Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: ljmaas@yahoo.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand

LJ Maas

Chapter 5: I Remember, I Remember…

As much as I loved speeding along on a spirited stallion's back, I quickly became addicted to the feel of the ocean. The sights, the sounds, and the way the deck of the ship rolled beneath my feet. It made me feel free. I forgot everything standing at the helm of one of my ships.

Her name was Kleonike. In the language of my fellow Greeks it meant, Famous in Victory. In Greece, good building wood was scarce. Quality warships, such as this one, were often inherited or won in battle. I'd been fortunate. All I had to do was spread the word, and villages along the coastline, from Amphipolis to Athens, couldn't wait to give talents to the Lion's cause. Timber was purchased from the Etruscans, as distasteful as I found that.

She was a trieres, a modern and impressive fighting ship. She ran under oar and sail, three tiers of oars to be exact. The Kleonike had a large square sail when she wasn't stripped for battle and I loved the feel of standing at the helm as she cruised with a full spread of canvas. The wind cut through my silk clothes and it felt as though I was naked on the bow. It took a crew of 200 to maintain her, but it was worth every talent I had to pay them. We could cover nearly 200 leagues at almost seven and a half knots without stopping. At 60 cubits long, and with 170 oarsmen, there wasn't a ship on the sea that could successfully stand against the Lion of Amphipolis.

On this day, the smell of salt was in the air, nothing out of the ordinary for the small seaside towns. Occasionally the villages would contain a Roman garrison. Those towns paid mightily for their betrayal to Greece. The soldiers found there fared much worse. No one put on a better show at their own beheading than Roman soldiers, unless maybe it was the Persians.

We'd just fought off a small, but ineffective group of Romans outside Neopolitis. The town quickly joined in the fighting alongside us, and so I felt generous when addressing them later. We settled for supplies for our ship, but I never wanted them to forget that the Lion of Amphipolis protected Greece's shores. My men herded them out onto the beach where I addressed them.

"People of Neopolitis. Friends…you're free to go, but spread the word. My army will punish any village that allies itself with the enemies of Amphipolis, and I will do anything to ensure the safety of my homeland. Those who don't heed my warning will pay a terrible price."

My men had just executed a few Romans. I didn't like my soldiers acting of their own accord, but I didn't feel like challenging anyone over it. I simply gave orders for them to bind the last three until we could perform a more public execution the following day.

"Put them on board," I ordered one of my marines. "And Tellus, be sure they get food and water."

"But, we're gonna kill'em tomorrow."

I arched one eyebrow in Tellus's direction.

"Beggin' your pardon, Lion," he muttered as he rushed away.

I turned toward the ocean and smiled. Sometimes all it took was a look to remind them of their own mortality.

Later that day I watched as Tellus carried out his orders. He did more taunting than actual feeding of the prisoners, but as I pointed out before, I had to let the soldiers have their fun. I noticed this one, the prisoner on his knees before Tellus. There was something about him, although I couldn't put my finger on it. He was different from the other; of that much I was certain.

"You hungry?" he asked as he shoved some meat under the Roman's nose, wiping it on the prisoner's face. "Ah, what's the matter? You not hungry?" He reared his head back and laughed at his own humor.

"I generally don't eat food touched by a pig," the prisoner responded haughtily.

There it was again. I could see the man's arrogance even from a distance. I looked on as Tellus finally realized that he'd been insulted. He slapped the prisoner, but the Roman barely flinched.

"You have a woman's touch," the prisoner said

"So, you not afraid of a beating, huh? You afraid to die?" Tellus drew his dagger.

"A brave man dies only once. A man like you…dies a thousand times."

"All right, brave man…you're one time is now!"

I hadn't been sure until he spoke, but when he opened his mouth, I knew exactly who, or rather what, he was. "Tellus, look at him…the robes; the bearing, the poise. Why, we have a Roman nobleman…a valuable commodity."

"What are you talking about?" Tellus looked confused.

"Ransom. She's talking about ransom, pig."

"That's right, we can get 20,000 dinars for him."

"Twenty-thousand isn't enough."

"Oh, really?" I was beginning to enjoy this condemned man's attitude, as if nothing I could do to him mattered. I didn't meet many people like that, especially men.

"They'll never believe you have me, if that's all you're asking. I'm worth five times that."

Under any other circumstance, I would have thought that this man had a very over inflated sense of self worth or that he was quite insane. It was the way he looked at me, though. At the very least, he believed he was worth that much. Suddenly something in his manner told me that he probably was.

"Very well." I began. "But if you're wrong, it's your neck. Lycerius, send out a ransom demand to the nearest Roman settlement. Tell them to send 100,000 dinars if they ever want to see-- what's your name?"

"Caesar, Julius Caesar."

"Caesar, Julius Caesar, again." I moved closer to the dark-haired man. His manner was more than curious. He intrigued me. "You really weren't afraid to die, were you?"

"I knew someone would stop him," he answered with an air of confidence.

"And, how could you know that?" I was most definitely intrigued now.

"I know what I'm fated to do with my life."

"And what's that?"

"Rule the world."

I laughed at him, thinking my initial assessment regarding his sanity had been valid. He looked back at me with that annoying expression of indifference. I happened to find that extremely sexy. Now, as a rule I slept with anyone as a way of getting what I wanted or as a way of asserting my power. Sex was nothing more than another warfare strategy. Ares had certainly taught me that lesson well enough. When it came to actual pleasure, however, I preferred a woman in my bed. I simply couldn't make myself feel the same arousal for a man. I suppose that was why this particular moment took me so much by surprise.

More than anything, I detested surprises, and the feelings I was having were a definite surprise to me. I'm certain that was why I suddenly forced myself to become cold. I nodded my head toward the sailor and dismissed him with a wave of my hand. I turned away and didn't look back at the Roman, but I could feel his stare.

"Let's go, Roman," Lycerius said as he dragged the prisoner away.


It was two days later that I was wandering the deck; trying to rid myself of the increasing feelings that I was having for this Roman prisoner. They weren't really emotions, I suppose. The more I examined it, the more I realized that it was lust. It wasn't just about sex, though. At first, it hadn't been sexual at all. It was his manner, the attitude, and the way he carried himself. His unwavering confidence reminded me of myself.

I heard a rustling under some furs in a basket on the deck and immediately drew my sword. "Do you hear me? Don't make a move," I said. The form went perfectly still.

"What is it?" Lycerius quickly came up to me to ask.

"We have a stowaway."

Just as I said the words, I lifted the furs from the basket. Something popped up from the basket so fast that at first I thought it was an animal. In a blink of the eye, pandemonium broke out.

A hooded figure broke free and attacked me. It struck out and my sword clattered to the deck of the ship. It threw punches that I blocked and on the third punch, I ducked as a fist whistled in the air above my head. I stood just as the figure spun around to face me and lifted my right leg for a front kick. I aimed for the midsection to knock the breath from the stranger, but the figure effortlessly moved to the side and caught my leg in a vice-like grip.

It happened so fast that I couldn't do a thing to protect myself as the figure held my leg with one hand and jabbed at a spot just below my knee with the other. Just as quickly, the figure let go of my leg and used that hand to jab at a spot directly on my kneecap.

I cried out in agony as a lightening bolt of pain paralyzed the limb. The pain concentrated in my groin, making my leg useless. The figure then spun its body around and kicked one soldier in the face. In a jump that even I found amazing, it flipped backwards and landed behind Tellus. I saw a flash of its white teeth before its hands shot out. Three fingers jabbed at a spot, first on one side and then the other side of Tellus's neck. He dropped to my feet unconscious.

One by one, the soldiers on the deck attacked the figure and each in turn promptly landed flat on their face. It made one incredible leap onto the mast and scuttled up the tall wooden pole as fast as a spider climbing up a web. I'd never seen anything like it. Although I was in pain, I couldn't help but be amazed at the stranger's skill.

Finally, one thinking soldier tossed his dagger upwards, but the figure neatly caught it in one hand. I was transfixed on the stranger, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw my prisoner, Caesar, looking at me. He was tied to one of the masts and gave me the strangest look. It was almost as if he was calmly judging me over how I handled the situation.

The figure leaped at the small sail and cut it with a dagger to slow its fall. Landing upon the deck once more it easily fended off a soldier with a javelin and thrust the point of the spear into the deck. It jumped into the air and used the wooden handle of the weapon as a tool with which to rotate its body around. It struck at soldiers with its feet, never touching the deck of the ship.

I figured the sail that had been cut nearly in half was a loss anyway, so I quickly pulled my dagger from my seated position on the deck. I aimed for the rigging and in one easy move, the entire sail and it's rigging fell to the deck, covering and effectively trapping the stranger beneath.

I found my sword beside me and used it to rise from the deck. My leg was numb, but at the same time, it hurt like Hades. I limped over to the, now kneeling, figure and tossed back the hood that covered its face.

"A woman," I heard one of the soldiers say.

No one was more surprised by that little revelation than I was. She was cute enough, but my libido was the last thing on my mind. The pain in my leg took my breath away. I don't like pain; in fact, I try to avoid it when I can. It puts me in a bad humor and at this very moment, my mood was exceptionally foul.

"What did you do to my leg?" She stared at me defiantly. I realized that whatever she did was growing worse as the moments passed. "Fix it. My leg, fix it!" I shouted.

She stared at me and then glanced at my hand that twitched nervously on the handle of my blade. It was taking every bit of self-control not to lop her head off. I kept telling myself that if I killed her I might never regain the use of my leg.

She finally pushed up the sleeves of her tattered cloak and pressed two fingers from each hand on a spot above my knee. The relief was immediate and I had to grit my teeth to a new pain as the blood flooded back into the cold limb.

"Bring over Tellus." I panted. "She can fix whatever she did to him."

The young woman spat out something in a language that I was completely unfamiliar with.

"What's she saying?" I demanded of no one in particular.

"She said it's too late for him." The prisoner on the deck, Caesar, looked rather bored as he looked back at me and translated the girl's words.

I looked at Lycerius, who had dragged the marine over. He lifted the lifeless head of Tellus for me to see. The girl had indeed killed Tellus with that move of hers. I cursed to myself. Not that Tellus was a friend, or even well liked for that matter. He was only one of ten marines on the ship, and therefore most valuable. The other thirty or so men were non-sailors. Good soldiers and great fighters, but not terribly experienced at sea.

"She's killed him!" Lycerius cried as he raised his blade over the young woman's head.

"Wait," I ordered as I held him back. I looked over at the still amused Caesar. "You speak her language. Tell her I'll spare her life if she'll teach me how she did that." I motioned with my fingers in the way the girl had when she attacked me.

Caesar spoke calmly to the girl. She stared up at me and I put on my most intimidating stare. Finally, she reluctantly nodded her head.

"Take her down below," I told the men surrounding her. I turned and watched as they dragged her away.

"Be careful," Caesar called out without facing me. "Runaway slaves are very dangerous people."

"How do you know she's a runaway?" I asked.

"She speaks Gaelic, but she's clearly from the land of the Pharaohs, probably abducted as a child by raiders from Western Gaul."

"Western Gaul, huh? Why do you say that?"

"Gaul is divided into three parts. Each area speaks its own different dialect. One day I'll conquer all three provinces."

I smirked at the man. I couldn't stop the arousal I felt at such arrogance. Why did I just know he was smiling? I walked around to face him and just as I thought, he was indeed smiling. "How can you be so sure of yourself?"

"I told you. I'm--"

"Oh, that's right. You're fated to rule the world. Do you really believe that?"

"Of course. Each event in our life is part of a great plan. There are no accidents…only destiny."

I'd heard that word a lot lately…destiny. Ares used it every time he promised me that I would conquer the known world. He said my destiny was inevitable; that there was nothing I could do to keep it from happening.

"And who shapes this destiny…the gods?"

"Perhaps. Or it's the blood in our veins, our…souls…our desires…our will. They're all in it-- together, weaving a tapestry we call…destiny."

He looked in my eyes, with that arrogant smile on his face, and all I could think about was being in bed with the man. Gods! What was wrong with me? This wasn't like me at all. There was something about him, though, something that excited me more than any man ever had. It was something around him, some force that surrounded him. The same thing caused my attraction for Ares, but he was a God. I honestly never expected to find that quality in a mortal man. Especially one that reminded me of…well, of me. To Hades with it, I told myself. I take what I want in life.

"Well, I can tell you one thing about your destiny," I leaned in close to him. "You're fated to have dinner in my cabin tonight."

"Lion, what shall we do with Tellus?" Lycerius asked as I walked past.

I sighed. What a waste…another marine to replace. "I suppose someone should say I few words…" I paused and looked at the uncaring soldiers. "He fancied himself a sailor. Let Poseidon have him." I moved on toward my cabin below deck.

"Grab his legs!" I heard the soldiers say.

I heard Tellus's body as it hit the water and then the shouts of the men fighting over his sword.


I walked into my cabin just as the dark-skinned girl was tugging desperately on the shackle that encircled her left foot. I'm sure my men expected me to train her as a body slave. The men knew my preferences and that slaves meant for pleasure weren't to be shackled by the wrists. It made it too hard to get at them.

I tossed the keys to the shackle down at the girl's feet. As she removed the iron, I removed my armor and weapons. She looked frightened at last, as though she finally had an inkling of what I wanted her for. She was wrong, but for the moment, I let her think it was a possibility.

"Show me that thing you do," I said as I motioned with my hands. I pointed two fingers on each hand just as I had seen her do.

She began to kneel and I stopped her. "No-- no, not on my leg. Show me on my neck."

She backed up half a step and looked afraid.

"Yeah, come on," I encouraged in a soft voice.

She jabbed the fingers into the sides of my neck with lightning speed. I immediately fell to the ground and felt as if the world around me was growing dimmer. I couldn't catch my breath and I looked up into her defiant gaze. She almost smiled as she watched me suffer, probably knowing exactly how this felt. I admit, I was afraid. I had just given a slave, who had already tried to kill me once, the power to watch me die. I forced my mind to focus and I controlled my panicked breathing.

"That was too fast. Now, take it off and do it again, slower."

She stared at me as though she was content to watch me die.

I felt a slight trickle of blood from my nose. "Take it off. Come on!"

At last, she reached out and jabbed at my neck. Just as with my leg, the relief was immediate.

"You got some sense of humor," I said as I rose and wiped the blood from my nose. "Now, teach me how you did that."

She raised her hands slowly and moved toward my neck.

"No, not on me. Teach me on yourself."

She placed her fingers to a spot on each side of her neck.

"Here?" I asked as I positioned my fingers in the same place and manner.

She repositioned one of my hands.


She nodded her head and I roughly jabbed her neck in the spots that she indicated. She instantly dropped to her knees. A moment passed and she nodded her head slightly at me. I pretended to ignore her and reached down to rip the amulet she wore from around her neck.

I held the necklace up and stared at it, as the slave beckoned me in her tongue. I waited a few more heartbeats as the blood oozed from her nose. I wiped again at my own nose, taking my time so she would see exactly who was in charge here. I bent down to her and sighed. I quickly jabbed at her neck once more to release the hold.

"You see," I said. "I can play, too."


For the next couple of moons, as we awaited the ransom for our prisoner, all I could do was fantasize about the Roman. No matter what I did, with whomever I pleased, his face kept popping up. The slave girl pleasured me a few times, but I finally put a stop to that. Besides not being who I wanted at the time, it was also rather like sleeping with my sister. Well, if I had a sister I imagined that it would feel like that.

I ate dinner each night with the Roman, but nothing more happened than a lot of flirting. He never advanced; seemingly content to let me lead. I couldn't stand the tension any longer. The next evening when he entered my cabin, I knew he wasn't getting out again until I'd had my fill.

"Where did you steal that dress?" He asked of the red dress I was barely wearing.

I rose and walked toward him, stopping just a few paces away. "Stagira," I answered.

"Maybe someday, you can go back for the rest of it."

"Are you complaining?"

"No…not at all. It's lovely. Why Stagira?""

"It's the ancient enemy of my home village, Amphipolis."

"Amphipolis. So, all your raiding and looting is about protecting your homeland?"

I instantly grew defensive. He looked at me as though my answer meant I was some idyllic child. "That's right. It was once brutally attacked by a warlord, but I've made sure that'll never happen again. And what about you?"

"What about me?"

"What drives you?"

"The desire to be great," he answered with determination, as he sat down upon my bed.

"You mean powerful?" I questioned. I was trying not to let him see how much his mere presence was affecting my physical body.

"No. Greatness isn't just about possessing power. If it was, any thug with an army would be entitled to that label. Greatness is about achieving what seems impossible…to other men."

I purposefully lifted my dress higher to place one knee on the bed beside him. "Why don't you and I work together?"

"What do you mean?"

"This life I'm living is beginning to bore me. I'd love to join forces with you." I wasn't even sure why I was saying this. Ares would never let this mortal have me for good. Ah well, the things we say to get laid. Although I honestly believed the words as I was saying them.

"So…you want to help me conquer the world."

"Why not? We'd make an unstoppable team."

"Indeed. I bet you know a lot…about conquest."

Ah, there. He finally made a move. "Yes…I love it." I crawled forward on the bed. "Pursuing the enemy, breaking down his defenses, cutting off his only path of retreat, and then closing for the kill." I reached out and ran my fingertips along his chin. The look in his eye made me even wetter than I already was.

"Some enemies are…harder…that others."

"Oh, I count on it," I responded with a sneer. I leaned in and roughly kissed him.

I had no intention of doing it more than once, nor of allowing myself any real emotions for the man. Most of all I was positive I could never fall for a Roman.

I was wrong on all counts.


"What's the matter? Not all there?"

Caesar came up behind me on the beach as I dipped my hands into the chests filled with gold and jewels. He was right. His fellow Romans were eager to pay for his return.

"No. I was just wondering if we'll ever see one another again." Gods, did I sound as pathetic to him as I did to my own ears?

"A moment won't pass when I'm not thinking about you."

We kissed and I knew at that moment that I was done for. I'd let a schoolgirl's emotions take me over.

"Now, go. I'll find you, I promise," he said as Brutus, his second in command, walked up and stood beside him.

I walked down to the beach and turned just as he saluted me. I'm sure he saw the lovesick expression on my face. I knew one thing for certain, however. I could see it in his eyes…that he would indeed come to me again one day.


The days and night passed quickly. I had become lovesick, or as close to love as I felt I could ever be. I spent most of the time in my cabin or wandering on deck. The men grew restless for action and I knew how they felt. The slave girl taught me many more moves like the first pinch she had used. She also taught me the fighting techniques and back flips she was so skilled at. Relentless practice took up the candlemarks of every day and at least gave my mind something else to fixate on.

I entered my cabin one morning to find Ares lounging on my bed. It was a large bed, but his frame dwarfed everything in the room.

"So, are either one of them as good as me?" he casually looked at his fingernails.

I knew he spoke of Caesar and the slave girl. I ignored him and pulled out a map of the Aegean.

"I'll take that as a no," he answered his own question.

"Did you want something, Ares?"

"I just wanted to see how pathetic you look when you let someone lie and slobber all over you. I didn't think you, of all people, would fall so easily."

"I haven't fallen for anything!"

"Or anyone?" he asked coyly.

"No one has that sort of control over me. No one." I added the last in a slow deliberate tone just to tick him off. It always had been a bug up his ass that I had never sworn complete allegiance to him. I suppose it wasn't smart to push the God of War in this manner, but I didn't like him pointing out my weakness. I liked it even less given the fact that it was true.

"And just how do you plan on serving me when you're serving him?"

"I'm not going to serve him," I answered angrily. "I don't serve anyone."

"Maybe you better look back and see who gave you all you have today."

"I worked and fought for everything I have."

He arched an eyebrow and I could see I was pushing him dangerously close to some sort of breaking point. I wasn't sure it was the smartest thing to do, but it was as if I was helpless to stop once my temper got me going.

"I expect an oath of fealty from you soon, Xena. If you want your little plaything, so be it. I'll demand the same allegiance from him that I do of you."

I thought about it a moment. I couldn't picture Caesar bowing to anyone like Ares, let alone the fact that he was a Greek God. And, how would my lover feel if he knew that I came as a package deal with Ares, that I might have to leave our bed to spend the night pleasuring the God of War. I could see that little point sailing with Caesar about as well as a skiff with a hole in the bottom.

"Look, Ares, maybe it's time for us to--"

"Don't even think about it, Xena."

Suddenly I felt very small as he stood and walked up behind me. When he came that near, so close I could feel the heat of his body without the physical contact, I could also feel the aura that surrounded him. I suppose it was the power of his immortality, but whatever it was, it always played havoc with my senses. For a moment, I felt invincible. The next moment I felt an arousal that nearly made my knees buckle with its intensity.

"Just remember, Xena," he whispered in my ear. "You are my chosen." He pinched my nipple and, although I tried to ignore it, I felt a flood of wetness between my legs.

"Only I have the power to fulfill all your desires. Get over this lovesick attitude of yours and get on with business. Don't cross me, Warrior Princess." He grabbed the back of my hair and jerked my head back. I held my tongue against the pain, but I couldn't keep Ares from reading my thoughts.

"If you think this is pain, you are oh-so-wrong. Get rid of that Roman because if you turn away from me, Xena, I will fuck you so hard your whole life will change!"

My body fell against the desk as I felt him disappear into nothingness. I knew he was gone. I had the uncanny ability to feel the Gods when they were in my presence. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and a prickly feeling would run down my spine.

From behind a wardrobe, the slave girl ran out and threw her arms around me. I could feel her trembling, but couldn't understand everything she rattled off in her Gaelic language. She knew more Greek than she often let on and it was obvious that she understood what Ares had told me.

"It's all right." I smiled down at her. "He's full of hot air," I said. I wondered who I was trying to convince…her or me.


Late one day, as the sun was sinking into the western horizon, I heard Lycerius shout from the crow's nest.

"Ship ahoy!"

I stood with the dark-skinned girl on deck and we looked out onto the water. In the distance I saw the Roman ship approaching and I simply knew it was him. The girl looked up at me and spoke frantically in her native tongue. She had become as a friend, or how I imagined having a friend would be. It was rather like having a kid sister around. Her frightened voice told me that she remembered Ares's warning better than I did. However, in my mind, the God's threats were leagues away and Caesar was directly before me.

"Bring her around! We're going to join them!" I turned, but the slave quickly grasped my arm. I could see that she was distressed. I assumed she had been jealous of my relationship with Caesar. She looked fearful and shook her head, but I didn't understand why.

"It's all right. He's my friend," I tried to sooth her. "Hurry up!" I shouted to the helmsman.

It was nightfall by the time we drew close to the ship and pulled down the sails. The Roman ship came up to our side and I watched from the stairs of the top deck as Caesar boarded the Kleonike.

Lycerius began to pull his sword from his scabbard, but I stopped him. Caesar and I crossed the deck of my ship slowly, neither of us wanting to be the first to show weakness. After all, our entire relationship was based on power.

I stopped and slowly pulled down the hood of my silk cloak. He must have known that he had me. Even I knew what the expression on my face must have looked like. I stepped closer and we circled one another. Just as I was about to offer him my embrace, he spun me around and pressed a dagger to my throat.

"Now!" he shouted. His soldiers all stood ready and his archers all had arrows pointed at me.

I honestly had no idea what was happening for a moment. I was helpless as I watched the Roman archers take down Lycerius. The Roman soldiers boarded the ship and made quick work of my men.

"What do you think you're doing?!" I cried out.

"This…is my destiny. You're a part of it…and I'm a part of yours."


I was roughly pushed to my knees, shackles around my hands and neck.

"The ship is secured, Caesar," Brutus said.

"Good. Where's that friend of yours…the Gaelic slave girl?"

I didn't intend to let this bastard get his hands on her. All right, she did nothing to save me, but she was just a kid and probably scared. If she hid in the hold of the ship, there was a chance she could get away.

"I had to kill her…because she betrayed me." I spat the last words out in Caesar's direction.

"Really? Well I don't blame you. Still, she would have fetched a good price with the gladiator dealers."

"Is that what you have planned for me? We were going to conquer the world together. What happened to those plans for us?" I was still in a fog as to how I could have let this whole thing happen. What could have I been thinking, although I realized exactly what I'd been thinking with.

"Us? There was never any us, Xena…only Rome…and I am Rome. Still…" He bent down beside me. "Don't think that what we had was meaningless. I'll always remember it…and you'll have a special place of honor…among my conquered."

Conquered? I thought. My anger began to reach its boiling point. It is I who will conquer you, I silently promised, you, and everyone else. I will be the conqueror, Caesar, and men like you will all beg for my mercy.


I could hear them walking up the beach. Roman soldiers were tying me to a cross.

"She was an easier prey than I expected," Brutus said

"Divide and conquer, my friend. You divide a woman's emotion from her sensibilities and you have her."

The soldiers raised the cross and when they dumped the end in the hole they had dug, the force of it nearly ripped my arms from the sockets.

"I could've sold you and all your friends into slavery, Xena, but that's what any common warlord would do. But with this…and especially with you…I defy myself, to all those who would dare oppose me…all those who would dare prey on Rome."

I did the only thing I could do from such a vantage point. I spit at him.

"Goodbye, Xena." He turned his back to me and spoke to the soldier before him. "Break her legs," he said casually before he walked away.

It was later that night…or maybe a few nights had passed. I thought I was dreaming, but I saw the slave girl in my dream. I thought I saw her fighting, and then she threw two daggers and cut the ropes, releasing me from the cross.

I fell to the ground and into her arms. I heard her whistle and the next thing I knew, I was looking up at the full moon. It was bitterly cold when we came to a small cabin. The next thing I knew, I was screaming as a man twisted and pulled my broken legs. I don't think I've ever again felt physical pain such as that.

"I've just reset your bones," a strange man said. I assumed he was some healer that the girl knew. "You're lucky M'Lila brought you here."

"Yeah, lucky," I spat out. I was full of rage, but I didn't want the girl to think it was directed at her. I couldn't understand, though, why she went to all this trouble for me. "M'Lila, huh? Ask her why she saved me."

The man called Nicklio spoke in M'Lila's language and the girl spoke back to him.

"She says it's not your time to die," Nicklio translated.

"Well, if not now, then when?" They could both only stare down at me.

I believe a few days had passed. M'Lila cared for me, fed and cleaned me each day. Nicklio placed something like a brace on each leg, and then he used an odd skill to treat my pain. He inserted long thin needles into my body. They were so light that I barely felt them, but whenever he finished with the treatment, I felt worlds better. I awoke one evening to find the healer examining one of my injured legs.

"You have amazing recuperative powers. How are you feeling?" He asked.

"Fine…much stronger. Those needles are fascinating."

"Hmm." The healer walked away to another part of the cabin.

M'Lila sat down beside me.

"M'Lila…up on that cross…I wasn't sure that I wanted to live. You--you had no reason to save me, but you did. Thank you."

The young girl just smiled at me and shrugged her shoulders.

"I know you can't understand."

She started speaking and I looked to Nicklio for a translation.

"She wants to know if you feel anger…towards Caesar."

I thought about it for a heartbeat, but that was all the time I had. Another heartbeat later and the door burst open. Roman soldiers ran into the room.

"There she is! Get her!" they shouted.

They rushed into the room and shoved Nicklio aside, knocking him unconscious. I took out the first two soldiers who came close to me. I turned too late to see the man with a crossbow pointed at my heart. She moved so fast…always so fast I could barely see. M'Lila leapt into the air and landed in my arms just as the arrow came whistling through the air. Before it had a chance to reach me, the arrow struck M'Lila in the back. It ran clean through to her heart, making her death almost instantaneous.

I barely remember what happened after that. The beast within me made his first appearance on that night. It rushed into my conscious brain so quickly that there was nothing I could do to hold it back. But, at that moment, I didn't want to. I only wanted someone to pay. I wanted to feel the blood of my enemies on my hands.

I grabbed the last soldier and I could see myself as though I had been standing outside of my body, watching it all happen. Just as M'Lila had previously instructed, I placed the pinch on the kneeling soldier.

"You'll be dead in thirty seconds, but know this…you won't be the last," I heard myself say. "Tell Hades to prepare himself. A new Xena is born tonight…with a new purpose in life…"

"Death," I uttered just before I broke the soldier's neck.

To be continued in : Chapter 6: To think of time - of all that retrospection…

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