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The Conqueror Series
Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand
Chapter 33: Thou Know Who Made Thee…Addendum to the Lord Conqueror's Manuscript: Separate Parchment
I paced through the spacious rooms that made up our home in the Amazon village. I should have been obsessing upon the coming evening's festivities. That would have made sense at least. Instead, I wrung my hands and walked back and forth, waiting for something as innocent as seeing my own daughter again.
Xena had gone with Ephiny for a tour of the Amazons' training facilities. After I'd seen my wife strap on her sword, I felt the need to extract a promise from her. She gave me her word that she wouldn't pummel any of my new subjects too badly. I thought it important, at least on our first day there.
Everyone seemed to conveniently find something to do for the afternoon. I wasn't sure whether I appreciated the gesture or not. I wanted more time. What would I say? How would I explain to a child of five summers how and why I had given her up…why her mother had never been around?
In the midst of my fretful behavior, Nia, the young woman who had cared for Amira since her arrival in the village, cleared her throat to announce herself.
I must have looked as though my mind had been off traveling a thousand leagues away. "Yes, Nia, please come in."
Nia entered holding the hand of a smiling Amira. The youngster always looked cheerful, as though fear had been something she hadn't quite comprehended yet. I knew it could not be, but I wished that it would be so. She looked around the room, and I noticed that expression which said life, every day in fact, was a complete adventure.
"Hi, Gab—um, yer Highness," Amira finished after a stern look from Nia.
"Gabrielle is just fine. I thought that maybe you and I could visit for a bit, Amira. Would you like that?"
"Sure." She continued to look around the room as she spoke.
I quickly wondered what a youngster her age could get in trouble with inside our quarters. I hoped that Xena hadn't left any of her weapons anywhere about.
"Shall I stay?" Nia asked.
"No, thank you, Nia. We'll be fine. Perhaps you might ask the cooks to bring 'round something to eat?"
"Right away, Your Highness," she said before hurrying off to do my bidding. I had serious doubts whether I would ever be able to convince these women to treat me informally.
Even after my time in the palace at Corinth, I had a difficult time getting used to anyone fetching and carrying for me. It still felt odd to tell someone what to do. The Amazons made it quite easy. They were nothing if not highly organized. All I had to do was ask for something and seemingly, moments later someone laid it at my feet. Thus, before long, Amira and I sat down to a wonderfully prepared lunch.
We'd both eaten more than our fair share. Amira had inherited my appetite, but the way she bounced around the room, I could certainly see how she stayed so tiny. She was her mother's daughter and I was happy not to see her father when I looked into her face.
"These are my favorite." Amira pointed to a plate of small meaty pastries. They tasted like spicy bits of lamb meat wrapped up in a bread-like pastry.
"Then you should have the last one," I replied.
"Oh, no. That wouldn't be po—lite."
She had pronounced the word as if saying, oh. It seemed suspiciously as though she'd recently learned the word. I didn't want to spoil her, even though I knew that might become inevitable. I would try to guard against it, I thought to myself. I did want to commend her, however, for such courteous behavior.
"Well, usually you always offer the other person the last one of anything, but in this case, since it's just you and me, you go ahead."
She appeared to think about it for a moment. "We could share."
"Hhmm, what a good idea. I'm proud of you for thinking of that, but I'm getting sort of full, so you go ahead."
"'Kay," she quickly replied, reaching for the pastry, and taking a large bite.
We talked about all manner of things during the afternoon. Amira was certainly hard to stop once she started. Our discussion was to my benefit, since I found her intelligent beyond her years. She had big ears and a quiet tongue most of the time; much like her mother had been as a child. Amira listened to conversations when no one paid her any mind. I learned an enormous amount of information about the people and habits of the village. It was information untainted by bias or political affiliations, the village as seen through they eyes of a child.
Amira had to thoroughly investigate everything. She examined the contents of some of the clothing baskets we had packed. She came upon my armor vest and it intrigued her the most. She attempted to lift the vest.
"Ooh, this one is heavy!" Amira said.
"That's because it's armor. I wear it when I travel out in the open."
"You should wear this tonight. Everyone will know you're Queen then. You'll sparkle jes like Athena."
She moved into my lap and snuggled against me. It felt wonderful, like nothing I'd ever experienced before. She did nothing but play with her fingers and hum to herself, appearing as comfortable as though we'd never been separated her entire life.
"Amira, how did you already know I was going to be Queen?"
"I heard it. Somebody said it. Can you ride a pony?" She changed the subject.
"Yes I can. In fact, Xena taught me. Amira, what other things have you heard?"
She shrugged and snuggled against me further. "Things.
This was my opportunity. I would tell her now. I should start slowly. Begin with when Xena freed me. No, before that. I would have to tell her I had been a slave, probably explain what slavery was. Perhaps I should tell her about when I was her age. Of course, then I would have to explain about my mother and father and that could get tricky. I could always—
"Are you my mama?" she sat up straight to ask.
My brain wanted to answer, but the girl's directness had frozen my tongue in place. I could do no more than nod my head.
"Good." She smiled and returned to her comfortable position, snuggled against my chest.
"Why good?" I found my voice enough to ask.
"Cuz you're nice. I hoped it was you, but I been waitin' a long time. Athena said you would be nice."
"Athena? Athena speaks to you?"
"Yep, since I was just a kid. She said not to ever tell no one, so I didn't. I figure it's okay now, though, since I saw her talking to you, too, today. Ya think it's okay now, Mama?"
I knew tears might frighten her, but I couldn't stop them. All this time, Athena couldn't directly interfere in our lives, but she had watched over my daughter, just as she had watched over me in my life.
"Yes, I think Athena will understand. Amira, is that okay with you…me—your mother?"
"Oh yea! I knew it was gonna be you. I watched when you guys was walkin' around the village. I climbed up a tree so's I could see better and Athena winked right at me before she disappeared."
"So, that's who she winked at." I tickled her belly and Amira giggled and squirmed in my grasp.
"Are those happy tears again?" she asked.
"Yes, they're very happy tears."
She thought about that and then replied, "You're happy a lot, huh?"
"I am now, little one. I am now."
She seemed satisfied with my answer. I wondered how she would take leaving the village that she'd so recently called home. "Will you mind leaving the village and coming to live in Corinth?"
"Will Xena be there, too?"
"Yes, she will." I chuckled. "I wouldn't go anywhere without her."
"Okay, that's good. What's it like at your home?"
"Well, it's a very big castle by the water—"
"I won't have no friends." Her mind jumped around so fast that it made me more sympathetic toward Xena having to tolerate the way my mind worked.
"That's not true. You'll know lots of people there, Selene and Anya. Remember Anya's little girls?"
"Yea," she answered with a giggle. "I like them."
"And Selene is your aunt because she's Xena's sister and Cyrene will be your grandmother. Cyrene isn't coming to Corinth, though."
"She's going back to her own home, but we can visit there again so you can see where she lives. Besides, I bet you'll love Xena's little brother, Cor."
Amira went back to playing with her own fingers. She obviously had the ability to adapt to any situation without too much turmoil. I imagined Athena had blessed her with that trait. It hadn't occurred to me just then that it had actually been an inherited trait of my own.
"Amira, do you—um do you want to talk about this anymore? You know, about me being your mother?"
"Okay." I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't know if I should even bother telling her anymore. She appeared content with the information she had.
She turned and her green gaze made me feel as though I had been looking into a reflective device, such as the highly polished piece of round metal that reflected my image when I dressed.
"Do you?" she suddenly asked. "Wanna talk?"
Her concern made me smile. "I—well—um, After all this time, I'm not sure what to say. Do you have any questions for me?"
"Ooh, ooh, Mama?"
"You thought of something?" I asked out of relief from the awkward silence.
Her eyes lit up like stars in the sky and she bounced up and down on my lap. "Can I have a pony?"
I laughed at the girl's train of thought. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'm not laughing at you. Yes, I just bet Xena would love to teach you to ride a pony."
"Yeah! I'm gonna like Cormith."
Xena and Ephiny walked in with what I considered perfect timing. They looked hot, dirty, and as though they'd just fought off an army. They looked a little too happy with themselves, so I assumed they'd gotten the better of whomever they'd fought.
"Xena, Xena…" Amira ran up and leapt into Xena's arms.
I watched the exchange, silently contemplating how uncharacteristically comfortable Xena looked as she held Amira. It warmed my heart to see such a thing, for both their sakes.
"Well, hello there, Princess. Why are you so excited?"
"Mama sez I'm gonna live with you guys in Cormith."
Xena looked surprised, but she covered well. "You don't say?"
"Mama sez I'm gonna have lots of friends."
"Mama sez I can have a pony."
"Mama sez you could teach me to ride a pony."
"Oh, I think I can manage that."
"Can I have a sword? Please, please, please?"
Amira surprised both of us with that request. Xena just laughed.
"I bet Mama didn't say the sword was okay, did she?"
Amira giggled and shook her head.
The girl was quicker than I gave her credit for at first. I think there was some inevitability that brain of hers would lead to trouble someday. Amira was just too smart, and I could see that it would be a full time job being a mother to a daughter such as her.
I shook my head at Xena as she caught my eye.
"Well…maybe a wooden one," Xena responded to claps from Amira.
"It's been a long afternoon, Amira. I think maybe a nap is in order if you're going to stay up late tonight," I said. I actually couldn't wait for my daughter to see me accept the Queen's mask that evening.
"No, no, no," Amira cried out and hid her face in Xena's shoulder.
I smiled at the antics I had seen numerous children display at the word nap. My wife, however, had never had the experience.
"Well, if she's not really tired—" Xena hedged as she looked at me.
I crossed the room and placed a hand on Amira's back. She hid her face behind her hands and pressed her face against Xena. "I don't know," I said, winking at Xena. "I'm pretty tired. I think Xena and I were going to have a bath and then take a nap. You could always join us."
"Okay," Amira quickly looked up smiling as though the counterfeit tears had never begun.
"You little faker," Xena teased the girl.
I took Amira from Xena's arms and my child put her arms around my neck as though we'd been doing it for seasons. I noticed Xena had a darkening bruise on her cheek, just under her eye.
"Did someone hit you out there?"
"It was sparring, love. It's to be expected."
"But you? Someone got close enough to do that?" I admit to surprise, but I quickly closed my mouth. I hadn't wanted to embarrass Xena in front of Ephiny.
"It happens." She shrugged and then poked Amira in the belly. "Race you to the bathtub!"
Amira squirmed until I set her on the ground then she and Xena raced off. I'd never seen Xena act so young before and it pleased me immensely. Just before they took off, however, I caught the brief glance Xena had cast in Ephiny's direction followed by the Amazon's uncomfortable looking expression. I could have imagined the entire thing, but if I hadn't known better, I would have said that Xena tossed a warning glance at Ephiny.
Before we even had a chance to warm the water for our baths, a commotion outside drew all of us to the window facing the village.
"A pony!" Amira cried out, jumping up and down.
Amira's delight caused more of a feeling of dread for Xena and I. Below our window a number of Amazons, swords drawn, surrounded a centaur, Solon, and Yu Pan. Xena and I didn't even take the time to say anything. We looked at one another and rushed out the door, me in my dressing gown yet.
"Stop that. Stop that at once!" I shouted.
I was uncertain from where that forcefulness had come. Thinking back, I do remember surprised expressions on the faces of those who knew me well. The Amazon guards looked unsure, but their elders had confirmed me as their queen and these soldiers were nothing if not disciplined.
"Put your weapons away at once!" I ordered. Seeing well-meaning strangers treated in such a way would have irritated me, but watching as the guards treated my family as criminals, it made my blood rage.
The six Amazon guards hesitantly returned their blades to their sides, looking questioningly at one another. Lexa strode into the middle of the fray, one of her elegantly carved staves grasped in one hand. I quickly wondered if she would always just happen to show up when there was trouble about.
"What are you doing on Amazon land?" Lexa demanded of the centaur. She spat the words, which did nothing to cool my ire.
"I'll handle this situation, Lexa," I said. I should have been more diplomatic, but my anger had gotten the better of me. I didn't think how those around us would perceive my words, but to the other Amazons, Lexa just moved down a peg in the village hierarchy.
"Of course, your majesty."
Her reply was anything but amiable. I imagined her using the same tone to call me an unforgivable name.
"Someone please explain what has happened here," I asked.
"If I may, Your Highness. I am Neely, of the Panther Clan. I am the officer in charge of the border guards today. We stopped these men and the centaur from trespassing on our land without prior permission. They did say that they knew you and the Lord Conqueror, so we brought them here under guard to verify their story. Forgive the use of our weapons, but until I could corroborate their story, I would not allow them to harm anyone in our village."
I thought about her words and caught Yu Pan's eye. He nodded slightly and gave me a tiny smile. His look could say so much. Perhaps it was the connection we seemed to share. Maybe it was simply that his expression told me now was the time to calm myself. I took a deep breath.
"These gentleman are members of my family," I explained.
"Again, forgive me, Your Highness. We didn't—"
"You've done your job well, Neely. I should have thought ahead and made arrangements for them to enter the village. I didn't mean to take you by surprise."
She acted taken aback by my words, yet pleasantly so.
"The centaur is a member of your family?" Lexa asked. I'm sure she had remained silent for as long as she possibly could.
"No, Lexa, I think that's apparent, but he is a friend. I believe I made it clear to the council that under my rule, all centaurs are friends to the Amazon people and welcome in this village."
I looked over at Neely and the other guards. "The wars and constant bickering between the centaurs and Amazons is at an end. I've received assurances from the centaurs regarding this peace, also. Is that understood?"
"I—" Neely looked around at the growing circle of Amazon onlookers. "Yes, absolutely, Your Highness."
"I know it's not going to happen overnight, but I do expect the Amazons to do the right thing in accepting the olive branch that's been extended."
Neely smiled as though finding something amusing about my statement.
"Do you disagree?" I asked.
"Not at all, Your Highness. In fact—"
She stopped abruptly, looking around us. I noticed that Lexa had made herself scarce. Could that have been who Neely had searched the area for, also?
"Well, may I just say that you're a breath of fresh air here in Amazonia."
"Thank You, Neely. You may return to your jobs. You did the right thing, of course."
"Your Highness," the women said in unison. They appeared slightly reluctant to leave, but could do nothing else since I'd dismissed them.
Xena walked up to stand before her son. "And you," she said sternly to Solan. She couldn't hold the expression and grinned. Solan followed her action and they ended up embracing good-naturedly.
"Master," I embraced Yu Pan. I had so much to tell him, but being the man he was, it was a certainty that he somehow knew much of my news.
I noticed that a number of Amazons had gathered around us, mostly to see the centaur. The girls, no older than Amira, hadn't yet learned or cultivated their elders' hate for the centaurs. They hadn't met one before and were obviously intrigued, as was Amira. Lexa, of course, had already slipped away.
"Are you a pony?" Amira asked.
The young centaur reared back his head and laughed at the tiny girl. He appeared to be Solon's age, dark good looks and long, black curly hair. I felt a good, somewhat easygoing aura about him. He had laugh lines around his mouth, a good sign. He bent his torso down low to speak to Amira.
"Have you ever seen a pony who could talk before?" he asked.
Amira shook her head.
"Then I must be something else."
"What?" she asked.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dresillus Silway de Bretagne, and I am a centaur."
"They really must be teaching these Amazons new ways," the young centaur said to Solon.
"It's sort of a long story," I interrupted to say.
"Dre, this is my mother, Xena the Lord Conqueror, and her wife, Queen Gabrielle," Solon introduced us. "You heard my arrogant friend's introduction. Most everyone just calls him Dre."
"I think Xena and Gabrielle will be good enough," Xena said, stepping up and grasping Dre's hand.
"And this," I motioned to Amira. "Is my daughter, Amira."
"Well, well," Solan began. "So, this is the little princess."
"How do you know that's what my name means?" Amira asked.
Xena bent and lifted Amira into her arms, bringing her up to our level. "Amira, this is my son, Solon. I'm his mother just like Gabrielle is your mother."
"Hi there, little sister," he said and Amira smiled broadly.
"He's big as a tree jess like you, Xena."
"But not as big as this fellow." Solan slapped his friend on the shoulder while laughing.
It appeared that Solon and Dre were old friends. Considering how Solon acted when we first met him in Corinth, having such an amiable friend rather surprised me.
"Oh, yea. He's real big," Amira exclaimed. "Can I have a ride?"
"Amira, centaurs aren't animals for us to ride," Xena explained. "They're people like you and me."
"Oh." She looked confused and I couldn't say I blamed her. "Sorry." She was becoming quite familiar with that word.
"Nonsense," Dre replied. "That doesn't count for little girls and pretty ladies. Would you really like a ride?"
"Really? Yes, please. Can my friends come, too?" Amira pointed to a group of young girls standing at the corner of our home.
Dre laughed. "Absolutely. Come on, little princess, your big brother Solon can sit up there with you."
Xena lifted the youngster into Solon's grasp once he'd vaulted himself easily onto his friend's back. Amira looked down at the ground and for a moment, I thought she had inherited my uneasiness for high places.
"Look at me, Mama!" she called out, clapping her hands.
I waved as Dre trotted over the group of young girls. I doubted any of them would have been brave enough to mount Dre's back if Amira hadn't been there first, encouraging them. The first few girls seemed worried, but by the time everyone had taken a turn, they all laughed and giggled at Solon, Dre, and their terrible jokes. Many a mother stopped what she had been doing to watch the odd sight. Some were shocked; a few didn't look happy, but most simply watched in surprise. They may not have known it at the time, but the scene they witnessed was indicative of the way their lives would soon change.
"That was fun, Dre, thanks a bunch," Amira said, breathless in her excitement.
Once Amira had returned to my side, I nodded to Yu Pan. "I want so much for you to meet someone, Master."
"Ahh, and this is Amira," he said.
He bent down and Amira walked right up to him. She certainly had no fear about her. Centaurs, strangers, nothing appeared to shake her. Yu Pan didn't have to stoop very low, since he stood no taller than I did. He pulled an object from the folds of his robe and held it out to Amira.
"A present for the princess," he said, handing the object to Amira.
"For me?" she asked, accepting the gift. She smiled and her eyes brightened when she unwrapped the cloth, revealing a beautiful cloth doll. "Mama, look." She held the doll up for my inspection.
"How beautiful. Amira, this is Yu Pan. He is a very dear friend of mine. In fact, I think of him as my father." The words came so easily, but that had been the first time I had ever publicly recognized my relationship with Yu Pan, beyond mere friendship. I immediately wondered what his reaction would be.
"Then you are my grandpapa!" Amira pointed at Yu Pan.
He seemed delighted and straightened up to laugh aloud, something we rarely saw him do. "I suppose you could look at it that way. Then we will share a special name. Shall we? You may call me lãoyé (pronounced lou- [as in loud] yuh)."
It took her a few tries to wrap her tongue around the foreign sounds, but she did an admirable job.
"Thank you, lãoyé," Amira said politely. As I said, the girl had no fear in her. She took Yu Pan's hand and started to lead him away. "Would you like to see where we stay?"
Yu Pan's eyes crinkled in laughter and he winked at me before he turned to follow Amira. My heart felt extremely full at seeing the wonder and love in those aged eyes of his. He was the father of my heart and it made me happy to see that he felt much the same. We all chuckled at Amira as she walked away, hand in hand with Yu Pan.
"See, this isn't our forever home. Pretty soon, I'm gonna go back to Cormith with Xena and Mama. And when we get there I'm gonna have new friends and a room of my very own, and a pony, and a wooden sword, and Xena promised—"
They finally moved out of earshot and we all laughed.
"Yep, she's definitely your daughter," Solon said, followed by more lighthearted laughter.
"Oh, hush." I slapped his arm and he put on a mock wounded expression that reminded me of his mother.
"I'm so sorry for the welcome you received," I said.
"Well, I admit, when the Corinth delegation got back and told everyone what had occurred, there were many disbelievers," Dre began. "When Solan showed up with his friend, Yu Pan…well, let's just say that the change in him made believers out of us all."
"Hey," Solan said.
"Sorry, mate, but you know it's the truth."
"Yea, I guess I was pretty much of a prig, wasn't I?" Solon laughed.
"What I want to know is how it happened. How did you turn this arrogant ass into a real human being?"
Solan glanced quickly over at Xena and then me. He grinned that lopsided smile that reminded me so much of his mother. "I guess you could say that I finally had some sense beaten into me."
"I want to hear all about it someday and not from you. I hear the Queen is the storyteller in the family."
I laughed the compliment off. "Frankly, life has moved so fast lately that there's been little time for stories."
"And, to what other secrets has my son made you privy?" Xena asked, wearing a smile.
"Are you kidding? All he's done in the last day has been to talk about you and his new family."
Solan's cheeks turned red in his embarrassment. He stared down at his shoes then looked up to find all of us smiling at him. "I—uh…it was—I—oh shut up!" he punctuated his exclamation with a hard punch to Dre's arm.
Solan laughed along with us and Xena grabbed him and affectionately tousled his hair. He looked rather young when she did that. In fact, Xena did, as well. I had noticed the changes in Xena's attitude, mostly toward the children, since we had first left Corinth. Once I thought about it, I realized that it hadn't been only toward the children. Her whole view of life, her very posture had lightened, as though she no longer carried the burdens of the world upon her strong shoulders.
It wasn't only her attitude that had grown younger, but it appeared as though she had actually grown physically younger. Was I going mad? Gone were the white wisps of hair at her temple that she possessed when I first met her. The tiny lines around her eyes and mouth had all but disappeared. I thought my eyes played tricks upon me, but there it was the physical proof of it. I wondered if Xena had noticed the changes.
"Solan! You're back." Selene's voice took me away from my reflections.
She and Solan embraced. They had become rather good friends during our time in Amphipolis. Our extended family had created the oddest of compatriots. Technically, Selene was Solan's aunt. With the relationship they had developed, I would have thought them brother and sister. That had never been more apparent until Dre caught sight of Selene dressed in her Amazon garb.
"Introduce me, mate," Dre said.
A very familiar expression crossed Solon's face. Oh, no, I thought to myself. He's going to be as protective as Xena for her little sister. Gods, the girl was destined to be an old maid.
"Um, Selene this is Dre. Dre—Selene," he said abruptly.
"Hello." Selene took Dre's hand, a certain expression of awe on her face. She quickly realized that she'd been staring. "I'm sorry—I—"
"Have never met a centaur before. Don't worry; we're even. I've never met an Amazon before," Dre responded. "At least not one as beautiful as you."
"Yes, well…" Selene was obviously flattered, but quickly excused herself.
"What are you looking at?" Solan questioned his friend as Dre's eyes followed Selene's retreating figure.
"Hey, mate, you can't tell me you haven't noticed how gorgeous she is."
"She's my aunt! My mother's sister," Solan explained.
"Little sister," Xena added.
"Ah, I understand," Dre responded.
"Besides, she likes girls," Solan said with a smug grin.
"Hades, man, do all the women in your family like other women? No offense intended," he said in my direction.
"None taken," I replied with a sympathetic smile.
"Pretty much," Solan added.
"Moving on," Xena prompted. "What brings you this way, Dre, besides Solan?"
"The truth is that he's one of those odd centaurs who actually likes Amazons. Actually, he likes anything in a skirt."
"Very funny. It’s true in one respect, though. Personally, I’ve always wondered why we kept such an age-old feud going, since most of my family can't even remember how it got started in the first place. Officially, I'm the tribe's emissary. Kaliepus wanted to check with Gabrielle first to see if sending a delegation of my people here for your coronation this evening would be appropriate. We want to share in such a momentous occasion for both our peoples."
"I think it would be very appropriate," I replied. "It's also much appreciated. I'll be sure to alert the guards this time so they'll be expecting you. Please, tell Kaleipus that I greatly appreciate him taking this first step."
"Speaking of the ceremony, we still have things to do," Xena said.
"I hope you'll come back with Solan this evening, Dre," I said.
We caught up with Yu Pan, sitting on the steps to our home. He still listened intently to Amira's ramblings. We said our farewells and I motioned for one of the guards standing nearby to escort the men and Dre from the village. I didn't want them to run into trouble on their way out. After they left, I sent a message to Ephiny so that she would alert the Elder council about the centaurs coming to the evening's festivities. It was perhaps happening faster than I planned, but peace had come to these two peoples and there was no time like the present to begin.
Xena, Amira, and I headed off once more for those hot baths.
End Gabrielle's Addendum
To be continued in : Chapter 34: I Hereby Swear To Uphold Your House…
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