First, to those of you who have been loyal and so kind to inquire about Birdie, we thank you. We had a rough year, but we are coming out of it, and the skies are brighter. There is still a big move and many changes ahead for the Bird and her bard sock, but they are the right changes. Thank you so very much to you who have written, inquired and offered support, and thank you especially to Tracey the Tyrant, my beta reader who has never given up on me, but waited with the patience of Gabrielle herself. I also need to thank a special friend MC, who ordered me to write for an hour every day. That daily structured discipline brought Birdie back to life in my heart, and thus a great deal of happiness to me that I hadn't been able to find on my own. Birdie and I will guard ourselves against these quagmires in the future and avoid them.
Just to review, Xena the Conqueror, Gabrielle, Birdie and Rach are on their way home to Amphipolis after attending the Royal Academy of Bards convocation in Athens. It has been an enormous learning and bonding experience for all of them; Birdie has learned a great deal about her parents, how different they are on the road and how much they love it. Also our Birdie is learning just how deeply in love she is with Rach. You might go back and read the poem at the end of part III to refresh. Again, my deepest gratitude.
I am Robin of the Warrior and the Bard….
I bolted straight up in the saddle at the sound of my name. Oh boy. Hope Baba hadn't seen me drowsing lazily in time to Hades' rocking gait.
Fortunately, it was my mother. Wendy trotted up to keep pace with Hades which was a bit of a challenge for her as she was a much smaller horse.
“Yes, Mama,” I leaned back to her. “Beautiful day, isn't it?”
“You do not fool, your mother,” her voice growled with laughter in it as well. “You were sound asleep, Birdie. I thought I best wake you before you fell from your horse or your Baba Xe caught you.”
She looked straight ahead, her bright hair blowing back gently in the sun, “I am not sure which would be worse though, to fall from Hades might break bones, and your Baba Xe would never do that to you.”
I ducked my head a little, “She said she would skin me alive, and that's a pretty serious threat, Mama G. So again, I thank you.”
“Well, I have my reasons.”
Silence from me. This was often the best tactic, I had learned after many years of allowing my mouth to run astray.
“Rachelle shared your gift to her with me.”
My face burned; I knew that it must be crimson to my ears. My mother's strong and gentle hand came between our horses to hold the back of my head and run her fingers up though my hair.
“Honey, I am proud of you. I know it was personal, but she wanted to share it with me after she and I spent such a long while in discussion last night. I am so proud of you for writing it, and I am proud of the quality of the writing.”
“Thanks, Mama,” I managed to mutter. “It was Baba Xe's idea, you know.”
“Um hum, she told me,” Mama chuckled quietly. “I must say that I am proud of her too. What a trip this has been.”
“It has.” I smiled to myself, “Life is never boring is it? There is always something new to learn.”
“No it isn't, which is why you had best not fall asleep,” a light pat on my head told me I was being left alone again. But only for a moment.
“Little Mistress, are you glad to be on the home stretch?”
I spared a glance down at the sleek ebony fox trotting easily beside Hades. My beauty.
“I am indeed, Zephyr, are you?”
“Very glad. I have missed the familiar woods and streams.“
“And your special friend.”
“Perhaps him too. And the boys.”
“Do they still visit their mother, Zephyr?”
“On occasion, though they are quite independent.”
I shifted in my saddle. “I would imagine they are handsome fellows.”
“They are, Little Mistress. They will soon begin their own families.”
Only the steady clopping of Hades hooves kicked the dust for a span of time.
“The seasons pass quickly, don't they Zephyr? It doesn't seem so long ago that I found you as a tiny kit, and now you will soon have grand kits.”
For that I received a slight showing of teeth.
“Zephyr, you know I mean no insult.”
“And you, my dear Little Mistress, are… in… love.”
I rode silently.
“Though you have been quiet; dear girl, you cannot hide it from me.”
My chin went to my chest, “Yes, Zephyr that is true; there is no point in hiding it from you is there?”
“No, little mistress, there isn't.” My fox's telepathic voice was gentle resonating in my mind.
“Life is rather amazing, don't you think, my foxy friend?”
“Amazing is one word one could use, little mistress.”
I realized how much I had grown to love being on the road as I carried Hade's saddle over to a shady tree and searched for his curry brush, it seemed a very natural way of life.
“I'll do the rubdown if you lay out the beds and talk about dinner,” I offered the usual deal to Rach. She smiled and tossed me the brush. We had fallen into these chores by preference. I enjoyed hauling the water for the horses to drink while I brushed any uncomfortable debris from their coats; it was a form of gratitude for carrying us the entire day. Rachelle had more of the natural nesting instinct; she liked to set up our neat little camp, contribute to the fire we shared with Baba Xe and Mama G, and also discuss, dinner with Mama G. They enjoyed cooking together.
“Birdie, strip down before you clean the horses!” Rach called. I had forgotten and quickly shrugged out of the buckskin tunic. My undershirt was easily washed in our evening bath, while the buckskin would keep the “horsey smell” that Rachel was not fond of. I liked to think that she enjoyed seeing me in my undershirt and hoped that the tiny bit of adolescent hubris was acceptable to the gods.
“Girls, hurry up!” this from my Lady Mother striding up, “this is one of our favorite camping spots because of the bathing pool, and you will want to spend extra time in it. There's just soup and bread tonight anyway.”
I quickly finished examining Lucy's fourth hoof for damage, gave her and Hades each an apple, and sent them off to graze the evening away.
“That sounds really good to me,” I said to Rachelle, quickly shucking my boots and britches, while rooting in my pack for my towel and soap.
“Oh, me too,” she agreed. “Truly the only thing I have missed about civilization are good baths.”
“Softy.” I grinned at her which fetched me a smack to the back of my head on the run to the place where the trees made a circle and had to be the perfect place for a pool. The water was extraordinary, an aquamarine color; Mama had not exaggerated. It was the most inviting bath on the road. Baba Xe was already floating around on her back spouting water from her mouth like a contented whale; she was quite relaxed. Mama was just entering in front of us, her sleek, slim, slightly sun tanned body on display.
“Birdie,” Rach whispered, “You know absolutely nothing about that fantastic dragon tattoo? I find that difficult to believe.”
“Believe it,” I returned. Memories also returned.
Among my first spoken words must have been, “Mama, what is that on your back?” She would never tell me, even after I was old enough to know all about tattoos and tattoo artists and such. Once I had tried to threaten her with getting a tattoo myself, if she didn't spill the tale. That little bit of arrogance only brought me a firm tattoo of handprints on my backside which convinced me to never again try that tactic with my mother.
At my embarrassed tears, though, Mama G had gentled, and taken me into her arms, “Honey, I know that you want to know all about everything, but right now, you are just too young. The time will come when you are older and ready to hear all of the past and all of its secrets. But that is a decision that your Baba Xe and I will make, and you pestering me about it will only bring you trouble.” She wiped the tears away with her thumbs and kissed my forehead, “Patience, Birdie.”
So I had learned to be patient and more observing. I had learned that my parents were not just merely “my parents”. They were something far more.
I sighed, “Rach, there are many things I do not know about my parents. You cannot imagine how much I have learned on this trip alone.”
“Really?” she looked at me quizzically, “How can that be? You spend so much time with them.” We sat down a moment soaking our feet. We must have looked pretty funny in sudden serious conversation, buck naked.
“Xena the Conqueror and Gabrielle Queen of the Amazons are far different people than just Xena Warrior Princess and Gabrielle of Potidaea who traveled together for all those many moons. We have now seen that simpler, gentler side on the road. The happy, relaxed, loving, teasing sides of a couple that have too many responsibilities at home to show.”
“Well, I don't know them as well as you do at all, but I can see what you are talking about, “Rach ran her fingers into the back of my hair gently. “They are quite different on the road. They are freed to be alone together.”
I looked across the pool where my parents were engaged in a water fight, and laughing.
“Look at them. They had quite a life on the road before Amphipolis and me, and it wasn't all good. Some was quite dark, Rach. They do not share certain parts of the past until they believe it to be appropriate for me to know, or if I am old enough, or if the Fates force it.”
I paused thinking about Solon and Hope. It would not be easy to tell Rachelle that story. Suddenly I understood my parents' positions better. I reached for Rach's hand and squeezed it.
“There is an entire section of my mother's scrolls that I am forbidden to read until she gives me permission. At times that has seemed unfair, but I love and respect her so much, I have learned to accept it, and I know that the right day will come.”
“HEY!” The Conqueror bellowed. “Are you two so love-struck that all you can do is sit in the dirt in your nothing-at- alls? Xena the Conqueror does NOT ride with stinky kids!!”
After grinning at each other sheepishly, we waded into the pool.
Rach plunged into her chin, “Oh by the gods, it's WARM! C'mon Birdie!”
It was warm. “Baba Xe is this the bathing pool of the gods?” I called.
“Sounds like a good story,” Mama G was washing her hair.
“It's the bathing pool of these gods tonight,” said my Baba, as she continued to float.
Across the pool, My Baba Xe was gently scrubbing my mother's back after helping her rinse the soap from her hair. Then the Conqueror followed with a careful pattern of kisses, the different points of the dragon tattoo.
My mother turned and put her arms around my taller parent's neck, “What are you up to , Warrior?”
Baba's voice was a low growl, “Just admiring that lovely art work and its canvas, My Love.”
“Hummm, you like my dragon? I don't see it much you know.” My mother kissed her warrior gently.
“It is of itself a work of art,” Baba said quietly, “ and what it means, and that it's on your back, makes it even more precious to me.”
My mother smiled, “Oh, I love it when you speak soft loving words, Big Warrior.” She kissed Baba Xe again, and they sank in the water more.
“Birdie!” Rach could whisper the loudest of anyone I knew.
“Huh?” I was deep in a dream.
“What?” a little splash of water in my face brought me back.
“Rach, I think possibly that tonight would be a good night to ask them a very big question- one that has been off limits until now.” I took the soap and began to lather it in my hands preparing to wash her hair.
“So? That feels good, Birdie; it's so nice to have warm water, “ she leaned into my hands.
I pulled her head back so she looked at me upside down.
“So I need your support. It's dangerous territory.” I felt nervous even thinking about it.
Rach extended a hand to cup my cheek. “I'll be right beside you, Birdling. If you think it's time.”
Good enough. I totally submerged myselfthen and flew out of the water like a dolphin, expending pent up energy.
After a quiet dinner of soup and bread, and we were all sitting staring reflectively into the fire's dance, I gathered my courage .
“Baba, Mama, will you tell us about when Baba Xe died?”
Mama's shoulders slumped and Baba's eyes went dark with gathering clouds.
“Please?” I implored, and Rach's hand crept over to grip mine. She squeezed as she felt mine tremble.
The sapphire orbs flashed at me in a manner which felt almost like a strike. I wondered if I would ever cease to fear her eyes. Even though mine mirrored hers, I still feared the eyes of the Conqueror.
But then she looked to my mother who nodded acquiescence. My Conqueror parent sighed a heavy sigh.
“One time, and you will never ask for the tale again. Not of us anyway.”
“Never again, Baba Xe.” Perhaps she would finally tell me. I sat up straighter.
First the Conqueror took my mother's hand in hers and gazed long and deeply into the calm jade sea. She found approval and so recommenced her gaze at the ground.
“It was a mistake. As usual, I believed that I owed someone a debt.” She bit the words like they were distasteful.
“It's not so a great fault, “the gentle voice of the bard intervened with the warrior's disgust, “It only sometimes can fly out of hand. You have tempered that tendency.”
“I would hope so; it's cost us everything so many times!” Tears were forming in the warrior's eyes.
“Baba,” I felt bad now. “If this is too hard; I had no idea….”
My Conqueror parent shook herself, “No, Birdie, you have come of age, and you deserve the truth. It isn't your fault that it is a tough tale to tell.” She stared at the ground. My soup churned in my belly.
My mother took charge, “Before we continue, let me say, when we arrive back at Amphipolis, you may read the forbidden scrolls, Birdie. You have come of age.”
Wow. That was nice to hear. But I wasn't quite sure what it meant. Mama was beginning again, so I didn't ask.
“An old friend sent for her. Her name was Akemi and she lived in the far away land of Japa,” My mother's calm voice began. “The mission was important to your Baba, so we started for Japa right away; it was a very long journey.”
This from my Baba, “On the countless days at sea, I told your mother the story of the debt I owed this girl. I had cared deeply for her at one time and while yes, I believe she cared for me too, she also took advantage of me. “
“Despite your Baba Xe's tremendous skills and powers,” my mother looked at her warrior appraisingly as the fire illuminated the striking face. “She has her vulnerabilities.”
Baba snorted. ”Do not.”
Mama rocked back into the darkness laughing silently.
“Any---Way.” Baba Xe continued with a gulp, “I taught her ‘the Pinch'.”
This was indeed a shock. I knew better from well, birth, than to ask for lessons concerning the deadly, ‘Pinch'. It was even more off limits than the tattoo.
Baba continued quickly, it was a terrible memory for her, “Akemi then used the pinch to kill her father who had been abusive to her entire family, and then she forced me kill her rather than allow her to disembowel herself.”
The sapphire eyes went far into the fire. “The people of Japa have a great many odd notions about personal and family honor. Akemi felt not only that she must kill her father, whom she hated, but then also that she must die to preserve the family honor. Suicide after such a disgraceful act would bring even more dishonor; she begged me, on her knees in tears. So I killed her.” She tried to shrug, “It was quick. No drama.” None of us were fooled.
My mother's hand gripped my Baba's tightly again and I noticed Baba's hand squeezed hers equally hard. This had happened many moons, many adventures, and many feelings ago, but the old wounds ran red. My own hand was squeezed gently, and I felt Rach's voice whisper into my ear,
Oh. Hadn't realized I wasn't.
“In my grief, I hacked off my hair and took to drinking,” Baba Xe still talked to the ground.
I looked at Rach and remarked, “Understandable.”
“Yes, very,” my mother echoed. She showed no jealously whatsoever, my remarkable mother; she showed only compassion for her warrior, and so took the telling for awhile.
“Xena was ridiculed and taunted by the townspeople whom she had not harmed. They felt the honor she was showing for Akemi's ashes was a dishonor to them. They began to jeer and stone her. She defended herself by blowing fire at them and departed.”
“Which brought us to our ‘present' arrival at Japa, where we found the old city of Higuchi under siege by a samurai army,” Baba took up the tale again. “We made short work of it, only the two of us. Your mother was quite the warrior in those days.”
“Still am, when necessary,” Mama looked into the cobalt eyes seriously.
“Anyway, we brought a bad situation under control, and then we were visited by the ghost killer, who gave us the bad news that Akemi‘s spirit was held prisoner by Yodoshi, Lord of the Dark Land, and eater of souls. And then he told us the very worst news of all.”
“What a tragic tale,” Rachelle said softly.
“The ghost killer told us that my little episode of blowing fire had raised Higuchi to the ground killing forty thousand people, and the evil spirit of Yodoshi had eaten those forty thousand others as well. And .....it was basically all my fault.”
My mother snorted—a rare sound from her. “I do have my reservations about that.”
“How would we ever know?” Baba Xe leaned her head against my mother's shoulder, another rare sight, her eyes fading to an incalculable midnight sadness. “There were thousands of spirits freed at the death of the Lord of the Dark Land on Mount Fuji-San.”
Mama G kept her silence.
“After the ghost killer told us his first bit of cheery news,” Baba continued. “He informed us that only a spirit could kill the ghost of Yodoshi.”
“Meanwhile, the Samurai army had regrouped and was approaching.” Mama said. “The situation was deteriorating very quickly, faster than we could think.”
“And so we prepared,” Baba's voice was barely above a whisper. Mama watched the Conqueror for what felt like a long time, making us all uncomfortable. My mother could do that to children and ex warlords alike.
Then she spoke, “Your Baba Xe taught me ‘The Pinch',” there was a tone in her voice that I couldn't quite identify.
Gabrielle the Bard's voice continued growing stronger, “She taught me the Pinch by demonstrating it on herself. It upset me, but I trusted her, since Xena had been honing my 'warrior skills' at the time. I.... trusted... her." The tone of her voice was bitter anger and betrayal; that's why I couldn't place it.
“And as the blood trickled from her nose,” my mother continued in that terrible voice, “ Xena looked at me and said, ‘If I had only thirty seconds to live, this is how I'd want to live them; looking into your eyes.'”
My mother picked up a stick and began to draw chakrams, the signs of yin and yang in the in the dirt. “Such irony in romantic words” she murmured at her drawings and then stabbed the drawings as she bit off then next words one by one.
“ I….. should…. Have….. known….”
There was silence, and Baba Xe realized she would take the story, but she cast a devastated look at Mama.
“Yes, I did send your mother to safety, while I allowed myself to be killed,” she whispered.
“ Massacred ” is the word, “It was the first time I had ever heard an unforgiving snap in my mother's voice.
“Yes, well that…”
“Don't- you- dare, ‘yes, well that' me '”, the gold flecks in the jade eyes were flames. “Don't you dare.”
This anger scared me. It dawned on me that they might not have ever really told this tale to anyone at all --together.
Should I stop them? No, it was in progress; Rach squeezed my hand and we both locked our eyes on Mama's dirt drawings, and waited for the moment to pass.
Mama took a deep breath, “To make a miserable story shorter, the ghost killer told me that Xena could come back to absolute life after her spirit defeated Yodoshi. I had only to pour Xena's ashes into the Fountain of Strength on mount Fuji-San before the sun went down on the second day after her death. It was then that your ‘Spirit Baba Xe' took me to meet Akemi at the tea house per his instruction.”
“I was wrong to deceive you,” Baba muttered brokenly. “It was regression into my old ways. I took advantage of your trust in me, your love for me.”
“Yes, you did,” the Bard replied her voice soft again, “But my trust and my love for you did not change for all that, did they?”
“No.” my Conqueror parent's eyes looked up and were locked still by the gentled jade, “and though I am grateful daily for that miracle, I should tell you much more often. Gabrielle, I'm sorry." The Conqueror's head bowed, and I saw teardrops falling into the dust.
The bard's hand extended, and the warrior clasped it immediately, "You have been forgiven for a very long time, My Love." she whispered.
Then she continued, "So I have been to the Tea House of the Dead,” She rose to her knees, reached across the distance and tugged the forelock of my hair “And that, my curious little Bird, is where I received my dragon tattoo.”
“It took a long time, and it hurt,” my Baba's eyes were the Aegean ocean color when she was deeply linked with my mother; she gripped the paler hand. " But Akemi said it would protect her."
“And you were right beside me, and it was needed later on, wasn't it?” Mama G was so bedrock strong. My Conqueror parent was strong to the point of legend, but few knew the source of her power. Rachelle and I were witnessing the raw exchange of their connection tonight, far more than I had ever seen. It was a privilege.
“But first I had to collect Xena's body from the samurai army and cremate it; the ashes and I had a journey to make. I did collect Xena's body…”
“Don't down play what you did, love,” Baba Xe interrupted. She looked at us across the fire. “My little bard here demanded one-on-one battle with the captain of the samurai in front of his army for my head. She defeated him, but she didn't kill him. That was the worst thing she could have done to his pride and sense of ‘honor'.”
“It meant nothing to me to kill him,” Mama G said tonelessly. "There had been enough death." She closed her eyes. I thought of my small mother bracing against the task of building a bier and burning the body of Xena Warrior Princess, the love of her life, alone. Then she had collected the ashes into an urn and ridden toward mount Fuji.
“Yes,” Baba gathered herself and took the story again. “Meanwhile, my battle on Fuji with Yodoshi was fearsome, even for a spirit world encounter. He was extraordinarily evil and had the force of all the captured spirits within him.”
“I arrived in the midst of their battle,” Mama G chimed, “there were lightning bolts flashing and the tops of trees sheared off.”
“At one point he had me,” Baba shook her head sadly, “I was down, even my spirit was defeated. Your mother noticed; I'll never know how…”
“Because that pesky samurai had followed me all the way to Fuji still wanting to fight me to the death over Xena's ashes. That man had issues.”
“That is when Gabrielle learned that she could throw the chakram,” Baba said smiling proudly.
“Lucky toss, perhaps. But I was out of patience with him,” Mama G said huffily. I smiled. One doesn't want ‘To make Xena mad', nor does one want ‘to cause my mother to run out of patience'. They are equally dangerous.
“Anyway, I saw that Xena was down, and my first thought was the Fountain of Strength. So I ran to with cupped hands to fetch water for her and took a sip myself.”
“At which point, Yodoshi hurled a huge fireball directly at her back, “Baba Xe spoke again, “I saw him do it, and I lay there helpless. But the tattoo…”
“The dragon tattoo worked,” my mother accounted very calmly, “The back of my traveling tunic was burned away, but I was unharmed. So the time spent poking and inking was well worth it.”
“And she was able to revive me with a kiss. The water from the fountain tasted sweet on those lips.” Baba Xe, cast the bard a sideways look.
“Yes.” No further words came from the bard. The recounting of this tale was becoming heart breaking again for my mother; I could feel it.
“I defeated Yodoshi, and the spirits were free,” Baba Xe closed her eyes. “But the cost.”
My mother said no more, but she laid her head down in Baba's lap, staring into the fire. Tears filled her eyes, but they did not fall.
“Akemi had told me that in order for the spirits to remain free, I must remain dead.” Baba said quietly, “It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do—telling that to your mother. And I wasn't even sure it was true. But it felt to me to be the right thing to do.”
“Except for me,” this came from the blond head.
“Except for the most important person in my life,” Baba whispered. “It was totally wrong for her. But my Gabrielle allowed it, and she accepted it. For my honor and for my final atonement for the wrongs I had committed as a warlord." Xena the Conqueror's voice began to break, "Something I am not sure I would have the strength to do..." Her head fell, and tears dropped upon my mother's face.
My mother turned in Baba's lap and extended a gentle hand wiping the tears from the hidden face. She spoke one final line in a comforting voice, “To her credit, Xena's spirit stayed with me; she never left me, never.” Her voice began to tremble, and she turned her head to burrow within the warrior's body.
The Conqueror pulled her in and cradled her closely. They were the only two people at that campfire.
“So how did you return?” Rach almost whispered.
“We can read about that in the scrolls.” I said quickly, “And we will, as soon as we return to Amphipolis.”
“Actually,” said Rachelle, squeezing my hand and rising. “I want to read all of the scrolls when we return to Amphipolis. “Ladies Xe and G, would you like to go for a walk? Birdie and I can tidy up.”
“No, I think it best that we call it a night.” Baba spoke quietly, still cradling my mother in her arms…” Let's all go to bed and have a fresh start in the morning. Are we agreed upon that?”
Baba rose to her feet effortlessly, holding my mother as tightly and tenderly as possible to her own body. Mama wrapped her arms around the Conqueror's neck and was thus borne to their rich bed of furs. Their silhouette in the firelight became one dark being in a magical way that I had seen happen a few times before between my parents. They were both wounded and healed. Rach's hand slipped into mine, and she pulled me to standing.
“In the morning then, My Ladies,” Rach was speaking. At least she was capable of speech; I had gone stone mute.
“Bird, stoke up the fire a bit there for the night.”
I obeyed like a zombie moving about the fire, poking and adding larger logs; the story had taken quite a toll on me. Rachelle finally gave up and led me by the hand to our place of furry repose. I wondered how it would be, after all of this time, to sleep alone again back in my little bedroom with Zephyr. It would be difficult. I would miss Rach, her breathing, her warmth, her presence had become as natural to me as the night itself.
“Xena,” the bard's voice barely broke the night silence.
“Yes, Gabrielle,” the warrior was perched on an elbow looking down at her companion, her queen, her lover, her life.
“Do you remember during that time that you were gone—when you were a spirit…”
“Those times we were ‘together', how you could be with me, actually come totally within me? I never thought it was enough during those days; I missed your physical body so much, but tonight…. Tonight… I want all of you. I want all there is of you.”
Her intense jade regard captured the serious azure eyes which glittered in the moonlight. “I will try, Gabrielle,” she whispered, and began to untie the strings to her sleepwear.
“No,” the little blonde's hands were gentle, “Let me.” She tugged at the strings at each shoulder revealing the dark soft skin and stiffened breasts beneath. She cupped them briefly, then ran her hands over the muscular shoulders, down the shoulder blades, almost like wings, and pushed the material from the Conqueror's taut buttocks with a feathery, familiar touch, made fingertip circles around the groin and drew light lines on the flat belly. She smiled as the warrior groaned deeply closing her eyes. When they reopened, there were flecks of gold in them.
“There you are,” the bard whispered, “my Warrior who is of the gods.”
The stars were brilliant. I thought of Marcus and Bartholomew at their celestial duty. Tucking both hands behind my head, I accepted the fact that it might be a sleepless night.
A warm hand crept under my nightshirt and the arm went across my bare skin leaving a trail of heat. But the touch was soothing, not arousing, and her voice followed, just as soothing.
She elbowed up to look at me straight in the eyes. “I've decided that we should read all of your mother's scrolls from beginning to end.”
Rach frowned a little, “You have never done so?”
Rather ashamed, I shook my head, “Not every single one, not all the way through. I have read bits and parts, and of course, she's always told me stories, well, except for the “forbidden ones”. Then I began writing my own, and she worked with me so hard on those….” I paused and shook my head a little. My mother.
“Well, we will read them now, Little Bird.”
“That would be fun. We could take turns reading to each other.” Rach lay back down beside me and snuggled up under my arm.
“I love you,” I whispered into her hair. “Did you know that?”
“Pretty much," she sighed looking at the stars, “I love you too, Birdie.”
“Pretty much, I think. Now go to sleep.” She snuggled in deeper and her breathing became regular. Rachelle could fall asleep in the space of a breath. It was never so easy for me.
Pretty much. Huh. I closed my eyes, and Zephyr crept closer.
“Pretty much will suffice for now, Little Mistress. Sleep.” The words came into my mind.
“I love you too, Zephyr.” My hand rested in the dark fur. It eased me.
“And I you, Little Mistress, always true.”
Then all was quiet.
The Fortress walls of Amphipolis appeared almost as foreign to me as Athens had when it finally came into sight. It looked smaller to me now, yet it was home , my home ; something stirred deep in my gut and brought dampness to my eyes. How long had we been away? Two moons perhaps? I didn't even know for certain. All the days and nights had run together.
What I did know was why my parents missed being on the road. There was an infinity of adventure, knowledge, and challenge beyond the fortification of Amphipolis. Life was not only about being safe and sound, although that counted for much, I thought, as the gates creaked wide open, and I beheld my little Grandba leading a small parade of greeters. After a swift dismount, I found my strength so increased as to almost lift her from the ground in our hug. Not quite though, so I settled for a spinning embrace.
She pushed my hair back from my eyes, and I saw eyes like my own, only calmer with wisdom, fill with tears, “There's my Grandbirdie; I've missed you so, little one. And mercy sakes you've grown lean and mean!!” She leaned backward and surveyed me, “Just look at ya!”
I only laughed, hugged her again, then watched her run towards my Baba Xe who did pick her up and swing her in a large circle—almost a dance move. Mama G watched bemusedly as Grandba pretended to scold and fuss her Conqueror daughter before she took my blond mother in a warm embrace. At loose ends a moment, my eyes sought Rachelle, but then I was knocked to the ground.
My instincts threw a fierce quick counter pin on whomever had ambushed me.
“Talus,” I sighed. “Don't do that anymore, my friend; I could hurt you.”
He lay there blinking at me in surprise, “Garsh, Bird. I was only foolin' with ya; I missed ya like crazy!”
“I'm sorry, Tal.” I stood and extended my hand, hauling him to his feet.
“Yer stronger too!”
"I've learned a great deal, my friend,"
Talus gazed deep into my eyes for a moment. "So you have, Bird. Have you changed?"
“Some,” I returned the gaze, “We'll have to take a long walk soon, Tal.”
He clapped my shoulder, “We will then, Bird; just let me know.”
We faced each other and engaged in an intense warrior's clasp at the entrance of the fortress, "I will, Tal."
“Where would you begin, Little Mistress?” the black fox looked up at me as I led Hades through the meeting grounds and into the stable.
I considered the campfires, the ambushes, the lessons, the Academy, Athens, The Goddess Athena, the laughter, the tears, the stories, the nights with Rach under the stars.
“Zephyr, I don't have a clue, ”I returned silently,” But he is my oldest friend, and I owe him the effort.”
“Change is an inevitable part of life, child,” the voice of the goddess was coming through the fox just then.
“I don't want to change so much that I lose friends, Zephyr,” the thought went back.
“Then see that you do not,” was the answer and black fur rubbed up against my pant leg.
I pondered that as I unsaddled Hades and rubbed him down complete with sweet talk. There was a commotion outside in the grounds between the stable and the inn, and I lugged my packs out to see what it was.
It was the Amazons of course. Ephiny swooped me into a bear hug causing me to drop all my gear, and I responded with a sudden sense of being overwhelmed, and I buried my face in her shoulder seeking a little extra love.
She pushed me back, “Hey, you ok, Kiddo?”
I sniffed, embarrassed, “Just missed you, Effie. It seemed like such a long time.”
She gave my backside a brisk swat, “Well it was, Birdiegirl. And I expect to hear about every single moment. There is no education like travel. You learn a lot about yourself on the road.”
Her dark eyes locked with mine, “Don't you?”
Why was I so gods be damned transparent to everyone? “Yes.” I said quickly and bent over to recollect my gear. I waved at her as I entered the inn. She pointed a finger and pierced me with an eagle eye.
“We'll be talking, Goddaughter; that is a promise."
I flashed her a look that was pure love- warrior to warrior. Effie hadn't changed at all. That was good.
My arm was snagged at the doorway, “Hey, you aren't leaving are you?”
“No Rach, just taking a load up.”
“Well, my aunties will be expecting to depart before too long,”
“I'll be right back down,” The dreaded moment had arrived. My heart sank as I dragged myself up the worn staircase. My bedroom was welcoming, filled with sunlight from the window in which I loved to sit and watch the world of Amphipolis. But my world now revolved around one ash blonde girl. Sighing, I set down my saddlebags and turned to go back downstairs.
Rach was waiting at the bottom for me, and we were of similar mind set, because she threw her arms around my neck.
“How will I sleep at night without my Birdie?” she spoke into my hair.
I could say nothing, but held her as tightly as I could burrowing into the softness of her.
“Rach!” it was the unmistakable bellow of Eponin, Rach's aunt, calling her to join them.
“I'll come as soon as I can to see you," I whispered. "I'm fourteen soon and can legally use the quick vines to the camp."
We stood at the foot of the stairs, our foreheads touching.
“You better, Birdiegirl,” her hand came up under my chin. “Ah yes, your birthday is the day after tomorrow. We'll all be on hand for that event.” She gave me a wicked smile, “I may need to spank you.”
I blinked at her, “Rach, warriors are never spanked.”
The green granite eyes flashed with warmth and authority, “Shall I repeat that to Xena The Conqueror?”
Oh minotaur shite, now she knew me too well, “NO, Rach.”
“Or to your Lady Mother, Gabrielle the Bard?”
Absolutely not. "Noooooooooooooooo..." Now she had a sulky warrior.
She locked her hands behind my head, “Well, if I am to be a serious part of your life, as gifted as you are, Robin of the Warrior and Bard, you do need some guidance every so often. Don't you?”
“I do.” It was surprisingly easy to admit that to her. “But we've said nothing about birthdays.”
She kissed me lightly again. “We'll see how you behave.”
And thus Rachelle of the Amazons by the Sea, gave me a gentle back of the head swat she was so very good at placing, trotted out the door , hopped up on Lucy like a champion now, and flashed one last gorgeous winking smile at me, as she turned to follow her aunts to the Amazon camp.
What she took of Robin of Amphipolis with her, I could not measure. But it was great enough to leave me hollow.
How does one heal
An aching heart?
Or try to console
A grieving soul?
My every breath
Was timed with yours-
Now I know loneliness
Which has no cure.
How do I fill
That empty part
Which rode with you?
I am no longer whole,
A warrior defeated.
Return to my arms,
Restore my soul,
And heal my heart.
Robin of Amphipolis
“Little Mistress, you are wakeful?” the thought came into my mind from underneath my bed.
With a groan I left my bed and padded barefoot to the window to look at the moon. Soft fur nudged itself under my hand and I caressed it affectionately.
“She misses you as well, Little Mistress . “
I smiled at that and looked down at Zephyr. “My dear companion. You always know the right thing to say.”
My fox stood quietly a few moments more listening to the night. “She misses you, but she sleeps, dreaming of you. And that is what my Little Mistress should be doing.”
Kneeling, I put my arms around my fox, and she rested her head on my shoulder. It was our hug; I inhaled her warm cedar smell which was relaxing and unique to Zephyr. It ended with her gentle tongue lapping me once on each cheek.
She took my sleeve in her teeth, tugging me toward my cot, “Now it is time for bed, Little Mistress.”
Honestly, I was quite exhausted, and allowed her to lead me to my bed cooperating completely by snuggling in the covers. But then, as in our younger days, Zephyr jumped up in beside me; this was not something she did very often since she was full grown. Usually she preferred the rug under my bed, or at times she slept at the foot. But tonight she cuddled in closely, as we had those times we were alone on the run, in the rough, so long ago, and I found myself matching my breathing to hers. Zephyr had a long history of being able to calm me and to comfort me with her presence, and we slept.
Spontaneous applause followed as I blew out the candles on the spectacular cake Grandba had created for me. Fourteen candles would have overweighed the thing, so we had adorned it with four. That was fine. Fourteen winters seemed very old.
Baba Xe stood up. “I know this is Birdie's night, but first I would like to present my mother with a few gifts that we bought for her in Athens.”
Minotaur shite ! I had forgotten them too. This would bring the house down; suddenly the cake became very distracting to me. Rach came to my side and we pretended to analyze the way to cut it.
Grandba came forward, “Gifts? For me? You never bring me gifts, Xena.”
Baba looked across right at me and Rachelle, “Baba!” I shot her my best facsimile of “The Look.”
The Conqueror laughed deeply, “I had some expert help in picking these out for you, Mother. Birdie and Rach were with me, just before the Academy of Bards presentations, and we stumbled upon this little collection of treasures in a trader's stand from the East."
I shook my head hard in denial at my Grandba; huh uh, no way was I involved with this. We had only discovered the stand.
Grandba unwrapped the parcel carefully. Without a glance she gave Xena the Conqueror a backhanded bat in the belly because she could hear Baba's smothered giggling.
"What 'av we here? Silk? Why Xena , it's lovely. What's all the fuss about? " She drew piece after piece out. "It's this glorious blue like our eyes, it is. Look, a blouse, "She slipped it on. "It's gorgeous. Birdie, why are you ashamed of helping with this?" Grandba peered deeper into the parcel, "Oh and here's a scarf!" She withdrew the long blue length with a flourish and wrapped it round her neck. "It's so nice! I love it. And one more thing...."
Baba Xe began a slow retreat; I became more preoccupied with the cake.
"BLOOMERS! Silk BLOOMERS?? XENA you come here!!"
The chase was on. Grandba chased Xena the Conqueror around the grand room of her own fortress not once, but twice, snapping at her backside with the silk scarf. Judging from Baba's squeaks, Grandba had excellent skills as well. Pony blew ale out of her nose, and Effie's head was down as she held her stomach. Mama G was a little more contained, but I could see that tears were coming down her face. Atticus was slamming his hand on the table and Rose was holding on to his arm. Thomas and Galto were roaring and slapping each other on the backs as if they had done it themselves. Rach and I looked at each other and laughed, then hugged. It was a fine moment in Amphipolis.
The hilarity was soothed when Scrubbers walked over to the parcel, regarded the bloomers and said, "I think they're quite nice, Cyrene."
There was no hiding Grandba's dreamboat eyes at the man, "Well, if you think so, Scrubby."
"How about we go on with honoring our Birthday Girl?" My mother took command of the situation. "Birdie, come."
I walked obediently with my mother the Queen of the Amazons and Amphipolis to the center of the room, even though I hate being in the center of anyplace.
Gabrielle the Bard's eyes, however would never stop appraising me as if my soul were stripped naked in front of her. That would not change at fourteen, nor would it ever change.
"Since you are older, Birdie, you will have more occasion to look a little smarter at times. We had a clash about apparel in Athens, and her Baba Xe had to threaten her with making her wear a dress."
Everybody laughed their fine butts off about that, but there was no ale spouted. I could feel the red from my neck to my forehead. Minotaur shite, Mama.
"So, here is an answer to future problems." She held a parcel for me to unwrap; I hate unwrapping presents in front of people, but this was easy to react to... It was a red leather tunic.
"Mama," I held it up. The tooling was of birds and quills. It had silver ends on the ties and silver buttons at the cuffs. "Is this Amazon made? Baba said something about you might get one for me..."
" Yes, dear. You do like it?"
"I love it. It's so elegant and soft and gorgeous. Thank you." I hugged her tightly.
"Wait, there's more."
"Oh," Black leather pants. I couldn't believe it. Just like Baba Xe's-- well, smaller. "Mama! I these are so, wow!" I hugged her again.
"Look here my Little Bird," she showed me.
"Lacings on the sides with silver ends on the ties! You are the best Mama in all of Greece." I hugged her and kissed her then; tears were squeezing out.
Grandba walked out holding my boots. "Sorry I can't get you new boots every year, Birdie, but I had these re-soled, mended, polished, stretched a bit and decorated for you."
I was delighted, "Granba, this is fantastic." I slipped them on. The new soles made them feel just like new boots and the added size made them far more comfortable. "You added buckles!" I walked around, "They jingle!" I kissed her cheek, "I love you, Grandba; they are perfect."
"You are pleased then Grandbirdie?"
"Oh, absolutely pleased, Grandba. You did the perfect thing, because I was just getting them broken in well, and now you've made them glorious." I came to attention, clicked my heels, and the buckles jingled.
My grandmother's smile was as valuable to me as anyone else in my family. It always made me feel good to see it.
"Now, Robin of the Warrior and Bard ," I stood still. That voice always made me stand still. The presence came up closer and spoke softly to me.
“It's time for my gift."
My Conqueror parent loved to sound dangerous. I was sure that Rach hadn't said anything about the spanking thing though. That would be a terrible betrayal; she had seen too much of my family on the road to get me in that kind of trouble.
So I turned and faced my Baba Xe. She smiled her smile that gave the sun permission to shine and handed me something heavy wrapped in a cloth.
"Hear me well, Birdie," she said in her best authoritative voice as I unwrapped the cloth, "you shall not, I repeat, SHALL NOT use this until I have given you many lessons." She put her large hand on top of mine, stopping my action. "Do you understand me, Birdie?"
I met her eyes, "Yes, My Lady. Yes, Baba Xe."
"Alright then," she stood away and allowed me to finish.
It was a chakram, like hers, but like the Baby Tide, designed for me.
"I made it for you." Baba's voice had softened considerably at this point.
"Your mother helped me with the etchings; we designed it with the thought of my original chakram.”
I had heard about Baba Xe's original chakram, which had been more ornate than the utilitarian Yin and Yang model she carried now. The original had been etched with Greek key design and had abalone stones like were in the Tide. Mine was all silver with alternating etchings of birds and foxes. Like many fine hand weapons, my chakram was a work of art.
I was gobsmacked, completely speechless; the edge was fine and I kept running my finger over it lightly. Baba smiled at me, "No more wallopins for you over stolen chakrams, kiddo."
The weight and size were perfect. Hers had always been a little bit heavy. This one. I could do magic with this one.
"Unless," The Conqueror's arresting hand was on my shoulder, jarring me from my reverie, "you go honking off and use it without instruction. I mean it, Birdie. You have a natural gift for using a chakram very artistically, but I need to teach you to use it as a weapon. Understood?" Her hand came up to the side of my head locking eyes with me again.
"Yes, Ma'am, I promise." I muttered. "Baba, it's beautiful. Thank you." I wrapped my arms around her waist and hugged tightly. " I never expected this.." The Conqueror kissed the top of my head.
"You're welcome, Little Bird." She whispered.
My mother re-entered the scene, "And here we have ...." She ran a wide black belt around my waist. It was tooled with birds and foxes as well, and a finger away from the silver buckle was a silver hook. The chakram clipped into it perfectly.
I sniffed and slung a few tears from my eyes. "My birthdays just get better and better..." I managed to croak.
"We'll see about that!" My girlfriend came and took my hand, leading me to a long bench. She wasn't really going to spank me was she? She whomped on me plenty in private when I deserved it, but that was something just between us; she would never do it publically.
"Rach..." it wasn't quite a whine. "Rachelle... what are you doing?"
"You will see my Birdling. I have permission from your parents; this is my gift to you. Lie down."
I looked at her a moment. "Am I going to be embarrassed?"
That depends on just how brave of a warrior you really are, Robin of Amphipolis."
Well, there was no help for it.
"Belly or back, Rach?" I submitted to my girl. She gave me a warm smile. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt too much.
Relief, no public humiliation. Even though most of the people in this room knew that I would probably eat fresh bear poop if this little Amazon princess commanded it so, it was better not to have to prove it.
Rocking carefully down on the hard bench, I looked up into her granite green eyes as she straddled the thing near my head.
"What are you going to do to me, Rach?"
"I am going to give you your birthday present, Birdie."
"Will it hurt?"
She took hold of my left earlobe and cleaned it with a rag she had dipped in a solution. I realized her healer's kit was on her knee.
"Trust me, love. You have been through things that have HURT..."
Pinch.. Yipe! But I was stoic. What the Minotaur shite was she doing? Trust, Bird, Trust.
"...far worse.” She did a little dabbing to my ear with a clean rage. “There, all finished. Happy Birthday, Birdie." She leaned over and kissed my nose.
Standing, she held out a hand to pull me up and we walked to one of the polished shields in the room so I could see the product of her labor.
"What do you think, Birdie?"
My girlfriend had pierced my left ear with a treasure coin earring. It glimmered a polished silver from my black hair- the boy riding the dolphin. It felt rather strange and sore, but it looked stunning.
"I like it, Rach. Ow!"
Rach had reached in and turned the earring. "You'll need to keep turning it, and keep it very clean for the next several days." She pushed me back to regard the effect. "I like it too. Very much."
She then took me into our deep embrace that felt to me as if it linked every part possible of us. Mind, body, spirit.
"Thank you, Rach. I love it. It's the best thing you could have given me."
"Do you know what it means?" she whispered. "I didn't ask permission for this part."
"No," no telling what meaning my enigmatic girlfriend would attach to this earring. It would likely mean that I would have to keep her supplied with fresh fish for life.
"It means...." still a whisper, heard only by me, but Rach drew it out with her flare for the dramatic. I pulled back to meet her eyes. It was as if there was no other person at all in the room at that moment.
"It means that I love you, Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, and that as future Queen of the Amazons by the Sea, I have now claimed you as my consort." She kissed me again and lingered this time. Artemis didn't seem to mind.
Zephyr licked my hand; she approved.
By the gods, Bird dog. Happy Birthday.
The End.. for now....
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org , thanks for your patience, and yes, I have begun the next one..
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