“The Invasion part III is the continuing story of Birdie, thirteen year old daughter of our Warrior and Bard who lives and plays in a “light medieval Conqueror” setting. As one might imagine of the daughter of Xena and Gabrielle, Birdie is always in some kind of misadventure or trouble; however, she is well advised by her parents, her Amazon friends and godmother Ephiny, and her new love, Rachelle. At times Birdie receives spiritual guidance from Zephyr her black fox and soul mate, Marcus, a friend from another plane of existence—both special guides sent by Birdie’s mentor, the beautiful and formidable Artemis.
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard.
I am going to war.
Predawn of the day—insomnia was the victor so I rose and dressed by lantern light with Zephyr as a solemn audience. The leather breeches felt a little strange; Baba had them made for me, saying they were the best protection for fighting. The black leather was soft on the interior and somewhat stiffer on the exterior, but that was how they were meant to be. I smiled at the lacings in the legs; Baba must have specified to the tanner. The lacings were a Birdie tradition, as soon as I was out of swaddling. My mother discovered that lacings were a faster way to access my many bumps, bruises, cuts, bangs and bandages I acquired throughout the course of a day, or a seven day, or a moon, rather than to constantly be stripping me down to attend to first aide . I was not a completely clumsy child, but I was always needing patching or sewing because of this or that mishap. There was “Xena Warrior Princess” and there was” Birdie Walking Horse Wreck”.
My shirt was silk was like my parents’ only red for the breast of a Robin. My swordplay had earned me a breast plate like my Baba’s under my dragon overlay and also the pewter gauntlets. The boots my grandba had given me completed my outfit, as well as the Baby Tide and scabbard with the silver Robin inlay which lay across my back. The scabbard’s journal was removed for this occasion. Daggers adorned my belt and my right boot. My bow and arrows would be in Hades’ saddle. Even Zephyr had a special coat of light chain mail that was specially made for her because where I went, Zephyr went. We took account of ourselves in the polished shield in my room.
“We look like royalty, Zephyr.” I said quietly.
We do indeed, little mistress.
It had taken me awhile to notice.
“When did you begin to convey your thoughts in words to me?”
I do not know, little Mistress. I have always had thoughts; you have only just begun to hear them.
I pondered. “Perhaps a visit from our Lady Artemis?”
“The goddess decided I needed more help.”
“Will you help me today?”
As best I can, Little Mistress.
“Thank you, I will need it.”
You know that you always have my help.
“But Zephyr, it is more important to me that you remain safe.”
You must be safe as well, Little Mistress.
I knelt to look into her noble eyes.
“Safety first then, for both of us.”
Are you following the safest course, Little Mistress?
The answer took no thought.
“I am following my heart, Zephyr.”
You have my help and my heart in following yours, then.
I kissed her nose and we left my room.
Baba Xe and Mama G were exiting their chambers resplendent in their gear, which as their squire, I had arranged for them earlier. Mama was dressed very similarly to both Baba and I, except that her shirt was sea foam, and she wore different boots to house her sais. It was unnerving to see her thus outfitted, especially with her royal Amazon sword across her back. It often slipped my mind that my gentle mother was Queen of the Amazons and kept the title well polished.
Baba wore her usual dress—the leather, pewter, and blue, and yet she was unusually striking. The Conqueror was in her element when a battle was on her horizon. Ares’ blood ran in her veins, and while it was quiet much of the time, it rose to boiling when summoned. This morning the energy bristling from her was visible; she was mesmerizing in her dangerous beauty. I wondered if I had inherited even a fraction of that charisma.
I followed them down the stairs, out of the kitchen, and into the big yard outside the stables where there was a final meeting.
My godmother the Regent Ephiny, her second, Rachelle’s Aunt Eponin, their warriors, Chief Jom, his warriors and Rach were standing in a circle in the chilly morning.
There was no light, but my Grandba walked among all with a tray of steaming mugs warming the forces. She was a marvel; she never slept, I supposed.
As I sipped my hot cider, I listened to The Conqueror.
“West ambush, be ready. It’s a fair sized group, so they may likely have catapults, crossbowmen, and at least one or possibly two hundred cavalry.”
Mama G stood quietly beside the Conqueror with one hand lightly threaded through Baba’s pewter gauntlet.
There was a pause of some length, and I realized that Baba had extended her other arm in my direction with a slight smile. I took a small shy hop, and I stood in front - her hands on my shoulders- as she continued, “I would expect the fire will damage them greatly, but it won’t stop them completely. Watch for their javelins, and then swords. They have only wooden shields, and so those should break easily.”
Her hands gripped my shoulders intensely to a point that wasn’t quite painful.
“MOST important of all my friends,” Baba’s voice became charged with emotion, “is that you protect yourselves and that you protect each other. If we come through this without casualties, I promise you Conqueror’s Honor, we shall have a three day feast!”
There was quiet laughter and a soft cheer. There was just enough light to see her teeth flash. Baba then stepped back with her arms extended sideways, I grabbed her arm in the warrior’s grip on one side, Mama did on the other, and so the grip went round hands to arms until we formed an unbreakable circle. There was silence; everyone focused- a ring of flashing eyes meeting, united. When the Conqueror tightened her grip, the circle tightened immediately; it was a great symbol for the moment.
“Gods speed to us; victory at Wild Horse!” Baba said quietly.
“Gods speed to us; victory at Wild Horse.” We repeated it almost like a prayer, and the party broke calmly to go separate paths.
Gabrielle did weapons check on her Conqueror: daggers, one at the breasts, two at the arms, waist, and legs; The Tide at her back, chakram at her waist. Xena check the Battling Bard, sais at the boots, Amazon sword, and staff in the holder on Wendy’s saddle. Their respective livery was immaculate; they certainly had the best of squires; where was she?
“Where is Birdie?” Gabrielle asked looking beyond Xena to Hades’ stall which was empty.
The Conqueror looked at her partner with a soft smile.
“Gabrielle, you know where Birdie is, do you not?”
“She-- didn’t.” The heat began in the usually soft voice.
“It would appear that she did.” The blue eyes were calm.
“She promised that she wouldn’t!” The forest eyes caught fire, “she lied to me!”
“Well, I certainly believed that she had promised me.”
The Conqueror gave her bard a leg up into her saddle and then catapulted her own body easily onto Argo’s back.
“When I talked to Birdie, my feeling was that Birdie said what she had to say in order to appease me under the circumstances.”
The Conqueror put her hand on the bard’s shoulder. “I don’t like it either, and I will certainly make that very clear to Birdie, Gabrielle.”
“But Xena, what do we do now?”
“Gabrielle, we have no choice but to do what we discussed the other night; we can only trust Birdie to keep herself safe. She’s no longer a child.”
The bard put her hand over her heart, closed her eyes, and by great will power held back tears.
“Ok Xena,” she swallowed hard. She gripped the warrior’s hand furiously. “You know this falls almost in the same category as when I accepted your death. “
The Conqueror blinked as if an arrow has entered her body.
“I didn’t realize it would be this difficult for you.” she said in a tight whisper.
“As usual, I am given no choice in the matter. I cannot very well go riding off after her, can I? There will be several battles in the way.”
She closed her eyes and clung desperately to the warrior’s hand for a count of ten.
When they opened, the deep lakes colored pools of emotion were completely focused; the Amazon Queen had taken over.
Warrior and bard took a simultaneous cleansing breath.
The small mother spoke.
“But after the battle, I will deal with my child, and she will ALWAYS be my child, Xena; Birdie and I will discuss this at length.”
The Conqueror chuckled, “If the kid knows what is good for her, she will remain on the battlefield until you have calmed down.”
She received a cuff to the arm for that remark, but then the bard’s hand slid down the arm to join the Conqueror’s hand, and again they focused on the coming confrontations.
“Hades you are such a fine horse, “ I whispered into his ear as my big black fellow burned up the ground between Amphipolis and Wild Horse Valley. It was still fairly dark, but it was as if he had night vision, because his hooves were sure, steady, and fast.
“Zephyr...” my midnight fox loped along easily, keeping pace, even at the speed we were galloping. She must be using some of her god-fox powers; she had her own contract with Artemis. Artemis. I hoped she wasn’t becoming too angry with my actions. There would be enough hot water to boil in IF I lived through this little bout of decision making. I shook my head; WHEN we lived through these crazy decisions. It had to work. So much that I loved was at stake.
We completed the straight road route along the base of the valley and began to ascend the west hill of Wild Horse Valley following the single track. I pushed Hades a little, regretfully, but we were an open target in the bald grass until we reached the tree line. Fortunately, my dark steed covered the distance like the champion war horse that he was.
When we reached the summit, I dismounted, took Hades’ reins and walked him, so he could settle a bit. There was a small pool just at the center of the summit, so I allowed him a brief drink; Zephyr and I drank as well. We walked out onto a small flat ledge to watch the sunrise commence, and we saw them.
The dust cloud was just at the end of my perception in the distance, but it had to be the Romans, because my blood ran cold. I heard a low rumbling snarl rising at my side and looked down to see it was Zephyr. Her ruff was standing straight up; her eyes were flashing and she was snarling like a vicious wolf.
“Easy girl,” I laid my hand gently on her neck to feel her body shaking under the fur.
“Easy girl, we’re going to be all right.” I watched the procession a moment. It was quite a large number of soldiers, but we could deal with them.
“Is everyone ready?” I asked my two closest companions, my animal friends who had seen me through a good many rough times.
Zephyr looked up at me, and Hades responded with a soft nose on my shoulder. Hades bent his front leg and I took the step up into his saddle.
“Zephyr, can you keep up?”
Little Mistress, you offend me.
“Sorry, Zephyr, it was meant out of concern.”
Set the pace necessary, Little Mistress; I will stay with you.
“Very well then.”
Hades completed the decent down into the meadow which was only a couple of leagues from the edge of the woods and the camouflaged weapons. The Roman legions were advancing and I knew my arrival would be close. There was also the matter of identifying the tree in which Rach was stowed.
I urged Hades far to the back of the woods’ edge to prevent our being seen; our presence shouldn’t give away the ambush. It was important that the greatest amount possible of the legion should be in front of the Amazons and DOZ when the attack began. But Hades was tall enough that I could see that the time of the attack was imminent; there were a great many Romans within sight of the edge now, and the call to attack could not be far away.
Hades kept a steady trot while I searched frantically in the trees for Rach; this would not be easy, but if it was difficult for me to find her, that meant she was probably safe. There was stillness and then I heard it begin.
Pony roared, “FIRE!!!” and the deep WHOOOOOMPPP as one of our Greek fire cannons slammed into the mechanism and the huge flaming ball launched into the legion like a deadly comet. It landed with a dull Thummmp, and then there was shouting, screaming of men and animals. I could smell the burning and see sparks rising into the beautiful fall morning.
“Crank ‘er back boys!” that was the voice of the broad red-hair man running back toward the big machine. Clayborne, Clayburg—wasn’t that his name—Baba had mentioned him.
“Run Hades!” I urged into my horse’s ear and he picked up speed as the next WHOOOOOMMMMMMPPP seemed to Whoooosh right over our heads from a cannon in the back.
Hades shied hard to the right..
“Easy boy,” I laid my hand on his neck and stroked it gently, “Easy big fella; yeah, it’s scary isn’t it?” Hades had been in many skirmishes and duels but he had never run through this type of firefight. I kept my hand on him and he settled but he remained very nervous; so was I.
“Zephyr?” she was right there looking up. “Are you ok?”
Yes, Little Mistress; keep moving..
WWWHHHOOOOOOOOMMMP!!! I could feel the heat of that one; the screams of the poor burning souls were louder as they tried with futility to put out the Greek fire on their bodies. The battle was coming closer to us. Among the catapults, Roman soldiers were making their ways into the woods, trying to take out the sources. They weren’t succeeding, but I couldn’t fault their courage. Three Amazons jumped on one centurion on horseback as he neared fire cannon. He must have thought the Harpies were after him, or that was his final thought as his head was removed in two Amazon sword whacks. It just missed Zephyr as she loped past, hopping straight up over the rolling sphere. Other soldiers were running into the woods, swords drawn, seemingly blind as to what they might run into. I drew my own sword as a precaution, and it was soon engaged as a Roman tried to pull me from Hades.
“Up Hades!” I commanded as I blocked his wild thrust with the Baby Tide, and then Hades’ hooves did the rest.
“Good boy,” I patted his neck, and we moved on.
Pony fell back to catch a breath beside her partner.
“Looks to be going well enough,” she said as she looked into the dark eyes of her lover, the acting Regent of the Amazon tribe of Queen Gabrielle.
“So far so good,” Ephiny uttered grimly. “Xena planned it well, though.”
FWWWUUUMMMMPPP!!! Another fireball went over and the two Amazons covered their heads.
“It’s coming close to the time for the full out charge isn’t it?” muttered Rachelle’s aunty.
“Yep. Let’s go and make certain that every cannon has a charge and a backup load ready to run; we’ll meet back here, ready?”
“Right.” The burly weapons master turned.
“Pony,” The Regent’s hand held her arm.
“Where is Rachelle?”
“She is in the ancient olive at the back edge of the forest.”
“Arrot is with her; Evaline is further back out of danger.”
“They aren’t fighters, Pony.”
“They don’t need to be; no Roman will succeed in going back that far.”
The Regent raised her eyebrows, “Pony, you planned and hoped for the best, my friend. But did you anticipate the worst? You must always do that when kids are involved.”
Pony had no answer but the fear in her eyes.
“It has begun,” The Conqueror said quietly.
“How can you tell?”
“It’s difficult to explain, but when human beings begin to kill each other, the rest of nature goes very quiet. There is an unnatural stillness right now. Can you feel it?”
“Perhaps,” Her partner closed her eyes catching her breath suddenly. “Perhaps.”
“I can smell the odor of Greek fire as well, “The Conqueror took a deep breath. “It’s beginning to drift this way on the breezes. So the fight has begun.”
The smaller paler hand reached again for the warrior’s and squeezed it tightly, “Xena….”
The warrior squeezed in return, “Gabrielle look inside yourself; do you have any feeling that Birdie is not all right?”
“The bard centered herself and looked inward.
“No, she’s fine.”
“If anything happens to her, you will know; you have that connection with her. Trust that Gabrielle.”
The Conqueror gave her soul mate a reassuring smile.
“I will, “Gabrielle calmed herself, “I must; there is no choice, and we need to be ready.”
“Good girl.” Xena leaned across the space between the horses, pulled her bard’s head closer, and kissed the sunlit hair.
The action brought a bright youthful smile, “It’s been a long time since you’ve kissed me that way, Xena.”
“Has it?” The Conqueror settled back into her saddle.
“I still like it.”
“It’s a sign of approval, comfort, and love. It always made me feel good. You do it to Birdie, but I guess I still like it sometimes. Perhaps that’s not very mature.” The bard dropped her head a little.
For an answer, the Conqueror rose in her stirrups, leaned across again, and kissed her soul mate’s bright hair at length.
“How is that?”
The emerald eyes blinked back tears, “That, My Lady Conqueror, makes me believe that I can do anything.”
“Good. Then we are ready.”
“We are. Xena?”
The jade colored eyes shone brightly, “I love you Xena”
A fierce smile flashed in the indigo eyes.
“And those words, Gabrielle, have always made me believe that with your love, NOTHING is impossible.”
She reached across once more, took the bard’s pale hand and kissed it. “You are my source, Gabrielle. Still, always, and forever.”
I was beginning to feel a bit frantic. Hades was running an obstacle drill in and out of the fire brands, and when he wasn’t dodging those, I was blocking javelins with my sword, no easy task. A few soldiers had offered to take Hades from me; he was a fine horse, and they assumed I would be no match. We had shown them differently. Zephyr had stayed close by, running like a predatory wolf, nose low to the ground, eyes flashing dangerously. If a man offered to rise after I first cut him down, she quickly finished him with her teeth to his throat. This was a very deadly Zephyr, but we were about deadly business.
A new command rippled among the troops. Horses were being hitched to the lighter catapults and also to the wagons which carried the extra loads of Greek fire. Foot soldiers were checking crossbows, swords, daggers, and all other weapons they had taken from the Romans; I surmised that the final run and drive to the valley was coming into play very soon; I had to find Rachelle. On a whim, I steered Hade’s back left again toward the rear of the forest.
And there it was-- a monolithic olive standing like an impenetrable fort—its silvery bark and leaves catching the sunlight. Anyone needing a tree for any purpose would choose that tree. My guess was confirmed when I picked out Arrot’s burly form squatting in the lower branches.
“There-- Hades; Zephyr.” My fox was making her way forward of us with similar thought. The tree stood alone in a clearing, a place that should have been safe. But even as we made our way toward it, I saw three Roman soldiers charging that way as well; two were afoot and one on horseback. I could not understand why three soldiers would make this tree their target until I reached the same angle as they had viewed. The sun hit the trunk in such fashion that it had an almost human shape, and in the midst of the silvery leaves shone Rach’s golden hair like a smaller sphere of sunlight itself. The tree somehow exclaimed its importance; it was a tree of character, and something of value was hidden there.
Calm washed over me like a chilling rain; I knew exactly what course of action I would take. A blood red filter fell across my sight changing the Romans into moving black shapes in a crimson mist.
“Hades, hurry boy!” I patted his neck; his speed increased and I reached backward and drew my sword.
Arrot was doing her best, but she was no warrior. As Hades made his first pass, I leapt high from the saddle taking momentum of my horse’s speed and slammed my boots into the mounted Roman’s head which stunned him cold through his helmet as he fell from the saddle. On the opposite side, I drove my sword slashing across the neck of the man standing on the ground as I completed my flip landing on my feet. I reviewed my work; the soldier had died instantly- blood sprayed from his jugular vein. Hades circled back as I ran to jump on the back of the man who had Arrot backed against the tree. This was not the wisest move because he far outweighed me, easily broke the choke hold I attempted, and battered me to the ground with an elbow to my lower gut, which was unprotected by my breast plate. I rolled quickly trying to regain my breathing while ducking to avoid a vicious kick from a huge boot, but it caught my side; fortunately most of it on my armor that time. Tucked and rolled again, a silent command of will forced my body to its feet as he slashed his blade into the ground where I had just before lain. He laughed a lazy phlegmy snort.
“Agh! These Amazon deviants even send their children to fight for what they are worthhhhhh.”
He lost track of the final word as my heavy boot slammed into his crotch with all my strength. He went down choking, and Zephyr came over to sink her teeth into his throat. He gurgled only briefly.
“Good girl, “ I picked up my sword, wiped it clean on the grass, and slid it home in its sheath on my back.
“Birdie!” The warning from Arrot I had been expecting, and I quickly drew and dirtied my sword driving it underhanded and backwards into the man who had awakened from his unconsciousness. I twisted it hard once, twice, and heard his grunt and blurble in my ear. I pulled it from him and cleaned the gore from it on the grass once more.
“Hey Arrot,” My friend’s large hand came to my arm in a hard warrior’s grip as the red mist left my vision. I kicked the Roman’s body over behind me.
“Birdie, what a sight you were. I did my best...”
“You would have managed, Arrot.” I kept Arrot’s pride intact, “it was fortunate I happened by that’s all. What are your orders?”
“To guard Princess Rachelle; Master Arms woman Eponin woulda never thought the Romans would be back this far.”
I turned and surveyed the tree.
“What if I take Rachelle with me?”
“Well, I expect I will just make my way back around the long way to Amphipolis. Evaline is waiting for me a couple a leagues behind.”
“Go then Arrot, because I am here to take her.”
“Are you sure it’s safe, Birdie?”
I reached for her hand again,” Is anyplace safe, Arrot?”
Our eyes met.
She gave me that grin; sometimes Arrot understood me well. “So we need to be with our loved ones then.”
I stood under the tree, “Are you coming down Rach?”
She was beside me in the next breath.
“Thought you would never ask.”
To my surprise she kissed me on the temple, sweat and blood and all.
She reached down to pat Zephyr, “Heroes.”
The blush must have shone through the sweat and blood on my brow.
“We better ride, “I gave her a hands up onto the back of Hades.
“I never realized that Hades was so huge!”
My backside settled into the saddle in front of her,” Takes a big horse for a mighty warrior, you know.”
That earned me a light cuff to the back of my head and a hug around the waist as we turned to plot our next course.
The black fox attended me, “Will you lead the way? I trust you more than myself right now.”
I shall do my best Little Mistress.
My next message was silent.
“I love you, Zephyr; lead on.”
She only spared a quick glance before putting her instincts to work.
And I you, Little Mistress.
“Rach,” I spoke quietly as we cantered quietly at the back of the battle; Zephyr was selecting an extremely good path thus far, “ Are you good with bow and arrow?”
“Am I an Amazon?” She sounded offended.
“It’s ok, you’ve been busy.”
Hades galloped on and we listened to the sound of fire and battle.
“Birdie, do any of our parents know about this little escapade?”
She sighed, “Well, you did save me from those Roman fellows, which is in your favor.”
“I told you I would come.”
“I knew that you would.”
I concentrated on watching my fox and guiding my horse’s head. There was a snicking sound and the hiss of an arrow released behind me.
“Not any more.”
“Good. “ I was gathering my wits for the break from the forest and the dash we would have to make along the side of the valley. It would be tricky because our Amazons and our hairy friends would be driving the Romans into the valley. We would need to outrun the fastest centurions on horseback and they would come for us, especially if they recognized who we were.
A tingly feeling occurred at my left; I extended my hand and caught an arrow heading right for Rach.
“Birdie, how did you do that?” her voice sounded demanding, loud next to my ear.
“I have many skills.”
“Well I like that one.”
“Take a good hold now; this next part could become very very tricky.”
She scooted herself up behind me, putting belly to my back and her hands in my front pockets.
“How is that?”
She laughed, and so did I. Might have been an odd time for laughter, but we needed it. Zephyr gave us a disapproving look.
I smiled down at her,” Yes M’am, I will keep my mind in the game, sorry Zephyr.”
I kept Hades on the outside edge of the action as we approached the valley. We took out the stragglers as we came upon them; if Zephyr didn’t jump a fellow, I either ran him through with my sword, or if he was out of reach, Rach took him with an arrow. We were a good team. I halted right at the entrance to watch the action for a moment, and then kneed Hades to climb the first inclination of the west side of the valley. At the edge there were four Greek fire cannons in a line to herd any of the legions who tried to make a break for it. I could see on the east side, Chief Jom and his warriors were mounting their attack as well. It looked as if all was going fairly well.
So it was time for Hades, Zephyr, Rachelle and I to make our run. We cantered on to the side service road that ran right along the west edge of the valley. Most of the Romans were running through the center now, being chased by both Amazons and DOZ. We took the wagon path on the side nearest the slope and I let Hades find his footing and pace, and then I leaned down, “Ok, boy, it’s time to really show what you are made of…”
And my horse opened up like he was blessed by Hermes the Messenger himself. Hades was a beautiful, powerful horse, and he had never given anything less than all his mighty heart could give since the day we had rescued him from the cruel King Feisal. Today he was stretching his best to run even faster.
“Easy, boy.. Don’t break your heart now…” I whispered into his ear… “The gods couldn’t give me a finer horse, but I don’t want you to hurt yourself ...”
We were moving so quickly there was little of the uneven gallop feeling to his gait, he was running as smoothly as a breeze. I was proud of him and kept a steady hand on his neck.
“Birdie..” Rach whispered tentatively, not wanting to spoil Hades’ effort. “Birdie.”
I turned an ear back and at the same time noticed that Zephyr was looking at me.
“Birdie, we have company.”
Minotaur shite. We’d been spotted.
I heard the cloppity cloppity of horses behind us.
“A dozen perhaps.” I heard the clank of the small hand shield I carried in the back of the saddle. Rach was using it to block arrows.
“They are unlikely to catch us; the problems are the arrows and the numbers. Some of those arrows will succeed by luck and mass.”
An arrow grazed my left knee then leaving just a burn; thanks to the leather pants.
Shite again. My new pants.
I heard two more clanks and more thundering of hooves. Hades had no more to give.
I closed my eyes and simply said, “If it pleases you, My Lady Artemis.. to help me…”
And Marcus was beside me riding easily on a monstrosity of a black horse with flashing stars for eyes. He lay sideways on the animal like we were on a picnic, and looked at me amused.
“Another fix, my beloved Bird friend?”
“Still another, Marcus, is this Bartholomew?”
“Birdie, they are coming closer. “
Rach’s hands clutched me silently, worriedly.
“I think we’ll be ok, Rach. Just hang on.”
“Marcus, are you here to help us?”
He put his other leg over Bartholomew’s back and rode very casually.
“Is it possible that someday, you could behave in a slightly less impulsive manner?”
“I could work on it Marcus.”
Rach was trying to remain calm. She knew nothing of my exchange with Marcus.
I could hear the Roman horses coming closer to us; I did not have to look back.
Marcus reached out and swept his hand through my hair.
“THIS time, little sister. Bartholomew, help your brother.”
Bartholomew moved his enormous head and touched Hades’ nose with his nose gently. Hades shook his head as if receiving instruction. Bartholomew took Hades’ reins in his mouth and Hades’ running strides began to match those of the cosmic steed. The strides became longer and more graceful, with quiet periods in between, almost as if he were and then he was … flying.
“Birdie, what is happening to Hades?” Rach leaned forward.
“Hades is working his magic,” I muttered, “Trust him.”
I spared a backward glance and the Romans were already seven horse lengths behind.
“GO HADES!” an excited shout came from Rachel, “YEEEEEEEHHHAAAAAA!!! Hades is the HORSE!!!””
Rach’s whooping and my subsequent laughter encouraged Hades to even greater speed. Marcus had stretched out so that he was prone against Bartholomew’s neck. When I chanced a backward look, the Romans had turned back, no longer willing to spare the men for chasing two silly kids. When I looked again for Marcus and Bartholomew, they were gone.
We slowed a moment for Hades to breathe. I patted him. “Good Boy!”
Zephyr was looking up at a small golden hawk circling overhead.
It was Icarus.
“Go to my mother and tell her I am coming!”
The hawk dipped her wings at me and flew away.
And later landed in the midst of combat on the arm of the battling bard. Gabrielle as always fought back to back with The Conqueror in the midst of a circle of Romans who were making a final charge.
Bard and bird eyed one another steadily.
“Thank you, Icarus.” Gabrielle whispered, and the hawk rose above the clamor of humans vying for earthly things.
We had arrived at the giant oak a league outside the main gates of Amphipolis.
I tumbled from the saddle and helped Rach down; we walked to the tree holding hands. She gave mine a squeeze, but she could tell that my mind was already drawn to the dust cloud far in the distance, where the final battle was beginning.
“Birdie, I don’t want to stay here, “the granite green eyes implored me.
I took her other hand in mine, “I know that you don’t but you must stay here. I am bound to go and guard my parents’ backs and you will be safe here. That has been the mission of all of this, Rach. That you are safe.”
“She will be safe my friend,” It was Arrot and Evaline jogging in from the far woods.
“Perfect timing,” I shook a hand loose to include them. “You will be safe here Rach. Or if the Romans break through somehow and show here, it won’t matter any more, will it?”
She bowed her head and acquiesced--unusual for her. I took her head in both of my hands and she did the same with mine. Our kiss was chaste, but it made my heart swell to double size.
“Come, Zephyr, Hades,” my voice was husky as I swung into the high saddle. Giving my friends a salute, we turned toward the battle and moved into high speed again.
I aimed Hades into the dead center of the fracas, paying little mind to anything or anyone who stood in my way. This was the final battle and Romans, Militia, Amazons, and DOZ were all functioning on heart alone. Hades made his way through the horror of filth people made when they killed each other face to face. It was not pretty and it smelled worse; when men and horses died, their bodies released horrible stuff and survivor slid around on it. A centurion came at me quickly; he might have had me if he hadn’t slid in entrails As it was, he took a slice in my right leg.
I rarely said it aloud. Zephyr gave me a reproving look.
We might be at war, but that is no excuse..
It would have been worse but for my leather breeches. But they might not last the day.
“There, Zephyr.” My intrepid parents were fighting in the midst of the worst of the mess. Xena the Conqueror was quite covered in blood, but I would have wagered the greatest part was not her own. As I watched she ran quickly, took one step up Argo’s stirrup, the second from her saddle, and the third threw her body into a whirling dervish of blades that remove three mounted Roman’s heads at once. Baba Xe landed on her feet on the other side of the third headless horseman like a dancing panther. I don’t know how she worked out those moves, or if she truly did channel a part of the God of War at such times.
Mama G was fighting fiercely with kicks and slams, jamming throats, guts, and heads in every direction. She was an extraordinarily efficient fighter because of her smaller size; every single punch she threw counted. I could still see a shadow of regret cross her face when a blow was killing.
What she didn’t see in her frenzy was an enormous man approaching from her blind side, swinging a spiked mace. He was not dressed in Roman uniform; he must have been a hired mercenary of some race of giants.
Urging Hades in that direction I drew my sword and leaped upon him from the saddle. The crimson mist came over my vision mid air and I landed on him with a powerful hack to his shoulder. He roared and tried to swat me off by slinging the mace backward, but I dodged it finding a foot purchase in his weapons belt for my boot. I began to hack at his crusty neck, for my entire world had gone to colors of red and black. The next cycle of the mace caught me in the head with the chain and there was pain at my brow, but I grabbed his armor and clambered around to the front of him. The Baby Tide then went directly into the front of his throat. I could do nothing but stomp on his face. Then with all my darkness rising, I slashed at him endlessly with my sword. He spun roaring and I jabbed and hacked and finally rammed my blade into his neck producing a thick fountain dark red blood and he fell like a stone.
I stood exhausted watching my mother approach me, sadness in her eyes, then alarm; I whirled to plunge the Baby Tide into a man who must have been his brother. This fellow had a spiked club. Where had the Romans found these monsters? I retrieved my sword quickly by bracing my boot against him like I had seen Baba Xe do; it released with a sliggy gish sound, and then I jumped hard against his body and rode it crashing down with my sword going once, twice into his throat as well.
The crimson mist of my vision was almost blinding me now; I looked down at my once beautiful silver sword in my hand and saw only a spike of blackness and blood. My stomach lurched and though there was nothing in my stomach, my knees buckled and I retched over the body of man I had killed. Some dark power had me curled in its clutches beating my gut.
A clean breeze began to blow through my hair and a circle of cool comfort commenced at the small of my back. The other colors of the spectrum returned to my vision. Real consciousness returned to me while gazing into the monstrous countenance of my latest victim.
The center of relief at my back was my mother’s hand.
“Birdie,” she said, quietly. “Come away now; come with me.”
I stood weakly to take her outstretched hand. My Lady Mother’s hand was clean and it felt cool to mine which had been on fire throughout my encounters; the chill made its way up my arm into my mind. I shook my head once and normal vision returned. Hades and Zephyr waited looking at me.
Mama G regarded me, part Amazon Queen, part my mother, her emerald eyes quiet, “Thank you for arriving in time to save me, Little Bird...”
“You know that you are in trouble with me.” Her voice was steady, but her hand took a firmer grasp of mine.
I held on to her hand and dropped my head in an affirmative nod. From a raging killing machine to my mother’s child in one sentence. Baba Xe always did say she was the best cure for our darkness.
She led me through the piles of bodies to remain behind Baba Xe who stood tall, like she owned the sun, sword in hand, overlay flapping,. A small contingent of Romans approached carrying a white flag.
My pride, my fox, my horse
We took swift flight to find
My love, in time
To triumph over
My friends alive
Swift hooves, a flight, my horse
My fox, my love and Marcus
Blessed by our lady Artemis
With speed to safety
And then turn back
Into a darkness,
The darkest yet,
The deepest ever,
Succumbing to rage
In order to kill
Losing all will.
Led from the abyss
Her love, the Light
To her I lied,
And feel such shame.
To be continued
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