Gabrielle's eyes drifted open. She stared up at the leaves high above while she lay on her back. Her eyebrows knitted together. "Oookay, I fell asleep in a cave beside Xena, and now I am outside." Suddenly, she was struck with fear. "Xena?" She sat up and didn't see her partner nor any signs of her.
The warrior-bard's heart stopped. "What the Hell is going on?" she whispered, gazing around. She couldn't find any of her bags, Argo, Xena... nothing. She looked at her boots and noticed her sais still in place. She hopped to her feet.
Gabrielle didn't recognize the surrounding forest. She continued to spin in a circle where she stood, her breathing picking up. Then her expression dropped as it dawned on her. "I'm in Amazon territory," she mumbled.
As if on cue, three Amazons landed on the ground in front of her, drawing their swords. The small warrior put her arms over her head in the Amazon peace signal. She said nothing and stared at the three women with masks.
One Amazon stepped forward, lowered her sword, and pulled her mask back. "Gabrielle?" She had a confused look.
Gabrielle's eyes widened and her heart stopped yet again. "Ephiny?" she whispered in a mixture of surprise, fear, and love. "You're dead," she uttered. "How..." She'd woken up in Amazon territory with a ghost. She wasn't sure how much more she could handle.
Ephiny tilted her head as her confusion grew more.
The other two Amazons stepped forward and removed their masks while lowering swords. They had baffled looks as well.
She stared at the other two Amazons, Eponin and Solari, and fell to her knees, overwhelmed. She ran her hand through her short blonde hair. "I must be in the Elysian fields..." She shook her head frantically as a powerful fear and sorrow washed over her.
Gabrielle stared at the three Amazons in utter disbelief. She could either be dead or having a really bad nightmare. But there were two things that struck her as being especially odd. First, why would the Elysian fields look like Amazon territory? And second, how could Eponin be dead?
Ephiny stepped towards Gabrielle carefully. "Gabrielle, may I ask what... what's going on?" She sheathed her sword. "Why is your hair short, you have sais, you're more... butch, and the clothes?" The Amazon's voice was going fast. "And most of all! How can you walk?" yelled the Amazon.
"What?" The short warrior was loosing more pieces to the puzzle as things kept going. "What?" she repeated.
The Amazon stepped forward, knelt down, and locked eyes with the young woman. "You are Gabrielle, right? The same woman who stood up against the conqueror and had her legs smashed on a cross?"
The warrior-bard said nothing then finally whispered, "The conqueror?"
"Yesss." Ephiny paused. "The Warrior Princess that has conquered the known-world... Xena." She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you?"
Gabrielle's hands came up to pull back her blond bangs. "Oh my god," she whispered. "Where am I?"
"In Amazon territory, small as it is." The Amazon studied the small warrior. "The rebels against the conqueror."
"Rebels?" Gabrielle shook her head with her hands still on top of her head. "Wh? who... where... I am past confused."
Ephiny said nothing and stared at Gabrielle. She tried reading this woman before her, who she called Gabrielle, but seemed to be another person too. "You are Gabrielle?"
Both Solari and the weapons master neared with only Eponin sheathing her sword. However, Solari wasn't convinced and kept her sword out. They were quite intrigued about this new comer that they somewhat knew.
The short warrior dropped her hands to her legs. "Okay... who is Gabrielle to you?"
"A young blond, talkative, a rebel, possible bard, beautiful... with a dark past," replied Ephiny in a quiet and sad tone
"Dark past..." Gabrielle's eyes dropped, and her voice faded out. Her eyes came back up. "From Potidaea?"
The young warrior nodded and rose up. "Can you take me to her?"
Ephiny stood and folded her arms. "Then you are not her?"
"Yes and no?I'm not sure... yet." Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. "Its hard to explain... I can't even explain it to myself."
"You're confused as we are," stated Solari. She stepped up. "If not more."
"I am, Solari," agreed Gabrielle. Her eyes flickered back to Ephiny. "Let me ask you this... do I look like Gabrielle just... older?"
Ephiny examined the woman and nodded slowly. "Yyyes now that you say that... and with short hair."
I wonder if I'm in the past, mused Gabrielle, but why would Xena be the conqueror of the known world? She snapped out of her thoughts. "Ephiny, this is hard to explain, this is a guess. But I am Gabrielle just... a different form of her." She laughed at her own reasoning. "I know how strange that must sound." She held her hands up. "Just take me to the Nation." She paused then lowered her hands. "Can you?"
Solari looked at Ephiny. "You sure about that?" she whispered. "She seems like Gabrielle but-"
"What difference does it make?" cut in Eponin. She moved closer. "Even if she isn't Gabrielle, she'll be in the middle of our Nation. There's nothing she can do." The weapons master shrugged. "I say we take her."
Ephiny considered her options. She stared straight into warm green eyes. Something inside of her whispered that this was somebody she'd known for years. And the only thing she saw in those green eyes were trust, respect, and love. "Alright... we'll take you to the Nation."
Gabrielle gazed around the Amazon village as she entered. Ephiny, Solari, and Eponin walked beside her, watching her curiously. She only smiled, and that left the three Amazons more confused. Gabrielle sighed contently because she was in a familiar place.
Ephiny shook her head faintly and gazed ahead. She neared a hut and an Amazon came out with an empty tray. "Logos, is Gabrielle in the hut?"
The cook nodded. "Of course she is, she is suppose to rest and get healthy." She lowered the tray and glanced at the rest of the group. She dropped the tray and gaped.
Ephiny glanced at the smaller warrior then back to Logos. "Don't ask." She bent down, picked up the tray, and handed it back. "Just go, Logos."
Logos nodded with an awed expression and walked off, surprise still registering on her face.
Ephiny grasped the door's handle. She took a shaky breath and thought, I'm not ready for this. But she opened the door and stepped in with the others following. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the longhaired blond sitting in a seat with a scroll in her lap, writing vigorously.
Gabrielle came in last and stood near Ephiny. She stopped breathing and stared at her duplicate sitting in the chair. She looked exactly like herself numerous years ago. She also noticed the splints on the young girl's legs and bruises spotting on her legs. "Gabrielle?" whispered Ephiny carefully.
The young girl in the seat shook her head, never looking up, continuing her writing. "Hold on, Eph. I need to finish this line."
Solari chuckled quietly with an amused smile. She folded her arms; she couldn't wait for this confrontation.
"Please, Gabrielle... this is serious," growled Ephiny.
Gabrielle studied the young girl and was so amazed by the perfect looks and voice that she was about to assume her to be Hope.
"Almost have it...." mumbled the young girl. She finished writing and settled her quill on the scroll. "What's up, Eph?" she asked with a hollow voice as her eyes lifted.
The three Amazons were silent as two sets of emerald eyes locked together, and two heartbeats skipped. They waited for something, anything, to happen between these two women named Gabrielle.
The young girl in the chair just stared; her scroll and quill slid unnoticed off her lap and hit the floor.
The warrior-bard moved quickly and knelt down to pick them up. "Can't drop these," she smiled shyly, holding the scroll and quill out.
The young woman took them back with shaky hands. "Thank you," she whispered. "Who are you?"
"My name is Gabrielle," replied the warrior.
The young woman tilted her head as her eyes widened. "You can't be... I'm Gabrielle."
"That's the interesting part." The small warrior grinned and patted the other woman's lower arm. "And I haven't quite figured that bit out yet."
Ephiny stepped up. "The part we must figure out is who's the real Gabrielle."
The warrior-bard glanced at Ephiny. "That's just it Ephiny, we're both Gabrielle."
"What?" whispered the Amazon. "You both can't be-"
"Hold on," cut in the short warrior. She sighed and glanced back at the younger blond woman. "Who is Xena?"
Green eyes went into a forest green. "The harlot... the Warrior Princess and conqueror of the known-world."
The small warrior sighed at hearing this description again. "Alright... tell me... is she tall, dark, blue eyes, bad temper, and hard ass attitude?"
"Yes," answered Ephiny.
The young warrior's eyes dropped to the floor and she considered this. "There's got to be an answer," she mumbled.
"How'd you know this about Xena? Few know she has blue eyes unless they've been confronted by her in person." asked the young woman.
The warrior came back and smiled faintly. "The Xena I know is the opposite of what I think she may be here." She paused and added, "I know her as a hero."
The room went silent.
"That's it... oh god," uttered Gabrielle. "I'm in another world... that's the only explanation."
"Another world?" questioned Solari. "How can that be?"
"I don't know." The warrior-bard looked at Solari. "But it makes sense." She shook her head. "Where I am from, Xena and I are partners, and we fight for the greater good."
"I doubt that," mumbled the young woman. "She's ruthless with a heart of stone."
"I wouldn't hold your breath on that," answered the warrior. "The Xena I know, she's caring."
"This is crazy," said Solari. "You're saying you're from some other universe where Xena is hero?" She shook her head. "You couldn't pay me to believe that."
"I believe it," spoke up Eponin. "It does make sense in a funny sort of way." She shrugged. "You're both Gabrielle but of two different worlds, and so is Xena."
"Exactly," responded the warrior-bard. "And all of you," she said, glancing at the Amazons, "are Amazons in my world; my closest friends... or at least you were..." she trailed off.
Ephiny stood with her head bobbing. "Alright, so now what?"
"I'm not sure," confessed the short warrior. "There's some reason why I am here." She shook her head and glanced at the young blond that looked like her so many years ago. She looked back at Ephiny. "Can?I talk to Gabrielle... alone?"
Ephiny glanced at the young woman. "Gabrielle?"
The young woman nodded. "Its fine, Eph."
Ephiny nodded and motioned for Eponin and Solari to leave.
The three Amazons left the hut, and the two women glanced at each after they heard the door closed.
The small warrior sighed and sat down on the floor at the younger woman's feet.
"You're really... Gabrielle too?" questioned the young woman. "Hmmm, who was your sister?"
The short warrior peered up. "Its Lila." She grinned.
The younger Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "My Lila was killed, several years back," she uttered.
"I'm sorry." The warrior-bard studied the broken legs of the other woman. "How about this, can I look at your legs while you tell me about the Conqueror?"
"Alright," agreed the younger woman. She went silent momentarily as small hands grasped her legs. "What do you wanna know about the Conqueror?"
"Who she is," replied the warrior. "Anything and everything." She began checking over the splints as a frown developed on her lips.
"She's the ruler of Greece, the Roman Empire, Egypt, Chin, and some smaller lands," went on the longhaired blond. "She's ruthless and cold."
"She is Xena?" asked the warrior with a glance.
"Yes, among other things."
The warrior sighed deeply. "Does she know you?"
The young blond nodded. "Yeah, I tried rebelling against her." She gestured at her splinted legs. "This is what I got in return."
"I'm sorry," whispered the older Gabrielle. "I know she can be... dark."
The longhaired blond huffed. "So, what's... your Xena like?"
"Quite the opposite." The warrior-bard smiled softly. "She's very loving." She glanced up. "You'd have a hard time believing."
"I would," whispered the young woman with hard tone. "I tried speaking against her."
"It wouldn't have worked," mumbled the warrior. "Politics isn't her crack in the wall."
"Then what is?"
The older Gabrielle lost her smile and went serious. Her eyes hazed over in seeming memory. "Love."
The younger woman huffed. "Love... you've gotta be kidding me?" She shook her head. "That's the last thing that would... change her."
"No." The warrior crossed her legs while still sitting on the floor. "Its the first thing that would change her... the only thing. It's the only emotion she desires."
The longhaired blond said nothing.
The warrior-bard sighed and grasped one of the other woman's knees carefully. "Your legs will heal fine." She paused. "They weren't broken too badly. When did it happen?"
"About two weeks ago," answered the younger Gabrielle. "I can almost stand on them."
"Take your time," whispered the warrior. "They'll heal in good time." She stood up. "Maybe in three days try standing on them and moving a little."
"Yeah," agreed the young woman.
"So, what are we going to do about the names?" The warrior corked an eyebrow with a grin.
The girl in the chair chuckled. "Don't know... we're both Gabrielle."
"Yup," answered the warrior. She reached down and took the scroll and quill. She placed them on the table and folded her arms. "Brie?"
The younger Gabrielle chuckled. "Haven't been called that in ages." She peered up with soft eyes.
"I figured." The warrior bent forward and picked up the small woman into her arms. "Or I can take the nickname."
The younger woman wrapped an arm around and felt herself being carried across the hut. "No, I don't mind." She grinned. "Make me feel young again."
The warrior-bard laughed quietly. "You're making me feel older than I am." She neared the bed. "Who's the Queen?" She bent over the bed.
"It was Melosa." The young woman slipped into the bed and peered up at the warrior. "Thanks."
The short warrior flashed a smile then folded her arms while going serious. "She was... who is now?"
"It's complicated." The longhaired blond sighed. "Technically I am... I am the princess. But Ephiny is the regent." She paused. "I was suppose to be made Queen but I decided to rebel against Xena and held back from taking the position. So I nominated Ephiny as regent in case I was killed by Xena."
The warrior nodded in understanding. "But now-"
"I am the Queen," finished the younger Gabrielle. "And Xena presents a threat to my nation."
"She plans to take the territory, doesn't she?"
The young woman nodded. "Yes, she knows the Amazons are behind the rebels. She's just toying with us now, leading us to believe we have a chance."
"You do," stated the warrior sternly. "Xena hasn't won, and this has just started." Her lips curled into a mischievous grin.
The princess furrowed her eyebrows. "You're not planning on..."
"Look Gabrielle," the small warrior started and sat on the bed. "I know Xena, I can take care of her. Save the Amazons... save everybody." She gave a warm smile. "I just need to reach her."
"This isn't the same Xena we're talking about, Gabrielle." The young woman grasped the other woman's hand. "She's ruthless, cold, dark, and out for blood. You can't save us."
"No, I'm going to save her." The warrior squeezed the small hand. "Somewhere in that Conqueror lies my Xena, that's who I am after." She stood up. "You stay here and heal. Take the throne and prepare for the future."
"Yes, to either live or die."
The warrior-bard walked towards the door. "Hope for the best and expect the worst." She turned around. "I'm here for a reason Gabrielle, and this is the only answer. I know what's inside of that dark conqueror." She shrugged. "It's just a matter of tapping into it."
"If she doesn't kill you first."
"I won't know unless I try," stated the older Gabrielle.
The princess sighed deeply. "Go to Ephiny, she'll help take you to Athens. My guess is, Athens is quite different then yours."
"Why is that?"
"Xena made it her... capital and demolished the original Athens. You'll be lost without guides." The Amazon Princess smiled faintly. "Good luck and don't risk your life."
The warrior nodded. "Heal your legs, Gabrielle. Be ready." She smiled confidently and left the hut with fears and hopes.
Ephiny lifted her head when she heard her door open. She said nothing.
Gabrielle closed the door behind, neared Ephiny, and folded her arms. "Ephiny, can you take me to Athens?"
Instantly, the regent stood up with wide eyes. "What?!" she yelled in half anger. "Athens?" she hissed.
"Yes, Athens... the capital." The small warrior corked an eyebrow. "You do know what I am talking about... right?"
The Amazon narrowed her eyes and stepped closer. "Yes I do," she growled. "And I won't take you."
"Fine." Gabrielle shrugged, turned around, and opened the door. "I can handle this on my own."
The regent rushed over and put her hand against the door, stopping it from opening. "Before you go, I have to ask... are you crazy?"
"No, I'm as sane as the rest of you," answered the short warrior.
Ephiny shook her head. "You're crazy," she whispered and went serious. "Gabrielle... our Gabrielle just returned from Athens and look how she came back. Broken, beaten, battered, and no hope. What do you think you can do that she couldn't?"
"Beat Xena at her own game." The warrior grasped the Amazon's shoulders. "Ephiny, listen to me... I know Xena, maybe not this conqueror but I know Xena." She stopped. "I can do this... I have too." She shook her head. "There's got to be some reason as to why I am here and this is the only sensible explanation."
"Sensible... sensible?" roared the regent. "Going into Tartarus's center, trying to unchain the Conqueror's heart, only to get burned... even killed. That's sensible?"
"No," agreed the warrior-bard. "What is sensible is not giving up hope, finding a way, and saving this world." She dropped her eyes then looked back up. "I know my Xena, and if I can find her inside of this dark ruler then everybody here will be saved." She now spoke with conviction. "My Xena could save this world... you'd be amazed."
"Yes, I would be," whispered the regent. "And are you so sure that your Xena lies in this... this evil?"
"Yes," uttered Gabrielle in pain. "She has to." She folded her arms over her stomach. "Nor can I stand around and not try and reach out. I have to do this, Ephiny. Try and succeed or try and die... as long as I tried." She lowered her eyes while murmuring, "for myself... and her."
The regent didn't speak, just breathed calmly, and tried to reason things out. Her common sense told her to chain this woman to the floor to keep her out of harm's way. But her heart said quite the opposite. So, she reached forward and pulled Gabrielle in for a long, warm hug. "Alright," she finally agreed quietly. "I'll take you to her." And that's when Ephiny knew she was as sane as this Gabrielle.
Gabrielle tugged the hood of her cloak closer around her face. "So, this is it?"
Ephiny nodded, gazing around Athens's streets. "Yup," she answered dryly. "Nothing much... not like she was before the Conqueror destroyed the city."
The warrior-bard sighed deeply. "Why'd she destroy the original Athens?"
"Nobody is quite sure." The regent shrugged and nodded to the right. "This way." She turned down an alley.
Gabrielle followed along side Solari and Eponin. She gazed at her surroundings in the dark night. It was about a candlemark after sunset, and they'd just entered the capital.
Ephiny came around the corner of a house. She stopped and waited. She pointed ahead. "There's the... castle."
It was massive, with huge stone walls lit up by hundreds of torches and guarded by dozens of guards. "Oh boy..." Gabrielle uttered.
"You're in for it now," whispered Solari teasingly.
"You sure about this, Gabrielle?" questioned Eponin.
"No," answered Gabrielle. She took a shaky breath. "But... I've gotta do this." She glanced at Ephiny. "Where's the front door?" she asked smugly.
The regent chuckled and folded her arms. "On the other side, it's especially heavily guarded." She faced her friend. "Gabrielle, anybody that goes in there alive comes back out dead."
"Well, I'm about to be the first to come out alive and with a smile."
"I hope so, for your sake," whispered Ephiny. "Once you're inside, we can not help you. You're on your own." Her expression shifted into worry. "Be careful, please?"
"I'll try my best." Gabrielle flashed a warm smile. "I'll be fine, I know my enemy." She stepped forward and hugged the Amazon.
The regent hugged back tightly. "We've already lost one Gabrielle to her, we can not lose another."
The short warrior pulled back. "You won't... I promise." She smiled. "I'll be back." She started walking towards the castle.
"Good luck!" called the three Amazons.
Gabrielle waved and disappeared down the dark street.
"You think she'll make it?" asked Solari.
"No," answered Eponin. "She's crazy."
"She's perfectly sane," whispered Ephiny. She glimpsed at her friends. "She'll make it." She grinned.
Solari and Eponin stared at each other in wonderment.
Gabrielle came around to the front of the gates. She spotted about seven guards. "Oh, wonderful, Xena," she mumbled under her breath. She kept walking towards the gates.
"Halt!" A guard stepped forward while the others unsheathed swords. "Who goes there?"
The short warrior said nothing. She kept coming.
"Are you deaf? Stop!" ordered the guard. He unsheathed his sword. "Stop him!" he commanded.
At once, the seven guards attacked Gabrielle.
The first one to come at Gabrielle, she simply kicked aside. She jumped back, bent down, and unsheathed her sais. "One way to make an entrance," she said and laughed. She straightened up, sais in hand and smiled as the guards came at her.
"My liege?" The man stepped forward and bowed before the throne.
Draco stood tall. "My liege, we had a small problem."
"Had? So it's been corrected?"
"Almost, my liege." Draco folded his arms. "We await your orders on finishing the problem." He paused. "We had an intruder attack the seven guards at the gates."
"And I assume you captured him?"
"Yes, we captured... her," answered Draco.
"A woman, really?" The ruler crossed one leg over the other as she sat on the throne. "Bring her in."
"Of course, my liege." Draco turned towards the large double doors of the throne room. "Escort the woman in!" he ordered loudly, his voice echoing in the room.
Three guards came in. Two were walking along side a hooded woman who had her hands tied behind her back. The third guard walked behind. The two guards brought her before the ruler. They kicked the back of her knees, and she fell forward.
"Remove the hood," ordered the ruler.
The guard behind pulled back the hood.
Gabrielle slowly lifted her head and locked eyes with the ruler. She stared at the tall, dark, beauty before her on the throne. It certainly was Xena in all of her glowing power and glory. It was the Conqueror.
"She had these on her, too, my liege." Draco held out a set of sais.
Xena glanced at the weapons. She stood with her red silk dress cascading down to touch the floor. She reached out and took the sais. "Interesting." She studied the well-crafted sais. Her eyes lowered to Gabrielle. "She attacked the guards at my gate?"
"Yes," replied Draco.
"What is the status of the guards?" asked the Conqueror while she studied the sais again.
"Two killed by her, three injured."
"And the other two?" asked Xena as the glanced at Draco.
The Conqueror smiled, amused, and glimpsed down at Gabrielle. "You saved me a little trouble." She came down the three steps of the thrown. "Stand."
Gabrielle rose up to her full, but short, height.
Xena stared into green eyes. She placed the tips of the sais under the warrior-bard's chin and tilted her head up. "You must be an Amazon, huh?"
"You could say that," whispered Gabrielle.
"I could but you lack... feathers," stated the Conqueror as she narrowed her eyes. She lowered the sais. "Take her to the dungeon."
The two guards grasped Gabrielle's arms.
The Conqueror turned her head to Draco. "She is to be whipped for her actions. Five lashings per guard she killed, three lashes per guard she injured." She then grinned at Gabrielle. "But for the two guards whom killed each other, she is not to be left hanging by her feet. Leave her manacled to the floor."
Gabrielle felt her breathing pick up, her pulse racing in fear.
"Is that all, my liege?" asked Draco with a grin.
"Yes, take her away."
"No!" yelled Gabrielle as she tried jumping forward.
The two guards restrained her.
"Get her out of here," ordered Draco.
"No, Xena!" screamed the short warrior.
The Conqueror's eyes widened in anger. She whisked forward and punched Gabrielle in the face.
Gabrielle took the blow and dropped her head forward with blood trickling down her face. "No," she whispered in hopelessness.
Xena grabbed a handful of short blond hair. She jerked Gabrielle's head up.
The warrior stared into dark blue eyes full of anger. She was half-conscious.
"Ten extra lashings for calling me Xena," ordered the Conqueror. She grinned and let go of Gabrielle's hair.
The guards started to drag the warrior-bard off.
"Oh and Draco." Xena held up a hand halting them. Her eyes locked on blurry green ones. "Make sure she is fully awake when she is whipped. That's all." She grinned evilly and whirled around. She disappeared out of the throne room.
"Open the cell," ordered the Conqueror the next morning. She stood in front of Gabrielle's cell and stared at the small woman huddled in a corner, bloody, bruised, chained, and whipped. The cell door swung open and Xena strolled in with the warrior-bard's sais in her right hand. She knelt down in front of Gabrielle and listened to the door close with a clang.
Gabrielle lifted her head and locked eyes.
The dark Warrior Princess narrowed her eyes when she saw only warmth in the green eyes. "You survived, how wonderful," she said smugly.
"I thought so myself," whispered Gabrielle.
"Hmmmm." The Conqueror held out the sais. "Where'd you steal these from?"
"I didn't steal them," told the smaller woman.
Xena smiled roughly and leaned towards Gabrielle. "Do not lie, nobody can find such well made weapons as these in my kingdom." She settled back with a grin. "So who gave them to you?"
"You did," answered Gabrielle. Her head snapped to the right from the hard slap she received.
"No lies," growled the Conqueror.
The small warrior dropped her head back against the walls and stared at Xena. "No lies... Conqueror."
"Last chance, who gave these to you?"
"A warrior," whispered Gabrielle. "A warrior," she repeated in agony.
The Conqueror narrowed her eyes. Instantly, her left hand shot forward and wrapped around Gabrielle's neck. She stood up and lifted up the younger woman. She rammed Gabrielle against the wall as her feet dangled in the air while the shackles jangled. "Are you asking to play my game?"
Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt the droplets of blood roll down her body. "Yes," she uttered. Her head smacked against the cold stone wall as Xena slammed her into it.
"Good," purred the Conqueror. "This should be a good match."
"It will be," whispered Gabrielle. She could barely breathe from the tight hold on her neck. "Be ready, Conqueror."
"And why is that?"
"Because I hold all the aces," said Gabrielle confidently with a smug look.
Xena laughed deeply and raised her right hand with the sais. She traced the tip of the sais' blade across the other woman's chest and down her stomach. "Don't be so sure." She let go of the warrior.
The small woman fell to the floor with a groan. She looked up with blurry eyes. "I hope you're not a sore loser," she murmured.
"I don't have to be because I never lose." The Conqueror whirled around and left the cell. She stood in front of the cell and watched the guard close the gate behind her. She faced the guard with the tips of the sais pressing against her lips. "Have her cleaned up for tonight's dinner." She lowered the sais. "Understood?"
"Of course, my liege." The guard bowed and watched the Warrior Princess brush past towards the stairs.
Xena chuckled to herself. "Thankfully I hold the jokers," she whispered with a grin and disappeared up the dark stairwell.
Xena stared across Athens on the balcony. She watched the sun set in the west over her kingdom. She never watched the sunrises, only sunsets.
There was the sound of footfalls coming into the large dining room.
The Conqueror turned around. There, in front of the oak dinner table, stood Gabrielle. "Evening," she greeted and walked off the balcony.
Gabrielle tilted her head and said, "Evening," back. She was in better condition, her body checked over by a healer, wounds clean, her warrior attire mended, and now she wore a yellow-white silk dress. Her hair had been braided by the same maids who dressed her.
"Sit," ordered the ruler. She held out her hand to a seat at the end of the table.
The small warrior nodded and sat carefully, inwardly grimacing from the pain of her injuries.
The Warrior Princess sat at the other end. Three female servers came in carrying food, which they placed before both Xena and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle watched as everything was served, and then her napkin was placed into her lap. "Thank you," she whispered to the servant. The servant smiled shyly and quickly left with the other two.
"The healer and maids were kind?" asked Xena as she picked up her fork.
"Yes," answered Gabrielle.
The Conqueror narrowed her eyes suspiciously. She began to eat.
The warrior-bard followed the other woman's example and ate silently. But soon she questioned, "Why the nice dinner?" She peered up with deep green eyes.
"Thought I'd kill you with kindness," chided the Conqueror coldly.
"Quite a different approach than earlier," mumbled Gabrielle.
"All part of the game," returned the Warrior Princess.
The small warrior nodded and looked back up. "I figured."
Xena drank some of her wine and set the glass back down. "And why wouldn't I?" She grinned. "You paid the price for fighting the guards."
"Why... because I am your enemy," stated Gabrielle.
"True," agreed the Conqueror. She folded her hands in her lap. "But you're my friendly enemy." She grinned. "Correct?"
The small warrior stopped eating. She just wasn't quite up to it. "And why do you say that?"
Xena shifted her grin into a smug look. "Your eyes."
Gabrielle stared at the other woman, examining what the Conqueror said. Yes, she was the Conqueror's enemy and Xena's friend. "Yes... you're correct."
"Ahh, then I would say you have quite the predicament," concluded the Conqueror. She went back to eating.
"Yes I do," agreed the small warrior. "So do you."
The Warrior Princess swallowed her food and grinned. "And how is that?"
"Because you don't know what to do with me," stated Gabrielle.
"Continue with this idea." Xena's voice sounded amused, and her dark eyes twinkled.
Gabrielle folded her hands and leaned back in the seat. "I come out of no where, knocked out seven of your guards single handedly, made it through a whipping, and now here I am sitting down having dinner with you." She paused and grinned. "You tell me, do you know what you're going to do?"
"Destroy you," answered the Conqueror. She lifted her wineglass but didn't drink. "Just as you are planning to destroy me." She smirked. "Its just a race... a game... to see who has better skills and more stubbornness."
The smaller woman chuckled despite everything. Old memories filtered to her of when she was more stubborn than her partner. "Maybe... maybe." She reached forward and selected the glass of water. "Would be interesting to see who wins."
"Wouldn't it," agreed the dark Warrior Princess. She sat back in her seat with a stoic expression. "Care to explain the unconditional trust you have towards me?"
Gabrielle shrugged and lowered her glass of water. "Can't start any good relationship without trust."
Xena chuckled and shook her head. "You make us sound like friends."
"Oooh, sorry," mocked the warrior-bard. "And I thought we were friendly enemies." She stared at the glass of half empty water. "Even enemies have a certain amount of... trust." No, it was a glass of half full water. "Correct?" asked Gabrielle as her eyes raised.
The Conqueror folded her hands with her elbows on the table. Her chin settled onto her hands. She studied the young woman across the table. "Correct."
The two servants came up behind the Conqueror.
Xena stood in front of the large pool tub, which had just been filled, and took off her robe.
The servants took the black and sapphire silk robe and carried it off.
The tall dark beauty slowly walked down the steps and glided into the water. Her hair was up. She sighed in pleasure, relaxing as the warm water caressed her smooth skin. She turned around and faced the huge double doors. "Guards," she called.
Two guards came in and bowed.
"Bring me? our guest."
The guards nodded and left. They fetched Gabrielle from her cell and escorted her to the Conqueror.
Gabrielle still wore the evening dress she'd been given. She came into the large bathing room and stared at the Conqueror in the water. Even from there, she could see Xena's nude body beneath the surface. Her jaw tightened.
The Warrior Princess grinned and looked at the guards. "Leave us." Her eyes flickered to the servants. "All of you."
The guards nodded and left with the servants.
"Come up here, Gabrielle," ordered the ruler.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, climbed the three steps, and stood before the other woman. "Why have you requested me here?" She crossed her arms against her chest.
The Conqueror grinned. She leaned back against the bath's side, across from Gabrielle, and she raised her arms up onto the ledge. "I have a few questions for you."
The small warrior corked an eyebrow. "So ask."
Xena examined the other woman briefly. "How is the trust between us?"
"The same," stated Gabrielle.
The Warrior Princess chuckled at that. "No lies?" she inquired.
The warrior-bard considered that question. She knew that her Xena's past had been filled with lies and deception? anger. With that knowledge, she figured this Xena had the same past and knew that to break the Conqueror's walls, she had to open up to Xena fully. There could be no lies, deception, distrust, disrespect, or anger. Yes, only the purest form of love. "No lies." Gabrielle shook her head. "I will not lie to you, Conqueror. Ask what you will."
Xena stared with cold eyes. She heard how sincere Gabrielle's words were and honesty read through warm forest green eyes. "Good idea." Her eyes lowered to the water. "Tell me," she grinned at Gabrielle, "why you look exactly like the girl I recently crucified?"
"Because I am her."
"Do not toy with me, Gabrielle." The Conqueror's eyes were narrowing. "Don't play me for a fool."
"I am not." Gabrielle sighed. "You did crucify? that girl."
"Don't tell me you're her twin." Xena sighed sadly with drama.
The small woman chuckled at the joke.
Xena quickly realized she'd dropped part of her defenses and quickly shot them back up. "Who the Hades are you?" she growled. "I know," she whispered darkly, "That you're not of this world."
"How you figure that, Conqueror?"
The Warrior Princess's lips eased into an evil smile. "Gabrielle, do you realize you're an open book before me?" She laughed deeply. "You look at me as if you've known me for years. You talk to me as if you know me. You listen to me as if you know what to expect me to say." She paused. "You know me, yet I do not know you. So in conclusion, you must know a me from somewhere else." She corked an eyebrow. "Unless you've been stalking me all my life, which I doubt."
Gabrielle grinned momentarily but went serious. "That girl is Gabrielle-"
"Is?" repeated the Conqueror. "She's alive?"
The warrior-bard closed her eyes at her mistake. "Yes," she whispered honestly.
"How lovely," murmured the empresses sarcastically. "Now continue." She gave a wave of her hand.
The small woman opened her eyes again. "She is Gabrielle, and I am Gabrielle. We're the same person." She sighed deeply, not believing she was telling this to her enemy. But this was her friend, too. "I am from an alternate world? at least, that's what I believe."
"You believe?" Xena raised an eyebrow. "What makes you believe this?"
"Because this world is backwards." The younger woman's eyes glossed over. "Everything is wrong compared to my world."
"Let me guess, I am a hero in your world," said the Warrior Princess dryly.
"Yes," uttered Gabrielle, and she locked eyes with Xena.
The dark Warrior Princess lowered her eyes to the water. "Fascinating." She chuckled evilly. "How refreshing to know I can be the hero as much as the villain." She smirked at Gabrielle. "Isn't it?"
"All in perspective," answered Gabrielle.
"Very true," agreed Xena. "My men would say I was the hero here? so would I." Her expression went smug. "Now then, how did you end up in? this world?"
"I don't know." The small woman sighed. "I'm still asking myself that." Her eyes dropped to the marble floor. "I was in a cave before I ended up here."
"Then that cave contains your answer." The Conqueror grinned. "I'd say you better pray that it zaps you back home? where its safe."
Gabrielle smirked. "I know where home is."
"You'd be so lucky," stated Xena harshly. She lowered her arms and treaded through the water towards Gabrielle.
The small woman looked away at seeing the powerful, beautiful, nude body move through the clear water.
The Conqueror grinned wryly and slowly climbed up the steps out of the water. The water cascaded down her muscular body. She came right up to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's jaw clenched. Xena's right hand came up and turned her face.
The deadly Conqueror locked eyes with green ones. "Is there a problem?"
"Not at all," responded the younger woman.
Xena's head leaned down. "Did I hear a lie?" Her hand moved and her fingertips traced over Gabrielle's lips.
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered. Her voice quaked.
"Do you? desire me, Gabrielle?" The Conqueror's voice was rich and silky.
The small woman closed her eyes and stepped back. "Yes," she answered quietly. Her dark eyes opened again.
The ruler grinned darkly, her eyes twinkling. She walked over and picked up her robe. She slipped into it and tied the sash while turning to face Gabrielle again. "That was your first and last free lie." Her upper lip twitch. "The next lie will hold a heavy price."
The short warrior simply nodded and tried to compose herself. "Thank you," she said sincerely.
"For what?" The tall woman neared.
"For giving me a free one."
Xena didn't respond to her and called, "Guards."
Gabrielle felt her heartbeat pick up. Had she said the wrong thing?
The two guards entered and stood below the bathing pool's steps.
The Conqueror stared at the young woman before her with hard cold blue eyes. "Gabrielle is to be taken? to her room for the evening."
The small warrior sighed to herself in relief. She turned and walked down the steps.
"And Gabrielle, sweet dreams." The Conqueror stood tall, and her eyes gleamed evilly.
The warrior-bard glanced back at Xena. "Conqueror, they will be." She joined the guards and left with them. She was escorted to a room a few doors down. She went inside and heard the door closed and bolted behind her. She smiled as she saw her regular red velvet attire and boots folded neatly on the bed.
Gabrielle came out onto the training field, escorted by two guards. She spotted Xena fighting a warrior.
The Conqueror did a roundhouse kick and sent her opponent flying onto his back. She'd seen Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. She grinned at the man on his back. "A little better."
The soldier stood up. "Thank you, my liege."
"Don't get your head in the sky," stated the Conqueror. She nodded briskly.
The man got up and jogged off.
Xena turned around, twirling her sword. She wore her old leathers with brass wire armor, cape, boots, and her chakram at her side. She smirked at Gabrielle. "I thought you might want some? practice."
The small warrior folded her arms. "That depends." She was in her normal red top, short skirt, and boots.
"On what?" The Conqueror signaled for the guards to leave, and they did.
"How uninjured I come out of it," answered Gabrielle. She strolled up to the ruler.
The tall woman laughed deeply. "How about this." She paused in momentary thought. "We spar, and I promise to not even nick you."
The small warrior corked an eyebrow. "Oh, so now we're testing my trust towards you in the game?"
Xena grinned evilly. "Yes, my way."
"Lovely," murmured the warrior-bard. "Alright, I'm? game."
The Conqueror's left hand went behind her cape then came back out. She held out Gabrielle's sais.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and accepted them. "And trusting me not to hurt you either, I believe."
"Should be interesting." Xena stepped back as her eyes darkened. Her sword raised, her left hand came up, and she bent her knees. "You have a very slim chance to? beat me."
"A chance I don't want," revealed the younger woman. She flipped the blades of the sais under her wrists and straightened up fully. "You're first move." She grinned.
The Conqueror laughed, took two running steps, and leaped over Gabrielle's head. She slashed at her opponent from behind.
Gabrielle dropped and rolled away. She bounced up to her feet. "Unsporting."
Xena grinned. "Then don't let me have first move." She held up her free hand. "Come on, Gabrielle."
The small woman shook her head and rushed forward while flipping out a sai. She slashed at Xena with her weapon.
The Warrior Princess leaned back as the weapon breezed past her chest. She saw the other blade coming and stopped it with her sword. She threw a punch at Gabrielle.
The warrior-bard ducked the punch and jumped back. She kept her sais' blades out and grinned. "Conqueror, you can't do anything I don't expect."
"Rrright," drew out the Warrior Princess. She brought her sword at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle parried the swipe with a sai.
That's when Xena kicked in the speed. She brought her sword around and began doing rapid thrusts, swipes, and slashes. Each time her attack was stopped by Gabrielle's strong defense.
The pair soon fell into a rhythmic fighting motion.
The Conqueror soon picked up the feeling that the other woman had fought her before. It left her skin crawling slightly under those tight leathers.
Gabrielle on the other hand had almost forgotten she was fighting the Conqueror. Before her, she thought she fought her Xena. She became so caught up in the feeling that her guard fell.
Xena swiped forward but stopped her sword instantly.
The blade touched Gabrielle's right side at the waist.
The small warrior stopped moving and glanced at the sword at her side. She peered up into ice eyes.
The Conqueror grinned. "Trust me?" She pressed her sword against her opponent's side. "You could have a nice wound right there now."
"Oh, I've trusted you," Gabrielle said with a tiny grin. Her eyes sparkled, and playfully she rushed forward with the distraction. Her right sai came up and the long blade pressed into the Conqueror's neck. "But do you still trust me?" Her face was close to Xena's.
The Warrior Princess slowly raised an eyebrow. "Quite," she answered in a hard tone. "I trust that warmness won't kill me with a sai." She grinned deeply.
The warrior-bard smiled evilly and laughed faintly. "Keep reading my book."
"Yeah." Gabrielle removed the sai. "It has an unbelievable ending." Without warning, she suddenly found herself on her back in the dust of the field, her legs swiped out from under her. She coughed and looked up at the smug Warrior Princess.
"Next time, back up then remove the sai." Xena sheathed her sword. She held out her right hand. "Sais," she ordered.
The small warrior sighed, flipped the sais, and held the handles up.
The Conqueror took the weapons then hooked them to her side. "Guards," she commanded.
The two guards came up beside Xena.
The Warrior Princess folded her arms. "Escort Gabrielle to her room."
The warrior-bard stood up and brushed herself off. She strolled off with the guards. Once in her room, she sat on the bed and thought for a time. She wanted to come up with a strategy to get the Conqueror in her control, but the more she considered it, the more she decided she didn't want one. She knew that's what Xena was expecting, a plan. So, she wasn't about to fall into the Conqueror's claws by having one. No, she had to play the Conqueror's game, flow with it, and come out on top. She had to win, and she had to make sure the Conqueror won. One thing she knew, no matter what universe, Xena was a sore loser.
The empresses sat high on the throne but a bit slumped in the seat. "Bring in the next." Her voice held boredom. To either side of her stood a guard.
The guard nodded and signaled for the next victim to come in. Three guards brought in a young man and kicked him to his knees before the Conqueror. One guard handed the other one a scroll.
That guard unrolled the scroll and began to read, "Sphaerus, son of the dead warlord Cycnus, was captured in a raid that his small army was conducting. Sphaerus and his small band were trying to sack one of your armories, my liege." The guard rolled up the scroll.
The Conqueror slowly nodded and stared at the young man before her. She narrowed her eyes and gazed at the guard with the scroll. "How many of my men were killed in this raid?"
The guard put his hands behind his back. "Twenty, my liege."
Xena ran her tongue along her molars. "Where?"
Xena shifted in her seat. "You're as stupid as your father," she told the young man.
Sphaerus jerked forward but couldn't escape the guards. His manacles jangled. "We won't rest," he spat.
The dark Warrior Princess laughed and smiled evilly. "These small rebellions are nothing, Sphaerus." She leaned forward in her throne. "They're like flies, just needing to be swatted." Sitting up straight again, she decided the man's verdict. "He is to be lashed fifty times, and if he lives, he is to be taken to Shark Island for ten years."
"As you command, my liege." The guard with the scroll turned to the other three. "Take him to the dungeon."
Sphaerus didn't protest the sentence. He stood tall and let himself be led away.
Xena leaned to her left and ordered the guard, "Bring me Gabrielle."
The guard nodded, walked off, and exited the throne room with two other guards. They went to Gabrielle's room and opened it. "You are to follow us."
Gabrielle turned around from the window. She walked over and was led out of the room. She followed the three guards to the throne room. She was escorted in through a door behind Xena.
The marble-doors in front of her were opened and in came three guards escorting a young woman with red hair.
The warrior-bard's eyes widened as she was led along side the Conqueror's royal seat.
The redhead came near with her three guards.
"Amarice?" whispered Gabrielle.
The redhead looked at Gabrielle. She was confused. "How do you know me?"
"Restrain her," ordered the Conqueror, pointing to Gabrielle.
Two guards grabbed her arms. The third drew a sword in warning.
"Wait?" Gabrielle shook her head once she realized what was happening.
"On her knees," commanded the Conqueror, this time indicating Amarice.
Amarice's was hit in the back of her legs. She crashed to her knees before the Conqueror.
The ruler's eyes were flashing. "You're one of the rebels, are you not?"
Amarice narrowed her eyes. "I am."
"What was she caught doing?" asked the Warrior Princess.
The guard with the scroll spoke up. "She spoke out, my liege."
Xena smiled, amused. "I suppose you didn't hear about the last person that spoke out, did you Amarice?"
"Yes I did," growled the young Amazon. "She is our Queen!" She struggled against her guards briefly. "You'll be stopped, Conqueror. Just wait."
The Conqueror laughed and gave a vertical wave of the hand. "I doubt that? Amarice." She grinned. "How is your Queen? I heard she's still alive and well."
"She's preparing to stop you," snarled the Amazon.
Xena laughed only again. "That, I would like to see."
"Oh you'll see? that's a promise," declared Amarice with a growl.
The Conqueror sighed. "Such small hopes." She sat up straight in her throne. "You have spoken out against the realm, Amarice, and you are a rebel." She paused. "You will suffer the same fate as your Queen."
"No, wait, Conqueror?" yelled Gabrielle. "Don't do this, don't crucify her."
The dark Xena's head whipped to the right. Her eyes were wide, her breathing heavy in anger. "Silence her!" she ordered hotly.
The guard, who had drawn his sword earlier, raised it to Gabrielle's neck. "Be silent or pay the price."
The warrior-bard closed her eyes and felt the shattering pain at not being able to help Amarice. There had to be a way. An idea came and before she even considered it she whispered, "Conqueror, I'll tell you where the rebels are."
"No!" screamed Amarice. "You bitch!" She tried to break free from her guards. She tried to attack Gabrielle, but she was held back by her guards and pushed back down to her knees.
The Conqueror waited for the Amazon to be quiet then she glanced at Gabrielle. "Sheathe your sword."
The guard lowered his sword from Gabrielle's neck and sheathed it.
Xena grinned, and her eyes twinkled darkly. "Gabrielle, where do the rebels live?"
The warrior-bard's mouth opened slowly, and she didn't answer at first. "The Amazons, the rebels live? three candlemarks north of Thessaly? just east of the mountains there," she uttered.
"Thank you," responded the Conqueror, and she stared at the young woman with a smug look.
"No!" screamed Amarice again. Her right hand reached to her side. She extracted a hidden dagger and sprang forward, breaking free of the guards. She came after the Conqueror with her dagger raised.
Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Conqueror!" she yelled in warning. She broke free of her guards, took three running steps, and jumped.
Amarice bound up one step of the dais and leaped for Xena.
The Conqueror stood up instantly, prepared to meet her enemy.
But the small warrior was soaring through the air. She smashed into Amarice, wrapping her arms around Amarice's waist, and together they crashed onto the steps.
Both Amarice and Gabrielle rolled down the marble steps, one over the other.
Gabrielle was knocked partially unconscious. A sharp pain tore through her left side, but when she lifted her head, she saw Xena alive and Amarice knocked out. A sigh of relief escaped her lips, and her head dropped back to the floor as she lost consciousness. Red blood seeped out onto the white marble floor from around the dagger still imbedded in her side.
The Conqueror stood, stunned, then quickly snapped to. "Take Amarice to the dungeon!" She came down the steps quickly. Kneeling down, she examined the dagger in Gabrielle's side. "Hades," she growled.
Amarice was dragged off to the dungeon.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was lifted up into the Conqueror's arms and cradled there.
Xena held the small woman in her arms. She glanced at two guards. "I want a healer in my room now!" She rushed out of the throne room carrying Gabrielle.
Gabrielle groaned and coughed. Before she even dared open her eyes, she did a mental check of her body. She noticed a searing pain in her left side, but it wasn't as bad as earlier. Her entire left side was hot, and she knew she'd taken Amarice's dagger in the side. She felt light headed and weak. But she was still alive.
Now she did a check of her surroundings. A soft bed, salve lingering in the air, a cool breeze, bed sheets covering her body, and the faint snap of candles.
Opening her eyes slowly, she saw the red and orange rays of a sunset pouring in through a window. She looked around and realized this wasn't her room. Slowly and carefully, she sat up. She hissed at the pain in her side.
"Lay back down," said a dark and deep voice.
"Good idea," mumbled Gabrielle, complying.
The Conqueror stood on her balcony watching the remains of the sunset, her hands behind her back. She wore her leathers and armor, sword and chakram. "You've been out for three candlemarks." Her back was to Gabrielle.
The warrior-bard lifted the bed sheet and glanced at her wound. It was wrapped in clean cloth. Her boots were off but she still wore her clothes. Then, out of no where, she felt her world start to spin. "Oh gods," she whispered.
"I said, lay down," growled the Conqueror when she turned around and saw that the small woman was becoming dizzy.
Gabrielle relaxed and took a shaky breath.
Slowly, Xena walked into her room once more. Her hands were still behind her back when she came next to the bed. She peered down at the younger woman. "You've lost a fair amount of blood. So rest."
The short warrior just closed her eyes. "What about Amarice, Conqueror?" she whispered.
"She is not of your concern."
"No." The small woman felt the pain increasing, and she was becoming more light headed. "I gave you information for you to sp? spare her." Her breathing was becoming ragged. "You can't? can't go back? on it," she rasped.
"Fine, she will remain in the prison until later." The Conqueror tilted her head. She noted how pale the other woman was. "Go to sleep, you're going to faint anyway." And Xena was right, for Gabrielle passed out after her words.
The warrior-bard's breathing became shallow, and Xena knew she would sleep for at least a day.
The dark Warrior Princess stood there examining the younger woman. "More worried about others than yourself, Gabrielle." She folded her arms. "It'll get yourself killed and soon." She turned away and walked out of her chambers. She looked at the two guards by her door. "Stay here. Nobody is to enter but me. Is this clear?"
The two guards nodded sternly. "Yes, my liege," they said together.
Xena strolled down the hall, her eyes narrowing with every step she took, her anger rising as she went down the steps, and her jaw clenching when she came to the dungeon. She stood the bottom of the steps and balled her hands into fists. Emanating a deadly power, she headed down the prison corridor. She came to the last cell and faced it. "Guard," she growled.
The guard stepped up beside Xena. "Yes, my liege?"
"Open the cell and retrieve me a whip."
The guard gulped but obeyed the orders. He opened the cell, let the Conqueror in, then locked it behind her. He jogged off in search of a whip.
The Conqueror stared at Amarice on the floor. "Stupid girl."
The Amazon sprung up but was stopped by the manacles. She was scant inches from Xena, and she growled. "Damn you and that blond bitch."
Xena laughed. Her hands moved like lightening and her fingertips hit the pressure points on Amarice's neck.
The young Amazon's breathing was cut off, and she fell to her knees. While gasping for breath, a trickle of blood ran down her upper lip.
The cell opened, and the guard handed Xena a whip. He quickly left and locked the cell again once out.
The Conqueror uncoiled the whip and the tip fell on the ground in front of Amarice. She knelt down and tilted Amarice's head up with the whip's handle. "You have a few prices to pay? Amarice." She grinned. "You should be happy, that blond bitch saved your damn feathers." She reached forward and undid the pressure points.
The Amazon gasped for breath and rubbed her neck. "Sweet Artemis," she rasped, coughing.
The dark Warrior Princess rose up slowly, and her eyes flashed. The whip lifted up, and Xena let her anger reign over her.
The small warrior sighed before opening her eyes. The room was still dark, but it was warm. She was alone. Her body felt better than it had earlier. Deciding to test things out, she sat up very slowly. Her hands came down on the bed as she waited for the world to spin, yet it didn't happen. She sighed happily and carefully got out of bed. Her feet connected to the cold off-white marble floor. Gazing around in the room, she realized that she still wasn't in her room. Considering the size of the room and the elaborate furniture, she decided it must be Xena's room. "Oh boy."
Licking her lips, Gabrielle went over to the door and opened it. She poked her head out.
"Halt," said a guard.
The two guards at the door turned and blocked the door.
"You are not allowed to leave," said the same guard. "The Conqueror's orders."
"Wouldn't even think of it," teased Gabrielle. They didn't laugh, and she huffed. "Was so funny you two forgot to laugh huh?"
The guards looked at each other then back at Gabrielle.
The warrior-bard sighed. "Alright bright candles, how long have I been sleeping?"
"A day now," responded that same guard.
"Talk about sleeping the day away," mumbled the small woman. "Um, can either of you? get me food?" she asked sheepishly.
"No, we are not allowed to leave."
Gabrielle's head bobbed. "Rrrright." She put her hands on her hips. "Have I mentioned how angry I get when my stomach isn't fed?"
One guard bit back a grin. "We have to wait for the Conqueror's orders."
The short warrior groaned. "Oh come on, I am starving here." She ran a hand through her hair. "Have either of you ever had cramps? My hunger pains right now are like that but ten times worse."
"You'll have to stay hungry until the Conqueror says otherwise."
"Great." The young woman sighed and dropped her arms. "I was fed better down in the cell."
Suddenly there was a low involuntary growling.
Both guards looked down at the woman's stomach.
Gabrielle laughed shyly and covered her stomach with her arms. "I told you." She shrugged. "Anyway, I'll just go humor myself. Thanks for all the help." She stepped back and closed the door. Studying the balcony, Gabrielle decided to walk out on it on this early night. Her hands settled on the rail, and she took in the scene of Xena's kingdom. "That's? aaamazing," she whispered in awe.
The Conqueror came strolling down the hall. She came to her room with the two guards. She stopped. "Is she awake yet?"
"Yes, my liege," answered one guard. "Quite awake."
Xena narrowed her eyes. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, my liege, she came out."
"And she asked how long she'd slept." The guard paused. "Then she asked for some food."
"My liege, she is quite hungry." The guard held back his grin. "Her stomach roared like a lion."
The Conqueror suppressed the laughter that wanted to bubble up. "She's hungry?"
"Yes, my liege very hungry? you should have heard her stomach growl."
The Warrior Princess sighed, turned, and walked back down the hall.
The guards exchanged glances and noted that their liege soon returned with a tray of food. They both tried not to laugh at this.
Xena walked into the room, closed the door silently, and placed the tray of food on her glass table in the room.
Gabrielle still stood out on the balcony, captured by the scenery even in the dark.
Xena joined the other woman and came up from behind. "Amazing isn't it?"
The small warrior jumped and looked frantically at Xena. "Oh gods?" She calmed down then turned back to the scenery. "It is."
"It took every drop of my blood to conquer these lands."
"Your blood? or others?" whispered Gabrielle.
The dark woman laughed at that. "My blood, Gabrielle." She folded her arms. "I was bleeding when I rammed my flag into Athens's soil at the end of the last battle to take over Greece." She turned her head to Gabrielle. "Don't think I haven't suffered like others here."
"If you understand that? lived that then why are you letting your people continue to suffer?"
"Gabrielle, it will make my kingdom stronger as the hard times made me stronger." The Conqueror's eyes went darker. "I will not have a kingdom of happy fat people that can not defend themselves."
"So a kingdom of miserable dying people is better?"
Xena laughed deeply. "You certainly are Gabrielle. Just as naive as the other one."
"Oh no." The older Gabrielle faced Xena. "I am the wiser Gabrielle. I know death, life, hatred, and love unlike she does." She paused. "And I know what I see in your kingdom. I'm just telling you how it is."
"How nice of you to inform me," replied the Conqueror dryly.
"Somebody needed to." Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "Since you can't inform yourself." She turned away, heading for the room.
The Conqueror moved quickly. She grabbed Gabrielle's arms and jerked her closer to her body. "Do you think I don't spare people? That I can't show mercy?"
"I don't know, honestly."
"Then let me clear things up for you," growled the Warrior Princess. "I have spared that Amazon; she is still in that cell alive." She lowered her head, and her voice came out menacingly. "I show mercy because you're still alive, and your blood isn't spilled all over my nice expensive marble floor in the throne room." Raising her head back up, she added, "And third, in that room right now is food for you that I got myself." She narrowed her eyes. "You tell me now, Gabrielle, do I spare people and show mercy?"
"Yes," whispered Gabrielle. "Not much of it, but you do show it."
"Exactly," snarled the Conqueror. She pushed Gabrielle away. "Do not talk about something you have not fully understood? or lived."
The small woman looked away and swallowed the lump in her throat. "Alright." After nodding she looked up. "You tell me if I do or don't fully understand." She folded her arms. "I was born in simple village. One day my village was almost enslaved." She paused and tried to compose the next part right. "But a warrior stopped the warlord. After that, the warrior and I became friends, and we traveled together."
The Conqueror crossed her own arms and continued listening.
"The warrior told me never to fight or use a sword because I would become a target." She tilted her head. "But the warrior knew more than that, the warrior knew I would fall into darkness if I picked up a weapon." Her eyes fell but she continued, "None the less, I picked up a staff and used it for numerous years. One day I killed somebody." She peered up. "That's when I crossed the line like anybody else that has killed. I threw away my staff in hopes to save my innocence but it wouldn't happen. Days went on as I saw more and more death? darkness both the warrior and I. It almost destroyed my friendship with the warrior but we managed to bring it together before it was too late."
The Conqueror shifted her weight to the other foot.
"Since then, I've picked up the sais, killed people on purpose and by mistake." Gabrielle took a step closer. "I have been in countless battles, wars, and deadly adventures. I've traveled the world and seen the poverty, the hatred, the anger, and the hopelessness." She shook her head while staring into steel blue eyes. "You tell me, Conqueror, do I understand a hard life?"
"Yes," answered the ruler. "However, your? light still remains bright inside, Gabrielle." Her arms came down. "You haven't experienced full darkness." She walked into the room. "Come eat something, your body needs energy to heal properly."
Gabrielle went in slowly. "Did I mention too that I am a healer?" She grinned lopsidedly.
Xena glanced back and corked an eyebrow. "Next time, I'll let you take care of your own wound."
"But not when I have daggers in my side, I'm not a healer," added the small woman.
"I figured." The Warrior Princess sat down in a long sofa. Before her was the glass table with the food. "Eat something."
The warrior-bard sat on a sofa on the opposite side of Xena. She didn't eat right away. "What are you planning to do now that you know the location of the Amazons?"
"Absolutely?" The Conqueror leaned forward with an angry expression. "Nothing," she finished and grinned.
"W-what?" asked Gabrielle, who was completely baffled.
"Gabrielle, did you not realize that I already knew where they are located?"
"Then why did you?" The small warrior shook her head.
The ruler laughed and sat back in her sofa fully amused. "Oh, I do plan to stick to my word and not crucify Amarice." She grinned. "And letting you tell me the location? call that a test."
"You were testing me to see if I would tell the truth. Whether I would stake the Amazons' whereabouts to save Amarice's life."
"Correct." Xena crossed one leg over the other. "You passed the test with flying colors." Relaxing with a sigh, a smug look crossed her face. "Be happy. If you had lied I'd have struck you down there on the spot." She waved a hand at the food. "Eat something before I-"
"I'm eating," cut off Gabrielle. She picked up the plate of food and began eating.
"Oh by the way, I do believe we are even."
The small woman glanced up confused. "How is that?" She stopped eating for a second.
"You saved my life, and I saved your life." She pointed at the wound.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "You? took care of my wound personally?"
"Yes," answered the Conqueror. "I wanted to see that wound taken care of and taken care of right. A healer checked it later."
The warrior-bard nodded and went back to eating. "It'll take a good week to heal over."
"Maybe sooner if you keep salve on it." The Warrior Princess stood. "The stitches will fall out on their own." She walked around the sofa. "I will return." She left the room.
Gabrielle sighed, shook her head, but finished eating. After she was done, she stood up. Reaching to her side, she carefully removed the bandage and looked at the wound.
It was stitched, the opening not too large, and the skin around was bruised.
Carefully she replaced the bandage, and the warrior sat back down gingerly. She stretched out on the sofa and stared at the torches across the room. Emotions and notions soon filled her mind and she relaxed back in the sofa.
Here is a young warrior,
In an alternate world
That beckoned her here
And she has to
Prepare for what
Since there may be
No turning back now.
~*Continue to Section 2*~