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
If you want to email me, my address is jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
Chapter Twenty One
I sat in my study, waiting impatiently for my captains to arrive. I felt as if I was on the very edge of the thin line drawn in my mind and if I slipped even slightly, the beast would take over. My Conqueror's mask sat firmly in place, cold and emotionless, my eyes like shards of ice. There was no room for Xena right now; there was only space for the Conqueror. I couldn't let emotions get in the way anymore. My feelings had cost me too much already, which is why I had already apologized profusely to Gabrielle, when I had been in complete control of myself, about being unable to accompany her tonight. She had understood and had insisted coming with me to the meeting with my captains, despite my protests. She sat on my right side, her face neutral as she toyed absentmindedly with a small dagger.
Underneath the table, her warm thigh was pressed against mine, giving me silent comfort which I appreciated beyond anything.
I remember thinking earlier tonight that all I had wanted to do was take her to my bed. I didn't care about the stupid Sappho concert, all I wanted was to lay with her, skin pressed against skin, talking like we used to. I wanted to hear about her childhood and her parents and how she learnt to read in such a small village. Most of all, I wanted to make love with her and feel the familiarity of her body underneath mine and the feeling of ultimate pleasure as she shuddered in my arms.
But those thoughts had been ruined with Palaemon's visit to my quarters and then completely destroyed when he interrupted our journey to the theatre. I remembered our conversation that had darkened my mood so badly that not even Gabrielle's beauty in her dark green dress had been able to lighten it.
"Xena, we have to talk."
My smile disappeared immediately at the seriousness of Palaemon's expression. I sighed and stepped away from the door, motioning for the ragged looking captain to enter my room. I watched silently as he leant back against my desk, crossing his arms over his muscular chest while I sat on the back of my couch.
"Report, Palaemon," I said wearily, already feeling my excitement for the night dissipate.
"Several runners have entered the palace grounds over the past candle mark, my Liege," Palaemon started grimly. "One was from Thessaly, another from Ambracia and another from Sparta."
I sat up straighter, a frown marring my features as I stared at the captain of my second army. "Why? What's going on?"
I growled audibly, cutting it off when I saw Palaemon flinch in fear. I had no idea was my face looked like but from the terror that flickered in Palaemon's grey eyes for the briefest moment, I'm sure he saw the beast that was so close to the surface.
"How many?" I finally asked after several cleansing breaths.
"Thousands, Conqueror. Each runner reported that each of the armies was attempting to attack them, but the Roman soldiers are more intent on getting to Corinth than fighting."
"They're trying to cut us off," I mused quietly, running my fingers through my hair and disordering the thick locks. "They're coming in from all sides with small groups, which means there will be an even larger army attacking from the front, leaving us with nowhere to go. Brutus is so predictable."
"Have more men guarding the docks," I finally decided. "Take Darnelle's men that just came in. Brutus will bring more men by ship, along with himself and I want to be ready. Hopefully there won't be many men after our last battle with Rome, but I don't want to take this lightly. Take our catapults to the beach with the Greek fire and I want you to speak with the circus members from Chin. They have black powder and I want it. I don't care what we have to pay them."
"Yes, Lord Conqueror," Palaemon nodded respectfully.
"Oh and make sure you put some of the second army's soldiers by the docks too, just in case."
Palaemon's brow furrowed at this but he nodded again before turning on his heel to walk away, leaving me with a feeling of dread in my stomach.
Finally, the captains started entering one by one, seating themselves around the table with various facial expressions, pulling me from my thoughts. I studied each of them in turn before taking a deep breath and beginning to explain the situation. The news was taken grimly, as I expected.
"Well, we don't have the advantage of surprise anymore, do we?" Glyphera muttered with a frown, tapping her short fingernails on the wooden table top.
"Over twenty thousand men," Meleager said, shaking his head mournfully. "We don't even have ten thousand in the city and with all the other armies battling Rome's troops all over Greece..."
"We still have advantage," I spoke firmly. "Our catapults will take out many of Brutus's ships. The people of Chin have given us all of their black powder and while it isn't much, it will help turn the tide of battle in our favor."
"The Conqueror's right," Gabrielle added, earning a small smile from me. "Rome is still a few days away and even as we speak, men from several of your armies are making their way to Corinth. My Amazons will fight alongside you all. We have more than a chance of winning this."
"The Amazon is right," Palaemon said somewhat reluctantly. "By the time our troops outside of Corinth are done with the Romans making their way here by land, we'll be lucky if there's anyone left for us to fight after we use our catapults against Brutus's ships."
"And one Greek is worth more than ten Roman pigs," Draco said with a confident grin, repeating one of my favourite sayings.
"Most definitely," I grinned in return, feeling much better about the whole situation. I could still feel a small bit of dread in the bottom of my belly but I chose to ignore it. I didn’t want to spend my last few days of peace worrying. There was a big chance that I could be dead by the end of the week and by the Gods, I was going to enjoy it.
After talking strategy with my captains until late into the night, I finally made my way back to my quarters with Gabrielle in tow. Despite my worry, I was actually looking to the battle that would take place within the next few days. There would be many casualties on both sides but nothing got my blood pumping like a good fight.
Except for a beautiful woman.
I turned from my desk where I had just poured a goblet of port, watching as Gabrielle stretched out on the couch in front of the fire place. In the first few weeks of Spring, the night time air still had a distinct chill to it, so there was a large fire roaring, stoked by my servants throughout the night. The fire brought out the barest red highlights in her usually golden hair and darkened her eyes to a deep forest green. She looked positively stunning with the light reflecting off her tanned skin, causing it to almost glow.
"Gods, you are beautiful," I said, hardly realizing that I had spoken out loud until Gabrielle turned her head to smile radiantly at me. Her loving grin made my knees feel weak and my heart skip a beat in my chest and I smiled giddily in return.
"Come here," she said, holding her hand out to me as I crossed the room to stand behind the couch. I clasped her hand with mine, feeling the strength in the long fingers as they curled around my own. Without thinking, I leant down and kissed the top of her head, nuzzling her hair with my nose and inhaling her intoxicating scent. She wrapped her fingers in my raven locks, pulling me even closer until my cheek was resting against hers and I could feel the inviting heat of her body, beckoning me closer.
"Xena," I loved the way she said my name, as if her lips alone were made to speak it for eternity. She turned her head and pressed her lips against the corner of my mouth, sending a spark through my entire body. With only the smallest tilt of my head, I turned to cover her lips with my own instead.
The kiss was slow and lingering; causing my lips to tingle as my knees trembled, threatening to give out. Only when my chest burned from lack of breath did I pull away, opening my eyes to see Gabrielle with the most peaceful expression on her face that I've ever seen. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks flushed and her lips were slightly parted and turned upwards at the edges in a tiny, happy smile.
"I'm sorry about tonight," I finally said when I caught my breath, causing Gabrielle to open her eyes slowly.
"What are you talking about? Tonight was amazing," Gabrielle said in confusion, squeezing my hand that she still held in her own.
"About the Sappho concert, of course; I know you wanted to see her."
"Yes, I did," Gabrielle answered honestly, running her fingers through my hair, her short nails scratching my scalp. "But I'd much rather be here with you."
I felt a warm tingling feeling in my chest at these words as my face lit up with a smile. I suddenly remembered the errand I'd sent one of my soldiers on when we had returned to the palace in our carriage. Glancing around the room, I saw a small scroll placed on my desk and quickly made my way over to it. Slowly walking back to the table with the parchment in my hand, I hesitantly held it out to the blonde who looked back at me with questioning green eyes.
"I um," I stuttered uncharacteristically. A faint blush rose to my cheeks as I shook the scroll in my hand until Gabrielle reached to take it from me. "I wrote a letter to Sappho once I got back to the castle tonight and asked her to, ah, jot something down for me. For you."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in surprise as she stared at me before looking down at the parchment in her hands, stroking it with her fingers almost reverently. She glanced between me and the scroll for several minutes before breaking the seal and opening it. She spoke out loud as she read and I grinned as the words described exactly what I had told Sappho about my feelings for the young blonde, though it was more poetic than I anything I could have thought up.
“There's a moment
When I look at you
And no speech is left in me
My tongue breaks
Then fire races under my skin and I tremble
And grow pale
For am I dying of such love
Or so it seems to me”
Tears glistened in her beautiful ocean eyes as she gripped the scroll tighter before looking up at me with so much love and wonder than I thought my heart would explode. I smiled lopsidedly and gave her a little shrug, unsure of what to say. I decided not to say anything, unless I ruined this precious and healing moment between us. I don't think either of us would ever truly forget the painful history between us, but I'd just taken one more step to putting it very much in the past. And damn, it felt good.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy