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?
Started: March 5, 2007
A Stranger in my Family
by Red Hope
Chapter 3 – The Conqueror, the Conquered
"Alright, I'll meet her there," the Conqueror called to Cheops, who just stepped out of the bedchambers.
"Ow," Gabrielle complained from her slumped spot on the foot of the made bed. She lowered her hands from her ears. "Do you think you could talk any louder? I don't think they heard you back on Mount Olympus."
The Conqueror smirked at her partner's obviously hurting state. She came right to the bard then knocked on the bard's temple. "How's the head?"
"Hey!" Gabrielle swatted her lover's covered stomach.
Xena lifted her hands and teased, "Wooo."
"Look," Gabrielle ranted in an irritated voice, "do me a favor okay? If you ever see me drink another Egyptian beer again, just kill me."
"You got a deal." The Conqueror walked away with a highly amused face. She went over to their things and dug around in the bags. "Still, for someone hung over on beer, you do a pretty fair job of keeping your food in your stomach."
Gabrielle groaned and flopped back in the bed, her hands over her face. "You're enjoying this far too much." She then caught her lover's low, deep laugh. "You really are enjoying this."
The Conqueror had a small wood cup in her left hand, and she disappeared into the washroom.
The bard made herself get up and finish the process of getting ready for the day. She picked up her boots off the floor then she slid off the bed. She padded over to the table near the balcony entrance. She flopped into the chair and dragged out the process to get her boots on and tied.
The Conqueror strolled back out and went to her lover. She held out the cup to her partner. "Here, take this."
Gabrielle could already smell the contents and her stomach wasn't happy about it. She wearily peered up at her lover. "Are you trying to make me sick?"
The Conqueror sighed then ordered, "Go on."
The bard gave in and took the cup from her lover. She sniffed the contents again to double check that awful smell.
"Just hold your breath and drink it." The ruler chuckled at the bard's screwed up features. She grinned when the bard dropped her head back and took the thick liquid.
Gabrielle's face paled after the oozy liquid slipped down her throat. "I think I am going to be sick now." She touched her chest and glowered up at her partner.
The Conqueror took the cup back and went to the washroom again as she spoke. "You'll feel fine soon. The rest of your remedy waits in the market."
The Amazon Queen slightly brightened at the prospect of going shopping today. She leaned forward and distracted herself with her right boot. She opted to wear her Amazon leathers again even though she was tiring of them somewhat.
The Conqueror, who was coming out of the bathroom, wore attire that was more fitting to Egypt. Her dress was white and hugged her sleek, muscular form similar to the red dress last night. This dress wasn't silky though but smooth and had a gold swirl design that went diagonal down her chest. Then the only two pieces of jewelry she wore was a thick choker necklace made of gold and turquoise then the gold arm bracelet from last night.
Gabrielle sat up in the chair now that she finished her arduous task. She then reached for a small pouch on the table and placed it in her lap. She opened it up and pulled out a shining, silver coin. "You're sure you can't come?" She already knew the answer to her question.
The Conqueror was bent over her bag and finished tucking the clean cup away. "I need to meet with Cleopatra."
"I know." The bard sighed then turned the drachma over in her palm. She stared at the resembling profile of her lover on it. She grinned. She held up the coin just to the right of Xena. She carefully tried to measure the coin's profile against her lover's real profile. "I think your nose is bigger on the drachma."
The Conqueror had been staring in the mirror but she stopped and turned her head to the right. Her eyes narrowed at seeing her lover comparing her profile to the drachma's profile. "Is that so?"
"Mmmm." Gabrielle tilted her head; her eyes flickered between the coin and her lover. "You definitely look better in real life." She dropped her drachma into her palm and tucked it back away in her coin pouch.
The Conqueror rolled her eyes then turned back to the mirror. "I almost killed the artist that did the rendering."
The Amazon Queen blinked when she realized her partner was serious. "Why?"
"Because he did make my nose too damn big." The Conqueror straightened out her dress then walked closer to the mirror to inspect her face better. "He told me it was traditional for any Greek whose profile is placed on a drachma."
The bard snickered and teased, "Maybe that's why I think you and Cleopatra seem alike."
The Conqueror shot a glare at her partner for the joke. "Be careful, Gabrielle or else I put your face on the new drachmas."
"Funny." Gabrielle tied the pouch to her belt side while she mentioned, "If you do, I would prefer my profile on the gold pieces." She lifted her head and smirked at her lover's annoyed look. "Just incase you do."
The ruler shook her head then moved away from the mirror. She came over to the bard, who was standing up. "I take it you're feeling better then?"
Gabrielle adjusted her leather gauntlets some then nodded. "I think that stuff is working."
The Conqueror remained serious as she stated, "Glad to hear the scarab juice helped." She then smirked and walked away to her things again.
The bard slightly blanched at the concept of dung beetle juice. "Maybe it’s a good thing you're spending the day with Cleopatra."
The Conqueror chuckled and went to the mirror with a small jar of thick red paste. She carefully applied it to her lips then closed up the jar and tossed it back in her bag. "Are you ready?"
Gabrielle came over and rummaged in her bag until she had her empty satchel from home. "I can't go shopping without this."
The ruler sighed at the thought of her partner filling that satchel. "Don't forget your staff." She and Gabrielle walked to the doors together, and she paused by the closed doors.
Gabrielle adjusted the satchel's strap across her chest then she grabbed her staff. "Is there anything you want from the market?"
The Conqueror slightly smiled at the gesture but politely declined. She then led the way out of the room and went down the hallway with Gabrielle at her side. She then inquired, "Are you taking all the Amazons?"
"No, just three… I asked Najara to come too so I figured that's plenty."
"Cheops is joining you too," the ruler informed. She cut off the bard's protest ahead of time. "Can you speak Egyptian?"
Gabrielle sighed then grumbled, "If you came then I could."
The Conqueror softly laughed, and she took Gabrielle's hand into hers. "You'll enjoy yourself."
"I enjoy myself even more when I can drag you through the market," the bard complained. She knew how her lover hated to go shopping, which just thrilled Gabrielle more so. "Come on, you know you love to go through the Corinth market when Salmoneus is there." She chuckled when her lover evilly laughed. "There's bound to be at least one Salmoneus in the market."
"Well you find him for me, and I'll go back with you next time," the Conqueror promised.
"Deal." Gabrielle then considered something about Salmoneus and her decedent from another world. She quietly asked, "Why did Janice get annoyed with him? She didn't get a chance to tell me."
The ruler shot a grin at her partner before she explained the situation. "Salmoneus kept calling her little."
The bard cringed, and her head bobbed. "That would get to me too." She then noticed they entered the main atrium of the palace where her escort waited for her.
The Conqueror turned to her partner and softly smiled at her. "Don't spend too much."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes then reminded, "Not all merchants take drachmas, my liege."
"Not yet," Xena quietly whispered, "but they might. Thanks to you."
"Yeah, I know," the bard proudly stated.
Xena couldn't shake her smile at the bard's upbeat attitude. She was glad for it because she knew Gabrielle hadn't slept well last night or the past several nights. She knew why, but she had yet to discuss it with the bard. She focused on the present and took a step closer to her partner. "Be careful." She then ignored the curious stares of the Amazons, Najara, and Cheops.
Gabrielle enjoyed the long kiss from her lover, and she tangled her freehand in midnight hair. She withdrew but moved her hand to the back of Xena's neck. "I'll see you at the lighthouse."
The Conqueror nodded then untangled from the bard. She flashed a last smile then disappeared into another hallway, and her sandals could be heard echoing.
Gabrielle joined her entourage and smiled. "So which way to the market, Cheops?"
The Egyptian warrior softly laughed then he held out his right arm. "This way, Queen Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen linked her arm through his and was escorted out of the palace. She and her company were taken through a few blocks until they entered the very busy emporium. Gabrielle was surrounded by her three Amazons and Najara. She was grateful for their steadfast protection and support. From the Amazon bunch, she'd selected Lacy, Amarice, and Vara to join her.
Amarice glanced off her right when another Egyptian gave her an odd look. She sighed then blurted out, "That's the seventh look I've gotten like that." She stopped and slowed down to Najara, who was next to the Amazon Queen. "It's like they've never seen women with any other hair color besides black or brunette!"
"Or curly for that matter," Najara pointed out.
"And short." Gabrielle smirked when Najara rolled her eyes.
The dekarchos played with her short hair as if subconscious about it.
The bard chuckled and softly mentioned, "I like it." She straightened up from leaning in the dekarchos's space. "If I was bold, I'd cut mine that short."
Najara mentally pictured the bard with such a hair style, and she grinned. "I believe you'd out do me, Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen laughed then shyly smiled at the compliment. "I don't know, Najara."
Najara brought her hand to the bard's back and whispered, "I do." She offered a warm smile then asked, "So, what shops are we looking for?"
Cheops glanced back and listened for the answer.
Gabrielle's eyes went fuzzy as her lips thinned from her thoughts. She then decided, "I wouldn't mind a new outfit."
Amarice brightened at this prospect. "Where's the nearest one, Cheops?"
Cheops laughed at all the women he had to escort today. He waved them to make a left onto the next street. "This way." He then brought them to a large clothing stand, and he made sure to inform the Egyptian merchant that the women were shopping.
The merchant beamed at all the women in his shop and called, in Egyptian tongue, for the women to look all they wanted.
"Here we go, my queen," Vara called. She turned from the table and held up a matching two piece set.
Gabrielle dropped the yellow top she'd been inspecting and absorbed what the Amazon held up. She tilted her head when she realized it was deep orange leather top and a matching skirt that had three leather flaps in the front that matched the top's design.
Najara side stepped and studied the outfit then turned her head to the Amazon Queen. "You should try it, Gabrielle."
The bard blushed and mentioned, "That's too revealing."
Vara lowered her arms with the outfit but before she could argue, Amarice got the jump on her.
"How is that anymore revealing than what you're wearing?" Amarice put her hands on her hips and shook her head. "Besides, I hear the Conqueror has a thing for leather."
"Amarice," Gabrielle snapped.
Amarice held up her hands in defense but snickered and walked away.
Lacy then appeared and in her hands were two silver, long cuff bracelets. She matched them against the outfit Vara held and nodded. "This definitely looks good together." She then flashed a devilish grin at her queen.
The bard's shoulders slumped. "This is what I get for bringing you three?"
Vara neared her queen then pressed the clothes into the queen's body. "Yes, my queen."
Gabrielle groaned yet wrapped her arms around the outfit pushed into her. She gave a pleading glance to Najara.
The dekarchos's lips curled into a cat grin. "The changing tent is right over there, Queen Gabrielle."
"Thanks a lot, Najara," the bard deadpanned and went to the changing tent.
The bard slowly worked her Amazon attire off then put on the test outfit. She had a hard time tying the back leather straps that would tie in the center of her back. She managed her skirt on with no problem. "Lacy," she called, "I need your help and bring those bracelets." She smiled when the Amazon entered. "Can you tie these two straps in the back?"
"Of course." Lacy let the queen hold the bracelets while she dealt with the straps.
Gabrielle tucked one bracelet under her arm then neatly untied the other. She then was able to slip her right hand into the bracelet, and she repeated the process with the other cuff bracelet. "An arm bracelet would be good with this outfit."
Lacy considered this then smiled at an idea. "I'm sure we could get you one made that's in a feather design."
The Amazon Queen instantly brightened at the great idea. "I like that."
"So does that mean you're going to get the outfit?" the Amazon teased.
Gabrielle sighed but she turned around, stepped back twice, and held out her arms. "How does it look?"
Lacy crossed her arms over her chest, her head bobbed, and she declared, "It does look good, my queen." She then neared the queen, grabbed the queen's small shoulders, and whispered, "Let's see what the others think too."
"Oh no!" But before Gabrielle could stop Lacy, she was pushed out of the tent and into the light of day.
Lacy chuckled then spun the Amazon Queen around for a display. "How does the queen look?"
Amarice tilted her head then she whistled.
Vara slapped the young Amazon in the stomach then honestly stated, "You look great, my queen."
Najara rested her hands on her hips, and she grinned at the complete change. "You look amazing, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle grumbled then her attention darted to the silent Egyptian warrior. "What you think, Cheops?"
Cheops tensed when all the women centered on him. He cleared his throat and tried to ignore the dangerous looks of the Amazons. He smiled and replied, "I like it very much, Queen Gabrielle." He then tilted his head and suggested, "Although you could do with a short hairstyle. The outfit is slightly Egyptian in nature and most women in Egypt keep their hair at shoulder length."
Najara bit her lower lip when she spotted the Amazon Queen's gaping features.
"Oh no… n-n-no." Gabrielle held up her hands.
Amarice came back from the clothes table and held up a white outfit. "I think it’s a great idea." She then stretched out her arms. "I think a short hairstyle would even go with this outfit too."
Gabrielle gaped at the long white skirt that Amarice held and mostly because the skirt had slits that ran up to the belt of the skirt. "Sweet Artemis."
Lacy leaned over then murmured, "She's not in Egypt to save you, my queen."
Queen Gabrielle soon had her satchel stuffed by two outfits that the Amazons made her purchase. She then was being dragged across the marketplace to a more residential area. Cheops was taking them straight to a well-known hairstylist. Gabrielle tried to stop her Amazons from this, but nobody seemed to listen to her. She wondered if her caste meant nothing in Egypt?
Gabrielle stumbled over the three steps of the entrance because her Amazons were shoving her up. She growled at Lacy behind her and threatened, "When we get back to Greece you three will have a moon's patrol duty."
Amarice laughed and called up, "You need a better threat than that, my queen. This is well worth a moon's patrol."
Lacy snickered and pushed the queen into the building.
"Alright," Gabrielle challenged, "wait until the Conqueror sees this." She turned and remained poised at the top of the last step.
Najara stood by the building with Cheops to her side. She grinned and informed, "Most likely the Conqueror will like it, Queen Gabrielle."
"Najara, I really…" The bard was pointing at the dekarchos, but she growled and spun around.
Lacy guided the queen into the building, and she was followed by Amarice and Vara.
Najara later on checked the sun when she felt like it was close to half a candlemark. She glanced over at Cheops, who also leaned against the building.
Cheops grinned and asked, "How long have you served the Conqueror?"
"This is my third moon."
Cheops chuckled and folded his muscular arms over his gold plated chest. "She is a ruler worth serving."
Najara made no remark to the comment but instead asked, "And how is it serving the queen?"
"Very challenging," Cheops replied, yet he smiled. "I served her father previously. It is surprising the kind of ruler she is compared to him."
"A better ruler?" Najara prompted.
"Yes, the queen has her own way. She is bold yet traditional, which is a usual combination for Egypt."
The dekarchos silently considered the head guard's words and compared it to the Conqueror. She didn't have a chance to say anything as Gabrielle and her Amazons loudly exited the building. Najara straightened up from the building and openly observed the Amazon Queen's new hairstyle, which greatly reflected the Egyptian style.
Gabrielle's hair reached just to her shoulders where as before it'd been to her midback. Her bangs were braided back onto her head so that her forehead now showed. She hopped off the last step then faced the dekarchos and Egyptian guard. She held out her hands and in her right hand was her staff. "It isn't that bad, is it?" She crinkled up her nose at the pair.
Cheops quietly laughed while he let Najara take the question.
Najara's brightly smiled, which almost made her glow. "I love it." She stepped up to the bard and softly mentioned, "Soon you will cut it shorter."
The bard subconsciously fooled with her hair. "I don't know if I could go any shorter."
The dekarchos collapsed the bard's shoulder and only winked.
"So where to next?" Amarice questioned who remained on the last step.
Cheops stepped up to the group but directed his words to the Amazon Queen. "Parchment and scrolls are quite inexpensive here."
Gabrielle hadn't thought about that, but it made sense because parchment paper was often made from papyrus. And papyrus reeds were plentiful along the Nile River.
Cheops knew his answer already so he passed the women and ordered, "Follow me." He guided them back to the emporium. Eventually, he stopped at a popular stand that seemed to have a little bit of everything, which included the papyrus scrolls.
The Amazon Queen spotted the scrolls but didn't beeline to them. She first checked over other things then something caught her ear. She lifted her head and glanced to the left when she heard the same music. Now there were people that gathered around one spot just to the left of the stand.
The Amazons had also heard it and wandered over with full interest.
Cheops chuckled at the curious foreigners, and he stepped up to Gabrielle's side. "You've never seen a snake charmer?"
The bard peered up at the Egyptian then glimpsed back at the sitting man in front of a basket. "No, actually."
"Then you shall see," Cheops decided. He took the queen's arm and led her closer to the group.
Gabrielle was somewhat on her tiptoes so that she had a better view. Her lips curled into a smile while she watched the snake charmer coax the cobra out of a basket. "Isn't he afraid it'll strike him?"
"Not at all," Cheops replied, "Music soothes the beast."
Gabrielle repeated the phrase in her head, and she shook her head at an odd thought. She then decided she really couldn't see that well and wanted a better view. She quietly moved away from Cheops and went to the far left side of the u-shaped audience. She found a neat crack between the people's heads and smiled at having a great view.
Then the person in front of Gabrielle decided to move around so Gabrielle grumbled under her breath then shifted to the left again. She became comfortable just as the snake charmer finished his first act. He spoke to everybody in his Egyptian tongue.
Gabrielle sighed and muttered, "What in Hades is he saying? Where are you, Xena?" She chuckled at her complaint then suddenly her right side was hit by something or somebody. Gabrielle stumbled a step, almost fell, but she caught sight of the boy that'd hit her and was taking off with a small pouch in his left hand. It struck the bard as she stared down at her right hip and saw her coin pouch gone. "Hey!" she yelled at the retreating boy.
Gabrielle didn't wait another beat, and she took off at a mad run for the pickpocket. She hefted her staff in her right hand then disappeared down a small street. She targeted the boy in her vision. Despite her strides were small they were fast so she started to catch up to him. "Hey stop!" she called out to the boy.
The boy glanced back over his shoulder and was stunned to see his victim coming for him. He cursed under his breath then tried to speed up.
"Damn it," the bard growled, yet she wouldn't give up the pursuit. She took a sharp turn around a line of merchants just as the boy did the same.
The boy glimpsed back and couldn't believe the strangely dressed foreigner was still after him. He thought she'd be easy pickings. He then ducked into an alley and scanned his surroundings. He made a hasty decision and squeezed between two homes that had a thin space. He hugged the wall.
Gabrielle darted around the corner then ran several more paces and stopped. She scanned the long, narrow alley but in the mix of people she didn't see her suspect. Then her attention was drawn to the left by a low clink, and she smirked.
The boy closed up the pouch after he checked out all the drachmas. He had a sly grin at his reward. Then carefully, he poked his head around the corner just as a hand came at his arm. He yelped when he was yanked out of the small space and spun around.
The Amazon Queen threw the boy against the side of the neighboring house and lifted her staff to keep him locked against it.
The boy showed fear and held up his hands with the pouch in his right.
Gabrielle sighed and lowered her staff but kept it horizontal to her body. "Give me back my pouch." She held out her right hand in demonstration.
The boy hesitated, but the fire in the foreigner's eyes made him hand over the pouch.
The bard decided to drop her pouch into her satchel for now then she focused back on the boy. "You shouldn't steal."
The boy swallowed but kept his silence.
Gabrielle frowned as she realized he may not understand Greek at all. She observed he was very dark skinned, brown eyes, and short midnight hair. She also noticed he wasn't very well dressed, which certainly could explain why he was stealing. Gabrielle now debated what to do with the boy.
The boy kept his hands up, and he could tell the foreigner was at a dilemma. He decided to help so he said, "Just let me go. I returned your purse."
The Amazon Queen blinked as she was amazed the boy knew Greek. "You speak Greek?"
The boy slightly grinned at the foreigner's astonishment. "I speak it pretty good." He then took a step to his left. "I go now. You have your purse so no harm done."
"Oh no." Gabrielle stepped forward and lifted her staff to block the boy. "You don't get off that easy."
The boy glanced over the bard's shoulder where the alleyway met the street ahead. "Please, just let me go." He then noticed that several people were becoming onlookers.
Gabrielle glowered at the boy and stated, "You know, I would have given you some of my drachmas if you'd asked."
The boy's features screwed up when he heard this news. "You must be a foreigner."
Gabrielle smirked and prepared a remark, but she fell short when the boy suddenly grew fearful about something behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and spotted two Egyptian soldiers that most likely caught his attention.
The boy took his opening and made a break for it.
Gabrielle half expected it so she jumped forward and grabbed the boy's wrist. "I don't think so."
"Let me go!" the boy hollered. He snapped his mouth shut as if he realized some mistake.
The two soldiers turned to the commotion, one pointed at the foreigner and boy, and he yelled in Egyptian, "You, boy stay there!" He and his partner hurried towards the pair.
"Let go, let go!" The boy struggled against his captor's vise grip.
Gabrielle didn't understand what was happening, yet she hotly ordered, "Stop struggling."
"You don't understand," the boy hastily demanded, "they will take me back!"
"Back where?" Gabrielle grew confused and even worried.
The boy grew even more fearful when the soldiers were almost upon them. He wiggled his wrist free and broke off running again down the alley.
"Hey, stop!" The Amazon Queen glanced at the soldiers, who also repeated her demand but in Egyptian. She then chased after the boy because her worries were high.
The Egyptian soldiers yelled for the boy to halt, but he didn't, and they ran after him too.
The boy sprinted as if Anubis, the God of Death, was after him.
Gabrielle sucked in a deep breath then pressed her body to go faster. She glanced back and saw that the heavily armored soldiers were falling behind, but they were least of her concerns.
The boy jumped over a stand, darted around people, and went around sharp corners to get away. He almost ran into cart but just spun away from it in time. He caught sight of the foreigner still after him. He then dodged into another street that was quite crowded and smelled of food. He took a hiding placed between two food stands.
The Amazon Queen came around the corner and stopped, as she recalled this game.
A food merchant peered up and smiled at the obvious foreigner. He rubbed his hands together and called out in Egyptian for her to come closer. She ignored him so he frowned then tried another tactic. "Hello, my little blond!"
Gabrielle's attention snapped to the Egyptian merchant that spoke gargled Greek. She then narrowed her eyes at the man when she realized exactly what he'd said.
"Come here, I have watermelons that are your exact size." The merchant held up two very tiny melons.
The bard ticked off a back molar and decided to ignore the merchant. She carefully walked forward, yet she heard the merchant calling out to her. Then she chuckled when she spied her target. She walked over to him and lifted her staff.
The boy's head snapped up, and he jumped to his feet. "You again?" He backed stepped once and held up his hands. "Just leave me alone. You have your money."
Gabrielle grabbed the boy's wrist and asked, "Why are you running from those soldiers?"
The boy struggled but stopped and replied, "They'll take me back to them. I can't go back!" He tried to fight the foreigner again.
The bard kept up as she had superior strength over him. "Will you stop? I'm trying to help you."
"You can't help," the boy snapped, but he suddenly stopped when he spotted the two soldiers coming towards them. "Oh gods."
Gabrielle glanced back and saw them coming. As she turned back to the boy, he ripped free of her grasp and this time she didn't pursue him. She instead smirked.
The boy only took a few running steps then stopped when he realized his problem. He'd run into a dead end so he turned around and stared at the nearing soldiers in horror.
The bard frowned when she realized just how petrified the boy was of these soldiers. She turned around and faced the nearing soldiers.
The soldiers unsheathed their swords from their sides and determinedly closed in on the boy. The left soldier barked out an Egyptian order to the boy.
The boy stepped back once then held up his hands and shook his head. He spewed something in Egyptian.
Gabrielle saw one soldier lift his sword, and her heart leapt into her stomach. She suddenly ran forward and stepped between the boy and the soldiers.
The soldiers stopped and stared in brief awe at the blond foreigner. The left soldier waved his sword at the woman and commanded something in Egyptian.
Gabrielle had no clue what he said so she raised her staff for her only answer. Her muscles tensed.
"Oh, little blond," the merchant called from his spot, "he told you to move! You might want to move!"
The bard huffed and made eye contact with the soldiers, she conveyed her message the best way she knew any soldier or warrior would understand no matter the language barrier. She spun her staff and mentally prepared for the second fight in her life.
The left soldier pointed his blade at the foreign woman and hotly stated something in Egyptian. He then raised his sword and charged her.
Gabrielle gave a brief cry then raised her staff and blocked the blow. She quickly brought her staff around and slammed the soldier across his face. She then swung her staff to the right and caught the other soldier's knee.
The food merchant sucked in a breath when his little blond friend knee capped the right soldier. He then stood on his tiptoes and laughed when the blond hit the left soldier in the stomach. But he tensed when the left soldier reacted fast and slashed his sword at the blonde's stomach.
Gabrielle jumped back in time then she tried a new tactic. She gave a high kick to the left soldier's chest and sent him stumbling backwards. As her boot made contact with the ground again, she swung her staff back at the right soldier. She roughly struck him in his side.
The soldier hissed then his sword threw a thrust. He caught the foreigner just on her right arm.
The bard backed off a step when the open wound let blood ooze out. She glanced at it in remote surprise because she'd never been wounded like this in a fight. She steeled her fears then raised her staff. She encouraged her determination by remembering the fearful boy, who stood behind her.
The Egyptian soldiers were then shocked when the small, foreign woman consumed them with rapid attacks. They tried to parry her attacks and mostly stopped her until she broke the right soldier's defense first. She took him down then came after the left one with a vengeance.
Gabrielle's sharp cry pierced the remaining soldier's bravery, and his sword was knocked out of his hands. Gabrielle flashed the soldier a smirk just before she brought her staff hard across his head.
The soldier fell to the ground and went unconscious.
The bard spun around, neared the boy, and knelt down in front of him some. "Tell me I just attacked the Egyptian soldiers for a really good reason?" With her freehand, she grabbed the boy's arm. "What's wrong?"
The boy stared at the unconscious soldiers then the shake to his arm brought him to the foreigner. He realized he had a question to answer.
"Why are you running from them?" Gabrielle demanded.
The boy started to hyperventilate, but he emotionally answered, "I'm a slave… they're going to take me back to my master. I ran away! I won't go back!"
The Amazon Queen inwardly groaned at her minor mistake; it had to be a minor mistake. "You're not going back," she promised despite she wasn't sure she could deliver on it.
"How do you know?" The boy shook his head frantically. "They'll kill you for this!"
Gabrielle ruefully smiled because she wasn't too worried about her future. "I can help you."
"No you can't, nobody can help me." The boy stepped back once, but he was stopped by the woman again. He then heard the soldiers' groans then they slightly moved.
Gabrielle heard it too so she stood up and suggested, "We need to go." She released his arm but held out her left hand. She softly smiled when the boy actually took her hand. "Stay close and hold my hand." She then hastily moved around the soldiers and got them out of the alley.
"Little blond, the soldiers are coming!" the merchant hollered around the corner to the foreigner.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and hotly yelled back, "Thanks for the tip, Plato!" She then urged the boy to hurry.
The Egyptian soldiers climbed to their feet. They knew which way the pair went so they started off in a slow run then sped up as the aches from the fight worked out of their legs.
The boy glanced back when he heard the soldiers yelling for him and his new friend.
Gabrielle heard it too, but she kept up their run. She hefted her staff better at her side then glimpsed at the scared boy. "What's your… name?" She hoped the broken conversation would relax him.
The boy helped the foreigner around some people then he replied, "Its Xavier."
The bard smiled at the name as it reminded her of somebody else in her life. She then introduced herself. "I'm Gabrielle."
Xavier had confused features and asked, "You are… Greek?"
"Yes," the bard breathlessly replied.
"But… that is… Hebrew name." The boy glanced behind because he didn't hear the soldiers as much.
The bard then slowed her run down to a jog and tried to find her bearings.
"Where are we going?"
Gabrielle decided to stop because it was a very good question. She gulped some air then replied, "Well I was hoping the market." She then quietly mentioned, "I need to find my friends."
Xavier couldn't imagine who these friends were but he pointed straight ahead. "That goes to the market. Come on." He tugged on her hand and led the way, but he stopped.
Gabrielle stopped too when she saw the problem. "Oh Hades."
Three soldiers were filtering through the crowd and coming towards them.
"Okay," Gabrielle murmured, "they don't know what's happened." She tried to look calm despite she definitely wasn't. "Let's just go past them."
Xavier agreed but only after he was behind the bard, as if he was in a slave role.
Gabrielle didn't question it and instead walked towards the soldiers, who weren't paying her much mind. She was just a fifty paces ahead of them then the loud yells from behind caught her ear.
Xavier understood the Egyptian cries, and he looked to the three soldiers.
The soldiers responded in perfect form. They withdrew swords and scanned the crowd, which was spreading out very quickly for them.
Gabrielle tried to back Xavier away into the spreading crowd in hopes they wouldn't be spotted. She came to a stop because the boy was so scared.
The middle soldier pointed his sword at who he suspected were the culprits. Then in Egyptian, he ordered, "Stop there!"
The two soldiers from earlier came from the opposite side and broke through the crowd. One soldier pointed his sword at the foreigner with the boy and spewed out several things in Egyptian.
Gabrielle didn't like it so she lifted her staff. Her stomach dropped when she realized five trained soldiers against her was three too many. She felt her heart pound against her chest.
The five soldiers fanned out and surrounded the suspects. The soldier in the middle commanded in Egyptian, "Put down your weapon, and you will not be harmed."
The bard clenched her jaw and gripped her staff harder.
Xavier hid behind the bard's back and whispered, "There are too many." His voice quaked as he added, "He said to put your weapon down, and we won't be hurt."
Gabrielle bit her lower lip as she debated what to do. The soldiers stepped closer to her, and her heart went even wilder. Her partner's past words about knowing what battles to fight came to mind so she made her choice. She twisted her head and murmured, "Please trust me, Xavier." She lowered her staff then threw it a few paces away from her.
The soldiers exchanged looks then four of them quickly came at the foreigner and boy. The easily subdued the woman and the boy then confiscated the staff and satchel. Gabrielle tried not to struggle against the soldier that had a hold of her. She gritted her teeth when his grip became more than necessary.
Xavier cried out then tried to break free.
The Amazon Queen then glanced at the boy. "Don't fight him."
"I don't want to go back," Xavier cried out.
"You won't, Xavier. I made a promise."
The boy shook his head frantically because he couldn't understand how the foreigner would do this when they were taken. "You can't stop them."
The Amazon Queen walked along side the soldier that held her, but she explained, "Just trust me on this." She smiled reassuringly and mentioned, "I know some people in high places." She added a mental prayer that those people in high places would forgive her for this act.
"I hope it’s the queen," Xavier joked, and he knew he couldn't fight the soldiers, who surrounded him.
The bard chuckled and didn't make any other comment. She kept searching for her Amazons, Najara, or Cheops, yet she had no luck. She cursed under her breath then it wasn't long before she and Xavier were escorted into a prison house. "Oh great," she muttered under her breath.
"In here," the soldier ordered in his native tongue. He shoved the foreigner and boy into the open jail. His partner then grabbed a bar and quickly closed the door.
Gabrielle glanced to her left when the obvious jail guard revealed a ring of keys and locked them up tight. She glared at the soldiers, who merely smirked back at her. Then one made some snide comment at her that she couldn't understand.
Xavier stared wide eye at the soldier that'd said the remark. "He said-"
"I don't want to know," Gabrielle cut off, and she dropped her hand. She dramatically sighed, crossed the distance, and sat down on the bench that was attached to the wall.
Xavier turned and thoughtfully studied the small blond woman that was dressed in very unusual leathers. "You dress very strange… even for a foreigner."
Gabrielle amusingly peered up at the boy. She patted the open bench space beside her.
Xavier took the spot then quietly mentioned, "You fight well… for a woman."
The bard half glared and half smirked at the naïve boy. She leaned against the cool stone wall then casually mentioned, "I'm an Amazon."
"Amazon?" The boy shook his head then asked, "All these Amazons fight, like you?"
"Mmmhmmm." Gabrielle tilted her head and asked, "How'd you become a slave?"
Xavier peered down at his hands and grew rather solemnly. "I was a born slave." He fidgeted with his hands. "My parents are from Libya… from a tribe known as the Libu." He frowned and shook his head.
"Where are your parents now?"
Xavier closed his eyes then his voice grew hoarse. "They are in the afterlife… with my little brother." He lifted his head and his moist eyes fixed on the foreigner. "After my mother died, I escaped and have been hiding since."
The bard was moved by the boy's story, and it made her think of her sister. She lowered her head at the thought of her enslaved sister some hundreds of leagues away from here. She blinked away her tears because she reminded herself that soon she'd see Lila again.
Xavier scooted closer to the Amazon and asked, "Where are you from in Greece?"
Gabrielle lifted her head and revealed a sad smile. "I was born in a small sheep town called Potidaea. Right now though I live in Corinth."
The slave grew interested and leaned closer. "Isn't that the capitol of the Greek Realm?"
The bard chuckled and nodded her head.
"Have you ever met the Conqueror?" Xavier was slightly awed and mentioned, "I've heard she's taller than any man. And he's stronger than twenty. I've even heard she can fly as far as one can sprint."
Gabrielle groaned as she recalled exactly why she'd written those true scrolls about her past adversary. It was wild tales like this that made her partner sound like some goddess. "I've actually seen her breathe fire, Xavier."
Xavier straightened up and stared at the bard in shock. Then as he really considered it, he laughed and shook his head. "She cannot do that."
The bard quietly giggled and argued, "Sure she can… everybody knows that about the Conqueror."
The slave's features twisted tightly, and he debated whether or not the foreigner was serious. "How do you know? Have you met the Conqueror?"
Gabrielle shrugged then asked, "Does seeing her from a distance count?"
Xavier laughed and realized just how much he enjoyed this stranger foreigner. "I've seen her face on a drachma but you've seen her closer than I."
"Have you heard any stories about the Conqueror?" The bard inquired, and her green eyes grew brighter than emeralds.
Xavier became excited. "I heard the story about how she met Queen Cleopatra. The queen wrapped herself in a rug and was delivered to the Conqueror one night." He leaned even closer and murmured, "They say Queen Cleopatra was only dressed in gold chains just to impress the Conqueror."
The bard snorted because she could really imagine that about the Egyptian Queen. "Have you heard the story about the Conqueror and the Amazons?"
Xavier ran through his memory then shook his head. "You must know the story… you're an Amazon."
The Amazon Queen wildly grinned. "Boy do I know that story." She then turned on the bench, brought her left leg up, and became comfortable. She lifted her hands as she went into bard mode.
Xavier mimicked the stranger's seated position so that he faced her. He smiled when the Amazon opened the story about the Conqueror's earlier days when she was solely known as the Warrior Princess. Xavier realized he'd keep holding his breath at some points when Gabrielle painted images of the Amazon tribes taking arms and riding into battle against the mighty Warrior Princess. He started to cry when he heard the death of one Amazon Queen, Melosa.
Then Gabrielle brought to light an unnamed woman, who was a famous rebel in Greece. She jumped to her feet when she described the horrifying scene when the rebel leader spoke out against the Conqueror, and she was sentenced the cross. Xavier cringed when Gabrielle described the powerful hammer's blow to the rebel leader's knees. But he didn't give up hope as the Amazon continued her story and spoke about some mysterious stranger that came to Greece.
Xavier felt as if he was living the story that the foreigner told him. He normally felt no faith in life, but suddenly he felt it so clearly when the rebel leader and this stranger stood against the Conqueror. He then felt his hopes dashed when the rebel and her adopted mother had to escape to the Amazon Nation. Xavier kept his faith that the good would win over the evil in this story.
Gabrielle stood tall and proud in the middle of the cell, and she demonstrated the rebel leader's persistence to represent the evil Conqueror before the Amazon Nation. She then jumped at the boy when the assassin tried to kill the rebel leader but was saved thanks to the Conqueror.
Xavier fell back some, his eyes wide, and his breath held. He leaned forward when Gabrielle knelt down and told him how the rebel leader begged the Conqueror to join the Amazon Nation. He dropped his head when the Conqueror only refused to join her enemies.
Gabrielle rose to her feet and back stepped once then twice while she spoke. She rose up her hand to demonstrate an imaginary dagger held out. Then abruptly she threw her right arm out, and the imaginary dagger drove into the wall behind Xavier.
The slave leaned forward, grabbed his knees, and his lips went into a broad smile. The Conqueror finally agreed to join the Amazons to stop the warlord Darphus! Xavier couldn't believe it, but he could see it all playing out before him.
The bard then unsheathed her imaginary sword and showed some of the well-known tactics the Conqueror would use in battle. She then came closer to Xavier whispered about how the rebel leader discovered Darphus's plans to kill the Conqueror by hemlock.
Xavier gasped, but he clenched his hands when Gabrielle told how the rebel, despite her handicap, rode a horse out into the battle field. He shook his head frantically, yet he felt himself gallop through the bloody battle in search of the ruthless ruler.
Gabrielle fell to the floor of the jail and held up her hands in fear. She glanced at Xavier and quickly detailed how the rebel leader was betrayed by the evil Amazon, Velasca. She then was on her feet again just as her right hand stretched out. Her imaginary sword skewed the evil Amazon just before Darphus attacked her.
Then Xavier covered his mouth and tears slowly trickled down his cheeks. The Conqueror had defeated Darphus, yet it cost her life. His eyes locked on Gabrielle, who stood in the middle of the cell with her eyes closed and uttered the Conqueror's slow death in the clearing.
Gabrielle stopped her words once the Conqueror felt her last heartbeat. The bard stepped closer to the boy, knelt down, and took his hands into hers. She softly spoke about how the healer, Eilis, came a heartbeat too late, but the rebel demanded the healer to try. Then the drained rebel rested her head upon the dead ruler, and all she heard was the Conqueror's steady heartbeat.
Xavier smiled and wiped his tears when the Conqueror returned to the land of the breathing. His smile broadened when Gabrielle popped up and declared that the Conqueror was free from her past debt with the Amazons. The bard smiled at Xavier when she came to her last words of the story, which she'd trimmed down immensely compared to the whole story.
Gabrielle knelt back down in front of Xavier and softly finished, "The Conqueror, her mother, Melpomene, and the rebel leader returned to Corinth. To the city that they called home, but never knew what that felt like until they rebuilt their family."
Xavier had a bitter smile as he wiped his tears away. He cleared his throat then murmured, "I wish that was a true story."
The bard gathered the slave's hand into hers. "It is a true story."
The slave shook his head and argued, "The Conqueror is said to have no family."
"Then how was she born?" Gabrielle gently debated.
Xavier frowned then tried, "She was born like the gods."
Gabrielle chuckled because she'd heard this one before. "The Conqueror is very mortal… how else would have hemlock kill her?"
Xavier shook his head a few times. "That was just a story you told."
The bard squeezed the small boy's hands then honestly whispered, "This story is more fact than fiction."
Xavier was confused about why the Amazon was so adamant that it was true. He then tilted his head. "What was the rebel's name?"
Gabrielle shrugged and challenged, "Does her name matter?" She saw Xavier was about to argue so she tilted the scale by adding, "Since it is just a story."
Xavier's mouth hung open but no words came forth.
Gabrielle chuckled, fussed with Xavier's hair, and stood up. She then reclaimed her seat beside the young boy. She was quiet because the story made her think back on her earlier days when she only knew the Conqueror and not Xena. For once in her life, she was very happy she was proved wrong. At the thought of her partner, she wondered what Xena was doing right now, and she dazed off.
The Conqueror slowly walked along side Queen Cleopatra towards the atrium. She'd spent her morning in the office with the queen and tried to work out details for the resources Greece required. Queen Cleopatra agreed to them quite easily and instructed that tomorrow she, the Conqueror, and the Amazon Queen should inspect the resources. The Conqueror had agreed finally.
Queen Cleopatra stopped in the empty atrium and smiled at her ally when she turned to her. "You plan to tour the Great Lighthouse this afternoon?"
The Conqueror dipped her head and answered, "Gabrielle is curious to see the workings of the lighthouse."
The queen softly laughed, but it made sense to her since the Amazon Queen was a bard. "She'll most likely find it interesting."
The Conqueror slightly smiled at this because she thoroughly agreed.
Cleopatra then stepped closer to the Greek ruler and lightly touched her muscular forearm. "Perhaps we'll find time tonight… to be alone."
The Conqueror prickled when Cleopatra suggested the plans.
Cleopatra lifted her right hand from the strong arm and traced the Conqueror's jaw line. "I haven't forgotten those nights, Xena." She tilted her head and tried to gauge the Greek ruler's response. "You are hard to forget."
The Conqueror also recalled those nights too that were filled with mystery and pleasure, for Cleopatra. She lifted her hand and captured the Egyptian Queen's hand into hers. "I have engagements with Gabrielle," she drew out.
The queen laced her fingers through the ruler's much longer ones. "She could always join us," she further suggested, and she sensually whispered, "I know you can handle us both… together." She lifted her freehand and trailed her fingertips over the Conqueror's muscular arm. "I have tried to forget those nights with you, but no man can match what you do." Cleopatra tilted her head, and desire burned in her eyes. "For memory's sake, Xena."
The Conqueror's jaw went set at the proposition from the queen. She knew she was playing a game with Gabrielle to see if the bard would get jealous. This certainly would bring out the green-eyed monster in the bard, and it was fire the Conqueror did not want to witness or receive.
Cleopatra's leer broke apart when the ruler separated from her. Her right hand became chilled and filled with air.
The Conqueror had ice blue eyes and her tone grew deep. "I cannot and I will not."
Cleopatra searched the Conqueror's face and eyes for any form of deception to the statement. She saw none. "This Gabrielle must mean something to you, Xena."
The Conqueror knew it wasn't a question so she gave no response. She was slightly relieved when the jogging footsteps drew their attention to the palace's entrance.
Cheops didn't know whether to be happy or fearful when he saw the rulers before him. He came to a quick stop before them and only half bowed. He breathed heavily.
The Conqueror first focused on the item in the Egyptian warrior's right hand. "What has happened?"
Cheops swallowed and briefly glimpsed at the staff in his right hand. It was Queen Gabrielle's staff. "There was a problem."
The Conqueror's instant reaction was anger, which cloaked her fears for the bard's safety. "Where is she?"
Cheops steeled himself and wondered what punishment he would receive, not only from his queen, but also the Conqueror. "She's safe, Conqueror." He then rolled into the story from his side and tried to explain it as much detail as he knew. Afterwards, the Conqueror ordered him to take him to the Amazon Queen, and he obliged.
Back in the prison house, the Amazon Queen was standing off the bench because she needed to move around. She'd been casually chatting with Xavier to find out more about him. The more she knew, the more heartbroken she became. She wasn't at all pleased to hear how volatile and loathsome the slave's master was to him. The entire master's family even treated him poorly. It almost made Gabrielle sick and especially when she imagined her younger sister in such a lifestyle.
The prison's main door slammed loudly then light footfall hastily came down the long aisle of jail cells. The prison guard heard the newcomer so he met the newcomer halfway, and he happened to stop next to Gabrielle's cell.
The bard walked closer to the jail door, and she swallowed when she saw tall, dark, and furious.
"I would ask you if this is your idea of a practical joke, but I already know it isn't." The Conqueror slammed the staff's end onto the rock floor and coldly stared through the bars to her partner.
Gabrielle sighed at the trouble she got into and needed to get out of now. "There's really good reason for this."
The Conqueror's upper lip slightly lifted, and she growled, "I can't wait to hear it." She then turned her head to the guard and in perfect Egyptian, she ordered him to open the cell.
The guard didn't argue and jumped in front of the gate. He fumbled with his keys.
The Conqueror's cold stare flickered to the boy that was huddled on the bench.
Xavier stared in awe at the tall and beautifully dressed woman outside the cell. He was almost positive the woman's face matched the Conqueror's face on the drachma, but he knew it wasn't true.
The guard swung the door open and pulled it back with him. He stepped aside and waited.
The ruler noticed her partner wasn't leaving the cell so she coldly ordered, "Let's go."
Gabrielle glanced back at Xavier and held out her hand to him in hidden signal.
Xavier hesitated then slid his legs off the bench.
The Conqueror's back straightened when she realized what the assumption was, and she instantly corrected it. "The boy stays."
Xavier froze in his spot. His heart beat wildly against his chest.
The bard lowered her hand and turned her sights back to her lover. "If he stays then I'm staying."
The slave's mouth hung open at the declaration from the Amazon. His eyes lifted to the dark woman that seemed to be another shade angrier. He trembled some and wondered what would happen to his new friend. This imposing woman was surely more superior to the small Amazon.
The Conqueror's chest rose and fell several times. She desperately tried to clamp her temper to a minimum. "The boy is a slave, Gabrielle and he will be returned to his master."
"That's the problem," the bard started, "Xavier's master brutalizes him."
The Conqueror quickly noted that her lover knew both the slave's name and his history. There was already an attachment. "It is not your place, Gabrielle. He is a runaway slave and must be returned."
Gabrielle shook her head then loudly declared, "I will not leave without him."
"It is not your place!" the Conqueror yelled who lost her control.
Gabrielle knew her temper was matching the ruler's but she kept her tone calm and even. "Then I'm making it my place."
The Conqueror's right hand was clenched while her left hand dug into the staff. She realized the rock and hard place her partner had placed her in as the ruler and ally before Egypt. She also remembered her promise when they were crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
The guard tensed when the Conqueror's fiery eyes locked on him.
Gabrielle listened to the Conqueror's quick Egyptian words to the guard and despite she didn't know what was said, she knew what it meant. She turned back to the slave and held out her hand again. "It's alright." She coaxed him with a trustful smile.
Xavier slid off the bench then carefully edged closer to the Amazon. He took her hand but he looked anywhere but at the dark woman outside the cell.
Gabrielle led the way out of the cell then paused before her lover. She saw nothing of the woman she'd been with last night.
The Conqueror held out the staff to her partner and when it was mutely accepted, she turned and started down the aisle.
The bard lifted her staff then quickly followed the ruler. She couldn't imagine what would happen later when they had time alone. Once she was outside, her eyes had to adjust to the bright sunlight then she spotted Cheops just ahead. She inwardly groaned at what she guessed probably happened.
The Conqueror blew past Cheops without a word or a look.
Cheops took pace beside the Amazon Queen and quietly asked, "Are you okay?" He noted her arm wound.
"I'm fine," Gabrielle replied, "Thanks for asking though." She sighed then quietly asked, "How mad was she when you first told her?"
Cheops walked closer and murmured, "I believe her yell was heard through all the palaces."
"Great," the bard muttered.
"Gabrielle?" the slave called from behind.
The Amazon Queen offered a smile to him and urged him to walk closer to her open side.
Xavier frowned when he realized something. "I got you in trouble."
Gabrielle warmly smiled and played with his hair. "Nothing that can't be fixed." She lifted her head and stared at her lover's tense back. "At some point," she sadly added.
The Egyptian warrior oddly stared at the boy, who he knew was a slave. "You speak Greek, boy?"
The slave slightly smiled at the muscular man that was handsomely armored. "Yes, sir… Egyptian too."
Cheops was impressed, but he tried not to show it. He knew few slaves that spoke more than one language. He knew the boy was the central reason behind Gabrielle's motives, yet he couldn't guess why the Conqueror had him released. It must have been magic, on Gabrielle's part, to work that miracle.
Soon the small group ascended the steps of the palace, but the Conqueror stopped at the top and waited.
Cheops said nothing but gave Gabrielle a hopeful look then he entered to palace to find his queen. The Conqueror stood silent for heartbeat with the pair at her right side. She didn't acknowledge her partner beyond her next words. "Go to our room. I'll be there shortly."
Gabrielle felt it safer not to reply. She tugged on the slave's hand and silently left her partner alone. She entered the south wing and decided it was best to have Xavier somewhere else until things were settled between her and Xena. So the bard went to the room she knew Amarice and Lacy shared, and she prayed they were there.
Lacy opened the door and was dumbstruck to see the queen. "Sweet Artemis! Are you okay, my queen?" She stepped out of the room and touched the queen's arm. "I'm so sorr-"
"It's okay," the queen brushed off. "Everything is fine now… for the most part." She then signaled the boy beside her and mentioned, "This is my friend Xavier."
The Amazon smiled at him. "Hi, Xavier. I'm Lacy."
The slave smiled and glanced between the two women. "You're an Amazon too?"
"I sure am," Lacy agreed then returned her attention to the queen.
"I need a favor. Can you take care of him for me, Lacy?"
"Of course, my queen."
Gabrielle nodded then turned to the slave. "You're going to stay with Lacy and her roommate, Amarice, for a bit, alright?"
Xavier shook his head then asked, "What of you, Gabrielle?"
The bard smiled at the boy's jumbled Greek, but she squeezed his hand. "I need to have a talk with that tall woman that got us out of jail."
Lacy's features twisted then it clicked into place. She felt deeply for her queen.
"She won't hurt you, will she?" Xavier's concern was quite apparent on his face.
Gabrielle sighed because she didn't want the boy thinking like that about her partner. She knelt some so that she was more eye level with him. "She won't," she promised, "She's not that kind of person, Xavier."
The boy oddly studied the Amazon Queen and stated, "She's not like my master, you mean."
"Exactly," the bard agreed. "Underneath that temper of hers, she's a very caring woman."
Xavier smiled at this information then he suddenly stepped forward.
Gabrielle was surprised by the hug, yet she warmly returned it. She then rose up. "I'll see you later, alright?" After Xavier's smile, she exchanged looks with Lacy and said, "Thank you."
Lacy nodded then held out her hand to the boy. "How about some lunch, Xavier?"
Xavier took the older Amazon's hand and chuckled. "I am hungry."
Gabrielle moved away but glanced back when the slave entered the bedchambers with Lacy. She felt somewhat better despite she had a huge challenge ahead of her. She padded down the hallway and entered her shared bedchambers. She first set her staff aside by the door then she spotted her satchel on the table. The bard came over to the table then touched her satchel, which had all its contents.
"Made it back before I did, huh?" she quipped. Gabrielle shook her head and let out a deep sigh. Then the door's opening caught her attention.
The Conqueror quietly came into the room, closed the door behind, and stood motionless. She only waited a few beats then she approached her partner. "Sit down," she told the bard.
Gabrielle compiled, and a nervous shot went through her stomach. She glanced off to the right and watched the ruler rummage through a pack.
The Conqueror pulled out a smaller pouch from the leather bag, and she came over to the table. She dropped the pouch on the table then opened it up. She pulled out a rag, a jar, and a small skin. She first soaked the rag with the liquid from the skin.
Gabrielle dipped her head a little and closed her eyes.
The ruler kept quiet as she knelt in front of her lover. She took the bard's right wrist and stretched out the bard's arm. She then placed the soaked rag against the wound on the bard's upper arm.
Gabrielle squeezed her eyes tighter when the sharp sting cut under her skin. She swallowed then lifted her head. "I know you probably think what I did was pretty stupid."
The Conqueror didn't meet the bard's eyes then after a long silence, she whispered, "I hate when you say that."
The bard's feature wrinkled from confusion.
The Conqueror pulled the rag away then carefully dabbed the dried blood away. "Somebody that's gone through what you did as a child, later became a rebel leader, and changed a ruthless tyrant for the better is not stupid."
Gabrielle lowered her head and closed her eyes again as a deep sigh left her. She wanted badly to touch Xena, but she wasn't sure. "I guess it's just a self confidence issue."
The Conqueror stood up and dropped the bloody rag onto the table. She then took the jar and when she opened it, the air filled with the smell of balm. She knelt back down then carefully worked the balm over the wound. "You do have a tendency to leap into situations before you assess them completely."
The bard knew a lecture was at hand, but she didn't always take it. "Those two soldiers that wanted to take Xavier…" She paused until crystal blue eyes met her then she continued. "They pulled out swords, Xena. Just to stop a defenseless boy?" She shook her head and reminded, "You've told me that nobody pulls out a sword unless they intend to use it. I wasn't just going to stand there and watch them do whatever they'd planned to do."
The Conqueror dropped her eye contact when she stood up and put the jar away. She then took out another white rag and leaned over the bard. She proceeded to carefully wrap it over the wound. "You could have been seriously hurt… or worse." She neatly tied the two ends of the wrap when she finished.
Gabrielle watched her partner pack up the medical supplies carefully. "But I wasn't, and you've taught me how to defend myself."
"That should be your last resort," the ruler hotly reminded. She roughly closed up the bag and walked back to the packs.
Gabrielle shook her head at her partner's attitude towards the fight; it just didn't make sense. "It's not like I could have ran, and I can't speak Egyptian. It was my only option."
The Conqueror had finished putting away the medical kit. She quickly crossed over the bard, grabbed the chair arms on either side of the bard, and leaned over her. "Do you understand what the consequences will be if something happens to you?" When the bard didn't answer her, she deepened her voice and coldly informed, "I will bring Tartarus down upon whoever harms you." She then leaned closer. "And if they do more than harm you then they'll be begging for Tartarus." She suddenly straightened up and put space between her and the bard.
Gabrielle was shaken, visibly, by the Conqueror's promise. She wasn't sure what upset her more; the violence that would be brought on or that the Conqueror was that protective over her. She snapped out of it and slowly stood while she asked, "What about your promise to me?" She approached the ruler's tense back. "That you wouldn't let that monster control you again?"
The Conqueror turned around quickly, and anger showed over her face. She loudly demanded, "And what value does my promise have when you place yourself in harm's way?" She breathed heavily for a beat then angrily spoke again. "Do you think that some light from the heavens shined down on me one day and told me how wrong I was?" She read the bard's worried face but she wouldn't stop until she made her point. "It was not the gods… it wasn't even an epiphany, Gabrielle. It was you that showed me how wrong I was. How can I possibly become this woman you see in me if you are not here to guide me to her?"
Gabrielle's throat tightened on her then sharp tears came from her eyes. She approached the stricken ruler and softly reminded, "I'm not the only one that cares for you. You know there's Cyrene and Melpomene."
"And by the gods, I love my mother and care deeply for Melpomene," the ruler agreed. "But they are not you nor was it them that looked past the tyrant and found me. So do not ask of me what you do then turn around and endanger yourself."
Gabrielle dropped her head some when she understood Xena's point. Why hadn't she learned this so long ago? Did she still believe she was weightless within Xena's life? And did her lack of self confidence rob her of the ability to see what she meant to Xena? Just maybe she was wrong when she thought it was the Conqueror and Xena in one embodiment where there was a constant Titan struggle. Perhaps it was Xena at the core and at times Xena wore the Conqueror mask as required.
Either way, Gabrielle realized for fact that it was she that inspired Xena, but she would pray that Xena found her own internal inspiration at some point. The bard pushed her thoughts down and studied the ruler's face, and for the first time she clearly saw fear. It was fear that Xena could lose Gabrielle, and fear of the unknown afterwards.
Gabrielle dropped her head and shook it as her tears overwhelmed her. Now she truly felt stupid for not seeing this sooner, and that she scared the ruler. "Damn it," she muttered and tried to stop her crying, but she grew angry at herself.
The Conqueror quickly crossed the short distance and gathered the bard into her arms.
Gabrielle rested the side of her head on Xena's chest while she clung to her partner. She closed her stinging eyes when she heard the ruler's constant heartbeat under her ear. She tightened her arms around Xena then emotionally rasped, "I'm so sorry, Xena."
Xena lowered her head and tried to sooth the bard. She whispered, "Promise me you'll try to be more careful."
"I promise," Gabrielle quickly replied.
Finally, another small weight lifted off Xena's shoulders. And Xena felt as if she had a slightly better light now so that she could see more of her ambiguous future. She'd had her head down so she placed a gentle kiss on the bard's head and straightened up.
Gabrielle felt the shift in her lover so she raised her head up. She tried to wipe her tears away.
The Conqueror searched the bard's face then she asked, "What do you intend to do with this slave?"
The bard sighed, yet she knew this topic would come up. "I need your help, please." She held her breath and waited to see how the ruler would respond.
Xena averted her eyes away then gazed back down at her partner. "What do you want me to do?"
Gabrielle almost felt like falling on her butt if Xena hadn't been holding her. She'd never guessed the ruler's unconditional support in this pursuit. She finally inhaled a deep breath and cautiously supplied, "I was hoping you could buy him from his current master."
"Then give him his freedom?" After the bard nodded, Xena further questioned, "And does he have anybody to care for him once he has his freedom?"
Gabrielle hadn't considered that aspect so she sighed. "No, his family is dead." She separated from Xena and walked away so that she could think. She ran her hand through her hair where the braids weren't in the way.
"This is the problem with freeing slaves, Gabrielle," the ruler informed. "They may be free but they often have nothing to survive on afterwards."
The bard turned around and argued, "You can't tell me that their freedom isn't important?"
"It is important," the ruler agreed as she neared her partner some, "however it's never simple. Many nations in this known-world have economies based on slavery. If anything, the slavery keeps people from being homeless."
Gabrielle grew angry, but she reasoned with herself that the ruler was being very logical in her assessment of the situation. She calmed her temper then spoke again. "Do you even know how many homeless there are in Corinth?"
"There are none," the Conqueror argued.
The bard laughed and stated, "Try just over two hundred." She tilted her head. "Melpomene was actually homeless when Janice found her." She stepped closer to the tense Conqueror and further informed, "Janice saved her from some of your squad soldiers running her in. We both know what would have happened to her. She would have been locked up in your dungeons for a few days, chained, and ran over to the slave market in Corinth. Then after she was sold, the drachmas would have been put in your coin pursue." Gabrielle could tell she made a direct hit on the Conqueror, through all the armor.
The Conqueror clenched her hands at her side, and she tried to stop imagining the beautiful girl that she'd come to know being sold into slavery.
Gabrielle stepped up to the ruler but didn't touch her. "Xena, we have to do what's right."
"Then what when the next slave comes along, Gabrielle? And the slave after that one?" The Conqueror stared hard at her partner. "The realm does not have enough drachmas to buy and free all the slaves in the known-world."
"No, it doesn't," the bard agreed, "but we have to start somewhere and with somebody." She pointed towards the door and declared, "Maybe that's now and with Xavier." She lowered her hand to her side. "The other nations, other rulers look to you, Xena. They watch your every move and hear your every word. If you set a precedent and free the realm's slaves then the other nations will most likely follow suit."
"I can't abolish slavery overnight," the ruler coldly reminded.
Gabrielle sighed and took Xena's hands into hers. "And Corinth wasn't built in a day. It will take time and steps to get to the goal." She squeezed the Conqueror's hands and her next words were calm but true. "Growth is optional but change is inevitable."
The Conqueror knew it was something that had to be done to the realm. She couldn't continue her rulership knowing thousands of people in her realm suffered under slavery. She couldn't live with it or herself if she continued the charade. She also understood the challenges and dangers that not only she would face but Gabrielle too.
Xena dipped her head closer and whispered, "Do you understand what you ask of me, as your ruler?"
"Yes… I do."
"And do you understand what you and I will face if we do this?"
Gabrielle sadly smiled before she answered. "I do, but we'll do this… together."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," the Conqueror quipped.
The bard's smile went brighter, and she laughed. She drew Xena down for a slow kiss that went through her body.
The Conqueror lifted her head some then muttered, "I am getting soft if I'm giving into you now."
Gabrielle crinkled up her nose then teased, "I promise not to tell anybody that I rule you."
Xena grunted and separated from her lover. She started to slip away but Gabrielle's nimble hand wrapped around her wrist and hauled her back. Before she could say anything, the bard had her arms around Xena, and Xena's words died on the bard's lips.
Gabrielle slid her hands up the ruler's strong arms then linked behind Xena's neck. She broke the kiss and as she inhaled sharply, she whispered, "Thank you."
Xena had a lopsided grin, which seemed so unusual yet so wonderful to the bard. Xena tilted her head and mentioned, "We're late for our tour."
Gabrielle's eyes widened with realization. "Oh Hades that's right. We need to go." She grabbed Xena's hand and began to haul ass to the door. She paused and snatched her staff then opened the door.
The amused ruler simply followed without somehow tripping on her sandals. She closed the door since she was last out then she took step beside her partner. She kept her quick pace along side her partner, but she casually inquired, "New hairstyle?"
The bard flashed a grin that was sheepish. "Do you like it?"
The ruler grinned and replied, "It's different."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at her lover's game. "A good different or a bad different?"
Xena's grin widened, but her reply was honest. "A very good different."
"Wait." The bard stopped and halted the ruler. "Then are you saying the way I had my hair wasn't nice?"
The Conqueror rolled her eyes then proceeded to walk again but yanked Gabrielle along. "Come on, bard."
Gabrielle smirked because she loved turning the table back on Xena when she could do it. She and Xena along with Cheops soon met up with their tour guide for the Great Lighthouse. They started at the bottom and the guide explained the architecture and history behind the magnificent lighthouse. Xena found this aspect most intriguing as she loved the unique engineering feat. She made plenty of mental notes.
Before they entered the lighthouse, they stopped and inspected the legendary inscription done by the designer of the lighthouse, Sostratus. He'd left his name engraved along with a dedication, which had originally been forbidden by the Pharaoh Ptolemy. Finally, when the guide directed them into the lighthouse, he explained how many enemies feared the lighthouse. There were legends that the Great Lighthouse could be used as a weapon and that its light could be focused on an enemy ship and set it ablaze. The Conqueror muttered something about the over imaginative bards, and she immediately received a dangerous glare for it.
Gabrielle found her interest with the internal workings of the lighthouse. The Great Lighthouse was divided into three areas and each area had a certain function. The light source at night was fire but during the day it was the sun. And what directed the source of light were enormous mirrors in the apex, which thoroughly impressed the bard.
Through the entire tour, Gabrielle kept asking questions so that she could better understand the lighthouse's composition. And the tour guide absolutely adored the bard's questions and enthusiasm. The Conqueror pretended to grow agitated by the endless questions by either tapping her foot, dramatically sighing, rolling her eyes, or a combination. Gabrielle pretended to ignore her partner, but she fully knew and decided to drag out the process even worse. Eventually Gabrielle read the real frustration lines in Xena's brow then the annoyance laced the ruler's tone. After the bard shot her lover a look now that she'd taught a lesson, she stopped her questions and the tour rapidly ended.
The Conqueror slowly strolled down the narrow bridge between Pharos Island and the main land and to her right was the bard. "Are you hungry?"
Gabrielle smiled and replied, "I think so." She then frowned and asked, "Aren't we going to be late?" She now realized the sun had sunk behind the western horizon.
"If somebody hadn't asked so many questions," the ruler jabbed.
Cheops made his presences known by laughing. He then instantly stopped when the Amazon Queen glared at him.
"Don't encourage her, Cheops."
The Conqueror stopped them when they came to the front of the palace. She turned to her partner and instructed, "Give Cheops your staff."
The bard blinked and then processed the order. "Aren't we…"
"We need to hurry, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle snapped her jaw shut then handed the head guard her staff.
"I will place it in your room," Cheops offered. He bowed then turned and ascended the palace steps.
The Conqueror started for the streets with her partner at her side. Her strides were longer than normal.
"Do you have a hot date?" Gabrielle joked who was trying to keep up.
The Conqueror arched an eyebrow then in her sensual tone, she replied, "I already have that."
The bard displayed a lopsided smile at the indirect compliment from her partner. She found herself guided through the city down a few blocks, around a few, and finally she followed her partner into a building that was clearly a nice tavern. She was quite excited when she realized her partner's possible plans.
The couple took a quiet spot in the corner and was served quickly. Gabrielle thoroughly enjoyed her meal, and she could tell Xena did too. The conversation at the table was light and steered away from anything political. Gabrielle could tell it was her partner's intent to have a night without anything related to the realm between them. It was an evening meant for them solely.
After dinner, the Conqueror escorted the bard out into the torch lit streets and took her hand. She then murmured that they had to go another direction that wasn't towards the palaces. Gabrielle didn't question it because she'd soon find out what Xena had in mind. Gabrielle instead continued the light conversation but then she noticed Xena's replies slimmed down to one word sentences.
The Conqueror tilted her head after the bard asked her something. Then she narrowed her eyes when her senses prickled.
The Amazon Queen walked closer and softly asked, "What's wrong?"
The ruler didn't reply but instead stopped and glanced over her shoulder. She saw nothing out of order among the people along the street. She turned her head to the left and studied the opposite side of the street.
Gabrielle edged even closer and worry twisted in her stomach. "What is it?"
Suddenly the sensation left the Conqueror, and she shook her head. "Come on." She squeezed the bard's hand then continued the walk to her destination in mind.
Gabrielle may have not gotten an answer, yet it was obvious something bothered her partner. She didn't like it at all. "Maybe we should have brought the squad with us."
Xena peered down at her lover then gave a wicked grin. "I'm not enough of a squad for you, Queen Gabrielle?"
The bard chuckled and teased, "Typically you're a walking army, but not tonight." She indicted her lover's lack of armor, sword, and chakram.
"Those are only accessories." The Conqueror's eyes twinkled because she knew, just like Gabrielle, that she could make a weapon of anything and that her body was just as lethal.
Gabrielle was about to retort to that, but she faltered when her view filled with an amphitheatre, the Great Theatre on the hill that overlooked the harbor.
The Conqueror peered down, and slowly a smile crept over her as she saw the bard's excitement reached higher than Mount Olympus. She realized how worth wild this would be tonight. "Have you ever been to an amphitheatre?"
The overwhelmed bard just processed the question, and a blush took over her features. She shyly answered, "Actually no. They were all…" Her words were lost when she realized where she was going with it.
Xena squeezed her partner's hand. "I know." She now carried a heavy sense of regret that she'd destroyed many theatres or others remained forbidden and had fallen to disrepair in the realm. It would take some time to mend the damage, yet she vowed to do it with the bard's help. "We need to hurry before the play starts."
"What play is it?" the bard tried. The anticipation and happiness weaved through her words while her walk took on a bounce. She was a kid with nutbread that had henbane.
The ruler brought them around to the front of the theatre then descended the steps to where they'd be seated. She casually replied, "I believe it’s The Frogs."
Gabrielle lit up when she realized what play this was tonight. She followed Xena down a row in the center of the seats. She then started a ramble. "Aristophanes wrote this play back…" She racked her mind to think how long ago it was written.
"Over four hundred Helical Risings ago," the Conqueror offered who took a seat in the middle of the second row from the floor. "It's a comedy about Dionysus. It was first performed at the Lenaea festival in Athens."
The bard sat and shook her head at the Conqueror's knowledge. "For somebody that acted like the arts were Hades, you know a lot."
Xena noted the flow of patrons were entering the theatre and took seats. She leaned closer to the bard and murmured, "And don't tell anybody."
The bard smirked and glanced over the stage that was so close to her. She wiggled around on the stone seat and muttered, "Can I make a recommendation for the Theatre of Dionysus when we build it?"
"We should have cushions."
The Conqueror's eyes glowed as she peered down at her partner. "We could charge extra for that."
Gabrielle laughed at the ruler's constant ability to find revenue in anything. "You would really do that."
"Sure, it's a luxury, right?" The Conqueror shrugged. "No luxury is free." Then the circulating whispers around her caught her ear.
Gabrielle scanned the audience and noticed people were pointing at her lover then her. She dramatically sighed, however she wasn't too concerned about it. If it was one thing she could count on it was Xena's ability to chase off any annoyance with one of her threatening looks.
So Gabrielle became very comfortable since the play would be soon. She had a silly smile on her face when she thought about the Conqueror's plans for tonight. If Gabrielle didn't know any better, she was positive that her partner had an undercurrent of romance in her. For this bard, this was a romantic night in her scrolls, and Xena was right about actions speaking louder than words on this night.
To be continued.
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