Beware the Battling Bard
One Sock Bard
I was tied fast to an enormous silver tree in a setting of blowing sands. Oh please, dear Artemis, not again.
“THWAK!” a sharp object embedded itself into the bark just grazing my left ear. I dared not move my head, but a trickle of blood set course down my cheek and neck dampening my collar.
“You got some courage there kid,” The man in black chuckled, “You are small, but you do not lack cour...”
The second throw ruffled the top of my skull. A lock of my hair was pinned to the tree.
Tears flowed; I could not breathe, but I would not beg.
The man in black sauntered up and removed his gear. He held them before my face in one hand, spreading them like fingers.
“You should be familiar with these, kid. A member of your family is quite proficient with them.”
I could neither speak nor move; his presence turned my blood to ice.
“We could be a team, kid; I could give you power beyond your wildest dreams.”
I held his gaze steadily through a watery curtain.
“Still no speakie to the Big Man? Ok, we will just continue the testing then.”
A sculpture of blood and sweat now, I could only watch as he paced twenty or thirty steps away from the tree which held me fast.
Please, all gods and goddesses who care, I beg of you....
“SCHTONG!” I saw this one coming. The dagger grazed a rib as it pinned my tunic to the tree. I caught my breath as a new trickle of blood began.
Once again the man in black approached. If he weren’t so petrifyingly cold and callous, he could be considered handsome. But no.... there was no flame of compassion in his black eyes. He drew his broadsword and placed the tip under my chin. I was forced to meet those fathomless eyes.
“I will break you, kid,” he flicked the blade just enough to snip blood from my chin and he retreated his numbered paces. He turned and I saw the flash of white teeth, “Wanna know why? Because I CAN!”
The sword tipped end over end once and entered the flesh between my eyes..................
“Birdie, Birdie, wake up Sweetie, it’s all ok,” My mother’s voice pierced my terror and I tried to swim toward the sound.
“C’mon, Bird, Hear me and come back,” The Conqueror commanded, and I opened my eyes to catch the sapphire regard.
“Easy Birdie, it’s ok,” I felt my mother’s palm cool my forehead, “Must have been really bad; you are drenched.” She pulled the top of my nightshirt over my head. Baba supplied a fresh one from the stack near my bunk.
“Did I wake you? Sorry.” Dumb, Bird dog.... too old for bad dreams.
“Actually, Zephyr came to fetch us. So you were involved enough to worry her.”
I dropped my hand to stroke the silken head, “Thanks, girl.”
“I am concerned, Little Mistress,” the voice from my ebony companion spoke in my head, “You need to tell your parents about the dreams.”
“You need to tell us about the dreams, Birdie,” my mother echoed as Zephyr finished, “Perhaps talking about it will help.”
“It’s just so stupid,” I could meet neither set of eyes, “I feel like a little kid frightened of the bogey man.”
“I told you not to read those Celtic scrolls,” my mother admonished, “’All Hal’s Eve’ had its advent with respect for the dead and it was religious in origin. But everyone loves a thrill, and before we knew it there were scrolls upon scrolls about zombies, vampires, werewolves...”
“And headless horsemen?” Baba Xe chimed in which for some private reason drew a scathing look from Mama G.
Sometimes I had no idea what went on between them.
“Describe your bogey man,” Baba changed the subject.
“It’s not Dahak, is it?” my mother was suddenly anxious.
I rubbed my eyes and tried to clear my head…. “Don’t think so, no. Don’t know how to describe him. He’s all dark. He is wearing black and I can barely see him in the darkness and. He throws things at me, but his presence scares me more.”
“He does not hurt you?” Baba Xe frowned.
“He just hurts me a little bit at a time. What is scary is that I can’t do anything about it, and I am afraid he will hurt me badly.”
The cobalt eyes clouded, “That sounds more like torture; does he ask questions?”
“Not that I can remember; it’s more like he is just having fun scaring me, though he tells me I am brave.”
“Robin of Amphipolis, you are a warrior, and you have the courage of a mountain lion. Remember that.”
Rare praise with a point but I was not strong enough to accept it.
“I told you it was stupid,” I turned and smashed my face into the pillow.
“It is NOT stupid,” the bite in the Conqueror’s voice pierced my frustration, “I will not hear that word again. You disrespect both yourself and the parents who raise you with that word.”
I turned and sat up, abashed, “Yes, M’Lady; you are right.” I shook away gathering wetness in my eyes.
Now the bard’s eyes filled, spring pools, “Think you can find sleep now, Honey?” Her fingers ordered my bangs.
“I can,” Zephyr leaped into my bunk and curled up at my back, nose on my shoulder.
“G’night,” both parents turned back toward me at the door.
“G’night, I leaned back into my pillow and Zephyr’s warm fur felt safe. “I’ll be ok. He only comes once a night.”
“Xena, I don’t like it,” The bard lay staring at the ceiling of the bedchamber, “and you were a little hard on her.”
“I probably was Gabrielle, but children have dreams. I was only trying to reinforce her sense of courage, hoping it might spill into her dreams. She’s been having them for a seven day now.”
“Writers have vivid dreams,” her lover answered, “Birdie’s dream is abstract… just the dark man in darkness stalking her? There should be a metaphor or symbol somewhere.”
“Birdie’s a tough kid, sheeeelll cooooope…” The Conqueror drifted off.
“Minotaur shite,” Gabrielle pondered, “I have always envied a warrior’s ability to sleep on demand, though I do not envy the soldier’s life which cultivates it.”
She slammed her head into the pillow, folded her hands across her belly and began counting, “1, 2,3,4,5, Who came up with counting sheep? sheep are dull… 6,7,8,….”
Gabrielle yanked her sais from the silver tree trunk, marched back several paces, turned and hurled each sais at the same target loosing ferocious energy.
“And to think when I first met you, you didn’t have the strength to skip a rock.”
The abstract clarified.
“YOU are the dark man. You are stalking my daughter’s dreams.”
Even the god of war couldn’t lie to the Battling Bard of Potidaea
“Yeah, just hanging—checking her out... hey!” he exclaimed as the little poet shoved him back into the tree with unanticipated authority…
“Ares how dare you; how COULD you? After all we did for you; after all you did for US?” The god was impaled by the gaze of emerald spears.
“Easy there little girl, easy….”
“Don’t you ‘easy’ me!!” The god found his leather butt in the dirt. He had never seen the bard so angry and he had seen her angry more than once.
He shrugged, “You know the story, Gabrielle. I am a scorpion.”
“But you are most decidedly NOT dealing with a TURTLE, Ares!” she leaned closer, making her point passionately.
By the gods you always were beautiful, Gabrielle. Not quite a Xena, but so beautiful in your way.
Some inner voice of reason told him to keep his own thoughts. Time for humility.
“I am sorry, Gabrielle. I’ll leave the kid alone.”
“Minotaur Shite!! You are a scorpion.” Still angry.
No answer for that.
The bard sat down beside him, running a hand through her wheat hair. Perhaps she was cooling off a little. The god of war had always liked her.
“Ares, you made a sacrifice for us which I will never forget,” there was gentleness in the verdant eyes now.
Was it forgiveness?
“But we did set you up pretty well with the farm, the dog, the pretty neighbor.”
They had. But a former god can get restless.
“But please let me PROMISE you…”
Uh oh, that didn’t sound so good.
“You may have given up your god hood, your immortality for us, but there are other ways to be immortal. Our souls live forever within our children.”
Yeah, he and the neighbor, Ruby had discussed the mutual desire for a little leather clad rug rat running around the farm.
“I PROMISE YOU, that if either I or Xena have the slightest feeling…. The softest foggy notion that you are ‘checking out’ our kid again…” a pause.
Keep it shut god of war.
“We will make certain via sword and chakram, that your ‘manly’ ability to procreate is terminated.”
Even the former god of war can gulp, even if the former god of war’s mouth has gone to cotton.
“But Gabrielle, this is only a dream...”
“You are a hard woman, Gabrielle.”
She rose and extended her hand, “I’ve had good teachers.”
He was hauled to his feet and carefully dusted off his black leather pants.
He sighed, “Well, don’t be strangers. You and Xena can bring your rug rats to play with my rug rats sometime.”
“Sure, as long as you remember what you need to make rug rats.”
“Cold, Gabrielle. So cold to an old friend.”
She turned to leave, “Keep that thought circling your brain, Ares, ‘Gabrielle is NOT a turtle’.”
He rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders one more time and vanished.
“So, day three and no dark dreams?” Baba Xe dropped her long arm across my shoulders as we walked in from the practice fields.
“No Baba, and I sure am grateful. Did you or Mama G do some kind of intervention with Morpheus? They stopped so suddenly.”
Baba Xe looked into the setting sun and smiled to herself, “Your mother took care of it.”
Her hand fell to the back of my neck. “I don’t know, Bird. She said something about stomping a scorpion.”
We walked a good ten paces before I ventured, “Does that make sense to you, Baba?”
She laughed then and her fingers tightened, “No, Birdie it doesn’t make sense to me. However...”
“If she doesn’t tell me, I probably don’t want to know.” I finished the phrase. We knew our
Baba Xe pulled me closer to her side; I could feel her ribs move with soft laughter.
“Mama G has many skills, doesn’t she?”
That statement elicited a roar of amusement I seldom heard from my conqueror parent. She laughed all the way back to the warm dinner aroma of the inn and was still snickering as we entered.
It was a treat.
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