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: Howdy, how is everyone doing? I'm on holidays now so I'm going to try and update quicker, along with making the chapters longer. We're over half way through the story now, so things are going to start heating up. I hope you all look forward to the many twists to come, cause you know how much I love driving my readers crazy trying to figure everything out. I want to thank everyone for their comments and the many emails I've recieved. This story is my most popular one yet. If you want to email me, my address is jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
P.S. A lot of the emails/comments I've gotten are about Alexandria, which I really love. She's one of my favourite characters that I completely adore, even if I make her the bad guy in some of them. For all the fans of her out there, I want you to know that you haven't seen the last of her in this story ;)Thank you and enjoy.
The first day of the Spring festival was upon us and I woke up feeling better than I had in days. After all the drama and complications of the past moon, I actually found myself looking forward to the first day of the celebration. The opening day was more of a day long party than anything else, as was the last day of the festival, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. There would be food, strong drinks, entertainment and just generally good atmosphere all around.
The second day was for the lovers, romantics and bards of the country. People came from all over the world to watch some of the best poetry and plays be performed in the several theatres that have been built around the city. Bards and poets, such as Sappho came from all over the world to perform in Corinth. The city center was cleared out from noon to almost dawn for music and dancing, while other couples went down to the beach, to have dinner as the sun set. Last spring, Alexandria and I had actually joined the couples dining by candlelight at a small intimate table as the shore crashed against the sand rhythmically. It was one of my most relaxing and favourite memories, eating deliciously cooked fish and drinking fine wine as Alexandria and I reminisced about growing up in Amphipolis.
The third day was for shopping, when merchants from all over the world brought their gear to the market. In the past few years, I have spent the Gods only know how many dinars in that market. I have purchased several silk robes from Chin, daggers from Brittania and even some golden sandals from Rome. The day usually ended in the arena, which was even larger than the Coliseum in Rome, where a large circus from Chin would entertain a crowd of thousands. There were exotic animals, acrobats, men that ate swords, and when the sky was dark enough, a sort of light show. Lao Ma had told me once of the exploding rockets of black powder, that instead of destroying things, lit up the sky with thousands of colourful sparkles, though I had never seen them until after I conquered Greece.
The fourth day of the festival held all kinds of competitions, ranging from poetry, cooking to sword play. While I usually denied myself from actually participating in most of the competitions, I certainly enjoyed watching them, especially the wrestling. Despite the fact that the men usually smell so bad that I have to fight the urge to gag, it's not uncommon for me to have a go at wrestling the biggest man in the competition, just for fun.
And to boost my giant ego, of course.
I had a feeling that the festival this year was going to be much more interesting than the ones previous. With the city full of soldiers, not to mention the rowdy Amazons that were camped just outside the gates, things were bound to be exciting to say at the least.
After leaving my warm bed, I made my way to the bathing room and slipped into the steaming tub my servants had prepared for me, enjoying the blissfully hot water as it soothed my still sore muscles from my sparring yesterday afternoon. I let myself relax as I listened to the noise drifting in through the open window. The sun had barely sent its first golden rays of light over the earth and already the festival was in full swing. I was surprised to find myself itching to be out of the castle and down there myself, with Gabrielle on my arm.
"That looks lovely."
I practically flew out of the bath, water splashing over the edge of the sunken tub and onto the marble floor as I reached for a dagger placed nearby. Water dripped from my limbs and slid down my skin as I turned to face the intruder who was staring back at me with a mixture of amusement and obvious desire. Speak of the fucking devil.
"Fuck," I growled to myself, dropping the knife back on the floor before immersing myself back into the water, my heart beating wildly in my chest. The woman had always been able to sneak up on me when I least expected her to and it frustrated me to no end. That feeling hadn't changed in the slightest. "Don't you know how to knock?"
"And miss out on an opportunity this like? I don't think so," Gabrielle replied with a sly grin, sitting cross legged beside the edge of the sunken tub. She didn't even make an effort in pretending to give me any privacy as she stared into the clear water and at my exposed body with hungry eyes. I didn't really expect her to, considering she had been more than open with me about her feelings and desire. It didn't make me any less uncomfortable though.
Though, that might have had something to do with the wetness I could feel between my own thighs at the heat of her stare.
I decided to ignore her as I lathered a sea sponge with soap and scrubbed my skin, clearing away the grime from the day before. I promptly exited the bath after I finished washing my hair, disregarding Gabrielle's offer to scrub my back as I briskly dried myself off and wrapped myself in a robe.
"You used to love it when I washed your back," Gabrielle commented as she followed me from the bathroom, perching herself on the edge of my bed as I dug through my wardrobe for some suitable clothing.
"It's only good when a happy ending follows," I muttered under my breath.
"That could be arranged," Gabrielle purred with a coy smile.
I threw a smirk over my shoulder before pulling out a pair of tight black leather pants and a white shirt. I let my robe fall in a puddle at my feet as I changed, mildly surprised when small, strong hands replaced mine as I was lacing up the front of my shirt.
"This is my favourite outfit of yours, you know," Gabrielle said softly as her slim fingers worked on the buckles of my belt while I tightened my black and silver leather bracers.
"I remember," I said with a small grin as I sheathed my sword at my hip.
"You look beautiful," she murmured, almost as if speaking to herself.
I took that moment to notice what she was wearing and I couldn't help but smile in appreciation. It was the same outfit she had worn when she was brought before me in court, all those days ago. Dark brown leather boots covered her calves, though her muscular thighs were left bare, the loincloth she wore only covering her most private of parts. Her abdominal muscles ripped with every breath, and the wraps around her breasts left little to the imagination. Her hair was pushed back and braided with beads and feathers, highlighting her beautiful green eyes. She looked like a true Amazon Queen.
"So do you," was all I could manage to say, though it seemed to be good enough, based on the magnificent smile she gave me in return.
"Where are your Amazons?" I asked Gabrielle, who looked utterly charmed as I held my arm out for her and escorted her from the room. Her hand felt unnaturally warm on my skin and I felt butterflies in my stomach despite such casual contact.
"They're meeting us down there," Gabrielle smiled as we made our way down the corridor that led to the main hall and entrance. "Solari and Eponin we're too excited to wait."
"Are they a part of your guard?"
"Yes, Eponin is my weapons master and Solari is my head scout. They're two of my best fighters and good friends of mine," she replied with obvious pride. "And then there's Ephiny, who I just adore."
"Yes, the Regent," I mused out loud. "She is something else."
Gabrielle glanced curiously at me and opened her mouth to respond but quickly snapped it shut as the guards pushed the doors open for us, leading us out of the palace. The noise was much louder outside, having been muffled by the thick stone walls of the castle. I fought the urge to cover my ears as I adjusted to the sound while Gabrielle did just that. I smirked as I led her towards the stone path that would lead us into the city of Corinth, letting my pale eyes wander over the sight below us.
"Wow," Gabrielle breathed as we walked down the hill towards the packed town. My castle was on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and it gave us quite a good view of the celebration going on in the city. There were thousands of people already, despite the early hour of the morning. Even from this distance, I could smell food from all over the world and see colourful decorations covering everything in sight. "I've never been to a festival this big before."
"Me either," I replied with a small grin, feeling a small bit of pride over the festival. "This is the biggest it's been yet."
It didn't take long before we were passing the houses on the outer edge of the city, quickly becoming crushed in the sea of bodies. The city was full of soldiers along with commoners and they subtly surrounded us only seconds after we were first noticed. They kept their distance though, giving Gabrielle and I enough space to do and see what we pleased.
We managed to push our way through masses until we were in the main market place where everyone wanted to be. There were rows and rows of stalls covered with food from all over the world. Entertainment stood on every corner, ranging from fire breathers to acrobats and poets. I was overwhelmed by the sounds and smells and quickly grabbed two mugs from a tray that was passing by, held by a young woman that I recognized as a worker in Corinth's biggest tavern.
The whole area reminded me of one giant wild outdoor inn, without the bloody bar fights and people throwing up or fornicating in the corner.
Well, they hadn't started that yet, anyway.
"Gods, Xena," Gabrielle whispered, her green eyes bright with wonder as she took in the sights surrounding us. I found myself gazing at her face more than anything else, wondering how my name sounded so good coming from her lips. “This is amazing!”
“Yeah, it is,” I replied, feeling my cheeks burn with heat as Gabrielle turned her head and caught me gazing at her. She smiled shyly, squeezing me forearm before pulling me further into the crowd.
Hidden in the shadows, a figure watched the pair from afar, anger seething through the figure's veins. The Conqueror didn't deserve to rule Greece, especially with the way that she looked at that Amazon bitch. The cloaked observer soothed itself with the thought that everything was falling into place.
Soon, Greece will be mine and Xena will be begging at my feet, where she belongs.
With a twisted grin, the figure snuck stealthily back into the shadows, leaving the pair to their happiness which would be very short lived indeed.
"By the Gods," I breathed, groaning as I sat down on a low stone wall. "Let me rest, woman."
"I've never heard you complain about my stamina before, Conqueror."
I arched my eyebrow at my companion who grinned back at me deviously as she sat down on the wall beside me. Her legs were bouncing from excitement, or from the several cups of ale that she had drunk since we had entered the city all those candle marks ago. I rested my hand on her thigh in an attempt to stop the bouncing, unable to repress a smile at the shiver I felt under her warm skin at my touch.
"Settle down, would you," I teased, my pale blue eyes twinkling. "The sun won't be going down for candle marks; you need your strength for the rest of the night. Not to mention the next four days."
"But everything is so amazing!" Gabrielle replied enthusiastically. "There's SO much food! And I want to dance and sing and watch the Persian men eat their swords!"
I couldn't help but smile in amusement at the Amazon's childlike wonder. It was obvious that the former slave hadn't been in very many large cities, at least not while she was a free woman. I knew for a fact that Potidaea was a very small village, and it wouldn't have been easy for her to leave the Amazon Nation since she had been crowned Queen. I wondered if she had ever been anywhere with so many people, especially people enjoying a festival.
"We have time," I assured her, my smile widening as she turned her bright eyes towards me and met my gaze. "We'll do all that and more, okay?"
"I'm sorry," she flushed, a slightly embarrassed grin playing her lips. "It's just... I've never been to anything like this before. There's so much energy, it's contagious."
I laughed softly and let my eyes wander over the large amount of people, taking notice of the several soldiers that were watching us intently. It felt good knowing that I didn't have to watch my back and that I could enjoy myself despite the thousands of people. While I was fairly well respected by the citizens of Greece, I had no doubt that there were people who would do anything to see my head separated from my body. Though, without my armor or royal robes, I had blended into the crowd fairly easily. It was even more surprising that more people were taking notice of Gabrielle than they were of me. It was very rare to see an Amazon in such a big city, let alone the Amazon Queen and it seemed everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blonde.
"Come on," I said as I stood up, having observed several men and woman staring lustfully at the woman seated next to me. A few of them seemed to be considering coming over and engaging Gabrielle in conversation and I found myself uncomfortable with the thought. "There are some food vendors over there; we can get something to eat."
"Thank Artemis," Gabrielle grinned as she followed me through the crowd towards the stalls of delicious smelling food. "I could eat a horse."
"Remind me not to introduce you to mine then."
I smiled as Gabrielle gently shoved me forwards, her hands lingering on my back for a few seconds longer than necessary. I glared at a group of young men that blocked our way and watched in satisfaction as they scrambled to move aside. Gabrielle's laugh rang in my ears as I moved past the wide eyed men and finally reached the food merchants where I was promptly amazed by my companion's appetite.
"Hades, woman! Where do you put it all?" I asked after watching Gabrielle finished her third piece of baklava, which had been devoured after several meat and vegetable kebabs and two large lamb sandwiches. I had only been able to eat one sandwich and was halfway through my second piece of baklava. This woman ate more than the men in my army! Gabrielle grinned and shrugged before pushing the last bite of dessert into her mouth and chewing with a satisfied smile.
I was pulled from my thoughts of stomach monsters while gazing at the amazon's muscled abdomen as I felt Gabrielle tug me back into the crowd. We spent the next several candle marks watching all the different performers, listening to several bards spin their epic poems and even I had been impressed when I watched one man from Persia swallow an almost five foot long sword, leaving only the hilt sticking out of his mouth.
"I could do that," I boasted, having drunk more than enough ale since I entered the festival and feeling very relaxed and even a little giddy.
"I bet you could," Gabrielle replied with a mischievous smirk as she led me by the hand to the center of the city where there was a large band playing. "You have a very talented mouth."
"You would know," I countered, forgetting for a moment that this was the same woman that betrayed me all those moons ago. Right now, in my slightly drunken state, I was no longer in the company of a former slave that had broken my heart. In this moment, I was enjoying a spring festival with the Amazon Queen, an ally and a friend. A very beautiful friend.
"It's true; your mouth is a large part of some of my favourite memories," Gabrielle continued the banter. I hardly realized as she turned around to face me while continuing to walk backwards, that we were wading into a large mob of dancing bodies until Gabrielle started to move her hips rhythmically to the beat of the drums.
"Gods," I managed to breathe as I watched her hips sway mesmerizingly, her stomach muscles rippling with every swing. I felt her catch both of my hands in hers, entwining our fingers as she moved closer to me until I could feel the heat of her body and smell the sweet scent of her soft skin. Her emerald green orbs seemed to be sparking with electricity, changing from a calm ocean to a stormy sea as she stared into my eyes, drawing me closer. I barely noticed as my own body reacted on instinct, picking up her rhythm and moving in harmony.
It felt as if we were dancing forever, and yet neither of us noticed the sky begin to darken as the sun lowered itself beyond the horizon, bathing us in its golden glow. The music slowed and my attention was focused on her arms as they slid around my neck and her body as it pressed against mine. I rested my hands on her bare ribs, feeling the silky skin beneath my fingertips and smiling as she rested her forehead against my neck. Our bodies continued to move, swaying to the music as our hearts beat in time.
The embrace wasn't overly sexual nor was it completely platonic and I found that it fit our relationship perfectly.
"This is perfect," I managed to hear Gabrielle mumble against the skin of my throat, the vibration sending shivers up my spine. I smiled warmly in response, letting my eyes flutter closed for a bare moment as I let myself savour the sensations flowing through me. "Thank you for this," she showed her appreciation with the lightest of kisses on my neck.
"Any time," I replied, only somewhat surprised at the sincerity of my words. I couldn't deny that I had enjoyed the day immensely and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to the next four days of the festival, especially if they would be spent as well as the first.Bring it on, I thought to myself with a grin as I rested my cheek against the top of Gabrielle's head. Bring it on.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy