Disclaimers: See Chapter 1
Additional Note (Please Read): This story is tied in with, Xena and Gabrielle, A Turn of Fate. If you have not read the chapters preceding this one, of both stories, I feel for you faithful reader. You should turn back before it's too late. I like writing my little babble here, I mean do anyone even read this, or do most just jump to the meat of the story? I could be writing something very profound and interesting, and no one would know. Sike, I'll never write anything really, really deep. Probably a shout out here, or a salute there to the people I consider VIP material in my bardic life. You could be one of those people, but no one reads this headline that says (Please Read). Oh no, I rambled too long. Enjoy the chapter, and if you want, feedback is always welcomed. ;-)
The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 6: Symbol
"By the gods, that was worse than, Tartarus." Lyceus complained, returning inside the Corinthian castle after three candle-marks of passing out judgment to the accused in the city's Agora.
Not only that, but he discovered exactly what his sister teasingly laughed at him about. He had to sit and listen to dignitaries, citizens, also other officials, ask, whine, or kvetch tediously, concerning one trifle matter, then another. It wasn't enough that he was ignorant on what penalty corresponded with the appropriate crime when a person was found guilty, to his trepidation, and General Nale's constant hidden irritation of having to tell him, but the insistent cry of the luminaries, as well as the commoners was downright annoying.
Lyceus took great solace in telling most of them no out of spite for giving him a headache. He was hoping that his first cronus there would be inspirational for his decision to take part in government. It was not.
'Why does she always have to be right about everything?' the Prince moped.
He then was hit with remembrance of a decrepit old looking lady, who kindly presented a gift to be delivered to the Conqueror. Digging into the insides of his white chest plate of armor, Lyceus pulled out the rusty bronze chained necklace the aged woman had given him. He studied the jewelry sharply, gazing at the dull jade pendent that was connected to the chain.
'A decent gem, but what an ugly eyesore its hooked to. I'm glad it isn't for me.'
So fixated on the necklace, the Prince of the Realm wasn't watching where he was going, and bumped into the Chancellor.
"Whoa! I thought I was going blind." Meleager joked, holding Lyceus steady from falling.
"Meleager!" he embraced him, excited to see the Chancellor. "When did you get back from vacation?"
"Today actually. The Conqueror didn't inform you?"
'She's becoming selective on sharing intel.' Lyceus mused. "No. It probably fell from her mind."
"Like you darn near did, rushing into me. What got you so distracted?" Meleager asked.
Showing the object in his hand, Lyceus responded. "This would be the reason. I was so engross by it, I became careless."
"If you are giving that to someone you want to impress, they'll like the jade, but the chain is horrid." Meleager said.
The Prince chuckled. "Naw, It's not mines to give. A generous old woman bestowed this onto the Conqueror when I was at the Agora."
A witty quip about the lady prehaps not liking the Conqueror was replaced with a question. "You was at the Agora, alone?"
"Not alone. I had General Nale with me. He helped me through the whole affair."
"I didn't mean for it to get dropped on you." the Chancellor admitted.
Lyceus' expression was perplexed. "What?"
"Your sister notified me to judge the Agora today, but I made a pact with her. If she took care of it for me, I will take care of it for six days." Meleager started to look apprehensive. "I did throw your name under the wagon before we made the deal."
"Normal circumstance, I would be upset, but I have learned important details that will be crucial to my role as Prince of the Realm. So all is forgiven." Lyceus replied.
Meleager felt jovial. "In that case, do you want to run the Agora for the next six days in my place?"
"Of course I don't." Lyceus shook his head while laughing.
"It was worth a try. Oh yea, you're why I was walking these halls, then I'm going back to bed. I just couldn't wait to give you this." the Chancellor exclaimed, picking out an item in the bag he was carrying, and unwrapping the cloth to show a sculptured horse that was crafted from glass. "I bought it when I was in Rome."
Lyceus grasped the miniature glass horse that was carved to have one of its hooves suspended in the air, while the other three was molded onto the crystal plate it was placed on.
"Wow." he was amazed. "It's magnificent. It must have cost a fortune. Thank you, but you don't have to keep buying me these."
"I figured, since I've been doing it when you were a toddler, mind as well not stop now. I also know you still love horses." Meleager told him.
Lyceus remembered the first toy horse that Meleager had gave him, from then on he'd never ceased, and the Prince cherished all of them. "It started from wooden ones, and now with glass. You know, I'm hoping the Conqueror will allow me to have that palomino she has stabled. I'll ride her everyday."
"I'll talk to her for you." Meleager offered.
Lyceus thought about it, but then his features became disapproving. "I'm twenty-eight now, Meleager. I appreciate it, but it's best that I begin standing on my own two feet. I can't have you always trying to solve matters for me, whether it's big or small. Bad enough you have to do that for the Realm as its Chancellor. I'll speak with her myself."
Meleager smiled seeing that, Lyceus was shaking off the spoilt phase and becoming sort of independent. "Okay, Prince Lyceus. You are a big man now, I see you won't be needing this."
He playfully reached out for the glass horse.
"No way." Lyceus laughed, moving back from him. "And please, just call me, Lyceus."
"I forgot, I forgot. Formalities over with, Lyceus." the Chancellor bowed.
The blonde younger man simply smiled at the older one, whom he sometimes looked up to as a father figure, since he never knew his own.
"Well, I got to get some more rest. The Realm's duty calls later, and you have to get that hideous present to the Conqueror."
"I'm heading to my chambers first, take this hot armor off and add my new horse to my collection."
They both hugged again in advance of going their separate ways.
"Lyceus, one other thing. How did the old woman look? Was she pleasing to the eyes?" Meleager inquired.
The Prince of the Realm frowned.
The Conqueror's hands made ripples in the tub, not giving a second thought to the life she had ended in her Throne room. The only thing she was thinking about, was where her and Shadow were going to journey to.
'I'll pay a visit to Minerva's temple.' she decided.
Coming to the conclusion that the water was getting cold, and she was clean, the ruler of the Realm left out of the bathtub to don her silk red robe.
Walking out of her bath chamber, she called. "Akemi."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Has anyone came by while I was soaking?"
"Yes. The Prince of the Realm dropped off a gift." she answered.
"Bring it to me." the Conqueror said, sitting on her soft bed.
Several candle-drips later, Akemi returned into the bed chamber, handing the item over.
The Conqueror's eyebrows furrow. "What is this?"
"The Prince said that, a citizen at the Agora wished for you to have it." the chambermaid responded.
The Conqueror tossed it to the side of her and laid down on the bed. "It's unsightly."
'Either someone dislikes me, or it's one of Lyceus' petty pranks for sending him to the Agora.' she thought.
"If I may, Lord Conqueror?"
"Yes, Akemi." she gave way, closing her eyes.
Picking up the necklace to analyze it, Akemi conveyed. "The chain is tarnished, but the gemstone is appealing."
The Conqueror sat back up as Akemi placed it into her hands again. Looking at it fully, the older woman had to agree, the jade although dim and not shiny like a diamond, was the most eminent part. The Conqueror did like that aspect of it.
"If you do not find it to be in good taste, you could trash it, or give it to someone else." the servant announced, inadvertently putting an idea in her Lord's head.
"Akemi, do you know, Qoutis?"
The braided haired Japa woman pondered for a moment. "Yes. He does all of your jewelry." Then she understood. "You want me to take the necklace to him and have it replaced with something far nicer."
"Not nicer. Dazzling." the Conqueror corrected, putting the rust coated necklace in her chambermaid's hand. "Go to Qoutis, tell him to dismantle the bronze chain, but salvage the jade pendent. I want him to create a new necklace from the platinum orbs and meld the pendent to it. After that is done, I want you to bring it to me, then I want you to find Ri and tell her to meet me in front of the castle."
Akemi had no idea what Ri had to do with the Conqueror's plans. "As you command, my Lord."
She bowed before setting out to fulfill her tasks.
The forty-three winter old Conqueror laid happily on her bed again, feeling like a love struck teenage girl once more.
Four candle-marks later found Ri slumped in the chair inside her immaculate room, barely listening to her tutor, Eramus, lecture on and on.
"When you have the crowds ear, you must have the finesse to maintain it. You-" The bald stubby man could see that his student's senses was elsewhere. "Are you even paying attention?"
Ri adjusted herself in the seat. "I was... I am."
"No you weren't young lady." Eramus begun his reprimand. "The Conqueror of the Realm, in her benign graces, has asked me to instruct you. If you haven't participated in that class earlier and placed your own class with me on the back burner, we wouldn't be here right now. The Conqueror seems to have uplifted prospects for your future, so do I. Please do not disappoint us."
With the mentioning of her former mistress, Ri had renewed focus. Even if the teachings was getting tediously boring, she would endure.
'I pray that, Aristotle won't be lacking when I become his protege.'
Content that he had Ri's full attention, Eramus continued. "Now where was I. Once you have the crowds ear, you must-"
A soft tap on the strawberry blonde's chamber door cut short the teacher's repeated quote.
Ri was delighted for the interruption. "May I answer it, Master Eramus?"
"Yes you may." he huffed out a breath. "But we are never using your room again for our learning session."
Opening the door ajar, Ri saw the Prince and allowed him in. "Prince Lyceus, good evening."
"Good evening to you Ri, and to you also Eramus. Have I disrupted anything important?" the Prince questioned.
"Good evening, Prince Lyceus. Yes you have, but you are more imperative than what we were doing. Our session was just about to be concluded anyway." the tutor replied.
Packing up his scrolls, Eramus' footsteps moved his rotund frame towards the entryway.
"Fare well, Prince Lyceus." he bowed. "And Ri, keep up with your studies."
Then he was out the door.
"Thank you, Lyceus. I was on the brink of hearing a tutorial till I'd passed out from boredom." she claimed playfully while giving him a hug.
"It couldn't have been that bad." Lyceus grinned, pulling away.
Ri walked over to her timber table, pouring herself some water to drink. She kinda liked that she could talk to the Prince comfortably as if they were peers. "I love Master Eramus. I have been under his tutelage for quite some years now, but he can become a bore. Would you like some?"
Her offer of water fell on deaf ears, as Lyceus was lost in Ri's beauty. The apparel that she had worn to Tessa's class was still donned on her and the sight of her was amazing to him.
"By the gods, Ri. You're divine."
Ri spun her back to the Prince quickly, failing to hide the blush that was creeping up her neck. "You are more than generous, Lyceus."
Lyceus' footfalls was heard behind her as he enclosed his arms around her slim waist. "I really like what you've done with your hair."
Ri turned in his embrace, locking their eyes together. "Thank you. It took almost forever to do this morning." Wanting to alter the subject, she raised the ceramic cup, repeating. "Would you like some?"
Lyceus' blue orbs gazed on her lips. "I would love a taste."
Ri placed the cup against his brown tunic covered chest, smiling. The Prince removed his arms and took the offering, bringing it to his mouth to drink.
Ri began to pour another cup for herself again. She knew, Lyceus wanted to kiss her and it would have been received with a resounding no, but she couldn't stop intimate curiosities from entering her mind for his sister.
'The Conqueror doesn't want you.' she chided. 'And I don't want Lyceus.'
Discreetly clearing her throat, Ri inquired. "What do I owe for this special visitation?"
Many thoughts ran through Lyceus' head. He wanted to tell her about his day at the Agora. How he had to listen to people drone on about their wants and needs. The only thing he really did remotely exciting was send a few thieves to prison, after their right hands were sliced off. He wanted to petition that, but any change of the Conqueror's laws could only be granted by her. It was his first day, he wasn't going to appeal to her like some kid.
He also didn't want to bore Ri with the topic of whining dignitaries, or citizens and he definitely didn't want to tell her the grisly fates of the criminals. He felt Ri was too fragile for that.
"I want to know how your day went with Tessa and the students?" he asked instead.
"It went great." her face lit up. "Lieutenant Tessa's display was intense, but informative, and the class enjoyed my story of King Midas."
Next, Ri's expression changed causing Lyceus to be alarmed. "Why do you look glum, Ri? Did Tessa do something to you?"
"No, Tessa was fine. I just really am going to miss them all once I have to leave for Athens." she admitted, taking a seat in her chair.
The Prince bent down in front of her. "Don't be sad, Ri. Everything will be okay, you'll see. When you're finished in Athens with, Aristotle no less, you are going to be even more compelling in your storytelling than you already are and I don't think that's possible seeing that you're really talented now."
A smile hinted on Ri's lips. "Thanks again, Lyceus. You always know what to say dealing with my feelings concerning me leaving Corinth. I'm glad I decided to tell you that I am going to Athens."
"I am pleased that you have told me too. I would had gone crazy, looking up and down this whole castle for you next moon." he proclaimed, then asked a question that would hopefully cheer her up more. "Do you like horses?"
Ri was baffled at the inquiry. "They're beautiful, but their tallness terrifies me." she answered, remembering riding on a black huge one with the Conqueror when she was young.
The Prince laughed. "You don't have to worry yourself over that. Come with me to my chambers, I want to show you my collection."
"Okay." Ri agreed, before a knock came on her door.
Getting up to answer it, she was taken aback to see Akemi, her hair double braided from the sides of her head to the back. "Hello, Akemi. It's been a while since I've seen you. Come in, how are you?"
Stepping inside, Akemi said. "I'm fine, thank you for asking." Next, she bowed to the Prince of the Realm. "Good evening, Prince Lyceus."
"To you also, Akemi." he returned the greeting. "What brings you here?"
"The Conqueror commands Ri to meet her in front of the castle." she explained.
Ri was more than excited to yield to her Lord's wishes. "I will join her as soon as me and my visitor, Prince Lyceus' conversation is done."
Akemi curtsy to them both and then left the room. On her way back to the Conqueror, she couldn't believe what she'd overheard Ri and the Prince talking about before she knocked on the door.
'Is the Conqueror aware of Ri's departure to Athens?'
If not, she was going to find out.
The Lord Conqueror of the Realm was saddled on her dark warhorse, Shadow, awaiting the arrival of her travelling companion. She'd made the choice of only taking five Corinthian Guards to accompany her on this trip to the temple. Though Greece prospered and she was moderately liked, the last thing she needed was for some disgruntled fool, thinking she's inattentive, and try to assassinate her. Which was doubtful, but why take chances, especially with a delicate soul like, Ri. With the Guards in place, it would cause a person to think twice about forfeiting their life.
Shadow emitted a snort of annoyance at having to stand idle, he had done that in his stall for a half fortnight.
His mistress stroked his mane smoothly. "We'll go soon boy, okay."
After that admission, the castle's double doors atop the steps opened, disclosing the object of her affections, causing her heartbeat to soar in tempo at the stunningly adorned woman. She couldn't recall Ri being so magnificently dressed. Her gawking ceased when she noticed the Prince walking beside the strawberry blonde.
Ri swore the organ in her chest was going to burst out as she observed the sight of her Lord, who was dressed in a light blue V neck tunic, black leather trousers, with black knee high boots and armed with a circular weapon on her right hip. Her hair was flowing freely in the evening wind, and to Ri's aqua irises, the Conqueror seemed to have the true appearance of divinity.
Her along with Lyceus bowed when they approach the Conqueror.
"Milady, I pray that I haven't kept you deterred too long?" Ri inquired.
She was delayed by Lyceus' insistence to walk with her.
"Some candle-drips later, I would've been gone." the Conqueror lied.
"Forgive me, Milady." Ri said with remorse.
"There's nothing to forgive. I am sure you have your reasons for prolonging." the Conqueror replied while eyeing her younger brother. "Now come." she held out her hand.
Ri wanted to grasp it, but when she gazed at the enormous steed, she unintentionally stepped back from it. The warhorse reminded her of the one she had rode on with the Conqueror before, only a little smaller.
Feeling rejected, the Conqueror placed her hand on Shadows reins. "What is wrong, Ri? Do you deny my offer?"
"Ri's afraid of your horse's height." Lyceus averred.
'Another thing she confided in you.' the Conqueror glared at him. "I was asking Ri, not you Prince Lyceus."
Looking at Ri again, she said. "Ri, I promise you that everything will be fine. You have nothing to be fearful of. Shadow is nice when you get acquainted with him. I know that his size can be intimidating, but you rode with me before on a bigger steed than him. No harm came to you then, and he won't hurt you either. I wouldn't let anyone do that."
Ri trusted her Lord, and gradually moved closer to the horse.
"Conqueror." Lyceus started saying in irritation. "You shouldn't force her." Privately, he didn't want Ri to go with her. He wanted her to stay with him.
"Lyceus, it's alright." Ri forgot she was in public.
'Lyceus?' the Conqueror noticed the breach in protocol.
Maybe it was more to Lyceus and Ri, than the Conqueror comprehended, so she relented. "You are correct, Prince Lyceus." she emphasized the Prince part. "Ri probably prefer your company better than to travel with me to Minerva's temple. Come on, Shadow."
Clicking her tongue, she began moving him in a trot.
Lyceus smiled inwardly at the small victory, until Ri yelled out.
"Wait, Milady! Wait!"
The Conqueror halted her horse's movements as Ri ran to them. Again she stretched out her hand and without contemplation, Ri seized it with her own. Instantly she was settled behind her Lord.
"Hold onto me tight." the raven and silver haired ruler warned as Shadow galloped in full speed down the pathway leading from the castle.
The Prince of the Realm watched the six horses disappear out of view, and pondered.
'Am I missing something?'
Ri's arms clung to the Conqueror's strong body, even after they had made it to their destination. The temple that was dedicated to the Realm's patron goddess, had a different design than when Ri last seen it at the age of eleven, yet she could recall her visit here alongside the Conqueror with absolute clarity and she didn't remember the exterior being so glamorous.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were afraid of horses?" the Conqueror asked.
"I did not want to appear weak to you." Ri answered.
By not being able to see the Conqueror's face, Ri couldn't tell if her answer satisfied her, or not.
The silence was palpable, before the Conqueror spoke. "We can't dismount if you don't detach yourself from me."
"Forgive me, Milady."
"Stop saying that, Ri. You aren't doing anything that requires my forgiveness."
"Okay." Ri asserted as the Conqueror got off her steed.
Next, she lifted Ri up off the saddle, putting her on the ground as well.
She then told the Guards. "Stay outside the entrance, make sure no one enters."
"Yes, Lord Conqueror." the men said in unison, their fist covering their heart.
It always enthused Ri to see the respect and adoration others bestowed on her Lord. The five soldiers were similar to the many people they've crossed on their journey, that bowed in submission to the Conqueror also.
They proceeded up the stone steps as the Corinthian Guards preceded them to open the door made of mahogany. The interior was more impressive than the outside and was different than before too. It was simonized with sparkles of silver and metallic purple gemstones. The altar was no longer wooden, but now made from an unrelated source of alloy altogether. Ri couldn't discern what type of metal it was. The only commodity that remained the same, was the golden statue of Minerva, placed behind the pedestal.
Nemina, the High Priestess of the temple greeted them, wearing the traditional white robe, her hair a mixture of brownish grey.
"My, Lord Conqueror. You come to us early than expected in this cycle of seasons." After bowing to the Conqueror, she turned her amber eyes on the woman standing next to her. "Ri? By the goddess of wisdom, it's been a while in cronus since I've laid sight on you. You have grown quite pretty."
"Thank you, High Priestess." she accepted the compliment.
"One day when you are free from the Conqueror's service, you can stay here and become a Priestess under my guidance." Nemina offered.
"Ri has another priority than becoming a servant of Minerva." the Conqueror stated. "And I am here, because something urgent has sprung up. I desire Minerva's blessing."
"As you wish, Lord Conqueror. I will-"
"Alone." the Conqueror denounced her services.
Nemina bowed at the waist before she begun to excort the other Priestess and worshippers from the Conqueror's presence.
Ri was set to follow, but her Lord grabbed her hand and brought her over to the altar. Falling on her knees, Ri did the same. She glanced over at the Conqueror to see that her sapphire orbs were closed in prayer. The petite former hand-maiden had no clue what was happening in the Realm, but if it influenced the Conqueror to seek out the goddess of war and wisdom sanctification, it must be serious.
She gazed at the statue of Minerva looking down at them from across the altar. Closing her eyes too, Ri prayed with genuine purpose for her Lord and the continuation of her reign.
The Conqueror found herself asking for aid on another dilemma other than her confrontation with Brutus. She was trying to fathom why, after giving the news to Ri that she would be apprenticed by Aristotle in Athens, instead of telling anyone else in the castle for almost a completed April moon, she chose to confess it to Lyceus. The Prince impart on her yesterday that he was smitten with Ri, prehaps he let Ri on that fact also.
'If so, why is she with me and not him?'
Confident that she had her answer, the Conqueror began speaking, ending Ri's orison. "Are you intimate with Lyceus?"
"Milady?" Ri couldn't believe her ears.
The Conqueror turned her head to look directly at her. "You haven't told any other soul in the castle that you were leaving for Athens in the coming moon, neither have I, but you did tell Lyceus."
Ri's eyes widen in shock. How did the Conqueror find out? She had disclosed that information to Lyceus this morning.
'He betrayed me!'
"You don't even call him by his title, you just call him Lyceus as if y'all have a personal relationship. Are you two intimate?" her lord echoed.
"No, Milady." Ri said most earnestly. Closing off the tiny space between them, she explained everything. "Lyceus... Prince Lyceus came to my chamber this morning to have breakfast. He has visited me for several days now. I slipped up breaking etiquette, because he asked me to call him by his name without the title when we were alone and I swore that I would after he swore to keep my leaving a secret. Today, I was forlorn when I begun thinking of my leave. I thought about the people I will miss. My friends, the children I tell my stories to and you. I've spent eight years in the castle since you've conquered it, longer than I've ever spent anywhere else. I do not know where I originally belong, and nor do I care, because Corinth is my home."
She decided to admit her heart even further. "You're my home, Milady."
The declaration appeased the Conqueror greatly, but she still had a few questions. "Lyceus wanted to console you, that is why you confided in him?"
"You wish not to go to Athens?"
"It's my dream to be a bard, Milady, but not at the expense of not being with you." Ri replied.
"Do you love me, Ri. I mean, to the level of wanting me to court you?"
Ri eyes closed once again, she was fearful of how the Conqueror would react, but nodded her head in the positive.
"Turn away from me, Ri."
Ri's body tensed at the command, then she awkwardly did so on her knees. With her back to the Conqueror, she felt something cold encircle her neck, and her first instinct was that her Lord was going to kill her. Ri eyes coruscated to the necklace that had an identical glimmer to the temple's altar that they was kneeling beside. A jade pendent was dangling below her throat.
Ri felt herself being brought up to her feet with the Conqueror, before warm breath tickled her ear, claiming. "This is my gift to you and a symbol of a promise."
The Conqueror twirled her around to lock blue with greenish blue orbs. "You are still going to Athens. It is a dream I wish for you as well. Once I am finished with my progress abroad, I will visit you immediately when I return to Corinth. I have to anticipate a possibility of a battle, so I can not speak of my love for you at the moment, for it will cloud my focus."
The Conqueror's hands took the silver clasp out of Ri's hair, allowing the blonde reddish curls to cascade down her face to her shoulders.
"You're gorgeous, Ri." the Conqueror announced spellbound.
Still gazing into each other's eyes, the Conqueror slowly touched Ri's lips with her's briefly.
Ri savored the short experience by shutting her eyelids and picturing it over in her mind as the older woman kissed her forehead.
"We will talk more about us when I see you in Athens."
"How long will you be gone, Milady?" Ri asked.
"I don't know, but I will be back." she assured her.
"And I'll be waiting." Ri replied.
The Conqueror smiled, wanting to kiss those rosy lips again, but felt slightly inadequate. It has been thirteen full seasonal cycles since she was romantically intimate with a person, and she didn't want to press her luck. Ri was young and the ruler of the Realm hadn't forgotten how easily they could change their mind from one lover to the next.
She begun thinking about the appointment she had to keep with her Chancellor. "We must get ready to head back to the castle, before nightfall."
Ri nodded happily and made her way to the temple's entryway, but then saw that the Conqueror wasn't following her. "Milady?"
"Go. I'll be there." the Conqueror said smiling.
The jubilant young woman exit the door with a bounce in her step.
Alone, the Conqueror grabbed her chakram and made a shallow slash through the flesh of her hand. Placing the blood soaked appendage on the shining altar and looking at the golden idol of her patron goddess, she muttered.
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