by Maderlin Bidmead
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine
Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic. The following chapters will also contain an m/f relationship. This is not the main part of the fic, but it is essential to the plot. F/F loving will prevail.
Angst: Yep....Good God Yes!
Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'
NOTES: Good God! Look another updat, hold on I feel feint! LOL. I hope that those who are reading this are enjoying it and I will try to update at least once a month, as I have missed writing a whole lot!
Marching feet make for a far too effective lullaby to tired soldiers. Mesella herself had found that out the hard way when as a young soldier she had fallen asleep at her post. It had never happened again, a week of cleaning the latrines and loosing her lunch had taught her that lesson. Unfortunately, some people weren't so quick to take a hint. For the third time in a week she found herself standing in front of the same dozing soldier. The young man was leaning up against the wall of the imperial palace, using his halberd as a prop. Far below in the courtyard members of the royal guard were drilling.
"Hello darling." The words were purred into his ear seductively, her breath caressing his skin. The young man began to stir.
"Hello yourself." As his eyes opened and started to focus, he screamed like a girl and dropped his weapon as he came face to face with the captain of the royal guard.
Mesella stared intently at the young man, not moving or saying a word. Her face, far from seeming angry was totally emotionless and impassive. The boys face was turning a deep crimson as he stood in shock. And still the green eyes never left his face. With sudden horror, the boy realised that he had lost his weapon and bent to retrieve it. As his hand touched the shaft of the weapon a foot settled on his wrist.
"I really don't think so, do you Vinicus?" It wasn't a question. "I think you should take off that uniform and stop pretending to be a soldier. I think that you should go back to being a pig farmer!" The young boy just looked up in terror. "Well what are you waiting for?"
Vinicus rose slowly and began to unbuckle his uniform, letting it fall piece by piece onto the hard stone of the floor. He was so busy trying to follow orders that he did not notice his superior wince as each piece of equipment hit the stone. Soon he was standing in nothing but his britches, shivering in the early morning chill. He tried hard to stand at attention although his hands itched to cover his manhood.
Mesella looked at him coolly for long minutes. It took a lot of self control. Before her stood a boy, barely old enough to grow a beard, with muscles as big as Hercules. His shoulders were hunched in shame and every muscle in his body seemed to fidget under his skin. At his feet lay the most disordered set of kit she had ever seen. Many other officers would have sent the boy packing long ago, he was constantly in trouble and he had only been a soldier for a few months. Mesella, though, saw something in the bumbling young man, something familiar in his shy uncoordinated efforts. She just wasn't sure what. He would prevail if it killed him, and possibly her in the process.
"Vinicus, this is really your last chance. Do you hear me boy?" At his meek nod she continued. "If I ever see you treating your equipment with such disrespect again I will cut off one of your fingers and send you home. Do you understand." His Adam's apple bobbed reflexively as he nodded vigorously. "Now as for catching you asleep again. You will have the honour of cleaning the latrines for two weeks, morning and night." Well, it worked on me. "You will also muck out the stables every day for two weeks!" See I can be creative, and maybe he will be as sick of this shit as I am. "Is that clear, soldier?" She saw tears sparkling in his eyes, but he held them back well.
"Now pick up your gear and take it to the tack room. I want this armour to gleam, if I see one scuff on it in the morning you will be swimming in the latrines. Get out of my sight." She watched him scoop up all of his stuff and scuttle away at high speed. Once he was out of sight she let loose the laughter that she always had to restrain in front of Vinicus.
Clapping suddenly came from seemingly nowhere, yet the tawny warrior didn't appear to be shocked. In fact, she didn't even turn at the sound, simply continued to look out over the metropolis that was Rome. There wasn't a better view in all of Rome that that from the imperial palace. At least not in her opinion. The clapping grew closer as a tall, lean body came to stand beside her.
"You are some piece of work, Sal." Postumus clapped a large hand to his old friends much smaller shoulder.
"Gee thanks." She smiled up at her comrade.
"C'mon, Livia wants to speak with us." The two turn as one and began to walk towards the stairs.
"Bitch." The word was said under her breath, but Postumus still heard.
"You know I feel that same, but watch what you say, she's got ears everywhere." Silence stretched as they began to walk down the staires. "You do realise that he's going to smell like shit for weeks..." The two of them burst into gales of laughter as they disappeared into the belly of the palace.
The twelve year old boy held the short sword in his hand with a command that many grown men would have envied. His grip was sure and he swung the blade with a practiced precision as he went through the various positions as they were called out to him. He wore nothing but a simple loin cloth, sweat beading on his thin chest. Although still little more than a child, anyone could see that this lad was going to be a force to be reckoned with. His thin, boyish chest was beginning to fill out with muscle, his arms and legs doing the same. He already stood almost as tall as many of the grown men of the court. His dark, curly hair gave him the look of the young Adonis that he was bound to become. His teacher was very proud of her young charge.
"Germanicus, your dropping your right elbow on four." Mesella watched, delighted as the young heir took her advice and within a couple of swings had corrected his error. "Excellent! Want to try with a real opponent?"
"You bet Captain." He barely needed to say a word, his eyes sparkled with excitement. He was already taller than the soldier, but she was the best fighter in his step-fathers army.
Clad only in a simply halter top and loin cloth like the boy, she picked up a simple wooden short-sword, the twin to the one the child held in his hand. Before stepping into the practice circle she ran a hand through her short blond hair and offered a wink to the much younger boy who sat watching his brother. As she stepped towards Germanicus, she saluted him with her sword, watching his duplicate her form perfectly.
"Lets give Claudius a but of a show, Germanicus." Both combatants turned to salute the pale little boy.
"Okay, you can be the emperor today, little brother, you can judge who wins." The child smiled shyly and nodded his head a little.
The warrior and her charge ran through the positions in quick success, their swords meeting each other without fail each time. After the pair were warmed up, Mesella went to the side of the ring and threw a thickly padded vest to the young boy, buckling on her own as he caught it. The last thing she wanted to do was break the heir's rib. The sparing then became much more complex and exciting for both the combatants and their audience.
They fought for half a candle-mark, the experienced warrior guiding the future emperor through his error and praising him when his technique showed progress. It was rare for the boy to get a hit on the body of his teacher, she was training him to be a great warrior and was not going to make it easy on him. As it stood, he was better than a large number of the rank and file soldiers. Germanicus was showing every sign that he would be a great warrior and a compassionate and wise ruler. She saw that every time he would include his little brother in his fun. So few chose to.
As the two warriors were putting their gear together, ready to take back to the weapons room, a shrill voice cut through the sparing ring (or palace gardens to the rest of the court). "Germanicus, come here at once. I need to speak with you."
The young boy rolled his eyes as he heard his mother's shrill voice break the stillness. He looked to his teacher for help, and simply found his tunic held out in her hand, an apologetic look on her cherubic face. Huffing a resigned sigh he hastily pulled on his clothes, feeling the fabric stick to his sweaty skin. He knew that his mother would berate him for being sweaty, he caught a whiff of himself on the air, and smelly.
"I'll see you later little brother, you too Captain." He sprinted into the dark recesses of the palace, looking very much like a young hooligan, and not the future ruler of the Roman empire.
Mesella turned to the small boy, still sitting quietly on the marble bench. He was watching a butterfly as it flew around a bush, seemngly fascinated by the way its wings beat the air. His hair was so light that it was almost colourless, his eyes a wishy washy hazel colour. His cheeks were hollow and his frame fragile and slight. In all he was the total antithesis of his big brother, they were light and dark, chalk and cheese, yet the boys adored each other. And Mesella couldn't help but like the quiet child.
"Little emperor, do you want to come for a ride with me?" The smile that lit up his face was so bright that it was almost blinding, he was so rarely involved in activities by the adults in his life. "C'mon then. I have to go wash up quickly, can you go get my horse?" He looked shyly at the floor. "Just point to my horse, Iulus will know." He looked much relived. "I'll be there in a quarter candle-mark, I have to stow this stuff too."
The small, but powerful warrior sat proudly in her saddle, her sword slung over her back, golden hair shinning in the sun like a golden mantle. In Front of her on the impressive steed sat a small figure, wrapped in a cloak as it rested against the warrior. The horse galloped fast across the countryside, the city soon dropping out of view as the pair disappeared into the trees.
Mesella looked down at the little boy in her arms. He was certainly very small for his age. Rather than looking like a boy of seven, hiss frame was closer to that of a five year old. Wrapped in the heavy blanket the only part of him that was visible was his face, the cool air hitting it giving him a rosy glow. Usually his face was pallid and sickly even when he was well. She closed her brawny arms around him a little more tightly. She really liked this kid, he brought out her most protective side. He was just so innocent and vulnerable. As her hold tightened, the boy looked up and smiled shyly up at his protector.
As they rode on, towards a destination that she was sure the boy would enjoy, she began to mull over the last few years. Octavius had become a fine emperor, and become Augustus Caesar. He had aged since the rebellion, ceasing to be the vibrant young man that he had been. He was a serious and sober man, taking great stock in strength and being disgusted by weakness. It was how he ran his empire. He was a just ruler, but bent on making Rome as powerful as it could be.
That brought her to the young boy in her arms and his family. Augustus had decided three years ago, straight after the rebellion, that he should marry and take an heir. Most of the court thought that he would take a virgin bride and sire his own heirs. Instead he baffled the court and took the young widow of the soldier and nobleman, Drusus Nero. Livia was a young woman of means, she held two family names and great power. She was also cunning and sly, easily able to manage the intrigues of court and to create her own. She rankled many of the guards, Mesella included. She was power hungry, and often put ideas into the emperors head.
She had come to the marriage with Drusus' three children, Germanicus the young heir and worthy son of his soldier father, Levilla a girl who shared her mothers personality a little too closely and little Claudius, the boy she held in her arms. Where the other two children were hale and hearty, poor little Claudius had been born with a deformed foot that had grown into a limp. His health was not good and the boy was so shy that he stammered badly when he spoke. His mothers contempt and Augustus' indifference made him worse. Except for some palace servants, scholars and his brother, the child was ignored.
"Look Claudius." She whispered to the boy as she reined the horse to a stop. The view before them was spectacular. In a hollow in the forest hundreds of butterflies converged on the brightly coloured blossoms.
"B..b..beauti..f..f..ful." The boy breathed.
"Yes they are." She grinned at his wide eyed look, pleased that he felt confident enough to speak. They both turned back to view the butterflies, Claudius happily laughing and pointing at the winged creatures.
TBC in Chapter 6
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