I am Robin
Of the Warrior
And the Bard
The silver buckles jingled faintly as I bounded to my feet..
I walked around the dining room, stomping from stone to stone, listening to the tinkle of the buckles and enjoying the sturdy bumpfing sound of the heels and soles. Zephyr followed, sniffing at the new leather smell.
"Well, how do they feel, little one?" My Grandba queried.
"Unbelievable. Grown up. Serious. Wonderful. Thank you." I threw my arms around her. "I can't believe these are for me, Grandba!"
"I remembered how happy your Baba was the day we bought her first pair of solid boots."
"Yes, I had begged for them for a season." recalled Baba Xe."
"I have to say, it was a proud day for me when I gave you those boots." smiled her mother.
"Did you know I still have them?"
"Do you, now?"
"Stored in a box; couldn't part with them."
"Really ?" Cyrene seemed startled.
"Well, you wouldn't allow me to wear them for the first moon."
The Conqueror obviously still felt a certain resentment over that. "So they are in pretty good--- well, no, they are not in good shape; I wore them.. night and day; I even slept in them at first."
Blue eyes looked up and found the entire room listening; the Conqueror was rarely so forthcoming with personal history.
"What?" her eyes darkened and so did her voice.
Normal conversation resumed immediately.
My own mother had put her arm around me, "Now they aren't for your every single day rough and ready stuff," she flashed a slightly evil eye. "Of course now that you are thirteen winters, you might not be quite so likely to jump into every mud hole that you encounter."
She shared a look with Zephyr.
"Not in my new boots, My Lady Mother." I stood proudly. "My Amazon soft boots will still be my daily attire. I'll wear these for the longer horse trips and for more formal occasions. "
"Did you see that there is a built in dagger sheath on the right boot?" My warrior parent pointed out.
"Yes, it's perfect for my dagger; I must try it." I turned to run toward my tower room.
"Robin of the Warrior and Bard," my full name from my mother, halted me in my new boots' tracks.
"We aren't finished with you, "She was smiling.
"Oh." I returned obediently and sat back down.
"Xena, you have a gift for Birdie."
"Gift? Humpf. "Her voice was gruff, but dancing sparkles in the indigo eyes betrayed her. "Let me see."
She leaned far back and made great pretense of searching underneath her chair. What she brought forth was a long brown parcel tied with string and my hopes were increased.
"And what might this be Birdie?"
"I am sure I do not know, Baba."
"You don't know?"
She grabbed me tickling , "You little storyteller."
After sufficient giggles, she turned me loose to examine the package; my hands shook almost beyond the articulation required to unwrap string and paper.
At long last, my sword. MY SWORD. I was speechless- stunned beyond expression.
"I made it for you." My Baba Xe remarked mildly.
Wordlessly, I took her large hands in mine, and when she felt mine shaking, she gathered me into her lap for a very unconqueror-ish moment. Tears were squeezing from my eyes and I sniffled slightly.
"Here now," she pulled me back, "none of that. It's your birthday.. Only happiness allowed."
"This is happiness, Baba," I exploded from her lap.
"Well, pick it up and try the weight and balance of it."
My sword resembled the Tide, but it was smaller and lighter- customized for someone my size. The bronze hilt had the shape of the Tide, but instead of the paua shell of the mother sword, its inlaid parts were bright silver. The hilt was wrapped in soft black leather and the blade was buffed so brightly I could see my face. As I took the grip, it felt immediately like a natural extension of my arm.
"And, "The Warrior waited.
I jogged a distance from the party group, spun it thrice around my wrist and completed the first drill holding it like a spear. Then I tossed it high into the air and watched it catch the light; as it fell back down, I took a step forward and caught it neatly behind my back. Stealing a glance toward my mother, I noted that she had closed her eyes. Swinging it back around hard, I gave it one more toss into the air while performing a front flip catching the sword on the horizontal in flight so that I landed with it in full ready position, and spun in a circle.
"Baba, it is PERFECT, "my voice and face must have beamed, "I love it."
"You'll have to practice with it some," just a shadow of a smile on Baba's face, "But it seems a good fit."
"Aww, don't want to nick it!"
"That is what a sword is for, Birdie. Its job is to take the nicks so that you do not. You will sharpen the nicks out."
"Child of my heart, you come home with too many nicks in that sword too often, and it will take residence under my bed."
"Ah Mama," a little whiny for a warrior.
In truth, I wondered when she would assert herself, but still the protest had to be made.
"Gab," Now the Big Warrior spoke softly, guardedly, "We talked about this."
Mama G smiled at Baba, "And we will never stop talking about it, Xena, NEVER."
Baba sat back with a smile at me; we were whipped by the little blond; she could do us both with one finger.
I shot her my most innocent grin, but she didn't buy it for a heartbeat, and raised her eyebrows.
"Come here to me my fledgling."
I obeyed; she wouldn't take my new sword this quickly, even if she wanted to. It was my birthday; she'd wait until after the party.
"I have a gift for you as well."
This package was of similar size to the other.
"Did you make me a sword too, Mama?" That earned me a light cuff to the head, a smile, and a tug down onto the ottoman in front of her
" It isn't a sword, but I too made your gift , Little Bird."
It was the scabbard. The back was of stiff black leather with the laced front of brown leather; it would match any pair of boots. The front had been beautifully tooled with the crest of the Amphipolis dragon and circling stars. But what was most striking was an inlaid silver piece at the doubled folded top - a small silver robin carrying its own feather as a quill. It was a functional work of art and a scabbard fit for royalty.
Again I was gobsmacked. Stunned beyond belief.
"Turn it over, Birdie. "
On the backside, was a pocket laced on three sides with a flap that tied. Inside was leather bound journal which kept several parchment pages, a tiny flat jug of ink, and a quill. The scabbard had removable clips to be attached to armor, or it also had a handsome strap which would go across my body.
I felt quite splendid when I donned all of my presents. There could not be a happier kid of thirteen winters anywhere in all of Greece. I had new well made boots, boots fit for fighting. I had a sword of my own, designed for me by the greatest Warrior of the age, and a beautiful carrier for the sword which declared fully who I was-a junior member of the Militia of Amphipolis, a warrior, a writer, and just me---Birdie, inlaid in pure silver. It was a statement of my identity, now in my thirteenth season, a young person coming into her own.
Shaking back her bright blond hair, the Amazon Queen came to me now and brushed my dark hair back from my forehead before leaving a gentle kiss there.
"Happy Birthday, Little Bird."
"Thank you, Mama G."
I put my arms around her waist and lay my head on her shoulder a moment. That moment and motion brought back a hundred memories of the times I had been in that same position at different stages of my life. There were the times she had carried me as a drowsy toddler from an evening of stargazing, or carried the same weeping toddler with a scraped elbow or hurt feelings after a tumble on the cobblestones. As I grew older, there were times my tears fell on her shoulder after she spent a couple of candle marks of coaxing the truth of a wayward deed I had committed. And it was the same shoulder where I found comfort following the times she deemed it necessary to be firm in her discipline of me. But no matter my need or situation, there was always the warm strong shoulder, the gentle words, the encompassing arms. Always. Perhaps I would write tonight.
I met her eyes in my most grown up fashion.
"My Lady Queen, the scabbard is a precious gift; I will cherish it always."
I stood back and included Baba with my gaze and a hand.
"And the same with the beautiful sword My Lady Conqueror, I promise to never bring you shame with it."
The Conqueror stepped forward to kiss the top of my head and then clasp my arm in the warrior's handshake.
"You are very welcome, Little Bird. And we like those promises. However, it's your birthday, and we should be partaking of your Grandba's FEAST!"
We made good work of it; Grandba had made my favorite foods. I was just finishing my carrot cake and sneaking Zephyr a bite when the great dining hall door blew open with a crash against the wall. A tall figure covered in furs stomped in from the snowy outside.
It was my Uncle Toris.
"Happy Birthday Birdie," he said, shaking the snow from his dark hair.
"You already missed the party," the sarcastic tone of Baba Xe.
Whenever I was around my Mama G and Aunt Lila, I always wished for a sibling; exposure to the relationship between my Baba Xe and Uncle Toris, however, made me glad to be an only child.
"I'm sure Mom's got a bit of this or that left over." He said pointedly. "And I'm sure that Birdie isn't going to reject a gift." He handed me a parcel.
"Thanks for remembering, Uncle Toris, "I gave him a smile. Though I saw him seldom, I liked the man who favored my Baba Xe and me so much in looks, and he had always seemed fond of me.
It was a rag doll.
"Little old for dolls, and she never played with them anyway," another remark from Baba.
I studied it carefully. It was dressed trousers with little laces up the sides, and a leather tunic and boots. It had black spun hair and blue button eyes. Under its arm was a stuffed black fox, and in the other hand it carried a little sword.
"Actually, Uncle Toris, I quite like it. Is it me? And did you make it?"
His sky blue eyes sparkled and he flashed the smile that made him look so much like his younger sister.
"Tried my best, Birdie."
I gave him a shy hug which he returned. "Thanks Uncle Toris. It's nice. I won't be playing 'dollies' with it, but that's not what it's meant for, is it?"
"No, not so much, Birdie."
"I will take good care of it; it's very special. Thank you again."
"You are welcome, little niece.."
Tables were cleared, candles extinguished; it had been a superior evening. My mother came over to put her arm around me with a smile.
"Come along birthday girl, let's go put away your new things and make you sleepy,"
"G'night everyone!" I raised my voice. "Thank you for the best birthday ever!
Everyone was filing out, either giving me a hug or a bit of tousled hair, everyone but Baba Xe and Uncle Toris. Uncle Toris had taken a seat at the table and was slurping hot soup Grandba had brought, and some tea. Baba Xe did no more than sit and glare at him as she had since he had entered the door. I made my way over to Baba and gave her a hug and kiss good night. She returned it warmly.
"We'll have to begin sword lessons again, right?"
"I am ready anytime, Baba."
She flashed the quick smile that could illuminate the darkness in a room and gave me a little pat.
"Perhaps tomorrow then?"
"Tomorrow is great, Baba."
I did an about face, and she went back to glowering at her brother.
"Why don't they like each other?" I asked Mama G as we ascended the stairs, Zephyr's bushy tail dancing merrily ahead of us.
"Ohhh Birdie, they do like each other; they just don't show it well. Sometimes people harbor resentments from childhood, even though they are no longer children." Mama's hand moved up my back and squeezed the back of my neck. We entered my room.
"If I had a big brother, we wouldn't be like that." I said confidently, as she found my nightshirt, I washed up in the big bowl of water in the corner.
She laughed. "I would wager, Birdie that you would be worse."
"Hah! Huh uh!" was my retort.
She gave me a light smack to the back of my head, "and my point is made."
"So," intoned the Conqueror, "What brings you to this neck of the woods, my brother? Mother certainly would like to see you more often than she does."
"I know," Toris stared into his soup, "the country life is wonderful, Xena, but it is more demanding than I ever thought. I love my wife, the boys and the farm is beautiful, but it's not an easy life out there. It's always something."
"That is very true," admitted his younger sister. "There is seldom a free moment to just be with friends and family."
"But I should do better; I know that, sis," The trademark sapphire eyes met the Conqueror's own, "It takes such a long time to ride into town and back, and I am not easy with leaving my family alone for that amount of time."
"Are there problems out there?"
"I am afraid that there will be. Something is brewing on the farms closer to town. I have been talking with different farmers on my way in. That's why I was so late."
Xena leaned forward, "What kind of problems, Toris? "
"Something is killing livestock."
She sat back.
"But that is nothing new; Wolves, bears, mountain lions. It's just a matter of figuring out what the predator is, and tracking it down, isn't it?"
"No, sis, this is different. I walked out to a few kills. Natural predators don't eviscerate their prey. And that is what this is... There isn't any meat taken, like a wolf or a lion would take to feed itself or its young. Only the entrails are removed. It's bizarre, Xena, even chilling."
The Conqueror leaned forward, her interest engaged," Are the killings random, or is there a pattern?"
"The only patterns thus far are the eviscerations and the animals taken are swine and rams."
"Well, that is a pattern, "Xena put a boot up on the table.
Toris smirked, "Bet you wouldn't do that if Gabrielle were down here."
Xena smiled, "Bet you are right."
Mama G walked over to my big window while I washed my feet. Zephyr was making certain that I did them correctly. Sometimes she is a very nosy fox.
"Yes'm," I was drying the left foot, and feeling clean enough to hop into my bed. However, over on the red loveseat were my sword and scabbard begging for just one more look. I padded over and sat down, sliding the blade out to admire the weight and flash of it.
"Why are there so many candle drippings in this window?"
I fitted the blade back into the scabbard and slipped the strap over my head. My clean feet went into my new boots and I stood up, completely garbed, except for the fact that I had on my striped nightshirt.
Mama G turned around.
"Why Birdie? Birdie." She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Birdie, you will NOT be sleeping in your new presents. OFF. Right now."
She walked toward me.
"Mama, I was just trying them one more time."
She reached me and helped me raise the scabbard strap over my head and laid it on the couch.
She tugged off the new boots and left them on the floor by the sword and scabbard.
"Now they stay there. Understood?"
"Robin of.." "Underrrrstoood." "Birdie, honey, it is dangerous to sleep with a sword."
"Now come on, let's get you into bed, it's very late for little warriors."
I climbed into my bed and she pulled up the covers and snugged them around me.
"Mama, don't you think at thirteen winters that I might be too old or too big for you to tuck me in?"
Her forest eyes softened, and she reached up to push back my hair.
"No Birdie, there are some things you will never be too old or too big for me to do for you. "
I looked at her a moment then dropped my eyes.
She reached for my head again making me look at her, "So are you going to tell me about the sizable accumulation of candle drippings in your window sill?"
Don't know why this was hard to give up. I played with the coverlet.
"Bad dreams, Mama. Really bad. When I wake up, I can't stand for it to be dark. So I have been leaving candles burning."
The jade gaze softened again, "I'm sorry Little Bird, what we will need to do is find you a lantern then. It is less dangerous to burn all night than an open candle. Can you tell me about the dreams?"
"I'd rather not, Mama."
Her hand was ever gentle in my hair.
My eyes were filling just thinking about it; be tough now.
"Because they are about you and Baba."
"Oh Honey," She leaned over me in a comforting embrace; I wrapped my arms around her neck and shoulders. The tears squeezed out. Zephyr gave me an approving look from the foot of my bed. She knew that my nights had been troubled.
Mama G sat back and caught my tears with her fingertips. I did the same on her face. We smiled at each other; at times we were so very alike.
"How long has this been going on, Birdie?"
"Around a seven day, I'd say."
"Perhaps you are approaching your first cycle and your body is just going somewhat wonky. I am going down to fetch a long burning lantern for you now. And if you have a nightmare tonight sufficient to wake you, You COME to us, you hear me? I will be angry if you don't, little girl."
She smiled, sniffed and one more tear found its way down her tender countenance.
"I love you, Birdie; do you have any idea how much?"
"I don't know Mama, but I love you just as much."
I sat up for one more quiet hug. After a moment we felt a furry nose squirming between us and an impatient squeal, and we chuckled.
"Zephyr wants in on the affection."
Mama G returned with the long burning lantern and we exchanged a "sweet dreams." Then I was alone. The wind blew my window shutter noisily and I hopped out to go and secure it more tightly.
"Why don't we look at what Marcus has done to the sky tonight, girl?"
I smiled at Zephyr. When I opened the shutter I was nearly undone to find my hawk.
"Icarus? My pretty bird. Have you been sleeping here?"
She just gave me her angry eyes and groomed her feathers. I went to my field pack and fetched her a bite of dried meat.
"So how have you been? Icarus had been fine. "Will you protect me girl? I have been having unwelcome visitors in the night."
She cocked her head at me seriously as if to say that she would do her best.
As she flew away, I secured the shutter. Walking back to my bed, I considered the sword and scabbard again. Gliding silently over to the loveseat, I took the sword within the sheath and carried it back to my bed. Zephyr gave me a reproachful look.
"I know Zephyr; she will skin me if she catches me with this in my bed, so it's imperative that she does not catch me, right?"
Zephyr just laid down her sleepy head as if to say," you're on your own".
I slipped the sword in its tooled leather casing next to me on the sheets. Placing my hand on it, I allowed Morpheus to come and do his work.
The Bard turned over when the Warrior slid under the heavy coverlet with a contented sigh,"C'mere."
"ummmm brrrrrr, you feel good." Their combined body heat didn't take long to warm the bed.
"Did you have a good talk with Toris? Did he stay downstairs with Mom tonight?"
"Yes, once we quit circling each other and yes, Mom is thrilled to have the first son with her."
"He told me about some problems in the outlying farms, Gabrielle."
"Really…" The bard was drowsy.
"Strange stuff. Pig eviscerations."
"What?" Gabrielle came fully awake. "That's horrible."
"Yes, I don't like the sound of it. I need to ride out there and see for myself."
"Well that doesn't put the best pictures in my head before sleeping… I'll have nightmares like Birdie."
"Is the kid having nightmares?
"For the past seven day. She's been leaving a candle burning all night they've been so bad."
Xena came up on an elbow, "Did she tell you what the dreams were about?"
"She'd rather not; Xena they are about us."
"I don't like the sound of that, Gab."
"Me either. I believe tomorrow, we better sit with her and make her tell us. I don't know if it means anything at all, but it is unsettling."
"I agree. We better talk about it first thing in the morning. Perhaps she was so excited tonight that she won't have bad dreams."
"She had a great birthday, didn't she?"
"She's a great kid."
"I know another great kid."
"ummm hmmm, lying next to me, she smells very sexy and warm…"
I was enveloped by a blood red fog; it hung about my neck and ankles like chains. There were dead animals strewn about on both sides of my path, cows and pigs mostly, but there was a horse now and again. My sword was on my back, and its weight was a comfort. I came to a river, looked for a bridge, but there was none so I had to ford it on foot. My Amazon boots soon turned red; the river ran with blood.
On the far banks I could see Mama G and Baba Xe kneeling across from each other. My heart was encouraged and I swam through the horror and my feet felt the rocks on the other side. I called to them, but neither noticed me. That was when I saw that each had a child lying on the grass in front of her. Baba had a golden haired boy and in front of Mama was a small girl with strawberry blond hair. I didn't understand the lack of attention to my call, and I kept walking toward them. As I approached, I continued to plead for response until Baba and Mama lifted their heads simultaneously to look at me. Their eyes- the whites and colors of their eyes- had turned completely black.
A huge being swirled in the fog and formed between them then; a man shape with horns as big and tall as a mountain ram might have. He wore a loin cloth and his body was covered with a black oily hair. His eyes were the same black color as my parent's except for a gleaming amber center in each one under bushy brows. His lips were black as well and his teeth were oversized and hung down like fangs.
He was laughing a thunderously deep laugh that resonated with no joy. In his arms was Zephyr, blood dripping from her closed eyes and tongue. The sight elicited an agonized cry from me as if my soul were torn in half.
"Birdie, Birdie, honey, wake up. You are dreaming." Cool cloth on my forehead. Cool hands rubbed my arms. Low gentle voices. Soft fur and a cold nose under my hand. I was delivered, my bed; the dream was gone, for now.
"Birdie, come back now, it's safe." I felt my head raised and rested on a muscular knee and a large hand running through my hair gently. Baba?
My eyes opened to look into the concerned sea green eyes of my mother.
'"Mama? Baba?" my voice sounded hoarse, raspy," You are ok? Is Zephyr ok?"
"Shhhhhhhhh…" the lower voice of Baba was soothing, "Birdie, everyone is fine. We heard you in distress and came to check on you. It must be a very bad dream, Little Bird."
Mama patted my burning face and sweat drenched hair with her cool cloth.
"There now, you are safe, Honey. It's ok." She raised her eyebrows at me.
"Although, little bird child, if your eyes weren't already so teary, I would give you a few firm tears for finding this sword in bed with you after we had our conversation about it."
She gave me her LOOK. Baba had THE LOOK, so did Mama.
"Well, the sword was with me in my dream," I offered sheepishly; there was no good excuse. "It was good to have it with me. But I'm sorry, Mama."
Contrition was my true feeling at that point; the dream had unraveled any pretense; I didn't want to think of those cold black eyes.
"It's ok," Her eyes saw into me, softened and warmed. "This time."
She took my hand in both of hers; the gesture eased me.
"I believe, Little Bird," Baba Xe's low voice rumbled with authority, "that you had better tell us about your dreams."
Written by Birdie on the evening of her 13th winter
My Baba's shoulder
Will hold my head,
When I need strength,
When life is dangerous.
The Warrior's sword
Protects with love.
I lay me down
In her safe arms,
And close my eyes
On Baba's shoulder.
On Mama's shoulder
Soft tears are shed,
When I need shelter,
When life is painful.
The Poet's heart
Protects with love.
My soul is safe
In gentle hands,
So tears may fall On Mama's shoulder.
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