Birdie's Song VIII. Talus Part III Conclusion
I am Robin…
My eyes opened to gentle stirring of fingers through my hair and soft words being crooned in my ear. My body was trembling but settling with the quiet treatment. I looked up into concerned hazel eyes. Equally concerned golden eyes encased in a black fur muzzle lay on the bed beside us.
"Bad one, huh?" I whispered.
"Pretty bad." Rachelle could be as gentle as she was tough. "I suppose that one of these days, you will tell me about 'Dahak'?"
"One of these days…" I whispered, "It's not a good bedtime story, though."
"Right," she pulled my head to her chest and I snuggled close to her. Her hand drifted down to pat Zephyr who returned to slumber under the bed.
"Love you, Rach." I whispered.
"You do, do you?" She chuckled. My evasive Rach. But she shifted my head on to her shoulder and continued caressing my hair.
"I will tell you someda…" I began.
"Birdie… shhhhhh… Just sleep now…" she whispered, and ran her hand down my back to match our breathing in and out until we slept.
Rose turned over in the large bed to dance light fingertips down the red sideburns and beard. The hazel eyes stared at the ceiling.
"What has you wakeful, love?" Her soft voice intoned.
There was a deep frustrated sigh that shook the bed. Then the big man turned sideways, propped his head up on an elbow and gazed at her.
"How can a boy respect a father who can't fight for his life, Rose?" He sounded almost petulant. He stared at the sheets drawing circles with a strong finger in the clean wrinkles. "I went to the Conqueror, and she didn't allow me near enough to ask her, Rosie; she just flashed those icy blues at me and said, 'No.' and that was that. We don't question the Conqueror, and I am one of her officers."
"Yes you are Atty, one of 'er finest," his wife put her hand in the rusty curls as his head dropped, "Darlin' you should feel no shame, fer not fightin' the likes of Savagemon. Everyone could see it was Xena the Conqueror that no good reprobate wanted to call out. What good would ya done if ya only got yourself killed?"
She dropped her hand under his chin and lifted it guiding his chagrinned eyes into her own loving deep pools of chocolate brown.
"Tell me now, what would Talus have done without his father, and I without my husband? What would the Conqueror's main rank of the militia done without their captain? And that's how it would have ended, Atty. I'm not saying you aren't a great fighter, but that Savagemon had no honor and you do. He went after our Lady Xena with two swords without a word of warning. He could have killed you very quickly while you tried to keep your honor polished."
She was convincing him.
"Didn' ya notice the Conqueror called on her dark stuff to kill him? You don't have that stuff, Atty. You don't."
She kissed his forehead.
"Ya did right. Ya did right by all of us and I'll hear no more about it."
He smiled at her then and his voice went husky, "I luv ya, Rosemary of Athens' Finest Inn."
She laid back then and kindled a smoldering cinder into her eyes that was only for her husband; she tugged at the reddish chest hair, "Come then and show me once again what manner of man ya are, Atticus of Amphipolis."
Gabrielle cupped her hand behind Xena's thrashing head to guarantee the first sight in the warrior's awakening eyes was the reality of her bard. The Conqueror inhaled violently and then exhaled gasping; the powerful body thrust itself sitting up, and the blue eyes shot open wide awake. But her face was cradled in hands she knew, the gentle eyes that held hers were familiar , the bed was hers ; she quieted and sank down again.
"Bad one, huh?"
"Pretty bad," the bard lay back down and pulled the warrior's head to her breast, caressing the long dark hair. "You must have fought the entire battle with Savagemon again. Was that it?"
"Something like that." The Conqueror felt her heartbeat slowing down. "Whatever or whomever I was fighting was kicking my butt."
They chuckled tiredly.
"I guess as long as that happens only in my dreams," she continued with a sigh.
The bard's hands began to knead her shoulders, "You are as tense as petrified wood; want some help with that?"
She couldn't see the eyebrow rise into the hairline, but she knew that it did. "What do you have in mind, Gabrielle?"
"How is your arm?"
It was flexed. "Pretty stiff. Stitches are tight. Need to be careful."
"Very well, there is a rule."
"I am the Conqueror, Gabrielle."
"The Conqueror can't hold herself to one rule? Some Conqueror."
The azure orbs rolled, "What is your rule?"
The diminutive queen settled back on her heels. "Lie on your back in the middle of the bed."
It was done.
"Spread your arms wide and hold on to the sides of the bed."
Easily done with the warrior's long limbs.
"Gabrielle, this feels too much like crucifixion."
"Sorry love, it won't for long. It's only to protect that injured arm."
"All right. Now what?"
The bard crept over in the darkness and straddled her warrior's hips. She pulled the ties on the linen night shirt, exposing warm skin. Smiling she folded forward to begin a series of tiny kisses on the golden flesh nuzzling inside the warrior's shirt.
The big hands met in the blond hair stroking it upward. The head pulled back fast.
"Uh Um." the voice was sultry and firm. "The rule is, you don't move your arms. Put them back. Hang on tight. Don't let go."
"Gabrielle…" an unhappy growl.
"Put them back." An order.
The eyes were rebellious, but the long arms slid horizontally along the sheets and the hands crunched the sides again.
The bard began loosening the next tie in the nightshirt and the next, exposing the flat belly and the loin garment. She sat up and pulled her own night shirt over her head, shaking out her bright hair in the moonlight. Her compact muscular body shone silvery, lean, silhouetted the small curves of her breasts highlighted.
The warrior's hands gripped the bed.
Slim fingers walked along the ribs and hands lingered at the tanned breasts as the bard lay her warm skin along the warrior's bit by bit. Lips moved from breast to collarbone, to neck, to ear, breathing softly to lips, lingering, exploring, entering…
The sheets came untucked.
Released. Both were breathless.
"Gabrielle." The bed linens came loose in wads and the hands gripped the bed frame.
The bard was silent. Moving aside the nightshirt, she kissed adrift, neck, collarbone, shoulder, breast, nipple, circling, circling, hardening, yes, ahhh, ribs, across the belly, down… teasing the strings of the loin garment…
"Gaaaaaaabrielle." The body under her lifted and settled, but the arms held to the rule.
The bard sat up again and gazed at her warrior with bright and hungry eyes.
"You are so beautiful." She whispered.
The sun was shining and a cool breeze whispered through the window as I threw my scabbard around my back. Rach was running a comb through her thick wheat colored hair and she smiled at me in the reflection of the shiny shield on the wall.
"Ready to fetch Talus for us?"
"Nearly." I scuffed my fingers through my unruly mop. "How did you leave him last night?"
"Clean, comfortable and with several doses of tea to work on the infection. Both your Conqueror parent and I wanted to sleep on the permanent fix for his finger. He needed a bit of rest as well." She shuddered. "What a mess; it will take some healing on that finger. I don't know how he stood it."
"Talus's appearance belies his fortitude. He's a tough fellow." I assured her. "You put on your healer's hat, and we'll meet you downstairs in a bit then."
The reflection of her eyes met me and they sparked at me warmly. Without thinking, my hands were on her waist and my lips brushed her neck where her hair met the collar.
"Bye love," the words escaped without thought.
"Watch it there, Slick," she smacked my head gently with her comb.
Our eyes met in the reflection as I exited.
It was a good day to be alive; my favorite weather, cold and sunny. Zephyr danced along at my side, and I leaned down to give her an affectionate rub. But our good moods dissipated as we neared the wood shop. The door flapped open, swinging on a single hinge. I heard soft sobs coming from the interior and flattened myself against the outer wall listening a moment. There was only one voice - Angie. Zephyr leaped to the far side of the doorway and entered immediately, so I followed.
"What is it?" I knelt and gathered the thin girl's hands in mine. There was blood.
"Birdie," she fell forward into my arms; I squeezed her gently a moment and surveyed the scene. There was blood on the wood, specifically a carving of a horse, an alarming amount of blood.
"Angie, what happened?"
"I can't tell you, but there was rage in his manner, Birdie," she tried to calm herself. "I never saw him behave so. "
"Just tell me." My hands were on her shoulders. "Tell me quickly."
"He seemed to feel a bit better this morning until he came out here and picked up a carving knife. It started when he couldn't brace his fingers on the horse to steady the knife the way he wanted to, to carve it right, you know?"
She paused and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand composing herself.
"He kept forcing it, Birdie, that's why there's blood; he wouldn't accept the limitation. He became furious because he couldn't brace it or get proper leverage."
Her eyes filled again, "I've never seen him like that, Lady Ro… Birdie."
I considered. "Nor have I, Angie. But he is dealing with a great loss, a great deal of pain and likely a great infection. Do you know where he was going?"
"He just shouted, 'I'll murder the gal!' and ran out." Angie trembled. "I can only guess that means Jorry, don't you think, Birdie? He's got no anger toward anyone else. But he's really got no call to hold his troubles against her."
"No, but she's the only one he can blame," not a great lead but all we were given. I smiled sadly at Angie and took her hand. "Well Angie, you know the drill now. I am going after Talus. Find my parents. I will follow Talus and later send Icarus to inform you of our location. "
The slight girl gave me a weak smile. "Well yes, I believe I do know 'the drill'."
I hugged her reassuringly. "We'll find him Angie."
She returned the hug in grateful fashion, "I know you will, Birdie."
Her faith in me was somewhat frightening; was this how my Baba felt? Complete responsibility for those under our protection?
Grandba Cyrene called to me as I trotted near the inn, and I took a hard left into the kitchen. Her blue eyes were wide and her chest was heaving with excitement.
"It's not a quarter candle mark yet, Birdie. Talus came roaring in here with his hands all red shouting, 'I'll kill ya!! I'll bloody kill ya! Ya stole my livelihood!' He was mad about the eyes, Birdie. Jorry looked to me and I said, "Take Cybil."
Cybil was my Grandba's sturdy pony who pretty much ran the yard like a pet, but a strong enough mount if called upon.
"Anyway, Jorry flew out and onto Cybil's back and they rode while I wrestled Talus around a bit. I didn't have the heart to club him, Birdie. I should have, I know." Her eyes filled. "I tell ya, "she finished her tale, "that Jorry's used to running."
I kissed her forehead. "My grandba doesn't need to be 'clubbing' anyone, much less a boy for whom she has affection. You did right, Grandba. Was Talus mounted?"
"Ay, on Billy. He rode the long way around."
Beautiful weather was all that didn't betray me.
While on my way to the stable to get Hades I ran into Schoolmaster Blarff, my arch enemy. Our paths had not crossed in quite some time and never again would not be long enough. Blarff did not believe that women had any place in government, much less as "rulers or conquerors". This chauvinistic attitude was made clear to me very often while I was under his tutelage, and only one of the reasons I was taken to be "home schooled" by my mother.
"Well if it isn't young Robin of the Warrior--- my former star pupil..." He sneered.
Our educational history was most unfriendly; however, I was no longer a small child to be easily intimidated. Zephyr's hackles rose immediately. By the gods, it had been two, three winters since I had laid eyes on the man, and he had changed not one bit. Blarff was bald headed, tall and thin with pointed teeth, pale skin, and hollow eye sockets with dull black eyes. I always considered the fellow to be on loan from the underworld, perhaps the personification of Cerberus if the beast from Hades had only one head.
I tried my best.
"Good day, Master Blarff. Hope you and the Missus are well."
That was all the polite patter I owed that man, (remember my mother insisted), and I stepped aside. Blarff moved into my way.
"If you please sir, I am trying to follow my friend."
"Oh, the young Robin has friends now," he spoke through his large nose, "when I knew you, all you ever did was fight."
Blarff is trying to get under your hide. I talked to myself sternly. Patience. He is a miserable human being who has no business influencing children.
Zephyr set her teeth in my pant leg tugging anxiously.
"Little Mistress, can we avoid him?"
"Right sir," I tried to remain polite. "My friend is in trouble, and I must help him." I took a dive around his left side, but he clotheslined me straight across the neck, and I went down in the dirt. Crimson tendrils began to form at the edges of my vision and my face grew hot.
"You never had a single friend in the world; only those who feared you because you were the 'Conqueror's' bitty child," Blarff continued his sneering tirade, only now he looked down at me.
Too many memories. How many times had I felt his condescension in just this manner after he humiliated me in front of the class for an arbitrary reason that left me painfully confused? How many times had he stood me in the corner for a fabricated crime; how many times had I endured the bite of his "Instructional rod," as he preferred to call that whippy stick of his? I had always wished my mother could challenge him with her staff just once.
How to defend against this coward? He didn't have his stick, but he had a cane and he had full intentions of leaving bruises on me as he had so many times in our bitter history. Still my parents would consider him 'unarmed' should I draw my sword, so that was out of the question. Zephyr's lips parted to show teeth, and I saw the beginnings of the god fox. I put my hand on her fur.
"I would deliver a painful bite quite cheerfully Little Mistress."
I laughed. "Sorry, Zephyr, I don't want you in trouble as well." And well, it was going to be that kind of day for me.
My stout boot connected with Master Blarff in the groin, not excruciating, but a good solid kick and he went down choking and gasping.
Grabbing the reins of his horse, I gave her a quick pat on the nose and locked into her dark eyes, "Will you trust me sweetie?" She would. I mounted her quickly and turned.
"I will return your horse, Schoolmaster Blarff, with restitution for her use. I must help my friend."
The little horse spun on my signal, and we rode hard following the now miniscule figure that was Talus.
The Conqueror and the Queen sat calmly astride their horses listening to the ravings of the schoolmaster.
"She was always out of control, that child. It is apparent to me that without my guidance and daily discipline she has become far worse!"
The Conqueror leaned forward. "What exactly, Master Blarff, was Birdie's 'crime'?"
The thin man paced back and forth in his agitation waving his cane, " Why, why, she addressed me rudely; she refused to grant me proper subordination, and when I called her on it, and would have corrected her, she kicked me in the private parts and took my horse."
The Conqueror only looked amused, "Did she?"
"Yes," the man sputtered, "Robin was always incorrigible in school, always fighting. No amount of punishment worked on her. Well I will see her publicly whipped for this. Royalty or not, that should take the spice out of her."
Xena shifted and gave a sidewise nod to Gabrielle; she didn't need to turn her head to know that there was a grass fire burning in the eyes, "You may have the pleasure, my Queen."
The bard swung from her saddle gracefully. She yanked her staff from its holster and spun it left and right.
"Come for me Mr. Blarff." She said, rising on her toes.
"What?" he sputtered.
"You heard me. You have a big cane. Come at me. Pretend I am Birdie. I am sure that you struck her often enough."
"For all the good it did her. I would wager it will do no more good for you." The man was foolish enough to swing his cane at the little bard.
The staff struck the cane spinning it away, and then flashed back sharply into his head. The bard did a three-sixty turn and walloped the taller man's legs hard from under him. He fell on his arse, dust flying.
Gabrielle stood over the downed man, staff at his throat, her voice shaking.
"First, Mr. Blarff, no one in this city, NO ONE, not even our worst enemies would ever be punished publicly. That is barbaric and unacceptable. Second, when we find Birdie we will ask her about your accusations and hear her explanation. If we need to punish her, rest assured we will, IN PRIVATE. And third, when we return, we will examine your record as a schoolmaster. I question the wisdom of having someone of such a vile and vindictive nature in charge of the public schoolhouse. I for one believe that our children should be taught patience and forgiveness. I detect neither of those qualities in you. You sir, need to look for a different job. Perhaps in fertilizer."
She strode away, mounted Wendy and galloped ahead.
The Conqueror gave the fallen schoolmaster a final nod, "You heard the Queen. See my head gardener about the fertilizer job. Do it immediately."
She caught up with Gabrielle. The tears were running.
"Xena, how many children has he damaged? How much did he damage Birdie?"
"Children are resilient, Gabrielle."
"I should have beaten him properly."
"You did a fair job, my Queen, you did a fair job."
At about six horse lengths from Talus and Billy, my hawk landed on my arm. Her eyes were glittering sharp.
"Icarus, I suppose you are angry with me."
"I apologize for the circumstances once again."
The hawk accepted my apology, but I could tell she was feeling used.
"Well, I am very likely to be grounded for a time after all of this, so come to my window, and we will chat at length."
That would be nice. But for now, the usual "lead your parents to you"?
"Yes, my dear bird, if you please."
She spread her wings and was soon out of sight.
Sweetie and I caught up with Talus quickly then, because my friend was riding slumped in the saddle. There was no doubt he was very ill; his skin sweaty, his hair plastered down to his face.
"Hello, chum,' I acted as if there were nothing wrong at all, "what are you about today?"
Talus raised himself up and tried to identify me. He couldn't.
"It's Birdie, Talus."
"Ah, Birthie." He muttered. " I'm off to kill that murderin' Jorry."
Sweetie kept perfect time with Billy.
"Why, Talus? What has Jorry done to you?"
"I can't carve no more Birdie. M' lack of finger bled all over my Hades carvin'. Like nev'r to carve good agin, and it's her fault. "He retched weakly. "Well, near as I can place the fault."
"You don't mean to kill her actually."
"Nah. But I will cut off her fingers. One for mine and one for revenge."
"Maybe then I can carve."
"Well if you must. Talus, will Billy find his way home?"
"Yeah, sure 'e knows th' way."
"Then come over." I leaned across and offered both hands. Sweetie did beautifully. Talus slung himself over; I could feel the fever heat in his body as he joined me.
"Home, Billy." He muttered to the horse, and it obediently turned back. The rider less horse would be a concern in Amphipolis, but I needed Talus with me; there was no help for it.
There was a burning weight on my back; Talus's head. By the gods he was sick.
"Are you in view of Jorry?"
"Can you bring Cybil around?"
"Possibly. I am not a farm dog."
But I had no doubt that my fox would do the deed.
My hand gripped the dry hot pair clasping my waist. "Tal?"
They squeezed me weakly.
"Tal, Zephyr will try to herd the pony back around, and I will take Jorry to the ground. You must TRUST me in handling this. I need you to stop Sweetie here. Will you do that?"
"Sure Birdie." He was so terribly weak. "Isn't this Master Blarff's horse?"
"That's another story, Tal."
He laughed almost normally, "I can hardly wait, Bird."
Jorry and Cybil were thundering head on, Zephyr snapping at Cybil's heels. I yanked Sweetie left just as they passed, stood in the stirrups and pulled Jorry out of her saddle. We hit together on the ground rolling over and over in the tall grass. Fortunately it was fairly thick.
She found her feet before I did and landed a hearty slap to my head.
"Jorry," stars were circling in my vision, "Jorry, I mean you no harm."
A kick to my gut; I grabbed her boot and pulled her down. "Jorry, listen to me!"
She kicked at my head, "An' let you turn me over to that Talus? He has foul intent for me, Mis'tris Rob'n."
"Jorry, you must trust me."
She scorned, "Trust you?"
"If you wish to live, yes."
We eyed each other. She had beautiful eyes, the color of a creek bed with sunshine in it.
"Please, Jorry, I don't want to hurt you!"
"I'm not the one receiving hurt."
"You are right about that." I grinned at her.
Our eyes remained locked. My grin remained. "I swear on my Honor, Jorry."
Zephyr came and sat beside me. She lifted a paw.
The rough girl gave me a half disgusted look; it was apparent that she had been around my Grandba.
"Well how can I disbelieve such an honorable display? But mark me, my Lady Birdie…."
"Please trust me." I didn't allow her to finish. "Jorry, what I must do now, will seem very strange, but no harm will come to you; you have my word."
Her eyes didn't leave mine.
"I'll trust ya, my lady."
"Good, for I have a plan.."
The Conqueror heard other hoof beats and glanced behind. She found Gabrielle's eyes.
"We have company."
The Queen didn't need to look back.
"Of the Amazon kind, I would wager."
"You would be correct."
They slowed Argo and Wendy until their friends caught up with them.
"Greetings my friends," The Conqueror was cordial.
"We were hunting and chanced to see the hawk," Ephiny began.
"It's Birdie again, isn't it? What has happened NOW?" Rachelle didn't allow anyone to complete a thought.
Eponin put a restraining hand on her niece.
"As we were saying," the Amazon weapons master gave her report, "we came upon the hawk and reckoned that we should follow her. We passed the procession of Cyrene, Scrubby, Atticus and Rose with the wagon on their way as well."
"The gang's all here," chuckled the Amazon Queen.
"… and we are chasing the usual suspects," growled the Conqueror.
The bard looked to the warrior.
"You are angry." She said mildly.
"I am not happy, Gabrielle."
All was going well. Jorry's begrudging trust of me had grown with each passing breath, and now we both considered the boy in my arms.
I was deeply worried about Talus. His injured finger stump seemed to throb with his heartbeat. Jorry looked at me as if I had all the answers. I did not.
I bow my head and looked inward… to Artemis.
Suddenly Zephyr was in my lap. Not a common action for her.
"Zephyr!" She jammed her furry head right under my chin; her thoughts came in a different voice.
"Robin, you must cut into the finger. It will pain him greatly, but the infection must be drained. Otherwise, he will lose the finger and possibly his life, if his fever isn't lowered."
"My Lady Artemis?"
There was no answer but a gentle lick on my face, and Zephyr was a fox again.
"Zephyr, go and meet the others."
She didn't want to but she turned and ran.
"Jorry, hold him down; I know what to do."
I drew my sharpest dagger, the one which rode in my boot. It should be sterilized, but the infection was already raging.
A deep breath, "Sorry buddy,"
I set my teeth and cut. The yellow pus exploded. By the gods. Talus screamed; his body thrashed. Jorry was strong as a titan. I drew back, my hand covered with bloody stuff. Talus was sobbing.
"I'm sorry, Old Man." I placed what I hoped was a soothing hand on his forehead; I rummaged in my pack and found a fairly clean cloth to wrap the finger with. My eyes met Jorry's.
"Good job, Jorry."
Then stars whirled into my vision as a heavy body plowed into me from the side with the force of a bull. Only my training rescued me as I found my feet and simultaneously drew my sword. My attacker was a good head and a half taller than I was and probably three stone heavier. He had no sword but he brandished a very heavy club, and it was customized to him. He took a wide swipe at me and I ducked, but the wind blew my hair from it.
"Jongo!" I heard Jorry shout, "Jongo, NO!"
I jumped the second swing and tried to figure out what good my little sword would be against his heavy club. I could perhaps nick the thing, but he could kill me with a blow.
The club smacked down poofing up a dust cloud by my feet; I tried the Conqueror somersault over the fellow. It worked, but I didn't land well and had to roll quickly out of shot of the next deadly strike.
"Jongo, is that your name?" Try and talk, Bird. "I am a friend of Jorry's. I haven't hurt her."
"Jongo, heart mate. No." She sobbed as she held Talus, "No, Jongo."
I parried his next swing just barely; my sword was no match for the weight of his club. I would lose if Jorry couldn't get through to him. He wanted to kill me; I would lose if I didn't kill him.
"Jongo, I haven't hurt her. I will not hurt her!"
"Jorrrrry." He had tears in his eyes. Cleaned up a bit with a haircut; he could be handsome. So much for distractions: his club caught my shoulder. Pain. I went down.
"JONGO!" Jorry screamed. I looked up. Well, it had been a good life.
I felt Zephyr coming, but she would be too late.
Jongo was shoved from my vision by a blow from the flat of the Tide. Big as he was, he was no match. Tears of relief and fear sprang to my eyes.
My Baba Xe stood over Jongo, her anger building dark and skyward like a growing thundercloud. One could imagine the lightning strikes in her eyes; she was every bit The Conqueror, and her child was threatened. She was terrifying.
"My Lady, Please!" Jorry was sobbing.
"Baba, don't kill him; he's protecting Jorry, and I am fine."
My answer was a shot of blue fire from eyes which I could only meet for an instant. The Conqueror was unhappy with me as well.
"Xena." The voice was quiet. It was my grandba arriving on the scene. "He is big, but he is a boy. Jorry told me about him. Jongo is Jorry's heart mate. He was only defending her."
The boy's eyes were wide now and full of fear. He looked at Jorry.
"Jongo, be good." She implored.
He lowered his eyes, and pulled his body into a submissive and contrite position, kneeling, head lowered.
"I sorry." He murmured. "Jongo sorry."
Baba Xe looked up at the sky and took a deep breath.
"By the very gods." She whispered and fought down her darkness, bit by bit. Mama G came to put a hand on her arm. It was like watching the sun overtake a black cloud, beam by beam. Finally, Baba gave herself a little shake and relaxed.
But I didn't. Minotaur shite. This would go on my tab.
It had been deemed that Talus needed attention and everyone needed rest before we went back. Grandba and Scrubby had started a small fire and Rachelle was tending to the primary first aide of Talus, cleaning the mess of the finger, with Baba Xe looking on. Ephiny and Pony were guarding the perimeters.
Jongo watched shyly holding Jorry's hand. I went to my Grandba to hear the story.
"Jorry told me about him," she whispered. "He wasn't good enough in Savagemon's eyes, because he only cared for the horses. Savagemon had a real warped sense of 'good enough', didn't he?" She growled.
"Savagemon was evil." I sighed. "That is the clear portrait coming to me as time passes, Grandba."
"Anyway, Jorry loved him since they were children, but it was a secret." Grandba continued. "Savagemon would have killed Jongo."
Eventually, I saw my Baba Xe give Rach a nod, and then look to my mother with an extended hand; the blue beacons fell on me, and I followed them down to the lake for a walk and a reckoning. We walked silently for awhile; I decided to allow them to bring up whatever topic was bothering them the most. Zephyr licked my hand, fixed me with her apologetic gaze, and disappeared. The desertion of my fox was not a good sign.
Not one of the three of us spoke for a time, but then I felt the sapphire burn on the top of my head.
"Birdie, during the past few days, I have spent far too much time being uninformed regarding your whereabouts and activities."
"And as the primary protector of this area, it is not asking too much to know the location of my own child."
"I know that, My Lady."
Keep your head down. Try formality and see if it helps.
"I thought that we had reached an agreement regarding that problem."
I looked up, "We did, Baba, however, sometimes circumstances arise…" it was weak.
She paced away impatiently. "What did I tell you Birdie? That whether I approved of your actions or not, you were to inform me of your plans and location."
"Without exception, Birdie, and now we have had quite a good example of the reason for my concern with that Jongo kid. " Her voice shook; she had been frightened and now she was angry. Bad combination.
She continued her pacing, "And actually, that example was mild."
"Baba..." she moved away again, she wasn't hearing me. What could I say?
She turned and faced me. "No exceptions, no excuses, Birdie!"
But life was full of exceptions.
"Baba, it was Tal…"
"Are you making excuses?"
It had been a long day, and my own dark side flared. My hands went into the air.
"Baba Xe, you aren't even giving me a chance to speak! There are circumstances where I am given neither the time nor the means to notify you of my plans! Today it was simply not possible to contact you in the manner which you require!"
My mother's eyes flicked quickly at mine, but it was too late.
Ahhhh… extra large Minotaur shite.
After one has expertly sharpened the edge of a sword, rubbed out the dull dark spots, there is an incomparably dangerous and beautiful sheen to the edge. Rather like the fiery blue edge that was now glowing in my taller parent's eyes.
Wrong tone of voice, Birdbrain, very wrong. Not soldier, nor subject, nor enemy, nor friend, were allowed to address the Conqueror in a tone. Not king, nor queen, nor emperor, nor child were allowed to use a tone. Gabrielle the Bard might use one and survive, but she was wise enough never to try.
There probably isn't a normal adolescent anywhere who hasn't dug her own grave with a poorly chosen tone of voice. But "normal everyday adolescents" do not have Xena the Conqueror as a parent.
So it didn't surprise me when she turned without a word, and walked to a nearby stump on which she propped an expectant boot. My eyes asked a silent question. She sent a cold azure flash; her anger was clear; my Baba Xe was at the end of her patience with me. I held my breath and tears, and unbuttoned my pants.
She had required that of me only one other time in my life; I was just beyond eleven winters old, and to this day my actions can only be explained as a fit of complete madness. A creative brainstorm requiring the chakram had laid siege to me, and it would not leave until it was tried. So when an afternoon presented itself that I knew that Baba was in a long meeting, I took the disc from her bedroom, (which in itself was madness) and went to test it .Thrown into a field of tall grasses, the unique weapon could scythe small, but interesting crop circles. It was tremendous fun and brought artistic results; but of course, I had neglected to ask permission to use the weapon. What had also slipped my mind was that the chakram had a distinct spiritual tie to my Baba Xe; hence, I wasn't aware of her arrival at the scene until I had lifted it for a final toss. When Baba took the shining ring from my hand mid-aim; she might have been standing behind me for quite some time.
The sparks of fire and fear in her sapphire eyes seared my excuses of "borrowing" the chakram in the air between us, and I simply fell silent. Without a word, she unbuttoned my pants with one hand and they slid down as she took me over her knee. I called on my inner warrior for strength as her hand burned a quick dozen brands on my backside through the negligible protection of my linen loin garment. Every time the chakram comes into my view, the memory returns with searing clarity.
When she finished, we climbed to the zenith of a nearby hill, where she both admired my artwork and also pointed out three stones that might have thrown the chakram off track. And a bad hop, she told me, is a danger to the thrower.
"Now, the truth, Robin of Amphipolis, "she said calmly, "is that you knew much better."
It was the wisdom from her own youth that advised her not to ask me "Why?" I was grateful to her for that; most kids do not know why they do something foolish; the notion arises and it is followed. However, there was no denying that I did know better, and had disregarded that to my peril. My heart opted to take responsibility for my actions; that was what was important to Baba. But first I would listen.
"You knew not to bother with asking permission; you knew what the answer would be; you knew the chakram is a very dangerous weapon, not a toy, and not an artist's brush."
"Yes Baba." My voice cracked; my eyes dropped as the tears fell; I was feeling fully contrite by then...
"I am sorry to come down on you so hard, but you could have been hurt very badly-lost a finger or hand or even...kill.."
Her voice trailed away, but she jerked me into a powerful embrace, pulling me very close to her body, and she placed a gentle kiss in my hair. I felt the shaking of her arms, heard the beating of her heart, and remorse hit me full force.
"It won't ever happen again, My Lady," My voice cracked, "It was foolish and dangerous; I'm sorry, Baba." I hid my face in her shoulder as shame set free my tears.
"There's my little Bird," she whispered bringing her hand up to support my head, "It's all right now; you have learned the lesson."
She sat down with me then in a little heap, humming softly, until evening fell and my conscience had run dry of tears. The sunset on contrasting cuts in the crop circles were beautiful. Then we walked home together, my hand still in hers and no more was ever said about it.
I put away many childish things that day and worked harder at considering my actions to their eventual consequences. And many moons later, after our encounter with Feisal and the arrivals of Zephyr, Hades, and the Goddess Artemis, into my life, my truly idiotic misjudgments were fewer and far between.
But obviously, Baba Xe felt there had been a relapse during past few days, and I was not explaining myself well at all.
"We only just had that discussion about your heroic impulses, and how you must keep me informed, did we not, Bird?" The Conqueror was leveling a stern gaze at me.
"Yes my Lady," I whispered, careful of my tone.
"And I gave you fair warning. You knew the importance I placed on it."
I hung my head nodding and wished she would get on with it.
"Well, then we best get on with it." The blue eyes remained stern, but she released a heavy sigh as well as she patted her knee.
I walked to her side; my pants had sagged to my ankles. My linen loin garment barely covered my backside anyway. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath; this would smart, but I had been here before. I stretched across her leather knee; she pulled me close, and her body shifted as she raised her palm.
My mother spoke. "Wait Xe…"
My bard parent reached for my hand and rubbed my trembling fingers one at a time, as if she were considering our predicament. It seemed to sooth all three of us.
"Birdie, do you have anything else to say, Honey? Are you just going to take a dose of flaming tail feathers without offering a better defense? Is it so simple then?" She looked up at my Baba Xe.
"What shall I say, Mama?" my voice whispered cracking with restrained tears, my hand gripping hers, the other holding on to Baba's leg," I did what I had to do. Icarus came to you didn't she? And Zephyr as well?"
"Yes they did… faithful as ever," The Conqueror's voice sighed completely into softness, her hand had lowered and it rubbed my back calmly with no further threat. My Conqueror parent was an intimidating woman and the most dangerous person in Greece to most, but in my own Baba Xe, there were soft places for me. Like my mother, her anger with me could be short-lived, and it was a gift from the gods when it happened.
With the encouragement from my mother, I was able to explain myself a little better, even though my "position" remained precarious.
"I couldn't let Talus go alone, and his obsession with hurting Jorry was so out of character for him." I sniffled and caught a breath. "He couldn't just set off by himself as ill as he was, and I wanted to intercept him before he did real damage to himself or to Jorry."
The tears ran fast then, unexpectedly. I dried them from the Conqueror's leather pant leg with my sleeve while still grasping her knee. Then I worked to focus my thoughts on what was important.
"I'm sorry I didn't inform you, Baba, and I am very sorry that I lost my temper and was disrespectful to you just now. But Talus is my dear friend. I couldn't let him go alone in the state he was in, no matter what he was about." I whispered, "Regardless of what the consequences would be for me."
And that was my best explanation. I buried my head in the Conqueror's knee and awaited her decision.
There was a pause of a few heartbeats and then I felt Baba's hands at my legs. She hitched my pants up over my bottom side and put me on my feet with the delivery of one firm swat.
She shook her hair back and gave me a slow smile. "Do them up, Birdie."
Silent tears continued down my face while I buttoned my pants. I wasn't afraid of Baba; it was a merely the sum of -all the stresses of late, culminating in being spared the loss of any backside hide. My mother pulled me into her arms, and I was glad of the comfort.
"I know that you couldn't, Birdie." The bard's words were a welcome softness, "and it's likely that you prevented him from making a very grave mistake. But when you charge away with no plan and no others in tow, you put yourself in danger and we - will - worry - about - you, no, we are frightened for you."
Her hand squeezed my neck with each emphasized word.
I felt the stronger heavier hand of my Baba the Conqueror moving up through the back of my hair, her voice still stern.
"You do not have permission to go honking off every time a hero is called for either. We expect you to show good sense."
I stood away from my mother but remained quiet receiving the light sting in her words.
"I believe that I try to use good sense, but it must not appear so."
"Let us judge that," my mother agreed. "Right now, you must tell us everything that happened. You may yet still be in trouble you know. We encountered Schoolmaster Blarff." Her eyebrows rose and curved at me.
"Minotaur Shite. " a light smack put my bangs in my eyes; I met the sparkling emeralds from under them, "Sorry, Mama did I say that out loud?"
But my mother's eyes were soft and laughing; thus, I surmised that my hide at least was safer, as we began a slow return alongside the lake. Zephyr appeared from somewhere, snugging her nose up under my hand.
"Coward," My silent message to her.
"Sorry, Little Mistress. " Her answer, "I cannot bear it. "
"It's ok, Zephyr," was my return, "My fearless fox." Her head stayed inside my hand.
"Well," I began, more relaxed now, "Talus was so bound and determined to take revenge; he was angry at the loss of his fine motor skills. I had to follow him. He just kept yelling about revenge, that he would ride down Jorry and cut off her fingers."
"That is really so unlike Talus. His fever must have been high." My mother was listening gravely.
"When we caught up with Jorry, I held her hand down, handed him my dagger, and told him to be quick about it." My story continued. "But since I had gotten to her first , I made her understand my plan. It took a bit of doing, but she finally decided she should trust me."
"Then I told Talus that before he cut her fingers, he had to cut off one of mine."
Both of my parents' eyes went wide at that.
"I could think of nothing else, Mama, Baba. So I told Talus that I had as much to do with his losing his finger as Jorry, so he should cut mine off as well. I said perhaps you, Baba, could pass a law for everyone in Amphipolis to have to lose a finger. We should name it," The Talus Law." It confused him completely, which I had hoped for."
"He raised the dagger, I feared he might do it, but then he fell to the ground crying, and I caught him while Jorry fetched some water. He was so sick; I held him in my arms and Jorry bathed his face while we waited for Icarus to bring you. That was when I cut the finger to release the infection."
"How did you know to do that, Birdie?" A reasonable question from my healer parent.
"I had guidance. It was bloody awful, Baba. But it did help. And when he quieted from the pain of it, the three of us came to an understanding."
"And that was?" From the bard.
"I told Talus and Jorry that the only way to stop the cycle of hatred, hurting, and killing was through love and forgiveness."
There was quite a long silence, and it worried me.
"Those were your words?" my mother inquired in a near whisper, "Those were your exact words…?"
"Yes My Lady."
"Those were your words, Gabrielle." Baba spoke softly coming up behind and laying her hands in Mama's hair. "Your… exact… words."
"All those winters ago, at our campfire," my mother continued, "when we spoke of monsters and such, after Callisto."
Both of my parents appeared to be in shock.
"Then Jongo arrived," I finished, "and thankfully, you came. I was in trouble at that point Baba Xe, no doubt. My final and only chance was to kill him, and I did not want to do that."
Mama G pulled me to her and began smoothing my hair back from my face. She looked at me a moment and then sighed.
"Go on back to camp now Birdie; it's all right." She placed a soft kiss on my forehead. "However, Honey, I think that you should plan on spending the sixth and seventh day in your room. Just for reflection."
My head drooped a little. A kid can always hope for a lighter sentence; it's only our nature.
I gave her a dose of my very best mournful puppy dog eyes.
She laughed and continued to push my hair back gently. "Oh you are good, kiddo," she closed her eyes and shook her head, "The term might be shortened with exemplary behavior."
I said no more but kissed her hand. I met my Baba's eyes then turned and brushed Zephyr's fur and we headed back to the main circle.
Two days. It felt like a lifetime right now; I'd almost rather take the licking. It would not bode well with Rachelle at all; when she was in Amphipolis, she wanted me to be available.
My own blonde medic, came to greet me as soon as Zephyr and I walked up from the lake. She came, held out her hand, which I grasped gratefully allowing her to lead me on still another late afternoon stroll.
"Not too far, Rach," Pony called.
"We'll stay nearby, Auntie," Rach answered.
"Talus is better?" I ventured.
"Under control for the moment."
We walked slowly, and I looked at how the later afternoon sun reflected golden lights in her hair the same way it did from my mother's hair. There was always something new to notice about Rachelle. We stopped at a large round stone at the edge of a meadow. I was tired.
"Sit," she pushed me down with her hands on my shoulders and then lifted them to either side of my face.
"So did the Conqueror set your back gates aflame?" she asked gently.
My sigh was shuddering, "No. But it was close."
Her arms enfolded me like buckskin wings, and she pulled me to her body. I wrapped my arms around her waist and felt her fingers toy with my hair. My mind began to relax.
"'Close', is how my Birdie likes to play the game, right?"
"Not this close, Rachelle."
"Well, I am glad that your hide was spared this time."
"Me too," her skin smelled like clean rain, and it was comforting to be near her, but Rachelle required the truth.
"I am rather afraid that you are going to whomp me..."
She said it like she would do exactly that, as she pulled me to standing. I winced as the words left my mouth.
"Grounded ... two days."
"For non specific reasons, Rach. Maybe for "honking off yonder too much, "or perhaps for offering my fingers to be cut off.. or my body to be clubbed."
"Birdie, that makes no sense." Rach liked specificity.
Buckskin wings changed to whompers in a hurry. Quick swats thumped my rump and then the back of my head, once -
"That is for not making any sense, Birdie, and playing dangerous games.."
She repeated the whomping, down, up, stinging.
"Is for once again disappearing, no notice, no niceties, no nothing!"
And then, twice more, before I flinched away.
"This is for worrying the River Styx out of me!" Her quick hands delivered another pair of whomps-butt, head.
Tears were in my eyes now; the whomps had stung, but my feelings were in shambles.
"Robin of Amphipolis, I am NOT some girly girlfriend who will suffer being left behind to worry while you go off playing warrior princess hero!"
Her quick hands delivered another pair of whacks; they drew another pair of tears from me.
"I am an AMAZON. I will know what is going on with you!"
I wilted then.
"I'm sorry, Rach, really. It isn't deliberate; it's just that events can happen so quickly."
It was a miserable excuse.
She grabbed my head and looked into my eyes with a loud sigh, then pulled me into a fierce and angry embrace. I relaxed into her arms and sniffed sadly laying my head on her shoulder. She kept running her hand through my hair, first roughly, and then more gently.
"I'm sorry, Birdie; some of those whomps were left from the first time because I was so very worried about you and Talus as well."
She pushed me back to flash a quick watery smile and then drew my head back into her shoulder again.
Something inside of me let go on the soft buckskin; my tears were silent. Minotaur shite, life was dramatic.
"Sorry, Rach, I'll work on it, promise."
Sniffling; didn't sound like much of a warrior in her arms. But then, I didn't have to be a warrior in her arms.
"Well," her voice was firm and shaky at once," Accustom yourself to this treatment if you don't."
"Ok," another chastened sniff.
"I mean it, Birdie; you had better stay clear of trouble and danger as far as I am concerned."
"Yes ma'am, "my voice was meek in her shoulder, "You're tough, Rach."
She took a deep breath and her voice became only for my ear.
"That's because I love you, Birdie."
My heart came home-my tears were happy.
I tightened my embrace of her as our souls flowed together.
There had been a lengthy silence between the warrior and the bard as they returned to the party after confronting and coping with their offspring. They walked hand in hand, heads down both in deep thought.
"Gabrielle say it," came softly from the Conqueror, "You believe that I am too strict with Birdie; you believe that I am too hard on her. Am I correct?"
"It's not a matter of you being 'too hard' on her, Xena," the bard mused "because definitely there are times we should take her in hand. But there is inconsistency that I don't understand sometimes. Birdie essentially commits the same crime again and again. She is, by her own power or by other powers, dragged along on some kind of adventure, and does not or cannot notify us to our or your specifications. And…."
"And that seems to make me angry at differing degrees?" The Conqueror finished.
"It does, and I don't understand that, which makes me very concerned that Birdie truly doesn't understand." Gabrielle stopped to face her lover taking the other hand. "Essentially, and she proves it again and again, Birdie walks the Way of Friendship, and I am proud of her for that, no matter how much she worries me."
The warrior sighed and looked away for a long moment.
"Gabrielle, you know that I am proud of her too, I truly am."
Xena the Conqueror walked along kicking rocks ahead of her, her dark head lowered, studying the ground. It was a melancholy meandering, and
Gabrielle was greatly reminded of her daughter. She reached across to gently gain eye contact for the continuation of their talk.
"But my past will always be a danger to both you and to Birdie. Savagemon," the taller woman expelled with a sigh of disgust, "was my lieutenant in charge of executions during the 'Destroyer' days. He always thought that he was a better killer than I was, and he marked his time to take over; I never trusted him. But he was good. If he had taken a long look at Birdie, or studied the pattern of her sword….. He might have identified her as mine…" The sapphires filled, and Gabrielle pulled the warrior closer to her side.
"But he didn't Xena..."
"He could have, and you know what he did to his own daughter!"
"But he didn't. And should we punish Birdie for 'potential danger'? Should we punish Birdie because of your fear?"
"Is that how you see it, Gabrielle?"
Now it was the bard's turn to look away for a time. Then she answered. "I fear for her too, Xena. I can't put this all at your door. I only wish that we didn't always have to yank her up by the britches."
"I don't believe we are so much, Gabrielle. Birdie received no more punishment than she expected; she received less in fact. She knows when she has gone outside the boundaries; she is only thirteen winters old."
"I know that she knows. She is a good kid, and we try to be good parents," The bard sighed and leaned against her tall Conqueror. "We need to do something fun soon. It feels as if all we do is go off fighting and then have to discipline Birdie somehow."
"Well, if the kid weren't always in the big middle of whatever there is to be in the big middle of!"
The bard laughed. "Birdie is that, isn't she?"
The blonde hair was tousled then. "She reminds me of her mother."
"Hey!" the warrior took a head butt in the chest for that remark.
We came to the top of the final meadows leading into Amphipolis. A perfect evening was beginning to fall, with the sun going down casting golden beams across the fields.
Talus's bandage had soaked through again; the infection was deep and dangerous, and it needed re-attending, or he might lose the rest of his finger. Baba Xe and Rachelle prepared a fire, and hot water to clean and work on it again. It was going to be involved and painful.
'Birdie, come here." Baba looked over the hill down at a meadow we were both familiar with.
"Think you can remember that trick you did with the chakram?"
"Baba?" My backside burned slightly just to think of it.
She smiled at me. "I do; it will take his mind off of his pain and it will entertain everyone..."
"You are sure?"
"Yes, I will watch carefully and intercept it if I need to." She unhooked the chakram off the catch at her belt and handed it to me.
"What if I can't remember how to do it?"
She raised her eyebrows as her hands quickly undid the knots in the bandages on Talus's finger.
"Birdie you've always known how; you are a natural." She gave my leg a little cuff, "Go on. "
The bandages were bad; my friend's color was very pale.
I reached over and tapped his shoulder, "Watch this, buddy,"
A strong sidearm fling sent the chakram sailing into the far meadow; the sun's fading rays catching it, as it scythed through the tall meadow grass in a large circle.
"Wowser, Bird." Talus grinned as they dried the sweat beads from his face.
I caught the return and sent a second toss curve from inside my body, making the disc cross the first cut in a variation of the infinity sign.
Baba Xe and Rach were draining horrid yellow gunk from the stub and I quickly demanded, "Tal, watch again."
This time the disc cut another sign of infinity in opposite direction to the first; at its return, I threw it again, making the petals of a sunflower.
"Birdie you are a gen…. oooof", they stuck his finger in hot water.
"One more, Tal…." I threw again for that final pair of petals.
"By the goddesses, Bird. You could charge for that show!" Talus smiled at me, tears running down his face and he slipped into unconsciousness. His mother came over to pillow his head in her lap. Angie crawled near to hold his hand in the warm water.
Baba Xe met my eyes seriously, "Good job, Birdie."
I extended the shiny weapon immediately; she accepted it and reaffixed it to her belt. My own cheeks were damp as I turned away.
My mother caught my arm and then my eyes with hers, "I had no idea that you had such skill with the chakram, Birdie. When did you learn? Xena have you trained her on the sly?" The emerald gaze shifted to the warrior with a flash of sternness.
"No m'am." I questioned Baba Xe's sapphire orbs and saw that I could be excused. Rach came to put her arm through mine and we walked to the edge of the hill to watch for the early emergence of bear and the dipper together.
"Xena, what was that about?" asked the bard.
The Conqueror smiled as she dismissed herself from Talus, and they walked together.
"Birdie helped herself to my chakram… ummm not quite two winters ago, and came right out here to experiment with doing just what we just witnessed. This time she was even better with it."
"She … TOOK… your … chakram?" the bard was incredulous.
"Yes, and I tanned her backside to record red when I caught up with her," The cobalt eyes dampened with the memory. "Poor kid."
The bard's gentle hand moved up to stroke the Conqueror's back.
"You failed to communicate that particular incident to me, didn't you?"
The warrior's eyes didn't meet the question, but she turned to face her partner.
"It was a tough call, Gabrielle, perhaps I should have. It wasn't an easy day."
"It was hard on you, Xena. That is why we share the job of parenting the kid."
The cerulean eyes raised then, "I should have talked to you about it, but Birdie didn't want you to know. I think she feared your disappointment. She was disappointed in herself."
The Conqueror kicked a rock and then looked beyond her Queen's shoulder.
"And as much as I hate to admit it, in retrospect, there may be times I may have some divine guidance with Birdie."
"Really?" from the Amazon Queen.
"All those moons ago, Birdie was a precocious but a rather ordinary bratty child who needed a firm hand."
"Indeed. I agree with how you handled her; I just regret that you kept it to yourself."
"Well, then today I was able to acknowledge her great gift rather publicly, and I could not do that before."
"I am a little confused."
"Gabrielle, you saw what she did with the disc today?"
"Yes, that must have taken a lot of practice."
"Today was only the second time Birdie has even touched the chakram."
At nightfall, we traveled the final leg into Amphipolis, and Rach and Baba Xe continued their work on a slumbering Talus. I felt a touch on my back that steered me away from the group. It was my mother. We walked a way from the group with only the company of Zephyr.
"I see you are competent with the chakram; you have skills that you've been hiding from your mother. Naughty Bird." Her eyes were smiling from under the blonde bangs.
My heavy bangs covered my eyes, "Just took it once, and it was a big mistake, "my gaze remained on the ground and our footsteps, "don't know where my mind was that day."
"It was on doing something creative, without thought of the consequence; it happens." Mama G raised her face to the young starry night, "I made similar mistakes when I first began to travel with your Baba. She was a warrior and I was a dreamy eyed kid you know. I took my good share of reprimands."
"Did you Mama?" that was difficult for me to believe. My diminutive mother was very competent and level headed, well, all of the time, it seemed to me.
"And your Baba took her share of gentling..."
I smiled and kept my silence.
"Do you think that we are too hard on you, Birdie?"
That was puzzling. "You are asking me, Mama?"
She stopped and by hand to elbow, turned me to face her, "Yes, do you believe that your Baba and I as parents, are too strict with you?"
I considered. Riding after Talus and the smelly gang, climbing down the tree into the midst of them, my encounter with Blarff, stealing his horse, a near death encounter with Jongo, taking the chakram. Well, in all fairness…
"No, Mama G. You and Baba Xe are not too strict with me; I take dangerous risks. If you didn't call me out on them, I suppose it might feel as if you didn't care what I did, or what kind of trouble I got into."
She said nothing but took my hand and squeezed it as we recommenced our walk.
I ventured what they had not voiced to me personally, "Savagemon was a bad man, wasn't he, Mama? A man from Baba's past?"
She confirmed with a nod. I did not push. The degree of Baba's fear for me had given me clue that Savagemon was dangerous indeed.
I chuckled, "Rachelle becomes very annoyed with me sometimes."
My mother smiled at the ground. "Good for her."
My smile joined hers with a mirthless chuckle, "I am a pain in the arse."
Mama turned me towards her again and embraced me. It felt good. "You will outgrow that, and we love you anyway."
I closed my eyes and felt, part by part the young warrior in me come to peace; my mother's arms were still the safest place in the entire world to be.
"Mama G, I will never outgrow the need for your love and guidance. Never. Even if I argue with you sometimes, I do respect yours and Baba Xe's wisdom and experience."
A pause. We looked into each other's eyes.
"Although there are times you may need to temper my 'tone'."
We rejoined hands with a chuckle.
"Oh, I think that you are learning," she said.
The next morning, I knocked on shyly on their bedroom door.
"Enter." Baba's sleepy voice.
The heavy wooden door swung open; I walked in and stood by the fireplace gazing into the flames.
"Birdie." Baba's voice again.
My mother sat up then; her hair was sticking out in every direction. "Birdie honey, what is it?" She patted the bed. "C'mere."
I crawled among the piles of bedcovers and knelt eyes down.
"Birdie." Baba's voice was low and serious.
Couldn't find my voice.
"Birdie. Ohhhh…" My mother knew then and took me into her arms. "My baby is no longer a baby."
"Maaaa Ma." The changes in my body felt so odd, like a thunderstorm within. There was a ringing in my groin and in my head. And it was so untidy.
Baba was a little less sentimental, a little more practical;" Do you still have the choice of materials your mother gave you from the 'first time'?"
"So you have something on?"
"Yes Baba. " That was too personal.
"I'll make you some tea." She swung her legs over the side of the bed.
Mama was stroking my hair and looking at me. "My little girl..."
She pulled me over her lap then and gave me a swat.
"Now you listen to me, Robin of Amphipolis, this is a big day. My baby girl is becoming a woman, and as her mother, I have the right to engage in whatever sentimentality I wish. And you will just have to bear it good naturedly or else get a smacking!" She ruffled my hair and let me up.
I sat up and gave her woebegone eyes, "Yes m'am."
Mama G sat back against the headboard and positioned my head on her thigh. "There," she said, gently, "How do you feel?"
"Strange. How did you feel?"
"It wasn't something that we talked about much when I was a girl. We just took care of it and went on about our business. I had chores to do even though I felt pretty wretched."
"Wretched. That's how I feel."
She sighed and leaned back against the headboard thinking, "Many would have you believe that womanhood is wretched, Birdie. But your body is now maturing and changing enough to support the growth of a child. That is a wonderful gift. A miracle. I would never trade for anything in the world, the miracle of carrying and giving birth to you." The emerald sparkles fell from her eyes.
I reached up to catch her tears and looked at them on my fingers. "I was a lucky lucky girl to be born to a mother like you, Mama G." I whispered. My hand reached up to hold her cheek. Her hand caught it there. We looked at each other.
"I hope that I am half as good a mother to my children as you have been to me, "I managed to speak those words aloud in a cracking voice.
"You will be." She whispered.
I leaned forward on Hades' neck. "You are fortunate to be male, boy, "I whispered. Everything below my waist was throbbing dully. The throbbing was matched equally in my head.
I sat up in the saddle, only to lean forward as the next cramp took me. A gentle hand crept up the back of my hair.
"Pretty bad?" My mother.
"Mama, how can anyone consider 'getting one's moon cycles' to be the triumphant entry into womanhood? This does not feel like triumphant entry, it feels like Minotaur shi…."
My not feeling well did not spare me a light slap in the back of the head. I smiled at her.
Baba Xe rode up on the other side, "Still not so great, huh, kiddo?"
"Not so great, Baba Xe." I leaned forward again.
"Here," she unslung her water skin "take just a few sips of that. It's a special tea that relaxes you. When we return from the Amazon ceremony, I will put you to bed with something stronger."
"Which reminds me," I whined, "Mama, one would think that this rite of passage could be a little private? As in I would so prefer it to be private."
My mother straightened part of Wendy's mane. "Sorry, Birdie. The Amazons have many ancient ways, and I am the Queen. That makes you a princess and subject to a few ceremonies now and again. Besides," the evergreen eyes looked at me very directly, "You really do want to stay on the good side of Artemis, do you not? And actually, this ceremony is private."
"I cannot argue with that," deep sigh, "May I please have another sip of your tea, Baba Xe?"
There was a large pool in the shade and roots of a giant maple tree. From the roots there came a natural hot spring which joined the regular creek a candle mark down the hill.
"Well, it could be worse. " I thought. But I still wasn't thrilled.
"Tell me what to do."
"Which of my 'materials' are you using?" This from Baba.
"I wouldn't ask, if I didn't need to know."
Big disgusted sigh, "The little rolly thing with the string. As far as I am concerned, that is all I will ever use."
"So all you will need to do is to remove your clothing and take a soak in the pool," this information from my mother.
"Mama, it's very cold for swimming."
"Don't worry about that. See the steam rising? You will only feel the cold when you strip to enter."
I know that my eyes must have bugged out like a bullfrog's, "Strip? In front of you and Baba?"
My mother's laughter was musical," Birdie, do you think that we have never seen you naked? Remember who changed your swaddling."
I could feel my ears burning, "MAAA…. MUH….Well….NO, but that isn't the same as stripping, Mama. …Baaaa Buh!!"
My Baba Xe's face was red from trying not to guffaw.
"I'm sorry Birdie," she did a poor job of snuffling her snortling, "It's just a little bit amusing that our mighty warrior should be bashful."
"Humpf." Well I was truly miffed then.
. Just as I swung from the saddle, there were hoof beats
"See? You never know who might show up?? One shouldn't just go around stripping!"
"Birdie hush, and look regal." My mother was always big on appearances. My Baba Xe too, for that matter.
"Ephiny, Eponin?" My mother's tone of voice changed entirely. "What brings you here? Wait. It's Rachelle, isn't it?"
I was already deep into the eyes of my closest companion.
"You as well, Birdie?" Her face was slightly pink. "I suppose we shouldn't be completely surprised, as much time as we spend together."
I leaned against Hades with a groan. "Do you feel as rotten as I do?"
"I don't feel wonderful. Achy, crampy, icky."
I put my hands into the small of her back as she slid off Lucy. "Mostly right there?"
We touched foreheads a moment, eyes closed. Rachel spoke first.
"Buck up, now. Where is my big warrior? This is only an act of nature."
She shamed me and I straightened.
"Did Effie and Pony tell you what they want us to do at this tree?"
"Yes, it's the Amazon Telling Tree. One soaks in the warm pool and the tree tells the future of that Amazon. If the leaves turn green, she will be a healer, homebuilder, and bear warriors for the tribe; if the leaves turn gold; she will be a warrior and trained as such."
It was slightly offensive to me. "I already know my path."
"It's just a formality, Birdie. I am sure that the tree won't make you a housewife."
"It better not, I have an ax."
My hair flipped into my eyes at the cuff to my head, but immediately, a gentle hand stroked the hair back.
"Tell you what, I'll go first." Rach raised her voice. "Everyone, a little privacy please."
There were snorts and groans, but Effie, Pony, Baba Xe and Mama G all turned around.
"Come on down, Zephyr."
My fox, who had been unusually silent through all of this, picked her way easily down the path to the edge of the pool. She curled up with her head on her paws watching intently.
"And you are welcome of course, Birdie."
I sat quietly and watched her untie the buckskin strings on her tunic. Her skin was slightly tanned and soft, and her muscles were developed but not large; her neck connected to her shoulders in a graceful slope that begged a kiss. I stood to hold the fur towel as she loosened the lacings on her britches and allowed those and her loin garment to fall as she stepped out of her boots. Her breasts were perfect spheres on chest; her waist slender and strong. My eyes continued their journey resting briefly on the small triangle of fair hair between her swimmer's legs and lingered shyly on her toes. When I could force my eyes back to hers again, she looked into me so directly, so intimately, I could barely breathe.
"Are you ok, Birdie?" her voice was soft. "You never call me that."
I closed my eyes and kissed her forehead lightly, holding my breath.
"Go on in."
She waded in and sat a moment.
"You will like it. It feels good to the cramps."
But nothing happened.
"That's odd." Pony sputtered from the ground above the tree. "This doesn't happen. I wonder if it's because you are a different tribe."
"Let me try." I began undoing my pants.
"Audience…." Rach made everyone turn around again.
My eyes thanked her.
"Here," she pulled my tunic over my head. I hoped she wouldn't be disappointed. Her fingers danced along my shoulders and arms to my sides. My skin was darker than hers.
"Turn around, Birdie."
I did and felt the feathery exploration continue on my back and shoulder blades. The steam coming from the dampness of her body warmed mine.
"You have more scars," she whispered.
"There is a place or two that you sewed."
Her hand found the place on my hip from our float trip.
"It healed well."
"The rest." Her command.
I unbuttoned my pants, untied the loin garment, and stepped out of my boots as they slid to the ground. There was a slight brush of lips on my shoulder.
"You better get into the pool." Whisper in my ear.
I was paralyzed with the intensity of the moment; there were no definitions for my feelings; a gentle pat to my backside steered me into the warm water.
Rach was right. The heat eased the cramps.
But still no change from the tree.
"But I am the Queen," said my mother. My mother never said that. "The Telling Tree has to have something to say. Rachelle and Birdie will be Amazons of note."
"Put them in together," the Conqueror spoke for the first time.
"I was wondering, " came the low voice of Ephiny. "It's a special mix."
I looked at Rach and nodded, scissoring around the edge to give her room. She walked back into the pool and glided into the warmth, moving quietly towards me. Zephyr stood up watching the leaves. Every single one began changing to bright shining silver. The tree became almost blinding to behold.
"By the gods," my mother whispered. "Have you ever seen this message?"
"No, My Queen, "Pony's voice was awed. "We have some special kids here."
The ride home had been quiet, but we were coming to the place where the road forked to the Amazon camp and Amphipolis.
Lucy and Hades put their noses together.
"I will try to contact you soon, tomorrow if possible." My voice was hushed, I was afraid of destroying what had happened at the tree.
Rach reached for my hand and held it. She seemed to be in a very open mood.
"Whenever we feel better, not to worry, Birdie," she said. "Evidently, you and I will be spending quite a bit of time together."
I squeezed her hand studying the silver ring on her finger. "And that's alright with you?"
There was a returned pressure, "It's perfect with me."
Our eyes locked, "Until that time, then. And it will be soon."
"It will be soon, Birdie."
I lifted and kissed the back of her hand, and we parted ways, a new and warm bond growing between us.
"Conqueror," Eponin, Amazon Warrior said, riding seven horse lengths back.
"Pony," the Conqueror answered. "My favorite bar is still my mother's tavern. If we need more, we'll just grab a jug and the horses, right?"
"Right," Pony chuckled. She leaned over and smacked fists with Xena the Conqueror of Greece. "Right."
"Right," Gabrielle Queen of the Amazons held out a hand to her best friend and felt it clasped tightly.
"Right, right and Minotaur Shite," said Ephiny, Regent of the Amazons as she held her Queen's hand before departing.
And so they separated. But there was laughter.
Angie answered my knock at the new door to the carving shop.
"Come in, Birdie," she smiled, "Tal, it's Birdie."
"My friend, just in time Bird." Talus sounded well, strong. "We are about to try something."
I moved into the main part of the shop to find Atticus and Rosie visitors as well.
Atticus held out his big hand to me. "Come Toadie, " He clapped my back. Sometimes he called me 'Toadie' to tease me about our ancient history. But his hand was gentle on me, and Rosie's eyes were warm.
"Where ya been this morning, Lady Bird? Off with your parents riding?"
"Yes, Lady Rose, we had some 'Amazon' errands to tend to." I accepted the cup of tea that Angie pushed into my hands. "Thanks Angie."
"And all was well, I hope?" Lady Rose continued politely.
"Yes'm. All is just fine. Now what's up with my best pal here?"
"Well you are just in time for the test, Bird," Talus said proudly. "I'll let Angie tell ya. T'was her idea."
"Angie?" My full attention went to her.
"I was thinking about those gloves your archers wear, Birdie, the leather ones to protect the fingers?"
"Angie…" the birth of the idea came to me, but not the details.
"So I went and begged one from Scrubby; this one here." She showed me the archer's glove with the heavy leather fingertip parts.
"Then, the next challenge was to whittle a little bit of finger to replace what Tal lost."
She had carved a tiny joint of pinkie finger that she slipped into the pinkie part of the glove.
Talus was very cooperative; he adored this girl and it was mutual. Very gently she pulled the glove over his hand and slid the protective finger parts onto each finger. When it came to his stump, she gingerly slid the end into the glove piece until it stopped.
"It's good, Ang."
"So then, "Firmly, she wound a soft wide leather strap from the finger part around the stump and buckled it into the glove.
"There." She said with a sigh. "Not as good as your own, Tal, but try it."
Talus picked up his knife and beheld his other gloved hand. He walked to the carving of the horse, the same carving which had once been covered with blood. Angie must have sanded it down, for the wood was clean again.
"I was trying to get this leg," he said. Talus laid the blade of the knife against the side of the wooden horse and drew one shaving across. Good. Then another. Then he braced his left hand on the back of the figure, using every single finger to bring the curve under the belly of the back leg just so. The shaving came off slender and clean.
Talus stood quietly. He walked over to Angie, bid her stand with his two hands. Then he put both arms around her in a deep tearful hug.
"It works," he choked, "It's a little shaky, but I can hold it steady and will get better with practice. Angie." His eyes squeezed shut on the tears.
The slender girl I was coming to admire more every day returned the embrace and simply spoke, "Tal, I'm so glad."
Atticus and Rosie were awash. I stood, said "Thanks for the tea. Congratulations, all of you." And left them to their family moment.
I managed to find the back path to the fortress so nobody would witness Robin of Amphipolis break down and sob like a little child. Perhaps I was becoming more like my Baba Xe in how I liked to present myself to the public.
"Scrubby," The Queen's head poked around the door of the armory. "Have you seen Birdie?"
"Not in a while, Lass," the older fellow lowered the mace he was polishing. "If she shows in here, I'll let her know you seek her."
Gabrielle strode with a slightly impatient air toward the schoolhouse keeping a roving eye for her daughter. She hadn't darkened the door in winters now, but since she had in effect dismissed Blarff, she felt that she should look in.
A pleasant looking middle aged woman with bright blue eyes looked up from the master's desk in the schoolhouse. She stood immediately.
"My Queen!" she rose and quickly fell into an old fashioned curtsy, eyes lowered. Gabrielle flushed and trotted up the aisle between the desks.
The small queen sank to one knee and took the woman's hands in hers.
"Madam, the Conqueror and I do not require such salutation. In fact, you shame me with your perfect manners, for I cannot match them. Please," the bard rose bringing the woman to her feet, "call me Gabrielle."
The blue eyes met hers then, were set in a lively intelligent face, and framed in short salt and pepper hair. The voice was light and cheerful, "My Lady Gabrielle, I have wanted to thank you for making it possible for me to teach at last."
Gabrielle looked around the schoolroom. The windows were open with fresh flowers in every sill. The day's lessons were on the board and the slates were ready at each desk. The queen walked forward to the teacher's desk.
"You took over when I dismissed your husband; well, actually, I smacked him around," the small woman's cheeks blushed slightly.
"My ex-husband, and glad I am you did it," replied the woman, "I go by Schoolmarm Fable now."
Gabrielle was studying the big desk. There was the traditional apple. But there were also a roughly carved owl from a block of soap, a marble, a shiny stone with a hole in it, and a pretty seashell all arranged in proud order. Gifts from the children.
"Well, it looks as if all is going well, Madam Fable," the Queen turned back and smiled. "It looks as if this was how things were meant to be."
"Oh yes, m'am. I think so," the woman curtsied again in spite of herself. "Do you think you might find time, My Lady, to come and tell the children a story or two? I have told them that our Queen is one of the most famous bards in all of Greece."
"I would love to do that, Madam Fable," Gabrielle walked toward the exit turned and took the woman's hand again. "Let me know a day in advance and I will be glad to come."
"Wonderful," the woman smiled again. "Good day, My Queen."
As Gabrielle descended the few steps into the schoolhouse, she was met with an onrushing flood of children scampering into the building.
"Hi, Missus Lady, Hello, 'Scuse me, HELOO Madam Fable!"
There was no doubt who the kids were anxious to see. It was not their Queen. Well, there was a deed well done. Blarff was better off in fertilizer no doubt.
She glanced in the window as she passed by the carving shop. She saw no dark head with the two blond ones working diligently over the wooden horse. It looked like Talus was adjusting well to his glove. Birdie had told her mother the story, and it was a good one. Either Gabrielle or her little bard would work it into their writings.
"Birdie, if you have gone honking off again, I will skin your backside myself," the emerald eyes flashed the bard's own spark when her patience was tried. "Where are you? How am I to keep your butt out of the fire with your Baba when I cannot locate you?"
The stable was clean and quiet. Hades looked at her hopefully, but there was no Birdie for either of them.
Shaking her head, Gabrielle turned back to the fortress.
"Mother Cyrene, have you seen Birdie?" She tried to sound casual as she entered the kitchen.
Cyrene turned from her pots, a dishtowel over her shoulder, "No love."
She strode quickly across the clay floor and looked out the opposite door; Gabrielle trotted to keep up with her.
The sturdy girl looked up from the garden, brushed a thick lock of hair from her eyes and smiled, "Aye Muma Cy?" The bard smiled to herself.
"Have ya seen Birdie?"
"No, Mum, not this way. Just a moment."
The women watched as the tall girl walked outside the garden and looked further down the backyard where a figure rode a horse toward them bareback. As Jorry approached, the horse stopped suddenly and the figure pitched forward sliding off into the dirt.
Jorry ran to the figure taking his head in her lap. "Jongo."
He smiled up at her. "Fine Jorry." He shook his finger at the horse. "Smart horsie, you are!"
"Jongo have you seen Birdie?"
He rose gracefully and took the horse's bridle. "No Jorry, no Birdie. Come horsie."
Jorry returned to the kitchen at a light jog.
"She looks happy, Mother Cyrene."
"I believe that Jorry will be ok, Gabrielle. Better off than Birdie if she has…"
Cyrene knew her Grandbirdie only too well.
"I hope that she is wiser by now, but I will keep you informed," Gabrielle smiled as she moved up the stairs. She would grab her gear bag and take Wendy to the Amazon camp before sending up a signal. Zephyr would show, and Xena would soon feel the bard's anxiety .
"Birdie," She whispered shaking her head as she passed her child's room.
A medium-sized furry fox shape was curled by the bed. A tall, reclining, dark headed, warrior shape, was in the bed. The cobalt eyes caught her lover's sea green orbs and bade her to be quiet. Both of the warrior's large hands were under the tunic of the smaller warrior who was sprawled asleep half on top of her Baba Xe. The fighting hands were engaged in a gentle circular stroking motion on Birdie's back, steady and silent. Occasionally, the fingers drew long lines under the shirt from the shoulders to the lower back. The soothing ministrations had put the youngster at ease and at rest, for she was deep in the land of Morpheus on her warrior pillow. The hands never stopped the gentle motions though.
Gabrielle crept over and sat on the bed, taking Xena's head into her lap. "Hey."
The blue eyes blinked sleepily up at her, "Hey."
"Looks as if you are providing a good remedy for the cramps, Baba Xe."
She was rewarded with a quiet smile. "My mother used to 'tickle my back' when I had bad cramps. Those were peaceful times for us. "
The Conqueror swallowed, "I came up here and found Birdie curled up in bed hurting, and the memory returned to me. So I got her down with me, tickled her back, and sang to her a little bit. Pretty soon, she was out." The dark veined hand that could kill more than one enemy at a time moved to brush the hair from her child's forehead.
"And I guess it worked."
Gabrielle scooted back on the bed to lean against the wall and brushed the hair from her warrior's forehead. "We must treasure these simple times you know; our Birdie is growing up."
The Conqueror twisted her dark head in the bard's lap, "I know." She was pensive.
"Do you think that she will leave us, Gabrielle?" The strong hand reached back to clasp her smaller one.
Gabrielle squeezed gently and ran her fingers deeply into the dark hair in her lap. Zephyr rose suddenly as if she heard the question and laid her nose in the bard's lap as well.
"Not for awhile, but Birdie will leave us, as all children must leave their homes to find their own ways and their own lives. I am thinking that Rachelle may be part of Birdie's way," the words came from that great heart of wisdom that was the Bard of Potidaea. "But part of her will remain with us, and when she finds the answers she needs for her life, Birdie will come home."
"Do you believe that truly," The Conqueror's eyes were pleading like a child's, almost sad, almost hurt.
The bard interlaced her fingers with the warrior's one by one and held tightly. "I do."
"How do you know, Gabrielle?" It was unlike the Conqueror to be so unsure.
The bard and mother kept a watchful gaze on her sleeping child as she kept a strong and sure grip on the warriors hand. She leaned down and kissed Xena's forehead in her calm commanding way as she ran gentle fingertips through Zephyr's fur.
"Because Xena, we are her source. "
But what is common to the
Is the search.
A lonesome journey
The strong will demand
From the weak.
Kings from captains,
Captains from enlisted,
And soldiers from peasants,
By their might,
By their ability
Is it right?
Take the hand
Of one in need
Forget for once
The force of greed.
If we are wronged.
There is no greater love given.
No greater peace received.
The only way to break the cycle of hate and killing is through love and forgiveness.
How long before we learn?
There is a source,
A hope for grace.
It all begins
There is a place.
I am Robin,
The road is high
My road is hard,
I have no fear,
I have my fox,
I have my friends,
I have my source
Within the warrior,
And the bard.
The end for now… comments please to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks as always.
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