My Lord-By the Fates
My Lord-A Chosen’s Promise
My Lord-The Medallion
My Lord- Athens
My Lord – An Act of Love / Fidelity’s Poem
CHARACTERS (story first appeared)
Xena of Amphipolis, Conqueror of Greece
Gabrielle of Poteidaia
pseudonym:. Athia (The Medallion)
The Conqueror's Family (ML)
Cyrene: Mother of Xena
Lyceus: Deceased brother of Xena
Solan: Son (Megara)
Toris: Disgraced brother
Gabrielle's Family (ML)
The Conqueror's Household (ML)
Ben: Servant – burned (Megara)
Dalius: The healer
Danis: Lower servant – fire (Megara)
Lacia: Twelve-year old slave (Solstice)
Landis: Male servant
Leah: Slave / Gabrielle's roommate
Mansel: Male servant
Pathas: Male servant
Stephanie: Middle aged cook
Targon: The Administrator
Terrell: Old servant began fire (Megara)
Voger: Groom (Megara)
Perdicas: Gabrielle's betrothed
(By the Fates)
The Generals & Their Armies
Xena, the Conqueror
Corinth and selected assignments
Western Port Cities
Alem: Bull of a man (Megara)
Anton: Senior Guard took Gabrielle to kitchen after Xena killed Gaugan (ML)
Brogan: Escorted Gabrielle when she was taken into custody by Osric. Reward was new saddle. (ML)
Cantus: Gabrielle mentioned that she stitched a wound (ML)
Endres: Gabrielle stitched a cut (ML)
Geldpac: Seasoned warrior (ML)
Hamish: Escorted Gabrielle when she was taken into custody by Osric. (ML)
Joél (The Medallion)
Mason: Young Guardsman (Megara)
Samuel: A Queen's Guardsman (Solstice)
Sentas (Lieut): Brash seasoned officer (ML)
Stephen: Royal Guardsman (ML)
Talas: Traitor, killed by Xena (ML)
Tavis (Lieut): Seasoned officer (ML)
Trevor: Royal Guardsman assigned Gabrielle's security. (ML)
Xanthus: Guard palace gates (ML)
Curan: Tried to rape Gabrielle. She killed him. (ML)
Blacos: Suggested for promotion (Megara)
Frome: Suggested for promotion (Megara)
Giles: Insults the Conqueror (By the Fates)
Hiero: Witness to Giles actions (By the Fates)
Inis: Gabrielle's lover during Gabrielle's estrangement from Xena (ML)
Lieut. Osric: Took Gabrielle into custody for killing a soldier. Later killed. Killer assumed to be Inis. (ML)
Persi: Repair the Conqueror's armor. (ML)
Sonas: Suggested for promotion (Megara)
Thad: Witness to Giles actions (By the Fates)
Leaders of Other Nations & their Ambassadors
Acade: Ambassador from Persia (Megara)
Bevan: Xena conquered him to win Corinth & Greece (ML)
Caesar - Rome (ML)
Lao Ma - Chin (ML)
Okal - Persia (ML)
Bonan: Leader of Persian brigands (The Medallion)
Callisto: Cirra (By the Fates)
Dagnine: Warlord, former lieutenant in Xena’s army. Kidnapped Solan. (The Chosen’s Promise)
Draco: Warlord - took Gabrielle into slavery (ML)
Halan: Leader of Eastern raiders (ML)
Kentan: Persian brigand who wounded Gabrielle (The Medallion)
Leyan: Corrupt leader of the Persian Army (ML)
Montavous: Greek accomplice of Halan (ML)
Nadav: Persian brigand whose dagger had poison (The Medallion)
Argo: Xena’s horse
Geld: Gabrielle’s horse
Honor: Hound. Gift from Xena to Gabrielle (The Medalion)
Spirit: Stallion. Gift from Xena to Gabrielle (Megara)
Casta (The Chosen’s Promise)
Jabari: Ethiopian messenger (By the Fates)
Franco: Pensioner warned Stephen of Thanos (Megara)
Lords & Their Families
Ayers: Eastern Lands (By the Fates)
Castan: Mentioned as meeting with other Lords at beginning of My Lord.
Haldis: Challenges Gabrielle (By the Fates)
Stasis: Mentioned as meeting with other Lords at beginning of My Lord.
Vacaou: Sent assassins to kill Xena after she defeated Caesar. Xena killed him to reclaim her throne. (ML)
House of Gaugan (My Lord)
Ridel: Gaugan's son
House of Judais
Judais: Northern Lands (By the Fates)
Clair: Servant (The Chosen’s Promise)
Harlan: Clair’s son (The Chosen’s Promise)
Stavros: Nephew of Judais (By the Fates)
Tassos: Brother of Judais (By the Fates)
Tracate: Nephew of Judais (By the Fates)
House of Thanos
Thanos: Southern Lands (By the Fates)
Cofeus: Bavavos' chief guard (Megara)
Brijan: Guard (Megara)
Etan: Bavavos’ Guard (Megara)
Katrina: Servant of Bavavos (Megara)
Kover: Guard (Megara)
Podios: Administrator (Megara)
Adam: Boy searching for healer (The Medallion)
Lista: Adam’s mother (The Medallion)
Tansia: Adam’s new baby sister (The Medallion)
Bursten: Adam’s father (The Medallion)
Broan: Story requestor (Solstice)
Calph: Peacemaker at inn (Solstice)
Callan: Civello village leader (The Medallion)
Casta: Took care of Gabrielle it Ithome (The Chosen’s Promise)
Clare: Whore (The Medallion)
Damian: Negative villager (By the Fates)
Gustan: Young villager recognized Gabrielle & Xena (The Medallion)
Kiral: Referred to by Damian - slave connections (By the Fates)
Mica – Tavern patron (The Medallion)
Notios: Requested story from Gabrielle (Megara)
Roco: Innkeeper & form soldier w/Xena (The Medallion)
Sastro: Wood carver (Solstice)
Stalan: Innkeeper’s son (The Medallion)
Synia : Whorehouse madam (The Medallion)
Tertius: Villager positive toward Conqueror (By the Fates)
Tess: Barmaid (Megara)
Zeki: Merchant loyal to Gabrielle (By the Fates)
Clotho (maiden): Spun wool when person born
Lachesis (mature women - mother): Measure out the length of their lives on a string
Atropos (crone): Cut the string, determining when their lives end.
Aphrodite – Goddess of Love
Ares – God of War
Dionysus – God of Fertility, Wine & Drama
Eileithyia – Goddess of Childbirth
Mnemosyne – Titan Goddess of Memory
Hades – God of the Afterlife
Zeus – Most powerful God
Kaleipus, Leader of the Centaurs
Tansorious, one of Kaleipus’ lieutenants
Athens: A significant city/state in the Conqueror’s realm (Athens)
Corinth: The Conqueror’s Grecian capital. (ML)
Civello: Northern Grecian territory (The Medallion)
Glazier: Village where girl is killed. (The Medallion)
Ithome in Thessaly: Where Gabrielle was sent by Ares after losing her memory (The Chosen’s Promise)
Megara: Xena & Gabrielle’s retreat (By the Fates)
Scupi: Where Xena retired to (By the Fates)
Sicyon: Village where bordello located (The Medallion)
Oescus – From where Xena and Gabrielle traveled to Civello (The Medallion)
Patras: Where Xena would have been taken for transport to Rome (Megara)
Messene: Location of Thanos’ fortress (Megara)
MY LORD: ATHENS
PART ONE: CORINTH / THE ROYALS
Spring brought warmer days with occasional rains; the peasants anticipating an abundant harvest welcomed both. In Corinth, the Royals were in residence having returned from Megara four moons prior. Xena had no desire to leave the familiar. There was in the familiar a continuity she needed.
She did her best not to dwell on Ares’ warning of a harsh future. If Gabrielle owed Aphrodite an unknown debt for her life there was nothing that could be done but wait until the fateful day when the Goddess of Love redeemed the debt.
In the past, Aphrodite had always shown a sincere affection for her Chosen. The Goddess was also constant in her support of Gabrielle’s love for Xena, demonstrating an admirable tolerance for the warrior. Even Aphrodite’s wound, which had threatened Xena’s life, was motivated at its root to bring Xena and Gabrielle to a finer level of mutual honesty. For these reasons and Ares’ warning of the price she would have to pay, Xena was hopeful that redemption of Gabrielle’s debt would cause the bard no harm and at worst, like Aphrodite’s wound, the burden of the redemption would be shifted to her.
In the forest on the outskirts of Corinth, Xena and Stephen paused upon seeing Gabrielle and Trevor at the edge of a meadow. Gabrielle raised her bow, her sight on a stag. The Major whispered, “Do you think she will hit him?”
Xena responded in an equally hushed voice, “If she releases the arrow, yes.”
“You doubt she will shoot?”
“I don’t know.” Xena felt Gabrielle’s essence. She could sense her partner’s uncertain emotions. This was not the first time Gabrielle had accompanied Xena or her brothers on a hunt. In the past she never claimed a shot, giving the honor to her companion. Until the present moment Xena had no hint that today’s hunt would be any different.
Xena heard the arrow whistle through the light breeze. Gabrielle’s aim was excellent. The stag collapsed where he stood.
“Damn!” Stephen released the breath he was holding.
“Never underestimate her Stephen. If you do, it’s at your own peril,” said Xena before walking toward the kill.
Gabrielle and Trevor crossed the meadow to where the stag lay dead. Gabrielle wore a serious cast. The Captain placed his hand on her shoulder. “He didn’t suffer.”
“I’ve killed men in battle. Why was killing this stag so much harder?” asked Gabrielle thoughtfully.
“He didn’t threaten your life. We could have gone fishing instead. The choice was ours.”
“The choice was mine.”
“If you hadn’t shot the arrow, I would have.”
“So we share the responsibility and no one is held accountable?” Gabrielle chose to answer her rhetorical question with a lesson of war Xena had taught her. “The leader is accountable.”
“So are those who consent to be led,” responded the young war-tested warrior.
“Only to a point. If you were right there would be no such thing as a soldier’s pardon.”
“Gabrielle, don’t you think I have blood on my hands? The fact that I followed the Conqueror… and you into battle doesn’t change the fact that Hades will judge me.”
With their eyes set upon the stag, the two stood quietly immersed in their own thoughts. Feeling deeply alone Gabrielle turned to Trevor and asked, “Why do men hunt together?”
After giving the question some consideration Trevor answered, “Any number of reasons. Friendship. Safety. A better chance to succeed.” After a moment he posed his own question. “Why did you choose to hunt with us today?”
“I had a dream,” admitted Gabrielle as she crouched down and looked directly into the stag’s lifeless eyes. “There was a wager whether I would shoot the arrow.”
“Who was wagering?”
“I don’t know. There were many voices behind me, both men and women. I didn’t recognize them and I couldn’t turn to see who they were.”
“Did you shoot?”
Gabrielle glanced up to Trevor. “I woke up without knowing.”
“So you decided to make the dream real?”
Gabrielle nodded. She stroked the stag’s cheek compassionately. “It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t what I expected. As hard as this was for me, in my dream the decision was much harder.”
“In life, Gabrielle, we do what we must. Indecision can cost you your life.”
“I’ve learned that lesson in battle.”
“Sometimes a hunt isn’t that much different.”
“For the hunted, no.”
“And for the hunter, too.” Trevor knelt on one knee and took Gabrielle’s hand in his own. “Sometimes our prey fights back. Other times we risk starving. I’m glad to say neither was our fate today.”
The following morning within the Royal suite Gabrielle sat at her desk. Dalius had just left with Gabrielle’s final instructions for a tour of regional villages where they would meet with healers and provide medicinal supplies. The tour was scheduled to leave in two days.
Xena entered from the bedroom dressed in rust pantaloons tucked into tall black leather boots and a black tunic held close to her body with a black leather belt. She glanced toward the balcony. “Promises to be a good day. Hopefully the weather will hold for your trip.” Seeing her partner, Gabrielle smiled brilliantly. The smile seemed to have nothing to do with Xena’s weather forecast. “What?” asked Xena.
“You are beautiful,” said Gabrielle appreciatively.
“You are complementary this morning. I wonder if you seek a favor,” said Xena with an amused glint in her eyes.
For a moment Gabrielle was thoughtful. A devilish grin appeared upon her. “You have never recited a poem to me.”
“Ho! A poem? I say not,” protested the warrior.
“Well then, I must reconcile myself to going without.”
“Can I make it up to you some other way?”
“I will think of something.”
“You do that.” Xena went to Gabrielle. “In the mean time Stephen is waiting for me. With your permission, my Queen, I will be off to the stables.”
“A kiss first,” replied Gabrielle. Xena complied happily. Gabrielle relished her partner’s gentle passion. “Permission granted.”
Xena had a fine day, one spent working with a half-dozen colts and fillies recently added to her stables. Returning to the Royal suite she was disappointed to find the rooms empty. Being quite dirty she decided to bathe. At the moment of her decision, the suite entrance door opened. Gabrielle and Makia entered, each carrying a trencher filled with food and drink, engrossed in easy conversation. Seeing Xena, Gabrielle exclaimed, “You’re back!”
“I do live here,” said Xena drolly.
“We have dinner.”
“I see. Good evening, Makia. I envy you. Seeing this feast, I suspect you’ve had the Queen’s company for much of the afternoon.”
The cook placed her tray down. “I have been so lucky, your Majesty.” She glanced over to Gabrielle. “I will miss the Queen when she’s gone.”
Gabrielle affectionately placed her hand on Makia’s arm before approaching her Lord. “I have Makia’s promise that she will take good care of you. So, be kind.”
“Kind? Makia, who is our Queen speaking of?” asked Xena with feigned offense. “Am I not undemanding of comforts when the Queen leaves me to my own devices?”
“You are, your Majesty. I think that is why the Queen is concerned.”
“I am perfectly capable of deciding when to eat and to sleep.”
Gabrielle addressed the cook. “Thank you, Makia. I will see you in the morning.”
“Good night.” She bowed to Xena. “Your Majesty.”
“Sleep well, Makia.”
As the door closed Gabrielle embraced her Lord.
“Gabrielle, I am all dirt and smell of horses,” objected Xena.
Gabrielle would not be discouraged. She tightened her hold. “Very attractive.”
Xena laughed. “You are not for sweet soaps.”
“I’ve always appreciated you as you are by nature.”
“Then you would object if I chose to bathe?”
“Not if you invite me to join you.”
“I don’t know. There is a risk to that proposition. I may show no self-control and seduce you. Our dinner would surely get stone cold.”
Gabrielle smiled. “It is a risk I’m willing to take. A cold dinner is no price for the pleasure that accompanies a seduction.”
“You, my bard, are far too easy a conquest.”
“Then I am no conquest at all.”
“No, you never were, were you?”
Gabrielle placed her hand over Xena’s heart. “I will miss you.”
“More than you will miss Makia?” said Xena, enjoying the banter.
“Much more.” Gabrielle took Xena’s hand. “Come with me. A bath and cold dinner for us both.”
Xena allowed Gabrielle to lead her into the bath. “Cold dinner? The stew is steaming. We will have to take our time.”
The following day Targon stood before the Conqueror at her desk.
“What is it, Targon? You look like you swallowed a fistful of bitter herbs.”
“My Lord…” said Gabrielle reproachingly as she entered from the bedroom.
“Well he does!” said the Sovereign in her own defense.
The Administrator handed the Conqueror a scroll.
“From Athens?” guessed Xena.
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“And what critical construction project is Kartis championing today?” Xena referred to the city-state’s governor, an ambitious man, with formidable military skill and to Xena’s concern, if unchecked, problematic prowess.
“An expansion of the public baths.”
“This is outrageous. Kartis would have us take hard earned Grecian dinars from the treasury so wealthy Athenians can be luxuriously washed and perfumed.” Xena glanced over to Gabrielle as the younger woman approached. “My Queen, you are conspicuously silent. Do you commend this petition to me?”
Gabrielle shared Xena’s annoyance with a series of frivolous Athenian petitions seeking funding from the treasury. “It seems as if Kartis’ petitions are meant to raise Athenian public opinion against Corinth.”
“You think him overly ambitious?”
“I don’t know him well enough. His reputation remains strong among the Athenians.”
“Why wouldn’t it be? He builds Athens’s economy with poorly paid labor, the majority foreigners, most holding a status no better than slaves. They have no voice in local government and know that they will be deported if they speak against his policies.”
Gabrielle suspected Xena’s patience had reached its limit. “Will you intervene?”
Xena directed her question to her Administrator. “Targon, you have good knowledge of the pulse of Athens. What say you?”
“I think Kartis should be treated prudently,” said Targon confidently. “He has done nothing but advocate for his city. The policies of Corinth not only allow but encourage such input.”
“That is the Queen’s influence.” Xena wore a lighthearted grin as she motioned toward the Royal in question.
Targon continued. “A Royal visit, allowing for inspection of the city and discussion of the petitions might soothe Kartis’ discontent.”
“Soothe Kartis’ discontent’,” repeated Xena distastefully. “Targon, I will not stroke Kartis’ oversized ego. Anyway, Kartis may lead the city but Turian is always lurking in the shadows. I think him an aspiring puppet master and he knows it.”
“Do you judge Kartis weak?” asked the Administrator.
“No, he has his power base. I think he has foolishly invited Turian into his circle.”
Gabrielle had yet to meet Turian, a Lord relatively new to Athens, and was thus at a disadvantage in judging him. “You always say it’s best to keep those you suspect close,” said Gabrielle offering an alternative perspective.
“Not as close as Turian is to Kartis.” Xena handed the scroll back to Targon. “Take this. I don’t want this reflection of Athenian elitism on my desk.”
The Administrator took possession of the scroll and placed it in his satchel. “Is there anything else, your Majesty?”
“Not right now.” Xena glanced over to Gabrielle and smiled knowingly. “I think my Queen and I will discuss the concerns of Athens after you leave. By tomorrow you will know whether she has influenced my opinion of the self-anointed leader of the learned city-state in the north.”
Targon chuckled, a rare relaxation of his formal comportment. “Yes, your Majesty.” He bowed respectfully to both Royals and exited the suite.
Alone with her Lord, Gabrielle asked, “Xena, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“Civil war,” said Xena without hesitation.
“I think you’re overreacting. I agree Kartis has been obvious in his program to win Athenian approval…”
“Gabrielle, that is how it starts,” said Xena, uncharacteristically cutting her partner’s speech short. “Convince the Athenians they are better off independent from Greece or worse yet, that they, given their superior intellect and virtues, are ordained by the Gods to be the realm’s leaders, and law and order is set aside.”
“The law is just as important to Athenians as it is to the Corinthians,” said Gabrielle decidedly. “There can be no legitimate criticism of Grecian law. We are the most liberal of people.”
“You have never stopped challenging me on the law,” said Xena pointedly as a smile rose to her lips.
Gabrielle remained staunch in her defense. “With the end of slavery I have only had reason to challenge specific application of the law. The law in general is fair and necessary.”
“Gabrielle, we are talking about who administers the law. The specific application of the law separates a tyrant from a just ruler.”
“I love a just ruler.”
After years of serious debate with Gabrielle, Xena relished both her partner’s declaration of love and her support of the realm’s policies. “As I do,” she said with affection before shifting to a more serious tone. “The unsettledness in Athens is not a threat to me alone. You are Queen of Greece.”
Gabrielle thoughts returned to a diplomatic solution. “Targon’s idea of a Royal visit has merit.”
“Gabrielle, Kartis is only a little less of a wildcat than Turian. Both will swipe my outstretched hand with their claws.”
Gabrielle voiced a newly formed plan. “If the Queen visited Athens?”
Xena leaned forward on her desk. “Were I his guest my drink would surely be poisoned. But with you? Kartis has always thought of you differently. I say he will set his charms upon you, generously offering you honey for your tea.”
“I don’t want to see you poisoned and I like honey in my tea.”
“You’re serious.” Xena sat back in her chair, gripping the end nodes of each arm, never a good sign of her temper. “You would go to Athens? What of your tour of the local villages?”
“Dalius can meet with the village healers.”
“I do not like the idea…”
“Udell and I have been corresponding.” interrupted Gabrielle, her growing frustration with Xena’s rigidity showing. In Udell she referred to a respected Athenian philosopher who had been commissioned to tutor her in current philosophical thought. She continued, “I was hoping to visit with him someday soon. At his age he does not like to travel.”
“To study philosophy is one thing…”
“Xena, I trust Udell. He knows Kartis. He hears what is being said in the city square. He can give us an objective perspective. And, at the same time, the people of Athens, who are my greater concern, will see that Corinth has not forgotten them. I will do what I must to reassure the Athenians that they are better served by their Sovereign than by a well-schooled rhetorician.”
“Be careful, Gabrielle. Remember how much Athenians value education. Don’t go insulting them. I’ll have to ride into the city and rescue you for sure.” Xena’s was an edgy humor.
“They don’t think of me as a threat. To them I will always be a peasant from Poteidaia.”
“They will think of you that way only if you play the role, my bard. You are better read than their pretentious scholars. You can debate and win any contest of wits. I should know.”
“I spar with the best and have learned from her,” said Gabrielle warmly. Her conciliatory words, no matter how sincere, failed to move Xena.
“Sometimes I wish you had not been such a good student.”
“Xena, I think my visit would be for the best.”
“I do not!” said the warrior with rising vehemence. “Gabrielle, a few well placed spies can ferret out Kartis’ intentions.”
“We need to give him a timely response.” Gabrielle unflinchingly held her stance.
“There is value in exercising patience and planning.”
“And there is the risk of lost opportunities. Delays will breed resentment at best and suspicion at worse. We gain nothing by it.”
“You may gain your life!” Xena punctuated her objection by standing up.
Accustomed to her partner’s volatility and equally certain no harm would come to her, Gabrielle was not intimidated. “It is my life!” she snapped.
Gabrielle’s adamant assertion of independence in the diplomatic arena was rare and unexpected. Xena’s reaction was immediate. She arrested her bleeding emotions and closed her heart. Gabrielle felt the change as a weakening of their bond to only a faint presence. It was a painful loss to her. She held Xena’s gaze with her own. She knew her partner’s discontent and disappointment was rooted in love. She also knew that events in the recent past had caused Xena’s concern for her safety to heighten acutely. Gabrielle weighed her motives against the price of Xena’s vexation, concluding that it was good and right for her to demonstrate her competency and reassure Xena that an ill wind was not to be constantly feared. “Xena, please,” pleaded Gabrielle far more gently.
Xena took to her chair again and placed her hand on a half-read scroll. “Gabrielle, I know you well enough to know when your mind is made up. I am done arguing. Do what you must.”
Gabrielle had won the argument. She now feared the price she would have to pay for her victory. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. Just pray that neither you nor I live to regret your decision.” Xena returned to her work.
Gabrielle waited hoping Xena would grant their conversation a better ending. Her Lord’s silence confirmed that she would not. Disappointed, Gabrielle left the suite to continue her day’s schedule.
Three days later, arrangements for a Royal visit to Athens were near complete.
Seeking Xena, Gabrielle was directed to the horse-training corral adjacent to the Royal stables. There, Stephen, Voger and two assistant grooms watched attentively as Xena guided a beautiful aggressive filly by a long tether. Gabrielle stood to Stephen’s left, leaning against the corral fence. “Any progress?”
“She’s stubborn,” said the Major.
“Xena or the horse?”
“The horse. Xena is infinitely patient.” After a few heartbeats he asked, “Are you all packed?”
“I will miss you,” said Stephen tenderly.
“I won’t be gone long.” Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on his arm.
“Your Guard is looking forward to Athens. Don’t be too lenient with them. Do not compromise your security in order to grant them ‘r and r’.”
“You sound like Xena,” said Gabrielle with playful exasperation.
“Thank you.” The Major smiled.
Gabrielle chuckled. “My Guard has never let me down. Much of the credit goes to you. You’ve trained many of them.”
Stephen touched the scar that marked Gabrielle’s arm. “We almost lost you.”
“They could not have prevented what happened.”
“Did Xena ask you not to go?”
“Yes.” Gabrielle searched her brother’s pensive eyes. “Stephen, what do you know?”
“She’s been very quiet these past few days.”
“We’ve spoken. She will not make any conciliatory gesture toward Kartis and she disagrees that I will succeed in making inroads with him or any of the other Athenian leaders.”
“And you are determined to prove her wrong.”
“It’s not like that. There’s always been an undercurrent of competitiveness between the two of them. He treats Xena like a barbarian while she treats him like a spoiled child. Why make things worse by putting them in the same room together?”
“You see Kartis differently?”
“He can be reasoned with… I think I can reason with him.”
“Gabrielle, you and Xena are so close. Is there anything you can truly do better without the other by your side?”
“Xena is always with me.” Gabrielle placed her hand over her heart.
“I know, but there is value in her experience and in her exceptional ability to judge people.”
“Gabrielle, just promise me you will be careful.”
“I promise.” Gabrielle embraced the Major lovingly. Upon separation she said, “Maybe you and Jared should take Xena hunting. She doesn’t like our suite when I’m gone.” Gabrielle noted that Stephen seemed troubled. “What is it?”
“I asked Xena for a fortnight of leave to take Tess to Megara. We both have fond memories…”
“I understand.” After a heartbeat Gabrielle smiled brightly. “What do you think if Xena and I join you after the fortnight?”
“Would you?” said Stephen enthusiastically.
“It’s on my way home from Athens and I’m sure Xena would welcome any plan that would hasten our reunion.”
“My Queen.” Xena climbed over the corral.
“My Lord.” Gabrielle welcomed her warmly.
Stephen excused himself leaving the Royals alone.
“Are you here to teach this filly some manners?” asked Xena. “If so, I shall hand her reins to you.”
“I rather watch you and learn,” said Gabrielle sincerely.
“You are beyond my tutoring, Gabrielle.”
“I think there is still a great deal you can teach me.”
“But you reserve the right to decide what to learn and when,” said Xena curtly, her intended criticism evident.
“I do what I must for the greater good,” pleaded Gabrielle softly. “You taught me that as Queen it is my duty.”
“And we are both destined to live by the consequences of our duty,” said Xena with a tinge of bitterness that had nothing to do with Gabrielle and everything to do with her past.
“Xena, please don’t be angry with me for doing what I think is right.”
“As long as you are not angry at me for expressing my disagreement.”
“If you are direct with me, never. If you punish me indirectly then I can only wonder how much you truly respect me.”
Xena turned and placed her hands on the top rung of the corral, tensely leaning against it while she watched the filly pace back and forth in her constrained space. She felt like the filly. She knew that given their disagreement either she would stay in the mental corral or she would force Gabrielle to trade places with her.
Xena had promised Gabrielle her freedom years before. She would not be the cause of Gabrielle returning to a restrained state again. Xena heard Gabrielle near. She sensed the bard beside her. Without looking at her she said wearily, “You are following your conscious. How can I fault you when your goodness has saved my soul from torment on earth?”
“I love you,” said Gabrielle.
Xena turned her gaze to her partner. “That is a grace I will never understanding having.”
Encouraged, Gabrielle said, “Xena, Stephen mentioned that he has your permission to take Tess to Megara.”
“I thought you would approve,” said Xena somewhat surprised by the change in subject.
“I do. So much so that I suggested we join him in a fortnight. I can travel to Megara directly from Athens.”
Xena nodded. “I like the idea.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Then we shall have Megara, Xena. All will be well. I promise you.”
In the Royal bedroom Gabrielle was dressed in her preferred traveling clothes. She wore rust linen slacks tucked into her tall tanned boots and a cream colored blouse. She finished packing her saddlebag and carried it into the main chamber. There Xena waited, a solitary figure standing on the balcony observing the Queen’s Guard readying for their journey to Athens. Wearing black leather slacks and a white blouse, she deceptively projected an unfelt image of assurance and strength. Also in wait was Samuel. He stood by the suite entrance door.
Gabrielle paused momentarily upon seeing Xena. Her partner had retreated into her private thoughts as Gabrielle’s day of departure neared. “This is the last of my things,” said Gabrielle as she offered her saddlebag to Samuel.
The Guardsman took it in hand. “Shall I wait for you outside?”
“Yes. I won’t be long.”
Samuel exited. At the sound of the door closing, Xena turned to Gabrielle. It was rare for Gabrielle to act against Xena’s explicit request. Xena radiated a conscious distancing that Gabrielle chose not to challenge. There had been no lovemaking the night before or upon their waking. Though Gabrielle desired the intimacy, she slept close to her Lord asking for no more than her nearness.
Gabrielle reached out her hand as a silent call, a request for an unspoken reconciliation of their differences. Xena approached accepting the wordless invitation. They walked out of the suite. They were immediately joined by Honor. The young hound took his place by Gabrielle’s side, a playful escort.
The few servants they passed paused in their work and offered a minor bow as they wished their Queen a safe trip.
Reaching the courtyard, Gabrielle spied Stephen and Jared at a distance. The Queen’s Guard was as always neat and polished. The youngest, Joél, carried her standard. Spirit, fully outfitted, waited for her.
Trevor approached. “Your Majesty, your Guard is ready for your command.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
The formality was not only out of respect for Xena’s presence. Upon arriving in Athens Gabrielle would manage all interactions under Royal protocol, a protocol that she found stifling. She always felt as if she was speaking a foreign language. Her words did not come easily off her tongue, a private rebellion, she thought, waging within her.
Gabrielle released Xena’s hand and knelt upon one knee. She bid Honor a heartfelt farewell. The puppy, though growing tall, was too young to travel. She would miss him. Still, she thought Honor would better serve Xena during their separation. She stood up. “Xena…”
“Travel safely,” said the warrior quietly.
“I will miss you.”
Xena raised her hand to Gabrielle’s cheek. “Come back to me safe.”
“I will send a message if I am delayed otherwise I will meet you in Megara as we planned.”
“Athens awaits you my Queen.” Xena stepped aside giving Gabrielle unobstructed access to Spirit.
Gabrielle mounted her stallion. She was dissatisfied with their farewell. “My Lord…”
“I am yours, Gabrielle of Poteidaia, Queen of Greece. I am and shall always be yours and yours alone,” said Xena repeating her vow to Gabrielle upon their joining.
Speechless, Gabrielle leaned down. Xena went to her. They shared a tender kiss. Separating, Gabrielle rode Spirit briskly out of the palace gates, needing to distance herself from her Lord in order to reset her waning composure.
Jared and Stephen came and stood by their Sovereign as she silently watched Gabrielle and the Queen’s Guard exit the courtyard. Privately they felt the sense of loss that always accompanied Gabrielle’s departures. Without a word Xena turned and walked briskly into the palace. Stephen followed her with his gaze. “Jared, she needs a friend. Will it be you or me?”
“Give her time, Stephen,” counseled the General.
PART TWO: ATHENS / THE QUEEN
Gabrielle’s contingent approached Athens through the main southern road. As they neared the city gates the Guardsmen’s’ formation shifted from rows of three to two with Gabrielle leading followed by Trevor and the standard carrying Joél. Continuing in twos: Samuel and Alem, Sentas and Tavis, Brogan and Cantus, Endres and Hamish and the remaining twelve that comprised the score of men. They made an impressive military statement. Conversations, bartering, all street activity paused as the travelers proceeded toward the Agora, the chief marketplace of Athens and center of the city's civic life. Gabrielle heard one voice after another, female and male, proclaim “the Queen”. She was the recipient of universal courtesy as women curtseyed and men bowed to her. She was unaccustomed to such a reception. When traveling through Corinth, a commonplace occurrence, the people greeted her with a “good morning” or the like accompanied by casual hand waves.
Spirit, expressing his own anxiousness, high stepped. Gabrielle reached down and soothed the stallion with a pat on the neck and gentle words. Spirit’s temperament had yet to completely recover from his injury. He remained distrustful and impatient with new people and places.
Gabrielle had debated riding Geld to Athens. She chose otherwise because of her own need to have Spirit’s familiar presence while away from Corinth. She also knew that the white stallion made a noble impression. The combined image of her, Spirit, her standard and the Queen’s Guard were her first strategic move in what she expected would be a complicated series of diplomatic maneuvers between her and Kartis.
Ahead she saw the Governor’s residence, what amounted to a modest palace. Kartis would host her within the walled compound that included the two-story main residence, the militia’s quarters, an armory as well as a half-dozen other structures. Her Guard would bunk in the Athenian militia’s barracks within the complex.
Normally, Gabrielle would not have thought twice about dismounting at the gate and walking in. Instead she followed protocol. She must be acknowledged and invited within and dismount only upon a purple carpet laid down for her at the foot of the palace stairs.
The gateman approached and bowed. “You Majesty, welcome back to Athens.”
“Good afternoon, Markem. I hope all is well.”
“It tis. Governor Kartis is being informed of your arrival. Allow me to escort you.”
Markem walked ahead on foot, leading Gabrielle and her Guard to the palace’s main entrance. Reaching the appropriate place, Gabrielle dismounted, followed by Trevor, Samuel and Alem. As second in command Tavis road forward beside Joél.
Gabrielle kept her vision forward not acknowledging the action of her men to secure her safety. On this journey Gabrielle felt the consequences of not having Xena to deflect attention away from her. She was uncomfortable being the sole focus of the palace staff and she knew her discomfort would only increase as she met the city’s aristocracy. Within moments Kartis walked down the stairs toward her. He was an attractive man, Xena’s age. Like Xena his features were dark. He wore his hair short and a neatly trimmed goatee. He sleeveless blue tunic accentuated his impressive physical stature and his muscular arms and legs.
From a wealthy family Kartis had enjoyed all the privileges of his parents’ social status. Taught in the Gymnasium he studied rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and military strategy, in addition to wrestling, horsemanship and weaponry. His intelligence, agility, and strength exemplified the Greek ideal of honing a perfect balance between mind and body.
Having met Kartis on only a few previous occasions, Gabrielle appreciated the handsome, dynamic man and granted that his most dangerous tendencies were not that different than the Conqueror’s. Gabrielle also noted Kartis’ charisma. He had the power to attract allies who failed to see the danger that lay below the surface of his ambitions. Gabrielle’s goal was to forge a mutually acceptable understanding of Athens, and more specifically of Kartis’ place in the realm.
“Your Majesty, welcome to Athens.” The Governor greeted the Queen warmly.
Gabrielle offered him her hand, which he graciously accepted. “Governor, I thought we dispensed with formalities during my last visit.”
Kartis smiled. “Of course, Gabrielle. I hope your journey was not too taxing.”
“Not at all. I enjoy seeing the countryside.”
“The Athenian women I know are delicate creatures requiring the utmost solicitude, a result of their particular upbringing. It is always refreshing to be in your capable company. Now, if you would join me, I have your rooms ready.”
Gabrielle remained in place as she asked after her Guard’s accommodations. Kartis scanned the men seemingly assessing the formidable military men. There were many familiar faces. The Governor proceeded to offer the high standard of Grecian hospitality, directing Markem to show the Queen’s men to the stables and then their rooms. He directed his next comment to Trevor. “Captain, have you any special requests?”
“The Queen’s security protocol remains unchanged,” said Trevor.
“I am confident you shall find our efforts to safeguard our Queen up to your standards,” said Kartis. He then turned to Gabrielle, offering her his arm. “Shall we?”
Gabrielle allowed Kartis to lead her inside.
The Governor kept to an easy pace, limiting his usual bold strides. “I was disappointed that the Conqueror did not choose to visit Athens with you.”
“Concerns of the realm required her to stay in Corinth,” said Gabrielle.
“I hope we are done with the eastern problem.”
“General Kasen’s latest reports indicate that circumstances have greatly improved. The Persian brigands have ceased their raids.”
“I was glad to learn Corinth did not bend to the Persian’s attempt to blackmail Greece into feeding their peasants.”
“It was difficult to turn the hungry away,” said Gabrielle thoughtfully. “Ultimately, Greece cannot save the world. We must set and maintain reasonable limits to our generosity.”
“Reasonable is the operative word. One man’s reason is another man’s folly,” said Kartis, keeping his gaze forward.
Gabrielle would not be baited. “We can only do our best.”
“I agree.” The Governor turned to his Queen. “Am I to expect a personal answer to Athen’s petitions to Corinth?”
“I am here to discuss them.”
“They did not seem so important to require a royal visit.”
Gabrielle met and held Kartis’ gaze. “They indicate a broader agenda which I believe does deserve further inquiry.”
The Governor maintained a neutral mien. “Is this your judgment or the Conqueror’s?”
“I admit the Conqueror and I are not in total agreement as to how best to respond to Athens.”
“I take it you see greater merit in Athen’s needs.”
“As I said Kartis, I believe they represent a more complex concern, one I wish to discuss with you and the city leaders.”
“The city leaders?” said Kartis obviously taken by surprise. “Do you intend to cast a wide net for your dialogue?”
“As wide as you cast for me. I will leave it to you to invite individuals of merit to discuss the needs of Athens with me.”
The Governor’s agitation was immediately soothed. “I can name a number of men who I trust to give good counsel.”
“Will tomorrow be too soon to begin?” asked the Queen as they crossed over the palace threshold.
“Leave it to me.” Kartis paused at the center of the decorative foyer. “Have you thought of how you wish to spend the evening?”
Gabrielle was determined not to waste a moment of time. “I was hoping you would host my meal. I have always enjoyed our conversations.”
“Excellent.” The Governor accepted the honor gracefully. “I would like nothing more.”
Later in the evening Gabrielle and Kartis sat opposite one another in a moderate size dining room. Two male servants attended to them, inconspicuously bringing and removing plates of food and filling their wine cups. The stateswoman and statesman quickly shifted from genteel conversation to a passionate argument regarding matters of the realm.
Kartis summarized the extent of their discussion to one fair conclusion. “So Gabrielle, you do not support Athens’s petitions.”
“There are more pressing projects that need the funds requested,” confirmed the Queen.
“A hospice,” said Gabrielle without hesitation.
Kartis nodded a nuanced acknowledgment. “I know of your campaign to improve the health care in Greece. And I cannot argue with you on that point. Our citizens are very grateful to have the services of a healer.”
“Do all citizens of Athens have access to a healer?”
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”
“There is a price.”
“There is always a price.”
“Not if the city subsidizes the care of those who cannot pay.”
“Our proposed baths would be self-sustaining after the initial investment in capital.” Kartis redirected the conversation effortlessly.
“And who will be able to afford your baths?” asked Gabrielle impatiently.
“They are not my bathes,” said Kartis as he sat up rigidly. “They are for the Athenians. And it is true the baths will not be affordable to everyone living in the city - those of a lesser class, the peasants if you will. But isn’t that how it should be?” Kartis did not miss Gabrielle’s cool reception to his argument. He leaned forward on the table. “I am not so foolish or crass to ignore your origins, Gabrielle. I tell you that you are making a mistake if you reference your exceptional rise to power as justification for a drastic change in our social policy. You are a marvelous, unique exception. That is all. You are not the exception that proves the rule.”
Gabrielle showed no sign of being placated. “My advisors tell me there is a deeply rooted discontent in Athens. If true, why? It cannot be because Corinth will not open its treasury to fund your projects.”
“In part it is. Athens is growing. We have a vision for our city and we want proof Corinth supports us in realizing that vision. Instead, we are begrudgingly given a token of interest. Corinth does nothing to affirm Athens unique qualities to the rest of the realm.”
By unique Gabrielle understood Kartis to mean superior. “Athens is not the only city in Greece requesting the patronage of Corinth.”
“No, I am sure we are not. But, the citizens of Athens are unlike the crude inhabitants of those cities. We are a jewel. We are Athena’s city and have an obligation to live in a manner that venerates our divine patron. How better to do so than to make this city a utopia? Let others learn from us, not restrained us out of jealously or fear of being diminished by comparison.”
“Is that what you think?” asked Gabrielle angrily. “That Corinth envy’s Athens? If the Athenians are so advanced they should be more than capable of funding their expansion. Why should the peasants that live and work throughout the realm fund Athens’s ambitions with their taxes?”
“There is more to discuss. And I am certain I will offend you though it is not my intent.”
“Speak honestly and I will hear you.”
“I trust that you will.”
Their argument continued, bringing little satisfaction to either of the participants. A knock on the door caused the dining room occupants to pause in their discussion. A beautiful woman entered. “Good evening,” she said.
Kartis stood up. “Sarah, is everything all right?”
“It is getting late. I wanted to make sure you haven’t kept our Queen hostage, left to patiently endure your philosophical musings. You can be tiresome.” She then turned to Gabrielle. “I am sure your Majesty would be too gracious to complain.”
Kartis laughed. “Queen Gabrielle, allow me to present Sarah, daughter of Lord Eurius. She keeps me socially respectable in manners of State business.”
From Targon’s briefing, Gabrielle knew Lord Eurius to be a moderately wealthy landowner. “I know of your family. How are your parents?”
“My father and mother are well. My father rode into the city from our estate when he learned of your visit. I believe he will be meeting with you tomorrow.”
“I look forward to speaking to him.” Gabrielle was somewhat surprised that Sarah was so independent. It was unusual for upper class unmarried daughters to live outside their father’s house. “Your family has a residence in Athens?” she inquired.
“Yes. I keep our Athens household for my parents.”
“You like the city?”
“Very much. Father indulges my wish to live here. I keep the best company and make myself as useful as I can. Which brings me to the second reason for my interruption,” Sarah turned to Kartis. “Lord Turian asked me to remind you that you promised to have a word with him tonight.”
“Yes, I did. I should go and see him,” said Kartis. He bowed to Gabrielle deferentially. “Your Majesty, if you would excuse me, we can continue our insightful conversation in the morning. For now, I ask that you withhold final judgment until you meet with the men of Athens. Only then decide what is best for Greece.”
“As I thought,” said Sarah. “You should be ashamed of yourself boring our Queen.”
“Sarah, you misjudge me. I say we were both quite attentive to the others’ point of view.”
“The Governor speaks the truth,” said Gabrielle giving Kartis a small, yet meaningless victory.
Kartis laughed triumphantly. “I have the Queen as my champion. How lucky am I?” He looked over to Gabrielle and warmly bid her a good night before escorting Sarah out of the room.
After taking time to consider Kartis’ arguments Gabrielle exited the dining room. There, Alem waited to escort her to her suite of rooms. They walked together down the palace hall.
“How are your quarters, Alem?” asked Gabrielle.
“They gave us the barracks east of the stables. They’re comfortable enough. How was your dinner?”
“I rather have Makia’s cooking. Kartis surprised me. He is more ambitious than I thought.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“He is intelligent and has some provocative ideas worth considering. Still, it is best if you don’t turn your back on him or his men.”
“That says it all, don’t it?”
“Let your brothers know that I say to be careful.”
Gabrielle retired to her bedroom. Standing on the balcony she looked up to the stars. She felt Xena’s essence faintly. She assumed Xena’s self-distancing continued. “My Lord,” she whispered. “Please don’t keep yourself from me.”
The following morning Gabrielle met with Udell. Sitting within a garden situated near the Athenian library the two spoke outside of earshot of Samuel and a pair of Kartis’ palace guards.
Udell was a man in his sixth decade of life. He was comfortably dressed in a maroon tunic and sandals. Soft spoken, patient and sharp of mind Gabrielle had enlisted him as an advisor the year before. The scholar recommended philosophical readings, answered Gabrielle’s questions and critiqued her assessments of the material. Due to the distance between Corinth and Athens their relationship developed through frequent correspondence. Gabrielle chose not to involve Udell in the palace intrigue, withholding all the questions she initially intended to pose to him.
“Gabrielle, have you read the works of Lucretius?” asked the philosopher.
“No, I haven’t.”
“He’s Roman but don’t hold that against him. As a follower of Epicurus he has proven that he is far from parochial in his search for knowledge.”
“Then he’s read Democritus?”
“Yes, extensively. Lucretius has some interesting opinions regarding the soul.”
“Does he value the soul?”
“I say he does. He has alienated many because he has no tolerance for the superstitions that give the Gods power over mankind.”
“He does not believe in the Gods?”
“He thinks them distant beings that have limited influence.”
Gabrielle glanced away, contemplating what she knew of the immortals, specifically Aphrodite and Ares. After a few moments she concluded, “Lucretius would then challenge that my Lord is Ares’ Chosen.”
“Not necessarily. He wrote that the Gods may place images in our minds influencing us, but still we have free will and are accountable for our actions.” Interpreting Gabrielle’s silence Udell concluded, “You are skeptical.”
“There are things I’ve experienced...” Gabrielle paused for a moment then asked, “What else does Lucretius write about the soul?”
“He thinks it material, a part of the body, not separate. At death it disperses on the pyre along with the rest of what makes us human, never to be known as it once was again. He refutes the existence of Tartarus and complains that we suffer the worry of a judgment that will never come.”
“So if there is no justice in life there is no justice at all.” The reckoning Gabrielle always imagined for her abusers had no purchase in Lucretius’ philosophy. The thought disturbed her.
“Who is to say, Gabrielle? Justice measured by one person on a particular day or even in the course of a lifetime says little. Faced with a decision, I doubt that an act of compassion will ever be condemned no matter the consequences. On the other hand, a selfish act may ironically have unforeseen positive ramifications. Do we judge by intent or by outcome? Do we judge one act alone or a catalog of them? Do we judge in terms of the impact on one, two, seven or more generations?”
“Udell, I’ve long believed in the greater good, and for me that means that I am seeking to create a world that is just. What meaning is there in life if there is no justice?”
“Love, Gabrielle. Beauty. Joy. There is so much to experience. Why cannot life simply be enough?”
“I’d have given up,” Gabrielle admitted. “I have believed that to sacrifice today was the price to have tomorrow in Elysia. If there is no Elysia…”
“Is there a sacrifice if you are given Elysia?” Udell challenged. Receiving no response, he answered his own question. “I think not. There is only a postponement. But, if there is no Elysia, if your sacrifice has no promise of reward, I think it is much truer, purer. There is no corruption of motive.”
“I can see why Lucretius’ writing is disliked. He challenges us to be virtuous beyond a common man’s imagination.”
“You are a bard who tells tales of common women and men who do uncommon feats, inspiring us to find our own greatness. Have any of your stories reflected on the actors’ motive to enter Elysia, or have their motives been far more simple - to help others, to fight evil in the here and now, to overcome adversity in order to live another day, that being enough?”
“Udell, I tell my stories to Grecians. For the most part we live with a shared vision that at death we will fall under the watch of Hades. I do not speak of Elysia because I don’t have to.”
“Are you making a mistake assuming that all share the same vision of death as you?”
Gabrielle looked down, grasping her hands. “You have given me much to think about.”
“And here I feared you might be bored by an old man such as I.”
“Never,” said Gabrielle as she raised her gaze. “ Our conversations have been the highlight of my visits to Athens. Being hosted by Kartis… well, I rather be home.”
“With the Conqueror?”
“The timbre of your voice when you speak of her is one of young love. Unless my count is wrong, you have been together for three years.”
“Five, actually. It took time for us to openly declare our love for one another.”
Samuel approached. “Excuse me, your Majesty. It is nearly noon and you are expected at the palace.”
“Thank you, Sam.” Gabrielle stood up. “Udell, will you be available tomorrow?”
“Of course. It will be my pleasure to continue our conversation,” said the philosopher.
“I will send a messenger setting the place and time.”
“I can meet at the palace.”
Gabrielle looked about her. “I’d welcome having an excuse to explore the city.”
Udell got to his feet. “As Queen, I would not have thought an excuse necessary.”
“Even queens must take care not to offend their hosts. I would not want Kartis to think that I do not value his hospitality.”
“It is wise of you,” said Udell. He bowed to her. “Until tomorrow, your Majesty.”
The next day Gabrielle met with Kartis’ handpicked Athenians, including Turian. She found Turian to be surprisingly restrained in his manner and his speech. He was a handsome man of impressive stature nearing the end of his fourth decade of life. Turian had appeared on the Athenian political scene roughly a year before. He was a man of some wealth and no notable family history. He secured the respect and trust of many influential Athenians with his wise counsel. Unlike Kartis Turian carried a sword, symbolically conveying his willingness and ability to defend himself. Of all Gabrielle’s observations she was most affected by the content and tone of Turian’s comments. He did not characterize Athens as elite. On the contrary, he was frank that the Athenians had much to learn. He argued that there were many opportunities for their leadership to do better and his suggestions were aligned to Gabrielle’s own priorities such as hospices, labor reform and promoting fair trade practices.
The others Athenians discussed with unabashed forthrightness the failings of Corinth and argued for change. Uniformly their criticisms were levied upon Xena in spite of the fact that it was common knowledge that Gabrielle decreed the end of slavery, a policy change that had cost the men she met greatly. Nothing marked their insincerity more than that conscious oversight.
Left alone in the dining chamber with Kartis, Gabrielle stood near an open window looking out to the palace gardens. She turned to her host ready to argue what she felt was the one constant in the Athenians’ expressed discord with Corinth. It was not economics or philosophy. It was a dislike of Xena. “Why are you so critical of the Conqueror? How do you fault her leadership?” she asked.
Standing, the Governor leaned back against the dining room table, his legs stretched out before him like a contented lion. “I admit she has done well, but her prejudices are limiting Greece’s opportunities to prosper,” said Kartis with practiced ease.
“I don’t know what prejudices you mean. I do know that the quality of life of the majority of the citizens of Greece is envied by other nations.”
“There is much we can learn from Rome.”
Mention of Rome gave Gabrielle reason to pause. She had not considered Caesar a factor in the discord. “I am sure there are men and women in Rome that have knowledge and skills that would be of value to Greece. But, Rome is first and foremost Caesar and Caesar is a viper.”
“I am glad not all people are of your mind. If they were nations would judge Greece by the Conqueror and Athenians, Corinthians and Spartans alike would be seen with blood on our hands.”
Gabrielle could not defend her Lord’s past, thus she focused on the present. “The Conqueror has expanded our alliances…”
“With vassal States,” said Kartis unimpressed. “What of the rest of the world? How isolated will you have us be?”
“Name a nation you judge strategic to Greece’s future other than Rome that Corinth does not have diplomatic ties to?”
“They are small and insignificant compared to Rome. Rome encompasses no less than a third of the known world, Gabrielle. You discount so much by sanctioning the Conqueror’s hatred for Caesar, a hatred rooted in the fact that he spurned her as a lover.” Kartis paused. He studied Gabrielle intently, seeing the nuanced coldness that entered her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m being rude.”
“There is nothing you said that is untrue. The other nations are small. Rome is large. Caesar was the Conqueror’s lover and he did betray her. The consequence of that betrayal is that the Conqueror hates Caesar. And for that reason and many more I do support the Conqueror’s decision to keep Rome at a safe distance.”
“I see you remain unconvinced. Consider that contrary to what some may think the prosperity of a nation cannot be built on the individual accomplishments of its citizens. It is the State that establishes and maintains the quality of life of the people. Without a strong State the people are lambs ready for that slaughter you so irrationally fear from Rome. There is nothing more important than the State. The State must come first.”
“We are not in disagreement.”
“But we are. You put the Conqueror above Greece. I was wrong to hope otherwise. I was wrong to hope you would be Queen to Greece. You are instead Queen to the Conqueror.”
Gabrielle carried in her heart painful remnants of decisions that had placed Greece first, setting aside her desire for a private and peaceful life with Xena. Each time she acted, she did so to honor her vow to be Queen. “You misjudge me.”
“The proof of whether I judge you fairly will come with time.”
Gabrielle had enough of their discourse. “It has been a long day, Kartis. If you will excuse me, I will retire to my rooms.”
“Of course.” Kartis held open the chamber door for Gabrielle.
She stepped out to where Samuel waited in the company of two Athenian guards. He stepped forward, silently taking his place beside her, as she walked down the corridor.
The Queen and her guard turned a corner. They were beyond Kartis’ observation. Turian stood in a nearby alcove hidden within the shadows. He stepped into the light and greeted Gabrielle.
Gabrielle paused. She was not in the mood to engage in a conversation with another Athenian. “Turian, do you always stand away from view?”
“It is a safer place than out in the open within the sights of those on a hunt for political expediencies. May we speak privately?”
Gabrielle gave Samuel a reassuring glance. The Guardsman stepped back as Gabrielle and Turian walked ahead.
Turian observed, “You seem preoccupied.”
“I’ve been given much to think about.”
“It is to your credit that you listen.”
“I wish I knew what is best for Greece.”
“I counsel you to follow your heart.”
Turian’s counsel echoed Xena’s. The counsel presumed that Gabrielle’s heart would be true in all matters. But experience had taught Gabrielle that her heart may not lead to decisions best for Greece. Because of her experience Gabrielle continued to grapple with the disparate forces of heart and mind. “And what of reason?” she asked.
“Overvalued, I say.”
Gabrielle found Turian’s subtle qualifications in their previous discussion refreshing given the unabashed certainty of the other Athenians she had met. She also found that she liked him in a way she could not readily justify. Her reaction was quite different than Xena’s assessment of the man. And so she chose to pose a dangerous question as innocuously as possible. “Turian, Kartis isn’t what he seems to be, is he?”
“It depends on what you see in him.”
Gabrielle understood that caution was being exercised by both she and her companion. “You are different from Kartis and the other Athenians.”
“Am I? What tells you so?”
Gabrielle smiled for the first time that night. “My heart.”
Turian was obviously pleased by her response. “I have long wondered about the Queen of Greece. Now that I have had the opportunity to speak to you and observe you, my heart tells me that you are worthy of your throne.”
“Thank you,” said Gabrielle appreciatively.
“You are not offended that I questioned your right to rule?”
“Why should I be? I am Queen because the Conqueror chose me to be hers. I was not placed on the throne by the people. Many were against, even offended by the Conqueror’s choice.”
“Because they did not know you. Time has healed those wounds.”
“You’re wrong. Here in Athens the wound is still open and festers, although it is hidden behind polite hospitality.”
Obviously impressed, Turian observed, “You are capable of piercing the Athenians’ veil of deceit. It is a fine skill but be careful in letting them know you possess it.”
“Because my presumed ignorance breeds false confidence in my adversaries and gives me an advantage?”
“Yes. An insightful ruler is a danger to those intent on deception.”
Gabrielle paused and turned to the warrior politician. “Turain, are you intent on deception? Are you with me now to give me a false sense of confidence in you?”
Turian mirrored Gabrielle’s actions, finding and holding her gaze. “I cannot blame you for your suspicions. The accusation of false sincerity has been placed at my feet more than once. How can you trust someone you do not know? You can’t if you rule your life by reason. That is why I have selfishly counseled you to follow your heart. There is little time to adequately convey personal histories, to affirm or challenge incomplete or erroneous impressions and to develop alliances. Your Majesty, I do not want to hurt you. Nor do I wish others to cause you harm.”
“I am in danger, aren’t I?” said Gabrielle, betraying no fear.
“Be as you are – cautious.” Turian bowed to her. “Good night, your Majesty.”
Choosing not to displease Kartis Gabrielle set aside her desire to leave the palace and arranged for Udell to meet her in the courtyard garden. Continuing their discussion from the previous day they explored the subject of death, specifically if we cease to exist or if our existence enters an eternal plane.
“Do you think the Gods are outside of time and in death we join them?” asked Gabrielle.
“It is a possibility,” said the philosopher. Responding to Gabrielle’s thoughtful countenance Udell wore an indulgent smile. “You look doubtful.”
“The Fates… It’s said that their weavings are always toward the future. I have never heard of them changing the past. If true and if it is also true that the Gods are bound by the Fates wouldn’t it be logical to think that the Gods are bound by time?”
“It would seem that your logic is reasonable, but who is to say the Gods are bound by logic?”
“There is no doubt the Gods know the past and present as we do, but what of the future? If there is such a thing as ones destiny then the future is irrevocably a fact of the Fates’ loom only waiting for the moment when the future becomes the present?” Gabrielle posed a still nascent vision of life. “Maybe there is more than one future. Maybe we are constantly reaching one crossroad after another where our choices decide which path is taken; which destiny of an infinite number of possible destinies we come to experience.”
“Is it your proposition that because we have free will we are co-creators of our destiny?” asked Udell sincerely intrigued.
Gabrielle gave his question serious consideration before answering. “Yes,” she said wanting to believe she was not an actor in a play following a preordained script.
“And where are the Gods in your scheme of the universe?”
“They touch our lives. There are times we find ourselves at a crossroad of their making.”
“So, the crossroad not the choice is of their making?”
“Yes. The choice is always ours.”
Udell glance down to his aged hands as if reading his history in the wrinkled and discolored skin. “I’m an old man and I’ve face more than one crossroad where whatever decision I made seemed equally cruel. Then what?”
“My Lord has taught me that what is most important is the truth.”
“The truth can harm others in undeserving ways. There are times when mercy requires us to keep silent or speak a falsehood.”
“I’m talking about the truth that you can only find in your soul.” Gabrielle spoke assuredly. “The truth that cuts through all manner of pain and leaves you at peace.”
“I know you have lived an exceptional life, Gabrielle. It seems your life has taught you equally exceptional lessons. You are a wise young woman.”
“I’m not wise.” Gabrielle placed her hand over the philosophers. “That’s why I’m here with you. To learn.”
“Your Majesty, don’t allow your natural humility to cloud the truth you so revere. Look about you. The people struggle to eke out a life. Few have both the mind and disposition necessary for philosophy, though sometimes it seems that the city square is replete with pretenders. You are wise beyond your years. What I admire most about your approach is that you demand more than objective ruminations that aspire toward an unattainable ideal. You require a practical approach. Your approach shall ultimately prove its value if it can withstand the forces of man and nature.”
Gabrielle set aside her mentor’s complement and focused on her most important teacher. “For my Lord there is no philosophy that has proven such an unqualified value. There are always exceptions.”
“I appreciate the Conqueror’s skepticism, especially since I find her to be a rare human being. If you forgive my forthrightness, I find the Conqueror to embody an extraordinary number of contradictions.”
“Knowing her as I do I’m not surprised that you would think so.”
“You know better?”
“Truth, honor and love. She rules by them all.”
“I note you mention love last.”
“No one desires love more than the Conqueror and yet she…” Gabrielle hesitated. “In our life together the Conqueror has risked the loss of my love in order not to compromise her truth and honor.”
“Have you come to agree with her?” asked Udell compassionately.
“No, not always.” And yet Gabrielle privately admitted that she was in Athens because she was following her beliefs, fulfilling her sense of responsibility to the realm. “I love her for who she is. How can I condemn her for her integrity?”
The following evening Gabrielle was summoned to Kartis’ suite. She walked the distance between her suite and his, arresting her anger. It seemed that with each passing day the Governor was asserting a greater authority over her.
Gabrielle waited outside the suite as she was announced. Upon entering Kartis dismissed his attendant. Alone with the Queen, he said “Gabrielle, it is time to be completely candid. The Conqueror cannot lead Greece to greatness.”
“Greece is great.” Gabrielle’s growing impatience broke through the façade of decorum. She spoke sharply. “Your judgment cannot tip the scales of public opinion.”
“You know very well it is not my judgment alone but I will nevertheless speak only for myself. The Conqueror cannot erase the past. Memories are long. The Conqueror’s history is such that I feel I am being generous in limiting my critique to her blemished honor. I grant that you have been a positive influence upon her but you cannot erase resentments that came to be before you ascended to the throne. Nor, if reports that reached Athens are correct, have you the power of reining the Conqueror’s worse impulses and prevent her from brutal killings such as her recent massacre of a band of Persian brigands. If you have tried to rehabilitate the part of the Conqueror that marks her as Ares’ Chosen, and I believe you have, you have failed.”
Gabrielle walked toward a window. She stared out to the city as she honestly assessed Kartis’ wretchedly frank words. She turned to her host. She repeated her one constant heartfelt argument. “Greece has improved measurably under the Conqueror’s rule.”
The Governor approached her. He was relentless in arguing his cause. “I have and continue to agree that Greece is in some ways improved because of the Conqueror. I also say a better future for Greece awaits the right man… and woman.”
Kartis’ ambitions were now nakedly exposed to Gabrielle. All pretenses were set aside as she asked, “You would be Sovereign?”
“Name a more qualified candidate. But, before you answer consider this. You may know a few good military men. Their association with the Conqueror taints them. Greece needs a man of power not war. The next Sovereign should be a man of letters, his academic training not only preparing him for leadership, but also giving him legitimacy among the aristocracy. And finally, he should be a man of wealth thus making his motives less suspect.”
“Why tell me this? You speak nothing less than treason. I could have you arrested.”
“You won’t because you are a woman of your word and will not punish me for speaking honestly. I share my uncensored thoughts with you because I need you if I am to succeed.”
“Why? If you are ideally suited to lead Greece you would have no use for me.”
“I need you because my arguments are based on reason and much of Greece is swayed by emotion. You have the love of the people. They will resist a change in government unless you sanction it. Civil war is not inevitable. A change in the throne can be achieved with minimal bloodshed. Gabrielle, the transition I have planned can only be accomplished with you by my side.”
“Rhetoric may win you allies in Athens, but how will you defend yourself against the Conqueror, or your own military for that matter.”
Kartis laughed. “Don’t let appearances fool you. I have had a sword in my hand since I was a boy. My father was no idealist. He taught me that words were never enough to vouchsafe a man’s safety or his possessions.”
“I see that you are at risk times three.”
“The Conqueror, Caesar and your ring of traitors. I think the last your greatest risk. If a man is willing to betray our Sovereign, what makes you think he would not as willingly betray another who places himself on the throne?”
“I have no reason to fear my associates. We are Athenians of the same frame of mind. We come from the same background and have been taught the same values. We know what must be done. Though I will be Sovereign I will not hold power selfishly in my fist. I will look to establish a democratic government with citizen representation. We will rule Greece as many of the villages and towns and a few progressive cities such as Athens are ruled. It can be done on a grander scale. Men have less reason to overthrow a government when they believe they are part of the government.”
Gabrielle suspected that to outright refuse Kartis was to end any chance of influencing him. She played the role of reluctant ally. “Would you have me kill the Conqueror?”
“I imagine that would be distasteful business for you.”
“Are you saying she would live?”
“No, she must die.” said Kartis matter-of-factly. “I reserve the task for myself.”
Gabrielle was no longer surprised by the Governor’s arrogance. “You seem so sure.”
“I am a fair judge of my fighting skills.”
“No, I mean of everything, including me.”
“I am an observer of people, Gabrielle. You and the Conqueror show respectful concern for one another. There is no passion. I think the Conqueror is not the only one in your match that believes the ends justifies the means. You have done well for yourself. I will not criticize your motives.”
Gabrielle had never been so blatantly portrayed a mercenary. She set the emotions the offense triggered to the far recesses of her heart. “You don’t believe I ever loved the Conqueror?”
“Slaves don’t love those that hold them in bondage. They learn that to survive they must please their mistresses and masters. I say you are a survivor.”
And so she was thought Gabrielle, but not in the manner Kartis imagined her. “I need time to think.”
“As I expected,” said Kartis. “You are not scheduled to leave for another three days. There is time.”
“If necessary, I will extend my stay in Athens.”
Kartis’ demeanor hardened. “Uncertainty and the delays it causes can be dangerous. I expect that you will judge our reasons for a change sufficiently compelling that you will join Athens’ caused prior to your scheduled departure date.”
In the whole of her life Gabrielle had never willingly surrendered to her abusers. Her better judgment warred with her pride. She reined her rage, allowing none of her wrath to bleed to the surface. “As you said Kartis, I have time and I shall use it to my advantage. I shall consider your proposal and its benefits to Greece… as well as to me. It would be unfortunate if your expectations were not realized.”
“Yes it would,” said Kartis with a hint of menace. “I hope for both our sakes that does not happen. Now, I have others waiting. Send word Gabrielle when you are prepared to commit yourself to me alone.”
Welcoming her dismissal, no matter how discourteous, Gabrielle left Kartis without further comment. She judged his final words a clear reflection of his ambition. He did not ask for a commitment to Athens, nor to Greece, but to him. Xena had Gabrielle’s vow but it was spoken as a vow to Greece, to the greater good.
In the privacy of her suite, Gabrielle weighed her options. She knew it would be suicidal to try to send a warning to Corinth. Kartis would scrutinize all messages sent and have his militia hunt down any covert couriers. There was no immediate means to warn Xena without unduly risking the lives of her men. For the time being she chose to present herself as the opportunist Kartis judged her to be. She would continue to meet with the men of Athens who seemed ready to challenge the realm. She would attempt to gauge whether their intentions were as concretely against Corinth as Kartis presented them to be. She would also take the opportunity to irrefutably identify Kartis’ traitorous co-conspirators thus avoiding the more difficult task of later trying to flush them out from the shadows.
Gabrielle felt she owed Xena an apology. Still, as wary as Xena had been she had not anticipated such sweeping treachery among the Athenians.
Gabrielle closed her eyes seeking her connection with Xena. Feeling only a faint thread of their bond, she doubted Xena could sense her distress.
Her attention was diverted by a knock at her door.
Samuel entered. “Your Majesty, Turian requests to see you.”
“Please let him in, Sam.”
Turian entered. As Samuel closed the door the Athenian’s hand went to his sword pommel. Gabrielle knew the warrior’s gesture well. Turian scanned the large room thoroughly.
“How may I help you?” asked Gabrielle.
Turian focused upon her. “Are you well?”
The question surprised Gabrielle. “I am.”
“You were very quiet at dinner.”
In the dining hall, Turian had been seated at the opposite end of a large table far from the immediate vicinity of Gabrielle’s conversations. She had obviously been under his surveillance. “I thought it best to listen without further rebutting Kartis and his guests.”
“So, no one has…”
“You have not been personally threatened?”
Gabrielle stepped forward until she was only an arm’s length away from the man. She met and held his troubled gaze. She understood him to mean a very specific threat. “I know how men talk about women. They boast of their virility and wager on a future conquest. As a slave, before Corinth, I was never the subject of such a conversation because with my master’s permission they could simple take me and make me do as they willed. In the Conqueror’s household, as her slave and then her servant the talk was not as loud, yet it was always as crude. It was only as the Conqueror’s consort and then as Queen that I was no longer subjected to hearing such talk, though I am not so naïve to think the talked stopped. I see that tonight I was very much the subject of men’s conversations.”
“The wine continued to flow freely after you left the room. A few men were drunk,” said Turian betraying no further emotion.
“Is that an excuse?” demanded Gabrielle.
“Wine gives men leave to do stupid things.”
“I would say worse than stupid.” Far from appeased, Gabrielle held her sharp gaze upon the warrior. To her surprise, she was deeply disappointed in him. “Thank you for your concern. My Guard…”
“He is only one man,” said Turian firmly. “Your safety requires greater diligence.”
“You see only one man,” said Gabrielle with a minor smile.
Turian side stepped Gabrielle and entered her bedroom and then her bath. “You are alone.” His statement demanded confirmation.
“In my rooms, yes.” Gabrielle walked onto the balcony. Turian followed. Gabrielle looked up to the heavens wondering if any of the Gods were watching over them. “I am under watch. The watchmen are also under watch. Layer after layer of observation that seemingly has no end. I live in a cage composed of eyes instead of metal bars.”
Turian scanned the landscape of palace buildings, the perimeter wall and beyond it the city of Athens. “I would hate it.”
“I do.” Gabrielle mused. “There is much to recommend being an anonymous member of a crowd. It is a freedom I miss.”
“When did you last know it?”
“From time to time the Conqueror and I travel without our Guard, usually in open spaces away from villages and towns. There was an exception last winter. We were in the north and stayed at a village where at first only the innkeeper and his son knew us. I miss how I felt there. I was happy being a healer and a bard. I was known and appreciated for my skills, not my title.”
“May I ask you a personal question?” said Turian gently.
“There are arranged marriages where those joined grow to love one another. Did you come to love the Conqueror?”
“I would never have thought to compare my relationship with the Conqueror to an arranged marriage. Unlike an arranged marriage I had a choice. I have always had a choice whether to be with her or not. The night I first chose to be with the Conqueror… I loved her. I have never been with her without love.”
“And she loves you?”
“Yes, but I admit that in the beginning I did not know that she loved me.”
“Why then be with her?”
“If you were to ask Kartis and the others they would say I was ambitious and used my body to gain comforts and power.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Turian sincerely.
“No, you don’t,” said Gabrielle, touched by the realization. “The Conqueror had given me all that she promised when I first entered her household. I was fed, clothed, sheltered and kept safe. In return I labored but the labor was never demeaning nor physically punishing. She allowed me to be a bard and by my request arranged for me to apprentice as a healer. I was living a rich life and had nothing to give her in return.”
“Except yourself.” Turian speculated.
“Yes. And still I benefited. She gave me a woman’s gentleness and passion.”
“I can understand why you are loyal to her.”
It was not loyalty that kept Gabrielle at Xena’s side. Gabrielle felt the absence of Stephen and Jared. They, Makia and Samuel were the friends to whom she expressed without censor her love for Xena. Unlike Makia and Samuel they had a unique knowledge of her Lord and thus appreciated the delicate balance that made their joined lives possible. Turian could not begin to understand her union with Xena, no matter how he might try.
With Xena’s essence beyond her reach, Gabrielle preferred not to dwell on her partner. “Have you a family, Turian?”
“A brother and a sister. They live in Thrace near our childhood home. I help them as I can so they don’t have to struggle for their livelihood. For their safety I do not acknowledge them here in Athens.”
“You have presented yourself as an Athenian.” Gabrielle restated a fact she had often heard.
“I was a pauper’s son who was apprenticed as a child with a merchant. He brought me to Athens. I came to wealth through trade. As a young man I never stepped foot in the Gymnasium and I bathed from water I hauled from a well. You are sorely mistaken if you think I support the city’s outrageous petitions. The intelligentsia makes a mockery out of reason.”
“So, you are not bound to Athens?”
“I should not care for the city. Its conceit nauseates me. Such ostentation and hypocrisy is an embarrassment to a true Greek who works the land and defends his family with a sword. That said, I will not condone the sacrifice of innocent lives by ambitious men who have lost their perspective of what can and should be done.”
“Then, you do see a danger?”
“Don’t you?” asked Turian earnestly.
Gabrielle wanted to trust Turain. To do so she needed to know more about his history. “If you are not connected to Athens by birth, why stay? Have you a love?”
“No. I have never sustained… I have been disappointed on more than one occasion. There comes a time when a man stops expecting love.”
For the moment Turian seemed to accept her refusal to answer his question. Relieved, Gabrielle wondered aloud, “No arranged marriage for you?”
“I will not take the risk of a loveless union. Bitter is a bed without mutual affection. Not to be indelicate but I rather spend my coin for a woman to give me pleasure. It is an honest exchange.”
“I was with a young man for a number of moons after the Conqueror freed me. I did not love him but I did care for him. I don’t regret what we shared.”
“So, you have known a gentle man’s touch?”
“Yes. The memory was tainted when he too raised his hand against me.”
“I’m sorry, your Majesty.”
“Please call me Gabrielle.”
Turian smiled. “Gabrielle. Before, you mentioned a lost sense of freedom. I know you enjoy to ride. Tomorrow, would you join me? There are a few places not far from here that I would like to show you. I doubt Kartis would object although he may insist on a proper Athenian escort.”
Gabrielle smiled warmly. “It is a tempting invitation. I think it is better if I don’t give Kartis reason to fear that I will take leave of his gracious hospitality.”
Turian cocked his head to the side. The irony of Gabrielle’s statement did not escape him. “I understand.”
Gabrielle was uncertain of Turian’s role in the unfolding events that threatened to alter the stability of the realm. She chose to follow Xena’s advice to keep her enemies close. “Turian, in the morning I plan to tour the city further. I would welcome your company.”
“Then you shall have it.”
The two turned their attention to the cityscape. “It is said that Athens never sleeps,” said Turian. “There is always a story told or a question debated as cups of wine are poured.”
“It wouldn’t be long before I pined for my bed and a candlemark of silence,” quipped Gabrielle.
“I thought as a bard you would think this Elysia on earth,” said Turian indicating the city with a sweep of his hand.
“No, my glimpses of Elysia have had nothing in common with city life.”
“You are still a young woman from Poteidaia more comfortable in a pastoral setting?”
“I am,” said Gabrielle as she looked up to the clear night sky.
The two fell into a comfortable silence. After some time Turian turned to Gabrielle. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
“Just random thoughts.”
“You seem comfortable with the night.”
“I don’t fear it. I’ve spent some of my best, though at times painful moments surrounded by an incomplete darkness. During those times the light of the stars and the moon were never brighter to me. I can’t see the stars during the day and at best the moon is a misty orb, nearly transparent. Were it not for my memory of the night I would be left uncertain of whether the stars and moon were real or just an illusion.”
“You make the night sound like a magical place.”
Gabrielle smiled. “The night brings to life a different world, one I was taught to explore by listening closely to its sounds and breathing deeply its scent, trusting myself to find my way or if the terrain is too dangerous, to wait patiently.”
“For dawn when there is no night?”
“There is always night. I just can’t see it because of the sun.”
“And what do you think of the day?”
“I have come to love both night and day. The balance is necessary.”
“I find people very much like night and day. They have their darkness and their light. And they have their personal seasons when one seems to dominate the other.”
“What season dominates you, Turian?”
“Winter though I wish it wasn’t so.”
Intrigued, Gabrielle wondered if Turian’s was a melancholy soul. “Does it have to be?”
“It will take someone with more light than darkness to come into my life.”
Turian took Gabrielle’s hand and kissed it. He raised his gaze to her. Gabrielle found her gentler emotions stir and was nonplussed by them.
Turian seemed equally moved. He released her hand and stepped back. “Good night, Gabrielle.”
“Good night, Turian.” Gabrielle watched Turian’s departure. As her suite door closed she looked back up to the stars and whispered, “Xena, come to me. I need you.”
The following morning Gabrielle sat in the palace gardens in wait for Trevor. The Captain approached soon after being summoned by Samuel. “Your Majesty.”
“Queen’s protocol, Trevor,” said Gabrielle. The Captain visibly relaxed. Gabrielle patted the bench seat. “Join me,”
He sat beside her. Gabrielle covered his hand with her own. “We have a problem.”
“You mean other than the prickly Athenians?” asked the Guardsman.
“Hard not to.”
“I should have confided in you sooner…”
“Kartis has asked me to betray my Lord. He seeks the throne and has rallied a number of powerful Athenians to his side. He is convinced that as Athens goes so goes Greece.”
“Is he mad?” said Trevor too loudly. He looked over his shoulder. There was no one to overhear.
Gabrielle waited until she once again had his attention. “No, not at all. And that is what frightens me most. He cannot be easily dismissed. Trevor, we are his prisoners and time is running out for me. I must give him an answer tomorrow.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“Buy more time by sending a message to Corinth that I am being delayed. Kartis will surely censor my message to the bare minimum. I will have little chance of warning my Lord.”
“You and the Conqueror have your other way. Can’t she sense that you are in danger?”
“If she opens her heart to me.”
Trevor knew the one force that could obstruct Gabrielle and Xena’s bond. “Have you had a disagreement?”
“Yes.” Though she preferred to keep her own counsel in regards to Xena, Gabrielle knew that for the sake of her Guard’s lives, as well as her own, she could no longer withhold the truth. “Trevor, she did not want me to come to Athens alone. When troubled my Lord tends to withdraw from those who cause her pain. She may not…”
“I understand.” Trevor tried to save Gabrielle any further discomfort. “We are on our own. I will inform the men. We have been doing our own reconnaissance, tracking the movements of the militia and the palace guards. We will compare notes and identify what weaknesses we can exploit.”
“Did you know something I didn’t?”
“The Conqueror has taught me to be prepared for any possibility. It relieves boredom and in difficult times it positions us with one or more contingencies.”
“I should know better than to expect less from you.” Gabrielle squeezed Trevor’s hand affectionately. “I’m grateful to have you here.”
“Thank me when we ride free from Athens.” Trevor enclosed Gabrielle’s hand in his own. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Kartis hasn’t threatened you personally?”
Gabrielle reassuringly placed her free hand on Trevor’s arm. “Nothing I can’t manage.”
“Your answer gives me no comfort.”
Gabrielle held Trevor firmly. “What I told you in Messene still holds. If I am harmed I will need you, so don’t do anything foolish.”
“Damn it, Gabrielle!” The Captain’s agitation sent a tremor through his body that Gabrielle could not help but feel.
She captured his gaze, her composure remained constant. “Trevor, listen to me. I love you. Your life… the life of all my brothers is a fair trade.”
“No, Gabrielle. No!” He stood, freeing himself from her grasp. “There is no fairness in any exchange where one choice brings violation and the other death.”
“You’re right. But, such is life and wishing differently won’t change a thing. Now, go and rally my brothers. Tell Sentas I expect his most audacious solution. I can’t wait to have reason to use the new skills he has taught me.”
Trevor looked up to the palace. “Given that your quarters are on the second floor those acrobatics might just come in handy.”
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