Disclaimer & Notices
Copyright: Many of these characters do not belong to me, and we know which ones do not. I, however, own the plot and other certain characters.
Violence: There is violence in this story.
Subtext: Any subtext becomes main text here.
Summary: The sequel to To Take What is Mine. The Conqueror continues her campaign to the Macedon Kingdom, and she already knows the odds are in her favor. Yet without warning, the Romans invade the Thrace Providence and take aim for the Conqueror's hometown. The Conqueror though bitterly holds back from saving Amphipolis. However Queen Gabrielle and Queen Cyane join together at the Siege of Amphipolis and try to stop the Romans before they overtake Thrace.
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Started: June 6, 2008
Series 9: Destiny of Mine – Story #3
To Fight for What is Mine
by Red Hope
Queen Gabrielle tilted back in her saddle slightly. She studied the well lit walls that were off in the distance. She and her Amazons noticed the hundreds of small campfires peppered across the land in front of the walls.
"You will be staying in the camp with us," Tracker informed. "The Conqueror has arranged a personal tent for you and tents for your Amazons."
Gabrielle nodded. She carefully steered Torqueo down the dirt road, which turned into a cobblestone just ahead. She listened to the new sound of horse hoofs against stone.
"This way," Tracker commanded. He guided the group off the road and into the gigantic camp that surrounded the entire city. He knew exactly where to go despite he hadn't been at the camp yet. He, like every hoplite, knew that the camps were setup to be the exact same each time.
Gabrielle followed the hoplites into the busy camp. She and her Amazons brought attention to themselves – hoplites in the camp all stopped their chores and duties to look up at them. Gabrielle noticed some offered smiles while others went back to their work.
Tracker slowed down and finally came to a stop. He began to dismount while he spoke. "Your horses will be taken care of and your saddlebags delivered to your tents." He exampled by giving his horse's reins to a young man that approached him. He waited until the horses were taken away to be untacked and put into a corral.
Queen Gabrielle stood, patiently and leaned against her staff.
Tracker came over to the queen. "I think first we'll get some dinner then rest." He placed his hands behind his back. "Follow me, please." He waited for the queen to take his side then he escorted the group towards a large tent that was buried in the camp.
"What of the Conqueror?" the bard prompted.
"She may join us, but she is very busy securing the city." Tracker left it at that information. He really wasn't sure what the Conqueror's plans were, but he knew that word was being sent to her that the Amazons had arrived. Until then, he just needed to feed them and take them to their tents. Once they made it to the large dining hut, they were greeted by the Conqueror's stratègos.
"Welcome, Queen Gabrielle." Borias bowed his head in respect.
Queen Gabrielle mirrored the posture for a beat. She offered a warm smile to the tall, dark man. "How are you this evening, stratègos?"
"I'm a bit weary but well." Borias glanced at the Amazons behind the queen then focused back on her. "The Conqueror is rather busy at the moment, but she will join later. She is grateful that you have taken time away from your trip to come here."
The bard bit the inside of her mouth but remarked, "It was a little unexpected but... doable."
"I understand." And Borias truly understood what the Amazon Queen meant underneath it. He looked over at Tracker and the few hoplites that stayed with him. "I will take it from here."
Tracker signaled for his hoplites to go ahead, yet he turned back to Borias. "I'd like to join."
The stratègos nodded then held out his hand to the open flaps of the tent. "After you, Queen Gabrielle."
The queen took the invite and went into the warm tent, and she was surrounded by a variety of food scents. She ignored the gentle rumble in her stomach.
Each Amazon silently filed into the tent. At the end was Seven of Nine, who was extremely alert and carefully. She came up to Borias, and she gave him a once over as she passed him. She clearly recalled him just after being freed from her slave manacles, but she did not say anything to him.
Borias and Tracker entered last, and they assisted the Amazons with getting food then finding a remote spot to eat. There weren't many hoplites dining at such a late candlemark, and the cooks stayed late just to accommodate the Amazons' arrival. The conversation at dinner mostly consisted of the Amazon Nation's current status, the relations with the Centaurs, and the current travel plans. Borias gave no indication about why the Conqueror sent for them and only that the Conqueror wished to discuss it later. Queen Gabrielle then questioned how the conquest of the Macedon Kingdom went for the Greek Army. She wasn't the least surprised to hear how Xena accomplished it. Gabrielle understood Xena's methodology since they were kids. Where Gabrielle was creative with quill and scroll, Xena was creative with sword and fist.
After the meal, the Amazons were escorted through the camp and taken to a bunching of tents. There was only one tent that had a single guard, and it was the Amazon Queen's. Borias asked that Tracker take the Amazons to each of their tents, but the Amazons were paired up. Only Queen Gabrielle remained alone and with a guard.
Borias walked the queen into the large tent. He kept his back to the tent's entrance. He watched how the queen checked over the accommodations plus her saddlebags. He could tell she was pleased.
Queen Gabrielle came back over to the stratègos. She slightly leaned against her staff in usual habit. "Thank you for the hospitality."
Borias bowed his head then straightened up. "The guard is only here for your protection. If you need anything then feel free to ask him, and he will have it done." He tucked his hands behind his back. "Your Amazons are free to come and go, but naturally we expect them to act accordingly."
"They will," Gabrielle promised.
The stratègos nodded. "Again, thank you for traveling here. Have a goodnight, Queen Gabrielle."
"Thank you, stratègos." Gabrielle waited until Borias was gone then she took a deep, relieving breath. She walked over to the bed, set her staff on it, and sat down. She sighed at how comfortable it was, and she imagined Xena's obsession with a soft bed had something to do with it.
The bard slipped off the bed, took her staff, and went over to her saddlebags, which were set on top of a small trunk. She noted the short, wood rack behind the chest, which was meant for stowing one's weapons. She placed her staff in the rack and decided to leave her sword at her back. She would rather have it by her bedside tonight.
Next to the trunk and rack was a desk that already had a few candles lit. Gabrielle decided it was best to get two messages written tonight and have them sent to Queen Cyane and Commander Kaylee. She knew that both Nations needed to know their whereabouts and altered plans. With that thought in mind, Gabrielle fished out some scrolls, quill, her seal, and wax. She pulled out the chair, sat down gingerly, and unrolled her scroll. She was pleased to find an inkwell already waiting for her.
Queen Gabrielle spent almost a candlemark writing an explanatory letter for both Nations. She imagined that Commander Kaylee would not be so pleased but little could be done now. She also hoped that it wouldn't alarm Queen Cyane, but she suspected that Queen Cyane was preparing for the Conqueror. From what Gabrielle learned from Yakut, the entire Thrace Nation was looking to the west at the Greek Army and only waited for the day of its arrival. That day was not that far away since the former Macedon Kingdom bordered the Thrace Providence.
The bard had finished her messages. She now took her wax, warmed it, and quickly allowed it to drip by her signature on the two scrolls. Next, she picked up her seal and pressed it into the warm wax. She was satisfied and started to roll up the scrolls. Finally, she sealed them closed with a leather thong then she went to the tent's entrance.
"Excuse me." Gabrielle stirred the hoplite's attention. She came over to him.
The hoplite that stood at attention turned to the queen. "Good evening, Queen Gabrielle."
The queen offered a smile then asked, "Can I have two messages sent out?"
The hoplite retrieved the scrolls. "Who are they addressed to?"
"One needs to go to Queen Cyane of the Thrace Amazon Nation. The other is to go to Commander Kaylee of the Macedonian Amazon Nation."
The hoplite bowed his head and promised, "I will have them sent out at first light."
"Thank you." Gabrielle started back to her tent's entrance, but she hesitated beside the flaps. She stared down the walkway between lined tents straight ahead. She was entranced by seeing the tall, dark Conqueror briskly marching towards her.
The Conqueror sensed somebody staring at her, and she focused on the Amazon Queen by the tent. She stopped walking and stood there for a beat. She didn't realize she was staring back at Gabrielle until Gabrielle's guard shot off a greeting.
"Good evening, my liege."
The Conqueror broke from the spell between her and Gabrielle. She hurried over, which caused her cape to ruffle behind her. She noted the scrolls in the hoplite's hand. "See that those go out tonight."
The hoplite bowed his head. "I will take them over now if you will be here, my liege."
"I will." The Conqueror watched the hoplite march off then she turned her attention to the Amazon Queen.
"Hi," Gabrielle warmly greeted. She knew she was suppose to be annoyed by the orders she received to come down. But she was too happy to see the ruler to play Amazon Queen right now.
Xena's usually stern features softened considerably. "Hey."
The bard grinned and her nose slowly crinkled to give her young look again.
Xena did her best to keep from chuckling at the old, familiar expression that she always enjoyed from the bard. She and Gabrielle had instantly fallen back into old habit on how they greeted each other. There were numerous times where they met up after moons and Gabrielle opened up by saying 'hi' and Xena followed with a 'hey'. It was true that some things could never change.
"Did you have a safe journey here?"
"We did," Gabrielle replied. "Tracker was kind."
"I trust that the dinner was good and accommodations to your liking?"
Gabrielle had a grin tugging at her lips, and she quietly teased, "The bed may be too soft, for me."
The Conqueror smirked and jested, "There's always the ground otherwise."
Gabrielle chuckled, but she seriously replied, "Everything is great. Thank you." She then started into the tent. "Come in." She went to the desk and pulled out the chair more. "Sit down?" She'd already noted some of Xena's underlying weariness.
The ruler shook her head and argued, "Go ahead."
"I've been riding all day," the queen quickly reminded. "You, on the other hand, look like you could sit."
Xena placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at her friends. "I'm not obvious, am I?"
Gabrielle was standing in front of the trunk. She scratched her nose for a beat then looked back at Xena. "No... no, definitely not." She dropped her hand from her face and held out her hand to the chair. "Sit, seriously."
The Conqueror mentally shook herself because she didn't know why she felt so odd like this. She forgot what it was like to have somebody able to see right through her exterior. She'd trained her mind and body not to give any indicators about her weaknesses, but it was as if that training did nothing to stop Gabrielle's perception. She finally decided to take the seat. She did feel relief after being on her feet all day and trying to get the city under control.
Gabrielle folded her arms and gazed down at the ruler. "I heard all the news about your conquest of the kingdom. Did you get Cortese?"
The Conqueror crossed her legs and peered up at the bard with dark eyes.
Gabrielle nodded once then deduced the answer. "He's like a fox, Xena. I've heard the stories about him... there's obviously some truth behind it."
"It would seem that the fox has joined the wolves too."
Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows at the riddle.
Xena gave the missing piece of the puzzle to the bard. "The Romans."
The queen became wide eye then shook her head with a sigh. "That should figure." She tilted her head and asked, "Why you think they're helping him?"
"I don't think they're exactly helping him," Xena argued. "I think they're protecting him."
"From you," Gabrielle concluded. "But why? I mean what they get out of it."
"My full attention," the Conqueror answered.
"Huh." Gabrielle considered it and thought about everything from the start with the Romans and Xena. She then muttered, "You really do attract them."
"Thanks," Xena chided.
The bard chuckled because she knew it really didn't bother Xena. She became more serious. "So Cortese is just a pawn... to draw your attention to them. Why would they need Cortese for that? They draw your attention easily enough without him."
The Conqueror released a sigh and leaned back in the chair deeper. "That's the piece I'm missing too."
Gabrielle decided to let it go and switched topics. "So, you sent for me."
Xena pushed away her thoughts about the Romans and Cortese. She focused on the bard again. "I read your message about going to the Thrace Amazon Nation."
"Mmmm," the queen agreed. She could tell her old friend had something in mind.
"I'd like to join."
Gabrielle had a partial grin. "I suspected as much. But why not go there on your own?"
"I need your... expertise." The Conqueror smirked at Gabrielle's suddenly suspicious look. "You're good with people, Gabrielle... I'm not."
The queen folded her arms and shifted her weight to her left foot. "I know you have bad history with the Thrace Nation... especially with Queen Cyane. I don't have a relationship built with her to mend anything."
"I know, but you do have the ability to bring people together. You're good at mediating and talking."
"As I recall," Gabrielle ranted, "you never much liked my... babbling, I believed you called it."
Xena had a sly grin and softly drew, "Well finally your babbling warrants some value."
"Thanks," Gabrielle deadpanned, and she had a dark look. She shook it off and came to the edge of the trunk. She sat down on the small edge available and stretched out her legs.
"I need your help, seriously." The ruler studied the bard's eyes and features.
"Honestly, what can I do?" Gabrielle shook her head and argued, "I don't know Cyane that well. Nor do I know what went on between you and that Nation. I mean I know bits and pieces from what Yakut and you told me."
Xena lowered her head some and studied her boot tips. "I'll give you more details." She lifted her eyes but not her head. "You understand me, Gabrielle. You can read people, and you can join people together."
"You want these relations badly," the queen commented.
"I do." Xena straightened up in the chair. "And I want to fix what happened between Cyane and I."
"You're a different person since then, Xena. From what Yakut has said, she has an open mind." Gabrielle could tell though that Xena wasn't convinced. She brushed back her short hair then promised, "Alright, I'll do my best. I can't guarantee anything, and I can't do all the work."
"I know that." Xena gave a partial smile, and her blue eyes lightened. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet." The bard drew her feet in until her boots' heels tapped the trunk. She then focused back on Xena. "By the way, I was a little surprised how Tracker... encouraged me to come here." She climbed to her feet and strolled away. She turned back around.
Xena was already warned, by Tracker, that Queen Gabrielle had to be ordered to come to the capitol. She figured she'd have to smooth it over. "I know." She stood up and neared the bard but stopped a few paces away. "I needed you to come here first."
"You could have just said that in the message," Gabrielle insisted. She clearly was annoyed again.
"Didn't I?" the ruler argued. She could detect the queen's annoyance switching into anger. "Sometimes you're too stubborn to listen to my requests. I thought you might refuse so I told Tracker to remind you about your allegiance to the polis."
Gabrielle edged closer to the taller woman. "He broke me down in front of my Amazons."
"And who's fault was that?" the ruler snapped.
"I didn't think I'd be so easily stripped of my power as queen like that," Gabrielle shot back.
"You signed the allegiance to the Greek polis, and you are bound by it." Xena felt her defenses building up quickly. She never liked tasting allies, who suddenly sung another song. "I do not ask a lot from any Amazon Nation except to abide by certain laws. And to aide Greece in the time of battle if I request it, which I have yet to ask any of."
The bard was frustrated and walked away to catch her breath. She knew Xena was right, but she unexpectedly muttered, "I'm always one damn step below you."
The Conqueror lifted her chin slightly once she realized the underlying problem. "And I'm the competitive one?"
Gabrielle spun around and chewed out, "Who do you think I learned it from?"
Xena had dark features, and she folded her arms. "Separate the personal from the political, Gabrielle. You know what you signed back in the early spring. You and your Nation answer to Greece."
The Amazon Queen again walked away in hopes the space would calm her. She cleared her head and turned back to the ruler. "Alright... you're right. I know that." She cleared her throat then turned away again. She went over to her saddlebags on the trunk, and she stared down at them. She tried to get her thoughts straightened out.
The Conqueror studied the queen's tense back. She dropped her arms then her shoulders noticeably relaxed. She came up to the bard and lightly pressed her fingertips into Gabrielle's shoulder blade. "I suppose I did create the competitiveness in you."
Gabrielle huffed and murmured, "You would think the slavers would have whipped it out of me."
Xena's jaw tensed at the mention of slavers. She loathed them.
Gabrielle shook her head then quietly spoke. "I'm sorry, Xena. You've done a great thing by rejoining Greece... nothing has been seen like this since Alexander the Great."
"And why do you think I do what I do?" Xena moved her hand from the bard's shoulder. She captured Gabrielle's chin and turned Gabrielle's head sidelong to her. "Do you think it's over competition... power?"
Gabrielle shut her eyes slowly and licked her dry lips. "You say that I understand you, but I really don't." She opened her eyes and twisted her head around more. She had a partial view of Xena's face. "At one time, I did think power was what drove you to take Greece, but I did figure out I was wrong."
"I won't lie and say the power doesn't entice me. I love what I do, and I do it well."
Gabrielle had a sad smile. "You were a born leader." She finally turned to her friend. "What could be bigger than the power?"
"You," Xena merely answered.
The bard lowered her head and shook it.
"I never wanted to see somebody else be taken from their home, family killed and enslaved, and their freedom taken from them. I could only see conquering and uniting Greece as the only solution." Xena held Gabrielle's gaze. "You are my drive and my will."
Gabrielle touched her forehead with her right hand. She was drowning in emotions and tears trickled down her face. She unexpectedly fell to her knees, and she dropped her head. "No, I cannot be the reason."
Xena quickly knelt down and forced Gabrielle to look at her. But Gabrielle spoke before she could respond.
"I was the one that let you down," Gabrielle emotionally fought. "I am the failure." She heaved deeply between her tears. "I broke our promises... I failed you. You fight for somebody that did die long ago."
"No I don't."
Gabrielle shook her head then tried to push Xena's hands away from her face.
Xena held Gabrielle still with her palms pressed into Gabrielle's cheek. "Stop. Look at me, Gabrielle." She found blurry, red eyes on her. "You think I didn't fail you? You think you're the only guilty one here?"
The bard lowered her head some in Xena's palms, but she was quickly lifted again.
Xena dipped her head some but peered up into emotional green eyes. "I was consumed with rage, anger, revenge... I was in a dark place after I lost you. I wanted to spill Greece's blood in revenge for it taking you from me."
Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly, but the tears still flowed down her cheeks.
"I failed you then. You taught me so much about love, and I failed you by turning to my anger."
Gabrielle breathed deeply and gained some control. She opened her eyes and lifted her chin some.
The ruler withdrew one hand and rested it on her knee. "I think we owe it to each other to start again." She tilted her head and questioned, "Don't you think so?"
Gabrielle lifted her right hand and covered it over Xena's. She nodded then whispered, "Yes." She let go of a heavy breath that signaled some release. She peered up into soft blue eyes. "But only if you don't pick on me about my Warrior Princess stories again."
The Conqueror slowly smirked and asked, "You still have those stories?"
"Of course." The bard had a small grin. "They've always been my favorites."
"Hmmm." Xena tilted her head and inquired, "What was their last adventure?"
"The last one was about Cupid and his son, Eros, and how Eros makes a messy love circle."
The Conqueror raised an eyebrow into a perfect arch. "I can imagine." She shifted her hands to the bard's upper waist and started to stand. "I think a walk would help."
Gabrielle smiled at the suggestion. "Let me just tell Ephiny then we can go."
Xena silently agreed and followed the queen out of the tent. She spotted the guard had returned, and she checked that he had sent out the queen's messages. She then took Gabrielle's side once she came back, and Gabrielle faintly nodded that everything was okay. Xena started the walk off to her right.
The queen always felt a sense of enjoyment or peace just by a simple walk. It gave her a chance to clear out her head and burn off energy all at once. She and Xena often found themselves on walks when they were kids. They typically either talked or just stayed silent and sometimes Gabrielle only talked.
The Conqueror kept quiet and mostly because she wanted to get out of the camp first. She brought them onto the cobblestone road and led the way down the road, away from the city. "I don't often get a chance to do this."
"Neither do I lately." Gabrielle bit back a faint yawn that wanted to emerge. She looked up at the stars and smiled at them. She remembered the stories she use to tell Xena about how the Gods created the stars and why. That then triggered a reminder. "Xena?"
The bard looked at the ruler and tried to carefully phrase her question in her head first. "Have you ever met Seven of Nine before?"
The Conqueror glimpsed at the bard then back at the road ahead of them. "She came to me after I freed her. She wanted to join my army, but I refused her."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"At first, I didn't put two and two together until after we had that first confrontation with her, and you were struck by the arrow."
Gabrielle shook her head. "If you knew since then, you should have told me."
"I figured it wouldn't do us any good." Xena slightly frowned because she didn't want this to stir up another fight between them. "And once she lost her memory, I thought it best to keep it quiet. She would remember her past in her own good time and only then should it have been shared with the Nation." She shrugged and reminded, "I only knew a tiny fraction of her life, and the information was of no real value."
The bard decided to let it go by going silent. She lowered her head slightly and watched the cobblestones pass under her boots. She lifted her head and inquired, "So what are the plans from here?"
"I would like to leave the day after tomorrow." The Conqueror had a sideway gaze at her friend. "That'll give me tomorrow to finish up here."
"How many will be going?"
Xena developed thin lips because she seriously considered the numbers. "I don't want too many hoplites or else it shows distrust."
"But you need enough to be protected on the journey," the queen reminded. "Keep in mind that I have nine Amazons with me. And I think it's suffice to say that Seven accounts for more than one." She then flashed a grin at the ruler. "I also think it's safe to say you're rather formidable."
Xena smirked and teased, "Stroking my ego, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle gasped and covered her right chest with her hand. "Have I ever?" She lowered her hand and chuckled.
"And what about you?"
"What about me?" the bard countered.
"Are you formidable?" Xena gradually inclined her right eyebrow. Then her eyes picked up a faint glow.
Gabrielle only shrugged and answered, "I can hold my own."
"I've heard Melosa was formidable," the ruler casually remarked.
Gabrielle just shrugged again. "Not formidable enough, apparently." She grinned at Xena's deep laugh. "If she'd picked swords, I don't think I would have won."
"Don't sell yourself short."
"Well I am," the bard joked.
Xena had a gentle grin, but she went back to the earlier question. "I think perhaps twenty-five hoplites will be sufficient. Borias won't be far behind with a large portion of the army."
The Amazon Queen nodded her agreement.
The Conqueror noticed they'd walked off the cobblestones and were climbing a small incline towards the forest's edge. She and Gabrielle came to a stop by a tall, thick tree that almost seemed to reach to the heavens.
Gabrielle turned around and looked back at the city. She let her vision skim across the camp and city walls. She took in all of it. "You're so close, Xena."
The Conqueror crossed her arms, and for a beat, she listened to her cape ruffle in the breeze. She deciphered what Gabrielle meant by her words.
The bard peered over at her friend. "Do you think they'll call you queen or lord?"
"I hope neither," Xena honestly confessed. "I don't want the polis's entire power to rest in my hands."
"And you think Rome's Republic is any better?"
"It is working for Rome... but I do see some weaknesses in it." Xena bit her lower lip then turned her head to the bard. "Have you ever heard of dimokratia?"
"It sounds familiar," Gabrielle replied. "Is it a type of polis?"
"Yes." Xena switched her attention to the recently conquered city. "It's a polis seen throughout Mesopotamia... or use to, at least."
"What kind of polis is it?"
"Well," the ruler explained, "it's a polis where everybody has equal access to power."
Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows and peered up at her friend. "Then how is that a polis? If everybody has power then... there's no form or structure."
"It's not that everybody has power," Xena argued, "but that everybody has equal access to it."
Now it dawned on Gabrielle, and she rephased it. "So basically everybody in the Nation is equal... no matter their gender, race, or age."
"Essentially, yes." Xena now fully turned to the bard. "The concept is that the power rests in the people's hands. And that the people should never fear their polis, but that the polis fears the people if the polis were to become corrupt."
"Isn't that what the Roman Republic is doing?"
"Not exactly." Xena had stern features. "To be in the Republic or Senate you must be an aristocrat and show deep linage in Rome."
Gabrielle shook her head. "And Rome has taken on other Nations. How can voices from those Nations speak in the Senate?"
"Exactly... that is not a Nation of the people." Xena sighed after a moment. "It will take time to remodel Greece to fit a dimokratia polis, but it will happen."
"Greece wasn't united in a day," Gabrielle softly reminded. She folded her arms because a slight chill came over her. The spring nights were still cool despite summer was not too far away. "We should probably head back to the camp. I'm sure you have a lot to do tomorrow and need the rest."
"Hmmm," the ruler softly agreed. She debated whether to go back, but she knew as soon as they returned that most likely they wouldn't have another chance to be alone. "Come with me for a beat."
Gabrielle didn't expect the request. She turned around when Xena went behind her. She was surprised to see Xena climbing up the large tree with such speed and ease.
The Conqueror easily made it to a large, thick branch about a third of the way up. She called, "Hurry, Amazon."
The bard grumbled and came over to the trunk. "You know me and heights, Xena."
The ruler squatted down and rested her elbows on her knees. "I hope you didn't tell your Amazons about your fear."
"Ha. You think they'd let me keep my queen's mask if I did?" Gabrielle chuckled at her friend's low snicker. She then proceeded to climb up the tree, and she was both fast and agile.
Xena smiled at how Gabrielle easily climbed up compared to when they were kids. She then lowered her hand down once Gabrielle was close enough.
The queen hesitated and tilted her head back until her eyes met Xena's. She recalled the countless times Xena did exactly this offer then would pull her hand away at the last heartbeat. But Gabrielle sensed something else this time so she extended her right hand. And she was surprised when her hand tightly clutched Xena's.
The Conqueror easily helped her friend lift up to the branch she occupied already. She stood up as she lifted Gabrielle higher and onto the branch with ease.
The Amazon Queen popped up and landed on the branch, which caused it to sway a bit then it settled. Gabrielle held her balance easily and turned her head to the left. She still had her surprised look.
Xena smiled and winked at her childhood friend. "Sit down with me." She made her way down the branch some then she took a seat on the branch but straddled the limb.
Gabrielle followed and mimicked Xena's position. She sat right in front of the ruler, and she rested her right hand on Xena's thigh to help her balance out. She and Xena remained quiet for a little bit and enjoyed the peace.
The Conqueror though first broke the silence. "I was thinking about your request just before the Battle of the Fates."
The bard twisted her head around. "What request?"
"About your mother being moved to Potidaea."
Gabrielle gave out a hefty sigh. "I need to do that."
"I know, and I'd like to help if you can wait a bit longer."
Gabrielle didn't expect the support. "Xena, how can you? You're busy with..." She held out her hand towards the gigantic camp and city. "All of this."
"Even the Conqueror is allowed a break," Xena teased.
The bard gave a soft laugh and argued, "I'm not sure if an Amazon Queen is allowed one."
"I think you can find the time," the ruler insisted.
Gabrielle faintly smiled and said nothing else. She started to feel relaxed after such a long day, but she still thought about her father's home back in Potidaea. "I've been debating what to do with the land, barn... the house."
Xena took a beat to catch up. She too considered what could be done. She'd already seen it in such disrepair. "Is the deed in your name?"
"Yes... it's not suppose to be, technically." Gabrielle twisted her head around to Xena. "Only women in Sparta are allowed to own land."
"Then how did the constable get away with it?"
"He was able to rework it a bit so that the paperwork looks like it falls in the Nation's hands." Gabrielle shrugged and turned her head back. "It works enough... otherwise father's land would have gone up for auction."
"Mmmm," the ruler softly agreed. "I hope to change that."
Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows. "Change the laws, you mean?"
"Yes." The Conqueror then had another thought. "What about fixing up the old house and barn then using it as a vacation spot?"
"I'm not sure if it's exactly my idea of a vacation spot," the bard considered.
"Not for you." Xena had a partial grin. "For your Amazons."
"Hmmmm." The bard drummed her fingertips once on her knee cap. "That's really not a bad idea. I mean the barn could be altered into a stable. Then the house can accommodate a few Amazons at a time."
"It's also an excellent halfway point between your Nation and the Thrace Nation." Xena tilted her head. "It could be an overnight spot as well for travelers between the Nations."
Again, the bard drummed her fingertips and seriously debated the idea. "It shouldn't be too costly to fix it."
"Not at all," the Conqueror encouraged.
Gabrielle chuckled and twisted around at her torso to gaze at her friend. "You always have good ideas."
Xena smirked and teased, "So I've been told."
The bard laughed lightly again then turned back. She let a long breath trickle out of her. "If Cyane agrees to the allegiance then where will you go next?" She hesitated but asked, "Amphipolis? If Amphipolis and Eion pledge allegiance to you then the rest of Thrace will follow."
Xena didn't reply, and she weighed her plans like she'd been doing for moons now.
Gabrielle sensed what made Xena hold her tongue. She sighed and carefully questioned, "You're not sure about facing Amphipolis... about returning home?" And it was true because Xena hadn't returned home since she delivered Lyceus's body.
The Conqueror slightly raised her chin and replied, "I do not know how the Delian League will react."
"The league was devised to protect Greece... it was how the poleis came together, especially against Persia."
"The league also had to divide the spoils of war among the poleis," Xena informed.
"Huh." Gabrielle didn't know that about the league. "Xena, the league has dwindle to nothing. They have very few funds or support and a majority of it comes from Amphipolis."
"The league will not pledge to me, Gabrielle."
"How can you be sure?"
"I just know they will not," Xena argued. "They will fight me and what message will that send throughout Greece? If I represent Greece and attack the Delian League then it will say I have no honor. I will caste an even darker light on it if I attack my village of birth."
Gabrielle quietly groaned, and she rubbed her brow. "Have you tried contacting them yet? I mean, do you know for sure?"
"I have spies in Amphipolis... I constantly receive updates about the league and politics. They know I'm coming and are preparing how to hold their ground."
"They have to recognize that the old Greece is gone," Gabrielle stated.
"Perhaps," Xena murmured, "but they doesn't mean they'll give in."
The bard shook her head and brushed her hair back. "There has to be a peaceful way to get them to join."
"If there is, I haven't found it yet."
Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows and looked back at Xena. "You're not seriously considering attacking Amphipolis?"
The Conqueror was silent for a beat then replied, "It's looking to be my only option."
"Xena, you can't do that... that's your home."
The Conqueror looked away from the bard and quietly reminded, "I know what Amphipolis is... I know what it was to me." She stared at her army's campfires sprinkled about in the camp. "I can't let that deter me from my mission. I'll only target the Delian League."
"And Amphipolis will stand between you two... you know this." Gabrielle quickly got up and moved on the branch so that she straddled it again but faced the ruler. "Xena, Amphipolis is as much my home as it was yours. Your mother... she's been every bit like my mother especially since my mom has passed away."
Xena still had her head turned to the right. She had emotionless features, and it seemed like she didn't hear Gabrielle's words.
"I don't think it's right," the queen stated.
The Conqueror quickly focused on the bard. "And you won't be the only one." She had a cold, stern look that showed she was every bit the ruler. "Do not think I will do this light heartedly or with enjoyment. If I strike down Amphipolis then I strike down myself, but I must because Greece cannot be complete otherwise."
Gabrielle swallowed then slowly lowered her head. She clenched her jaw tightly. She hotly whispered, "There has to be another way."
The Conqueror studied the bard's postures, and she clipped, "Then find me it because I'll surely do it over the latter."
Gabrielle lifted her head back up, and she searched the ruler's features. She could not read everything, but she knew enough that Xena was both serious and heavy hearted. Now Gabrielle had much to consider on their trip to the Thrace Amazon Nation because after the Thrace Nation then Xena would turn back towards Amphipolis.
Xena released a deep breath, which seemed to subside her. She lifted her right hand and pushed back her bangs. Once she lowered her hand, her black bangs fell back down. "I didn't come out here to talk politics with you, Gabrielle."
"I know." The bard frowned deeply because Xena wanted them to just relax. "I'm sorry." She surprisingly stretched out her hands and captured Xena's right hand. She turned over the ruler's much larger hand, and Gabrielle gently traced Xena's palm. She picked out a couple of scars she'd never seen in the past, and it made her think. "You remember when we had that dagger competition out in the woods?" Just as she peered up, she caught Xena's sad smile.
"You beat me... fair and square," the ruler reminded. She then briefly signaled with her chin at the dagger's hilt that protruded from Gabrielle's boot. "You found it... under your bed?"
Gabrielle didn't need to look at the weapon in question. She slowly ran her fingertips down Xena's long fingers. "I did find it. I was surprised it was there."
Xena bit her lower lip then explained, "I thought you were dead so I put it there a couple of seasons ago. You did win it from me."
The queen used her left hand to hold Xena's hand. She now covered her right hand over top of Xena's open palm. "It's protected me, a lot." She peered up her friend. "Thank you."
The ruler merely nodded.
Gabrielle bowed her head and cleared her throat quietly. "There's something else about Seven that I need to ask you about... or talk to you about."
Xena arched an eyebrow and tilted her head. "What about?" She noticed Gabrielle hadn't met her gaze so she closed her hand over the bard's, which got Gabrielle's attention.
Gabrielle lifted her head and tried to figure out a way to careful go about the topic. She decided the start was the best idea. "When you joined Bracis, he had his party raid a small town called Cirra, right?"
"Yes," the ruler murmured, "I was there." She quickly had a tense jaw, and dark memories came back to her about that day. "I made my first kill then... two men."
The bard squeezed Xena's hand tightly with hers. "I know... Seven told me."
Xena had a furrowed brow, and she tried to piece it together.
"The first man... he was Seven's uncle." Gabrielle watched the realization dawn on the ruler. She didn't want to reveal the next part, but she had to do it. "The second man was her... was her father."
Xena became still, and she had a glossed expression. She was overwhelmed by the new information. Her memories flashed past her from that day, and Xena recalled the young blond, who cried out for her father's death. Slowly, Xena shut her eyes and slightly bowed her head.
Gabrielle hated telling Xena, but she wanted it be her rather than somebody else. She tightly squeezed her friend's hand.
"That makes sense," the Conqueror murmured. She lifted her head again. "It makes sense why she was chosen by Ares."
Gabrielle moved her head in agreement. She then softly explained, "Seven knows... and she's trying to understand what's happened. She respects the relations between the Nation and Greece and wont endanger them."
Xena kept quiet and just listened carefully.
"As far as what rests between you two... I can't completely say. She's hard to read at times."
Xena still remained silent, but after a moment she finally asked, "Do I need to be concerned about her during this trip?"
"No," the queen swore, "not at all. Seven wont harm you."
"She was programmed to kill," the ruler reminded.
Gabrielle heavily sighed but argued, "She's past that, Xena. We're keeping an eye on her, and she knows to talk to me, Andra, or Ephiny if something comes up."
Xena licked her dry lips and fully focused on her friend. "Do you trust her?"
"Yes," Gabrielle instantly answered, "I do trust her."
Xena bobbed her head a few times. "Alright. I trust your judgment but if she becomes a problem..."
"I already know," the bard promised. "I won't stop you either."
The Conqueror squeezed the bard's hand under hers because she knew she already saw the loyalty.
Gabrielle patted Xena's top hand and withdrew hers. "Come on... we should really get back."
Xena glanced at the camp then nodded. "It's late."
"I'm sure you have to be up early too." Gabrielle slowly stood up, and she held her balance as Xena climbed to her feet.
"And you can sleep in," the ruler teased.
The bard let out a long sigh and argued, "Since I've been queen, I'm not allowed to sleep in."
"Is that what's written behind the queen's mask?" Xena taunted.
Gabrielle laughed and playfully slapped the ruler's side. "Exactly.. right around the eye sockets it's branded with the words..." She lifted her hands and demonstrated them. "Do not sleep past one candlemark after dawn." She lowered her hands and laughed with her friend.
"Does it have any fine print about waking up with a smile everyday?" the Conqueror further tormented.
"Pfffft thank gods no." Gabrielle giggled.
"Yes or you'd lose that mask quickly." Xena smirked at Gabrielle then challenged, "I'll race you down. On the count of five, okay?"
The bard suddenly bubbled with evil intent but slyly agreed, "Alright."
The Conqueror nodded then started the count. "One." She waited a long beat because she noticed how Gabrielle tensed up and mentally prepared. "Two."
Gabrielle barred her teeth and prepared to take off like a flying horse. But she wasn't waiting for number five.
"Ttthreee," Xena drew. Then suddenly she wasn't the least surprised when Gabrielle shot off like a crazed Bacchae. And it only made Xena laugh evilly. She whispered, "Five." She then jumped up and grabbed the branch above her head. She proceeded to spin around the branch.
Gabrielle was moving in all her haste without slipping or falling. She was convinced that Xena was just behind her. Then she heard the Conqueror's sharp warcry, and she almost panicked because she knew that meant danger. And she was so close to the ground!
The Conqueror released the branch and launched into the air. She twisted in the air and echoed her battle cry one last time as she plunged to the ground.
The Amazon Queen scrambled down the last branch and dropped off it to land on her boots, but she already heard another set of boots land behind her. She grounded her teeth and bared an annoyed smile as she spun around.
Xena stood tall and her hands on her hips. She merely stated, "Cheaters never prosper, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle gave a very low growl then reminded, "Somebody taught me that count of five trick."
The Conqueror was incredibly smug. "It certainly was not me... I'm too honorable for such tricks." She chuckled and turned her back on the bard, but waited patiently.
The bard strolled up to the ruler's side. "You really have everybody fooled, don't you?" She smirked up at her friend.
Xena leaned over to the bard. "And don't mess up my good deal." She and Gabrielle laughed together then started the walk to the road.
Gabrielle let out a content breath and smiled to herself. She loved how this could feel around Xena. And it was almost like Xena was reading her mind because of Xena's next comment.
"It's strange how even after so long we can still be this way."
The bard digested the words then softly replied, "I'm glad it can be."
Xena smiled, but it slowly went bittersweet. "Yeah... it's nice to have my best friend back."
Gabrielle felt her heart sink at the confession, and it meant so much to her. She suddenly stretched out her right arm, which helped her stop Xena.
The Conqueror slightly turned to the bard and questioningly looked at her friend. But she quickly figured out what was wrong and moved in closer.
Gabrielle met her friend halfway and embraced tightly.
Xena drew Gabrielle into her body and held her close. She rested her chin on the bard's head and closed her eyes.
Gabrielle simply rested her cheek against the ruler's neck and slightly bowed her head. She shut her eyes and thought about all that'd happened between them and apart. She tightened her arms around Xena. She then murmured, "I don't want what happened to repeat again."
Xena ran her hand up and down Gabrielle's back in a soothing motion. "It won't happen again. I can promise that." She withdrew some but only enough so that she could peer down at her friend. "Greece is very important to me... but I will sacrifice it and anything else to have you in my life."
In many ways, Gabrielle didn't want Xena to promise such sacrifices if need be because she believed Greece was more important than her. And yet she understood Xena's drive was her and the true loss of her could potentially push Xena into the darkness, permanently. And what was that worth to her, to Xena, and to the world?
"Don't ask me to put Greece ahead of you," the Conqueror gently pleaded.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and leaned her head forward until it touched Xena's. "I won't if you promise me something." She now moved her hand up and clutched the back of Xena's neck. "If something happens to me, you will not become that monster."
Xena squeezed her eyes tighter and tried to find a response. Her voice trembled as she whispered, "I can't make that promise."
Gabrielle lifted her head and gently ordered, "No look at me." She found stricken blue eyes on her, and she insisted, "You promise me. This cycle of hatred has to stop, and it only will with love and forgiveness."
"And how can you ask me of that?" Xena emotionally fought. "Look at who I am, Gabrielle. I cannot even find the forgiveness for my own mother... for myself."
The bard moved her hand from Xena's neck to her sculpted jawline. "You will when it's time." She searched her friend's eyes. "If you turn back to that monster then you're nothing more than Braccis. I've taught you better than that... you've always had me there in you."
"I can't follow your code, Gabrielle... it's not who I am."
Gabrielle traced the ruler's jawline and murmured, "I know, and I'm not asking that of you. I'm asking you not to destroy what we've always meant, together."
Xena leaned in again and lowered her head so her forehead rested against the bard's.
Gabrielle tenderly brushed her hand across her friend's cheek. "Please, Xena... promise me this."
Xena raised her right hand and pressed her palm against Gabrielle's cheek. She then lowered her head down and pressed her lips into Gabrielle's soft, warm lips. She was invited into Gabrielle's mouth, and she caressed her tongue against Gabrielle's. She drew a soft moan from the bard.
Gabrielle came out of the slow kiss and breathed heavy. She sensed her cheek now against Xena's.
"I promise you," Xena whispered into her friend's ear.
Gabrielle put both arms around her friend again and uttered, "Thank you."
The Conqueror hugged the bard for another few beats then hoarsely whispered, "Come on."
The Amazon Queen broke away slowly and tried to mentally gain control again. She started the walk.
Xena quickly hid her emotions away and became the ruler again.
Gabrielle caught it, which made her grin some. She stretched out her right hand and tapped Xena's bronze, swirl armor and mentioned, "I can see right past this stuff, you know."
The ruler swatted away the queen's hand. She knew the bard really meant she could read her. "That's only because we grew up together. If it wasn't for that then all bets would be off."
The bard slowly revealed a smirk and casually remarked, "And I bet even if we didn't grow up together that it would take me like... four to six seasons to learn you."
Xena shot a glare at her friend. "Know-it-all."
"Show off," the bard shot back.
"Chatterbox," Xena needled.
"Silentbox," Gabrielle fought back.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes then muttered, "Whatever."
"Sore loser," Xena quipped.
Gabrielle slotted her eyes and suddenly shoved Xena off the road. "Stay away from me, mule."
The Conqueror snickered then quickly came back over with her hands coming up.
The bard knew that look on Xena's face so she broke into a run and squealed. "Xena, don't you dare! You know I hate that!"
Xena easily caught up to the bard and swooped her off the ground then turned Gabrielle completely upside down. Next she spun them in a circle repeatedly.
"Oh my gods! Xena, nooo!" Gabrielle clawed at the tight arms around her waist. "I'm going to puke!"
"It just better not be on me," the ruler hollered as they spun a few more times. She then abruptly stopped, twisted the bard around, and set her on her feet.
Gabrielle was utterly dizzy and grabbed onto the ruler. She couldn't watch her footing on the cobblestone and started to tumble.
"Damn it," Xena hissed, and she fell down with the bard. She hastily made sure to catch her weight so she wouldn't crush Gabrielle. She lifted her head in time to hear the fit of giggles below her.
Gabrielle laughed hard and rolled onto her side with her arms across her stomach. "Oooh my stomach."
"You really are going to bring up your dinner if you don't stop," the Conqueror warned.
Gabrielle slowed her laughter and whined towards the end. "Oh my stomach."
Xena shook her head, grinned, and lowered down onto her knees beside the bard. She then offered, "Truce?"
The bard just nodded but added, "For now."
"For now," the ruler echoed. She then took pity, slipped her arms around the bard, and lifted her up. She then stood up easily.
Gabrielle groaned and touched her forehead. "I think I gave myself a headache too." She then realized that they were back on the road and Xena was carrying her. "I can walk, seriously." She sat up some but the dizziness hit her slightly.
The Conqueror smirked and teased, "Apparently not." She chuckled at the bard's soft groan.
"No... no come on." Gabrielle tried to sit up a bit again. "If my Amazons see me like this, gods I'll never hear the end of it. My luck the Gossip Queen will see me like this."
Xena shook her head a few times, but she had a grin. She stopped and carefully slid her friend from her arms. She waited to see if Gabrielle would steady.
"I'm good... really." The Amazon Queen held up her hands as if she were balancing on a tree limb again. "Okay." She took a deep breath then faced the road towards the camp. "I've been walking since I was one."
Xena now placed her hands on her leather hips and watched the bard steadily make her way down the road. She dropped her arms once Gabrielle was okay and quickly caught up to her.
Gabrielle touched her bare stomach and decided she was good now. She cleared her throat.
"So, who is the Gossip Queen?"
The queen blew out a breath and replied, "Solari. She's the one with the long, brown hair and cute smile. She always full of energy."
"Ah." Xena's head bobbed a few times. She then checked, "Cute smile?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "That's what we all say in the Nation."
"What they say about you?"
The queen laughed and shrugged again. "They just talk about how hot I am and that I got a great ass."
Xena laughed at the unexpected answer. "I'm sure." She found Gabrielle looking up at her so she just winked.
Gabrielle was smiling so hard that it hurt. She noted the entrance to the camp just ahead, and she knew it was time to be less playful. "Should I look for you tomorrow in the city?"
"Most likely." The Conqueror lowered her voice and tried to become formal. She tucked her hands between her cape and back. "You don't mind if Tracker and Prostig come with us for the trip?"
"Not at all," Gabrielle answered.
Xena nodded once then focused on the two guards at the entrance. "Evening."
"Good evening, my liege," the guards repeated. Then one said, "Good evening, Queen Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen bowed her head.
One guard was a bit nervous, but earlier he'd lost a bet with his buddy. He carefully asked, "Were there any problems during your walk?" He hesitated and added, "We heard a few shouts and war cries earlier."
Gabrielle lowered her head and pretended to have an itch on her nose.
The Conqueror lifted her chin slightly. "Everything was fine... thanks for checking. How's the camp?"
"All is quiet, my liege."
"Excellent." Xena then looked at the Amazon Queen. "After you, Queen Gabrielle."
The bard shot a grin at the ruler but politely responded, "Thank you." She sauntered off, but she was followed by the Conqueror.
The Conqueror returned to the bard's side and accompanied her back to the guest tent. She noted that the guard at the Amazon Queen's hut was plenty alert.
"I'm going to quickly check in with Ephiny." Gabrielle went to the tent next to hers and poked in her head. She reported to Ephiny that she was back from the walk and headed to bed. She bid Ephiny goodnight then went back to her tent. She entered it with Xena on her heels.
Xena only came in a few paces and stopped. "Get some rest, Gabrielle. It'll be a three to four day trip to the Thrace Nation."
Gabrielle wandered over to her bed but turned around and sunk down onto it. "And four days is being lucky... Yakut seems to think it'll take the every bit of five or six."
The Conqueror nodded and placed her hands between her back and cape. "I'll see you tomorrow. Goodnight." She started to turn but Gabrielle's voice stopped her.
"Xena," the bard softly called. She bounced off the bed and went over to the ruler. "Thank you for tonight." She smiled warmly up at her friend.
Xena partially turned back and returned the smile. "My pleasure... always." She gave her wink that she never gave anybody else but to Gabrielle. She then disappeared out of the tent.
"Goodnight," the queen murmured to the empty spot. Then a heavy sigh trickled out from her lips. She decided to get ready for bed so she stripped off her leathers and changed into a light nightshift. She removed all her jewelry except for her quill necklace. She then positioned her sword so that it leaned against her bed. Finally, she crawled into the soft bed, and she couldn't help her low moan. She sunk down into the softness that she'd missed since she left the Nation. Xena definitely had the right idea about soft beds.
Gabrielle took some time to doze off. She replayed tonight in her head a few times. She truly loved to spend time with Xena. She could tell they were rekindling their old friendship but also adding new dynamics to it. She could only wonder where it would lead them.
The bard started out on her back, but she turned over to her left side. She curled up some because of a slight chill down her back. However she warmed up again and breathed deeper. In the mists of her slow thoughts, Gabrielle reached up and clutched her quill necklace. It wasn't long after that she dozed off into a light sleep.
Some time passed, and Gabrielle shifted under the sheet and furs. Her dreamscape busied her, but a distant noise slightly pulled her from her sleep. Then there was a chill at her back, and she was almost certain she sensed the furs lifting up behind her. Gabrielle started to turn and reach around while coming out of her sleepy state. She quickly realized that there really was an intruder coming into her bed. Gabrielle started to panic.
"Ssssh. It's just me."
Gabrielle was soothed by the familiar voice. Then she felt the large hand on her stomach, and the heat came through her tunic to warm her skin. She let go of her held breath and sunk back into the bed. "How... did you..."
"Go back to sleep."
Gabrielle could only nodded her agreement. She melted into the warm, long body at her back. She was safe and right where she wanted to be. She fell back to sleep rather fast but now with a soft smile in place.
To be continued...
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