Disclaimers: See Chapter Part 1
Additional Note (Please Read): Just a reminder, this story is tied with, Xena and Gabrielle, A Turn of Fate. If you have not read the first two chapters of that story, I got three words for ya . Go read them . ;-)
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The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 2: Discretion
He observed her while she slowly drank the last few swallows of her orange juice.
She blushed, setting the metallic mug down, catching his eye. "Thank you again Prince Lyceus, for a fantastic breakfast this morning."
"Ri." Lyceus calmly rested his hand on hers.
The greenish blue orbs of hers were shrouded by her long strawberry blonde hair. His other hand moved the cascading locks to peer in her eyes.
"You don't have to call me Prince." He reminded the woman as he caressed the side of her face. "Only Lyceus."
Ri's features were flushed deeper. She had never been this close to another person, save one, making this moment odd. It was Lyceus' fourth visit throughout the span of several days; waking her up for morning eats. With each visit, the Prince's touches grew more affectionate. She came to the conclusion of what Lyceus truly wanted from her. Though she weren't fully knowledgeable about the world, Ri was too old to be blinded by naiveness and not see.
"Thank you, Lyceus." She corrected for his benefit.
Lyceus smiled, tenderly stroking her face once more.
'Gods, she's lovely.' Lyceus thought, unable to take his hand off of her.
His eyes unconsciously looked over her body. Ri was still dressed in her night shift, but it wasn't plain like a peasant's. It was cream-colored, the arm's sleeves were sheer just like it was around her neck, stopping just above her small breast, and it coaxed her milky skin to taunt him. His fingers slid to the see-through fabric surrounding Ri's neckline. He wondered what her breast would feel like in his hands and mouth.
'I should tell Ri how I feel about her.' He mused within himself.
However, Ri started to feel slightly uncomfortable. The Prince noticed it and pulled away.
"Did I offend you?" Lyceus asked, tentatively. "My apologies if I have."
"No. It's just, I..." Words failed her.
For a person who wanted to be a bard someday, it was inconceivable her vocabulary would vanish.
Ri took a thorough look at Lyceus' appearance and had to admit, he was attractive. Golden wheat hair, cropped short on his head. Small, but muscular arms and chest, including his legs from what she could infer underneath his brown tunic with trousers. Blue irises that were just a tinge darker than his sister's, the Lord Conqueror.
A childish grin shaped Ri's lips at the thought of the magnificent cerulean eyes of her Lord that majestically made anyone happy to fall into their blue depths.
After watching the change in Ri's demeanor, it gave Lyceus renewed hope that he had a chance. "Ri?"
Ri's hearing hadn't registered the Prince's voice. She was lost in her own revelled thoughts of the Conqueror. Suddenly her face became glum, recalling the fact she haven't seen or heard from her Lord in a full moon cycle. Not since their last dreadful Cronus together.
"The Lord Conqueror commanded to speak with you."
I finish folding the last pair of sheets and handed them to Akemi, the new Chambermaid our Lord brought back with her after her progress east.
"I'll be back shortly." I tell her.
Akemi nodded, and carried on her duties. We never really talked much since she'd arrived, but she seems nice.
"As our Lord commands, General Draco." I reply meekly.
He snorts in disgust as we leave the Conqueror's chambers.
Of all the people to send for me it had to be the man who doesn't like me. The Chancellor of the Realm, or anyone else, would have been a much better choice. Even though I can't fathom what I had done to ensure his dislike for me, my Lord holds Draco in high regard, and so shall I.
The walk is silent for the most part and I have no idea where we're going. Some of the other occupants inside the castle greet me warmly. It almost makes me carefree to investigate General Draco's well-being, but I catch myself from doing such a thing.
Soon, we are coming towards her War Room. I have never been in there before. I playfully ruminate with the idea that maybe I am to be punished for some slight against the Lord of the Realm. I probably forgot to do a chore or failed to fold her clothes correctly. The Conqueror hasn't ever raised her hand at me, let alone her voice, and deep down inside, I believe she never will. Although I know what she is capable of. I have heard of many tales and rumors about her. Knowing all of that, I still feared Draco more.
I must have hesitated a split moment too long for the General, because he asserts, "I have more pressing concerns than you, little girl."
He grabs my arm a bit roughly. I grimace, but allow him to lead me along. I hate it when he calls me that. I may not know my true age, due to an incident I suffered when I was younger, but foregoing my stature, I know I'm not some little girl.
We enter through the huge oak doors, and I feel Draco's grip loosen. He may not think it, but I know why he released me as we drew closer to our Lord. To seemingly harm me or treat me unjustly would incur her rage. She was like that about me, and I would never again want to hear another human being died for me. Not the way that slaver did many years ago.
The dark General's movements stopped once we came upon another door. When he opened it and we stepped inside, I viewed the room with eyes of an eager student wanting to capture every detail. The onyx walls were colored with dark and greyish tones, complimenting the obsidian round table. Surrounding the table were seven decorative chairs, and sitting in the sole regal high-chair closer to the only large window that illuminated the entire room was my savior from eleven years passed.
She glanced up from her writings and smiled, leaning back in her seat. It always made my heart skip to see her this way.
"My Lord Conqueror." General Draco announced, placing his right fist over his chest in salute. "The Lady Ri."
Then, she arose. "Leave us."
Repeating his formal greeting, he departed, closing the door behind him.
"Milady." I bow to her. "You've sent for me."
Her smile grew wider as she took my hand to lead me to the chair she was just sitting in.
Now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps Draco does have a good reason to be antagonistic towards me. The Conqueror has spoiled me rotten since I fell into her life. I could eat whenever I liked. I had the best tailor made clothes. My bed chamber, although modest, was far glorious than my rank declared. I am the Lord Conqueror's Handmaiden, or servant, but it doesn't matter because she treats me like nobility. When others are demanded to call her Lord, Conqueror, Liege, or another honorific, I could always call her Milady, which I have done since I was younger. And here I am right now, sitting in her chair. A chair fit only for the Lord of the Realm.
Seldom I feel she's kind to me because of how she found me all those years ago. Mostly, I sense she see me as a daughter figure, and even though the long raven hair I remember playing with when I was younger has streaks of silver like Uncle Meleager's now, I still don't see her as a mother. I have told her that before, but I have never told her how gorgeous she is. How I wish she would grace me with a sweet...
"Ri." My Lord broke my hidden thoughts with her voice.
The smile on her face just wouldn't go away and it made my heart beat faster looking up at her. What made her so happy today?
"I have important news for you."
I nod my head lazily, greatly intrigued.
"I have made arrangements for you in Athens."
"You will no longer be my Handmaiden."
"Now that Akemi is working sufficiently enough, I am sure she can fill your role indefinitely."
"You will be tutored by one of the greatest scholars ever." She continued on with that growing smile I'm beginning to resent. "He is visiting from Macedon, and he'll be teaching you an infinite amount of ideals, including locations on Terra. You'll hear the spectacular stories of gods and legendary heroes. He even taught Alexander the Great."
Milady turned away from me, still engrossed in her one-sided conversation. "You'll learn how to deliver speeches with proper etiquette. Create characters beyond imagination and, as a bonus, you will be getting an allowance while you are there."
Allowance? I don't even know what the current dinar resembles.
Making a turn about towards me, my Lord made a mocking face of intimidation. "Don't think for a moment you can slack off. I will be keeping in contact with your teacher concerning your progress."
Next, she smiled again. That same smile I now hated. She's happy to be rid of me. Who can blame her, though. I have been a burden. I have no money. The clothes I own are made for me, but they aren't mines I've bought. Akemi already does more work than me also.
Instantly it hits me. No wonder my Lord insisted I focus on my writing and arithmetics. She was grooming Akemi to take my place all along.
The excited expression diminished from Milady. "Hey, I was just joking. I know you will do a good job in the Academy."
I perk up, somewhat, from astonishment.
"Athens Academy for Performing Bards." I recite the place I've dreamed about going to since I'd mastered reading and writing two years ago at the age of sixteen.
I'm eighteen now. Well, that's the age I am in accordance to my Lord's conviction, and maybe it's best for me to go out into the world.
"Yes. You'll be in Athens. The city is far breathtaking than here in Corinth. The roads are better, too. I've commissioned them myself." She stated, proudly. "It'll have everything you want."
I can't help but look defeated again. I would rather stay here than travel to Athens. I'll surrender my dream, but if my Lord wishes it, so be it.
"Okay." I sound surly, my head falling.
Dropping down to her knees, she looks wary.
Placing my hands in hers, she asks, "What's wrong? I thought you would love this?"
I love you!
I remain mute. I wouldn't dare be brazen enough to make such a loving declaration. My Lord would preceive I have gone mad.
"When Akemi came here, I purposely allowed you more freedom from attending me so you could practice your craft and learnings." Milady lifts my chin up, eye to eye. "Although you hardly used it."
Could never get anything by her. "My deepest apologies-"
"Stop it." She silence me, sternly. "I seen you telling tales to the children. One day Iona came up to you after you were finished, and asked why did you decide to stay a servant when you can tell stories all over Terra? Do you remember your response?"
How did she know? Aw, forget it. She'll just say, 'I have many skills'. Putting on a sober look, I reiterate the exact words like an echo.
"I'd confessed, I owe our Lord too much. More than she had ever asked of me or has taken from me. So, I will do what I must to please her always." A tear fall down my cheek as I lose my composure. "It's true. Everything I'd said to Iona, I meant. And I mean them now."
She wiped the tear away, kissing my forehead in advance of saying, "You are not obligated to me, Ri. Okay?"
I nod my head dumbly while more tears escape.
I immediately do what she decrees, not without some difficulty. Again, Milady wipes my face and stands to her full height. I strain my neck to take in her tall form.
"Listen to me, Ri." I acquiesce to the authoritative vocalization. "Your service to me as Handmaiden is at an end. You are to go to Athens in two moons. You will do what is required of you, as long as it's no danger to yourself, or your virtues. I will write to you personally with every free Cronus I can spare. You will excel in your studies and live the life of your choosing. Do you understand?"
I nod my head once more.
"I can't hear you."
"Yes, Milady." I felt my heart shatter.
I will never see her again. I would only be graced with her words on a scroll; a piece of parchment.
"And know this, Little One." She leans down to me. "You are my obligation."
After she kissed my cheek, I feel better knowing Milady still cares strongly for me. She even used the nickname from when I first saw her. I felt contentment...
I stood on my feet, bowing again, then proceeded to walk towards the door. Before opening it to take my leave, I was curious about something.
"Yes." My Lord smirked.
She probably discerned what I'm going to inquire. "Who will I be studying under?"
Milady's smirk transformed into that heartwarming smile, and I've decided...
I don't hate it after all.
Prince Lyceus' newfound hope dissolved into puzzlement at Ri's unexpected change of countenance.
"You're alright, Ri?" He queried.
"Forgive me, Prince Lyceus. I wondered off into a daydream." Ri offered weakly.
'Ah, back to formalities. Maybe it's best I don't tell her.' With that mental note, Lyceus went on asking, "What's up, Ri? You can talk to me."
Could she? Could she evince that she'll be leaving Corinth, possibly for good?
"Is it me?"
The saddened tone persuaded her to attain him. Though Ri was not receptive of his feelings for her, she didn't want to lose the Prince's friendship.
"No, Prince Lyceus. It isn't you. It's... Between me and our Lord, your sister. I don't think anyone else in the castle is aware yet."
"Aware?" He questioned, hoping to speed her along.
Ri released a sigh. "I am commanded to go to Athens. I doubt if I'll ever return here."
Lyceus became livid.
He haven't heard such talk from the Lord Conqueror. "I have spoken to my sister yesterday. She made no mention of your leave in our conversation about you."
'My Lord and Prince Lyceus were conversing over me?' Ri expressed her fluster. "What brought forth me as a topic, mind my asking?"
It was Lyceus' turn for his cheeks to redden.
"Eh, you know... Uh, stuff like, um... How your duties were coming along. Were you getting on well with Akemi." While he was lying, a thought dawned on him. "Is the Conqueror sending you away because of Akemi?"
Lyceus found himself getting upset at the notion, until Ri dispelled it. "No. I'm to report to the Academy there. I'm beginning my apprenticeship as a scholar and bard."
Lyceus was still bitter that his sister hadn't shared this information with him. After telling her how amorous he had become for the inspiring storyteller, he had a right to know.
"You're finally about to achieve your life's goal. You're going to find much success and fame." He displayed a grin before it flipped upside down. "When I meet with my sister later this morning, I will be sure to let her know of my displeasure for keeping this from me. You are my friend, not chattel."
Ri hastily seized his wrist as Lyceus tried to stand up from the small table they'd eaten their morning meal on.
"Please, Prince Lyceus, I beseech you not to engage Milady, our Lord, on this matter. Like I've told you, I don't believe anyone else knows. She gave me this order in private, and I would become disheartened if she housed any anger towards either of us for not respecting her confidence."
Lyceus tried to relax her worries. "Ri, I promise no harm will befall-"
His sentence was cut short as she squeezed even tighter.
"No!" She yelled forcefully in a tone Lyceus had never heard her use before.
Realizing she hadn't only touched the Prince in a rough manner, but raised her voice to him as well, Ri released him, and stood up, urging him more delicately, "Forgive me for my offense. I realize you are the Prince of the Realm, and are allowed your own discretion, but I implore you most earnestly to refrain from discussing what I revealed to you with our Lord."
Standing up too, Lyceus understood the emotion in Ri's eyes; she was sincerely fearful. Not for herself entirely, but for him, too. Although the Conqueror was renown for extreme violence when warranted, his sister gave him no pause for such fear.
Nevertheless, Lyceus decided to appease the troubled woman. "I will keep silent on this. I respect that the affair is between you and the Lord Conqueror."
"Promise me." She needed reassurance.
"I promise by Venus, I will never speak of this to anyone." He swore.
Ri was relieved as she clung onto Lyceus for a hug.
"Can you do something for me?"
"Yes, Prince Lyceus?"
"Promise to end the formalities. At least when we are alone." Lyceus avowed.
Ri drew back, looking into his blue orbs. "I promise by the Realm's patron goddess, Minerva, I will cease addressing you formally."
The younger brother of the Conqueror gazed into Ri's aqua irises. Feeling entranced, his hands once again touched her fair face.
"I love you." He admittedly declared.
Ri knew she could never love the Prince of the Realm the way he loved her.
In spite of that, she affirmed as a genuine friend, "And you have my love also... Lyceus."
Lyceus' lips tenderly kissed her forehead, almost in the same way the Lord Conqueror had done two fortnights back with different results; Ri didn't feel her heart flutter while she was with him.
"I'll miss you." Ri averred.
"Hey don't write me off so fast. I'll visit you, and when your studies are over, you can always come back here to share a tale with the citizens of Corinth. Heck, even if no one shows up, I'll be there." Lyceus laughingly teased.
Ri cheered up immensely. She haven't considered the thought of returning to perform her newly acquired skills for the people of Corinth. Determination burned within her. She would go to Athens, learn what is taught, master what she needed, return back to the Corinthian castle, and make the Lord of the Realm proud.
She was sure Iona and the younger children would enjoy her new tales.
'The children!' She remembered.
Spinning quickly away from her guest, Ri startled the Prince.
"What's wrong?" Lyceus marveled at the fast pace the short strawberry blonde was moving about, trying to stack the empty plates and mugs on the two trays sitting atop her wooden table.
"I'd forgotten that I would attend Lieutenant Tessa's class."
Lyceus was sceptical. "Tessa is teaching a class?"
"Usually it's Clydmus' class." Ri began to expound, removing the dish-piled trays off the table. "But now that the Imperial army has free Cronus during peace, Tessa offered to teach the children about weapons training. She asked if I would grace them all with a story. I couldn't deny the offer. What kind of monster would I be."
The Prince grinned at Ri's common jest, taking the trays stacked with the dishes out of her hands.
'I need to pay more attention to what's going on in the Realm, and become aware of what's taking place inside the castle also.' Lyceus chided himself, traipsing with Ri to her chamber door to give her privacy.
"Better you to entertain them, instead of Joxer, huh?"
Ri laughed as she visualized the court Jester doing something silly. "I wouldn't say better."
Lyceus balanced the trays in one hand to give Ri a farewell embrace. "You are. Everybody agrees, and so do I."
After breaking apart, Ri opened the door, proclaiming, "I have thoroughly enjoyed this morning Lyceus, and thanks for taking care of the dishes for me."
"As well as I, Ri. And no thanks is needed. I ate off of them, too." A question crossed his mind. "Oh, who will be your teacher in Athens?"
Ri gave the Prince the same widened smile her Lord had given her when she disclosed whom she would be apprenticed by. "Aristotle."
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