I am Robin…
A candle mark later, the palms of the warrior and the bard had joined in a simple clasp. Xena released a heavy sigh.
"Well," she said disgustedly, "perhaps it was a false alarm?"
"No, Xena, it wasn't." Gabrielle spoke with a trace of bite in her voice.
The space between them was charged with discomfort.
In her gentle and fearless way, the bard extended her hand to trace the stiffness of the Conqueror's cheek.
"You are angry; shall we talk about it?"
The blue eyes would not rise to meet hers, so the bright haired poet slipped her fingers under the angular chin as she would a child's. The jaw worked back and forth, but the eyes lowered as the hardened face turned towards the warmth. Who would ever believe Xena the Conqueror would stand for such handling?
"Xena." The bard waited.
"Gabrielle, Birdie and I had just such a long good talk about this sort of impulsive behavior, and I thought she understood. Now at the first chance she goes charging off into the wild blue again."
The battle-scarred hands lifted and fell to the warrior's sides .
Gabrielle's gaze fell and she captured a discouraged hand.
"Perhaps she has good reason, Xena. She does not disappoint you lightly, you know that."
The bard traced fingers over the lines in the larger hand.
"You are her hero, and she wants your approval, not your condemnation. It must be important; try to believe the best of Birdie, not the worst."
The famous azure eyes blinked back any moisture then and followed a sound the keen ears heard before the bard did.
The stable doors opened so emphatically, they slammed the barn walls backwards and the horses started. It was Atticus followed by Rosie and Angie.
The burly red-headed man's eyes drilled into his commander's face, "My Lady, they have my boy."
It was cold. Clouds steamed from Hades' nostrils and Zephyr's muzzle as we galloped through the icy columns of moonbeams, shadow by shadow.
"Zephyr, do we gain any ground at all?"
The tall ears of my ebony beauty laid back and her senses focused keenly without breaking her stride.
"There is a faint scent of cedar mingled with the odor of filthy men. That tells me Talus is ahead."
"So this is good news."
"I hope so, Little Mistress
"And it's time I thought of a plan."
"It is time
"You are cool under fire, Zephyr."
"Agreed, Little Mistress
I lay my head closer to Hades' neck to feel the warmth.
"Lead on then."
Gabrielle watched the glittering jewels in her lover's face grow colder as Angie tearfully recounted the tale. The Conqueror strode across the barn to fetch the extra boot daggers.
Then the slender girl bravely addressed the glowering Conqueror directly, "If it please Your Majesty Conqueror, I'd like to add that Lady Robin didn' ride off in any huff."
There was no answer from the first direction, so she shifted towards Gabrielle.
"Tal is always sayin' Birdie gets in a bad way with you folks for being too impulsive n' such, but she was very calm 'bout this. She tol' me to come for you; that you'd be 'er and to follow her hawk; Icarus would show the way…"
There was a second disturbance at the stable door.
"I agree," a young but outspoken voice joined the throng, "Birdie will do nothing foolish, because she knows that I will drum knots on her hard head if she does."
Princess Rachelle of the Amazons by the Sea had spoken these words. A grinning Eponin and Ephiny dressed in full weaponry flanked her.
Outside the barn there was a rumbling and the wagon holding Scrubby and Cyrene arrived. Rosie, beloved of Atticus, mother of Talus, sat behind them. It had become their habit to keep the wagon rigged for food and first aide.
Xena the Conqueror slowly grinned, lowered her head and shook it, "Well the gang's all here..." she growled.
"This kind of talent simply must be used on an adventure," sparkling emerald eyes caught hers across the horses' backs; "We cannot waste it."
"All right then, everybody outside," the Conqueror command was given, "watch for the hawk!"
A quarter candle mark later the little gathering rallied outside the stable, just as it had done only a moon previously when preparing for war. This was a more peaceful circle, but tension remained.
"Shall I pass the hot cider yet, Xena?" Cyrene's voice crossed the darkness.
"Give it another moment, Mother, thanks." Cyrene felt her daughter's smile, "If possible, it would be better to conserve it, since I have no idea what we are into."
A piercing cry cut the cold darkness. Gabrielle's practiced eyes searched the moonlight for the flash of gold, "There! We see you Icarus! Fly on!"
The little hawk banked right in a perfect reverse and didn't miss a wing beat.
Gabrielle nudged Wendy, who felt her rider's concern and stepped up hastily towards the road headed north. Atticus followed on Barney, and Angie rode on Barney's son, Billy.
Xena circled back around on Argo.
"Look, Pony, Eph, you don't have to come with us, there's no need; we aren't sure how serious….." The Conqueror's words were cut off by the dust of Lucy's hooves blowing past; Rach's hair was glowing in the moonlight. Pony followed more slowly, but not without turning back to Ephiny.
"What?" she said with a nod toward Xena, "she' been livin' under a rock or somethin'?"
Pony flicked her bridle straps loudly, encouraging the sturdy Amazon mount to catch her beloved niece.
"What?" was the warrior's flat warning tone, "Don't you start."
"Oh, no," said the Regent Amazon galloping ahead into the caravan, "Not starting… never starting… not me…"
Xena was left with no choice but to follow the lot of them.
"This had better not get back to the militia."
"Especially not from you, Missy Horsy, "she grumbled at her ride, but as the palomino's canter gained speed, so did the warrior's smile.
We arrived in a quiet mossy glen with a cold stream; Zephyr slowed to a halt. I led Hades to the water.
"Easy, good fellow," I patted him as he drank thirstily, "not too much now."
Cupping my hands together made a fine bowl to carry the icy creek for my own thirst; it was delicious, and I refilled it three more times. Zephyr too, was lapping eagerly. Thirst before thought.
"Now. The plan." I whispered.
"Little Mistress, shouldn't you assess the situation?"
"Well yes Zephyr, I suppose that I should, thank you."
"You will find a view ahead."
"Yes, at the edge ahead. Come."
I dislike heights, particularly at night. Depth perception is so easily skewed.
"OK." I sucked in a breath, dropped to my belly and commenced swimming through the rocks and grass..
Zephyr was superior in this kind of skulking and was right near by. Bits of laughter and rough talk rose on the tendrils of smoke. I wormed as close to the edge as I dared to hear what I could. Zephyr crept closer to me; I put my arm around her, soaking in her warmth.
"Doubt the lit'l mite can do the deed," a deep voice stated. "'E's too young, e' is, and too innocent, but Savagemon's bound tha' e' s female wee's should be womanized dis instunt, and by a v'rgen lad. An' When th' chief gets it in his head, it's in his head. The lad was the only youngin' wid' in the fast ride. Ya know how Savagemon is!"
Another voice joined the first, "Ay, wid' ya on dat, Fanker. The' littl' lad was wid 'is gurl, and a sweetie she was.. E's not at da point o' cosumatin' nutin', e'vn by force."
The first voice spoke again, "We'll ketch it fur lettin' the gurlie go, Tram. But I wazn't gonna 'av the damagn' o' dat many chilren' on my 'ead. What's bein' dun's enuf. I's skar'd o' da Master, I is. But I don' like dis. Not a' all!"
There was a summoning shout then, and a rumpus and rumble of boots walking. I ventured closer to place my eyes over the cliff. I did not like what I was hearing and was certain that I would hate what I would witness..
There was a fire circle just beyond the men's conversation, and a ring of men formed around it. Two of the chunky men were dragging Talus to the inner circle where another three men were holding down a young girl who was weeping wildly. A large man in buckskin with long hair laughed heartily and constantly. He must be Savagemon.
The rescue party ran silently in bright moonlight. The little hawk flew above and beyond just within their sight. She showed no sign of stopping.
"Hey," Argo caught up with Wendy, and the two horses cantered side by side. Blue jewels glittered across the space to green ones watching the sailing raptor.
"Is Birdie still all right?"
The poet closed her eyes and concentrated, breathing with the hoof beats. Then she opened them and looked at her partner.
"Physically, yes. But there is stress; we need to hurry."
The Conqueror closed her eyes then, "Gabrielle, I hope she does nothing foolish."
The bard extended a hand, "She has grown up enough to know better, Xena. She knows that getting herself in trouble or killed does not help a bad situation. Have a little faith in our kid." She squeezed the big hand.
The icy eyes closed and when they opened, they were followed by a smile.
"All right, I will." The warrior said. Then she looked back, "Let's step it up folks!"
Zephyr moved her nose next to my face to nuzzle the tears running silently down my face. Talus and the girl had both been weeping steadily for the past candle mark. Those barbaric raiders yanked him up and slapped his head and his privates every time he failed to perform a "man's task" on the poor girl beneath him. There was no possible way, Talus could do what they wanted; he was hyperventilating at this point and it was simply not in his nature; he would have died first. And I feared they would kill him if he didn't perform the task on that girl.
"Zephyr what can I do?"
"Little Mistress, you must do nothing."
The ordeal below was repeated; I buried my head in my arms to shut out the misery of my friend. Zephyr crept closer; I knew that she was watching. Voices rose in anger; there was screaming. It was Talus. My head remained down; I sent a thought.
"Zephyr, what has happened?"
"Little Mistress they have cut off his finger."
I found my feet. Time to act.
"I am going down; Zephyr, can you find extra numb weed?"
"I will look, Little Mistress; perhaps if our lady Artemis is feeling generous. You must take great care."
"I will Zephyr." I placed my hand on her coat.
"Little Mistress, if they catch you they will kill you."
We stood in the darkness listening to the sobbing of my friend.
"I am going."
I buckled the extra fastener of my scabbard through my belt loop, flipped on my belly, put my boots over the edge, and began the terrifying slide backward, blindly searching for roots and toe holds in the cliff. My stomach flailed like a trout on land. When down a full body length, I stopped to steady my breath. It took a long moment's firm self talking to quiet the panic attack. This would never do. There had to be another way.
Ascending went much faster. Searching carefully along the edge, I discovered a narrow trail going down the cliff, scuffed out perhaps by goats or sheep. I followed the tiny trail a quarter candle mark down, where more good fortune laid the narrow branch of a tree into the path. Perhaps it would be strong enough. I shimmied along the branch without breathing, until the thickness near the trunk was thick and stable. Then I stood and then spent an additional quarter candle mark climbing down as soundlessly as possible, pausing on every branch. Fortunately the raiders had drunk themselves into the land of sweet Dionysus and were sprawled about snoring. The loudest sound was Talus, trying to muffle his sobbing; my friend was in agony.
I landed beside him like a feather, my hand over his mouth. His eyes went wide.
"Tal, do you know me?"
"Good; just listen and do as I say."
I wrapped both arms around him, pulling him close to my body.
"Breathe with me Talus, steady, my friend, in and out, in and out… That's a good fellow."
Gradually he settled in my arms; he had been in near hysteria for many candle marks. His heart beat at double pace under my hand.
"Easy old man. You have been through it. But I am here now, and Zephyr is nearby; we are going to rectify this situation, hear me?"
I hugged him close, giving him warmth and tenderness, whispering soothing words to him, until he was easier, although he still shuddered involuntarily with silent sobs.
"Thank the gods you are here Birdie." He whispered; his voice was weak.
"Well, I am buddy, and things are going to improve; can you let me see your hand?"
He surrendered the shaking appendage. They had cut off his little finger right at the second joint. Seeing the white bone made me feel faint at the blood running freely. I unlaced the first three crosses of my left pant leg and cut it with my dagger. Wrapping the leather string around the base of the finger slowed the bleeding.
"They said they were cutting off the finger the size of my 'manhood'," Talus choked.
The darkness rose in me; a red mist covered my sight momentarily. But my spirit contained itself; my first concern was my friend's comfort.
I always carried a small portion of numb weed in my scabbard for accidents, and this I crushed in my fingers and pressed to the stump. He closed his eyes with the scant relief it gave to him and the added pain of the pressure.
"By the gods, Birdie, I could never rape that girl. I woulda died first."
I put my arm around him again. "Talus, their perception of your 'manhood' is minotaur shite. "
He actually chuckled at that; it was a good sound to hear from him.
"And your 'manhood' is no measure of the man that you are. You are Talus, son of Atticus and Rose of Amphipolis and a gentleman." It was difficult to keep my voice low and calm.
"You are the bravest fellow I know; I am so proud of you. Proud to call you my friend."
Tears choked the final words to a whisper, and I kissed his matted hair.
He put his hand back to my face then, sensing my distress.
"Hey Birdo; it's not so bad."
A flurry of darkness disturbed us. It was Zephyr with another sprig of weed.
"There she is, 'ello Zephyr."
"Good girl." I took the weed and crushed it between my hands. Pressing it to Tal's finger, I wrapped it with a shred of my handkerchief, and then secured it with a bit more lacing. Zephyr lay down near Talus and he stroked her fur. That simple action soothed him as well.
"Birdie you best get off afore daylight breaks," Talus turned and touched his trembling hand to my face. "You can't be caught."
"Help is coming, Talus; you hang on."
I put my hands on his shoulders. He was trembling hard all over, even though he had insisted he was much better, he was entering severe shock. I was deeply worried.
Zephyr was adamant.
"See you soon Talus."
It broke my heart. I laid his head gently on his folded arms and ran for the tree. Dawn was coming. I scrabbled up into the upper branches as the camp began stirring. Thrice on my assent, I froze in place, not daring to breathe, because raiders used the tree as their morning toilet. I gagged quietly in my hiding place fearful of giving myself away.
Tiredly, I wormed across the final bridge of the large branch and walked to the trail. Clambering up the final dozen hands of the cliff, I swung my exhausted body over the edge to collapse catching my breath.
Icarus fluttered down right in front of me.
I stretched a tired hand to my hawk and touched a well-made pair of black leather boots with silver buckles. After a moment of observation, I gave them a pat and looked up into the blazing ice blue eyes.
"I am so glad that you are here, Baba." I kept my voice light as I began to find my footing.
She grabbed the back of my tunic and yanked me to my feet firmly.
"Start talking, Birdie."
Mama's greeting was softer; she enveloped me with one arm and the other pulled my head to her shoulder tightly.
"Are you all right, Honey?"
"Yes, Mama, I'm fine. Sorry to worry you."
Rachel kept a distance with folded arms and stormy eyes that made me drop my gaze away from her.
"Birdie." The Conqueror's voice, low with patience running short.
I began talking.
My heart felt as if it would pound straight out of my chest. We had circled around and found the main entry into the canyon. I still couldn't believe that we were just riding in there, our little band, and demanding the release of Talus. But when Baba Xe had heard the name "Savagemon", she nodded her head and said, "Let's go; I know how to handle him."
"You know this man?" Mama G had asked.
"Unfortunately, yes, I do know the Brigand Savagemon," Baba was looking far away to someplace we couldn't see.
Mama had waited for more explanation but received none. That made her unhappy, but she didn't voice it.
And so our little crew arrived into that large camp of smelly rough men. But they parted ranks, as Baba Xe and Argo stepped among them, searching for Savagemon. The Conqueror could have that effect on crowds of people sometimes; it didn't matter who they were.
At the center of the camp, a huge man dressed in layers of buckskin, stolen boots, and a matching sword and scabbard across his back turned slowly from the group he was addressing, to look at her.
His eyes were a nearly colorless grey; his hair the same hue, long, stringy and greasy. He smiled at Baba Xe, a predatory showing of teeth.
She returned the same.
"Xena Destroyer of Nations," his voice was guttural, walking the edge of inhuman.
"Savagemon," she nodded, "and now, it's 'Xena the Conqueror'."
"So I've heard. And now you have come to conquer Savagemon," his laugh was phlegm-filled, a sound that made one's bile surge.
"I have come to fetch one who is under my protection, a young boy."
"He's no boy; He's a eunuch!" the ugly man spat on the ground. I watched Rosie and my mother both put hands on Atticus. I caught his eye and smiled.
"Call him whatever you like; you will deliver him to me," my Baba's voice held that soft tone of authority which if a person knew her at all, would hurry to obey.
"And why should I?" smiled Savagemon, "I caught him. He is my prisoner until he performs the deed I require of him."
He strode forward a step, hands akimbo looking at my Baba Xe with amusement.
"How will you make this interesting for me Xena the Conqueror? I could just have all of you killed right now"
Baba Xe dismounted and approached him. Though she did not equal him in size, she more than equaled him in presence.
"If you must have a wager, Savagemon, I will fight you for him," she met his cloudy eyes with her ice.
"So how is that interesting to me?"
"If I win, I take the boy and we all leave in peace; if I lose, you keep me and one third of my fortress treasure in Amphipolis."
Savagemon's eyes floated over the party and lingered longest on my mother. I did not trust him.
"Your family will live to regret your hubris, Conqueror, "he laughed, "They will regret it long and bitterly." He began to cough on his laughter.
"We shall see about that, "was the return.
"Done then, "the leader said. "Take a half candle mark to prepare and we'll meet at the great fire circle."
"Call your weapons, Warlord Savagemon," her challenge.
"Swords will do," he sneered, "I will cut you into little bloody pieces. I have improved since last we met."
There was a timbre to his voice that chilled my marrow; there was no reason to it. Perhaps it was the lack of warmth in his blood that I had witnessed first hand.
The Conqueror returned to our party with the easy athletic stride that was her signature. If she was worried about fighting a man nearly five hands taller and five stone heavier, it did not show in her manner. But I noticed the icy clarity of her focus soften as she met my mother's eyes; she allowed vulnerability to peek through in her gaze to Mama G. Though Xena the Conqueror had fought this very fight dozens of times in her life, my mother never accustomed herself to it and she never took anything, especially the life of her Xena, for granted. The bard's smaller hands slid up the warrior's sides to her shoulders.
"Xena, you know this man?"
"He rode with me awhile in the dark days."
"Oh." The green eyes were shadowed.
"Gabrielle," the Conqueror's softest voice, "you know that I will be fine; you know that I will prevail.'
"No My Love, I do not," the voice was gentle; the words were hard, "Japa taught me only too well that I can lose you
Shadows crossed the confident countenance, "Gabrielle, I promise. ..."
The finger touched her lips. "there is no need for you to make promises, Xena," she was assured, " just fight your best for all that you have, with all of your heart, like you always have, and you always will."
They stood for a moment, locked in their world.
"I need to eat something, "the warrior said off hand.
"Then do that, "said the bard, and they parted.
I met and wrapped my arms around her tightly; tears squeezing from my between my lids.
"Baba I feel like this is my fault. I am sorry. Please don't let him kill you. Please." A squeak unworthy of a warrior escaped me.
Her big hands fell gently to my shoulders.
"Birdie this is not your fault, and Savagemon will not defeat me; you need not worry about that."
She spoke with quiet confidence and ruffled my hair. Then she raised my chin with a finger, "I need for you to be strong and stand by your mother."
I blinked away the errant tear.
"Yes, my Lady Conqueror, I will do that." I snapped into squire mode which pleased her. She kissed my hair a long moment, and moved on.
"Mother, what magical substance do you have for me to eat? Something to sustain me?"
My grandba's arms replaced mine around my Baba Xe, and she gave my Baba a light swat on the backside. Baba held her closely and then kissed the sturdy little woman on the head, and when Grandba looked up her eyes were watery as well. Those rare moments reminded me in startling fashion, that my small grandba had actually raised Xena the Conqueror. They walked arm in arm over to the wagon. I went to my mother and took her elbow.
"Mama, let's join them."
She moved her hand into the back of my hair as we walked, "You are growing up, my little Bird."
She studied the ground as we walked; she had words for me.
"How is Talus?"
"It is rough for him, Mama, they have cut off his little finger."
She paused with closed eyes.
"The band and Savagemon actually wanted Tal to rape his, that is, Savagemon's daughter. To 'make her a woman'. Talus could not. He would not. So they punished him thus."
I shook sway angry tears at the memory of my quiet friend's mistreatment.
"What did you do for him?"
I paused; should I tell her everything?
Her hand fell from my neck, to my arm, to place a gentle pat to my backside. Tell Mama G the truth. Always.
"I… we… Zephyr and I wrapped the stump in numb weed and fashioned a rough tourniquet from my pant lacing to stay the bleeding somewhat. It soothed the edge of his pain. But we had no chance to clean it. Mama, he will be in serious condition very soon."
She put her arm across me, and turned to look up at the cliff as we neared the wagon. I faced her.
"Will you tell me how you managed to come down here?"
"Are you sure that you want to know, Mama?"
"I am fairly certain that I don't want to know, but tell me anyway, Birdie." Her voice was no nonsense.
I sighed and pointed my finger at the enormous tree. "See?" She followed my moving finger upward to the branch which bridged across to the tiny trail almost hidden in the leaves.
The forest colored eyes leveled at me with clarity and heat. "I should give you a smacking for doing something so dangerous, Birdie. And that doesn't even consider the fact that you might have been caught."
I dropped my eyes, and became ten winters old in the face of her anger.
"Perhaps, Mama, but I was careful." Stammering, "Mama, Talus was crying. I couldn't stand it."
The moment seemed long, and my eyes dampened my cheeks again. The sting of her displeasure was sharp, but after a time, her hand reached to stroke my cheek. I clasped it and kissed her palm, begging forgiveness wordlessly. Her eyes softened; I sighed and wiped the tears on my sleeve.
There was furry warmth about my legs and I reached down. "There must be no danger of chastisement; the chicken fox arrives."
Her cold nose nuzzled my hand.
"Forgive me Little Mistress."
My mother stroked the dark head, "Hello Zephyr." She knelt down to look into the golden eyes.
"Thank you for taking care of Birdie."
Zephyr met her gaze with grave adoration.
Mama G rose and we continued to the wagon.
The sun was high when we returned to the main fire circle. Baba had eaten only a small slice of nut bread with some creamed cheese on it and she had drunk a little extra of the cold Amphipolis water the wagon always carried. None of the rest of us had any appetite. My mother wore a water skin, which I knew that I could use if my mouth went dry.
Savagemon's men cleared a wide circumference of the fire circle to "keep it fair," someone said. I didn't laugh.
My Baba stood with my Mama talking quietly. Then Baba turned around, and Mama took her long dark coat and also Baba's scabbard. This left our Xena the Conqueror in her customary leather pants, boots, silk shirt, pewter breast plate, and long gauntlets. She knelt and tightened the buckles on her boots, then rose and kicked out the fit of them a little. It was obvious to me that she considered Savagemon an opponent to be reckoned with.
As she came to her feet, my mother's eyes held hers for one more moment. Baba stood looking down at her, listening. She raised her palm; Mama placed hers against it and their fingers folded interlacing and held. I was always fascinated at how simply they could display their unbreakable bond. And with a nod and a smile to my mother, Xena the Conqueror turned to her business.
"HOW I have dreamed of this day!" roared Savagemon charging like a enraged bull. Panic struck me; he had a sword in each hand! It is extremely difficult to defend two swords with one. My thoughts flew, the Amazons had theirs, so did Atticus and Scrubby, Mama G, carried her Queen's sword. No, there was only one sword that Baba Xe knew as well as she knew her own. Mine - she had made it for me.
"Baba!" I flung the Baby Tide.
She caught it, glanced up and down, gave it a toss in the air, and then sent me one of her flashing smiles. I knew that I had done the right thing.
"Baba," I asked one day, as we prepared for drills, "Why is your sword is called, 'The Tide'?"
My Conqueror parent studied her weapon as she answered my question, from the brass hilt, the worn leather needing replaced at present, the paua shells in the pommel and the edges, to the near surgical edge she maintained at all times.
"All great swords have names, Birdie, and this one is no different," Unfortunately, my grandmother and your great-grandmother, Xenarone died too soon for the story to be properly told." Her voice took a little storytelling timbre, rare for her.
"I know that the goddess Athena gave Xenarone the sword, and that it was called The Tide when it was gifted. Perhaps her brother Poseidon made it, and it refers to the fact that nothing holds back the power of the tide."
She was regarding me seriously and I listened. It was an important moment between us. Then her sky blue eyes looked into the heavens.
"In the far away future, Birdie, human kind will still be fighting, and wars will be fought with machines far advanced of our siege engines, or Greek fire; they will use weapons our imaginations cannot even conceive or comprehend. But remember this: true evil
is always defeated with a sword. That is because true evil can only be fought, can only be defeated, by what lies within a hero's heart. The sword in one's hand is merely a tool to enhance one's courage. A sword is what helps a hero to believe in herself."
She placed her big hand gently over my heart which at that moment began to beat much faster. She smiled.
"When it is time for me to pass along the Tide to you Birdie, I know that your heart will be ready. It is almost ready now."
I stood as straight and tall as possible.
"Do you think so, Baba?"
"I do little one, and although the Tide will mean a great deal to you because it will have belonged to me and our ancestors, remember it will be your heart
and your friends that carry you through difficult times, no matter if you hold The Tide, or the Baby Tide, or just an ordinary soldier's sword in your hand."
Looking at my smaller sword, I mused, "The Baby Tide means so much to me, Baba, because you made it."
"Does it, Birdie?"
"It does. The sword and the scabbard are my prized possessions, because you and Mama G made them with your own hands for me."
The Conqueror smiled. "And that is again, another part of the strength of the sword. Some might find irony in the suggestion that there might be love in the making of a weapon. But I tend to think of it as love in defense of what is ours, and in defense of those who look to us to protect them."
"So someday, Baba, you will pass the Tide to me, and I will pass the Baby Tide to my child," It seemed like a huge responsibility.
"My grandchild," Baba Xe said, with a smile.
"Whoa," suddenly the talk became too big for me. I felt a little dizzy.
"Rather frightening, yes?" my Conqueror parent was laughing at me.
"Incredibly scary, Baba."
Savagemon's first charge was culminated in a powerhouse swing from over his head and a drive downward with both swords aimed at Baba's shoulders, as if he would cut her into three parts. She stood quiet, watching, and at the final moment, thrust her blades, focusing her strength going horizontally diverting his blades as she planted a hard foot in his gut. It took everything she had, but she managed to flip him over tucking under him, and she rolled from under, while his great bulk slammed to the ground flat on his back. Baba stood easily, waiting for him to come back to his feet. This angered him, for it made him look weaker; she had not taken the opportunity to finish him immediately when the chance was there. I wished that she had, because I didn't know how many times she could throw a man of his size.
With an enraged growl he swung both blades together from the left; she blocked, but I saw the shock waves of it vibrate her body. There was no doubt that his size was an advantage. As soon as she stripped the left swing, he drove from the right; she simply jumped over the deadly pass and then got in close to slash a cut in his sleeve which ran bright red.
This angered him more; his colorless eyes were burning with hate. He put his blades together and drove at her straight on. Baba Xe watched, timed, and then with her trademark "Yiyiyiyiyi", rose as if blasted from a catapult and somersaulted over him to land behind him once again.
I moved close to my mother.
"She is tiring him," Mama said, calmly, but her eyes were riveted to the warrior. "She knows that she can't defeat him with brute strength alone, so she is allowing him to run himself out. I hope he continues to cooperate."
It was as if he had heard her, because Savagemon began to move in a crouched circle now, watching, playing more conservatively. Baba Xe did the same, light on her feet, alert, quiet. When he struck, she parried, but my sword was shorter, so he took a slice in her shoulder, just where the breast plate met the sleeve.. The red stained her blue silk shirt quickly and I heard Mama take in a breath. Baba Xe paid no attention at all, but I saw the intensity of her icy eyes go very cold.
I turned at the whisper, "Hey."
It was Talus, standing, very pale. Savagemon's daughter stood by him. She was tall, older than we were.
"This is Jorry," Talus said softly. "She'd like to come with us when we leave. When the Conqueror defeats her father, the band will likely kill her, and not quickly."
Jorry had her father's eyes, but her hair was dirty blonde. I reckoned her to be no more than two winters older than us, although the rough living in her hands and eyes made her look very tired.
She knelt before my mother, "If it please My Lady, I have cooked an' cleaned for m' Da's mob for seasons now. I m'te be usefu'l to ya."
Mama G spared only a moment for her. "Of course you may come with us Jorry."
The fight was reaching a zenith. Savagemon kept making rapid lunges with his swords clamped together and Baba was able to split them at her chest at the final moment time and again. It was sapping her power though, because she had to compensate with extra strength for the smaller size of my Baby Tide.
He must have thought his attack was working because he kept at it, mindlessly, which was stupid. She allowed him a fierce lunge, swept the blades aside, and ran the Baby Tide into his thigh, at the femoral artery. The spray hit her boots. She stood watching him roar and limp about furiously, the one leg losing power. Her voice sounded reasonable, calm."Savagemon, now the choice is yours. You can insist on continuing, but your life's blood is spilling on the ground, and you have only so long to live." she said evenly. "Or, we can stop this, bind your wound and I will take my people and go home. We have fought a fine duel."
He seemed to consider it a moment, but then he laughed his disgusting laugh.
"Conqueror, I still plan to cut you into pieces," he slobbered, "If you have no intent to die today, you had best intend to kill me."
Baba Xe had waited for his answer in a relaxed pose. When she heard it, she came to full alert, and her eyes turned feral, as if Aries himself had suddenly whispered into her ear. I closed my eyes and felt the darkness enter her.
"Very well then", her voice carried the tone of finality.
Savagemon began a final charge. He slashed with the right blade, she jumped it and sliced a long gash across his chest, when he slashed with the left sword, she answered with the same. He stood shocked astounded, blood gushing from his leg and a large letter "X" on his body. She took a large step to launch a whirling high jump with both swords flashing hard; The Tide severed his head at the neck, and the Baby Tide finished the dance by chopping the head in half again before it hit the ground.
Xena the Conqueror stood beside the pile of buckskin and blood. I felt the darkness leave her.
She simply asked, "Who now is in charge?"
A scrappy fellow stepped forward. "
"I'm, Fanker." He raised his voice, "The Con'quor wins, and we hon'r that win." He looked back at Baba.
"Take w'at you wil an leave us." He paused, "M'Lady."
She nodded and strode out of the circle. All of our party, including Jorry, followed her.
"Xena let me see the cut." Gabrielle reached across the distance of their horses to take her arm. They were setting an easy stride to Amphipolis and would make it by nightfall.
The bard rolled up the blue sleeve to view a deep slash, of about a hand and some long. She sucked in air between her teeth.
"Does it hurt?"
The warrior chuckled, "To be honest Gabrielle, now it hurts like crazy. I don't feel it when I'm fighting, but it hurts all kinds of ways now."
"Here, we have numb weed," Gabrielle pressed the herb to the cut. "I will clean and stitch it when we arrive at the fortress." She patted the arm gently. "How are you?"
The Conqueror closed her eyes, "I'm fine, Gabrielle. As you said, I did what I had to do." She paused, "Sometimes I could wish that vicious Aries- fed side of me didn't have to appear before my child. It's a poor role model."
"Birdie understands," the gentle hand was soothing on the powerful arm.
"Birdie knows that 'that dark side' of you bought the freedom of all of us today, and Jorry. You are a good role model."
The warrior lowered her head. "Savagemon would have accepted nothing less than a wager worth our lives and riches. I saw him look at you. I shouldn't have risked you; anything could have happened. I didn't know what else to do."
"But you won. Just like I knew that you would."
The blue eyes met hers and smiled. "Well I'm glad you knew."
Gabrielle squeezed the scarred hand more firmly, "You set someone free today, Xena. You freed Jorry from a terrible life."
"She seems like a nice girl, right?"
"Your mother has already taken her under her wing. They are talking in the wagon. Jorry will be just the right help Mother Cyrene needs at the inn. It was a good thing."
"Asleep in the wagon as well, in his mother's arms. Atticus rides nearby. They have made an appointment in the morning to come and see about his finger."
"Straight ahead, talking with Rachelle."
"I will want to speak with her about dashing off on adventures."
"And we will speak with her, but later." The bard's voice was gentle, but final.
Xena the Conqueror smiled, "Yes, My Lady." Her hand fell to hold the bard's hand as they rode.
"Don't you ever send me in one direction while you go another again," Rach's voice was slightly above a whisper, but quite emphatic.
I didn't know what to say.
"It seemed the best thing to do at the time, Rach."
"Oh, as if you are of higher rank than I am? As if you are the sole person with the intelligence to formulate a PLAN when one needs to be formulated?" Her words flicked at my spirit and stung like a switch. I physically winced.
"Rach, I didn't mean to make assumptions; I only meant to think quickly."
"Well, next time my dear Birdie Girl; you had better let me in on the 'thinking quickly' part."
Her hand came across the space between the horses and smacked the back of my head smartly and then my backside. "Ow!" She had my attention.
"Otherwise there will be whomped Robin on the menu, understand me, Birdie?"
"I respect your thinking, and I am so glad you were there for Talus; don't get me wrong. But I wil know
the plan and not just be told
the plan. I am not a subordinate, am I?"
I had to laugh then, "No Rach, you are not a subordinate."
"Good. As long as we are clear."
The warrior and the bard watched their daughter and her friend's interactions taking place a short distance in front of them. No words could be heard, but the conversation was obviously covering a multitude of subjects.
Xena smiled her little smirk, "Mama G, perhaps it is time to have 'the talk' with Birdie."
The bard laughed internally and decided to play with it.
"'Talk'? What talk do you mean, Baba Xe?"
"You know, 'the talk'
"About what subject, exactly?"
"Oh, you mean a 'sensitive chat'."
The growl was intensifying; the petite blonde wondered if she could push her champion a tiny bit more.
"Can you be more specific?"
Stony silence from the other horse. Far enough.
Gabrielle leaned across to pat the pouting warrior, "You mean, have I discussed 'the topic of physical intimacy between human beings' with Birdie?"
Big pout. No eyes, no hands.
Now the bard must tread carefully.
"Actually Xe, we had 'the talk' a while ago. Ten or twelve moons ago if my memory serves me."
Dark eyebrows reached the hairline.
"You have already done 'the talk'?"
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled at her saddle, "Most of it, yes."
She watched Birdie and Rachelle a moment. "It could be time for a review though."
Xena shook her head and was quiet for a few hoof beats. Was she angry? Gabrielle couldn't tell. Sometimes The Conqueror wanted all the power and sometimes…
"Well, I would have been very bad at such a discussion, so I am glad that you took that job."
The bard smiled.
The blond head turned sideways listening.
"You might have told me."
More hoof beats.
"I'm sorry, Xena. I should have and I will. It didn't seem like such a big thing."
Clop clop clop clop.
"Well Gabrielle, it is
a big thing, is it not?"
Now the bard was quiet for hoof beats. Her hand extended and caught the warrior's.
"Yes, my love, it is a big thing, and I should have told you. Forgive me?"
A long hand squeeze.
"Of course. Sometimes we have little time to 'catch up' on the daily stuff".
"So now you are catching up?"
Silent hoof beats.
"Have you talked about Rachelle?"
"Oh yes," said the Mama, "almost as soon as they met."
"You are sharp, Gabrielle, you really are."
"So what did the Bird say?"
More laughter from the bard.
"She did a great deal of squirming; she's quite like you that way. I thought she might self combust before we finished the chat."
Now the warrior laughed quietly.
"Birdie said that they haven't even considered physical intimacy beyond just a little snuggling. They love only to be close, and when they spend a night together, they just talk until they fall asleep. If they wake up, they talk more until they sleep again. Rather like the fox kits, she said. Litter mates."
The warrior smiled, "That sounds harmless enough. Birdie let it slip to me once, that she felt as if she had known Rach all of her life. But she's not quite sure how Rach feels."
"Oh it's reciprocated, even if Rach doesn't let her know," Gabrielle's wisdom of people shone brightly; "I don't believe that they quite realize how deeply in love they are."
"Well, some of us are slow," the warrior was grinning now. "And in this case, slow is good." Her brows furrowed.
"So you feel they are safe to sleep together?"
"Oh, absolutely." Answered her soul mate, "I told Birdie that there's some kind of Amazon law that requires we wait until a certain age, and I would look up the age. Otherwise Artemis might be unhappy."
"Well that will keep her careful."
"It should. But Birdie said they weren't ready anyway. I made her promise that if she felt they were coming close to 'ready' that she would talk to us first.
Without fail. She was fine with that."
"And what about Rach?"
A little snort from the bard.
"Well, you know Pony; she told her niece plainly that she had better watch herself carefully if she wanted to escape being tied up in the hut until she is eighteen winters old!"
"Pony," the warrior laughed, "she is more my
A cool breeze began and the mood changed, Rach's hand floated across to stroke the back of my hair; our horses already knew how to keep in step.
"So how are you doing, Birdie girl?"
"I'm fine. Tired and dirty. I'm worried about Talus."
She stretched in the saddle and rode easy, "I have already asked Aunty Pony if we can stay tomorrow so that I can help the Conqueror look at his finger. Your Conqueror parent and I can do a pretty good job of healing folks as a team."
I smiled at her. Rach had become known as the best healer in the area, except for my Baba Xe. Talus would be in good hands.
"Does that mean you are sleeping over?"
"Yes, Aunty P and Ephiny in the guest room, and I will bunk with you, if you have space."
I ducked my head.
"Oh, I probably have room in my bed for you to spend the night, but I'm likely to fall asleep rather quickly; it's been a long…. how long has it been?"
She gave my shoulder a pat," You are tired and that is fine. You may sleep all you like, and I might even snuggle with you, as long as you take a bath first."
Zephyr running ahead in the twilight looked back at me.
That fox was grinning; I know she was.
The warrior spins
Her dance of death
Our lives will win
Time and again.
Beauty , Terror, Her
Fierce edged skill.
Straight for the kill.
One shall fall
Bathed in blood.
And all will fear.
The darkness then
Takes leave enough,
And she will come
To seek her home
Within this heart
And be my own.
Gabrielle -- Bard of Potidaea
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