THE CONQUEROR’S CAMPAIGN
By CJ Wells
Disclaimers: For full disclaimers‚ see Part 1. Must give credit where credit is due. Aristotle (384-322 BC)‚ Socrates (469-399 BC)‚ Plato (429-347 BC) and Epicuros (341-270 BC) were Greek philosophers. Homer‚ Aeschylus (525-456 BC) and Eratosthenes (285-194 BC) were Greek writers/scholars. Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC) was a great Roman legal orator and writer. Siddhartha Gautama‚ a.k.a. Buddha (563-483 BC) was founder of the Buddhist religion. Huang Di was the mythical emperor and founder of the Chinese civilization and Confucius (551-479 BC) was a Chinese philosopher. Kleomenes (520-490 BC) was a Spartan king‚ Bimbisara (520-491 BC) was King of Magadha and Josiah (640-609 BC) was King of Judah. Epaminondas (420-362 BC) was a renowned general of Thebes. Cyrus II (559-530 BC) was the famed ruler of the Achemenid dynasty in Persia. Finally‚ Sun Tzu was the legendary Chinese general who wrote the earliest military treatise‚ The Art of War‚ about 500 BC.
XV. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
After many years of conquering great lands and defeating great leaders‚ the curse of fear had become an alien concept to me. I had literally overcome fear… until Gabrielle came into my life. At first‚ it was the fear of loving her. I spent about the first two years of her servitude trying desperately not to love her. Once I had acknowledged to myself that my attempts were futile‚ my fear began to shift. The fear of loving her was instantly replaced by the fear of losing her.
After burning the whips that I had used in a rage against her‚ I had vowed to myself that I would never allow anything to compromise her being with me. I was in her presence more‚ she slept with me more often after service‚ and when I was required to venture off to some battle or engagement somewhere‚ I always acquired some token of my victory or visit‚ be it an article of clothing‚ a piece of jewelry‚ an exotic fruit or nut‚ or something interesting to read to bring back to her. There were still many times when I was a disgusting bitch to her‚ but I do believe that‚ as time passed on‚ those instances when I was that bitch were outnumbered by the times that I wasn’t one.
In my determination not to lose her‚ I gave to her an unlimited access to knowledge. Knowledge is power‚ and the more you know‚ the more you can face unforeseen challenges successfully. While she was still my slave‚ I gave Gabrielle scrolls and bound volumes of the works and wisdoms of all of the legendary Greek philosophers. There was no doubt that she was the only slave in all of the Realm‚ and in a great minority of those who were free and literate‚ that was able to learn the teachings of Socrates and Plato‚ of Aristotle and Epicuros. She was also given the works of the greatest of artists‚ mathematicians and orators: Homer‚ Aeschylus‚ Eratosthenes and Cato. Just before she was freed‚ she was provided the teachings of the mysterious Eastern philosophers‚ including Siddhartha Gautama‚ Confucius and Huang Di. The slave Gabrielle eagerly absorbed this vast information like a plant absorbing rainwater.
However‚ when we began our travels as equals‚ as lovers‚ my desire to teach her grew. Gabrielle was an almost overflowing vessel of philosophic‚ artistic and religious knowledge‚ but she knew no more of warfare than what was taught to her by her Amazon Sisters. And although I fully respect the Amazons’ ability to fight defensively in conflict‚ they are not among the great wagers of war. I wanted Gabrielle to learn about the great kings‚ conquerors and generals before me. I wanted her to understand both the keys to their victories and the causes behind their great undoing. In my early days‚ when I was traveling with Borias‚ I would study the rulers of centuries past: Kings Kleomenes‚ Bimbisara and Josiah‚ General Epaminondas and the great Cyrus II. I passed on what I knew of these men to Gabrielle‚ filling her ears with treatises of dominations and defeats.
I didn’t teach these things to Gabrielle because I wanted to turn her into a great warrior. Queen Melosa’s Amazons had done a fine enough job‚ judging from Gabrielle’s conduct against the Steppe Amazons in Northern Thrace and against Shaikheti’s troops in Germania. No‚ I wanted her to understand them better so that if she were ever in a position of serious decision-making‚ she’d be more fully able to grasp the situation at hand and deal with it intelligently.
That all changed the day that I was to fight Callisto in the Colosseum.
When Callisto proposed a contest between her Mesopotamian Amazon friends and my Gabrielle’s Amazon Sisters‚ I was forced to deal with something that I had hoped and prayed I would never have to face. Gabrielle knew how to fight‚ but she needed to learn The Art of War. Thus‚ that afternoon before I was to fight Callisto‚ I sat down next to Gabrielle in the Colosseum’s royal viewing vault‚ took her hands in mine and told her one of the greatest lessons I had learned when I was in Chin with Lao Ma.
"Gabrielle‚" I started‚ "toward the end of my stay with Lao Ma‚ she had made me a most incredible offer."
"What was that‚ Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"She offered to appoint me commander of her royal army‚" I replied. "I was to be her ‘Warrior Princess.’"
"Is that where your title came from?"
"Yes‚" I replied. "It really wasn’t deserved since it never came to fruition."
"So why did you adopt the title‚ Xena?"
"Because before I was to become her Warrior Princess‚ I needed to know how to be a true warrior‚ and I did accomplish that."
"I thought that you were already a great warrior by then‚ Xena." Gabrielle said.
"I knew how to fight and how to kill‚ but I was basically just a thug with a large body count then‚" I said. "To become a true warrior‚ I was required to study The Art of War."
"The Art of War?" Gabrielle queried.
"Yes‚" I said. "After reaching Dao and obtaining inner peace‚ Lao Ma awarded me the chakram and gave me the teachings of the great Chin General Sun Tzu."
"Why are you telling me this‚ Xena?"
"Because I want to teach you what I learned."
"Just in case."
Slightly tightening the grip on her hands‚ I began‚ "According to Sun Tzu‚ warfare is a great matter to a nation‚ Gabrielle. It is the way of survival and of destruction‚ and must be examined. First there must be a chain of command‚ the Way‚ that causes people to have the same thinking as their superiors."
Gabrielle removed her hands from my grasp and began caressed my left thigh as I spoke. I first told her about the factors and logistics of war‚ and then I spoke of its philosophy. "Gabrielle‚ I won wars by following Sun Tzu’s basic rules. I gave commands that were carried out without question. I created well-trained‚ strong armies and I made my rewards and punishments clear to my troops. But it was Sun Tzu’s philosophic wisdom of war that served as my greatest ally. He said that force is the control and balance of power‚ but that it’s also the Way of Deception. Thus‚ if you are able‚ appear unable; if you’re active‚ appear inactive; if you’re near‚ appear far; if your enemy has an advantage‚ entice them; if they are confused‚ take them; if they’re strong‚ avoid them; if they’re angry‚ disturb them; and if they’re united‚ separate them. Attack where they are not prepared and go to where they don’t expect. When doing battle‚ Gabrielle‚ seek a quick victory."
* * * *
The Sicilian Seven presented an intimidating bunch. As I was introduced to each woman‚ I studied her intensely as I engaged her in short conversation. I had already had my physical and verbal interaction with Aster Zemarian. She didn’t reveal much‚ but I was hopeful that in those brief dialogues with the others‚ I would learn enough about them to gauge their loyalties‚ strengths and weaknesses.
The first thing that I noticed was that these women didn’t seem to follow an age-based hierarchy. Aster wasn’t the leader because she was the Elder of the seven. It was obvious that at least three of the other women‚ Penthesilia Samyah and the two Ptolemies‚ Pella-Onava and Berenice‚ were older than Aster. She was their leader now because she was obviously their best warrior when they fought against my army in Babylon‚ as I do have faint memories of her fighting ability then. I also didn’t think that any of the women were younger than me‚ which suggested that they were all prime warriors when they were defeated and sold into slavery those many years ago.
Their deference to Aster seemed to be absolute. Her every command was obeyed and her every gesture was absorbed by the others. There also didn’t appear to be any physical intimacy or romantic love between any two of the women. They were comrades‚ pure and simple. Most interesting was the fact that‚ although each woman seemed to consider Callisto an ally‚ she was clearly the outsider. I regarded this as a clear advantage.
I was introduced to the Ptolemies first‚ then to Calliope-Bithynis Zemarian‚ then to the Samyahs‚ Penthesilia and Nicaea-Rhada. As I approached the last gladiator‚ Niconoe Zemarian‚ Aster moved over and stood behind the woman.
"Is she your sister?" I asked.
"They’re all my Sisters‚" Aster responded.
"Yeah‚ I know‚" I said‚ "but is she your SISTER?"
"They are all my SISTERS‚" Aster repeated.
"Okay‚ whatever‚" I said as I returned my attention to Niconoe. "Do you and Aster here have the same mother?"
Niconoe briefly looked back at Aster before returning her attention to answering me. "No‚ Conqueror‚" she simply said.
* * * *
It was during the first two gladiator bouts that their primary weakness came to the fore. Aster had lied to me. These women didn’t fight solely out of any sense of honor or family. They didn’t kill just for the sake of killing either. These women were exacting revenge on their captors‚ the Amazon Nation that abandoned them‚ and me. The first fight ended in Stanislas defeating the Ptolemy‚ Berenice‚ to the point where the woman was incapacitated. Berenice was spared on Gabrielle’s order‚ but I was quick to realize that Gabrielle had not done the women gladiators any favors. That was one of the factors‚ I suspected‚ that drove the other Ptolemy‚ Pella-Onava‚ both to kill the young Amazon Amarice in cold blood and to almost succeed in killing Darda. That one-time allegiance of Amazon Sisterhood meant nothing to these gladiator women now. They didn’t possess an evil akin to Alti‚ whose wickedness was borne out of a passion for ultimate spiritual power. These women‚ probably never knowing the full circumstances of their capture and the true reason why their Sisters never sought their release‚ survived on the desire to bring vengeance upon the Nation that they believed discarded them. The fact that Aster would endorse a contest to the death against her supposed Amazon Nation Sisters was that first red flag to me.
As Pella-Onava was preparing to run Darda through‚ the giant Northern Amazon Escritt hurled herself at Pella-Onava‚ knocking the woman to her knees before beheading her. Escritt’s own actions stunned her‚ and she stood thunderstruck for a few moments as the guards collected the body and head of the downed Ptolemy. Gabrielle had made her way to the gladiator pit where we were stationed and immediately began assisting in Darda’s care.
It was during the next bout between Bahri and the gladiator Nicaea-Rhada that I turned to Gabrielle to gauge her thoughts on what she was observing.
"What are you thinking‚ Gabrielle?"
"I still don’t believe that they’re evil‚ Xena‚" she replied‚ "but it’s obvious that they’re very angry…" There was a hesitation.
"And?" I asked.
"Gabrielle‚" I started‚ "when it’s Escritt’s turn to fight‚ focus on Aster. Focus on her hard and remember Sun Tzu."
"I plan to‚" Gabrielle said just as we both notice the angry field sergeant lunging at the equally angered gladiator.
As Bahri was beating the shit out of Nicaea-Rhada‚ Gabrielle announced‚ "I’m calling this fight‚" as she began stepping out on the arena ground. But just as she raised her thumb‚ Calliope-Bithynis‚ Penthesilia and Niconoe began charging toward Bahri. It was obvious to me that they were acting on Aster’s orders rather than impulsively responding to Nicaea-Rhada’s predicament. Before I could say anything to Charicleia or Hadiya about Bahri’s predicament‚ they began charging toward the gladiators. Of course‚ I joined them.
"Bahri‚ get Gabrielle to safety!" I yelled as chose my target‚ Niconoe‚ deliberately.
The Zemarian was an excellent fighter‚ but I was able to determine her weakness almost immediately. Having fought so long against an opponent who wore a helmet‚ Niconoe was prone to lunging her lance low‚ below the chest‚ to parts of the body that were exposed and more vulnerable. Because of that‚ I was easily able to anticipate each strike. Finally‚ as she went for my groin‚ I parried and elbowed her head. She was stunned and fell back‚ losing her grip on the lance in the process. As she turned to retrieve it‚ I kicked her in her side‚ sending her to the ground. At that moment‚ I heard a voice scream‚ "XENA‚ LOOK OUT!" It was Gabrielle‚ warning me about Nicaea-Rhada‚ who had emerged from Bahri’s beating and was coming after me. As she lunged with her lance‚ I knocked it away and kicked her. I then quickly returned my attention to Niconoe‚ who was writhing on the ground‚ gripping her injured side. "Get up!" I commanded. "I didn’t hurt you that badly."
Niconoe looked up at me‚ the hatred in her eyes almost piercing my chest. "I said GET UP! What kind of fucking warrior are you!?! You’re weak. You’re pathetic. You’re Aster’s stooge‚ her slave‚ her gavone puttana." That last remark sent Niconoe into the rage that I had wanted it to do. Still in great pain‚ she grabbed her lance and swung it at me. I gripped it‚ pulled it out of her grasp and impaled her with it. As she lay dying‚ I looked over at Aster‚ who had remained motionless with Callisto at their entranceway‚ and smiled. At that moment‚ I hoped that Gabrielle was looking at Aster as well.
Before killing Calliope-Bithynis‚ Hadiya suffered a dislocated shoulder during their fight. Charicleia was also injured‚ but she likewise defeated her opponent‚ Penthesilia. As the gladiator guards carried off the two dead bodies and the injured Nicaea-Rhada and Penthesilia‚ my two allies approached me and handed me their swords. As Hadiya gave me hers‚ she smiled. "I have learned some Latin in my travels with you‚ Conqueror‚" she said. "Durate ad finem‚ Princepessa." Endure to the end‚ Princess.
Moments later‚ as the spectators chanted "Virago Principessa" in response to my *victory*‚ I motioned for Aster and Callisto to approach. I then motioned for Escritt to approach. As she did‚ I looked over at Gabrielle and nodded. She acknowledged me before I returned my attention to my opponent‚ Callisto.
As the two women stood facing Escritt and me‚ I briefly looked down at the two swords that Hadiya and Charicleia had presented to me. Moments before‚ I had placed both swords at my feet and was now contemplating the role of these two weapons. "Lose the lances‚" I told Callisto and Aster as I returned my attention to the enemies that faced me. Picking up the swords‚ I simply ordered‚ "Take these."
Callisto smirked as she took possession of the sword. "I am so looking forward to this‚ sweetheart."
"Oh really?" I asked. "So‚ are you ready to die‚ Callisto?"
"Are you‚ my darling?" Callisto replied.
"Always and never‚" I responded as our swords connected for the first of many times. This woman that I fought was not the crazed adolescent that I had fucked and manipulated all those years ago. She was a warrior with a warrior’s skill‚ conviction and focus. There was a part of me that actually enjoyed battling someone that I now considered a worthy opponent. For her part‚ Callisto was probably getting some sick sexual pleasure out of fighting me. She cooingly flashed this smile that resonated arousal each time our swords connected. It was as if she was fighting me and penetrating me at the same time. At any given moment‚ I was expecting to hear her moan from climax.
Unfortunately for me as well‚ she didn’t know when to shut up.
"I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a long time‚ my dear‚" she said as we fought.
"Is that right‚" I responded.
"You should be wary of what you dream‚ Callisto‚" I warned.
"Oh‚ no‚ Xena‚" she replied. "Dum somnium mei vivo‚ somnium horum circum me servio." As I live my own dream‚ I serve the dream of those around me.
"Whose?" I asked. "Aster? Her Sisters?"
"Maybe‚" Callisto said. "Maybe not. Perhaps the guards or the Roman nobles who watch these silly fights. Perhaps it’s you‚ my darling."
"Hmm.." I responded. "Non captus est." Don’t get caught.
"I’ll try not to‚" she said. "In any event‚ I’m looking forward to our deaths when we’ll be able to spend eternity in Tartarus together."
"Always the optimist‚" I was able to state just before Callisto balled her left fist and backhanded me. I punched her as well. After about the third or fourth strike‚ I began to notice that she was actually welcoming my stinging blows. Among other things‚ becoming a gladiator had made her resistant to pain.
"I see that you’re able to take a lot of shit these days‚ Callisto‚" I said at one point‚ taunting.
"Oh‚ my pretty‚" she hissed‚ "Semper in excremento sum‚ solum profunditas mutat." I’m always in shit‚ only the depth varies.
We fought so long and so hard that I was beginning to imagine that it would never end when I felt a presence approach me from behind. Just then a voice yelled‚ "Xena‚ look out!"
I turned and saw Gabrielle charging after Aster. "Gabrielle‚ NO!!!" I shouted as I lifted my sword above my head to block Aster’s blow from behind me. I then quickly faced her and attempted to run my sword across her midsection‚ but she blocked my strike as well. I lifted my sword above my head again‚ this time to block Callisto’s blow as she was now behind me.
If they’re united‚ separate them.
As I turned to face Callisto‚ I saw as Gabrielle‚ wielding a lance like a staff‚ took the butt of it to strike Aster across her back. Aster went down on her knees. "Can’t fight me and save your precious little Gabrielle at the same time‚ hmmm?" Callisto said with a smile. All that mattered to me at that moment was seeing what was going on behind me. Thus‚ feeling the surge of a white-hot fury‚ bellowing my battle cry‚ I jumped and flipped over Callisto‚ positioning myself so that I was at least facing Gabrielle and forcing Callisto to turn around and face me.
"Duc‚ sequi‚ aut fuge!" I yelled at Callisto. Lead‚ follow or get out of the way!
"I’m not going anywhere‚ Xena‚" Callisto responded. "So you’re gonna have to just move me."
"So be it‚" I said as I promptly kicked the sword from her hand‚ lifted her up and threw her. She landed hard‚ rendering her unconscious.
Finally‚ I was able to observe and defend Gabrielle.
After striking Aster‚ Gabrielle instinctively ran over to see about Escritt‚ who had been gravely injured by Aster. Aster was still on her knees‚ but not for long. Tightening the grip of the sword in her hand‚ she rose‚ but I instantly drew her attention away from my love.
If they’re angry‚ disturb them.
"You don’t want to fight her‚ Aster‚" I said‚ referring to Gabrielle. "I’m the one who killed your sister."
"Your large cugine killed one of my Sisters as well‚ Babania‚" Aster said‚ referring to my "soldier‚" Escritt‚ as she drew her sword on me.
"Yeah‚ but I killed your blood sister‚ Niconoe‚" I said. "You and she have the same sire‚ correct?"
At that moment‚ Aster thrust her sword at me. We fought fiercely for several moments. I was so focused on Aster that I didn’t immediately notice that Callisto had regained consciousness and was coming at me. Gabrielle noticed‚ however‚ and came after Callisto with the lance.
If your enemy has an advantage‚ entice them.
"Surely‚ you jest‚ little girl‚" Callisto spewed as she first kicked the lance out of Gabrielle’s grip before kicking her face. My Gabrielle fell back‚ seemingly unconscious.
If you are able‚ appear unable.
I saw RED. Callisto charged me and I fought both of my enemies like a woman possessed for many moments until the combination of exhaustion‚ rage and my concern for my Gabrielle began to overpower me. Sensing my weakness‚ I suspected‚ Aster was able to slice my lower abdomen. As I went down on my knees from pain and fatigue‚ Aster smiled wickedly at me as Callisto raised her sword to eviscerate me.
"Vengeance for my family‚ Xena!" Callisto charged. "Vengeance for Cirra!"
As I raised my sword to block both her blow and the glare of the sun that was blinding me‚ I heard first Callisto’s infamous war scream and then a shouted "NO!" and then I heard Callisto shriek.
Attack where they are not prepared and go to where they don’t expect.
Callisto went down on her knees‚ gripping her side where blood oozed through her fingers. At that moment‚ we were both facing each other. Smiling‚ Callisto reached over‚ caressed my face and looked deeply into my eyes before falling to the ground. Standing over her at her side was Gabrielle‚ holding a bloody boot dagger. "Va fungule‚ bizzuoca‚" she whispered to Callisto‚ although surprisingly‚ she was not looking at her. Her focus was still on Aster‚ who was probably as dumbfounded as I was at what we were witnessing.
Gabrielle was clearly traumatized by what she had just done‚ but she also looked every bit as enraged at my predicament as I had been moments ago at hers. She pointed the dagger‚ trembling in her grip‚ at Aster as a challenge.
If they are confused‚ take them.
As Aster lunged at Gabrielle‚ I summoned all of the strength that I had left in me‚ stood and sliced my sword across her chest. After Aster went down‚ I collapsed.
When doing battle‚ seek a quick victory.
Gabrielle ran to me and‚ ripping off part of her tunic‚ placed it over my bleeding wound. She was crying.
"Are you okay‚ Xena?" she asked hysterically. "Please‚ please tell me that you’ll be okay."
"I’ll live‚ my love‚" I said. "She just broke skin." I looked first at the welt on Gabrielle’s forehead and then Callisto’s blood on her hands. "Are you okay?"
"I think so‚" she answered.
At that moment‚ a voice whispered‚ "Babania Gabrielle." It was Aster.
Gabrielle crawled over to the fallen gladiator. "It didn’t have to end this way‚ Aster."
"Yes‚ I think that it did‚" Aster responded.
"You are still of the Nation‚ my Sister‚" Gabrielle said. "You need to know that‚ had our Sisters in Mesopotamia known that you had survived the battle against Xena’s army in Babylon… had they known that you were taken into slavery… they would have come for you then. That’s why I’m here now."
"Nicaea-Rhada and Penthesilia are alive‚ Babania‚" Aster said. "Berenice may survive."
"We’ll see to it that they’re returned home to Mesopotamia‚ my Sister‚" Gabrielle said. "I promise."
Aster gripped Gabrielle’s wrist as I crawled over to them. "No‚ please‚ Babania‚" she implored‚ her breathing becoming more labored. "My cugines… allow them safe passage back to Sicily. We have our own omerta… our own code… Sicily is our homeland now."
"As you wish‚" Gabrielle said.
Aster then smiled at me. "Clever calling my sister my ‘gavone puttana‚’" she whispered. "My good-for-nothing whore… knowing full well that she was neither. How did you learn our dialect so quickly‚ Babania?"
"I have many skills‚" I replied. "I didn’t learn it all‚ however. What exactly does ‘babania’ mean?"
Aster chucked and looked at Gabrielle. "Heroine‚" she said to Gabrielle before closing her eyes for the last time.
* * * *
It was some moments before Gabrielle and I remembered that we were the main attraction in Rome and the focus of thunderous applause. Rising to my feet‚ my Gabrielle and I didn’t bother to acknowledge our audience as we walked arm-in-arm toward our gladiatorial entranceway‚ where our friends awaited us.
Octavius declared the games concluded for the evening and escorted us back to his palace. All of the casualties‚ including Amarice and Callisto were taken by the guards and prepared for a mass funeral pyre. Gabrielle insisted that we attend. It was painfully obvious to me that Gabrielle needed to be a part of Callisto’s funeral in particular.
Darda and Escritt‚ the two most seriously injured of our group‚ were taken to the palace infirmary to receive further care. After visiting them both and receiving our own needed care‚ Gabrielle and I returned to our guest bedchamber‚ where Gabrielle insisted that I lie down and rest.
As she straddled my midsection and began massaging my shoulders‚ breasts and forearms‚ I reached up and ran my fingers down her cheek. "Were you afraid‚ Gabrielle?"
"Every moment that I was out there‚" she responded. "Afraid for Escritt‚ afraid for you‚ even afraid for Aster."
"When Callisto kicked you‚" I said‚ "I was sure that she had hurt you badly. I was crazed with anger."
"Naw‚" Gabrielle replied. "I was just doing that Way of Deception thing that you taught me."
I chuckled. "You make a fine warrior‚ Gabrielle‚" I said.
"Thanks‚ Xena‚" she replied‚ "but I think that I make a much better bard."
I hesitated. "About Callisto‚ Gabrielle…"
"My heart aches for her‚ Xena‚ but I’ll have to deal with it‚" she said. "She would have killed you. I just couldn’t let that happen. I was more afraid of losing you out there than anything…"
A sigh. "…I hurt inside‚" Gabrielle whispered.
"I know‚ darling‚" I said. "I love you so much."
Tears streamed down her beautiful face. "I love you too‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle spoke and then pondered‚ "Were you afraid today?"
"Gabrielle‚ my love‚" I answered‚ "Thanks to you‚ I can honestly say that I’ve overcome the curse of fear once again."
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled that GABRIELLE smile. We embraced.
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