To Mend A Wild Heart
Chapter Twenty Three
"Xena, what's going on?"
I said nothing as I tugged on my black leather pants, feeling the fabric cling to my thighs as I tightly tied the laces. I had already pulled on a black sleeveless leather battledress, its skirt hanging to mid-thigh over my pants. There was no time to explain as I shrugged on my armor, silver plates that protected my chest, shoulders and back before pulling on my boots and knee guards. I heard the door open as Gabrielle left me alone in my chambers, but I had no time to think about where she was going. I attached my sword sheath to my back, my mind whirling with questions and no answers.
How could I answer Gabrielle's question? How could I tell her what was going on when I didn't know myself? Though, in the back of my mind, I had an inkling of what was happening in the city, but a part of me didn't want to believe it, even after everything. I really shouldn't have spent most my life being a heartless bitch and then I wouldn't have had to worry about things like this happening.
Getting betrayed really sucked, I thought to myself with a sigh.
I was just finishing tying up my bracers, an impressive feat with only one hand, when someone pounded on my door. I shouted for them to enter and the heavy wooden door flew open to reveal Palaemon, his gray eyes showing relief as he saw my leather and metal incased body.
"My Lord, the city is being overrun with soldiers."
"I know, Palaemon, can't you see the get up?" I snapped, feeling my temper begin to border on true rage as I slipped my breast dagger into place. "But we have worse problems than that, don't we, my friend."
"They are your men, my Lord," Palaemon nodded gravely.
"They are dead is what they are," I growled as I sheathed my sword on my back. I had several small and not so small daggers hidden on my body in easy reach, not the mention my chakram that hung on my hip, shining brightly despite the amount of blood that had stained it over the years. The weight of all my armor and weapons felt unusual after so many seasons of wearing silk robes and fine dresses while running the country. Though I knew it wouldn't take long before my body grew used to the familiar leathers, warming the cool material quickly.
"My Lord, do you think..."
"I don't know," I cut off my Captain's unspoken question of who was attacking the city. I know who he thought it was, the one Greek that would be able to truly turn my soldiers against me with a chance of actually beating me. It sent a cold shiver down my spine, just to think of it.
I stamped my feet one last time to settle my armor into place before striding out of my chambers and into the crowded corridor. I had to carefully avoid the masses of people that were running through the halls, soldiers and servants alike, until I was finally recognized and the crowds parted before me like a snake had been found in their midst. I couldn't help but smile as my path was cleared, making my way down the stairs and into the main entrance where hundreds of soldiers were doing a final check of their weapons and armor. In the center of the room stood Gabrielle, in full Amazon Queen Regalia with a group of warrior women clustered around her. I spent a moment capturing the picture she presented in my mind, so different than the first time I had seen her in nothing but a simple white tunic. She had truly changed from the slave she once was.
Or maybe she had always been this way and the part of a slave was just a role she had to play in her years of servitude after being captured. Either way, the role of Amazon Queen suited her better. Though, I'd always miss the outspoken yet sometimes shy slave that I'd met what felt like a lifetime ago.
I watched as she yelled orders to her people, even having the audacity to flag down a few of my own men before sending them on her missions. My grin almost split my face in half as I silently acknowledged my love for this strong, confident woman. Ocean green eyes caught mine over hundreds of heads and Gabrielle returned my smile with a smirk of her own, having the decency to blush a little bit.
I turned at the hail, spotting Meleager pushing his way through the crowd, a worried frown marring his rakishly good looks. His stopped before me, saluting before he spoke.
"Men have spotted Roman soldiers, Lord Conqueror, several legions making their way over land and to the city."
I cursed loudly, stopping only when I saw Meleagers expression turn even grimmer.
"And ships, Xena," he said quietly, using my given name with the serious information. "Roman ships are less than three candlemarks away."
"How come we're only finding out about this now?" Palaemon said angrily. "The men guarding the docks should have warned us candlemarks ago!"
"Because the men at the docks are the ones that betrayed us," I breathed out to which Meleager nodded. Damn, I knew this had been coming but I didn't think the treachery had been this close to home.
"Alexandria's men?" My captain asked in a low whisper.
The room was suddenly much too loud for my sensitive ears and much too crowded. I shook my head, running my fingers through my raven locks before striding to the big double doors without a word, pushing them open and walking into the chaos outside my castle.
"I want the Royal Guard in the city. Tell them to take down any man that stands against them. Meleager, take a squad down to the docks." I gestured to the ocean as I spoke to the older man. "There should be a ship from Chin down there with a man on board who has a special order for me. He knows what to do; follow his instructions."
"Aye, Lord Conqueror."
I watched as Meleager ran off with a legion of soldiers before turning back to the group in front of me, which consisted of Palaemon, Gabrielle, a squad of Amazon's and almost one hundred of my own men. They all watched me intently as they waited for their orders and I grinned inside at the rush of power it gave me. My body was almost humming with energy at the impending battle and from the look of the faces in front of me; I guessed that my expression matched my thoughts.
I wanted blood and the beast wouldn't be satisfied until every inch of my body was covered in it.
"You are all with me. We're heading to the gates," I said shortly, turning on my heel without bothering to see if anyone was following me. I knew they were.
"The gates?" Gabrielle questioned as she came up beside me. She had her sais in her hands, her thumbs moving restlessly over the hilts as she looked down the hill, where smoke was now rising from the buildings throughout the city.
"There are legions of Roman's not far from here," I explained in a low voice, watching as Gabrielle's eyes widened in astonishment. "We're going to stop them."
I didn't wait for an answer as I sped up my pace down the hill that would lead into Corinth's marketplace. I pulled my sword from its sheath on my back, my free hand resting on my chakram as I jogged briskly down the stone path. I hardly even noticed as more soldiers joined our group; all my attention was focused on the sounds of battle and the screams of the dying that I could hear ringing in my eyes. I followed the sounds into the first street of the marketplace and was met with complete and utter pandemonium.
My Royal Guard were valiantly trying to push back the men that were storming the city, but I could see their confusion as they fought against kinsmen that they'd stood with in battle before. It pained me to watch as my own soldiers were taken down by the Royal Guards and I felt a wave of white hot fury at the one who had corrupted them. I pushed through the groups of fighting men, deflecting sword blows and arrows that rained down on me as soon as I was noticed. I didn't fully engage anyone, but kept on the defensive. My mission was to get to the gates and be damned if these mediocre mercenaries were going to stop me. I wasn't going to waste my time with some men that could be brought with a few coins.
It seemed as I didn't have a choice but to fight my way through the crowds of fighting warriors. Every time I spit a man on my sword, three more would take his place. It was obvious that they had been given orders to take me out if possible but I wasn't going down without a fight, a very bloody one at that. I made sure they one eye was always kept on the Amazon Queen at my side, fighting furiously with her sais. I watched with admiration as she cracked one man in the head with her hilt while simultaneously stabbing another in throat, while still running to keep up with me.
I kicked a severed head out of my path as we made our way down the main street towards the gates, finally managing to push through the majority of the battle. There were only a few stragglers outside of the marketplace and we made quick work of them as we kept moving. As we turned the last corner that lead up to the massive gates of Corinth, even I froze at the sight before me.
The courtyard before the gates was surrounded with empty shops and market stools, but in front of the large iron gates, just under one hundred paces from where I stood, were at least five hundred well-armed men. I watched as if in slow motion as the one in the lead turned around to face me, a large grin taking over their face as their eyes met mine.
"Hello Xena, I've been waiting for you."
To be continued in Chapter Twenty-Four.
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