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?
Write a Review: http://www.redhope.net/xena/review/series8-form.html
Started: March 5, 2007
Series 8: I, Stranger – Story #2
A Stranger in my Family
by Red Hope
Chapter 7 – Passage to Freedom
The Conqueror was bent over the small table, a quill in her right hand, and she carefully signed her name on a document. She paused and scanned her signature before she slipped the quill's shaft into the inkwell then straightened up.
Gurkhan had a thin smile now that he had an alliance with the Greek realm. He followed the old Greek tradition for any warrior; he held out his right arm.
The Conqueror gradually lifted her right arm and collapsed the slaver's arm tightly. She had bright blue eyes, and a deep smirk.
"To a better future than a past," Gurkhan commented.
The Conqueror released the man's arm then replied, "To a prosperous future for Mogador and the realm."
The slaver chuckled and started towards the closed office door. "It will be rich." He opened the door and guided the ruler through the maze like palace. "You will return to Greece?"
The ruler placed her hands behind her back but inside of her cape. She strolled along and kept a passive face. "Yes, we plan to set sail this evening."
"Hopefully Poseidon will be kind to you," Gurkhan commented.
"I pray too." The Conqueror passed a few palace guards, then she entered to the main foray. She faintly nodded at Iolaus, who waited for her. "We will be in touch, Gurkhan."
"Of course, Conqueror." The slaver bowed slightly. "Safe travels back to Greece."
The Greek ruler briefly bowed her head then turned to Iolaus. She signaled for him to go, and she led the way out of the palace.
Iolaus fell into step behind his leader, but he wouldn't speak until they were far from the palace. He noted that the Conqueror dropped her hands to her side and become highly dignified as they walked across the grounds to the main gates. He spotted Najara and her squad waiting for them by the gates.
The Conqueror passed through the iron gates when they opened for her. She ordered Najara and the squad to follow her back to the port.
Iolaus shifted to the ruler's side and patiently kept quiet until the ruler was ready.
The Conqueror's tense shoulders slowly loosened, and she peered down at her tetrarchès. "We'll return to the ship, but I want you and the captain to go out to the triremes. The mission will require about fifty soldiers."
Iolaus glanced back at the dekarchos and inquired, "Are we including the squad?"
"Yes." The Conqueror considered the numbers carefully and how many enemies they would face. She had all the information she needed to carry out her mission, and she explained it all to Gabrielle. She just needed the timing to be perfect or else it'd be costly.
"What of the Amazons?"
The ruler was briefly silent but finally replied, "They'll come with us. They'll escort Queen Gabrielle and her sister back to the ship."
Iolaus digested the plans, and he realized why the Conqueror planned to directly send Gabrielle back to the ship. He could not imagine how Gabrielle would respond to it because he suspected she may not know what else the Conqueror had in mind.
"We'll talk more about this when we get onboard," the ruler softly mentioned.
The tetrarchès understood that the plans were sensitive so he just nodded. He soon boarded the ship after the Conqueror, and they went below deck until they made it back into the quarters. He entered the Conqueror's quiet quarters then was told to take a seat by the small table.
The Conqueror didn't sit, and she had her head dipped in thought. "We're going to take a page out of Janice Covington's book."
Iolaus tilted his head and had slightly slotted eyes. "Infiltrate Gurkhan's palace?"
The Conqueror started a slow pace through her quarters while she spoke. "Yes." She glanced at the tetrarchès. "Alexio mentioned there's a back passage into the palace that we can use."
"It has to be guarded," Iolaus theorized.
"Mmmm." The Conqueror stopped and explained, "Lutalo will be there to let us in."
The tetrarchès recalled the third spy, who nobody had met yet. "Can we trust him, my liege? He his Gurkhan's soldier."
"I don't like it either," the ruler relented, "but time is thinning on us." She began to pace again. "The longer we wait the more endangered Gabrielle becomes."
"Once we get into the palace...?" Iolaus left the question open.
"I want you and Najara to get the wives out," the ruler ordered. She sensed that the tetrarchès still wanted more information, and she decided to agree to it. She halted her paces and simply stated, "The soldiers and I will sweep through the palace."
The tetrarchès bit his lower lip then his next words were cautiously brought out. "Are we to leave nobody behind?"
The Conqueror stepped closer to the high ranking soldier. She had a dark expression and icy blue eyes. "I want every one of Gurkhan's soldiers killed." She then had a faint snarl when she stated, "I'll deal with Gurkhan, personally."
Iolaus released a deep breath. "As you wish, my liege." He averted his eyes because no matter all the seasons, he still wasn't accustom to the darker side of the ruler.
The Conqueror moved away then casually announced, "Gurkhan will be an example to all the slavers."
Iolaus instantly thought of Gabrielle and what Gabrielle would think of Conqueror's pending act. He inwardly sighed because he hated to think of the bard's reaction. He hoped it wouldn't drive a wedge between them or maybe Gabrielle could stop it before it started. He faintly shook his thoughts away.
The Conqueror and Iolaus soon left the quarters after strengthening their plans. The Conqueror felt confident that the plans could be carried out tonight, and she wanted to be out of Mogador before Helios even thought about kissing the eastern horizon. The Conqueror disembarked the ship and ordered Najara and her squad to come with her. Then following the Conqueror were the Amazons, who didn't have too much of an idea what was happening beyond the fact that their queen would be free tonight.
Iolaus commanded the captain of the transport ship to leave port. The captain set sail for the mouth of the small harbor and went out into the ocean to meet the triremes. Once the transport ship joined the triremes, fifty Greek soldiers on the triremes would load onto the transport ship and hide below deck.
The Conqueror, Najara, the squad, and the Amazons spread out through the city of Mogador so that they wouldn't be overly notable. The Conqueror took residents at an inn then Najara and Vara joined her in the quiet room. She briefed them both about the mission tonight, and Vara did everything she could not to say something. She knew it was not her place. Vara could tell that Najara wasn't too thrilled with the plans, but like Vara, Najara was silent.
Vara eventually broke away from the meeting with the Conqueror and rejoined her fellow Amazons at tavern. She took the last open seat and ordered a drink.
Lacy waited until the barmaid was gone. She then quietly asked, "What's happening?"
Vara snorted and leaned against the table. "The Conqueror doesn't change much." She noted the Amazons' curious looks. "She plans to kill every person in that palace... all of Gurkhan's men."
Taren shook her head. "That is typical." She huffed and felt a bitter taste in her mouth.
Amarice, Grete, and Lacy had remained quiet, but it was Amarice that spoke first. "You have to cut her some slack."
Taren glanced at the young Amazon, who had been saved thanks to the Conqueror's efforts. She dropped her eyes and stared at the wood table.
"I wonder if the queen knows what the Conqueror plans to do," Lacy idly brought up.
"I doubt it." Vara smiled up at the barmaid, who gave her a mug. She told the barmaid that in a candlemark they'd want to put in a dinner order. She turned back to the group. "The queen won't be too happy."
"You know," Amarice suggested, "we should tell the queen."
Vara quickly looked at the younger Amazon. "Amarice, I wouldn't jump into that fire."
Amarice sighed and folded her arms. "If we tell the queen then she'll stop the Conqueror from doing it."
"And you can forget the Conqueror ever saving your feathers again," Taren joked.
Grete shook her head and studied Amarice. "You're better off not saying anything, Amarice. It's between the queen and the Conqueror."
"Grete is right," Vara agreed. "We just need to focus on getting the queen and her sister back to the ship."
"If some alarm is sounded while this is going on," Taren started, "this'll be turned up side down." She sighed and her shoulders dropped. "The Conqueror is being reckless with the queen's life."
"Well what's your idea?" Amarice challenged. "I mean the queen didn't exactly pick the safest mission."
Lacy chewed on her lower lip then murmured, "I'd done the same as the queen if that was my sister."
Vara quickly cut into the conversation before it turned into a debate. "Let's just focus on getting the queen back safely. We've already screwed up twice as it is."
Amarice hung her head at the memory from both occasions. She closed her eyes, but she felt Lacy's hand on her knee. She lifted her head and sadly smiled at Lacy's concern.
Lacy squeezed the young Amazon's knee then pulled her hand away. "We should get some cloaks to hide the queen and her sister. They'll most likely be recognized if they're wearing clothes from the palace."
Vara nodded then asked, "Taren, can you get us some cloaks?"
Taren touched the pouch on her side and detected she had some money. She glanced at Grete and Amarice. "Why don't you two come with me?"
Amarice and Grete stood up together, and they followed Taren out of the tavern.
Lacy glanced at Vara and softly mentioned, "I'm worried something will happen, Vara."
Vara sighed and shook her head. "I think it'll work out." She leaned back in her chair and considered the situation carefully. "As much as I can't believe I'm saying this... I think the Conqueror will do anything she has to, to keep the queen safe."
Lacy mulled it over then slowly nodded. "I think you're right." Then her eyes clouded over, and she wondered what the queen was doing right now. She couldn't imagine.
Gabrielle remained in the common room, and she shared idle chitchat with the other wives. She seemed relaxed and calm on the outside, but she was extremely tense. She'd briefly caught a glimpse of the Conqueror leaving the palace around late morning. It'd taken away some of her earlier security, yet she chided herself for depending on the Conqueror for such security. She now understood why the Conqueror had never mentioned the possibility of her arrival in the palace.
The bard now simply waited the day out until the sun would sink low and the stars came visible. She prayed Xena's plan to get her, Lila, and Sarah out would work right. She knew there were plenty of variables nor had she met this third spy, Lutalo. The Conqueror had only explained that Lutalo was being paid quite well to be the Conqueror's informant, and Lutalo would be in contact with the other spies. The other two spies would relay messages to Lutalo about the Conqueror's plans for tonight then it would go from there. Gabrielle knew it was mid afternoon, and she suspected that the Greek ruler had already spoken with the other two spies.
Sonata currently sat beside the Amazon. She was chatting away with Lana, yet she know the Amazon's distant stare. She stopped and touched Gabrielle's nearby knee. "Alessa?"
The bard didn't instantly respond to the name, but she caught up and half heartily smiled at the wife. "I'm sorry."
Sonata showed a concerned face. "Are you okay?" She tilted her head. "You haven't been yourself." She shifted on the large pillow she was seated on.
Gabrielle licked her parched lips then shrugged. "I think I'm tired is all."
Lana exchanged looks with Sonata because they knew that the Conqueror had kept the Amazon up late the last two nights. Lana, like the other wives, had heard rumor of the Conqueror's vociferous nights with the Amazon.
Sonata then grinned and teased, "I'd be exhausted too, Alessa."
Gabrielle took a beat to catch up to the joke then she subconsciously blushed.
Sonata leaned closer to the seated Amazon. "So what was she like in bed?"
The bard eyed the curious, grinning wife and challenged, "I thought she was too much of a murderer for you...?"
Sonata dropped her shoulders and reminded, "And I could imagine she wasn't for a couple of nights."
Lana shook her head then murmured, "I don't think I could be with another woman." Yet she became curious and questioned, "What is it like?"
The bard hadn't expected the conversation to go this route. The shade of pink deepened to a red on the bard's round cheeks. "Well..."
Sonata giggled and teased, "It must be good."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "It's... different." She slowly opened her eyes and met the wives' intrigued faces.
"Good or bad?"
The Amazon Queen gazed upon Sonata then softly replied, "Good."
Sonata smirked. "So we all heard." She leaned closer to the Amazon and urged, "What was it like?"
Gabrielle sensed a girl talk coming on, and she really didn't mind for some reason. She hadn't discussed her sexual relationship with anybody, and she somewhat happy to share it. "It's different than being with a man."
Lana giggled and shook her head. "We know that, Alessa. But how?" She waved her hands. "Not in the mechanical sense."
"Right," the embarrassed bard muttered. "Well... I... couldn't exactly say. I mean..." She lost her words when Sonata started to laugh loudly.
Sonata settled down then displayed a broad grin. "Wait... now I get it." She lowered her voice's volume. "You're an Amazon so you've never been with a man, right?"
Lana was wide eye when she pieced it together too.
The bard sighed and debated whether to answer, but she gave in and grinned. "Yes... pretty much." She closed her eyes and failed to hide her blush when Sonata started to cackle again. She then was grateful when Sonata stopped, and the wives urged her to talk about it. Gabrielle at first was slightly reluctant simply because she hadn't ever discussed it with anybody. She then became quite engrossed in the conversation when Sonata and Lana joined. She could tell they both were quite intrigued, and the group tried to do a comparison of the good and bad. Lana sided that being with a man was better, Sonata was between, and Gabrielle decided she'd probably never be with a man. Finally by the end of the debate, Gabrielle could tell she was winning Sonata over, and Gabrielle suspected that Sonata would give it a try at some point.
A candlemark after sunset, the wives were escorted into the dining room. They took various seats on the floor cushions and continued many of their conversations from earlier. Gurkhan was in his usual spot, and he had several guests again. He busied with them.
The first wife sat away from the wives, and she quietly ate. Occasionally she would glance down at the wives and briefly watched her sister. She hadn't privately spoken with Gabrielle since the first morning, but she had talked to the Conqueror. The Conqueror had disclosed the plans to her and informed her to stay close to Gabrielle when the time came.
Gurkhan discreetly waved for his number wife to come to him. He waited until she bent towards him, then he whispered something to her. He faintly heard his wife's breath catch, and he softly laughed.
The first wife could not refuse her husband's wishes. She mutely consented, then she straightened up. She bit the inside of her mouth briefly and went to the wives. She lifted her chin and coldly studied the lower wives. "Alessa," she started, "you are to dance for Gurkhan."
Gabrielle stiffened at the unexpected news. She could tell by Lila's eyes that something was going on, and she grew concerned. She slowly climbed to her feet and straightened out her sheer white skirt.
The first wife turned away and returned to her earlier spot on the upper floor. She heard her sister's light footfall over the stone floor and gradually Lila's stomach dropped lower.
Gabrielle took her position before Gurkhan and his guests. She waited until the mix changed to the appropriate melody then she began her slow and sensual dance. She tried to steel her fearful thoughts about what was going on or else she'd draw too much attention.
Gurkhan watched the erotic dance with open interest. He felt his pulse heightened, and he wanted his new wife tonight. He tilted his head and carefully watched the Amazon's trim stomach move about in a rhythmic motion.
The first wife carefully observed her husband's keen interest in his sister. She felt her jaw tightened and an aged anger bubbled up higher. Those steel eyes of hers became chilled.
Gabrielle danced closer towards Gurkhan, then she spun around so her back faced him. She moved her hips around in front of him then she twisted back around quickly just as Gurkhan tried to grab at her skirt. She had a flash of worry, but it washed away from her focus. She finally ended her dance then bowed out when Gurkhan gave his approval.
The dinner continued for another candlemark, then the wives were taken back to the common room for the rest of the night. The first wife returned to her room and spent some time with her daughter before she would be called away. She arranged for one of the servants to care for Sarah while she was away tonight.
Some time later, Lila heard a soft knock at the door. She was greeted by the servant that Gurkhan had obviously sent. She gave Sarah a soft kiss to her forehead then she carefully handed over her child to the female servant.
The servant smiled at the first wife, who she'd come to admire after all these seasons. She also adored the first wife's baby.
Lila thanked the servant then quietly left her bedchambers. She began the journey through the palace towards her destination. Her thoughts went out to her older sister.
Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair after just getting the braids out finally.
Sonata smiled at the seeming new hairstyle the Amazon sported. "You almost had those in too long."
The bard finished combing her hair with her fingers. "I know." She felt better to have the tight braids out, but she knew she'd need to wash it soon to completely get the braided look out. She was about to comment again, yet a guard's voice called her name.
"You are to come with me," the guard commanded.
Gabrielle sensed Sonata's worry, but she had no choice right now. She brushed her fingertips over Sonata's arm and walked past her. She ascended the stairs then fell into step behind the guard.
Sonata watched the Amazon go then she detected Lana beside her.
"She's going to experience her first man tonight," Lana sadly whispered.
Sonata dropped her head and her heart went out to the Amazon.
Gabrielle silently followed the guard, who would not speak to her. She considered whether it was Lutalo or not, but she decided it wasn't him. She realized she was headed back towards the palace that held all the bedchambers. Her earlier fears quickly returned.
The guard stopped at the only double door that was at the end of some hallway. He opened the right door, held it, and waited until the wife passed. He then closed it.
Gabrielle cautiously entered the well lit room, and she stopped by the door. She was clearly stunned at the scene before her.
On the large, blue covered bed was Gurkhan on his back and clothed. Then Lila was straddling his hips and had just come up from a kiss. Gurkhan lifted his head when he heard the entrance, and he gazed past his number one wife. He grinned at the new wife. Lila twisted around, and studied her shocked sister.
"Join us, little one." Gurkhan held out his left hand in a receptive manner.
Gabrielle thought her knees would give out under her. Her heart tried to jump from her chest, and Gabrielle felt her world go out of control.
Lila quickly moved from Gurkhan and came off the bed. She'd grown hardened emotions over the long moons since her enslavement and the current situation did not outwardly shock her. Lila cautiously neared her sister, held up her right hand, and coaxed, "Come with me, Alessa."
Gurkhan now sat up and had his hands behind him to hold his body up. He had a dark grin.
Gabrielle looked away from Gurkhan and focused on her calm sister. She saw her sister's held up palm, and she couldn't do anything but place her hand into Lila's.
Lila felt her hand match her sister's in a perfect hold. She stepped closer, leaned in, and brought her lips close to Gabrielle's ear. "Our chance is now." She pulled back then turned.
The bard's steps match her sister's. She went to the bed, and her mind started to process Lila's whispered words. She met the bed, closed her eyes, and mentally cried out for the Conqueror to be here and now.
At the other end of the palace, the Conqueror was currently in the passageway and held the door open. She briefly glanced at the three dead soldiers she'd already killed.
The Greek soldiers flowed into the passageway and quickly moved as they'd been instructed. After they all squeezed into the torch lit passageway, the Amazons hurried in last and scanned around for their queen, who was not here.
"Conqueror?" a man called.
The Conqueror had resealed the passage door and turned to the soldier that was Gurkhan's. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Where are they, Lutalo?"
Lutalo pushed back his helmet and mentally braced himself. "I couldn't retrieve them, Conqueror." He tensed at the ruler's already dark features. "They're with Gurkhan... and the first wife's daughter is in her room."
The Conqueror almost exploded there as her plans started to crack. She quickly recalculated everything then ordered down to Iolaus. "You and Najara get the wives. Go now." She then turned back the Amazons. "Stay here and guard the passage door."
"Do it," the Conqueror snarled. She ignored the Amazons after that then ordered to her fifty soldiers. "I want ten men with me. The rest of you, fan out and secure the palace."
The soldiers took their commands then quickly moved down the passageway that Iolaus and Najara had already disappeared down.
"Take me to Gurkhan," the Conqueror ordered the spy.
Lutalo nodded then hurried down the passageway. "Time is everything now." He moved quickly, but he knew they'd have to be quiet once they came into the main part of the palace.
The Conqueror waved for her ten men to follow her. Her stride was long, and her cape flowed behind her.
The Amazons were left behind and exchanged worried glances. Taren shook her head and stared at the three dead palace guards off to the right. "This is just great."
"We should find the queen," Amarice commented.
"Just stay put," Taren snapped. "Somebody does need to stay here and watch the door." She started to pace though because she didn't like waiting around.
Back in Gurkhan's bedchambers, Gabrielle had just climbed onto the bed and kicked off her sandals. She slowly crawled towards Gurkhan and her sister. Then she thought she'd be sick there when she watched Gurkhan draw down the first wife for a long kiss.
Lila used the kiss to encourage Gurkhan as she knew he loved it. She couldn't let him know anything was wrong. She pulled away from the kiss then urged her sister closer.
Gurkhan then sat up and touched the Amazon's right cheek. He coaxed her to come closer.
The bard clamped down on her emotions and told herself to forget what was happening. She closed her eyes and pictured the Conqueror when her lips met Gurkhan's. Yet Xena's image was shattered when Gurkhan's mustache tickled her lips. Then her stomach lurched at how the kiss was so foreign and cold.
Gurkhan pulled away from the kiss. He studied the two wives, and he grinned. He sat up some more then lifted his hands. He held the wives' chins and turned their heads to each other.
Lila knew what her husband was demanding, and her resolve started to shatter. She couldn't do this. She closed her eyes when she felt that anger return.
Gabrielle saw the mix of anger and fear in Lila's eyes when those gray eyes fluttered opened. She quickly tried to think of something to stop this. Gabrielle's thoughts were as frantic as her heartbeat, yet she leaned in closer to Lila.
Gurkhan smirked when the wives' lips were so close. He had hooded eyes, and he intently watched with pure excitement.
Gabrielle swiftly moved away from Lila, and for the first time since she came into this room, she acted instead of reacted. She growled and shot out her hands at the slaver's lower throat.
Lila gasped when Gurkhan became stiff and fell back into the bed. She peered over at her shaken sister.
Gabrielle exhaled her nerves and looked to her sister. "Don't worry... he can't move or talk."
The first wife was still stunned, and she stared down at the paralyzed slaver. "What..."
"Come on, that's the least of our problems right now." Gabrielle held out her hand to her sister. "Xena should be in the palace any heartbeat."
Lila took her sister's hand then quickly moved off the bed.
Gurkhan couldn't move or say anything, but he was listening. He felt the life drain out of him when the new wife mentioned the Conqueror's name. He also didn't like the fact that the Amazon said the Conqueror's name so plainly. Gurkhan knew this wife was undoubtedly with the Greek ruler, but he was a paralyzed duck now.
Gabrielle and Lila hastened to the door, and they weren't sure what they'd do once they were out of the room. The bard reached for the door's handle and just as she was going to pull, the door shoved open. The sisters jumped back in shock and fear that they'd been caught already.
The Conqueror suddenly filled the room and stood in a tall fury. She instantly took in her partner and Lila which calmed her slightly. "Are you okay?" She briefly glimpsed at the unmoving slaver.
"We're fine," the bard replied. "I... I used that pinch on him."
The Conqueror slightly grinned and remarked, "So I see." Instantly her grin was gone. "It's time to go."
"No argument here," the bard muttered.
"I have to get Sarah," the first wife spoke.
The Conqueror nodded then back stepped slightly. She looked to her nine soldiers – one had already been killed in a small skirmish. "I want you to take Queen Gabrielle and her sister to get the child."
One soldier stepped forward. "It'll be done, my liege."
"See that they're not harmed or else," the ruler coldly warned. She then felt a small hand on her arm so she turned to her partner.
"Where are you going?"
The Conqueror faintly arched an eyebrow, but her eyes went to Gurkhan then back to Gabrielle. "I have a debt to pay."
Gabrielle only needed a heartbeat to interpret what Xena meant. She stepped closer and kept her voice low so that the soldiers wouldn't hear her. "You're not going to kill him." The only response she had was silence. "Xena, that's murder."
"No, it's justice," the ruler argued.
"Xena, please," the bard softly begged, "Don't do this."
Lila carefully studied the chemistry between the dark ruler and her sister. She'd heard fragments of the conversation, and she doubted her sister would win. She couldn't imagine Gabrielle having any type of position in the relationship.
The Conqueror knew they needed to go and there was no time to argue. She had to head this off even if it'd be costly later. "Let me adjust the pressure points on him... otherwise he'll suffocate slowly."
Gabrielle briefly studied the blue eyes above her then she nodded.
"Go get Sarah. I'll meet you there." The Conqueror stepped back once.
Gabrielle's hand slid off the ruler's strong arm. She took Lila's hand then tugged her out of the room. She glanced back at the dark ruler.
The Conqueror stood motionless and waited until her lover and Lila were protectively swarmed by the soldiers. She then turned her head to the left and stared at the gasping slaver. She revealed a predatory grin.
Gurkhan's eyes became wider as the Conqueror's dark features filled his view. He wanted to speak and plead with the ruler, but he knew it wouldn't have mattered anyway. His fate was sealed.
The Conqueror stood beside the bed and bent over. She cocked her head and quietly informed, "We'll meet again, Gurkhan... in Hades." She swiftly moved her hands.
Gurkhan could briefly breathe then there were sharp stabs to his upper throat; just under his chin. He realized he could talk and move, but now he couldn't really breathe. "No," he rasped.
The Conqueror said nothing, quickly turned, and marched out of the bedchambers. She shoved open the slightly parted doors then hurried down the halls to Lila's room.
Gurkhan clawed at his throat, but his eyes started to roll back and blood was trickling from out of his nose. He dropped his hands to his throat. Gurkhan's body went still.
The Conqueror soon made it to Lila's bedchambers and spotted the sisters coming out with Sarah neatly tucked in Lila's arm. "Are we ready?"
Gabrielle pulled the servant slave, who had been taking care of Lila's baby. "She's coming too."
The ruler warningly looked at her lover, yet she wouldn't bother to fight this at all. She nodded and ordered, "Come on." She waved the soldiers to follow.
Gabrielle adjusted the pack she had on her back. It contained some of Lila's possessions.
The small group weaved through the palace and went down several long corridors. When they made a sharp right turn, they ran into a small problem.
The Conqueror was leading, and she grinned when three of Gurkhan's guards spotted them. She grabbed for her chakram then easily threw it on a perfect track to the guards.
The guards had their swords out already, and they raced for the intruders. They abruptly stopped when the flying weapon came at them. They released a few shouts when the chakram broke one sword, hit another guard unconscious, and bounced off the wall.
The chakram returned to its owner and was neatly snatched out of midair.
Gabrielle had carefully watched her lover use the weapon. She'd never seen it used until now, and she was absolutely dazzled. She'd always wondered what the chakram was capable of, but this was beyond her bardic imagination.
The two standing guards kept their swords up and stared at the dark Greek ruler. The guard with the broken sword dropped his then back peddled. The other guard decided to follow suit. He turned and broke into a sprint.
The bemused ruler shook her head and continued down the hallway. She carefully stepped over the unconscious guard then continued.
"We need to make the next right, Conqueror, " Lutalo informed from behind.
The Conqueror recalled the route, but she was grateful for Lutalo's reminder.
In the dim passageway, the Amazons nervously waited, yet they made out a faint running sound. They grew more anxious and Vara ordered everybody to draw swords. She wasn't sure.
Vara stepped in front of her comrades. She lifted her sword as the shadowy figures hurried down the hallway.
"Vara," called a warm voice.
Vara lowered her sword when she heard the queen's voice. "Thank Artemis." She sheathed her sword behind her back and approached the group. "Are you alright, my queen?"
The two groups merged into one, and the Amazons tried to get closer to the queen.
Gabrielle smiled at her Amazons. "I'm fine."
"Is this your sister?" Amarice spoke up.
"We'll do introductions later, Amarice." Gabrielle gave an apologetic look then peered up at her partner beside her.
The Conqueror fully agreed with Gabrielle's words. "The Amazons are going to take you and Lila back to the ship."
"What about you?"
The ruler wasn't use to being questioned in situations like this. She tried to keep her patience so she replied, "I'm going to check on Iolaus. He and Najara are getting the wives."
Gabrielle bit her lip because she wanted to stay with her sister as well as the Conqueror. She knew her partner could much better defend herself than Lila could protected herself.
The Conqueror sensed the internal struggle in her partner. She touched the bard's shoulder. "Please go so I know you're safe from here."
Gabrielle relented, but asked, "Be careful?"
"Promise." The Conqueror stepped away. "I'll see you in a bit."
The Amazon Queen urged her quiet sister forward. She traded a worried look with her partner, yet she knew it was safer this way. She sensed her Amazons surrounding her and Lila so she went towards the passageway door.
The Conqueror ordered her men to guard the door. She then hurried down the passage.
Gabrielle was given a cloak to hide her flashy and revealing outfit. She was grateful that her Amazons had thought this out and done the same for Lila. She then slipped out of the door when Taren opened it. She stepped out and walked into a very dark alleyway. She felt her stomach knot at the eerie surroundings, but she suspected they were somewhere in the city.
Vara slipped past everybody and softly ordered, "This way to the port." She moved quickly down the dim alley and came out onto a larger street.
The Amazons clumped around the queen and Lila. They kept their eyes open for anything out of the ordinary, however, they expected little problems at this time of night.
Lila stayed close to her sister. She checked on Sarah, who was still asleep. She prayed that Sarah would stay asleep all the way to the ship. She kept her baby neatly tucked in her arms and used the cloak to keep her warm.
Gabrielle glanced down at Sarah and smiled some. She peered up at Lila. "How is she?"
The slave that'd joined them eased closer to the first wife. "She fell asleep a little after you left the bedchambers."
Lila nodded, then she smiled at the servant. "Thank you, Akia."
The slave, Akia, returned the smile. She understood that the first wife was grateful for all her loyal services over the seasons. Akia had grown quite fond of the first wife, who'd been mostly open with her than anybody else. Akia at first thought that the first wife was a cold and angry woman, yet she found out otherwise when Sarah was born.
Lila looked to her sister and softly asked, "They call you queen...?"
The bard was struck blindly by the question. She realized that her sister knew little of her life just as Gabrielle knew little about Lila's life. She couldn't begin to guess how much catching up her and Lila had to do. "Yes."
Lila was amazed, and she observed the Amazons, who were dressed in leathers and carried swords. She couldn't imagine how her older sister became the queen of the Amazons. She also didn't know how Gabrielle had become so close to the Conqueror. She suspected there would be a good story involved, and Lila recalled how well Gabrielle could tell a story when they were kids. The memories of Gabrielle telling her stories to put her to sleep came back to Lila, and she wistfully smiled.
Gabrielle glanced over and caught the smile on her sister's face. "What is it?"
Lila broke from her memories and glanced at Gabrielle. "I'm just remembering our childhood."
The Amazon Queen was touched, and she placed her hand on Lila's back. "Now we have our future together."
Lila smiled and peered down at her sleeping daughter. Yes, she silently agreed, they had their entire future ahead of them now. Shortly, Lila spotted the port that she hadn't truly seen since she'd first arrived in Mogador by a slaver ship. She always believed that if she saw the port again that it'd meant the Fates were angry with her again and planned to send her to a worse slave owner. She never imagined that the ship that awaited for her meant her freedom.
Vara glanced back at her queen. "We're almost there."
Gabrielle simply nodded, but she had plenty of questions. They would have to just wait until they were onboard. She kept thinking about the Conqueror and wondered how her partner was making out back in the palace.
The Conqueror was currently pleased as the palace was now secure. Her soldiers had mostly taken all of Gurkhan's guards by surprise, and they were tied up in various spots. Originally the Conqueror had given orders to have the guards all killed, yet she belayed the orders after she considered what Gabrielle would say. It'd initially been hard for the Conqueror to clamp down on her old rage she felt against Gurkhan. Yet she managed once she realized the guards were following orders much like her men would do for her.
The Conqueror hurried down the passageway and grew agitated because of the clamor from the large group of wives. "Be silent," she hotly ordered to them.
The wives' voices faded out rapidly, and they turned heads to the dark ruler. The wives that were closest to the ruler gasped. They reigned over their fears and trusted that the ruler would save them from the palace, from Gurkhan.
"You have a choice," the Conqueror announced, "you're welcomed to board my transport ship and be taken to Greece. Or else you can remain here in Mogador."
Iolaus scanned the wives exchanged looks, but he mostly heard Greece between the women's lips. He gazed down at the Conqueror and caught the ruler's raised eyebrow. He discreetly nodded then turned to Najara on his right. "We're going to split up into small groups. Three soldiers per wife."
The dekarchos quickly understood and began the orders to get the groups broken up with each wife. Iolaus helped her.
The Conqueror had several soldiers behind her, who had returned from their duties in the palace. She wanted to get out of the palace before the shift rotation began in the palace. As soon as the new shift of guards came to the palace, it could be messy. She discovered that there was no wife that wished to remain in Mogador, which did not surprise her. There was nothing in Mogador for these women but slavery.
Sonata shoved through the clump of wives and stood before the Conqueror.
The Greek ruler eyed the woman that had some bravado.
"There's still one wife left in the palace – my friend Alessa."
The Conqueror's cold composure slightly softened when she realized this wife held a friendship with her partner. She hushed her voice and stated, "She and the first wife have already left the palace. They should be aboard my ship by now."
Sonata surveyed the ruler briefly, then she nodded. "We have your word that we're freewomen? That solider..." She pointed at Iolaus. "Said that we do, but I want to hear it from the ruler of the realm."
The Conqueror admired the woman's abrasive manner. "You have my word." She then heard the passage door opening. "It is time to go." She signaled the men behind her to press forward. "Stay close."
Najara and Iolaus quietly ordered each group out at certain intervals. They didn't want a constant stream of people coming out of the passageway into the dark alley or else it'd draw too much attention. Finally they came to the last group, which was the Conqueror and fifteen soldiers.
The Conqueror looked to her remaining men then at Iolaus and the dekarchos. "Go ahead. I will catch up."
The tetrarchès guessed what the ruler may be up to now. He commanded the fifteen soldiers to break up into five groups. Once he had them out the door, he, Najara, and the Conqueror slipped out into the alley last. Iolaus silently closed the door then faced the ruler.
The Conqueror collapsed the tetrarchès's glowing armor. "I'll be there in quarter of a candlemark. See that the captain has the ship prepared to sail."
"Yes, my liege."
The dekarchos was halfway down the alley but waited for Iolaus.
"Be safe," Iolaus softly added.
The Conqueror's grin flashed in the moonlight. "You too."
Iolaus didn't wait any longer then hurried off to Najara. He and the dekarchos quickly walked out onto the torchlit street and made their way back to port.
The Conqueror inhaled deeply then took a few running steps. She catapulted and swallowed her warcry before it sounded out from her lips. She neatly landed on the rickety rooftop to her right, but she moved quickly towards Gurkhan's palace. She wanted to check the shift rotation.
Back on the Greek transport ship, Queen Gabrielle was almost squeezing the life out of the handrail. She now spotted the rushing dekarchos and tetrarchès, but she didn't see her lover. She grew worried and met the two soldiers at the top of the gangplank. "Where is she?"
Iolaus stepped off the plank but first ordered Najara to check the men. Once Najara was away, he turned back to the concerned Amazon Queen. "There's a shift rotation in the palace. She planned to keep an eye on things until we had the ship prepared. She's concerned Gurkhan's guards will sound the city alarm about our presence."
"But Mogador already knows the Conqueror is here," the bard objected.
"And we've trespassed," the tetrarchès reminded. He didn't want to add that the Conqueror had most likely killed Gurkhan which would stir up more trouble than anything. "She'll be here soon, Gabrielle, but I have to speak to the captain."
The bard relented and stepped out of Iolaus's way. "Thank you, Iolaus."
The soldier squeezed the young woman's arm and whispered, "She'll be safe, Gabrielle. If anybody can handle any kind of situation it is the Conqueror."
Gabrielle solemnly smiled. "I know. Go, please." She pressed him towards the bridge deck. Once he was gone, she gazed back towards the city and prayed her lover was safe. Earlier she'd seen to the wives and instructed them to be taken below where it'd be safer. Sonata had tried to corner her and question her, but Gabrielle promised she'd explain it all later.
The bard then had taken Lila down to her and Xena's quarters for now. She could tell Lila was very exhausted, and Sarah would probably wake up shortly from hunger. Gabrielle hoped that Lila would feed Sarah then the mother and daughter could doze off together in the large bed.
The Amazon Queen slightly jumped when the sailors had the main sail down. She heard the large ropes that held the ship to the dock had become taut from the wind's draw. She stepped up to the rail and held it tightly. Where was Xena, and what was she thinking in staying behind like this?
Gabrielle became increasingly worried when the heartbeats felt like candlemarks. She went to the gangplank again then silently went down it without anybody's notice. She stepped off the plank and gazed about the dead port. She folded her arms over her chest when the sea breeze came around her. "Come on, Xena." Then she spotted a dark shadow moving from a small alley.
Gabrielle touched the gangplank's rail and feared whether it was her lover or not. She started to think better about leaving the ship without some security. Then her breath caught when weapons reflected in the sliver of moonlight, and the shadow took on a woman's shapely form.
The Conqueror quickly approached her lover and stated, "You should be onboard."
"I was worried."
The ruler slightly calmed, but she wanted to get out of here. "Let's get on board." She hurried the bard up the plank.
"Was an alarmed sounded?"
The Conqueror glanced over her right shoulder when there was a surge of horns from the center of the city. "Yes," she remarked.
"Oh Hades," the bard shouted. She decided a run would be much better at this moment. She bounded up the plank with her lover on her heels. Gabrielle only had a heartbeat to conclude why Mogador would be so concerned about the Conqueror trespassing. She decided it must be some strict law in Mogador because suddenly the city seemed to come to life from the horns.
"Get the lines!" the Conqueror hollered to the captain.
The sailors were responding, and they came to the gangplank. Two sailors first helped Gabrielle off then they prepared to take up the plank once the Conqueror was off.
"Stop there!" called out a man's voice from the bulkhead dock. He wielded a sword and raised it at the large transport ship.
The Conqueror grabbed the rail and gazed at the Mogadorian soldier, who had several soldiers with him.
"Return to port!" the soldier commanded. "Or we will attack." He knew in several beats that the moving ship would be too far away.
The Conqueror grunted and yelled, "Attack if you wish to make an enemy of the realm!" She then spotted several squads of soldiers marching down the alleys to join at the port.
The soldier wasn't deterred by the threat then ordered his men to pull out their crossbows.
The Conqueror narrowed her eyes, but she heard that distinct sound of arrows loading into crossbows. "Gabrielle-"
"What are they-"
"Gabrielle," the Conqueror snarled. She turned and followed her instincts. She scooped up the bard into her arms then hunched to the deck with her cape covering the bard's entire body. "Stay down." She then lifted her head and hollered, "Arrows! Take cover!"
Gabrielle gripped the ruler's body, hid her face in Xena's neck, and closed her eyes. She heard the rain of whistles over her head, but she was completely safe under the ruler's body. She feared though that her partner would take an arrow in the back or worse. Then she heard a deep hiss from her lover so she demanded, "Are you okay?"
"Fine," the ruler remarked after the whistles stopped. She dared to get up, yet she kept the bard behind her body. She had a sneer at the Mogadorian soldiers far back at the port's edge. She knew they would probably fire once more, but the transport ship was almost becoming too far.
Suddenly the Conqueror's head snapped to the right when she heard that low whistle. She shot out her right hand and halted an arrow from almost piercing Gabrielle's right chest.
Gabrielle stared at the arrowhead that was a pous from going through her breast. She peered up at her angry lover and thanked Xena for her quick reflexes.
The ruler snapped the arrow's shaft and tossed it into the water. She ripped her chakram free, neared the rail, and aimed at the soldiers on the dock. She gave a sharp cry when she threw her weapon.
The soldiers all shouted at once when the chakram either cut through their crossbows or their fingers. The injured soldiers fell to their knees and clenched their fingerless hands. The leader soldier was shocked, but he angrily waved his sword at the fleeing Greek ship. He cried out something acidly in Berber this time.
The Conqueror stretched out her hand and caught the somewhat bloody weapon. She swiftly cleaned it with her cape then hooked it back at her side. She turned to her partner. "Are you okay?"
The bard nodded but asked, "Are you?"
"I'm fine." The ruler shifted her weight to her left leg mostly. She then glanced at the captain at the helm, then she focused on her partner again. "Go below deck. I'll be down in a bit."
Gabrielle knew best not to argue. She did mention, "Lila is in our room. I'll put her into that room across from ours."
"It should be empty," the ruler agreed. "Go on down."
The Amazon Queen silently consented. She wanted to touch Xena and make sure she was okay. She could tell by Xena's current state that it wouldn't be the right moment. She bowed her head slightly then turned and headed for the small doorway to the lower decks.
The Conqueror released her held breath, then she twisted her head to the right. She peered down at her calf and slotted her eyes at the arrow shaft sticking out of her calf muscle. She simply knelt down onto her left knee then reached around with both hands. She then sensed a presence in front of her.
Iolaus listened to the snap of wood then he observed the broken arrow shaft in the ruler's hand when she stood up. He tilted his head yet waited.
The Conqueror rolled the shaft between her fingers and studied the red feathers. She lowered her hand with the shaft and focused on her tetrarchès. "We'll wait until midday before we raft with the triremes."
The soldier understood that the ruler wanted to be clear of Mogador before stopping. He didn't like much having all the soldiers on the transport ship, but it'd have to do until they could transfer them back to the triremes.
"How are the wives?"
Iolaus cleared away his thoughts. "I placed them four to a quarters. It's tight, but it'll do until we get to Corinth."
The Conqueror silently consented. "The queen's sister will be in the quarters across from ours." She watched the tetrarchès's nod. "I don't want her disturbed... she has a child."
"I understand, my liege." The tetrarchès hadn't heard of any children, but it made him all that more concerned. "What of Gurkhan?"
The Conqueror felt the arrow shaft's feather tip brush her leg, and she moved it away. "He's in Hades by now."
Iolaus placed his hands on his bronze hips. "The slaver is a slave to the underworld," he commented.
"So I suspect too," the ruler agreed. Then her memories of Tartarus passed her, but she ignored her fate that still waited for her when her final day would come. "That was not the cleanest operation we've performed."
Iolaus's lips puckered between thoughts and memories of previous missions he and the Conqueror had performed. "No, but it got us the results we wanted."
"Yes." The Conqueror slightly grinned and muttered, "I prefer more creativity though."
Iolaus chuckled and dipped his head to hide his amusement.
"Let's speak to the captain together."
Iolaus nodded and stepped aside. He waited until the Conqueror tossed the arrow shaft overboard, then they walked towards the bridge deck. He ascended the steps after the ruler.
The talk with the captain was quick, yet specific too. The Conqueror wanted the transport ship would join the triremes in a few candlemarks, then the Greek vessels would continue north towards the realm. The Conqueror wanted the course to keep the ships closer to the realm's waters incase there was some unexpected problems from Mogador. She doubted though that Mogador would hunt them down since Mogador had such a meager navy.
After the discussion ended, the Conqueror and the tetrarchès headed below deck. They silently passed soldiers that milled about in boredom until they could be returned to their respective trireme. When they came to the quarters area, Iolaus stopped and stepped closer to the ruler than normal.
The Conqueror arched an eyebrow at the soldier's concerned features. She could tell something was on his mind.
Iolaus peered up into icy blue eyes. He knew the bounds between him and his leader, but he still cared enough anyway. "Be sure to have your leg cared for, my liege." He left it at those simple words.
The Conqueror hesitated between a cold remark and being gentler. She didn't give into either one, but she just collapsed the tetrarchès's smaller shoulder. She patted once, turned, and started down the hallway towards her quarters. The remaining arrow shaft protruded from the ruler's rear calf, and blood oozed around it and trailed down over her leather boot.
Iolaus shook his head and didn't bother to guess how the ruler managed without a limp. He turned and felt his high lifted shoulders sink down. He expelled a silent breath then started down the hall. He felt a faint smile touch his lips because it turned out alright after all.
Gabrielle was seat in the chair next to the small table that was anchored to the floorboards. She was slumped in her chair, right elbow on the chair arm, and her forehead sunk into her hand. She heard the door open, and she peered up with drowsy features. She softly smiled at seeing her partner again.
The Conqueror approached her slumped lover and asked, "Did you get Lila into the other quarters?"
"Yes," Gabrielle softly replied. "I think she and Sarah passed out as soon as they hit the bed." She straightened up soon and dropped her arm. "Is everything okay above deck?"
"Everything will be quiet until noon high."
Gabrielle had a confused looked.
"We need to raft with the triremes so that that the soldiers can disembark the transport ship."
The bard now understood so she nodded. "We can sleep until then." She mustered a grin, but it evaded her mostly. "How long 'til dawn?"
"I suspect in three candlemarks," the ruler estimated. She studied the bard's worn features, and she felt the same way inside. "Come on, Gabrielle." She held out her hand in offer.
The bard faintly smiled and took the larger hand. She climbed to her feet with little effort. She edged closer to her lover and touched a chiseled, warm cheek. "Thank you for everything, Xena."
The ruler softened from her usual cold demeanor. "It was a bit messy on my part."
Gabrielle could tell her partner wasn't happy about that aspect, but to her it didn't matter. "Everybody is safe, and we're headed back to Greece. I don't think that qualifies as messy."
"Perhaps," the Conqueror muttered.
The bard shook her head and teased, "Perfectionist."
The Conqueror quirked a grin then retorted, "Well I have a reputation to uphold that a certain bard manifested."
"I did not manifest a thing," the bard argued. "And now that I know what that round thingy does, I have plenty more to add to my next story."
"Chakram," the ruler supplied.
"Bless you," the bard thoroughly teased. Gabrielle giggled at the ruler's narrowed but twinkling blue eyes. She could tell she was coaxing Xena back out of the Conqueror. "You'll have to spell that for me later."
The Conqueror rolled her eyes and decided to dissect herself from the bard. She headed for the washroom, but a small hand halted her attempt.
Gabrielle touched the ruler's opposite cheek and drew her down.
Xena's hardened resolve cracked under her lover's sweet lips. She slightly withdrew but hoarsely asked, "He didn't..."
Gabrielle needed a beat to catch up to what the ruler's broken question was. She sighed and traced her lover's taut jawline. "No. I put the pinch on him before anything really happened."
The ruler felt her chest lower and released her apprehension. "Good." She then felt a pulse of pain go up her right leg from the arrowhead still being embedded. She needed to remove it before it decided to get infected. "Get ready for bed."
The bard nodded and mentioned, "I'm going to check on Lila real quick." She moved away from her partner and headed to the door. She quietly opened the door and slipped out.
The Conqueror quickly pulled out the medical kit from her personal belongings. She hefted the kit then disappeared into the washroom, which was already lit by the lamp light. She was going to need some time to deal with the wound.
Xena had her dagger out, and the tip was cutting around the arrow's entrance. She was knelt down beside the water basin, and she clenched the iron pipe that was connected the basin. She'd already cut away the leather from the backside of her boot. The wound just needed to be open wider so she could rip out the arrowhead.
Gabrielle quietly slipped into the bedroom after she'd found her sister and Sarah fast asleep. She'd stood there for a bit and just watched her sister sleep. She couldn't believe it was all real now, but it was and only because of the Conqueror. Several tears had slipped free earlier, and Gabrielle's cheeks were still slightly damp.
The bard figured her partner was in the head. So Gabrielle milled about to get ready for bed. She never felt more exhausted or any happier all at once. She moved slowly and wigged into a clean, soft nightshift.
The Conqueror kept her head back, jaw locked, and her eyes closed. She held her silence while the arrowhead slowly gave way and came free. Finally the arrowhead tore out of the ruler's calf and left behind almost a drachma size hole.
The heavily breathing ruler lifted the bloody arrowhead that still had a piece of the shaft left. She bitterly stared at the red arrowhead and the blood that oozed over her fingertips. "Bastards," she muttered.
"Xena?" Gabrielle wandered over to the bed. She sat on the end and pressed her pressure point on her left wrist.
"I'll be out in a beat," the ruler called. She'd taken a seat on the wood stool, which was nailed to the floor near the wall. She quickly worked to pack salt into the open wound then rubbed balm around it. "How was your sister?"
The Amazon Queen lowered down onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. "She and Sarah were asleep. They're pretty worn out." She closed her eyes. "I think we all are."
The Conqueror couldn't agree more. She'd painstakingly removed her boot and now carefully wrapped the wound. "Well, we have plenty of time to rest until we return to Corinth."
Gabrielle chuckled, yet she went serious when she considered how long it would take. "Um... how long?"
Xena grinned at her lover's concerned tone. She decided to have some fun with the bard. "If the winds are kind then we'll make it to Corinth in a moon and half."
The Amazon Queen rocketed straight up from the bed. "A moon and half?" She blinked and tried to guess whether her lover was serious. "What are we doing? Going south around Africa... the long cut?"
The Conqueror stood up after she finished the wrap and removed her other boot. She went to the washbasin and cleaned the blood from her hands. "I thought you'd like the scenic route, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle was fairly sure her partner was tormenting her. "Uh no."
Xena picked up her boots, the medical kit, and strolled into the dim bedroom. "You said you wanted a vacation from your vacation." She shrugged and bent beside her tangled mess of bags with Gabrielle's.
"Funny, funny." Gabrielle shook her head then crawled up into the bed. She flopped on top of the cool sheets. "I've had enough vacation and enough water. Right about now, I think my job is looking more like vacation." She then grunted after her own joke.
The Conqueror soon was in her black nightshift. She collected her chakram and sword from the small table where she'd set it. She came over to the bed, hooked her chakram through her sword's cross-guards, and propped the sheathed sword against the wall.
Gabrielle peered up at her lover and sleepily smiled at her.
Xena grinned at the drowsy smile given to her. She then lifted the covers and ordered, "Get under." She waited until the bard was comfortably under the covers, then she slipped in next. "I had plans for tonight."
The bard's head shot up, and she carefully inspected her lover's passive expression. "Well, I don't know what your plans are, but I plan to sleep. So if you could keep it down, that'd be great."
The bemused ruler revealed a dark smirk. She then reached for her partner and silently commanded for Gabrielle to snuggle up to her body.
Gabrielle obliged and soon had her stomach pressed against Xena's. She placed one arm across the Conqueror's chest, and she used her right arm to snuggle a pillow to her right side. Finally she rested her head on the ruler's broad chest. She absolutely loved this comfortable spot she'd discovered with Xena. She released a pleasurable moan when strong arms circled her back.
The Conqueror adjusted the sheets over them and settled her head into a comfortable position. She closed her eyes, and in a new habit, she ran her fingertips over the bard's bare arm.
"Xena?" came the bard's groggy voice.
Gabrielle shifted her head some then murmured, "Thank you for everything."
The ruler was briefly quiet, but she softly replied, "There's nothing to thank... I owed this to you and your sister."
"I don't see it that way," the bard muttered.
"I know... but I do," Xena gently stated. "Get some sleep."
Gabrielle moved her head enough and placed a kiss to the ruler's warm chest. She returned to her comfortable position and settled in for the night. "Sleep well." She slowly started to drift off, and her breathing eased. Just before she made it to her dreamscape, her lover's voice floated around her.
"Goodnight, Gabrielle." The Conqueror returned the earlier sentiment, yet her kiss to the bard's head lasted a few beats longer. She then turned her head to the right side and slowly dozed off.
The couple slept for several candlemarks, and the ship's soft rocking motion gave them further peace in their dreams. When dawn approached, the sunlight crept through the porthole and gradually crawled towards the bed. Finally it climbed the bed and continued towards the fair haired bard's head. The sunlight trailed over the bard's head and pierced through her eyelids.
Gabrielle grumbled at the sun then adjusted to so it wouldn't bother her. Now that she was slightly roused, she felt how hot she was, but it wasn't from the sun. Gabrielle raised her head up and sleepily studied her partner.
The bard tried to process why she felt like she was burning up right now. Then as she lifted her body up higher, she sensed how slick her left arm was across Xena's damp chest. She faintly shook her head then focused on her lover's body. She furrowed her eyebrows when she realized Xena was actually the source of heat, and Xena was coated in sweat.
Gabrielle became fearful and hastily pressed her left hand over the ruler's moist forehead. She gasped at how hot her lover felt. She then discovered hazy blue eyes peering up at her. "Xena, you have a fever. You're getting sick...?" She pressed her the backside of her hand against the ruler's cheek. "Gods."
The Conqueror took the small hand away from her cheek. "I'm fine."
"The Hades you are," the concerned bard stated. "There has to be something in the medical kit to-"
"It's okay," the ruler assured, "It'll be gone soon enough."
Gabrielle was extremely confused, and the tiredness wasn't helping her. "Xena..."
The Conqueror faintly smiled at the bard's worries. Then the smile faded, and she explained, "It's from a wound... my body is just fighting an infection from the wound."
"Wound? What wound?" Gabrielle's fears were far from being stilled. She grew anxious and surveyed what she could see of her lover's body. "Where is it? Why didn't you-"
"It's okay." Xena touched the bard's cheek. "It's nothing."
"You have a wound and a fever, and you call that nothing?" Gabrielle's features darkened. "Where is it?"
"My right calf," the ruler simply stated.
Gabrielle's sleepy mind slowly caught up, then she asked, "An arrow?" She shook her head when she realized when her lover had gotten it. Xena had been protecting her, and Gabrielle recalled how her lover had flinched momentarily during the attack. "Why didn't you say anything, Xena?"
"It's nothing serious," the ruler remarked.
The bard now detected the wrap over her lover's right leg when she brought her leg over. "Oh gods, Xena. You should have told me." She carefully pulled her leg away. She then adjusted the blankets so that they wouldn't be so hot.
"Don't worry," the tired ruler murmured. "Go back to sleep."
Gabrielle lightly grounded her teeth so that her mix of worry and annoyance stayed capped. She'd relent for now, but she planned to blast her partner later for this move. Gabrielle didn't like how Xena was so casual about the wound, and Gabrielle didn't like being in the dark about her lover's injury.
The bard knew she couldn't do much right now. So she carefully lowered her head back down and started a soothing motion over her lover's damp shoulder. She hoped it'd lull the fever stricken ruler back to sleep.
Soon enough the Conqueror was back into a fever ridden dream. She hadn't had these type of dark and angry dreams in a couple of moons until now. She'd never considered why her darker dreams had faded away until now, when they came back to haunt her.
A half a candlemark before Helios high, the Conqueror urged herself to awaken. She slowly made her way out of bed despite the dull ache coursing through her leg. She was just free of the bard's arms when she was halted.
"You're not going anywhere," Gabrielle argued.
The ruler was half turned out of bed, but she gazed over her shoulder. Gradually her right eyebrow lifted into a perfect arc. "The triremes will be rafting soon. I need to be there."
"I'm sure they've done it plenty of times in the past without you there." Gabrielle felt herself waking up quickly because of the pending argument.
The Conqueror wasn't in the mood for this. She simply wanted to make sure the soldiers were off the transport ships, then she'd come back to rest again. "I won't be long." Without another word, she pulled out of her lover's arm and went to the packs.
Gabrielle sat up and glared at her partner's back. She silently cursed, threw the covers off, and ungracefully popped out of bed. She felt her temper rising, yet she kept quiet because she wouldn't win. This was a moment when the bard disliked the ruler's stoic side.
The lovers quietly got dressed, and Xena led the way to the door. Briefly the ruler considered whether to argue with Gabrielle about going back to bed but doubted Gabrielle would listen. She instead let it be, and she needed to get above deck.
Once on deck, Xena and Gabrielle separated into different directions. The Conqueror went to the helm deck and met up with the captain. Gabrielle couldn't offer much in the way of help for rafting triremes, but she planned to watch after her lover. She stole away to the starboard side of the ship and watched the sea pass her. For a moment, the bard pressed her pressure points on her wrist, and the queasiness ebbed in her stomach.
Gabrielle listened to the sails move behind her, and she started to notice the ship was slowing down. She leaned against the rail and gazed off her right shoulder. She now spotted the two triremes about a league away. She estimated it'd take them a quarter of a candlemark to catch up to the transport ship.
Just as the Amazon Queen straightened up again, she sensed a new presence beside her, and it wasn't Xena. Gabrielle turned her head to the left and took in Sonata's worn features. "How'd you sleep?"
Sonata glanced at Gabrielle then went back to studying the sea. She slowly leaned against the handrail. "I haven't been on a ship in a long time."
Gabrielle could relate but this was Gabrielle's first time on any ship. "You'll get use to it soon." She offered a warm smile.
Sonata faintly mirrored the smile, yet it fell, and she became serious. "Why didn't you say something sooner, Ales..." She shook her head then corrected, "Gabrielle." She turned her head to Gabrielle and studied the bard's length as if the bard was a stranger.
Gabrielle touched the former wife's arm and sincerely replied, "I'm sorry, Sonata." She squeezed then relinquished her hold. "I wasn't sure who I could trust... nor was I expecting to befriend you or Lana."
"You just planned to free your sister," Sonata murmured. She caught Gabrielle's agreement, and she wistfully smiled. "Thank you for getting us out of there."
Gabrielle had a brighter smile this time. "I didn't do much."
At Gabrielle's words, Sonata glanced up at the helm deck and briefly studied the Greek ruler. She wasn't sure what to make of the Conqueror or who the Conqueror was compared to the stories she knew since her younger days. She swallowed and focused back on Gabrielle. "You and the Conqueror are... you're together?"
Gabrielle had never been directly asked that question, and it made her flush slightly. She wasn't embarrassed by the relationship but by the fact she'd never had to be this open. Nobody had ever questioned her or Xena yet everybody just knew the truth. "Yes, we've been together for three moons."
Sonata had a smile pulling at her lips. She nodded and leaned back against the rail again. "So you're that rebel leader that everybody talks about?" She smirked over at her friend.
Gabrielle softly laughed and her mood lightened up from earlier. "I was, yes. A lot has changed though."
"I can see," the former wife whispered. Sonata's tone held no malicious but only curiosity. "You'll have to tell me some time." Sonata then revealed a devilish grin. "Especially the good stuff."
The bard laughed and shook her head. She quieted then gently offered, "Sonata, you know if you want to be an Amazon then you're always welcomed to join."
Sonata carefully considered the invite, but she asked, "You're the queen?"
"I'm one of two queens," the bard explained. "I'm the Queen of Artemisia."
Sonata had furrowed eyebrows. "I've never heard of such a place." She slightly smirked and teased, "Although it sounds very Amazonian."
The queen softly laughed and somewhat shrugged. "I think that was the idea." She felt her mood soften compared to earlier, and she enjoyed her conversation with Sonata. "Artemisia was once Athens." She become more solemnly when she noticed Sonata's expression was changing. "The Conqueror gave the Amazon Nation the city's former lands so that we could build a new city."
Sonata was silent for awhile, and she carefully absorbed the information. She'd listened to all the legendary battles between the Warrior Princess and the Amazons, and she couldn't guess what'd changed it. She brushed her hair back then quietly asked, "The Conqueror and the Amazons are no longer enemies?"
"No," Gabrielle murmured, and a faint smile tugged at her lips. "We're allies now."
Sonata leaned heavily against the handrail then after a long silence, she stated, "A lot has changed." Then her attention was caught by the first wife, who'd just appeared on deck from below. She briefly touched Gabrielle's arm and promised, "I'll see you later."
The Amazon Queen smiled, brushed Sonata's hand with hers, and watched her go briefly. She then straightened up when her sister came to her side.
Lila adjusted a shaw over her shoulders to keep the breezy chill from her. She took a spot beside her sister and also studied the sea. After some silence, she studied her sister's sunny profile. "When will we make it to Greece?"
The bard briefly considered it then answered, "I'm not exactly sure but it'll be at least a fortnight. I'll ask Xena." She fell silent after mentioning her lover's name.
Lila wrapped her arms over her chest and waited for a beat. She then softly mentioned, "Thank you." She felt her sister's stare on her so she met it. "Thank you for coming for me."
Gabrielle moved closer until her hip pressed against Lila's. She then snaked her right arm around her sister's back and held her. "Thank you for believing in me."
Lila shook her head and didn't feel good about Gabrielle's words. The guilt for how she first treated her sister when they met bothered her greatly.
Gabrielle detected the upset in her sister, and she placed a kiss on her sister's temple. "It's in the past, Lila. Now we have the rest of our lives together." She crinkled up her nose and cheerfully added, "And Sarah too."
Lila smiled at the mention of her daughter. "We do." Lila sighed contently and realized she did indeed feel free now. She wasn't sure what her future would hold for her now, but she had her freedom, her sister, and her daughter. There were so many possibilities for her and Sarah. She knew she wouldn't be in this place if it wasn't for her sister and the Conqueror.
Lila broke the silence and murmured, "This is going to take me awhile."
Gabrielle took a beat to understand what her sister was referring to, but she figured it out. "I know, Lila. I really know because it took me some time too." She took in Lila's curious stare so she softly explained, "The Conqueror has changed a lot, and I couldn't accept it at first. All my life, I've seen her as the monster that only wanted to destroy life."
Lila shook her head and argued, "But how did you manage to befriend her then?"
Gabrielle carefully considered the question then released a sigh because her answer wasn't solid even to her. "I think the part of me that has always be optimistic... that's always believed in love conquering all just won out."
Lila carefully listened and recalled how her sister was back when they were kids. Gabrielle had always been a spirited, lively, and tender person from the very core. Lila was always amazed at how compassionate Gabrielle was as a child, and she suspected it never left the bard despite the hardened times.
The bard shook her head then looked to her sister. "I just started to see the woman that was behind the Conqueror mask. I've seen a lot of her, I haven't seen all of her, and each day I see more of her." She bit her lower lip then emotionally whispered, "Xena and I can relate because all our lives we've both been lost. We understand each other, and we help each other find meaning in a dark world." She licked her dry lips then shook her head some. "The last part of me that was angry at the monster didn't want to accept that her and I could be alike. I didn't completely let it go until Xena proved to me how wrong I was, and she gave me back my dreams and hopes that I blamed her for trying to take from me." Gabrielle recalled her beautiful birthday present from Xena that had healed the deepest of wounds in her. It had forced her eyes opened and freed her heart from aged anger that fought against her better will.
Lila sadly smiled, and she reached up carefully. She wiped away Gabrielle's sparkling tears and then slipped her arm around her sister's waist. She soon had her head resting against Gabrielle's head. She hadn't felt this sense of peace since her childhood.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and basked in the warmth all around her. She felt a wonderful ache in her heart from all the beautiful emotions that surged inside of her. She couldn't imagine her life becoming anymore amazing than it was now, and she would hold onto this moment for seasons to come.
The Conqueror had observed much of the tender moment between the sisters. She'd been beside the captain, but her attention was drawn to them. Where she'd been grumpy earlier, she was now softly smiling and something in her grew lighter. She'd forgotten how wonderful she could feel by being this woman until Gabrielle reminded her. She felt a sense of flying because the darkness could not chain her down. Xena started to believe in Gabrielle's dream that Xena could become this loving woman that Gabrielle saw in her. Xena just had to keep her faith, like Gabrielle.