DISCLAIMERS: Part 1
SUBTEXT: It's main text at this point.
FEEDBACK: Please send me a note and let me know what you think. email@example.com
My apologies for this taking so long. You have all been wonderfully supportive. Thanks to everyone who has written and inspired me to continue this journey. Special thanks to my beta readers: CAS, Slaw & Extra! :-) Although, I won't tell anyone that Slaw had this draft, ready to edit, for over a month. (did I just type that? <eg>)
As always, thanks to my Warrior for her love & support and for being my inspiration.
"He should be beheaded!"
"That's too good for him!"
"Feed him to the sharks!"
Their joyous outrage filled the tavern as the villagers contemplated tomorrow's sentencing. It had been years since a sentencing of this kind had to be commenced. Petty crimes were dealt with by the individual villages, but crimes against the Royal Family and the country were handled by the queen. As ironic as it may have seemed, public sentencing was not done in public. That is, the actual sentencing was done in the queen's throne room, with the royal guard and council members present. In all, there would be approximately thirty people who would be the direct witnesses. However, outside there would always be at least a hundred or so common folk who would gather in the square and wait for word of the punishment to be meted out.
No one really believed the man would be sentenced to death. Even after attempting to kill their queen, they knew without a doubt that their queen would show mercy. The people of Phantasia were a merciful and peace-loving people as a rule, but because of their intense loyalty for the queen and love of their country, a call for execution would most certainly go unquestioned.
Several of the Conqueror's soldiers sat at a corner table of the tavern. They quietly listened to the villagers while trying to blend into the dark corner of the room. No one had said a word directly to them but looks were given that made at least some of the citizens' views of them obvious. The people of Phantasia, although they trusted their queen's judgment, did not trust the Conqueror or her soldiers. Not yet. The assassination attempt by Perdicas, one of the Conqueror's soldiers, did not help to alleviate their fears.
"You're going to allow it?"
Xena noticed the surprised look on the face of Iolaus.
"What?" She questioned, annoyed at having to explain herself.
Iolaus backed off. "Nothing, Xena. I was just a bit surprised, that's all. You usually like to handle this sort of thing." Iolaus was told that Queen Gabrielle would be handling the sentencing of one of his men. It was ludicrous. Not that he didn't have respect for the queen and her authority. He did. The crime, however, was committed by a soldier in the 2nd division of the Conqueror's fleet. It was Iolaus' responsibility to oversee the punishment for such crimes - punishments that would normally be handed down and witnessed by the Conqueror.
Xena sighed and sat back in her chair. "Iolaus, this is how Gabrielle wants it handled." I'm getting soft. Look at him, looking at me... like I can't handle a simple criminal in my army. What am I thinking? Xena shook her head once as if to knock off some invisible object. Her eyes grew cold as she stared past her general. I am the supreme ruler with jurisdiction and complete control over all the lands. Since when do I need permission to punish one of my soldiers?
Iolaus watched the emotions play out in his commander. Her far-off stare turned ice cold, sending a chill through him. He thanked the gods that that look was not being directed at him. "I understand, Xena. However you want it played out is fine with me."
His words had a calming effect on the Conqueror. She shook her head once more in an attempt to free herself from the inner demons. Giving the man a slight nod, Xena rose from her seat. "We will be in the throne room throughout the proceedings. The queen's soldiers will be responsible for escorting the prisoner to and from the room. General Gallus has hand-picked five guards to remain with the prisoner." The Conqueror lead Iolaus out of her tent as she relayed the details. Once they reached the stables she stopped and faced him. "I want at least a dozen men in that room, Iolaus. You pick them, but make sure they are the best." Cold blue eyes pierced through the man, as the Conqueror leaned closer. When she next spoke, her tone relayed the utmost importance of this man's duty. "If anything happens to Gabrielle I will hold you personally responsible."
Iolaus could only nod as he watched the Conqueror mount her horse and head for the palace. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead and he briskly swiped at it. If he had ever had any thoughts that love would make his commander weak, this encounter completely erased them from his mind.
Gabrielle slowly sat on her throne. Her eyes closed as she leaned back and took a deep breath. She was alone for the first time today and planned on soaking in the silence. The past few days proved to be trying for the young queen. Every muscle ached and her head felt like it was about to explode. Outside these four walls, she knew the rest of the palace and all the outlying villages were a whirlwind of activity.
Sentencing had been set for today and sleep, the queen found, had become an impossibility. She had tossed and turned half the night and then, eventually, gave up trying. The past two evenings she spent here, in her throne room. Xena had attempted to stay with her but Gabrielle refused, forcing the warrior to get some sleep. "One of us needs to be rested and alert," she had told her lover. Xena had agreed but had returned to the throne room each night after only a few hours of rest.
The warrior would stay out of the way, for the most part, satisfied with simply keeping watch over her. It did turn out, however, that Xena was able to creatively get Gabrielle to rest for short spans of time. She would wait until the perfect moment, then she would pull Gabrielle onto her lap. After several moments of soft kisses, Gabrielle would inevitably rest her head on her warrior's shoulder. Xena would lightly rub her back in a circular motion and the queen would gradually drift off. By the second night Gabrielle had caught on to her lover's trick, but by that time she honestly didn't mind. She gladly welcomed anything that helped ease her mind, even if only for a short time.
She had less than an hour before it would be time to return to her throne and begin sentencing. Gabrielle forced herself to rise and proceeded to make her way to her bed chamber. She rounded the corner, past her son's room, and was suddenly grabbed and forced into an alcove. Gabrielle was captured in a familiar embrace as her lover laid claim to her soft lips.
By the gods, what she does to me, the queen thought before breaking away. "Xena, we ca-," her words were lost as the warrior once again captured her lips. Any struggle that Gabrielle had intended to give was forgotten as the kiss deepened and the embrace tightened. Xena inwardly smiled when she felt the woman in her arms relax and give in to the kiss. She eventually pulled back and smiled down at her lover. "Feel better?" The warrior asked with a sly grin. The grin disappeared as she watched Gabrielle lean back against the wall and cross her arms in front of her. Uh oh. Xena felt a knot in her stomach. Maybe I went too far, she questioned herself.
"Gabrielle I just wanted you to relax a little." Xena backpedaled, trying to explain her sudden aggressive behavior, which she had presumed was the cause of the queen's apparent anger.
The queen remained silent, as she relished the sight of Xena squirming. "If you think one little kiss is going to make me relax then you are sorely mistaken." The blonde accented her statement by playfully poking her in the chest.
Before Xena could respond she found herself being dragged by the front of her tunic to the queen's bedchamber. Had she not been completely taken aback at the forcefulness of her lover, Xena would have been utterly embarrassed at being dragged in front of Darrin, the guard who stood watch at Gabrielle's door.
Once the door closed, Darrin grinned to himself. He knew the queen could be a formidable woman and he had to chuckle at what he had just witnessed. Lots of changes in this place, he thought to himself. If the Conqueror thought she was in charge in this relationship she was in for a surprise.
A short while later the Conqueror emerged from the room and noticed the guard. Xena willed herself not to blush and gave the guard an icy glare. Darrin didn't flinch. He kept his features still. Xena's glare softened slightly and she gave the man an almost imperceptible nod. Darrin returned the nod and an understanding passed between the warriors. The Conqueror's secret was safe.
It was time. The room was filled with staff, soldiers and guards. All that was needed was the prisoner. Gabrielle cleared her mind of everything except what needed to be done. Seated on the throne in her formal attire, the queen looked the part of royalty. Her long hair flowed off her shoulders and the emerald green silk of her robe reflected in her eyes.
The throne sat on a platform which elevated the queen a head above everyone else in the room, much to Gabrielle's chagrin. Some time ago she had tried to get them to lower the platform. She felt it would put others more at ease. Ephiny felt that it was important to show regard for the queen and her authority. The queen finally relented.
Two Amazon guards took their posts on either side of the queen. They held long spears adorned with feathers just below the tip. Each Amazon held the spear in the hand next to the throne and placed the blunt end on the floor. They angled the feathered end toward the queen, effectively making a feathered arch above her. It was a small contribution from the Amazon nation. A tribute to their old tribal ways. It not only symbolized the protection of their queen but it also served to draw the focus of the room to the queen. Gabrielle wasn't thrilled with that protocol either, but she had endured it out of respect for the Amazons. Taking small Amazon traditions and incorporating them into the royal guard had helped integrate the Amazons into Phantasia.
Iolaus walked into the room, noting the positions of his men. As his eyes wandered the room he spotted Xena standing against the wall to the right of the throne. She was far enough to the side that it did not appear to anyone that the Conqueror was running these proceedings, yet Iolaus realized that she was in the perfect location. Should anything go awry Xena would be positioned between Gabrielle and potential danger within a heartbeat. The man grinned. No one else in the room would suspect the Conqueror's protective nature when it came to the queen.
It was time.
All eyes were on the queen as she gave a nod to the guard at the door.
Everyone in the room turned to watch as the prisoner was led to the front of the room. His hands and ankles were shackled, making his steps slow. The only sound in the room was the scraping of the prisoner's boots along the floor and the clanking of the chains that bound him.
Gabrielle took in the sight before her. This was not the man she knew. This was a madman who was intent on killing her. With a small sigh the queen did what she needed to do. The charges were read and the prisoner was given an opportunity to speak. The man chose only to glare at her. If his eyes could shoot daggers I'd be dead, Gabrielle mused.
All eyes looked to their queen, waiting for her to reveal this man's fate. No one was surprised when the queen ordered the prisoner to be sent to prison until Hades called for him.
"You have one last opportunity to speak," the queen encouraged, hoping to see some small amount of regret.
The look on Perdicas' face told Gabrielle that the man was not the least bit remorseful. She let out a small sigh and glanced over at her lover. Xena's stare was no friendlier than Perdicas' but it was not directed at Gabrielle but rather at the prisoner. It was a protective look that Gabrielle knew meant, "You hurt her and I will kill you." A small part of the queen feared that look but a larger part found that she took comfort in it. At that moment in time Gabrielle did not yet realize that she too had the same fierce protectiveness for her warrior.
With no response from the prisoner the queen continued. "Very well." The queen stated. "Take him away."
What happened next would forever remain burned in the young queen's mind. It was as if time slowed to a mere crawl so that every detail could be remembered and examined for all eternity.
After the sentencing, two of the guards stepped up, each grabbing the prisoner just above the elbow. Perdicas turned his face away from the queen and focused his glare on the Conqueror. Gabrielle watched as a feral grin twisted its way onto the man's face and in that instant she knew. It was as if the events had already happened and she was forced to watch for a second time. In her mind's eye, Gabrielle saw the man grab a dagger from the guard's belt and toss it with deadly speed and accuracy at her beloved.
She would not allow that to happen.
He knew he needed to act. It was now or never. Perdicas grabbed the handle of the dagger and pulled. Before he could throw the weapon he felt a sudden punch to his stomach.
With such speed that later she would wonder if she had help from the gods, Gabrielle reached down and pulled Solari's dagger from the woman's boot, then just as quickly closed the distance between herself and Perdicas.
One second he was set to throw the dagger and the next Gabrielle was standing within mere inches in front of him. Where did she come from?
Gabrielle saw the confusion in the man's eyes and knew that it hadn't registered yet. As she watched, he slowly looked down. Only then did the man realize that he had not been punched. Two small hands were wrapped around the handle of a dagger, whose blade was completely imbedded in the man's stomach. Perdicas looked into Gabrielle's eyes once more. She watched the hardened face of the criminal turn into the soft features of a boy she once knew. "Gabrielle?" Her name was to be the last word the man would speak.
Two words screamed in the queen's mind. "I'm sorry." But out loud it was barely a whisper. Gabrielle was frozen in place. She watched the life slowly drain out of the man before her and it registered that she was the cause. Chills began to rack her small form. She felt a familiar presence behind her. Words were whispered into her ear, and although her mind could not understand the words, the voice helped calm her. Her hands were carefully pried from their deadly grasp. Her body was then turned and familiar arms wrapped around her shoulders. The soothing whispers continued as Gabrielle felt her body being lead away.
Xena glanced at Ephiny who nodded in understanding. Gabrielle needed to be removed from the ensuing pandemonium.
Chaos. Somewhat organized, but still chaos. That was the scene in the throne room. Xena led the queen out the side door as the guards dragged Perdicas' body from the room. Everyone in the room was stunned at the events that had occurred but for the moment there were only two concerns: ensuring the queen's safety and removing the body. Once both were no longer in the room questions arose and answers were demanded.
To most everyone it had seemed as if the prisoner was about to be lead away one moment and the queen attacked him in the next. Only those up in the front saw the dagger in Perdicas' hand. The guards were held for questioning by both Ephiny and Iolaus. The Amazons who stood next to the queen, Solari and Cyane, had the best view and their accounts would put the pieces together. It would appear to all that their queen's reflexes were quicker than anyone else in the room. For before anyone could react, the queen was already there.
Solari swore for the rest of her days that as she saw Perdicas reach out for the dagger she felt, at that same moment, the queen grab her boot dagger. She would say that it was as if the queen knew what was about to happen. No one but a select few people would know the truth - Solari was right.
The Conqueror's heart was racing. What were you thinking? She silently berated the young woman. I would have gotten there in time to stop him! Out loud she only spoke soothing words of comfort. She tried to keep her lover focused on the sound of her voice and not on the recent horror she had taken part in.
Death. Xena knew it well. At times death had seemed a friend. The killing had temporarily filled the void deep inside. Then came the nightmares. Visions of the blood and carnage that she, the mighty Xena, had caused over her lifetime. Killing had changed everything. Everything.
Xena led Gabrielle to the bed. The queen's eyes were open but all focus was gone. "Come on, Gabrielle. It's okay. You're safe." Nothing. Xena absently stroked the girl's face and hair. "Gabrielle, listen to me. You are going to be just fine, Sweetheart. Everything is okay. You're okay. I'm okay. You did what needed to be done, Love." Still nothing.
The warrior stood and began to pace the length of the room. "Why?" She never wanted this. "Why couldn't you wait for me, huh? I would have done it, Gabrielle. I would have gladly put my blade in his gut. You didn't have to know what it's like. You didn't have to feel the sorrow and pain of killing. I never wanted that for you." The pacing never stopped and her arms flailed out as she spoke.
She had kept watch on Perdicas from the moment he was brought in the room. She had been prepared for any eventuality, or so she had thought. He had moved quickly, but the Conqueror saw him reach for the dagger and she had already begun to act. Why couldn't she have waited? Two more seconds and I would have been there! Half-way to her destination Xena had been halted by the sight of Gabrielle plunging a dagger into Perdicas. She heard herself scream, "No!" And in that instant she had a flash of her younger self running her sword through one of Cortese's men. Xena's first kill.
It changes everything. Everything. Xena had told Gabrielle that simple fact not that long ago. A lifetime ago.
"No! Xena! No!"
The warrior's pacing was brought to an abrupt halt at the sound of her lover's screams.
"I'm here, Gabrielle. I'm here"
"Xena?" Green eyes began to focus.
"Yes, Love, it's me."
Small hands reached out and touched the warrior in an attempt to calm her fears and squelch the visions of her lover lying dead on the cold floor. "Is it really you? Am I dreaming?" Xena brought Gabrielle's hands to her face to prove that she was real. "It's me, Gabrielle. See? It's me."
"I saw him kill you," Gabrielle choked.
"He didn't kill me, Gabrielle. I'm right here. It was just a dream."
"No, Xena, it was real. I saw it."
The warrior searched the determined eyes before her. "What exactly did you see, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle tried to hold the tears in. "He pulled a dagger from Jahanna's belt and then he threw it at you. It was so fast. There was no time to react. Xena, it pierced your heart." The tears flowed freely. "You looked over at me and then you fell to the floor. Oh gods, Xena you were dead. I couldn't let him kill you. I couldn't." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her warrior's neck and sobbed.
"Shhhh... it's alright, Sweetheart. He didn't kill me. I'm right here."
"Oh gods!" Gabrielle gasped and pulled back from the warrior. "I killed him. Oh gods, Xena, I killed him." Strong arms attempted to hold her but Gabrielle blocked them and tried to get away. "No!"
Xena took hold of the queen and no amount of struggling was going to loosen her grip. Her arms circled around the sobbing woman and held her tight. "It's alright. You did what you had to do. He had a dagger, Gabrielle. He would have killed someone. It's okay. You stopped him, Sweetheart. Everything is going to be fine."
The warrior rocked back and forth and held her lover until there were no more tears, and merciful sleep claimed her.
Ephiny shut the door behind her and headed toward the council chamber. She had spent the past hour with her queen and the Conqueror. The Amazon was pleased that Gabrielle was in fair spirits. She had worried about the possible repercussions, but it seemed like the queen would be just fine.
Gabrielle had relayed the entire story to Ephiny. It hadn't surprised the Amazon that the queen had had a premonition, especially one that dealt with the death of Xena. There was a bond between the queen and conqueror. Although she hadn't wanted to see it, Ephiny couldn't deny any longer that it was there.
Entering the council chamber, she was grateful that things had quieted down. It hadn't taken long to get control of the earlier chaos. Everyone was back to their duties. The crowds outside the palace dispersed hours ago, seemingly satisfied that the queen's attacker was dead. No one, outside of the people who witnessed the event, knew that the queen was Perdicas' killer. That would remain confidential.
For now, the Amazon had work to do and endeavored to focus on the business at hand.
The young woman turned away from the setting sun to find her warrior framed in the doorway. She smiled.
"Aren't you cold?"
"Not really. I'm fine, Xena." Gabrielle turned back to the horizon as Xena stepped onto the balcony and strolled up behind her. She felt the heat from the warrior's body before contact was made. Then two long arms wrapped her into a warm safe haven. "Mmmm... but that feels wonderful," the queen conceded.
Xena chuckled, "I hoped it might." She leaned down and kissed the queen's shoulder and neck, causing Gabrielle to roll her head back and to the side, inviting the warrior to continue. Before the fire within them rose too high, Xena ended her exploration and rested her chin on the queen's shoulder. The two women gazed at the sunset and enjoyed the warmth and comfort of each other.
Once the sun completed its retreat, the couple walked back into the room and sat by the fire. The flames were the only source of light in the room. As they stretched out on the couch, Gabrielle rested her head on the broad shoulder of her warrior. Safe. Loved. Her inner turmoil over the actions she was forced to take earlier that day had lessened. But the queen knew it would be a long while, if ever, before it would subside completely. The strength and love from the woman beside her helped to ease the ache inside.
Gabrielle never liked violence. She had seen enough in her life to know that hate begets hate and war begets war. It was a vicious cycle that she never wanted to participate in. But the Fates were cruel. Rarely were the wishes of mere mortals ever taken into consideration. Yet, as she examined her actions, Gabrielle found the startling truth. She would do it again. Without hesitation. Xena's life had been at stake. In the end that was the only truth the queen needed.
The queen felt eyes upon her and glanced up at Xena. She received a loving smile for her efforts and returned it in full.
"You seem to be feeling better."
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Yes. I am feeling better. Thanks for standing by me today." Xena had not left the queen's side.
"Always. You know that."
"Yeah, I do." And the queen found that she really did. No matter what the future held, she knew Xena would be there.
"Thank you for looking out for me." Xena found that she believed Gabrielle's premonition. She saved my life.
"I like the sound of that word. Always." Xena rolled it off her tongue.
"It does have a nice ring to it," the queen agreed.
Xena leaned down and gave Gabrielle a light kiss, then hugged her tightly as they settled back into the comfort of their love.
TBC in Part 13...
Yes, folks, there will be more... maybe in another 5 months or so. <grin> I do have more to this ... loose ends that need completion. But, I make no promises on how long it will take. It could be a few weeks or a few months.
I would love to hear from you. My beta readers and I had some debates on this one. What do you think? Let me know.
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse