DISCLAIMER : The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and some others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit.
This story is a sequel to the stories “Lord Conqueror of the Realm” and "Queen of the Realm." I strongly recommend you read them first because in this story there are references to events that took place in them. Here is where you can find them:
Announcement - Thanks to my savvy, diligent and extraordinary beta-reader, Nancyjean - Lord Conqueror of the Realm can now be found on an Ebook format as well. Here is the link:
Lord Conqueror of the Realm is listed alphabetically down the page, the first "L" story.
SPECIAL THANKS : My humble most ardent gratitude to the excellent, most brilliant Beta readers Nancyjean and Alexandriaruth whom I can't thank enough.
Comments, thoughts, questions & feedback : MOST WELCOMED – The more you write me, the quicker I post – I mean it!
Go To Part 1
"Go after her Majesty, and bring her back here!" Lady Satrina urged the Queen's ladies in waiting. "We must contain this travesty and prevent the Lord Conqueror from finding out about this. Be quick!"
The Queen's ladies in waiting dashed out of the Imperial chambers and chased after their Mistress.
"The poor soul," muttered Lady Cyrene and hoped that Princess Terreis would never chance upon her mother is such a state.
"My dear friend needs the Lord Conqueror's love like a flower needs the sunlight to thrive. Without it, she will perish," Lady Satrina told the Conqueror's mother.
"This cannot go on. We cannot allow the Realm's subjects to think that their Queen has lost control over her faculties," Lady Cyrene commented and shook her head.
"Someone ought to appeal to the Lord Conqueror to take pity on the Queen's Majesty," Lady Satrina stated firmly, subliminally hinting to the Conqueror's mother to assume responsibility, knowing full well that none would volunteer for the perilous task or survive it. She herself wouldn't entertain the notion of appealing the Conqueror herself.
"The Lord Conqueror will not stand for any meddling," Lady Cyrene replied. "And in these dark times we live in, and without the Queen's luminous light the Conqueror would not pardon any such interference." The memory of the last time that she'd intervened in the Conqueror and the Queen's affair when the Queen had been in the Amazon Lands was still clear and pristine in her mind. She was sure she would never forget how the Conqueror had banished her from Corinth just for exhorting her to make peace with the Queen.
Lady Satrina searched for an answer. Her first thought was Princess Athena, but alas the Heir was leagues away. After some time had passed, she came up with another idea. "I shall have Shamaness Smyrna of the Amazons come and tend to Her Majesty. Her Majesty has always told me how the Shamaness was a great healer, not just of the body, but of the soul as well."
"You must use any means available to you," urged the Conqueror's mother, even though her stomach was full of complaints against the Shamaness.
"I intend to do just that." Lady Satrina was resolute in her mind and on light and fast feet scurried to have the Shamaness brought to Corinth .
Meanwhile, a few corridors away, the Queen in her disturbed frame of mind searched after the chamber that she had occupied when she had been her Lord's body slave. Princess Sieglinde, who was on her way to take breakfast in the Dining Hall, heard the Queen's ramblings about not being Queen, but her Lord's insignificant servant. Princess Sieglinde darted at once, careful not to trip over her long dress, to the spot where the Queen's voice was coming from and was horrified to see her Mother-in-law in a slave's attire.
She could guess for herself the reason for it. She placed an engulfing arm over the Queen's shoulders and urgently led her back to the Imperial chambers, altering between telling all that came across her path that the Queen simply had eaten something that did not agree with her, and whispering calming words into the Queen's ear.
Once inside the Imperial chambers, Lady Satrina and Lady Cyrene put the Queen in bed and allowed her to rest, both women grateful that the Queen was amiable enough and did not raise any protest.
"I think it is best if her Majesty were to stay in my own chambers for the time being. I wish to care for her Majesty and my ladies in waiting can be trusted not to have their tongues run away with them," Princess Sieglinde whispered soon after the Queen had closed her eyes and succumbed to shallow slumber.
"I agree, dear child. Her Majesty best be kept away from the Lord Conqueror," Lady Cyrene concurred. "We shall move her to your chambers as soon as she wakes . "
Days came and went. The Spartan Legion that had since returned to Corinth was sent to track down and apprehend all those whom Likos and Sirus had named during their long, brutal and insufferable interrogations. The Spartan Legion performed their task relentlessly and efficiently.
It was then that the mass executions in the central square in Corinth began, where a large scaffold had been built by the order of the Sovereign. Each day at noon, a mob-like crowd gathered, edging close to the stage where the fresh scent of pine used to linger before the blood begun pouring, holding baskets of rotten vegetables and stones to throw at the shackled prisoners, shaking their fists in the air and yelling curses at them as they were dragged to be put under the Lord Conqueror's blade. A few women circled the high platform selling wares to the gathered crowd, taking full advantage of the substantial traffic.
Each and every day, dozens of men were executed by the Conqueror's own hand, for she was of the opinion that her subjects needed to fear her far worse than they needed to fear her soldiers. There were even days when so many executions were performed that the straw scattered over the planks of wood became too saturated to soak up all the blood and the condemned scheduled to be executed that day were forced to return to their cells in the palace, as their execution had to be postponed to the following day.
Some of the condemned lost control of their bodies and emptied their bladders and their bowels on the platform, adding foul odors to those of blood and sweat. Some seemed apathetic and silent as if they'd either accepted their fate or no longer cared - feeling at ease for not having to run away any longer and experience constant fear of being captured; others pleaded for the crowd's help or for the Conqueror's mercy; and there were even those who repented without begging the Conqueror for their lives but for the Conqueror's forgiveness.
The Conqueror granted neither mercy nor forgiveness. The Ruler swung her arm over the heads of the kneeling conspirators and the only kindness she was willing to show them was that she removed their heads clean off their shoulders with a single smite of her sword.
Their heads were put on spears and were carried throughout the Realm.
Each night the Conqueror returned to her empty bedchamber, assuming that the Queen was sleeping in hers again. Her heart did not soften, not by a hair, but the other way around, it grew harder and colder. The Conqueror was enthralled by her viciousness and cruelty, as was required in order to insure and secure her hold on the Empire and in order to keep the promise she had given to the grieving families, whose loved-ones had fallen in Corinth .
The Queen's mental state continued to deteriorate in an alarming manner. Princess Terreis was kept away from her so as not to cause the young child distress and anguish.
When the Shamaness finally arrived at the palace, Lady Satrina looked upon her as a savior and quickly rushed her to Princess Sieglinde's chambers, where the Queen had been lodging for the past days.
The Shamaness sat next to the pale Queen and recognized an even greater sadness in her than the sadness she had witnessed when the Queen had stayed in the Amazon Lands.
She did not waste any time. She touched her hand to the Queen's wet forehead. She could hardly believe how thin the Queen looked and how shallow her breath was.
"Hasn't she eaten at all?" she asked.
The Queen's ladies in waiting, as did Princess Sieglinde's ladies in waiting, shook their heads in the negative.
"We tried to pour some chicken broth into her," Princess Sieglinde said.
"But her Majesty could not keep it down," Lady Cyrene finished Princess Sieglinde's sentence.
"We tried everything," Lady Satrina spoke with desperate tears in her eyes. "Bathing her, feeding her… But her Majesty wouldn't…" her voice trailed off. She was too distraught to speak.
The Shamaness asked one of Princess Sieglinde's ladies in waiting to put a pot filled with fresh water over the burning hearth, while her hands were busy taking some herbs out of the satchel she had brought with her.
"Something happened between the Lord Conqueror and our Queen. What was it?" the Shamaness asked. She knew that there could be only one thing that would cause the Queen such profound, debilitating sorrow.
All in Sieglinde's bedchamber exchanged looks between them, not sure what to say.
"We have no time to worry about improprieties, ladies. Our Queen is in danger, you can all be sure of that," the Shamaness urged them with a foreboding tone of voice.
It was Princess Sieglinde who took it upon herself to answer, "Her Majesty and the Lord Conqueror had a major dispute regarding the marriage between Min Herre, Athena, and myself."
Lady Satrian continued Princess Sieglinde's account of events. "Soon after the quarrel between them, her Majesty decided she would not share the Lord Conqueror's bed and moved into her own chambers."
The Shamaness shook her head slowly with severity about her as she stood over the pot and brewed her herbs, which gave out a strange odor as she stirred it over the fire.
The Conqueror's mother glared at the Shamaness with a pair of reproachful eyes. "If you had kept better control over your apprentice and had kept that Cynna woman on Amazon Lands rather than let her come to Corinth and seduce Princess Athena by unearthly means, then none of this would have happened," she accused.
"No, please," the Queen's words were carried on weak, labored breath, "It is no one's fault but my own."
The Shamaness removed the pot from the fire, poured the steamy concoction into a cup and brought it to the Queen's lips.
"Drink, my Queen," she said softly. "It will strengthen you."
The Queen took a few sips and felt instant relief as she sensed the warmth of the liquid spread through her slender, haggard body, and took comfort in its familiar taste.
"Please, sit," the Queen asked all the ladies around her bed.
Princess Sieglinde, the Shamaness, Lady Satrina and Lady Cyrene all sat around the Queen on her bed. Princess Sieglinde's ladies and the Queen's ladies took chairs and seated themselves in front of the Queen.
The Queen pulled herself to a sitting position and reclined back against the pillows, holding the hot brew in both hands. "I am to blame for this," she began to say.
"Majesty," Lady Satrina sighed, "You mustn't…"
But the Queen gently hushed her friend with an upheld hand. "It is the truth," she insisted and took another sip.
"Majesty," Lady Astraea tried to assuage some of the Queen's guilt that obviously tormented her. "No one suspected Cynna to be so greedy and a manipulative woman who cared for nothing but her own selfish aspirations for wealth and social standing - no one!" she said and threw an apologetic glance at Princess Sieglinde.
The Conqueror's mother chose to pin her glare onto the Shamaness as Lady Astraea spoke, as if waiting to see what the odd-looking elderly Amazon had to say for herself or what sort of justifications she might conjure.
"She does not matter. Cynna has no bearing on the issue between my Lord and me," the Queen dismissed. "My Lord hasn't closed her precious heart to me for my disagreeing with her…not even for my defiance, but for a different reason altogether," the Queen claimed then averted her gaze to Lady Satrina. "Your Princess Lao-Ling was one of the wisest women I have ever met," she spoke to all of them but kept her tired eyes on Lady Satrina still, seeing how emotional her old friend was at the very mention of the late Princess of Chin. "Before I was married, this great noble woman gave me three advices. One of them was that I must never place anyone above my Lord. I remember thinking it was the easiest rule to follow for I could think of no other soul on earth I would place above my Lord. Princess Lao-Ling then told me that one day we might have children and that I must not place them above my Lord either." The Queen paused and lowered her head, looking into the cup that she held in her hands. "But I have," she muttered.
"Majesty," Lady Astraea, who had always pined for children but was never able to conceive and bear children of her own, argued, "It is natural and understandable for a mother to put her children before anything else, even before her spouse."
"That assertion might apply to all spouses in the world, but it does not apply to mine for no one is like my Lord, and the bond we share is like none other."
Princess Sieglinde rested a gentle palm atop the Queen's knee. She was perhaps the only one who could truly understand what the Queen was saying.
"That day when I saw my Lord fighting men and commanding beasts, I was reminded of something I suspect I might have forgotten. I have forgotten who my Lord is. My Lord is supreme power over all things." The Queen paused again and prepared herself to further open her heart and reveal its secrets. "I foolishly and arrogantly got it into my head to set terms to my great Lord - 'Either you annul the marriage or I shall keep denying you'"
The tears washed the Queen's tortured features and her voice grew smaller as she went on to say, "When my Lord returns to me from war, My Lord harbors a great and terrible hunger, and when I'm in the presence of my Lord I feel the same hunger in me. I cannot explain it. It is like no other sensation I can think of and it is excruciating and enlivening. You cannot imagine how it feels to be touched by such demanding power and consuming desire. The hunger never leaves me until my Lord releases me from it."
As the Queen was speaking, Princess Sieglinde was stroking the Queen's knee in empathy. Lady Satrina had some idea also as to the meaning of the Queen's words, for after all she had once been the Conqueror's body servant as well, but she understood that the Queen's experience had been far greater and more intense than hers could ever had been, for the Queen had the Conqueror's love.
"Such is the bond between my Lord and me," the Queen concluded, "and I willfully betrayed that bond."
Then it became silent when they all seemed to contemplate the Queen's words, until the Queen's youngest lady in waiting said, "Surely, your Majesty can ask for the Lord Conqueror's forgiveness."
All present looked at her when the Queen said what everyone else already knew, "My Lord does not forgive betrayal." It was the truth to which the central square in Corinth provided ample proof.
The Queen covered her mouth with a shaking hand, too weak and too distraught to form a clear thought. "What am I to do now?"
The Shamaness held the Queen's hand in hers. Her Queen's pain was her pain. "My Queen," she spoke softly, "you must be strong for your daughter's sake and for the sake of your position in the eyes of your subjects."
Lady Cyrene nodded her head in agreement with the Shamaness' words.
"Her Grace, Princess Terreis is asking about your Majesty constantly, for days now," one the Queen's ladies in waiting commented.
Lady Astraea's eyes ran over all the women in the chamber, garnering their approval as she spoke, "We shall all assist your Majesty with functions and duties."
"Indeed, we shall do so gladly, Majesty," Lady Starina said with all sincerity.
And after a few moments, the Queen averted her watery bloodshot gaze to her daughter-in-law and asked, "And what should I do in regards to my Lord?" In light of the events that had led her to her current state she was afraid to trust her own judgment in matters concerning her Lord and so she sought counsel from her daughter-in-law, in whom she recognized herself or perhaps who she'd used to be.
Princess Sieglinde took a deep breath. She felt deeply honored that of all the women in her presence that were older than she was, the Queen asked for her advice in the greatest matter of all. The weight of the responsibility was not lost on her either and settled heavily on her shoulders.
"Your Majesty," the young Royal began to say and her speech was unhurried and measured as if she were contemplating her words very carefully as she spoke, "I am unworthy and incongruous to give advice to the greatest Queen the world has ever known, and so I will say this…" she said and lowered her head in humility. "If I were in your Majesty's shoes, I would have made myself available to the Lord Conqueror," she said then looked around, blushing with embarrassment.
The Queen saw that Princess Sieglinde found it difficult to speak in such a large forum, since privacy was required and better befitting the content of the advice she was about to give.
"Please, ladies," the Queen requested, addressing her servants, "Leave us for now."
After the ladies left and the Queen and Princess Sieglinde were alone, the Queen encouraged Princess Sieglinde to continue. "Please, sweet Sieglinde, speak as freely as you wish for the more honest and unembellished your advice is, the better it will serve me."
"Of course, your Majesty," Princess Sieglinde said and was now looking into her mother-in-law's eyes. "I believe that your Majesty should return to the Lord Conqueror's bed forthwith, no matter what your Majesty might face and no matter what treatment your Majesty might receive. It is my opinion that your Majesty should submit to her Lord's will at any cost if what was once shared is to be restored." Princess Sieglinde then leaned in to be closer to the Queen, and tried to hide the envy in her voice. "Your Lord has an appetite for you, Majesty."
"My Lord has an appetite," the Queen responded with a bitter scoff.
"Your Majesty mustn't think this way," Princess Sieglinde said. "A battle for your Lord's heart is about to commence and your Majesty cannot afford to wallow in defeat before it even begins. Your Majesty is the strongest Queen I've ever seen, and I have no doubt in my mind that your Majesty will find her way back into her Lord's heart."
The Queen's ladies in waiting, along with Princess Sieglinde and the Shamaness, circled around the Queen at all times and never left her side. They restored her back to health and provided her with much need consolation, till the Queen felt herself capable of visiting with her youngest without raising suspicions in the child that there had been anything other than the ordinary.
During those days in which the Conqueror was toiling arduously to cleanse her Realm of conspirators and collaborators - mornings conducting interrogations in the dungeons and by noon performing mass executions - fear was running rampant in many provinces of the Realm, not just in Thessaly, Epirus and Rome but in their neighboring provinces, as well.
A few men whose hands had been one with the traitors tried to flee, some even abandoning their families behind to fend for themselves, believing they had a better chance of surviving without the extra burden. However, doors were slammed in their faces for in those dark times, with the news spreading like wildfire from Corinth about the killings and with the headless corpses being dragged in the streets followed by the severed heads on spikes, none were foolish enough to harbor fugitives away from the Lord Conqueror – not for all the gold in the world. There was no escaping the Lord Conqueror's vast grasp, and in those days people learned that there was a difference between greed and the Lord Conqueror: even greed, it would appear, had its limits – not so the Conqueror.
At the sound of soldiers' footfalls marching in the streets, subjects of the Realm barred their doors and windows and kept still and frightened inside their homes, hoping not to hear beatings against their doors, anxiously waiting for the footfalls to pass by and further away till they could no longer be heard from outside.
When the Conqueror returned to her chambers at dusk, she went first to bathe so to wash the bloodstains off her person, then to eat supper in seclusion. Every evening, Gabrielle would wait naked in the Imperial bedchamber kneeling with nothing but the slave collar around her neck, waiting quietly for the Conqueror to finish her meal before coming to her.
The ritual never changed, though. The Conqueror took from Gabrielle nothing more than was absolutely necessary for her to sate her needs and gave absolutely nothing in return, not even a brief glance or a single syllable. Miserliness was across each and every one of the Conqueror's handful of gestures.
It bewildered Gabrielle just how many contradictions resided within the Conqueror: extreme ruthlessness resided alongside extreme gentleness, intense hatred alongside intense love and excessive generosity alongside excessive stinginess. One thing was apparent and lucid above all else - the Conqueror did everything with passion, even her indifference was passionately displayed, Gabrielle thought.
It always ended in the same manner, as well. When Gabrielle realized that the Conqueror was done with her, which was customary a few short moments after the act had begun, she left the Imperial chambers, like a slave who concluded performing her function, like she had done in a different lifetime, and returned to Princess Sieglinde's chambers, as she had promised she would for the betterment of her state, aching with hunger and empty of anything else.
The fleet under Princess Athena's command neared entering the icy water of the North Sea . Her ship had made one quick stop at the borders of Britannia, knowing that an invasion via the sea hadn't been expected and most Nordic warriors had been sent to battle on the borders of Northern Gaul . The Heir had enlisted the help of the local fishermen to advance ahead and sink the Nordic Lands' docked and unattended fleet so that her forces would not meet even an extemporary resistance, should word about her coming reach the Norsemen, and to amplify the Nordic Lands' devastation.
The weather was harsh and so was the icy sea. The strong, cold winds scathed the Realm's warriors' faces with cold-burns and it sometimes happened that everyone on board ran about from side to side, as the ships yawed to and fro with every gust and every wave as if there was no hand at the wheel.
However, these violent conditions did not bother Princess Athena, for other things, such as the battle ahead, preoccupied her mind. Never before had she commanded over an army by herself. She was burdened by the awesome responsibility she had to the Realm and to the thousands of lives that she would command on the battlefield. What equally troubled her was the possibility of not living up to her Sire's great expectations. Failure or defeat was not an option.
Nevertheless, Athena was the Lord Conqueror's progeny, and so she forced all such thoughts far and out of her mind, and focused entirely on the battle and on planning for it.
Dry land could not have been reached soon enough. The men on board craved war better than they craved the sea, for at least war would keep the blood warm. As soon as the Realm's fleet landed on Nordic Lands, it began to snow.
After the last of the Imperial Guardsmen touched his feet onto Nordic Lands' soil, they fell into ranks and awaited Princess Athena's command.
"Warriors of the Realm! On our way to the battlefield we will pass through populated lands of the Norsemen. You will not harm unarmed civilians but you will tread carefully and be vigil at all times. Keep warm and maintain a good pace. You will kill them all in the name of our Lord Conqueror!" she shouted, and thus Princess Athena led them to the battlefield.
Princess Athena proved to be as brilliant and as devious a tactician as was her Sire. She deployed her forces masterfully so to cut the Nordic Lands' warriors' path of retreat into their own territory and to cut the lines of supply and communication. The surrounding of the Nordic Lands' warriors was complete, leaving them trapped between Princess Athena's forces and the Legions of the provinces of Britannia and Gaul .
Princess Athena took command over all of the Realm's forces on the battlefield and issued orders to begin tightening the Realm's ring around the Nordic army.
The fighting lasted for seven days, in which Princess Athena managed to force the battle back and deeper into the Nordic province. The Nordic Lands' warriors were better trained and better organized than the armies that had been raised by Likos, Sirus and Drusus, but Princess Athena expected as much. What she did not expect, however, was to see a few women warriors amongst the Nordic Lands' ranks fighting alongside the men. As her sword engaged in battle and as she spilled the blood of her wife's kinsmen, she further realized that the Nordic Lands bred tougher women.
The Conqueror's Heir showed no pity and her sword spared not a single soul. As she had been instructed, she ordered the men under her command to shout out her name as they fought and they all did as she commanded till her name could be heard louder than the clashing of weapons against weapons and shields.
The Realm's warriors destroyed the Nordic Lands' entire army down to the very last one. No prisoners were taken and none escaped. Princess Athena had never before fought a battle in the snow, and so she was mesmerized by how red the blood appeared, plentiful against the whiteness of the snow. Not a single drop disappeared into the earth.
Prince Baldr, Princess Sieglinde' brother, was the last Norseman who remained standing. He stood horrified and alone, surrounded by the Realm's warriors. He made an attempt to fall on his axe, but he was stopped by one of the Imperial Guardsmen and his weapon was removed from his hand by force.
Princess Athena, drenched in blood, ordered her field-groom to be brought to her. He was the one carrying the Conqueror's crown for her. He gave her a clean cloth to wipe the blood off her face and presented her with the Conqueror's crown.
Princess Athena placed her Sire's crown over her head and looked around. Her men pounded the hilt of their swords against their shields and shouted her name so loudly that it reached the ears of the Norsemen who resided closest to the battlefield. It informed them of their bitter defeat and of the Realm's victory over them.
To the Heir, their cries sounded like an affirmation that they trusted her, and that she succeeded in proving herself to them as their ruler. She remembered that the Conqueror had once told her that the warriors under her command must trust her in order for her to command over them. She realized that they had followed her lead and had obeyed her orders before victory was achieved solely because of her station, but henceforth they would obey her out of trust and respect for her command and capabilities; in other words, based on merit alone.
The Chief Commanders of the Legions of Britannia and Gaul approached her and bowed before her.
"Commanders," she addressed them.
"Your Grace," said the Chief Commander of the Legion of Gaul, "Fighting under your command was akin to fighting under the Lord Conqueror."
"Did you expect anything less?!" the Heir retorted with a stern expression.
"Of course not," he quickly replied.
"Order the men to kill all the remaining wounded and secure the area. Our wounded are to be treated by the healers. The enemy's dead are to be stripped to their bare arses and all their equipment is to be loaded aboard our ships. Once they are done, they are to set camp before darkness falls. I will give you gold to purchase fresh provisions from the villages surrounding us. Tell the men to keep their cocks in their breeches. If I catch any of them raping a woman I will have them hang their cocks exposed to the wind and what won't freeze off, I'll cut off, am I making myself clear?"
"Vividly clear, your Grace," the Commanders confirmed, grimacing and squeezing his thighs together against one another.
"I will not pardon any acts of looting, is that understood?"
"Yes, your Grace."
"No soldier is allowed to imbibe more than a single goblet of wine," the Heir continued to deliver her orders.
"The men are not going to like it," the Chief Commander of the Legion of Britannia commented, seeing before his eyes the benefit of the men under his command.
"The men will do as I command, or I shall punish them so severely that it would make them wish I'd allowed them to drink more and freeze to death over the night." The Heir then paused and wore a wicked smile on her lips. "If they wish to keep warm, let them have women rather than wine."
"By your will, your Grace," the Commanders murmured.
"Now bring Baldr to me, and assemble a detachment of a hundred men," the Heir ordered them.
As they left her presence, the Conqueror's Heir walked through the killing fields and her eyes gauged the measure of the Realm's fallen soldiers. As she treaded through the maimed lifeless bodies scattered in the snow, mindful of her steps, she recognized the bodies of two brothers who had attended the Military Academy of Rome with her. They had been a couple of years older than her, and had occupied the chamber next to hers in the Academy's dormitory. She remembered how their mother, the Lady Demetra, would visit them during their trainings; she would always bring nut-bread with her when she visited and Cleon and Dexios would share it with her. After graduation, they had been posted by the Realm to serve as junior officers in the Realm's Legion in northern Gaul and she hadn't seen them since. Their father had died recently, she suddenly recalled hearing mentioned in passing.
Princess Athena knelt next to Cleon's and Dexios' bodies and observed their whitish faces and thought how they had lost the tan of the Roman sun, then her eyes moved down to the purplish complexion of their closed lips, then further down to the mortal wounds on their chests. There it was, the Heir thought – death, the end of life and living, the absolute finality of existence upon the earth. Cleon and Dexios would never marry, would never have children, would never laugh and love again and she would never see them again.
Princess Athena had fought on the battlefield only once before alongside her Sire against the Horde in Phrygia soon after she had graduated from the Academy. She'd been younger then and war to her had seemed like a game; the strategy, the tactics, the planning, the challenge of outsmarting your opponent, and the overpowering of the enemy when facing him on the field. War is not a game. War is not a challenge. War ends lives. War creates widows and orphans. War bleeds one dry. War wrecks pain and sorrow even when it is won; therefor war has to be avoided if possible, she understood her Sire's lessons to her. The Conqueror's Heir finally grasped the true meaning of her responsibilities. Whenever she would lead men into battle, it would be her and no other who would be held accountable for the lives of the men under her command and it was that understanding that was at the foundations of a great ruler.
Princess Athena called out to her groom, and pointed at her dead subordinates. “Have these two cremated and storage their ashes with my personal belongings. I myself shall return them back to their mother,” she said. When her groom left, she looked over and saw the dead bodies of the Nordic warriors.
It was the first time she noticed their faces rather than their eyes or their necks or their arms and legs or chest, in search for an opening to plunge her weapon into their flesh. There were fifteen thousand of them lying dead, men she had killed or those who warriors under her command had killed by her orders. It was such a staggering number. Fifteen thousand families' lives would be altered forever. The Heir knew it hadn't been the Realm that initiated the first act of aggression and that she had been defending the Realm's subjects. Nevertheless, she had spilt their blood and it laid heavy on her. She wondered whether her Sire had ever given thought about all the many lives she had taken or whether her Sire had been carrying it with her, as well.
The Heir lifted up her head from the killing fields and surveyed the vast scenery around her. Her wife had been right, for there were no words to adequately describe the humbling beauty of it. She decided that one day she would take her wife and bring her back to her beloved homeland to travel together and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of her childhood.
Some time later, the detachment was ready and the Chief Commanders returned to Princess Athena, dragging her brother-in-law Baldr with shackles around his hands and feet. They threw him to the ground, to kneel before the Heir.
Princess Athena and Baldr glared at each other for the longest time, studying one another for the first time. Princess Athena could easily detect the resemblance between her captive and her wife.
He was the first to speak, only he spoke in his native tongue, and before he finished the Heir delivered a forceful slap to his face with the back of her hand, making two of his teeth fly out of his mouth followed by trails of blood that splashed against the snow.
"What did he say?" asked the Chief Commander of the Legion of Britannia, curious to know what had earned Baldr the strike.
"I do not speak his language, but whatever he said sounded unpleasant," the Heir grinned, relishing the blood-lust hammering in her veins. The Commanders burst into laughter. "What we have to say to each other can keep until we are in Corinth ," the Heir continued. "I shall take him to his former palace via the streets, for the Norsemen need to see their ruler conquered and their ruler's conqueror."
"Very good, your Grace," said the Chief Commander of the Legion of Gaul.
"Have fire signals sent from the nearest beacon, informing Corinth that I have defeated the Nordic Lands in the Lord Conqueror's name," Princess Athena ordered.
"By your will, your Grace."
"I shall return to camp tomorrow."
With the Conqueror's crown upon her head, dragging Baldr behind her by a long, iron chain, the Conqueror's Heir rode along with the detachment through the streets leading to Baldr's former place of abode, the palace in which her wife had grown up. The streets were silenced by the stinging defeat and mute lamentation. They gazed upon their conquered prince with disdain in their eyes and at their conqueror with fear and acceptance.
When they reached the Nordic palace, Baldr's wife and their household were captured and placed under arrest. Princess Athena searched the palace for her wife's former chambers. When she found them, she entered them and allowed her eyes to peruse through them in leisure. She saw her wife's dolls sitting on the bed, some scrolls resting on the nightstand, her wife's clothes inside the chests, fishing rods, shoes, brushes, pins and caps and many such items, which had served her wife throughout her early days before she had become of age and had been sent by her father, far far away to be married off to a complete stranger.
Princess Athena touched a few of the items with the tip of her fingers. She ordered one of her men to load the entire contents of her wife's chambers on one of the ships.
"I wish to surprise my wife," she explained.
The next day they returned to the camp."Military regime is in effect until such time that the Lord Conqueror appoints a new governor to the Realm's province of the Nordic Lands and assembles and assigns a Legion to these parts," the Heir told the Chief Commanders. "A detachment of twenty of the Imperial Guard's warriors on horseback is to accompany me back to Corinth ."
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