This is a story of the somewhat darker variety, and if you are a fan of Lao Ma or Borias you might want to give this one a pass, as they are not portrayed kindly in this little tale. Abuse is mentioned, in a retrospective sort of way.
It is meant to be the first part of a story that I hope to write eventually, if I can get my story "Conquering Liaisons" finished, and it also exists as a picfic or graphic novel if you will, called "Fragments 1: The Gift", at XENARIO (www.angelfire.com/art2/xenario3/fragments.htm) and Passion and Perfection (www.ralst.com/GraphicNovels.html>)
Subtext is, as always in my stories, maintext.
And feedback is very much welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gift - A Gabrielle the Conqueror Tale
by Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
It is here again, the anniversary of your death.
Most of the Realm thinks it is merely my birthday, but they are blind. Ignorant to the truth.
How many years has it been now? How many years since I stood powerless by as your life ended, taking all I knew with you?
Since your mantle fell to me.
It was too soon. I was an adult, and a part of me knew that day would eventually come, but still it was too soon. I was unprepared for what was required of me.
The united Amazon Nations rallied to me as their Queen, and I have tried to lead them well. Like you would have.
I strived to make our borders firm, our lands safe for my sisters. That meant defeating old enemies, and a few newer ones, that would encroach our lands, and endanger the sisters living there. They fell. Amazonia grew stronger and larger, a Nation to be reckoned with.
The rest was accidental.
Old King Lias never knew what he started. Without heir since the death of his daughter, he made me his successor just in time before he died. I liked the old man, and tried to rule his kingdom like the rest of my Nation, and it prospered.
Then the other rulers started to follow suite. It surprised me how many came to me, willingly making themselves my subjects in order to be granted my protection. Forsaking their titles to become satraps under my rule. Others still followed Lias and made me their heir, possibly to stabilize their lands, or possibly to ensure that I did not crush them under my ever-growing heel. Rome became my enemy, and like all others such, was defeated and incorporated into the Nation.
Then one day I found myself the ruler of the world.
And I never wanted the power nor the responsibility.
You always told me that ruling is lonely. Ruling the world is even more so.
The ones that I trust, the ones I let into my heart, are precious few. Mostly they are the sisters I grew up with since you took me in, like Ephiny. I have often wondered over the years if that darkhaired but nameless cherub that I vaguely remember as my sister by blood, would have been as close to my heart as my dear Ephiny.
I know you were hoping that we would take the Oath and bond as mates, but I must disappoint you in this. As dear as she is to my heart, I remain… alone.
It is time to join them now. As always, the candles on the cake they serve me will not burn as long or as bright as the ones I light on the candelabraums, one for each passing year. Most think I celebrate the years of my rule this way, only some of my sisters know that they are in your honour. One for each of the years that the world, and I, have been without you.
For Melosa, the truest of Queens… and my beloved mother.
- - -
Ephiny stands beside me, informing me of the various items given me in celebration of this day. Ephiny. My Ephiny, my friend, my second-in-command, my confidante, my voice of reason, my unwavering support and sister in all but blood. Were I a religious woman I would thank the Gods for her, but I am not, and the Gods will have to find their amusement elsewere. They always do.
She wants my attention now, and I try to concentrate on her words.
"You have received an… unusual gift from Lao Ma of Chin, My Queen."
If I were not so in the grips of the deep melancholy that consumes me at this time of year I would have smiled at her and her uncharacteristic discomfort. "You hesitate, old friend. Why?"
"The gift is…" She sighs and meets my eyes. "…one you have declined before."
She need not say more; I am intrigued. And angered.
Lao Ma, in her self proclaimed wisdom, constantly seeks to test me and I have little patience left for her and her games. Still, Chin is vast, and I would avoid to embark on actions that would lead to bloodshed if I can.
The gods give that Lao Ma could share that sentiment.
Apparently giving up on breaking the news to me carefully, Ephiny reads out loud from the scroll that accompanied Lao Ma's gift as it is presented before me.
"The gift from Chin, My Queen. Special sweets favoured by the Chinese court, and… the formerly Royal Concubine, Xena of Greece, favoured by Lao Ma and given to 'The One that Rules Supreme' as a token of her respect and appreciation."
My Second snort softly and adds for my ears alone "Or so it says."
"… She gave me a body slave. A body slave Ephiny!"
My melancholy is lifted suddenly with the onslaught of another old acquaintance, smouldering anger. "She knows full well my thoughts on that matter. Hades, she knows I nearly had Cleopatra beheaded for stepping out of line in a similar manner!"
My voice of reason does not fail. With a calm if crisp voice Ephiny points out to me "She is testing you, again. The approach you took with Cleopatra was personal, and can't be applied to Lao Ma. Distance and cultural differences let her claim ignorance, and with the wording of the letter she sent, she would undoubtedly say it was meant to honour you."
The anger fades somewhat. Instead I feel tired and resigned. "She is goading me again, isn't she?" I wryly ask.
Ephiny gives me a ghost of a smile. "Indeed."
I turn my attention to the woman still kneeling before me, undoubtedly frightened with my less than amicable reception. But I am not a woman who would punish people for being helpless pawns in another's game. "So, Xena of Greece… where in Greece, exactly?"
She does not look up. "Amphipolis, Mistress."
"Hmm, not far from our home then. And don't call me mistress, I don't like it."
She stumbles over the words as she hurries to comply. "Yes, M-my Queen."
I speak softly to myself, not really concerned if Ephiny would happen to overhear, but doubtful that she will. "So quietly spoken. Attractive, too." And she certainly is. In a louder voice I approve of her choice of title. "Much better… Xena."
I speak to Ephiny without moving my gaze from the woman in front of me. "Ephiny, have a letter written to thank Lao Ma for this …thoughtful gift of hers. Tell her the sweets are delightful, but make no reference to the rest. Also, I want not one word of this to spread beyond this room, I trust that is understood by all? Good."
"It seems I will have to give this some thought, Ephiny."
I make decision for now, at least. "You will be taken to my chambers. A seamstress will arrive shortly to take your measurements and give you new clothing, then I want these ones burned."
I try to speak kindly, soothingly to the bowed figure. "Don't be afraid, I will not hurt you. One way or another I'm sure you'll find more freedom here than ever you had in Chin."
Xena keeps her head bowed as she rises and tries hard not to show her trepidation when the guards lead her away. On a silent sign the others that has occupied the room file up to leave their Queen and her Second alone.
For a moment the room is silent.
Ephiny smiles at me. "You find her attractive, I can tell. And you have been alone for far too long, old friend. Question is… what will you do about it?"
I smile at her in return, in acknowledgment that she knows me so well. It is the first smile of this day, and it will likely also be the last. "See to it that she is dressed like an amazon. I have an idea..."
- - -
Some time later I enter my private chambers just as the seamstress takes the last of Xena's measurements. I stand by and watch in silence as the old woman gather her things and leaves us alone. Xena makes no move to cover her nakedness from me, and I take a moment to study Xena closely, finding myself very surprised by what I can see.
"You certainly are… appealing, Xena of Amphipolis. But that body was not built by living as a concubine. You used to be a warrior."
"I'm willing to bet that if I take a closer look at your hands I will find sword calluses."
The approval and amusement that faintly laced my voice leaves, and my voice grows colder. "Are you sent to kill me, Xena?"
She sounds shocked as she answers me. "No! I-I mean, of course not, My Queen."
I give her a brief smile, one of that chilling kind that has my enemies trembling before me as I tell her "That is fortunate, then. Because…"
"I am the Amazon Queen. As a warrior I have yet to meet my match. If you have any intentions to try to cause me trouble while we are alone, know that I will send you to Tartarus before the next beat of your heart. If you are lucky."
She answers me something in a mere whisper.
"What was that?"
Xena looks at me as she answers, and I am stuck with the sadness of those lovely blue eyes.
"I said, there are things worse than death, My Queen."
I look at her silently for a long moment. I certainly understand what she means.
"Yes, there is."
A moment after our mostly silent communication I walk around her, taking a closer look at Xena's back.
"Those scars across your back… they have been treated to make them fade, but I can still faintly make them out. They were not gotten on the battlefield."
Xena remains silent, looking away.
I try to once more gentle my voice."Tell me about yourself, Xena of Amphipolis. How did a warrior of Greece end up Lao Ma's body slave in Chin?"
Xena keeps her eyes averted as she hesitates, unwilling to speak but not foolish enough to refuse her new owner. Her gaze grows distant, darkened with sorrow and pain as with a quiet voice she haltingly begins her tale.
And what a tale it is.
She stands there naked before me, and bares something far deeper than the flesh and skin on display. Sorrow, pain, regret, and hopelessness that goes far deeper than bone ever could. I have asked and she reveals, probably far more than she would, but I urge her silently. She lays her soul, her broken spirit, bare before me.
And somewhere inside me Melosa's daughter is weeping.
The tale begins with a young warrior, just a girl really, having lost all she cared for in this world and driven from her home. Consumed by anger she was turning into a warlord when circumstances, and to my surprise my old enemy Caesar, inadvertently turned her towards the East.
It all makes sense in some way. Had she remained in the area of her birth for a little longer, the amazons would have taken her in, and it would not have been a stranger standing before me, but a sister I had known nearly all my life. I almost snort at that stray thought as my eyes sweep her form, but she does not notice. No, this woman is not someone I would call my sister, for any reason.
In Chin she met Lao Ma, and the ruling lady of the House of Lao saved her life. Xena's voice sounds oddly reverent, almost… loving, as she mentions how Lao Ma took her in an healed the broken young woman. How Lao Ma strived to tame the savage beast she had taken in.
I think to myself that to many, taming a wild animal means breaking it. But I do not interrupt the tale with my observations.
Her voice becomes more strained as she continues, but all the same she squares her shoulders and straighten, delivering the difficult memories with a trace of something akin to stubborn pride. And for a brief moment, I see the warrior she used to be, like a phantom image momentarily sliding across my vision, and then is gone.
But it is enough. A strange sensation sweeps over me, leaving the hair at the nape of my neck standing up and my senses alive and alert. She would be formidable.
It is quite apparent that Xena gave her heart to Lao Ma, and it is equally apparent that she was brutally betrayed. I almost do not need to hear the rest, but I want to know, so I do. And as I suspected, the image painted is of a lost young woman who laid every ounce of her being at Lao Ma's feet, doing whatever Lao Ma asked of her, in the hopes of gaining some small affection in return.
That is not what happened, though. I know Lao Ma and her compulsive desire to play strange and painful games, all with the rather insufficient excuse of teaching… something. Young Xena was pulled by the strings of her heart any direction Lao Ma fancied, the proud warrior humbled before her enemies, removed further and further from herself and her strengths until she had truly lost her way. Lao Ma pointed out her shortcomings, showing a difficult path for Xena to become a mirror of herself, making Xena believe that in doing so she would be a creature worthy of Lao Ma's affection.
How much more painful then, when her older lover eventually revealed her true face. Laughing at the love offered, and showing Xena in great detail what she truly had become, nothing but an object, a pet, for Lao Ma to use at will. Enslaved, and Xena had unwittingly put the manacles around her wrists herself.
No longer amused with playing the gentle lover, Lao Ma introduced physical abuse to the equation. Torture and pain became more common than a caress, and it was supposedly for her own good. Xena tried to break free, to run away, while she still had some fire left in her soul.
But she was caught. And her punishment severe. Lao Ma was never known as a warrior, but her powers were fearsome enough to serve her just as well.
The final blow to Xena's broken spirit was the day Lao Ma revealed that a man Xena hated, a former lover and ally turned enemy, was in fact Lao Ma's lover now. Xena was then forced to observe or take part in their liaisons, as an added boon for Borias.
She tried to kill the man. She failed.
And with failing that last attempt, there was nothing left. The less she felt, the less they could hurt her. The less they could hurt her, the less amusement did they find in her, and so, in time, she would have some peace in her solitude, as other things caught Lao Ma's interest.
Perhaps that was why she was given to me, Lao Ma had simply grown tired of her. Even though she says the words I can tell that she does not believe them to be true. Neither do I. Lao Ma never does anything without a reason.
Her tale is over now, and she is standing there looking surprisingly small for someone of her impressive stature. She is shivering. Unable to do anything less I wrap her in a silk sheet meant for my bed, and allow myself to hold her for a brief moment.
I am surprised at how comfortable it feels.
As I step back I try to keep my voice as gentle and soothing as I can as I speak. I tell her that I want her to eat when the food I have ordered arrives, and then rest, or bathe, or whatever she wants in my chambers until I return. To tell her not to worry, or not to be afraid, would be pointless, so I do not.
Some would chide me for leaving an unknown slave to roam my personal quarters where many weapons and valuables are kept, but those that would does not know me very well. I do not fear any physical attack, and the valuables mean scarcely anything to me to begin with.
I tell her that because it is my birthday I must return to the festivities for some time, but that I will return later in the evening to help her get situated. Her situation is different from what she most likely believes, and I say as much, and promise to explain more in detail when I return. Then I leave.
Xena does not know.
Lao Ma is cunning as always. I cannot give Xena free, at least not now, without giving Lao Ma what she wants; a debacle with which to cause a rift between my Nation and Chin. It would not be enough to give her the leverage to rebel, to try and break free of my rule, but it would be the starting point she needs. Lao Ma is manipulative and crafty, and I know she would find ways to sway other leaders under my rule to break free as well.
No, my next step in this intricate little dance that we perform, Lao Ma and I, must be carefully considered. So Xena will remain my slave, even though a part of me aches with the decision.
However, I will not allow Xena to be treated badly, that much I can and will see done. Since she was a warrior to begin with, it seems to me that it could be possible to mask her as one of my amazons, make her blend in. Pretend that she is my servant, or perhaps my lover… yes, that particularly appeals to me, since it would solve certain other problems I have with unwanted suitors.
Make her the image of yet another amazon at my court. No-one would notice then, no-one would know, apart from myself and Ephiny. And Xena would have a decent life until I can work around Lao Ma's influence.
The irony of where I am headed and what I am about to do does not escape me. Every year on this day I free slaves, one for each year of my rule and one for each part of my Nation. That makes quite a few these days, and still they are but a drop in the ocean compared to how many in my Nation live in slavery. Yet I cannot free this woman whose sorrowful story has moved me so.
My thoughts are interrupted by Ephiny, who waits to join me for the announcements. As I stand on my podium, granting life and hope back to a handful of people, the spectre of a broken and lost warrior woman looms in the back of my mind.
Melosa, grant me the wisdom and the strength to do what must be done.
Missing you as always, your Gabrielle.
Return to the Academy