Summary: The Conqueror leaves Greece to visit Cleopatra and meets a slave/gladiator named Gabrielle but all is not what it seems.
Disclaimer: See Part 1
Authors Note: Howdy, how is everyone doing? I'm on holidays now so I'm going to try and update quicker, along with making the chapters longer. We're over half way through the story now, so things are going to start heating up. I hope you all look forward to the many twists to come, cause you know how much I love driving my readers crazy trying to figure everything out. I want to thank everyone for their comments and the many emails I've recieved. This story is my most popular one yet. If you want to email me, my address is jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
P.S. A lot of the emails/comments I've gotten are about Alexandria, which I really love. She's one of my favourite characters that I completely adore, even if I make her the bad guy in some of them. For all the fans of her out there, I want you to know that you haven't seen the last of her in this story ;)Thank you and enjoy.
The next few days after Alexandria's banishment passed by quickly and I hardly even noticed since I was so preoccupied with work. I had spent the past two days with Palaemon, signing off on several different acts for the festival, which included a circus from Chin, that would start tomorrow and trying to catch up on the piles and piles of paper work that swamped my desk. I swear, if I had been told while conquering Greece how much paper work is actually involved in ruling, I might not have done it. The rest of my time I spent alone, up in the tower where I used to spend my spare moments with Alexandria, talking or just enjoying each other's company in comfortable silence. I had contemplated seeking out Gabrielle but decided against it every time the thought entered my mind. I still hadn't completely made my mind up about the Amazon Queen. While I was finding it harder and harder to be suspicious of her, I didn't feel comfortable pursuing anything more with the woman who had almost destroyed my Empire. Yes, she felt horribly about it and even regretted it, but that didn't really change anything, did it?
While lying in bed last night, staring up at the ceiling I realized, I didn't even know the woman that I claimed to once love with my entire being. The slave that I had met in Egypt wasn't the same Amazon Queen that was resting in the guest quarters on the other side of my palace. I hadn't known the girl before I met her in Cleopatra's palace, so how would I know the difference between who Gabrielle truly was and the obedient slave she had played so well? I tried to remember all the times we had spent together talking in bed after making love for hours, but I found it hard. The good times had been overshadowed by the lies and betrayal; cruel words had replaced loving ones.
So I finally decided that instead of pursuing a relationship, I would pursue a friendship with the former slave, as I had planned to do all those moons ago in Egypt before my feelings and lust overwhelmed me. I wanted to get to know the real Gabrielle and then I would decide what to do next. For all I knew, I wouldn't even like her romantically, or at least I hoped I wouldn't.
The sun was just starting to set as I sat on my bed after a long afternoon of sparring with my soldiers. Tiredly, I started to untie the laces of my bracer before pulling it off and dropping it on the bed beside me. I started at the sound it caused as it hit the silk sheets, one hand automatically reaching for my chakram which was still attached to my belt after my recent drills with the Royal Guard. I barked a laugh in surprise at the small ball of fur that was curled up on the mattress next to me, staring up at me with large yellow eyes.
"By the Gods, where did you come from?" I asked the panther cub that continued to gaze up at me. I remembered the wedding gift from Lao Ma and seeing the tiny thing following Alexandria around the castle over the past half a moon, but I hadn't even thought of what had happened to it since she had left the palace. It seemed only fair that it would now solely belong to me since Alexandria was no longer around to take care of it. What was it's name again? I tried to remember as I ran my fingers through the inky black fur.
Nox, that's it.
I spent several long moments running my fingers through the beast's soft fur before forcing myself to finish taking off my sweaty clothes. I groaned softly as I stretched my sore muscles, smiling wearily as I acknowledged that I was getting old as I slipped into a deep red silk shirt that fell half way down my thighs and a pair of black leather pants. After lacing up my knee high black boots, I sat on the edge of my bed and wondered what to do next. There was a large list of things I still had to do involving the festival, not to mention the small mountain of paper work that was in my study just across the corridor.
I made a noise that was half sigh, half groan as I decided to finally seek out the Amazon Queen. There were things I wanted to discuss with her, things that needed to be said before the battle that I could feel coming. I left my rooms and made my way quickly through the castle, taking several short cuts to avoid the many guests that were wandering through the halls of my palace. As I started walking up the stairs that led to the quest quarters, Palaemon fell into step beside me.
Damn it. I almost got away with it this time.
"My lord," Palaemon greeted me, pressing his fist against his chest. "I have important news."
"What is it?" I asked, more than slightly impatient.
"The Horde, my Lord," the blonde haired man replied grimly and I cringed. "We received word a few candle marks ago that the beasts have started attacking the villages around Thebes. Glyphera has sent word to her second in Delphi and they are trying to control the situation, but with the Seventh and First army divided throughout so much land, they are having some trouble."
"Have we sent out men?" I asked, cursing the gods over this new development. With Rome preparing to attack, I couldn't afford to be losing men in a battle against the Horde. I had my suspicions that they had taken to the forests surrounding Thebes after my last battle against the horrid creatures years ago, but it had been hard to track them all down again after I finally took Corinth.
"I ordered five hundred of Petracles men to start marching just over a candle mark ago," Palaemon replied. "I would have liked to have sent a larger number but we need as many men in Corinth as possible if Brutus plans to attack soon. Darnelle has sent a message to the Eighth army and has ordered for a thousand men to start marching toward us, but that will take a few days at least."
I nodded at Palaemon's words, stopping in the hall way that led to Gabrielle's rooms as I considered this new information. If my captain knew why I was making my way up here, he kept the knowledge to himself. I was slightly worried about this new situation and the loss of men in the city, despite the fact that we had an extra six thousand men due to the Third and Fifth army camping outside Corinth. It gave me almost ten thousand men in total for when Brutus decided to attack.
The only problem was that I didn't know how many men Brutus would bring with him. Greece's army consisted of over thirty thousand well trained men and women, with the best soldiers in the Royal Guard. I had no doubt that while my army was smaller than Rome's amount of almost fifty thousand soldiers, my men were better. I may have been slightly biased, but I knew that one Greek soldier was worth at least ten Roman dogs.
"I want constant reports," I finally spoke; my brow furrowed as I realized there wasn't much I could do. "Have Darnelle report to me when his soldiers get here and make sure Draco sends a message to the First army to be on alert. For all we know, Brutus might have pushed the Horde from their hiding place to cause a diversion. I also want another five hundred soldiers to be sent to Delphi to make up for Glypera's men in Thebes."
"Yes, Conqueror," Palaemon nodded respectfully before turning on his heel and making his way to where the Captain's rooms were kept on the other side of the castle. I sighed softly, rubbing my throbbing temples while trying to remember what I was doing before Palaemon came along.
"Gabrielle, right," I muttered before continuing on my way down the corridor to the Amazon's room. I took a deep breath, pushing all thoughts of Rome and the Horde from my mind before knocking on the large wooden door. Almost immediately, I heard Gabrielle's footsteps as she crossed the room before the door opened the tiniest bit, revealing one beautiful green eye.
"Oh, it's you," Gabrielle smiled brightly as she opened the door for me, stepping back so I could move past her into the spacious apartment.
"Were you expecting someone else?" I asked casually, even though I felt a slightly clenching in my belly at the thought of Gabrielle having company in her room. Stop it, I berated myself mentally as I heard Gabrielle close the door behind me before taking a seat on the couch in front of her fire place. It was frustrating to feel so jealous despite attempting to convince myself that I didn't want Gabrielle romantically.
"My Regent was going to meet me for the evening meal," Gabrielle answered, her voice equally casual. My mind instantly conjured up an image of Gabrielle and the attractive blonde regent in bed together and I frowned.
"There are some things we need to discuss," she clarified.
"Oh," I said simply, seating myself slowly on the couch beside her. Despite the fact it was my guest room, I felt like I had to be polite while visiting the former slave.
"Can I do something for you, Conqueror?" Gabrielle finally asked after several moments of silence. I had completely forgotten once again why I had decided to meet the blonde woman in her rooms and instantly said the first thing that came to my mind to cover up for myself.
"I was wondering if you would accompany me to the Festival over the next few days?"
Why did I ask her that? Why, oh Gods, why?
"Accompany you?" Gabrielle replied slyly, a small grin on her face. "You mean, like a date?"
"No," I replied with a smile of my own, relaxing at the playful banter. "I mean like two people spending a few days in each other's company, enjoying a celebration together."
"Like a date."
"Okay, a date, between friends."
"Hm," Gabrielle spent a few moments pretending to consider my offer before shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly. "I guess so."
"You guess so?" I replied with mock outrage. "The Conqueror of Greece asks you to spend the Spring Festival in her company, and you say 'I guess so?'"
I couldn't help but smile broadly as Gabrielle laughed, the musical sound ringing pleasantly in my ears. I also couldn't help but notice how beautiful the blonde woman looked as her face lit up with happiness, her ocean green eyes sparkling in amusement.
"I'd love to," Gabrielle finally answered. "I was going to go with a group of my warriors, but I'm sure they can amuse themselves."
"They can come too," I surprised myself again with the words even as I spoke them. Gabrielle's own eyes widened slightly at my reply, but she shrugged it off with a smile and a nod. It was actually kind of comforting, I thought, knowing that I wouldn't be spending so much time alone with the beautiful Amazon Queen.
Though, another part of me was extremely disappointed at that.
"Is that all you came for?" Gabrielle startled me out of my thoughts and I nodded, embarrassed that I still couldn't remember my initial intention for meeting with the Amazon. I immediately noticed the disappointed expression on her face, though she attempted to cover it up.
"Things are never going to be like they were between us again, are they?" Gabrielle suddenly blurted the words out, her tone heavily laced with sadness.
I swear this woman was the only person on earth who could surprise me like she constantly does. And probably the only woman who can make a generally happy conversation turn completely uncomfortable in under five seconds with her blunt questions.
"I can't forget," I said, partly to avoid answering the question properly.
"If I could go back and change things, Xena, I-”
"I know, Gabrielle." I cut her off quickly, unwilling to hear her apologize once more. "I know."
We sat there in silence, both of us lost in memories of the past and each of us regretting the actions that had put us here. I wondered if I would ever be able to forget the former slave's betrayal and the pain she put me through. I looked up from my hands that were resting in my lap to look at Gabrielle, only to find her staring blankly forward, her green eyes filled with unshed tears.I would try harder, I decided. I would do my best to forgive if not forget.
To Be Continued
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