DISCLAIMERS: Part 1
SUBTEXT: Yes, absolutely! In fact it has become main text.
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Special thanks to my beta readers: CAS, Slaw & Extra! :-)
And thanks to my Warrior for her love & support and for being my inspiration.
General Gallus sat in the war room in private conference with several of his officers. Today's topic was one that had greatly concerned those present. The Conqueror.
It had been four days since the Conqueror arrived on their shores and the men were getting worried about the security of Phantasia. Her ships patrolled the outer waters surrounding the island, while Gallus' fleet patrolled closer to home. This tended to make the officers nervous. Then there was the queen.
They had all noticed the queen and Conqueror becoming what could pass for friends. Not to mention that the heir to the throne was still in the Conqueror's palace.
"Her grip on the queen is too tight. We must act soon."
Gallus leaned over the table, his face within inches of the rugged man seated to his right. The general respected Tallius. He was a good officer and a skilled fighter, but at times his temper needed to be reigned in.
"And what do you suggest, Tallius? Restrain her? Imprison her? Kill her?" His eyes held those of the younger man and his voice was even.
"If we must," came the controlled reply.
"So, you would be willing to face the Conqueror?"
"If we all-" he was cut off.
"Have you seen this woman's skill, Tallius? I'll wager that every one of us in this room could attack her at once and we would lose."
There was something in Gallus' voice, the look in his eyes, that gave Tallius pause. Cautiously the officer asked, "How can you be so sure?"
Slowly the general sat back down, placing his hands on the table in front of him. His eyes focused on nothing as he looked into the past. "I've seen her in action. She is as deadly as they come. Fierce. Focused. More focused than any other warrior I've seen before or since."
"Four years ago, we went to Greece to meet with some delegates from Chin, " Gallus paused as the memories flooded back, "We had landed on the South Grecian shore and were making our way to Argos. His Majesty and I made our way atop a small hill and were about to make our descent when..." Gallus paused briefly. "I will never forget the view before us. There, maybe 300 feet away, was a woman surrounded by at least two dozen warriors. It should have been over quickly and easily, with the warriors being the victors. A war cry erupted, not from the men, but from the lone woman warrior standing her ground."
You could hear the breeze whispering outside, for there was complete silence in the war room, as everyone's attention was focused on the general. Gallus paused and looked over at Tallius, making eye contact and holding the younger man's full attention.
"Bodies began falling, the male warriors bodies'. When all was said and done, the lone woman warrior was left standing, surrounded by two dozen dead men." Gallus leaned closer, never losing eye contact, "In less than a year that woman would become known to all as the Conqueror."
Tallius couldn't help but gulp as the words sunk in.
Gallus stood and addressed the other three at the table. "It would also be wise to remember, gentlemen, that what you are proposing, even in this infantile planning stage, could be considered treason."
One of the older, more seasoned officers at the table, Anton, jumped to his feet at the accusation, his face flushed with anger, "Now wait one minute!" No one was going to get away with accusing Anton of treason. He had been serving the Royal Family, and his country, since before the late King Kyros was born.
"No, you wait," Gallus responded, bringing his voice up just a notch, but with such resonance that it served to silence any other possible retorts. "Our queen has shown no signs of bending to the will of the Conqueror. To make any moves against anyone, without the queen's authority, is treason. To go against your queen is to go against your country."
A knock on the door.
Nods from the men acknowledged their full understanding of Gallus' words. With a nod from their general the men dispersed out the side entrance and the general proceeded to answer the door.
"Hello, Gallus." The general nodded to the Amazon as she entered the room. "Ephiny, I've been expecting you," he stated as he followed her into the room.
"Have you met with the queen?"
"Yes, this morning. Is there a problem, Captain?"
"No, at least I don't think so. Everything seems to... I can't put my finger on it." Ephiny sat at the far end of the table.
"Too quiet," the general replied, taking a seat to the Amazon's right. That elicited a determined nod from the woman. "Yes, exactly."
Gallus grinned, "You're a fine warrior, Ephiny."
"But you don't think there's anything to worry about," the Amazon countered before any further comments could be made by the general.
"Not yet," he conceded.
Two warriors sat in silence, contemplating the near future and all it's possibilities.
Outside, behind the stables, a man sat, hidden from view. He was biding his time.
Gabrielle wearily walked back to her bedchamber after spending the early part of the day signing documents and making sure cleanup and security, in the aftermath of the storm, were under control. Her side was still very sore, but at least she could get back to the daily business of running a country, much to the dismay of a certain tall, dark-haired warrior.
A smile appeared on the queen's face as she thought of Xena. So many changes had taken place, at times it seemed overwhelming.
She loves me.
That revelation had stunned the queen, for she had been dealing with, or rather fighting with, her own feelings for the warrior. To then learn, from the Conqueror's own lips, that Xena indeed loved her brought a mixture of fear and joy that was so profound, it had stunned the queen into silence for several heartbeats. Just as Gabrielle had recovered from the shock and was about to break the silence, the fates, having a twisted sense of humor, had intervened. At that moment there had been a knock on the door and her staff interrupted any more conversation between the queen and conqueror.
And here she was over twenty-four hours later. One Amazon staff member was walking beside her, filling her in on some last minute details. Not that the queen was listening, at least not completely. Her mind was elsewhere. More specifically, on a certain tall warrior she had last seen heading for the stables over two hours ago.
As they reached her bedchamber, the young Amazon took her leave and continued down the hall. Gabrielle's thoughts were consumed with yesterday mornings events. She needed to speak with Xena.
The queen had been so exhausted last evening, that Morpheus had her in his grasp before her head had fully rested on the pillow. Her plan had been to rest for a few minutes and then seek out Xena, but the next thing she knew, dawn was peering through the window and the chamber maid was at the door, breakfast tray in hand.
It had been non-stop after that, sitting at her desk as people came in and out and problems were dealt with. Gallus and Ephiny made sure only those things that absolutely needed the queen's attention were brought to her. Lesser items of business were handled by one of them or their direct subordinates.
Xena had been absent for most of the day, much to the queen's dismay. Gabrielle desperately wanted to see the warrior and continue their conversation. Now, as she stepped into her chamber a small smile once again crept across her face as the warrior's words echoed. 'I love you.'
"Dinar for your thoughts."
Gabrielle started, looking up in time to catch the slightly mischievous grin on the face of a certain warrior.
"Xena, you startled me," the queen tried to sound angry, but the grin she was trying desperately to suppress gave her away.
"I'm sorry." The warrior grinned in return, carefully assessing Gabrielle's reaction. Xena had wanted to be alone with the queen but found that the only way that was going to happen was to sneak into her bedchamber and wait. It was risky, for the Conqueror wasn't sure how the queen felt about her since her revelation about her true feelings. Now, as she looked at the young woman, she sensed that Gabrielle was happy to see her. The warrior also noticed the exhaustion that played out in the young woman's face. The queen was trying to hide it, but Xena knew.
"Gabrielle, you need to rest," the Conqueror stated as she made her way over to the weary woman.
"No, I'm fine, really-" Suddenly the queen found herself caught up in strong arms. "Xena, you don't have to-" the queen started to protest.
"Yes I do." Xena smiled down at the woman in her arms as she made her way to the bed. She placed the queen gently on the soft quilt and walked over to the window, closing the shutters to block the cool evening air.
"You need your rest," Xena restated. Turning back to face the queen, who had now propped herself up, the warrior noticed her quirky grin. With a raised eyebrow now hidden behind her bangs, the warrior asked, "What?"
"You are such a mother hen."
The other eyebrow joined the first. "A what?"
The younger woman giggled. "You heard me."
Two dark eyebrows lowered into a "V" as the tall warrior stalked over to the side of the bed. "You are talking about the Conqueror of the Known World." Before she could continue the queen held up her hand, effectively silencing her.
"Eh, eh, most of the Known World, not all." The queen stated with mock indignation, surpressing the laugh that threatened to erupt. Her heart suddenly jumped to her throat as she noticed, for one brief second, the pain in the blue eyes looking down at her, and immediately regretted her teasing of the warrior. Then, just as quickly, it disappeared and the warrior continued the bantering.
"I stand corrected," the warrior stated with an exaggerated bow.
Xena cautiously stood, wondering why there was a sudden serious tone coming from the queen.
"I shouldn't have teased you like that," Gabrielle responded to the questioning look.
"It's all right, Gabrielle. You may have been teasing, but you were very accurate." Xena straightened to her full height, yet the queen thought she noticed a slight sag in her strong, proud shoulders. "I am the Conqueror of most of the Known World."
"I know," the queen sighed.
Not knowing what to say or how to act, the Conqueror found herself in the rare position of wishing to make a hasty retreat. The queen sensed her discomfort and patted the bed, inviting the Conqueror to sit down.
Xena struggled with the invitation for several seconds before seating herself, not on the bed but in the chair beside it. That brought a slight smile to the queen's face.
"We have to talk," the queen began.
"I know." To Gabrielle's surprise, Xena's voice was horse, as if all her emotions were lodged in her throat.
"Gabrielle, I am the Conqueror, Empress, Ruler of the Known World, and yes, the Destroyer of Nations. There are probably more titles floating around out there, but what I'm called doesn't change what I am. What I was."
Gabrielle gazed upon the warrior, thoughtfully. "What were you, Xena?"
"A killer." The queen was a bit shocked at Xena's bluntness, but tried not to let it show. She watched those clear blue eyes mist over as the Conqueror continued. "A murderer. I destroyed lives out of a need for power. It fueled me."
Xena couldn't help but grin. This woman shows such compassion and forgiveness. Has she forgotten? "Two weeks ago I kidnapped your son." Her grin faded. Xena was determined that Gabrielle was going to understand who she was and who she is. "I will admit there have been changes taking place inside me, but I am still the Conqueror. I'm the one with the power, always in control, no matter what that cost is to others."
"Then what have you been doing these past days on Phantasia?" The queen leaned forward, fierce determination on her face. "You, Madam Conqueror, have taken a backseat to the queen of this little island. An island, that if you truly wished to conquer, you could have, at any time."
"How do you know this isn't part of my plan to take over? Wooing the ruler is not a new concept to me. It's been done before."
"I'm sure you have." There was sarcasm in Gabrielle's voice. She was hurt, and a small part of her feared that in her case it was true. The fear dissolved, however, when she saw the flash of pain in Xena's eyes. This woman wasn't using her to gain a small island in the Aegean. No, this woman cared for her and was... she's changed, or at least is attempting to change. I know it. She admitted it.The wheels were spinning in Gabrielle's mind as the seconds passed.
To accept the fact that she loves me, and to finally profess my love for her... I do love her, don't I? Oh yes, very much... It's foolish. This is the woman I despised. She kidnapped my son, tried to take my home, threatened to kill... She didn't and you saw the changes, Gabrielle. And the tenderness... gods... she's been nurturing and... and... loving.
Xena could see the conflicting emotions playing out in the queen. She knew it was necessary. Gabrielle needed to remember that the woman who loves her, and yes she did so love her, was also the Conqueror. Changes were being made but it would not happen overnight, and it could never make up for the sins of the past.
As Xena watched the queen, she saw a tear form and start to spill over. Acting on instinct, the warrior went to the queen and sat on the edge of the bed. The tear began its descent only to be captured by the warrior's thumb. "Gabrielle?" A one word question that meant so many things.
"I'm sorry. I didn't -" More tears.
"Shhhhh, don't apologize. There's no need. Life is complicated enough without having to worry about the true intentions of an old warlord who just professed her love to you." This was said with a lopsided grin that grew into a smile as Gabrielle chuckled. Xena's hand still rested against the queen's cheek, her thumb gently rubbing away any stray tears attempting to fall.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, willing the tears to stop. The feel of the warmth on her cheek, helping her, protecting her... there were no more worries, no doubts, no fears. Green eyes opened to meet with blue and in that moment Gabrielle knew the truth.
She loves me... and I love her.
"I don't care who you were, Xena. I love you. All of you." The warrior's heart soared, and broke, all in the same instant.
"Gabrielle, you don't know what you're saying." The words were gently offered. Gabrielle took them in and absorbed the complete meaning behind them. Changes would be slow in coming. The Conqueror still ruled, and would continue to rule with an iron fist. Yes, she might find that she could bend that iron from time to time, eventually changing the shape forever, but that would take time.
The past would never change. No matter how much Xena altered her ruling style there would be a long history of violence and death that would never go away. Even if, in time, the people forgot, Xena never would.
"I do know. Xena, I'm saying that I love you. That won't go away. Believe me, I've tried to make it disappear," she offered with a grin. The queen raised her hand and grasped the hand that rested on her cheek. "You said you loved me."
"I do." There was no hesitation.
"Then where do we go from here?"
"I don't know."
It was honest. Xena didn't have a clue what would, or should, happen next. Her entire adult life she had taken what she wanted. Now, she found herself tempted to push away the one person she wanted most in the world. It would destroy Xena's heart and soul, but the warrior truly believed it would save Gabrielle. Oddly enough Gabrielle's officers never needed to fear about the Conqueror's hold on their queen, for it was Gabrielle's hold on the Conqueror that kept Xena from walking away.
The queen stifled a yawn, then looked sheepishly at the woman she knew was, at that moment, turning into the dreaded, but much loved and appreciated, mother hen.
Xena sat up straight and reluctantly released the queen's hand, "Gabrielle..."
"No, Xena don't go. Please." The mother hen gave her the 'you need your rest' look. "I know I need sleep, but please don't leave. Stay with me." That open-ended request had the Conqueror's head spinning. Stay how? Sit and watch while you sleep, get in bed and hold you... oh gods I don't know if I could handle that without... or is that what she means?On the outside there was no discerning sign of conflict and the decision was quickly made.
"Okay, I'll stay, but you have to promise me that you'll lie back down and go to sleep."
"I promise," the queen said quickly. After adjusting her pillows and lying her head back down she reached out and took the warrior's hand. Closing her eyes she found herself quickly drifting off. The warrior placed the smaller hand between her larger ones and softly rubbed one thumb back and forth.
The next morning Ria walked in to find the queen and Conqueror in what were becoming very familiar positions. Both were sound asleep, with the Conqueror in her chair, head resting on the bed and her hand on the queen's arm.
She smiled a knowing smile.
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse