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.
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The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 18: Deprivation
"You look as if you rue the night I'd conferred this mission to you." The Conqueror teased.
"Just suffering from boredom." Glaphyra rejoined. "You did omit we would be touring the whole of Greece."
"Did I?" The Conqueror smirked, walking over to the helm.
She had a cognition to relieve the wheelman of it and take control over the ship herself. It'd been so long since she'd steered a vessel.
'Was it when I departed Japa last year?' The Conqueror questioned herself. 'Yup, it was.'
"Don't even think about it, my Lord." Glaphyra stood behind her.
"You telling me what to do?"
"No. I'm not suicidal." She proclaimed. "You shouldn't be concerning yourself with such labors. Not when you have others to do it."
"I love having control, though." The Conqueror replied.
"Of course you do. You're a control freak."
The older ruler laughed and Glaphyra joined in. Their ship was sailing close to the Thermaic Gulf, and while the Conqueror enjoyed herself out at sea, the General of the Sixth Army was becoming weary of it.
"Talk with me, Glaphyra." The Conqueror affirmed. "Perhaps you can help me with a minor situation."
"What might that be?" She asked.
The Conqueror began gathering her thoughts. She didn't want to reveal Ri's identity, but desperately wanted aid.
"I want to court someone, but it's hard to tell them exactly how I feel."
Glaphyra burst out in mirth to the Conqueror's dismay. "You... You need assistance in courting someone? Now that's funny."
"Forget it, Glaphyra. I assumed I was talking to a friend. If you're going to laugh at me, I can see I've been mistaken."
"My Lord, please pardon my disrespect." Glaphyra apologized. "I did not know you were serious. I don't mind helping you. It would be an honor."
"So, who is this person?" Glaphyra inquired.
The Conqueror glanced at one of the men that carried her saddlebags onto the ship, before they'd first set sail. "It's a soldier."
"In which Army?"
"I want to keep that discreet." The Conqueror responded.
"Okay." Glaphyra accepted. "Forgive me for saying this, but you are the Lord of the Realm."
"You can have anybody you want. All you have to do is walk over to the trooper whom has your affections and they'll be all over you, like that." Glaphyra snapped her fingers to emphasize the point.
The Conqueror released a sigh, leaning on the side railing. "It's not that simple. The person I adore is too gentle and sweet. I feel almost awkward around them."
Turel smiled whilst he listened in earshot of the conversation. 'She's talking about me, I know it. When she told General Glaphyra it was a soldier, the Conqueror sneaked a peek at me first. Oh, I can't wait to tell the guys.'
"Sounds like you love this individual." Glaphyra said.
"I do. I can admit it to myself. Even to you. Howbeit to say it to them..." The Conqueror took a breath. "Would you believe me if I told you I'm terrified."
Turel frowned. He didn't want the Conqueror to be afraid of asking him for courtship. If anything it was he who felt nervousness mixed with excitement for being chosen by her.
Glaphyra participated in the pronoun game. "Do they love you?"
"I surmise they do, but I fear they're confused also, and don't really know how to feel." The Conqueror asserted. "It's really complicated. I haven't given my heart away to someone in so long. I've only been intimate with two people my entire life."
Glaphyra gazed at the Conqueror, acknowledging how vulnerable she appeared. "You got it bad, my Lord."
'Only two people knew the Conqueror carnally?' Turel ruminated. 'I can't fathom that. She's so freaking hot! Like, Venus hot! I will be gentle with her.'
"You should tell them how you feel. Don't keep it inside, especially if you've held the love for them hostage in your heart for a while." Glaphyra explained.
"A while is an understatement. I've kept it inside me for years and I feel like I'd been waiting for this person all my life."
"You have to tell them that." Glaphyra stated. "You are gorgeous, my Liege. I'm more than sure they will return the sentiment."
"Thank you, Glaphyra. Your advice has really jolted me into action."
Placing her hand on the Conqueror's shoulder, she confirmed, "I'm here for you."
'Here's my chance.' Turel cogitated, gaiting towards the two women. "General, Lord Conqueror. Are we to keep the banner down off of the mast?"
"Did anyone say otherwise?" The Conqueror queried.
"No, but I-"
"Did I say otherwise?"
"No, Lord Conqueror. I thought-"
"That's the problem. Tura, is it?"
"It's Turel, my Lord."
"You are thinking too much, Turel." The Conqueror uttered.
"Why don't you sit and relax throughout this voyage without volunteering your services until you are commanded to do something." Glaphyra added.
"Yes, General." Turel turned on his heels and traversed away, slightly crestfallen. 'I should have waited for General Glaphyra to leave, then talked to the Conqueror alone. Weird that she doesn't know my name, though.'
Turel's suggestion coaxed Glaphyra to probe, "Conqueror, when Draco and Palaemon passed us during that rainstorm, do you think they had recognized our ship without your sigil being visible?"
"Probably not. If they went back to Corinth and made a comment about it to the Chancellor, I'm certain it will come to nothing."
"Will we raise it once we head for Crete?"
"I haven't decided yet. We'll see." The Conqueror gazed at the upcoming Gulf.
"I'm going to get something to snack on. Do you want anything, my Lord?"
"Just a lemon." She answered.
"If I eat one more of those, I'm gonna turn into a lemon." Glaphyra mumbled, traipsing below deck.
Smiling faintly, the Conqueror continued to stare at the vast body of water with her sapphire orbs. She wasn't keen on eating the sour fruit herself, but the forty-three-year-old woman knew of the ailments a human could suffer during long travels at sea on a vessel. Using lemons to counteract the effects of scurvy had been expounded to her by Meleager.
The Chancellor of the Realm informed the Conqueror about a lot of important information for surviving physically and mentally when she was a teenager. Still, he taught her things as a grown-up, too.
Most warnings she heeded earnestly. Some were discarded from her intellect, causing the younger warrior to learn life's lessons the hard way.
"Xena, is that you?" My mother queries from her bedroom.
So much for sneaking in to change and getting my sword. "Yes, mother, it's me!"
"Thank the Queen of the gods! Come here, I need your help! I'm going into labor!"
What? Not this. Not now!
Running up the stairs to enter her room, I see my mother laying supine on the bed.
"The baby is coming." She announces. "You gonna have to get Anisa."
Elius' mother... I wonder do she know about the imminent danger that is posed at our village.
"Okay." I caress her face that's showing intense pain. "I'll be right back."
Therefore descending the stairs, I'm quickly out the door and down the pathway that leads to Anisa's home. Coming closer to her residence, I see her and several other villagers outside with worried expressions. They probably caught word of the warlord.
"Anisa." I halt in front of her. "My mother is going into labor. She needs you to help deliver."
"Oh, Xena, did you hear the dreadful news? An army of scoundrels are trying to attack Amphipolis. Meleager and most of the village males has gone to the outskirts to engage them." Anisa explicates, seemingly ignoring my comment.
"I know. Everything will be alright." I try to relieve her, and reiterate, "My mother requires your aid this instant. Please, come with me."
She nods her head. "Let me pack my things."
I impatiently wait outside, listening to the neighboring villagers bemoan to each other, regarding the village's possible peril.
"What are we gonna do?"
"My son and husband are out there!"
"We aren't fighters."
"I say we give the warlord what he wants!"
My prepared protest is interrupted before it starts once Anisa, along with her daughter, exits their home.
"We must hurry." Anisa takes the words out my mouth. "I'm bringing Elisa with me just in case the worse happens."
"Great, let's go." I reply.
We make haste back to my house. Getting inside, Anisa checks on my mother while I observe from the hallway.
"My water broke." My mother groans.
"It's coming." Anisa states, helping my mother sit up on the bedpost. "Xena, bring me a bowl of warm water and cloths. Elisa, hold Cyrene's hand till Xena returns."
I do what Anisa requests. Setting the ceramic bowl beside her, I begin to take my leave.
"Xena, I need you to exchange places with Elisa." Anisa tells me.
"I can't." I blurt out.
"Sure you can. There's nothing to be afraid of." She assures me.
My mother grunts loudly, "Xena... I need you with me."
By Juno, why is this happening now! I got to get to my fellow companions-in-arms. Maybe all is well and there won't be a battle. Withal, if it is, I have to be with them.
"Anisa, can I speak with you in the hallway?"
She looks quizzical, then follows me out of my mother's room.
"Xena!" My mother yells.
"We have to be quick. What is it you're being secretive of that compels you to talk to me away from your mother's ear?" Anisa questions.
"I can't stay here."
She folds her arms, displaying a dubious mien. "Sure you can. Your mother is in labor. Cyrene is having this baby and I'm certain she'll want you by her side."
"I have to go." I emit.
"Where are you needed that's more imperative than being here with your..." The inquiry ceases and she chooses another, "You plan on going to fight those ruffians, aren't you?"
"Yes." I'm honest. "I must protect my village."
"Xena." Anisa shakes her head with a grin. "I always thought you were weird wanting to use weapons with Meleager and his trainees. Elius has told me you are very passionate about it."
The knowledge of Elius speaking positive of me, amazes my mind. He had only given me grief since I've begun sword training.
"Xena!" My mother shouts again.
"Go." Anisa whispers. "I'll make an excuse to cover for you."
"Thank you, Anisa." I hug her, and in advance of me disengaging completely, she grips my hand.
"Look after Elius." She entreats. "Don't allow him to fall today. I... I can't lose my son."
"I will do all I can. I promise."
Anisa squeezes my extremity and goes into the room to succor my mother. I ignore my mother's loud moans and race into my bedroom. I replace my grey tunic with a dark one, covering myself in black trousers. I sheath my sword on the right side of my hip and add a dagger inside my boots after lacing them tightly.
Tying my hair back, I once more rush out my family's home and to the outskirts of Amphipolis. I run with all the speed I can muster when I come across villagers running in the opposite direction of me.
"Turn back, girl. Amphipolis is doomed." An older man says, carrying a young boy.
"What do you mean?"
"The warlord is winning, Meleager's warriors are losing. It's a massacre." The man looks terrified. "They will inevitably enslave all the women, killing every man and child. I'm going to tell the villagers Amphipolis has fallen. If we surrender to them without further trouble, they may go easy on us."
I roughly grab the man, causing him and the child to cry out. "You'll do no such thing. You will go to the elders and have them send a warning so the people of Amphipolis are prepared to escape to the mountains. Do not dare suggest we have lost and are facing bondage, nor propose surrendering."
"But I have seen the battle with my own eyes. The warlord pretended to leave, and after all aggression seemed to calm, they began an assault on Meleager's unsuspecting men when they'd turned their backs."
"You will do as I say!" I yell.
"And who are you?" He inquires.
"My name is Xena."
"Xena." The man repeats as I release him. "That will be the name I divulge to the Amphipolitans, so they'll know the foolish girl to blame for their woes."
He holds the child in his arms soundly and takes off again. I'm disheartened by his pronouncement, but, instead of letting it hinder my efforts, I allow it to invigorate the fire to fight these cowards who have no honor. The rules of engagement burns in my memory whilst I sprint closer to the battlefield. To beset your opponent from behind after agreeing that no belligerence is declared, were unworthy to call themselves a warrior.
My acute hearing picks up the sounds of metal clashing, males shouting, some screaming in rage and agony. Next, my orbs view the site before me.
The elderly man was right.
The once beautiful glade is full of bodies, alive and dead. I can discern the mutilated, bloody corpses that litter the ground are mostly the defenders of Amphipolis. The warlord still has over three hundred men to our one hundred, if not lesser now.
Anger and fear swells within me for Cortese and my village. The pompous asshole believes he can subjugate us with his men. It's not happening. Not this day. Not ever!
I withdraw my blade and concentrate. These are not my fellow villagers I've sparred with. I don't have to go easy on them. I can injure them in any way I see fit. I can even kill them if I want to.
The knowledge fills me with agog anticipation. I will try to restrain myself from taking a life, notwithstanding, I will maim many of 'em.
Gripping my sword tighter, I let loose a shrill war cry, running into the melee. Soldiers of Cortese's army notice and direct their attention on me. One of them swings their weapon, I block it and see an opening immediately. My sword slices the tendon in his leg, causing him to fall on the grass. His scream gives me no ounce of regret as I do the same to his buddy. Then, the next challenger and the next, until I'm deep in the throes of action. I become saturated by the thrill of bloodlust, letting its mellifluous, intoxicating effect take over me.
My blade severs the arm of another man and the hand of the other, splattering blood everywhere. Crimson liquid soaks the greenery, including me, and I relish in it. Soon appendages of either kind is removed from the opposition because of my sword and the tide of victory looks to be turning in our favor.
Keep your friends close and your enemies far away from you.
I recall the phrase, shoving one man down to commence relieving him of both his legs. Anon, I start to survey the carnage for three people; Meleager, Toris, and Elius.
I have to keep my promise to Anisa.
I slash a contender's rib and spot Toris. He is holding himself really well. I can't focus on him too long and make another man a cripple. I gaze around once more, catching sight of Meleager. I swiftly take my eyes off him. The Old man is doing excellent, which I already knew he would be. When my blue irises fall on Elius, my heartbeat quickens. The dark-haired warrior isn't doing good and appears to be wounded from the blood seeping through his tunic. He's also favoring his right side.
I amputate the sword arm of two men before trekking towards Elius. Within range of him, I feel a bastard grasp my hair from behind. I yank my head down as his blade aims to decapitate me. In lieu of my neck, it is my long, tied ebony tresses that takes the sharp steel. Meleager has been on me referring to my hair, averring I should cut it shorter. I told him my mother would have a fit.
Well, he got his wish.
Clipping the man from a crouched position, I plunge my weapon's tip into his upper thigh, twisting the blade so the wound doesn't close. I get back on course and make it to Elius in the nick of Cronus. The injured son of Anisa is kicked down on the ground and his attacker is ready to pierce his chest. My sword parries the downward stroke and I cut both his hands off with a couple quick strikes, knocking him out with a punch to his face.
I shake my left hand to ward off the bruised knuckle. Gods, that hurts!
"Xena?" Elius prompts, staring at me in bewilderment. "Is that you? What happened to your hair?"
"It was sacrificed in place of my life."
"Huh?" He asks.
"Your mother implored me to look after you. Elius, can you stand?" I quiz, swiping the hamstring of an incoming belligerent.
"We are winning. I'm gonna find someone to guard you."
I see a few more villagers in need of assistance and hastily end their plausible debacle.
"Elius, is hurt. Y'all must defend him." I tell them.
The males bestow gratitude, and I descry their enervated aspects.
"From the looks of it, y'all may be on the verge of becoming debilitated. However, if you three work together, y'all can form protection for him and each other." Their features are confounded, so I shout, "Go, do what I said!"
Instantly they are moving towards Elius like I'd commanded. Turning about, I liberate more of my comrades and distinguish that I have done really well on one part of the phrase my mentor had preached to me.
Keep my friends close.
Now, I have to keep my enemies far away and the best way to do that is by defeating the instigator.
Nevertheless, I have no idea whom I'm hunting for. I don't know what his appearance consist of.
Severely harming eight pugnacious men, I glimpse Meleager again. He seems tired, but battling on regardless. Thenceforth, I espy Toris engaging a man with cropped black hair. His attire is different from the warriors I or my fellow compatriots has battled with. His fighting style is more skilled as well.
"Cortese." I deduce, albeit, my deduction can be wrong.
Four men stands in my way, and I persevere by causing them to lose arms and legs. Moving onwards, I'm forced to the bloody grass as one of the men, whose tibia I'd severed, grabs my ankle. He crawls on top of me, the longsword remain held in his clutch.
"You're going to pay." He threatens.
I try to get up, but, extraordinarily, the one-legged man is fast and he weakly bash me atop my head with the handle of his blade.
Dropping my sword, I briefly map out stars before gathering my wits. I will not die here. I can't die here.
He straddles my waist, the blood from his mutilated leg is bleeding out on me. Aiming his sword for my heart with a smug countenance, he doesn't expect, nor note me pulling the dagger from my boot. Slashing his face with it, he cries out, losing both the sword and his balance, giving me enough leverage to push him off me.
Standing on my feet and depositing the dagger back inside my footwear, I pick up my blade with my right hand, adding his discarded weapon in my left. Dismembering his arm above the elbow, I remember what my mission is and spin on my feet to catch a terrible scene.
"Toris..." I murmur.
My older brother has succumbed to the warlord's sword. Cortese unceremoniously kicks him off his impaled weaponry as if he's nothing.
"Toris!" I hear myself blare.
Cortese inspects me and I pace up to him. All I see is red while both of my blades connects with his singular sword. He is better than I had initially analyzed, blocking and evading my twin swords whilst I tediously strike at him, eager to take his head off from the shoulders.
Attacking with a wide arc using one sword, that he impedes, I try to thrust the second into his sternum. The warlord easily dodges my attempt with a sickening smile and it angers me extremely. I go into a berserker fury, my tactics becoming unfocused, and with a parry, Cortese disarms the sword from my left hand.
I realize, although he is admittedly stronger, Cortese isn't far skillful than me. Rage has blinded me, making me foolhardy in our swordplay. Because of it, Cortese has only been toying with me. I have left myself open more than once, but he hadn't taken advantage of it. He was underestimating me, treating me like an inapt little girl who doesn't belong on the battleground among men.
That's fine, 'cause two can play this game of wits.
Redoubling my efforts, I utilize my single sword and feign losing control of my senses. I swing my weapon repeatedly, deliberately leaving my left side open for his strike. After seeing my numerous, yet planned, rookie mistakes, he finally grows taxed of me and takes the bait, thrusting his blade at my unprotected ribs.
With haste, I latch my arm onto his sword as if his thrust has hit home. Masking my face with a pained visage, I drop to my knees, releasing my longsword, too.
"You stupid girl." The man sneers. "Go meet your lover in Tartarus. When you get there, tell Pluto the Amazing Cortese sent you."
He laughs and I'm certain this is the dumbest warlord on Terra.
I hear Meleager's voice and It distracts Cortese long enough for me to grab my hidden dagger again. Accordingly, he tries to pull his sword free from me to assail my agonized teacher, but I keep it tight to my body.
Looking at me in puzzlement, I correct him, "He isn't my lover, you moron."
Cortese appears more dumber now, not having a clue at all, and I lunge forward, sending the point of my dagger into his throat.
"He is my brother!"
Blood gush out of the wound and ooze from his mouth as he falls backwards with me landing on top of him. I surge the short knife into him further 'til it is buried to the hilt.
"When you get to Tartarus." I taunt. "Tell the god of the underworld it was Xena of Amphipolis who put you there."
I lay atop his body and watch the light leave his eyes. Sadly, I feel no elation. No sense of peace. No happiness. Cortese's death left me feeling hollow within.
I remember Toris and abandon the dagger inside its victim. Rising, I dash to his procumbent body.
"Toris?" Bending on my knees, I slowly turn my brother on his back and lift him into my arms.
"Xena?" He rasps. "It's you... Your...your hair... Mother's... Mother..."
He raises his hand to touch it and I finish, "Mother is gonna be mad. I know."
Toris smiles, preceding a look of horror that comes over him. "Cortese... Cortese."
"It's alright." I soothe him. "He's dead."
I nod before viewing around us, observing that the battle has reached its conclusion. The men of Cortese's army who'd survived, ran off into the surrounding woods. We were the victors.
"We won, Toris. Amphipolis is safe."
"Because of...you... We were...losing... Tricked us... Cortese lied..."
"I know, Toris." I try not to gawk at the gaping cut in his abdomen. "You're going to be okay."
"You're a horrible liar, Xe...Xena." He predicates, coughing blood. "Xena... I'm proud of you... I love you. You...you know that?"
"Yes. I love you, too." Tears well from my ocular spheres and down my cheeks. "Forgive me for all I have-"
"No. There's nothing to forgive." Toris ends my apology. "Tell mother, I... Xena... I'm cold... I'm...cold, Xe..."
His lifeless, dark-blue eyes are open, but is no longer watching me. "I'll... keep you warm, Toris. I'll keep you warm."
I tug him securely to me, knowing he is gone, and strangely, accepting the revelation. I will have to go home, apprise our mother and other guardians, parents, siblings, family members, of the great deprivation of human existence that occurred today.
Meleager walks over, kneeling beside me and my murdered brother.
"You were right, Old man. Taking a life change you." He beholds me with sadness, and I attest, "It changes everything."
"Your lemon, my Lord."
The Conqueror tensed at the intonation of her General, noticing she'd subconsciously unwrapped the bandage from around the self-inflicted wound she gave herself at Minerva's temple more than a fortnight ago.
"Conqueror, are you alright?" Glaphyra prodded, holding the sliced yellow fruit.
"Yes." She professed, espying her healed palm. "Got snared up in an old memory from my past."
"Must have been some memory." Glaphyra reasoned.The Conqueror grabbed the lemon from Glaphyra's grasp, and prior to biting into it, she vocalized, "You have no idea."
To Be Continued
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