Death of a Conqueror
by Lori A Meyers
The harbor was busy with the loading and unloading of various ships. Merchants disputed with each other on the prices of all different types of goods. Soldiers were inspecting invoices and arguing with dockworkers over discrepancies. Animals could be heard whining in their cages and the smells were enough to overload the senses. Yet, despite all this, the Conqueror was basking in the attention of her people. They wanted to touch her or her horse, and the guards around her had difficulty keeping them away. With a wave of her hand the Conqueror ordered the guards to stand aside. She allowed the crowd to touch her hands, cape or the horse she rode on. The dark warrior’s smile was infectious, as those who walked away appeared deeply touched by her presence.
The guards and midshipmen fidgeted and fought with the instinct to push the people aside. Yet the Conqueror was in her element. A young woman pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Xena noticed this and was about to draw her dagger when the woman raised her infant to the Conqueror. Xena took the baby into her arms and smiled down at the small bundle.
Palaimon noticed the look on his Lord’s face and smiled to himself. Very interesting.
The Conqueror kissed the baby’s forehead and leaned down to give the small thing back to the young woman. Her hand faltered slightly but she managed to catch herself before anyone could notice. When she looked to her Captain she noticed his gaze was somewhere else so she turned to see what had captured his attention. That was when she noticed the Thracian flagship at port. She frowned when she realized the Captain’s attention was not on the ship but on a young woman who was walking down the gangplank.
“Shall we go and meet our guests, Captain?”
Palaimon turned at the sudden coolness in the Conqueror’s voice. “Yes, of course, my Lord.”
The dark woman dismounted and handed her reins to the nearest guard. When the rest of the guards surrounded her she strode toward the docked ship. The sailors managed to keep most of her followers at bay as the Conqueror stopped ten feet away from the gangplank.
The Captain of the Guard stopped by her side. “All listen and beware! You are in the presence of Xena the Conqueror—so show respect!”
All those around bowed to the dark warrior, except for a young man who stood at the top of the gangplank. He merely lowered his head and nodded, his eyes never leaving the tall dark ruler.
The Conqueror noticed immediately. “Palaimon, we seem to have an act of insubordination before us.”
The Captain drew his sword. “Let me teach him a lesson, my Lord.”
Xena put a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe later, Captain. You, up there…what is your name?”
The young man made his way down the plank. “Perdikas of Poteidaia, my Lord, Conqueror. I’m sorry for not bowing to your Highness but my back has been hurting—a war injury, I think.”
Xena didn’t believe it for a second. “Your contrition becomes you, Perdikas of Poteidaia. Come, you and your company are welcomed in Athens as my guests. Palaimon?”
“Yes, my Lord?”
“See to it that they are comfortable—what the…” The Conqueror whirled and grabbed the small hand just as it touched her shoulder. In less than a second her breast dagger was at the young woman’s throat. Her quick reaction momentarily startled the guards, who immediately drew their swords.
“Who do you think…?” The Conqueror’s voiced trailed off when she found herself staring into sea green eyes. Several things seemed to happen at once. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the young man, Perdikas, coming to the young woman’s aid. Half the guards turned to him while the others rushed to her side. Without thinking she reflexively tightened her hold on Gabrielle, bringing their bodies together, to shield her from the guards. “Palaimon!”
The Captain had already anticipated his Lord’s intention and grabbed Perdikas, keeping him safe from the guards who had intended to kill him.
The Conqueror continued to stare at the young woman in her arms; the top of the blonde’s head only reached to just above her chin. Xena blinked, but quickly recovered herself. “I could have killed you.”
Gabrielle’s eyes slowly lost their fright. “I’m so sorry for touching you, Lord Xena. I wasn’t thinking—I just wanted to introduce myself.”
Xena lowered the dagger and waved at her contingent. They backed off and re-sheathed their swords. The dark woman tightened her hold on the blonde when Perdikas broke free from the Captain and took two steps toward them. He stopped at the look in the dark warrior’s eyes.
Gabrielle shivered slightly; painfully aware of just how close to death she had come. She gently tried to pull herself free from the Conqueror’s embrace, but continued to be held tightly. “I ask for your forgiveness, Conqueror…I…I…” The young woman’s voice trailed off as she found herself staring up at the beautiful, blue-eyed woman, momentarily at a loss for words.
For a few brief moments the Conqueror and the young woman were aware only of each other. Then the moment was over as Xena looked up and saw the amused look on Palaimon’s face.
The Conqueror smoothly released the young woman from her arms. She was surprised at the tingling sensation left by the smaller body’s absence. “What is your name?”
“Gabrielle of Poteidaia, daughter of Herodotus, in the Chalcidice. My father sent me in his place.” She looked steadily at the dark warrior. “I am the leader of this company of Thracians, not Perdikas, my Lord.”
The Conqueror sneered at the young woman’s insolence. She reached around her and grabbed Perdikas, sending him to the ground with a solid punch. He landed at Gabrielle’s feet.
“You’re lucky I usually don’t hit woman, Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Your skills at negotiations better exceed your impertinent tongue, little girl. Captain!”
Palaimon briefly glanced at the young woman before turning his attention to his leader. “Your wishes, my Lord.”
“Send a warning to the agora I’ll be at the old orchestra this afternoon, and have them send for the wolves. Be quick about it!” Xena spun on her heel and, in one fluid motion, mounted her horse. “And see to the comfort of our guests. Perhaps a reception tonight is in order?” She rode off at a maddening pace.
When the guards turned to follow the Captain waved them off. “No, don’t follow.” Palaimon pointed at a nearby guard. “You, Daedemos, do the Conqueror’s bidding and ride to the agora at once.”
He turned to Gabrielle, her beauty was not lost on him, and noticing the dark warrior’s reactions, it was not lost on her, either. “Gabrielle, its not wise to get on her bad side.”
“I didn’t mean to get her mad.” She bent down and helped Perdikas to his feet.
“Sure you did. I saw the look on your face when the Conqueror deferred to that boy instead of you.” He grinned at her. “I think you knew exactly what you were doing.”
Perdikas cradled his jaw and looked up to the Captain. “I’m not a boy.” His voice was slurry and the young woman put an arm around him to steady him.
The Captain returned to his horse and settled himself in the saddle. “Guards, you escort them to the Palace. Put Perdikas and those lackeys on level four guest quarters.” He regarded Gabrielle. “And put the feisty one in the guest suite on level one. I’ll follow shortly.”
When the Captain was gone Gabrielle led Perdikas to the carriage that a guard had just returned with. A porter held the door open and they climbed inside. The rest of their entourage was led to other carts for transportation, along with the entire luggage.
Perdikas leaned back in the seat and eyed Gabrielle. “That was stupid, Gabs. She looked like she wanted to kill you.”
Gabrielle turned away from him and gazed out the window. “Funny thing is, she may have looked like that, but, well, I don’t know.” She closed her eyes momentarily at the memory of those strong arms around her. She cleared her throat and smiled at the young man. “I’m glad you’re not really hurt.”
“So am I.”
Xena rode the beast along the shores of Piraeus, kicking up sand, then guided the animal into the chilly surf to cool them both down. Her blood was still racing through her veins and she let herself fall into the rage that was building within her. She rose up on the stirrups and lifted her arms to the heavens.
I let that girl get to me, and in front of my subjects…fool, Xena…
The dark woman wiped at the sweat pouring from her brow. She planted her feet firmly in the stirrups and un-sheathed her sword. The warrior began an intricate set of drills that had terrified the citizens of Carthage when she had razed their city.
The Conqueror was not without her detractors. Several small mercenary armies had tried, over the years, to disrupt the peace the Conqueror’s rule had brought. They focused on trying to ruin the economy by burning fields, raiding trade caravans, killing her governors, and had even managed to sink a few of the Conqueror’s ships that were bringing tariffs to the Empire. To these people the Conqueror was merciless. Executions were swift and often went without trial or hearing. The dark warrior’s vengeance was precise and exacting, sometimes at a terrible price. Over the years many had met their destruction after miscalculating the Conqueror’s resolve to unite all of Hellas. First the Persians, Egyptians, then Carthage, who foolishly thought they were superior to the lowly Greeks. But Xena had proven, through her skill at battle and diplomacy, her superiority over everything and everyone.
It wasn’t long before the Captain caught up to the small caravan as it made its way up the hill to the Conqueror’s palace. He guided his horse to fall in step with the main carriage, peaking inside and startling Gabrielle. “Hello. What do I call you, Gabrielle? You’re not a princess or head of state—so how do I address you?”
Gabrielle poked her head out of the window and smiled. “Gabrielle will do just fine, soldier.”
Palaimon took off his helm in a flourish and bowed at the waist. “Palaimon Khrsippos Apollanaris—Captain of the Guard, Friend of the Empire—at your service, my lady. How’s your husband?”
Gabrielle chuckled. “He’s not my husband.”
Palaimon grinned. “Lover?”
The blonde woman rolled her eyes. “No!”
The Captain caught her glance. “So, how do you like our fair city?”
Gabrielle looked down to the agora below them and then to the temples on the acropolis. “Athens is beautiful for sure, but it smells down there.”
A hearty laugh followed from the Captain. “Blame it on the fish mongers and dirty brothels.”
The young woman found herself liking the handsome man. “Will you help me out of this box, Captain, its stuffy in here.”
The young woman began squeezing out of the carriage window. “Help me, please.”
The Captain caught the girl before she fell. He supported her waist as she climbed up—and got a good look at her backside. He cleared his throat. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah…you can let go of me now.”
Palaimon quickly removed his hands from her thighs. He turned his head so the blonde woman wouldn’t see his blush. “May I get you anything, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle ran her hands through her short blonde locks. “Got any wine, Captain?”
Palaimon rummaged through his saddlebag. He pulled out a jar and handed it up to the young woman. “Here, drink this. I think you’ll find it lovely.”
Gabrielle tipped the jar and downed a mouthful of the sweet nectar. “Oh, this is nice. Is it from the Conqueror’s vineyards?”
The Captain smiled. “No, from my own.”
Palaimon slowed his horse slightly so he could watch Gabrielle without her seeing him. He watched as she brazenly sat on top of the carriage, a jar of his best wine in her hands, and her face turned up to the sun. He wondered if life could become any more sweet—or complicated.
Gabrielle’s pack fell to the floor without her really being aware of it. She reached behind her and closed the door to her guest suite without taking her eyes off the spectacular room.
It was an entire suite of rooms located next to the Conqueror’s on the highest level of the palace. The main room held two massive chaises for lounging, each pushed against two opposite walls, with small tables in front of each. Two marble slabs were hung on the wall behind each chaise, each depicting the Conqueror carved in high relief. One wall was completely missing, facing south, and was supported by six Doric columns. Fine white linen drapes hung between the columns and were now swaying slightly to the warm breeze. The walls of this main room were decorated with frescoes and mosaics depicting pastoral scenes. Oil lamps hung from the corners. Smaller lamps were on each table and were burning brightly. Smaller doors were located next to each of the couches.
Gabrielle opened one of these doors and found herself in a rather large bathroom. A large step down bath was located in the center of the room and was filled with steaming water. A sink was against one wall with a large mirror in front of it. An area closed off by a curtain hid the commode from view. As with the main room, one wall was missing and supported by the similar columns. The young woman smiled at the sight, tempted to take off her clothes and splash into the water right away. Instead, she left the room and entered the one opposite. This was the bedroom. A large bed was against one wall and was piled high with pillows. A large wooden wardrobe was placed on the opposite wall with two freestanding oil lamps on each side of it. Four statues of what appeared to be a goddess graced the four corners of the room.
The blonde woman jumped when she heard the door to her chambers open. She peered into the main room. “Yes, who is it?”
A young servant woman stood in the doorway, carrying a tray laden with food and drink. “Hello, miss. I was told to bring you some refreshments.”
Gabrielle smiled and took the tray from the girl. “Thank you.”
The girl paused at the door. “Miss?”
“The young man, Perdikas, wants to see you.”
“Can’t you just send him up?”
The servant’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “No, miss. No one is allowed on this floor without permission, either the Conqueror or the Captain of the Guard has to give it.”
“All right then, tell him I’ll be down after I freshen up.”
When the girl nodded and closed the door Gabrielle turned to the tray before her. Her stomach growled at the sight. On the tray were cheese, flat bread with oil, dates with honey, grapes, pickled olives, and a jar of wine. Her smile turned into a grin as she picked up the tray and headed for the bathroom.
Gabrielle popped another grape into her mouth and settled deeper into the steaming water. Half of the tray’s contents were gone plus a good deal of the wine. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, sighing deeply.
“Well, hello there.”
Gabrielle’s eyes flew open and she whirled around to face the door. It was open and a woman was standing there, it was not the Conqueror. She quickly raised her hands to cover her breasts. “Who are you?”
Naurachos Laodameia smiled and bowed at the waist. “Chief Admiral Laodameia, at your service. And who, may I ask, are you?”
“Gabrielle of Poteidaia—what are you doing in my suite?” She moved over to the side of the large bath, attempting to hide her body.
The Admiral moved into the room and slowly circled the sunken bath. “Well, when I’m in Athens these are usually my rooms. Which makes you a guest in my suite. Are you a gift from the Conqueror?”
Gabrielle blinked. The admiral was, perhaps, a little shorter than the Conqueror and had reddish brown hair cut shoulder length. Her eyes were a deep chocolate brown and now they regarded Gabrielle with great interest. Her uniform was similar to the Conqueror’s but she wore chain mail instead of a breastplate and her chiton was red. Her helm was tucked under her arm.
Gabrielle became angry. “Of course not. Do you think I’m some sort of prostitute?”
“You wouldn’t be the first.” Laodameia paused at the columns and moved the drapery aside, letting the sun in. “Of Poteidaia you say? You must be part of the Thracian contingent. I heard a little girl made the Conqueror so angry this afternoon that she beheaded the dock master.” The admiral bent down on one knee and grinned at the blonde. “Was that you?”
“She did no such thing! And for your information the Captain, Palaimon, gave me these rooms…so get out!”
The Naurachos laughed and made her way to the door. “You are a spirited one, Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Perhaps I will see you tonight at the reception? Good day.”
When she was gone Gabrielle threw herself head first into the water. When she surfaced she exited quickly to dry off.
Xena entered the agora from the southwest road that passed in front of a shrine dedicated to Artemis Eukleia and steered her horse slightly to the left. After a short period she turned right at the southwest fountain house and led the steed eastward. She passed by the Heliaia, her law courts, to her left, and followed the path for about two hundred feet and stopped at the southeast fountain house. The small rectangular building was made of limestone set in a polygonal style and was fed by a main line and overflow pipes leading out of small chambers at either end of the building. Several people, who were about to enter the structure, saw the look on the Conqueror’s face and immediately turned around and left. The ones who were in the process of exiting the building quickened their paces and left the area.
The dark warrior dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to a nearby herm. She entered the east chamber and ran her arms under the spout. She splashed the cold water on her face but it wasn’t enough. She leaned in farther and dunked her whole head into the shallow pool. After awhile she brought her head up abruptly and inhaled deeply, shaking the water off her. She repeated this process three times before finally stepping back and sitting on a marble slab.
I don’t want to do this…why did I have Palaimon send for the wolves…
The Conqueror sighed and exited the building heading north. After passing by the mint on her right she proceeded up the Street of the Panathenaia and entered the square. The area, formerly an orchestra, was actually more triangular than square. The area was first used, many years before the reign of Xena, as a place to hold dramatic and musical performances, before the Theatre of Dionysus was built. All such structures were long gone, replaced by finely manicured grassy areas, shrubbery, and park benches. The Shrine to the Eponymous Heroes was at her left and the Altar of the Twelve Gods was perhaps three hundred feet, angled northeastward, ahead of her. The Middle Stoa was at her back.
Xena noticed that the Captain had had the area prepared for her. A guard was standing in the middle of the square, in an area where the shrubbery had been cleared, next to a cheetah that was tied to a wooden stake. Several people, who had witnessed this before, were already standing on the boundaries of the square and awaited the entrance of their leader.
Palaimon unclasped his cloak from his shoulders and threw it over a chair. The Captain’s office was spartan compared to the rest of the palace. It was on the third level of the Conqueror’s palace with a view that overlooked the agora, especially the Stoa of Zeus. The room held an oak desk that was pushed up against one wall. On the opposite wall stood a massive bookcase containing scrolls and ledgers that documented every aspect of the running of the palace household. Wooden chairs sat on opposite sides of the bookcase. On the Captain’s desk stood a small statue of Phoibos Apollo, a single oil lamp, and a small amphora of wine and matching cup. Other than these things the room was devoid of any ornamentation.
The Captain poured himself a cup of wine and sat down at his desk. He sighed and closed his eyes, wishing away the tension he could feel in his shoulders.
“Are you the Captain of the Guard?”
Palaimon turned around. The man standing at the door was young. “Who’s asking?”
The young man smiled and extended his hand. “Hello, I’m Telemakhos, the Conqueror’s new chief scribe.”
“Really? I thought you’d be much older.” Palaimon stood and shook the man’s hand.
Telemakhos rolled his eyes. “Most people do, it’s really annoying.”
“When did you find out about your promotion?”
The young scribe fidgeted. “Well, not too long ago. Someone from the administrative offices at the Pnyx stopped by my apartment.”
“I don’t know. I was reading the decree and didn’t really pay much attention to him.”
“That’s a bit unusual, don’t you think? Why would someone from the assembly hall give you the news, and not an official messenger from the palace or the Strategeion?”
“How should I know?”
The two men were about the same height but whereas the Captain’s complexion was fair, the scribe’s features were dark. He had black hair, an olive complexion, and hazel eyes. The two eyed each other, each trying to take in the others measure.
The Captain turned back to his desk. “What can I do for you, scribe?”
“Nothing, I just wanted to introduce myself. My wife suggested I get to know the palace staff better.”
Palaimon bristled. “I am not a staff member. I am Captain of the Guard and in charge of the palace, see the difference, boy?”
“Ah, yes…excuse me for my assumptions. I’ll catch up with you later.” Telemakhos nodded then left the room.
The Captain poured himself another cup of wine and sat down at his desk. He was irritable and just wished the day was over. As he downed his first swallow he heard a noise behind him. This time, he didn’t bother to turn around.
Palaimon noticed the icy chill in the Naurachos’ voice immediately. He rose to his feet and slowly turned around. “Yes, how may I help you, Admiral?”
“Imagine my annoyance at finding a stranger in my suite. Got any ideas on how she got there?”
The admiral frowned. “That’s my suite, Captain.”
“Those are not your personal rooms, Laodameia. I have sole discretion on whom to assign the suite to. So if you have a problem with that I suggest you take it up with the Conqueror.”
The admiral forced a smile. “She must have made quite an impression on you, Captain. I wonder what the Conqueror will think about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard about the little incident at the docks this afternoon, Captain. It seems you are not the only one to have noticed the little blonde one.”
The Captain took a step towards the Naurachos. “I don’t know what you think you know, but I can guarantee you its wrong. I wouldn’t make idle threats, either. Who do you think the Conqueror would believe, you or me? If you think it’s the former you are delusional. The Conqueror trusts me without question. Got that, Admiral?”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Oh, no, admiral…I don’t make threats, I make promises.”
The Naurachos closed the distance between them. “Idle threats? You are about to find out how threatening I can be…”
As Palaimon raised his fist both he and the admiral whirled around at the sound of someone clearing their throat.
“Am I interrupting?”
Laodameia stepped away from the Captain. “No, you’re not.” She glared at the guard. “Our discussion isn’t over, Captain.” She turned abruptly and marched out of the room.
The Captain stepped up to his desk and poured another cup of wine. He downed it in one swallow. “What do you want, Perdikas?”
Perdikas entered the office and looked about the room. Finally his eyes settled on the Captain. “I was wondering why I couldn’t go to the upper level to visit my friend. Some servant told me only you or the Conqueror can give permission so if you’ll just let me…”
Perdikas stopped at mid-sentence. “Excuse me?”
“I said ‘no.’ What part of that didn’t you understand?”
“Why can’t I go up to Gabrielle’s suite? What right do you have…”
Palaimon glared at the young man. “I have every right to decide who goes up to the Conqueror’s personal wing and you’re not allowed. End of discussion…so why don’t you go and visit the agora or something? May I suggest the Poikile Stoa for starters, or a brothel, maybe?”
“I don’t want to go to the marketplace!”
“You can always go help out the poor at the Hephaisteion.”
Perdikas began to pace. “I want to see Gabrielle.”
The young man froze at the Captain’s cold stare. “Yes?”
Palaimon watched as the young man seemed to wrestle with his emotions. Finally, he simply just nodded and left without another word. The Captain sighed again and downed some more wine, yet if failed to sooth him. He opened up a drawer and took out a scroll and began writing down the day’s events. After a long while he tensed when another noise at his door broke his concentration.
“Who is it this time?”
Palaimon jumped up at the sound of Gabrielle’s voice. “Yes, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle smiled at him. “Are you all right, Captain?”
“I’m sorry for sounding like a beast but I’ve just had three annoying visitors in a row—one of them was your friend—and I’m about ready to hit something.”
The blonde laughed. “Or someone?”
“The only thing that really helps is sparing with the Conqueror.”
“That must be quite a sight, Captain.”
“No one has ever bested her, Gabrielle. She is the finest warrior the land has ever known.”
Gabrielle looked away at the look on Palaimon’s face. “Will you spar with Lord Xena today?”
“Unfortunately, she has other plans.” The Captain paused and regarded the young woman for a moment. “Gabrielle, would you care to accompany me to the terrace right now? It overlooks the agora.”
The Captain led the blonde woman through a series of passages and led to an open-air terrace on the northeast side of the palace. There was a fountain in the middle of the terrace and several couches placed strategically around it. Statutes of various gods, small shrubs and trees completed the arrangement. The edge of the terrace did not have a railing but a series of Ionic columns spaced about five feet apart and adorned with garlands. The flooring was a colorful mosaic depicting various flora and fauna.
Gabrielle looked around. “Oh, its lovely out here.”
“Gabrielle, will you excuse me for a moment? I’ll be right back.”
The young woman moved to stand at the edge of the terrace and overlooked the city below her. After a few moments she heard voices and turned to see Perdikas and another young man enter the terrace. She waved over to them and they joined her at the railing.
Perdikas gestured to his companion. “Gabs, I’d like you to meet Telemakhos, I ran into him during my explorations.”
The blonde woman glanced at Perdikas before turning to the young man. “Hi, my name’s Gabrielle. Perdikas knows I hate being called ‘Gabs’ but does it just to annoy me.”
Perdikas put his arm around the blonde’s waist. “Annoy you? Never.”
Telemakhos took Gabrielle’s hand and bent to kiss it. “Nice to meet you, Gabrielle.”
The young woman smiled and tactfully removed her hand from his. “So what do you do for the Conqueror, Telemakhos?”
“Just recently appointed to Chief Scribe.” The scribe smirked at the look on Gabrielle’s face. “I know what you’re thinking, I’m too young for the post, right? I was just selected this afternoon…no kidding just past midday.”
“Yeah, they came and told me Salmakis, my old boss, killed his—.”
All three turned to see the Captain of the Guard coming toward them. Several servants, some carrying small tables and others carrying food and drink to put on those tables followed him. The Captain gestured for the servants to place their wares off to one side of the terrace and moved to the small party.
“I don’t think our guests are interested in the details of your promotion, Telemakhos.”
“What does it matter? I was just making conversation.”
“Why wasn’t I invited to this party?”
All eyes turned to the door the find the Naurachos Laodameia standing there. She moved aside to the let the servants leave and then she turned to the amphora of wine. “We can’t have a party without good wine, can we, Captain?”
Palaimon stiffened slightly. “It appears not.”
The admiral poured another cup and handed it to Gabrielle. “So we meet again, fair one.”
The older woman didn’t intimidate Gabrielle; she accepted the cup and looked the admiral straight in the eye. “Thank you.”
Perdikas looked at each woman in turn. “Fair one? What are you talking about?”
The Captain put a hand on Perdikas’s shoulder. “Perdikas, now’s not the time…”
All conversation stopped as the blast of a trumpet was heard in the agora just northeast of them. All eyes turned to see that the area of the former orchestra was gradually filling up with spectators.
Gabrielle shielded her eyes from the sun and peered below. “What’s going on down there?”
Telemakhos moved to Gabrielle’s side and followed her gaze. “Wait just a few minutes and you’ll see.”
“What is that guard standing by? Is that a cat of some kind?”
The Naurachos grabbed a plate full of sautéed olives and peered at the site. “She really likes to show off, doesn’t she, Captain?”
All of them watched as a lone figure walked up to the guard in the middle of the square. He saluted the dark woman and left the field. The Conqueror bent down and petted the chained animal before her.
Gabrielle gasped. “Why doesn’t the cheetah attack her?’
“The animal is her pet, Gabrielle.”
Another trumpet blast announced the arrival of what everyone was waiting for. Two large crates were brought to the side of the square loaded on a cart. Several soldiers came forward with their swords drawn and some of them had spears. The Conqueror nodded to the men and moved away from the chained cat. A soldier opened the crates and eight wolves bounced down to the field. Each growled in turn as the soldiers surrounded them and drove them towards the chained animal. The cheetah sprung to its feet and tried to back away from the growling canines, but the chain kept it from fleeing.
“Here’s where the fun begins.”
All eyes turned and looked at the admiral before turning back to the scene below them. As the wolves advanced toward the chained animal the soldiers backed away from them. The scene was too far away for them to hear sounds but Gabrielle was sure the wolves were growling from their stance. As the first of them, probably the alpha male, sprang forward the Conqueror closed the distance between herself and the chained beast and deflected the animals charge with a swipe of her sword. She ducked as a second wolf sprang toward her and she deftly brought her chakram up and swiped it across the animal’s throat. It fell near her feet and she jumped over it and ran toward two advancing animals. She jumped and kicked one away and twirled her body sideways to impale the other wolf with her sword. It yelped and fell dead. Its mate lunged at Xena and she kicked it away again as the alpha male advanced on the cheetah again. The Conqueror let her chakram fly and it hit the animal’s back, severing its spine. It collapsed and began whining in pain. Three other animals advanced on Xena and she brought out her breast dagger, to use along with her sword, and with some intricate movements dispatched them without much effort.
The Captain glanced over to Gabrielle and saw that the woman’s complexion had turned white and she had one hand over her mouth. He cringed inside at the sight.
The Conqueror gave out a wild yell, which was loud enough to be heard by all and beheaded the downed alpha male. She threw the head to her cheetah and it began to eat at the flesh. The animal that she had previously kicked twice limped away but Xena would have none of it. The crowd cheered as she followed the animal and grabbed it by the neck. Her powerful arms lifted the animal easily and she plunged her breast dagger in its neck. Simultaneously she used her sword to impale another wolf that was coming at her to her right. She kicked away both dead animals and it wasn’t much longer until all the wolves were dead. The ground, along with the Conqueror, was covered in blood and torn animal flesh. The Conqueror lifted her arms high and yelled to the heavens. The soldiers moved to her and two of them lifted the Conqueror to their shoulders and began parading around the crowd. The ecstatic crowd cheered and threw flowers in her direction.
Gabrielle backed away from the scene and slowly shook her head. “Oh, gods…oh, gods…”
Perdikas turned a stunned face towards the Captain. “Why?”
Gabrielle turned and ran from the terrace. Perdikas attempted to follow but the Captain grabbed his arm. “Let her go, please.”
Telemakhos put a hand on Perdikas’s shoulder and led him towards the food tables. “I think you need a drink.”
Perdikas took the cup of wine that the scribe gave him and downed it in one gulp. He quickly poured another and did the same. Telemakhos joined him and filled his own cup.
The admiral put her plate down. “I think I’ll go and see to the young woman’s comfort.”
The Captain stared her down. “I’m afraid you’re not allowed on that floor this time, admiral. If you have a problem with that than take it up with the Conqueror. If you even step one foot on level one I’ll have you arrested.”
“As I said before, Captain, this conversation is far from over. You’ve been warned.”
Palaimon didn’t bother to reply as he was already making his way up to the level one-guest quarters. He slowed his pace and stopped at the door. He turned the handle slowly and peered into the room. “Gabrielle?”
When there was no answer he stepped inside and looked around. The door to the bathing chamber was open so he moved to it and peered inside. He found Gabrielle standing between two columns and looking at the countryside below her.
“I’m the cause of that slaughter, aren’t I, Captain?’ Her voice was strained.
“Gabrielle, I’m sorry.”
The young woman turned to face the Captain. “I made her so mad…then she said something about wolves…she was so angry…”
“You can’t blame yourself for what happened.”
“Gabrielle, the Conqueror does what she wishes. No one makes her do anything she does.”
“But I was the one that made her angry.”
The Captain knew he was on shaky ground. But he knew he needed to be completely honest with the young woman. “May I tell you something in complete confidence?”
Gabrielle nodded. “Yes, Captain, of course.”
“Gabrielle, the Conqueror tests her strength against fierce animals all the time. She does this to spare the lives of people.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Conqueror doesn’t go around and arbitrarily kill people, Gabrielle. She has never done that, not even in wartime. Please believe me. Yes, you said some things and then she became angry. But she is responsible for her own feelings and reactions, Gabrielle. When I first met Xena she was so consumed with purifying the land that sometimes she made bad decisions concerning people, and they died.” He paused, wondering about the decision concerning Salmakis. “But she has never directly taken a human life out of spite or anger. Instead of killing people she takes out her frustrations on animals. Can’t you see the difference?”
The young woman slowly nodded and wiped at her tears. “I guess so. I must apologize to her, though. Will you take me to see her?”
“Gabrielle you won’t see the Conqueror until the reception tonight. Trust me, you don’t want to see her right now.”
The Captain squeezed her shoulder. “Yes?”
“I would like to be alone. Do you mind?”
Palaimon smiled. “Of course not. I’ll see you tonight, okay?”
The Captain nodded and backed out of the room. When he was gone the young woman stripped off her clothes and settled back into the steaming water. After a few short moments she cradled her head in her hands and let the tears flow freely.
The Captain of the Guard arranged to have the night’s reception in the Tholos, a circular building on the west side of the agora, just slightly north of the Strategeion. The Tholos was the place were the Conqueror’s councilors met for their afternoon and evening meals and was better equipped to hold a major banquet rather than the dining facilities in the Palace. Chaises were pushed up to the walls of the building and small tables were placed in front of each. On each table was placed the evening’s meal—chicken, lamb, cheese, flat bread with oil, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Large amphora was placed on each table and contained wine from the Conqueror’s finest vineyards. The musicians were placed in the center of the room. There was an especially large chaise in the room that was reserved for the Conqueror.
Several of the invited guests had already arrived and were standing next to their assigned couches and were talking among themselves. Although all knew that they could not start eating until the Conqueror had arrived.