Copyright Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and company are the sole property of MCA/Universal, Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA, and whoever else owns them. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this just for fun and not for profit piece of fan fiction.


Teaser : Conquering the world is no easy task; many have tried and died. But none of them were Xena.

Summary: Xena sets out to conquer all before her. Haunted nightly by visions of Gabrielle, she searches to find the peasant girl she met so long ago.

Timeline of this story is after the events of “Armageddon's Vengeance of the Destroyer Part I”, the first in the trilogy of stories. Part two is the second installment of the series. I recommend you read the first story.

This is a Xena Conqueror Story, the plot is dark.

Language – A bit coarse in parts, not overly vulgar.

Artwork created by the supremely talented Aaron Wong. More of his fantastic art can be found on Deviant Art . or

Some of the dialogue points between characters can be attributed to Shakespeare's the tragedy of Julius Caesar, my favorite play, which served as inspiration for the story. More inspiration came from the great battles of antiquity, the American Revolutionary war, the American Civil War, and World War II, Also quotes from people such as George Patton, John F. Kennedy, Joseph Stalin(yes, it's dark in areas) Pol pot(ditto) The French Philosophes, Georges Clémenceau, Sun Tzu, Star Trek, and the Star Wars series. I'm sure I left someone out.

Many thanks to Karyn for taking the time to proofread this story and for helping me become a better writer.

To contact:


Vengeance of the Destroyer

Part II




Chapter 1

Octavian was grabbed roughly, and thrown down to the deck, his Admiral landing on top of him.

Above the two, a lit bolt fired from a ballista sailed overhead, the javelin embedding itself into the ships mast.

“You men there, douse those flames!” A deck officer shouted. Frantic Sailors moved to dip wooden buckets into the sea, and then haul them up by long rope. Rushing across the deck, they worked to quickly smother the fire before it could consume the ship.

“General, my pardon” Octavian's fleet commander muttered while helping him up.

“Nonsense, Agrippa, “I would have been skewered.”

Standing Octavian once more took in the sight of Antony 's ships arrayed against him. Roman warships giving chase arrayed in a line stretching from horizon to horizon. Behind those the ships of Egypt sailed.

It had not begun well, Octavian having landed his troops at Ephesus found himself quickly under attack by soldiers loyal to Antony . The traitorous general having made his intent clear used his battle hardened men, weakened though they were by the Persians, to breach Octavian's lines. Antony , Octavian had to concede, had made the right decision, knowing the longer he allowed Octavian to organize his troops, the stronger his position would be. The die thus cast, Antonius' attack had been withering and Octavian's forced retreat from entrenchments, though the city, and finally to the docks had been humiliating. At the last, his men were forced to throw off their armor and dive into the waters, swimming out to Octavian's ships as they fled the harbor for the open sea.

Piles of finely made Roman armor arrayed haphazardly along the waterfront, such a waste...

For a fortnight, the fleets had skirmished against each other, as Octavian retreated west. Antony gave no quarter, knowing full well that if he defeated Octavian's fleet, Italy herself would be under threat of a sea bone invasion. If Antonius landed on the peninsula he might, by his charisma, gain the loyalty of more troops, potentially taking control of mother Rome before Uncle Julius could march his men from the border of Hispania to defend it.

“General, Zephyr's winds have left us,” Agrippa's words caused Octavian to glance up at a slack main sail. “We cannot maintain the pace of our retreat by use of oar men alone.”

“Then nether can Antonius.”

“Not so, General” Agrippa's hand rose, finger pointing. “He is further out in the channel, where winds still carry his ships, while we have been forced into skirting close to land, which blocks any hope of our salvation.

“What inlet is this?” Octavian asked while studying the sea worn features of his Admiral.

“General that be the Saronic Gulf, and the city of Piraeus beyond.” Agrippa clasped Octavius' shoulders, a gesture meant to impart how serious the situation was. “The noose tightens around us, we are about to be boxed in by Antony . He is moving to cut our escape to the open sea.”

“And I fear, Greece will not be kind to us should we be forced to seek refuge in the harbor of Piraeus .”

“I concur General.”

“Well then my old friend. We shall turn and fight!”

Agrippa smiled wide, “We may not win the day general, but tis better to fight as men than die like dogs.” I promise we shall make Antonius pay for his treachery to Rome !”

Stepping away from Octavian, and up to the stern of the ship, Agrippa, grabbed the tiller himself after pushing the man holding it aside gruffly. Shoving the rudder starboard, he yelled to the signal man standing near. “All ships come about! We attack!”

Below deck the ever present beating of drums, meant to keep the slave oarsmen in time, picked up speed.

Agrippa steadied the tiller, guiding his flagship about in a tight turn, attempting to maneuver as quickly as possible to catch Antonius' fleet of guard. The first ship, the one which had drawn close to fire the ballista was caught napping and made the deadly mistake of attempting to heel hard to port.

“Hang on!”

At Octavian's order, soldiers on board grabbed anything near as means to steady themselves.

The iron ram at the prow of the ship smashed though wood, the screams of the chained slaves ringing out as water flooded into the enemy ship.

“Grab the shields!”

Soldier and sailor alike, snatched up the wooden shields hung along the starboard and port side of the Trireme as arrows and ballista bolts from the enemy raked the deck. Screams rang out as those too slow in raising shields in defense were cut down, their blood spilling about the decks. In the mist of battle, boys ran to and fro scattering sand to keep the men from slipping on the crimson liquid coating the deck.

“Reverse!” bellowed Agrippa to the officer of the deck.

Ever so slowly, the Trireme pulled from the enemy ship, the ram exiting from the damaged timbers, allowing more of the sea to rush in. The enemy, realizing the ship had been mortally wounded jumped into the blue waters. When they surfaced for air, well aimed spears from Octavian's men sliced through them.

Within the bowels of the enemy ship, desperate cries where heard as the rowers where pulled under the water, by the chains binding them to their oars.


“Agrippa!” Octavian shouted out to amidst the din of battle. “Our ships are smaller, more maneuverable, swarm Anthony's ships!”

The old Admiral smiled wryly as he was just about to suggest the same course of action. Octavian was doing what he always did, attempting to turn sure defeat into a fighting chance.

“Signal the fleet! Ships pair off, attack together.”


“ Antony , the enemy means to fight.”

For long moments, Antonius continued to lean against the wooden rail, chewing upon a fig, showing little concern for the present situation. Tossing the remnants over the ships rail, he stood fully.

“Cornelius I know how Octavian thinks and I understand why he's doing this. He wishes he were somewhere else, but turns to fight, looking fierce so I'll think him brave. Tis not so…” Antony moved to don his helmet and check his armor. “Octavian is desperate, not brave. He cannot win, so he seeks annihilation.”

“Even so, should we not take heed?” Cornelius' expression was tense, doubt written upon the lines in his face.

“Order all ships to engage the enemy, melee attack!” The signal man nearest raised his flags to pass the order on to the other ships of the line.

“No formation?” Cornelius pressed.

“We outnumber them.”

“General hear me, on land I know well of your prowess in dispatching the enemy, but here we are out of our element. Is it not wise to use caution? Agrippa is a most experienced sailor.”

“These tit for tat skirmishes between our ships has gone on long enough, we crush them now.”


“Antonius makes a rash mistake, bore from impatience and a lack of familiarity with the ships he commands.”

“My Queen?” asked Raia with a most confused look. “He outnumbers them, certainly that is an advantage?” she queried most respectfully. The eldest daughter of Vizier Amenemhet followed behind the Queen of all Egypt to the rail of the ship. In the shimmering reflection cast by the sunlight off the waves Cleopatra's dark locks shimmered, the gold beads woven within her braided tresses shining brilliantly. The Queen chose to wear no armor; instead a form fitting dress of sea green and gold accentuated her beauty. To Raia, Cleopatra was truly the daughter of Ra.

“Octavian has found his one advantage and soon we shall be called upon to save Antonius.”

“Forgive me, but I see no advantage.”

“Raia…” A gentle smile played upon gorgeous lips. “You must learn how things work. All ships are not equal, some are heavily armored, a definite advantage against attack, but that same armor makes them slower in maneuver. Others, like Octavian's are more maneuverable, due to less armor, a definite advantage when facing larger and slower warships such as those Antonius fights with.”

“Then, does not Antonius have the advantage?” asked Raja, clearly confused.

“My dear, it is all about using best aspects of your ships to your advantage. Raja's gaze followed to where her queen was pointing. “See how Octavian pairs his ships?” How they attack together as wolves do?” Antonius' attacks without formation, his lone ships will be picked off one by one like sheep culled from the flock.

“What should be done to—“Raja's next question was cut off by messenger.

“My Queen!” The man knelt before her. “A ship, which has raced across the waters to find us, has signaled a message.”

“And that is?”

She watched as the runner's eyes darted about nervously observing those on deck who were listening, without appearing to do so.

“Here man.” Cleopatra instructed, one beautiful finger touching her ear. “Whisper it to me quietly.”

The man did as commanded, and Raia watched as her queen grabbed the rail to steady herself a moment, shock upon her features.

“Signal the fleet! Cleopatra hands balled into fists. “All ships come about! We sail for home!”


Chapter 2

For long moments, Sevastain stood dumbfounded at the ordered confusion occurring within the marble halls of the governing palace. Servants scuttled about, moving personal items of every sort. He surmised upper rooms were being readied for use by the Empress… he paused when the title crossed his thoughts. The Polemarchos, he had been informed, now held the position of Empress of all Greece .

Absolute power now hers to wield.

Those rounded up in the course of his mission to destroy the Athenean Assembly had been placed in cells, their names recorded for the Empress to peruse when she deemed necessary. The one who called herself Callisto, he placed in the lowest level of the dungeon. That young woman had trouble in holding her tongue. The silver coin had been counted in his presence, and it and the various treasures of the Assembly secured in the vaults used by the courts of law. Once finished, he had met with several of the commanders, ensuring the troops were both well supplied with rations and billeted for the night. His inspection of the soldiers placed to watch the streets and upon the city ramparts was complete. The army was secure, scouts properly positioned.

The word tired, were it applied to him, was an understatement. Sevastain longed for a bath, and rest, but Xena had ordered him to make a report upon completion of his work this day, and her will was his command.

Problem was he didn't have a very good understanding of the layout of the Palace. Well… high time to find out where the Empress was holding court. Stepping forward, he was taken off guard by the stoppage of work as those in the room noted his presence. Servants upon scaffolds paused in tearing down Toris' old banners; those carrying items halted their progress. Wary eyes turned to him as if awaiting instruction. Glancing down at his armor Sevastian figured he made for quite a sight bloody and gore coated as he was.

“You do realize they await your orders.” Meleager's voice sounded in his ear, the man having walked up behind him.

“Why?” Sevastain was well and truly confused by it all causing Meleager to chuckle.

“You ask why my friend? Word travels quickly; they understand something you have yet to grasp. In the new government, you are second only to the Empress.”

“I am second in the army, a soldier like you.”

“No longer,” His closest friend rebutted. “Xena rules an Empire, and you as her chosen second, wield power both on and off the battlefield.”

The weight of Meleager's words settled upon Sevastian, a most heavy burden was now his to bear.

With a flick of one hand, Sevastian commanded work in the hall to resume. For a long moment he watched the bustle, noting the cautious glances thrown his way.

“I believe I prefer the battlefield Meleager.” Sevastain looked back over one shoulder, eyeing the old veteran. “There it is far easier to tell who your enemy is.” He whispered.

“Lord Commander.”

“Yes?” Sevastian cursed inwardly at allowing the exhaustion he felt to creep into his tone. Casually turning his head back toward the voice, his eyes widened and tracked upward quickly. He need to crane his neck back a bit to take in the imposing woman standing before him.

“The Empress calls you to station, Lord Commander.”

Sevastain straightened immediately his bearing solemn. “Lead on, it is unwise to keep the Empress waiting.”

The woman turned on her heel and paced away, both he and Meleager following.

“Pardon me for asking,” Sevastian prefaced, “but I'm afraid I don't know your name.”

“Siri, Lord Commander.”

“Siri,” he repeated, “A pleasure.”

Silence… Apparently Amazon's did not think much of exchanging pleasantries.

“Are all Amazon's so…” he stopped mid question thinking it foolish to ask.

“No,” she replied, not turning to answer.

“I see.” He replied wondering if she even knew what he was about to ask.

“However, I believe nearly all are taller than you.” She finished.

Meleager laughed, seeing the frown Sevastian displayed.


Now that the oaths of fidelity were duly sworn, she would now instruct them as to what she expected.

“With the…” Xena paused thinking a moment her head quirking over to one side ever so slightly, “abrupt adjournment of the Athenian Assembly.” A dark smile, “I now give power to you, my Governors. Each one of you will be administrator to one of the 39 provinces now part of my Empire.”

“ Corinth has surrendered?” Halting her step at the end of the first row, she paused to smile down at the man who had asked the question, Andronicus.

“They will.”

Andronicus had served her loyally as had all of her newly appointed territorial governors. The man had once been part of her Old Guard, wounded during the capture of Sparta ; he lost a leg to gangrene, hobbling about now by use of crutches. Others in the lineup were also scarred by their service to her. Unable to fight with her front line troops, but still adept in administration, they now would be enlisted to run the provinces of her empire.

Sliding round Andronicus, Xena strode down the second row. “I give you command of a core of my veteran troops, around which you will build a Militia to keep order within your territory. I also send veterans of my army whose days of fighting have come to an end. I expect you to give them good farmland so they may enjoy a comfortable retirement. Remember, these soldiers have earned that land by serving Greece in her time of need so treat them well. I also expect you to survey all property owned by peasants, I want those who make good use of the land to prosper, those who fail to produce removed from… my… land.”

“Forgive the impertinence, Empress.” Andronicus spoke from the first row, his back to her, “but what should we do with the peasants who, as you say, fail to produce.”

Xena halted her stride, white cape of Athena swirling round her ankles before falling still.

“Andonicus, I have always believed that men and women are capable of having many skills. If a man is a useless at farming, we… you… shall enlist him in another trade. Perhaps he might be of use in the mines, shipbuilding, weapon making, a sailor, construction, or even serving your household in some capacity. We are made to work, my Governors , work builds a man up, while idleness tears him down.”

“While we are on the subject of work…” a smile played upon her lips as she anticipated the firestorm her next words would provoke. “I expect to see plans from you for the construction of a network of roads linking all the cities and villages within your provinces. I want these plans personally delivered to me within the next three fortnights.”

“Buh-but, Empress!” Nereus sputtered daring to say what all thought. “Building such roads would take untold thousands to complete!”

Then may I suggest you start recruiting your labor force from the untold thousands sitting idle in the many dungeons across Greece ”

“Empress,” Nereus pressed, “ Greece has many mountains…”

“Tunnel though them.”

“So many deep valleys…”

“Build bridges over them.”

“Many would succumb to illness having to work in such rough conditions, my liege.” Theron, one of the youngest of the newly appointed governors said with concern.

“Whether, one criminal dies, or ten thousand die does not concern me, what concerns me is that the road is completed, understood?”

Her words shocked all present into silence for a long moment.

‘How should we pay for such work? Even the criminal must be fed and clothed?” Theron was pinned by those azure eyes and dipped his head.


A gesture from her and a rather tubby little man, Vidalus stepped forward to hand each Governor a scroll, sealed with wax bearing the image of her signet ring. Inwardly she was impressed that the palace steward, known by all as the major-domo, already had placed names with faces. Although he was part of the old regime under Toris, he appeared to be worth keeping as his work thus far was satisfactory. Already, he was revamping the governing palace precisely to her liking. She had explained in broad stokes what she had wanted, and he was filling in the details expertly. Actually, Vidalus reminded her a bit of Salmoneus in some small way.

“In each of these scrolls, you will find a list of all that I require from your province. Fulfill the tasks I assign you, and you will find me to be most benevolent. Fail me,” a long and very tense pause ensued. “And you will be – replaced - by someone more capable.”

The door to the throne room was opened discreetly and all present watched as Sevastain slipped in with Meleager alongside followed by the Amazon Siri.

For a moment, Xena gave a genuine smile to the man. He had proven to be the most loyal of all those in her service. Nearly beaten to death by her due to Athena's treachery and still he remained faithful.

“My second, Sevastain.” she introduced. “Should he choose to grace you with his presence;” she paused to lean in behind Eustathius, noting how the little hairs on the nape of his neck rose. “Be worried.” She finished darkly.

“Empress, I beg your pardon.” Again Theron spoke. “But I feel I must address a matter dear to the hearts of the people of Thrace , which I am sent to rule.”

“And that would be?”

The people are accustomed to democracy, surely they will grumble at having the franchise taken from them and you appointing all public officials.

“Then hold elections Theron.” Xena counseled.

“You mean to allow--”

“It is enough that the people know there was an election.” She advised, “As long as you understand that the people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. You count the votes Theron. Clear?”

“Yes Empress.”

She paused at the end of the third line, standing in front of a very bewildered appearing Hippolyta.

“Amazon, your expression bespeaks confusion.”

“Why am I here?”

A rare full laugh erupted from the new Empress. “Amazons! Always straight to the point! Hippolyta, I return you to your rightful place ruling Athens , only this time you do so in my name.” The Governors around them murmured to each other in shock.

She watched as Hippolyta let out a huff of disbelief, shocked she would rule once more.

“Certainly,” Xena raised her voice so all would hear clearly, “none of you expected that the Chosen of Ares would remain in Athena's city?”

“May I exact some measure of retribution on those who killed my husband and only son?” the Amazon asked discreetly.

“Why of course,” a low velvety purr from the Empress, “If you can find them, you see, from early reports, my second was most thorough today.”

“I shall find those who are left.” Hippolyta vowed.

“Do so, vengeance is always sweet.”

Turning, Xena paced round the lines of Governors , stepping to the raised dais upon which her throne sat.

Her throne...

Her Empire...

Seating herself, she stretched her legs out, and then crossed them at the ankles.

“Go,” she commanded the men, “read my instructions and tonight at sunset we shall celebrate my rule of Greece .”

With a multitude of bows, they departed from her, huddling in groups, speaking in low tones. Invariably, some would challenge her, and would have to be killed.

So be it.

In her experience, death solved all problems, no man, and no problem.

“Station, my Lord Commander.”

No matter how many times he had spoken with the Polema... the Empress. Being called forth by her was, as ever, an unnerving experience. Marshalling his courage, he stepped forward, footfalls silent upon the long narrow crimson rug leading to the throne.

His mistress sat upon a golden throne with a low rounded back. Cushions of pure white, beneath and behind supported her long frame. Even a plush matching footstool stood ready to receive her feet. As Sevastain stopped to bow before her the first time, he glanced up in time to see one of her booted feet kick it out of the way, sending it tumbling down the steps.

Straightening once more, he walked a few paces, and then bowed again, the silence within the hall palpable. The room was as plush as the throne the Empress sat upon, eight columns cut from blood red marble split into four on either side rose up to support a beautifully gilded vaulted ceiling. Mid way up the columns were corbels supporting white marble arches which soared above the rug leading up to the throne. Attached to each arch were the banners of Toris, evidently there hadn't yet been time to haul them down and replace them with the Empress' standard.

Nearing the throne, for the third and final time, Sevastain bowed low.

“Always focused on propriety, my second,” Xena muttered soft, the comment directed toward Vidalus who was standing near.

“Quite so Empress,” replied the Major-domo, “refreshing to see such a display of respect to your person.” Though his bow could use a little work, Vidalus wisely chose to leave that tid-bit unsaid.

Reaching the steps of the throne, Sevastain did far more than kneel; instead he moved to lie prone before his Empress.

“Rise, my friend.”

Sevastain did so, gracefully returning to his feet


“Your Imperial Majesty,” Sevastain prefaced, noting the smile Xena displayed at the use of the honorific. “The members of the Assembly have been executed, their corpses reduced to ash as the building itself was used to give them a pyre.”

“Appropriate, a fitting end for greybeards.” Shifting slightly, Sevastain watched as she turned her attentions toward Vidaus “I wish a temple to Ares to be built where the Assembly once stood. The Architect Karpion still resides in Athens , no?”

“Yes, Empress.”

“Tell him to draw up plans for my approval, explain that the temple should be grand, but not so that it competes with the Parthenon, we do not wish to upset the patron of Athens .

“As you order, so it will be done Empress.”

Sevastain straitened as her gaze fell upon him once more.


“The women and children were spared and now reside in the cells beneath us, awaiting your judgment. All valuables held within the assembly to include 70 chests filled with silver, have been accounted for and now are locked in your vaults under guard. Names of those rounded up and lists of treasures specified within. The within being the two scrolls Sevastain held up A gesture from the throne and the Amazon who guided him, Siri, stepped forward to take the documents from his hand. Turning the woman handed them to the Major-domo when a gesture from the empress so ordered her do so.

All present watched as Xena twisted slightly in order to nonchalantly position one leg over the throne arm. The breech of etiquette caused Vidalus to sprout such a look of horror that it was all Meleager could do to keep from bursting into laughter at the sight.

“I am most pleased with your work Lord Commander.”

“Too kind Majesty,” Sevastain dipped his head

“Station, Amazon.”

All present watched as Siri stepped down from the dais Xena was situated upon, silently gliding around Sevastain, she took up position behind him and to his right.

“Meet the new captain of your personal guard.”

Sevastain stood shocked, “Personal guard?” he huffed. “Majesty, I must protest, I see no reason to—“

“I require it.” Xena stated succinctly, silencing his objection.

Sevastian bowed low in deference to her will.

“ Greece is surrounded by many enemies,” she explained, “some on the battlefield, while others slither like snakes through the halls of power. On the battlefield I have no doubts as to your abilities, but here one must be on guard for a knife in the back. The Amazon and her compatriots will ensure that knife does not find you. Go my friend, Siri will show you to your quarters. Rest, I will expect you to join me later this day for celebrations in the great hall.”

Sevastian bowed once more, stepping back without turning he again bowed to the Empress.

As he was about to turn, Sevastian realized he had forgotten a bit of information.


“Yes?” He watched as Xena's gaze turned from a curiously red faced Meleager toward him.

“A messenger from Corinth just arrived and awaits an audience with you, it seemed important.”

“Important for him,” Xena responded curtly. “Send him in.”

“I will do so.” Sevastian bowed one final time before taking his leave.

“Finally proud Corinth is forced to submit to my will. How pleasing it is to have cornered them, leaving them with no other option but surrender. Best of all, I've done it without fighting.” She smirked down at Vidalus who stood at the foot of her dais. “And I will make clear just who now rules them.”

As the messenger from Corinth entered the chamber, Vidalus felt the Empress' gaze upon him and looked up. “Prepare yourself for a trip to Corinth , you leave tomorrow” she commanded.


“Antonius! Our ally deserts us!”

Looking to the East, Antonius allowed the tip of the bloody sword held by his hand to touch the deck.

“Cleopatra!” he screamed above the din of battle, while casting the sword aside.

Running deftly across the deck, he released the catches holding his armor to him, his helmet flung off.

“Antonius!” Cornelius dove at his commander fingers grazing one boot as the general mounted the railing, to then plunge into the blue waters.

“What manner of plan is this?” asked a shocked centurion standing near.

“No plan, Macrinus,” Cornelius dropped his head as he leaned against the rail. “Antonius is a lovesick fool, chasing the woman who betrayed him, and us.”

“What should we do?”

Cornelius shook his head, eyes tracking to the carnage occurring on deck, the destruction of the fleet. “We now have but one option available Macrinus.”

“The tide of battle has turned!” Octavian yelled over the cheers of his men on deck. “Mighty Antonius raises the flag of surrender!”

Chapter 3

“All this,” Sevastain took in the space he had been assigned, “for me.”

“It would appear as such.” Siri replied cynically. Sevastian eyed her for a moment, leveling a devastating glare which had no effect whatsoever on the titan sized Amazon.

The quarters granted him by the Empress were the most lavish he had yet known, a sitting room with balcony, dining room, a private bath with garter robe, and a bedroom the size of a village.

“Please accept my apologies,” Sevastian began haltingly while dipping his head down to look at his boots, “for your having been ordered to guard me. I tell you honestly, I cannot think of a worse assignment for a warrior.” He finished looking back up to meet Siri's gaze.

A long silence ensued from his newly appointed captain of the guard. Any hope he might have had to see what she thought of his words was thwarted by the indifference of her features and the blank impassiveness of her eyes.

“I do not see the assignment in the same light as you do.” She stated flatly.

“You don't?” Sevastain questioned when it became clear nothing more would be forthcoming.

“It is an honor to serve you.”

Sevastain was stunned. Of all the possible things she could say, this was the last he expected to hear.

“You may not recall it lord Commander, but many cycles ago something you did greatly changed my perception of you.”

Siri's stoic facade broke and she smiled just a little upon seeing Sevastian's brows crease in confusion.

“In my experience,” she continued, “many show kindness for others only when they see some advantage for themselves. You showed hospitality to one far beneath your station, and made sure to give her the respect due an elder. There was no advantage in you doing so, yet you still chose to extend some small measure of care to one who could never return the gesture. ”

“I do not recall any such action.”

“Agathe.” Siri said the name in a beautifully loving way.

He thought for a long moment cursing fatigue for robbing him of clear thought.

“The seamstress you brought before the Conqueror at Marathon .” Siri prodded.

A smile and a slight nod of his head told Siri he recalled the old woman. “She was given the task of creating the banners for the Empress, the ones now hanging from the Parthenon.”

“And none too pleased about It.” he added.

“You could not have known, but she was one of many tribal elders sent into the world of men to avoid capture by the Conqueror.”

“An Amazon…” He whispered in shock. Never would he have suspected Agathe to be an elder of the Amazon tribe.

“Agathe took me in when I was just a girl, after my village was destroyed. She, along with others in my tribe, taught me the ways of the Amazon nation. To my thinking, she was my mother. So you see Lord Commander, Your actions cause me pride in serving you, even if you are a man.”

Sevastian, had to smile at the deft way she wrapped a compliment and slight together in the same breath.

No longer able to hold back his exhaustion, he teetered upon his feet, the events of last few days having robbed him of strength. “I tell you captain,” Sevastain looked up, his gaze meeting hers once more, “I do not know how the Empress maintains such energy.” He swayed again, embarrassed at being forced to grab her arm to keep from toppling over.

“Perhaps, you should have broken your fast this morning.

“Too wound up to eat,” He replied. The sudden befuddled look upon his face caused her to smile again.

“How do you know I didn't eat?”

“You are the Lord Commander,” Siri explained, “like the Empress; people take note of your every action.”

“More a simple soldier, than a lofty lord.” he replied pensively.

Her strong grip steadied him while her fingers untied the cords of his armor and began removing each piece.

“I am capable of removing my armor!” Sevastian protested firmly.

“Sit!” she commanded, kneeling to remove his boots. He did as bid; it was either sit or fall over.

“Hold on a moment.” He griped petulantly while grabbing the chair to avoid being pulled out of it as she removed his boots. “I am the one in charge here, you know.”

“Absolutely, you are very much in charge Lord Commander.” the tone along with the smirk upon her lips did not go unnoticed by him.

His boots thus removed, she then pulled his leg armor away, leaving him only in the padded silk vestments worn under his armor. Finding a press in the bedroom, she moved to put each piece neatly upon it.

“I shall have the servants draw you a—“Her words abruptly ended as she walked back into the room.

Morpheus had already taken him.

With a sigh, Siri walked back to the chair he was in. Leaning down, she slipped long arms under him. Lifting him from the chair, she carried his small form into the next room, rolling her eyes as he mumbled something unintelligible. Siri let out another pained sigh as his head shifted slightly to land soft upon her shoulder.

Depositing him on the bed, she placed pillows under his head, and then quickly wrapped him with the soft feather stuffed coverlet. Straitening, she looked down upon him, allowing herself a gentle smile, surprised at the budding protectiveness she felt for the little fellow.

“May Morpheus choose to give you good dreams Lord Commander.” She whispered.

Pacing soft, she crossed the room, gently closing the door behind her. Turning to place her back to the door, Siri placed one hand upon the hilt of her sword; the other grasped the leather belt round her waist.

She thus commenced the first watch.


The pig bristle brush held firmly in his hand, scuffed over the stones. A sudden movement caught his eye just before a deluge of sudsy water splashed the floor in front of him, rushing over his hands and pooling about his knees.

Looking up he glared at Hai who grinned at him before sticking out his tongue.

Reaching out, he slapped his friend against the leg with the wooden handhold of his brush causing the boy to yelp and jump back.

“Now is not the time for play! Now is the time for work!” Words spoken in the language of Chin, a language both boys knew well as pupils of the temple school. The monk stuck, Hai square across the butt with a bamboo rod causing another louder yelp from the boy. Sevastian snickered quietly at Hai's plight while scrubbing the floor furiously with the brush to avoid being hit.

Opening his eyes, Sevastian blinked several times disoriented for a moment, until he remembered his surroundings.

In the corner of the room lit by a solitary candle, Kodi was ensconced in a chair, brushing out his armor, the bristles scuffing along, polishing the black lamellar to a shine.

“You don't have to do that.” Sevastain stated gruffly, voice rough from sleep.

“Good, you're finally awake.” His half-brother stood, walking across the darkened space to abruptly throw open nearby shutters, bathing the room in light.

“Sevastian groaned at his eyes adjusted, instinctively raising a hand to shield himself from Apollo's rays. “Damnit Kodi! I should make you eat wood for that!”

“Oh brother please, I beg you, don't paddle me.” The kid's tone was mocking, “Since being forced into Xena's service I've seen men hanged, and whipped, but the paddle, oh no!”

His eyes having adjusted to the light, Sevastian found Kodi seated once more, the kid having resumed his work on the armor. The boy's choler was quickly turning Sevastain's mood sour.

“I said you don't—“

“I don't mind.” Kodi cut him off.

“No, you don't mind.” Sevastain stated with a groan as he rose from the bed. “You haven't minded one word our mother or I have ever said to you.”

“I meant I don't mind cleaning your armor brother. Actually, I have much practice in doing so as I am required to clean every bit of Xena's armor. Of course, that would be in addition to keeping her quarters immaculate, running errands, serving her at table, and putting up with her volatile moods.”

“You're not overly burdened!” Sevastian retorted with raised voice.

A long silence ensued between the two.

“Had to convince that tree sized woman outside to let me in, for a moment I didn't know if she was going to step on me or let me in to see you.”

“She is an Amazon, and well given Kodi, treat her with due respect.”

“I must treat everyone with respect yet, I am afforded none.”


“Must be earned, I know.” The kid griped. “While we are on the subject, brother do you think many would respect me if I murdered innocents as you do?”

Immediately Sevastian's demeanor took on a hard edge, “This conversation is not safe.” He threatened while glaring at the boy.”

“Did I not warn you brother?” Kodi pressed on despite the threat, “Did I not say your heart would become black as hers?”

“It is best to be silent; you speak to matters you know little about.”

“I know, as all know in Athens what evil you perpetrated this day.”

“I said be silent!”

“So I should fear my own brother?” The kids eyes widened in mocking fear. Why? Would you have me thrown in the dungeon? Whipped publicly? Perhaps use your sword to run me though like you did those in the Assemb—“

“Enough!” Sevastian yelled. “What was done had to be done and I want no more discussion of the matter!”

“Am I required to indulge your anger? The boy countered, “I who toil every day in the presence of evil incarnate am not scared in the slightest when you froth at the mouth like some rabid dog and stare at me like a madman! I will say my peace and you will listen!”

“Lords on Olympus , why must I endure this!?” Sevastian strode across the room, to look out the window.

“All this and more, rage until your proud heart breaks brother!” Go yell at your soldiers or at the palace slaves and make them tremble, but you forget I know you, and as such refuse to cower before you.”

“It is not enough that you cheerfully commit murder in her service, or that you tie my life to the Bitch of Greece –“

“You will not use such words!” Sevastian whirled about advancing on the boy.”

“Now you take it a step further,” the boy continued undaunted “now you move to tie the rest of our family to that evil witch!”

Sevastian knew the subject Kodi was speaking to. “The Empress has been most kind to give mother an estate within Athens , she and your father will no longer have to toil the earth to scrape a living. I'd have thought such news would please you Kodi as you know full well her labors were dedicated toward giving you a better life.”

“A fine thing it is for you to voice your concern now for our mother o' gracious Lord Commander, especially after having deserted your family!”

“I am a grown man, and as such must find my way in the world.”

“You meandered from town to town accomplishing nothing!”

“And you are but a boy who should have stayed at home! Instead you ran away forcing me to rescue you!”

“Back to that are we?” Kodi huffed indignant, “Well, you didn't rescue me as you call it, Auto did.”

“The Empress gave the order Kodi!” Sevastain poked the kid square in the chest. “And you show her precious little gratitude for saving you.”

Kodi slipped round him to walk to the open window. It took all of Sevastain's willpower not to grab the boy and force him to stand and listen.

“Come look brother.” Kodi gestured to happenings below in the courtyard. “Come see for yourself how benevolent your Empress is?”

Sevastain walked to the window, looking down to see the survivors from the Assembly.

“She orders these to do hard labor.” Kodi stated bluntly referring to the men trudging through the courtyard, “for their avid support of the attempts to stop her from controlling all Greece . Families she allows to stay together, a small mercy, provided they leave Athens to begin new lives in the many villages scattered about Greece .”

“And… my dark Lord Commander, what of those unfortunates left orphaned by your sword this day?”

Sevastian glowered at Kodi.

“Female orphans, being sent to learn the ways of the Amazons, young boys sent to learn a trade, or pressed into service in her navy or army. I hear talk of more citizens having been arrested, crucified for crimes which are unknown.”

“They pay the price for their decision to encourage plots against her.” Sevastian replied. “Many of our men died on the battlefield because Athens lent its support to Draco. “These here,” Sevastain pointed briefly at the prisoners. “These did not suffer, no; they sat in their fine homes while encouraging others to do their dirty work. It is fitting that now they be made to suffer the consequences of their decisions.”

“It makes no difference! They are in chains and you! You murdered people! I no longer recognize you brother,” Kodi shook his head, “the Witch of Amphipolis has succeeded in burning all compassion from you.”

The slap across Kodi's face knocked the boy's head to one side.

“I told you not to use such words.”

His step-brother looked up while rubbing his cheek, a mix of anger and defiance upon his face.

“You told me long ago that everything that had transpired was due to my decision to run away from home.” Kodi stated soft, while backing away. “Well, now I tell you if any harm befalls mother, it is because of your decision to become Xena's lapdog.”

“Is it nice to live in that high tower Kodi? Sevastain asked scornfully “To never have to make decisions of consequence like the rest of us?” As he posed the questions, Sevastian strode forward as the kid retreated. “To feel smug as you look down at us mere mortals fumbling in the dark, attempting to do what is right?”

The boy reached behind him to work the latch of the door, never taking his eyes from his elder brother. “I don't know who I hate more, Xena, or you. The words shocked Sevastian right to his very core. “I no longer know you brother; the good which once filled you has gone.”

“I hereby absolve you of any and all responsibility you feel toward me.” Before he slipped through the door Kodi paused a moment more “I wish you happiness in the life you've chosen.”

“I will continue to watch over you Kodi, despite your thoughts on the matter.”

“It makes no difference brother; I have made my feelings clear.”

Sevastian allowed him to leave, letting out pained sigh when he heard the click of the door as Siri closed it behind the boy.


She stood and those in the hall stood with her.

The Empress, Sevastain reflected, was larger than life itself, the aura about her person necessitating respect.

“With me.” Her cape of royal purple, attached to her talon shaped shoulder guards billowed out slightly as she strode forward. The silver designs on her black leathers were well known to Sevastain, being that they were from Chin. The flaud leather which draped from her waist was also of unique design, black leather strips interspersed with other lengths made from pure gold. Upon her arms were upper and lower bracers of thick black leather. High boots capped by knee protectors, barely made a sound upon the marble floor as she gracefully glided forward.

Xena led and her officers followed, walking silently across the great hall as those within bowed low as she passed. As they entered the antechamber, the music resumed, those within the great hall continuing the festivities.

As the group approached the carved wooden doors, Xena's Amazon guard came to attention, and then both moved to work the latches, opening the double doors. Glancing back, Sevastian noted Siri take up position along a side wall in the outer hall before the doors closed behind the group cutting his view of her.

Already in the room, was Autolycus, who stood at Xena's entrance. Next to him at his right, another man, whom Sevastain did not know, slowly got to his feet. He was dressed in polished brown leathers, was dark haired, dark eyed, with a neatly trimmed goatee. At the side of the room, stood servants, to include Kodi waiting to attend to the Empress and her commanders.

“Be seated.”

At the order the men arranged themselves, Auto at Xena's left, Sevastian at her right. A snap of her fingers and servants moved to pour wine. As Sevastain watched, Kodi moved to personally serve the Empress, the boy steadfastly refusing to meet his gaze. Once all were served, Sevastian stood, as custom dictated and raised his cobalt tinted glass filled with wine. As he stood all-round the table, did as well, save the Empress.

“Commanders,” Sevastian made eye contact with those standing with him round the table “To Her Imperial Majesty.”

“Her Imperial Majesty.” all at table repeated with vigor.

The libation duly performed, her officers seated themselves once more.

“I can always count on you to leave no ceremony out.” Xena chided gently while touching her glass to Sevastian's before taking a sip. Another snap of her fingers, and the servants departed the chamber.

“First we must speak to our deportment. Tell me of our numbers Sevastain.”

“At last count 90,000 new recruits have joined your Army Empress. “Since--”

“Here, within this room,” Xena instructed while one hand gestured to those at the table, “you are free to call me by my given name. Continue Sevastain.”

Since your defeat of Draco, the number of men joining your army has become a flood. Our current strength is just over some 135,000 men. I expect the trend to continue as word of your speech before the Parthenon reaches the masses outside Athens .

“These men volunteer to fight, which gives us a distinct advantage on the battle field.” All watched as she reached for her wine glass, raising it to dark lips to take another casual sip of the burgundy liquid. Her commanders momentarily entranced by her dangerous beauty. “They will be motivated to win, unlike the conscripted fodder the empires surrounding us use.”

“Xena,” Meleager spoke. “I must tell you such great numbers eat away at our resources, rations, weaponry, battle armor, all are in short supply or nonexistent.”

“All will be supplied Meleager, I now have the resources of Greece at my disposal. The issues we faced when I was one warlord among many no longer trouble us. The regional Governors are already making preparations to send what we require to Athens , until those supplies reach us. Talmadeus, you will confiscate what you need from the people of Athens .”

“Xena that will not be well received by the populace,” Mercer countered.

“ Greece is under threat, and all must bear the burden of defending her. These… are… tough… times.” Silence in the room as she paused to take another sip of wine while eying her commanders. “Tomorrow I send you to Corinth Meleager.”

“ Corinth ?” the old commander asked with bewilderment.

“Yes.” She drawled while setting the glass upon the table. “ Corinth has surrendered and will become the new capital of the Greek Empire. “Another wave of shock rolled across the faces of her commanders. “I have sent out edicts to all cities and villages in the realm commanding all craftsmen in the armor, weapon, and sewing trades to relocate to the Corinth . You will go to find adequate facilities for them to begin producing what my growing army requires. Not only do I require weaponry, but the army must have every necessity, to include winter and summer wear. Take a garrison with you to secure the city. Also the Major-domo Vidalus will travel with you to oversee the building of a new palace I intend to govern from

“As you command Xena,” Meleager let out a small sigh; all too aware of the ponderous amount of work he had been assigned.

Tomorrow when the first rays of Apollo light the land, I expect all to begin training our new troops. These greenhorns will be mixed within every army group; you will see to it that the best of our veteran troops work closely with them to help them learn the ways of war. Let me be very clear on this point, Talmadeus is charged with training these men. With my approval, he has prepared a regimen to ensure they learn to fight my way. In the matter of training, he is in charge. All of you, from my Second on down, follow his orders on the subject as if they came directly from me.”

“Understood?” she asked firmly.

“Understood,” the reply from all.

“To other business then, I present to you Autolycus, my Chief of Security for the Empire. I have placed him in charge of every local magistrate, as well as my many intelligence services. “The organizations Autolycus commands in my name have but one goal, to destroy all enemies of the Empire both within and without. Even now, his agents act in my name, their long knives reaching out to kill enemies of the state, wherever they are throughout Greece .”

Her officers remained silent, understanding a full purge was underway.

“You recall Zetes, Mercer? Do you Menticles? Xena asked, “The man who planned to burn you at the stake for daring to swear loyalty to me after I saved you and your men from the barbarian Horde.”

“We do Empress” answered Mercer for both men” The look upon their faces told Sevastian all he needed to know about the hatred they felt for this Zetes.”

“Zetes dies this night Mercer.” She stated direct, “Burning at the stake as we speak.” Xena smiled most feral at seeing how both commanders brightened at the news.

“And you Virgilius,” her gaze fell upon the man, “defeated by me, on the run, sentenced to hang for the petty crime of simply begging in the street for bread.”

“You saved me Emp-- Xena” Virgilius corrected himself, “pulling me off that scaffold moments before Pallas' executioner could complete his task.

“Pallas hangs this night.”

“Xena, I am in your debt for killing that odious man.” Virgilius dipped his head.

“Athens Assembly was only the beginning, now others face my justice. Zetes, Pallas, and many like them made a tragic mistake. They believed me to be like them. They expected me to not remember their actions against my cause before I came to power, then expected me play by their rules once I gained dominion over Greece . Now the whole of the rotten political class feels the consequences of their stupidity.”

“It was the political class who encouraged our fights against each other, dividing us for their own benefit, but leaving Greece weak. They betrayed us in signing over Greek land in an attempt to placate Roman lust for conquest. They allowed bribery to corrupt the body politic within every city-state. No Longer!” Her fist hit the tabletop. “From North, to South, East to West, in every corner of Greece , enemies of the state meet their end tonight. When Apollo's rays light the firmament tomorrow, the slate will have been wiped clean and Greece shall have a new beginning, one people, one government, one ruler.”

“Adamis, you know well of what I speak,” her gaze and those at table fell upon the warlord. “After all, your attempt to depose the corrupt King of Laconia was thwarted by Hercules and ended with you being exiled to Tarsus .” All attention turned to this man, Adamis, who sat beside Auto.

“That worthless do-gooder and his little friend Iolaus,” The warlord gritted his teeth, his face twisting into a sneer. I would have been killed by Braxus had you not intervened.

“A lesson Adamis,” Xena instructed sagely, “never lie to a dragon, especially about what you did to its mother.”

“Friends, pardon my leaving out a proper introduction. Adamis having sworn allegiance to me now offers his services to my cause. Any man who can gain the trust of a dragon, is worthy of being one of my commanders.” She chucked at the amazed looks of those round the table. “Shame I had to kill Braxus. However, all in all, it worked out well as I was able to dispose of Hercules in the process.

“What of his friend?” Adamis inquired.

“Iolaus? I do not know.” Xena answered truthfully.

“Braxus was…you killed a dragon!” Sebastian was amazed, “Truly, you do have many skills!”

Those seated round the table laughed “To Xena!” Mercer toasted, “We shall add Slayer of Dragons to your many titles!”

“Adamis, allow me to formally introduce you to my second, Sevastain.”

“Xena, allow me to challenge him for the honor of being your second.”

All merriment abruptly ceased.

Xena took a long sip of wine, watching the two men eye each other. Finally she set her chalice down and chuckled.

“Adamis, you are ambitious, a good quality in a commander provided it is moderated by common sense. I'd hate to see the same night you joined my army be the night you were killed.”

Those seated round the table laughed heartily. Adamis color reminded Sevastian of Darphus' face. The man had a temper, a weakness in a fight.

“I beg of you empress, allow the challenge. This little man--”

“You make the mistake of many, in equating size with skill.” Xena purred. “The two are not related.

Leaning back in her chair, she thought a moment.

“I allow the challenge.”

Sevastian was irritated by Adamis' smug smile.”

“Sometimes, there is only one way to learn and that is by experience. It will be a good lesson for our newest officers to see the martial abilities of my top commander.”

Sevastian remained stoic, but grinned internally when Adamis smile faltered at Xena's words.

Let us get this over with.”

Abruptly Xena stood, causing her commanders to stumble to their feet. Gliding round her table, she walked to the heavy wooden doors. Opening one, she spoke muted words to her Amazon guard, before flinging both doors open.

“Come.” she commanded.

Conversation within the massive hall halted upon the Empress' sudden reappearance.

Her Governors nearest the dais stood as did the rest, some 1,600 in all.

“A challenge has been issued.” her voice rang out in the silence.

Stepping alone to the dais upon which the throne sat she gracefully mounted the first step, turning she surveyed those in the hall for a long a moment.

“Station, Lord Commander.”

“Good luck.” Sevastain paused for an instant, looking back to see Auto leaning casually against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “Better win because I just placed a substantial wager on you.”

“How did you have the time to…?” Sevastian decided he didn't want to know any more about the wager, or who accepted it.

Stepping forward, he was glad to have worn his armor this night rather than court dress. All watched as he fell to one knee before the throne, his head dipping till his brow touched his other raised knee.

“Station Adamis.”

Low murmurs rolled throughout the crowd as the unknown man walked forward, to confidently stand in front of Xena.

Her arm lashed out so quickly Adamis had little time to react, being bowled over by the force of Xena's fist striking him squarely in the face.

“You will learn proper respect.” she snarled.

Dazedly, he managed to take a knee next to Sevastain.

With a gesture from the throne, the Amazon Solari walked forward, in her hands a collection of weapons, a staff tucked under one arm. Taking a knee, she simultaneously released the weapons she held, the sound of them striking the marble floor loud in the silence.

“You shall only choose from the weapons here,” Xena instructed as Solari backed away, “forfeiting the use of your personal weapon.

“Rise and chose.”

Adamis moved first releasing the sheathed short sword as his hip and throwing it aside. Picking a most fearsome looking two handed long sword, the only such blade within the weapons cache. Stepping away he began to swipe it about, testing the weight and balance of the weapon.

Markedly unimpressed with the way Adamis treated his personal blade. Sevastain carefully untied the cords holding his Katana to his hip. He was surprised by the Amazon Siri, who appeared out of the crowd, respectfully holding out both her hands palm up. Once he recovered from seeing her thus, he realized she meant to take his weapon. He placed the sheathed blade within her hands, her fingers closed over it. Bowing respectfully, she backed away.

Turning to the task at hand, Sevastain was more deliberative as he scanned the weaponry, eyes flicking over the staff, then to a pike, a halberd, throwing daggers, mace, sais, He then spotted an innocuous looking weapon of eastern origin, the mankiki-kasuri – The ten thousand power chain. Made of forged iron, with heavy palm sized square weights attached to both ends. Picking it up he then turned to face the Empress.

“You are a fool, a chain against a long sword.” Adamis mocked. “I shall defeat you with ease.”

“To obtain victory one can use any means necessary,” Sevastian countered, “and any weapon.”

“Let us make all the more interesting, shall we?” Xena brushed past both to step up upon the top of one of the long wooden tables within the hall. (The table occupants wisely choose to vacate their chairs at her approach.)

Turning she faced the two men, while extending her arms slightly outward to either side. Her hands opened palms toward them, indicating she wished them to stand on either side of her. As the men walked forward, she took the opportunity to instruct. “There is only one rule; first to touch the ground loses. Be it dead or alive.” She paused a moment. “Try not to kill him Sevastian, he may yet prove to be of some use.” Leaving the men standing atop the table she stepped down, walking to the dais, sitting gracefully upon her throne.

“Never a dull moment with you Xena,” A muted flash and Ares stood behind her throne in his usual black attire, arms crossed over his chest, wholly unseen by those in the hall. “Looks like the end for your little boot-licker. Adamis is the better warrior by all appearances.”

There is an opportunity here , thought Xena.

“Perhaps, are you confident enough to make a wager Ares?” She asked the question discreetly; glad the attention of the hall was still focused upon the two combatants. She frowned slightly at hearing Ares smug laugh. “I'm a god, what could a mortal such as you possibly give me?” The haughty mirth within his tone chafed her.

“A night of unrestrained passion,” she replied.

“Had that Xena,” He chortled.

“No, you experienced the freeing of battle lust; I offer you a new experience entirely.”

Silence from the deity standing behind caused her to smile, He may be a god, but he was first a man, and as such was prone to have moments where he thought only with his...

“What do you wish me to grant, Xena.” he asked. She couldn't help but smile at the sudden seriousness in his tone.

“Convince Zeus to allow Hades to keep Persephone a bit longer than normal.”

“For what purpose?” The deity asked, clearly confused by her request. “Not that it matters,” Ares spouted with typical bravado, “as your pocket-sized toy will die this night.”

“I need a long, harsh winter Ares, my army must have time to train and prepare.”

“Easily done, daddy dearest owes me one for taking care of certain... problems...

“Then the wager is made, provided you give your consent Ares, and… agree that it will be a fair fight. By that I mean there will be no interference from you.”

“Xena, I would never--”

“Yes you would.” she stated tersely. “Do I have your consent to the wager?”

“Very well, I give consent.”


At the command from the Empress both men faced each other. Adamis taking a ready stance, while Sevastian respectfully bowed to his opponent in the custom of the Far East .


Unleashing the chain, Sevastain used years of training to deftly flare it out from his hand, one heavily weighted end striking Adamis square in the face. The man stumbled back, blood gushing out from a broken nose. Temporarily stunned by the blow, he teetered, feet sliding upon the various plates and leftover portions of the feast scattered about the table. As flatware crashed upon the floor, Sevastain sought to capitalize on his opponent being momentarily off balance. Before he could, Adamis lunged, long blade arching down, attempting to split Sevastain's head. Grabbing the chain with both hands he stretched it taught, using it to blunt the strike while simultaneously, kicking Adamis back hard with a boot placed square in the chest.

Knocked off balance, Adamis landed upon his back but used the inertia from the blow to tip his feet over his head and somersault back to his feet. Perilously close to the table edge, he was compelled to jump to the next table top.

“Judging solely by the amount of food smeared all over your champion Ares, I'd say he's being bested in this fight.” She just couldn't resist riling him knowing, like her, how he hated loosing.

“Fights not over Chosen ,” He responded snippily.

Sevastian used the moment to raise his right hand, curling his fingers tight round the end of the chain he begin to whip the weapon in a wide circular arc, the end of the weapon passing by his boot, then near his head. As the monks had taught, he kept his hand still, only using the subtle rocking of his body back and forth to give the chain a deadly momentum.

Adamis stepped to the edge of the table, sword raised in defense. “Come and get me,” he taunted, “Your fancy tricks won't keep me from gutting you.”

Stepping forward Sevastian timed the upswing of the chain perfectly as he flared his arm out slightly. The heavy square weight on the far end bashed the hand Adamis was using to hold the hilt of the sword, breaking bone. Adamis screamed out in pain, the sword dropping to the floor, well out of reach.

Allowing the chain to gain momentum once more Sevastain flipped it under his arm, the inertia carrying the weapon round his elbow changing its direction, now the weighted end slammed directly against Adamis skull. With practiced skill, Sevastian allowed the chain the whip about his torso, it wrapped around him, causing it to change direction. Flaring it out once more it stuck Adamis, this time on the other side of his head.

“Ouch!” Xena stated in mocking concern upon the second quick strike.

“Beaten by a boot licker,” Ares lamented, knowing Adamis' end was not far off.

“Some warriors look fierce, but are mild. Some seem timid, but are vicious. Look beyond appearances; position yourself for the advantage.”

“And whose astute advice is that?” Asked the deity while watching Adamis stagger backward as Sevastian gracefully leapt to the table the man was standing on intent on finishing him off.

“Yours Ares, much as it pains me to do so, I must confess you taught me well and I, an apt pupil, listened to your advice.” She could feel the pride radiating from the god at her words. How she hated speaking such flattery in order to placate his ego.

“I shall hold my end of the bargain chosen, prepare for a long, cold winter.”

With that he disappeared, unwilling to watch the end of the fight.

“You despise losing Ares.” muttered Xena amusedly as she watched the final act of this duel.

A bleary eyed Adamis, dazed by the repeated blows to the head, attempted to jump to the next table. An ill placed boot, slid upon a piece of flat ware. Adamis did make it to the next table, or at least part of him did--his head. The force of his skull slamming against the wood knocked him unconscious. As his body fell to the floor, the hall erupted in raucous cheers for Sevastian.

He however paid little attention to those in the hall, his focus on the Empress. Only when she smiled, giving her approval to his actions, did Sevastian relax.



Chapter 4

“Oh Lilla! What wondrous tales!”

In the pitch darkness of the room, Lilla smiled at the unabashed joy her older sister displayed. The master had picked a wonderful inn for them to stay in while in Piraeus . Iolaus was most pleased when Gabrielle had shown initiative in respectfully haggling with the inn keeper for a better price on rooms and meals. While the innkeeper had initially balked at bargaining with a slave, Gabrielle soon had the man engaged in a lively discourse. Her sister, Lilla conceded, had a gift in swaying others with her words. As reward for her efforts, the master had used part of the savings to obtain a small room for her and Gabrielle to share. Not only that, he had paid for them to have a bath! A warm water bath at that! Lilla did feel some guilt at the other slaves being housed in the stable belonging to the inn, but the opportunity to have a room in an inn didn't happen every day.

“And the one about the Minotaur, I was so scared imagining it!”

“I know sister,” Lilla replied. “You nearly broke my arm by gripping it so tight!”

“Sorry,” Gabrielle said sheepishly while burrowing into the warmth of the covers more deeply. The two sisters were happy to have the opportunity to sleep in a bed being that it was the height of luxury, especially for slaves. The woolen blankets were a warm shield against the sudden surprising chill borne by the wind rattling the closed shutters.



“Do you think there was truth to the tale he told about Xena? That she descended from the heavens throwing thunderbolts and breathing fire?”

“I do not think it possible sister.” Lilla spoke most serious, “Recall Icarus, how he had wings held together by wax.”

“Oh yes! He flew too close to Helios high above,” Gabrielle continued excitedly “and the wax melted causing him to fall into the sea!”

“From what I have heard of Xena she is most fearsome, and has many skills, but surely she lacks the knowledge to construct wings sister as Daedalus could.”

“True, when I met her I did not see wings.”

“Gabrielle,” Lilla began earnestly, “Your imagination sometimes runs amok, you were just dreaming sister, it was just a dream you confused with waking reality.”

“But Lilla, I really did meet—“

“We must get some rest Gabrielle,” Lilla cut the thought off, “tomorrow we board the ship bound for Rome .”

The bed rocked slightly her sister rolled over, her back to Gabrielle

Silence between the two...

“But it could be that Xena was riding a horse like Pegasus?”

“Go to sleep Gabrielle.”


“How ill this taper burns.”

Leaning back from her maps of the east, Xena set the quill down then closed her eyes, while her other hand moved up fingers rubbing the bridge of her nose.

While all within the palace slept soundly, she could afford no such respite. True, she had achieved her first goal, the conquest of Greece . However, her new empire was at the stake and surrounded by many enemies.

A chill breeze sent a shiver down her spine, so much so that she looked up, eyes opening to scan the windows in the chamber checking to see if one had come open.

A small shuffling, within the room caused her to straighten in her chair, one hand moving to gasp the dagger upon the desk. Years of living the life of a warlord, had ingrained in her the need to always have a weapon at hand.

“Who comes here? Xena challenged, her raised voice echoing off the heavy stone walls. Silently she cursed the guttering candles within the space for not adequately dispelling the darkness.

Out of a sudden mist, a figure emerged. Reflexively, Xena blinked several times, believing her tired eyes to be playing tricks.

A black shade, glided towards her, the sight of it causing her blood to run cold and her hair to stand on end. In that moment, Xena recollected her cutting lament to Alti, on how she hated the dead, as you couldn't take vengeance upon them.

“Tell me what you are!” Xena demanded, rising from her chair. The hard expression she wore softened as shapelessness took shape.


Xena heard her voice waver on the name of the girl. For a moment it was as if the cycles had not passed, the girl looked and was dressed in the very same manner as when the two had first met.

“Why do you come upon me?” Rasped Xena thickly, “Are you a spirit come to haunt me in my waking moments as you do in my dreams?” Slowly, she slipped round the desk, to step toward the little figure.

The sweetness of the expression, the tenderness of the eyes, the gentleness radiating from the girl, all drew her closer to the apparition. But, as she moved closer, Gabrielle glided back, her visage fading slightly, the sight of which caused Xena to take heed and stop her progress.

“What you see is but a memory.”

“A memory, I… I don't understand.” Gently, Xena moved to kneel, sudden tears welling in her eyes, a testament to the charged emotions roiling within her. Emotions she didn't understand, couldn't explain, but felt.

“Of what could have been.” The shade replied. “And of what could still be.”

“Gabrielle, you speak in riddles, help me understand.” Xena pleaded while looking up into green eyes. Wanting so badly to reach out and touch the small figure before her. Now the tears truly began to fall, eliciting a gentle, compassionate smile from the apparition as she beheld the empress.

“You shall see me again.”

“I shall see you again?” Xena could not hold back the hopeful optimism within her voice.

“At Piraeus .”

“At Piraeus I shall see you again?”


Xena awoke with a start, rocking the chair in which she was seated. Looking about the darkened room, she saw it was empty.

“Another torment!” she raged while roughly wiping the wetness from her cheeks.

“By the gods!” Why does she choose to haunt me? Standing Xena moved to the nearest window, removing the bar, she threw the shutters open. The winds swept in ruffling the silken fabric of the crimson robe she wore as well as the papers strewn about her desk. With it came a distinct chill.

The god of war delivers on his wager.

“ Piraeus .” The word was suddenly upon her lips, “At Piraeus I shall see her again.”

Every instinct within suddenly urged her to ride to the port city. And just what reason will you give for waking the men in the dark of night. We ride to Piraeus because I spoke with a shade? Because my heart pines for some little peasant I met long ago?

“I am the Empress of the Greek lands,” firm resolve marked her tone as the decision was made. “My word is their command.”

Walking to the bedroom door, she flung it open, to cross the private audience chamber. Outside the Amazon guard was startled when the doorway they guarded abruptly opened.

“Wake my second, the Empress directed tersely. “Tell him I want 400 cavalrymen at the ready in the courtyard immediately.”

The eyes of both Amazon's widened comically for a moment before one, Amoria by name dipped her head and departed at a run.


“Get up!” He bellowed while stepping into the darkened space.

Sevastian used a nearby flint and striker, to light the first torch in the barracks, then used it to light still more found in the sconces scattered about.

With a deft kick, he woke a sleeping Alistair who evidently had passed out on the floor, the effects of too much revelry earlier in the night.

“Who in Tartarus is kicking me in the butt!” A wave a fear crashed over the man's face as he looked up to see his commander standing over him.

“Get up and clear your heads of the night's merriment!” Sevastian yelled out to the men as Alistair watched. “I want you in the court yard ready to ride within the candle mark.”

All within looked at him in disbelief.


Men scrambled to dress, and don armor. Sevastian, satisfied they were moving with as much alacrity as possible, stepped out of the barracks and back into the darkness of the courtyard running headlong into Siri.

The Amazon waited most patiently and rather smugly as he picked himself up off the ground. “The rest of your armor, Lord Commander,” She said most pleasant

“Thank you,” he replied sheepishly, having been embarrassed by being knocked on his butt. The time limit imposed by the Empress had caused the need for him to rush to the barracks, heedless of not being completely dressed.

She slipped the black lamellar of his chest armor over his head, making quick work of tying the cords that held it to him. He felt a blush heat his cheeks when her long arms reached round him to quickly tie the silk cobalt sash about his waist. She then snugged the sword Xena had gifted him within its folds. Finally she placed his helmet, tying the cords under his chin.

“Th-thanks.” He muttered while looking down at his polished boots. Seemed this was a habit he kept repeating around the Amazon.

“Your steed.”

Looking up, he saw Gisela being led toward him by a military groom.

“I keep you from your rest Siri, go and—“

“Rest?” The towering Amazon snorted. “You think I mean to go back to bed? I go with the scouts ahead of you, making sure of a clear path for your much vaunted guardsmen.”

“I did not mean to offend.”

“Nor am I offended Lord Commander as I have found that men often speak first, and then think.”

Shaking his head, Sevastian watched she departed at a run to join her sisters. The group of Amazons then slipped quietly out the far gate of the courtyard.

This mission was off to a grand start, reflected Sevastain.


At her appearance in the courtyard, she heard the seconds voice rise up, calling the guard to attention at her presence. Mounting Argo she raised one gauntleted hand, gesturing for the column to move.

Spurring her mount forward, her men followed riding in lines four abreast, the outer men carrying lighted torches.

The guards ahead opened the heavy wooden gates, and the force swept into the dark streets of Athens , horse hooves sounding loud upon the deserted cobblestone streets. Within darkened homes, people listened with dread as the riders passed. This night had been one of terrors. Across the city, citizens had been drug from their homes, their screams echoing through empty streets. The scene repeated itself over and over, a bang upon a door, those within hauled from their bed.

The crimes which had been committed unknown.

Sevastian dared not speak as the determined look on the face of the Empress made him think better of asking questions. He understood, as all must have upon leaving the southern city gate that the force was on its way to the port of Piraeus . What would happen when they arrived, he did not know, but was certain the Empress would tell in good time.

A wonderful feeling of freedom, Xena reflected feeling the chill of the night upon her face as she led her guard forth. Riding this way reminded her of the raid she conducted upon Cortese's encampment long ago. For many a cycle she had tracked his movements as the warlord swept from village to village raiding, plundering, and killing. Finally on the night of the winter solstice she and her men lay in wait observing the drunken celebrations in the camp below. All within her army were edgy, knowing the moment of attack was drawing near.

She had killed Cortese and every man who followed him. Some 800 she had impaled on large stakes of wood, one end buried in the ground the other being hewn to a rounded point. That punishment made even crucifixion seem mild. The weight of the man's body served to slowly push the point of the spear, then the rest of the pike though the body. That was true justice, delivered to those who killed her Lyceus. Woe to the hand which had shed that costly blood.

Silent shock rolled through the men of the guard, shock that Xena noticed. Even Sevastian was surprised by the number...

“We must steel our hearts, secure in the knowledge that what we do is for the betterment of Greece .” Xena instructed the riders nearest as they passed a forest of crosses. The area was lit in a most macabre way by the many flickering torches of the men standing guard over this field of death. “You know this my loyal one,” now she spoke directly to Sevastian, “having already proved your fidelity to me. “These here, like the members of the Assembly…” one gauntleted hand rose gesturing to the crosses, “…Traitors all.” She pronounced.

“Tell Meleager, we're gonna need a lotta wood. When I'm done cleaning the known world of vermin, there'll be a line of crosses from Corinth to the Caspian Sea .”

“Kill Xena…” one figure amongst many murmured upon seeing the entourage passing.

“Kill all... follow… Slayer…of Kirra…”

Callisto's head fell forward as death placed its claim, her body falling slack upon the cross which held her.


In the light of early dawn, the two made their way through the market.

“I shall miss the harvest festivals.” Lilla declared with sadness while using both hands to raise the hem of her brown dress so that it didn't drag though a particularly disgusting looking puddle.

Gabrielle took a moment to peek upward at her taller sibling, not worried about the puddle in the least as she wore her standard boots and trousers “I will miss them as well sister.”

“Especially the food,” Lilla chided, laughing at Gabrielle's dower expression. “How you stay so thin and small eludes me sister, a full breakfast at the inn, and here you spend precious copper coin on sweet breads.”

“I did not hear these complaints when I gave you a piece.” Gabrielle retorted grumpily. All ill humor she held dissipated immediately, when Lilla enveloped her in a very loving hug. “It is probably good we had our fill before setting out on this adventure,” Lilla reflected “for I hear the waters are rough in the wintry season.”

“I always dreamed of having adventures, but now that we are about to sail the great sea to Rome , I find myself both sad and unsettled that we leave Greece .”

“Are you finding dreaming about adventures to be different than actually embarking upon one?” asked Lilla.

Gabrielle could only shrug her shoulders, “Truthfully, yes.”

“I don't know the reasoning behind the masters desire to leave. He hates the Destroyer that is clear, but for reasons which remain largely unknown. It matters little as we are bound to him, the choice is not ours to make.” Lilla stated bitterly.

“Of all the possible outcomes of our enslavement sister, I do believe the fates have blessed us by allowing us to stay together, and by giving us a kind and gentle master. You must admit Lilla; things could have gone far worse.”

“Our lot has been better than many of those which count themselves as free men.” Lilla agreed, “And that is why I have never once thought of escape. The master has seen to it that we are protected while in his service.

Come,” Lilla took Gabrielle by the hand. “We must make our way toward the docks, as the time nears for us to board the ship. “It might be wise for us to seek out some remedy for sea sickness.”

“I've never been on the sea before; do you really think we'll get sick?”

“Gabrielle, you once got a sick tummy crossing over a rope bridge.”

“It was high up and the wind made it shake!”


Silence reigned, save for the snorts of hard driven horses, the breath of both beast and man visible in the chill morning air.

All activity ceased upon her entrance into the city. Drawing back the black hood of her cloak, raven tresses were caught by the chill breeze. Hardened blue eyes aloofly flicked over the silent townsfolk, noting shock at her sudden appearance slowly morph into fear upon the faces of the peasants. One by one, the people fell upon knees, dipping heads, casting eyes downward. Behind and high above the Empress, her standard, carried by an Amazon scout was being slowly raised over the main city gate. Caught by wind it snapped smartly, a reminder to all within the city just who it was that had come calling.

“Station, Lord Commander.”

“Majesty,” Sevastian, rode to her side, dipping his head in deference once he drew near.

“I want this city searched. Every inn, every tavern, every business, every temple, every home, leave no stone unturned.”

Sevastian was silent, thinking the Empress would elaborate further as to what she wanted them to search for.

She did not.

“You going to ask what to look for, or were you planning on sitting here and continuing to enjoy this lovely sunrise with me?”

“The thought as to what we are searching for had occurred to me.” His response caused her to cast him a rare amused look.

Now or never Xena, get on with it, She took a deep breath.

“Look for a girl, tiny in stature, fair haired, with green eyes. She wears the dress of a simple peasant,” She paused a moment, thinking of Draco's men raiding Potidaea , “perhaps even the mark of a slave. Round up all that fit the description, bring them to me in the town square.

“As you command sovereign.”

As expected, Sevastian did not question the order; instead he was on the move, shouting instructions to the guard to get the search underway. Soon, some of her men had dismounted and were banging sword hilts on doors to gain entrance, still more fanned out to canvass the other streets of Piraeus .

“You are close Gabrielle; I feel it within my very bones.”

Xena took the opportunity to dismount, pulling her cloak off, to fold it neatly then place it in the tooled leather saddlebag slung over Argo. Releasing the belt clasped about her waist, she freed the long cape of royal purple, a symbol of her status as wearing the color was traditionally forbidden to the general population. Clasping her belt back about her, she decided to do a little investigating of her own, before the kneeling, gawking onlookers drove her to a slip of temper.

Leading Argo to a nearby trough of water; Xena tied the reins loosely.

Pausing a moment, she beheld a peasant girl with beautiful straw-colored hair. As the girl knelt before her, it was plain that she clearly afraid, her body, quaking, breathing rapid.

“Look at me girl.”

Beautiful hazel eyes stricken with pure fear met her own for a moment then darted downward again.

Not Gabrielle, of course not, it wouldn't be that easy, she let out a sigh. One of her gauntleted hands rose, while Xena stooped slightly to allow her fingers to lovingly brush through the girl's hair if for only a moment.

Continuing on, she chose to step into a cloth merchants shop.

Her far above average height worked against her. Xena found it necessary to duck quite low to enter through the door, once inside she felt the need to crouch slightly, lest her head make contact with the ceiling.


The peasants within were all too eager to make their exit from the daunting woman looming over them, happy to leave the proprietor alone to face her. The man's knees went weak as she approached and he slumped down hard upon them.

“Your name?”

“Ta-Timoleon, Great Xena.”

Of all the sights he might behold in this life, meeting the infamous Destroyer was not something Timoleon would have believed possible. But here she stood, more fearsome than even the most fertile mind could imagine.

“It appears that you run prosperous business Timoleon, It would seem many in Piraeus frequent your… establishment.”

“The gods have blessed me with a good living, Great Xena.” The little man replied haltingly.

“Your own efforts made you a success, not some blessing from the gods.”

“Th-thank you.”

As many visit your shop, I require information from you. I look for someone Timoleon, a small fair-haired girl with eyes of a most rare color, green.”

“Empress, many come and go; I do not always recall details about those to peruse my shop.”

He trembled, at the sight of one of her hands reaching out slowly, to grasp the fine fabric of his tunic. “If your intent by those words is to gain some type of payment for providing me with information, you will be sadly mistaken.”

“Empress I would never—“

“Try to recollect Timoleon, as if your very life depended upon it.” She pulled him to his feet.

“P-please understand, our fair city attracts many traders who arrive from far and wide. I do not remem--”

“The docks” Xena murmured, while cursing internally, pure stupidity not to sending the guard to take immediate control of the ships lying in the port.

The hand holding him tight released his tunic, The Destroyer whirling about. Timoleon looked on bewildered as she stalked out of his store. Long after she had left, he remained kneeling, his body trembling, suffering from the shock caused by meeting the sublimely beautiful and supremely dangerous Xena.

“Sevastian!” She roared while mounting Argo. The yell had its intended effect as her second came running out from within a tanners shop.

“The docks!” she said simply, before spurring Argo forward.

“You men! With me!” he directed while continuing to run toward Gisela, mounting his steed quickly. Of the 400 searching the city, 50 riders moved to follow.


“Guaranteed to aid against becoming sick while at sea,” The stout woman standing before them stated with a grin. “Why it's a little known secret…” she spoke in hushed tones, leaning over only after looking about the merchant plaza conspiratorially. The shop keep, being rather rotund, looked much like a toppling tree to wee Gabrielle. “Dionysius the Phocaean drank my formula before going off to fight the Persian fleet at the Battle of Lade.” Both sisters took a discreet step back as truthfully, the alcohol induced stench from the woman's breath was dreadful.

“The great admiral Dionysius suffered from sea sickness?” Lilla was amazed.

“Didn't he lose the battle?” asked Gabrielle who recalled a tale once told, her words immediately caused the woman to frown.

“Bah! Go on with ye, worthless slaves!” the woman barked, evidently quite offended. “I'll not be selling anything to the likes of you!” Her hands moved to shove the girls away but she held back, feeling the change in tenor of the entire plaza. The sense of dread was palpable as tense sounding murmurs rippled through the crowd.

“The Destroyer comes!” The seller of perfumes in the next booth spoke. Suddenly very busy gathering his wares, the man didn't care to enlighten further.

“Gabrielle, we must go.”

“Why would Xena come to Piraeus ?”

“How should I know sister?” exasperation colored Lilla's tone, “Perhaps she wants to spend the day shopping for vanities to full her palace! Lilla added with derision.

An image of Xena shopping popped into Gabrielle's thoughts, she giggled, thinking no merchant would dare to haggle with the fearsome woman she had met. Though she only met the Destroyer for a short span, Gabrielle thought it unlikely Xena would enjoy shopping. “No matter,” Lilla continued, too worried to take notice of Gabrielle's amusement, “because we shan't be here to find out what she wants.”

“But…” Gabrielle protested, her heart wishing to see even just a small glimpse of Xena.

Both girls noticed the men across the plaza; their armor marking them as part of the Empress' army. When the men turned from speaking with the shop keep, their gaze fell directly upon the two slaves. The look given wasn't particularly nice.

“You there!”

Lilla ran, “C'mon Gabrielle!”

“But shouldn't we see what they—“The thought dissipated as she got a close look at the expression worn by the soldier running towards her.

Gabrielle ran.


With Lilla in the lead, they skirted round the various booths filled with vendors darting back and forth thought the crowd.

“Gabrielle hurry!” Lilla implored, after turning her head back to find her sister trailing far behind

“I cannot help it, I have little legs!” Gabrielle shouted. Looking back, her eyes widened in terror taking in the sight of the soldiers quickly gaining on her.


Gabrielle fell hard, having slammed directly into high stacked wicker crates holding all manner of birds. The crates tipped, smashing to the cobblestones freeing their captives. Amidst the sounds of cackling fowl, she tried to gain her bearings.

“Look here girl!” A large man approached apparently the proprietor of the stand, who appeared none too pleased by her display of ineptitude. Before he could say anything further, all manner of peasants appeared out of the milling crowds, to grab the squawking birds. “Stop, damn ye!” he bellowed out to no avail as a free for all occurred, people running to snatch up a tasty dinner.

“Gabrielle!” Lilla appeared from the throng to roughly grab her hand, hauling to her feet. “We must run!” For an instant, her eyes tracked to where Lilla was pointing to see the soldiers shoving their way through the mob.

Terror stricken, the two darted toward the nearest open door, hoping to elude their pursuers.


“By Poseidon you charge a princely sum! The man before him exclaimed. “One would think these two were owned by the god himself!”

“You shall not find two better horses in all of Greece .”

Iolaus, having used Lilla to divert Gabrielle's attentions with a chance to look about the market, was now engaged in spirited bargaining with the town reeve over the sale of both horses and carriage. While he was sad to see the animals go, he knew Gabrielle would be devastated at having to watch their sale after having taken care of them for so many seasons. Within he smiled remembering how the girl would speak with the animals as if they all were the best of friends. One afternoon unbeknownst to the Gabrielle, he sat outside the barn listening as the she made up a cute tale about an adventure in which the horses had worked together to save a village from a flood. The intrepid animals had used their brute strength to fell trees, and then hauled them to dam the raging river. Such a vivid imagination, Gabrielle possessed.

“Very well, I agree to the amount, if...” the man smiled, “You lower the price of the carriage. My wife will certainly have me redecorate the interior, that woman has such particular tastes.” he complained.

“I offer to lower it by 100 drachma.”

“Certainly you can do better than that.” the reeve stated with mock indignation.

Glancing about, Iolaus could not help but notice activity on the docks had picked up considerably, the men loading the few ships remaining now worked at a frantic pace. Something was very wrong.

“200 then.”

“I agree.” The men clasped hands, the reeve motioning for his servant to come forward and pay.

“We must go.” the words were rasped into Iolaus' ear by the captain of the Myron, as the silver coin was handed over. “The Destroyer comes this way.” A chill raced through Iolaus.

“Are you sure?”

“She is unmistakable my friend.”

“I must wait for my slaves to return.”

“I will not risk my crew and ship over slaves.”

“They are worth much to me.” Iolaus turned to face the man.

“And the cargo within my hold is worth even more.” the old man countered. “If you wish to travel to Rome , you board now.”


The idle chatter within the tavern, stopped as a loud crash erupted from the kitchens.

“Gabrielle, gods above! Why must you always be so clumsy?” Lilla griped, while dragging her sibling to her feet again. Her sister had run smack into a serving girl, spilling the contents of a platter the girl held.

All in the kitchen stopped their actions, looking to the soldier standing in the open door.

“C'mon Gabrielle!”

“Stop!” the man yelled as the two girls ran once more.

“Why do they chase us?”

“Don't know, don't wana find out!” Lilla yelled back, smiling a little as the men dashing after them slipped on the spilled food upon the floor and roughly fell. Bursting into the public room of the inn, the two darted though the men standing about the bar. As today was the harvest festival, they were lined up to drink their fill even before Apollo's chariot reached its apex in the sky.

Quick on the girl's heels, soldiers ran into the bar. Unable to maneuver through the crowd as nimbly as the two small girls, they began roughly shoving men aside to clear a path.

“Stop!” Yelled Alistair while pushing a drunken peasant.

“Basterd!” the man yelled, taking clear umbrage at having the ale in his mug spilled. Grabbing a handily nearby jug, he smashed it hard upon Alistair's bare head, causing the guard captain to drop to the floor. It was a poor decision to leave his helmet behind.

“That belonged to me!” A punch by the owner of the now smashed jug was delivered to the man who used it to level the guard captain. Stumbling back he fell upon a table surrounded by men, at breakfast. They stood, quite irate at having their meals dumped into their laps. Moments later a brawl began in earnest, enveloping the rest of the soldiers in its grip.

“By the gods!” Gabrielle yelped, ducking as a heavy stool flew near striking the last of the soldiers giving chase.

Up the wooden steps, towards the door they ran, only to dive out of the way as two men with hands about each other's throats crashed through a closed pair of window shutters.


“Harvest festivals!”

The words were uttered as if a curse.

Argo barreled through the crowds at a full gallop, Xena urging her Palomino on in order to reach her goal, the docks.

Behind, Sevastian followed having proved to be quite adroit at horsemanship considering they had just cut though some sort of procession. Despite the urgency of the current situation, the thought of seeing Hestian virgins sully their white robes as they drove out of her way caused Xena to smile.

Ducking down, she narrowly avoided being de-horsed by a rope strung over the road, decorated with garland and low hanging banners. All round, peasants dove from her path.

“Shit...” Sevastian stated curt as he fell forward, leaning against Gisela's neck just in time as the rope passed overhead. Behind him, men of the guard were clotheslined by the same rope, amidst, the shrieks of the peasants; they fell, horses bolting forward into the hapless crowd.

Ahead, she spotted the harbor, rays of light shimmering on the rippling waves. It was there, Xena was certain, she would find Gabrielle.

A vendor's cart, filled with the last of summer blooms rolled into the street straddling the narrow road. It was an obstacle Xena couldn't maneuver round, and refused to stop for. Rising up from the saddle, she leaned forward, one hand grabbing Argo's mane. With practiced grace, her mount responded perfectly. The merchant, having slipped and fallen during his frantic attempt to turn his cart at her approach beheld a sight which would fill his stories for cycles to come.

The Empress of Greece, upon a resplendent war horse, flying directly over his head.

Standing the merchant heard the telltale sound of hooves. Turning he let out a yelp, and quickly dove to the ground once more as a second rider flew overhead.

Happy to follow Argo, Gisela had made the jump as well, even without his urging.

“Thank Tyche!” Sevastian muttered expressing gratitude to the goddess of fortune for having somehow made it over the cart.

Behind, the traumatized merchant realized his luck had come to an end and ran out of the way as a wave of riders approached. Glancing back Sevastain caught sight of a plume of flowers filling the air, his ears picking up the shouts of the men. Turning forward, he glimpsed Xena, looking back at him for only a moment, a smile upon her lips.

She is enjoying this! Sevastian doubted he would ever figure out Xena, every time he thought he had her pegged another side of her personally shown.


“You see? I did not lie my friend that is Xena's standard.”

Iolaus handed the looking glass back. “You spoke truth.” he stated dejectedly after spotting the flag fluttering high upon the city wall.

He moved away from the captain, pacing the deck, eyes searching as the ship inched away from the dock. Sending the girls to shop in the market had been intended to shield Gabrielle from seeing her beloved horses sold. Now that decision had cost him both slaves!

“Damn you to Tartarus Xena!” Iolaus shouted to none in particular, his hatred of the warlord, turned Empress now reached new heights. “Why can you not leave me be!” he wailed.

Looking once more to the town, Iolaus spirits rose as he spotted the two as they burst out of a tavern door. Running along the deck he watched the girls sprint down the wooden dock, barreling toward the ship.

Standing where the gangplank had been moments earlier he extended his arms.

“Jump!” he exhorted.

Lilla did just that, fearlessly leaping over the rapidly widening expanse of water between ship and shore to grasp the hands of her master. Turning in Iolaus' arms she gasped, seeing her sister standing alone at the docks edge.

“Gabrielle, Jump!” Lilla held out both hands.

Looking past Lilla, Iolaus swore another virulent curse at the sight of Xena riding hard toward the very dock on which Gabrielle stood.

“Gabrielle, you must jump!” he yelled while pushing Lilla out of the way “Now!”

Overcoming her fears of being unable to swim she backed up a few paces, and then ran forward with all she had to leap from the end of the dock. The moment, she leapt, Gabrielle knew she would not make it, the ship was too far. She would drown. Every time she tried to swim in deep water she'd always sank like a rock.

Closing her eyes in fright of what was to come, Gabrielle reached out blind.

Two hands caught one of hers.

“You call that a jump!” Iolaus barked out as the girls momentum slammed her hard against the side the of ship

“More like a frantic leap.” she squeaked while being hauled up to the deck. “Best I could do.” On the deck, men cheered at the display of fortitude from the girls as they worked to unfurl the sails allowing the ship to pick up speed.


Dismounting from Argo, even before the horse had stopped fully, Xena raced to the end of the dock.

The last of the ships had sailed… it was too far a distance, even for her.

The smug cheers of the men on board infuriated Xena, so that she fairly quaked with anger.

Behind, she heard Sevastian running down the dock, to join her at the water's edge.

There… on the stern…there could be no mistake

“Iolaus!” she bellowed.

“Better luck next time Bitch of Greece!” Gales of jeering laughter from the crew rolled over the waters of the harbor.

“It would have been far wiser to have left that unsaid.” An extremely irate Iolaus advised coolly while glaring at the Captain.

“Why?” the old salt laughed heartily, “We are safe, by gods; the woman would have be able to fly to catch my ship.”

“In my experience,” Iolaus growled, “Xena makes the impossible, possible.”

Frantically glancing both left and right, she found the docks empty.

“My empire for one ship Sevastian!” Xena thundered in anger as he drew alongside her, “One ship!”

Having never heard her master so angry, and driven by deep curiosity she stepped up upon a wooden crate, to better see over the ships rail.


Sevastian was stunned by the unexpected sudden gentleness within Xena's tone.

“Gabrielle…” Xena said the name again. Standing on that deck was no sleeping torment, no shade come to visit her in the dark of night, no hunch, no feeling. The girl was well and truly alive! That realization gifted her with something Xena had not felt for many a cycle… joy.

After a deep breath, a grin formed, her usual disciplined stoicism failing to stop it from touching her lips.

She's slipping away. The thought sobered Xena instantly.

Frantically she searched for a way to get on that ship, despair growing as with every moment she came closer to loosing Gabrielle again. Looking past the empty slips, Xena found her salvation. Without a word to Sevastian, she turned running full bore.

For some moments after the Empress had rushed past, Sevastian was too staggered to speak, his mind attempting to put logic to these events. Clearly, the girl they were searching for, this Gabrielle was on board. Why was the Xena so interested in her?

Still confused, he decided it best to follow, and so chased after the Empress.

“One side!” she growled while bowling two men down, then hurdling over some wooden barrels.

Reaching her objective, Xena bounded up the stone stairs, at the top of which were members of a very surprised Piraeus militia. Shoving past them, she continued to run, her cape fluttering as she sprinted along the stone battlement atop of the ports defensive sea wall. Merlons, capped with fearsome finials flew by to either side as Xena raced, putting all into reaching her goal.

“The woman is crazy!” the captain's words, spoken from behind caused Iolaus to cast a glance back at the man.

“Crazy like a fox, perhaps.” Raising one arm he gestured to the wall, “See there?”

Panic on the man's face. “You men, set every sail! Helm, steer us to the dead center of the channel as far from the fortifications at the harbor entrance as possible!”

“I do not understand. Why does she run madly along the top of the wall?” asked a very confused Lilla who had moved next to her master.

Iolaus was too angered to speak. He could only leave his arm raised, a lone finger continuing to point at the reason for the sudden panic on board ship. He waited as her line of sight followed his gesture.

“Oh gods!” she wailed.

“What?” asked Gabrielle who had moved her box, to use it to stand on in order to see more easily over the tall railing. “See sister?” Lilla pointed, “The wall turns, winding along the edge of the harbor, until—“

“She's going to run to the end of the wall and jump?” Gabrielle's mouth fell open in shock. “Jump on board our ship from where the wall ends at the harbor entrance?”


“We must sail past the opening of the harbor, before she reaches the end of the wall, if we don't that spawn of Hades will be able to board this ship.” Iolaus let out a long sigh then leaned against the rail dejectedly.


“I have been witness to her doing greater feats Lilla, I know she is capable.” Iolaus tone was one of resignation, as if Xena were already on board.

The fortified wall, which followed the terrain it was constructed upon, had kept Xena at some distance. Now it loomed closer as the ship neared the narrow entrance to the harbor. As the wall came closer, so did Xena, her long legs moving with graceful stride to beat the ship to the narrow harbor entrance.

“By Aphrodite…” Gabrielle was in awe… “She's beautiful!”

She's deranged!” Lilla shouted, both slaves watching as the woman running along the wall pulled even with the ship

Gabrielle paid her sister no mind, being captivated by seeing Xena once more. “Beautiful…” she murmured again.

Where Gabrielle considered herself to have had changed only slightly with the passage of the seasons. Xena had changed much since they had last met, and she wanted to commit every new detail to memory. Most amazingly, it appeared the already tall Xena that she had met long ago, had grown much taller, and far stronger with the passage of time. Her black leathers now were stretched taut, showcasing the power beneath. Gone were the many cuts, and scrapes Gabrielle had ministered to in the barn. Gone also was the gauntness which had caused her new friends leathers to hang loose upon her frame. The deep purple cape she wore had a beautiful silky looking texture. A far cry from the blood stained and tattered one she had in the barn. Black leathers shone in the morning sun, no longer gashed open from blades.

“Beautiful…” that word, spoken a third time by Gabrielle, was intermingled within a sigh.

“Why does she chase us?” asked Lilla, “How have we offended the gods, to have them lit this curse upon us?”

Pulling even with the ship, Xena chanced a glance over at those on board. There amongst the faces of the terrified crew, standing at the side of Iolaus, there was Gabrielle.

Her Gabrielle…

“She chases us because—“Iolaus began wearily, meaning to briefly explain the history he shared with Xena.


The shout stopped Iolaus from speaking further. Surprised, his eyes darted from the evil running along the battlements, to the sweet little slave standing atop the wooden box at his side.

“Xena!” As if she were outside herself, Gabrielle heard the name yelled in her voice, without any conscious thought to do so.

A most feral grin formed on dark lips, the girl knew her, remembered her.

“Gabrielle! Come to me!” Xena implored.

Again she felt outside herself while attempting to climb onto the rail, meaning to dive…

“What in blazes are you doing girl!” yanked back, Gabrielle found herself struggling against Iolaus' vice like hold.

“Let me go! Can't you hear her?” She needs me!”

“Have you gone mad? I'll not have you fall into the hands of that butcher!” Iolaus snapped back holding her all the more tightly.

Xena caught sight of the struggle, rage roiling within as the girl fought to break free, but couldn't. Following the curve of the wall, her goal came within sight. Here wall and ship would intersect and she could leap on board.

“No!” she snarled, cursing the gust which filled the ships sails. Instinctively Xena grasped her Chakram, meaning to let the weapon fly to cut the ropes holding the main sail. Doing such would cause the yard arm holding it to drop down to the deck and slow the ship

You may hurt Gabrielle. The thought gave her pause, and she dared not throw the weapon, lest the rigging loosed by her hand somehow injure the girl.

The Chakram was reluctantly placed back upon her hip.

The favorable winds helped the ship pass the end of the battlement far before she could reach it. Those on board cheered wildly as they realized they had accomplished a most rare feat, they had beaten Xena.

Halting her stride, she watched helpless at the ship sailed on.

“Damn you!” she screamed in anguish. The ship was too far, the wall not high enough to create the angle she needed for a successful leap.

“I will cast you to Hades Iolaus!” she raged, Breathing hard, she slammed both fists down upon one of the many stone merlons.

“Not today Xena!” she heard him yell back taunting her failure. “Not today!”

The crew cheered once more, and amidst their shouts of joy Xena's knees buckled as dark despair took hold. She slumped down against the stone roughly.


Sobs racked her frame, tears trailing down her cheeks to fall upon dark leathers.


A wretchedness unfelt since the loss of dear Lyceus came upon her.

Sounds of someone approaching at a run, there was no need to look up, she knew who it was.

“Majesty…” The word had begun forcefully, tapering off as he took in the sight.

The Empress seated her cape beneath her, back against the stone. Her long legs were pulled in, being bent at the knee, her face buried in arms which crossed over her knees. The wind filtering through the stone crenellations, whipped the strands of her long black hair.

Shocked at seeing Xena so, Sebastian's first instinct was to try to understand what had transpired to make the usually stoic Xena distraught. No. Now was not the time. Such a moment deserved privacy. Problem was he had nowhere to go in order to give privacy, decorum demanded he not leave her side until dismissed. Dithering for a moment, he backed away a pace or two. Dropping to one knee before her he lowered his gaze.

For an interminable span, he remained glad to at least be able to catch his breath from the exertions.

“Her name is Gabrielle.” Her tone was soft, so much so that he barely heard it.

He gazed upward to find the Empress standing, looking out over the battlement towards the ship on the distant horizon.

Without taking her eyes away from the ship, she motioned for him to rise.

“We met by pure happenstance long ago and from the moment I renewed my quest to unite Greece her memory has haunted me.” Her voice grew stronger. “For what reason, I do not know.”

From his vantage point, Sevastian could see Xena's features become hard, grief morphing into fury. Ares gift, men called it, now rose to the fore.

“I shall have her!” she raged, hands grasping the stone so tightly Sevastian swore he heard the rock crack under the strain.

Her head turned, snapping away from the sea and towards him, blue eyes so filled with fiery hated that he shivered.

“I prophesy to you, that until I find that girl I will tear the known world apart! No man, no king, no god above will keep me from her! With Ate by my side I will wreak discord and vengeance upon all who dare stand in my way!”

He was much relieved when that evil glare left him to return to the sea.

For long moments silence again enveloped the two, he watching as her head dipped down, gaze dropping to the waves crashing against the foundations of the sea wall.

Fluidly she stepped toward him, arm flashing up, a one hand grasping his armor. When she dragged him to the edge of the battlement, Sevastian was sure she meant to toss him to the rocks below.

“Tell me what you see Lord Commander?” her silky voice was so close to his ear, it sent a reflexive shudder through him as he hung over the edge, only her hand grasping the back of his armor, kept him from plunging down into to the roiling water.

“Debris?” he replied haltingly, swallowing hard while hoping his answer was the correct one.

“It is called flotsam Sevastian and it has all the markings of Roman warships.”

Jerked back from the edge, he looked up at her, amazed at her ability to divine such information from scattered bits and pieces floating upon the waves.

“How do—“

Once more he was hauled to the edge and forced to look down.

Sevastian cursed his tendency of inquisitiveness.

“See that?” Xena asked while pointing. Sevastian nodded quickly.

“What is that?”

“Looks to be several wooden shields, amidst the other...flotsam... Empress.”

“Yes, yes. Do you see the design?”

“I do.”

“Whose is it?” she growled impatiently.

He pursed his lips, a red background, and a golden eagle, with lightning bolts in outstretched claws, a distinct design. Easy...


He was pulled back from the edge.

“Very good, you know well the markings of my enemies.”

“A battle has occurred off this coast, a battle unknown to me due to the abject failure of Autolycus and his worthless spy network!”

“We must look to the present situation.” Xena prefaced, although she found it difficult to take her mind off Gabrielle, there were more pressing matters to attend to. “I want the search of Piraeus begun anew, this time send my guardsmen out to look for survivors of the battle, Roman survivors. She stepped a pace closer looming over him, “I want them rounded up so I may have a... word... with them.”

“As you command.” He dipped his head in respect.


He quickly moved to depart from the overwhelming darkness which enveloped her person.


He halted his stride immediately, turning to brace at attention.

“You will speak to no one of my actions here.”

“I shall not speak of it majesty.”

She turned from looking out over the rampart to gaze directly at him while folding arms over her chest. He was glad the dark intent which had shone from her eyes was no more.

“Ah, but many who are curious will ask you my second. My enemies always hope to capitalize on any moment of personal weakness because people with weaknesses get killed by those who lack them.” Xena smirked, while moving her arms outward from her side for a moment. “I am not dead.”

So, you will tell me Sevastian,” she prefaced, with eerily calm voice. “What did you witness here?”

For just a moment he pondered the question.

“I witnessed the Empress of all Greece personally lead the fight against those who threaten our land.”

“And?” she queried. He swallowed nervously as one of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows rose.

“To that end her many virtues shown. Our Empress is clear in purpose, courageous in action, and commands the hearts of all who call themselves true Greeks. ”

“Very good,” She turned to face the waters once more, her back to Sevastian. “Leave me, conduct your search, and bring all whom you find before me.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Unseen by him, she smiled at Sevastian's choice of words. The man was always precise in the words he chose to use and in every action he took. Mistress… he was reaffirming loyalty to her.

As he departed, she bent slightly, leaning over to place both hands palm down upon the stone. “You belong to me Gabrielle.” She murmured while looking out over the waves.

“You are mine !”

Chapter 5

“The heart was made to be broken.” Raia looked up knowing her Queen was most melancholy.

My Queen, what may I do to cheer you?” the girl asked.

Cleopatra chucked mirthlessly. “Defeat the Persians.”

“I wish I could.” that statement earned Raia a sad smile from Cleopatra.

“By my actions, you must think me cruel, but I tell you I loved him truly.” Raia understood her queen referred to Antonius “Unfortunately, I must love Egypt more.”

“Must it always be so?”

“For a ruler, yes,” Cleopatra straitened in her chair. “Send my council in, Raia.”

The girl bowed, and moved across the spacious cabin, to exit out the door. For some moments, the queen sat silent, the only sound coming from the beating of drums, meant to keep the oar men in time.

Then one by one, they filled in to take a knee before her.

“Rise, and tell me news of the Persian attack.”

“My Queen,” Bahadur spoke first. “ Alexandria , by last accounts sits upon the brink, her defenses shattered, fighting raging in the streets, the dead in their thousands lie unburied.”

For a long moment, Cleopatra pondered his words, steepling her fingers, one digit gently taping plush lips.

“Size of the Persian force?”

“Some 200,000 my Queen.”

“And how were we blind to their approach?!” The Queen stood her anger on display. “200,000 men don't just traipse across the expansive desert then load on ships to attack! It is clear the Persians waited until this force had departed Alexandria ! So clear even a blind man could see it!”

“Well?” she yelled. Only receiving silence from the men.

“We have been betrayed, I tell you. When this fight is over and won, I will show no mercy in delivering justice.”

“All our hearts wish for that justice my Queen.” Eban dared to add.

“But first we must deal with the present danger, Cleopatra walked to the long table, the men parting before her. “The message which arrived this day says Xerxes, throws his entire force into the attack, leaving little behind to guard the his army, if so he gambles no army will suddenly appear at his back.”

“Do all agree on this point?” she queried. The men round the table nodded.

“Now that the situation is stated, my astute generals, what is to be done?”

“If Xerxes believes no one able to approach from behind, then logic would have us land troops here, Senefru, pointed to a point upon the map, “Ephesus, being a port, gives us the best chance to land our force quickly then march inland...” his finger traced down the map, “and to Alexandria, catching our foe off guard.

“That will be a march of hundreds of leagues,” Eban, pointed out. “Surely Xerxes will be aware of our presence long before we arrive.”

“Not so” Senefru countered, the people who live here...” his finger retraced the line of proposed march, “are loyal to the Persians only because they are forced to be, they will gladly welcome us and keep knowledge of our approach secret.”

“No sizable army can approach completely unseen.”

“Correct my Queen, but if we move swiftly,” Bahadur counseled, “by forswearing supply, our army will pounce before the enemy can react.”

“We would take many risks, the army without supply, trusting peasants to not run and tell the Persians of our approach.” Cleopatra paused. “And what of the fleet, since they will not be used as a point of supply for the troops, where does it end up.”

Her generals all glanced at each other. “The fleet sails to Alexandria my Queen, and will corner the Persian fleet in the harbor.” Senefru slid his finger over the route stopping at the carefully drawn lines which marked Alexandria on the map. “A pincer attack, troops to one side, our fleet to the other.”

Cleopatra brooded over her general's plans for long moments.

“No.” there will be no invasion at Ephesus ; the fleet will carry me and my men directly to Alexandria . From the docks we move into the city. House by house, street by street we will drive the invaders back. She could see her generals were dismayed, favoring the plan to march overland and strike. “Time is a luxury we do not have,” Cleopatra used one finger to tap the representation of Alexandra on the map “Each moment we delay, the enemy uses to reinforce his position, and therefore we must take direct action. As one mighty fist, the whole of this army will strike the enemy and… I shall lead them.

“My Queen,” Eban pursed his lips.

“My place is with the men.” she stated, knowing his argument before he spoke.

“You are the living symbol of our people my queen, think of what may happen should you, however unlikely,” Eban made sure to state, “be struck down in battle.”

“Our people would lose all hope, as you are the last of your line,” Bahadur spoke, “should you fall, Egypt will be plunged into another civil war over the throne. Please take heed of this fact, and appear before the people after the danger has past. You will be seen as the Phoenix rising from the ashes to claim victory.

The queen closed her eyes. Oh Antonius, my love, how I wish you had been man enough to give me an heir.

“You would have me hide in the palace?” Her eyes opened, her tone incredulous, all knew to tread carefully.

“Never my Queen!” Eban pounded the table once with his fist for emphasis. We only think of the continuity of your rule.”

Her generals spoke truth, she had no heir and Egypt would suffer civil war should she die. “I will...” the queen made it a point to look at each directly. “Go to the palace during the battle.”

The men round the table visibly relaxed.


“Let them go.”

“My lord, you mean we should.”

“Yes, Alistair, let these girls go, we have a more pressing matter to attend to.”

Sevastian, stood in the center, the captains of the old guard surrounding him. “Listen well; I want 200 men to search this city anew, the other 200 split into two groups riding along the coast both East and West.”

“This time we look for Romans.”

“Romans?” Alistair's voice rose on the word and was filled with amazement. Sevastain's eyes narrowed just a bit as he wondered why the man kept rubbing the back of his head.

“There was a battle off this coast, the Empress having personally shown me its remnants. It makes sense that any survivors would make land fall here. Break your men into several detachments; have them sweep all parts of the city.”

“How are we to know who is a Roman?” asked Alistair, voicing a question Sevastian knew many held in their thoughts. “Our peoples do appear to be similar.”

“Oui Latine Loqui” The wide eyed looks of the men gave Sevastian cause to smile. “They speak Latin.” he translated. “Tell your men to ask questions of those they deem suspicious, their name, where they are from, what they do for a living. If Roman, I wager that they will be sorely lacking in use of our tongue and knowledge of our land.

“There are other signs they may look for,” he continued after a pause to ensure the men understood. “While a smart man would have cast off armor to float, the garments worn underneath will have telltale signs of Rome . The sandals they wear are far different than that of the ordinary Greek; the vestments they wear under their clunking metal plates are usually a deep red. Their hair is dark, eyes brown, skin tanned from much time under Helios' rays.”

“You know much about them.” Avra spoke from behind.

“I have run into them a time or two.” Sevastian's devious smile caused the men to chuckle.

“Lastly, remember, the Romans are shorter men, the height Greeks possess eludes them, same as it does me. ” he added, causing a full laugh to erupt from the men surrounding him.


The men moved to stand at attention, their silence indicating they had none.

“Be through in your search; bring all you find to the main square.”


As the group dispersed he was left alone for some moments. Standing around like some egoist did not appeal, so he moved to search as well. Stepping forward, he picked the first of many of the luxurious town-homes in the city center. Walking up the stone steps, Sevastain raised his fist, meaning for pound on the door, and then halted mid motion as long shadows fell over him. Whirling round, he grabbed the hilt of his sword.

Looking up caused him to relax. “Siri, it...” he bungled a bit “it... it is good to see you.”

“Amazons,” Sevastian dipped his head politely to the female warriors behind her.

Siri, said nothing, stepping round to bang her fist upon the door. “You will not search alone, Lord Commander.” The words were more pronouncement than asking permission.

He thought about making the point that he was entirely capable on his own. “Alright.” he said simply. One should always choose battles wisely; Sevastian knew this was one he would not win.


“Well...well…well...” she intoned.

Those within the tavern had stopped their quarrel, the moment her imposing visage had blocked the light pouring in through the open door.

“What have we here?”

Silence greeted her question, the few men still standing too terrified to answer for their actions. The little tavern keep peeped up from underneath the bar, now that the commotion had abruptly ended.

Slowly, Xena moved to pull off her gauntlets, and then tuck them over the leather belt around her waist.

Stepping forward, she took the steps down and glided into the tavern, unknowingly taking the same steps down that Lilla and Gabrielle had bounded up on the way to the dock. Xena's cape billowed out slightly as she walked. That same cape flared out to either side as her elbows hooked into it. Placing hands on hips, she looked down upon those lying about unconscious.

Behind, her Amazon guard filled the doorway.



“Take these to the stocks in the main plaza.” She gestured to the men still standing. Perhaps the humiliation of a day spent in chains in full view of their neighbors will dissuade them from starting another fight in a tavern. Those lying, upon the floor, drag to the magistrate's dungeons.”

The Amazons moved, corralling those standing, lifting those upon the floor.

She stood for long moments, just taking in the space, a tavern like many across Greece . Wattle and daub walls with small windows. Wooden beams overhead holding up what looked like a mishmash of decking salvaged from various ships. In the corner stood a hearth, a fire blazing for both warmth and light. A smattering of cheap tallow candles about the place. It was much like the tavern her mother ran. However, Cyrene had wisely used the profits from the tavern to build an adjacent inn to double the family income. Many a night her family worked long hours to deliver food and drink tavern patrons or to take care over the many guests of the inn. After the tavern patrons had gone, they cleaned late into the night in preparation for the next day.

Most who frequented mother's tavern were good folk, grabbing a simple meal before heading out to work in the fields, perhaps meeting to celebrate some personal good fortune. Xena had been witness to countless marriages, anniversaries, and to the many festivals marking the seasons.

Of course, some nights were not joyous. Too much drink clouded men's thinking, no more so than on the harvest festival. Peasants with coin earned from selling crops always used some of it, others all of it, to buy spirits.

Drunkenness invariably leads to fights.

First her mother dealt with the odd ruffian, or broke up a drunken brawl. As they got older, she and her brothers were enlisted to maintain order in the tavern. Even with their best efforts, the occasional fight would wreck the tavern, much as the one today had destroyed the furnishings of this one. As she had gotten older, taller, and far stronger, the fights at her mother's bar had mysteriously slacked off. Xena allowed herself a slight smirk thinking of it.

She and the sad looking little fellow behind the bar, Xena reflected, were different from one another in in so many ways, but alike in this shared experience.

“Members of my guard tell me they may have...unwittingly... started this fight.” She stated, once the last of the brawlers had been removed.

“Dest...ah... Great Xe...Empress...” the tavern keep sputtered, unsure of etiquette when addressing her.

“Xena is sufficient for the moment.” There was neither the need nor the desire on her part to stand on ceremony here. These were her people.

“Xena yah see,” the bar keep began as means to explain. “Those soldiers came in there,” he pointed toward the door leading from the kitchens, “shoved a man here. Then the damned fool, ah…” she watched the man's eyes widen in shock as he realized he had just swore in front of her.


“Well,” the man swallowed nervously. “The dang fool lost his temper at having his drink spilt, grabbed a jug sittn' there,” another gesture from him indicated a particular spot at the long bar, “An, bashed it on the head of yore soldier there. Boy dropped like a stone.”

“Then?” she prodded.

“The fella who baught the jug, punched the fella who used it on the soldier bein' rightly upset as he paid for the wine within it.


“Wuh—well... then the man, punched by the fella who was mad bout' the wine, fell back onto a table full up with men breakin' their fast.”

“And then the fight started.”

“Right.” The man sported a very satisfied smile, which faded as he watched Xena close her eyes while one of her elegant hands moved up so that fingers might rub the bridge of her nose.

“Name?” she asked.

“Talak, Xena.”

“First things first Talak,” A long sigh left her lips. “Why were my soldiers in your bar?”

“Oh!” he exclaimed brightly, “I plum forgot that part.”

“You did.” she stated in mild vexation, her hand dropping down, her eyes showing some small hint of amusement as she looked upon him again.

“They was chasin' two girls, slaves by the look of it.”

She raised one sculpted eyebrow as she looked down at the man.

“Y-yes,” he began hesitantly, sensing the change in her demeanor, “see they blew through here and up them stairs and out the door.”

“Describe them.”

“Well, best I could see, the taller one had brown hair and was wearing a long brown skirt and yellah top. The other was lots shorter, lots thinner, with golden hair an' wearing boots and brown trousers with a green top.”

Gabrielle a slave…How callous, must the fates be to allow that to happen to such a sweet girl.

Had events aligned only slightly differently Gabrielle would be hers. No matter, she would find the girl and see to it she was cared for. That much was certain. It was the least that she could do to repay the kindness Gabrielle had once shown her.

She never forgot a debt.

“The Empire compensates you for your losses.” A thick gold coin was slapped upon the bar.

“Many thanks Xena!” Talak had never seen such wealth. Gingerly he reached for the coin. For a moment Xena fought the temptation to slap at his hand as he did. She resisted doing so, even though it would have been enjoyable to startle the man. Instead she leaned in a bit, causing him to lean back while clutching the precious coin tightly to his chest.

“I could use a drink.”

“Of course!” he smiled timidly. “What's yer pleasure?”

“Anything… Tulak... Anything.”

“Right, ale it is Xena.”

Turning from him she walked across the deserted tavern to a corner nook set against a far wall and took a seat. Certainly she could be out within the city, bashing in doors, terrifying peasants, and so forth. However, she had learned much from her failures. Experience, Xena mused was a poor teacher, first giving the test, then the lesson afterward.

The idea to delegate responsibility never crossed her mind when she first put on the mantle of warlord. An army, like an empire needs one undisputed leader, but she had learned that it also needs good leadership at all levels. Certainty she could take full command of the search, and all would follow her orders to the letter. Problem is that if everyone is thinking alike then someone isn't thinking. Better to let Sevastain take this task she had given and run things his way. She had grown to like seeing his original thinking.

A terrified serving girl slowly approached, depositing a large wooden mug on the table near her. Before the girl could depart, her wrist was held tight and she yelped in fright.

“You know the town reeve?”


“Bring him to me, do so quickly and this...” Xena raised a silver piece with her free hand. “Will be yours.”

She let go, and the girl immediately departed at a run.

“What do you do?” Xena asked the man sitting still as a statue atop a stool by the hearth.

“I, I'm a bard.” he squeaked.

“A bard.”

The boy nodded.

The kid watched as the Empress leaned back, and then propped one boot up on the table, casually placing one hand upon her raised leg.

“Well bard, entertain me.”


“Lord Commander, Must we go?” Alistair whispered. “Vengeful spirits of the underworld roam below looking for souls to steal for Hades.”

“What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?”

“No,” Alistair responded firmly, “Just death, isn't that enough?”

“Capitan, we must. We have searched the town, we are searching the countryside, and we must search here.” Sevastian pointed to the entrance. Looking about he noted the various captains of the guard crowding close round him. Even the big Germans looked spooked.

A nudge at his back caused him to turn his head and look up.

“You too?” he said soft

The usually unflappable Siri nodded just enough to let him know she was uncomfortable. “Isn't right, tossing the dead in a hole in the ground, she whispered near his ear, “they should have been given a pyre.” The feel of her warm breath, drove Sevastian to distraction for a moment. Regaining his composure, He turned, facing the group, bunched near each other. “You all passed the supreme test of combat, yet you fear ghouls in catacombs? I tell you there is nothing down there but bones!”

“Let's go!” he ordered while stepping forward, stopping when it became apparent that the men were not following easily, the notable exception being Siri. Those Amazon's took their oaths seriously. She was determined to stay by him come what may.

Time to change tact…

“If there are ghouls below, they can only give fright, our Empress metes out death.”

The captain's looked at each other for a moment and came to an unspoken consensus, walking forward, they moved to follow him into the tombs, their men behind.

“Light those torches!” Sevastian commanded as the group strode down the steps. Raising the torch Siri passed to him, he proceeded to lead the group past row after row of tombs hewn into the rock walls Sevastian considered having the men split up, as it would make the search go faster, but based upon the current mood of those surrounding him, decided not to push it.

He followed a path which widened as it lead up to a huge underground temple clearly dedicated to Hades. Once through the entrance portal, he raised his touch high to take in the massive space that Piraeus , as a wealthy port city, could well afford to bore out of the rock. A vaulted ceiling high above, impressively carved stone columns rising up some several stories into the darkness. Behind, the men shuffled about, using torches to light tapers held in tall circular shaped iron candelabras. Ahead Sevastian could make out the altar, a huge shadowy figure looming behind it. Walking forward, the flickering light of his torch illuminated an intricately carved figure of Hades. In this depiction, the god looked much like his brother Zeus, having a full beard and long curly locks. Standing guard next to the god was the three headed Cerberus.

Turning slowly, Sevastian lifted his torch higher, the shimmering light illuminated the side wall, and the haggard Romans pressed up bodily against it.


“...and thus our Empress will lead Greece to greater glory!”

From behind the bar, the tavern keep clapped vigorously until a stern look from her silenced him. Picking up the wet rag, he resumed wiping its surface.

Her gaze returned to the bard, who was clearly nervous, if the sheen of perspiration upon his brow were any indicator.

“Empress did you like the tale?” the Reeve sitting near asked hesitantly. For a moment she took the man in, Wiry and tall much like Toris, older than her brother as evidenced by the flecks of gray in his hair. “Certainly the boy is wise enough to know who his audience is.” She conceded, the comment directed more to the bard, than the Reeve.

“Not bad.” At hearing her praise, a grin spread upon bards face. Casually reaching to the small felt bag attached her leather belt, she retrieved then flicked a sliver piece to him.

“Thank you Empress!” he stated enthusiastically, eyes locked on the beautiful piece of silver on his palm. When he looked up, she gave him a brief genuine smile in return, which cheered the boy even more. With a gesture, she dismissed him.

“Praxis, it seems we do nothing but impose upon you.”

“How so Empress?”

“Here we have disrupted your harvest festival and invaded the privacy of your homes. I wish it known to all that the Empire apologies for the many hardships imposed upon the people of Piraeus .

“All know now that you search for Romans. Any grumbling will be muted by the fact that they are enemies of Greece .” The man responded tactfully.

“Tell me Praxis, what you know about these Romans.”

“We heard tell stories of a sea battle in the gulf, involving Rome .”

“And, did your townsmen, happen to aid those Romans who made it to shore?” she watched him wither under her stern gaze. “Perhaps taking them in, hoping to later ransom them back to their families?”

“I should hope not!” he declared adamantly. She expected him to say as much. But there were reasons as to why those ships had left the harbor in such haste.

“I agree with you Praxis, as any such actions would be considered traitorous by me.” She let him stew a moment while finishing her mug of ale. “It would be a shame if the Empire were forced to investigate the matter further. I would hate to need to leave a garrison here.” She left him an opening which he soon took. “Empress,” the man shifted nervously. “Allow me to take the lead in any such investigation you desire, I shall see to it that the guilty are rounded up.”

“Good, I look forward to reading your findings Praxis.” The damage was already done, having him round up a few townsmen for punishment would serve as a warning to others in the future. Best of all she wouldn't need to waste the time of her men in the investigation.

“Will that be all Empress?” he asked softly.

“No.” she leaned back in her chair again after setting her empty mug upon the table. “I require provisions for my troops as well as a place for them to be billeted for the night. See to it.”

“Of course Empress.”

“Good and I require your home, as well as the local magistrate for use by my top commander.”


She could tell he was less than pleased at having to surrender his home, but had the sense to not give voice to his thoughts.

“We shall be glad to host a dinner in your honor Empress. The town--”

“No, unnecessary, just see to it that my troops are taken care of. I, and select members of my command, will dine with you and your family tonight Praxis”

All color drained from the man's face.

“We would be honored!”

He didn't look honored.

“Good.” she waved the man off.

Standing the Reeve bowed low to her before departing.

“Conqueror,” Solari spoke from the doorway of the tavern. Xena couldn't help but smile slightly. Ever since Ephiny had used that particular honorific, all the Amazons had begun to use it in her presence. As she eyed the commander of her guard, Xena's thoughts turned toward, seeing that Talmadeus procured better winter clothing for the Amazon's. Tough was one thing, but leaving yourself exposed to the wintry elements due to inadequate clothing did nothing but court sickness.

“Your second wishes an audience, as well as the one named Autolycus.

“Hold a moment Solari.” she commanded while turning her attentions to the bar keep.

“Talak, might I have use of you tavern the rest of this day? Perhaps you could give those in your employ some time off paid for by me?”

“Sure thing Xena.” he responded, causing Solari to raise both eyebrows in surprise when the man used the Conqueror's given name.

For a moment, silence between them, until the little guy figured she meant starting this very moment. Scampering away he darted into the kitchens to clear out the staff. Sliding her leg off the table top, Xena moved to stand, slowly rising up to her full daunting height.

“Autolycus, you smell of horse sweat,” Stated Sevastian bluntly, albeit with a smile, to take the edge off his words.

“Imagine that, seeing as I did ride a horse to get here.”

“What brings you to Pireaus?

“If I told you I'd have to kill you.” the spy master answered curtly. “Is that?” Autolycus looked past Sevastian.

“It is, least he said he was.” the second shook his head in disbelief of how it had all transpired, “You see we found Roman's hiding--”

“The Empress grants you an audience.” Both men looked to the Amazon.

“After you,” Sevastian gestured.

The moment Auto passed through the door a hand balled the fabric of this fine tunic and he was roughly slammed against a support pillar.

“Worthless!” Xena growled. “There was a battle fought directly off this coast, and thanks to your ineptitude, I knew nothing of it!”

“Xena, please...” Auto gasped out as she effortlessly raised him higher, his back sliding along the pole. “Please what?” she snarled. “Please don't kill you? Tell me why I shouldn't?”

“Please understand,” he gasped. “Information can only travel as fast as the fastest means! As soon as I had scrolls in hand I rode as fast as possible to reach you!”

“What problems you have getting information do not concern me spy, I pay you handsomely to ensure I get information, before events happen, not after! You had better have considerable news of this battle, or you will not live to see the end of this day!” the hand gripping him tightened round his throat.

“Much on the recent battle,” Auto attempted a smile, tough to do when being choked.

In the next moment, he was roughly shoved into a chair. “Well?” Xena asked, while placing hands on hips.

Her spy coughed for some moments. “The battle,” he wheezed trying to regain his voice “involved Rome .”

“Yes, yes, that much I surmised. Tell me something useful.”

“Very well,” Auto continued quickly knowing Xena's patience with him was thin. “As you know from previous reports, there is an alliance between Antony and Cleopatra. Those two fought this sea battle against young Octavian Caesar. Curiously, Egyptian forces never entered into the engagement. Cleopatra abandoned Antony to his fate, pulling her fleet back just as Octavian had been on the verge of defeat.”

“Why would she abandon Antony ? Xena asked pointedly, “At your last report, the two were busying themselves playing horse and mare.”

“That is correct Empress,” Auto stated while straightening his tunic and attempting to regain his bravado once more, “However, it seems Antonius was... lacking.... in certain respects. His eyes darted downward suggestively. “Cleopatra being much frustrated at gaining no heir.”

“You imply she abandoned him, simply because he was unable to fill her with child?” The disbelief within Xena's thoughts, translated to the inflection of her voice. It was one thing to be disappointed by not gaining a child, another entirely to abandon a carefully culled ally in the midst of a battle. Cleopatra's actions made no practical sense.

“While, hearing about the escapades of Antony and Cleopatra is titillating, how does it relate to the events of the coast of Greece ?”

“ Antony and Cleopatra fought Octavian, only because he stood between them and Rome , their main thrust was always an invasion of Rome herself.

Xena, who had begun to pace while listening paused to look upon her spy once more. The information Autolycus gave corroborated Salmoneus' reports. “Those two planned to unite Rome and Egypt as one, their heir ruling a combined Empire.”

The puzzle pieces are coming together . She thought while resuming her pacing to and fro

“My spies say that they planned the attack to occur while Caesar was busy putting down rebellions in Gaul , and Hispania.” She smiled wryly at that bit of news.

“Still...” she continued pacing, crossing arms over her chest. “You haven't told me why Cleopatra abandoned Antonius?”

“The Persians have attacked Alexandria .”

Xena laughed unexpectedly.

“Don't you realize?” she asked a bewildered looking Autolycus, “Cleopatra has a traitor in her mist!” The Persians attacked only after her ships loaded with troops had left Alexandria ! This has all the hallmarks of Caesar! Divide and conquer, is always his anserine maxim. She divided her force defending Egypt in order to invade Rome , and Caesar's minion's made it known to the Persians that Egypt was ripe for attack!”

“And Octavian? What of him?” she asked.

“Unknown, I have no reports as of yet.”

“Octavian is young,” Xena spoke after some moments. “But the boy is no fool from all accounts. I wager he would do much like I and try to press the attack somehow. There may be an opportunity here...” the last remark being muttered, aloud more to herself, than to those in the room.

“And what of Antony ?” she asked, “Killed in battle? Taken as Prisoner?”

“I believe your second, knows his whereabouts.” Auto's gaze turned to Sevastian, who braced at attention as Xena's eyes followed.

“Report, Lord Commander.”

“Empress, we have concluded our search of the town as well as the catacombs beyond. In the main square, we have now some 200 Roman prisoners. That number could change as members of the guard are still searching the coastline outside the city.” Sevastian allowed a short pause.

“We have captured their commander.”

One of the empress' sculpted eyebrows rose at the last remark a smug grin began to show upon her lips. “Taking that as his cue, Sevastain gestured and the man was brought in, two Amazon's positioned on either side.

“Lo! The great Marcus Antonius himself!”

Antonius haughty demeanor abruptly deflated upon seeing the barbarian leader as she stepped towards him. He being slightly taller, only because Antony stood on the top of the steps while Xena the bottom.

“The Amazon Siri captured him, Mistress.” Sevastian made sure to place credit where it was rightly due.

“Where was he found?”

“Conqueror,” Siri straightened realizing the question was being directed at her. “Upon seeing the top of a crypt ajar, I looked within, finding this man hiding amongst the bones.”

“Coward!” Xena spat the word at the Roman general, “Abandoning your men to their fate, while you run and hide like some scared child.” she watched amusedly as his nostrils flared, signaling ire at her words, yet he chose to remain silent in the face of truth.

“Good work, Amazon,” she looked to Siri, “You are a credit to your people.”

“Turning from Antony, Xena's eyes darted first to Auto, then Sevastian, before settling directly upon Siri. “You three will dine with me tonight, we have much to discuss, and you…” she pointed to Auto, “will complete your report.”

“Yes, Empress.” “Sevastain spoke for the group, when no answer was immediately forthcoming. Certainly no answer would be given by Siri, the Amazon looked stunned at being invited to dine with the Empress Rightly so, thought Sevastain, it wasn't long past he was in her place, being shocked when Xena requested his presence at table.

“Call back the Guard from their search Sevastian,” Xena looked to Antony once more. “We have our prize.”

“As you command.”

“Have the Guard, form up in the main square with the prisoners, I shall be there shortly. “And…” All watched as Xena walked over to Sevastian, pausing to lean over, whispering into his ear.”

The second silently nodded his understanding of her words, and then dipped his head low in deference to his Empress.

“Dismissed, save you Solari.”

Xena waited until only Solari, she, and Antonius were present within.

“A drink Antonius?” she asked while stepping round the wooden bar.

The fellow said nothing.

“ Greece is buying” she added, the corners of her beautiful lips quirking up into a smile. Still the man remained silent even as the wooden mug was set before him.

“Even… barbarians… know to say thank you, after all it's only polite.”

“Thank you.” Antonius stated flat. Thirst caused the Roman general to quickly drain the mug. Another was set before him.

He eyed Xena for a moment. She was much changed. Once being hesitant; young, new to the game of war, and uncomfortable wearing the mantle of warlord. No longer, Xena had grown into a formidable warrior, comfortable with leadership, and possessing a most daunting persona.

Caesar, do you know your enemy?

Antonius believed the truthful answer would be, no. Caesar remembered her as the brash young woman he ordered crucified, not understanding what she had become since.

This was no simple reunion; this would be a battle of wits he couldn't afford to lose. Antonius steeled himself, preparing to do battle, and in battle it was always best to land the first strike.

“With offerings of drink you attempt to ingratiate yourself with me, you think I can be bought with so little? If so I do fear you waste your time, savage. I shall not tell you what you seek!”

“Oh Antonius…” Xena began; the words intermixed with a sigh. She leaned back against the large wooden ale kegs behind the bar, and crossed arms over her chest. “How important you believe yourself, I need no information from you. I already know your plans.”

“I doubt that.” Antonius scoffed at the suggestion, “Women know little of the intricacies of war.” reaching for his mug, he drank again.

“You and Caesar…” Xena shook her head dismissively, “what ego you possess.”

“You speak as if you are pure as a Vestal Virgin. He countered with a grin. “I know you better Xena, you possess some considerable pride.” He finished his ale, only to have another set before him.

“Ah, but at least I can back it up,” the glib smile she wore incensed him. “Shall I have the Amazon here fetch a map so that you may point out what territory you rule?”

“You are nothing more than a harlot, leading scum! Rome shall wipe her feet upon your Greece !” Antonius' ire was up, his face red.

“You wound me Antonius.” Xena mocked him, feigning deep hurt with her expression, her hand moved up mimicking stabs into her heart with an invisible dagger. “Especially when you took such care to woo me, not so long past, flatteries flowed from your lips, the like of which I have not heard since... My hair like silk, my eyes having more depth than the Aegean , my lips softer than---”

“Please, you only flatter yourself by speaking such,” he grunted, “You treat the bedroom like a battlefield. Making love is art you know nothing about.

“Old Antonius still!” she laughed. “And you make love like you eat, with a great deal of noise and no subtlety!”

“Be honest Antonius,” Xena continued, “you only direct your vitriol at me because I turned down your offer to partner against Caesar. First you use your charms to try and get me to ally with you, and then you run to the arms of Cleopatra attempting to do the same!

“I did not!” he bellowed. “At least not this this time, she suggested it” he finished meekly.”

“I care not who suggested it, were you man enough, you'd do the deed yourself!

“You make my failings the size of your Mount Olympus .” The Roman moved to lean heavily upon the bar. Draining his mug of ale

“They are the size of Mount Olympus !” she retorted.

“We could have ruled the known world Xena.” He lamented watching as she filled his mug again. “You, then Cleopatra, blithely threw the opportunity away! She turned tail and ran leaving me to face Octavian alone! I tried to follow but…” he voice trailed off.

“You tried to disengage your fleet from Octavian to follow her?” she asked.

“No…no, I jumped overboard to follow.”

Xena couldn't hide her reaction at his words leaning forward to place her hands upon the bar she began to laugh. “You idiotic love sick fool! Like a puppy running to its master!”

“I cannot speak for the Egyptian,” she set a refilled mug before him, “but as for me, why would I rule with a halfwit like you when I can do so alone?”

“We could have a child that would rule the known world!” he whined.

“I doubt that” she said flat.

Antonius took several large gulps of the heady ale, “All great men, fall by the treachery of those around them, so it is with me. ” he bemoaned.

“Antonius, you won't be killed by a traitor, unless you kill yourself!” She rebuked.

“What would you do with me then Xena?” asked the Roman “Besides getting me drunk and using me for your mirth?” He grabbed the mug again, drinking the rest of the ale held within.

“Good, drink up.” she encouraged. “It will help later.”

“I know not what you mean by that.” He challenged.

“Antonius, let us go on gently, her words soft. “Tell me true, of Caesar's plans.”

“I knew it!” he laughed, she not joining him. “You are plying me with drink in hopes that I'd tell you of his game!”

“You are a known masker and reveler Antonius; I am not forcing that brew down your throat.”

“True…” his voice trailed off, Antonius was silent, keen observation of his features told her he had come to a decision.

“It matters little now anyway.” He muttered dejectedly. Inwardly Xena smiled. Alcohol had always been Antoinus' weakness; the man could not hold his drink. He would tell all and she hadn't the need to torture him to get it.

Looking up he met her gaze. “Caesar wanted to attack Greece from both East and West. I was to use Egypt 's armada of ships to ferry my men and those of Egypt to the shores of Greece while Caesar struck overland and by sea. A skirmish with the Persians delayed the plan. My alliance with Cleopatra ended it. Caesar was so angered by my betrayal that he sent troops under Octavian to stop me.” Antonius let out a pained sigh. “Hindsight being what it is, I should have moved first to help Caesar defeat you, and then attacked him after the battle was won.”

She nodded. Salmoneus was worth his considerable weight in gold! The tubby little chatterbox had told her well of Caesar's intent, the proof of that now given from three different sources, Autolycus, Salmoneus, now Antonius himself!

While she liked Autolycus well enough, even he did not know of her spy masquerading as Caesar's Gentleman of the Bedchamber.

“Pardon me if I say I am glad events unfolded as they did.” she smiled wry.

“I'm sure.” he stated bitterly. “You gained control of Greece .

The Roman leaned towards her, “I can still be of some use, let me join you Xena.”

“Only a fool would trust you Antonius, besides, I already have one Roman General in my employ, I have no need of another.”

“Pompey...” he whispered in shock, “It is Pompey you refer to.”

Xena said nothing, only a slowly growing smile on her beautiful lips confirmed to him who it was.

“Have you met the captain of my Amazon guard, Solari?” she asked changing subject abruptly. “Certainly she knows you Antonius.”

“How so?” the Roman answered after some long moments, looking to Solari who remained silent, but narrowed her eyes in seething anger.

“After the battle of Pharsalus , men under your command attacked a small contingent of her people. You did nothing while your men repeatedly used them against their will.”

Ad Victori Spoila ” he responded blithely, feeling the effects of the ale he had consumed.

Xena's features hardened in anger, “And so it is with you Antonius. You are my spoil of victory and will serve as a mere taste of what is to come for your beloved Rome .”

“Xena--” he began gently trying to pacify her sudden anger.

“There are many things I can forgive Antonius, but you have committed offenses that I cannot abide.” First and foremost you are a coward, that alone condemns you, but you also are a traitor, a most terrible combination of faults. Like cowardice, I've found once a man has a taste for treachery, he goes back to the well time and again. Then there is the matter of you fighting Roman wars on the soil of my Greece , killing my people, pillaging my cities.

“Xena, I...”

“And worst of all!” Her voice rose causing him to fall silent, “You allow rape!

A gesture from her and Solari moved to grab Antonius roughly.

Chapter 6

“And that is how you met?”

“Yes...” Gabrielle used one hand to roughly wipe her face, her eyes, bleary after so much crying.

The three were ensconced within the suite of cabins, paid for by her master, at the very stern of the Myron. Conditions within these rooms were luxurious compared to the rest of the decks, especially the hold which was filled with Roman soldiers. Little wonder why the Captain wished to be under way the moment he found out Xena had entered the town.

Iolaus, leaned back against the wooden bulkhead for support as the ship heaved to. He had long since ditched his sleeveless overcoat of patchwork colors, choosing to instead wear a simple white tunic and brown woolen pants and boots. Next to Gabrielle on the large hammock was a sympathetic Lilla whose arm was draped over her sister's shoulders

“You can hardly be faulted for rendering aid Gabrielle.” Iolaus spoke at long last. “She was beaten and battered and you only did that which is in your nature, you cared for her.

“She looked so”

“I can understand the feeling.” her master muttered grimly. “Gabrielle, you must understand and trust me when I say I speak from experience.” Iolaus anger had long since dissipated, now that he heard the tale of how this most gentle of all souls had met the monster that was Xena.

“I talk to you now as would a father to a daughter. He stated firm. Gabrielle looked up, and her eyes reddened as they were from weeping tore at Iolaus' heart. “Xena is most beautiful, I know that fact well, being that I...” both girls watched as he swallowed hard, fighting back a sudden surge of emotion unable to finish the thought.

“She is most intelligent,” he recovered, “exceedingly charming, incredibly charismatic, and she knows how to best use those qualities to reach her goals. “But….” his hand rose, finger pointing directly at her, “learn it now Gabrielle, she uses her charms for evil intent.”

Gabrielle thought it could be different with Xena, at least from what she knew of the woman but it was best to remain silent on the issue, one did not argue with the master.

“Gabrielle, why would you try to leave us?” Lilla asked gently. “Don't you know how terrible I would feel at loosing you?”

“I'm so sorry.” the tears began anew, causing Lilla to hug her more tightly. “I don't know what came over me, “I...It just felt as if she needed me....I… I can't explain.”

Iolaus moved nearer, and did something most unexpected, he knelt so that he might look up directly into Gabrielle's sea green eyes. “While I do not understand what she wants from you, I will do all in my power to keep you from her grasp. You are too innocent for this world Gabrielle; I will not allow that beautiful light which burns so bright within you to be snuffed out by her darkness.

He stood, “I know Xena well, once her mind is set upon a task, she is unrelenting in accomplishing it.

“You think she will follow?” Lilla gasped.

“Oh yes...” Iolaus shook his head in sadness. “You had but a small taste of her will this day. My ears could hear and my eyes could see her rage at having lost you Gabrielle.

“But we sail to Rome ; surely she will not be able to follow us there?”

“She will,” he said with conviction bone from experience. “Xena never gives up, never! However, you are right Lilla in that we are safe... for the moment.”

“Settle in,” he instructed. “Mind you, do not fraternize with these Roman soldiers, and do not be around them alone.”

Opening the narrow door to the cabin, he quickly walked through, closing it behind, he leaned against it. “O' Hercules, how I wish you were here, how I betrayed you. Handing you over to that… butcher...” His head dipped forward, “Forgive me…” he uttered low, tears welling in his eyes.

“Gabrielle…” Lilla gazed down upon her hands folded upon her lap being too ashamed to look at her sister. “I'm sorry I did not believe your story these past cycles.”

“Sister, the story was so fanciful it was difficult to believe.”

“What was she like? You know, when you met her?” asked Lilla soft.

Gabrielle took hold of her sister's hand most gently, and then met Lilla's eyes as she looked up. “Angry Lilla,” Gabrielle shook her head sadly. “It was if she were a cornered animal, ready to lash out at anything and everything, to include me when I first came upon her. But then, as we spoke I came to realize she was afraid.”

“Afraid?” Lilla's voice rose on the word showing her doubt, “Xena the Destroyer, Afraid? Of what?”

“Of being alone…”

The two sat in silence, what more could be said after such a revelation?


“Yes sister?”

Gabrielle pursed her lips, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath as the ship lurched to one side.

“I don't feel so good.”


“General Marcus Antonius.” The inflection of Sevastain's voice rolled over the filled square. “You are hereby charged with conspiracy to levy war against Xena, Empress of the Greek lands. Furthermore, you stand charged with committing numerous brutalities against the Greek People, all listed and specified within.”

He looked up from the scroll he was pretending to read from, and then made a great show of holding up the parchment for the benefit of the assembled peasantry to display the writing within. Writing which, had those learned among them had been able to inspect, would have been revealed as a copy of Aesop's Fables.

Xena, in the tavern, had whispered orders on how to set up the execution. She had wanted to make it… “Look official” and to “give the townsfolk a bit of theater.” He hoped that he had met her expectations.

“Do I not get to answer the charge?” Antonius yelled, his eyes sweeping over the crowd.

Sevastian glanced back at the Empress unsure as to how handle Antonius' maneuver. She gave a very regal nod.

“Very well, how do you plead?” Inquired Sevastian in a mild tone.

“Not guilty!

“Duly noted.”

“I demand a trial!”

“As you wish, Roman,” Sevastain figured that would be the next ploy. He swept his left hand outward and behind him, indicating the Empress. “Her Imperial Highness, will listen to your pleas.” Rolling up the scroll, Sevastain stepped back out of the way so that Antonius would have nothing impeding his view of the Empress

Antonius struggled like a wild animal against the chains wrapped solidly around the wooden log, chains binding both hands and feet.

“Please… Please Xena don't do this! Don't do this! Antonius begged most pitifully tears flowing free down his cheeks. “I can be of some use!”

“Please!” he beseeched, channeling terror into a piteous wail, “In the name of what we had! Show mercy!”

She casually raised the golden chalice of wine to beautiful lips, making sure to take a long lazy sip of the contents within. Setting it aside, she moved too slowly raise one gauntleted hand.

“Mercy!” Antonius voice was growing hoarse. His wrists bloody from pulling at the chains binding him.

The gold of her signet ring, placed over one gloved finger, flashed brilliantly in the setting sun. All watching focused upon the band, symbol of the Empress' role of arbiter of life and death.

Within the square, silence as the hand of death remained motionless for long moments. Even Antonius stilled, swept up in the power of the moment, still hoping against hope that she would give clemency.

Her hand dropped.

“Xena!” Antonius screamed. “I love you truly!”

Her impassiveness faltered for a moment, and in that moment, true devastation marked her expression.

Solari walked forward, tossing the lit torch in her hand upon the pile of wood surrounding the Roman. Standing near, Sevastian casually pitched the scroll into the rapidly rising flames.

The flames whipped round Antonius, immolating his body, soon after the screams of her name subsided from burning lips.

Xena cleared her throat, working inwardly to regain her usual fortitude “I'm so very glad; you scrounged up some Greek Fire Praxis.” she remarked nonchalantly to the pale man sitting next to her. “Makes burning at the stake go so much faster.”

Her rising from her chair prompted the town leadership to do the same. “I will dine with you shortly, Praxis. Seems I've worked up quite an appetite, do be prompt with dinner, won't you?”

“O-of course Empress.”

Stepping down from the dais, Xena took the short sword held by Sevastian, after her second had bowed low. “Good work.” She praised quietly. Striding past him, the crowd watched as she slowly mounted the steps of the temple dedicated to the God of War.

Entering, Xena paused, taking in the darkened space, and then looked up at the bronze statue of the deity. Sweeping past the statue, she threw the sword Antonius had been carrying when captured directly at the gilded throne of Ares. The blade smashed against the chair, clanking to the marble floor before it.

Offering duly made, she turned to make her exit.

“I love you Xena.”

She turned, dark indigo cape swirling about as she did so.

“Don't, I'm not a lovable person.”

Ares laughter rang through the temple. “Yah you got that right, look whatcha did to your former beau out there.” Ares slid sideways in the chair, leaning against one arm, dangling his legs over the other while he twirled Antonius' sword. “Talk about breaking up the hard way.”

“We were never together Ares. She said flat.

“He thought so.”

“He thought wrong.”

“You did a marvelous job of manipulating him, adeptly pulling information without the messiness of torture.” He smiled down at her from his throne. “And, truth be told, I love your sense of style, not everyone would think to burn a man at the stake in offering to me.”

“Will that be all?” Xena asked curt.

“Oh you are mean!” Ares praised. “I wish I could open you up and show everyone the mean in you.” He moved to sit up straight in the throne, and then tossed the sword aside. “Tell me why you chose to come to Piraeus ?”

“To find those who try to run from justice,” She answered directly.

“Your boot-licker is more than capable of doing such. “No Xena, there is another reason you came here.”

He slowly rose from the throne and as he did, she schooled her features into blank impassiveness.


“I have told you my reason.”

“You forget, I know you well Chosen, I trained you in every weapon imaginable, I instructed you in the art of war, I gave you advice on running an army. Many an hour I spent building up your strengths, while minimizing weaknesses. So... you will tell me… why you are here?”

“As I said, to find those who run from justice.”

“Together, you and I are destined to bring peace and order to the world through force. You cannot afford any… distraction... from that goal.” He warned. “Your actions give me pause, I wonder if your thoughts are clear, Xena.”

“They are clear Ares.”

For long moments, he appraised her in silence.

“Then go with my blessing and conquer all before you.”

With a flash, Ares disappeared.

Chapter 7

“Bird,” Xena pointed to the little girl sitting upon Sevastian's lap, his arm encircling her.

The girl, Eirene by name, wiggled a bit deep in thought on the name of a bird, not yet mentioned by other children at table.

“One...” she began the count.


“Eirene wiggled more as she attempted to think of a name. The other young children of the Reeve looked about anxiously, each wanting the help the youngest member of the family, but rules were rules.

“Couldn't you have said fish, I know I fish name.” Eirene lamented most adorably.


“Or a beast? I would have said wolf.”

“Four...” Xena gave the girl a sympathetic smile.


“Think rene', the eldest daughter urged.”


Sebastian leaned in whispering in the little girl's ear.


“Pelican!” Eirene bounced up and down excitedly. “Pelican is a bird!”

“Correct.” Xena praised with a smile.

“Hey! No helping!” Autolycus complained in jest

“Me?” Sevastian stated innocently. “Why I'd never do such a thing.” he looked down upon Eirene, “Isn't that right?” he asked the girl.

“Yes, I thought of it after you told me. ” she stated most seriously causing all at table to laugh.

This is what she could have had, what Borias wanted, what Solon deserved, a family. Xena fell silent, thinking on all she had lost by walking the path she had chosen.

“Again! Again!” the little girl's voice brought her back to the present moment.

“I wish I could, but you see I've got work to do.” Xena leaned toward the girl slowly, moving to touch the very tip of Eirene's nose playfully.

Praxis took the hint. “By your leave Empress, we will depart.”

Xena stood, and so did the rest.

“I thank you for a most excellent meal, the fine conversation, and for the use of your home this night Praxis.” Abruptly, she visibly stiffened, clearly uncomfortable, and the room fell silent.

Looking down Xena watched as Eirene hugged her leg tightly.

“rene” the girl's mother whispered, mortified.

“It's quite alright.”

“Can we play again tomorrow?” Eirene asked looking way up to see the face of her playmate.

Xena moved to kneel, lowering herself so that she would be near the same level as the little girl.

“Tell you what,” she slowly ran her fingers through the Eirene's auburn tresses. “The very next time I come to visit, we will play again. How does that sound?

“Promise?” the girl asked soft.

“I promise.”

“Come rene, we must go.” her mother extended a hand.

“We get to have a sleep over at uncle's house!” Eirene's excitement was clearly evident, without warning, she threw her little arms around Xena's neck and hugged her tightly. Uncharacteristically unsure, the Empress slowly and very timidly surrounded the little girl with her arms.

“Bye Xena.” All held their breath, at the breech of etiquette. Her smile calmed them considerably.

“Goodbye Eirene, we shall see you again.”

The girl pulled away, and happily trotted off to her mother.

Taking a seat, Xena moved to pour herself more wine. “You do well with children Sevastian” she complemented.

“I had to take care of Kodi,”

“Bet that was fun.” Autolycus stated sarcastically while walking over to the massive fireplace set into the wall of the dining room. He moved to toss another a couple more logs into the flames.

“He was always strong willed, that boy.”

“Nice way of saying he was a pain.” Auto smiled, a smile which only grew wider when Sevastian remained silent, not denying the charge.

“Amazon, attend to your duties.”

Siri stood, bowing low to the Empress before departing.

Xena waited to speak, until just the three of them were in the room. Noting how her Seconds eyes lingered briefly on the Amazon.

“Would she make a good commander?”

“Who? Majesty?” Sevastian had been caught off guard.

“Argo.” Xena deadpanned.

Autolycus snickered.

“She… ah, Siri would make a fine commander.” Sevastian fumbled but recovered to answer the question.

“Good, I think so as well. You will train her... quietly... so as to not ruffle the feathers of my other commanders.”

“I will do my best Empress, but--”

“Then promote her when you feel the time is right.”

“As you will,” Sevastian was dubious, not of Siri could being a commander, she easily could, but of how she would be received by the rank and file men within the army.

“Spy,” Xena's attention turned to Autolycus. “You know what to have your network searching for?”

“Yes Empress.” Auto ran his fingers thought dark hair, an outward sign of inner angst. “It won't be easy, finding the girl will be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.”

“I have confidence you will find what I seek.” he looked up, meeting her eyes, knowing that Xena did not tolerate failure.

“To the cause then.” she leaned forward.

First tell me of the mood of the crowd in the square today, what was your impression spy?”

“Those my men and I spoke with, felt the act was more than justified.

“Good. “Now to the Persians, what is their capability?”

Auto moved to sit, pausing a moment in contemplation as he looked to Xena sitting at the head of the ornately carved oak table. She was dressed in simple brown leathers and knee high boots, choosing to wear no armor. However, her sword, as always, was in easy reach.

“My network of informers is sketchy at best in the Persian lands, Empress--”

“Xena, Autolycus, it is just us three.” She sat back, pushed the chair away from the table so that she might cross her long legs femininely. “I need information spy.”

“You must understand, it takes time to build a good network, to weed out those who are not worthy of trust, to get good information. To the West, my spies are impeccable, I know well of happenings in Rome , but to the East I say honestly, that I am lacking.

“Fair enough appraisal, I haven't given you much time I understand that, but you must double your efforts in the region.” she shifted slightly in the high back chair. “Tell me what you know.”

“I can only speak in generalities, Xena.”

“Then speak.” she urged impatiently.

“Xerxes hangs by a thread, having only recently united all the various lords under one banner; he attempts to use warfare as a means to further unite his Empire behind him. His focus is on Egypt , and the riches it contains. He gambles, that a victory there will cement his position as ruler, but if he loses, well...”

“He would be deposed. The Persians love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” she looked to Sevastian, “We must work to ensure he loses, his empire will fracture making our job all the easier.”

“Strength of the Army?”

“From what I have gathered, it is most impressive, being well equipped, but not all in the ranks are well trained.”

“This is exactly why I focus on training. Xena's hand moved, finger tapping the surface of the table to make her point.” her words now directed to her second. “The soldier is the army, if he is weak, the whole force is susceptible to defeat, so it will be with the Persians.”

“Their commanders, are they well trained or appointed noblemen who know little of war?” She looked to Auto.

“I know not, Xena.”

“Find out.”

Xena stood, gesturing for both to remain seated, walking across the room, she opened the door pausing a moment until handed a finely tooled leather saddle bag. Reaching inside, she withdrew a large parchment, bringing it back to the table.

“I waited until we were alone, to broach the subject, no war council, just us three.” she stated succinct, while unrolling a well-worn map on the table. She waited until the two men, had secured the corners, to keep it from rolling back up.

There, inscribed by her own hand, a detailed map of the East.

“ India and Chin,” Xena pointed to the far edge by Autolycus, “and here, the Persian Empire . This army will move north,” her finger slid along lines, drawn on the map, which lead past Greek lands into that inhabited by the Germanic peoples”

“Xena, your pardon, but the German tribes will not take kindly to our intrusion upon their territory.”

“And when they move to attack, we shall defeat them Sevastian, once that is done we sweep southward, taking Roman held ports such as Ephesus , then marching further into the Persian Empire . All eyes followed the lines upon the map, numbers indicating the army groups.”

“By no means do I doubt you Xena.” Autolycus prefaced, “but by the Gods, those enemies you would fight possess many dreadful fortifications along those routes.”

“Fixed fortifications are the folly of man, the attacker always has the advantage.”

“Again your pardon, but why do you say that is so?”

Xena smiled at her second. “Sevastain, you are a thinker, praise be. There is too little thinking in most armies.” Leaning forward, she began to explain patiently.

“Sevastian... Deshi. If I have a town, with walls on four sides for protection, I must spread my men to defend all sides equally. As an attacker, I can concentrate my force; all I need do is breech one of the walls.”

“True.” muttered the second; understanding by the term that Xena signified this was a time of instruction. Looking over, Sevastian watched Autolycus stifle a yawn, always instantly bored with any talk of abstract strategy.

“Conversely, as an attacker, I have freedom of maneuver. As a defender I cannot pick up my fortification, and move it once it is set. I then am trapped, forced to wait for an attack that may or may not come. You see Deshi, to defeat the Persians, I need not take every town or fortification by siege, only the most important, the others will be cut off behind my lines, and without resupply they will die on the vine.”

She leaned back in her chair, one hand moving to clasp the chalice of wine, waiting for her second's inevitable questions.

He nodded while looking out over the parchment, her tactics made much sense.

“But, what of the Persian Army Sensei, won't Xerxes move to face you?” he asked.

“Tell him. “Xena looked to Autolycus.

“He is preoccupied attacking Egypt , of course...” Sevastain recalled.

“Exactly, and he weakens his army by doing so. Cleopatra left Antonius for a reason. She must engage the Persians or Egypt falls.”

“Good gods above! Xena while you train your army over the winter months, your enemies weaken themselves by fighting each other!” Autolycus leaned forward, now quite alert.

“Correct, and when I do invade, Xerxes will be forced to withdrawal from Egypt to attack me, on ground of my choosing, I destroy his army and the path will be clear all the way to India and beyond.” She traced the route with one finger.

“Sensei, what of these three lines?” Sevastain traced over the map with one finger.

“Invasion routes into India.” she replied.

“And these three?” he pointed.

“Invasion routes into Egypt .”

Sevastain exhaled slowly, Xena had planned this for some time.

“From the land of India , to the wastes of Africa , to the cold of Britannia and beyond, my Empire shall extend.

“The whole of the known word,” Sevastian murmured.

“All mine. ” Now was the moment to share her vision, thought Xena.

“The Romans stupidly think in terms of what they can plunder from the peoples they conquer I think in terms of controlling the flow of resources to create wealth. My Empire will have power over trade routes. From the east, spices… pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. That is just the beginning.”

“You know my loyal one,” one of Xena's hands moved fingers tapping Sebastian's arm briefly. “You trained in the east, what else can it offer my Greece ?”

“Well...” Sevastian pondered a moment before rattling of a list, “Miraculous healing drugs, dyes, fine silks, beautiful rugs, ah... precious stones.”

“Precisely!” “Don't you see?” she asked both men.


“From Germany , Amber and timber,” Her finger touched the area of the map representing German held lands.

“From Britannia, iron, hides, and tin… “

“From Gaul , glass wool, ham, cheeses…

And on it went, the tip of her finger moving to each spot on the map.

“From Hispania Silver, wheat copper, cork, gold, fruit, salt….”

“From Egypt , grain, paper, gold, linen…

“From Africa , gold, animals, ivory, slaves…

“From parts of Asia closest to Greece , fruit, cedar, spices, jewels…

Her hand now swept over the whole of the map, “All those products flowing into my Greece and throughout my Empire. That trade will move through lands I control, or over waters patrolled by my ships. Think of the commerce and the resulting tax revenue. My Empire will be wealthy beyond compare.

“It would take quite a force. To forge such an empire” Autolycus muttered.

“Yes, but we shall recruit from the native peoples, starting with the German Tribes. The promise of land ownership works a powerful effect in men. And after a time, those we conquer will begin to think like Greeks, and act like Greeks.”

After some silence, Sevastian spoke. “Sensei, my pardon, these lines, representing the army groups,” Sevastian tapped the map, “would have what contingent of men?”

“Some 50,000” she answered. Autolycus, who had been sipping wine, began coughing at her announcement of the number. “Six army groups, 50,000 each!” he stammered.

“Eventually I will have those numbers, or close to it. Remember, I do not just conquer, I must administer an empire, and men will be needed for that.”

“And what of Chin?” asked Auto.

“I have great plans for Chin, don't worry.”

“Xena, Caesar would have some say in your plans.” Autolycus warned.

“Ah, yes the Romans.” she chuckled. “Brutus and Cassius... The note you gave me from them was most entertaining. The preening peacocks of the Senate planning to assassinate Caesar.

“You see why I had you dispatch the graybeards in Athens Deshi? They are wholly unworthy of trust. Those within the Roman Senate plot to kill their best general.”

“You think their plan to call him back to Rome then strike will work? Autolycus asked while leaning forward, eager to know her answer.

“Maybe, maybe not, it does not matter; let them try to assassinate him, if they have the stomach.” She paused and for a long moment, silence filled the room, broken only by the popping of the embers. Standing, the Empress moved to the hearth, taking a small ornate spade in hand, Xena began to bank the coals.

“When your enemy is making a mistake, it is best not to interrupt.” she stated while continuing her work.

“Sun Tzu?” Sevastian asked.

“No, me. ” she replied with a smile, not turning her gaze from the fire.

“I will send my reply back with you Autolycus, I accede to all the Senators conditions.”

Auto was stunned. “You will not invade Rome ? Not interfere in territories the Romans already control? You just said, your Empire would stretch--”

“I am aware of what I just said.” Xena replied tersely. Slowly she extended her hands just a bit, allowing the heat radiating from the coals to warm her fingers.

“I will put it in writing this night, Spy you know when I make an agreement, I honor it, tell the Senator's they have nothing to fear from Greece .”

“You believe Caesar will learn of the plot?” Auto queried, attempting to discover Xena's ruse.

“Greybeards make their living by talking, they cannot keep secrets.” she pronounced. “The parchment stated many senators have joined the conspiracy. It is a well-known expression that three men can keep a secret if two are dead.”

“But then he would learn of your role in supporting the Senators.

“So what Autolycus?” she laughed. “Caesar and I are not friends.”

But Xena, I do not understand, I had thought your goal was the conquest of Rome . To make such an agreement, binding your hands-”

“Let me worry about that, do your job spy and after you read it, deliver the written message I give you.”

Silence, until Xena spoke again after reflection. “Autolycus, is it still the prerogative of the Plebeian class to write anonymous petitions and leave them for Senators to read?”

“It is.” Auto replied. The common of Rome , may leave petitions at the Senate House, atop the stone statues of the Senators, or even at the homes of the Senators if they be bold enough.

“I feel I should throw in my two copper coins, and send a number of petitions to the most...honorable Brutus... just to tip him further over the edge. Deliver them for me.”

She turned, to allow her back to be warmed. “Send word to Pompey to gather what force he has and to move it to Olynthus .

“ Olynthus ?” Autolycus' voice rose on the word, her spy being well and truly confused.

“Yes, tell him...”she paused, head quirking to one side for a moment... “Tell him...” a devious smile formed. “I will meet with him in Olynthus to give him the details. In the meantime, have him use my silver to procure and send another shipment of weaponry to the rebels in Gaul and Britainia as well as to Carthage . Have him pay for mounted mercenaries to travel to Carthage , Hasdrubal believes trained horsemen are key to defeating the Romans. Autolycus, you will reiterate to all parties, that Greece stands with them in their fight for freedom against Rome .”

“At least for the time being, so they may wear down the Romans?” her second asked quietly.

His words caused Xena to laugh.

“Deshi, you learn the game.” she praised.

“Very well Xena.” Auto looked to Sevastian for some reassurance that the plans of the Empress would bear fruit, and got it, Xena's top commander was the epitome of confidence

“Autolycus, build your network in the East, I want information on weapons, tactics, commanders of importance, got it?


“Oh, and have that gambler you employ, what's his name?” she turned back to the fire, the light of the flames flickering on her beautiful features, and shimmering in those sharp blue eyes.

Autolycus looked to her in surprise. “Rafe?”

“Yes, I hear he is within the city, have him look over Praxis' books of accounting for any deception, then have him ask the locals about the man. I want to know if he is honest. I will need a regent to run Greece in my absence.”

“I'll send him to you.”

“Good, now fetch quill and parchment.”

Her spy left the room a moment, intent on gaining what Xena required from Praxis' study.

She moved to search though her saddlebag once more.

“Ah.” she murmured in triumph when her fingers grasped what she was hunting for.

She set the signet upon the table, Dagnine's signet ring.

“I have been forgetting to fashion one of these for you, Deshi, you need this to speak in my name officially.”

“As you wish.”

“Tell truth,” she spoke after some moments of silence “You think me crazy for attempting to conquer the known world?”

“If anyone can do it, it would be you Sensei.”

She again stood by the fire once more, her ears picking up on the winds gusting outside. “That is not what I asked, but a tactful answer none the less.”

She began to chuckle while gazing at him. “Your face displays every emotion Deshi. Let me guess, you have questions.”


“You will understand in due time, be patient. For now we go back to Athens . Your mother will soon arrive from all reports, and while you have many duties, I expect you to take the time to see her.”

“I thank you for the kindness you show to me and my family.”

She found the honesty in his voice refreshing, having always been surrounded by deceit. “You've earned it, having proved your constancy to me time and again.”

“Now,” Xena continued before he could speak again. “When the moment is right, I'll send you to...” Sevastian waited in silence as the empress let out a sigh while running the fingers of one hand though her thick raven hair.

“You will go to Amphipolis to check up on my... my mother... and Toris. You will tell my toad of a brother that I am watching his every action. I want you to leave a garrison there to protect the village.” She smiled at him for a moment, before taking hold of her chalice filled with wine. “They will be hostile to you.” Taking a sip, she watched Sevastian noting confusion, knowing he had questions.

“A long story.” she said wearily while sitting the chalice back down upon the table. While I am in Greece , none would dare harm my home village, but I will not be in Greece , thus they require protection.

“I will see to it.”

“Also, I want you training my Amazons.”

“Me?” he fairly squeaked.

“I want mounted archers, you were trained in the East, show them how it's done.”

“But...the, ah, Amazons...” he sputtered. Xena found Sevastain to be quite adorable when caught flatfooted, being that he reminded her of Lyceus.

“Amazon's hate horses,” Sevastian was grasping at straws, honestly worried that he couldn't instruct the warrior's properly.

“Well, there you have it Sevastian,” the use of his name by her indicated instruction had concluded. “Those are skills you can teach, first how to ride, then to firing a bow on horseback.”

“I shall do my best to fulfill your command. The Amazon's they, I mean, having them learn form a man, well--”

“I know you will perform your duties to your utmost.” She cut him off, silently daring him to continue his objections.”

He fell silent.

A smart man her second.

The door was opened by one of the Amazon guard and Auto slipped back in.

“Good, let us begin, picking up the signet from the table, she handed it to Autolycus, who nodded, before setting it in a pocket hanging from his belt.

“Your Excellency...” Xena prefaced, her voice dripping with disdain.

“In these last few meetings of the high command, Xena's preoccupation was been training and equipping her army...” She waited to Autolycus to dip the quill he was using in the inkwell. When he was ready she proceeded. “I warn you now that it could become a formidable force, but as of yet, it is filled with, untrained greenhorns. One never knows with Xena, but I do not expect...”


“...that she will undertake any type of invasion of Roman lands. The army not only lacks training, but also weaponry and armor. A harsh winter has come upon Greece , and the mountains in the northern reaches have become impassable. When warmer weather makes its return, she speaks of attacking the Germanic tribes to the north, unwilling to leave the barbarians at her back when she moves to attack Rome ...”

Julius stopped reading and looked at Crassus and smiled. “This works in our favor general.”

“I admit Caesar, the winter plus her focus on training her army buys us time, but Dagnine, and I both agree that she will eventually attack. Should we not go to Rome and prepare?”


“No?” Crassus was vexed.

Julius smiled, gesturing to Salmonus to enter. The little man did, setting the tray upon the table, and then arranging the plates just so, upon the large desk.

“If she moves to attack the Germans, her army will become bogged down their dark forests and swamps. Undoubtedly the Germans will take advantage just like they did with Publius Quinctilius Varus' legions.”

“The Varian Disaster,” muttered Crassus. “But Xena is a smarter commander than the lawyer Varus, the man walked merrily into a trap set by the barbarians deep within the Teutoburg Forest .

“Even so,” Caesar countered. “She wearies her men, wastes her means giving us the advantage when I chose to make my move.”

“Well and good Caesar, but Rome is vulnerable should Xena suddenly turn west, and I warn we rely too much on this one spy for our information.

“Yes, a flaw you have yet to correct general.” countered Julius before taking a drink of the wine within his glass.

“It is difficult to recruit; she inspires much loyalty it seems.”

“Offer more gold, every man has his price Crassus. Until then I am satisfied that the account written by Dagnine is truth, the hand writing matches, his mark of his signet on the wax impression is also verified by comparison with the others he has sent.”

“Gold is a powerful incentive Caesar, but fear of her vengeance upon those who betray her also has a powerful hold.”

“Surely someone will talk.”

Crassus smiled; I am working on cultivating two new spies, one of which happens to be very close to her.”

“Yes, you've told me but that one is of little use. No, it is time for us to make a bold move and by doing so we will shatter the recently united Greece .”

“How so?”

“We use Poison, Tell--”

“Caesar, my lord.”

“Yes?” Julius gaze moved to his servant.

“I beg your forgiveness great Caesar, his high Senatorness, the honorable Brutus has arrived.”

“Has he now?”

“Yes my lord.”

“I'm sure he has some appetite, set up a table so that we might enjoy the night air and have dinner Salmoneus. Crassus, see that we have some entertainment for our guest.

For a moment, the general was confused, and then nodded as understanding dawned.

Caesar stood, “We will talk further of what I want of this new zealot we've gained as a spy, for now “Let us go greet Brutus, who knows, Perhaps I have been appointed dictator.”

“Caesar all hail!” Brutus spoke as Julius exited his tent.

“Brutus, my old friend!” Caesar clasped the man shoulders, taking care to look over the Senator's polished armor. As a man of words and not action, his armor was altogether too pristine.

“Caesar I have much news from the Senate.” Brutus' smile faded and his look became somber.

“I gathered you might.” Julius gestured and the two walked a short distance to a table laden with food. “I thought we might enjoy the night air, sometimes my tent can be so... confining.

“Do sit, Brutus.” As the Senator turned his back to him to do so, Caesar's facade of pleasantness dissipated momentarily the contempt he held being allowed to show. Perhaps it would have been best to have killed Brutus after the Battle of Pharsalus.

Taking a seat Caesar smiled, as Salmoneus took hold of the jug of cadla , warm water and wine, mixed with spices, pouring both a glass. He then moved to serve both with grace, soon a first course of spiced almonds, apples, and figs were placed upon small intricately decorated porcelain plates imported from Chin. He then stood near, ready to serve anything the men required at table.

War is so cruel , thought Brutus cynically while looking at the finery upon Caesar's table.

“So, tell me of the capital Brutus, how do the people fare?” Caesar moved to make some small conversation.

“Cold.” the senator responded succinctly, which caused Julius to laugh.

“We have seen ice fall from the skies, a most terrible winter is taking hold.” Brutus paused a moment. “The Senate has degreed an increase in the allotment of grain given the populace each day.”

“What! I need that grain for my army; does the Senate not realize this?”

“Caesar, the Senate could do no less!” Brutus argued, “The poor need food to strengthen their constitution against the winter chill.”

“The Senate trades freedom for full stomachs! What say you when the standard of Greece flies over Rome ?”

“The measure of our civilization is how we treat our weakest members. No harm will come to your endeavor by giving this small increase.”

“I should have been consulted, Brutus!” Caesar growled.

“The allotment of grain has always been within the purview of the Senate.”

“You Senators, sitting fat and happy in Rome , do not understand the necessities war places upon us, but by all means Brutus, exercise your will and lead us all to ruin.”

The tense conversation halted, as Salmoneus returned with a main course of Mutton in a wine sauce, paired with asparagus and olives, garnished extravagantly with peacock tongues.

It was not my intent to provoke your anger Caesar--”

“And yet you have done so.”

The two dined in silence for a span.

“Do you at least have some good news, what of the vote to appoint me sole head of the government?”

“The vote to make you a dictator?” Brutus clarified.

“Call it what you will, my friend. You know as well as I that in times of emergency the Senate can appoint a dictator.”

Brutus only nodded. “The Senate votes to make you dictator....” he began, causing Julius to smile wide.

“Upon these conditions.”

“Conditions!” spat Caesar Do you not see the threat on the Eastern border, by the gods man, Xena is building an army to invade Rome !”

“The Senate sees greater threats than Greece .”

“Say those who only talk of war in abstract, having no sense of the reality, Caesar snarled.”

Brutus stood abruptly. “I see you are unwilling to listen, I shall take my guard and...”

“Sit.” Julius commanded.

“Please.” he added when Brutus refused.

“First,” Brutus began after slowly retaking his seat. “ Carthage must be destroyed, once and for all.”

For a time Caesar stubbornly refused to look at the Senator, instead his brooding gaze remained forward.

“Second, “The increasing might of the Persians must be dealt with.”

“They attack Egypt Brutus,” Julius smiled. “Both will weaken the other allowing Rome dominion when the time is right.”

“I know, your dealings with the Egyptian Vizer went well, he let Xerxes know of Egypt 's weakness.”

“We have spies as well Caesar.” Brutus stated simply, seeing Julius' expression.

“What did you promise the man?”

Julius laughed, “Governorship of Egypt under Rome .”

“Power or riches, or a combination of both always seems to have an effect on men.”

“Yes...” Julius looked to Brutus while raising his wine glass, tipping it towards him in salute before taking a sip.

“Still, it was a very close run thing Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra came close to defeating your nephew.”

“Brutus, close does not count in war, it is either win or lose, there is no close.”

“But Antony 's end---”

“Was much deserved.” Julius stated with finality. “I'm glad it happened the way it did.”

“What?” Brutus was surprised. “How can you say the death of a Roman General by savages--“

“Because it rid us of a duplicitous general, it also works in my favor, whipping up anti-Greek furor amongst the populace, the sheep you and the Senate care so much about and give my grain to.”

Brutus look betrayed his inner anger, his lips set in a thin line. “Caesar—“

“That furor will make my task of recruiting soldiers all the easier.”

“I would agree Caesar, but certainly she understood her action would cause this... reaction... in Rome .”

“Xena knew, and she did not care, you forget that these Greeks feel themselves the injured party due to Rome 's incursions on their territory. I'm sure there was no love lost for Antonius.”

“What is the last condition Brutus?” asked Caesar, bringing the conversation back to point.

“The active Rebellions in Gaul and Britannia must be ended.

“And?” Julius finally spoke after a long silence.

“And then, you will be proclaimed dictator in Rome and will be free of all restraint to attack Greece .”

“How kind the Senate is to allow me to invade Greece .” Caesar's voice held much sarcasm.

“Caesar, The Senate is not your enemy; we only ask you look to the welfare of the Republic before launching your invasion of Greece . Once that is done, you have a free hand to show this barbarian woman, this Xena, her place, and claim Greece for Rome .”

“Brutus, I can deal with two of your conditions, I will end the rebellions and destroy Carthage , but Persia must wait until Greece is put to heel.

“I believe the Senate will agree to that.”

“They should, Julius chortled. After all you're getting two out of three conditions. Not bad.”

“True, Caesar, very true.”

“Let it be known to all in the Senate that we have agreed... upon this hope... That I be proclaimed dictator by the Senate before invading Greece .”

“You will be welcomed in Rome and given the title you seek.” Brutus smiled wide.

“Good.” Caesar raised one hand gesturing to his guard.

“What is this?” Brutus asked at seeing a man being led forward. Clearly, the emaciated fellow was a prisoner of some sort. With a swift kick from the Roman guard, his knees buckled and he fell forward in front of a large tree stump

“Watch, so that you may report to the senators Brutus,” Instructed Caesar while reaching for more wine.

One arm was wrenched outward, and then held down. An Axe was raised, on the down swing; it severed the hand at the wrist.

Brutus could scarcely believe his eyes as blood poured out upon the tree stump amid screams from the prisoner. Moments later a glowing iron from a nearby fire was pressed to flesh, eliciting a howl as the man's wound was cauterized.

“What does it mean to cut off the right hand?”

“This man, like the thousands before him will never again be able to raise a sword against Rome .” Caesar replied.

Brutus rose abruptly. “I take my leave of you, I must report back to the Senate post-haste.”

“But you have not yet had desert.” Caesar's voice was most genial.

Brutus did not hear, or pretended not to as he walked away.

Salmoneus moved to clear the Senator's plate from the table.


The man stepped near, looking intently at the features of his commander. “No appointment by the Senate then?” he asked bluntly.

“No,” replied Caesar. “Xena is a feral bitch, but I must concede she knows what to do with graybeards.”

“I send you and your legions back to Gaul Crassus, I want you to burn every village, confiscate all sources of stored food and burn any that still lies in the fields. Destroy every city. Leave not one cut stone set upon another throughout the whole of Gaul . Annihilate everything! We shall end this insufferable rebellion!”

“Very well Caesar, I will do that which you command.”

“Good, send word to Sulla in Britannia, have him do the same.”

“Will that be all?” asked Crassus after some moments of silence had passed.

“No, give that boy who is close to Xena the means by which to poison her. Let us see how strong his convictions are. But be sure to let him know that he is not to strike until I say so.”

“Caesar hear me,” Crassus leaned over slightly. “You could get good information from him; those of us in power sometimes forget that the walls around us have ears. It may be the same with Xena.”

“Crassus, I do not share military secrets with my Gentleman of the Bedchamber.” Caesar spared a look at Salmoneus. “This is a win for us. If he succeeds Greece fractures from a loss of leadership, if not, his death will have little impact. This other spy, you've mentioned before, this Autolycus, is high placed, having some rank, he is a much better source. I will stay in Hispania and wipe out resistance here, and then we shall gather our forces and cross the sea to Carthage .”

“Thy will Caesar.” muttered Crassus. “I will depart at the break of day.”

As his general walked away, Caesar turned his attentions to the next prisoner. As the man was forced down, and his right hand severed, Julius continued with his meal.

Chapter 8

“I cannot believe you side with him. Can you not see the danger our family has been placed in!?” Kodi yelled out his anger in full control.

“Lower your voice; it is your mother you speak to.” Sevastian scolded.

The four were ensconced within the great room of the massive house. Xena was as good as her word; the estate within the heart of Athens was of the finest quality. Tapestries hung from every wall, beautiful paneling of stained oak in every hall and room. In every room were fireplaces of carved marble, furnishings of polished wood. The kitchens alone in this grand home seemed large enough to feed the Army of the Empire, the estate as a whole, having enough servants to populate an Army Group.

“I know to whom I speak!” Kodi raged. “And, you, you!” he stormed toward Sevastian poking one finger repeatedly into the armored breastplate of his brother. “You are nothing more than her butcher cleaver man, having no scruples at all! When the Empress says do this--”

“It is performed!” Sevastain finished hotly.

“And what about you, Kodi?” Despite his considerable control, Sevastian was quickly loosing grip upon his temper. “You denigrate the Empress, yet you are more than willing to accept her largess at every turn!” He grabbed the boy by the shoulders roughly, “Fine clothing, private tutoring at her behest. His hands smoothed over the silk tunic Kodi wore. “It would seem to me that you protest too much Kodi!”

Maeja stepped between the two, pushing them apart gently, understanding their anger was quickly nearing a flash point. “I am getting too old to be playing arbiter between you.” Maeja gazed at each for a long moment in silent warning. She ran her fingers through gray hair in frustration once the two, of their own volition, moved further apart.

“Why couldn't you two ever get along?” She asked, while adjusting her overlaying blue chiton fastened as it was by a large diamond and gold broach at her shoulder.

“If your brother had not taken advantage, what would have become of you?” All looked to Maeja's husband, Chariton who was seated in a push chair.

“Dead in the siege of Olynthus ,” Sevastian said flatly.

“Are you one of the fates now?” asked the boy with scorn, “because I thought they were all female.”

“Kodi.” Maeja chastised.

“He is not omnipotent mother; our Lord Commander does not know what would have happened.”

“You speak of me being given vanities, brother,” Kodi attempted to turn the tables. “What of you? Fine armor, luxurious accommodations--”

“Kodi, your brother never craved luxuries, you know that.” Chariton said soft.

“Could have fooled me,” the boy muttered loud enough for Sevastian to hear.

Elderly Chariton moved to stand; a life spent in labor on the land had worn upon his body. Maeja moved to help her husband from the chair, straightening his knee length tunic as she did so.

“I...” Kodi was defiant. “I will continue to speak against her, she being a tyrant!”

“By the Gods, lower your voice!” Sevastian hissed.

“Think of what you do, if we lose favor with her we lose everything!” Chariton urged the boy to consider the consequences of his stance.

“Then say goodbye to it all!” Kodi shouted.

“Her Imperial Majesty.”

The announcement by Siri, abruptly ended the conversation. All looked to the entranceway to find Xena standing silent by one of the marble pillars.

The entire family, save Kodi, quickly took a knee at the sight of the Empress. A moment later Sevastain's arm whipped sideways, taking the boys knees out, causing him to tumble forward into a kneeling position

“I was so anxious to meet you, that I came unannounced.” Xena swept into the room. “I do apologize for not visiting sooner, but my days are quite busy of late.” As the Empress had been heavily involved in training her men, she did not wear her finer armor; Instead Xena dressed plainly, brown leathers, with worn bronze armor and high boots with battered knee guards. Even without finery, the Empress was an impressive sight.

As Xena moved near, Maeja gently clasped her right hand, touching her lips to the signet ring the Empress wore. Another custom the people of Athens insisted upon and Xena tolerated. “Remarkable boys you breed madam.” she gave Maeja a lopsided smile. “One fights with a sword, the other with his tongue.”

Amid nervous laughter, the Empress bid all to rise.

“Sevastian, the Amazons await, be on your way.”

He bowed low to her before departing thought the entranceway.

“You have duties boy.” A snap of her fingers caused a grumbling Kodi to take his leave as well.

“Please sit, be comfortable.” Xena gestured for both to take a seat before she did.

“Empress, I must apologize, Kodi and Sevastian, those two—“

“Are very different people,” Xena responded gently, cutting Majea off, “and have different visions as to the way the world should be.”

Xena leaned back in her chair. “We have some matters to discuss.”


Sevastain stormed thought the grand hall towards the entrance way, not wanting to speak one word to Kodi who was two paces behind. Instead he focused on pulling on his black leather gauntlets, trying to tamp down his anger at the boy.

“Where are you off to?”

“That is none of your concern! Abruptly Sevastian slowed his pace, realizing he'd forgotten his black fur lined cloak. “Thank you.” he muttered, as a smirking Siri handed the garment to him.

Once outside the grand villa, Siri's voice rose up, yelling out the command and 250 Amazon's on horseback came to attention. This was new, the warriors were not fond of horses, but Xena had commanded it, and so Sevastian had been assigned to teach horsemanship... well, riding skills. The next lessons would be even more challenging, instructing these women how to aim and fire arrows from horseback. Behind the Amazon warriors, stood a large wagon train, and 1,000 soldiers on foot.

“You and all these beautiful savages riding off to who knows where.” Kodi's tone was grating on the nerves. “Another perk of being the Lord Commander I suppose.”

Sevastian refused to take the bait. “See to mother, and your father Kodi.” he instructed, striding down the steps he halted for a moment. “If by word or deed you jeopardize the position of this family, may the gods help you, because I will not.” he then continued walking toward his mount.

The kid took a breath to yell out a retort when a hand grabbed his shoulder roughly, looking up he held that same breath as the towering Amazon guard captain gazed down upon him. “Be careful, or that mouth of yours will surely lead you to trouble.”

“I do not need advice for a beast such as you! Your people live in the forests and pray to trees!”

“Beasts are we? Well, we beastly Amazon's have a saying. “Watch your thoughts, they become words, watch your words, they become actions.”

With that Siri left him, to follow Sevastian.


“Gabrielle!” Lilla huffed, walking back to clasp her sister's hand. “Quit stopping to gawk, or we will become separated.

The wagons carrying the various trunks containing the master's possessions had gone ahead into the city. Gabrielle pleaded; that they walk through the city to see the sights and Iolaus agreed, as a walk would them all good after being confined on board ship. Their final destination was the new townhouse on the far side of the Tiber . In the lead, Iolaus walked with his Steward, Alexandros.

“I'm sorry sister it's just...just...”

“Overwhelming?” Lilla smiled briefly. “One-Million people in Rome sister, I can scarce believe it.”

The press of people was constant as the group made their way down the raised stone sidewalks which kept them from having to wade through the waste left behind by the many animals pulling conveyances through the streets.

In the street proper, were raised blocks of stone, set just right so that carts would need to slow in order for the wheels to pass thought the narrow spaces between them People also used them to cross the thoroughfare. Most ingenious thought Gabrielle by using the blocks they wouldn't have to step in animal waste. Along the sideway were all manner of merchants selling wares from street level shops which she had learned were the front part of their homes.

Every so often wonderful smells wafted from corner bakeshops. These bakeries were used by the poor. For a copper coin, they could have their bread cooked in the wood-fired stone ovens. Several shops they passed sold a fowl smelling sauce which smelled of rotten fish, Garum ex Pompeii the sellers yelled over and over. Gabrielle wanted none of that sauce, not ever.

“Look at that! Will wonders never cease?” Lilla tugged at her sister's tunic. “Water runs out from fountains!” Gabrielle watched as people filled buckets from spigots of carved stone. “No need of a well sister! Sorcery must be at play to train water to flow as such!”

Around them the glory of Rome ... Gabrielle longed to know the names of all these magnificent structures in what the Romans called the Forum. Although she was knew a few Greek letters, she did not know any Latin, and so the great inscriptions on buildings and monuments were alien.

“There upon the hill is the temple of Jupiter ” She caught the voice of Alexandros ahead. Pulling Lilla forward, Gabrielle moved so that she might better hear. “To the left, is the temple of Castor and Pollux where the Roman Senate meets, the temple of Vesta , goddess of hearth and home, the great Basilica Julius were the courts are housed. There--”

“What is that?” Gabrielle blurted, halting the men's conversation. She then quickly fell silent as it was not her place to interrupt.

“That my young impertinent slave is the great Amphitheatrum Flavium or Flavian Amphitheater in your Greek tongue. The Great Arena where you will find all manner of bloodletting.

“Bloodletting!” Lilla exclaimed fearfully.

“Oh yes,” Alexandros replied with a wiggle of his brows. “During the day, the Venatio or animal hunt occurs. The crowds watch all manner of beasts from within the borders of the Republic and beyond, huge elephants, lions, leopards, bears, and even ostriches.”

“We have never heard of nor seen such beasts.” Lilla was amazed.

“Doesn't seem fair to kill animals within an arena, they have no place to run to.” Gabrielle mumbled soft so that Lilla might hear, but not Alexandros.

“At intermissions, criminals are executed and just before sunset, the great Warrior Gladiators fight to the death.”

“Heaven forfend!” Gabrielle exclaimed in shock.

“Alexandros, my stable girl Gabrielle,” Iolaus introduced, “Her elder sister Lilla my housemaid.”

“They are new.” Alexandros commented while scrutinizing both. The man was short, but still taller than Gabrielle. She was much used to that, being everyone was taller than she. He was stocky, having a rounded face. Eyes of the darkest brown matched his hair. His clothing was clearly utilitarian, but still he was well dressed in the Roman style. Over a thick toga, he wore a heavy brown woolen cloak which was tried to his left shoulder with a metal broach. The Roman's donned their cloaks differently than the Greeks wrapping the long cloth repeatedly about the upper body for warmth.

“No, not new I've had them for some time, you've just been in Rome far too long Alexandros. “I purchased them both in Athens , they being part of a slave train on its way to the east from what I gathered, Northerners both.”

“From the backwaters of Greece , farm folk then, Least that explains why the fair-haired one--”

“Gabrielle.” Iolaus corrected, she is not a thing, and she has a name.”

“Certainly, my lord.

“You were saying?”

“Well, I just couldn't help but notice that she wears leather breeches, odd for a female slave.”

“One cannot care for stables in a dress, Alexandros.”

“Gabrielle, a very unusual name you chose.”

“I did not choose it.” Iolaus shook his head as they resumed their walk.

“You did not name them?” Alexandros was shocked. “Allowed them to keep their given name?”


“My lord, you are much too kind, it will be the ruin of you.”

“So be it then,” Iolaus replied while looking about at the scenery, “While they are slaves and without rights, I refuse to rob them of dignity. Lilla, Gabrielle, and all the rest that I own are still people like you and I Alexandros. ”

“You will not find many in Rome who would agree with your views my lord.”

“I do not care what others may think.”

“Very well,” Alexandros paused thinking a moment. “I do have something to show you, that you may well find most interesting.”

“I am tired; perhaps another time after all we've just braved the voyage from--”

“It is worth seeing and is also on the way to your townhouse.” Alexandros gestured, showing the way he wished them to walk.

“We Romans, have a new edifice for sport my lord, a place for racing horses in chariot teams.”

“The Circus Maximus, I have heard of it. An arena just to race chariots?”

“Among other purposes, it is a gift from the great Julius himself! The arena is being paid for by the spoil taken from the new provinces of Gaul and Britannia.

“Gods above!” Lilla shouted as a stone structure shrouded in scaffolding loomed ahead.

“May we enter?” Iolaus now found his own curiosity piqued.

“Of course, we may. I have spoken too many of means about the exquisite quality of your horses,” Alexandros continued, “If you entered a team in the races and won, the upper classes would line up at your door with coin in hand to purchase the results of your breeding.

“That is my plan.” Iolaus said matter of fact.

“100,000 slaves from Gaul and Britannia work both day and night to complete the arena which Caesar himself named the Circus Maximus.” The four walked into a dark tunnel with a high barrel vaulted ceiling, which soared over their heads. “Within these walls will be stables for the chariot teams, shops, tiled mosaic walks in which to recreate, places to dine, even public lavatories and baths rivaling even the great bath complex commissioned by Senator Caracalla.” Alexandros continued.

Exiting the tunnel, the four stepped into the light of day, and what they beheld caused both Lilla and Gabrielle to stand silent with open mouthed awe. Even the master himself, said nothing for long moments. Alexandros also remained silent; giving time for all to absorb the grandeur of what surrounded them.

The track itself was in the shape of an elongated ellipse at least a quarter of a league long with two equal straight paths and two rounded end turns on either side. Surrounding the dirt track was a high stone wall at least 8 times a man's height, rising above that were marble covered seats. Thousands of seats rose up on all sides meant to accommodate the multitudes wishing to see the races. The lower seats being completed, higher sections were under construction. The height was such that the slaves toiling away looked much like bees swarming over a hive.

To the far end, two equally proportionate temple looking structures were being completed, sitting side by side massive columns far thicker than that of Athena's great temple held up massive carved pediments. At the peak of each were gigantic gold Roman styled eagles, with wings outstretched.

“The stables,” Alexandros pointed to the temple like structures.

In the center a high stone median rose dividing the track to force the chariots to run all the way to the rounded end of the track, on top a mezzanine for still more patrons to watch the race from the center of the track. On one end a massive statue of a kneeling god rose.

“Poseidon.” Gabrielle said to Lilla

“ Neptune .” Alexandros corrected.

“But why have the great god of the seas in an area for horses?” Lilla asked.

“Sister, do you not recall the tale?”

“Obviously not,” Lilla snarked with an eye roll. “Or I wouldn't have asked Gabrielle.”

“You see,” Gabrielle's continence brightened, she excited to tell a tale. “Poseidon was much in love with the goddess Demeter, to forestall his amorous advances; she bid him to spend his energies creating the most single most beautiful animal in the world for her. After many attempts in which he created many different animals he made the perfection we know as horses in hopes of winning her love.”

“Did she fall in love with him?” Lilla asked.

“No she spurned him for another.”

Iolaus laughed. “Typical!”

“With your pardon, sir may I ask what that is?” Gabrielle pointed to a large structure which looked very much like a grand town home set into the stands. It rose up two full stories, the top level being offset back to provide a high wide balcony. The front and upper portions of the building being held up my many ornate columns.

“Young slave that is the grand box for the first consul of the Republic and members of the Roman Senate. Only the very elite of Rome will even see the inside.”

“My lord,” Alexandros turned to address Iolaus. “What do you think of our little arena?”

“To say it is grand is an understatement, when will it be completed?”

“By the end of the upcoming warm season, Caesar has ordered it to be finished quickly so that the populace may enjoy the races with him in celebration of his defeat of the barbarian Greek.”

“Barbarian Greek?” Iolaus challenged.

“Present company excluded of course.” added Alexandros hastily. “By that I meant Xena, the one you Greeks call the Destroyer.”

“She is not a barbarian.”

“Gabrielle hush!” Lilla elbowed her sister.

“So say you slave. I'm sure Xena would be heartened to hear you defending her honor.” Alexandros looked to Iolaus, “Is she always this mouthy?”

“Yes, I find it to be her most endearing quality.” Iolaus replied with a smile.

“I see... well...” Alexandros clasped his hands together momentarily. “Shall we tour the stables? Then I will show you to your new home in town before the sun sets. I must tell you, your townhouse is in a very desirable location my lord, being surrounded by the homes of many of the most prominent senators. Good for business connections I should think as the senators much love fine accommodations, wine, food, and... the finest of horses. Tomorrow, or the day after if you feel rested enough, we can journey to your large villa in the countryside.”

Alexandros stepped forward, Iolaus keeping pace with the two sisters following behind.

Stopping for just a moment, Gabrielle looked up at the massive statue.

“Great Poseidon, I thank you for a safe journey across the seas and also for the calm of the waters. I do not believe I could have endured heavy tossing of our ship upon the waves.” Gabrielle looked down, seeing how her clothing now hung on her much thinner frame. She had not eaten, more precisely had not been able to keep down much of what she had eaten, throughout the entirely of the voyage.

“Gabrielle hurry!” cried an exasperated Lilla.


The large wooden stirring spoon struck him...again…

“Gods on high!” Sevastian shouted while cowering back, “Madam, please!” he implored, “I'm just the messenger!”

“You get what my daughter deserves only because I don't have a spoon long enough to reach her!”

The growing crowd outside Cyrene 's inn laughed.

“How dare you barge into our village…”

The spoon held within her hand rose and Sevastian cringed back further much to the delight of the onlookers.

“…And tell us, we must bear the indignity of being occupied by these thugs!”

“Empress Mother, they are honorable soldiers of the Empire, here to protect you and this village.”

“Quit calling me that! Cyrene yelled. “You, your Empress, and the Empire can go down to Hades for all we care!”

The townsfolk, surrounding them murmured their agreement with Cyrene . This had not gone well from the start, the peasants standing silent in anger as the troops passed those within the Inn silent the moment he entered, that is, until the woman he came to know as Cyrene charged out from the kitchens spoon in hand.

“Be that as it may, Empress Mother, I have my orders, these men must stay.” His response caused the spoon in her hand to rise again.

“No!” Sevastain's arm flew out halting Siri in her path. He didn't need the Empress hearing his guard captain had forcibly subdued her mother. The result of that would have a negative effect on both their lifespans.

The spoon lowered as Cyrene eyed the Amazon warily. “Well, you march right back to Xena and tell her that we refuse to house these hooligans! Not one copper coin will be spent on them!”

“You do not have to pay.” said Sevastian.


“Not one copper coin.” he reassured.


“The Empress has seen to that, you…” Sevastian breathed a little sigh of relief at seeing the hand holding the spoon drop completely. “Have no burden in keeping these men. They will build their own barracks, provide for their own meals. Why their presence may even help your village financially. “After all,” he smiled slightly. “Soldiers spend coin like everyone else. You may find them of some use in completing projects around your village perhaps?”

“They are under our jurisdiction?”

“To the extent that it does not interfere with their directives from the Empress yes,” Sevastian qualified.

“The missive that--”

…you tried to hand me.” Cyrene finished.

“Yes, written by the Empress herself, it will explain all. Sevastian held out the rolled parchment tentatively. He had tried to give it to her in the tavern, getting a sound whipping instead.

Cyrene snatched it from his hand.

“There are two scrolls here, one inside the other.”

“Madam, one is official, being that it deals with the troops, the other is personal.”

“You have read them?”

“Not the personal missive, no.”

“And this…” Sevastian reached into the leather pouch held by Siri pulling out another scroll. “…is for you.” He indicated Toris.

“So, she sent you to face us?” Toris was derisive.

“Yes, the Empress choses to defer to the wishes of this village and not appear in person.”

Sevastian stepped back a pace and dipped his head to Cyrene . “I will take my leave, as I know my presence offends many. He turned, walking to Gisela and then stepping up into the saddle.

Toris moved to stand near, and Sevastian leaned over slightly. A good moment was at hand to make a point.

“A word to the wise, Toris, your sister wishes me to express that she knows of every communication you've sent to your remaining allies in Athens .

Your allies are dead…” Sevastain paused to let that piece of knowledge sink in.

“The scroll I gave you has wording of the exact same tenor as I now say to you. The Empress chooses not to order your execution. Do not continue this course Toris, for you are severely trying her patience. Trust me when I say, I am sure she can find a suitable punishment for your actions, one which will make you wish you were dead. I know the Amazon Hippolyta would dearly love to be the one to mete out your punishment. Weren't you part of the plot which succeeded in killing her husband and son?”

The brother of the Destroyer palled, and was silent for some time.

“I know you, don't I?” asked Toris softly.

“Perhaps, but then again I was but one of many you sent to the dungeon.”

Sevastian spurred his mount leaving Toris behind to ponder his words.

Chapter 9

Within the arbors of his estate overlooking Rome Brutus walked. The hour was late, the morning near. Above the clouds roiled, thunder sounding over the city. Taking the steps up, he walked to the veranda overlooking his gardens.

“I have not slept well since Cassius bid me join the faction against Caesar.” He muttered as the chill wind swept against him.

“In missives left me at the Senate House, at my statue in the Forum, at the sill of my window, the people ask me to strike! To fix the wrongs committed!” He leaned against the stone rail. “Yet I love Caesar well, he has been a good friend to me. I have no personal cause to spurn him.”

“You do what is necessary to save Rome from a man who would lead her to ruin.”

Brutus turned, finding a cloaked figure standing near.

“I was concerned that you would not show. You bring word from your mistress?”

“I do.” Reaching within the folds of his mantle Autolycus retrieved a rolled parchment bearing the pendant wax seal of the Empress.

Reaching for the parchment, Brutus tore the band away while moving to one entranceway of his home to better see by the light of the tapers. For some time he carefully read the writing within. Each glyph written by the Empress' had been precisely formed and her point in the missive very clear.

Below Xena's signature, the “X” of her name written with flourish, imposed over the title Imperatrix… Empress- written in Latin, like the rest of the document.

“She promises to not attack Rome ?” Brutus' was dubious.

“Yes.” Replied Autolycus succinctly.

“You cannot expect us to believe that. I've read her speeches filled as they are with fiery rhetoric. She hates Rome .

“She hates Caesar, therein is the difference. Her armies will not enter Roman lands unless bid by those in power to do so.”

“So I read. If the Roman Senate calls upon her, if the plot against Caesar should fail--”

“She will come to your aid.”

“And if, the Senators should need to flee Rome ?”

“You will be given asylum in Greece , should you have to flee. She will only invade if you desire it. Her Imperial Majesty wishes me to underscore that she does not desire war with Rome .”

“Provided that we senators kill Caesar.”

“Yes, that is her condition, but for now she is content to have you keep his army well away from the border of Greece . She understands the time must be right for you to strike.”

“She ordered the death of the members of the Athenian Assembly; forgive me if I say I do not trust her motives.”

“Senator, let me remind you, that it was you that sent the first overture. She has responded, graciously conceding to all your terms, while only giving you one condition in return. Our two peoples face many enemies; her feeling is that we should not fight each other if it can be avoided. War cannot be avoided with Caesar in power.”

“These are just words on paper, how do we know she will keep her side of bargain?”

“You don't.” Autolycus stated flatly. However, having once made a written bargain, Xena has never broken it. Look at her history and you will note my words ring true.

Beyond the Veranda were the men stood, from within the house, a knock at the door.

“The faction who wishes to assassinate Caesar,” Brutus whispered the words, his voice having failed him, “they come to hear the news you've told me.”

“Kill, Caesar.” Autolycus stated forcefully before the conspirators arrived on the veranda. “You know how to contact me. Do not tarry in your response, the Empress does not like to be kept waiting.” Stepping back, he pulled the hood of his cloak to hide his face and slipped back into the darkness.

“Good Morrow Brutus.” Cassius stepped from the doorway leading on to the Veranda moving close to clasp the hand of his brother in law. I fear I and the men with me do intrude on your sleep.

“I was awake, Cassius, Do I know these men that come with you?”

“Yes,” Cassius turned to the group huddled together just outside the door. “And there is not one that does not admire you, for choosing to stand with us.”

“This,” Cassius gestured to one of the figures who pulled back the hood on his cloak. “Is Trebonius.”

“He is welcome here.”

“This, Decius Brutus.”


“This is Casca, Cinna, and Metellus Cimber”

“They are all welcome.”

“May I entreat a word Cassius?”

Those in the group watched as both Cassius and Brutus stepped a few paces away, Brutus unrolling a scroll, giving it to Cassius to read. The two then being in whispered discussion for some time.

“This is the East does not the dawn break here?” Decius asked making some attempt at conversation.

“No.” Casca spoke.

“Excuse me sir,” Cinna smiled. “It will. Those gray lines which lace the clouds are the beginning of the dawn.”

“You are both wrong. Here…” Casca pointed to both Brutus and Cassius. “Is where the sun of Rome will rise.”

“Friends, news has reached me this night which favors our endeavors.” Brutus paused, looking over the leaders of the conspiracy against Caesar. Ever since he had joined with Cassius, he felt his actions unreal, as if he were in some horrible dream, but it was no dream. He and these men with him would kill Caesar when he next appeared in Rome . “The Greek, Xena has sent word, wishing us well, and promising to not invade Rome .”

“We can trust this woman?” Cinna asked, rightfully dubious.

“No, but she is our best hope as we are without option, if the Senate moves to gather men and arms to our side Caesar will be rightfully suspicious and may invade the capitol to forcefully assume power.” Cassius replied. “Caesar has always been legalistic in this thoughts, he wants the Senate to lawfully coronate him. He believes Romans would rebel should he seize power. That is the only thing staying his hand.”

“We have given him, many tasks to complete, which I might add he has agreed to. Subduing rebellions, crossing the seas to Carthage-- ”

“He may be killed in these actions,” Casca smiled deviously while cutting Brutus off, finishing the thought. “That would save us the trouble of having to bloody our hands in the Senate House.

“My friends, we must keep our scheme secret at all costs.”

“Well urged Cimber, let us swear an oath.” Cassius suggested.

“No.” Brutus was forceful in his dissent. “We need no other bond, that than of noble Romans who have said what they are going to do. We will not back down until the task is completed for all of Rome cries out for us to act.”

“Should Caesar be the only one to fall?” asked Decius.

“Yes what of the generals Sulla and Crassus?” Casca added. “Both have many connections, which could prove dangerous to us. Both could use Caesar's legions against us.”

“Our cause will seem too bloody, to first cut off the head in killing Caesar, then to hack the limbs, they being his generals.” Brutus countered.

“Yet they should be feared.” Cassius was unconvinced.

“Don't think of them friends, for I know they have little love of Caesar, or each other...” the group of men surrounding Brutus chuckled. “They will do us no harm.”

“The Dawn breaks,” Cimber noted. “We must be gone, lest those who are loyal to Caesar report us being gathered here.”

Cassius moved to leave, the group following, except Brutus.

“Friends go your separate ways, but all remember what you have said here, and, when the time comes to strike, prove yourselves true Romans.”


“Empress, I tell you my men cannot work any faster.”

“Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.” she replied as the two walked down the main thoroughfare in Olynthus . Behind and in front her Amazon guard walked, dressed in woolen pants, leather boots, tunic, and heavy cloak. Warm clothing being needed as winter was bearing down hard upon the land. To either side, the peasants bowed and scraped as she passed.

“I need more men!” Cecrops was adamant. “It is a wonder we have been able to produce even 10 of these sleek trireme's you designed Empress. We first had to build everything from scratch to even begin to produce your ships. He lowered his voice. “Not to mention the… special… designs you wished completed first.”

“I do not care how you do it man, but you will speed the production of ships. I must have the means to protect Greece from a seaborne invasion... Nauarch .”

“Cecrops halted his step. “You are making me an Admiral?”

Xena, turned. Her beautiful woolen cloak dyed a dark indigo swirling about as she did so. The Empress was tall dark and deadly, yet of such beauty that even the Aphrodite fell short in comparison. Her raven hair fell about her shoulders, her leathers, black as night, matching her knee high boots. Her armor cuirass was golden, the hammered swirls of which were mimicked on her upper and lower arm bracers. White fur, trimmed the edges of her cloak as well as the edges of her bracers.

“Yes, Admiral, you will take charge of my fleet. I cannot think of anyone better suited for the task. “You cannot deny who you are any more than I can. I being a leader of men, and you destined to always be connected to the sea.”

“I am pleased to be upon land, thanks to you Empress, contented to build your fleet. To go back to the sea, well I--”

“I have seen you of late Cecrops, looking out to the sea beyond the docks, even after being imprisoned upon its waters, part of you wishes to be there again. I know well the wonderful freedom of sailing the waves. Her hand moved to touch his arm. “But... this time, you are free to voyage forth, but then return to the Greek soil you so love.”


“I need you.” She implored gently.

Cecrops nodded, “as you will.” he said soft.

“Good, good.” she patted his arm. “Come...” Turning she walked on, paying no mind to the peasantry falling to their knees about her. “I need to have a word with a Roman General.”


Pompeius had just settled into his second bowl of wine when the door to the chamber burst open.

“What takes you two fortnights to get to Olynthus ?!”

He spilled wine upon his fine armor.

“Majesty,” Pompey tumbled to a knee. “I did not mean to incur your wrath, forgive me; the passes over the mountains are filled with snow. It took some time to traverse them safely.”

One of her sculpted brows rose...

He looked up at the monumental woman, who had just ducked thought the portal, the top of her head very near the ceiling of the chamber. “It is a pleasure to be in your company again.”

“I do not want to hear hollow flattery! When I beckon, you best start running!” her hands moved to rest upon her hips elbows flaring out her cloak, the action making her seem all the larger.

In the silence which followed, Xena slowly removed her fur lined gauntlets and Pompey looked past her for a moment to see a hulking Nubian man cautiously enter the room and stand against the far wall.

“Weaponry delivered?” she asked in a calmer voice.

“Yes.” he said emphatically while still kneeling. “I've recruited horse mounted mercenaries to Carthage , they, their horses, and equipment has set sail for Carthage . Gods willing they aren't stopped by the Roman fleet. Due to the costs of the cavalry, fewer monies were available for Gaul Britannia and Hispania.”

“You trust those making the delivery of weapons?”

“Yes, they hate Caesar as much as you.”

“I doubt that.” she spat in retort while tossing her gauntlets upon the wooden table in the center of the room.

“Get up!”

Pompeius stood, as she moved to sit in a carved high back chair, adjusting her cloak out beneath her before she did so. She made the chair look small.

Xena did not bid him sit, for quite a span she impassively scrutinized him causing the Roman to fidget slightly under the devastating glare of those blue eyes.

“Well, looks like working for me has been good for you Pompeius, or should I say good for your waistline.”

“Your majesty has been kind to me, yes.” he responded diplomatically. Out, upon the land, he could fool himself into thinking he was master of all he surveyed. Here, he was reminded of the collar round his neck, and who it was that held the leash.

“How many mercenaries have you recruited to help your personal cause?

Some 1,000.”

“That's all!” she yelled causing him to jolt. “I give you strong boxes brimming with silver and you can only manage 1,000 men! Your ineptitude staggers the mind! You lose your army to Caesar, you come to me in rags, I give you means, a simple task, and you still manage to screw up! Tell me Pompeius, is failure your only friend in this life?”


“All this makes me wonder if you are truly capable of ruling. Here I offer you the whole of Italy on a platter and you come to me with only 1,000 troops. You couldn't take even tiny miserable Potadiea with that paltry a number.”

“Empress, Pompey willed some passion in his voice. “Once I land upon the shores of Sicily men will flock to my banner. “There on Sicily are members of my extended family, holding my estates, and my wealth, all ready to aid me in my cause. “You forget that I am... I was... a triumvir of Rome ; I have many connections and resources.

“Big words, little man.”

“I tell you Empress, I am ready to recapture Rome .”

“Yes, about that, Xena waved one hand dismissively, “Don't plan your victory procession in the Forum just yet, I have another mission for you.”

“That is not our arrangement! The Roman was livid. “We had agreed that I would invade Rome as soon as was possible! The moment is right! Caesar is in Hispania! I have been your errand boy for too long, fulfilling tasks which are far below my station!”

“Your station is to do as I bid.” She replied calmly, “Remember our agreement, you do as I say, I allow you to take Rome .”

“You!” he bellowed. “I see your ruse, sending me out to chase wild geese! You could have sent your second, that fawning stooge, to complete these tasks! You have no intent to send me to Rome ! All your grand words about allowing my revenge were lies!”

“Temper Pompey, lest you say something you regret.” Her voice dropped down to a low rumble.

Pompey was not to be deterred at the warning contained in Xena's tone. “You!” he pointed directly at her. “You! Are a lying whore and a Greek Bitc--”

Cecrops stood shocked at how nimbly the Empress launched out of the chair, to jab the Roman in the neck, causing him to tumble to his knees.

“I am altering the plan.” she rumbled low.

For long moments, she let a gasping Pompey wonder if he would die.

“Remember this Roman dog,” Xena looked down on the kneeling man. “I can break you as easily as I can a twig.”

She released the pressure point and Pompey fell forward, first gasping for air, then emptying the contents of his innards. Much to Xena's disgust some of it splattered upon her black leather boots.

“Get some servants in here to clean his stinking mess up.” She moved to sit.

Cecrops was gone for just a moment, before returning with three slaves, who nervously set to work under the Empress' gaze. Slowly her eyes drifted to meet those of a much chastised, yet still furious Roman. After some tense moments where each tested the will of the other, his head dipped.

They always look away , Xena mused. A touch caused her to look down. There a small slave girl was using bit of linen to wipe her boot before using another to polish the leather.

Gazing at the slave, her thoughts suddenly imagined Gabrielle in her stead.

“That will do.” The words came out in a strained rasp, due to the sudden emotions within. “Thank you…” Xena could hardly believe she had voiced the words, much less the shocked slave standing before her.

A gesture from her and the girl, along with the other slaves departed the chamber.

“It is good...” Xena paused, “To see some show of spirit from you Pompey.” Cecrops was helping the man up and to a chair. “Fear not, my Roman servant, I hold to my side of the bargain, you will have Rome , but first there is an opportunity to weaken Egypt , Persia , and Caesar's Rome all in one stroke. And you are the man I choose to deliver the blow. Do well and I will have more faith in your ability to take Italy .”

Pompieus looked up from his lap, intrigued by her words.

“The greater part of their fleets is currently docked in Alexandria . Ships filled with Persian supplies, Ships carrying the Egyptian Army, and… the fleet assigned by Rome to patrol my Mediterranean . Wouldn't it be a shame if something dreadful were to befall them? Why the loss of those ships would be a terrible tragedy.” Xena feigned a pout.

He leaned in, anxious to hear more.

He was hers to use.

She pointed to Cecrops “Have you met my new Admiral Pompieus?”


Multiple arrows struck their intended targets dead center, moments later the warriors which let them fly thundered by him riding upon their steeds.

“Well done!”

Sevastian could not hold back his pride at the display of martial skill. These Amazon's had tested his patience for quite some span. However, once they had overcome pride and allowed themselves to be taught by a man, all had done well to quickly learn these new skills. For over three fortnights, he had trained these warriors in the art of mounted warfare. Warriors, who at first had shied away from horses, now were confident in the saddle.

Being the elite of the Amazon nation, all had experience with several types of weapons, to include bow and arrow, but none had experience at firing the weapon from horseback. Once Meleager had supplied them with enough large composite bows, Sevastain had first trained them with the weapon on the ground, which the warriors found to be easy. But the progression to using the bow while riding on horseback had been difficult.

He spent quite a span on basic riding skills and how to care for the animals. Over time, the women naturally built a relationship with their horses. For many a cycle now the group had spent a day traveling, then another training, only to rise the next morning to travel again. They had been mirroring the movement of Xena's Army. So had it gone since leaving Athens with a brief stop at Amphipolis.

These 250 warriors would be the first, then, as the Empress had commanded, they would instruct others in their nation. She was creating a fast a scouting force, which could double as a lethal strike force.

“Now single file!” he called out, “Fire as many arrows as possible in the window between poles!” “You first Akantha!” he ordered. When the warrior was midway through the course, he would send another.


One by one, he ordered each to direct their steeds down a beaten path interspersed with a series of wooden poles to one side. These being nothing more than small limbs from trees whose ends were buried in the ground. The object being to fire a given set of arrows as the horse passed the first pole and cease fire when past the second pole. The training designed to help speed delivery of arrows to target.


There was a sublime beauty in watching warrior and horse work as one. Certainly, the constant exercise of riding as well as drawing the bow string had made these Amazon's even stronger though Sevastian would not have believed such a thing possible, as these women were already tremendously strong to begin with. He figured each Amazon was now at least as stout as three men.

“Stand higher out of the saddle!” he yelled, instructing the Amazon, Chrysippe, as she raced down the line. “You must fire in rhythm with the cantor of your horse!”

Sevastain had learned all their names, even managing to pronounce them correctly, though some were a challenge. Echephyle's name first and foremost, she still corrected him, to his embarrassment and the ginger haired Amazon's amused delight.

Since the light of dawn they had drilled. He could see both warrior and animal showing fatigue, it would be good to stop for lunch, then for a rest before moving on to other lessons.

“Dismount!” he yelled. After so many cycles spent in each other's company, the warrior's understood he meant them to gather round him for instruction.

Tying off the reins of their horses to low hanging limbs, the women encircled him, those in the front sitting upon their heels so those in the back might better see. It was necessary, as the High Lord Commander was; well, very… petite... in comparison to them. A fact many of the Amazonian warriors found humorous, though they would never speak of it to him. They didn't need to; their amused looks told Sevastian what they were thinking. He took no offense, he was short. That was the way of it.

“Fantastic!” he smiled wide, causing many of the usually stoic warriors to do the same. All knew from experience that he would not deliver praise unless it was earned. “Now you see the results of all your hard work, your arrows on target, you and your horse work as one.”

“You've overcome the hardest part, letting go of the reigns and rising up out of the saddle. Now it is just a matter of smoothing out the motion of fetching an arrow, seating it on the bow, and letting it fly.” As he said the words, Sevastian's right arm raised, hand reaching back, fingers grasping at an imaginary arrow. His left hand curled into a fist, as if holding the grip of a bow. He seated the imaginary arrow, and then hooked his fingers Mediterranean style though an invisible bow string. He smiled at seeing many of the warrior's mimicking his motions. “Feel the cantor of the horse beneath you, he continued, use your legs to absorb the motion and keep your aim true. When all four hooves touch the ground together…” he motioned as if letting the arrow fly. “That slight span is the best moment to fire. With practice, all will begin to flow naturally, and you will no longer consciously think of what you need to do.”

“As naturally as when done by the Conqueror?” Siri asked with a wry smile.

Before the detachment had left Athens , Xena herself had demonstrated the skills she expected the Amazon warriors to learn. The sight of the Empress upon her golden warhorse firing arrow after arrow exactly on target had made quite an impression. Xena displayed such skill that many watching Amazons wondered if Artemis' enemy had in fact been taught by Artemis.

“Our Empress…is…well… The warrior's surrounding him laughed soft as he faltered a bit. Fighting the urge to look downward at his boots he continued. “An example of unparalleled grace combined with unequaled skill.”

“Now…” his voice rose as he recovered. “We must continue our drills…” Amazon's were a stoic bunch, at least to the casual observer, but he had been around them for some time now. While they said nothing, he could almost hear the audible groan, just from observing the slight tick of emotion on their faces.

“…After a midday meal and a bit of rest.” He finished adding a smile for good measure.

He watched them move off, in groups of two or three, some gesturing as he had done as they explained some point, or asked questions to each other. These warriors were far less burdened by ego than men. Certainly, individuals among them had an ego the likes of which to exceed any man, but the difference being that ego was pushed aside when they worked as a group. It was heartening to watch them focus on helping the other improve. It was a camaraderie the like of which he had never seen.

Sevastian had heard the idle talk of the men in training. Many within the ranks had dismissed these women. Even with Greece being ruled by a woman, the fact remained that Grecian culture remained stodgily patriarchal. Still he was convinced. Line these Amazons up against any force and they would assuredly win.

“Unparalleled grace and unequaled skill, I like It.” a velvety tone rose up from behind him. “Perhaps in addition to Lord Commander, I should appoint you Court Troubadour?”

Sevastian jerked at the sound of that familiar voice. Turning, he instantly fell to a knee before the Empress, his hand moving fingers gently touching the very tip of her brown leather boot in submission.

“No ceremony Sevastian,” she stated gently. “Just your Xena, just your Empress.”

She gestured for him to rise.

“Majesty, it is good to see you.”

She looked at him skeptical a moment before laughing. “No one is ever happy to see me Sevastian. But, were anyone telling truth in speaking those words, I believe it would be you.”

“Mistress, I think it unwise to appoint me as Troubadour.”

“Why is that? She smiled. You'd miss all this?” Her arms rose for a moment, hands indicating the surrounding snow covered land. Rather than in a warm bed next to a fire, you prefer to be out in the frozen elements?”

“I would.”

“Well then you are a fool, such as I.”

He smiled, “I was also thinking of your welfare Empress.”

“Very kind of you Sevastian, how so?” After the growing tedium of long days spent training men, she was enjoying this respite in the form of the current banter between them.

“You would find my poetry sour and my music worse.”

She chucked at that. “Then I had better keep you where you are.”

Xena dressed simply. Brown leathers overlaid with bronze armor along with her usual knee high boots. To protect against the chill she wore a thick brown woolen cloak and heavy black gauntlets.

“I am most pleased Sevastian, most pleased. You have done well.”

“Empress, it is my honor to do so.”

Her hand clasped his shoulder briefly and a disarming smile relaxed him… slightly. One never knew with the Empress. “I was sure you would succeed. Your style is unobtrusive, your patience endless. Here you have taken 250 warriors, who automatically bristle at taking orders from a male and have worked your magic. Now these here,” she gestured to the Amazons, “will strike fear into hearts of my enemies.”

“The army groups...” she took a seat upon a log. “Wander the hills and valleys of my Greece . Talmadeus has the old hands training greenhorns. They learn how to soldier in the field, far from a warm cot in the barracks. They gain experience in how an encampment should be run, how to set a guard, how to scout, and how to fight. She drew her cloak tighter about her shoulders. “All set to my standard. And....” Xena took in a slow breath. “I'm bored Sevastain, bored with training, bored with having to spar gently against these young scared tenderfoots.”

“Forgive me majesty, but those new recruits have cause to be scared. Half the battle in sparring against you, is willing oneself not to surrender the moment you press your attack.”

Xena snorted in amusement at his words. “Sit Deshi, relax.” she commanded.

Sevastian did so, upon a partially exposed stone bolder jutting up from the ground.

“Let us begin.” Snapping a small limb from the log, she first used it to sweep away a bit of debris, before drawing lines in the snow.

“Our Force,” She used the stick to point to the lines, “Menticles, Virgilius, Adamis, 50,000 strong each. Mercer and Meleager positioned here in reserve.”

Sevastain's brows rose in surprise.

“Much has happened since I ordered you train these Amazons.” she prefaced. “Recruitment is at an all-time high, the army now stands at fewer than 200,000 in total. Talmadeus, in addition to training has stepped into help Meleager with innumerable details. The army still needs much in the way of supply. Meleager is pulling his gray hair out with worry, driving all to work as fast as possible to provide weaponry, armor, and all the other accouterments my expanding army requires. I hope we shall be ready in the spring, if not, we do the best that we can with what we have.”

“Now, here” she drew his attention back to the diagram drawn in the snow. “Forrest.”

“Tell me, Lord Commander, how we go about defeating the Germans in territory they know well.”

Sevastian pondered the question. These strategy sessions had gone on for some time, the Empress patently teaching her art of war.

“Our army stands in forest?” he asked soft.

“No in a clearing.”

“Were the decision mine, I would not march into forest.”

“That is where the enemy is.” Xena countered.

“As you have taught me Sensei, never fight on ground of the enemies choosing.”

“Correct, but the Germans will not fight us in the clear, they know ambushing our force amongst the trees where we cannot maneuver is their best hope for victory.”

“Then, as you have instructed in these many sessions, I would give the enemy what he wants.”


“Use a small force to tempt the Germans forward, send it into the forest to the inevitable ambush, and then have them withdrawal in a haphazard retreat. The German's would pursue, falling right into a trap.” Sevastian knelt down upon one knee, using one gloved finger to draw a line in the snow from the marked forest to the clearing where the army groups were represented.

“And then they see our amassed force and retreat back into the trees.” Xena stated flat.

“I have been speaking much with these Amazon's.”


“They have shown me a most amazing skill, the ability to move from tree to tree high above the ground.”

The Empress smiled knowingly. “Have them in the trees, firing arrows down upon the Germans, fooling them into thinking a large force encircles from behind.”

“Correct, Sensei.”

“Good.” she extolled, “I'm coming to enjoy these sessions. You, my Lord Commander, are learning.”

Tomorrow continue on your way to Amazon lands.” Xena ordered. “You will arrive before the bulk of the Army, to give them warning of my intent.”

“Intent, Empress?” he asked.

“Yes,” Xena leaned back, “Ephiny will be nervous, her scouts reporting a large force approaching, she will think I've gone back on my word. Given my history with Amazons it is understandable. You will go first to soothe her nerves as she knows your value to me, knows that I would not attack as it would mean your death. Give her the due respect she deserves as Amazon Queen.”

She saw his look, being surrounded by a potential enemy would put anyone on edge. “Have no worries, second I will not abandon you. I may be vengeful, bloody and malicious, but I am loyal to you, as you to me.”

“You honor me beyond my worth.”

“No, I honor you because of your worth.”

Xena stood, Sevastian following at the sound of horses at a gallop. Using one of her brown leather boots she swiped over the snow, erasing the drawing etched there.

“Empress, show some concern!” Solari dismounted, dipping her head momentarily. “You ride ahead with no heed to your own safety, forgetting that you are in open country, unprotected by your guard.”

“Well now I am protected once more.” Xena winked at Sevastian who smiled.

At the sight of Solari, the Amazon's who had pretended not to notice the Empress gathered round, 200 falling to a knee before her.

“Impressive...” Xena moved to stand before the kneeling warriors. “I have been witness to your progress ...”

Sevastain heard the steps behind him, knew exactly who it was.

“She gives me command of 50,000 troops, and you train…women.”

“Adamis, these...women you hold such a low opinion of can out fight any man.” Sevastian's voice was low, curt. He did not turn being that it was disrespectful to the Empress.

A cheer rose from the warriors as Xena told them they would be returning to Amazon lands.

“Would you like to see a demonstration of their skill?” Sevastian taunted “Perhaps a little sparring match between you and one of these warriors? Why I'll even let you pick--”

“No,” Adamis, began smug, “Honor dictates that I would never fight a woman, they being the weaker sex.”

“Oh, of course...of course... Sevastain intoned. “Hopefully you have realized by now that our Empress is a woman? Next time you speak with her, perhaps you should enlighten her on the weakness of her gender?” Sebastian's smirk went unseen by Adamis standing behind.

“How clever you think yourself.” Adamis snarled. “While you waste time attempting to teach the little women here...”

“Little?” Sevastain eyed the man for a slight moment, before making a point to draw Adamis' attention toward the tall, strapping, Amazons.

“I have the ear of the Empress.” Adamis rasped, angry. “It is only a matter of time before the constant demonstration my superior ability causes her to remove you from power. Why tonight I, and the high command, am invited to dine with her.

“I'm so glad your hand has healed since we... sparred.” The second said cheekily. “Now you will be able to pick up your food.”

Another general shout went up as the Empress bid the warrior's farewell.

As Xena swept past, both men bowed low.

“Our camp is near, just over the second ridge.” She stepped up into the saddle, Adamis moving to his horse, to do the same. “It is unfortunate Sevastain that you must see to your duties here and are unable to join us.”

“I regret that as well Majesty.”

“Adamis' men are most able; I must admit they drill well.” Xena complimented her newest commander who smiled self-satisfied down at Sevastian. “Of course, drilling by command is one thing, but they must also learn to deal with unforeseen circumstances, to think on their feet. Xena's eyes locked with his, her unspoken order clear.

Now it was Sevastain's turn to smile thinly.

“I assure you, your magnificence; they will meet any and all challenges!” “Adamis boasted.

Xena looked to Sevastain a moment longer, before riding off amidst cheers from the Amazons.

“Siri!” Sevastian turned, taking a step as he called her name. Next he was on the ground, having bumped into her, Siri being practically as tall as the Empress and solid as a stone wall.

“Yes Lord Commander?” she asked innocently as a laugh rolled through the massed Amazon's standing near. For a moment, he scowled up at her, before breaking into self-effacing laughter as she clasped his hand to effortlessly haul him to his feet.

“Well, now that everyone is here...” he began referring to Siri with gentle sarcasm while dusting snow off himself. Another chuckle rose from the Amazons.

A gesture from him, and the warriors in the front ranks sat on their haunches so all could see.

“Rest, for tonight...” he paused and as he did the warriors bunched closer to him in anticipation.

“We ride!”

A jubilant, fearsome war cry rose up from the Amazons.


“General that is the last of the picket ships, the way to the harbor is clear.”

“All is going to plan then?”

“Yes.” Cecrops responded, pleased the battle's had been short, even more so that none in their force had been killed.

Pompey looked out at the line of captured Roman Trireme's and smiled. In a day's work, he had captured a small navy. In Olynthus , Xena had shown him three warships she had ordered constructed in the Roman style. Each was so perfect in design, so flawless in detail, he'd have sworn, her ships could pass inspection at any Roman shipyard.

Xena told him that she intended to use the ships as raiders, covertly striking at Roman supply lines, but with the massing of fleets at Alexandria , her plan changed to using the ships to stealthily approach Roman warships and board them.

The Roman navy is complacent, the Persians and Egyptians too focused on fighting each other. Xena had pronounced, at their meeting at Olynthus , her point being that his task would be like child's play.

She had been correct.

While Octavian had thought to use part of his force to guard the harbor entrance, they had been easy prey for his ships.

“One big happy fleet,” Pompieus muttered while pondering Xena's mocking words.

“What?” Cecrops asked.

“Something Xena… the, ah, Empress told me.” The Roman explained. “Their complacency caused their downfall, not one of their ships challenged us properly.” Pompey gestured to the captured Roman ships now manned by his mercenaries.

“We look like them;” Xena's admiral then was blunt. “I would have fallen into the trap.”

“No, you give them too much credit Cecrops, you are far superior a sailor, you would know.”

Truth be told, Pompieus had some quiet concern about making landfall in Sicily due to the Roman navy. Antonius and Octavian had done him a great favor engaging each other and wasting their means by damaging their respective fleets. If he, Pompey the Magnus, managed to destroy the enemy ships amassed here, it would be devastating to Rome . Caesar would have only one option available, to reposition ships from Britannia, leaving the Roman legions there without means of resupply.

Now Octavian, that one held promise!

Most would have seen the powers arrayed in Alexandria and retreated due to lacking the force to fight either Egyptians or Persians. Octavian had instead used the confusion of battle to loot the city. The ships Pompey had taken were filled with all manner of Egyptian treasures. Spoil that was meant for Roman coffers, would now pay his legions upon reaching Sicily .

Pompey had to admire the young man's audacity. He was off on a daring raid on Cleopatra's ruling palace, meaning to make the Queen of Egypt a hostage of Rome . The commanders of the ships he had taken had told him as much before he had the lot of them executed and their bodies thrown to Neptune .

Pompeius supposed he shouldn't be too surprised, after all Octavian had been schooled by Julius himself. Despite his hatred of the man, Pompey could respect Caesar's cunning on the battlefield and his back door conniving when off. Caesar characteristic response to a challenge was always to attack, so it was with Octavian.

Even at this distance, his ears picked up on the sounds of battle within the city. The clash of weapons, the yells of two armies locked in combat wafting up to his ears after traveling over the waves. It was perfect; in the chaos none would be looking to the harbor when he struck. Shame really, had he a greater force, more enemy ships could be taken. Xena had been right, 1,000 was a paltry number.

“Are we ready?”

“We are.” Cecrops answered while looking down at the old Roman outfitted in slightly too snug armor. That was the thing about metal in that it was unforgiving when you added a few pounds.

“Good, send the ships in, if they leave now, they will reach the harbor entrance well past dark.”

“Xena's admiral motioned to an ensign bearer, who dutifully sent the signal by raising and lowering the flags held in his hands.

Slowly, eight old and battered merchant ships crept by, tethered by thick ropes to a large row boat filled with his mercenaries Xena had taken Cecrops advice, had made sure these ships masts could be dismantled. Masts and Sails set against the blue sky, would give the lookouts in the harbor warning that ships were approaching. Moreover, the vessels had been painted black so they could use the darkness as cover until the very last moment.

“So it begins,” Old Pompeius laughed viciously. “I will have my revenge Caesar! Pompey smiled while raising both hands high “Cry Havoc!” he yelled with delight. “And let slip the dogs of war!”

Behind Cecrops shook his head, Romans were always so flamboyant.


“Search every room; break down doors if you must!”

Opportunity was slipping by; every moment he didn't find the Queen was a moment closer to his presence beings discovered. It appeared that the Egyptian Army had, by sheer force of will, pushed the Persians off their fine ships, and into the city proper. Xerxes had been forced to order a counter attack to retake the docks, as the resupply for his army was on board those ships. All round fighting raged. The dead in their thousands lie in the streets as the city burned from one end to the other.

Caesar's spy, the Vizer, had ensured the palace was lightly defended, the gates left unmanned in this time of crisis.

Nearly 4,000 men were searching the various floors of the mammoth palace. Octavian himself was leading a group toward the throne room on the first level of the palace. He had put off searching the throne room, thinking the Queen would not chose such an obvious place to hide; now it seemed the only place left. The soldiers ahead, tried opening the grand doors via handles, having found them locked, they now were using brute force, slamming their shoulders against the iron strapped wood.

“Put your backs into it!” Octavian yelled, impatient to get the door open. In waves, the men of his command hit the door.

“You! Find another way in!” As ordered, the soldiers scattered, beginning the search.

Octavian paced anxiously, looking for something, anything to use as a battering ram against the door.

“Nothing!” he muttered aggravated. These Egyptians were sparse in decorating their palaces. Tile floors, stone walls, few heavy furnishings.

A crack sounded, the bar holding the door shut giving a bit.

“That's it!” he encouraged. Three abreast his men slammed the door at once, then quickly moved out to make way for three more behind.


Within the throne room she knew the end had come. The Persians had defeated her army.

All was lost.

“My Queen, please you must flee the palace, Egypt needs you. I beg—“

“My time has come; I will not be captured and be placed in some cage for people to jeer at. No, Cleopatra would rather die than be dragged through the streets of Babylon .”

Her fingers slipped under Raia's chin. “I do not willingly surrender my crown; the Queen of Egypt shall die a Queen.

The bar drawn across the portal cracked, as the Persian scum battered the doors to her throne room.

“I die of my own free will, and I die knowing that conquerors can only make a pyre of me, my spirit shall always remain free.”


Loyal servants looked to their queen in shock.

“Go I say!”

To a man her retainers silently refused her order choosing to stay until the end.

With a gesture, Her Vizer stepped forward, a simple wicker basket held within his hands, his thumbs holding the lid closed.

Prying the lid open ever so slightly, she slipped her hand within.

The asp took little time. Cleopatra flinched at the bite, the venom coursing into her.

“My end…is…here,” last words, from the last Pharaoh of Egypt.

The door to the throne room burst open and as it did, Raia surged forward. Before her father could stop her, her hand went into the basket, the snakes within biting her as they had done to the Queen.


The signal was given, and a torch was thrown into the hold of the ship. As fast as legs would allow, he raced along the decks to jump into the dark waters of the harbor. He surfaced gasping for breath. As he swam to the rowboat, his compatriots busily unfastened the ropes tying them to the ship.

A flash, sickly yellow in color could be seen as the Greek fire within the ships hold ignited

Freed from the ship, those in the rowboat, helped pull their comrade out of the water, and then all watched the burning hulk lumber past, being carried by the tide. On it sailed, directly toward the helpless ships in the harbor. Screams rose from the decks as the watch yelled out, warning of the impending doom. Ships packed together had no chance of escape. The rigging, masts and yardarms were the first to light as the fully engulfed hulk bumped up against the ships at anchor. The process was repeated, seven more times across the harbor as the other fire ships hit their mark. The cool breeze rising from the sea pushed the flames relentlessly causing fire to jump from ship to ship.

Their work finished, the men in the boats, came about, to row back to Pompieus' fleet sitting safe outside the harbor.


“You let her die!” Octavian shouted at the silent Vizer, sitting on the stone floor cradling his lifeless daughter in his arms.

Rage drove the Roman General to his next act.

“You will join her!” Octavian's used his blade to run the man through.

The sword was withdrawn and the Vizer's body slumped over his daughter's.


“Yes, man, what is it?”

The runner leaned over gasping for breath.

“On, man, on!” Octavian shouted, “What news?”

“Fire in the harbor!”

Instantly, Octavian was on the run shouting orders for his men to clear out of the palace, to run for the docks lest they be trapped in the city with no means of escape.

Through the courtyard, and into the streets the Romans ran, 4,000 men making a dash though the narrow streets of Alexandria , attempting to make it to the docks.

From above, spears reigned down.

“Persian's on the roofs! Form up!” Octavian ordered. The men raised their shields high over their heads and packed together.

“The Egyptian lines must have broken.” The man nearest yelled.

Octavian did not care whose lines had ruptured, be it Egyptians, or Persians it made little difference, his focus was on not being captured by either.

At a running clip, the Romans soldiers kept their shields high, while bunching together for protection.

Ahead, the Persian line formed, Looking beyond Octavian saw the harbor, the hundreds of ships within fully ablaze. All was lost, their means of escape gone.

The die was cast... so be it. Mused Octavian

Consistite !” Octavian shouted His troops stopped.

Intente !” The General called the lines to attention, with stoic discipline, previously green farm boys moved with the precision of hardened soldiers. Unit standards rose, held up proudly by their bearers. The SPQR Standing for Roman Senate and people in gold, framed by a golden laurel on a blood red field.

Like Cleopatra, he would not surrender, knowing what lay in store if the Persians captured them. He and his men would rather die than be enslaved.

“By our deaths, Rome shall have glory this day!” Octavian brandished his short sword circling the blade over his head.

Procedite !” As one, the men marched forward in unison, shields up, sword points forward. Octavian moved to a position in front of the formation. Ahead, lay the Persian horde.

“For Mother Rome!” words shouted by Octavian then repeated by his men as the lines clashed.

Chapter 10

A hand over the mouth, kept the kid from screaming.

Moments later, a gag was inserted, while the hand which had covered his mouth tied the cloth of the gag round his head, and then moved to wrap more bindings round his ankles.

Looking up, the youth shivered at his eyes took in a most fearsome warrior, face covered by a black mask.

Dragged up and hauled over a shoulder like a sack of grain, he was deposited alongside his fellow members of the perimeter guard.

“That is the last of the northeast quadrant, Lord Commander.”

“Well done.” Sevastian complimented the Amazon Zerynthia who gave the report. The guards had been, captured immediately after the shift change, no alarm had been raised.

Why should it?

The warriors had quickly stripped the men of their armor, and had taken their place on the line. While the armor the Amazons wore was comically ill fitting, in the cover of darkness it appeared that the perimeter guard was in place and all was well.

Adamis had been careless or plain stupid. His boundary guard was spread too far apart. He had also set up his camp far too close to forest. In the dark of night, it was nary impossible to see anything moving amidst the trees. An enemy could organize in the forest, and then attack without having to cross open ground.

To increase their stealth, the Amazonian warriors had used black ash from their camp fires to camouflage their skin as well as the metal bridles of their horses. Much to Sevastian's embarrassment, Siri had all too gleefully coated his face with the charcoal. Highly undignified, his ego cried, for one trained as a Samurai to be slinking about. However, when with Amazon's, one must do... well... as Amazon's do.

These warriors were at home in the forest, this was their element. The silence in which they maneuvered was unnerving. In this particular arena of warfare, Sevastian knew he was far outclassed, the teacher now the student.

“You are in command.”

Siri, raised her war mask, and studied him. If she were shocked by his statement, it was well covered by stoicism. By the light of the new moon now breaking thought the clouds; her deep amethyst eyes were entrancing. Such a beautiful and rare color… He forced thoughts of her beauty from his mind. It was troublesome, that those types of thoughts kept cropping up.

“You are the Lord Commander; in charge by order of the Conqueror.”

“Yes, true, but now I appoint you to lead these warriors, they being your people.”

Now the stoicism broke and Siri looked at him unconvinced. More precisely she looked unsure in her ability to hold command. Sevastian certainly appreciated what she was feeling, being thrust to the highest echelon of the army with lightning speed. Leaning over, being that they both were upon horseback; he took a chance of losing a limb by briefly touching her forearm, as means to reassure her.

“As a teacher, I am content to command, but in action Amazon's should be led by an Amazon. For me to allow anything else would be an offense both to you and your people.”

Silence, as usual, from her. But it was an apprehensive silence judging by her look.

“Our liege lord has taken note of you Siri.” Sevastian straitened in the saddle, “By the order of the Empress, you are hereby appointed to the rank of Commander.

Her eyes widened her mouth agape. “I...I am a Commander?”

“You are.” he replied, giving her a moment to let the news sink in.

“Lord Commander, I...I shall endeavor to prove myself worthy of this honor.”

“You already have, Siri. He smiled warmly. “If I may, a small bit of advice, one high commander to another.” His voice was conspiratorial in tone, his next words not meant for any other ears but hers.

Siri leaned towards him intent upon hearing what he would say next.

So enthralled by her proximity, Sevastian momentarily forgot what he was intending to say.

“You and I. ” his hand rose, finger pointing first to her, then to himself “We are called to service, service to Empress then Empire. Her will is our first duty. Our own ego plays no part, as what touches us ourselves should be last served. We do not fight with an eye toward our own glory; instead we fight for the Empress who leads a Greece which includes your nation. As Greece thrives under Xena's rule so too will your people. We happy few in her service shall see Xena be mistress over a greater Greece , a greater Empire than any man could have built.

“Now... Commander... “Sevastian relaxed in the saddle, placing his hands one over the other on the saddle horn while looking toward the camp, “Go and scare the wits out of those boys.”

Siri grinned darkly, anticipating what would soon be unleashed.


“Shame that your second could not be here tonight,” Adamis spoke.

The high commanders were gathered about Xena's table, within her grand campaign tent.

“Indeed, Commander indeed, but duty must come first.” Xena replied with a smile as dinner was served, Kodi attending her personally. Here among her long serving commanders, she preferred simple dress. Light tan trousers made of wool, were tucked into her high black boots, a woolen tunic overlaid with a heavy fur vest. She wore no bracers or arm bands, behind her sword hung over the high back of her chair.

“In his absence, would it not be prudent to appoint a... temporary... second to help you manage this force?”

She could almost hear the internal groan from the other commanders at table. Meleager moved a hand up, fingers scratching his grey hair, clearly annoyed.

Adamis was unrelenting.

“Who'd ya have in mind?” Xena asked drolly, leaning in slightly, she tasted the lentil soup Kodi had placed before her.

Outside, a horn blew, its wail sounding over the camp, soon joined by others.

Ensconced within her camp chair, Xena watched amusedly as her commanders first looked about in confusion, then to her, and when given permission, jumped up from table and piled out of her tent. She felt no need to do such; the war cry that reached her ears was unmistakable. Contentedly, she tucked back into her soup; as it would be a shame to let it grow cold.

“You run from Women!” Adamis screamed. The greenhorns had bolted, running mindlessly from the wave of mounted warriors. The rest of the army was in disarray, men attempting to don armor and fight, being unable to do both at the same time. Across the encampment, the women charged, many raising bows, appearing as if about to fire arrows to further spook the men into running. Across the breadth of the camp they continued on, regrouping once near what was left of the western perimeter guard.

“Well,” Meleager slapped Adamis upon the back. “First time I've seen an army of some fifty thousand frightened by a few hundred.”

Adamis was so enraged by the remark; he turned, throwing a punch, which Meleager ducked. Talmadeus standing near took the opportunity at hand to sock Adamis square in the jaw, sending him tumbling to the ground.

“You have much to learn.” Talmadeus stated flatly.

“You know one of the pitfalls of leadership is boy?” she took another bite of soup.

Kodi shrugged, “Deciding who to kill next?” he suggested, causing Xena to smirk. “You never miss an opportunity, do you?” She replied, giving a look which warned the boy against loosening his tongue again.

“Knowing when it is best to intervene in a situation, and when best not to interfere is the correct answer.” Hearing the voices of her commanders outside, Xena sat back in her chair and sighed. “The moment is right.” Standing, she walked to the tent flaps.

Both Mercer and Menticles broke in to laughter as Adamis tried to regain his feet, laughter which ended when the man drew his dagger.

“Your army group is in disarray, yet you chose to fight your own?”

Her words, spoken soft, but with an undertone of threat, gave Adamis pause and he moved to sheathe his dagger.

“Empress, this staged attack was underhanded and my men given no warning.” Adamis realized, as all did, the stupidity of his words, the moment they spilled from his lips.

“The enemy never attacks on schedule, nor does he send notes of forewarning.” Xena instructed, while crossing her arms over her chest. “Our soldiers, must not only be able to follow orders, but also be able to adapt to the changing nature of the battlefield.” Her words now meant for all her commanders.

“Restore order to my army.”

A severely chastised Adamis bowed then departed to do as bid.

The groups' attentions turned to Sevastian who had allowed Gisela to able forward at a slow pace while he watched the goings on. After bringing his steed to a halt, he dismounted quickly walking to the Empress to kneel gracefully before her.

“Rise loyal one.”

Sevastian did so.

Looking up, he noted the smile on Xena's lips, heard her laughter. “You are learning how to be an Amazon, Sevastian?” The tip of one of her elegant fingers slid along the contour of his cheek, removing a bit of the black charcoal covering it.

“Well...” he sputtered, glad of the charcoal black on his face as it covered his embarrassment.

“I believe your second, lacks an important requirement for being inducted into the Amazon's Empress,” the commanders behind roared with laughter. Sevastian couldn't help but smile, leave it to Meleager to make light of the situation.

“True, but it impresses me that he is open to learning new skills.” Her words silenced their laughter, though the men still wore amused expressions.

“You have performed a perfect raid on an enemy camp, commander, I am pleased.”

“Too kind Empress, but I must confess that I was not in command during the raid.” Sevastian smiled. “May I present the Amazon, Siri, whom you bid me appoint a Commander.” He backed out of the way, to take a position behind the Empress and to her right.

Talmadeus, Meleager, and all the other high commanders made no attempt to hide their shock. It was one thing to have an Amazonian guard, but to elevate a woman to commander was… unprecedented.

“Well, come from the throng and stand before me commander.”

Steadying herself, Siri dismounted, leaving the massed Amazons behind and then walked up the short rise to where the Empress was standing.

“Conqueror,” the honorific was stated soft, as Siri took a knee.

Ares gift within her reveled in the subservience, given her by the Amazon. Siri felt, the tips of Xena's fingers slide under her chin, the gentle pressure causing her to tilt her head back to look up at the Conqueror.

“And what say you about this appointment?”

“I swear I will do all you command Conqueror, that I shall never desert your service, and that I will not seek to avoid death for the Greek Empire.”

“Good...” the word came from dark lips in a throaty purr. It had sorely tested her patience, but all the pieces were sliding into place. A deal with a Roman General, a stronger army, cloak and dagger games, better commanders, a most loyal second, and Amazon warriors ready to do her bidding. The time was near in which she would unleash her will upon the known world.

“Rise, Amazon.

Siri did so; watching as Xena stepped away, back into her campaign tent. She returned, to hand Sevastian a missive.

“For the Amazon Queen, my second, I entrust you with its delivery.”

“I will do so,” he dipped his head.

“And while you're traveling to Amazon lands, come up with a new way for men to show their loyalty, I'm tired of seeing heads dipping down as I pass. Heads should only fall when I use my blade.”

Sevastian was flummoxed, least judging by his expression. She could almost hear the gears turning within his mind.

“You wish some kind of a salutation, a salute? He questioned soft.

“Yes.” she drawled.

“As, ah, as... you wish.” Sevastain had no idea what do make of this particular task, but he'd figure something out.

Her senses pricked... her instinct telling her something was afoot.

“Commanders, return to your camps, pray that Siri has no Amazon's ready to strike as they did here.” Their alarmed reaction to her words caused Xena to smile. “I bid all a good evening.”

Turning as the group dispersed, Xena strode back to her tent, ducking thought the flaps, she halted upon seeing the deity.


“I was beginning to wonder when you would show up.”

The goddess frowned at the remark.

Removing the cloak from her shoulders, Xena slung it over a chair.

“Can the boy go about his duties?” asked Xena.

Against the canvas wall of the tent, the Kodi was standing, wide eyed and trembling. “s-she just appeared...poof...” he mumbled in shock... “poof...”

“Gods do that, annoying if you ask me.”

Artemis frown deepened.

“I wish to talk with you alone, Destroyer.”


At the order from Xena, Kodi departed from the tent at a sprint.

“You're in my chair.” Xena stated flat, while quirking up one sculpted eyebrow.

“You are brazen, tactless, and rude Destroyer.”

Some moments passed, “Stubborn as Hades!” Artemis exclaimed while moving to stand and gather her bow and quiver.

Xena smiled, one hand gestured for the deity to take the large chair behind the desk, “Something to drink perhaps?”


Xena took a seat in her chair.

Artemis, paced over to the old battered camp desk, moving the chair from behind it, round to the front, then sat gracefully. Xena recalled the utilitarian desk had been gifted to her by Zagreas, a token of his appreciation for her presenting him a sword. The desk survived, he had not.

For long moments, the two sat in silence observing each other.

Though she'd never tell the goddess, Xena had to admit, Artemis was formidable in her own right. The deity was the very personification of an Amazonian warrior, tall and very strong. It was said by the bards that Artemis performed 10,000 push-ups with every cycle of Helios.

Xena allowed herself a long suggestive leer at the deity... which had its intended effect, to gall her.

Upon her feet, the goddess wore beautiful sandals of brown leather whose crisscross ties ran up to knees of her long, toned legs. Around her waist, a short flowing skirt of white. The bottom edge of the skirt was covered by tiny embroidered patterns of crossed arrows and the “A” first initial of her name. The Alpha letter was designed differently, one leg shaped in the curve of a bow, the cross glyph being an arrow. The skirt dipped suggestively below her exposed navel and was high on her hips, a tanned leather belt barely holding it in place. Above her exposed tummy, was an armor currais of pure silver, polished to perfection and inlaid with designs of woodland animals. Her armbands were also inlaid with sliver trees as were her long bracers each one embossed with a leaping stag. Leaning against the chair was her six foot bow of silver next to that the never ending quiver of arrows.

Being that Xena was well acquainted with weaponry, her eyes jealously lingered on the uniqueness of that bow, secretly desiring to test the weapon. It was said goddess never missed when letting an arrow fly.

“Perhaps you'd like a try?” Artemis asked knowingly, her voice causing Xena to look away from the bow and into the face of the deity, whose hair of deep ginger flowed about her shoulders; while her eyes shone a beautiful green.

Just like Gabrielle...

“It could be arranged you know. In return perhaps you might pledge loyalty to me?”

Xena's contemptuous snort of laughter caused the goddess to frown again. “You call me brazen! After all I've done to your people, you come here and ask me to be your chosen?”

“Yes.” The goddess replied simply. “You are a true Amazon at heart Xena, always have been.”

“Nice try, but no.”

“I cannot fathom why you stubbornly chose loyalty to Ares.”

“Many reasons, none of which I desire to discuss with you. Instead, tell me why you chose to... grace... me with your presence.”

“I wish to know your intent with my people.”

“Now you come and ask such a question?” Xena causally extended her long legs, crossing them at the ankles. “Where were you when I tore a swath of destruction through your people? When they needed you, you deserted them! Pardon me if I say that you have long past forfeited your claim as patron of the Amazonian people.”

Artemis appeared nonplussed for a moment, being unused to hearing such criticism.

“I know it appears that way, and in some respects your reproach is valid.” The immortal, fidgeted self-consciously in her chair. Many anecdotes held that the goddess much preferred the solitary stillness of the deep forest, to the politics of Olympus , or to dealing with humanity.

“Unlike many in the pantheon,” Artemis prefaced. “I have a far different philosophy were humankind is concerned. I chose not to intervene in human affairs. Mortals must be free to make their own choices be they wise or foolish. So, when the Amazon Queen calls upon me, I listen, I counsel, but I do not interfere. “Someday, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, humanity will outgrow the need for us gods, least that is my hope. Needless to say, my viewpoint does not make me popular on Olympus .”

Artemis couldn't have known it by Xena's expression, but the Goddess had just gone up in the Empress' estimation.

“I am especially sorrowful ruler of the Greek lands, where your son is concerned, it seems even non-interference has its own terrible pitfalls.”

The deity watched as the vengeful rage of Ares; make its appearance in Xena. The woman's features became hard; her eyes burring as coals, hands curling into fists.

“Believe me when I say,” Artemis continued. “I did all I could to warn Melosa, to dissuade Velasca, to turn them from inciting a war with the Centaurs.

“You should have done more.” Xena growled, her fist slamming down on the chair arm.

“I intervene in your cause, and then I must in others. In my experience as an immortal, that only creates more problems.”

“That boy was an innocent!” Xena cried out in anger.

“Many innocents are killed in war Xena, many died in your conquest of Greece , more will die in the war you are about to unleash.”

“You don't think I know that? I make war only to protect Greece !” Xena was incensed “I will not see her fall to Rome !”

“ Rome is west, from all accounts, it appears you wish to turn your army east.”

“I must rid the known world of all the trash that has their mark set on Greece ! The Empress made a sweeping gesture with her hand, “ Greece 's power must increase extending over both land and sea.

“And your own power?” asked the Goddess with a dry smile.

“To serve Greece .”

Artemis watched as Xena stood abruptly, walking over to pour herself a bit of wine from a nearby decanter. “I know my course is right, and I do not wish to debate its merits with you.”

“Forgive me,” The deity began with true contriteness, “I do not mean to raise your ire, nor do I try to deter you from your present course. I only seek understanding of your motives.”

“I doubt not of your wisdom.” Xena conceded. The gods as a whole did have more foresight than humanity.

“I...” Xena paused, her ego protesting what she planned to say next.

The deity leaned forward at hearing the uncharacteristic waver in the tone of the Amazonian Empress. Artemis dearly wished Xena could see herself in that role. If only Cyane had succeeded in turning Xena toward more noble ends.

“May I... call... upon you when needing advice in dealing with your Amazons?” Her early failure at Corinth had taught Xena well. If she were to create an Empire stretching across the known world, she would need help from every corner to include having as many of the pantheon on her side as was possible.

“You may, and when you do, I shall appear at your request.”

“I... thank you for that, and for your sympathy concerning the loss of my son.” The humble honesty in Xena's words heartened the Goddess. Ares hold was not iron tight.

Xena turned, holding up her chalice in a second invitation for the goddess to partake of some wine. The immortal noticed the tears. Tears in blue eyes that were quickly blinked away. The pain… and the guilt… from the loss of her son ran very deep.

A shake of the head in the negative caused Xena to saunter back to her chair and be seated.

“To your question… what my intent is…” Artemis watched closely as the Amazon cast her eyes downward, clearly ashamed. In little flashes of emotion, the mask of indifference cracked, to reveal a glimpse of the real Xena.

“I committed terrible wrongs with your people; believe me when I say I mean to make some amends for past actions. I wish to see the Amazon's revived and strengthened taking their rightful place as true guardians of Greece .” Xena's eyes were locked solidly with hers while she spoke; now they dipped once more.

“I do believe you.” Artemis' words caused Xena to look up in surprise. “There is good in you still Xena, if you look within, you will find it.”

“It is too late for me, my soul is black; my crimes many, I know what my destiny will be in the afterlife.”

“Only Hades knows that.” Artemis replied. “Until the moment of his judgment, change for the better is always possible Amazon.”

“I have no right to that title.”

“You do, if I say so.”

The goddess stood abruptly, and Xena surprised herself by standing in respect.

“I must go, Ephiny calls me.”

“She worries about this force.”

“Yes, ruler of Greece , she does. And what do you suggest I tell her?”

“That I come as a friend.”

Artemis smiled beautifully, and then vanished.

Chapter 11

“Lean back and to onside while pulling upon the reins! Guide the houses round the turn!”

Gabrielle and Lilla both looked to their master with a bit of trepidation. Iolaus was clearly on edge as he watched the chariot race. His jaw was set in a tense line, his hands balled into fists. Even though his charioteer Heniokhos couldn't possibly hear him, it didn't stop Iolaus from yelling out pointers.

They were in Ostia , a working class town located at the mouth of the Tiber . As the principal port for the city of Rome , it was a hive of activity. Merchant ships lined up on the wharves busily unloading goods bound for the capital and taking on cargoes of Roman goods bound for the provinces. Such busy trade allowed Ostia the tax revenue to construct a track. Though quite modest in comparison to the one being constructed in the capital, it was still an important stepping stone towards getting an invite to race in the great Circus Maximus.

Since reaching Roman shores, Lilla and Gabrielle had spent most of their time in the townhouse or at the country villa. The townhouse was really a place for the master to meet and greet potential buyers of his horses. The villa, where the business was actually run, had beautiful stables for the horses, but also produced grapes and olives. Their master, having a keen business sense, had seen to it that that the dilapidated vineyards were revived, hoping these new ventures would further increase his wealth. However, his true love remained breeding beautiful horses.

Before entering the stands, Iolaus had indulged the two with a small Roman treat from the Popinae , a kind of walk up cook shop where food could be purchased out of large earthenware pots embedded in a thick masonry counter. Gabrielle and Lilla each got a fist sized canvas sack filled with all manner of nuts and smoked fruit. In addition, he purchased salted peas for the two to share. He covered this bit of altruism by saying it was necessary as Gabrielle and Lilla had lost weight on the sea voyage and still needed to regain their strength.

Both sisters, so used to staying at the villa, had been selected for something very rare for slaves. The two were allowed to accompany their master on a trip to see his horses compete. Iolaus had originally planned to take only Gabrielle, to let her see the horses which she cared for contend in a race, but the little slave had managed to convince her master that Lilla could be of use as well.

“The last turn sister!”

Gabrielle peeked up at her taller sibling in irritation, wishing she had been gifted with just a bit more height, well, actually, much more height. As matters stood, her view was blocked by the crowd who had surged to their feet in excitement.

“Third!” Iolaus yelled in frustration, his voice rising up over even the cheering crowd. “A mistake round the turn cost us first.

“But, still a good finish is it not master? Especially since our driver and horses are new to racing?”

“It is Gabrielle.” Her master's scowl disappeared, and he chuckled. “I must take you to more races, as you always help me see the positive side of events.”

“Come, let us collect our winnings from the betting, and I must have a word with Heniokhos, the boy has promise, but he must learn that leading a team of four horses, takes finesse.”

Iolaus waded into the crowd, the sisters following.

“Gabrielle, I want you and Lilla to give the horse team a bath,” their master called back, “they must look fresh for the races in the morrow.”


“Now I know how you manage to stay so thin.” Lilla griped. “The work with these animals is quite taxing.”

Gabrielle smiled up at her sister, choosing not to repeat what many who worked out of doors on the manor often said about house slaves, that they lived a much easier existence.

“Sister, watch again.” Gabrielle instructed gently at seeing Lilla fumbling with the rope. “Make a big loop in the rope, and then bring it over the fence bar. Then make a blight on one length of rope hanging down. See like this...” Lilla watched as her sister made another bend in the rope. “Tuck it through the big loop hanging over the fence, then take the other length of the rope, do the same. Now, tuck this bight, through the other.” With skill gained though many hours of work, Gabrielle maneuvered the lengths of rope. “All that is left to do is pull on the standing length.” Her hand went to the strand of the rope, hanging down on the fence and pulled it taught, making a perfect quick release knot. Stepping to Argo, she tired the free length to the horses bridle.

“See, you do this in case the horse fights you as you wash her. Just pull on the slip end here…” Gabrielle pulled the other length of rope dangling down from the fence bar. “And the knot releases so the animal does not get hurt or hurt you.”

Lilla groaned, knowing what would be next as her elder sister pulled the length and the knot untied. “You try again.”

“Gabrielle, I can barely lace my boots right!” whined Lilla as she fumbled with the rope.

“Nah-uh… make a loop.” Gabrielle shook her head, her hands moving up to assist just a little. “No...No… See… tuck…there…. Yes… now…through…correct…pull…

“Got it!” Lilla beamed.

“Okay Argo,” Gabrielle addressed the white stallion as she would a friend. “Now be good as we need to give you a good brushing and wash.” Gabrielle grabbed one of the curry combs, handing the other to Lilla now standing on the other side of the horse. The younger sister immediately took the round stiff bristled brush and worked it in a circular motion on the horse's body as Gabrielle had taught.

“I still don't see why we have to brush, before we brush.” Lilla griped.

“I've told you the reason two times past Lilla, on two other horses…” Gabrielle smirked though unseen by her sister. “This one loosens gunk in the coat and helps with circulation, the little dandy brush will sweep the hair and gunk off her body loosed by the curry comb.”

“Right, just what I said, brush to brush again,” Lilla snarked causing Gabrielle to shake her head slightly as she continued to work.

“Want me to give you a boost?” her sister asked seeing Gabrielle move to drag her little step-stool over so she could reach higher on Argo.

“No sister, just like I said no two other times on two other horses.”

Lilla chucked.

“You know you aren't that much taller than me.”

“No, I'm not.” Lilla smiled as their conversation now tread on familiar ground. “You're just really short.”

“Am not…”

“Are too…”

Gabrielle, stepped down from her stool and looked up at the side of Argo rising high above her. She happily groomed the master's horses, but had never learned to ride. The height upon the horses back was just too dizzying.

“Okay, I am…” Gabrielle conceded.

“Am what?” Lilla asked guilelessly.

“Really short!” Replied an irritated Gabrielle and while Lilla laughed at her expense, she walked over to pick up the dandy brush to use on Argo's legs.

“Tell a story Gabrielle.” Lilla commanded imperiously, which drew a withering look from her sister. “Please?” she amended, “you know to pass the time.”

“Okay…” Gabrielle thought a moment.

“Once there was a beautiful brown haired, hazel eyed peasant girl…

“Was she tall or short?” Lilla teased.

“Short, Lilla, now hush and listen.”


“She lived in the northern reaches of Greece . Along with her two brothers and mother…”

“Were they farmers like us?” asked Lilla.

“No, her mother ran a tavern.”

“Where was her dad?”

“He left the family when…. Lilla!”


“Here grab the buckets.” Gabrielle ordered. Pour it over her gently; don't splash it in her face like you did the other horse.”

Gabrielle, I thought that was what you were supposed to do.” Lilla said sheepishly.

“I know you did sister, but no one, to include horses, likes to have a bucket of cold water thrown in their face. First pour water over Argo's legs so she knows what you intend to do and doesn't get scared like Celer did.

“Okay…” Lilla groaned. Both sisters took turns, emptying then refilling the buckets until Argo's coat was well and truly wet. Picking up the sliver of oily soap, Gabrielle smoothed it over the horse's white coat, building lather up as Lilla did the same on the other side. From the hooves up the two girls worked slowly cleaning every bit of the stallion. “Least this one is a girl; we don't have to deal with one of those…things.”

Gabrielle laughed. “Sister we grew up on a farm!”

“I know Gabrielle! Doesn't mean I like cleaning boy parts!”

“You also had to clean the…” Gabrielle leaned over to make eye contact with her sister. Green eyes moved to Argo's tail section.

“I know! You don't have to remind me!”

“We only have one more horse to wash after Argo, Lilla.”

Gabrielle smiled, watching her sister perform an exaggerated shudder.

“At least continue your story, to take my mind off what I'm doing.”

“Okay.” her Gabrielle agreed happily.

“The village the girl grew up in was lovely. It had rolling fields of grain and a marketplace with genuine walk in stores, instead of just simple vendor's carts like we had in Potadeia. The village people were also most friendly, greeting each other in the streets and meeting each other in the tavern to celebrate all the wonderful occasions' life gives us, as well as to give comfort to each other in times of sadness.”

One of those sad times, changed the beautiful peasant girl, and her village forever.”

“What was the peasant girl's name?”

“I'm getting there Lilla.”


“A vicious warlord heard about the lovely village and lusted after its riches of stored grain and merchant coin. Having resolved himself to steal what the villagers had worked so hard to gain, he and his men raided it one morning. The villagers resisted as best they could, but were no match for a trained army. The beautiful stores were looted; the fields filled with growing grain, burned, the mill destroyed. The evil warlord laughed as his men took terrible liberties with the women, and killed the men who tried to protect them. Before riding off, he yelled out a warning that he would return in a fortnight. If the village didn't meet his demands for more riches, he would... kill… them… all.”

“How terrible!” Gabrielle looked up, hearing the sadness in Lilla's voice, seeing tears in her sister's eyes.

“Here…” Gabrielle began picking up the buckets, handing several to her sister. “We must wash Argo off now.”

“After rinsing the soap away, the girls took wooden combs in hand to run through Argo's mane and tail, before using the sweat scraper, to wring out the remaining moisture in the horse's pure white coat.

“What happened next?” queried Lilla, absorbed in the story.

“The beautiful peasant girl was not in the village when the raid happened, having gone to her favorite pond for a swim.”

“Thank the gods!”

“When she returned, her heart broke seeing the devastation wrought upon her village by the evil warlord. Her anger turned to thoughts of vengeance. But what could she do? She was only one lone village girl, how could she stop an army?”

“How indeed?!” Seconded Lilla. “One against an army? Impossible!”

“One brother urged for them all to flee, to run and hide in the hills. The other urged them to stay and fight, both looked to her to break the impasse between them.”

“What a terrible choice to have to make.”

“Marshaling her courage, the girl resolved to fight.” In the town square, she stood upon the dais reserved for the town crier. With fiery words she rallied the townsfolk, telling they must fight for their homes, for their children, for their wives, and for their sweethearts! Her cries for vengeance filled the square and filled the hearts of the men gathered there. As with one voice, they elected her to be their leader.”

“A girl?!” Lilla was skeptical. Girls don't lead Armies!”

Gabrielle smiled as she continued to slick water off Argo's coat with the scraper “That is what her mother said in her attempts to warn her daughter. You see, the Mother was convinced that her daughter's course would only lead to more death. The two bickered back and forth, their voices rising in volume, the anger at the stubbornness of the other finally boiling over.

“If anything terrible should befall your brother, I shall never forgive you! Her mother shouted. “

“I will protect him! Her daughter shouted right back, before turning on her heel to storm out of the tavern.”

“Lilla,” Gabrielle warned, “be mindful, don't stand behind Argo when combing her tail, she might kick.”

“Yes sister” Lilla grumbled. “You must tell what happened next!”

“So blinded was she with anger, that the girl didn't even notice that she had not only stormed out of her mother's tavern, but also had walked clear out of the village. It was then, as she stood in the middle of a burned out field, that the girl realized how little she knew of war.”

“See, I told you girls couldn't be warriors! Didn't I?”

“You did Lilla, I attest to that.”

“Realizing she was out of her depth, the girl fell to her knees and did something she rarely, if ever, did.”

“What?” Lilla barked out when Gabrielle paused a moment too long.

“She prayed.”

“Oh! To who?”

“She called on Athena, goddess of wisdom and military victory.”

“Very smart,” said Lilla, “but I'd be frightened to actually invoke the intercession of a goddess.”

“As would I sister,” Gabrielle agreed, “But the girl felt she had no other option left her.

“Let me guess,” Lilla snarked, thinking she knew what would happen next “the goddess came and solved her problem.”



“Athena did not show herself, so the girl then prayed for Artemis to help her. As before--”

“The goddess of the hunt?” Lilla snorted contemptuously. “That was dumb of her; she was fighting, not hunting deer.”

“Ah, but sister, Artemis is the patron of the feared Amazons.”

“Amazons really exist?” Lilla was clearly dubious.

“I do not know I've never seen one.” replied Gabrielle.

“Well, if they do exist, calling on their goddess makes sense, so Artemis chose to help?”


“Her situation was hopeless then.” Lilla concluded.

“Another Olympian did choose to help.”



Lilla gasped at hearing the dark god's name. “Not Ares!”

“Yes Ares.”

The god agreed to help, he would give her the training needed, but as always, he demanded something in return.”

“What could she have given him? She was only a peasant.”

“Her undying loyalty,” responded Gabrielle.

“Loyalty of a peasant?” Lilla was dismissive.

“Ah, but you see sister, Lord Ares has a keen eye for potential, and this village girl had such an intensity of dark hateful vengeance burning within that the god was drawn to her like a moth to flame.”

Gabrielle paused to take a breath and allow her tired arms to droop at her sides.

“Sister!” Lilla growled impatient for Gabrielle to continue.

“Ares beckoned the girl forth to fall upon a knee before him. She refused.”

“Did he strike her down, for her insolence?”

“No, he rather liked it.”


“But,” Gabrielle continued. “Wanting the training he agreed to provide, she, of her own free will, spoke the oath, words that would forever bind her to Ares.”

“She said…” Gabrielle summoned up a most solemn tone... “I promise on my life, that I will be faithful to you Lord Ares both now and in the future, I will vanquish all enemies from the field of battle. Henceforth, I fight for your greater glory.”

She became Ares acolyte?

“More than a simple acolyte Lilla,” Gabrielle corrected before continuing. “With those words she became his completely. Darkness flooded into her soul, sparking the flame of war within. Her beautiful brown hair turned dark as night to match the black soul within. Her eyes mirrored the coldness of her heart, their shade changing from warm brown to icy blue. On the nape of her neck the symbols of Ares, plumed helmet and bloodied spear, burned into flesh.”

“Her transformation to his chosen was thus realized.

“She became his chosen!”

“Yes sister, and Ares resolved to cast her in his own mold. She would become the most fearsome, heartless, and vengeful warlord he could possibly create. She would be clever enough to outwit all enemies, have strength and height that would surpass even the strongest and tallest of moral men. He gifted her with knowledge of every weapon ever created by man or god across the entirety of the known world.”

Their work finished, Gabrielle pulled on the quick release knot and Argo bolted away, joining the rest of the master's racehorses in the stable yard.

“Come Adorandus.” Gabrielle smiled as the beautiful white stallion moseyed up to her instantly. Lilla slumped against the wooden fence, tired from washing the animals, but grateful this was the last. Little wonder Gabrielle slept so soundly, she worked very hard.

“Why did the master give them Roman names?” asked Lilla, referencing the horses.

“He didn't Lilla, I did.”

“He let you name them?”


Adorandus was getting a most loving scratch on the nose by Gabrielle.

“Okay,” Lilla began, frustration showing itself in her tone. “So why did you give them Roman names? We are Greek.

“But we live in Rome .”

“Fair enough,” Lilla sighed. “What do their names mean?”

“Well, Adorandus, means adorable. “Cel—“

“Wait,” Lilla cut in. “They are all snow white, how do you know which is which?”

“They all have different personalities. Adorandus is gentle. Celer means swift because he loves to run. “Verbosus means chatterbox, I can always count on him to wicker as I work. And Argo-“

“Argo, is Greek.” Lilla noted.

“Yes, after—“

“After the —“

“Lilla quit interrupting!” Gabrielle playfully slapped her sister's upper arm. “She's named after the ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed on when they went to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

“You named her after a ship?”

“Her builder, Argus, yes.”

“So after Argus… is that what you told the master?


“And he allowed it?”

“Yes, though he did eye me for quite a time. I thought I would be in trouble for choosing to name her Argo.

“A name is a name; I don't see why he'd care.”

Gabrielle smiled knowingly at her sister's response.

Lilla resolved to tie a quick release knot on her own, and smiled wide when she did it correctly.

“But what of her village, what of her family?” the younger sister asked, tell the rest of the story!

Gabrielle chucked soft, Lilla had always been this way asking questions about everything the moment it came to mind, she supposed it was a family trait, both girls and their mother had always been insatiably curious about the world around them.

“With Ares help the girl successfully defended her village,” Gabrielle continued. “But in the very moment of her triumph she lost her beloved brother named Lyceus, an arrow robbing him of life.

“How terrible! And after she told her mother she would keep him safe!” Lilla interposed.

“Yes.” Gabrielle handed the curry comb to Lilla, who shuffled off to the other side of Adorandus. “With tears flowing down her cheeks, the girl laid her beloved brother's body on a table top within her mother's tavern. Lyceus! Her mother cried while weeping over the dead body of her son.

“I did all I could,” said the daughter--”

Lilla stopped her work for a moment. “I believe her,” she said with conviction. “No one wants their own to be hurt.”

“True.” Gabrielle agreed, and then continued. “Her mother looked up from where Lyceus lay, her eyes filled with hatred for her own daughter. At that moment, unthinking grief took control of her tongue. Oh... yes... you did all you could, the mother said. You raised this army you talked him into fighting. These might as well be wounds from your sword! You took him from me!”

“Hated... by her own mother!” Lilla shook her head in sadness as the image of the scene conjured by Gabrielle's words floated in her imagination.

“Running from the inn, the girl met her elder brother, the one who had decided to hide in the hills outside town. I hear tell you have lead Lyceus to his death, the eldest sibling, by name of Toris accused.”

Lilla stopped what she was doing for a moment, having heard the name Toris before.

“I take responsibility for my choices; she replied harshly, Know this brother, the girl said with conviction. I would gladly trade my life for his!”

Much to Lilla's dismay, Gabrielle halted the story for a moment to grab hold of the dandy bush, beginning to sweeping it over Adorandus, prepping the animal for the water to follow.

Gabrielle continued…. “My plan was better!” The brother said smugly. You should have listened to me, but no, you had to fight! Dark rage filled her at hearing Toris' words. Men would come to call that evil bent... Ares gift.”

“Some gift,” Lilla muttered sarcastically.

“Lilla, let me finish!”


“Suddenly the girl stepped forward out of the shadows, her eyes cold, the moonlight shining off her black hair. Toris fumbled back! She now loomed even taller than he! You are a coward! She accused” Gabrielle's voice had risen to such a level that it, startled poor Adorandus.

“Sorry boy...” Gabrielle gave the stallion a soft pat on his neck.

“He was a coward, she was right!” Lilla interjected.

“How so, sister?” asked Gabrielle.

“Well he ran! He could have defended his home, and then perhaps his brother would have lived.”

“Maybe, or maybe they both would have been killed doubling her mother's grief.”

“True.” Lilla said upon a moment's reflection, “but he did leave his family alone, that was awful of him.”

“I guess he felt fighting was not the answer, Lilla.”

“What happened next?” her sister questioned while they both walked to the well to fill buckets.

Gabrielle smiled sadly for a time, and then continued.

“Remove yourself from my sight! She yelled. One of her hands grabbed him tightly by the throat. Hide...Toris, she hissed...hide yourself from my anger! Toris ran from the village, within he was filled with shame due to his actions mixed with fear of his sister's wrath.

“What then?” Lilla urged while pouring the first bucket of water over Adorandus' leg.

“A rock was thrown from the crowd of villagers that surrounded her.”

“Someone threw a rock at her?”

“Yes, and it was followed by another. You killed our sons! The villagers cried.”

“I defended this village! The girl retorted. More rocks hit her, drawing blood. Shoving people out of her way, she too ran out of the village and into the comforting darkness of the night.

“Where did she run?”

“Where else Lilla? To Ares, and as promised, she devoted herself fully him, learning well his art of war then making it her own.”

“Wait!” Lilla stopped her work. “The esteemed Toris ruled Athens !”

“Her brother.” Gabrielle said simply.

“It is Xena you speak of!” Lilla gasped.


“Is that really her story?”

“I don't know sister, I suspect only Xena knows the whole truth. What I told you I pieced together from bits told by different bards.

“A very sad tale.”

“Yes.” Gabrielle agreed.

“Wait!” Lilla walked round the stallion to peer down at her sister. “Argo is the only horse you gave a Greek name, why?”

“I told you why sister.”

Lilla smirked down at Gabrielle. “Are you sure that is why you named her such?”

“Well…” Gabrielle's voice tapered off and she smiled while looking into the distance.

“I think you named her after a certain famous horse owned by a certain famous Empress.”


“You are smitten with her!”

“I am not!” Gabrielle defended vehemently.

“You called her beau-ti-ful” Lilla accented the syllables of the word, to further tease her sister.

“I…” Gabrielle dipped her head, falling silent for a moment. “She is…” added soft.

Suddenly she was gathered up into a hug by Lilla who realized her playful teasing had uncovered something far more.

“You are smitten!” There was no venom in Lilla's tone, just an undercurrent of worry for her elder sister.

“It's crazy!” Gabrielle nestled into her sisters hug, I don't understand why I feel the way I do. We met so long ago, and for so brief a span… Why does her memory haunt me so?”

“I do not know,” Lilla stated honestly, “but what the heart desires, cannot be denied.”

Gabrielle pulled away, “I am only a slave, invisible to this world.”

“Don't say things like that!” Lilla, never one to raise her voice, shouted so loud the stallions spooked.

“Lilla, don't scare the horses, the master will—“

“Hush!” Lilla put her hands on hips and glared down as her elder sister. “It does matter what you think!” “We are more than just slaves! We are people! Haven't you told me that time and again?”

“Your right of course, it's just… just that…” Gabrielle faltered.

“She's an Empress.” Lilla smiled, “and your station in life is that of a slave. Well, I'll admit, you do aim high sister.”

Gabrielle laughed that sweet beautiful laugh of hers, which always made Lilla smile.

“Honestly Gabrielle, Xena is terrifying. Clearly Ares darkness is within her.” Lilla warned.

“Sister, I cannot help what I feel, I feel I must see her again, talk to her again.”

“You've always been one to do as you will Gabrielle.” Lilla sighed, “Even when we were very young, I could tell that what our village offered, you did not want as your life. While I played it safe you pushed, sometimes sparking papa's anger, and causing mother sadness. taught me that you have to make your own way in this world, no matter what others may think.”

“Sister, Lilla took Gabrielle's hands into her own. “While I do not understand what you feel for this horrid, scary, fearsome...” Lilla thought a moment. “Dreadful...”

“Okay Lilla, I get the idea.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

Well, just know I will support you whatever decision you make. I owe you that Gabrielle.”


“No, you listen. I don't say it as often as I should, but without you I'm certain I would be dead if you hadn't begged the master to buy me as well. The least I can do is to give you my full support in the decisions you make, even if I might disagree.”

When you do meet Xena—“

“Highly unlikely,” muttered Gabrielle.

“Knowing you as I do Gabrielle, I believe you will meet her someday.” Lilla turned away, leaving Gabrielle speechless, a rare occurrence.

“And when you do meet her,” said Lilla while resuming her work. I want you to remember, that come what may, I love you sister.”


Chapter 12

The beat of the drum, sounded throughout the ship as the fleet plied the blue waters of the Mediterranean , below decks, the chained slaves moved the heavy oars in rhythm with its cadence.

On board the flagship, Pompey was most pleased with himself. Within the Admirals cabin, he snacked on a light lunch of bread, with cold meat and cheeses. In one fell swoop he, Gnaeus Pompieus Magnus, had broken the military stranglehold Caesar had on the Mediterranean by sending the Roman fleet to the bottom of Alexandria 's harbor. He did lament the loss of innocent lives. From all reports, the fires from the ships had moved into the city proper.

He shrugged, couldn't be helped.

“Please Cecrops, do sit and join me.”


“Suit yourself.”

“Would you mind telling me, just where in the known would we are sailing to?

“Forgive me my friend, this fleet should set course for Ephesus .

“And what shall we do at Ephesus Pompey, or is that some secret?”

“Not at all Admiral, not at all,” Pompeius took a large bite out of a freshly cooked tart, made from beef bone marrow, heavy cream, and egg. War was tough business, but made more bearable after a quick raid on the Persian coastal town of Sidon There his fleet was restocked with all manner of commodities, to include some perishable items like these delicious pastries. He couldn't let them go to waste.

“Xena tells me that at Ephesus Antony left behind a garrison of soldiers; I imagine there are a few of Octavian's men there as well. We sail there to bid them join our cause.”

“You believe they will?”

“Most certainly,” Pompeius served himself another tart from the tray before him. We shall melt down the Egyptian treasures which Octavian looted, and will strike coin. “Gold, payment will ensure the troops loyalty, gold from Alexandria , and now Sidon .

“What happened in Alexandria I can at least understand in the context of war, but to raid Sidon was plain callousness, those people had done nothing.” Cecrops charged.

“You know,” Pompey spoke around a mouthful, “Not long past, another group in this part of the world rebelled, claiming they should be free of Roman rule. I and my troops marched right into their city, burned it, and then looted their grand temple which was dedicated to some solitary god. Pompey shrugged dismissively then chucked to himself, “I then put a man named Hyrcanus II in charge of the temple, a dedicated crook, sent me two-thirds of the gold offerings the people made to their one god.”

“Fascinating, what does this have to do with Sidon ?”

“The gold taken from Jerusalem helped me fight Caesar, the gold from Alexandria and Sidon will do the same. The supplies raided from Sidon helped to resupply this fleet. Such is war Cecrops. Were the people in Jerusalem , Alexandria , and Sidon stronger they would have been able to resist, but the weak surrender to the strong.”

“Like you did to Caesar?”

Old Pompey's anger rose for a moment, and then dissipated upon mulling over the logic in those words. “True,” he said simply. “But Caesar made a mistake in failing to capture me, a grave mistake indeed.”

“I remind you Pompey, while the Persians are weakened from fighting Egypt , they are not destroyed. Xerxes may move to attack in retribution for what we have done at Alexandria and Sidon .”

“Oh, I hope they will” Pompey smiled dryly, “Your Empress hopes so as well.”


“Clasp your hands over your head, Lord Commander, like this.” Siri demonstrated.

Moments later fearsome warriors descended from the trees by ropes, masks covering their faces.

“You trespass on sacred Amazonian land.” the comment was not directed at Siri, nor any of the other warriors in their group, but solely at Sevastian.

Before Sevastian could reply, the Amazons roughly pulled him from his mount. Slammed against the snowy ground, a huff of air escaped him, followed by a groan as his hands and feet were bound. A strip of cloth used to cover his eyes another used to gag his mouth. He could have struggled, but such actions would be useless. He would live to fight another day, as the sage Roman Tacitus had advised.

“This is unnecessary!” He heard Siri's protest rise up amongst many others as he was dragged to his feet, and then tossed back over Gisela's saddle as if he were light as a feather. “He is an emissary from the Conqueror of the Greek lands, second in command of the armies of Greece , and a stalwart ally of our nation!”

“All who trespass on our land are treated as such, be they high or low.” The Amazon who had hog tied him replied. “Have you lived among men for so long a span that you have grown soft, forgetting what we do to foreigners who invade our territory?”

“I have not forgotten sister,” replied Siri in a threateningly. “But for your sake, pray to Artemis, that the mistress he serves does not take offense at his treatment.”

“His mistress does not rule here by her own law, therefore she has no say in his treatment.” came the riposte. “Take him before Queen and Council!” He felt Gisela begin to plod forward.

Sevastian had been many places, and witnessed many things in his travels in the east. But his welcoming by the Amazon Nation now rose up to the top of his list of unique experiences. Meleager, were he here, would certainly be enjoying a laugh as his expense. Course... were the old commander here, he'd be tied up as well and be unable to laugh. Oddly, the image of that was a comforting thought in this particular moment.

“I apologize for this indignity, my Lord Commander.” Siri muttered low shame filling her voice. He felt her fingers run through his hair as she said the words.

Her touch made the indignity far easier to bear.

The senses are amazing gift from the gods, when one is diminished, the others work to compensate. He heard the sounds of the village long before they arrived. And when they did, drums began to sound, shuffling telling him the warriors had gathered to witness his arrival.

Around him the sounds of the Amazon's dismounting. Hands grabbed him and he was pulled off Gisela, his horse letting out a wicker of disapproval.

Now you decide to stick up for me? Sevastian mused cynical at the objection made by his horse.

“Let go,” Siri's irate voice. “He deserves to be treated with more respect.” He felt her hands undoing the bindings round his ankles, and Sevastian was glad for it as his feet had gone numb.

“This way,” She said softly, while her hand clasped his arm. She guided him slow as if knowing his feet were lacking sensation.

“Remove his wraps,” Ephiny's voice.

Hands grabbed him roughly, an instant later he heard the strike and then the sound of a body hitting the ground followed by anxious murmurs from the throng around them.

Finally the mask over his eyes was removed gently by Siri and after his eyes had adjusted, Sevastian could see his surroundings. Next to him an Amazon lay, out cold. His eyes flashed up to Siri who shrugged. “Didn't like her attitude.” she stated simply while releasing the remaining bindings round his wrists. Sevastian nodded silently, merely acknowledging her assessment of the situation.

Around them, a large grouping of fearsome warriors, none were looking at him with affability in their eyes. What was it with Amazon's? The dead of winter and still many chose to wear leather and fur articles of clothing which left much exposed to the elements. Tough warriors these women! At least those under Siri's command wore stouter clothing against the chill. Standing in groups were female children. Some were standing with what he assumed were their mothers, but Sevastian knew some were those left orphaned from his destruction of the Athenian Assembly. By their look, Sevastian could tell that he was hated. He accepted that. Had their fathers not been so dogged in supporting insurgency against the Empress they would be alive today.

His eyes darted round the village. Several mud brick huts with thatched roofs, a few constructed of rock, several long houses, for communal living arrangements. Most structures however, were made of wood with thatch roofs.

Ahead, a grouping of warriors upon a high dais faces covered by war masks. He assumed, the Amazon in the center was the Queen he had met some cycles ago.

“Approach,” It was Ephiny, he could tell by voice.

With Siri solidly behind him, Sevastian took a tentative step forward. When he did, drums sounded, unnerving him. As he moved to a position directly in front of the dais, the drums stopped now tall warriors crowded round on all sides, a living wall surrounding him.

As the Empress had commanded, Sevastian gave the Amazonian Queen due respect and bowed low as the Amazons under Siri's command fell to one knee.

“You kneel before the Queen!” His eyes shifted to take in the one who had spoken those words. A rather stout looking Amazon had raised her mask up showing him her face. Saying the woman was curmudgeonly in appearance would be charitable.

Good luck lady… thought Sevastain, he only knelt before Xena.

“He is not a member of this nation, what obligates him to kneel?” Siri challenged.

“My Queen, he is on our land and will obey under the stipulation of the Empress' own law.”

“Bremusa, he is not an Amazon, only Amazon's give fealty to the Queen.

“My Queen, think of the precedent you set, if you let even one man disrespect you, they—“

“He has bowed, that is respect enough for the Queen of the Amazons,” Ephiny replied. Sevastain noted how the battle axe named Bremusa did not look pleased by the ruling on the matter.

“Rise, Amazons.” Ephiny commanded, the group behind him got to their feet.

“My Queen,” Siri spoke. “I present to you--”

“I know who he is.” Ephiny raised her mask, and then placed hands on hips.

“Why are you here?”

“I bring a missive…” Sevastian reached into a satchel handed him by Siri. The sound of weapons being drawn stopped him. He looked up with surprise which quickly turned to thinly veiled amusement. Only a man with a suicide wish would attempt anything surrounded by an untold number of Amazons.

He looked to Ephiny, whose nod caused the warriors to stand down.

Holding out the Parchment, Sevastian slowly stepped forward, till the Queen's guard blocked further progress. Having the missive taken from his hand, he bowed low; backing up without turning his back to the queen he bowed with a flourish twice more in the style of the eastern diplomats.

Breaking the wax seal which bore the mark of Xena, Ephiny read the missive for long moments.

The parchment was then handed to the Amazon named Bremusa.

“She has no right!” the woman thundered. Quickly the parchment was passed to the other warriors on the dais.

“She is the Empress of the Greek lands; she has every right to make a state visit.” Ephiny responded calmly.

“We are a sovereign nation!”

“And she chooses to visit a sovereign nation.”

“The nerve the Conqueror possesses in sending him, a man, to tell us this! It is an insult! Now the woman's choler was solely directed at Sevastian.

Hearing Bremusa's voice, mused Sevastain, was like having to walk several leagues with a pebble in one's shoe…. annoying.

“In council Bremusa,” The Queen stated curt.

“To your duties,” Ephiny commanded. The assemblage broke up, the women returning to work.

“I wish to speak with you in the private council chamber, commander in the military of Greece . The eyes of the Queen then tracked to Siri, “You too.”

“She is not a member of the council!” Bremusa's voice rose along with her arm which blocked the door to what he supposed was the council chambers. The Amazon was giving Sevastain the beginnings of a headache. Ephiny was a most patient woman.

“She is however a commander in the army of Greece , and as such, may be of great help in answering your questions.” he suggested quietly.

Siri glanced his way for just a moment and her look spoke much about her displeasure with him for stating she would be compelled to answer their queries.

“Amazons under the command of men, it is an affront to Artemis!”

“Inside!” Ephiny shouted.

Bremusa fell silent.

Within the chamber the various… overlords… of the tribe moved to sit on one side of a beautifully decorated wooden table, Ephiny in the center. The building was not large, only designed to hold a select group of people. The floor was wood, the walls of the hut made from rock mortared together. Above wooden beams supported a roof made of thatch. Windows were high in the wall, and very small. To discourage eavesdropping he supposed. Along the walls was what could best be described as the trophies of Amazon conquest. Germanic helmets, shields, and long swords shared space with Roman legion standards. He recognized banners from the various former warlords of Greece and from as far as Persia . Directly behind the table at which the warrior's sat, centered on the wall hung a very torn and bloodied standard bearing the unmistakable “X” of his sovereign.

“She is not invincible.” One of the Amazonian leaders spoke after seeing his gaze directed at the black and cobalt emblem.

Sevastian chose not to respond.

Neither he nor Siri were offered a chair, being made to stand. Subtly, Sevastian guided Siri to a position in front of himself, while he stood behind and slightly to the side. It was a clear indication to all present that he would defer to her.

“My Queen I must agree with Bremusa and lodge a formal protest. Amazon tradition holds that we take no orders from men.

“My orders come from a woman.” Siri said pleasant.

“No one asked you to speak,” Bremusa replied tersely.

“Bremusa, raging female, show some courtesy, Ephiny chastised.

“Raging… female…” Sevastian whispered to Siri, not understanding.

“In council, all are addressed by their name, to include meaning behind the name given them by the nation. Siri replied in a low tone so that he might understand.

Raging female… it took some considerable will for Sevastian not to show disrespect by snickering. A truer descriptor for that particular woman could not be found in the whole of the Greek language.

“Androdameia, subduer of men, your protest is duly noted.

“Who commands you Siri, beautiful victory.”

Sevastain's brows rose. That is what her name meant? It was… lovely.

Xena the Conqueror is my commander, my Queen. I, in turn, command Amazon warriors.

“Who is your direct superior?” Androdameia pressed.

“Sevastian, Lord Commander of the Greek Army.” Siri responded forthrightly.

“You see?” Androdameia stated to those at table then sat back in her chair, pleased with herself.

“I am merely the first servant.” Sevastian clarified, I too take orders from the Empress.

A matter of semantics really, Androdameia replied.

“Her missive tells us she wishes to visit and confer with the Amazon Queen, why then does she bring such a massive force?” Ephiny leaned forward as she asked the question.

“Xena goes back on her word.” Androdameia charged.

“Were that the case, she would not have sent her second, to precede her, she would just attack.” Siri countered. “Nor would she send your Amazon's back to you my Queen. She merely leads her army forth in training exercises.”

“Don't believe it, my Queen. Don't trust the Destroyer!” Bremusa said with conviction. “She has betrayed the Amazon nation before!”

“We will welcome the Conqueror.” The Queen pronounced “As we welcome her second.”

“My Queen!” Androdameia cried.

“Quiet! Both!” Ephiny yelled.

A blessed silence fell. (Least Sevastian thought so.)

“May I remind, our Queen that men are not allowed within our village.” A new player spoke.

“Lykopis, She-wolf, he is, as Siri noted an emissary, therefore—“

“Are we to disregard laws when convenient?” Bremusa cut in abruptly

Ephiny sighed, one hand moving up fingers massaging the bridge of her nose.


“We head North.” eyes were riveted to the map and the elegant finger sliding along the routes marked on its surface.

Talmadeus was the first to speak. “You intend to lead these boys into a battle then?”

“Not yet, but the time nears when they will have their noses bloodied.” she responded.

“I only ask, because as you well know, we have trained them as best we can these last months, but some still lack armor and sufficient weaponry.”

Silvery blue eyes tracked to Meleager.

“We are creating armor and weaponry at as fast a pace as possible. With, the Empress' permission—“

“Xena.” She interrupted, “there is no Empress within this tent at the moment.”

“With Xena's permission, we've changed our armor to the jointed style used by the Romans.”

“Why?” Mercer was genuinely interested; he thought Xena hated everything about Rome .

“Standard Greek armor is made from a single sheet of bronze, hammered to precisely fit the Hoplite, Meleager explained. “The process is very time consuming, why a Greek helmet alone takes three full cycles of Helios to shape from a solid piece of bronze. Roman armor is built in sections, joined together by leather ties, easier to produce and easier to streamline the assembly of various parts and pieces.”

“The Romans, though scum, do have useful skills.” her words caused the men to chuckle.

“We've also adopted the tall concave shield of the Romans, as it gives better protection.” Meleager explained, but ours shall be unmistakable in that the emblem on the front will be the rising phoenix.

“Other weapons?” Xena prodded.

Now Talmadeus spoke. “Each new recruit, who shows the aptitude, will be issued a Damascus steel sword. Finally we can replace the wooden ones they've been training with. Meleager has done well to recruit smiths able to produce such a weapon. In addition, they will receive a long dagger. Others have shown aptitude for the bow, and thus are now counted among the ranks of our archers. Our archer corps alone now numbers some 30,000. Other men will be given pikes and the Sarissa as a weapon, they being placed in the front of the phalanxes.

“Instead of eight ranks of men, we return to the formations of Alexanders time, 16 rows, those men in front holding the 20 foot poles with spear points on end, the Sarissa Talmadeus mentions.” Xena clarified, while beginning to pace back and forth in her characteristic manner. Her head cast downward, arms folded over her chest.

“In addition, we near our goal of having each man outfitted with clothing suited for winter and summer.” Meleager continued, “I must tell you Corinth has become quite a manufacturing center, thousands of workers toil day and night.”

“You have done admirably old man.” She stopped pacing, now looking at Meleager directly, gracing him with a smile. He smiled in return, dipping his head to acknowledge her praise.

“The scouts?” she asked.

Now it was Mercer's who was pinned by her blue eyes.

“Xena we've vastly increased the scope of our corps, due to the increased size of the army. With much instruction from your Amazon guard, these men have become the best scouts ever fielded by any army.”

“I'll hold you to that statement, Mercer.” She warned.

“They will not disappoint.” he replied firmly.

“The Cavalry?” her commanders watched as she began to pace again.

“As all well know, we have two tiers of cavalry; those who prove themselves in battle are promoted into Xena's old guard, under her direct command, as well Sevastian's. The others used to protect the flanks of the army in battle. Talmadeus reported.

“The Amazon's?” Adamis asked quietly.

“They will be my most elite strike force able to roam behind enemy lines to attack supply routes. They are well equipped to live off the land, able to use bow and sword in any attack. Xena smiled. “Under Sevastian's direction, they have learned well the battle style of the east.

“But they number only 250, certainly not enough to make an impact in battle. It seems a waste of resources, to train so trifling a number of warriors.

“There will be more.” replied Xena, her tone one of certainty.

“Have you ever faced Amazon's Commander?” The question posed by Talmadeus was directed to Adamis.


“Their number may be small, but they are most fearsome in battle. I'd go so far as to say, one trained Amazon, is equal to ten men in the field.”

Adamis was clearly unconvinced by his expression.

“Now old man, tell us of new toys.” A smiling Xena commanded of Meleager before resuming her pacing.

All in the war council watched amused as Meleager's eyes lit up, his hands beginning to gesture.

“We have a new siege engine.” he said animatedly, “Of eastern design called a Trebuchet which can fire objects farther, and with higher velocity than the onagers of Roman use. Though they are heavier and therefore harder to maneuver into position, once set they can batter any fortification or army into submission.”

“And...” Meleager wiggled his brows in glee while reaching into a satchel. “We have this!”

He placed a small iron piece, the size of his palm on the table.

“What purpose does that serve?” Asked Menticles.

“This, my friends is called a Caltrop; it can be used against soldiers and cavalry. See the sharp nails that stick up?” His finger touched the tip of the small weapon. These nails or spines if you wish to call them that always land so that one of them always points upward from a stable base. The nails will penetrate boots, or horse hooves, to stop a cavalry charge.”

“Amazingly simple, yet effective.” muttered Talmadeus.

“And we have one more weapon, which will be given to the Amazon's. Reaching down, Meleager pulled the weapons from his satchel and set it upon the table. Two finely crafted curved steel blades were connected together on a single handle.

“This is called a Haladie, from the land of India .” Meleager picked the weapon up by the handle. “Meant to be used in close quarters combat, it can slash as well as thrust.”

“A very terrifying weapon,” Adamis stated as Meleager demonstrated the weapon, slowly twirling it in hand, to slash then thrust forward.

“Amazon's are well versed in hand to hand combat; this compact weapon suits their style.” Xena paused smiling at her commanders. “You know, I almost feel sorry for the men who line up against those warriors... almost.”

The men chuckled as Meleager placed the weapon back in his satchel.

A gesture from her and little Kodi walked forward his arms held out.”

“This, my commanders, is for you, capes of royal purple.” each man took one as she handed it to them. “As you are the highest rank in my Army, you will wear these in battle; your men must be able to see you.”

“And you Xena?” asked Meleager “The same?” he held up the cloak she had given him.

“No, I wear the color of Ares, red.”

Silence followed her words.

“You know the routes you are to march?”

All nodded.

“Mercer, scouts and flankers ahead, she ordered.”

“They will depart before the army, Xena.”


“Kodi,” she called as her commanders filed out of her tent and into the night.

“Yes, Xena?”

“I find myself missing Sevastian.”

“You do?” the kid was mystified at her statement, as he hadn't missed his obstinate brother.

“Yeah.” she said while moving to seat herself, motioning him to bring her wine. “He is excellent in administration of this force. No detail escapes him; I can always trust him to keep my commanders on task.”

“Shall we see him soon?” the kid prodded while handing her a chalice of watered down wine.


“Now” she moved to sit, “to your studies.”

“Xena I am not a child, I do not see the need to--”

“You are not a man either, therefore I do see the need.” she replied quieting him. “I gave my solemn word to your mother and father that I would see to your education. If your tutor requires it, it will be done boy.”

“Recite.” she commanded, while pulling furs about her for warmth, “where we left off.

As she took a sip of wine, and closed her eyes, he began.

“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

“That is not where we stopped.”

“I do not see why I must recite passages from Homer's Iliad!” he whined.

She let out a pained sigh while attempting to stay her temper. The eastern obedience his brother displayed was completely absent in Kodi, this boy was proud as a peacock and stubborn as a mule. “You are Greek, and as such must know the story of our people, she answered back tersely. “Begin at the correct spot.”

Kodi looked to Xena, sitting quiet in her camp chair, eyes closed. He stuck his tongue out at her.

“Be careful, with no tongue you won't be able to speak.... Don't tempt me boy.”

As her lips quirked up into a smile, his tongue disappeared behind his.

“Begin anew.”

“And so their spirits soared as they took positions on the passageways of battle all night long, and the watch fires blazed among them. Hundreds...” he paused thinking... Hundreds...”

Hundreds strong, as stars in the night... Xena prodded.

“ the night sky glittering round the moon's brilliance blaze in all their glory,” He continued, finding his place. “ When the air falls to a sudden, windless clam all the lookout peaks stand out and the jutting... uh...

“Jutting cliffs .” Put some emotion in your tone.” she commanded

“How are you able to recall this stuff so easily?” he complained.


“A thousand fires were burning there on the plain and beside each fire sat fifty fighting men

poised in the leaping blaze, and champing oats and glistening barley, stationed by their chariots,

stallions waited for... for...

“Dawn to mount her glowing throne.” Xena finished.

“I was getting there, Kodi defended.”

“I do not wish to wait until the morrow for you to get there.” She sighed. “You missed parts of the passage, you must work on this, Kodi.” her firm tone booked no argument.

“Yes, Xena.” he sulked.

“Onward then,” She shifted in her chair, “explain Pythagoras' theorem.”

“The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.”

“Good, good. Now fetch the mathematical problems assigned by your tutor so I can see your work.”

“Yes Xena.” Now the kid's voice took on a brighter tone. He enjoyed practice in calculations far more than reciting Homer, especially after Xena had fired his imagination by telling him of their use when throwing her Chakram.

After this, Kodi knew there would be continued exercises in both writing and speaking Latin.


The cold north winds caused by the god Boreas assaulted him, causing the flames of the fire to whip about. He had been kicked out of the Amazon village and ordered to make camp amongst a grove of trees standing a league away from the village proper. After that tumultuous council meeting and hatred directed at him from all corners, Sevastian was glad to be surrounded by the quiet of night.

Having some rations in his saddle bag, he had protested when Siri insisted he take some food with him. Now in the chill of evening, he was glad to have it. The barley she had given him had already been cooked in their kitchens; all the dour cook would allow Siri to give him. He'd had just warmed it by setting the clay bowl by the fire, while he brushed Gisela and made sure she was fed. After that, as per his usual routine, Sevastain had cleaned his armor and weaponry. Donning worn brown pants and a green tunic of the eastern style, he moved to sit by the fire. Now that he was no longer moving round, he pulled on his black cloak to ward off the chill.

“How do those women grow so tall eating food like this?” he muttered upon tasting the near flavorless barley. “Waste not, want not, I suppose.” he grumbled while finishing the contents of the bowl then setting it aside.

Snow began to fall.

Getting his feet under him, Sevastian moved to throw his saddle blanket over Gisela. Moving back to the fire, he set his fur out, preparing for a nights rest. He was not alone. Within the forest he knew Amazons were watching his every move, Ephiny was being prudent. Taking off his cloak, he threw it over his armor, as protection against the snow, before sliding under his furs to sleep.

Through the whole of Sevastian's evening routine, soft amethyst eyes watched from the canopy far above, Siri having resolved to stand guard over him thought the night.

Chapter 13

“What tidings Crassus?”

“Caesar, the rebellion in Gaul has been crushed.” Crassus moved to serve himself wine, from the tray Salmoneus was holding, taking time to pour the red liquid slowly.

“And?” Julius stated in annoyance.

“Our losses were negligible Caesar. The rebels were well armed, but they were no match for trained Roman troops. “I have no reliable numbers on those killed, but I would surmise it runs into the hundreds of thousands. The spoil from the villages we burned, has been sent to Rome , along with 160,000 slaves.”

“Good, I can put some of them to use on the Circus Maximus and the rest of the slaves we shall sell to farmers…” Julius' head quirked to the side slightly as he thought, “They can use them for labor to increase the food supply next spring. The Senate will like that.”

“We took all the food we could find, destroyed what we could not carry. The Gaul 's will starve by the thousands before the winter is done.” The old general said without emotion.

“That is their reward for rebellion Crassus.”

Sulla?” asked Julius.

“He is on his way here from Britannia Caesar; his men will arrive within a fortnight. I'm told…” Crassus took a sip of wine. “Thousands of rebels in Britannia have been executed, and like the Gallic people, the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons now starve. Sulla allowed his men to violate the women; some of these women choosing suicide after many repeated… incidents.

“They are worthless anyway. Perhaps next time they will know their place and not encourage the men to rebel against Rome .”

Caesar was silent for some moments before he spoke. “You have done well Crassus; I thank you for your service, as does Rome . Antonius betrayed me, yet you my old friend, you; I can count to stand with me. The sentiment expressed by Julius was a lie of course, he trusted no one.

The old general preened. Even after all these years praise from Julius still cheered him.

“When I am emperor, I shall remember your loyal service in the disposing of new dignities.”

“I am honored to serve, that is enough.”

“As we all are honored to serve. Crassus, duty to Rome comes first of course.” Caesar's tone held much cynicism, “but gold, land, and power do help ease the many burdens of life.”

“All true Caesar.” Crassus smiled.

“Perhaps after I rule the known world, you would consider being Governor of Greece?” Caesar asked, “Palace in Athens , servants and slaves galore,” Julius hand rose to clasp Crassus shoulder, beautiful courtiers surrounding you.” He added suggestively.

“I am married Caesar.”

“As am I Crassus, to Calphurnia, but that didn't stop me with the beautiful Portia or any of the others.” Julius added, “ Rome is so very far away, and opportunities are so very plentiful. You of course, know this having much success on the field of battle and… off.

“Caesar My skills are not matched to the grade of female you attain.” Crassus demurred humbly. I'm more successful with mere waiting women.”

“Oh now, come man. Don't be modest.” Julius laughed. “I've followed your spoor so close there was scarce time to close the window you left by or for you to change perfumes to put me off the scent.”

“Ah, but you have had Queens of Egypt and raven haired barbarians of Greece .” Crassus pointed out. “Tell me, of your lure Caesar.”

Caesar finished his wine in one drought; Salmoneus refilled it, and then moved to Crassus to do the same.

“If you truly want her, make her believe that you are potent only with her. Pretend that you've tried with others. Gone to bed, kissed hotly, but hung embarrassed and unable...” Julius' tone dropped low becoming melancholy.

“But with her you rouse up. You're a man again. His voice now changed inflection, from sad to bright, “They can't resist that.

“They open like...” Caesar waved his hand facetiously “Never mind the simile.” He added causing Crassus to laugh.

“Dare I ask, Caesar, have you ever been refused by a wench?

“Who? I? Refused? Never! When I've wanted them, I've had them.

Across the world, I've had them, to include as you mentioned, a certain dark haired Greek wench.”

Both laughed.

A clearing of the throat by Salmoneus caused both to fall silent, or rather the haggard messenger standing behind him did.

A missive was offered, taken by Salmoneus, and then delivered to Caesar.

Breaking the wax seal, fingers worked the parchment open, eyes scanning its contents. As the moments passed, Crassus noticed lines of anger deepening of Caesars' face.

“Ye gods! Why couldn't that Greek bitch have died on the cross!

Crassus had heard that particular lament, many a time.

Julius motioned the parchment be delivered to Crassus as he buried his head in hands.

After some moments Caesar looked up in exasperation, “Why!? Why does this happen to me?! Damn that woman! Damn her to the lowest reaches of the underworld!”

“You do not know it was Xena, Caesar. The missive only said—“

“I know what the missive said!” Both Caesar's fists rose. “I do not have to know Crassus! Her fingerprints are all over this act!”

“Xena, you… beautiful… conniving… Futuo! I will tame you yet, shew!” Caesar screamed the insults so loudly, Crassus was sure most of the known world heard it.

Julius fell silent for some time, working to compose himself.

“I lost men with Antonius.” Caesar's tone wa s quiet, but edgy as he grappled to control the anger within. “I could accept that, knowing Octavian would put things right…” Julius stood then hunched over his desk as he spoke, arms outstretched, palms flat on the desktop.

Without looking up at his general, Caesar shook his head. “Antonius had 36,000 men; some killed fighting the Persians, the rest lost in the sea battle with Octavian.

“I send Octavian to corral Antonius, and what does he do? Julius asked the question without looking to Crassus, not expecting an answer. “Octavian of his own volition lands in Alexandria and now part of Rome 's fleet is destroyed in addition to the 20,000 men I gave him!” Caesar's palms slammed against the desktop.

“You did always tell him to seize the day, Caesar.”

“There is a difference between taking the initiative and taking a foolish gamble!” Julius straightened, taking a long drought of the wine Salmoneus had served him. For long moments he worked to rein back his temper. Holding the chalice out, he allowed himself to be served more wine.

“How will we recover from so many setbacks, the loss of so many men?”

“We've faced many challenges before this Caesar.”

“Quite right, we will prevail in the end, just as we always have.” Julius took heart from Crassus' words. “Live as brave men and if fortune is adverse, front its blows with brave hearts.”

“ Cicero .” Crassus guessed the quote.


Julius moved to be seated behind his desk, Crassus took a chair opposite.

We have been reacting to Xena's moves; we must force her to react to us.”

“I would agree, Caesar”

“We are stretched thin, Crassus. The fleet from Britannia will have to be pressed into service ferrying my army to Carthage .”

“Caesar, Crassus put down his wine. “I beg you to reconsider, think of what you do.” He stated forcefully. “You move troops to Carthage now and Xena may attack west. We have precious few resources in Italia to stop her. And what will happen to our men in Britannia? They will lose their means of supply without the fleet.”

“Dagnine tells us she turns east to fight barbarian Germans.”

“True Caesar, but--”

“Therefore she doesn't threaten Italia.”

“Not as of yet, Caesar, she could change her mind, women are prone to do that from time to time.”

Julius was not impressed by Crassus' wisecrack.

“What we need is a way to lull her into a sense of false security.” Julius continued. “The way to do that is to attack Carthage .”

“Caesar, hear me.”

“Listen Crassus,” Julius said slowly “entertain the idea first, don't reject it outright. Remember what Aristotle once said, the mark of an educated mind is to entertain an idea without dismissing it.”

“Without accepting it, Is actually what he said.”

“I like my version better.”

As expected, thought Crassus.

“We need a bold stroke that will make the Senate happy and then we will have the support to depose Xena. I propose we sail to Carthage as planned, they will offer little resistance. After we destroy them we move this army directly to Greece by ship. We land, and take Greece once and for all.”

“Dicey, Caesar, Xena may well be lying in wait for us and amphibious operations are always tricky. Plus, the Greek navy is on the mend, it could prove formidable, especially now due to our weakened sea power.”

“Oh general, you do not give me enough credit, I have made sure, that Xena's turn to the east will end in her destruction.”

“How?” Crassus huffed, “The Germans? They—“

“Besides ours and Egypt 's, whose fleet was also at Alexandria ?”

As realization hit Crassus, Julius grinned.

“My spies in Egypt tell me Xerxes is calling forth every reserve in his Empire. He amasses armies of such scale that he will surely destroy Xena. I shall be rid of her once and for all! My only regret is that I will not be the one to finish her.”


The flame of the taper nipped at the parchment written by Salmoneus, where it touched black streaks appeared. Finally she allowed the fire to consume it.

“Caesar, I will finish you.” Icy silver eyes drifted upward, looking pensively off into the distance. A sneer marred her beautiful features. “I will finish you!”

Her timetable would have to be sped up; Roman troops had already succeeded in putting down the rebellions in Gaul and Britannia. Carthage could not hold forever against a Roman siege, and then Caesar planned to invade Greece .

Xena stood, dressed in black leathers, overlaid with swirling armor of bronze, her cloak of dark indigo lined with white fur draping down to her boots.

Walking to the tent flaps, Xena turned appraising the boy. “You shall see your brother this day.”

The kid shrugged.

Though he be but little, he be fierce. She thought. Kodi was stubborn in his opposition the actions of Sevastian.

“I've told you before boy, you must speak to him.”

Kodi said nothing, didn't have to, his look told her he was not planning to do any such thing.

“C'ere.” She beckoned; Kodi doing as he was bid.

One of her hands fell upon his shoulder, pulling the boy next to her leg. Looking up, anything Kodi thought to say was forgotten when his eyes met hers.

“I had a family once, would you believe that?”

The kid's expression became one of marked skepticism.

“I did not spring for the depths of the Styx .”

“I had a brother, which I loved as the dessert loves the rain. The other I…, she looked up and away from him a moment. “My other brother I never… well… we never saw eye to eye.”

“Few see eye to eye with you Xena.”

His words pulled her from remorseful thought and she looked down at him, a smile upon dark lips.

“My point is I lost one brother, the other I speak to rarely, if ever. The first circumstance you cannot help, Kodi, Celesta decides when our time ends. The latter you do control. Speak to Sevastian, not in anger, but as a brother. Speak to him, before the rift between you widens to an unappeasable canyon. Spend time within him, like I wish I could have spent more time with…” Xena's voice trailed off and the boy looked to see her swallow hard.

“To your duties,” she abruptly stepped from the tent.


For at least a seven day he had slept out of doors, one does get tired of lying on the cold hard ground after a while. Even when he wandered aimlessly, a day's work for a farmer usually led to a night spent in the relative comfort of a barn. No such offer from the Amazon's, but then again, who was he to question their time honored traditions? What did Meleager say often? Sevastain thought a moment trying to recall… Each man to hades his own way was Meleager's mantra. There was truth in those words. Opening his eyes, he noted the pre-dawn light coloring the sky Sevastian's thoughts turned to pondering his, and the Amazons return to the army this day. He rolled over...

He scrambled out of his sleeping furs.

“Siri!” he yelped, startled by bumping into her, she being swaddled in her own furs next to him.

The Amazon opened one eye, the orb rotating till it found him.

“You sleep soundly Lord Commander.” She said flatly.

Gazing across the field, he sighed, seeing 250 Amazon's camped out in similar fashion. For nights it had been like this, he falling asleep alone, the next morn surrounded by Amazon's. The warriors were stealthier than ninjas!

“Siri…” one Sevastain's arms rose, hand moving to rub the sleep from his eyes before it dropped away. “While I appreciate the feeling behind this gesture—“

“It is not right to send you here!” she countered fiercely, “To camp like some squatter!” “The Queen and elders of the tribe are wrong to have an ally of the nation—“

“Be that as it may, our lot is service, we do not question orders we follow them.”

“When I believe the order is wrong, I will question and I will act just as these here,” her hand swept over the Amazons before them. Siri moved to stand and Sevastian averted his eyes immediately then whirled about so his back was to her. Amazons wore precious little when fully dressed. When sleeping they wore... well, they wore far less.

Some moments passed, which gave him a moment to rub the blush from his face at seeing her…

“I am, what is it you men call it?” she asked from behind.

“Decent?” he offered.

“Yes, I am decent.”

He turned; she was dressed in typical Amazon garb, leathers and fur which left little to the imagination. Not that he had to use his after just seeing her…

“How do you avoid catching your death of cold being dressed like—“

Her left eyebrow quirked up at his question which silenced him, Xena had a tendency to do that as well. Women were such an enigma; one never knew what they were thinking. Truthfully, he had given up trying.

“Work generates a certain amount of heat.”

“I see,” he stated unconvinced. “Very well, round up your--”


“Right,” he nodded, “sisters and go have breakfast, we continue training today.”

“You will not come with?”

After eying her for a moment, he walked to the fire to poke at the embers, before tossing a few small logs on.

“I am hated by many in your camp; especially that raging female woman. It is best Siri that I do not appear with you. You are already too closely associated with me as it is, I do not want to see you hated by your own people because of me.”

“That is not your decision to make, I will do as I see fit.”

“You know, I am your commander.”

“True, you are very much in charge.” she replied with a grin.

He moved to bank the fire, and then placed some snow in two battered metal cups near the flames so they could both at least have some hot tea.

Siri stood near, silently watching him. The eastern food Sevastian enjoyed, the traditions he followed, the manners he displayed, all were intoxicating to her in their stark contrast to the boorish, useless men of Greece . Here he was completing a most mundane task in making tea, but his movements were precise, his manner one of patient reverence.

“You, ah…” he looked up. “You gonna tie me up and carry me there?”

Her hands balled into fists, then moved to rest on her hips.

“Do I need to?” she challenged.

Sevastian scowled, and then looked back down while shaking his head. His action caused Siri to laugh.


A lone figure appeared out of the fog.

In the silence she looked about, and then having gained her bearings, stealthy strode to a particular hut.

“My Queen, this is a perfect opportunity!”

Ephiny let out a sigh; it was too early for this, especially after the revelry of the Kharisteria festival over the last three cycles. By Artemis! Helios was still hidden, night still reigned.

“We act and with one stoke we can smite not only the top commander of Grecian army, but finally have our revenge by killing Xena!”

“Bremusa, must I tell you again, aside from breaking an oath--”

“You swore that oath under duress!”

“I swore it to save our nation!” Ephiny yelled, tired of the constant pressure from the elder.

“Do you know what is out there?” Hmmm?” Ephiny looked on as the woman in front of her frowned, but remained silent waiting to hear.

“Right now, our little nation, all that is left of the many tribes, is surrounded by Xena's army. Our scouts report numerous cook fires, each surrounded by fifty men. It is an unassailable force.”

“But if we strike, all unity between her men will dissipate!”

“If we strike, if we succeed, as you hope, her commanders may squabble over leadership in the future, but those men in her armies will stay united long enough to destroy our nation in revenge for her death.”

“So say you, I do not agree.”

“If you and the other hotheads act Bremusa, you'll gather enormous forces again us. We have just begun to rebuild. I remind you that Xena has done much for our nation not the least of which is having the weight of law protecting us for the first time in Greek history. Do not let the pride which brought down Melosa bring the remnants of our people down as well.”

“Can you not see what is happening? Look around you! Right this moment, Amazons are standing in solidarity with a man!”

“Her second,” Ephiny muttered, while straightening her fur robe as she sat in her chair.

“Yes her second!”

“Are they not allowed to express their opinions with action? Are Amazons unthinking brutes, only meant to take orders?”

“They show loyalty to a man!”

“Perhaps it is because he has earned it! You and the others Bremusa, you long for a past which will never return. You must accept change, as it is the only constant in this world.”

Even in the low light of the hut, Ephiny could see the fire in the elders eyes ignite. Those same eyes drifted down to where her dagger was attached to her hip.

“I am unarmed; strike if you feel brave.” Ephiny, though appearing casual, readied herself for a fight.

“Oh, I can't allow that...” a low velvety voice rose from behind.

Bremusa drew her dagger whirling in place to face a dark figure sitting nonchalantly in a chair on the far side of the hut. Both Amazons watched as the figure leaned forward, silvery blue eyes sparkling in the muted light of the rising sun, which filtered in from the window.

Flipping her dagger into the air, Bremusa caught it by the blade, and then threw it full force at the Destroyer.

The dagger never reached its target having been caught with ease.

“Not very sporting, Amazon,” Xena smiled cold, “I'm gonna take this dagger and drive it through your heart.”

Before the woman could act, the blade was thrown and buried in her chest. The Amazon elder first tumbled to her knees, and then collapsed to earthen floor of the hut, dead.

“What is it with you Amazons anyway?” Xena asked quite casual while crossing her long legs femininely, “Always bickering.”

Ephiny's eyes flicked up from the dead elder.

“You just killed a member of the high council!” she yelled.

“Looks to me like I solved a problem,” Xena replied calmly, while shifting to a more comfortable position in the small chair. “If an injury must be done, it should be so severe that vengeance should not be feared. She would have continued to be a problem if I had let her live.”

“Artemis help me!” Ephiny moaned. “People say every-time you are around someone dies, I daresay I'm starting to believe they are correct.”

Xena feigned wide eyed innocence.


The door to the hut opened, and for just an instant Xena wondered if Ephiny was stupid enough to try and have her taken prisoner.

“She attacked me,” the Queen stated direct. “Take her body from my sight!”

The two Amazons strode into the room, stopping to gawk in awed silence at the sight of the Destroyer of Nations.

“The body is there,” Xena prompted while pointing.

Bremusa was unceremoniously dragged from the hut, the guards closing the door behind them.

“This will set off a firestorm.”

“Doubt it.” Xena was dismissive, “You've already defeated three challengers to your throne; one more death won't even cause a ripple.

“How do you know so much about us?”

“I have my sources.”

“So it would seem.”

“Why do you have a council anyway? Asked Xena. “It's nothing more than a breeding ground for plots and other machinations.”

“I am trying to unite Amazons from far and wide; we must learn to work together. The best way to do that is to give an outlet for input, that outlet is the council of elders.”

“Kill them all and rule completely.” Xena advised. “One will always prevails anyway.”

“The best fortress I can possess as Queen is the affection of my people. Affection is not gained by killing rivals.”

“Fear keeps people in line.”

“It would appear we hold a difference of opinion.” Ephiny smiled wanly

Silence between the two.

“How'd you get into our village and this hut without…” Ephiny stopped speaking momentarily upon seeing the amused look on Xena's face. “Many skills, yes I remember.”

“Your second is alive and well.” Ephiny stated after some time.

“This despite his sleeping in the elements, as you refused to give him even basic shelter.”

“It is not our way.”

Xena said nothing, only moving to shift her legs by uncrossing them

“You are here for a reason, what is it you want of my people?” Ephiny stated direct.


“Have we not already given what we can?”

“You have now, many more which can serve Greece .”

“They are our means of protection.” Ephiny leaned forward while making her point.

“If Caesar defeats me, they will do little to stop Roman Armies when they march into Greece .”

The Amazonian Queen looked on warily as Xena stood and slowly moved closer. She tried to appear nonchalant, but Xena was not being fooled. Ephiny tensed up, as the Conqueror leaned over, feeling the hands of the Empress moving to rest themselves upon her arms to pinning them down against the chair. Ephiny swallowed hard as gorgeous blue eyes moved to a position mere inches from her own.

“Listen Amazon; hear about the gifts that I intend to shower upon your people, gifts which could prove of great value in sustaining your nation.”

“Those are?” Ephiny whispered, unable to find her voice, so lost was she in the contemplation of the depths within Xena's eyes.

“I give you back the sanctuary dedicated to Artemis at Brauron, the temple rebuilt; the sacred spring flowing once more.”

“You would give us that?”

Xena nodded slowly, “For the service of your warriors.”

“Not only that, my... lovely... Amazon.” Ephiny held her breath feeling the back of Xena's fingers slowly tracing along her lower jaw, before moving up to run through her curly blond hair. “If your warriors fight with me, to rid the world of Greece 's enemies, I will gift your people the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus .

“It is in ruins, destroyed by a flood.” Ephiny rasped.

“I will order it reconstructed.”

“You, you can do that?” Ephiny felt Xena's fingers sliding seductively through her hair.

“Of course I can, Xena murmured leaning closer, plush dark lips so very near that Ephiny licked her own in anticipation. “All things are possible with me.”

“You, you could just decree all this, by the terms of your treaty with the nation.

“I could, but I find warriors fight harder when they have a something to fight for.”

“I'm sure...” Ephiny's breathing became heavy “...we could work something out.”

Xena chuckled seductively, “I knew we would... agree.”

Ephiny's eyes fluttered closed as their lips met.


A cheer went up in the tent the moment he stepped inside.

“After weeks of relaxation, you've finally come back to do some work.” Meleager joked while slapping Sevastian on the back. In turn he shook hands with Talmadeus, Mercer, Menticles, and finally Adamis.

“It is good to see all of you again.” As he spoke the words, Sevastian noted Kodi standing quiet in one corner.

“How was it with those savage…” Adamis' voice trailed off as Siri ducked low to enter the tent. Rising to her full height, she stood silent, glaring down at Adamis who, despite himself, fidgeted under the weight of her gaze. For some time an awkward silence fell. Sevastian let it go on, enjoying it as much as Meleager appeared to be.

It was past time they accepted the fact that Siri held position and power.

“Lord Commander, the Amazons have set up camp.” she reported

“All 250?” Mercer said smug.

“All 2,000” Siri said matter of fact, shocking the men, save Sevastian.

“Tell them to not get too comfortable, this army moves out tomorrow.”

“Do we fight?” Mercer asked pushing Adamis out of the way.

“The Germanic warriors?” Mercer piped up.

Sevastian remained silent.

“Good Gods' man, least tell us something!” Meleager said exasperated by Sevastian's silence.

“We go north.” He watched amusedly as the men eyed him, already knowing that piece of news. “The Empress will tell all, in due time.” Sevastian pacified.

“Get you men ready to march tomorrow.” At the order, the commanders dispersed, each clasping his hand once again as they left the tent. Siri was the last to leave, the touch of her hand lingering a bit on his before she too departed.

“I wouldn't have thought it possible, as thin as you are, but I think you've actually lost weight.”

“Nice of you to notice,” Sevastian let out a tired sigh, his hands moving to unfasten the catches on his armor.

“Here, let me” Kodi slapped his hand away and began unfastening armor. “I've got hot water on the way for you to take a bath in.”

“Hot water,” Sevastian said dreamily, after washing in near frozen streams that sounded so good.

“Wait, why are you being so nice?” he looked at Kodi suspicious.

“Because I can be, shut up and enjoy your bath while I clean your armor up.”

“Yes sir.” Sevastain mock snapped to attention and dipped his head.



“I gotta come up with a salute.” Sevastian remembered

“A salute?”

“Yeah, Xena wants me to come up with some kind of salute for the army to use, I forgot.”

“I read about one, Rome uses.”

“We are not Roman.” Sevastian sat down on his cot with a groan.

“What!” “We aren't?” “I have been lied to by mother!” the boy stated in barbed shock.

Putting hands on knees, Sevastain laughed.

“It looks like this,” his half-brother gestured. “There was a drawing in the book I am charged to learn Latin from.

Sevastian liked what he saw. “That does look good.”

Kodi smiled.

“You are learning Latin?”

“Yes, and mathematics, and Greek Literature, my tutor says I'm doing well, except…” Kodi's head dropped, “except literature, I have to memorize parts of the Iliad.”

Sevastian leaned over, trying to pull off his left boot. “Memorization instills discipline of thought.”

“Boring stories hold no interest for me.” Kodi began to tug on the recalcitrant boot. “Xena is helping me to study.”

Sevastian's brows rose in surprise at that, but he choose to remain silent.

Kodi stood, grabbing a brush; he began working on Sevastian's boots.” I've had your old crimson armor repaired in your absence.” Sevastian was caught off guard by Kodi's sudden choice to be kind. But there was the proof, his armor sitting on the press, shinning and beautiful.

“We are heading into trouble aren't we?”

Sevastain looked to Kodi, having drifted off into a bit of a thoughtless daze while regarding his armor.

“You scared?”

“For you,” replied Kodi, his words shocked Sevastian into silence.


“I forbid it!”

“You forbid it?” Xena was amused; Ares was in the middle of a godly tantrum.

“I'll not have you speaking with the others on Olympus, you are my Chosen, and as my Chosen you will speak only with me!”

“Please Ares, do sit, have some wine, it will help calm you.”

“Don't patronize me!” he yelled.

She left him to stew, while she walked to the side table, to pour herself a bit of winter mead, before turning to face him again. Ares was his usual self, garbed in dark leathers, the sword of war at his side.

“Artemis, you dare speak with Artemis! Then, I hear from those on Olympus that you frolicked with an Amazon!”

“What is the rule, you taught me?” she asked evenly.

“I am the God of War; I ask the questions, you answer!”

“Use every advantage.” Xena continued, her tone becoming more irate. “I did just that.”

“I commanded you to build temples to me, not restore temples to Artemis! I commanded you to conquer, not cavort with Amazon Queens!”

“Queen Ares, singular,” Xena smirked, “Unless you hint that there are more still alive that I should be…cavorting… with?”

Ares quaked with rage, “Not one word more Xena or I shall strike you! Not one word more!”

She was decidedly unimpressed with his bravado.

“Storm and bellow all you wish Ares, you know I am right. She set the mead down carefully, and then leaned back more, placing hands palms down on the table top “I now have 2,000 Amazons ready to do my bidding.”

“Hardly worth it,” he countered.

“Perhaps, we shall see. As for my, tryst with the Queen, your jealousy shows Ares.”

“Jealous?” His hackles rose as did his voice on the word.

“Yes, Jealous,” Xena replied while casually adjusting her robe of blood red silk “because it touches your manhood, or your pride. I think it endearing, you'd rather have me canoodling with you”

“You hold too high an opinion of you capabilities in the bed chamber.” He retorted.

“Then you needn't be worried War God.” Standing, she sauntered over to him sexily.

“Have I not done as you asked Ares? He remained staring straight ahead while she slipped behind him to summon her most amorous tone “ Greece is mine; soon the east will be mine, and then Rome shall fall. You shall have your temples Ares, and... you also have me.”

He let out a breath. “Very well chosen,” his tone had softened considerably. “I leave you to your schemes, trusting you to not fail me.”

“I won't.”

With a flash he was gone.

Like Putty in hands … she mused.

She looked to the empty space Ares had occupied, and then shifted her gaze downward to her bare feet.

Ares rule was to use every advantage, no matter how ruthless, and she had done just that in the… negotiations… with the Amazonian Queen whom Xena knew felt an attraction to her. But even as she pressed her advantage, there were reservations, this feeling deep within. A persistent longing for something she desired, but as of yet, had not attained. Something that had awoken a long buried feeling within her...

“I don't know which is worse...” her whisper broke the oppressive silence. “Being haunted by visions of you, or knowing you live and being unable to be near you. “Why!?” she yelled out in anger. “Why does my dark heart, yearn for you Gabrielle?!”

Chapter 14

The sun was low, it being late in the day. Within the forest, the nervous chatter between the men had long since dissipated, it having been replaced with growing angst.

The sound began low, the telltale clatter of sword against shield rising up among the trees. The men in his column now became edgy, heads swiveling to and fro as they tried to ascertain the exact point the sounds were emanating from. The cavalrymen on either side of the column worked to control suddenly skittish animals.

Merciless, terrifying howls assaulted the ears One after another they rose rolling across the landscape echoing off the trees.

From darkness of the forest, spears flew, Gisela reared slightly as one landed near.

“Form the line!”

Though frightened by the specter of war, the men moved as one shifting to form the defense four ranks deep, pikes at the ready.

Horse hooves by the hundreds approached, yells assaulting the senses.

“Charge by Horse!” Sevastian bellowed the order as the first of the Germans approached riding between the trees. The men in the front grabbed the poles, each about nine feet in length and taking one knee, raised the pikes at a 45 degree angle butting the end in the ground. Behind, the next line of men held theirs straight on, horizontal to the ground. Third and fourth ranks raised theirs so that the tips of the weapon were over the first two ranks

The line swayed under the assault, riders being impaled on the end of the pikes, several being completely run through. Screams from the wounded enemy, rose up beside the yells of the men in his line.


“Lord Commander?” The captain rode up beside him.

“They are trying to flank us.” Sevastian gestured to the German riders. “Get the guard; protect the flank as we fall back.”

With a nod, the Captain moved shouting orders to set the guard in motion.

“Stay behind me.” Sevastian glanced back at the kid holding the standard, the colors of the army.

So in shock was the boy that Sevastian's words did not register.

“Behind me!” Jolted back into reality, the kid shifted his horse watching as Sevastian slashed a charging rider, cutting the German clear though on one side. Blood splattered everywhere the man screaming in agony, as he toppled from his mount.

“Displace!” Men looked up to see the high commander pointing with a crimson blade.

The troops broke, filling back down the path at a run, snow being kicked up by boots as they did. The German riders, sensing a sure victory pressed the attack but were slowed, having been caught in the flank by men of Xena's old guard.

Turning Gisela, Sevastian moved to fall back as well, racing his steed between the trees, ducking low to avoid branches, trying desperately to avoid being de-horsed in the mist of this melee.

“Reform the line!” Sevastian shouted, riding forward to a position in front of the running men, his presence, forestalled a full blown panic. Once more men lined up, pikes at the ready to face the enemy.

“Charge by horse!”

As before, the men formed the defense, as the members of the old guard rode past to a position behind.

“There's too many of them! We are too few!” Fear was taking hold of the line.

“Steady!” shouted Sevastian, his words being echoed by the captains, attempting to gain hold on the mindless fright before it swept through all in the line.

“They will surround us!” cried the men.

“Good!” yelled their Lord Commander, “Then we can attack those bastards from every direction!” Amid tight laugher Sevastian spurred his steed down the snaking line, to rally the men, his sword raised, blade flashing in the fading light.

With bellowing war cries, the Germans blazed forward, slamming into the line. In this position, his men stood on higher ground, the points of the pikes slamming directly into the stomachs of the enemy. His men only parted, and then just for a moment, to let rider-less horses bolt through.

“Up Guard!” Sevastain yelled at the men of the Old Guard Cavalry “At them again!” He pointed with his sword. The riders, with Alistair in the lead charged straight into the Germans.

“Displace!” Again, the troops broke into a run as they fell back once more.


In the tight grip of one gauntleted hand, the leathers of Argo's reins were held.

Outwardly, she was the epitome of confidence, the Empress of Greece, sitting atop Argo, looking like a goddess of war. In the light of the setting sun, Xena's appearance was flawless. She had learned long ago that a warlord, or in this case an Empress, should look the part. The waning rays of Helios shone upon her hair, bringing out golden-brown highlights. Her burnished black leathers reflected the light, as well as the swirling bronze armor she wore. Despite the cold, she had decided to wear the flaud leather battle skirt as it gave more freedom of movement. Black knee high boots were polished to such a luster that the winter clouds roiling above shown on their surface. The wind cutting across the field whipped her red cape lined with black wolf's fur. On her hip, the chakram, her sword attached to Argo's saddle, on her person daggers.

Inwardly, she was edgy, ears picking up the sounds of battle within the forest, the screams shill, quite the opposite of the calm surrounding her waiting army. How her blood cried out for her to join the fighting.

“Bring them to me Sevastian…bring them to me…

“Merciful gods! It sounds like a slaughter! Do we go in?” Menticles, asked beside her. His voice filled with doubt.

“No, the plan remains unchanged Commander.” Her eyes never left the clearing ahead. Gently, she moved to rest her right hand upon the saddle horn.

Nearly 80,000 men plus cavalry were arrayed in a huge three sided box formation with the rest of the army in reserve on the flanks. When the German's broke through they would be surrounded, their avenue of retreat would be cut by the Amazons high in the trees.

And her army would slaughter them all.

The waiting was the hardest part.

Hard blue eyes flicked over her men picking up on the nervousness permeating them. No matter how much training, the first battle, the first time to see the enemy caused anxiety. After today, these men would be battle hardened, gaining confidence needed to face future foes.

The sound of the fight drew near.

“Stand ready.” Her command passed along through her cavalry caused the riders to check their own weapons one last time.

She looked to Siri who nodded, before leading her Amazons along the left flank of the army.

All was in place.

“Raise my standard.” The kid behind did just that, the black “X” on a field of white rising up to flutter in the cold wind.

“Charge Sarissa!” The army was so silent; Xena's firm voice was heard clearly by all. The Sarissa being lowered by the front rows, these being 20 foot pikes, with sharp metal points. A curtain of death being lowered which would surround the enemy when he entered the field.

“Guard!” The men of her best cavalry came to attention. Guiding Agro, she moved to the front of the line. “By threes.” With the precision of expert warriors, the men quickly formed in ranks of three abreast.

“March…” With deliberate leisureliness, Xena led her cavalry down the right flank of her army, directly behind the lines, trooping her personal colours for all to see. On the left flank, Siri led her warriors on, getting in position for what was to come.


“Come on boy!” Yelled Sevastian, reaching down, he grabbed the wounded kid, by the arm and roughly hefted him over his saddle horn. The Germans had overrun the last defensive line, his men now in full retreat. Behind thousands of barbarians packed together and raced forward, only being slowed down by men of the old guard. Brave men those, sacrificing themselves to provide cover for the retreating foot soldiers.

He heard the yell, heard the hooves racing up, and knew he couldn't raise his blade in time, especially with the kid slung across his saddle. Just as Sevastian turned to face his end, an arrow flew catching the German barbarian square in the chest. As the man toppled from his mount, Sevastain silently gave thanks to Amazons high in the trees above.

After recalling the guard and watching them blaze past, Sevastian spurred Gisela on, weaving through the trees, he put his all into reaching the clearing.

Peaking over his shoulder, Sevastain caught the sight of the first of the Amazon traps being sprung. A spiked log swung down upon ropes, impaling two German riders. Their bodies rocking to and fro as the log swayed, their horses continuing forward. More screams sounded as other traps found their mark.

The kid clawed at the saddle, desperate not to fall.

“Almost there.” Sevastian encouraged.


Cheers rose from the lines as the first wave of hoplites emerged from the forest.

Xena reflected that a competent commander would have suspected something was amiss by now and halted the charge. But the German's lacked discipline and attacked as a mindless horde, once unleashed, nothing could stop them.

Her retreating men, skirted to the right, clearing out of the way of the action to come. Another cheer rose when the Lord Commander and his standard bearer at last broke into the clearing.

“Draw Swords!” Her command was instantly followed by the Guard.

“Right wheel!” Xena raised her own sword, circling it over her head, turning the blade in the direction the cavalry was to attack.

“Left wheel!” Siri yelled out from across the plain. The Amazons on the far side of the field preparing bows, making sure their swords were at the ready when out of arrows.

The first of the barbarians broke through. More than 1,000 riders thundered into the clearing, a mere taste of what was still to come. Screams followed as a third were suddenly swallowed by the Earth. Meleager's men had dug massive pits along the edge of the tree line covering them over with the flora of the region. Horse and riders were impaled upon rows of sharpened wooden stakes, jutting up from the bottom of the pits.

Those that survived, attempted to halt their progress, hauling back on their reigns, but more riders in a second, then third wave broke into the clearing shoving those in the lead directly into the killing points of the Sarissa.

1,000 charging riders became 5,000, then 10,000 and still she waited.

As more riders broke through, her instincts told her the entire force had fallen into her trap.

Her blistering war cry was the signal to charge.

From left and right, her cavalry surged forward, sliding behind the confused German riders.

As Xena thrust her sword into the first which would die by her hand, she felt the steel edge of her blade grate against the man's rib, a kick and the mortally wounded German toppled off his mount. The next blocked her sword with his, only to have her elbow slam him in the face, as he reeled back from the blow; he was decapitated by her blade.

The massed riders now thought to run back the way they came. A feral laugh of triumph erupted from Xena as thousands of arrows flew. Down from the trees they arced, directly into the chests of the barbarians. Waves of men fell to the earth, those still alive being trampled by the horses of their compatriots.

The Barbarians reorganized, attempting to ride directly into her 16 deep lines of Hoplites which surrounded them. Reasoning that if they broke through, they would escape the trap. For a moment, her blue eyes flicked over to see Sevastian giving orders, anticipating a charge.

The full charge never materialized, along the left flank, Amazons led by Siri rode parallel to the German's firing off wave after wave of arrows from horseback. The Barbarian horde soon lost all leadership, the men unable to rally against her force. Those few that did make it to her line were again cut down by Sarissa.

Now it was just a matter of getting the killing done.

As the next challenger raised his blade, she grinned, her own sword twirling in her hand. As she blocked his downward blow, her free hand gabbed the hilt of her dagger, to plunge it into his side. He screamed in pain as she used it to tear him open.

The same dagger was pulled from the dying German, to be thrown into the stomach of another. He fell, hands attempting to stem the flow of blood from his gut. His agony ended abruptly as he was trampled by other riders.

They died hard these savage men.

Having exhausted their supply of arrows, the Amazon riders now drew swords riding into the remnants of the German horsemen in the eastern style taught them by Sevastain.

Even embroiled in the heat of the fighting, Xena reflected how her Amazons were a thing of beauty on the battlefield.

An eerie quiet finally fell across the field as the last of the Barbarian riders tumbled from his mount.

A force of 20,000… Annihilated.

Such a shame the German's had to be so stubborn. None of this would have been necessary if they had just heeded her missives desiring peace between their peoples. Xena expected the Germans to dismiss her overtures, they being too proud to negotiate. Now they would be compelled to agree to a peace on her terms.

As the various officers upon the field bellowed orders, and wayward horses were corralled, she casually reached down to grab her water skin, being disappointed upon finding it had been slashed through.

Dismounting, Xena used her cape to wipe the crusted gore from her blade; it would need to be sharpened, having gone dull after running so many through. Argo then was inspected carefully; she making sure her beloved horse was unhurt.

Looking up from sheathing her sword, Xena took in the sight of her commanders arrayed in a line before her, none daring to speak.

“Have the pike men run through those who still live, we kill them all.”

Of all her commanders, only loyal Sevastain had presence of mind to dip his head in acknowledgment of her order. Silently they retreated from her dark presence, only then did they dare yell out commands.


“Yes Conqueror?” The Amazon was brave indeed, daring to address her.

“Have your warriors take these corpses strewn across the field, use them to send a message to the German's as only Amazons know how.


Walking forward Xena surveyed the carnage, her boots squelching through the pools of blood slowly soaking into the earth. Halting her progress she gazed down at the man. The German was quivering in fear at the sight of her, bloodied as she was. He was bleeding from various cuts, his most serious injury an arrow lodged in just below his right shoulder blade.

In a flash of movement Xena kneeled, paying no attention to his scream as she roughly pushed the arrowhead through him. Breaking off the tip jutting from his back, she then broke the fetching off. In a smooth motion she pulled the shaft from him. His free hand instinctively covered the wound, sluggish dark blood, began dripping through his fingers. Standing, she walked back to Argo, opening her saddle back, she grabbed a bit of linen and a bit of powered goldenseal root. Returning, she dusted the wound with the powder, then wrapped the linen round his shoulder. The wound should be properly cauterized, but this would stem the flow of blood for now, long enough for him to make it back to his leader.

Standing, she looked down at him watching his eyes dart about as his ears picked up the screams of his comrades as they were executed. He had to be wondering why she would choose to save him.

“Gehen Sie zu Ihrem Führer… Go to your leader.” Having run into these barbarians before, she had picked a base working knowledge of their guttural language.

“Tell him Xena the Conqueror demands a meeting.”

“Er wird nicht kommen!” the man responded, Xena easily picked up on the defiance in his tone. Kommen…come…he will not come. She translated, working through his words.

He watched with widening eyes as her sword moved, the very tip resting near his left ear. Her boot then landed square in his chest pinning him to the ground. She began to draw a line from his ear diagonally down to his jaw. This took a bit more pressure than usual, her sword being dulled by the fighting. As her blade moved, a line of blood appeared in the thin gouge she was creating. A dark smile upon her lips at the sound of his scream.

“Tell him…” The tip of her blade left his chin, moving to a point just under the bridge of his nose, “If he does not come…” The German worked hard to control his shaking, as her blade passed under his left eye, before continuing down in a perfect line. “…I shall wipe your people from the earth.”

When finished, she had drawn a perfectly symmetrical crimson “X” marking him so his leader would know it was she who sent him.

“I give him one cycle to appear before me.”

“Now go.” She ordered. He struggled to his feet, leveling a look of pure hatred at her before turning to run as best he could. A gesture and her troops let him go, allowing him to disappear back into the woods.


She is dead, Majesty.

“I can see that Behrooz” Xerxes looked to his chief minister. The slight man had served him well these last few years, keeping him aware of the various plots against him, a tough job judging solely by the amount of grey blossoming in his hair.

“Pity really,” the King of all Persia , shifted on the Throne of Egypt, “I was hoping to make her one of my wives. Even in death she is lovely.”

“She would have been quite a trophy.” Behrooz admitted.

A wave of the hand and the corpse of the former Queen was dragged from the chamber, along with several others who had made the choice to die with her.

Xexes stood all within bowing at he did. Walking over to the small window he looked out at the damage now fully visible with the light of the rising sun. Alexandria was destroyed, the great library burned, the beautiful lighthouse topped. All terrible, but what really caused him worry was the destruction of his fleet containing supplies for his army. His soldiers occupied a burned out city, having no means of supply, he had to order a retreat. Conquering the rest of Egypt would have to wait.

“Has Babylon received my orders?”

Koulos, his security advisor now stepped forward to report. “They have your majesty; the best of Persia are on their way to the ruins of Nineveh .”

“Tomorrow, we begin our withdrawal from Alexandria ; we shall meet the rest of our forces at Nineveh then move on to conquer Greece .”

“The routes the army is to take have been relayed to the commanders, majesty.”

“While I would rather focus on Egypt and its riches, it is time we finish these Greeks once and for all, I will have revenge for what Alexander did. This empire will stretch from the border of India , to the heart of Greece .”

“Can we trust this Roman, this Caesar Majesty?” Koulos moved near, one of the few permitted to do so.

“No, but we can still use him to advance our cause, like he uses us to advance his. The information he passed to us will enable us to defeat Xena. That helps us, and helps Rome .

“But, what of the Romans we killed in the siege of Alexandria ? Were they not treacherous in attempting to spirit the Queen of Egypt away from us during the fighting? “

Xerxes laughed, garnering the attention of the hundreds packed into the throne room. “ Typical play by the Romans, giving us usable information with one hand while using the other to steal the Queen of Egypt from us.”

“The dead Roman…”

“Octavian?” Koulos offered.

“Yes, the man took a risk, showed initiative, lucky for us that his gambit failed. The queen, even in Roman hands would still be a symbol for her people, a reason for them to continue fighting. Now that she is dead, they lose all hope.

“Have you…” the king paused lowering his voice. “Killed them?”

“The Romans, yes.”

“I know that idiot!” grumbled the king, “I mean the nobility of Egypt .”

“All dead, you rule completely, no rivals for the throne of Egypt .”

“No legitimate leader for the Egyptian people to coalesce around.” One of the king's hands slid along the silk of his robes absently before calling forth a handmaiden with a bronze mirror. For long moments he admired himself in the shined surface, before motioning for her to leave his presence. “Cleopatra's death ends her dynasty, and thus the rule of the Pharaohs ends with her.”

“What of my secret weapons Koulos?”

“They will be waiting for us at Nineveh .”

“More than a match for the poor Greeks and the woman who leads them.”

“An affront to god and man to have a woman leading an army, leading anything,” Koulos stated passionately.

“Indeed, Koulos, I hear stories that this savage Xena is not only most beautiful, but big and strong as well.” She will make a wonderful addition to my harem.

The courtiers looked on as their king shared a laugh with his chief of security. Near the king a wealthy merchant, dressed in the finest of silks, listened closely, while raking his dark mustache with practiced flair. His real name…Autolycus…


“Fish sounds good for dinner dontcha think?”

“Certainly Empress, but we don't have…”

Sevastian watched amazed as Xena's hands flashed into the water hauling up two large fish, flinging them back from water towards the river bank where they were adroitly caught by Siri.

“I don't need gear to fish.” she moved to the river bank, her knee high boots sloshing thought the water.

“How… did…? You just…” Sevastian was unable to form a cognizant thought. He'd never been witness to anything like that.

“Practice, Sevastian, practice. That's all it is.” Xena reached the bank of the river and gracefully stepped up from the icy water. “Oh, I don't cook.” She stated while walking past in the direction of the camp.

“I don't either,” said Siri, right before hoisting the two fish into Sevastian's arms and continuing on her way following in the wake of the Empress.

“You know, I am your command...” Sevastian fell silent, giving up.

Meleager snickered behind him.

“Well, look who volunteered!” Meleager abruptly lost all good humor at Sevastian's words.

His look turned sour when the second dumped the fish into his arms.

“C'mon, I'll help you clean them and fillet em', It'll make the work go faster on these monsters From the corner of his eye, Sebastian spotted a peeved Mercer who had been tasked with gathering firewood beyond that Adamis, cursing a mean streak as he attempted to light some tinder in the fire-pit Xena bid him construct.

Apparently, ex-warlords did not have an appreciation for the inherent value of work.


“Not bad Sevastian, not bad.”

“Thank you Empress.”

“Xena, Sevastian we are in the middle of the wilderness, decorum may be discarded for now.”

“As you wish,” Sevastian smiled slightly, while shifting the deep iron pan set above the low flames. It was a simple recipe, flour, a couple of garlic cloves, a spot of wine, rosemary, salt and a dash of the eastern spice pepper. Provisions he had attained from the Amazons. Siri had been kind enough to fetch him a few fresh quail eggs.

“Where did you learn to cook?” asked Siri. Typical… he couldn't tell if the Amazonian Commander was impressed with the meal or not.

“Trial and error mostly,” he shrugged. “I had to figure something out, Kodi needed to eat.”

“Well you're gonna make someone a good wife someday, Sevastian.” Meleager quipped earning himself a devastating glare from Siri and Xena.

“What?” he asked innocently.

“You got a little more of that?” said Adamis from behind.

As Sevastain moved out of the way, to allow Adamis access to the pan, Xena leaned back against the tree she was near, stretching out her legs and crossing them at the ankles.

“You know, I once used an iron pan to defeat a couple of thugs sent by Zagreas to kill me.” She chuckled. “They really thought they had the drop on me, I acted like I was asleep till the last moment.”

“You didn't have a weapon handy?” Meleager asked, looking up at her from across the flames.

“No fun in that, fighting with an unusual weapon gets the juices flowing.” Her grin caused the old commander to shake his head.

“Empress, I must protest! I need no reason to have us all out in the wilderness, to meet this Germanic tribal leader.”

“What's the matter Adamis? Didya have a date tonight?”

Xena's jibe caused the men round the fire to laugh; even Siri did so, a rarity.”

“They should be meeting us in our camp, we being the victor and able to set terms.”

“The German wished to meet here. We are trying to play nice with a prospective ally. We have beaten them, and badly, I allow the man to save some face by dictating were we are to meet.”

“We are in foreign territory in the open—“

“Yes, but we are trying to form an alliance with these people, one must show some trust. Siri's Amazons are keeping watch they will make sure you are safe Adamis. Besides, don't you like bonding with your fellow commanders? Here we are enjoying the country, dining in the open air—.”

A call from the Amazons stationed high in the trees sounded.

“Good, they have arrived.” Xena moved to stand, her commanders following lining up in a row behind based on some perceived seniority, except for Siri who chose to stand directly beside Sevastian, silently gazing at the other commanders daring any of them to make her move.

As the German riders crossed the plain Xena paused to brush a little snow off her black leathers then adjusted her bronze armor. Attached to clips upon her back, her sword, on her hip her chakram shone in the late afternoon sun.

“They sure don't look too happy,” muttered Sevastian from his position a step behind and to her right.

“If they looked happy Sevastain,” Xena eyed him over her shoulder for a moment. “I'd be worried.”


She paced, five graceful steps taken with a heavy dose of swagger, then a turn, followed by exactly five steps back. Xena's head was down, dark hair obscuring her face.

“Let us speak to the meeting this night. What are your impressions?”

“The delegation was certainly shocked at the sight of their men impaled on trees.” Autolycus shook his head, her spy having watched the episode from a discreet distance. “Do Amazons read books to learn how to do that stuff? Impaling for dummies or something?”

“Sadly, they learned it from me,” replied Xena.

“Xena,” now Sevastian spoke. “This Alaric, do you think he can unite the Germans? They are so divided, all being fiercely loyal to their own clan.

“Yes, he has the right arguments to persuade. First peace, I've made it clear, Greece will respect Germanic sovereignty, Second, he will be able to freely trade the products of his lands with my empire, Third and most importantly in the short term he and his people get a chance at revenge against Rome.”

“Why not just have my men assassinate the other tribal leaders and be done with it?” Autolycus asked.

She smiled Auto's words, “I've never been one to think twice about using assassination as a weapon, but in this case these tribes are roughly equal, were a civil war to break out over leadership, it would weaken them all. I need them united, one people, behind one leader, only then will they be powerful enough to take on Roman Legions.”

“I gotta hand it to yah Xena.” Auto slumped down into a chair. “When you made that agreement with the Senators of Rome, I thought you were crazy. He laughed, “Here you were planning all along to have the Germanic horde sweep into Italia.”

“Precisely, in truth, I and the Germans both get what we want,” Xena stopped pacing. “The Germans get revenge for all the past injuries Rome has inflicted upon them, and I will get to take the capital. If I play it right, none of my men need die taking Rome . In fact I may come off looking like a savior of Rome .”

“Or Pompey landing on Roman shores, that would give the Senators cause to ask you to intercede.”

“My shrewd little second,” Xena walked to him, clasping his shoulder with one hand. “Germanic invasions would give them cause to, or perhaps they will ask due to another circumstance I have created. Either way if the senators request help, I respond fulfilling my side of our agreement.”

“But if Rome asks for help against the Germans... that would mean you'd have to fight...” Autolycus' voice drifted off seeing one of her beautifully sculpted brows quirking upward, a knowing smile on her lips.

“In our accord, the city of Rome is mine, but the Germans won't be able to resist, they will violate our agreement by moving to sack the city.”

“Now…” Xena moved to the sideboard, pouring three cups of wine. “Let us toast our treaty of peace with the Germans, and to future success against the Persians.

“Tell me what you know so far from being near the Persian King spy,” Xena asked after taking a sip. “Spare me no detail.”

Chapter 14


Sulla stood near giving his report. “Every village surrounding Carthage is completely empty. No people, no supplies, no... nothing.”

“What now Caesar?” asked Crassus.

Strength of the army now stood at some 170,000 men. Caesar had Xena to partially thank for that number. Her brutal execution of Antonius had been instrumental in him gaining volunteers. Rome 's pride had been injured by Antonius death, cries of vengeance rose from the people. Well, some of the people, he still had to forcibly draft soldiers. Problem was the well had begun to run dry, so many men, involved in so many conflicts had lowered Rome 's available manpower. Well, lowered – good - manpower. Now many in the legions were from Rome 's poor and downtrodden. As a result, they were scrawny, underfed examples of humanity. Under normal circumstances he'd have rejected them, but now Rome needed every man, weakling or not.

Julius clasped his hands behind his back, his gold and red cape shifting with the breeze, his armor glistening in the African sun. When the army had landed along the coast, he had planted his purple and black standard in the earth in great show, proclaiming a new province, Africa Vetus . The fields here would supply Rome with a bounty of grain.

“It is clear what the Carthaginians are up to…”

“And that is?” Old Sulla asked drawing Caesar out of thought.

“They have pulled back to Carthage proper; we shall have to lay siege my friends. Crassus when we arrive at the city, I want our troops hard at work building the machines necessary to overcome the walls of the city.”

“It will be done, Caesar.”

For long moments, Julius watched his troops march past.

“I did not want a siege, but that is exactly what Hasdrubal and his generals have planned. Evidence of that are these empty villages. He knows they cannot defeat us in open combat on the field so he sets up a final apocalyptic battle with Rome , forcing us to take the city.

“It will slow us, having to take Carthage via siege Caesar, but it will be taken.” Crassus was firm in his conviction.

“Time needed to get the army in place, and seal off the city from resupply?”

“At least three fortnights Caesar,” Sulla estimated. Plus time to build the siege equipment.

“Very well,” Julius sighed. “We do what we must.”


The heat was oppressive, from sun up to sun down, day after day, the Army had marched.

“Makes you miss the cold of the German lands doesn't it?”

“It does, Meleager.” Sevastian took off his red helmet and slung it over the saddle horn, before taking a scrap of linen and wiping his brow.”

Behind them both, the thousands in Meleager's engineer group marched. The other army groups were both ahead and to the flanks, ahead Siri's Amazon's scouted. Every day of the march, Xena chose a different army group to ride with, ordering Sevastain to do the same. Today was his day with Meleager's troops, far better duty than riding along with Adamis.

The second wore his older lamellar armor of red, what he had worn when first joining Xena's army. Though of lesser quality than the black armor gifted him by the Empress it was slightly better in the heat.

At the crest of the pass pleasantly cool air swept against his face. Cool Mediterranean air blowing up from the port of Ephesus below.

“Thank the gods.” Meleager muttered before taking a long drink from his water skin. “It appears we've finally made it to our destination.”

In moments the army was marching through the main gate and past the city walls guarded by Siri's Amazons. Sevastain's attentions moving from Empress' standard fluttering above the city gate to the Roman Insula lining the road, the concrete and brick apartments the ordinary peasants lived in. He had to give the Romans credit for their practicality, the buildings were essentially fireproof. The apartment blocks were impressive, but that was not what most drew his attention.

From every window, every small balcony wide strips of linen were attached. By the hundreds they swayed as the sea breeze caught them. On each a crude “X” was drawn, in whatever pigment the townsfolk could find.

“They show their loyalty?” asked an amazed Meleager at the sight of the hangings.

“Fearful loyalty, more like,” answered the second, while watching the terrified townsfolk dip their heads then skitter away as they passed.

Ahead upon a huge marble dais stood a statue, the likeness of the Roman Proconsul Marcus Perperna, least that is what the chiseled inscription stated. Slashed across the inscription in black tar was the “X” of the Empress' given name, proof enough that Ephesus belonged to Rome no more.

“Set up your camp.”

“Gladly, Lord Commander.”

Pulling Gisela aside, Sevastain watched for a moment as the foot soldiers, with Meleager in the lead, continued to march past; they had already gone many leagues into Asia .

They would go hundreds more.


“You've done well Pompeius.”

“Thank you Empress.”

Xena picked up the slender Egyptian crook admiring its stripes of blue interspersed with bands of pure gold, before slowly twirling the object, this symbol of the Power of the Pharaohs, between her fingers. It was part of the treasure haul brought to her by Pompey. She would hold onto it for safe keeping, it would come in handy later.

“ Greece thanks you for your… large contribution…. of Egyptian gold seized in your expedition to Alexandria .”

“I am happy to contribute to Greece 's coffers, knowing the gold will be put to good use.”

“Oh, I'm sure.” She purred while smiling down at the kneeling man. She casually hiked one long leg over the arm of the chair she was seated in. “The Amazon Queen will want to thank you for paying for the reconstruction of the temple of Artemis here in Ephesus .”

Pompey wisely chose to remain silent, knowing better than to express his opinion on the matter.

“You ready to sail to Sicily Pompeius?”

“Quite ready, Empress,”

“Here you were all puffed up mad that I didn't allow you to land while Caesar was in Hispania, now do you see why I had you wait? Caesar is across the sea, the bulk of Rome 's army with him. The way to the capital is clear for you Pompey.”

The Roman dipped his head shifting a bit on his knee as she still hadn't yet bid him to rise. “I should have never doubted you Empress, many apologies for my being so stubborn.”

“Now, when you get to Rome , and you sit your ever widening butt in the consul's chair I think it would be wise for you to recall who it was that put you there.”

“I shan't forget that it was you that enabled my return, Empress.”

“A small bit of advice Pompey,” Xena began in a seductive velvety tone. “When you land on Roman soil, present yourself as a man of the people. Promise the lowest of the low that they shall have peace, tell them their sons will come home from war. Then offer them land to farm, land you promise to take from the upper classes. Pay to give them bread so they may eat.” If you do so, the plebeians will love you and lend their support to your cause. That will give you the upper hand against the Aristocratic Senate.

“But I come to conquer Rome .” Pompey expression was dubious.

Xena closed her eyes, willing herself not to unleash her tongue for the man's ineptness. How a man so stupid managed to become a consul of Rome staggered the mind.

“Pompey, there is reality and then there is image. Yes, you come to take Rome , but you must cloak your actions in the guise of being a man of peace. Tell the masses, you have seen war, seen death, and now wish to follow the...” Xena smiled darkly... “Ways of peace.” she finished scornfully. “The masses will lap that rhetoric up, faster than a man dying of thrust who finds water. You will be placed in power, without the need of even one soldier fighting.”

As he watched, she shifted a bit in her chair.

“Now as to the Roman Senate, be their friend Pompey.”

A sneer marked the old man's features “Friend!” he shouted, they turned against me, favoring Caesar when I lost at Pharsalus “I'd sooner see myself in the underworld then be friends with those dogs!”

Must I explain everything? The thought caused her to let out a pained sigh.

“If you don't, you will see yourself in the underworld! Think clearly Pompey, lock up your emotions for a moment. The Senate could do no less than side with Caesar. Words do not stop swords. If they had spoken against Caesar, the whole lot of them would be dead now. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct; everyone wishes to stay alive as long as possible. You know this! Were you not on the run when captured by Talmadeus?

“Yes...” muttered Pompey.

“Pardon?” She asked while leaning forward in the chair.

“I said yes!” Pompey growled.

Xena leaned back again in her chair. “Mind you, I did not say to forgive them, I advise you to appear to forgive. Lull the senators into a false sense of security. Have great plans for them Pompey, allow them to run the now peaceful Roman provinces of Gaul , Britannia, and Hispania. Let the Senate mete out monies from the treasury, listen to their advice on affairs of state, and make them feel important.”

“The Senate, how many legions do they have?” asked Pompey contemptuously.

“Listen!” Xena shouted. Pompey was about as sharp as a bag of wet leather. “They don't need legions Pompey! The Roman Senate has the support of the people, you kill them and you will be next!”

“So... you say by... lulling the Senate into feeling secure when...I... strike....” He paused for so long in thinking that Xena was about to give up and finish his thought for him. “My task will be made easier?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed in triumphant exasperation when he finally make the connection.

“If you play the game as I suggest, you control the time and manner of their deaths.” he watched as she raised the crook of Egypt to point it directly at him. “You see Pompey, to choose ones victim, to prepare ones plans minutely, to stake an implacable vengeance, there is nothing sweeter in this world.”

“I will attempt to do as you say.”

“Not attempt, Pompieus, you will do it.”

“Very well.”

“Good, I look forward to seeing you in Rome .”

The Roman general looked on in astonishment as Xena moved to stand. “Why so shocked?” she asked softly while gliding forward to tower over his kneeling form. “I desire good relations with Rome ; as such I will be glad to accept your gracious invitation to visit Pompeius.

“I… Rome would be honored to host such an important ally.”

“I thought so, Get up, be on your way.”

The rotund Roman moved to stand groaning a bit as he did, and then retreated from the chamber.

She walked to a position behind a large desk, which once belonged to the Roman proconsul of Ephesus , taking a seat; Xena cracked the wax seal, and then opened the missive reading though the first of many dispatches, starting with those from her chief spy Autolycus.


[The Past]

Within the halls of the governing palace Autolycus paced Hippolyta at his side, Praxis slightly ahead. Hippolyta had settled into her position as governor of Attica . Praxis appointed governing regent of the Greek Empire in the Empress' absence.

“How goes the road building Praxis?” Autolycus asked casually.

“Good Your Grace, while the network of roads is in its infancy, I can report the quality is excellent, and the thousands of slaves constructing it are gaining proficiency in building. This will surely increase the speed of future road construction.”

“The Empress will be pleased to hear such.”

“I am relieved that she will be pleased. I must add, that to maintain the speed of construction the Empress desires, I must have more men.”

“Oh, you'll have them soon enough Praxis, spoils of war will be coming your way by the thousands.”

“The revenues, how does the treasury fare?” Auto asked as they neared the stairs leading down to the dungeons. As they passed, the guards to either side braced at attention, clicking the heels of their boots together.

“We've had major expenditures with road building, as well as procuring items for the army and navy. Then we have the cost of constructing of a new palace complex in Corinth , plus several other grand fortresses scattered throughout the countryside at the Empress' behest After all that, well, you'd think we would be out of money, yet the treasury is filled to bursting.”

“Be sure to give me a written accounting for the Empress before I depart.

“Of course, she will see all is precisely as it should be.”

“The peasants grumble, your grace. They say they bear a heavy yoke in surrendering so much to the Empress' tax collectors.” Hippolyta spoke with conviction.

“Too bad,” Auto replied tersely. “The Empress puts her life in jeopardy to save Greece ; these peasants would do well to remember that.”

Down they stepped into the vast complex under the courts of law.

“How's the family Praxis?” Asked Auto.

“Good, your grace. Eirene looks forward to seeing the Empress again.

“Ah, yes.” Auto smiled. “As I recall, Her Majesty was quite taken by your youngest child.”

All three took the next set of stairs down to the lowest level.

“This… lead... your men found had better be worth my coming all the way back to Athens Hippolyta.

“You will find out in moments, he seems to have some knowledge of the one you seek.”

Stopping, Autolycus looked through the iron bars, appraising the chained figure within.

“Praxis, a good evening to you,” The man gladly bowed and then beat a hasty retreat.

“Hippolyta, a good…”

“I will stay, spy.”

Autolycus stared up at her for a moment. “I do my best work alone.”

“I will try to be as inconspicuous as possible then.”

“It is not possible for Amazons to be inconspicuous.” Auto opened the iron door.

The man chained against the wall, looked up at their entrance.

“Enjoying your stay?” Auto asked flippantly. A very tall woman walked in after him and moved to stand against the wall in the tiny cell.

“I am innocent! Why have I been imprisoned?”

“Because the Empress wishes it,” answered Auto.

“You can't just imprison someone!”

“You operate under the illusion that you have rights, let me dispel that notion right now.”

“But I've done nothing!”

“All true, you are quite innocent of any wrong doing. In fact, I'd say you are quite a boring fellow. What I want is...information.”

“Information?” Now the boy was confused. What could I possibly--”

“That's what we are here to find out.” Auto cut in. “Tell me about... Gabrielle.”

“Gabrielle?” After speaking the name, the boy fell silent for just a moment. “I don't know any Gabrielle.”

“That's the best you can manage? I expected you'd at least try to be convincing. I already know you had some kind of marriage contact with the girl, tell all you know, beginning with your name.”

“You aren't going to hurt her are you? I won't help---“

“The girl won't be harmed; I can assure you of that. However, you will be, should you not cooperate.”

The boy's breath hitched as Auto moved slightly allowing him a view of an iron stand being set up by a guard. Within, were contained glowing coals and torture irons of different shapes set to heat.

“Your name?” Autolycus asked most pleasantly.



“Autolycus has reason to believe she may be here, in this city.”

As Xena spoke, Sevastain glanced over the missive she had given him.

“This Perdicus, Gabrielle told him that that Iolaus, her owner, was taking them east to Ephesus ?

“Yes, yes...” The Empress replied impatiently. “It would seem, this Perdicus was betrothed to Gabrielle by her late father. Draco raiding the town, then selling the peasants into slavery put a real damper on the wedding plans.”

Sevastain looked up for just a moment; his mistress had a singular wit about her, a dark sense of humor.

“He is very determined, tracking Gabrielle to Athens .” Having never been in love before, Sevastian was nonetheless impressed by Perdicus' determination to finding his betrothed.

“Yes, Autolycus writes that he is kind man, dreadfully dull, but that is beside the point.

Xena moved near, Sevastain bracing at attention as propriety demanded. By all the Eastern Gods, she was fearsome in demeanor; it was enough to give a man the shakes.

“I want this city searched, my Lord Commander. Her voice was low, dangerous. “Tear it apart if need be. I want every single fair-haired, green eyed peasant girl you find in these worthless hovels brought to me. Understood?”

“Completely Majesty.”

She took the missive from his hand.


Sevastain bowed low, backing away, bowing once more before pivoting on his heel to leave the chamber.


Solari bowed to her in subservience.

“Please don't.”

“You are a Commander in the Army of the Conqueror, and moreover a leader of Amazons, therefore I willingly show respect.

Siri nodded, uncomfortable that her mentor Solari was bowing to her.

“Would you have believed such a thing possible?” Siri spoke, as the two Amazon's looked about the destroyed temple. The light of the setting sun shone through the ruins, the fiery sky visible though the collapsed roof. “Our temple of Artemis is to be rebuilt, the sacred statue of the goddess placed back in its place of honor.” Ahead of them was the dais on top of which the golden statue of their goddess once stood. Chiseled into the beautiful block of marble was simply... Artemis.

Siri with Solari behind stepped reverently to a position in front of where the statue once stood Both bowed low, before Solari as the elder Amazon spoke the invocation. Something which had not been heard within this temple for many cycles...

Hail Artemis Diana

Lady of the Beasts

We rededicate ourselves to you.

May our path honor Thee

May our spirits celebrate Thee

May our life force Magnify Thee.

Goddess help us to know what is right.”


“If only our Queen were here.” Lamented Siri.

“Someone has to do the hard work of running the nation.” Solari replied.

Steps running up behind caused both to turn and grasp weapons.

Stopping, Sevastian realized in his haste, he had trespassed on sacred Amazonian ground. Immediately he bowed low to the dais in respect. “A thousand pardons for the intrusion.” His words were rushed, breathing heavy, “Siri, with me.”

“Solari, call your guard up. I want them stationed on the walls surrounding the Proconsul's residence and in the street below in case things get ugly.”

“What is--”

“You will see my reasoning in due time, now please, move your Amazons into position.”

Even in haste, decorum must be satisfied. “Forgive me goddess for daring to step foot within your temple.” Sevastian bowed once then again, while backing away. “Siri!” her name called with some urgency while Sevastian ran back the way he came motioning her to follow.

Bowing to the dais momentarily, Siri turned to follow at a run, leaving a puzzled Solari behind.

Outside, the commanders of the army were grouped.

“Listen, and listen well.” Sevastian began. “I want the guards round the city wall tripled, close the gates, no one leaves this city. All public buildings are to be searched and closed for the duration. I want a perimeter set around all apartments as well as the fine homes of the wealthy no one enters or leaves the perimeter while we conduct a search.”

“I know you're going to get to it, but what exactly are we searching for?” Virgilius asked for the group.

“We search for a young girl, she is slight in stature, light haired, with green eyes. I want all who fit that description rounded up and taken under guard to Xena.”

“You must be putting us on. Is this a joke?” Adamis crossed his arms over his chest while letting out a huff of indignation.

“This is no joke, we must fulfill this task to perfection, or the Empress will cause heads to roll.”

The various commanders of the army straightened their bearing now more serious. The second was not prone to exaggeration.

“Virgilius, your men being the most rested will conduct the building to building search. I want all 50,000 combing every single structure in this city.

“Siri, I want your Amazon's on horseback in full regalia, a show of force to back up Virgilius' foot soldiers.

“Meleager, the light of day is waning, Get torches ready for use by the troops. Your men, having just arrived will stand in reserve along the outside of the city wall to catch anyone who manages to get past the inner ring of soldiers.

“Adamis, your men will search the outlying villages.”

“Mercer, have your scouts out ahead of Adamis' men, make sure no ambush is in the offing as we are in unfriendly territory, many still have loyalties to Rome .

“ Menticles, your men will search the docks and ships moored within.” Sevastian pointed toward the harbor, “Gods above man! Upon your life do not let any ship leave this harbor until the search is completed!”


Silence from the commanders.



The damp scrap of linen within his hand wiped the large black boot. He made sure the surface was absolutely clean of any clinging dirt, or debris.

The action was repeated with the other boot while the first was set to dry.

Next to him sat a small can filled with a mix of lanolin, carnauba wax and black carbon pigment. Dipping the pig bristles of a small round brush into the mixture; he meticulously worked the polish into the leather of the boot moving in a circular pattern as Xena had taught. As before, he set one boot aside, to do the same with the other.

Picking up a rectangular horse hair brush, he used it to buff the excess polish from the boot. Then with a clean square of cloth in hand, he began to gloss the boots to a brilliant shine. When finished, he carefully cleaned then polished the silver X that would adorn the boot clasp.

Kodi found that if he put all his concentration into the task, he could almost ignore the terror going on outside.


“Dipping hands into the bowl, Sevastian splashed the warmed water onto his face, taking the cake of soap held up to him, he scrubbed dutifully before placing it the soap back into the hand of the slave. Cupping his hands into the water again, he rinsed the soap off his face.

“This night is unending.” he complained while taking hold of the linen offered by the slave.

Within the apartments, screams could be heard as girls were wrenched from their families. Outside, soldiers stood guard, the entire city locked down; the darkened streets empty save for the troops.

Another gaggle of peasant girls were shoved out into the street, the men inside the apartment completing their search. Above, families leaned out of window openings, wailing at the loss of their daughters. The cries were constant, pleas, questions, and accusations being yelled by a multitude of voices.

Grabbing a torch from a soldier, Sevastian stepped to the terrified girls, who immediately backed away only to be held fast by the men surrounding them.

Holding the torch close, he inspected the first.

She had brown eyes.


“Lord Commander?”

The large bearded man stepped forward quickly.

“What color are her eyes?” Sevastian voiced inner frustration.

The giant ex-warlord leaned over, causing the girl to whimper in fright.

“They are brown, Lord Commander.”

“Correct, what color are we searching for?”

“Green eyes, Lord Commander.”

“Correct again!”

“It is the dark of night, my men have trouble seeing.” Virgilius defended hotly.

“No excuses! Results!” Sevastian shouted. “Do I need to pile furnishings from these apartments into the streets and light bonfires for your men to see?”

“No, Lord Commander.”

“I want the task done right, Virgilius! If I need to light fires, I will do so and cut off that long damned beard of yours to use as tinder to get them started!”

Siri, standing close, had never seen Sevastian so irate, apparently neither had Virgilius. Though the man was easily twice Sevastain's size, he cowered back while muttering profuse apologies.

“Lord Commander.”

“Yes?” Sevastain stated crisp as he turned to her.

“A large crowd of townsfolk are gathering at the proconsul's residence, Solari worries her guard may be overwhelmed.”

“The perimeters were set up so as not to allow such a thing to happen, another failure.” Sevastian sighed, tamping down his anger as it did no good in the present situation.

“Move your warriors to back up the guard. Until the last, use non-lethal means to assert control. I don't want people harmed if we can help it.”

Yes, Lord--”

“Hold on.” Sevastain touched her arm gently, giving her pause. “Alistair!”

“Lord Commander?” the Old Guard Captain rode forward. Sevastian looked up at the man as he spoke. “I want your guard, to form a perimeter behind the Amazons guarding the proconsul's residence, draw swords, and make it clear to the mob that if they manage to get past the Amazons, they will be killed.”

“If...” Siri said in annoyance.

“Just a backup,” Sevastain placated.

“Go, both.”

As Siri and Alistair departed, Sevastian stepped forward and taking torch in hand inspected another frightened group of peasant girls.

Moments later, he felt a presence near. Turning quick, he looked up expectantly.

“A problem?” he asked Siri.

“I will stay here.” She said in a tone which was soft yet firm.

“I told you to go to the Palace of the Proconsul.”

“I have sent word; Solari will take charge of the Amazons for the duration.”

Sevastian's anger was up at her disobeying his order. “I told you--”

“You told me to move my – warriors - to back up the guard. You did not tell me to go.”

Sevastain stood in silent disbelief, only able to shake his head.

Siri remained silent as she gazed down at him.

“I shall have to be more precise in my orders. Very well, come with me, I want to search the field of the condemned, just in case.”

“You don't think the girl… the crosses?” Siri felt such inward horror that she could scarcely finish the thought.

“That's what we go to find out, I would not think she'd be up there with the former town leadership and other such riff-raff, but we must make sure.”

“Virgilius!” Sevastian yelled. “Continue the search and be diligent!”

“Yes, Lord Commander!”

“Despite your parsing of my order, I am glad to have you near.” He said low. The honesty of his words caused Siri's expression to soften as she moved to follow him.


Slipping out of her indigo silk robe Xena dove gracefully into the cold waters of the frigidarim.

Roman's may be dogs... but they do know how to enjoy life. The former proconsul was proof of that, residence he once occupied had running water and his own private bath house.

After some time she stepped up from the huge pool, allowing the water to skirt off her tall frame for a moment before entering the tepidarium with its pool of warmed water Walking to the metal tray positioned over a fire, she grabbed a ladle of pure silver, dipping then repeatedly pouring water over the stones piled atop it to produce clouds of steam.

Next a bit of olive oil scented with juniper was poured into one elegant hand; slowly she rubbed the mixture over her skin. Starting with her feet, she then worked upward, pausing only to pour more into her hands when needed. Grasping the strigil, the curved metal scrapper, Xena cleaned her skin.

Taking a soft bit of smegma, in hand, she swished the soap though the warm water, building up mountains of bubbles smelling of lavender. With a sigh, she settled in closing her eyes for a time enjoying the luxury of it all.

Sitting up slightly, she got down to the business of bathing, running a cloth made of course muslin over tanned skin.

“Get in here boy.”

The kid stepped into the bath, averting his eyes, even with the steam filling the room, she could see his blush. Kodi and Sevastian were different in countless ways, but alike in their innocence concerning women.

He paused to place a towel of Egyptian cotton over the press, along with a pair of dark black woolen trousers, having decided to let the humidity in the room relax any wrinkles left after the ironing he had given them. Once he had made the mistake of letting the iron sit near the fire for too long before using it. Xena had been most displeased with having a scorch mark left on one of her tunics.

With eyes cast downward, he stood near.

“Wash my hair.”

This was new, but he did as bid, kneeling behind; he waited a moment for her to dip beneath the water. Once she resurfaced, he worked the soap into lather with his hands, before running fingers though the stands of her black tresses. Sifting her dark locks aside, Kodi let out a small gasp at seeing the plumed helmet and bloody spear burned into the nape of Xena's neck, the mark of Ares.

“My boots?”

“Polished to perfection, Xena.”

“My leathers?

“The same.”



“Good, there is a bit of a chill in the air. I will wear the dark crimson cloak of silk. You know, the one lined with black wolf fur?

“I'll have it ready for you.” he replied She leaned forward a bit and gestured to the boy. He figured out what she wanted, clean warm water was gently poured over her hair, to rinse all remaining traces of soap away.

With a flick of her hand, she dismissed him. Gathering her woolen trousers, he disappeared into the clouds of steam.

Leaning back and closing her eyes, Xena paused a moment to enjoy the warmth of the water. The lavender sent was most relaxing. She lazily debated walking to the Caldarium, the room closest to the furnaces.

The corners of her dark lips slowly tipped down into a scowl as ears picked up on the cries wafting in from outside the chamber, cries which marred her otherwise peaceful bath.

The thought struck her... Was she preening in hopes of being suitable in appearance for Gabrielle?


“Line them up, two rows.”

The Amazon guard did just that. 50 girls, fair-haired, slight of stature, green eyed, Sevastian now wished he had gotten a better glimpse of Gabrielle from the docks of Pireaus.

Despite reassurances from the Amazons the girls whimpered in fright. Sevastian figured having women near, rather than uncouth men would help calm the girls... No such luck, Amazons were intimidating, not suited for nursemaids. He did note that their tone of voice had softened as they spoke to these girls, a plus.

The surroundings hadn't helped either. The courtyard of the proconsul's residence was a walled off space with high imposing iron strapped gates. Beyond the walls, the townsfolk had gathered, their cries floating over the parapet lined with soldiers. As the goddess Nyx reined, torches jammed into sconces cut thought the darkness, casting a flickering glow across the space.

Shouts rang out, all coming to attention as the Empress appeared in the main entranceway.

The peasants within the courtyard began to weep at the sight of what was striding towards them.

Xena's attention was solidly on the line up. Walking forward, her blood-red cloak billowed out as it caught the breeze. The edges were trimmed in white, black piping to either side of the white strip, inlaid on the white was the meandros, a decorative border made from a single line, shaped into a continuous motif. The flowing silk of her cloak draped all the way down to the heels of her boots. Black trousers were tucked into those knee high black boots, around her waist a tooled back belt, with silver studs lining the edge, and silver buckle shaped in the form of a rising phoenix overlaid by the “X” of the name That “X” was embossed and repeated in the leather of the belt. The black leather top she wore, tied in the front with black laces. To either side of her torso, the leather pieces had been tanned blood red and ran from hip to under her arms. In the center a strip of red, an attachment point for the black laces running through silver eyelets. On one hip, was her ever present chakram, on the other, her sheathed sword was attached.

“Station, Lord Commander.” Sevastain thought to politely request a torch from the Amazon nearest, and then moved to be at Xena's side at the end of the lineup.

“Report.” she ordered, her gaze never leaving the girl she towered over by many a span.

“Majesty, we have searched the town thoroughly, as well as the docks and outlying regions. Based on the description given, these here,” he gestured briefly to the lineup, “are ready for your inspection.”

Her hand clasped his, pulling the torch nearer to the first of the peasants.

“Quit crying girl!” Xena growled in annoyance; while her gauntleted hand left Sevastian's to roughly grab the girl's chin. “No one has harmed you.”

The girl cried all the more.

“Not her.”

At the pronouncement by Xena, Sevastian motioned and one of the Amazon's stepped forward, spiriting the girl away and out of the gates of the courtyard.

A cry of relief went up from the crowd beyond, no doubt questions being asked of the girl to learn of her ordeal.


Xena continued walking, he following. Down the line they moved.


One by one the girls were dismissed, cries of joy erupting outside from the crowd as each appeared outside the gates of the compound.

“This is all of them?” Sevastian swallowed hard as an irate Xena whirled about, to face him.

“Yes, Majesty.”

“You searched every cubby, every corner?”

“All searched, Majesty.”

Her hand suddenly slapped against her thigh in vexation, spooking him.

“Dismiss the troops, commend them on their work, let them sleep tomorrow, we march the day after.” Before he could respond, she departed, walking briskly to the grand entranceway, disappearing within.

Sevastian let out a sigh. “Virgilius!”

The burly man shuffled over.

“Send word to call the troops back to the barracks, and open the port once more. Tell the men the Empress is pleased with the work done this night. Let em' sleep in tomorrow morn. Oh, and ah, leave a small guard in the streets in case these peasants harbor the desire to create mischief.”

“As you command.”



“I must apologize to you for my foul disposition this night.”

“None necessary, your temper is understandable given the circumstances.”

“Very charitable of you to say that, to your duties, we shall speak again in the morrow.”

Sevastian, placed his hands on hips, dipping his head he regarded his boots momentarily, his mind lost in thought.


He turned, nearly running into her.

“Stop that!” he barked.

“Stop what?” she asked innocently.

“How do you constantly manage to get behind me without...never mind!”

Siri smiled again, twice in the same night, a record.

“Have your Amazons disperse the crowd outside,” Sevastian continued “and then--”

“Already done.” she cut in.

“Go get some sleep; you've all more than earned it. Pass the Empress' thanks on to your warriors for their excellent work this night, won't you?”

“I will.”

Stepping forward several paces, Sevastian stopped and turned. “Why are you following me?”

“To see you safely to the residence commandeered for you.”

“I think I can find my way.” annoyance shone in his voice.

“Then my skills in direction will not be required.” she replied, with a firm undertone, making it clear she would follow him.

“I am armed and proficient in the use of a blade.” he snipped, while walking forward.

“Of that I have no doubt, Lord Commander. Is my company so terrible that you would rather walk alone?”

“I...” Sevastain closed his mouth, with an audible click of teeth.

Siri smiled smug behind him, three times now she had smiled, a new record was set.

“Have it your way.” he muttered in defeat.

“Someone has to make sure you eat and not fall asleep in your chair whilst taking off your armor.” She nettled.

“You know, I did manage to survive before we met.”

“The gods surely were looking out for you.”

Those last words being uttered by Siri as the two walked through the courtyard gate. As they passed, the Amazon guard to either side braced at attention.

“They fight like married elders.” Antandre spoke with mirth after the two had passed.

“Hush it!” her compatriot Clete, urged from the other side of the gate while peeking nervously to see if the two commanders had heard what Antandre said.


Her cloak was caught by Kodi as she tossed it aside.

“Wine, be quick about it.”

“Yes, Xena.” he scampered off as she sat behind the desk near the grand fireplace.

“Moments later he returned, serving her with trained elegance.”

“That will be all.”

He retreated from the room, leaving her alone to stare absently at the empty chair opposite.

“Gabrielle...” The name now voiced, was loud in the silence of the chamber.

After a long draught from the silver chalice, Xena took quill in hand, marking the parchment precisely. A few drops of wax and the impression of her signet ring and the document became official.

A writ of execution was thus created for this worthless Perdicus.

For a moment she thought... taking another sip of wine. It was time to change tact, if one avenue of attack fails, another can be opened.

Drawing out more parchment, she began writing another in what would become a series of missives to be copied and posted throughout her Empire.

Bounty hunters would need to be enlisted to find Gabrielle.

Chapter 16

Within the men groaned as they pressed their hands against wood, straining mightily to get the huge bronze wheels turning. The air within was fowl, 70 brawny heavily sweating men, working to push against the timber frame. Finally, the wheels, two on each corner, began to move, the huge siege engine rumbling slowly toward the wall. In the higher levels of the wooden tower, Roman troops awaited the moment they would spring into action. They would be brought near the stone walls, a wooden drawbridge would be lowered, and they would rush across and onto the top of the wall protecting Carthage .

The tower halted, those inside, tensed as the drawbridge fell. Arrows loosed by the men atop the walls struck home, wiping out the Romans in the first ranks to charge. Not enough to stop Roman torches from falling down to land amongst the wooden supports of the wall. While most were snuffed out by the defenders, some tumbled downward into the mix of crossbeams to set the dry wood alight.

“Sulla, get those other towers to the wall, now!” Caesar commanded, his voice ringing out over the tumult of battle. For a seven day, both day and night, his men had attacked; trying to gain control of the walls, the Carthaginians, thought weakened continued to fight valiantly. Based upon intelligence received from those attacking the wall, he had changed tact; his men would use an old weapon to bring down the walls…Fire. Like many growing cities, Carthage had outpaced its old wall and needed to build new. However, too much economizing had been done on the new fortifications. The walls were thinner, and buttressed with wood rather than stone.

Julius smiled as the torches were flung from the towers. Fire would destroy these ramparts if his men could set them alight. If the supports behind the stone could be destroyed, it would be a simple matter to battering them down.

“Caesar!” Crassus rode up, clearly something had gone awry. “A relief force has been spotted, it approaches our lines!”

“What does this force consist of?” Julius was calm in asking the question as a commander must always keep a level head.

“Cavalry by the hundreds, undoubtedly, this was planned to occur when we were fully occupied breeching the walls.

“Send orders to each of our readouts, along the line. I want half the men in each to mount up, and follow me in an attack on the relief force.”

“Caesar that will seriously weaken our line, the redoubts will only be at quarter strength!”

“You and Sulla will have to make do, shift men where needed. The force approaching must be destroyed, I will see to that. Julius leaned forward, grasping Crassus' arm with force to make his point. “I want the attack on the walls to continue.”

“I understand.”

Julius rode, reveling in the cheers from the troops as he traveled to each fort to the next, gathering up his cavalry from each. Down from the ridge the enemy rode, Caesar spurred his steed Bucephalus forward. His mount being named after a famous horse owned by a famous Greek. Like Alexander the Great, he would ride forth, to conquer his empire.

“The city gates are opening!”

The cry echoed down the Roman lines as Carthaginian soldiers rushed out. In the trenches, the Roman captains moved troops with trained proficiency. From the ditches, pilum were thrown at the approaching enemy while from the wooden towers, arrows flew, to cut men down.

“They are being slowed by the wooden stakes in front of our trenches.” Sulla stated the obvious as he sat upon his steed. “What ploy is this, why do they rush out to attack?”

“Simple.” Crassus pointed. “See how they try to fill in our trenches? They are attempting to break the siege, by breeching our line knowing our troop levels have been diminished by the cavalry attack.”

“I will see that they fail!” Sulla spurred his mount, racing forward to urge the men on.

Crassus instead allowed his horse to mosey forward to the nearest wooden tower. Dismounting, he strode to the ladder to climb up. Once within, he had a perfect view of the unfolding battle. In the distance, he could see the dust fly from the horses; Caesar's cavalry was fully engaged with the enemy. The Carthaginians were losing, being slaughtered by the hundreds, but they were dragging many a Roman with them on to judgment by Pluto.

“They attack the southwest perimeter.” Crassus looked to the two men sharing the space with him. “You.” he pointed directly at the nearest. “Run to Flavius, tell him to shift his men to cover the gap in our line. With a brief nod, the captain clambered down the ladder and was off.

“Vinicius...” Crassus stepped to the man free to speak now that they were alone, “I hear you have no love for Sulla.”

“I do not.”

“It is my understanding; he gave Caesar a very poor report on you, ruining your chances to be a General, ensuring you would remain at the rank of Legates.”

“He did so, to advance himself, while holding me back from my true destiny to lead.”

“Ah, but now you have a chance to be promoted once more.” Crassus stated seductively, his arms moved up, hands grasping the man's shoulders, turning him in the direction of Sulla. “Take your bow, fire the arrow true, and your enemy will be no more.”

“Yes.” Vinicius eyes narrowed, the spark of revenge now lit within.

“In the heat of battle, no one will know,” added Crassus.

It took no more prodding; Vinicius grabbed the bow and seating an arrow, let it fly.

Sulla fell, the arrow having struck him squarely through the side of his neck.

Next Vinicius fell, Crassus' dagger slicing his throat open.

“You are nothing more than a useful idiot, my friend. I do thank you for using your great skill in archery to rid me of my rival.”

Vinicius stilled, the God Orcus taking hold of his soul in death

Crassus, left him, retreating from the tower, to climb back on his horse to direct the battle raging round the city walls.


The Amazon captains looked on with dubious expressions.

“It is called a Haladie.” All watched as the Empress leisurely turned in a circle, her right hand on the grip in in the center of the double bladed weapon. Slowly, then with ever quickening stokes, Xena moved the blade, slashing, then thrusting forward then back. As always, her movements were graceful, warrior and weapon moving as one.

“Empress,” Eurybe dared speak. “The weapon is impressive, but is not a sword better in single combat?” The woman pointed to the weapon in Xena's hand. Those blades are only slightly longer than an extended hand, a sword allows for more distance when engaging an enemy.

“Not always so, the wielder of a sword must have room to maneuver the weapon,” Replied Xena, “Watch.”

“Adamis, station!”

The commander approached, dressed in full leathers and armor. Stopping he bowed before the Empress.

“On your guard Adamis,” ordered Xena.

Swallowing hard, he tried unsuccessfully to hide his fear while drawing his sword. He knew Xena was known to use sparring to kill those she had held in the balance and found wanting.

Before he could think further, the curved edge of the Haladie was arching toward him. Shifting his blade, Adamis slashed, only to have the motion of the steel edge halted as it caught on the hand guard of the Haladie. A punch to the face delivered by Xena rocked him. He staggered back upon his heel.

“C'mon Adamis,” Xena taunted, one hand motioning for him to step forward again.

Her smile chafed his ego.

Adamis' slashed his blade downward with considerable force.

Her boot landed, pinning his sword to the ground, while she deftly placed the curved edge of the Haladie against his neck.

He ceased all movement.

“As…. the Gallic peoples say when sparring…” Adamis attempted to calm his breathing, daring not move while that blade was near. “Touché, Empress.”

“Indeed.” Xena smiled feral before lowering the blade to turn back toward the silent Amazons.

“A sword, like any weapon has strengths and weaknesses. The key with a Haladie, is to position yourself inside your opponent's defenses,” She instructed. “In truth, the weapon you choose matters little. The greatest weapon you possess is not the one in hand, but instead your mind. Use it. Study your opponent, watch his movements, and then anticipate what he will do next. Act, don't react in a fight.”

“Station, Achira.”

From within the ranks of the strapping warriors came a woman so trifling in appearance that many of the Greek Amazon's scoffed.

“It so happens, we are fortunate to have an Amazon who hails from India . Achira is most deadly with the Haladie, she will instruct you in its use, learn well from her.”

“Her?” the word said from many in the group in a most condescending fashion. What irked Xena more was that laughter followed. She knew such laughter wouldn't faze Achria, the warrior was confident in her capabilities. No, what displeased Xena was the haughty pride behind it.

“Siri, Station!”


“These here, fit for promotion?” Sevastian looked over the parchments in front of him.

“Most fit, Lord Commander.” Talmadeus responded.

The man who once captured his brother, and blackmailed Sevastian into fighting for him, now was tasked commanding the 2 nd army group and with ensuring executive operations in Xena's army smoothly. His skills in spotting potential in men were now used select candidates for position.

“I'll sign off on these, Talmadeus based on your recommendation, but the Empress will desire to meet with these men, wishing to judge their character as well.”


Sevastain took quill in hand, placing his signature on the parchment. He next dribbled a bit of wax on the parchment; with his signet ring he then impressed his seal, the evil mark of the rising phoenix, to authenticate the document.

He addressed Meleager without looking up from the parchment.

“How goes it with our supply lines?”

“Better than expected, The Empress' demand that we pay fair rates for grain and other commodities has fostered goodwill amongst the farming class, they are lining up to give us needed supplies. We have no need to confiscate goods. Paying them in Greek silver also pleases them, seems the Persians paid in parchment notes.

“Parchment notes?” Sevastian looked up confused.

“It's a note with written denomination on it. The holder can redeem it to pay for goods.

“People are accepting parchment as payment?” asked a confused Sevastian as Meleager slipped one of the rectangular notes in front of him. Looking down he, became all the more vexed being unable to read the odd symbols of the Persian language on the colorfully inked note.

“Arabic numerals,” He muttered, finger tapping the parchment.

“Noticed that did you?” Meleager chuckled. Xena had to teach me how they work, as before I only understood Greek or Roman numerals. Got a couple of translators telling me the language. Zero is a very difficult concept by the by.”

“A very new concept zero. These people took these?” He held up the note, “Parchment over gold or silver?”

“Well, it was that or have their grain seized and get nothing.”

“Makes sense in that light,” Sevastian admitted. “Because accepting payment for anything with worthless parchment is pure folly. He scoffed, “Ink on parchment being passed like gold or silver, an absurd illusion, in place of real money.”

Meleager leaned in. “Xena ordered me to pay silver in return for these notes, wanted me to come tell you, said you'd know why.”

At first Sevastian was surprised at the news, but soon realized what was going on. “Another way to build goodwill, these peasants will support us against the Persians.”

“We should just take the grain.” Talmadeus spoke, “Instead of draining the Greek treasury to buy it.”

“No, the Empress comes not to just conquer, but to create an empire. We need the trust of these people.” Sevastian countered, believing he understood her plan.

“Any other business before I take my leave? I will be making my daily report to the Empress in a few candle marks.”

“Cecrops departed with the Roman Pompey who will kindly ferry him back to Olynthus . He is eager to resume supervision of ship construction.” Meleager shifted slightly to lean against the desk.

“How many ships have we got?”

“18 at last count.”

Sevastian slumped against the back of the chair he sat upon. “Just 18,” He said dejectedly.

“Shipbuilding takes time.” Talmadeus advised. “ Athens wasn't built in a day, the same holds true of the Greek fleet.”

“We've been slowed by the Empress' insistence we use hard woods like, Ash, Beech, and Oak instead of soft Pine or Cypress .” Meleager added.

“We need ships, the further we go into Asia , the longer our lines of supply stretch. Merchant ships can ferry the needed supplies, but we need warships to protect them. Somehow we must speed construction.” Sevastian sighed. “The Empress won't be happy at the news.”

“If a man does his best what else is there?”

“All true Talmadeus. Like all of us, they do the best they can with what they have.” Sevastain got his feet under him and stood. “Be sure to pass the word, we march the final leg to the ruins Nineveh tomorrow. All commanders should have their men ready to march before the first rays of Helios light the sky.”

“Lord Commander.”

“Yes, Talmadeus?”

“I would be remiss if I did not mention the talk rolling though the army, talk which is quite contemptuous. Some Commanders, and even lowly foot soldiers say openly, that their time should not be wasted looking for one worthless girl.”

“You tell them, their time will be used in any manner Xena requires. As for the girl, it is enough for them to know that the Empress has good reason for the search.”

“But...” Talmadeus began in a firm tone before seeing Sevastian's stern expression.

“Continue your point.”

“But to offer anyone who finds the girl their weight in gold well, you must admit Lord Commander, such an outlandish reward causes talk.” Talmadeus waved the bill in his hand while making his point.

The terms of the reward were posted in Greek, Latin, Persian, and even Hieroglyphics. Explicitly stated was that the girl must not be harmed. Below the wording on the bill was the face of a girl, front and side drawn in the Empress' own hand. Beneath that was simply written… Gabrielle and a description of the slave's features the list beginning with reddish blond hair. These bills had been copied by scribes and sent out with Mercers scouts to every conquered village and hamlet.

“Would you rather us go back to forcibly searching each and every village we enter?”

“No...” replied Talmadeus, “I would not. But to--”

“The Empress has her reasons for wanting the girl found, we shall leave it at that. If any man persists in spreading such disloyal talk, stronger measures will be used to quiet their tongue. I will start with extra duties, a deduction in pay, demotion. If needed, we will move on to flogging or… crucifixion.”

In the silence which followed Sevastian's casually placed one hand on his sword hilt “Let it be known to all, that the Empress will not tolerate her orders being questioned by any member of this army high or low.

Both men dipped their heads as the second passed, departing from the tent.

“He is loyal; he'd follow Xena to Tartarus and back.” Talmadeus looked to Meleager who nodded agreement. “But…” Talamadeus paused to ensure he had Meleager's full attention, “a second in command must also be unafraid to challenge the supreme commander.

“What are you getting at?”

“There is loyalty and there is sense, Meleager. Xena can make mistakes. A second in command should not let loyalty blind him from pointing out alternatives. By all accounts, Xerxes has close to 400,000 men, a formidable force, while we, even with the German recruits added to our ranks number only some 240,000 in comparison. Perhaps Xena should focus on the battle at hand and not the search for some slave girl.

Meleager poured himself a bit of lukewarm tea. “If he had doubts Talamadeus, Sevastian would mention them.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Meleager answered.

“I do not share your belief.”

“Then we have a difference of opinion, perhaps you should take the issue up with Xena, see what her answer is? It would be a wiser course to take than you continuing to spread dissenting talk.”

Talmadeus stood for some moments, glaring at Meleager his hopes dashed that the man would ally within him on the issue. “Very well, I see my argument has failed to dissuade you.”

Talmadeus walked from of the tent.


“Cecrops you are the greatest of sailors, without your help, I doubt our foray in Alexandria would have turned out the way it did.” Pompey stood next to him as he delivered the praise. Both men leaned against the rail, looking out across the beautiful water, the coast of Greece rising up beyond.

“I am glad events played out the way they did, but now I look forward to being on dry land again.”

“I would have thought that a man trapped on the seas for 300 years would never wish to return to the waters again.” Pompeius' words caused Cecrops to laugh, his full throated hearty laugh, which the Roman had come to enjoy hearing.

“Xena can be quite persuasive.”

“Oh, I know!” Pompey said emphatic while shifting his stance. She is quite versed in using the carrot or the stick.”

“Carrot or Stick?” Cecrops asked while looking down at the General.

“Yes, an old Roman expression from a fable involving a cart drover who couldn't get his mule to budge. First he used the stick, or in his case a whip to no avail, but when he dangled a carrot in front of the mule the animal gladly pulled the cart in its attempt to get the carrot. Xena offers rewards or punishment to induce the behavior she wishes.”

“I see.” Cecrops returned his gaze to the water.

“Which did she use on you my friend?”

“I would have to say the carrot, when her beautiful blue eyes look pleadingly into yours, it is difficult to decline. Such is the power of her will.”

“Indeed, I must say she has used both on me, my friend, in one hand the promise of holding sway in Rome again, in the other, threat of death for not acceding to her wishes.

Cecrops nodded, he has been present when Xena had used the… pinch... to almost end the life of the Roman.

“But now, thanks to Xena, I am on my way back to Rome , something I had not thought possible.”

“But what of Caesar, Pompey, certainly he will move to stop you.”

“Yes, but he is tied down in Africa, far from the shores of Italia, that gives me time to build my army and get the support of the Roman people and Senate.” Pompey turned, leaning his back against the ship rail, the two men now facing opposite directions. Silently, Pompey gestured and sailors dropped the ropes they were working to slide a pace closer, then a pace closer still.

“You see, the key is the remains of the Roman fleet, which is Caesar's means of resupply when he moves his army into the desert wastes. I plan to use my ships, and those which remain in Sicily to blockade Caesar, to deprive him of supply. He and his army will starve.”

“He may just load his army onto those ships and land on the shores of Italia. Have you thought of that possibility?”

“Of course!” Pompey huffed, “I may be old, but I am not senile... yet!”

“Though I may not look it, I do have an age advantage on you Pompey, as you have said, some three hundred years.”

Both men laughed.

“No, Caesar cannot lose face Cecrops, he will attack Xena in Africa , because he must. You see, if Xena defeats Xerxes, and takes his empire as well as Egypt , she would hold the riches of the east in the palm of her hand. That wealth, would make her unstoppable, Caesar will recognize this. There is also pride involved, he cannot spill Roman blood capturing Carthage , then up and leave it to Xena while he turns tail to run back to Rome .

“Good reasons, for thinking he will attack her, it is good you are allied with Xena then.”

“Yes, it has worked well for both of us, I get my revenge by taking Rome , she gets to destroy Caesar, but lately I can't help thinking about what would come next.

“You mean after she defeats Caesar, by gods I hope peace will follow!”

“Oh, I do as well Cecrops,” Pompey said earnestly, “at heart I am a man of peace, no, the question is who will rule after. Will it be Greece or Rome ?”

“It shall be Rome !” Those words, spoken by Pompey were the signal to the assassins.

Cecrops cried out in pain as a dagger was thrust into his back, the first followed by others...

Dropping to his knees, he looked up in shock at Pompeius.

“ Rome …will…fall.” He gasped before tumbling forward, succumbing to his many wounds.

All the while Pompeius eyed the dying man with pity.

“Pardon me, bleeding corpse, you are the ruins of the greatest sailor that ever lived. I wish,” Pompey hesitated working to keep his voice steady… “Oh how I wish, it had not been necessary to kill you, but ambition must be satisfied. I could not have the most experienced sailor in the world leading Xena's fleet against Rome . I must rule Rome and Rome must rule the world.”

“Throw his remains overboard,” Pompeius commanded, “an offering from me to Neptune .”


Across the field, Onagers, the Roman designed catapults, fired as the first light of dawn shone. The walls of Carthage shuddered mightily under the impact of the boulders.

“That's it Crassus, keep them firing at the same spot.” Caesar instructed. “We either bash the wall down, or the rocks lying about will create ramps our men can climb to top the wall.”

Julius was pleased that his cavalry had turned back the Carthaginian relief force. Such actions on his part would only serve to enhance his image back in Rome . However, Crassus also triumphed; the attack from the city, meant to break the siege had been turned back. Caesar disliked sharing the glory of victory, if it continued; Crassus could become a rival for the hearts of the people.

“Where are my Pilium throwers?” Julius demanded, looking about expectantly as he sat upon his mount.

“Lining up now Caesar,” Replied Crassus.

“Ah, good. You told them?”

“Yes, great Caesar. They will aim for the tops of the ramparts, forcing the defenders to seek cover while our men move the battering ram into position.

“One way or the other, we will breech the wall.”

For some long moments, Julius was silent, eyes scanning the carnage of the battlefield. Several of the wooden bulwarks surrounding the camps of his reserve troops had been scorched by fiery arrows, many of the wooden siege towers, currently sat engulfed in flame. Wounded men were being carried back to makeshift healer's tents. Some would lose an arm or a leg; others would lose their life due to the wounds inflicted upon them. One, who had lost his life, Sulla, had been given a pyre even as the battle raged; he like the rest of the dead would have to wait for honors forthcoming in Rome in remembrance of their sacrifice.

“I remind you Caesar, the gate is wood, encased by iron, and this will not be easy.”

“It never is easy Crassus, but we must continue to press the enemy on multiple fronts, give him no respite; we have to wear them down.” Julius spoke the last words slowly, placing emphasis on each.

“Sieging is a messy business.” Julius stood in the saddle, his sword raised, tip pointed at the gates of Carthage .

“Renew the attack!”

A cheer rose from the men in the lines as the wheeled battering ram began to move. The framed structure had a peaked roof; the wood roof on top was layered by shields, some measure of protection from the weapons of the defenders on the wall above. Within a heavy log was cradled, supported by iron chains wrapping underneath. The ends of the chain were attached to wood supports. Inside, 40 men strained to push the ram into position.

Upon the wall, defenders ducked down, as Roman Pilum flew. Those who moved too slowly were struck and fell to their deaths.

After what seemed like an eternity, the soldiers managed to get the ram set. As they did the Carthaginians unleashed burning sands. Within iron buckets, sand had been permeated with Greek fire overnight. A torch set to the mixture set it alight, and then the bucket was dumped over the wall. The fiery gains tended to sift through armor to burn the attacker and set wooden siege equipment alight.

“At the Ready!” the Roman commander shouted. Within the structure men threw their arms round the log.

“Heave-!” the battering ram was hauled back, the chains holding it straining under the shifting weight. “Ho!” With all their might, the men thrust the ram forward, the iron covered tip crashing into the gate, leaving a marked depression as it was withdrawn.



The ram slammed the gates once more.

“It appears to be having some effect.” Crassus stated while viewing the action through his looking glass.”

“Fortune may be smiling on us at last.” Caesar replied.

Chapter 17

A huff of annoyance caused him to stop…

Sevastian peered upward at a very irritated Siri, whose eyes shifted down to the bandage on her arm, a bandage he was gently removing.

“Hurts.” She rumbled low.

“Cuts do that.” He replied soft, while continuing to carefully remove the linen. The last part was always the worst, dried blood around the periphery of wound always caused the bandage to stick. “Here,” he murmured, “come sit.”

“What's the matter, can't you reach short stuff?” she stated with venom.

He ripped the bandage off causing her to yowl in pain.

“Oh, I'm sorry, did that hurt?” he asked with mock contriteness. In reality, he hated having to rip the bandage off like he did, but this was the best way to get the dressing free and the pain over quick.

Her glare down at him was damming.

“Here, Sevastain began in a conciliatory tone “come sit so I can see the wound better.” This time he noted she moved without adding another snide comment.

The two walked the short distance to the burning oil lamp, set near Sevastain's cot. He guided her to be seated upon the low bed, while he knelt by her side.

“I cannot believe I let myself get cut by that woman.” Siri groused. Sevastian looked on momentarily as she absentmindedly rubbed her face with one hand.

He frowned, not liking the fact that Siri had been hurt. Over the cycles since they had met he had developed some feelings for…

“Well,” Sevastian paused to clear the lump in his throat, “Achria is quite a warrior by all accounts.” He stated while gently daubing a square of fresh linen over the bleeding wound. “A deep cut, It's gonna need stitches, here put pressure on it.” As he said the words, Sevastian gently took hold her hand guiding it to the linen scrap over the wound.

It would never work between them, Siri an Amazon, and he… well… hardly anything one such as she would fawn over.

Standing, he moved to his ratty looking saddle bag and began to dig through its various compartments.

“I have been embarrassed in front of the other Amazon's” She bemoaned. “That's why I…” her voice trailed off.

“Why what?” Asked Sevastain as he walked back to again kneel at her side. She fell silent watching with a bit of confusion as he poured steaming water from a kettle into a bowl, after a few moments to let it cool slightly, he grabbed a cake of soap then carefully washed his hands in the liquid.

“Why I…um...” She tried again before falling silent,

“Would you pour a bit more over my hands to rinse the soap?” he asked looking up. She was lost a moment looking at his eyes, the way the light from the lamp was reflected in them.”

She jolted from such thoughts at seeing the look on his face. “Water?” he asked with a hint of a smile while motioning to the kettle sitting away from the brazier.

Sheepishly, Siri grabbed the kettle and, leaning over a bit, began to poor the warmed water within it over his hands.

For Sevastian, having her near was quite distracting.

“Thank you.” he fumbled. Pulling his hands away he dried them carefully.

She watched as he released the tiny clasps holding the top onto a little metal pot. “This is a gel made from the Aloe Vera plant and ground Nutmeg,” he explained, “It will help to hold down inflammation and numb the area in preparation for stitches.” He touched her hand, the one tattooed with crude looking bird, which held the bandage and gently moved it away. With deep concentration etched upon his features, Sevastian applied the gel before drawing out a needle made of bone, holding it above the flame of the oil lamp for some moments.

Siri marveled at how deliberate he was the care he took to do the job well. Amazon healers, in contrast, were not known for their gentle bedside manner. “You are embarrassed because you were beaten?” he asked gently, to take the edge off the question.

“No!” she spat, in resentment sitting up stark straight on the cot before slumping down in defeat. “Yes…” she said soft. “I was made to look the fool!” Siri griped while looking downward. “That's why I came to you for aid with the wound rather than face the other Amazons in shame.”

“Siri, there is no shame in—“

“An Amazon, especially a Commander of Amazons does not lose!” she stated crossly.

“Is that what you believe?” he asked while working to thread the needle, this was the part he hated most, the work was extremely fiddly.


“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”

“What does that mean?” she shouted with ire. “And I am not a worthless man!”

He looked up at her not attempting to conceal his amusement.

“Sorry…” she mumbled, you aren't completely worthless Lord Commander, I spoke out of turn.

Sevastian laughed, then looking up he laughed again seeing that she honestly didn't realize the snub contained within her words.

“What?” she asked in confusion.

“Siri, you cannot improve without challenges. He daubed the fresh blood seeping out from her wound. Learn from this experience, become a better warrior.

He shifted slightly, drawing nearer to her. “Now hold still, okay? I want to do a fine stitch to leave as small a scar as possible.”


“Were I you…” he pricked her beautiful skin with the needle, the action causing a minute flinch. “I would go to Achria ask her to teach me all she knows, and I would be sure to spar where the other Amazon's can watch.”

“So they can watch me loose and laugh at my expense.”

“No.” Sevastian took a bit of clean linen and daubed the wound to clear the excess blood. “So that they see that the greatest among them is willing to learn. They will understand Siri, after all aren't many of the newest Amazon inductees to this army learning to ride. “Every master—“

“Every mistress,” She corrected.

“Of course,” he said while rolling his eyes. “My point is every teacher was once a student.” He pricked her skin again, placing another neat stitch. “Remember, you and I, are called to service, push ego aside. The Empress wishes the Amazon's to learn this weapon, and you as their leader should set the example.”

“You saying I am being prideful?” she rumbled irate.

“We all can be prideful, I included, but the higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.”

Finishing the stitching, he used his teeth to cut the silk thread; Siri was quite impressed by the skill displayed in his work. “Just a moment more,” He said soft while standing. She watched as he rifled through the sack to grab another vial containing a yellow powder. “This is Turmeric, an Eastern spice which will help the wound heal more quickly.”

Taking a bit more cloth, he held it over the flame, scorching the material, turning it black. Setting that aside, he put a pinch of the Turmeric into a clay bowl, then added a few drops of water from the tea kettle. She watched as the mixture became a sort of yellow sludge, which he then rubbed gently atop her stitched wound. Finally he placed the blackened patch over the wound, and then wrapped her arm with fresh linen to hold all in place. “Okay,” he instructed, “keep it clean, change the bandage regularly. Come see me after a seven-day and I'll remove the stitches.”

She watched as Sevastian smiled, obviously thinking up something.

“Tell you what,” Sevastian took a bit more aloe in hand, then rubbed her scraped knee, before touching her banged up shoulder with the gel. “Learn from this Achria, and when she deems you proficient challenge me to a sparring match.”

“For what purpose?”

“So you can prove the value of the weapon by using it to best me in a fight, the Amazons will love seeing me fall to your skill.”

“A set fight?” She raised one eyebrow.

Sevastain's eyes widened as he looked up. “Oh, no! A fight I intend to win.”

“As do I.” Siri grinned, suddenly having found new motivation.

“There we have it.” He announced, gathering his materials.

She should take her leave; problem was, looking down at him kneeling so cutely beside the cot… She didn't want to.

“Lord Commander.”


“Oh! Pardon me! I hope I'm not interrupting anything?” By his voice alone Sevastain knew the kid was enjoying catching finding Siri and him together like this.

Sevastian groaned inwardly, “What is it Kodi?”

“The Empress calls you to station, Lord Commander.”

“Gods!” Sevastian stood quick. “I'm late for the daily report.”

“Well, you do have good reason in being late.” Kodi added cheekily. Siri glared at the kid, who, in return, sported a grin right back at her, looking like the cat that got the cream.

“Siri, I shall see you tonight at the War Council.” said Sevastain while racing to gather various square parchments together for his meeting with the Empress.

“Thank you for stitching my wound, Lord Commander.”

Kodi could not resist, it was too rich. “Brother do you give such personal attentions to all your Commanders?”

Sevastian exited the tent, more than a tad embarrassed.


Xena sat behind her desk, long legs crossed femininely as she leaned against the back of the chair. One of her black boots, gently and repeatedly kicked idly as she ruminated on the state of play.

It was not enough for her to simply run an army, to garrison troops in each new city and province conquered. The bureaucracy, the multitudes of bean counters, also had to expand with each gain in territory. Across her new holdings in Asia , she'd had the old leadership crucified. She understood the brutality of crucifixion all too well, but it was effective in persuading people to not lead revolts against her. Unlike the rulers she'd executed, the newly appointed leadership owed her at least a modicum of loyalty for giving them position.

She turned her attentions to another in the latest series of missives from Autolycus.

It appeared Cleopatra was dead, Egypt in ruin. Mentally, Xena shrugged, not concerned at all for the queen. If she was stupid enough to ally with Antonius, she deserved death. Besides, she was more concerned with the actions of the living as opposed to the dead and gone.

Reading further, she looked over the strengths and weaknesses of the Persian Army as revealed by her spy network. It further confirmed what the spy had told her, and what she had already suspected. While the Persians could field a massive army; those within it were poorly trained and lead by nobles who knew little of war, having inherited their positions.

Xerxes focused too much on what he termed, Vengeance Weapons, fancy bladed chariots, and lumbering war elephants.

There was an opportunity here....

If she could pull off something unexpected in her attack, it would confuse her poorly trained enemy and allow her to win the day.

Shifting the papers, she continued to read. The missive now in hand was from Hasdrubal, pleading for her help as his city was on the brink of the last. Carthage was faring badly against the Roman siege, the cavalry force intended to relieve the city, a force she had spent much gold arming, had a poor showing. Seems it was defeated by troops personally led by Caesar.

A setback...

Knowing Carthage would be under siege had accelerated her time line of attack, now that Carthage was near destruction, she would have to move even faster. After Carthage , Caesar could turn his army eastward intending to conquer a weakened Egypt before challenging her. She would have to beat him to Egypt .

Or would she?

There was one variable... Pompey. Would Caesar instead return to Rome ? She considered the question.

“You are late.”

“Pardon Empress, I am behind my time.”

Xena did not look up, nor did she command him to rise, instead she continued reading the parchment held in hand.

“Another reason I like you Sevastian, you don't waste my time with excuses.”

He felt it best to not speak.

“Get up.”

Sevastain stood, and waited, the interior of the tent hushed, save the sounds of the army surrounding it.


He looked to the papers in his hand for a moment.

“Empress the-“

“Xena.” She said without looking up while shifting in her chair to draw out quill and ink.

“Xena” he corrected, then began anew.

“The wave of dysentery which struck the army has abated.”

“Never should have started in the first place, pure stupidity for both Virgilius and Adamis to set up encampments down river from the rest of the army.” She grumbled while writing the missive, occasionally dipping quill in ink. She wrote to Hasdrubal, the hard truth, he and his people were on their own. She doubted the missive would even reach Carthage in time, or make it through the Roman lines, but the smidgen of honor that remained within her demanded she write her ally one last time. Actually, after a moment's reflection she began to hope Caesar would intercept her message; it would gall him knowing she had lent support to Carthage .

Carthage 's hate for Rome had served her purpose well; it had worn Caesar's army down and kept him preoccupied. She had done the same with all the lands under Roman rule. Greek silver was used to supply weaponry to aid their insurgency against Rome . But, all good things must come to an end. The rebels in Gaul , Britainia, and Hispania had been defeated by the Romans, like them, Hasdrubal had also reached the end of his usefulness.

Back to the earlier question. Would Caesar feel it necessary to return to Rome ?

If he did, her task would become easier, no Roman Legions standing in the way of her conquest. Pompey and Caesar locked in a second round of their civil war.

Or… perhaps they would be smart enough to join forces against her?

She chucked, no, those two would never partner, too much hatred between them.

Maybe it was time to use Dagnine, and Autolycus to goad Caesar into remaining in Africa ? A few timely notes from his... spies...would ensure Julius would forsake a chance at Pompey to face her.


Perhaps she wouldn't need to expend the effort as Caesar's manly pride would spur him to face her. A final battle between the two of them, Xena smiled at the thought, Julius always longed-for big victories against his enemies. Pompey or no, Caesar's ego would not allow him to pass up a chance to face her.

She decided it was just as well to have Autolycus send the missives, besides Dagnine had nothing better to do. Part of her wished she could be there to witness the look on Julius' face when he learned about Pompey landing in Italy .

Everything which had occurred thus far had gone according to her plan...

“The boiled root tea you prescribed did much to end the affliction.” Sevastian continued after some moments, along with instructing the men to boil their drinking water to rid it of the green grassy things.”


“Current strength of the army stands at 245,371 including auxiliary forces such as Meleagers engineer group and the troops from our new German allies. At present, 3900 are on sick call, the last of the dysentery cases. We have provision enough to last 6 fortnights; Meleager reports the farmers are most pleased by your order to pay fair rates for grain and other sundries needed by the army. We haven't needed to confiscate any goods, instead we find ourselves in the enviable position of having a steady stream of suppliers.”


She scattered a dusting of fine sand upon the parchment, to dry the ink. After a few moments, she carefully picked it up and tilted it, allowing the sand to flow into a silver container on her desk. Finally she dribbled wax from a nearby taper on the parchment, and then impressed her seal. The missive was complete. Just a few glyphs on parchment, along with the impression of her signet and Carthage 's fate was sealed.

“Cecrops has departed sailing back to Greece to continue supervision of warship construction.”

She looked up from her work. “Number of warships completed?”


“Not good enough, I must have more ships to prevent Rome from landing troops behind my lines.”

Inwardly, Sevastain berated himself; He'd never considered that possibility.

Drawing out more parchment, she began to write again, this time the missive was meant for the leadership of the communities surrounding Olynthus .

“I will order the villages and cities around Olynthus to send more drudges to assist.”

For a long span the silence within the tent returned as quill scratched on paper.

“What else?”

Sevastian hesitated, this bit of news could cause her temper to flair, but it was his job to report every detail concerning the army. There was no means to preface it so he simply dove in.

“There is much talk of time being wasted searching for a girl, when the focus should be on the eminent battle with the Persians.”

No immediate reaction, Xena finished writing her missive without looking up.

“Your opinion, Sevastain?” she asked without emotion, while opening a missive from Salmoneus and beginning to read. It was what she expected. Carthage fighting to the last, the Romans poised for victory, along with Salmoneus' incessant babble about his hopes for a handsome reward for service to her. She doubted any amount of compensation would satisfy the little pudge-balls expectations.

But within the missive was something of note. General Sulla had been killed, a pity. Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver, the greater the general, the more he contributes to maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter. Sulla, a poor general, demanded much slaughter. The more able Crassus had been promoted to Caesar's second in command.

“Such talk could ferment in the minds of the men.” Sevastian continued at last. “It could prove dangerous as the men may question your leadership.”

He jerked physically as her chair fell back she having bolted to her feet.

“How dare those scurrying rats tell me how I should carry on!” she roared while moving to loom over him. Her arm raised hand gesturing to the tent flap “I've been fighting since I was a small girl, long before many of them could even lift a sword!”

Sevastian found the mental image of Xena being a small girl ludicrously incongruous with the woman looming over him.

In the periphery of his vision he saw her hand clasp the hilt of the dagger in her belt. He swallowed hard, the tip of his tongue darting out momentary to lick suddenly parched lips.

His next words must be chosen carefully.

“Merciful Empress, you know I do as you bid. For innumerable reasons, I give you my full loyalty. I only inform you of the mood of the army.

“I will find the girl Sevastian.” Xena's voice dropped low in tone, causing the hairs on the nape of his neck to stand.

“I understand Empress; you have made your desire to find the girl clear...” His voice trailed off. “But, pursuing this goal...” He near whispered his voice failing him as she continued to skewer him with her cold silvery eyes.

“I will have her!” she hissed.

“It could mean the loss of loyalty to you by the army.”

“I've lost armies before.”

“The loss of the army could end your Empire.” he argued. “They are essential to your keeping hold of power. Empress, should you be toppled from the throne, Greece would again be thrown into civil strife. The Romans will--”

“I will have Gabrielle!” Xena's voice rose to a shout, “Even if it breaks the known world in two like an apple and flings the two halves into the void!”


She stepped away, her back to him. One of her arms moved up, fingers dragging through her dark hair. “She haunts me Sevastian! Night after night she fills my dreams. Day after day I long for her. I must find her! I don't understand why, but I must!

“Your will is my duty, she will be found.”

“I take comfort in your loyalty.” her hand clasped his shoulder for a moment and in that moment Xena looked very tired, very tired indeed.

“Lord Commander I want such talk quieted.” She ordered while moving back to her desk and picking up her toppled chair.

“I have stated that you would find such talk disloyal, that you would approve of certain measures to see that it is silenced.”

“Oh?” she sat her gaze upon him, one eyebrow quirking up.

“I threatened a litany of punishments to include the whip, even the specter of crucifixion.”

“You do well, Sevastian.

He dipped his head in fealty to her

“That reminds me, you bobbing your head like that, what about the new salute?” Sevastian watched as Xena shifted, crossing her legs behind her campaign desk, and then crossing her arms across her chest. Her look was smug. She believing he had completely forgotten.

“Kodi demonstrated one to me that he learned from his readings of Latin.”

Her expression almost caused Sevastian to smile. It was very difficult to surprise Xena.


The kid peered round the fabric separating Xena's work space from the rest of her new tent. The huge bivouac had been a gift from the Germanic leader Alaric. Meleager had half joked that it would take the whole of his corps to move it and set it up in the field.

She raised her hand crooking one finger at the kid, bidding him enter.

“Yes Xena?” he edged further into the space.

“Sevastian tells me you showed him a salute?”


Silence fell for long moments.

Xena leaned forward in her chair expectantly. “Well, would you mind showing it?”

“Oh! Um sure.” Kodi straightened up, realizing she hadn't seen it yet.

She and Sevastian watched as Kodi raised his right arm, bending it at the elbow while his hand clenched into a fist. The fist touched his right shoulder, and then the arm extended straight, horizontal to the ground, while he unclenched his fist. Now his palm faced down, fingers apart as they extended outward.

“That is a Roman salute.” she stated flat while Kodi let his arm fall limply back to his side.

“Yes.” both brothers said in unison.

“You expect to teach Greeks a Roman salute?” She asked pointedly while looking to Sevastian.

“There is nothing Rome can teach Greece , Empress.” Kodi replied.

“Well said, boy.... Well said.” she praised. “You will demonstrate it tonight at my war council.”

“I shall see you both then, dismissed.”

Xena leaned forward once more; grabbing the dagger upon the desk she used it to break the seal on a large bundle of missives and began to read words written by... Brutus.

She smiled most beautifully.... then let out a pained sigh. Truly there was no rest for the wicked...

“Your boot licker is right. Searching for the girl is a foolish diversion.”

What was left of her smile faded instantly as she looked up see Ares standing on the other side of her desk.

“Did you really think you could keep such a thing hidden from me Chosen ?”

Chapter 18

He took a sip. The wine within the chalice had a cream like texture that hit the center of his tongue like churned butter. Best of all it had a smooth finish. Draining the vessel, he set it on the silver tray held by a slave.

Trumpets blared over the field as he and other select senators emerged onto the large balcony overlooking the masses packed together in the stands. As the newly elected Princeps Senatus, or first member by precedence, the Honorable Brutus stood a pace forward of the rest. While the post carried enormous prestige, Brutus also was savvy enough to know why he was elected.


The Senate had been informed by missive that Carthage was near collapse, Caesar would have his victory. The Senators voted him into office so that he might use his power of deciding the agenda as well as the order and rules of the sessions to delay Caesar's appointment as dictator.

But… he could not delay forever.

The conspirators would eventually be forced to act. Could be sooner, or later, but at some point they would kill Julius Caesar to keep him from becoming a tyrant. For now appearances must be maintained, so Brutus had ordered the games he proclaimed as the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris in celebration of Caesars' forthcoming victory over Carthage.

If the Senate acted, killing Julius, the consequences of the deed caused Brutus much anxiety. How the citizens would react was an unknown. Caesar was popular; there might be riots in the streets, the populace might hunt down and kill the conspirators in vengeance for Caesar's death.

With that in mind he had written Xena in the name of the Senate, formally asking for her help against Caesar. If Xena defeated Caesar in the African wastes, the Senate would not have to bloody their hands, nor would the populace have reason to turn.

To aid her in the task, he had given her vast amounts of intelligence on the disposition of Caesar's army, every single report received from Julius.

If Xena succeeded in destroying Caesar all Rome would rise up, demanding vengeance. In the war that followed, Greece would be defeated, Xena crucified as an enemy of Rome . The Senate would retain its leadership of the Roman Government.

Least that's what Brutus hoped.

Raising his arm, he extended it giving the salute. Immediately the crowd fell silent as citizens within the venue returned it. As soon as his arm dropped the roar of the crowd returned once more. Being seated, Brutus watched along with the multitudes as the chariots began their review round the track. Across the vast, and still unfinished, complex the crowds in attendance moved to place last minute bets. One chariot team in particular caught Brutus' eye, being that it was pulled by four beautiful white stallions.


“Gabrielle It's all so exciting! We race in the great Circus Maximus itself! You dreamed of adventures sister, now we find ourselves in the mist of one.

Gabrielle beamed at Lilla's words. “A grand adventure indeed!”

“One I'm sure you will make into a story.” her sister teased gently.

The two were in the lower part of the box reserved for the wealthy and powerful of Rome . Just moments ago, members of the Roman Senate had processed through the viewing chamber, to take the stairs to the upper level balcony where they would see the course.

The fact that Iolaus was owner of one of the horse teams enabled both sisters to accompany him in the box. Both were dressed in white and gold, the colors of Iolaus' aptly named team- the whites. Though they were lowly slaves, the master had dressed them in long flowing tunics of the finest silk which gathered in at the waist and were free flowing round the legs, draping down to gold slippers. Slung diagonally across the gown was a sash of gold silk. Neither sister was accustomed to such finery. It made them nervous to wear the garments being afraid they might be sullied, but Iolaus had insisted it be worn and they did as bid.

Gabrielle was amazed at the fervor enthusiasts of Iolaus' horse team held; actually horse teams would be a better descriptor now. The master had taken a chance and expanded the number of teams in his service. He didn't directly manage the teams instead the operation worked on the principle he called a franchise. Various owners had bought in, giving the right of their horses to wear the trademark colors of the whites. All competed on the various tracks around Italy . Iolaus receiving a percentage of the profits from victories

Most astonishing to Gabrielle and Lilla was that team fans operated clubs. Each club was located in towns with circuses for the chariot teams. But the grandest clubs of all were located off the arched promenade that encompassed the Circus Maximus.

The other teams, the Reds, Blues, Greens, Blacks, Purples... and many others had their own clubs on the promenade, each being quite some distance from the others, to prevent unruliness occurring between members of differing clubs. Men congregated in these establishments. When any owner of a team entered any club he was treated like royalty. This was something Iolaus, as the head of the franchise had found difficult to become accustomed to. However, the network of horse buyers he created when drinking and dining within the club was certainly filling his strong room with gold.

While it was true that the elite of every city and town were lining up to buy his fine horses, he also had to keep them buying. To do that his horse teams across Italia had to win and none more so than his personal team.

Moving round the far turn of the track the chariots slowed, then stopped drivers readying themselves for the start of the race. Some moments were spent as the teams were lined up in a perfectly straight row.

“The horses are jittery.” Iolaus harrumphed from his position along the rail. “Get the race started before there is an injury.”

Brutus leaned forward, a cloth of pure white held within his hand

Men spaced high on the wall running along the center of the track raised Red and Gold flags emblazoned with SPQR. The eyes of the drivers locked upon those flags, their hands tightening upon the reigns as they awaited the signal.

He allowed the delicate silk cloth to fall from his hand.

The flags dropped.

Thousands roared with excitement as the chariots surged forward racing down the straightaway toward the north turn.

“Angle to the inside! The inside!” Iolaus yelled as the riders passed. As if hearing his owners plea, Heniokhos hauled the reigns over, but found the path blocked by the horses of the red team. As the chariots hit the north turn, they passed under the giant bronze statue of Neptune and out of sight beings blocked by the high wall running down the center of the track.

“I can't see what is happening!” Shouted Lilla out of frustration as the horses passed from her sight. Lilla's grip on Gabrielle's hand became so tight that it caused her to let out a squeak.

“Sorry sister.”

“Look!” Gabrielle pointed as the chariot teams came back into view emerging from the south turn. High on the wall men tilted a huge bronze likeness of a fish so that its snout tipped down. A dolphin, Iolaus had told them before the race began. Ten of these dolphins were balanced on a bar, one at a time they would be tipped forward indicating how many laps of the track were left to be completed.

“Last place!” Bellowed Iolaus, as the chariots passed.

“There is still time, master.” Gabrielle reassured. “The race is not won yet.”


“How now Cassius?” Asked Brutus as his friend approached.

A scroll was offered, and Brutus took it in hand. Unrolling the parchment, he began to read, his bearing becoming most grave.

“This is true?” he asked looking up at Cassius.

“All true! Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus has landed in Sicily !” By Jupiter! What is to be done?”

“Cassius, calm down, let's not discuss this here in front of the throng. “Here.” Brutus stood then casually walked to the large antechamber leading out to the balcony Cassius in tow. Once inside both men looked round to make sure they stood alone.

“How did this come about?”

“Only the Gods know the details, but Pompeius landed upon the shores of Sicily a seven-day ago and men from far and wide are flocking to his banner! Peace, Land, and Bread is his mantra and the rabble in lower class love him for it!”

“Keep your voice down my friend,” Cautioned Brutus while his eyes darted about.

“He has taken control of the naval garrison on Sicily !” Cassius added, struggling to keep his composure. “The Senate has no means to fight his growing army, and Caesar cannot come to our aid!”

Brutus smiled, appreciating the irony. “Now you call out Caesar's name wishing he would help, yet all this time we conspired against him. The politics of this certainly makes for strange bedfellows.”

“If Pompey comes to Rome —“

“Not if, Cassius, when.”

“Then what?”

“We take the only course available to us, Cassius.”

“That is?”

“This is neither the time nor place to discuss such matters. For the present, I will issue a degree this very day calling for the Senate to meet in the morrow for debate on the issue. Tonight we few that hold position shall dine at my home.”


The driver for the red team made a critical error cutting his team over too hard to attain the inside track. The strain was too much for the chariot's axle to bear. When it broke, he was thrown onto the track. Seconds later he was trampled by the horses of the other teams.

The crowd roared, loving the slaughter. Men holding a stretcher ran out from the center partition, hauling the dead body onto the litter. They darted back to safety before the chariots could come round again.

Hearing the roar, Gabrielle wished she could see, but then again neither could Lilla.

As the horses went round the turn for the last time, the crowd of Patrician onlookers had surged to the rail to watch. Both she and Lilla had been harshly pushed to the back.

The noise of the crowd rose to a crescendo.

“Again Third!” Iolaus yelled.

Their master appeared from the throng, eyes darting about as he looked for them.

“Come,” he said curtly.

The two slaves followed without question.

In the after race excitement, few noticed both Brutus and Cassius quietly taking their leave.


“Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” Caesar exhorted, “Attack it once more!”

With yells brimming with primal ferocity Julius urged his army forward into the gap caused by the collapse of Carthage 's south wall.

Now was his moment of destiny! Julius spurred his mount racing into the opening between the lines of his men, aiming for the breech. Goading Bucephalus on, Ceasar jumped the span to miraculously land upon open ground within the city walls.

Immediately, the enemy was upon him, seeing their chance to kill Rome 's foremost general. With sword in hand Julius held his own, until Roman troops arrived.

Like a river freed from its banks, the legions poured through the opening in the wall, the whole of the Roman army now pounced upon prey. The sons of Carthage met the invaders in every street, every back passageway. Though the cause was lost, they fought on, choosing death rather than to live to see their Carthage laid low.

The Romans gave no quarter, putting all in their path to the sword. The screams of thousands rolled through the city as building after building was set to the torch. The flames rose to such intensity that the heat within the Temple of Tanit and Baal Hammon alone melted coins left in offering, fusing them into the marble.

“Charging the breech in the wall was unwise Caesar, you could have been killed.” Crassus rode up, both men watching as the troops set about their work of annihilating the city.

After a span of silence between them Caesar spoke upon reflection.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths, the brave experience death only once. Of all the strange things I've ever heard, it seems most strange to me that men fear death, given that death, which can't be avoided, will come whenever it wants.

“But…” replied Crassus. “It is also best not to tempt death into arriving early.”

Julius smiled at the remark. “Now that this battle ends my friend, the Senate must give me dominion, they have no other option left them.”

“All true Caesar.” As he looked upon the terrible sight, Carthage 's destruction, Crassus couldn't help but think of when his own sacred city would fall. Such was the fate Rome and of all cities, states, and authorities, all would one day meet their doom. All he could hope for... all anyone could hope for was to postpone the inevitable doomsday.

“Xena will be destroyed by the Persians,” Julius' smug words, pulled Crassus from thought “I will invade Greece and take her for Rome .”

“And then Caesar?”

“The world Crassus, Then the world.”

Julius straightened upon his mount. “Let the men celebrate my victory. All the wine they can drink and any woman they desire. Tomorrow we began preparations to return to Rome by way of the fleet.”

“Very well Caesar.”

Chapter 19

The light from the full moon was striking in its beauty. The field was painted in peaceful hues of sliver, only the flickering touch light and the sounds from the Persian camp in a far distance marred the tranquility.

A hand upon his shoulder caused him to start. Even after all this time, he was still spooked by how silently Xena could move.

“Tell me Deshi…” Xena paused watching as he straitened at her use of the title. Never did Sevastain falter when it came to propriety. Having spent time in the east, she knew well the importance the peoples in those lands placed on etiquette.

“What do you notice about the field?”

Sevastain reflected that Xena, even at this most serious of moments, still took time to instruct. Over the course of his being in her army, Sevastian had found the Empress a learned master in the art of war and, her fearsome persona notwithstanding, a remarkably patient teacher.

“The field looks, well…” he thought for a moment more while looking at the terrain bathed in moonlight. “It looks like it has been prepared.”

“Superb observation, Xerxes has taken the time to drag logs across this field, removing vegetation and leveling it.” As he turned to look up into her blue eyes, he noted her amusement and watched as she chuckled, “He tries to control all the variables to ensure victory.”

“Sensei, pardon my brazenness, but why all the effort on his part?”

Her hand fell on his shoulder, “When a commander has trained his army to only follow orders, and not to think, everything about a battle must be planned. Her hand lifted away as she looked to the massive Persian camp. Even now, the various commanders in the Persian army are drilling the men to ensure they line up in the proper formation tomorrow.

“How do—“

“I spied on their camp.” She said matter of fact.

Sevastian was amazed. “You slipped into their camp How-- ”.

“I have been in the business of war for some time; very few skills are unknown to me.

“Agreed Sensei,” He stood in awe of her

“Xerxes is so fearful of a night attack by my force; he has ordered the whole of his army to stay awake.”

“Foolish, they will be exhausted tomorrow”

“Correct,” Xena praised. “Consider this. What is the best way to defeat an army which lacks the ability to adapt to the changing nature of battle?”

As Sevastian pondered the question, she swept past. Turning her back to him, Xena clasped her hands behind her back, gaze still on the Persian encampment.

“Muddle the plan?” He answered unsure.

“Your thoughts follow the correct course. So now my question is, how do you propose to... muddle... the plan?”

Sevastian turned fully, observing the Empress as she stood with her back to him. Her dark hair being blown by the gentle breeze, dressed in all black. She was at home with the darkness surrounding them.

“Do the unexpected.” He answered upon reflection.

Xena turned a flash of pure white as she smiled down at him.


“Sensei, I address you as one who only wishes to learn.” Sevastian prefaced, thinking his next question might spark some anger.


“Many in our own ranks, fear the Persians, you must admit, the scale of their army is daunting.”

“Do not fall into the trap caused by that line of thinking.” She warned. Many a poor commander thinks only in terms of size, they reason that the larger the army is, the more formidable it must be. Not so. Any force, no matter how large, can be routed.”

For a moment her eyes tracked to the flickering torches of her own encampment, Sevastian couldn't help but follow her gaze.

Talmadeus, and those who agree with him, see the size of the Persian Army and quake in fear, because they only think in terms of the numbers against us. It is better to think in terms of how you can use numbers to your advantage.”

“Pardon, but I do not...” Sevastain began, but immediately fell silent realizing he was being taking liberties in asking questions before receiving permission from his Sensei.

“Continue.” Xena commanded while crossing arms over her chest.

“I am uncertain as to the meaning behind your words.”

Deshi, 400,000 mindless Persian lemmings are difficult to control on the battlefield. We do one thing that takes them by surprise and the Persians will fall like...What is that saying the gambler Rafe is fond of?”

“Something to do with a house?” Sevastian tried to remember. He had met the man only briefly in Pireaus. Xena had placed Rafe in charge of the collection of taxes, reasoning a con man would recognize any attempt to swindle the Greek State .

“Their force will fall like a house built of cards.” she stated. “I'm confident we will win, so much so I even give Xerxes the choice of ground on which to fight.”

“Come, Lord Commander, we have a final war council to attend. Prepare yourself, it will be contentious.”

She stalked off toward camp, he following.


The day's excitement had long since come to an end, but her work continued.

Pausing momentarily to reposition the step stool, she stood atop it once again and brushed Argo's beautiful mane of white.

“You did so well today.” Gabrielle cooed. The sound of her voice caused the stallion to let out a gentle wicker.

Across the space, Lilla had already fallen asleep.

The Circus Maximus had the single most beautiful stables Gabrielle had ever seen! The marble walls were covered by gorgeous mosaics which celebrated the majesty of the horse. Along the wide walkway to the track were allegories depicting the creation of the horse by Neptune . It was a story Gabrielle knew well, but the beautiful art upon the walls fired her imagination and spurred her thinking towards new stories.

The stall used by Iolaus' team happened to be nearest the grand entrance to the track. Pausing in her work, Gabrielle looked out past the stable doors to the giant mosaic of Julius Caesar and Bucephalus. The scene depicted was known to every Greek. Alexander the Great tamed the magnificent Bucephalus, only here in Rome , it was Caesar who was taming the great steed. Despite the blatant rewriting of history by the Romans, the scene was beautifully done and Caesar did look quite heroic. Such was the power of image Gabrielle mused, many a Roman probably believed it truly was Caesar who tamed Bucephalus.

Turning, Gabrielle moved to brush Argo's hind quarter. So intent upon her work, she didn't hear the soft steps approaching from behind.

She tried to scream out when grabbed; before she could a hand covered her mouth. A hiss of pain escaped her assailant when she bit down on his finger. Gabrielle fought to free herself, but it was of no use! Her attacker was far stronger and larger than she.

A groan sounded and then she was free. Whirling about she gasped seeing Iolaus' steward Alexandros lying upon the ground, Heniokhos standing behind, mallet in hand.

“Gabrielle are you alright?”

She ran to the chariot driver, giving him a tight hug.

“It's okay Gabrielle.” he soothed, feeling her trembling. “All is well now.”

“I-I don't understand. Why would Alexandros try to hurt me?”

Kneeling, Heniokhos placed his hand near the steward's mouth briefly. “Still alive.” He muttered. Reaching out, he then grabbed a bit of rope and set to work tying Alexandros ankles and wrists securely. “That will hold him.”

“I'm going to get Iolaus. Heniokhos stood, looking Gabrielle directly in the eye. The man was absolutely tiny, meaning he was her height. It was good quality for a chariot driver being that it meant less weight for the horse team to pull.

“I'll be back directly.” He ran to get the master.

With a shake of her head, Gabrielle moved to wake still sleeping Lilla.


“We must attack!”

“Why must we?” Meleager countered tired of the same argument brought up by Adamis time and again. “The impetus should be on Xerxes to make the first move. After all, we are the invader, the onus is on him to push us from Persian lands.

“I tell you, against an army of that size we must move first or they will surround us.”

“Our cavalry, the old guard, and Amazons will prevent that.” Sevastian said tiredly while rubbing his eyes. “They will shore up our flanks.”

“Doubtful,” Talmadeus shook his head. “We don't have the numbers to hold back that large a force and if--”

“We do.” Siri retorted firmly.

“You command a pittance of Amazon cavalry, yet you say you will hold.” Mercer asked, voice sounding with stolid skepticism.

For a moment, Siri felt unsure, but she pressed on, knowing her rank gave every right to speak her mind in the war council, despite that these egoistical male blow-hards thought.

“Yes.” She said firm.

“Your Amazons cannot hold against that large a force, you will be swept back then—“

We will not only hold them, but will push them back all the way to Persia .” Siri touted.

“So you say.” Menticles now joined in. “I do not think so; your warriors are out of their element. No trees to hug here. Amazons don't stand a chance in the open desert.”

“The setting of the battle, or the means by which we fight matters little, we will prevail.”

“Well, you're sure of yourself, I'll grant that.” Talmadeus conceded. “And having fought your people, I know well of your ability. But the Persian force is vast, I hold to my belief you and the rest of our cavalry will be forced back. Once the flanks are clear, the Persian foot soldiers will move to surround us.

“We have turned back large armies before.” She defended.

“Oh?” Menticles huffed. “When?”

“When we defeated Xena's force during the Battle for Corinth .”

A deadly silence followed

“You dare to insult our Empress!” Adamis drew his dagger only to have his hand holding it stayed by Sevastian. Adamis was incensed at having been stopped. “You may not be willing to defend the honor of our liege lord, but I will!” He spat, thinking to forcefully pull his hand away until Xena's laugh stopped him.

All gathered round the table looked to the empress who sat peacefully in her camp chair.

“I take no offense hearing truth. The Amazon's pushed my cavalrymen back then and now they shall help us defeat the Persians.” Opening her eyes, Xena leaned forward. “You lot have been arguing in circles for candle marks and still I hear nothing which convinces me to alter the plan. You will have your men in position before dawn arrives, now out all of you!”


“Gods on high! I knew she would not give up and here is the proof!”

The proof Iolaus referred to was in his hand, having been gained by a search of Alexandros' person. Now all knew why the steward had wanted to take Gabrielle.

“Probably got hold of it on the docks, brought by one of the Merchant ships, Heniokhos surmised.

“Their weight in gold!” Lilla was stunned. Gabrielle wished she could see what all the fuss was about. Sensing her frustration, Iolaus handed the parchment to her.

There, on the bill, was her exact likeness, along with a princely reward. A shocked Gabrielle looked up to her master.

“I will do all I can to keep you from her clutches Gabrielle.” Iolaus vowed. Stepping away he began to pace attempting to order his thoughts.

“First things first,” Iolaus pointed first to Alexandros lying on the floor of the stable then to Heniokhos. “I want you to strip him of his finery, and then throw some rags on him. Take him to the docks this side Tiber and sell him to the press gangs for any price you can get. Those merchant ships are always in need of men to haul ropes.”

“but…” Gabrielle objected soft as the steward was dragged away.

“Don't you dare feel sorry for him Gabrielle.” Iolaus warned. “In his lust for gold, Alexandros would have abducted you and not thought twice about it. If he stays near, you will not be safe.”

Iolaus gently placed his hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. “We must work on a way to ensure the witch does not find you.”


From a respectful distance they observed. One watcher had become two, then four, and from then on, quite a crowd formed.

Despite the growing number of onlookers, Xena kept to her task, sketching her creation with a chunk of blackened carbon fetched from the ashes. First on the large piece of parchment she drew the gondola and driver. Then she drew the animal itself with its wrinkly skin, tree trunk sized legs, and long snout.

“Whatcha drawin?”

Finally someone had bravery enough to ask. Looking up Xena made eye contact with the one who asked the question, watching fear crash over the boy at having gained her full attention.

She had that effect on people…

A smile along with a little wink from her and the boy relaxed slightly.

“Come see.” She beckoned him closer.

His eyes widened to such a comical degree that it was all she could do not to chuckle.

“C'ere.” One of her hands patted the ground next to her.

Acestes willed his feet to move, thought they felt rooted to the ground. Several halting steps later he found himself sitting a respectful distance from... the all-powerful Empress. Something his mates in the army would have never believed, if they weren't here watching at this very moment.

He yelped as her hand grabbed his arm, dragging him closer and, causing the assembled men surrounding them to laugh.

Acestes curiosity got the best of him and he leaned over just a touch to see the parchment.

“What manner of beastie is that!?”

“That my friend is called an elephant.”

Xena observed him for some moments as he looked at the parchment. “Looks big and scary doesn't it?”


“That is how the Persian wants you to think, but you see, this big beast has big weaknesses.”

“Where?” he asked, his guileless question caused her to smile warmly.

Holding up the parchment, she motioned for the soldier nearest to take it. He had much the same reaction to her drawing, before passing it on through the gathered crowd.

Leaning back against the wheel of the supply wagon, Xena casually stretched her long legs, and crossed them at the ankles. The boys next to her stiffened like stone when she casually placed her arm upon his shoulder.

“Relax would yah.” She chided.

“See where the driver is perched?” her gaze flicked over the assembled men, who nodded. “Easy to knock him off with a thrown pilum or an arrow or two. And the feet, they are quite tender, a few spikes thrown upon the ground will stop a whole herd of them from charging.”

“Really?” the kid next to her asked, doubtful.

“Yes.” She replied with confidence.

“Then why use the beasties in battle?” the boy next to her asked. Xena understood full well he was voicing questions, many of these men harbored.

She ruffled his hair playfully, eliciting another round of laughter from the soldiers surrounding them.

“The Persian's think these elephants will scare you, so much so that you will turn tail and run all the way back to Greece.”

“Not so!” the answer, voiced by many, rippled through the assembled soldiers.

She stood, taking a moment to help the boy next to her up as well.

I am glad to hear it.” Moving forward, she clasped the wrist of the man nearest, and then did the same with many others.

“Let that picture be seen by as many as possible, tell them what I have told you.” she ordered.

“Yes Empress.”

The men parted as she walked forward and on to another part of the encampment. This time she would draw and then instruct men on the weaknesses of chariots.


Drums and war cries sounded.

“Olympian Lords, those women can sure make a racket.”

An amused Sevastian looked to Meleager, who was sitting in one of the many camp chairs scattered about the space. Xena had gotten a new tent, and had given him her old one. Within these fabric walls his life had changed many cycles ago, here he had been inducted into Xena's army. Truthfully, he was deeply grateful to be gifted the bivouac, but it was enormous, he felt a bit out of place within it.

“A most unusual and intimidating way to prepare for battle,” Sevastian observed.

The two men sat in amicable silence, listening to the fearsome cries of the Amazons outside as they moved to the rhythms of the drums.

Shifting in his chair to get more comfortable, Meleager watched, captivated with the precision Sevastian displayed while cleaning his weaponry. The second had two eastern swords, one he had crafted to personal specifications, the other presented to him by the empress. Meleager wasn't one to be superstitious, but the few times he had touched the burgundy colored braid on the grip of the Empress' old sword from Jappa... Well, he could feel the darkness which seemed to be infused within. That weapon had been used in some evil purpose.

“I'm just going to leave this.” Meleager put a small clear bottle on the top of Sevastain's campaign desk and stood.

“What is that?” asked Sevastian while glancing up.

“Little something a friend of mine occasionally ships to me from across the seas. The Celts call it whiskey. Has quite a kick to it.”

“I didn't think you drank Meleager.” said Sevastain while gently sliding the Katana back into its beautiful form fitting scabbard. Like the sword, the scabbard was well cared for and engraved with the “X” of his Empress.

“I don't.” Meleager paused to adjust his armor. “But – if - we somehow manage to pull off a win against the Persians, I want to have one drink.” The Commander raised one hand, finger pointing at Sevastian. “Now mind you, it will be one drink only, and I only wish to share it with you.”

“I'd be honored.” Sevastain replied while standing. Taking the clear bottle to hand, he studied its contents.

“Not – if-.”

“What?” Meleager asked in confusion.

“Not if, we will.” Sevastian was firm in tone.

“We can beat them?” the old commander referred to the Persians.

“We can, Meleager, Sevastian looked the commander directly in the eye, “and we will.”

“This,” Sevastian held the bottle higher, “Looks like muddy river water.” He observed.

“More like fire water.” Meleager quipped. “It's anything but smooth.”

Before Sevastian could reply a voice intruded.

“Your pardon, but might I have a word?”

Both looked to the tent flaps to see Kodi. Whatever he wanted, it must be serious. Sevastian rarely heard such courtesy from him.

“I will take my leave Lord Commander.” Meleager walked to the tent flaps.

“Meleager,” Sevastian called out causing the man to stop.

“I'll see you after the battle for that drink.”

After a momentary smile, the Meleager ducked out of the tent.

“Kodi, whatcha need?” Sevastain walked to his desk intending to sit.

“I, um…” Kodi began haltingly. “You need help with your armor?” he asked abruptly, “I could maybe brush it out, ah, maybe clean your boots.” While Kodi said the words brightly, the look on his face caused Sevastian to come back round the desk and give his half-brother a hug.

“I'll be fine Kodi, you'll have me around to argue with plenty when the battle is over.” Sevastian poked the kid in the side playfully.

“It makes no difference, the disagreements we have brother, those are separate from my wish to see you safe. I-I'm… sorry for the things I've said to you.”

“Well…” Sevastian stated with a sigh, “I've said some awful things to you as well. Let's just call it even.

“Again, I know it makes no difference towards changing your opinion, but I cannot in good conscience leave you without once more saying that Xena is wrong. She is wrong in both thought and action.” The words were blunt, but that was how Kodi was.

There were a number of cutting things Sevastian could say in retort. “Then we shall continue to disagree on that Kodi.” This was not a time to argue.

Kodi hugged him tightly, a lingering hug, and then departed in silence.

Walking back round the desk, Sevastain pulled out one drawer reaching for the folded square parchment inside bearing his seal. He placed in in the center of the cleared desktop. Should something happen, it would be easily found.

His will and testament.

Chapter 20

“Raise my Standard.”

The young soldier behind did so, her personal colors snapped in the dry desert winds.

When she had conquered Athens , out of deference to Athena, she had changed her banner to the black “X” of her name over a field of pure while, bordered by blue. Ares had vigorously objected, wanting his color, red, to be the field behind her black “X”. She had overruled him,

Seems she had been doing a lot of that lately with Ares, overriding his advice.

Horns blared across the field as the Persian army moved into position, the bronze of their armors glinting in the sunlight, cavalrymen astride magnificently barded warhorses, archers with long bows, pike men with red and gold streamers fluttering from tips of their weapons. The whole grand display was designed to intimidate.

Xena remained decidedly unimpressed.

“Lemmings…” she muttered dismissively, “Walking, arrow fodder.”

“Pardon? Empress?” Sevastian asked from his position next to her, they both being ahead of the massed Greek Phalanxes.

“Nothing Lord Commander,” She said while continuing to scan the formation, looking for…”

Ah, there he was, sitting upon a black stallion, Xerxes himself.

Raising the looking glass, Xena watched amusedly as an aide de camp rode up with a…mirror. Xerxes vanity showed. The king adjusted his bronze armor, and then checked to see if his hair was in place. Finally he donned a most ridiculous helmet, adorned with a garish plume of red Rosefinch feathers.

She handed the looking glass to Sevastian who, after a moments searching easily found the king.

“Hard to miss, that one.”

Xena laughed at the remark. “Whatever god rules their underworld better prepare, many of the enemy will die. History will mark today as the date the great Persian Empire fell.”

“Now listen well, my second.” She took the spy glass from him. “We hold the center of the battlefield, you must not yield this ground. We hold it, we win the day. Understood?”

“Understood.” Sevastian felt a bit of deja vu, this order having been given to him long ago by Xanthos outside the walls of Olynthus .

“Very well then, call attention.”

At Sevastian's shout, the various group commanders called their men to attention, the commands sounding out as individual units snapped to. The kid on horseback behind raised the banner of Xena's Army, the rising Phoenix with wings outstretched.

“A final bit of advice....” Xena began.

Sevastian leaned forward as he sat upon Gisela, intent upon her next words.

“Bend but do not break.”

“What?” he asked confused.

“You'll know what I mean when the moment arrives.” She stated cryptic. “Now, since I don't wish to sit here all day, we must find a way to goad them into attacking.”

Looking across the field, Xena observed the King, watching her in turn through his looking glass.

A perfect moment was at hand…

Casually she raised one gauntleted hand… and pretended to stifle an exaggerated yawn.

Even from this distance, she could see his taking great exception to her action. Grasping a spear , the king motioned with it and thousands of Persian cavalry began their charge toward the far right flank of her army.

The men of her old guard responded immediately, meeting the enemy on the ground between the two armies.

“Amazons! With me!” At the order, the warrior women blazed past Sevastian following Xena directly into the enemy. For a moment, his eyes met with Siri's.

Selfishly and unapologetically, he hoped she would be spared from injury this day.

Sevastian was now in sole command of the main force. This was unexpected...

He watched as the king gestured again, causing horns to blare across the Persian lines. The enemy ranks split, making way for massive war elephants to move to the front of the lines. Hundreds moved into position to charge.

Sevastian thought to use the spikes, the Caltops first, then discarded the idea no riders to disperse them, nor catapults to fire them.

“Ready Sarrisa!” The signal man nearest raised flags to send the message.

Every high Commander repeated the order. The command echoed through the ranks, being called out by officers within.

Thousands of 16 foot metal tipped poles rose vertical in the air, points shinning in the sun.

“Advance Sarrisa!”

Now the men in the first six rows worked together to angle the tips at a 45 degree slant, each, putting down their pikes of shorter length to instead grab hold of the long poles. Right foot was stationed forward, the left foot planted behind for support.

A wild cheer went up from the Persian lines as the Elephants commenced the charge.


“Catch them! Other side!”

Siri, riding near veered her horse off at Xena's command; the rest of her Amazon's following. They skirted round the enemy, now to one side of the Persians as the men of the old guard engaged the other.

Precise volleys of arrows were fired by the Amazons, devastating the Persian ranks. Horsemen by the hundreds fell.

As the Amazon arrows struck, Xena picked out the first who would die by her blade this day. With deft slash, her sword cut him open. While she rode on, he fell from his mount.

The opposing forces soon crowded together so much so that maneuvering a sword in the melee became near impossible. Here was the reason; she wished the Amazon force to use the Halide. The small one handed weapon was perfect for close in fighting. However, it was not as perfect as her Chakram, which flashed in the sunlight momentarily before slicing into the throat of the enemy rider nearest. Turning Argo about, Xena managed to gain just enough space to bash in the skull of the next challenger with the pommel of her sword.

The enemy, crippled by the quick dispatching of so many of their number, attempted to extricate themselves from battle.

Her Amazons skillfully cut off any escape route.

Seeing fear overtake the enemy, Xena grinned savagely, “Kill them all!” At hearing the order, the Amazons responded with their own series of terrifying war cries.


“Charge Sarrisa!” Sevastian yelled over the din, his order signaled to the army.

The first rows of the long pikes were left at a 45 degree angle, but the ends were now butted into the ground. In the ranks behind, men raised their spears high and horizontal to the ground. Thousands of metal points glimmered in the light of Helios. In the distance the elephants began to lumber forward at a slow pace, their riders shoring up the line into neat rows.

Spurring Gisela forward, Sevastian raced further ahead of his own line, seemingly oblivious to any danger.

“Archers!” he cried out while momentarily standing up in the saddle, blade tip pointing to the enemy beasts charging forward. The order dutifully repeated by commanders to either side of the thousands holding Sarissa.

“Ready bows!”

Xena's men, trained so well, fulfilled the order to perfection 40,000 bowmen moved as one, spreading out, readying their stance in order to fire.


Men drew arrows from quivers strapped to their backs. Holding the arrow by the nook, the area behind the fletching, they seated the shaft upon the arrow rest of the bow. The nock, the channel cut into the butt end of the arrow, was snapped onto the bow string.

The ground began to shake from the motion of the beasts rushing forward.

“Mark!” Sevastian yelled.


Targets now marked by the archers, bows were raised strings pulled taut. At the order to fire a mass of arrows would be let lose

Sevastian didn't need to give the order to fire…

The elephants, of their own accord, halted the charge. They refused to take another step forward!

“Hold!” Sevastian ordered.

Strings were relaxed bows lowered.

Now the men of the Xena's army cheered. The first attack had failed.


Running a man though, her blade caught on his bones. With a kick she tried to force the blade free, succeeding on the second try. In that span, she was thrown from Argo by one of the enemy who leapt from his mount. The sword in her hand clattered free as the two hit the ground. With her freed hand Xena punched the man square in the jaw. The strike was of such force that it dazed her attacker long enough for her to grab then thrust her dagger into his stomach. His screams filled her ears as she tore him open.

Throwing his hulk off, she grasped her sword, then watched as the men of her Old Guard and the Amazon's killed the last of the enemy cavalrymen. Her force had decimated what Xerxes called his Immortals. Thousands of the enemy's best had been felled in moments.

The cheers of the men in her line drew her attention. She whistled, and Argo came near.

Stepping up into the saddle, Xena watched as the elephants, of their volition, turned and meandered back to their own line. She couldn't help but laugh. Xerxes placed too much hope in his Vengeance Weapons. Battles are fought with weaponry, but they are always won by soldiers.

“What now?” Siri questioned.

“Xerxes will make another attempt to break…” Xena stopped speaking and straitened in the saddle. “Look there,” her sword rose, pointing. “The king moves to the flank of the army nearest us.”

There was the opportunity she needed…

“Conqueror, he looks to be readying more mounted troops to attack us.”

Xena reached out and patted Argo reassuringly, “Yes, and when he does, all must follow my lead.”

“As you wish.” Siri replied, unsure of what would happen next.


“Lord Commander!”

“Yes, Adamis?”

“The Persian cavalry has pushed back our weakened flank defenses on the left! They are looting our camp! In taking the Amazons Xena overloaded the right flank, leaving the other vulnerable!”

Kodi… Sevastian rose in his stirrups to look back at the tents of the encampment.

“This is precisely what Talmadeus and I feared! I will take a quarter of my army group and—“

“You will do no such thing!” Sevastian replied with force. “We hold this position!

“Lord Commander, the Amazon guard within the camp is minimal and Meleagers men are not front line soldiers. The Persians—“

“We hold!” Sevastian eyed Adamis fiercely daring him to urge his cause once more.

“Lord Commander!”

Now it was Talmadeus who rushed up.

“They mean to attack us again, war chariots with blades attached to the wheels.”

Shielding his eyes against the rays of Helios, Sevastian squinted to see light dancing off the rotating blades as the chariots got into position.


Those rotating scythes would mow down rows of men.

Bend, do not break… bend, do not break… ” Xena's words ran thought his thoughts, so much so that he spoke it aloud.

“Lord Commander?” Talmadeus asked at hearing Sevastian. He was further puzzled to see the high commander smile in this most serious of moments.

“Sevastian!” Talmadeus yelled in vexation. “They will wipe us out!”

“No, they will not.”

“What? Sevastian I fear you have lost your sanity.” Adamis warned.

“No, though you and the men may think it, I have not. Here's what we're going to do.”


Kodi dove under the wheels of a supply cart as Persian cavalry thundered thought the camp.

“Get outta here, can't you see the space is full!” a voice commanded.

Looking behind, he saw members of Xena's household, slave and free alike, packed beneath the wagon.

“That's the Empress' servant!” one hissed. “We should give him to the Persians then, perhaps they will spare us!”

“Don't be foolish child; they don't care a lick about any of us.”

“But Minya!”


“Come here, Kodi.” Minya gasped as the kid almost bowled her over, latching onto her ferociously due to his fear.

“It will be alright…It'll be alright.” She soothed over the sound of the screams.


She watched the second cavalry force form up, then charge.

Silently, Xena raised one gauntleted hand, a signal to hold position. Her Amazon's and the men of the old guard used the time to form up behind her.

On they came, the next wave of Persian cavalry.

Xena's hand dropped and the charge commenced, her battle cry sounding over the field.

Siri was astounded! The Conqueror wasn't charging toward the attacking enemy cavalry, but right towards Xerxes himself!

The enemy horsemen had to haul back on their reigns forced to turn and give chase having overshot Xena's force!


“Open ranks!” Sevastian yelled.

The men did just that, parting to one side or the other. The Persian chariots rolled right though the Greek formations. When they emerged on the other side, the charioteers had to slow to turn round, when they did, thrown pilum, or arrows cut them down.

The second attack had failed. Once more, the soldiers of Xena's army cheered.


The King Persia ran…

His army of 400,000 dissipated, melting away in fear as the barbarian woman charged with her cavalry. At first he tried to rally the men, but they would have none of it, instead they blindly trampled each other in their haste to run.

His grand helmet fell off as he urged his horse on.

She was behind him, her cry sounding like thunder in his ears.

The king blazed by the men of his army to either side.

Her laughter caused him to look back.

He wished he hadn't.

The blade of the barbarian leader tore through the top of a soldiers head, blood and gore flayed outward in all directions. She was a sight straight from the underworld. Black leathers and bronze armor coated in the blood of Persia . Her cape of red so saturated, it stuck to her horse.

Far behind the barbarian, was her cavalry, both men and strange female warriors cutting a bloody swath through the retreating men of his army. An arrow fired from one of the female warriors struck his standard bearer. The man slumped forward, and then fell from his mount

“Face me!” she yelled as Xerxes spurred his stallion to move faster. Still she gained, her golden horse seeming to fly over the field.

“If you fight well, perhaps I'll spare you!” Xerxes looked back once more to see her grin wickedly. “I'll make you part of my harem!” she taunted.

He turned forward, urged his horse faster.


Xerxes heard something screaming though the air, towards him.

He looked back once more to find the source of the oncoming noise…

…And was decapitated by the chakram.


Jubilation engulfed the whole of the Greek army as the men watched the Persians disintegrate.

Helmets and spears rose men cheering wildly, from officers down to lowly pike men, all caught up in the joy of victory. Across the whole of Greek line the various standards rose, sweeping back and forth, from small unit guidons, to the flag of the Army itself, the latter being waved vigorously by Sevastain's bearer.

“Commanders! To me!” Sevastain yelled, signal man echoing the order.

As the cheers of 200,000 plus solidified into deafening chants of the Empress' name, Sevastian was forced to shout orders to the commanders surrounding him.

“Mercer, send men into our camp, regain order, go now!”

With a nod, the commander heeled his horse back from the group and galloped away, bellowing orders to his men.

“Send your phalanxes forward, split off into groups, round up the remnants of the Persian army. “Those that chose to turn and fight, kill.

“But we have won the day, they--” Menticles voiced objection, before Sevastian cut him off

“If we allow those men to escape, they may regroup and attack us again.”


Orders were shouted, the men moving to fulfill the task.



Chapter 21

Dismounting, he ran though the encampment searching amidst the chaos.


All round men scrambled to put out the fires engulfing tents. On the ground lay the many wounded pleading for help. Healers were moving to each, deciding who could be saved, and who would be left to die.

“Kodi!” Sevastain screamed with anguish.

There, from underneath a wagon, the kid emerged and sprinted the over the distance to him.

Sevastian's fears evaporated, relief flooding him as a weeping Kodi hugged him tight.


Cresting a rise she watched as order dissipated, men breaking ranks to rush to her.

Spurring Argo on, she rode forward

Behind, Siri motioned for her Amazon's to fall back a pace, Alistair and the Old Guard following suit. Even Xena's personal standard bearer fell back.

She rode forward, until being forced to halt being completely encircled by her men. In every direction were masses of cheering soldiers. Atop the spear points of their pikes the helmets of the enemy swayed. Others weapons in hand were raised in spontaneous salute to her.

Shouts by the thousands rose as Xena lifted Xerxes personal standard overhead. The flag, with its golden crowned Persian Lion emblazoned over a field of red. Her men cheered wildly as she waved the banner of the defeated king. She then pitched it to her soldiers, who set upon it like wolves, tearing the fabric to shreds. Souvenirs to show, their children and grandchildren as they sat round the hearth, hearing the tale of the Persian defeat.

She moved first, reaching out to grasp their hands. The men responded by crowding in further round her wanting to be part of history. Their cries solidifying into chants of her name as she reached down to grasp outstretched hands. One after another, after another, she briefly tried, to touch as many as possible. One side of Argo, then to the other she clasped hands, being moved by the tears she saw in the eyes of her men.

Spurring Argo on gently, Xena allowed the men to part in order to give her leave. In a last flourish, she rose up in Argo stirrups, waving to those blocked by the crowd, unable to come any nearer. Her actions eliciting another general shout brimming with adoration

Looking past the soldiers, her blood sang as she beheld Ares giving her his blessing from atop his fire breathing steed Phobos.


Outside, the rowdy bands of men laughed and sang bawdy soldier songs, inside there was little cause for cheer.

“You may go...”

The woman in his bed threw silken sheets aside, to rise and cover her nakedness with clothing strewn about the floor. In silent haste she dressed, then was quickly guided out by Salmoneus.

In front him on the desk, lay the parchment handed by Salmoneus, official writings from Brutus himself, speaking for the Roman Senate and people. The rest of Brutus' words faded like so much gibberish, only one phrase within the missive kept burning through Caesar's mind.

Gnaus Pompeius Magnus has returned to Rome ...”


“Pompeius Magnus!” announced the house usher as the old general entered the home of Brutus.

Taking off his sandals, Pompey sat as one of Brutus' slaves gently tipped his feet into a golden vessel filled with perfumed water. Delicately his feet were washed clean, while another slave took hold of his sandals spiriting them away to be cleaned and set neatly by the door ready to be used when Pompey went on his way after the evening meal.

“Pompey all hail!” Brutus' greeting was filled with cheer.

“Brutus my old friend, it is good to see you again.” announced Pompey as he stood and stepped carefully out of the waters, pausing to allow the slave to dry his feet.

“I am honored to have you visit my humble home Pompey. Shall we?” Brutus motioned from the general to follow him. Upon entering the dining room, the other guests rose, Casca, Metellus Cimber, Trebonius, Decius Brutus, Cinna, and last Cassius.”

“My Friends, it is good to see you all,” An untruth stated by Pompey with heartfelt conviction.

“Lucius, wine.” Brutus ordered of his slave.

“Please, sit Pompeius be comfortable.” Brutus gestured to the low couches surrounding a prepared feast.

“Friends,” Pompey began after pausing to be seated and adjusting his fine toga. “I come to you now as a man much changed due to the carnage of war, and the trials I endured while on the run from Caesar.”

“Do tell Pompey.” Cassius asked with a gleam in his eye and a phony smile upon his lips. Pompey had seen that look many a time from Caesar, he knew it well. Men like Cassius are never comfortable while they perceive someone ranking higher than themselves, and therefore are very dangerous.

“Ah, there is much to tell, but I will distill it down to basics.” All those in the room laughed politely, all but Cassius.

“My men, loyal Roman soldiers all, helped me to escape from Caesar's clutches and they paid for their loyalty to me with their lives. Caesar, killed every one of them I'm told.

A pause then occurred in which Pompey appeared to struggle to contain his emotions.

“I moved at night, and hid in the day,” he continued, “Caesar's dogs in full chase following my scent. Pompey smiled inwardly as the senators leaned in to hear his tale.

“I was captured by a warlord, Talmadeus by name who later found himself under siege by the barbarian Xena at a town named Olynthus . He made his intent clear, to trade me to Xena for safe passage of his army from her siege.”

“Gods!” exclaimed an ashen Cinna. “Did he turn you over to her?”

“I think we will find out if you can hold your tongue long enough” chastised Metellus Cimber causing another round of laughter.

“I was alone, imprisoned in a strange and savage land. I felt as if the gods themselves had forsaken me. Pompey paused, this time for effect.

“And then, a miracle! “The thatch roof of my jail erupted in flames. Perhaps a spark borne by the winds from the many cook fires ignited the thatch. I suspect the cause will never be known. As smoke overcame my guards, I crawled to the barred window, but found I was unable to free myself. I cried for help and lo! My pleas were answered! One good man saved me by using his mule to pull at the bars causing the whole of the wall to tumble down.

As the boy Lucius moved about, filling chalices with watered down wine, Pompey continued, his audience enthralled.

“The winds blew burning embers from the jail to the next structure, then the next, a great conflagration enveloped the town and, in the chaos I escaped.

“What then?” asked Cassius when Pompey fell silent.

“Pardon, friends, Images in my mind pulled me back into that horrible moment once more.”

“Quite alright,” Brutus said in honesty.

A good man , Pompey reflected, Brutus was noble, honest, honorable, but he had one flaw, he believed that all men had those same virtuous traits that he carried in his own heart. Tis not so.

“I ran, friends, I am ashamed to say it. Being Roman, I should have faced my enemies, died for the glory of Mother Rome, but I ran.”

“No shame Great Pompey we all do what we must.”

“I thank you for those kind words Casca. Pompey tasted more wine, and then moved to finish his tale.”

“A barbarian Greek woman took me to her bosom, fed me, exchanged my rags for peasant clothes, she, like most Greeks hates Romans, but after hearing my tale took pity on me, being that she felt a deeper hatred for Caesar actions than for one old and very feeble Roman general. I must say she taught me much about walking the... way of peace. After recuperating under her rather demanding care, I boarded a ship bound for Ephesus , working the ropes in return for the price of passage. There in Ephesus , were men of Rome , left by the defeated Antony . They happily joined my quest to return to Rome . And that is how I came to be here today.”

“A tale for the ages Pompey!” lauded Trebonius.

“Quite...” added Cassius in a tone which held doubt.

“Let me say now, noble senators that the man you see before you is not the same Pompey who went off to war against Caesar. My experiences have served to open my eyes, to let me see the world as it truly is. I have now a burning desire to work for the greater good of all. I think not of my own power, for that is fleeting. Instead I wish to work with you together not as ruler and subject, but as friend and equal. I ask that like me you set our former differences aside so that together can build a greater Republic, and a greater Rome .”

“Hear, hear!” shouted Brutus. His words repeated by all present.

“But Great Pompey, what of Caesar?” asked Cassius.

“He has wronged me, wronged me in every way Cassius. Destroyed my army, defiled my wife. Yet, I must look past my personal hatred and work for the good of Rome .”

The old general moved to recline on the low couch. “I ask you all one question. Is the greater good best served by Caesar ruling Rome ?” Pompey raised his hand up in a gesture meant to placate. “By no means do I require an answer from you. I only ask you consider it.”

“We,” Brutus paused a moment, eying the others who had conspired against Caesar. “We do not think it good to have Rome ruled by a dictator, be it a Caesar or a Pompey.”

“Fair enough, Brutus your honesty is, as always, appreciated.” Pompey praised. “Have no fears from me senators, I am old, my time is short in this world, I ask only to be appointed council for the traditional one year term, then a younger man can take my place.”

“We could be agreeable to that.” Cassius spoke.

“Then it is it also agreeable that we all must work to keep Caesar from setting foot in Rome again?”

The men surrounding Pompey nodded most solemnly.

Pompey raised his chalice. “With this toast I bury all bad feelings between us.”

“Our hearts are thirsty for that noble promise, Brutus spoke. “Refill my cup Lucius, till the wine overflows it for I cannot drink too much of Pompey's love!”

Brutus, for one, was glad the daggers would remain sheathed this night.

Chapter 22


An unusual feeling for her...

Everyone had a weakness, Kodi was Sevastian's. She should take him to task for neglecting duty by returning to search for the kid, but she simply couldn't will herself to do it. If she had stayed nearer to Lyceus... Perhaps then he would...

A muted sigh of regret left dark lips.

Outside the men, not on guard, had long since succumbed to drink and fallen asleep. As a general rule, she didn't approve of drunkenness, but there were times when she tolerated it. A win like this, she couldn't fault the men for indulging.

The Amazons, those warriors were still up. She could hear them singing and dancing even as dawn approached.

Her force had pulled off the single most lopsided victory in Greek history. Some 300,000 Persians soldiers were under guard, their king dead. Thousands of the enemy had escaped due to the onset of darkness, but without means of supply those would most likely die in the desert wastes. The contents of the Persian camp had been seized; she controlled sundries of every kind imaginable to include thousands of magnificent horses.

Incredibly she hadn't lost a single soldier, not as of yet anyway. Many were injured, some still might die despite the best efforts of healers, but taken as a whole her losses would be minuscule.

The one thing muting her personal joy of victory was the loss of servants. She hadn't expected the Persians to attack her camp or to loot it and had paid the price. Strangely, it angered her that she had failed to protect the most vulnerable. So much so that she went to the burials, spoke heartfelt words of sorrow with their lives. Changes would be made. The numbers in Solari's guard would be enlarged, more warriors to protect the camp during a battle.

Having her long dead conscience try and resurrect itself was troubling.

Shifting a bit, she slid long legs across silk sheets to get a bit more comfortable in the bed.

With the defeat of the Persians, the door to the East had been smashed open From Mesopotamia, to India , to Chin.

She would take it all.

Problem was, she needed to turn west, and her force had to take Egypt before the Romans. After much thought she finally had settled on the fact that Egypt was too strategic a land for Caesar to pass up. Julius was many things, narcissistic, selfish, conniving, deluded in his visions of having some great destiny, but... he was not stupid. Even with Pompey in Italy , she was convinced he would move to take Egypt . With that in mind, she'd had Autolycus send a missive to Caesar, and had her spy force Dagnine to write as well, the last from Dagnine. She'd held up her part of the deal, sparing his life in return for his writing missives to Caesar. Dagnine had been overjoyed when she announced he would be placed under house arrest for the rest of his days.

She'd ordered Dagnine to be immured. All the doors and windows had been bricked up. The house on the tiny Greek island of Anafi would be his tomb.

Her thoughts turned back to the cause.

To get to Egypt faster, Caesar would have to march inland across the sandy wastes...

That would slow his army...

He would need resupply...

All that would take time...

Still it would be impossible for her to conquer the east then turn back to fight Caesar.

A solution came to mind, the only one possible.

A muscular arm fell across her torso causing her to frown in disgust. These after battle trysts were becoming both tedious and stale.

Ares then tried to pull her to him to...cuddle. She would have none of it!

Pulling away she rose to don one of her many silk robes. This one a deep green in color and lined with bear fur. The desert was blistering in the day but quite chilly at night.

“Don't those women ever shut up?” Ares grumbled from the bed he was sprawled out on.

She ignored him, instead moving to a basin and jug to wash.

“Come back to bed Xena,” A command.

Turning she eyed him frostily.

“Please?” he amended after opening one eye to peek at her.


Turning back to the basin, she dipped hands in the cool water and splashed her face; taking soap in hand she began to wash.

“I don't know why you find it necessary to rise before light touches the firmament.”

She gave no response.

Fine, have it your way.” She heard him rise, and then snap his fingers.

She rinsed the soap away; taking towel in hand she dried her face.

Turning back she observed that Ares was once more in his black leathers. The plush bed vanished.

“Don't you ever wear anything else?”

“What?” he asked incredulous.

“You always wear the same thing Ares, dark leathers and boots, dark jacket... try something new. Change is a good thing.

The god raised his arms to either side, looking down for a moment he inspected his attire.

“Maybe try wearing white leathers for once.”

“I'm the god of war, I wear black,” one of his hands rose, finger pointing at his chest. “I'd rather Zeus proclaim me the God of Love before I'd wear white leather.”

He snapped his fingers again; a table appeared, laden with delicacies.

“Come, Conqueror of the East.” he invited, pulling out a chair for her.

“You always do that.”

“Do what?”

“Assume. I've told you time and again it is a bad habit.” she scolded, “I have not conquered the East Ares.”

“You will,” he said smug as she sat. Xena deciding it was just as well that she break her fast.

She sat, pouring herself a bit of watered down wine into a golden chalice

“Now that you've beaten the Persians, you can focus on taking the rest of the east then fighting the Romans. Time to forget about this stupid girl.” said Ares as he moved to be seated as well.

“I will find her and I will not discuss the matter further with you.”

The god sat up abruptly in his chair. “We will discuss it if I say so! “March Xena,” he pointed at her. “Remember the Ides of March!” His hand slapped the tabletop. “Remember the vow you took that day, to serve me. Remember how I agreed to help you when no one would! When the now great Xena was nothing more than a lowly peasant girl desperate to save her stinking village!”

“I remember Ares,” she said soft, her gaze distant. “I never forget a debt... or how much I've paid on it.”

“Why do you harbor such interest in this girl Xena?

“I can't explain it...You know where she is?” she asked abruptly the hope showing on her face amused him.

“No, Xena. Unlike you I care little about useless slave girls.”

“What a liar you are!” she hissed.

“I may have made a few discrete inquires” he admitted.


“She is safe.”

“Where is--”

“In a place you have not yet conquered.”

“Mind being a bit more specific?” she drawled.

Ares remained silent, unwilling to give any more information.

She dipped her head, after some moments of glowering at the god.

Everyone has a weakness. Ares has found mine...Gabrielle

“Eat Chosen ; you mortals do need food after all.”

In the silence which followed, she eschewed the slices of pheasant and wild boar as well as the heavy cream sauces. Instead the gaudy silver plate was filled with a bit of barley cake, flat-bread porridge, and a mishmash of myrtle berries, dried grapes, and figs.

“You can't take the peasant out of the empress.” Ares observed, noting her lowborn choices of food and drink.

“I prefer it, unless you wish to tell me what to eat.”

“Oh no.” Ares sat back in his chair, a smirk upon his lips. “After partaking in your beauty last night, I have no qualms about your dining habits. That peasant diet has done well to make you powerful, Chosen .”

Silence returned.

“Tell you what,” Ares prefaced “In the best of times I'm decidedly uncaring and cruel, but your sadness over the girl has moved me.” She looked up, eying him coldly. “Now, now Xena, be careful with that tongue of yours.” He warned, “Or I may not offer you a deal for the girl.” Ares leaned forward, his seductive darkness flowing through her due to his proximity. “How badly to you wish to have her Xena?” How badly do you want me to tell you where she is?”

For long moments, she stared at her untouched plate. Finally she willed herself to speak the words necessary to mollify his pride.

“What do you wish of me, my lord Ares?”

She bristled at the god's laughter. “My lord! How many seasons has it been since you've called me that? You do want this little toy don't you?”


“What was that Xena?” he asked genially “I didn't quite hear--”

“I said yes, Ares!” she shouted, hating his turning her own methods back on her

“Ah! There rises your fire! Though I admit I am enjoying your groveling.”

“Quit gloating. What is it you want me to do? You got another demigod sibling you wish me to imprison in another dimension?” Xena stood, walking away from the table. “Another warrior you wish me to fight and defeat for your entertainment?”

“No. Nothing so pedestrian Xena,” He placed elbows on the table top as she turned on her heel to gaze at him.

“Well?” her arms rose at her sides, hands outstretched. “You care to give me a clue as to what I need to do? Never mind that I have an empire to conquer! Why, I'm ever so pleased to drop everything just to do your bidding!”

“You want the girl, you do as I ask.”

“Agreed, what is it you wish?”

“I want temples to me, built upon the sites of...our...Victories.” He smiled watching her anger rise. It had to be taking all her considerable will to hold her tongue for what she saw as her successes. “I have asked you several times to build me temples.” He raised his hand stopping her from speaking. “The one you ordered built in Athens is nice,” he continued. “But still unfinished, I'd like to have many more.”

“Done.” she said curt.

“That is not all.” Ares became serious. “There is an Eastern teacher, a guru, a man named Eli who spouts drivel about something he calls Way of Love, preaching about there being only one god. Kill him and all who follow his teachings.”

“Done.” She said without a moment's hesitation.

“There is more Xena, in the lands near what was the Egyptian Kingdom ; there is a city, Jerusalem . Go there personally, desecrate the great temple dedicated to their one god, and re-purpose it as one dedicated to the Greek Pantheon. Banish the people from the city, disperse them to the winds.”


“My, you are sure of yourself, such confidence that you can accomplish these tasks.”

“I've killed thousands Ares, visit Jappa if you need further proof. I've leveled cities; go to the ruins of Sparta if you doubt my resolve. One more city torn asunder or one more death matters little to me. What matters to me is having the girl.

“There is the Chosen I know! Cold of heart and so beautifully ruthless!” Ares Praised as he rose from his chair. Fulfill these tasks, and I will tell you where the girl is.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, she appraised him. It was time to take control.

“You know what I think?” She walked beside him, leaning in so her lips were close to his ear. “I think you are afraid.”

“I am afraid of nothing.” he defended, unconvincingly.

“Yes... you are.” she rasped triumphant. “Afraid of this one god.”

“This doesn't sound like you Ares.” Xena straightened, walking away from him. Her words stated with too much glee for his liking. “Oh, the temple building does, you love monuments that attempt to match the size of your ego.”

“Xena.” his tone was low in warning.

“You'd have me fight a challenger to the death,” she continued undaunted. “Maybe impersonate someone in my family to try and sucker me into doing your bidding, or put me though some asinine warrior test you've dreamed up. No, Ares, This one god worries those on Olympus ; they put you up to this.”

“Do we have a bargain Xena?” he asked after a long silence.

“It appears I am in position to set a few conditions. When I accomplish these tasks, I demand you tell me truthfully where the girl is.”

“I will tell you true.”

“Once you've told me where she is. I want no interference in my obtaining Gabrielle, not from you or any of the other Gods on Olympus .”

Ares was silent for some time, listening to voices only he could hear.

“The Pantheon agrees.” Xena smiled, it was those on Olympus who wanted this.

“Then as your humble servant, I take... joy.... in doing your bidding Ares.”

Her tone grated on him, but she had agreed, the followers of the one god would disappear from the world, because nothing would stop Xena once her mind was set.

In a flash, he departed.

“If... I don't find Gabrielle first.” Xena whispered when he was well and truly gone.

For a moment she collected her thoughts, and then looked about the empty space.

“You coulda at least left my breakfast!”


“Merciful Gods...”

Opening his eyes Sevastian blinked while letting out a groan. “No more whiskey.” he vowed.

Swinging his feet over the cot, his look softened a bit seeing Kodi curled up on the floor. He supposed the boy had come over to sleep here after being dismissed by the Empress. Kodi had seen the brutal nature of war up close, felt the fear of losing his life. It would take time for him to process the horrors he'd witnessed. Right now, he was too spooked even to sleep with the servants.

Sevastian decided he really needed some tea. His mouth felt as dry as the desert surrounding him.

Standing he paused to throw on a black tunic in the style of Chin and belted gray trousers After gulping a few cups of cold tea, he went thought the daily ritual of making a fresh pot and washing up. Once that was done, Sevastian knelt to pick up Kodi and gently deposited him on his narrow camp bed. With care he placed a rolled woolen blanket under the boy's head, and then set about arranging the furs over him.

He heard the shuffle of the Amazon guard at the tent as they came to attention.

“I wana spar!”

Uh Oh ... The thought trailed off as he looked up to find a very besotted Siri staggering near, wearing full Amazonian ceremonial regalia, In one hand she held a haladie, and was coated in perspiration, probably from dancing and carousing the whole night through.

“Ah... how bout some tea?”

“Don't want tea, wana spar!” she swayed on her feet, Sevastian thought to grab her as she appeared ready to fall.

He gently touched her with one hand, guiding her left arm over his shoulders while sliding his arm round her waist. “Maybe take a seat, rest a moment before we spar.”

“You're adorable!” she cooed, dropping the haladie while looking down at him. She abruptly hugged him tight causing Sevastian to blush.

“He's annoying!” Siri spied Kodi curled up on the cot. Good thing the kid had always been a sound sleeper, if he woke and saw this; Sevastian doubted he'd ever hear the end of it. Kodi was still making light of him patching Siri up.

A groan from her was the only warning he got. Siri's legs gave way and Sevastian staggered as the full weight of the Amazon landed in his arms. “Of all the times to pass out!” he huffed as his knees nearly buckled. Sevastian struggled to grab hold in the attempt to keep her from flopping down hard on the floor. Siri seemed larger than the Colossus of Rhodes !

“Victorious in battle and victorious in love,” A familiar and very amused voice rose behind him.

When it rains, but it pours.

Of course Xena would choose this moment to make a rare appearance in his tent. Who knows how long she'd been standing there.

He turned to face her, Siri held in his arms.

Decorum demanded he kneel, but with Siri ... it...well… he couldn't. Oh he could kneel, just wouldn't be able to stand up again.

“Empress, your pardon, it is not what it seems!” he pleaded.

Xena only folded her arms over her chest and quirked one eyebrow.

“You gonna put her down, or just let her drop when your arms give out.”

“” Sevastian fumbled while awkwardly moving to the cot to lay Siri upon it. It was a very tight fit on the narrow cot. One of Siri's arms flopped over Kodi, her legs extending well over the end.

His half-brother mumbled something unintelligible, but grumpy sounding as he turned over, to curl up against Siri.

“Adorable...” Siri murmured pulling Kodi to her.

Looking up aghast, Sevastian watched Xena's right eyebrow quirk just a bit higher.

“Put your boots on adorable,” Xena ordered, “then meet me outside.”

As Xena walked out of the tent Sevastian tried desperately, but failed to stop his flush of embarrassment.

Chapter 22

“Crassus, the situation is grave and I fear we have few options left us.”

His general standing near was still shocked by the news of Pompey taking Rome .

“Do you believe Xena was involved in this? Helping Pompey gain the means to take Rome ?”

Caesar looked up at Crassus. “Here,” he pulled a drawer of this desk open and pulling a parchment out handed it to the general to read.

As Crassus did so, Julius motioned for Salmoneus to enter with a jug of wine and goblets. The fellow did so and after setting the tray upon a nearby stand, began to serve both men.

“She supported Carthage all along!” Crassus yelled in anger. Salmoneus jerked at the sudden outburst spilling a bit of wine upon Caesar's desk.

“Many Pardons, Caesar.”

“It's alright.” muttered Julius as his servant went off to fetch a cloth to wipe up the liquid.

“Yes, the proof of that is in writing by her hand to Hasdrubal. Caesar stood, clasping his hands behind his back. “If she supported Carthage , it is not unreasonable to think she supported the rebels in Gaul , in Hispania, and in Britannia.”

“What is your opinion?” asked Caesar.

“That she has been working against us this whole time, pulling strings like a marionettest! I think she did have a hand in Pompey's return.”

Julius only nodded.

“The mistake is mine.”

“Caesar?” Crassus asked confused.

“I underestimated her. I should have not dallied in invading Greece , but that is neither here or there now.” Julius moved to clasp Crassus by the arms. Take some 30,000 of the Army, pack them on the ships of the fleet, sail direct to Rome .”

“Caesar, you divide your army! A dire mistake! You can look at a map as well as I! If Xena defeats the Persians she will be in position to take Egypt . We must be a full strength to stop her! You do know this!”

“I do, general.” Stepping away, Julius took the goblet Salmoneus handed him. “But, desperate times call for desperate measures. Our hopes lie with the Persians, they will defeat her.”

“We've heard nothing from our spies in ages. Caesar, you must plan for the worst, and that being the plausibility that Xena could win against the Persians.”

“She won't, an army of that size is--”

“Ceasar,” Crassus cut in. “your wisdom is consumed by confidence. I beg you, don't do this, don't divide the army, Pompey will wait, he's not going anywhere.”

“The longer I wait, the more he ingratiates himself to senate and people.”

“For the sake of argument, Caesar, say I do as you wish,” Crassus changed tact. Recall, we've lost some 30,000 or so killed and wounded in the siege of Carthage . “I take 30,000 and your army would be just below 100,000 able bodied men. You will not have the fleet available for resupply!”

“Do you think to school me on warfare Crassus?

“No... no. Great Caesar, I merely--”

“You must retake Rome and I must face Xena, to finish the work that began the day I ordered her crucified.”

“Thy will Caesar,” Crassus knew Julius' mind was set.

“Were I you,” Julius set his wine down and leaned against his desk. “I'd expect Pompey to try and stop you from landing. Ready yourself for a sea battle off the coast of Italia .”

“I am a general, I cannot be admiral too”

Caesar laughed at Crassus words. You speak to the fact that Papias is a poor admiral, tis true the man is a dullard. And true, that I only gave him the position because he supported me in the civil wars against Pompey. Simply tell the commanders of your ships, that no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”

Crassus was unconvinced.

“Go my friend, prepare, when you have loaded the fleet, depart immediately, and may the goddess of victory smile upon you.”


It was hot the heat generated from being swaddled in furs woke him.

Opening his eyes Kodi puzzled over something directly in front of them. An engraved piece of ivory shaped like an upturned horseshoe various symbols carved into it. Two carved snakes wrapped around either end of the horseshoe, their heads facing out to either side. It looked familiar, he'd seen it before. The jewelry was held by brown string which wrapped around the neck of...

He yelped, tumbling out of bed and on the floor, desperate to get away from the Amazon. For her part, Siri only groaned as she rolled over onto her stomach.

Crouching, Kodi felt it best to discretely leave, finding shoes, he picked them up and moved to sit, thinking to put them on quick. Backing away without taking his eyes off the Amazon, he felt behind for a chair then bumped into something solid.

“Well hello.”

He jumped two full spans into the air.

Whipping round his breath hitched, “You again!”

“Yes it is.” Artemis smiled gently, “A pleasure to see you once more little one.”

The goddess laughed as despite his fear, Kodi took clear exception to the moniker.

“You don't mind leaving Siri and I to talk a bit do you?”

“He mutely shook his head to side to side, indicating he did not, and then flashed out of the tent, shoes in hand.

Artemis returned her attentions to the Amazon out cold on the cot.

“Siri, beautiful victory, rise, I wish to speak to you.”

At the call from her goddess, Siri bolted up from the cot and groaned, her hands moved to an aching head, and was not yet clear in her thinking after a night of revelry.

“Siri.” Artemis tried again, this time her Amazon took notice of who it was calling her name and rapidly fell to one knee.


“I promote you to Polemarchos.” Xena clasped the chain to his armor, allowing the cape of black to drape down his slight frame.

Behind an astounded Sevastian, the other commanders in the army exchanged looks.

“I give you command of the 1 st , and 2 nd Army groups Talmadeus and Menticles and 6 corps of Meleagers engineers, plus 2 corps of scouts and flankers from Mercer. I also give you 1,000 Amazons. Some 130,000 troops in all. You will conquer the East Polemarch, roll over Persia lands, take their capital of Babylon , march into India , and go all the way to the very borders of Chin.”

Sevastian was unable to speak.

“Out.” she commanded while looking over Sevastian's head

The other men quickly saluted and left.

“Walk with me... Polemarchos.” Xena moved past, and out of her tent.

He numbly did as bid, his mind consumed in thoughts of what had just transpired. The two walking amongst the men of her Army until they reached the perimeter guard surrounding the camp.


“My goddess, what is thy bidding.”

Siri no need for formalities, rise be seated, I wish to speak to you.

The deity smiled as Siri moved to find a stool and having sat in it found it to be a bit low. She then decided it best to sit back upon the cot.

“You are about to go on a journey.” pronounced Artemis.

Siri quirked her head to one-side, “Am I not on one now?”

“True child, but soon you will be tasked with accompanying Xena's favored.”

Siri became even more bewildered. “The Conqueror has a favorite?”

“Yes she does.”


“Empress, I--”

“Xena, Sevastian.”

“Xena, while I appreciate the many gifts and honors you bestow upon me, I fear I may not live up to your expectations.”

“You told me that once, long ago when I first promoted you to my second.” She pointed to an out cropping of rock and they both sat. From this vantage point, he could see the rotting corpses, lying across the field, if the winds blew right, he could smell the stench. Men of the Persian army, who had chosen to fight and die, rather than surrender. Beyond, thousands of prisoners under guard. Xena had shown some mercy allowing them to keep their tents in protection against the rays of Helios.

“I have come to the conclusion, that I cannot take the East, and face Caesar. Therefore, you must take the East, leaving me free to face Caesar. You have the ability within Deshi, know that I would have placed you in command if you did not.

“Take the East my Silent Lion.” she commanded.

Xena noted his confusion upon her use of the term. “Yes you heard correctly.”

She stretched out a bit on the bolder they both sat upon. “I find most men love to tout their ability endlessly. They babble of conquest; however they define it, on the battlefield, in business, especially in the bedchamber. It often reminds me of a dog my family had once that barked constantly.”

She looked down, absently nudging a pebble with the toe of one boot.

“I despised that mutt for keeping me up all hours of the night.” He watched her chuckle at the memory. “But...” she sighed. “My younger brother loved that dog so I endured its incessant yapping.”

“But you...” She looked up and he was drawn into the debts of her azure eyes. “You fight like a Lion on the battlefield, and when off, are silent. You prove yourself with action, not boasting. I tell you that is much more fearsome. I order to you go forth, ruthlessly destroy all opposition and claim the East for me.”


“Sevastian.” Artemis said soft.

Siri nodded, the Conqueror was not kind, but what little kindness within her was directed toward Sevastian.

“You have...feelings... for him, don't you?”

“I am an Amazon!” Siri tensed. “Amazon's do not--”

“I loved a man once.” Artemis cut in.

The shock on Siri's face caused the goddess to laugh.

“He was an amazing hunter, a lover of the forest. My heart sang with he was near, and was crushed when he was taken from me by my own hand, thanks to the trickery of Apollo”

“You killed him?”

“Yes, too much pride can have terrible consequences. Apollo, angered that my time and attentions had been diverted from him, taunted me, saying I could not hit a target far out at sea. Taking bow in hand, I released the arrow and struck... my one true love.

In my grief, I turned him into stars, casting him into the night sky where he remains as the constellation Orion. I often look up to him, gracing the night sky, and remember what we once had. I shall never love like that again.”

“You love Sevastian.” Artemis rasped low.

“I do not! Amazons despise the world of men.”

“Deny it if you wish.”

Artemis stood causing Siri to stand. “I haven't done this in a while, some 300 cycles, but you are worthy of the honor.”

Siri shivered as the goddess cupped her cheek in one hand. “Siri, beautiful victory, I claim you as my chosen. I give you courage. Be a torch cutting through the darkness of fear. I give you strength. Lead others through adversity. Finally, I gift you wisdom. Enlighten others not only to the power of knowledge, but to see their better nature. I command you to protect my people.”

Artemis clasped Siri's arms.

“Now go forth chosen.”

Artemis vanished in a burst of light, which required Siri to momentarily shield her eyes.

Looking down the Amazon found herself gifted with new armor. Leather sandals on her feet, shining Damascus steel leg protectors wrapped rose up to her knees. A short fabric skirt, dyed brown with white piping along the edges. Black leather belt, embossed with the symbols of Artemis, the bear, dove, horse, and leaping stag. Above that, form fitting black leathers, steel bracers from wrist to elbow. Slung over her right shoulder was a wooden bow, a quiver of arrows on her back. Folded over her arm, was a cape of turquoise, on one hip, the Haladie, and on the other a strangely curved sword.

Chapter 24

“This... is ridiculous.” whispered Gabrielle.

“I can appreciate how you feel sister, but you look, um good, with black hair.”

Lilla was such a terrible liar.

Gabrielle would not have believed that hair color could be changed, but Ioulas had an elderly woman do just that. She had crushed leeches in a vat of vinegar to produce the dye.


That stuff was in her hair. Yuck!

The Master was clear; in public Gabrielle was to wear the finery of a Roman noble. Long flowing tunics of while silk, colored bands of fabric round the waist, beautiful sashes... Both she and Lilla looked nothing like a slaves they actually were.

Her only conciliation was in private, she still could take care over the horses she loved.

Today Gabrielle's hair had been braided in the Roman style, over a silk Stola of white; she wore a long red Palla whose edges were trimmed in gold silk, beautiful sandals adorned her feet. Next to her, Lilla wore much the same.

“Milady” what may I help you with today. The shopkeeper asked most politely.

A bit of silk, all that stands between being treated as a slave or noble , mused Gabrielle as the woman moved to measure her for still more dresses. Behind, Heniokhos stood serving as discreet protector of the two. Between the disguise and the haughty air Iolaus had coached them on, hopefully no one could tell their real identity.


“You may use any means necessary in finding the girl. But I want her alive. She has no value to me dead.” She paused in her pacing back and forth to loom over Charietto, the famous German headhunter. If you kill her, I will kill you.”

“I hear and obey.” Charietto responded, “For the right price.”

“The Empire will compensate you handsomely for finding the girl.

“Bounty hunters.” spat Autolycus standing next to Meleager. “We don't need their scum.”

“Go, find her, and bring her to me.” Xena commanded.

110 men and women lured here by her missives left her presence to find Gabrielle.

“Spy...” Autolycus steadied himself as she moved near. “Go to Rome ; send me reports on actions of Pompey and Senate. Continue your search for the girl.”

“Yes Empress.” Auto bowed, moving to depart.

“Autolycus...” Xena called, causing him to turn back to face her. “I do not forgive you for the debacle at Ephesus . Your information gleaned from that fool Perdicus, proved to be a waste of time. I spare you due to your past service to the Empire. She stepped a pace towards him leaning over to whisper in his ear. “Don'”

“Auto could only nod, having lost his voice.”

With a flick of her hand, she dismissed him.

“Meleager, how goes work on Ares temple?”

“Good Empress, as you have seen, we have started marking out the foundation, and even now are beginning the process of quarrying rock. The Persians are good labor.

“Work them day and night, work them to death if need be, I want that temple completed quickly.”

Meleager nodded gravely. “I'll be done Empress should it absolutely necessary, but I think we can keep to your schedule without working them to death. With your majesties, permission I'd like to send men to Greece . Praxis needs laborers for road building.”

“Well and good, but the temple comes first. This architect Ictinus you've placed in charge, he can manage the task?”

“Yes, he is young, but proven himself eager, and learned from the best before joining your army.

“My old friend.” she clasped his wrist. “Be well on your journey east.”

“Thank you for allowing me to go, Empress.”

“You may finally be able to put those siege engines to use, Meleager.”

The old commander smiled, “Once the enemy sees those monsters, they may well surrender on the spot.”

“Even better,” Xena responded. “To cause your enemy to surrender without fighting is the best type of victory.”

Giving the imperial salute, Meleager left, riding off to join the columns of troops lining up for the march east.

“So...” Xena turned her attentions to Siri “how does the... chosen... of Artemis fair this day?”

“I do well, Conqueror.”

“Hmmm.” Xena muttered while looking over the Amazon, dressed in all her finery, turquoise cape billowing in the desert wind. “At least you are up and about and not passed out on Sevastian's cot.”

Siri glowered at her.

“Remember Amazon, you may be loved by Artemis, but you take orders from me, the same goes with Sevastian.


“I'm not gonna spoil it for you, you'll find out sooner or later that being a chosen has its downsides.”

“It is an honor.” Siri defended.

“Sure it is. Come on.” Xena stepped up into Argo's saddle. “I'll ride with you out to Sevastian.”


“Brother, be merciful.”

Sevastian looked down from atop Gisela to find Kodi standing near. He had been so lost in thought while watching the troops march past that he hadn't noticed the kid approach.

“I will, when I can be.” he replied.

Kodi reached up to touch his leg gently. “May you return safe.”

“Serve the Empress well Kodi.”

Kodi's head turned, causing Sevastian to look behind him to see the Xena approaching. When he glanced back down, his half-brother had gone.

“No ceremony Sevastian.” Xena allowed Argo to plod forward till she was next to him, Siri having held her position behind.


“I'll look after Kodi, Sevastian don't worry.”

“Thank you for caring for him, though he--”

“Hates me, I know.”

“He does.” Sevastian admitted shamefully. “Even after all you've done for him, I--”

Xena's laugh stopped him speaking. “Always loyal and true Sevastian, you do not try to cover anything with niceties, you tell it to me straight.”

For some time the two were silent, both watching the seemingly endless line of men marching past.

“I have one additional task for you to complete in the east.”

Sevastian, looked to the Empress, intent upon her next words.

“There is a guru in the east, named Eli, he and his followers must be eliminated. Hunt them down, kill them all. Show no mercy. I want this man and all his followers crucified. Personally see to it Polemarch, You will watch to make sure he dies.”

“As you command,” Sevastian did not question, her tone made it clear there would be no discussion.

Xena leaned back in the saddle, looking straight ahead into the distance beyond the men marching past. “I want no updates from you Sevastian, don't waste my time sending me missives explaining your progress or worse giving me excuses for the lack of it. I don't care about every little hovel you've conquered. The only thing I want is a single missive from you containing written confirmation that you have completed the task of subduing the Persians and taking India .”


“Completely Empress.”

Sevastian looked down absently, at the leather reins in his hand.

“You will need a second, have you considered that?”

He hadn't.

“I can suggest one if you like?”

He looked to her in surprise causing Xena to smile. “It is your command Polemarchos. You must choose those who you believe will serve best.”

Sevastian nodded, and then twisted in the saddle, looking back he motioned Siri forward.

“You are my second.” he said without preamble, stunning the Amazon.

“Good choice, she is able to save your butt when you get in trouble. And knowing you... you will get in trouble.” Xena tugged at Argo's reins meaning to take her leave.



“The affairs of men are always uncertain,” he began soft. “And one never knows when the end may come. If this is the last time we'll speak to each other. Accept my everlasting farewell and thanks for giving my life purpose again. If we meet again, then we'll smile. If not, we can say this parting was well done.”

She surprised him by clasping his wrist firmly. “I don't accept that this will be our last meeting. I will see you again, my silent lion. I do accept that when we meet again, we'll smile indeed.”

Heeling Argo away, Xena spurred her mount, to ride down the lines of her men marching east. Her actions causing them to cheer with abandon.

“Silent lion?” Siri questioned, amusement showing in her voice.

“Laugh all you wish, least I don't have to wear a silly green cape.”

“The color is turquoise! And it is not silly!”

“Uh-huh.” Sevastian clucked his tongue and Gisela moved forward, he guiding her ahead of the next column of men.

Siri followed, catching up to him, her Amazon's forming a protective circle round the new Polemarchos.

“I never got around to asking, what's his name?” Sevastian asked idly, while gesturing to the gray mare Siri rode.

“Her name!” Siri replied hotly.

“Okay, her name.” Sevastian barely managed to keep annoyance out of his voice

“Gray.” she replied.

“Very original.”

“What's wrong with that? She is Gray!”

“Nothing Siri, nothing at all.”


“What a worthless town, what is its name again.”

Caesar's new general, Publius Laevinus, reached into his satchel, meaning to grasp his map.

“Never mind Laevinus, we'll call it, Leptis Magna , it is now part of the Roman world now.”

Laevinus was ambitious, wanting to be consul of the Republic. Julius had no doubts the man could rise that high, he had a good linage, many in his family had served Rome . While the man himself was a dolt, by name alone he'd go far.

Course, having a stupe as a second in command had some advantages, Unlike Crassus and Sulla; Laevinus would never think to plot against him

“Set up camp, we rest here only for one cycle and must move on. We have many leagues to go before we reach Egyptian lands.”

“Yes Caesar.” The general rode off.

Julius dismounted, tired from riding in the heat. He smiled at seeing Salmoneus approaching, silver tray in hand, a chalice of wine atop it.

“Ah Salmoneus, what would I do without you? You always know just what it is I need.”

“Thank you, your Greatness.”

“So, this is the best shack in town?” Julius asked after draining the chalice.

“Yes Caesar. I could find none better.”

“You kick the people out so I would not have to waste time doing so myself?”

“Your soldiers did, Caesar.”


Stepping into the home, Caesar stood a moment, while Salmoneus removed his red and gold cape.

“Draw me a bath.”

“Yes Caesar, new missives have arrived by courier, I placed them on the desk.”

“Fine.” walking through a doorway, he spied the messages. Taking a seat, he looked about the room disdainfully. “Savages.” muttered Julius. “Not everyone would think to use skulls as decoration.”

He flicked through the sealed parchments, finding one from his spy Autolycus, another from Dagnine.


She was displeased.

The siege had taken too long, the attacks sloppy. Zealots behind walls had managed to hold out against her men for a seven-day. However, fanaticism could only hold for so long in the face of a trained army.

Adding to her displeasure, a fire had erupted from within the great temple. She had had wanted to seize it and transform it into a temple dedicated to the Greek Pantheon. Now the interior and wooden roof would need to be rebuilt. She'd get Meleager's men on it. It was annoying to have to spend gold on repairs which should not have been needed.

Her second should have secured the temple, another in the long list of his failures. Wanting an elevated position in the army was one thing, knowing what to do with it was quite another.

“Your services in this army are no longer required.” she pronounced just before Adamis tumbled off his horse, dead.

Pressure points were an easy way to get rid of a nuisance.


“Yes Conqueror.” The Amazon was instantly by her side.

“You are promoted to second. Tell Mercer I promote him to governor of the near east. Tomorrow this army marches on to Egypt ; I have no interest in staying to watch Jerusalem slowly burn.”

Solari looked on dumbstruck as Xena rode off.

“I don't know whether to congratulate you or not, Solari.” said Virgilius standing near.

“I wouldn't.” A recently appointed Agis stated while stepping up into the saddle of his own horse.


“The flag of Crassus, pity it is not Caesar. However, I am glad” Pompey continued. “That they mean to attack us, I hate wasting time in maneuvering.”

Pompey adjusted his fine armor, watching amused as Brutus did the same.

“Brutus, my friend before battle consumes us, let me say now before all present that I am truly sorrowful for having to kill your father.”

“He supported Lepidus' rebellion, a poor decision which rightly cost him his life.”

As the Senator turned back to watch the enemy ships approaching, Pompey remained silent for a moment, but curiosity got the best of him.

“Tell me Brutus, after my defeat at Pharsalus , how did you manage to retain your position? I was forced to go on the run.”

“Caesar ordered his officers to take me prisoner if I gave up voluntarily, but to leave me alone and do me no harm if I persisted in fighting against capture, he never explained his reasons as to why he did so.”

Brutus turned looking at Pompey direct. “After Pharsalus , I wrote a missive to Caesar, sending him my apologies, and he immediately forgave me for supporting you in the civil wars. It had to be done Pompey; there was no other way I or my family could survive.”

“I see.” Pompey muttered. Xena at Ephesus had stated that words do not stop swords a statement Pompey found himself in full agreement with. Yet in Brutus' case sweet words had been enough to stop his death by Caesars' sword.

Course, Caesar had always loved Brutus.

“They are almost upon us!” The shout from the Admiral of the fleet, Cornellius Fuscus caused Pompey to draw his sword and point the tip of the blade directly at the closest enemy ship. “Sic semper tyrannis ad mortem!” Thus always I bring death to tyrants! he cried out causing the men to cheer. The hired scribe nearby, recorded his words for the ages, It was good propaganda for the Roman masses.

The ship's tiller was thrown hard over by Fuscus, “Oars in!” was the command shouted from the upper deck. With Roman precision, the slaves chained bellow pulled in their oars. Pompey's flagship was of the newer design, having three banks of rowers 170 men in all.

Fuscus' action caused the enemy ship to miss its chance to ram.

“Archers! Fire!” Pompey yelled. Arrows from the upper works flew, striking many of the sailors on the decks of the enemy ship. The enemy did the same, and soon the decks were coated in blood. With satisfaction Pompey watched as an arrow found General Crassus.

“Grappling hooks!”

At the Admirals order a dozen of more curved iron hooks were thrown, the men on deck, pulling hard on the ropes to pull the two ships together. The enemy frantically attempted to cut the ropes, but, for every stand cut, two more hooks were thrown. Slowly, the enemy ship was brought along side.

Neither Pompey, nor Fuscus had to give the order to repel boarders, the men moved instinctively, drawing swords to engage the enemy jumping on deck.

“Now we shall see how Senators fight.” said Pompey.

“We all bleed the same blood,” Replied Brutus.

Both slashed at the oncoming enemy, both finding themselves in the odd position of being back to back, defending the other against the enemy.

“Run the flags up!” ordered Fuscus. “Sail around!” The signal bearer did so, running colorful flags up the ships mast to give the order.

The ships in Pompey's fleet did just that, unburdened by the weight of so many troops the ships nimbly sailed round to the weaker stern of Crassus' ships. The enemy line broke under the onslaught.

“Use Fire!” Urged Fuscus, the order was quickly sent.

“Lit bolts sailed, setting fires within the ships of Crassus' fleet.

On the shores of Sicily , Citizens watched as thousands of Roman soldiers stripped themselves of fine armor and dove into the sea to escape the flames consuming their ships.

It had taken some time, the unconquerable sun was low in the heavens, but it appeared to those on shore, that the flags of Pompey outnumbered, those of Caesar's fleet, it would seem Pompey had won the day.


The air was smoky, caused by the fires raging in Jerusalem , an annoyance.

Kodi met her outside her tent.

“You finished your chores?” Xena dismounted from Argo, a groom gently led her Palomino away to be cleaned and fed.

“Yes Xena.” he stated quickly then moved on to important news. “A delegation has arrived from Egypt . As you were busily smiting yet another city, I did not wish to bother you. Instead, I bid them come into your tent and showed them some hospitality as last I heard we were not yet at war with Egypt .

For a moment Xena almost allowed herself to be baited into a retort. Stepping past, she walked into the tent, pausing just a moment to allow her eyes to adjust, as the delegation of three knelt before her.


“Your name?” she asked the man who appeared to be their leader.

Senefru, Great Xena. By all the powerful gods of Egypt ! This Greek woman was fearsome! Taller than the tallest of Egyptians! She looked strong enough to pick up the Pyramids!

“And these?” Xena pointed.

“Eban and Bahadur”

The two men fell forward till their faces touched the ground.


As the three did so,

She moved to a table, and in the silence washed her face, Kodi attending to her. When finished, he handed her a golden chalice filled with wine. She admired the cup for just a moment as it was and decorated with many precious stones. Pretty thing one of many treasures taken from within the high temple of Jerusalem .

She moved to be seated with them, crossing her legs femininely, one high black boot kicking idly as she took a sip of wine.

Senefru steeled himself as he looked upon Xena; she was daunting, yet lovely. Her armor of bronze covered in pure silver shined, even in the muted light of her tent. The fabric skirt round her waist was dyed a deep royal purple, covered in front by strips of black leather with designs of silver. The design almost looked to be Roman.


Senefru knew this was the inevitable moment. Falling to his knees, he touched the tip of her boot with his forehead. “Ruler of Greece , we throw ourselves upon your tender mercies.”

“Get up.”

She took another sip of wine watching a tears cut channels down the little Egyptian's face.

“You wish to tell me why you throw yourself at my feet and weep openly in my presence?

Senefru tried to regain his composure. Kodi quietly handed the poor fella a linen rag to dry his eyes with. A sharp look from Xena and he backed away to a position near the fabric wall of the tent.

“Great Xena , Egypt lays in ruin, her people dead by the thousands. We have been battered by the Persians, and been deceived by the Romans.”

“The result of a poor choice by your Queen in allying Egypt with the dogs of Rome , her games with Marcus Antonius cost your people dearly.”

“All true great one.”

“So, tell me why you come to me on your knees?”

She watched as the men looked to each other.

“Out with it!” Xena barked.

“Great one, a Roman army approaches--”

“And you want me to save you.” she cut in. “How ironic, that your erstwhile ally now moves to conquer you.”

“We have paid dearly, great one.” Eban now spoke, shuddering as her blue eyes locked on him. Alexandria is in ruin, our people fight each other--”

“Not my concern.”

“No, no... It is not, but we had hoped, that with the arrival of your fleet, you were open to some sort of.... some accommodation might be reached between our peoples.”

Eban's breath hitched as she suddenly leaned forward after a pause.

“They crossed the waters safely then?” she asked.

“Yes, Empress, 18 beautiful Greek warships have docked in Alexandria . We have been most hospitable to their crews hoping by our actions to show that we desire peace with you.”

Something was amiss, those 18 ships were not to be in Alexandria , but she could not let these men know that. She would have to regain control of events. She stalled a moment, taking a sip of wine, then gesturing Kodi to refill her chalice, all the while ordering her thoughts.

“You pass the test by showing kindness to the men of my fleet. Your actions have moved me greatly. I give you a proposal, one that will gift your people with lasting peace once more.”

Such hope shone in their eyes at her words.

“I offer to lead my army against Rome in protection of your people. Mind you, I do not make this decision lightly. Rome is powerful and I take great risk in opening hostilities with them. I will need something in return for the sacrifices I undertake to defend your people.”

“We can understand that.” Bahadur spoke then dipped his head to her.

“I will defeat the Romans; I will restore order, but... My army will occupy your land and I will be crowned Queen of Egypt.”

“Great one,” Senefru sifted uncomfortably in his seat. “What you ask...foreign queen it--”

“It would be wiser to listen to all that I have to say, before speaking.”

Senefru fell silent, bowing his head in deference to her.

“I know having a foreigner sitting on your throne, would offend many so I offer this. While I will be the unquestioned Queen and all must swear fealty to me, I give you the right to appoint a regent who will rule in my name. After all, I have an Empire to run and will not remain in Egypt . Your people will be part of my Empire, pay taxes to me, will be occupied by my troops, but will be allowed to run their own affairs under the benevolent protection of Greece .”

The men looked at each other, trying to decide on her offer.

“Or...” it was time to press the advantage as Ares instructed.

“I can simply march into your lands, tear down your cities, enslave your people, and make Egypt another province of my Empire. Have you taken note of what I've done here at Jerusalem ? I can do that a hundred-fold in your land.”

Senefru was the first to do so, then the others quickly followed suit, all on their knees before her.

“My Queen!” they declared in unison.

And here I thought it would be a struggle to subdue Egypt , mused Xena. I just conquered their kingdom in under a candle mark.”

The next order of business was to get to Alexandria and find out why her ships had docked there.

Chapter 25

“Such a beautiful city, it is a shame they choose to resist.”

On the ridge overlooking Babylon , the high commanders and Polemarch of the Eastern Army sat upon their mounts, peering down into the city.

Lovely wide streets lined with homes and public buildings, he could see the colorful cloth sun shades draping over the streets from many of them. Most structures were constructed from a golden brick matching the desert sands in hue. The wide Euphrates running directly though the city. Numerous ships were lined up against the docks. The high wall surrounding the city was also of brick, the crenellations at the tops of every square turret a striking cobalt blue

“The army in position?” asked Sevastian.

“Yes Polemarch, we now surround them.” Talmadeus stated from behind. “The key to the city is obviously the river, we tear down those metal gates they have up and we are in.”

“True.” Sevastian agreed. “I think they would expect that, wouldn't you agree?”

“It is the only route, those walls are 5 feet thick, impervious to---”

“Let's just give it a try Talmadeus; you haven't seen what these machines can do.” Meleager argued.

“You've spent three fortnights cobbling these giant monstrosities together we've wasted time, and allowed the enemy to better organize their defense.”

“Why are you so opposed to trying?” Siri asked pointedly. “We do it your way and men die, by firing the Trebuchet's stationed round the city we lose nothing.

“Your opinion Menticlies? Asked Sevastian while taking a bit of linen in hand to wipe his brow.

“As before, I say try it, no risk in it.”

“Fancy siege weapons do not--”

“New ideas in warfare Talmadeus,” Menticlies tisked while waging a finger, “we must be open to at least testing them.”

“Meleager, have you men, ready this giant contraption. Honestly, I'm curious to see it how it works.” Sevastian, dismounted, the other commanders following suit, grooms taking hold of the horse reigns.

“Would you like to give her a go, Polemarchos?” Meleager smiled as Sevastian's eyes drifted up to the top of the six story tall weapon, that height did not include the long firing arm pointing straight up into the sky.

“You know, I think I would.” Sevastian took of his helmet, placing it on the ground. “What first?”

“We must ready the machine, by storing up some energy.” Meleager pointed to the two great wheel's on either side of the firing arm.

“Alright,” Sevastian walked up to the wheel, which was the size of many wheels back in Greece , except those used the power of water to grind grain. These used leg power to turn.

Stepping inside, he was quickly elbowed over by Siri, the two of them now together within the wheel.

“Talmadues, Menticlies, care to join?” Sevastain asked tauntingly.

The two commanders took the bait, walking over to the other side to enter to wheel opposite.

“Here we go then!” Meleager announced merrily. “Ready!” he commanded.

All four began walking to rotate the huge wheel. Stout rope began to coil around a massive wooden center axle raising a huge wooden hopper filled with rocks. On the other side, the long oak firing arm lowered.

“This is fun...” huffed Sevastain.”

“I shall need to have you run more,” Siri poked him. “Running is good for building endurance.”

Sevastian wished he'd held his tongue, the Amazon regimen for fitness was quite demanding. How those women loved to tease when he faltered, even just a little.

“Hold!” Meleager yelled. “None too soon as Menticlies and Talmadeus were also feeling the effects of raising tons of rock.

“Not bad for a bunch of first timers!” Meleager complimented after locking down the massive firing arm. “You best step out now.”


All four stood watching at a fair distance as Meleager shouted the order. An absolutely gigantic bolder was hefted into position by 35 men stout men.

“Take 10 Amazons...” muttered Siri derisively. She then got a look from Sevastian. “Okay, 15 she conceded, “tops.”

“There is no way this machine can fire that!” Talmadeus charged.

“Wait and you will see.” replied Meleager. For some time the men struggled to place a thick chain round the gigantic rock, then they slathered it generously with sticky Greek fire.

“Clear!” he shouted causing the men to scurry away. Walking forward he grabbed the stout rope tied to the net round the bolder. Making a loop at the end Meleager then hooked it round a straight iron rod jutting up from the end of the long firing arm.

“I believe the men would dearly love to see you loose the first volley Polemarch.”

“Alright Meleager.”

“This rope is attached to the pin keeping the axle from turning. When I give the command, pull on it hard!” Meleager clasped his arms, guiding Sevastian back some distance from the machine until the rope was taut.

Sevastian tightened his grip on the rope in preparation.


A soldier walked forward with a torch, igniting the Greek fire, then scampered away

“Loose!” Meleager screamed while pointing to Sevastain who pulled on the rope with all his worth.

“Gods!” Menticlies shouted as the giant counterweight dropped. The long oak arm rose up.

Talmadeus ducked down instinctively as the boulder was pulled from under the machine and up into the air.

“By Artemis!” Siri whispered as the blazing rock flew through the air. It looked like one of the shooting lights of the night sky cast down from the heavens by Zeus.

Moments later the beautiful Cobalt gate of Ishtar, decorated with golden lions of Persia , dissipated in a great cloud of dust. The bolder having smashed the gate completely though. The stone tumbled on, demolishing a brick structure in the city, setting the contents inside on fire.

Three other machines stationed round the city then opened up. One boulder, smashed down a gate house on the eastern side of the wall, the other tore the top completely off a tower. Both rocks then slammed into the city, plowing down everything in their path.

Both the high command and their Polemarchos stood in silence for some time looking over the destruction wrought by the siege engines, listening to the screams rising up from the city.

“Do it again!”

Sevastain's remark caused Meleager to laugh. “Looks like we won't have to,” He pointed. There upon the high temple, the Ziggurat as the Persians called it the city colors were being hauled down. In its place a small flag of white was raised.

All watched as the Polemarch raised his arms to the sky, hands out. “By Ares!” Babylon is ours!” he yelled out. His voice a mix... part joy, mostly relief.”

The cheers of the men surrounding the high command floated down from the ridge they stood upon, to be heard and picked up by the rest of the army below.

“We must move quickly before they change their minds.” whirling about, Sevastian moved to huddle with his commanders. Talmadeus, lead your men on, all 50,000 into the city, take control.

“As you wish, Polemarch.”

“I give you the rest of this day, and through the night to wipe any and all who may decide it better to die fighting. Round up the leadership of the city. I want them all in the governing palace in the morrow. You are free to kill any man that opposes you, but you will not harm any woman or child. I need not remind you of the Empress' commands about the men taking any woman against her will?”

“You do not.”

“Good, Ride then, I will enter the city tomorrow.”

Talmadeus gave the Imperial salute which Sevastain returned.

“Menticles, organize your men, tomorrow before first light you march. Move as fast as is possible, swarm over the land, take towns and villages, and kill all who resist. If you encounter towns with strong fortifications, bypass them, leave troops to cut the flow of supplies so that they die on the vine. Remember; have your scouts looking for this Eli and his followers.

“We haven't had much luck, Polemarch.” Menticles reported. “Finding this man Eli has been like chasing ghosts. His followers shuttle him from one hiding hole to the next.”

“With your permission...”

Sevastain looked to Siri.

“I will send 200 of my Amazons to aid in the search, they will find this man.”

Menticles was unimpressed.

“No better trackers than the Amazons.” Sevastian said flat wondering if pride would cause Menticles to disagree.

The commander said nothing.

“I will follow you once Babylon learns to heel to her new Mistress.”

With a salute Menticles also departed.

“And me Polemarch?” asked Siri

“He touched her arm gently. Seemed he'd been doing that a lot lately, a bad habit. “Have your Amazons ready Siri, tomorrow we enter the city with great show.”


Brutus looked down at the colorless face of his dearest friend. “Could you have found Romans as good as these here?” he asked those standing round him to include a bereaved Pompey.

In front of Brutus lie, Trebonius, Casca, Decius Brutus, and his dearest friend Cassius. All killed in the sea battle with Crassus' forces.

“ Rome will never produce your equal.” Brutus said firm. Taking the torch from Pompey, he walked along the line, lighting the pyres as the waves crashed along the beaches of Sicily .

“Friends, I owe more tears to these dead men than you will see me shed. I will find the time to cry for you,” Brutus vowed, “I shall find the time.” Looking out far over the waters, he watched as the bodies of plebeian soldiers were lowered into the sea.

“Lucius.” called Brutus. The boy came forward.

“After the pyres have burned, take a little of the ash from each, place it in urns so we may take it back to Rome to inter in their family crypts.”

“Yes sir.”

Brutus turned, walking past Pompey who moved to follow, but not before clasping Fucus by the shoulders. To all watchers it appeared to be a moment in which the general was thanking the Admiral of his fleet for the sacrifices made in battle. Truthfully, it was thanks for that, but also thanks for ensuring these senators would die during the fighting.

Unfortunately Fucus and his henchmen would have to die. First rule of assassination, kill all the assassins when the job is completed.


The Army struggled, the long lines of men staggering under the onslaught of the wind and the sand. The sun itself had been conquered, blotted out, by the sands.

The Roman's had never seen the like. From the south it had approached a wall of sand reaching high into the heavens. Silently it moved over the landscape catching all in its grip. Men used their cloaks, pulling them over their nose and mouth, trying desperately to breathe in the choking sand. Some of the animals had succumbed to the conditions, the supply carts they pulled left behind the advancing army.

Caesar was leading the snaking line of men, He, trying desperately to keep his bearings in the mist of so much blowing sand. When night fell, he hoped the howling winds would stop.

Dagnine had told of Xena's defeat of the Persians and of her turn to Egypt . Autolycus had told of the death of Dagnine, having been found by Xena to be a spy.

Dagnine's death mattered little to Julius, what stunned him, what drove him to get to Egypt was that Xena had defeated the Persians.

The time was right; he'd sent a missive as well, to the little fire-brand that Crassus had discovered long ago, the one who claimed to hate Xena so much. His network in Egypt would ensure it was delivered. On the parchment he had written one word only...


Caesar forged on telling himself this march across the sands was necessary, not wishing to admit that he had made a mistake in moving the army inland, allowing it to be caught up in this storm of sand.

Nor did he wish to admit, he'd underestimated Xena…Again.



“Beautiful, she is absolutely beautiful.”

Xena walked slowly to the ship, placing her hand against the stout timbers. This was the first time she had seen her vision come to life. The hull of her new ships was long and sleek, easy to propel though the water unlike the squat, slow Roman ships. Each of her ships had two masts, forward and amidships with large square sails to catch the wind. Speed was attained by having quadruple decks of rowers. On her prow was the painted eye, below that, peeking above the water the metal ram.

This was her flagship, the Hellas .

“Have you ever been on the waves Solari?”

“I have not, Empress.” The Amazon looked out over the forest of masts jutting up from the water across the whole of Alexandria 's harbor. Each mast marking a sunken ship.

“I feel we are tied to the ocean Solari.” Xena's look was pensive for a moment as she gazed out over the shimmering waves. “And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch we are going back from whence we came.”

“Come, my admiral is expecting us.” Xena turned to walk down the long dock, her blood red cape billowing out as she did. Stepping up the gangplank, a flute sounded, piping her on board. Her personal ensign rose to the highest point to on main mast, there it fluttered in the sea breeze, black “X” upon a field of white.

On deck were her men, lined up for inspection all except the person she wanted to see most.

“Empress, welcome aboard.”

“You are?”

“Leosthenes, Empress.” The man bowed low. Like all long time sailors, his skin was tan, rough, from sea and sun. “I am acting commander of the fleet.”

“Where is Cecrops?”

“Empress we do not know what happened to Cecrops.”

“What?” Xena said low.

“At last word, he was returning with the Romans from Ephesus . We sent an escort to Piraeus to meet the Admiral, but he never appeared, no ship carrying him ever docked.”

A myriad of questions came to her mind immediately.

“With me” she walked toward the stern and the Admirals cabin contained within. Once she, Leosthenes, and Solari were inside her Amazons outside moved to guard the door.

Xena couldn't help but take a moment to sigh in pleasure. Finally, here was a space purpose built for her inches. In a land where the vast majority men and women were small, her height made for cramped conditions in most structures, nothing was built to accommodate someone like her or the Amazons. Here she'd changed all that, demanding taller ceilings on her ships but also in all her palaces. It wasn't vanity, it was necessity.

Unhooking her cape, she tossed it aside, and then settled into a large chair.

“Why did you move the fleet to Alexandria ?”

“Empress, we were attacked!” Leosthenes anger shone. “The Roman sea-dogs sent fire ships into the harbor at Olynthus ! The only thing that saved this fleet was the massive iron chain you bid us create and string across the harbor entrance one shore to the other. Those fire ships were stopped by that enormous chain from entering the harbor and setting this fleet alight.”

“Pompey!” Xena cursed the man inwardly. Unable to come up with an original thought, the dolt had used her fire-ship idea against her own fleet, oblivious that she would have thought of a way to counter it. No doubt Pompey was behind the disappearance, no... The death of Cecrops.

“We sailed here,” Leosthenes continued, “it was my impression that you would eventually come to Alexandria . I tell you Empress this has to be part of a larger plan, friendly merchant ships signaled to us news of a Roman fleet massing at the port of Palermo in Sicily .

She liked this man, he spoke straight on.

The obvious problem was, that at the moment, she didn't have the recourses to fight Rome at sea, 18 ships, no matter how well constructed, were not enough.

Xena rose to her feet. “Send lookout ships to guard the entrance of the harbor, I want no surprises.

“We'll make sure to do so.”

“In the meantime, help our Egyptian friends to clear the harbor of wrecked ships, but be ready to sail in a moment's notice.”

Walking to the door, she opened it and walking though she reappeared on deck. All work to stopped.

“Carry on.” At her words, the men resumed the tasks necessary to keep a ship fit for sailing.

Stepping to the rail, Xena looked out with pride at her fleet while allowing Solari to reattach her cape. Pompey had used his one advantage, the ability to control the waves.

But... Pompey would also be stretched very thin; this fleet he was amassing was all Rome had left.

There was an opportunity here, if she could figure how to turn this to her advantage.

“What did you christen them?” Xena asked, referring to her ships.

“Named by Cecrops. This here,” Leosthenes moved to her side and pointed at the ships anchored farthest away The “ Olympias , Amphitirite , Siren , Tritogenes , Euia.” Next he pointed to the ships closer.

“The Delphis, Panthera, Lykaina, Aura, Dikaiosyne, Nike, Kallennike ,”

Now he named the ships nearest. “ Dynamis, Charis, Doxa, Strategis...

But here!” he announced proudly is the ship we love best.

“The Kallixena !”

The crew on deck cheered.

As stoic as she was, Xena had to smile at the name... Beautiful Stranger .

“She's a bit wild, hard to handle, gives her crew fits on the waves, seen it myself as we sailed here.” Leosthenes smiled as he looked out over the rail. But she is fierce of heart and fiery of will. She'll be vicious in battle.”

“I'm sure she will be.” Xena smiled down at Leosthenes, “Have one of the ships made ready; I have missives to be delivered to Greece .” Praxis and her various Governors in Greece must be alerted to the possibility of a Roman sea or land attack.

“We'll have one ready.”

“I fear our Admiral has met an untimely end.

“Say it is not so!”


“Feared as much myself, Cecrops was the best sailor I have ever known.” Lesothenes bowed his head. “Always did he act in honesty and for the general good of his men.”

I place you in command of the fleet.”

“I will do my best in your service Empress.” a somber Leosthenes replied

“Good.” She walked toward the gang plank.

“With your pardon Empress, might I ask where you are heading now?” called her new admiral from behind.

“I have a coronation to attend.” she said loudly, “Seems the Egyptians desire to make me their new Queen!”

The men cheered at her pronouncement.


Her hands wrapped round his waist, causing him to blush slightly.

Siri stood back rather proud of herself for having perfectly tied the Imperial Blue sash round his waist. “Now this...” she picked up his sword, moving to his side intending to tie it to the blue cords attached to his black armor.

“Siri, you don't have to--”

He stopped speaking as her hands slapped his away, keeping him from tying the cords himself.

“Where's your cape?” she looked around the interior of the tent.


“Ah.” she walked to the chair his cape was thrown over. Grabbing it, she returned throwing it round him with a flourish, then clasping the silver chain to his armor.

“There!” Siri said happily while making little adjustments.

Sevastian thought Siri was being a bit, well, doting. Not that he minded her attentions for a number of reasons, but the largest stemmed from the fact that he'd never had someone actually looking out for him. From an early age, his world had been the temple school. After his father passed, Sevastian became head of a family he barely knew. Nonetheless, he took full responsibility to care for his mother and a very young Kodi till his mother remarried.

“It may not be easy this day.” Sevastian said while looking down. “People who are used to ruling over others do not take kindly to being told they rule no longer.”

“You must be firm,” Siri paused a moment to make final adjustments to her own armor and cape. “Show them your fist now and remove the possibility of a revolt.”

“We already are showing our fist.” Sevastian poured them both a bit of tea. “Talmadeus reports many chose to resist and were killed. Many men are dead, many women widowed, children orphaned.”

“These people will harbor much hatred.” Siri stated while taking hold of the cup he brought her.

“That's why I believe it best we send the most rebellious westward, ruling class included. They will begin building a road network across the eastern lands.”

“The orphans?” Siri asked with interest.

“I had thought to use the Empress' own precedent as a guide. “If there is no family to claim them, male orphans inducted into the Greek Military or taught a trade by a willing master. Female orphans much the same or given the choice to join the Amazons. This is a far different culture, though; the girls will most likely prefer to stay with any family no matter how tenuous the bond of blood is.”

“Perhaps,” Siri put down her tea. “Would you would consider allowing my sisters to talk with these girls, urge them that it is for the best that they join our nation?”

“Of course,” Sevastian sat, visibly irked at having to stand again to adjust his cape before re-seating himself. His own clumsiness stood in stark contrast to the grace Siri displayed.

“If some do chose to become Amazons, would you give approval for my sisters to take them to Ephesus ? The Amazon presence must be rebuilt there.”


“You are most generous.”

“Well...” Sevastian's voice trailed off as he looked to the tent flaps, so see dawn approaching.” It is not just me, I follow, and also believe firmly, in the Empress diktat that the Amazon nation should be revived, though many men both in Greece and even in this army remain stubborn in their foolish opposition to the idea.

“I am sure our Queen would not mind me extending her thanks to you.”

“Let me say it plain Siri, that I am very glad... you... and the Amazons are here with me. I have lived in Greece and in the east; the Amazons are the best fighters in the known world, bar none.”

He looked at her for some time, his mind wrapped up in thought. Finally he spoke direct. “Your skills may soon be put to the test again.”

“You worry...” Siri's voice was soft.

“That noticeable is it?”

“To me, who spends much time near you, it is. The army sees nothing but confidence from you.”

“Truth be told,” She watched him slump in his chair. “The Empress is a natural at running an army. I'm far better at being a second.”

His honesty was so endearing to Siri; there was no pretense within him.

“Seems to me, you've done well, she said. “No causalities in the taking of Babylon .”

“Yes, but this is just the beginning, Siri. By gods, I'm ordered to take India , all of it. India is so vast a land. And I...” his voice trailed off.

Siri had found men do not always express all which troubles them; they speak to only part of what is on their mind. Yes, Sevastian was rightly concerned about India , but she knew from observation that he also worried about Talmadeus. The elder commander, having experience in the east, clearly thought he should be in charge. Any perceived misstep on the part of a young Sevastian and Talmadeus would use the opportunity to pounce.

She and her Amazons had agreed, they would watch and wait to see if Talmadeus would make a move against Sevastain. If so they would strike him down. There was a fair amount of calculation in the decision. Sevastain, in both word and deed, had proven himself to be a friend of the Amazon Nation. In the cold light of political expediency, his death would be a setback to the revitalization of their nation

“The Amazons will be there to aid you, after all you do require a fair amount of help.” she added the last to rile him.

“I appreciate...” Sevastian sat up in his chair. “Wait, what?”

“Well,” she sighed dramatically “you are a man.” She loved nettling him.

“Now don't start--” Sevastain stood.

“Just be glad that you are adorable and we Amazons have all taken to you... you've become dear to us like a... a mascot.” Siri stood as well, knowing it was time for the show to begin as Sevastian termed it.

“Mascot! I am not a mascot!”

“Well, then just adorable.” she replied.

“Oh?” he smiled deviously. “None of them has ever called me adorable, just you. In fact that's thrice now you've used the term. Course the first time you were a bit soused.”

“I-well...” Siri floundered, he loving every moment of it.

“C'mon” Sevastian walked to the tent flaps, she happy to follow as it meant the end of this turn in conversation.

Outside the Amazon guard was mustering. Siri's voice called them to attention at his presence. He could have just mounted Gisela, rode into the city, knowing they would follow, but looking at them, dressed in the regalia of their people, he understood this was a defining moment.

He hoped Siri did as well

“Dismount.” Was her order.

She had.

Siri gestured for them to come near. Soon 1,000 Amazons surrounded the both of them on all sides. Those in the front sitting upon their haunches so the hundreds behind might see as well. Closest were Siri's most loyal, the 250 who had first trained with Sevastian long ago.

“Amazons…” she began soft voice rising in volume, “Loyal and true to our nation. Your actions will be forever immortalized by our people. Generations ahead will tell of your bravery and skill in battle.”

“But they will also speak of what you do today.”

With a step forward, Siri allowed her hand to fall gently on the shoulder of Echephyle.

“Those in Babylon have never seen the likes of us.” Siri's hand dropped from Echephyle's shoulder. Next she walked to a kneeling Kreousa, placing her hand on the woman's shoulder. “Warrior women, intelligent, capable, we are everything the overlords of Babylon say women cannot be.”

“Yet...” Siri continued, “Here you are, for all to see.”

The women let out a defiant cheer.

So today, when you ride into Babylon , when you pass through the streets I humbly ask one favor from you.”

Siri paused to hold her hands out, in entreaty

“Look into the eyes of the women you pass today, show them what they can be.”

As one the women surged to their feet, their cheers rising, joining together into one fearsome cry.

Silently walking through them, Sevastian moved to Gisela to step up into the saddle. Siri bellowed out the order and 1,000 Amazons mounted up, sitting proudly upon their steeds all had swords drawn and held at the ready.

“Give the order Siri.” Sevastian said quiet as her horse drew even with his.

“Amazons!” she yelled. “By fours, double wedge ahead!”

With precision, the women formed up. The riders in front of the line, formed wedges in a “V” shape to clear the road ahead of the main force.


Sevastian looked back to find Echephyle holding the flag of the Army.

“Your bearer is ill, May I have the honor of carrying the colours?”

“Raise the standard,” he paused dearly hoping to get it right, “Echephyle.”

The Amazon smiled wide, and Sevastian knew he'd finally pronounced her name correct.

The Rising Phoenix rose behind him as both he and Siri rode to the front of the lines. To either side, Amazons formed a ring around him for protection.

“Ready then?” asked Sevastian.

“Amazons, prepare to advance!” she rose in the saddle while giving the command.

A cheer sounded.


The column began to move, and as it did, the men of Meleagers Engineers saluted, the first grudging respect, any of the rank and file soldiers had ever shown Amazons.

Through the destroyed Ishtar Gate the column rode.

The men of Talmadeus army group, stationed on the sides of the avenue saluted as he passed. For a moment Sevastain watched as Talmadeus' standard, the stylized yellow Helios on a field of burnt red was lowered. The men on the tower saluted again as, the Rising Phoenix of the high commander was raised in its place.

The emotions of the people ran the gambit Sevastian noticed, mostly fear, but confusion and even hope shone on some faces. Past the Hanging Gardens the column rode, toward the massive palace of the kings of Persia , hooves striking the cobblestone pavement, loud in the silence.

Just past the massive gate the lead wedges pulled off to the side, the Amazons forming a three sided square 18 deep, the open end facing the front steps of the giant palace. The gates closed behind and the populace ran to line up against the huge iron fence surrounding the palace.

For long moments, Sevastian gazed at the golden brick of the structure with its huge multi story arches and wide balconies.

Meleager's men on those balconies were ready. The old commander was ready to give the signal when Sevastian got into position.

Dismounting slowly, the dry wind caught Sevastians black cape as well as that of Siri's behind him.

With slow deliberate steps, he walked. Forward of the Amazons stood a multitude of palace officials, thousands of citizens packed against the fenced perimeter of the palace.

Stopping his progress, he waited for a moment as the massive banners were unrifled the fabric draping down over the front of the palace, the same that had adorned the Parthenon in Athens .

The black “X” of the Empress over a field of white bordered by cobalt blue.

Bracing at attention, he raised his right arm, fist striking his left shoulder before extending outward at an upward angle, his palm down, fingers extended.

The Imperial Salute.

Siri behind raised her sword so the hilt was momentarily close to her face before dropping it to her right side.

Talmadeus' men came to rigid attention.

Sevastian held his salute, eying the various palace officials who, one by one, mimicked his action, many with tears streaming down their cheeks.

Lowering his arm, Sevastian walked forward briskly, up the steps and into the main hall. Amazons moved to follow. His goal was the throne room and the nobles held within.

The guards ahead opened the doors and he strode directly in.

Immediately his mood soured.

Without acknowledging the nobility of Persia , Sevastian marched straight down the center of the room and up the steps to the throne to grab Talmadeus roughly.

“Only, the Empress lays claim to this!”

Siri behind, noted Sevastian could display some strength when need be as old Talmadeus was tossed out of his seat on the solid gold throne of Persia . Down the steps he tumbled to land square upon his ass.

Walking behind, Sevastian, pulled down the magnificent tapestry behind the throne. The golden lion of Persia tumbled to the floor in a heap of fabric.

“Learn it now! What once was is no more!” Sevastian yelled.

The nobility before him in their hundreds stood shocked.

“Your king is dead, your army destroyed, and your empire is gone.” He walked round the grand throne.

“Your people now serve a new mistress, one who demands total obedience! Anyone who forgets that does so at his own peril! In her name, I hereby strip you of all land and titles. You will be taken westward under guard, there you will be put to work building Greater Greece!”

“With a gesture from Sevastian the Amazons surrounded the former nobility, herding them away at sword point.”

Chapter 26

“My friends, Caesar's fleet lies in ruin! The dictator is defeated in his attempt to conquer Rome !”

The crowds surged forward, shouts of joy by the thousands rose from the people.

“Now perhaps we can finally have some measure of peace.” a hopeful Metellus Cimber whispered in Brutus' ear.

Pompey held his hand up and silence fell over the Forum.

“But, our work is not done! Rome is surrounded by enemies; Caesar is not the only one who desires to enslave us!”

Senate and people listened intently.

“Word has reached me this day, that ships flying the flag of Greece have attacked those of Rome on the high seas!”

The crowd murmured amongst themselves at hearing this news.

“Romans!” His voice rang out across the Forum. “You all know me, I am a man much loving of peace. “I want nothing but friendship! In that light, I sent our ships forth to the Greek port of Olynthus , with an overture of peace between Greece and Rome .”

Pompey leaned upon the stone rail in front of the speakers pedestal outside the Senate House.

“And Xena's ships, having spotted our fleet attacked even while we waved a flag of truce!”

As the crowd voiced its anger, the senators behind Pompey exchanged wary looks.

“Not only does the Bitch of Greece attack Rome on this high seas, she also seizes Roman lands in the East!” he charged.

The masses erupted in anger, their shouts filling the forum

“My heart is heavy,” Pompey's words silenced the crowd. “For I who desires peace, now must face the prospect of war. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war as such I do not make the decision lightly.”

Pompey raised his arms outward toward the masses. “So friends, I ask you here before the temples of our gods, here before the senate, what is it you wish?”

“War!” the multitude shouted.

“No peace in our time” replied Brutus to an ashen Cimber.


Within the great temple of Luxor she stood before the throne, Senefru held out the symbols of her office, the crook and flail.

Taking each to hand, she sat gracefully, crossing them over her chest.

Within, the high priests and scribes, the few members of noble rank, the temple guards, all knelt before her.

“A new era begins for your people.” Her tone was soft, yet carried to every corner of the vast temple. “Your kingdom is now part of the Greek Empire, but I allow you some measure of self-rule. My regent, Senefru, a man chosen by you will lead your people in my name. May the blessings of all the gods shower down upon Egypt . Go forth and proclaim my ascension to the throne of Ra.”

Lowering the Crook and Flail to her lap, Xena leaned over towards Senefru. The many gold braids in her dark hair swaying as she did so.

An opportunity had presented itself...

“Tell me,” she asked soft, “about these Egyptian warships that survived the destruction at Alexandria .”


“They escaped?”

“Yes Pompey, the fire ships failed to set the harbor alight.”

Licinis watched as the old man gazed ahead looking down the long passageway to the senate chamber beyond. The graybeards were gathered, gibbering to each other, no doubt of how he had cornered them into war. This meeting would certainly be interesting.

“Well they are just 18 ships, little match for what we have.”

“General, we ourselves do not have much.

“You are patching up the ships from Crassus' fleet?

“Yes Great Pompey, but still your order is difficult to fulfill, the ships need much in the way of repairs.

“We must draw Xena out into a sea battle. Only there do we have any chance of defeating her. I hope to make her choose between fighting Caesar on land or fighting me at sea. She cannot do both at once. I feel Rome has a better chance against her on the waves than on land, her army is battle hardened and well disciplined. If we carry the day and destroy her fleet, we can move troops across the Mediterranean at will.”

“Very well general, I must say, is there no hope for a negotiated peace?” Pompey looked to his new chief aide. Licinis was family, brother to Portia, and a good man. “No, she holds the east now, at last word my spies say her army sweeps toward India, now we get word the Egyptians have thrown in with her, going so far as to make her Queen.

“Licinis, send an official note to Caesar, tell him I wish to put our differences aside as the good of Rome must come first.”

“General are you feeling well? Caesar killed--”

“I know what Caesar did, Licinis!” Pompey said sharply. “We must have this... marriage of convenience... We need each other. Caesar will recognize it for what it is a temporary truce between us. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say... Tell Julius, I will strike at sea, he over land, a two pronged attack to rid Rome of her greatest foe.”

“It will be done then.”

“Good man, go now, I must speak with the Senators”

Leaving Licinus behind, Pompey walked the remaining distance to the Senate chamber and took his seat upon the dais, finding it amusing that his statue still stood, figuring that Julius would have ordered it smashed it to bits.

Brutus turned to face him as the senators moved to take seats. “Pompey, you should have told us of your intent before riling the people.” He was direct; this was no time for niceties.

“I do not mean to offend, if I did accept my apologies.” Pompey directed his gaze around the chamber. “It is late, but perhaps not too late to save Rome from Greece .”

“Pompey,” Metelus Cimber now stepped forward. “We have little left; squashing the rebellions in Roman held lands have taken much in men and resources. Caesar has what is left of that.”

“We have neither the resources nor man power to invade Greece .” Brutus added.

“You forget senators that I have been in Greece , I know what Xena has. She has only scattered bands of militia to defend her homeland. Even a negligible Roman force will be more than a match for them.

“There are more troubles still.” an aged Cicero stood with the help of those around him.

“How so wise senator?” Asked Pompey.

“Word has reached me this day, that invaders from the Germanic lands have crossed the frontier. Roman towns and villages are sacked, our people murdered.”

Those in the gallery whispered to each other about this revelation. Cicero was held in high esteem, he would not speak such if it were not true.

“The Germans have done so before, Cicero .” Pompey countered, “Bands of rag-tag warriors raiding across the frontier.”

“True, but many sources say these raids are happening across the entirety of border. It is as if they are prodding and poking at our defenses, looking for a weak point.”

“Honorable Cicero , give me time to gather more information on this barbarian threat. I will send what troops we can to reinforce the border. I shall send Licinus, to lead troops to push the barbarians back. I ask that you vote to confirm his appointment to general.

With your approval, I will act as supreme commander of Rome 's fleet along with Cornelius, We will guard against any attempts to invade Italia by sea.”

“We will take up these issues, you will have a vote Pompey.” said Brutus.

“Good, but senators to the point of my speech today, I say the danger lies not with the Germans, but with Xena. We must act.”

“Our armies and our navy are sorely depleted.”

“Brutus, we must attack before Xena can gain firm control over the lands she occupies. She has the advantage on land, but her navy is weak, we must draw her into a battle at sea.

All watched as Pompey stood. “Senators I, more than anyone, wish we had not squandered our resources fighting each other, but that is in the past and we cannot change what is done. Either we defeat Xena and Rome rises, or we are defeated and the sun of Rome shall set.”

“I ask for another vote, one formally declaring war against Greece .”

Silence filled the chamber, a rarity for graybeards.

“I leave you to debate the merits of my arguments and will abide by your decision.” Pompey turned, and departed from them.


“What river is this again?” asked Siri, a bit embarrassed she'd forgotten. So many new sights, it was easy to forget a few names.

“The Indus.” replied Sevastian absently without looking up from his map.

“And there?” she pointed.

He looked up “The people here call that the Arabian Sea, after the nomads which inhabit the sands beyond Babylon .”

“I would have never belied we could conquer so far, in so short a time.” Menticlies said as he rode up followed by Talmadeus. “From Babylon , round the Black Sea, round the Caspian Sea to Parthia through the Hindu Kush, down to the Indus Valley we have taken it all.”

“Once the Empress defeated Xerxes, the remains of the Persian Army could only put up a weak resistance, but here across the Indus will be the toughest fight. From all reports the various Maharajahs are negotiating with each other, trying to unite against us.” Sevastian rolled up his map and placed it back in the saddle bag, then took up Gisela's reins again.

“They will fall like the rest.” Talmadeus said with much bluster.

“Meleager, how goes the boat building?”

“Good, we should be able to cross in another fortnight Polemarchos.”

“You move slower than a tortoise Meleager.” Talmadeus grumbled.

“Commander, as you once said, building boats right takes time, unless you rather our men be dumped in the river due to shoddy construction.”

“Most dangerous,” Sevastian said firmly silencing them, “When we cross the river will be at our back, we have no quick means to retreat, and our supply lines will be thin.”

“A good commander should never think of retreat!” Talmadeus said loud.

“A great commander thinks of all possibilities.” Siri retorted.

A rather foolish statement Sevastain thought. After all Talmadeus was forced into a retreat to Olynthus . He dearly wanted to point out such, but held his tongue.

“We ourselves have lost men, few in battle, but in having to station so many across new holdings. Current numbers?” Sevastian looked to Siri.

“We have some 70,000 ready for action Polemarch.”

“Attack now,” urged Talmadeus. “Roll over them before they have a chance to organize.”

“What if... Siri began then halted.

“You have an idea? Speak it.” Sevastian ordered while he and the others looked to the Amazon.

“What if we could conquer without conquering?”

Talmadeus laughed heartily along with Menticles. “You speak nonsense Amazon.”

Sevastian however did not laugh, “There is an idea!”

“Menticles, I want scouts sent out today, have them spread the word under flag of truce that I wish to meet with as many of the Maharajahs as are willing.”

“You are daft!” Talmadeus was incensed, “the Empress commands us to subdue them, not talk to them.”

Sevastain heeled Gisela back, “If all goes well, we shall subdue them without fighting.”



As dawn broke, she looked out across the water.

Down the Nile from Luxor she sailed on a most luxurious Egyptian galley. All along the shore Egyptians stopped their work to bow, then to wave in greeting.

“The Nile is the gift which sustains your lands noble Queen.” Senefru, standing near spoke. “Her waters flood every year, depositing rich soil we then use to grow crops.”

Servants moved round the table, setting generous amounts of food upon it. “Sit and dine with me and the Amazons, Senefru.” she commanded. He did immediately, the old Egyptian general sitting on one side of her Solari on the other. Xena was glad to be dressed in a beautiful gown of white. The heat of the desert combined with the humidity caused by the river was oppressive. Solari and her Amazons looked more than happy to be dressed lightly as well.

She waved the servant away, preferring to serve herself. “This?” she asked one finger pointing.

“Ful Mesdames,” noble Queen, lava beans served with oil, garlic and lemon juice. We eat it with Aish baladi, or flat bread as the Greeks call it.

“Noble Queen, we have here much better fare, will you not try some roasted pigeon?”

“I am not noble Senefru, I was born a peasant.” She said waving off a servant choosing to serve herself some of this Ful Mesdames into a bowl. “I prefer simplicity of food and of drink.”

“I was born a peasant as well, my Queen.” Senefru replied.

Next to Xena, Solari tore a bit of bread and used it to scoop up a bite of this bean dish. The Amazon finding she liked it.

“Tell me; is this the main sustenance of the peasant classes?” Xena asked the question earnestly, always having been interested in the languages and cultures of others. If she were to rule these people effectively, she needed to know much about them.

“Yes, normally the peasants eat this for breakfast, but our largest staple is bread, each man, and woman, eats five loaves of bread a day.”

“Clay ovens?” Senefru looked surprised by the knowledge behind her question.

“Yes, my Queen.”

“We have them in Greece as well.”

“Your people must have to grow much wheat to keep with high demand for bread.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“Senefru, I am not overly fond of titles, in public they are necessary, but here talk to me as one peasant to another.”

For the first time, the little Egyptian smiled.

“Yes, we need to grow an abundance of grain, but last year's harvest has been bountiful, this year's looks to be as well.”

“I have need of it Senefru, in Europa the Romans have taken much from the people, my network of spies and informers tell me untold thousands starve.”

“Xena you are Queen, it is yours to take.”

“No, not for me to take, to pay for, that money can be used by you to begin rebuilding Egypt . What I need from you is honesty; tell me how much I can purchase without depriving the people.”

“It would take time to figure Xena.”

“Do so.”

Solari, having found this, Ful Meda...whatever the man called it, to be good, chanced a sample of buffalo milk as well....

Next to her, Xena chuckled at the face the Solari made. “Not that different from goats milk Amazon.”

“Yes, it is.” Solari took a cup filled with beer, another new drink, and found it adequate for washing the taste of the milk away. Though this beer the Egyptians brewed was lighter than the ales found in Greece , it still was like drinking a loaf of bread.

“Senefru, speak to me about these sailors on these warships.” Xena gestured to the ships following in line formation behind the royal barge “Are they trained and competent?”

“Very competent Xena, while our ships are not as...” he paused, thinking of the right word in the Greek language. “...advanced.... as those of your fleet, they are still formidable in battle.”

“They will be needed.”

“The Romans…”

“Yes, they will attack again, by sea. There is something else Senefru, the Canal of the Pharaohs can it be repaired?”

“Yes my... Xena. The Persian damage can be fixed with hard work.”

“I'm glad to hear it, I want that canal to be reopened and widened. Trade with the far east, can flow through it, benefiting Egypt as well as the rest of my Empire.”

“With your permission, I will organize the labor needed to clear the canal so the waters may fill it again.”

“You have it, Senerfu.” She sat back, extending her legs out under the table. “I wish to stop and meet with those I see working so hard upon the land.” she looked to the fields along the river bank. “Perhaps I will share a midday meal with a family.”

Senefru was amazed. “No Pharaoh has ever done such.”

“This Pharaoh will.”

Chapter 27

Sevastian stood, before him all 36 Maharajah's sat. In true eastern fashion, they had brought much to the Greek camp, demonstrating their wealth, hospitality, but also good will.

Their servants had labored put up grand quarters. Elephants, horses, mules, wagons, guards, servants, wives, children... the list went on and on. It took three fortnights for them to gather, another two was spent haggling with him. Those in east were most adept at negotiation as Sevastian well knew, having some experience with his father's attempt long ago. Never would he have dreamed to be now in the position of negotiator.

But, Sevastian had learned from the failures of his father.

“Time grows short; do I have consent for this agreement?” He held up the parchment.

“You say without it you will invade, hard to accept this agreement, with you holding a sword at our throat.” One of the kings spoke. These men knew Greek thanks to Alexander the Great and his invasion of India .

“Better than one in the back,” Sevastian replied. “Would you rather I lie to you? No, gentle kings, I tell you of my intentions. Make no mistake, Greece will invade, it may take many cycles, but eventually you will be forced to submit. If that day comes, you will have no say in how your people are treated. Here though...” Sevastian raised the parchment in his hand a bit higher. “You gain peace and the right to send your trade over the new roads our empire is building across the known world.”

“But we must submit to your rule.” the Maharajah from Punjab spoke.


The men surrounding him at table broke into discussion with each other. Sevastian let it go on taking hold of his chalice to have a sip of wine. Behind him the fearsome Siri towered, along the fabric walls the tent, armed Amazons were lined in a show of force.

“This goes nowhere Polemarch.” Talmadeus seated to his right whispered angrily. “We should kill them now.”

“That would be a blunder of highest magnitude; all India would have cause to unite against us then.”

“I'd rather fight, than talk.”

“I could arrange that.” Siri replied. I feel like sparring. Do you commander?”

Talmadeus fell silent.

“Great rulers...” Sevastian waited till he had their attention again. “Forgive me for being blunt, but you have fought and killed each other for generations. Would it not be for the betterment of your peoples to have our wise and merciful empress be arbiter over your many disagreements? I tell you now, as I have before, in this accord you still have much say in how your own lands are ruled.”

“Our men must serve under the banner of your empress and swear personal loyalty to her, a woman no less!”

Siri's annoyance took the form of a barely audible growl from behind him.

Sevastain lowered his head…“Patience...” he whispered.

“Are you sure that your Xena is as capable a warrior as you suggest?” Asked yet another of the Maharajah's.

“Most capable.” replied Sevastian.

“But you demand thousands of our men.” asked another.

“Yes, but they are your own people,” Sevastian replied. “Would it not be better to have your own defending India versus a foreign army?”

“But many will be inducted into your army. We must pay taxes to support these armies here at home and for those sent across your empire.” Now the Maharajah Dehli rose to speak.

“We have a saying in Greece .” Sevastian paused. “In this life two things are unavoidable, death being one, taxes the other.”

The men laughed.

“What shall it be?” Sevastain asked. “Peace.” He held the document out. “Or war?” his free hand dropped to the hilt of his sword. “That is the question.”

“I will sign” Marutta Avikshita of the kingdom of Vaishali stated while standing. “Long term peace is best for all of us.”

Walking forward, he took quill in hand to mark the parchment. “May your Empress rule wisely.” he said loudly, while impressing the seal of his kingdom in the soft wax of a taper, dribbled upon the parchment by Sevastian

“Will only his kingdom be spared?” Sevastian asked the men.

One by one, they rose, to sign in silence.

Siri moved round from behind his chair. Raising her right arm, she placed it upon Sevastian's shoulder leaning against him while nonchalantly crossing one foot over the other.

“You drive a hard bargain,” she whispered in his ear “but in the end they acquiesce.”

Glancing up at the Amazon, he sighed in annoyance at her having placed an arm on his shoulder.

Siri only smiled down at him serenely. Sometimes, Sevastian honestly wondered, who was really in charge between the two of them.

It didn't really matter. He was glad to have her near.

“Great Rulers, before we celebrate our pact of friendship, there is one more favor I dare ask. One final bit of business we must attend to.”

Wary silence followed Sevastian's words.

Sevastain smiled darkly... “There is a guru I seek enlightenment from... A man named Eli.”


“It is her...”

Charietto looked to the parchment in hand, and then up again at the shorter of the two women walking toward him on the street.

“You really think so?” Emmerich replied. Neither of them looks anything like the drawing.

Charietto raised his arm, pushing Emmerich back against the wall, to make way on the narrow walk “Milady.” he bowed with a flourish as the two neared. The shorter one looked up and smiled wide, her green eyes shining in the light of the day.

“It is her.” Charietto said after they had passed. “No Roman aristocrat would ever look a commoner in the eye, much less smile. She may be dolled up in finery, but she is lowborn.”

“But her hair is dark.”

“Emmerich, hair color as well as clothing can be changed, you must learn to look beneath that.” the headhunter said without taking his eyes from the two.

“Follow them discreetly, watch carefully, find out her habits, where she resides, her daily routines. Got it?”


“Go now.” Emmerich paced away, instantly disappearing into the crowd.

A smile crossed Charietto's face. The trail he had picked up from Greece had finally paid off. Stepping past, his thoughts were on the gold he would receive upon successfully stealing the girl away for Xena. More precisely the further amount he could extort from Xena when the girl was in his grasp. Lost in thought, he failed to notice, one particular patron sitting at an outdoor cafe. Easy to do really, the man blended in well...



Within the comfortable familiarity of her tent she sat behind her desk. Being a Pharaoh was nice, but this was who she truly was, a fighter.

Shifting in her chair, Xena crossed one leg over the other at the knee, one boot beginning to kick idly as she read.

“No finding Gabrielle...” She glanced over the various updates from her bounty hunters.

“It is as if the ground itself has swallowed her...” Xena grumbled. “Where are you Gabrielle?”

With a long sigh, she shifted papers, reading the note from Autolycus. Rome had declared war on Greece . The news did not faze her in the slightest. After all, she'd been at war with Rome ever since Caesar ordered her crucified.

“Petty tyrants are so predictable.” Pompey had done as she'd expected. Romans were always duplicitous; it was in their very blood. He could have lived a life of luxury, she would have made him Governor of Italia... but alas, Pompieus was ambitious.

News from Praxis informed her that in every province the Militia had been mobilized for the duration. Greek Merchants in Sicily had reported to him that the Roman fleet based there appeared to be getting ready to sail. Allowing for the time it took for her to receive the missive, they might have already sailed. Her fleet as well as the Egyptians had been placed on alert long ago. Only the Hellas remained in Alexandria , the flag-ship standing ready for her to board in order to lead the battle to finally defeat Rome on the waves.

“The Amazon wishes to see you.”

She looked up to see Kodi peeking round the fabric divider.

“Kodi, we have with us many Amazons, who exactly?”


“Send her in.”

Xena shifted the parchments again, glancing over reports on the clearing of Alexandria harbor.

“Conqueror.” Solari gave the Imperial salute.

“Yeah?” Asked Xena, without looking up, being that she was now focused on the many written expression of gratitude from newly appointed governors.

“Our scouts report that Caesar's legions approach. His purple and black banner held up for all to see.”

“Time before they reach us?”

“Three cycles of Helios, perhaps four before they cross over the pass.”

The Kasserine Pass, the only way to get through the mountains, she held the ground below, Caesar would be compelled to fight here.

Reaching over, Xena grabbed the chalice on the desk, taking a sip of... beer as the Egyptian's called it. Senefru had smiled when she told him she liked this peasant drink. A good change as one does get tired of wine.

“Plenty of time for us to rest up before the battle, the Romans will be worn from so much marching. We will have a war council this evening, make sure my commanders know, two candle marks after sunset.”

“I will do so”

“Is that it?”

“Yes Conqueror.”


Solari saluted then turned to leave, hauling up short, to keep from bowling over an excited Kodi

“This just came!” he shouted with excitement while ducking down to pass through Solari's long legs.

“Hey!” the Amazon yelped. Upset at the boy's display of crudeness. She reached out to try and snag his tunic, but missed by a fraction.

“Nice try, tall as tower.” Kodi stuck out his tongue at her.

“That is not my name!” Solari snarled while taking a step forward.

Kodi darted behind Xena's chair.

“Yes I know, but my names for you are far better than drenched in light or whatever your people call you.” he said from behind Xena's chair, feeling safe enough to continue taunting the Amazon.

“There is nothing wrong with my name!”

Xena glanced at the seal on the folded missive Kodi handed her.

“Take a joke, dull as dirt.” Kodi continued to tease “Maybe try smiling once and a while, you may find you like it.”

“I'll smile while I'm whipping your bottom!”

Xena looked over her shoulder eying Kodi with undisguised amusement for a moment.

“Wana keep trading insults with Solari or hear what Sevastian has to say, small as mouse?”

Kodi did not find that particular witticism funny at all, his expression causing Solari to actually grin.

Curiosity got the best of the Amazon, Solari deciding to wait and see what the news was.

“Open it!”

“You are eager. Maybe it would be better to wait until after dinner?”

“Xena!” the boy whined.

With an indulgent smile, she used her fingers to break the wax seal and opened the missive. Reading for just a moment, she handed it to Kodi, who snatched it out of her hand.

His brows furrowed in confusion. “I don't understand.”

“Read it.” Xena commanded.

Kodi looked down again... “Okay...” he muttered with a shrug before clearing his throat slightly.


“The matter is settled. You have it majesty.”


Solari's laugh caused Kodi to look up in surprise from the note.

“What's so funny?”

“Your brother announces that he has taken the east.” Xena replied.

“That's the shortest and most unassuming pronouncement of victory I've ever heard.” Solari added, “Unusual for a man.”

All looked to the opening as eight Amazons entered, hefting a solid gold chair… The Throne of Persia .


The white stallion whickered, while nudging her slightly.

It's noticeable even to you, ay Argo? Gabrielle sighed while slumping down on the bench next to the horse stall.

What little freedom she had felt while in the service of Iolaus had been slowly taken away. She was no longer allowed to go to the Circus Maximus, unable to leave the city townhouse without a guard, now locked away at the country villa outside Rome .

The cause of all these restrictions was due to Xena.

Gabrielle found it difficult not to harbor a fair amount of resentment towards Xena for having caused so much turmoil, not only in her life, but in the lives of the people around her.

Perhaps it would be best if she were just to run away so that the others might go on with their lives in peace?


Gabrielle looked up at the sound of the voice to find a most beautiful woman whose body was just barely covered with pink silk.

“W-who are you?”

The woman raised her arms flamboyantly, one hand flicking back a strand of blond hair.

“Who do you think?”

“Um...” Gabrielle had no idea.

“I'm Aphrodite!” the woman's hands fell to her hips, and she huffed in annoyance. “You know goddess of love?”

Gabrielle sat stark still in shock, not really knowing what to do in the presence of a goddess.

“Ick!” the deity raised up one of her bare feet.

“Maybe not so good to go barefoot in a stable,” Gabrielle said meekly.

“I'll remember that next time sweet heart.”

“Mind if I sit?” the goddess didn't wait for a reply, in a flash of light; she was suddenly right next to Gabrielle.

“Oh you are too cute!” Aphrodite threw one arm over Gabrielle's shoulders, and used her free hand to pinch her cheek.

“Gotta be honest though, the black hair...” Aphrodite took a lock of Gabrielle's hair and held it up. “Not you.”

“I don't like it either, but the master says I must keep it this color.”

“Because of the warrior babe?”

“Yes... How did you know?”

“Please! I'm a goddess! Aphrodite smiled. “Well that, and the fact that Ares yammers on non-stop about tall, dark, and deadly, so annoying!”

“I wish I'd never met her, wish she'd just leave me alone.”

“Oh you mustn't say things like that Gabrielle!” Aphrodite scolded gently.

“I feel like a prisoner...”

“I can only imagine sweetness. Being ruthlessly pragmatic is one of Xena's darkest instincts, but she doesn't see the consequences her actions are having on you. Forgive her honey; she's focused on getting hold of you by any means necessary. My bothersome brother likes to take credit for making Xena the way she is, but really it's just her nature.”

“What could she possibly want of me? I'm just a slave.”

“Don't be such a downer! You are totally awesome!” Aphrodite poked her.

Gabrielle's look told Aphrodite, she believed none of it.

“Look, I happen to be a bit of an expert on this sort of thing. “Love is love Gabrielle.”


Aphrodite laughed, “Yes you heard right, she loves you, just doesn't know it yet. And you love her...”

“I... She has only seen me once. Besides, Empresses don't fall in love with slaves. Such a thing is impossible.”

Love doesn't care if you are rich or poor, slave or free, man or woman, love overcomes all.”

“I guess... muttered Gabrielle while looking down at her boots.

“Hey! Do you doubt the goddess of love?

“No, no...I--”

“The warrior babe likes to fool herself into thinking she hasn't a heart, but really she just keeps all that passion bottled up afraid to let it show, lest she be hurt again.”

Gabrielle endured another gentle cheek pinch by the goddess.

“You are destined to help her and by doing so will bring comfort to many in this world.”


“Yah you, Why do you think I'm here? Think I make personal visits to just anyone?”

“Well, I hadn't really thought about what goddesses--”

“Promise me something Gabrielle,” Aphrodite's tone became very solemn. “Promise me when Xena does find you that you will run to her. Don't let anyone try to stop you.”

“She's an Empress, she can have--”

“Look past titles and station, and embrace fate Gabrielle. Empress or no, Xena wants you sweetness.”


“I gotta go.” The goddess stood. “I'm really not supposed to be here chatting with you, plus I'm late for a facial. But before I head back to Olympus , I think I'm gonna do a bit of matchmaking. Lilla and Iolaus make a cute couple dontcha think?”

In a flash the goddess was gone.

“Lilla and...!” Gabrielle stood up stark straight.


Through the pass, the Romans marched; the barbarian locals called it the Kasserine Pass. Caesar did not care what is was called, he only was concerned about what was ahead, and that was the Greek Army arrayed out in camp, their torches flickering in the distance.

“It comes down to this Laevinus,” Caesar told his general riding near. “All the political maneuvering, the cloak and dagger games, are now behind us. Now is the time to fight.

“If you had asked me many cycles ago, that Rome would face Greece in the desert I would have laughed. But here we are.

“ Greece , Italia, the seas, the desert, the place does not matter.” Julius raised his arm, hand sweeping over the land. “Here is where I shall finally defeat her, and this time, I will ensure she dies upon the cross. How I look forward to savoring the moment, Xena realizes that her dream has ended.”

“All Rome will rejoice in your victory.”

“I take heart in that Laevinus.”

“Tell me Caesar, do you think it will work, drawing her out to fight at sea? Should we not wait as Pompey asked? He wishes to get the fleet in position.”

This... a farce. If he could, Pompey would gladly slit my throat, and I his.” Caesar pronounced. “No, I will crush her here, making Pompey's talk of a sea battle moot and depriving him of claiming any role in defeating Xena. This will be my victory alone.”

“But you do need Pompey, don't you?”

“Yes, but I hope it is only for resupply. We shall test and see if he truly wishes to be my ally. Make camp for the night, Laevinus. Neither Xena or I will be fighting as darkness falls.”

“Yes, Caesar.”

“Oh, and double the perimeter guard, Xena likes to play tricks.”

With a nod, Laevinus rode forward.


“So, I killed Princess Diana with the help of a woman named Meg who looked incredibly similar to you Empress.”

Agis received momentary smirk from Xena

“So then you took the throne?” Virgillus asked trying to piece all the events in this odd story together.

“Yes, old king Lias died from heartbreak they say. I didn't particularly care, dead is dead. Turns out that I had a very short rule as a certain warlord showed up with her army and bumped me off the throne.” Agis looked to Xena who smiled back sweetly.”

“What happened to this woman Meg?” Virgillius spoke again after a moment of silence.

“I killed her.” Agis shrugged. “She was of no other use.”

“Agis, that is why I summoned you from the ranks to be a commander, ruthlessness runs deep in you.”

Xena held out her chalice, Kodi filling it with wine.

Raising it to her lips, she was about to take a sip.

The clay jug in his hand fell smashing to bits upon the floor of the tent, its contents soaking into the earthen floor.

Kodi cried out in pain as her hand firmly caught his wrist.

“So...” He trembled as deadly blue eyes locked with his own. “My little asp decides to bite.”

Kodi gasped, his look telling all at the table of his guilt.

“Did you really believe I'd fall so easily?” Xena brought the chalice near his lips, her hand shifting to firmly clasp the back of Kodi's neck. “Care for a drink?”

Chapter 28

Dawn...Rays of light stretched out to illuminate the desert landscape and the two Armies arrayed upon it.

“It would appear, that Caesar would stand and have parley.” Xena lowered the looking glass.

“Typical man,” Solari grunted, He wants us to venture out to him so he can blather.”

“Be that as it may, we'll go out.” Solari watched as Xena gathered Argo's reigns up.

Spurring Argo on, she rode out ahead of her men.

“Stay here Agis.” ordered Solari. “Don't move until we give the signal.”

Seeing that he understood, Solari moved to quickly follow the Empress.

Xena allowed Argo to amble forward, the last few paces before casually drawing back the reins to bring the mare to a halt. Within, she was pleased at seeing shock momentarily cross Caesar's features.

“Words, before blows, is it Julius?”

For quite some time, Caesar didn't respond, remaining quiet, examining the woman he had long ago ordered crucified.

Before him now was an fearful reincarnation, a Xena which bore no resemblance to the naive pirate captain he had seduced then betrayed without so much as a thought. This Xena dressed in midnight black leathers and bronze armor looked both daunting and self-assured.

He noted her eyes, how malicious they were in their piercing intensity.

“Not that I love words like you do Xena.” Julius finally spoke. “I hear tell you gave a nice speech in Athens to cover your evil strokes. The populace calling out long live Xena! Hail Xena! Even while scores of greybeards where hacked to death.

Caesar's anger rose as Xena laughed at him.

“I accomplish what you cannot Julius.” She leaned forward in Argo's saddle, mirth in her eyes. “Tell me has the Senate made you emperor yet? Or do they crown Gnaeus... Pompeius... Magnus?”

“Xena, it is so good to speak with you again.” Caesar countered with much sarcasm. I must say how deeply it pains me that you will die today. Your death finishes the work I began on the Ides of March long ago. You remember that day don't you? The cross on the beach? Both your legs broken?”

Julius smiled as her look told him he had struck a nerve.

“Your overconfidence will be your undoing.”

“Your opinion is neither required nor desired, woman.” Caesar turned his attentions to Solari. “And just who is this barbarian wench Xena? This… thing… who dresses in leathers and feathers?”

“She is an Amazon, eager to right the wrongs Rome has committed against her people.”

“Caesar!” Laevinus spoke while leering at Solari. “This one looks feisty! She'll make me a good concubine! If she be good in bed, perhaps a wife?”

“I'd see myself in Tartarus before I would marry a man, especially one as feckless as you.” replied Solari.

“Vile woman!” Laevinus yelled. “If I did have the misfortune to be your husband I'd put poison in your wine!”

“If I were your wife, I'd drink it.”

“Laevinus is it?” asked Xena without bothering to look at the man. “My spies tell me he is a dolt. Hearing him speak, I'm inclined to believe it. Could you find no one intelligent to follow your banner Julius?”

“Come, come!” an outraged Laevinus drew his sword. “Let's remember why we're here. If arguing makes us sweat, the battle ahead will turn that water to blood!”

Xena finally looked to Laevinus with scorn. “Go back to the dog hole that is Rome .”

With great show Caesar pulled his own sword from its sheath so that his army behind might see. “I draw my sword against the Bitch of Greece! When shall it be sheathed again?” Asked Julius while lowering his sword so that the tip pointed directly at Xena. “Not until the last of your soldiers lie dead upon this field and you back upon the cross! That Xena is my destiny!”


A smirk upon dark lips… she was decidedly unimpressed with his bravado. Ever so slowly Xena leaned forward in the saddle, a deathly gaze locking on Caesar for some moments before she spoke.

“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate that can circumvent, or hinder, or control, the resolve of a determined soul. Know today Caesar, you will die and your destiny with you. I shall leave you as you left me, nailed to a cross.” Xena reined Argo back, “Come Solari, let's go. “If you dare to fight today Julius, meet me on the field, if not, come when you find courage.”


“Love will be our shield and our weapon.”

“I do not believe you can love your way out of this.” Siri observed while looking up at the guru hanging from the cross.

“Siri,” Sevastian admonished while gently poking the side of the Amazon leaning against him. Her arm was firmly placed in its usual spot upon his shoulder.

“I am but the first of many who will come after me, it has been foretold, the order of the Gods must fall.”

“This guru spouts nonsense.” Siri moved to hand Sevastain a silver chalice filled with watered down wine. He gladly accepted it from her as the heat of the day was climbing rapidly.

The Maharajah's had been as good as their word, rounding up Eli and his followers without Sevastian having to lift even one finger to help. Seems they had no love for the guru either. His teachings were upsetting to the leadership of the majority religion in India . Their help had allowed Siri to recall her Amazons from the search. Appraising the man, Sevastain could not understand why the Empress, in her wisdom, felt Eli was a threat. But... it was not his place to question, his place was to obey.

“I give you a choice Eli, an agonizing slow death, or I can order your legs broken, painful, but it will mercifully hasten your end.” As Sevastian spoke, Siri gestured and her Amazon's brought chairs up for the two of them to sit in.

“I wish to suffer as it serves the greater good.”

“Have it your way.” Sitting he crossed his legs, glad he had chosen not to wear armor this day, instead wearing a light colored tunic and pleated trousers in the style of Jappa. On his feet, were sandals instead of boots. All gifted to him by the Empress long ago.

Siri, well... she didn't wear much so the heat wasn't a concern for her. A flaud leather skirt dyed blue, brown sandals, and a leather top which exposed her midriff.

Behind Amazon's moved to guard Sevastian's back as he sat.

“I do wish this business would end.” Siri crossed her legs as well, pausing to take a sip of wine while gazing at the hundreds of crosses arrayed over the lush hillside. The army was camped outside the port of Dvaravati , in the kingdom of Surastra . The Maharajah generously gave Sevastian use of his country estate for the duration.

“Must we stay?” Siri asked taking the empty chalice from his hand, to refill it.

“The Empress orders it. I am to personally be witness to his death.”

“I do not see why these should die, they appear peaceful to a fault.”

Sevastian nodded ever so slightly in agreement. There was no defending it other than he was bound to obey Xena's order.

“Polemarch, your commanders have arrived. Shall we bring them to you?” asked the Amazon Scyleia.

“Yes, thank you.”

“You needn't say thank you or please every time you give an order to an Amazon Sevastian.” Siri chastised gently.

He shrugged, “Both politeness and kindness are underused.” After he said the words, Sevastian thought about the irony of him speaking about manners while sitting in front of people he'd ordered crucified. But then again many eastern masters had said in writings that when you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.

The only one he'd actually ordered crucified was Eli, but his followers had insisted they have the... honor... of following him in his fate. Sevastian had found himself in the unlikely position of arguing with them, trying to persuade them into accepting a quick death. They had refused his pleas, and so he had washed his hands of the whole affair. If the followers of Eli wished to die on the cross, he would not stop them. The condemned did not resist at all making the choice to meekly go as lambs to slaughter.

Sevastian sat up a bit as Talmadeus, Mercer, and Menticles were brought before him surrounded by the always imposing Amazons. Those women took the job of protecting him very seriously. Both men stood in undisguised stupor at seeing hundreds hanging from crosses

“In reward for your service...” Sevastian paused allowing the men to refocus their attentions on him. He spoke up a bit, to project his voice over the moans from those on the crosses. “The Empress promotes you both to the rank of governor. You will rule over her largest provinces. Menticles, you now rule the former Persian Empire in the Empress' name. Your capital will be Babylon . Talmadeus, you rule India , I would suggest New Delhi as your capital. Mercer, you rule the Near Eastern lands. I would caution you to rule wisely, the Empress wants no trouble in these new provinces of her empire.

The three men looked at each other in shock.

“The army groups?” asked Talmadeus.

“Yours to use.” replied Sevastain. “You have much to do in establishing firm control over so vast an area.”

“And you Polemarch?”

Sevastian had to smile; Talmadeus was impatient to be without him looking over his shoulder.

“The Empress orders me and the Amazon's to requisition ships and sail to Egypt .”

After a moment to digest this news, the two men gave the Imperial salute and moved to depart.

“Pardon me a moment.” before Sevastian could say a word, Siri had gone.

Sevastian sat back in his chair, returning his observations to a slowly dying Eli.

“Are you sure this is how it has to be?” Eli asked. It didn't appear the guru was speaking to him. Sevastian momentarily followed Eli's gaze upward to the blue of the firmament above. “Isn't there some other way?”

“Hallucinations,” Sevastian muttered slumping back in his chair, “Near death.”


Ahead of him the Amazons crossed spears.

“How dare you block my path!” Talmadeus shouted, “Let me pass immediately!”

“They will, when I allow it.”

He turned to find Siri standing behind, far too near for comfort.

“You have no right to keep me from my duties Amazon.”

“What I have to say will only take a moment.”

“And that would be?” asked Talmadeus, looking upward to meet her gaze.

“That you choose wisely in not attempting a coup against Sevastian. If you had, you'd be dead.”

Old Talmadeus was silent, but his look told her he was unnerved.

“I know not of what you speak, Amazon.”

“Of course you don't.” Siri replied cynical.

“Rebellion is treason.” Talmadeus continued.

“Yes indeed, you'd be wise to remember that as you begin your rule of India . Know that eyes everywhere will be watching you.”

“A threat?”

“A promise.” Siri replied.

A nod from her and the Amazons uncrossed their spears allowing him to leave in silence.


Her sword left its sheath with a whisper of metal against leather.

Dismounting from Argo, she patted the mare's neck while speaking a few words in the ear of her horse.

“Go on...” Xena commanded

Argo trotted off.

It had become clear Caesar intended to play defense, he would not attack and she could not allow any more Romans to cross over the pass.

Therefore, she would lead a charge to destroy Caesar once and for all.

Walking forward, Xena took up position in the center of her army now arrayed in a line of phalanxes to either side clear across the width of the field.

The men here hailed from regions across Greece , from Macedon and Thrace down to Crete and Ithaca . They were from cities like Pella and Ellis through to Athens and Corinth .

These here, standing with her, were the very best of Greece . They were all veteran soldiers, the shirkers and deserters having long gone. They would make this charge against the Romans even if she were not here to lead them. Her men also knew, that for many of them, today be their last fight.

Not one of them needed to be reminded of his duty.

Turning, she gazed upon her proud men, eyes moving to make contact with as many as possible. At long last she gave the command. An order she had dreamed of giving every moment since her crucifixion on that lonely stretch of beach.


A yell rose from the troops as men readied themselves to march, shields were locked together, swords drawn, Sarissa points gleamed in the sun. Unit standards rose up, fluttering in the dry wind.


The men in reserve units behind the line took off their helmets, raising them up in salute to those making this charge directly at the center of the enemy line.


“What hubris, she leads them forward herself.”

Around Caesar was ordered chaos as men scrambled to finish readying his... surprise.

“Numbers?” he asked

“Some 40,000 come at us, the rest appear to be arrayed in a reserve line behind.” reported Laevinus. “I know they are our enemy,” Caesar's general looked out upon the thousands marching toward them with awe. “But by the gods they are a beautiful sight to behold!”

“Move reserves forward now.”

“Caesar, they are forward. Some 30,000 thousand of our men, still have not yet crossed though the pass.”

“Yes, even the delay I caused by asking for parley you failed to ensure they got through the pass in time. Now we are forced to make do with what we have. That is why I am glad Xena decides to advance. We must stand and play defense here, weaken her formation, then, when the moment is right we march forward to break the Greek line.

“Yes, Caesar.”

“Have the Onagers stand ready.”

Laevinus gave the order, it being yelled across the army. Men removed the tanned tarps of burlap off the catapults. The camouflage no longer needed. The Romans ahead broke formation in order to lie down on the ground so that the Onagers behind would have a clear shot.

“Loose!” ordered Caesar, jugs containing Greek fire arched into the air.

“Surprise Xena!” yelled Julius in triumph.


Screams from her men as fire tore a swath of destruction though her line.

Men on all sides fell, crying out as they burned them to death. Acrid smoke began to fill the battlefield along with the horrid sent of roasting flesh.

“Close the line!” she heard Virgillus yell, the men moving to tighten the formations back up to fill gaps left by those stricken by fire.

Looking up, more steaks of flame appeared in the sky as another volley directed against her troops arched down.

“Shields!” Xena bellowed, her voice carrying to every corner of the battlefield.

Her troops did as ordered, placing the concave shields overhead. Even then it was only partial protection against the splatter caused by the breaking of the clay urns holding the fire.

Above explosions, looking back up Xena watched as pots broke apart in the air, flame showering down upon her formations like deadly rain.

There was no choice...

Turning to face her men, she paced backward just long enough to give the order.

“Forward, at the double click!”

Her men let forth a yell brimming with defiance.


As one, thousands of soldiers began to run directly toward the Roman line.

In the lead, with sword pointing directly at Caesar, she ran.


“Have you ever seen the like?” Solari sat upon her stallion in awe of the men charging across the field. They display the bravery of Amazons.”

“By Artemis, they are taking a beating. Should we not move now to help?”

“No, Esippe. We wait until the Romans commit all, then we ride forward.


“Double the containers!” Ordered Caesar.

“That's it! He praised watching more fire being discharged into the sky. “Loose two at one go!”

“Laevinus! When my standard waves that is the signal to lead my men on and push these Greeks back. Push them back until their line breaks then we shall surround them!”

“Yes Caesar!” His general reined his horse back, and raced off.

“Each moment that passes Xena, you come closer to the cross.” Julius grinned while raising his looking glass up to survey the field. “Where are my Ballista?!” he yelled, “I want spears shredding the Greek line!”

Moments later the giant crossbows began to fire.


She leaped up into the air into a forward flip to avoid the splatter of fire caused by an urn breaking in front of her.

Terrible shrieks filled her ears as withering fire tore her lines. Glancing to her right, she saw Virgillus fall, flames engulfing the commander. His standard bearer behind, managed to just avoid the hit, though his flag had caught, necessitating him lowering it just a moment to drag it upon the ground to put out the fire.

At the fall of his commander, Virgillus first captain, Nereto moved up to take command.

Ahead, the Roman line.

The catapults now forced to end their fiery onslaught lest they now hit their own troops.

Xena glanced up in time to see Caesar's banner waving wildly.

The men of the Roman legions rose up from the ground and quickly moved into formation.

Roman archers on the flanks opened up, arrows by the thousands hit her line as the legions marched forward, bulling directly into her line.

“Die!” she yelled as men clashed, slashing her sword through the first man who dared challenge her.

The Romans pushed, men in the rear of their phalanxes leaning against those in front of them, to force her men backward.

“Stand fast!” she roared, seeing her line beginning bow backward under the weight of the Roman assault. Grabbing the charkam at her hip, she let it fly slicing the throat of the Roman Laevinus. The look of shock upon his face as he toppled from his mount caused her to smile most feral.


“Xena, you cannot hold.” Caesar lowered the looking glass. “Either you fall back and reform your line or your force is split in two right down the middle.

Only one thing troubled Julius, that being the location of the Greek cavalry.

It did not matter, his own cavalry would go forth to clear the flanks of her army and then sweep behind the Greeks.

Xena would be surrounded.


“Reform here!” She ordered pointing at the ground with bloody sword.

The men of her army did as bid, rushing back to where she stood, hurriedly trying to form ranks again to face the oncoming Roman legions marching forward. Raising her sword, she blocked a strike from a Roman foot soldier.

“Think you can take me boy?” she jeered while using her strength to easily shove the man back. With a yell he charged her, she burying her sword in his gut.

“You should have stayed in Rome .” She kicked him in the chest to withdraw her blade. Xena readied herself for the next attacker, grinning when he stepped forward, her sword twirling in hand.


“The line is near collapse Solari!” Esippe yelled.

“Calm yourself.” Solari replied, watching as what had begun as a bow in the Greek lines now had grown into a massive horseshoe shaped bulge. Greek and Roman Phalaxes were fully engaged, the Romans now appeared to be sending in any and all reserves they could attempting to end the stalemate and break the Greek line in two.

“Look there!” Esippe pointed, drawing Solari's attention.

“Finally! Caesar readies his cavalry!”

Solari turned in her saddle. “Remember the plan Esippe, sweep the Roman cavalry clear, and then turn, we envelop the Romans from behind. We encircle them. Understand?”




Sitting atop Bucephalus, Caesar watched as thousands of enemy cavalry surged forward over the small ridge with arrow and sword, they cut through his horsemen before they could organize their assault. His cavalry broke in retreat, the flanks of his army now fully exposed to the enemy.

Behind the enemy cavalry Greek reinforcements followed. His Army, the whole of it was being surrounded with a hangman's noose.

“Hold the flank!” he yelled to no one in particular as his troops began to cave inward, being surrounded.

“Damn her! Damn that woman!”

All those round Caesar knew the woman to which he referred.


“Surprise!” Xena reveled in her moment of triumph as the Roman formations began to break, the enemy withdrawing in panic-stricken retreat.

There was nowhere to go, the legions were completely surrounded. Having moved out of formation, they became easy prey.

“Finally! Rome is on the run!” she yelled. “Kill them all!”

Her jubilation came to an abrupt end as she watched Julius turn and spur his horse back toward the pass, his remaining cavalrymen following behind. Julius made the choice to save himself, leaving his foot soldiers to die while he made his escape.

“Coward!” she yelled out. Caesar was many things, but she hadn't believed he would run from the field. For a moment Julius turned in the saddle and looked back, even above the cacophony of the fighting, perhaps he had heard her.

Raising fingers to her lips, Xena whistled then looked for Argo. The mare appeared, racing though the melee toward her.

Nothing could stop Argo, she would catch...

A bolt fired from a ballista ran her horse clear through, Argo staggered, then fell.


The din of battle faded as she ran. Reaching Argo Xena fell to her knees. The cold analytical part of her knew there was nothing that could be done.

Argo would die.

She leaned forward, heart breaking as she touching her head to her horse as Argo breathed her last.

With murderous rage roiling within, Xena slowly stood then waded into the Romans.


Chapter 29

“It will all be over soon.” she soothed.


Xena ran her fingers gently though the boy's hair, not wishing to touch his burned skin.

“Don't be.” She replied soft. “Today you enter the Elysian Fields. No more loss, no more pain, only joy.”

His breathing became labored as his body shuddered.

“Let go...” she rasped. “Those you love, they wait for you.”

After a time, she stood, looking down at his corpse while tamping down the emotion which threatened to overwhelm her.

This boy, Acestes by name, the soldier who sat near her before the battle against the Persians now another of the many dead lying upon this field.

“It's my fault.” she muttered, watching as Acestes was gently placed on a litter by his mates and carried away.

“No!” the hoplites surrounding her responded.

“It is entirely my fault.” Xena said firm.

“No!” her men responded fervently.

“Hear me! I tell you, it is my all fault in failing to capture Caesar.” Again her men voiced intense disagreement with her words.

“Let us form up and march to the pass. I know we can take these Romans.” The nearest hoplite spoke. The men near shouted their support for his plan.

As much as she wanted to give the order, Xena knew better for a host of reasons. The pass was narrow, Caesar would have it heavily defended, and Gods only knew how many troops he had in defense. Helios was low in the heavens. Her army was worn from the day's fighting.

If they marched up that pass now, it would be a slaughter.

No, she would have to settle for a draw. She destroying the bulk of Caesar's Army, he having escaped.

“We must rest now,” her voice uncharacteristically wavered, “live to fight another day, and there will be another day.”

She turned, departing from her men, walking away in silence crossing the field littered with the dead and towards the multitude of tents arrayed with precision in their captured camp. Always precise, those Romans, everything laid out the same way every time they set up a bivouac. She'd ordered nothing touched no harm to come to the servants. However, every Roman soldier had been killed by her order.

Vengeance must be satisfied.

There was much to be celebrated. Roman legions destroyed, their camp hers. But without the capture of Caesar, her victory seemed almost Pyrrhic. Her men had fought, bled and died, without the consolation of seeing Caesar in chains.

Now more fighting was her only option.

Ducking down, she entered the tent in silence...Caesar's tent.

“Great Warriorness!”

Salmoneus fell to his knees, taking her hand in his own he kissed her fingers repeatedly. “Please tell them I work for you,” Salmoneus referring to her commanders within in the tent. “I am your spy! Please I don't want to die! Don't let them torture me to get information on Caesar! I'll tell you anything you want!”

“Stop that!” Xena yanked her hand away, a look of momentary disgust on her features. “Salmoneus works for me. ” she said simply. No choice really, Salmoneus had forced her hand in declaring he was a spy in her service. She could have denied it, sent him to his death. No… He served her well.

In the silence which followed she placed hands on hips and looked about the space. Grand, like Julius' own ego. There stood his various armor sets upon presses. Lavish furnishings everywhere, gold candle holders and oil lamps, elegant lounges on which to recline. Julius' desk with its shined hardwood and pure gold inlay alone looked to weigh as much as an elephant.

She sat in his chair behind the desk. Her commanders arrayed in a line applauded, thinking it some great moment.

Xena's cold look silenced them.

“Casualties?” she asked of Solari.

“Some 5,000 lost, 9,000 wounded.”

“Our injured being attended to?”

“Yes, the healers work with great efficiency.”

“Good.” all watched as she propped one leg upon on Caesar's desk. Like her commanders, she had not yet washed up, dried blood and gore coated her from head to toe, bone flakes within the stands of her matted black hair.

“We will remain here until our wounded can be safely moved back to Alexandria . Solari, inform Cleon that I hereby appoint him to the rank of Commander, to replace Virgillus. Agis, have your men dismantle the Roman encampment, we leave nothing for Caesar to use. Solari see to it that all spoils found within these tents are, divided amongst the army.

“As you wish Empress,” Solari bowed.

“Forgive me,” Agis prefaced then cleared his throat as Xena's look turned deadly as she gazed at him. He wished he had held his tongue as Ares gift reigned within her.

“Yes?” she asked in a dangerous velvety tone.

It was too late; he must answer “What next?”

“We lick our wounds, and then move to pursue Caesar.”

“You have defeated him.”

Solari shook her head, looking down as Agis continued his blundering. This was not a time for questions.

“I have not defeated him.” Xena retorted firmly, “As long as Caesar lives, final victory slips from my grasp.”

“He and his army are without supply, would it not be wise to simply wait? He can do us no further harm and will eventually be forced to surrender.”

“No. Caesar alive is too great a danger.”


“I will have him!” she yelled while standing.

While her commanders at least attempted to remain stoic. Salmoneus cowered back at hearing the venom in Xena's tone, seeing the anger on her face.

“I'll chase him across the African wastes, round the Mediterranean , even though the flames of Tartarus before I give him up!”

Silence from all within the tent.

“Do I make myself understood Agis?”

“Well and truly Empress.”


All departed quick.

“Salmoneus get back here!”

He reappeared giving her a timid, yet hopeful smile as his hands nervously fiddled with his long blue tunic.

“You have done well. I thank you for service to the empire.”

“Happy to serve your grandiosity.”

“For a price.” she responded while sitting again. “I suppose you have some... compensation... in mind?”

“Oh, valiant warriorness my greatest joy comes from just being able to serve you.”

“Well, then go with my thanks and--”

“Now that you mention it...”

“Yes?” Leaning forward Xena placed her elbow upon the desk bringing up one hand, palm upturned to cup her chin.

“I've always loved the climate of Sicily such a beautiful island, with a large port and so many merchants engaging in commerce.”

“You want Sicily ?”

“Oh thank you, your warriorness! I gladly accept. You are as generous as you are great!”

He watched as one of her eyebrows quirked up. “As I don't yet own Sicily , your request... will need to wait. However, I do have another job for you in the time being Salmoneus. A position just opened.”

“Anything of course!”

She leaned back in the chair “I like your attitude.”


“We fall back to El Daba.”

His newest second in command Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, looked at Julius questioningly as Caesar continued to use the looking glass to spy down at the Greek Army.

“Would it not be wise to remain in the pass?”

“If she were to attack it would be,” replied Julius. “Xena is too smart a commander; she knows the advantage is mine here. If I had a better means of supply, I would stay, but we do not, therefore we must withdraw to El Daba.

“Why El Daba?” asked Paulinus

The city is a port, and Pompey can resupply this army by sea.”

“We rely on Pompey?” Paulinus was amazed.

“We must,” Caesar said wearily. Crassus having lost the sea battle against him. The failure today is due to Laevinus. His rushing my legions forward, counter to my explicit order has left us with no option but retreat. “Failures! Antonius, Crassus, Laevinus! All failed me!”

Caesar was silent a moment, thinking…

“Paulinus, I leave you and a small force here on this side of the pass. When Xena makes her appearance, use your troops to skirmish against the lead elements of her army. Retreat back in disorder; make it seem as if the army is collapsing, that will tempt her to pursue you to El Daba.

“But Caesar, Xena is a canny commander, will she take the bait?”

“I will leave some of my personal standards with you, use them in great show. Her hatred of me will drive her to give chase.”

“Thy will Caesar.”


Ephiny settled behind the desk.

A tired sigh, left her lips. How she would much rather be in bed.

There was still work to be done, reports to read and missives to send.

By the light of the taper, she looked over missives from Amazons in Ephesus , and in the sacred city of Brauron . Work on the temples in both cities was proceeding at a fast pace. In Ephesus, her Amazon's reported that well over 4,000 women hailing from across the eastern lands had come, all wishing to be inducted into the Amazon nation.

What Xena had promised, was becoming reality. The nation was being revived. Here in the sacred forest of Artemis , her people continued to labor, building a greater village than had ever been constructed by any Amazons in their long history. The death of Bremusa, Ephiny admitted, had broken the faction most opposed to dealing with the Conqueror and paved the way toward a better future.

Course, she would never admit that to Xena.

More news yet, evidently written in Siri's hand judging by the wax seal on the scroll. Truthfully, Ephiny did not know the woman and moreover could not place her. Eponin had spoken at dinner, seeming to recollect who Siri was, but only vaguely. Now Siri was the Chosen of Artemis and second in command of the Conqueror's eastern force.

Will she challenge me for leadership? Ephiny pondered while rubbing her tired eyes.

“You have done well, Queen of the Amazons.”

Ephiny moved to quickly stand, Artemis' hands fell upon her shoulders from behind, pushing her back into her chair.

“Relax.” Artemis walked away, sitting in the chair opposite the desk. “I am most pleased, with your leadership. Once fragmented tribes, learn to work, to live, and to grow together as one people. What I have always envisioned is finally coming to pass, a unified people whose nation stretches across the known world.”

“But,” Artemis leaned forward. “Despite all these successes, you are troubled.”

“Yes.” Ephiny shifted in her chair. “If Siri wishes to challenge, I will step down peacefully.”

“You never wanted to be Queen did you?”


“That is just one of many reasons why you should stay upon the throne. Let me allay your fears, Siri admires you Ephiny, she has no interest in taking your place.”

“But she is your chosen, by tradition--”

“Traditions are only a guide, not something to be written in stone and followed without thinking. Siri is my chosen, true but that does not entitle her to be queen. She is my chosen to aid her in the trials that lie ahead.”

For a moment the two looked at each other in silence.

I say again, relax.” Ephiny smiled a bit at her words causing Artemis to do so as well.

“Now to present business.” the deity leaned forward, while adjusting her long silken robe. Ephiny had never been witness to the goddess being dressed as such. Usually Artemis was dressed in armor with weapons present. Whatever subject she wished to speak on must be of importance as it appeared the goddess was, well, dressed for slumber.

“There is a soul which needs Amazonian protection. A girl who is meek and mild, filled with compassion for others, yet she has such spirit within that she matches any Amazon. The fates themselves say she has a great role to play in the future. She must be allowed to fulfill her destiny.”


“Her name is Gabrielle and right now she lies in the heart of the lion den of Rome . She is a slave, a condition I find abhorrent. My only consolation is her owner Iolaus is kind, just, and honest, a rare combination of qualities in a man.

“Iolaus and Gabrielle...” muttered Ephiny committing the names to memory.

“Many seek Gabrielle, to include bounty hunters, she in in a web of danger.”

Bounty Hunters? More than one? Quite an expense to find one slave. Who would--”

“When Xena turns her eye to someone, they can hardly look away.” Artemis smiled, “You...know...this...”

Ephiny slumped slightly in her chair, feeling a bit uncomfortable.

“I do believe the one you've chosen to be a better match.”

“Don't tell her, she's got a big enough head already.”

Artemis chucked.

“This must be done discreetly, and it requires your personal attention. Might I suggest surrounding Gabrielle with an Amazon guard? Many of those seeking the girl have little in the way of scruples.”

“I shall see to her protection, personally, goddess. We shall rescue her and--”

No, we must not interfere by taking the girl that would have dire consequences. Just surround her with discreet protection to keep her from harm. Doing such will not only endear the nation to Xena but also reinforce that the Amazons are, above all else, loyal to her.

“Yes Goddess.”

“Good, now leave be and go rest, you must travel in the morrow.”

Artemis vanished.

Ephiny stood her mind on all that had just transpired.

Gabbing hold of the taper, she carried it into the bedchamber. Pausing a moment, Ephiny smiled seeing Eponin sprawled out on the bed.


The light of day was still far off from the looks of the eastern horizon.

To one side the coast, to the other the vast unknown sea. Around the ship he sailed on were 25 others carrying cargo as well as Amazons and the horses they had come to love so.

“Why aren't you asleep?”

Sevastain jumped At Siri's voice behind him, his reaction providing the helmsman some entertainment.

“Must you?” he said grouchily as her arm landed on his shoulder and she leaned against him.

“Yes.” Siri shrugged while smiling down at him. Having her near, made it impossible for him to keep hold on to his bad mood. Sevastain allowed himself a small smile as he looked up into her eyes. Ever so slightly, he leaned into her. If she noticed his action, Siri chose to not mention it and did not move away.

“You haven't answered my question Polemarch.”

“I don't think that title applies anymore, Siri. I'm not in charge of anything now.”

“You are in charge of us Amazons, no higher honor than that.”

“I would not dare to disagree.” He said, not foolish enough to believe he was actually in charge. The Amazons obeyed is orders only because they wished to. Siri was really the one in charge.

“Wise.... Still you avoid my question; you should be getting your rest.”

“As should you.”

“Yes, but I've had precious little rest since you promoted me to your second, you find innumerable ways to cause me worry.”

Sevastian smiled recalling that as Xena's second, he got very little sleep.

“Are you sick?” she asked, he knowing the thought behind her question as many of the Amazons on board suffered from sea sickness.

“Siri, it is hot and humid in these climes. I find it difficult to sleep below deck.” An excuse…

“Where that the case, I would think you'd slumber on deck, like these here.” She gestured to the mass of Amazons sprawled out across every bit of open space. “No, Sevastian something else bothers you, and I know exactly that it is...” Her other arm rose, one long finger pointing to the ship immediately astern.

The one carrying the Empress of Chin, the honorable Lao Ma.


A sliver chalice was lifted from the tray it sat upon. In the silence it was set down on the side table by her camp chair.

“That will be all Salmoneus, go get some rest. Minya will show you were you are to be billeted.” she moved to stretch out her long legs, keeping her eyes closed.

“Yes great Warrioress.”

Long after he departed, she sat mulling over the state of play. She hadn't figured Caesar a coward. Still, as Agis had said clumsily, Julius was now without supply for the remainder of his army. She could take her time, maneuver through the pass, or skirt round the whole range. There was only one logical place Caesar could retreat to in this sea of sand and that was the little fortified port of El Daba . Problem was, she didn't have time. Reports had reached her stating a Roman fleet, flying the flag of Pompey had anchored at Heracleion, three leagues northeast of Alexandria . Caesar would have to wait, Pompey must be dealt with.

Taking chalice in hand, she took a sip of wine and wished she could find a way to be in two places at once.

She could scarcely believe what Autolycus had written. Caesar and Pompey allied together against her. That was something she never thought would happen, a mistake on her part.

Two Roman generals, allied with each other, fearful of little ole me. Xena chuckled at the thought.

“I'm glad you find letting Caesar escape amusing.”

“This is new Ares, seeing as you never make an appearance unless I claim victory.” she retorted without opening her eyes.

“Look at me chosen.”

She did so, after a time.

“ Rome .” Ares said flatly, and then vanished.

“ Rome ?” She asked, momentarily quirking her head to one side before understanding dawned. “Gabrielle is in Rome .”

The Amazon guard outside the tent glanced at each other, hearing the Empress' triumphant laugh come from within.

Chapter 30

A huff from behind her told Ephiny all she needed to know about Eponin's mood.

“Stupid Dress...”

“Remember, we are trying to blend in.” Ephiny threw her arm round Eponin's waist for a moment as the two walked down the road. “This is what peasant women wear. Long skirts and over tunics made of wool.”

“Makes me glad I was raised an Amazon.”

“Me too.” Ephiny admitted.

“We've been on this road for a seven-day my Queen when-”

“Eponin! Quit calling me that!”

“Sorry, habit. When do we reach Dyrrhachium?”

“At least another day's walk, There we can take a ship to Ariminum.”

“And then?”

“We walk to Rome .”

Ephiny could see Eponin deflate thinking about the distance they would need to travel.

“C'mon.” Ephiny said brightly trying to cheer her lover as they made their entrance into a small village. “We'll stay at an inn tonight, be good for us after so many nights in the open. A warm bath, some food, and a soft bed should make you feel better about the journey ahead.

Walking up the worn wooden steps, the two entered, the patrons within the first floor tavern taking notice.

“Why are they all staring at us?” Eponin had leaned over to ask the question.

“Outside our land it's rare for women to be seen traveling alone.” whispered Ephiny

“So we need some man to take care of us? What a load of...” Eponin would have said more but Ephiny's elbow connected with her rib.

“Might I help you with somthin'?”

“Yes,” Ephiny stepped forward. “We'd like a room and meal.”

“Just you two?” the old bar keep asked, leaning over to take a peek behind the two women. “Your husbands coming along then?”

“Just us two.” Eponin said challengingly.

“Dangerous, women traveling the road alone but not my concern, you got coin?”


“Well then, your table awaits!” the keep swept his hand over the room in a grand gesture causing the men within to laugh. In the silence which followed, the two walked across the grungy space to a battered table set against the far wall.

As conversations in the room picked up again, a very young girl appeared arms laden with a bit of stale looking bread and raw olives. Finally two wooden bowls and a tiny clay jug of wine was set down.

“I'll be right back with your dinner.”

“What would that be?” Ephiny asked.

“Soup.” the girl replied with a smile.

“Soup, hard bread, and olives,” Eponin made a face. “How I miss having wild boar, or roasted venison, maybe some fresh eel? Even Rabbit stew would do in a pinch.”

“Not everyone has it as good as we Amazons. Our forest gives us plenty. These people must work hard to produce even meager fare. Accept their food and drink and be humble as Artemis teaches.

An unconvinced Eponin took jug in hand, taking a quick sniff of its contents. “Cut heavily with water.” she grumbled. “Least we know to drink wine right.”

Another connection between Ephiny's elbow and her rib silenced Eponin before the serving girl came any nearer with their main course.

“What Village is this?” asked Ephiny pleasantly.

“Why Kordion of course.”


“Have you traveled far? The little red headed girl asked excitedly, then dipped her head in means of apology as her uncle had taught it better that she be seen and not heard.

“Quite far,” Ephiny replied with a disarming smile, “All the way from Thrace .”

The girl looked up with excitement. “Have you seen Amazons? Many say Amazons live in the forests of Thrace . Uncle says they are myth.”

“About as mythical as this table.”

“Eponin, hush.” This time her lover had wised up a bit, scooting over a bit before Ephiny's elbow could connect.

“You have seen them? What are they like? Have you met one? Do you know how to become one?”

“Whoa! Slow down girl! Once question at a time.” Eponin laughed. “What about your family? If you went off to be an Amazon, surely they would miss you.”

“I have no family, all having died from plague long ago. I do not remember them as I was only a babe. I stay with my uncle and work at this inn until such time as he chooses whom I shall marry.”

“You cannot choose whom to love?” Male barbarism at its finest!”

“Are you Amazons?” the girl whispered wide eyed after hearing Eponin's radical statement.

Ephiny pursed her lips. “Yes.” she finally admitted.

“I don't understand, why are you dressed as--”


All three women looked up to the bar and the keep behind it. “Quit jabbering” he ordered “and make yourself useful by getting these tables clean.

“Yes uncle.” the ginger haired girl said wearily. She only took a step before Ephiny clasped her wrist causing her to look back.

“If you really wish to become an Amazon, listen carefully. In three fortnights, traders will appear in your village, go to the one named Agathe. Tell her Ephiny sent you.

The girl smiled wide and nodded as her wrist was released.

“Think she is brave enough to go through with it?”

“Yeah.” replied Ephiny, “I think so.”

The two had barely tucked into dinner before...


Both looked up at the man standing before them.

“Not safe for two young women to be travelin' alone. Name's Silas and I'll be glad to give you company during your stay.”

“Thanks,” Ephiny spoke, placing her hand over Eponin's mouth before she could say something that would get the both of them in trouble. “But we don't need company.”

“Twasn't an offer lass.”

Eponin stood slowly, forcing a shocked Silas to look upward to meet her eyes.


“Idiot! Of all the stupid, vainglorious acts!” Pompey angrily crumpled up the parchment and tossed it across the cabin. “All Caesar had to do was attack on schedule, we had agreed on this! Instead he rushes to face her and is defeated!

“Caesar is known to have some ego.”

“Yes, Cornellius, he does.” Pompey lamented. “Easy to see why he attacked, wanting all the glory of defeating Xena for himself. Here we sit, ready to sail for Alexandria and now we must go and ferry supplies.”

Pompey moved to sit, with a gesture he beckoned servants forward with his breakfast, his Admiral watching silently as wine, boiled eggs, slices of fish, barley bread, and porridge drenched in honey was set before the general. Finally a favorite of Pompey's from his time in Britannia, a whole mincemeat pie.

“Cornellius, we sail to this El Daba as soon as the fleet can be readied.” Pompey cut the pie, placing one half of it upon his plate. “The only consolation I get from this is seeing mighty Caesar humbled. I know it chafes him to ask for my help.”

“Yes Pompey.” Conrellius bowed before departing.


“Ain Sukhra!” Cried the lookout while pointing to the port city on the horizon.

“Thank Artemis, we finally can get off this tub.”

“Siri be nice, the journey would have been far longer had we gone overland. The ship wasn't that bad.”

She glared at him for some moments.

Sevastian laughed. “Yes,” he conceded, “it will be nice to finally be freed from this ship.”

Even with favorable winds, the voyage had been long. All on board eager to be on land again. No orders need be given, for as soon as the ship hand docked. The Amazon's moved to lead horses up from the lower decks, and down the gangplank. Next the warriors unloaded the spices packed into the holds of four ships. A bit of a business venture to show the profitability of trade to the Maharajah's in India . Sevastian planned to sell the Caedmon, cloves, black pepper, and cumin in the bazaar at Alexandria . Having grown up, and traveled in the east, he was confident of getting a fourteen fold return on the money spent by the kings in having to finance this voyage. Surely such a profit would entice more trade which would benefit India as well as the rest of the empire.

“An odd sensation,” Siri muttered.

“From being on ship so long, you'll get your land legs back as they say.” he patted Gisela's side as one of the Amazon's kindly placed his saddle upon his horse for him.

Seeing the litter approach, Sevastain bowed low, the Amazons clearing a path then doing the same in emulation of the Polemarch.

The great Lao Ma had said little to him while in India .

“Is it your intent to invade our lands?” she had asked.

“I have received no order to invade, Empress.”

“I wish to sail west, will you guarantee safe passage?”

“Yes, Empress.”

Based on that experience, Sevastain was not surprised when her elegant litter passed by in silence. Not unexpected, nor did he consider it a slight. The high Empress of all Chin was under no obligation to speak to a commoner such as him.

He straitened only after the seemingly leagues long procession had passed, the Amazon's doing the same.

“Siri.” he called, looking up when her arm landed upon his shoulder.

“Send a messenger ahead quickly; the Empress must not be surprised by the arrival of Lao Ma.”

“I will send Echephyle out within the candle mark.”

A cheer rose from the assembled Amazons drawing both their attentions to...

“Solari!” Siri stepped forward enveloping the elder Amazon in a hug even before she had a chance to speak.

“It is good to see you as well.” Solari clasped both of Siri's arms as the two separated.

Solari's smile faded as her gaze turned to Sevastain.

“Polemarch.” she gave the Imperial salute, quickly returned by Sevastian.

“Might I ask who that was?”

“The Empress of Chin.” he answered getting a surprised look then nod in response from Solari.

“I have orders to escort you to Alexandria , the Empress commands it.”

“Very well, we can set out just as soon as--”

“Sevastain...” he stopped speaking at hearing Solari use his name... unusual. “Brace yourself” she continued. “For I bring you terrible news.”


“Please don't be mad.”

Ephiny said nothing.

“C'mon.” Eponin pleaded. “I said I was sorry!”

Ephiny looked up from tying her boots.

“Eponin... beloved.” Ephiny watched as her lover raised her head, eyes ever so hopeful.

“You must learn when to fight and when it is best not--”

“But he deserved it, Silas and his so called protection, what he really wanted was--”


“I know what he wanted.” Ephiny continued. “He is a man.” Ephiny clasped both of Eponin's hands within her own. “We also know that it was not going to happen, not even in his wildest dreams.”

“I cannot sit by and let him show disrespect to the Amazon Queen!”

“We are no longer within the borders of our Nation, Eponin, we are just us two out in the wider world. Your actions could have led to our being jailed. It was only Silas' wounded pride that kept him from having charges levied against us.”

Ephiny stood fully, having finished dressing in her usual Amazon attire.

“I understand.”

“Now don't be mopey, you know I can't stay mad at you for long.”

Eponin cheered considerably. “You want these to drape over your leathers?” she held out the peasant clothes.

“No, I think after your display of fighting skill last night all understand we are Amazons, might as well drop the charade. At least till we reach Dyrrhachium.

Ephiny allowed her eyes to flick over Eponin suggestively. “You gonna get dressed or do you plan on giving the people of Kordion more excitement?”

Eponin smirked, and then moved to dress.

Chapter 31

“Pompey.” It is good to see you.” Julius smiled.

“Caesar, your actions threaten our enterprise!”

“Pompey,” Julius stepped forward, his words soft. “We know each other well, and you can speak your grievances quietly. Let's not argue here in front of both our armies, which ought to see nothing but love between us. Come, follow me to my headquarters.”

Julius turned walking away, expecting Pompey to follow.

Affixing a smile upon his face for the benefit of the men, the old general paced behind Caesar, thought the streets of El Daba and up the steps leading into the simple home.

“Paulinus don't allow anyone to disturb us until we've finished our conference.”

“Understood, Caesar.”


“They sailed?”

“Yes Empress, the entire Roman fleet has left Heracleion sailing west.”

“Did they notice your presence?”

“It was not my impression.” Leosthenes, reported. “As we were low on supplies, I ordered the fleet back to port here in Alexandria .”

“You did well. Resupply the ships have them ready for action at a moment's notice.”

“Of course.”


Her admiral turned and departed from her throne room.

“Sitting upon the golden throne once occupied by Cleopatra, then Xerxes, she knew the reason Pompey would pull up anchor and sail west instead of attempting to drawn her out into a sea battle. Caesar needed supply, Pompey was heading to El Daba.

Without Salmoneus in place, she lost the ability to know of the plan they undoubtedly were formulating. That's if they didn't kill each other first...

“Empress.” she looked up and toward the door of the throne room.

“The honorable Lao Ma, Empress of Chin, requests an audience.”

“See her in Salmoneus.”

Standing, Xena walked down the marble steps of the dais as Lao Ma gracefully walked across the room to her. As she moved to within just a few paces, the Empress of Chin bowed, in the silence Xena returned the gesture.


“Eat up Pompey, you are known to have an appetite for good food and drink. You certainly look like you do.”

“I think not.” The old general sat back in his chair.

“Come now, you don't think I'd poison you?”

“Yes you would.”

Julius laughed. “You know me well, but I tell you, the food and drink is not poisoned.”

“Pardon me, if I say I do not believe you.”

“Have it your way.”

“I am not here to dine and trade pleasantries Caesar. You have committed many offenses against me!

“Such is war Pompeius! You let the Senators push you into fighting me and paid the consequences. Do not lecture me. Had you been victorious I would have suffered grievously and we both know it!”

“I fought to preserve the Republic, while you to end it!”

“Spare me your platitudes; you work to end it as well.” Caesar waived his hand dismissively, “Why else would you order senators killed in the naval battle against Crassus.”

Julius took a sip of wine, enjoying the look on Pompey's face. “We all have spies Pompey, don't look so shocked.”

“Yes, and mine say you led your army to defeat at Kasserine, thousands, died as you retreated, blaming your second in command when the mistake was your own.”

“You are a foul liar!” Caesar stood.

“Rage all you wish, it will not make it any less true.” Pompey sat back, drawing some comfort by angering Caesar so. “You went for the prize, and Xena defeated you.”

“At least I didn't stoop so low as to ally with her.”

It was Pompey's turn to laugh, “Only because you'd already poisoned the well and couldn't. Let us not bicker Julius, we either work together or we both shall be defeated by that witch!”


Xena clasped Lao Ma's hands gently within her own, “After so long a time, my heart and my eyes are glad of you.”

“Unshakable as the mountains, yet untamed as the waters of the flood. Hatred hinders you.”

Xena dipped her head. “We cannot all forgive as easily as you do.”

Letting go of the hands held within her own, Xena gestured to the plush chairs tucked into a nearby alcove. Turning Lao Ma walked ahead, her beautiful crimson and gold dress swishing softly as she glided across the marble floor. Once seated, Salmoneus moved to serve them both tea, before retreating out of the chamber so that they might talk unhindered.

“I would be remiss if I did not bring some token of goodwill.” A clap of her hands caused a servant to step forward a package in hand. Kneeling he presented it to Xena. Untiring the silk ribbon, the wrapping fell away to reveal a beautiful silken dress in the style of chin, made of black silk with intricate designs in gold thread.

“It is beautiful, Fool that I am, I have nothing to gift you in return.

“The longer I live, the less I need.” Lao Ma had another sip of tea as her servant took hold of the dress and backed away and out of the room.


“We must divide her attentions.” Caesar counseled while laying out the map of Egypt and Northern Africa . “Xena's army though weakened is still powerful. In a straight on fight, I cannot win.”

“Yes.” Pompey did not say more, passing on chastening Caesar once again for rushing to attack.

“I propose the following: Use your fleet to land what troops you can near Alexandria ...” Julius tapped the map with his finger. “Here at El Alamein is best. Then bait into committing her navy to a battle upon the seas. After all that is what you want Pompey, to fight Greece on the waves. Destroy Xena's fleet so we may land troops where we please.”

“For what purpose would I land men at El Alamein ? I may need them in the sea battle.”

“It should be obvious Pompey!”

“Poor general that I am, please enlighten me Caesar.”

“She must use part of her force, to defend Alexandria . Remember, she will not know how many men have landed.”

“And you, what will you do?” Pompey's words caused Julius to smile.

“Not what I will do, what I am doing Pompey I've begun the ruse already, to tempt what remains of her force over the Kasserine into a trap. “My plan is to feign retreat to draw the Xena over the Kasserine pass and toward El Daba. I want her to think I've withdrawn behind the city walls.

“Thus you divide her force one part facing us at El Alamein , part on the sea, and last part chasing you. If all goes according to plan our conquest will be easy. But what if Xena choses to sail, choses to fight me?”

“She won't, Pompey. Xena is obsessed with defeating me. She would never pass up the chance to face me.”

“Perhaps so, but I tell you Xena is known for doing the unexpected.”

“No, she will face me here At El Daba.” Caesar's confidence did not allay Pompey's fears.

Why El Daba, aside from it being a port for your resupply?”

Raising a hand, Caesar used his finger to trace along the map, highlighting the topography around the city.


“I go to Rome .”

“ Rome ?” Xena's tone contained a dangerous edge within it. In turn she received a sad look from Lao Ma.

“Emissaries sent long past have not returned.”

“You negotiate with Rome !”

“Better to negotiate, than to war. That is why I come to you Xena, let us speak of intentions.”

Lao Ma paused to set the fine porcelain cup precisely upon the small side table between them.

“You intend to conquer Chin my Warrior Princess.”

Looking into the depths of Lao Ma's eyes, Xena found she hadn't the will to lie and dipped her head. An unspoken admission of truth.


“An Ambush!”

“Correct.” replied Caesar. “It is a gamble, but I will draw her in, then Paulinus will pounce.

“Caesar, A good plan, but you will have to order Paulinus to station troops far from El Daba, lest they be seen by the Greek scouts. The Amazons--.”

“I am unconcerned about women.”

“You should be, these Amazons are no ordinary women.”

Julius sat, while Pompey remained standing. For some moments, Pompey did not speak, allowing Caesar to mull over his words of advice.

“I will order Palulinus to lie further off, to give him time to reach the battlefield, I will pin the enemy force with my cavalry.”

Pompey breathed a small sigh of relief.


“I need Chin as part of my empire.”

“You do not need, you want, there is a difference.”

“I will have it.” Xena hissed low.

Slowly, Lao Ma raised on hand, her fingers moving to glide through Xena's thick dark tresses. There was such pain upon her face that Xena felt compelled to take hold of Lao Ma's free hand.

“How I wish I could have turned you from this path.”

The hand fell away and Xena looked up as Lao Ma stood. Slowly she stepped forward to a position in front and fell upon her knees.

A lone tear slid down Xena's cheek as she clasped Lao Ma's hand gently within her own.

“I submit to your will Empress.”

“Please.” Xena rasped thickly. “There is no need to kneel.”

“I must.” replied Lao Ma. “For to gain the sunshine, one must endure the storm.”

Lao Ma stood then spoke while still holding Xena's hands within her own. “I shall see you in Rome .”

In silence Xena looked on as Lao Ma departed the chamber, the moment she did, a very somber looking Salmoneus reappeared, standing in the entryway.

“Warriorness, my pardon, but the Polemarch has arrived.

“Send him in.” She leaned back in the chair.


“Sevastain please, you cannot be held accountable for his crime.” Siri came near, hands landing upon his shoulders, shaking him ever so slightly to drive home her point.

“A stain upon my family name must be expunged, this is the only way I know how.”

“I do not agree! Use reason! If you go in there and do as you propose it--”

Siri stopped speaking, at seeing the massive doors of the throne room opening.

Both he and Siri bowed low along with the crowd of Amazons packed into the antechamber as the Great Lao Ma passed through them.

Suddenly, she was before him.

“Things at the worst, will mend.” Sevastian looked up confused. Lao Ma, seeing that he had heard her words, silently continued on her way.

“The Empress waits.”

Sevastian looked over at Salmoneus and could not help but smile, thinking of the time when the three of them, Autolycus, Salmoneus, and he, had been imprisoned by Toris. They made for an unlikely team in escaping the dungeon of Athens .

Sevastian took a step forward, only to be hauled back into a fiercely protective hug by Siri. “Don't do this,” she pleaded in his ear, “I do not wish to lose you.”

This was not the time for stoicism, it was a time for honesty. His arms slipped round her waist to return her hug.

“In all my life, no one has been more true to me than you.”

She released him, beautiful Amethyst eyes looking down into his own while her thumb wiped a tear from his cheek. Regaining his bearing, Sevastian slowly slipped from her arms, to follow Salmoneus into the throne room.


They have pierced the Limes Germanicus on all fronts.

“Show me.” Brutus asked, his order being fulfilled as a large map was placed before him. “From here on the Northern outlet of the river the barbarians call the Rhine, southward to the Danube , the Germans in their thousands have poured across the border.” Cinna straightened from leaning over the map table and silently waited for a response. Besides himself, Cinna and Metelus Cimber were the last of the original conspirators against Caesar.

“Licinis?” Asked Brutus

“Pompey's general was killed at Castra Regina, on the Danube . Our legions, are now falling back in disarray.

Within the Senate chambers quiet whispers ensued, the Senators absorbing this terrible news.

“What you warned us of has come to pass Cicero . “

“Aye, though I wish with all my heart that it had not.”

“The infatuation with Xena has caused our generals to overlook the real danger. What say you Metelus? Any advice you wish to give?” asked Brutus, as he continued to look down at the map.

“We cannot send missives to Pompey and Caesar demanding help?”

“Even if we sent them out post haste, our plea would not reach them in time.” replied Brutus

Crato stood and spoke from the gallery. “There is more news yet, the legions in Britannia are under attack, and rebellion against Roman rule is underway.”

“Ye Gods! Can it get any worse?” lamented Brutus.

“It can always get worse.” Cicero said acidic.

“Brutus, you are leader of the Senate, you must take command of the armies of the Republic.” Cinna spoke forcefully.

“Me?” Brutus looked up into the gallery of senators surrounding them. “I am no general.”

“Yet you have more experience than we.” Cinna argued. “You fought in the Civil Wars between Pompey and Caesar. You fought against Crassus on the seas.”

The weight of what was being asked of him caused Brutus' shoulders to sag.

“Do we agree to the appointment of the honorable Brutus to General?” asked Cicero of the assembled senators

“Aye.” the senators voiced.

“Those in opposition, speak now.” urged Cicero .

No doubts were voiced.

“You are appointed. What are your orders?” Cinna stepped forward to clasp Brutus' wrist on behalf of all in the Senate.

That was fast , thought Brutus, one moment senator, the next general.

“As the situation is dire, I will not mince words. The legions on Britannia must now fiend for themselves.”

Within the chamber, many of the graybeards voiced heated opposition.

“I do not wrong them!” Stepping round the group in the middle of the chamber, he moved to address those in the gallery. “What fleet should we send to aid them?” The grumbling subsided as all recognized the truth in Brutus' words. There was no fleet, other than what Pompey commanded.

“I will say more, it will be difficult to hear, but you must.”

Quiet filled the chamber.

“As you have appointed me general, I now tell you the situation as a general.

In the gallery, men leaned forward, intent upon Brutus' next words.

“ Rome ...” Brutus looked down. “Cannot hold.”

Senators rose to their feet, angry shouts and accusations were voiced.

“Our Legions must fall back!” Brutus shouted while looking upward again.

Only the raised hands of respected Cicero quieted the chamber.

“Britannia is lost. In the east, the German invaders have over run our defenses. We must concentrate our forces, pulling troops from Hispania and Gaul to defend Italia and Rome .”

The hall erupted again, angry voices shouting over each other, a jumble of opinions being spoken.

He let it go on, Brutus understood pride was driving their harsh words. The very thought of losing is hateful to a Roman. Eventually the arguments died out and quiet returned.

“If any among you disagree with my assessment of our situation, now speak your concern.” Brutus asked the silent gallery of senators surrounding him.


“If any among you have in your mind a better course, now is the time to speak.” Brutus began to slowly turn in place, making eye contact with as many as he could in the circular chamber.


“If any among you, now wish me to step aside as general... speak....and I shall.” He stopped at the section of the senate which voiced the loudest opposition. “I pause for a reply.”


“Then none object to my plan?”

“None Brutus.” Cicero spoke for all in the chamber.

“I will leave this very day, but senators, I beg that those among you of military mind accompany me for I have much need for commanders.”

Chapter 32

Astutely watching his mannerisms from the moment he entered the chamber, she was pleased to note there was no display of arrogance. In the Eastern regions, Sevastain had been master; here he was once again servant. Most would have great difficulty accepting that.

“Sheath your sword”

He did so. Xena understood his eastern sense of honor demanded he give her the option to end his life in retribution for his brother's crime.

There was a time when she would have.

Before her upon both his knees, he opened his arms in entreaty and whispered one word.


She knew Sevastian would ask for her to show mercy, he had to ask.

“I have none to give.”

She watched as he dipped his head in submission to her will.

“Kodi will die.”

A halting breath left him at her pronouncement.

“Look at me.”

She was moved by the tears welling in his eyes. There was a time when she wouldn't have been.

“Due to your loyal service, I give clemency to you and your family and will ignore the long held tradition that all family should die for the treacherous acts of one.”

“I thank you for that, Empress.”

“Rise, Sevastain.”

He stood, backing away he bowed low.

“Get up.” She ordered looking past him.

Glancing back, he saw Amazons kneeling.

“Seems you inspire much fidelity Sevastain. Here before me are Amazons, all on bended knee silently pleading on your behalf. They implore me to spare your life. It is not lost upon me that they choose to do this for a man.”

Under her inscrutable gaze, he found no suitable answer, and so remained silent.

“You are demoted.”

Her words did not shock him, Xena had shown mercy in not killing him or his family, but that did not mean he would not suffer other punishments.

“You will return to your post as Lord Commander, serving as my second in command, not only of this army, but of the Empire.”

He couldn't hide his astonishment at her words.


The Amazon's did as she bid, piling out of the chamber, leaving him and Xena alone, save for the Amazon guard stationed at the doors.

Xena rose from her chair, he looked up to meet her gaze.

Beauty unrivaled … Sevastain had never seen the Empress dressed as such. Her usual fare was leathers and armor, but here she wore a long gown of pure white, which tied over one shoulder. On the other leopard skin draped. Her long dark hair was done up in many braids held in place by golden thread woven though. On the tips many golden adornments swayed with her every movement. High boots replaced with golden sandals.

“With me.”

Walking forward Xena lead and he followed past the dais on which the throne of Egypt sat and into a smaller room located behind the throne. The Amazons closing the double doors behind.

“Tell me Sevastian, should I be concerned about the loyalty the Amazons show you?”

“No Empress. I can assure you the Amazons will not fail in their oath to you.”

“I see.” He watched as she moved hands to rest upon her hips. “But they do have a peculiar partiality to you.”

“I would not deny that, and thankfully so, as even with that... partiality... they...well...” he paused trying to find the right words. “Are rather... finicky... about which of my orders to follow.”

Her chuckle relaxed him slightly. “Amazons are a stubborn lot.” Xena conceded.

“Of course I knew.”

Sevastian looked to Xena quite confused. “Pardon? You knew?”

Xena didn't clarify her statement, walking across the space, she picked up a decanter and began filling two gold chalices with wine.

It only took a moment before Sevastain understood. “You always knew Kodi would turn.”

“Yes, didn't take a seer to figure out the boy's motives. Like you, I hoped he would reconsider.”

Walking toward him, she reached out, he taking the chalice from her hand, a subtle dip of his head to thank her for serving him wine.

“My spies told me he was in contact with the Romans. My head of household, Mynia kept a keen eye on him and reported his every move. Not only have I caught Kodi, I've now got hold of every Roman spy within Egypt .”

“His actions--”

“Are his alone.” she interjected. “And he answers for them alone. I wish he had chosen a different course, but he did not.”

Her cup touched his, the metal chiming softly.

Sevastain raised his chalice, “To Your Imperial Majesty.” he toasted, watching as Xena smiled sadly.

“If only your brother had shown the loyalty you do.”

Both paused to take a long sip of wine.

“His execution must be public,” Xena continued. “I had hoped to be able to spare you of this Sevastain, but Kodi chose to strike in front of my commanders. I have no choice but to use his death to serve as an example and warning to others of like mind.”

“He is still alive then?”

“Yes, held in the dungeons below this palace.”

Sebastian was filled with a mix of conflicting emotions, glad that Kodi still lived, mournful that he could not prevent his death.

She moved to the window gazing out at the harbor below, her back to him. “I am heartless and vengeful, but not in such quantity that I would rob you of seeing him one last time before he is transported back to Greece .”

“Thank you.” Another mercy, allowing Kodi to die on Greek soil and not have his remains discarded in some foreign land.

“Tell me....” He watched as she turned, her eyes locking with his. “After all that I've inflected upon you, you still chose loyalty, why?”

He started to speak, and then halted. “Might I talk plainly Empress?”


“Xena, the reasons I follow you are so many I am hard pressed to explain. I have go gifts, as the poets do, which would enable me to expound upon the truths within my heart. I am deeply shamed at Kodi's actions. You have been faithful and just to me and I--”

“No, not faithful nor just. I have unleashed my wrath upon you, and now Kodi.”

He knew of what she alluded to, the night of Athena's trickery.”

“What else could you have done? What else would anyone have done in your position? No... I say your actions were in keeping truths you understood in that moment. Once you understood the ruse, you asked the Goddess to heal me. As for Kodi, neither you, nor I could sway him.”

“I am vengeful and bloody.”

“Noble and true.” Sevastain countered. “So I say, lead on mistress, and I will follow you - with truth and loyalty to my last breath.”

Xena's gaze upon him was piercing as she slowly raised her chalice to take another sip of wine.

“You are a fool.” she pronounced, causing him to smile slightly.

“Go, see your brother, for tomorrow at sunrise he will begin the journey back to Greece . Tonight, you will join me for dinner, and then we two shall have a war council Deshi. We plan the last act. The downfall of Rome .”

“Understood Sensei.”


Setting his cup aside, he bowed low, then departed the room.

When he had done so, she turned back to gaze out at the harbor once more.


“Must we?”

Ephiny looked back at Eponin with sympathy. “I know we've had a rough time of it, but we must continue on.”

“As long as I don't have to get on a boat. I'd rather take the long way home before riding the waves again.”

“I hope those following us have better weather.” Ephiny conceded. “I did wonder if our ship would be swamped by those towering waves.”

The two walked the Via Appia towards Rome . Cresting a rise, they stopped then moved aside, watching mutely as a clean shaven man with dark hair rode past. Behind, a gaggle of important looking men rode. Behind that Roman troops, who upon close inspection had piecemeal armor and looked to be rather scrawny. An army of boys, instead of men...

“Time to get off this road.” Not waiting for a reply, Ephiny hopped the fence and walked into the vineyard butting up against the Via Appia.

“You think Rome moves to invade Greece ?” Eponin asked after some moments.

“I do not know.”

“Should we go back and warn our---”



“No Eponin, we have our task, given by Artemis herself, we must fulfill it.”

“As you command my Queen.”

Hearing the tone in Eponin's voice Ephiny halted her progress. “I'm worried too, but we must hope that all will turn out for the best.”

Looking round, Ephiny weighed her options. The light of day was fading, soon they would be forced to stop and she would rather not camp near the road filled by so many Roman soldiers.

There in the far distance, a grand villa...

“Come, perhaps we can seek refuge for the night.”

“Hopefully the master of the estate is kind.” Eponin grumbled.



“You must believe me! I saw the girl here!” Emmerich wrung his hands nervously as his boss, Charietto paced about the dark space. The townhouse was empty, linen covers on the furnishings to keep out dust.

“You did not watch closely enough.”

“I did!” Emmerich defended, the girl is owned by the horse breeder Iolaus. I--”

Emmerich stopped speaking, being unable to draw a breath with Charietto's hand clasped around his throat. “Your mistake has cost us dearly! No telling where the girl is now. We will have to...”

The hand at his throat slackened, Charietto's knees gave way and he tumbled to the wooden floor.

“Charietto?” Emmerich rasped while moving to hold the oil lamp nearer to his boss. Fear overtook him as he saw the poison dart. Quickly he stood, meaning to put out the lamp so darkness would rob the assassin of the ability to see him.

He never had a chance... a second poison dart struck him in the chest. As Emmerich fell a hand reached from the darkness out to take the oil lamp out of his.

“Take the bodies, load them on the cart, dump em' in the Tiber .” Ordered Autolycus.


“Oh great, rain...” Eponin muttered darkly as the heavens opened in a mighty deluge.

Balling her hand into a fist, Ephiny banged on the heavy wooden gate.

There was no sound within, least not that could be heard over Zeus' voice within the clouds.

She was about to hit the door once more when a slot slid open.

“Yes?” a man's voice answered, Ephiny could only see his eyes.

“Please sir, may we--”

“We don't take in strangers.”

“But we've been caught in the rain, please we only ask for a dry spot to sleep for one night.”

“You are Greek?”

“Yes,” Eponin spoke from behind. “From Thrace .”

“Hold here.”

The slot slid shut.

For an eternity they waited in the pouring rain before the door opened, to reveal a very young man, dressed in the Greek style wearing a black cloak for protection from the elements. A surprised look on his face as he was forced to look up to meet the eyes of the two women.

“The master has a soft spot in his heart for those who hail from Greece .” The man turned, expecting them to follow. Behind the wooden gate slammed shut.

“It is a magnificent home.” Eponin, usually one to speak sparingly when surrounded by outsiders, felt compelled to break the silence.

“The Master.” the he announced as the entered a lavish dining room.

“Lords on Olympus , the Hyades must have borne you a grudge, you are both soaked!”

“Many apologies, for disturbing your dinner kind sir, we--”

“Not at all, I was just sitting down actually.


“Yes master?”

“Take these two, to the bath, and see if you can't scrounge up some dry clothing, for our new friends.” Ephiny smiled down at the curly haired man in the funny multi colored coat as he patted her arm.

“Now you both follow Lilla and get warmed up in a nice bath before you catch your death of cold.”

“Thank you sir for such hospitality.”

“You are most welcome, least I can do for fellow Greeks.


“Solari,” Sevastain said soft “I-”.

“If you think that I feel slighted, you are mistaken. The Empress has removed a load from my shoulders which would sink a navy. I am content, commanding the Imperial Guard again, happy you replace me as second in command.”

“Gods above, this place is foul.” Siri said from behind while ducking quite low and pulling her arms in to squeeze through yet another iron strapped door. Who built this place, halflings? She groused.

Three levels down, they had traveled, the darkness only cut by flaming torches as no light could penetrate this deep.

“Here.” Solari pronounced as the group approached the door the Amazon guard on either side coming to rigid attention at the approach of three high commanders.

He paused at the door as one of the guards unlocked it.

“I prefer to see him alone.”

“As you wish, though the guard will remain outside.”

Without looking back, he nodded in understanding of Solari's words.

“I will wait.”

“Siri, you have much work to attend you do not need to--”

“I... will... wait.” she rumbled dangerously.

He could remind Siri once again that he was in charge, but based upon past experiences it would be useless.

“Have it your way.” he said simply while stepping forward meaning to go through the portal. Her touch stopped him… She squeezing his hand momentarily before letting go.

Within another set of stairs leading down, a lone torch guttering against the far wall, his half-brother enclosed within a four sided iron cell in the middle of the room.

Sevastain paused at the landing at the top of the stair. Kodi was a pitiful sight, disheveled, covered in dirty rags, his fine livery having been stripped away.

“Come to gloat?”

Without a word, Sevastain walked down the stair black cape flaring out as he did. Looking round, he found no spot in which to sit, and so sat on the bottom step.

“Go on, tell me how I am wrong, tell me about the shame I've brought upon the family.” Kodi was standing now, hands wrapped round the iron bars.

“I would not tell you what you already know.”

“Although, I am to die, I'll have glory on my dying day, as future generations will proclaim that I died for the cause of liberty. They will say that Xena was a tyrant! You, Sevastain! You shall be condemned as well! An evil overlord carrying out her murderous schemes!

“I leave the future to sort itself.” Standing slowly, Sevastain pulled his blade from its sheath.

“You mean to kill me brother? If so I welcome it! I could live a thousand years and I wouldn't be as ready to die as I am now. You could live a thousand years and it still would not be enough time to purge the blood from your hands!”

“Kodi, cool your tongue. I am family. I know you well. When I was your age, and you just a babe, I cared for you. Tell me, do you really think I'd kill you?”

“If the Witch of Amphipolis ordered it you would. But, you'd not call it murder, you'd call it duty.

“You are a powerful speaker, Kodi.” Sevastain moved to sit once more. “Such fire to your words, perhaps the greater good would have been better served had you waited and run for office in the future.”

If I had, my words condemning her despotism would have forced you kill me as you did those in Athens .”

Remaining silent, Sevastain pulled out a cloth and began to polish his blade. If for no other reason than it was a bit of normalcy in a situation which had none.

“Preparing for still more killing?” Kodi sneered.

Sevastian looked to his brother with annoyance. “I am merely cleaning my blade, like you have seen me do countless times.”

“You have been deceived Sevastain, deceived by one claiming to be savior of Greece . Entranced by your belief she alone has all the answers. You should have been wary, but instead you fell for the seductive glamor that evil cloaks itself in.”

“Have you given much thought to your actions, Kodi?” Sevastain paused, checking his work on the blade then looking to his brother. “You speak of evil, yet you acted in hope of murdering the Empress. Does the end justify the means?

“I act for the greater good.”

“As do I in remaining loyal to Xena.”

“She is evil Sevastian.”

“The definition of evil depends greatly on one's point of view.”

“Fight against her, lead a revolt to restore democracy to Greece !”

“Why would I do that? Sevastian scoffed. “I helped to put an end to democracy in Greece .”

“People must be free! Democracy--”

“Democracy...” Sevastain's contempt shone, “You say the word as if it is something noble. “Democracy is nothing more than two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

“You are deluded!”

“This bickering is pointless!” You have made your decision and so have I!”

Kodi watched in silence as his elder half-brother calmed himself after the display of temper. Sevastian being angrier at himself than Kodi for having been baited into an argument. When he finally spoke, his tone was soft.

“For old times' sake, let's go on gently Kodi, no longer traitor and Lord Commander, but as brothers. The way mother always wished it would be.”

In the long silence which followed, Sevastain did not look up until his work was finished. When he did, his heart broke seeing the tears upon Kodi's face.

“What will happen to me now brother?”

“You are to be taken back to Greece , there you will be...” The sudden lump in his throat kept Sevastain from saying more.

“Executed.” Kodi finished.


“Will it hurt?”

“It...” Sevastain paused, not wishing to give details of the horrors of being drawn and quartered. “I shall petition Xena, beg her if need be, to have a sword used by a skilled executioner.”

How macabre it was to be speaking of means of execution.

“I am glad to have a little neck then.”

“Oh Kodi...” Sevastain blurted out with deep sadness.

Another long silence ensued, before the door at the top of the stairs opened, the unmistakable outline of Siri appearing. Time was up.

“Will you be there or shall I die surrounded by strangers? Without a single friendly face to look upon before I die?”

It was too much to bear, tears welled in Sevastain's eyes.

“I don't wish to die alone, no family to--”

“Brother, I will be there.” Sevastain's voice broke. “Promise me that you will be brave, meet your end with honor.”

“For you, I will.”

“Turning his back on Kodi, Sevastain tried and failed to regain his bearing, the tears would not be stopped.

“I am not sorry for my actions.” Kodi said from behind. “I am sorry for having caused you such sorrow.”

“I regret that I failed to pull you from this course.” Sevastain could not bring himself to look at his brother again. “You could have done much good Kodi, had you just approached matters differently.”

“I saw no alternative.”

“As the Empress says, there are always choices.” Kodi looked at the back of his half-brother as Sevastian would not turn to face him.

“Perhaps...” Sevastain let out a shuddering breath. “Perhaps it will be as you say in the future. The evil that men do is remembered after their death, but the good is often buried with them. It may as well be that way with me.”

He mounted the steps, Siri moving aside to allow him passage while dipping her head. Outside the portal, the Amazon guard came to attention out of respect.

He walked through the door, she following.

The door closed. Kodi was left alone or so he thought.

Xena had observed the entirety of the conversation, her position in the chamber being shrouded by darkness.

Chapter 33


He did so.

“Loyal, loyal, Sevastain...” she said gently.

He looked up to meet her gaze.

Her fingers gently tapped against the side of his jaw. “I will expect you at El Daba.”

“Yes Empress.”

Xena turned walking up the gangplank of her flagship, the Hellas , Solari following behind.

The high commanders stood at attention, giving the Imperial Salute as the flag of the Empress rose to the top of the mast and the warship began to move from the dock.

Walking down the top deck, she reached her cabin, her belongings having already been transferred by Salmoneus. Working the latch, she stepped inside.

“Have you lost your mind!?”

“And a lovely day to you as well Ares,” She replied while removing her red cape then tossing it upon a nearby chair.

“You send the boot-licker against Julius Caesar!? Has the strain of prosecuting this war hampered your ability think clearly?

Taking a seat behind Caesar's old desk, she began flicking through various missives, opening those that seemed most pertinent and beginning to read. An act she knew would annoy Ares to no end.


It had…

“Yes?” she asked pleasantly.

“Caesar is a master of war; he will destroy your force!”.” Ares now was pacing in front of her, hands gesticulating wildly. “You cannot be thinking--”

“Sevastian did well enough against the Persians didn't he?”

“You had already won that fight; he merely rode your victory to its logical end.”

“Conquered India without need of a fight.”

“That was a disappointment.” Ares spat. “I got to witness no combat.”

Xena couldn't help but roll her eyes slightly at Ares protestations. Propping a foot up on her new desk, she opened and began reading another missive from Autolycus.

“You only have 18 ships my overconfident Chosen , Pompey has far more.”

“Quantity does not ensure victory, better tactics do.” she retorted without looking up.

“Very well, let's say you somehow manage to defeat Pompey.”

“I will defeat Pompey.”

“So you defeat Pompey. More people worship the rising than the setting sun Xena. If Caesar is able to destroy your force on land, the win will cause many to flock to his banner. I remind you that you are stretched thin having conquered the east and Rome , though weakened, can still invade Greece .”

Xena tossed the missive from Autolycus at the deity who snatched it from the air with a certain degree of flair.

Silence as the god read the missive.

“ Rome is under attack.... The Germanic tribes...” Ares smiled.

“A helpful coincidence wouldn't you say?”

“You had a hand in this, didn't you?” Pride filled Ares voice.

“Of course.” she purred with a sly smile. “You have such little faith in me Ares.”


“I trust you slept well?”

“Yes sir,” replied Ephiny while fiddling with her scratchy woolen dress.

“Here...” Iolaus waved his hand, indicating he wished the two of them to be seated. “And please, just Iolaus.”

Slaves, under the direction of Lilla moved to first set the table, then serve breakfast to the Master and his guests.

“So.” Iolaus dipped a bit of barley bread into wine before taking a bite. “How did you both come to be on the road to Rome ?”

“We go to Rome looking for work, kind sir.”

“Iolaus, call me Iolaus.” Both Amazon's glanced at each other, both wondering if…

“Okay,” Ephiny smiled, “Iolaus.”

Fine plates were placed in front of both Ephiny and Eponin each stacked high with Tagenites, round flat cakes made with wheat flour, olive oil, and curdled milk.

A hungry Eponin reached for a jug of honey, and then stopped. In the outside world, women usually waited for the master of the home to begin dinning first.

“Please, I've never stood on ceremony, go on and eat.”

Iolaus smiled watching as the two women slather the cakes with honey. “There is not much work to be had Rome I'm afraid. You are all alone? Where is your family?

“Gone on to Elysia.”

“My sympathies.” Genuine sadness from Iolaus made the two Amazons feel terribly guilty. They hated having to deceive this kind man, but their identity must be kept secret.

“Thank you.”

“That will be all Lilla.” With a smile, the slave was gone. “O ff probably to wake Gabrielle.” said Iolaus offhand, “That girl works hard, but she is difficult to rouse in the morn.”

Both Ephiny and Eponin exchanged another glance… it couldn't be that easy. Could they have just stumbled into finding both Iolaus and Gabrielle?

“Why do you leave Greece to find work?”

Ephiny spoke. “Hard times have come upon Greece . Many men have gone to war; many women now must find a means to survive.”

“I see.” Iolaus said soft while using a dagger to cut into the cakes stacked on his place, before spearing a piece. “You have Xena to thank for that.”

“Hard times have come upon this land as well.” Iolaus continued after a bite. “Trade with the provinces has broken down, men by the thousands have been taken off to war, and taxes are rising. We here,” he gestured briefly, indicating their surroundings, “have been lucky in that my estate is mostly self-sufficient.”

“You spoke of men being taken off to war. I must ask, have you need of labor?” Both Ephiny and Eponin looked to Iolaus with hope.

“I do, but I warn you, the work is quite hard.”

“We are up to the task.” Ephiny said firmly.



“Gabrielle, rise up it is morning!”

“Already?” The word spoken after a long stretch and a groan.

“Yes! Helios has risen and shining bright!

“Well, I'll rise but I refuse to shine.”

Standing, Gabrielle ran fingers through her hair, glad the master allowed her to have its normal color returned. With the games in the Circus Maximus canceled for the duration by the Senate, the household of Iolaus had relocated far from Rome to the walled safety of his country estate.

“You'll shine when I tell you of events!” Gabrielle watched as Lilla actually hopped in place due to her excitement. “We have visitors! From Greece !”

She was up and out of her little cot instantly. “ Greece !”

“Yes, come see!” Lilla turned and disappeared through the door of the cubby so fast, it appeared as if she had flown like a bird.

“Lilla! Wait!” Called Gabrielle while pulling off her shift, to don her usual green work tunic and bouncing a bit as she pulled her legs though woolen trousers. Next small boots were pulled on roughly. Passing through the door, she walked out into the three sided courtyard of the main stable with its myriad of stalls for the Masters Prize horses. The stable itself was made from fireproof brick, with a tile roof. A high stone wall across one side, held the main entrance.

Across the stable yard and through the main gate Gabrielle ran, trying vainly to catch up to Lilla.


“Pardon my impertinence, kind Iolaus, but we traveled here by ship with many other women of our village, would you consider hiring them as well?” Ephiny knew she was taking a gamble, not having yet seen the girl named Gabrielle, but intuition told her all would be okay.

“Greeks, must always help other Greeks, I would hire those that are strong enough to handle the hard labor in the fields.”

“They are strong enough.” Eponin said with certainty.

“With your permission we would like to leave markings on the road for them to follow,” replied Ephiny while taking another flat cake from a tray, to sop up all remaining honey upon her plate.

An excellent idea, I like initiative! Leave more markings on the gate of this Villa, so it will be all the easier to find us.”

“Yes sir.” replied Eponin.

“Iolaus, not sir.”

Both Amazons smiled at their new employer. This man was intelligent and gracious.

“If you don't mind my asking, why are soldiers marching north from Rome ?”

“Word from the outlying regions tells of Barbarians from Germania attacking Roman held lands. I can only imagine that those troops you saw are on their way to stop them.”

Eponin sat back, having eaten her fill. “In Greece we hear much about Caesar. Will Rome 's foremost general lead men to...”

“Caesar, fights with Pompey against Xena.”

Both Amazons had already picked up on Iolaus disdain for the Empress.

“Being that my main business is breeding fine horses, I have access to the aristocracy of Rome who buys them. I warned all I could of Xena's ability, warned them again and again, to no avail. No one had time to listen to a simple horse breeder, even if that breeder speaks from personal experience.

Iolaus slouched in his chair.

Ephiny's curiosity was peaked, “You had dealings with the Empress?”

“Murdering warlord is a more apt description. I tell you she is monstrous, but let's not dwell on...” Iolaus stopped speaking as Lilla reappeared in the doorway. Moments later Gabrielle appeared peaking from behind her taller sister.

“Ah! Finally you meet the day!” Iolaus teased causing Gabrielle to blush with embarrassment. “Here now Gabrielle, come meet Ephiny and Eponin, they will be helping you take care of the horses.”

Both Amazons sat up, being that they were quite interested in this slave.

“So wonderful to meet you!” Gabrielle stepped from behind Lilla, her eyes beaming with excitement.

“Go have your breakfast, then take these two and begin work.”

“Yes, Master.” Gabrielle smiled beautifully.

“Master...” all looked to the boy standing in the far entrance to the dining room.

“Your steward is here.”

“Send him in.”

“Yes sir.” the boy gestured.

Moments later Autolycus appeared in the doorway. If he was surprised at seeing the Amazon Queen, he hid it well.

Ephiny and Eponin knew it for certain, they had found Gabrielle.


“Feels so good to ride the waves once more.”

“If you say so Empress,” A pallid Solari replied causing Lesothenes standing near to laugh.

“I happen to know a method of relief for sea sickness Amazon, however like many cures it does have a trade off in that it affects your dietary habits.”

“Dietary habits?

“Yeah, you'll devour food you'd never dream of eating.” Xena smiled, wiggling her brows a bit, “Wana try?”

Solari thought about it.


“Have it your way, Amazon.” Xena next looked to her admiral. “Report.”

“Empress, Lesothenes stepped up to the map table. “We sail toward El Daba, at the slow pace you've ordered for our rowers; we should arrive in a seven-day.”

“We will never reach El Daba.”

“What?” both Lesothenes and Solari said in unison.

“Our fleet cannot engage Pompey, we must instead turn tail and feign retreat luring him past Alexandria and hopefully into the Nile itself.”

“As you order Empress, these ships you've designed can easily out pace those floating Roman boxes should they choose to follow. Bit of a gamble to take the fleet up the Nile , with the Romans in pursuit cutting our means to the sea.

She placed hands upon the map, leaning forward over the table, eyes locked on her Admiral. To his credit the man didn't step back.

“All true, but rest assured, that I have a surprise planned, Pompey need only take the bait.”


“Just a bit of shade, that's all I ask.”

“Not much of that to be had in the desert.” the Amazon nearest, Xanthippe replied with scorn while apprising the very rotund commander.

“A man can wish.” Cleon wiped his brow again with a scrap of sweat soaked linen.

“I told you to cut your hair back as I have done.” Agis grabbed his dark strands. “But you refused.

“Makes you look like a boy.” Cleon replied with a laugh. He inhaled deeply, his leathers creaking as they stretched to contain his bulk. “The sooner we start, the sooner the day is done.” The Amazons stationed near, glanced at each other attempting to hold their laughter as he donned a most ridiculous black helmet complete with a skull emblazoned on the front and horns jutting from either side.

Even Agis, looked on with scorn “You are going to sweat to death, dressed like that.” He instead choose to wear linen clothing and instead of a helmet had donned the Keffiyeh, a folded bit of cloth which draped over the neck and shoulders. The Egyptians wore it and it made much sense in the blistering desert.

“Even the high Lord Commander has clothed himself lightly.” Agis gestured to Sevastain who was dressed in the eastern style, a linen tunic of light brown and gray trousers with sandals instead of boots. At the moment it was a bit difficult to see him though, surrounded as he was by the undeniably colossal Amazons. The strange women warriors certainly were protective of Sevastian following him round like they were his very own shadow.

“Little fella, doesn't really impress me. They say he is quiet and unassuming in demeanor, yet merciless in carrying out the directives of the Empress.” Cleon whispered leaning in toward Agis as he spoke. “And... his half-brother is a traitor to Greece . Can this man be trusted?”

“Everyone is little compared to you tubby. As for the issue of trust, I did not see you raise the question in front of the Empress. Clearly she has faith in him.” replied Agis. “I keep my eye on the reward. Many tell of Menticles and Talmadeus being granted vast lands to rule by the Empress. If we stay loyal, we too will be in line for the deposing of new dignities. You'd do well to remember that.”

The huddle of Amazons surrounding the Lord Commander broke, many of the women moving quickly to mount warhorses and ride off to begin scouting ahead of the main force. Others unobtrusively keeping pace with Sevastian, shrouding him with silent protection.

“Are we all ready?”

“Yes.” replied the two commanders of the army groups.

“Very well, Agis, lead your men on, scouts and flankers ahead. I will ride with you Commander.” Sevastain looked to Cleon who nodded. “Mount up, then.”

Pacing away, both men shouted orders to those in their command. The men standing, then forming up to begin the march.

“And what do you wish of me and my men, Lord Commander?”

“Meleager!” Sevastian smiled wide at seeing his old friend again. “Tired of road building?”

The old commander laughed. “That and of making sure tons of Persian gold made it to the vaults of Corinth .”

“I am glad it arrived safe. The Empress will be pleased.”

“I do hope so; shall my engineers fall in for the march ahead?”

“Your men just arrived here; I was thinking to allow you some rest.”

“No.” Meleager said firm. “We would not miss the chance to see the final defeat of Caesar.”

“Very well then, come along, Siri are we...”

Sevastain stopped speaking, following her gaze he watched Cleon step up into the saddle.

“That poor horse...” she declared, causing Meleager to howl with laugher.


“She is precious!” Eponin cooed while watching Gabrielle work. “I wana put her in my pocket and carry her back to the Amazon village.”

“Small enough” Ephiny replied grouchily.

“How winsome she is and so very cheerful, why the girl even smiles while shoveling--”

“You find her fetching then?” I didn't think tiny, clumsy, and helpless was your type.” Ephiny cut in testily.

“You know I only have eyes for you, my love,” Eponin soothed. “But you must admit she is cute.”

Ephiny watched as the girl nearly tripped over her own boots for the umpteenth time. “Okay, cute,” she conceded, “but she'd not last a candle mark as an Amazon.”

“She'd not last a candle mark being unattached in our village, our warriors would absolutely fawn over her, you know how protective we Amazons are. They'd scoop her up and cuddle her to no end. I can see why Xena--.”

“That girl won't last through the first outing with the Empress; she'll die of fright Eponin.”

“You mind telling me why you are here?”

Neither woman was surprised at the voice from behind, having long heard Autolycus approaching.

“We are ordered to guard the girl.”

“By the Empress?”

“No, by Artemis.”

“I didn't know Amazons had a sense of humor. Artemis wishes her protected does she? You are joshing.”

“We are here aren't we?” Ephiny replied.

“Why else would the Amazon Queen herself be in Italia?” Eponin asked.

“Just what I needed, involvement of Gods,” Autolycus groaned.

“Goddess,” Corrected Eponin, “and be glad she is with us rather than against us.”

Auto seemed to consider that while stoking his mustache in silence.

“Just you two ordered to guard her?”

“Some 20 more of our sisters will arrive shortly.”

“Mmmm... Well, if you are here to guard, then I can be freed up to sail. This news must be reported to the empress personally. I warn you if you are lying Queen that my men are everywhere. Like many of the bounty hunters sent by the Empress, they will be sure to put an end to any designs you may have on the girl.”

“How frightening!” Eponin gasped in feigned worry. “You hear that my Queen? Men may do us harm! What shall we do?”

Ephiny gave her lover an amused look. “Why not just take the girl to the Empress and be done with it?”

“Lady, I'm pretty heartless, but...” Auto sighed. “Well, just look at her!” He pointed to Gabrielle, who was busily tying the laces on her boots. “I can't bring myself to inflict that kind of trauma.”

“You worry about her safety, and moreover your neck should something go wrong in your kidnapping her.”

“Yeah,” Autolycus conceded with a shrug. “I'd rather keep my head attached as long as possible. The girl is safe enough here, especially with you protecting her. Safe enough for me to go report my findings to Xena and get her blessing before attempting anything. You Amazons”

“Have no fears, we will.”

“Xena's wrath will be unleashed on you if something happens to that slave.” Warned Auto before stepping away

“Come on Eponin,” said Ephiny after Xena's spy master had walked off, “let's go help Gabrielle shovel horse shit.”

Chapter 34

“This better be good for waking me during my midday rest.”

“General, The last of the troops have been offloaded. Cornelius reported.

“You woke me for that?”

“We have spotted the enemy fleet.”

“Are you sure?” Pompey eased himself out the massive hammock the ropes holding it groaning as he did. “You'd better be sure to have me go out on deck in this heat.”

“We are sure, great Pompey.” Cornelius replied while waiting for the old man to don his armor.

Brushing past, Pompey opened the door of his cabin, then walked down the short corridor leading to the deck. Shielding his eyes against the sun for a moment, Pompey took hold of the looking glass to view the sea.

There on the waves, the outline of Greek ships, the flag of Xena herself fluttering on high.

“Undoubtedly, she has had reports on the whereabouts of this fleet.” Cornelius looked on as Pompey smiled wide as he continued to view the enemy. “Come to have a look Xena?” he asked with a chuckle.

“They sail east, from all appearances.”

“Yes.” Pompey lowered the looking glass. “She knows we've off loaded troops. My guess is she will race back to Alexandria , to take command of her army. We must stop her Cornelius.”

“We have the clear advantage, her fleet is trifling compared to ours.”

“Exactly, we shall use our size advantage to surround her in battle. We can bring about Xena's end, and I will get the credit for capturing her.” Pompey slapped Cornelius on the back. “I can hear the cheers in Rome as I, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, lead a chained Xena into the Forum. This time she will kneel to me.”

“Caesar shall be envious of you Great Pompey.”

“Caesar can be envious all he likes from the underworld as after I defeat Xena on the waves, I will have my revenge on him. For now, though, our focus is on capturing the Bitch of Greece.”

“Prepare to sail!”


“An old maneuver by Caesar, divide and conquer. You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.”

“What does that mean?” Solari took the looking glass that the Empress handed to her.

“Caesar has convinced Pompey to land troops at the little port of El-Alamein, behind Sevastain's force. He hopes to force my second to divide his army, one half chasing this force here, the other continuing on to El Daba.”

“Why?” Solari lowered the looking glass.

“It will weaken Sevastain's force.”

“Will your second take the bait?”

“He must, as now Alexandria is under threat. Knowing Julius, some type of trap is set around El Daba.”

“By Artemis! We must find a way to warn your second of this plan!”


“No?” Solari was shocked, shocked enough to actually touch Empress' arm. Xena's look downward at her hand, and up again into her eyes caused the Amazon to quickly remove the offending appendage.”

“We let it play out. Caesar and Pompey have made a terrible mistake.”

“How so?”

“Xena took moment to breathe in the wonderful sea air, an act which annoyed Solari, who waited none too patiently for an answer. “They fight against me.” She replied with a grin.

Solari was not impressed.


Her Admiral gestured to his captain to take the helm. “Yes Empress?” he asked while walking beside to the rail to stand alongside.

“We are about to have some company on the waves. Slow the fleet, but keep us ahead of the Romans. I want to bait them into a chase, all the way to the Nile itself.”

“As you wish Empress.”


I've seen thimbles bigger than this...”

“Quit complaining.”


“I know this washtub is small...” Ephiny's voice softened, at seeing Eponin all scrunched up and uncomfortable. “Believe me when I say that what you are in is luxurious compared to what is normally used by servants and slaves. Iolaus must have a soft spot for Gabrielle, she has her own quarters, albeit tiny, and is given the luxury of taking baths in private.”

Ephiny moved to kneel by the edge. “Here let me help by scrubbing your back.”

“That feels wonderful.” Eponin sighed

Ephiny's fingers soon moved upward to begin cleaning her long brunette locks.

Eponin shifted within the tub, trying to find some way to be comfortable. “Have you ever wondered why the world outside our lands is too small for us Amazons? Why it is we are so much larger than most?”

Ephiny grabbed the pitcher, pouring water slowly over Eponin's head to wash the soap away. When finished, she moved on to scouring her lover's ears with the cloth.

“I was thinking about that just now, especially at seeing you all squeezed into this tub. I may need to find a lever in order to free you.” Ephiny stated in jest.

“Funny, very funny...” Eponin grumbled. “So any conclusions as to why we Amazons tower over everyone in the wider world?”

Ephiny thought a moment. “Well, we eat better for one.”

Eponin looked back over her shoulder, clearly unconvinced.

“You don't think so? “Tell me Eponin, what fare do you have daily? Give me the full menu starting with breakfast.”

“You know as well as I do. We eat at the same table.”

“Yes, but humor me.”

Ephiny watched her lover let out a pained sigh. “Some-days we have porridge with nuts and seeds added for flavor, other days, eggs and...”

“What types of eggs? Ephiny cut in.

Eponin thought a moment. “All kinds really. Turkey , ducks, goose, quail, pheasant, um....”

“As well as hen eggs, right.”

“Yes. So?”

“So do the villagers have that wide a selection?”

“No, well... they do have hen eggs.”

“And precious few of those.”

“The villagers are not very adept at finding bird nests.”

“All true. We also have some type of meat with our breakfast at times, right?”

“Yeah...” Eponin agreed, wincing a bit as Ephiny scrubbed her ears. “Usually what has been left from the day before.”

Ephiny stood. “Get up and I'll dry you.”

Eponin looked up at her lover, eyes filled with hope.

“None of that. With the amount of noise you make we'd scare the whole manor.”

Eponin pouted.

“And for the midday meal?” Ephiny asked as she toweled her lover off. Eponin finding it difficult to concentrate, it had been so long since-”


“Sorry, um... Midday is usually light, Fresh vegetables gotten through trade with villagers, made into stew, perhaps some smoked fish with bread.

“Done.” Announced Ephiny while stepping back to fold up the towel. “And dinner?”

“Come on, you know...”

“I said indulge me, there is a point here.” Ephiny watched as Eponin struggled to pull a nightshirt over her head. “This is no unnecessary! Why must we wear a sheet with holes in it for arms and head when we can just go to bed nude and sleep comfortably?”

“It is custom here.”

“A stupid...Ouch!” Eponin growled after smacking her knuckles on the ceiling while pulling her arm though the sleeve of the nightgown.

“Dinner?” Ephiny prodded after a moment of amused silence spent watching Eponin scowl up at the low ceiling.

“Venison, fish, various fowl, um...more vegetables, breads. Sometimes we have honey which is always fun when you let me lick--”


Ephiny moved to sit on the cot next to her love.

“Now to the peasants we've seen. Breakfast.” Ephiny raised up her hand one finger up.

“Watery soups with very little by way of vegetables”

“But these peasants farm,” Eponin protested, they--”

“Yes, but what they grow, they must sell to pay taxes or lose their farm.”

Another of Ephiny's fingers rose, “Very little in the way of eggs or cheese.”

A third finger rose, “Very little meat, other than perhaps a few bits of dried fish or small game on occasion. And slaves usually eat the worst of all. Little wonder Gabrielle is...well... little.”

“So it all comes down to diet?”

“Among other things, we have a penchant for fitness as part of learning the art of war. Also our healers are very adept in keeping all of us in the best of health, even though you constantly complain about their care.”

“I do not constantly complain about their care, they've set many a broken bone for me. I just take exception to their making us eat disgusting herbs daily and dictating that we clean our teeth with a pig bristle brush and salt.

“Have you had any toothaches lately?”


“The best of food, the best of care, plenty of exercise and you can see why our people tend to be larger than most.”

“Many among us think our height is a gift from Artemis.”

“I believe that as well.”

“But you just said—“Eponin's voice rose along with her incredulity, she thinking Ephiny had contradicted herself.

“I said we eat better. That is due to being able to live within Artemis' sacred forest which provides us with all manner of game and fish. Thanks to Artemis' teachings, we have better care. Following Artemis' example, we exercise as part of our training in war. All of these things are gifts from our goddess, are they not?”

“You make me feel bad for poking fun of the peasants' wee height.”

Ephiny chucked. “That was not my intent but now you can see why they--”

A knock at the door caused them both to look up.

“Have you finished?” a gentle voice called out from the other side.”

“Don't say it Eponin, I know... she's cute.” Ephiny murmured before speaking up. “All done.”

The door to the small cubby opened to reveal Gabrielle, with accompanying Amazon standing behind.”

“Everyone from your village is so kind, they always keep me company when I go places.” Gabrielle slipped into the room and moved to a little side table to set down the bundle held in her hands, her back to the Amazons. “Nicdice took time to walk with me to the cook house. Sometimes, I remain hungry, even after dinner is served. The cook usually gives me grief should I dare to ask for a bit more, but when Nicidce asked most pleasantly from behind me, he immediately relented. In fact, this is the most food I've ever been given!”

Ephiny and Eponin watched amused as Nicdice's look became stern and she balled one hand into a fist then dove it into her open palm by means to explain how she'd persuaded the cook to give food to Gabrielle.

Not aware of the display going on behind her, Gabrielle busied herself untying a bit of cloth to reveal a small loaf of fresh barley bread as well as several small sweet cakes made with honey. “Hope I didn't make you rush through your bath, I'd have been away longer but Nicdice, out of the kindness of her heart, helped me to empty, clean, and refill all the water troughs round the stable. She tipped those heavy troughs over so easily it appeared as if they weighed nothing!”

Eponin bit her lip to keep from laughing as Nicdice raised both her arms, flexing muscles in great show.

“I am so thankful for your help Nicdice. The grassy things were cleaned out of the troughs and they were refilled in no time at all.” Gabrielle continued, her back still turned as she carefully arranged the precious bits of food upon a little side table. “You are able to carry so many more buckets of water than I can.”

“So sweet.” words silently mouthed by Nicdice while one hand rose to a spot over her heart, palm padding gently against her chest to mimic a fluttering heart. The display caused Eponin to nod enthusiastically in agreement and Ephiny to roll her eyes at both their antics.

Having enough of this fawning over Gabrielle, Ephiny pointed curtly and a frowning Nicdice began to back out of the room.

“You want to come in Nicdice?” Gabrielle had turned, now looking to the beautiful blond haired woman in the middle of ducking down low to keep from hitting her head on the top of the door frame.

A slight flick of her eyes toward Ephiny and...

“,” Nicdice begged off, “I must go. Shall I see you tomorrow Gabrielle?”

“Of course! I'll go assist you and the others in the vineyard, least I can do for your helping me with my chores.” Gabrielle smiled wide.

Ephiny stood suddenly after seeing the sappy eyed expression on both Amazons. “Nicdice wait, come help with emptying this tub, I'm sure Gabrielle would like to have clean water for her bath.

“Please you don't need to; I've shared bath water, many a time.”

“No. no. We'll get it. Trust me Gabrielle; you don't want to be covered by Eponin's stink.”

“I do not stink!”

“Not now, but the water does.” Replied Ephiny.

Nicdice snickered.

You just relax Gabrielle. I'm sure Eponin will be pleased to keep you company.”

Gabrielle's eyes widened slightly as she took in the sight of the two women effortlessly lift the fully filled tub and carry it out, closing the door behind. Usually she and another three slaves had to drag it out to empty.

“So ah...” Gabrielle thought to break a sudden awkward silence. “Want a bit of barely cake Eponin?”

“Sure, um, I mean, you know, if you have enough.” Eponin silently cursed herself for always being tongue tired round Gabrielle.


“Perhaps, after your bath, ah… you would favor us with a story?”

“Sure!” Gabrielle broke one of cakes in fourths, a piece for her, for Eponin, and Ephiny, even Nicdice should she change her mind and wish to stay. “I like telling stories. Nice to have an audience other than Lilla, she's heard all my stories time and again.”

Gabirelle moved out of the way of the little table. “Here, have a bit.” After what Ephiny had said, Eponin was loathe to take a piece.

“Take the bigger one; you need to keep up your strength.” Gabrielle suggested.

Eponin, did as Gabrielle bid, all the while feeling bad for it.

“What story would you like?”

“One about Artemis.” Eponin said straightaway causing Gabrielle to laugh.

“You always want to hear stories about Artemis, she must be your favorite Goddess.”

“Yes,” Eponin said round a mouthful.


Two leagues of running was enough. Sevastain halted. Placing hands on knees he leaned over, trying to catch his breath. The crowd of Amazons round him stopping as well.

“You said you would.” Siri reminded him...again

Sevastian bent over, hands on knees focused on regaining his breath. It was one thing to run, but to run and talk at the same time was not possible.

“You alright Lord Commander?” asked Kumeia from his right.

Raising one hand, he gestured weakly to indicate he would survive yet another round of the Amazon fitness regimen. After some time he straitened, to look down at his sweat soaked tunic, then at the very relaxed Amazons round him.


“We begin running at a very early age Lord Commander.” Said Timigone from behind.

“I thought I was fit, but after training with all of you, I was mistaken.” Sevastains words caused the women to smile. All except Siri who folded her arms over her chest and glared at him.

Uh-oh... an irate Siri was never good. It was best to tread lightly.

“Siri, My promise to spar with you is not forgotten. But right now? I've just run two leagues, have pity on me.”

“I do pity men.”

The Amazons laughed.

“Stepped right into that,” Sevastian muttered grumpily, while laboring to walk over to a nearby out cropping of rock. The Amazons followed, looking much like a pack of wolves, with Siri in the lead. With a small groan he sat; glad to be off his feet. A shadow fell over him as the Amazons, loomed over him forming a loose ring around him five deep.

The shout drew the warrior's attentions away from him and toward the approaching horses.

“It is Cleon and Agis,” announced Siri after squinting to see, her hand up to shade her eyes.

“Something is amiss.” Sevastain moved to stand, muscles protesting as he did. Siri gently helped him to his feet. The Amazons kindly moving out of the way to allow him leave.

“Lord Commander!” Agis reined his horse to a stop. “Scouts report a Roman force behind us, near the village of El Alamein !”

“Map?” Sevastian asked tersely knowing the Amazon scouts would have made sure to send one noting the Roman positions

Cleon dismounted, and reaching into his saddle bag, produced it.

Grabbing the parchment, Sevastian unrolled it, and then laid it upon a relatively flat rock. “You will note Lord Commander, from their position at El Alamein, the Romans now threaten Alexandria .”

“Yes Cleon, I can see that.”

“I will add that it was a mistake for you to have moved so slowly in getting this army to the Kasserine Pass. And now that we've reached the pass, we just sit here! We should move quickly to cross the pass and attack Caesar!”

“How dare you challenge the judgment of the high commander! Slovenly worm of a---“

“Siri.” Sevastian said soft causing her fall silent.

“Cleon, in warfare, a commander must know what is going on around his force, to rush ahead is to invite disaster. We know Caesar retreats to El Daba, the Amazon scouts have told us such.”

All watched as Cleon jammed his finger upon the map in anger. “Caesar's force has been weakened! For more than a fortnight we have perused the Romans. Your much touted Amazons have reported that at night they clearly see the fewer fires in the Roman Camp. Caesar's army is shrinking due to desertions!

“If so, why is it that have we not found any deserters?” asked Sevastain.

“I tell you, we must attack,” Cleon ignored the question. “Caesar is racing to get behind the walls of El Daba because he has no alternative!”

“Caesar is racing to El Daba, not because he has no alternative, but because he wants us to follow him there.” Sevastian countered. “The man is not foolish.” He fell silent, thinking while continuing to gaze at the map. “This landing of troops at El Alamein is a diversion, a diversion which happened too soon. The landing was meant to occur after we crossed the pass.”

“For what purpose?” Agis asked.

“To make the journey longer; as part of this force would have to turn round marching though the pass all the way back…” Sevastain traced with his finger along the map “…to El Alamein . To make it impossible for any force sent to El Alamein to return to El Daba before we begin our siege.”

Sevastain straightened up. “We have no choice, Cleon, take your army group and move swiftly to El Alamein , destroy the enemy force.”

“As you wish Lord Commander, but I do so under protest, as you have said, the Romans at El Daba are the main objective.”

“Your station is to do as bid, Commander.” Siri challenged.

“If I'm right about this being a diversion, you will find the Roman force to be negligible at El Alamein .”

“And after I destroy them? Shall I return to find you still sitting here at the bottom on the pass?” Cleon's smugness was clearly irritating Siri.

“No, this force moves to El Daba just as Caesar wishes. We will see what snare Caesar has set for us and will counter it. Easiest way to spring a trap is to step into it. ”

“You are sure of this course of action?”


“How can you be so sure of this?” Cleon pressed.

“Because I have been instructed by the best.”

“Your Eastern teachers?”

“No…” Sevastain replied. “Xena.”

Neither Cleon nor Agis looked impressed with Sevastain's answer, but they saluted and mounted up to ride back to camp.

“They disrespect you Sevastain.” Siri spoke openly now that the two men were gone and they were only surrounded by her Amazons. “Would it not be best to do as Cleon suggests and race to finish Caesar?”

“Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.”

“Do all in the east have a quote for everything like you do?” she stated irately.

Sevastain had to smile. “Yes.” He said succinctly. “Siri, I have my orders from the Empress herself, she wishes us to follow this course.”

She looked down at him. “Should either Agis or Cleon move against you, we will act.”

“I hope it does not come to that!” Sevastain glanced round at the Amazons surrounding him. The looks they gave him in return left no doubt of their feelings on the matter.

“You...” he said while gesturing to the women around him, “Are a dangerous lot indeed.” he observed.

The Amazons happily nodded in agreement with his assessment.


“Come the last of my friends, rest here on this rock.” Brutus was the last of the haggard group to sit. For some moments he looked on sadly at what was left of his command. Their armor scored by sword slashes, cloaks torn and soiled, innumerable cuts weeping blood.

The barbarian attacks had been relentless; wave upon wave of riders had broken his formations and killed his men. The Germans had lost untold thousands, but still onward they came, attacking until his legions were no more.

So many lie dead upon the field, that their blood soaked the soil and mingled with the river Adige, turning its waters a ghastly shade of red.

“Statilius waved the torchlight at us, but he hasn't come back. He's been captured or killed, reported Clitus.

“Killed, most likely – it's become a trend.” Brutus said before leaning over to whisper in Clitus ear.

“Not for all the world Brutus!” Clitus shouted with shock.

“Then keep my words to yourself.” Urged Brutus.

“Dardanius…” Brutus gestured and the man came near and sat. As with Clitus, Brutus whispered in his ear for some moments.

“I will not!” Tears filled Dardanius' eyes at Brutus request.

Standing, Brutus then moved to Volumnius.

“Did he ask you to…?” Clitus words drifted into silence.

“Yes, and like you I would not consent to do the deed.” Answered Dardanius.

“Old friend, Listen to me for a moment.”

“What is it my lord?” Volumnius stood slow, weary like they all were.

“Just this Volumnius.” Brutus continued. “Xena has appeared to me in dreams at night.”


“Yes, she appeared to me. In her hand a circular weapon. With a mighty throw she felled the great Aquila of Rome, our mighty eagle falling from the sky to land at her feet, dead.”

A shocked Volumnius looked on as Brutus gazed out at the landscape.

“I know it now, my hour has come.”

“Not so!”

“No, I'm sure it has, Volumnius.” Brutus sighed wearily. “You see how the world goes. Our enemies have driven us to the edge of the grave. It's nobler to leap in ourselves than dawdle at the edge until they push us. Good Volumnius,” Brutus now looked at his friend, “you know that we went to school together. For the sake of our old friendship, I ask you; hold my sword handle while I run on it.”

“That's not a job for a friend my lord!”

“Run Brutus Run! You cannot rest here! The Barbarians are upon us!” Strato approached, clamoring up the hill.

The haggard commanders stood round him.

“Go.” He ordered.

“But Brutus, you must come with!” Volumnius insisted.

“The flags of our legions have fallen, and I will soon join them. Go friends, leave me.”

With Strato in the lead, the men scattered running southward, perhaps thinking they would have some safety behind the walls of Rome .

A fool's gamble as the Germanic barbarians would soon be at the city gates.

“Nothing can save Rome …” he muttered. “We only delay the end now. As for me, finally my bones can rest.”

Drawing his short sword from its sheath, Brutus turned it on himself.

“No barbarian can take triumph by my death; I alone make the choice to end my life.”

As one of the barbarian chieftains rode near, Brutus drove his blade home.

Chapter 35

“Is it wise great Pompey? I cannot help but think this is a trap.”

“Cornelius, how can Xena snare us with just 18 ships?”

Old Pompeius watched as his Admiral set his jaw, wishing to say more, but deciding it best not to make the argument.

“Xena cannot run much further Cornelius, the depth of the Nile continues to decrease, the width of the river narrowing. Eventually she must turn.


“Prepare to come about Lesothenes, it is time.”

“Right, Xena.”

Turning, her admiral gave the order to stand ready, men stepping lively to complete the tasks required to turn the ship hard about.

Folding arms over her chest, Xena watched as the signal man raised a sequence of brightly colored flags high upon the mast, there spelled out for all to see was the following... Greece expects every man to do his duty…. The signal the attack was imminent.

“Solari, raise my standard.”

The Amazon took the banner to hand and walking to the far rail, raised it high so that the fabric would catch the breeze fully.

Most would not notice it, the almost imperceptible movement of troops along the river banks. The tall reeds along the bank hid her men well. The Romans had no idea as to what was about to be unleashed.

Slowly Xena drew her sword, within her blood sang in anticipation of battle.

“Come about!”

At the order from Xena, Solari dipped the standard, then waved it back and forth.


“Finally she is compelled to fight!” Pompey said in triumph as the Greek ships turned hard about, coming full on against his fleet.

“They have the advantage of moving with the river current!” Cornelius yelled from his position at the bow. Just as he said the words, an arrow struck him in the chest. Pompey watched dumbstruck, as Cornelius hands, grasped the arrow for a moment, before he fell overboard into the water.

More arrows flew, striking men down in mass.

There, on the river banks, archers, Greek and Egyptian were lined. Thousands of arrows were loosed upon the ships of his fleet.

“Grab the shields, the shields! Pompey yelled. Men scrambled, seizing the rough wooden shields hanging along the rail of the trireme.

“All ships come about!” Pompey had no choice; either stay here and be skewered, or make a run for the Nile Delta and open sea.

“Ships come at us from astern!” the lookout cried from the high crow's-nest atop the main mast.

“What!” Pompey was aghast seeing Egyptian warships, moving to engage his fleet, blocking any hope of their escape. The trap door had now been slammed shut. “How!” he screamed. “They were destroyed at Alexandria ! I saw the flames! They were--”

Cries of horror from the sailors silenced Pompey. Xena's massive flagship was bearing down upon them.

“Stay at your post!” Pompey shouted as sailors began to jump into the water, abandoning ship. In the next instant his feet went out from under him as the ram struck home and his ship heeled hard over. Grabbing the rail, Pompey tried to right himself even as more arrows struck; this latest volley setting the ships sail alight.


She ran, ignoring the shouts of both Lesothenes and Solari. With graceful step, her boot landed firmly upon the top rail, pushing off she flipped over open water to land on the deck of Pompey's flagship.

Her sword slashed the sailor nearest before he grasped what was happening. The list of the Roman ship increased as the ram of her flagship tore into it further, allowing even more water to flood in. As her sword clashed upon the shield of another Roman, the rest of her ships sailed by, moving to engage the hapless Roman fleet, desperately attempting to turn. With a thrust, her blade ran the boy through as now more of her own troops leapt from her flagship to land upon the deck of the Roman Trireme.

“Looking across the deck, she spotted him, and he her...

Xena grinned most feral.

Pompey had barely the time to raise his blade before the witch was upon him.

“You chose poorly.” Xena chastised as their blades crossed, “Fighting against me.”

His blade, dipped low to try and deliver a cut across her legs, a classic counter move, which she anticipated. Not only did Pompey have his blade blocked easily, but he tumbled backward, Xena having kicked him square in the chest.

“Romans bow to no foreign bitch!” he yelled, while getting back on his feet. Xena smirked at him, her pose one of supreme confidence, sword at her side, one hand upon her hip.

“You have already bowed to me, Pompey.” she rebuked. “And so will Rome .”

With a yell he charged her slashing his blade, she blocking his blade with hers. “Romans burn with hatred for Greeks!” he bellowed while leaning against her, trying to use his considerable weight against her to push her back. He learned as had many a man, that he was no match for her strength. With only one hand upon the hilt of her sword, she easily forced him back. Pompey screamed as the tip of her blade gashed his leg open.

“We Greeks always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be detested in Rome !” With a kick she loosed the blade from his hand, sending it sliding across the deck. In the next moment that same boot was firmly on his throat as he lay prone upon the deck.

“I could kill you now, make it quick, certainly you've earned it Pompieus.” Her boot pressed down further, causing him to labor to take in a breath. The blade, held within her right hand began to twirl, menacingly.

“But, what's the fun in that? She lowered her sword, tapping the broadside of the blade on his cheek. “No, I want you to witness the end of Caesar, and of all hope you have of defeating me.”

“Bind him!” she commanded. Her men seized the old general.

The fighting continued, but the end was a forgone conclusion... she had won the day.

Only One Roman general remained.


Before her, seated on stools and leaning against horse stalls were 20 women. The women from northern Greece her master Iolaus had hired to do work on the estate.

“The Great Hunter Actaeon driven by his own arrogance…”

Gabrielle began yet another story about Artemis. These women could never hear enough tales about the goddess. Having exhausted her repertoire of longer stories, she chose a short tale.

“Entered the sacred forest of Artemis in search of a new trophy...”

But these 20 women were far different than any peasants Gabrielle had known.

“Ignoring the warnings of those who lived near the forest, Actaeon drew closer to the sacred cave of Artemis …”

Their knowledge of peasant life was nonexistent, how to spread seed, or harvest the fields, how to hitch a team of oxen to a cart. What festivals villagers loved to celebrate, or how the leadership of a town was chosen. Other differences, these women were so amazingly intelligent. Also they were strong, confident, and fearless. In many ways, they were what Gabrielle wished she could be.

“Peering into the cave,” Gabrielle's voice dropped causing the women to lean in as they listened intently. “Actaeon witnessed the Goddess Artemis rise up from the spring in which she was bathing, the beauty of her naked form placing him in a trace. The Goddess saw him! The look of fury she gave him caused Actaeon to shake with fright.

“Artemis spoke…” Gabrielle continued changing the inflection of her voice to sound more regal, something she imagined goddesses would sound like. “Now you are free to tell that you have seen me all unrobed.—if... you can tell… Moments later Actaeon began to change into a stag!”

If you don't act like a village dweller, don't speak like a village dweller, don't know things a village dweller should… then… you aren't a villager.

“When the transformation was complete, Artemis…” Gabrielle continued, “Planted fear into Actaeon's heart and he bounded away. His own hounds gave chase! Actaeon's dogs set upon him, tearing him limb from limb!”

The women cheered loudly, catching Gabrielle by surprise, causing her to momentarily loose her pace in telling the story. Definitely, not villagers, Gabrielle was sure of it.

“And thus Actaeon's punishment for seeing the goddess naked was to be hunted, just as he had hunted.”

“A wonderful telling Gabrielle!” All looked to see Iolaus leaning upon the stable door.

“Thank you master.” She dipped her head while clasping her hands in front.

“Now friends” Iolaus continued. “Rest well tonight, for tomorrow we begin preparations to travel to Rome .”

Something was wrong. The master's tone was, as always, cheerful. The cheeriness was still there, only now it sounded forced.

He was worried…

“Go now.” Iolaus instructed, “And check the areas of the manor under your charge one last time before darkness overtakes us.”

Dutifully, the women moved to fulfill the order, Iolaus himself stepping quickly out of the stable.

“I will check—“

“No, Eponin and I can check the horses Gabrielle.” Ephiny smiled down at her. “We've been sitting while you entertained us with a wonderful story. Now it's your turn to sit.


“We'll be back presently.” Eponin called back as the two women walked away.

For a moment Gabrielle stood, silently watching the two walk away, then shrugged and walked to the little cubby in which the three of them were quartered. Entering the space, she flopped down on the cot, the days' work beginning to catch up with her.

Gabrielle sat quiet, attempting to work up the energy needed to untie the laces on her boots.

She sensed a change. Even with the little oil lamp burning bright, her surroundings seemed suddenly... darker.

A sense of dread filled her as the room took on a distinct chill, her breath turning to frost.

From under the door it came, a mass of black which flowed into the room as if water. Instantly Gabrielle hiked her legs up, scrambling back upon her cot, until she was pressed against the wall.

The ooze rose up before her very eyes, morphing slowly into a very tall man with long black hair and neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed entirely in black, a color which matched the dark intent radiating off him in waves.

Crossing his arms he looked down upon her with no small amount of disdain.

“So… I finally meet Gabrielle.”

She was too frightened to reply.

“I hope you won't take offense if I say I'm a bit underwhelmed.” A flash of white as the man smiled.

Gabrielle's eyes dropped to the sword, hanging at his hip. It looked like, the bards described it…

The Sword of War.

“Ares…” she rasped in terror.

“The one and only!” He smiled broadly while opening his arms wide. “I thought it would be impolite if I didn't at least stop by to introduce myself. He crossed his arms over his chest. Especially since it seems you've caught the eye of - my - chosen.”


“Yeah, that's the one.” Gabrielle watched as Ares paused a moment to look about the space, clearly unimpressed. “Though, for all the souls burning in Tartarus, I can't figure out why she's interested in a wee slave.”

“Mind if I sit?” Ares asked genially. “Of course you don't.” he said cheekily when she didn't reply.

With a snap of his fingers a high back chair appeared.

She watched as he sat, then casually raised one leg, placing it over the chair's armrest.

“You are an excellent story teller Gabrielle; your talent surpasses the most well trained bards.” Ares scooted a bit, turning fully sideways in the chair. Now both legs were over one chair arm his back against the other. “I enjoyed the one you told tonight.”

Silence from her.

“It's usually polite to say thank you when receiving a compliment.” He gave Gabrielle a deathly glare.

“Thank... you?” she replied haltingly.

“You know, Ares continued. “Those Amazons that Artemis cherishes so are actually my daughters. I was the one who created them and damned if I get any credit for it either.

An irritated looking Ares scratched at his goatee absently.

“Artemis begged Zeus to give them to her and, of course, he did. Dad never could say no, not to his daughters, or any woman for that matter. My only consolation out of the whole deal is getting to watch them fight. I've found that there is nothing more pleasing than watching a woman kick ass.”

Ares shifted, sitting up in his chair. “Your intuition is correct, slave. The women out there prancing round in peasant dress are no peasants. Ask them what they truly are, if... you have the nerve to hear the truth.”

“Another thing.... That story you like to tell, about how Xena and I met? You disappoint me by ending your tale far too soon. There is so much more to Xena's story.” Ares grinned, the single most hostile grin Gabrielle had even seen. “For example...”

A sudden burst of light blinded her.

And when she recovered... a battle surrounded her.

Gabrielle watched in horror as men fought, the stench, the wretched cries of vengeance, and the screams of the dying. It was too much! She closed her eyes, hands moving up to cover ears.

“Look at it slave!” Ares commanded.

Gabrielle did so out of fear of the God's wrath.

“This is the site of one of my greatest triumphs... The battle of Torrence. Ten thousand corpses littered the battleground. The stench was... invigorating.

“Wha...what general was responsible for the aroma?” Gabrielle asked timidly.

“No general slave-- it was a warrior. Xena. She led her army through opponents infantry like flies. Limbs were scattered everywhere. It was beautiful!

His hand clasped her shoulder firmly.

“Look here! See the architect of my triumph!”

“Great Gods!” exclaimed Gabrielle at the sight of Xena. With sublime grace, the warrior meted out death to any and all who dared challenge her supremacy on the battlefield. Ares laughed as Gabrielle physically jerked at witnessing Xena run a man clear through, then use a boot to kick the corpse off her blade.

“Unstoppable, Untamable! Such rage, such fire!” Ares voice was filled with pride.

Ares pulled her hands away, Gabrielle attempting to cover her ears as Xena cried out while slashing another man through. Hers was a horrid sounding yell that spread to every corner of the battlefield.

“The blood... so much blood...” murmured Gabrielle.

“This is what Xena truly is slave. Tell me. Do you really think one such as great as she would ever see any worth in someone like you?”

Xena continued to destroy all opposition, moving ever closer to where they both stood.

“You are nothing to her...” Ares whispered in her ear, “A weak, useless slave.”

A whimper rose from Gabrielle. As, having felled the last of her opponents, Xena began to slowly stalk directly toward the spot in which she stood. In one crimson stained hand, was held a gore crusted sword. Gabrielle tried desperately to back away from the evil striding towards her, only to be held fast by Ares.

The sword in Xena's hand began to twirl, blood droplets flying from the blade.

“When she finds you, you will be a toy, a curiosity, something she will use only for mirth and laughter. When she is bored of you...”

Gabrielle's breath now came in halting gasps as Xena continued to draw closer.

“ will be discarded.”

Gabrielle backed up right into Ares as Xena loomed over her.

“If you wish to live, you must run from her slave, run as far as you can.” Ares pronounced.

The blade in Xena's hand ceased its motion, now being slowly drawn back for a strike.”

Gabrielle began to struggle mightily to free herself from Ares grasp. “All you need do is say the word and you will be safe.” I will make sure Xena never finds you. “But… should you refuse my offer…well...”

Ares vanished in a flash of light.

Gabrielle fell backwards. Landing hard upon the ground she desperately tried to scramble away.

“Xena please! Please don't!” Gabrielle pleaded.

Only death was found within those blue eyes.

The blade fell.

“Xena!” She cried out, even as she felt the cold edge touch her neck.


Gabrielle shot up, sitting upright in the darkness.

“She killed me…” Gabrielle murmured… Xena… she killed me…”

A flash of light illuminated the space and the sleeping forms of Ephiny and Eponin.

As Zeus' thunderous voice sounded from the clouds, Gabrielle gained her bearings. She was in bed, dressed in her nightgown… All was well.

“A dream?” Gabrielle asked softly. A sudden pain caused her to wince. A hand went to the source of the discomfort.

She pulled her hand away.

Another flash of lighting lit the room as Gabrielle looked down, to see blood coating her fingers. Blood from a cut on her neck.

She screamed.

Chapter 36

Her men hauled upon the ropes, setting the sails as the fleet left Alexandria behind. Her attentions not on the work of the sailors, rather on the man forced to kneel before her. His wrists she had ordered bound with rope, on his feet metal shackles complete with heavy iron ball.

“ Greece thanks you for the fleet Pompeius, these Roman ships make a good addition to my navy and a fine means to move my troops.”

Pompey, though loathing Xena, couldn't help but admire her beauty as she stood before him, brown leathers and bronze armor shining in the sun. The luster in her silky dark hair shone as it caught the sea breeze.

“Since I know I am to die, I tell you truly, you are a bitch.”

Xena laughed. “Famous last words from Pompeius Magnus. I thought you'd go for something a little more imaginative. For mother Rome , or... death to tyrants.”

Leaning back she rested against the ship's railing, leisurely crossing her legs at the ankles.

“Did you really think, in your heart of hearts, that you would defeat me Pompey? Allying yourself with Caesar. Even after all he inflicted upon you? True the saying then, that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

She let out a pained sigh. “One of the maxims I took to heart after many mistakes was to always honor any agreement I made. We had an agreement Pompey. You could have ruled Rome . Could have been comfortable in your waning years, but as I have said, you chose poorly.”

“I fought you so that Rome would never labor under your yoke!”

“No.” Her hand whipped out to clasp his chin roughly. “Nothing so noble, you fought me so that Rome would labor under yours.”

He tried to draw back from her as icy blue eyes pinned him.

“Everything that has transpired has done so because I wished it.”

“You don't think so?” Xena asked, seeing his skepticism. “Let us consider it then.” She straitened, and then leaned back upon the rail.

“I must express my gratitude for the innumerable ways you've helped my cause. Oh, I know you did it for your own reasons, to weaken Caesar so you could take Rome , but you were most useful to me. You delivered weapons to help me fuel the rebellions against Rome in Britannia, Gaul , and Hispania. Without you, Carthage should have fallen quickly. Thanks to you arranging for the delivery of horses and weaponry Pompey, Carthage held just that much longer. The battle for Carthage weakened Caesar's force and tied him up, allowing me to take Egypt before Rome .”

Xena paused as a sailor neared, in his hands a dagger, a round loaf of leavened bread, and a small jug of water. With a gesture she bid him sit the bread and water at her feet. The dagger was placed in her outstretched hand.

“I also am indebted to you for destroying the greater parts of the Persian and Roman fleets at Alexandria . Little did I know then that you would take it upon yourself to further erode Rome 's hold on the seas by battling Crassus off the coast of Sicily .”

Xena began to twirl the dagger in her hand absently, Pompey watching that blade intently.

“Then we have the matter of the Roman Senate, kind of you to kill so many leading members, saved me a lot of trouble. None of those that remain are strong enough to oppose me.”

“The Roman people will not stand idly by and allow their laws to be violated by some despot! The laws clearly state—“

“You quote law? We carry weapons!” She spat in retort.

“But…” Xena began, continuing to twirl the dagger in hand. “Since you wish to quote law, know that I have an agreement with the senate. Should they call on me for aid, I will gladly render it by moving my army into Italia and Rome .”

“The Honorable Brutus—“

“Was the one who agreed our alliance and the one who wrote me asking for my help on behalf of Senate and people.”

“I do not believe you.”

“Didn't think so.” With a gesture, Xena beaconed Solari forward. The Amazon walked in front of a kneeling Pompey. First her fingers clasped the large wax pendant seal, holding it so that the old Roman General could see it clearly. The seal of the Roman Senate.

“Look familiar?” asked Xena.

Pompieus said nothing, he did not have to, his look gave her all the confirmation she needed.

“Open it.”

Solari did as bid, holding the scroll so that Pompey could read the writing.

After some time, Pompey shook his head in defeat.

Brutus is currently fighting the Germanic peoples sweeping into Roman territory. I hear, from my spies, that his efforts to save Rome , meet with disaster upon disaster.”

A lopsided smiled graced her features as she looked down at Pompey. “It looks like only I can save Rome from the… barbarians at the gates. Barbarians I have an alliance with.”

Pompey was left speechless for a time, finally he spoke. “We have been outwitted at every turn, true. However, as you once told me, I now tell you. Don't plan your victory procession in the forum just yet, Caesar must be defeated, a tough task indeed. I hear even you, the –great- Xena failed to capture him.”

Her momentary look of anger, cheered Pompey.

“Caesar, my old friend… she rasped.

“Did you know, Caesar's spies, were in my employ. Every plan he made, was based on information I gave him while my own spies reported every word he spoke.” “Course Caesar made mistakes which helped me. Dallying in invading Greece , believing the Germanic Barbarians would finish me, then hoping the Persians would. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention how the backbiting betwixt you Roman generals aided my cause.

“Caesar will destroy your force!”

“Is that trite statement borne out of certainty or, more likely, hope?”

“Your force is walking into a trap at El Daba.”

“I think not. Allow me to give my impression of what happened when you and Caesar met. After trading insults for a time, you settled down and firmly decided the only viable thing to do was to unite against me, least till I was no longer a threat. Having agreed on an all too temporary alliance, Caesar proposed you land troops at El Alamein , a diversion to weaken my force. Divide and conquer, Caesar's oldest play. But then another mistake on your part Pompeius. Seeing my fleet off El Alamein you, like Julius, could not resist, choosing to fight me, lusting after the glory gained by defeating me. Your reckless ambition, led you right into the trap.”

She paused. “Am I wrong?”

Old Pompeius did not voice disagreement.

“In addition to being staunchly loyal, my second is most able in the art of war.” Xena continued. “I know this, having been the one to instruct him. He will undoubtedly divide his force, but only to fool Caesar into the belief that his plan works perfectly. Pompey, tell me. Where you think this fleet brimming with troops is headed?”

The old man sagged in defeat, “To El Daba of course.”

“Correct, instead of your fleet arriving, Caesar will be disheartened to see mine. Julius is in for a bit of a shock as he undoubtedly believes I am on land. Knowing his ego, I'm sure he will feel slighted that I sent my second in command to face him.”

“Now to you, Pompey. Since you are of no use anymore, there is no gain if you live and no loss if you die. What I do now, I do to avenge Cecrops' death.”

Pompey instinctively struggled as a rope net was thrown over him and secured. Hopeless really, as his hands and feet were bound tight.

“Hang him from the bowsprit!” she commanded.

He groaned as the sailors dragged the net with him in it across the deck. With a grace obtained from years of working on ships. One sailor walked along the huge wooden spar, the bowsprit, jutting out from the ships prow. A long rope was affixed, to the bowsprit then the rope secured to the net sounding him. Pompeius yelled out as sailors lifted the net heaved it and him over the side of the ship.

Into the water he went.

Just when Pompey thought drowning near, he was hauled up out of the water. Sputtering and coughing he adjusted to his surroundings. The brilliant blue waters of the sea directly below. The water frothing and roiling as the ships bow sliced through it. Every few moments, the ram attached to the bow would bob up to peek at him from the water before submerging again. The painted eyes on the sides of the bow seeming to watch as the net containing him swayed hither and thither with the motion of the ship.

“Cut the ties binding his wrists!” Xena's voice drifted down from the deck.

One of the sailors clamored down the rope, balancing himself while using a short sword to cut through the ropes holding his hands. Pompey rubbed his wrists, watching as Xena herself stepped gracefully up the bowsprit above him. Her balance so perfect, she had no need to hold the ropes.

He caught the dagger she tossed to him. Then the loaf of bread. Finally the small cask of water.

“This fleet will reach El Daba in a seven-day or so Pompeius. If you ration the bread and water you may just live long enough to witness the end of Julius Caesar. But, no matter how well you ration, at some point, you will run out of sustenance. That is why I give you the dagger. The choice is yours, starve to death within the confines of that net or use that dagger to cut through it and fall into the sea. His eyes drifted down to the shackles on his ankles and heavy iron ball attached. When he looked up again he noted the wide smile Xena displayed.

“That's right.” her brows wiggled a bit. “Cut the net and you sink like a stone.”

“Fare well Pompey.” She left him to his doom

Pompeius recalled what Xena had told him so long ago. That she could be ever so inventive in her punishments.


“You lied.”

Every single one of the women surrounding her cast their gaze downward.

“Here I thought we were all friends, that you enjoyed my company. But you aren't my friends; you are guards, waiting for the right moment to hand me over to Xena.”

Ephiny pursed her lips, not knowing what to say, but knowing enough to not deny the charge.

Beautiful Nicdice knelt in front of Gabrielle.

“Gabrielle I am your friend, least I hope you will still allow me to be, all of us truly are your friends.”

“We've come to care for you.” Eponin spoke, and then nudged Ephiny with her elbow.

“Gabrielle....” Ephiny stopped as the slave looked up from Nicdice with tears showing in her eyes.

“You...” Ephiny hesitated a bit. Artemis on Olympus ! She hated this mushy touchy-freely stuff. “You are partly correct, at first we thought it was us guarding you so that you could be handed over to the Conqueror. Believe me when I say it has become more than that, we consider you to be a friend.”

“Please let us be your friends, I speak for all when I say we deeply regret lying to you.” Ephiny added soft.

All watched as Gabrielle looked down, “I am a slave. You are Amazon warriors, and you Ephiny are the Queen of the Amazons, you have no need of my forgiveness or my friendship.”

Ephiny shocked all by doing something highly unusual for an Amazonian queen…

She knelt.

Taking a knee beside Nicdice, Ephiny reached out to clasp Gabrielle's hands within her own. Ducking her head a bit, she waited patiently until Gabrielle chose to look her in the eye. “Amazons do not recognize the right of one to own another. Would that I could, I'd decree slavery ended in the world of men.”

“Gabrielle nodded slowly, breaking eye contact with Ephiny to stare down at her boots again.”

“Please forgive me Gabrielle. The fault is mine, as these here,” Ephiny indicated the Amazons, “Follow my orders. It is a poor excuse, but I thought it best to use a ruse given the circumstances we were saddled with. Iolaus would never allow us to be here if he knew we were working as agents for the Conqueror.”

“True, the master hates Xena.”


The Amazon's looked on hopefully.

“I forgive you, all of you.” Before she could react, Gabrielle found herself engulfed in a hug by Nicdice, her feel left the ground as the Amazon stood, taking her with, and spinning her round. In the next moments, she found herself gathered up and lifted into hug after another. It was a wonderful, wonderful thing, thought Gabrielle, to feel the joy she had given, just by making the choice to forgive.”

Even so, the reality remained.

“You still must hand me over to Xena, the Conqueror as you call her.”

“Yes, we are bound by oath to obey.” Ephiny replied, the momentary joy dissipating from the encircling Amazons.

I told you the vision, Ares showed me how horrible Xena is. She kills with nary a thought. I fear she would kill me should I ever spark her anger. As my friends,” Gabrielle prefaced “tell me, is it not best that I take his offer?”

“You told us of Aphrodite's visit. Artemis herself has told me you have some great role to play, so far visitations from Aphrodite and Ares for you. Artemis for me. Gabrielle, even the gods' love jokes, but three separate appearances by those on Olympus cannot be dismissed.

Ephiny leaned over, placing her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders.

“Upon reflection on what Ares showed you, I believe he wants you to be scared, wants you to run and most of all wants you to stay away from Xena.”

But Ephiny--”

“We will not allow harm to come to you.”

“You won't?”

“Upon our lives we won't.” Ephiny said firm. “Gabrielle have faith.”

“Faith?” Gabrielle asked confused.

“That all will work out as it should.”

Chapter 37

“The final act begins.”

“Let us hope.” said Siri standing behind him.

Using the looking glass, Sevastian studied the lay of the land round the port, and then studied the fortifications. The dull yellowy hue of the sands and town contrasted starkly with the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean beyond.

Sevastain lowered the looking glass. “I do not like it Siri.” He said low as she moved to rest one arm in its usual spot on his shoulder. “I worry I've fatally weakened this force by sending too many troops with Cleon. Usually in a siege its ten attackers to every one defender, we are below that.

“Had you kept more troops, Caesar might have doubted if his plan was working.” She replied. “Besides,” she shifted a bit leaning against him more, “You have us Amazons to make up for the difference.”

“You know I do not disagree, it is reassuring to have Amazons on our side. This fight will be desperate and bloody, we will…”

“We will prevail, do not doubt yourself Sevastain. Caesar is brilliant, but he is only a man.

For just a moment he leaned back against her. How wonderful it felt.

“Meleager!” Sevastain called out.

The engineer rode forward, and then dismounted.

“What is your assessment of the situation?”

“The walls appear to be mud-brick, covered by a layer of plaster. Not particularly high.” Meleager noted. “If you allow time Lord Commander, my men can set up at least one catapult and batter the walls down.

“No, it would take far too long.” Sevastain shook his head. “Our Amazon scouts along the coast have sent word that the arrival of the fleet is imminent, we must--”

“That is why we moved so slowly!” Agis, had rode up, “to give time for our fleet to arrive!”

“That's right.” Siri spoke. “Reinforcements are on those ships.”

“Agis call your captains up,” Sevastian raised the looking glass again. “I wish to show them the plan before we attack.”

Agis reined his horse back, and then rode off down the slope to where the army was encamped, shouting orders for his officers to come forward.


“By Gods, Xena holds me in contempt!”

From the highest tower in the citadel Caesar stood upon a stone balcony. He gazed out at the gathered Greek officers and their commander.

The standard, emblazoned with a rising phoenix galled him. “She sends some minion to attack me, Julius Caesar, the single greatest commander of all time. I will make her pay dearly for this slight!”

Julius lowered the looking glass, “Paulinus in place?”

“Yes Caesar.” His aide de camp reported.

“Is he sure, his force has not been detected?”

“Quite sure Caesar, he did not allow his men to use cook fires, the enemy could not have seen the troops in the dark of night.”

“My cavalrymen?”

“Ready to strike.”

“Good, all is ready. Now to the hard part, we sit behind these fortifications and wait for their commander to attack us.”


“Here...” Sevastain used his finger to draw lines in the sand. “El Daba.” His hand moved drawing more lines, “and here the docks.” Looking up from his position on bended knee he watched the men nod. “The objective is to get over the walls and take the docks so our fleet may land troops.”

“Here...” Sevastian drew more lines in the sand. “Thanks to the Amazon scouts, we know there is a force waiting to ambush us. “However, they are a full league away; it will take time for them to get in position.”

“Before we take the town, would it not be best to fight the Romans waiting in ambush?” One of the captains asked respectfully.


“No?” Agis took a knee beside Sevastian.

“We go after that force and Caesar will march his troops out of El Daba. We shall find ourselves surrounded on the desert plain. “

“We shall be caught.” Siri expounded, “Roman troops ahead and behind us.”

“That is why, Sevastain continued, “the objective must be El Daba. We need the reinforcements from the fleet to successfully defeat the force waiting to ambush us. No matter what, we must... take... El Daba.”

“Lord Commander, a league is not far, we won't have much time to get over those walls. Meleager spoke, his tone one of deep concern.

“This will be a very close run thing.” Sevastain admitted. “Have grappling hooks and ropes at the ready, the best of our force must hit the walls and climb for all they are worth. We take the walls, we take the town.”


“Right, then...” Sevastain stood, dusting himself off. “We race in, no slow march no setting up lines for a siege. The moment we near the walls, I want men climbing. Those Romans manning the ramparts should be placed on the defensive from the moment the attack starts.

The men surrounding him nodded once more.

Sevastain looked to Agis “As we don't have archers, pilum throwers must be near the walls, get men ahead of them, to protect them with a line of shields. We must knock as many Romans off the top of that bulwark as possible. Our men must have a chance to reach the top.”

A nod from Agis to him his commander understood.

“Very well then.” Sevastain looked once more toward the port city. “I feel we can end the conflict with Rome today here at El Daba.” Moving round the circle, he clasped wrists with all.

“I'll see you at the docks.”

“Dismissed.” Siri ordered. As the men departed, commands were shouted, the rank and file solders standing.

For a long moment, he gazed up at Siri. Wanting to tell her...

“Be careful.” Sevastain said simply.

“I will, for you.” She responded.

Sevastain looked up at her, mouth agape in shock at her statement. “For me?” He finally sputtered.

She strode away, ordering her Amazons to mount up.

Sevastain walked to his own steed, stepping into the saddle, he drew his sword, which Xena had gifted him. For what seemed an eternity he waited as the men donned clunking metal armor, preparing for battle.

Finally, all stood ready.

Sevastain smiled wanly at Agis. “I wish I could know what will happen today before it happens. But it's enough to know that the day will end, and then the end will be known.”

Forward at the double click!” the tip of his blade rose, pointing to El Daba.

The men cheered.



“I see you are still alive Pompeius.” Xena smirked down at the man.

“Still...” he croaked through parched lips. It hurt to move as his skin was terribly blistered by the rays of Sol Invictus, or Helios as the bastard Greeks called it. Pompey wasn't a praying man, but over the last seven-day, he had prayed to Mars, beseeching the god to smite Xena.

“You have lived long enough to see my victory over Caesar, though I doubt you will live to see me enter Rome .”

“Overconfident...” was all Pompey could manage to say after so long without water. He lost sight of her as Xena walked away.

Moving to the far rail, she crossed arms over her chest, as El Daba came into view.


“Here, the line forms here!”

At the order from the Lord Commander, troops began to line up with ingrained discipline. One rank became two, then three. At the moment, Sevastain was pleased having judged the distance correctly, his line being too far from the walls for shots from Roman Pilum, or arrows.

“Move up!” Agis yelled out, getting pilum throwers in position. As these men were in range, the Romans tried to take advantage, throwing pilum down from the walls, the tips embedding into Greek shields with a solid thud.

Men filled in behind the shield line, rows of Pilum throwers at the ready.

“Now, loose!” Agis shouted.

The Romans upon the walls, ducked down as Greek spears flew. Sevastain was pleased to see a goodly number hit their mark. These walls lacked stone crenellations at the top, nothing for the enemy to slide behind for cover.

“Lord Commander!”

Turning Gisela, round Sevastain held the reins tight, patting his jittery steed on the neck.

Siri said nothing, only pointing.

“Ares, Hera, and Zeus!” Sevastain groaned. “Cavalry!” His plan had been to be ready for foot soldiers, the men were unprepared for mounted troops. The only bright spot at the moment was that to the enemy horsemen had lined up at a tremendous distance from his lines.

There was little time, but perhaps time enough.

“Siri take your Amazons and ride, circle round and attack the Romans from behind.” Sevastain said tersely. “By all appearances they out number you—“

“We are Amazons—“

“Siri, there is no time for that! Listen! Pick off as many as you can with arrows, do not engage directly, Peel off as many riders as you can. Weaken their charge against us.”

“Understood?” he asked.

“Yes, Lord Commander.”

“On then Siri, and by gods above, no Amazon heroics!”

She eyed him coldly for a moment, and then rode away.

If battles could be fought using only attitude , mused Sevastian, Amazons would always win.


“That's right…“cavalry.”

Caesar watched with undisguised delight as the enemy commander moved to hustle more men into position. A futile attempt to strengthen his line against the impending attack.

“Caesar! Ships approach!”

“What?” Julius shifted, walking back into the tower, cutting across the circular stone room he raised the looking glass, peering out at the sea.

“Those are Roman ships approaching. Pompey must have…” His voice trailed off a blood red sail came into view inscribed with a golden “X”.

Greek troops walked the decks. Now Julius discerned why the enemy land force was under the command of an underling. Xena had done the unexpected, moving to personally take on Pompey at sea. A risky gamble, but effective Julius conceded, as now she controlled the ships of the Roman Navy.

“Pompey...” said Julius upon seeing the old general hanging from the bowsprit.

“Mattius,” Caesar grabbed his aide by the shoulders. “Move every one of our onagers we've constructed from their position behind the walls to the docks. Use what Greek fire we have, catapult it toward any ship that comes near. Do not allow Greek troops to land!”

“Yes, Caesar!”

“Go now!”

Julius raised the looking glass once more using it to find Xena stalking the deck. “What a game! What a ploy!” He murmured. “But, I still gain victory if I keep you from landing. I will destroy the larger part of your army on land. And if you cannot land troops Xena, you can do nothing to stop the disaster from unfolding.”

Hearing the cries, Caesar crossed the turret room again to look out at the land battle beyond the gates.

“That's it Publius attack!” urged Caesar from the high balcony. “Attack!”


“Here they come!” Agis yelled.

Thousands of Roman cavalry streamed over the open ground, the dust kicked up by the pounding hooves creating an ominous cloud.

He didn't have enough pike men in position, Hades!

For an instant, Sevastain sat stark still in the saddle, watching as defeat raced toward him.

“Squares!” He yelled spurring his horse down the line. “Form squares!”

The men fell back, forming three separate rows of squares, boxes of men with open ground in the middle. All dropped to one knee, raising swords and what pikes were available in defense against the slashing blades carried by the men on horseback. Any man foolish enough to jump his horse into the center of the square would be pulled from his mount and slain.

This tact had failed once, long ago against Xena at Olynthus . Sevastian desperately hoped that it would not fail on the second try.

Looking out, Sevastain saw the Roman Commander was no shirker, leading from the front and center of the charging cavalry.

The Romans, who usually maneuvered in silence, let loose with the Barritus, a guttural cry that had been borrowed from the Germanic warriors. It was designed to frighten, and from glancing round at the men in his line, it was working.

Bravery and cowardice are two very opposite emotions, but they are two sides of the same coin. Right now that coin was flipping end over end, and from appearances cowardice was about to win out. All soldiers know the square is a formation of last resort. Sevastian could feel the faltering nerve of these men at the sight of thousands of horses at full charge.

In that instant, Sevastain knew, he must do something, anything, to boost the confidence of his men. That or they would run.

“Stay here!” he ordered his standard bearer.

With sword drawn, and of his own volition, Sevastain spurred Gisela on.

Riding forward his own line Sevastian stood in the saddle raised his sword, circling the blade overhead.

With all he had, he cried...

“G?a A?t????te??a ?a? ??t???at???a!”

For Empress and Empire!

A cheer went up from those nearest, those who heard the words. Those men began to chant those same words, the cry rolling through the whole of the Greek line.

Sevastain heard the shouts. His choice to move to the front of the line, to expose himself to such danger had the intended effect. The men, upon seeing his example, would do their best to hold. He also knew how insanely foolish this act was. Here he was, well out in front of his own line. One against the many.

The line might hold, but for him it would not end well.


Solari peeked over at the Conqueror standing beside her as the chant from the men of her army wafted over the water.

As always Xena was stoic, her jaw set in a determined line as she watched the Roman charge. The sailors picked up on the chant. In solidarity, they echoed it back to their compatriots on land with all their might.

Solari watched as a single tear traveled down Xena's cheek.

The next instant it was gone, having been swiftly wiped away.

“Hold Sevastain, hold against them.” Xena growled while raising the looking glass.

Solari having long been an Amazon, long holding men in contempt, found herself rooting for the men of Xena's army, and their little commander.


“Break them!” yelled Julius while watching the charge from high above in the citadel tower. “Break them!” Both his fists slammed down upon the stone of the balcony.

Caesar did smile amidst it all, hearing the repeated sounds of catapults launching Greek fire at the Greek fleet. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing that the barbarians' own invention was being used against them.


The Roman cavalry commander slashed his sword in a wide arch.

Sevastain ducked, the shiny steel blade clanging against his helmet, knocking it from his head. Wheeling Gisela about, he slashed with his own blade striking the back of the man's armor. While his katana was sharp enough to cut through armor, the blow was too haphazard to have effect.

The Roman horse soldiers slammed into the Greek line.

Chaos as thousands of riders attempted to bull though his men. The horrendous screams of animal and man were deafening. A terrible cacophony of death encased within billowing clouds of dust.

Sevastain barely had time to ready himself as another Roman came at him. This one was not as fortunate as his commander, his sword arm was severed by Sevastain's blade

The Greek Hoplites moved quickly to grab reins, pulling screeching horses down in order to wrench their Roman riders from their mounts.

“Die Barbarian!” The Roman commander had wheeled his horse round, his sword high, ready to deliver an angled slash.

Despite being in the fight of his life, Sevastain observed the shoulder holes on the man's armor were shaped like lions, their open mouths allowed for arms to go through.

Odd what one takes notice of in the mist of battle.

Eyes on the blade, Sevastain readied his own to parry.

Their swords never met, as a precisely aimed arrow struck the Roman directly in the throat.

By the colors on the fletching, Sevastain knew the arrow to be Amazonian.

“Thank Artemis for Amazons.” He muttered. Barely had Sevastain said the words before a Roman grabbed him, yanking him off Gisela.


She lowered the glass. Her fleet was sitting off the coast useless…

Two ships that had braved nearing the docks had been set alight by the catapults along the shore. One of them was the Kallixena… she hoped that wasn't an omen.


“Yes, Empress?”

“We must land troops, beach these ships if need be.”

“With your pardon Empress, we cannot reach the shore except by the docks.” Lesothenes replied. Off shore to either side of the port are great bands of reef built by sea creatures. Any ship sailing over that will have its bottom tore out.

“There must be a way, Lesothenes!”

“Poor Xena…”

Lesothenes watched in apprehension as the continence of the Empress became very dark upon hearing Pompey speak.

“Here your conquests end…”

Taking chakram to hand, she let it fly, severing the rope. A wail, a splash, and Pompey was no more.


Sevastain felt the dagger cutting him and was glad his armor as slowing it, but it wouldn't be enough. He had lost hold of his sword. Vainly he reached one hand out, trying to find something anything to get the Roman off him. He found it… a large stone which he bashed against the man's skull.

Cheers went up from the Greek line as the Romans broke off the attack, giving chase to Amazon riders.

Sevastain stood slowly, wincing from the pain lancing through his side. Around him, the aftermath of the charge, men dead and dying, others standing, but wounded. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a pike man run a screeching horse though to put the animal out of its misery.

Urged on by Meleager, more reinforcements began to fill the line.

“Damnest thing I ever saw!” Meleager rode up. “Don't know if you are brave or plain stupid.”

“Stupid.” Sevastain replied causing the commander to smile. “Meleager, do your engineers have the caltrop in their supply.


“Good, have them spread those spikes over the open ground before us.

“That'll slow em down.” Meleager grinned. “Nothing like a spike though the hoof”

“Or foot.” Sevastain added.

“Where are the men?” Sevastain looked to the walls. “I do not see men climbing those walls.”

“First wave failed, second wave, coming up now, Lord Commander.” Meleager shifted in the saddle. Sure enough, men were lining up with ropes and grappling hooks. Rushing forward, they threw the grappling hooks with precision, putting tension on the ropes to keep the Romans from lifting the hooks off the wall.

“No horse…” Sevastian muttered with frustration after glancing about, looking for Gisela. Walking past Meleager, he moved though his line and up to the pilum throwers under the command of Agis.

The situation was not good, the men were doing their best, but the Romans on the tops of the walls were able to cut the ropes. Waves of men, fell, unable to reach to top of the ramparts.


“Could I just find one commander who is not an idiot?” shouted Caesar at witnessing his cavalrymen break off the attack. “No matter, we hold against you.” he lowered the glass after studying the enemy commander. “Your men cannot breech the walls, and your fleet is of no use.”

Julius scanned the horizon looking for the telltale dust cloud kicked up by troops on the march. “Now…” he took in then let out a long breath. “Where are you Paulinus?”


Both fists slammed down upon the ships railing. “Break them!” she yelled at seeing the attack on the walls failing.

Men standing near subtly scooted to the lee-side of the ship, fearful of Xena's wrath


Once more the plan to take El Daba was on the verge of failure, Sevastain could see it. Hades, a blind man could see it!

Hoplites retreated back from the wall, two waves of attackers having completely failed.

“We must take those walls!”

“Lord Commander, they are too strong, we must--”

“You say retreat, and I kill you here and now.”

Feeling the raised sword in Sevastain's hand under his chin, Agis thought it best to be silent.

“We must hit the walls again!” he ordered while moving down the line of troops, now positioned behind the pilum throwers.

The men looked at him, defeat in their eyes.

“Come now!” Sevastain urged, “The Romans are weakening!”

Not a man stood.

He leaned over so the hoplite nearest could hear him. “What will you think of yourself tomorrow?” The man lowered his head, all the fight had left him.

Straitening, Sevastian paced to Agis. “I place you in command.”

A self-satisfied grin began to form on the man's lips. “Too much for you huh, giving up?”

“Shut-up and listen!” Sevastain shouted. “I will lead the next attack on the wall personally, when the gates open, send two corps into the town and then use every man left to hold the line against the oncoming Roman force. Understood?”

“Yes, Lord Commander.” Agis did not believe Sevastain had any chance of topping the wall.

“Sevastain you cannot be thinking...” Meleager said from behind. Watching as the high commander wiped, then sheathed his sword.

“There are times when the life of a commander does not count.”

“Sevastain! You mustn't--”

I'll be damned to Tartarus if I give up now! I don't care if none chose to follow me, I will make some endeavor!” grabbing the coiled rope and grappling hook from the man nearest Sevastain looked to the wall, took a breath to steady himself ... then began to run.

“With me!” Sevastian bellowed while running though the Greek lines, “Who will come with me?!”

A yell rose from behind him as he continued to run forward. He did not look back, too focused on releasing the hook at the right moment. When he did, Sevastain was pleased to see it gain purchase on the wall.

With every ounce of strength he had, up the wall he went, the wound in his side protesting mightily as he climbed.

And then...

He was as the top.

Sevastian looked about in astonishment, shocked Romans looking right back. For some moments, no one moved, all staring at each other.

Then the spell broke and the Romans charged.

“What are you doing?!” Sevastain had turned, feeling the tug on his boot.

His standard bearer.

“Dammit boy!” Sevastain hauled him up on the wall. Kid had the standard of the Army, pole and all, clenched between his teeth.

Drawing his blade Sevastain slashed, cutting the leg the first Roman through. With a kick, he pushed the shrieking man over the wall.

The next he hit with his shoulder, toppling the man back into his compatriots, the lot of them tumbling down the wooden stairs leading to the top of the wall.

“Well, don't just stand there, wave that flag!”

The kid did his best, raising the flag and hauling it back and forth, the fabric catching the breeze.

Sevastain backed into something solid.

“Siri! What--”

“Someone has to save you,” she replied. An instant later, the halidie in her hand was thrusting into the gut of a Roman.

Looking past, Sevastain saw Amazons by the hundreds, overcoming the wall.

“I thought I told you to draw off the Roman cavalry!” barked Sevastain.

“Felt like doing some -Amazon heroics- instead” she replied coolly.

This was not the time to discuss the matter…

“Amazons!” Sevastain ran past Siri. “Over the wall!” he ordered. “And open the gates quickly!”

“Yes Lord Commander!” replied Xanthippe with a wide smile. As he watched, she lifted a screaming Roman over her head and then casually tossed the man over the wall.

Gods! These Amazons were strong!

The Hoplites of the Greek army began to cheer at seeing the Romans being bested. A third, then a fourth wave of men now hit the wall and began the climb.

“That's the style Sevastain! That's the style!” Meleager shouted from atop his steed. He stood up in the stirrups and raised his sword high in salute

The city gates opened, and as ordered, Agis sent three corps into the city.


“Lo! Sevastian shows us how it's done!” Xena smiled most feral at catching sight the flag of the army fluttering back and forth at the top of the wall.

“Lesothenes, when our troops take the waterfront from the Romans, I want the ships loaded with Hoplites to dock first.”

“Right Xena.” Her admiral turned, shouting orders, multicolored flags then ran up the mast, signaling the ships of the fleet.

It chafed her not to be the first on the dock, but reinforcements were the priority.


“No!” Caesar cried at seeing Roman troops abandon the docks to fight the Greek Hoplite's steaming in through the main city gate. “No! No! No!” he wailed petulantly.

“Where is Paulinus!?” Shouted Julius. In frustration, the looking glass held in hand was thrown across the room to smash against the fall wall.

For a time, silence.

Caesar composed himself and came to the realization...

It was over, all was lost.

“Caesar, what are your orders?” asked Mattius.

“Close the gates of the Citadel.”

“But Great Caesar, doing such will lock out our own retreating men! They will be condemned to death!”

“Do as I say!” Caesar spat. “If these men cannot win, they deserve death!”

“As you command, Caesar.” Mattius slowly retreated from the chamber.

Leaning over, Julius placed both hands upon the desk, his head dipped down. “All my conquests, glories, triumphs, achievements… come to so little?”


The boy came near.


With a nod, the kid scampered to a side table to fill a goblet.

“Is not today the Ides of March?” asked Julius as the cup was placed before him.

“I know not, sir.” Felix replied.

“I believe it is.” Julius laughed mirthlessly. “Leave me for a time.” he ordered.

“Yes sir.”

Looking out beyond the balcony, Julius saw Greek ships docking, troops unloading.

“I do not consent to crucifixion Xena!” spat Caesar. “You shall not revenge yourself on me!”

Raising his right hand, Julius looked at the golden ring on this finger for a time. After letting out a pained sigh, he unclasped the lock. Opening the hinged top of the ring to reveal a small compartment. Tipping his hand he dumped the white powder held within into his chalice. For some moments, the wine bubbled and frothed before its surface became placid once more.

“A toast then!” Caesar raised the gold chalice engraved with his name. A jeering smirk formed on his lips. “Xena, all hail!” he said with derision before draining the vessel of its contents.

“Beware the Ides of March!” The words filled with bitterness. He slammed the chalice down upon the desk. “Soothsayer!” Cried Caesar, “Your divinations come to pass!”

The poison lanced though his innards quickly, as well it should. He only paid for the best.

Coughing racked him, lips stained red with blood-filled bile.

Knees going weak, Julius stumbled back into a chair.

The world around him faded as had his hopes of conquering the world.

“Then…” Julius labored for a last breath “…Fall Caesar.”

Chapter 38

“Our line is solid outside the gates.”

Sevastain looked to Meleager. “The Romans?”

The old commander shrugged. “No force has been spotted.”

“Odd.” Sevastain let out a breath. “Siri, take your Amazons—“

“And scout for the Roman foot soldiers.” She walked away.

“Is it just me or is she upset?” Meleager asked offhand.

“Not at you.” Sevastain replied. “To the present situation, report Commander.”

“As you well know,” Meleager prefaced. “After much fighting, the town is ours.”

“Well and good. What about the citadel?” Sevastain asked.

“I took the liberty of ordering the sailors to haul down the main mast of one of our ships. We will use it as a battering ram to get the gates open.”

“Good, see to as quickly as you can. We have Caesar surrounded, and---“

“Lord Commander!”

Sevastain stopped speaking, looking to the approaching runner.

“The Empress' ship is docking.”

“Meleager,” Sevastain clasped the man's arm. “Continue preparations to batter down the gates.”

“Yes, Lord Commander.”


The servant Felix had made the discovery. The Great Julius Caesar, dead.

“Oh, mighty Caesar!” Mattius wept.

“You are the highest ranking among us Mattius, what are your orders?”

Mattius looked to the other officers. “As you say Proclus, I am the highest ranking and I say…”

“We surrender.”

The various captains stood shocked, but Mattius noted that none voiced opposition.


Fires raged through El Daba, the dead in their thousands littering the streets. Romans, Greeks, and the innocents caught between the two.

Such was war, though he wished it were not so.

Sevastian waited, nervously tapping his fingers against one leg as Xena's flagship glided into the berth. His side hurt terribly, the vestments he wore wet with blood. While he was wounded, the matter at hand took precedence over injury.

A gangplank was pushed into place. As he watched, Sevastian reflected there had been so many screw ups on his part that he'd be lucky if Xena didn't kill him here and now for his ineptitude.

With purposeful step, the Empress walked down the gangplank followed closely by two Amazons who nearly matched her in height. One he recognized, Solari, the other a member of the Imperial Guard that he could not immediately place.

As Xena strode toward him, the crimson cape she wore billowed out. Her brown leathers almost looked to be of Roman design, fitting as with her victory at El Daba, she now laid claim to Rome .

Sevastian took a breath, then moved to kneel, lowering his head until it touched his upturned knee.

“Get up.”

Though he was in ever increasing pain, Sevastain was determined to remain stoic.

One of the Empress' eyebrows quirked up, he took it as his cue to begin the report.

“Mistress, the Romans have been pushed back through the town to the citadel and are hold up behind its gates.” He watched as her eyes flicked to the fortress, then back to him. The men outside the gates are prepared to hold against---.”

“Caesar?” she asked curtly

“Within the fortress as there is no means for him to escape. Your ships surround El Daba by sea. Your army surrounds it by land.”

She turned, walking rapidly away Amazons in tow.

“With me, commander,” at her call Sevastian moved to follow.

As they neared the fortress gates, Xena drew her sword, preparing to lead the battle against Caesar personally. Only there was no battle to lead, the gates stood wide open and before them stood a smiling Meleager.

“Empress.” The old commander moved to kneel.

“Rise.” her order stopped him well before his knee touched the ground.


“The Romans within the fortress have surrendered. What is left of their force is lined up in the court yard. Meleager knew her next question. “Caesar, is in the upper tower.”

Xena immediately strode into the fortress' courtyard, paying no mind to the motley group of surrendered Romans.

Sevastain moved to follow. A touch on his shoulder stopped him.

“I do not know how this will play out.” Meleager said cryptic.


“Go see and you will understand.”

Kicking the door open Xena strode into the space. The Roman commanders deciding it best to kneel as she entered.

None in the room dared speak as she regarded the corpse.

Sevastain, entering the room last, noted the sneer on Julius' lips the look of contempt in his glassy eyes. Even in death, he seemed to be taunting her.

Being in Xena's presence for so long a time, Sevastain had some small understanding of the minute cues which indicated her temperament. He watched, as her free hand clenched into a fist, the other tightened on the hilt of her sword.

“Spineless! Unwilling to face the consequence of your actions!” she thundered with rage. With ease, Xena flipped the table over between her and the corpse. “Try to deny my revenge!” The blade held within her hand lashed out, decapitating Caesar's corpse and cutting clear through the wood of the chair back behind.

“I shall be avenged!” Grasping the severed head by the hair, she strode to the balcony and flung it over the edge. The Roman soldiers below scattered when it landed in their midst.

“There is your Caesar!” she yelled while pointing with bloody sword. “Look at him now!”

All behind remained silent, watching as the Empress laid one hand on the rail, bowing her head.


Sevastain was instantly by her side.

“Take his miserable corpse, nail it to a cross, and prop it up beside the main gate for the vultures to feast upon.” She did not look at him as she spoke. Instead she gazed out at the Roman force approaching from the South. “Put his head on a pike and place it over the gate.

“Yes mistress.” Sevastain chanced a glance out into the far distance. Squinting a bit to see better he was shocked to see Siri and her Amazons riding ahead of a Roman force.

“Now Commander.” Xena rumbled low.

“With a quick bow, he walked back into the turret room. Pointing to the Roman officers, he silently bid them take hold of the headless corpse and follow behind him.


The Via Appia was clogged with thousands fleeing the slowly advancing German barbarians. As far as the eye could see both ahead and behind masses of people plodded, attempting to reach Rome . Among those traveling the road was the entire household of Iolaus.

Looking down, she watched idly as twenty or more men hefted a wagon over to clear the road. As it was now on its side, she could see the broken wooden axle which had halted its progress.

Gabrielle closed her eyes, clutching her arms round the woman in front all the tighter.

Nicdice glanced over her shoulder and couldn't help but be worried at seeing Gabrielle with eyes shut tight.

“Gabrielle, you okay?”

“I've never been on a horse before.”

“Gabrielle you take care of horses.” Nicdice was astonished. “You've never once ridden?”

“No, I… I'm scared of heights.”

Nicdice laughed.

“We are high up!” Gabrielle justified snappily.

“It's quite alright.” Nicdice soothed.

“No it's not! I'm sure all you Amazons see me as a weak, scared, little peasant.”

“Gabrielle, everyone has weaknesses and fears.” as she spoke, Nicdice maneuvered the horse they rode upon round another overturned cart.

“What are you afraid of then?” Gabrielle asked testily.

“Part of our training as Amazons involves learning to climb the tallest of trees and move stealthily above the forest floor. We learn to jump from limb to limb without making a sound.”

“Oh gods!” Gabrielle groaned, hugging Nicdice tightly again, the Amazon not minding it one bit.

“Wait! You mean you—“

“I too am deathly afraid of heights.” Nicdice confessed.

“But you climb high in the trees!”

“Yes, but that doesn't mean I'm not afraid. Gabrielle, having fear is not a curse. The reason the gods gifted mortals with fear, was so we would use discernment in our daily lives. That way we don't foolishly rush into situations.”

“Is it not foolish to jump from tree limb to tree limb?”

Nicdice chuckled. “Yes.”

“Then why do it? Just stay on the ground.”

“Because we Amazons must learn certain skills to defend our land from invaders” You see, I am still afraid of heights, but my sisters have helped me to control my fear. The key Gabrielle is not letting fear control you.”

“Yes.” Gabrielle pulled away, sitting up a bit “I will try my best to not let fear rule me.”

Me and my big mouth… thought Nicdice, missing having Gabrielle close.

Moments later, the Amazon smiled as Gabrielle hugged her tightly once more.

“You looked down,” said Nicdice knowingly.

“Yes…. Hey! It's not funny!” said Gabrielle at feeling and hearing the Amazon laugh softly.

“It takes time Gabrielle, little steps.”

Screams rose from behind.

“Another panic?” asked Gabrielle.

At first Nicdice believed it was. The crowds on the road had been panicky, easily spooked into fits of mindless running. Several times, Iolaus had ordered the entire household off the road entirely until the terror abated.

This time there was reason for the terror.

The line of refugees was under attack by German marauders.

“Hold on tight Gabrielle.” The words barely spoken by Nicdice before Ephiny rode up.

“Keep her safe.”

“Yes my--- Ephiny.”

Gabrielle bristled. “I'm not helpless you know!” In turn she received a look from Ephiny which spoke much as to the Amazon's thoughts on the slave defending herself.

“My Queen.” Eponin said soft. “If we fight, we shall certainly break our cover as peasants.”

“I cannot stand by and allow innocents to be hurt.”

“You know I agree, I just mean to remind you of the ramifications of this decision.” Eponin counseled.

“With me!” Ephiny shouted while spurring her horse on.

Both Nicdice and Gabrielle watched as the warriors formed up riding forth to attack the Germans.

“They have no weapons!”

“Amazons can fight without weapons,” replied Nicidice with confidence.


“What…” Iolaus rode up. “…are they doing!?”

“Fighting the Germans” Gabrielle responded.

“A good way for them to end up dead!” Despite cries to stop, Iolaus spurred his horse on to join the fight.


“Paulinus took the Conqueror up on her offer to rule Carthage in exchange for agreeing not to lead troops against us.” Siri explained.

“The Empress is…” Sevastian blinked as his eyes blurred a bit. “…a master of…

“Mistress…” Siri corrected.

“Siri, not every male reference is distasteful. I merely state that The Empress is most skillful in pursing both war and intrigue. Besides, Mistress really doesn't fit.”

“It certainly does!”

“A Mistress of war and intrigue?” he shook his head. “That just sounds odd.”

“To a man.”

“Right...” Sevastian drawled without looking up at the Amazon standing near. His attentions were on the discussion that was occurring between Paulinus and Xena. The Roman Commander kept glancing at Caesar's headless corpse nailed to a cross, then upward to the head on the pike over the gate.

“You will be glad to know that we found your horse “Lord Commander.”

“Hurt?” he asked as sudden wave of dizziness hit him.

“No, she is fine; Meleager took her to the stable.”

Sevastain found himself short of breath. “Siri, perhaps I could sit a moment.” He staggered on his feet slightly. Her arm wrapped round his torso, steadying him.

“You are wounded!” Siri felt the dampness of his under vestments and after having pulled her hand away saw blood upon her fingers.

Sevastain collapsed against her.


Ahead one of the many gates into Rome loomed.

Nicdice sighed in relief.

“Do you believe the Germans will sack Rome ?”

Nicdice was left in a quandary at Gabrielle's question. Either she could try and soothe Gabrielle's fears or be truthful. The Amazon decided, honesty was the best choice. Gabrielle was sweet, kind, cheerful, but no fool.

“I believe they will.”

“So we only have temporary safety, before the battle reaches us.”

“It would appear so.” Nicdice replied softly. What attacked us was only a small scouting group; the main force must be moving near.

Ahead, both women watched Iolaus hand a cloth sack to the guard captain the contents within causing the man to smile wide.

A bribe, given to ensure his household would not be turned away at the gates as so many others had. Thousands of people were camped as squatters, being unable to gain entry into the city, and unwilling to turn back toward the advancing barbarians. Maneuvering his horse round, Iolaus gestured and the wagons trundled forward, followed by the Amazons on horseback.

Once within the gates, the Amazons looked past the chaos surrounding them, awed by the grandeur of Rome .

“I gotta hand it to the Romans; they certainly know how to build.” Ephiny could only nod as the group passed through the Forum of Rome with its many temples and basilicas painted in a riot of colors.

“Gabrielle, what is that?” asked Nicdice.

“That is the great Flavian Amphitheater, where much killing occurs.”


“Yes, the Romans adore blood sport. Criminals are executed, animals killed, and the gladiators fight to the death upon its wooden floor. Tens of thousands cheer madly, loving the butchery.”

“Gladiators fighting to the death, you say.” Nicdice smiled, her rearing as an Amazon causing her to be enamored with the idea of single combat.

“Yes, most are slaves but some who are free are so renowned that their sweat is made into perfumes worn by many in the aristocratic classes.

“Ugh.” The Amazon crinkled her nose in disgust. “Do these Romans allow women to be gladiators?

“Yes,” Gabrielle replied from behind. “Glaciatrix as the Romans say.”

“I'd like to have a go at that!”

“No!” Gabrielle hugged Nicdice tight. “It's so very dangerous!”

Nicdice smiled “You have gone then? To see the combat?”

“No. I can't bear to watch. I much rather prefer the Circus Maximus where the Master's horses race. Even there, some killing occurs as the races are uninhibited. Any means may be used to win even if it results in the death of your opponent.”

“I like Rome !”

Unseen by the Amazon, Gabrielle rolled her eyes in annoyance as the townhouse came into view.


Iolaus said not one word, until they reached the townhouse on the Capitoline hill.

“I would speak with you.” He brushed past Ephiny, she knowing the ruse was up. Catching Eponin's eye she gestured, her beloved nodded in understanding.

Past the many servants they walked. Ephiny looking round at the bustle of activity; furniture being uncovered and rooms open for cleaning.

“Close the door.”

Ephiny did so, and then stood silent as Iolaus moved to sit behind his desk.

“It appears I am surrounded by wolves in sheep's clothing.”

“Sir.” Ephiny took a small step forward.

“Do not tell me anymore lies!” Iolaus yelled. “I am Greek and as such know of Amazons! Even if I did not, I can plainly see you are more than you appear! Now tell truth!”

“We are Amazons.” Ephiny admitted soft.

“I am glad that you chose to be honorable and tell me the truth.”

“Sit, Amazon.”

Ephiny did so, in one of the plush chairs opposite Iolaus' desk.

“Why are you here Ephiny?” Before she could reply, Iolaus spoke again, “If that be your real name.”

“It is kind Iolaus.” For a moment she was silent, Iolaus thinking she was considering what was best to reveal.

“We were sent by Artemis--“

“You insult my intelligence!”

“I know full well what it sounds like.” Ephiny leaned forward “We were sent by our goddess to protect Gabrielle.”

“Protect her from what?”

“From the bedlam quickly enveloping Rome .”

“So…” Iolaus was mocking, “Mighty Artemis cares so much about a lowly slave that she commands her Amazons to act as a guard.

“You know the reason...”

Understanding dawned and Iolaus was incensed. “She will not have her!”

“She will, our goddess has foreseen it.”

“I will never allow—“

“Would you dare raise your hand against fate?” asked Ephiny.

“Out! Iolaus rounded the desk to stand in front of Ephiny, “Out with the lot of you!” He pointed to the door “I shall never allow Xena to have the girl.”

Ephiny slowly stood, to look down at him. “I am afraid that will not be possible. We stay.”

“You forget I am the master here and as such you obey me.”

We obey our Goddess and the Conqueror.”

“Xena the bloodstained letcher is more apt! You Amazons should be ashamed to have thrown in with such evil!

“It was the only way we could save—“

“Out!” Iolaus walked to the door to throwing it open. What was on the other side, gave him pause.

Two armed Amazons. Grabbing the door again, he quickly slammed it shut catching the two off-guard. Before even Ephiny could react, Iolaus had drawn his blade.

Ephiny crouched into a ready stance. “Do not do this,” she implored. “I would regret having to harm you.”

The door to the chamber was smashed open, Iolaus found himself surrounded. “I will gladly die, to prevent Gabrielle from being held by Xena.”

“Does the thought of what is best for Gabrielle's motivate you, or does your hatred of the Conqueror spur you to do this.” Asked Ephiny.

“She has hurt me in every manner possible. I will not allow the same to happen to Gabrielle!”

Ephiny pointed to Iolaus and both Amazons began to advance.

“Have you asked Gabrielle for her thoughts on the matter?”

“I…” Iolaus faltered. “She is just a girl, she doesn't understand how evil Xena—“


All within looked to Gabrielle.

“I must face her.”

“Gabrielle I have never been forced to remind you that you do as I say--”

“You had no need, it was understood.”


“Where shall we run to next? Xena will not be stopped, she will continue to pursue. I can no longer bear the burden of disrupting so many lives. I must go to her.”

“You know not what you do!” Iolaus set the sword down knowing the situation hopeless, his action causing the Amazons to relax. Walking round the desk, he slumped into the chair.

“I have no other choice than to allow it.” Iolaus looked to Ephiny. “I took you in, and here you betray me.”

“Were there some other way,” Ephiny replied. “Know I would have taken it.”

“Cold comfort, Amazon.” Replied Iolaus.


Sevastain would be out for some time. The result of a heavy dose of Willow bark tea laced with Valerian and Chamomile.

“I do not understand why he chose not to tell that he was wounded!”

“That is not his way.”

“Yet another example of the male ego.” Siri pronounced with surety.

Xena smirked slightly as she ran the bone needle and thread through the skin, pulling the gash closed. Having already thoroughly cleaned the wound with vinegar infused with hop leaves. When she finished stitching, a poultice filled with crushed garlic and cloves would be placed over the wound.

“Amazons have no ego?”

Siri looked down for a time, and then nodded. “True, we can be a bit proud.”

“A bit?” Xena asked teasingly, adding a wink for good measure.

The Amazon smiled thinly.

“With him…” Xena continued to close the wound. “…. It's always about duty; a result of what has been was ingrained within by the eastern masters.”

“But nature must obey necessity.” Siri argued. “He should have paused to have attention given to his wound.

“No, those of the east believe unwaveringly in obedience, to fulfilling duty to a superior first. A code, which tells that what touches us most closely, should be last served.”

“Fine,” Siri huffed. “But answer me this, Why did he not seek care after the battle?”

“I did not dismiss him and therefore Sevastain remained, even though injured.”


“Is it?” Xena asked while gesturing for the Siri to hand her the poultice. Once it was in hand, she placed it against the wound. “Everyone has a code they live by, to understand his is to understand him.”

“Here...” She stood, sliding an arm under Sevastain, lifting him just off the surface of the table. “Run the linen round his chest, to hold the poultice.” When Siri had finished, Xena gently removed her arms, allowing him to lie fully on the table again.

“That is all that can be done for now.” The Amazon watched as the Empress walked to a side board, to wash her hands in the basin of water.

“And you Empress?” asked Siri, “Do you have a code which you live by?”


Xena offered no further explanation as she dried her hands on a square of linen. Turning she appraised her commanders, Agis, Meleager, and Siri.

“Siri, you are elevated to second, look to our deportment, see to it that the army is camped, scouts placed. Allow the men to celebrate our victory tonight.

“Meleager aid the villagers of El Daba, help them recover from the devastation wrought by this battle.”

“Agis, you will ensure our wounded as well as those of Rome are cared for, use every bit of space in this citadel to billet them.”

In the silence which followed, Xena paused a moment to don her gauntlets. “Siri, chose one of your Amazons to ride forth and deliver a missive from me to Cleon at El Alamein .”

She stepped toward the table, looking down upon Sevastain. His breathing was shallow, face ashen. Images Lyceus came forth, of him lying dead on a table in mother's inn. She was forced to close her eyes in order to stem the overwhelming sadness which flooded through her. “You will make clear to all that the Romans are to be treated as honored guests, hostilities having ended.”

“Yes, Xena.” Meleager replied soft, speaking for all in the room.

“After sunset, we meet aboard my flagship, to plan the next move, dismissed.”

With eyes still closed, she listened as they filed out, all except one...Siri.

“You... are... dismissed.”

Siri tried not to waver, but under the scrutiny of those blue eyes she quietly acquiesced to Xena's will and backed towards the door.”

“He will be in the lower tower. I shall order Amazon guards placed to protect the one you love.”

“I do not---”

Blue eyes pinned Siri with their intensity.

“I've seen the way you regard him, yet you stubbornly refuse to enlighten him as to the nature of your feelings. Now, should he die, you will never get the chance. Think on that Amazon.”


A visibly shaken Siri departed.

Xena leaned over to gently slide her arms under Sevastain, lifting him with ease.

“Not like Lyceus...” she whispered, voice wavering due to emotion roiling within.

Carrying him, she walked out of the chamber.

“Oh noble commander…” Solari said soft as the massed Amazons dipped their heads, eyes filling with tears which quickly spilled onto cheeks.

“The grief I see is catching.” Xena forced a slight smile. “Have cheer, for though he is pallid, Celesta has not yet claimed him. Come Solari and bid some Amazons to follow, for you shall need to set a guard round him.”

Chapter 39

“Big! Sell it!”

Salmoneus winced, thinking he spoke a bit too loud.

“He'll be out for some time.” As she leaned over, Xena scooted a bit in the low back chair beside the bed, an attempt to get comfortable. Her fingers, first felt Sevastain's pulse, and then touched his brow. “Fever…” she muttered. Concerning, but as of yet, he wasn't burning up with temperature. That would indicate a bad infection had set in.

Leaning back, she extended her legs, casually crossing them at the ankles

“And just what am I selling?” Shifting a bit Xena reached out to clasp the gold chalice filled with wine, raising it to her lips to casually take a sip. Etched into the gold a name… Gaius Julius Caesar.

“The Xena brand!” the pudge-ball replied with enthusiasm. “I mean Empress.” he quickly corrected at noting her raised eyebrow for him using her given name. “I lived among the Romans for some time. I tell you, dazzle the masses with spectacle and they are yours.”

In the silence which followed, the sound of Xena placing the gold chalice back upon the bedside table was as loud as thunder.

Salmoneus fidgeted, ringing his hands nervously.

“They are already mine, whether they know it or not, or like it or not. What need do I have of spectacle?”

“Empress, those in Rome firmly believe in their Republic and--.”

“The moment I enter the gates of Rome , the Republic ends.”

“Your will of course Empress, but the Senate is much loved. Amaze the populace with the magnificence of your empire and emotion will drive the plebeian masses to forsake loyalty to Senate and Republic.”

Xena had to admit, it was good idea. Rome would be ruled by her, however… dazzling… the population into submission would be far better than doing so forcibly. Course there were other options... she glanced over at Sevastain for an instant.

“I suppose you have something in mind?”

“Oh yes your warriorness! A grand procession into the heart of the forum which will include every splendor imaginable! From India to—“

“I give you leave to sail to Corinth, there meet with Vidalus my major-domo, together you both will plan this… spectacle as you call it.”

“Yes, Empress!” The man bowed low, and then moved to the door.

“Salmoneus.” He had just been reaching for the latch when she called his name.

“Do well and I shall grant you Sicily .”

“Thank you!” Salmoneus bowed with a great flourish.

“Botch the task and not getting Sicily will be the least of your worries.”

His anxiety level suddenly having doubled, Salmoneus thought it best to bow once more and make a hasty retreat from the Empress' presence.

She sighed, feeling her skin begin to crawl. “Be thankful Sevastain, that you don't have to deal with--”

“I love parades!”

Standing she brushed past a smiling Ares and moved pour herself more wine. “What do you want?” she asked without turning.

“Nothing,” He replied.

She looked over her shoulder, eying him for a moment. “You always want something Ares. Cut to the chase and tell me, but do leave out your tendency for bombast.”

“You order Agis to take part of your fleet and lead his men Hispania to deliver Egyptian gain?”


“Cleon to Gaul to do much the same?”

“Why, yes again Ares. Xena drawled mockingly

“For what purpose?”

“What purpose do you think? To feed people!”

“They are already on their knees, an easy conquest. Feed them and--”

“Ares not every battle need be won by force of arms. I feed those in Hispania and Gaul and they see me as a savior of their people. It advances my cause, more than harm it.”

In the silence which followed Ares walked to the double doors leading out to the balcony to throw them open, the chill evening breeze filling the room.

“Close them.”

He grinned, eyes slowly moving to the bed Sevastian lay in, then back to her.

“Let him die, Xena.”

Walking across the space Xena bumped him hard, sending a surprised Ares stumbling back she then closed the doors to keep out the night chill.

“The boot-licker has served his purpose.” Ares pressed. “Be done with him, like you have so many others in the past.”

“No.” she walked back to the side table, to pick up the chalice and take a sip.

“Has my chosen gone soft where her second is concerned?”

Her lack on an answer caused the deity to smile smugly.

“Loyalty gains nothing chosen, you know this. Need I remind you, that this boot-licker saved your ventures here at El Daba. ”

“Yes. So?”

“Men talk Xena.”

She knew what he was inferring.

“He is loyal, if Athena could not sway him, I am confident he will not lead a rebellion against me.”

“No one in his right mind would want to be her chosen.” Ares said caustic.

He first sat, and then shifted to lay prone upon the bed next to Sevastian, trying to bait her into a reaction. “But now he has reason to turn, you hold his half-brother, intent upon killing him for treason.” He held up his hand before she could speak. “Now I hear you told an Amazon,” No, allow me to clarify, not just any Amazon, the chosen of Artemis--”

“The Amazons are loyal.” Xena said low

Ares absently scratched his goatee watching as her eyes narrowed at him challengingly.

“One is second in power only to you.” Ares momentarily pointed to an unconscious Sevastian, “The other has the loyalty of the Amazons. It is a dangerous match, chosen.”

Setting down the chalice, she pushed off the table she was leaning upon. Ares sprouted a dopey grin as she walked towards him seductively. He let out a yelp of surprise as she yanked him off the bed. He hit the floor hard, grunting loudly as he did.

“Old tricks Ares!” she growled, while looming over him. “Attempting to sow seeds of doubt. It won't work on me this time like it did with Borias.”

Feeling at the disadvantage, the deity moved to quickly stand. “Why, you have misinterpreted my actions! I give counsel only and I tell you having him live could be dangerous.”

“I shall take your words under advisement, war god.” she turned, placing her back to him. “Is that all? Or do you have still more to blather about?”

“Xena... Be angry whenever you like, its fine by me. ” his lips touched her neck. “I'm the god of war I love your anger, and your fire!”

She stepped away from him, shrugging off his embrace.

“Why, I am a fool--”

“Agreed.” she spoke before he could finish the thought.

His mood soured. “I mean to say that instead of being contentious with each other, we should instead be celebrating the victory your second has gained for you this day.” He smiled, feeling the choler roiling within her from his words.

O' gods! How Xena wished Ares could be mortal just long enough for her to drive a blade through his heart.” Her mood lightened a tad at the thought.

“It's been a long time.” his hands slipped round her waist.

“It's been a long day.” she pulled away, her action annoying him.

“Very well, I leave you then.”

“Do so.”

Finding himself cornered, and with nothing more to say, a sullen Ares capitulated and vanished.

When he was well and truly gone, Xena moved to sit by the bedside. “Oh Sevastian…” she looked upon him gently. “If anyone were loyal, it would be you.” Her eyes moved to gaze at the guttering taper. “Ares is correct, much as it pains me to admit. You did save my venture here at El Daba. What Ares does not see is that while you won the battle, you call the victory mine. My fault cannot be ignored… In my desire to out maneuver Caesar, I nearly lost all.”

She stood, adjusting her black leathers a bit, ears picking up on the celebrations just beginning outside. She would join her men for a moment, offer a toast to those who had died to deliver this victory, then return to her flagship… alone.

“In a way I envy you Sevastain, you rest peacefully; I am haunted nightly by inescapable visions of Gabrielle. Oddly enough, in dreams it is as if I am in another world, this Xena gone, replaced by another.”

Walking to the door, the Amazon guard came to rigid attention the moment she opened it. On the other side Siri. Without a word, Xena moved past. The Amazons watching as she glided almost ethereally across the landing to disappear down the stair.

Chapter 40

Bleary eyed, he blinked several times trying to make sense of his surroundings. By the candle, flickering in the room, he could not tell if it was day or deep into night.

He was in a large bed, pristine sheets covering him. The room was round, walls made of precisely cut blocks of stone. Looking to the left, he saw the large wooden door to the chamber.

A touch caused him to slowly turn his head to the right “Siri…” a tired smile formed upon his lips.

He attempted to rise from the bed.

“You tear those stitches and I will be upset.” she leaned in speaking the words softly in his ear.

Sevastian quickly lay back again. Actually he was glad to do so; the warmth of the bed was wonderful.

“How do you feel?” He felt her fingers wandering slowly through his hair.

“Poorly.” He replied causing her to laugh.

“You are a master of understatement. I imagine you feel a fair sight worse than simply poor.”

“Not mistress of understatement?” He said softly.

“No, doesn't fit.” Siri replied teasingly.

“How did I get here?” he looked about the space again.

“You passed out, remember?” Her hand touched his, thumb running idly over his knuckles.

“Oh…” he licked dry lips. “I was wounded.”

“And badly, slash running down your side. Here…” He felt her hand slip behind his head lifting it slightly so that he could take a sip of tea.

One sip of the cold brew, and he frowned while attempting to pull his head away. “Go on, drink and be done with it.” Siri commanded.

“No.” he said grouchily.

“Conqueror's orders,” Siri smiled. “Now be a good little Samurai and drink.”

Sevastain scowled, but drank the tea.

“Blegh!” he grimaced.

“ Willow bark tea.” Siri explained while placing the empty stoneware cup upon the nightstand. “By your reaction, it must taste as horrible as it smells. But the Empress says it will do much good in keeping the swelling down and aid your rest.”

“I feel weak as a kitten.” he grumped.

“So you should, having lost so much blood.” Siri replied while sliding one arm across his chest. “You and devotion to duty,” she chastised. “It goes beyond sense.”

Sevastain had a retort in mind, but it evaporated in a cloud of shock when her lips touched his cheek.

“We must talk.”

He blinked in surprise “Ah, okay.” he said warily, feeling horribly sluggish and so very tired.

Siri scooted her chair nearer to him, and then leaned over again. “I do not know, nor do I care, how the weak women outside our nation do this…” Siri prefaced. “I only know the Amazon way.”

Sevastian was well and truly confused. “I don't…. um… Well, not every woman outside your nation—“

“Just listen.”

One finger, placed gently upon his lips silenced any further response. “Sevastain, I must give voice to truths held within my heart, truths that for too long I have tried to deny.”

His innate stoicism broke completely, turning to stark surprise when her lips touched his for just a moment.

“I claim you as mine.” Siri said firm while rising from the chair, both her hands suddenly clasping his arms tight. “I give to you my protection, my allegiance, my heart, my soul, and my body.

Silence…. Sevastian was stunned “You mean, you and I would be--”

“Yes.” He looked into her beautiful amethyst eyes as she spoke. “You belong to me.”

The thought struck him… Have I just been… conquered?



Xena's punch hit him so hard, Autolycus fairly flew before hitting the top of the table. Sliding across the surface, he landed hard on the deck.

“I tell you time and again that I want that girl!”

She effortlessly slammed the big map table out of the way.

“Xena, let me explai---”

His head rocked to one side, she backhanding him across his face.

“You find her, and then leave her in Rome !” He looked up to see a dagger in her hand.

Wide eyed and dazed, Autolycus retreated from by kicking legs out to scoot himself across the floor while Xena slowly advanced upon him.

The look in her eyes caused Auto to talk fast. “I-I-... I would have to first get her away from Iolaus.”

“So? Xena snarled. “You are my self-proclaimed spy master, should have been easy.

And! And! …and then I'd need to keep her safe while traversing hundreds of leagues through Roman held territory!” Auto felt his back touch the wall, nowhere to run now.

“I do not want excuses! I want the girl!” The blade of the dagger shined in the light of the oil lamps as Xena slowly raised it to strike.

“Not excuses, truth!” Auto pleaded. “The...that girl is an innocent, think of what you ask me to do! Steal her away from her sister; take her from all she knows! Forcibly drag her to you.... It would be terrifying!”

That gave Xena pause... the dagger slowly dropping to her side. Having shreds of a conscience had serious pitfalls… He did make a good point; she didn't want the girl harmed.

However, her anger remained due to his shortsightedness...

“Spy, do you know what is about to happen?” Xena asked in an eerily calm voice. Leaning in, her hand roughly clasping his chin, lifting it so that the dagger in her other hand could be pressed against his throat.

“In the next few fortnights, German Barbarians will advance very gates of Rome . You... know this...” Xena hissed. “And you still left Gabrielle!”

A trembling Autolycus tried to placate. “Empress, Gabrielle is well guarded.”

“Your most trusted men?”

“Yes, but not just my men guard her, Amazons surround...”

“What?” Xena shouted. “Amazons!”

“Yes. They said Artemis...”

“Out of my sight before I kill you here and now!” hauled up, Autolycus was dragged to the cabin door. “Get back to Rome and ensure the girl remains safe until I can send troops to the city!”

Thrown out, he tumbled forward finally ending sprawled out on the deck, the door to the Empress' cabin slamming shut behind him.

Xena leaned on the door, her anger in full command.

“Artemis!” She bellowed.


“You are an Amazon, don't your people frown on--“

“Let me deal with that.” Siri stood. Sevastain watching as she began to remove her armor.

Not wanting to be boorish, he closed his eyes, closing them tighter when he felt Siri move to lie in the bed beside him.

“Is my appearance so displeasing that you shut your eyes?”

“I…I didn't mean to… What I mean is, I didn't, um... want to…offend.” Sevastian tensed as her arm gently lay across the silken blankets over his chest. “Are you bare!?” he squeaked.

“Yes. Sleeping in clothing is stupid.” Her lips touched his ear in a soft kiss. “Tell me…” Siri smiled deviously “…when we bed together, shall I be your first?”

Subtlety is not an Amazon trait… thought Sevastain.

“Are we not in bed now?” he dodged.

“Not what I mean and you know it.” Siri replied, clearly amused at his nervousness.

“I… Yes…” he said soft in answer to her question.

“There is no shame in it.” She replied while taking his arm, maneuvering it round her. He touched her back gently as she cuddled up feeling the muscle underneath shift with her movements. By gods she was strong!

“Sevastian, you must relax, I would not think of doing anything untoward in your delicate condition, we'll save that for when you are healed.

His eyes widened in shock.

“How is it you can be so lethal on the battlefield, so ruthless in carrying out the directives of our Empress, and yet so innocent in the bedroom?” She cuddled closer, “I'm not hurting you am I?”

“No.” he barely managed to whisper. His mind racing, trying to take in all that had just transpired. She had declared her love, then undressed, and now was lying next to him.

All and all…they had a very short-lived courtship.

“You feel as cold as the icy snow…” she murmured in his ear. One of her legs shifted to drape over his.

“Rest. Sevastian.”

“How long have I...”

“Three cycles of Helios spent in and out of consciousness. The Empress herself spent much time at your bedside ministering over you.”

“Too long to be lying about I should think.”

“It is not and you will continue to lie here and heal. That is an order.”

“From the Empress?”

“No, from me,” Siri shifted even closer. “I am second in command of this army, at least for the duration.”

Sevastain smiled. “I would not dream of disobeying an order from the high commander.”

“Wise, though I've never had to order someone to stay in bed with me. ” her hand moved up, fingers roving through his hair once more. “I believe I am offended.”

Oh gods... thought a tired Sevastian. I've gone and insulted her

“I am teasing.”

Hearing no response, she raised up slightly, concerned for him.

He had gone back to sleep, the tea taking effect.

“You are adorable.” Siri kissed his cheek, and then lay back against him.


The goddess appeared…

“You look troubled Xena.”

“Amazons surrounding Gabrielle is the trouble! I tell you, should something happen to that girl—!“

“Calm yourself, they only give protection.”

“I did your dirty work!” Xena raged. “I ordered the killing of the followers of the one god! I sacked Jerusalem ! In return, the Pantheon agreed to no interference where Gabrielle is concerned!”

“ Rome is quickly descending into chaos, would you have me leave the girl to face the barbarian onslaught alone? I remind you this was a situation you created Conqueror.”

“At the time, I did not know that she was in Rome !” Xena thundered. Artemis remained serene in the face of Ares gift, but was glad not to be mortal and facing Xena's rage.

“Xena you are cursed with a temper that flashes as quickly at the flint sparks fire.”

“Me?!” Xena said indignant; raising a hand she pointed an accusing finger directly at the goddess. “Least I don't turn people into stags!”

“That was a different situation.” Artemis replied.

“But germane I should think,” retorted Xena, “Don't put on airs, you are not the goddess of peace and tranquility.”

Artemis sat gracefully, watching as Xena fiddled a bit with her crimson robe, tightening the sash about her waist.

“Admit it, having Amazons surrounding Gabrielle is a good idea. Is it not?”

“It is…” Xena confessed after some considerable length of time, her temper having abated.

“And the girl will be waiting for you when you take Rome ,” Artemis continued. “But I would suggest you speed up your plans, as the barbarian horde moves closer to the city every moment.”

As Artemis spoke, Xena moved to slump down in the chair behind her desk. Feeling too tired to order the goddess to move out of her large camp chair. “Cleon and Agis will move overland, to cut the off barbarians from retreating.” One hand rose, fingers rubbing against her temple. “I shall land my force to the north of Rome , and like hammer and anvil crush the barbarians between my armies.”

“A good plan, but it would take time.”

“Yes…” Xena said soft. “I cannot move faster. The people of Hispania and Gual starve and—“

“Since when does Ares Chosen care if people suffer?”

“I was the one who encouraged these people to rebel against Rome ; I should be the one who helps them recover.”

“Xena, the Conqueror displays compassion.” Artemis smiled.

“Yeah, well, don't get used to it.”

“I think it suits you, working for the greater good.”

“Greater good of my Empire. I wonder…” Xena sat up slightly. “Would the goddess of the Amazons be willing to urge her people to attack the barbarians in Italy ? Slow them down, until I can move enough troops to crush the Germans once and for all?”

“You mean have my Amazons in Greece venture forth and fight?”

“Yes. It would relieve some pressure on Rome . Having them attack the German force from behind.” Xena quirked an eyebrow at the goddess, “Since you say you care about Gabrielle… Tell me, how far will you go to help to protect her?”

Artemis sat silent, thinking on the proposition. “I have interfered enough, more than I should.”

“C'mon! You owe me!” Xena implored. “I spared your nation. I am also rebuilding your temples at Ephesus and Brauron.”

“All true Conqueror, but these Amazons you call upon are very young and quite green, they are not ready for a fight.”

“They only need to skirmish with the Germans, not engage directly.

“Perhaps…” Artemis smiled coy, “If I do as you wish, you would build a temple to me in Corinth ?”

“Oh, why not?” Xena intoned with scorn. “Think of what you ask! You want Ares Chosen to build a new temple to you in Corinth . I'm sure that will go over well with the God of War.”

“And recommission the temples of Rome to me.” Artemis persisted. “My name is not Diana, the Romans bastardize everything.”

“Why...?” asked Xena, “Why are you gods so interested in Temples ?”

“Our followers must have a place so show devotion.” Artemis replied.

“Mmmm… perhaps, or maybe you need them, like mortals need…” Xena shrugged “…food? Are they a source of power for you immortals?”

“Do we have a bargain Conqueror?” Asked Artemis, displeased with the turn in this conversation.

“Why would you want that power Artemis? By all accounts, you don't like the politics of Olympus , or even dealing with us lowly mortals.”

“Have you given much thought to your actions in building temples to Ares, or to conquering an empire in his name?”

“One temple is very much like another, I care little about any of them.” Replied Xena. “And it is my empire, conquered in my name.”

Artemis shifted in her chair a bit. “I tell you now, what many have observed on Olympus . Ares power has grown prodigious in scope because of your actions as his chosen. Now many say he second only to Zeus. You, more than anyone knows how dark Ares can be; after all, he has great influence over you.”

“He likes to think so.” Xena's words caused Artemis to chuckle.

“I become more and more wary of Ares growing power, as cocky as he is, at some point or another, he will overstep his bounds. I must be in position to stop him.”

“For the greater good, I'm sure.” Xena wiggled her brows.

“Do we have a bargain? Seems we both get what we want.”

“Agreed,” Xena stood. “I will order your temple built and those in Rome recommissioned.”

“Good, but as we are bartering back and forth, I ask for one more concession.”

“And what, pray-tell, would that be?” Xena rounded the desk, and then leaned against it.

“I want the Amazon Siri to be in command of one of your Army groups.”

“I have Solari in command of my own Guard, Siri in charge of cavalry, now you ask me to allow her to lead an entire Army group. Planning a coup Artemis?”

“Nothing of the sort, the Amazons revere you. No, I want one of your Army groups to be made up entirely of my people.

“It would take 50,000 Amazons to populate an army group.”

“You shall have them if you place Siri in charge, she will build the force over time.”

“I do not trust your motives Artemis that is too much power in the hands of Amazons. Too many of your people still harbor some hatred of me.”

“Yes, hatred is a powerful emotion, one that is difficult for mortals and even gods to overcome. So I will add one more concession ruler of Greece .”

“And what would that be?”

“Gods often ask for loyalty from mortals.”

“True.” Xena replied simply.

“What if I were to give you mine?”

Xena was shocked. “You would do such a thing?” she asked warily.

“Yes, replied Artemis, to ensure the allegiance of my people to you. Give me what I wish and here and now, I will give you my word of loyalty.”

“Very well, I agree to your conditions.” Despite the potential problems, she couldn't turn down the chance of having Artemis on her side, plus 50,000 Amazons in her army. Though Amazons were a pain in the butt, they were the best warriors in the known world.

There's a bargain made. Artemis stood and moved close to Xena. The deity cupped Xena's cheek in her hand.

“I: Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, Goddess of the hunt, Protectoress of women, Thus shall take this oath of fidelity: I will to Xena, be true and faithful, and love all which she loves and shun all which she shuns, according to the laws of Olympus and the order of the world. Furthermore, I ensure the loyalty of my people, the Amazons. I hold to this agreement so long as Xena advances the cause of my people and protects them.”

“It is done.” Atemis pronounced while causally slinging her bow over a shoulder. “Do not make me regret what has transpired between us Xena.”

The deity vanished.

Xena smiled feral. The trials and tribulations of dealing with Amazons had just paid off most handsomely. She had the –conditional- loyalty of a goddess. Quite a bargaining chip against Ares…

The God of War would be most upset, when this news reached him.

Chapter 41

With a start, she woke.

Realizing she had fallen asleep at her desk, Xena leaned forward slowly to place elbows on the desk while her hands covered her face.

“A constant companion these visions…” She lamented. “Gabrielle…”

A knock on the door caused her to look up. “Come.”

The boy Felix, a former slave of Caesar's now appropriated as her own, entered the cabin with her breakfast. With Roman style he moved to serve the de jure conqueror of Rome .

In silence, wine was placed before her, along with several barley cakes; a few round teganites with honey set near, along with a smattering of figs, cheeses, and dried fish.

After tasting each of the selections, the slave immediately stepped away from the table to take up a ready position against the wall of the cabin. Perfection of service, no backtalk, no carefully delivered jabs designed to skirt the edges of her temper.

There were moments in which she missed Kodi…

Xena stood, rounding the desk to sit gracefully at the table. Dipping a bit of barley cake into wine, she broke her fast all the while thinking as to what her next move should be. Commanders Agis, and Cleon in Hispania and Gaul delivering grain to the multitudes. Amazons preparing for war with the German barbarians due to her deal with Artemis. That last gave her pause, she had made a deal with Artemis.

Ares would be displeased, most displeased…

The question which had nagged at her for some time was this: did she really need Ares? Once he had been the master and she the student, but she had since grown beyond him. What could he offer her now? Still, she had sworn to be loyal all those cycles ago.


Felix stepped forward, bowing low to her without speaking.

“Take the missives on my desk to the runners.”

“Yes, Empress.”

“Then draw me a bath.”


Siri let out a sigh filled with annoyance, her breath tickling his ear. “When we go to Rome ,” she burred sexily, “I shall see that we have a proper bed, this one is much too small.”

We… after so many years of… I… Sevastain found it odd hearing the term… we.

Glancing over, the one thing he wasn't surprised to see Siri all scrunched up as she lay next to him.

After all, she was Amazonian in height.

“It is almost day.” She observed. “Though I would rather stay here with you, I must fulfill my obligations to the Conqueror.” A touch of her lips to his, and she moved to get up.

“Siri…” he said softly. A bit embarrassed that he had to ask.

“Yes?” She turned and Sevastain quickly clamped his eyes shut.

Her laugher caused him to blush, but still he kept his eyes closed.

“I am decent.” She announced after a time.

He opened his eyes to see her dressed in her leathers, but wearing no boots.

“Would you mind helping me up, I—“

“You are to stay in bed.” She ordered.

“If I stay in bed, I'm liable to have an accident.”

Her confused look caused him to sigh loudly. “Siri, I need to use the garter robe.”

“Well, why didn't you just say so?”

He gave her a damming look, but didn't reply, instead focusing on slowly shifting in bed to get up.

Quickly she was by his side, her hand upon his back as he slowly leaned forward. His side hurt, but the tight bandaging round his chest, kept the stitching from pulling.

Thankfully, he had loose woolen trousers on, not only because he would have been uncomfortable is being bare, but also because he was so very cold. Weakness still plagued him, evidence of that was how difficult it was stand. If Siri had not been supporting him, he might have fallen.

“Little steps…” she said, voice near his ear, her arms supporting him as they both walked to the garter robe

“Do you need help?”

“No, no… he said quickly, mortified at the thought of her actually being in the privy with him. “I'll manage…”

“Well…” she paused debating whether or not to go against his wishes. “I'll be right outside.”

Being injured is never pleasant; for a number of reasons, one of which is that it takes longer to perform even the most simple of tasks. His first experience with injury was falling from a horse at the temple school and ending up with a broken arm. Not having use of your arm, certainly teaches some degree of patience.

“You okay?” Siri called from outside the door.

“Doing well,” He replied, while moving slowly to wash his hands and face, pouring water from the clay jug into the basin.

The door opened and then she was behind him, long arms supporting him again, he tensing a bit, not used to being touched so.

“See,” he finished washing his face. “I'm fine.”

Crouching a bit, she rested her chin upon the top of his head, studying him in the reflection of the shined mirror of bronze. “I have learned when you say all is well, that I should be worried.” Her reply caused him smile contritely for causing her worry.

“C'mon then.” She urged “Back to bed.”

“Maybe I could just sit a moment?” Sevastain looked up at her. “I'm a bit sore from lying in bed so long.” he added, feeling a need to justify his request.

She settled him into a chair.

“It is good you are up and about.”

The Amazon whipped round to spot Xena standing on the balcony with her back to them. Instantly Siri knelt.

Placing his hands upon the armrests Sevastain attempted to rise


Sevastain gladly halted his attempt to stand, at Xena's order.

“Siri, the morning reports await, to your duties Amazon.” A snap of fingers and a raised finger indicated the door.

“Yes, Empress,” Standing, she sheepishly picked up her boots, and then departed.

“That was fast.” Xena turned and smirked at him after Siri had gone. “Cupids arrows sure hit the mark with you two.”

“This… it… surprised me too.”

“Well, she'll certainly keep you on your toes.” Xena grinned, “…and not just due to her height.”

Sevastain blushed with embarrassment, wishing he could melt into the chair.

Deciding to end her torturing, she walked to him.

Sevastain had to admit, the empress wore a most impressive set of armor. Long boots capped with steel knee protectors, leather flaud skirt, dyed red in the Roman style. A cream colored quilted doublet with bronze armor overlay, and lion heads as shoulder guards, mouths open to allow her arms to pass through.

Like the ones I saw … Sevastain knew he had seen such before, at the moment he couldn't place where.

Walking over to him, her blood red cape flared out a moment, before she knelt, her fingers working to undo the bandaging. He sat stark still as Xena did so.

“You no longer need this.” She removed the poultice, and then after inspecting the wound began re-wrapping the bandages tightly round his chest.

“Sensei, many thanks to you for attending me while injured.” Sevastian did not dare meet her eyes, such was his shame, “Especially after my ineptitude in taking El Daba.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The Roman cavalry caught me unawares, the men failing to breech the walls more quickly, the haphazard way I rushed into battle, the—“

“War Deshi, has been best described as a series of catastrophes which leads to victory.” Xena made sure to look him in the eye. “You did fine, think no more of it.”

“As you wish, Sensei.”

“I have much work for you to do. You will sail to Alexandria in a fortnight, after the healer removes your stitches. There you will pick up grain, loading it into the ships of the Egyptian fleet. You will sail to Corinth , by the time you reach Greek shores the various Militia's will be assembled and waiting. Pack them into the ships and sail to Ostia .”

“Italia herself,” said Sevastain with awe. Ostia was the principal seaport for the city of Rome . Finally it had come to pass, the invasion of Rome .

“Yes…” Xena drawled. Satisfied his wound was properly bandaged, she stood to again sit upon the bed. “In Rome ; all order is quickly breaking down due to the advancing Barbarian Germans.” She smiled knowingly seeing that Sevastain understood why the barbarians were in Italia, though the plan had been hatched long ago.

“When you land, march your force slowly to Rome . Let the people know you are no threat to them that you land with peaceful intent. Be sure to state that you have been called to Rome by the Senate; I shall give you missives from the noble Brutus stating just that. Make use of my soldiers to distribute Egyptian grain to feed the people and restore order to the city.

She leaned towards him. “If called by the Senate to appear, do not go to the Senate House. If asked questions by the senators, respond quickly and curtly. As best you can disregard the Senate entirely.

“With your pardon, may I ask why?”

“To show the people, how inept the Senate is, to show them who holds real power over Rome … Xena paused to look him directly in the eye. “You are the conqueror; they the conquered make sure all understand that. Surround yourself with the trappings of power; requisition the finest home, rule from the government buildings in the Forum.

“As you command Sensei, so it will be done.”

“Good. The moment you arrive, work with Autolycus' network of spies and informers, have them begin conversations amongst the people, have them portray the Senate as weak, and unable to protect Rome . If intellects amongst then question this assertion, the response should be that the Senate must rely on the Greek Xena for aid.”

“This is to break the bond between people and senate, isn't it?”

“Yes,” she smiled, Sevastian always got the point.

“Like Caesar, his divide and conquer method.”

Xena shrugged slightly, “When in Rome , do as they do.” She added glibly.

Her expression became solemn. “Gabrielle is in the city.”

He sat up slightly at her statement, knowing the girl was of supreme importance to the Empress.

“She is with Iolaus and surrounded by an Amazon guard. I want him, his household, and Gabrielle placed under heavy guard. Treat them as you would guests.

I want that girl safe.”

“Yes Sensei.”

“Ask it.” Xena ordered at seeing his expression.

“Sensei, I know that Gabrielle is most important to you. Why not just head to Rome immediately?”

She stood, “There are times, when a leader must look to the greater good first, though every fiber in my being wishes otherwise. Rome is in danger, due to my actions. I must be the one to end the barbarian threat. When that is done, I will march into Rome .”

“Now…” She gestured, the Amazons right outside the door, immediately bringing in a tray of food. “Even though you may not feel like it, you must eat something more solid than broth. I sail today; I shall see you in Rome , my second.”

“Yes Empress.”

“Oh, and when you are completely healed, you and I must spar. You defenses against the use of daggers are severely lacking.”

Before he could reply, Xena had gone.

Chapter 42

Taking a scrap of linen from her pack, she used it to clean the gore off her chakram.

She hadn't even bothered to dismount, there was no need.

These barbarians were no match for the power of Greece .

Over and over they attacked, mounted warriors charging directly into her lines of expertly trained pike men. The Germans, though brave, fought without formations, without training, and without competent leadership. Untutored courage is useless in the face of an educated army.

Sitting atop the stallion Abraxas, Xena picked her next target, a barbarian upon a charcoal grey mare. He looked to be a man of some means, his armor having slightly better quality than his compatriots.

A snap of the wrist, and the weapon screamed through the air, cutting through the top of the man's head. As he fell, she casually raised one gauntleted hand, catching the weapon as it returned to her.

“All too easy.” As she was dispassionately picking out her next target, Agis rode up.

“Shame we had to fight here.” He stated, she not bothering to look at him. “Beautiful ground, best damned ground I've seen.”

“The Po Valley is exquisite.” Xena replied.

Agis startled as the chakram left her hand to sail through the air. With mouth agape, he watched it slice right though the armor of a German rider, cutting though to bone, before arching back. Instinctively he ducked down as Xena reached up to snatch the weapon out of the air.

“Is that all you wished to tell me? That this valley is lovely?” She let loose with the weapon again, this time it sawed clear though the arm of a German rider, before he would bring his sword down onto one of her men. In turn she received such a look of gratitude from the boy that even the cold stoic heart of the philosopher Eratosthenes would have melted at the sight.

With a grin and a point of her finger, she redirected his attention back to the next wave of Germans.

“Empress we have him.”

“Him?” she asked with throaty purr.

Agis shifted in the saddle nervously, hand fiddling with the reins. “Alaric, the Chieftain of the Barbarians.”

“Alive or dead?”

Agis ducked again as that evil weapon flew. He unable to speak as he watched the weapon cut the throat of a German before sailing right back to the Empress' waiting hand.


“Good, keep him that way, he will prove useful when I reach Rome . Send me the Amazon named Otere and Siri as well.”

“As you wish Empress,” Agis bowed, reining his horse back, glad to be free of her dark aura.


“Will you not come to the Senate House, to advise us of your intent?”

He continued writing, not bothering to look up. “No.”

“Why not!?” Old Metelius Cimber made no attempt to hide his outrage. “You must! The Senate must be informed of—“

“I do not… Sevastian began slow, sure to articulate every word “take orders from the Senate.”

“I feel it necessary to enlighten you to the fact that the Roman Senate has ruled here for five hundred cycles! The welfare of the people is our responsibility.”

“Oh?” Sevastian looked up after placing the quill neatly in its inkwell. “Then take control of the streets and I shall order my men back to camp.”

“I would not be able to do such.” Cimber replied. “And you know full well the reason why!”

Of course Sevastian knew the reason why. Rome had squandered its resources by putting down rebellions, by civil war amongst its generals, and by war with Greece .

Turning away, Cimber walked a few paces towards the gaggle of senators grouped near the door. As if having gained courage by being nearer his compatriots, he turned and stormed right back to the desk Sevastain was seated behind.

The Amazons behind both moved to place a hand on the hilt of their sword. One of the two women moved to lean against him, resting her arm on his shoulder possessively.

“It is bad enough you insult us by not following decorum—“

“I am not Roman; therefore I feel no need to follow your rules.”

Fine! But you show us no respect by billeting these Amazons in the Senate House! And moreover, tell us why a massive force is gathering outside the walls of the city!?”

“First, The Amazons needed a large space, out of the elements, no better place than your Senate chamber. Second, the troops arrive at the Empress' behest.”

Sevastian picked up the quill and began to write again, leaving Metelius to stand and fume.

Sevastian spoke without looking up. “By this decree, you see me writing, the Empire henceforth takes command of the fire and police brigades, the Vigiles as you Romans call them. The Praefectus Vigilum who commands them will report directly to me.”

“First you take control of the magistrates, then the treasury, now the fire and police brigades!” Metelius slammed his fist down on the desk. The force of the strike tipped the delicate inkwell over, its contents spilling down the front of the desk to drip upon the marble floor.

“This is tyranny!” he shouted.

Scooting the parchment over, Sevastain calmly finished writing, then dripped hot wax and impressed his seal, the Rising Phoenix.

“No,” he responded after a time, “this is Empire.”

“I remind you senator, that it was the noble Brutus who appealed to the Empress for aid. Right now, she is fulfilling her part of the bargain by ending the barbarian threat.”

“Brutus would not have sent his entreaty had he known your Empress would send you to dismantle our republic!”

“I do not think the Roman people see it as you do. Rome has regained peace and security under capable Greek rule. They-”

“The plebeian masses, trade freedom for security, they shall soon open their eyes to find they have neither!” Cimber pounded the desk again.

“I fear your temper has gotten the best of you Senator. Perhaps, some time spent in the dungeon will allow you the time needed to calm down” Sevastian gestured to the Amazons standing guard. Metelius was too shocked to even speak as he was hauled from the chamber.

He then looked to the other select members of the Senate, by their expressions; it appeared his point had been made. “If you wish to discuss the issue further, the Empress will be here within the next fortnight, I suggest you take up the matter of despotism with her. I'm sure she will listen to your pleas and find some…accommodation for you.”

The cowed men meekly filed out of the chamber, the door shutting behind them. An instant later it opened again

“The Amazon Queen,” The door guard immediately knelt.

Seeing Ephiny, Sevastain stood. Siri and Echephyle moved forward to kneel.

Rounding the desk, he paused to gracefully bow low to her in the style of Chin. “Queen of all Amazons, it is good to see you again.”

“Lord Commander of the Greek Empire,” Ephiny did not bow to him in return, he would have been shocked if she had done so. Being a Amazon, and furthermore a Queen, she would never debase herself by bowing to the likes of him.

“Rise, return to your duties.” Ephiny paused to gently take hold of Siri's hands. “I am glad to finally meet Artemis' favored.”

“My Queen,” Siri dipped her head.

“Do you wish to challenge me for the throne?”

The shock in Siri's eyes told Ephiny what she already knew, but propriety demanded it be asked.


“Very well then,” Ephiny let go to Siri's hands. “I hear much talk of what the Conqueror has asked of you. In the entire history of our people, there has never been an Amazon force of such size, you wield great power Siri.”

“To be used for the good of our nation, my Queen.”

“Yes, of course.”

Sevastain cleared his throat ending a rather awkward silence. “I do apologize and meant no disrespect by not coming to see you. I did not wish to create a fuss, by showing up with guard in tow. It would have only served to start rumors.

“I understand, as you are watched by many Lord Commander. Your pardon, if I say that you look tired.” Ephiny gazed down at him; her look was one of sympathy, she knowing that being the one in charge was no simple task.

“Managing Rome has proved to be quite a trial.” Sevastain let out a sigh. “Dealing with the Empress of Chin, Maharajahs from India , Meleager Mercer, Talamdeus, Menticlies, and the list goes on and on.

“You've had much to worry about over these last ten fortnights.”

Sevastain stepped toward her, his voice low. “I tell you, I do not know how the Empress deals with it all. She wishes me to convey her thanks to you for continuing to ensure that Gabrielle remains safe.”

“The Amazon nation is honored to do the Empress' bidding. Speaking of which, I have here someone I know you requested to meet Lord Commander.” Ephiny moved out of the way and her guard parted to reveal an extremely nervous slave.

“You must be Gabrielle.” There was a hint of triumph in Sevastians tone. Finally here before him was the girl the Empress desired so.

She nodded mutely.

“At long last…” He stepped forward to clasp the hands of the slave. “It is so good to meet you Gabrielle.”

“I-I am happy to meet you as well Lord Commander.”

“Please,” he smiled. “Call me Sevastian, no titles.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed while brushing past him to walk toward the desk. “Ink is so very precious!”

His eye caught Siri observing the crouching girl, she then looked up and seeing his gaze quirked an eyebrow at him.

“It is indeed Gabrielle, a waste that it was spilled.” Sevastain thought a moment. “Do you write?”

“Oh no! Ink and parchment is so very expensive.”

“Would you like me to get you some? I've heard from many that you are an excellent teller of tales, perhaps you'd like to write them down?”

“Thank you, Lor-- Sevastain.” The girl stood fully. “But I am not advanced enough in my letters to actually write.”

“Well, I'm sure the Empress will rectify that.”

Gabrielle appeared quite apprehensive after that statement. “Slaves are not to be taught to read or write by law.” Regretting speaking up, the girl fell silent, dipping her head down as means of apology.”

“I think in time you will understand that…” he began soft so as to let her know he was by no means upset. “The Empress is the state; all things are possible with her. If she wishes you learn to read and write, then it will be done.”

Gabrielle seemed to consider that for a moment. “Thank you for allowing me to continue staying in the townhouse. I enjoy taking care of the masters horses.”

“Most welcome, I hope those guarding you have behaved themselves.”

“They have been most kind; though Autolycus does much boasting.”

“I see, now you know where to be when the Empress arrives?”

“Yes, Lord- I mean Sevastain.”

“Good, if there is anything I can do just—“

“Actually there is something.” She interjected. “Iolaus, he is a kind man. I know he has angered the Empress, but he only did what he thought was best. Would… would you tell her that?”

“I will.” Sevastain smiled warmly, “You can also tell her such when you meet.”

“Yes, I hope I may be brave enough to do so. The Empress is most fearsome.”

“True, but she is also capable of much kindness. I have seen it myself and so will you.”

Gabrielle seemed to take comfort in his words.


“That is who we've been searching for?” Siri was quite dismissive. “It is hard to believe that tiny scrap of a slave has such hold of the Empress' attention. She is so very timid, and innocent. It is difficult to fathom what Xena sees in her.”

Siri spoke her thoughts only after the girl and accompanying Amazons had gone. As they were alone in the chamber, she moved behind him to drape her arms over his shoulders. He did not pass up the opportunity to lean back against her.

“One of the many evils of slavery is how it destroys the will. She is timid like many slaves are timid, afraid to speak as it might lead to punishment. But, unlike many slaves she harbors much innocence due to the kindness of Iolaus. His ownership saved the girl from abuse.”

“She should have never been made a slave!” Siri argued passionately. “And no one should suffer abuse!

“I agree.” She watched as his shoulders slumped forward. “However, the world is not how we wish it to be.”

“You have the Empress' ear Sevastain; you could be a powerful force for change.” Siri counseled.

“Me? Why I'm merely a servant.”

“As are we all, but some servants are higher placed than others, in essence you are second in command of the empire. I tell you some of these female slaves could be put to better use.”

“Warriors…” Sevastain said soft, “You are thinking of Amazon warriors.”

“Of course,” She whispered back seductively, “warriors I can hand select, then train to be the finest fighting force every created.”

“Having freed slaves, as Amazons may present its own set of problems, but I will speak with the Empress about the issue.”

“Thank you.”

He clasped her hand, “I am so very glad you were not hurt in fighting the barbarians.”

“The Army of our Empire annihilated those Germans. They being stretched too thin, their men bloated and lazy from having taken to spoil. Why their horses were so heavily laden with treasure, they could barely maneuver. After the Germans suffered defeats, their army dissipated into rag-tag units. The most difficult part in achieving final victory was tracking the many splinter groups down and destroying them.”

“How did your Amazons fare?”

Her arms wrapped bout him tighter. “Not one single loss. Oh Sevastain! We were a sight to see! While some among us would like to take all the credit, we have your training to thank for our success.”

She leaned in. “And don't you tell anyone I said that.” She whispered in his ear.

“Not a word.” He replied while turning to face her.

“You look as if you have something on your mind, so serious.” She teased while running her fingers through his hair.

“Gabrielle will prove to be quite a force.”

Siri was skeptical, “Helpless as a newborn colt, that one.”

“I know how it must seem looking at her now, but she will be Siri. From the start, treat her with respect.”

He looked up to see a smirk upon her lips. “I will, firstly because she is a woman, secondly for you. Now… can we leave politicking behind long enough for you to show me Rome ?”

“Of course,” He clasped her hand and they began to walk slowly to the chamber door. “What would you like to see first? One of his hands rose gesturing flamboyantly. “The rest of Caesar's grand home? The Circus Maximus? The Colosseum?”

“The bed chamber,” She replied.


He was alone, but not alone, being surrounded by many ghosts named regret.

The room was dark, the hour late.

Sitting in a chair, he watched the low flames dance within the massive marble fronted fireplace. Every so slowly glassy eyes moved upward to idly study the carvings in the cladding above. Carved into the marble were figures in bas-relief who told the tale of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome .

Grasping the kylix he finished the wine within, spilling a fair amount on his tunic. With an audible grunt, he stood, stumbling a bit as he gained his feet. Lurching round, he fumbled his way to the side board. Once there he roughly grasped the jug, sloshing more wine into the cup, and then deciding he may as well take a few swallows directly from the jug for good measure.

Turning he was intent on making it back to his chair.


Wobbling a bit of his feet, he peered into the darkest corner of the room, and there in a long black cloak and hood was what appeared to be a person. Due to a mind clouded by the haze of drink, he needed to lean forward to look a bit more closely.

It was most certainly a person…

The figure glided toward him.

His breath hitched as it loomed up over him. It could only be…

“Long ago, you told me something…” the feminine voice was velvety smooth and had a distinct edge to it. “You said, not today, Xena, not today. Now I say to you Iolaus that today has come.”

“You use my own words against me. How it must have chafed you that I managed to escape your tentacles at Piraeus .”

Her hands rose, pulling the hood of her cloak back. There once more was the woman who had seduced him and then turned him against the greatest hero of all time… Hercules.

“Fool that I am, I still find myself entranced by your beauty.”

She said nothing in reply, shrugging out of her cloak to reveal black leathers, covered by bronze armor.

“If you have come to kill me, I ask only that you make it quick.” She watched, inwardly amused as he slumped down in his chair and took another gulp of wine. “After all you've taken everything else from me, might as well take my life as well.”

Too much alcohol did tend to induce a false sense of bravado…

He watched as Xena threw her cloak upon his desk, then moved to the side board and poured herself some wine. Walking back she paused to toss a couple more logs onto the fire.

“May I sit?” she asked giving him a beautiful smile.

“It's your Empire; you can do whatever you want.” His gaze remained on the fireplace.

After a momentary smirk, Xena proceeded to sit in the overstuffed chair beside him, burnished leathers creaking softly as she did. After some moments she crossed one long leg over the other. Idly, she began to gently kick her crossed leg at the knee, one of her polished boots swaying back and forth.

“Well, look at us.” Ioulas scoffed. “Sitting here like two old chums.”

“Should you wish to yell, or curse my name, you'd be well within your right.”

“It would do no good, Hercules would still be gone and you would still be here.”

She took a sip of wine. “What I did, I make no apologies for. I could not conquer an Empire with that sap of a demi-god around to thwart my plans.

“If you call fighting for justice sappy, I'll happily be counted in Hercules number.”

“The world only understands force Iolaus, Justice depends on who is holding the sword.”

“Justify your actions any way you wish Xena, I still call them evil.”

For some time they both sat in silence, each lost in thought.

“Your sweet words, your spurious flattery, your fawning attention, all based on lies and deceit.” She noted his tone held no anger, only acceptance.

“Again, necessary to defeat Hercules, everyone has a weakness Iolaus, you were Hercules Achilles' heel”.

“Such cold calculation,” your heart is made of stone Xena. “I rue the day I met you.”

“Iolaus, don't dwell in the past, you can't go back there. We all have some remorse, it is what you do now that is important, not what you've done in the past.”

“You're going to take her aren't you?” Iolaus gaze remained on the flames.


Xena produced a bag of gold coin, sitting it on the side table between them.

“Don't I get my weight in gold?” he mocked.

“It can be arranged.”

“I want none of it.”

For the first time since their conversation started Iolaus looked directly at her. “Don't do this to Gabrielle, Don't take her Xena. Don't snuff out the beautiful light that shines within--.”

“I will have her!” She shouted.

“Why must you!?” Iolaus yelled back

Xena stood, “For your kindness toward the girl, I pardon you for the crime of withholding her from me.”

“Why, thank you Xena.” Iolaus intoned mockingly.

She gave him an icy look while donning her cloak.

“Have you visited her yet?” he referring to Gabrielle.

“No.” She walked toward the door.

“Are you afraid?”

Xena stopped her back to him.

“I am afraid of nothing.”

“Yes, you are.” he replied smugly while standing. “Afraid the girl will reject you. And of where your temper may lead you if she does.”

In silence, she left him.

Ioulas threw the cup holding his wine, it smashing against the marble of the fireplace.

Chapter 43

The ornate censer swung back and forth on its chain, releasing plumes of sweet smelling incense.

It was held by a man in the habit of his station. A tunic of all black, covered by a cowl with hood over his head. On his hip, a sword, on his feet, black boots.

The traditional dress for Ares' acolytes

The masses of Rome in their hundreds of thousands watched silent as Ares disciples passed. They were at the head of a mighty procession to the very heart of Rome , the Forum where members of the Roman aristocracy awaited the arrival of the Greek Xena.

Behind Ares acolytes, in great display, the many Governors of the Greek Empire walked. Next to each a standard bearer holding aloft a flag, symbol of the Provence they ruled in the name of the Empress. All together some 150 Governors, placed in control of lands from India , across the vastness of Asia, down to Egypt , through Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea to Hispania, Gaul , and now Italia herself.

Some walking amongst them controlled no province, the Empress appointing them to rule regions in Germania , Britannia, and even the frozen Norse lands. It was a harbinger of things to come; the Empire would continue to expand.

As impressive as Ares Acolytes and the governors were, the attentions of the throng were elsewhere. Focused on the men holding cloth sacks stuffed with silver pieces. Thousands of hands stretched out, voices pleading as the men reached into the sacks, taking hold of gobs of silver coin to throw into the crowd. The miserable plebeian poor of Rome cheered wildly, many having never actually seen a silver coin much less possessed one.

The silver pieces far outpaced the few copper coins the Senators had paid the crowds to keep them from cheering.

The men of the various Geek Militias marched past. These were older men, veterans long retired from fighting. They were dressed in timeworn armor, painted rounded shields, old style Greek swords, and helmets with horsehair plumes. These, the people knew, were members of the Empress' militia who had restored order to Rome under the direction of a man titled Lord Commander.

Meleager rode past, the most senior of Xena's commanders. His men the people knew well, as they helped in the darkest of days to distribute grain to the starving and to start the great Aqueducts flowing again. His men marched with pride, knowing that in any army, those who handle logistics are the most valuable.

Talmadeus followed, one of many army commanders turned governor. A fair number of the men within his ranks were native to India , the conquered, joining their conquerors as part of a unified Empire.


“By Artemis have you ever seen the like?”

“Never, Siri.”

Looking about the space from high above, Sevastain was pleased to note all was ready for the Xena's arrival. From every temple, every single basilica draped the new standard of the Empress, and it was a fearful one indeed. A black circle, within the great eagle of Rome with wings outstretched. Behind the gold eagle the red “X” of the Empress' given name. Beneath those massive banners the people of Rome peeped about. Gathered by the thousands to watch the grand show as it unfolded within the confines of the Forum. Even the weather had cooperated, beautiful blue shone in the firmament above, a cooling breeze wafting through the city.

“If it please you Lord Commander, I will show where you need to stand.”

“Lead on Vidalus and we shall follow.”

Walking behind Xena's Mayor-domo, Sevastain stepped between the massive columns of the Temple of Mars . Immediately upon his appearance under the Empress' banner heralds sounded trumpets, the reverberations of the sharply played staccato notes echoing off the stone structures.

As he and Siri walked down the impressive flight of stairs, the crowds rose up, giving the Roman salute.

The old greybeards of the Senate also rose as he reached the elevated landing at the bottom of the stair. Paying them no mind, Sevastain continued walking down the luxurious red carpeting to the spot pointed to deftly by Vidalus. As if a ghost the man immediately disappeared, not wishing to detract from the appearance of Xena's highest ranked subordinate and the fearsome looking Amazon Commander standing behind.

“You look so cute in Roman Armor Sevastian.” Siri bent slightly at the waist, speaking softly in his ear.

“Clunking metal plates...” he muttered darkly causing her to chuckle.

Siri couldn't resist, she moved her arm up, resting it on his shoulder.

They both looked forward toward the Arch of Constantine, under whose massive portal Xena's procession would end.


The raucous crowd lining the road fell silent as the strange warriors passed by, warriors unlike anything before seen in Rome .

Women, some dressed in leathers, others in metal armor marched. Some had incredibly fearsome masks pulled back so their faces, streaked as they were with war paint, could be seen. Others wore helmets with beautifully dyed horse hair plumes which made the already towering warriors appear even larger.

And what weaponry these women carried! Bows strung over shoulders, with quivers of arrows across their back. In hand, some had long swords, on their person, daggers. Still others held a strangely shaped weapon, the handle of which connected two opposite facing blades. More carried frighteningly painted wooden shields and the youngest among them the simple yet deadly staff.

Not a man mocked, or dared even speak. These women warriors, Amazones in the Latin tongue were clearly not to be trifled with.

At her rightful place at the head of the procession, the Queen of the Amazon Nation walked.


Within the Forum, heralds played once more. The notes sounding majestically, with a tone quality that was dark and foreboding. This time it was sounded by mounted riders as they passed under Constantine 's Arch. Directly behind the heralds, the Empress Old Guard Calvary, with Alistair in the lead.

Thousands of Amazons went to work, pushing the crowds in the open square back to make room for those in the procession. Once that was completed, the women linked arms together, to hold the teeming populace back.

The riders parted, taking up position on either side of the Grand temple of Mars . The Acolytes of Ares then appeared under Constantine 's Arch, walking solemnly toward where both Siri and Sevastian stood. Their intent clear, to walk up the steps and enter the temple.

With swiftness, Amazons quickly moved to block their path, standing in front of Siri and Sevastian, linking arms to not allow the men to pass. At this, the senators shifted in their seats prattling at each other while nervous murmurs rose the great crowd surrounding them.

“You will salute the high commander.” Siri ordered, after pushing through the lines of Amazons to stand in front of the leader of these foolish little men.

The Acolytes drew their swords, causing the Amazons to do the same.

“We do not recognize anyone but Lord Ares.” The headman replied. “You will allow us to pass.”

“If you do not render the salute, we shall see how Ares dogs, fight against Artemis' own.” Siri replied, her response causing the women standing behind her to laugh tauntingly.

Must we always have theatrics…? Thought Sevastain, before he could say a word to halt this display, the headman, raised his hand in a rather half-hearted Imperial Salute, which Sevastain returned quickly to get the standoff to end.

Only then would Siri and her Amazons allow the Acolytes to pass.

“I do not think such a display was necessary.” Sevastian whispered quietly.

“You are the Lord Commander of the Greek Empire.” She replied sternly. “And we Amazons do not tolerate any show of disrespect toward a superior be it you, our great Queen, or the Empress.”

“Understood.” he acknowledged.

“Plus, I do not like to see the one I love slighted.” Siri added soft.

“Love you…” Sevastain replied quickly dipping his head, looking down at his boots to hide his blush.


In awe the crowds along the thoroughfare watched as the colorful silken dragon bobbed and weaved its way passed, its great eyes fluttering opening and closing, the wide mouth doing the same. Its legs were many, the men of Chin within the silk beast, giving it the appearance of life. Every man, woman, and child jumped back with fright. The crowds having never experienced black powder fireworks.

Into the crowds, boys tossed thousands Saun-mei or sour plums. Dried plums, coated in a layer of salt, sweetened with Anise. The poor of Rome , never being able to afford such delicacies, wolfed them down covetously, cheering in gratitude when the grand litter holding the Empress of Chin passed.


The many governors of the Empire formed into a single line as they passed under the arch and into the forum proper. Repeatedly, they raised an arm giving the Imperial salute, Sevastian returning the gesture to each. Then each governor would alternate, one going to the left, the next to the right followed closely by their flag bearers.

“This is tedious.” He groused, while raising his arm to return the salute of the governor of Thrace .

“But it looks so magnificent, my handsome little Samurai” Siri replied teasingly. “And as second in our Empire it is fitting they salute you, fitting they learn their place.” Her tone had changed becoming somber.


Mercer, another of Xena's commander's rode in front of his many troops. As was the case with Talmadeus, a portion of Mercer's men were Persian, more proof to the crowd of the width and breadth of the Empire. As with the men from India , the Persians were exotically dressed with shining helmets of steel and matching armor, wearing long red cloaks, which swayed as they marched past with precision. The interest of many in the crowd was piqued by the highly curved swords hanging from their hip called Shamshir, which was so very different than the Spanish Sword used by the Roman Legions.

As with the Empress of Chin, the crowds were given delicacies, in this case sweet tasting bread the Persian men called Sheermal. As Mercer's troops passed, men walking along the sides of the formations broke off pieces of the bread, placing the bits into a multitude of out stretched hands.


The aristocrats in the Forum looked on with undisguised amazement as the Lord Commander stepped forward to bow low, to a woman! It was one thing for the heathen women to show fealty before their, leader, but another entirely for a man to do so. Women had never been treated with such respect. It was disconcerting to say the least!

“Queen of all Amazons, this day would have never come without the help of your people.” Said Sevastian as Ephiny drew near.

Ephiny decided this would be an appropriate moment to test the true nature of her people's rank within the Empire. She raised her hand, palm down, a challenging smile upon her lips. Would the high Lord Commander choose to show even a greater degree of deference to an Amazon Queen?

Without the slightest hitch, Sevastian dipped his head, gently taking her hand in his own to kiss the signet ring upon her finger. The cheer from the Amazons was deafening, one that clearly demonstrated that the old social order was crumbling.


The Maharajahs of India passed, each man seated high in a gondola atop a war elephant. The great beasts were weighed down with hundreds of pounds of armor. The leaders of India garbed in the traditional dress of their people.

To the side of the column of elephants brightly clothed dancers performed the Kathakali. Each dancer leaped with amazing acrobatic prowess, their feet moving with a complex series of steps. The Roman crowds showed their appreciation in enumerable ways, snapping the finger and thumb, or clapping with the flat palm, even waving the flaps of their togas.

Lackeys walking among the Indian dancers did not pass out edibles; they passed out something so amazing that it caused the crowd to surge forward, requiring the soldiers lining the route to link arms to hold them back.

Diamonds… But not just diamonds were thrown, tiny emeralds, rubies, and various other precious stones were flung into the crowd by the handful. Wealth, the likes of which the populace had never seen rained down. It was as if the people blithely throwing these glimmering stones had no comprehension of their worth!


The forum was becoming quite packed. The various leaders of the Empire arrayed about, all anticipating the moment Xena would arrive.

“Talmadeus appears loathe saluting you Sevastain, I think him dangerous.”

“If he tries anything, the Empress will soon set him to rights.”

“She will send you, to do such.”

He peeked over his shoulder at Siri for a moment. There she was, standing tall and so very beautiful. He had no idea why she chose to love him, but he was glad for it. “We do as ordered, none are indispensable in this Empire, none save the Empress.”

They both turned hearing urgent sounding footsteps approaching.

“Lord Commander!” Eponin looked most upset.


“Gabrielle is gone!”

“Gone!” Siri was incensed, “You were tasked with guarding her!”

“How?” Sevastian asked tersely.

“I… I don't… Eponin faltered. “She was standing next to me and while I was looking directly at her… well, she vanished!”

“You expect us to believe that! You lost the girl!” Siri charged. “Do you know what the Conqueror is going to---“

“Siri.” Her name spoken by Sevastian caused the Amazon commander to fall silent.

“Get back in that temple and search it high and low.” He ordered.

“Already done,” Eponin's speech was rushed due panic, “except for the main temple, we cannot get the bronze doors to open.”

“Have you tried pulling on them?” Siri asked cuttingly.

“Something is not right. No one just disappears…unless…” Sudden enlightenment marked Sevastian's features. “From what you've told me, I think this has more to do with gods then men.”

“Ares…” both women said in unison.

“Eponin, have your Amazons guard the doors of the inner temple. I will be the one to tell the Empress when she arrives.”

Xena would not be pleased


The Hestian virgins dressed all in white leaped and bounded in great display while shaking their tambourines.

As if it were some type of competition, the Vestal virgins of Rome did the same while knocking claves together in rhythm.

Cyprian was uninterested in the virgins dancing by; his thoughts were on what was in the pouch inside his tunic. The silver coin, the precious stones… it made him glad to have shown patience in working his way to the front of the crowd. For the thousandth time, he checked to see that his leather purse was still in its place.

A murmur rolling though the crowds caused him to look up just at the right moment. He thanked quick reflexes for being able to catch one of the many shining objects flying through the air.

“By Jupiter!” he whispered at closer inspection of the object, “A gold coin!”

He looked round, seeing all round him with similar expression, dazzled by the allure of holding pure gold. Gazing downward again, his mouth fell agape as he continued to study the wondrous object. On the front, symbols he knew well, the great eagle of Rome , wings outstretched with arrows jutting from the claws. Flipping the coin over Cyprian studied the reverse. Along the edge of the coin were two laurel leaves, in the center the shield and spear representing the God Mars. Looking closer he noted writing along the edge of the coin. He couldn't read it…

“What is this writing?” he asked the man nearest.

“How should I know boy?” the old coot snapped. “It's in Greek!

Cyprian was dismayed, wanting to know what the letters meant. He looked more closely as if doing so would magically make the words readable.

“Xena ? ?ata?t?t??” he said slow, trying to sound it out. He knew the first word, of course, the Empress given name.

“? ?ata?t?t??…. ?ata?t?t??…”

“It means Xena the Conqueror.”

Cyprian looked back to see a tallish man smiling at him.

“Thank you!” Cyprian replied, happy to know what the writing was.

“Why, you're most welcome.” the man replied. His fingers raked his mustache a smile appeared on his lips. “Look there” he pointed, “and see your Conqueror.”

Cyprian faced forward again.

There! There she was!

“Conqueror!” he shouted as loud as possible.

Her head turned toward him, beautiful blue eyes shining… She winked! Winked at him! Cyprian hopped with joy. She was beautiful!

“Conqueror!” he shouted over and over again.

A flash of white, as Xena chose to grace him with a smile and as she did, the assembled multitude picked up the boys mantra, chanting…



The great wooden doors of Constantine 's Arch closed, surrounding Sevastain in gallant show was the leadership of the entire Empire.

An anticipatory silence fell across the whole of the Forum.

When the doors opened, Nubian dancers entered, each carrying a small smudge pot emitting bright yellow smoke. As the smoke rose round the Arch and filled the forum the Amazons, reformed a protective line in front of their Lord Commander.

In formation, the dancers moved as one leaping up and stepping with grace before the enthralled crowd, who cheered. These Nubians were from Upper Egypt , dressed in the traditional way of their people. With a final flourish of moments, the dancers moved to the side.

The crowd gasped in awe as more dancers appeared, those in front wearing fearsome masks made from animal skulls, Now red smoke wafted up as these dancers from India used long poles to vault high into the air, to then be caught by their compatriots

The Amazons holding the crowd back were overwhelmed by a sudden rush of cheering spectators when the Indian dancers opened a golden cage, to allow hundreds of pure white doves to fly free into the air. The superstitious populace believed the white doves to be a bit of augury, sure now that Xena had peaceful intent toward Rome .

Again, the heralds played, their notes sounding out across the Forum as Amazon riders came through the arch, pushing the crowd back to make way for the entrance of Rome 's new mistress.

Behind the Amazon riders, one last group entered the forum in advance of Xena.

Lines of Greek Hoplites, in their hands a multitude of banners attached to staffs of every kind. In rows twelve abreast the marched forward, right up to where the Lord Commander stood to toss the standards roughly upon the ground. All were once held up in battle by Greek Warlords, Kings of City-States, German Barbarians, Persians, and the Roman Legions. Many noted the banners of the once great Julius Caesar as they too were discarded onto the pile.

Now every herald within the Forum played, first one group sounded the call, and then from another part of the Forum horns answered back. To and fro these notes resounded echoing off the temples of the Forum,

Quiet fell over the people as the last notes were carried away by the breeze.

Drums sounded, their ominous beat carrying over the Forum.

A line of men, stepping in time passed under the Arch of Constantine, their footfalls sounding loud, the chains holding them clanking as they moved. These men were prisoners. The German barbarians, laid low by Xena. They were in a line six across, each man encased within a harness, pulling something that the crowds could not yet see.

The prisoners parted when the first line reached the Amazons ahead of Siri and Sevastian. Three rows went left, three went right.

A chant rose up, one word being repeated by hundreds of thousands lining the streets beyond the Forum.

“Domitor... Domitor…”

Those in the Forum now raised their voices, repeating the same word with such volume the shrines surrounding them shuddered.

“What are they saying?” asked Siri, leaning in so her voice could be heard over the din.

“They repeat the word Conqueror.” Sevastian replied.

Siri was thunderstruck! The Germans were pulling a massive black Sphinx, the head of which barely fit under the Constantine 's Arch. There upon a dais, dressed in Roman armor, sitting on the gold throne of Persia … the Empress of the known world.

“ Rome , nor any other city in all the word has even seen spectacle on the scale of this!” Pronounced Siri with surety.

At the sight of Xena, the leadership of the Empire fell to a knee. Even the great LaoMa, bowed low.

As the giant Sphinx loomed up, Sevastain stepped forward of the Amazons raising his arm in Salute.

“Hail Xena!” He shouted, voice rolling over the awed Forum.

The Roman multitude, in their thousands, answered him yelling out “Conqueror!”

“Hail Xena!”


A third and final time, he cried.

“Hail Xena!”

To which the crowd replied


Sevastain fell to a knee, lowering his head down until his brow touched his leg.

Behind Siri did the same.


She was outside herself, looking in on a Gabrielle she could barely recognize.

Tears flowed down her cheeks as she watched herself be dragged behind a brown horse, its rider Xena. Gabrielle, winced as she saw herself, dragged through a fire, then through a shallow stream. She had to watch… Ares left her no other choice.


Xena rose from the throne, to gracefully walk down the steps.

She had many titles…

The Destroyer of Nations…

Warrior Princess of Chin…

Conqueror of the Greek Empire…

Pharaoh of Egypt …

Tamer of the Persian Lion…

Vanquisher of Pompey and of Caesar….

But all knew, first and foremost, she was Empress of the Known World.

“Rise loyal one.”

Sevastian did so and when he did, the rest of the Empire's leadership moved to stand as well.

A gesture from her and the once proud Germanic leader was brought forward.

The Roman crowd massed into the Forum roared their approval at the screams of the Barbarian Chief Alaric. The cross his body was nailed upon then was raised up in front of the temple, a sacrifice from Xena to Mars.

She turned, eying the graybeards briefly before leaning in towards Sevastain.

“Get rid of them,”

“Your will, Mistress, but how should I…?”

“Take them to the Colosseum; that should provide some entertainment for the people.”

“With your pardon Empress, do you think doing such would be wise?

“Fortune is merry,” she prefaced, “and, in this mood, will give us anything we want.” Xena looked about the Forum for a long moment, noting the crowd. “The rabble of Rome is in such a temperament now that they would cheer me even if I were cutting the throats of their own mothers.”

“Yes, Empress.”

“Now,” she purred with triumph, “I will have Gabrielle. I do not think this day could have gone better. I shall have to thank Salmoneus and Vidalus for their work.”

“Merciful Empress,” Sevastain swallowed hard, then reflexively licked his lips. “A word about Gabrielle…”

Blue eyes flashed down to lock with his.

“She has…” He lost his voice seeing her eyes go from warm to icy cold in an instant. He pressed on, knowing the longer he dallied, the worse it would be. “Empress, she has disappeared.”

In the next moment her hand was round his throat.

Siri moved forward, but Xena's glance halted her from taking any action. “A good choice Amazon be a shame if I had to kill you for breaking your oath.”

Xena turned her attentions back to Sevastain. He felt her hand clamp down just a tad harder upon his throat. “You were tasked with keeping her safe. I am most disappointed Lord Commander.”

“Empress, he spoke quickly before her grip became any tighter. “She did not escape, she vanished into thin air.”

“Vanished, as if by some mystic's trick?” her hand dropped away.

Sevastian was much relived. “Yes... Amazons report the doors of the temple cannot be opened.”

Xena gazed up at the temple. “Ares!” she spat.

Without a glance toward the Senators, Xena marched up the steps of the temple.

Behind, Sevastain raised his arm in the Imperial Salute, all within the forum doing the same, the notable exception being the Senators. A mistake, as the crowd voiced their disproval, public opinion turning against the assembled members of the Senate.

He had to think quickly…

“Esteemed Senators,” Sevastian said after a few moments “The Empress means no disrespect, she desires first to make an offering at the Temple , and then she will join us for celebrations in the Colosseum. If you will, walk there with me please?” The men did so, if only to get away from the angry crowd surrounding them.

Siri gestured and the Amazons formed up round the Lord Commander and the members of the Roman Senate. Behind, the leadership of the Empire followed all grandly processing to the Colosseum.

“This will be our end.” a soft pronouncement which he barely heard. Looking back, Sevastian eyed the distinguished orator Cicero for only a moment before taking his arm to aid the old man in walking.

Sevastain could not bring himself to lie.

“Yes.” He stated quietly.

Cicero nodded, and then spoke what would be his last words, “Silent enim leges inter arma.”

Law stands mute in the mist of arms.


Xena effortlessly lifted… her… into the air. Looking on with Ares, Gabrielle whimpered knowing what was about to happen. Xena was going to throw her off a cliff!

“You don't have to go through these torments slave, Let me take you; I can hide you from her!”

Gabrielle was sorely tempted. She vacillated a moment.


In the distance, Gabrielle swore she heard several loud bangs. As if someone was beating on metal.

“Don't be a fool!” Ares pressed. “Do your eyes lie to you? She is about to throw you off a cliff. These portents will come to pass if you allow her to--”

I must face her.”

More loud bangs sounded. Each strike, more demanding than the last.

“Very well,” Ares vanished and so did the conjured vision. She was in the temple, near the throne dedicated to Mars.


Raising her fist, Xena was about to strike the bronze door again when it opened of its own accord.

Waving the Amazons off, Xena alone strode into the space. While her eyes adjusted to the low light, she pulled off her Roman styled helmet. Tossing it casually toward Ares throne where it landed in the seat.

“Ares!” Xena yelled while moving hands to hips, elbows flaring out her cape.

“I demand you appear! If you've hurt the girl, I'll—“

“I—I'm okay.”

She looked to where the voice had sounded from. There, by the throne…standing small and meek was the one who haunted her dreams.

Sudden emotion overwhelmed Xena, a lone tear managing to breech the walls of stoicism, to freely slide down her cheek.

All Xena could manage was open her arms wide, a silent plea for Gabrielle to come to her.

[End of Part II]

To Be Continued in part IV

Authors note: Phew! After a full year of writing, Part II is finished! The spark which caused this tale was actually a question. How did Xena actually conquer the known world? This story is my take on how it could have happened.

A wonderful artist, Aaron Wong has produced several outstanding pieces taken from scenes in my story. I plan to put them all together an e-book for all to see.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed the tale; perhaps you'll be kind enough leave me a review? Tell me how I did on this story?

Oh and Gabrielle fans… Part III is underway.

Author's Page

Return to the Academy