Who's Your Conqueror?

Xena the Conqueror only appeared briefly in a Hercules episode, "Armageddon Now", which involved an alternate timeline. Without Hercules' influence, she had become a cold and ruthless ruler. Even Gabrielle succumbed to her iron will and was crucified in the TV episode. Yet many bards have chosen to write stories about this alternate dark persona; delving into her motivations, her future and ponder the influence Gabrielle would have upon an unrepentant warrior.

As Lunacy pointed out in an email chat, the Conqueror stories seem to fall within three different types of tales. There are stories that feature a very hard-line, feared, no-nonsense Conqueror. Then there are stories, which definitely show her as a tough-as-nails, warrior CAPABLE of brutality, but also tend to give her a softer side; some humor ÷ a more emotional side. Finally, we have the third type of Conqueror tale, which tend to feature a very brutal Xena, and often explore the dynamics of power and S&M in relationships. As a result, there is diversity that ranges from unconscionable actions to grudging redemption.

I've asked a variety of bards to explain why they were attracted to this alternate persona of Xena and why they made the story choices they did.

Joining us today are:
XWPFanatic ("Fanatic") [Aftermath: The Tree of Life,The Hanging Gardens, The Unconquered Sun, Queen of the Nile],
Storm [The Leader]
L. J. Maas [Journey's End],
Planet-Solin [If÷ This Had Been the Beginning, Home Again, Surrender],
Carol Paradee[Breaching Barriers, The Fall],
DJWP [The Conqueror's Stone],
C. J. Wells [Embrace, Freedom, The Antonius Situation, Darphus' Revenge] and
Gin [Negotiations, Complications, Invitations]

EM: What attracted you to writing about a character that made only a brief appearance in a Hercules episode?

Fanatic: A couple things made this sub-genre very attractive to me. The first is rather silly. I've always loved time-travel, alternate reality fiction. So when Xena had an alternative reality, I was so excited. Another timeline I'd love to explore is the one where Xena was never a warlord, Lyceus is still alive and Gabrielle has been enslaved.

The second thing that intrigued me was the fact that the episode only offered us a tantalizing glimpse of The Conqueror. I've always loved bad ass Xena. You know, when they make her hair a bit bigger, her eyes wild and her smile all knowing. I love that she isn't bound to be a hero but is free to pursue her conquest of the known world.

DJWP: I was attracted to the concept of The Conqueror since before the episode "Armageddon " ever aired. After all, what Xena bard wouldn't wonder what might have happened had Hercules not turned Xena from the path of darkness?

Paradee: [So true.] I thought it would be interesting to explore an unrepentant Xena who had accomplished her goal of conquering the known world and what type of leader she had become. I also felt there were a lot more possibilities that could be explored because of the very brief appearance.

Planet-solin: Perhaps it [is] the dark side that we only have glimpses of on XWP or perhaps by writing about the Conqueror, I can create a whole new story line featuring the same great characters. Definitely I like seeing the darkness of the character.

L. J.: I admit, the appearance of Xena the Conqueror in the episode of "Armageddon Now," where she casually orders Gabrielle's crucifixion, always stuck with me. The whole idea of the redemption of Xena's character intrigued me at that point. That [is], in an alternate timeline, because of the loss of friendship (Hercules) and unconditional love (Gabrielle), Xena could become something so different from what we came to know her as, well. I was enthralled with that.

Gin: The thing that most attracted me to this particular character is the alternate timeline itself. I am totally fascinated with time travel. I like the idea of small events having a ripple effect and changing much larger things.

Storm: [For me, it's] the fact that she was the same woman we saw on the regular season. She acts in a completely different way, but after all she's the same Xena. She simply hasn't met the right person at the right time. So the question is ÷ is it too late for her to become the hero we all know or can she still change?

C.J.: Actually, it wasn't the [Hercules episodes] that attracted me to Conqueror [fiction]. I began reading it as a fan over a year ago. Many of the stories that I read followed the "Armageddon Now" plot. Others were more original altaverse stories. I was inspired to write my "Embrace/Freedom" Conqueror Series after reading two very dark, psychologically intense Conqueror stories: "Chattel/Thrall" by Dark Angel and "Remuneration" by Day. These stories depicted a brutal Xena who was physically abusive toward Gabrielle.

I'm not one for physical brutality and I loathe domestic violence, but I was challenged to write about a Xena who starts out this way, but discovers within herself the reasons why. I don't think a true love can be borne of a relationship where communication is void and the brutality continues unabated.

My inaugural stories of the series bring the two characters together in a budding acknowledgment of love. The continuing series explores this love with the added element of their often-traumatic past as an underlying presence. It makes for psychologically challenging writing and I hope, fascinating reading.

EM: Gin, you and XWPFanatic mentioned the joy of diving into other possibilities ÷ care to elaborate?

Gin: A good example of the ripple effect is my original character Rayna. Rayna is a deaf girl, adopted by the Amazons that found her abandoned. She is the life partner to Velasca. It was Rayna who helped get Velasca over the death of her mother, it was Rayna who convinced Velasca NOT to challenge Terries' appointment as heir to the Mask of Queen, if it hadn't been for Rayna, there would be a vengeful self-made God storming around Greece. And all because Hercules wasn't there to convince the parents not to abandon a little deaf child.

Fanatic: The best thing is I get to create the mythology in Conqueror fiction. I find it very difficult to write traditional Xena-Gabrielle stories because of where the series has gone. Another benefit of the Conqueror genre is that I can utilize history in a way the series doesn't. I have fashioned my Conqueror after Alexander the Great, whose footsteps she is trying to follow. I have done extensive research on the seven ancient wonders of the world and I love incorporating that aspect into each story.

EM: What about your Conqueror character makes her unique from both the TV show and other bards?

Storm: Umm, let's see: she's a sadistic Conqueror. Nothing new. She has a strong control over her men and kingdom. Been there, done that. She doesn't immediately kill a certain blonde. Ditto. That's it! My Conqueror TALKS A LOT!

Fanatic: Well, from [my] series, [she's] in the midst of conquering the known world. Gabrielle is her Oracle. My Gabrielle is a bit more spunky, a bit older and wiser than the Gabrielle we first encounter in "Sins of the Past". She has endured a crucifixion for her beliefs, and yet retained them. I don't care much for first season Gabrielle, I must admit. She was too naive, too eager. So, I made sure my Gabrielle is a bit more sober about the reality of life.

I don't read other bards in the Conqueror genre because I don't want to unconsciously imitate them or use their story devices. However, I did read Della Street's "Resistance" and Katrina's "The Storyteller" to get me interested in the potential in the Conqueror genre. I consider both of those wonderful pieces of fiction.

Paradee: The Conqueror I portrayed in "Breaching Barriers" was a woman who had accomplished all she set out and more, yet now that she was at the top, she had become very lonely and bored with the mundane affairs of running the kingdom. She was ruthless, but only in keeping with the world she lived in. She longed for some excitement and searched for opportunities to escape the palace walls. She had mellowed some, but expected absolute obedience and loyalty from those serving her. I think the Conqueror I wrote about was more mellow than was we saw in the few minutes of Armageddon Now and most of the other bards stories, although there have been more recent stories that have also portrayed her as less deadly than others.

DJWP: The Conqueror in "The Conqueror's Stone" is unique as Xena is still our Xena; the one who fights for the greater good and has already been turned from the path of hate and destruction. Through an accidental disturbance in the timeline caused by a crack in the Chronos Stone, our Xena wakes up one morning to find herself ruling the world as The Conqueror. The end result is that we have a Xena who has a light of her own, yet who is still very tempted by the dark prospects of what the Conqueror's reality offers.

L. J.: I don't get to read as much [fan fiction] as I used to, but I can't remember seeing a Conqueror character like the one I created for "Journey's End."

This Xena is 45 years old and has been the Conqueror of the lands known as the Greek Empire for at least twenty of those years. I didn't try to deny the cruel, lascivious, and animalistic behavior she purveyed in her past, and I didn't try to say she'd suddenly become a saint. However, I did portray her as a woman who reached an age where she questioned her motives, her life, and her actions. She decided to work at becoming an honorable woman once more. Sort of a, Xena has a mid-life crisis.

C. J.: I don't think that my Xena falls into any one of your listed types of tales. Her complexity makes all three types of Conqueror stories applicable to her.

Also, I have to mention that my series tells the story of a woman who builds an Empire at the approximate time in history that Caesar and then Augustus forged the Roman Empire. To make the underlying plot believable, I've abandoned much of the fantasy elements to the television series. My stories don't include gods as characters, nor have they the presence of any creatures of mythology, although, as an exception, the Amazons are featured prominently. Instead, I researched the culture, politics and geography of Europe in the last century B. C. I created a world where Xena was the imperial ruler at the time and I continue to strive to make that world sound historically accurate.

Fanatic: I should note that I do not conceive of the Conqueror as a sadist, sexual or otherwise, as so many do. Mine is a brilliant military strategist trying to conquer the world. In the midst of doing that, she has become accustomed to violence. She is not a rapist, or into kinky sexual games. My model of her is Machievilli's "The Prince". That is a brilliant book of political strategy. Several of the subplots in my series have come straight from that book.

Planet-solin: I don't think I would call my Conqueror character unique. When I wrote the series I just allowed my mind to follow it's own path while keeping in mind certain key elements of the original series. I try not to sit down with a certain objective in mind. I like the story to reveal itself as I write so that I will also be entertained. For me, writing is a natural flow that sometimes rushes forth like a flood and at other times ambles along like a quiet river.

Gin: [Within my series] there is quite a bit of difference all around. For one thing, I absolutely hated that Xena crucified Gabrielle and broke her legs.... my Conqueror never did that (mostly due to that alternate timeline thing causing Gabrielle to take a different path than what was portrayed on the TV show). My Conqueror is also different because she lives with Disassociative Identity Disorder. This is something that I don't believe many bards truly do. Many ... no ... ALL of the stories allude to Xena's dark side... but my Xena's dark side has a name. T here are several different 'alters' that have made appearances in the stories, but the three main 'alters', the ones that are in control most often, are The Warrior Princess, The Conqueror, and the Sleeper.

EM: That's fascinating ÷ you actually chose a psychological disorder. Why?

Gin: It was the only way I could logically (in my own mind) justify the cruelty that Xena obviously had in order to take control of the world (The Conqueror), and the tenderness that I wanted her to show toward Gabrielle (The Warrior Princess). As it turned out it wasn't really necessary, because eventually the Conqueror discovered she loved Gabrielle too.

EM: Obviously traumatic points in her life caused the multiple personalities, but when did the split occur?

Gin: I believe the earliest one we have seen is the toddler who is almost three, I don't believe the event leading up to her arrival has been explained yet, there is a 7 year old also not really explained, and a 12 year old also as yet unexplored.... It is my understanding (from what I have pieced together from what Xena has told me) that the Conqueror appeared when their village was attacked and their brother was killed. She would have been about 15 at the time... this is where I differ the story from the actual psychological phenomenon of DID because for as long as the Conqueror was in charge, she matured/aged. From what I understand, 'alters' are normally caught in a certain moment of time... sort of stuck in the time they appear. Xena's toddler is almost three, and will always be almost three ...the same with the 7 and 12 year olds. They will always be that age.

Ares Chosen was created when Xena forged an alliance with the God, I'm not exactly sure if that was during the raid on Amphipolis or not, it may have been afterward. Her age isn't really in question though, because she is mostly just instinctual, more animal than anything; all she does is fight, and win.

There are others... but I honestly don't know how many. The thing is that DID is a natural defense system our bodies/minds use to get us through traumatic events, and when it is used (especially at an early age) it tends to be used a lot. We are all capable of this, and I greatly admire people who were able to live through such events in their lives no matter how they do it. Many times people are describe as suffering with DID and I understand that it would be difficult, but I prefer to think of it as living with DID.

EM: What impact does your Gabrielle have on the Conqueror?

C. J.: This is what I love most about most Conqueror [fiction]. Instead of Hercules bringing Xena around, Gabrielle is Xena's first and only light. Her decisions to shed whatever evil [still] continues to fill her heart after meeting Gabrielle is based on her pure love for Gabrielle. That is how I'm writing these two characters and I think it's safe to say that other bards have written them similarly.

DJWP: If Hercules had failed to unchain Xena's heart, then there is only one person left in the known world who could possibly succeed in doing that.

In any reality, Gabrielle will always be Xena's conscience and her heart.

Planet-solin: I think I have used her as the catalyst for change. In each of our lives we reach a crossroads, a turning point where we choose a path. For some it is a major event for others it is a simple meeting of very different individuals, but the outcome is the same. Change.

Paradee: My Gabrielle had tremendous impact upon the Conqueror because of her courage to question Xena's laws and stand up to her along with her kindness and storytelling ability, and was drawn to her from the time she first saw her. Xena may have mellowed some in my story, but she was still a very feared leader who tolerated no insubordination. Gabrielle eventually breached the barrier Xena had erected around herself and found the way into her heart.

Storm: Okay, [for me,] she has a very slow impact. I think it makes the story more believable than the average Conqueror stories, where Xena looks in Gabrielle's eyes and suddenly she can't kill anymore, not even a fly. But her impact is huge nonetheless.

Gin: My Gabrielle has a HUGE impact on my Conqueror character. [It's] her unwavering love of ALL [that] alters the way the Conqueror rules and is slowly allowing The Warrior Princess and The Conqueror to come to terms with each other. Gabrielle ALWAYS knows 'who' she is speaking to.

Fanatic: My Gabrielle (gosh, I love the sound of that) is slowly becoming Xena's heart. My series (The Seven Wonders Series) has two segments and an interlude completed and several more planned (if I get a moment). In the current one, "Queen of the Nile", I will have Xena finally realize her love for the Oracle. Gabrielle is constantly asserting her influence on the Conqueror, trying to reign in her inherent brutality. She does it, however, in a very subtle manner, never once ordering Xena to do anything. Gabrielle is smart. She knows that the best way to influence is through deference.

L. J.: Ahh, where would a good Alternative Conqueror story be without our favorite blonde? My Gabrielle is still the same beautiful soul deep down, but her life, thus far, has made her a far different character than the feisty Conqueror stories I have read.

Gabrielle is 20 years old and has been a slave since the age of 10. She has spent all this time as a body servant/mistress. She goes about her duties with a methodical obedience, rarely disobeying or going against her master's will. When Gabrielle comes to Xena as a personal body slave, she is fearful and afraid, always waiting for punishment or to be struck down, simply for her master's pleasure.

This young woman initiates a long hidden spark of compassion within Xena. For the first time in nearly a lifetime, Xena begins to think of someone other than herself. Eventually, the unthinkable happens ÷she begins to care. Again, Gabrielle plays redeemer to her soulmate, a seemingly constant task for the small blonde, lifetime after lifetime.

This is not a short Conqueror tale; in fact, I've made it into a series because their relationship holds no perfectly pat storybook ending. They each have many demons to face down, but it is made known that their love and the very pasts that shaped them will enable them to survive together.

EM: How would you compare your Conqueror to the Xena archetype?

DJWP: My Conqueror is the Xena archetype. Though she is tempted to remain as Conqueror, a dream that has never really left her, her priorities in life have changed.

C. J.: I've tried to write both Xena and Gabrielle as recognizable characters to readers who watch the show. I don't believe I've deviated too much. Reader response would certainly suggest that the characters are believable.

Storm: My fiction is very close to the archetype, especially my Gabrielle. My Xena [on the other hand] pushes her memories in the deepest corners of her soul. Only with the story going on, the past comes back haunting her, but she doesn't cry over it. She's a woman of action. She can't turn back time so she tries to change the future. All in all, my Xena is pretty close to the archetype.

Gin: My Conqueror IS Xena... she is exactly the same person that the Xena in the show was, up to the point that Hercules came into the picture. She is a person who has done horrible things in her past and is now realizing she needs to make up for them.

Paradee: The Xena archetype was on a path of redemption. The Conqueror was not. So in that sense I don't think they're really comparable with the exception of the introduction of Gabrielle into the story. In both scenarios Gabrielle has tremendous influence and because of that the Conqueror begins to make changes that benefit the people. The Xena archetype had started her path to redemption, but was ready to give up "Sins of the Past" until Gabrielle entered the picture.

L. J.: The original Xena that we see on TV is at a stage in her life where she wants so much ÷ [she] wants to love and be loved in return, even though she feels unworthy of such caring. The Lord Conqueror of my series experiences those feelings, but with a twist. Where our television heroine has known the love of mother and family, lost it, then regained it again, the Conqueror never regained her family.

The Lord Conqueror always takes without asking, never feels, and barely remembers what emotions like love and friendship feel like. She curses herself for not knowing how to express the most basic of kindnesses and feels weak or foolish when she tries.

She knows little of the emotions that foster a healthy relationship. Like other Conqueror stories, Xena feels unworthy of love and kindness, unlike the others, she has spent many, many years without such affections, so she has no idea how to express them.

I think people will find this Xena bears a resemblance to the television warrior we know so well. She is an older, wiser Xena, but far from completely redeemed. Her temper and her fighting skills are still legendary and often uncontainable.

Fanatic: In my mind, the traditional Xena is burdened by her past, resolved to make things right. She is a loner, with a few notable exceptions, and constantly reminded of those she has lost along the way (Lyceus, Marcus, now Eve). My Conqueror is not burdened by her past. She's ticked off at Ares for letting Lyceus die, but she's turned that anger [into] action, not self-reflection.

My Conqueror keeps her own counsel, with a few notable exceptions (Gabrielle and Palaemon) but is very future oriented. She wants Rome. She wants the Middle East. She wants Egypt. She wants Gaul and the northern territories. I hope, at the end of the journey, that she discovers that the world means nothing compared to love. She'll keep the world, though.

EM: Once again ÷ thanks to the bards for taking the time to answer these questions. We've seen that even with the forehand knowledge of Xena's personality in the TV show, a brief glimmer into an alternate persona [The Conqueror] can entice bards to explore both the differences and similarities of these two personas. The fact that so little is canon in regards to 'The Conqueror', allows the bards to express their creativity in a multitude of story lines.

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