THE CONQUEROR’S CAMPAIGN
By CJ Wells
Disclaimers: For full disclaimers‚ see Part 1. In addition to the aforementioned fabrications of TPTB‚ Glaphyra‚ Argo and Otere belong to that happy-go-lucky bunch as well.
II. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
I woke up the morning after Xena’s birthday and felt an intense longing for her. She was wide-awake and staring at the ceiling‚ deep in thought no doubt. My emotional bond with Xena is ever growing‚ but my primal lust for her has also been building and building over the seasons. Now that we are officially consorts‚ for some strange reason‚ it has become monumental. I often find myself having the most carnal thoughts as I eye her naked body. There is always something new on it to discover. She has many battle scars‚ but she also has these sexy moles that are located in some of the most delicious places on her body. It is a personal delight to know so much about her body and to know what parts of it respond more intensely to my touches. Xena’s neck is one such part‚ and I found myself that morning wanting to dig my teeth into it‚ to nip and suckle it until Xena’s body shivered in response.
I grabbed her breast and planted my mouth on her ear and neck. She was instantly brought out of whatever thoughts were preoccupying her. When she looked at me‚ seemingly in amazement‚ I positioned myself on top of her. Straddling her hips‚ I continued to suck her neck until that first moan from her sent a strong tingle down to my loins. I planted myself flat on top of her and began aggressively thrusting my sex on hers. She threw her arms around me and responded in earnest.
"By the gods‚ Xena‚" I whispered into her ear. "You are… are… HOT."
"Is that a compliment of some kind‚ Gabrielle?" she asked‚ "or shall I open a window to cool myself down?"
I responded by thrusting even harder as I ran all ten fingers through her beautiful black hair. This seemed to greatly excite Xena‚ because she held me tightly and then rolled us around so that she was now on top of me. Our rhythmic movements never paused during this change of position.
I began sensuously clawing Xena’s back. "Oh yes‚" she moaned in response.
I also let out a deep moan. "You bring out the animal in me‚ Xena‚" I confessed.
Xena moaned again. "I’m rather fond of animals‚" she said before bringing her soft lips to mine.
This glorious sexual pleasure went on for some moments before there was a hard knock at our bedchamber door.
"Uhhh‚" Xena moaned‚ breaking our kiss. "Dammit!" She looked up and away from me‚ but didn’t stop her thrusting. I didn’t stop either.
"Conqueror‚" a voice spoke‚ "I have important news to present."
"Go…away…Palaemon…" she exclaimed between breaths.
"But it’s serious‚ my Liege‚" he stated.
Xena looked at me. "Don’t stop‚ Xena‚" I pleaded as I cupped her ass and pushed her even further onto me. "This feels too good."
"I have no…intention… of stopping‚" she whispered before again pressing those succulent lips to mine and then raising her head again. "It… can… wait‚ Commander!"
Palaemon didn’t respond‚ but both of us knew that he was standing outside of that door patiently waiting for us to complete our lovemaking.
A short time later‚ climax came rather loudly‚ first to me and then only a moment later to Xena. She relaxed her body on me and gave my lips and face a series of gentle kisses. "You’re blushing‚ Gabrielle‚" she informed me as she ran her fingers through my hair. "Why?"
"I don’t know‚ Xena‚" I responded. "Probably because I know that Palaemon heard us‚ I mean… our noisy releases."
"Yeah‚ your point being?"
"Well‚ he heard us‚ Xena‚" I lamented. "Doesn’t that bother you?"
Xena chuckled. "Sweetheart‚ probably half the palace has heard us fucking. The palace Guardsmen walking the corridors‚ palace security‚ Mia…"
"We don’t fuck‚ Xena‚" I interrupted angrily. "Not anymore."
Xena’s face sobered. "I’m sorry‚ my love‚" she said as she ran the backs of her fingers down my cheek. "Being intimate with you is so very special to me. I didn’t mean it to sound as if I was diminishing our lovemaking."
I took her hand in mine. "Apology accepted‚" I said.
Xena raised herself off me. "Unfortunately‚ I do need to see what new crisis Palaemon has brought to me‚" she proclaimed as she climbed out of the bed and began heading for the bedchamber door.
"Put on a robe‚ Xena‚" I demanded. She’s MY consort now‚ I thought. No more showcasing her body for the masses.
Xena looked at me‚ but said nothing. Grabbing her robe and covering herself with it‚ she smiled before continuing her stride to the door. Grabbing the door handle‚ she looked back at me. "You put on one too‚ Gabrielle."
* * * *
When I approached them‚ Xena and Palaemon were standing over the largest table in our bedchamber looking over a very large map that Palaemon had just unrolled.
"We received word last night from Commander Glaphyra‚ Conqueror‚" Palaemon began‚ "that a large detachment of troops‚ possibly the size of an entire legion‚ was marching westward across the southern Steppes in Thrace. This legion made no hostile advances toward our Thracian Army in the region‚ but the shear size was of concern to Glaphyra."
"Where are these soldiers from‚ Palaemon?" Xena asked.
"According to Glaphyra’s intelligence‚ their clothing and armor suggests that they’re Persians‚ my Liege."
"Persians?" I chimed in. "What would Persians be doing in Thrace‚ Xena?" Before she could answer‚ I shrieked. "By the gods‚ the Amazons! Are they in danger?"
"Funny you should mention them‚ Gabrielle‚" Palaemon continued. "We received correspondence just this morning from the Northern Amazon tribe." He pulled out a rolled parchment. "It’s addressed to you."
Palaemon handed me the parchment and I quickly read the correspondence. Xena placed her hand on my shoulder as I read‚ but never took her eyes off of the map. "What does it say‚ Gabrielle?" Palaemon asked.
"It’s from Otere‚ the tribal Queen‚" I reported. "She also reports a very large army marching across Thrace. They’re heading west‚ she writes. She doesn’t believe them to be an army of the Realm‚ but adds that they have not engaged in any acts of aggression against her tribe or any of the regional villages."
"Well‚ there’s not much up there‚ Gabrielle‚" Palaemon stated. "Pastoral nomads and simple farmers mostly. And it’s winter. Not much vegetation to pillage."
As Palaemon and I spoke with each other‚ Xena was still staring intently at the map. She was obviously deep in thought‚ contemplating the movement and ambition of this mysterious army.
"You know who they are‚ don’t you Xena?" I asked.
"I suspect that it’s the Scythian Shaikheti‚" she responded.
"Shaikheti‚ Conqueror?" Palaemon chimed in. "Surely he must be dead by now."
"You think?" Xena asked‚ not so much as a question‚ but to challenge Palaemon’s notion.
"Conqueror‚ this guy is no fighter‚" he replied. "No one’s ever seen him in combat."
"Shaikheti doesn’t fight‚ Palaemon‚" Xena said. "But he enjoys leading armies of men to their deaths."
"Where is he going‚ my Liege?" Palaemon asked. "What land does he wish to invade?"
"Well‚ he’s not interested in Greece‚ Palaemon‚" Xena said. "He knows he’ll never win against any of MY armies. So‚ I suspect that he’s interested in that vast land north of Illyria."
"Gaul is north of Illyria‚ my Liege‚" Palaemon remarked. "Shaikheti would be insane to challenge our forces in Gaul."
"No‚ not Gaul‚" Xena responded. "East and north of Gaul. The land of the Lombards‚ the Vandals‚ the Burgundians and the Goths."
"Germania!" I exclaimed.
"The Germans and Scythians have a history‚ Gabrielle‚" Xena said. "They’re centuries-old enemies. I suspect that Shaikheti has been building this army for years‚ recruiting Scythians in the Steppes‚ and then Persians‚ Parthians and Lydians from the desert territories‚ waiting for his chance to avenge a battle lost a long time ago."
"But Conqueror‚" Palaemon spoke up‚ "why did Shaikheti attack our forces in Lydia last year?"
"Do you recall just how easy that battle was‚ Palaemon?" Xena responded with a query.
"Yes‚ it was too easy‚ Majesty."
"I believe Shaikheti started that conflict to both test his men and determine my commitment to protecting my land outside of the Realm."
"But Lydia is within the Realm‚ Conqueror."
"Yes‚ but it’s not Rome‚ Palaemon‚" Xena admitted. "It’s not Gaul. It’s not even Albion. My main interest in keeping a military presence in Lydia is to prevent enemies of the East from invading the Greek islands that dot the Aegean Sea."
"So‚ Shaikheti probably thinks you’re just going to sit idly by and allow him to march into Germania‚" Palaemon commented‚ "because he thinks you don’t give a damn about the area."
Both Xena and Palaemon laughed hysterically. "He’s pretty pathetic‚" she quipped.
I grabbed Xena’s arm. "Does this mean you’re going into battle with this man‚ Xena?"
"Absolutely‚" she answered.
"Why?" I asked. "Germania is outside of the Realm. Nothing is of interest to you there."
"Any land that borders my Realm is of interest to me‚ Gabrielle‚" she remarked. "Germania borders parts of Gaul‚ Thrace and Illyria. And to be honest with you‚ I’m sick of Shaikheti. I think it’s time to end his reign of ineptitude."
Palaemon was still chuckling. "How many Guardsmen should I summon for travel‚ my Liege?"
Xena seemed to contemplate for a moment. "One century should be enough‚" she answered. "We have plenty of forces in eastern Gaul to make up the numbers." Xena paused again. "Assemble a training century. I want some of my new recruits to get a taste of combat in the cold."
"By your will‚ Conqueror‚" Palaemon said before leaving the bedchamber.
Xena had a look in her eyes. It was that familiar look of exultant bloodlust that I hate so much. Her lip curled and she chuckled to herself. "This is going to be thoroughly entertaining‚" she mumbled.
I folded my arms. "I’m going with you‚ Xena‚" I said.
"No you’re not‚" she replied.
"Yes I am."
"You’re staying here‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "I won’t be gone long."
"Why don’t you want me to go‚ Xena?" I asked as my tempered flared. "No boat to conceal me on?"
"I said you’re not going‚" she shot. "End of discussion."
"I don’t give a damn what you said!" I was losing it. "I said I AM GOING!"
In a heartbeat‚ Xena had roughly grabbed my arms and backed me up against a wall. "Is this where you forget that I’m no longer your slave‚ Conqueror?" I said as tears of anger started to flow. She didn’t respond. She just held me there. We stared deeply into each other’s eyes. Hers were frosty‚ almost colorless‚ at first. But then the warm and bright blue sparkle came back.
"What would you do there‚ Gabrielle?" she finally asked as she released my arms. "I don’t want you going anywhere near the battlefield."
I thought for only a single moment. "I can help the wounded‚ Xena‚" I said. "I’m sure there will be a makeshift hospice of some kind set up near the war camp."
Xena stepped back. "And when you come back from battle‚ I’ll be there to comfort you." I added.
* * * *
One hundred of Xena’s freshest Imperial Guardsmen accompanied us on our journey north toward Germania. Among the new recruits were our friends Stanislas and Hadiya‚ the two Parisii women who came back to Greece with us after Xena’s victory in Albion and our stay in Rome‚ and the Amazon Charicleia‚ who willingly left the Thessalian Amazon village to be with her lover‚ Bahri. Xena granted Bahri leave from her post as a Militia Field Sergeant so that she could join the troops‚ and her lover‚ in our trek as well. Palaemon commanded the century. As was protocol‚ his second-in-command‚ Commander Aerol‚ took charge of the remaining forces in Corinth.
Traveling to Germania took many days. Most of the troops rode on horseback. Likewise‚ Xena rode Argo and I rode Chulytis. The remaining troops were grouped rather tightly in large carriages. It was an exhausting trip. The cold of winter was biting and the snow seemed to fall endlessly. In addition‚ food had to be carefully rationed. To make matters worse‚ Xena’s and my unwanted monthly companions came along‚ making me irritable and short-tempered and making Xena downright impossible to be around.
By the time we reached Castra Regina‚ our cycles had ended‚ but I was so famished that I was contemplating slipping away to hunt something… anything. During my time with the Amazons‚ it was required of me to learn the art of the hunt‚ and during my scout guard training‚ I had successfully snared two deer‚ an elk and several hares and pheasants. I never gutted any of the animals that I killed. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It wasn’t the sight of blood that scared me. It was the realization that I had taken the lives of other living creatures‚ even though these hunted animals were used to feed my tribe and me.
Commander Seumius and three centuries of his troops were in Castra Regina to join Xena’s Imperial Guardsmen. Commander Glaphyra had also journeyed there from Thrace. She had over three centuries with her as well. Xena had all of her military leaders order their respective troops to set up a war camp in a valley about a two day ride north of the city. Hundreds of small tents were erected. These small tents surrounded two larger tents. The larger of the two tents served as the hospice tent. The other somewhat smaller tent was Xena’s command tent. Once the camp was completed‚ Xena ordered her military leaders into the command tent to begin strategizing. Bahri and I accompanied her.
"You have such troubled expressions on your faces‚" Xena said jovially to Glaphyra and Seumius as we walked in.
"Permission to speak‚ Majesty‚" Seumius spoke up.
"Granted‚" Xena replied.
"I think that I can speak for everyone‚ my Liege‚ when I say that I believe we are greatly outnumbered here."
Glaphyra stepped up. "With all due respect‚ Conqueror‚" she added‚ "Had I known you would only bring one century of fighters‚ I would have brought more from my army."
Xena folded her arms. "Just how many warriors do you two believe we need for this mission?"
Glaphyra and Seumius looked at each other. It was obvious that both were worried about the situation‚ but neither wanted to question Xena’s decisions nor her expertise. "Begging your pardon‚ Empress‚" Glaphyra finally spoke. "We believe that there may be an entire legion of Persians out there."
I looked up at Xena. A legion is made up of sixty centuries or six thousand men. Xena had about seven hundred centurions in the war camp. If Seumius and Glaphyra were correct in their assumptions‚ Xena’s entire fighting force present was outnumbered almost ten-to-one.
Xena turned her attention to Palaemon and Bahri. "Are you two worried?" she asked them.
"Not at all‚ my Liege‚" Palaemon responded.
"No‚ ma’am‚" Bahri added smiling.
"And why is that?"
"Because I know you have a plan‚ Conqueror‚" Palaemon answered.
Xena directed us to that same map from our bedchamber‚ which was now covering a pallet on the tent floor. Kneeling down around the pallet‚ Xena drew our attention to an area on the map.
"We are here‚" she pointed to the valley north of Castra Regina where our camp was situated. "Shaikheti’s troops are positioned here." Xena pointed to an area just east of the Elbe River‚ about a half-day ride north from where we were. I observed her attentively as she spoke.
"There are several Lombard and Burgundian villages east and along the Elbe River‚" she explained. "My guess is that Shaikheti’s army will hit these villages first. It’s actually a smart move. Neither of those Germanic clans will offer any significant strength in resistance."
"Why not‚ Xena?" I asked.
Xena looked at me and smiled. For some strange reason‚ I believed it warmed her to know that I was at least interested in her visceral interpretation of Shaikheti’s battle plans. "The Germans are not unlike the clans of Albion‚ Gabrielle‚" she replied. "They have had centuries of tribal civil wars. Years of fighting have weakened the strength of most of the peoples in this region. On top of that‚ none of the individual clans would be likely to come to the assistance of a neighboring clan under attack‚ even if it were by some outside force."
"So‚ my Liege‚ these German clans would rather have some foreigners beat them than ally together and fight the foreigners?" Glaphyra queried.
"The way the other clans see it‚ if Shaikheti’s men kill off the Lombards and the Burgundians now‚ they’ve spared these other clans the labor of doing it later."
"That’s utterly ridiculous of them‚ Conqueror‚" Seumius spoke up. "These Germans must be fools!"
"No‚ not fools‚" Xena said. "Just stubborn."
"So‚ what’s the plan‚ my Liege?" Seumius asked. "Are we to sit back and allow Shaikheti to defeat these two German clans?"
"No‚" Xena replied. "The two clans are weak‚ but they’re not impotent. They’ll put up a fight. What we’re here to do is help them."
"Why‚ Majesty?" Seumius asked. "We don’t owe these people anything. They’re not even loyal to the Realm."
"Because this land is too close to Gaul‚ too close to my Realm‚ Commander‚" Xena replied. "I’d rather it be inhabited by weakened clans than be threatened by a vastly strengthening Persian army."
"We’re protecting our borders‚ Commander Seumius‚" Palaemon added.
"Precisely‚" Xena agreed.
"Okay‚ this makes a lot of sense‚ Conqueror‚" Glaphyra said. "But it still doesn’t answer how we are going to fight six thousand men with seven hundred."
For some puzzling reason‚ Xena smiled at me again. "Palaemon‚" she said‚ "the contract."
Palaemon pulled out a small parchment from a pouch tied to his pteryges. He handed the parchment to Xena. "Orocovis of Illyria will be here in the morning with his entire army‚ about four battalions of fighters."
Seumius and Glaphyra’s jaws dropped. Palaemon and Bahri folded their arms in smug amusement. Of course I didn’t know what any of this stuff meant.
"Hu… hu… how?" was all that could come out of Glaphyra’s mouth.
"I cut a deal with him‚" was all that Xena would reveal.
* * * *
The command tent served a second function. It was also the sleeping tent for Xena and me. After Bahri and the officers were briefed on their first round of movement for the pending battle‚ they departed and Xena and I prepared to retire for the evening. Although the tent provided adequate shelter from the wind‚ it could not keep out much of the frost of winter. Bunching up a mound of blankets and animal furs‚ I created a cozy bedroll for us. The ground inside the tent was partially covered with bear hides‚ so I obviously positioned our bedroll over one of them. I was hopeful that the combination of the bear fur and blankets under us and the layers of blankets and hides covering us would completely insulate us from the cold as we slept. And although one of the greatest pleasures of my life was sleeping naked in Xena’s embrace‚ I had no intention of taking off my clothing as long as we were sleeping in that cold tent. The temperature was so frigid that any pail of water not sitting over a fire was frozen solid.
After I was nestled deep within the bedroll‚ I peeked out to watch Xena. She was sitting on the ground beside it‚ legs crossed and covered in an animal fur cloak‚ methodically sharpening her sword.
"Aren’t you cold‚ Xena?"
It was obvious that Xena was already completely focusing on the impending campaign. Her eyes were locked on her sword‚ but her mind was on a battlefield. I watched her sharpen her weapon for some moments before deciding to satisfy my curiosity.
"So‚ Xena Warrior Princess‚" I spoke up. "Are you going to tell me about this Orocovis person and the deal that you struck with him?"
Xena stopped sharpening and looked down at me. "The year that I proclaimed myself the Conqueror‚" she began‚ "was the year that I conquered Greece‚ Gabrielle. About a year later‚ I began my conquests of Crete to the south and Illyria to the north. Crete was easy‚ because I had allied with the Dorians against Caesar there. Illyria was not. Orocovis was and still is the leader of the Illyrian people. Has been for over twenty years. When I invaded his land‚ he put up a demon of a fight. He was physically strong like Niall of Calleva‚ as smart as any of my best tacticians‚ and he wasn’t afraid to die. Most significantly‚ Gabrielle‚ he wasn’t afraid of me.
"But like every other opponent that I have encountered‚ he too has a weakness‚" she continued. "Orocovis is a GOOD man. He loves his land and his people‚ and back then he refused to sacrifice either in what was becoming an obvious lost cause."
"Yes‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "He was strong‚ but not as strong as the army that I had built by that time. So‚ he surrendered. He had probably heard that I was lenient to those who surrendered amicably‚ and he knew of what I was capable with those who went down fighting."
"Were you ever lenient with anyone in those days‚ Xena?" I asked.
"Depends‚" she responded. "At those times when I believed a king or ruler was of no threat to my goal for ultimate power‚ he and his people were spared with minimal consequences. But Orocovis was too smart‚ too strong and too much loved and respected by his people not to be considered a threat." Xena put down her sword and looked away from me.
"What did you do to him‚ Xena?"
"I… I did nothing to him physically‚ Gabrielle‚" she said as her eyes became misty. "But I took control of his land and stripped him of his title. I had some of the men of his army imprisoned or slaughtered… and I had the rest of the men‚ as well as many of the women and adolescent boys‚ branded and sold into slavery."
"Oh‚ Xena." I sighed as I looked away from her.
"It was to weaken his resolve‚ his morale‚ Gabrielle‚" Xena said. "So he would never be a threat to my world." She sighed woefully. "But I underestimated him‚" she continued. "My tyranny only served to strengthen his conviction toward his land and people."
There was a long pause as I sorted out this evil part of Xena’s past. "What’s the deal‚ Xena?" I asked after a long‚ bitter silence.
"On our journey here‚ I went to him one night after you fell asleep‚" she said. "He has hated me all of this time and has been quietly rebuilding his army over the last eight or so years. I’ve always been aware of it and have had my operatives in the area keeping an eye on him. I don’t think he ever planned to attack any of my forces. I believe he just wanted to protect his beloved homeland from further harm. Anyway‚ I told him about Shaikheti. I told him that Shaikheti poses a threat to all of the peoples of this region. I asked him to join us in assisting the Germans in their war against Shaikheti."
"Is that the truth‚ Xena?" I asked. "Is Shaikheti a threat to the Illyrians as well?"
"Yes‚ Gabrielle‚" she responded. "I sincerely believe that he is."
"So‚ why would Orocovis even consider helping you if he hates you so much?" I inquired‚ "Why‚ after all that you’ve done to his people? What’s in it for him if he does?"
Xena looked at me with a sad resolve in her eyes. "I’ve emancipated all of the surviving Illyrians taken into slavery‚" she said. "I did it before we left Corinth."
There was another long‚ silent pause.
"And I told Orocovis that all of those people are free forever‚ regardless if he joins me or not."
CONTINUED IN PART THREE
Return to CJWells