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?
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Started: March 5, 2007
A Stranger in my Family
by Red Hope
Chapter 5 – Who's Gurkhan?
Xavier sighed but continued to swing his legs since his sandals almost touched the floor. He was surveying the office he'd been directed into by Vara, the Amazon. He hadn't seen Gabrielle in the past days, but he was told that she was rather busy. What truly fascinated and scared Xavier was that supposedly the tall, blue eyed woman was Xena, the Conqueror and ruler of Greece. Now he waited in Queen Cleopatra's office for some reason, and Vara only told him that Gabrielle and the Conqueror wished to talk to him, alone.
Xavier lifted his head when he heard voices behind the closed door, which led to the main halls. He instantly detected Gabrielle's voice then another woman's, but it wasn't the supposed Greek ruler.
Gabrielle opened the door, held onto the gold handle, and stood halfway through the doorway. She had a faint smile and kept talking to whoever was out of Xavier's vision.
"Thank you, Cleopatra." The bard nodded then entered the room. She left the door open.
Xavier caught Gabrielle's warm smile, and it eased him but only for a heartbeat. He stiffened when the tall, dark woman entered next and closed the door.
The Conqueror knew her imposing self, and this was a time she didn't want it. She signaled to her partner to get a chair, and she did the same.
Xavier wouldn't stop staring at the Conqueror. He was thoroughly impressed by her, and even by her selection of dress.
The Conqueror had decided not to wear her leathers, armor, and weapons specifically because she was concerned it'd intimidate the young slave. Instead, she'd selected a similar white dress with different Egyptian design on it, but it had an oval cut at the top to expose her cleavage. The slits ran up her sides, and her sandals showed when she sat and crossed her legs.
Queen Gabrielle had selected her Amazon garb and sat beside her partner. She and Xena faced the young slave. "How have you been, Xavier?"
The Libyan slave nervously twisted his fingers about in his lap. "I've been good."
The bard could tell the slave was nervous and mostly due to her partner's presence. She inwardly sighed, but she knew this was her area and would sooth the boy. "I'm sorry I haven't seen you lately. I've been pretty busy."
"That's what Vara told me," the boy confirmed.
Gabrielle faintly smiled then she questioned, "Did Vara tell you why you're here?"
Xavier shook his head.
The bard nodded, but she partially turned in her chair. "Xavier, I want you to meet the Conqueror." She held out her right hand to the ruler.
Xavier's stomach twisted now that it was all true. He locked eye contact with the ruler, who remained calm and almost welcoming to him. Xavier silenced his fears then slid out of the chair. He took a step closer to the ruler's chair then held out his hand.
The Conqueror was remotely surprised and very impressed by the slave's good manners. She didn't deny him either so she stood up to her full intimidating height, which didn't retract the boy. She took the slave's small hand.
"I'm Xavier of Alexandria," the boy introduced in a mostly calm tone.
The Conqueror's lips curled into a smile so she replied, "Nice to meet you, Xavier. I'm Xena of Amphipolis." She then released his hand.
Xavier seemed calmer, and he smiled. He resumed his chair like the Conqueror. This time, he didn't nervously play with his hands but instead rested them on his bare knees.
"Xavier," Gabrielle started, "the Conqueror and I wanted to talk to you about some things." She briefly glanced at her partner then focused back on the slave. "You remember what you told me about your master?"
The slave's features dimmed. "Yes." He feared that the Conqueror would send him back to this master or Queen Cleopatra. He did, however, find it odd that he hadn't been returned yet and had been treated quite well here in the palace.
"Well, the Conqueror and I discussed it a few days ago. We made a decision about it." Gabrielle then stopped her explanation and peered up at her lover.
The ruler took her cue, and she leaned forward some so that she captured the boy's attention fully. "Yesterday I purchased you from your master." She paused and watched the boy's reaction. When she felt that the information sunk into the boy, she continued to speak. "This morning I signed off on scrolls to give you your freedom."
Xavier held his breath then stared in awe at the Greek ruler. He couldn't believe what he heard so he looked to Gabrielle for confirmation. He could tell by Gabrielle's smile that it was indeed true. He let out his breath, which released his life long stress of being a slave. "Why... I don't..." He choked up and tried to figure out his good fortune.
The bard leaned forward and took the boy's hands into hers. "I promised you that I'd help you." She squeezed his small hands. "You won't ever have to worry about another master again."
Xavier started to cry, and he rasped, "Why you help me? I tried to steal from you."
Gabrielle's heart broke. She stood up and pulled the former slave into a strong hug. She lowered her head close to his and whispered, "I understand why you did, Xavier and now you won't have to." She withdrew and tilted the boy's head up so that she could meet his distraught gaze. "You have your entire life ahead of you now."
Xavier sadly smiled and faintly nodded. He gathered himself and separated from the bard and resumed his seat. He wiped his tears away.
Gabrielle became situated first. "Xavier, what the Conqueror and I are concerned about is what you want to do now. We weren't sure whether you had family to go to."
The Conqueror was none surprised when the boy shook his head.
"My family is dead," Xavier sadly confessed.
"What about your tribe in Libya?" the bard offered.
Xavier sighed and shook his head. "I do not know the tribe. I was born here."
Gabrielle sighed because Xena had already explained to her that if Xavier stayed in Alexandria it could be a hard life for him. Any freed slave would find it incredibly hard and almost impossible to have a good life in the country where they were formally enslaved. And Gabrielle sadly knew that because in Greece a freed slave's status was no better than a woman's status. The slaves had no political standing in the realm, wages were slim, and it was rare for a former slave to own land.
The Conqueror crossed her legs again but at her ankles. She filled the silence with her deep voice. "You have a few options, Xavier. You can either remain here in Alexandria and find your way. Or you can go to Libya and find your tribe. I will be sure to see that you arrive there safely." The Conqueror didn't much like either idea. There were the rumors that Queen Cleopatra planned to invade Libya and if that was the case then Xavier would end up right back where he was. "Your other option is that you come with Gabrielle and me."
Xavier was awestruck, and he whispered, "To Greece? The realm?" He looked between the women.
Gabrielle slightly grinned then confirmed, "Yes... to Corinth."
The boy couldn't believe it. "What will I do in Corinth?"
The Amazon Queen considered it then threw out some ideas. "You can be tutored. I'm sure the Conqueror's mother would be happy to let you work at her taverna."
Xavier's jaw slightly loosened then he looked up at the ruler. He blurted out, "You really have a mother?" He then flushed deeply when he realized what he'd asked. He almost wanted to sink through the chair and into the floor.
The ruler clicked her tongue and peered down at her partner. "What stories have you told him?"
Gabrielle just rubbed her nose then murmured, "I haven't... really... told him any."
"She told me the story about you, the Amazons, and this rebel leader," Xavier explained.
The Conqueror eyes darkened at her partner.
Gabrielle glowered at the boy then teased, "Traitor."
Xavier softly laughed but stopped when he saw how irritated the ruler was now.
The bard caught the boy's concern so she sweetly smiled at her lover. "Okay. I told him one while we were bored in the prison cell." She patted her partner's nearest knee and teased, "Its nothing you haven't heard." She then focused back on the boy.
The Conqueror sighed quietly, but she was highly amused on the inside. She was also grateful for the banter because the last two days Gabrielle had been fairly quiet since the cult experience. She was glad this boy could bring out Gabrielle's good humor.
"Xavier," Gabrielle continued, "we want you to think about this for a day or two. It's a big decision, but whatever you choose the Conqueror and I will help you with it. Okay?"
Xavier smiled and replied, "Okay. I will think careful about it." He then grew somewhat shy but honestly stated, "Thank you for everything." He lowered his head and stared at his hands. "I am not use to anybody's help... other than my family's."
Gabrielle wistfully smiled at the boy's words. She understood completely, but she was happy she and Xena were here to help him. "We're glad we're here, Xavier and helping you."
Xavier nodded a few times and smiled more.
Gabrielle then stood up and offered, "Now let's see about finding Vara and some others. I thought we could take a trip to the emporium."
The Conqueror stood up simultaneously with the boy. She knew that Gabrielle planned to get Xavier some new clothes since his current set were fairly worn and almost revealing, but it was typical slave dress. "I have a meeting with the queen," she reminded.
Gabrielle touched her partner's arm and murmured, "I'll see you after?"
"Yes," the ruler softly promised.
Xavier moved away from the pair, he could tell something was between them, and he didn't understand what.
The bard wasn't ready to reveal to Xavier the nature of her relationship with the Conqueror. She withdrew her touch and offered a smile.
The Conqueror returned the smile, and she held back her natural tendency to kiss Gabrielle. "Be safe out there."
"I will," the bard honestly promised. "No pickpockets this time."
Xavier smirked and teased, "I'll protect her from them."
The Conqueror twisted her head so that she could see the boy. "See that you do, Xavier. I trust you."
The Amazon Queen rolled her eyes then gave a hidden pat to her lover's taut stomach. She moved away and touched Xavier's mid back. She quietly exited the office and left the door open for the Egyptian Queen.
The Conqueror put the black chairs back into place then turned when Queen Cleopatra entered.
"It went well?" the Egyptian ruler inquired.
"Yes," the Conqueror replied, "he's a bright boy."
"Do you believe he'll leave with you?" The queen strolled past the Conqueror and took her seat behind her desk.
The Conqueror sat in a chair in front of the desk. "I believe so."
Cleopatra sat then cautiously asked, "How does Queen Gabrielle fair after the other day?"
The Greek ruler remained stiff in her black chair but calmly answered, "She's recovering from it." She laced her hands in her lap.
"Cheops hasn't found out anything on the cult," Cleopatra confessed.
"I doubt that he will," the Greek ruler firmed.
Queen Cleopatra sighed and seemed to almost slump in her chair. She wasn't happy when she received word of the ordeal and the cult's volatile and malicious habits. She didn't need this type of cult in her capitol.
The Conqueror decided to break the queen's concentration and reminded, "I wish to speak to you about a certain situation."
The Egyptian Queen became more business like and nodded. "Go on."
"I plan to depart Egypt a little early," the ruler explained, "Gabrielle and I have somethings to take care of in Mogador."
"Mogador?" Queen Cleopatra repeated. "You do not fair well with Mogador, Xena. What is there?"
The Conqueror had long debated whether to tell the Egyptian Queen the truth because of the dangers. It wasn't until she saw the developed friendship between the Amazon Queen and Egyptian Queen that she decided it would actually help to tell the truth. She knew Cleopatra's concerns for Gabrielle would supersede the politics.
"Gabrielle's sister, Lila, is a slave there. She's been Gurkhan's wife for some time now." The Conqueror shifted in her chair and rested her hands on the arms.
"Gurkhan is a powerful man, Xena." Queen Cleopatra watched the ruler bow her head in confirmation to her assessment. "If Gurkhan discovers he has Queen Gabrielle's sister then he will surely use that to his advantage."
"Yes." The Greek ruler sighed then added, "It is a dangerous situation however this is Gabrielle's last family member. Many Helical Risings ago her parents were murdered by my men and her sister taken into slavery."
Queen Cleopatra was surprised by this news, and she carefully regarded the Conqueror. "And yet Gabrielle lays with you?" She smirked and teased, "What magic have you worked on her, Xena?"
The Conqueror's tension mounted, but she knew what the queen was trying to do. She kept calm and replied, "Gabrielle sees through any such foolishness."
Cleopatra could tell the Greek ruler truly admired the Amazon Queen. She too inwardly admitted that Queen Gabrielle was quite a force and would become powerful over time. She had the foresight to know that one day Gabrielle may lay claims to the Conqueror's throne, and Cleopatra didn't want to splinter that relationship now.
"And what will become of Gurkhan?" Queen Cleopatra cocked her her head. "You rarely leave your enemies alive, Xena." She knew some of the history between the powerful merchant and the Greek ruler.
"That is my plan," the ruler subtly agreed.
Queen Cleopatra rested back in her chair. She weighted everything and carefully went over the different angles. She made a single choice then stood up. "If Gurkhan is killed then Mogador will be shaken." She walked around her desk. "Egypt holds important trade relations with Mogador." She came behind Xena and stopped. "If Egypt turns her cheek when Mogador cries for help then Egypt will lose her relations."
The Conqueror's eyes narrowed, yet she carefully listened to Cleopatra. She mapped out what the queen may try to get her to do.
"I care for Gabrielle... greatly," the Egyptian ruler affirmed, "but I am also Egypt. I cannot endanger such important relations, Xena. You understand this."
The Conqueror didn't reply but tilted her head forward. Her senses tightened when she felt Queen Cleopatra bent over her and warmth breath by her right ear.
"I am willing to look the other way," Cleopatra breathed, "if Egypt is... properly compensated." She lowered her head closer until her lips brushed over the Conqueror's exposed ear thanks to the Conqueror wearing her hair back. "What will you give Egypt, Conqueror?" She lifted her hands then carefully brought them to the ruler's muscular arms. She slowly traced her fingertips up the ruler's tense, showing muscles. "What will you give me, Xena?"
The Conqueror's hands curled around the end of the arms. She clenched her teeth.
Queen Cleopatra grinned and carefully nipped at the ruler's ear. She lowered her head so that her lips were closed to the ruler's neck. "How much is this worth to you?" She brought her lips closer but abruptly the Conqueror jerked away from her.
The Conqueror was quickly out of the chair and faced the slowly rising queen. "What will I give you?" she sneered, "I won't pull the throne out from under you." She shoved the chairs out of the way so that she could come closer to the queen. "You are Egypt because I make you Egypt."
Queen Cleopatra stiffened when her earlier position of power faltered under the furious ruler. She stared up into ice blue eyes that drilled into her.
The Conqueror closed in the distance so that her body almost touched the queen's. "If you cross me, Cleopatra then I promise you that Egypt will fall under Greek control again. And your navy will be mine." She lowered her head then hotly whispered, "Do not mistake your place."
Queen Cleopatra lost her bravado now that she saw the true Conqueror before her. She felt her hands go moist and fear tightened her stomach. She had to think of her nation.
The Conqueror brought her face closer to the queen's. She raised her right hand and traced her fingertips over the queen's jawline. "I will tell you what Greece will give Egypt, and you will accept it." She pressed her body into Cleopatra's so that her power and presence overwhelmed the queen. "I will give you Libya under certain conditions." She had darkened features and a cat grin over her lips. "I will send my legions here to join your army. You are to adopt the realm's policies on conquering another nation."
Queen Cleopatra became somewhat horrified. "The people will not stand for it." She knew what it meant to adopt the realm's policies. The Libyans couldn't be enslaved, there would be freedom of religion, and the Libyans would retain their lands by law.
"Then you better pray your position as pharaoh is as strong as you think its," the Greek ruler whispered. The Conqueror trailed her fingertips up to the queen's soft lips. "If you do not accept my gracious offer, Queen Cleopatra then I don't mind expanding my realm." She lowered her hand from Cleopatra's face and snaked her arm around the queen's back. She pulled Cleopatra tighter against her then brought her lips down closer. She felt her lips dance across Cleopatra's when she huskily asked, "What do you want for Egypt, pharaoh?"
Queen Cleopatra's breath caught, and she had weak knees against the Conqueror's onslaught. She desperately held onto the ruler's arm then she tried to work her mind through the sexual haze. "I... I accept your offer, my liege," she murmured against the Conqueror's soft lips.
The Conqueror had glowing eyes, and her lips spread into a dark grin. "You made the right choice, Cleopatra... for your nation." She suddenly lifted her head, pulled her arm free and slipped past the Egyptian ruler. "See that you have the terms written up, and I will approve it." She then silently left the broken queen alone in her office.
Queen Cleopatra was hunched forward and clung to a black chair. She placed her hand over her chest where her heart beat wildly, and she closed her eyes. "By the gods," she rasped. She was flushed and tense with sexual frustration. She'd forgotten the Conqueror's intoxicating draw and this was an awful way to be reminded.
Iolaus marched down the halls at a fast pace. He spotted the person he wanted and greeted, "My liege." He noted the ruler's dark aura, which he rarely saw these days because of Gabrielle. "Is everything alright, my liege?"
The Conqueror stopped before her tetrarchès. "Yes," she curtly answered.
Iolaus knew something had transcended, but it wasn't his place. Instead he focused on why he was looking for the ruler. "The spies from Mogador have arrived... they wish to see you."
"Perfect," the ruler murmured. "Where are they?"
"They wait in the atrium." Iolaus turned and fell into step beside the ruler. "Were you able to get Queen Cleopatra's blessing to go to Mogador?"
The Conqueror revealed her dark grin. "She didn't falter to agree."
Iolaus could only imagine what that meant. "Then maybe everything will work out," he decided.
"They will," the ruler promised. She came into the atrium and ordered the two spies to followed her and Iolaus to the south wing. She felt the only comfortable spot to do this was in her bed chambers. When she entered, she took a seat but left the spies and Iolaus to stand up around her. It wasn't exactly her throne but it reminded everybody of her position as ruler.
"Now tell me what the situation is," the Conqueror ordered.
The spies were natives to Mogador, and they exchanged glances, but the darkly tanned spy spoke first. "I am Alexio and this is Gyasi." He briefly held out his hand to his partner, who was far darker in skin tone. "Lutalo could not join us."
The Conqueror recalled the spy, Lutalo, because he was most important to the ruler. "I understand."
Alexio nodded then adjusted his turban. "Gurkhan does have a slave named Lila. She is roughly twenty Helical Risings old... maybe slightly older." He stopped then positioned his hands behind his back. "She is Gurkhan's number one wife, I'm afraid."
The tetrarchès quietly sighed because he knew what this could mean. He kept silent though and remained poised with his hands between his back and cape.
The Conqueror accepted the news but ordered, "Tell me about his palace."
Alexio bowed his head then broke into his report. "Gurkhan's palace is located on the southeast side of Mogador... not far from the city walls. The size of the palace is roughly eight stremmata, however if you include the surrounding land and walls it is about ten."
The Conqueror realized the palace was fairly large and most likely the largest in Mogador. That didn't surprise her in the least knowing Gurkhan.
"Currently he houses a hundred soldiers as guards, and they are on duty continually. Gurkhan is rarely seen as he does not leave his palace." Alexio stopped and glanced at his partner. "He has seventeen wives so far including Lila however he's often at the slave market."
The Conqueror thinly smiled at this news.
Alexio then signaled Gyasi to speak now.
Gyasi licked his dried, crack lips then was about to speak but stopped when the door opened.
Iolaus tensed however clearly relaxed when he spotted Gabrielle.
Queen Gabrielle eased into the room, closed the door silently, and looked to her partner. "What's..."
The Conqueror hadn't expected the bard back so soon. She stood up and approached her lover. "These are the spies from Mogador."
Gabrielle observed the two strangers. "It's about Lila?"
"Yes." The Conqueror took Gabrielle's staff and set it against the wall, near the door. "Come sit with me." She turned and approached her chair again.
Gabrielle took the seat on the opposite side of the table from the ruler.
The Conqueror pointed to the man on the right. "This is Gyasi." She then pointed at the other spy. "And Alexio." She directed to the bard and introduced, "This is the Amazon Queen, Gabrielle."
Alexio bowed his head then politely stated, "It's a pleasure, Queen Gabrielle."
Gyasi mimicked his partner's politeness. "It is mine as well, Queen Gabrielle."
The bard faintly nodded and had a distant smile, but she was more concerned about the matter at hand.
The Conqueror knew this so she ordered, "Continue, Gyasi."
Gyasi reeled into his details about Gurkhan's general life, his status in Mogador, and the daily activities of the palace. He could tell the Conqueror was quite pleased with his information. Then he and his partner took questions from the Conqueror and were mostly able to answer everything. Finally, he and Alexio were escorted to the door by the Greek soldier.
The Conqueror followed Iolaus and the spies to the door. She stopped Iolaus and quietly ordered, "See that you compensate them well for their work."
"Of course, my liege." The tetrarchès dipped his head then left the bed chambers.
The Conqueror closed the door then turned back to Gabrielle, who was in deep thought. "Lila is there, Gabrielle."
The bard broke from her thoughts and lifted her gaze to the ruler. "What else did they say when I wasn't here?"
The ruler approached the bard and took her seat again. "Your sister is the first wife." She paused then curiously asked, "How old is your sister?"
The bard glanced over and softly answered, "She's about three years younger... twenty-one Helical Risings." She paused then muttered, "Her birthday is this fall."
Xena lowered her gaze and remorse swept through her. She knew she had to make this work out or else it would truly hurt Gabrielle. "Gurkhan has a fairly large palace and it's heavily guarded. He also hardly leaves the palace."
Gabrielle slumped in her chair. "So another words we have some bad odds."
"I'm not so much concerned about that," the ruler revealed.
Gabrielle was surprised so she peered over with worried features. "Then what are you concerned about?" She could tell there was something.
"I'm more concerned about your sister's attitude and mindset right now." Xena met the bard's features. "She's been with Gurkhan for six Helical Risings. She's gone from a low wife to the most important wife."
Gabrielle shook her head. "What is a first wife?"
The Conqueror grew dim but answered the question. "The first wife is the wife that holds the most power among all of them. In Gurkhan's case he has seventeen." She watched Gabrielle's astonishment flashed over her face. "Typically the first wife will have the husband's children that take on his legacy. The eldest son will takeover most often. The wives try to claim the position as first so that they can reserve a brighter future for their children."
The bard processed the long explanation from her partner. She had unfocused eyes when she muttered, "So I could have... nieces and nephews." She reached up and brushed her hair back. "If Lila has any children she's not going to be keen on leaving them behind."
"There's more complications too, Gabrielle." Xena watched how Gabrielle's eyes met hers, and she saw the upset. She had to be honest though. "It takes a lot of strength and ruthlessness to become and maintain the position of first wife." She stopped and organized her next impacting words. "Lila won't be the same person you knew, Gabrielle."
"And I'm not the same person I was, Xena when her and I saw each other last." Gabrielle though wasn't calm because her words didn't seem to settle the ruler. "What?"
Xena glanced away but turned back to the bard. "Gabrielle, think about Lila's position right now. She's been Gurkhan's wife for six Helical Risings... that's what she's known for most her life."
"And she's going to be free from that," Gabrielle argued. She stood up then demanded, "Are you telling me you don't want to free her?"
The Conqueror was swiftly on her feet and approached her partner. "I'm not saying that at all, Gabrielle." She touched the bard's arms and held tightly. "Think about it, Lila has a choice to stay with Gurkhan where she knows what her future will be. Or she can go with us... with me, the person that put her there in the first place."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to argue, yet she faltered and became somewhat emotional ."I just have to talk to her. She'll understand."
"What will she understand?" the ruler whispered, "That you've sided with the evil Conqueror? That you're no better?"
"You're not evil," Gabrielle hotly shot back. Then she broke from the Conqueror's contact and walked away. She lifted her right hand and rubbed her temples. "If I talk to her, Xena then she'll be fine." Gabrielle's words even held an undercurrent of doubt. "She'll understand." She faced the ruler again and murmured, "She has to."
The Conqueror neared her partner and tilted Gabrielle's head back. "I hope that she does, Gabrielle but you have to prepare for the part where she might not be."
The bard closed her eyes and wanted nothing more than for this problem to be over and her sister returned to her. "I can't leave my sister there... she's all I have left of my family."
Xena moved in and drew her lover into her body. She held Gabrielle close and whispered, "We'll do everything we can." She lowered her head then gently added, "I promise."
Gabrielle hated that she'd been so emotional lately, but she knew her lack of sleep wasn't helping. She also was stressed about the Britanni spies and the dark cult. Then another thought occurred to her so she lifted her head off Xena's chest. "What about Cleopatra and the relations?"
The Conqueror understood Gabrielle's concerns so she replied, "I took care of it."
Gabrielle's features drew together, and bewilderment filled her voice. "She's okay with us going to Mogador?"
"Yes, I used my powers of persuasion to convince her."
The bard copied the ruler's arched eyebrow technique. "Do I really want to know?"
Gabrielle slightly grinned and brushed her fingertips over her lover's Gaelic necklace. "Let me guess, you have to conquer Libya for her...?"
The Conqueror now raised her eyebrow when Gabrielle pinpointed the agreement.
The bard could tell her lover was inwardly impressed by her assessment so her grin became wider. "I've already heard the rumors about Libya." She tapped the necklace then further mentioned, "Its so easy to wiggle out information from Cheops when you're as sweet as I am."
Xena groaned and rolled her eyes. "The poor fella." She earned a slap to her side for the comment. "What else do you hear?"
Gabrielle suddenly had a wicked grin, and her voice deepened. "I hear that a certain Egyptian Queen can't keep her hands off of you." She chuckled at how Xena seemed to remain passive. "And it doesn't make me jealous by the way," she further commented.
"Oh?" the ruler prompted.
"Nope because I have..." Gabrielle lifted her right hand and pointed her index finger up. "I have you wrapped around this finger."
The Conqueror narrowed her eyes then she reached up with left hand. She took the bard's lifted hand then easily maneuvered the bard's middle finger free. She held the index and middle fingers together and leaned down. She silkily whispered, "You have me wrapped around these two fingers."
Gabrielle suddenly flashed bright red, and heat flooded her body. She hadn't quite expected that from her playful lover. "Well..." She tested her throat then tried to collect her thoughts. "It's mutual."
The ruler smirked and laced her hand through Gabrielle's. She delivered a long kiss, but she knew their talk wasn't complete. She lowered their hands down to their sides and put some space between them so they could think clearly.
Gabrielle dipped her head then asked, "So what's the plan?" She raised her head up again. "How are we going to get Lila out of there?"
"Somebody needs to go in," the ruler explained, "and talk to your sister. I'm thinking one of your Amazons can go... possibly Vara."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Go in? You mean..."
Xena squeezed the bard's hand. "Somebody needs to go undercover... as a wife."
"I haven't gotten that far yet," the Conqueror replied, but she had some ideas such as Gurkhan's death.
The Amazon Queen sighed then stared past the ruler. "If Lila is convinced to leave then it won't be too hard. I'm sure we could sneak her out... somehow."
"Possibly," the ruler relented.
"What about Najara?" Gabrielle slightly brightened at the prospect of the dekarchos being able to convince her sister to leave. "I'm sure Najara could-"
"No," the Conqueror cut off. "I don't trust Najara." She had dark eyes, which said how much she wouldn't agree to the idea. "We can't be sure what she'll say to your sister."
Gabrielle frowned at her lover's clear display of mistrust in the dekarchos. She sighed then argued, "Well I don't think Lila is going to believe any of my Amazons." She lowered her head and considered another way to handle the problem.
The Conqueror was about to speak when Gabrielle lifted her head. She saw that look on the bard's face, and she didn't like it at all.
"I'll go in, Xena then I can talk to her. I mean she's not going to listen to anybody else."
"No," the ruler declared.
Gabrielle became dark at the ruler's instant rejection of her idea. "Xena, it makes sense."
The Conqueror released her partner's hand then in her most commanding voice, she stated, "It is out of the question, Gabrielle."
"It's not in question," the bard argued, "It's a plan... a good plan."
"Its a suicide mission," the ruler snapped. "I don't think so."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the ruler. "A suicide mission and you want to send one of my Amazons in there?"
"I'll take their death over yours," the Conqueror rebuked.
The Amazon Queen clenched her teeth then shook her head. "I'm not going to order any of my Amazons to go in there." She stepped closer and pointed at the ruler. "Especially when this is my sister. It should be me."
"Do you even know what they'll do to you if they find out who you are?" the Conqueror growled. She pointed towards the balcony and snapped, "He will do exactly what that cult planned to do with you." She lowered her hand and whispered, "You'll wish you were dead." She clenched her hands at her sides. "I will not allow you to go in there."
"Is that a threat?" the Amazon Queen challenged.
The Conqueror felt her rapid heartbeat, and she knew this was a dangerous conversation. Yet she wouldn't allow her lover to think she had any chance to enter Gurkhan's palace. "No, its a promise."
Gabrielle's skin burned from her anger, and she knew she was almost to her limit. She closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. She then silently told herself just to walk away right now. She did just that and quietly exited the room with the door left open.
The Conqueror dropped her head back and stared at the ceiling for a beat. She needed some time to cool off too and was glad Gabrielle knew to walk away for now.
The bard stalked through the palace, out of the south wing, and went deeper into the main palace. She ended up going out into the courtyard and took in the fresh, salty air. She stole a quiet spot on a bench that was under a tree. She bent forward and covered her face with her hands. She hadn't felt this frustrated in some time. She didn't understand why it was so hard to reason with her partner. Then she recalled that Xena was use to be being the sole decision maker and nobody questioned her. And if somebody did happen to question her, she typically dealt with them harshly.
"Gabrielle?" came a soft, gentle voice.
The bard lifted her head and met concerned grey eyes. "Hey." She patted the space beside her on the bench.
Najara neatly sat down beside her friend. "Is everything okay?"
Gabrielle sighed because she knew she couldn't hide the truth from the dekarchos. "No... the Conqueror and I have had a slight difference of opinion."
Najara frowned then mentioned, "That seems to be happening a lot lately."
The bard grunted at the honest remark.
"What was it about?" The dekarchos tried. "Perhaps I can help." When Gabrielle sadly peered up at her, she further explained, "I can help from a warrior's perception."
The Amazon Queen relented because she agreed that Najara was a warrior much like her partner. It was possible that Najara could offer some light on the subject or at least sooth Gabrielle's frustrations. She confessed everything that'd transcended in the past moon or so that dealt with her sister. Gabrielle's hands moved with her words and the emotions flickered across her face. Najara listened carefully and only briefly interrupted to ask questions. Finally, Gabrielle ended with her recent argument about who should enter Gurkhan's palace, but she didn't mention how the Conqueror refused to send Najara.
The dekarchos sat quietly for a moment then processed all the information. "The Conqueror is concerned about your well being."
"I understand that," Gabrielle agreed, "but it doesn't change the fact that it should be me that talks to my sister."
"It is a dangerous mission," the soldier reminded. "You could be killed, Gabrielle."
The bard's shoulders dropped, yet she gathered Najara's hand into hers. "This is my sister, Najara. Tell me you understand...?" She squeezed the calloused hand in hers.
The dekarchos dipped her head for a beat then lifted it again. "I do understand." She placed her freehand on top of Gabrielle's. "I had a younger sister too. She was taken into slavery, just like yours."
Gabrielle's heart dropped, and she held tightly to the older woman's hand. "What happened?"
"After it happened, I spent my waking hours training to become a warrior." Najara's grey eyes grew blue in tone to her emotions. "I prayed that I would become skilled enough that I could free her. When the time came, it was too late and my sister was murdered by the warlord that had her."
The bard closed her eyes tightly then shook her head. "I'm so sorry, Najara." She released the dekarchos's hands then pulled her in for a hug.
Najara pulled back after the hug and sadly smiled. "I do understand," she repeated. She then paused and quietly added, "Perhaps its best that you do not wait like I did."
"The Conqueror and I plan to get her out," the Amazon Queen argued.
The soldier tilted her head and questioned, "What if she sends somebody else in besides you? Will your sister be convinced to leave?"
Gabrielle peered down at her lap and stared at her hands. "That's what I'm afraid of... Lila can be strong at times, but she gets scared too."
"You know your sister better than anybody else," Najara starkly reminded. "You are the best person to speak with her."
"You should try telling the Conqueror that." Gabrielle sighed and brushed her hair behind her right ear. "I don't know what to do."
"You must do whatever it takes to free your sister," Najara urged.
Gabrielle studied the dekarchos for a beat. "We will, Najara."
The soldier leaned closer then quietly spoke. "If you wait too long, Gabrielle then something could happen to your sister. Ever heartbeat is a waste of time." She touched the bard's leg. "And you're the only one that can convince her to leave Gurkhan."
Gabrielle's eyes stung as she wished she was already in Mogador. She did hate waiting here on the other side of the continent.
Najara read the distraught in the bard so she brushed her fingertips across the bard's cheek. "You should not waste anymore time here, Gabrielle." She searched the confused green eyes and explained, "Go to Mogador now and free your sister."
"I can't go over there without the Conqueror," the Amazon Queen insisted.
"You are wasting precious time by just sitting here in Alexandria and arguing with her." Najara lowered her hand to her lap. "Take your Amazons. You do not require the Conqueror's consent, Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle, you are not a child," the soldier affirmed which stopped the bard's arguments. "The Conqueror protects you as such and does not respect your opinions, your choices. She wishes only to control you just as if you were apart of her realm." Najara shook her head then reminded, "But that's not who you are, is it? Even I have heard of your calling as the rebel leader."
Gabrielle stared oddly at the dekarchos. "I was," she emphasized, "the rebel leader. Those days are gone, Najara. The Conqueror has changed and is improving the realm's situation."
"Is she really?" Najara argued. "How can you be so certain when Britannia is rebelling?" She sadly sighed. "They rebel because they are not happy... you know this better than anybody."
"No," the bard refuted, "the Conqueror has changed."
"How can you be so sure it's not an act?" Najara gathered the bard's hands into hers. "Go to Mogador and free your sister before its too late... nothing else matters, let alone the Conqueror."
Gabrielle's heart pounded erratically against her chest, and she tried to decipher her spinning emotions. Najara's words were like a spider web in her mind. She then clearly recalled the promise she made to Xena, to the Conqueror when they sat out on the balcony the other day. She silenced her foolish emotions and definitively stated, "I won't do it, Najara."
"No," the bard snapped. She stood up and faced the seated dekarchos. "I won't betray the Conqueror's trust." She saw how Najara's features dimmed, but she didn't care. "If you knew anything at all then you'd know that the Conqueror and I have worked entirely too hard to get to where we are now and just throw it out." She pointed a finger at Najara. "You know, Najara just how much my relationship with the Conqueror means." She fisted her hand and lowered to her side. "Now you ask me to jeopardize it. And for what?"
Najara sat with a stiff back and glowing eyes. The flexing of her jaw muscles showed and anger shined in her eyes. "You're jeopardizing your sister's life," she hotly reminded.
Gabrielle stepped closer, bent over and angrily drew out each word. "We are saving my sister." She leaned in closer then firmed her decision. "The answer is no, Najara." She straightened up and saw how Najara was none too happy with her response. And Gabrielle didn't care what Najara thought about it so she walked off. She didn't look back and returned to her bed chambers.
The bard didn't find her partner inside the bed chambers so she took a seat on the side of the bed. She propped the heels of her boot on the edge of the bed frame then lowered her elbows on her knees. Gabrielle dropped her face into her hands again but held her hair back. Here she thought her day was going to turn out better than the last few, but she was having no luck.
The Conqueror silently stood in the doorframe that went to the balcony. She seemed ghostly because of the sheer white curtain that floated in front of her. She observed her lover's very troubled and upset demeanor, and it broke her. She slipped past the curtain then went to the opposite side of the bed from the bard.
Gabrielle sharply inhaled at first when she felt somebody behind her. She calmed though once she realized it was her partner.
The Conqueror sat behind the bard, and her legs were outside of Gabrielle's. She propped her feet up on the bed frame like Gabrielle then she snaked her arms around the bard's waist. She lowered her head and observed, "You left angry and now you're upset."
Gabrielle slumped back into her lover's protective body. "You were right... about Najara." She sensed the new tension in her ruler thanks to her words. "I told her about Lila."
"Gabrielle, you shouldn't have spoken to her," the ruler warned. She sighed because there was nothing that could change that factor.
"I realize that now." Gabrielle shook her head. "I wasn't thinking... I just needed to talk to somebody."
Xena frowned yet asked, "What did she say?"
The Amazon Queen released a deep sigh and tried to settle herself down. "She basically told me that I should tell you 'screw you' and go free my sister on my own." She grabbed her lover's bare knee that was revealed because of the dress's slit." She tried to... manipulate me by saying you haven't changed and that everything you're doing is just an act."
The Conqueror tilted her head and asked, "Do you believe her?"
"No," the bard bit off then she stopped herself. "I'm sorry. It's just she really had my temper going by the end. It's like she hasn't been paying attention or listened to anything I've told her."
The Conqueror wasn't at all annoyed by the bard's snappy response, but indeed she was happy for it. If Gabrielle had faltered then she'd wondered otherwise.
"She knows," Gabrielle continued to rant, "how important you are to me. How important our relationship is to me. But it was like none of that was suppose to matter to me and that I'm suppose to throw all that away. She was trying to make me feel guilty for not helping my sister right away and worrying about getting your approval." She stopped and dropped her head back so she could see her partner's face. "I don't understand why, Xena."
The ruler lifted her right hand and caressed her lover's cheek. "I'm not sure, Gabrielle." Although she had her ideas but couldn't be sure until she found out more. She'd been belaying her orders to have Najara's past dug up simply because she didn't want to damage her relationship with Gabrielle. She knew how Gabrielle cared for the dekarchos, but obviously this could prove dangerous.
Gabrielle lowered her head then muttered, "She was pissed, Xena... I mean really pissed. She definitely doesn't like the word 'no' told to her."
"Stay away from her, Gabrielle."
The bard shook her head then argued, "Xena, I don't think she'd do anything."
"Incase she suddenly decides to, let's not give her the chance." The ruler ran her hand up the bard's stomach then back down and repeated the process in a soothing motion. "Please?"
Gabrielle knew she needed to grant this much until Xena felt it was safe. "I'll keep my distance."
"The next time you need to talk to somebody," Xena offered, "talk to Iolaus. I trust him, and I know you're comfortable with him too."
Gabrielle nodded but then chided, "How about we just don't fight anymore. You agree to everything I say. And we'll be good to go."
Xena lowered her head then teased, "That's an interesting thought."
"A fleeting thought, I imagine." The bard chuckled when she felt Xena's grin against her neck.
"Mmmm very fleeting," the ruler muttered and kissed the bard's neck. "Besides," she continued, "who else would you have to argue with?" She ran her hand all the way up Gabrielle's stomach and slipped her fingertips under the leather top. "You enjoy it too much."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and dropped her head to one side so that Xena had better access. "I personally think you like to argue so you can have the make up sex afterwards." She didn't hear any argument and only received a deep laugh. "Cyrene puts up good fights with me."
"And I hope my mother doesn't offer make up sex afterwards," the Conqueror teasingly warned.
"Oh definitely not." Gabrielle hissed when her lover bit her neck. She instinctively drew her nails into the ruler's skin. "You know though we haven't settled our argument."
"Mmmm." The Conqueror's hand slid back down the bard's stomach and stopped at the top of her belt. Her left hand found its to Gabrielle's thigh. "I suppose we'll have to continue the argument later then have sex again."
Gabrielle couldn't help her laugh, which was promptly stopped by her moan when the ruler's hand slipped higher up and under her leather skirt. "How about next time we fight, you just take me instead of waiting for the make up part?" She received a deep growl from the ruler, and she suddenly was lifted up. Gabrielle yelped out of surprise but somehow she discovered herself on her back in the middle of the bed. She gazed up into carnal blue eyes.
The Conqueror remained over top of her partner and hotly whispered, "You would like that, wouldn't you?"
Gabrielle brightly blushed then averted her eye contact. "I still plead that I'm innocent."
The Conqueror's chest shook from a deep, amused laugh. "Hardly." She lowered her head closer to the bard's. "Then I suppose you don't want me to..." She brought her lips close to the bard's ear and whispered her last words.
Gabrielle's earlier blush turned into a full flush that spread down over her chest. "Is that really... possible?"
"It's very possible," the Conqueror whispered. She amusingly watched the flush creep even lower and covered the bard's stomach.
Gabrielle placed her hand to the ruler's right cheek and drew her down for a passionate kiss. She came out breathless but practically begged, "Show me."
And the Conqueror did show Gabrielle just how possible it was for them. She was rewarded by Gabrielle's louder than normal pleading for her to take her. Although the Conqueror didn't quickly meet the demand because she built up her young lover's frustrations higher. Then when she was positive that Gabrielle couldn't hold out anymore then she brought the bard her final pleasure.
Gabrielle rolled onto her back, coated in sweat, and gasping for air. She hadn't felt this worn in a long time, and she wondered if she wouldn't be sore later, but it didn't matter to her. "Xena?"
"Mmmm?" The Conqueror was on her back too, next to the bard, and she was fairly breathless like her lover.
"Promise me..." The bard stopped and sucked in more air. "Promise me we'll do that again."
The Conqueror chuckled and turned her head to the left. She took in her lover's nude form, which she found so beautiful. "I don't think you need to worry about me promising that."
"Well," the bard muttered, "thank the gods then." She patted her bare chest and whispered, "Wow." She met her lover's gaze and asked, "What other tricks do you know?"
The Conqueror smirked, but she picked up the short, leather rope that rested between them. She removed the knot it in then tossed it on the floor. "I don't reveal all my secrets at once, Gabrielle." She rolled onto her left side so that she was close to her partner now.
The bard reached up and traced the ruler's face. She slightly became somber when her thoughts quickly switched to something else.
The Conqueror sensed it easily so she started to run her fingertips across the bard's stomach in random patterns. "What is it?"
"I know you're trying to keep me busy from thinking about this stuff, but..." Gabrielle sighed then asked, "When are we going to leave for Mogador?"
Xena considered it for a beat and replied, "Tomorrow at first light."
The bard was shocked and stared oddly at her partner. "You're serious?"
"Would I kid you about this?"
"No," the bard agreed. She felt relieved too because the sooner she could get her sister, the better she would feel. She knew her world would stop being turned upside down. "It's so strange... before I didn't know Lila was alive so everything was just fine." She moved her head against her thoughts then muttered, "But now that I know she's alive... that's all I can think about and worry about. I won't find any peace until I know she's out of there."
"I know." The Conqueror moved her hands about quickly. She picked up her partner, rolled onto her back, and brought the bard with her.
Gabrielle snuggled into her lover's warm and even still sticky body. She was content though, and the arms around her never felt better. "Can we come back to Alexandria some time? When it isn't so crazy."
"Yes," the ruler promised.
The bard had her head on the ruler's chest, and she closed her eyes. "Xena, I understand why you don't want me to go into Gurkhan's palace. I know you're scared something will happen to me." She stopped and took a moment to gather her next thoughts. She ran her fingertips over the ruler's collarbone. "I'm worried something would happen to me too." She moved her hand off Xena's collarbone and grasped Xena's shoulder instead. "I think what scares me more is somebody other than me going in there and facing my sister. I know it's been a long time since I've seen her, but I'm still the only person that knows her best. If it's somebody else other than me, I'm worried they'll screw it up. I'll never find any peace then."
The Conqueror listened carefully to every word the bard spoke. She didn't have an instant response so she simply asked, "Let me think about this?"
Gabrielle squeezed her partner's shoulder tightly, and whispered, "Thank you."
Xena kissed the bard's head then murmured, "Get some sleep before dinner."
The bard couldn't argue that command one bit. She closed her eyes then her body relaxed completely as her mind wandered off to her dreamscape.
The Conqueror stayed awake and considered the future plans in Mogador. She also mulled over what Gabrielle had told her about Najara. She slowly ran her hand up and down the bard's back. She didn't like much the idea of Gabrielle going into Gurkhan's palace, but Gabrielle had a point. It would take the right words to convince Lila to leave Gurkhan and go back to Greece with the Conqueror. And if anybody was perfect at convincing it was Gabrielle. The Conqueror swore Gabrielle could talk her way in or out of anything.
The only hitch was the danger, which Xena wanted minimized for the bard. She knew she had Lutalo as part of her upper hand but that just wasn't enough. There were still too many variables. Xena kept plotting out ideas until she had the right one.
Almost two candlemarks later, the bard awoke and felt a lot better. She didn't have any nightmares and really didn't recall her dreams. She discovered the Conqueror had slipped out of bed at some point. She rubbed the sleepiness away and called, "Xena?"
The Conqueror came out from the washroom and still dried her face. She lowered the towel. "Sleep well?"
The bard noted the ruler was fully dressed in her earlier clothes. "Yeah, actually." She brushed her messy hair back. "I didn't even feel you move."
Xena slightly grinned and balled up the towel in her hand. "You were sleeping hard." She strolled back into the washroom but offhandedly mentioned, "I informed the captains that we'll be leaving tomorrow."
"Will they be ready?" Gabrielle sat up and slipped off the bed. She slowly moved about to get her clothes that Xena had neatly set up on the table for her. She slightly smiled at the gesture.
"Yes." The Conqueror strolled back out and watched her partner dress. "Are you hungry?"
Gabrielle caught the note of concern in her lover's question. She really hadn't been eating much lately because of her nervousness. "I think so." She reached behind and fiddled with her back clip.
Xena slipped behind her partner and helped her. "I hope so." She moved closer. "You haven't been eating well."
"I never do when I'm stressed," the bard admitted. "But I'll make up for it later."
The ruler smirked and teased, "Oh I'm sure." She then moved away so that her partner could get her boots on next. Once Gabrielle was ready, she and the bard left for the dinner that Queen Cleopatra had prepared for them.
The dinner went quickly, and Gabrielle was glad she'd taken a nap. She had to keep up with Queen Cleopatra's conversation since Cleopatra was always so witty. The Conqueror then closed the dinner early and reminded the Egyptian Queen that they had to be up at dawn. Queen Cleopatra promised see them off tomorrow at first light.
Gabrielle silently walked along side her partner, but a thought occurred to her. "Xena, will Jarine's body be loaded onto the transport ship?"
"It's already onboard," the ruler confirmed.
The bard was relieved. "They put the oils on and wrapped her?"
"Yes." The Conqueror took her partner's hand into hers. "She'll be ready for the pyre when you take her to Artemisia."
Gabrielle was clearly grateful because it'd been bothering her. She'd informed her Amazons what was happening to Jarine's body. They all readily agreed that it was best Jarine be returned to the Nation so that she could be properly sent to the afterlife.
"Did Xavier talk to you?" the ruler queried. She'd noticed that Xavier and Gabrielle had been quietly talking at dinner.
"Actually I wanted to tell you about that." Gabrielle walked closer to her partner. "He wants to come with us tomorrow."
"You told him it was okay?"
The bard nodded but questioned, "It is okay, right?"
The Conqueror slightly grinned at the bard's concern. "Of course." She pushed open the bed chambers door and let Gabrielle enter first. She followed and closed the door. "You tell him what time we're leaving tomorrow?"
"Oh yeah, and he asked if we could sleep in at least one candlemark."
Xena smirked then thoroughly teased, "That sounds like somebody else I know."
"Funny, funny." The bard ignored her lover and busied with getting ready for bed. "Well, back to the puking tomorrow."
The Conqueror chuckled but reminded, "At least this time you know the pressure point trick." She disappeared into the washroom.
Gabrielle glared over at the ruler's disappeared form. She shook her head and wondered when she'd get the chance to get her partner back. She never imagined the ruler of largest empire could be such a brat. She sat down at the table and almost bent forward to untie her boots when something struck her odd. She straightened back up and stared at the scroll satchel on the table.
"By the gods," she muttered. She trembled slightly and gingerly touched the tip of a scroll. Her satchel and scrolls looked good as new, yet she knew they'd been covered in Jarine's blood. It didn't make any sense. "Xena?"
The Conqueror quickly came out when she heard the bard's fearful call. "What is it?" She came over and in the sunset lit room – she just made out the scroll satchel on the table.
"Please tell me you... tell me you did this?" Gabrielle peered up and took in the ruler's confused features. She had her answer so she stood up and backed away from the table. "Xena..."
The Conqueror grabbed the satchel and hastily checked it for anything strange. She scanned the outside of the bag, and like Gabrielle, she didn't see any blood. She removed a scroll then opened it part of the way until she saw the handwriting. She carefully studied it and knew it was Gabrielle's or else a very good duplication.
Gabrielle shook her head then uttered, "How did that get in here?" Her heartbeat was frantic.
The Conqueror clenched the scroll and growled. She calmed her emotions then asked, "Did you buy this satchel here or in Corinth?"
"I actually bought it in Amphipolis when I was just starting to scribe." Gabrielle couldn't remove her stare from the satchel. "Xena, how did they do that?" She pointed at it then stated, "It was coated in Jarine's blood."
"Where did you leave it, Gabrielle?"
The bard swallowed and dug up her memories. She met the ruler's dark features. "Inside of the building... after they killed her... I... I threw it off."
The Conqueror shoved the scroll into the satchel then asked, "You don't want to keep this…?"
The Amazon Queen instantly shook her head. "No."
"I'm going to go find Iolaus," the Conqueror informed, "I want you to go next door and stay with Vara."
Gabrielle merely nodded then back stepped once. She turned and went to the door but made sure to take her staff.
The Conqueror had the bag's strap tangled in her left hand. "I'll come get you after."
The bard understood so she slipped out of the room and went down the hall to Vara and Amarice's room.
The Conqueror padded over to her leather bag, knelt beside it, and rummaged through it. The anger in the bottom of her stomach mounted as she realized whoever had entered their room had also taken the dagger. She growled and jerked the flap over the bag.
Xena stood up and surveyed the room. She didn't detect anything else out of order. It seemed the only mission was to return the clean scroll satchel and retrieve the dagger. Xena couldn't fathom why the simple dagger was so important to this cult, however, it was obvious that it was, and she didn't much like that.
The Conqueror stepped out onto the balcony – it was night time. She figured the person or persons may have gained entrance this way. She touched the railing with her free hand and peered over the edge. The ground was far too below and heavily patrolled by the Egyptian guards. Whoever accomplished this did have some skills.
Xena never believed in ghosts, but it seemed as if this cult acted like such. She tapped her fisted hand against the railing as she thought out her plans for the cult. What bothered her was that it seemed the cult had a certain focus on her partner. It was getting very personal in the Conqueror's eyes.
The Conqueror swiftly turned then left the bed chambers. She found Iolaus and gave him the satchel and scrolls then ordered him to talk to Cheops about it. She gave Iolaus specific things to find out and where to begin. Iolaus carefully listened then promised he'd talk to Cheops tonight. Finally, she ordered Iolaus to have the squad on duty all night, and they would patrol the palace.
The Conqueror thanked the tetrarchès then headed back to the south wing. She'd get Gabrielle and try to get some rest tonight. She could only imagine though if either her or Gabrielle would sleep tonight after somebody obviously had trespassed in their bed chambers. And the Conqueror was right, Gabrielle remained restless during most of the night, and the Conqueror never slept.
Just a candlemark before dawn, the Conqueror woke her partner and prepared for their long journey. Gabrielle remained silent unless she was asked something. She moved quickly though as Xena requested. Finally, the bard was guided out of the palace by her partner, the Amazons, Xavier, and the squad. Cheops and Queen Cleopatra had joined.
The transport ship had moved from the port, came into the Great Harbor, and docked on the private pier. The triremes waited just outside the mouth of the Great Harbor and rocked in the sea's waves. The squad and Amazons embarked the ship but the rulers stayed on the dock to part ways.
Queen Cleopatra tightly embraced the bard and softly whispered, "I hope you find your sister, Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen withdrew but sadly smiled. "Thank you. The Conqueror promised we'd come back soon." She peered up at her partner.
The Conqueror moved her head in agreement.
Cleopatra grinned then teased, "Well, hopefully it won't take as long as last time." Her eyes lifted to the Greek ruler.
The Conqueror merely folded her arms then arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps just Gabrielle will come next time."
The Egyptian Queen knew what her counterpart was trying to do, but she smirked and turned her focus to the bard. "I wouldn't mind that actually." She grinned devilishly. "We'd enjoy ourselves, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle didn't like the direction of the conversation, yet she wasn't going to damage anything. "We would but nothing is more enjoyable than having the Conqueror around." She grinned at the ruler.
The Conqueror grunted as the bard's remark. "Are you ready?"
The bard understood the cue so she went to Cheops and said farewell to him. The Conqueror exchanged some words with Queen Cleopatra then she signaled Gabrielle to climb the gangplank. Gabrielle gradually made her way up but paused and waved to Cheops and the queen. The Conqueror rolled her eyes at her partner's overly polite attributes.
Gabrielle continued up then mumbled, "Well Xena, barfs away." She touched her prequeasy stomach.
Xena couldn't help a small laugh, but she urged her partner up the gangplank. "Let's go, Gabrielle before I carry you up."
"That was a really enticing threat," the bard mentioned.
The Conqueror sighed dramatically. "I like it better when you first wake up and have nothing to say."
Gabrielle hopped off the gangplank and turned. She discovered the height of the gangplank added to her partner's already tall height. She was about to say something but Xena's additional height didn't help her.
Xena quirked an eyebrow and waited. She held onto the railing on either side of the gangplank.
The bard smiled crookedly then muttered, "Right." She walked off.
The bemused ruler stepped off the gangplank then hollered an order to the captain to set sail. She listened to the sailors frantically work to get prepared. She and Gabrielle ascended the bridge deck and joined the captain and first mate.
"It should be a beautiful day for sailing," the captain mentioned. He took a moment to call out a few orders then turned to the Conqueror. "To Mogador, my liege?"
"To Mogador," the ruler agreed.
"The course is plotted and we're prepared."
The Conqueror was pleased, and she remained on the bridge deck. Gabrielle stood at her side and idly listened to the orders given out. The Conqueror could tell that the bard was learning the various nautical terms that passed between the captain, sailors, and first mate. Then when the transport ship pulled away from the dock, the rockiness already hit the bard's stomach. Gabrielle subtly pressed her pressure point on her wrist then inhaled deeply.
Once the Conqueror felt they were well into the Mediterranean, she turned to the bard. "I want to speak to you."
Gabrielle broke out of her thoughts then absorbed the words. She nodded and moved away from the captain and first mate.
The Conqueror informed the captain she'd return later. She escorted Gabrielle down the bridge deck and took her below deck.
The bard was faintly nervous, but she entered the quarters that'd been theirs last time. She took a seat on the bed and waited for Xena.
The Conqueror turned after she silently closed the door. She was quiet for a beat or two then mentioned, "I've thought a lot about your request to go in as the undercover wife." She remained standing in front of her partner, and her tone serious. "I will let you go if you can learn and demonstrate some things that'll be vital to your safety while you're there."
Gabrielle carefully read her partner's body language and knew this was hard for the Conqueror. "What do I need to learn?"
The Conqueror stepped closer then squatted down so she became eye level with the bard. "Do you know the dance of the three veils?" She watched the changing expression on the bard's face. "You're going to need to know a few dances. The wives often dance for their husband as a form of entertainment." She then rested her hands on her armor covered knees.
Gabrielle was speechless but listened carefully.
The ruler tilted her head and added, "You need to learn some phrases in Berber in case they speak it. Most likely they'll be speaking Greek since Gurkhan is from Greece."
The bard nodded then asked, "Anything else?"
"Yes." The Conqueror briefly watched the bard touch her pressure point on her wrist. She lifted her eyes to Gabrielle again and informed, "I'm going to teach you another pressure point."
Gabrielle lowered her hand from her wrist. She was surprised by the ruler's words. "I'm not sure if..."
The ruler moved her hands to the bard's knee. "You need to be able to defend yourself. You can't have any weapons with you so this is your best option."
The Amazon Queen nodded but still wasn't comfortable with it. "What will the pressure point do?"
"It'll paralyze the person." The Conqueror then decided they mind as well begin so she said, "Let me show you."
Gabrielle was nervous, yet she nodded.
Xena lifted her hands and kept her index and middle finger out. She pressed the tips of her fingers just above the bard's collarbone. "You feel that?" After the bard nodded, she continued to speak. "If you thrust the right amount of pressure against those pulse points then you'll paralyze the person." She lowered her hands. "Now try to find them on your neck."
The bard tilted her chin back some then lifted her hands and mimicked Xena's earlier actions.
The Conqueror lifted her hands and carefully maneuvered the bard's fingertips into the right spot. "Feel it?" Again Gabrielle nodded so Xena took the bard's hands and brought them to her neck. "Find mine."
Gabrielle bit her lower lip, but she carefully sought the Conqueror's pressure point.
"Good," the ruler whispered. "It doesn't take much thrust for this to work. It's more about the accuracy." She then stood up and said, "Now I want you to practice this." She sat on the bed.
Gabrielle's hands coated in sweat, and she shook some. "Practice how?"
"On me," the ruler revealed. She moved about until she rested on the bed. "Alright, find the pressure points on my neck."
Gabrielle was distraught, but she adjusted on the bed so that she faced the headboard and Xena. She stretched out her hands and determined the spot again. "There?"
"Yes," the Conqueror murmured. "Now you have to jab at the points for it to work."
The bard shook her head then asked, "How do I..."
"You release it by jabbing the pressure points again," the ruler explained. "I want you to try."
Gabrielle clenched her teeth for a beat. "What if I can't release it?"
"If you can put it on then you can remove it," Xena explained. "Come on."
The bard lifted her hands but her hands were fisted. She shook her head. "I can't do this."
"Yes... yes you can." Xena tilted her chin back some. "I won't feel a thing." She slightly grinned at her dry joke.
"That's not funny," the bard snapped.
The Conqueror went serious and ordered, "Come on, Gabrielle."
"Now," the ruler hotly ordered.
"No." Gabrielle lowered her hands to her lap.
The Conqueror snarled, "If you're too weak to do this then you can't go in." She received the response she expected and was somewhat surprised by how quickly.
Gabrielle's hands blurred and went to the ruler's lower throat.
The Conqueror gasped for air as her body went completely numb. Her head sunk into the pillow, and she stared at the ceiling of the quarters.
"Xena?" Gabrielle was frantic and trembled because of how swiftly all of this happened. She hadn't expected the fast jabs to really work. "Take this off," she demanded in a feared tone. She touched her partner's neck but the pressure points were dull or gone, she wasn't sure and became scared. "Xena?"
The Conqueror remained still other than her eyes occasionally blinking. She forgot to mention that she wouldn't be able to talk once she was paralyzed.
"Oh gods," the bard emotionally rasped. She moved her fingertips over the ruler's taut neck; it almost seemed like the ruler was being choked. The ruler's motionless position reminded her too much of when the Conqueror was paralyzed by the hemlock. "Okay, okay... I can do this." She judged where the pressure points were located, pulled her hands back, and hastily jabbed her targets.
The Conqueror's back slightly arched, and she inhaled until her lungs were completely full. She eased the tension in her body then closed her eyes.
Gabrielle cupped the ruler's cheek. "Are you okay? I'm sorry. I didn't think it'd-" She settled some when cool blue eyes gazed back at her.
"It's okay." The ruler covered the bard's hands with hers. "You did fine." She caught her breath then mentioned, "Not bad for your first try."
Gabrielle frowned and asked, "Can we skip the rest of the practice?"
Xena's lips curled into a grin. "For now."
The Amazon Queen was somewhat relieved so she lowered her forehead to her lover's chest. "You should have told me you couldn't talk."
"It slipped my mind," the ruler muttered. "I hardly use those pressure points when I interrogate."
Gabrielle faintly shook her head and tried to calm down.
The Conqueror slipped her arms around the bard. "It wasn't that bad."
Gabrielle placed her weight on the bed and the ruler. She turned her head to the side and explained, "It wasn't that... it just reminded me of when..."
Xena only needed a moment to catch onto what'd bothered Gabrielle so much about it. She sighed and murmured, "That's over, Gabrielle."
"Yeah well... I'm a little slower on the uptake sometimes... or is it the downtake," the bard rambled. She sighed sadly and closed her eyes. "Can we take a vacation from our vacation when we go back to Corinth?"
The Conqueror trailed her fingers over the bard's back. "We'll see." She wouldn't promise anything since she would possibly have to go to Britannia but right now wasn't the time to discuss it.
The western trip around the African coast didn't seem to last very long. Gabrielle spent most of waking hours training with her partner. Gabrielle perfected the pressure point. Then Xena instructed Gabrielle the basics on the dance of the three veils. The bard didn't think she could do it because of her lack of dance grace. The Conqueror, however, was determined to show Gabrielle and by sunset of the second day she was sitting on the foot of the bed and watched the bard's performance. The Conqueror had to admit, if Gabrielle was properly dressed as a wife and performed the dance, she would be spell bound too.
The third day, Xena woke Gabrielle fairly early and had her above deck all day in the hot sun. The bard wore her Amazon leathers but not her gauntlets, armbands, or jewelry as Xena instructed her. The Conqueror merely wore her black leathers and unattached her greaves from her boots. The Conqueror and Amazon Queen spent all day practicing hand to hand combat, which resulted in a very sore bard but better prepared.
During the practices, the Conqueror occasionally spotted Najara on deck and watched them. She refused to let Najara bait her or Gabrielle. Later on, Xavier surfaced on deck and observed them practicing. He was quite taken and often cheered the bard on to beat the Conqueror. Gabrielle didn't come close however her skills grew rapidly.
By sunset, Gabrielle was relieved to be finished. She never felt so worn and had never drunk so much water in one day. The Conqueror was proud of the bard's persistence to learn, and it made the Conqueror more confident about the bard going into Gurkhan's palace. She quietly promised the bard that she'd earned a massage for all her hard work. Gabrielle didn't refuse and hauled her partner below deck so she could claim her prize.
On the fourth day, the transport ship and triremes passed through the strait known as the Fretum Gaditanum; it was the shortest distance from the area of the realm, known as Hispania, to Africa. The Conqueror spent the next days teaching the bard certain Berber phrases that she may need, but she hoped that wasn't the case. Finally when they were coming close to Mogador, the Conqueror had the bard practice the pressure points one last time. Gabrielle had become much more comfortable with using them and effective. The evening of the sixth day of journey, the Conqueror ordered the triremes to stay out in the ocean and that the transport ship would rejoin them in two to three days.
Next, the Conqueror instructed Iolaus of her beginning plans then she prepared the bard for what rested ahead of her. She explained the general plan to hopefully bring Gurkhan out in the slave market, and Gabrielle was the ploy. Gabrielle readily agreed and knew that it may not work so she'd have to enter Gurkhan's palace.
The following day, the transport ship docked early in the morning at the Mogador port. Iolaus had changed into something less formal and donned more local, traditional clothes. He then ordered half of the squad to follow with him to the slave market. At the market, Iolaus discovered news that the auctioneer planned to sell slaves that afternoon. After the news, Iolaus hurried to the regular market and purchased the particular items that the Conqueror had requested.
It wasn't long before Gabrielle was seated on the foot of the bed, and her head was bowed. Her lover was almost finished with the neat, tight braids of her hair. The bard's hair was braided from the front to the partial back. Then she wore dark makeup around her eyes, and she had on a simple white, silk dress that had one shoulder strap. She wore plain, leather sandals. She finished off her attire with a white wrap over hear head.
The Conqueror stood up when the bard turned to her. "Remember, if you get in there keep your profile low. Don't attract attention to yourself. Don't forget what I've taught you. And when you get to Lila, try to speak to her alone."
Gabrielle nodded as she tried to put on a new mindset.
Xena placed her hands on the bard's shoulders. "You're going to see a lot. You'll be exposed." She arched an eyebrow for an emphasis to her words. "You can't let this defocus you from the mission." She tilted her head and murmured, "I won't be far."
"I know." The bard nodded once. "I'll be careful."
The Conqueror sighed then nodded. She leaned in for a long kiss, and she brushed the bard's cheek. She finally took the bard's wrap and used the end part to cover the bard's face. She clipped it in the back then ordered, "Let's go."
Gabrielle followed out of the quarters and went to the stairs that led above deck. She glanced back at her lover.
Xena nodded once but whispered, "Be safe."
The bard couldn't reply so she turned and climbed the steps. She went into the bright daylight where Iolaus waited for her.
The Conqueror turned and hurried down to the quarters. She retrieved her cloak then disappeared out of the room.
Iolaus and the five squad members marched down the gangplank with Gabrielle in the middle. Iolaus casually rested his hand on his sword hilt. He scanned the busy port but guided the group to the slave market. When they arrived, he approached the auctioneer behind the stage.
The slaver lifted his eyes from his parchment. "Yeah? What do you want?"
Iolaus stepped aside and grabbed Gabrielle's right arm. "Forward, wench." He tossed the bard towards the slaver. "The name's Superlius, and I have a choice specimen." He held out his hand to Gabrielle. "I'd like to know how much I can get for her." He lowered his hand and further informed, "She's a former Amazon." Iolaus removed Gabrielle's veil.
The slaver stood up from his chair and neared the well covered slave. "An Amazon? I thought there were none left." He grinned then took the slave's face into his hands.. "Very nice." He came behind the short woman. "She's quite small." He stopped behind her then suddenly removed her dress. "Not only beautiful but strong." He stood in front of the passive slave and took in her muscular stomach. "She'll be useful day and night. Yes, we should do very well with her."
Iolaus kept his eyes up and locked on the slaver. "I want seventy percent."
The slaver's head snapped to the small man. "I prefer sixty percent for me."
Iolaus narrowed his eyes then bartered, "Fifty-fifty."
The slaver rubbed his chin then glanced at the nude slave as to make his decision. "Alright." He then grinned at the small blond. "I can tell you who'll end up with her – Gurkhan, himself. He's got great taste in women."
Iolaus bit back his smirk as he nodded.
Gabrielle was soon redressed and shoved to the ground beside two other slaves.
"Uh oh... competition," one slave remarked.
The second slave leaned over and asked, "Competition? For what? To see who gets sold quickest to the biggest monster to do with as he pleases?"
The first slave, Sonata, replied, "Yeah. You make it sound like a bad thing."
The bard sat near the women and inquired, "Isn't it?"
Sonata raised an eyebrow at the newcomer. "Hey, in my village, the choices were marry a sober man or marry a drunk poor man. It was a toss up really. The sober man would be less likely to beat you, but the drunk man would be less likely to keep you pregnant all the time."
The second slave, Lana, sighed then softly mentioned, "At least you were around your family."
Sonata shook her head. "My father is dead, and my mother is a whore. I have no family. Now, I have a good shot at being bought by Gurkhan the Magnificent, the wealthiest man in the continent."
Gabrielle wanted to comment, but she held them all back.
"Girl!" Iolaus called to the bard, "Girl, come here!"
The bard kept her features dark, yet she stood up and neared the tetrarchès. She stayed close and softly asked, "Tell the Conqueror she won't be far from my thoughts."
Iolaus tilted his head, but he nodded discreetly.
"Hey!" the auctioneer hollered, "Hey, come on!" He waved for the small slave to follow him. He hauled her out onto the stage.
Gabrielle was pushed into center stage. She scanned the faces in the crowd and tried to guess which ones was Gurkhan.
The auctioneer signaled the new slave beside him. "And now for premium selection – a woman of such fire and beauty that a man, well, would have to be crazy not to want to take her home. From Greece, the green-eyed Amazon, magnificent to the eye as she will no doubt be to the touch." He stopped and listened to rounds of chatter. "Now, let's start the bidding at ten gold ducats."
Gabrielle listened to the opening bids and the auctioneer. Then a brief flash from high up caught her eye, and scanned the roofs just ahead.
The Conqueror waved her two soldiers on the other roofs to move carefully. She then reached to her side, extracted a long dart, and loaded it into her small crossbow. She rested flat on her stomach on the roof closest to the slave market. Her face was well hidden by the cloak, and the cloak helped her blend in with the black roof.
The Conqueror tilted her head then heard the auctioneer cry out Gurkhan's name. She targeted the man that'd bid, but something wasn't right. The auctioneer called Gurkhan's name again and pointed to a totally different man. There was a third and fourth... even a fifth, and the Conqueror kept targeting each man.
The auctioneer's fast words spun a web then he suddenly announced, "Sold to Gurkhan the Magnificent for two hundred twenty gold ducats!" He held his hand out to the seventh 'Gurkhan' and proudly stated, "What a prize he's won for himself."
Gabrielle clenched her teeth when Xena's first plan completely failed. She briefly glanced up at the small form hidden on the roof across the small market. She bowed her head and walked off stage.
The Conqueror cursed under her breath then muttered, "Very clever... but not clever enough." She signaled her two soldiers to disengage, and she did the same by crawling backwards.
To be continued...
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