Death of a Conqueror
by Lori A Meyers
The Conqueror left Gabrielle at the Stoa of Attalos and then went to the Strategeion, her military headquarters. When she walked into the building the guards who were seated at either side of entryway stood and saluted the dark woman. A clerk, who was sitting at a small desk, stood as well and addressed the Conqueror.
“Lord Xena, this a surprise. We were not expecting you today.”
Xena didn’t recognize the young woman. “I don’t know you.”
The young clerk straightened. ‘My name is Agathyros, my Lord. I just graduated from the Academy a week ago.”
“Really? What did you study?”
“Logic and rhetoric, my Lord.”
Xena frowned slightly. “And they put you here as a clerk?”
“Yes, is there something wrong with that, my Lord?”
“No, not at all. But it seems that a young woman of your education ought to have a more suitable profession.” Xena smiled when the young woman blushed slightly. “Would you be interested in a position at the palace?”
“At the palace, my Lord?”
“Yes, I’m in need of a competent junior speech writer, would you be interested?”
The young woman’s eyes went wide. “Yes, my Lord, I would.”
“Good, report to the palace the day after tomorrow in the morning and see Captain Palaimon. But right now I need two things. First of all, send for Admiral Isokrates—is he here in Athens?”
“Yes, my Lord, he’s probably out to eat right now.”
“When he gets back tell him I want him to meet me at my office in the Bouleuterion later this evening. I should be there sometime after dinner. Secondly, has General Eteokles summoned my forces from Korinthos?”
“Yes he did, lord Conqueror, I processed the order myself. A royal escort left this morning—they should be here in less than a week.”
The Conqueror nodded. “Good, where is the General now?”
“He’s in his office, my Lord. Do you want me to get him?”
“No, but tell him I want to see him as well. Have both men come to my office after dinner.”
“As you wish, my Lord.”
“I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
Gabrielle wandered the stoa for a while, enjoying the sense of freedom that she felt since coming to the city. She needn’t have wondered if this feeling had anything to do with the Conqueror, it obviously did, and that was the biggest surprise so far. She realized all her preconceived ideas concerning the dark ruler were unfounded. She found the woman to be gracious, engaging, and a pleasure to be around. Nothing like she expected. She rounded a corner that led to a staircase to the second floor then proceeded up the stairs. The way was dimly lit and when the stairs veered to the left she nearly ran into two men coming down.
“Excuse me, please.”
The blonde looked up into the handsome face of the Captain of the Guard. “Palaimon, I was just looking for you.”
“Who’s your friend, Palaimon?”
The Captain glanced at Gabrielle before gesturing towards the other man he was with. “Koios, I’d like you to meet Gabrielle of Poteidaia.”
“Pleasure’s all mine.” The man took the blonde’s hand and shook it vigorously, and then he put his arm around Palaimon’s shoulders. “How do you know my boy, here?”
It was then that Gabrielle noticed that the Captain was out of uniform, and that the two of them seemed to be wavering slightly. “Have you been drinking, Palaimon?”
The Captain smiled awkwardly. “Maybe just a little. It’s all right, it’s my day off.”
Koios put his other arm around Gabrielle’s shoulders and bent down so that his face was level with hers. “Care to join us in a little carousing, young lady?”
Palaimon pulled the man away from Gabrielle. “Leave her alone, you wretch.”
The Commander gesticulated with an exaggerated flourish. “Can’t I have a little fun?” He pretended to whisper in Palaimon’s ear while pointing at Gabrielle. “Play your cards right, man, and maybe we’ll both get lucky.”
The blonde backed off a bit and raised her hands. “Oh, no. No getting lucky here…sorry.”
“I know that, Gabrielle.” Palaimon smiled down at her and lightly brushed his hand through her hair.
Gabrielle took hold of his hand. “Maybe you ought to let me walk you home?”
Koios waved them off while walking away. “Go ahead, buddy. I’m off to get fucked.”
Palaimon cringed, then glanced at the small blonde. “Sorry ‘bout that. The man’s a cad.”
“Don’t worry about it, Palaimon. But I don’t want the Conqueror to see you like this; you know how she feels about public drunkenness. Is there someplace we can go and talk, outside of the palace?”
The Captain scratched his head. “Let me think. Yeah, I know the owner to one of the brothels on the northwest road next to the Hephaisteion.”
Gabrielle smiled. “A brothel, Captain?”
Palaimon entwined his fingers with hers. “Yeah, if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all, lead the way.”
As they walked the Panathenaic way towards the Hephaisteion neither noticed as a lone figure stopped abruptly while exiting the Strategeion. A pair of startled blue eyes watched as the two walked hand in hand down the road.
There were two roads that ran northwest from the Poikile. The wider of the two led to the Dipylon gate while the narrower one went directly past the Hephaisteion and the Arsenal to its left, on its way to the Sacred Gate. The Captain led Gabrielle down the narrower road for perhaps fifty yards, past the Sanctuary of Demos and Graces, to a series of one-storey buildings on the north slope of the Kolonos Agoraios. He paused at a building at the very end of a row, which had a rather large phallus on the lintel of the doorway, and led the young woman inside.
The darkened parlor held a series of low couches that were currently empty. A woman entered the room from a dimly lit doorway. She noticed and recognized the Captain immediately. “Have you brought your own entertainment for the day, Palaimon? My girls not good enough?”
The Captain laughed and gestured toward Gabrielle. “Naw, she’s just a friend. I was kind of hoping we could have the upper suite, just for a little while?”
The woman looked Gabrielle over then she smirked at the Captain. “Are you sure you just want a little while with this one? She’s beautiful.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and let go of Palaimon’s hand. “We’ve come here just to rest, okay?”
“Sure you did. Go ahead, but I get half the fee for the afternoon, alright?”
Palaimon glanced back over his shoulder as he led Gabrielle through the door. “You got a deal.”
When they entered the upper suite Gabrielle knew immediately why the Captain brought her there. The room was settled a little higher on the slope of the hill and opened up to a beauteous view of a glade beyond, with a small stream flowing past.
Gabrielle opened up the large doors that led to a patio on the edge of the glade then turned back to the Captain. “Do you come here often, Palaimon?”
The man sat heavily on the large bed and then rubbed at his temples. “Sometimes.” He looked up and admired the vision before him. “You are beautiful, Gabrielle.”
The blonde sat on nearby chair and then offered the Captain a compassionate smile. “Thank you.”
“But you’re already spoken for, aren’t you?”
“Didn’t I tell you that Perdikas and I are not together?”
Palaimon smiled weakly. “Not talking ‘bout that boy.”
Gabrielle lowered her head. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, she’s beautiful, too.”
Gabrielle moved to the bed and sat beside the Captain. “May I ask you something, Palaimon?”
“Are you lonely?”
The handsome man was silent for so long that Gabrielle thought he wouldn’t answer. Finally he turned his head to look at her. “Kinda been too busy helping Xena to really notice.”
“What about now? We’re alone; no one’s around to demand of your time. Are you lonely?”
Palaimon turned at the waist and, using his left hand, brought his mouth into contact with the blonde’s. At first the kiss was gentle, then became more urgent as he used his weight to lower them both to the bed.
For a brief moment, Gabrielle responded, and hooked her arm around the blonde man’s neck. Then the reality of the moment hit her and she broke the kiss. “Palaimon, please…”
The Captain moved on top of Gabrielle. “Yes…”
The blonde took Palaimon’s face gently in both hands. “Captain?”
The man faltered for an instant, then his face went white. “Oh, gods…I’m so sorry…” He rolled off of her and collapsed on the bed.
Gabrielle stood and went to the patio to cool off. She didn’t know how long she stood out there. She willed her heartbeat to return to normal before turning back to the room. But when she finally went inside she found that the guard was passed out on the bed.
She sank heavily on the chair and then rubbed at her forehead, feeling a headache coming on. “Oh, gods…this is a mess.” When she finally looked up the sun was already setting on the horizon. We didn’t talk about the censure…
Xena’s private dining chamber in the palace was sparsely decorated, much like her Captain’s office. It contained a small oak dining table with only one chair. A small cabinet next to the table housed a small collection of bronze statues of various gods and goddess’. A large oil lamp hung from the ceiling directly above the table.
Xena entered her dining room to find that her meal was already there. As she had done numerous times before, she sat down to eat. But when she did this time a new feeling hit her rather suddenly—a feeling that began in the pit of her stomach and spread outwards. She put down her fork and stared at the food before her. Her cook had made her favorite evening meal—a vegetable omelet with cheese and flat bread on the side. But tonight it looked especially unappealing. She let out a breath and sat back in her chair. What’s going on? She waited for the internal reply, but it didn’t come. Even the rather large glass of wine seemed disagreeable.
What’s wrong with me tonight?
If she had been less tired, the answer may have come to her. But weariness settled on her suddenly, and she just wanted to be left alone.
No, not left alone. If not alone, then what?
She had dined in the room, over the years, hundreds of times, alone, but this was the first time she had ever felt that aloneness. It was a cold feeling, unnerving in its intensity, and the shock of it almost made her reel.
Frustrated, the Conqueror rose abruptly and pushed her chair aside. She grabbed the amphora of wine and slammed the door shut behind her.
Xena put down her wine glass and brought the document closer to her. A knock at her office door momentarily startled her and she stood up. “Come in.”
Admiral Isokrates, a rather handsome younger man with brown hair and hazel eyes, stepped into the office first and was closely followed by the older General Eteokles.
Xena smiled and indicated the table she was sitting at. “Have a seat, gentlemen.”
Both men sat opposite the Conqueror. Admiral Isokrates spoke first. “Good evening, lord Conqueror.”
“Good to see you, Admiral, its been awhile, hasn’t it?”
“Yes it has, my Lord. Almost three months.”
“You look well, my Lord.”
Xena pulled out a map from a scroll case and unfolded it. “Thank you, General. I hope you two are well because I have an important job for you both.”
The General exchanged a quick glance with the Admiral. “Anything for you, lord Xena.”
Xena pointed to the map and both men leaned forward to get a better view. “I’m sending both of you to Salmone to fetch Governor Dikaiapolis. General Eteokles, will you fill the Admiral in on what’s happening in Crete?”
“Of course, my Lord. Governor Dikaiapolis is trying to organize a rebellion against the Empire. He has ships, a few Imperial soldiers, and mercenaries. Although we can’t figure out where he’s getting the money to do all this.”
The admiral rubbed his chin. “I thought those were just rumors. Its really true, then?”
The dark woman shook her head. “Unfortunately, yes, its true. How many warships do we have at Piraeus, Admiral?”
“About twenty-four, my Lord.”
“I want you to take fifteen of them to Crete at once and bring back the governor. I also want you to bring back to Athens all the Imperial soldiers he managed to buy off—we know of only one-hundred forty but there may be more. I don’t want you to take the normal sea route there but this one.” She moved her finger over the map. “First go to Andros, then Tenos, then Mykonos by the westward route. Then it’s a straight line down, directly south, to Naxos and Ios and Thera. Pick up as many other warships at these ports as you think you might need. Do you know why I want you to take this route, Admiral?”
Isokrates studied the map, after awhile he nodded. “Yes, my Lord. If we take this route they will have little time to rally against us.”
“Yes, I want all of Crete to see I mean business and I won’t tolerate dissent. General, you are to go with him. I need you take sailors with you that are experienced in hand to hand combat, as well—and are good with a sword. I want you to kill as many mercenaries as you can, and in front of the local populace. If Dikaiapolis and his followers offer any resistance tell them I’ve summoned my elite forces from Korinthos and will dispatch them to Crete if necessary. Admiral, how long will it take to get my plan going?”
“Well, we could set sail within two weeks, but I would have to start selecting my sailors right away. That will take at least five days work. Excuse me, my Lord, but isn’t Admiral Laodameia a better choice for this mission? She has a lot more experience than I do.”
“I have another assignment for her that will involve her particular skills. Don’t worry, I trust you, Isokrates.”
“Thank you, my Lord.”
“What will my role in this mission be?”
“Admiral Isokrates is good with the sea but I need you to handle things when you reach land. You are to lead the sailors in the capture of the governor and our own soldiers. I trust in you, too, general.”
“Thank you, my Lord.” Eteokles reached over and clasped the Admiral’s shoulder. “We won’t fail you.”
Isokrates grinned. “We’ll be victorious.”
Xena leaned back in her chair and smiled. “I know we will. Be sure to offer the proper sacrifices to Poseidon all week long for a successful voyage, and make the customary offerings to Athene at the Altar of the Twelve Gods. I want to guarantee our success.”
Xena sat at her desk in her office at the Pnyx and waited for the governor to arrive. Her office at the Pnyx was larger and more colorful than the one in the Bouleuterion. Its walls were frescoed depicting pastoral scenes and the mosaic floor was an intricate pattern of geometric figures.
The knock at her door brought a small smile to her face. “Come in.”
Governor Oreithyia of Lydia, an older woman of dark skin and black hair, entered and bowed to the Conqueror. “My Conqueror.”
Xena stood and picked up an amphora of wine from a shelf and moved over to the other end of the room. She sat on one of the couches. “Good to see you, Oreithyia, come and sit down.”
The governor sat on the couch opposite Xena. “You’re looking good as always, my Lord.”
“You’ve never been once to mince words, have you?”
“Me? Never, my Lord.” The governor took the glass of wine Xena offered her.
“How have you been, my friend?”
“I am good, although the trip here could have been more comfortable.”
“How are the kids?”
“Well, Daidalos wants to be a soldier when he grows up and Galateia wants to be a Hestian Virgin—I’m not even going to mention the others.”
“What does your husband think?”
“He worries, naturally.”
“I bet they all grow up to be fine citizens, just like their mother.” Xena smiled then took a long swallow. “How was your trip to Egypt?”
Oreithyia put down her cup. “How do you know I went to Egypt?”
“There’s not much that goes on in my Empire that I don’t know.”
“Look, I know that Egypt is off limits but…”
Xena held up her hand. “Relax, Oreithyia, I know you and Cleopatra are lovers, so don’t bother to deny it. Don’t worry; this isn’t an interrogation. We’re just two friends catching up on things, okay?”
The governor visibly relaxed. “Okay, my Lord.”
“How long were you there?”
“About one month.”
“Did Cleopatra happen to mention anything about Gaius Julius Caesar?”
“The guy from Rome? Only that he’s one of her many lovers.”
“Anything else? Did she happen to say anything about forming a military alliance with Rome? Because my intelligence tells me they did.”
The governor frowned. “No, she never mentioned anything like that.”
“Did you meet Gaius Julius?”
“No, but she did tell me all about him. From what she said he seems like an arrogant bastard.”
“That’s my impression, too.”
“If I stayed just three more days I would have run into him. Sorry that my timing was bad.”
“Hmm.” Xena took a long drink of her wine. “I’m thinking about sending the Naurachos Laodameia there to make an official inquiry.”
Oreithyia snorted. “Laodameia’s a bitch.”
“Ah, but a very competent bitch.”
“One thing I know about Cleopatra is that she doesn’t take lovers unless they can be of some use to her. If she has designs with Caesar I don’t know about it. Don’t underestimate her, my Lord, she is as smart as she is beautiful—and she always uses that to her advantage.”
“Thank you, Oreithyia, you have helped me make up my mind.”
The Naurachos Laodameia arrived at the Shrine to the Eponymous Heroes at midday, according to the custom, and waited for the official party to arrive.
The Shrine was the oldest monument in Athens and dated back to the time when Kleisthenes abolished the four, old Ionian Boule. He set up ten tribes in its place from the environs of Attica and from this beginning Xena created the Hellenic Empire. The Shrine itself was a rather long statue base that carried on it the ten bronze statues representing the ancient heroes. Two tripods stood at either end of the structure, erected on high pedestals. Any announcements concerning the tribes were written on stone and put under the statue, on the stone base, of the appropriate hero.
The bustle of noon pedestrian traffic around the monument had thinned out a bit when the representatives from the ten tribes arrived in procession with the Conqueror, with the Captain at her side, and four royal guards at their heels; she was followed by Gabrielle and the scribe, Telemakhos.
When the elders took up their usual positions around the Shrine Xena nodded to her scribe and he stepped forward. “An official censure against the tribe of the Naurachos Laodameia has been given. All tribes step forward.”
As the elders took one step forward the Conqueror announced them to all gathered. “Hippothontis, Antiochis, Aiantis, Leontis, Erechtheis, Aigeis, Oineis, Akamantis, Kekropis, and Pandionis. Are all tribes in agreement?”
When the elders voiced their agreements the Conqueror nodded again at Telemakhos. He unrolled the parchment he was carrying. “On this day in the Reign of Xena Akolastos, the Conqueror, and Founder of the Great Hellenic Empire, an official censure is recorded against the tribe of the Naurachos Laodameia of Hippotomadai. The guilty step forward.”
The admiral and her reluctant representative took two steps forward. Gabrielle watched as the admiral removed her helm and tucked it under her arm. The Conqueror removed her own helm and fixed her gaze on the admiral. “What do you say, Laodameia of Hippotomadai?”
“I am guilty of offending the good people of this great Empire.”
A small smirk touched the corners of Xena’s mouth. “How are you guilty?”
“I caused the Conqueror’s guests shame and embarrassment by demeaning the character of the Conqueror in public.”
Xena nodded her approval at the Naurachos’ words. “Do you wish to make an official apology?”
Laodameia glanced at Gabrielle and then turned to the dark warrior. When Xena nodded she stepped up to the blonde woman. “Gabrielle of Poteidaia, on the night before yesterday I brought shame to you—and everyone else in this great land—by making lewd comments in front of you about our sovereign lord. I humbly ask for your forgiveness and pardon.”
Gabrielle’s eyes went wide when the admiral knelt on one knee before her. She looked up to Xena but the dark woman’s expression remained neutral, as it had to be in this official moment. She looked again to the admiral and offered her a small smile. “I accept your apology, Naurachos Laodameia.” Then she offered the kneeling woman her hand.
Xena’s brow arched high as the admiral accepted the hand being offered; the woman rose to her feet and then bent down to kiss it. “May I ask something of you, Gabrielle?”
The blonde nodded. “Sure…go ahead.”
“Will you allow me a private act of contrition, as is my right according to the law?”
Gabrielle turned questioning eyes towards the Conqueror. Xena stood mute for a few moments, the audacity of the admiral’s request robbing her of her voice.
Palaimon noticed immediately his lord’s distress and took a step towards Gabrielle. “Under the law, Gabrielle, as the party to whom the offence was towards you have the right to choose if the admiral makes a public or private act of atonement.”
“What if I choose a public one?”
Xena glared at the admiral as she realized what the woman was trying to do. “She gets ten lashes and her tribe is fined.”
Gabrielle gasped and took a step backwards; she didn’t want that on her conscience. “I don’t think I could do that.”
Xena slowly turned towards the young woman; she realized that the blonde wasn’t grasping the importance of this decision. “Are you sure?” Don’t you see what’s she’s doing…?
Gabrielle frowned. “Of course I’m sure, Xena. I will not have her beaten because of me.”
Only Palaimon, because of years of practice, could see that the Conqueror was seething under her mask of indifference. She stared at Gabrielle for a few moments before turning to the small assembly. “So be it. Gabrielle of Poteidaia will decide what private act of contrition she will accept. A stele shall be erected here, under the statue of Laodameia’s tribe, describing her offence and the appropriate punishment and will stand for one month. Oh, and admiral?”
The admiral turned to the Conqueror and bowed at the waist, although her eyes never left those of the dark woman’s. “Yes, my lord?
Only Xena could detect the small smirk meant only for her, but at this moment, under the law, she was powerless to do anything about it. “Your tribe is fined ten thousand gold dinarai. It better be in the treasury by end of week, understood?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
Telemakhos stepped up to Gabrielle. “We need to talk about the admiral’s punishment. I need to know what to have written on the stele.”
Gabrielle saw that all eyes were watching her, waiting to see what she would do. “I don’t know right now. Can I think about it for awhile?”
“You have until tomorrow to come up with something. Is that understood?”
The blonde turned stunned eyes toward the Conqueror, startled by the coldness in her voice. “I understand, Xena.”
The blonde lowered her head. “Yes, lord Xena.”
“Good, I’d hate to have to repeat myself.” Xena spun on her heel and left the shrine, the elders following her back to the Bouleuterion.
The blonde tore her eyes away from the procession. “I don’t really feel like talking right now, admiral.”
Laodameia put her helm back on and adjusted her uniform. “I just wanted to tell you I’m really sorry for being drunk the other night.”
“You already did that. Isn’t that what that ceremony was all about?”
“Yeah, but I got the feeling you didn’t really believe me.”
The blonde took a step closer to the other woman and squeezed her arm. “Hey, I did—I do believe you.”
Laodameia smiled down at the small blonde. “Will you do me a favor?”
“If I can.”
“Will you accompany me to the theatre tonight?”
“Yes, tonight begins our theatre season. I think Aeschylus’ Oresteian Trilogy is on the menu for the season.”
“Why something so dark and dramatic?”
“We trade off each year; one year we do comedies, the next year tragedies.”
“Just my luck to arrive on a shadowy year.”
“Would you like to go with me tonight?”
Why didn’t Xena invite me? Gabrielle sighed. “Sure, do you want to meet me at my suite?”
“The Captain banned me from that level of the palace so why don’t you meet me at the west entrance to the Stoa of Eumenes after dinner, okay?”
“I’ll be there.”
Xena threw her cloak on her chair and poured herself a large helping of wine. The Captain had noticed the tension in her since the ceremony at the Shrine and wondered what could have put her in such a foul mood. Palaimon cleared his throat and stood at attention near the office door.
The Conqueror sighed and glanced at the Captain. “That could have gone better, couldn’t it have?”
“The admiral did pull a fast one, yes.”
“I thought you were going to talk to Gabrielle about the censure.”
Palaimon hesitated before answering. “I didn’t get a chance to, my Lord.”
The Conqueror eyed her Captain. “Didn’t you tell me you ran into her yesterday?”
“Yes I did, Conqueror.”
The dark woman felt another headache coming on. “Well?”
“We just didn’t the chance to talk about it, my liege. Don’t worry, Gabrielle will come up with an appropriate punishment.”
Xena stiffened at the young woman’s name. “Maybe.”
The dark warrior smiled somewhat. “Yes, my friend?”
“Has something happened?”
Oh gods, does she know…? “My Lord?”
Xena poured herself another glass of wine. “When I was having the afternoon meal with Gabrielle yesterday she mentioned that her father knows Dikaiapolis.”
Palaimon waited for more information but the Conqueror remained silent. “Excuse me, my Lord, but …well, is that a bad thing?”
The Conqueror downed the beverage in a few quick gulps. “Then she spares the admiral from any real punishment. It just got me thinking…”
Palaimon took a few steps closer to the dark woman. “And you think that makes her suspect?”
Xena’s eyes narrowed at the sound in her Captain’s voice. “Palaimon…”
“Xena, that woman is without guile!”
“No, listen to me, my Lord. She’s a honest and descent young woman…she’s definitely not involved in any plots against you or the Empire!”
The Conqueror took a few steps towards Palaimon and her hand moved to grasp her sword. “How would you know?”
The Captain’s jaw dropped slightly at the obvious threatening gesture. “My Lord, you can’t be serious!”
Xena’s hand dropped and she sighed deeply. After a few moments she stepped back and leaned against her desk. “What is happening to me, Palaimon? First I get these terrible headaches and now I’m getting really paranoid about everything…something is wrong, this is not like me.”
“Can I convince you to go see your physician today, Xena?”
“I can’t. The negotiations with Cappadocia start today and I need to be there. Can I promise you tomorrow?”
“Will you make time between the negotiations to go?”
“Of course I will.”
The Captain approached his Lord and lightly grasped her shoulder. “Thank you, Xena. May I ask another small favor from you?”
“What is it?”
“It’s about young Glaukon…”