Birdie, the 13 year old daughter of our favorite Warrior and Bard, is growing up but the misadventures continue, and so her life and learning expands. One can read this song without reading the earlier stories, but you will understand her better if you do.
The setting is a light handed Conqueror time, and the characters are mine, except for those you will recognize that we all love and borrow. I mean no copyright infringement, and I guess we’ll be doing this forever if there is no movie, so BATTLE ON BARDS, right??
Subtext? Of course.
Violence? Sometimes, and hard lessons learned. The way we learned them, without high tech. J
Gratitude? From me to the readers who fill my little heart. More than I can say… especially to Iseqween who puts up with me, to Nancy who gives good feed, and my dear pal.. VX, who is first. Just first.
Birdie’s Song –Rachelle Part I
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard.
Zephyr was quiet, patient and alert while Talus gently turned her kit, Silver, in every possible direction and studying every detail. Silver was just that color, with black socks, black lining his ears and a black tip to his tail puffed in white. His brother, Rain, was marked in similar fashion but his dominate color was more inclined a darker foggier mix. All foxes are some variation of the common red fox, as was Rain and Silver’s sire, but their mother, Zephyr was a rare black fox. They were nearly two moons old now, and the cutest little fellows one could ever hope to find. I was hard pressed not to spend every waking moment with them instead of where I should have been. But that was nothing new.
We had sectioned a special place for them in the stable, so that Zephyr could take them out into the fields as she deemed appropriate. Her sons showed more inclination to be simple wild foxes, and not to be the precocious gift that Zephyr was even as a baby. So it was important that she have access to the wild in order to teach them the ways of ‘real’ foxes early on.
Their father, who I had informally named Fire, showed up on occasion as well to play with his sons. He seemed to have complete understanding of his role, and that he would also one day teach his sons hunt for food and the other aspects of life in the wild. I rather wondered what Zephyr saw in him except that he was beautiful—a powerful specimen. Talus and I had laid in wait a few times so that Talus could study him in order to carve a family portrait. Talus thought Fire was one of the finest examples of fox hood he had ever seen. He was indeed stunning, but in my eyes, there was no finer fox than my small Zephyr.
“Think you have the fix of them, Talus?”
“Yeah, Bird. Might want another look or two. Would it be alright if Angie came with me next time?”
Angie was a new assistant and girlfriend to Talus. He had met her in art classes in the village school, which I wasn’t attending anymore; my public education was handled at the Amazon school now; and my private education in poetry and life, by my parents—mostly my mother.
Angie had moved to Amphipolis from Athens, but her big city ways did not faze Talus. Angie appeared to be a perfect match drawn by Aphrodite especially for him, from his pale hair and skin, shy pleasant personality, to his artistic hands and temperament, she was his equal at every trait. I was very happy for my best friend.
“Of course she can come with you ,Talus.” I pulled his head to touch mine, “Zephyr trusts you, and if you introduce her gently, I am sure that she and the boys will love Angie.”
“Super, “he grinned. “She’s so wanting to see them, Bird, and she does rough outs in the blocks for me now.”
Talus and Angie had taken over a room in his father’s house, and it was nearly a studio/ shop now. Atticus was supportive of his son’s art.
“Hey Bird,” he said as he gave Rain a little pat and returned him to Zephyr who began to clean him gently for the evening.
“Yes,” I cuddled Silver next to my chest while Rain curled next to his mother seeking a good sleeping position; I could watch them forever.
“You know Talus, I really miss Zephyr at night, but when I see her with these little guys, I understand her devotion.”
I placed Silver near his brother and they snuggled together in peaceful slumber while I gave Zephyr some much needed quality stroking.
“Beautiful, aren’t they Talus?”
“What Talus? Spit it out, chum.”
“Do you ever think about love, Birdie?”
His face was the color of Fire’s fur.
“Talus, do you speak of perfect, lifelong abiding forever , mishy mushy, LOVE?”
I moved my fingers behind Zephyr’s ears and down her neck a certain way that caused her to close her golden eyes in pure pleasure.
“Not too much, Talus.”
I kissed Zephyr’s nose. My peripheral view saw his head drop.
“ I gather my friend, that you are thinking about love.”
His ears were bright. My hand clapped his shoulder; we had known each other too long for this.
“Talus, you are my best friend; if you can’t tell me, who will you tell, old chum? It’s Angie, hmmmm?”
“Yeah, Birdie. I think I love ‘er.”
“That’s just grand, Talus. Does she love you?”
“Dunno, Birdie. I tink so.”
“Little advice, Tal?”
“Take it a little bit easy. You have a long long time to decide if it’s permanent. You don’t want to push her or scare her away or ruin something wonderful, because you lost track of yourself.”
He sighed. “You are right, Bird. I am pretty low key most of the time, but around her, I could bust wide open, and I don’t even know why.”
“Busting wide open………. Very dangerous stuff, Tal,” I grinned, “didn’t she just move to Amphipolis?”
We rose to take leave of the fox family; I gave Zephyr a final touch.
“Yeah, “Talus replied drooping again.
I put my arm around his shoulder, “Then seriously, man. Take your time. She has much to adjust to without you professing undying love right away.”
I knocked on his wooden head as we prepared to go our separate ways at the stable door. “Talk to your dad. He’s smart.” Atticus was one of my heroes.
Talus was looking at the ground but he smiled. “Thanks, Bird.”
“Anytime, my friend. Let me know how the carvings are coming and show me FIRST this time, ok?”
Talus had done a beautiful carving of Hades my horse, and Baba Xe had intercepted the piece before I ever even saw it. It sat in a prized position on her desk where she did militia business. She had said that being The Conqueror should have its occasional perquisite. I knew better than to argue with her when she referred to herself as “The Conqueror”. Besides, it was very good exposure for Talus; many had admired it.
I watched Talus trot toward his family’s home and turned toward my own, with a happy sigh.
My Grandba met me at the family entrance to the fortress and dragged me inside by the collar.
“Get in here and cleaned up, Grandbirdie,” she fussed, “We’ve been waiting for ya.”
Minotaur shite. They’re always looking for me.
She hustled me into the washroom next to the kitchen and I scrubbed liberally from my face to my elbows, trying to remove the stable smell. It wouldn’t escape anyone though. Took a quick glance in the highly polished shield which hung on the washroom wall so a person could take quick account of his or her respectability before entering the family dining room.
I was a tiny bit taller at thirteen winters, but retained my mother’s compact build; my hair was dark and unruly like my Baba Xe’s hair, but we kept it shorter, because it was thick like my mother’s as well, and it went off fully wild if it grew too long. My eyes retained the sky blue of Baba’s eyes, but occasionally, there was some green sea foam character in them as well.
“You are a child of yin and yang, Birdie.” My mother always told me. My life would be a journey of making some sense of that.
Both sets of eyes were fixed on me as I slid into my seat at the table and began slurping my soup. Yin and yang, warrior and bard, light and dark, all of the above, but never invisible just because I wished to be.
The Conqueror’s fingers were making a steeple one at a time, and she was giving me an amused smile, rather like a cat might give a mouse before it bats it with a paw, claws extended.
“Sorry I’m late,” my voice was full of soup.
My Mama G was more merciful. “Zephyr and the boys?”
“Yes M’am. Soup is delicious, Grandba. It’s vegetable?” I tucked into a bit more with the dark bread.
“Thank you, Birdie. Roasted. You weren’t so late.” My grandmother always looked out for me.
“You almost missed the meal.” Baba Xe’s voice was still that mild dangerous tone that could go either way. But she was strict about punctuality; it was the soldier in her. Figure this out, Bird or it’s going to be your hide.
Try the truth.
“My apologies to all of you.” My voice was low. “Talus was with me. He’s been looking at the kits for a carving, we put them back with Zephyr to sleep, and then he asked my advice on something else. We simply lost track of the time. I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
I could feel the icy blues cutting into the top of my head. Steady. I met them. They had softened and her big hand reached out to ruffle my hair, “S’all right, Birdie. THIS TIME. How are little Copper and Leaf anyhow?”
“Baba it’s Silver and Rain!”
Food digests so much better with laughter.
Baba Xe knew that too, because I caught the looks that passed between her and my Mama G, and also the look she received from her own mother.
As I have grown, Baba Xe has become stricter with me. Mama G says, she fears my dark side coming out too strong, and she is tough because she loves me. We haven’t been to the armory in nearly four seasons, but that could change in a heartbeat.
She has looked at me on more than one occasion and said, “Infrequency is not immunity, Little Bird,” and I know that the path to the armory is very short and I had better watch myself. She will still be saying that to me when I am twenty five winters old; there is no doubt of that.
“Don’t you have something big goin’ on tomorrow?” My grandba’s question, as she passed me another slice of bread with butter.
I am very glad that my Grandba Cyrene is around. Baba Xe was no angel as a youth; Grandba reminds her, and that is what saves me.
“It’s the final evaluation for your ‘expert canoeist feather’ isn’t it?” the Amazon Queen always knew the lay of the land. I sent her a smile.
The Conqueror leaned forward, “I’m behind Bird, hadn’t realized you were ready for the final.”
Good sycophantic opening. “Well Baba, I have parents who gave me an early start, and I’ve advanced quickly through the levels. I am the youngest going for the expert besides RACHELLE.” Couldn’t avoid a tone.
“And she is advanced because she comes from a sea tribe?” my mother lifted her eyebrows at me and the tone, so I softened it.
“Despite EVERYTHING else about Rachelle, she’s very good in a boat.”
“Personality still hasn’t quite worked out yet, eh?” Baba Xe’s question.
“Not at ALL, Baba.”
“Who is Rachelle, and what is wrong with her Birdie?” Grandba had that ‘now, now’ sound in her voice.
“Rachelle is a new to our area Amazon princess who is Birdie’s age, and who has come to live with her aunt Eponin from the seaside Amazon tribe,” explained my mother the Amazon Queen, “Birdie thinks that Rachelle has a few attitude issues to work out yet.”
“She’s arrogant, Grandba; She’s plainly snotty.”
“Not a dinner table word, Birdie.” My mother gave me a look.
“Sorry Mama, but she IS.”
Sigh. Better concentrate on eating.
“Pony says, that she is doing some better after being around her and Ephiny for, what, two moons now?” Baba Xe contributed.
She and Effie’s partner, Eponin (Pony) worked together often in combining drills with the Amphipolis militia and the Amazon warriors.
“How many times as Effie given Rachelle the ‘Arrow’?” I grinned.
“Not as many times as she would like, I am sure, “Baba chuckled, “but she hasn’t given it to YOU as many times as she would like to either, has she?”
Eyebrows went above the Aegean eyes and she had me. No comment.
“You’ll begin very early, I suppose?” my mother again.
“Yes m’am. I’ll be up, grab a bite, prepare my pack and head to the river. We are meeting there. I forgot to say that Rachelle is my partner.” Tried to suppress the sigh.
“So you have a double challenge.” The Conqueror folded her hands and, leveled the indigo gaze at me again.
“Yes. It’s your fault, Mama G.”
Now every eyebrow was raised at me.
“My fault?” the Queen didn’t allow that easily.
“You require that I be polite, civil, and nice to everyone. Nobody else will have anything to do with Rachelle, but I HAVE to be nice to her…”
“OR ELSE.” The emerald eyes had some amusement in them. “Birdie there are worse things I could do than to make you be civilized to people.”
“Yes, Grandbirdie—be glad that your mother can still adjust that behavior in you...” My grandba was looking at my Baba Xe.
“Indeed Birdie, be glad that you aren’t hopeless,” Mama G shared a look of laughter with my Grandba Cyrene and they both looked at Baba Xe.
Baba was just sopping up the final bit of soup with her bread and shoving it into her mouth. She felt the eyes.
“WHAT?” came from her full but indignant lips.
Even I joined the next round of chuckling at the next irate blue eyed-
“Rachelle’s a pretty girl.” The bard remarked later as she sat, made child sized in the enormous bed. She tucked her knees to her chin and wrapped her arms around them as her eyes followed the movements of her tall soul mate going about her evening routine.
Xena wiped down the Tide, examining it carefully to make sure the edges showed no wide places before sheathing it and hanging it on the bedpost. She did the same with the chakram. This ritual might have bothered someone else, but Gabrielle had performed a similar dance earlier with her staff and sais. These were the habits of many years on the road and the pair thought nothing of it.
“She is,” the warrior completed her weapons check, slipped into a nightshirt and them under the warm covers, “She reminds me of someone.”
“Let me see… Compact but graceful build, light hair, greenish eyes that hide very few emotions…”
“Honestly?” the bard gave the warrior a very startled look, “Guess I haven’t seen it. Not at all.”
“Well there is some work to be done on the personality,” the lower voice murmured, “But I do believe that with the right person’s touch, there is great potential.”
“You do?” the bard leaned across her warrior with a warm smile and ran a gentle finger down the side of her face.
“It’s been known to happen,” from the baby blues at their vulnerable best.
Gabrielle moved a strand of dark hair away from them thoughtfully.
“It’s not very cold tonight, is it?” she smiled quietly.
She was answered in turn with an equal smile and rumbling answer, “don’t believe so.”
“I’ll build up the fire and you open the ceiling panels.”
“The white teeth flashed in response and Gabrielle hurried from the bed to add several large sticks to the fire from the stash by the hearth. Her tall lover maneuvered gracefully from the four corners of the bed opening the sliding panels in the ceiling above to produce a view of the night sky. When the chores were completed, the warrior and the bard were under a diamond night together with a roaring fire nearby, just as they had been so many times-- so many years ago.
For a time they just lay cuddled under the blankets stargazing silently.
Then as her dark warm presence moved to cover the bard, the warrior murmured into the blonde hair, “Seems like old times, eh?”
Lips moved around the delicate edge of the ear and brush- kissed down the neck, around the back and shoulder, and as the bard’s arms rose above the warrior’s shoulders to pull her down skin to skin, she said, “I must admit to preferring this bed.”
There was a quiet chuckle, and then mouths joined and souls drank deeply, endlessly, lovingly-- and as they always had done, the stars looked down on this great love, and they approved.
The morning was surprisingly bright after storms moved in very late. I wondered if the exam would be held as often the height and speed of the river could be made unpredictable by these unexpected downpours. But I could see a thin rise of smoke in the direction of the river, and that was the Amazon signal-- we would go. Being raised by travelers, I was well prepared for the day in tough leather sandals, and knee length pants made of a wax treated cotton that was water resistant. My sleeveless buttoned vest was sewed of the same material, as was the small pack that was strapped across my body. I had tightened the leather thong on my turtle pendant and wore a red kerchief folded around my head which would both cool me and keep my hair out of my eyes. At my belt was a dagger with a stone handle with an extra strap to hold it fast. We were forbidden to have weapons of length, because they could be dangerous during an unforeseen spill in the water, but being Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, I had lashed an Amazon “short sword” up under the gunwales of our canoe, out of sight. Dangerous or not, a weapon was wanted. Perhaps I would not be caught.
Having the farthest to travel would make me the final to arrive. However, Rachelle had not. Embarrassing but not surprising. The other three canoes were cast off and almost out of sight when her bright yellow hair glowed above the hill followed by her grumbling entourage’ of Pony and Ephiny.
“Glad you could manage it,” my tone was dry.
“The sentiment is certainly mutual,” her reply.
Effie and Pony rolled their eyes in tandem.
“We are already behind,” I grabbed the back of our canoe expectantly.
“You are taking the stern?” her white eyebrows raised.
Somehow, I made it a command.
Evil evil eyes burned into mine.
“Do you have your Personal Flotation Devices?” The question came from Pony.
Rachelle and I remained locked in our battle of eyes.
“Hey!” Pony didn’t have the tact that my Baba Xe did.
“Yes.” We answered in chorus, though we had forgotten the question.
I gave a brisk order, “Grab the bow, Rach.”
She did so; choosing to obey orders from me over obeying orders from Pony. She trotted a few steps into the current, hopped in and took her paddle. I shoved off hard and did the same. We caught a fast current and were quickly out into the middle of the swiftly moving river..
“Good luck!” Effie’s voice. “Be careful!” from Pony.
We both waved without looking back; we would both regret that.
“Dig in; we are quite behind, “I said grimly and surprisingly enough, she did without remark.
We drove hard in the water for a time and I found myself watching the water glisten on the fine fair hair of her tanned lean arms. She had tied a tawny thong of leather around her hair which had bleached nearly white in the bright summer sun. Her clothing was very like mine and the water was repelled quickly.
A notion occurred.
“Rach, did you sneak a short sword along as well?”
She didn’t look back, but reached toward the rear right gunwale from where she sat and tapped upward.
I laughed, “What is your excuse?”
She shook her head, “You just never know, Bird, right?”
“Absolutely, Rach, Absolutely.”
We had never before agreed on ANYTHING, but there it was.
We shot the first run of white water hitting the “V” dead center, slicker than otters at play. She was an excellent partner. I didn’t say a word to her, she anticipated every command I might have given and executed the strokes before I could speak the words. We were strangely harmonious. We hadn’t caught the others, but I wasn’t worried about that yet.
Try a little small talk. Not my best area.
“How are you settling in with Pony and Eff?”
Silence for a full six strokes on the left, then four on the right.
“Well enough, I suppose; it’s different.”
“They might be, but they are very good people.” I defended.
“Not what I meant by that, Bird.”
“Sorry. What was meant then?”
Six more strokes. Silence again.
“Meant it’s different to have family. You know—Auntie Pony and such.”
Tried a laugh, “Well you and I are sort of family; Ephiny is my godmother.”
There was a pause of some length.
“You and I are most assuredly NOT related in any fashion, Birdie.”
Well, she had made that very clear, hadn’t she?
We entered a part of the river that gave us a break. The water was so clear it appeared to be only three or four hands deep when actually it was far over our heads. I scooped a double handful and poured in over my hair and face to cool myself a bit.
Ok, Deep breath
Her paddle strokes were lazy and thoughtful; her eyes disappearing thoughtfully deeper than the depths of the beautifully clear liquid that held us.
“Could I ask a personal question?”
Her shoulders rose, enveloped her ears, then moved back and relaxed.
“What happened to your parents?” my gentle voice. I had learned the value of this tone from my mother.
She looked out over the water seeing a far away place.
“Soon after I was born, my parents went out in their canoe to receive the blessing of the sea. They did so at the same time every four seasons’ turn in order for the tribe to have a prosperous fishing harvest. They did not return.”
“There was a search?”
“The tribe searched for days. My parents were excellent canoeists and the canoe was found washed ashore smashed. No sign of my parents. Well, except for this,” her hand fingered a string of silver beads alternating with small bright shells around her neck. “These were in the canoe. They belonged to my mother.”
Her story hit me very hard. Rachelle had been an orphan, practically from the moment she had been born. I couldn’t imagine it; the bright sun made water come to my eyes.
Venturing a little more, “So you were raised by…?”
“The tribe. The tribe’s healer, Betha, cared for me from the cradle. She made the crossing when I was eleven winters old after a long illness. I pretty much took care of her during her last few moons. Since Betha passed, I have lived rather unhappily with the tribal cook, Shuf.”
“Shuf didn’t like you?”
“Shuf was good to me; she took care of me. She just didn’t understand me or children at allm the way Betha did. I….. I . loved… Betha..”
My paddle dipped the water quietly while I watched the fair head drop for a moment and her strong shoulders sag with the weight of grief. Then she straightened and looked forward again pulling at the water hard with her paddle.
Carefully chosen words came from me.
“A season ago-- through my own foolish disobedience-- I witnessed what I perceived to be my mother’s death in battle. I ran away from Amphipolis for a seven day of self imposed exile and grief. So in some small manner, I know a little of the pain you must feel. I am sorry for your great loss, Rachelle, and I honor the great courage you have shown in living your life.”
She turned back to regard me straight on for the first time then, and her eyes were much like my own mother’s, sensitive and strong. I had not seen those qualities before and I could not unlock my eyes from hers.
And she said, “Thank you, Birdie.”
To be continued…..
The river runs
Around the bend,
I know not where
This journey ends.
The river flows
From earth to sky,
I know not how
I know not why.
The river runs
I do not care.
It can and will
The river’s journey
Ends with the sea,
And now the sea
Brings you to me….
Will be back soon…
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Thanks for reading….
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