DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, etc. are ęcopyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done okay, they get a little worn, but hey I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement is intended in the writing of this fiction. All other characters that appear are ęcopyright LJ Maas. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.
VIOLENCE WARNING: There is violence (come on it's the Conqueror). The nature of the story is not nearly as dark as some Conqueror fiction; rather it explores the alternate, loving relationship that exists between Xena the Conqueror & her onetime slave, Gabrielle.
TIMELINE: My own making. Xena is the Lord, Conqueror of Greece, but she is almost forty-five years old when she meets the slave, Gabrielle. Many of Xena's evil ways have been sedated, but not all. I call this Xena the "thinking woman's" Conqueror. She is a woman who wants to do the right thing, but doesn't always know how.
SEX: Yes, I'll have some, thank you. Ooops! I mean, yes there is. It is our favorite two Soulmates, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is quite explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love, sex and yes, even some light bdsm between two adult females.
HIGH ANGST WARNING: I was threatened within an inch of my life if I didn't start putting this disclaimer on some (all?) of my work. I will henceforth rate the angst content with sad faces, one being the lowest and four being the highest. This story earns: L L (2 sad faces for those without TT Fonts)
UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J
I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com
The Conqueror Series
Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose
By LJ Maas
She stops my wandering hands, feigns jumping up from my lap, then halfheartedly slaps my hands away, telling me I promised to write this evening. With an exasperated sigh, I give up trying to bed her. I was hoping she had forgotten the promise I made only last night.
It is the eve before my wedding. Gods above, I have existed in this mortal realm for forty-five summers and am to be married for the first time in my life, tomorrow at sunset. Talk about a spinster! I have promised her that I will accept the tradition surrounding a royal marriage, meaning that we will spend tonight apart and will not see one another until the ceremony in the Great Hall tomorrow evening. Given the fact that my more carnal nature makes an appearance whenever she is near, I couldn't help but make an attempt at seducing her when she kissed me goodnight.
Alas, my future Queen is a strong woman with an equally strong will. Frankly, she makes my stubborn, pigheaded nature look tame in comparison. It's just that my lovely lady is more subtle about it. And so I sit here, quill in hand, to continue on with the promise I gave her several moons back, that I would reveal something of myself for posterity.
I admit, I thought the idea rather inane at first. I am neither bard nor poet. I am far from a masterful historian, having a tendency to remember things in a rather biased manner, mostly how they revolved around me. I do love to read, preferring histories and war stratagems to the flowery writings of Pindar and Ibycus. Philosophers are my favorite. Socrates and Pythagoras could entertain me for days, but it was Plato's Dialogues, which captured my mind. His knowledge of reality fascinated me. Perhaps that is why I spared his life.
Ironic, how things that happened when I was quite young, appear fresh in my mind so many years later. It was right after I conquered Athens, destroying a majority of the city, mostly because of what Pericles did to my homelands during the Peloponnesian War. I was so foolish in those days, killing to make a point that might have impressed just as strongly without the bloodshed.
Critias and Charmides were the only two I was after that day. They were extremists who I couldn't afford to let live after I took Athens. It was unfortunate that Socrates was so closely involved with them. I had to execute all three. I remember when they brought Plato, Socrates disciple, before me. I was rather impressed with the young man, and believe me, you had to be quite extraordinary to do that in those days. He was from a good family, even served in the Cavalry for his military service. I found his views on life in general to be refreshing and inventive. Perhaps it was the mere fact that he shared his bed with men and not women that caused us to get along so well. There was no sexual tension between the two of us and I think that, and the man's uncommonly quick wit, were what saved his neck that day. He started an academy after Athens was rebuilt. I have often received invitations to visit him, but I have never gone. It hurts too much to go back to that place where I destroyed so much. Perhaps she would wish to go. Gods, I know she would be in Elysium to enter that academy and speak with one of the greatest philosophers Greece has ever known. I'll keep that in mind, since there are so many places I wish to show her.
Well, I've let my memories of the past carry me away, but that is what she had in mind when she thrust the quill in my hand for very first time. I sit here and smile when I think of the engaging way she had of coercing me into doing something I would have done for her anyway.
"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice came at me louder this time.
I knew she was waiting for me to raise my eyes from the scroll I was reading. She detested talking to the top of my head, bent over a scroll as I was during our morning meal. Usually this time of the day I gave to my Consort, but I had a full day of hearings to preside over and I was trying to stay caught up.
"I can read and listen at the same time, little one," I responded, finally lifting my face to gaze into the intelligent green eyes across from me.
"I know," she smiled, "but I like looking into your beautiful face."
I feel the beginnings of a blush creeping up my neck and offer her a crooked smile in return. Her forward comment flusters me. She knows what it does to me when she says things like that. Of course, I think that's why she says them half the time. I set my scrolls aside and take her hand in mine from across the table.
"All right, my love, now that you have my beautiful attention, what may I do for you?"
"When you say it like that I think you might do anything for me," she replied coyly. I didn't yet realize the danger I was in.
"I would," I answered without hesitation.
"I'd like for you to write down your thoughts, a sort of a history of your life," she said softly in halting tones.
"No," I still smiled.
"But you just said--"
"I lied, pick something else. Some new gowns "
"Some new scrolls, perhaps a case to carry them in "
"Xena " she said softer, in more of a whispering tone.
"Maybe a horse of your very own you wanted to learn to ride " I trailed off, looking into eyes that appeared as if they might cry at any moment. Gods, she's good!
She sat there, her delicate hand within my own, a small, childlike expression on her face. She didn't have to say another word, we both knew who was going to win this argument.
"Oh, okay," I relented.
So, as a fearsome battle, it was slightly on the tame side, but it is an example of what I see for my future as a married woman. She has the ability to cause me to feel so much, a sensation that is new for me. Whether in our bed or a seated beside me at a formal dinner, she instills feelings of love and desire, family and home. I find that I had been looking for her all my life and never even knew it, and now that I have her beside me, I won't ever take a chance on losing her.
I have said it before, but the words were never truer than at this moment. The story of the Conqueror does not begin until she steps into the tale. For, the tale of the Conqueror cannot accurately be told without the telling of Gabrielle.
Chapter 1: "Where I Left Off, Let Me Again Begin"
"Xena are you all right, love?"
Gabrielle found me in the outer room, peering out the window, down into the garden.
"Yes, love," I answered distractedly.
She slipped her arm around my waist and I realized my head was elsewhere. "I'm sorry, my brain is fixed on something else this morning."
"I can see that by the frown," Gabrielle answered, reaching up on her toes to place a kiss on my cheek.
I admit, that did make me feel better and my smile told her so.
"Why are you frowning and why so early?"
"It has nothing to do with us, my love." I kissed her forehead and pulled her against me tighter. "We have a visitor." I pulled back the tapestry to reveal a young man pacing in the garden below.
He walked back and forth, sat on a bench for a few heartbeats, and then bounced up again as if by simply sitting still he could not possibly contain so much energy. He was tall, with a slim waist, and broad shoulders. His long dark hair fell down into his eyes and when he tossed his head back, he revealed sparkling blue eyes. Most would guess him to be nineteen or twenty, but I knew that he was twenty-three summers; in fact, I remembered the day he was born with startling clarity.
Gabrielle looked at the man, then back at me, and I knew she was wondering.
"Xena do you know that young man?" she finally asked.
I smiled down at her, letting the tapestry fall to cover the window once again.
"Yes," I answered. "He's my son."
"I wondered as much," she replied. "The resemblance is amazing."
I had to continue smiling; nothing ever appeared to affect my lover. I should be smiling simply because this is very nearly the first time that I've thought of Gabrielle as my lover, my future Queen, as opposed to referring to her as my slave. Even in my thoughts, she was always a slave, but no longer.
I felt her hand on my forearm, rousing me from my introspection.
"Xena, I wasn't aware that you had a son."
"That was the plan," I answered cryptically. I turned away from the window and back to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry, love, I don't mean to hide this from you, but I'm rather taken back at this turn of events myself. I never expected for him to show up on my doorstep."
"I know, you'll tell me when you're ready," Gabrielle responded patiently.
I smiled and brought her hand to my lips, kissing her upturned palm. "I'm going to go down and meet with him. Why don't you dress and come down when you're ready? I promise, later when we're alone, I'll explain everything to you."
Gabrielle nodded and I moved toward the door. Turning to face her once again, I left her with one last thought, thinking at the time that it was rather unfair of me.
"Gabrielle, one more thing. Solan doesn't know he's my son and I am honor bound to keep it that way." I turned and walked through the doorway before Gabrielle's confused expression forced me to stay and explain.
* * * * * * * * * *
The rose garden seemed a much too cheery place to meet with someone, even when that someone was my only child. I had no earthly idea why Solan would appear unannounced. Was it personal or perhaps an official request from Kaleipus? Centaurs! Men are men; no matter how many legs they have, showing up unexpectedly. I hadn't been to the Centaur Nation in nearly fifteen summers. Oh, I'd been in the area on one campaign or another, but there was one thing that always held me back from visiting I was afraid.
The spring that Solan turned eight, a messenger arrived in Corinth, bearing a letter from Kaleipus. He spoke of many things, but first and foremost, he told me of my son. Up to that point, I was determined to act as if I never had a child. Some days it worked, others it didn't. The days turned into seasons and since conquering the Known World consumed most of my time, pushing it from my mind became considerably easier. Kaleipus explained in that letter that it was time for the two of us to give up our feud. At that time, I had the power I desired and had given up looking for stones and icons that witches and sorceresses promised would bring me the world. By then, I was well on my way to possessing it.
Still, the things Kaleipus said brought me up short. Even though I was the Lord Conqueror, the centaur once promised that should I ever attempt to come for Solan, the entire Centaur Nation would rise up against me. Now, Kaleipus was telling me it might be good for me to get to know the boy. I never had a thought to try taking my son, not because I feared a good battle, but because I knew the truth. Solan would never grow up into a fine and honorable young man raised as my son. If I could protect him from my enemies, and he lived long enough, he would grow to be me. I wouldn't pronounce that sentence on my most hated enemy, let alone my own son.
Therefore, I returned Kaleipus's letter, acknowledging his generosity, but declining the offer. We exchanged many letters that season until I finally relented, agreeing to a trip to their Village near the border of the Amazon Territory, another of my least favorite places. I consented only to the trip and, I admit, my own curiosity as to what Solan was like. I believe Kaleipus was willing at that time to tell Solan the truth, although it pained him. He had raised the boy as his own son, and even though he tried to conceal it, I could see the anguish in his face. I gained a newfound respect for the centaur that day.
If I had let myself that day, I would have taken Solan in my arms and never let go, but the time for that had already passed. He was intelligent, good looking and athletic, all the things I was at his age. In addition, he was just as angry as I. He lived with a perpetual chip on his soldier, just as I had. He had been told all his life that Borias, his father, was a friend and a hero to the centaurs. The whispers he came to know, as he grew older, informed him that the Conqueror had killed his parents. In truth, I did. I killed Borias that night as surely as if I had beaten him and plunged the blade into his back myself. I put to death Solan's mother on the night I handed my baby over to Kaleipus, to raise as his own. Needless to say, any affection that might have existed between the boy and I during that meeting was entirely one sided.
I at least saw him, and from that point on, I sent monies and gifts to Kaleipus for the boy. I should have just moved on and forgotten the child I bore, yet gave up claim to, but something inside me wouldn't allow me. Solan became our common ground. The creature I considered an enemy, soon became an ally, if not actually a friend. Kaleipus and I spoke often throughout the seasons, but I never returned to the Centaur Village, nor ever saw Solan again. He grew up, and while still holding some enmity towards me for the rumors he had been told, Kaleipus explained that he finally convinced the young man that I was a friend to his parents, not the monster imagined.
The sound of one of my palace guards clearing his throat broke me free from my musings of the past. Seated on the comfortable chair that served as my throne, I deliberately refused to rise as the guard led Solan into the Great Hall. Since I didn't know the nature of his visit, I elected to receive him as the Conqueror, not as his father's friend.
"Lord Conqueror," Solan bowed awkwardly.
I acknowledged him with a nod of my head, noting the stiffness of his posture. My observant nature led me to learn so much more about my enemy than they knew of me. I enjoyed watching people and at an early age, I realized it was almost uncanny, the way I could predict a man's future actions by watching him so intently in the present. What I discovered when I watched Solan was that he wasn't a man who bowed often, nor liked doing it. I watched the way he held himself in my presence, his stance, his eyes, what he did with his hands. All the gestures and subtle movements told me what kind of a man my son had grown to be, all without him yet uttering a word. It was unfortunate that I was usually right because it appeared that the boy had become an arrogant little prig.
"My name is So--"
"I know who you are," I interrupted. "Now tell me something I don't know."
I decided to play the game, realizing with more glee than was probably necessary that I had the opportunity to take this young pup down a peg. He handed me a scroll, sealed with the familiar ring of cedar bark that Kaleipus always used.
"I come as an emissary of the Centaur Nation," he said, offering the parchment in his outstretched hand.
Ahh, the psychology of power, I grinned from ear to ear inside my own mind. It had been far too long since I'd had anyone to enjoy a good bit of one-upsmanship with in this palace. I don't count Gabrielle; she does it to me on too much of a regular basis. I think I was actually becoming excited at the prospect.
Solan held out the parchment, just far enough away where I would have to either rise or at least lean out of my seat to grab for it. I did neither, sitting there with my elbows on the arm of the chair, my hands coming together until just the fingertips touched. I arched one single eyebrow at the young man and the fixed smile on his face slipped a tad. He moved quickly to close the distance between us, seeing to it that the scroll was placed directly within my hands. I suspect he didn't expect to be caught in his little sport, and so blanched slightly at the thought that I knew his game and what he was up to. Hades! How could I not know what he was up to the boy was I at his age!
I ignored him as I tore open the seal, reading the letter from Kaleipus. I admired the way he stood there, waiting rather patiently. He had more diplomacy than I had, but when I was twenty-three, the world was a different place.
I thought I'd lost my mind as I read Kaleipus's words; either that or the centaur had lost command of his own faculties. Oh, Kaleipus no, no, no I read on, trying to avoid letting my growing fear and agitation seep through to my face as any kind of an expression Solan might decipher.
Greetings, Lord Conqueror.
Xena, my friend, for after all this time I feel that you are a friend indeed, the time has come for me to ask of you what you asked of me so long ago. Solan has come to a point in his life where he has learned all that I might teach him. To rule the Centaur Nation is certainly within his right as my adopted heir, but as always, that hinges somewhat on your decisions in regards to the boy.
Xena, Solan is your son, and, try as we both will, nothing can change that. He becomes more and more like you everyday. This, in part, fuels my decision. As to whether you ever decide to tell Solan that you are his mother, I will leave it in your hands. Know only that I will support any decision that you make. Your heart has always erred toward the side of good where Solan was involved. My concern is that he has turned into a young man who commands, never asks. He expects, where he should receive gratefully. I have no explanation for his behavior and wonder if it isn't something inherent. Between you and I, old friend, he has become an arrogant prig!
I ask that you allow Solan to live with you for a time, learning what he can from someone I consider to be, not only the greatest warrior I have ever fought alongside, but also a ruler who can be proud of what she has accomplished for her homeland.
You have changed much over these last few seasons, Xena, all for the better. I think Solan could do much worse than to emulate you. My wish is that you might sometime reveal your true identity to him, but that is for you to decide. I would ask only that you teach him by example, show him that people can change.
Your friend & warrior always,
"Do you know what the scroll contains?" I looked up and asked.
"I was not privy to it, no, Lord Conqueror."
"But, you have an inkling. You must have been told something regarding your trip here."
"Kaleipus told me of his desire for me to learn how to become a better ruler," he smirked. "I took that to mean he thought I might be able to learn a few things from you."
"I take it you feel you need no instruction in this area," I commented.
He shrugged his shoulders. "No disrespect intended, Conqueror, but if you are placed in charge, the people are forced to obey you."
"And you see no problem with this?"
"None that can't be put down at the end of a sword," he responded.
Gods, Kaleipus what have you done to me!
"Perhaps I see what Kaleipus wishes that you learn. Solan, there are two kinds of complicity in regards to a ruler's subjects. They will obey out of fear or they will obey out of respect."
I rose and walked across the room, turning my back on the young man, knowing I just made the decision I probably should have discussed with Gabrielle first. I continued to gaze out the window into the sunny courtyard, smiling at the children who no longer felt fearful about playing in front of the castle.
"Make no mistake about it, people who are forced to comply with a ruler's wishes and demands, at the point of a soldier's blade, do not respect you. Their obedience is simply a fearful acknowledgement that your strength is greater than theirs is. Trust me, I learned that lesson the hard way." I finished, speaking almost to myself.
"I do agree with Kaleipus, however," Solan admitted. "I welcome the chance to study under your tutelage, Lord Conqueror."
"Is that so?" I turned and arched an eyebrow in his direction.
"Absolutely. If nothing else, I welcome the opportunity to test my fighting ability against the greatest warrior the Greek Empire has ever known."
His hand unconsciously rested upon the hilt of his sword. I believe he sought to flatter me, but he couldn't hide the presumptuous tone from his voice. His intent was clear. He wished to test himself against my ability, not learn from me. His words told me he thought he was already as good as I. I guarantee you, my son; your eyes haven't seen what mine have.
"And you think you're up to that challenge, do you?" I asked, my smile indicating it was a rhetorical question.
His eyes glanced quickly down to the sword on my hip. The morning sun shone through the open-air windows and gleamed brightly off the ornately fashioned Lion's head on the hilt. His glance was quick, but I saw the envy in his eyes before he had time to draw his gaze away again. Now I had only to figure out if he was willing to back up that coveting look with hard work. Many men looked at my symbol, the Lion of Amphipolis, and wished it for their own. Most possessed only envy. I wondered if Solan was willing to make the crucial sacrifices, mainly the effort necessary, to attain it.
"Very well then, young pup," I said aloud, much to Solan's displeasure. "I shall send a letter to Kaleipus and explain that you will be staying here in Corinth, but make no mistake, I am a hard mentor. I will expect you to do exactly what I say, when I say it. You are not to interfere or voice your opinions unless asked for. You are simply to listen, watch, and obey. Agreed?"
It was obvious he was warring with himself over the answer. I silently applauded as his desire to learn from the woman known to him only as the Conqueror, took precedence over his proud and unbending nature.
"Agreed," he said between clenched teeth.
I chuckled and turned away from him. "Try not to make it sound as if you're being condemned." I at least got a little smile out of him this time.
"Gabrielle will be here shortly, I'd like you to meet the lady of the castle," I said, unsure of how much detail to go into upon their first meeting.
"Ahh, yes," he answered. "I heard that you have a concubine sharing your bed. And most talented in that arena I heard, too," he grinned.
I turned to face him and I could tell by the way he swallowed and his faced paled slightly that he noticed the expression on my face. It was apparent he was just realizing he's made some dreadful mistake, and he had. I walked up to him slowly and to his credit, he only backed up a half a step.
"I will say this once, Solan, and only once, and if you forget it, I'm sure your mind can imagine what I will do to a man if I have to say it a second time. Gabrielle is a lady, free born. She is my Consort and, after our marriage, will be Queen of the Greek Empire. She is to be treated with the utmost respect. She possesses a dignity and grace, something she has managed to keep after all she has suffered, that the likes of you and I shall never realize. Have I made myself clear?"
He nodded for a few heartbeats, until he could find his voice, I'm sure. The matter proved that I had a long road ahead of me, for my first instinct was to loose the beast I felt clawing at my belly, and beat the stuffing out of the insolent boy. The voice I heard next, however, suddenly caused the monster in me to dissipate into nothingness.
I turned to find Gabrielle, looking lovely, as I knew she would. She was nervous and afraid of this meeting, and I could see it in her eyes. She held herself like the Queen she would soon be, however. I smiled at her, a natural reaction when she came into view, and I saw some of the tension leave her body. I took a deep breath, walked over to her, and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"Gabrielle," I took her hand, but stood where we were. "May I introduce, Solan, an emissary from the Centaur Nation. He will be staying in our home for a time, with your permission, of course."
I turned and bowed my head slightly to her, a smile on my face. Gabrielle looked as flustered as Solan, but for a different reason. She fielded my query with her customary grace and returned the teasing smile.
"Of course," she repeated.
Gabrielle tried to move her body forward to greet the young man, who, in truth, was two summers older than she was, but I held her in place with an unseen squeeze of her hand. Solan quickly realized what was expected and nearly tripped over himself in order to step up to the small woman. He not only bowed this time, but also took the hand Gabrielle offered and raised it to his lips for a well-mannered kiss.
"Lady Gabrielle," he said.
"It would be a pleasure to have you stay with us, Solan."
I could see the two of them, examining one another while trying to appear as though they were not. It was like looking into a mirror, watching Solan, and I wondered how many other traits, beyond the physical, could be inherent. Gabrielle well, I simply knew what she was thinking most of the time because it was as if she had become an extension of myself. I can explain it no better than that. What I couldn't ascertain was what they were thinking about one another. My best guess was that Gabrielle was naturally curious about the young man I called my son. I wondered if she saw the similarities between the boy and I as readily as I did.
Solan was another matter. Although I was an excellent student of human nature and the behavior of men, I had no way of knowing what he was thinking at that moment. I did remember, however, the condescending, almost leering, tone in his voice when he initially called Gabrielle my concubine. I wondered again, how many of my appetites the boy acquired through blood alone. Unfortunately, my impression of Solan was that he thought himself superior to those around him.
I listened as he and Gabrielle exchanged a few pleasantries. It was obvious to me that he looked down on her and I simply hoped that Gabrielle didn't pick up the same feeling. Part of me didn't want to see the woman I love suffer any hurt, physical or emotional. There was a part of me that was humiliated. I spent so much time trying to protect Gabrielle from the person I used to be, thanking Athena daily for waiting until this point in my life to bring Gabrielle into it. After all that, here was my child, using the same callous and unfeeling manners that I used to possess.
"Perhaps a special dinner, in honor of Solan? Xena?"
"Yes yes, a very good idea," I squeezed Gabrielle's hand. I just now realized I had been holding on to it all this time. Perhaps I needed strength just as she did. "I think Delia would love the excuse to prepare us a feast."
"Shall I arrange it, then?" she asked.
I smiled broadly. My future bride was quite an actress, but then again, the life she led before we met required it. This was the first time Gabrielle and I really worked as a team, welcoming someone. I'm sure she was still wondering what she was supposed to do, as the Lady of this palace, and what would be considered overstepping her sudden and newfound authority.
"Absolutely," I answered. "If you will speak to Delia, I'll give Solan a small tour of the palace and arrange for his rooms."
Just like that, our first meeting was over and none of us keeled over in death. It may have been strained, but not altogether unpleasant. Gabrielle gained a bit of confidence, I kept my temper from controlling me, and Solan, well, Solan was a young man with a lot of habits and ways I had every intention of removing, if I could. There was something more in his eyes, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was the way in which he looked at me. There was more there, lying just beneath the surface, but it could have been my own unease at looking into eyes the color of my own. Whatever the reason, I couldn't shake the feeling that Solan harbored a secret of his own.
To be continued in Chapter 2: "Whether by Accident or Destiny"
Return to The Bard's Corner