by Daniel Stevens



DISCLAIMER:  The more familiar characters and situations in this story are property of Renaissance Pictures, Universal/MCA, and Studios USA.  No copyright infringement is intended.

SYNOPSIS:  This story takes place in the 'Xena the Conqueror' timeline, a little over a century after the events shown in the H:TLJ Fourth Season Episode titled 'Armageddon Now: Part 2'.  The primary character is a descendant of Gabrielle's sister Lila, who bears a lot of resemblance to the Bard of Potidaea - in more ways than one.

Early evening in Thessalonica, or to be more precise, a villa just outside Thessalonica.  A young woman of noble birth sits reading a scroll by candlelight.  The light plays off her strawberry blonde hair, as does the simple blue silken dress, of Roman design, which she wears. Said strawberry blonde hair is done up in an equally simple Roman style. The events she is reading of are of particular importance to her family, despite having happened over a century earlier.  They relate the last days of the Grand Empress Xena the Conqueror, and the collapse of her unnatural and short-lived empire, which had died with her.  A time when her family had risen from the ranks of peasantry to nobility.

"It has been said that soon after the Conqueror had the Bard and Seditionist Gabrielle crucified, her dreams began to be haunted.  Some have even speculated that the haunting was by the ghost of the Bard who's life and work had been so brutally cut short.  In any case, Xena the Conqueror was never quite the same again.

There was still the occasional uprising against her tyrannous rule to be drowned in rebel blood.  About two years after the crucifixion noted above, one such rebellion, in farthest Ethiopia, actually became serious enough to warrant the Empress' personal intervention.  So, she sailed from Corinth at the head of her Guard, the dreaded Black Legion.

Three months later, the Black Legion, augmented by the remains of the Egyptian and Ethiopian garrisons, marched out from Syene, with the Empress Xena the Conqueror at their head.  To the south, the rebel host lay in wait for them, led by Prince Kashta, may his name live forever.

About the third cataract, Prince Kashta sprung his trap.  The Imperial Army, laden with the plunder of the ruined villages along the way, walked right into the ambush.  The time was that Xena would have smelled out the enemy's plan, and turned it back on them.  Since the haunting had begun two years earlier, however, she had not been on top of her game.  Even so, the issue had hung in the balance until Prince Kashta and his Companions fought their way through the Black Legion, and Xena the Conqueror was slain, sword in hand, dying as she had lived.  Legend relates that it was Prince Kashta who personally dealt the fatal stroke.  With Xena's death, the courage and valor flowed out of her army like water, and the Ethiopians smote them with all the pent up fury of an oppressed people finally freed from their oppressors.  The few who escaped were dealt with in similar fashion by an equally outraged Egyptian populous who welcomed Prince Kashta as a liberator.  The Prince's army swelled as it advanced as young men in every village and town flocked to the Ethiopian colors - the colors of freedom - in droves.  Thebes, Memphis and then Alexandria all opened their gates to the Prince.  In Alexandria Prince Kashta assumed the title and position of Pharaoh of the Two Lands, and of the land of Ethiopia as well.  His doing so heralded the final breakup of Xena's empire, which disintegrated as the news spread.  Even in her native Macedonia the cruel tyranny of Xena the Conqueror was bitterly resented.

When the news arrived from Egypt, the younger sister of the Bard Gabrielle, Lila by name, had just married a young man named Malachi.  Like Lila's family, Malachi's were converts to the faith of the Israelites.  Like Lila, Malachi bitterly resented the murder of his sister-in-law by the bloody Conqueror, and when news of the Conqueror's death arrived in Potidaea, the newlyweds gladly joined forces with the rebel leader known only as the Black Fox to topple the  regime in it's very heartland.  For that, and because the events of the past century leading up to Xena's victories had decimated the Macedonian nobility, Malachi and Lila had been ennobled."

The young woman looks up from the scroll, a serious yet faraway look in her grey-green eyes.

'The even more remarkable thing is that when the Romans returned to this land under their young leader Gaius Octavius Caesar, the new Roman First Citizen recognized and confirmed their title.  For which my great grandparents were eternally grateful.'

Just then, she senses a presence in the room.  She turns about, to see her personal valet standing nearby, eyes lowered.  This woman is half a head taller than her mistress, with slightly darker complexion, and short-cut black hair.  She wears her slave's rags with a majesty and pride that is difficult to hide, and had earned her stripes across her back from other masters.

"Yes, Cyrene?"

"Milady Esther, the message you have been waiting for.", as Cyrene hands it to her.  Esther accepts it, and reads.  Then, she turns to her slave.

"Cyrene, look at me."

The taller woman does so.  Esther can see a hard-learned submissiveness war with a far more natural resentment and rebelliousness in Cyrene's volcanic blue eyes.  There is something else there, too.  A certain sadness, that in other circumstances might be seen as remorse for a great and terrible wrong.

"Are you happy here?"

"I have no reason to complain of my treatment, Milady."

After a moment, "Please sit with me, Cyrene."

Cyrene does so, as Esther pours her some wine, then resumes her seat.

"In the three years since my father bought you, and then gave you to me, I've thought a lot about you.  About us.  I have long sensed that we were somehow meant to be together, but not like this.  Not as mistress and slave."

"As have I."

"You have?"

"Yes.  Somehow I have felt it ever since we met.  I have also..."

After a moment, "Yes?"

Another long moment passes before, "I have also felt a great burden upon my soul.  A burden that seems to be from the past.  A burden that has somehow to do with you.  A burden of..."

"Of guilt?"  A moment later, "Your hesitance to speak of it gives it away."  Then, "Occasionally, when I look at you, I can almost sense having suffered a great wrong at your hands.  Which is of course preposterous, as you and I never met until three years ago."

Now, the rebelliousness in the slave's eyes vanishes completely, to be replaced by an upwelling of remorse.  Cyrene leaves her chair, to drop to her knees before Esther.  Esther, in turn, takes the taller woman in her arms.

"Cyrene, whatever this thing is between us, I freely forgive you, as my faith commands me to do."

"Your faith?"

"Please let me explain.  As you know, some years after the fall of Xena the Conqueror, the preacher Eli came, and spoke to many, in the city square.  Among the crowd were my grandmother Sarah, and her husband David.  They listened, and believed, and accepted the message of Eli.  The Way of Eli.  Of love.  Of forgiveness.  Our family has tried to live according to the Way ever since.  That is why, upon seeing the remorse and repentance in your eyes, and hearing it in your voice, I am able to grant you the forgiveness which you dared not ask for."

With that, the two women embrace, as sisters of the spirit.

Then, "In fact, I have just now decided to give you your freedom, as a token of my forgiveness and acceptance of you."

Cyrene now looks Esther in the eye.

"Then, I shall exercise that freedom by remaining here, by your side.  If you will have me."

"Of course I will have you.  From this day forward, Cyrene, you shall be as a sister to me.  Your family -"

"Milady Esther, I have no family save this household.  My parents died when I was a child.  They, too, were slaves.  I know nothing of any brothers or sisters."

"Cyrene, you have a family now.  Therefore, you must never again address me as 'Milady', or 'Mistress'.  In fact, we shall go see my father about having you adopted as his other daughter."

With that, the two women leave the chamber, to speak with Esther's father, Saul, of the matter at hand.

"Daughter, I have also sensed some sort of connection between the two of you.  As you both desire this boon, I shall make out the documents right now, and have them witnessed by our Steward Cleophas."

Within the hour, this is done, at which point Esther takes Cyrene, now called Maria, to see about new clothes more fitting to her new station in life.



Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse