She fielded the question in the Conqueror's eyes -" Yes, Birdie is fine. She may be on an adventure; her star is flickering, but she is safe."
"Her star?" Ephiny looked confused.
"Gabrielle has an internal tracking system on our wayward child which can come in quite handy at times," the low voice of the warrior carried the relieved but ominous quality it so often did when she spoke of her daughter.
""It's a little difficult to explain, so please just trust me," smiled the bard.
"Always," the word from her Regent.
"Anyway, I am 'monitoring' her and will keep you informed," the ivy eyes warmed on both of them as she pushed her hair over her ear. "What are you drinking?"
"Cider," Cyrene passed another earthenware mug across the bar. "Everyone is staying on her toes until my Grandbirdie is safe and sound."
The three mugs were raised to her words.
Before inhaling my next breath, I stood before the goddess. Artemis possessed the ability to cast her will by thought and make it so. It was quite unsettling. My eyes remained lowered; I had never pondered being in the presence of a goddess, and even then certainly not by myself. I was terrified of breaking some arbitrary rule of protocol with Artemis-well known for her caprice.
"Hummmm.." she turned from me and strode away gracefully, with the big cat following docilely. "You are smaller than I thought you would be."
"Perhaps, I am not at my full growth yet My Lady Goddess," was my murmur, "why should you be concerned with my size?"
My head twitched with the impact of a sharp slap to my cheek, the sting and heat caused a single tear in the eye above it. The goddess had not turned.
"Have the warrior and the bard raised you to be insolent?"
The voice floated back to me, quiet and deadly.
My head was bowed again, "No My Lady Goddess, quite opposite in fact. My apologies for my tone; I am called out quite often for it."
Zephyr looked up at me pressing her head tightly to my leg protectively-fearfully.
Artemis turned back with a surprising smile.
"Well I would expect neither weakness nor meekness from you, child."
Because I had no idea how to reply, I remained silent.
"Is it your habit to avoid others' eyes when you greet them, or is it just rudeness to me?" the voice carried command, as much command as my Baba Xe's and likewise the element of danger.
This was not going well; I slowly dropped to my knees.
"My Lady Artemis, please be assured that disrespect is far from my intention. If you please, my Lady--- I am afraid."
The chuckle was haughty, arrogant.
"But are you not Robin of the Warrior, the Conqueror, the Destroyer of Nations, Xena Chosen of my brother, Ares?"
"Yes, My Lady."
"So you should NOT be afraid."
Whatever I do or say will be wrong.
"My Lady, I have met my share of enemies and I have fought my share of battles during my few winters of life. I know the courage of the Warrior. I am also Robin of the Bard; I know wisdom and caution. You are my first encounter with an Immortal. Please understand, that whatever my demeanor is, it should not be read as disrespect."
Soft fur leaned next to me and gave me comfort. I put my arm around Zephyr and the rise and fall of her quiet breathing stilled my panic.
Fingers crept under my chin; my eyes were raised to meet the majestic mahogany countenance. The intensity which fairly blazed from the amber eyes was unblinking; I felt as if her gaze pierced through my eyes into my mind, my thoughts, my imagination, my emotions, my secrets, my shame, my very soul. The effect caused me to tremble. The fingers issued a slight pressure and I was raised to my feet not under my own power. The fingers then left me.
The goddess knelt to study Zephyr.
"The fox takes good care of you, doesn't she?"
"Zephyr is the miracle of my life, My Lady Artemis; she is precious beyond measure."
"She is my gift to you."
My tongue was very dry and caused me to choke a little.
" Ah, that explains why she is extraordinary, My Lady."
I knelt beside my fox then and ran my hand along the black silky fur looking deep into Zephyr's eyes.
"I have no way of expressing my gratitude for such a gift, My Lady; how may I serve you?" Another smile, "You do well enough, Robin of the Warrior and the Bard. For the greater part I am well pleased with the progress of your life. Xena and Gabrielle are doing a splendid job with you. "
My curiosity blazed, but I did not wish to invite another slap.
"My Lady Artemis, may I venture another question?"
"Yes child." She approved of my manner this time.
"Are you my mother?"
Her laughter made the leaves fall from the trees. Even the lioness and Zephyr were amused.
"No Robin. You have a wonderful mother. Am I the immortal power behind the gift of your birth to the warrior and the bard? Yes, I am.
No response came from me. Gobsmacked.
The goddess touched me again- this time gently moving her fingers into my hair and pushing it back from my eyes, playing with it a strand at a time. I did not tremble.
"You wonder what this means. It will mean more and more with time, Birdie. Within you, there is the roadmap to rule as the next Warrior Princess, a Conqueror, to become the Queen of the Amazons, and/or to be known as one of the great bards of your time. This is no small path of expectation. But you will have guidance. You have Zephyr, you have Marcus,"
She saw the question in my eyes.
"Yes, Marcus is also a gift from me."
"Thank you My Lady Artemis; he is good counsel." I looked down again. My eye lashes were wet, why?
"And you have Xena the Conqueror and Gabrielle the Bard, the finest parents any child could hope to have. I have also handpicked your godmother, Ephiny of the Amazon Nation, and she will begin to play a larger part in your upbringing, since you have come of age."
I sighed. "So very many people to please."
She didn't quite chuckle, "You are a challenge to rear Birdie; it will not take an entire village to raise you, but then again, you have a goddess watching. I should say too, that now and again, you will answer to ME."
The shaking was back; it was difficult to stand. But she had called me "Birdie"; she indeed had all knowledge.
"So take care with your life, Robin of Amphipolis. I am known for my love, protection, and guidance for those who are loyal to me. But I do NOT suffer fools."
"I am well aware of that My Lady Artemis, "my voice a whisper now, "I will try my best to never disappoint you."
She took my head in her great hardwood colored hands, and I felt her lips touch my hairline ; a kiss that which burned like a small brand. The back of her fingers caressed my cheek with a touch as gentle as my own Mama G would have used. I closed my eyes as a cool breeze passed through my hair.
Zephyr and I stood alone in the clearing.
The dark furry head looked up at me; I looked down at her. I knelt down beside my four legged companion, and buried my face in her ruff for a moment.
"Zephyr, let's really try to make it home this time."
The bard opened her eyes. "She is coming much closer now; it shouldn't be long."
Ephiny closed her eye and released a breath. "All thanks to Mother Artemis then. You better tell Xena before she breaks that window."
The Conqueror had stood by the tavern's main window as the afternoon passed on, and her body language bristled with impatience. One might think the window would shatter if it did not fill with a scene that suited her soon.
Gabrielle slipped from the stool and went to her soul mate. The uniformed shoulder visibly relaxed as the bard reached up and laid a gentle hand upon it. The sky colored eyes turned to look down at the hand.
"Good news for me?"
"She's on her way, I think."
"Bad news for her."
The dark head shook side to side.
The fair head leaned against the back.
"I wish we didn't have to move from being worried about her to being angry with her, Xena."
The Conqueror sighed and returned her gaze to the window reflecting.
"Birdie must learn to make better decisions. She KNOWS better than to do this Gabrielle. How many times have we walked this painful road with her?"
"That is why I believe that either one--- what we are doing is not working, or two-it's just Birdie's way, and we must accept it-find a way to modify how we cope with her character-her personality. "
The Conqueror turned around and looked at the Bard.
"Sorry Mama G. I don't accept the fact that our kid can just run away for most of the day without a word to us, and do so without consequence. There is danger out there, and Birdie is too young. Perhaps in a winter or two, I will be more lenient, but she must prove herself as well."
A third head joined the duo. It was covered in golden brassy curls and accented with bright dark eyes.
"Pardon me, but may I poke my big Amazon nose in here? She is my student and my godchild, and I did come all this way to see her."
Ephiny stood grinning with fresh mugs of cider. The threesome sat at one of the rough hewn tables.
After a thoughtful sip, Ephiny sat twirling her mug in her hands searching for words.
"I would like to ask for your trust in me to deal with Birdie on this particular issue. The rules she violated were at the Amazon school, and it's about time Birdie had a taste of our discipline. She is an Amazon princess after all, and she should answer to the Amazons. Not to mention it might give you two a bit of a breather."
The warrior and the bard eyed each other.
"Ephiny, to be honest it would be a relief for me," said Gabrielle. Sometimes it seems as if Birdie is nothing but troubles large and small, and it would be nice to have some help. I do trust you of course. You are our oldest dearest friend, and Birdie loves you very much."
"Can you be firm enough with her?" was Xena's question, "She's an articulate kid; she can spin a good line of sweet talk."
"Xena, remember I raised a centaur." Ephiny chuckled.
"And she's also very sensitive," were the next words of the Conqueror in a near whisper.
The Bard's eyes twinkled at the warrior and then the regent.
"I will be tough with kid gloves, my friend." The Amazon godmother reached for the warrior's rough hand. "I love that kid like she is my own; you know that." Her dark eyes filled but she blinked them away.
The mood changed quickly.
"You're going to give her the "Amazon arrow" aren't you?" Gabrielle's eyebrows rose with a little smile.
"With your permission. It's standard operating procedure for what she's done." Ephiny looked seriously from green eyes to blue.
"I think it's great. Let her have it." The bard finished her mug and sat back.
"What is the Amazon Arrow?" the warrior was lost.
"It's the Amazon version of your mother's switch," chuckled the bard. "It's a special arrow shaft, a bit thinner, and without an arrow head. When I took classes with the Amazons, I took a couple of licks with one out of curiosity. It stings, but it's certainly lighter fare than the flat of a sword."
"Well, perhaps a dose of Amazon arrow coming from Effie will get through that woodpecker head of hers. " sighed the Conqueror, " We aren't doing very well."
"I would like for Birdie to spend more time at the camp if possible, "mused her godmother. "Pony, -- Eponin will be returning soon with her niece, a girl near Birdie's age. Her name is Rachell, and she is of "royal lineage' from a sister tribe near the sea. I thought perhaps they could train some together."
"Is that all you are thinking, Amazon?" Gabrielle grinned.
"Yeeeeesssss. I do not dabble in the ways of Aphrodite." replied the regent shaking her head vigorously, "You are speaking to someone who has loved both a centaur and Eponin; I would never predict nor try to direct that goddess. The Goddess of Love does what she will."
"I would agree," said the warrior… "And our Birdie is a long way from romance yet. She is interested in the arts of battle and actually, in being a scholar to a certain extent. I just wish she could stay out of trouble."
"You two go to meet her, "directed the Amazon Queen. "I will prepare a bath, a little food, and wait for her in her room. Xena be sure to remind Birdie that her first chore will be to refill the tub in the morning and you can then leave her to Ephiny's instruction. I am considering grounding her for this sixth and seventh day as well."
Both warriors looked at the bard.
"Do you think that is necessary?" the Aegean eyes looked hurt and the voice was wistful, "I am free from the militia these two days. We put in a hard five day and so took them off."
A gentle hand stroked the dark hair.
"Sorry big warrior, I do," the bard said softly, "I want to talk to Birdie quite a bit and I want her to write."
The soulful skies caused the bard to cave with a slight eye roll.
"Tell you what; if Birdie is diligent, I will free her on seventh day, and you two can do something fun."
She was rewarded with a big smile, and she shook her head with deep affection and chuckled.
"Go on now," she aimed a light kick at the backside of the big warrior, as she and the Amazon went to meet the little warrior and her fox coming home from their adventure.
Apollo had begun his descent as Zephyr and I turned onto the wide road into Amphipolis. We stood a moment on the rise and looked down at the fortress. Two figures were walking out of the gates; I recognized one immediately as Baba Xe by the long confident stride and the Tide swinging at her back. The other was not Mama G, though. Another warrior by her gear… ah, Effie. She had come from the Amazon village seeking me. This was not good. Be brave; accept responsibility for your actions, Bird. Take a deep resigned breath.
I looked at Zephyr with a sigh and a shrug, and she answered in fox, bumping against my knees as we hurried to meet the warriors.
It was comforting to bury my face in the leathery smell of Baba Xe's every day armor; it was good to feel her arms around me at the end of this very strange day, even though I knew that she would soon be dispensing disciplinary measures. It felt like I had been away for a very long time.
She pushed me back and looked at me carefully. "You are all right? No injuries anywhere?"
"I am fine, Baba. Tired, and hungry, but a little calmer in my spirit."
"You know that you are in some trouble, Little Bird."
"Yes, Baba, I know that."
She sighed, shook her head gently, ruffled my hair and touched her head down to mine.
"Your mother and I are leaving the disciplinary action to your godmother this time, Birdie. You broke Amazon rules, so Ephiny has our permission to deal with you first and firmly. Can you be comfortable with that?"
I looked into the dark eyes of my Effie, my godmother, my teacher, and saw only love and concern in them.
"Yes Baba, I am responsible to Regent Ephiny for my actions."
Baba Xe raised her eyebrows, "We will talk further of your disappearing problem later. Your mother wanted me to tell you that the bathing tub will be ready and you will need to fill it again first thing in the morning."
She turned to my godmother, hands on my shoulders, giving me to the Amazon Regent's charge.
"Ephiny, the guest room is yours tonight, of course."
We had arrived and so stopped above the landmark giant oak a quarter candle mark outside the gates.
Baba kissed my hair, "Be good Little Bird."
"Yes m'am." I said to her disappearing back. Zephyr gave me a mournful stare and left me to the music.
I turned to Regent Ephiny, who was gazing at me in rather amused fashion. I decided to be formal.
"How is Arrot, Regent Ephiny?"
"Arrot is fine, Birdie," she began a slow stroll with me and put a casual arm around my shoulders. "The break is minor, and you did a good job treating it. Actually, you are something of a hero among your classmates now."
My head stayed down.
The fingers on my shoulder drummed a few beats.
Be strong. But my voice wasn't strong.
"You are pretty mad at me, aren't you Effie?"
She stopped and whipped me around to face her; her eyes were snapping.
"Birdie, I was so worried when you just left! How could you do that? Can you imagine the grip fear took on my heart when I came to Amphipolis looking for you, and you were missing from here as well?"
She gave my shoulders a slight shake, and we began walking again. The agitation was coming from her in waves. Effie had a rather stormy personality, and I was about to feel its effects.
She stopped again and her eyes went into the past," I have known Xena and Gabrielle for such a long time, Birdie; I have watched them go through happy times and hard times, and they have seen me through the same. We are family; so that makes YOU FAMILY to me as well, kid."
Both of her strong warrior's hands were on my shoulders again and she forced me to meet her eyes.
"And one thing I shall NEVER witness again-- is Xena and Gabrielle working through-living through-- the loss of a child. I hope that I will not have to whip your butt too many times to make you understand that, Birdie."
She closed her eyes, remembering a different time, then returned to me with a deep breath, and cocked her head gazing at me with firm eyes, "However, I will do whatever it takes."
Her dark eyes filled but did not spill, a true Amazon.
And finally, I did understand.
Perhaps my exposure to Hope and Solon had clarified my horizons; perhaps Effie chose the words that penetrated my thinking at last. Perhaps I was growing up. But I finally got it. Everyone knew that I was capable of taking care of myself well enough when I wandered off, but it wasn't just about me, was it? The people who loved me, worried about me; and my absences without notice brought great trepidation to my loved ones because of their past experiences. I should be more sensitive and respectful of my family and friends; it was selfish of me to disregard their feelings.
"I understand, Effie." I hung my head and swallowed, "You're going to give me the Amazon arrow, aren't you?"
I had heard about it from the other Amazon kids and figured my transgression would merit the punishment.
She chuckled without mirth, but also without anger.
"Yes, that is what we do to naughty little Amazons, and what I will do to my naughty little runaway goddaughter." She put a finger under my chin to make me meet her eyes again." You frightened me, Bird."
I blinked back a tear, "I'm really sorry, Effie. Can we get it over with?"
Her answer was to spin me around, draw a thin arrow shaft from her scabbard and deliver four lightning fast strokes across my backside before I could even brace myself. Then she turned me back to face her, and squeezed my shoulders, "You won't ever subject us to a day like this again, will you? Please promise me, Birdie,"
Very un-Amazon tears escaped her dark eyes. I wrapped my arms around her waist ; her arms came around my shoulders quickly and her hand up into my hair, and we stood without a sound for a time. I spoke first.
"I'm sorry that I worried you so much." I sniffed, working at hiding my tears, determined to take it like an Amazon. "It won't happen again. I will always find a way to contact you."
"That's all I can ask, babe." She pushed me back again... "You ok?"
Be brave. Take the consequences.
"Stings a bit."
She pulled my head to hers chuckled, and sniffed herself. "It's supposed to sting, Birdie. I got a few Amazon arrows in my day; it stings properly."
She ruffled my hair.
"But you're ok? You'll live?"
"Yes m'am. You aren't mad anymore?"
"Birdie, I was never mad. Well maybe a little mad. But no babe. I love you. Always will."
"Love you, Effie." Managed it, whispering.
I rested my head on her chest, asking for just a little more comfort, and she continued to hold me which was probably against protocol. Amazon leaders especially usually took a Spartan view of discipline. Then she pushed me back, and I collected myself.
"So let's get you home to the Amazon Queen."
She kept her arm around me; that was nice of her.
I leaned a little into her shoulder, but my eyes were dry.
"Hope Mama doesn't whack me as well."
"She won't. They deferred the entire honor to me this time. Though I would imagine you are in for a 'sensitive chat.'"
"Believe me, there will be a lot of 'sensitive chatting'", Effie."
We both laughed then, and I felt much better.
"What are Arrot's camp chores, Effie?"
"Oh, " Effie counted on her fingers," she carries the big wood for the main fire circle, she carries water to the kitchen, and she chops firewood for the kitchen every day, in addition to her school duties, which are just to line up the stools, and sharpen quills."
"I will come and do all of Arrot's chores. I told her I would."
"You don't need to do them every day, Birdie. Just come early on school days, and perhaps you can stockpile enough to last."
"Ok then, sounds like a good plan."
"That is walking in--- NOT coming by the vines." "Yes M'am."
"My threat about the vines still stands; you remember that, Birdie."
I flashed her very best 'sincere' look.
But it wouldn't quite hold, and a snicker escaped.
"You......" She rolled her eyes, her hand caught me with a light smack in the back of the head, and we walked through the gates together --laughing.
Using the bathing room was a luxury. It was almost like a reward to someone who was in a spot of trouble. But I would feel it in the morning when the chore of refilling the auxiliary tank fell to me. It meant twenty trips from the bathing stream toting two large buckets on a yoke to refill the tank for the next bath, as well as replenishing the firewood for the heater. Baba Xe could of course, order any of the militia to do the job, but we used the bathwater, and so we always refilled.
The light snack my mother had prepared of thick dark bread and soft cheese disappeared while I stripped out of my clothing and boots. There was also a pitcher of Grandba's cider which quenched my thirst.
It was ambrosia to my body to soak in the hot water and it released my exhaustion which was greater than I had realized. I turned to check my posterior and found a couple of thin red lines that were only slightly tender. Ephiny was an expert at all things Amazon, and she had made an impression that had nothing to do with the arrow. I promised Effie in my heart that she and I would not repeat that experience again, if I could help it.
Donning the nightshirt and cotton leggings Mama had left in the room for me, I padded my way to my bedroom. The door was open to my parent's room, and Baba Xe stepped out and put a gentle clothesline across my shoulders.
"You ok?" her voice was soft and low.
"I'm fine, Baba."
She gave me an appraising look, moving her hand through my hair, to my shoulders, adjusting the silver streaks over my ears. And then she pulled me to her closely.
"Not too tough was she?"
"Not as tough as you are." Her hand continued to rub my back gently, "But she made me realize some stuff, Baba. I'm going to do much better when I have to disappear. It won't happen anymore. Promise."
She spoke from the top of my head and I could hear the words originate from her chest in a low resonation accompanied by the beat of her heart.
"That is the important thing, Little Bird. That we know, Ok?"
She continued as she pushed me away, "Your mother is going to ground you for sixth and seventh day."
She allowed that to sink in along with my eyes and then she stooped to look into them.
"But she will shorten the term to only sixth day if you are good, and we will do something more fun on seventh day, ok?"
She rose to full height again with both sets of spirits, "You can stay out of trouble for ONE day, Birdie?"
"I can, Baba."
"Then go and get your 'sensitive chat'", she directed me with a brisk swat that reawakened Effie's stripes, "and mind you listen to your mother." She pointed a finger at me.
"I will Baba," my steps took me beyond her but then turned back. "Actually, I always listen to both of you even though it might not seem that way."
"You try Honey; I know that, " her voice was gentle.
My ears twitched. Baba Xe to my memory had never called me "Honey"-that was Mama G's word.
" Night Baba, Love you."
The Conqueror smiled at me, "Love you back my Little Bird."
"What shall I say to her, Zephyr?" Gabrielle looked into the deep golden eyes of the black fox. "We have had this discussion more than once, and still-when Birdie is faced with situations that overwhelm her; when too many problems knock at her door, she runs away."
The fox listened carefully and did not waver in her gaze at the bard.
"I know-perhaps it IS similar to how Xena became a warlord and it is certainly how I came to follow Xena, right? I was overwhelmed with boredom and ordinary living though. Still-you make a very good point, Zephyr-I DID run away."
The fox licked her hand gently.
"But nobody worried about us, Zephyr-or at least not much. And there is SO VERY MUCH DANGER out there just waiting to spring on a thirteen winters old kid, not to mention the child of the Conqueror."
Zephyr's eyes looked right into the bard's soul.
"Yes I did encounter a Cyclops right off-how did you know that? But that brings up another point, my foxy friend. I had Xena to protect me-to rescue me-when I found myself in trouble."
The white socks on the fox stamped a little.
"She has YOU? Not the same, Zephyr."
The fox barked indignantly.
"Yes well, you are right, 'so far has been so good'. But Zephyr, there are parts of this issue that simply are not up for discussion, ok?"
The fox laid her head in the bard's lap and accepted the gentle stroking.
"Do you believe that we are too hard on her, Zephyr?"
The dark head lifted and green eyes were met again by golden. Gabrielle then felt another gentle lick of her hand.
"You don't feel we are too hard; you just can't watch, right?"
The head in her lap sighed.
Both heads lifted at the sound of light footsteps in the hall.
Gabrielle kissed the black fur on her lap.
"Thank you for the support, Zephyr, it really helped me."
She received a nosing of her hand.
"Stay around. We are just going to talk."
The fox lifted her head and stayed by her legs as the door opened.
My mother and my fox were a peaceful greeting committee at the end of this long long day. Zephyr padded over immediately and put her head under my hand to sniff and nose me a bit, checking to see that I was well and reasonably happy. She wanted more because she sat down looking at me. I knelt down.
"Hi girl," just a whisper. "How are you doing? Did you tell Mama G all about our adventures?"
"She wasn't able to tell me every detail," my mother's sea foam eyes held mine and she patted the red loveseat beside her, "I believe that she left several parts for you to tell."
Obediently I took my place next to her on the couch. The red loveseat had been a fixture in my room for as long as I could remember, and likewise so had it been the place where my mother and I talked. It was an icon in my short life. I settled back into the cushions and closed my eyes.
"Sooooooooooo… how was that Amazon Arrow?" she had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
"Think it's funny do you?" I answered, "It's not real funny, My Lady. It stings." I poked her in the ribs.
She chuckled, "I know; I had a little Amazon education, remember? But it's supposed to sting, right?"
Then her voice dropped to a low and gentle timbre. "Makes an impression that way."
Her arm crept along the back of the loveseat, her hand tickled the back of my neck, and I surrendered gladly to the coaxing by scooting a little closer and leaning my head on her shoulder. Her arm came around and her hand stroked my hair.
"I gather an impression was made."
"Yes, Mama G, an impression was made."
By the gods, why was it so easy for my eyes to dampen in the presence of my mother?
"Effie wasn't too hard on you, was she?"
"Of course not, Mama. She just made me understand some stuff better." I looked at her and blinked the first run of tears. " I won't disappear without notifying you somehow again, ok?"
She pulled me in close, enveloping me in the safety of Mama G, which I still needed at thirteen winters.
"I am glad to hear that Birdie; you know it scares us when we don't know where you are."
"I'm sorry, Mama."
I recalled something. "Actually I have been working on something for a while that may help. We can try it now."
Going to my desk drawer, I retrieved a flat thin whistle carved from a piece of pine. I went to my large window, opened one side of it, and blew the whistle into the night. It made a high airy sound.
"The idea is that Icarus will hear it if she is anywhere nearby and come to me." I returned to the loveseat. "Then I can send you messages via golden hawk-if she comes."
"I'm glad that you understand how much we worry and that you are going to work on that. It makes me happy." My mother's smile made me happy.
Zephyr licked both of our hands as if to say, "I knew you could do this."
Another deep breath for me, "There's something else to tell you about what happened today."
"You mean Arrot? Regent Ephiny told us all about that, Birdie. I am not sure that I fully approve, but it sounded like you handled it pretty well over all. I am proud that you are going to the camp to take care of Arrot's duties while she is indisposed. Your Baba may have more to say about the ways we handle bullies, but that is something of an ongoing discussion, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is an ongoing discussion, and no, what I have to tell you isn't about Arrot, Mama."
She closed her eyes.
"What else happened today, Birdie?"
"It wasn't bad, Mama."
I was at a loss. How does one speak of meeting a goddess?
The forest green eyes opened and they were steady.
"Mama. ………. I met the Goddess Artemis today."
The forest eyes closed again.
"Mama, did you hea….?"
"I heard you, Little Bird.."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but how did you know, Birdie?"
I cleared my throat.
"A mountain lion treed Zephyr and me. She summoned it to her side, and then she called to Zephyr who jumped into her arms from very high in the tree. In my next breath I was before her on the ground without climbing down. She turned her back and walked some distance from me and yet slapped my cheek when she perceived an attitude of mine was insolent."
Mama listened, "That sounds like Artemis. What else happened, and how did she appear?"
It was easier to talk because Mama believed me.
"She was tall and regal. She had skin the color of mahogany, black hair with moon-silver streaks in it, and golden eyes like the lion. She wore a decorated Amazon sword and an ornate archery set. She was very beautiful, Mama, but she was frightening as well."
"What more, Birdie?"
The hard part.
"She told me that Zephyr was her gift to me, Mama. That is why she is such an extraordinary fox."
Mama smiled, "Well, I think we knew that.."
"And she told me that I am her gift to you and Baba."
Mama blinked, and her eyes filled.
"Oh, it's ok, Honey. It's nice to finally know. Artemis. I will know who to thank now."
"Really." She kissed my forehead.
" She also told me that she would be watching me; that she holds me accountable to her now. And that she has no use for fools."
"Well your Baba and I have not raised a fool."
"And then she kissed me. Right at the hairline; it burns, see?"
Mama bent my head, pushed my hair away and looked.
"You didn't find someone to give you a tattoo out there today, did you Birdie?"
"No Mama, there was no place to have a tattoo done."
She had made it clear to me from a very young age that I was never to get a tattoo. It puzzled me, because she had one; I had seen parts of the dragon's head or tail peeking from her upper and lower back at times, but it was not a topic she discussed with me. I had asked and the answer was that she would tell me when I was older and in the meantime if I came home with a tattoo before the age of twenty two winters, she would have both the hide that held the tattoo and the rest of my hide as well. Baba Xe had backed her up firmly.
"Well, you have a small mark on your head near the hairline. It's the letter alpha with the cross bar drawn as an arrow. I will ask Ephiny, but I have a feeling that this is something that Artemis gave to you."
She drew it in her hand for me. "Similar to that, Birdie."
"She only kissed me, Mama, "My eyes blinked with confusion, "but it burned."
"I will ask Ephiny if she is still awake," she sat back, "I have a pretty good idea, but she will know for certain."
"For now, my tired wandering Bird, bedtime. You have had a long day." She went to my desk and began removing what we called "reflection candles" from the top drawer and fitting them into the holders across the top of my desk. Each candle burned about half a candle mark and she set in a dozen.
"Oh, this goes for tomorrow too, "she smiled into my big eyes, "But it might be good if you could do one candle tonight. You won't drift right into sleep anyway, will you?"
I stared at them. "That's quite a lot of reflection, Mama."
The verdigris eyes were grave. "It is indeed, my little bard. I believe you have quite a bit of reflecting to do."
I rose, walked to the desk and sat down pulling out the parchment and quill. Zephyr rested her head in my lap, golden eyes looking up at me seriously.
Mama G stood by until she saw me lose myself in the candle flame, and then she kissed the top of my head.
"I Love you Little Bird."
I leaned into the hug, " Love you back, Mama G."
A loud commotion at my window turned our heads quickly.
"Icarus!" I hopped up and over immediately to give her a dried meat reward. She hopped aboard my arm and I carried her over to Mama who stroked her head with one finger.
"Mama, it worked!" I was triumphant.
"It did, Birdie." Despite my checkered day, she was proud of me.
"Now if I find myself too far away, I will call Icarus, send a message to you in her little leg case, and you won't be so worried."
A light touch fell on the back of my neck and squeezed firmly, "Birdie, the plan with Icarus is splendid, and I am fine with her use in an emergency, but the Icarus plan will NOT give you free rein to just venture away at whim. I want you to be very clear about that. If you are at all able, you had better tell me IN PERSON when and where you are going someplace, do you understand?"
Icarus and I looked at each other; Zephyr and I looked at each other.
"Yes m'am, I understand." My quiet answer.
I moved to allow Icarus to perch on a wooden dowel near the window so that she could take her leave at will.
Arms came around me from behind.
"I believe we were saying, 'I love you Little Bird'."
My hands fell on the hands around my waist and I leaned my head back.
"And I love you, Mama G."
A soft kiss to my cheek and a gentle pat returned me to my desk.
"G'night." Was the final word as Zephyr once again laid her head in my lap, and I began to write.
The long form of the Conqueror was stretched diagonally across the bed dozing lightly when the bard peeked into their large bedroom. One sapphire eye opened quickly and then shut again as Gabrielle made her way to the bed and rested her head on the firm belly. The strong callused hand automatically began to touch her hair and fall gently down the side of her face in a loving caress.
"How was the 'sensitive chat' with the Birdling?" a yawning question.
"Fine. You know, she gets herself into trouble quite a bit, but she always learns from it, Xena. She's pretty smart.." The blonde head on the belly mused.
A deep chuckle, "Hmmmmmmmm.. Now who does that sound like? Darn it, that reminds me of someone." Another yawn, " Gets herself into trouble. Ooooofff!!"
The warrior received a sharp smack in the gut.
"Get up Warrior, we need to go and see if Ephiny is still up."
"Isn't it rather late, Gabrielle? Can't it wait..."
"No, it can't."
The big warrior had no choice but to slide into her boots and follow her soul mate down the hall to the fortress guest room. Gabrielle knocked softly.
"Eph? You still awake? It's me and Xena."
The door was opened and a disheveled Amazon in a sleeping shift held her room lantern in their faces.
"Is it Birdie, Gab? Come in. Damn, I thought I left the kid on pretty good terms. Is she ok? Was I too rough? Damn, I'm sorry Xena, Gab.."
"Eph," Warrior to warrior, Xena put a hand to her shoulder. "You did great with Birdie. I'll hire you as permanent disciplinarian ; you got through to her, and I appreciate it. Gabrielle has something to ask you. "
"Oh good. Well, let's sit down."
They entered the simple but cozy guest room of the fortress and sat at the little rough table, much like those in the tavern.
"Ephiny," Gabrielle began, "Have you ever seen the 'Mark of Artemis"?
"Only in scrolls," said Ephiny, "the goddess hasn't left it in too many places."
"What does it look like?"
"Here, I'll show you, "Ephiny lighted a candle from the lantern, and dripped a bit of wax into a large shallow knothole in the table. Then she drew the sign of Alpha with the arrow as the crossbar with a fingernail.
Gabrielle released a heavy sigh that blew her hair up.
"I knew it." She said.
"What?" both warriors said in unison.
"Birdie met Artemis in the woods today."
"What?" from Xena.
"Whoa!!" from Ephiny.
"Yes, well it's a long story, but there is even more than the story, my beloved warriors. First-Xena-Artemis did give us Birdie."
The indigo eyes softened.
"However when they parted company, Artemis kissed Birdie on the top of her head."
"Sounds innocent enough, "Ephiny ventured.
"Except Birdie said it 'burned'. When I looked, there was a sign, Eph, a mark, right at her hairline."
"The Mark of Artemis." The Amazon finished for her. "Whoa."
"I feel like a wingless Pegasus here; will somebody please fill me in?" asked the Conqueror at the end of her patient voice.
"It means that Artemis has marked her, Xena," explained the Amazon Regent, "we don't know for what. She could be the next Queen of the Amazons; she could be the next Conqueror of Greece or its greatest Bard. All we know is that the Goddess Artemis herself has chosen Robin of the Warrior and the Bard for something very special."
It was another bright crisp morning in the Amazon camp near Amphipolis. Zephyr yawned as she watched me chop the last of the medium size wood into uniform pieces for the Amazon stoves. We were loading the logs into a carrier with handles on each side that Arrot and I could tote to the kitchen together for the day's cooking.
"Are we about finished, Arrot?" I shouted to the woods.
"Just one more I think, Bird," came the invisible answer.
"A little longer, Zephyr, "I smiled at my fox, "Just enjoy the sunlight and ponder upon your gentleman friend."
The remark made me the recipient of a very nasty look.
Ephiny was jogging in to camp; it appeared that she had been out for her morning run and meditation before school began. Spotting me, she detoured a bit coming to a stop with a smile.
"Morning Effie," I continued to chop on the log that challenged me.
"Hi Birdie," she took inventory of our labors, "looks like you have sufficient kitchen wood for the day, and you two don't want to be late for school now; we are finally beginning crossbow, which was your main goal in returning to the Amazon school, right?"
"At last!" I was enthusiastic and quickly fastened the hatchet to a loop on my belt and finished arranging the sticks into the carrier.
I felt her hand on my shoulder and an accompanying chill.
"Bird….." Effie had reached under the collar of my tunic, and she was now twirling a small twig with leaves on it in front of my face. I broke in to a cold sweat all over.
"Birdie, if this…….?" Her eyes began to snap, "If you came here by the vines, you are in soooo much t--… "
"AAARROOOOTT!!" an entire branch fell on my head engulfing me in leaves, twigs, and branches.
"GOTCHA Birdie!! AWHHH. Heloo Regent Ephiny!!" Arrot stood at semi attention, her bad arm still in a sling, but her good arm full of the branch she had just smashed down on me.
"Arrot, what in Hade's Blazes are you doing?" Ephiny sputtered at the completely illogical scene.
"Sorry Regent, m'am. Just a little game of revenge me and the Bird girl have going here. Right now, I am winning. But sorry. We shouldn't be playing around."
"Yes Regent Ephiny --we are playing a game, apologies m'am."
I straightened to attention as well, despite twigs and leaves hanging from every part of my body.
Ephiny glared at both of us.
"Zephyr, is that the truth?"
The fox sat by me at attention, silver tipped tail wagging.
The Amazon Regent walked around and glared at the back of our heads. Then she put her face in between the two of us.
"Both of you had better be at school ON TIME! Is that clear?"
"Yes M'am Regent Ephiny."
She gave us a light double head smack using both of her hands simultaneously. The she turned and jogged toward camp.
My entire body relaxed with the sigh of relief.
"By the gods! Brilliant move, Arrot. You just saved my hide. I owe you." I held out my hand.
"Happy to save your scrawny arse, Birdlegs." Arrot was very pleased, then shyly, " Do you think you might show me a little of the vines route when my arm is well?"
"Of course Arrot, but it's a risky business in more ways than one, you know." The warning was given.
"That would be great, Birdie."
Arrot grasped my arm and we locked to each other in a friendly warriors' clasp which from then on, would never fail.
"C'mon then, we better hurry," I clapped her strong shoulder; we collected the firewood together, and began a quick march toward the Amazon camp, following the merry silver tail of Zephyr.
BIRDIE BY CANDLELIGHT
A day in the life
Is only one stone-
Part of a temple
for the heart,
A shelter constructed
For difficult days
With conflict, cowardice
Or to celebrate days
Of success, jubilation.
This day in my life
A goddess appeared,
Her amber eyes
Told me why
I am here.
For courage, truth,,
and no fear,
Of my future
Even if I am
But all of the days
of my life
love surrounds me.
Should I lose my path,
It will find me.
My family and friends
are the love
That will bind me-
To this life,
To this day,
Robin of the Warrior and Bard.
(Take care for now, comments to email@example.com, thanks for reading)