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 is jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
The noise which I'm sure was overwhelming the court room was hardly even a buzzing in my ear as I sat wearily on my throne. I stared out at the crowd with unseeing eyes, thinking about how much my life had changed in the past few seasons. I had gone from a respected if feared ruler to a lovesick fool, to a wild beast and finally to a woman that felt much too weak and vulnerable to be sitting in such a large chair that held so much power. Gods, how had everything changed so drastically in such a small amount of time?
Several summers ago, I would never have believed that I would fall in love with a slave that would make such chaos of my life. I would have scoffed at the thought of having my heart broken by a mere woman. I never would have foreseen the betrayals from the people I held closest to my heart, nor would I have predicted how many traitors hid in the shadows of my Empire. Most of all, I would have mocked anyone who told me that in this moment of my life, I would have wished that I never became the Conqueror at all.
I wondered if my life would have been different if I had just stopped. I wondered what would have become of me if I had stopped killing, stopped fighting, and stopped raping and burning. Would it have made a difference, or would I have just died long before now? For all I know, I could have changed for good after my army put me through the gauntlet all those years ago. Maybe I might have even met Gabrielle under different circumstances. We could have been together like the characters in her stories, so in love that we would die for each other without a second thought.
I would die for her now, I knew, but it was different. I wondered silently if we could ever truly be together and be happy, if we were ever able to be together at all. With our history, I found it increasingly hard to believe that we would end up together. There was too much hurt still inside of me that I couldn't move past to see how she had changed. Would I ever be able to forget the past long enough to think of a future for us? Would I be able to see the love and devotion in her eyes without seeing the heartbreak she had caused me? There were so many questions that I didn't have answers for, too many questions that I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer for.
In the back of my mind, my warrior instincts picked out a certain cruel comment from the crowd, followed by several others. While the people had every right to say what they were saying, I felt the beast that had lain dormant for days now, wake up and prowl in my chest. Unfortunately, this time I was too tired to care enough to try and control it.
"Death to the Romans and General Alexandria!"
"The Conqueror should have gutted her!"
"Better yet, she should have given her to the army and let the men have their fun. They respected and admired her and she betrayed them!"
"She betrayed all of us!"
A low, angry growl erupted from my throat as my vision started to go red with rage. I imagined that the hall would soon be bathed in the same colour as I gutted every last noble in the room. I hardly noticed the court room go silent as I stood up slowly from my throne, angry, animal like sounds still rumbling in my chest. I imagined slitting the next man's throat who dared speak of Alexandria's betrayal, until my vision was blocked by a blur of movement.
"Conqueror?" The voice sounded faintly familiar but in my blood red haze I couldn't distinguish the difference between this person and the men that spoke so poorly of my ex consort. My hand raised of its own accord, ready to strike down who ever stood in my way. The beast wanted blood and it wanted it now. There was no difference between friend and foe to the animal inside of me.
I cocked my head, my ears twitching as I heard my name whispered softly in a deep voice that sounded like music to my ears. The beast cringed and backed off slightly, leaving my closed fist hanging in midair, shaking with barely restrained fury. A part of me wanted to drop my hand, but another part of me said to take out this threat before it was too late.
"Xena? Xena, it's me, Gabrielle."
That seemed to spur the beast back into action, as my vision tunneled and focused on the woman standing before me. Betrayer! She destroyed us. She betrayed me and left me for dead.
She's changed. She loves you.
She never loved you; she only ever wanted to be free. She isn't here for you now. She's here for your throne. She's here to take everything this time, not just your heart. She'll destroy you. She'll destroy us.
My mind was chaos as the beast fought for freedom while I desperately tried to regain some control. I could taste the familiar metallic tang of blood in my mouth, so out of my mind that I didn't realise I had bitten the inside of my cheek while fighting the darkness inside of me. The beast relished the familiar flavor and inch by inch, my fist started to move forward, ready to destroy everything in its path. It seemed as if I was fighting a losing battle, until I heard Gabrielle's voice again.
"Xena, come back to me. Please, come back to me.”
The beast hissed as with one final push, I locked it away in the back of my mind where it prowled and raged, but at least I was finally in complete control. Gabrielle stood before me, a small bit of fear in her eyes, which lessened as she watched the coldness disappear from my blue orbs. Her brow was furrowed in concern, but there was a relieved smile on her face as she reached out to touch my arm, only slightly hesitant.
"Hey, where'd you go?" She asked, completely oblivious to the crowd that watched us. "You had me worried for a moment, Conqueror."
"Sorry," I managed a half smile before I let my eyes wander over the now silent room. The nobles and peasants stared back at me, though they averted their eyes when I met their gaze. I turned back to my throne and sat down, motioning Gabrielle to stand beside me. I could see the surprise in her eyes at this but I ignored it, acting as if I didn't know what it meant to give her this position at my right side where Alexandria had stood so recently.
"Lord Conqueror," one of the noblemen finally had the courage to speak after several moments of almost awkward silence. "Are we to assume your wedding to General Alexandria is cancelled?"
"Considering she was just escorted from Greece, what do you think, Diomedes?" I replied, recognizing the man who had asked if I would marry all those weeks ago.
"But everythings already organized!" Another noble complained loudly. "What are we supposed to do, Conqueror? Isn't there someone else you cou-"
I raised my hand, stopping him mid-sentence. To be honest, I had already thought about taking someone else as my wife, but I found that the idea truly sickened me. "No, I will not marry this Spring. Send a messenger down to the city and let the people know that if they wish to marry on the last day of the festival, they can at the Empire's expense. The hard work you've all put into this wedding will not go to waste."
I could see that some people were satisfied by this, while others continued to look angry. I honestly couldn't find it in myself to truly care about any of it. I stood up from my throne, my back straight and my head held high as I prepared to leave the court room.
"As you all know, the Spring festival will start in four days. Court will not resume after this session until after the celebration is over. Dismissed."
I found that I couldn't get out of the court room fast enough. I had left before many of the nobles had even stood from their seats and had immediately made my way out of the castle. Everything past by me in a blur and before I even realised where I was going, I found myself in the stables, standing before the stall that held my favourite horse. I leant against the wood, resting my chin on my forearm as I gazed at the golden mare who stared back at me with large dark eyes. She nuzzled the side of my head, blowing strands of hair into my eyes as she said hello before turning back to her feed bin.
It wasn't long until I heard the door to the stable open behind me and I felt a familiar presence. I turned my head slightly as Gabrielle leant against the stall beside me, a thoughtful look on her face.
"I'm sorry," she finally said, turning her head to face me.
"For what you had to do in there," she replied. "That must have been really hard."
I turned away from the Amazon, looking back at the golden mare with unseeing eyes. I nodded slightly, despite the fact that I knew she didn't know how hard it truly had been. Nobody knew how much it had hurt to say those things to Alexandria, and to hear her cruel replies. I may not have been in love with her but she was the most constant thing in my life and now she was gone.
It hurt. I was hurting, but there were more important thing to think about right now.
"Where do you stand, Gabrielle?" I asked softly after several minutes of silence. I had let this go on long enough and it was time to find out where the former slave stood in the middle of all this confusion.
"With you, Xena, I've told you that.”
"When were you going to tell me that your Amazon's were hiding just outside of the city?"
The silence was deafening as I watched Gabrielle's emerald green eyes widen with surprise. I had known since two days after her arrival that almost two hundred Amazons were camping in a small forest less than half a day's ride away. I didn't say anything because honestly, I was less than worried about such a small amount of warriors, even if they were Amazons. They weren't a threat to Corinth, but now with Brutus planning to attack and so many traitors in the city, I needed to know that they were on my side.
“How did you know?” Gabrielle finally asked.
"I have my ways," I replied. "It wasn't hard to get someone to follow your regent on a trip to the ‘market'. Now, why didn't you tell me?"
"I wasn't exactly keeping it from you," she answered quickly, turning her head to gaze up at me with earnest eyes. "It was just, you know, in case."
"In case, what?"
"In case you chose to execute me rather than let me stand at your side," Gabrielle said bluntly, causing me to cringe. I couldn't hold that against her, considering when she had first shown up in Corinth that had been my plan exactly.
"Will they fight for the Empire?"
Gabrielle looked away from me, staring down at her hands that rested against the stable wall. We stood there in silence for several minutes until I started to think that maybe Gabrielle wasn't completely with me after all. She surprised me with her next words.
"They'll follow me where ever I go, and considering I don't plan on letting even death take you from me this time, then I guess they'll follow us both to Hades if need be."
To Be Continued
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