind manner.
“What is your verdict, little one? Is the Conqueror fit for travel?”
“Yes sir, I believe we can have her sit our horse if we are careful. I will go and fetch Hades.”
“Clio,” He stopped me.
“Sir?” He handed me a ring from his finger.
“ This will say that you have my permission to fetch the horse.”
I took the ring, a heavy gold one with his signet. “Thank you, sir.”
As I walked away, I heard him say, “May I help you stand, Conqueror?”
“What is all of this sudden kindness, Roman?”
“Romans can be decent people, Lady Conqueror.”
“I have seen little demonstration until now.”
“You have a brave squire.”
“She is that. Sometimes too much so for her britches.”
“Ah, it’s the age; I have a nephew.”
“So you are human, Roman.”
My final earshot heard a chuckle. I was near to the horses. The soldiers released Hades to me quickly when I showed the signet ring, as he said, and the other soldiers were nicer to me as well. One asked me if I was still sore from the bite of the blade. I gave him a smile. My trial of the sword blade had bought me some respect among the common men. That was worth something.
Gabrielle stood at the pinnacle of the wall’s tower. Shading her eyes, she walked to the corner and looked to the back edge of the fortress, then she walked across and looked to the other edge; she saw no fault in either preparation, but she felt woefully inexperienced to be making the judgments. There were reinforcements at the wall’s corners to make certain no hairy fellas cut around the edges to scale it at those places, but how was she to know if they were enough? She had never been the full commander during an attack. She had troops posted at the rear of the fortress to take care of the hairy fellas who would be catapulted in, even though that was a rather dubious strategy on the part of the DOZ, they were as prepared for such an attack as possible.
The latest strategy of the fortress was set as well. There were six new access doors in the forward wall—heavy wooden doors constructed in like fashion to the fortress gates. When under attack, the doors would be opened and large wooden chutes were fitted inside. Sturdy flaming tubs of Greek fire would be fired though the chutes sledged at great speed and force by enormous wooden hammers suspended on frames backed up to each door. The hammerheads and the tubs had been cured with much sap and smoke to withstand the slamming force required to deliver the fire. This gave Amphipolis Fortress the double ability to hurl Greek fire bombs from the top of the wall and at waist level from the inside the wall. It was a fearsome defense, and it put fewer militia lives in danger.
The job of cranking the gears that drew the great hammers back up to the frame tops and then tripping the releases on the hammers to smash into the tubs, was extremely dangerous. But it was a challenge of strength and coordination, and like any group of boys, the soldiers loved honing their skills at working the machines. They did it with gusto, sweat, chants, and song.. The army was well practiced at their complicated contraptions, and it was paying off. As a new weapon, the Greek fire sledges were overwhelming to the DOZ’s. They might have even fancied that Ares himself had come to hurl his weapons at them. When the first rounds of fireballs came roaring at the Decedents of Zon they stood, totally gob smacked. Gabrielle closed her eyes at the panic-stricken screaming of the men as they ran around in flames. She wanted to shout to them to lie down in the dirt and roll over and over to extinguish the flames.
If an enemy were coming to kill herself and her loved ones, good enough, she would battle to the death. But this everlasting posturing battle over territory and who would build the better weapon only to cause others pain and misery and death, time and time again, made her ill.
It wearied her, even as she met her responsibilities as Queen of the Amazons and Queen of the Amphipolis Fortress. She would protect her own, but she didn’t have to like it.
While she lost herself in these meditations, a hairy hand slammed her from her reverie and put her on her backside. It dragged her by a single foot toward the wall’s edge as she fiercely kicked and cursed.
“Let me go, you fool!!”
Frantically she stomped and kicked. Just as her foot slid over the edge, she drew the sword from her back scabbard as a very strong yank nearly pulled her over entirely. She leaned back grasping a rope tied to a metal ring in the wall. With the other hand she pointed her sword into the face of a …. boy… with no hairy face yet, perhaps only three seasons older than Birdie. His eyes were sapphire blue.
She tried one more kick.
” I don’t want to hurt you! But I have a family to take care of, and I will hurt you. Please, Please, you must let go!”
He kept staring at her but didn’t pull any harder. It came to her then, and she leaned forward and simply rapped his hands with her sword... hard. The eyes held surprise, but he released her foot. She immediately twisted about on her belly, peeking over; to make sure he was uninjured. He was fine. But he had landed right beside a fire door.
“HEY!” She yelled once again.
He looked at her and she motioned to one side of the door. He flattened himself to the wall just as the fireball blasted out full force. When his eyes met hers again, they were soft with gratitude.
“Run away, boy!” she called. “Go!”
He looked at her one more time... and then made his way into the crowd of hairy fellas and disappeared.
“My Lady, are you injured?” It was Thomas. She looked up at him somewhat dazed, and he helped her to her feet.
“I believe we have them discouraged now Lady, if you would like to go below; I and the lads are going out to clean up the mess in front.”
Gabrielle shuddered inside; she knew the “mess’ of which he spoke. It was a job that Xena usually joined her men in performing, a reality of war, of which The Conqueror never lost sight. Gabrielle had plenty of imagination for that.
“Lady, we took no casualties.”
“Thank you, Thomas that is excellent news..”
Gabrielle sighed. Yes, she could command well enough if circumstances forced her hand. But she had no drive to be a warrior, like the two people she loved most in the world did. Descending the stairs from the wall, she stopped a moment and studied the population below. They were waiting for a word from her about the victory.
She looked out over the people, good people who supported herself and Xena; people, who looked to them, loved them, people who would die for them. She raised her head,
“Thomas has just told me that we have won a battle with no casualties to the fortress; there is no better news to this queen’s ears.” She drew her sword and held it high.
”Well done Amphipolis!” And Amphipolis cheered. Perhaps that was the sound that Xena loved so much.
Later, the people were still feasting downstairs, but Gabrielle was in the bedroom making final preparations to depart on her search in the morning. She had looked inward at the small blue star and the larger silver star, and they were both dimming now. The anxiety had taken her appetite.
A sound at the window drew her attention; perhaps a tree branch,, she crossed the large bedroom to secure it. Instead the wind slammed the heavy window open and standing on the wide sill was Zephyr. There was a small gold colored hawk perched on her back.
Gabrielle was not so familiar with the hawk, so she simply stroked the fox’s head for the moment. Then Zephyr looked back at the hawk. Gabrielle discovered the small band on the bird’s leg.
“Will she peck at me?” The fox just looked at her and continued to wait patiently.
“Very well, then,” she began by caressing the bird’s head with a gentle finger,” I believe that Birdie calls you Icarus, right? Be a good bird, and don’t hurt me. There we go.”
She eased the band from the talon with no further repercussion than an angry stare.
“Hmmm. A sun and an ‘N’. One sun north, is my interpretation of this, but I would feel better if you were with me, my animal friends.”
Icarus had already flown into the night again, but Zephyr made her way out of the window and into the room. She padded over to the large bed and looked for permission.
Gabrielle smiled, “Of course, Zephyr, I would be glad of some company; perhaps you would too?” She lay down on the bed and the ebony fox curled up close to her resting her muzzle gently on her stomach. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long while.
Gabrielle stroked the dark fur, and felt a single tear track down her cheek..
“I promise, Zephyr. Tomorrow, we set out to find our girls, at first light.” She received a gentle lick of the hand...
“I am very glad that you are here.”
Another silent tear fell, and the fox crept a little closer, in the same manner as she had comforted her young mistress many times when Birdie was in sorrow.
“Zephyr, you do understand, don’t you?”
A cool nose touched Gabrielle’s hand, the fox rose, turned her warm back to the queen, and snuggled close to her, as Gabrielle put her arm across soft fur, and they both drifted into quiet sleep.
To be continued………………………………………………………………………………………
Into the new morn
My warriors ride
Toward distant horizons
Far from my side
I disguise misgivings,
Control weak tears.
If either leaves me,
I am not whole.
One is my heart,
One holds my soul.
They look toward stars
I cannot reach.
They search for lessons
I cannot teach.
I ask you Artemis,
To watch them please,
And guide them safely
Home to me.
Gabrielle the Bard
How shall I live
Without my Soul?
My heart is cold
Without the glow
Of her warm light.
I shall not die
I must survive,
To train our child
When she must think,
When she must speak,
And should both fail,
When to fight well
And so return
Xena the Conqueror
Continued in Part 8
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