Ambrosia and I have had a very busy year. Sorry this took so long.
If all goes well we'll have Part 5 out in shorter time than it took for Part 4. :)
Disclaimers in Part 1
The queen was almost skipping as she anticipated being able to see her son again. It had been far too long. It felt as though their separation had extended over a period of ten years instead of just a few days. They reached the door and one of the guards unlocked it. Gabrielle was let go and entered the room frantically searching for her beloved child.
The queen looked to her left sharply and spied the blonde head of her son appearing from under a rather large bed. The little boy got to his feet and grinned widely at his mother as he ran towards her with his arms outstretched. Gabrielle giggled as he collided with her, almost managing to send the young woman to the floor. As it was, his mother was able to regain her balance. Gabrielle twirled her son around a few times, eliciting a deep belly laugh from him. It felt wonderful to have Orion in her arms again. Tears stung the queen's eyes as she kissed her son's curly head.
She put him down on his feet and then leaned down on one knee, beginning to inspect him, despite the young boy's protest that he was all right. After a few minutes of careful inspection, Gabrielle was sated that Orion was indeed all right. In fact, he did not look any worse for wear. The queen had not known what to expect, but her son looked just like he had a few days ago. His cheeks were glowing, his clothes were clean and on glancing around, Gabrielle deducted that he had a nice room. There were even a few toys around and a pitcher of water and delicious looking snacks on a low round wooden table that was just right for Orion's height. Even the chairs were miniature size.
"Are you all right, sweetie?" Gabrielle asked. Physically he appeared to be fine, but she was not so sure emotionally. Surely he must have suffered immense trauma from being abducted from his home. Gabrielle could not resist. She leaned forward and gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. Orion in turn made a face and looked to the men behind his mother standing at the door. One of the men had on a blank expression, but the other one was evidently having trouble hiding a grin. The little boy blushed in embarrassment. Even at the early age of four the prince did not care for his mother to display that much affection towards him in front of others. In private was a different matter. He didn't mind then.
"I'm fine, Mama. Really," Orion tried to assure her. He smiled again. It had not been bad here, but he was sure glad to see his mother again. Perhaps they could go back home now, back to Phantasia. "Mama can we go home now?" he asked quietly.
Gabrielle shook her head almost sadly. "Not yet, sweetie. Mama has to take care of a few matters before we can go home." The queen's face scrunched up in thought. She then peered at her son seriously. "Orion, when I came in you were hiding under the bed. Why?" Despite her best efforts to keep calm, Gabrielle started to become early. If her son had felt the need to take cover under the bed, then something must have happened to frighten him.
The prince grinned at his mother. "In case it was him, I was trying to hide from Uncle Sal."
Evidently that wasn't a bad thing, but who? "Uncle Sal?"
"Yes, Mama. He's my baby-sitter," Orion replied in a tone that conveyed that his mother should have automatically known that bit of information. "Uncle Sal is a lot of fun."
Gabrielle rubbed a hand against his cheek. "Oh, is he?" Orion shook his blonde head as his mother turned her head towards the men standing at the door. "Could you give us some privacy, please?" she asked in a polite but firm voice. The men looked at each and then nodded at her.
"We'll be right outside the door," one of them said. "So if I were you I wouldn't try anything. We will be back shortly. Make it quick." They filed out of the room and soon the queen could hear something rattling in the door. Obviously, they were locking it. That was fine with Gabrielle. She wasn't going to try anything that would put her son in jeopardy. She had to be careful now if she wanted to protect him from harm. The queen inwardly winced and thought to herself, oh, like you've been doing thus far? Great job, Mom.
Gabrielle looked at her son again. A broad smile came unbidden to her face. He was so adorable that she had to resist the urge to pinch his cheek. "Are you sure that you're all right, love?" she asked him in a worried voice.
Orion nodded. "Yes, Mama. I'm fine." He wrapped his arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. Tears stung Gabrielle's eyes and cascaded down her cheeks as she held her precious little one. She wiped them away before the boy could see them. Orion kissed her on the cheek and released her. He then asked for her hand and walked her over to his miniature table. The little boy raced over to a regular sized chair placed by the window and brought it over to the table. He asked his mother to take a seat in the chair. Gabrielle sat down and then the prince went around to the other side of the table and took a seat in his smaller chair.
Orion grabbed something from the tray of snacks on the table and put it under the table. His mother gave him a curious look and asked what he had in his hands. The little boy shook his head with a mischievous smile playing among his small pink lips. Changing the subject, Orion asked him mother if she wanted some water. Gabrielle shook her head and watched indulgently as he expertly poured water into two mugs. He gave her one and she thanked him before taking a sip. The water was cool and as delicious as water can be. The queen set the mug on the table and regarded her son.
"What's in your hands, Orion?" she asked playfully.
Innocently he replied, "Nothing, Mama." He couldn't however keep the grin off of his face.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Uh huh. You're not going to tell me?"
He shook his head.
Orion's mother leaned back in her chair. "Then how am I going to find out what it is?"
"Guess," he replied simply.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Guess, huh? Okay. Shall we play our regular guessing game?"
Orion nodded. They had a game that they played in order to find out information that the other one was withholding. They would get to ask a total of twenty questions that had to have yes or no answers. Gabrielle had made it up but did not have a name for it yet.
The queen folded her hands together on the table. She had to lean over a little since it was so low. "Is it something edible?" she asked.
"Yes, it is."
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Is it sweet?"
The queen pursed her lips. "Have I eaten it before?"
"Yes you have. A lot."
Gabrielle tapped a finger on the top of the table. "So I guess I like it," she said more to herself than her son. "Is it a favorite food of mine?"
The little boy grinned. "That's an understatement."
His mother beamed at her son's use of the long word. Four years old and he was so smart. She was very proud of him. "Is it red?"
Orion shook his head.
"Is it orange?"
He chuckled. "No, it's not, Mama."
The queen leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest with a look of thoughtfulness on her face. "Is it brown?"
The little boy nodded.
Ah ha. Gabrielle smiled knowingly. "Is it nutbread?" she asked somewhat excitedly.
Orion took his hands from beneath the table and handed a hunk of nutbread to his mother. She smiled and thanked him before pulling off a piece to pop into her mouth. Gabrielle closed her eyes. Eating this stuff was like being in the Elysian Fields. Orion's mother asked him if he wanted some. The little boy shook his head. Gabrielle ate a few more pieces of the treat before putting it back on the tray after having her fill. She could not eat much of it since the Conqueror had given her a hefty meal not too long before.
Mother and son retired to the floor, which is where Orion showed her some of the toys that he had. She had to admit that they were nice. The Conqueror was quite an enigma. Here she had captured the queen's son and had put him in this room with toys, food and a big window with a great view. Orion appeared to be in good condition and happy enough since he had this "Uncle Sal" baby-sitting him.
"Mama?" Orion said while playing with a small wooden horse as his mother watched him. Occasionally, she would reach out to touch his blonde locks or kiss him.
He looked up at her. "Can you tell me a story?" He cocked his head to the side in a way that she found endearing.
"Sure." She figured that it was time for him to take a nap anyway. A story should put him to sleep. Gabrielle arose from the floor and walked over to the bed. She removed her shoes and sat on it with her legs outstretched and her back against the headboard. Orion got on the bed and sat next to her. Gabrielle put an arm around his small shoulders and asked what he would like to hear.
The little boy shrugged. "What about one of the one's with the warrior and bard who travel together fighting for the greater good?"
The queen smiled. She had made those stories up herself and had wrote them down on scrolls for her son's eyes only. She had gotten the ideas from dreams that she had regularly about these two women. He seemed to like those stories. "Of course, sweetie. Let me think of one." After thinking it over a minute she came up with one. It was one of her favorites.
"One day, the warrior and bard were in a field. The bard had her staff laying across two trees and was practicing flips, but she didn't heed the warrior's warning, when she decided to try it without the staff, and she fell and sprained her ankle." Orion scrunch up his face, "Ouch." Gabrielle chuckled, "Yes it was quite painful, but the bard refused to show just how bad it hurt." Again her son interrupted, "She didn't tell the warrior she was hurt?" he questioned. "Not exactly. She refused to admit to the warrior just how badly she was hurt. However the warrior knew and took hold of the bards booted foot. Slicing the boot she had the bard lean on her as she led her off the path. She then proceeded to carefully bandage the ankle."
The prince's thoughts turned to several months ago when he fell and hurt his own ankle, "Mama, I always tell you when I'm hurt, don't I?" His mother smiled, "Yes, you always tell me, and you better always tell me," she added in a mock stern voice then proceeded to tickle her son. Laughing and attempting to push his mother's hands away, the boy pleaded, "I will, Mama, I will."
Gabrielle stopped tickling the boy and asked, "May I continue with the story, Your Highness?" Orion chuckled, "Why of course you may, Your Majesty." The queen laughed and then continued on, "Both warrior and bard discovered that a large army was making it's way to Athens. The warrior knew the army must be delayed so she helped the bard onto their horse and proceeded to intercept." Orion's eyes went wide, "She's going to stop an entire army, Mama?" Again the queen had to chuckle at her son. With a twinkle in her eye, she added, "Well, not exactly." She paused and waited. "Then what is she going to do, Mama," the boy asked anxiously. His mother smiled, "She's going to create a diversion to slow them down. But you see, things don't always go exactly as you plan them." They sure don't, the queen thought, sadly. Regaining her composer she proceeded, "A small group of scouts spotted the warrior and bard. A scout shot the bard with an arrow. The warrior was able to defeat the others and raced to the bard's side. She removed the arrow and to her horror discovered that it was poisoned."
Orion was now sitting up on the bed anxiously awaiting the rest of the tale. Gabrielle continued to describe the events in her dream; the severity of the bard's injury, not finding the antidote, the bard telling the warrior that she must remain and fight, and the strength of their friendship which Gabrielle considered the real moral to the story.
Soon the tale was almost to the end and Gabrielle noticed that her son's eyelids were drooping slightly.
Finishing her story, the queen once again looked down at her son and to her delight he was fast asleep. His breathing was deep and even, as he lay against his mother. She gently pulled him down until his head was lying on a pillow. Getting off of the bed, Gabrielle pulled the covers back and put them over her son before she settled back on the bed next to him. The queen rested her chin in her left hand as she softly caressed her son's cheek with the other, gazing at him lovingly. I will not let anything happen to you.
It wasn't long before the door opened and the men ushered for Gabrielle to come with them. Looking down at her son one final time, the queen kissed him on the forehead, before she quietly rose from the bed and followed the guards out. She forced herself not to look at Orion again, afraid that she might cry or try to grab him and make a run for it. No. She had to think this over and try to come up with a plan to get them out of there. I will not let that woman destroy Phantasia nor my family. I won't.
The boy's eyes opened and quickly closed again as the early morning rays shone through the window, blinding him. One eye slowly opened, then the other. Orion sat up in bed and wiped the sleep from his eyes. The small boy immediately noticed that his mother was gone. He jumped out of bed and raced to the door. Small fits pounded on the locked door and the boy started yelling, "What have you done with her? Where is she? Open up!" Suddenly the other door in the room opened and Salmonious came rushing in.
"Orion!" Sal raced to Orion's side, "Hey, what is it? What happened? Did you have a nightmare?" The man held on to the boys shoulders while trying to calm his own nerves. Sal had been in a dead sleep when Orion's screams interrupted his dreams. Never has the man moved so quickly as he did to get to the boy.
"It wasn't a dream! Please Uncle Sal, don't let it be a dream! Please!" The boy pleaded with his new uncle as tears streamed down his face. He remembered his mother coming to his room, eating nutbread, telling him a story... it wasn't a dream, Mama was here, she was!
The gray-haired man was at loss, "What wasn't a dream Orion?" He led the boy back over to the bed, "Come on, sit down and tell me what happened." Orion sat on the bed next to his uncle. "She was here, Uncle Sal," the boy spoke between sobs, "Mama was here with me, just yesterday afternoon." Sal nodded in understanding, "Yes, Orion. Your mother was here." The boy looked up at his uncle with wide eyes, "Then it wasn't a dream? She really was here?" The man smiled at the boy wrapping his arm around him, "Yes, she was here. She came just for you," Sal said, stating more the truth then the boy realized.
Orion's tears subsided and the man wiped the boys cheeks with his thumb. The four-year old looked up at his uncle, "Why did she leave? She went home and didn't take me with her. Did I do something wrong?" Sal shook his head emphatically, "No, Orion. You did nothing wrong. Your mother is here, in the palace. She didn't go home without you." The man spoke with a lump in his throat. His heart went out to this little boy. Little boys need their mother.
The boy took a deep breath and sighed. Standing, he faced Salmonious, "I want to see her." The man didn't know how to respond. He knew the queen was locked in the prison and he didn't think it would be as easy as making a simple request to let her out to spend time with her son. "Please, Uncle Sal. I want to go see my mother, right away," the boy pleaded. Sal drew in a breath, How can I refuse him? "Okay, I'll go see if I can find her," he lied, "You stay here. I'll bring your mother to you." Orion nodded, "Thank you," he said with a big smile.
Sal smiled down at the boy as he rose from the bed. The man returned to the door from which he had entered and turned to look at his young charge. The boy had gone to the wash basin and was washing his face. I've got to at least try, the man thought while watching the child. Then he quickly turned and headed in to his room to change.
Gabrielle sat on her cot thinking about the little boy upstairs who she so desperately wanted to hold at this moment. She had cried herself to sleep last night, after leaving her son.
The door opened and the man Gabrielle knew as Marcus walked in. After speaking, briefly, with the guard he went to the queen's cell.
"Good morning," he said with a smile.
"Good morning, Marcus." The queen tried to return the smile.
Without another word, Marcus unlocked the cell door and step aside motioning for the woman to exit. Gabrielle stood as the cell door was closed once again.
"This way," the man stated, motioning to the door.
Once again the queen found herself in the long, narrow, winding passageway. The only sound was the echo of their footsteps. The queen could not stand it any longer.
"Where are you taking me? To the Conqueror or my son?" she asked.
"First, the Conqueror. She will then decide about seeing your son."
Gabrielle's mind raced. She wasn't sure what would happen if she refused the Conqueror's demands again. But she did know that there was no way she could accept.
The queen was so lost in thought that she hadn't realized they had left the passageway until they were standing in front of the doors to the Grand Hall. Marcus knocked and a guard on the inside opened the door, allowing them to enter.
The Conqueror was not at her desk. Instead she was seated at the table in the corner where Gabrielle had eaten a hearty breakfast the day before. Today, however, there was no food on the table. Marcus ushered the queen to the table, nodded to the Conqueror and exited the room. Gabrielle never took her eyes off of the Conqueror.
Xena looked at the young woman standing before her, "Have a seat." The queen sat down in the chair across from the Destroyer of Nations. It took all of the young woman's will to remain calm on the outside. Inside she was a bundle of nerves. Blue eyes silently stared at her and it was quickly trying Gabrielle's patience. "You wished to see me?" The queen's voice sounded nonchalant.
The corners of the Conqueror's mouth rose into a smirk. What is it about this woman? Anyone else would be dead by now. Xena could not understand what was making her keep this woman alive. She refused my offer. End of story. Kill her and take Phantasia. But she couldn't. Her thoughts wandered to the little boy across the hall, so much like Lyceus. Xena could still see her brother tagging along no matter where she went. And Lyceus was always getting into mischief. Like Orion.
"I'm waiting for your answer," Xena stated.
This was it. If the Conqueror was true to her word, the queen knew her and Orion could die today. Depending on how the executions were done, there was still the possibility that Ephiny and the others would make it in time to save them. But there was always a chance that all of her planning would still end in death. It was a chance she had to take. "My answer has not changed," Gabrielle said with a steady voice.
"Then you wish for your son to die." The cold, threatening voice echoed in the queen's ears and her heart jumped into her throat. Gabrielle fought back the tears, not wanting to let the woman know how deeply the words affected her. "No, I do not," came the whispered reply.
Abruptly, Xena stood and motioned the guard over. "Take her across the hall." As the Guard took hold of Gabrielle's arm Xena glared at the queen, "Maybe you need a little reminder of what refusal means." With that said, she strode to her desk and sat down, never looking up as the guard led the queen out of the room.
The man was at his wits end. Try as he might he couldn't get an audience with the Conqueror. Even Marcus and Iolaus were tied up this morning. Reluctantly, Sal headed back to Orion's room to deliver the bad news. As he was about to enter, the door across the hall opened. Out stepped the boy's mother along with a palace guard. To Sal's amazement they walked right towards him.
"Open the door, Sal," the guard requested.
"Oh, absolutely, right away Duncan," the baby-sitter answered joyfully. He then turned to the young queen and gave her his biggest and brightest grin, "Hello," he said, reaching out and shaking the slightly startled queen's hand, "It is so nice to meet you, finally. Orion talks about you constantly."
Gabrielle grinned at the man, trying to keep calm. He knows Orion, was all that kept going through her mind.
Sal quickly ushered the queen into the room, leaving Duncan outside. He brought the queen to the chair against the wall and offered her a seat. His eyes quickly scanned the room for the woman's son. The boy was nowhere to be found. "Orion?" Sal called out.
A shuffling sound was heard from under the bed and out rolled the little prince. Spotting his mother, Orion leapt to his feet and raced over to her. Before he reached the queen, she jumped to her feet and scooped the boy up into her arms.
"Mama, you're here! You're really here!" Orion cried into his mothers shoulder. Gabrielle felt her son's tears and became worried. She sat back down and placed her son on her lap. The boy continued to cling to her. "I'm here, sweetheart. Mama's here… Shhhhh... it's okay. Everything is going to be all right." Gabrielle rubbed her sons back and continued to give the calming reassurances that only a mother could give.
Sal busied himself, putting away some of Orion's toys on the other side of the room, not wanting to intrude on the reunion.
As Orion's tears subsided, he lifted his head and looked up at his mother. Gently wiping the tears from her sons face, Gabrielle asked, "Now what was that all about, huh? Did something happen today to make you so upset?" Orion leaned against his mother, "I... I thought you left me. I woke up and you were gone. I thought you went home and left me here." The queen's heart broke, "Oh gods Orion, no sweetie." The queen embraced the prince firmly, "I would never do that to you. I'm not going to leave without you. I came here to get you." Gabrielle loosened her embrace and looked at her son, "I'm sorry I scared you. I just went back to my... room." The boy smiled up at her, "It's okay, Mama. You're here now." His smile grew wider and mother and son embraced once again.
Salmonious watched them with tear stained eyes. Getting a hold of his emotions, he walked over to the wash basin, picked up the towel and wiped his face. It was then that Orion remembered that his uncle was in the room.
"Uncle Sal," he called out then turned to his mother, "Mama, I taught Uncle Sal how to play hide and go seek. He's not very good at it." Orion giggled as he remembered the man's distress every time his uncle couldn't find him.
The man cleared his throat and approached the queen, "Yes, that's true. Well, I'm Sal, Salmonious. The boy likes to call me uncle and I really don't mind." The queen smiled at the man. So, this is Uncle Sal, she thought. The baby-sitter took the smile as an invitation. He sat down in the chair next to the queen and relayed to her his duties, as far as where the price was concerned.
Gabrielle's instincts told her that Sal was a good man. She was thankful that her son had this "uncle" to look out for him this past week. It seemed that all the things she imagined about Orion being held prisoner were not true. He was not in some dungeon, but instead in a very nice, clean room. No one was hurting or abusing him. To the contrary, it appeared his one companion was the man seated next to her. Strange, she thought, why would the Conqueror, who was known for her cruelty and heartlessness, treat my son with any amount of dignity? Gabrielle put the thought aside as her son began to question her.
"Can we go out to the courtyard, Mama? I want to show you something really special," Orion asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Salmonious glanced quickly at the queen. He didn't know if it would be aloud and tried to silently convey that thought. Gabrielle knew what the man was thinking and quickly tried to come up with a reason for them to stay in the room. But before she could speak, Sal jumped up and rubbed his hands together, "You know what, Orion, I'm going to see if your lunch is ready. Aren't you hungry?"
Orion thought for a moment, "Yes, a little. Can't we eat in the courtyard?" The boy looked once again to his mother, "Please, Mama? I've eaten out there before and we eat in our courtyard sometimes. Can we, please?" Gabrielle smiled sadly at him, but once again Sal didn't give her a chance to respond, "Let me just see if your lunch is ready. I'll be right back." With that the man left the room.
Once out in the hall, Sal spotted Iolaus leaving the Great Hall, "Iolaus! I'm glad I found you." Iolaus smiled at the baby-sitter, "What can I do for you, Sal? Everything all right with the prince?"
"Oh yes, yes, everything is fine. He's with his mother at the moment, which is why I need to speak with you."
"Well, the boy really wants to have lunch with his mother in the courtyard. Which I think is a wonderful idea, don't you?"
Iolaus thought for a moment. He knew that Xena had allowed the queen to visit with her son, but he did not think that arrangement including going outside. "I don't think so, Sal."
Sal did not try to hide his disappointment, "It's just lunch. The guards will be with them." He leaned closer to Iolaus and spoke in a hushed tone, "Look, the boy woke up in a panic this morning because his mother wasn't there. When she finally was allowed to see him he burst into tears and wouldn't let go of her," he pleaded, "Can't we give the kid a break?"
The blonde man thought about the request. Iolaus wasn't heartless and did feel for the boy. Xena will kill me, he thought.
"Okay, Sal. I'll arrange for a few more guards."
"Thank you! Thank you! You are a good man, Iolaus," Sal shook the man's hand and headed back into the room.
I've just signed my death warrant. What am I doing? Iolaus shook his head and went to secure more guards.
Sal walked in the room with a huge grin. Gabrielle looked up, noticed the look on his face and knew that she would be having lunch, outside, with her son.
Once again walking through the long passageway, Gabrielle's thoughts turned to the events of yesterday. She had been amazed, delighted and somewhat confused that she was able to spend most of the day with her son. Lunch in the courtyard had almost felt like home, with the exception of the numerous guards. She smiled at the memory of Orion's excited face as he showed her the gardens. The prince knew his mother loved flowers and the queen had to admit the Conqueror's flower gardens were exquisite. They ate, laughed and played games until the sun was beginning to set.
After dinner, the guards had come to take Gabrielle back to her cell. The boy protested, not wanting his mother to leave. It broke the queen's heart to have to leave him. She made sure her son calmed down and explained that she would be back the next day. Gabrielle hoped she would be able to keep that promise.
That evening Gabrielle had requested writing material and was surprised when Marcus brought them to her, personally. The queen sat down on her cot and proceeded to write a treaty. She wasn't sure if it would work but she was about to find out.
The double doors opened and the queen stepped into the Great Hall.
Xena paced back and forth, waiting for the queen to arrive. She was angry at herself for being so lenient yesterday. How could I let Iolaus talk me into that? It was just for lunch, Iolaus had told her. But then lunch turned into dinner and... I must be getting soft. What was I thinking? I am in charge here, not her. Thoughts of torture and murder raced through her devious mind.
"Why do you have to be so mean?" The voice of the small prince overshadowed all other thoughts. "Arrrrgh!" The Conqueror growled out loud. Just then, the doors opened and in walked the Queen of Phantasia. Xena looked up and found herself staring, unable to turn away. By the gods she is lovely. She couldn't help herself, a slight grin crossed her face.
Gabrielle stopped as a jolt ran through her. She found herself lost in the blue eyes that were staring at her. Taking a deep breath she continued the walk across the room to stand before the Conqueror.
Regaining her composure, Xena's grin turned into a sneer, "Enjoy yourself yesterday?"
The queen never turned away, determined to keep eye contact even when she saw those blue eyes turn to ice, "Yes, thank you," she answered politely.
The Conqueror was the first to break eye contact. "Good, then might I assume you see things a bit clearer today," she asked, once again turning her head toward the queen.
Gabrielle said nothing. She simply held out the scroll she had been carrying to the woman. Xena took it and sat at her desk. She carefully opened the scroll and began to read. Her eyes grew wide as she realized what the queen had given her. Abruptly, she stood and strode over to the smaller woman. Towering over the queen, the Conqueror narrowed her eyes and growled, "What is the meaning of that!" She pointed to the scroll still sitting on the desk.
The queen raised her chin and looked directly at the tall woman, refusing to be intimidated. "That," she stated, "is a treaty and trade agreement between your lands and Phantasia." Xena laughed at the gaul of this woman. Anyone else would have been dead before the sentence was finished. But if the truth were told, the Conqueror admired the strength and determination of the young woman. "And why would I wish to have a treaty with you when I can easily take what I want?" Xena sat on the edge of her desk and crossed her arms.
"Yes you could," the queen began, "but that would cost you resources. Not just your current resources but the resources of Phantasia." The Conqueror remained quiet and Gabrielle continued, "We have the best ports in all of Greece, you must know that. To go to war would mean most or all of those ports would be destroyed. Why would you want to have to rebuild what is already there for you to use? With this treaty you will be able to add Phantasia to your trade route. Your ships will have access to our ports, ship repair facilities, fish markets and more."
She has gaul, strength, determination and she makes a logical argument. I think I like this woman, the Conqueror thought to herself. Remaining seated, she turned slightly and snatched the scroll. "This also states that you will remain as sole ruling body over Phantasia," her eyes rose to meet the young woman's gaze, "That I can not have." It was a simple statement of fact. All the lands from here to Chin were under the control of the Conqueror. All the so-called leaders of the different nations, from Lao Ma to Brutis, answered to Xena.
The Queen of Phantasia knew that was the one downfall in the treaty. In truth, she hadn't planned nor wanted to write the treaty but it was the only way she could think of to stop a war. A war that she knew Phantasia could not win. Yes, her people were willing to die but she was their queen. If there was another solution it was her duty to find it. When she had departed from Phantasia, her only thoughts were getting her son back. Now that she had met the Conqueror, she knew that if her original plan was carried out, even if successful, it would mean a war with the Conqueror. Gabrielle felt this treaty was her last hope of preventing it.
Before Gabrielle could respond to the Conqueror, Xena rose and walked to her seat behind the desk. She motioned for the guards. "Take her back to her cell," the ruler told the men. "Wait," Gabrielle pleaded, "May I see my son?" Xena narrowed her eyes, "We'll see," was her only reply.
Once the doors were closed and she was once again alone, the Conqueror let out a deep sigh. She had felt herself waver. Xena knew she had been close to giving in to the woman and for the first time she was frightened. Frightened of the power this woman held over her. Frightened of the emotions she could not stop from surfacing at the mere site of her.
Xena was lost in thought when Marcus entered her bedchamber. Seeing the faraway look on her face, Marcus waved a hand in front of her, "Hey, you okay?" Xena smiled up at him, "If I wasn't you would have lost that hand. Don't you know better than to sneak up on me?" The man chuckled and sat next to the ruler, "I wasn't worried, you knew it was me." His voice changed to concern, "You did seem far away. Want to talk about it?" The woman smirked at him, "You know I'm not a talker." It was Marcus' turn to smile, "Yea, I know. All though you've been opening up more lately."
The Conqueror was struck by her lovers comment, "Have I?" Marcus nodded, "Yes. Xena, I know you haven't been happy lately." This made the woman laugh outright, "Marcus, when have I ever been happy? I don't know the meaning of the word." She rose from her seat and went to pour some wine, lifting the jug and silently asking if he wanted some. Marcus nodded. "Anger, hatred, rage, power, those are the things that fill me up and keep me warm at night," Xena continued, as she handed her lover his glass and sat down next to him, "and you," she finished with a seductive smile. Marcus shook his head and took a sip of his drink. "You already have the power, Xena. In fact you have everything that you could ever want." The woman knew there was more, "But?" she prodded. "But," the man continued, "you're not satisfied. You're not happy. You are the ruler of the known world and your miserable."
She knew his words were true. Marcus had been her friend and occasional bed partner for a long time. He knew her better than anyone. No one got through Xena's defenses, but Marcus had come close over the years. "I think I need to be alone tonight," she stated quietly, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and not wanting to show it. It was too late, the man already knew, but said nothing. Before leaving, he turned to see Xena staring out the window and sadness crossed his heart.
Xena heard the door close and only then did she allow her emotions to fully surface.
TO BE CONTINUED…