Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: I do not own the Xena concept and certain characters but the plot is all mine.

Violence: There is violence.

Subtext: I really dislike this disclaimer.

Summary: The sequel to Stranger in a Strange Time. The Conqueror and Queen Gabrielle take their trip to Egypt to meet the powerful Queen Cleopatra. During the trip across the Mediterranean, Gabrielle learns from the Conqueror that her long lost sister, Lila, is still alive and well but a slave. Quickly Gabrielle becomes less concerned about her vacation in Egypt and more about rescuing her sister from Gurkhan. And the Conqueror for the fist time realizes she cannot simply take what she wants because so much is at stake. Can the Conqueror and Gabrielle safely rescue Lila, who may not even want to be freed?

Feedback: redhope@redhope.net

Homepage: http://www.redhope.net

Started: March 5, 2007

One-Shot Fanfictions


A Stranger in my Family

by Red Hope

Chapter 2 – The Land of the Pharaohs

The Amazon Queen gritted her teeth then held up her staff horizontally to her body. She parried the blow and tried desperately to hold her position, yet her right foot scrapped back. She shifted her staff to the right and blocked another attack. Her right heel met the board then she detected the rope that marked the edge of the sparring square.

The Conqueror smirked then doubled her efforts against the bard. Her blade moved quickly.

Gabrielle met each of the blows, but she knew her chances to win were slim. She didn't care though and instead broke into offense.

The Conqueror was remotely surprised as she back stepped twice from the onslaught of attacks. She bent back when the bard's staff just missed her face. She arched an eyebrow then warned, "Don't get cocky, Gabrielle."

The bard couldn't help a smug face when her lover warned her. She gained her space back and pushed forward against her opponent.

"She's amazing," Amarice murmured.

Najara folded her arms over her chest, and she continued to watch the Conqueror and Amazon Queen spar at the bow of the ship. She tilted her head then murmured, "Yes, she is." Her head lifted again. "It won't be long before she masters the staff."

Amarice blinked and turned her head to the dekarchos. "I was talking about the Conqueror."

Najara chuckled and shrugged. "And I was talking about your queen."

Amarice frowned then gazed at the rulers practicing together.

"Your queen has only been practicing with a staff for about six moons. She's learned quite a bit."

Amarice rolled her eyes then replied, "And the queen has never been in a real battle… not like the Conqueror."

The dekarchos softly laughed then smirked at the Amazon. "Yet Queen Gabrielle can hold on her own against the Conqueror?"

"Probably because the Conqueror is taking it easy on her," Amarice jabbed.

Najara was taken over by amusement. "The Conqueror does not hold back."

The Amazon had nothing else to say so she just watched the sparring match instead.

Gabrielle bent her knees, her staff over her head, and her body vibrated from the hard blow to her staff. She hastily brought her staff down and swiped at the Conqueror's legs.

The Conqueror gave a low warcry then sprung up. She then watched as her opponent jumped to her feet and spun away. The Conqueror grinned and gave her sword a twirl.

Gabrielle's chest rose and fell quickly while her skin glistened from sweat. She was rather pleased by her efforts so far to stay in the match. This was the best she'd done thus far against her lover.

The Conqueror crept a half step closer then taunted, "You only have a few beats left before I push you pass the edge."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the ruler's mind game. She smirked. "Maybe not this time." She spun her staff once for good measure then stepped to the right once.

"You're not that good, Gabrielle."

The Amazon Queen knew half the battle was about show. If it was one thing she'd learn by watching the Conqueror, it was that she could put on the best show of all. She stepped to her right again and raised her staff higher. "I'll take my chances."

The Conqueror laughed evilly in response, and she decided it was time to teach the bard a lesson. She lunged forward with her sword doing a vertical slash.

Gabrielle stopped the blade then hastily moved her staff for the next attack and it was followed by a rapid third. She quickly found her arms moving up, down, left, and right to stop the Conqueror's endless assault. Her breathing grew more ragged and her arms quite sore.

The Conqueror gave an unpredicted battle cry and leapt up then over Gabrielle's head. She twisted in midair then landed with a large boom with her sword coming at the bard's back.

Gabrielle knew the move, and she dropped to the ship's deck then rolled away. She popped back up on her feet then raised her staff when the blade came at her again. She realized her partner's original intent was to get her closer to the rope edge. It worked.

The Conqueror amusingly laughed when Gabrielle realized her plan. She charged her next blows, which forced Gabrielle to step backwards to the rope edge.

The worn bard stepped back once, twice, a third, and she met each of the ruler's blows. She lifted her right leg prepared to step back, which would put her over the rope, and she'd lose. She grew angry suddenly at her lack of strength and that caused a surge of adrenaline to pump her body.

The Conqueror slightly stumbled back once when Gabrielle surprisingly went on offense. She adjusted quickly then brought her blade at a horizontal swipe towards Gabrielle's stomach.

The Amazon Queen yelped and jumped back. Her boots landed behind the rope, yet she lifted her staff to stop the attack. Her features darkened at her lost, but she wouldn't back down.

"You're done," the Conqueror declared.

"Not until I say so," the bard retaliated. She swiped her staff at the Conqueror.

The ruler easily obliged and suddenly increased her efforts to further teach the imprudent bard. Her earlier speeds seemed slow in comparison to her lightening attacks.

Gabrielle realized her mistake when she couldn't keep up. She hastily kept back stepping to get space. When she checked her partner's face, she saw there was no way to talk Xena out of it now. She had to finish what she started.

The Conqueror suddenly halted and stood still; her face was very dark. She held her handle with both hands now, and her blade seemed to divide her face.

Gabrielle raised her staff and glanced over her shoulder to see the railing wasn't that far behind her. She focused back on her opponent and raised her staff. She shifted her grip on the staff then gave a cry and charged her opponent.

The Conqueror gave her famous battle cry as she lunged for the bard.

Gabrielle's staff met Xena's sword just between their bodies. She held Xena's blade back, and she bared her teeth up at the ruler.

"Yield, Gabrielle," the ruler ordered.

For an answer, Gabrielle pressed her staff against Xena's blade.

The Conqueror felt her blade coming back so she easily corrected it and pushed her blade towards the bard. It wasn't hard for her to overpower Gabrielle between her height and strength.

Gabrielle's teeth clenched even harder as her muscles strained against her arms. Her stomach grew taut. Then her rear muscle legs tried to push, but they burned badly. She sensed her knees giving way so she stepped back once.

The Conqueror stepped forward and pushed even harder.

The Amazon Queen stepped back again then after a beat she was forced into a third step. This time, her back touched the railing of the ship, but she wouldn't yield to the ruler. She inhaled a ragged breath then mustarded the last of her strength against the ruler.

The Conqueror's own muscles showed through her arms and shoulder as she found a decent fight from the bard. She put her leg muscles into it now.

Gabrielle gave a faint cry when her knees started to give out on her. She knew she didn't have the strength to surpass the Conqueror, yet she would not yield until she gave it her all. She then heard a faint crack of wood from her staff then finally her knees lost the battle. Gabrielle fell to her knees but kept her staff raised and against the ruler's sword.

The Conqueror lowered her head down but would not remove her sword or the pressure. "Do not pick a battle that you'll ultimately lose."

The bard understood what her partner meant. She knew there was no way she could outmatch Xena's strength and that she'd simply have to find something she could outmatch Xena with, if that was possible. Her sore arm muscles gave in and her staff grew closer to her chest.

"Do you yield now?"

Gabrielle closed her eyes against the sting in her eyes. She bowed her head respectfully then suddenly the wall of pressure was gone from her. She next heard the Conqueror's blade being sheathed.

The Conqueror breathed hard but what she truly won after this match was more pride in Gabrielle. She hadn't expected the bard to so adamantly resist the yield. She knew it was a mixture of foolishness and bravery.

Gabrielle lifted her head, which displayed her displeasure in losing.

The Conqueror held out her right hand in silent offer.

The bard didn't even consider as she placed her staff into her left hand and collapsed Xena's offer. She rose back up to her feet then once she felt settled, she remarked, "Don't even say it."

The Conqueror arched an eyebrow as if she didn't know what the bard meant.

Gabrielle stepped closer to her lover. "I already know it was stupid." Then she stomped off with her dark mood.

Xena turned on her feet and decided it was best to let the bard cool off. She knew how it felt and sometimes a little space after a defeat was appreciated. She instead took it upon herself and coiled up the ropes that they'd use to mark the sparring square.

After she finished returning the lines, Xena climbed up to the bridge deck and joined the captain. She spoke with him for awhile and in the middle of the conversation, she noted Gabrielle's presence at the bow. The bard must have gone below deck and returned her staff to the quarters as she now was empty handed. The Conqueror excused herself when the first mate joined the captain's side.

The Conqueror quietly neared her partner's back. She inwardly admired the bard's developed back muscles that showed in the sunlight and the exposing leather top. She had to admit that Gabrielle was starting to fill out her Amazon leathers quite well. There was plenty about Gabrielle to be desired and the leather's highlighted Gabrielle's beauty and strength.

Xena took a silent position beside her partner. She put her hands behind her back, stood quiet, and enjoyed the beauty of the sea along with the cool breeze.

Gabrielle had her arms over her chest. She knew some time ago that her partner had intent to join her. She closed her eyes for a moment and just let the breeze flow over her skin. She slowly filled her chest then released her breath as her eyes drifted open again. "I don't know what I was thinking." She huffed then muttered, "I guess that was the problem."

The ruler understood her partner was referring back to the earlier practice. She remained silent as she considered each aspect. She hadn't expected Gabrielle too be overly hard on herself about it. She knew a remedy was required, and she hoped she could deliver on it despite words were not her forte. "Your attempt was foolishly admirable," she honestly remarked.

Gabrielle didn't respond but gnawed on the side of her mouth.

"It was admirable that you would not give up."

"You mean it was stupid," the bard sadly argued.

The Conqueror rocked on her boots for a beat. Her hands, behind her back, locked tightly from being nervous. "If even a quarter of my legions and phalanxes were half that admirable, Gabrielle then I would have the finest army in the known-world." The Conqueror tilted her head upon further consideration. "To have such dedication is not something you can train in a fighter, it is either there or it is not."

"It can be inspired though," Gabrielle tried.

"Perhaps," the ruler murmured, "but regardless it cannot be taught. It simply is." She finally gazed upon her partner. "You have the right values, but you have not yet discovered where your strength lies."

"When it comes to being a… fighter I don't think I have a strength." Gabrielle dipped her head then peered up with hooded eyes at her partner. "I don't know if I'm really meant for this."

The Conqueror's eyes slightly narrowed, and she turned her head away. "I was wrong then."

Gabrielle frowned at the remark, and she grew curious to understand.

The Conqueror saw the bard's look from the corner of her eye. She prepared to say her pending words because she wasn't sure how Gabrielle would react, but she endeavored to be honest and even brutally honest. "Maybe you're not as dedicated as I said."

Gabrielle shut her eyes against the sting. She felt the words cut through her, and her emotions surged to the top.

The Conqueror sensed the shift in her partner and decided it was best to take leave. She felt safer to put space between them so she stepped back once, turned, and started off.

Gabrielle swallowed, but she turned her head and called, "Xena?"

The ruler paused at hearing the unexpected request. She pivoted and gazed at her lover. The expression on the bard's face made her stomach drop, and the feeling was an odd sensation for her.

"Thank you," Gabrielle sincerely whispered then she returned her attention to the sea.

Xena was puzzled, yet it didn't show externally. She just continued her walk away, and her thoughts were heavy about why the bard had thanked her when she felt she worsened it. When she was just near the mainmast, she stopped and glanced back at her partner's back. She internally struggled with her feelings and her logic. The battle was settled so she turned around and silently approached the bard.

Gabrielle sighed yet continued watching the calm seas around her. It made her wonder how the seas could be so dark, turbulent and dangerous one beat then in the next calm, blue and beautiful such as this. Then surprisingly she felt the warm presence behind her and strong arms circled around her waist. She released a very faint moan from the relief she felt at having Xena's return.

The Conqueror had a thin smile when she realized her presence was quite welcomed. Her feelings had correctly assessed the situation and helped her handle it. She lowered her head down close to Gabrielle's, and she said nothing that wasn't already being conveyed.

Gabrielle unfolded her arms then lowered her hands so that they rested on top of the Conqueror's. She was still shocked that Xena had returned to her after the previous discussions. She knew that it wasn't that Xena didn't support her or didn't understand, but simply that at times Xena didn't know how to handle the situations. It'd taken some time for Gabrielle to understand that aspect about the ruler, but it'd become quite clear when Cyrene explained it one day.

Nearly half a moon ago, Gabrielle had a long day at the fortress and was preparing to go to Artemisia. She'd gone to Cyrene's house and gathered her things for the trip back then returned to the fortress. When she arrived in the Conqueror's bedchambers, she found herself quite exhausted, and she teetered on a slightly emotional state. Gabrielle knew she tended to get that way when she was overly tired.

It also so happened to be the night that the Conqueror wanted to argue why Gabrielle should take a different dekarchos than Najara. They'd hotly debated, but Gabrielle refused to take any other dekarchos because she was solely comfortable with Najara and that Iolaus was the only other option. The Conqueror wouldn't allow Iolaus to leave his post. The argument didn't find an end until Gabrielle was on the verge of being upset and almost walked out of the bedchambers for the night. The Conqueror didn't know how to handle Gabrielle's more emotional state that night because in typical fashion Gabrielle would argue against her. Instead that night, Gabrielle gave a half fight and almost broke down, and the ruler hadn't expected such a reaction.

The Conqueror's temper burned out quickly upon seeing Gabrielle's upset. She didn't apologize verbally, but she immediately gave in and agreed that Najara could escort Gabrielle. Afterwards, Gabrielle had gathered her leftover dignity and prepared for bed then received some much needed sleep. The Conqueror, however, didn't go to bed that night until much later, and she kept to her side of the bed. By the following morning, the bard woke up to an empty bed and only received a brief goodbye from the ruler.

It was a strange occurrence and at first Gabrielle truly took it personal. She considered it heavily while she was away in Artemisia. What made it stranger still was Xena's normal regard when she returned because it was as if it didn't happen. So Gabrielle went to the only person she knew that could help her understand it, understand Xena.

Cyrene sat down at the table in her house, and a hot mug was locked in her hands.

Gabrielle had a mug of tea too. She'd just finished sipping on it when she explained the argument and Xena's reactions.

Cyrene remained silent for a heartbeat or two then finally spoke in a very somber voice. "I suppose some things about Xena will never change."

The bard curiously peered over at her adopted mother.

Cyrene studied the younger woman, who'd recently become her daughter's anchor in the world. It amazed her how Gabrielle had become not only Xena's anchor but also hers so many moons back. She focused on the topic at hand then finally revealed, "Xena was never very good at expressing her emotions or dealing with them."

The bard grunted then took a sip of her tea. She considered Cyrene's words and applied the theory to the ruler. "She's excellent at expressing her anger."

"She is," Cyrene granted, "And always has been. She use to be very good at expressing her love for somebody."

Gabrielle's shocked clearly showed.

Cyrene faintly smiled at Gabrielle's surprise, but she explained it carefully. "Xena couldn't express many of her emotions except for her anger or love. The two extremes, I suppose." She peered into her mug and considered her murky tea. "After Toris and I turned our backs on her, she had no reason to express her love anymore."

"She lost Lyceus too." Gabrielle tilted her head as she tried to imagine what the ruler went through at such a young, traumatic stage of her life. "I guess all she had left to express was her anger."

Cyrene dipped her head in agreement.

"Now she has you again," Gabrielle murmured in open thought. "Melpomene."

"And you," Cyrene softly added.

The bard shook her head at her adopted mother. "Cyrene, I'm just…" Gabrielle fell short on her words that she couldn't compose.

Cyrene slightly grinned and waited to see if Gabrielle could explain it.

Gabrielle was slightly annoyed but not at Cyrene. "I'm just her… well you know. It could change, at anytime." She lifted her mug for a sip of tea.

"I wouldn't fool yourself, Gabrielle." The mother's earlier grin grew, and it made her look young. "You know Xena's history better than anybody. You name one person who she's been with this long."

The Amazon Queen mulled it over then named, "Borias."

"And did she change her life, for him?"

Gabrielle frowned at the question. "She's not doing it for me, Cyrene. She's doing this for herself."

"Is she really?" The mother argued. "Xena knows if she doesn't at least try then she could lose all of us, again."

The bard's shoulders slumped at this knowledge that wouldn't settle well in her stomach. "She's still doing it for herself though… She made the final choice to do this."

Cyrene thoroughly agreed with the bard. "I believe she recognizes what's at risk though." She took another drink of her tea while she thought out the rest of her explanation. She quietly set her half empty mug down then mentioned, "Give Xena some time to relearn what she's forgotten."

"You mean with how she handles the relationship?" Gabrielle saw Cyrene's nod so she let out a long sigh. "I worry that sometimes it might be too much for her." At Cyrene's raised eyebrow that mimicked Xena's technique, Gabrielle quickly explained, "Xena has a lot on her plate. Besides just ruling the realm, she does have to relearn to have family in her life again. She's trying to make the changes in her life as much as the realm. Then on top of that is our relationship, which I don't think she's quite use to."

Cyrene leaned across the table some then challenged, "And are you?"

The bard stared at Cyrene then she leaned back in her chair when her thoughts grew heavy. "I…"

"When was your last relationship, Gabrielle?" The mother pointed at her adopted daughter. "I've known you since you were nine Helical Risings and since then I've never seen you in a serious relationship. You've dedicated your life to stopping the Conqueror and helping the realm. You and she are in the same place." Cyrene lowered her hand to the table. "Now you tell me, between being the Amazon Queen, being the state advisor, a bard, and your family… do you find your first relationship that difficult, with her?"

The bard worked her right hand through her bangs. She stared at the wood grain of the table between her and Cyrene. She opened her mouth to reply, yet she faltered. She then sadly smiled at her adopted mother. "I see your point."

Cyrene reached across the table and took Gabrielle's hand into hers. She squeezed tightly. "Just give her the time to relearn just as you need time to learn." She ran her thumb across the bard knuckles. "You're both happy and the occasional fight is good. You learn each other's faults just like your strengths."

Gabrielle chuckled but not at Cyrene, just simply because it was true. She then went serious when she mentioned, "I just don't understand why when I got back she tried to act like we didn't fight. It's still unsettled somewhat."

Cyrene gave a brief squeeze then released Gabrielle's hand. "My suggestion is to talk to her." She took a sip of her tea. "Xena may not be the most talkative person, but she is an excellent listener." She then shrugged. "And knowing my daughter, she's just trying to keep things good natured because she doesn't want to see you upset again. She's protective that way."

The Amazon Queen huffed then sarcastically joked, "The Conqueror is protective over me?"

Cyrene smirked then lightly teased, "Stranger things have happened, Gabrielle."

The bard softly grinned at the truth behind her mother's words. Her head bobbed a few times as her recent memories floated to the top. She imagined stranger things had yet to happen for them.

"Land off the bow!" the sailor called from up in the crow's nest.

Gabrielle was shaken out of her memories, and she focused back on the present.

The Conqueror sensed the change in her partner, but she didn't comment. She instead gazed over the bow of the ship and focused on a forming lighthouse. She smiled at the familiar landmark that was so famous in Egypt.

"That's the Great Lighthouse?" Gabrielle whispered. Her eyes grew wide, and she became quite excited.

"It is," Xena agreed, "It stands on the Pharos of Alexandria… a small island."

"It was built several hundred Helical Risings ago," the informed bard mentioned.

"Yes, it was built by Ptolemy I after he became pharaoh."

Gabrielle tilted her head in thought. She knew if it wasn't for Ptolemy I being chosen as pharaoh of Egypt by Alexander the Great that Greece may have never grown so close to Egypt. "It's funny how things work out… its amazing the Ptolemy Dynasty has lasted so long in Egypt. You would think the Egyptians would have refused him as their pharaoh since he was Greek."

"Sometimes the people do not have a choice," the ruler reminded in a heavy voice.

The bard understood what her lover meant. She peered up at Xena then softly questioned, "Do you think there'll be your dynasty in Greece?"

"That requires an heir."

"An heir doesn't have to be blood," Gabrielle prompted, "Just simply named."

The Conqueror studied the bard's face and tried to gauge her thoughts. She broke her stare and gazed upon the coast of Egypt. "It is too early to tell yet."

The bard knew it was best not to pursue the topic with her partner. The topic would have to wait until much later and in more private surroundings, she decided.

"I need to speak to the captain. Did you want to join me?"

The Amazon Queen smiled at the invite. "Yes." She stepped out of the ruler's arms then turned around.

The Conqueror led the way across the deck and up the steps to the bridge deck. She beelined for the captain then commanded, "I want one trireme ahead of us."

"Aye, my liege." The captain then called to his men to pull up the sails so that the triremes would catch up to them. "The Egyptian navy should be out here soon, I would imagine."

"I believe so," the ruler agreed. She then turned to Gabrielle. "You see the harbor just ahead?"

The bard squinted and focused on the distant harbor that was sufficiently protected by a mole that snaked out into the open seas. "That's the Great Harbor?"

The Conqueror faintly smiled at Gabrielle's knowledge. She'd only briefly mentioned to her partner that she may want to do some research on Alexandria and Egypt so that nothing surprised her upon arrival. Gabrielle had headed her advice all too well and now seemed to be quite prepared. "When we enter the Great Harbor we go slightly west and there's the private port."

Gabrielle peered up inquisitively at her lover.

"The private port has a large dock that's directly connected to the palaces." The Conqueror slipped her hands behind her armored back then further informed, "After we disembark, the ships will go to the Port of Alexandria to stay docked until we're prepared to leave."

"I read that the emporium isn't far from the palaces," the bard softly mentioned.

The Conqueror held back her grin once she heard Gabrielle's peaked interests in the Egyptian market. "It's only a few blocks."

Gabrielle smirked and teased, "You'll have to come with me."

The Conqueror arched an eyebrow at the clear demand spoken aloud and in front of subordinates. "I suppose so since you only have drachmas."

"That's right," the bard realized aloud, "they have no currency in Egypt."

"Not yet," the Conqueror muttered. She didn't further her comment since the captain and first mate were beside her.

The Amazon Queen understood her partner's silence about the topic so she changed it. "Tell me about the queen. I didn't get a chance to do much history on her."

The Conqueror nodded at the request. She figured they had time until the triremes would join them. "Do you know Cleopatra's full name?"

The bard's eyebrows knitted together. "You mean it isn't just Cleopatra VII?"

The ruler slightly grinned when she realized Gabrielle really didn't have much information on the Egyptian Queen. "Her full name is Cleopatra Thea Philopator. Her name means 'the Goddess Cleopatra, the beloved of her father.'"

"So, she has three names?" The bard smirked at her partner.

The Conqueror saw the look and decided to ignore it. "She ascended the throne after her father died… she was about eighteen Helical Risings."

"Wow," the bard muttered. "How long has she been the ruler?"

The Conqueror turned her head to the bard. "She has been the queen for two Helical Risings now."

Gabrielle blinked then it blindly struck her. "She and I are closer in age. I thought she was closer to your age?"

The ruler chuckled and softly replied, "Not at all. I met her when she was twenty-two Helical Risings."

The Amazon Queen tried not to fathom her lover being with the young Cleopatra so many Helical Risings ago. She'd heard plenty of far and wide stories about the Conqueror's courtship for Cleopatra's navy. It'd also been the Conqueror who returned Queen Cleopatra to her throne against her brother, Ptolemy XIII.

The Conqueror felt the uneasiness in her lover, and she had her suspicious on why. "An interesting fact about Cleopatra…" She paused and saw her partner coming back to the present. "She's the only Ptolemaic pharaoh to read, write, and speak Egyptian."

"Really?" Gabrielle wondered why none of the previous Ptolemaic rulers knew Egyptian. The concept seemed slightly absurd to her because all rulers should know the native tongue of their lands.

"Cleopatra actually knows nine languages all together," the Conqueror revealed.

"I hope Greek is in there," Gabrielle joked.

"Of course it is." The Conqueror grinned at the bard.

"The triremes are a quarter of a league off the stern!" the sailor in the crow's nest hollered down.

The Conqueror stepped forward then directed her command to the sailor high above. "Signal the Aegeon to take the lead!"

"Aye, my liege," the sailor called back. He then produced a thin, metal sheet from under his feet on the crow's nest. He carefully sent the sun reflections to the trireme named the Aegeon then he noted something else to his right. "My liege, two Byblos ships off the larboard side!"

The Conqueror signaled for her partner to follow her so she and Gabrielle walked over to the larboard side. She indeed spotted the two enormous galleys that were rowing from the east towards them.

Gabrielle was quite impressed by the galleys' sizes, and she imagined they were almost double that of a Greek trireme. "By the gods… I see why you like the Egyptian Navy."

The Conqueror smirked and muttered, "Size isn't everything." She heard the quiet snicker from the Amazon Queen and figured it was best not to encourage it further. "As soon as the Aegeon is ahead of us, we'll enter the Great Harbor." She rested her hands on the rail and simply admired the beautiful Egyptian galleys that approached them.

Soon, the three Greek ships were escorted by the Egyptian galleys into the Great Harbor then directed west to the private port. Gabrielle grew anxious and excited because she couldn't wait to meet Queen Cleopatra, and she really couldn't wait to put her feet on land. She then was thoroughly distracted when the transport ship passed the Great Lighthouse on Pharos Island. She had to drop her head so far back that it caused an ache in her lower neck.

The Conqueror was calm and cool as ever as if this was her daily routine. She remained poised beside the captain and her bronze armor reflected the western sun. She'd considered changing out of her warrior attire but decided against it as she'd preferred to bathe before getting into something more regal. It would just have to wait until this evening.

Gabrielle was quiet because she was too busy absorbing everything she could take in with her eyes. She was mesmerized, and she hastily recorded every detail for her scrolls later. She then lit up when she swore she recognized something far off in the city. "Is that a theatre?"

The ruler thinly smiled because she knew it was only a matter of time before the bard would pinpoint the large theatre in Alexandria. "It is the Great Theatre," she agreed. "It is a Roman theatre actually."

Gabrielle's eyes were bright with excitement.

The Conqueror sensed the unasked question in the bard. "Perhaps we'll find time to see a play."

The bard suddenly had a smile when she heard the promise, which she knew it was without failure. She also couldn't wait to see the Library of Alexandria as she'd heard so much about it. She'd always wanted to see it and never thought she would have the chance. There were many literary jewels in Egypt that Gabrielle couldn't wait to immerse in during her trip.

Finally, the sailors on the transport ship were hastily throwing lines to the dockhands on the private dock. They quickly worked to get the ship secured then pulled up the sails. The captain barked out orders and finished off by ordering the gangplank down.

The Conqueror glimpsed off the stern and saw the two triremes were anchoring in the Great Harbor for now. She turned back to her partner and quietly ordered, "Let's go down on deck." She gazed over the bard's head when she heard the gangplank hit the dock below. "Queen Cleopatra will be waiting."

Gabrielle nodded then descended the steps. She felt somewhat underdressed for the meeting since she wore only her Amazon leathers without her mask or feather necklace. She figured it could wait until later.

Iolaus waited at the head of the gangplank. He stood with his hands behind his back, a faint smile, and his armor shined in the sunlight. "My liege," he greeted with a bow. He straightened up and smiled at the bard. "Queen Gabrielle." His focus returned to the ruler. "Queen Cleopatra has arrived, my liege."

"Let's not make her wait," the Conqueror decided aloud, and she stepped onto the plank.

Iolaus bowed his head and held out his right hand to the gangplank in respect. "Queen Gabrielle."

The Amazon Queen rolled her eyes then lightly slapped Iolaus's armored side. "Come on, Iolaus." She stepped onto the gangplank, grabbed the right rail, and took large steps to catch up with Xena.

The tetrarchès hopped up onto the gangplank then followed the rulers to the dock below. He hadn't met Queen Cleopatra yet, but he was looking forward to it.

Gabrielle finally made it to the dock with complete relief. She remained a pace behind the Conqueror in respect of Xena's position as the ruler of the Greek Realm. She quickly shifted her mindset into a more leadership role as she knew it was expected of her. A role that was far from foreign to her.

Just ahead, several dark Egyptian guards that were finely dressed in gold plated armor marched down the dock. There were two rows of three lined guards that marched in unison and quickly came to a stop and stepped to either side, one by one. When the six guards were at their posts, all that was left was a young woman that was just between the Conqueror's and Gabrielle's height.

The young woman wore a pure white dress that reached her ankles, a v-cut in the dress's top, and it was sleeveless. Her soft arms though bore golden arm bracelets then she wore a thick necklace made of gold and turquoise. Then around her waist was a golden sash that loosely dangled. Her midnight hair was neatly braided and pulled back to reveal her sculpted features. A gold headband wrapped around her head and stopped at the center of her forehead where there was an almost glowing scarab jewel.

The Conqueror dipped her head respectfully when the young woman paused before her. She then slowly lifted her head, and she couldn't help but return the smile on the young Egyptian Queen's face.

Queen Cleopatra stepped up to her Greek counterpart, and her smile broadened. "Egypt welcomes you back, my liege." She then stepped into the Conqueror's space, placed her hands on the Conqueror's hips, and lifted onto her tiptoes.

The Conqueror closed her eyes as she warmly received a kiss to each of her cheeks. She then waited until Queen Cleopatra took a step back. "It is an honor to be warmly received again, Queen Cleopatra." She then held out her right hand, palm up.

Queen Cleopatra's left hand immediately filled the Greek ruler's.

The Conqueror raised the petite hand up then placed a butterfly kiss to the top of the queen's hand. Then as she lowered the queen's hand, she politely stated, "Thank you for your invitation to Alexandria." She released Queen Cleopatra's hand.

"You are always welcomed, my liege," the Egyptian Queen promised.

The Conqueror dipped her head then she slightly pivoted to her right. She instantly noted the odd look on Gabrielle's face, but she wouldn't comment on it now. She instead invitingly held out her right hand to Gabrielle.

The Amazon Queen suddenly smiled when she saw her cue. She focused on her role and pushed aside her thoughts about how strange it was to see how the Conqueror kissed Queen Cleopatra's hand. Gabrielle considered it a rather masculine gesture, and she'd never observed Xena doing such until now. She collapsed her lover's callused hand then was drawn forward.

"Queen Cleopatra, I would like you to meet the Amazon Queen, Gabrielle." The Conqueror released the bard's hand because she knew Gabrielle would need it free. "Queen Gabrielle will also be taking over the position of state advisor in my polis."

Queen Cleopatra slyly smiled at the Amazon Queen. "I am a bit of a politician myself, Queen Gabrielle." She carefully studied the Amazon Queen's beautiful and striking features.

Gabrielle was doing the exact same thing with Queen Cleopatra. She realized one fast fact and that was that Queen Cleopatra was not as beautiful as many of the legends made her out to be. Indeed, Queen Cleopatra had the traditional Macedonian facial structures like the Conqueror. Cleopatra even had the classic long hooked nose of many Greeks and surprisingly, her features were more masculine than expected. The only seeming Egyptian aspect to her was her richly tanned skin.

"The politics are a bit new to me," Gabrielle admitted.

The Conqueror placed her hands behind her back then mentioned, "However you've learned quickly, Queen Gabrielle."

The bard was shocked by her partner's open appraisal but she gratefully took it. "Thank you, my liege."

Queen Cleopatra found an interest in the Amazon Queen's respect for the Conqueror since she went by title. She stepped up to the Amazon Queen and inquired, "This is your first time to Egypt?"

Gabrielle smiled then her excitement clearly showed. "It is."

Queen Cleopatra softly laughed then she stretched out her right hand. She lightly caressed the bard's cheek and softly proclaimed, "Then you shall be appropriately welcomed for your first time." Then without warning, she leaned in for a soft kiss.

Iolaus's eyes widened and his jaw went slightly slack. He peered up at the Conqueror, who acted passive to the entire scene. He shook his head then observed how Gabrielle was stiffer than the boards of the dock.

When Queen Cleopatra leaned back into her original position, she grinned at the Amazon Queen's red features. "Welcome to Egypt, Queen Gabrielle."

The bard cleared her throat and hoarsely replied, "Thank you." She didn't dare to assess her lover's reaction.

The Conqueror signaled for her tetrarchès to take her left side. "Queen Cleopatra, this is my tetrarchès, Iolaus, and he's my acting guard captain." She didn't mention that Iolaus main position was to command the Corinthian squads because it wasn't relevant.

Queen Cleopatra smiled at the short, blond man that seemed well natured. She warmly received the soldier by kissing his left cheek and offered, "Welcome to Egypt, tetrarchès." She then placed her hands behind her back. "I will be sure that my head guard, Cheops, speaks with you."

"Thank you, Queen Cleopatra." Iolaus dipped his head then fell silent despite the blush to his cheeks.

Queen Cleopatra collapsed her hands in front of her body now then warmly spoke again. "I'm sure you're both exhausted from your journey." She glanced between the foreign rulers and asked, "How was the trip?"

Gabrielle smirked but peered up at her lover for the answer.

The Conqueror felt all eyes on her so she simply replied, "Manageable."

Queen Cleopatra smirked at the response then focused on the Amazon Queen. "I've come to learn that the Conqueror tends to… understate many things in life."

The Conqueror peered down at her partner and arched a dangerous eyebrow at her.

Gabrielle was not at all frightened or would be subdued into silence. "Yes, the Conqueror does have a… knack for that."

The Conqueror narrowed her eyes at the bard then she warned, "Perhaps you'd enjoy another night on the ship, Queen Gabrielle."

The Amazon Queen ticked off a back molar and ignored the ruler's mock threat. She could just taste the Conqueror's taunt in her mouth. She instead politely asked, "What time is dinner here?"

Queen Cleopatra quietly laughed then replied, "At sunset, Queen Gabrielle and I am sure you'll enjoy a bath prior."

"That would be wonderful," Gabrielle agreed.

"Then I shall escort you to the palace." Queen Cleopatra turned and signaled her guards to prepare.

The Conqueror gave brief orders to Iolaus and instructed him to get the ship disembarked, which included the Najara, her file, and the Amazons. She then took her position to the right of the Egyptian Queen.

Queen Cleopatra walked between the two foreign rulers as they went down the long dock. "I did observe some hull damage to your ship." She peered up at the Conqueror.

The Conqueror sighed then nodded her head. "The ship will need to be repaired before we leave."

"That will not be a problem." Queen Cleopatra smiled and promised, "Our resources are at your disposal, Conqueror."

"Thank you," the Conqueror replied.

Queen Cleopatra then turned her focus to the Amazon Queen. "I have heard you are also bard, Queen Gabrielle."

The bard in question smiled instantly when her lifelong aspiration came to light. "I was a bard before I was an Amazon Queen."

"Indeed." Queen Cleopatra was remotely surprised by the open statement since she knew the arts were outlawed in the Greek Realm. She wondered what'd changed to allow this bard to be so public. "Perhaps you will honor me with some stories." She tiled her head to the bard. "In return, I can promise a night or two at our Great Theatre."

The Amazon Queen chuckled at the deal already struck between them. "I would love that, Queen Cleopatra." She then lost her amused smile when she thoughtfully peered up at her silent lover. "If you will join me, my liege?"

The Conqueror felt her lover's affections in her title. She then sensed Queen Cleopatra's inquisitive features set on her but she kept focused on Gabrielle. "I will join you."

Gabrielle tried to hide her smile, but it was too hard.

Queen Cleopatra bit her lower lip as she was stunned by the Conqueror's agreement. In past times, Cleopatra had repeatedly invited the Conqueror to join her at the Great Theatre. The Conqueror politely refused her every time so she wondered what hold this Amazon Queen had on the Conqueror to perform such a miracle. This would certainly require more investigation.

The three rulers climbed the flights of the marble steps to the top of the palace's entrance. Gabrielle paused at the top and turned around so that she could see the entire Great Harbor.

The Conqueror had gone a step then stopped and faintly smiled at her partner's interest.

Gabrielle softly smiled at the beauty and culture of Alexandria in the low western sunlight. She then turned and saw that everybody had been waiting for her so she became bashful. She took her spot beside the Conqueror and silently followed Queen Cleopatra past the granite columns that lined the entrance. The bard's attention was grabbed by the statues of seated pharaohs beside the doorway into the palace. She stared at the right one as she passed it the closest.

The Conqueror had seen this in her past, yet she wouldn't admit aloud how much she enjoyed it. She felt the Egyptian had their unique take in the world, but it was similar to the Greeks. It was only the Chin culture that fascinated her most of all.

The Egyptian guards slimmed down just to two as the group went deeper into the palace. Queen Cleopatra guided them down a long hallway then stopped by a double door. "This is the south wing where the quarters rest." She stepped forward and opened the door. "And my liege, this is yours as always."

The Conqueror entered behind the Egyptian ruler then her partner followed her. She scanned the familiar bedchambers that were almost as large as hers in Corinth. "I am grateful."

Queen Cleopatra spun around and smiled at the Greek ruler. She approached her again. "Your maidens will be in soon to draw you a bath." She then centered on the Amazon Queen. "Queen Gabrielle, your quarters are across from the…" She faltered when the Conqueror held up her hand to silence her.

Gabrielle had grown anxious when she realized that she and Xena would have separate rooms, but she wasn't going to argue it either. She knew it was her lover's choice.

The Conqueror lowered her hand then stated, "This bed…" She signaled it with her right hand. "...is large enough for Queen Gabrielle and me together." She lowered her hand to her side. "Thank you though, Queen Cleopatra."

If Queen Cleopatra had been surprised by the switch, she certainly didn't show it. She smiled instead and politely offered, "I'll leave you to relax before dinner." She then brushed past the rulers and closed the doors behind her.

Gabrielle's tense shoulders slightly loosened and fell.

The Conqueror caught the change in her lover, but she turned her head sidelong and softly ordered, "Follow me." She walked straight ahead where there were white, drawn curtains, which ruffled in the breeze.

The bard silently followed and waited until her lover pulled the curtains open for them. She then was guided out of the bedchambers and out onto a balcony that was only some fifty pouses high from the ground. She soaked in her view and held her breath at the beauty of Alexandria basked in the sunset. "By the gods," she rasped.

The Conqueror slightly smiled at the bard's appreciation for the view. "It is almost as beautiful as Corinth." She stepped up to the granite rail and leaned against it, her arms folded overtop.

Gabrielle stood beside her lover, and her hands rested on top of the banister. "It is." She then caught Xena's raised eyebrow at her so a soft laugh escaped her. "Almost as beautiful as Corinth."

The Conqueror grinned then focused back on the city that was a romantic blend of Egyptian and Greek. She then heard the maidens coming into their room to prepare the bath. She ignored it though and focused on her time with Gabrielle.

"Thank you, by the way." Gabrielle saw the confusion in Xena's eyes. "For letting me stay with you."

The Conqueror moved her left hand and rested it on top of Gabrielle's. "My pleasure."

The bard smiled then she suddenly grew smug and huskily teased, "It will be… later."

Xena's head snapped to the left when she heard the promise for tonight. Her right eyebrow made the perfect arc and remained still for a beat. She grinned as her eyebrow lowered then she turned to the bard. She found Gabrielle's hips and carefully pulled the bard into her body.

Gabrielle tilted her head back and smiled at the Conqueror.

Xena lowered her head then met Gabrielle for a sweet kiss. She withdrew from the kiss but kept her head down, and she whispered, "How about that bath?"

"Is it big enough for two?"

The Conqueror chuckled. "It's big enough for at least six."

The bard ran her fingertips down her lover's muscular arms. "That sounds sufficient for us." She grinned at the ruler's low laughter at her joke. She trailed her right hand over to Xena's chest then her fingertips traced the ruler's defined jawline. She truly admired Xena's stunning beauty, and she had yet to break the habit of holding her breath when she completely took in Xena's beauty. She would have thought the effects would have worn off by now, but they wouldn't.

"Come on," Xena murmured and took Gabrielle's hand from her face. She held onto the bard's hand and guided them back into the bedchambers. "Our things should be here by the time we're finished."

"Mmmm." The Amazon Queen was led into the large, well lit bathing chambers off to the left. She bit back a yawn but mentioned, "I could go for a nap before dinner."

The ruler shot a grin back at the bard. "The fun has only begun." She entered the steaming chambers where the handmaidens waited for them. She noted Gabrielle's hesitation, however she silently showed Gabrielle how to handle the unusual situation.

The bard took a seat with Xena on a long bench. Just when she sat, two maidens approached them and each of them helped with the undressing process. Gabrielle clearly broke out into a blush as she wasn't use to such royalty. The times she'd bathed in the fortress, she never went to the bathing room, but instead privately used Xena's tub in her bedchambers.

The Conqueror was quite use to this situation. She merely leaned casually back against the wall, her eyes closed, and she let the maiden untie her boots. When her feet were free, she straightened up and helped the maiden work the hooks of her armor.

Gabrielle also tried to help her maiden with the straps of her Amazon leathers. She was slightly shaky in doing so, which slowed the process considerably.

The Conqueror stood and slipped one strap off her shoulder while the maiden removed the other. She then let the brown leathers be pulled off her body, and she stepped out of them.

Gabrielle briefly froze in her help. She stared at her lover's sexy and completely nude form, which glided across the stone floor and slowly descended the steps into the large bathing pool. Gabrielle's maiden grabbed for her rear strap of her leather halter top. That broke Gabrielle's stare on her lover so she grew shy again at her predicament.

The Conqueror's eyebrow rose up when she saw how her lover was so bashful. She moved through the water and leaned against the side opposite of where Gabrielle sat on the bench. She openly observed the bard dealing with her pending nudity before the handmaidens.

The Amazon Queen sucked her breath when her breasts met the cool air. She then tried to ignore the fact there were four unknown women here. They were all women here became a mantra in the bard's head. She then had her leather skirt off.

Xena tilted her head and grinned at the quickly moving bard to the steps.

Gabrielle felt her lover's eyes on her the entire time, which didn't help rid her blush. She moved fast down the steps and felt slightly better when her body was submerged under the fragrant water. She neared her lover then muttered under her breath, "Some of us don't look as good as you in the nude."

The Conqueror smirked but whispered back, "Yes, some are more exquisite than me."

Gabrielle did a double take at the ruler's suggestive words.

The Conqueror though had turned her head away and signaled the handmaidens to proceed.

The bard tried to control her apprehension when the handmaidens came over to the ledge and began to wash her and Xena. She glanced at the ruler and observed how she was so calm. She wondered how Xena became so accustom to the lifestyle despite the peasantry.

The Conqueror knew the bard was uneasy so she decided a conversation would help. "What do you think of Cleopatra?"

Gabrielle glimpsed at her partner to her left then turned her head straight again. "I'm not sure yet." She shrugged then honestly stated, "She looks completely different than I thought she would."

The ruler slowly grinned and closed her eyes. She rested her head back some when the warm water flowed over the back of her head. "How did you expect her to look?"

"Well… just… you know the stories about her being a seductress," the bard rambled. "I guess my imagination took her to the clouds when I heard that label. I thought she'd be more Egyptian than Greek."

"Her heritage is Greek," the ruler reminded.

"Yes, but you would think the Greek lineage would have been… diluted after so many generations." Gabrielle glanced at her lover's sedate features. "She is darkly skinned though by comparison."

"Her mother and father are Macedon," the Conqueror explained.

Gabrielle considered this quietly. She then closed her eyes when warm water washed over her head then small hands lathered her hair. "The colors in her eyes were so unusual," she mentioned nonchalantly. "They were like a turquoise that matched her necklace but when I looked closer I saw…" Gabrielle bit her lower lip then finished her description. "There were chips of amber in them… kinda sprinkled."

The Conqueror's body shook with a silent laugh, yet she agreed with the description. "Cleopatra is attractive in her mysterious way," she casually commented, "A lot of her allure lies in her intelligence. She's a powerful leader for Egypt."

The bard knew her lover was being truly honest. She mulled it over then something perked her interest. She tilted her head and asked, "Do you think she's as powerful as you?" When intense blue eyes leveled on her, Gabrielle quickly added, "If you stripped away your warrior side, I mean."

The Conqueror surprisingly grinned then turned her head away. She tilted her head forward when the maiden started washing out the soap in her hair. "She would be close to it, yes."

Gabrielle grew even more curious. "What makes you a step ahead of her?"

"I have a bigger drive than she."

The bard chuckled and recalled an earlier joke that she quickly brought up. "I suppose size matters in this case."

The Conqueror smirked then her ice blue eyes met the bard's. "Yes, it does." She then leaned back against the wall of the pool when the maiden finished with her. She dropped her head back and closed her eyes. She simply enjoyed the warmth of the bath.

Gabrielle let the maiden finish her hair then she too tried to relax. She slightly jumped when she felt a hand on her left leg.

"Relax," the ruler murmured.

"Sorry." Gabrielle sighed in annoyance at her jumpiness because of the bath. Then Xena's soothing motions on her leg made her calm down. She rolled her shoulders then leaned back heavily on the wall. She closed her eyes then thought about the fact that she was here of all places, Egypt.

The Conqueror trailed her fingertips up and down the bard's leg. She was glad when the bard became calmer and enjoyed the warm bath finally. "What you thinking about?" she softly inquired.

"Mmmm." Gabrielle kept her eyes shut, but her head fell to the left some, closer to Xena. "That I can't believe I'm in Egypt… with you."

The Conqueror paused in her soothing motions but continued again. "Why?"

"Well… it's just that sometimes when I stop and think about all of this it just seems so strange." Gabrielle sighed at her thought pattern.

Xena tossed the bard's words around in her head for a few quiet moments. She then gently asked, "Are you happy?"

The bard's eyes sprung open, and she lifted her head again. "Xena, I'm really happy."

The Conqueror opened her eyes and met the bard's gaze. She carefully read the honesty there.

Gabrielle could tell that Xena was truly concerned about her wellbeing, and it touched Gabrielle deeply. As she sat there, she realized she was seated besides a completely different woman than she once thought she knew. When she was sure she had the Destroyer of Nations figure out, she unexpectedly met the hidden woman behind the ruler, Xena of Amphipolis.

The bard smile then murmured, "I really am. Thank you." She then leaned in closer and carefully questioned, "Are you?"

The Conqueror's instant reply was merely silence then her eyes softened into a rare shade of blue. Xena leaned in closer then simply but profoundly answered, "Yes." Then she abruptly stood up and moved away from her partner to the center of the bath. She stopped and glanced over her shoulder at the stunned bard. "Coming?"

Gabrielle faintly shook her head to rid of her shock. She hadn't expected her lover to withdraw so quickly, yet she understood it after she caught the curious handmaidens watching them. She assumed they couldn't understand what she and Xena were saying in Greek but still the body language was interpretation enough. She figured Xena didn't want them knowing they were together.

The bard stood up and quickly neared her waiting partner.

When Gabrielle was close enough, the Conqueror took the bard's hand into hers. She then faced the smaller woman and lowered her head closer.

Gabrielle curiously peered up but smiled at Xena's passionate features. "Tonight," she softly reminded.

The Conqueror smirked then she lowered her head for a long kiss.

Gabrielle's earlier assumption that the ruler didn't want the handmaidens knowing they were together was now completely shot dead. After the kiss, she then instantly realized Xena's earlier withdraw had been because it was an emotional conversation. She wondered how long it'd take for the Conqueror and Xena to meet halfway and find a balance.

Gabrielle softly groaned when her lover ended the kiss. She remained in Xena's arms, and her eyes darkened with passion.

The Conqueror's body pressed against the bard's. Her right hand rested on Gabrielle's hip while her left arm snaked around Gabrielle's back. She lifted her right hand and traced the bard's right cheek. She dipped her head for another long kiss.

Gabrielle's pleasure rumbled from her throat, and she slid her arms around Xena's waist. She no longer cared about the four handmaidens, who openly observed the two females passionately kissing in the middle of the steaming pool.

The Conqueror smirked at Gabrielle's bite on her lower lip at the end of the kiss. She then smugly repeated, "Tonight, Gabrielle."

The Amazon Queen released a deep growl that shocked the Conqueror. Gabrielle smirked at Xena's arched eyebrow so she took Xena's right hand and turned. "Come on, tiger." She waded through the water to the steps with the ruler in tow.

The Conqueror had never once been called tiger by anybody else. She still wondered where Gabrielle had picked up that nickname. Had Lao Ma told Gabrielle that Xena's zodiac was the tiger? She reminded herself to ask the bard later tonight.

The rulers though decided it was best to hurry, as Xena suggested. When they were dried, they wandered back into the main bedchambers and discovered their belongings had arrived. Gabrielle decided to put on her entire Amazon Queen outfit, which took her some time. She just put on her mask over her head and was left with her feather necklace. She picked it up, turned to the mirror in front of her and lifted the feather necklace to her chest. She then hesitated when her lover's reflection formed in the mirror.

The Conqueror had dressed in her more royal attire instead of her leathers. She wore a silky, red dress that had only one strap over her left shoulder. The dress was very form fitting as it hugged the ruler's curves and hips. Then on her right arm she wore a gold bracelet that matched her gold waist belt.

The Conqueror's gold sandals quietly sounded on the marble floor as she neared her lover's back. She reached around the bard's neck and took the necklace then brought it around Gabrielle's neck. She worked the leather band between Gabrielle's hair and mask's stray strands. She carefully tied the necklace so that the feathers rested perfectly on the Amazon Queen's chest.

Gabrielle tilted her head when she thought how odd that it was the Conqueror, the Amazon's former enemy, who tied her Amazon necklace.

"What's that look about?" the ruler inquired.

The bard shrugged then wondered how she could be so transparent to the Conqueror. "You're tying an Amazon necklace."

The Conqueror smirked then whispered, "Stranger things have yet to happen, bard." She lowered her hands when she finished with the necklace.

Gabrielle turned around and observed how Xena had her bangs pulled and pinned back. She smiled at how amazing and beautiful Xena was in the dress. "You make me look like chopped liver."

The Conqueror shook her head then leaned in for a soft kiss. She pulled back then murmured, "Never."

The bard smiled at the indirect compliment as they seemed to be becoming plentiful more recently. She couldn't guess what prompted them from Xena. She often wanted to tell Xena how beautiful she was, yet her words always died behind her lips because she wasn't sure how Xena would take it.

"Are you ready?" the ruler questioned.

"I think so." Gabrielle's nose crinkled though. "You think they'll have those… scarab things tonight?"

The Conqueror ran her tongue along the back of her molars. She remained quite serious as she replied, "Most likely." Her jaw locked when Gabrielle's features paled. She walked off to her left when she felt her smirk wouldn't remain hidden any longer.

Gabrielle let out a throaty whine. "Do I have to eat a fried scarab?"

The Conqueror stopped a few paces away then she wiped her smirk away. She turned to her right some then stretched out her right arm. "When in Egypt, do as the Egyptians do."

The Amazon Queen groaned but took her lover's hand. She joined the ruler's side then walked to the door. "I really don't think I can handle eating one of those."

"I promise," the ruler offered, "it'll taste just like chicken."

Gabrielle stepped through the door first then waited for Xena to join her again. "Why don't I believe they taste like chicken?" She shook her head but followed her partner down the long hallway. "How does a bug taste like a bird?"

The Conqueror shrugged casually. "They both fly."

The Amazon Queen frowned. "A scarab flies?"

"Mmmm." The Conqueror's lips thinned as she considered another aspect about the scarabs here in Egypt. "Do you know what the scarab eats?"

Gabrielle adjusted her Amazon mask with her free hand as she considered the question. "No, what they eat?" She then saw her lover's smirk. "I really don't want to know now."

"Oooh no," Xena argued, "It's important that you know." She leaned closer then she proceeded to explain the beetles in Egypt. "The scarab is also called the dung beetle. They eat-"

"Wait, no." Gabrielle abruptly stopped and held up both her hands. "I am done now." She turned then quickly proceeded back towards their room. "I rather be sea sick than eat a dung beetle right now."

The Conqueror quickly hurried down the hallway and caught her lover's hand. When Gabrielle stopped and turned back to her, she raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn't want to insult the queen… or dishonor me, do you?"

The bard narrowed her eyes at the Conqueror. "You're really something, Xena."

The Conqueror's lips curled into a grin.

"I swear to every Greek and Egyptian god and goddess, you better hope there are no fried dung beetles at this dinner." Gabrielle pointed her finger at the ruler. "Or I am going straight back to Greece… without you."

The Conqueror chuckled then teased, "Then shall I have your bags packed for after dinner?"

The bard glared at her partner, and she really debated whether to skip dinner or not.

"Conqueror, Queen Gabrielle," a man greeted from the end of the hall that went into the main part of the palace.

The Conqueror squeezed Gabrielle's hand then released. She smiled when she recognized the darkly tanned man that was traditionally dressed to Egypt. "Cheops, it's great to see you again."

Cheops smiled at the Conqueror as he bowed to the rulers from Greece. He straightened up then turned his smile to the Amazon Queen. "Welcome to Egypt, Queen Gabrielle." He then focused on the Conqueror again. "It is wonderful to see you here again, my liege." Again, he bowed to the Grecian ruler.

The Conqueror held out her right hand.

Cheops understood the ruler, who was a warrior at heart like him. He collapsed the woman's forearm and briskly held. "Queen Cleopatra has been anxiously awaiting your return. Tonight's dinner promises to be large."

The Conqueror release the Egyptian's muscular arm. "I pray she only invited half the royals of Alexandria."

Cheops laughed and stepped closer. "The queen recalls your distain in overpopulated dinners."

The Conqueror softly laughed then she smiled at the quiet bard. "Queen Gabrielle and I were just discussing dinner." She grinned at Cheops. "She's looking forward to it as she's complained earlier to me about eating too much fish."

The Egyptian chuckled and smiled at the Amazon Queen. "I promise, Queen Gabrielle tonight's dinner is planned to be less than… fishy."

Gabrielle's attention flickered to the Conqueror then back to Cheops. "The Conqueror and I were conversing about that."

"Well," the Greek ruler piped in, "shall we go?"

Cheops nodded and turned so he could guide the rulers to the dinner. "I believe your…" He stopped and tried to think of the Greek word.

"Tetrarchès," Gabrielle supplied.

Cheops smiled at the bard then nodded as he focused back on the Conqueror. "Yes, your tetrarchès is already there and so are the Amazons."

"What of Najara?" Gabrielle questioned the Egyptian, but she glanced at the Conqueror.

"Oh yes." Cheops nodded once. "She is there as well." He then softly laughed and mentioned, "I thought you were the only female warrior in Greece, Conqueror besides the Amazons."

The Conqueror smirked then replied, "I am… for now."

"Najara is Phoenician," Gabrielle explained, "She's originally from Phoenicia."

The Egyptian warrior considered his mental map then questioned, "Just near Canaan, is it not?"

Gabrielle smiled at Cheops correct assessment. "It is near Canaan."

The Conqueror carefully listened despite she knew Najara's public history. She more or less was reading her lover's obvious interests in the Phoenician warrior. She then was lost to the noise ahead of them to the entrance of a large room. She knew it was the dining room.

Queen Gabrielle's eyes grew wider and wider still when she entered the busy and active dining room. She stepped closer to her partner and muttered, "This isn't overpopulated?"

The Conqueror sighed and leaned closer to her lover. "Yes, I'm afraid many in the upper class in Alexandria favor me greatly."

The bard peered up curiously at this news.

Xena shrugged then simply clarified it by saying, "Many of them are Greek."

"Oh gods," the bard moaned then she was quickly absorbed into the crowd when people spotted her lover. "Here it goes."

The Greek ruler and the Amazon Queen were soaked into the middle of the crowd. The Conqueror introduced her lover to many of the guests, and she tried to hold up conversations. Occasionally Gabrielle's bard side saved the moment. Gabrielle was dazzled by Xena's incredible memory because somehow Xena knew everybody's name and general life. If Gabrielle had to guess, she'd say it'd been about two Helical Risings since Xena had seen these people. How in the known-world Xena ever did it, she would never understand.

Then Gabrielle's good nature was dampened when Queen Cleopatra appeared and seemed to adhere to the Conqueror. She tried to keep up in the conversation between Queen Cleopatra and the Conqueror, but it became somewhat overly political for her taste. She surprisingly excused herself then wiggled through the people to find a certain somebody.

The Conqueror's skin prickled when her partner left her side. She didn't like it. She broke from her conversation with Queen Cleopatra for a heartbeat and spotted her lover beside Najara. She sighed in annoyance then focused back on her conversation with the Egyptian Queen.

"So how do you enjoy Egypt so far, Queen Gabrielle?"

The bard smiled up at Najara and discreetly touched the dekarchos's nearby arm, which was bare. "Come on, Najara you know I hate that title crap."

The dekarchos softly laughed and bowed her head closer to Gabrielle's. "I do know, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled appreciatively when she heard her name finally. "And I can't wait to explore more of Egypt tomorrow."

"I hear they have a theatre here," Najara prompted.

The bard chuckled and broadly smiled at the dekarchos. "I know. I saw it when we came into port. The Conqueror and the queen promised I would go."

Najara smiled at the news because she knew how much Gabrielle loved the theatre. "It would seem Alexandria has many things you like."

The bard's nose crinkled up, and she grinned at the dekarchos. "I guess it does." She then thought about the somebody that she liked so her gaze wandered in that direction.

The Conqueror tilted her head to the left, which meant she was getting weary of the present conversation. Her eyes briefly flickered off to her left and captured Iolaus's attention.

Iolaus stopped his conversation with Cheops. He watched in curiosity when the Conqueror's head dropped to the right side, and her eyebrow arched up high in hidden signal.

The tetrarchès followed the signal then he spotted what was on the Conqueror's mind. He peered up at Cheops and stated, "I've got to check on something."

Cheops held out his arm for a brisk shake. "I'll see you at the meal."

"Yes," Iolaus agreed. He then broke away from the Egyptian, who he found out was the head guard for Queen Cleopatra. He weaved through the mass of people, passed the Conqueror, and finally surfaced before the Amazon Queen and Najara.

Najara became more formal when her superior was upon her. She dipped her head respectfully to him.

"Najara," he greeted then smiled at the Amazon Queen. "How are you, Queen Gabrielle?"

The bard groaned at hearing her title. "I'm fine, tetrarchès."

Iolaus took the hint, and he grinned. "The Conqueror has requested your help, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle's eyebrows drew together then she glanced at the ruler, who was in a deep conversation with her Egyptian counterpart. She focused back on Iolaus. "Iolaus, she didn't even talk to you."

The tetrarchès felt slightly caught, yet he easily recovered. "The Conqueror and I have known each other for many seasons so I understand her unspoken… wishes." He rocked on his feet then glanced at Najara.

The dekarchos understood his unspoken orders. She turned to the Amazon Queen and smiled. "I'll see you at the dinner."

Gabrielle touched the other woman's elbow and mirrored the smile. "Thanks for the company, Najara."

"Anytime, Queen Gabrielle." Najara then disappeared into the crowd of people.

"So, what's this request?" the bard challenged.

Iolaus shifted until he stood beside the Amazon Queen. "The Conqueror is very bored right now." He licked his lips then his voice quieted low enough for only Gabrielle to hear. "You see how she has her head tilted?" At Gabrielle's nod, he continued speaking while he observed his leader. "Then her jaw is set and her eyes slightly narrowed. Even her shoulders are faintly lifted and tense." He nodded and turned his head to the bard. "She is bored."

Gabrielle laughed and shook her head at Iolaus honest assessment of the Conqueror. "And your point is?"

"You must rescue her from Queen Cleopatra. The Conqueror cannot out talk her, but you can." Iolaus touched the Amazon's forearm and leaned closer to her. "Please, Gabrielle because if you do not then she may prove to be grumpy tonight."

The bard couldn't ignore the tetrarchès's plea. She patted his back then whispered, "Just for you."

"You make my job as the tetrarchès so much more pleasant," Iolaus joked and winked.

Gabrielle smirked then said goodbye to him. She shifted through the people and made her way to Xena's side. "Hey," she softly greeted to her lover, who warmly acknowledged her.

"Hey yourself," Xena murmured back then touched Gabrielle's mid back in reception of her returned presence.

Queen Cleopatra smiled at the Amazon Queen. "Queen Gabrielle, perhaps you could offer your perspective on our debate since you're a new ruler."

The bard shifted closer to her partner but she was centered on the Egyptian Queen. "What is it about?"

"The Conqueror has been pushing for Egypt to take on a currency ever since I took the throne." Queen Cleopatra saw the Amazon Queen's clear interest in the debate so she continued. "It has been Egyptian tradition for many dynasties back that there is no currency. Now the Conqueror wishes for me to take on the drachma as our currency."

Gabrielle tilted her head to the right and considered her lover's profile then she focused back on Queen Cleopatra. "The Conqueror gave the Amazon Nation the option to produce our own currency, adopt the drachma, or continue without one."

Queen Cleopatra stepped closer as she was quite curious to hear the results. "Have you decided?"

"Queen Terreis and I have taken it to our council and decided that what was best for the nation was to adopt the drachma." Gabrielle quickly formulated her reasons that she knew Xena would appreciate later. "I understand the appeal of not having a currency but it can truly be a hindrance to a growing nation. If your currency comes in the forms of grain, merchandise, and labor then those are things that may be easily lost." Gabrielle paused then questioned, "How do you measure the value of one man's labor to another? Or is one farmer's grain better than another but the lesser farmer worked two times as harder?" She then shrugged and finally added, "The drachma holds a true value and it cannot be questioned. Plus it is highly transportable unlike grain or merchandise."

Queen Cleopatra's head bobbed a few times as she appreciated the bard's line of thinking. "Many Egyptian will refuse the use of the drachma… any currency as it's not traditional."

The bard mulled it over and was reminded of her partner's past conversation so many moons back about change. "Tradition is important," she softly agreed. "Maybe you can slowly phase out the old tradition and slowly introduce the drachma." Gabrielle tilted her head then suggested, "Perhaps offer to the people a way to use both the drachma and grain as currency but promote the drachma more so. When taxes are due, proclaim that people who pay in drachmas may take a small tax reduction compared to anything else."

Queen Cleopatra slowly smiled at the bard's ideas. She then grinned up at the pleased Conqueror. "I see why Queen Gabrielle is your advisor of state." She lowered her grin to the bard and teased, "Perhaps I'll have to hire you away from the Conqueror."

Queen Gabrielle played right along with the other queen. "I only accept drachmas for payment."

Queen Cleopatra laughed at the quick wit of the Amazon Queen. Then in her deep voice, she warmly instructed, "Perhaps we should begin dinner."

Gabrielle didn't know whether to be happy or worried at that announcement. She was starving but not for fried dung beetles.

The mass of people began to converge on the two large and long tables that were properly setup for the large feast. Queen Cleopatra required the Conqueror to sit at the head of one table while Queen Cleopatra took the opposite end. Gabrielle almost made it to the right chair beside her partner but Queen Cleopatra called the bard down to her end. Gabrielle almost refused but recalled her position not only to her rulership but also Xena's. So she obliged the Egyptian Queen.

The Egyptian slaves suddenly swarmed the room when everybody was seated. The food came out in rapid succession and the guests passed the food about while they spoke. Each time Gabrielle received a plate, she carefully inspected for any black bugs that may be hiding. She'd gone through five dishes and had yet to find anything.

Queen Cleopatra idly chitchatted with the Amazon Queen. She said something of humor, which made Queen Gabrielle laughed well naturedly.

The Conqueror listened to the table conversation as she filled her plate. She occasionally glanced down at the two queens and especially watched Queen Cleopatra.

Gabrielle waved her hands about in the air for a second. She was obviously telling a story to the Egyptian Queen. "I slid completely across the deck." She then reached for the platter that Queen Cleopatra handed to her.

"By the gods," Queen Cleopatra murmured. "Did you go overboard?"

The bard briefly studied the plate of food, which was a Greek dish. She decided to take some despite she'd been mostly taking Egyptian food. "I actually did. The last thing I saw before I went over was the Conqueror's face."

Queen Cleopatra was shocked, and she leaned closer to the bard. "You're obviously survived. How?"

"Well just as I went overboard, something grabbed my wrist, and I was dangling about fifty pouses above the dark water." Gabrielle accepted the next dish from the queen. "The Conqueror had somehow made it across the deck and grabbed me."

Queen Cleopatra shook her head then grinned at the Amazon Queen. "The Conqueror has many skills."

Gabrielle softly laughed and nodded her head. "I was grateful for that skill at that particular moment."

Queen Cleopatra chuckled, and she picked up her Roman fork but didn't touch her meal yet. "I assume she pulled you back onboard?"

"Actually no," the bard answered, "the ship dived into a large wave and sent the Conqueror overboard with me. Somehow she managed to grab one of the railing legs and held on tight." Gabrielle picked up her Roman fork too but hesitated from eating. "She then lifted us both from the side and back onto the ship."

Queen Cleopatra shook her head again, yet she smiled and briefly glanced down at the subject of their conversation. "The Conqueror has many, many skills." She grinned at the Amazon Queen. "I presume you've discovered her more… intimate skills, Queen Gabrielle."

Gabrielle almost choked on her meat, but she managed to eat it. She wasn't sure how to respond the queen's bold statement so she kept her silence. She was saved too as a slave servant came to her side. She twisted her head up and saw the long, cylindrical jar that the slave held in her hands.

Queen Cleopatra saw the Amazon Queen's confused features. "Would you like some beer, Queen Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle blinked and turned her head to the Egyptian Queen. "Beer?"

Queen Cleopatra softly smiled at the bard's ignorance about beer. "It is a fermented drink, which is native to Egypt. It's made from barley, hops, yeast, and water."

It dawned on the bard what the beverage was so she mentioned, "I usually don't drink but…"

Queen Cleopatra spoke to the slave in the Egyptian tongue and ordered the slave to fill the guest's cup.

The slave bent over the guest, picked up the glass cup, which had a straw, and she filled it with the very dark brew. She then placed it back down in front of the guest and quietly left.

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at the drink in her cup. She then turned her head to Queen Cleopatra. "Is it as thick as soup?"

"Yes, actually," the queen replied. "You must drink it with the straw." She then held out her hand to the cup of beer. "Please try it."

The bard set her fork down then picked up the cup. She was struck odd again by the feel of the clear mug. She'd never seen a mug that was clear like this, and she hadn't expected it to be so hard. She lifted her left hand and tilted the straw to her lips then her lips met the straw. She sucked in the small amount of air then her mouth suddenly exploded with the sharp, rich taste of the beer.

Queen Cleopatra chuckled at the bard's disgusted features so she mentioned, "At first taste, it is quite unpleasant and it's an acquired taste after a few sips."

Gabrielle chuckled and set the mug back down. She swallowed the last of the bitter taste down her throat. "It's pretty strong."

"It is but you grow accustom to it." Queen Cleopatra then pointed her fork at the bard's filled plate. "How is the goose and duck?"

"Wonderful," the bard replied, "I've never had either before." Gabrielle ate more of the meat and enjoyed the flavor of the fowls. "I'm curious, what is this mug made from?"

Queen Cleopatra gazed down at the signaled mug that held the beer. She chuckle and asked, "You have not seen glass?"

Queen Gabrielle brightened at the mention of glass. "I've heard of it." Her eyes lowered to the clear mug. "I've just never seen it before now."

The Egyptian Queen pierced a piece of her duck but she paused. "Then you will require a tour of our glass factory before leaving Alexandria."

The bard's smile grew larger to the point that it almost hurt. "I would love that, Queen Cleopatra."

Queen Cleopatra freed her right hand, reached across, and collapsed her hand over Gabrielle's. "Please call me Cleopatra."

"Only if you'll call me Gabrielle," the bard challenged.

"Of course." Queen Cleopatra squeezed the bard's hand then released.

The Conqueror, from the corner of her eye, caught Queen Cleopatra's intimate touch with her partner. She tried to ignore it while she went back to her conversation between the two Greek aristocrats on her left side. She listened to them more than anything else. They were hotly debating the region of land known as Libya, which was west of Egypt. There were rumors in circulation that Queen Cleopatra was looking west at Libya but had made no moves because the Egyptian army fell shy of being conquest material.

The Conqueror's interest were perked at this news since Queen Cleopatra hadn't mentioned this to her. She began to wonder if the queen had ulterior motives to inviting her here to Egypt. She knew it would come to light soon if it were the case.

The servants started to collect the empty dishes from the full guests. They then started to set down large plates of dessert, which was passed around the tables like the dinner.

Gabrielle received the plate, and she inspected the foreign food on the plate. It was red, seemed juicy, and had a green bottom.

Queen Cleopatra observed the bard's inspection so she simply stated, "Watermelon."

"A fruit?" the bard questioned. At the queen's nod, Gabrielle smiled and took a triangular slice of the juicy fruit then passed the tray. She bit off the fleshy tip and was surprised by the wonderful taste. "This is amazing."

"It is one of my favorite fruits," the queen agreed.

Gabrielle finished a second bite but she excitedly asked, "Have you ever tried bananas?"

Queen Cleopatra's features twisted tightly. "No, I don't believe so."

The Amazon Queen chuckled at the thought of that yellow fruit. "Its not exactly one of my favorites but the Conqueror loves them. They're from Chin."

"The land to the rising sun," Cleopatra murmured. "I have yet to see Chin. Have you been there, Gabrielle?"

The bard sadly shook her head but she slightly brightened again. "I have met the ruler of Chin, Lady Lao Ma."

Queen Cleopatra was surprised by this news that the Amazon Queen personally knew the Chin ruler. "I believe she and the Conqueror are close…?"

"They have a history," Gabrielle simply offered because she wasn't sure how much she could tell the Egyptian Queen. She then hastily switched topics. "I was curious about something."

Queen Cleopatra grinned as she leaned towards the bard.

The bard leaned closer to the queen too as she didn't want any of the other guests to hear her. "I thought there would be… uh fried scarabs for dinner?"

Queen Cleopatra shot up straight when she heard the question. She stared horrified at the Amazon Queen. "That goes against our faith. It is a sin to harm scarabs because they are so sacred." She then took a deep breath to calm down because she knew Gabrielle may not understand the culture. "Where did you hear such a thing?"

Gabrielle had been surprised by the queen's instant reaction. She inhaled sharply then when the queen's words soaked in deeper, her face darkened. "A certain somebody has been… goading me the entire trip across the Mediterranean."

Queen Cleopatra's eyes flickered to that particular somebody, who was poised at the other end of the table. She bit back her laughter so it wouldn't bother the Amazon Queen. Her tone was laced with amusement however. "Unfortunately, Gabrielle the Conqueror has a strange sense of humor at times." She gave the bard a sympathetic look.

Gabrielle drummed her fingers on the table and glared down in the Conqueror's general direction. "She has a strange sense of humor alright."

The Conqueror felt a cold stare on her so she glanced down at the queens. She raised an eyebrow at Queen Gabrielle's threatening features then she saw Queen Cleopatra's face full of mirth. She cringed when she realized her practical joke had come to a sharp end tonight. She grabbed her mug of beer and sipped on it while she returned her focus to the conversation at hand.

Queen Cleopatra leaned over the table towards Gabrielle again. Her hand moved under the table and met the bard's exposed knee. "Don't worry, Gabrielle I'm sure if the Conqueror can dish it out then she can take it."

Gabrielle laughed and took a long drink of her beer. Her imagination was instantly charged with the idea of getting even with the Conqueror. She then pushed her empty mug aside then focused on the queen. She reeled into a long conversation with the Egyptian Queen. Gabrielle thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with the queen. And while they talked, Gabrielle drank another mug of beer plus ate a couple of pieces of watermelon.

What Gabrielle didn't realize what was going on was that Queen Cleopatra was focusing her charms on her. The earlier touches became more constant and almost intimate between the pair. Gabrielle leaned against the table so that she could hear the queen, who was purposely talking in hushed tones. As the night wore on, the bard realized just how alluring Queen Cleopatra truly was, and she was positive that Queen Cleopatra kept the nearby beer servant on call for her mug.

Near the end, the bard was so pulled into the deep voice of the queen. Then what blindly struck Gabrielle was the fact that Queen Cleopatra reminded Gabrielle very much of the Conqueror. Queen Cleopatra had similar facial features to the Conqueror, but only a more masculine take. Through Gabrielle's fuzzy state, she realized her draw to the Egyptian Queen was based on what she saw of the Conqueror in the Egyptian Queen.

The Conqueror excused herself from the conversation with the guests. She'd counted too many passed touches between the Amazon Queen and the Egyptian Queen. She rose up until her dress fell to her ankles then she glided through the thin crowd that'd decided to stand after dinner.

Gabrielle laughed then grabbed Queen Cleopatra's wrist and replied, "Xena has never done that since…" She fell short on her words when Queen Cleopatra's attention was drawn above her head.

The Conqueror arched an eyebrow when she realized her first name was being traded between the queens. She glanced at the half empty mug of beer and wondered how many Gabrielle had sucked down. She sighed then grabbed the Amazon Queen's shoulders and lowered her head down.

Queen Cleopatra leaned back in her chair and removed herself from the bard's space. She openly observed the foreign rulers' interactions.

Gabrielle had her head back some and her glossy eyes met the Conqueror's. "Hey," she warmly greeted.

The Conqueror's lips thinned when she thought she could count the consumed beers in the bard's eyes. She lowered more and whispered, "Are you ready to go back to our quarters?"

The bard grinned then lifted her right hand. She lightly caressed the Greek ruler's defined cheek. "Yeah, I think so."

The Conqueror hadn't expected Gabrielle's open display of affection, and she wasn't completely comfortable with it. She squeezed the small shoulders then straightened up so that Gabrielle's touch left her. She turned to Queen Cleopatra and politely stated, "Thank you for dinner."

Queen Cleopatra bowed her head briefly then smiled at the Conqueror. "I hope you enjoyed it, Conqueror."

"It was wonderful," the Grecian ruler agreed.

Queen Gabrielle chimed in next. "It really was. Thank you, Cleopatra."

Queen Cleopatra chuckled and nodded once. "I will see you tomorrow, Gabrielle."

The bard stood up and luckily the Conqueror's remaining hand on her shoulder balanced her until she felt stable. "Goodnight, Cleopatra."

The Conqueror bowed her head at the Egyptian Queen. "Goodnight." She then directed her partner away from the table and towards the exit. She kept her left hand on the small of Gabrielle's back. When they were in the hall, she quietly asked, "You enjoyed the dinner?"

Gabrielle walked closely to her lover. "Yes, I had a nice conversation with Cleopatra."

The Conqueror noted how the bard referred the queen without her title. She knew Gabrielle and the Egyptian Queen were becoming quite comfortable with each other, which gave her mixed emotions.

"She's very intelligent like you said," Gabrielle mentioned, "I really like her." She then peered up at her lover. "I also see that allure you're talking about, but I think mines a little different than yours."

"Oh?" the Conqueror prompted. She couldn't guess where this conversation would go with the tipsy bard.

"Mmmm." Gabrielle took her partner's left hand into hers. "Her facial features remind me of you."

The Conqueror displayed an arched eyebrow at her partner's words.

Gabrielle giggled at the look but quickly explained, "She has those high cheek bones like you. Her lips are even like yours."

"Her lips?" The Conqueror's eyes narrowed. "You must have had a good look, Gabrielle."

The bard snorted then shot back, "How couldn't I? She mind as well sat in my lap." She waved her free left hand in the available space around her. "Cleopatra is like a halfway version of you becoming a male."

The Conqueror shook her head then her eyebrows almost touched. "I do not know whether to be insulted for Queen Cleopatra's sake."

Gabrielle abruptly stopped and faced her lover. "I didn't mean it like that. Cleopatra has her own attractive appeal and besides that, you'd probably make a handsome man." She shrugged then mentioned, "Your brother, Toris, is pretty handsome."

"Gabrielle, this conversation is going downhill and quickly," the Conqueror warned.

The bard's tipsy state made her laugh instead of being worried. "I know and I can't explain what I mean." She took Xena's hand back into hers and continued the walk through the torch lit palace. "Xena, what did Lyceus look like?"

"Gabrielle," the Conqueror hotly warned.

The bard sighed then peered up at her lover. "Come on, Xena. I'm not asking like that. I just notice the fact that everybody in your family is beautiful. Cyrene is absolutely gorgeous."

"Mmmm." The Conqueror considered her mother and murmured, "Mother does age quite well."

"See? I'm right," the bard teased, and she bumped her shoulder against her lover's arm.

The Conqueror slightly grinned then she went somber. "Lyceus had dirty blond hair, and it was curly. He and I were about the same height as kids."

The bard glanced up in surprise. "And he was younger? I'd probably been taller than you."

"Maybe," the ruler granted. She then peered down at her lover. "He had green eyes, much like yours."

Gabrielle softly smiled when her imagination developed the young man in her mind. She then asked, "What did his face look like?"

The Conqueror chuckled and quipped, "He always had a baby face, which made him look younger. It took him awhile to grow out of the baby fat but when he did, he started to grow into a handsome young man."

The bard's grin appeared. "Were the girls in Amphipolis chasing after him?"

"Oh yeah." Xena considered those few and fond memories before Cortese struck their town.

Gabrielle reached over and rubbed the ruler's bare arm. She smiled when the ruler sadly smiled down at her. She then noticed they entered the south wing, which meant their room was just ahead of them. "By the way, I found out something quite interesting about scarabs."

The Conqueror sobered when she heard the pending topic. She knew where this conversation would go, and quickly. "Oh?"

"Uh huh." Gabrielle stopped in front of their door and turned to her lover. "The scarab is scared to the Egyptians." She stepped closer and her dark eyes held the ruler in place. "They don't eat them." She then lifted up onto her tiptoes so that her face was closer to Xena's. "Next you'll tell me they eat alligators, which by the way is scared too." She then pointed at the ruler and poked the ruler's chest for each of her next words. "Don't even try that again." She spun her heels then marched into the room, but she left the doors wide open.

The Conqueror held back her grin as she entered the bedchambers. She closed the doors behind her but stiffened when the angry bard turned to her.

"I can't believe you did that to me," the bard hotly snapped. She gritted her teeth and pointed her finger again at the Greek ruler.

"It was all in good fun, Gabrielle."

The Amazon Queen's earlier tipsy mood was washed away by her temper. "Do you realize the entire time we were journeying across the Mediterranean…" She pointed at the sea in the northern direction. "I was getting more paranoid about eating a fried scarab! I don't know whether that made me sick or the ship's rocking."

The Conqueror swallowed down her amusement and went very serious. "You didn't know gullible wasn't a word?"

Gabrielle, the bard extraordinaire, hotly growled then marched up to her lover. "You're really pushing it, Xena." Then Xena's revealed smug features sent her into a ranting fit. "Not only was I half out of my mind about eating one of those shit rolling, crunchy bugs but I was embarrassed in front of Queen Cleopatra." She tossed her hands in the air. "She probably thinks I'm a complete idiot."

"I wouldn't say that," the ruler argued.

The Amazon Queen snarled when a key fact came to light about the Conqueror. She suddenly brushed past the ruler and went to the doors.

The Conqueror grew surprised so she turned and hastily asked, "Where are you going?"

The bard stopped by a door and glanced back at her lover. "I'll be in the bedchambers across the hall… if you need me for another damn joke of yours." She shoved the door open, walked out, and slammed the door behind her. Gabrielle kept her head high as she silently slipped into the empty, quiet bedchambers that'd originally been saved for her.

Gabrielle didn't care about her current stage of dress. She just went to the made bed that was washed white by the moonlight from the balcony. She dragged her body into the bed and rested on top of the covers in the lonely middle.

Gabrielle's earlier fire was completely dead, and her upset emotions surfaced instead. She brushed back her bangs and considered how that fight had happened. She knew it was her fault that it'd started, but she needed to voice her opinion.

It wasn't so much the Conqueror's practical joke that bothered her as she could take it and give it. What'd bothered her was more so the humiliation in front of Queen Cleopatra, despite the queen had promise it didn't bother her. When Gabrielle realized that the Conqueror wouldn't apologize for that part, she became instantly hurt and angry. She just didn't understand why it was so hard for the Conqueror to utter those two simple yet meaningful words.

Gabrielle adjusted her head on the pillow and just watched the sheer curtain in front of the balcony ruffle in the breeze. She closed her eyes and tried to relax even though she knew it'd be hard to get to sleep. Then her body felt as though she was still on the ship, and she was rocking. She'd noticed the sensation earlier at dinner but thought maybe it was just the beer, but now she knew it was otherwise.

Gabrielle grumbled but tried to ignore the feeling. She didn't feel like bringing up her dinner. She balled up tighter when the chill from the evening caught up to her. She closed her eyes again then pushed away her emotions for the night.

The bard tightened into a neater ball so that the chill wouldn't bother her. Then Gabrielle's body loosened when warmth surrounded her back and a strong arm came over her goose bumped stomach. Gabrielle released a soft moan of pleasure for the needed warmth.

The Conqueror drew the bard closer to her body and rested her head down on the pillow beside the bard's. She then whispered, "Come back to our room."

Gabrielle kept her eyes closed as she tucked her hands under the pillow and her head. "I'm fine."

The Conqueror's jaw flexed a few times then in her husky, deep voice she urged, "Please."

Gabrielle rarely heard the ruler's plea on her lips. She typically gave in right away too but this time she wouldn't do it. She just stayed still and silent for her response.

The ruler knew this was quite serious so she closed her eyes and steeled herself. "Tell me why you're so upset?"

The bard removed her right hand from under the pillow and collapsed the ruler's over her stomach. She was pleased at how the ruler was trying to work this out. "It wasn't so much your joke," she softly revealed, "because we do that to each other all the time." She ran her thumb overtop of Xena's hand. "I just felt really stupid in front of Queen Cleopatra when I asked her about the fried scarabs."

The Conqueror understood what the bard felt at that instant. She frowned then murmured, "I know."

Gabrielle sighed because she didn't hear the words she needed to hear. She chewed on her lower lip then carefully asked, "Why won't you say it?"

"You know that I rather show it than say it."

Gabrielle recalled the Conqueror's belief that actions spoke louder than words. She couldn't argue that theory, but she also believed that words were very meaningful. "Sometimes you don't need to show it, Xena and all that's required are the words." She finally turned around so that she faced the ruler. "In my case, the words happen to mean a lot to me… and that does show a lot when somebody can say them."

The Conqueror continued to silently stare into the bard's eyes that were dark. Her tongue would not move for her though.

Gabrielle sadly sighed then moved her head so that her face was buried in the Conqueror's neck. Gabrielle's frustration surged to the top then her tears damped the ruler's neck.

The Conqueror felt it so she ran her fingertips up and down the bard's back. She wouldn't move away as she wouldn't destroy her conveyed message that she was here for the bard. Then when Gabrielle's grip tightened on her body, she closed her eyes. She considered why it was so hard for her.

The bard's old memories from a few moons ago when she first and last heard the ruler apologize for something floated back to her. The Conqueror had apologized for their awful argument about Gabrielle accepting the rulership of the Amazons. She wondered why the Conqueror apologized then but had since refused to do such a thing again.

The Conqueror reached up with her right hand and touched the bard's chin. She drew the bard's head out then up to hers. She guided the bard's lips to hers, and she tasted the salty tears in the kiss. She expressed her apology in the kiss.

Gabrielle withdrew from the kiss and breathed deeply but more from her crying than the kiss. She stared at the turmoil in the Conqueror. She never felt such a mix of emotions against and for the Conqueror persona that her lover wore.

The Conqueror sadly observed the bard's distraught features. She hated the tears, and she hated that she tasted their sharp, stinging taste. Yet she leaned forward, and kissed them so that they would be driven away from the bard. She pulled back and found the bard's eyes closed tightly in hopes to stop the tears. Then something in the Conqueror made her feel the dark emotions that attacked the bard, and it broke the Conqueror.

"Gabrielle," the ruler softly called.

The opened her eyes, which were a bright turquoise due to her crying. She was met by silver blue eyes that held her next heartbeat.

Xena caressed the bard's cheek then she sincerely and emotionally whispered, "I'm sorry that you felt embarrassed in front of Cleopatra… that wasn't my intention."

Gabrielle closed her eyes again, and the words filled her completely. She took Xena's hand from her cheek and tightly held it. "I know it wasn't." She then kissed the ruler's hand and choked out, "Thank you… thank you so much."

The Conqueror hadn't expected the words to be so impacting on the bard. Yet she knew, without any required facts, that it didn't just help the bard but also their relationship. She focused back on their current situation and asked, "Please come back to our bed."

Gabrielle sadly smiled then opened her eyes. "Yes." Then before she could move, the Conqueror was faster and moved about.

The Conqueror was sitting up and maneuvering the bard into her arms better. She stood up from the bed and secured the bard in her arms.

Gabrielle's astonishment clearly showed in the moonlight. She peered up at the faintly grinning ruler. She snaked her right arm around the back of Xena's neck. "I'll have to get upset more often."

"I don't prefer it," the ruler argued. She glided across the room and asked, "Get the door."

Gabrielle obliged and pulled on the gold ring. She then grabbed the ring on the other side and closed it for them. "Xena, I don't know if it's me or the beer I drank but I feel like I'm rocking still."

"It's not the beer," the ruler explained, "it's from the ship. It'll take a few days for it to pass."

"Oh great."

The Conqueror shoved the right door open to their quarters. She then kicked it shut then went directly to the large bed that was lined with more pillows than any human required. She neatly deposited the bard on the left side then crawled up. Her sandals resounded on the floor when she dropped them.

Gabrielle smiled at her lover that hovered over her. She then tilted her head back far when she felt like she wasn't on the bed quite right. She realized the pillows were truly taking up a lot of room. "Xena-"

"I know," the ruler grumbled who stretched out a hand.

Gabrielle followed suit and stretched her arms up and grabbed the pillows. She and her partner efficiently knocked several of them off the bed onto the floor. "Who in the known-world sleeps with that many pillows? What a waste of good bed space." The bard heard her lover's chuckles, but she wiggled up the bed more when she had the room.

The Conqueror stayed put and decided to deal with the bard's boots. When she had them off and tossed to the floor, she ran her hands up the bard's smooth legs. She then crawled over her lover's body and met Gabrielle for a kiss.

Gabrielle smiled at the end of the kiss when Xena's face remained above hers. She thought about what the ruler wore tonight and how Xena so easily mingled with the people despite she distained it.

"What is it, bard?" The ruler could tell it was the bard instilled in her lover at that moment.

The bard blushed as if completely caught with several loafs of nutbread. She cleared her throat then quietly whispered, "I was just thinking about…" She lost her words because she never said anything like this to her partner.

Xena arched an eyebrow to encourage the bard.

Gabrielle dropped her gaze for an instant then met Xena's again. She touched the ruler's soft cheek then she finally spoke her mind. "I was thinking about how beautiful you looked tonight."

The Conqueror's face was broken by a bright smile that was rare. She lowered her lips close to Gabrielle's right ear and sensually murmured, "Thank you." She now understood what Gabrielle meant earlier that words could mean a lot. Plenty of times she'd been given compliments about her body or dress but never had the bard given her one. The bard's words drove deeper than anybody else's.

Gabrielle smiled when she saw the ruler's happy features. She rarely witnessed such an open expression. She knew tonight that it would be Xena that slept with her. It was often Xena anymore and the Conqueror rarely showed in their bed unless it was prompted by such physical activities like sparring or Gabrielle coaxed it.

Just maybe Cyrene was right that her daughter, Xena, had to learn to be again. Gabrielle prayed she would be there every step of the way; through the dark and the light of it. And tonight, Gabrielle shared her pleasures with the beautiful woman hidden behind the Conqueror, Xena of Amphipolis.

To be continued.

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