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 :: Now, this is the chapter you've all been waiting for. I spent a long time thinking about how to do this part, and it took me forever to decide, but I'm happy with how I did it. If you want to email me, my address jacklavigne13@hotmail .com
Over the next few days, I found myself busier than I had been in years. When I wasn't in court or discussing plans with Alexandria, I was training with the men and having giant banquets with the nobles and the guests that had been filtering in to the city. This morning I had been informed that one of the rebel leaders had been found, after years of searching since I took the throne. I looked up at the blue sky, scattered with fluffy clouds as I was carried on a divan to the city's courtyard, dressed in robes from Chin with an annoyingly heavy bird like crown on my head.
I laid casually on the couch as it was placed on top of the dais, looking down at the peasants before me with cold eyes. Their gazes were full of anger, whether for me or the dissident being dragged out, I don't know. Alexandria stood by my side, her eyes emotionless as the prisoner was thrown on the floor before us, strawberry blonde hair hiding her face. She wasn't what I expected for a rebel leader, wearing a long flowing skirt and blouse, but I had been fooled before.
"What is her crime?" I asked, although I already knew the answer. It was more for show, for the crowd of people watching, enemies and loyal servants alike. I wanted them to see what happened when people spoke out against me. It had gone on for far too long, even after I helped save the city when Antony brought his army here, only moons ago. Ungrateful bastards. They hadn't learnt from the severed head that was still decomposing in the harbour, but they would learn now.
I wasn't prepared when the prisoner raised her head and pinned me with a hate filled glare, in a face so familiar. I heard Alexandria's soft gasp as we both stared down at the woman in shock, neither of us prepared to see Gabrielle's face staring back at us. I should have known, after all, who better to lead the rebels than the former slave that despised me so much? My entire body tensed as I stared into those angry green eyes while the air evaporated from my lungs. I felt as if I was going to be sick, even after Alexandria laid a calming hand on my shoulder.
"I spoke," The prisoner said coldly, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of her voice. This was not the slave that I had met in Egypt and I found myself grateful for that, though I don't know why. I studied the woman, taking notice of the pale skin and the peasant clothing, something I couldn't' imagine Gabrielle wearing. Even her hair was the wrong shade of blonde and I let myself relax as I stared at the stranger before me. She was just another rebel that just happened to look like the woman I had loved. It didn't matter, I convinced myself.
Though, I felt my stomach clench with the knowledge of what would happen to her shortly.
"She incited the people against you," One of the guards offered after a moment of silence. "Encouraged them to revolt."
I stood unhurriedly from my seat, attempting grace while feeling my knees tremble as I started walking down the stone steps. I moved slowly, praying that my legs wouldn't collapse underneath me while I berated myself for my weakness. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a subtle movement in the crowd and a flash of black fabric; a cloaked figure, its face hidden underneath the hood. A wave of uneasiness swept through me and I frowned, but when I looked again, the person had vanished into the crowd.
"Get up," I spoke softly to the prisoner, who still lay on the ground while I attempted to shrug off the emotions flowing through me. I watched as she pushed herself to her feet before I tangled my fingers in her strawberry blonde locks and pulled her hair back so I could see her face; a face I had wanted to see for so long. I dragged my thumb across her soft lips and my insides clenched as she looked up at me. There was confusion and anger in her eyes, but there was something else too, just like there had been with Gabrielle.
I wondered for a moment if I should spare her and take her back to my bed, but I resisted.
"Are you guilty?" I asked, watching in fascination as the woman pulled her head away from my touch, a hint of disgust in her eyes. So, she wasn't so much different from the slave after all.
"I gave voice to the people, the fearful, the starving, the ones who disappeared in the night, never to be seen again," I smirked as the prisoner started her speech. Gods, she and the slave could be sisters. "Have you no dignity? No rights? A right to live! To be free from harm!"
"I guess they don't hear your voice," I smiled slightly, my eyes scanning the crowd. There was some interest there, for what the woman was saying. But mostly there was anger and I realized for the first time in a long time, it wasn't for me. It was for the prisoner. Maybe they weren't so ungrateful after all.
"I'm not the only one and you can't break our spirit," The woman said softly to me, her green eyes flashing.
"The cure for spirit is fear," I replied, my voice equally soft and cruel. "You'll serve as an example. Put her on the cross."
I watched emotionlessly as she was dragged away, a flicker of fear finally lighting her green eyes before I turned to walk back up the steps. "Break her legs," I said over my shoulder as I climbed the stairs and laid back down.
“Are you okay?” Alexandria whispered softly into my ear, her breath warming my cheek. I nodded slightly, watching as the rebel was tied to the large wooden cross. A soldier raised his muscular arms, a wooden mallet held tightly in his hands and I turned my head away, unable to watch. Gods, I'm pathetic.
"Enough for today," I said softly to Alexandria, refusing to meet her eyes for fear of what I would see. I closed my own eyes in exhaustion as I felt the chair being lifted up before I was carried back towards the castle, listening to the screams of the prisoner as her legs were shattered.
It was hours later before I was finally walking down the corridor that led to my chambers. After the scene in the courtyard, there had been several meetings I had to attend and then a dinner with Cleopatra that left me wanting a wineskin of strong port. I rubbed my temples gently, hardly taking notice of the soldiers guarding my chambers and making a bee line straight for my bedroom as the door was pulled open for me.
I shrugged off the heavy robes, leaving them in a pile on the floor and throwing them a look of disgust before walking over to the desk to retrieve my wineskin. As my fingers wrapped around the skin, I felt a shiver race up my spine and my body tensed immediately as I sensed someone else in the room.
"I think that's the first time you've ever felt my presence before I've spoken. How things have changed."
I let my eyes flutter closed for a moment, attempting to control my breathing as my fingers gripped the wineskin so tightly that my knuckles whitened. I took several calming breaths before I opened my eyes, not bothering to turn around as I filled my goblet with the dark red liquid.
"Don't I get a hello?" I heard Gabrielle's voice behind me, faint amusement in her tone. "Haven't you missed me at all, Conqueror?"
"No, I haven't," I replied, finally turning around and leaning calmly back against my desk. Despite my words, my pale eyes took in the sight of her greedily. She was reclining casually on my bed, dressed in deep red leathers that left nothing to the imagination and contrasted beautifully with her tanned skin. Her pale hair had grown and now almost fell to her shoulders, strands of it falling into her intense emerald green eyes that had gained a twinkle I had never seen in them before.
Gods, she looked beautiful.
"Aren't you going to ask why I'm here?" The blonde asked, tilting her head as she gazed at me curiously, her pale lips parting to reveal white teeth in a mocking smile.
"Nope," I replied, taking a sip of port as I regarded her coolly. My heart was pounding in my chest and my legs had turned to jelly but I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of her knowing that. "But you better tell me what you want quickly, so that you can get the fuck out."
"What makes you think that I want something?" She shot back, her eyes sparkling mischievously. "And why do you want me to leave?"
"Besides from the obvious reason, you mean?" I laughed mirthlessly, gripping the goblet so tightly in my hand that I felt the metal start to give under my fingers. "You're not stupid enough to come in here to say hello, Gabrielle, so you must want something. As for why I want you to leave; I have someone that will be here soon."
"You have a lover then?" Gabrielle asked, though she didn't seem surprised.
"My lover and consort, yes," I replied with a smirk, watching as Gabrielle's eyes widened with surprise.
"I'm getting married, on the last day of the Spring festival," I shrugged, ignoring the disbelieving look on her face. "Now, tell me what the fuck you want or get out."
The former slave continued to stare at me, her mouth working as she tried to speak. I found the look of surprise on her face adorable and I berated myself mentally for the thought. This woman had betrayed me and my Empire, why the fuck wasn't I calling for the guards, or better yet, just killing her myself?
"I took that woman from the cross," Gabrielle finally blurted. "That was pretty cold, even for you, Xena."
I flinched at the sound of my name coming from her lips, taking a sip of my wine as I shrugged my shoulders uncaringly. "I expect nothing less from you. You are a criminal, after all."
The ex-slave opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated as we both heard the door to the outer chamber open, followed by my second in command calling my name. I watched as recognition flared in Gabrielle's eyes, along with something else before I turned towards the door, waiting for my consort to enter.
"Xena?" Alexandria entered the room, pushing strands of dark red hair away from her eyes as she spotted me. Her midnight blue orbs flickered around the room before she captured my gaze, a small frown on her face. "Are you okay? You're a little pale."
I resisted the urge to glance towards the bed, knowing that the slave was already gone and I felt a small bit of disappointment. I nodded wearily towards my second, swallowing a mouthful of the sweet wine before walking over to my cot and sitting down. I could smell the slave on the sheets and I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply, hardly hearing Alexandria as she started to speak. My mind was elsewhere, it having followed the former slave out of the window when she escaped, for the second time. I wondered where she went and what she was doing and why she had visited me at all. Most of all, I wondered if I would see her again.I had a bad feeling that it would be sooner than I wished.
To Be Continued
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