~ Ephiny and the Conqueror's Treaty ~
by AJ Marks

Disclaimers: "Xena: Warrior Princess" is not owned by me, but by Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal.

Disclaimer 2: This story is written entirely in Ephiny's point of view. Yes Gabrielle is a slave to the Conqueror, but in name only. Nudity, you bet, sex, no, mentioned yes. Enjoy, send any comments to AJMarks01@aol.com

Ephiny carefully, and silently, made her way towards two figures in front of her. Pulling her cloak closer around her to ward off the wind she continued towards her targets. Stepping lightly on the snow forest floor she watched the two heads. The wind again picked up causing her to stop for a second then continued satisfied when neither head turned.

She watched a snowflake drift past her nose. She glanced up at the gray sky. The winter had arrived a bit later than normal, but quickly became one of the colder winters Ephiny could remember. The clouds gave an appearance of evening instead of near noon.

Finally reaching her destination she waited a second. The two women didn't appear to have noticed her approach. A slight smile crossed her lips as she reached out to shake a nearby branch that currently served as a roof for the two women.

Muffled curses floated over to Ephiny's ears. She watched one of the two stood up shaking herself before turning an accusing glare her way.

"Damn it Eph, we're on duty still," she said.

"Aww, poor Poni, you forgot this," Ephiny said handing Eponin a heavy cloak.

"Not funny, what if we had some visitors right now," Eponin said.

"Well, that's actually why I'm here," Ephiny said. "Queen Melosa received word that the conqueror will arrive today, not tomorrow."


"The conqueror-"

"I heard the first time," Eponin said cutting Ephiny off.

"So, this why you're out here," the other woman said. Ephiny turned to the dark haired woman noticing a few snowflakes in her hair as well.

"I'm the official welcoming wagon for the moment," Ephiny said.

"So, the conqueror really is coming here," Eponin said thinking.

"Yes, and will be here today. Melosa's already called a meeting with all council members present," Ephiny said.

"I'm on the council," Eponin said frowning.

"Yes, and Ariel will relieve you soon," Ephiny said.

"Um, I hate to break you two up, but we have company," Solari said pointing to the group approaching though the snow.

Ephiny glanced over to see about a dozen horses coming down the trail. The lead horse had two riders from what she could tell. She watched the group slowly approach, not in a hurry at all which confused Eph. She also realized that she'd have to move soon to welcome the conqueror into the nation. She wondered what the conqueror had planned this time.

"Wish me luck," Ephiny said.

"Don't' worry, we've got your back," Eponin replied.

Ephiny made her way towards the group. She could make out more of the group. Several of the group appeared to be soldiers, a couple didn't appear to have weapons, could be advisors, but the lead horse perplexed her. Two figures, both women rode on it. A blonde haired woman sat in front, with a dark haired woman behind.

The dark-haired woman had to be the conqueror, but the woman in front Eph didn't know. Watching she noticed the blonde lean back and say something to the conqueror causing the woman to laugh. She looked at the rest of the group noticing some smiles on their faces. Then she realized there was no man present in the group. Eph realized one potential sticking point had been covered. Finally deciding to step out she made her presence known, but didn't startle anyone, almost like they already knew.

The lead horse stopped near her. The conqueror dismounted along with everyone else except the blonde who remained seated.

"Conqueror, I bring welcome from the Amazon Nation," Ephiny said.

"I bring welcome from Greece," the conqueror said with a slight bow of her head.

"We were not expecting you until tomorrow, or later considering the weather," Ephiny said.

"Ah, yes, we actually made good time because of the weather," the conqueror said taking a glance at the blonde. Eph noticed she merely looked back, amused, at the conqueror.

"Perhaps we should head to the village and have a warm meal, then we can begin," Ephiny said.

"Sounds good," the conqueror said.

Ephiny turned leading the group with the conqueror beside her walking towards the village.

Ephiny sighed in relief when she noticed the queen making her way towards the group. They were almost at the village. Melosa flanked by several Amazon warriors waited for the conqueror. Ephiny approached bowing before saying anything.

"My queen."

"Rise Ephiny, good work," Melosa said turning her attention to the conqueror. "Empress Xena, I see you made good time. Our mid-day meal is about to begin. I'm sure we can accommodate a few more."

"We welcome your hospitality Queen Melosa," the conqueror replied. "I would like to stable our horses and my guards shown where they can set up camp."

"Of course," Melosa stated. "Ephiny can show you to the stables, and Lena can show you guards where to make camp."

Ephiny inwardly groaned at the fact she'd be with the conqueror a bit longer. More like an Amazon tour guide in Eph's mind. She turned waiting to see if the guards were ready. She noticed one had handed the reins of her horse to another before following Lena away from the group. Eph also noticed that the blonde woman now stood on the ground. A bit shorter than Eph stood she wondered about the woman. The way the conqueror stood, almost protective of the smaller woman seemed like a lover, yet Eph could not recall anytime where the conqueror might have taken a lover or a queen.

"If you'll follow me," she said remembering her role.

She led the group to the stables where extra room had been made for the visitors. Her eyes continued to slide over to the blonde woman next to the conqueror.

"I will warn you that you should remain in certain areas, not everyone will be friendly," Eph said to the group.

"Understandable," she heard the conqueror say. "No one will give you trouble, got that little one?"

Eph turned to see the conqueror looking right at the blonde. The woman should tremble with fear at the look the conqueror gave the small woman. Instead the woman looked amused, didn't flinch and even answered.

"Me, I try not to cause trouble," the woman said. Eph heard a few muffled chuckles followed by a laugh from the Empress. All reports the Amazons had collected didn't include anything like this, or maybe the reports did and the queen had read about it. Such a thought would be reason why the queen had agreed to the meeting. The conqueror's guards quickly rubbed their horses down. The one guard had returned and now a few of the guards were now taking packs off the horses and carrying them off to where they'd be staying.

The sound of a rumbling stomach caused everyone's attention to focus on the blonde.

"Come on, we better get you fed, and warmed up before you catch your death of cold," the conqueror said.

Ephiny led the group over to the mess hall where most Amazons had already finished up so Eph knew the dining area wouldn't be too crowded. Walking in she noticed Eponin sitting eating. Quickly grabbing a plate herself she made her way over.

"Hey, thought you might still be on duty?" Eph said to her.

"Nah, Ariel arrived shortly after you left. You were in the stables when I got here," Eponin replied. "So, who's the blonde?

"Don't know," Eph replied. She glanced over noticing the Melosa had sat down where the conqueror and the blonde sat. "Whoever she is, she appears quite important to the conqueror."

"Huh, have you seen her outfit?" Eponin asked.

"Outfit?" Eph said. She looked back over this time taking a closer look at the blonde. This time she noticed the Eponin saw, flesh and a lot of it. "A pleasure slave?"

"That'd be my guess," Eponin said.

Ephiny glanced over at the group once more. This time watching the interactions between the conqueror and what appeared to be a pleasure slave. The blonde didn't appear a slave if the indication of having the conqueror hand feed you meant anything. If anything, Ephiny thought, they appeared as equals.

"Stop staring," Eponin said bumping her. She looked back over at her lover.

"I guess we'll learn more later on," Ephiny said.

"If she attends the meetings," Eponin said.

Ephiny glanced once more at what she considered a couple then back at her food. They'd learn the truth, it would only be a matter of time.

Ephiny walked into the council room shaking off the snowflakes in her hair. The weather appeared to want to turn worse any moment now. The darkening clouds promised more snow for the entire area. Looking over she noticed the conqueror and the blonde woman already seated. The blonde sitting right next to the conqueror puzzled Ephiny even more. Was the woman a slave or not?

"Everyone sit down," Melosa said. Ephiny noticed she said it more for the Amazons then the Conqueror's people who were already sitting.

Eponin sat down next to Ephiny, as normal, with Terreis on the other side of her. Terreis, one of two Amazon princesses, Valaska sitting on the other side, appeared to be only slightly curious, she didn't pay much attention to such meetings anyways. That probably was why Melosa had chosen Valaska for succession. Next to Valaska, the elder Erika sat. The conqueror's party sat on the other side waiting fo the meeting to start.

"Now, Empress Xena requested this meeting and I have accepted. I think we'd all like to know what this meeting is about?" Melosa asked.

Ephiny watched the conqueror lean forward a bit resting her chin on her hands, causally gazing at the group. "It's quite simple, for too long there's been unneeded hostility between our two nations."

"Unneeded!" Valaska said, slamming her fist on the table. "You slaughtered an entire tribe of our people in the north, that was unneeded?"

"Valaska," Melosa said. Eph could hear the warning tone in her voice. Ephiny remained quite waiting to see what reaction the conqueror would give.

"Yes, I won't lie to you, I made many mistakes on this path I chose, but were we all not foolish in our youth. Thought we knew better than others," the conqueror replied back.

"My foolishness didn't cost so many lives," Valaska said.

Ephiny watched the interaction between Valaska and the conqueror. She suspected many Amazons were watching, knowing that violence might erupt at any time. So the sight of the blonde glaring at Valaska took Ephiny by surprise. The look in the eyes almost mirrored the conqueror's eyes. Then the blonde leaned over towards the conqueror and said something. The conqueror nodded before responding to Valaska.

"It's not my intention to bring any more suffering, but a mutual solution for each of us," the conqueror said.

"Oh, I can't wait for this," Valaska said, sitting back down. Ephiny noticed Valaska doubted what the conqueror said. Eph decided to wait and see what the conqueror had to say before making up her mind over anything.

Ephiny leaned back after several hours of debate. She had to applaud the conqueror in the simple concept, but the issues between the nations might jeopardize it all before anything could be started. The conqueror wanted to replace Rome as the supplier for goods to the Amazon Nation. Eph thought the return might be better, a shorter distance for goods to travel, would mean fresher stocks and food.

The sticking point, however, had more to do with people like Valaska than the proposal. She thought the conqueror had this plan to take over the nation. Eph didn't quite agree to that, but, had to admit caution was necessary. At the moment she thought the treaty would benefit Greece more than the nation.

She noticed the blonde say something else to the conqueror. That had happened several times in the debate, following each time with a very good idea, view or proposal. She wondered just how much weight the blonde carried with the conqueror.

"There's one more thing," the conqueror said.

"Figures," Valaska said. "Now what, drafting Amazons for the Greek army?"

"No," the conqueror stated. Eph watched as she unrolled a map showing the Amazon and Greek Nations. "Greece wants this property," the conqueror stated outlining an area of Amazon territory.

"Now you're joking," Valaska said. Ephiny looked over at Melosa to see her reaction. The queen appeared to be waiting for more from the conqueror.

"No joke, I didn't come all the way here to joke about things," the conqueror stated looking right at Valaska. A small battle of wills in the stare down before the conqueror continued. "It's been brought to my attention that Petori needs room to expand, they have the ability to farm the fields for further growth. If the city grows it provides greater trade for the Amazon nation, something this treaty is based on. But there is another thing that will benefit the nation in exchange for the land." The conqueror paused glancing down once more at the blonde. "Greed will help, with no tribute asked back to help start the Amazons in mining the local mountains."

Ephiny sat a bit stunned at what she heard. Everyone knew the mountains held a wealth of gems and a few minerals and metals. The nation had lacked the means to mine it except for a few small mines that took too much time for the return investment.

"And how is Greece going to do such a thing without demanding any tribute," Melosa asked.

"Criminals would be used for labor, under the guard of empire soldiers. The Amazon queen would have final say over the guards," the conqueror said.

"Criminals, I won't allow men to stay on Amazon soil, no way!" Valaska said standing up once more.

"These criminals are all women, the same as the guards," the conqueror stated. "There will be no men involved. If at any time the Amazon nation wishes for the removal of the troops or the criminals, just request it and they will leave."

"Just like that," Melosa said snapping her fingers.

"Yes," the conqueror replied.

Ephiny thought about the implications that mining could have on the nation. If the nations became profitable it'd mean more trade, which of course would mean more trade with Greece, both sides appeared to prosper. Looking over at Melosa, the queen appeared to be thinking about it.

"Your proposals are intriguing, perhaps even promising. I suggest we take the rest of the night off, relax, and tomorrow morning the council will meet to discuss your proposals. Tomorrow after we'll meet again with you and give you our answer, or any questions we have," Melosa said. "Until then you may remain our guest."

"Then I will wait until tomorrow to hear your answer," the conqueror stated easily.

Ephiny glanced over at Eponin who appeared to be as tired as she felt. "Hey, how about a bath and a quite dinner?"

"Sounds wonderful. I'll grab our towels, if you head over and grab that back pool," Eponin stated.

"Deal," Ephiny said. She watched Eponin walk out heading to their hut before she began to head to the bathing pools. She glanced out noticing the snow had stopped, for now. Turning to head out she found her path blocked by the small blonde. "Um, can I help you?"

"I'm looking for the baths? I've heard the Amazons use natural hot water baths, and that sounds really good about now," the blonde said.

Ephiny glanced at the, well, innocence the blonde gave off before finally deciding on her answer. "Sure, I'm headed that way right now."

"Great," the blonde said smiling.

Ephiny wondered how the blonde did that, the smile lighting up her entire face almost forcing the other person to smile back without even realizing it. She led the small blonde out of the meeting hut and on their way to the bathing caves.

"You know," the blonde said, "you could add some padding to those chairs. No wonder Amazons have a bad reputation. I mean you have some of the best craft makers, weapons and other things, yet can't make a comfortable chair. What about your beds, you don't sleep on the ground do you?"

Ephiny opened her mouth to answer, then closed it when the blonde continued to talk.

"I see that the cutting off your breast for archery is overrated, don't see any missing breasts around here," the blonde said.

Ephiny blushed a bit at that. She hadn't been aware that the blonde had been observing things like that. She couldn't wait to tell Eponin about that one. The blonde continued to ask questions.

"So, what are you to the council? I figured out almost everyone there, the queen, two princesses, an elder, I figure your lover is a military strategist, but I don't picture you that way," the blonde said.

Ephiny quickly recovered from the misstep she took at the blonde's words. The younger woman had picked up on the fact she and Eponin were lovers, not that it was a secret.

"Ah, I'm an advisor, kind of a representative for the others," Ephniy replied. "How did you know we were lovers?"

"Oh, that's easy, it's how you two looked at each other whenever Valaska started one of her rants," the blonde said.

Ephiny didn't know that she and Eponin did anything like that. She also realized this young woman had to be much more than she appeared. The woman seemed to observe everything without anyone even realizing it. She felt slightly relieved when they reached the baths. She showed the blonde watching quietly for her reactions.

"Beautiful," she said.

"There are also more private baths in the back," Ephiny said. She began to make her way to the back where the more isolated pools were. The further back you went the warmer it got as well. They didn't have to waste any resources on warming the caves. "So, uh, what, who, um, I mean-"

"I'm many things to the Empress, but yes, my formal title is pleasure slave," the blonde said.

Eph nodded her head at that. They walked into a smaller room holding a pool that could fit about six comfortably.

"This is really nice," the blonde said.

"So, what's your name, or, uh, yeah," Eph asked. She mentally kicked herself for her attitude. Usually she had such confidence, but this woman had a way of keeping you off guard. Maybe she did the same thing to the conqueror.

"Gabrielle, but most everyone calls me Bri," the blonde replied.

"Well, Bri, I guess Eponin will be here soon, you don't want to join us, that is if you don't get into trouble," Eph said.

"If you don't mind," Bri replied. Ephiny shook her head no. "Then sure we'll join you."

Ephiny walked over to test the water when Bri said that. Glancing over she noticed the young woman taking off her cloak. The sight made her eyes go wide, before realizing she hadn't stopped walking, and her foot had yet to hit the ground. Time slowed down as she looked at her foot, hovering above the water. Her weight too far forward to stop herself, she flapped her arms in a failed attempt to fly over the water. She watched painfully aware as she fell into the pool.

Seconds later she resurfaced to the sound of laughter. Making her way over to the side she glanced over at Gabrielle who stood laughing at her.

"Um, you know, where I come from, we generally take off our clothes to take a bath," she said. Eph climbed out of the bath dripping wet grateful that the baths were warm inside.

"And generally we wear clothing," Eph said before she could stop herself. Unable to stop herself she looked again over at Gabrielle. The young woman only had on a pair of boots, a collar, and a chain, going from nipple to nipple and down to well, Eph decided to turn away before Gabrielle caught her looking and why. Gabrielle's skin had appeared quite healthy, no marks of any kind marring her skin.

Quickly slipping out of her wet clothes she watched Gabrielle, now without the chain enter the water. As Eph slipped off her wet shirt she heard Eponin say something behind her.

"Um, Eph, what, uh, did I miss something?"

"Not a word," Ephiny said turning to give her lover a glare.

"All right," Eponin said drawing out the words. I see we have company."

"Eponin, Gabrielle, or Bri, take your pick. Bri, my partner Eponin," Eph said.

"Pleasure to meet you," Gabrielle said, Eph noticed the slight smirk on the blonde's face. "So, tell me, does she always go headfirst into her bath with her clothes still on?"

Eph glared again at Eponin as she chuckled at that.

"Well, she is a bit loony at times," Eponin finally stated. "And, honey, that look might work if you weren't half naked."

"Argh," Eph said in frustration. She quickly finished undressing before stepping into the water. After the day she had the water felt really good. She looked up watching Eponin step into the water and settle beside her.

"So, are those permanent?" Eponin asked.

Eph started to balk at the boldness of her partner when Bri replied.

"You mean these," she said, bringing her breasts out of the water. She fingered the nipple rings before saying anything else. "Yeah, mostly, they're made out of gold, so I generally don't have to worry about them."

"You're braver than I am, too much of a chicken to have anything like that done," Eponin replied.

"I actually wouldn't know," Bri replied.

"Um, how, well, how wouldn't you know?" Eph asked. She felt a bit confused by what Bri had said.

"Well, I passed out after they did my clit," Bri replied.

Ephiny clinched her thighs together in mock sympathy at that. She wondered how that had happened but now way would she ask.

"That was eight years ago now though," Bri replied glancing down. "At first I hated them, and what they stood for. Now, well, now I don't think I could live without it."

Eph thought she heard a softening of her voice when talking about it. She could see how the woman could resent it, but it seemed something had changed along the years.

"So, the chain, why do you not wear something else?" Ephiny finally asked.

"Because she won't keep it on, and complains too much about wearing anything else that I've given up," a voice said behind them. Ephiny jumped a bit with the knowledge of who the voice belonged to. She almost turned around but stopped at the sight of Bri. The young woman's entire being had changed, relaxed, and happy, defiantly more happy. She mentally shook herself to turn. Again her eyes stopped at the sight of the conqueror stripping out of her leathers. Another magnificent female figure in front of her and she knew that every Amazon in the village would kill to be in the same position she and Eponin were in right now.

She felt a bump causing her to break off her staring. She looked over to see her lover sitting there with raised eyebrows. The water rippled as the conqueror entered the bath quickly gliding over to where Bri sat waiting patiently for her.

"So, you're not causing trouble," the conqueror asked looking at Bri.

"Nope," Bri replied smiling back at her.

"She's been well behaved," Ephiny said quickly. She didn't want Bri to get into trouble for nothing.

"Oh, so she didn't pester you with a thousand and one questions about Amazons?" the conqueror said raising an eyebrow at Ephiny.

"Uh, well, yeah, but the questions were simple to answer, no problem," Ephiny replied.

"Why type of questions?" Eponin asked. Eph could tell that her lover had quite a curious look on her face. To Eph's relief and embarrassment the conqueror answered instead.

"I'm sure she asked about your breasts," she said, glancing over at an innocent looking Bri.

"Our what? Why, oh goddess," Eponin stated.

"Basically what I said," Eph said feeling better about that answer. "I wonder who starts these rumors?"

"See, like I told you rumors," the conqueror said looking at Bri.

Eph watched transfixed at what happened next. Bri appeared to be pouting, causing the conqueror to grin. With the grin the conqueror splashed some water over into Bri's face. Sputtering Bri wiped the water out of her eyes and face glaring at the conqueror.

"Don't start what you can't finish warrior," Bri replied. Eph thought she heard a slightly challenging tone in Bri's voice. Then, Bri returned the favor soaking the conqueror. Eph thought for sure she see the wrath of the conqueror on the small blonde, one who she had started to like. Instead a full scale water war erupted between the two women leaving Eph and Eponin frozen at what they saw.

"What?" the conqueror finally asked when the fight died down. Eph watched as Bri noticed them and started laughing.

"Um, well," Eph stuttered. She at least got out more than Eponin who still sat there dumbfounded.

"A girl can't play with her mate anymore," the conqueror said, then turned to Bri. "I don't recall any rules about that, do you?"

"Nope, not me," Bri said smiling, obviously enjoying the two Amazons discomfort.

"M-mate?" Ephiny finally managed to ask. "I, um, I thought, well, that Bri, was wellaslave?"

"I am," Bri said, with no hesitation at all for everything that was going on.

"I'm confused," Eponin replied.

"It's, well, complex," Bri said. Eph watched as she glided though the water to where the conqueror sat. The taller woman pulled Bri onto her lap, giving an impression, at least to Eponin, of two people very much in love.

"She is a slave in name only," the conqueror said, her tone almost daring anyone to counter what she said.

"Um, aren't you the empress of Greece, I guess, well, can't you just, pardon her?" Ephiny finally managed to ask.

"Yes, but that would cause more trouble than anything else. In my younger days I refused any slave owners who came forth to do the same thing. I refused, stating we had rules, they had to follow or else they'd be punishable by law. Changing that now, for one slave could result in my leadership perceived as weak," the conqueror replied.

Eph nodded her head agreeing with what the conqueror said. It showed to her how the conqueror led by example, not by words. She wondered why the empress didn't abolish slavery, but quickly realized such actions might cause more unrest than anything else.

"People's first reactions are always the same about us," Bri said to them. Eph watched the younger woman snuggle even closer to the empress not at all afraid. "All they see is a poor young, short, blonde?"

"Sometimes," the conqueror piped in quickly.

"Hush, a short, blonde, slave girl being taken advantage of by the big, bad conqueror," Bri said finishing up.

"Until they realize she's taking advantage of me," the conqueror said tweaking one of Bri's nipples causing her to yelp.

"Um, you know, this is destroying the image of the conqueror that I had," Eph replied.

"She's still there," the conqueror said. In front of Eph the conqueror's eyes went cold causing a slight shiver to fun down her back. If she hadn't been holding Bri the effect would have been even greater.

"I see, but I don't recommend holding her while your both naked, ruins the effect," Eponin said to them.

"Yeah, I guess it does, see, you're ruining my reputation," the conqueror said.

"Me, you're the one holding me, not the other way around," Bri said.

"I see, just wait, paybacks," the conqueror said smiling. "We should probably get out of here and feed you before that monster of a stomach wakes up."

Eph watched a slight blush works its way across Bri's face.

"It's not my fault, I'll have you know it takes a lot of energy to keep up with you," Bri replied with a straight face.

"Which is why I need to make sure you're fed," the conqueror said lifting the smaller woman out of the bath.

"Ready to retire as well?" Eponin asked Eph.

"Yep, you've promised me a night to remember," Eph replied getting out the water.

The group dried off quickly. Eph kept glancing over at the conqueror and Bri. There defiantly appeared to be an attraction between the two, nothing forced at all. She watched Bri reattach the chain to the loops before helping the conqueror with her leathers. From the actions everything appeared quite natural to Eph.

Once the two groups said their good-nights, and Eph gave Bri directions to the food hut, she and Eponin walked back to their hut.

"That was different," Eponin said.

"Definitely not what I expected. Seemed like the conqueror has changed," Eph replied.

"Could be, but let's not worry about that right now, I've got something else for you," Eponin said leading Eph into their hut.

Ephiny signed a bit glancing outside. The sunlight streaming in indicated that lunch time fast approaching, along with a growing hunger of being in the meeting room all morning. Looking back over she noticed the source of her aggravation, Valaska. She'd been blocking everything with the conqueror, causing Eph to wonder why.

"Valaska is there a reason, other than your opinion, that the Nation shouldn't make this treaty?" Melosa finally asked point blank.

"She's the conqueror, and she doesn't keep her word. In a few years the Nation will cease to exist," Valaska said adamant about her thoughts.

"But Rome will?" Melosa said suddenly.

Eph leaned forward, the tone the queen had used indicated she knew something no one else in the group did.

"Rome, at least, is honest and won't stab us in the back," Valaska answered.

"Then you'll be interested to learn the latest terms for renewal of the trade treaty with Rome," Melosa said. "It arrived two days ago, before our meeting with the conqueror. Rome is raising their prices, almost double. Such increased the Nation cannot sustain. In fact the new terms practically mean the Nation will be Rome's in a few seasons. At least with the conqueror's demands we'll have the ability to grow and prosper again."

Eph sat stunned by what she heard. Rome appeared to want to bleed the Nation out of existence. The nation already barely held on with the trade agreement, doubling the prices would cripple the nation. She turned her eyes to Valaska who now stood in anger.

"They lied to me," she heard her whisper.

Before anyone could say anything she sat back down. Eph could see Valaska's anger still simmering and didn't envy anyone who would bear her wrath.

"I guess the logical path would be to accept Greece's offer, but I won't tolerate any deviation from the treaty," Valaska finally said.

"No Amazon will," Melosa said. To Eph it appeared the council finally had reached an agreement. "We'll break for lunch, then reconvene to begin the treaty ratification process with the conqueror."

Ephiny walked out of the council hall with Eponin heading towards the dining hall. She wondered what else the queen might know that she hadn't told anyone. The news from Rome had startled quite a few people.

"Well, that appeared interesting towards the end," Eponin said.

"Interesting, what's interesting is Valaska might have some involvement with the Romans," Ephiny said. "She seemed stunned by the Roman offer."

"Yeah, but then again, double the payment would cripple our economy, even Valaska knows that," Eponin replied.

"Such an increase doesn't make much sense, unless that's what Rome wants to do, squeeze us to death. It's not a secret that the Amazons and the conqueror don't get along, perhaps that what Caesar expected," Ephiny said thinking out loud.

"With the Amazon Nation under his control he could use us as a staging area to invade Greece. He could move troops in under the guise of enforcing the treaty knowing that the Nation wouldn't go to the conqueror for help," Eponin stated. "Sneaky!"

"Dirty if you ask me," Ephiny said, reaching for the door to head inside out of the cold. Eph felt glad that it had stopped snowing at least. They walked into the warm room where several Amazons already were eating, they looked over to see Eph and Eponin walk in knowing that something, hopefully, had been decided. Not bothering to talk to anyone she quickly grabbed some food and sat down waiting while her lover did the same.

"Mind if we join you?" a familiar voice said. Eph glanced over to see Bri standing there, with the conqueror behind her waiting for an answer.

"Uh, sure," Eph said glancing over at Eponin who shrugged her shoulders.

Eph watched the two women sit down across from them. The conqueror sitting the plates down before settling down herself next to Bri, and provided a good distraction for Eph. She felt sure that the blonde had no idea how she affected those around her with her beauty, especially seeing how she didn't have anything on under the cloak, which now was open to allow Bri to eat.

"Anything wrong?" Eponin whispered.

"Um, no, nothing," Eph replied quickly. She made eye contact with Eponin then a slight motion towards Bri.

"Oh, trade with you, all I've got is the conqueror, clothed," Eponin replied back.

"No, I think not, you'd enjoy that too much," Eph said giving Eponin a glare.

"Hey, what can I say, I enjoy the female form, it's interesting to look at," Eponin replied.

"Surprised you don't stay all day at the baths then," Ephiny mumbled. She started to say more but stopped when a Greek guard stopped behind the conqueror. She waited to see what would happen, surprised when the guard politely cleared her throat waiting for the conqueror's attention.

"Empress, we received this just now," the guard said handing a note the conqueror.

The conqueror scanned though the note not making any visible sign that anything might be wrong, or going very well.

"Send a messenger back to Cornith, tell General Paleamon to assemble the Second Army at once and prepare for my arrival," the conqueror finally ordered.

"Of course empress," the guard replied giving a slight bow then walked back out.

"Trouble," she heard Bri ask.

"Normal stuff," the conqueror said. "But it appears the Horde have popped up again in strength to annoy some of the border cities."

"Is this going to affect the meetings?" Ephiny asked.

"Nah, Bri will take over for me," the conqueror said. "Not that it matters, she does most of the negotiating anyways."

Ephiny wondered how that would go over with the rest of the council, especially Valaska. The knowledge that they'd be dealing with a slave might be too much for some of them.

"Hmm, that might be a bit of a problem, some won't like dealing with a, well, slave, not to be insulting," Eph said trying to think of another way to say the obvious without sounding insulting.

"They've been dealing with me all along, just didn't know it," Bri replied to her, taking a bit to eat.

"You mean Valaska, right," the conqueror asked, guessing the person who Eph had been thinking about.

"You might want to tell the guards, so they don't kill a princess," Bri stated to the conqueror, quite calmly in Eph's opinion.

"Um, I thought we might have to worry about upsetting you," Eph said motioning towards the conqueror. She hadn't thought about the guards even being a problem until now.

"Ah, the guards are not there for my protection," the conqueror stated. Eph heard Bri let out a sigh before saying anything.

"The guards are for me, and they tend to get a little over-protective of me when Xena isn't around," she said to them.

"That's cause they know you, and the trouble you can get into, and they don't want to explain how you got hurt to me," the conqueror said. "Besides this threat is actually quite close to the Amazon Nation, surprised you haven't heard anything yet?"

Eph thought about that for a few seconds. The Nation had one war against the Horde years ago, about the time she'd been born, but after that, nothing. The rumor had been the savagery that both sides used had been horrible. After one battle the Horde had been stopped, but the cost had been extensive to the Nation.

"Could be the queen has, but for whatever reason is keeping it quiet," Eph finally said.

"She does seem to have a lot of reports she never talks about," Bri said.

"It's probably time we head over to the council room, the queen finished and walked out," Eponin said to Ephiny. She looked over where the queen had been noticing the chairs now empty.

"We'll see you over there then," the conqueror said. Eph watched as she took the empty trays, something she expected Bri to do. The younger woman meanwhile had gotten up quickly closing her cloak before moving away from the table and meeting up with the conqueror before walking out.

"So, I hear you two managed to spend some time with our guests," a voice said from behind them. Eph turned to see Princess Terreis standing behind her.

"Yeah, at lunch and last night in the baths," Eph replied. "Quite an interesting pairing, that's for sure."

"I see, anything you find, oh, troubling, or anything?" Terreis asked.

"No, everything appears to be what you see, perhaps, well, perhaps even more," Eph said. "I'm beginning to wonder who's in control of whom?"

"The scouting report from Greece states things have been improving for the past couple of years, probably when the slave started. Also probably a reason why they're here now, always wondered when it'd happen," Terreis said.

Eph glanced up at Terreis wondering what where she now appeared to be headed in this conversation. A glance back to her lover indicated she didn't know.

"Well, things are never quite what you expected, too many factor at work, some which most never even know about," Terreis said.

Before Eph or Eponin could say anything she walked out of the hut. Eph glanced at Eponin in silence wondering what the princess meant.

"Must be another Terreis thing," Eph finally said, referring to the strange sayings that Terreis would sometimes say, but usually had some greater depth of meaning that only she seemed to understand.

"Right, let's get going," Eponin said getting up.

Eph followed having a strange feeling about everything after talking to Terreis. In a strange way it seemed that Terreis meant the conqueror, and Bri, yet whatever it seemed to be, it didn't affect the treaty, at least she hoped.

Ephiny glanced over once more at the other side of the room where the conqueror sat. Already she noticed a change in demeanor of her. Energy that hadn't been present almost washed off her in waves she thought she could almost see. Eph had a strong feeling, at least she hoped, it had to do with the Horde. Glancing around she noticed a few others had noticed the conqueror's attitude, including the queen.

"Is everything all right Empress?" Melosa asked. Ephiny noticed the queen patiently waiting for the answer that she already knew.

"Yes, but annoying things do pop up, I'm afraid that one such annoyance has appeared recently. I'm afraid that it will require my attention, the Horde seems to have finally regained some strength and are making attacks on Greece," the conqueror replied. "I'm going to have leave right away, Gabrielle will be able to continue the negotiations."

Eph heard the predictable outburst from Valaska, not that it surprised her.

"Am I the only one who has a problem with this?" Valaska said.

To Eph's surprise the response came quickly, but not from anyone she faced, but from the elder, Erika.

"The Horde are not enemies you take lightly, if they threaten lands this close to us, then I have no problem with that. You're young princess, you never fought the Horde," Erika said.

"They don't sound that touch to me," Valaska challenged back.

Eph could see the immediate change in Erika posture, the stiffening of her back, narrowing of her eyes. For a few seconds Eph thought the elder might even attack Valaska as something almost inhuman came over her, before she seemed to calm down. In all the years that Eph had known Erika, she'd never seen such a reaction in the elder.

"No, the Nation only sent a thousand Amazons into battle with those savages, most tougher than you'd ever hope to be, we came home with four hundred," Erika said, the last part not much more than a whisper.

"The Horde don't take prisoners," the conqueror said speaking up. "They are savages. They pose no real threat to the Empire. They are a nescience that must be dealt with before more innocent civilians are killed. Would you do any less to a threat to your fellow sisters?"

Eph turned watching the verbal sparring that went on. She watched Valaska's face take on a slightly defeated look. The conqueror had won the first round, but Eph knew enough to realize a second round would happen.

"Still, I won't deal with a slave," Valaska said.

The sound of chairs clattering on the ground caused Eph to look back over towards the conqueror. To her surprise, the conqueror sat peacefully, instead the two advisors were standing glaring at Valaska. The conqueror herself only seemed to show some displeasure.

"I suggest you apologize, others don't take kindly to people disrespecting her," the conqueror stated.

"Valaska," Bri said, dragging attention away from the guards and the conqueror to herself before continuing. "I'm the one you've been dealing with all along anyways."

"Make no mistake Amazon," the conqueror said looking right at Valaska. "Gabrielle holds more power in the empire than anyone else. She's earned that power by what she's done and said, not by where she is or who she's with. Along with my advisors and they have the power to deal with anything, I will honor anything they sign."

Eph chanced another glance over at Valaska before looking at Eponin. Her lover appeared content to watch the proceedings as well. To her surprise, Queen Melosa stepped in before anything else could be said.

"Valaska, this matter is closed. We'll deal peacefully with Gabrielle," Melosa said turning towards Bri. "You're right, we have been dealing with you all along."

Eph wondered how long the queen had known how much Bri had been influencing the conqueror during the negotiations. She hadn't really noticed it until the conqueror and Bri had hinted to it during lunch.

"Remember Valaska, I am still Queen, and you can be removed without a vote, or say in the matter.

Eph felt that everyone appeared to watching Valaska for the next move. After a few seconds Valaska finally backed down, at least for now Eph thought to herself. The two advisors finally sat back down, but Erika had caught Eph's attention. The elder appeared deep in thought, over what, Eph didn't know.

"Conqueror, when are you leaving?" Erika asked.

"Once everything is settled here with the Amazons and Bri, right away, time is always of the essence in battle," the conqueror stated.

"Then I have a request, if you'd honor it, I'd like to go," Erika said. The question shocked Eph, not sure what the elder appeared to be thinking,

Looking over at Eponin, she had her eyes on Erika. Turning back to Erika, Eph noticed the same faint energy coming off Erika that the conqueror gave off. She looked over to see what type of reply the conqueror would give.

"Why?" the conqueror asked.

"For personal reasons," Erika replied. "And for the Nation."

"What do you say Queen Melosa," the conqueror said.

Eph turned to see Meolsa, surprised by the fact that her queen appeared to be thinking it over. Eph knew that Erika had fought against the Horde, but Eph wondered if the elder really wanted to go back into battle again.

"If the conqueror will take you, then you have my blessing," Melosa finally replied.

"Then you'd better get your belongings ready," the conqueror stated.

Erika stood, with a bow to Melosa, then took off out the meeting hall and towards her hut. Eph had the distinct feeling that there was more to the story than anyone knew. She'd have to wait until after the meeting to find out. Turning back towards the conqueror she watched her give Bri a kiss before finally walking out. Eph noticed that Bri's eyes followed the conqueror all the way out of the room.

Now that the conqueror had left the room, Eph wondered if they were now about to face the lion of the negotiations.

"Whew!" Eponin stated walking out of the meeting hall and headed towards their hut.

Eph glanced over at her lover, mentally already glad to have gotten out of the meeting.

"I wish we'd still been dealing with the conqueror instead of that, well, that wolf in sheep's clothing," Eponin said. "Ya know, if I didn't know better I'd say the conqueror planned that, so we'd have to deal with her."

"No kidding," Eph replied. She had to chuckle a bit about her lover calling Bri a wolf. However, that small slave had a way of saying and phrasing things, making you think you were winning, until afterwards you realized you agreed upon what she wanted all along. Worse, no one had been able to get mad at her for it, even Valaska. The slave's disarming smile, innocent green eyes, and calm appearance seemed to throw everyone off.

"I didn't know how she did it, but everything she said sounded like a win-win situation," Eponin said.

"And what was really interesting, most of the time it was. I don't think I've ever seen anyone negotiate like that, and hope I never am on the receiving end of that again," Eph said.

"I guess we should be glad we still have our clothes," Eponin replied.

"Nah, remember, she doesn't like wearing them," Ephiny said. "I'm just glad she remained covered."

"Ah, yeah, there's something about her appearance that's just, I don't know, invigorating," Eponin said.

"You won't find me complaining about last night," Eph said. She paused a moment thinking about that. They'd been quite, well, in lust last night, but even more than that, it almost felt like they needed each other, sharing what they had. Shaking her head she refocused her mind as their hut appeared.

"Well, the meeting did prove fruitful, that's for sure. I think the Nation will prosper finally," Eponin said.

"I'm curious about Horde and Erika though," Eph said.

"I know that she lost two sisters in the battles, and never talked about it to anyone I know of," Eponin said. "I've heard they battled on an off for twenty days before the final battle. The Horde haven't come back since."

"And those who fought in it, well I've never heard any of them ever talk about it," Eph said. Several still remained, some had left but the actual events of what happened were never talked about. She's heard that those who did come back, were never the same.

"Ephiny, Eponin," a voice said behind them. Eph turned to see the queen standing there. "May I come in?"

"Of course my queen," Ephiny said finally recovering her voice. They opened the door to their hut allowing Melosa inside, following behind her.

"I wanted to let you two know that Gabrielle invited the Nation to a meeting this summer. I'm thinking about sending Terreis , along with you two," Melosa said.

"Us, I'm not sure why?" Ephiny replied, sitting down followed by Eponin next to her.

"Terreis, because she needs experience in dealing with foreign dignitaries seeing as Valaska will be the next ruler," Melosa said. "I'm afraid I've been neglecting in raising Terreis in that regard. She'll need to learn that as Valaska will probably send her on meetings."

Ephiny thought about that for a few seconds realizing that Melosa's actions would benefit the nation later on. Looking over at her lover she noticed a normal look on it.

"I think we can do that," Eponin stated. "Who else?"

"I'll leave that up to the head guard for the mission," Melosa said, glancing over at Eponin.

"I'll think about it and pull a guard together," Eponin finally said.

"There is one thing that's been bugging me, why'd you let Erick go," Eph asked. The thought had bugged her a bit and now she might be able to get some answers.

"Several reasons actually," Melosa said. Eph thought she looked a bit pensive about the subject before the queen continued. "What I'm about to tell you, must remain in confidence."

Ephiny glanced over at Eponin then back at Melosa and nodded her head.

"The battles were worse than you were ever led to believe. The Horde make savages look civilized, and in order to defeat them, those who went fell down to that level," Melosa said to them.

Eph couldn't imagine such a thing. To fall that far to survive a battle, no wonder so many came back changed.

"When those who survived came back, they were different. They'd fallen so far, and fought more like animals then people. The Horde also don't keep prisoners, what they do to them, well it isn't fit for a campfire story. We quietly wrote it down in the annuals of the Amazon nation indicating we won a long hard fought war, keeping one copy, under the Queens control. Erika saw her sisters strung up, and skin removed while still alive," Melosa stated.

Eph looked on in a bit of horror at that. Such a sight would alter a person forever. She knew that she and Eponin were competent warriors, but something like that, she didn't know.

"I've heard of Horde activates over the years, but they haven't attacked us since that time. I like to think they hadn't attacked us because their warrior class is made up of males, and the savagery with which the Amazons fought scared even them. I prefer to think we give them nightmares," Melosa said.

Eph sat in silence before a knock on the door startled her. She knew neither of them were expecting anyone so her curiosity got the better of her. She opened the door to reveal their surprise visitor, on the other side stood Gabrielle.

"I hope I'm not intruding, oh, you've got company," Bri said.

"Don't mind me, we're just talking history," Melosa said.

"I love stories, in fact I've got a few in the library in Athens," Bri said.

"You're a bard?" Eph asked a bit shocked, waving her inside out of the cold.

"Not much of one," Bri replied with a slight blush as she walked in. "But I do love telling and listening to them."

"You're full of surprises," Melosa said. "How does one like you, become what she is to the conqueror?"

"Well, there's not much to tell really," Bri said.

"There has to be more than the 'I'm the slave, she's the master'. It's very obvious more is on," Melosa said.

"Yeah, I don't know many slaves who negotiate treaties, have their own guards, and have the conqueror hand feed them," Eponin said.

"Or allows a slave to call them by name," Ephiny said remembering Bri had called the conqueror, Xena.

"All right, but there really isn't much to say," Bri said. "I guess though it might explain why I'm still a slave."

Eph leaved forward a bit to hear the story. She hoped that it might answer quite a few questions she had about this mysterious Bri, the slave.

"I entered slavery by my own parents, or I should say, my dad sold me to some slave masters," Bri said. "I wasn't more than five summers old, though I'm not sure of my exact age."

Eph wondered what type of parents would do such a thing. She couldn't fathom such a thing, in the Nation each child is cared for by everyone and considered a gift.

"I don't remember much of that time, only the training to be a slave, obeying orders, that type of thing. I guess somewhere deep down I remained, sheltered somehow. I had a few masters, some not so good, others were kind. I never stayed at the rotten ones for too long, thank the goddesses," Bri said. "One of my masters decided I'd become old enough to learn how to be a pleasure slave. He never had a chance to use me, the conqueror came though that town. They tried to resist, and the town was burned, anyone who survived was sold into slavery, not any change for me. I went to another master but only stayed there a short time before he sold me, I think his wife was jealous."

Eph listened in knowing that Bri had to be skipping over quite a bit. They were getting an abbreviated version of what had happened to her.

"I was bought again, this time by Xena, the new empress. The price was high, between her and someone from Persia I think," Bri said. "The law allow a slave to only earn so much towards their freedom, it will take me another twenty years before I could be freed."

Eph thought about how high a price that might be. She'd heard rumors of such slaves, of course she wondered if the conqueror thought she got a bargain now? The amount of money for such slaves, though, would easily bankrupt the Nation.

"Xena, she'd finished conquering Greece, and had to appear harsh to maintain her control, especially from some like Drafus," Bri said. "As a result that first year, she was harsh, that's where the piercings came from."

Ephiny could see the chain between the open folds of the cloak she wore. Again she wondered how a friendship could have come from such violence.

"That day, Drafus had tried to overthrow her. There'd been a lot of fighting, and she won, but I suffered her battle lust that day, I will say that the legends of that about her, are true," Bri said. "She wanted to hear someone scream, that's why they started on my clit first, I don't remember the others. I guess, yes, that night, that's when our current relationship started. I woke up the next morning in comfort, sore, but comfortable. After that she never again took pain to such an extreme, and made sure that I was comfortable with it each time."

Eph had to force her thought elsewhere as an image of a tied up, naked Bri with the conqueror filled her mind. She shook the thought away feeling a slight heat spread across her face.

"You all right?" Eponin asked.

"Yep," Eph squeaked out. "No problem."

She turned at the sound of laughter. Both Bri and Melosa sat there chuckling at her causing her blush to deepen.

"Anyways, continue," Eph said, mustering as much elegance as she could.

She had to wait a few seconds for Bri to calm down before continuing.

"She didn't change overnight, one thing she enforced on my, like a lot of other pleasure slave, we don't wear clothing much, even in public. At first, it was hard, but now, I prefer it. I tolerate the cloak though," Bri said fluffing the cloak in question.

Eph didn't think she ever be comfortable like that. Sure, in the baths the Amazons all saw each other naked, but it seem right there, not outside the baths. She returned her attention back to Bri

"I think in reality we'd fallen in love with each other from the beginning, but the slave master relationship kept us apart. I remember the first time seeing her, the dark hair, blue eyes, drew me in like no other person ever had. In a strange way, even though I had been scared, I rejoiced when Xena bought me. I began calling her Xena in private, and she slowly started giving me things to make me happy, like writing instruments, a library, flowers, and I started doing little things for her, baking goodies, massages, that type thing," Bri said.

Eph listened hearing Bri's voice grow soft with emotion talking about the conqueror. She could understand the little things, she and Eponin did the same thing, nothing major, but little things that the other would miss.

"A couple of seasons ago she wanted to free me, I'm the one who resisted it," Bri said. "I know that other masters had wanted to do the same thing, and Xena had refused. At the time another political unrest seemed near, I feared it might push another war. Fortunately she didn't, and when the revolt came she had a lot of support by then. After that I began whispering small pieces of advice to her, not that she always agrees, but it stops and makes her think things through more. That's been good for the Empire."

"That makes sense then," Melosa said. "It's been in the past couple of seasons that Greece has really changed, and the threat of revolution subsided to background talk by those who want power, not to make things better."

"There is always talk of revolt, but if people are happy, content things go better, that's what I try and do," Bri replied.

"I always did wonder why type of person would tame the conqueror," Melosa said.

"I'm not sure tame is the right word," Bri replied.

"Oh, but I am. The conqueror needed someone her intellectual equal, not physical equal," Melosa replied. "She needed someone who could look into the depths of her soul, and be strong enough to survive. I think being forced into it helped you more than you know. Your own soul forced the conqueror to look at her own, that's what allowed your relationship to grow."

"Are you sure you're not an oracle my queen," Ephiny stated, half joking and half serious.

"No, just seen it enough with Amazons, even though the conqueror is much worse. That would require an equally strong opposite force," Melosa said.

Ephiny thought about that for several seconds. She hadn't thought of an opposite force actually winning against someone like the conqueror. Another thought entered her mind though.

"So, we've been invited to Cornith this summer?" she asked Bri.

"Each summer Greece invites several nearby leaders to send representatives or come themselves," Bri said. "This year we're expecting Rome, Chin, Persia, Egypt, and Cartage to attend, along with the Amazons of course. Other nations attend, some attend others do now, we don't pressure anyone."

"Um, well, how do you get so many empires and nations to get along?" Ephiny asked.

"If Greece and Rome can get along for a few days then Xena expects the same from the others, and if, well, if she expects it, then you should do it. Um, do you have any communications with the Centaurs," Bri asked.

"No," All three answered rather quickly.

"Oh, right, Amazons and Centaurs don't' get along," Bri said. "But I feel that they should be invited anyways."

"That's asking for trouble," Eph said quickly. She could see Eponin already thinking about what type of problems having both the Amazons and Centaurs in close quarters might create.

"And, if Xena can get along with Rome then so should you," Bri answered.

Eph opened her mouth to argue, then clicked it close. Glancing at the others she noticed a similar expression. She felt a bit strange that here, a queen, a weapons master and herself, a skilled warrior in her own right, stared down by a mere slave.

"Well, Cornith is a big place, we might not even have to encounter any Centaurs," Eponin said.

"See, things work out for a reason," Bri said, suppressing a yawn. "Well, it's getting late and I have quite a journey back to the palace tomorrow."

"Good night Gabrielle," Ephiny said. The two of them got up, and Eph saw the smaller woman out of the hut. She glanced outside noticing two guards walking immediately to her side. She watched the professional manner of the guards for a few seconds before heading back into the hut out of the chilly air of the night.

"For a moment I thought you were going to hold the door open all night," Eponin said.

"Ha-ha," Eph replied.

The three fell silent for several seconds as Eph sat back down next to Eponin. Eph thought about everything that had gone on that day, and the decisions the council had made.

"Did any of you notice anything about Gabrielle?" Eponin said, interrupting Eph's train of thought.

"No, don't think so, at least, well, she was unusual sure, but I'm not sure what you're talking about," Eph finally said.

"I noticed a small mark on her during the bath, I had to think about it but I'm sure it's the mark of Aphrodite," Eponin said.

"Aphrodite?" Eph asked, she didn't know what that might mean.

"It doesn't surprise me," Melosa said. "Remember Aphrodite and Ares are attracted to each other, so it's no surprise Gabrielle would be touched by Aphrodite."

"Why do I suddenly get the feeling that we're not done with those two," Eph stated.

"I don't know, but I hope better things are on the way," Melosa said. "I should get going."

Eph said good-night to the queen before stoking the fire with fresh wood before retiring to bed with Eponin.

The end, for now!

AJ Mark's Scrolls
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