Birdie’s Song VIII -- Talus—part 1
I am Robin…
A cool breeze lifted the tassels at the bottoms of the heavy drapes drawn on the massive windows of the master chambers of the fortress. It was early afternoon of a slightly warmer day, a day perfect for laziness, a day without demands, a day to rest, a day to savor the afterglow.
The compact woman with the sun bright hair rolled easily atop the longer stronger warrior’s dark angles and muscular curves. Her patient hands scanned the magnificent body which the bard alone held ownership, tracing, taking account of the old scar at the left thigh; recently removed stitches under the ribs, numerous abrasions on the right arm. The taut skin fluttered at her touch like that of a skittish horse. Gabrielle smiled at the sensitivity which remained after so many years, as she lifted her own head and gently laid it between the warrior’s breasts. Xena’s strong hand rose immediately to hold the back of her bard’s head tenderly against her chest and closed her eyes, living in the quiet bliss of the moment.
“Xena,” it was a tone above a whisper.
“Hummmm.” Nearly asleep.
“Do you ever think about more children?”
“Nooooooooo, not really.”
“I don’t suppose I do either..”
“You just mentioned children.”
“Well, I know the one we have is a gift.”
The warrior shifted just barely.
“And every day of my life with you and with Birdie is a gift, Gabrielle.”
The bard raised her head and regarded her soul mate.
“You are right, Xena. We do have many gifts, and I am a happy bard.”
“I will make one prediction.”
Gabrielle placed her chin on her folded hands on the Conqueror’s chest and looked straight into her lover’s eyes.
“Pray tell me your prediction.”
“I believe that Birdie and Rachelle are forever.”
“Do you? They are so young, and really haven’t known each other that long, Xena. Do you really think so?”
“How do you know?”
“I can just tell; I know how Birdie feels anyway; her feelings are deep.”
“And is there more to this prediction?”
“I would predict that one day we will have a little granddaughter who is
very much like Birdie.”
The bard’s eyes twinkled and laughter followed, “Oh that is rich, I can hardly WAIT!! We can spoil the little kid rotten while Birdie is going mad trying to keep her out of trouble!!”
The warrior smiled, “Revenge at last.”
Xena watched the bard’s eyes creating scenes in her own mind and smiling she reached to capture Gabrielle’s head gently in her hands.
“Come, my love. Will you reward me for such a delightful thought?”
Aqua green melted into aqua blue and exploring lips began a soft caresses.
“Your Queen will reward you well indeed, my love. From head to toe.”
Awareness. Where am I? So quiet, peaceful. Silence. Water running. Pressure on my shoulder.
We were in a meadow near a trickling creek. Rach and I had enjoyed a picnic and afterwardshad tumbled together upon the saddle blanket for rest and digestion. The pressure on my shoulder was her slumbering head. The softness at my thigh was Zephyr. Hades grazed nearby. I ran my fingers through Rach’s hair. It was as if golden light had been given a texture. Lengthy eyelashes trimmed the lids that covered her polished granite green eyes.
What a beautiful companion she was.
Zephyr approached and ran her nose up Rach’s bare foot—once, twice. The third time Rach shook her foot and sat up.
“I caught you, silly fox!” She ruffled Zephyr’s fur and my fox lay her head under Rach’s chin a moment. I thought it significant that Zephyr loved Rachelle; Rachelle couldn’t hear Zephyr’s thoughts like I could, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one day she developed the ability. Something new about Rachelle showed itself nearly every time I was with her, but nothing surprised me.
Her attention returned to me, pushing down with a hand on my chest, while she hovered above. Her hair fell in sunlit waterfalls, framing her face.
“I’m happy that you are finally free from grounding,” she smiled. “Although it seems rather odd that you would be grounded for rescuing mefrom the Romans.”
“I wasn’t grounded for rescuing you, Rach, I was grounded for lying to my mother,” I fiddled with the strings that held her buckskin tunic closed, because I didn’t want eye contact. It was still a source of shame for me, and this was the first confession to Rachelle.
“Oh,” she sat back. “Birdie, how could you?”
“I did so to come and see about you, Rach, remember?”
“Yes, but lying to an Amazon Queen, especially if said queen is one’s mother, is not high on my list of approved activities.” Her voice was firm, soft and warm; her eyes looked right into the depth of me.
I avoided them, “It seemed necessary at the time; but it won’t happen again. The lie was more difficult to live with than the fighting and killing. Is that wrong?”
She slid down beside me outstretched and turned my head to face her with a firm hand,” Well, not wrong in so many words Birdie. Fighting a war is a ‘life and death’ issue. Lying to your mother is a matter of the soul, a matter of your origins, and how you want to keep those bedrock values and the people who instilled them in you safe and cherished. It is the source of who you are and what you stand for.”
She had voiced that perfectly; I walked my fingers up and down her arm and gripped her hand.
“Nicely said, Rach. I have been trying to work it out myself and come up empty time and time again.”
I scooted back and came to a seated position, as did she. We faced each other, our legs still entwined, and I cupped her face gently between my hands gazing into her amazingly clear, greenstone- colored eyes. Rach’s eyes seemed to hold wisdom far beyond her years.
“I think that I love you,” the words were out before my mind knew they were escaping from my mouth.
But she only smiled, “Really? My brave warrior faces the greatest danger of all? I cannot believe it.”
She rose and began gathering picnic utensils and tossing them into the bag. I watched her. There had been no reciprocation, and it bothered me. But it was better to let the words drift with the wind. I had learned that if my ego surfaced in these matters, it would only be smacked away gently. Rach told me what I needed to know, when she was ready, and not before.
So I continued packing the picnic into the saddle bags for our horses. Rachelle had gone to stroke the nose of her new horse, she called Lucy.
“How didyou arrive at that choice of name for your horse, Rach?” I had to grin while helping her to tie on Lucy’s share of the load.
“It just came to me,” was the reply, “ Lucy is rather spirited, golden, like Argo, and I think if she were human, she would have a sense of humor. Can’t you see it?”
The horse turned to fix me with her large dark eyes, and there was a twinkle there. I patted her nose and she bumped her head under my chin almost as if she were tickling me. It was unusual for me to be around any kind of horse other than a warhorse. Mama G’s Wendy was gentle, but even she could be a proper warhorse if called upon to do the job. Lucy was almost a companion, and it was apparent that she and Rachelle had developed a fast bond. I felt happy for both of them
I turned to see my best friend, Talus, riding through the meadow on Barney with his ever present shadow, Angie clasped to his waist behind.
I stood to greet him; since the advent of Angie, I rarely saw Talus; but there were occupations in my life as well.
“What brings you two out and about?”
He pointed to the saddle baskets laden with different chunks of river drift wood.
Taking a look into the basket, I was fascinated and handled a few pieces. The water and sun had worked character into the wood.
“I can almost see the figure in these pieces, Tal. Good work.”
“Angie finds a great many of them,” Talus looked back at his shy girlfriend, “She really has an eye.”
“I should say so, Angie,” I picked up a slender piece of red cedar, “This one will be a fox, for instance.”
“Yes,” Angie’s voice was like breezy bells, and I saw Talus look to her at once, “You have a good imagination, My Lady Robin.”
“Annnn gie…” I drawled her name long and rolled my eyes..
”Please don’t ever call me that unless I am in trouble with you. It’s just ‘Birdie’ to my friends, ok?”
My pursed lips imitated a rather poor bird call, but it had the desired effect of making her smile. Good, perhaps we could be friends yet.
Rach convinced the couple to dismount and sit a short while before we all journeyed home. We had enough drinks and bread to share, and it was nice to lie around a while longer just chatting idly. We took every piece of wood out of the baskets and remarked as to the shape.
“What do you think, Talus?” I had selected a large piece and whittled a little on it with my dagger. It held some semblance to an equestrian head.
“Not bad, Birdie,” he grinned, “You never got over the Conqueror taking my first one did you?”
One of Talus’s true masterpieces was displayed on Baba Xe’s desk.
“I’ll whittle ya a new one.”
“Suppose we should be heading back?”
Rachelle, the responsible one, mentioned.
I looked at the sun, “Suppose so, though there’s little danger out here.”
“It’s not about danger; it’s about punctuality,” my companion moved her fingers through my hair rather patiently for her.
A sigh escaped me, which elicited an explanation from her.
“Punctuality encourages our elders to trust us and not worry about us when we are off alone like this.”
She ended the sentence with a rather sharp smack to my head.
“I can see there are changes to be made around here.” Another smack.
I rubbed my head gingerly,” Such as?”
She rolled her eyes at me,” Such as, Birdbrain, that we might try to cultivate the impression that you and I spending time together, is a good thing.. Such as, that you will always tell the truth, and that we will always be home in timely fashion. ”
“You are bad to overlook those things, Birdie.”
“Not really, Rachelle; just wasn’t thinking about them at present.”
“And thus, we might be late, and you’d be composing an excuse.”
She noticed my grin.
Rach shook her head, grabbed my head by the hair, and wrestled me gently to back to the ground. We looked into each other’s eyes.
I noticed Talus and Angie exchanging smiles.
“You two….” Angie’s voice was soft..
The Conqueror stretched, arching her back in a long lean feline flex. Then she collapsed into the bedclothes again, a cumulative tiredness still hovering from the war with Rome.
“So where is the little bird today?”
“Off with her friends to picnic, to play in the woods and around the creek, enjoy the outdoors, and hopefully, to stay out of trouble,” the bard said with a smile.
“You know, some of the normal activities that kids engage in when there is no war.”
The warrior closed her eyes and sank further into the sheets.
“Shall we engage in more peace time activity as well?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
“Finally!” I tugged at the last strap securing the picnic gear to Lucy. The horse turned her head and gave me a quiet look as if to say, “What is your problem?”
“What is your problem?” this from my girlfriend.
“Problem? No problem. Except that Angie and Talus are probably at the gates of Amphipolis by now and here we are, trying to make certain all is packed up to your specifications…”
“Do I detect an attitude from Princess Robin of Amphipolis?”
I buried my face in Hades’ saddle blanket. Minotaur shite, but this woman knew how to get to me. A cold nose on my hand.
“Patience, little mistress.”
“Yes, well you have patience, Zephyr.” In a whisper only foxes could hear.
“I do. “
Had to smile at that.
“I know, Zephyr, I know.”
I sighed, looked at the sky, and counted to fifteen.
“No, My Lady Rachelle, You do not detect an attitude.”
She swung up into Lucy’s saddle at last.
“Good.” She smiled.
There was silent rejoicing in my head as I leapt onto Hades’ back and reined his head around.
, I’ll race you,
Now it was the bard who stretched like a lion cub she viewed her warrior’s perfect physique from their bed. This past moon had seen the addition of a large tub near the fireplace in the masters chambers.
It was easy enough to heat water for it; Xena had worked out a way to pipe water up from the kitchen into a large pot over the fireThe water then flowedinto the tub from a valve that operated a little door, she could open and shut. They regulated the temperature with handfuls of clean snow from the roof. Gabrielle really enjoyed an occasional soak—a residual therapy from her cannon cart injury, and it also made a good excuse for a little luxury. The tub was large enough for two, and the bard had coaxed the warrior into sharing it with her today. The bard’s emerald eyes sparkled as they studied every perfect muscle in her warrior’s lean Olympian body.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and shook her head to herself. They had made love all afternoon and yet, just watching Xena right now stirred fire in her belly. Silly, hopeless, love struck girl. Well, why the Hades not. How often did they have the leisure?
Xena turned back as if she read her thoughts, “What?” with that crooked smile that made the gods stop and takenotice.
The Bard of Potidaea covered a silly grin, “Nothing. Is that bath ready?”
The jade eyes followed the movements of her lover as she strode across the bedroom.
Gabrielle lay back in the sheets.
The warrior approached and stood by the bed looking down at her fair haired lover. The cobalt orbs didn’t take long to read what was going on in the dancing jade and she responded in turn, scooping up an armful of bard.
The little blond found herself toted across the bedroom and gently deposited into the warm bathwater.
“Gabrielle, I have worked for half a candle mark to get this bathwater just
right and we will not waste it.”
“No whining….” The tone took the Conqueror’s edge, and the bright head bowed a little.
Then the Conqueror’s angular body joined her bard in the tub.
“No whining, just kissing…”
“ Do you see Angie and Talus yet?” I called to Rach as we drew the horses to a walk.
“No, I suppose they’ve long left us behind; which rather defeats the purpose of a couples outing though,” Rach looked annoyed.
“They mean no harm, Rach… they have their own world and they get caught up in it, that’s all.”
“Yes, but sometimes we have to associate with others….”
I sighed. My companion could be very strict sometimes, but still I loved her.
And then a different stir in the wind.
“Rach.” I put my hand out sideways slowing her.
She spiraled to silence. Lucy responded well to her rider’s mood.
“Do you feel it?”
“Yes, something is wrong. What shall we do?”
“Let’s wait a moment.”
We stopped the horses like statues listening. From the horizon, a speck approached, just barely discernable. Zephyr gave me a look of great alarm and then set offto meet the figure at full speed; I urged Hades to follow and could hear Rach do the same with Lucy. As Hades found his quick gallop, the wind brought a sinking feeling to my gut that nothing could be fast enough.
As the figure drew closer I could see that it was Angie astride Barney alone, and a flutter of panic squeezed my heart. But I swallowed it .
Her thin straw hair was blown over her face which was bright red from fear and exertion. I took her hand, and said nothing but passed her the water skin. Rach arrived and we converged, our horses dancing in circles.
Angie took another drink, inhaled deeply and locked her gaze on me, struggling to speak.
“Take it easy, Angie,” I reached for her hand and she squeezed it, swallowing. “Tell us slowly.”
“It was raiders I think, Birdie,” her voice trembled and huge tears began to fall rapidly from her blue eyes. I felt her hand shaking. “There was so many of thema large band of raiders.”
“How many; can you reckon a number?” I asked. Rach had ridden to the other side of her and leaned overto put a comforting hand on Angie’s shoulder.
“Couldn’t say Birdie, but it seemed like a hundred, all great and dark, with swords, maces, and staves,” her voice faltered again, “Talus tried to protect me; he put himself in their way and sent me running.” She bowed her head in broken weeping, “They took, ‘im Birdie. One great horrible fellow took Tal across ‘is saddle and they ran.”
My mind was perfectly calm as I looked across at Rachelle.
“Angie, I want you to go with Rach back to Amphipolis. Baba Xe and Mama G were spending the day at the fortress and will be available. I am going to try to overtake this band of brigands.”
“Birdie…” she did not approve.
“Only to follow, not to confront, I promise.” My eyes locked with hers; it would take insisting, “Rach, it’s the only way. Look for Icarus. If I call her, she will come to me and then I will send her back to lead the rescue party; I promise to do nothing rash.”
Rachelle turned Lucy with a firmness that communicated her displeasure with me.
No answer from my girl.
Zephyr had run a little ahead and looked back at me with a short woof.
“Little Mistress, We lose time.”
I kissed Angie’s hand for a long moment.
“Angie, I will find Talus. You go for help. All will be well.”
Angie’s glacial blue eyes blinked two more tears at me, and then she turned big Barney to follow Rach and Lucy toward Amphipolis.
I turned Hades in the opposite direction, toward the final streaks of Apollo’s light.
“Zephyr, do you know the way?” I sent the message soundlessly.
“Only a weak scent of dirty men that I will follow.”
“It must be the raiders who have taken Talus then.” My thoughts returned to her.
“Lead me, little fox.”
We rode into the darkening sky.
Gabrielle raised her head from the warrior’s chest flinging droplets of water. They had drowsed soaking in womb-like warmth and the firelight’s flicker.
The Conqueror didn’t start, but she became quietly alert.
“What is it, Gab?”
The warrior began exiting the tub.
“Birdie isn’t hurt, but somebody is. Birdie is involved.” She caught the length of cloth the warrior tossed her way and began drying herself. The warrior had already donned her leather pants and was slipping a warm tunic over her head.
“What do you feel, Gabrielle?”
Cobalt eyes shot exasperation at her.
“Hey, you know how this works.” Emerald eyes fired back.
The Conqueror sat down to buckle her boots.
“There is little to do then, but go outside and wait for word to arrive, right?”
The bard was shrugging into her heavy sea foam tunic now.
There was a warm rush of airflow to Gabrielle’s face and a brush of lips to her own.
“I am going on to the stables to get the horses ready then.”
The bright hair lowered.
Wild dark hair peered back from the doorway.
“We’ll be fine. Birdie is fine.”
The smile was returned.
With the departure of Apollo, the ride became chilly. Hoping it was more than wishful thinking, I reached back into Hades’ saddle bag and experienced a stroke of luck, my winter riding cloak was stuffed inside.
“Hooray,” I said softly.
“Only a small favor; I won’t freeze on this adventure.” Wrapping the reins around the saddle pommel, I allowed the cloak to snap open behind me, and then flung it about myself both ways like warm woolen wings. Much better.
“Hades,” I leaned down next to his ear and patted his neck; “Here we go again.”
He never missed a beat. My faithful dark fellow.
“Little Mistress, we must hurry.”
“Hades.” I wondered if my horse too, had a connection with Artemis. The way he increased his speed seemingly without effort answered my question. If he was not a god-horse, he had god-horse blood. Perhaps he had received an infusion from his recent connection with Bartholomew. I would have to ask Marcus.
“Why are we always about this business, Zephyr?” I sent this question to my fox running ahead of us.
“Ah, Little Mistress, it seems to be your destiny,” were the returning thoughts, “I fear that you may find yourself in trouble with the Queen and the Conqueror.”
“Always, “my mind chuckled at her”But do not worry, dear fox, I have neither lied nor deceived anyone. My conscience is clear on this. “
“Mistress Rachelle was not happy.”
“That may become a regular occurrence as well,
“Her disapproval is painful...”
“Yes, it is quite; but we do what we must, Zephyr.”
“Very true, Little Mistress.”
And then I spared the breath and thought of my animals so that they might find speed in the night. My mind wondered what in the name of Artemis we rode towards. But it didn’t matter, someone had Talus; Talus was my friend.
Gabrielle descended the stairs quickly and strode through the kitchen purposefully; she was gently clothes lined by the short arm of her mother in law.
“Xena won’t tell me a thing, so you better give it uplittle lass” The older woman’s raven hair might be liberally sprinkled with silver, but the azure eyes held much of the same directness.
“Ahhhh…. Got a feeling about Birdie, Mama Cyrene”The bard knew better than to hedge with the formidable mother of Xena the Conqueror.
“What?” the voice was gentle, but small strong hands clutched Gabrielle’s shoulders.
“Going just by my instinct (which is very good) Birdie is fine, but she is involved in something. That is all I know to say. Truly.”
The small foot tapped on the floor impatiently.
“Well, I might as well prepare trail food and hot drinks, shall I?”
Gabrielle threw her arms around the woman. “It could only help.”
“Minotaur poop,” the woman grumbled back to the great fireplace, “Tis always somethin’, always somethin’!! Never a moment, never one solitary peaceful quiet moment. Never, never, never…”
Large hands, veined and lined like clay maps, encircled the older woman’s sturdy waist and pulled her against a sturdy tree stump body. He smelled of sweet pipe smoke and leather, and the low growl of his voice in her ear, calmed her,
“What is it, love? What’s gotcha fussin’ like a bitty henny?”
She turned into the arms of her Scrubbers, a man who followed Xena the Conqueror/ Warlord in the old days.
Scrubbers had lived in Athens after the dispersal of the Warlord’s armyBut when he heard that Xena the Conqueror had set up housekeeping in Amphipolis, he was the first to come offer allegiance. What he hadn’t expected was to find love with Cyrene, Innkeeper extraordinaire. Sometimes the gods were good to a man.
“Ah, Scrubby, they are off to see what our Birdie is into again. They don’t know the specifics. Gabrielle has a feelin’. She says Birdie is alright though, just involved.”
He held her closely, “Cyrene, the lass has a head on her shoulders that’s becomin’ more level every day. We’ll get word, and it will be ok.”
“I can’t help worryin’ about the child, Scrub. It was such a short time ago, she would sit on the cabinet in here and watch me cook. If I wasn’t havin’ to keep her outa the fire, I’d have to keep her from eatin’ every last muffin in the place.”
Cyrene sighed and laid her head back on Scrubby’s leather jerkin.
“She’s a smart girl; I know that she’s alright. Xena and Gabrielle are makin’ ready to act when they get the signal. Birdie will send word somehow. She will. It’s just…..”
“It’s just you can’t keep from worryin’ about the girl,” he said, releasing his own sigh, “I know dearie, I know.”
Xena had both horses saddled and fully equipped when Gabrielle arrived at the barn.
Their eyes met and then their hands, palm to palm.
“Mama Cyrene’s fixing trail food,” Gabrielle spoke quietly.
“ Good” The Conqueror stood ready beside Argo, quietly alertand waiting for the signal. Somehow she knew it would not be very long in coming.
They had only to wait.
It was so very hard to wait.
“What do you sense Zephyr?” my thoughts went forward to my friend.
“We come closer to the scent, Little Mistress, but there is distance yet.”
As Apollo’s final rays left us, I heard the cry. My eyes searched the sky.
I lifted my arm, and the little golden hawk landed on my cloaked encased arm with perfect balance
“I am glad to see you, girl. “
Icarus cocked her head a little but seemed focused on what I had to tell her.
I considered for a moment.
“Icarus, can you go to Amphipolis and guide my parents to me, wherever that may be?”
She didn’t move a feather.
“I know it is a difficult request.”
She pecked at my arm.
“Icarus, I will find you special tidbits and feed
you especially from my window later on. I promise!”
The hawk cast a final glare at me and lifted, her wing span carried her backwards from me very quickly.
“Be well, Icarus!” I called back.
It was now completely dark, as we had ridden perhaps two candle marks into the night. It was dangerous to travel at this pace in utter blackness.
“Zephyr, can you see?”
“Well enough little Mistress and Hades follows me.”
I closed my eyes a moment, bowing my head, rocking my body along easily to Hade’s rhythmic gait.
I allowed my spirit to bind itself with the rhythm of my horse, my heartbeat’s sounding in time with his hoof poundings.
Dare I ask?
Goddess of the Moon…
My spirit was still and quiet, with nature, with my animals.
A very slight shift in breeze.
The great orange sphere rose from the horizon full and fiery, directly ahead.
My heart was filled with overwhelming gratitude, as I smiled at the light.
Thank you, My Lady.
The chill of night air
I know not
What or where
We are called.
My friend is there;
He needs me.
So fox and
In the night,
We pray for light,
And so are blessed.
by the goddess
Of the moon.
To be continued
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