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 stories' chapters preceding this one, you should do so now. A very special shout out to Nancy G and all my readers. Enjoy! :-)
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 and energy, she raised from the bed to answer the chamber door, becoming 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 cogitated, pondering on her 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 I'd spoken to my uncle and he made me feel a lot better."
"I'm glad I hadn't ruined your plans with him."
"The Chancellor and I enjoyed each others company from daylight till nightfall." Ri disclosed.
Iona glimpsed the room, seeing a tray with pie and bread atop it. A couple of saucers were on the table with half-eaten desserts placed on them, also.
"Must have ate until both y'all bellies couldn't handle anymore." Iona giggled.
Ri looked glum, gazing at the leftover treats. "No. We finished our lunch and dinner in Milady's chambers. The sweet food there are from when the Prince of the Realm visited me during the night."
"Wow." Iona was amazed. "You eat lunch, dinner, and have treats 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. "Enlightening."
Iona noted Ri's expression. "Your facial appearance says the enlightenment made you gloomy. Is that why the desserts are left untouched?"
"And when did you become so analytical?" Ri queried lively.
"I am the daughter of generals in the Realm's army. I have no choice but to be." She boasted, thinking of her friend's mysterious parentage and what happened between them. "Do you pardon the vile assertions of a silly girl?"
"You know I do." Ri made her way to Iona. "Although, you're not the only person who was wrong. I need you to accept my apology as well."
"You are serious about training and becoming a warrior. Neither Minya or I were being very supportive. We began teasing you and having fun at your expense. It's understandable 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."
"Thank you." Ri kissed Iona's forehead and ended the embrace to start organizing the dishes on the tray.
"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 retention of what I've said to you, I couldn't concentrate."
"Are you still interested in being a warrior?"
"Yes." Iona accented.
"It's okay then. If your grades begin to slip, you can always threaten the teacher with your sword." Ri jested.
Iona chuckled. "Is making jokes of my chosen profession going to become our custom now?"
"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 announced, "There's a celebration this evening."
"I know." Ri responded. "The Chancellor informed me. It's for the promotion of a soldier whose 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 can. I missed my session with Master Eramus yesterday and I know he's gonna chew me up like Kerberus." Ri sulked. "I'm not 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."
"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, Iona. 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." Ri laughed, considering the teenage boy. "Why don't you be Virgil's company?"
"Are you insane." Iona was appalled. "He's thirteen... I want to be seen with someone older and wiser."
Ri interpreted what Iona wanted. "Everyone's gonna be there, huh?"
"Yup." She answered.
"Soldiers and all?"
Iona began 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 ruminating on what Iona had just expressed. "Your father will be there."
"I am more comfortable around you than him. 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 attenuating, she pushed onward. "There'll be tons of entertainment, including Joxer. He's gonna be entertaining, too."
'It'll be nice to see Joxer again.' Ri mused.
"I really want you with me." Iona admitted.
"Fine. I'll get there late, but I will come." Ri conceded. "I'm not staying for long, though."
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Iona repeated, hugging Ri.
After that, she headed for the door.
"You're leaving now?" Ri inquired.
"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 teen closed the door and was skipping down the halls in merriment.
The strawberry-blonde sat at her vanity desk, grinning as she picked up her comb.
"Morning, Prince Lyceus." Akemi bowed, allowing him to enter the Conqueror's chambers that the Regent occupied.
"Likewise, Akemi." Lyceus professed concisely. "Is the Chancellor awake? I must speak with him."
"Yes, he is. He's in the bedchamber this moment getting dressed."
"Let him know I wish to talk to him." Lyceus averred.
"As you command."
The Chambermaid left to do his bidding and Lyceus sat on the divan, deep in thought of what occurred last night. He barely could sleep, knowing Ri didn't love him liken to the way he loved her, and his mind was aflame with the knowledge that his sister was in love with her as well.
'How could she!' He became 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 attested that it was a farewell present, Lyceus had his doubts and felt he surmised the true purpose for the sparkling jewelry.
"Prince Lyceus." Akemi pronounced. "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 bedroom.
"Good morning. What brings you here early, and why do you remain in your nightshirt?"
Shutting the door, the Prince exclaimed, "The Conqueror!"
"She has returned?" Meleager ceased his indecisiveness, starting to worry when he discerned Lyceus' comportment. "By the gods, is she alright?"
"What?" Lyceus got confused.
"You yelled the Conqueror. Is she alright?" He echoed. "Where is she?"
"She remains afield, and I wasn't implying something was wrong with her wellbeing." 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, slumping against the wall.
Meleager's concernment didn't diminish, while watching Lyceus' body slide down the wall onto the floor in a sitting posture. "What is this about?"
"I confided in Xena." Lyceus spoke quietly. "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 imparted 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, because of the storyteller's elucidation at their lunch. He was happy for their forthcoming union. Now, he grew disappointed.
"Ri says it's just a present, but I don't buy it. And to make matters worse, she thinks I betrayed her trust. I don't have a clue what to do to rectify this situation."
"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 helped Lyceus onto his feet. "I'll talk with her. However, it might not change anything. Do you understand?"
Lyceus nodded his head in congruence.
"Good." Meleager clapped the younger man's shoulder. "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. Once the Chancellor heard Lyceus' recount of the events that happened, he promised him he'd speak with Ri during the celebration dinner. Meleager was fazed by the Conqueror's volition to court the storyteller after the Prince divulged his feelings to her first. He would be further discouraged if his former pupil lied to the petite, strawberry-blonde, pertaining a secret between Lyceus and Ri.
'Young people... When will they learn; the best kept secrets are the ones that are never uttered.' He reflected, arriving at his destination.
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. I didn't know it'd be this quickly."
"Gaul is well protected." Vercinix asserted. "I don't have much to report. Will the Conqueror be joining us here?"
"No. She isn't in Corinth, and has left me Regent in her stead."
Vercinix looked at him quizzically. "Where did she go?"
"Let's 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 started expounding, "Something is brewing in Rome. A couple of days ago, Brutus sent two envoys to ask for an alliance against Octavian and Marcus Antonius. It didn't go well, so 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 prompted.
"Roman." He announced. "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 were cautious they would ally with our enemy to take Gaul again."
"Did you notify the Conqueror?"
"Yes. They didn't come ashore, so I notified her not to send any other troops, until circumstances changed, and there were no need for panic since our army performed well fending off the Cimbri's assault with low casualties." Vercinix smiled contentedly. "So well in fact, they dissolved their association with the Teutons and retreated. We decimated the Teutons' remaining soldiers with ease and waited for the Romans to make a move, albeit, they didn't. A few days later, they sailed away and I sent a scroll to the Conqueror to recite what happened. I also told her that all was fine in Gaul, including its borders, and I'd be leaving Lieutenant Kira there with eighty percent of the Fourth Army, whilst the rest of them journeyed back to Corinth alongside me."
"When did this all occur?" Meleager queried.
"A fortnight ago." Vercinix became uneasy. "Do you suspect the Romans' presence in Gaul signals hostilities towards the Realm?"
"I don't know why they would send ships to idle in Gaul's territory when Rome is on the brink of internal warfare." Meleager evinced.
"There's dissension in Rome?" Vercinix was clueless.
"You have been gone for a while, Vercinix. Significant alterations has betide Rome's politics, and the age of the Roman Republic hangs in the balance. The Second Triumvirate's incumbents are at odds for power. Markus Lepidus has been forced out of it and exiled to parts unknown. Marcus Antonius has been back and forth from Italia to Alexandria. Recently he married Egypt's Pharaoh, Cleopatra, deciding to take 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 Antonius back, but I believe Octavian's real ambition is to oust him as a traitor of Rome for staying in Egypt too long, and remodel himself an emperor." Meleager explicated.
Vercinix got inquisitive, "Where does Brutus fit into all of this mess?"
"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 claim he's fighting for Rome to tarry as a republic, hence why he is enlisting the Conqueror's help."
"Who stands beside Brutus?"
"The only person we know so far is Cassius Longinus." Meleager replied. "They have twenty-nine Legions altogether."
"The Conqueror took the entire Sixth Army to engage them?"
"No." The Chancellor appeared vexed. "I had argued with her for candle-marks on the night she conveyed her plans to me. 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 purported.
"General Nale and General Glaphyra were in cahoots, anent to 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 asked.
"I'm actually looking forward to spending quality Cronus with my wife and kids." He pronounced. "I'll see if Mendala wants to go. If not, I will make a short cameo to acknowledge Oris' advancement."
Nodding in agreement, Meleager inquired, "Is there anything else to report?"
"There's nothing more to account, Regent Chancellor." The General of the Fourth Army snickered.
"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 halted his laughter. "I won't hold you any longer. Go to your family and relay to them my good wishes."
"Thank you, Chancellor." Arising from his chair and saluting, Vercinix commenced walking to the oak doors, but turned back to query, "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 positive 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 in front of his tent, next to his venting brother in-law. "I'd 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. That's the reason we need her on our side. She alone can destroy Octavian and Marcus."
Both men's eyes surveyed the expansive base-camp, while Roman soldiers went about their daily routine. Many of them were practicing with their gladius or bows and arrows. Some hunted for food and bought clean water to drink from the town market. Others dallied around, waiting for action of any kind.
'I hate this fucking place.' Brutus ruminated.
He had absconded 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 avouched to you." Brutus decreed.
"After her vilification of us, she'd apprised 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 lieutenant in question. "Of all mortals to use the sacred element 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 cursed in frustration. "What is your strategy for dealing with the Conqueror's arrival here?"
Brutus' cognition went back on topic. "Did the Conqueror tell you when she was coming?" .
"Did her words sound threatening?"
Cassius became livid. "She murdered Pindarus! Gave me the corpse, so I'd view his slit throat! I presumed that he would outlive me, in lieu of having to honor his request to be buried at sea, and... And you're asking me did she sound threatening?"
Brutus laid his full focus on his brother in-law. "The Conqueror weren't keen on hearing out 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 admonished. "I granted his freedom before he drew his final breath."
"Pindarus isn't anything anymore." Brutus rectified. "He's dead."
"His body has hardly been cast to rest in the Cretan Sea and you insult him?"
"It's not an insult to say a dead man is indeed dead." Brutus verbalized, but he took pity on Cassius when he'd espied his dismal 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 it."
Cassius wiped the wetness from his eyes and placed the memory of the slave-boy, who became a surrogate son, into the recesses of his brain. "You are right, Brutus."
"Was the Conqueror's tone hostile?" Brutus resumed his questioning.
"No, it wasn't." Cassius felt unsure, remembering the Conqueror's adumbrated behavior. "Nevertheless, her comportment is difficult to assess."
"So, she could be coming here to just see me face-to-face or it could be a ploy to attack our Legions." Brutus contemplated.
"We can't lose our men in combat with her. We have to restore the Republic to its regal glory." Cassius predicated.
"Don't fret. I have a stratagem that will either delay the Conqueror, or kill her." Brutus unveiled. "Until then, tell Domitus to never cook our meals ever again, or I'll have his head boiled whilst he's alive."
Cassius suppressed his discontent for Brutus' scheme and began trudging 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 of your face. We are Romans. Not savages."
To Be Continued
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