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, to Jynaki who is so encouraging, and my dear pal.. VX, who is first. Just first.
Rachelle Part III
I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard…
They slowed to breathe the horses. Zephyr stopped to drink from a clear puddle. Gabrielle passed the water skin to her warrior who drank silently and then turned the intensity of her azure gaze on her. The bard returned the gaze.
“What is your reading, Mama G?”
A pause, while the bard turned inward.
“She’s in trouble; she needs us, but she is holding her own right now.”
The dark head shook from side to side, “ By the gods that kid, Gabrielle! How many times have we done this?” The Conqueror searched the first stars appearing in the young evening sky.
Gabrielle studied the water skin intently before she reattached it to Wendy’s saddle.
“Hummm?” the strong hand flicked to the chakram at a nearby rustle and then relaxed. Rabbit.
“Do you ENJOY being a parent?”
Argo danced around in a circle while the Conqueror cocked her head, “Now WHY would you ask me that question, Gabrielle?”
Her partner kept her silence when she began to answer herself; the golden horse did another pirouette, “You know that I have a uh, rather difficult personality, a quick temper, and I am easily frustrated, perhaps?”
The bard extended a gentle hand to clasp the larger one as her partner mused. The musing loosened the warrior’s hand from hers, and the larger hand ran fingertips lightly over the small exposure of the dragon tattoo which peeked from soul mate’s shoulder sleeve.
“ My…Our….second life has been much different from the first hasn’t it?” the raven haired fighter kept her touch on the bard and put words together, “ and one of the greatest differences has been being a parent to our Birdie.”
Just a hint of a smile and she and looked again to the stars, “Today, I might have killed a very hardheaded young fellow. Instead, I worked to find the good in him; I helped him to find the good in himself. That is a far different Warrior Princess than existed twelve winters ago wouldn’t you agree?”
Gabrielle recaptured the rough hand and raised it to her lips, holding the indigo eyes with her own, and sending and receiving priceless affirmations.
“Despite the current tone of my voice regarding our offspring, my dearest love, I enjoy—I adore being a parent, and I learn from it daily. Now, shall we carry on our search for THAT KID ?”
She brought the smaller hand to her own lips. The break was over: the ride continued.. the pace was increased.
We shared the second pan of tea. It warmed us and our shoulders were touching with a comfortable ease. She stared into the fire deeply so I nudged her.
“How are you, Rach?”
“Fine, stiff, sore, cold. Wishing for a bowl of soup, a bath, a bed, have any of those?”
She made me laugh, “OW!”
That brought a smile to her, “Guess you are hurting a little.”
“Do you have the Warrior Princess recuperative powers?”
“Do you know EVERYTHING about me?”
“Only what I have heard discussed, and you do have very famous parents, Birdie.”
Sigh. “Perhaps some tiny bit of the recuperative miracle ; not as much as I would like.”
“Think we can sleep at all?
I patted my leg, “You may sleep all that you wish, oh great healer of the seaside Amazons. Lay your head down. I’ll keep watch. The super-recuperative powers work better when I stay awake.”
The green-granite eyes cut at me, “You are a big fat fibber.”
“There’s no sleeping in me, Rachelle.”
My eyes convinced her, or she was very tired, because she pushed a stone away here, a stick there and stretched out with her head in my lap. My arm fell across her shoulders naturally, protectively and my hand began a slow soothing stroke in her hair. It was a motion which came to me easily from years of my Mama G doing it for me, and I knew it to be one of the safest most relaxing feelings that one person could impart to another. Rach fell asleep in very short order. Watching her sleep peacefully gave me the feeling of flattery now; she felt safe with me.
I watched the flames dance and wondered if my parents were on their way. There was an internal voice that said yes, but much more strongly, I felt that Zephyr was coming. I closed my eyes for a bright vision of my fox running steadily towards me, her white socks flashing. She had left her sons safe with their father; she was coming to find me, and it was very likely that my Mama G and Baba Xe were with her.
It was my fervent hope that Pony and Effie were on their way as well. They would not need the help of a god fox to ascertain what we had done; once again, my impulsiveness would have my backside in big trouble. But whatever trouble was coming from the adults in my life was preferable to whatever was watching from its cover in the woods.
And something WAS watching us.
The moon was full and bright and it was easy to mark Zephyr’s silver tipped tail. But Xena slowed Argo and extended a long arm across her bard who slowed Wendy . Gabrielle was silent watching the warrior who had shifted her senses to finely tuned listening. Zephyr had halted as well.
“Horses—two,” the warrior whispered without a sound, “let them come to us.”
There came from the distance quiet voices, soft laughter, the clop-clopping of hooves and two figures on mounts in silhouette. Xena smiled.
“Pony!” she shouted, “Yiyiyiyiyiyi!!!”
A horse reared nearly capsizing its rider and itself. The other stayed fairly well controlled.
“Great Zeus’s Balls!! Xena, I hope that’s you! Very Funny, HAHA, Warrior!” came the bellow.
“Eph?” Gabrielle’s softer venture.
“Gab?” the regent’s softer return, “by the gods —well — thank the gods.”
“I guess we all know where we are going…” the dry voice of the Conqueror carried over the four horses meeting.
“We believe that they took the right fork in the river instead of the left, “spoke the weapon’s master with some heat , “ the fork they were specifically told NOT to take. The rains brought down a tree — clear across the river; it was a sure accident.”
“But you didn’t tell them that did you?” asked Gabrielle, “you only told the kids to go left, without question?”
“Gab, they are Amazons..”began the Regent.
“They were given orders..” from the Conqueror.
“THEY ARE KIDS,” the Queen overruled. “I am not excusing what they did, I am only saying that everyone, kids included, needs to be told WHY.”
Zephyr barked --- A rare event.
“Zephyr is right,” said Gabrielle, “We can have this discussion later. Right now, we have a fox to follow.”
My touch on Rachelle’s shoulder became a gentle squeeze, “Rach, we have company, Sorry, babe.”
She sat up, instantly alert, Baby Zon in hand crouched beside me. I tossed half a dozen sticks on the fire feeding the flames quite high. Then I stepped in front of it with my sword held down in a non aggressive stance.
“Show yourself, “Tried to sound like Baba Xe, calm, cool, demanding, in control, “We’ll do you no harm, but show yourself.”
A boy my age but big, hulking, tall and wearing long furred, hairy clothing stepped just into my sight. His eyes were bright blue. We eyed each other seriously but he did not move. I stood in front of Rachelle, hoping that he understood that I would defend us, but made no aggressive play.
“I have your back,” the whisper from Rach.
“Perfect, thanks. But not unless he attacks,” my answer without moving. “He’s a young ‘hairy fella’. He’s alone, so perhaps he will leave, given time.”
We remained at loggerheads for a quarter candle mark, and I could feel my knees begin to shake.
Hairy fella faded into the darkness. My legs sunk, my body tumbled near the fire with relief.
Warm strong arms encircled me, soft blonde hair on my shoulder; I turned into her, “Hey.”
“Just checking your wound,” she was suddenly all business, tugging my pants, “looks ok.”
I didn’t argue with her.
She sat up and patted her knee,” Your turn.”
“I’m ok, Rach, and I don’t think I can…”
Unwavering stare, “Healer’s orders. TRY.”
Her hand steered my head down. it did feel good to rest. “Perhaps for a moment then..” Really tired.
“Tell me about these ‘hairy fellas’ Bird.”
I turned to look up into her face, “‘Hairy fellas’ is a nickname for obvious reasons. They are officially called The Decedents of Zon, an ancient barbaric race of people who have lived in these parts since the times of my great grandmother, Xenarone. They are not quite harmless, for they attack the fortress once or twice a turn of the four seasons, and we have never really known why, except that it is tradition. My ancestor Xenarone and their ancestor, Zon, had a feud but I don’t believe anyone knows exactly what it was about anymore.”
“That seems rather foolish and a waste of life, “said Rachelle, “No it seems extremely foolish, and a colossal waste of life.”
“Agreed,” I murmured.
She began a rhythmic smoothing of my hair, carefully moving past the cut on my head, “but come to think of it, it’s been quite some time since they have attacked, Rach. And we’ve never gone after them.”
I turned over felt a warm arm settle over me, and went out like a candle. Considering it later, it took a level of trust that surprised me. But it was as if that trust had always been there.
Xena put a hand out --palm facing back and they slowed. Gabrielle smiled at how naturally leadership fell to her lover, no matter the make-up of the group. She eased Wendy to Argo’s side.
“I smell smoke.”
Gabrielle could smell nothing and neither could the others. There was a light mist in the air from the river- a roar which was deafening at this point. They rode to the edge and could feel the heavy spray rising from the churning water.
“By—the—gods!” Pony said softly, “ I had no idea it was this bad. We had word there was a tree down and so forbade the right fork, but this tree is four times the size of what I would have expected. If they hit this… and they couldn’t have missed it….”
“Come,” Gabrielle said firmly, “Zephyr is running far ahead of us again.”
The little rescue group turned and rode into the darkness with trepidation.
The Amazon Queen answered the silent question, “Birdie’s star is healthy, wavering only a small amount, “she swallowed, “I am not sure how, but they survived the tree.”
I was wide awake.
“There’s an animal out there.”
I peered a moment and grinned.
“It’s Zephyr, “the fox ran me completely over and I lay on my back allowing her to lick my face before I sat up throwing my arms around her neck, “Zephyr, Zephyr, I am so glad to see you,” we rolled about some, “ Rachelle, we might be saved.”
“Not quiet yet, Birdie.”
The hairy boy was back and he had brought others. At least half a dozen grown ups were standing with him; too many for me to bluff properly. We both found our feet with our Baby ‘Zon swords in hands. Zephyr stood between us.
“How is Zephyr at hand to hand combat?” Rachelle was cool under fire.
“Quite good, actually.”
“Good enough for three to one odds, Birdie?”
“She’s very good, Rach; how are you?
“I’m not this good, Birdie.”
We shifted our swords to bring them into ready position.
They moved closer; the fire cast faint shades of orange and pink across their hairy faces. They were quite big.
Time to begin—deep breath, “We mean you no harm, “Did my best to sound calm, but my voice shook.
“Yes, they mean you no harm, and neither do we.”
The real thing, the calm confident voice--- my Baba Xe’s voice, and the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
Our heads flew around. They stood in the firelight, two capable Amazon warriors, their Queen, and the Conqueror herself, in all of their collective glory.
“Ah thanks to all the gods, “ I closed my eyes in relief.
Pony stepped up and collected Rach immediately, which drew the group of DOZ forward. Baba Xe stepped forward. Tension increased.
Then Mama G came forth from the group extending her hand, not to me, but to the boy in the group of hairy ones.
“I know you, “she said with a smile.
And he returned the smile-- recognition lighting his aquamarine colored eyes.
She continued to walk forward slowly, cautiously with one hand extended, like Baba Xe did when approaching a spooked horse. It proved a successful method with the young hairy boy, because he came to her slowly, trusting her, and finally put his hand in hers. They stood beyond – apart—from the rest of us.
She looked back, “We had an encounter on the fortress wall during their last attack on the fortress, when the Conqueror and the kid were taken by the Romans, “she smiled at him, “this guy and I have a private truce.”
The boy pulled her gently to the biggest hairy fella of the party. He introduced her in “his speak,” and told the giant man a story. I heard my mother say, “I am Gabrielle.”
She reached back and I stepped up beside her, “This is MY child, Birdie.” She said to the big fella. I extended my hand to the boy. We shook. It seemed to be going well. Then the DOZ leader looked at Baba; they recognized something in each other and walked aside together silently.
I closed my eyes and felt warm arms around me, hands ruffling my hair and a mixture of leather and feathers. Pony smacked my head.
There was a quiet space, so I spoke,
“I know we’re in trouble,” figured Rach felt the same, “ we’ll explain on the way home. I accept full responsibility, Did you bring any food?”
That final question cracked some tension, and the embraces resumed.
Munching on a meat wrap, I met eyes in the group. Rach looked at me from Pony’s arms; it looked as if Pony might never let go of her.
Baba Xe remained with the DOZ chief. They were drawing pictures in the dirt and engaged in a very serious communication of some kind.
Effie was standing by Pony, but she looked at me, and I knew we would talk later.
Sea foam green eyes caught and held me then. My mother gazed straight through me, and I dropped my eyes.
“Not quite so hungry now, Birdie?”
“No I’m better, Mama.”
Her fingers explored; “Let me look at you,” they moved the locks of my hair aside to touch the stitches and then tugged at my bloody waistband.
“What is this?”
“Stabbed by a branch. Rach fixed it; she was raised by a healer.”
She replaced the waistband, “Looks good, “and she put her arms around me, “How did this happen, Birdie?”
For the first time, I felt tears in my eyes,” I think it was hubris, Mama.”
She pulled back and looked at me directly.
Baba Xe walked up to join us and she simply put an arm around me. She was preoccupied.
“Birdie I will see you in my office first thing after breakfast. Right now, I think we should get everyone home,” was all she said.
“Safe and warm and fed,” said Ephiny.
“Exactly.” Pony finished.
They were adamant about that.
There is no recollection of my ever being truly afraid of Baba Xe, but as I stood before her late the following morning, I was afraid. The woman who judged me now was the Conqueror. She made me stand at attention for a silent candle mark, while she paced her office, the monotony broken with long stares of the ice storms in her famous eyes. In my heart I knew that she wouldn’t have me flogged nor have my fingers cut off. But the Conqueror is a person who has earned her reputation as one to be feared.
When she began talking her voice was quiet.
“You were told to take no weaponry longer than a dagger and you did.”
“Baba…” The Baby Zon had been a comfort in the night.
There was for another while.
She stopped in front of me again.
“You were told to take the left fork in the river and you took the right, endangering your life and the life of another Amazon princess. That is inexcusable insubordination, Birdie.”
There was nothing to say about that. It had been insubordination and it had been hubris, plain and simple even though Rach and I had both agreed to it. It would not be a good idea to tell Baba Xe that I feared punishment from Artemis even more than I feared punishment from the Conqueror. And Artemis would come, I knew that. The gods punish hubris, always. But, one thing at a time. I wondered if Baba Xe would give me the flat of her sword. I knew that she was angry enough to do it. The wish for invisibility filtered through my thoughts again.
Finally a clipped and very cool voice, “Fertilizer duty, two seven days, family plot.” She returned to her desk.
“Am I dismissed, My Lady Conqueror?”
She didn’t look up. “You are.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, did an about face and walked out. She wouldn’t even look at me, she was so disgusted. It tore me in pieces. But I knew better than to appear babyish when she was in military mode. No discussion, no forgiveness. I just needed to take my licks like a soldier.
Fertilizer duty, Minotaur shite!!
No, horse shite. Give me the flat of the sword! This was a chore our family did not do for itself, because there were always young soldiers in need of light discipline who had earned the honor.
There were several small wooden wagons which had to be conveyed by hand to the horse stables, filled with the “fertilizer” using spades, and then pulled it to the garden plots—in my case, the smaller family plot. I would then distribute the fertilizer carefully around the young vegetables. My grandba oversaw the work and she was a tyrant because good food was paramount to a healthy fortress. She would be tough with me.
After changing into my work clothes and oldest boots, I did my time at fertilizer duty-- much harder work than I had anticipated. Manure was not only smelly, it was heavy. That ancient little wooden cart had uneven wheels so it clattered along slowly even when the ground wasn’t uneven. And dragging it between the garden rows was even more difficult. After close to five candle marks I had covered about one third of the family garden plot. It took another candle mark to clean the wagon and wipe down my clothing.
Then I dragged myself to the family bathing area, scrubbed myself for at least half a candle mark, ate soup and bread in the kitchen, and went to bed, still feeling as if I could smell the manure. It would take least another two full days to complete the plot, and I wasn’t sure exactly what day the Amazon court would call me to face them. The work would be without break.
Sure did wish that Rach and I had taken the other fork in the river. My life became wretchedly complicated at times by my own hard head.
Her fiery presence awakened me with a feeling of fear pushed to screaming pitch. I knew that she would come. There was no pride in me as I stood before her, my feet bare, my head bowed.
The goddess was furious, “Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, You know why I am here.”
It didn’t seem to be such a wonderful advantage to be the chosen child of the Goddess Artemis at that point. But there was nothing to be done but suffer the consequences the goddess had chosen.
The goddess never raised a hand, but with every lightning flash of her golden eyes, I felt the lash of the flat of a sword blade across my backside. Seven blows-- it felt as if the blade was pure flame and might burn me in half. I stood trembling and silent, but the pain was acute, it made me sick to my stomach and dizzy.
When she finished, she said, “Thus the gods punish hubris, even in a young one.”
She disappeared with a clap of thunder and I allowed my knees to give way and also the breath I had held, into wracking sobs. I had never in my life experienced such agony.
Then into my open window, from the darkness, my Zephyr came to me. How she had managed to climb so high, I will never know, but she came. She was beside herself with distress for me, but she coaxed and tugged, and we managed to crawl back into my bed where she curled up beside me. Then she began to ease my trouble as only she could. As Zephyr made soft noises, calming me, and tenderly touched me with her nose and gentle tongue, my sobs quieted, and I lay my tear streaked face near her soft fur and finally fell asleep in her comforting warmth.
My appetite was absent at breakfast, but I did my best to hide my distress from Grandba by saying it was just the dreaded smell of my duty. Her blue eyes bore into my back as I headed for the barn, though I managed not to limp every step. Artemis had left me in a state that made it difficult to walk without discomfort.
Pain and stiffness limited my productivity, but I had managed to drag one load of manure to the plot and was ready to spread it when Mama G came out to the garden.
I I felt it my duty to try to hold out a bit.
“Your grandba is rather worried about you Birdie; she says you are off your “feed”.”
“ I just wasn’t too hungry this morning Mama. The horse sh---, sorry, the horse manure doesn’t do much for a person’s appetite.”
My mother continued to watch me as I continued to struggle to appear normal.
“Birdie, come here and talk to me a moment before you become too aromatic to be intimate.”
“Mama… I have to…”
“Birdie, come here.” Her voice became softer with the command.
When I surrendered to her, she took me by the shoulders and then ran her hands down my arms lifting my chin.
“W hat is it, Little Bird?”
She put her hands around to my sides to hold my hands and I winced. She didn’t miss it.
“You are hurt. Who has hurt you?”
I couldn’t talk. Tears filled my eyes.
“Birdie, it’s ok. Who hurt you?
“Artemis, Mama. She came in the night to punish me for my hubris.”
I shook the tears from my eyes.
“I deserved it. “
The forest eyes flashed. “What did she do? You are obviously in terrible pain, Birdie. Tell me. Now.”
I loosened the waist of my pants and let her look at my backside.
“Some kind of magic flat of the sword, Mama. Hurts a lot. Goddesses get pretty mad, don’t they?” My voice trembled.
Her breath caught and then released. Her voice was firm.
“Come with me Birdie.”
She led me back to the kitchen. Grandba was waiting for us. Sometimes they were of the same mind.
“Mother Cyrene, will you please give Birdie some chamomile tea and make sure she goes back to bed? If Xena or anyone wants to know why she is in bed, say it is by order of the Queen. I am going to the Amazon camp and should return early afternoon.” She was gone.
My Grandba took me in hand quickly.
“I’ll do it child. Come Grandbirdie, “The water was already hot. Grandba put a large spoon of honey in the tea. It tasted very good.
“Take it to your room now and go back to bed. You need your rest and you heard your mother. When she uses that tone of voice, you don’t want to trifle with her.”
“I don’t Grandba, you are right.” A pause at the stairs up to my room. “Thanks Grandba. For everything.”
She flicked the bright blue eyes at me with a little smile. “NOBODY hurts my Grandbirdie. Now you go up to sleep. Go!” She flicked her dishtowel at me...
At the edge of Amphipolis, an angry bard unwound a rope vine from the top of the fortress wall. Placing one hand high on the rope and the other anchoring the rope around her waist in back she leaned and pushed with great momentum feeling the fresh air blow through her blonde hair and a bit of a rush as her boots slammed the small platform in the first great tree.
She took a moment to look rather pleased with herself. “Not too rusty at all, Gabrielle.” She said softly and she sent the first vine back to the wall and took down the second.
The doors to the Conqueror’s study opened to her balcony and she walked outside to clear her mind. It was time for a break from her worries. She scanned Amphipolis Fortress. Everything appeared to be well, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Well, something was wrong; she wondered how much longer she could keep it to herself.
She had an uncomfortable feeling something watching, staring boring into her from somewhere, where? Ah from below. Her mother was glaring at her from her kitchen; window, what now, woman? And why wasn’t Birdie in the garden? By the gods, things had better straighten up around here with what was coming. She looked again at the parchment that the DOZ had given to her.. With what was coming.
She returned to her desk.
The doors to the Temple of Artemis in the Amazon village opened quietly and closed. It was empty. Gabrielle walked to the front, lighted a candle from the eternal flame, and knelt. She knew the prayer.
Goddess of the moon
Huntress and protector
Of the Woods,
But Gabrielle had her own variation to add now. She had issues with Artemis that she intended to share in very clear language. She began to speak.
Who hath given
As a gift,
And by rights
May still claim
Of her as
Life and praise
Belong to thee.
But with all
From the warrior
And the bard,
But a gift
Is not yours
I will share
Of her course.
But she is MINE.
Gabrielle rose, “That ought to do it. Bring it on, Artemis.”
I awakened when my mother sat down on my bed. Somehow my night shirt had become my garment; perhaps Grandba had performed that kindness.
“I brought you some cider,” I sat up and drained the mug. It was cold and tasted wonderful. After some experimental shuffling about on my bed, a sigh of relief escaped my lungs.
“What did you do, Mama G? The pain is gone.”
She moved to the far end of my bed and reached to pull my head into her lap. For awhile she sat smoothing my hair out of my eyes and smiling down at me. Tears kept forming in her eyes. Then she turned me a little.
“Let’s see.” She tugged my shirt up and looked inside the back of my sleeping pants. “Those horrific bruises are gone; thank the gods.” She sighed and eased me back to look at her.
“ Mama. What did you do?”
She smiled, “I have many skills.”
A chuckle from me. “Well thank you.”
She tilted her head then and her eyes were serious.
“Birdie, this isn’t over; Artemis will never punish you again without consulting me, but for now, she has now left the discipline to me.” She flicked her eyebrows. “Well, it’s always up to me, I suppose.”
I was quiet and studied her hand in mine a moment.
“Fertilizer wasn’t enough for her, huh?”
I sighed and acquiesced to the tone in her voice, “I guess that means a Mama G smackin’ for me...” She nodded; her eyes regretful as she ran her hand through my hair one more time.
Hated that. I hadn’t had a smacking in half a dozen seasons, a longer record than armory trips. I really try to stay out of trouble with my sweet mother.
“Infrequency…”She began with a little smile and shake of her head, “doesn’t mean immunity...” I helped her finish.
“We will do this one differently,” she said guiding me gently, firmly across her thighs, “You tell me the reason; I will administer the smack. You know every single mistake that you made, don’t you?” I could see the moisture collecting in her kind eyes.
“Yes m’am, “those damned involuntary tears gathered in mine as she moved aside my nightshirt. She gave me a light swat on my sleeping pants and waited.
“Where shall I begin? I took the short sword against safety rules; so did Rach. But they were very useful Mama.”
She shook her head closing her eyes.
“No excuses Birdie; how many times have you taken a sword when you were told not to take one?”
She was right about that. Many times.
“Tell me the reason for the next.”
My head lowered, “We took the right fork in the river instead of the left.”
Her eyes were full of questions; she looked puzzled, “Why Birdie? They told you not to go that way and you did. Why?”
“We wanted to win, Mama. We thought we could handle anything. But we wrecked at the tree and could have been drowned; it was my responsibility; I was in the stern and therefore in charge.”
Her hand left a bit of a smart that time. Tears crested, but her voice stayed firm.
“The endangering of both of our lives was needless, and reckless.”
Her expression snapped a bit of fire, and that swat smarted too. But I despised
myself for putting her through it. My Baba Xe had been a soldier for half of her
life; she didn’t enjoy discipline, but she knew it was necessary for safety and survival. My gentle mother knew it was necessary but she suffered –more that I did, usually.
And still she waited, she was quite resolved; she had made a promise to a goddess.
I took a deep breath, “You’ll be most upset about this reason Mama; you taught me well about hubris, and then I committed it. It was stupid and big-headed of me to take the right fork in the river instead of the left ; we believed that we were better than anyone else on the trip. That is why Artemis is so angry with me. I should have known better; I do know better.”
Mama raised her eyebrows at me, and I knew that she was angry about it as well, but she could see that I had since learned humility.
I closed my eyes and held on to her, just like when I was little and got into trouble. Funny that I could mind one swat from her more than an actual beating from anyone else.
It stung on the outside, but her disappointment in me stung my heart more. I kept my head down and continued, my voice breaking now; my tears unchecked.
“I worried you and Baba Xe.”
An additional good healthy smack.
We both had floods of tears now. I turned and looked into those tender, deep lake eyes and whispered, “Is it time for the ‘because you love me’, Mama?”
Gabrielle the Bard nodded blinking a pair of tears down her face, and allowed her hand to fall one final time. She then pulled me up and into a warm embrace; I burrowed into her shoulder. It was if I was seven seasons old, but I didn’t care. After two days of adventure, fear, and pain, to feel that special safety in my mother’s arms for a time assured me that I had really come home.
“I’m sorry, Mama.” I managed.
“I know you are, Little Bird,” she whispered soothingly, her hand in my hair, “It’s all right now. You have paid the price with Artemis and with me honey, it’s ok…”
We stayed until we were both quieted.
She took a deep breath and gave me a pat. “Get dressed. I’ll help you with fertilizer duty.”
My arms couldn’t squeeze her tightly enough, but after a moment, I pushed away firmly, thirteen again, and very serious.
“No Mama, you cannot help me. It’s Baba Xe’s punishment of me, and only I must do it.” I got up, splashed my face, dressed, and pulled on my dung boots.
“Baba was--is so angry and disappointed in me, I cannot risk adding further to that,” I considered a moment, “she might not mind if you came and watched a bit though.”
Mama smiled, “Go on then and I’ll be out.”
My thoughts turned me back at the door, “Are you ok, Mama? I’m very sorry that you had to punish me.” My hair fell over my eyes.
She rose from the bed, moved my hair, kissed my forehead and gave me an affectionate swat. “I’m fine, Honey. Run along and begin your duty. I’ll be along.”
I sniffed, and looked at her, “I love you, Mama G.”
“And I love you, my Little Bird.”
Gabrielle was about to depart the room when she felt the energy. She turned to once again behold the goddess with hardwood skin, golden eyes, proud stature, and ornate weaponry.
“I hope you approve, My Lady,” wiping away a final tear, the small mother did not flinch.
“Bard of Potidaea, I see what my sister Aphrodite has admired for these many seasons.” The golden eyes smiled. “There is much I could learn from you.”
“A child is more than just a gift, My Lady Artemis.” Gabrielle spoke softly. “One doesn’t mold her with an iron fist. Discipline is in play one hundred percent of the time and it must be done with love, however firm one must be. Then she knows that all direction or correction comes from love.”
“You gave her very little pain, but her tears were truly more heartfelt than those from the true agony I left upon her.”
“That is the power of love again, My Lady. Without love, punishment is only pain, and it elicits fear, anger, hatred and depression. Birdie knows that I love her.”
“And your own tears?”
“She knows that giving her pain or discomfort hurts me. In turn she is distressed because she loves me.”
“And yet, she departed happy…”
Gabrielle smiled, “Her spirits were good—she was redeemed. That is paramount for a child. She was forgiven; life goes on.”
“Except for the fertilizer?” a twinkle in the leonine eyes.
“Except for the fertilizer.” A genuine laugh from the bard.
“Thank you.” Simple words from the goddess.
“My Lady Artemis, might I ask a favor?” the bard raised an eyebrow.
“You may ask.”
“Will you please watch over the disciplinary hearings that the Amazons hold for her? Even if it is what she deserves, I don’t believe that twenty lashes of the Amazon arrow….” the bard’s voice tried to sound light but it faltered,” I just don’t think she is quite up for that...”
“Or perhaps her mother isn’t quite up for that…” the goddess said gently.
“That is true,” The bard lowered her head humbly. “My Birdie is as tall as I am now, but she is young and the young will make mistakes.”
The large dark hand was extended and Gabrielle felt her smaller one engulfed.
“For what I have learned from you today, Gabrielle the Bard, I will keep watch over the proceedings and remember your lessons on love.”
Gabrielle kept her eyes lowered, “Thank you, My Lady I am honored.”
“No Gabrielle,” said the goddess, “I am.”
The great doors opened and once again, the Conqueror walked out on her balcony seeking escape from her worries... The weather was crisp and all seemed well. Two battalions of militia were already at drills; two others on their way. Good. Thomas was sparring with Clayburg; Atticus was looking on. She smiled at Clayburg’s cap which covered the bad haircut she had given to him.
Down to her right, the smells of the kitchen rose and she could see her mother bringing over pots and skillets to her washer at the tubs. Her mother’s blue eyes kept flicking towards the garden plot. Then they flicked up toward her balcony. The head laboring in the garden was blonde. Blue eye sets locked. Minotaur shite.
Boots clomped downstairs, outside and arrived at the garden in a hurry.
The shovel moved steadily, but there was no eye contact.
The Conqueror considered and didn’t waste a question, “You aren’t attending the hearing?”
“Neither are you. Besides, Birdie is my blood. Pony cannot attend either, it isn’t allowed. And I am composing fantastic poetry right now, ‘Meditations on a Heap of Dung’ even as we speak.”
Xena shifted carefully from one boot to the other, listening to her partner. Her little bard was angry at the world this morning and not even the Conqueror “of all within our sight”, crossed Gabrielle when she was in this frame.
“Would you like to ride out to the Amazon village to hear the outcome?”
The spade ceased, “Are you anxious to see that our child suffers more, Xena?”
The warrior wilted, “Gab? Gabrielle, no.” Cobalt eyes filled immediately, “Gab, what has happened?”
The spring meadow eyes relented and regretted their harshness. Gabrielle left the garden and took her taller soul mate into her arms. They simply stood for a moment, exchanging warmth, comfort, strength, calmness.
“Xena,” the voice was gentle,” you’ve been so unavailable lately, physically, emotionally, especially with Birdie. What is it?”
She reached up taking the dark head into her hands, “The Conqueror is not alone in this world whether she likes it or not. Tell me.”
The mouth twitched, the icy eyes looked straight ahead, but the large hand went into the coat pocket and brought forth a folded piece of hide with symbols on it. The symbols were roughly drawn, but clear – a laurel wreath, and two full moons.
Gabrielle studied the hide, “Xena tell me about this; I don’t understand.”
The voice had the low slightly sarcastic tone it often did when danger was on the horizon.
“The leader of the DOZ… you noticed that we spent some time together at Birdie’s campfire? His name is Jom by the way; we established a handshake treaty. This skin is the reason; Jom and I will be talking much more.”
“What does it mean?”
“I can only tell you what I believe it means; I believe it means that the Romans will be here –attacking--within the next two moons.” She squeezed the hide in her hand.
Gabrielle placed her hand on the sturdy heart, “I suppose you can be forgiven some preoccupation then, love. I only wish you had told me sooner.”
The proud eyes smiled down on her, “I am sorry Gabrielle; my mind went into high gear and fear. However, “she smiled, “We will have a new ally this time; the Romans are no friends of the DOZ either. But that is for later,” she shook it off. “We need to go to the Amazon village; I’m sorry to have been unavailable for Birdie. I must make amends for that.”
Gabrielle tossed the spade aside and they began walking toward the fortress.
“I need to change my boots, and I should tell you that I have already been to the village this morning. The Goddess Artemis received my wrath at her temple.”
“That is where you were, early?”
“Yes, Artemis used the flat of her sword on Birdie, and left deep bruises and marks on her as punishment for hubris. She was in the garden plot this morning barely able to move. Your mother alerted me because Birdie couldn’t eat. Zephyr was with her; the fox was beside herself, and actually…” finally taking a deep breath, she leaned into the tall warrior, wrapping her arms around the strength, “I was too. It was horrible.” A tear escaped.
Xena did nothing but rub Gabrielle’s back gently, but the bard could feel the warrior’s entire body tighten with rage. She looked up.
“Easy Conqueror,” she returned the rub, “I told Artemis quite OFF. She withdrew her punishment of Birdie and agreed that I would deal with her. Artemis was impressed with the ‘Mama G Smack Method’”. She looked down smiling a little.
Xena rested her head on the blond one, “But that’s hard on you, love.”
There was a sniff at her chest, “It’s part of being a mother to Birdie. And it was far easier than seeing her in such physical agony. Birdie is growing up. It had been a long time, and she told me the reason for every smack herself. She was quite upset that I had to do it, so those days are coming to an end. It’s what impressed Artemis.”
They ceased walking for a moment and faced each other. The Warlord/Warrior/Conqueror looked at the love of her life, took her face in her hands, kissed her bright hair, and then her lips. She gently touched their foreheads together.
“You amaze me. You always have, but you continue to amaze me with the unpretentious power you have to touch other lives and make them good. You spared and then saved the life of a young man and see what it has brought us, “
“Xeeena..” a large finger went to her lips hushing the protest.
“Shhh… and yet, you were no different than the person you are every single day. And when it comes to love, there simply is no one who exemplifies it better, no one more impressive than you Gabrielle, and Artemis saw that.”
She held the bard close. “I am so very blessed.”
They stood a moment more and then continued their way indoors.
“I think that Birdie and I will take a day at the lake,” Xena mused as they climbed the stairs.
“That is a brilliant idea, “spoke the bard.
“I feel remiss in her development. She is growing up so fast; I am behind, and that causes me to be angry and impatient with her too quickly. She is at the age that I could lose her so quickly.”
“You won’t lose her, Xena…” the gentle voice reassured.
“But I must make certain it never happens, “said the warrior, “ If I lose Birdie, we will both be lost in darkness.”
They entered the bedroom.
Gabrielle gave her soul mate a pat, “Let me change boots and we will go. I would imagine the hearing is nearly over.”
Xena looked thoughtful, “I wonder if Rachelle allowed Birdie to accept all of the blame for their troubles?”
“I believe that Birdie would accept full responsibility, and it remains to be seen how Rachelle reacts.” Gabrielle pulled on her clean boots and set the dirty pair outside the window. “However there is more to Rachelle than we know and I believe that Birdie is leaning about that.”
“Pony is good for Rachelle, doesn’t it seem that way to you, Gab? In Pony’s own way?”
“Yes, I don’t believe that Rachelle has had someone to shake her by the shoulders, be in her face and outright LOVE her--- ever. Rachelle is somewhat aloof and that just doesn’t s fly with Pony. Pony demands honesty.”
“And speaking of ‘in your face Amazon’.”
A chuckle, “Birdie’s godmother may skin her alive for all of this messy mishap, and that is fine with me. Rules were broken. Ephiny is a fine teacher; she is in a position of influence over Birdie, and Birdie loves her.”
At the Amazon hearing I felt quite alone before all the big feathers in the tribe except my mother the Queen. It was good that she was spared the shame. Perhaps that was why the tribe had the rule of no blood relatives of the accused were allowed at a board disciplinary hearing. My heart made a vow that this would be the first and last time I would appear before such a gathering.
“Robin of the Warrior and the Bard, as stern guide and the first responsible for your canoe, you are accused of deliberate insubordination by both arming yourself unlawfully for the float trip and then deliberately taking a forbidden route. Those two acts of defiance endangered both your life and the life of Princess Rachelle of the Seaside Amazons, and it destroyed a canoe. How do you answer?”
I came to attention, “I am guilty of both insubordinations, Regent Ephiny.”
“Is there any reason or someone to speak against this council handing down harsh penalties for your insubordinations?”
There was nothing to do but bow my head and wait.
“Regent Ephiny, I would ask to speak.”
“Princess Rachelle, you may.”
There was shocked silence in the group; including myself.
“Birdie and I do not agree on everything, and she did take the sword against orders. But I took a sword as well, and the decision to take the right fork in the river was a joint decision. I asked her if we went that way, would we win the race. She said yes, but we shouldn’t disobey our directors. We made the decision to disobey together. So I am to blame for that as much as she.”
I was gobsmacked; I was ready to protest, but she came over and took my hand.
“Please, despite my standing in this tribe as a new member, I must share in responsibility for these insubordinations, My Lady Regent.”
Everyone was shocked. Rachelle had never been so eloquent or polite. My peripheral vision saw Pony at an edge of the crowd out of sight, smiling proudly. The board broke for not quite a candle mark. Rachelle stood holding my hand the entire time.
When they returned, Ephiny stood. “Well, we can’t very well FLOG two Amazon Princesses, as much as we would like to.” The tribe chuckled, but she wanted to do it; I could see it in her eyes.
“So we hereby give you two the task of cleaning all of the paths to all of the dwellings and keeping wood stocked for the main fire and every other dwelling in the camp for a full moon cycle. We are dismissed.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Between the work in the camp and fertilizer, I would be busy, but it was manageable. Rachelle began to walk away and I had just caught her hand when my tunic collar was gripped by my godmother. She pulled me into hard reverse behind a big tree for a private chat.
“Robin of Amphipolis,”
“Yes M’am, Effie,” eyes at the ground; I knew she was mad at me.
“Dear little goddaughter, if I so much as find one.. Even ONE stone out of place in a path in this camp, I will hunt you down and skin your backside, do you understand me?”
“Yes M’am, Regent Ephiny.”
“Your little girlfriend got you off rather easily; but you needn’t think you are off the hook with me.”
I kicked rocks at my feet. Hated having her mad at me too.
“Sorry, Effie. I messed up bad.”
She looked at me and shook her head.
“You sure did kid. I took a good look at that canoe this morning.”
She knocked on my head a couple of times, but something kept my eyes down. She continued,
“That smashed stern—very scary, Bird. Could have been you all smashed up, especially with that monster tree, am I right?
I remained silent.
Hey,” she pulled my head up,” Answer me.”
I sighed a staccato sigh.” Yeah. It could have been.” We were quiet a moment more.
“There is something else bothering you, Birdie. What is it? Her voice gentled.
“Promise you won’t tell my parents? It would only upset them. And they don’t need to see the canoe.”
“Is it something dangerous, or something that’s already happened, like a secret?”
“Like a secret. Already done.”
“ Ok, I promise. I can’t promise you that I won’t be upset, however.”
“I nearly drowned out there, Effie.”
“I saw that you left your personal flotation devices.”
“They wouldn’t have helped. I was caught under both the tree and the canoe. Had to swim way down underneath both of them. Thought my head would blow up.”
“Were you scared?”
“Not so much; it was strangely peaceful. But it scares me NOW to think of it. It haunts me at night.”
She folded her arms and just kept that level stare coming at me. I could feel the heat in her dark eyes burning a hole in the top of my head.
“I hope you learned a lot from this, kid.” Her voice was not unkind.
I was back to avoiding her stare.
“I did, Effie; I learned a whole bunch.”
She put her hands on my shoulders, “Well, learn your lessons more safely and more obediently next time. You are my goddaughter; that means you are quite in large part-- MY kid, too. I need you safe and unhurt, and that means you do not take EVERY risk that comes along, ok?”
She pulled me into a bear hug, “Which side has the stitches?”
“The left side,” was my answer, knowing what was coming. Effie delivered with her warrior’s hand, two hard swats and they made me yipe a little. She kept me in the bear hug, and I lay my head on her shoulder and sighed, allowing the guilt and tension to melt away in a couple of tears.
“Are you less mad now?”
“Yeah, I’m less mad, Birdie,” she chuckled, hugging me a little closer.
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Then why is she waiting for you?”
She felt me snicker and sniff again on her shoulder.
My beloved godmother pushed me back and ruffled my hair. “Go see about her, kid. And –watch—your--self.” Her finger to my nose; she smiled.
I smiled back. “Love you, Effie.”
“Yeah you too, kid.”
Rachelle was waiting for me, and we walked a little ways into the sunset.
“Did you have trouble at home?” I was curious; Pony had been pretty steamed.
She walked on -hands in her pockets- and didn’t look up.
“Aunt Pony sort of gave me a switching and a talking to,” she met my eyes, “It didn’t really hurt; I think it hurt her more than it did me, actually. But I felt bad that my actions made her so upset and scared. Just all around you know. So we both did some crying and hugging. Aunt Pony has been good to me.”
“My Baba Xe says that Pony is way more bark than bite,” my head was down commiserating, “but for sure, she loves you and it sounds as if you love her.”
Grey green eyes met mine, “Yes, I do actually… it’s been not very long, but Auntie Pony is loud, loving and honest and somehow, she grows on a person. I suppose it’s a family thing.” We scuffed some more dirt, “How about you?”
“Oh, everyone’s had a turn at kicking my butt; can’t complain, but I am glad to be coming to the end of it. I’ll tell you about it if you have time…”
She reached for my hand…
Two dark silhouettes appeared on horseback on the hillside above us. One dismounted and walked toward me.
“Can you give me one more moment?”
I turned and ran up the hillside as fast as my boots could carry me. The tall powerful figure of my Baba Xe increased her speed as well and we collided midway in an intense embrace as though we hadn’t seen each other for days. She swung me around and then sat me on my feet brushing my hair back, kissing me on the forehead. I just hugged her and hugged her, listening to her heartbeat, buried in softness of her silk chest.
“I love you, Birdie.” She whispered. “Sorry I forgot to tell you that.”
“S’ok, Baba,” I said, “I’ve been a lot of trouble.”
She pulled my hair back to look into my eyes again,” You have indeed, Little Bird. I am relieved that you and Rachelle are ok. That was…. such… a… dangerous… thing…”
She gave my hair a little tug to emphasize each word.
Then she softened, “I was thinking that perhaps you and I should go up to the hanging lake tomorrow. We need a little Baba/Birdie one on one time.”
“For sure, Baba?”
“For sure, Birdie.”
“I can skip fertilizer duty one day?”
“One day, I think.”
“Any chance of skipping fertilizer duty more than one day, Baba?”
She smiled at me, “Perhaps if you were interested in an intense trip to the armory as an alternative.”
“I believe that fertilizer duty builds tremendous character and I shall continue doing it for the assigned amount of time.”
She laughed then, a rare, deep, heartfelt laugh and ruffled my hair.
“The lake is a date then?”
“Somebody’s waiting for you.”
“Yeah I guess I better go back to her and ‘be nice’.”
“Or else,” The blue eyes smiled at me.
“Or else,” I raised my eyebrows at her meaningfully and turned to go. “I’ll be home for supper.”
She was walking back up the hill to Mama; she turned around.
“I love you.”
“And I love you , Little Bird.”
We held eyes a moment and I ran back down the hill to Rach.
“Thanks for waiting for me Rach.”
“No problem, Bird.”
I kicked a rock far up ahead in the path.
“Thanks for speaking for me, Rachelle. You saved me a real hard time, I think.”
She tilted her head and her grey green eyes were smiling from under her blonde bangs.
“I know. I hoped they weren’t going to wallop two semi-royal butts.”
“You took a big risk.”
She strode on a moment.
“I suppose it was; can’t believe I risked my own hide for the likes of you.”
I gave her a twisted smirk.
“Rachelle. I thought you might actually be warming up to me.”
“Warming up to you?? Dream on, Tweet-head!”
“You can’t stand anyone, Rachelle and we can’t stand you!!”
She gave me a knowing look.
“Mermaid shite, now what in Hades kind of curse is that? Mermaid shite?”
“Oh, and Minotaur shite is so sophisticated!”
“Yeah, well who cares?”
“That the best you can do, Birdie?”
“Rachelle…” I ducked my head kicking rocks again.
“What you did today, was … Well.. it was gallant and unselfish. I didn’t know you had it in you.” I stopped and took her hand.
She was shy. “Thanks Birdie, actually, I didn’t know I had it in me either. I just knew that after all we went through together; it just didn’t fit that you should take all the punishment and blame. We were a pretty good team after all.”
I kept holding her hand as we walked.
“We were at times, an excellent team.”
She squeezed my hand,” We were, at times.”
“Yeesss.” She was smiling into the sunset
I gave our joined hands a bit of a swing.
“So we might be friends after all?”
She snorted loudly.
“Don’t push it Birdbrain.”
“What you need is a little character building, and I know just the place…”
“I think it might be a good idea to invite Pony and Ephiny to dinner tonight if we want Birdie to make dinner on time,” remarked Xena on her return to the hilltop.
“That’s a good idea ; you are just full of them, “said Gabrielle who had dismounted Wendy, and they both walked ahead of the horses toward the Amazon village. “We can do that when we find out the results of the hearing.”
“You know I totally forgot to ask her. Must not have been terribly traumatic for her, since she spoke not one word about it,” said the warrior striding along leading Argo.
“I saw you laugh,” remarked the Bard as they observed the young pair below-- hands joined. “I haven’t seen you laugh in several days.”
“Yes, it felt good. “The Conqueror watched her child for as long as she could keep her in sight, “I must keep her safe and close by in the days ahead.” The Warrior’s voice grew firm, “ Both of you.”
She looked into the eyes of Gabrielle the Bard, her soul mate, her life, “You—always my heart…my love,” she looked shaking her head at the small figure walking into the sunset with her new friend, “and that kid.”
Meditations on a Heap of Dung—composed jointly by Gabrielle and Birdie
Is life worth any more
Than a heap of dung?
Is dreaming more
Than a song to be sung?
Could victory be more
Than a battle won?
I ask you now?
Do we ever want more
Than what we gain?
Is what we gain
Worth tears and pain?
And is there forgiveness
For the guilt and shame
Of the sins we carry?
My weary foot
On this small spade,
A tiny hole
That it has made,
I wipe my brow
And seek the shade,
To guard my pride.
If there’s no future
In this toil,
If there’s no harvest
From this dark soil,
And all my friends
Should prove disloyal,
Who’s on my side?
Perhaps life is better
Than a heap of dung,
Than a song that’s sung
And victory more
Than the battle won,
If you stay--
Will you stay?
By my side…..
Thanks for reading… always….comments to email@example.com
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