Authors Note: Hey guys, sorry that once again, it's been quite a bit of time between updates. I'm trying to make sure I update at least once a week, but I've spent the last couple of days moving house and between that and working, I'm not finding much time to write. So I hope you understand if the next few chapters are a little while in between; I'm trying my best. On a good note though, I have another couple of stories that I'll be uploading soon to make up for it. I hope you all enjoy this chapter.
To Mend A Wild Heart
I paused mid step, cringing at the sound of the voice calling out to me, along with the footsteps that were hurrying towards me. I wondered for a brief moment if I should keep walking so that I didn't have to face the Queen of the Nile, who I had been avoiding ever since the banquet several nights ago. She would have questions, I was sure of it; many questions that I didn't really have any interest in answering. With a sigh, I plastered my most charming smile on my face before turning to face the Egyptian.
"Cleo," I purred as the woman drew closer to me, ignoring her obvious anger that showed through her dark eyes and pounding footsteps. "Have you been enjoying your stay?"
"Where is she?" Cleopatra asked immediately, stopping just out of reach and crossing her arms over her chest. "Where is my slave?"
"She's not your slave, Cleo," I replied calmly, watching as the dark skinned woman bristled.
"She is m- "
"No, she isn't," I consciously lowered my voice to its most menacing level. "She is Greek, which means that she belongs to me. And even more to the point, she betrayed Greece, which means that I had every right to take her for punishment."
I watched as several emotions flittered over her face, from anger to horror, to sadness and unease. I was unsure of how she felt about the slave since she escaped and I was slightly surprised to find that she was more upset that angry.
"Did you punish her?" The Egyptian finally asked with a slight tremble in her voice.
"She was punished," I said quietly, having decided that her life as a slave had been punishment enough, if only because I didn't want to raise a hand against her myself. "Now, how about you join me in my room for a glass of wine and we can discuss this further?"
The Egyptian seemed to consider my offer for several moments before finally nodding her head gracefully and following me down the corridor. I spent the short trip cursing to myself and wondering what in Hades name I was going to say to Cleopatra. By Greek law, I knew that I was in the right, but personally? Cleopatra had a big reason to be pissed off.
I hadn't even sent word to Cleopatra since our hasty departure from her palace. How was she to know what had happened to her most favored slave? I could tell by the look on her face at dinner that she didn't expect Gabrielle to be there. In fact, the Egyptian looked like she had seen a ghost.
Though, knowing my reputation, she probably thought she had.
I nodded towards the guard as we strode down the hall way leading to my room. He opened the door for us and I brushed by him and made my way straight to the desk where a wineskin of port was waiting for me. I poured myself a drink, sniffing the liquid for any trace of poison before I poured another glass for my unexpected guest and turned to face to Egyptian. I held the goblet out to her, and watched as she took it with a slightly lost expression on her face. It was weird to see Cleopatra like this, unsure in my quarters, especially considering how randy she had been for me only days ago.
"Have you spoken to Gabrielle?" I asked the dark skinned woman as I seated myself on the couch in front of my fireplace which was crackling merrily despite the warmth outside. I watched as Cleopatra lowered herself besides me, though I noticed that she left several spaces between us and her body was tensed as if waiting for an attack.
"No," Cleo replied softly, her brow furrowing as she stared at the dark liquid in her goblet. "I think she is avoiding me."
I raised an eyebrow at this information, hardly surprised by it, though I acted like I was. "Have you given her reason to be afraid of you?"
"How could I? I have not seen her since the morning before she left my palace," Cleopatra's frown deepened as she took a small sip of port. "I just want to know why. She was my most favoured slave."
"She wanted to be free," I replied simply, shrugging my shoulders at Cleopatra's stare. "Like all slaves, she just wanted to be free."
"When did you last see her?" Cleopatra asked curiously.
"Before she showed up here? At the docks, in this city. Alexandria captured her when she escaped your palace, but she managed to get away while we were fighting the Romans."
Cleopatra sighed, leaning back in her seat, her face open and sad. I watched her curiously, having never seen the Egyptian in this state before. While obviously not a completely emotionless or cold woman, she wasn't the kindest ruler I'd ever met either. It was weird to see her so upset over a slave, something I would never have expected from her.
"Excuse me?" I asked politely, having missed the words she had spoken as I was so intent on watching her.
"She never said anything," Cleopatra's voice was barely audible, with a tinge of sadness in it. "She never told me that she wanted to be free. I would have given it to her, if only to save everyone the trouble it caused."
My eyes widened slightly in surprise, having not expected those words from the Egyptian. I had seen many sides of Cleopatra, but never this part of her. The compassionate, caring part of the Queen of the Nile, who had obviously cared deeply for her former slave.
I felt a sudden, deep affection and respect for this woman that I realized, I hardly knew at all.
"You know Brutus is coming, don't you," Cleopatra said suddenly, startling me. I didn't let my surprise show, keeping my expression neutral at her words.
"You know that I refused Brutus's offer?" Cleopatra turned her head to reguard me, some of the seriousness returning to her features.
"I had hoped you would," I replied softly, returning her gaze unwavingly as I internally recovered from another shock. So hung up on the former slave and things in my own palace, I hadn't even thought about the possibility of Egypt siding with Rome in the battle to come.
"You have Egypt's support and her navy if you choose to use it."
These words surprised me more than anything, though again I didn't show it. I merely nodded gratefully at the dark skinned woman, a small smile pulling at my lips as I took a sip of port and savoured the flavour. I watched as Cleopatra leant back in her seat, finally relaxing as she gazed into the fire with a thoughtful expression. I turned my head slightly to watch the flames with her, my eyes glinting in the light as I thought about all the new possibilites that had been laid out before me.
Things were finally starting to look up.
In the middle of the night, I found myself wandering the halls of my castle, restless but unsure as to why. I knew that I should be in my room, planning for Rome's attack, or wondering who tried to kill me and contemplating my upcoming marriage to a woman that was potentially dangerous to me. At least, I should be thinking about the Festival that would start in five days, which is why I don't really know how I ended up in the corridor leading to the guest quarters.
I made my way down the corridor, my feet making no noise as I glided along the marble floor, dressed in a pair of old leathers and worn leather boots. I stopped in front of the former slave's room that I had picked specifically for Gabrielle. I spent several moments staring at the ornate wooden door before raising my hand to knock and then hesitating as I heard noises inside.
Heavy breathing. Moaning. The large wooden bed creaking.
Gods, did Gabrielle have someone in there with her? I resisted the urge to throw the door open and race inside as I felt my jealousy rise up. I had no reason to be angry, I berated myself as I stood there, hand still raised to knock. I was getting married in ten days. And even though Gabrielle had told me that she loved me, it didn’t give me ownership of her, especially considering that I had refused her advances. She was a grown woman with needs, needs that I understood well and if she wanted to take someone to bed, she had every right to, whether I liked it or not.
The agonized shout made my decision for me as I threw open the door and flew inside. I paused in the middle of the room, my eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness as I looked towards the bed. The silk sheets were twisted around Gabrielle's lithe form and her body was damp with sweat, but she was alone. Stuck in a dream, the blonde's face was twisted into a grimace of pain as her body jerked repeatedly, her hand reaching for an object that I couldn’t see. I quickly gathered my composure and made my way over to the bed, sitting on the edge and reaching my hand out cautiously, intent on waking her from her nightmare.
Only to have my hand grabbed in the ex-gladiators firm grip, the bones in my wrist grinding together as she crushed them in strong fingers. I looked down into ocean green eyes, dazed and confused as the Amazon's mind slowly caught up to her body. "Xena?"
"Hi," I cleared my throat, feeling slightly embarrassed to be caught in the Amazon's room uninvited. The Queen blinked her eyes slowly, her hand relaxing around my wrist as I breathed a silent sigh of relief and resisted the urge to rub my aching bones.
"Is something wrong?" Gabrielle asked her brow furrowing as she reached up with her free hand to push her sweat dampened hair out her eyes. She seemed to realize in that moment that she was still gently gripping my wrist, and she uncurled her fingers almost reluctantly.
"You were having a bad dream."
"Oh," Gabrielle's frown deepened, before a sly smirk slid onto her face. "And you heard me all the way from the other side of the castle, hm?"
I had the decency to look embarrassed as I shrugged my shoulders. "I came to see you."
"In the middle of the night?" She grin widened.
"Do you want me to leave?" I shot back, starting to feel unsure of myself as I began to rise from the bed.
"No," Gabrielle replied quickly, sitting up and propping herself against several fluffy pillows. I let myself relax and stretched out on my side, resting my head on my fist with my legs dangling over the edge of the bed.
"What were you dreaming about?" I asked curiously after several moments of silence. I regretted it almost immediately at the pained look on the blonde woman's face, but I didn't retract my question.
"I was thinking of Egypt," Gabrielle said finally, her voice low and hoarse. "But it was like... I felt like a ghost. I could only stand there and watch and I couldn't do anything to stop..."
"To stop what?" I said, my voice soft.
"To stop me."
"You need to let that go," I said firmly, surprising the Amazon who stared at me in stunned silence. "It's in the past, Gabrielle and we've moved beyond it. I can't let it go until you do and I don't want to think about that anymore."
"Me neither," She whispered, her voice cracking as she blinked tears from her eyes. "It hurts too much to remember that moment when I knew I'd lost you."
I didn't know what to say to that, so we stared at each other in silence for what felt like a lifetime before I finally looked away. I ran my fingers over the sheets, feeling the silky softness under my skin as I wondered what I was doing. I pushed those thoughts away and rolled onto my back, turning my head so that I could keep the blonde in sight.
“Tell me a story,” I said finally, resting my hands on my stomach. Gabrielle’s eyes widened slightly at the request, but she soon relaxed into the pillows, a smile playing her lips as she nodded.
“What do you want to hear?”
“Tell me the one about the warrior and her bard,” I grinned, remembering the stories she had told me in Egypt. “That’s my favorite.”
“Mine too,” she smiled warmly, before her eyes unfocused slightly and she begun to weave her tale. I watched her in awed silence, smiling unconsciously as her hands moved with the story. With a sigh, I relaxed into the pillows and listened as the warrior and the bard fought through heaven and hell, all for their love for each other.
To be continued in Chapter Fourteen.
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