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by Ambrosia and Taiko
Gabrielle tucked her son into his bed for a nap. She kissed him on the forehead, saying that she would see him at dinnertime. The four-year old boy smiled at her as she moved to turn out the lantern. He caught her arm as she turned and sat up in the bed. He tucked a stray lock of blond hair behind his ear as he gave his mother his signature puppy dog look. The queen knew right away that her son was up to something.
"What is it, Orion?" Gabrielle asked.
"Could you tell me a story, Mama?" the little boy asked. He knew he was already supposed to be asleep. He had once again made Ria chase him around the grand palace because he did not want to take a nap. Like most children, Orion hated naps, but his mother insisted that he have one everyday, claiming that he was a child, and a child needed an adequate amount of rest.
The queen crossed her arms, peering down at her son. "Do you think you deserve a story?" she asked him.
Orion grimaced. He wanted to say yes, but knew he would be lying. Ria had chased him for nearly ten minutes, and the poor woman was huffing and puffing by the time she had caught up with the precocious four-year old. This was one question that the prince did not want to answer. He shrugged. "What do you think?"
His mother replied, "I think someone was very naughty today. Do you know who that is?"
The little boy pretended to think it over. "That handsome boy named Orion?" he offered.
Gabrielle chuckled. "Yes, him."
Orion replied. "I know him. He told me to tell you that he's sorry. He said he wouldn't do it no more-
"Any more," Gabrielle corrected.
Her son nodded. "Right. So you could tell me the story and I'll pass it on to him. How 'bout that?"
The queen tried to hide her smirk behind a hand. Did Orion honestly think that he was fooling her? He was so cute when he was attempting to pull a fast one. Gabrielle put her hands on her hips.
"You'd honestly do that for him? Listen to the story for him?" she asked.
Orion shrugged. "Hey. Anything for the prince."
Gabrielle winked. "Of course." She sat down on the bed next to her son and asked him to lie down. The boy obliged her, glad that he was going to get to hear a story. He loved it when his mother told him stories. "What kind of a story would the prince like to hear?"
Orion scrunched up his face in thought. "You choose one," he finally replied.
"Okay." The queen thought for a moment, and then she remembered a story that she had never told her son before. She remembered her mother had told her this story when she was a child. "I'll tell you a story your grandmother once told me. A long long time ago people were not the same as they are now. They had two heads and four legs but only one heart of which they shared. One day Zeus threw down thunderbolts that struck the people causing them to split in two. Now everyone only had one head, two legs and only half of a heart. Therefore, ever since then people have been searching for the other half of their soul in order to make them complete once again. Some get lucky and find them, but others never do."
Even though the story was short, Orion's eyelids began to droop and his mother could tell that he was fighting sleep. Gabrielle smiled tenderly, as she reached down to run a hand through her son's curly blonde locks. He gazed at her through eyes that mirrored her own.
"Was daddy the other half of your soul?" Orion asked in a sleepy voice.
Gabrielle smiled once again, with tears stinging her eyes. She caressed her son's cheek lightly. "You better believe it." She arose from the bed and leaned down to kiss Orion on his temple. He smiled up at her before closing his eyes to escape to Morpheus's realm. The queen just stood there for a little bit thanking the gods for bringing Kyros into her life, even though it was only for a short time, and for granting her this precious gift of her son. He meant the world to her, and she vowed to herself on the day that he was born that she would protect him from harm's way. It was a vow that she intended never to break.
The elderly man was tending to the garden in the queen's palace when all of the sudden he felt a dagger pressing into his throat, near his Adams apple. A hand was placed over his mouth as someone behind him made a shushing sound for him to remain quiet. The person holding the dagger to his throat warned him in a low deep voice not to utter one word. The gray-haired man nodded his head vigorously. The dagger was removed and he was roughly turned around. He saw before him a tall man dressed in all black, with deep brown eyes, sporting a black mustache. The man shoved a piece of parchment in his hand.
"What's your name, old man?" the stranger inquired.
"Maron," the elderly man replied, visibly shaking.
"Well Maron. I want you to deliver that note to the queen tomorrow morning at the break of dawn. I don't want you to give it to her at anytime before that. Do you understand?" The stranger started playing with the dagger still in his hand. "Because if you don't, I know your name and I will find you," the stranger finished confidently. "Bad things can start to happen. You get me Maron?"
Maron nodded. "I'll give it to her tomorrow like you said."
The stranger nodded, pleased. He knew that this cowardly half of a man would obey his every word. "And I advise you not to open it. It's for her eyes only."
Noticing the wax seal on the parchment Maron nodded again. "I can't read anyway," he said with a hint of embarrassment in his voice. Not getting any sort of a response, the elderly man looked up to realize that the stranger was already gone. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. Maron shrugged, putting the parchment in his basket of garden implements before returning to his job.
This was his absolute favorite place to sit. From this hill was a spectacular view of the crystal blue water not far below. If he was to jump down a few feet, he would be on the white sand of the expansive beach. Except his mother would not let him. She was afraid that he would hurt himself, possibly breaking something if he were to jump from the hill to the beach. Therefore, Orion had to take the long way in order to get there. Today he sat on the lush green grass playing with his two wooden horses that Senticles had brought him last winter solstice. They were his favorite toys. One was named Gallus and the other Kyros.
Not far away sat Ria under a tree on the hill alternating between watching Orion and weaving a basket, which she was making for Gallus, though she would never admit it to anyone. And although he was younger than Ria, she found that she could not help the way she felt about the man. He was not even aware of how she felt. She still had not decided if she would ever tell him. Ria heard Orion calling her name. She glanced over to him questioningly.
"Yes, Prince Orion."
"I asked if you would get me some water. I'm kind of thirsty."
Ria nodded. "Of course, Prince." She got to her feet and extended her hand to him. "Let's go."
The little boy shook his head. "No, you go on. I'll wait here for you. I don't want to leave yet."
"Prince Orion, I can't leave you alone," Ria protested.
"I'm four years old." The little boy frowned.
Ria replied, "Which is precisely the reason I can't and won't leave you here by yourself."
"It won't take you long to do it." Orion gave her the puppy dog eyes. They occasionally worked on her as they did his mother. "What could happen to me in such a short amount of time? I'll be okay."
The woman hesitated and then came to a decision. He was right. What could happen to him? This island was probably one of the safest places in the known world. She would just hurry to go get the water. Ria told Orion that she would leave him alone and that she would be right back. She also informed him to stay where he was and play with his toys. The boy told her that he understood and that he would obey her. Reassured, Ria left to fetch water from a well not too far away from the hill. Orion watched her go until he could no longer see the woman.
With a sigh of both relief and dread, Orion turned back around to study the water over the hill. "Okay, I got rid of her. What is it that you want?" he asked, not seeing the person that was there moments ago, informing him that he should get rid of Ria. The man had a dagger that he pretended to run across his throat while nodding in the woman's direction. Orion took the hint, knowing that Ria's life may be in danger if he didn't think of a way to make her leave.
All of the sudden two hands appeared on the edge followed by the head of the man who Orion had seen earlier. The man glanced around making sure no one was there before he hoisted himself up. Crouching on the hill not far from where the little boy was, he smiled at Orion, but the smile was cold. The little boy then wished that he were anywhere but on that hill. The man beckoned with a crook of his finger for Orion to come over to him. The prince shook his head stubbornly. He found out that this was the wrong thing to do, when the man suddenly lurched toward him, grabbing a fistful of his hair. Before the little boy could cry out at the pain, a hand came crashing down over his mouth, effectively muffling the sound. The man let go of his hair and grabbed Orion's right arm, pinning it behind his back.
"You want to know what I want? You. Now I'm going to take my hand away from your mouth. If you scream or make any sound at all, no matter how small I will hurt your mother. Do you want your mother to be hurt?"
Orion shook his head, his emerald green eyes widening at the thought.
"Then you'll be a good little boy, and do what I say?"
The man took his hand away from the little boy's mouth, still holding his arm with the other one. He reached into a pouch and took out a white cloth that had been doused in something that a healer had concocted for him. He placed the cloth over the prince's mouth and nose. The boy struggled futilely against the scent emanating from the cloth, and soon lost the battle. As Orion felt the blackness sweep over him, the man let go of his arm. The prince fell limply to the grass.
Humming as she walked, Ria soon arrived back to the hill with the prince's mug of water in her hand. She scanned the area where Orion had been playing and when she did not spot him, she panicked. The mug slipped out of her hand to the ground. His toys were still there but he was gone. She groaned, hoping that the little boy had just went down to the beach. If that were the case he was going to receive the longest lecture of his short life. Right after she hugged and kissed him in relief, of course.
Ria hurried to the edge of the hill and looked down, scanning up and down the wide beach. She did not see any sign of her young charge. She started praying to the gods that she would find him soon. Ria had never once lost Kyros when he was young. Sure he managed to get out of her sight a few times, but she somehow felt that this was different. She had the suspicion that she was not going to find the prince hiding under a table or behind a tree. The woman's heart began to beat faster as her breathing increased. She looked out over the water. Surely Orion had not decided to venture into the water. True he was learning to swim and was learning quite fast, but he knew better. He would never go in the water without supervision. Maybe he was playing a trick on her. Ria called his name a few times, but she did not get an answer in return.
"Prince Orion you're scaring me! Now please come out if you're hiding." She still didn't receive any answer, nor did she see the boy anywhere. Something was definitely wrong. He would have come out by now, if this were a joke. Orion was not the type to have someone frightened needlessly.
"Prince Orion if you don't come out right now I will tell your mother and you will get no nutbread for dessert!" she yelled. Well that confirmed it. Something must have happened to him. Ria was on the edge of tears, knowing that she should have never left him alone. She hurried back to the palace to inform them of the prince's disappearance.
Ria ran into the palace as fast as she could manage. By the time she got there, she was completely out of breath. She ran to the first guard she spotted and asked him if he knew where the queen presently was. The guard informed the nervous woman that Queen Gabrielle was in an important meeting in the Throne Room. Ria thanked him as she rushed away. Running around a corner, the older woman almost ran into a maid carrying a basket of freshly washed and dried clothing. She apologized as she headed for the double doors not far in front of her. Ria stopped just short of knocking on one of the doors. She tried to compose herself as best she could. She desperately tried to remain calm, but soon found out that it was impossible to do. Patting her graying hair down, Ria knocked on the door loudly. Moments later it was opened by an Amazon Guard. The woman greeted Ria with a slight nod before motioning for the woman to enter. Ria came into the room, her eyes roaming around the Amazons sitting around a large oval table, until at the head of the table she met the emerald green eyes of the queen.
The Amazons had come to live on Phantasia a couple years ago when the queen had heard about the problems that the strong and brave women were having and what had become of their land. The Conqueror had decided to completely annihilate both the Amazons and the Centaurs in order to control their beloved land. The two tribes had bonded together against the Conqueror and her army, despite their past differences.
Word had gotten to Queen Gabrielle that the Amazons and Centaurs were
in dire need of some assistance, so she volunteered
to help as much as she could. Soon, arrangements had been made to escort the remaining Amazons and Centaurs to reside on
Phantasia. The Conqueror had succeeded in taking full control of their land, despite their best effort against the brutal attack of
her army. Many had lost their lives in the battle, but they had left this world courageously.
At first the Amazons declined the offer from the queen to settle on
Phantasia, but the young woman would not back down. She
insisted that they relocate to Phantasia and that it would be no trouble at all. Besides, they had nowhere else to go. Finally, the
Amazons and the queen came to an agreement. As long as they were on the island they would serve to protect Queen Gabrielle and her young son Orion. The queen told them that this was not necessary, that they did not have to work in order to live on
Phantasia, but the Amazons insisted. They informed her that they wanted to do this, since she had so generously insisted on helping them. It was the least they could do. After considering it, Queen Gabrielle had given in.
Now the queen was glad that they were there. Many of the Amazons had
become close and trusted friends. Among them was
the woman she called her best friend, Ephiny. It was ironie, because at first Ephiny was one of the few women in her tribe who
was wary of Gabrielle's skills as a leader. The young woman certainly did not look as if she could rule an entire island by herself, but quickly the Amazon woman had learned to respect the queen, coming to the conclusion that she had been wrong in her initial judgement of her. Gabrielle was by far the kindest, warmest and fairest leader that she had ever seen, and Ephiny was proud to say that she knew the young woman.
Queen Gabrielle stood up and smiled widely at Ria. The woman often reminded the petite blonde of her mother, Hecuba. She was one of the few people that the queen trusted completely with her son. It wasn't long before Gabrielle's welcoming smile disappeared. It was obvious, by the look on Ria's face, that something was wrong. The queen rushed over to where the woman was still standing by the door, wringing her hands together. Gabrielle gently took both of Ria's hands and sandwiched them between her own small, warm one's. She gave the older woman a concerned look.
"What is it Ria?" The queen looked behind the woman to notice that her son was not with her. She knew that he was supposed to be with Ria, until her meeting with the Royal Guard was finished. "Where is Orion?" Gabrielle asked with a hint of uneasiness entering her voice. She prayed to the gods that this problem had nothing to do with her son.
Ria replied, "I…that's the dilemma. I don't know where he is," she admitted quietly.
The queen's eyes widened in fear as she unconsciously let go of Ria's hands. "What do you mean you don't know where he is?" Gabrielle then felt a presence behind her. Glancing back she noticed that Ephiny, the Captain of Phantasia's Royal Guard was standing behind her. The curly blonde-haired woman put a comforting hand on her queen's right shoulder, squeezing slightly. Her brown eyes pleaded for Gabrielle to calm down. The queen nodded, understanding her friend.
"Well you know the hill he likes to visit daily?" Ria began.
The queen nodded impatiently. She was way beyond composure and wanted the woman to hurry up and finish her story. Gabrielle had already lost Kyros and her family. She would not and could not lose her son too. He meant so very much to her. He was what made her life worth living.
"We were there and then he asked me to go get him some water. I went to do that and when I came back he was gone. I looked up and down the beach below, but I couldn't find any sign of him. It was like he just vanished." Ria began wringing her hands together again.
Gabrielle started pacing back and forth in front of the nervous woman. Both Ria and Ephiny silently wished that she would cease the action. The captain decided to do something about it. Ephiny took hold of the queen's shoulders and brought her directly in front of Ria again. She kept her hands firmly placed on Gabrielle's shoulders. She was nervous herself about the prince's sudden disappearance but they needed to try to remain calm, so that they could think this out rationally. Panicking was not going to get Orion back. Indeed, it would only succeed in making matters worse.
Gabrielle's heart was beating furiously. She knew she needed to keep a level head. She was the queen. The queen needed to make the decisions. How does one make decisions when one's child was missing? Gabrielle tried to remain relaxed by telling herself that it was an island. Orion could not have gone very far. He was probably only hiding. The queen focused her eyes on Ria who was staring down at the floor. Part of Gabrielle wanted to hug the woman and offer her some comfort. The other part of her however wanted to strike Ria and yell at her so loudly that they would be able to hear her on Mount Olympus.
"Ria," Gabrielle started in a relatively calm voice. "Why did you leave him alone?"
"He…he wanted to stay there."
"So you let him?!" the queen screamed. She could not help herself. Ephiny put more pressure on her shoulders. Leaning down so that her lips were close to the queen's left ear, the captain said, "Yelling at her will get you nowhere. It was an accident."
Gabrielle whirled around glaring at the captain. "My son is missing, Ephiny! Can you honestly tell me that you wouldn't be reacting the same way if you had a child that had disappeared? If you were a mother?"
The captain did not even have to think about her answer. "No," she admitted quietly. "But your Majesty, you have to remain calm. You're the queen."
"I'm the queen," the petite young woman repeated. "I'm a mother before I am a queen!" she shouted. With the rage building in those emerald green eyes, for a moment Ephiny was almost sure that Gabrielle would strike her. The queen pointed a finger at the captain. "And don't you ever forget that!" With that said, Gabrielle stormed out of the Throne Room with tears beginning to blur her vision. Never in her life had she been filled with such fury. The problem was that she didn't know who to be upset with. Herself? Ria? Orion? Kyros?
Thinking of her late husband, Gabrielle stopped her speedy pace. He had left her. Her parents and her sister had left her as well. Everyone she had ever loved had been brutally taken from her. Why was it so hard to be happy? Tears now streaming down her face, Gabrielle turned toward a nearby wall. She hit it hard with one fist and then the other in her frustration.
"Why?" she asked. "Why did you leave me, Kyros! I needed you and you abandoned me!" she screamed, all the while hitting the wall. "You left me alone with a child to raise and I don't know what I'm doing." The queen sunk down to her knees on the floor, covering her face with her hands, with her shoulders moving with the racking sobs. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and peered up to see Gallus looking down at her with concern in his eyes. Gabrielle rose from the floor and all but threw herself into Gallus's arms. He wrapped his arms around her waist and rubbed her back gently. Although Gallus was not typically comfortable outwardly showing affection he did the best he could to comfort his queen.
"Your Majesty, tell me what is the matter?" Gallus asked, leaning back to study Gabrielle's face. "What happened?"
"My s-son," the queen stuttered. "Orion is missing." She tried to control it, but she started to cry again. Gallus put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"When did this happen?" the man asked.
Gabrielle shrugged. "Ria just informed me of it, so I guess not too long ago." She wiped the tears on her cheeks. The young woman peered up at Gallus. "What am I going to do? I don't know where to look. He's my baby…" her voice broke, and Gallus once again found the distraught queen in his arms.
"It'll be okay," the man assured her in a quiet voice. "We'll find him," he said as he rubbed her soft blonde hair tenderly. "Orion will be fine."
Small eyes slowly opened. Fear crept into the body that held those eyes as his last memories resurfaced. Gradually, the boy sat up, trying to get his bearings. It was dark, except for a lantern hanging from the ceiling, casting strange shadows on the walls. The boy tried desperately not to think of the monsters that may be lurking in the dark corners of the room. 'I have to be brave.' he told himself.
Prince Orion sat cross legged on a wooden bench against the wall. Memories of the man with the mustache ran through his mind. Next thing he knew, he was on a boat headed...he didn't know where. Then he woke up and found himself here. It was dark, cold and very scary.
Suddenly, without warning, one of the shadows started to move. Fear gripped the young prince and he backed himself to the other end of the bench. "Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you." The prince recognized the voice of the man who took him away from his home. Out of the shadows walked the boys kidnapper. "Look," the man stated, seeing the boys fear, "No one wants to harm you. As long as your mother cooperates, everything will turn out fine."
His mother. Orion remembered the threat to his mother's life. His small heart began beating faster and tears welled up in his eyes. "Don't hurt my mother." The boy tried to sound strong and tough but it came out as a frightened plea. "No one is going to hurt your mother," the man moved closer to the boy, narrowing his eyes, "as long as she follows the instructions of the Conqueror."
As if on cue, the door opened and in walked a tall, dark haired woman. Orion stared up at the sight of the woman before him. She was wearing a long colorful robe, with wide sleeves and her long hair was pulled back into a braid. The woman stopped next to the man. "So, this is the prince of Phantasia." she commented, looking the boy up and down. "Yes it is." the man stated nonchalantly. The tall woman walked closer to the young prince, stopping when she saw him back away slightly. "Orion, is it?" The boy sat up straight, squaring his shoulders. "Prince Orion." He corrected. The laugh that came from the woman startled the boy. "Well, Your Highness, do you know who I am?" The boy thought for a moment. "No." He simply stated. "I'm Xena. Better known as the Conqueror." The boy flinched. "Heard of me?" Xena inquired. "Y-yes."
Orion had heard stories of the conqueror when the grown-ups didn't think he was paying attention. Although his four-year old mind couldn't understand everything that was said, he understood enough to make him fearful of this woman. He also knew that his mother was afraid that someday the conqueror would attempt to take over Phantasia.
One morning Orion was hiding from Ria in the throne room. His mother and Ephiny had walked in and were engrossed in a conversation about Xena. "Your Majesty, she will attempt to take over. Make no mistake." Ephiny had told the queen. The queen sighed, "I know Eph. It's inevitable but I will not risk any members of my royal guard. It's suicide Eph." Ephiny composed her thoughts before speaking again. "Gabrielle," the Amazon woman was one of the few who, on occasion, called the queen by her given name, "the fact still remains that we need to know if Xena is planning something." She paused, looking at her queen, "How do you think we should go about obtaining that information?" The queen dropped on to the throne, a heavy sigh once again escaping her lips. "All right." She stated quietly, "We'll do it your way." The Captain of Phantasia's Royal Guard tried to hide her triumphant grin. "But Eph," Ephiny looked up at Gabrielle, "please be careful." The woman knew that Gabrielle was not only speaking as her queen, but as her friend.
That was four days ago. Orion had not forgotten his mother's tears after Ephiny had left the room.
Xena glared at the boy, "Good, then you know it is in your best interest to behave yourself and do what you are told." Orion remained quiet. The conqueror turned to the man and tilted her head, indicating the door. The two adults walked to the door and paused. "You've done well. Your payment is waiting for you downstairs." The man bowed slightly, "Glad to be of service." Xena couldn't help but smirk at him. As he began to leave, Xena took hold of his arm. "Autolycus, I may have another job for you. Don't go far," she said with a grin. "As you wish, Conqueror." With that Autolycus left the room, closing the door behind him. Turning, Xena gave Orion a glare that sent chills up his spine. Then the conqueror opened the door and stepped out of the room, leaving behind a very frightened little boy, who desperately wished for his mother.
Autolycus stuffed the pouch into the opening in the front of his shirt. There were definitely perks to working for Xena, she paid very well. He strolled down the hall, whistling an old tune he once heard.
The King Of Thieves loved his work. He had taken great pride in gaining that title and vowed to never lose it. It was his skills as a thief and his reputation for being a master of disguise that caught the attention of the conqueror several years ago. Autolycus was leery at first. He knew her reputation and, although he may be a thief, he was no murderer. The conqueror, however, had no intention of turning the King Of Thieves into a murderer. What she needed was an infiltrator. Someone who could go in, get the information she needed, and leave undetected. Autolycus was a natural.
Of course the man had some side jobs of his own. How else could he maintain his title? Xena knew this but as long as he was there when she needed him she allowed it. Gradually, over time Autolycus and Xena had grown to respect one another, peculiar as that may sound. Autolycus had his own moral principles that Xena never tried to interfere with or override. In return, the King of Thieves respected the way that the Conqueror chose to deal with certain matters. It was a mutual agreement that served to benefit them both.
Autolycus stopped short as a familiar face appeared before him. "Hey, Autolycus." Iolaus grinned. "Iolaus, what do you think you're doing? You could give someone a heart attack!" The man's grin broadened. "Why are you so cheerful, my friend?" Autolycus shook his head as he resumed walking. Iolaus quickened his pace to keep up with the taller man. "If you must know, I just completed a job for Xena." Iolaus grabbed the man's arm, stopping him in his tracks. "The prince?" he inquired, "You got him?" Smoothing out his mustache, Autolycus grinned. "Yes." he stated. The shorter, blonde man thought seriously about this. "You didn't hurt him, did you?" Autolycus glared down at the man, "Now, what do you think?" he barked. "Okay, okay, sorry," Iolous conceded.
They both began walking once again. "Look, it's just...I wasn't fond of the idea of kidnapping the kid. I mean, I know Xena wouldn't hurt a child but..." his voice trailed off. The King Of Thieves stopped and turned to his friend. "I know, Iolaus. Truth is, I didn't like the idea much myself. But like you said, Xena won't hurt him. He's leverage against the queen." Iolaus nodded. "We need Phantasia. It's the perfect strategic spot for our ships on the east." Autolycus put his hand on the other man's shoulder, "And that, my friend, is that." Iolaus chuckled. "Never question Xena." he stated as they stepped outside. Laughing, the King Of Thieves replied, "I've known you to question Xena on a number of occasions, my friend." Iolaus couldn't help it, the laugh was infectious. "And I'm still around to laugh about it."
The two friends said their good-byes and Iolaus walked back into the palace. He walked down the long hallway and up the stairs to the Grand Hall to meet with Xena. The topic of discussion, he knew, would be the young prince and Phantasia.
Being called to the Grand Hall by the Conqueror was something everyone dreaded. It was every servants worst nightmare. Xena did not have time to deal with the servants in the palace, so any problems were handled by the Palace Master, Jacob.
Jacob was a tall, fit man, with short, dark hair and a goatee. Anyone who worked in the palace learned that he was a no-nonsense type of person, strict but fair. It was his office that you were called to if you were not performing your duties, were constantly late or had committed any other infraction. The palace staff were used to dealing with Jacob. It still was not a pleasure to be called before him, but at least it was the norm.
Being called to appear before Xena, however, was far from the norm. That's what worried Salmonious, as he made his way through the corridor to the Grand Hall.
Sal, as he was called, had a good relationship with the conqueror. As good as one could have when still considered a servant. He had met Xena over four years ago, before she became the conqueror, and she had spared his life. She said that he amused her. The conqueror still must find him amusing, Sal figured, since he was still alive.
Sal was a small, chubby man with short brown hair and a receding hair line. He sported a beard and mustache that even revealed more gray than the hair on the top of his head. Before meeting Xena, he was a salesman, or rather, a con artist. Anything that could possibly make him a dinar, he'd try. Now his life revolved around the conqueror's palace.
The man racked his brain trying to figure out just what he had done wrong. He couldn't think of anything. Which was strange, because he usually had something going on the side that, if caught, would land him in a heap of trouble. But not this time. He'd actually been behaving himself, and look where it gets him.
Jacob hadn't known what, exactly, the problem was, only that the conqueror wanted to see Salmonious - immediately. Sal wanted to knock the smirk off of Jacob's face. ‘I swear that man loves seeing others suffer,’ he thought. It wasn't true. Jacob enjoyed seeing Salmonious suffer.
"Okay, this is it" Sal mumbled to himself, as he prepared to knock on the door. Tap, tap, tap. The double doors opened and Sal was greeted by two guards. They stepped aside allowing the nervous man to pass.
Xena looked up from her desk as Sal entered the room. She noted his slight trembling. 'Always a bundle of nerves.' she thought with a grin. "Salmonious, come. Take a seat." the conqueror stated bluntly.
The Grand Hall was suitably named. It was, if nothing else, grand. As you walked through the doors one could not help noticing the pillars that lined each side of the room. Behind Xena's desk and along the walls on each side between each pillar, hung beautiful, large and intricate tapestries. Along the ceiling, which had to reach thirty feet high, hung six, huge candlelit chandeliers. Not that Sal noticed the chandeliers, for as he walked the long stretch to Xena's desk, he only noticed the lush red carpet beneath his feet.
Salmonious took a seat in one of the chairs in front of Xena's desk. "It's good to see you, Conqueror." Sal stated, bowing his head slightly. There was a slight quiver in his voice that did not escape Xena's ears. "I have a job for you," she stated with a wry grin. Sal visibly relaxed. 'I'm not in trouble. I may actually live to see another day.' Inside, the man was jumping for joy. "Anything, Conqueror. Just name it." It came out a tad too enthusiastically, but Sal didn't care. The conqueror walked around her desk and perched herself on the corner in front of Sal. "I'm glad to hear that. This is extremely important, Salmonious. If you mess this up," pause, "you will regret it." Her blue eyes narrowed and the man seemed to shrink in his chair. Xena got up and walked back to the other side of the desk. Once seated in her chair she laid out the job for the quivering man.
The look on the man's face almost made Xena burst out laughing. Sal was dumb founded. "You want me to," he had a hard time wrapping his brain around the request, "baby-sit?" The high pitched squeal that emanated from his throat on that last word made the conqueror chuckle. "Yes," she simply stated. Sal was beside himself. 'Baby-sit? What do I look like? I'm not baby-sitter!' The conqueror read Sal's thoughts. "As of right now you are responsible for Prince Orion of Phantasia." The look she gave him bade no argument and Sal slumped his shoulders. "Conqueror, I'm not good with children," he pleaded. "Get good," was Xena's response. "I do not have the time to deal with the child, but he is important to my negotiations. I want him well taken care of and kept out of my way. Understand?" There was nothing he could do. To refuse would be suicide. "Yes, Conqueror," Sal replied with a sigh.
Xena ordered one of her guards to take Salmonious to the young prince. There was a chamber across from the Grand Hall that was suitable for the child to be kept in. A much smaller room adjoined the chamber and was to become Sal's room until negotiations ended and a baby-sitter was no longer required. Salmonious was given permission to take the child out twice a day, for exercise and some fresh air. Two guards would be posted outside the door to the chamber and would remain with Sal and the child wherever they went.
Once Salmonious left, Xena returned to her work. Never looking up she said, "You can come out now Iolaus." A chuckle came from the back corner of the room. There was a passage way that connected several of the rooms on this floor. One of the doorways to and from the passage was on the back, lefthand corner of the Grand Hall.
"Hello, Xena." Iolaus walked over, taking the seat Salmonious had vacated. "That went well," he said with a grin. Xena looked up and grinned back. "Yes it did." The man laughed, then leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs. "Do you really think Sal can look after the kid?" The woman stopped and thought a moment. "Enough to keep the boy out of my hair." Iolaus spoke with concern in his voice, "Yes, but will he keep the kid safe? Xena, we need the prince alive and healthy for this to work." The conqueror's first instinct was to reprimand Iolaus for not trusting her judgment. The concern in his voice and on his face made her think better of it. "There will be guards with them constantly. I'm not entrusting the child's safety to Salmonious. I simply want him to occupy the boy's time." Iolaus sat back. He realized how his words sounded. "I'm sorry, Xena. I did not mean any disrespect." Xena looked at him and grinned, "I know," came the simple reply.
"Any news from Phantasia?" Xena inquired. "No, Conqueror, not a peep." The conqueror new it could take a day or two for any messages to arrive. Until then, she'd be patient. Patience, after all, was one of her strong suits. She knew it would be worth it. In the end, she would have the Queen of Phantasia doing her bidding or she would order the queen's execution and take what was rightfully hers. Either way, Xena will claim Phantasia as her own.