Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note (Please Read): This story is tied in with the tale, Xena & Gabrielle: A Turn of Fate. If you have not read both story's chapters preceding this one, you should do so now. I also would like to thank my readers for keeping up with my tales, may my Muse continue to amuse you all.
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The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 10: Fabrications
The Grecian fleet sailed on the Mediterranean Sea, making its way back to Greece. Adorned in a tan-colored tunic and black trousers with boots on his feet, Draco gazed at the horizon from the side of the vessel, rejoicing mentally that he would soon return to Corinth. Although they were departing Egypt with two lesser members of their party than when they'd first arrived, the General of the Second Army felt confident the mission was a success, and the Conqueror's commands to Cleopatra would be carried out. Now, it was just a matter of how long it'd take for Marcus Antonius to sail back to Rome, so the next phase of the Conqueror's plans could be executed.
'Maybe we should had stayed and made certain Antonius left.' He ruminated.
However, that wasn't in their mandate. The Lord of the Realm made it crystal clear they were to deliver her orders, then make preparations to embark immediately afterwards. Jovial to part the Land of Pharaohs, Draco still dwelled on the words of the enigmatic High Priest, Ansem.
The Egyptian spoke of destroying the Amazons, but Draco felt there was much more to it than he was letting on. The destruction of the whole Amazonian race wouldn't cause Draco to lose a bit of sleep, and he'd gladly be happy to aid in putting nails in the harlots' coffins, but he knew something was amiss if he played a role. A heavier price had to be paid on his part and it would have increased ramifications beyond enslaving the warrior women for money. He was positive a destructive bifurcation would come into effect; harming not only the Amazons, but the Realm also, and that made him determined to learn more.
'What is your game Ansem?'
"What's on your mind, Draco?" A voice inquired.
Draco glanced at the General of the Third Army, standing beside him, wearing solely a white tunic and sandals. "Glad to see you're feeling better, Palaemon."
The cropped-blonde gripped the wooden railings, espying the greenish-blue Sea. "Thanks. Honey milk does wonders for the ailment I had."
"Won't be drinking water for some Cronus now, huh?" Draco jived.
Palaemon smirked at the joke. "Probably so."
"Did you hear about the scouts from both our armies?"
"Yeah." Palaemon responded solemnly. "Lieutenant Batius informed me. What a shame."
"It made the men wig out. Had them fearing we all were headed to Pluto." Draco said. "Argin, the damn fool, wouldn't shut up. Telling anyone with ears that Helios will kill us. I should have him flogged."
"He almost lost his life." Palaemon was in bewilderment from his compatriot's threat. "Helios' heat affected his brain, causing Argin to speak deliriously. He shouldn't be at fault for confused actions."
"Gods, Palaemon." Draco swore in frustration. "I won't whip him."
"Good choice." Palaemon became relieved.
"I'll demote him to a foot soldier instead." He replied with a smile.
Shaking his head, the blonde General relented, "Fine, Draco. Demote the poor guy."
They stood in silence, watching the scenery. Losing the line between the sky and sea.
Next, Palaemon asked, "How did your audience with the Pharaoh go?"
"Didn't meet with her." Draco confirmed.
"What?" Palaemon questioned. "If not Cleopatra, who had you spoken to?"
"Ansem, the High Priest." Draco answered. "He made the conference interesting."
"Sorry I wasn't there." Palaemon apologized.
Draco snorted. "Ansem's an ass. You were fortunate to get sick and miss his company."
"So, you didn't get any enjoyment from the encounter?"
"Of course I did." Draco asserted. "The look on Ansem's face when I told him Antonius had to leave Egypt and take his hidden army of Romans with him, was a real highlight of my day. You should've seen that."
"Darn." Palaemon was disappointed. "Anything else happened?"
The General of the Second Army decided to keep Ansem's cryptic message, dealing with the Amazons, a secret. "Nope. I made my exit after I relayed the Conqueror's directive and Ansem concurred with them on Cleopatra's behalf."
"Does the Conqueror know of our progress?" Palaemon queried.
"I have sent a scroll to Corinth before we left Alexandria." Draco stated, looking at his comrade, then the sea once more. "She should receive it in a few days."
Palaemon released a contented breath. "I can't wait to reach Greek soil."
"Nor can I." Draco agreed. "Hopefully, we'll get to the homeland in a half fortnight if we bypass any storms."
Palaemon stared at the aqua scenery. "The water is reminiscent of the Conqueror's Handmaiden's irises. I wonder what amazing fables she's told since we'd been gone."
Draco scoffed. "Are you trying to get a rise out of me, Palaemon?"
"I happen to like Ri's stories. Don't you enjoy-"
"You know damn well I do not." Draco interrupted. "Did she manage to entice you as well, Palaemon? Now you're in love with the little slut?"
"Jeez, Draco. You can become a jerk when you want to." He retorted. "I'm merely a fan of her tales and so are many others. That doesn't mean we're all in love with her. I don't understand why you're the only person I know who do not care for Ri; going as far as to slander her a slut."
"You weren't a part of the Conqueror's army eleven years ago when we discovered Krykus' plot of selling slaves in Cirra." Draco averred. "I am sure a lot of his men had a go at the whore. Handmaiden? Ha, don't make me laugh."
"And your incontrovertible evidence that Ri isn't a virgin?" Palaemon countered.
"After our Lord checked Ri's injuries in private, she became enraged and crucified Krykus, including his men, personally. She had already beaten the Tartarus out of the guy and they were all doomed to die. Why would the Conqueror's anger enhance once she'd finished inspecting Ri?"
"That's all you got?" Palaemon wasn't buying what his fellow General was selling.
Growing enervated from the conversation, Draco elucidated, "All the other women we saved were raped repeatedly. What more proof do you need to discern that Ri wasn't touched, too?"
"Assumptions, Draco. Perhaps, the Conqueror knows Ri is untouched. That's why she calls the girl her Handmaiden."
"Or the Conqueror just pity the girl." Draco challenged.
"Okay, this happen eleven years ago, right? Ri is eighteen now, so back then she was seven. Isn't that a tad young to be raped Draco, or was Krykus a sick man?" Palaemon prompted.
"I don't believe the bitch is eighteen." Draco mumbled. "I think she's older than that."
"Wow." Palaemon shook his head again. "All this virulence for a disadvantage villager who, either way you cut it, Draco, was abused by Krykus. Why do you dislike her so?"
'None of your fucking business Palaemon.' He thought, taking his dark brown eyes off of the Mediterranean and focused on his companion again. "You love the Conqueror, don't you, Palaemon?"
"Yes." Palaemon assented. "She is our Lord. Who doesn't love her?"
"Don't play coy with me. You know exactly what I speak of." Draco declared.
"What's your point?" Palaemon was becoming antsy. "Want to assume another imaginary cogitation?"
"Forget it, but mark my words." Draco proclaimed. "If that so-called bard gets her way, you can kiss your dreams farewell."
The dark-skinned General walked away, leaving Palaemon alone, whom was perplexed by his final statement. Feeling uneasy, he didn't have a clue how Draco knew he loved the Conqueror intimately. What did Ri have to do with it, though? Draco had hinted at something more.
'Is it possible?' Palaemon mused. 'Could Ri be in love with the Conqueror as well?'
The blonde-haired man didn't get a chance to ponder on the cognition longer.
"General Palaemon." A warrior dressed in black armor came up behind him.
Without turning to face him, Palaemon affirmed, "Not now, Lieutenant Batius."
Pulling a concealed, rolled scroll out from inside his armor, Batius handed it to his General and whispered in his ear, "It is a matter of importance."
Palaemon began to unroll it and read the contents with vigor, as he caught sight of Draco going below deck. Reading the scroll slowly once more, Palaemon tore the parchment to pieces, casting it in the vast water.
He pulled Batius roughly to him, quietly questioning, "Why haven't you been brought this to my attention?"
"Too many soldiers were around." The Lieutenant grew fearful.
"Do you know what was written on that scroll?"
"No one is to find out... Ever." Palaemon shoved his Lieutenant away harshly.
Batius saluted and departed quickly, while the General of the Third Army's sad grey orbs looked back at the Mediterranean. Again, he lost the line between the sky and sea.
Ri had a glorious day, spending all of it with her Uncle Meleager. In lieu of hardly cogitating about what Iona had avowed to her, she was engrossed on the fact she'd fell more in love with the Conqueror for giving her the necklace. After the Chancellor ceased laughing at her last query, he explained to Ri that the sparkling adornment was created from a newly found metal discovered in Laconia on the outskirts of Tegea, the town village that she, Iona, and Lyceus were in, safely hidden from the Peloponnese Purge. Meleager told her the platinum orbs were only owned by the Realm and any item crafted from it was technically priceless, but could be worth the cost he had mentioned.
This information made Ri gleeful. The confirmation of her Lord bestowing a gift on her, that so far has only been used for the Conqueror's weaponry and Minerva's temple, was very appealing to the aspiring bard. She comprehended that soon the alloy would be distributed to other countries for commercial gain, but being the sole person to have received it first out of everyone on Terra in jewelry form, and from the Conqueror no less, sparked volumes of unknown dimensions inside Ri's soul.
Ri stepped out of her lukewarm tub and watched the rivulet of water stream down her small, but ample breasts, in droplets. She remained curious why her body was dissimilar to the one she'd dreamt of. Not only was her bosom slightly bigger in the dream, but her body's definition was much more pronounced also. She had abs for days. Plus her arms, thighs, and legs appeared muscular as well. Though the strawberry-blonde was slim, she couldn't help feeling physically unsound compared to her dreamy double. Ri did not have a toned abdomen, nor muscles anywhere on her body. All those parts of her anatomy was covered in baby fat. The storyteller looked totally different from the sexy, cropped towhead in her dream.
'And what was that creature on my back?' Ri wondered.
Donning an envy green robe, Ri tied the sash close and sat down at her vanity desk. She began fingering the jade stone on the shiny chain, willing it to glow the way it did when she'd awokened earlier during the morning. Her hands dropped from the gem when no illumination came, and Ri begun to scrutinize her appearance in the mirror. She wasn't an extravagant beauty, but was pretty, nonetheless. Her eyes were her best trademark, including her long reddish-blonde hair.
'At least I got that over my short-haired twin.'
Ri started to analyze her large ears and smiled, remembering when she was younger how the Conqueror would always tickle them, saying they were adorable. She then realized that she missed her Lord for the umpteenth Cronus of today. All she wanted to do was see her, hold her, and kiss those soft lips again. Ri wished, instead of the chaste peck that was given, the Conqueror would've drove her tongue into her mouth and took her virginity right there on the polished altar.
Halting her lewd rumination, she prayed for forgiveness and protection, 'Pardon my thoughts, wise Minerva. I mean no disrespect to you, or all that belongs to you. Also, please protect my Lord and the warriors whom travel alongside her. May they be unharmed and guarded by your might. Allow them to return to Corinth alive and well, especially my savior, Milady of the Realm.'
Finished with her prayer, Ri picked up her comb and started to run it through her damp tresses when a knock sounded on the chamber door. She stood and opened it.
"Prince Lyceus." She was shocked. "It is late."
"I know." He smiled demurely. "I stopped by earlier, but you weren't here. I wanted to have dinner with you."
"I have already eaten with the Chancellor."
"I figured." Lyceus pressed on, showing her the single tray he was carrying. "So I brought dessert. Lemon pie and your favorite, nut bread."
"Prince Lyceus, it is really late and I'm a little sleepy. Perhaps, another day." Ri expounded.
"Okay... Another day." Lyceus became crestfallen.
Ri was upset with Lyceus, but felt badly for sending the Conqueror's younger brother away. "Prince."
"Give me a moment to get decent."
He nodded his head and Ri shut the door. After that, she slipped off the robe, covering her nude body with a cream-colored shift. Opening the door once more, Ri invited Prince Lyceus inside.
Entering, Lyceus strolled over to the table they'd ate breakfast on yesterday morning. Setting the tray on the oak furniture, the Prince of the Realm slid out a chair for Ri. When she was seated, he placed a ceramic saucer in front of her, filling it with a piece of lemon pie and a couple slices of nut bread.
"Thank you." Ri showed her gratefulness.
"No. Thank you, for letting me be in your presence." Lyceus shot back with charm.
Next, he took a huge piece of pie and set it on his dish before sitting down, as well.
"Sorry for disturbing you, though." Lyceus offered ruefully.
"It's fine. I just got out of the tub." Ri bit into her bread.
"I can tell." Lyceus pointed out, "Your hair is wet."
"And unruly. I was combing it when you knocked." Ri verbalized.
"You still look radiant." Lyceus complimented.
Ri grinned shyly, but refrained from thanking him.
They began eating silently for a while, each in their own world, until Lyceus asked, "How have your day been?"
"It was wonderful." Ri neglected to give introspection to what happened in the kitchen with Minya and Iona. "I stayed with Chancellor Meleager all afternoon, talking of this and that till Selene switched positions with Helios. We had a nice dinner before I came back here. How about you, Prince Lyceus?"
Lyceus put his pie down, bemused. "I thought the formalities were ended between us, Ri."
Ri let loose a sigh, setting her second slice of nut bread on the saucer also. "It was. As long as you'd kept your promise. Seeing that you didn't, I think we should go back to being formal."
Abashed, Lyceus urged, "My promise? What promise did I break?"
"Never mind." Ri tried dismissing the topic. "Let's finish eating, shall we."
"We can, once you tell me what I have done." Lyceus purported.
"Prince Lyceus, I rather not." She declined. "I was having a marvelous day. I would like it to end on a good night as well."
Lyceus ran his hand through his blonde hair. "I don't understand what promise I haven't kept."
Ri found herself getting angry. "You know what promise I am referring to. You swore by Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, that you would keep my confidence."
He understood now. "And I've kept my word."
The former Handmaiden couldn't believe Lyceus' audacity. "Don't lie to me, Prince. It's insulting and I wouldn't ever insult you."
"I'm not lying." He became offended. "Do not discourage my honor."
"How else could your sister, our Lord, have known I've apprised you that I was leaving Corinth for Athens?" Ri prompted. "You were the only person I had confided in."
"The Conqueror knows?" Lyceus was surprised. "She didn't learn it from me."
"Sure she didn't." Ri said sarcastically.
Lyceus remained baffled. "Did the Conqueror fabricate untruths about me?"
"She didn't have to."
"But she told you she knew?" Lyceus queried.
Ri glared at him, but softened. "You were supposed to be my friend."
Lyceus got upset. "This is bullshit, Ri! If the Conqueror told you it was me, she is the liar."
Ri grasped her necklace in anguish. "Don't ever call her that."
Ri's movement brought her gleaming jewelry to Lyceus' un-noticed attention. He instantly recognized the jade gemstone, scarcely obscured by her hair.
"Now I get it." He snapped. "The Conqueror gives you a present, and now she's your best friend. She couldn't have been that disappointed at you, so why are you giving me crap concerning this? It can't be that serious if she's granting you lavish jewels."
Ri knew she couldn't deny where the necklace came from. Even Meleager had implicated that Lyceus had gotten it from the Agora to bring it to the Conqueror.
Realization gripped Lyceus. "I should've known she desired you."
"It's nothing. It's just... It's just a farewell gift." Ri lied.
"I should have known." Lyceus repeated, seemingly ignoring her. "When I evinced to her how I felt about you, I could see it in her eyes. Yesterday left me wondering after you and she rode off, but now it's clear."
"What are you talking about, Prince Lyceus?"
"The Conqueror is in love with you, Ri." Lyceus hesitated to add, "And so am I."
Ri became stupefied by Lyceus' confession. Not only his claim of love, but that of the Conqueror also. They both were in love with her, and Lyceus revealed his true feelings to his sister. Why hadn't the Conqueror done the same thing and explicate to him how she felt, too?
'Why won't I divulge my feelings for Milady to Lyceus?' Ri acknowledged her own blunder. 'Is all three of our relationships built on hidden fabrications?'
"I'm in love with you, Ri." Lyceus professed.
"It'll be wise if you left my chamber, Prince Lyceus." Ri announced.
The Prince arose with a gloomy facial expression. "It's obvious you do not share the same sentiment."
Finally, he vanished out of the room and Ri raised from the table to lay on her bed. She disregarded doing her hair, knowing it'll be a tangled mess tomorrow, howbeit, she didn't care, and was uncertain about how to handle the newfound information Lyceus admitted. Ri had an understanding that he liked and loved her, but she had no idea he was in love with her. Weren't there a difference between loving someone and being in love?
And what of the Conqueror? The blue-eyed woman never made an utterance that she loved Ri, but the Prince's attestation claimed she was in love with her as well. The petite storyteller didn't want to hurt anyone and her heart did truly lie with her Lord.
Ri curled up, reflecting inward. She was weary of the circle of deceit when it coincided with herself and the two siblings who wanted her love.
'From here on out, I will be honest with all my heart.' Ri pledged, closing her orbs for sleep. 'I swear by the gods I'll be.'
To Be Continued
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