Disclaimers: See Chapter 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.
The Conqueror & Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 12: Felicitations
"Hello, Akemi." Ri greeted. "What brings you here?"
Standing outside Ri's chamber door, wearing a plain tunic, Akemi noted the petite strawberry blonde's attire. She was barefoot and adorned in a purple Doric chiton that was pinned closed on one of her shoulders by a yellowish fibula. Her hair was styled back with a yellow brooch too. And on Ri's neck was the gorgeous jewelry, blatantly advertised for public viewing.
The Chambermaid's mood waned. "Afternoon, Ri. The Chancellor of the Realm request your presence at the Banquet hall for, Lieutenant Oris' celebration this evening."
"I have explained to the Chancellor that I wouldn't attend, because I had a session with my tutor." Ri replied. "However, a friend talked me into going, so I am inclined to be there. I'll just be a couple candle-marks late."
"Your study with Master Eramus is cancelled for today." Akemi's tone was direct. "It's important that you are present at the celebration as soon as possible."
The former Handmaiden didn't care for Akemi's intonation. "I do not believe that Chancellor Meleager's request for me is discourteous, the way you are delivering it."
"What make you think it isn't?" she challenged smugly.
Ri was taken aback by Akemi's behaviour that bloomed from nowhere. She wasn't prone to confrontations and disliked conflicts, but she was determined to defend herself.
"The way you are speaking to me is borderline rude, Akemi. What imagined slights have I committed to cause you to treat me so?"
"I'm to inform the Chancellor, you are unwilling to comply?"
"What?" Ri couldn't understand the brunette's audaciousness. "I will be there. Good day, Akemi."
She closed the door in the smiling Chambermaid's face.
'What is wrong with her?' Ri cogitated. 'We haven't spoken to each other as if we were friends when performing our duties together, but it was still polite and respectful. What could have provoked such an acrimoniousness attitude? It all started the morning Milady left.'
Realization flooded Ri's mind as she remembered the curt farewell Akemi gave her once she saw the necklace the storyteller wore.
'Is that it?' she mused. 'Akemi knew that Qoutis created it for our Lord. Could this all be about jealousy?'
Although Ri was discontented with the Japian woman's grudge towards her, she wasn't going to let it daunt her day. Slipping on her diamond crest, black sandals, Ri exit her room.
"You just came home and I have missed you so much." Mendala straddled her husband on their bed.
"It's to honor a new lieutenant." Vercinix said, enjoying his wife's nearness.
"The kids are in their classes, we are here alone and have a lot of cronus to make up for." she kissed him softly. "You want to give our lovemaking a pass?"
"No, Mendala, but as a General, I do want to pay my respects. And I need to talk to the Chancellor."
"You did talk to him." Mendala phrased.
"I did, but those Roman ships that was idle in Gaul is bothering me." Vercinix confided. "Their withdrawal from Gaul chills me more now than it did then, when I was there. It has something to do with the Realm if not the Conqueror herself, I am positive of it."
"Okay." she yielded. "We will go to the banquet. You'll have to make it up to me though."
Vercinix reversed their positions and sucked Mendala's earlobe. "I plan to."
Some candle-marks later, the Banquet hall was illuminated with candlelight and torches. Tables was draped with blue clothes of silk, an abundance of exquisite delicacies and delicious wine set atop a few of them. Musicians played a soft melodic tune as entertainers, plus castle servants appeased the Nobles, warriors and denizens in different sections of the commodious hall while many conversed with one another.
'Wow! It's a ton of people.' Iona thought as she and her father entered.
"You are going to socialize, right and not shell yourself up like the previous occasions you came here?" Darnelle inquired.
"Yes, father." she answered. "I actually want to meet the recipient of this dinner ceremony."
Looking around while walking, Darnelle spotted the person of interest. "Lieutenant Oris is over there with Lieutenant Tessa and others, being entertained by the Fool. Do you want me to introduce you to him?"
Iona surveyed the spacious hall, hoping to see her best friend. 'Ri did say, she'll be late.'
"Iona, Ri will be here when she get here." Darnelle knew she was worrying. "Do you want to go over, or not?"
"Yes, father." the long haired blonde accepted.
When they had reached the two lieutenants, the Jester was in the middle of his joke. "The Warlord told the merchant, 'I'm not paying for these weapons'. The merchant was offended that the Warlord wouldn't pay him and demanded, 'Give me my dinars now, or leave!' The Warlord responded, 'I can not do either'. This puzzles the merchant, so he ask, 'Why not'? The Warlord says, 'Because, my shoes.'"
The Jester's brown eyes locked on Iona while he shouted. "My shoes!"
Then he grabbed his left foot, hopping on his right in farcical fashion, before jumping in the air to fall on his back, shutting his eyes and pretending to be dead, inciting the crowd that surrounded him to burst in applause with laughter.
'Poor fella.' Darnelle pitied the man who laid on the Banquet hall's floor, with white pasty makeup on his face.
The Jester always implemented crazy stunts in his acts. Gods forbid if he did really injure himself while people laughed. As he played dead and the spectators walked away, a young woman stood over the fallen man.
"Did you fall again?" she asked. "You have to be careful. You might break a bone in your body, if you keep throwing yourself about."
He made eye contact with greenish blue irises. "What if I'm not doing it on purpose?"
Bending down, she retorted with a smile. "Either way, I would deem you the fool."
"RiRi!" Joxer gracefully got onto his feet.
Next, he pulled Ri up into a tight hug.
"Okay, Joxer. I need to breathe." Ri gasped.
"Sorry." he disengaged. "I haven't seen you in so long. How is everything?"
"I've been studying mostly all last moon of April and it's continuing this moon also. To say that I'm overwhelmed somewhat, wouldn't quite define it."
"You had free moments to tell a tale to a class though." Joxer beamed. "Virgil wouldn't stop talking of the King Midas story, whom ears got transformed to look like an... Well, you know."
Ri redden. "The story touches on humans' fear and respect for the gods, including our mortal weakness for avarice. Between you and me, I would never recite that tale to my younger audience."
"Will you be giving us a yarn this evening?" the Jester questioned. "Perhaps a comedy?"
"Highly doubtful, besides, I leave the comedy in your capable hands." Ri claimed. "Speaking of Virgil, where is he?"
Joxer's lips went flat. "He's here somewhere. He doesn't care for my profession anymore, so he strays from me."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Joxer." she offered her condolences.
"Thanks, RiRi." he responded. "I just want him to be proud of me."
"He will be, and if for some reason he don't, do not let that discourage you from doing what you like."
"You are a sweety. Come here, you." Joxer embraced Ri again.
Gazing at other people to perform for, he began pulling away. "Gotta go, work calls."
"Be safe, oh and have you by any chance seen, Iona?" Ri questioned him as he walked backwards in a comical manner.
"Yeah. She was with General Darnelle. I don't know which way they walked off, I had my eyes closed. Nice necklace by the way."
"Thanks. I'll see you later." Ri said.
Joxer waved while Ri traversed an area that would lead her to, Iona.
"This is my daughter." the General of the Fifth Army made introductions after they found a table at the back of the Banquet hall.
"How are you, love." Oris spoke with an accent.
"I'm fine." Iona stated shyly. "Congratulations on your promotion."
Iona became mesmerized by, Oris. His eyes had a hue, similar to violet and reddish brown hair. He was the only warrior that was dressed in armor, which was white and had an emblem on its right chest plate. Everybody else, whether a Noble, denizen, or soldier, was wearing tunics, shirts and trousers of all colors.
"You already know Lieutenant Tessa." Darnelle went on. "The woman that boosted your passion to become a warrior."
"Hello and thanks again for your display on sword handling." Iona replied.
"You're welcome." Tessa responded. "I'm trying to talk your father into allowing me to teach you more fully, if you are to join the army of the Realm."
"I can become your pupil." Iona's facial expression showed tremendous glee. "Father, is it true?"
Darnelle couldn't stop himself from grinning at his daughter's infectious smile. "We've talked of it. Let us speak on the subject a little more and we'll go from there."
Iona gave him a heartwarming embrace.
"Lets get some drinks." Oris pronounced.
"Yes." Iona agreed.
"Honey milk, or fruit juice for you." Darnelle smirked.
'Gosh, Iona. Where are you?' Ri huffed after being bombarded with compliments and inquiries regarding if she would put on a performance.
She glanced all over the Banquet hall to find who had called her name.
'It's so many people.' Ri ruminated.
The strawberry blonde spun on her heels and was unprepared for Virgil, who launched himself into her barely opened arms.
"Virgil!" she exclaimed.
"You came!" he cheered.
"Yea, Iona kinda forced me into coming." Ri jest.
Virgil frowned. "She can be a jerk, but still, I'm happy you are here."
"Iona's not a jerk." Ri said. "She's coming into herself, that's all. It's the woes of growing older."
"So she's growing up to become a jerk?" Virgil innocently queried.
Ri chuckled and patted his ebony cropped hair. "You're hilarious like your father."
"I'm nothing like him." Virgil snapped.
His comment caused Ri to be concerned. "Virgil, why does your father being a Jester upsets you?"
The thirteen year old teenager became reticent. "Will you be telling a story, Ri?"
The future bard reluctantly let the topic drop. "I'm not sure. I'm really here to see Iona and talk with the Chancellor."
"That's all you're here for and what is this?" Virgil inspected the shiny necklace.
"It's a gift from our Lord of the Realm, to me." Ri avowed.
She felt as if weight was lifted off her shoulders now that she no longer carried burden-some lies and half-truths.
'From now on, I will be honest.' Ri advocated her sworn promise to the gods.
"It's beautiful." Virgil affirmed. "Almost like you are, Ri."
"Awe, what a little charmer." Ri kissed his forehead.
"Some of the guests are dancing. Do you want to too?"
"Um, I do have to seek out-"
"Please." Virgil interjected. "One dance, for me?"
'What type of monster would I be if I said, no.' Ri faltered.
'Gods! Come on, Ri.' Iona thought.
The small gathering of just herself, her father and the two lieutenants, grew in addition when General Nale joined them. Then, Lieutenant Dex became a part of their group, along with others that briefly stopped at their table, offering felicitations. This made the fifteen year old girl bashful. With the consumption of wine, it got to a point that Iona was barred from any further conversation even if she wanted to. She had no idea what the adults was discussing. Still, Iona listened on after she had vacated her seat to lean on the wall close by, hoping to catch a glimpse of, Ri.
"Out of the purple armor and into the white, huh, Oris." Dex teased.
"Better be lucky it wasn't your position." Darnelle told him.
Everyone laughed, except Iona.
"Your wife happens to enjoy my companionship." Dex boasted.
"I know." Darnelle replied. "She likes it better than your abilities on the battlefield."
Once more, laughter rang out, minus one.
"Be wary of General Nale. I heard he can be meanly." Tessa chimed.
Nale looked at Oris and shook his head. "Don't place your faith in rumors, Oris."
"I tend to deal in facts, General Nale." he answered.
Nale grinned. "We will get along greatly."
"Until you piss him off." Darnelle whispered loudly for them all to hear.
"I had a choice to serve under General Nale." Dex joked. "I turned it down immediately."
The two Generals and the three lieutenants guffaw as Iona slumped back against the wall in boredom.
Ri was gladden that her dance with Virgil had ended. It had nothing to do with the young boy, it mainly was because of the incessant flattering remarks to her skills as a bard and the jade necklace. Then it was the soldiers and Nobles that obnoxiously tried to cut into her dance with, Virgil.
She had to admit, it was endearing when Virgil yelled. 'Can't y'all see, the lady is with me!'
He earned a peck on his cheek for standing up, not for her, but for himself. Once their dance concluded, Ri reminded Virgil that she still had to find Iona and quickly lost herself in the crowd of numerous, unknown faces, till she saw a familiar one.
"Ri." Meleager smiled.
They both hugged and he kissed the crown of her head. "You look marvelous."
"As do you. I'm liking the vest." Ri returned the gesture.
Meleager tugged on the laced up brownish vest. "I was indecisive about putting it on."
"Good decision, because it looks well on you." Ri said. "Uncle, I know that I've told you I wasn't going to be in attendance to this banquet, but Iona winded up coercing me into coming anyway. I was gonna arrive later after my teachings."
"If I have known, I wouldn't have ordered the cancellation of your session." Meleager proclaimed. "It is imperative that I talk with you."
"Okay, but does it has to be now?" Ri queried. "I'm searching for Iona and I don't want her to think I neglected being here for her."
"I'm on the lookout for somebody as well. I have made arrangements for you to be seated next to me doing the dinner. Meet me at the Grand table in a candle-mark." the Chancellor averred.
"Okay." Ri acceded and began her search once more.
Nale ran his hand through his cropped brown hair while his hazel orbs glared at his fellow compatriots. "I'm coming to the conclusion that I am catching all of y'all's quips. I'm not the newbie, Oris is."
"You got a small glimpse of how mean General Nale can be. He want us to tease you now." Tessa continued. "The man threw you under the wagon, Oris."
"No. He tossed Oris underneath the horses and carriage." Dex added.
When the merriment died, General Nale responded to his new lieutenant. "Remember, Oris. I haven't hinted at a single mean comment. However, gaze around you and you'll see all the truly mean people that did."
Oris' violet eyes lit with mischief. "I repeat, sir. I tend to deal in facts and you are correct. I can ascertain who the mean people are."
Nale clapped his second in command's back. "Oh yeah, we're going to get along great."
"Forget you, First Army!"
Nale walked away from the table with a smiling expression while the Fifth and Sixth Army's higher ups jeered his army.
"Trader, sooner or later, you'll be running back to the Sixth Army." Dex said.
"Hey, I have to stand by my General." Oris declared.
"What do we have here, General Darnelle?" Tessa inquired.
"I'm not certain, but it appears to be a lieutenant from the First Army, all alone."
"What should we do with him?" she asked.
"Nothing." Dex expressed. "They're contagious."
Laughs rose again and even Iona couldn't halt her giggles, now that she grasped that they were making fun of, Oris.
"There you are." Ri pronounced.
"I'm glad you came." Iona hastily took steps to her spirit sister, embracing her. "You are a beauty, Ri."
"Your appearance is striking also." Ri apprised Iona's long blonde tresses that cascaded down her back. "You've decided to don a chiton too, but of the Ionic form."
"It's close to my namesake." Iona twirled to showcase her pink chiton and the greyish belt encircling her waist.
Next, Iona grabbed Ri's hand. "Come on, you must meet the new lieutenant and he is fascinating."
They walked to her father and his companions' table.
"Everyone, Ri would like to say, hi." Iona announced.
"General Darnelle." Ri begun, hugging him.
"I've missed you, Ri." he responded.
"Hello, Lieutenant Tessa." Ri bowed, her courtesy as a servant, not far behind her.
"Hello." Tessa did a simple greet, because she was spellbound by, Ri's appearance.
"Forgive me, but I'm not acquainted with the rest of you." Ri asserted.
"This here is, Lieutenant Dex and the man sitting beside him is the cause of this celebration, newly appointed, Lieutenant Oris of the First Army." Iona finished the introduction.
"Pleased to meet both of you." Ri proclaimed, in advance of giving Oris a friendly embrace. "I wish there was a profound way for me to congratulate you."
"I can think of a few ways." Oris replied.
The sexual innuendo went over Ri's head. "What are they?"
Not missing a beat to bed her, Oris said. "We could go back to my room in the barracks-"
"Or, Ri could tell us a tale right here instead." Darnelle interrupted.
"Now I remember you." Dex recognized her. "You're the bard. I've only been present for some of the tales you have performed for the kids, but they are gripping once you get hooked by them."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Dex. You are too kind." Ri flushed. "Nonetheless, I'm not a bard."
"Not yet, but soon she'll be learning from Aristotle in Athens." Iona blasted.
They all looked at Ri with stunned features.
'Gods, Iona. Tell every soul on Terra why don't you.' she became vexed.
Though the strawberry blonde had the Conqueror's approval to let anyone know she was leaving Corinth, Ri wanted to be the sole person to share that information. No one else.
"If you all will pardon me." Ri excused herself and stalked away.
"Ri." Iona was confused by her sudden departure.
"I'll go get her." Darnelle stated and trailed behind, Ri.
Iona was even more alone, now that her father and friend vanished. So she resumed leaning on the wall, cogitating why Ri took off.
"She is bloody sexy." Oris affirmed. "I nearly had her coming to the barracks with me. Why did Darnelle cock block me?"
"Because my General was right." Tessa replied, recalling his words.
'Calm your libido, Tessa. You don't know, Ri and her ways. She's really benign, that's all.'
"What?" Oris queried.
"Ri haven't the finest clue what you were insinuating. If she would've agreed to going any place with you, she would had disappointed you." Tessa elucidated.
"I'm shocked that she's going to be apprenticed by, Aristotle." Dex confessed.
"Yea, how she'd manage to obtain that? By being a bard?" Oris questioned. "Is her stories as glamorous like that necklace she was wearing?"
"Yes they are." Dex answered. "By the gods, I pray that my wife won't ever get a glance at, Ri's jewelry. I'll never find her anything similar to that."
"Her stories is exactly like that necklace." Tessa said. "They are both priceless."
Darnelle enclosed his arm with Ri's, altering their path to an empty dinner table to sit.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left like I did. I was just so... So." Ri didn't want to sound harsh.
"Mad." Darnelle filled in.
"Ri, you are going to Athens, to be taught by the knowledgeable, Aristotle." Darnelle was curious. "Why the exasperation?"
"It's my business to tell whomever I choose, not anyone elses." Ri declared.
Understanding that his daughter was the reason for Ri's shift in temperament, Darnelle tried to remedy the situation. "Did you tell Iona not to say anything about it?"
"No." Ri's orbs were downcast. "I sorta thought she just wouldn't disclose it with others."
"Ri, she didn't have intentions to upset you. Iona has anticipated your arrival since we first got here and she's kept quiet due to her shyness. She became excited when you showed, because she was able to be included in a conversation. Let her know that you don't want her to speak of your personal affairs and she'll respect it."
Ri's emotions changed to joy. "I know how Iona is, I will inform her. Other than that, how are you and General Glaphyra?"
"Same old, same old." Darnelle repeated. "She's travelling with the Conqueror. They should be back soon."
Ri's fingers caressed his brown hair, remembering it being shorter. "It's gotten longer."
"Not so loud, Ri." he gently admonished. "It is protocol for the males, that serve in the Realm's army to keep a short haircut. The last thing I want is for somebody else to remind me, I'm breaking the rules."
"I'll be quiescent about it." Ri conceded. "However, long hair does become you."
"Thanks." Darnelle said. "I wish Glaphyra will come around to liking it too. Enough of that, we must celebrate your amazing fortune."
Darnelle got the attention of a servant and picked up a couple of ornate cups containing wine, off the carrying tray.
"To you, Ri."
The petite woman took the proffered cup. "Thank you, but I haven't ever indulged in spirits."
"You are well above the age limit and it's bad luck to not drink after a toast has been made in your honor."
"I'm only eighteen." Ri responded.
"Well above the age limit." Darnelle quoted. "Just one will be alright."
Ri grinned. "To me then and the elevation of, Lieutenant Oris of the First Army."
Next, they both swallowed their wine. Ri grimaced from the drink that was fruity tasting, yet burned her throat going down.
"I should go talk to Iona before I forget my own name." Ri jived.
"One moment, Ri. You won't be too inebriated, don't worry. I wanted to ask you something." Darnelle implored. "I have been told that you and Lieutenant Tessa had a conversation once her substitution for Clydmus' class was done. What did y'all chat about?"
Ri was feeling light headed and carefree under the effects of the wine as she brought forth the memory of when she'd spoken with Tessa.
"After the class got dismissed, Lieutenant Tessa said I was awesome at storytelling. I thanked her for inviting me and that I had enjoyed her presentation of severing the practice dummy with her axes. It was crude the way she'd dismembered that wooden replica of a human into parts. Now when I think about it, it's pretty funny."
Ri ceased her giggling, to get back on topic. "She asked me what I am good at, but I gave her useless answers, other than telling her, I'm good at serving our Lord. Then, she complimented my hairstyle and looks saying, that I looked radiant. I returned it by making a comment on her eyes."
"What did you say?" Darnelle asked.
"That her green irises shined like emeralds." Ri answered. "And they do when the light reflect off of them."
"So, all y'all did, was exchange pleasantries?"
Ri thought further. "Once I made that comment, Lieutenant Tessa stood there like she was in shock."
"She gave no other reply?" Darnelle queried.
Ri's tipsy mind caused her to burst in merriment. "She implied that I was flirting with her. What was her exact words? 'Talking to someone like that, I would think you were flirting'. I smiled and confirmed that I was only being truthful. Finally I left the classroom to prepare for Master Eramus' lessons."
Her intoxicated brain began torturing Ri, knowing she would have to endure Eramus' lectures, after he reprimanded her for missing two of their sessions.
"And I don't intend to sound cruel, but Master Eramus can be soooo, boring. If I have to hear him say once more, 'When you have the crowds' ear, you must have the finesse to maintain it'. I'm going to lose my senses."
Darnelle chuckled at the mocking woman beside him. He had never seen her this vocal, other than telling her stories.
Kissing her temple, he professed. "You are a lot of fun. I'll remember to give you a drink when I'm in need of humor."
Ri appeared indignant. "Are you implying, I am decent company only when I indulge in alcohol?"
"Yes." he jokingly replied.
"That's fair. Guess I'll have to remind Milady of her policy for groomed soldiers." Ri retorted.
"That is unnecessary." Darnelle wrapped his arm around Ri's waist, bringing her into a half hug. "I was only playing."
"I know, but I'm not." Ri let loose a loud laugh as Darnelle tickled her side. "Okay! Okay! I'm playing as well."
"Just like when you were younger. I thought you would had stopped being ticklish by now."
"Nope, but I'm working on it." she asserted.
Memories of the Conqueror tickling her, surfaced and Ri's hand unknowingly touched the jade gemstone.
"Where did you come across that?" Darnelle questioned.
"Huh?" Ri's ratiocination shattered.
"The necklace?" Darnelle clarified.
"Milady." Ri blushed.
"It's dazzling. You can discern that the Conqueror loves you." he affirmed.
"Really!" Ri shouted joyously.
"Of course. She has always doted on you, even when she was absent. Kinda like a mother to a daughter."
Ri became dishearten with Darnelle's announcement. "Milady cares for me as if I'm her daughter?"
"Yeah." Darnelle said. "Isn't that great? The Lord of the Realm has taken you as her surrogate child. I couldn't think of a more deserving person."
'A daughter?' Ri groused. 'A daughter? That can't be correct. Milady loves and cares for me.'
Doubt clouded Ri's thinking. 'Was I wrong? She haven't voiced a confession of love to me. Maybe I'm perceiving her actions wrongly.'
"We should get back. The ceremonial dinner will get underway soon and you still have to speak with, Iona." Darnelle pronounced.
"But she loves me." Ri rambled.
"Who loves you?" he inquired.
"When she returns to Corinth, Milady plans to-" her proclamation halted after she caught sight of Prince Lyceus, circulating the Banquet hall. "I have to go."
Ri raised and dashed off.
"Hold on." Darnelle called out. "What is the Conqueror planning?"
Ri kept walking, getting lost once again in the crowd.
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