Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note (Please Read): This tale is tied in with, Xena & Gabrielle: A Turn of Fate. If you haven't read both story's chapters preceding this one, you should do so now. A very special shout out to, Nancy G. Sorry for the mix up. :-)
Feedback is always welcomed at Alexjanos612@Yahoo.com
The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 11: Vilification
Bright light shined through Ri's window, bringing forth a new day. Greenish blue irises lazily opened to the sound of knocking. Gathering her wits, she raised from the bed to answer the chamber door. Ri was aghast to see, Iona in her pink night shift.
"Good morning, Ri." the younger blonde greeted.
"What are you doing here?"
Sorrow entered Iona's heart. "Are we no longer friends?"
'Are we friends?' Ri ruminated as she remembered hers and Prince Lyceus' relationship. She was unclear whether they were on speaking terms, after their verbal sparring and Ri's silent rejection to Lyceus' adoration before telling him to leave last night.
Ri had no intentions on losing another friendship. "Yes. We are still friends."
"May I come inside?" Iona asked timorously.
Ri pulled the ajar door wider, letting Iona in her chamber.
"I'm truly sorry for my words towards you yesterday." she apologized. "My lack of consideration for you and your past, caused you sadness."
"It did." Ri concurred, sitting on the side of her bed. "But then I'd spoken to the Chancellor and he made me feel a lot better."
"I'm glad I hadn't ruined your lunch plans with him."
"Me and the Chancellor enjoyed each other's company from daylight till nightfall." Ri said.
Iona glimpsed the room, seeing a tray with pie and bread atop of it. A couple of saucers were also on the table, with half eaten dessert placed on them.
"Y'all must've ate until both y'all bellies couldn't handle anymore." Iona giggled.
Ri looked glum while she gazed at the leftover treats. "No. The Chancellor and I finished our dinner in Milady's chambers. The desserts there is from when the Prince of the Realm visited me doing the night."
"Wow." Iona was amazed. "You eat lunch, dinner and dessert with two of the most important people besides, the Conqueror herself. Did you and Prince Lyceus enjoy one another too?"
"It was..." Ri paused to think of a word to describe what unfolded with Lyceus. "Enlighten."
Iona noted Ri's expression. "Your facial appearance says, the enlightenment made you gloomy. Is that why the treats are half untouched?"
"And when did you become so analytical?" Ri query.
"I am the daughter of Elite Generals in the Realm's army. I have no choice, but to be." she boasted, before thinking of her friend's mysterious parentage and what happened between them. "Do you pardon the words of a silly girl?"
"You know I do." Ri made her way to Iona. "But you're not the only person who was wrong. I need you to accept my apology as well."
"You are very serious about training as a warrior. Me and Minya weren't supportive. We began teasing you and having fun at your expense. It's understandable that you lost your temper." Ri explained. "So forgive me also."
Iona embraced her in a hug. "I do, Ri. You're my sister, not by blood, but by spirit."
Ri kissed Iona's forehead and ended the embrace. "Thank you."
Next, she started to organize the dishes and tray on her table.
"I can help you." Iona stated, aiding Ri without waiting for a reply.
The storyteller grinned and questioned. "How did your classes go yesterday?"
"Not well, I'm afraid." Iona confessed. "My mind was so polluted with thoughts of what I've said to you, I couldn't concentrate."
"Are you still interested in becoming a warrior?"
"Yes." Iona replied.
"It's okay then. If your grades start to slip, you can always threaten the teacher with your sword." Ri jest.
"Is making jokes of my chosen profession going to become our custom now?" Iona chuckled.
"That was the final one." Ri declared. "I'm behind your decision all the way."
Iona beamed at Ri's affirmation. "Thank you."
"No thanks is required, but you are welcome all the same."
Once the table was tidy, Iona said. "There's a celebration this evening."
"I know." Ri responded. "The Chancellor informed me. It's for the promotion of some soldier, who's name I've forgotten."
"It doesn't matter." Iona went on. "The point is, it's happening and I would like you to accompany me."
"I'm not sure. I missed my session with, Master Eramus yesterday and I know he's gonna chew me up like Kerberus." Ri sulked. "I ain't looking forward to that."
"The ceremonial dinner isn't going to be over till night, Ri."
"And I have a lot to study if I'm to be an apprentice of Aristotle, Iona."
"That's why you're leaving for Athens." Iona was excited. "He taught philosophy to, Alexander the Great."
"That's why I can't go to the banquet. I already told the Chancellor." Ri confirmed.
"Come on, your skills are better than decent." Iona pouted. "Everybody's going to be there. Even Virgil and you know he has a crush on you."
"More of a reason not to go. Why don't you be Virgil's company?" Ri inquired.
"Are you insane." Iona was appalled. "He's thirteen. I want to be seen with someone older and wiser."
Ri was starting to interpret what Iona wanted. "Everyone's gonna be there, huh?"
"Yup." she answered.
"Soldiers and all?"
Iona was feeling apprehensive. "Yeah."
"I take it, you want to make a good impression?"
"Please, Ri." Iona begged. "You're shy, but not like I am. Once a conversation gets started, you lose your bashfulness. I'm such an introvert, I'll never talk to anyone."
Ri was cogitating on what Iona just spoken. "Your father will be there."
"I am more comfortable around you than him." Iona said. "He'll make me nervous and I'm positive I'll shed my quietness if you're with me."
Noticing that Ri's stance on the issue was crumbling, she pushed onward. "There be tons of activities, including Joxer. He's gonna be entertaining as well."
'It'll be nice to see Joxer again.' Ri mused.
"I really want you with me." Iona admitted.
"Fine." Ri conceded. "I'll get there late, but I will come. I'm not staying for long though."
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Iona repeated as she hugged Ri.
After that, she headed for the door.
"You're leaving now?" Ri asked.
"You have studying to do and I have a class to get ready for." Iona proclaimed, opening the door to exit. "So wear your best dress and do something about your hair, because we're hanging out all night."
"Iona, I told you, I'm-"
Before Ri could finish her sentence, the young teenager closed the door and was skipping down the halls in merriment.
The strawberry blonde sat at her vanity desk, smirking as she picked up her comb.
"Morning, Prince Lyceus." Akemi bowed, allowing him to enter the Conqueror's chambers, that the Regent occupied.
"Hello, Akemi." Lyceus responded concisely. "Is the Chancellor awake? I must speak with him."
"Yes, he is. He's in the bed chamber this moment getting dressed."
"Let him know, that I wish to talk to him." Lyceus said.
"As you command." the Chambermaid left to do his bidding.
Lyceus sat on the divan, deep in thought of what occurred last night. He barely could sleep, knowing that Ri didn't love him the same way he loved her. His mind was aflame with the knowledge that his sister was in love with Ri too.
'How could she!' he was distraught. 'I revealed my desire for Ri to Xena. Why would she give the woman of my affections an awesome gift like that necklace?'
Although Ri attests that it was a farewell present, Lyceus had his doubts and felt he knew the true purpose for the sparkling jewelry.
"Prince Lyceus." Akemi announced. "The Chancellor will receive you."
Lyceus arose with haste and trekked to Meleager.
The old man was looking himself over in the mirror. He was adorned in dark brown trousers, a black short sleeved shirt and dark boots. Meleager was undecided whether to cover the shirt with a vest, or not, when Lyceus walked into the bed room.
"Good morning. What brings you here early and why do you remain in your nightshirt?"
Shutting the door, the Prince exclaimed. "The Conqueror!"
Meleager ceased his indecisiveness and began to worry. "By the gods, is she alright?"
"What?" Lyceus became confused.
"You yelled, the Conqueror. Is she alright?" he echoed.
"I wasn't implying that something was wrong concerning her well being." Lyceus clarified. "I meant, she's a backstabbing bitch!"
"Don't ever call your sister that." Meleager admonished him.
"You sound like, Ri." the Prince retorted as he slumped against the wall.
Meleager grew concerned while watching Lyceus' body slide down the wall onto the floor in a sitting posture. "What is this about?"
"I confided in Xena." he replied. "I told her, I was amorous for Ri."
"You did?" the Chancellor was puzzled. "When?"
"Four days past."
"Xena knew you loved Ri?" Meleager questioned.
"Yes!" Lyceus became agitated. "Aren't you listening to me. I avowed to her my feelings and she gives Ri a coincidental farewell gift. That's why she wanted Ri to travel with her to Minerva's temple."
The Chancellor was already aware of how the Conqueror and Ri felt for each other. He was happy for their union. Now, he became disappointed.
"Ri says, it's just a present, but I don't buy that. And to make matters worse, she think I betrayed her trust. I don't have a clue what to do to rectify this situation." Lyceus pronounced.
"I will speak to Ri." Meleager affirmed.
The Prince cheered up immensely. "After everything that took place in her chamber, I'll be eternally grateful if you did, Meleager."
Meleager helped Lyceus onto his feet. "I'll talk with her, however, it might not change anything. Do you understand?"
Lyceus nodded his head.
"Good." Meleager clapped the young man's shoulder. "Now tell me every detail of last night."
Five candle-marks later, Meleager's footfalls resonated throughout the great hall as he traversed his way to the Throne room. He promised Lyceus that he would speak with Ri doing the celebration dinner. Once he heard Lyceus' recount of events that took place in Ri's chamber, Meleager was fazed by the Conqueror's volition to court Ri after the Prince divulged how he felt first. He would be further discouraged if his former pupil lied to the petite woman, pertaining a secret between Lyceus and Ri.
'Young people. When will they learn, the best kept secrets are the ones that are never spoken.' he reflected.
A guard opened the Throne room's double oak doors where Vercinix was standing inside.
"Chancellor Meleager." Vercinix addressed, saluting him with his fist over the chest of the green armor he wore.
"General Vercinix." they grasped forearms in a warrior's greeting. "The Conqueror said, you would be back soon, I didn't know it'll be this quickly."
"Gaul is well protected." Vercinix replied. "Will the Conqueror be joining us here, I don't have much to report?"
"She isn't in Corinth."
Vercinix looked at Meleager quizzically. "Where did she go?"
"Lets sit." Meleager suggested. "I'm certain there is lots to discuss."
Ascending the dais, he motioned for one of the Corinthian Guards to produce a chair for the General of the Fourth Army.
Once they were seated, the Chancellor began to expound. "Something is brewing in Rome. A couple of days ago, Brutus sent two envoys to ask for an alliance against Octavian and Marcus Antonious. It didn't go well. The Lord of the Realm and General Glaphyra is sailing the Corinthian Gulf to confront, Brutus."
"That would explain why their ships left the Atlanticus Oceanus." Vercinix muttered.
"What ships?" Meleager inquired.
"Roman." he answered. "While defeating the combined forces of the Cimbri and the Teutons, there were seven Roman ships outlining the Ocean surrounding Gaul. Lieutenant Kira and myself was cautious that they would ally with our enemy to take Gaul again."
"Did you notify the Conqueror?"
"Yes. The Romans never came ashore, so I notified her not to send any other troops until circumstances changed. Our army did well fending off the Cimbri's assault." Vercinix smiled. " So well in fact, that they dissolved their association with the Teutons. Next, we decimated the Teutons remaining soldiers with ease and waited for the Romans to make a move, however they didn't. A few days later, they sailed away and I sent a scroll to the Conqueror, confirming what happened with the Romans, that all was fine in Gaul, including its borders and I'll be leaving Lieutenant Kira there with eighty percent of the Fourth Army while the rest of them journeyed back to Corinth alongside me."
"When did this all occur?" Meleager query.
"A fortnight ago." Vercinix responded. "Do you suspect the Romans withdrawal from Gaul, signals hostilities towards the Realm?"
"Rome is on the brink of internal warfare. I don't know why they would send ships to idle in Gaul's territory." Meleager said.
"There's dissension in Rome?" Vercinix was clueless.
"You have been gone for a while, Vercinix. Significant alterations has occurred in Rome's politics. The Second Triumvirate's incumbents are at odds for power. Markus Lepidus has been forced out of it and exiled to parts unknown. Marcus Antonious has been back and forth from Alexandria to Rome. Recently he married Egypt's Pharaoh, Cleopatra, now he's taken residence in the palace with her and their children, indefinitely. Octavian resides in Rome, trying to make a strong case to impact the Senate's decision to bring Antonious back, but I believe Octavian's real purpose is to oust him as a traitor of Rome for staying in Egypt too long. The age of the Roman Republic is coming to an end." Meleager elucidated.
"Where does Brutus fit into all of this mess?" Vercinix asked.
"Before their dissent, the Triumvirate influenced the Senate to blame him as prime conspirator in Caesar's assassination. He fled to Crete and is hiding in Dia. Brutus claims he's fighting for Rome to tarry as a republic, hence why he is enlisting the Conqueror's help."
"Who stands beside, Brutus?" Vercinix inquired.
"The only person we know so far is, Cassius Longinus." Meleager replied. "They have twenty-nine Legions altogether."
"Did the Conqueror take the entire Sixth Army to engage them?"
"Nope." the Chancellor remitted. "I argued with her for candle-marks the night she told me her plan. It's just herself, General Glaphyra and one hundred forty-nine soldiers."
Vercinix grinned. "You'd think, she would've brought less."
"She wanted to bring one hundred fifty. Somehow, Oris got stuck with the errand of returning the Conqueror's warhorse. I assume it was done purposely, so he could receive his promotion to lieutenant." Meleager speculated.
"Lieutenant Dex lost his position?"
"No. No. Oris is the new lieutenant of the First Army." Meleager corrected.
"A warrior from the Sixth Army has become a lieutenant to another? That's a first." Vercinix stated.
"General Nale and General Glaphyra was in cahoots about Oris' elevation. I haven't had an opportunity to chat with him, but I will at the banquet this evening. Will you be there?" Meleager questioned.
"I'm actually looking forward to spending quality cronus with my wife and kids." he professed. "I'll see if Mendala want to go. If not, I will make a short cameo to acknowledge Oris' advancement."
Meleager nodded in agreement. "Is there anything else to report?"
"There's nothing more to account, Regent Chancellor." the General of the Fourth Army chuckled.
"Don't start that, Vercinix. Last year everyone was calling me, General Regent, because of Darnelle spreading it. Chancellor is the only reference I prefer." the older man laughed. "I won't hold you any longer. Go to your family and relay to them my good wishes."
"Thank you, Chancellor." Vercinix raised from his chair and saluted.
As he commenced walking to the oak doors, Vercinix looked back to inquire. "The Conqueror isn't doing anything crazy and she'll be alright, won't she?"
Meleager assured him. "She's the greatest warrior I've ever seen. I'm certain our Lord will be okay."
"She's a monster!" Cassius begun his malediction, a candle-mark after disembarking his boat. "The Conqueror should be damned to the deepest bowels of Tartarus!"
Brutus stood next to his brother in-law, in front of his tent while he vented. "I warned you not to bring your uppity slave, Cassius."
"She didn't have to kill him." he cried.
"Of course she did." Brutus rebutted. "He offended her. Can you imagine the Conqueror of the Grecian Realm, allowing a mere slave to do that and live? The same woman who built an empire from the ground up in blood."
"No." Cassius yielded. "She's still ruthless."
"That's my point, Cassius. It's the reason we needed her on our side. She alone could destroy Octavian and Marcus."
Both men eyes surveyed the expansive base camp as Roman soldiers went about their daily routine. Many of them was practicing with their gladius, or bows and arrows. Some hunted for food and brought clean water to drink. Others dallied around waiting for action of any kind.
'I hate this fucking place.' Brutus thought.
He had abscond himself on the island of Crete for almost a full moon and it started to addle his nerves. Limited food choices, plus not seeing sights that compared to Rome's magnificence annoyed him. Dia's endless forest reminded him of Germania and he hated that place too. At least if he linked with the Conqueror, a tasty hot supper and a warm bed in Corinth would be acquired.
"Tell me once more what the Conqueror said to you." Brutus decreed.
"After her vilification of us, she told me that she would be paying you a visit." Cassius paraphrased, then pondered aloud. "I think she's of a mind to cause us harm. What do you make of her visitation?"
"Why is Domitus cooking, when I warned him not to?" Brutus' eyebrows corrugated at the man in question. "Of all mortals to use fire, that poor Prometheus suffers for giving mankind, Domitus is the worse. He shames the bound Titan when he uses fire to serve piss tasting food."
"Damn that." Cassius pronounced in frustration. "What is your strategy for dealing with the Conqueror's arrival here?"
"Did she tell you when she was coming?" Brutus asked.
"Did her words sound threatening?"
Cassius became livid. "She murdered, Pindarus! Gave me the corpse so I'd view his slit throat! I had to honor his request to be buried at sea. And you're asking me, did she sound threatening?"
Brutus turned his full focus on his brother in-law. "The Conqueror wasn't keen on listening to our proposition from the beginning. You were overly qualified to go to Corinth and use your skillful wordplay as a diplomat to intrigue her. Your slave however, was too high-handed and it cost him his life."
"Pindarus isn't a slave." Cassius retorted. "I granted his freedom before he drew his final breath."
"Pindarus isn't anything anymore." Brutus responded. "He's dead."
"His body has hardly been laid to rest in the Cretan Sea and you insult him?"
"It's not an insult to say a dead man is indeed dead." Brutus declared.
He took pity on Cassius once he seen his countenance. "I know you were attached to Pindarus. You've had him since he was a young boy, but he's gone now and you must deal with that fact."
Cassius wiped the wetness from his eyes and placed the memory of the slave boy, that became a surrogate son, into the recess of his brain. "You are right, Brutus."
"Was the Conqueror's tone, hostile?"
"No, it wasn't." Cassius answered.
"So she could be coming here to just see me face to face, or to attack our Legions." Brutus contemplated.
"We can't lose our men in combat with her. We have to restore the republic." Cassius averred.
"Don't worry, I have a stratagem that will either way delay the Conqueror, or kill her." Brutus asserted. "Until then, tell Domitus to never cook our meals ever again, or I'll have his head boiled while he's alive."
Cassius suppressed his discontent for Brutus' plan and began walking to the errant cook.
"One other thing." Brutus called out, making Cassius turn in his direction. "Cut your damn hair and shave that stubble off your face. We are Romans, not savages."
To Be Continued
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