Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note (Please Read): This story is tied in with the tale, Xena & Gabrielle: A Turn of Fate. If you have not read both story's chapters preceding this one, you should do so now. I also would like to thank my readers for keeping up with my tales, may my Muse continue to amuse you all.
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The Conqueror and Ri,
A Twist of Destiny,
Chapter 9: Origins
"Why don't you take it off, instead of covering it?" Iona asked.
"I'm not taking it off." Ri wrapped the lime-colored scarf tightly around her neck, so she wouldn't draw anybody's attention to the sparkling necklace, as they walked through the Corinthian castle.
'Just tell her and get it over with.' Ri mused. "I promised Milady last night that I wouldn't ever remove it."
Iona's footsteps halted. "The Conqueror! Our Lord gave you that gift?"
"Lower your voice." Ri glanced at the denizens who were gazing in their direction.
"Sorry." The fifteen-year-old blonde apologized, whilst Ri interlaced their arms and continued walking. "It is an astounding piece of jewelry. I get why you want to hide it and I know you are the Conqueror's favorite subject, but why did she give you such a perfect present? It seems like the sort of token a man would bestow on his betrothed."
'Is that what this is?' Ri pondered. 'A symbol for marriage? Is Milady, the ruler of the known Terra, planning to marry me when she gets back?'
Honey-brown orbs widened at Ri's happy expression. "By the gods. That's it, isn't it?"
"Of course not, Iona." Ri downplayed her true hopes. "It's a farewell gift. That is all."
"Now I see. The Conqueror presented the necklace to you in case something bad happens to her in battle."
"She's going into battle?" Ri inquired.
"You didn't know?" Iona was surprised. "My mother went with her. They'd set out already at first light. My father's kinda upset that they are going to probably see some action, while he's stuck here in Corinth."
'Prospects of war. That's the reason for the trip to Minerva's temple.' Ri theorized.
"Are you worried for their well-being?" Iona questioned.
"Our Lord is formidable, and from what I've heard, General Glaphyra is an excellent fighter as well. I have no concerns." Ri answered half-heartily. "With that aside, how are your parents? I miss them."
Iona shrugged her shoulders. "They're alright. I told them something yesterday and they both have different opinions."
"What did you tell them?"
"Don't become all Mercury on me, Ri." Iona grinned. "You told me the necklace is a farewell gift, yet you had no knowledge of the Conqueror's plan to leave for combat. So, how can it be a farewell present?"
"It's not for her departure, but mine."
"What?" Iona stopped again, letting Ri's arm go.
"I depart for Athens in Junius." Ri said sadly.
"That's a moon away." Iona became glum. "The Conqueror imparted this to you last night?"
"She'd been told me, since April." Ri replied.
The younger blonde got angry. "You knew that long and you're now telling me this? I thought we were friends?"
"I wanted to inform you first out of everyone in the castle. I didn't, because Milady had enjoined this to me in confidence. It wasn't till I broke it with Prince Lyceus that-"
"You disclosed it to him, before me?" Iona interjected.
Ri placed her hands on Iona's upper arms. "We had breakfast yesterday morning. I was really troubled in his presence about my leaving. That's the only excuse I have for telling him, and Milady found out. However, now by our Lord knowing what I'd done, she do not care who I reveal it to."
"The Conqueror is cognizant of everything." Iona giggled, wiping a tear from under her eye.
"Yeah, she is." Ri concurred, pushing her anger at the Prince for apprising the Conqueror to the side. "Are you mad at me, or do I have your forgiveness?"
Iona smiled brightly. "You're like a sister to me and I hope you feel the same way, too. I surmised that you deliberately kept this from me and told the Prince, 'cause you trusted him over me. I know the truth of your reasons now, so yes, I forgive you. But I am going to miss you."
Ri pulled Iona in an embrace, while she cried. "You're like a sister to me also. Please, stop crying. I'm gonna miss you as well, but I'll be back."
"Honestly." Ri swore. "Corinth is my home."
"You better come back home then." Iona sniffled.
Ri helped Iona dry her face and resumed their walk.
"What awaits you in Athens?" Iona queried.
"Nope. I'm not telling you another word, until you tell me what your parents aren't agreeing on." Ri parried.
"Alright, Ri. Brace yourself." Iona warned.
"I am." Ri acceded.
"I don't want to be just an architect anymore." Iona announced. "I want to be a warrior in the Conqueror's army."
"Get out of here." Darnelle laughed, sitting inside the gothic War Room with his fellow compatriots; Lieutenant Tessa, General Nale of the First Army, Lieutenant Dex of the Sixth Army, and Meleager, the Chancellor of the Realm. "Jr is actually coming here? The yearly tribute to the Conqueror isn't till next moon."
"Alexander II will arrive earlier than expected. It seems he has more to share with the Conqueror other than encomium." Meleager averred.
"Does the arrogant brat knows she's not even in Corinth?" Nale prompted, recalling last year how annoying the handsome, vain son of Alexander the Great was.
Nale was a lieutenant under Meleager then, before the old General abnegated the position to him, filling in the newly created rank of Chancellor.
"I do not want to be in his company longer than need be."
"I received his letter this morning, General Nale. He have already left Macedonia, and will probably get here in a half fortnight." Meleager responded.
"It'll be nice to see the Macedonian." Tessa beamed with memories. 'Perhaps, we'll fuck again.'
Figuring what she had in mind, Nale, who was adorned in white armor, scoffed, while Darnelle tried to cover his grin by discreetly putting his hand atop his mouth.
"As it is." The Chancellor looked at Tessa with deprecation. "Once Alexander II arrive, we will treat him cordially and respectfully, unless he give us pause not to. Are we in agreement?"
"Yes, Chancellor." All four warriors assented, although Nale was dismayed.
The door to the War Room opened and Prince Lyceus trekked in. Everyone stood and bowed in his presence.
"Speaking of Jr, look who chose to attend our gathering." Darnelle teased.
Lyceus ignored the quip. "Good afternoon to you all."
After that, he took a seat beside Tessa who was gawking at him as every warrior of the Realm reclaimed their chairs.
'Damn he's attractive.' She ruminated, appraising his facial features to his royal attire, consisting of black leather britches, a long-sleeved, sapphire shirt that was made from silk, with an ornate golden chain encircling the collar, and dark boots.
"Prince Lyceus, it is an honor." Lieutenant Dex hailed.
It was uncommon for lieutenants to take part in council meetings, since generals were always attending in their army's stead, and more aberrant to actually see the Prince of the Realm participating in government affairs.
"Yes, a true honor." Tessa did a salute also.
Meleager hid his shock at Lyceus' unexpected arrival. "Moving along. While the Lord Conqueror of the Realm is away on progress, I will be the authoritative figure in her absence, just like when she went to Rome last year. Any and all problems should come to me."
Everyone nodded their consent.
"General Nale, have you selected a new lieutenant for the First Army?" Meleager queried.
"Yes. He is from the ranks of General Glaphyra's Sixth Army." He asserted.
"Does General Glaphyra comply with you choosing a member from her army?" The Chancellor inquired further.
"She does." The purple armored Lieutenant Dex spoke. "In fact, she recommended him herself."
"Who is it?" Meleager was intrigued.
"Oris." Nale professed.
"I had him escort the Prince to the Agora after he returned the Conqueror's warhorse." Dex expounded.
Meleager turned to Lyceus. "What is your take on him?"
"I've only met him today, but from what I'd seen, Oris is a fine young man when it comes to duty. I think he'll be a good choice."
"Then it is settled. Oris will be initiated into the First Army tomorrow. There will be a banquet to celebrate his promotion, too. That is all I have for now. The council is adjourned." Meleager pronounced.
The two Generals, along with the two Lieutenants, and Prince Lyceus stood, saluting their Chancellor in advance of exiting the War Room.
"Prince, stay a moment." Meleager decreed and Lyceus sat down in a chair closer to him. "My apologies for summoning you to handle the Agora without consulting you first."
"That's okay. It wasn't as irritating as yesterday, and I'm getting the hang of it." Lyceus admitted. "You're not only the Chancellor now, but the Regent of the Realm also. You've got tons to do and I don't mind helping out in any way you deem fit to use me. I am serious about taking more part in government."
"Good to hear, Lyceus. I must confess, it isn't so much a burden like it was the year before. Being a General of an army and running the Realm was difficult." Meleager smiled. "If you keep this attitude up, one day you'll be the Regent in your sister's stead."
"Thanks, Meleager." He glowed from the comment. "Is there anything else? I want to visit Ri for lunch if she's free."
"She and I are having lunch together."
"Oh." Lyceus felt briefly dejected. "Maybe I'll catch her for dinner."
Noting the gloomy tone, Meleager became curious. "How is your relationship with Ri? Do you have affection for her?"
"Yes. I adore her, but..." Lyceus ceased speaking.
The Prince sighed. "I'm not sure how she feels about me. One moment it's like we are on the same accord. The next, she's different. If I could sum it all up, I would say she's afraid of getting close to me."
"Have you told Ri yet?" Meleager questioned.
"No. I drop hints here and there, but I haven't approached her straightforwardly."
"I see. I see." The Chancellor echoed.
Lyceus chuckled. "You ever notice you do that?"
"Do what, Lyceus?"
"Repeat yourself once in a while." He affirmed.
"Old habit, I guess." Meleager smirked. "I'll ask Ri if her feelings are mutual."
"Will you?" Lyceus dropped the exciting idea with a disapproving visage. "I am grateful for all that you are always willing to do for me, but I'm wholehearted in asking you not to do that."
"Understandable, Lyceus." The Chancellor declared. "I'll make no inquiries."
Minya, whom wore an apron over top of her burgundy shirt and purple skirt, lifted the hot loaves of baked bread from the wooden stove, setting it on the table in the kitchen to cool.
'She has no fashion sense.' Iona cogitated, anent to the royal Cook's clothes.
"A warrior." Minya began. "Are you gonna stop taking your architectural class?"
"I asked her the same thing." Ri proclaimed, biting into a fig.
"And just like I explained to Ri." Iona playfully glared at the munching strawberry-blonde. "I'm going to finish the class, because it'll probably give me an advantage at excelling in the Imperial Army when the Lord Conqueror commission more ships to be built."
"An architect soldier. You don't run into someone like that everyday." Minya retorted.
"That's what I said, too." Ri commenced giggling after Iona threw a date at her.
"Great minds think similar." Minya laughed.
"Aged minds, you mean." The younger blonde jested. "My father is comfortable with my decision, but my mother isn't, though. I don't want them to fuss about it, nonetheless, I do not want to lose the opportunity of becoming a warrior."
"It is a sudden change, Iona. Four days ago you were talking of building temples for the gods that would be far grander than the ones already constructed anywhere on Terra." The Cook elucidated. "What happened to bring this choice about?"
"Lieutenant Tessa of the Fifth Army taught weapons training in Clydmus' class yesterday." Ri exposed. "That is what triggered it."
"That's not it." Iona stated.
"Must have been some class." Minya mocked.
"It was... Intense." Ri uttered.
"It was beyond intense." Iona's eyes lit up. "It was intoxicating. When I held that wooden sword in my hand, I felt elation."
"Sounds better than sex." Minya thoughtlessly mused aloud.
Ri blushed, remembering her earlier sexual activity in her chamber, while Iona stared dumbfounded at the Cook.
"Ignore that and forget it ever being mentioned." Minya implored.
"Forgotten." Iona mumbled.
Ri jumped back on the previous topic. "So, getting roughed up by Lieutenant Tessa haven't daunted your spirit at all?"
"My hands stung badly afterward, but it made me eager to learn. My father remarked that I have un-trained extremities, but once I get use to a blade's handle, I'll be fine."
"Can't say I can envision you being a warrior. You are a beautiful young woman. I can see you as anything but that." Minya protested, gesturing for three kitchen servants to remove food from the other stoves.
Iona became defensive. "My mother is beautiful. So is Lieutenant Tessa, and don't get me started on the Conqueror. Even at her age, she's a Venus."
Ri closed her eyes to picture the dream again when her Lord brought pleasure to her body and, in return, gained fulfilment as well.
Minya's voice ended the reverie, "They are children of the War god, Mars. You aren't, Iona.
Iona stomped her foot in exasperation and waited for the servants to leave before inquiring, "Have y'all ever watched the soldiers practice on the training field?"
Both women gave negative responses by shaking their heads.
"Well, I have, and even that is exhilarating to me. What Lieutenant Tessa displayed in the classroom sealed it."
"Iona, I am with you either way. I just think you should evaluate it thoroughly before making a rash decision." Ri offered reasoning. "Warriors have to kill and can be killed. I'm positive that can weigh on a person's conscience."
"I have parents who are generals of their own armies." Iona was irate. "I know they can die and I know they take lives. Minya, you don't have any soldiers for parents; they were common farmers. And you don't have recollection of who your family are, Ri."
The pained face of Ri's filled Iona with sadness.
"That's quite enough, young lady." Minya got stern. "You may have already had your mind made up to train for the army, but we were just trying to aid you in an admission that you'd sprung on us."
Iona was duly reprimanded, becoming disconcerted with herself. "Ri, I'm-"
"It's alright, Iona." The petite strawberry-blonde's lips formed a melancholy smile. "I should get going. Thank you, Minya, for making the provisions I requested."
Ri begun reaching for two trays, till Minya prevented her from doing so. "You're most welcome, Ri. Don't bother carrying your lunch, though. I'll have the servants bring it to you and the Chancellor. You go on ahead. I'm certain he's waiting for ya."
Next, Ri left without saying another word.
Not knowing what else to do following the awkward silence, Iona apologized, "I'm sorry, Minya."
"I am not the person you should be telling that to. You, along with a handful of others, knows what that poor girl went through. You were wrong Iona, and when Ri calms a little, you need to tell her you've made a mistake in judgment. Hopefully, she'll forgive you." Minya scolded. "Now, don't you have a class to get to? If not, I don't care. Out of my kitchen, because I'm displeased with you."
A half candle-mark later, Ri was sitting on one of the divans in the Conqueror's chambers across from Meleager who was seated on the other, while the castle's servants and Akemi completed setting their meal on the table between them. Once done, they bowed and exit, save for the Chambermaid.
"Will there be anything else, Chancellor?"
"Thank you, Akemi. That will be all." He dismissed her, breathing in the aroma of the entree.
Akemi curtsied and left the chambers.
"I am highly appreciative of you for requesting Minya to prepare our lunch with such delicious edibles of my liking." Meleager was pleased, placing an assortment of food on his plate.
Ri began to do so, too. "You are certainly welcome."
"I've been engrossed with the affairs of the Realm, but I haven't forgotten our game we were to engage in. Are you ready to start it?"
"Yes. You may begin."
The Regent gazed at Ri, wondering if she was in a low mood. "Are you okay?"
Trying to dispel her somber morale, she joked, "I'm sure you don't want that to be your first query. Remember, we only get three."
"Alright then." Meleager rectified his question, "What is it that the Conqueror promised you?"
"She would visit me in Athens." Ri predicated.
"Nothing more?" Meleager followed up.
Ri clicked her tongue in teasing fun. "You can't ask two in a row. It's my turn. Is our Lord going to war?"
"Nope." Came the simple answer.
'I should've phrased that better.' Ri chided mentally.
At least she knew the Conqueror wasn't at war. Still, she could be in another form of contention.
"Is the Conqueror in love with you?" Meleager questioned.
The direct inquiry had Ri baffled. The blue-eyed woman alluded to a love for Ri, but she hadn't confessed a devotion of being in love with her. The Conqueror have never once avouched that she loved her.
"No." Ri gave her reply, praying it was untrue. "She is not."
Meleager read a flicker of despondency in Ri's eyes and had his last question ready when it was his turn again.
"Is she in danger?"
The austere tone caught the Chancellor's attention with its depth of worrying.
Dropping his loaf of bread, he put her mind at ease. "Ri, the Conqueror of the Realm will be fine. Trust me."
Ri was aware that she wasn't playing the game she'd invented correctly, yet her nerves relaxed, feeling contented that the Lord of Greece would be safe. Nevertheless, another consternation troubled her.
"I'll let that one be a freebie since you were deeply concerned for the safety of our ruler." Meleager grinned. "Ask something else."
Ri wanted to confirm if he was made Regent again, whilst the Conqueror was away, but thoughts of Iona's statement caused her to seek information about her origin.
"Where am I from?"
Meleager lost his grin.
"Who are my parents?" She espied his cyan orbs, pondering why tears couldn't fall from hers. "I've never gave it any profound consideration, until now. I want to cry, but speculate that you can't shed tears for a life you haven't known."
Meleager arose and sat beside the storyteller, leaning her head on his shoulder as he held her. "I'm not confident where you were born, Ri. You could belong to Acanthus, Potidaea, or Therma, if not Cirra; the place we found you. Krykus and his men were enslaving town villages after the Athenians subjugated the Chalcidice during the Peloponnese Purge."
"Weren't they part of our Lord's army?" Ri queried.
"Yes, yes. While the Conqueror was with the Amazons in the Northern Steppes of Serbia, she kept a power base of soldiers here in Greece. The Delian League was in conflict with the Peloponnesian League and we were to lay low, recruiting warriors to the Conqueror's cause, gathering any materials we could get our hands on from defeated Peloponnesian States only." Meleager explicated.
"Why just them States and not the Delian League's?"
"The Peloponnesians were on the losing end. It was more manageable to rally them to our side, because they'd rather be with us than stay with a beaten team." Meleager idly twirled some of Ri's hair in his hand. "I'm not sure how much of the war affected your life before discovering you in Cirra, but it's a blessing you can't recall any of it. Danger was everywhere and, no matter what Grecian boundary anyone's City-State were in, you could suffer from both belligerents all the same. The Conqueror was wise to that fact, and understood a lot of people would become disillusioned with the Delian League as well as the Peloponnesians. She was right, and all we had to do was choose which League we didn't want to win outright. So we chose Athens."
Questions floated through Ri's brain. If the Conqueror decided to go against the Delian League, it made sense she'd went to Corinth and joined with King Glaucus' army. But why did she betray him and take control of his castle, including all of Corinth after his demise?
Knowing how the Conqueror has a disinclination for human bondage, she picked a different query, "Why did Krykus try to enslave the townspeople of Chalcidice? Did our Lord want slaves in the beginning?"
"By the gods, no." He denoted. "Krykus was a fool. With the Conqueror gone in Siberia for almost two years, he created his own agenda and broke away from the original plan. He paid for it though."
Ri cringed. "I've heard."
"You know what happened to him and his men, Ri?"
"Not his men, but Krykus. Minya told me they were going to sell us to Persians in Cirra. They'd sold many males and females before Milady appeared out of nowhere like Death herself. I was hurt terribly, and once she'd distinguished that Krykus was the person who had injured me, she broke his jaw, then both his ribs. Finally, she crucified him personally." Ri recited the grisly tale.
"She crucified them all." Meleager clarified. "The Conqueror would've killed them regardless, but when she'd seen your blood-soaked face, she went in a rage; possessed by the Retribution goddess, Nemesis, in her brutality. She remained by your side every day until you healed. Did you know that?"
Ri shook her head. "She did?"
"Mm-hmm. When she travelled to Corinth, I could discern that you pined for her. And there's your answer, Ri; the Conqueror is your home. I have no idea who your blood-family are. However, I do know you have people who love and care about you very much. Your family is here with us, my precious Niece."
The trim woman hugged the Chancellor. "Thank you, Uncle. I needed to hear that."
"I'm here for you always." He squeezed her small frame lightly. "You broke the rules of our game, but I'm willing to let all those queries pass and give you your remaining two if you respond to my last inquiry truthfully."
"Okay." Ri permitted.
"Are you in love with the Conqueror?"
Greenish blue irises gripped Meleager's as Ri nodded. "Yes, I am. When she comes back, I... I have no doubts she'll court me."
'Poor Lyceus.' Meleager thought, listening to Ri's delighted tonality.
"How do you feel about that?" She asked shyly.
"Shocked to be honest, and gladdened for both of you." The Regent enlightened, arising to return to his own divan. "Come now, let's eat before the food gets cold."
"Hold on. My final question and it's equally important." Ri unwrapped the scarf to broadcast the glimmering necklace. "This can't possibly be the price you apprised. Is it?"
At the quizzical look on Ri's countenance, the Chancellor of the Realm guffawed in mirth.
To Be Continued
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