Summary: The Conqueror leaves Greece to visit Cleopatra and meets a slave/gladiator named Gabrielle but all is not what it seems.
Disclaimer: See Part 1
Chapter Twenty One
After we saw land, it wasn't long until we heard the sounds that convinced us that the battle was still raging in my Empire. Over the sounds of the waves crashing against the side of the ship, I could hear the metallic ring of swords and screams of dying men as steel sunk hungrily into flesh. I stood on deck, listening to Alexandria shout orders to the Royal guard while I squinted towards the shoreline, attempting to see how the battle was going. I gave up quickly, knowing that we were still too far away for me to be able to see anything that would let me know how Greece was faring against the Romans.
The wind had stayed strong for the whole of our journey and the normally seven or eight day trip turned into a short six. I was ecstatic to know that we would dock in Corinth before the battle was over and that my sword would taste Roman blood. Over the past few days, the pain of my broken heart had been pushed aside and my rage had taken over. Unable to talk to the slave, the gentle part of my heart had been almost completely swallowed by the beast and I could feel the bloodlust rushing through my veins with every league we travelled that brought me closer to my homeland.
I paced on top of the deck, feeling eyes burning into my back as I muttered to myself under my breath. I finally looked up and caught Alexandria's gaze, and I felt the beast retreat the tiniest bit at the concern in her midnight blue orbs.
"My lord," Alexandria said as she strode towards me, her voice dropping to almost a whisper when she made it to my side. "I have prepared the men for battle and they all know the plan for when we dock, but..."
"But, what?" I raised an eyebrow impatiently at my second.
"I need to know what you want to do about the slave, Conqueror."
I averted my eyes from Alexandria's intense and sympathetic gaze, unsure of how to answer her question. I had spent quite a bit of time wondering what to do about the slave once we finally got back to Greece and it hadn't been easy. She had betrayed my Empire the penalty for deceiving me was death.
"I want two of your most trusted men guarding her at all times," I finally decided, receiving a quick nod from my second. "I'll decide her punishment once I have Corinth back under control."
I watched as Alexandria strode swiftly across the deck towards a few members of the Royal Guard and quickly made a decision. This would be the last time I would probably be able to talk to the slave in private and I was going to take full advantage over the small amount of time we had left. I had questions that only the slave could answer and I needed to know certain things before I stepped off this ship.
I walked up the steps leading towards the captain's cabin where the slave was being held and swiftly opened the door and stepped inside. The slave looked up from the floor that she had been studying and her eyes immediately became cold when she met my gaze. Gods, she was beautiful when she was angry, I thought to myself while managing to keep my warrior mask firmly in place. I pulled a chair from the corner of the room and seated myself in front of the slave, returning her stare unemotionally.
"What do you want?" Gabrielle asked coldly, her green eyes glittering with barely concealed rage. Obviously being tied up for six days wasn't sitting well with the slave.
"I just came to tell you that we are less than a candlemark away from the docks of Corinth," I shrugged as I observed the slave from my seat in front of her. "A candlemark away from your master's death and your own to follow shortly after."
Gabrielle said nothing as she continued to stare at me, her eyes detached though I did notice the slight slump of her shoulders which told me she had resigned herself to her fate. She had known from the moment Alexandria captured her that she was living on borrowed time.
"Do you have anything you want to say before I leave?" I asked her after several minutes of silence as we gazed into each other's eyes, for two completely different reasons I was sure. For me, I just wanted to look into her emerald orbs one last time before stepping onto Greek soil that would be stained red with the blood of my men. Inside, I flinched at the expression in her eyes, knowing I would hear no loving words from the slave or receive any comfort before I entered the battle that would decide my future.
"I hope you die," the slave said without hesitation.
The words stung but I didn't let it show. Instead, I just smiled cruelly at the slave and raised an eyebrow. "Oh? If you've been hoping for my death this whole time, why didn't you just kill me yourself back in Egypt?
Gabrielle shrugged as much as she could with the ropes that were wrapped tightly around her muscular body. "If I was to kill you in Egypt, Cleopatra would take the blame. I didn't want her to get hurt."
"Oh sure," I scoffed at the slave disbelievingly as I leant forwards in my chair. "That's centaur shit, Gabrielle and you know it. You don't give a fuck about Cleopatra or anyone else. All you care about is yourself. You and your freedom is all that matters."
"That's not true," Gabrielle snarled, her eyes flashing with rage.
"Isn't it?" I asked her with a raised eyebrow. "Then why did you run after you told me about Marc Antony's plans? You must have known that I would assume that Cleo had a part in all of this. You're lucky I let her talk and that she told me the truth about you, or I just would have cut off her head for the fuck of it."
I watched with a satisfied smile as Gabrielle grit her teeth, squeezing her eyes closed against her anger and frowned when she muttered something under her breath.
"What was that?"
"I said," Gabrielle whispered fiercely, her eyes burning into mine. "That you're a beast."
I laughed incredulously as I stared at the slave. "Me? A beast? Sure, but then what does that make you, Gabrielle? You, the woman who is a traitor to her own country, the woman who betrays her lover and the mistress that she claims to love. You, the woman that is the reason that Roman men and more importantly, Greek men will die, in a war that could have been stopped if only you'd have told me the truth!"
By the end of my rant, I was yelling and I watched with cruel satisfaction as Gabrielle flinched at my words. Tears welled up in her eyes and I watched silently as she tried to blink them away before continuing.
"If I am a beast, Gabrielle, then you are a monster. And at least, I never tried to hide who I was. I never pretended to love someone and received their heart in return only to crush it when it suited my purposes! I have seduced many, yes, and I have used my body to get what I want but I never offered up my heart to anyone other than you."
"Do you think I wanted this?!" Gabrielle sobbed as she strained against her binds. I watched in fascination as the tendons in her neck stuck out as she struggled. "I just wanted to be free!"
"And I just wanted to be loved!" I shouted as tears welled up in my own eyes. Despite my anger with the slave, it was killing me to see her like this. I wanted to rip the ropes from her body and gather her into my arms but I managed to restrain myself after several deep breaths. This was not the woman I had loved; I had to remind myself repeatedly. The woman that I loved never existed.
The thought tore my heart further to shreds as it had over the past week.
"You didn't love me," Gabrielle whispered, more to herself than to me. "You can't have. You're the Conqueror; you don't know what love is."
"The Conqueror may not know what love is," I replied in a broken whisper, my eyes softening as the slave returned my gaze. "But I do. Or, I thought I did, at least."
We continued to stare at each other for several moments before I finally tore my eyes away from the blonde. I closed my eyes, only just managing to regain my composure as I heard shouts from the ship's deck, telling me that it was time to leave.
"I have to go," I said softly as I stood up from my seat, keeping my eyes averted from the slave. It hurt too much to see the hatred in her eyes and I didn't want it to be the last thing I saw from her before I went into battle. "There will be two soldiers left here to guard you and they will bring you to my castle when everything's over."
The slave didn't reply, not that I had expected her to and I left the cabin without another word, desperately wanting to look back but stopping myself. Alexandria was waiting for me outside the cabin and she rested her hand on my shoulder as I closed the door behind me. I found comfort in her touch and in her midnight blue eyes; the kind of comfort that I had wished would come from the slave. I took it anyway and gave her a small smile as I covered her hand briefly with my own before pushing my pain away and looking towards the Corinthian docks.
"It's time," I said, a feral grin taking over my features as the beast roared in my chest. I could see lifeless bodies littering the port and I was satisfied by the fact that most of them were Roman.
"It is time," Alexandria replied, her face mirroring my own as her hands automatically moved to the two swords strapped to her back.Together, we walked across the deck of the ship, taking no notice of the men around us. I pulled my sword from my scabbard as my left hand gripped the railing of the ship and with one last look in Alexandria's eyes; I vaulted myself over the edge before the ship's anchor had even been dropped.
To Be Continued
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