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.
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The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 13: Congratulations
Iona remained standing against the wall, overhearing the three lieutenants' conversation.
"Is she being courted by anybody?" Oris inquired.
"Not to my knowledge." Tessa answered. "Ri is the Handmaiden to our Lord."
"She's a Handmaiden?" Oris was enticed. "A virgin, you mean?"
"Yes." Tessa said.
"With her looks, I can't imagine her being that for very long."
"General Glaphyra speaks highly of the Conqueror's handmaiden. I didn't know it was Ri though, because she never mentioned her by name. I assumed it was two different girls." Dex confided.
"Ri was raised with us." Iona chimed in. "She is like a sister to me."
'That's why General Darnelle interfered with my suggestion of going back to my room.' Oris thought.
Tessa had forgotten the fifteen year old was standing close by. "Iona, we don't mean any dishonor to, Ri. We respect her a huge deal."
"It's alright, Lieutenant Tessa." she pronounced. "Ri is special to me as well."
"Would you like to rejoin us?" Dex asked.
Iona shook her head. "No thanks, I'm waiting for Ri to return."
"So am I." Oris whispered.
'You'll never have her.' Tessa mused. 'Not when I had my sights on Ri first.'
"Here you are."
The lieutenants began to rise in order to salute their Regent.
"At ease." Meleager stated. "I'm searching all over for the new lieutenant and I find him hiding back here."
"Chancellor, I was merely chatting with my compatriots." Oris replied.
"I see. I see." he repeated. "Now I would like to have a chat with you, if you don't mind."
Getting onto his feet, Oris responded. "As you command, Chancellor."
"Follow me." Meleager began walking and Oris trailed behind him.
"Breaking in the novice." Dex teased.
"Hope he don't break a sweat." Tessa added.
After the two lieutenants laughed, the brunette recognized a familiar figure.
"General Vercinix!" she shouted.
Vercinix and Mendala was walking hand in hand when they heard Tessa's voice. He was wearing a brown tunic with a dark leather vest covering it and black trousers. His wife was adorned in a orange colored dress and sandals. Her blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders.
"Welcome back to Corinth." Tessa greeted once they made their way to the table.
"Thank you." Vercinix said. "It's good to be back."
"Is Lieutenant Kira handling her charge well?" Dex queried.
Vercinix smiled. "Your wife is doing fine, Dex. I guarantee she'll be writing you soon."
"That's nice to hear." Dex expressed. "Mendala, you look lovely this evening by the way."
"Thanks, Lieutenant Dex." she accepted the compliment.
"Where are the kids?" Dex noticed that they weren't with their parents.
"They're being entertained by the Jester." Mendala replied.
"How was Gaul?" Tessa questioned.
"Interesting at best." Vercinix remembered his pivotal concern. "I'll give you the details later, however, have y'all seen the Chancellor?"
"He just left with Oris." Tessa proclaimed. "I'm sure you are aware of his promotion."
"Yes. I came to give my regards to him also."
Nale stealthily came up in back of Vercinix. "Did you know that, Alexander II is arriving here within a half fortnight?"
The General of the Fourth Army grasped Nale's forearm in a warrior embrace. "Nale. I see you're finding soldiers from other armies to fill your ranks."
He chuckled. "It isn't like that. Oris is gonna make a great lieutenant. General Glaphyra wanted to elevate him, but Dex would have been out of a position."
"Lucky, Dex." Tessa smirked.
"And how are you, Mendala?" Nale inquired while giving her a hug.
"I'll be better once we give our congratulations to the new lieutenant of the First Army and my husband speaks to the Chancellor." Mendala declared. "I want to spend Cronus with my whole family, alone."
"Yes." Vercinix was in agreement. "But tell me, when is Alexander's exact arrival?"
Iona shelled completely up after General Vercinix and his wife made an appearance. She was on the lookout for Ri more than ever.
'Why did you leave, Ri?' Iona ruminated. 'Please gods, don't tell me I offended her again.'
The honey eyed girl had anxiety from phantom thoughts. It was relieved momentarily when she saw Ri saunter towards her with an unusual sway.
"Iona we have to talk." Ri said grabbing Iona's arms and pulling her away from the adults' table.
"Ri, what did I do?" Iona questioned. "And why are you walking like that?"
The strawberry blonde was made conscious of her erratic footfalls and halted her footing with a giggle.
"You would think I had no clue how to walk properly." she beamed.
"Ri?" Iona wanted to discern Ri's behavior.
The only people that acted similar to her was the ones who partook in alcohol.
"Are you drunk?"
Ri started laughing. "I had a little. Your father gave a toast to me and he made it clear about bad customs to deny it. So I drank for mine as well as Lieutenant Oris' success. Where is the new lieutenant? I have to apologize for abruptly taking off doing our introduction."
"Don't bother, Ri." Iona responded. "He likes you. A lot. He'll accede to anything you say."
"Prince Lyceus?" Ri inquired.
"No. Lieutenant Oris."
"Oh." Ri's drunken cogitation was on the Prince, recalling seeing him not too long ago. "Lieutenant Oris is okay, but I do not know him. So his affections for me would be wasted."
"Lieutenant Oris just left with the Chancellor of the Realm." Iona said.
Ri remembered that she had to meet with Meleager soon.
"You have something to tell me." Iona reminded her.
'What is it that I wanted to say to, Iona?' Ri's concentration was haphazard. "I forgot. It was important though."
"How much did you drink?" the younger blonde smiled. "You can't be smashed off solely one."
"One is all I had." Ri clarified. "Have you enjoyed yourself while I been gone?"
"Not really. I had to listen to Lieutenant Oris go on and on about you. It got rather boring." Iona replied. "Why did you jet off anyway?"
"Because, I was mad at you." it all came back to her.
"What did I do?" Iona was dismayed.
"You told everybody, I was leaving Corinth and that I would be taught by, Aristotle. I want to be the only person to apprise people about my personal affairs." Ri explained.
"I didn't know that's how you felt." Iona was sorry. "I assumed because the Conqueror gave you leeway, it was alright to reveal your exciting news freely."
"Not yet, Iona." Ri stated. "Minya doesn't even know. I want to tell the people who are close to me first. Anyone else is a distant candle-drip compared to that."
"I get what you are saying." Iona conceded. "I'll never take initiative with what relates to you again."
"You are very loyal, Iona." Ri embraced her. "I should've spoken earlier and none of this would have occurred."
"Do you desire to remain here, instead of going to Athens?"
"I'm not sure." Ri confessed while disengaging. "Milady demands it of me. It's always been my dream to go out into Terra and become a bard. Still, I feel as if something is amiss if I do."
"You have to live your life, Ri." Iona declared.
"You are correct. I plan on doing that." Ri became talkative. "I'll learn from Aristotle and Milady promised me that she would visit me in Athens."
"The Conqueror personally told you that she will make visitations?" Iona was wide-eyed.
"Yes she did." Ri blushed. "There's so much I have to disclose to you, Iona. But I have to talk to the Chancellor. He said it was imperative. I'll request if you can be seated next to me at the royal table."
"That'll be cool. I take it, me and you are safe once more?" Iona jest.
"Yes we are, soldier." Ri did a mock salute and trekked to the royal table as Iona guffaw.
Here he was, in the presence of the Mighty Meleager himself. The man that once fought alongside Alexander the Great and now served the Lord Conqueror faithfully.
"I must admit sir, it is a honor to be speaking to you directly." Oris affirmed. "I will make the Realm proud."
"You have been spoken highly of by General Nale. Even Prince Lyceus agrees with your rise in rank. I look forward to you fulfilling your duties with utmost fortitude." Meleager encouraged.
"I will Chancellor and thank you for allowing me this private address." Oris professed.
"You are welcome. That is all." Meleager dismissed him. "Now to find, Ri."
"Ri?" the Lieutenant asked. "Long hair held in place by a brooch, short, petite, beautiful?"
"Yes. That would describe my niece."
"Your niece?" Oris' heart dropped. 'Why haven't they mentioned that?'
"She's probably waiting at the royal table for me." Meleager assumed. "Branch out and take in the celebration. Be at our table when the banquet begins."
"Yes Chancellor." Oris responded.
"Have any of y'all seen, Ri?" Darnelle inquired, returning to his comrades in arms.
"You didn't catch up with her?" Dex shot back.
"Yeah, but then she took off again." he glimpsed the empty wall where his daughter was once leaning on. "Where's, Iona?"
"Calm yourself, General." Tessa averred. "Ri and Iona are with each other."
"Good." Darnelle breathed. "General Vercinix and Mendala. What a sight for sore eyes."
"You don't appear to be shocked to see us." Vercinix gave him a warrior embrace.
"I already seen your children with the Fool." Darnelle claimed.
Next, he kissed the hand of Mendala. "You are looking gorgeous."
"Don't let your wife hear that." she jived.
"So what's going on?" Darnelle questioned.
"I was telling Vercinix about Alexander II and he started elucidating of Roman ships in the vicinity of Gaul. Surmising it pertains to the Conqueror and the Realm somehow." Nale responded.
"I fear it does." Vercinix asserted. "Rome is at war with its own. If Marcus, or Octavian knows about Brutus wanting to make an alliance with the Realm, anything is possible from all points of view."
All the warriors took a moment to acknowledge the statement and realized it couldn't be summed up as paranoia.
"I suppose you could be right, Vercinix." Darnelle said.
"Why didn't someone tell me Ri is the Chancellor's niece?" Oris queried, when he reached their table. "I nearly embarrassed myself in front of him."
"Ri grew up really close to the royal family." Darnelle enlighten the young lieutenant. "She's technically a princess."
"But I thought-" Oris started.
"This here is the man we all are celebrating." Tessa interjected. "Lieutenant Oris of the First Army."
"Then we must congratulate your ascension." Mendala shook his hand, before turning to her husband. "One other person to speak to."
"Good luck with your promotion, Lieutenant Oris." Vercinix took the hint. "I take it, you can show me to the Chancellor?"
"He's engaged with his niece at the royal table."
"That is too bad, or convenient. Can we go now?" Mendala asked Vercinix.
"Yes. I will talk with the Chancellor tomorrow." he clutched Oris' forearm. "Serve the Realm proudly."
Oris was in Elysium. He had an audience with the Mighty Meleager and he was embracing Vercinix of Gaul.
"I will." he simply uttered, starstruck.
Ri was sitting down beside the elegant chair that usually seated the Conqueror, watching the castle's servants place dinner utensils, plates and ornate glasses on the blue silk cloth that adorned the royal table. She was tempted to indulge in another cup of wine, but decided against it as Meleager sat next to her.
"Did I keep you waiting long?" the Chancellor smiled.
"No Uncle. You did not." she answered. "Is it okay for Iona to eat with us?"
"That's acceptable. Now tell me, what happened between you and Akemi today?"
Ri hid her annoyance of the Chambermaid. "She was insolent and it discomfit me."
"So you were rude to Akemi by slamming your door in her face?" Meleager pressed on.
"I didn't slam my door. I closed it."
"In front of her face?" Meleager echoed.
"Yes I did." Ri chortled, still under the effects of alcohol.
"That was unkind, Ri." he declared. "Akemi said, you were acting like it was a problem when she'd arrived at your chamber. You told me you were going to be here anyway for, Iona, but if you didn't want to come, all you had to do was say so."
Ri was becoming easily agitated. "I wouldn't dare disobey an order from you, Chancellor. Akemi was being acrimonious towards me."
'Akemi claimed that Ri was belligerent to her.' Meleager mused.
"She'd got what she deserved." Ri grinned. "Jealousy is not her color."
His niece's attitude was becoming distressful. "Ri, what has gotten into you?"
"Nothing." she responded.
"Clearly it's something." Meleager gently held Ri by her jaw looking into her eyes and flushed features. "You've been drinking."
"I only had one cup." Ri avowed. "General Darnelle said I could when he made a toast to me."
"Darnelle?" Meleager was getting upset.
He seen what hard spirits and wine could do to a human, hence why he had chosen to forsake consuming it.
"It's not his fault. Don't be mad at him on my account. Please, Uncle." Ri pleaded.
"No more. Do you hear me?"
Ri nodded vigorously. "I'm done for tonight and the rest of my life, so help me, Dionysus."
Meleager was appeased and now hoped to take advantage of Ri's tipsy state. "So what is Akemi jealous of?"
"My necklace." Ri provided. "She can't stand the fact our Lord gave me a wonderful gift."
"Are you assuming, or are you positive?" Meleager questioned.
"I could be wrong, but twice she had act differently towards me and today it precipitated into a small quarrel." Ri discussed. "Can we stop talking about, Akemi? She's giving me a headache."
"Okay." Meleager consented. "What was spoken when the Conqueror conferred the jewelry to you?"
Ri's facial expression glowed with happiness as she paraphrased. "Milady inquired did I love her intimately. Though I was fearful, I had to be truthful and gave her my reply which was, yes. She asked me to turn my back to her. After I did, I felt something cold touch my neck. I thought she was gonna kill me."
"What made you think that?" the Chancellor became puzzled.
"I don't know." Ri was honest. "I mean, I have knowledge of what she can do. What she has done. There's a rumor floating that, a day before she left Corinth, Milady slit the throat of a slave in her Throne room and that's just one of the many stories I've heard. Disclosing that I love her made me extremely nervous."
"The Conqueror frightens you?"
"No. She doesn't. I... I can't explain it." Ri muttered.
"If you truly love the Conqueror, you wouldn't have been concerned about her taking your life."
"I wasn't." Ri became adamant. "It was only a split cognizance."
Meleager moved the conversation along. "Once she gave you the necklace, what happened next?"
"She kissed me." Ri cheeks redden.
"Kissed you? On your lips?" Meleager queried.
"Yes. It was chaste and very brief." Ri replayed the memory in her head. "The sweetest kiss ever."
"Did the Conqueror promise that you two would be together?"
"No, not exactly." Ri responded. "She had only promised to visit me in Athens."
"So no deep admiration was mentioned?" Meleager asked.
"No." Ri was feeling rather foolish.
What if Darnelle was right and the Conqueror cared for her as a mother would for a child?
"Have you told anyone else about you and the Conqueror, other than me?"
"No, but I planned on being-"
"Glad to know." Meleager cut her sentence short. "You should refrain from doing so, until the Conqueror returns."
"Why?" Ri wanted to cry while her face went gloomy. "You said that you were gladden for our love."
"I was, but now I'm not quite sure how to feel. The Conqueror probably doesn't share the same emotions you do." Meleager contested.
'Not you too.' Ri was dishearten by her uncle's comment.
"The banquet must begin." Meleager conveyed. "We will continue this at a later date. Just remember, don't say anything about the Conqueror courting you."
"Yes, Uncle." Ri said dejected. "I'm going to get, Iona."
"Alright." the Chancellor kissed Ri's forehead as she rose from her seat.
Meleager felt kinda sad for the petite storyteller, nevertheless he had to get the information he needed to help patch up Ri and Lyceus' relationship. He would also bring that topic up to her once they spoke again.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he announced loudly. "Grab your seats please. The ceremonial dinner is commencing!"
The celebration was coming to an end when Ri excused herself from the royal table, saying goodnight to the Chancellor, Lieutenant Oris and Iona. She hadn't talked much doing the dinner, opting to be quiet as her mind tried to make sense of all that General Darnelle and Meleager had implied about the Conqueror's feelings for her. However, the food did sober her up.
Her ratiocination was all over the place. She would have to renege on her promise to the gods, anent to staying honest and true. Ri had walked out into the Great hall by herself. When she passed a window, the strawberry blonde saw that it was raining and thundering heavy. She could hardly make out the ignited stars and the silver ball of Selene that lined the sky.
'Can you see what I see, Milady? Can you feel me in your heart?' Ri cogitated. 'Gods I miss you. Come home to me.'
"Jupiter must be angry." a feminine voice expressed.
Ri didn't cast her aqua irises away from the rainy night. "Perhaps he is."
Tessa's footsteps halted beside Ri and she gazed out the window as well. "I seen you exit the Banquet hall, looking lost. Are you okay?"
"No." Ri divulged. "I'm thinking of someone."
"Is it the same person who gave you that magnificent jade necklace?" Tessa questioned.
No other words was forthcoming, so Tessa kept speaking. "I believe their thoughts are of you too."
Ri smiled sadly. "You think so?"
"Of course. They would be insane not to dream about a pretty woman like yourself." Tessa complimented.
"Thank you, General Tessa." Ri replied.
"Don't thank me." the green-eyed warrior touched Ri's bare arm lightly. "And please. Call me, Tessa."
Ri gave her a brilliant grin. "I will, Tessa. I'm about to retire for the night."
"Can I escort you to your chamber?" Tessa offered.
"That would be appreciated." Ri accepted.
'Oh I'm going to love seducing her more than that barmaid yesterday.' Tessa ruminated in glee.
As the two women strolled off, a pair of dark blue orbs narrowed in their direction.
To Be Continued
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