Birdie's Song II The Little Warrior Part 3
The continuing story of Birdie, the young adolescent daughter of the warrior and bard in a light –handed Conqueror setting. Birdie is a kid who is not only coping with adolescence; she is also coping with the yin and yang of being the offspring of a warrior and a bard. And of course, her parents are not just any warrior and bard.We all know all of the disclaimers; we all know why we write these and why we read these stories. All I can say is thanks to all the "nutballs" out there, and I am very glad you are there. No sex in this part, but some violence and some sadness. Growing up is a dark process, but Birdie has good parents. Let me know at onesockbard@ aol.com and you have my gratitude, always. and a special thanks to VX.. my first critic, my warrior buddy out there...
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard.
The day had been rather uneventful and I felt little shame for being grateful for that. I had seen my Baba the Conqueror take too many blows and was glad of a respite for her. She was sitting behind me on Hades slumped against my back, but it was a bit of an act, because she spoke into my tunic every so often to remind me of her awareness. Once she gave me a light swat and inquired about the state of my backside. It was much better, I told her, or sitting on the horse would certainly be miserable. When I inquired the same of her numerous injuries, she simply said, “Mending.”
Titus had kept a distance. Perhaps Zephyr and Icarus had sent a clear message about cowardice and bullying. We could hope so for awhile anyway. Lt Dax was second in command and he had taken over since Titus had been humiliated. All was orderly, far more what I would expect from a Roman patrol.
“This is more like it,” Baba murmured softly.
“What?” I turned my head slightly.
“If I am to be taken into Rome, at least it will be with some dignity,” she continued in a low voice. “That Titus character was a disgrace to any army.”
“Baba, are we going to Rome?” my voice caught despite my effort to sound calm.
There was a deep sigh, and she pressed her lips to the back of my hair; I hoped no Roman witnessed this show of affection to a mere squire.
“Oh, no Little Bird.” She whispered,” You won’t be seeing Rome just yet.”
The sigh of relief was great; for a moment my head hurt. But I should have known better. My Baba Xe is Xena the Conqueror, and that is no small title.
“The centurion that rides two horses ahead,” she said into my ear.
“On his belt are the keys to my shackles.”
“Just sharing information, Birdie.”
“Would you like even better news?”
“Whisper… Little Bird..”
We allowed Hades to plod on awhile; I reached for the water skin on my saddle and turned slightly to help her to drink, all in keeping with her act of weakness. She spoke as I held the water bag to her lips.
“Your mother is on her way.”
I almost dropped the skin.
“Steady, we need that.”
“How do you know this, Baba?”
How shall I describe her smile when one mentions my mother? Even in her woebegone state, I could see her soul renewed. The knowledge shone like the clarity of the sky in her eyes. Then she lowered her lashes almost shyly.
“I am no poet, Birdie; words are the tools of you and your mother. But my soul feels her coming closer. My breathing, my heartbeat become steadier and my courage takes strength from them. She is my source you know; every part of me is aware of her advancing, and every part of me responds by standing straighter, quieter, calmer, more patient, but ready to act. Every part of me turns instinctively to Gabrielle’s presence rising, like the flowers know and turn toward the sun when daylight is near. I know that we will do what must be done together, and that all events will happen as they should happen when she arrives.”
I looked at her, “Baba you speak of Mama G, the way I hear people speak of you; you speak as if Mama G is the Conqueror.”
Baba Xe chuckled quietly for a rather long period after my statement, and I could not make her tell me what was so funny! But she found it to be a very amusing remark right there in the middle of our capture by Romans, and she refused to enlighten me. It was almost annoying.
The Amazon Queen rode ahead of her search party which had varied somewhat since its first muster. She had asked Galto and Thomas to remain behind and in command of the fortress. They did so under protest, but she did not want to leave the fortress completely without defense, should anything or anyone challenge it.
Scrubby and Cyrene drove the wagon in the rear and it carried medicinal supplies, blankets and food; they did not know what or who had happened to Xena and Birdie, so they were prepared for just about every possibility, including spending a few days on the trail.
Ephiny and Eponin rode the parameters expertly, guarding their queen. She felt very safe. Once the Amazons had learned horse craft, there was little they were unable to do in a battle, even though at times they still took to the trees and vines—a priceless talent.
Lord Atticus had joined their motley crew and his presence had given her assurance and peace. His young son Talus had wanted to come very badly, but his father had discouraged him and left him at home to watch over his mother. Talus was not battle trained and his father did not want him involved with the violence that might occur. Gabrielle felt the breeze of the great horse Atticus rode, as it trotted up beside her.
“My Lady Queen.”
She smiled at him warmly, “Atticus, I am very grateful that you have joined our party.”
“ Agh, Wouldn’t a missed it Lady, I owe young Birdie my life, and I am fond of the girl….you know ..”
“Yessss, and..” she knew there was more.
“I was wonderin’ if maybe on the ride back. I was wonderin’ if you ‘n the Conqueror would mind if I had a word wid’ Birdie about her and Talus goin’ spyin’?”
Gabrielle smiled to herself and then focused the same smile at the big redheaded warrior, “I think that is a grand idea Lord Atticus, and I hope that you use your loudest, deepest voice.”
He laughed both loud and deep, “I had a loud and deep conversation with Talus and I gave him a couple of “hands-on reminders” to help him wid’ ‘is future decisions.”
“ Birdie’s attention was brought rather sharply to the error of her ways as well, and I hope to see her decision making skills improve, “ chuckled the Bard, “But I would love it if you talked to her; you are so special in her life. Would you like me to say something to Talus?”
The gruff chuckle greeted her idea, “My Lady, he would never forget it, please do honor us by speaking wid ‘im, “ Atticus rumbled, “ You know, Talus is a shy boy, wid ‘is foot and all. This was the first time I have ever had to come down on him. To be honest, I was a bit proud of ‘is misadventure.”
“Well, now that he and Birdie are friends, he may be in trouble more often,” sighed Gabrielle, “We’ll just have to do our best, Lord Atticus, because she really likes him, and she doesn’t have many friends—well HUMAN friends.”
The big man chuckled again, “It’s a happy thing for our family, My Lady. Our priority now must be to find that child and The Conqueror. And we’ll do it.”
“Thank you Lord Atticus,” she reached and took his huge hand in her small one.
“Don’t you worry lass,” he smiled and let his horse fall back.
She looked ahead to a small speck on the horizon, which she knew was a rare black fox running, to follow a golden hawk flying even farther ahead of them. She wondered what they were chasing, what they were riding into. But she knew they were going in the right direction. She could feel it.
There was a break. The men were wandering around near a river, stretching their legs a bit, allowing the horses to drink and roam about unencumbered for a half candle mark or so. The general atmosphere was relaxed. Baba Xe had stretched out under a tree. Since she had felt the approach of Mama G ,that had eased her somewhat; she knew that the answer was on its way; she had only to be patient.
It was not to be so nice for me. A large shadow fell across me which made my very marrow chill as I lay drinking from a place where the river pooled. It was the haystack shaped shadow of Titus. He was mean spirited, cowardly, and ugly, but he wasn’t completely stupid. He had waited until I was alone. No Baba, no animals, no defense but my own. His big sandal kicked the back of my leg,
“Get up girl.”
Rolling quickly over a few turns away, I faced him. “What do you want now, Titus?”
“Sounds like you’ve already forgotten your lesson in subordination, girly. Maybe it’s time for another.”
“Leave me alone, Titus.”
Fortunately, I was unbound; they knew I would not leave the Conqueror and posed no flight risk.
“HEHEhh, that sounds very smarty to me, girly; now I will show you who is in charge around here.”
I ducked the first swing of his metal studded belt and rolled out of the way, tried to run past him, but he swung it back immediately and the studs caught my left side. I sucked in a breath. The studs were not only decorative, they were sharp, and cut into my skin.
He whirled the belt around his head like a lasso and scooped it down at my legs next; I jumped the leather escaping the blow and began scanning the ground frantically for a defense There was not even a stick within reach, and it would be useless anyway against something of that weight and momentum. Titus wore his huge sword clipped to his leather armor; I suspected he would use that weapon at his leisure. My eyes fell on a jeweled dagger in a sheath on the heavy straps of his sandal, a glimmer of hope. It was strictly ornamental, but it would have to do. Trouble was, I would take a hit to fetch it. Well, I took a deep breath.
Running full out under the next swing, the weight of the slam came on my thighs and up my backside. He put his full body into it; the weight of the belt was considerable; it struck like heavy club , I felt the leather lift me from the ground, but I tucked and rolled out again. The dagger was snagged. Now.
I looked into those bean shaped eyes and realized that Titus had been at the wine again; thus, his new dose of courage. He staggered toward me swinging , and I dropped and rolled, taking what I surmised was a light touch on the thigh but a glance told me that it had drawn blood; all of the places I felt dripping on my person were not because of sweat or nerves. I looked toward the settlement of soldiers to see if anyone had missed us. Not yet. I closed my eyes sending a mental message to Baba, please. Titus had picked his place. My only escape was to swim the white water of the river, which I surmised would be my next step if someone didn’t come. I tried to peer around his wideness, and that was a mistake, because he caught my arm.
“Let me go, you fat TROLL!” Roared from my throat... The river drowned my shout. He got another good lick across my shoulders and neck. It really hurt. My vision began to go dark, but a red rage rose from my core- a flame to keep me conscious. This must end; if I lost consciousness he would kill me, and I wasn’t ready to die.
“This is my last warning Titus.” I said weakly, as he hit me again, the leather and metal wrapping itself around my ribs; I could feel the studs tear into my skin through my shirt and new blood drawn. My coat and chain mail were back with the horses; this was a lesson in why Baba Xe almost never took her armor off. There was no other help for it now; I was involved in a blood fight and blood swam before my eyes.
I put all my strength into that one pleading shout, then with a final roar I lunged for his inner thigh and the life-connecting artery which ran there— a target with which I was familiar because Feisal had come close to severing my own several months earlier. I knew I needed a killing stab with such a feeble weapon. My dagger took a close nick at the right place, but at a cost; he laid another heavy slam on me with the belt as well; the studs raking blood from my backside up my back and into my hair; there was red dripping into my eyes now, in a literal and figurative sense, the ogre made three of me in weight, and he put his strength into that blow. However, he crashed down heavily, staring at the blood flowing from his inner thigh staining the brown winter grass bright crimson; somehow I stayed on my feet circling him with murder flaring in my soul.
And Baba was there kneeling beside me, her sky blue eyes flashing, frightened, teary; her bound hands quickly evaluating, examining me, feeling the bloody lumps and bruises the belt had left.
“Nothing broken, Birdie; nothing bleeding out? Can you tell, Little Bird?” her voice was locked calm.
I shook my head wearily. There was anger in her eyes as well, but whether or not it was directed at me, I neither knew nor cared at that moment. She said nothing, but held out her hands. I placed the dagger on them, as they were still shackled; it was stained with Titus’ blood.
“Tear as many strips of material as you can find, Birdie.” Her order was brief, as she dropped next to Titus, using the dagger to twist a tourniquet around the chubby leg, placing it near the groin quickly to stop the life from bleeding from that Roman pig. I wished she would let him die. I hated that man. Marcus appeared, and after laying a gentle hand on my head, he scooped up the strips I had torn and carried them to Baba’s aid.
By that time Dax and the rest of the patrol had arrived and did nothing but watch. Baba simply worked like a healer on Titus, even though her hands were locked together, and despite the fact that he had tried to beat me to death. Of course we weren’t talking about what I had done to him.
Baba stood looking down on Titus and then she looked at Dax.
“Titus will live, though he’ll hardly realize it in his state of drunkenness.” She said disgustedly. “Lieutenant Dax, humor my curiosity- how in Hades did this man rise to rank in Rome?”
“That would be nepotism,” Dax spat on the ground near Titus. “He’s an embarrassment to the real army. However, he is a Roman and I must know right now. What happened here, Clio?”
“I was having a drink at the river,” my voice obeyed orders, but shock was setting in; my body was trembling hard, and my teeth chattered. I hugged myself trying to get control of my body and words.
“He walked up behind me and commenced with me again; he just started beating me. I was near to passing out, and he would have killed me, deliberately or not. I only protected myself, Lord Dax.”
Dax looked at me straight on. “And a fine job you did of that, Clio. You are very well trained in the killing arts for a squire. Are all the youngsters in your fortress so well, trained, Conqueror? And do many of them call you, ‘Baba’?”
Baba’s head dropped and she smiled at the ground.
“You have found us out, Lord Dax. Yes, Amphipolis practices nepotism as well.”
“From what I have seen,” Dax replied, “Amphipolis practices it more successfully than Rome. I would take Clio over Titus in any battle.”
The men laughed, and I couldn’t suppress a weak smile. Baba shot me a smile too, but it wasn’t an easy smile, as she walked over and put her shackled wrists around my neck to pull me close to her.
“If you will excuse us, I should see about my squire before we ride again,” she said turning me.
She turned with me.
“Conqueror, a moment.” Dax walked over. He looked at her squarely, as he unlocked her shackles. “This is for the treatment of the girl ONLY. Know that I will shoot you dead on the spot, should you try to run.”
“Thank you, Lord Dax. You have my word.” She spoke under her breath.
“I will bring you materials,” Marcus spoke up quickly.
Gabrielle felt the regent’s presence before Ephiny’s big dappled grey, Otto, arrived beside Wendy.
“My Queen.” She inclined her brown curly hair, streaked now with only the occasional white visitor.
“My Regent. How are you?”
“My question of you first, My Queen,” she grinned, “Respectfully, of course.”
The grin was returned, but the answer was honest,
“Slowly. Too slowly, My Regent, but….”
“You long for the days without a party.”
“Sometimes, but I can rescue no one on my own. They may be slower, but they must be along. Necessity teaches patience, even to panic.”
“Do you have a reading?”
“Xena’s star grows stronger now, but Birdie’s is weak. Whatever or whoever has them continues to try them and test them. Thank heaven I do have a sense that we gain ground. I hope we arrive before the situation develops into a major crisis. There is a danger.”
The Amazon Queen shaded her eyes at the animals she followed. She saw Zephyr look back.
“We should hurry. Perhaps you, Pony, Atticus.” She said no more but urged Wendy to a faster trot.
“Yes, my Queen.” Ephiny fell back quickly to Pony. “ The queen wishes that we and Atticus should ride ahead. She’s uneasy.”
Eponin said nothing but clicked to her mahogany mount and rode on to speak with Atticus. The Amazon regent then fell back to the wagon.
“I must beg to leave you two behind for now. Our Queen is uneasy and wishes to ride ahead.”
“Aye, Lassie, do what ye must,” Scrubbers answered quickly. “We’ll do our best to not be far behind ye.”
Ephiny gave a curt nod and nudged Otto to begin catching up quickly with the three ahead. Wendy needed no further urging, but sensed her rider’s anxiety, and simply began to increase the speed of her gallop, knowing she should follow Zephyr. The other animals and their riders followed the example. It wasn’t long before they caught up with the fox and the bird. Then it was as if all of the animals and humans received the same internal message to double their pace.
Marcus was cleaning the blood from my wounds while Baba paced back and forth mixing a poultice of herbs and powders. The medicine kit that Marcus had brought was well stocked, but we were using quite a few of the supplies. Numerous jagged cuts ran from my hips up into my hair, and along both sides of my ribcage in the front. In addition, several bruises were swelling and darkening to shades of red and purple now as well. It hurt with every breath when Baba ran her hands across them.
“I don’t believe you have broken ribs, although they may be deeply bruised, Little Bird.” She said quietly. “There is only one place that needs sewing right at the hip; are you up for it, or shall we try to put some tea down you first?”
“It can’t hurt any worse than it already hurts, Baba.” My voice was shuddering.
“Ok, then lean across here.”
I stretched across her lap, as she brushed the area with numb weed; my body still trembled, so it was difficult to be still, as the needle bit into my skin. It really didn’t hurt so much more than I already hurt, but the tears ran silently anyway. Marcus crept around to my head and held it on his knee, stroking the hair around my face, where it wasn’t sore. . He was the kindest adolescent boy I had ever been around.
“There, that’s my brave girl,” Baba finished the four stitches with a warm hand over the spot.
“I know that hurt, Birdie, but now it won’t break open and bleed more. Are there any other deep places?”
“I wouldn’t tell you.”
That earned me a not quite so gentle pat, and a chuckle.
“If you could stay out of trouble for even one candle mark..”
“Then I wouldn’t be related to you.”
That brought me close to a genuine swat and some tickling which made me laugh AND made me hurt all over.
“Baba, I’m sorry, that hurts!”
“See Marcus? She is too bold for her britches.”
“She is indeed, My Lady Conqueror; she is an amazing girl.” His kind dark eyes sparkled with laughter at me.
“I am going to brew a couple of different teas to put down this rascal,” he said, “perhaps some willow bark, chamomile, to sooth her discomfort all over.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Baba muttered, “I will finish with the numbing weed here; they will be bringing Titus in and wanting some kind of treatment for him.”
As Marcus walked away, she rolled me over gently to face her serious indigo stare. It was difficult to meet.
“Birdie, you and I need to talk about what happened with Titus. First, you should never have been out of shouting distance of me.”
My eyes refused hers.
“I was only thirsty My Lady, it was certainly not my intent to find myself in a life or death struggle.”
It sounded insolent, but I had born quite a lot, and it seemed that she should be more understanding of my plight.
“You will find yourself struggling to sit because of your tone, injured or not, Romans or no Romans, Robin of the Warrior and Bard.” Her voice carried that soft, dangerous quality that meant nothing but absolute business.
Her fingers came firmly under my chin to lift my gaze to her storm clouds. My eyes flooded immediately as they had not done in the entire bloody encounter with Titus.
“I’m sorry, Baba; it was just so----terrifying. Sorry.” My voice dropped to a whisper.
The sky softened and she pulled me into her arms, “ C’mere, baby, it’s ok… We’ll talk about the other later, Birdie. No worries now; you’re safe here. I shouldn’t have pushed it; I am so very sorry that I didn’t hear you sooner, but it’s all over, Baba’s got you now…”
She rocked me back and forth slowly as I quieted and Marcus brought the tea. Then she stopped mid-rock and helped Marcus steer the cup toward my lips.
“ Here, can you take a little of this? It help you to settle , Birdie..” she brought the cup to my mouth, and I tried to catch my breath enough to take a sip.
Marcus sat near her and I felt his gentle hand take mine. “C’mon, Birdie girl, sip a spot of tea for your buddy Marcus?” As he guided the cup to my mouth, he made a face with crossed eyes, and I laughed.
“ You are a silly fellow, Marcus..”
“ Yeah, well, drink the tea, silly Bird.”
“’K Marcus.” I did, and it tasted good.
“Another sip, there’s my girl..”
I took several gulps and relaxed against Baba’s chest with my eyes heavy, finally relaxing.
“You are good with her, Marcus.”
“My grandmother ran a daycare in Rome; I worked there off and on. She told the kids stories of Xenarone at naptime. I am just so honored to be around Xenarone’s descendents.”
“Your grandmother would be very proud of her grandson, Marcus.”
Baba shifted me just a bit in my drowsy state.
“When you and Birdie go Lady Conqueror, will you take me with you?”
“If that is your wish, Marcus, absolutely.”
His smile flashed in the night.
Gabrielle walked beside Wendy leading her. Everyone in her party did the same. It was their plan to walk upon the kidnapping party as closely as possible without being detected and wait until daybreak to attack. Dismounting made their progress much less noisy, and they only whispered when necessary. Even the horses were quiet, sensing the need.
Atticus came to her side pacing with her. She was surprised at how a man his size could be so noiseless. He gazed at her with a smile that she interpreted as inquiry.
She returned the smile,
“ Lord Atticus, as soon as their flame is spotted, we will halt and fall back into a camp that is undetected yet close. I can send the Amazons ahead to be certain of that. It is their specialty. We catch a few candle marks’ rest and take them in the early dawn before they wake, with silent arrows. Xena will know, but she will be the only one.”
“Aye the Conqueror will know before we arrive, “He spoke softly, “But it has a good sound for a plan, My Lady. Of course, events play out as they will, and there are always unforeseen factors that we mus’ deal wid’ as they fall.”
“And I can do nothing about those, and they worry me most,” she said with lowered head. “ They drive me mad with worry.”
“It is the weight of command, Lass,” he said, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, nearly enveloping it. “It’s why so few care to take it.”
“It is my least favorite hat to wear, “she whispered, looking straight ahead,
“But I find it sitting on my head regardless of whether I like it or not.”
“You do very well, My Lady Queen,” He smiled.
“Thanks Atticus,” she smiled, and turned to the shadows that had circled behind her and now approached closely. It had to be her Amazons. Zephyr appeared by her side with a gentle nose touch of her hand.
“My Queen,” the Regent’s voice was hardly a disturbance on the breeze.
“We have seen their fire. Half a candle mark ahead.”
“Then we stop.” Gabrielle pulled up immediately.
“Right. Pony and I will go back to meet Cyrene and Scrubbers. They won’t be far. We will bring them the rest of the way quietly.”
“Good thinking,” Gabrielle put her hand on Ephiny’s arm. “Be careful.”
She saw a flash of teeth, “Always.”
And the Amazon vanished.
Gabrielle looked at Atticus. “Well,” she shrugged her shoulders, “ I guess it’s up to us to make ready a camp for whatever rest we can steal with so much ahead.”
He smiled, “And so we will, My Lady.” He walked around picking up wood and arranging it into a pile. Gabrielle simply followed his example, calmly and quietly. She was very glad that Atticus had come.
A slight shift in my human pillow woke me along with a slight shift in my pain. Even in the darkness, I could see the gentleness in the sapphire color of her eyes as she offered me a sip of tea that she had kept nearby.
“Sorry it’s no longer warm, Birdie, but it will still do the work for you.”
“Thanks, Baba.” I drank deeply, and felt relief, as much from the attention as from the tea.
“How do you feel?”
A quick inventory. “Actually somewhat better, Baba.”
“Good, because I believe our situation is about to change.”
My senses became intense, “Really?”
“Even as we speak.” She rose, a tall dark pillar against the grey sky streaked with slashes of Apollo’s efforts to banish the night. I listened; it took only a moment to identify the fast whispers of arrows slicing through the dawn. Baba was gone, running toward the large fire at the center of the camp. I saw that two of the large centurion guards were down, their bodies riddled with arrows. Shadows flickered by the fire, the silhouettes of feathers and doeskin revealed them to be type of warrior I recognized well; we were delivered at last by the Amazon Queen.
My heart lifted as it had not in days; Baba was bending over a Roman body; she fumbled with her shackles and claimed two hands free. There was a shout from behind her and suddenly the Tide was flying through the air to land with a definitive smack in its owner’s hand; Xena flashed a smile that was returned by Pony ; the Amazon weapons master had met her first priority. Now the Conqueror was whole; Rome should tremble. Eponin turned then and thrust her dagger straight into another of the big centurions.
I huddled near the fire just watching for the moment, everything seemed to be going rather smoothly. Another of the big guards went down, and I waved at the red hair of Atticus in the distance, then turned and froze as I saw Ephiny loose an arrow at Marcus.
“NOOO!” My legs scrambled into motion at speed they never had felt before. Marcus could do nothing but stand still, almost as if he were unaware that death flew toward him with bright feathers. I couldn’t make it, it was too far, I stretched my arms, legs, rammed into Marcus, ate a face full of dirt… and..felt something hard in my grasp. I snagged it! I had caught the arrow!
Marcus looked at me, his eyes huge, “Birdie that was bloody amazing!”
He was no more amazed than I.
“ Marcus, you have no idea how long I have tried to do that. But now was certainly the time to succeed.”
“Thanks, kiddo. You are the best.”
He stood and hauled me to my feet. We smiled at each other. But his smile turned to a grimace, and there was a sound, a sickening crunching sound like when one cuts through the bones of chickens.
“Birdie..” his mouth was filling with blood and he looked down puzzled at the short length of blade which protruded from his chest and the red circle that was spreading; he looked at me.
“Such is the fate of dirty little traitors, Marcus..hah.”
It was Titus, withdrawing the sword.
Marcus slumped into my arms, his blood splashing my filthy shirt and arms. I knelt quickly and laid him down.
“A moment, Marcus.”
The explosion of rage erupted in my head and became a battering ram aimed full speed straight into the privates of Titus. He choked, gurgled and doubled over. I rolled quickly from under him jumped up and slammed the side of his head with both boots, taking satisfaction from seeing his nose burst in a red spreading flower. Then I was caught from behind and dragged away.
“Birdie.” It was my mother, but I was too far gone.
“Mama, let me GO!”
She sat down on the ground, forcefully wrapped her arms around me, and locked her hands together at my waist; Baba Xe strode by us to stand over Titus with the Tide dangling easily her hand.
“Let Baba handle it now.”
“Mama, LET ME GO!!”
I lunged against her arms, tried to peal apart her fingers, furious at being denied my revenge.
“Robin of the Warrior and Bard.” her voice was the Amazon Queen and she gave me a shake. I went limp in her arms. She spoke quietly into my ear.
“Birdie, your friend needs you, and you need to settle down before I take this arrow shaft to your backside in front of everyone, do you understand me?”
“Mama.” My voice broke; I was her child again.
“Birdie.” A gentle whisper, a gentle shake.
It was my MOTHER. I took a deep breath, and released a shuddering sigh.
“There’s my Little Bird. Can I let go of you now?”
“Yes M’am.” She kissed my hair; I kissed her arms, and I crawled over to Marcus.
“Birdie, help me watch.” Marcus was bleeding terribly, but I braced his head on my knee and put my hand over his wound to staunch the blood.
Baba held her hand down to Titus, “Get up, Coward.” She spat the words.
He took her hand and she pulled him to his feet easily; at times her strength still amazed me.
He tried a couple of stabs, but she made it quick and more painless than he deserved, with a graceful spin and lightning speed, she removed his head from his body in a spray of blood. Then she stabbed the head on the end of the Tide and regarded it saying ,
“Thus ends Titus, the Coward of Rome.”
“But it does not end all, Conqueror.”
She tossed the head and stepped back to meet the swinging clang of his broadsword with both hands on the bloody Tide.
They held the blades together, pitting sheer strength, walking in a circle, eyes locked.
“Wow.” Marcus managed, “Your Baba Xe. She must be like Xenarone reborn.” He choked blood from his lips, and I tried to raise him as much as he could tolerate.
“I think so, Marcus,” I stroked his hair. “I’ve heard the tales too.”
The stand off ended in a twisting spin and standing back regarding one another.
“I could use you in my army, Dax.” spoke the Conqueror, “You are brave, capable, and you have integrity. I need those qualities in officers. Come with us.”
The Roman smiled, “You tempt me Conqueror.” He charged again with an overhead swing that she met with a clang and threw back nearly putting him on the ground. He ducked under and recovered.
“You have slain my leader, and I must report that to Rome. Else I would be a traitor; you understand that, do you not?”
“I do,” Xena ran lightly, flipped over him, and placed the point of the Tide in the back of his neck. “But then you see, you will live to ride against me another day, will you not, Lieutenant Dax?”
“I am afraid so, Conqueror,” feeling the Tide at the base of his skull, Dax dropped his sword and surrendered to his fate hands open, “So, do what you must.”
The Conqueror paused. Then she removed the Tide and slid it back into the sheath at her back.
“I have very few HONERABLE enemies, Dax. It will be nice to have a new one. Go.”
He turned and regarded her a moment. She extended her hand and they gripped arms in the warrior’s handshake. Then he picked up his sword, slammed it into the sheath and began walking. He did not look back.
Marcus was struggling for air, but he smiled at me and put his hand to my cheek.
“Birdie, my friend, I’m afraid I cannot remain with you.”
I clutched his hand, “Yes you can Marcus, just hold on a little.”
He gave me that gentle smile, “At least I met you and Xena.”
I tried to support his head, “ I just met you, Marcus; please stay with me.”
He managed to pat my face once more, “ I’m trying, Birdie, I’m trying…”
The light left his eyes.
Zephyr padded quietly from somewhere to stand silhouetted in the fire. A sob escaped from deep inside, “No, Marcus.”
Our rescuers gathered to stand silently with Baba Xe and Mama G. Only my fox approached. Whining softly, she nosed my hair away from my tears, and remained close by as my head fell to his unmoving chest and grief overcame me in a whisper, “Marcus…”
With freedom comes death,
With birth comes breath.
With love come tears,
With life comes fear.
Against the danger we must guard
With the Warrior and the Bard.
Hope each sorrow brings some joy,
A gentle smile, a kindly boy.
A sweet friendship, all too brief,
Innocence is brought to grief.