I am Robin of the Warrior
And the Bard.
I was born in the eighth year after the Conqueror began to change. There is no reason to here recount the story of Xena the Warlord, who in her early years committed terrible deeds or of Xena the Destroyer of Nations who committed even more terrible and terrifying atrocities. My story begins with Xena Warrior Princess, a woman who desired to atone for her for her terrible past and to seek a bit of peace in her present life. The gods sent Gabrielle the Bard to help light her way; their travels and commitment to the greater good are legendary, and their love story is unparalleled by any other of its kind. We know the stories. Their lives are our lodestars.
The Warrior Princess didn't come to power by "conquering" as such; oftentimes life presents people with situations demanding that someone step forward. So it was with my Baba Xe. That particular area of mountainous Greece was without strong and honest leadership at the time, and it was being invaded constantly by raiders of every ilk, but in particular, the Romans. Xena of Amphipolis and her partner Gabrielle the Bard had no desire to live or lead in Athens, so they made their home, and therefore a kind government, outside of Amphipolis, the town of Xena's birth. It had all of the environmental necessities, and it was defendable. Cyrene, Xena's mother, was still making her good living from the now famous "Cyrene's Inn and Tavern"; Toris, Xena's older brother was around to lend a hand while running his construction business, and the merry Amazons were nearby neighbors.
As I have said," The Conqueror" title was really wrong for my Warrior parent. She should have been called "The Defender". The Conqueror title came from her fearsome fighting skills, another characteristic unmatched and unparalleled in truth or legend... But truly the power and loyalty she was given, she gained by defending the land, her family and her friends. As more and more people began to despise the tyranny of Rome, it was inevitable that an army would form to serve Xena the Conqueror. Eventually, a small but beautifully built fortification surrounded the heart of Amphipolis, with turrets, and walls within walls that had living quarters for over one hundred soldiers on site. An additional two hundred soldiers lived in reserve in the surrounding farms. And no one would question the loyalty of the fierce Amazons- their numbers were around one hundred in the immediate, with ties to two other tribes within a day's ride. Gabrielle was still their Queen by right of caste.
Even with all of their civic responsibilities, the Warrior and the Bard would steal away on Argo occasionally and go camping to enjoy the company of only each other like the old days. One chilly but perfect night of romance there came an incredible shower of shooting stars that surrounded them as they made love. They always told me that I must have been conceived on that night. The gods blessed them for keeping them out of the hands of Rome. Even though I was a surprise, I believe that they must have wanted me; children were painful subjects in both of their histories, and perhaps the gods meant for me to mend a few wounds. Gabrielle, my Mama G, carried and gave me birth, but from my first appearance, it was extremely evident that I was very much of Xena's blood as well. When I began to speak, I called her my Baba Xe, and did so for all of my life. They named me Robin after a bird that made her nest outside the castle window near the room where I was born. The eggs hatched on the day of my birth. "Birdie", was the name given to me by the army when the Conqueror presented me to them. I was very tiny, with little skinny legs even as a toddler always running among their great boots with an unruly patch of dark hair sticking straight up; Birdie was the name that stayed. Even though I was somewhat of a "miracle child", I was accepted well enough, as Xena and Gabrielle had always been capable of miraculous works.
From my birth, I was around warriors and learned their ways. When Xena and Gabrielle were in Amphipolis village, with Cyrene and Toris, they were family and very informal. But their main living quarters were in the fortress, near the armies; and life there was more formal. They never asked for the titles of Conqueror and Queen, but people called them such, and to a certain extent, they had to accept those titles and responsibilities. So did I.
One of my early memories was that I found a sword that one of the soldiers had carelessly left within my reach, I made my way to the top of the fortress wall dragging the thing with me, and I stood proudly on top on slightly wobbly legs like the Conqueror herself. The Conqueror herself spotted me, she performed one of her gymnastic running flips, landed it perfectly ; she quickly disarmed me, did a front flip back to safety handing me to the Queen who carried me away for an intense series of soft words and gentle swats that conveyed her displeasure with my activities. The Conqueror proceeded to hunt down the careless owner of the sword and nearly wring that soldier's ears from his head while kicking his rump for leaving his weapon within reach of a four year old. My infatuation with weapons and warfare began quite early on.
The village school troubled me socially. I did not seek conflict, but it found me. My size and unusual home life made me a target and I never backed down. I also possessed a ferocious sense of fair play and took the parts of any other youngsters who were picked on regardless of the reasons. And I was always the victor, because I never ever quit; it didn't matter to me how big my opponent was, or how much blood was drawn.
My Mama G refused to deal with my fights. She dealt with my character, honesty, soul searches, homework, integrity, and just about everything else. But she considered physical altercations, Baba Xe's area. When I was sent home from school for fighting, she sent me with an evil eye to the armory to help Scrubbers until Baba Xe arrived later. Every soldier in the army was responsible for cleaning his own armor, but Scrubbers taught me how to make every nook and cranny shine. Scrubbers had ridden with Xena the Warlord, and if he was in a rare mood, he would tell me stories while I sat with him and polished; I really quite enjoyed spending time with the old fellow. He made himself scarce though, when we heard the musical jingle of my Baba's boot buckles approaching. She would stride into the armory, pull up one of the large wooden stool furnishings directly in front of me, sit down on it with her arms folded across her chest, give me the direct, blue lightening gaze that disintegrated any untruth in mid air, and simply say,
She would then decide if my altercation was justifiable, and if it were, we went up to dinner. If she determined that the episode was just a case of my hot temper and willfulness, my backside would suffer that powerful sword hand applied until she witnessed my "darkness" dissolved to tears and the good Birdie was returned. She was adamant about that. And to be honest, I did know better. Fortunately, most of my fights, she deemed fair enough.
After I tolerated the village school for two years, my parents hit upon the idea of educating me with the Amazon students. That suited me well, because half of the day was spent at staff work and archery, and I was among youngsters better suited to my own personality. As I came of age though, it became more apparent that I was advanced of most students, and it was decided that my Mama G would school me in the mornings, and I would work with Baba and the army in the afternoons. I preferred the company of my parents to most anyone else I knew anyway; I took a more serious attitude about life than did most youth. I divided my time studying the skills of a warrior, studying literature, and writing in my journal.
On rare occasions, I liked to go up to the inn and watch my grandmother cook for the inn. I loved to sit on top of the big counter across the kitchen, sometimes with Zephyr in my lap, chatting to her just about everything a child can talk about, while she directed a steady stream of samples for me to taste.
One day I asked my Grandba Cyrene about the Tide. I just couldn't imagine that she had ever been the owner of such a sword, and yet, it was an heirloom piece, so it must have been hers at one time. But she was my GRANDMOTHER. Yes, she made the best muffins in mountainous Greece, but was it possible that she was former owner of the TIDE? I remember asking her one day in a rather cavalier manner while licking a wooden spatula...
"So Grandba, the Tide truly once was your weapon?"
She had been stirring a huge delicious smelling pot of something with a large metal spoon with her back toward me. She straightened her shoulders.
"Is it so difficult for you to imagine, Birdie? Your old Grandba being a warrior?"
"Wellll…" I had to be careful.." It's easier for me to imagine you being the greatest cook in the world." I grinned.
The large spoon hummed and vibrated in the wooden doorframe right beside my head, having been hurled from across the room by my grandmother. I looked at the spoon. The metal bowl had buried itself deeply into the wood not unlike a dagger. I looked at my Grandba who was returned to stirring her stew again with a different spoon and humming a little mindless tune..
I swallowed… "Grandba?"
"The Tide WAS your sword. Whoa!"
She turned around and winked at me,
"Run along now little Bird; Grandba's got a big lot of folks comin' in tonight."
At dinner, Baba Xe nearly fell out of her chair laughing at my story.
Mama G looked at me more seriously, "You weren't disrespectful to Grandba, were you, Birdie?"
"Oh, no, Mama… But I think perhaps I haven't been respectful enough!"
My mother looked thoughtful, "and perhaps I haven't been either."
BabaXe kept laughing.
"What?" Mama with a hint of danger in her eyes.
"Well what DID you think? The woman raised ME after all. That woman could whip more Romans with a cooking utensil than the average innkeeper, I'll tell you. Cyrene is a force to be reckoned with, and to be respected."
Thus I came of age and was appointed to the station of my Baba Xe's squire, (after our run-in with Feisal) and it was a job I took very seriously. The Conqueror's livery had to be kept immaculate, and I looked after my own and the Queen's as well. The Conqueror's crest was a blue fire- spewing dragon on a crashing tide of ocean green encircled by silver stars. We wore this on a tapestry overlay over black leggings, wool sweaters, and boots. I thought it was the most beautiful uniform anyone could possibly wear, and I knew- as most did- that it was based on my parents' extraordinary eye colors. A primarily male army needed something more, hence, the dragon, which is a historically ferocious and fantastically mythical creature which seemed to suit everyone. Even the Amazons had the crest tooled and painted on their arrow quivers.
After my sword was broken in the duel with Feisal, Baba Xe said I wasn't allowed to have another until I was thirteen seasons old and could show better judgment. It was an unhappy situation for me, but there was no discussion to be had about it.. I had to content myself with becoming more expert with the staff, and bow. I was quite good with the first and excellent with the bow. It came to me naturally, after spending time training with the Amazons.
What I couldn't quite do, and what frustrated me to no end was catch arrows. This skill eluded me by a fine margin, but it did elude me. It was a difficult skill to practice as well, as it required someone to shoot arrows in order for me to catch them. Sometimes I could drag Ephiny or one of the soldiers out to shoot for me, but none of them ever wanted to shoot for any extended amount of time. Because this skill so eluded me, I became obsessed ; there were numerous stories of the Conqueror saving people by catching an arrow or a crossbow bolt at the final time's measure. I knew the key had to be constant practice.
Finally I hit upon a method of simply shooting the arrows straight up into the air and then maneuvering to catch them as they fell back to earth. This didn't work if the sun was in my eyes, but I thought I could perfect the method of practice, and I could practice it alone. One evening I had just notched the fourth arrow impatiently ready to let it fly, when quite by surprise, I felt myself yanked up by the collar of my shirt, and the seat of my pants set on fire by several hard whacks. Baba Xe immediately knelt down with her hands on my shoulders eye to eye with me while I tried not to cry. Her sword hand packed a wallop.
"Do you know why, Birdie?" She searched my eyes intensely.
I shook my head side to side feeling the streaks of tears down my face despite my best efforts.
She took my bow, notched an arrow and shot it straight up into the air over our heads. She pulled me tightly against her, arm around my shoulders. We both looked up.
"Do you see the arrow, Birdie?"
"It must be coming, Birdie, don't you see it?"
The tears ran faster.
"Where is the arrow, Birdie?"
I could see only the sun's glare..
"I don't know, Baba.."
Her voice and hand struck with the speed of a snake directly in front of my eyes. It held the arrow- feathers vibrating. A thin trickle of blood ran circling her wrist from the fine slice the arrowhead had laid into her palm. She put the arrow on the ground wiped her hand with a handkerchief from her pocket and returned it to my shoulder as she looked at me again …
"Now you know why I tanned you, don't you, Birdie?"
I sniffed and lowered my eyes. She lifted my chin with a gentle finger.
"Don't you, Birdie?"
"Yes My Lady."
"I was doing something dangerous."
"Why was it dangerous?"
A little sigh and hiccup. "Shooting the arrow straight up makes it difficult to see and it could come down into my head or face."
"It could hurt you very seriously or even kill you, Little Bird."
"I'm sorry, Baba."
"It's ok, Birdie, but don't ever let me catch you doing that again."
"You won't, Baba."
"Ok, give me a hug."
I put my arms around her neck and she lifted me completely off the ground for a moment- like I was four seasons old instead of twelve. It felt good; I gave a little relaxed sigh and she put me back on my feet.
We began walking in to the fortress quietly, her hand on my shoulder. I was chastened but not discouraged.
"Baba Xe, how long did it take you to learn to catch arrows?"
"Took awhile, Birdie."
"Will you shoot for me sometime?"
The cool darkness hid her face, but I could hear her soft chuckle as she tousled my hair, and then let her hand drop to give me an affectionate swat.
"Yes, my very impatient fledgling."
"It's important, Baba."
"I know, Birdie, I know…"
We stepped into the fortress…
"Go wash up, kiddo."
She kissed my head.. "I love you, Birdie; you know that?"
I put my arms around her waist and listened to her heart a moment
" I love you too, Baba…"
In the bedroom, as the Conqueror changed clothing, she accepted a strong, deep embrace from behind by a blond head. She turned for a welcoming kiss.
"Hey," Rainforest eyes read hers. "Are you all right ? You and Birdie seemed locked into something intense walking in from the field."
The taller dark head rested on the blond one and sighed," We were. I had to come down on her pretty hard about the way she was using her bow and arrows."
"She wasn't hunting indiscriminately, was she?"
"No; Birdie would never do that."
"I didn't think so."
"She was practicing something in a very unsafe manner and I put her right about it, that's all." The blue eyes filled, "But I didn't let her know how badly she scared me."
The green ones softened. "It's tough, isn't it?"
Tears ran over the Conqueror's cheeks and the Queen brushed them away with gentle fingers.
"I'd rather ride out against a thousand Roman troops."
The blond head wrapped her arms back around her lover, listened to the Conqueror's heartbeat and rubbed her back soothingly.
"She's such a great kid, and she always means well."
"She's very impatient."
Blue eyes met green eyes; "Wonder where that comes from?"
They said in chorus with a chuckle.
"Well, fortunately, you only need to tell Birdie once, "
Offered the Bard, "she's a quick study since she was very small. She understands correction and usually she doesn't defy it. We are lucky about that with her... Do you want to talk about it, Xena?"
The Conqueror shook her head slinging tears from her eyes,
"Nah, it would only scare you, and she won't do it again. I was emphatic with her."
Gabrielle took the beautifully sculpted face in her hands and gazed into the sky of her warrior's eyes...
" Then you let it go and move on too."
"Ok." The eyes blinked the last tears away and enveloped the bard's hands in her own as she was assured calmly.
"Birdie knows how much we love her and that we would never hurt her except by necessity of commanding her wayward attention sometimes... I am sure that she's over it already."
I was seated on the hearth in the great dining hall enjoying the flames and patting Zephyr when my parents entered. I had changed into a silk shirt and vest, combed my hair and tried to look more presentable... Mama G crossed the room to me, gave me a hug and brushed back my hair from my face. Zephyr looked up at her adoringly as well. I rose as my mother inquired,
"Hi Little Bird; how was your day?"
I hugged her back and met the Conqueror's eyes over her shoulder.
"Good," I smiled, "Educational."
It was my Baba Xe who put her hand into my hair gently, pulled my head to her chest and kissed it.
The next morning, Thomas, one of the outer guards, came in with a message from the Amazons that Roman troops had been seen on the march coming toward Amphipolis. Possibly three hundred, possibly more.
"Why don't they leave us be?" Our Lady Queen sounded almost petulant as she gazed across the valley. "We do not bother them; we ask nothing of them, and yet they must come and harass us at least once or twice a year."
"Rome wishes to rule the world," said her tall and dark partner who was donning heavy leather boots that came well above the knee. "Amphipolis Fortress is a sizable thorn in Rome's side because we are self sufficient, self governing, we bow to no one, and the gods favor us."
The Queen crossed to encircle the Warrior's waist with her arms.
"So once or twice a year Rome must come and try to take it all away from us."
The Conqueror lay her head on the blond one. "and they never will; I can promise you that. Not as long as I draw breath."
Gabrielle broke from her decisively, " I am coming with you."
"It's not necessary, Love; we don't look for much more than a sizable skirmish. We should be able to ride out with a few catapults and some Greek fire and run them back home quickly enough. The Amazon scouts said most were on foot."
The Amazon Queen strode across to her wardrobe to fetch and slip her sais into the straps on her boots.
"Nevertheless. Call it intuition. Call it whatever you wish. I am coming with you."
The blue eyes studied her.
"Never could stop you. Put on your armor."
I tapped at the door with my foot as I was buried in livery and leather. When the door swung back I staggered inside and dropped the heavy tapestry on the oversized couch.
"Livery delivery, my ladies."
My mother was buckling a wide belt around her woven leather armor.
"Thanks you, Honey."
I helped her slip the dragon overlay on and buckle the fastenings at the sides. Baba Xe pulled hers on herself; the dragon on her overlay wore a small crown. I helped her adjust her weaponry- a dagger in each boot, a dagger and a short sword with the chakram at her waist, and the Tide at her back. So much added weight, yet she moved as gracefully, and as light of foot as always.
"Argo is ready with your pike and plenty of arrows, " my squire's report ran crisply. "Anything else you desire we can add before we ride out."
I turned to my mother.
"As with you My Lady. Your staff is in its holster on one side and the Amazon sword on the other of Wendy."
Baba Xe tugged a strap through, "Birdie, you will not like this, but you are not going."
I looked at her completely dumbfounded," Baba, I'm your squire now; I must be with you."
She continued to buckle and fasten straps all over without meeting my eyes, because she knew that I would be irate.
"Baba, I am your squire, I HAVE to go! It's my job now; don't make me stay here; I won't stay here!"
Angry tears stung my eyes.
"Birdie." My mother's voice pierced my anger. "Birdie, watch your temper."
"Birdie, that's my decision."
The deeper voice of the warrior brought discussion to an end.
She finished fastening and began her departure from the room. She stopped beside me and lifted my chin with her hand.
She smiled gently, "Birdie I know that you are angry and I am sorry. You have worked hard at being a squire and if it were anyone but the Romans, I would let you go. But it's just too dangerous. They would like nothing more than to kidnap the child of the Conqueror for ransom; I can't begin to bear the thought of you in their hands, Birdie, do you understand?"
"Yes ma'm, "was my answer, but I wouldn't look at her; the disappointment was too great. She smiled again, ran her hand through my hair and held my head to her a second, and walked through the door.
"Birdie, you heard her. No discussion. Honey, I know it may seem unfair, but she's right in this case. Rome is a terrible enemy, and if you fell into their hands, what would they do to you? Your Baba is right. I can't think of it either."
"But Mama," Furious tears were falling; I didn't often regress to this level, but my outrage was intense.
I said no more but stood helplessly as she finished her gear and made ready to depart. Before she walked out, I tolerated her embrace sullenly. She pulled my head to give it a gentle kiss and dipped her head to look into my eyes.
"This shouldn't last long we hope; Scrubbers will keep you informed, ok?"
"I love you Little Bird."
How many times I would flog my conscience in the days to come, for my silent response to those words. One should ALWAYS respond to those words.
To be continued.
Gabrielle the Bard ponders leaving Birdie behind as she rides forth to confront the Romans
If sapphire lightening
Tears wounds in the sky,
The warrior seeks me
By and by.
To no one else
My warrior yields,
Her soul lies down
In my green fields.
And from our union
A wondrous birth-
Raven haired mix
Of fire and earth.
We ask for wisdom
And patience to guide,
This miracle child
Of darkness and light.
From her storm cloud eyes
Fierce teardrops fall
My heart of earth
Must feel them all.
Please all gods watching
Keep our child safe,
And send my love
To light her way. Gabrielle Bard of Potedia