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. Thanks to my readers who take the time out of their lives to read my tales, also another shout out to Sith Caro. Come to the dark side, Jedi. ;-)
Feedback is always welcomed at Martinkendell19@yahoo.com
The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 16: Exacerbation
Ri lied awake on her bed, before Apollo commenced his chariot ride across the sky. The petite storyteller wasn't aware of how many candle-marks had come and gone, until she gazed out of the window to see that it was morning. Upon entering her chamber, she didn't bother getting undressed last night, choosing to cry herself to sleep. Ri's headache became worse and she associated it with the three people she'd thought fondly of. Her tutor who wanted to hold her back from excelling. The Prince's betrayal and his desire to control whom she could befriend. And lastly, the Chancellor of the Realm, commanding her not to speak of the love she held for the Conqueror, or their future courtship. Every one of them was set in their own mind that they had Ri's best interest at heart.
'Do they fathom one bit what they are doing to me?' Ri cogitated. 'Does any of them know how much I hurt? Do they care at all what I want?'
Tears welled in her orbs again and Ri made no attempt to stop the droplets from falling. She mused about the Lord Conqueror, but that only caused her more melancholy. Ri no longer felt secured in their mutual understanding of being together in a relationship like she did after they departed Minerva's temple. Her hopes seemed dashed when General Darnelle stated the Conqueror loved her similar to a daughter. Adding Meleager's announcement to refrain from telling anyone else about what happened between them, just created a whirlwind of possibilities, and they were all negative, nothing to strengthen her resolve that the Conqueror loved her romantically or sexually. Even the kiss they shared wasn't enough anymore to convince Ri to keep faith in her Lord.
'Why couldn't Milady effectively reveal how she felt for me then and there in the temple.' Ri ruminated in despair. 'I don't know how to feel now. Our kiss was so brief, it could have meant nothing to her, albeit a farewell embrace.'
Small hands touched the platinum necklace circling her neck. 'This remarkable gift she gave me probably means nothing either. Just a show of her power and magnificence.'
Ri heard herself whimper as her eyes leaked. Being a peasant from parts unknown who had no family nor friends, other than the denizens in the castle who'd took pity on her and having no choice aside from showing sorrowful compassion for a girl whom somehow captured the attention of the Conqueror, she wept for being idiotic for conceiving a great gerent like the Conqueror would ever love her passionately.
Ri's self-worth plummeted while her tears knew no bounds. Eramus was right; her storytelling wasn't astonishing the way she'd been told by many of people. The former Handmaiden's talents were only decent, and to become a playwright would showcase how lacking Ri really was. Her apprenticeship to Aristotle didn't seem unique now. She was to be trained by him so she'd pick up badly needed new skills. The denizens showered her with pleasantries, because it would appease the Conqueror; it was their Lord who everyone respected and feared. For surely if one did not, death would certainly follow.
Maybe that's why Meleager ordered Ri to not speak about what transpired at the temple. He wanted to protect the naïve woman and keep her from spreading false information that would rouse the Conqueror's anger, bringing a horrible outcome for his niece. The strawberry-blonde sensed that she was no more than a mere pet to the ruler of the Realm. The jewelry reminded her of a collar used for such animals, making her furious. Grasping the necklace with all her might, she tugged at it, having intentions to rip it off, however, the fasteners didn't break. Focusing on removing it, Ri reached behind her neck to find the enclosed clasp and started to unclose it, but it wouldn't loosen. The gleaming necklace was stuck.
'I am being punished by the gods!' Ri surmised, rolling on her side and covering her face with both hands. 'I swore to be honest referring to everything in my life when I cannot be. I must lie and sidestep truths. I'm a fraud, not fit for anything.'
Unnoticed by Ri, the chamber door she forgot to lock the previous evening had opened and Iona walked over to the seemingly slumbering woman. "Hey, sleepy head, your door was unlocked. Wake up!"
Ri let out a scream once Iona's voice startled her out of her cogitations.
Iona instantly grew worried. "Ri, what's wrong?"
Recognizing her, Ri threw herself into the younger girl's arms, crying uncontrollably. Iona did nothing whilst she clutched her friend, wondering what made her act out of sorts. She'd never seen Ri in this manner and it had begun to frighten her.
"Shh, everything's alright, Ri." She consoled. "Everything's alright."
"No it's not, Iona. Everything's...not... It's not alright."
"What's wrong? Talk to me. What is the matter?" Iona entreated.
"My life...it's messed up... I-I-I..." Ri stuttered.
"Get your bearings, then try talking." Iona coached.
Ri did what Iona insisted, and after awhile, she tried again.
"My life is such a mess." She rested on Iona's bare lap. "I'm not happy at all."
"Does it has anything to do with what happened yesterday with Lieutenant Tessa?"
"Maybe." Ri was honest. "I'm not sure anymore. It provoked me to take a prospective of my life and I'm not content with what I am seeing."
"What do you mean?" Iona prompted.
"Am I really good at spinning stories, or am I reasonably fair?" Ri questioned. "Do you believe I'll do well as a playwright, or were you telling me what I want to hear?"
"You are an awesome bard." Iona stroked Ri's long tresses. "I know you're not a professional one yet, and I'm not being bias because you've recited tales to me when I was a kid. I know that you have true talent and are blessed by the muses. I have faith you'll do wonderful as a playwright. I can't say it's undoubtable that you'll be amazing at it, 'cause I haven't heard anything you've written. Still, I think you would be equally talented in that field, too."
Ri wrapped her appendages around Iona's tunic-covered waist, squeezing tightly. "I love you, Iona. You're the best."
Light-brown orbs became agleam with unshed tears from the affirmation. "Stop, Ri. You'll cause me to cry also."
"I'm being truthful with you." Ri lifted herself from Iona. "We are sisters after all."
"Well, scoot over, sister, and let me lay next to you."
Ri allowed Iona to settle on the bed with her. While the young teen leaned her back against the bedpost, the future bard settled in her arms once more.
"Is that all that's troubling you?" Iona queried, twirling Ri's hair.
The storyteller wanted to say more, nonetheless, she opted to stay quiet on the matter, altering the subject instead, "No, I'm okay now. Tell me, how was your trip to the temple with Tessa?"
"Minerva's temple is incredible, Ri!" She exclaimed. "So lavish and extravagant. You can clearly see that the goddess of war and wisdom is the patron of the Realm."
"It is impressive, isn't it." Ri acceded.
"Yes." Iona agreed, redundantly. "Lieutenant Tessa and I went inside, only to be astounded further by the interior of it. The altar appeared to be made from the same metal as your necklace, but I digress. If I decide to become a full architect, I will have my work cut out for me trying to top Minerva's place of worship."
"Not if you become the greatest builder in Terra." Ri averred.
"Yeah, you're right." Iona smiled. "I don't think so, though."
"At the temple, after we'd finished with our prayers to Minerva, Lieutenant Tessa explicated that she would start my training." Iona was jubilant. "She and my father conversed about it for days. They had wrought out some rules because you won't believe the vulgar words that can sprew from Lieutenant Tessa's mouth. So, tomorrow I begin learning from her."
"Congratulations." Ri snuggled onto Iona firmly, bestowing her sincere praise.
"Ri." Iona said seriously, recalling what occurred in front of the castle. "I'm looking forward to being Lieutenant Tessa's pupil. Notwithstanding, if she has hurt you in any way yesterday, tell me and I'll renounce her offer."
"That won't be necessary, Iona. Tessa is a nice person and has been kind to me. Trust me, she did nothing wrongful to-"
A knock on Ri's door interrupted her sentence.
"I'll get it before they enter and compel you to shriek again." Iona jested, making Ri chuckle as she watched the fifteen-year-old stand up and traverse to the shut entrance to query, "Who is it?"
While Iona cracked the door ajar, Ri couldn't descry Akemi, but she did let out a deep breath, getting slighty agitated by the Chambermaid's arrival.
"Good morning, Iona." Akemi greeted politely. "I've come to deliver a message to Ri."
"Morning." Iona glanced back at her friend on the bed.
Ri shook her head vigorously, conveying that she didn't want to be bothered by her.
"She isn't feeling so well at the moment." Iona half lied. "Relay it to me and I'll pass it on to her."
"The Chancellor of the Realm request her presence before the afternoon arrive. It's to discuss an important subject." Akemi apprised.
"I'll let her know."
"And one other thing." Akemi added. "Tell Ri I hope she'll feel better."
"Will do." Iona nodded, closing the door and returning to Ri. "I take it you heard what was spoken."
"Akemi is phoney. 'I hope she'll feel better'." Ri mocked, getting off of her bed.
"What a load of crap."
"She seems nice. But I haven't hung around her much, so you would be more knowledgeable of Akemi than I." Iona responded. "The few occurrences I have noticed her, she always wore fancy clothing. Lately, she wears plain servant's apparel."
"I've caught on to that, too." Ri concurred. "It's been like that since Milady left Corinth."
"Hmm. Anyway, let's get you prepared for the Chancellor. You can't be donned in the exact clothes from the day prior, and your eyes are bloodshot."
"Gods, you're right, Iona." Ri observed her image in the mirror.
"Glad I'm here to fix you up." Iona teased. "Now sit on down, we are going to make you beautiful."
Ri sat at her vanity table, locking eyes with Iona's reflection. "Thanks for everything."
"You're welcome." Iona replied. "Also, I have a clear schedule today. When you are done discoursing with the Chancellor, we can go to the kitchen and visit Minya for a late breakfast. How does that sound?"
"Like fun." Ri accepted, and Iona began to comb her hair. "Sounds like fun."
A half candle-mark later, Ri entered the Conqueror's chambers.
"The Chancellor will be with you." Akemi professed. "It's wonderful to see that you're healthy. I was starting to fear you weren't coming and that would have been a shame."
Ri claimed a seat on one of the black divans, retorting, "I'm sure it would have."
Gazing at Akemi's attire of a grey tunic and sandals, Ri was given more confirmation that the Japian woman only dressed up when the Conqueror was around. Her ebony hair was visibly absent of an arrant combing, or brush.
'Akemi is amorous of Milady. Well...well, she can have her.' Ri mentally declared, remaining disconcerted with the Grecian ruler, and creating more sadness in her heart.
"Are you ready?"
"What?" Ri didn't catch the inquiry.
"Are you ready to go to Athens?" Akemi rephrased.
"Like you care."
"Oh, but I do." She asserted. "I care a lot. Once you are gone, I'm positive some things will change here."
The smirk on Akemi's face coaxed Ri's irritation to exacerbate beyond control.
"Do you?" Ri fingered her necklace, trying to aggravate the Chambermaid. "I should let you in on a little secret."
"What would that be?" Akemi fell for the trap, fairly hiding her displeasure at the sight of what Ri was doing.
"Milady is visiting me in Athens." She evinced.
"You lie." Akemi was becoming livid.
"Ask Milady yourself when she returns."
"Stop calling her that..." Akemi nearly shouted. "She is the Lord Conqueror, not Milady or any other unbefitting name you want to give her!"
Ri lost her temper, rising to her feet. "You servant. Look around yourself. I was Milady's Handmaiden, but I'm not any longer. I'm gonna travel to Athens to become the apprentice of Aristotle; a brilliant philosopher, whilst you will reside here folding clothes and fetching people for your betters."
"Very profound, coming from a woman who did the same thing." Akemi shot back.
Ri laughed cruelly. "That's a fatuous declaration, Akemi. I begged Milady for a position of servitude when I was younger, so I could bask in her glory. Isn't that what you want, you snivelling cow? She'll never love you intimately the way she loves me. We even kissed before she departed Corinth. Top that, you silly foreigner!"
"What's going on out here?" Meleager investigated, exiting the bedchamber and espying his niece. "Akemi, why didn't you tell me Ri had arrived?"
Akemi looked like she was going to cry. "Forgive me, Chancellor."
Covering her face with her hands, she ran out of the antechamber, baffling Meleager. "By King Jupiter, what happened, Ri?"
Ri forced herself to calm down. She allowed her exacerbation to overcome her sensibilities. Ri was shocked at the unwilling choice she'd chosen when deciding to relinquish her love for the Conqueror, so she could possibly be with Akemi, only to quickly recant. She was elated by the will to make the Chambermaid privy to everything that took place between herself and the Lord of the Realm, although the storyteller embellished some truths with exaggeration, such as her beseeching the Conqueror to become a handmaiden just to revel in her glory, including that the powerful woman of Greece loved her. Howbeit, Ri aimed to hurt Akemi and didn't regret it at all.
"Ri, what happened?" Meleager echoed.
"I'm stupefied myself?" She fibbed. "Akemi spoke of Milady and had begun getting excited. I think she misses her."
"I hope she'll be okay."
"She will be." Ri grinned knowingly, preceding her curtsy. "So, Chancellor, what is it we need to talk about?"
"Take a seat." Meleager offered, and once Ri had reclaimed her original spot again, the Chancellor did, too, on the adjacent sofa. "We must make arrangements for your travel to Athens."
"You can either get there by carriage, or ship." Meleager told her. "Your choice."
"I haven't been on a vessel before, and I've heard motion sickness is the worse." Ri proclaimed. "I don't mind the carriage."
"I will arrange that for you." Meleager assented.
"Thank you, Chancellor." Ri was getting up when Meleager gently placed his hand on hers.
"How are you, Ri?" He probed. "I haven't had the privilege of your presence in a while. Akemi imparted that you weren't feeling well."
"I'm fine. Simply busy with studying and storytelling. Same old thing day in, day out." Ri elucidated. "How about you?"
"Got to go over a lot of important details now that almost all of the Realm's generals are back in the castle. Alexander II is a visitor here also."
'General Draco has returned, along with that uppity man from Macedonia... Hooray.' Ri fretted, remembering meeting Alexander a year ago, and taking a dislike to him.
"That's why I had to confer with you early. I have to attend the War Room when Prince Lyceus and Lieutenant Oris arrive from the Agora."
"I won't keep you any longer."
"There's no rush." Meleager planned on speaking about the Prince. "I wanted to question why you and Lyceus had a falling out?"
Ri put on a confident expression. "I'd confided in him and he betrayed my confidence."
"I have chatted with him, Ri. He swears he didn't betray you."
"It doesn't make a difference anymore." Ri answered. "I will leave Corinth and all will be as it should."
"That won't repair y'alls companionship."
Ri shrugged her shoulders. "Then, so be it."
Meleager was veritably dismayed by Ri's disregard of the situation. "You don't care if Lyceus is hurting over this?"
"At first, I did...but, no, I don't now."
"What changed your stance?" He urged, thoroughly curious.
"He ruined a blossoming friendship of mines." Ri unveiled. "Lieutenant Tessa and I had enjoyed each other's company for the past fortnight. Yesterday she disclosed that Prince Lyceus told her to stay away from me, like I'm some child who's incompetent to make my own decisions."
"He's just looking out for you." Meleager defended. "Lieutenant Tessa has a reputation. She gambles and whore, sailing too close to the winds. Lyceus is ensuring that you don't sail too close with her and crash onto the rocks."
"I'm cognizant about Lieutenant Tessa's promiscuity." Ri voiced. "Cease making decisions for me. I can take care of myself."
The statement invoked Meleager to discern something else. "Are you implying to me also for telling you not to talk with people concerning your belief that you and the Conqueror will be together?"
"I was upset for half a moon because of that." Ri swallowed deeply to prepare her predication. "Today made me acknowledge your views with clarity. Perhaps I have been mistaken about Milady and myself."
"It wasn't expounded to disturb you, Ri. It's only illogical."
"Illogical?" She became completely incredulous and internally disquisitive.
"The notion of you and the Conqueror of the Realm in love with one another is senseless. It holds no solid ground to be veracious." Meleager gave his explanation. "You both haven't ever garnered long moments around each other. It's more of a hi and bye between y'all, with some periods being longer than others. You spent more Cronus with everyone else in your life besides her, and so has she."
Ri couldn't refute that fact. The Conqueror rarely was able to spend huge amount of Cronus with her before conquering Corinth and its subsequent conquest. Apart from issuing an order here, a command there, they were seldom in one another's presence. Going to Minerva's temple in the beginning of the new moon of May was the longest they'd spent together in ages.
"Fond of each other? Yes. Love in a romantic way? I don't think so." Meleager banged the final nail in the coffin regarding their so-called sensual love.
"I have to go, Chancellor." Ri felt stupid. "May I be excused?"
The trim female stood, and curtsied, prior to trekking to the door.
She halted her steps when Meleager emitted, "Can you tell me what secret Lyceus supposedly divulged?"
"That I was going to Athens." Ri avouched.
"But everybody knows of your departure." Meleager laughed. "I assumed it was far serious than that. I think you should, at the least, reconsider giving Lyceus another chance. Okay?"
'You wouldn't understand.' Ri thought, opening the door without a comment and headed back to her chamber.
To Be Continued
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