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 Find What was Mine. It's been almost three years, Xena is now the ruler of southern Greece, and she sets her sights on northern Greece. Gabrielle now discovers herself at a crossroad when the Conqueror, her lost friend, begins her march north and closer to her Nation. Just when Gabrielle decides to seek out Xena, a warlord surfaces near the Macedonia Amazon Nation and threatens to spoil the subtle peace between the Amazons and Centaurs. Meanwhile the Conqueror must keep the Romans at bay before they breach the Greek borders, and her old hatred leads her into blindness.



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Started: April 25, 2007

Series 9: Destiny of Mine – Story #2


To Take What is Mine

by Red Hope


Chapter 26

The Conqueror laughed deeply at the memory that her childhood friend brought up from their past. She shook her head as her laugh faded away.

Gabrielle let out a few more giggles then sipped on her fourth mug of wine. She set the mug down on the ground between her boots. She was plenty warm between the wine and being seated close to the bonfire.

Xena had her wine mug curled in her long fingers, and she was extremely relaxed next to the bard. She felt a dull ache on her bottom from being seated on the log for almost a candlemark, but she ignored it. She was having far too good of a time.

"I admit I did not always succeed... I did tend to fail more so."

Gabrielle patted her friend's padded knee and teased, "You succeeded in flying more often than riding." She grinned at the memory of Xena being thrown from plenty of horses back in the day. After she'd seen this repeated event so many times, Gabrielle had decided never to ride a horse with her friend.

"I wasn't that terrible," the ruler argued.

The bard gave a doubtful look to the older woman. She then relinquished and admitted, "You are a horse whisperer. I do remember Old Man Dareios bringing his wild stallion to you."

The Conqueror smiled at that proud moment in her childhood when she was able to ride the wild stallion but only after a few tussles and tosses. She eventually was able to train the stallion for Old Man Dareios, who was extremely grateful.

Xena was going to comment back, but she was stopped by the hand on her shoulder. She tilted her head back and took in Borias's stern features. She set her mug down on the ground then said to Gabrielle, "Excuse me." She got up.

Queen Gabrielle remained on the log, and she watched the fire between the dancing women. She'd spent the entire celebration with Xena tonight. And gods it was so wonderful to see her old friend return to her with each passing candlemark. She could feel they were reconnecting as they were when they were kids. But yet this time it was different too; so much more different.

Slowly the bard turned her head to the right, and from the corner of her eye, she made out Borias and Xena talking in a dim corner. She couldn't hear anything, but she interpreted their postures. She slightly slotted her eyes at how close Borias was to Xena.

"It is late, Xena," Borias hotly insisted.

"As if I can't keep count of the candlemarks passed since sunset," the ruler angrily chewed back.

The stratègos shifted in closer. "And I've been keeping count of the moons since we last spent a night together."

Xena sensed earlier what this may have been about because Borias continually kept an eye on her tonight. She knew he didn't like how close and how much time she and Gabrielle occupied tonight. She leaned in closer to him and whispered, "Then keep counting, Borias." She started to move away, but she was stopped by Borias's quick hold.

The stratègos jerked Xena back to him. He seethed, "She knew you, Xena but I know you."

The Conqueror yanked her arm free then smiled, dangerously. "Give her a little time, Borias... she'll know me soon enough." Then she finally walked off.

Gabrielle had already returned her attention to the dancing Amazons. She felt Xena's presence seated next to her again. She kept her voice low and carefully asked, "Everything okay?"

"Borias is just voicing his concerns," Xena merely commented.

"About being in the Nation or...?" Gabrielle had an idea about what. She too had noticed how Borias constantly studied them this evening, and she'd only noticed because she'd caught Xena looking at Borias.

The Conqueror picked up her wine mug and considered her words. She was always open and honest with her friend, and she wouldn't change that facet. "Borias and I have a history... as lovers."

"I see," the bard murmured after a moment. She took a deep breath then let it go. She could tell this was hard for Xena to openly admit to her. "Green-eyed monster huh?"

"Oh yeah," the ruler agreed. She swallowed the last of her wine then set the mug aside.

"Aren't you worried he'll react badly?" The bard was concerned that it could damage the ruler's and  stratègos's relationship.

Xena considered it and tilted her head at her friend. "Honestly? No, I'm not worried." She stretched out her legs some then explained, "Borias is honorable." She was quiet but admitted, "He's taught me a few things about honor."

Gabrielle sadly smiled at the confession. "So you think he'll be okay... eventually?"

The Conqueror wasn't quite sure if their conversation had some undertones to it or not. But she stayed focused on the question. "He and I both knew it would only be a temporary thing... that we don't match beyond friendship."

The bard sat quietly, and she studied her friend's features. As kids, Gabrielle always looked up to her friend because she felt Xena was far more wiser. Today, Gabrielle still felt the same way, and she smiled.

Xena raised her right eyebrow at the wistful smile. "What?"

Gabrielle shook her head and dropped her stare. "It's... it's good to have you back."

The ruler stretched out her hand and grasped the quill necklace that dangled from the Amazon Queen's neck. She peered up from it and rebuked, "I was never really gone."

Gabrielle placed her right hand over top of Xena's much larger one. Together, they clutched the quill necklace. She, like Xena, remained lost in their locked stares for several heartbeats. Gabrielle broke the trance by releasing Xena's hand, and she whispered, "Come with me?"

Xena freed the quill charm then stood up with the bard.

Gabrielle left her mug on the ground next to Xena's. She then captured Xena's right hand with her left, and it was so natural.

The Conqueror was guided through the crowd of Amazons. She didn't ask where to or why. She just merely followed her childhood friend to wherever she had in mind.

Queen Gabrielle broke through the crowd and traveled through the village towards the huts. She still held Xena's hand, and she peered up at the ruler.

Xena quickly decided what the bard may have in mind. It'd been a long time since she felt her stomach knot up like it did tonight.

Gabrielle entered her hut first, and she drew Xena inside as she turned around to face the tall woman.

Xena closed the door with her freehand stretched behind her. Once she had it shut, she found her hand filled with Gabrielle's. She knew her heartbeat was wilder than many horses she'd trained in her past.

Gabrielle moved in closer, and she was pleased when Xena lowered her head down. She never knew such a light kiss could excite her so. She felt her eyes close, and she drifted deeper into the light kiss.

Xena freed her right hand and slipped it behind Gabrielle's neck. Her long fingers slowly pushed through the bard's short hair, and the golden strands flowed between her fingers. She moaned once her tongue made contact with Gabrielle's, and she felt a deeper hunger for Gabrielle. She didn't expect it that way, and she abruptly ended the kiss.

Gabrielle pulled back and worriedly studied the ruler's features. "What is it?"

The Conqueror parted from the bard and took a step back. "It's too soon."

The bard shifted closer to the older woman and hoped she could play it off. "Xena, I'm twenty summers old... I'm way past sixteen." She carefully placed her right hand on Xena's leatherclad hip. She prayed her joke paid off.

Xena sighed and softly argued, "That's not what I mean."

Gabrielle lowered her shoulders some in worry. "What is too soon then?" She searched the ruler's eyes.

"This," the ruler unclearly explained. She shook her head then tried, "Us."

The bard closed her eyes and lowered her head. She pulled away and moved a few steps off to the right. She turned back and faced her friend. "Why is it too soon?"

"You don't think it's too soon?" Xena countered.

Gabrielle let out a patient breath and placed her left hand on her hip. She used her right hand to speak with. "I think it may be a little soon, yes. But I don't think I'll regret anything either." She recalled Andra's words the day before the battle. She now dropped her freehand to her side.

Xena tilted her head and challenged, "You don't sound so confident about it."

The bard sighed and dropped her hand from her hip. "I've already had this talk with Andra." She caught Xena's inclined eyebrow now. "I just..." She came back over to her friend. She tilted her head back once she was close enough. "Xena..." She remained quiet and still then softly confessed, "I've wanted to be with you for a long time." She searched Xena's mercury blue eyes and added, "I still want to be with you."

Xena took in each word of the confession. She placed her palm gently against her friend's cheek. She gathered her words and whispered, "And I do want to be with you, Gabrielle."

The bard carefully gripped the ruler's raised arm with a freehand. She clung to Xena. "I'm scared, Xena. I'm scared I may not have another chance to be with you. I don't want the chance to slip by me... again."

Xena lowered her head some and promised, "We will have our chance."

Gabrielle prayed that it was true because all she feared was that Xena would be killed in battle soon. She didn't want that reality to come true. She shut her eyes and murmured, "I know you... I know parts of you are still angry with me for what's happened between us. Angry at me for hiding for so long."

The ruler slid her hand back to Gabrielle's neck with a sure grip. She dropped her head down more and pressed her forehead against Gabrielle's. She had closed eyes and softly spoke, "I need time, Gabrielle. Please."

"I know," the bard hoarsely replied, "I know." She lifted her head from Xena's and struggled with her next words. "I just... want to be able to... to show you what I feel for you... have always felt for you."

Xena swallowed down the emotions that lifted in her. She could see that Gabrielle was holding back from getting any further upset. She bit her lower lip for a beat then honestly whispered, "There is nothing you can show me that I don't already know or feel the same."

Gabrielle felt the words cut through her and filled her heart. She quickly moved in and wrapped her arms around her best friend.

The Conqueror swiftly hugged Gabrielle back and held her tightly. She and Gabrielle stayed in the motionless position for awhile before Xena lifted her head. She then murmured, "Dawn will be coming soon enough."

The bard sighed and straightened up some. "Will you stay?" She gazed up at the ruler.

"I'll stay." Xena freed from her friend, and they prepared for bed.

Gabrielle soon only had on a white shift, and she wandered into the washroom to clean up. "I think the celebration went well."

The Conqueror was knelt by Gabrielle's desk. She had only her black shift, which had a few metallic beads sewn into it to make a design. She finished getting her boots unlaced. "Amazons do tend to celebrate any occasion." She heard a laugh come from the washroom.

The bard came back out and asked, "You notice that too?" She grinned and went to the fireplace, which she'd lit earlier before getting changed. She visually checked it and decided it'd be fine for tonight. She approached her friend. "An Amazon kills a stone and there's a celebration."

Xena chuckled then went to one side of the bed.

Gabrielle had a smile, yet she lost it as she considered Xena's past with the Amazons. She crawled into the opposite side of the bed next to the ruler.

The Conqueror became comfortable on her back. She wasn't the least surprised by Gabrielle getting on her side. These were common positions for the pair whenever they went to bed together in the past.

The Amazon Queen adjusted the heavy sheet over them then let out a relaxed breath. She watched Xena's profile and decided to take the risk. "Do you regret what happened in the Thrace Nation?"

Xena, the now famed Warrior Princess and Conqueror, remained silent and mentally repeated the bard's question a few times.

Gabrielle worried she'd pushed her luck, yet she held still and waited. She slightly relaxed at Xena's deep breath because she understood that old signal.

The ruler turned her head to the Amazon Queen. She'd composed her thoughts, and it was clear on her face. "I don't regret much of what has happened in my life. I use to... and it was a danger for me." She study her friend's features. "I believe all my paths lead to my greatness."

The bard was tasted Xena's last words over and over. She knew it wasn't arrogance but more of a fact in Xena's mind. But she questioned, "You believe no matter what happened in your life that you'd find some form of greatness?"

"Yes," Xena confirmed. "Perhaps not the same kind on each path, but I know my destiny is to be great... to be known and remembered."

Gabrielle shifted her head on the pillow then focused back on Xena. "Do you think it's our destiny to meet?" She was warmed by Xena's soft smile that appeared, and she didn't need any verbal response. She just merely whispered, "I think so too."

The Conqueror turned her head away and tried to relax.



Gabrielle was quiet for a moment then asked, "I can send a message to Queen Cyane?"

The ruler understood what Gabrielle was trying to do. She debated it, but she replied,"It is mine to mend... but thank you."

The bard considered it then reminded, "She will hear word about your help here... with us."

Xena kept her thoughts to herself about how the victory of the Battle of the Fates may not be enough. Although she wagered that somebody else may try to recruit the Thrace Nation against her anyway. She just hoped she was wrong, but she rarely ever was wrong.

Gabrielle sensed her friend was not convinced so she softly added, "I have not met Cyane, but I know she is honorable. She is forgiving." She watched Xena's face for any clues that her words were penetrating. "So don't write her off too fast, Xena."

The ruler decided not to argue. She simply instructed, "Get some rest."

The bard huffed, closed her eyes, and muttered, "Stubborn."

"Daydreamer," the ruler taunted back.

Gabrielle smirked and needled, "Egotistical."

"Featherhead," Xena shot back. She earned a slap for that remark. She chuckled in response and merely offered, "Truce."

"For now," Gabrielle mumbled. She snuggled her faced into Xena's neck.

The ruler shut her eyes, smiled, and softly agreed, "For now." She drifted into a deep sleep that took her into pieces of her past. Her dreamscape made her young until she was a teenager again. She still had her sharp blue eyes and midnight mane, and her height shrunk some.

Xena scanned about her surroundings, and she was high up from the ground in Argo's saddle. Off to her right she spotted Tracker, who was many, many moons younger.

"Oh, company on the road," Tracker joked.

"Bandits," Prostig muttered. He'd lost a few moons of age too, and he was redressed in his leathers from when he was a raider.

Xena's attention was drawn away from the approaching bandits when she heard a familiar sigh. She focused on a very young Gabrielle seated on a wagon's front bench. Xena noted how Gabrielle was outfitted with some light armor and a short sword on her back.

Gabrielle propped her elbows onto her knees and dropped her chin onto her hands. "We miss out on the fun."

Xena chuckled and relaxed in her saddle.

The three bandits closed in on the group and noted the three raiders. They then saw the wagon, which had Gabrielle seated on it, and Xena on a golden horse next to it. They had no idea what was in the wagon, but it was two of thing they decided – either people or animals.

"What can we do for you, gentlemen?" Prostig inquired.

The middle bandit stopped and looked at the very large man. "Just curious as to what you got in that wagon."

"Nothing of your business," a third raider remarked, and he had a smug look.

Xena focused on the third raider, and she recalled her hatred for that man. His name was Latho. Why did she hate him so much?

"Help us!" a woman suddenly cried out.

Xena sharply turned in her saddle, punched at the wagon bars, and snarled, "Be quiet." She narrowed her darkened blue eyes at the woman that'd spoken.

The blond haired woman shrunk away from Xena's venom. She sensed a gentle hand at her back that helped ease her intense pain. She gazed back at the young woman that stood just behind her. "Anke," she murmured.

The young woman, Anke, said nothing back, but she stared coldly through the bars at the female raider on the golden mare.

Xena sensed the look from the wagon, and she briefly glanced back at the wagon. She locked on the frozen blue eyes that bore into her.

"Sounds like they have a nice wagon load," a bandit joked.

Xena broke from her daze at hearing the bandit. She focused back on the current issue.

"Just walk away," Tracker suggested.

"Hey little man, shut the Hades up," a bandit warned hotly.

Tracker didn't care anymore. He jumped at the bandit in the middle with his sword raised. Latho pulled out his sword and took the closest bandit. Prostig took care of the remaining one.

Xena remained poised on Argo while Gabrielle intently watched from her spot. The fight went quickly, and Xena interjected to save Prostig's life. After the quick fight ended, the raiders continued to the cart the wagon of captives from Cirra to the slaver's compound that was only a day away. They eventually made camp just before sunset and enjoyed a peaceful night.

Xena and Gabrielle barely spoke because they feared the raiders would catch onto their plans. Xena could only hope she'd still find her baby brother at the slaver's compound. Gabrielle had faith that Xena would pull through with a plan, but she didn't quite understand yet how Xena planned to infiltrate the slaver's compound. She imagined it had to be secure.

The following day, the party made it to the slaver's compound. They traded the wagon of slaves for a certain amount of gold pieces then they were on their way again. They needed to return the raiding party before it was too late and Bracis wondered about them. The warlord had a fairly set time schedule in mind anymore.

The raiders decided to make camp a little early this time. They were only half a days walk from the raiding party, and Prostig was confident they'd catch up to them easily. The raiders split up camp duties, and Xena volunteered to catch dinner from the stream. Gabrielle decided to help out her friend. So the pair made it to the stream, which was a decent walk from the camp.

Xena waded into the water after she just rolled up her pants.

"Xena, this isn't going to work." Gabrielle stood a few paces behind Xena. She folded her arms over her padded chest.

"Sure it will, Bri." Xena went deeper in the water until it reached just over her knees.

"It won't," the bard protested, "there's no way in Hades somebody can do this."

The older teen shook her her head, and a grin crept over her face. "Have some faith." She bent over and lowered her hands into the water.

Gabrielle decided not to argue anymore. She merely sat on a rock nearby and studied Xena's boots and cloak on the ground. She peered up and watched her friend bent over the water. She kept waiting and eventually sighed to get Xena's attention, but it didn't work. "Xena," she complained.

"Wait, Bri."

The bard softly groaned and slumped forward. What was she waiting for anyway? She then heard gentle splashing that grew louder so she lifted her head.

Xena suddenly tossed up something wriggly in her hands. She hurled it at her best friend.

"Oh gods!" Gabrielle squealed, and she jumped from the rock when the fish landed in her lap. "Xena!"

The older teenager snickered. "You thought I couldn't do it, huh?"

"Um... well..." Gabrielle flushed and became perplexed at how her friend managed the trick. She noticed Xena had her back to her again so she sat back down. She now pondered how in the world Xena managed to fish with her bare hands.

Back in the camp, Prostig and Tracker were keeping fairly busy, but Latho had left because he'd recalled where he'd seen Xena's golden horse. He wandered through the woods until he made his way to the stream. He heard the girls talking so he quietly moved towards them.

"Xena, you think Lyceus was there?"

Xena still had her back to her friend. "I'm not sure."

Gabrielle gazed down at the three fish in front of her boot tips. The fish weren't flapping around as much now. "Are we going to go back?"

"Yes, we will." The older teen felt a fish brush past her fingertips, and she instantly snared the fish. She pulled it out of the water and threw it to her friend.

Gabrielle jumped to her feet and managed to catch the fish for the first time. She fought to keep it from flying from her hands and managed to put it in the pile. She sat back down then mentioned, "I hope we find him there and free him from Hecht."

Latho realized why the two teens were in the raiding party now. They were impostors, who were determined to find out information about Hecht. He felt his anger rise, and he grounded his teeth. He first glanced over his shoulder and noticed several bushes were directly behind Gabrielle. Then a nasty grin grew on his face. He hunkered down to his stomach and started a slow crawl for the bushes.

Xena became frustrated because there were less fish swimming past her. She needed one more so there would be enough for everybody. She remained motionless and patient.

Latho stalked closer then waited for his opening once he was near enough.

The small bard gave a yawn then stood up from being sore.

Latho saw his opening, and he sprung up directly behind Gabrielle. He brought his hand over Gabrielle's mouth then slipped his free arm around her waist. "Don't even breathe hard," he warned.

Gabrielle stiffened in fear at hearing Latho's voice. She couldn't think of what to do.

Latho then noted the sheathed dagger at Gabrielle's side so he tore it free. He glanced at the blade, which had an ivy design that twined down it. "Nice blade."

Gabrielle was wide eye, but she didn't have time to do anything. Latho hauled her off into the bushes.

Xena shook her head in frustration and called, "I don't think I'm getting anything else." She waited for a response, but she didn't receive one. "Bri?" she called while she straightened up. She then realized Gabrielle was gone, and the fish were still there. "Gabrielle?"

Xena started out of the water slowly. "Bri, what you doing?" The lack of response made her hurry through the water. "Gabrielle?" Panic set in, and she threw on her boots without lacing them. "Gabrielle?" She then heard a branch snap, but otherwise it was silent.

"Gabrielle?" she called again as she hurried through the bushes.

"Xena," Gabrielle hoarsely hollered.

"Gabrielle?" Xena hastily pinpointed her friend's voice and raced in that direction. "Where are you?"

"Here," the bard tried.

Xena barely made out the bard's voice. She was scared, but she hurried past a few trees and spotted her friend on the ground. "Gabrielle, what..." She dropped to her knees beside Gabrielle. "Bri?" She reached out for the bard.

Gabrielle focused on her best friend. "Latho is here," she merely whispered. She felt weak, cold, and her side ached terribly.

Xena grabbed her friend's cool hand that was coated in blood. "Gabrielle, what's going on?" She realized now her hand was bloody. "Gabrielle, what the Hades happened?" She moved the bard's hand away and finally spotted the bleeding, gouging wound.

"Latho," Gabrielle painfully murmured, "stabbed me."

Xena lost the color in her face now that she realized Latho discovered who Gabrielle and her were from his past.

"Xena, I didn't think you survived."

Xena sprung up to her feet and unsheathed her sword. "Latho, you fucking bastard!"

Latho still held Gabrielle's dagger that matched to Xena's, and it was coated with Gabrielle's blood. "I'm so glad I finally get to kill you. It always bothered me that you got away."

Xena took a step closer but made sure to keep Gabrielle behind her. "I'll kill you." Suddenly she charged him and unsheathed her sword in a fluent motion.

Latho was fast and met her blade. He laughed at her. "You should have never come back, girl."

Xena stepped away and kept her sword diagonal to the front of her. That aged hatred and anger came back to life in her chest and spread through her veins. She suddenly grew taller and far more muscular. Her outfit shifted into leathers, gauntlets appeared, and her famed cape hung at her back. Her chakram was hooked at her side, and her sword grew in length and weight. She was no longer a young girl but a woman, who'd developed into a warrior. She was now the Conqueror, and she faced the raider that murdered the hope in her heart.

"Come on, girl," Latho taunted, "try to take the revenge you'll never have."

Xena came at the raider, and she was far more superior than him. She brought him to his knees. "I will skin you alive for what you did."

"So promises the honorable Conqueror." Latho's gleamed in delight at Xena's anger. "You will never be anything more than me, Xena."

The Conqueror growled and pushed her blade down against him harder.

Latho stretched out his neck so he could peer right up at the ruler. "You will always be a murderer too, who took away peoples' dreams... hopes... and love." He laughed and coldly needled, "Long live the murderer, my liege." He relinquished his challenge and let go of his sword, and he took Xena's blade instantly. He did not scream in pain but merely laughed in glee.

The Conqueror's rage suddenly vanished, and she dropped her bloody sword. She watched the cackling raider fall to his knees.

Latho locked eyes with Xena, and he lost his laugh. He then shifted into somebody else from Xena's dark past. He merely said the defining words, "Divide and conquer. You divide a woman's emotions from her sensibilities, and you have her."

The Conqueror stepped back once and stared at the fallen corpse. The fallen corpse of Julius Caesar that depicted the darkest smile that Xena had ever seen. Xena felt suddenly weak and powerless. She looked off to her right and stared at Gabrielle.

The bard was motionless, and her eyes were lifeless. She was much older though with short hair and wore a formal Amazon Queen's attire. But she would no longer walk the Earth.

The Conqueror sharply dropped her head back and screamed all the pain she'd consumed over her lifetime.

"Wake up!"

Xena suddenly and frantically sat up in the hot bed. She sensed the sure grip on her shoulders, and she turned her head to concerned green eyes.

"Xena, it was a dream."

The Greek ruler lifted her hand and brushed back her sticky bangs. She tried to let her mind wake up from the nightmare.

Gabrielle lowered one hand but stayed close. "Are you okay?" Never once had she'd witnessed Xena scream in her sleep. She couldn't imagine what nightmares plagued the ruler late at night.

"Yes," Xena softly replied. "I'm sorry I woke you." She took a deep breath then quietly asked, "What time is it?"

The bard glanced at her window, which had a mat over it. She then glanced at the fireplace that was almost dead. "I'd say not long from dawn."

The Conqueror shifted some and mentioned, "I probably should be going then."

"I think you should be resting a bit longer," the Amazon Queen debated. She enforced her point by pushing down on Xena's shoulder. She sensed Xena's resistance so she warned, "Don't be stubborn."

Xena settled back down into the bed after a moment. She sighed deeply once she sunk back into the soft bed. She had to admit that the beds the Amazons produced were wonderful.

Gabrielle relaxed next to her friend. "Another candlemark won't kill you."

Xena grunted at the double sided remark.

"Figuratively speaking," the bard muttered. She rolled onto her stomach and became comfortable. She listened to Xena's breathing slow, which relieved her. She wouldn't push her friend to tell her about the nightmare; not today at least.

Dawn did quickly approach there after and very few Amazons woke up. The unique guest in the Amazon Nation did arise just as the sun came over the eastern horizon. It was as if she was tuned to the sun itself. Seven of Nine was soon enough clothed, and she promptly visited Commander Kaylee. There she had a brief check-in with the stratègos. Afterwards, the automaton marched across the village and headed to Andra's smithing hut.

Seven of Nine paused at the entrance of the smithing hut, and she studied the glow coming from the ajar door.

Ephiny and Solari were on duty along with Adonia and Deka. Ephiny was the closest to the automaton, and she curiously watched how the automaton became still before the smithing hut.

Solari moved closer to Ephiny and murmured, "I wonder why she stands there like that?"

Ephiny shook her head and just watched.

Seven of Nine edged closer to the door that illuminated a gold hue. She slowly lifted her left hand and silently pushed open the door wider. Now her ears rang with the clear rapping of cold metal against hot metal. The distinct smell of fire and liquid ore was pungent.

"She's in some... daze," Solari quietly decided.

The automaton stood motionless in the doorway of the smithing hut. She dropped her hand from the thatch door and stared at Andra's slightly hunched figure. The rhythmic rap of the metals seemed to become louder in her head. Then a fog coated her eyes as an old, lost memory surfaced from her subconscious.

The tapping of metal grew louder and became nearer then it paused.

"Give me your hands, woman." The hoplite grabbed a tall, blond's manacled hands. He used his hammer and tongs to disassemble the manacles. He was done in moments and ordered to her, "Wait here." He moved to his right.

The gorgeous blond turned her head to the left, and she watched the hoplite break the chains of another slave. She briefly closed her eyes and felt the relief at finally being freed. She listened to the hoplite's hammer breaking the chains of other slaves that'd been rescued. Then finally the tapping stopped.

The blond beauty gradually opened her eyes and took in her surroundings again. To her right and left were a handful of fellow slaves, who some she knew and others she did not. Then before her, she studied the countless men well armored in their hoplite attire and weaponry. She couldn't smile, but she felt the weight leave her.

From the crowd of hoplites, a single female warrior rode through on a golden mare. She held tall and wore black leathers with simple wire bronze armor. She had a cape behind her and claw like shoulder pads that attached the cape. In her wild hair, were golden trinkets. But most amazing were her sharp blue eyes.

The warrior dismounted from her golden horse and her landing on the ground caused everybody to go silent. She moved away from her horse and approached the dozen or so slaves that were just freed. She studied each slave's face then placed her hands on her hips.

"Today is a grand day for all," the warrior spoke loudly. She waited a heartbeat then announced, "Today Lord Talmadeus has fallen!" She listened to the cheers from behind her, and she had a thin smile at her hoplites' excitement. Once their cheers faded away, she focused back on the slaves before her. "And today, you are no longer slaves."

The slaves all murmured amongst themselves. Some could hardly believe this warrior leader and others were excited.

"You will no longer follow the order of your master. You are your own master now." The warrior paused and composed her words carefully. "Each of you will also be given so many drachmas to help you find a way of life." She held back her smile at seeing the former slaves' happiness.

"But what does this cost us?" a former slave demanded. "Everything has a price."

"Yes it does," the warrior answered. "I only ask a simple price of respect... of loyalty." She locked her hands between her cape and back. "I command an army that will sweep through Greece and liberate those who are manacled by their masters... by their polis... by their gender... and by their race." She searched the slaves' faces then continued to speak. "Our ancestors once envisioned such a freedom, but it has always been squashed by the poleis... the greed... and egos in this divided nation. But no longer is it just a vision... it will be Greece's destiny!"

The dark, tall warrior turned some and gazed at the ready hoplites. "What say you, hoplites?"

"To freedom!" the hoplites hooted, "To Greece!"

The warrior returned back to the former slaves and spoke again. "I command thousands of hoplites from Sparta, Corinth, and Athens. To them, I am known as the Warrior Princess and to my enemies I am called the Conqueror." She now walked closer to the slaves and came to a stop in front the blond woman, who matched her height. "But to former slaves such as yourselves," she called out, "I am known as Xena of Amphipolis."

The tall blond locked her crisp blue eyes on Xena of Amphipolis before her. She was breathing heavy, but she remained still.

The Conqueror stepped back a few times then called out, "For freedom, I ask for your respect and loyalty. Within my polis, I offer you full citizenship unlike any other Greek polis." She could tell the former slaves were shocked. "You may vote. You may own land. And the women may have voice." She was quiet then seriously offered, "However if these freedoms are not to your taste then you're free to join another polis. I leave that choice to you." With her final words, she went to her mare and easily mounted it. Then she was gone from sight.

The blond slave, who was now free felt her world shifted by the Conqueror's mere words. She, like many before and later, was moved by the beauty of freedom that the Conqueror brought in her wake. Where as before, she was a shadow because she was only seen and never heard. Suddenly a sense of purpose filled her from the freedom handed to her by the Conqueror.

Candlemarks shifted by rapidly but eventually the tall, blond slave found her way into the Conqueror's camp. She wasn't sure where to go, but she knew her wishes. She was looked over by countless hoplites that she passed, but they did not stop her. Guests who posed no threats to the army were allowed in the camp and could roam fairly freely.

Finally the former slave picked out the distinct voice that was only the Conqueror's. She beelined through the tents and passed several campfires in the early evening. She knew she was closing in and after several more paces, she spotted the legendary warrior.

The Conqueror stood tall beside her stratègos, and she was busy chatting with him.

The stratègos, Borias, hesitated once he noted the lanky blond coming towards them. He was drawn by her sheer beauty and lightening blue eyes once she was upon them. He decided to greet her first. "Hello, I am Borias." He hesitated then offered, "I am the Conqueror's stratègos."

The former slave didn't smile, but she did politely reply, "It's nice to meet you." She faltered yet gathered her words and stated, "I wish to enlist in your army." She switched her focus to the Conqueror. "To be a hoplite."

The Conqueror's lips thinned slightly, and she placed her hands between her back and cape.

Borias cleared his throat once he realized the Conqueror wasn't about to speak, just yet. He carefully asked, "What is your name?"

"I often go by Arcadia." The beautiful blond had high cheekbones much like the Conqueror. Her long hair was currently twisted up in a bun and pinned in place. Her simple, white clothes were worn and slightly dirty. Even her sandals showed many moons of aging.

"How long have you been a slave, Arcadia?" the stratègos inquired.

"Since I was sixteen summers old."

Borias was about to question further but Xena stopped him.

"Give us a moment, Borias." The Conqueror slightly inclined her right eyebrow at him. Once he wandered off, she focused back on Arcadia. "If your life depended on killing five armed bandits, could you do it?"

Arcadia was stoic and honestly answered, "Yes, I believe so."

"If you were armed and trained, would you feel prepared to hold a phalanx line against an enemy?"

The former slave still remained serious and honestly answered, "If I am trained, yes."

The Conqueror stood quiet for a moment then she questioned, "Are you willing to fight to the death against an opponent who you know has a wife at home, two sons, a baby daughter, and perhaps he's a distant friend to your family?"

Arcadia now stayed silent, and she could not gather her words.

The Conqueror tilted her head slightly. "A hoplite walks into battle knowing he will kill his brother, but he does so with honor. He accepts he may be killed too and that his death will be remembered in honor. It is a code among hoplites, and it is a hard code to live and die by, but it is our way." She studied the mirroring blue eyes before her, and she finished, "A hoplite's code and way are not for everybody." She ended her speech there and started to walk away.

"Wait," Arcadia insisted.

The Conqueror hesitated and pivoted back on her feet. She partially turned to the former slave.

"I would like to try," Arcadia insisted. She stepped closer to the Conqueror and stopped.

The Conqueror waited a beat then stated, "Enjoy your new freedom without first dying." She tried to walk away again but the other woman's words caught her.

"That is my choice, now."

The Conqueror now had darkened blue eyes, and she fairly warned, "And it is my choice to allow enlistment." She turned back and neared the tall woman. She seemed taller because of her garb and the sword's hilt that protruded above her head. "You are not fit to be a hoplite. Nor will I aid in letting a former slave aspire to a purpose that will only get them killed." She narrowed her eyes some. "Find another method to your purpose rather than a sword and a shield." Again, she walked away but with more momentum in her step.

Arcadia was angry, and it clearly showed in her features and eyes. She raised her voice and called, "And before there was a great Conqueror there was a Destroyer of Nations... a murderer."

The Conqueror came to a stop, but she kept her back to the former slave.

"You owe more than just freedom to these people," Arcadia hotly debated, "You owe lives."

The Conqueror fisted her hands and gathered herself. She continued to walk away despite the rise within her.

"You owe these people their hearts and souls," Arcadia angrily hollered. She lost her words to the lifting breeze that passed through the camp.

The Conqueror marched off but her cape danced in the wind, and her dark mane floated gently in contrast to her ridged form.

Arcadia observed the Conqueror's powerful strides, and an old venom was reborn in the pit of her stomach. The way the Conqueror's midnight hair glided in the breeze charged angry memories in Arcadia. She suddenly closed her eyes and became hit by older memories that she'd long tried to forget. She became so lost in them that everything seemed to black out and time paused for a heartbeat.

Then an unexpected voice broke through and called, "Seven?" The strong voice belonged to Andra, who was the Macedonia Amazon Nation's blacksmith.

"Seven, are you okay?" The blacksmith stood only a couple of steps from the tall automaton. She had a concerned look on her face.

Seven of Nine opened her eyes and blinked a few times. She refocused on the present and noted the blacksmith before her, who rested a large hammer against her right shoulder.

"Are you okay?" Andra tried again.

The automaton internally assessed herself and replied, "I am running at optimal levels."

The Amazon wasn't sure how to decipher it, but she decided it wasn't anything bad. "How long were you standing there?"

Seven of Nine became slightly confused and answered, "I am... unsure."

Andra lowered her hammer until the head touched the dirt floor. "You must have blacked out... or something." She still was concern about the automaton. "Do you need to see a healer?"

"I do not. I am functioning normally." Seven shifted around the blacksmith and stated, "Perhaps we should begin today's session."

Andra took a deep breath and spun around on her heels. She wasn't quite use to the automaton's curt and sometimes abrasive attitude. "Shall we then..." She muttered and yanked her hammer off the floor by its handle. Within beats, she and the automaton were starting into today's lesson. And again, Andra was impressed by how quickly Seven of Nine picked up on smithing. She'd hypothesized that the automaton had a high intelligence, but skills were more required for smithing. She began to wonder if Seven of Nine didn't have a natural born skill for blacksmithing. Andra knew smithing skill when she saw it.

Despite Seven's possible skills in smithing there were other skills that were lacking and somewhat of a concern to two Amazons. Queen Gabrielle and Commander Kaylee both agreed that the automaton had little skill in social settings and may not understand all social norms. With that in mind, Commander Kaylee came up with the idea that somebody should be an advisor or mentor to aid the automaton in fitting in again. So after a brief meeting, the queen and stratègos came up with a mentor to help Seven of Nine adjust to the social realm.

Commander Kaylee ordered the selected Amazon to come to her office hut. It wasn't long before the Amazon arrive, and Kaylee warmly greeted the Amazon. The stratègos became comfortable behind her desk and rested her hands on the arms of the chair.

The Amazon crossed her legs and despite her weary features, she was focused on the stratègos.

"Thank you for coming, Cliona," Kaylee first started.

Cliona, the apprentice healer, slightly dipped her head but said nothing.

"I asked you here because the queen and I need your help." Kaylee crossed her legs under the desk. "Specifically with Seven of Nine."

Cliona was confused, but she listened intently. "The automaton?"

"Yes," Kaylee confirmed. "We've noticed that Seven... lacks certain social skills. I don't know whether she's always lacked them or whether it's been from her transformation, but we believe the latter." She carefully observed Cliona's features and attitude. "She needs somebody to teach her... guide her on how to interact on a social level. The queen and I are hoping you would be inclined to do such."

The apprentice healer wasn't sure at first and questioned, "Why me?"

"For several reasons. First, you have excellent social skills and bedside manners from being in the healer's hut."

Cliona huffed and gave a doubtful look.

"Compared to the other healers," Kaylee quickly insisted, and Cliona shot her a grin for it. "You're younger than Seven, but I think in some ways you'll both be on the same level. Hopefully you two can relate better that way. Also you're skills as a healer may be important."

Cliona furrowed her eyebrows and tested, "Because of her alterations?"

"Yes," Kaylee agreed, "We're concerned about how her body... works. How different is it compared to ours? What is the same and what's different?" She tilted her head. "Perhaps you can develop a close enough relationship where she's comfortable to let you asses her later on."

The apprentice healer did have to agree with that idea that somebody had to probably develop trust with Seven of Nine enough to check over her. At least with a healer, it could later benefit for all. "Why didn't you pick a senior healer like Melpomene? She has more skill and knowledge as a healer."

The stratègos was very serious as she replied to the important question. "She does, yes. However your skills as a healer are growing, and I don't doubt for a beat that you're inadequate to handle this situation. The queen and I have every confidence in you." She paused then added, "As Seven develops, you will grow with her."

Cliona bowed her head some.

The stratègos could tell the apprentice was carefully weighing things. She had a thin smile because she appreciated Cliona's careful consideration. She also knew she wouldn't be refused so she just waited.

Slowly Cliona raised her head. "I will teach her as best as I can."

Commander Kaylee's thin smile pulled wider. "I know you will, Cliona... I know."

To be continued.

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