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
Authors Note: If you want to email me, my address jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
I don't know who to trust.
My back ached with tension after leaving the court room, full of suspicious nobles, all with angry eyes and fingers itching towards weapons hidden underneath their cloaks. I had stayed painfully alert during the entire session, hardly feeling safe with the possible danger that had been standing to my right side. My guts had twisted every single time Alexandria had twitched, knowing that if she wanted to kill me at any time, she probably could. It was honestly scary, being unsure of anyone that I could really trust. Alexandria had been my raft in an angry sea and now knowing that she might be against me sent all my nerves tingling.
It was also strange that the one person that I felt like I could count on now was the same person that had once almost destroyed me.
I had gone to my room to change out of my robes after the long session of court and into my well-worn leathers before heading towards the training grounds, intent on a little bit of sparring to get rid of some of my unused energy. It was there that I found the Amazon Queen, right in the middle of everything with her small group of Amazon guards.
She was sparring against a woman of middle height, with dark hair twisted into a knot at the back of her head. She wielded a pair of Sais, her weapons of choice as I had learned in Egypt, though she said that she was also good with staves. I couldn't help but smirk as I watched her play with her opponent, letting the woman think that she had the upper hand as Gabrielle went on the defensive.
I could feel my own energy heighten as I watched her move, her thigh muscles flexing as she blocked a blow from her opponent's sword above her head. Her laughter echoed in my ears as she pushed the Amazon away before dodging a blow aimed at her ribs. She reminded me of a hummingbird with the way she moved so quickly and suddenly that if you blinked you'd miss it. It was so different from my own style, having been told by Alexandria that I looked like a wild cat with the way I moved, all sleek and graceful but with unmistakable speed and strength.
I watched in fascination as she defended against several more swipes before suddenly going on the attack. Her eyes glinted as her lips opened to reveal straight white teeth in a feral grin and I could see the gladiator from Rome as she truly started to enjoy the fight. It lasted only second as her moves went from almost lazy to swift, hard strikes that made my eyes hurt just from watching her move with such blinding speed. She moved in a blur as she attacked the Amazon, who had a look of resignation plastered on her face as though she expected this from her Queen; which she might have, though I certainly didn't. It occurred to me suddenly that Gabrielle had been holding out on me in Egypt, whether to make me underestimate her if we were ever to really fight, or just because she was a slave, I don't know.
All I know is one moment, the dark haired Amazon was fighting furiously and the next, she was sprawled on the ground.
The Amazon's applauded their Queen and I watched in amusement as even some of my own soldiers did the same, though the members of the Royal Guard continued to watch Gabrielle in wary silence. As if sensing me, Gabrielle turned towards me, a brilliant smile lighting her face as she sheathed her sais in her boots.
"Conqueror," Gabrielle nodded towards me respectfully, seeming not to notice the silence that drenched the yard as my presence was noticed.
"Queen Gabrielle," I purred, pushing off the stone wall I had been leaning against before I started walking towards her. "You've been holding out on me," I said as I gestured to the Amazon that was picking herself up off the ground.
The blonde shrugged, a half smile still playing her lips. "I didn't want to kick your ass in front of your General, now, did I?"
I raised an eyebrow at her, ignoring the snickers from her guard as I felt the beast start prowling in my chest. "You said you were good with staves?"
Gabrielle nodded with a slightly bemused expression on her face as I gestured to one of the soldiers standing close by. In moments, there were two staffs resting in each of my hands, one of which I threw to the former slave. I watched her catch the wooden weapon in her hands, staring at it with slightly unfocused eyes before she lifted her head to meet my gaze.
"Let's see how good you really are."
I hardly gave her a moment to prepare before I lifted my arms to slam my staff against hers, grinning as she raised her staff in reflex to block my attack, her stunned expression turned slightly feral. It felt like I was taken back in time as we traded blows, and I felt a familiar sting in my hands that I usually only felt when sparring against my second in command. She was fast and small and she used it to her advantage, moving in closer to me and striking hard and fast. I found myself suddenly on the defensive, her compact body being difficult to attack at such close range while my own longer frame gave her much more space to land her blows.
But even though she was fast, I was faster and stronger and I used my strength against her, feeling her arms start to weaken with every blow she deflected. I grinned dangerously as I feinted to the left, swinging my staff around at the last moment to hit her unprotected ribs as she moved to block my swipe. Her moment of surprise as my weapon hit her side was all it took for me to flick the staff from her hands and send it flying across the yard. I swung my staff low as she stared at me with wide eyes, hitting the back of her knees and watching with satisfaction as her legs flew out from underneath her and she dropped to the ground.
I leant over her heavily breathing form, the beast satisfied by the fact that I'd hardly broken a sweat as she stared up at me with round eyes. I could tell that she hadn't been expecting me to beat her so quickly as she realized that she hadn't been the only one holding back.
"No one beats me," I growled playfully, a feral grin playing my lips as I pressed the end of my staff lightly against her throat.
"Except for your consort," Gabrielle rasped, equally playful while her chest heaving as she attempted to catch her breath.
"Except for my consort," I confirmed, my eyes twinkling. "Which is okay, because I like it rough."
Gabrielle's lips twitched into a faint smile as she raised her hands in submission. "Lucky girl."
My smile faltered as I pulled the staff away from her throat and stepped back, giving her a moment to get up. I composed myself quickly as Gabrielle rolled to her knees before pushing herself to her feet and turning to face me. She looked as confused and unsure as I felt as we stood there awkwardly, until I realized that we were the certain of attention.
"Don't you all have things to do?" I growled at the soldiers and the Amazon's watching us. Eyes averted immediately as men hurried away from the practice field, while the Amazon's returned to their sparing.
"I mean that, you know," Gabrielle broke the silence between us as the practice yard was filled once again with the sound of steel crashing against steel. "About her being lucky."
I stared at her for a moment before I shook my head, dropping my eyes to the ground. I couldn't lie to her or myself anymore and tell her that I didn't want her. So, I did the next best thing and I told her the truth. "I can't do this, Gabrielle."
"Do what?" Gabrielle feigned innocence as she twirled the staff in her hands. "We're just talking, Xena. Can't we talk and just be friends?"
"Us being friends has never worked out very well, for either of us," I replied quietly, looking up into her emerald green eyes and seeing the same sadness that I felt in my own heart.
"Can we go somewhere?" She asked me hopefully, lowering her voice so that she wouldn't be heard despite the chaos of sound surrounding us.
I considered her words for several moments, knowing that I should say no even as I nodded in consent. She smiled slightly before I turned away, walking along the dirt path away from the practice yard and from watching eyes. Gabrielle followed me, not saying a word as I led her back into the castle and through several corridors that I was sure she hadn't walked through since she got here. The place I was taking her to was rarely ever used and I only ever went there when I needed time to think.
I pushed open the double doors that lead to my private courtyard, with Gabrielle still trailing silently behind me. I took a deep breath, inhaling the early afternoon air and allowed myself a small smile. My private courtyard was hidden behind the palace, amidst my private garden that I had planted when I finally conquered Corinth. Flowers from every part of the world bloomed all around me as I followed the stone path towards the very center of the garden. There was a small table in the little clearing, surrounded by several stone benches. I sat on one of the benches and gestured for Gabrielle to take a seat beside me, which she did somewhat cautiously.
We sat there in silence for several moments as I gazed at the scenery surrounding me. Today was the first day in a long time that I allowed myself to enjoy it. I hadn't visited my private gardens since I returned to Corinth, all those moons ago. I found that I missed the quiet time I had frequently spent here before I left Greece and travelled to Egypt. Just like I missed the company of the woman seated beside me, the one I had shared my quiet time with on several occasions in Egypt.
"I'm not going to hurt you again," Gabrielle broke the silence, her voice soft as she tore her gaze from the beauty surrounding us and turned her head to look at me. I met her stare, smiling slightly at the genuine sincerity there.
"I know," I replied, my voice equally soft as I surprised myself with the confidence in my words. It was true, I had to admit. I honestly didn't think that Gabrielle was here to hurt me, especially when she had so many chances since she'd been in Corinth.
"How did you become the Queen of the Amazons?" I asked suddenly, startling Gabrielle whose eyes widened at my words. It had been something I had been wondering about ever since Gabrielle entered my court room dressed in Amazon garb. With the things she had told me in Egypt, her life story didn't match up with her title as Queen.
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders as she turned her attention back to the garden. "It's a long story."
"I have time."
Gabrielle smiled, taking a deep breath before she spoke. "I guess by now, you know that I lied to you about a lot of things in Egypt, right? I mean, I had to make my story convincing and I couldn't really tell you that I was an Amazon."
"You could have," I said softly. "But you would have had to trust me for that, I guess."
"Yeah," Gabrielle's green eyes fell on me again, regret shining in them brightly. "Well, the first thing I lied about was my age."
"How old are you?" I asked curiously, gazing at the woman that looked no more than twenty summers old, ten years younger than myself.
"Twenty five summers," Gabrielle shrugged again. "Not much difference from the truth, but it worked with my story. Anyway, I did speak the truth about one thing; I was taken by slavers, but not when I was ten years old. I was taken when I was almost eighteen summers, just outside of Potidaea. The slavers burned down the village after they captured us, and both my parents died.”
"You said that Lila died as well?" I asked softly, remembering the former slave's tears when she had told me of her sister's demise. I wondered for a moment if it was true, or if Gabrielle was just a truly brilliant actress. Her pain had seemed so real, it had brought tears to my own eyes.
"She did," Gabrielle confirmed as sighed sadly, shadows darkening her eyes as she relived the pain of her sister's death. "The slavers were taking us here, to Corinth so that they could sell us to a Persian man. Halfway here, the men got bored I guess and they took Lila. They made us all watch as they fucked her and beat her."
"I'm sorry,” I said, hearing the hurt and anger in her words, even after all these years. The story of her sister's brutal death wasn't much different from what she told me in Egypt, and I felt for her like I had all those moons ago.
"Me too," Gabrielle said, wiping away the tears that had started to well up in her eyes. "She died in my arms while they continued to get drunk out of their skulls. That night, the camp was attacked by Amazon's and we were all rescued. To make a long story short, on the way back to the Amazon village, the princess was attacked and I tried to save her. She gave me her right of caste with her last breath and I became the princess instead. Two years after I joined them, Melosa was killed in a hunting accident and I became Queen."
"If you were Queen of the Amazons, then how did you end up in Cleopatra's service?" I asked with a small furrow in my brow.
"Stupidity?" Gabrielle sighed, resting her chin on her fist. "Four years ago, I went on a trip to one of the villages that we traded with. We knew that there was a warlord in the area, but we decided to go anyway. It was almost Winter and we would need the supplies to survive, so we went. The day after we got there, the warlord's men attacked the village and there were just too many of them. I tried to protect the women and children, and the next thing I knew I was in a cage and being sold a few days later. The rest of my Amazon's that survived went back to the village, but by the time Ephiny got to the port where I'd been taken, I was already on a ship halfway to Rome. They had no idea where I was. And everything that happened after that, I already told you."
During the end of Gabrielle's story, I felt a sick feeling form in the pit of my stomach as my mind went back to what I was doing four years ago. There was something about her words that seemed familiar to me as I remembered a time shortly before I finally took over Corinth. I looked up into her emerald green eyes as I asked a question I wasn't sure I wanted the answer to.
"Who was the warlord?"
"You," Gabrielle replied simply, her eyes burning intently into mine as she waited for my reaction. I closed my eyes, feeling as if I would throw up as I gripped the edge of the stone bench. I was surprised moments later when I felt her warm hand covering my own, sending sparks up and down my arm.
"How can you sit here with me when it was me that put you through all that?" I asked her, opening my eyes to return her gaze.
"It's easy," Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders with a slight smile. "I admit, for a long time I hated you. I wouldn't have cared if you died, which is why I agreed to Antony's plan. But thing's changed."
"What changed?" I asked hoarsely, drowning in self-loathing. "What could change things enough that you wouldn't still want all those things?"
"I fell in love with you," Gabrielle replied simply, laughing softly at the stunned look on my face. "Trust me, I expected it to happen even less than you did. But the moment I saw you, nothing else mattered to me anymore. It was my Amazon pride that wouldn't let me trust you, but it did nothing to stop me from loving with you so much that it hurt."
I gazed into her eyes, seeing the truth there as she stared back at me unflinchingly. It was her that finally broke the stare, turning her head away with a small smile playing her lips.
"We could be friends, you know," She said slyly and I couldn't help but grin despite the emotions still flowing through me, remembering a conversation between us that felt like it happened years ago.
"I don't have any friends," I played along, watching her as she turned to face me, her eyes sparkling.
"You really don't, do you?" She laughed and I joined her, even though we both felt the uneasy twisting in our guts at the truth of her words. There was no one I could trust and in siding with me, she had willingly thrown herself into the angry ocean that now threatened to consume the two of us and we both knew it.
"I suppose we could be friends," I finally replied, still chuckling.
"Good," Gabrielle nodded with a grin on her face. "We're friends then."
For now, at least, I thought to myself with a small smile. She was offering to share her raft with me and in this moment; I decided to take it despite the possible consequences. I knew it was a bad idea but as I looked into her eyes, I found the love I had seen there in Egypt, something that she was no longer trying to hide. I laughed softly, wondering how long it would take for me to regret this unlikely alliance, but hardly caring as I felt the warmth of her hand that still covered my own.
So immersed in each other, neither of us noticed the eyes watching us, sparkling dangerously in the shadows.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy