Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: Many of these characters do not belong to me, and we know which ones do not. I, however, own the plot and other certain characters.

Violence: There is violence in this story.

Subtext: Any subtext becomes main text here.

 

Summary: The sequel to To Take What is Mine. The Conqueror continues her campaign to the Macedon Kingdom, and she already knows the odds are in her favor. Yet without warning, the Romans invade the Thrace Providence and take aim for the Conqueror's hometown. The Conqueror though bitterly holds back from saving Amphipolis. However Queen Gabrielle and Queen Cyane join together at the Siege of Amphipolis and try to stop the Romans before they overtake Thrace.

 

Feedback: redhope@redhope.net

Homepage: http://www.redhope.net

 

Started: June 6, 2008

Series 9: Destiny of Mine Story #3

 


 

To Fight for What is Mine

by Red Hope

 

 

Chapter 19

"My liege."

The Conqueror was busy scribing at her desk. She did not acknowledge the new presence. Her quill continued scratching across the parchment.

"My liege," the officer attempted again, his mouth half open until a finger went up. He grumbled and stared at the ruler's stern profile.

"Hold your tongue," the Conqueror ordered. She finished writing then proceeded to seal the letter with her mark after dropping wax next to her signature. Finally done, she stood up while rolling the scroll.

The officer shuffled on his feet. He grew anxious due to the ruler's calm features that were uncommon for her.

The Conqueror put a thong around the scroll and set it down. "Now you can speak."

"The supplies arrived in Amphipolis as scheduled, Conqueror." He hesitated after the ruler's features slightly darkened at him. He was uneasy.

"Any word on whether they refused any of it?"

"No refusal thus far." The officer turned his head when the Conqueror went to the left.

"Excellent." The Conqueror bit her bottom lip for a beat. "Send word to Borias that I'd like to speak to him."

"Shall he come here?"

"Yes."

The officer bowed some then excused himself but failed to escape the office. He turned on his heels and waited for the Conqueror to speak to him.

"I only mind 'Conqueror' in a pinch... unless of course you are the enemy I am conquering." The ruler waited for the officer's response and enjoyed his anxious look.

"Of course, my liege. I understand." He bowed again then exited before he agitated the ruler further. Now he understood why she had been annoyed earlier.

Xena waited until the door was shut then gave a sigh. She had completed a response letter to Flora, who was looking after Gabrielle's well being in Amphipolis. Not to mention Toris, mother, and Toris's family. She was grateful that Flora was there to watch over them. However, it did nothing to easy her worries about the pending war. If Amphipolis went to Hades then even Flora would be hard pressed to save her family.

Sitting at the desk chair, Xena blew out a low breath. The past moon in Pella had been taxing, mentally. She desired to be with Gabrielle rather than sitting motionless in Pella while a Roman legion was enroute. Yet she knew as soon as she rose a sword to Rome then it would mean Hades for Greece. Her homelands were just not ready for such a war, not yet, but soon.

A knock at the door stirred the Conqueror from her thoughts, and she stood up while calling Borias into the office. She signaled for him to sit at a large round table set off to one side in the room. Like Borias, she sat rather relaxed and legs spread.

"How's Natasha and Belach?"

Borias smiled at the mention of his wife and son. "Gooood." He was happy to bring them to Pella after the battle against Draco ended. "He acts more like me every day."

"And still has his mother's better looks?" Xena teased.

Borias huffed and rubbed his jaw. "Looks don't conqueror the world."

The ruler chuckled at that comment. "They only start wars," she agreed after thoughts of the Trojan War.

Borias traded a grin, but he went serious once Xena leaned against the table.

"We need to tighten our borders," Xena started.

Borias eyed the ruler for a moment then looked over his shoulder at the map posted on the wall. He studied the dark line drawn out on the map that represented Greece as Xena ruled it today. He shook his head several times. "How tight can we make it with these Roman dogs snarling at us?" He lowered his gaze to Xena. "War is in our future, Xena. And I'm not an oracle to foresee that."

The Conqueror quietly grumbled and glared up at the worn map. "It would be nice to have an ally before we take on Rome."

"There is nobody that will stand with us," Borias argued.

"There is one that might," Xena softly revealed.

Borias was curious then smirked and joked, "Lao Ma?" He laughed. "Even her arm doesn't stretch this far from Chin."

"And if it did then it would be to smack me," Xena jested.

"If you are lucky." Borias grinned with Xena before he went back to the original topic. "Who will stand with us?"

The Conqueror stood from the table and approached the worn, tattered map that had travelled with her for many moons. She studied the southern portion that showed the sea and the lands further south. "The gift of the Nile." She traced her fingertip over the land's borders along the Mediterranean Sea.

Borias was wide eye and stared at the country, which was half cut off because the map stopped there. "Kemet?" He shook his head. "Ptolemy is a weak ruler, Xena."

"Yes he is," the Conqueror agreed. She tapped the Kemet's capitol, located near the Nile River. "But his daughter..." She turned on her boot's heels.

Borias slotted his eyes and considered who was the daughter of Ptolemy XII.

The Conqueror could tell Borias was out of the loop on politics, especially Kemet politics. "Her name is Cleopatra VII."

Borias had an uncertain expression.

Xena had expected such. Her shoulder butted against the wall, next to the map. "Cleopatra arrives here in a fortnight."

"Here? In Greece?" Borias tilted his head back.

"In Pella," the Conqueror clarified. "Greece will help Cleopatra secure the throne to Kemet."

Slowly Borias's eyes narrowed to slits. "And in return Kemet pledges their naval ships." Despite his lack of knowledge about politics, Borias knew every country's military. Xena's smile confirmed his suspicions.

"We can't amass enough fleets before the war," the Conqueror explained. "But we can acquire one much faster."

"Do you really think Cleopatra will aide us once war is declared against Rome?"

Xena pushed off the wall and returned to her seat. "The Ptolemy Dynasty is still Greek, Borias."

Borias rubbed his chin then slumped into the chair.

"And I'm sure I can convince her it's a good idea."

Borias smirked. He said nothing and merely nodded. Slowly his thoughts went to the Roman legion baring down on Amphipolis. "What of Legio IV?" He folded his arms, revealing muscles under the leather. "If Amphipolis falls...."

"Amphipolis can be rebuilt," Xena argued. "It can be reclaimed from the Roman dogs."

Borias grunted and commented, "This reminds me of the old Xena." He stared hard at the Conqueror, who clearly grew angry at the insult.

Xena stood so abruptly that the chair fell, smacking the floor loudly. "The old Xena would have waged war blindly with those Roman pigs!" she snapped. "I refuse to sentences thousands of Greeks to death for a few hundred." Her lip curled up. "I will not be divided and conquered."

Borias calmly stood up and remarked, "Instead you sacrifice a few hundred while you hide in Pella... wining and dining an uncrowned brat." He could tell he was testing Xena's patience, like many past times. This was far more personal though because it was Amphipolis. It was Xena's hometown, her family, and her best friend. Borias knew an exit was best before Xena's chakram came at him.

Once halfway through the door, Borias looked over his shoulder at his leader. He slightly smirked and gave one last poke. "At least Queen Gabrielle has the balls to fight those pigs." He vanished before it was too late.

Xena heard her own pounding heart. She inhaled deeply, but it barely eased her constricted chest. Without warning, she came at her desk and turned everything upside down in pure rage. The desk chair was in piece, scattered across the office floor. Xena's cape came to a slow still once she stood motionless, besides her heavy breathes.

Closing her eyes, Xena tried recalling the last time she had lost such control. For several heartbeats, she breathed in through her mouth and exhaled from her nose. Such old breathing exercises still helped her today, and she needed it now. After a low huff, Xena escaped to the balcony attached to her office. The afternoon breeze cooled her red cheeks.

The Conqueror gazed upon the city of Pella, which was once the capitol of Greece back in Alexander the Great's reign. To this day, he was still an admired ruler, including in Xena's eyes. He was one of the silent role models hiding in the back of Xena's mind.

From her perched view, Xena understood why Greece, her country, was so beautiful. From Sparta's soldiers to Athen's politics then to Pella's mosaics and Thrace's weapons, Xena adored all that her country had to offer. Such thoughts of Thrace made Xena sigh and leaned heavy against the granite rail. Thrace was every bit Greek like the other providences.

A repeated knock at the office door drew the Conqueror away from her thoughts. She entered the office and called, "Come in." She was pleased that it was Tracker, who was surprised by the mess.

"I can return another time, my liege," Tracker offered.

"Now is good," the Conqueror ordered. She pretended the office's disarray was normal. "Is there news?" Any hopes she had instantly died after Tracker lowered his eyes.

"It's not good, my liege." Tracker gazed up after looking at a few items scattered on the floor. "They are being held captive by Legio IV."

The Conqueror clenched her jaw and fisted her right hand. It was to be expected that Rome had Cornelio and his House. However, the confirmation made the knot in her stomach ten times larger. "And Cortese?"

"Still not accounted for," Tracker weakly admitted.

Xena narrowed her eyes and approached the solider. Her boots crunched against the word fragments from the former desk chair. "I have increased your resources, and you still cannot obtain him?"

"He is beyond Greek borders," Tracker reminded the ruler.

"You have brought me enemies from Rome!" Xena yelled. Her patience had thinned to their limit, especially today. "Yet this one escapes your grasp," she hissed. She stared coldly at Tracker, who always gave his best to Greece.

"He is a snake, my liege." Tracker held his ground. "You know this."

"And I cannot cut off his head if you do not bring him to me," Xena growled through clenched teeth.

Tracker stood silent. He knew that Xena's mood was already discolored by a previous event, proven by the office's current state. He waited for his next orders.

"You have one moon to bring him to me," the Conqueror ordered. "Or I'll find your replacement."

"Yes, my liege," Tracker grounded out. He was dismissed and left hastily.

The Conqueror stared bitterly at the door that was shut behind Tracker. She tasted anger in her mouth. How she hated what King Cortese stood for and continued to insult her. It infuriated her that he was still free after conquering Pella several moons ago.

Tired of the office, Xena stormed out and scared the two guards in the hallway. She barked, "Get the maids to clean the office and replace anything broken." She ignored their agreements and hurried out of the palace. She had energy to burn off in solitude beyond the city walls.

Xena practiced with her sword and performed several other drills until it was well after sunset. She then rested on a large, white stone as the last of the darkness crept around her on the hillside. She wiped the sweat off her brow and drank wine from a skin. She would be ready for a meal and drink by the time she returned to Pella.

The trek back to the city was worth it and cooled Xena down from the practice. She called out to the gate guards, who let her pass. She debated whether to clean up first then eat, but she opted to eat out at a taverena tonight. At times, the food at the palace could be boring and a change was nice. Moreover, the local food was superior in Pella than many other cities. Xena had a soft spot for the northern city-states' cuisine.

After finding the right taverena, the Conqueror took a quiet table to herself. Her meal was excellent and the wine barely thinned out by water. It seemed as if a warm blanket settled over her body, starting in her stomach. As she enjoyed her dessert and last cup of wine, she considered her meeting with Tracker. It baffled her why Tracker had not located King Cortese. There were previous enemies that had escape after battle, but Tracker consistently found and returned them to Xena.

Not quite satisfied with Tracker's performance, Xena decided to seek him out before he left at first light. She had failed to get finer details to his search for King Cortese. Her anger blinded her logic and leadership. Leaving the taverena, Xena went in pursuit of Tracker and decided to start at the east side barracks.

Once around the corner of a home, the Conqueror laid eyes on the east barracks. She started across the street until a familiar soldier's exit from the barracks caught her attention. To her surprise, it was Tracker with bulging saddlebags on his left shoulder. Xena shifted out of the streetlight from the overhead torches.

Tracker gave a firm nod to another soldier then continued down the cobblestone street. His pace was fast and his right hand rested on his sword hilt. Across his back were a quiver and bow. Shortly, he made it to the neighboring stables that housed only horses for the barracks. Once he was inside, he failed to see the Conqueror emerging from the shadows.

Xena found it curious that Tracker was leaving at night rather than first light. She disliked it. An idea came to mind, and a sly grin drew across her lips. Xena hurried to the barrack's entrance just after a soldier came out.

"My liege," the hoplite greeted and bowed.

"I need your assistance," the Conqueror informed.

"Of course." He waited for his orders.

Xena looked from the bronzed hoplite to the stables not far away. "In the stables, there's a soldier named Tracker in there." She returned her attention to the hoplite. "I need for you to escort him to the palace... under my request that I wish to see him."

"My liege?" The confused hoplite stared oddly at his ruler.

"Keep him there until I arrive," the Conqueror further ordered.

The hoplite no longer questioned the ruler but merely nodded. "As you wish, my liege." He left the Conqueror and hurried off to carry out his duty.

Xena followed to the stable but took two wide steps then launched into the darkness and landed on the stable's roof. She remained perched on the edge and waited until the hoplite left with Tracker in tow. The Conqueror jumped off the roof near the entrance.

The inside of the stable was quiet other than a horse's occasional whine or hoof scuff. A horse occupied every stall. However, only one stall had a horse fully tacked and prepared to ride. And the Conqueror slipped into that stall, her eyes locked on the saddlebags that called for her.

Xena patted the horse's side a few times. Then she started her search through the bags, not really sure what she expected to find until soft metal clinks caught her ear. Curiously, the ruler drew out a purse that she knew contained coins. She started to return it until an afterthought came to mind. Instead, Xena untied the leather string and peered into the purse.

Even in the low firelight, the Conqueror knew what was shining back at her. It made her upper lip curl into a silent snarl. She held up one coin and stared at it. For several heartbeats, the old warlord exploded inside of the Conqueror. She closed her hand over the coin and cut off the blood thirst thundering in her veins.

Xena returned the coin and closed up the purse. She put it back in the saddlebags and took another beat to gain some clarity. Now things were starting to make sense in her mind. In a rush, the Conqueror left the stall and ran through the city towards the palace. The journey to the palace gave her enough time to think out a plan and bottle her rage for the right moment.

"My liege," a guard greeted at the palace door. His comrade had a door open already.

The Conqueror gave a firm nod and slipped past the hoplites. Her stride was full of purpose and intent. She went directly to the rear door to the courtroom. Two hoplites guarded the rear entrance and drew attention when the ruler came in sight. Xena ordered the guards to join her in the courtroom.

Tracker stood from the stone bench attached to the wall. He watched the Conqueror enter the courtroom in her dark glory. Behind him, he sensed the hoplite waiting at attention.

The Conqueror took the marble throne that was built into the wall. She waited until the two hoplites flanked her on either side. Her cape cascaded and contrasted against the marble's bright white. Behind her, a lion attacking a sheep mosaic stood out against the wall's red paint.

"My liege," Tracker greeted. He bowed properly after he approached the throne.

The Conqueror dipped her chin then she waved her hand at the hoplite that had escorted Tracker to the palace. Once he was gone, she locked her icy blue eyes on the soldier. "In our earlier meeting, I failed to ask what your next steps will be to capture Cortese." She crossed her legs, which caused muscles to standout. "What are his whereabouts?"

"He has escaped into Macedonia Salutaris," Tracker replied.

The Conqueror considered her mental map of the Roman providence. "What city?"

"I believe Stobi."

Xena was displeased that Cortese fled to the capital of Macedonia Salutaris providence. The city would be crawling with Roman legionnaires. "And your plans to find and capture him?"

"I will first confirm that he is there, my liege." Tracker rested his hand on his sword hilt. "We have a few spies in Stobi. I believe they can assist me with locating him."

"He should fare well as a slave," the Conqueror suggested to him. "If drugged sufficiently."

Tracker considered the idea. "Until I cross Greek borders," he softly conceded. He tucked the idea into the back of his mind for later.

"I expect a report within a moon from you," Xena ordered.

"Of course, my liege." Tracker was dismissed so he started to the main door that was behind him. He opened one of the heavy wood doors but hesitated when the Conqueror called to him.

"Be careful on Roman soil," the Conqueror offered. "It's easy to dirty yourself there."

Tracker remained silent and only nodded before he left. He was uneasy about the ruler's last words. Xena only spoke words that meant something. Chitchat was not part of her routine as a ruler.

The Conqueror remained seated at the throne for a while, deep in thought. She was relieved that the guards did not bother her. Suddenly standing up, she dismissed the hoplites and hurried out the main entrance of the courtroom. As she travelled through the palace, her temper resurfaced and shined in her eyes.

Outside the palace, the city of Pella was rather quiet on such a beautiful, late winter evening. However, the Conqueror had no interest in the city's beauty tonight. Her mission took her to another set of barracks on the south side of the city. Several hoplites bowed to her in respect when she entered the barracks. Many others fell from their beds or toppled from their chairs to get on their feet. The Conqueror's visit was unannounced and caught every hoplite off guard.

Xena ignored their gapes and proper greetings because she was looking for a single warrior among the bronze hoplites. She knew which bunk room he shared with a handful of other hoplites. She stormed into the room and stirred a slight chaos among the hoplites gambling on the floor.

"My liege," a hoplite sputtered. He and his comrades scurried to their feet, metal clanked against metal. He noted how the ruler's ice blue eyes were locked on one hoplite.

The Conqueror cut her attention to the other hoplites that surrounded the one, bulky warrior. "Get out." She slotted eyes at the motionless hoplites and snarled, "Now!" Much to her pleasure, the hoplites poured out of the room's only door in a craze. She was left alone with the single warrior.

Hidden behind a calm mask, Prostig held the ruler's fiery stare that bore through his bronze armor. For assurance, he folded his muscular arms against his chest. "Who stole your horse?" he weakly joke. Prostig expected a smart response, not a sudden attack. He had no time to react and was flipped through the air until his back slammed into the floor. His initial gasp caused a dagger's blade to press against his throat.

"You've been working with him all these anni," Xena growled. She drew the blade across soft skin, a red line forming under it.

"Hades," Prostig hissed. He shut his eyes against the dark look on Xena's face. "Who are you talking about?"

The Conqueror leaned closer and hotly whispered, "Tracker." She watched the genuine confusion start across Prostig's features.

"What the Hades..." Prostig peered up at the ruler. "Are you talking about?"

"I understand now... I understand it all." The Conqueror bared her teeth. "I know why it took so long to find Gabrielle. Why her owner disappeared. And why I can't get my hands on Cortese."

Prostig remained confused until it hit him hard too. He clenched his hand against the wood floor. "That bastard."

Xena withdrew the dagger a little. "I found over thirty dinars in his purse."

Prostig focused on the Conqueror again. He knew that the ruler only paid in Greek drachmas. He released a low breath and promised, "I'm not with him, Xena."

The Conqueror flinched after Prostig said her given name. "You've been close to him since Bracis."

Prostig frowned at the reminder of the warlord days when he and Tracker worked for Bracis. He faintly shook his head and firmed, "I'm closer to you, kid."

"Are you?" the Conqueror countered. She held Prostig's gaze for a long moment before she dangerously smiled at him. "I want you to follow him."

Prostig held his breath and waited for the ruler to continue with the demands.

"He's due to go to Stobi," the Conqueror explained. "See where he goes, who he meets, and then capture him alive." She withdrew the dagger finally. "Bring him to me."

Prostig dipped his head in agreement. "I will, Conqueror." He was relieved when the ruler stood up. He carefully climbed to his feet. Even though he was larger than Xena, he still respected her warrior prowess and sheer intelligence. For good measure, he bowed forward.

The Conqueror said nothing else and spun on her heels, which caused her cape to float in the air. She vanished out of the barracks and into the dark night. Her anger about Tracker and his deceit made her blood burn hot. She wanted his head now rather than later. However, she wanted certain proof that he had truly betrayed her. Prostig would find out for her, and Xena would find out for how long.

Outside the city's walls, Xena was able to calm her anger by running for over a candlemark. The cool night also ate away at her foul mood. Many anni ago, she would have indulged in several sparring matches that would leave her men well wounded, physically and their pride. But she had learned it did little to improve moral so Xena sought out quieter means to disperse her rage. Sometimes a run helped it and other times sparring alone also worked well. Tonight though it was both of them. After sparring against a tree, Xena was worn down and ready to clean up for the night.

Retiring to her room in the palace, Xena washed down and stripped from her leathers. She went out on the balcony, which wrapped around the side of the palace and provided her with a view of both the courtyard and city. Tonight she preferred the courtyard that glowed a soft silver hue under the moonlight. A low chill settled over her shoulders, but she easily ignored it.

Her dark thoughts about Tracker were boxed away in her mind, for now. Instead, she thought about her best friend and Amphipolis. Xena wished that Gabrielle was at her side, especially to console her. After a heavy sigh, she shook off her sadness about Gabrielle's lack of presence. Many would claim it was Xena's own fault that Gabrielle stood alone in Amphipolis. Yet, Xena always knew there was a little conqueror in the bard. There was nothing that Xena could do to change Gabrielle's mind.

Sometime later, Xena slipped into the darkened room after the candles went out. She crawled into a cold bed that gave her some peace. If anything, Pella had some of the best beds in Greece thanks to the flocks in Potidaea that provided the stuffing. She made a mental note to purchase all her future bedding from Potidaea after she selected Greece's new capitol. Slowly, the Conqueror drifted asleep thanks to memories from her childhood, the only thing that eased her mind at night.

 

To be continued.