The following morning Mama G and I were sitting at her table having the mother of all heart to heart chats. Baba Xe had gone to work with the army at repairing the damage of the main gate by the DOZ’s… She and I would talk later in the day.
I have discovered that there is no limit on the amount of tears a human being can shed; at least when Mama G is talking to me; they keep leaking out one by one by one. But after hedging for a time, I asked her point blank,
“Mama, was it my fault you were shot?”
She reached across the table for my hands and held them tightly in hers.
“Birdie, I want you to stop feeling that my injury was your fault. ANYTHING Little Bird, ANYTHING can happen in a war, even a small skirmish. Nothing is predictable. The Fates spin measure and cut. I could be hurt at any time, at any place. Just because you happened to be there and I happened to see you at that moment, doesn’t make my injury your fault. Life happens.”
And so it followed,
“Then Mama was I a coward for running away?”
Her eyes flashed and her grip tightened.
“As long as I have known you, Birdie, I have never seen you act in a cowardly fashion. Although I might wish you hadn’t run away, you didn’t run because you were a coward. You ran because the situation was emotionally overwhelming for you. The situation was more than many adults are prepared to deal with. If I could change one thing in the way you behaved, it is that you might have returned sooner for your Baba’s sake.”
She paused for a moment and then spoke softly,
“Birdie, You KNOW what your responsibility was in that situation, Honey; you are fully aware of what actions that you must account for.”
My eyes could not meet hers,
“I know Mama G. I wish I had never left my room.”
“And you have a good idea of why we wanted you to stay behind now, don’t you?” She continued gently.
She pushed back from the table.
“Well, I am not going to work you over on that topic, because your Baba Xe will take care of that thoroughly I can promise you that.”
“Yes m’am, I know she will.” I was blinking tears again, gods!
She smiled at me sympathetically and brushed her fingers along my hairline.
“Don’t look so doomed for this life, Birdie; your Baba loves you, or she wouldn’t even be bothered with you. And it is to your credit that you performed brave and honorable deeds during your time in the field. But your Baba is also a commander, and Xena the Conqueror cannot tolerate insubordination. Do you realize that you have done what her officers and even her lowest ranking soldiers would NEVER do? This is no small thing, Birdie. She said for you to go to the armory and wait for her.”
I shot my eyes at her with a sigh.
“Well, we know what happens there.”
She laughed and gave me a little swat as I turned.
“There are lessons to be learned, and messages to be clarified, kiddo, and it’s likely to be the hard way.”
I acquiesced, did an about face and walked toward the armory.
I turned back.” She took my head in her hands, and touched our foreheads together, her kind jade eyes calming mine.
“You know it will be ok, don’t you? Don’t be afraid, “
She wrapped her arms around me closely, and then pushed back smiling with tears forming in those beautiful eyes.
“You are going to have sore tail feathers for a day or so, but it will be ok, right? Your Baba loves you so very much, and so do I.”
I blinked rapidly,”I know, Mama G. Baba’s disappointment and anger are as painful for me as anything she will do to my backside.”
“Well, perhaps some of that can soon be over with, and we can move forward from this.” She kissed my hair… “Go on now.”
Baba made me wait.
I had spent a good amount of time in the armory in the past season. At present, the sun chariot had gone some distance, and I had time to consider how different my parents were when they dealt with me.
Baba Xe was tough, swift, and thorough. She set rules for reasons and expected that they be followed. Disobedience was not an option. If I broke a rule, I could expect fast and firm retribution. I didn’t mind as much as one might think, because if nothing else, Baba was consistent. Even though it hurt, there were no surprises ; we always talked about what I had done wrong , she made very sure I understood my error; it was over quickly, I paid my debt; I was forgiven, and we moved on; we had things to do; she was Xena the Conqueror. I knew that she loved me fiercely, but she also molded the warrior in me with high expectations; she made me better.
Mama G on the other hand could bring me to tears using only her words and eyes. She knew the questions to ask, the tone of voice to use, and the amount of disappointment to show. She rarely laid a hand on me; she didn’t need to; she knew how to make me hurt inside and how to use the hurt I inflicted upon myself. Sometimes she went through some gentle physical chastening to give me the release of tears so she could provide the comfort and forgiveness that I needed. Gabrielle the Bard loved and watched over me with complexity and nuance. She was raising a poet. And she made me better too.
I thought I had figured them out. Maybe every kid thinks he or she has his or her parents figured out. Delusional.
The Conqueror was consulting with her soul mate.
“So what about Birdie?
“I don’t know Gabrielle, that kid. On the one hand, she acted to save your life, she survived in the rough for almost a seven day on her own, and she brought back Atticus who would have died otherwise. Those are adult issues, and she did perform well, as well as any of us might have.”
“Yes she did,” said the Lady Gabrielle. “Birdie behavior has brought us as much pride as aggravation, lately.”
“Gods be damned enigmatic adolescence,” sighed Xena, as she sat on the bed. “ And Birdie stands at the very beginning of this difficult age. The girl will make me old.”
Gabrielle moved toward the warrior so that she could wrap her arms around the bard’s small waist and hold the dark head to her body in a comforting hug.
“If she had done what I told her to do in the FIRST PLACE, so much heartache might .have been avoided, especially for Birdie! I don’t know how she dealt with the belief that you were dead, and that I might blame and hate her…. That had to have been a horrible burden for her.”
“Xena,” the bard asked softly, “Do you believe that punishment is the only answer?”
“Absolutely not, Gabrielle,” was the quick answer, “I just believe that it is the place to begin. Birdie is wracked with guilt and exhaustion. Taking a little hide from her will make her feel better. She needs to be held responsible for her primary defiance so that she can let it go of the guilt and begin to work through all of her issues.”
“That makes sense. So, will you punish her as the Conqueror or as her Baba?”
“Well, since the conqueror might take a bullwhip to her, Gabrielle, I will discipline Birdie as my child.”
She smiled up at her lover, friend, wife, soul mate.
“Well, as YOUR child, Gabrielle.”
The bard took Xena’s strong callused sword hand in hers, smoothing it back and forth, and met the azure eyes.
“Birdie has a huge heart.”
“In truth, we could not ask for a more wonderful child, but she does maintain a very obstinate streak.” The Conqueror growled a bit shaking her head.
“Xena “laughed the Bard, “she’s OUR kid.” If one of us had told the other to stay here while one or the other of us had gone off to fight Romans, would either of us have stayed behind obediently?”
The warrior’s eyes laughed as she kissed her soul mate.
“Well I know for certain that you would have followed and certainly landed yourself in some sort of enormous trouble…”
“Perhaps.” Gabrielle took the hand again. “And there would have been consequences… I have felt in my heart, that it was almost impossible to expect Birdie to remain behind; I am not sure that we should ask her to do that again. But that is a discussion for another time. At present, she’s disobeyed both of us, and I too, promised her dire consequences for that next time it happened. But I know how to bring the tremendous guilt Birdie is carrying to the surface. I will work on her heart and soul later on- after you set her straight on the obedience path.”
The bard reflected and continued.
“Our wayward fledgling needs to spend some intense quality time in the armory with you, Xena, but I think it needs to be with her Baba, and not with the Conqueror.”
The conqueror put her hands on the bard’s shoulders.
”My goal is to make it quality time, Gabrielle,” she looked into the distance considering, for a moment,
“And when her body is chastened, you will work on her spirit? Reiterating everything there is to learn from this? Gods, Gabrielle, when I think of the days she was on her own. ” she shook her head again and shuddered.
The arms went around the waist and the blond head snuggled in close.
“Count on it. Count on extra assignments, heart to hearts, staff drills; Birdie will be learning from this experience for a long time.”
She sniffed a little as tears came unexpectedly, “All of us will be learning from this experience for quite some time, I expect.”
One tear rolled down her face.
“Damn, I’m such a softy when it comes to Birdie.”
Xena blinked tears back herself.
“Yeah, me too; don’t tell anyone.”
That earned her another green eyed smile and kiss.
“Good luck, Baba.”
The conqueror turned and began to walk toward the armory briskly, jamming her hands into her pockets, looking inward to find the steel necessary to deal with her Birdie.
She tossed back a smile.
“One might think it would be easier to discipline my own child than the army of Amphipolis, but that is not the case.”
“No, Xena, I know how difficult it is for you. “
Encouraged the Bard.
“But it’s all about love, Baba; you remember that.”
“You remind Birdie.”
Finally the musical jingle of the buckles on The Conqueror’s boots could be heard approaching. It was both a twist on my raw nerves and a relief, and my stomach turned itself wrongside out. I had been in trouble many times in my short life, but this time I had transgressed at a new level, and so I was feeling a new level of anxiety. There was a fire in the hearth and torches in the sconces. Baba Xe entered the room and quickly walked the circle, checking the doors to make sure we would have privacy. Then she pulled two great wooden stools over by the fireplace, removed her long dark coat, hung it on one of the iron hooks, then seated herself on one of the stools and propped her boot on the other. Her eyes were direct, solemn, all business.
“Come here Birdie,”
She pulled me between her legs and began unfastening the ties on my everyday dragon livery regarding me thoughtfully all the while. The overlay would protect my posterior, and therefore it had to come off.
“Did we ever tell you what the silver stars represent on our crest, Birdie?”
What a strange question to ask me while she’s preparing to skin my butt good.
“The stars represent YOU. The miracle of how you came to us.”
“They do, Baba?”
“Umm Hmmm..” She finished unfastening the overlay portion of the livery.
When she pulled it over my head and set it aside, she spoke even more surprising words,
“I think I made a mistake with you.”
That was a totally unexpected statement, and it is likely that my countenance communicated such. She rested her arms on my shoulders and regarded me with a deep breath that blew my hair.
“Tell me, Birdie, why did I forbid you to ride out to meet the Romans?”
“You were afraid that I might be captured and held, or tortured for ransom by the Romans.”
“That was the reason that I gave to you, but that was only one reason; it wasn’t the main reason. Perhaps if I had talked to you longer, you might have understood better and not have followed. I don’t know.”
She held her head in her hands, obviously a bit agitated by her thoughts.
I waited quietly, my hands on her knees until she looked up at me.
“The main reason, my little Bird, is that you are TOO good.”
“I don’t understand, Baba.”
She put her big hands around my waist and pulled me closer, lacing her fingers behind my neck.
“Do you remember when we talked about Cortez?”
“Yes, your first venture into warfare.”
“Do you remember how old I was?”
“Putting aside for the moment, the obvious reasons why a parent doesn’t want her offspring ever going to ANY battlefield, Birdie, you have all of the natural fighting talent at twelve that I did at fifteen. You have the quickness, the instincts, and the coordination. You have the potential to become a great fighter.”
That made me feel proud, but pride would not be well received at the moment. She kept her hands locked behind my neck looking directly into my eyes.
“What you do not have is the rage, and I intend to see that you do not develop that anger, Birdie. When I witnessed your attack on the archer who had shot your Mama G, you had rage. Murderous rage. Atticus has told me since, that you had a similar problem with the barbarian and Hades. Perhaps both times you had cause, but I will not ever allow you to kill unless it is to save yourself. I do not want you engaged in warfare yet, you are much too young. It is darkness, Birdie, and it will take you on a nightmare journey. Add the terrific guilt you carried when you believed your Mama G to be dead, and you blamed yourself… Those feelings feed a dark beast that festers inside; such a beast can devour a person’s soul. ”
I was still wary of what sort of response to give, so I simply said, “Yes, my Lady.” That was always safe.
“That same kind of raging beast took me down a long , lonely, desperate path before I met your mother, and I will do whatever it takes to keep you from ever taking a step into that darkness , no matter what your potential is as a warrior. I am trying to protect you from another part of your potential. The dangerous part. Do you understand me, Birdie?”
“I think I do, Baba”
My gaze went internal for a time.
“I believe that I have seen some of the darkness.”
“Do you agree that it is dangerous?”
I considered for another moment. My memory played flashes of a Roman centurion with a spurting stump instead of a hand, the stench and slickness of blood and excrement on a field, trying to scrub blood from my hair in a cold creek, a man writhing and screaming on the ground with three arrows in his leg-all of these sights circulated vividly in my mind’s eye.
“The darkness is a place that I know is very dangerous, yet for some reason I do not fear it, Baba.”
She gave me a grim smile, “I was afraid that would be your answer. It is the darkness; you are my child and therefore will not have enough fear.”
“Birdie, your Mama G and I want to keep you on a path in the light as best we can, and you do well enough on your own most of the time. I also want you to know that I am very proud of how you survived in the rough all of those days. I am especially proud of how you took care of Atticus, not many people could have or would have done so much for him.”
I lowered my head humbly.
“Thank you my Lady; I tried to do what you and Mama G have taught me.”
“Yes, you do try most of the time to do as we have taught you, but not ALL of the time. Sometimes you lose your way, don’t you?”
She lowered her head to look up into my eyes, and held them.
“Birdie, I cannot excuse your flagrant disobedience of my direct orders which were to remain here at the fortress. Those had nothing to do with Atticus and you know that. What kind of parent or commander would I be if I ignored such insubordination? Had you not completely disregarded my instructions to remain HERE, we all might have been spared some complicated heartache, right?”
The Conqueror’s steel edge came into her voice, and I knew that was not a good sign for me.
“Yes, My Lady,” I kept my voice soft, “I’m sorry, My Lady.”
“Sorry doesn’t excuse a very poor decision, but I am glad that you realize that you have apologies to make; Look at me, Birdie. ”
I did, meeting the eyes just like my own, only hers were full of firm resolve, and I swallowed and tried to take responsibility and be brave. She kept her grip on my shoulders, but it was surprisingly light. Other kids have asked me how tough it must be to have the Conqueror “handle “me. She was as light handed as Mama G, except when the occasion called for her to be tough.
“If you were merely any court squire and not my child, I would dismiss you outright; if I were still a Warlord, I would take the bullwhip to you.”
My head went down again; my legs were shaking a little, though it wasn’t truly out of fear; this was very intense. Baba was giving me a “talking to” that was almost out of character; she usually just went right to tanning my hide and was done with it.
She pulled me closer and began to put my hair in order gently, just as if we were having an ordinary talk by the lake instead of discussing the worst thing I had ever done.
“Fortunately for you, you are both a squire and my child; you will remain my squire, so I can continue your training and keep you to a strict routine. And very fortunately for you, I am no longer a warlord. But I think that you know what I am going to do…”
“I do, Baba.”
The tears were already collecting in my eyes; I just needed to have it over with now. I gathered my breath, leaned across her lap, took hold of the legs of the stool, and whispered, “I’m ready, Baba.”
She laid her hand firmly on my back to hold me down, but then, strangely, she gave me a little rub which was almost comforting. I knew what was coming was deserved but failed at keeping my tears controlled. I shook my head impatiently; usually I was tougher than this.
Baba took a deep breath and said,’ I think we’ve had this appointment for awhile, Little Bird.”
And indeed we had. I knew that Baba Xe would give me the tanning of my life the moment I decided to leave the fortification against her instructions. It was time to pay that price. I closed my eyes and waited, felt her intake of breath …
Baba’s powerful hand never fell. Instead she pulled me up, gripped my shoulders in a little shake as her voice trembled,
“I can’t; I should… I should wear out your little hide, but I cannot do it...”
She flung her head back impatiently and I saw tears fly from her eyes, and then her big hands were on my shoulders again. Those beautiful clear sky eyes kept overflowing; I didn’t know what to say. Baba Xe walloped my backside soundly when I needed it, without hesitation. It wasn’t fun for either of us, but sometimes I did really stupid things, and it was necessary to emphasize a lesson learned, clear the air, and move on. This was a first.
”Birdie, I almost gave up when I thought I had lost you and your Mama G... It seemed as if you might never come back, and that she might never wake up. My heart was too empty and frightened to bear it. And then your mother woke up and I thanked the gods, but we knew nothing about you; I thought I had lost my little birdie girl. My life.”
Her voice broke. Her head dropped, she continued to tremble.
Witnessing her in such a state brought a world of awakened remorse from me. That I could have caused my Baba Xe, the bravest person I knew, such fear; I put my arms around her neck.
“Baba I am so sorry, I should have stayed in my room like you told me to, when you went to fight the Romans.. but then when Mama got shot, I shouldn’t have run away. Baba, I was so wrong.”
I could feel deep sobbing in her shoulders and it frightened me. Xena the Conqueror— to see her human, lonely, frightened. And I had left her all alone.
Atticus was right, it had been cowardly of me to run.
“Baba?” I tried to stroke her hair, like she always smoothed mine, “Baba, I’m real sorry; please tell me what I can do. ”
The greatest warrior in all of Greece was weeping in my arms. I didn’t know what to do except hold her. So I did for a time.
She gave a great sigh and lifted her Aegean colored eyes, still brimming but calmer. She was the one who had needed the release of tears. She threw her hair back a bit, composing herself, and stood up, cupping my face in her hands, the electric blue of her eyes riveting mine.
” You will make an honest attempt to do better about obeying me, whether I am Baba or Conqueror? That’s all I ask right now, Birdie. You must trust me enough to obey me; I make rules to keep you safe.”
“I promise, Baba...”
She let me go with a rather disgusted snort. I didn’t know if it was at me or herself, but she hadn’t skinned me; I looked up at Xena the Conqueror, who still had tears in those legendary eyes. Baba Xe who was MY hero, was smiling back at me.
“Yes, Little Bird.”
“I’m sorry that I put you through so much worry and stuff.”
She put her arm around me, squeezed me, and mussed my hair.
“It’s ok; you are forgiven. Go see your mother and tell her that I am off on Argo awhile to clear my head, ok? She will understand.”
“I love you, Baba, “ my voice cracked.
She pulled my head to her and kissed the top, which was exactly what I needed her to do.
“I love you too, Birdie; more than ever, I think.”
And she left me in the armory.
My Mama G had spent a good bit of time in convalescence, her concussion had been severe, and only recently had there been talk of her return to regular duties. I supposed that also meant duties regarding me.
Standing in her doorway, I observed her completely absorbed in her journal, the slight frown on her brow, the intensity of focus, and the stillness of her body while she considered what to write. It was coming on to later evening now, and the sun cast different angles of light on her hair and face. My mother, Gabrielle the Bard, was surely one of the most beautiful women in the world, even with her bandaged head. Xena the Conqueror was incredibly gorgeous with her Arctic eyes, raven tresses, titanic stature, passionate personality; she was absolutely stunning. But for the personification of a beauty and goodness which began within a person and moved to glow quietly and apparently to everyone with whom she came in contact-- that was Gabrielle.
There was a small foot stool beside the large bed on which I placed myself to wait patiently. She laid down her quill and reviewed what she had written, allowing her hand to fall into my hair unaware, and idly drag back and forth. I leaned against her leg with a melancholy sigh. After a bit I could feel her eyes on me.
“Do you have sore tail feathers, Birdie?”
I shook my head, “Actually, Mama G, Baba couldn’t do it.”
Mama G looked at me down at me with raised eyebrows. “She couldn’t?”
“No. She tried; I thought she would give me a good one, and she meant to, but when we came to the real thing- she couldn’t do it Mama. We-- I put her through too much; Baba is low on toughness right now.”
I butted my head against her leg with a sniffle. Mama G put her journal aside and kept her hand still in my hair.
“She’s gone for a ride on Argo; she said that you would understand.”
“I do,” was the soft answer. Our Baba always rides to clear her mind of anxiety, stress. My injury and your antics have been very difficult for her.”
“Yes my Lady, I know,” I mumbled, “We talked a long time- about everything I did, and what would happen to me if she were still a warlord. She put me over her knee and she stopped. I put her through an awful lot, Mama G. You too.”
Mama G had listened quietly and I felt her hand fall off my hair and take hold of my collar.
“Well, my little Bird, didn’t I promise you much tougher times if you disappeared from home without permission again?”
The hand on my collar had begun a firm and insistent pull; I found myself following it slowly and feeling the catch of the other hand tugging me up hand over hand until I joined her on the bed, facing her.
Now the involuntary tears were back. Today had been an emotional camel ride.
“Didn’t we talk once about the fact that even warriors should be a little bit afraid of their mothers?”
Softly spoken, but a direct command, green eyes all business.
Wow. Just like Baba Xe.
“Well, Baba Xe was proud that I survived in the rough and took care of Atticus.”
“I am very proud of those things too, Birdie, but don’t change the subject. Right now we are talking about why my little warrior should be afraid of her mother. ”
With this comment, Mama G pulled me across the bed, under her arm, and over her lap.
“But Mama, don’t you always say one must take the bad with the good?” (And no, I would never have said that to Baba Xe.)
“Now you must reassure me that my beloved child is not picking this very inappropriate moment to be a wise cracker.”
Nice try, Bird dog. An acquiescent sigh. I took hold of the pillow – didn’t bury my face in it, but my answer was muffled,
“I left the fort, which was direct insubordination, sneaked away from Grandba and Scrubbers, rode to the battle scene, tried to kill the Roman who shot you, ran away for a week, tried to kill the hairy man who wished to steal Hades, and you didn’t know where I was the whole time.”
“Oh, and I took a sword.”
Another pause. Longer. Uh oh.
“Didn’t think it was smart to go to a battle without a sword, Mama.”
“You’ve been grounded from swords for quite some time, have you not?”
“And so you found this sword, conveniently placed when you needed it, rather like when you were four years old?”
“Yes m’am. Something like that.”
She took a firm hold of me and delivered good swift whack.
Wow. Just like Baba Xe.
The bard looked up from her journal with a smile, when the door opened a candle mark or so later. A streak of ebony fur flew across the room, leaped upon the bed, circled three times and nuzzled in closely to the small shaggy headed sleeper with her head in her mother’s lap.
A kiss was exchanged, a touch on the cheek, “There’s food on the table by the fire.”
“I picked up something at Mom’s before I rode.”
“Was it a good ride?”
“Perfect. It was as if Argo needed it as much as I did. It helped.”
“C'mere, Big Warrior.”
Xena slid under the covers next to her partner and relaxed against the blond woman’s shoulder.
“Funny, you don’t smell like a horse.”
“Baths in the stables—a Conqueror touch.”
“I might add, one of your best.
“Thank you, my Queen.”
The Conqueror snuggled in a little closer, and the Bard brushed a lock of hair from her face.
“I heard that you’re a softy, Baba.” Very gently.
Instantly azure eyes filled.
“I’m sorry, Gab, never had one bit of difficulty walloping that kid when she needs it, but this time—I just…. I’ll get to her later…” she expelled a big breath.
“Hey,” the blond eyebrows rose with some amusement, “I handled the quality time with Birdie.”
“But that’s my job!”
“No it isn’t, “said her partner, “Birdie is OURS. And you have been through enough traumas this week. More than enough. I have had more bed rest. Besides, Birdie needed to learn that I have just as much tough love for her little butt as you do when necessary. It was necessary, and I am tougher than I thought.” She smiled down upon and kissed the little warrior’s slumbering head.
The big warrior sank into the bed with a relieved sigh, “I love you.”
Green eyes met blue eyes then returned to playing with the small head of hair , “ Sometimes I wonder if we are too hard on her, but then I remember that she isn’t far from the age when you led your first army into battle, and I ran away from home to follow an ex- warlord.”
She smiled and shook her head,
“Not to mention Birdie’s own list of transgressions. Did you know that she took a sword?”
“Well, sort of. One doesn’t go into battle without a sword, Gab. She didn’t use it.”
“Did you even discuss the sword in your armory chat?
“Well, no I for—“
”Never mind, I covered it…” The green eyes rolled and then smiled with a shaking head, “Warriors.”
The blue eyes laughed silently, but sobered,
“You know we are right to be vigilant with her, Gabrielle. Birdie is quick and talented and will try ANYTHING, often without considering the consequences fully. But that is part of being a child. We must make it constantly clear to her that we love her unconditionally, but we have set boundaries for her safety, and we will hold fast those boundaries. “
“Actually, I think that she understands that better than some children. During our sensitive chat, she kept saying how much she missed us, being with us; I believe she was talking about a feeling of safety .” said her mother.
The bard continued to stroke her child’s hair and received a look from the fox.
“Don’t you look at me that way, Zephyr; consider yourself lucky that you are a fox.”
“It was all your idea, wasn’t it?”
Then fox put her head down near Birdie again.
“That’s what I thought.”
“And you aren’t quite off the hook either, Baba.”
“I’m not?” a smile.
“For the next fortnight, Birdie is going to do two extra candle marks of work duty per day with us. One with you on staff work, until I’m one hundred per cent, and that shouldn’t be long, the other half of which can be arrow catching if you like. Every bad staff miss should wind up smartly across her backside too.”
“I can do that, “was the chuckle...
“And the other candle mark she will spend writing, “continued the bard mom, “writing, reflecting, learning, re-writing, this entire edifying episode.”
It’s a good plan, Mama G,” said the warrior, “Our Birdie will grow from it. Shall I carry her to bed?”
The bard continued to tenderly stroke the small dark head in her lap, for a moment.
“Let her stay tonight; she’s peaceful now, and you were right, she hasn’t been. She had many many tears in her, far more than I gave to her; Birdie is a tough kid, and she doesn’t cry much, even after a session with you in the armory. So there was a surplus built up inside her that needed releasing, just as you thought. I just let her cry and talk until she went to sleep.”
The emerald eyes became watery. The smaller sleeper moved and whimpered a little until Gabrielle offered a hand which her daughter grasped tightly in her sleep. It eased her.
“Big lessons for my little bird.”
The warrior leaned across the bard and kissed the slumbering shaggy head wordlessly. As she withdrew, she paused and kissed the shaggy blond head.
“Gabrielle, perhaps it was right that you were the parent to take her to task on this; since she thought she had lost you forever. This way, you are very much alive, firmly holding her responsible, but also loving and gentle as only you can be; this way she will never ever forget.”
“It felt right,” said the bard, softly, “And I don’t believe that she will forget, none of us will.”
The warrior was gazing pensively at the ceiling. She turned to her bard, “‘it’s a beautiful night,”
“Is it? Not too cold?”
“Tolerable, the fire’s good to last.”
The bard smiled, “Do it.”
The warrior rose and climbed to the top of the heavy, ornately carved wooden headboard. Stretching to her full height, she pushed back panels in the paneled ceiling from a point midway above the bed. Walking across the mattress gently, she climbed to the top of the footboard of their huge bed and pushed ceiling panels the opposite way. Then she rejoined the bard under the heavy covers.
“Truly a, stroke of architectural genius,” whispered Gabrielle as her eyes scanned the starry heavens. Xena pulled her close and said, “I think I see a Minotaur.”
“No it’s a pig, “laughed her soul mate, “see the snout and the curly tail?”
A light yip came from the foot of the bed... “Oh, Zephyr says it’s a fox.”
What we refer to as my “time in the rough” is moving slowly into the realm of quiet memory now. The final days of my extra duty are coming to a close, and the return to a normal routine will help. This part of my discipline has been intense, but positive. The warrior and the bard are nothing if not thorough.
My staff skills have improved by at least double. Mama G is almost fully recovered from her injury and there is nobody any better at staff fighting than the Queen of the Amazons. Every pass or parry I miss brings her next swak swiftly against my backside; it makes me hop up and down a bit from the sting, and she can’t help but laugh.
A couple of times Grandba has come out of the kitchen and had her turn at me and she is no slouch with the staff either. I was pretty sore at first, but Grandba says that when one behaves like a rump roast, one should expect to be tenderized. So I take it in stride and improve by necessity. The only person who has born me no ill will was Scrubbers. He just put his hand on my head and told me that next time I should come to him.
Baba Xe has been shooting arrows for me as well and yesterday I tagged one! She said that to tag an arrow is the first vital step in catching one, because I have marked a moment in the arrow’s flight and can place myself there. With more practice, it is possible now. I will catch arrows.
That same day Baba Xe and Mama G gave a gift to me to commemorate this entire period of my life. It is a silver pendant made in Chin by a wise woman they met while traveling many years ago. The pendant has the Yin and Yang symbol carved on the back of a turtle. Mama G said it was perfect for me because I will always be working to balance the forces of light and darkness in myself. The turtle will remind me to be patient and wise, and it also symbolizes my innate feelings for animals. It is beautiful-- strung on a leather cord and I haven’t taken it off. I told them it almost makes up for the fact that I can’t have a sword for another four moons. We all laughed about that.
Evening meals have been informal during these extra drill days, at times taking them outdoors while we watch the sun go down. It has been peaceful, and I have enjoyed it, and so far they have honored my request for no fish. Then we go to the fortress, bathe, and meet in the common room where I write for another candle mark- sometimes longer. At first I resisted; I didn’t want to delve too deeply into this experience. But the Bard stood over me with a stick, or rather a quill, and she sat beside me and wrote as well, so I began to look forward to the sessions. Baba Xe sits by the fire doing some militia scroll work, fixing furniture, or sharpening the Tide in that meditative way she has, singing when she doesn’t know that she’s singing. The third activity is what we like to hear best; if the warrior is singing, all is well in our world.
I write about these past few weeks because they are paramount in my mind. My mother the Bard says that I have lived a “coming of age” story, a period or an event in which a child leaves childhood behind and approaches the threshold of adulthood. I don’t see how a singular event can cause one to grow up so quickly, but she says that’s not entirely what it means, and that I will discover more as I continue to reflect and write about it...
Talus and I have become friends. Yesterday he came to the fortress with a gift, a wooden fox carving in exquisite detail. He even captured the slightly tilted head of Zephyr. He said it was a gift for bringing his father home, but I told him that Atticus and I brought each other home. Talus has now a special shoe which elevates and strengthens his withered foot, and while he won’t be running races, he is sufficiently perambulatory that I won’t be fighting any bullies for him. I like Talus; it is good to finally have a friend that is my age with whom to ride and talk.
The greatest change is internal. There is darkness in me now. It was born the day I cut off a man’s hand for shooting my Mama G with a crossbow. It was cultivated when I shot a DOZ man’s leg full of arrows for trying to take my horse. I ventured outside the safety of the Amphipolis Fortress and something came back with me. If it is not darkness, it is sadness; perhaps disappointment with life or myself. If it is not a “coming of age” it is the end of some part of innocence or childhood.
Baba Xe knows. We haven’t discussed it in depth, but we don’t need to, not yet. One day she watched from a distance, as I practiced archery and dagger throwing and I missed my mark only once, and then only by a slight measure. Mama G had left early to assist Grandba with a culinary experiment that evening, so it was only the two of us. As I walked away from the fields, she joined me. Baba’s hand came to rest gently on my shoulder, followed by a quiet question.
“You have it, don’t you Little Bird?”
“Have what, Baba?”
“Birdie, you know.”
“Yes, Baba, I think so.”
I expected that she would be angry, but she sighed and put her arm around me resting her head atop mine.
“I’m sorry, Little Bird.”
“You’re not mad at me, Baba?”
“No Birdie, I’m sorry you will have to deal with it, but honestly, it’s rather to be expected. You must mind yourself carefully; it can have you in serious trouble before you know it’s loose. The only choice is for you to learn to control the darkness and not allow the darkness to control you.”
“The first and best advice I will give you is to stay around your mother. She is the best remedy. Or if you find yourself becoming too lost or mired too deeply, come to me, and I’ll beat it out of you.”
Her voice sounded teasingly menacing, but I knew she spoke the words with love.
Her kiss to my hair lingered longer than usual.
“I am no expert at ‘sensitive chats’ Birdie, but I will do my best to guide you with this and do whatever you need.”
“And sometimes my guidance may not be what you think is necessary.”
But you must trust me, Birdie, even if it hurts. Can you do that, Birdie?”
And that was the truth.
I wonder how many young people could honestly speak those words. But other young people are not being trained to be great and honorable warriors. Other young people are not being taught to reflect measure and write poetically about one’s deeds at the end of the day. But I am not other young people.
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard.
What is learned here
Is only a part
On the journey of hearts.
There are dragons for certain,
There’ll be bridges
Over all of life’s floods.
I will swim, march fight,
And yes shed some blood.
Can I climb the zenith?
Find my own strength?
Face the dark angel,
Pain begets growth,
Angels will weep,
Or laugh in the rain.
The soul is resilient,
Begin once again,
It’s never the same.
All is love and hate
Light and dark
Joy and pain
Yin and yang
Youth and age
Peace or rage
Sun and moon
Late or soon
Fire or lake
Give and take
Smiles and tears
And all our fears.
But I am Robin
I have the bard inside,
I have the warrior
And beyond this place
There be dragons.
The journey is the destination…
Thanks for all the support. ‘til Birdie flies again…take care.. osb
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