The Children of Ares
Chapter 31: The Plot.
He stood six foot five inches tall. His black leather armor fought desperately to contain the bulging muscles of his half-godly body. The tall man had long black curly hair that was oiled and scented with musk. His eyes were blue and old, because they were haunted by a long and bloody past. His skin was bronzed by the sun and shiny from the bear oil that anointed it. The powerful specimen was Remus, son of Ares and King of Reme.
The younger of the twin sons of Ares was troubled. His lands in Britannia were becoming difficult to protect. The Picts, the Gaelic tribes and the Britons had united under one leader and the only thing the half God knew about this mysterious leader was that she was a woman.
At first Remus thought, his sister had designs on his lands, but his father forcefully reassured him that the leader of the Britons was not his daughter. Unfortunately, his father also informed him the leader was the chosen of Artemis, who the Britons worshipped openly.
This information was not good news. Remus knew that Artemis had many followers among the Druids and they possessed mystical knowledge. If the Druids had also joined with the tribes, then the King of Reme was about to lose some territory. He couldn’t afford that. His sister and brother would see it as weakness. The angry demigod cleared the table with a backhand flick.
To make matters worse, his sister was raising the greatest temple in history to honor their father. This temple would raise his sister high in their father’s eyes. The bitch had invited all the rulers of the world to its dedication, though she conveniently left her siblings off the guest list. All the better, the jealous brother did not get along with his brother or sister.
The half God had lived for seven hundred and forty-three years and still he acted childishly at times. Taking a deep breath to gain control of his emotions, the muscular King called for his favorite general, Gaius Marius
The older general had organized the younger brother’s army into one that was as formidable as that of his brother. The legions of Reme had been loosely organized bands of barbarians until Gaius Marius became general. The cunning general had organized the army into ten cohorts of ten legions each. He had also forged the wild bands of Hun horsemen into organized cavalry units.
After victories in Western Gaul, Spain and Britannia, the aging general became Remus’s top advisor and the only man that could tell the hot tempered demigod... ‘no’. When the gray haired general entered the room, Reme’s solemn expression changed to a look of open admiration. The son of Ares needed a plan and this man would give him a very good one.
"Saluto, my King," Greeted the experienced general, "You sent for me. How may I help you?"
"Do you know of the situation in Britannia and of the alliance between the Britons and the Druids?" Inquired the unstable Emperor.
"Your Majesty, I would be a poor advisor if I failed to keep up with the troubled portions of your kingdom." Jested the aging general.
Another man would have paid with his life for that jest, but this man had earned the right of informality with the taciturn demigod. So, he asked thoughtfully, "What can I do about it?"
"I have some information that may help us," replied the intelligent advisor, "I have learned that the leader of the Britannia alliance is the Queen of the Amazons and that she is visiting your sister in Corinth as an honored guest. The rumor is that she is more than just a guest of the Empress of the East. It is said that the Amazon Queen is both lover and advisor to your sister."
"This is terrible news. With my sister’s backing, we will have no chance of holding Britannia," whined the childish King, "Damn my father for spawning that hellcat. He couldn’t be satisfied with just me and my brother..."
"Your Majesty," the elderly advisor interrupted, "It is a great break. All we have to do is get our hands on this Amazonian Queen and we can force the Alliance and your sister to the bargaining table. We might even get territorial concessions from the Empress in exchange for her whore."
A smile crossed the angry King’s lips for the first time in weeks at the prospects of this plan. Remus responded, "I like this plan. How do we get the bitch without my sister noticing?"
"Well, Sire, I think we need to go to your sister’s dedication of Ares’s Temple," answered the experienced advisor, "I think this celebration will give us ample opportunity to get our hands on their Queen."
Remus nodded his agreement and thought with an evil leer of what he was going to do to the Queen of the Amazons, once he had her in his power. Yes, I’m sure the Amazon will be very entertaining.
Chapter 32: Obstacles
Romulus, too, made an uninvited, yet expected visit to Corinth. The Emperor of Rome and his personal advisor, Julius Caesar arrived with a full legion and ten warships. They were greeted by General Borias, two legions and a company of cavalry as an honor guard for the unpopular dignitaries from Rome. The Amazon Queen had schooled him on what to say. The war council had wanted the Conqueror’s oldest brother thrown off balance a bit.
The Conqueror’s representative greeted, "Saluto, Emperor, my Empress wishes to inform you that you may have five personal guards and two advisors as quarters are limited due to all the dignitaries that are arriving to celebrate the dedication of HER father’s new temple. The rest of your men must be quartered in tents outside the city, I’m afraid. We lack the rooms to accommodate so many men. Of course, you have the Conqueror’s personal guarantee of safety."
The older of the twins was much sharper than his younger brother and smiled as he counted the insults, six in all. My sister must have given the poor man the speech. Borias was a great general, but not very gifted in the art of public speaking. Of course, as the uninvited guest, he would be forced to accept the guarantee of safety in lieu of bodyguards. It was a matter of form.
So the tall demigod replied, "My compliments to my sister and of course we totally understand. I assume she sent you here to fetch me back to the palace. Well, if you will wait a moment I will get my party ready. Then you can show me to my quarters; my sister has trained her pets well."
The sly insults were not lost on Borias either. The mighty general had served one of Ares’s other off-springs for years and considered it a sign of respect to be deemed worthy of such comments. After all, it wasn’t every day that a person was insulted by the Son of a God. The Bear of the Conqueror gave a polite bow and waited for the Emperor of Rome to accompany him to the demigod’s lavish quarters.
On the way to his quarters, Romulus encountered his twin brother and they nodded to each as they passed. Borias took the opportunity to jab at his Empress’s enemy and said, "Your brother is in the suite next door. You’ll have ample opportunity to discuss weighty matters later, I’m sure. There is, of course, a connecting door and you share a balcony."
The accompanying guard of the Roman Emperor groaned as they realized the logistical nightmare of guarding their Monarch with such sleeping arrangements. Romulus made a mental note to demote these guardsmen as an example of when not open your mouth. Romulus smiled broadly and showed no outward sign of being disturbed by the arrangements. Though the irritated monarch was cursing his whore of a sister to the Seven Circles for this inconvenience.
Remus sat heavily onto his throne. His brother was being quartered in the other room. It changed everything. Remus had planned to use the empty room as a way out of his chambers undetected. The plan had been to use the shared balcony to gain access and then to sneak from the unguarded and vacant room. The vacant room had also been the place they planned on hiding their victim.
General Marius limped into the Emperor’s bedchamber to discuss a new plan. The old soldier knew he would have to keep a tight rein on his master’s temper. When the General brought up what would be necessary to accomplish their plan, his King would explode. At least the experienced advisor had some good news to placate his erratic leader; he had managed to locate the Amazon Queen’s sleeping quarters. Now, the problem was getting out of their room unseen.
The unpredictable King looked coldly at his General and asked, "Did you find her sleeping quarters?"
The cautious Advisor took a deep breath and told himself that telling the good news first would make the other news more palatable to the sometimes-irrational King. The other good news he would save to proceed the advice that he knew would make the half-God very angry. The king’s advisor answered, "Yes, we have located the sleeping quarters of the Conqueror and that is where the Amazon Queen is spending her nights."
A slight smiled crossed Remus’s face as he said, "Excellent, now we know how to get to my sister?"
"I guess you know that your Brother has been put in the quarters adjoining ours and that we share a balcony. This changes our plans for evading the Conqueror’s guards," the King’s Advisor then approached the next subject cautiously, "We may need to approach your brother for his assistance."
The aging general received his answer when he felt the King’s dagger pinning his leather armor to the wall. It had actually gone better than the mature advisor had expected. He was still alive.
Chapter 33: The Harness
The party was well planned. The seating arrangements would certainly insult the Conqueror’s Brothers as she intended. The Dark Empress also had plans for Caesar as well. The raven-haired woman’s original plan had been to see how long her enemy would last on the cross, but then she wondered why Romulus would place his favorite pet within her grasp. So, the tall warrior’s quest for vengeance was temporarily put on hold until she could figure out Romulus’s motive.
Gabrielle had had a vision and the Warrior Empress had learned to listen to her Bard’s visions. The Conqueror remembered well the conversation.
The tall woman was wearing her favorite blue kimono and playing jackals and hounds with her son Solan, and losing for a change. The inexperienced mother loved this time with her unknowing son.
The contented mother was proud of the boy’s obvious intelligence. The experienced player had only taught the young man the game two fortnights ago and he had already picked up the intricacy of the game.
Xena was not used to losing and was desperately trying to extract herself from the Celtic Prince’s latest trap. Her desperation was doubled when she noticed the smirk on her son’s face. How the competitive woman wanted to whip that look off his face.
It was on the fourth ‘Xena are you listening?’ that the Conqueror noticed that her young Bard was trying to get her attention. The concentrating player had only given partial attention to her blonde lover as she said, "What is it, Gabby?"
The young blonde pulled her hood over her head and said, "I had a vision."
"That’s nice" The inattentive monarch answered as she made a move that temporarily wiped that look of superiority from the young warrior’s lips, "I think that will keep you busy for a while, Boy."
"...Then this gang of Roman soldiers started to gang rape me and I screamed out Caesar’s name and begged for more." Xena noticed that her Bard lover was talking in conversational and mirthful tones.
That got her attention. It forced the irritated ruler to ask, "When did this happen? I will strangle the son-of-bitch with his intestines. I will nail the Bastard to the cross myself."
The blonde Bard broke out into hysterical laughter. "It didn’t"
The Dark Empress raised a single eyebrow as she queried. "What does that mean? Was that the vision?"
The Amazon Queen was laughing hysterically at her dark lover’s obvious confusion as she responded. "I mean it didn’t happen. I just needed to get your attention. You were kind of preoccupied and no that was not the vision."
The Empress of the East looked over at her concentrating son and smiled weakly in apology to her young love, who broke out laughing all over again as she said, "Don’t worry about it and please stop before you make me pee in my pants."
The blonde Bard ritually covered her head with her hood as she recounted her vision. "I saw that killing Caesar will be a victory for Romulus. Your brother is putting Caesar within your reach in order to rid himself of the Roman."
This vision intrigued the Greek Empress as she asked, "What is my brother’s purpose? Does your vision say?"
The True Bard removed her hood and replied. "No."
The Conqueror really wished she could have gotten an answer to her last question. Her Bard was a little vague sometimes and to make matters worse, Solan had won the game. The Warrior Empress strode to her seat at the main table and sat there regally as she waited for her guests.
Romulus and Remus were not very happy. The twin brothers were seated at the furthest table from the Empress and the Amazon Queen. The table was small and the chairs were made for children. Adolescent girls that chattered about dresses and balls flanked them on either side.
Occasionally the Greek Empress would catch one of her brothers’ eyes and smile wickedly. Finally after dinner was served the Conqueror rose to make a speech, "Distinguished guests, we are here to dedicate the most magnificent temple ever constructed to my father, Ares, the God of War. I would like to welcome all the leaders that have graced with their presence. I would also like to welcome my beloved brothers, who joined up despite some mix up with the invitations. I’m sure they will join me in a toast to my father."
Ares’s daughter raised her glass and said, "To my father, may he get what he deserves and may all dreams get their just consideration. To Ares."
Everyone in the room rose to his or her feet lifted their glasses and said, "To Ares."
As all the guests present took the required drink to complete the toast, Remus cleared his throat and said,
"I would like to propose a toast to my sister and her latest conquest. May they get what they’ve got coming to them. To Xena and Samantha...err...Gabrielle"
The gathering was not quite sure how to handle the obvious and none too subtle slight of the hostess and her consort, but they decided to say, "To Xena and Gabrielle."
Romulus was very embarrassed by his brother’s clumsy attempt at subtlety. So he raised his glass and his voice, "It is said throughout the known world that Gabrielle is the one True Bard. Would she not grace us with a story or tune?"
Gabrielle was prepared for this and had the perfect story ready. The True Bard signaled for her harp and rose from her seat. The young blonde strode confidently to the center of the tables and called for a stool. When her harp arrived, the green-eyed singer tuned her instrument. The notes were pure and simple, but evoked much passion among the audience. The half-Gods could feel the power.
When her instrument was ready, the young Bard said, "This is the tale of Man, Horse and the Wolf."
With quiet confidence the experienced performer played a soothing melody as she sang, "This is a tale of the beginning of Man. Man had yet to master the world and he lived as one with nature. So much so that he could speak and understand all the animals and plants of Gaia.
As our tale begins Horse is being tormented by Wolf. Everyday, Wolf torments Horse and kills some of the young. Finally one day Horse has had enough and he goes to Man and says, "We are both tormented by Wolf, it is time we stopped him."
Man replied humbly, "I have the tools to stop Wolf, but he is swift afoot and I can’t catch him."
Horse answered with pride, "I am faster than Wolf. I will let you ride me so you can catch him."
But the Man responded more humbly, "You are too swift and I would fall from your back and would hurt myself."
Horse thought for a second and replied, "Fashion some seat to place upon my back and you will not fall. But you must promise to remove the seat when we have captured Wolf."
Man nodded his ascent and asked, "How will you know which way to go? I will be higher up and better able to see Wolf."
Horse thought again and replied, "Get a length a rope and fashion a bit for my mouth. When you pull on one side I will know which way to go. Additionally, if you pull back on both sides I know to stop. But you must promise to remove them when you capture Wolf."
The next day Man put his invention on Horse and rode off after Wolf. They soon found Wolf and in working together they captured him. Then man tamed the Wolf and called him Dog. After Wolf was trained Horse said, "It is time to let me go."
The man looked at his horse and smiled as he ordered, "Giddy up."
When the small woman had finished her song, she returned her harp to its keeper and bowed to the Twin Brothers and said, "Thus ends my tail, but the moral is eternal. When you give up a little freedom for comfort. You deserve neither the freedom nor the comfort."
Remus sat stewing. He knew the song was directed at the brothers. It had been too obvious. What made the violent ruler angriest was that the song spoke the truth; Ares is our master.
Romulus did not stew. He applauded the loudest. He had thrown down the gauntlet and the little slip of the girl had bested him. The older brother now knew what his baby sister saw in the small woman.
Chapter 34: The Kidnapping.
The young maid slept restlessly that night. The young blonde was to leave for her new estates in Lower Gaul. The Conqueror had provided well for the new lover of the Celtic Champion. Lena had fallen deeply in love with the quiet and shy warrior and missed her lover so much. The former slave had been invited to the festival, but wasn’t in the mood for a party.
At the tall Empress’s request, the once-servant was sleeping in the Conqueror’s quarters. The Empress and her Queen wanted to have some time in her quarters; it seems they had some fond memories of the room. The young woman smiled at the prospect of what those memories were. Then her smile disappeared as she remembered her warrior and the night they had spent here. The memory was fantastic, but the loneliness had returned to taunt her.
The small young woman sighed as she changed into her bedclothes. Suddenly a hand clamped around her mouth and she felt herself pulled against an armored body. Hot, wine soaked breath stung her cheek as she smelled the man’s whisper, "Be quiet or die, Bitch."
Lena gave up her struggle for the moment, so she could assess her situation. There were at least three men in the room. If she got away from one of the rowdies, another one would recapture her. The young maid had been a servant and slave for many years, so she knew the rough hands of men and rapists. That prospect did not alarm her. What frightened her as they tied her up was that they seemed intent on binding her and not raping her. They obviously had something else in mind.
Her first thoughts were that she was being taken by slavers and that she would never see her beloved warrior again. Then the frightened woman remembered the brand on her; no slaver in their right mind would steal one of the Conqueror’s slaves. Suddenly it came to her; she was in the Conqueror’s room. These men must be trying to kidnap her lover’s Queen. The spunky little maid decided to help her lover and go along with the mistaken identity. It would save the woman, her love thought of as a Goddess.
Bound tightly, blinded, and gagged, Lena still struggled for freedom, as she thought a Queen would do. Slaps, pinches and punches were ignored as she struggled to keep up the illusion that she was a Queen.
It had gone off better than the hired men had thought. When they were approached earlier in the day with the proposition they almost refused, despite the huge fee. After all, it required them to sneak into the Conqueror’s chambers and to steal her Amazonian lover. However, the feast in the banquet room seemed the prefect cover for their operation, so they accepted the job.
The job had gone just like planned. The Empress was still busy in the Hall, while the Queen had had to come back to change from wine soaked clothes. The servant they had paid to spill a pitcher of wine on the Empress’s Bard had done a wonderful job. It was too bad she was a loose end and had to be eliminated.
They wrapped the woman in a huge sack and lowered her to the ground with a rope. Then the men slid down the rope, one at a time. They carried their precious cargo to the side door of the palace, where the post guard had fallen fatally asleep.
The three large men walked down a back alley and into a small stable, where they had a cart of hay for transporting their bounty. No one noticed a farmer and his three sons leaving the city.
Chapter 35: The Keepers.
When man was young to the Earth, the Gods gave special men and women several virtues and vices to keep and preserve. These unique individuals were called the Keepers. They were each assigned a virtue and it’s nemesis vice. The Head Keeper is the Keeper of Knowledge. Knowledge is neither a virtue nor a vice. Knowledge has no allegiance.
All the other Keepers keep a virtue and it’s vice counterpart. The Keepers are protectors of Happiness and Grief, Faith and Disbelief, Loyalty and Betrayal, Passion and Chaos, Mercy and Cruelty, Patience and Want, Honor and Rumor, Justice and Vengeance, Wisdom and Folly, Hope and Despair, Love and Hate, Life and Death, Appetite and Hunger and Ambition and Indolence.
Murphy led the Prince Solan and the Warrior Callisto into the presence of the Keeper of Knowledge. The hooded woman was a tall woman, taller than the Empress was. The priestess removed her hood to reveal long black hair and blue eyes with high cheekbones and a large, ill formed nose. The young prince bowed to the regal woman and said, "Keeper of Knowledge, this is Callisto."
"Ah, child, I have seen your sorrow and pain. It is a shame that those who are selected, must suffer from their vice before they can don their mantle." Said the priestess with a gentle voice.
Callisto gave the tall priestess a confused look as she asked, "What do you mean that those who are selected must suffer from their vice?"
The Keeper replied, "How can anyone keep what they do not know? Everyone who takes up the mantle of the keeper must suffer their vice."
Callisto suddenly realized what the tall woman was telling her, "Do you mean to say, I’m here to be a keeper like you?"
The Keeper of Knowledge smiled and said, "Yes, you are here to be a Keeper, but not a Keeper like me. I am the Keeper of Knowledge, you are the Keeper of Justice and Vengeance."
Callisto queried, "What if I do not wish to be a Keeper?"
The tall priestess turned her back and replied with a question, "That will not be a problem, will it?"
The blonde woman nodded her acceptance and answered as she followed the raven-haired priestess out of the room, "No, it won’t be."
End of Part 8.
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