Death of a Conqueror
by Lori A Meyers
The Conqueror ran to her suite and slammed the door behind her. She leaned heavily on the wooden door and brought a shaking hand up to her mouth.
“What have I done?”
What have I done…oh, gods no…no…please no…
“No!” Xena slid down the door and crumbled to the floor.
A guard, who was climbing up the stairs at the other end of the hall, heard the woman cry out and ran to her door. He attempted to open the door but it was locked.
“My lord, are you okay?” He banged on the door but received no response.
The guard ran down the hall and took the stairs two at a time until he reached the second floor. He ran into another guard who was making his way up the stairs. “Ekhemos, you need to find the Captain, quick!”
“There is something wrong with the Conqueror. I heard a scream in her room but she won’t open the door. Go find the Captain now! I’ll go and get the Royal Physician…go now!”
Perdikas sat up and rubbed his temples. He turned bleary eyes around the room but could not get his bearing. He knew he wasn’t in his own quarters because this room had bars on it where a wall should have been. He got up slowly and walked to the table in the corner. He poured himself a glass of water and drank it. After he had downed three cups he moved to the bars and peered out. There was a similar room opposite his and he saw a woman on her back apparently sleeping. She was snoring rather loudly.
He tilted his head and frowned. “Is that the admiral?”
His head screamed at him at the sound of his own voice and he staggered back to this cot. He collapsed on it and cradled his head in his hands.
The Captain paced back and forth on the steps of the painted stoa. The Poikile was perhaps one of Athens most lavish secular buildings and was maintained through private donations and not the royal coffers. The outside of the building was of the strict Doric design but the inside had rows of Ionic columns made of limestone with marble capitals. The inside of the building housed the large painted panels by some of Athens most renowned artists of the past—Polygnotos, Mikon, and Panainos.
Palaimon stopped his pacing and leaned against one of the columns. Several shoppers and merchants were walking in the vicinity and the Captain scanned the crowd looking for the boy. He walked to the southwest corner of the building and looked up and down the pathway in both directions. He spotted a wine merchant, who had set up a temporary stall next to the Altar of Aphrodite Ourania, which was about twenty feet west of the Poikile, and walked up to the man.
“How about a cup of your finest, merchant.”
“Gladly, Captain. How are you today?”
“I’m fine.” The Captain paid for his drink and was about to walk away when he turned back to the merchant. “Do you know any of the Archon’s children, by any chance?”
“You must mean that scoundrel Glaukon.”
“How do you know him?”
“He was here not too long ago. Tried to convince me he was old enough to drink in public but I knew better. He took one look at you and ran in the opposite direction.”
“I think I’ll teach that rascal a lesson.”
Both men turned suddenly at the sound of the rapidly approaching horse. “Captain, you’re needed immediately at the palace! An emergency!”
The Conqueror… “Give me your horse!”
The rider dismounted and handed the reins to the Captain who jumped on the beast and rode off quickly.
The Captain of the Guard inserted his key into the keyhole and unlocked the door. There were several guards standing behind him with their swords drawn, ready to come to their Lord’s aid. The royal physician was fidgeting at his side as he slowly opened the door and looked inside.
He turned his head towards the nearby crowd. “Okay, you guards can leave. Physician, stay here by the door; I’ll call you if you’re needed.”
The main room was in chaos. Several statues had been picked up and smashed on the floor. Tables and chairs were overturned and broken. The Captain made his way around the mess and entered the dark warrior’s bedroom. He found the Conqueror sitting on the end of her large bed with a sizeable glass of wine in her hand. She appeared not to notice him and continued to stare off into space.
Palaimon glanced at the floor and noted three smashed wine jars on it. Since there wasn’t any wine on the floor he assumed that the woman had drank all of it. “May I be of any assistance to you, my Lord?”
The Conqueror turned dark eyes toward him. If she was drunk she didn’t show it. “Will you do something for me, my friend?”
Her voice was tight and devoid of any emotion. “Will you go and check and see if Gabrielle is all right? I raped her this afternoon, I think she may need a doctor.”
Palaimon froze and his eyes widened. He felt his body go cold as he clenched his fists and stared at the Conqueror. “Excuse me, my Lord, but did I just hear you say…”
Xena sprang to her feet and threw the wineglass to the floor. It shattered and some of the glass bounced up to cut her cheek. “Go! Now!”
The Captain turned abruptly and quickened his pace when he heard something else crash. He beckoned the physician into the main room. “Go see to the Conqueror’s injuries. Don’t talk to her or ask her any questions. Under no circumstances are you to engage her in conversation. Do you understand me?”
Palaimon walked the few yards to Gabrielle’s door and stopped. As he was about to knock he hesitated. The Captain placed his hands flat against the door and leaned his forehead against it. “No, gods, please. Please, let this not be true.” A tear fell from his eye and he chocked back a sob.
The Captain straightened and knocked on the door. “Gabrielle?”
There were a few moments of silence, then the young woman’s voice. “Come in.”
Palaimon slowly opened the door and went inside, he closed the door behind him. The blonde came into the sitting room from the bedroom and eyed the Captain. She had a blanket wrapped around her and cup in her hand. If she was injured he couldn’t see it. The Captain walked up to couch and sat on the end farthest from the young woman.
Palaimon noticed the slight strain in the blonde’s voice. “Hi, I was wondering if I could do anything for you, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle looked away. “No.”
“Is there anything you would like to share with me?’
The blonde sat on the couch and turned to face him. “No, why?”
The Captain cleared his throat. “In this Empire, Gabrielle, no one is above the law—not even the Conqueror herself. So I just need to know if you plan on filing any official charges.”
Gabrielle frowned. “Against whom, and for what?”
“Gabrielle, the Conqueror told me about what happened this afternoon.”
The young woman cringed, and then she lowered her head again and blushed. “It’s so embarrassing.”
What’s going on? Palaimon’s jaw dropped. “Embarrassing! Gabrielle, you should be outraged!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Conqueror raped you!”
The blonde sprang to her feet. “What? No she didn’t, why are you saying that?”
Palaimon jumped to his feet as well. “The Conqueror didn’t rape you?”
“Why do you keep saying that?”
“That’s what she told me!”
Gabrielle sank back to the couch and wrung her hands. “I can’t believe this is happening…I’ve done it again…again! Is she distraught over me again?”
The Captain sat next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Will you tell me what’s going on, Gabrielle?”
The blonde blushed and nodded. She spoke quietly. “It was really rather sudden. I mean I’ve never done anything like that before. Don’t get me wrong, Palaimon, I’ve had my share of satyrs and nymphs—so to speak. But I’ve never done anything like I did earlier. One moment we were yelling at each other and the next we were…we were…”
“I see.” He gently squeezed her shoulder.
“What has happened? Is Xena hurt?”
“No, Gabrielle, not really. But why would she think she raped you?”
“Because I reacted so badly afterwards.”
Palaimon wondered if he really wanted to know. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve never had sex with someone I just met—leader of the known world or otherwise. And I totally freaked out afterwards…I practically screamed at her to get out of the room. She must have thought that I didn’t want to but I did…oh, I really did…”
“I think you need to straighten out this mess right away. I won’t see Xena hurt the way she is hurting now.”
Gabrielle eyed the Captain then nodded. “You really care about her, don’t you, Palaimon?”
You, too. “It’s my job to look after her, yes.”
Gabrielle reached out and took Palaimon’s hand in hers. “I have a feeling it’s more than just a job.”
The Captain smiled sheepishly then nodded. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“Wait here while I dress.”
Palaimon watched the young woman enter her bedroom. He sighed as he stood up and straightened out his clothing, his hand still tingling from the sweet, brief contact.
The dark woman looked up and bleary eyes coldly regarded the intruder into her private space. She sprang to her feet as Gabrielle entered her bedroom. The doctor was already gone. “What are you doing here?”
The blonde tried to ignore the venom in the dark warrior’s voice. “Please, let me…”
The Conqueror reacted the only way she knew how when confronted with unwanted, unfamiliar emotions. She grabbed the young woman by the shoulders and shoved her away. “Haven’t you’ve done enough?”
Gabrielle staggered backwards until she hit the wall. “Please, Lord Conqueror, let me explain.”
When Xena didn’t respond she continued in a small voice. “You didn’t rape me, my Lord. I was caught up in the moment just as you were. I got confused afterwards and didn’t know how to handle it.”
The Conqueror sat back down again. “Confused?”
“Yes, my Lord. I handled it all wrong. I mean, I wanted you, too. I’ve just never let my desires take me like that before. It was very sudden and very erotic and I let myself be swept away.” She lowered her head. “But I wanted you, my Conqueror, I really did…”
Xena exhaled a deep breath and looked down for a few moments. When she looked up the indignation was gone. “We seem to have started out rather badly, haven’t we?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Xena. Call me Xena.”
The Conqueror stood and walked the few paces to the smaller woman. She lifted her hand and gently wiped at the single tear on Gabrielle’s cheek. “Please don’t cry.” She drew the young woman to her and held her.
After awhile the Conqueror looked about the room. “I’m tired and I think I’ve had too much to drink.”
Gabrielle looked up. “Would you like me to go?”
The Conqueror wound her arm around the blonde’s waist. “No, I don’t want you to leave…but this room’s too messy to sleep in.”
Gabrielle looked up and met the Conqueror’s eyes. “Would you like to sleep in my bed?”
The dark woman chuckled despite herself. “If you promise to leave me alone.” The Conqueror stopped at the hurt look on the young woman’s face. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean—just to sleep, okay?”
Gabrielle smiled and took the dark woman’s hand in hers and led the way to her suite. She was glad the corridor was empty because she didn’t want any prying eyes, not even the Captains. When they were in her suite the Conqueror excused herself for a moment and went into the bathroom. Gabrielle opened the wardrobe and got out two thick blankets. She shed her clothes and hopped onto the large bed.
Xena splashed into the water and quickly scrubbed herself clean. After drying she wrapped the towel around her and went back into the bedroom. When she arrived the small blonde was already asleep. The Conqueror paused at the foot of the bed and regarded Gabrielle. There was a contented look on her face. Xena dropped the towel and slowly moved onto the bed next to the small woman. She pulled the blanket onto her body and closed her eyes. The same look of peacefulness shone on her sleeping face.
Gabrielle awoke after a long sleep and stretched out her limps. She sighed and leaned back into the pillows. A smile spread across her face and she turned her head slowly. “Hello, Xena.”
The Conqueror was lying on her side, her head propped up on her elbow. “Good afternoon, Gabrielle. I trust you slept well?”
“You know I did.”
“Me, too.” Xena smiled and lifted the covers from her body and threw them aside. “See anything you like?”
“That’s not fair, Xena. You don’t play fair.”
“I didn’t know we were playing.”
The blonde mimicked Xena’s position and tossed aside her own blankets. “Two can play at this game, don’t you think?”
Xena scooted closer to the young woman. “Oh, yes.”
Gabrielle rolled on her back and chuckled. “Oh, you are so bad. Maybe I’ll have to throw you in jail with the rest of the miscreants.”
Jail…? Xena’s eyes widened and she sat up. “Damn, it’s late.”
“The admiral and your friend are still in the drunk tank.” Xena got up and wrapped the blanket around her.
Gabrielle rubbed her eyes. “I forgot about them.”
“I didn’t leave an order for their release so I have to go discharge them myself. Want to come?”
“Oh, you are bad.”
Xena threw a pillow over her shoulder at the blonde woman before leaving the room. It hit Gabrielle square in the face.
“Oh, will you just shut up!” Perdikas cradled his head and scooted back farther onto his cot.
The Admiral grabbed at the bars and sneered at the young man. “What’s the matter, boy? Don’t want to hear the truth?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Yes, I do. You didn’t see them outside, but I did. They were…”
Both Perdikas and Laodameia turned at the sound of the Conqueror’s voice. She was standing at the entrance, flanked by two guards, and looked imposing dressed in a black chiton with a brown leather cuirass and belt.
The admiral shrank back a bit and shot Perdikas a warning glance. She didn’t want him to repeat what she had said. “It’s about time,” she mumbled.
Xena took two strides and glared hard at the other woman. “What did you say?”
“I said that I’m glad you’re here.”
Xena shoved the key into the lock at Perdikas’s cell and opened the door. “You’re free to go. Next time think twice about drinking too much in public—you nearly embarrassed Gabrielle.”
The young man stumbled out of the cell and gave the admiral his own glare. “Thank you, Conqueror. I didn’t mean to embarrass Gabrielle, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not me you need to apologize to. Go on, get out of here.” She closed the door then turned to the other cell. “All right, you guards can leave.” Xena watched them leave then turned steely eyes on the other woman. “That idiot may not apologize to Gabrielle but I expect you to—officially—got it?”
Xena sneered. “Your words offended the realm—me—and one of my guests, and in front of other people. I’m ordering an official censure in the morning, admiral, so get out of here and prepare for it.”
The Conqueror watched as the admiral straightened out her clothing before leaving the cell. As she walked past Xena grabbed the smaller woman around the waist and pulled her against her body. She leaned down to whisper in the woman’s ear. “Next time you want a good fuck come and ask me in private.”
The dark woman felt the admiral tremble against her; she smiled into the woman’s neck. “Now get out.”
Xena left the cells and walked into the prison lobby to find Gabrielle talking quietly to the young man, Perdikas. She waited in the doorway for their conversation to end before approaching the young woman. The blonde smiled at the man and gently squeezed his shoulder before he turned to the door and left.
“Is everything okay, Gabrielle?’
The young woman smiled and walked up to the dark warrior. “Yes, he told me he was sorry for getting drunk.”
“He was sorry for getting drunk but not for discomforting you?”
Gabrielle took hold of Xena’s hand. “Hey, give him a break. He’s not so good about admitting being wrong.” She looked up into sky blue eyes. “Are you hungry, lord Xena? Because I’m starving.”
“Sure, why not. There’s an open air courtyard between the Middle Stoa and the Heliaia where they serve the best lamb in Athens, would you like to go there?”
“I would love to.”
When they exited the prison the Conqueror led the small woman northeast on a small road until they came to the southwest fountain house. They washed there before proceeding east through the passage between the law courts and the middle stoa that led to the courtyard.
Gabrielle turned to the dark warrior and smiled. “I just love your city, Xena.”
The rectangular courtyard was housed between the Middle Stoa on the north, the Heliaia on the west, the South Stoa on its southern border, and a series of small buildings on the east. Large canopies covered one end of the area where the dining couches were arranged. At the very center of the courtyard a large fountain stood and was decorated with nymphs and sprites. The ground consisted of large limestone slabs with grass growing between the stones. A man motioned for the pair to follow him and he led them to a rather large chaise on the southeast side of the courtyard.
When they were seated Gabrielle shook her head and turned to the dark warrior. “It’s really amazing, Xena.”
Xena leaned back on some pillows. “What is?”
“How you so easily move throughout the city without drawing much attention to yourself.”
The Conqueror chuckled. “I’ve been here twenty years now. They got used to seeing me a long time ago.”
Gabrielle waved her hand about her. “But look, this place is full of shoppers and diners. No one even looked up when we came into the courtyard. Does that casualness bother you at all?”
A man approached them then bowed. “How may I serve you, lord Xena?”
The Conqueror smiled at the man. “How’s your lamb?”
“The best in the city, my liege.”
“For two then, please.”
The man turned and waved at some servers and they immediately brought over an amphora of wine plus a large tray full of hummus, various breads, cheeses, and a small saucer of oil. He excused himself and went into one of small east buildings.
This time Gabrielle poured the wine. When she handed Xena her cup their fingers touched and hot electricity passed between them. The blonde blushed and looked away for a moment while the Conqueror just merely lowered her eyes.
Xena took a large drink but her eyes never left the young woman. “I think I would be alarmed if the casualness were replaced by something else—like fear or apprehension.”
Gabrielle looked up. “What?”
“I’m answering your question, Gabrielle. The people here are comfortable with me because they know here, at least, in Athens, that they’re safe. They know I am here to protect them, not persecute them.”
“Does that mean that the farther away from Athens someone gets the less safe he feels?”
“I know that some dissenters would like to think that’s true but its not. I choose my governors well and I always make sure each major city is supplied with enough troops.”
“I don’t envy your position at all, lord Xena.” Gabrielle lowered her head.
The Conqueror reached up and gently turned the young woman’s head until their eyes met. “Please, Gabrielle, you can call me ‘Xena.’ Okay?”
“What did you mean by not envying me?”
“I don’t think I’d have the patience to govern; too much politicking and stuff like that. I barely manage to run my dad’s small winery.”
“Yet you came here wanting more responsibility.”
“You caught me, I confess. I didn’t so much want the responsibility as I wanted to just to get away for awhile.” Gabrielle took a long drink of her wine.
Xena’s brow arched. “Are you serious?”
“Well…only half serious. I did ask him to send me, and I did prepare to negotiate—but I also wanted a vacation.”
“I can think of better places to escape to. There’s not much excitement here in Athens.”
Gabrielle smiled wryly. “You underestimate yourself.”
Xena smiled at the blonde. “Do I?”
The young woman’s expression softened. “Oh, yes. Your ability to excite—well, that’d never be a issue with me.”
The Conqueror saw something in the young woman’s eyes she’d never seen before. At least not directed at her, at least she could not remember if it did. She was about to say something when someone called her name from the other side of the courtyard. It was Governor Learkhos of Phrygia.
The older man waved as he walked up to them. “Good afternoon, lord Conqueror. How are you today?”
The dark warrior nodded. “Nice to see you, Learkhos. I am well, as always.”
The older man looked Xena over. “Then your doctors have cured your headaches, then, my Lord?”
Xena’s outward expression remained neutral, but she suddenly went cold. “Who told you such a thing?”
“Salmakis, my Lord. I ran into him about two weeks ago. He said something about you having terrible headaches. Sorry to hear about his suicide, though. I hear he even took out his staff before he did himself in.”
“We were all troubled by his demise.” Xena nodded towards Gabrielle. “I’d like you meet Gabrielle of Poteidaia, Learkhos. She’s representing Chalcidice at the negotiations this quarter.”
The governor shook the blonde’s hand. “Are you Herodotus’s daughter?”
Gabrielle smiled up at the man. “Yeah, do you know my father?”
“Sure I do. I’ve been to a couple of his parties, but that was a long time ago. I haven’t seen you since before you were a teenager.” He turned to the Conqueror. “Used to raise hades this one did.”
Xena caught Gabrielle’s glance. “I have no doubt about that.” She picked up her glass. “I wouldn’t believe anything Salmakis said before his—untimely death. He was obviously a troubled man.”
Learkhos nodded. “I hear you, my Lord. You’re probably right.”
“I am right.”
The governor bowed slightly. “Of course, lord Xena. Well I’m off to the Pnyx, see you later then.” He nodded to them then left.
Gabrielle turned to Xena but froze slightly at the look on her face as she watched the older man leave. “Are you alright, Xena?”
It took only a moment for Xena’s expression to change before turning towards Gabrielle. “I’m fine.”
Gabrielle sipped her wine. If looks could kill… “Are you really having bad headaches, Xena?’
The Conqueror hesitated. “Not really. People always exaggerate whatever happens to me. If I stub my toe it’s a national disaster.”
“Before I left Poteidaia, my lord, we heard some strange rumors about one of your other governors.”
This caught Xena’s immediate attention. She sat up slowly. “Oh, what were they?”
“A merchant told my father, at our last feast, that he had seen a build up of mercenaries at Salmone. My dad didn’t believe it, he said Dikaiapolis would never allow such a thing.”
“Your father knows Dikaiapolis of Crete?”
The blonde ate some of the cheese. “Yeah, they grew up together.”
Xena leaned back into the pillows. “I didn’t know that,” she murmured.
Gabrielle turned her head at the strange sound in the Conqueror’s voice. “Is there something wrong, Xena?”
The dark woman hesitated momentarily, then her features relaxed. “No, nothing is wrong.”
Both women turned when the servers brought out their meal. Xena occasionally glanced at the blonde woman while they ate, wondering about this new revelation.
Palaimon pulled the cloak around him and leaned against the column. It was much easier for him to hide this time sine he was out of uniform. The number of visitors to the Poikile this afternoon was large and the Captain wondered if he could recognize Glaukon among the throng of people. Finally he noticed a hooded figure walking his way with a group of youths. The Captain smiled to himself as the group approached his hiding position. When they stopped to look around the Captain ran down the steps and pushed his way towards the hooded figure. The people around him stepped away when his cloak fell and they could see who it was.
Palaimon grabbed Glaukon by the shoulders and pulled off his hood. “Gotcha, boy.”
“Let me go, you oaf.”
Palaimon studied the face of his adversary. The boy had blonde curly hair and deep blue eyes, which at the moment were glaring at him. “Can’t do that, boy.”
The young man tried to pull away. “Do you know who my dad is, soldier?”
“Don’t play games with me, boy. You know who I am and why we’re here. Your father begged the Conqueror to show mercy on you and I’m it. So, shall we begin your first lesson?”
Glaukon’s schoolmates laughed at him and pointed his way as they walked away. The youth glared at the Captain. “I don’t want to.”
The Captain grabbed the young man by the back of his neck and pushed him up the stairs. “Tough luck, boy. You’re stuck with me until you can learn some respect.”
Palaimon transferred his grip from the boy’s neck to his arm as they entered the stoa. Enough natural light entered the building, because of the missing southern wall, so lamps were not necessary. But as they made their way down the corridor to their left oil lamps were placed along the way to illuminate the painted panels, which were hung along the walls.
The Captain stopped about halfway down the corridor and pointed out a series of small paintings. “Can you identify any of these images, Glaukon?”
“Yeah, that one shows the Athenians destroying the Amazons…so what?”
Palaimon signed, this assignment was going to harder than he thought. “No, not that one. This larger one over here.” He pointed to a larger panel, which had two shields fastened to the wall below it.
Glaukon stared up at the image for a few moments before turning to the Captain. “Okay, I don’t get it.”
“That depicts the great battle on the island of Sphakteria, where the Athenians defeated the Lakedaimonians at Pylos. Those two shields you see are actually from the defeated Spartans. Why do you think the Conqueror would want to display this scene?”
“Who are the Lakedaimonians?”
“The Spartans—don’t they teach you anything in school?”
“Nothing I’m interested in.”
“Answer my question.”
“Because Athenians kick ass?”
“No, wrong answer. This battle took place about four hundred years ago when the city-states were at war and the land was divided. She wants the people to understand how unity has brought prosperity and peace to the people.”
Glaukon rubbed his nose. “Can I go home, now?”
The Captain let go of Glaukon’s arm. “You meet me here tomorrow in the late afternoon, and I promise it’s the last time we’ll have to meet.”
“You got a deal, mister.”
Palaimon watched the boy leave then shook his head. He hurriedly made his way out of the stoa, already late for his afternoon’s entertainment.
Gabrielle put down her plate and settled back into the pillows. “That was absolutely delicious, Xena.”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
The blonde looked up and eyed the merchant stalls in the south stoa. “Can we go over there?”
Xena looked to see what had captured the young woman’s attention, and saw the throng of shoppers. “You want to go shopping?”
“Yeah, it could be fun.”
The Conqueror blinked. “Shopping?”
Gabrielle laughed at the expression on the dark warrior’s face. “Haven’t you ever gone shopping before, Xena?”
“I’ve never had to go shopping before in my life. I sort of have everything provided for me.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Then you’ve missed out on a lot of fun.”
“Why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this?”
The blonde reached over and took Xena’s hand. “Will you trust me?”
Xena lost herself in the verdant depths. “Yes.”
On the ground floor of the Conqueror’s palace, opposite the small stables, was a communal bathing chamber. It was built so that the palace staff that lived there could attend to their personal needs. There were no private baths, however. The single large room consisted of a rather large bathing pool surrounded on all sides by a series of lockers and small changing rooms. The pool was constantly being drained and filled at the same time; it was necessary considering there was always someone, or a lot of people, in the pool.
Perdikas entered the bathing chamber and looked around. There were a few women on the other side of the bath but other than that the room was empty. His head still hurt and his stomach felt like he wanted to vomit, and not caring what the women would think or do, he stripped off his clothes and sank heavily into the water.
As he settled himself into the water a door to one of the changing rooms opened and Telemakhos stepped out, naked, and practically fell into the steaming water. He made his way over to Perdikas. “You disappeared last night, Perdikas. What happened to you?”
Perdikas opened one eye and looked at the scribe. “You didn’t notice?”
“The Conqueror put me in prison for the night.”
“Why, what did you do?”
“Didn’t you notice I was drunk?” Perdikas turned when the door to the room Telemakhos had come from opened and another naked man stepped out. He raised his eyebrow and looked at the scribe.
Telemakhos shrugged. “Hey, we all have our little vices, don’t we?” He waved for the other man to join them.
Perdikas considered his fondness for wine. “Yeah, I guess we do.”
The man sank into the pool and waded over to the other men. “Just how many boyfriends do you have, Telemakhos?”
The scribe laughed. “Knock it off, will you. Perdikas, I like you to meet Lysias Demosthenes.”
Perdikas shook the man’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
The Stoa of Attalos, on the east side of the agora, was built about two hundred years before the reign of Xena Akolastos and was a gift from a foreign king to the demos of the Athenians. The colonnaded building, built of limestone and marble, rose two stories high and was almost four hundred feet long. Both Doric and Ionic columns were used throughout the building, but their capitals were more Egyptian than Hellenistic. Its forty-two rooms held various shops and food stalls.
The Conqueror led Gabrielle up the steps on the southern end of the building and then stopped and looked around. “I’ve got to confess to you I’ve never been in this building before, so I don’t know what to show you.”
Gabrielle chuckled. “You must really hate the idea of shopping, don’t you?”
“I won’t deny that.”
As they made their way further down the corridor curious eyes followed them as they went. Gabrielle noticed this and smiled. She stopped at a stall that was near the entrance to one of the first floor rooms and admired the fabric. “Look at this pattern, Xena. Isn’t it beautiful?”
The Conqueror held up the fabric. An intricate pattern of green and purple circles and triangles was interwoven with gold lace. “Yes, it is. Way too feminine for me, though.”
Gabrielle took the cloth and held it up to the Conqueror. “This would look nice on you.”
“An excellent choice, lord Conqueror.” Both Xena and Gabrielle turned as the merchant held up another sample. “This would look good on you, too.”
Gabrielle took the red fabric from the merchant and ran her hand over it. “Ooh, this is so soft—what is it?”
The merchant brought over more samples. “It comes to us from our trade caravans to the far east. I think they call it silk.”
Xena nodded. “Yes, its silk. It comes to us from a country beyond the Indus River.”
Gabrielle looked surprised. “The Indus River? The same river Alexander of Macedon led his army to?”
Xena smiled at the blonde. “You know your history, don’t you?”
“Yeah, when I’m not writing poetry I love to read the old histories.”
“Well, my Lord, would you like to have it?”
The Conqueror glanced from the merchant to Gabrielle and nodded. “Sure, why don’t you send the both the red silk and the other one to the palace.”
Gabrielle sighed. “Aw, come on, Xena. Half the fun comes from buying it and taking it home yourself.”
“You mean use money?”
“Don’t tell me you never use money?”
“Well, not usually. I have everything…”
“”…provided for you. Yes, I know.” Gabrielle reached into her tunic and brought out her small purse. “How much?”
“For friends of the Conqueror, how about only ten dinars.”
Xena looked at the merchant and could tell from his clothing that business wasn’t very good. “How much would it normally cost, merchant?”
The man rubbed a hand over his shirt. “Well, I would charge twenty each.”
Gabrielle looked in her purse. “I don’t have that much on me.”
Xena stepped up to the merchant. “Are you going to be here tomorrow?”
“Yes, my Lord. I’m here every day.”
“Good, tomorrow I’ll send a runner from the palace with fifty dinars. Forty for the purchase and ten more because of your generosity.”
“Thank you, Lord Xena.” The merchant handed over the package to Gabrielle.
The blonde looked at the Conqueror in wonderment as they walked away. “That was very kind of you, Xena.”
“Did you see that man’s clothing? He looked liked his business wasn’t very profitable.”
“I wonder if his family has enough to eat.”
Xena stopped and frowned. “That’s a good question, Gabrielle. Remind me later to check out the merchant fees at the commercial stoas. If we’re charging too much to rent out the space I want to know about it. I won’t have people starve just to add to my coffers.”
The blonde stepped up to Xena and placed a hand on her arm. “Can we check to see if his family has enough to eat?”
“Tomorrow I’ll follow him when he closes for the afternoon and check out where he lives.”
“You would do this for me?”
“Of course, my lo—Xena.”
Xena’s lips parted slightly as she looked down on the small woman. Was she going to say ‘my lord’ or ‘my love?’ The dark woman took Gabrielle’s hand and led her into a small, unoccupied alcove that housed a statue of Hermes. She took the package from her and placed it on the ground. When Gabrielle shyly lowered her eyes Xena reached out and ran her hand down the young woman’s cheek.
“Gabrielle…” Xena slowly lowered her head and brushed her lips across the young woman’s.
“Excuse me, my Lord.”
Xena stiffened then looked up to see two guards standing a few feet from her. She positioned her body to hide the young woman from their curious eyes. “Yes?”
The older of the two spoke first. “My Lord, you wanted to know when Governor Oreithyia of Lydia arrived.”
“Is she here now?”
The younger guard nodded. “Yes, my Lord. She decided to stay at the gymnasion and not the palace.”
“That’s okay, send a messenger to her and let her know I want to see her in my offices at the Pnyx first thing in the morning. Got it?”
When the two guards bowed and left Xena sighed and turned back to Gabrielle. “I’m afraid our day of shopping will have to be cut short. Duty calls.”
Gabrielle tried to hide her disappointment but couldn’t. “That’s okay, I understand.”
“Gabrielle, did Palaimon talk to you about the censure tomorrow?”
“Not yet, Xena. Why don’t I go find him and you go take care of business.”
“It’s his day off, so I don’t know where he’ll be.”
“That’s all right, Xena, I’ll find him.”
“Thank you, Gabrielle.” Xena lightly brushed the blonde’s cheek for turning and leaving.