Lori A. Meyers
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle…they don’t belong to me, wish they did. This is an alternative Conqueror story with all the ramifications thereof. There is explicit FF sex, but it’s not gratuitous. Since this story takes place in an alternative universe the facts of the characters lives are a little different from the TV series (the H:LJ episode). I’ve taken a few liberties, namely with geography, but I’ve tried to paint an accurate depiction of what ancient Athens must have been like. Hellas is the ancient name for Greece and “akolastos” (akolastoV) is Greek for “unbridled.” It might help to study a map of ancient Athens (from around the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.) to get a visual on what’s going on. Feed the bard, I love feedback!
Note: I’ve always wondered what would motivate a person to wreck havoc on the land they were born and raised in. Or more precisely, what would have motivated a young Xena to be a conqueror. For riches? For land? For the right to rule people by fear? Would such a truly malevolent person—who rules by fear alone—last long in the job? I kept coming up with only one answer: no. I mean, don’t people tend to dispose of despots early in their reigns? (Though there are always exceptions.) Caesars and Hitler’s don’t last long, and the malicious bitch that is usually Xena the Conqueror wouldn’t make it past her second year, more or less. This is a different kind of Conqueror story. I asked myself the question: what if Xena became a conqueror for all the right reasons? Or so she thinks. I present to you Xena Akolastos, the Conqueror that lives in the real ancient world that was Greece…
Many Thanks: In believe in giving credit where credit is due. To the web site “The Blue Quill” for the writing help. Also to The Inns of Greece and Rome by W.C. Firebaugh (Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1923); The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the Heart of Classical Athens by John M. Camp (New York: Thames and Hudson Inc., 1986); Aeschylus: The Oresteian Trilogy ed. by Betty Radice, trans. by Phillip Vellacot (New York: Penguin Books, 1980)
“Take care that thou are not made into a Caesar, that thou art not dyed with this dye; for such things happen. Keep thyself then simple, good, pure, serious, free from affectation, a friend of justice, a worshiper of the gods, kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts. Strive to continue to be such as philosophy wished to make thee. Reverence the gods, and help men. Short is life. There is only one fruit of this terrene life, a pious disposition and social acts…[i]mitate all this that thou mayest have a good a conscience, when thy last hour comes…”
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
The view was exquisite from the Conqueror’s palace as it afforded a view of Athens proper. Eighty years prior to the Conqueror’s reign the draftsmen and architects were certain they built the temples on the tallest acropolis in the area. Then, they were right. When the Conqueror came and saw the situation she merely had the army make another hill taller, the Hill of Nymphs. It took five years to build but the result was spectacular. The palace was magnificent. Thirty-eight rooms on five levels—including kitchens, baths, libraries, luxury suites, small courtyards, and gardens—it out-shined everything else for miles. The elaborate system that brought fresh water up the hill was manned daily by forty mules and sixty men. The palace was made from the best marble found around Palestine and Anatolia and its wooden structures from the finest cedars in Lebanon.
Xena Akolastos, the Conqueror and Founder of the Hellenic Empire, stepped out to her private porch and overlooked the city below her. She was a beautiful woman with black hair and eyes that shone the same color as the bluest sky. She was wearing a thick linen chiton, more masculine than feminine, that reached to just above her knees, not quite covering her boots. On her chest she wore a golden breastplate with an image of the sun god Helios etched on it. It was said that when the Conqueror stood on her porch the people in the city below could see her easily, as she shined almost as brilliantly as the sun. On her head she wore a thin, gold laurel crown and on her back her sword.
The dark woman walked to the edge of the porch—a terrace that did not have a railing—and let the warm spring air blow through her raven tresses. The earth was fragrant with the aromas of oregano and thyme, and just a little hint of eucalyptus. The limestone porch held a reflecting pool of soft rippling water and was surrounded by shrubbery. Two chaises for lounging stood near the door that led out to it. Beyond the stone porch the earth stretched out to perhaps two feet then it dropped suddenly at a forty-five degree angle for several hundred feet. The fall would kill anyone. Without fear, Xena stepped to the edge and gazed at the city below, mindless of the lack of railing.
No barriers between my people and me.
The Conqueror smiled. “Hello, Palaimon.”
The Captain of the Guard shook his head and stepped out farther from the open doors, not quite bold enough to stand side by side with the dark woman. He was the only person in the Empire who could enter the Conqueror’s private chambers, except for a small cleaning crew. “I still don’t know how you do it, my Lord.”
“How I do what?”
“Hear me coming when no one else can.”
Xena turned to him, a mere inches from a plunge that could kill her. “Its more than practice that allows me my skills and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Palaimon frowned, keenly aware of how close she was to the edge. “Would you like to go over the daily correspondence, my Empress?”
The dark woman stepped away from the edge and took a seat on the nearest chaise. “No, not right now.” She motioned for her Captain to take a seat opposite her.
The Conqueror regarded her Captain. He was just a little shorter than she was with sandy blonde hair that he kept immaculately trimmed. He did not keep a beard, like most of her advisors, and his features could have been called feminine, had he not kept an extremely muscular physique. Most of all, he was intelligent, and well on his way to surpassing her brightest generals in military strategy. But he preferred the Royal Guard duty instead of the regular army.
“What of the small uprising in Crete, Captain?” She was testing him.
“Governor Dikaiapolis is beginning to be a problem, yes.” He pulled a scroll from his tunic and scanned its contents. “Those loyal to the Empire claim he has a small navy of four warships at Salmone, and perhaps twelve garrisons of greedy mercenaries—and, most unfortunately, about a hundred and forty soldiers, formerly loyal to the Empire. The Council has declared him a traitor, my Lord, and has called for an immediate ostracism.” He turned his head and frowned.
“Merely banishing him won’t solve the situation, will it, Captain?”
“No it won’t, my liege.”
Xena saw the expression on his face. “Go ahead, my friend, tell me your thoughts.”
“He can’t be organizing this thing by himself, my Lord, he’s only a politician with no military experience. Before his current appointment he was a minor official at Korinthos, mostly charged with keeping public statistics. As far as our intelligence is concerned he doesn’t have any political friends and hasn’t made any close alliances with anyone.”
The Conqueror smiled. “You’re becoming adept at intelligence gathering, my friend.”
Friend? “I live to serve the Empire, my Lord.”
Hmmm…I am the Empire.
Xena shook her head. “Palaimon, when we are alone you don’t have to be so formal. How many years have we known each other? No, no don’t answer. I’ll tell you—twenty years, since I was twenty-five. For twenty years you have been my loyal subject, a friend of the Empire, and, if I may, my friend. I would like to consider you my friend, Palaimon.” The dark woman frowned slightly. “Am I right in doing this?”
The Captain swallowed the lump in his throat. “If I may be so bold, my…Xena, I have always considered you my best friend.”
The Conqueror turned away briefly, momentarily uncomfortable with the intimacy between them. She changed the subject. “Were you at the Council meeting this morning, Palaimon?”
“No, Conqueror—I mean Xena—I wasn’t. I’m sorry I wasn’t there but other duties took my time.”
Xena eyed her Captain. “I hear our representatives from both Crete and Rhodes were curiously absent this morning. I find this very interesting, don’t you, Palaimon?”
The blonde man thought for a moment then shook his head. “Pheidios of Rhodes—that rat bastard—he’s with Dikaiapolis?”
The Conqueror clapped her Captain on the back. “So you see the beginning of a conspiracy, I see. Very good, Palaimon, very good.”
The Captain jumped to his feet. “Your orders, then, my Lord.”
The dark woman rose to her feet. “First things first, Captain. It is obvious that someone in intelligence is keeping certain facts from reaching the palace, from reaching me. Someone who is loyal to whoever is backing Crete and Rhodes.” Xena chuckled at the look on her Captain’s face. “A greater force than a combined Crete and Rhodes is trying to manipulate the Empire, Palaimon, and I just can’t let that happen.”
“How long have you known this, my Lord?”
“For three months now. Ever since that fool Dikaiapolis made an unnecessary trip to Rhodes. All governors, ambassadors, diplomats, generals and admirals must keep a log of their travel expenses so the Imperial accountants can balance the budget at year’s end. The imbecile actually turned in an expense report for that superfluous trip.”
“He can’t be that stupid, can he?”
“Or he wants us to think he is.” Xena glanced at the sundial. Almost time for afternoon petitions.
The Conqueror glanced back over she shoulder. The splendid view beckoned her back to her musings but she had an Empire to rule. Her brief moment of peace was now gone, and when she turned back to face her Captain her face had become cold and devoid of emotion. “We have a web to weave.”
After departing from her Captain Xena retrieved her horse from the palace stable and took the mount down the wide road that crisscrossed its way down the hill. The daily activity of people going up and down moved out of her way as she rode. After about a minute she steered the horse down a smaller pathway that led to her private temple to Athene Nike. The marble temple was no bigger than a small house and on it’s outside it resembled the larger Parthenon on the acropolis. A smaller structure sat behind the temple and the lone priestess dwelt there, although she was rarely seen by anyone, even the Conqueror. Two palace guards stood at either side of the temple entrance, their spears crossed.
Xena nodded to the guards and they bowed deeply at the waist. One of them came to take the reins from the dark woman and the other turned and entered the trees. After a few moments he returned with a spring lamb tucked under his arm.
The Conqueror took the animal from the guard and slowly entered the temple, she sighed as the fragrant odor of the temple assaulted her senses—spices, oils, incense, and the aroma of recent burnt offerings. Four oil lamps hung from the ceiling at its corners. A fire pit sat in the center of the room; a censor stood off to the side of it and was burning incense. The altar was near the back of the room. Xena walked languidly toward the altar while stroking the lamb as if it was a pet. She cooed at the beast while slowly reaching for the dagger hidden under her cape. She smiled as she plunged the knife into the lamb’s throat and cut it cleanly.
“I give to you, mighty Athene, goddess of war, the blood of this spring lamb as a token of my honor to you.”
She quickly brought her hand up and closed it around the animal’s neck, making the blood ooze slowly from the cut. The Conqueror walked around the altar and spread the blood all over it; enough of it ran over the sides and spilled on the warrior’s boots. “Total victory is nearly at hand, and all of Hellas will belong to me—and you, my goddess.”
She dripped the blood on the incense censor and it crackled and spat out making a sickening sound. The disgusting vapors rose to the ceiling, making the room smell like a meat vat. When all the blood left the lamb the Conqueror casually dropped the animal into the fire pit and listened with delight as the flesh sizzled.
“I will rule always by your wisdom and the strength of my own hands.” The dark woman unsheathed her sword and plunged it into the heart of the burnt offering. “When all of Hellas is mine, it is yours.”
The Conqueror smirked when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She turned to see the full glory of Athene Nike as the goddess moved to the altar, letting the aroma of the burnt offering fill her immortal nostrils.
“A sweet smell, indeed, Conqueror.” The goddess looked to the dark woman. “This little mess with Dikaiapolis and Pheidios isn’t serious, is it?”
“They’re dogs I’ll kick into submission real soon.”
Athene moved slowly around the altar, letting her hands glide over its bloody surface. “They are amateurs, after all.”
Xena fought desperately to keep her voice steady. Athene exuded pure sensuality and this was not lost on the dark woman. “Yes, they are.”
“My lowly brother is watching this situation very intently, Conqueror. He thinks you’ll slip up one of these days and finally come crawling to him.”
The Conqueror chuckled. “Ares? He’s another dog. In case you haven’t noticed I prefer cats—graceful, exotic cats.”
Athene sauntered over to the dark woman. “Really?”
Xena swallowed. “Really.”
They faced each other only inches apart. The goddess stood at least one foot taller than the Conqueror. She smiled down at the muscular woman. “And what present would I give to you when this tiny, little rebellion is repelled?”
The Conqueror bowed slightly, her eyes level with the goddess’ breasts. “There is nothing in this world I could possibly want other than more victories in your name.”
Athene raised her bloody hand and traced a smooth line down the Conqueror’s cheek. “Are you sure?”
The dark woman’s jaw tightened, and her hands curled up into fists, but her eyes held fast to the goddess’. “Very sure, my goddess.”
The goddess backed away slightly and nodded her head. “Too bad your interests lie only in the arts of war, Conqueror, we could have celebrated—deliciously.”
When Athene Nike was gone Xena released her breath and brought her hand up to her cheek. She stared at the crimson smear. Blood, always blood…
Xena strode to the entrance and dunked her arms to the elbows in the fresh water her guards brought to her. She thoroughly washed her face and hands. Afterwards, she took a towel from the nearest guard and quickly dried herself. “Take the water into the temple and douse the offering. I want that pit cleaned immediately.”
When the Conqueror mounted her horse she turned back to the guards. “And see to it the whole temple is cleaned and scrubbed. It smells like my horses ass!”
When the dark woman was gone the two guards turned to each other.
Ekhemos rubbed a hand over his brow. “What’s wrong with her? A bit testy today, isn’t she?”
Nessos glared at the younger man. “Do you want your head on the block, boy? Never talk about the Conqueror behind her back again!”
“As if she could hear me.”
“Her spies are everywhere, fool!” The older man glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. “That could have been a close call.”
Salmakis hurried along through the agora, passing along the south side of the Hephaisteion, pushing at people who were in his way, on his way to the Bouleuterion. “Make way, make way!” His skinny frame made it easy for him to squeeze through the crowd.
A few young boys and girls were playing with a toy discus, which they threw and passed between them among the throng of people. The youngest boy aimed to throw but lost his footing on a stone and the discus hit Salmakis in the head, making him stumble. The children and some of the nearby shoppers and merchants laughed at the lanky man as he tried to get to his feet.
A rough hand grabbed the scribe by the scruff of his next and he howled while being shoved to his feet.
The Captain of the Guard glowered at the snickering crowd and drew his sword. “Anyone else interested in laughing at the Conqueror’s chief scribe?”
Without missing a beat almost everyone turned away and went about their business, all except the children, who merely smiled at the Captain and held out their hands.
Palaimon, still holding the scribe by the neck, sheathed his sword and turned to the children, grinning. “All right, kids, how much is it going to cost me this time?”
A girl clapped her hands gleefully. “Two dinars.”
The Captain shook his head. “Okay, not bad.”
A small boy cleared his throat and stood to his full height. “Two dinars each.”
Palaimon laughed and opened his pouch. “Lets see…three…ten…oh, here, have the entire amount.” His tossed his purse to the children and they excitedly grabbed it up and bounced away.
The Captain turned to the scribe. He opened the bag at the scribe’s hip and glanced at its contents. “Are you stupid, old man? These are the Conqueror’s personal diaries…what are you doing with them out here in public?”
Salmakis glared at the Captain. “I’m just transferring them to the official Hall of Records—the Metroon!”
“Next time you decide to do something like this bring a guardsmen with you! These could have been stolen and that would bad for you, trust me!”
The scribe adjusted the bag at his hip. “I’m stronger than I look, and I’m not stupid.”
“Be quick about it, its almost time for the Conqueror to hear the afternoon petitions.”
“Yeah, yeah. Now get out of my way!”
The Captain stared after the scribe even as he disappeared from view. He realized he would have to report the incident to the dark woman and his heart sank. It would not bode well for Salmakis.
Xena’s council chamber, the Bouleuterion, was an impressive structure. The outside marble walls were two feet thick in order to protect it from any attack. The exterior walls were carved in base relief and showed depictions of the Conqueror fighting many battles—ridding the land of petty warlords, unscrupulous archons and kings. Executions were also depicted as a warning to those who would still oppose the dark warrior’s reign. To those who still opposed the unification of the various city-states the Conqueror was a demon that crushed all those who objected to her plans. But to those who suffered under the ruthless tyranny of others, the Conqueror’s rule was a blessing.
The interior was just as imposing. The walls, in high relief, were decorated with scenes of the Conqueror signing treaties, pardoning prisoners, and meting out justice to the entire Empire. Her councilors were seated in a semicircular series of limestone benches that rose up ten rows towards the ceiling, and at this point, were filled with her five hundred advisors from the tribes in and around Attica. They talked quietly among themselves until the blast of the trumpet announced the dark warrior’s approach.
The Captain of the Guard stood quietly by the Conqueror’s golden throne and watched as she entered the chamber, flanked by four royal guards, the scribe followed the procession at a respectable distance. The throne itself had a dome over it supported by four Doric columns. Its shine was amplified by the actual rays of the sun, which came through an open-air cupola on the ceiling directly above it.
A herald stepped up and made the appropriate announcement. “All rise! I present to you Xena Akolastos, the Conqueror—defender of the weak, scourge of tyrants, enemy of rebels and keeper of the land!”
The guards moved off to the side of the throne as Xena strode the few steps up to it. She withdrew her sword from its sheath and removed the chakram from her side and placed both items on a small table by the marble seat. When she turned to face her councilors her personal page approached her and offered her a chalice of wine for the customary salute.
The dark woman lifted the chalice and presented it to the crowd. “I drink to you, my trusted advisors!” She downed the libation in one gulp as the people cheered. Everyone sat down when she did.
Salmakis stood at the podium and began the proceedings. “The 300th council petitions in the twenty-fifth year of the realm of Xena Akolastos will begin. We will begin with the roll calls and then all those who have business before the throne of justice will approach. Beginning with…”
Xena muted a yawn as the roll began and glanced about the room. Let’s see…Crete…Rhodes…and now Miletus…a web to weave…
Finally her eyes fell on Palaimon, who was looking rather perturbed. “What is it, Captain?” she whispered.
Palaimon lowered his voice. “I lost my purse, again, my Lord.”
“Have you been threatening your sword near children during peacetime, again?” Xena snickered. “Oh well, you know the rules. Weapons and children don’t mix well, don’t you agree?”
“Yes, my Lord. But they take so much pleasure from it.”
A small chuckle escaped the dark woman’s lips. She quickly covered her action with a stern look and turned back to the proceedings.
A Thracian flagship sailed just ahead of the small fleet that set out from Thessalonika. It took four ships to contain the entire tribute from the provinces of Thrace, including the levy from Poteidaia in the Chalcidice. A blonde woman, whose short hair was blowing in the wind, strode to the front of the ship and gazed out to the rapidly approaching land. She grabbed some ropes to steady herself. The drumbeat that kept the oarsmen in time drifted up from below her feet. She glanced over her shoulder to see if the young man had followed her. He did, and the blonde woman smiled up at him.
Perdikas grinned. “I thought you’d still be puking up lunch.”
“Those herbs your mom gave me finally worked. I feel fine now.” She pulled a shawl around her shoulders. “Looks like it won’t be much longer.”
“Good, I’m tired of having to put up with that idiot Captain.”
“He’s not an idiot, Perdikas. That man has my father’s complete confidence.”
The young man briefly glanced at the older man. “Why?”
“He saved my sister from drowning on our last voyage. My father showed his gratitude by freeing his family from debt slavery.”
Perdikas frowned. “Who owned them?”
Gabrielle sighed. “The Conqueror did. The thought of meeting her scares me a little.”
Perdikas rubbed his chin, as was his habit when thinking. “Well I wouldn’t worry too much about the Conqueror. I hear she rarely visits Piraeus and lets her underlings do all the negotiations. We probably won’t see her at all.”
“I hope so. Have I thanked you lately for making this trip with me?”
The young man blushed slightly. “About a dozen times, already. Don’t worry about it, Gabs.”
The small blonde slipped her arm around Perdikas’s waist and watched as the port city of Piraeus quickly came into view. Both jumped slightly when a horn blast announced the fast approaching land.
Hours later, Xena rose from her throne and nodded to the herald. The man acknowledged her and then stepped up to the podium. “This meeting is officially over. All rise!” As the assembly rose to their feet the Conqueror was already half way to her conference room, an antechamber on the west side of the Bouleuterion. Her Chief General, Admiral, the Archon of Athens, Palaimon, and her personal Scribe close at her heels.
The dark woman threw her cloak on a chair and went to pour herself a glass of wine. “Was that meeting helpful to you, gentlemen?”
Naurachos Laodameia, her best admiral, cleared her throat. Xena looked her way and waved her hand. “…and ladies?”
The Conqueror motioned for the others to sit and then picked up the small amphora of wine and placed it beside her. She looked at each in turn, and her patience eroded when they remained silent. Then her gaze fell on her Archon, who was looking rather nervous. “Anything on your mind, Leukippos?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Two things, Lord Xena. First of all, some minor priests have been annoyed with Your Highness. I heard them complaining that you haven’t been to the morning sacrifices at the Altar of the Twelve Gods in a long time.”
Xena smiled. “Is that all? I thought you were going to tell me that some of your staff members were thinking of rebelling, or something like that.”
The Archon’s eyes widened. “No, no! My people are loyal to Your Highness!”
“Excuse me, my Lord—your priests.”
Xena poured herself a cup of wine. “What’s the other thing?”
Leukippos cleared his throat. “One more thing, Conqueror. One of the five boys convicted this morning of defacing the boundary stones and herm in the agora was my youngest son, Glaukon. I beg you, my Lord, for mercy on his behalf.”
The Conqueror turned to her Captain. “What were the sentences, Palaimon?”
“Twofold, my Lord. Their families and tribes were levied with the proper fines and each boy was given two months public service. I believe they will be put on street cleaning duty after school.”
Xena turned to the Archon. “You have a problem with that?”
“My Lord, I am the Archon of Athens! What will people think of my family seeing my son clean up horse shit on the streets?”
“Yes, Leukippos, you are an influential member of the government and well respected by my people. Maybe they will think that your children ought to know better. Shouldn’t they know better, Archon? Doesn’t this disgrace say more about your influence on your children more than anything? I think you are more worried about yourself and not Glaukon.”
The dark woman sat back in her seat and coldly regarded the older man. After a few tense moments she spoke. “Maybe we can find him more suitable duties in the palace? What do you think, Captain?”
Palaimon smirked at the older man. “Well, my Conqueror, I am in need of a temporary assistant—a messenger to run in-house correspondence. My current messenger, Areion, is sick.”
Xena frowned. ‘That doesn’t seem like it will teach the young man a proper lesson, though. Ah, I think I have a solution.” She downed another mouthful of wine. “Captain, after the boy’s studies in the morning he will report to you at the Poikile at midday. You will take him into the stoa and show him the painted panels and instruct him in the history of each representation—each battle, each struggle—he will learn the history of our great land and hopefully learn to love it as I do. Maybe then he will gladly see to the clean up of it? After that you can bring him to the palace as your assistant.”
Palaimon continued to glare at the Archon. “An excellent idea, Conqueror.”
The Archon bowed his head. “Thank you, Lord Xena. I am forever in your debt.”
The Conqueror frowned. “You can tell your staff I’ll be at the Altar of the Twelve Gods at midweek. My time is my own and nobody demands of it, understood?”
“Yes, my liege.”
An edge of fear rode up the general’s spine at the coldness in the Conqueror’s voice. He had been holding back and did not want to deliver his news. “There is some new development that I think might be dangerous to the Empire. Our spies in Rome tell us of whispers of political unrest. The Republic is in danger of falling to an upstart general who wants to do away with the Senate. The Republic could become a Dictatorship, my Lord.”
The Conqueror sat up and her hand clenched around her cup. Some other part of her, below her stomach, reacted as well. It has been such a long time. We do need a glorious battle, don’t we? “Who is this general?”
“Gaius Julius Caesar, my Lord.”
“This Caesar could be dangerous to us? Is that what you’re saying, General?”
The dark woman downed another cup of wine. “What do you think, Laodameia?”
“Our intelligence tells us he has been appointing some of his distant relatives to minor positions within the Republic. They say he’s charming and has won favor with both men and women within the aristocracy. His wife, Calpurnia, is extremely loyal to him and has won him allegiance by her own charms. I hear he has successfully wooed Egypt into a plan against us, as well.” The admiral got up and poured her own wine. “He wants to conquer the world, my Lord, and that includes Hellas.”
“Leukippos, what do you think?” Xena asked.
The Archon turned to the dark woman. “Perhaps we should invite Gaius Julius to Athens, my Lord? You know, under the auspices of signing a mutual non-aggression pact?”
Eteokles, obviously annoyed, shook his head. “What, and tip him off we know what he’s up to? That’s not real smart!”
“General!” Xena stood and grabbed the general by the neck. “I did ask for his opinion, didn’t I?”
The general waited for the blow but it didn’t come. “A thousand pardons, my Lord, I spoke without thinking.”
The dark warrior shoved Eteokles back into his chair. Her voice was cold. “Next time I will forgo my restraint, General Eteokles.” As she returned to her chair she reached into her tunic. The dagger flew from her hand so fast no one had time to react. It imbedded into the general’s chair just above his head. “Have I made my point?”
Palaimon almost laughed at the pun but chose not to. The general could only nod his head.
“Good.” Xena took another drink. “I like your idea, Leukippos, but I think we’ll invite his wife instead. I have my own way of getting the information I want out of wom—people.”
This time the Captain of the Guard did smile, well aware of his leader’s appetites. “An excellent idea, my Conqueror.”
Oh, sweet lust…we do need a battle don’t we? “We’ll have to watch this situation carefully. General, I want you to increase the number of spies in Rome and its’ environs.” The dark woman poured another cup. “Its been a long time since we were at war, hasn’t it?”
Palaimon nodded. “Almost sixteen years, my Lord.”
“So this Caesar wants to be a conqueror of Hellas.” The Conqueror’s laugh was devoid of mirth. “Foolish and arrogant! I want the army to begin training exercises, General. Not the normal ones, either. The drills for our campaign in Carthage should do well. Also, I want the elite forces from Korinthos brought to Athens as soon as possible. They can encamp on the northwest side of the Kolonos Agoraios, near the city wall. Will you see to it, General Eteokles?”
“At once, my Lord.”
“The last ships to bring the quarterly tribute, my Lord, are due to arrive any time now. Thrace is, as usual, late and will be penalized accordingly, Conqueror.”
“I want to speak to that ass, Herodotus, as soon as he arrives.” Xena drank another cup of wine but it failed to sooth her aggravation.
The admiral shrank back a bit; the Conqueror’s fury was notorious. “I’m afraid he won’t be coming, my Lord. He is sending his oldest daughter and his assistant as his liaisons.”
Xena remained silent while her teeth clenched, willing away the explosion that was threatening to send her into a murderous ire. “He’s sending a girl to my court instead of himself! Out! Everyone get the hades out of here!”
Without question all those in the room did as the Conqueror commanded. Palaimon glanced over his shoulder before closing the door. The Conqueror was rubbing her temples, trying to hold back the impending headache.
The Captain sighed and stood vigil by the closed door. Salmakis came up to him while stuffing scrolls into his bag. “We didn’t discuss my business, Captain.”
“What do you want, scribe?”
The lanky man pointed to the door. “She’s got another one of her headaches, doesn’t she?”
Palaimon grabbed the scribe by the neck. “Watch your tongue, Salmakis. You talk any louder and I’ll gut you myself.”
Salmakis grinned. “You don’t like me, do you?”
“I tolerate you, at best. But I know something about you the Conqueror doesn’t.” He released the detested man.
“What is that, fool?”
The Captain merely smiled and stood by the door, not bothering to answer the question.
“You’ll regret your insolence, guard. Mark my words.”
Palaimon watched as the scribe left the Hall, disturbed that her had not protected the privacy of his Conqueror as much as he thought he had. Her headaches…so, scribe, you have tipped your hand after all. Too bad…
The Conqueror emerged from the antechamber to find the Captain and the four palace guards standing near the door and talking quietly among themselves. She sighed and straightened out her clothing. “Captain?”
The guards turned at the sound of her voice and bowed. Palaimon spoke, “Your bidding, my Lord. “
“How much longer until the ships arrive?”
The Captain looked to the water clock near the podium. “They could be here right now, lord Xena.”
“I think I’d like to greet them myself. Have the guards bring the horses to the Panathenaic way at once and then come in. I think we’ll ride to the docks.” She shut the door.
After the Captain saw to the Conqueror’s wishes he paused at the door to the dark warrior’s antechamber, somewhat chagrined at what he had to tell her.
The dark woman turned to the Captain as he entered, immediately knowing something was wrong. “I always know when something is bothering you, Palaimon, so tell me right now—what is it?”
The Captain sighed heavily. “It’s Salmakis, my Lord. He knows about your headaches.”
Xena ‘s eyes widened. “How does he know?”
“I am sorry, Conqueror, I don’t know.”
Xena frowned and nodded. “That is most unfortunate for him, don’t you think?”
“Yes it is, my Lord.”
“When we return from the port I think I’ll have a personal talk with him.” I am slipping, someone was watching me closely and I did not know it…my headaches…
About one hour after the Conqueror’s party returned from the docks her personal scribe was found murdered in his home, along with most of his servants. His wife and children, not home at the time, were spared. After the customary time had passed his household received its pension from the Empire, duly noting its sorrow over such a fine civil servant. His young assistant, Telemakhos, escaped the Conqueror’s wrath and became her new personal scribe.
Athens’ port city, Piraeus, never shut down. Ships from all over the Empire arrived from dawn until dusk in order for the business of the Sovereignty to flourish and prosper. The Empire traded in jewels, produce, metals, animals, grains, technology and a myriad of other commerce. Twenty massive, concrete warehouses stood in the water with wood and metal piers supporting them. The port could easily moor forty ships, along with the navy ships, with room to spare. An entire military unit was stationed at Piraeus, at permanent barracks just northwest of the city gates.
Kodos yawned as he paced in front of the soldier’s station near the city entrance. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and leaned heavily on his spear. He glanced back to the guardhouse then yawned again, feeling the weight of the warm spring afternoon. I’m bored…nobody would notice if I snuck off to get a drink or two…
The man was just about to sneak away when a sharp cry startled him. He turned to the road and stared. Amongst the throng of people and carts on their way to the Piraeus gates were six horsemen, approaching at startling speed as they dodged between the people. The horses and riders seemed to be flying down the road towards him. The soldier peered intently at the riders as they approached the port entrance and then put a hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun.
A sleepy soldier emerged from the guardhouse rubbing his eyes. “Yeah, yeah—what’s up your ass now?”
“The Conqueror’s coming, you idiot! Blast the trumpet!”
Briarios turned and saw the fast approaching horses. He grabbed the horn from his side and blew it as loudly as he could.
“The Conqueror approaches! The Conqueror approaches! The Conqueror is coming…”
The news traveled fast, as people shouted to those far away. Several heads turned at the nearest docks, and the Commander of Piraeus ran out of his office, his assistant close on his heels. “What the—“
The Commander stopped a midshipman as he was running and swung him around. “What’s going on here, boy?”
“The Conqueror is almost here, now let me go!” The young man pulled away from the commander’s grip and ran towards his ship.
Commander Koios turned and backhanded his lieutenant. “Why didn’t you tell me she was coming?”
Lykomedes rubbed his cheek and glared at the older man. “I didn’t know!”
The Commander grabbed his horse’s reins and mounted. “Send word down the wharves and be quick about it! If this is your screw up I’ll whip you myself!”
The Conqueror flashed Palaimon a wicked grin as she flew past him. She guided her horse to an abrupt halt at Piraeus’ gate. The Captain and the four guards ended up about thirty yards behind their leader. They gave a triumphal yell and swung their swords in honor of the dark warrior.
Briarios and Kodos adjusted their spears and stood at attention. The Conqueror gave them a cool look while trying to hold back a chuckle. She pointed to the younger soldier. “How old are you, soldier?”
“Eighteen years old, my Lord.”
Xena looked sharply at her Captain. “I thought only the most seasoned of soldiers were posted here?”
“I’m sorry, my Lord, but this is not my area of expertise.” He dismounted and ordered the guards to surround their leader.
The Conqueror looked up as several soldiers and sailors ran up to the small party. Xena recognized Commander Koios at once as he dismounted and knelt before her.
“Lord Conqueror, how may I be of service to you?” He faltered slightly then looked up. “I did not know you were coming.” Maybe it will be a quick execution…
Without dismounting, Xena unsheathed her sword and aimed it at the man’s head. “Am I not allowed surprise inspections, Commander?”
“I didn’t…inspections? Of course, of course, my Lord!” “Koios rose and gestured to a number of soldiers. They immediately came forward and joined the guards in a protective stance around the Conqueror.
The dark woman re-sheathed her sword and offered the Commander a cold smile. “Well, that’s better, isn’t it? I expect the monthly report to be on time from now on, Commander. Which piers are the Thracian ships supposed to be at? I hope, for your sake, you answer correctly.”
“Pier eight, my Lord.”
“Good, Commander. I want you to disperse these men accordingly. I want ten sailors with me and my party—not the soldiers. Oh, and Commander…I want you to have your assistant send to the palace a complete listing of all soldiers stationed here. Include birthdays and where they were born. Is that understood?”
“As you wish, Conqueror.” Koios bowed.
Xena turned to Palaimon. “Mount your horse, Captain. You will ride at my side.” She wondered if the Commander felt the sting of her disdain.
The Conqueror led her small contingent towards pier eight. “Palaimon?”
The Captain steered his horse closer to hers. “Yes, my Lord?”
“Tell me your thoughts about what happened in my office this afternoon.”
“About what Eteokles and Laodameia told you?” The Captain hesitated. “May I speak freely, my Conqueror?”
Xena smiled. “Always.”
“You already knew about that renegade Roman, didn’t you, my Lord?”
“Excuse me, my Lord, but why the deception? Why give them the impression that they knew something you didn’t? Doesn’t that give them a sense of power?”
“Yes it does, Captain. You witnessed the first stage in weaving the web—give your underlings a false sense of power. That type of thinking will be their undoing. I’ll leave stage two for you to figure out on your own. But you only have a few days. I do expect you to report to me when you do, understood?”
“Yes, my Lord.”