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 : I think my favourite thing about reading all your comments and emails, is knowing that most of you never expect the twists I put in my stories. Even if they are completely obvious. Anyway! Iif you want to email me, my address jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
"All rise for Xena, The Conqueror, Empress of Greece."
I rolled my eyes as the double doors before me were swung open to reveal my court room. I had already been here today to meet with Brutus and I detested the fact that I had to sit here for another few candlemarks, listening to peasants and nobles tell me all their little problems in specific detail. My fingers twitched by my side as I walked along the polished marble floor towards my throne, catching several hateful glares and returning them tenfold.
I rearranged my robes as I sat down on the ornate wooden chair, feeling Alexandria's presence on my right side, as always. I studied her out of the corner of my eye as the first noble was brought before me, her face blank and her eyes emotionless. I missed the fire that once lit those midnight blue orbs. I longed for the mischievous grins, the playful winks and the words whispered in my ear that once kept me entertained through these boring sessions that took up my mornings. It was the price I had to pay for the coldness in my heart.
I wondered absentmindedly if I could still persuade her to join me in bed.
So lost in my thoughts of my second in command, I almost missed the words that tumbled from the mouth of the noble who stood before me.
"WHAT?!" I roared, cutting off the man mid speech as I stood from my chair, my hand automatically reaching for my sword as the noble fell to his knees in horror. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the slightest twinkle in Alexandria's eye as her own hand reached for my arm to stop me from removing the man's head. "What did you just say?"
The man trembled; sweat dampening his hair as he swallowed convulsively. "T... The n-nobles, My, My Lord..."
"Spit it out, Diomedes," Alexandria prompted the man, a small smirk on her face.
"The nobles, Conqueror," Diomedes managed to say after several deep breaths. "They were asking, well, just wondering when you would m-marry, My Lord."
The room was completely silent as I stared down at him, my eyes wide and my jaw slack from shock. Since when did my private life concern the nobles? I could hear Alexandria attempting to cover up her laughter behind me and I threw her a dirty look over my shoulder before turning back to the noble who was still on his knees.
"Why, Diomedes, are the nobles concerned as to when or if I ever marry? Not that I ever plan to," I added as returned to my seat, crossing arms over my chest and raising a perfectly sculpted eyebrow.
"Well, my Lord, there are some people that are worried about the future of your Empire," the noble mumbled as he averted his eyes. "When you are gone, Conqueror, who will take over if you have no heir? Though I pray that your rule doesn't end for many a year, there are some who are still concerned."
The man's words caused an unexpected stab of pain in my heart as I thought of the son that I had lost years ago. I pushed those thoughts away as I sat up straight in my chair, seriously considering Diomedes' words for a moment. I had thought about it myself a few times, usually before a big battle; who would take over if I was to die?
Unconsciously, my eyes wandered the room until they landed on a certain person.
"You have a good point, Diomedes," I said thoughtfully, my eyes falling back on the still kneeling noble. He smiled up at me timidly, though he still refused to meet my eyes and I grinned. "A fine point indeed. I think I also have a solution to your problem."
"My Lord?" Diomedes asked in surprise as he finally looked up into my eyes. The whole room seemed to be holding their breath and I could even feel my second in commands eyes burning into the back of my head.
"I'll just have to get married," I shrugged casually, as if it was the simplest answer, which in my mind it was. "We can make it the highlight of the Spring festival. A moon should be more than enough time to organize a royal wedding, right?"
"O-of course, Conqueror," The noble spluttered in disbelief. "But, my Lord, who will you be marrying?"
At this, I couldn't help but grin before pointing my thumb over my shoulder. "Her."
The room exploded in whispers as I waited for the outburst that would come after the first few moments of shock faded. I wasn't disappointed.
I continued as if I hadn't heard Alexandria's cry of surprise. "I'll marry General Alexandria on the last day of the festival and she'll take over the Empire if anything happens to me. And maybe even one day, I'll find a way for her to pop out a kid for me, and then you'll have your heir. Satisfied?"
Diomedes could do nothing but nod dumbly while I continued to ignore the midnight blue eyes burning into the back of my skull with enough intensity to set me on fire. I stood from my seat, dusting off my robes as I surveyed the room with my pale blue eyes. "I think that's enough for today. If there's anyone else that wishes to speak to me, you'll have to wait until tomorrow."
Without another word, I walked down the steps that led up to my throne and left the room, unsurprised to hear Alexandria's footsteps following me. I continued my journey with Alexandria trailing behind me, glad when I saw the soldiers standing guard outside my chambers. They both saluted smartly as one of them opened the door for me, keeping his eyes forward as I passed him.
I hardly had time to remove the uncomfortable and elaborate robes before Alexandria exploded.
"This is a fucking joke, right?"
"Did it sound like a joke?" I replied with a small smirk as I stripped the heavy fabrics from my body and made my way into my bedroom, taking no notice of the servants that raced around my outer chamber, recovering the robes that I had dropped carelessly on the floor.
"No, it sounded like a fucking proposal," Alexandria spat. "A proposal for a fucking marriage between the two of us. Something that I would have liked to be fucking warned about before it was announced to every damn fucking nobleman in all of Greece!"
Gods, this was the fire that I had missed.
"You said 'fucking' a lot just now, General. Are you feeling a bit sexually frustrated this morning?" I couldn't help but tease as I slipped into a silk robe from Chin, a gift from Lao Ma.
"I'm more than a bit frustrated, but not sexually, Conqueror," Alexandria growled as she paced before me, her hands running through her disheveled hair. "Is this for real? Are you planning to marry me just to satisfy the nobles?"
"I'm not doing anything to satisfy the nobles," I replied as I crossed my arms over my chest, watching my second pace in amusement. "Diomedes made a good point. If I was to die, I want someone that I know I can trust to take over my Empire. I trust you, Alexandria, take it as a compliment."
"But do we have to get married? Isn't there some other way?"
"Is the thought of marrying me so horrible to you?" I asked with a raised eyebrow, feeling my stomach clench at the thought of Alexandria being so disgusted at the idea.
"It's not that and you know it," Alexandria replied with exasperation, though I caught a look in her eye that told me different and I stiffened. "Things are not as they once were between us anymore."
"I don't want things to be like this between us anymore," I blurted abruptly, startling myself with my words. Alexandria's thoughtful expression changed to surprise for a split second before she reined it in.
"My Lord?" My second asked me uncertainly.
"I, I," I stumbled over my words, unsure of what to say. I had never been good with words, especially not now after several moons of being so harsh. I felt as if I couldn't trust anyone, and there was barely a moment when I couldn't feel the beast prowling inside of me. And while today, I could still feel the darkness that consumed me, I felt clearer after this morning's musings. I had been betrayed, and hurt beyond reason, but none of that had been Alexandria's fault. Alexandria was the only one that tried to help me, had always tried to help me and I knew in the moons to come that I would need her. I needed to have someone that I could trust.
"It was never my intention to hurt you," I said softly, my voice so quiet that it was almost inaudible.
"Conqueror?" Alexandria said, her eyes questioning.
"In Egypt, I hurt you, and I continued to hurt you every day after we returned to Corinth," I said as I lifted my head to meet the red headed woman's gaze. "I've been hurting you when you are the only one that I shouldn't want to hurt. If not for you, I wouldn't have known of the slave's betrayal until too late. If not for you, I might not have been able to return to Greece in time to stop the Roman's from taking my Empire. And if not for you, I wouldn't have been able to kill Antony. You've had my back since the first day we met when we were just children, and I've never had yours, especially recently. I want that to change."
Alexandria continued to stare at me, her midnight blue eyes wide with disbelief. I straightened slightly, feeling vulnerable under her intense gaze. It was I that was in disbelief at her next words, though.
"I can't believe you," Alexandria whispered, her voice trembling with emotion. I watched with confusion as her hands clenched into fists. This hadn't been the reaction I was expecting.
"Al- " I started, but the red head cut me off.
"Do you think I give a fuck about the way you have treated me recently, Conqueror?" Alexandria spat, her voice dripping with venom as she stood before me. "Do you really think it's the beatings you have given me since we returned to Corinth that have bothered me? Do you think it's your scathing words that have made it so I can't look you in the eye?"
My body tensed with anger and I could feel the beast in my chest, growling as Alexandria spoke. My hands gripped into fists so tightly that my knuckles went white as my second started to pace in front of me once more. It was taking all of my will power not to strike her as she continued to speak.
"Do you want to know why I can't bear to look you in the eye anymore, Conqueror? " Alexandria said as she stopped to look at me, her eyes flashing. "Because the woman before me is a stranger; I don't even know who you are anymore. How do you expect me to marry someone that I don't know or understand?"
"You don't know what you're talking about, Alex. You were once the second most feared warrior in the Known World, and now you can't even look your Empress in the eye. You've lost your fire, Alexandria. Who are you to tell me that I don't know myself; a woman that has changed so much." I snarled in reply.
"I have not changed!" Alexandria yelled, her eyes darkening with rage until they were almost black. "I have always known who I am. I never said I was proud of the woman I've become and I know that my family despises me for who I am and what I've done. I never dreamed of this life for myself, never dreamed that I would be the second in command to the woman that ruled all of Greece and soon, probably the whole world. But I know myself, deep down, I know who I truly am. I just don't know who my empress is anymore. Because the woman that I knew would never have slaughtered all of those slaves because she was paranoid that they were plotting against her. The woman I knew wouldn't have continued to slice apart the flesh of Roman soldiers, long after they told you everything that they knew. I thought that you were better than this, better than a soulless killer."
"This coming from you, Alexandria," I smirked. "If I'm not mistaken, you are the one that put all those Roman's on the crosses outside this palace. What makes you any better than me?"
"Nothing," Alexandria replied, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "Sometimes, I think I might be worse. I have killed, maybe as much as you have. I have taken the lives of the innocent, and I have crucified people that stood against you. I have tortured your enemies and I have burnt down villages full of people that refused your rule. And that might make me worse, because in the end we both know that I did those things because you told me to. I did those horrible things because that's what you ordered me to do and not because I wanted to. And while I feel terrible for the things and I have done, I don't regret that I did them for you, because I would do anything for you, Xena...
But I will not do these things for the Conqueror anymore, because I'm better than that now. I know better than that now."
The life seemed to drain from her as she finished her speech, her shoulders slumping in defeat. Her eyes were resigned, as if she knew that she had just spoken her last words before I removed her head from her shoulders. I surprised both of us when I smiled.
"I never wanted this life for either of us, you know," I said softly. Alexandria's eyes filled with tears as she met my gaze, a watery smile gracing her beautiful face as she nodded.
"I know you didn't," she whispered as she walked over to my large bed and sat down, resting her elbows on her knees. "I know you didn't, Xena."
"I'm just so angry all the time," I continued. "After Egypt, I felt as if I lost something and I can't get it back, no matter how hard I try."
I forced myself to hold Alexandria's gaze as she looked up at me. The beast was still raging inside of me, and a large part of me still wanted to strike her, but I stopped myself.
"I know," Alexandria said with a sad smile. "I know that Gabrielle hurt you and I know that it's hard to get over everything that happened, but you don't have to do it alone, Xena. I've watched you get lost in the past several moons, I've seen you giving into the darkness and the beast inside of you, but it doesn't have to be like this. Gabrielle may be gone, but I'm still here, Conqueror. And I won't ever leave you, no matter how hard things get."
I let myself be calmed by her words, reveling in the knowledge that despite the past few moons, I hadn't completely alienated my closest friend. There in the silence, we both knew that things wouldn't change immediately. But with Alexandria's help, I hoped that maybe the emptiness inside of me would not be so consuming.
Maybe the beast hadn't won just yet."So, we're getting married, huh?"
To Be Continued
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