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The Conqueror & Ri A Twist of Destiny

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Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: The Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, are owned by MCA/Universal & Renpics. No copyright infringement is intended in the making of this epic.

Warning: This story contains strong language and violence on every level; whether mentioned, implied, or acted out. It also contains graphic sexual themes between hetero/homosexual men and women. If you are not of legal age, or if this tale is not your cup of tea, nor allowed in your country/state, you should go now. I'm positive there are other bards in the Xenaverse whom will appease you, so leave this tale to the mature audiences.

Additional Note (Please Read): This story's a companion with my other tale, Xena & Gabrielle: A Turn of Fate. It's highly imperative you read it, too, that way the bigger plot won't become confusing later down the line. I know this interlacing of plots probably has never been done before in such fashion, but I promise your time will be well invested.

The Conqueror & Ri
A Twist of Destiny
By Ahkiken


The sky was clear. No stars or even clouds filled it, as Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, renewed herself to make way for Helios' lighting rays; signaling daybreak.

Cerulean orbs gazed outside her balcony from inside the Corinthian castle to stare at a sumptuous garden. Spring was in the air, and its atmospheric breeze felt calm. She viewed the garden's exotic flowers, whilst they gently swayed with the wind; a mixture of lilacs, viceroy tulips, hyacinths, and an assortment of others, danced together.

She kept vigil, watching.

A dream, if not a nightmare, awoken her earlier than she would had preferred. Hypnos, the god of sleep, decided to remind the elder leader of the past trials she endured for the last twenty-eight winters of her life. Every feeling from the emotional spectrum collided within her; from joy to laughter, lust to love, sadness to pain. Purely to give way to havoc and death.

The Oneiros wanted to show all of it in dreams; how she picked up the sword to become a hero, nearly got destroyed for succoring a foreign ruler, tenaciously surviving to cause the destruction of her enemies and greatest nemesis after conquering faraway lands.

Henceforth, she became renowned as the Lord Conqueror of the Realm.

Very few called her by the birth name Cyrene and Atrius, her parents of Amphipolis, had given her. Even less people actually knew her real compellation. Ever since she became a master with omnifarious weapons, an expert at utilizing strategies, and a tactician in battle, she'd gone by one title or another. Three years removed from when she was essential in the defeat of the warlord, Cortese, the villagers in their backwater hometown bestowed upon her the first honorific; Lion of Amphipolis, for the eighteen-year-old's courage, and extraordinary aptitude.

Notwithstanding, the contention with Cortese brought forth tragedy. Losing not only dear comrades from her village, but a beloved brother also. Agony didn't cease there, though. It became worse...

Much worse.

Her fateful day on a vessel sailing for Greece from Egypt had landed her in the wrathful path of a young Roman General; a severe, powerful man whom damn near killed her. Betrayal, lost lovers, and ruination became all she knew...

All she know.

A year ago, she'd finally procured vengeance against the vile bastard. It merely cost her morals, and honor as a respectable warrior, albeit sacrifices were easy to make when a person's spirit was vitiated by vendettas. The Conqueror could hear her deceased, oriental lover's melodic utterance in her head.

['Revenge is a double-edged sword. So, after you lay your enemy's body in the ground, be prepared to lay your soul down as well.']

'You tried to save me from this path, didn't you, Lao Ma?' The Conqueror cogitated, keeping her tears in check.

It was far too late for self-pity. On the brightside, at least the Realm was in peace, and remained that way for the recent few years. Taxes were low, howbeit it was hard to do so, especially following the Peloponnese Purge the Delian League of Athens waged against Sparta, Corinth, and their allied city-states. The Purge affected the whole of Greece. If it weren't for careful scheming, including extreme patience from the Conqueror, the country was potentially easy prey for all her enemies, and the biggest threat most likely would had been Rome.

By the Lord Conqueror uniting every major city-state under a sole banner, it easily disrupted whatever plots the Romans had. Once Rome lost their opportunity with Greece, its Senate passed powers onto their favorite General, appointing him Dictator in perpetuity, and sent him off to conquer the so-called barbaric Britons.

Before the Conqueror came along, Britannia was unlike her newly unified Grecian provinces. Kingdoms that were divided in opposition to each other allowed them all to plausibly become subjugated by Rome's powerful might. It was a wondrous thing the Greek Overlord had her sight on the region, too. Making contact with the Queen of the Iceni, Boadicea, subsequent to her puppet-king husband, Prasutagus, passing away, evoked the turnabout of the war. Britannia's victory became Greece's, while majority of its land was annexed, becoming absorbed into the Realm.

It was a devastating blow to the Dictator, Julius Caesar, whom returned home for the first Cronus without acquiring new territory for Rome.

Afterwards, Greece gained more areas on Terra, each with some amount of bloodshed. She dominated Macedonia, Mesopotamia, compact terrain in Turkey, and Gaul, for her General of the Fourth Army, Vercinix. He was a great chief of the Gauls, defending it from Caesar in the Gallic Wars. However, he was routed in a skirmish, and scheduled for public execution in Rome. The intervention of the Conqueror saved him en route to his ghastly fate. Therefore, he joined her army to help fight for Britannia.

A huge smile broke out on the Ruler's face. Upon Gaul's annexation, it was gratifying to seize another prize from the Roman Dictator. Thus, the expression of the Conqueror's turned a bit melancholy when she thought about her latest conquest...

The majestic Chin.

'I've kept my promise, Lao Ma.' She regarded bitterly. 'Your son remains alive.'

Again, the Lord Conqueror contemplated the immaculate garden of Corinth, comparing it to her Realm. Soon, numerous flowers would bloom akin to her citizens, but it would also demand greater efforts to keep the plants healthy and strong. If she was not up to the task, the gorgeous display could decay, and fall apart; an atrophied Empire.

'I'll never let that happen.' The Autarch swore, clenching her hands into fists. 'Never.'

The Conqueror would cease the overflow of conquered territories in advance of it getting oversized, and overreaching herself. Besides, to her, the Realm was flourishing; from trade, to diverse job employment, the economy was picking up. With the recent extraction of platinum orbs she discovered in Laconia, on the outskirts of Tegea, money, as well as the construction of buildings, and weapon crafting, would become lavishly superior to steel.

What more could she want?

She was contented with everything, other than her love life, whereas that was another subject altogether. The Conqueror already tolerated the icy cold appendages of love, twice. Brushing it aside, her Realm was what she concentrated on mostly, immensely jubilant for all she'd obtained.

"Why can't Rome be satisfied?" She questioned aloud.

Whilst the rumination occurred, the Conqueror registered Helios shining down on her. She been profoundly consumed by troubling and clarifying dwellings that Cronus inexplicably bypassed her. When the Lord of Greece awoke from sleep, she gave herself a bath, preceding standing in the threshold of her bedchamber's balcony in solely an aqua robe, which was reminiscent of the beautiful irises belonging to a young girl she'd rescued eleven years prior. Wettish hair was tangled uncomfortably on her covered shoulders and back, causing the greenish-blue garment to dampen.

Deciding to begin the day, she terminated her musings, and summoned the maid, "Akemi!"

"Yes, my Conqueror." The almond-eyed woman answered, entering from the room that was connected to her Lord's.

The Conqueror secretly appraised her Chambermaid's looks. The younger female, who'd originated from Japa, donned a navy blue-colored shift that was sleeveless and strapless, but it concealed her small breasts, accentuating them. She also wore a dark, sheer cloth encircling her neck, and it dangled in the front.

'If only I wasn't in love with another.' The Conqueror started sifting through her licentious thoughts.

Getting closer to the captivated Ruler, Akemi bowed. "My Lord Conqueror, how may I be of service to you?"

The youthful voice jolted the older woman into action.

"My hair..." She tugged on it. "In my old age, I totally let Cronus slip by me. I need a quick comb through it."

"As you wish, my Lord." Akemi inclined her head to accede, before retrieving the comb.

The Conqueror left out of her bedroom, strolling into the outer antechamber that served as a workstation for personal and public affairs. Frequently it was used for a lounging area, yielding relaxation and eating, too. Just those who were staunchly trusted was granted permission to enter.

She slowly sat down on one of the long, soft, black sofas. Promptly, Akemi's silent footsteps traipsed behind her to work on combing the entwined raven and silver-streaked tresses. The Conqueror relaxed, while the servant gently, but thoroughly, combed her mane.

"My Lord?" Akemi's query shattered the silence.

"Yes."

"If I'm forgiven for being bold, you may be old in age, yet you remain truly magnificent." Akemi asserted, maintaining her method on the damp strands.

The Conqueror wished someone else would say those exact words to her. Although she'd accepted Akemi's extol, even cherished it, there was another person she yearned to hear sweet nothings from.

"Thank you, Akemi, but flattery will get you nowhere." She jested, making the Chambermaid chuckle.

"No, my Lord. It's not blandishment... Simply truth." Akemi hesitated briefly, then went on professing, "You've such an alluring aura that surrounds you. Your energy is so vast, it draws others to you. When you were visiting my country, and liberated me from my father, Yodoshi, I would've been your slave if you'd desired it... I still would."

The Conqueror's cognition traversed back a year previously, post completing her utmost important mission, and successful assassination ever. Departing Rome, she had chosen to take a detour, voyaging past Chin, farther east to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Japa.

On the island, the Lord of the Realm met a Shogun named Harukata who had leadership over a set of Samurai warriors she'd never encountered. He taught her their unique Bushido code, and she studied a wide range of weaponry. Familiarizing herself with the yumi, wakizashi, tachi, tanto, naginata, kusarigama, and various staffs, a singular sword stood out that really interested her; the katana.

The dexterous Samurais broadcasted how efficient the blade was in swiftness and grace, trumping a lot of other swords in the world. Staying in Japa for nearly three moons, she felt she'd spent enough Cronus there, and had to return to her Realm. Prior to leaving, Harukata presented the Conqueror with a custom katana of her own. It was forged in the heart of the snowcapped mountain, Hayachine. She thanked the Shogun, and went on her way.

Whilst proceeding onto her ship, the intrigued Greek saw a man throw somebody onto a wall and slice her down, employing the same blade she admired to terminate the shrieking woman's life. Thereupon grabbing a crying teenager to enact the same treatment on her, the Conqueror literally flipped.

"You're not a slave, Akemi, nor would I ever want you to be ensnared in bondage." She replied, dispelling her wonders. "As you should know, I abhor slavery. It is abolished here in Corinth and Athens. With the gods' aid, perchance a day will come when I'll make it vanish throughout the entire Empire."

"I perceive that, but-"

"Akemi. We won't speak on this again." The Conqueror said sternly, sensing the conversation was going somewhere she didn't care to indulge in further. "I have to get myself ready. Are you done?"

"Yes, my Lord." Akemi acquiesced sadly, grudgingly stopping her movements.

"I'm really in a rush. My Chancellor will be here shortly. Will you linger to receive him, while I change?"

"Surely I'll do what you command." She coyly agreed.

"Thank you, Akemi." The Ruler bestowed her gratitude.

The Chambermaid curtsied submissively, and the Conqueror trudged to her bedchamber to get dressed. The Lord of Greece knew she had to attend an imperative meeting, ergo the Agora cases would be delegated to her Chancellor.

She quickly slid the robe off, and slipped on matching undergarments, recalling a happier moment in her life. 'Seems some habits from Chin will always be ingrained in me.'

Next, she put on black, leather trousers that were lined with gray on the sides, adding a silver-colored tunic to compliment it as well.

Tucking the garment in the leather's waistband, she'd begun lacing her dark boots when she heard the Chambermaid's vocals through the closed, double doors, "Lord Conqueror, the Chancellor of the Realm has arrived."

'I am curious of what he'll have to say for himself.' The Conqueror grinned, responding, "Relay to him I'm on my way."

"Yes, my Lord." Akemi's muffled tonality predicated.

Checking her image in the mirror, the aged Lord inferred she looked fitting for forty-three winters. Moving the lengthy salt and pepper fringe off of her visage, she exited the bedchamber to find Akemi gone. Instead, in her place was a man whom had far more silver hair than herself.

"Alright, Old man, what have you done to my Chambermaid?"

"You're persisting on calling me that? You know, you're getting up there, too, in age." He prolonged for effect, smirking. "Young lady."

The Conqueror strode up to the Chancellor in haste, hugging him warmly. "Meleager."

He reciprocated the gesture. "Xena."

Meleager was one of the scarce people who knew the Conqueror by that appellation, or privately addressed her by it, having earned the right since he taught Xena the way of the sword when she was fourteen, and he...a much youthful male. Withal she coined proclaiming him as Old man way back then also. It'd become a term of endearment between them.

"I have news, my-"

"That can wait." She interrupted him. "Tell me how was your vacation for the passing fortnight?"

Meleager fumbled a bit.

"Oh, Xena, it was swell. I mean it. I...I didn't want to come back..." The Chancellor laughed nervously. "Notably here in this castle."

Xena joined in Meleager's spurious merriment, ascertaining enjoyment from how short he tried to sell his story.

"Well, Meleager, you can retire." Her laughter ebbed away to avouch seriously, "You've earned it."

Meleager became adamant as well. "No, no. My place is by your side. Always."

An overwhelming emotion of satisfaction raced through Xena's frame, and she embraced him once more. "I love you, Old man."

"And I you." He concurred.

Thereafter several moments, they had disengaged, and Xena offered him a seat on the divan. Accepting her proffer, and sitting down, she settled on its twin that was aslant from him.

"Now, apprise me anent to your trip alone." She beamed, knowing what he'd done, and not letting him off the hook easily.

Meleager looked a tad bit uncomfortable.

Xena inquired softly, "Meleager?"

"I didn't vacation fully... I never left the service of the Realm."

"What? I told you to take a break at my expense. To breathe, to live, to leave this Realm and its dealings. But what do you do..." Xena feigned confusion to goad him on. "What did you do?"

"I ken you aren't penurious. You will share every and anything with those you care for. And I'm sorry..." Noticing the simper on Xena's countenance, Meleager realized he was being duped. "You was cognizant of that."

"Gods, you should see your face." Xena burst in mirth.

"Glad to amuse you, Conqueror." He responded tersely.

"Stop being grumpy." She enunciated, as Akemi stepped back in with a couple of trays filled with dishes of egg whites, smoked meats, bread, a variety of fruit, and two ornate cups of milk.

The Chambermaid laid the platters on the table, and bowing to her betters, she announced, "Morning breakfast, my Lord Conqueror, and, Chancellor. Will there be anything else?"

"Thanks, I'm okay." Meleager affirmed, preparing to partake in the presented edibles.

"No, we'll be fine, thank you." The Conqueror averred. "Akemi, why don't you go get yourself something to eat also. You've assisted me long enough."

"My Lord." Genuflecting, Akemi departed the chambers.

Following her departure, Xena eyed Meleager digging into his food.

"What? I was hungry. I figured you were, too, so I asked your Chambermaid to bring us a meal."

Xena smiled, picturing how antsy Meleager must had been, while he conveyed the task to Akemi. Abruptly, her happy demeanor was gone, and she focused on the matter at hand. The Chancellor noted Xena's alteration to the Conqueror, and was aware they had to discourse real business. Setting his utensil down, he gave the Lord of the Realm his attention.

"We will forgo the fact you tried to lie about taking vacation, and in lieu of that, you went seeking knowledge in Rome." The Conqueror spoke with authority. "Tell me, Chancellor Meleager, what have you learned?"

Meleager wasn't surprised the Conqueror uncovered where he traveled to.

"As the Realm already knows, Octavian, Marcus Antonius, and Markus Lepidus, formed another Triumvirate a couple of moons after Julius Caesar's death." He took a moment to drink his milk, clearing a parched throat to continue speaking, "Well, like the first coalition, this one is dissipating faster than Mercury's speed. With Caesar dead, Brutus surmised he could sway his fellow Senators to damn the Dictator. It didn't work, and Julius was deified."

'Better for him to pretend being a god in Pluto's realm.' The Lord Conqueror blissfully mused.

"When that happened, he at least felt he'd be permitted to join the Triumvirate amongst Octavian and Antonius. He was wrong again. They placated Brutus until they could move full force against him, coercing the Senate to declare he was the prime conspirator apropos to the death of Caesar. Now the Roman is on the run, hiding in Crete, whilst creating noise relating to you helping him make Rome a republic again." The Chancellor elucidated.

"Stupid, silly Brutus. I should have killed him, too." The Conqueror imparted her frustration. "Continue."

The Chancellor of the Realm avowed, "Lepidus has been forced out of the office as Triumvir, and into exile. Marcus Antonius is in Egypt with Cleopatra VII."

His mentioning of the Land of Pharaohs surged forth terrible memories for the Lord Conqueror. She'd forever memorize the many features of dead friends, hear the dying screams of her fiancé, and feel the explosion she deduced should had taken her life.

"My apologies. It wasn't my intention to cause you discomfort." Meleager was deeply concerned for her, acknowledging what befell his Liege.

The Conqueror composed herself. "I've read reports Marcus Antonius went to Egypt. I know he is in the palace playing house with that Grecian whore for a queen. She has sired children with him as well."

Meleager intimately discerned his Lord's ire and animosity towards Cleopatra. She'd used the Lion of Amphipolis for her own gain, and threw the nineteen-year-old to the sharks in the end.

"They have two now, and rumors are, another is on the way."

"Mm-hmm. Not only did she sire a child by Caesar, delivering Caesarean, but now twins; Alexander Helios and Selene Cleopatra the Younger, by Marcus." The Conqueror sneered. "She has delusions their children descended from gods, hence educing they are celestials. The Egyptian citizenry deserve better."

"Is there anything that doesn't creep beyond your notice?" Meleager probed rhetorically.

The smug Conqueror slightly shrugged her shoulders. "What's happening in Rome now?"

"Octavian covets power." Meleager stated. "He is requesting the Senate demand Antonius' return. I have no doubts Caesar's heir will oust him, and try to attain control over Rome."

"I understand you have sources for obtaining information, Meleager. Nevertheless, how did you come across these details?"

"Marcus Tullius Cicero." He confessed proudly.

"That's funny. He sent me this intel also." The Conqueror confirmed.

"What?"

"I told you to take a getaway. What was I presumed to do without my strong right-hand? Imagine my astonishment when I read in his missive you were in Italia with him."

"Still a step ahead of me." The Chancellor's gratified mien turned somber. "I fear for Cicero. I failed to persuade him into coming here to safety in case his political adversaries tries something. He outright refused me."

"He is intelligent. I trust Cicero can take care of himself well enough." The Conqueror refuted.

"Perhaps you are right." The Chancellor assented, and prodded, "Do you think Rome's civil war will spread to us?"

"I'm prepared for this, and so are our Generals. Vercinix will be returning to Corinth now that the Fourth Army has safeguarded Gaul. Darnelle, along with Glaphyra, is out drilling with the Fifth and Sixth armies, keeping them from becoming lazy during the Realm's pacific Cronus."

"Draco and Palaemon?" Meleager quizzed.

The Conqueror simpered. "And here I assumed you were knowledgeable of everything."

"Well, I am not, and you'll discover, as you get older, some things will skid pass you." He breezily confided.

"Believe me, I'm sure." She remembered losing a candlemark earlier in her mental wanderings, preceding replying to Meleager's inquiry, "They're in Egypt. How'd you presume I got the scoop on Cleopatra and Antonius?"

"Keep your friends close..." Meleager began.

"And your enemies far away from you." The Conqueror finished the phrase, and they both shared knowing smiles together. "As long as we're ahead of the curs, we can handle them as they come. Rome will fight each other, and if they stay out of our way, we won't have to crush them. General Draco and General Palaemon will express my commands to Egypt. They'll concede to it, and hopefully everyone will learn their place."

"Brutus will contact you sooner or later." Meleager evinced.

"I have a conference with his two subordinates when Helios is high."

"That was quick." Meleager rejoined, but was thoughtful. "Do you suspect a trap this afternoon?"

"Romans or not, they wouldn't be dumb to try anything here. Nonetheless, if they are, they'll suffer gravely for it." The Conqueror recollected a salient issue she wanted him to undertake. "You will manage the Agora's affairs today."

"Come on, Xena. I had a protracted voyage and was hoping to rest." The Chancellor complained. "Can't you have the Prince take care of it?"

"You should have ratiocinated on that 'fore jilting your furlough, Old man. Consider this the commencement of your punishment." Overlooking her Chancellor's frown, she ruminated on the individual he suggested, 'Where is Prince Lyceus?'

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

He quietly observed, while she slowly drank the final few swallows of her orange juice.

Setting the metallic mug down, and catching his eye, she blushed. "Thank you, Prince Lyceus, for another fantastic breakfast."

"Ri." Lyceus calmly rested his hand on hers.

The greenish-blue orbs of Ri's were shrouded by her long, strawberry-blonde hair. His other hand moved the cascading locks to peer into her eyes.

"You don't have to call me Prince." He reminded the woman, caressing the side of her face. "Only Lyceus."

Ri's features were flushed deeper. She'd never been this close to a person, save one, making this moment odd. It was Lyceus' fourth visit throughout the span of several days; waking her up for morning eats. With each visit, the Prince's touches grew more affectionate. She came to the conclusion of what he truly wanted from her. Although Ri wasn't fully knowledgeable about the world, she was too old to be blinded by naïveness and not see.

"Thank you, Lyceus." She corrected for his benefit.

Lyceus smiled, tenderly stroking Ri's mien once more, unable to discontinue touching her, whilst cogitating, 'Gods, she's lovely.'

His gaze unconsciously raked over her body. Ri was dressed in her night shift, but it wasn't plain like a peasant's; its material was soft and cream-colored. The arm's sleeves were sheer, just like it was around that delicate neck, ceasing above her small chest, coaxing the milky skin to taunt him. Lyceus' fingers slid to the see-through fabric encircling Ri's neckline, wondering what her breasts would feel like in his hands and mouth.

'I should tell Ri how much I love her.' He mused.

However, she started feeling imperceptibly uncomfortable, and the Prince noticed it, pulling away.

"Did I offend you?" Lyceus asked, tentatively. "My apologies if I have."

"No, it's nothing. I..." Words failed her.

For a person who fancied becoming a bard someday, it was inconceivable her vocabulary would vanish. Ri took a profound look at Lyceus' appearance, and had to admit, he was attractive. He had golden wheat-colored hair which was cropped short, and a lean physique. Albeit he was muscular from what she could infer underneath his brown tunic and trousers. The Prince also had blue irises that were merely a tinge darker than his sister's, the Conqueror of the Realm.

A childish smirk shaped Ri's lips at the thought of the magnificent, cerulean spheres of her Lord that majestically made anyone happy to fall into their oceanic depths.

Therefore, watching the change in her demeanor, it gave Lyceus renewed hope. "Ri?"

Ri's hearing hadn't registered the Prince's voice. She was lost in her own revelled ruminations of the Conqueror. Suddenly the gleeful expression became glum from recalling the fact she hadn't seen or heard from her Lord in a full moon cycle. Not since their last semi-dreadful Cronus together.


["The Lord Conqueror commands to speak with you."

I finish folding a pair of sheets, passing them to Akemi, the new Chambermaid our Lord brought to Corinth from her progress in the east.

"I'll be back shortly." I tell her.

Akemi nods, and carry on her duties. We haven't conversed often since she's arrived, but she seems nice.

"As our Lord ordains, General Draco." I reply meekly, and he snorts in disgust, while we leave the Conqueror's chambers.

Of all the people to get sent for me, it has to be the man who dislikes my very existence. The Chancellor of the Realm, or anyone else, would have been a far better choice. Though I can't fathom what I've done to ensure his enmity, my Lord holds Draco in high regard, and so shall I.

The walk is silent for the most part, and I have no clue where we're going. Several other occupants inside the castle greets me warmly, and I reciprocate with welcoming waves. Their kindness nearly makes me carefree to investigate General Draco's wellbeing, but I hinder myself from doing that.

Soon, I note we are traveling to the Conqueror's War Room. I haven't been in there before, thus I playfully cogitate maybe I'm to be punished for some slight against the Lord of the Grecian Empire. I probably forgot to do a chore; failing to fold her clothes correctly. The Conqueror hasn't ever raised a hand to me, let alone her tonality, and deep in my soul, I believe she never will. Nonetheless, I do know what she is capable of. I have overheard many tales and rumors apropos to her brutality.

Knowing all of that, I fear Draco severely than her.

I must've hesitated a split moment too long for the General, because he grabs my arm a bit roughly, asserting, "I have more pressing concerns than you, little girl."

Grimacing, I unenthusiastically allow him to lead me onwards, hating his oblique insult he says occasionally. I may not ascertain my true age, due to an incident I'd suffered when I was a child, but foregoing my petite stature, I apperceive I'm not a 'little girl'.

We enter through the huge oak doors, and I feel Draco's grip loosen, whilst we traverse the narrow pathway. The General plausibly doesn't think it, but I distinguish why he releases me from his clasp, as we draw closer to our Lord. To seemingly harm, or treat me unjustly, would incur her rage. She is like that regarding me, and I absolutely don't want to hear another human being died 'cause of me again. Especially in the method that slaver did numerous seasons ago.

The dark General's movements halts once we come upon a singular door, and he opens it. Stepping in, I view the room with the sight that's identical to an eager student wanting to capture every detail. The onyx walls are colored with black and greyish tones, complimenting the obsidian round table. Surrounding the circular furniture are seven decorative chairs, and sitting in the sole, regal chair nearer to the only large window that illuminates the entire interior, is my savior from eleven years past.

Leaning in her seat, she glances upwards from a scroll, and smiles. Seeing her this way, it always impel my heart to skip.

"My Lord Conqueror." General Draco announces, laying a right fist across his chest, saluting her. "The Lady Ri."

She rises from behind the table. "Leave us."

Repeating his formal greeting, he departs, closing the door.

"Milady." I curtsy. "You've requested my presence."

Her simper grows wider, while grasping my hand, leading me to the chair she was previously sedentary in.

Now that I'm thinking of it, perhaps Draco does have a misguided, but adequate reason to be antagonistic towards me. The Conqueror has spoiled me rotten since I fell into her life. I can eat whenever I want to. I have the best tailor-made clothes. My bedchamber, notwithstanding modest, is exceedingly glorious than my rank declares. I am the Conqueror's Handmaiden, or servant, whereas it doesn't matter, because she treats me similar to nobility. Whilst others are required to address her as Lord, Conqueror, Liege, or another honorific, I can simply call her Milady, which I've articulated from the instant I've known her. And here I am, seated in her chair.

A chair fit for the Lord of the Realm.

Seldom I worry she's kind because of how she found me. I sense she likens me to a daughter-figure, and although the lengthy, raven hair, I reminisce playing with as a child, has streaks of silver comparable to Uncle Meleager's now, I don't see her as a mother. I've apprised her of that before, but I have never told her how gorgeous she is, nor how I wish she'd grace me with a sweet...

"Ri." Her vocals breaks my surreptitious, romantic thoughts.

"Yes, Milady."

The grin on her countenance appears permanent, evoking my pulse to beat faster in anticipation. Why is she so jovial today?

"I have an important pronouncement for you."

Nodding my head lazily, I'm greatly intrigued.

"I've made arrangements for you in Athens."

What?

"You will no longer be my Handmaiden."

What!

"Now that Akemi is working sufficiently in her status, I am assured she can fill your role indefinitely."

WHAT?!

"You will be tutored by a prominent academic." She continues on, displaying her growing beam I'm beginning to resent. "He is visiting from Macedon, and he'll be teaching you an infinite amount of ideals, including locations on Terra. You'll learn spectacular stories referencing the gods and legendary heroes. He even taught Alexander the Great."

I don't care if this new instructor has educated the whole Greek Pantheon, my life is in Corinth.

Not Athens!

Milady turns from me, remaining engrossed in her one-sided conversation. "You'll imbibe how to deliver speeches with proper etiquette, create characters who'll eclipse imagination, and, as a bonus, you will be granted an allowance, while you're there."

I have no concept of what the current dinar resembles, let alone how to spend it.

Turning to espy me again, Milady makes a mocking, intimidating facial. "Don't postulate for a candle-drip that you can slack off. I will be maintaining contact with your teacher concerning your progress."

Next, she drops the facade, and begins smiling once more, the same gleaming bearing I've come to execrate. She's excited to be getting rid of me. Nevertheless, who can blame her. I'm a burden. I have no money, and the apparel I own are sewn for me, but they aren't mine that I've bought. Akemi already does extra work than me also.

Instantly it hits me, and I cannot retain a passive mask. No wonder Milady insisted I focus on my lucubration and arithmetics. She was grooming Akemi to take my position all along.

"I was joking." The exuberant deportment diminishes from her. "I know you will do an outstanding job at the Academy."

I perk up, somewhat, from astonishment.

"Athens Academy for Performing Bards." I recite the place I've dreamt of going to inasmuch as I mastered reading and writing two years prior.

I'm eighteen now... Well, that's the age I am in accordance to Milady's conviction, and perchance it's best for me to go out into the world.

"Yes. You'll be in Athens. The city is beyond breathtaking than Corinth. The roads are impressive, too. I've commissioned them myself." She evinces, proudly. "It'll have everything you desire."

Not everything.

I can't cease appearing defeated. I'd rather remain in the castle than travel to Athens. I would surrender my dream... But if my Lord wishes for my departure, so be it.

"Okay." I sound surly, my head falling.

"What's wrong?" Dropping on her knees, and placing my hands in hers, she becomes wary. "I presumed you would love this."

I love you!

Staying mute, I cannot be brazen enough to make a direct, loving declaration. Milady will preceive I've gone mad, swiftly expelling me from her life.

"When Akemi came here, I purposely allotted you much freedom from attending me so you could practice your craft and learnings." Milady lifts my chin up, eye-to-eye. "Although you've hardly used your free Cronus. In lieu of practicing, you would tarry in my chambers to assist tidying it."

Couldn't ever get anything passed her. "My deepest apologies-"

"Stop it." She silences me, sternly. "I descried you telling tales to the children on occasions. You may not know this, but one evening, Darnelle and Glaphyra's daughter, Iona, approached you afterwards, querying why did you choose to stay a servant, instead of rendering stories all over Terra? Do you remember your response to her?"

How did she overhear Iona and I... Aww, forget it. She'll profess, 'I have many skills'. Putting on a sober visage, I prepare to reiterate my exact verbalization like an echo.

"I'd confessed, 'I owe our Lord too much. More than she's ever asked, or has taken from me. So, I'll do what I must to please her forever.'" A tear trails down my cheek, as I lose my solemn composure. "It's true. Everything I'd said to Iona, I meant... And...I mean it now."

She wipes the droplet away, kissing my forehead in advance of stating, "You are not obligated to me, Ri. Okay?"

I nod dumbly to her inquiry, and additional tears escape my eyes.

"That's enough crying."

Not without minor difficulty, I immediately do what she decrees. Again, Milady clears my face, and her delicate touch compels me to feel like I'm seven once more. Standing to her complete height, I strain my neck to take in her tall form.

"Listen to me, Ri." I acquiesce to the authoritative vocalization. "Your service to me as Handmaiden is at an end. You are to journey to Attica in a couple of moons. You'll do what is enjoined of you, as long as it poses no danger to yourself, or your virtues. I'll write to you personally with every free Cronus I can spare. You will excel in your studies, and live the life of your choosing. Do you understand?"

I dip my head in veritable resignation.

"Hmm, I'm going deaf, 'cause I can't hear you."

"Yes, Milady." My heart shatter with the concurrence.

I will never see her again. I'll solely be graced with her phrases on missives; pieces of parchments.

"And realize this, Little One." She leans down to me. "You are my obligation."

Thereon, osculating my cheek, I feel immense contentment by being cognizant that Milady still cares strongly for me. She even uttered the nickname from when I first saw her. I am gladdened...

Sort of.

"You're dismissed."

Rising onto my feet, and curtsying, I proceed to gait out of the door. Preceding opening it to take my leave, I'm curious 'bout something.

"Milady?"

"Yes." She smirks, reclaiming her chair.

She probably has discerned what I am gonna inquire, "Who will I be studying under?"

Milady's smug outlook transforms into that heartwarming smile, and I've decided...

I adore it after all.]


Prince Lyceus' newfound optimism dissolved into puzzlement at Ri's altered aspect. "You're alright, Ri? You look sullen."

"Forgive me, Prince Lyceus. I'd wandered off into a daydream." Ri proffered weakly.

'Back to formalities. Maybe it's optimal I don't tell her.' Selecting that mental notice, Lyceus went on quizzing, "What's up? You can talk to me."

Could she trust him, and impart she'd be leaving Corinth, possibly enduringly? Ri was unsure.

"Is it me?"

The unexpected saddened timbre persuaded her to mitigate his anxiety. Withal Ri wasn't receptive of his feelings for her, she didn't want to lose the Prince's friendship.

"No, Prince Lyceus. It isn't you. It's...between me and our Lord, your sister. I don't reckon anyone else in the castle is aware yet."

"Aware?" He questioned, hoping to speed her along.

"I'm ordered to go to Athens." Ri exhaled a sigh. "I doubt if I'll return here."

Lyceus became livid.

He hadn't heard such discourse from the Lord Conqueror. "I have spoken to my sister yesterday. She made no mention of your junket in our conversation referring to you."

'Milady and Prince Lyceus was conversing anent to me?' Ri expressed her fluster, "What brought forth me as a topic, mind my asking?"

It was Lyceus' turn for his cheeks to redden.

"Eh, you know... Uh, stuff like, um... How your duties were coming along, and if you're getting on well with the Chambermaid." Whilst he was lying, a query dawned on him, "Is the Conqueror sending you away because of Akemi?"

Lyceus found himself getting upset at the notion, until Ri dispelled it. "No. I'm to report to the Academy there. I am beginning my apprenticeship as a scholar and bard."

The Prince remained bitter that his sister hadn't shared this information with him. Ergo divulging to her how amorous he'd become for the inspiring storyteller, Lyceus felt it was his right to have cognizance of this disconcerting news.

"You're finally about to achieve your life's goal. You are gonna find exorbitant success and fame." He beamed, beforehand of his lips flipping upside down. "When I meet with my sister later this morning, I'll be sure to let her behold my displeasure for keeping this from me. You are my friend, not chattel."

Ri hastily seized his wrist, as Lyceus arose from the miniature table they'd eaten their meal on.

"Please, Prince Lyceus, I beseech you not to engage our Lord on this matter. Like I've informed you, I don't believe everybody knows. Milady had given me this charge in private, and I would become disheartened if she housed any anger towards either of us for not respecting her confidence."

Lyceus tried to relax her perturbation. "Ri, I swear no harm will befall-"

Ri squeezed tighter, cutting his sentence off, and yelling forcefully in a tone Lyceus hadn't recognized she could use, "No!"

Apprehending she hadn't simply touched the Prince in a rough manner, but blared to her superior as well, Ri released him.

Hurriedly, she stood, compassionately urging him, "Forgive me for my offense. I comprehend you're the Prince of the Realm, hence you are allowed the liberty of your own discretion. Howbeit I implore you most earnestly to refrain from discussing what I revealed to you with Milady."

Arising, too, Lyceus understood the emotion in Ri's eyes; she was sincerely fearful. Not for herself entirely, but for him also. Taking in consideration the Conqueror was renown for extreme violence when warranted, his sibling presented him no pause for supreme trepidation.

Still, Lyceus chose to appease the overwrought female. "I will keep silent on this. I respect the affair is between you and the Lord Conqueror."

"Promise me." She needed reassurance.

"I promise by Venus, the goddess of beauty, I'll nix speaking of this to anybody." He swore.

Clinging onto Lyceus in a hug, Ri was relieved. "I am honestly thankful."

"Can you do something for me?" The Prince prodded, breathing in Ri's scent.

"Yes?"

"Promise to end these royal conventions. At least while we are alone." Lyceus avowed.

Ri drew backwards, looking into his blue orbs. "I promise by the Realm's divine patron, Minerva, I will terminate addressing you formally."

The younger brother of the Conqueror gazed into Ri's aqua irises. Becoming entranced, his hands once again caressed her fair face.

"I love you." He admittedly predicated.

Ri was caught unaware by Lyceus' averment. They'd known each other for countless seasonal cycles, and the erstwhile servant knew she could only love the Prince of the Realm platonically. She wouldn't be able to give him what he truly sought.

In spite of that, she affirmed as a genuine friend, "And you have my love, too... Lyceus."

Lyceus' lips tenderly kissed her forehead, almost in the exact fashion the Lord Conqueror had done two fortnights back, with different results; Ri didn't feel her heart flutter, whilst she was with him.

"I'll miss you." Ri averred, sparsely distancing herself from his enfold.

"Hey, don't write me off so rapidly. I'll visit you, and after your studies are concluded, you can return here to share a tale among the citizens of Corinth. Heck, even if nobody shows up, I'll be there." Lyceus laughingly teased.

Cheering up immensely, Ri hadn't contemplated the feasibility of returning to perform her newly acquired skills for the people of Corinth, thereby determination burned within her. She would go to Athens, learn all that must be taught, master what was needed, come back to the Corinthian castle, and make her Lord proud.

Ri was certain Iona and the younger children would relish her new tales as well.

'The children!' The storyteller recollected.

Spinning quickly from her guest, Ri startled the Prince.

"What's wrong?" Lyceus marveled at the fast pace the short, strawberry-blonde was moving 'round, stacking the two trays together, and loading it with the empty plates, utensils, plus the mugs that sat atop her wooden table.

"I've forgotten I would attend Lieutenant Tessa's class."

Lyceus became sceptical. "Tessa is instructing students?"

"Usually it's Clydmus' classroom." Ri had begun to expound, carrying the dish-piled salvers. "But now that the Imperial Army have free Cronus during peace, Lieutenant Tessa offered to give the children specification on weapons training. She probed if I would grace them all with a story, and I couldn't deny the request. What kind of monster would I be."

The Prince grinned at Ri's common jest, gently liberating the platters that were stacked with dishes out of her hands.

'I need to pay closer attention to what's happening in the Realm, and become attentive of what is taking precedence in the castle, too." Lyceus chided himself, traipsing with Ri to the chamber door to give her privacy. "Better for you to entertain them opposed to the Fool, huh?"

Ri laughed, visualizing the court Jester doing his silly stunts. "I wouldn't say better."

Lyceus balanced the double trays in the crook of his arm to give Ri a farewell embrace. "You are. Everyone agrees, and so do I."

Consequently breaking apart, Ri opened the doorway, proclaiming, "I have thoroughly enjoyed this morning, and thanks for conveying the dishes to the kitchen for me."

"As well as I, Ri. And no appreciation is required for depositing the eating materials. Besides, I ate off of them also."

"Well..." Ri lingered inside the ajar entrance, preparing her farewell to the Prince who stood on the opposite side of it. "Have a wonderful day, Lyceus."

Reluctant to accept their Cronus together was quickly approaching its conclusion, the Prince understood Ri had another engagement. He was needed someplace else also.

"Enjoy the rest of your day, Ri." Lyceus reciprocated, then a quiz was forthcoming from his cerebration, "Oh, who'll be your teacher in Athens?"

"You won't fathom who." Ri gave the perplexed Prince the same widened impression the Conqueror bestowed to her when disclosing whom she would be apprenticed by. "It's Aristotle."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The General hated Egypt. Not because of its people, the language they spoke, or the Pharaoh.

No.

It was the endless amount of sand, and the damn excruciating Helios that felt like intense fire to him. He couldn't fathom how the Egyptians could live here all year around, notably in the seasons of spring and summer. Though the General's skin was as dark as the original citizens of the ancient country, Helios' blazing effects did murder to his flesh, and the golden armor he wore made it severely worse.

Gazing out at the Nile river, he remembered the trek through the dry wasteland, onwards to the palace of Alexandria with a contingent of forty troops; twenty men from both the Second and Third armies. To his amazement, his fellow comrade was either unfazed, or plainly tolerated the insufferable heat. Strange, since he was profoundly fairer in pigmentation.

['Just drink lots of water, and hope the royal couple are as miserable as you are.']

He recalled Palaemon's laughter, whilst failing to lighten the mood. The General of the Second Army had been to Egypt before when the Conqueror advised the same liquid element to fight back the corollary of Helios. Water quenched the thirst, but couldn't pacify his agitation for the shining celestial.

A light knock was barely audible on the door of the guest chamber he occupied, and General Draco answered, "Come in."

Staring out of the small window in the decadent room, Draco listened to the invited visitor enter his lodging, while grasping the silver cup that rested on the oak stand next to him.

"Finally, Palaemon." Without turning around, he deadpanned, "Let's get this objective over with, and return home from this inferno they call a country."

Bringing the crisp, cold water to parched lips, and drinking his fill, he began facing his compatriot.

"I can't believe Cleopatra's audacity to stall us for a whole-" His sentence dropped once he caught sight of the person standing by the closing threshold.

It wasn't Palaemon, and the soldier's fist touched his chest in salutation.

"Lieutenant Hector, what is the meaning of your arrival?" Draco was clearly annoyed at the young man whose origins hailed from Carthage.

His complexion was a few tones lighter than Draco's, invoking him to always coincide the Lieutenant's birth with the conquest of Carthage by the younger and ambitious Julius Caesar. With Rome's history of pillaging, it was easier to agree that Hector's mother was either raped, or willingly available to one, if not many of the Centuries and Legionnaires. However, the Lieutenant of the Second Army never evinced his parentage, and the Lord Conqueror hadn't inquired about it. The only thing she cared to know was if Hector had the skills of a capable fighter...

He did.

"General Draco, I have come to inform you General Palaemon is indisposed. He has been unwell since last night." The light-skinned Lieutenant conveyed.

"We have an audience with the Pharaoh." Draco pronounced eloquently. "What caused his indisposition?"

"The General is suffering from overconsumption of water." Hector replied.

"What?" Draco glared at his Lieutenant dubiously. "I haven't ever heard of such an ailment."

"He is enduring water intoxication. It has been verified by the palace's physician." Hector affirmed. "His Lieutenant of the Third Army, Batius, confirmed it's not poison."

'Damn it, Palaemon.' Spinning sharply, Draco tossed the remaining clear liquid in his cup out of the window, and watched the slaves work outside the royal residence, mumbling, "'Drink lots of water', they say. Ha, now the fool is sick."

"I also have reports on the scouts whom you sent on reconnaissance."

Still observing the drudgery taking place, the General asked, "What of them?"

"Out of the three who partook in the venture, one returned deeply dehydrated. The other two perished from exposure to the harsh elements."

It was a shame to Draco when warriors died by different means instead of battle. "Which army do the casualties belong to, and did they discover any oddities?"

"A soul from both the Second and Third armies rests in Pluto's underworld. Argin, the scout who'd survived, did mention an-"

Draco held out a hand for Hector to be silent. "If you have the report on your persons, bring it to me."

Traipsing forward, the rookie Lieutenant realized what Draco meant. An individual could never be too cautious in another's abode. Spies were plentiful, from experts to novice servants, all with their ears open to detect any kind of rewarding information. Handing the slip of papyrus to his General, Hector was disappointed in himself for nearly completing an amateurish mistake.

Draco skimmed over it, prior to ripping it to shreds with a smile. 'As the Conqueror surmised.'

Another rap on the door brought both men to full attention, and Draco gave his Lieutenant a signal to open it.

A half-naked slave, having a mere cotton cloth to hide his lower, private member, bowed and reported in broken greek, "The Pharaoh is ready to receive you."

Draco inclined his head in acceptance.

"I'll wait outside for you." The Egyptian said, taking a second bow, then he closed the chamber door.

Hector remained upright, whilst Draco addressed him, "I suppose the General of the Third Army will need extra Cronus to recover?"

"Correct. With plenty of repose, and a sufficient amount of honey milk, General Palaemon will be good as new."

In an outburst of dissatisfaction at Palaemon's infirmity, and its causality to effectively postpone them departing Egypt, the General of the Second Army threw his empty vessel against the wall. Hector's posture faltered for a moment at Draco's behavior. Usually, his commander withheld showcasing choleric rushes.

Therefore reacquiring his composure, Draco urged, "How are the men holding up?"

"The Second Army is lodged in their own barracks, separate from the Third, just like it was since we've first gotten here a sennight ago. Both armies are still comfortable from what Lieutenant Batius shared with me, but there's a mounting concernment." Hector responded.

"What is the concern?"

"Both armies lost a man. After his return, Argin spent three candlemarks deliriously predicating Helios will kill us all. He's stable now, and appears able to handle his duties, but Argin's words has frightened some of the men. They are fearful of the return trip to our ship." He elucidated.

Draco pondered on the issue. The two lookouts, who'd died, did so in service to the Realm, and no matter the manner or how anyone felt about it, showing cowardice wasn't acceptable. The General began hoping he hadn't selected cowards for this simple mission.

"Tell them Argin and his accompanying companions had underestimated Egypt's temperature. Now that we all know Helios is dangerous here, they must learn from other's errors. So be sure to drink, and store up enough water to keep them hydrated, but underline the issue to not indulge too much. We don't want 'em inflicted with the same illness as General Palaemon."

"Drink sparingly." Hector acknowledged.

Draco nodded, securing a dagger in his gauntlet to protect himself from any unforeseen danger.

'I cannot be armed, while I'm in the presence of Cleopatra, but seeing how I'll be alone with her, I am not taking any chances.' He cogitated, preceding whispering in Hector's ear, "Once you've spoken to the army, make your way back here, and await my return. My following orders will correspond with the outcome of this conference. If I don't show in a couple of candlemarks, gather the Second and Third armies with or without General Palaemon. Afterwards, head towards the ship. Slaughter whoever stands in your way."

"As you command, General."

Giving each other a salute, they left the guest chamber, with Hector going to the barracks, and Draco shadowing the docile servant through the palace halls.

The General was happy to almost be done with his charge. If he never saw another half-dressed, Egyptian slave, he'd be fine for the remainder of his life. Albeit his stay in Alexandria wasn't all that bad; the female thralls were pleasantly accommodating.

Finally, they arrived inside the Hall of Pharaohs.

"The Pharaoh will join you soon." Stating that, the oppressed male took his leave, leaving Draco by himself.

Viewing the space he was in, Draco scrutinized the numerous golden statues that encircled the room. They resembled the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt during its ancient past before the fledgling Ptolemaic dynasty. The effigies were illuminated in its brilliance by the decor of the walls which had honey-brown and white-colored drapes hanging off of it.

Draco walked to one of the golden images that beckoned his contemplation. Eyeing the structure, he instantly realized its graven surface detailed a flawless, magnificent beauty. Whomever the designer was, they paid excellent artistic license to the original model's replication.

Touching the gold visage, he heard a voice behind him, "Nefertiti."

He whipped around quickly to descry the orator. The person in front of him was relatively old, possibly more older than the Chancellor's age range. To the General's relief, he wore a dyed brown linen cloth covering his upper and lower body. Brownish-gold sandals also adorned his feet. Black eyeliner circled dark eyes, and a medallion representing an Egyptian deity graced his neck. The Egyptian's arms had interlacing golden bracelets decking them, and his head was shaved bald, save for a long rat-tail that hung from the back of it to his waist.

Draco continued to eye the man with disdain, as he went into his tale.

"She wasn't fated to be born a Pharaoh like the others who are immortalized here. Pharaoh Cleopatra the VII decided the wife of her primordial predecessor, Pharaoh Akhenaten, should be beside him in death since they ruled together side-by-side in life. Nefertiti was known for her great beauty, not unlike our Queen today. After her husband died, she became de facto Pharaoh, changing her name to Neferneferuaten, and ruling Egypt for three years 'fore dying from an outbreak of plague. She symbolises everything our current monarch inspires to be. A devoted leader to the citizenry, wonderful provider to her children, a loving wife to her husband, and above all else, a harbinger of peace." His yarn completed, he prompted Draco, "Can your Lord Conqueror avow the same?"

The General's ire was greatly provoked. "Who are you? Where's Cleopatra? My audience was to be with her."

"Forgive me." He proclaimed, bowing. "I am Ansem, the Pharaoh's High Priest."

"Do you take me for an idiot!" Draco yelled, his anger getting the best of him; he was tired of this gods forsaken location, and wanted to traverse back to Greece. "Priests belong in temples, not handling the responsibilities of politics."

"On the contrary." Ansem started explaining, keeping his calm attitude. "We High Priests are the closest to the gods here, but unlike the feeble minded heretics you may call a priest from your homeland, we've served, and participated in public affairs alongside our respective Pharaohs for centuries. I've served as High Priest for twenty-five years. It was I who'd summoned your Lord here when she was known as the Lion of Amphipolis."

The General couldn't halt a contorted expression. He was cognizant anent to the Lord Conqueror's tale of how she hardly made it out of Egypt alive succeeding the Egyptian's betrayal.

Glaring at Ansem's face, Draco folded his arms across an armored chest. "So it was you who betrayed her as well?"

Keeping eye contact, he professed, "What happened to your Lord, those previous years, were between she and Caesar, for which he paid for with his life just last year. We suffered for that fiasco also."

Draco allowed a sneer to play on his lips, teasing, "Yes. The raiding of your precious library. It fits wonderfully in Athens."

The General's comment actually got a reaction out of the High Priest, recalling scenes in his cerebration from three years past when the Conqueror came with a massive army to besiege Alexandria, terrifying Pharaoh Cleopatra, her military, and the populace. Caesar left her several moons beforehand to obtain Britannia for the Romans. Thereupon being unsuccessful in doing that, the Britons' island wounded up getting annexed by Greece's growing empire instead. Hence, the Dictator chose to try and keep hold of the territories Rome still held, never returning to Egypt again.

Cleopatra was alone, facing down a vindictive Conqueror. Needless to impart, the Pharaoh had to surrender without a fight, accepting all of the Lord Conqueror's preposterous requirements, which were; free trade of grain for a few years, a huge sum of monies were to be distributed to the Grecian Realm, and the most famous library throughout the known Terra was processed, then packed away to be delivered to Greece.

The daughter of Ptolemy became so overwhelmed, she promised the Conqueror she'd be her personal whore if the raven-haired woman ceased anymore outlandish demands. Luckily, the demeaning act coerced the Greek Overlord to relent, but she hadn't taken Cleopatra up on her offer, to the Pharaoh's dismay.

She required someone as strong as the Lord of the Realm to stand with her, whereas the Conqueror knew that, too. Although she could had fucked Cleopatra, and loaded her ruminations with empty promises, she'd always disliked the Pharaoh's use of sex for empowerment, having witnessed it over two decades ago when she was the naïve Lion of Amphipolis, playing bodyguard to a younger, aspiring Pharaoh, who was trying to grab total power from her brother, Ptolemy II, whilst keeping the Romans at arm's length.

In the end, the Lord Conqueror departed Egypt with nearly everything, presenting Cleopatra VII with a crumbling kingdom which, thankfully, wasn't annexed, nor had a garrison inserted. Hard Cronus lied ahead, and once murmurs circulated that the Dictator for Life, Julius Caesar, was dead at the hands of assassins, the Pharaoh's hopes for a restored domain laid to rest alongside the whilom strategic, Roman General. If it was not for Marcus Antonius taking an interest in her, all could had been lost.

Regaining his bearings, Ansem retorted, "What a pity to lose our grand library. It was filled with such profound knowledge and history. You Greeks should be thankful to have literary imagries to succor quelling your barbaric ways."

Draco smiled, querying seriously, "Enough of your dido, where's the Pharaoh?"

"She is currently preoccupied at the moment. This is a minor situation of overseeing the Lord Conqueror's alterations on the trade agreement that was enforced on us. It does not take a genius to ascertain whatever she commanded isn't negotiable, which allows me to listen, and pass it on to my Pharaoh."

Next, Ansem ambled over to a white and grey-streaked marble table, signaling the General to sit.

Settled in their seats at the table, the High Priest included, "She has a husband and twin toddlers to care for. So, General Draco, let's begin."

Sitting across from each other, Draco yielded. "Fine, Priest."

Pulling a scroll from his side pouch, he handed it to Ansem. Grasping the proffered rolled parchment, the High Priest scanned its contents critically.

"Ah." He gave into scorn, laying the missive on the marble. "The Greeks wishes to extort Egypt twice. These are not suitable decrees. They're as ludicrous as the last demands that were unjustly imposed on us."

"The Conqueror states; free trade is lifted, but Egypt will simply receive thirty percent of the proceeds, in lieu of forty. To ensure the continuing peace of the Realm, Egypt's army is not to expand beyond the White nor Blue Niles, and shouldn't be anywhere near the east or west of the Mediterranean Sea that's close to Grecian borders." Draco reiterated what was written on the official letter, prior to divulging, "Lastly, and this was personally apprised to me by my Liege to tell the Pharaoh. It isn't on the scroll, and seeing you're the solitary ear that's here for her, I'll disclose it to you. Marcus Antonius must leave Egypt as soon as traveling arrangements can be made for him...and his troops."

Ansem was surprised by Draco's remark. 'How could they have found out? Marcus was very discreet when he stationed his army here.'

Distinguishing the High Priest's mien, Draco explicated, "Don't ponder on it too much, Ansem. The Lord Conqueror is nobody's fool. They were well hidden, and it caused us the lives of two men, while they surveyed your hot ass land. You are fortunate I don't seek reimbursement, but Egypt has enough problems."

"Hmm. It seems our little Lion has grown up from naiveté since her first visit here. Notwithstanding, she remains foolish, and none of you will survive if-"

"I am an acting ambassador for the Realm of Greece. If something drastic was to befall me, General Palaemon, or any of our soldiers from the Second and Third armies, Egypt will pay the consequences." Draco assured him.

Ansem became appalled by Draco's misconstruction. "I'm not threatening you, General. I'm offering a friendly warning. If you would kindly let me finish what I was trying to express."

"Get on with it, and be mindful of your words. My tolerance of you and your disrespectful tongue is reaching its limit." Draco expounded.

"As I was trying to say, none of you will survive if the Conqueror doesn't destroy the true enemy of the Grecian Realm." Ansem informed, cryptically.

Draco wasn't impressed, and sarcastically checked off a potential adversary, "The Romans? Their Triumvirate?"

"Not them. Nor will it ever be Egypt. But the Amazons..." The High Priest revealed.

Draco ran into the warriors, whom lived off the land, seasonal cycles ago. They were fierce fighters, and hated men. He encountered them along with his Lord, and both became infected with antithetical opinions on the surviving Amazons in the world, especially when the tribes that were hitherto scattered, united together in Greece not far from the Realm's capital, Corinth. It wouldn't be long 'til the Amazonian Nation was fully ruled by a singular queen, and attempted retribution against the Conqueror for her fray in the Northern-Steppes of Siberia.

"The Amazons are of no importance. They are nothing compared to the Conqueror's power." Draco asserted.

"You don't believe that." Ansem challenged.

"It doesn't matter what I think. The Lord Conqueror-"

"Is a fool." Ansem interrupted.

In an explosive rage, Draco jumped up from his chair, growing very close to broadcasting his veiled knife, and introducing it to the High Priest's throat. "I warned you to mind your tongue!"

Ansem kept his cool.

"Look around yourself, General. There's not a guard or slave protecting me. This..." His dark orbs gleamed with exactitude, whilst he scooped the offensive parchment, allowing it to slip from loosened fingers onto the table once more. "Is ridiculous. This is supposed to be a concourse for the Realm's renewal of an equitable treaty than what the Conqueror constrained on Egypt. But between you and I, we know the truth. It's not a negotiation or diplomacy; it is an act of dictatorship. Can you comprehend exactly why I am here in Pharaoh Cleopatra's stead. You are a ministerial official, serving a political monster."

"You presume to disrespect the Realm, and not accede to the Conqueror's will?"

"Calm yourself, General Draco... Unless you plan on using that dagger underneath your gauntlet."

Draco kept his stupefaction at bay, deducing, "Spies."

"Doesn't everybody utilizes them?" Ansem quizzed the rhetorical question.

He made a gesture for the General to sit back down, nevertheless, Draco had chosen to remain standing.

"Have it your way." Ansem sighed. "Egypt will recognize the Conqueror's fiat. I will put it to the Pharaoh, and she will make it so."

"Good." Draco muttered.

Whirling around to make his exit, Ansem halted him with an inquiry, "The Amazons, General Draco, what are you willing to do in order to rid the Geek dominion of them?"

"Nothing. It is not my place to aver an enjoin."

Ansem rose to his feet, gaiting slowly to him.

"It is, in a sense. You foresee how dangerous they'll become in the future." Ansem's legs stopped moving to stand behind the dark-skinned man. "A plot is set to obliterate the harlots."

"Why would you, or your Pharaoh, care about the Amazons? They are Greece's pest, not Egypt's." Draco queried, tilting his head to the High Priest.

"The Conqueror left an onus of money troubles for us after her departure. Egypt struggled to make ends meet. Cutbacks on foreign trade, tax increases, and slavery, helped with adjustments. Previous to the Egyptian Amazonian tribe deserting our land, a group consisting of thirty members were captured. These profligate rodents garner an exorbitant amount of money to slave traders. We amassed an amazing profit off enslaving and selling them." Ansem interpreted, worried he hadn't snared Draco's intentness. "Men will pay nearly anything for these exotic, so-called women, to not solely bring them to heel, but to teach them the ways of man since most of the backwards wrenches has never been touched intimately by one. You hate them Draco, don't bother denying it. Imagine how priceless this opportunity can be. You will be rich, and the Amazons will also be swept away from being a concern to the security of the Realm, killing two birds with a pure stone."

It was no lie, Draco despised the Amazons, and all they stood for. First impressions were everything, and thereby meeting the Siberian Tribe, they'd really bequeathed a bad distaste for the entirety of their kind.

The General didn't like Ansem either, yet, he became curious to learn more apropos to the scheme that would entail the savage women's demolition. "What would this stone cost me? I must be deceitful to my Lord?"

Ansem beamed wickedly. "A wee appraisal to aid in stirring our plan in motion. Nothing extreme."

"When?" Draco needed more information than that. "What am I to do?"

He clapped Draco's shoulder. "We'll keep in touch. Thus you, and the Lord Conqueror's Greece, shall truly have a sense of accomplishment."

Their meeting concluded, the General finished the walk out of the Hall of Pharaohs to prepare his men for the circuit back to their ship.

Unbeknownst to Draco, a pair of eyes, that was concealed behind a secret aperture, observed him in consternation.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

"Awe, yes. That was delicious." Meleager let loose a sigh, relaxing on the divan.

Also finishing the rest of her breakfast, the Conqueror had to agree. "Very well seasoned, too. I have to let Minya know she has outdone herself."

"I don't think I'll ever move from this spot on your sofa, my Liege."

"You'll be moving." The Conqueror replied, cleaning her hands on a napkin. "You have the Agora to run."

Meleager sat up. "Okay, okay. How about making a deal?"

"I'm listening."

The Chancellor was happy to get a foot in the door for negotiations with his bored-looking Conqueror. "If you succor an older gentleman, who's traveled long and far, by adjudging the Agora today, I swear on the hammer of Vulcan, I'll have the Corinthian blacksmith craft new horseshoes for Shadow."

She thought nothing of Meleager's terrible offer, but the Conqueror did think about going for a ride on the enormous, black steed once the evening god, Vesper, caused Helios to decline a bit.

Shadow had been with the Conqueror since her conquest of Athens, after she lost her original warhorse, Nightmare, who was mortally injured during the Battle for Corinth. He was, somewhat, smaller than his predecessor, howbeit much more agile.

"Age has made you a horrible dealmaker. I'd anticipated on hearing you would at least take care of the Agora cases for several days, if not a fortnight, or a moon. I can always have the blacksmith mend iron for Shadow's hooves whenever I choose, Old man." The Conqueror pointed out.

"No wonder you predicated this was the beginning of punishment. I'll never give up another vacation again." Meleager lamented. "Fine. Six days."

"Deal." The dark and silver-haired Ruler accepted.

Joining hands in concurrence, the Conqueror had risen off her sable couch.

"Leaving now?"

"The Realm never sleeps. Unlike you, I have to work." She ribbed. "Not only do I have to attend the Agora, but I also have to keep the confabulation with Brutus' Envoys."

Meleager arose to his feet as well. "Do you want me to accompany you during the conference?"

"That won't be necessary." The Conqueror embraced her Chancellor. "You go get some sleep. Meet back with me here prior to nightfall."

"Yes, Conqueror." Meleager looked at the mess that was on the table, and it beckoned him to think of a little strawberry-blonde he favored as a niece. "Will Ri be along to put everything neatly in order?"

Not wanting to get into a subject that would consume more of her morning, the Lord of the Realm lied, "I gave Ri a few days off so she could work on her studies."

"Well, if you see her 'fore I do, tell her I said hello." Meleager responded.

The Conqueror inclined her head in acceptance of the request, and the Chancellor of the Realm smiled, taking his leave. The forty-three-year-old, blue-eyed beauty traipsed inside the bedchamber to add to her apparel. Deciding not to wear any chain mail, she buckled the greyish armor over her silver-colored tunic. Even though she no longer went by the moniker: Lion of Amphipolis, she still loved the design of the lion's claws decorating the epaulets. Next, she fastened two chrome bracers on muscular upper arms, and placed a couple of gauntlets on her wrists.

Strapping the double-sheathes around her waist, she filled one of them with a decorative broadsword, and the second with her newly upgraded Lion blade, albeit she'd stopped from doing so to admire it. The sword was reforged from the platinum orbs mined in Laconia. The Conqueror stared at the gold lion-headed hilt of the weaponry which had rubies to resemble its eyes. Notwithstanding the blade was changed from its high-grade steel to a stronger, durable silvery-white metal, the lion's handle remained original since the day the people of Amphipolis asked the smithy, Camus, to create it.

When she'd received it, the Conqueror was eighteen winters. She wouldn't ever forget holding the sword vertically, pointing to the heavens of Mount Olympus, whilst the whole crowd cheered her name repeatedly.

['Xena, Lion of Amphipolis!']

'And they all doubted me becoming a decent swordswoman, including my mother.' The Conqueror smirked, remembering the day she first used a blade, altering her life forever.


["Mother! Toris is playing with swords!" I shout, watching my older brother practice swordmanship with the other boys of the village.

They are being taught by an older man with brown hair. I want to learn, but my mother forbids it, which was grudgingly fine when me, and Toris couldn't pick up a sword, after she caught us eyeing our father's. We didn't even get a chance to swing it. She would needlessly go on saying individuals with swords became a target. I can only humph at whatever that means. I guess it has a lot to do with our father.

He was a warrior, too, until one day, four summers past, he left to partake in a neighboring village's problem with bandits, and never returned home. I surmise she fear that will happen to us, whereas that's probably a load of crap, because I'm seeing my elder brother with a sword in his hand right now.

"Mother!"

"Xena, what are you on about?" My mother finally answers.

"Look." I gesture out the tiny kitchen window.

"Yes. A traveler is teaching them how to defend themselves." She replies flippantly. "His name is Meleager."

"Toris is among them."

"I know."

I'm confused.

"But you told us we couldn't." I whine.

I hate it when I do that, withal this is highly iniquitous.

"Sweetheart, come sit here." She brings me to the chair in the living room, proclaiming, "Xena, Toris is a grown boy now, and that makes him an adult."

Toris is a man? A grown-up?

Whatever.

"He's free to make his own choices and, although I am against it, he chose to become a swordsman. To fight if need be."

"I want to, too."

"That's not happening, Xena." She rejects quickly. "All you do is read scrolls, ponder over maps of Terra... By the gods, you rather play with weapons instead of dolls. Why don't you focus on other things fourteen-year-olds do? I hear that nice boy, Petracles, likes you. I'm sure you'll become fond of him as well if-"

"No!" Interrupting her can cause me a spanking, but I don't care, as I protest, "I don't want a boyfriend!"

"Xena of Amphipolis, you calm that tone down with me." My mother rebukes. "You may not want a companion now, nonetheless, in the long run, you will."

"No, I won't. I'll never want one." I announce proudly.

My mother looks apprehensive. "Surely you don't want a female for a lover."

What? Is that even possible?

"No. I want neither a boyfriend or a girlfriend, nor any kind of lover." My mother's face resumes her normal appearance, until I state, "I want a sword."

"I had enough, Xena. You will stay in this home, and clean the dishes. When I come back from the market, everything better be cleaned, or your butt is going to be in such a world of pain, you'll be begging for Pluto to come take you. Do you hear me?"

"Yes." I obey.

"Now get to it." She tells me in advance of going out the door.

Left with no alternative options, I sulk and watch her speak to my sibling, then to the old guy named Meleague, or something like that...

I don't remember his appellation.

Therefore, relaying what she needed to him, mother starts strolling to the marketplace. While soaking the plates and ceramic cups, I sullenly glare at Toris wielding his weapon clumsily.

"What an idiot." I scoff.

I love him dearly, but it should be me out there. If not with him, at least taking his place. My smoldering gander leave my inapt brother to gaze at the other trainees, realizing most of them are around my age.

"Unfair!" I yell, accidentally dropping one of the drinking vessels.

Mother is going to tan my hide browner than what it already is for breaking a cup. Regardless, I decide to leave the shards on the floor, because I'm too pissed off to care. Almost done my chore, I espy Toris setting his blade down on the ground, and come inside.

"Hey, Xena, I'm parched, can you... What did you do?" He asks me, looking downwards at the cup I broke. "Mother's gonna whip you for sure."

"It was a mistake." I pout.

I hate it when I do that.

"You need to clean this mess. She's gonna return soon."

"I'll get it when I'm ready." I inform him, retorting, "Aren't you gonna pick your sword up off the ground? Better yet, you should leave it there; the titan Terra keeps it more steady than your own hands."

I laugh, as I'm running cold liquid into a rinsed vessel for him.

Toris gets dejected, but to my dismay, he peps up. "You're merely jealous of me, Xena. I get to use a sword, whilst you gape and fantasize."

Quicker than the fastest god, I splash him with the full cup of water. "Drink that, you jerk."

"Urgh! You stupid girl. Now I'll have to change. You better believe I'm telling mother." He threatens, ascending the stairs.

"So what!" I scream.

I'm in for it now. I've not singularly shattered one of our cups, but I know Toris is going to act like I doused him before he started taunting me, and the floor's wet also. Hmph, I don't feel up to mopping! I'm getting a whipping for sure, and mother won't ever let me near a blade. Why can't I use a sword as well? It's not fair!

This isn't how it is supposed to be.

Minerva apprised me, when I was six winters, how I'm destined for more than greatness. That I would unite kingdoms. Build an empire. Nevertheless, it's all a little vague now, and perhaps I'm mistaken. No way the goddess of war and wisdom visited me.

Maybe it was purely a whimsical dream brought on by a foolish girl.

I glance outside again, noticing all the other pupils relinquished their swords to wander off. The old man is alone. For how long, I don't know, but something in the back of my brain is screaming at me to take this opportunity before I lose it.

Letting the plate fall into the soapy water, I hesitate opening the door. I'll be in trouble if mother catches me, but recalling the wrongs I've already done, I will live for the moment. I am going to get it anyway when she comes back. How much worse can it be?

I run out the door, calling the guy who's teaching the younger males of the village, "Old man!"

He looks around, then points to himself.

I nod my head. "Yea, you."

"Hey, little girl, I'm not an old man." He disputes.

I traipse in front of him, and note he's just a few inches taller than me. "I'm not a little girl. I am a young lady."

"Of course you are." He grins. "How old are you, young lady?"

"Younger than you are." I elude answering.

"Well, you are tall. I mean, really tall."

I sense he is teasing me like the other villagers do.

"Don't make fun of me." I cry.

I hate it when I do that.

"I'm not. You're unique. I haven't ever met a girl as statuesque as you are." The older man clarifies.

"Me either. Nor has anyone else in Amphipolis. I... I get mocked a lot." I confess.

"People can be ignorant, and simply tease others because of their own misunderstandings."

"Thanks." Immediately I am comfortable with him. "That makes me feel better knowing half the town's benighted."

"You are welcome." He smiles, sipping his drink.

I need to hurry. It's solely a matter of Cronus before my mother returns.

"May I use one of your swords?" I inquire nicely, straight to the point.

I must work on my diplomacy in the future.

"Um, I'm not positive that's a good-"

"Please." I plead.

His expression shows cogitation. "No, no. I'm sorry."

"Is it because I'm a girl?"

He sobers up. "What impels you to presume that?"

"There's no other females out here with you. Only my brother and numerous males." I justify my question.

"I'm not a sexist, if that's what you're implying. Most girls don't like to learn about weaponry. They prefer toys and boys over a sword. You are one of a kind." Professing that, he begins to look thoughtful. "You're Toris' sister, and Cyrene's daughter, Xani."

"It's Xena, Old man." I correct him.

"My apologies, Xena. I still can't. Your mother made it crystal clear I'm to train your brother and, 'to not let her fourteen-year-old daughter anywhere near these swords'."

I knew mother would cover all her bases when she'd spoken to him. I turn around crestfallen, choosing to try one more card.

The guilt trip.

In the saddest tone I could muster, I confide my biggest secret, "When I was six... I don't know, perchance it was a dream. Goddess Minerva came to me. She averred I was going to do incredible things in this life. That I would unite kingdoms during my quest of building an empire, while seeing wonders; not all good, nor all bad."

Somehow, I'm able to recollect Minerva's visit more clearly, and my voice loses the sad play-acting, as I go on.

"The goddess told me most mortals will see me as a savior. Others will fear me, and try to destroy my life. I'll be faced with obstruction, making it my goal to persevere. I will be met with heartache, but I'll find happiness as well; for pain and joy goes hand-in-hand." Spinning to descry him, I finish, "She ordained my greatest weapon wouldn't be a sword, although I will have amazing expertise utilizing it, along with other innumerable weaponry. Instead, my heart and soul, together, will be the strongest weapon I'll ever wield. I'm fated to become mightier than anything formed from derivation."

With my monologue ended, and feeling emotionally spent, I take a couple of steps towards my home, no longer caring.

"Hey, young lady."

A hand is laid on my shoulder. Turning my head, I see the old man.

"You had me going for a moment there, but your words caught me off guard. There's no way a teen, who doesn't fully know the world yet, could speak such truths concerning pain, joy, and most of all, life... I believe you were touched by the gods." He elucidates.

I am astounded. "You do?"

"It was the last part you revealed that coaxed me to accept your admission to be veracious. If you purely wanted to get your hands on a sword, which I know you do, you wouldn't have thrown the part in, referencing your heart and soul being your mightiest weapons." He asserts. "Come on. Let me show you some things, whilst my other students are taking a break."

My dream is coming true.

I enthusiastically stroll beside him, marveling at the sight of so many swords. Although I'm thoroughly excited, my examination surpasses it, as I mentally sort out the best steel amid the myriad dull, chipped ones. Spotting a suitable blade, I begin lifting it, and deduce how heavy it is.

No wonder Toris was having trouble.

"Get used to the weight first. Once you do, we shall start. I won't be able to teach you much today, but I promise to complete your training." My new teacher swears, picking his up, too. "Please, don't hurt yourself."

Smirking at him, I push myself to bear the heaviness. Soon enough, not disregarding my teacher's continuous coaching, the older man and I are swinging our blades almost at the same instant. I'm a bit behind, but I am getting the hang of it, while following his three-step instructions of thrust, block, and swing.

"When in battle against your opponent, make sure your confidence is higher than theirs."

Trying not to puff air, I brag, "Oh, I'll have no problem there."

"Don't be a braggart, young lady." He reprimands me. "Know that within yourself, you are a stronger force to be reckoned with, but never mock, or underestimate your challenger. Let them do that. The mind of a true warrior stays focused at all moments."

I retain what he says to heart, redoubling my efforts.

A quarter of a candlemark later, I am sweating, and panting. Still, my hands are steady, as I follow along with my mentor in perfect sync now.

"Hey, you're doing pretty good. A lot better than most of my students, including your brother." My teacher acknowledges.

I bloom with pride, staying on task. The older man moves swiftly to my rear.

Back-to-back, he conveys, "In battle with allies, be attentive for their wellbeing, but don't be overtly aware of them."

"What? I don't get that one." I admit, remaining doing the few tedious steps, and viewing his flickering sword in my peripheral vision.

He chuckles. "Be mindful of your comrades, however, keep your instincts on the fight. Have faith your companions can handle themselves, while watching out for them also."

"You mean... Remain connected to the battle, and be conscious of everyone. My allies and foes alike." I reply.

"Exactly. You're a bright young lady. Always remember, Xena, keep your friends close, and your enemies far away from you."

"That sounds like the opposite of what you've just told me." I huff.

He affirms, "You'll get it when you are older. Let's take a break now."

I am relieved when he announces that. Holding onto the borrowed sword, I sit down on the ground, looking upward at the old man drinking from his cup. Glancing in my direction, he renders it to me. I grasp it, and curiously sniff the clear liquid.

"It's water. I left the hard stuff alone when I was in my late teens."

"That must have been a long Cronus ago." I jest.

He sits down, too. "I'm twenty-seven. That hardly qualifies me as being old."

"Says the old man."

We both smile and laugh.

Afterwards, I start to drink the proffered water, as my mentor asserts, "If you are serious apropos to fulfilling your vision, Xena, in a real skirmish, one thing is real, and it's not fear. Fear's a choice. Danger is real, though. The dangers of dying, but don't ever fear it, 'cause once you do, it's over. Your life will automatically be forfeited by it. Don't forget that."

Another lesson I'll keep in my cerebration. Thereon, all too soon, the older man's students has returned, and are staring at me.

One of 'em queries, "What's she doing here? Girls can't use swords."

It is the village idiot, Elius, compelling the others to laugh at me. I hate being laughed at!

I'll show him.

My clutch tightens around the handle of the blade, while my teacher tells them, "You all may chortle, and joke if you want, but she'll put a lot of you to shame."

He gives me a distinctive mien, and I interpret it to be a signal to show off. Getting to my feet, I give the blade in my hand several twirls, observing the males gawking in awe. I can't believe I did it right without breaking my wrist or mishandling the sword.

Minerva has to be blessing me.

I cease the twirls, and prove I can take the mass of the weapon by thrusting it skyward. Holding it for what I feel is a plethoric amount of moments, I end my display with a downcast strike onto the ground, and make a defensive pose. I feel like a warrior, until I peek at my mentor.

His visage is mystified, and he's shaking his head. By the goddess Clementia, have mercy, for I've already failed one of the warrior's rules by boasting my skills. Out of nowhere, my arm is seized, and I'm descrying the most angriest blue irises.

"Mother." I gasp, releasing the sword.

"Don't 'mother' me. I've seen you already. I was standing here throughout the whole show you put on." She responds with rage.

I'm a simpleton.

I was terribly mistaken. The old man wasn't giving me a signal to broadcast my skillfulness, he was trying to warn me.

"What is this I hear 'bout you breaking dishes, and throwing water on Toris? You know he ran to get me, apprising me of everything. Good thing I met him halfway back from the market to see you holding that sword in your hand with my own eyes. So you can't deny it." She ripostes with my smug sibling standing beside her.

That's why Toris hadn't traversed out of our home to resume his practice. It doesn't take long to change clothes. Big pig went and squealed on me.

"And you, Meleager..." My mother turns her irate attentions on him. "I'd informed you to not let my daughter become a part of your training group, and to keep her away from your weapons, but you let her do it anyway. What were you thinking?"

"Forgive me, Cyrene, but your daughter has been touched by-"

"Greatness." I cut him off mid-sentence. "I'm truly great."

I give him a look, imparting what I've divulged earlier is our secret, hoping he don't misinterpret me the way I did him.

Unlike me, he understands, chirping, "She's really, really great."

"It doesn't make a difference. She's never touching anything again. Come on, Xena. In the house, you go." She drags me along, and the gathering students snicker at me, 'til our mentor hushes them into silence.

Our mentor.

I'm about to get the beating that no young life should endure, but somehow I manage to smile...

I have a mentor!

Whilst my mother pulls me farther away, I cheer, "Thank you!"

"You're welcome, young lady! And the name's Meleager!" He shouts.

Preceding my mother slamming the door, I blare, "Okay, Old man!"]


The young fourteen-winters-old female would go from being a misunderstood, backwards girl, to an unimaginable warrior who the entire town village relied on, and revered enough to call the Lion of Amphipolis. The Conqueror withdrew herself from the reverie, because she didn't deserve that title anymore. Failing her hometown, she became a monster in pursuit of vengeance.

Sheathing the Lion blade, the Conqueror grasped another weapon she'd considered herself unworthy of; the chakram was created from an unknown alloy of silver and gold, with nine emeralds embedded in a circular fashion around the edges. Amongst the many gifts she was bestowed, the razor disc, and the devotion to meditation from using the Sacred Book of Life to boost her already immense prowess, were the two she'd forever cherish from her Asian lover, Lao 'Ma.

The Lord of the Realm placed a gentle kiss on the chakram in advance of clipping it on her right hip, alongside the Lion blade. Thereafter, a knock came from the outside of her Chambermaid's door.

"Enter." The Conqueror gave the command.

Akemi opened the door, and walked through. Her nightly attire was altered into a smooth, grey chiton that had a single strap crossing atop one exotic shoulder. The chiton's length stopped below Akemi's knees, and black sandals adorned her feet. She also wore a Grecian hairstyle; the dark tresses were divided by two braids formed from both sides of her head to unite in the back, and held in place by an ebony clasp which was shaped like a grasshopper.

"I have finished my meal. I've come to fulfill the remainder of my tasks, my Lord."

"You can recommence those later." Relevant to the Agora, the Conqueror chose to set her plan in motion. "I need you to bring me the Prince of the Realm."

"As you wish, Lord Conqueror." Akemi bowed, prior to exiting the bedchamber.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Akemi strolled down the corridors of the castle to fetch the Prince of the Realm. On route, she stewed in disappointment, because she hadn't gotten any closer, romantically, to the Conqueror during her tenure as a servant. Being the Greek Ruler's Chambermaid, and lodged adjacently to the royal bedroom, she was hoping the Gerent would accept the adoring love that flowed inside her heart.

The young foreigner from Japa enjoyed combing her Lord's hair earlier. She wasn't necessarily voyeuristic, but it did give her a fortuitous sight of the older woman's cleavage through the aqua robe, and Akemi was able to discern the piercings on her nipples. Imagining the dynamic Conqueror's frame atop hers caused concupiscence.

In lieu of getting breakfast, which was a mistake because she was hungry now, Akemi lied to her Lord in order to release herself sexually. With each stroke of her own fingers, the Japian female pretended it was the Grecian Overlord's, bringing satisfaction. The Chambermaid was beginning to feel prurient again, so she tried to concentrate on the arched ceilings of the hallways, wondering how did the castle's attendants light the lanterns that were high up, until she arrived at the Prince's chambers. She knocked casually, lingering for someone to answer.

"Yes?" The groom asked, opening the door.

"I am here to speak with Prince Lyceus on behalf of the Lord Conqueror of the Realm." Akemi proclaimed.

The servitor stepped aside to let her in.

"Wait here, please." He said, going back to inform the Prince.

Unsupervised, Akemi viewed the antechamber. It was a bit smaller in size compared to her mistress'. She pondered if it was due to rank, or a personal choice of the Conqueror's brother.

"The Prince of the Realm is prepared to receive you." The manservant announced out of nowhere, compelling Akemi's awareness.

Ceasing her internal inquiry, she trailed the man into the Prince's bedchamber. Lyceus was standing beside the bed, still dressed in his brown tunic and trousers. He added a brownish vest to his attire, covering the top garment, and bronze gauntlets adorned his arms.

"Morning, Akemi." He greeted.

"Good morning, Prince Lyceus." Akemi returned with a bow. "The Lord Conqueror requests your presence."

"Of course. Let's not keep her waiting." Lyceus replied.

The Conqueror's Chambermaid bowed once more to him, exiting the room together.

"How are you, Akemi?" Lyceus queried, while they walked to his sister's chambers.

"Fine, Prince Lyceus."

"I meant, being a servant to our Lord, are you finding your tasks durable?" Lyceus reaffirmed his question.

"Yes." She gave a concise reply.

"How about Ri? Are you two getting along, whilst completing your responsibilities?"

"I have not seen her in as long as two fortnights, but, yes, when we're together, we are gregarious. She's very sweet, and kind to me." Akemi responded.

The Prince smiled, thinking of his early meal with the petite, strawberry-blonde. "Ri's the sweetest, kindest person on Terra."

Thereon, they continued onward to their destination in quiescence.

{C&R}

The Lord Conqueror scrutinized her reflection in the mirror, undecided on what she wanted to do with the unconfined hair. The blue-eyed Monarch was unsure whether she desired it pinned upwards in a regal style, pushed and tied to the back of her head, or simply leaving it alone.

'Screw it.' She submitted, letting the sable and silver tresses remain dangling around her sapphire orbs.

Even in old age, her excellent hearing could secern footfalls coming to a cessation at the antechamber's door, followed by knocking.

Closing the closet, she made her way out of the bedchamber, and traipse to the antechamber. "Come in."

Akemi came inside with Lyceus.

Accomplishing her formal address, Akemi pronounced, "My Lord, the Prince of the Realm, Lyceus."

Her younger brother also showed respect by inclining his head. "Good morning, Conqueror."

"Morning, Prince Lyceus." The Conqueror descried her Chambermaid. "Thank you, Akemi. You may leave us. I'll summon you once we are done conversing."

"Yes, my Lord." Akemi curtsied and obeyed.

Both siblings watched the foreign female exit the chamber.

"Beautiful, isn't she?" The elder sister prompted.

"Quite so, but she isn't more gorgeous than Ri." The youngest stated, observing the empty cups and plates that were left on two trays atop the table. "Speaking of your Handmaiden, will she be aiding Akemi in her duties today?"

The Conqueror was taciturn in her response, hence using the same lie she'd given Meleager, "No. Ri is studying. I granted her a few days off."

Lyceus was becoming agitated. 'Not only is she declining to tell me she's sending Ri away, but she is willing to not be truthful referring to it as well.'

The Prince noted the warrior apparel of the Conqueror. His eyes were fascinated by the chakram and the Lion blade, just like when he was a teen.

"Is there a war or skirmish happening that I am unaware of, Xena, 'cause you look dressed for battle?" He inquired, sarcastically.

"I'm not at all surprised you wouldn't know what's taking place within, or outside these walls." Xena countered. "Maybe I have spoiled you too excessively."

"Spare me, Xe." Lyceus argued, knowing she hated the shortening of her name. "I may not have military knowledge like you, but along with your training, Meleager has taught me to use a sword well. And, I am aware of some things. For instance, why is Tessa teaching a class today? I've seen how she acts among the Fifth Army. You do note her temperament is a tad rampant?"

"My, my..." Xena was amused, letting the contemned sobriquet pass, while sitting on her divan. "Seems I've been premature in my opinion of you. Who did you hear this from?"

'It's the pot calling the kettle black.' Lyceus criticized himself, starting his fabrication, "Denizens of the castle talk, Xena. Tessa shouldn't be hosting the students. Not even for a day. It is really Clydmus' class."

"It was his decision."

"What? I thought he loved teaching his pupils solo?" The Prince was confused.

"He do, but, the 'little ingrates', his term, not mine, are rattling his nerves. They are more interested in learning about weapons of war, rather than the greek alphabet, and how it's applied to writing." Xena confirmed. "Though I don't know why, because she'd rejected it at first, Lieutenant Tessa of the Fifth Army finally accepted Clydmus' offer to show them a few displays on the subject."

"Ri is going to be there also." Lyceus revealed.

Xena stared into the Prince's blue eyes. "Really?"

"It appears you're not knowledgeable of everything either." Lyceus unintentionally earned Xena's disfavor. "So much for Ri's studies. I assumed you knew."

"I'll bet you I'm aware of something you're not."

'I've already been apprised by Ri you are sending her to the Academy in Athens.' Lyceus mused with a smug grin. "Yea, what's that?"

"I was gonna go with you, but since you are being a smart-ass, you're going to the Agora without me." Xena gleefully made clear.

"The Agora!" Lyceus became displeased, howbeit he didn't want the eldest to see. "Good. I wanted to take a more prominent role in the administration of the Realm anyway. What better way than dishing out the law to rule breakers."

Xena started to laugh with abandon, and Lyceus grew uneasy.

"You think that's it? Dealing with citizens who disobey the rules of the Realm? I stand corrected; you truly aren't cognizant of the obligations you appertain as Prince." Xena arose to her feet, and Lyceus acknowledged she was shifting into full Conqueror mode. "It is now that Cronus deems for you to play some part in government, commencing today. Return to your chambers, take your vest off, put armor on in its place, arm yourself with a sword, and prepare to go to the Agora. I'm sure you are not informed on how to deal with every crime committed by criminality, so General Nale of the First Army will accompany you."

Prince Lyceus was disquieted.

"That is all." The Conqueror avowed, as she sat down again.

Lyceus bowed in obedience.

On his way out of his sister's abode, he presented a false smile. "Thanks for conferring me a helper, but for the record, it is unnecessary."

Closing the door outside his sister's chambers, Lyceus' faux facial expression dropped.

'Cause of the task the Lord of the Realm commanded, one word silently erupted out of his mouth, "Shit."

{C&R}

Two wooden swords, including the remaining pieces of the practice dummy, that was carved in the shape of a human, were gathered and placed to the side, courtesy of the classroom assistant, Iona. The fifteen-year-old was very useful when it came to being demonstrated on. She, along with the remainder of the class, were thoroughly shown defensive moves. Exhibiting how to block, parry, absorb the blow of an opponent, as well as where to attack vital spots offensively, like the top of the head; from injuring the brain, to severing the throat's main arteries, or sundering the neck altogether.

All of this was retained in Iona's memory.

Their brown-haired, substitute teacher went into vivid, gory details concerning penetration of the torso, listing the liver, kidneys, lungs, and most effectively, the heart. She described the effects of blood-loss, and dismemberment of the human appendages, whilst chopping the dummy's limbs off, before its crown met decapitation by her labrys, too. That act urged some of the younger preteens to almost lose their breakfast. Nonetheless, an older boy couldn't resist bolting from the classroom to regurgitate the contents of his stomach.

Iona faired better than the inanimate object, although she kept rubbing aching hands together because they stung from the impact of her teacher's strikes with the wooden sword. Dark-green irises peeked at the blonde adolescent whom had her long hair tied in a ponytail similar to her mother's, the General of the Sixth Army. Tessa's twin axes were sheathed in their normal places on the sides of both hip, as she veered her gaze from the teenager to the main attraction, and the primary reason for her substitution in Clydmus' stead; the Conqueror's adorable Handmaiden.

Ri was highly engaging, finishing her tale based around a foolish king who'd entreated the god of wine for the power to turn everything he touched into gold. Not only dazzled by the loveable voice of the aspiring bard, but by her appearance also, for the storyteller donned a turquoise dress that was embroidered with golden designs. It kudize her eyes, and strawberry-blonde hair, which was fastened up, leaving two curled locks hanging down on either side of her cherubic mien. The dress' length stopped above her ankles, and black sandals. The straps of it athwart each other on her back, allowing all to descry traces of Ri's smooth skin. To Tessa's perception, she certainly didn't dress like a servant, garnering the look of a noblewoman, if not a princess instead.

Other than asking her to tell a fable to the class, the Lieutenant of the Fifth Army never got a chance to become acquainted with Ri. Notwithstanding, she heard others speak highly of the trim female, minus the exception of General Draco. He told Tessa how the Conqueror rescued the 'little girl' from slavers whom were once a part of her growing army during the quest to control all of Greece.

'I wonder if she's really a maiden?' Tessa ruminated, ogling Ri's figure profoundly. 'Because I would be most gracious to relieve her of the title.'

"After Apollo, the god of Helios, was professed the victor over the minor god Faunus, King Midas refused to endorse the winner, 'cause the sight of Apollo's yellowish aura and lyre put him in mind of his foolery years beforehand. The Lord of the burning celestial, healing, and music, wouldn't leave such dull senses unpunished. So a phrase from him invoked Midas' ears to transform into elongated furry ones. Now every musician could clearly see he had the hearing of an ass." Ri ended her declaim.

The students burst in laughter with applause.

When the acclamation ceased, Ri bobbed a curtsy, questioning, "Does somebody want to tell me the moral of King Midas' tragedy?"

"Yeah." A boy called out. "Don't ever get involved with quarrelsome gods. They might turn you into an... An ass."

The class began laughing rambunctiously.

Ri's embarrassed chuckle made her nose crinkle. "Perhaps you are right, Virgil. Anyone else?"

"We are enjoined to respect the gods." A female student confidently divulged.

"Yes, Iona. We must always remember the gods demand that humans must defer to them at all Cronus, no matter how petty they may seem. He's not the sole individual, but in this calamitous tale, Midas' dilemma is a prime resulting apotheosis of what will happen if you don't. His avarice caused him to transmute the many things he cherished into gold. Kindly, Dionysus reversed the charm, however, the King became angry, and bitter at anything resembling the color of honey. He went as far as insulting Apollo after he was declared the victory in the music competition against his patron god, Faunus, and in turn, was transmogrified. In the end, class, don't ever disrespect a god, because they could possibly-"

"Change you into an ass!" Every pupil shouted in merriment, provoking Ri's embarrassment further.

"I was going to say, punish you, but, okay." Ri verbalized amidst the students' excitement.

"Alright!" Tessa restored order, and saw the sand glass had expired. "I hope you all have learned a lot today. Class dismissed."

The students congratulated Ri for telling a wonderful, funny story, and begged her to do so everyday, prior to traipsing to their next classes. Virgil gave her a big hug in advance of leaving, too.

Iona was the last to bestow her appreciation. "You are amazing, Ri. I want to stay and chat, but I have to go. I can't be late for my architectural class. I'll stop by your chamber later."

"That'll be great." Ri agreed, giving the girl an embrace.

"And thank you, Lieutenant Tessa. I can't wait to tell my parents what I've been taught by you." Iona asserted, jovially departing the women.

"At least someone thanked me. I was beginning to feel invisible with you getting all of the attention." Tessa jested, turning on her own charms. "Yet, what can I say, you are awesome at storytelling. What else are you good at, Lady Ri?"

"I'm unsure." Ri contemplated if she had any other astonishing talents. "I am great at cooking, cleaning. Oh, and serving our Lord the best I can. Well...I used to."

Tessa was perplexed. "What do you mean?"

"Never mind." Ri quickly stopped herself from saying more.

She didn't want to elucidate on the Conqueror's arrangements for her in Athens.

"Thanks for inviting me. I must go, though. I have my own learnings to maintain. I've enjoyed your presentation on sword usage, and..." She grinned, crinkling her nose again. "The evisceration of the wooden dummy."

"You're welcome, but the honor's all mine." Grasping Ri's hand gently, the brunette didn't want her opportunity to dissipate. "You are absolutely radiant. I can understand why it took you a spell to get here. I surmised maybe you weren't coming."

Ri blushed. "Thank you. Sorry regarding my tardiness. I have to reciprocate, you look different without your brown armor."

Releasing the Handmaiden's hand, the Lieutenant of the Fifth Army glimpsed her own white tunic and brown trousers that had two tiny circular holes on the outside stitching to hint at the creamy flesh of her legs. "I'm surprised you've noticed me, but are you apprising me nicely you don't care for my outfit now?"

"No." Ri cleared the air by explaining in a bardic fashion, "What I was getting at is, you are beautiful, Lieutenant Tessa. Your green irises, whereas dark in tone, they manage to shine like verdant emeralds."

Tessa could only gawk into Ri's eyes like an idiot, unable to find her tongue for speech. She'd been with numerous men and women. Conquered many conquests, withal none of them coaxed her to feel what the storyteller did, and with simple mere words.

The strawberry-blonde turned to exit, and Tessa finally realized the moment was fleeting. "Talking to someone like that, I would think you were flirting, Lady Ri."

She twirled, smiling, while slowly walking backwards. "I'm simply being truthful."

Once the Handmaiden disappeared in the hallway, Tessa mentally exclaimed excitedly, 'By Queen Juno, I'm so going to fuck her!'

{C&R}

The Conqueror stood on the dais in her large, Corinthian Throne Room, as her General of the Fifth Army, decked in a polished brown armor with the insignia of his rank emblazoned on the right side of its breastplate, walked through the ingress. Getting closer to her, he saluted.

"General Darnelle, I wasn't expecting you. Did you abscond your drills on the training field to come here; leaving your wife stuck with both your army and hers?" The Conqueror jokingly prodded.

"I couldn't resist wanting to hear the babble Brutus' Envoys has to avouch." Darnelle beamed. "Glaphyra will understand."

His Lord smirked. "I assumed you felt I was too old and feeble, incapable of caring for myself during this conference."

"Older, you are, my Liege, but you're able to keep up with us youthful folks. You don't need me to protect you at all."

"You are six years younger than me, General. I doubt it nominates you being a part of the 'youthful folks'. Also, you are correct; I do not require your protection. I have Corinthian Guardsmen for that." The Conqueror purported.

Darnelle exaggeratedly viewed the gothic chamber. Besides themselves, it was empty of any other person. His sight returned to the Conqueror, conveying the obvious.

She rolled her cobalt irises, and sat on her regal, silver throne. "I wanted to have this congress alone."

"I have taken the liberty of welcoming them into the castle. They're outside the hallway. I can bring them in, and take my leave, if that's what you command, my Lord." Darnelle insisted.

"You're already here now. Show them in, General."

"Yes, Conqueror." He smiled.

Joyously, he opened the oak doors for the two men. Cassius Longinus, and Markus Pindarus entered behind the General, espying the dimly lit chamber, noticing how different it was from the splendor that was Rome. The stone walls were dark, creating a sense of gloom, and in the center, reclining on the sole embellishment of the entire spacious room, was the palpable Lord of the Realm. Wearing stylish armor, she depicted what her name around the known Terra suggested and more.

A Conqueror.

"My Lord, I introduce to you, the Envoys: Gaius Cassius Longinus, and his slave, Markus Pindarus." Darnelle imparted, standing beside her.

'A slave?' The Ruler of Greece cogitated, keeping her stoic visage, as she glanced at Darnelle who was smirking.

"Thank you for receiving us, Lord Conqueror, but couldn't it have been in a more lively setting?" The male with sandy hair, and boyish features queried, not fully knowing, nor concerned about the Conqueror's renowned reputation, because all he knew was Rome. "With all the money you have, it's a bit disappointing you'd permit such an impecunious-looking chamber to accept important people like my Dominus."

'Starting off badly.' The Conqueror groused, whilst Darnelle's smile grew wider, ascertaining what she was musing.

Both men were dressed identically like Roman Consuls. With their expensive white and red-striped togas promoting some sort of royalty, an unknowing spectator wouldn't be able to identify that one of them was in bondage.

The Conqueror averred, "You're the slave. To answer your critical discernment, this room has remained in the same state it was in when I conquered Corinth. I've altered nothing but the throne chair, which I am seated on. I can't distinguish why you were brought here masqueraded as an envoy, nevertheless, if you insult me again, it will be for the last."

"A thousand pardons, Lord Conqueror." The long, brownish-haired Cassius apologized for his property. "Pindarus is my most loyal manservant, so I've chosen to bring him along with me. Considering the dark Cronus we are living in, a republican mustn't choose his companions lightly."

"Keep a leash on your thrall, Cassius. I've met a couple of people named Marcus whom I actually liked. One is a Roman politician, and seeing how you people have an infinitude for the compellation, that's a big statement. The other had neither the skin color, or the same fickle behavior as most of you Romans." She expressed, remembering the only man she'd ever fallen in love with.

"Didn't prevent you from collaborating with Marcus Brutus in the assassination of Caesar." Cassius retorted.

"That was business. I had to let Caesar know I'm a keeper of my word. Just like I truly want to keep this meeting as brief as possible." The Conqueror deadpanned. "What is it that Brutus wants?"

Clearing his throat, Cassius began to speak straight to the point, "Brutus, also myself, remain descrying the tyranny of Rome. It did not terminate with the death of the Dictator, and soon, either Marcus Antonius, or Octavian will plot their ascension to become Emperor; eradicating the standings of the Republic. Surely you can see how that could affect your Empire."

"I do. It's safe to presume you and Brutus have come to the same conclusion, too. Is that why he's shouting my name all over Crete?" The Conqueror probed, acrimoniously. "He premise I will join him and you to form a dependant trinity?"

"Lord Conqueror." Cassius had begun adjuring her. "Antonius and Octavian will go to war with each other. Brutus has seventeen legions, and I have twelve at my disposal. With your resourcefulness, we can be invincible."

"I am invincible!" The Conqueror roared, arising from her throne. "I don't need either of you. You both covet my skills. That's the main reason of you seeking my aid. You can cease your wordplay of appeasement, Cassius. The final thing I want to hear from you is the location of your brother-in-law, Brutus."

"He's in Crete, Lord Conqueror."

'I know that, imbecile.' The Overlord cerebrated. "Where in Crete?"

"On the island...of Dia." Cassius tentatively revealed.

"Make it known to him I'll be paying you all a visit." She warned.

Thereafter, the Conqueror gave her General a dismissing signal.

"Your audience with the Lord Conqueror is over." He declared to the pair of Romans, directing them to the egress of the room.

Pindarus couldn't halt cogitating on how an old bitch disrespected his Master and Rome. A region that was far grandiose, and who citizenry were more civilized than Greece's; a backwards country.

Sans hesitation, Pindarus stopped mid-step, and faced the Conqueror. "My Dominus has come to speak with you, and you treat him in such a way."

"Enough, Markus. Let's go." Cassius ordered, terrified of the ending result for his outburst.

"No, Dominus. She should be ashamed to call herself a ruler." Glaring into the Conqueror's eyes, he blared, "You're no better than Caesar himself!"

'Went from bad to worse.' Her hand rested on the handle of the shining Lion blade.

Darnelle knew what it'd implied when she drew her sword in anger; it meant you were dead.

"You dote on your slave too much for his own good, Cassius. Sadly, you'll have to get another." The Conqueror claimed, moving menacingly towards Pindarus.

Cassius rendered his slave a pitiful look, and knew he could do nothing, emitting the liberating words to the enslaved mortal, "You're free."

As Darnelle ushered Cassius out of the Throne Room, Pindarus tried to travel with them, now curious why his Master granted him freedom, other than worrying over the Conqueror's withdrawal of her weapon, 'til his arm was gripped tightly. He observed the evil leer of the female he'd unfortunately insulted twice, suddenly gaining cognizance of his dire situation.

"Dom... Dominus, no!" The newly freedman cried at the closing doors, preceding spinning to the Conqueror, imploring her with tears in his eyes, and on bent knees, "Please, you don't have to kill me. I have learnt my lesson."

"Hush, Pindarus. I'm a woman of my word." The Conqueror affirmed, slashing his windpipe in a flash.

Shortly, the General of the Fifth Army came back into the darkened chamber to espy the blood flowing from Pindarus' lifeless body on the floor.

"I think Cassius really was fond of him, my Liege. I swear by Pluto, I saw him shed a tear." Darnelle swore.

"Have the guards remove his carcass and tidy up. They can give the remains to Cassius for all I care. I'm going to bathe." Sheathing her blade, the Conqueror traversed passed him, uttering, "I have a date with my warhorse."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

"By the gods, that was worse than Tartarus." Lyceus grumbled, returning inside the Corinthian castle, after three candlemarks of passing out judgment in the city's Agora.

Lyceus discovered exactly what his sister teasingly laughed at him about. He had to sit and listen to dignitaries, citizens, also other officials, entreat, whine, and kvetch tediously concerning one trifle matter, then another. It wasn't enough that he was ignorant on what penalty corresponded with the appropriate crime when an accused person was found guilty, to his trepidation, and General Nale's constant, hidden irritation of having to tell him, but the insistent cries of the luminaries, as well as the commoners, were downright annoying.

He took great solace in telling most of them no out of spite for giving him a headache. He'd hoped the Ruler of Greece would be wrong about the Agora, and his first Cronus there would be inspirational for the decision to take part in government.

It wasn't.

'Why does the Conqueror always has to be right?' The Prince moped.

Next, he was hit with remembrance of the only individual whom didn't implore him to do something burdensome; a decrepit, old-looking lady who kindly presented a gift to be delivered to the Conqueror. Digging into the inside pocket of his white chest-plate of armor, Lyceus pulled out the rusty, bronze, necklace the aged woman had given him. He studied the jewelry sharply, gazing at the dull, jade gem that was connected to the chain like a pendant.

'A decent jewel, notwithstanding, what an ugly eyesore it's hooked to. I'm glad it isn't for me.'

So fixated on the necklace, the Prince of the Realm wasn't watching where he was going, and bumped into the Chancellor.

"Whoa! And I thought I was going blind." Meleager joked, holding Lyceus steady from falling.

"Meleager!" He embraced him, excited to see the Chancellor. "When did you get back from vacation?"

"Today, actually. The Conqueror didn't inform you?"

'She's becoming selective on sharing intel.' Lyceus mused. "No. It probably fell from her mind."

"'Fell', like you darn near did from rushing into me. What got you distracted?" Meleager inquired.

Showing the object in his hand, Lyceus responded, "This would be the reason. I was engrossed by it, and became careless."

Meleager inspected it, saying, "If you are giving that to someone you want to impress, they'll like the jade, but the chain is horrid."

The Prince chuckled. "Nah, it's not mine to give. An unselfish, old woman bequeathed this to the Conqueror when I was at the Agora."

A witty quip relevant to the individual perhaps not liking the Conqueror was replaced with a question, "You were at the Agora, alone?"

"Not by myself. I had General Nale with me. He helped me through the whole affair."

"I didn't mean for it to get dropped on you." The Chancellor admitted.

Lyceus' expression was perplexed. "What?"

"Your sister notified me to judge the Agora today, but I made a pact with her; if she handle it for me, I will take care of it for six days." Meleager started to look apprehensive. "I did throw your name under the wagon prior to us making the deal, though."

"Under normal circumstances, I would be upset. However, I've learned important details that will be crucial to my role as Prince. So all is forgiven." Lyceus replied.

Meleager felt jovial. "In that case, do you want to run the Agora for the next several days in my place?"

"Of course, I don't." Lyceus shook his head, laughing.

"It was worth a try. Oh, yea. You're why I was walking these halls, then I'm going back to bed. I couldn't wait to give you this!" The Chancellor exclaimed, taking an item out the bag he was carrying, and unwrapping the cloth to show a sculptured horse, crafted from glass. "I bought it, whilst in Rome."

Lyceus grasped the miniature, glass horse that was carved to have one of its hooves suspended in the air, while the other three were molded onto the crystal plate it posed on. "Wow. It's splendid. It must've cost a fortune. Thank you, but...you don't have to keep buying me these."

"I figured since I've been doing it when you were a toddler, mind as well not stop now. I'm also cognizant you still love horses." Meleager told him.

Lyceus remembered the first toy Meleager gave him. Thereon, he'd never ceased, and the Prince cherished all of them.

"It started from wooden ones, and now glass. You know, I'm hoping the Conqueror will allow me to have that Palomino she has stabled. I'll ride her everyday."

"I'll talk to the Conqueror for you." Meleager offered.

Lyceus mulled over the Chancellor's proffer, preceding his features showcasing disapproval. "I'm twenty-eight now, Meleager. I appreciate it, nonetheless, it's best I begin standing on my own two feet. I can't have you always trying to solve matters for me, whether it's big or small. Bad enough you have to do that for the Realm as its Chancellor. I'll speak with her myself."

Meleager smiled, understanding Lyceus was shaking off the spoilt phase, and becoming, sort of, independent.

"Okay, Prince Lyceus. You are a big man now. I see you won't be needing this." The Chancellor playfully reached for the glass horse.

"No way." He laughed, retreating from him. "And please, call me Lyceus."

"I forgot, I forgot. Formalities are over with, Lyceus." The Chancellor bowed.

The blonde, younger man simply grinned at the older one whom he looked up to like a father figure since he'd never known his own.

"Well, I got to get more rest. The Realm's duties calls later, and you have to get that hideous present to the Conqueror."

"I'm heading to my chambers first to take this hot armor off, and add this to my collection." Lyceus indicated the translucent object.

They both hugged again in advance of going their separate ways.

"Lyceus, one other thing." Meleager announced. "How did the old woman look? Was she pleasing to the eyes?"

The Prince recalled the said person, and he grimaced.

{C&R}

The Conqueror's hands made ripples in the tub, not giving another rumination to the life she ended in her Throne Room. The sole thing the Gerent thought about was where she and Shadow were going to journey to.

'I'll pay a visit to Minerva's temple.' She decided.

Coming to the conclusion the heated water began getting cold, and she was clean, the Conqueror of the Realm exited the bathtub to don her silk, red robe.

Walking out of her bath chamber, she called, "Akemi."

"Yes, my Lord." The Chambermaid appeared with a towel.

"Has anyone come by, whilst I was soaking?" The Conqueror used the cloth to dry her hair.

"Yes. The Prince of the Realm dropped off a gift."

"Bring it to me." The Conqueror ordered, releasing the towel, and sitting on her soft bed.

Several candle-drips later, Akemi returned into the bedchamber, handing the item over.

The Conqueror's eyebrows furrowed. "What is this?"

"The Prince purported a citizen at the Agora wished for you to have it." The Chambermaid affirmed.

"It's unsightly." The Conqueror tossed it to the side of her, and laid down on the bed. 'Either someone dislikes me, or it's one of Lyceus' petty pranks for sending him to the Agora.'

"If I may, Lord Conqueror?"

"Yes, Akemi." She gave way, closing her eyes.

Picking up the pendant to analyze it, Akemi conveyed, "The chain is tarnished, but the gemstone is appealing."

The Conqueror sat back up, and Akemi placed it into her grasp again. Looking at it fully, the older woman had to agree. Although dim, and not shiny like a diamond, the jade was the most eminent part. The Conqueror did like that aspect of it.

"If you do not find it to be in good taste, you could trash it, or give it to someone else." The servant pronounced, inadvertently putting an idea in her Lord's head.

"Akemi, do you know Qoutis?"

Her hair-braided, Japian servant pondered for a moment.

"Yes. He does all of your jewelry." Therefore, Akemi understood. "You want me to take the necklace to him, and have it replaced with something nicer."

"Not nicer. Dazzling." The Conqueror corrected, putting the rust-coated adornment in her Chambermaid's hand. "Go to Qoutis. Tell him to dismantle the bronze chain, but salvage the gemstone. I want him to create a new necklace from the platinum orbs and meld the jade to it. When it is done, bring it to me. After that, I want you to find Ri. Tell her to meet me in front of the castle."

Akemi couldn't guess at what Ri had to do with the Conqueror's plans, stirring her cogitation. "As you command, my Lord."

She bowed before setting out to fulfill her tasks, while the forty-three-winter-old Conqueror reclined happily on the bed again, feeling like a love-struck, teenage girl once more.

{C&R}

Four candlemarks later, Ri was slumped on the chair inside her immaculate room, barely listening to her tutor, Eramus, lecture on and on and...

"When you have the crowds' ear, you must have the finesse to maintain it. You..." The bald, stubby man could see his student's senses were elsewhere. "Are you even paying attention?"

"I was..." Ri adjusted herself in the seat. "I am."

"No, you weren't, young lady." Eramus had begun his reprimand. "The Conqueror of the Realm, in her benign graces, has asked me to instruct you. If you hadn't participated in that faux class earlier, and placed your own learnings with me on the back burner, we wouldn't be here right now. Our Lord seems to have uplifted prospects for your future, as do I. Please, do not disappoint us."

With the mentioning of her former mistress, Ri had renewed focus. Even if the teachings were getting tediously boring, she would endure.

'I pray Aristotle won't be lacking when I become his protégé.'

Content he had Ri's full attention, Eramus continued, "Now where was I. Once you have the crowds' ear, you must-"

A soft tap on the strawberry-blonde's chamber door cut short the teacher's repeated quote, and Ri was delighted for the interruption. "May I answer it, Master Eramus?"

"Yes, you may." He huffed out a breath, narrowing his vision at Ri going to the entryway. "But we are never using your room again for our learning period."

Opening the door ajar, Ri saw who it was, and allowed him access. "Prince Lyceus, good evening."

"Good evening to you, Ri. And to you, Eramus. Have I disrupted anything important?" The Prince questioned.

"Evening, Prince Lyceus." The tutor answered, astonished to see him. "Yes, you have, however, you are more imperative than what we were doing. Our session was merely concluded anyway."

Packing up his scrolls, Eramus' footsteps carried his rotund frame towards the entryway.

"Farewell, Prince Lyceus." He gave a bow. "Ri, keep up with your studies. I expect you to be in my classroom at noon tomorrow."

Ri slanted her head in acknowledgment, and thereafter, Eramus was out the door.

"Thank you, Lyceus. I was on the brink of hearing a tutorial, till I passed out from boredom." She lightheartedly claimed, giving him a hug.

"It couldn't have been that bad." Lyceus pulled away, grinning.

Ri supremely liked how she could talk to the Prince comfortably once again as if they were peers.

"I love Master Eramus. I have been under his tutelage for quite some years now, but he can become a bore." She walked over to her wooden table, pouring herself a cup of water from the amphora. "Would you like a drink?"

Her offer of water fell on deaf ears, whilst Lyceus got lost in Ri's beauty. The apparel she'd worn to Tessa's class was still donned on her, and the sight amazed him.

"By the gods, Ri. You're divine."

Ri quickly spun her back to the Prince, failing to hide the blush creeping up her neck. "You are more than generous, Lyceus."

Lyceus' footfalls were heard behind her, stopping, as he enclosed his arms around Ri's slim waist. "I really like what you've done with your hair."

Ri turned in his embrace, locking their eyes together.

"Thank you. It took a long while to do this morning, after you left." Wanting to alter the subject, she raised the ceramic cup, repeating, "Would you like a drink?"

Lyceus' blue orbs glanced at her lips. "I would love a taste."

Ri placed the vessel against his brown, tunic-covered chest, smiling. The Prince removed his arms, clasping the offering, bringing it to his mouth.

The whilom Handmaiden began to pour another cup for herself. She knew Lyceus wanted to kiss her, and it would have been received with a resounding no, but she couldn't halt intimate curiosities from entering her mind for his sister.

'I don't want Lyceus, and Milady doesn't desire me.' She chided, discreetly clearing her throat to query, "What do I owe for this special visitation?"

Many thoughts ran through Lyceus' head. He wanted to tell her about his day at the Agora. How he had to listen to people drone on relating to their wants and needs. The singular thing he really did remotely exciting was send a few thieves to prison after their right hands were sliced off. He wanted to petition it, but any changes of the Conqueror's laws could only be sanctioned by her. It was his first day, and he wasn't going to appeal to her like a kid.

The Prince also didn't want to stultify Ri with the topic of whining dignitaries, or citizens, and he definitely chose not to tell her the grisly fates of the criminals. Lyceus felt the delicate maiden was too fragile for that.

"I want to know how your day went with Tessa and the students?" He asked instead, setting the empty cup on the table.

"It went great." Ri's face lit up, putting her drinking vessel beside Lyceus'. "Lieutenant Tessa's display was intense, but informative. And the class enjoyed my story of King Midas."

Suddenly, Ri's disposition changed, causing Lyceus to become alarmed. "Why do you look glum, Ri? Did Tessa take her substitution overboard?"

"No. The Lieutenant was fine. I'm just really going to miss them all when I leave for Athens." She avowed, taking a seat on her chair.

The Prince bent down in front of her. "Don't be sad, Ri. Everything will be okay. You'll see. When you're finished in Athens, with Aristotle no less, you are going to be even more compelling in your storytelling than you already are, and I don't think that's possible, seeing you're very talented now."

A smile hinted on Ri's lips. "Thanks again, Lyceus. You surely know what to say dealing with my feelings anent to me leaving Corinth. I'm glad I've decided to tell you I am going to Attica."

"I am pleased you've told me, too. I'd have gone crazy looking up and down this whole castle for you next moon." He proclaimed, then prompted a question that would possibly cheer her up more, "Do you like horses?"

Ri became baffled at the inquiry, remembering riding on a huge, black one with the Conqueror when she was young. "They're beautiful...but their tallness terrifies me."

The Prince chortled. "You don't have to worry yourself over that. Come with me to my chambers. I want to show you my collection."

"All right." Ri agreed, prior to a knock resounding on her door.

Arising to answer it, she was taken aback to see Akemi with her hair double-plaited from the sides of her head to the back.

"Hello." Ri jovially enunciated. "It's been nearly a moon since I've seen you. Come in, how are you?"

"I'm fine, thank you for asking." Stepping inside, and bowing to the Prince of the Realm, Akemi asserted, "Good evening, Prince Lyceus."

"To you also, Akemi." He returned the greeting. "What brings you here?"

"The Conqueror commands Ri to meet her in front of the castle."

Ri was more than excited to yield to her Lord's wishes. "I will join her, as soon as me and Prince Lyceus' conversation is done."

Akemi curtsied to them both, and left the room. On her return to the Conqueror, she couldn't believe what she'd overheard Ri, and the Prince talking about before knocking on the door.

'Is my Lord aware of Ri's departure to Athens?' She cogitated.

If not, the Conqueror was going to find out.

{C&R}

The Lord Conqueror of the Realm was saddled on her dark warhorse, Shadow, awaiting the arrival of her travelling companion. She'd made the choice of simply taking five Corinthian Guards to attend her on this trip to the temple. Whereas Greece prospered, and she was moderately liked, the last thing she needed was for some disgruntled fool, thinking she was inattentive, trying to assassinate her. Which was doubtful, but why take chances, especially with a fine soul like Ri accompanying her. With the Guardsmen in place, it would cause a person to think twice regarding forfeiting their life.

Shadow emitted a snort of annoyance at having to stand idle. He'd endured that in his stall for a sennight.

Shadow's mistress stroked his mane smoothly. "We'll go soon, boy."

Consequent to the Conqueror's admission, the castle's double doors atop the steps opened, disclosing the object of her affections, causing her heartbeat to soar in tempo at the stunningly adorned woman. She couldn't recall Ri being so magnificently dressed. Her gaping ceased, whilst she noticed the Prince walking beside the strawberry-blonde.

Ri swore the organ in her chest was going to burst, as she observed the sight of her Lord who was decked in a light-blue, V-neck tunic, black leather trousers, with black knee-high boots, and armed with a circular weapon on her right hip that the former servant remembered seeing years ago. Her hair flowed freely in the evening wind, and to Ri's greenish-blue irises, the Conqueror seemed to have the true appearance of divinity.

Ri, along with Lyceus, bowed when they approached their Ruler.

"Milady, I pray I haven't kept you deterred too long?" She inquired, having been delayed by Lyceus' insistence to walk with her.

"A few candle-drips later, I would've been gone." The Conqueror lied.

"Forgive me, Milady." Ri professed with remorse.

"There's nothing to forgive. I am sure you have your reasons for prolonging." The Conqueror expressed, eyeing her younger brother. "Now come."

The Overlord of the Grecian Empire held out her hand, and Ri wanted to grasp it, but noting the enormous horse compelled her to unintentionally step back from it. The warhorse reminded her of the steed she'd rode on with the Conqueror before, only this one was a tad smaller.

Feeling rejected, the Conqueror rested her hand on Shadow's reins. "What is wrong, Ri? Do you deny the invitation?"

"Ri's afraid of your horse's height." Lyceus averred.

'Another thing she confided in you?' The Conqueror glared at him. "I was asking Ri, not you, Prince Lyceus."

Fearing the huge, dark horse, Ri remained undecided on what to do, desperately trying to conjure up the same courage she had to ride one during her childhood with the Conqueror.

Looking at her erstwhile Handmaiden again, the Conqueror tried assuring her. "Ri, I promise everything will be fine. You have nothing to be fearful of. Shadow is nice when you get acquainted with him. I know his size can be intimidating, but you have ridden with me on a bigger steed than him. No harm came to you then, and he won't hurt you now. I wouldn't let anyone, nor anything, do that."

Ri trusted her Lord, and gradually moved closer to the horse.

"Conqueror." Lyceus started stating in agitation, "You shouldn't force her."

Privately, he didn't want Ri to go with his sister. He wanted her to stay with him.

Ri forgot she was in public, announcing, "Lyceus, it's alright."

'Lyceus? Maybe there's more to him and her than I comprehended... I'll relent.' The Conqueror noted Ri's significant breach in protocol, emphasizing, "You are correct, Prince. Ri probably prefer your company better than going with me to Minerva's temple. Come on, Shadow."

Clicking her tongue, she was beginning to impel Shadow to trot, and Lyceus beamed inwardly at the victory, until Ri yelled out for his sibling, "Wait, Milady! Wait!"

The Conqueror halted the horse's gait, while her whilom charge ran to them. Again, she stretched out her hand, and without contemplation, Ri seized it with her own. Instantly, she was settled behind her Lord.

"Hold onto me tight." The raven and silver-haired woman warned once Shadow speedily galloped down the pathway leading to the castle's opening portcullis.

'Ri practically threw herself onto my sister's horse...' The Prince of the Realm watched the six horses disappear out of view, and wondered, 'Am I missing something?'

{C&R}

Ri's arms clung to the Conqueror's strong body, even after they'd made it to their destination. The temple that was dedicated to the Realm's patron goddess had a different design than when Ri last seen it at the age of eleven, yet she could recollect her visit alongside the Conqueror with absolute clarity. She didn't remember the exterior being so glamorous.

"Ri."

"Yes, Milady?"

"Why didn't you tell me you were afraid of horses?" The Conqueror prodded.

"I did not want to appear weak to you." Ri confessed, resolutely.

By not being able to descry the Conqueror's visage, Ri couldn't detect if her reply satisfied the older female or not.

The silence was palpable, and awkward, until the Conqueror vocalized, "We can't dismount if you don't detach yourself from me."

"Forgive me, Milady." She removed her interlocked arms.

"Stop saying that, Ri. You aren't doing anything which requires my forgiveness."

"Okay." She assented, and the Conqueror got off her steed, lifting Ri off of the saddle, too.

Putting her on the ground as well, she focused on the convoy. "Stay outside the entrance. Make certain nobody enters."

"Yes, Lord Conqueror." The men acceded in unison, their fists covering their hearts.

It always enthused Ri to witness the respect, and adoration others bestowed on her Lord. The five soldiers were similar to the many people they'd crossed on their journey whom bowed in submission to the Conqueror also.

They proceeded up the stone steps, whilst the Corinthian Guards preceded them to open the mahogany door. The interior was more impressive than the outside, and further diverse than before, too. It was simonized with sparkles of silver and metallic-purple gemstones. The altar wasn't wooden anymore, howbeit it now shined from an unrelated source of alloy, as light coruscated off of its silvery surface. Ri couldn't discern what type of metal it was. The only commodity that remained the same was the golden statue of Minerva, placed behind the pedestal.

Nemina, the High Priestess of the temple, strolled to them. She went through a transformation through the years as well. Clad in the traditional white robe, her hair was now a mixture of brown and grey.

"My Lord. You come to us much earlier than expected in this cycle of seasons." Completing her bow, amber irises gazed at the petite woman standing beside the Conqueror. "Ri? By the goddess of wisdom, it's been a long Cronus since I'd laid eyes on you. You've grown quite pretty."

"Thank you, High Priestess." She accepted the compliment.

"One day, when you are free from the Conqueror's boon, you can stay here, and become a Priestess under my guidance." Nemina proposed.

"Ri has another priority other than becoming a pure acolyte of Minerva." The Conqueror unveiled. "And I am here because something urgent has sprung up. I desire Minerva's blessing."

"Yes, Lord Conqueror. I will-"

"Alone." The Conqueror interjected, denouncing her services.

Nemina bowed at the waist. Furthermore, she began to escort the other Priestesses and worshippers from the Conqueror's presence.

Ri was set to follow the High Priestess, withal her Lord grabbed her hand, leading them forward to the altar. Falling on her knees, the storyteller did the same, while glancing over at the Conqueror to behold her sapphire eyes closed in prayer. She had no clue what was happening in the Realm, but if it influenced Greece's Monarch to seek out the goddess of war and wisdom's sanctification, it must be serious.

Viewing the statue of Minerva that was looking down at them from across the altar, Ri shut her pupils, too, and prayed with genuine purpose for her Lord, as well as the continuation of her reign.

The Conqueror found herself seeking aid on another dilemma other than her confrontation with Brutus. She was trying to fathom why, after breaking the news to Ri that she would be apprenticed by Aristotle in Athens, in lieu of telling anyone else in the castle for almost a completed April moon, she'd chosen to confess it to Lyceus. The Prince imparted to her yesterday he'd become smitten with the quondam servant, and perchance he revealed his attraction to the strawberry-blonde also.

'If so, why is she with me, and not him?' Confident she would get an answer, the Conqueror ended Ri's orison. "Are you intimate with Lyceus?"

"Milady?" Opening her optics, Ri couldn't believe what she was hearing.

The Conqueror's head tilted to look directly at her. "You haven't apprised any other soul in the castle you're leaving for Athens in the coming moon. Neither have I. But you did tell Lyceus."

Ri's eyes widened in shock. How did the Conqueror find out? She'd solely divulged that information to Lyceus during the morning.

'He betrayed me...' Ri wrongly deduced.

"You forgo his title, and address him by Lyceus. Are you two strongly intimate?" Her Lord inquired.

"No, Milady." Ri was most earnest.

"What am I to make of this evening's events, Ri?" The Conqueror pressed.

Closing off the tiny space between them, she explained everything, "Lyceus... Prince Lyceus came to my chamber this morning to have breakfast. He has visited me for some days now. I slipped up breaking etiquette because he asked me to call him by his name without the cognomen of prince when we were alone, and I swore I would after he promised to keep my leaving a secret. Today I was forlorn from thinking of my leave. I thought of all the people I'll miss, my friends, the children, and denizens I tell my stories to. But, above anyone else...you. I've spent almost eight years in the castle since you've conquered it. Longer than anywhere else I've been. I do not know where I originally belong, nor do I care, 'cause Corinth is my shelter, and... You're my home, Milady."

The declaration appeased the Conqueror greatly, albeit she still had a few queries, "Lyceus chose to console you, that's why you confided in him?"

"Yes, Milady."

"Are you craving to divert your travel to Athens?"

Ri hesitantly expounded, "It's my dream to be a bard, Milady. But not at the expense of being without you."

"Do you love me, Ri. I mean...on the level of wanting me to court you?"

Ri's irises closed again. The maiden was fearful of how the Conqueror would react, nevertheless, she nodded her head in the positive.

"Turn away from me, Ri."

Ri's body tensed at the decree, terrified her response was not received well. Thereon, she gracelessly did so on her knees. With her back to the Conqueror, Ri could feel something cold encircle her neck, coaxing her to believe it was the Overlord's razor disc, and she was going to get killed for the amorous pronouncement. Hastily opening her orbs, she glanced at the necklace that had an identical glimmer to the temple's altar they were kneeling beside, and a jade pendant was dangling below the hollow of her throat.

Ri felt herself being raised onto her feet with the Conqueror, before warm breath tickled her ear, claiming, "This is my gift to you, and a symbol of a promise."

"A promise?" Ri quizzed.

"You are still going to Athens, and become a full-fledged bard, or poet." The Conqueror twirled her around to connect blue with aqua eyes. "Those are the dreams I wish for you as well. Once I'm finished with my progress abroad, I'll visit you immediately when I return to Corinth. I have to anticipate the possibility of a battle, so I cannot speak of my love for you at the moment, for it will cloud my concentration."

The Conqueror's fingers took the silver clasp out of Ri's hair, allowing the reddish-blonde curls to cascade down her face, passing her shoulders.

"You're gorgeous, Ri." The Conqueror became spellbound.

Staring into each other's colored irises, the Conqueror slowly touched Ri's lips with hers, fleetingly. Ri savored the short experience by shutting her eyelids, and replaying it in her cerebration, whilst the desirable woman kissed her forehead.

"We will talk more apropos to us when I see you in Athens."

"How long will you be gone?" Ri probed.

"I don't know, but I will be back." She assured her.

"And I'll be waiting."

Caressing Ri's face, she was yearning to kiss her rosy lips again, but felt slightly inadequate. It had been thirteen full seasonal cycles since she was romantically intimate with a person, and the Conqueror didn't want to press her luck. Ri was young, and the Lord of the Realm hadn't forgotten how easily the youthful could change their mind from one lover to the next.

Perishing the thoughts of losing Ri in advance of their relationship starting, the Conqueror alluded to the appointment she had to keep with her Chancellor. "We must get ready to head back to the castle before nightfall."

Nodding happily, Ri made her way to the temple's entrance, and noted the Conqueror wasn't following her. "Milady?"

"Go. I'll be there." The Conqueror declared.

Returning a smile, the jubilant storyteller left out of the door with a bounce in her step. Thereby being alone, the Conqueror unclipped the chakram, and slashed a shallow cut through the flesh of her palm.

Placing the blood-soaked hand on the shining altar, and espying the golden idol of her patron goddess, she muttered, "Thank you, Minerva."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Beads of sweat slowly dribbled off Ri's forehead and neck, pouring onto the sheets of the bed her body slept on. She was having an intense, lucid dream that seemed real. In it was the Conqueror with pure, long, raven hair. The Conqueror's appearance was youthful, and it made her stunningly attractive, whilst wearing a brown battledress which had bronze armor covering it. She was wearing dark-brown boots, with intricate designed gauntlets on her wrists, and bracelets on her upper arms.

The Conqueror held a sword in her hand, and the hooped weapon was clipped to her right hip, but it looked different than the one she usually equipped. She was on the deck of a gigantic ship, preparing to fight against warriors who used carved blades, and had facial features similar to Akemi's ancestral homeland.

The entire scene was mute when the Conqueror gave the sword a couple of twirls before engaging a sole man. She made short work of him by sweeping his feet so he'd fall down. The second warrior jumped in the fray, swinging his sword towards her throat, but she impeded it, swirling both of their locked blades together, until he let his loose. After he was disarmed, the sable-haired woman did a jump kick, knocking him out.

A third stepped up to the challenge, and the young Conqueror feinted a right swipe with her weapon to his abdomen. As the challenger went to block it with his sword, she roundhouse kicked him on the left side of his temple. He somehow managed not to fall, nevertheless, the force of the blow did make him spin. While his back was to her, she humiliatingly smacked him hard on the rear with the flat part of her sword. When he spun to face her, she hit him with a left hook, making the male finally swivel in midair onto the floorboards.

The Conqueror grinned, and yelled out something, causing all the unbeaten warriors to attack her at once.

Suddenly, the scenario changed, with the Conqueror still standing on the deck as the victor, whilst all the men whom were her opponents laid on their backs, writhing in pain. Another warrior in blue armor, and adorning a helmet that concealed his identity, stood alone to face her. The armored man had a long pole on his back, which he chose to attack with.

A wide smile graced the Conqueror's lips, and she sheathed her blade, equipping herself with the circular weaponry instead, holding it by the serpentine bar that was centered in the middle of it. A brief moment past, then the two combatants charged each other.

Next, the scene altered again, and it showed Ri with short hair that was the color of white gold. The towhead was dressed in a sky blue robe, not unlike the kind Akemi wore once in a while.

In a large room that preserved an assortment of weapons, she stood in an open space for sparring, wielding an identical curved blade like the men who'd assailed the Conqueror, and was pointing it at a woman with auburn-colored tresses. The light brown-eyed female withdrew her sword, and they squared off.

The scenery dissolved into another, where in the same room, the younger-looking Conqueror was reaching out her hand to the back of the short-haired Ri. The petite blonde quickly took off the razor disc, and threw it at the Gerent. The Lord of the Realm's reflexes instinctively compelled her to duck the projectile. Missing her head, it became embedded into the wooden walls.

Before the Conqueror knew it, Ri was advancing towards her with anomalous twin forks that had three prongs. She unleashed her blade, too, and the three weapons collided. Albeit the scene was sporadic, skipping from one point to another in an unusual sequence, with the dark warrior and the blonde-haired fighter battling each other.

It ended once the Conqueror shoved Ri against the wall, their faces mere inches from each other's, prior to becoming an erotic scenario. The two of them were now lying naked on a cot, and the aspiring bard was on top of the beautiful woman, rubbing her sex onto the Conqueror's thigh. Her Lord raised up, tonguing the lithe female's pinkish pale nipples. Licking them lavishly, then biting them gently, beforehand of kneading Ri's breasts together, and capturing them in her mouth, sucking roughly.

Ri's head fell back in ecstasy, her hands clutching the dark mane of the strong Ruler beneath her. The Conqueror reversed their positions, putting herself on top. Wrapping the smaller woman's legs around her waist, she gyrated their drenched vaginas together, bringing exquisite pleasures to both of them. A person didn't need to hear anything to know she and Ri were in bliss; their expressions conveyed as much. The two women's mouths connected in a seared kiss, whilst their sheen-coated bodies continued to grind as one.

Ri became roused from slumber with a jolt, while her upper frame lifted from the bed. "Gods!"

She sluggishly laid back down, and a petite hand wiped the perspiration off her neck, stopping to play with the jade pendant.

'Strange.' Ri panted, amazed at the jewel that glowed brightly, even when it dimmed down to its original tone. 'Wow. Milady sure knows how to give a gift.'

Placing the wonderment of her necklace aside, her dream was, nonetheless, bizarre. She hadn't ever seen the Conqueror fight, or train on the practice field, nor anyone else for that matter. Yet, she was able to have a vivid, imaginative picture about it in detail, as her Lord mopped the structured-planks with all whom dared to defeat her. The Conqueror was handsome in her older age, but she was magnificent young.

Ri recalled her own countenance with cropped hair, and felt it was a gorgeous look, but dismissed the idea, because the Conqueror would hate what it symbolized. Slaves cut their hair in submission to their masters and, although she would be any type of servant to her Lord, Ri couldn't wear her hair in that style to promote bondage.

She was slightly uncomfortable with the scene of her using a unique-looking sword she'd never seen before to threaten that brownish redhead woman, and strongly disliked the notion of raising a weapon, or anything which could injure the Conqueror.

Hypnos could had kept that, however, the storyteller enjoyed the mental visualization of she and the Conqueror making love. Ri hadn't fathomed she could conjure up visuals so salacious, but it was worth more than gold. The only lewd thoughts she had were tame in comparison; a chaste kiss here, confessing absolute, undying love there. Nothing to the degree of her dream's example of sexual relations. The maiden wondered if, or better yet, when she and her future lover made love, would it be to the extent she'd dreamt. Perhaps greater.

'Gods forbid less.' She entreated precise deities, clutching the pendant strongly.

To completely erase the remembrance of seeing herself trying to harm the Greek Overlord, Ri started to think of the sex fantasy more. The way her Lord devoured her breasts, which appeared bigger in the dream, preceding rolling both of them over, with the Conqueror atop her, rubbing their bodies together. She'd begun imagining how that would really feel, when she felt wetness flow between her legs.

Locking her knees together, Ri was puzzled by the warm substance that adhered to her inner thighs. She was cognizant the blood moon wasn't upon her, and became curious to investigate the sticky matter. Swaying her legs together to get comfortable, and attaining brief, physical stimulation from the friction, she unconsciously did it repeatedly.

Realizing what she was doing, Ri froze. 'By Vesta!'

Other than it being morally ambiguous to her, she'd never masturbated before, 'cause her ruminations were too sheltered to summon anything graphic to use as an outlet to entice. But right now, Ri was beyond horny, as she became sensitized by the experience, thus parting her legs.

Picturing the Conqueror's nude body rocking on top of hers, Ri's right hand abandoned the gem to leisurely travel from the center of her chest, continuing its downward path to the source of the sexual discomfort. Unable to cease raising the nightgown's hem above her thighs, the storyteller's mind was consumed with lust. Slowly slipping small fingers into her undergarment, and touching herself tentatively, she became intrigued with the clear, sticky, hot liquid she'd discovered, smearing it between two digits. Thereafter, her shyness couldn't win out against the lubricious memories.

Closing glistening eyes, she coated her fingers in the secreted lubrication, moving to her hardened nub. The instant she made contact with the engorging flesh, a low moan emitted from her. Ri continued to caress it, bringing forth fulfillment, and more erotic sounds, whilst she visualized the Conqueror taking her the same way she'd done in the dream.

"Gods." Ri groaned sensually, biting her bottom lip, and moving a tad faster.

The strawberry-blonde started feeling a fire growing in her loins, provoking a deduction for what it was her body wanted.

Release.

With her fingers working in tandem, Ri was close, as her moans grew louder. Instantly, a desire filled her mind to go inside herself. Finding the strength to postpone her unknowing orgasm, she placed an experimental index digit at the opening of her moist, virginal vagina, steadily entering it. The storyteller found pain, mixed with delight, and while pushing deeper, the ache increased, so she halted the action to deflower herself.

She was indecisive whether to discontinue her self-gratification or not, letting slippery fingers dally on her throbbing kernel. Cognitive flashes of the cropped-haired Ri, and the younger Conqueror's ardent kisses, had enflamed her again, making the decision harder.

'No.' Choosing to unhurriedly remove her hand, she asserted a solemn oath, 'Milady will be the first to have my maidenhood. Also, the only person to give me complete pleasure.'

Opening aqua irises, Ri saw Helios peeking over the horizon outside her window. Rising from the bed, Ri's arms reached upwards in a wonderful morning stretch, then little toes trailed their way to her table where a clear bowl containing water was sitting on it. Cleansing her face and hands, she sat down, picking up the comb to straighten her half-curled, half-matted locks.

Working on the tangles, the memorized dream was still fresh in Ri's head, from the alpha to the omega, particularly the conclusion, coaxing lasciviousness to surge its course throughout her inner frame in moments. Ri had to see the Conqueror 'fore she set out on her mission.

'Another kiss from her will hopefully calm my libido... Or ignite it.' Ri mused, considering an amatory thought, 'Maybe I'll give my virginity to her, so she'll be well sated, and relaxed for her journey.'

Combing her hair with a licentious smile, and a confidence she knew was wavering, Ri rushed the finishing touches. Standing up, she was ready to surprise her Lord, after taking care of her morning calling.

{C&R}

Meleager was resting on the sable divan in his temporary chambers. Akemi recently left to bring him breakfast, making him shocked to hear a soft knock on the antechamber's door so anon.

"Unless you are the Chambermaid, come back later." He tiredly called out. "If it's an emergency, save it for the War Room meeting."

"Uncle Meleager?" The vocal sounded quizzical. "Uncle Meleager, it's Ri!"

The Chancellor of the Realm got off of the couch, and opened the doorway. "Ri. Get in here, girl."

The older man pulled her into a warming embrace, which was returned with equal esteem.

"What are you doing here? I was told you were to focus on your studies."

"I am. I came by to see our Lord. Word was, you were on vacation. What are you doing here?" Ri asked, ending the hug, and shutting the door.

"I arrived back in Greece yesterday." Meleager answered, gesturing for them both to sit down. "The Conqueror mentioned you'd accompanied her to Minerva's temple. She didn't relay my greeting to you?"

Ri acceded the invite. "No, she did not."

"Well, she is preoccupied with other matters." Meleager said, noticing the attire Ri wore. "By King Jupiter. Why are you decked in a shawl to cover your shift, and have nothing on your feet?"

In her haste to visit the Conqueror, she didn't bother to get fully dressed. "I needed to speak with Milady. It's an...urgent concern."

"Is everything alright? It wouldn't have anything to do with your travel plans to Athens?" Meleager grew worried.

Ri became perplexed. "You know of that?"

"The Conqueror passed the knowledge onto me not too long ago. She instructed me to make sure you get there."

'At least it was Milady who told him, instead of Prince Lyceus.' Ri ruminated.

The Prince of the Realm promised to keep her secret, only to seemingly break it with his sister, causing Ri dismay.

"No, it isn't apropos to my apprenticeship in Athens." She apprised him, her mien becoming bashful. "It's something else between she and I. Nothing bad, though."

Meleager unwinded. "Don't scare me like that. You had me thinking it was a huge problem."

"No problems. Actually, I'm looking forward to Athens now."

The Chancellor smiled. "I'm almost envious. You're going to be learning from Aristotle. The Conqueror has surely set you on a marvelous road to success."

"I am forever grateful for our Lord's generosity." Ri was becoming eager. "Uncle, where is she? Is she in her bedchamber?"

"You've missed her. The Conqueror departed the castle a quarter candlemark 'fore you came." Meleager replied.

The long-haired woman felt dejected. "I didn't get a chance to say good-bye."

"Don't be sad, Ri." He patted her kneecap empathetically. "She'll be back soon."

She nodded in understanding, whilst her small fingers twirled the jewelry encircling her neck, drawing Meleager's attention to it.

"Hey, that look like the same jade Prince Lyceus had. I'm glad he'd taken my advice, and got a new chain, because the old one was rusty passed repair." His visage was happy. "He told me it was a gift from a citizen at the Agora for the Conqueror. I should've known he was giving it to someone he liked. I didn't expect it to be you."

"This isn't a present from the Prince. It is a symbolic promise Milady has chosen to grace upon me." Ri corrected.

"The Conqueror gave that to you?" Meleager's probe remained neutral.

"Yes."

The Chancellor of the Realm examined the radiant adornment with a keen eye. "I've presumed the necklace was silver, but now I can see it's created from platinum orbs."

"Platinum?" Ri questioned, fingering the sparkling ornament.

"You are wearing an accessory worth two thousand dinars, and that's not including the gemstone."

'Two thousand?' Ri was flabbergasted.

From Ri's consternation, Meleager commenced prying, "The Conqueror is more than altruistic to grant a gift like that. As far as I'm aware, the platinum orbs has been harnessed for a couple of things; it happens to be building materials, and minor weapon crafting."

"Like the altar in Minerva's temple." Ri averred, remembering the indistinguishable gleam.

"Yes, yes. So, if you do not mind an old man asking, the symbol that's around your neck, is it the reason you are here in our Lord's chambers, donned in a simple nightgown?" Meleager inquired.

Ri deliberated the best way to answer. 'I can't tell him I came with obscene intent.'

Sex was distant from her cogitation now. The storyteller didn't want to lie to her surrogate uncle, but wasn't positive she could avow the truth either. Honestly, Ri was uncertain what direction she and the Conqueror were going in.

An impish grin formed on her pressed lips. "Let's try a game, shall we, Uncle Meleager? The way we used to when we were younger."

"The question game?" The Chancellor's face matched hers. "Alright. It's been so long, remind me of the rules."

"We get three queries, but you have to be careful with specifics, 'cause the answer could be misdirected, and not fully revealing of what you are inquiring about. For example; I could ask, 'What are you doing today?' Although we both know you'll have a busy day to an extent, you can simply say, 'You're doing nothing.' Which wouldn't be a fabrication, because you will have moments in your day to do just that." Ri's nose crinkled. "Deal on the rules?"

Meleager loved his self-proclaimed niece. She always created fun, silly things for them to indulge in. He knew this was a conception to deprive him of information, akin to her childhood days, but unlike then, he was determined to win this Cronus.

"I remember now. Deal." He consented. "I get to go first."

"Fine by me." She responded, anticipating his query.

"What is the promise our Lord Conqueror-"

"Chancellor Meleager." Entering the antechamber, Akemi cut him off unknowingly.

She began walking towards them, carrying a tray of food, and a rolled papyrus.

Setting the breakfast platter on the table, she apologized, "Pardon my interruption. I didn't know you had a guest. Good morning, Ri."

"Morning, Akemi." Ri greeted back to the hair-braided Japian.

The Chambermaid handed over the scroll to Meleager. "This came for you."

Recognizing the seal to be from Macedonia, the Chancellor arose off of the divan.

"Excuse me." Meleager justified himself, taking another seat at the Conqueror's desk to read the contents of the parchment.

Akemi was about to dismiss herself, until she caught a glimpse of the pendant beneath Ri's neckline. "Qoutis created that necklace for the Conqueror. How did you come to have it?"

The storyteller's hands self-consciously touched the item of interest. "Milady gave it to me yesterday evening."

"It becomes you." Akemi hid her displeasure, saying in a huff, "Good day, Ri."

After that, she strode off.

"You, too." Ri professed to an empty space, confounded by what betided.

"Ri." Meleager garnered her regard. "We're gonna have to put a hold on our little game. I have to take care of some things."

"I understand." The petite female assented, rising from the black furniture to exit the chamber.

"Once I am finished, we'll do a late lunch if you got the free Cronus for me."

"I have a session with Master Eramus." Ri affirmed.

"Want to get out of it?"

"I would love to, Uncle." She beamed.

"I'll see you later, then, Niece." Meleager watched her open the door to leave, when he teased, "And be dressed appropriately next we meet."

Ri chuckled nervously, as she closed the threshold.

The Chancellor of the Realm lost his grin, and glanced down at the missive on the wooden table, sighing. "You're going to be difficult, aren't you, Alexander?"

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Shadow galloped down the trail leading to the Corinthian Gulf, transporting his mistress, and her battle equipment to the ship's berth. The Conqueror was wearing a grey tunic that fell below her knees, with the chakram clipped to a black belt which encompassed her waist, and dark boots on her feet.

The Lord of the Realm was looking forward to getting an early start on setting sail for her voyage, as the vessel came into view. After speaking at length to the Chancellor last evening, concerning her decision to travel to Crete, she'd summoned her General of the Sixth Army to assemble one hundred and fifty of the finest warriors, then prepare a ship for embarkation at first light.

Pulling on Shadow's reins with her bandaged hand, the Conqueror brought the ebony warhorse to a stop in front of the gangplank connected to the moderate sized vessel. The azure-eyed Ruler turned her head to espy the direction she'd come from, thinking of the trim, strawberry-blonde she left behind in the castle without saying good-bye. She reminisced about the chaste kiss they'd shared in Minerva's temple, and it made the Conqueror smile slightly at the memory.

'I should have told Ri I love her.' The Overlord ruminated.

Out the corner of her vision, the Conqueror saw the General standing atop the deck. Adorned in purple armor, a kopis was sheathed on the warrior's back, with numerous daggers surrounding her waist.

"Morning, my Lord!" Her voice rang loudly, whilst descending the bridge.

"Good morning to you, General Glaphyra."

The woman, whose long, blonde hair was tied to the back of her head, stood near the steed, and its owner. With a right fist over her emblem chest-plate, she bowed.

"Everything is in order, my Liege. We are ready to embark at your command." Glaphyra announced.

"Excellent." The Conqueror replied. "Have a couple of your men ferry my saddlebags on board, and one to stay behind to take Shadow back to the Corinthian stables."

"Turel, Oris, and, Gagius!" The General yelled. "Come aid our Lord Conqueror!"

The three purple armored men rushed to carry out the decree.

They all did their customary salute, when Glaphyra gave each of them their task, "Turel, and, Gagius, bring our Lord's bags up to her quarters. Oris, you will not be travelling with us. You are to return the Conqueror's warhorse to the stables at the castle. Report to Lieutenant Dex, afterwards."

"Yes, General." They said in unison.

The two soldiers began lifting the saddlebags, lugging them to the ship, while Oris waited beside his Lord and her horse.

The Conqueror dismounted, and spoke quietly to Shadow, stroking his black mane, "Sorry, boy, but you can't accompany me on this expedition."

Shadow neighed in protest.

"At least you'll get to spend Cronus with that Palomino I know you like."

Her statement got a soft whinny from him.

The Conqueror finished coaxing Shadow further, "Now be on your best behavior, and don't do anything I wouldn't."

Next, she turned away, as Oris mounted the dark steed, and sped off.

Walking up the ramp, Glaphyra confirmed, "Now there're one hundred and forty-nine soldiers."

"It is of no consequence." The Conqueror grinned. "I'll be an addition to your shortfall."

The General of the Sixth Army smiled, too.

On the deck, the Conqueror was met with hails from the troops whom were graced being in her path.

"At ease." The Conqueror averred to them, prior to asking Glaphyra, "How did your husband take your charge?"

"He was kinda disappointed. Not because he'll miss me." Keeping stride with the Conqueror, Glaphyra smirked. "But simply 'cause he didn't get the opportunity to be in my stead."

"I hope he wasn't too upset."

"He'll be alright, my Lord. Darnelle already had his fun. He couldn't wait to tell me what happened in the Throne Room with the Envoys, whom he'd abandoned me on the training field for. So likewise, I'd rubbed his face in it that I was selected to go on a mission with you. And if he's angry once we return to Greece, I'm sure it's nothing a little makeup sex can't cure." Glaphyra responded.

The Conqueror laughed, as they made their way below deck to her cabin. Entering inside, the older woman sat down in her chair behind the desk. Her body was tired from barely sleeping, because she dwelled on Ri constantly throughout the night. She had a mind to lay on the bed that was to her left in the spacious compartment.

Glaphyra watched the Conqueror close her pupils, relaxing in the seat. "My Lord?"

"Yes?" She kept her eyelids shut.

"Are you sure we should be going to Crete?" The blonde voiced her concern. "What if Brutus attack us? You were hostile to the men he sent."

"I doubt Brutus will be irate over the death of a slave, and personally, I don't think he's dumb. He needs me, and I intend to expose that fact." The Conqueror answered.

"What if you're wrong?"

Cobalt orbs shot open, rooting the General in place. "It'll prove a couple of things, and it will be terrible for him, not us."

"What are those two things, my Lord?" Glaphyra ventured.

The Conqueror's eyes narrowed. "One, Brutus is an idiot; it'll cause the destruction of his army in the end. Two, he'll lose any chance of securing an alliance with me; which will leave him isolated in the war with Marcus Antonius and Octavian."

"Are you certain they will unite against Brutus?" Glaphyra questioned.

"I'm counting on it." The Conqueror avowed.

Glaphyra was confused. "But surely Antonius and Octavian hate each other. They are the most prominent contenders to fill the power vacuum in Rome."

"And Brutus' the wildcard I'll be using. I'm usually not incorrect anent to these Romans, and their penchant to ravage areas of Terra. The whole goal is to keep this conflict off of Greek soil. With the exiled brothers hiding themselves, as well as their armies, in Dia, they are making the Realm a target for warfare. I won't allow it. Their expulsion may provoke contention, whilst confronting them. I am not dogmatic to reject that possibility, but when it is over, Brutus and Cassius will be departing Crete." The Conqueror elaborated.

"I wish you would've apprised me of this last night." The General began to jest. "I would've brought less soldiers."

"We'll be fine, General Glaphyra. That is why I required the greatest of your fighters. The Sixth Army is supreme when it comes to a phalanx formation, thanks to you." The mixed raven and silver-haired female extolled.

The purple armored General beamed at the praise, contented that the Cronus she'd spent in Sparta away from her husband and daughter paid off. "Thank you, my Lord."

"No, the thanks go to you, Glaphyra." The Conqueror professed, closing her weary lids again. "Lower my banner from the mast, and tell the captain to set off. We will begin touring our borders to make sure we don't have any unexpected surprises, before heading for the island of Dia in Crete. Please, do not disturb me unless there is trouble."

"As you command, Lord Conqueror."

Glaphyra did her salute, exiting the cabin, while the sleepy Conqueror slipped into the land of Hypnos.

{C&R}

Dressed in a plain tunic, with brown boots, whilst inside the sole establishment of its kind to open early in the morning, Tessa sat in the tavern, drinking her ale in delight. She decided to get herself a strong drink after a raunchy night with a handsome guy whose name she didn't bother to ask for. However, the sex was really good, causing the Lieutenant to fall asleep in his arms. Waking up to extract her naked body from his embrace, she'd returned to her own residence in the barracks amongst the Fifth Army.

"Isn't it too early to indulge?"

Tessa recognized the voice. "General Darnelle, I-"

"Lieutenant." Darnelle cut Tessa off, taking a seat across from her at the table. "I came for some ale as well."

Tessa collected herself, gazing at her General, who was donned in a light-brown tunic, with a dark-brown vest covering it, and black leather trousers. His long, brown hair, that was a comparable color to hers, fell back, as he took a swig from the tankard, and she remembered when it was shorter.

"What brings you here, General?"

"Need to drown out the thoughts of bad news." He muttered.

"Personal, or professional?" She probed.

"Professionally." The General downed the remaining spirit. "A mission we were passed up on."

"Well..." Tessa started, concealing her dismay. "Peace can be..."

"Boring." Darnelle implied, holding up his empty cup. "Hey, keep these coming for both of us."

The barmaid approached, placing two extra tankards on their table.

"Thanks." Darnelle affirmed.

"Thank you also, sweetheart." Tessa winked at her.

"You both are welcome." She blushed, traipsing to another patron.

"She's cute." The lascivious Lieutenant commented.

"Wouldn't know. I solely have fondness for one woman in my life." Darnelle admitted.

"Of course it's General Glaphyra." Tessa mumbled the obvious. "Shouldn't it be two women, counting Iona."

"Nope. She's my pride and joy. There's a difference." The mentioning of his daughter's name reminded the General of her recount apropos to the events in Clydmus' class. "Iona commended your weapons demonstration."

"Yup." Taking a sip from her single-handle vessel, Tessa smirked. "I'm the best."

"Iona was incited by it so much, she wants to become a warrior now." Darnelle supplied.

"Like mother, like daughter." Tessa enunciated.

"Glaphyra doesn't think kindly of the idea." Darnelle unveiled to her in advance of grinning. "You missed out on a vigorous training session yesterday, Lieutenant. But how are your feelings on instructing a rambunctious crowd of students in a classroom?"

"It was okay, but kids aren't my thing. You have to be mindful of the words coming out of your mouth around them, and shit like that. I couldn't wait to get out of there." Tessa confessed.

Darnelle chuckled. "If you've always felt that way, why did you volunteer your services?"

A widened smile formed on her lips. "I got the chance to meet the Conqueror's Handmaiden, and let me tell you, she is incredible."

"Before the Conqueror fought in the Battle of Corinth, thus winning it, Ri used to stay among me and my family, while the Chancellor was on progress with our Lord." Smiling knowingly, Darnelle queried, "Ri's quite the storyteller, isn't she? She used to tell them to Iona when-"

"Yeah, Ri is truly talented." Tessa interrupted. "But I'm not speaking 'bout that. I am referring to her beauty. She is, somewhat, flirtatious, too."

The General of the Fifth Army had begun laughing at his Lieutenant's expense. "Calm your libido, Tessa. You don't know Ri, nor her ways. She's really benign. That's all."

Getting mildly irritated from Darnelle's laughter, Tessa claimed, "I can ascertain when a person is being a flirt or not. Mark my words, General. If she's truly a maiden, I am going to be the first to fuck-"

"Lieutenant..." Darnelle gently rested the tankard onto the table, his amusement vanishing. "Ri is a friend of my family, especially my daughter. Don't disrespect her, or you'll find yourself demoted, and cleaning stalls for the rest of your life."

Tessa was sternly castigated, making her realize the bounds she overstepped. "My sincere apologies, General. I do fancy Ri, but I'll never say anything lewd about her again."

"Apology accepted. It's drunken talk, as long as you can refrain from being that outspoken again. Let us finish our drinks, and be merry." He asserted, draining his ale. "Another."

Whilst the barmaid's footsteps were moving towards them, Tessa whispered in good humor, "I bet you I'll fuck the bar wench, though."

"Tessa, she is a friend of my family also." Darnelle joked.

"Oh, come on." She whined, unbelieving.

They both laughed, and the unsuspicious female gave them their third round of drinks.

{C&R}

Three candlemarks later, Ri was putting on her gold-colored sandals. The storyteller's attire for today consisted of a green chiton, which covered her knees, and was matched with a bronze, embellished belt circling her waistline.

She had a late breakfast, and was grateful the Prince of the Realm didn't come to her room during the morning. Ri remained agitated with Lyceus for betraying her trust, and wasn't ready to see him. Her footwear on, she traipsed to her closet, looking at the turquoise dress she'd worn yesterday that was hanging inside.

It was wrinkled below the waist after being hiked up her legs during the ride on Shadow with the Conqueror. The pilgrimage was bumpy at points, causing Ri's hands to rise, and accidentally graze her Lord's chest. Prior to the Conqueror's conquest of Corinth, a similar incident betided, while she'd first rode with the Gerent to Minerva's temple when she was younger.


["Hold on Ri, we're almost there." The taller lady says, holding me firmly.

I'm too frightened to articulate any words, and I do not want her to hear the quiver in my tone. I nod in front of her chest, which feels soft, and comfy on the back of my head, but with the big, scary animal moving so fast, it makes my head bump something hard that's directly on the center of her breasts.

I wish the jerky ride would be done soon, 'cause I don't like this horse we are riding on. He's the reason for my fear, nonetheless, I want to be brave for my savior. I haven't seen her since she left for a castle somewhere in Corinth. I have fun with Meleager, who calls me his niece, and Lyceus, although he avoids me lately.

Once they go on their frequent leaves, I visit another family. They are nice to me, and I love telling stories to their young daughter, Iona. She really likes them, too. Notwithstanding, I miss the raven-haired woman I'm with right now.

I have no idea where we are going, nor do I care, whilst we travel past homes, taverns, marketplaces, and people, on this clear day. I'm just happy she decided to take me, because being with her brings me comfort.

Finally, the horse comes to a halt, and she whispers in my ear, "We are here."

The sentence makes me joyful the jarring journey is over. Milady jumps off the enormous horse, thereafter, she casually picks me up, as if I'm nothing but air, setting me on the ground.

She begins caressing the mane of the enormous, four-legged beast. "We will be right back, Nightmare. Don't wander off. Okay, boy?"

He emits a loud neigh and it startles me.

"Do what you're told." She finishes, turning to me. "Are you ready, Ri?"

"Yes, Milady." I reply, hurriedly finding my composure.

Taking my hand, we start to walk forward to a stone temple atop a layer of stairs.

The horse let loose a snort, and his owner yells back, "Remain there, Nightmare, or no apples!"

"Will he leave?" I inquire.

"No... He knows better. Nightmare love his treats."

Continuing our ascent, I ask, "Where are we, Milady?"

"We are in Corinth. I seek Minerva's blessing."

This is Corinth.

"For what?" I'm curious.

"Something that will change our lives forever." She answers with a huge smile on her face.

I adore her rare smiles, so I'll cease my game of catechism, because I don't want it to fade. She opens the mahogany door, and we step inside.

The temple must not have many worshippers and money from the appearance of it. Derelict comes to cerebration, as I look at the rotting wooden altar, and the cracked, discolored walls. The only thing that appears nice is the gold statue, which I am positive resembles the patron diety of this sanctuary.

A female who's wearing a ragged, grey robe with brown, shoulder-length hair, and amber eyes, walks across to us, greeting my guardian, "Hello again, stranger."

"How are you, Nemina?"

"With the Purge war still ravaging our country, things could be better, but I can't complain, while Minerva continues to make a way for all people to honor her." Nemina expounds, her gander falling on me. "Who is this? She wasn't with you during your earlier visitations. Is she your child?"

Mine and Milady's eyes meet each other's for a split moment. I do not know what I hope for her to declare, but I could never see her being my mother. I wonder does she envisage me as a daughter figure?

"No." Milady responds. "She is not my child. Her name is Ri. She's ten years old, and special to me."

"Hello, Ri." Nemina asserts.

"Hi. Are you a Priestess?" I blurt out.

"Yes, I am the High Priestess of this temple." She proclaims, preceding asking Milady, "Speaking of names, what is yours? We would like to show our appreciation to you for the offering you'd bestowed, by praising your name to Minerva."

Though I'm accustomed to simply calling her what I do, Nemina's query coaxes me into wanting to learn Milady's true appellation, too. To my knowledge, no one announces it, and she hasn't ever spoken it either.

Milady seems unfazed. "No thanks is needed, really."

"And humble as well." Nemina realizes no cognomen is forthcoming. "I will leave you two alone to pray. May the wise goddess bless and keep you both always."

The High Priestess turns and strolls off. Therefore, Milady grabs my hand, and we traverse towards the altar. She kneels at it, lightly bringing me down with her to do the same. Shutting her eyes in orison, I can't cease watching her, wishing I could pry into Milady's mind, and learn what her prayers consist of.

Reluctantly, I also seal my orbs to thank the goddess for delivering me into the life of the lady beside me. For allowing Milady to rescue me in Cirra from the slavers whom wanted to use me for ill purposes.

I'm concentrating so thoroughly on delivering my own thankfulness to Minerva, that I squeeze my eyelids tight, making them crease, until Milady speaks to me, "Ri?"

I open my irises to descry her.

Her facial expression is quizzical. "What are you doing?"

"Thanking the goddess."

"Well, be careful." She grins. "We don't want you to burst a blood vessel from such a simple act."

Her sense of humor is dry, but it always manages to tickle me. I can now discern she acts a certain way with me, and show others a contrary deportment. Nemina can attest to that. Milady's mien hadn't changed all through their interaction, even when the Priestess sought her name. Milady is a warrior foremost, and probably chooses to be serious around everyone she meets. I am glad she sheds shards of her stoicism for my benefit, and...maybe hers as well.

Suddenly, she places a small piece of gold in my grasp, and I glance at her questionably.

"That is to be set on the pedestal once your prayers are completed."

Quickly comprehending, I close my eyes again, and supplicate Minerva for what I honestly want more than anything else on Terra. Afterwards, I put the golden alloy on the altar.

"That was fast." She mutters, scarcely bemused. "Go outside, and wait by my horse, Ri. I'll join you shortly."

I rise to my feet, and sadly exit the temple. Why did she make me leave her side? Have I upset her in some way? Did I do the prayer wrong? Looking down the flight of steps, I behold the black steed, and his brownish eyes are glaring at me. There's no way I'm standing by that horse. It wants to eat me, I know it.

Awhile later, my beautiful savior comes out of the temple, and I notice a bandage is wrapped around her left palm.

I run to her, grasping the injured appendage in mine. "Milady, what happened?"

"Nothing to worry 'bout." She dismisses my question. "Why aren't you with-"

"I wanted to wait right here for you." I interject.

She expels a breath. "This is relatively a small matter, Ri, but when I tell you to do something, it's for a reason, and I expect for you to do it."

I don't understand what the problem is between waiting for her by the door, or near the horse.

Still gripping her hand, I lock irises with her. "Forgive me, and don't be mad, please. I... I'll follow every direction you give from now on."

She caresses my face, moving my strawberry-blonde tresses behind my ear. "I'm not mad at you, Ri. I purely don't want anything harmful to befall you. Look at my warhorse."

I do as she orders, seeing the giant steed's sight is on us.

"Nightmare is acutely aware, and protective of what belongs to me." Milady informs.

That's why he was staring at me.

"I told you to stand next to him, because he will protect you from danger. By you being so far away from him, all Nightmare can do is neigh wildly in order to alert me, and what if..." She stops speaking abruptly, and bend to my level, face-to-face. "I lost a very dear friend named Iolaus, 'cause he didn't listen to my instructions. What if someone tried to hurt you and I didn't make it to you quick enough? You're too important to me, and I'll be consumed by grief. Can you ken that?"

I accede to the severity of her tonality, and my fingers automatically touch her jaw, wanting to mold it into the visage I like. "Yes, Milady."

She's delighted by my response. It's not the countenance I was going for, but it'll do, as she stands to her full stature, and we descend the stairs to her horsey. I remain afraid of his height, but it's good he knows I belong to Milady.

"Good boy, Nightmare." She pats his nose. "I have a tasty treat for you when we return to King Glaucus' castle."

"Will I be going to the King's castle, too?" I query, hopeful I don't have to return to Tegea without her.

She settles herself on the horse, shaking her head in the negative. I become saddened by the answer, even whilst powerful hands stretch out, and I raise my arms to be lifted onto the horse in front of her again.

"Not yet. However, goddess willing, you'll have your own chamber and wardrobe in the castle with me." Milady murmurs in my ear, making my nose crinkle at the confirmation.

"Milady, can you guide your horse, while I hold onto you from the front... So I can be facing you?" I quiz timidly.

"Ri, I have many skills. Is that what you want to do?"

I nod, then suddenly my petite frame is picked up, and turned to face her. I wrap my legs around her waist, clinging my arms to her tunic.

"Minerva is answering my prayers." I state, snuggling into her breasts like pillows, deducing there're something metal on the middle of both of them.

"And what was it you've prayed for?"

Gazing up at her, I apprise, "We'll be together forever."

That's the beam I was looking for, as Milady kisses my forehead.

"Remember to hold on tight." She reiterates.

The horse begins walking in a trot, and an inquiry piques my brain, "What did you pray for, Milady?"

"For our future, Little One." Her cerulean orbs sparkle. "To change our lives forever."]


Their lives did change, and it seemed to be altering even more, now that Ri was going to be courted by her Lord.

The storyteller couldn't distinguish with certainty what she was rubbing against all those years ago. Howbeit now she was older, and being granted a fortuitous reminder from yesterday's ride on Shadow, Ri knew. They were circular rings of some kind on each breast, piercing the Conqueror's nipples.

The dream from last night was fresh, and she could call forth the sex scene, but realized the younger Conqueror in her fantasy didn't have pierced breasts. The room they were in was a tad darkened, simply illuminated by distant candlelight, nevertheless, Ri could still see the Conqueror's dark areolas, those hypnotic, sapphire irises, and her muscular body.

She began focusing more on the details of herself with the cropped hair, firm abs, and black markings on her back. It looked like a tattoo, and had the appearance of some sort of animal or creature with wings, but it was too obscured to scrutinize accurately.

'I wouldn't ever decide to get anything ugly like that on me.' Closing her closet, she verbalized a soliloquy, "It is just a dream. I don't have to take it so seriously."

A tap on her chamber door ended whatever rumination she could had conjured up anent to the lucid vision.

'Probably the Prince.' Ri dreadfully assumed, traversing to the door. "Who is it?"

"It's Iona."

Opening the doorway, Ri let the teen, who was decked in a yellow tunic, with a black sash encircling her hips, cross the threshold.

"Good morning, Ri." She greeted.

"Morning to you, Iona. I like the new look."

Iona's blonde hair was loose, and fell down the sides of her face, instead of the normal ponytail fashion.

"Thanks." Iona vocalized shyly. "I came by last evening, but I got no answer."

"The Lord of the Realm summoned me, and I had to be with her." Ri stated.

"Understandable. When duty calls, you have to respond to it. My mother is..." Iona's sentence faltered, as she glimpsed the sparkling necklace on her friend's neck. "By Vulcan, where did you get that?"

"It was a gift." Ri concisely avouched.

Iona's hands traced the outline of the platinum chain, mesmerized by its glimmer. "An expensive gift, I see."

'Exactly.' Ri cogitated, remaining incredulous over the outlandish price of the Conqueror's symbol to her.

"Whom bestowed it to you?"

Iona's probe almost caused Ri to stumble. "A special person who's dear to me."

"Does this individual have a name?" Iona snickered.

"When is your next class?" Ri countered.

"In a candlemark. Why?"

"I have a lunch appointment with the Chancellor, and I need to ask Minya to make accommodations. If you come with me to the kitchen, I'll tell you what you're dying to learn." Ri offered.

"Of course, I'll go with you." Iona got excited. "You have to disclose everything."

"Sure." She supplied halfheartedly.

"Hang on." Reopening Ri's door, the teenager became puzzled. "Don't you have a session with Master Eramus?"

Smiling, Ri graciously elucidated, "Let's agree it's handy to know people in high places."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

"Why don't you take it off, instead of covering it?" Iona asked.

"I'm not taking it off." Ri wrapped the lime-colored scarf tightly around her neck, so she wouldn't draw anybody's attention to the sparkling necklace, as they walked through the Corinthian castle.

"Why?"

'Tell her, and get it over with.' Ri mused. "I'd promised Milady last night I wouldn't ever remove it."

Iona's footsteps halted. "The Conqueror! Our Lord gave you that gift?"

"Lower your voice." Ri glanced at the denizens whom were gazing in their direction.

"Sorry." The fifteen-year-old apologized, whilst Ri interlaced their arms to continue walking. "It is an astounding piece of jewelry. I get why you want to hide it, and I know you're the Conqueror's favorite subject, but why did she give you such a perfect present? It seems like the sort of token a man would bestow on his betrothed."

'Is that what this is?' Ri pondered. 'A symbol for the promise of marriage? Is Milady, the Ruler of the known Terra, planning to marry me when she gets back?'

Honey-brown orbs widened at Ri's happy expression. "By the gods. That's it, isn't it?"

"Of course not, Iona." Ri downplayed her true hopes. "It's a farewell gift. That is all."

"I see. The Conqueror presented the necklace to you in case something bad happens to her in battle."

"She's going into battle?" Ri inquired worryingly. "Are you certain?"

"You weren't aware?" Iona was surprised. "My mother went with her. They'd set out at first light. My father's kinda upset they are going to probably see some action, while he's stuck here in Corinth."

'Prospects of war. That's the reason for the trip to Minerva's temple.' Ri remembered. 'Withal warfare is merely a possibility.'

"Are you worried for their wellbeing?" Iona questioned.

"Our Lord is formidable, and from what I've heard, General Glaphyra is an excellent fighter as well. I have no concerns." Ri answered with forced enthusiasm. "That aside, how are your parents? I miss them."

Iona shrugged her shoulders. "They're alright. I told them something yesterday, and they both have different opinions."

"What did you tell them?"

"Don't become all Mercury on me, Ri." Iona grinned, mentally beseeching the speedster god to forgive her blasphemy. "You told me the necklace is a farewell gift, yet you had no knowledge of the Conqueror's plan to leave for combat. So, how can it be for that?"

"It's not for her departure, but mine."

"What?" Iona stopped again, letting Ri's arm go.

"I depart for Athens in Junius." Ri said sadly.

"That's a moon away." Iona became glum. "The Conqueror imparted this to you last night?"

"She'd been apprised me, since April." Ri replied.

The younger blonde got angry. "You knew that long, and you're now telling me this? I thought we were friends?"

"I wanted to inform you first out of everyone in the castle. I didn't, because Milady enjoined this to me in confidence. It wasn't till I broke it with Prince Lyceus, that-"

"You disclosed it to him, 'fore me?" Iona interjected.

Ri placed her hands on Iona's upper arms. "We had breakfast yesterday morning. I was really troubled in his presence about my leaving. That's the only excuse I have for telling him, and Milady found out. However, by our Lord knowing what I've done, she do not care who I reveal it to."

"The Conqueror is cognizant of everything." Iona giggled, wiping a tear from under her eye.

"Yeah, she is." Ri concurred, pushing her anger at the Prince for informing the Conqueror to the side. "Are you mad at me, or do I have your forgiveness?"

Iona smiled brightly. "You're like a sister to me, and I hope you feel the same way, too. I surmised you deliberately kept this from me, and evinced it to the Prince, 'cause you trusted him over me. I know the truth of your reasons now, so yes, I forgive you. But I am going to miss you."

Ri pulled Iona in an embrace, whilst she cried. "You're like a sister to me also. Please, stop crying. I'm gonna miss you as well, but I'll be back."

"Really?"

"Honestly." Ri swore. "Corinth is my home."

"You better come back home, then." Iona sniffled.

Ri helped Iona dry her face, and resumed their traipse.

"What awaits you in Athens?" Iona queried.

"Nope. I'm not telling you another word, until you reveal to me what your parents aren't agreeing on." Ri parried.

"Alright, Ri. Brace yourself." Iona warned.

She acceded, "Consider me braced."

"I don't want to be just an architect anymore." Iona announced. "I wanna be a warrior in the Conqueror's army."

{C&R}

"Get out of here." Darnelle laughed, sitting inside the gothic War Room with his fellow compatriots; Lieutenant Tessa, General Nale of the First Army, Lieutenant Dex of the Sixth Army, and Meleager, the Chancellor of the Realm. "Jr is actually coming here? The yearly tribute to the Conqueror isn't 'til next moon."

"Alexander II will arrive earlier than expected. It seems he have more to share with the Conqueror besides encomium." Meleager averred.

"Does the arrogant brat knows she's not in Corinth?" Nale prompted, recalling last year how annoying the handsome, vain son of Alexander the Great was.

Nale was a lieutenant under Meleager then, before the old General abnegated the position to him, filling in the newly created rank of Chancellor.

"I do not want to be in his company longer than need be."

"I've received his letter this morning, General Nale. He's already left Macedonia, and will feasibly get here in a sennight." Meleager responded.

"It'll be nice to see the Macedonian." Tessa beamed with memories. 'Perhaps we'll fuck again.'

Figuring what she had in mind, Nale, who was adorned in white armor, scoffed, while Darnelle tried to cover his grin by discreetly putting his hand atop his mouth.

"As it is." The Chancellor looked at Tessa with brief deprecation. "Once Alexander II arrive, we will treat him cordially and respectfully, unless he give us pause not to. Are we in agreement?"

"Yes, Chancellor." All four warriors assented, although Nale was dismayed.

The door to the War Room opened, and Prince Lyceus stepped in. Everyone stood, and bowed in his presence.

"Speaking of Jr, look who chose to attend our gathering." Darnelle teased.

Lyceus ignored the quip. "Good afternoon to you all."

Henceforth, he took a seat beside Tessa whom was gawking at him, as every warrior of the Realm reclaimed their chairs.

'Damn, he's attractive.' She ruminated, appraising his facial features to his royal attire, consisting of black breeches, a long-sleeved, sapphire shirt that was made from silk, with an ornate golden chain encircling the collar, and dark boots.

"Prince Lyceus, it is an honor." Lieutenant Dex hailed.

It was uncommon for lieutenants to take part in council meetings, since generals were always attending as proxy to their armies, and more aberrant to actually see the Prince of the Realm participating in government affairs.

"Yes, a true honor." Tessa did a salute also.

Meleager hid his shock at Lyceus' unexpected arrival. "Moving along. Whilst the Lord Conqueror of the Realm is away on progress, I will be the authoritative figure in her absence, similar to when she went to Rome last year. Any and all problems should come to me."

Everyone nodded their consent.

"General Nale, have you selected a new lieutenant for the First Army?" Meleager queried.

"Yes. He is from the ranks of General Glaphyra's Sixth Army." He asserted.

"Does she comply with you choosing a member from hers?" The Chancellor prodded further.

"She does." The purple armored Lieutenant spoke in Nale's place. "In fact, she recommended him herself."

Meleager was intrigued with Dex's pronouncement. "Who is it?"

"Oris." Nale professed.

"I had him escort the Prince to the Agora after he returned the Conqueror's warhorse." Dex expounded.

Meleager turned to Lyceus. "What is your take on him?"

"I've only met him today, but from what I had seen, Oris is a fine young man when it comes to duty. I think he'll be a good choice."

"Then it is settled. Oris will be initiated into the First Army tomorrow. There will be a banquet to celebrate his promotion, too. That is all I have for now. The council is adjourned." Meleager vocalized.

The couple of Generals, along with the two Lieutenants, and Prince Lyceus, arose, saluting their Chancellor in advance of exiting the War Room.

"Prince, stay a moment." Meleager decreed, and Lyceus sat down on a chair closer to him. "My apologies for summoning you to handle the Agora without consulting you first."

"That's okay. It wasn't as irritating as yesterday, and I'm getting the hang of it." Lyceus admitted. "You aren't solely the Chancellor now, but the Regent of the Realm also. You've got tons to do, and I don't mind helping out in any way you deem fit to use me. I am serious 'bout taking more part in government."

"Good to hear, Lyceus. I must confess, it isn't much of a burden like it was the year prior. Being a general of an army, and running the Realm was difficult." Meleager smiled. "If you keep this attitude up, one day you'll be the Regent in your sister's stead."

"Thanks, Meleager." He glowed from the comment. "Is there anything else? I want to visit Ri for lunch if she's free."

"She and I are eating together."

"Oh." Lyceus felt sparsely dejected. "Maybe I'll catch her for dinner."

Noting the gloomy tone, Meleager became curious. "How is your relationship with Ri? Do you have affections for her?"

"Yes. I adore her, but..." Lyceus ceased speaking.

"But, what?"

Getting accustomed to Meleager's direct approach, the Prince sighed. "I'm not sure how she feels about me. One moment it's like we are on the same accord. The next, she's different. If I could sum it all up, I would say she's afraid of getting close to me."

"Have you told Ri yet?" Meleager questioned.

"No. I drop hints here and there, but I haven't approached her straightforwardly."

"I see. I see." The Chancellor echoed.

Lyceus chuckled. "You ever notice you do that?"

"Do what, Lyceus?"

"Repeat yourself once in a while." He affirmed.

"Old habit, I guess." Meleager smirked. "I'll ask Ri if her feelings are mutual."

"Will you?" Lyceus dropped the exciting idea with a disapproving visage. "I am grateful for everything you're always willing to do for me, but I'm wholehearted in asking you not to do that."

"Understandable, Lyceus." The Chancellor declared. "I'll make no inquiries."

{C&R}

Minya, who wore a yellow apron atop her burgundy shirt and purple skirt, lifted the hot loaves of baked bread from the wooden stove, setting it on the table in the kitchen to cool.

'She has no fashion sense.' Iona cogitated, referring to the royal Cook's questionable clothes.

"A warrior." Minya began. "Are you gonna stop taking your architectural class?"

"I queried the same thing." Ri proclaimed, biting into a fig.

"And like I explained to Ri." Iona playfully glared at the munching strawberry-blonde. "I'm going to finish the class, because it'll probably give me an advantage at excelling in the Imperial Army when the Lord Conqueror commissions extra ships to be built for Attica or Sparta."

"An architect soldier. You don't run into someone like that everyday." Minya retorted.

"That's what I said, too." Ri commenced giggling, whilst Iona threw a date at her.

"Great minds think alike." Minya laughed.

"Aged minds, you mean." The younger blonde jested. "My father is comfortable with my decision, but my mother isn't, though. I don't want them to fuss over it, nonetheless, I do not want to lose the opportunity of becoming a warrior."

"It is a sudden change, Iona. Four days ago you were speaking of building temples for the gods that would be far grander than the ones already constructed anywhere on Terra." The Cook elucidated. "What happened to bring this choice up?"

"Lieutenant Tessa of the Fifth Army taught weapons training in Clydmus' class yesterday." Ri exposed. "That is what triggered it."

"That's not it." Iona stated.

"Must have been some instruction." Minya mocked.

Ri uttered, "It was... Intense."

"It was beyond that." Iona's eyes lit up. "It was intoxicating. As I held the wooden sword in my hand, it felt right. I could feel... Elation."

"Sounds better than sex." Minya thoughtlessly ratiocinated aloud.

Ri blushed, remembering her earlier sexual activity in her chamber, while Iona stared dumbfounded at the Cook.

"Ignore that, and forget it ever being mentioned." Minya implored.

"Forgotten." Iona mumbled.

Ri jumped back on the previous topic. "Sooo, getting roughed up by Lieutenant Tessa hasn't daunted your spirit at all?"

"My hands stung badly afterwards, but it made me eager to learn. My father remarked I have untrained extremities, but once I get used to a blade's handle, I'll be fine."

"Can't say I can envision you being a warrior. You are a beautiful young woman. I can see you as anything except that." Minya protested, gesturing for three kitchen servants to remove food from the other stoves.

Iona became defensive. "My mother is beautiful. So is Lieutenant Tessa, and don't get me started on the Conqueror. Even at her age, she's a Venus."

Ri closed her pupils to picture the dream again when her Lord brought pleasure to her body and, in return, gained fulfilment as well.

Minya's voice ended the reverie, "They are children of the War god, Mars. You aren't, Iona.

Iona stomped her foot in exasperation, and waited for the servants to leave, prior to inquiring, "Have either of you watched the soldiers practice on the training field?"

Both women gave negative responses by shaking their heads.

"Well, I have, and even that is exhilarating to me. What Lieutenant Tessa displayed in the classroom sealed it."

"Iona, I am with you. We're purely thinking you should evaluate it thoroughly preceding making a rash decision." Ri offered reason. "Warriors have to kill, and can be killed. I'm positive that can weigh on a person's conscience."

"I have parents who are generals of their own armies." Iona got irate. "I'm sure they can die, and I know they take lives. Minya, you don't have any soldiers for parents; they were common farmers. And you don't have recollection of who your family is, Ri."

Ri's pained expression filled Iona with quickening sadness.

"That's quite enough, missy." Minya was stern. "You may have had your mind made up to train for the army, but we were simply trying to aid you in an admission you'd sprung on us."

Iona was duly reprimanded, becoming disconcerted with herself. "Ri, I'm-"

"It's alright, Iona." The petite, strawberry-blonde's lips formed a melancholy smile. "I should get going. Thank you, Minya, for making the provisions I requested."

The storyteller had begun reaching for two trays, till Minya prevented her from doing so. "You're most welcome, Ri. Don't bother carrying your lunch, though. I'll have the servants bring it to you and the Chancellor. You go on ahead. I'm certain he's waiting for ya."

Therefore, Ri left without saying another word.

Not knowing what else to do following the awkward silence, Iona remained apologetic. "I'm sorry, Minya."

"I am not the person you should be telling that to. You, along with a handful of others, knows what the poor girl went through. Gods, you were wrong, young lady, and when Ri calms a little, you need to tell her you'd made a mistake in judgment. Hopefully, she'll forgive you." Minya scolded. "Now, don't you have a class to get to? If not, I don't care. Out of my kitchen, because I'm displeased with you."

{C&R}

A half candlemark later, Ri was sitting on one of the divans in the Conqueror's chambers across from Meleager, who was seated on the other, whilst the castle's servants and Akemi completed setting their meal on the table between them. Once done, they bowed and exited, save for the Chambermaid.

"Will there be anything else, Chancellor?"

"Thank you, Akemi. That will be all." He dismissed her, breathing in the aroma of the entree.

Akemi curtsied, and departed the chambers.

"I am highly appreciative of you for requesting Minya to prepare our lunch with such delicious edibles of my liking." Meleager was pleased, placing an assortment of food on his plate and hers.

Ri started to do the same for them. "You are certainly welcome."

"I've been engrossed with the affairs of the Realm, but I haven't forgotten our game we were to engage in. Are you ready to start it?"

"Yes. You may begin."

The Regent gazed at Ri, wondering if she was in a low mood. "Are you okay?"

Trying to dispel her somber morale, she joked, "I'm sure you don't want that to be your first query. Remember, we only get three."

"Alright then." Meleager rectified his question, "What did the Conqueror promise you?"

Finishing pouring meat sauce on both of their grinded potatoes, Ri predicated, "She would visit me in Athens."

"Nothing more?" Meleager followed up.

Ri clicked her tongue in teasing fun. "You can't ask two in a row. It's my turn... Is our Lord going to war?"

"Nope." Came the simple answer.

'I should've phrased that better.' Ri chided herself mentally.

At least she knew the Conqueror wasn't in full armed conflict. Still, she could be in another form of contention.

"Is the Conqueror in love with you?" Meleager probed.

The direct inquiry had her baffled. The blue-eyed woman alluded to a love for Ri, but she hadn't confessed a devotion of being in love with her. Throughout their entire Cronus together, the Conqueror never avouched she loved her.

"No." Ri gave her reply, praying it was untrue. "She is not."

Meleager read a flicker of despondency in Ri's eyes, and had the third question ready when it was his turn again.

"Is she in danger?" 

The austere tone caught the Chancellor's attention with its depth of worrying.

Dropping his loaf of bread, he put her mind at ease. "Ri, the Conqueror of the Realm will be fine. Trust me."

Ri understood she wasn't playing the game she'd invented correctly, yet her nerves relaxed, feeling contented the Autarch of Greece would be safe. Nevertheless, another consternation troubled her.

"I'll let that one be a freebie since you were deeply concerned for the safety of our Lord." Meleager grinned. "Ask something else."

Ri wanted to confirm if he'd become Regent again, whilst the Conqueror was away, but thoughts of Iona's statement caused the storyteller to seek information concerning her origin.

"Where am I from?"

Meleager lost his grin.

"Who are my parents?" She espied his cyan orbs, pondering why tears couldn't fall from hers. "I've never gave it any profound consideration, until now. I want to cry, but speculate you can't shed tears for a life you haven't known."

Meleager had risen, and sat beside his niece, leaning Ri's head on his shoulder, as he held her. "I'm not confident where you were born. You could belong to Acanthus, Potidaea, or Therma, if not Cirra; the place we found you. Krykus and his men were enslaving town villages after the Athenians subjugated the Chalcidice during the Peloponnese Purge."

"Weren't they part of our Lord's army?" Ri quizzed.

"Yes, yes. While the Conqueror was with the Amazons in the Northern Steppes of Serbia, she kept a power base of soldiers here in Greece. The Delian League was in conflict with the Peloponnesian League, and we were to lay low, recruiting warriors to the Conqueror's cause, gathering any materials we could get our hands on from defeated Peloponnesian States only." Meleager explicated.

"Why those States, and not the Delian League's?"

"The Peloponnesians were on the losing end. It was more manageable to rally defeated troops to our side, because they'd rather be with us than stay with a beaten team." Meleager idly twirled strands of Ri's hair in his fingers. "I'm not sure how much of the war affected your life before discovering you in Cirra, but it's a blessing you can't recall any of it. Danger was everywhere, and no matter what Grecian boundary anyone's City-State were in, you could suffer from both belligerents all the same. The Conqueror was wise to that fact, and understood a lot of people would become disillusioned with the Delian League, as well as the Peloponnesians' quandary. She was right, and all we had to do was choose which League we didn't want to win outright. So we chose Athens."

Questions floated through Ri's brain. If the Conqueror decided to go against the Delian League, it was logical for her to make a progression toward Corinth, and join with King Glaucus' army. But why did she betray him, and take control of his castle, including all of Corinth, after his demise?

Knowing the Conqueror held a disinclination for human bondage, she picked a different query, "Why did Krykus try to enslave the townspeople of Chalcidice? Did our Lord want slaves in the beginning?"

"By the gods, no." He denoted. "Krykus was a fool. With the Conqueror gone in Siberia for almost two years, he created his own agenda, breaking away from the original plan. He paid for it, though."

Ri cringed. "I've heard."

"You know what happened to him and his men?"

"Not his men, but Krykus. Minya told me they were going to sell us to Persians in Cirra. They'd sold many males and females prior to Milady's appearance out of nowhere like Death herself. I was hurt terribly, and once she'd distinguished Krykus was the person whom injured me, she broke his jaw, then both his ribs. She...she crucified him, personally." Ri recited the grisly tale.

"She crucified them all." Meleager clarified. "The Conqueror would've killed them regardless, but when she'd seen your blood-soaked face, she went in a rage; possessed by the Retribution goddess, Nemesis, in her brutality. She stayed by your side every day until you healed. Did you know that?"

Ri shook her head. "She did?"

"Mm-hmm. When she travelled to Corinth, I could discern you pined for her. And there's your answer, Ri; the Conqueror is your home. I have no idea who your blood-family are. However, I do know you have people who love and care about you very much. Your family is here with us, my precious Niece."

The trim woman hugged the Chancellor. "Thank you, Uncle. I needed to hear that."

"I'm here for you always." He squeezed her small frame lightly. "You broke the rules of our game, but I'm willing to let all those queries pass, and give you your remaining two if you respond to my final inquiry truthfully."

"Okay." Ri permitted.

"Are you in love with the Conqueror?"

Greenish-blue irises gripped Meleager's, as Ri nodded. "Yes, I am. When she comes back, I... I have no doubts she'll court me."

'Poor Lyceus.' Meleager cerebrated, listening to Ri's delighted tonality.

"How do you feel about that?" She asked shyly.

"Shocked to be honest, and gladdened for both of you." The Regent enlightened, arising to return to his own divan. "Come now, let's eat 'fore our food gets cold."

"Hold on. My last question, and it's equally important." Ri unwrapped the scarf to broadcast the glimmering necklace. "This can't possibly be the price you apprised. Is it?"

At the quizzical look on Ri's countenance, the Chancellor of the Realm guffawed in mirth.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The Grecian fleet sailed on the Mediterranean Sea, skimming its waves back to Greece. Adorned in a tan-colored tunic, and black trousers, with boots on his feet, Draco gazed at the horizon from the side of the vessel, rejoicing mentally that he would soon return to Corinth. Although they were departing Egypt with two lesser members of their party than when they'd first arrived, the General of the Second Army felt confident the mission was a success, and the Conqueror's commands to Cleopatra would be carried out. Now, it was a matter of how long it'd take for Marcus Antonius to sail to Rome, so the next phase of his Lord's plans could be executed.

'Maybe we should've stayed to make certain Antonius leave.' He ruminated.

However, that wasn't in their mandate. The Lord of the Realm made it crystal clear they were to deliver her orders, then make preparations to embark back home immediately afterwards. Jovial to part the Land of Pharaohs, Draco dwelled on the words of the enigmatic High Priest, Ansem.

['The Amazons, General Draco, what are you willing to do in order to rid the Greek dominion of them?']

The Egyptian spoke of destroying the Amazons, but Draco felt there was more to it than he was letting on. The destruction of the whole Amazonian race wouldn't cause the General to lose an ounce of sleep, and he'd gladly aid in putting nails in the harlots' coffins, but he knew something was amiss if he played a role. A heavier price had to be paid on his part, and it would have increased ramifications beyond enslaving the warrior women for money.

He was positive a destructive bifurcation would come into effect; harming not only the Amazons, but the Realm also, and that made him determined to learn more. 'What is your game, Ansem?'

"What's on your mind, Draco?" A voice inquired.

Draco glanced at the General of the Third Army, standing beside him, wearing solely a white tunic, and sandals. "Glad to see you're feeling better, Palaemon."

The cropped-blonde gripped the wooden railings, espying the greenish-blue Sea. "Thanks. Honey milk does wonders for the ailment I had."

"Won't be drinking water for some Cronus now, huh?" Draco jived.

Palaemon smirked at the joke. "Probably so."

"Did you hear about the scouts from both of our armies?"

"Yeah." Palaemon responded solemnly. "Lieutenant Batius informed me. What a shame."

"It invoked the men to wig out. Had them fearing we all were headed to Pluto." Draco said. "Argin, the damn fool, wouldn't shut up. Telling anyone with ears Helios will kill us. I should have him flogged."

"He almost lost his life." Palaemon was in bewilderment from his compatriot's threat. "Helios' heat affected his brain, causing Argin to speak deliriously. He shouldn't be at fault for confused actions."

"Gods, Palaemon." Draco swore in frustration. "I won't whip him."

"Good." Palaemon became relieved.

"I'll relegate him to a foot soldier instead." He replied with a smile.

Shaking his head, the blonde General relented. "Fine, Draco. Demote the poor guy."

They stood in silence, watching the scenery; losing the line between the sky and sea.

Next, Palaemon asked, "How did your audience with the Pharaoh go?"

"Didn't meet with her." Draco confirmed.

"What?" Palaemon questioned. "If not Cleopatra, who've you spoken to?"

"Ansem, the High Priest." Draco answered. "He made the conference interesting."

"Sorry I wasn't there." Palaemon apologized.

Draco snorted. "Ansem's an ass. You were fortunate to get sick, and miss his company."

"You didn't get any enjoyment from the encounter?"

"Of course I did." Draco asserted. "The look on Ansem's face, whilst apprising him that Antonius had to leave Egypt, and take his hidden army of Romans with him, was a real highlight of my day. You should've seen that."

"Darn." Palaemon seemed disappointed. "Anything else happened?"

The General of the Second Army decided to keep Ansem's cryptic message for dealing with the Amazons a secret. "Nope. I'd exited the room after relaying the Conqueror's directives, and Ansem concurred with them on Cleopatra's behalf."

"Does the Conqueror know of our progress?" Palaemon queried.

"I have sent a scroll to Corinth before we left Alexandria." Draco stated, looking at his comrade, then the sea once more. "She should receive it in a few days."

Palaemon released a contented breath. "I can't wait to reach Greek soil."

"Neither can I." Draco agreed. "We'll get to the homeland in a half fortnight."

"A sennight..." Palaemon sighed, staring at the aqua scenery. "The water is reminiscent of the Conqueror's Handmaiden's irises. I wonder what amazing fables she's told since we've been gone."

Draco scoffed. "Are you trying to get a rise out of me, Palaemon?"

"I happen to like Ri's stories. Don't you enjoy-"

"You know damn well I do not." Draco interrupted. "Did she manage to entice you, too? Now you're in love with the little slut?"

"Jeez, Draco. You can become a jerk when you want to." He retorted. "I'm merely a fan of her tales, and so are many others. That doesn't mean we're all in love with her. I don't understand why you're the sole person I know who do not care for Ri; going as far as to slander her a slut."

"You weren't part of the Conqueror's army eleven years ago when we discovered Krykus' plot for selling slaves in Cirra." Draco averred. "I am sure he and a lot of his men had a go at the whore. Handmaiden? Ha, don't make me laugh."

"And your incontrovertible evidence that Ri isn't a virgin?" Palaemon countered.

"After our Lord checked Ri's injuries in private, she became enraged, crucifying Krykus and his men, personally. She had already beaten the Tartarus out of the guy, and they were all doomed to die anyway. Why would the Conqueror's anger enhance once she'd finished inspecting Ri?"

"That's all you got?" Palaemon wasn't buying what his fellow General was selling.

Growing enervated from the conversation, Draco elucidated, "All of the other women we saved were raped repeatedly. What more proof do you need to discern that Ri wasn't touched, too?"

"Assumptions, Draco. Perhaps, the Conqueror knows Ri is untouched. That's why she calls her a Handmaiden."

"Or the Conqueror simply pity the girl." Draco challenged.

"Okay, this happened eleven years ago, right? Ri is eighteen now, so back then, she was...seven, if not six. Isn't that truly young to be molested, or was Krykus a sick man?" Palaemon prompted.

"I don't believe the bitch is eighteen." Draco mumbled. "I think she's older than that."

"Wow." Palaemon shook his head again. "All this virulence for a disadvantage villager who, either way you cut it, Draco, was abused by Krykus. Why do you dislike her?"

'None of your fucking business, Palaemon.' He thought, taking his eyes off of the Mediterranean, and focused on his companion. "You love the Conqueror, don't you?"

"Yes." Palaemon assented. "She is our Lord. Who doesn't love her?"

"Don't play coy with me. You know exactly what I speak of." Draco declared.

"What's your point?" Palaemon was becoming antsy. "Want to assume another imaginary cogitation?"

"Forget it, but mark my words." Draco proclaimed. "If that so-called bard gets her way, you can kiss your dreams farewell."

The dark-skinned male stalked away, leaving Palaemon alone, whom was perplexed by his final statement. Feeling uneasy, he didn't have a clue how the General knew he loved the Conqueror romantically. What did Ri have to do with it, though? Draco hinted at something more.

'Is it possible?' Palaemon mused. 'Could Ri be in love with the Conqueror as well?'

The blonde-haired man didn't get a chance to ponder on the cognition longer, because a warrior whom was dressed in black armor approached from behind him. "General Palaemon."

Without turning to face him, Palaemon affirmed, "Not now, Lieutenant Batius."

Pulling a concealed, rolled scroll out from inside his armor, Batius handed it to his General, whispering in his ear, "It is a matter of importance."

Palaemon began to unroll it, and read the contents with vigor, as he caught sight of Draco going below deck. Slowly rereading the papyrus once more, he tore the parchment to pieces, casting it in the vast water.

He pulled Batius roughly to him, quietly questioning, "Why haven't you been brought this to my attention?"

"Too many soldiers were around." The Lieutenant grew fearful.

"Do you know what was written on that scroll?"

"Yes, General."

"No one is to find out... Ever." Palaemon shoved his Lieutenant harshly.

Righting his balance, Batius saluted, and departed quickly, while the General of the Third Army's sad, grey orbs looked back at the Mediterranean. Again, he lost the line between the sky and sea.

{C&R}

Ri had a glorious day, spending all of it with her self-professed Uncle. In lieu of hardly cogitating about what Iona avowed to her, she was engrossed on the fact she'd fell more in love with the Conqueror for giving her the necklace. After the Chancellor ceased laughing at Ri's last query, he explained the sparkling adornment was created from a newly found metal discovered in Laconia on the outskirts of Tegea, the town village she, Iona, and Lyceus were in; safely hidden from the Peloponnese Purge. Meleager told her the platinum orbs were singularly owned by the Realm, and any item crafted from it was technically priceless, but could be worth the cost he'd mentioned.

This information made Ri gleeful. The confirmation of her Lord bestowing a gift that, so far, had merely been used for the Conqueror's weaponry, and Minerva's temple, was very appealing to the aspiring bard. She comprehended the alloy would be distributed to other countries for commercial gain anon, but being the sole person to receive it first out of everyone on Terra in jewelry form, and from the Conqueror no less, sparked volumes of unknown dimensions inside Ri's soul.

Ri stepped out of her lukewarm tub, and watched the water run rivulets down small, but ample breasts, ending in droplets. She remained curious why her body was dissimilar to the one she'd dreamt of. Not only was her bosom slightly bigger in the dream, but her body's definition was more pronounced also. She had abs for days. Plus her arms, thighs, and legs appeared muscular as well. Though the strawberry-blonde was slim, she couldn't help feeling physically unsound compared to her dreamy double.

She did not have a toned abdomen, nor muscles anywhere on her body. All those parts of her anatomy was covered in baby fat. Based on Ri's mental instances; the storyteller looked totally different from the sexy, cropped towhead in her dream.

'And what was that creature on my back?' Ri wondered.

Donning an envy-colored robe, Ri tied the sash close, and sat down at her vanity desk. She twirled the jade stone on the shiny chain, willing it to glow the way it did when she'd awokened earlier during the morning. Her fingers dropped from the gem when no illumination came, and she had begun to scrutinize her appearance in the mirror. The young female wasn't an extravagant beauty, but she was pretty, nonetheless. Her eyes were her best trademark, including her long reddish-blonde hair.

'At least I got that over my short-haired twin.'

Analyzing her large ears, Ri smiled, remembering the Conqueror tickling them when she was younger, saying they were adorable. Realization dawned on her, and she started missing her Lord for the umpteenth Cronus of today. All she wanted to do was see her, hold her, and kiss those soft lips again. She wished their chaste peck was replaced with the Conqueror's tongue invading her mouth, and the relinquishment of her virginity right there on the polished altar.

Halting her lewd rumination, she prayed for forgiveness, and protection, 'Pardon my thoughts, wise Minerva. I mean no disrespect to you, or all which belongs to you. Also, please protect my Lord, and the warriors whom travel alongside her. May they be unharmed, and guarded by your might. Allow them to return to Corinth alive and well, especially my savior, Milady of the Realm.'

Finished with her prayer, Ri picked up the comb, and ran it through her damp tresses when a knock sounded on the chamber door. She stood to open it.

"Prince Lyceus." Ri was shocked. "It's nightfall."

"I know." He smiled demurely. "I'd stopped by earlier, but you wasn't here. I wanted to have dinner with you."

"I've already eaten with the Chancellor."

"I figured." Lyceus pressed on, showing her the single tray he was carrying. "So I brought dessert. Lemon pie, and your favorite, nut bread."

"It is truly late, and I'm a little sleepy. Perhaps another day." Ri expounded.

"Okay... Another day." Lyceus became crestfallen.

Ri was upset with Lyceus, but felt badly for dismissing the Conqueror's younger brother. "Prince."

"Yes."

"Give me a moment to get decent."

He nodded his head, and Ri shut the door. Therefore, she slipped off the robe, whilst tampering her inner anger at Lyceus' lack of discretion. Covering her nude body with a cream-colored shift, and opening the door once more, Ri invited the Prince inside.

Entering, Lyceus strolled over to the table they ate breakfast on yesterday morning. Setting the tray on the oak furniture, the Prince of the Realm slid out a chair for Ri. When she was seated, he placed a ceramic saucer in front of her, filling it with a piece of lemon pie, and a couple slices of nut bread.

"Thank you." Ri showed her gratefulness.

"No. Thank you, for letting me be in your presence." Lyceus shot back with charm.

He took a huge piece of pie, setting it on his dish, prior to sitting down as well.

"Sorry for disturbing you, though." Lyceus offered ruefully.

"It's fine. I just got out of the tub." Ri bit into her bread.

"I can tell." Lyceus pointed out. "Your hair is slightly wet."

"And unruly. I was combing it 'fore you knocked." Ri verbalized.

"You still look radiant." Lyceus complimented.

Ri grinned shyly, but refrained from thanking him.

They commenced eating silently for a while, each in their own world, until Lyceus quizzed, "How have your day been?"

"It was wonderful." Ri neglected to give introspection to what betided in the kitchen with Minya and Iona. "I stayed with Chancellor Meleager all afternoon, talking of this and that, till Selene switched positions with Helios. We had a nice dinner before I came back here. How about you, Prince Lyceus?"

"You've called me by my rank thrice now." Lyceus put his pie down, bemused. "I thought the formalities were ended between us, Ri."

"It was..." Ri let loose a sigh, laying her second slice of nut bread on the saucer also. "As long as you'd kept your promise. Seeing that you didn't, I think we should return to being formal."

"Promise?" Abashed, Lyceus urged, "What promise did I break?"

"Never mind." Ri tried terminating the topic. "Let's finish eating, shall we?"

"We can, once you apprise me of what I have done." Lyceus insisted on knowing.

"I rather not." She declined. "I was having a marvelous day. I would like it to end on a good night, too."

The Prince ran a shaky hand through his blonde hair in annoyance. "I don't understand what promise I haven't kept."

Ri found herself losing the will to contain her anguished sorrow. "You know what I am referring to. You swore by Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, you'd keep my confidence."

He understood now. "I've retained my word."

The former Handmaiden couldn't believe Lyceus' audacity. "Don't lie to me. It's insulting, and I wouldn't ever insult you."

"I'm not lying." He became offended. "Do not discourage my honor."

"How else could your sister, our Lord, have learnt I'd informed you I was leaving Corinth for Athens?" Ri prompted. "You were the only person I confided in."

"The Conqueror knows?" Lyceus was surprised. "She didn't learn it from me."

"Sure she didn't." Ri said sarcastically.

Lyceus remained baffled. "Did the Conqueror fabricate untruths about me?"

"She didn't have to." Ri folded her arms in self-righteousness.

"But the Conqueror did tell you she knew?" Lyceus queried.

Ri glared at him, albeit her mien softened. "You were supposed to be my friend."

Lyceus got upset. "This is Centaur's shit, Ri! If the Conqueror told you it was me, she is the liar."

Ri grasped her necklace in veiled anger. "Don't ever call her that."

Ri's movement brought her gleaming jewelry to Lyceus' unnoticed attention. He swiftly recognized the jade gemstone that was scarcely obscured by her hair.

"Now I get it." He snapped. "The Conqueror gives you a present, and now she's your best friend. She couldn't have been that disappointed at you, so why are you giving me crap concerning this? It can't be serious if she's granting you lavish jewels."

Ri knew she couldn't deny where the necklace came from. Even Meleager implicated Lyceus as the person whom gotten the item from the Agora, and brought it to the Conqueror.

Comprehension gripped Lyceus. "I should've known she desired you."

"It is nothing. It's...simply a farewell gift." Ri lied.

"I should have known." Lyceus repeated, seemingly ignoring her. "When I'd evinced to her how I felt anent to you, I could see it in her eyes. Yesterday left me wondering, after you and she rode off together, but now it's clear."

"What are you talking about?"

"The Conqueror is in love with you." Lyceus hesitated to add, "So am I."

Ri became stupefied by Lyceus' confession. His claim of love wasn't the astonishing divulgence to her, for she'd sensed that emotion from him in the past several days. Notwithstanding, it was the Prince's avowal of the Conqueror's affections, which generated a greater effect within her. They both were in love with her, and Lyceus revealed his true feelings to his sister. Why hadn't the Conqueror done the same thing, and explicate to him how she was feeling, too?

'Why won't I expose my feelings for Milady to Lyceus?' Ri acknowledged her own blunder. 'Is all three of our relationships built on hidden fabrications?'

"I'm in love with you, Ri." Lyceus professed deeply.

"It would be wise if you left my chamber, Prince Lyceus." Ri announced, whilst glumly espying the remaining morsel on her dish.

Dithering for a split candle-drip, the Prince arose with a gloomy facial expression. "It's obvious you do not share the same sentiment... Goodnight, Lady Ri."

Finally, he vanished out of the room, and Ri raised from the table to lock her door, preceding lying on the bed. The strawberry-blonde disregarded doing her hair, knowing it would be a tangled mess tomorrow, howbeit she didn't care, and was undetermined on how to handle the newfound information Lyceus admitted. She had an understanding the Prince liked and loved her, but she'd no idea he was in love with her.

Weren't there a difference between loving someone, and being in love with somebody?

And what of the Conqueror? The blue-eyed woman never made an utterance that she loved Ri, but the Prince's attestation claimed she was in love with her as well. The petite storyteller didn't want to hurt anyone, and her heart did truly lie with the Overlord of Greece.

Ri curled up, reflecting inward. She was weary of the circle of deceit when it coincided with herself, and the two siblings whom seemingly rivaled for her love.

'From here on out, I will be honest with all my heart.' Ri pledged, closing her eyelids for sleep. 'I swear by the gods I'll be.'

To Be Continued...

 

Chapter Text

Bright light shined through Ri's window, bringing forth a new day. Greenish-blue irises lazily opened to the sound of knocking. Stretching to gather her wits and energy, she raised from the bed to answer the chamber door, becoming aghast to see Iona in a pink-colored tunic.

"Good morning, Ri." The younger blonde greeted.

"What are you doing here?"

Sorrow entered Iona's heart. "Are we no longer friends?"

'Are we?' Ri cogitated, pondering on her and Prince Lyceus' relationship.

She was unclear whether they were on speaking terms after their verbal sparring, and Ri's silent rejection to Lyceus' adoration, before telling him to leave last night.

Ri had no intentions on losing another friendship. "Yes... We are still friends."

"May I come inside?" Iona asked timorously.

Ri pulled the ajar door wider, letting Iona in her chamber.

"I'm truly sorry for my words towards you yesterday." She apologized. "My lack of consideration for you, and your past, caused you sadness."

"It did." Ri concurred, sitting on the side of her bed. "But I'd spoken to my uncle... He made me feel a lot better."

"I'm glad I hadn't ruined your plans with him."

"The Chancellor and I enjoyed each others company from daylight, till nightfall." Ri disclosed.

Iona glimpsed the room, seeing a tray with pie and bread atop it. A couple of saucers were on the table with half-eaten desserts placed on them also.

"Must have ate until both of your bellies couldn't handle anymore." Iona giggled.

Ri looked glum, gazing at the leftover treats. "No. We finished our lunch and dinner in Milady's chambers. The sweet food there are from when the Prince of the Realm visited me during the night."

"Wow." Iona was amazed. "Although it's not unsurprising, considering you were raised with them. You eat lunch, dinner, and have treats with two of the most important people, besides the Conqueror herself. Did you and Prince Lyceus enjoy one another, too?"

"It was..." Ri paused to think of a word to describe what unfolded with Lyceus. "Enlightening."

Iona noted Ri's expression. "Your facial appearance says the enlightenment made you gloomy. Is that why the desserts are left half-touched?"

"And when did you become so analytical?" Ri queried lively.

"I'm the daughter of generals in the Realm's army. I have no choice but to be." She boasted, thinking of her friend's mysterious parentage, and what happened between them. "Do you pardon the vile assertions of a silly girl?"

"You know I do." Ri made her way to Iona. "You're not the sole person who was wrong. I need you to accept my apology as well."

"What for?"

"You are serious about training, and becoming a warrior. Neither Minya or I were being very supportive. We began teasing you, and having fun at your expense. It's understandable you lost your temper." Ri explained. "So, forgive me."

Iona embraced her in a hug. "I do, Ri. You're my sister. Not by blood, but by spirit."

"Thank you." Ri kissed Iona's forehead, and ended the embrace to start organizing the dishes on the tray.

"I can help you." Iona stated, aiding Ri without waiting for a reply.

The storyteller grinned, and questioned, "How did your classes go yesterday?"

"Not well, I'm afraid." Iona confessed. "My mind was too polluted with retention of what I've said to you, I couldn't concentrate."

"Do you remain interested in being a warrior?"

"Yes." Iona accented.

"It's okay, then. If your grades begin to slip, you can always threaten the teacher with your sword." Ri jested.

Iona chuckled. "Is making jokes of my chosen profession going to become our custom now?"

"That was the final one." Ri declared. "I'm behind your decision all the way."

Iona beamed at Ri's affirmation. "Thank you."

"No thanks required, but you are welcome all the same." Ri's nose crinkled from her smile.

Once the table was tidy, Iona announced, "There's a celebration this evening."

"I know." Ri responded. "The Chancellor informed me. It's for the promotion of a soldier whose name I've forgotten."

"It doesn't matter." Iona went on. "The point is, it's happening, and I would like you to accompany me."

"I'm not sure I can. I missed my session with Master Eramus yesterday, and I know he's gonna chew me up like Kerberus." Ri sulked. "I'm not looking forward to that."

"The ceremonial dinner isn't going to be over, 'til night, Ri."

"And I have a lot to study if I'm to be an apprentice of Aristotle."

"That's why you're leaving for Athens." Iona was excited. "He taught philosophy to Alexander the Great."

"That's why I can't go to the banquet, Iona. I already informed the Chancellor." Ri confirmed.

"Come on. Your skills are better than decent." Iona pouted. "Everybody's going to be there. Even Virgil, and you know he has a crush on you."

"More of a reason not to go." Ri laughed, considering the teenage boy. "Why don't you be Virgil's company?"

"Are you insane." Iona was appalled. "He's thirteen... I want to be seen with someone older and wiser."

Ri interpreted what Iona wanted. "Everyone's gonna be there, huh?"

"Yup." She answered.

"Soldiers and all?"

Iona was feeling apprehensive. "Yeah."

"I take it you want to invoke a good impression?"

"Ri." Iona begged. "You're shy, but not like I am. Once a conversation gets started, you lose your bashfulness. I'm such an introvert, I'll never talk to anyone."

Ri was ruminating on what Iona expressed. "Your father will be there."

"I am more comfortable around you than him. He'll make me nervous, and I'm positive I will shed my quietness if you're with me." Noticing Ri's stance on the issue was attenuating, she pushed onward. "There'll be tons of entertainment, including Joxer. He's gonna be entertaining, too."

'It'll be nice to see him again.' Ri mused.

"I really want you with me." Iona admitted.

"Fine. I'll get there late, but I will come." Ri conceded. "I'm not staying for long, though."

"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Iona repeated, hugging Ri.

Afterwards, she headed for the door.

"You're leaving now?" Ri inquired.

"You have studying to do, and I have a class to get ready for." Iona proclaimed, opening the door to exit. "Wear your best dress, and do something about your hair, because we're hanging out all night."

"Iona, I told you, I'm-" Before Ri could finish her sentence, the teen closed the door, and was skipping down the corridors in merriment.

The strawberry-blonde sat at the vanity desk, grinning, as she picked up her comb.

{C&R}

"Morning, Prince Lyceus." Akemi bowed, allowing him to enter the Conqueror's chambers that the Regent occupied.

"Likewise, Akemi." Lyceus professed concisely. "Is the Chancellor awake? I must speak with him."

"Yes, he is. He's getting dressed in the bedchamber."

"Let him know I wish to talk to him." Lyceus averred.

"As you command."

The Chambermaid left to do his bidding, and Lyceus rested on the divan, deep in thought of what occurred last night. He'd barely slept, knowing Ri didn't love him in the exact manner he loved her, and his mind was aflame with the knowledge that the Conqueror desired her as well.

'How could she!' He became distraught. 'I revealed my intentions for Ri to Xena. Why would she give the woman of my affections an awesome gift like that necklace?'

Ri attested it was a farewell present, albeit Lyceus had his doubts, and felt he surmised the true purpose for the sparkling jewelry.

"Prince Lyceus." Akemi pronounced. "The Chancellor will receive you."

Lyceus arose with haste, and stalked to Meleager.

The old man was looking himself over in the mirror. He was adorned in dark-brown trousers, a black short-sleeved shirt, and dark boots. Meleager was undecided whether to cover the shirt with a vest or not when Lyceus stepped into the bedroom.

"Good morning. What brings you here early, and why do you remain in your nightshirt?" Meleager remembered his niece. 'Similar to yesterday's incident.'

Shutting the door, the Prince exclaimed, "The Conqueror!"

"She has returned?" Once he discerned Lyceus' comportment, Meleager's indecisiveness on his apparel ceased. "By the gods, is she alright?"

"What?" Lyceus became confused.

"You yelled the Conqueror. Is she alright?" He echoed. "Where is she?"

"She remains afield, and I wasn't implying something was wrong with her wellbeing." Lyceus clarified. "I meant she's a backstabbing bitch!"

"Don't ever call your sister that." Meleager admonished him.

"You sound like Ri." The Prince retorted, slumping against the wall, and sliding down it.

Meleager's concernment didn't diminish, while watching Lyceus' body slide onto the floor in a sitting posture, his legs outstretched. "What is this about?"

"I confided in Xena." Lyceus spoke quietly. "Telling her I was amorous for Ri."

"You did?" The Chancellor was puzzled, mirroring Lyceus' tone. "When?"

"Four days past."

"Xena knew you loved Ri?" Meleager questioned.

"Yes!" Lyceus became agitated, thereby struggling to lower his voice. "Aren't you listening to me. I imparted to Xena my feelings, and she gives her a, 'coincidental', farewell gift. That's why she wanted Ri to travel with her to Minerva's temple."

The Chancellor was already aware of how the Conqueror and Ri felt for each other, because of the storyteller's elucidation during their lunch. He was happy for their forthcoming union. Now, he grew disappointed.

"Ri says it's merely a present, but I don't buy it. And to make matters worse, she thinks I betrayed her trust. I don't have a clue on what to do to rectify this situation."

"I will speak to Ri." Meleager affirmed.

The Prince cheered up immensely. "After everything that took place in her chamber, I'll be eternally grateful if you did."

Meleager helped Lyceus onto his feet. "I'll talk with her. However, it might not change anything. Do you understand?"

Lyceus nodded his head in congruence.

Meleager clapped the younger man's shoulder. "Tell me every detail of the prior night."

{C&R}

Five candlemarks later, Meleager's footfalls resonated throughout the great hall, as he traversed his way to the Throne Room. Once the Chancellor heard Lyceus' recount of the events that betided, he promised he'd speak with Ri during the celebration dinner. Meleager was fazed by the Conqueror's volition to court the storyteller after the Prince divulged his feelings to her first.

He would be further discouraged if his former pupil lied to the petite, strawberry-blonde, pertaining a secret between Lyceus and Ri.

'Young people... When will they learn; the best kept secrets are the ones that are never uttered.' He reflected, arriving at his destination.

A guard opened the Throne Room's double oak doors where Vercinix was standing inside.

"Chancellor Meleager." The Gaul addressed, saluting him with his fist over the chest-plate of green armor he wore.

"General Vercinix." They grasped forearms in a warrior's greeting. "The Conqueror said you would be back. I didn't know it'd be this quickly."

"Gaul is well protected." Vercinix asserted. "I don't have much to report. Will the Conqueror be joining us here?"

"No. She isn't in Corinth, and she'd left me Regent in her stead."

Vercinix looked at him quizzically. "Where did she go?"

"Let's sit." Meleager suggested. "I'm certain there is lots to discuss."

Ascending the dais, he motioned for a Corinthian Guard to produce a chair for the General of the Fourth Army.

Once they were seated, the Chancellor started expounding, "Something is brewing in Rome. A couple of days ago, Brutus sent two envoys to ask for an alliance against Octavian and Marcus Antonius. It didn't go well, so the Lord of the Realm, and General Glaphyra are sailing the Corinthian Gulf to confront Brutus."

"That would explain why their ships left the Atlanticus Oceanus." Vercinix muttered.

"What ships?" Meleager prompted.

He predicated, "Whilst defeating the combined forces of the Cimbri and the Teutons, there were seven Roman ships outlining the Ocean surrounding Gaul. Lieutenant Kira and myself were cautious they would ally with our enemy to take the region again."

"Did you alert the Conqueror?"

"Yes. They didn't come ashore, so I notified her not to send any other troops, until circumstances changed, and there was no need for panic since our army performed well fending off the Cimbri's assault with low casualties." Vercinix smiled contentedly. "Very well in fact, the Cimbri dissolved their association with the Teutons, and retreated. We decimated the Teutons' remaining soldiers with ease, and waited for the Romans to make a move, but they didn't. Two days later, they'd sailed away, and I sent a scroll to the Conqueror to recite what happened. I also told her that all was fine in Gaul, including its borders, and I'd be leaving Lieutenant Kira there with eighty percent of the Fourth Army, as the rest of them journeyed back to Corinth alongside me."

"When did this occur?" Meleager queried.

"A fortnight ago." Vercinix became uneasy. "Do you suspect the Romans' presence in Gaul signals hostilities towards the Realm?"

"I don't know why they would send ships to idle in Gaul's territory, while Rome is on the brink of internal warfare." Meleager unveiled.

"There's dissension in Rome?" Vercinix fixed his cluelessness. 'He hinted at it earlier with Brutus' messengers.'

"You've been gone for a long Cronus, Vercinix. Significant alterations are betiding Rome's politics, and the age of the Roman Republic hangs in the balance. The Second Triumvirate's incumbents are at odds for power. Markus Lepidus has been forced out of it, and exiled to parts unknown. Marcus Antonius is running back and forth from Italia to Alexandria. Recently he married Egypt's Pharaoh, Cleopatra, deciding to take residence in the palace with her and their children indefinitely. Octavian resides in Rome, trying to make a strong case to impact the Senate's decision to exhort Antonius' return."

"Is Caesar's heir trying to prevent further faction within the Triumvirate?"

"Perhaps...but I believe Octavian's real ambition is to oust Marcus Antonius as a traitor of Rome for staying in Egypt too long, before he remodels himself into an emperor." Meleager explicated.

Vercinix got increasingly inquisitive, "Where does Brutus fit into all of this mess?"

"Preceding their dissent, the Triumvirate influenced the Senate to blame him as the prime conspirator in Caesar's assassination. He fled to Crete, and is hiding in Dia. Brutus claims he's fighting for Rome to remain a republic, hence why he is enlisting the Conqueror's help."

"Who stands beside Brutus?"

"The only person we know, so far, is Cassius Longinus." Meleager replied. "They have twenty-nine Legions altogether."

"The Conqueror took the entire Sixth Army to engage them?"

"No." The Chancellor appeared vexed. "In the night she conveyed her plans to me, I'd argued with her for candlemarks. She departed with just herself, General Glaphyra, and one hundred forty-nine soldiers."

Vercinix grinned. "You'd think she would've brought less."

"She would've had one hundred and fifty. Somehow, Oris got stuck with the errand of returning the Conqueror's warhorse. I assume it was done purposely, so he could receive his promotion to lieutenant." Meleager speculated.

"Lieutenant Dex lost his position in Glaphyra's army?"

"No. No. Oris is the new lieutenant of the First Army." Meleager corrected.

"A warrior from the Sixth Army has become a lieutenant to another? That's a first." Vercinix acknowledged.

"General Nale and General Glaphyra were in cahoots anent to Oris' elevation. I haven't gained an opportunity to chat with him, but I will at the banquet this evening. Will you be there?" Meleager quizzed.

"I'm actually looking forward to spending quality Cronus with my wife and kids." He articulated. "I'll see if Mendala wants to go. If not, I will make a cameo to recognize Oris' advancement."

Nodding in agreement, Meleager prodded, "Is there anything else to report?"

"There's nothing extra to account..." The General of the Fourth Army failed to conceal his snicker. "Regent Chancellor."

"Don't start that, Vercinix. Last year everyone was calling me General Regent, because of Darnelle spreading it. Chancellor is the sole reference I prefer." The older man halted his laughter. "I won't hold you any longer. Go to your family, and relay to them my good wishes."

"Thank you, Chancellor." Arising from his chair and saluting, Vercinix commenced walking to the oak doors, but turned back to query, "The Conqueror isn't doing anything crazy, and she'll be alright, won't she?"

Meleager assured him. "I'm positive our Lord will be okay. She's the greatest warrior I've ever seen."

{C&R}

"She's a monster!" Cassius had begun his malediction a candlemark after disembarking his boat. "The Conqueror should be damned to the deepest bowels of Tartarus!"

Brutus stood in front of his tent, next to his venting brother in-law. "I'd warned you not to bring your uppity slave, Cassius."

"She didn't have to kill him." He cried.

"Of course she did." Brutus rebutted. "He offended her. Can you imagine the Conqueror of the Grecian Realm allowing a mere slave to do that, and live? The same woman who built an empire from the ground up in blood."

"No." Cassius yielded, notwithstanding, he couldn't halt feeling wroth. "She's still ruthless."

"That's my point, Cassius. That is the reason we need her on our side. She alone can destroy Octavian and Marcus."

Both men's optics surveyed the expansive base-camp, whilst Roman soldiers went about their daily routines. Many of them were practicing together with gladius', or perfecting their aim by using bows and arrows. Some hunted for food, and bought clean water to drink from the town market. Others dallied around, waiting for action of any kind.

'I hate this fucking place.' Brutus ruminated.

He absconded himself on the island of Crete for almost a full moon, and it started to addle his nerves. Limited food choices, plus not seeing sights which compared to Rome's magnificence, annoyed him. Dia's endless forest reminded him of Germania, and he hated that place, too. At least if he linked with the Conqueror, a tasty, hot supper, and a warm bed in Corinth would be acquired.

"Tell me once more what the Conqueror avouched to you." Brutus decreed.

"Following her vilification of us, she'd apprised me she would be paying you a visit." Cassius paraphrased, then pondered aloud, "I think she has a mind to cause us harm. What do you make of her visitation?"

"Why is Domitus cooking after I'd warned him not to?" Brutus' eyebrows corrugated at the Centurion in question. "Of all mortals to use the sacred element that poor Prometheus suffers for giving mankind, he's the worse. He shames the bound Titan when he uses fire to serve piss-tasting food."

"Damn that." Cassius cursed in frustration. "What is your strategy for dealing with the Conqueror's arrival here?"

Brutus' cognition returned to the chancy topic. "Did the Conqueror inform you when she was coming?"

"No."

"Did her words sound threatening?"

Cassius became livid. "She murdered Pindarus! Gave me the corpse, so I'd view his slit throat! I presumed he would outlive me, in lieu of having to honor his request to be buried at sea, and... And you're asking me did she sound threatening?"

Brutus laid his full focus on his brother in-law. "The Conqueror wasn't keen on hearing out our proposition from the beginning. You were overly qualified to go to Corinth and use your skillful wordplay as a diplomat to intrigue her. Your slave, however, was too high-handed in a position that has no power, and it cost him his life."

"Pindarus isn't a slave." Cassius admonished. "I granted his freedom 'fore he drew his final breath."

"He isn't anything anymore." Brutus rectified. "He's dead."

"His body have hardly been cast to rest in the Cretan Sea, and you insult him?"

"It's not an insult to say a dead man is indeed dead." Brutus verbalized, but took pity on Cassius once he'd espied his dismal countenance. "I know you were attached to Pindarus. You've had him since he was a young boy. Nonetheless, he's gone now, and you must deal with it."

Cassius wiped the wetness from beneath his pupils, thus placing the memory of the slave-boy, who'd became a surrogate son, into the recesses of his brain. "You are right, Brutus."

"Was the Conqueror's tone hostile?" Brutus resumed his questioning.

"It was not... I think." Cassius felt unsure, remembering the Conqueror's adumbrated tonality. "Still, her behavior is difficult to assess."

"So, she could be coming here to purely see me face-to-face, or it's a ploy to attack our Legions." Brutus contemplated.

"Losing true Roman men in combat with her would be disruptive to our cause. We have to restore the Republic to its regal glory." Cassius posited.

"Don't fret. I have a stratagem that will either delay the Conqueror, or kill her." Brutus vaguely disclosed. "Until then, notify Domitus to never cook our meals again, or I'll have his head boiled, while he's alive."

Cassius suppressed his discontent for Brutus' scheme, and began trudging to the errant cook.

"One other thing." Brutus called out, making Cassius turn in his direction. "Cut your damn hair, and shave that stubble off of your face. We are Romans. Not savages."

To Be Continued...

 

Chapter Text

"Hello, Akemi." Ri greeted nicely. "What brings you here?"

Standing outside the storyteller's threshold to her chamber, and wearing a plain tunic, Akemi noted the petite strawberry-blonde's attire. She was barefoot, and adorned in a purple Doric chiton, pinned closed on one of her shoulders by a yellowish clasp. Her hair was styled back with a yellow brooch, too, and on Ri's neck was the gorgeous jewelry, blatantly advertised for public viewing.

The Chambermaid's mood waned. "Afternoon, Ri. The Chancellor of the Realm requests your presence at the Banquet Hall for Lieutenant Oris' celebration this evening."

"I'd explained to the Chancellor I wouldn't attend because I have a session with my tutor," Ri replied. "However, a friend talked me into going, so I am inclined to be there. I'll just be a couple candlemarks late."

"Your study with Master Eramus is canceled for today." Akemi's tone was direct. "The Chancellor said it's important that you are present at the festivity as soon as possible."

The former Handmaiden didn't care for Akemi's intonation, whilst pondering her uncle's enjoin. "I do not believe Chancellor Meleager's requisition for me is discourteous in the manner you are delivering it... Is it?"

"What makes you think it isn't?" She challenged smugly.

Ri was taken aback by Akemi's behavior that bloomed from nowhere. She wasn't prone to confrontations, and disliked conflicts, but felt determined to defend herself.

"The way you are speaking to me is borderline rude. What imagined slights have I committed to cause you to treat me so?"

"I'm to notify the Chancellor you are unwilling to comply?" Akemi pretended to be obtuse.

"What?" Ri couldn't understand the brunette's audaciousness. "I will be there. Good day, Akemi."

She closed the door in the smiling Japian woman's face.

'What is wrong with her?' Ri cogitated. 'We haven't chatted with each other as if we were friends when performing our duties together, withal it was polite and respectful. What could have provoked such an acrimonious attitude? It all started the morning Milady left.'

Realization dawned in Ri's mind, remembering the curt farewell Akemi gave her once she saw the necklace the storyteller wore.

'Is that it?' She mused. 'Akemi knew Qoutis created it for our Lord, then Milady presented it to me. Could this all be induced by jealousy?'

Ri was discontented with Akemi's grudge towards her, yet she wasn't going to let it daunt her day. Slipping on her diamond-encrusted, black sandals, she exited her residence, traversing to the Audience Room to entertain the denizens' children for a while.

{C&R}

"You've recently got home and I have missed you so much." Mendala straddled her husband on their bed.

"It's to honor a new lieutenant." Vercinix disclosed, enjoying his wife's nearness.

"The kids are in their classes. We're here alone, and have a lot of Cronus to make up for." She kissed him softly. "You want to give our lovemaking a pass?"

"You know I don't, Mendala." Vercinix gripped his wife's waist. "But as a general, I do want to pay my respects, and I need to talk to the Chancellor."

"You did speak to him." Mendala phrased.

"I did, notwithstanding, we didn't fully explore a particular topic. Those Roman ships that were idle in Gaul are bothering me." Vercinix confided. "Their presence and withdrawal from the region chill me now, more than it did when I was there. It has something to do with the Realm, if not the Conqueror herself. I am positive of it."

"Okay." Mendala yielded. "We will go to the banquet. You'll have to make it up to me, though."

Vercinix reversed their positions, sucking Mendala's earlobe. "I plan to."

{C&R}

Some candlemarks later, the Banquet Hall was illuminated by candlelight and torches that were placed in sconces. Blue cloths of silk draped the tables, and atop a few of them were an abundance of edible, exquisite delicacies, which lied beside various decanters filled with delicious liquids for drinking. Musicians played a soft melodic tune, as entertainers, plus castle servants appeased the nobles, warriors, and denizens in different sections of the commodious environment, whilst many conversed with one another.

'Wow! There's a ton of people here.' Iona thought, entering the area alongside her father.

"You are going to socialize, right, and not shell yourself up like the previous occasions you came here?" Darnelle inquired.

"Yes, father." She answered. "I actually want to meet the recipient of this dinner ceremony."

Looking around, Darnelle spotted the person of interest. "Lieutenant Oris is over there with Lieutenant Tessa and others who are being entertained by the Fool. Do you want me to introduce you to him?"

Iona surveyed the spacious Hall, hoping to see her best friend. "Ri did say she'll be late."

Darnelle espied her, knowing she was worrying. "Iona, Ri will be here when she gets here. Do you want to go over, or not?"

"Okay." The long-haired blonde accepted. "Let's go."

Once they'd reached the two lieutenants, the Jester was in the middle of his joke.

"The Warlord told the merchant, 'I'm not paying for these weapons'. The merchant became offended that the Warlord wouldn't pay him, and demanded, 'Give me my dinars now, or leave!' The Warlord responded, 'I cannot do either'. This puzzles the merchant, so he asks, 'Why not'? The Warlord says, 'Because, my shoes.'" The Jester's brown eyes locked on Iona, shouting, "My shoes!"

Hence, he grabbed his left foot, hopping on the right in a farcical fashion, before jumping in the air to land on his back. Shutting his pupils, he pretended to be dead, inciting the surrounding crowd to burst into applause and laughter.

'Poor fella.' Darnelle pitied the Fool who lied on the Banquet Hall's floor with white pasty makeup on his face.

The Jester always implemented crazy stunts in his acts. Gods forbid if he did really injure himself while people laughed. After long moments of acting like he died, and the spectators walked away, a young woman stood over the fallen man.

"Did you fall again?" She knowingly queried. "You have to be careful. You might break a bone in your body if you keep throwing yourself about."

"Shush, I'm supposed to be deceased." Peeping one eye open, he made visual contact with greenish-blue irises. "And what if I'm not falling down on purpose?"

Bending down, she began retorting with a smile, "Either way, I would deem you the fool."

"Ri-Ri!" Joxer yelled, kipping up gracefully onto his feet, and pulling her into a tight hug.

"Okay, Joxer. I need to breathe." Ri gasped, delighted to see him.

"Sorry." He extricated her from the enclosure. "I haven't seen you in a fortnight. How is everything?"

"I've been studying mostly throughout all of April, and it's continuing this moon also. To avow that I'm overwhelmed, somewhat, wouldn't quite define it."

"You had free Cronus to tell a tale to a class, though." Joxer beamed. "Virgil wouldn't stop telling me the story of Midas, the king whose ears got transformed to resemble an... Well, you know."

Ri's visage reddened. "The fable touches on humans' fear and respect for the gods, including our mortal weakness for avarice. Between you and me, I would never recite that tale to my younger audience."

"Will you be giving us a yarn this evening?" The Jester questioned. "Perhaps a comedy?"

"Highly doubtful. Besides, I'll leave the comedic role in your capable hands." Ri praised. "Speaking of Virgil, where is he?"

Joxer's lips went flat. "He's here somewhere. He doesn't care for my profession anymore, so he strays from me."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Joxer." She offered her condolences.

"Thanks, Ri-Ri. I simply want him to be proud of me." Joxer asserted.

"He will be, and if for some reason he doesn't, do not let that discourage you from doing what you like."

"You are a sweetie. Come here, you." Joxer embraced Ri once more, and whilst gazing at other people to perform for, he disengaged. "Gotta go. Work calls."

"Be safe. Oh, by any chance, have you seen Iona?" Ri asked him, as he walked backward in a comical manner.

"Yeah. She was with General Darnelle. I don't know which way they walked off, 'cause I had my eyes shut during my ending act. Nice necklace by the way."

"Thanks." Ri self-consciously twirled the sparkling pendant. "I'll see you later."

Joxer waved farewell, and Ri traversed in an area that would hopefully lead her to Iona.

On the other side of the Banquet Hall, finding a table in the back, the General of the Fifth Army commenced making introductions, "This is my daughter, Iona."

"How are you, love." Oris spoke with an accent.

"I'm fine," Iona said shyly. "Congratulations on your promotion."

"Thank you, darling."

Iona became mesmerized by Oris. His irises had a hue which resembled violet, and his head was full of reddish-brown hair. He was the only warrior dressed in armor that was white and had an emblem on its right chest-plate. The other occupants, whether a noble, denizen, or soldier, was wearing a sundry of colored tunics, shirts, dresses, and trousers of varying designs.

"You already know Lieutenant Tessa." Darnelle continued. "The woman who'd boosted your passion to become a warrior."

"Hello. And again, I'm very gracious for your display on sword handling." Iona stated.

"You're welcome," Tessa professed. "I'm trying to coerce your father into allowing me to teach you more fully, if you are to join the army of the Realm, that is."

"I can become your pupil." Iona's facial expression showed tremendous glee. "Father, is it true?"

Darnelle couldn't prevent himself from grinning at his daughter's infectious smile. "We've talked of it. Let us discuss the subject a bit further and we'll go from there."

Iona gave him a heartwarming embrace.

"Let's get some wine." Oris elected.

"Yes." Iona agreed.

"Only honey milk, or fruit juice for you." Her parent smirked.

Meanwhile, still searching for her friend, Ri wasn't having any luck.

'Gosh, Iona. Where are you?' Ri huffed succeeding being bombarded with compliments referring to her lustrous apparel, and inquiries regarding if she would put on a performance.

"Ri!"

She glanced all over to find the person who'd called her name.

'So many people.' The storyteller ruminated.

"Ri."

Turning on her heels, the strawberry-blonde was unprepared for Virgil, who launched himself into her barely opened arms.

"Virgil!" She exclaimed.

"You came!" He cheered.

"Yea, Iona kinda forced me into coming." Ri jested.

Virgil frowned, separating from her. "Iona can be a jerk, but I'm happy she coaxed you into coming."

"Iona's not a jerk." Ri defended her friend. "She's growing into herself, that's all. It's the woes of getting older."

"She's growing up to become a jerk?" Virgil innocently probed.

Ri chuckled, patting his ebony-cropped hair. "You're hilarious like your father."

"I'm nothing like him." Virgil snapped.

His comment caused Ri to become concerned. "Virgil, why does your father being a jester upsets you?"

The thirteen-year-old became reticent. "Will you be telling a story, Ri?"

The future bard reluctantly allowed the issue to drop. "I am not sure. Truthfully I'm here to see Iona and converse with the Chancellor."

"That's all you've come for?" Virgil inspected the shiny necklace, touching it. "Huh, what is this?"

"It's a gift from our Lord of the Realm to me." Ri explicated.

Ri felt like a heavy weight was lifted off of her shoulders now that she no longer carried burdensome lies and half-truths.

'From now on I will be honest.' Ri reaffirmed her sworn promise to the gods.

"It's beautiful." Virgil appraised the jewelry and his crush. "Almost like you are, Ri."

"Awe, what a little charmer." She kissed his forehead.

Virgil's cheeks turned red from bashfulness. "Many people are dancing. Do you want to?"

"Um, I do have to find-"

"Please." He interjected. "One dance... For me?"

Ri faltered. 'What type of monster would I be if I said no.'

Concurrently, while the former Handmaiden was dancing with Virgil, Iona internally carped, 'Gods! Come on, Ri.'

The small ensemble of just herself, her father, and the two lieutenants grew in addition when General Nale joined them. Thereafter, Lieutenant Dex became a part of their group, along with others briefly stopping at their table to offer felicitations to Oris. All of that made the fifteen-year-old girl verecund. The adults' consumption of spirits helped establish a significant point where Iona was barred from any further conversations because she had no idea what they were discussing. Vacating her seat to lean on the wall close by, the teen listened to them, whilst hoping to catch a glimpse of Ri.

"Out of the purple armor and into the white, huh, Oris?" Dex teased.

"Better be lucky it wasn't your position." Darnelle told the dark-haired and olive-skinned Lieutenant of the Sixth Army.

Everyone laughed...except Iona.

"Your wife happens to enjoy my companionship." Dex boasted.

"I know." Darnelle acquiesced to jive, "She likes it better than your abilities on the battlefield, that's why you're here, and not traveling with her to Crete."

Again, laughter rang out amongst them, minus one.

"Be wary of General Nale. I heard he can be meanly." Tessa playfully warned Oris.

Nale looked at the younger man, shaking his head. "Don't place your faith in rumors."

"I tend to deal with facts, General Nale." He asserted.

Nale grinned. "We will get along great."

"Until you piss him off." Darnelle whispered loudly for everybody to hear.

"I had a choice to serve under General Nale, but I turned it down immediately." Dex joked.

The two generals and the three lieutenants guffawed, as Iona slumped back against the wall in boredom.

Finally, in the center of the Hall, Ri was gladdened her dance with Virgil ended, though it had nothing to do with the younger male. It mainly was because of the incessant, flattering remarks to her bardic skills and the jade pendant. Afterwards, it was the soldiers, and nobles, whom obnoxiously tried to cut into their dancing, wanting to usurp Virgil's place with her.

She had to admit, it was endearing watching Virgil blare, ['Can't you all see the Lady is with me!']

He earned a peck on his cheek for standing up; not for her, but for himself.

Once their dance concluded, Ri reminded Virgil she had to seek Iona, and lost herself in the crowd of numerous, unknown faces, till she saw a familiar one. "Chancellor."

"Ri." Meleager smiled.

They both hugged, and he kissed the crown of her head. "You look marvelous."

"As do you. I'm liking the vest." Ri repaid the gesture.

Meleager proudly tugged on the laced brownish garment. "I was indecisive 'bout putting it on."

"You made a good decision. It suits you well." Ri proclaimed, becoming austere. "Uncle, I know I've told you I wasn't going to be in attendance at this banquet, but Iona wounded up coaxing me into coming anyway. I was gonna arrive later after my teachings."

"If I'd known, I wouldn't have ordered the cancellation of your session." Meleager uttered, cognizant of what he had promised Lyceus. "It is imperative that we have a colloquy."

"Okay, but does it have to be now?" Ri prompted. "I'm searching for Iona and I don't want her to think I neglected to be here."

"I'm on the lookout for somebody as well. I have made arrangements for you to be seated adjacent to me during the dinner. Meet me at the Royal Table in a candlemark." The Chancellor averred.

"Okay." Ri acceded, restarting her pursuit once more.

Back at the warriors of the Realm's table, Nale ran his hand through his cropped brown hair, his hazel orbs glared at his fellow compatriots. "I'm coming to the conclusion I am catching all of the quips. I'm not the newbie, Oris is."

"Uh-oh. You caught a small gander at how mean General Nale can be. He wants us to taunt you now." Tessa predicated. "The man threw you under the wagon, Oris."

"No. He tossed him underneath the horses and carriage." Dex added, provoking mirth for his comrades.

When the merriment died, Nale announced to his new lieutenant, "Remember, Oris. I haven't hinted at a single, 'mean' declaration. Nonetheless, gaze around you and you'll descry all of the truly churlish people who did."

Oris' violet eyes lit with mischief. "I repeat, sir, I tend to deal with the facts, and you are correct; I can ascertain who the mean people are."

Nale clapped his second-in-command's shoulder. "Oh yeah, we're going to get along greatly."

"Boo!"

"Forget you, First Army!"

"Boo!"

Nale traipsed away from the table with a smiling countenance, while the Fifth and Sixth Army's higher-ups jeered his army.

"Trader, sooner or later, you'll be running back to the Sixth Army." Dex emitted to Oris.

"Hey, I have to stand by my general." He argued.

"What do we have here, General Darnelle?" Tessa caustically queried, pointing at Oris.

"I'm not certain, but it appears to be a lieutenant from the First Army, who's all alone."

"What should we do, other than strangle him?" She proposed.

"Nothing." Dex chimed. "Members of the First Army are contagious."

Chortling arose again, and even Iona couldn't halt her giggles once she grasped they were making fun of Oris.

"There you are." Ri pronounced.

Iona hastily took steps to her spirit sister, embracing her. "I'm jovial you've arrived. You are a beauty, Ri."

"Your appearance is striking, too." Ri took in Iona's long, blonde tresses that cascaded down her back. "You chose to don a chiton also, but of the Ionic style."

"It's close to my namesake." Iona spun to showcase her pink chiton and the greyish belt encircling her waist, prior to grabbing Ri's hand. "Come. You must meet the new lieutenant, and he is fascinating."

Thus they strolled the short distance to her father and his companions.

"Everyone, this is Ri and she would like to say hi." Iona avouched.

"General Darnelle." She addressed the man whose family she'd lived with periodically years ago.

"Hey, Ri." He stood, hugging her. "I've missed you."

"Likewise, General." Detaching from one another, Ri curtsied to the brunette woman and her compatriots; the erstwhile Handmaiden's courtesy as a servant remained ingrained within her. "Hello, Lieutenant Tessa."

"It's a pleasure, Lady Ri." Spellbound by Ri's outward aspect, Tessa was thoroughly happy to behold her.

"Forgive me, but I'm not acquainted with the rest of you." Ri conceded.

Feeling a renewal of confidence radiating inside her from being beside her best friend, Iona finished introducing the final two men, "This here is Lieutenant Dex and the man sitting near him is the cause of these festivities. The newly appointed, Lieutenant Oris of the First Army."

"Pleased to meet both of you," Ri claimed in advance of giving Oris a friendly enfold. "I wish there were a profound way for me to congratulate you that would exceed a hug."

"I can think of a couple ways." Oris alluded.

The sexual innuendo flew over Ri's head. "What are they?"

Not missing a beat to bed her, Oris swiftly riposted, "We could go back to my room in the-"

"Or, Ri could tell us a tale right here instead." Darnelle interrupted.

"Now I remember you." Dex recognized her. "You're the bard. I've only been present for a few of the stories you have performed for the kids, but they are gripping once you get hooked on them."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Dex. You are too kind." Ri flushed. "Albeit I'm not a bard."

"Not at this Cronus, but soon she'll be learning from Aristotle in Athens." Iona blasted.

They all descried Ri with staggered features.

'Gods, Iona, tell every soul on Terra, why don't you.' The storyteller became vexed.

Although the strawberry-blonde had the Conqueror's approval to let anyone know she was leaving Corinth, Ri wanted to be the sole person to share the information. Not Iona, the Prince, or anybody else.

"If you all will pardon me." Ri excused herself, retreating from the table.

"Ri." Iona was confused by her sudden departure.

"Wait here, Iona. I'll go get her." Darnelle affirmed, trailing behind Ri.

Now that her father and friend had vanished, Iona started to feel lonesome. So she returned to leaning on the wall, cogitating why Ri took off, whilst considering following her as well.

"Ri is bloody sexy." Oris commended. "I nearly had her coming to the barracks. Why did General Darnelle cockblock me?"

"Because he is right about her." Tessa murmured, recalling his words.

['Calm your libido, Tessa. You don't know Ri, nor her ways. She's really benign. That's all.']

"What?" Oris barely heard Tessa's susurration.

"Ri haven't the finest clue what you were insinuating. If she'd gone anywhere with you, she would've disappointed you." Tessa elucidated.

"I'm shocked she's going to be apprenticed by Aristotle." Dex confessed his astonishment.

"Yea, and how did she manage to obtain that; by being a bard?" Oris questioned. "Is her tales as glamorous as that necklace she's wearing?"

"Yes, they are." Dex assented. "By the gods, I pray my wife doesn't ever catch a glance of Ri's jewelry. I'll never find her anything that's parallel to it."

Steeped in her own captivation of the aqua-eyed female, Tessa lifted a cup of wine to her lips. "See, Ri's stories are exactly like that necklace, Oris... They're both priceless."

Farther away, Darnelle enclosed his arm around Ri's, altering their path to an empty dinner table to sit.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left like that. I was just so... So." Ri sat down, stumbling in her vocabulary to not sound harsh.

"Mad." Darnelle filled in, sitting also.

"Yes."

"Ri, you are going to Attica to be taught by the erudite Aristotle." Darnelle's curiosity nagged him. "Why the exasperation?"

"Journeying to Athens is my business. It's my arrangement to tell whomever I choose. Not anyone else's." Ri was disgruntled.

Understanding his daughter was the reason for Ri's shift in temperament, Darnelle aimed to remedy the situation. "Did you inform Iona not to say anything relevant to it?"

"No." Ri's eyesight was downcast. "I sorta presumed she wouldn't divulge it to others."

"Ri, she didn't have intentions to upset you. Iona has anticipated your arrival since we got here, and she's kept quiet due to her shyness. She'd gotten excited when you showed because she was able to be included in a conversation. Let her know you don't want her to impart your personal affairs, she'll respect it."

"You're right... I will forewarn her." Sighing, Ri's drab emotions brightened with joy. "That aside, how are you and General Glaphyra?"

"Same old, same old," Darnelle repeated. "She's on a mission with the Conqueror. They should be back soon."

"Yeah." Ri's fingers caressed his brown hair and remembered when it was shorter. "It's grown longer."

"Not too loud, Ri." He gently admonished. "It is the Conqueror's protocol for the males serving in the Realm's army to keep a shortened hairstyle. The last thing I want is for somebody else to remind me I'm breaking the rules."

"I'll be quiescent about it." Ri ceded. "Long hair does become you."

"Thanks." Darnelle appreciated her acclaim. "I wish Glaphyra will come around to liking it, too... Ah, enough of that. We must celebrate your amazing fortune."

Darnelle beckoned the attention of a servant and picked up two ornate cups off of the carrying tray.

"To you, Ri."

The petite woman took the proffered goblet that contained sweet wine. "Thank you, but I've never indulged in spirits."

"You are well above the age limit, and it's bad luck not to drink after a toast was made in your honor."

"I'm only eighteen." Ri evinced, smirking. "I am not an old maid."

"I am aware of that." Darnelle began to laugh. "I meant your age, not the old maid stuff."

Smiling, Ri accepted the general's clarification, preceding relishing the thrill of her initial intoxicant. "To me, then, and the elevation of Lieutenant Oris of the First Army."

Thereupon they both drank their alcoholic beverage, setting the empty cups on the table, Ri grimaced from the drink that was fruity tasting, yet burned her throat going down.

Becoming accustomed to the wine's aftertaste, Ri verbalized, "I should go talk to Iona, 'fore I forget my own name."

"A moment, Ri. Don't worry, you won't become inebriated. I wanted to ask you something." Darnelle conveyed. "I have been told that you and Lieutenant Tessa had a discussion once her substitution for Clydmus' class was done. What did you two chat about?"

Ri was feeling lightheaded and carefree under the effects of the wine, while she brought forth the memory of when she'd spoken with Tessa.

"After the class' dismissal, Lieutenant Tessa commented that I was awesome at storytelling. I thanked her for inviting me, professing I'd enjoyed her presentation of swordplay, and severing the practice dummy with her axes. It was crude the way she'd dismembered the wooden replica of a human into parts. But ruminating on it now, it's pretty funny." She ceased her giggling to impede her deviation from the primary subject. "The Lieutenant asked me what I am good at, but I gave her useless answers, other than telling her I'm good at serving our Lord. She complimented my hair and looks, stating I looked radiant. I reciprocated by making an assertion of her eyes."

"What did you say?"

"That her green irises shined like emeralds." Ri accorded him an answer. "And they do when the light reflects off of them."

"So, all you both did was exchange pleasantries?"

"Mm-hmm." Ri's thoughts brought forth extra recollection. "Because of my avowal, Lieutenant Tessa stood there like she was in shock."

"She gave no other reply?" Darnelle quizzed.

Ri's tipsy mind caused her to burst in amusement. "She implied I was flirting with her. Hold on, what was her exact words? 'Talking to someone like that, I would think you were flirting.' I'd smiled, confirming I was only being truthful. Afterward, I'd left the classroom to prepare for my Master's lessons."

Her intoxicated brain began torturing Ri, knowing she would have to endure Eramus' harangue subsequent to his reprimand for missing two of their sessions.

"And I don't intend to sound cruel, but Master Eramus can be sooo boring. If I have to hear him predicate once more, 'When you have the crowds' ear, you must have the finesse to maintain it'. I'm going to lose my senses."

Darnelle couldn't hinder his chuckling at the horrible impersonator next to him. He hadn't ever known of her to be this vocal, save for those special occasions she recited a story.

Kissing her temple, he quoted, "You are a lot of fun. I'll remember to give you a drink when I'm in need of humor."

Ri mocked an indignant pout. "Are you inferring I am decent company solely when I partake in alcohol?"

"Yes." He jokingly declared.

"That's fair... Guess I'll have to remind Milady of her policy for groomed soldiers." Ri rejoined.

"That is unnecessary." Darnelle wrapped his arm around Ri's waist, bringing her into a half-hug. "I was playing."

"I know, but I'm not..." Ri let loose a loud giggle, as Darnelle lightly tickled her side. "Okay! O...okay! I'm playing, too!"

"You remain the same from your younger days. I assumed you would've grown out of being ticklish by now."

"Nooo, but I'm working on it." Memories of the Conqueror tickling her had surfaced, and Ri's hand unknowingly touched the green gemstone.

"Where did you come across that?" Darnelle urged, letting her go.

"Huh?" Ri's cerebration shattered.

"The necklace?" Darnelle explicated.

"Milady."

"It's dazzling. You can discern that the Conqueror loves you." The general articulated.

"Really!" Ri shouted with alacrity.

"She's always doted on you, even during her absences. You two are...equivalent to a mother and a daughter."

Ri became disheartened with Darnelle's announcement. "Milady cares for me like... I'm her daughter?"

"Yeah." Darnelle concurred. "Isn't that great? The Lord of the Realm has taken you as her surrogate child, so-to-speak. I couldn't reckon a more deserving person."

'Daughter? A...a daughter! That can't be correct. Milady loves and cares for me.' Doubt clouded Ri's ratiocinations. 'Was I wrong? She hasn't voiced a confession of love to me. Maybe I'm perceiving her actions wrongly.'

"We should return. The ceremonial dinner will get underway soon, and you still have to talk with Iona." Darnelle insisted.

"But she loves me." Ri rambled.

He stared at her, not comprehending. "Who loves you?"

"Once she returns to Corinth, Milady plans to..." Her proclamation stopped whilst she caught sight of Prince Lyceus circulating the Banquet Hall, and she immediately expressed, "I have to go."

Ri raised from the chair and dashed off.

"Hold on!" Darnelle called out. "What is the Conqueror planning?"

The trim, strawberry-blonde kept walking, quickly getting lost in the crowd.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Iona remained standing against the wall, overhearing the three Lieutenants' conversation.

"Is Ri being courted by anybody?" Oris probed.

"Not to my knowledge," Tessa answered. "Ri is the Handmaiden to our Lord."

"She's a maiden?" Oris was enticed further. "A virgin, you mean?"

"Yes." Tessa said.

"With her looks, I can't imagine her being that for long." The Brittania-born Lieutenant praised.

"General Glaphyra speaks fondly of the Conqueror's Handmaiden. I didn't know it was Ri though because she's never mentioned her by name. I assumed it was two different girls." Dex confessed.

"Ri was raised with us." Iona chimed in. "She is like a sister to me."

'That's why Darnelle interfered with my suggestion of going back to my room.' Oris derived from the General's daughter.

Tessa had forgotten the fifteen-year-old stood close by. "Iona, we don't mean any dishonor to Ri. We respect her a huge deal."

"It's alright, Lieutenant Tessa." She pronounced. "Ri is special to me as well."

"Would you like to rejoin us?" Dex asked, offering her a chair.

Iona shook her head. "No, thanks. I'm waiting for Ri to return."

"So am I." Oris whispered.

'You'll never have her. Not when I had my sights on Ri first.' Tessa mused.

"Here you are."

The Lieutenants began to rise in order to hail their Regent.

"At ease," Meleager stated. "I'm searching all over for the Lieutenant of the First Army, and find him hiding back here."

"Chancellor, I was merely chatting with my compatriots." Oris replied.

"I see. I see." He repeated. "Now, I would like to have a chat with you."

Getting onto his feet, Oris responded, "At your command, Chancellor."

"Follow me." Meleager started walking and Oris trailed him.

"Breaking in the novice." Tessa teased.

"Hope he doesn't break a sweat." Dex added.

Subsequent to the two underlings' laughter fading out, the brunette recognized a familiar figure, shouting, "General Vercinix!"

Vercinix and Mendala were traversing hand-in-hand when they heard Tessa's voice. He was wearing a brown tunic with an ebony leather vest covering it, and black trousers. His wife was clad in an orange-colored dress and sandals. Her dark-blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders.

"Welcome back to Corinth." Tessa greeted once they made their way to the table.

"Thank you." Vercinix averred. "It's good to be back."

"Is Lieutenant Kira handling her charge well?" Dex queried.

Vercinix smiled. "Your wife is doing fine, Dex. I guarantee she'll be writing you soon."

"That's nice to hear." Dex expressed. "Mendala, you look lovely this evening, by the way."

"Thanks, Lieutenant Dex." She accepted the compliment.

"Where are the kids?" Dex noticed they weren't with their parents.

"They're being entertained by the Jester." Mendala disclosed.

"How was Gaul?" Tessa questioned, wishing she'd been there fighting, too.

"Interesting, at best," Vercinix remembered his pivotal worry. "I'll give you the details later. Have any of you seen the Chancellor?"

"He just left with Oris." Tessa proclaimed. "You're aware of his promotion?"

"Yes. I came to give my regards to him also."

Nale stealthily crept behind Vercinix, querying, "Did you know Alexander II is arriving here within a sennight?"

"Nale." The General of the Fourth Army spun to grasp his forearm in a warrior's embrace. "I hear you're finding soldiers from other armies to fill your ranks."

He chuckled. "It isn't like that. Oris is gonna make a grand lieutenant. General Glaphyra wanted to elevate him, but Dex would've cried 'bout losing his position."

"Lucky Dex." Tessa smirked at the Lieutenant of the Sixth Army.

"And how are you, Mendala?" Nale prompted, giving her a hug.

"I'll be better once we give our congratulations to Oris and my husband speaks to the Chancellor." She declared. "I want to spend Cronus with my whole family, alone."

"Yes." Vercinix was in agreement, recalling Nale's initial topic. "But tell me, when is Alexander's exact arrival?"

Iona shelled up completely after General Vercinix and his wife made an appearance. She was on the lookout for Ri more than ever.

'Why did you leave, Ri?' Iona ruminated. 'Please, gods, don't tell me I offended her again.'

The honey-eyed girl had anxiety from phantom concepts. It was relieved momentarily after she saw Ri trudge forward with an unusual sway.

"We have to talk." Ri affirmed, grabbing Iona's arms and pulling her from the adults' table.

"Ri, what did I do?" Iona prodded. "And why are you walking like that?"

The strawberry-blonde was made conscious of her erratic footfalls and halted with a giggle. "You would think I have no clue how to take steps properly."

"Hey?" Iona wanted to discern Ri's behavior, 'cause the only individuals who acted similarly to her were the ones who'd partook in spirits. "Are you drunk?"

"I had a little alcohol. Your father bestowed a toast to me and made it clear that it would be bad customs to deny it. So I drank for mine as well as Lieutenant Oris' success." The storyteller smacked her forehead from self-recrimination. "Gods, where is he? I have to apologize for abruptly taking off during our introduction."

"Don't bother, Ri." Iona griped. "He likes you... A lot. He'll accede to anything you say."

"Are you talking about Prince Lyceus?" Ri quizzed.

"I was referring to Lieutenant Oris."

"Oh." Ri's drunken cogitation veered to the Prince, recollecting seeing him not too long ago, waltzing passed the entertaining juggler. "Lieutenant Oris is attractive, but I do not know him. His affections for me would be wasted."

Jubilant to learn Ri had no interest in the object of her infatuation, Iona explained, "He'd recently left with the Chancellor of the Realm."

Iona evoked the memory that Ri had to meet with Meleager soon also. She wondered what matter he wanted to converse on which was very important to impose a cancellation of her class with Master Eramus.

"You have something to tell me." Iona reminded her.

'What is it that I wanted to say to Iona?' Ri's concentration was haphazard. "I forgot. Although it was important."

"How much did you drink?" The younger blonde smiled. "You can't be soused from a sole cup of wine."

"One is all I had." Ri clarified. "Have you enjoyed yourself while I've been gone?"

"Not really. I had to listen to Lieutenant Oris rave over you. It got rather boring." Iona predicated. "Why did you dash off anyway?"

"Because..." Ri's irritation at Iona returned to her retention. "I was mad at you."

Iona's restored jubilance dissolved into dismay. "What did I do?"

"You told everybody I was leaving Corinth and that I would be taught by Aristotle. I want to be the singular individual to apprise people apropos to my personal affairs." Ri explicated.

"I didn't know that's how you felt." Iona began feeling sorry. "I assumed because the Conqueror gave you leeway, it was alright to reveal your exciting news freely."

"Not yet, Iona." Ri reproved. "Minya doesn't even know. I want to tell the people who are close to me first. Anyone else is a distant candle-drip compared to them."

"I get what you are saying." Iona conceded. "I'll never take initiative with what relates to you again."

"You are very loyal, Iona. I should've spoken up earlier and none of this would have occurred." Ri embraced her. "I'm torn on what to do concerning my leave."

"Do you desire to remain in Corinth in lieu of going to Athens?"

"I'm not sure," Ri confided, disengaging. "Milady demands it of me. It's always been my dream to go out into Terra and become a bard. However, I feel as if something is amiss if I do."

"You have to live your life, Ri." Iona uttered.

"You're correct. I plan on doing that." Ri became talkative. "I'll learn from Aristotle, and Milady promised she would visit me in Athens."

"The Conqueror personally informed you she will make visitations?" Iona was wide-eyed.

Ri blushed. "Yes, she did. There's much I have to evince, Iona. But I have to talk with the Chancellor. He said it was imperative. I'll request if you can sit by me at our table."

"That will be amazing. Only if...our friendship is safely secured once more?" Iona jested.

"Yes, it is, soldier." Ri tried executing a warrior's salute and strolled away, impelling the teen to guffaw.

Across the expansive Banquet Hall, Oris almost gushed, for here he was in the presence of the Mighty Meleager himself; the man who fought alongside Alexander the Great. Thereafter he served the Lord Conqueror faithfully as Chancellor of the Realm and Regent in her stead.

Oris couldn't believe Meleager was verbally communicating with him anent to serving the Grecian Empire. "Being a lieutenant is one rank from becoming a general if you excel in your duties."

"I comprehend that, and I must admit, sir, it is an honor to be speaking to you directly." Oris extolled. "I will make the Realm proud."

"You have been granted this elevation by General Nale for a purpose. The Prince agrees with your rise in rank, too. I look forward to you fulfilling your tasks with utmost fortitude." Meleager encouraged.

"I will, Chancellor. Thank you, for allowing me this private address." Oris placed his right fist across his white chest-plate.

"You are welcome. That is all." Meleager dismissed him. "Now to find Ri."

"Ri?" The Lieutenant asked. "Short and pretty with long hair that's held in place by a brooch?"

Meleager eyed him severely. "Yes. That would describe my niece."

"Your niece?" Oris' heart dropped whilst he grew curious as to why nobody didn't mention Ri's lineage to him. "The last Cronus I'd espied her, she was roaming the Hall with General Darnelle."

"She should be waiting at the Royal Table for me soon." Meleager assumed, preparing to traipse to their mutual destination. "Branch out and take in the celebration, Lieutenant Oris. Be seated close to the Prince and me when the banquet begins."

"Yes, Chancellor." Oris eagerly agreed, contented his idol wasn't vexed that he openly appraised Ri in front of him.

Back at the warrior of the Realm's table, Darnelle returned to his comrades-in-arms to query, "Have any of you seen Ri?"

"You didn't catch her?" Dex retorted.

"Yeah, but she took off again." He glimpsed the empty wall where his daughter was formerly leaning on. "Great, where's Iona?"

"Calm yourself, General. Ri and Iona are with each other. I observed them wandering the Hall together." Tessa lessened his surging restlessness.

"Good." Darnelle breathed, finally acknowledging the newcomers. "General Vercinix and Mendala. What a sight for sore eyes."

"You don't appear to be shocked to espy us." Vercinix gave him an embrace.

"I've already seen your children with the Fool," Darnelle claimed, clutching Vercinix's forearm, prior to kissing the hand of Mendala. "You are looking gorgeous."

"Don't let your wife hear that." She jived.

Darnelle bestowed a faux roguish grin at her, thus questioning, "What did I miss during my absence?"

"I was telling Vercinix about Alexander II, and he started elucidating his experience with Roman ships that were in the vicinity of Gaul. He's surmising it pertains to the Conqueror and the Realm somehow." Nale reiterated.

"I fear it does." Vercinix asserted. "Rome is at war with its own. If Marcus or Octavian knows 'bout Brutus wanting to make an alliance with the Realm, anything is possible from all points of view."

Darnelle, Nale, Dex, and Tessa took a moment to cogitate on the statement, realizing Vercinix's theory couldn't be rejected as summed up paranoia.

"I suppose you could be right, Vercinix." Darnelle assented.

"Why didn't someone tell me Ri is the Chancellor's niece?" Oris urged, arriving at the table. "I nearly embarrassed myself in front of him."

"Ri was raised with the Royal family." Darnelle enlightened the young Lieutenant. "She's technically a princess."

Oris was starting to broach Ri's station as a Handmaiden, "But I thought-"

"This here is the man we all are celebrating," Tessa interjected. "Lieutenant Oris of the First Army."

"Then we have to congratulate your ascension." Mendala politely shook the fledgling Lieutenant's hand, turning to her husband. "One final person to speak to."

Vercinix took his wife's hint to hasten their objective for coming to the dinner celebration. "Congrats, and good luck with your promotion, Lieutenant Oris. I take it you can show me to the Chancellor?"

"He's engaged with his niece at the Royal Table."

"That is too bad...or convenient. Can we go, my love?" Mendala beseeched Vercinix.

"Yes. I will talk with the Chancellor tomorrow." He gripped Oris' forearm. "Serve the Realm proudly."

Oris was in Elysium; not only did he have an audience with the Mighty Meleager, but he was embracing Vercinix of Gaul. "I will."

Over at the Royal Table, Ri was sitting adjacent to the elegant chair which usually seated the Conqueror, watching the castle's servants set plates, utensils, and ornate glasses on the blue silk cloth that adorned the table's wood. Tempted to indulge in another cup of wine, she decided against it when Meleager sat beside her.

"Have you been waiting long?" The Chancellor smiled.

"No, Uncle." She relayed. "Is it okay for Iona to eat with us?"

"That's acceptable." Meleager didn't minx words, "Tell me what happened between you and Akemi today."

Ri hardly hid her annoyance at the Chambermaid. "She was insolent, and it discomfited me."

"So, you were rude to Akemi by slamming your door in her face?" Meleager pressed on.

"I didn't slam it. I'd closed it...kinda gently."

"In her face?" Meleager echoed.

"Yes." Ri chortled from being under the effects of alcohol.

"That's unkind, Ri." He admonished. "Akemi said you were acting like it was a problem that she'd arrived at your chamber. You told me you were going to be here anyway for Iona, but if you didn't want to come, all you had to do was say so."

Ri was becoming easily agitated. "I wouldn't dare disobey a decree from you, Chancellor. Akemi was being acrimonious toward me."

'Akemi alleged Ri was belligerent to her.' Meleager recalled.

"She'd gotten what she deserved." Ri avowed smugly. "Jealousy is not her color."

His niece's attitude was getting distressful. "Ri, what has happened to you?"

"Nothing."

"Clearly, it's something." Meleager softly held Ri by her jaw, looking into her pupils and flushed features to find evidence. "You've been drinking."

"I had one cup." Ri quickly verbalized, shying away from the Chancellor's loosening clutch. "General Darnelle said I could while he made a toast to me."

"Darnelle?" Meleager was upset; he saw what hard spirits and wine could do to a human, hence why he'd chosen to forsake consuming it.

"It's not his fault. Don't be mad at him on my account. Please, Uncle." Ri pleaded.

"No more." Allayed by Ri's supplication, Meleager's anger dispersed. "No more. Do you hear me?"

Ri nodded vigorously. "I'm done for tonight and the rest of my life. So help me, Dionysus."

Meleager was appeased and hoped to take advantage of Ri's tipsy state. "What is Akemi jealous of?"

"My necklace." Ri provided. "She can't stand the fact our Lord gave me a wonderful gift."

"Are you insinuating, or are you positive?"

"I could be wrong... Notwithstanding, twice she has acted differently toward me, and this afternoon it precipitated into a small quarrel." Ri discussed, preceding her loss of interest relevant to the Chambermaid. "Can we stop talking about Akemi? She's giving me a headache."

"Okay." Meleager consented, delving into a subject that related to her and the Conqueror's relationship. "What was professed once the Conqueror conferred the jewelry to you?"

Ri's facial expression glowed with happiness whilst she paraphrased, "Milady inquired did I love her intimately. Albeit I was fearful, I had to be truthful and gave her my reply, which was yes. She asked me to turn my back to her. After I complied, I felt something cold touch my neck. I'd foolishly presumed she was gonna kill me."

"What made you think that?" The Chancellor became downright puzzled.

"I don't know." Ri was honest. "I mean, I have knowledge of what she can do... What she has done. There's a rumor floating around that a day before she left Corinth, Milady slit the throat of a slave in her Throne Room, and that's simply one of the many stories I've heard. Confessing I love her made me extremely nervous."

"The Conqueror frightens you?"

"No... She doesn't. I...I can't explain it." Ri muttered. "I ken that she would never hurt me."

"If you truly love the Conqueror, you wouldn't have been concerned about her taking your life."

"I wasn't." Ri grew adamant. "It was only a fleeting cognizance."

Meleager moved the impromptu interrogation along. "Therefore giving you the necklace, what happened next?"

"She kissed me." Ri's cheeks had reddened brightly.

"Kissed you? On your lips?" Meleager sought out specific details.

"Yes. It was chaste and...brief." Ri replayed the loving recollection in her head. "The sweetest kiss ever."

"Did the Conqueror promise that you two would be together?"

"Not exactly." Ri divulged. "She had promised to visit me in Athens."

"No deep admiration was mentioned?"

"She..." Ri sighed, fretting that Darnelle was right and the Conqueror cared for her as a mother would for a child. "No, there wasn't."

"Have you been apprising others about you and the Conqueror, besides me?"

"No, but I planned on being-"

"Glad to know." Meleager cut her sentence short. "You should refrain from doing so until she returns."

"Why?" Ri protested, while her mien became gloomy. "I thought you were gladdened for our love."

"I was, but now I'm not quite sure how to feel. The Conqueror plausibly doesn't share the same emotions you do." Meleager contested.

'Not you, too.' Ri was disheartened by her uncle's predication.

"The banquet has to start." Meleager insisted. "We will continue this at a later date. Just remember, don't say anything about the Conqueror courting you."

"Yes, Uncle." Ri concurred, dejected. "I'm going to get Iona."

"Alright." The Chancellor kissed Ri's forehead, and she rose from her seat.

Meleager felt a tad sad for the trim storyteller. Nevertheless, he had to get the information he needed to help patch Ri and Lyceus' friendship. He would also bring that subject up to her when they conversed again.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" He blared. "Take your seats, please! The ceremonial dinner is commencing!"

{C&R}

The celebration was coming to an end when Ri excused herself from the Royal Table, declaring good night to the Chancellor, Lieutenant Oris, and Iona, but not the Prince. She hadn't talked much throughout the dinner, opting to remain silent whilst her mind tried to make sense of all that General Darnelle and Meleager had implied apropos to the Conqueror's feelings for her.

Withal the food she'd consumed did sober her up, remedying Ri's wine-induced buzz and propelling reality to set in.  

Ri traipsed into the Great Hall by herself, and her cognition was all over the place. She would have to renege on her promise to the gods anent to staying honest and veridical. Passing a large, rectangular window, the strawberry-blonde descried it was raining and thundering heavily. Her greenish-blue orbs could scarcely detect the ignited stars and Selene's silver ball that filled the grayish sky.

'Can you see what I see, Milady? Can you feel me in your heart?' Ri pondered. 'Gods, I miss you. Come home to me.'

"Jupiter must be angry." A feminine voice reached her ears.

Ri didn't cast her aqua irises away from the stormy night. "Perhaps he is."

Tessa's footsteps ceased next to Ri, and she gazed out of the window as well. "I watched you exit the Banquet Hall looking...lost. Are you okay?"

"No." Ri avouched. "I'm thinking of someone."

"Is it the same person who gave you that magnificent jade necklace?" Tessa questioned.

"Yes."

No additional vocalization was forthcoming from Ri, so Tessa kept conversing, "I have faith their thoughts are on you, too."

Ri grinned pathetically. "You think they are?"

"Of course. They'd be insane not to dwell on a pretty woman like yourself." Tessa complimented.

"Thank you, Lieutenant Tessa." Ri gave her gratitude.

"Don't thank me." The green-eyed warrior touched Ri's bare arm lightly. "And, please, call me Tessa."

Ri broadcasted a radiant beam. "I will, Tessa. If you will pardon me, I'm going to retire for tonight."

"Can I escort you to your chamber?" Tessa proffered.

Ri's hesitation lasted for a split moment before she acceded. "That would be appreciated."

Linking arms with Ri, Tessa had begun ruminating in glee, 'Oh, I'm going to love seducing her more than that barmaid I'd fucked yesterday.'

As the two women sauntered off, a pair of dark-blue eyes narrowed in their direction.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The Conqueror stared at the golden sky, jovial the terrific rainstorm had ended after a fortnight of waiting idly on the coast of Kythira which was near Laconia and its capital, Sparta. The storm was so severe it caused her, including the Sixth Army, to halt their progress of securing Greece's borders or face the possibility of a watery grave, and dying wasn't on the Conqueror's agenda. Now with the weather submitting its seasonal breeze of spring, the Lord of the Realm was ready to restart their journey as she stood on the deck of the ship whilst her soldiers made preparations for the unimpeded voyage.

She really missed Ri, pondering constantly what the young, former Handmaiden was doing, and curious if she was ready to go to Athens in Junius. Also, she couldn't stop wondering if the fledgling bard's thoughts centered on her as much as the Conqueror ruminated on the strawberry-blonde.

'Should have told you I love you.' The Conqueror went grousing again.

That was what she mostly dwelled on throughout her Cronus at sea. The Conqueror was certain Ri loved her and looked forward to returning to Corinth, then Attica to lay claim on the younger woman. Yet, she dreaded the reunion, too. It had been a long while since she was in a relationship, and she hadn't ever courted a past lover before. She had no idea how to initiate it exactly and grew uneasy concerning a stratagem for courtship.

'Enough of this.' She rebuked herself. 'Focus on the mission at hand.'

Albeit she couldn't stop her rampant cogitations of Ri. Maybe she could get advice from somebody. Perhaps Meleager, her Chancellor. He'd know what to do because he always seemed to ascertain how to handle any situation, especially dangerous ones.

'Even when I don't agree with his choices.' The Conqueror's mind frame rekindled a major incident with vivid clarity.


["You are coming a long way, Xena." Meleager praises. "I'm proud of you."

"I can be better if mother would let me train with you more." I strongly complain.

"Be grateful she's allowing you to do it at all." He admonishes me.

I think back a year ago, having to admit, he has a point. After my mother caught me outside with him and his pupils, showing off with a sword in my hand, I was a ticket away from getting a thorough beating. Luckily, Meleager tapped on the door and talked her out of issuing my painful sentence.

I still got punished, though.

"You are right." I concede. "And thanks again for saving my ass from mother that day, Old man."

"Young lady, you cease those profane words." Meleager reproves. "You are picking up bad habits from the males, and I'm not having you speak that way around me."

"I'll stop." I say, giving him a cunning smile, and he slowly grins at me.

We continue to sit on the verdure hill, looking at the birds and relaxing. I wish we've gotten our sword drills in today.

"Can we train tomorrow?" I query.

"I don't know." Meleager answers. "With your mother's pregnancy expecting to drop any moment, we have to keep you close to home and unwearied."

"Toris doesn't have to worry 'bout such trifles."

"Your mother being pregnant isn't of little importance, Xena." I'm chastised once more. "You are a female and should be there for her. Toris is a man and a warrior."

Here's the sexist talk again. Men can do this and that whilst women stay home to have babies.

Bullshit!

It is unfair and Meleager knows it. Ugh, it's all my mother's doing. She doesn't want me to become a fighter. All she wants me to do is cast aside my will to be a swords-woman, settle down, with Petracles no doubt, and I don't like him in that fashion. Why in Pluto did my mother get knocked up anyway? Couldn't she take precautions? And where in Tartarus is the guy who had done the deed? Jeez, I know my father has been dead for five years now, but damn, did she have to be promiscuous?

Sex must be very imperative to adults.

I peek lower at my grey tunic, appraising how much bigger my breasts have grown. The boys have taken notice, too. They've noted my height, also. I'm taller than when I was fourteen; past five feet now. I hope my growth is coming to a cessation.

"I'm never having children." I pronounce unexpectedly, tossing leaves of grass.

Meleager laughs. "You are too young to be thinking of that."

"I'm serious. I don't want to end up like my mother." I retort. "A baby on the way and no father to help raise it. What kind of family is that?"

The Old man appears thoughtful, uttering, "What if I told you-"

"Meleager!" Elius shouts, interrupting him and my surging curiosity for what my mentor was going to vocalize. "Meleager!"

"What is it?" He inquires.

Elius stops running and catches his breath to avow, "A warlord...named Cortese...and his men were just sighted in Eion. They are moving and gearing to attack Amphipolis."

"Are you positive?" I prod, rising to my feet.

He looks at me and nods his head.

"Does the council elders know?" Meleager asks.

"Yes, but they haven't warned the villagers 'cause they don't want to alarm everyone if it turns out to be nothing." Elius reports.

"Go get your companions, Elius, and return here. I'll be back after I've consulted with the elders." Meleager replies, getting up as well.

"Yes, sir." He accedes and runs off.

"I'll get ready, too." I state.

"No." Meleager is stern. "You get on home to your mother and stay there."

What?

"This is a declaration of invasion. I will not cower!" I yell.

"Don't fuss with me, Xena... Do as you're told."

"Why?"

"What?" Meleager's face broadcasts astonishment. "Are you questioning my-"

"Why can't I join you?"

His visage reverts to normal while responding, "The battlefield isn't for you, Xena. I'm only taking the older teens with me. No sixteen-year-olds nor younger are allowed."

"But you taught me how to fight." I cry.

Gods, I hate it when I do that.

"You aren't going. End of discussion."

"Not fair!" I demur, remaining confrontational. "But Toris can go?"

"Of course he's going... He is my best student." Meleager asserts.

"I would be the greatest of them all in your opinion if you'd trained me more." I accuse.

"Xena, let's be honest here. You are good and I see potential, nonetheless, in every sparring practice you've been in, you were defeated." Meleager avers. "How can I rely on you in a real battle?"

"It's not my fault I lose to the other pupils. Really, it's not." I challenge. "They all are sloppy. If I wanted to, I could take off their heads, or appendages. I don't want to grievously injure them, so I wound up losing. If you teach me how to disarm my opponent or let us spar with wooden swords, I wouldn't have that problem."

Meleager appears as if he's pondering it over, prior to phrasing, "Go home... Leave this to me and the others."

He starts to walk away and I bellow, "What makes you high and mighty, Meleager, that you can decide who fights or don't? I could probably defeat you in a duel if I go all out, too!"

Meleager glares at me for the first Cronus ever and I'm disturbed by it. Returning to where I am, he stands in front of me.

His tone is menacing, "Young lady, I have served in the army of Alexander the Great!"

No way! Alexander from Macedonia? King Alexander?

WHAT!

"I was a general and fought in many wars, and I tell you right now, a war zone is no game. It's no fun. It is bloody, gory, and will leave you with nightmares, causing you to pick up a bottle of whatever intoxicant you can get your hands on just to drown the memories out. After killing another human, it changes everything." Meleager reveals. "You're a kid... You think you are capable and prepared to kill, but you're not."

"I am." I profess indignantly, locking my irises with his.

"Xena, go home! Go home!" He shoves me a couple of steps backward. "Guard your mother and unborn sibling. If I see you anywhere close to this skirmish, I'll refrain from teaching you further."

Meleager stalks off again to the council of Amphipolis, and I dejectedly view him disappearing over the hillside.

"Forget you, Old man!" I pout with tears in my eyes. "You're not the best and I...I don't need... Forget you!"

I lay on the grass and sob.

Hate it when I do this, but I feel destroyed. Yes, I'm fifteen. And yeah, that's a minor age. However, I'm better than all of Meleager's students, and he tells me no, I can't defend my town village. This is more my home than his, and I would die defending it. Okay, he was a general and participated in numerous military warfare in Alexander the Great's army. The battalions which conquered Persia, Babylon, Egypt, and probably many other countries on Terra if King Alexander of Macedonia didn't expire during his conquest of Indus, a location that didn't belong to him, unlike what Amphipolis is to me. This is my place of birth, but I can't face the invaders who want to pillage it!

My droplets subside and sorrow alters into a rage that erupts within me. I will not dawdle while my home is threatened... Meleager's contention be damned.

Ascending onto my feet, I wipe my cheeks and head home, but I'm not cowering there. I'm changing my clothes, grabbing my sword and going to fight...

For Amphipolis.]


"Glad you sensed that dreary downpour and thunderstorm, or we would've had a rough sail at sea." Glaphyra announced, dispelling the Conqueror's recollections of neglecting Meleager's exigent caution decades ago.

"We should have smooth sailings from here onward." The Conqueror proclaimed.

"We're still touring the Realm's borders?" Glaphyra prompted.

"Yes."

"At this rate, we will not be returning to Corinth for the tribute in Junius." Glaphyra speculated sullenly. "You missed it last year when you went to Rome and Japa. Do you intentionally try to jilt it?"

"We'll make it. We simply have to make haste like the messenger god." The Conqueror elucidated.

"I'll get the selected troops ready to row for our embarkation and let's pray Neptune will bless our voyage because so far, it is not panning out well," Glaphyra complained. "I lost Oris, and I was looking forward to doing one more objective with him."

"The soldier who'd returned Shadow to Corinth." The Conqueror remembered. "You didn't have to send him back. It could have been anybody."

"I know, but he's being promoted to Lieutenant of the First Army."

"The First Army? Well, that's great news. Every army has a general and lieutenant again. Awesome judgment call from you. I'm assuming General Nale had an eye on Oris." The Grecian ruler acknowledged. "Switching soldiers from one army to another, I don't reckon that's been done before."

"We are the first two armies to do it." The blonde cheered.

"Congratulations." The Conqueror's grin faltered. "Now get this ship in motion, General."

"Yes, my Lord." Glaphyra saluted and set to work.

{C&R}

Ri's life was busy...and alcohol-free. She'd studied with Eramus almost every day and, at her leisure, told stories to the denizens of the Corinthian castle. She hadn't spoken to Meleager nor Prince Lyceus at all, notwithstanding, the trim woman had not really been in personal contact with anyone other than Iona and Minya on occasions. The only person she'd spent Cronus with on a regular basis was Tessa.

The Lieutenant of the Fifth Army would come by Ri's chamber nearly every evening. They'd converse over dinner, then Tessa would bid her goodnight till the next day. Ri felt it was nice to have company with her during the dismal fortnight of nonstop raining and lightning. She was also lonesome from pining for the Conqueror's return.

Everyone, for the most part, knew Ri was traveling to Athens in Junius, purely fourteen days away. Those who had knowledge of the storyteller's affairs became jubilant for her success at becoming tutored by the famed Aristotle, but some were worried she would soon be gone from Corinth to take residence in Attica for the rest of her days. Nevertheless, no one knew of her and the Conqueror's private plans to be together.

Whilst days tarried on, Ri had begun to distrust all she swore she'd known relevant to her and the Lord of the Greek Empire's looming romance. Preceding the ceremonial dinner for Lieutenant Oris, the Chancellor enjoined her not to inform anyone else apropos to the prospects of being courted by the Conqueror, and she'd complied with it. Even when people quizzed about who bestowed the sparkling jewelry around her neck, she became reticent to confess that as well.

The dream of herself, a younger Conqueror, the warrior in blue armor, and the auburn-haired female she hadn't ever seen in her life, still remained fresh in Ri's cognizance. It infringed her brain so much, she started to have convictions that the toned woman, who was petite with short blonde hair, wasn't her at all.

'It was simply a dream. Simply a dream. Nothing more. So let it be.' Ri mused.

"What are you thinking?"

Ri eyed the Lieutenant sitting across from her at the dining table in her chamber. "Not much, Tessa."

Dark-green orbs gleamed with mischief while she was elated to be in Ri's presence. Her apparel was always stunning, like now, donned in a pretty, double-strapped, yellow dress. Ri dazzled Tessa more than her glorious, stunning necklace. The brunette tried to ignore how erotically its jade pendant dangled above the strawberry-blonde's ample breasts.

"I'm sure there is a lot going on in that beautiful head of yours." Tessa grinned, her heart racing from espying Ri sucking in both her bottom and top lips as a shy beam graced her features. 'Gods, she'll cause me to come undone. She's seductive without even trying.'

Ri scrutinized her visitor, wondering what made her visage seem anxious. "What's on your brain, Tessa?"

"You."

The quick response coaxed an inquiry, "Me? What about me?"

"You're aware that you have admirers here in Corinth?" Tessa countered.

"Yes. But Virgil is a bit young for me." Ri smiled, drinking her tea.

"Virgil?" Tessa was amazed. "The Fool's son has an eye on you?"

Ri nodded. "There must be others if you weren't referring to him."

"Plenty of others." She smirked.

Looking into Tessa's eyes, Ri queried, "Really? Are they in my sight now?"

Tessa was loving this game of wills they happened to easily fall into after being with one another for a while. Cogitating on what to divulge, she could place all her cards on the table and tell Ri how she felt. But would a single night of passionate sex do? Could the Lieutenant of the Fifth Army sleep with the strawberry-blonde once and let her go as another conquest, or would she be swept away in the rapture of the talented storyteller?

'Not now. She may not want me yet. I have to tread carefully.' Tessa declined to evince her desires. "Nope, they aren't. Although, there are a lot of them if you know where to look."

"I'm positive of that." Ri concurred. "I don't care to seek them, though."

"Why's that?"

"'Cause if you go seeking trouble, Tessa, it'll find you." Ri teased.

"Like the person who left you with a spectacular necklace and lingering thoughts of them?" Tessa urged. "Would that be your example of trouble?"

Ri fingered the gemstone, enjoying their banter. "They are never far from my ruminations."

"So, do I get the name of this mysterious admirer?" Tessa was becoming envious.

"Hmm. Then, it wouldn't be my secret. Would it?"

Tessa chuckled lightly, recalling Ri expounding that the individual whom admired her was based in secrecy.

Glancing out of the window and taking in the nightfall as well as the silver sphere of Selene, Ri concluded their night, "It's late. You should get going. I know we both have lots to do tomorrow."

Tessa assented, hence they stood up from their chairs and traipsed to the door.

A second inquiry was on Tessa's tongue, "Are you being courted by this man or woman?"

Ri slyly predicated, "I have to wait for Milady to return before I'm to be courting anybody."

"She'll be back soon." Tessa opined, stalling her exit.

'If somebody else speaks that lie, I swear...' Ri hid her vexation.

She was cognizant the Conqueror wasn't coming back to Corinth 'soon'. The Lord of the Realm wouldn't arrive until Ri was packed and off to Athens.

Regardless of that, she bobbed her head in agreement.

"I was planning on going to Minerva's temple tomorrow. I've never visited it. Have you?" Tessa inquired.

"Thrice, actually," Ri responded. "Once when I was ten, and again on my eleventh birthday. Recently, I'd accompanied our Lord there. It is luxurious."

"Would you care to join me?" Tessa offered.

"I have a class with Master Eramus, but I'll let you know if I'm free afterward." Ri expressed.

"'Til tomorrow, Ri." Tessa kissed the back of her hand. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Tessa." Ri blushed.

Finally, the Lieutenant opened the door and departed the chamber. Whilst traversing the corridors, Tessa's head was in the clouds. The green-eyed warrior didn't care half of a dinar if Ri was being pursued by another.

'I'm so close to grasping her, I can feel her clit on my fingertips.' Tessa joyously surmised.

"Lieutenant Tessa, may I have a word with you?" Prince Lyceus queried, surprisingly looping a corner.

"Prince of the Realm." Tessa saluted, somewhat put off by his sudden appearance. "I concede to you of course."

He got straight to his point. "Was you with Ri tonight?"

"Yes. We had dinner, chatted, and-"

"Stay away from her." Lyceus interjected.

"Prince?" Tessa became baffled.

Lyceus leaned closer to her ear, speaking loudly and directly, "I know what you are doing. I'm knowledgeable of your reputation for bedding anyone who catches your fancy. Ri will not be your victim."

"Prince Lyceus, my intentions are not designed for lusty lewdness."

"Don't play me for a joke, Lieutenant." Lyceus was getting upset. "I comprehend what you do. Ri won't end up like that barmaid at some dingy tavern. I won't allow her to be your toy. Stay away. Are we clear on my meaning and decree?"

'How does he know about the tavern wench?' Tessa was visibly puzzled, but bowed in submission. "Yes, Prince Lyceus."

"Carry on."

Tessa turned on her heels and strolled to the barracks, as dark-blue eyes descried her retreating form. Finally, his saddened irises looked at Ri's chamber door, sorrowfully knowing he wouldn't be welcomed in.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

 "And that's why it is important to have the crowds' ear." Eramus stated.

Ri's eyes widened as she nodded in acquiescence. The morning was moving rather sluggishly for her liking, and she couldn't wait for the study session with her tutor to be over.

"Any questions in regards to what I have spoken on?" He asked.

"No, Master Eramus. I got the gist of it." Ri responded.

"Good. Now, moving on-"

"I do, however, have a query on a different subject." Ri shyly interrupted.

Her teacher feigned interest because if any utterances didn't refer to the issue he was talking about, Eramus rarely gave a care. "What might that be, Ri?"

"Bards tell tales almost everywhere they go, correct?"

"That is a rhetorical question." Eramus briskly chided. "Please, get to your point."

The storyteller hid her displeasure. "Well, that is my main case. Bards recite not solely each others' fables, but the poetry of poets, too; from Homer to Ovid, and Adrianus."

Eramus was getting irritated. "That is what storytellers do."

"True, but I don't want to simply become a bard. I want to write my own stories. Also..." She hesitated before divulging, "I want to be a playwright."

The sound of laughter trailed her announcement. "A playwright? You actually want to create your own fables? Let's focus on one thing first, then we'll try others, okay?"

His perfunctory dismissal fueled Ri's agitation. "I concede that I'm not yet a professional, but I am very good at storytelling. Recitation is fairly easy for me. I...I desire a challenge, so I was hoping you would give me advice on writing my own tales."

"I'll repeat, let's focus on one step first, prior to taking two steps ahead of ourselves." The rotund man reiterated. "I've heard you are a decent raconteur. That's wonderful and all, withal you may need a few more skills to acquire. After you learn them, you can go on to greatness, even becoming a dramatist."

"Not now, though?" Ri probed dubiously.

Eramus shook his head in the negative.

"You haven't seen me recite any tales to the denizens of the castle." Ri elucidated, displaying her disenchantment with Eramus' decisions. "How can you deduce I'm not ready? Milady has faith that I am capable of being anything I choose."

"Ri." Eramus began his umpteenth reprimand, "The Lord Conqueror of the Realm has placed this honor upon me to teach you all I know. You can try being a smart-aleck with Aristotle, nonetheless, I will not tolerate your disrespect by thinking you are more knowledgeable than me when it comes down to captivating an audience, whether by narrating or writing your stories yourself. Do I make myself clear?"

"I just want to-"

"Do I make myself clear?" Eramus firmly interjected.

"Yes." Ri pessimistically acceded.

"Now, moving onwards."

Eramus started his second lesson, howbeit Ri simply ignored him. It was all the same anyway. She wanted to look out the window of Eramus' classroom and get lost in the sights of the outdoors, but her instructor would complain about such actions.

'What would you have me do, Milady?' Ri cogitated. 'You wouldn't keep me from doing what I truly wanted. I know you'd coach me on.'

Ri grinned to herself, for she had her answer. The long-haired, strawberry-blonde decided to scribble down her own fantasies, despite what Eramus had declared.

"Young lady." Eramus was preparing to make a fuss once more. "What are you grinning about?"

"Nothing." Ri lied, putting on a straight face. 'Nothing at all.'

{C&R}

A couple of candlemarks later, the Chancellor of the Realm sat in the regal chair inside the Throne Room, whilst the twin oak doors opened, permitting General Draco and General Palaemon to enter. Both wore their armor; one of gold and the other of black, respectively.

"My, my." Meleager teased. "I have received a scroll almost a fortnight ago elaborating that the mission in Egypt was successful and you all would be arriving in Corinth promptly."

The Generals saluted their Regent, and Draco expressed, "All went well until we got caught in a vile storm off the coast of the Realm's Grecian borders. It obstructed our ship from having access to the Corinthian Gulf. We'd chosen to sail farther upwards to the Chalcidice region when we passed another ship which looked to be holding refuge on the landing pier of Kythira. From what we could discern through the rain and lightning, their banner was removed off of the mast, so we weren't able to ascertain if it was a merchant ship or battleship, nor if they hailed from our domain or another."

'Could it have been the Conqueror? She should've already reached Crete and be returning to Corinth by now.' Meleager ruminated. "Should we be discovering who occupied the vessel?"

"No," Palaemon replied. "It was a single ship. They appeared harmless and unable to pose a threat of any kind."

Meleager recalled a specific aspect in the missive he'd received from Draco. "You appear to have recovered well from the sickness you've contracted while in Alexandria, General Palaemon. Thank the gods for that."

"Yes, too much water caused a virulent effect on me. I'm thankful Egypt's physicians could succor me successfully." He praised.

"How about the two scouts we had lost on recon? What did they find?" The Chancellor inquired.

"Several Roman ships were secreted on the outskirts of Egypt." Draco reported.

"Roman?" Meleager strived to put details together. "And they belonged to Marcus Antonius?"

"His fleets, along with himself, will be leaving the country and traversing back to Rome just as the Lord Conqueror ordained." The General of the Second Army explained.

'Perhaps they are the same ships Vercinix had seen in Gaul.' Meleager speculated. 'Did the Conqueror already have an idea anent to that?'

Meleager's ratiocination was doused in vexation. He didn't like the notion of being kept in the dark when it came to matters of the Realm. Abroad or not, he was the Chancellor, and information of all forms that concerned Greece should always be relayed to him.

"The troops who died will be granted a ceremonial service. Their families will be given their dividends, plus compensation." Meleager affirmed. "Tomorrow I will update you two on the alterations of government that have taken place here, Gaul, and in Rome, once we commune for our conference in the War Room."

"There is one other occurrence to address," Palaemon confirmed. "Whilst voyaging the peninsula of Chalcidice, we aided a Macedonian vessel."

"Alexander II." Meleager surmised.

Draco and Palaemon looked puzzled, curious as to how the Chancellor could have known.

He didn't keep them wondering, "Alexander was supposed to have arrived a while ago, too. The massive rainstorm delayed his progress also."

"He is outside these doors adjuring to speak with you."

"You mean, he's demanding, Draco." Palaemon muttered.

"Why is he here? The Tribute to the Conqueror isn't till Junius." Draco noted, letting his exasperation show.

"His early arrival is for an entirely different purpose," Meleager revealed. "Bring Alexander in. I shall converse with him in private."

Both Generals placed their right fists over their hearts, then proceeded to open the doors of the Throne Room to allow the son of the former king of Macedonia to cross its threshold preceding taking their leave. The clean-shaven, bronze-skinned, blonde-haired, handsome man proudly walked in. Black leather armor with designs of gold as well as silver covered his crisp white tunic, and a grey cape flowed from its epaulets to his lower back. Alexander's legs were bare and sandals adorned his feet while he strode toward the dais.

Meleager felt underdressed for the occasion; he casually wore a plain shirt and dark trousers.

"I must say it is more than an honor to have an audience with the Mighty Meleager." Alexander II greeted, inclining his head.

"Welcome to Corinth. I'm gladdened to see you are well and unharmed by the tempest weather that hindered your journey."

"The happenstance of being spotted by your generals was a godssend." Alexander asserted.

"Has Cassander traveled with you, too?" The Chancellor queried.

"He remains in Macedonia handling my..." The vain man smiled ruefully. "Hmm, I will rectify that by saying Cassander is handling the 'Conqueror's' affairs of state. We all know who really rules Macedon."

"Either will suffice, Alexander."

"Oh please, Chancellor. My father's name was Alexander. Although he was a great man, he was his own person with a sole identity. You can call me Alex from now on. Everyone else does in Macedonia."

"I can respect that." Meleager agreed. "So, Alex, what is it that brings you to Corinth earlier than expected?"

"Ah, the man who fought beside my father." Alex commenced his flattery. "The youngest general in his army. How old were you again? Seventeen, if not a tad older? The violence you must've espied on his final campaign in Indus. If you hadn't disappeared after my father's death, you could've obtained the governorship of Macedon, not Cassander."

Meleager reminisced of Alexander the Great, including his old, fellow generals. Hephaistion, Parmenion, Antigonus, Cleitus, Cassander, and Ptolemy who would go on to rule Egypt. Ptolemy's procreation was a catalyst for creating turmoil for Xena during her youth, before her rise to becoming the ruler of the Greek Empire.

'If only Alexander would have lived longer.' Meleager mused, sullenly.

"Why did you abandon the army, Meleager?"

The unalloyed inquiry jarred him to reply honestly, "Politics which are built on corruption isn't my strong suit."

"Whereas you are here in Corinth as Regent, I presume. Playing the role the Conqueror has laid out for you." Alex mockingly said.

"I'm grateful for all the Lord of the Realm has bestowed on me." Meleager retorted. "What is it that you want?"

Choosing to drop his adulation completely, Alex had begun pacing. "For you to profoundly grasp what I'm about to aver, I want you to picture a map of the known Terra in your head."

"Okay."

"Now, imagine its kingdoms like Brittania, Sparta, Egypt, Babylon. What do they all have in common?" Alex prodded sarcastically.

Meleager shrugged his shoulders, no longer indulging the Macedonian's game.

"Though they are clients of the Realm, they are ruled by kings and queens." Alex specified, halting his movements to list names, "Queen Boadicea of Brittania. King Leonidas of Sparta. Pharaoh Cleopatra of Egypt. King Antigonus II of Babylon. Do you catch my drift?"

Realization dawned on Meleager. "You want to be king of Macedonia."

"Check and mate, Chancellor."

"Hmm...hmm. I will discuss this with the Conqueror when she-"

"This isn't a provocation... It's not a provoked statement of annoyance, nor should it garner your negligence." Alex intervened, keeping his calm. "It is justly my birthright."

"Alex, every king and queen you've mentioned were already in that position when the Conqueror came into power." Meleager explicated.

"I know they had their titles while she 'conquered' them." Alex stressed.

"And you want emulation. I understand. Again, I will talk with the Conqueror once she returns to-"

"You are the Regent." Alex cut him off twice. "Your word is law. Why don't you make it so by decree and cease trying to placate me."

"Your interruptions whilst I am speaking is most unwelcoming, Alex." Meleager admonished. "If it wasn't for my history with your father, I would have you thrown out of this chamber and castle altogether."

'Foolish man!' Alex raged inside himself, nevertheless, he bowed in submission. "I greatly apologize for my intransigence."

"The Conqueror will be returning straightaway after her progress is concluded. Until then, guest chambers have been made up to accommodate you. You're free to enjoy all the pleasures Corinth has to offer." Meleager apprised him.

Forcing a grin on his lips and bowing again for the generosity shown, Alexander II strolled out of the Throne Room. If his mood could set objects aflame, the Corinthian castle would be burning to the ground and the Chancellor along with it.

{C&R}

Some candlemarks elapsed, and Ri sat at her vanity desk, combing her long tresses while stewing in discouragement.

'Eramus is an idiot! A stupid, zany, foolhardy man!' She groused mentally. 'I'd looked up to him and was fond of his teachings, but now I see him as he is... A fake!'

A knock resonated on her door, and Ri put the comb down to answer it, "Hello?"

"Ri, it's Iona." The teenager announced on the opposite side of the closed doorway 'fore it opened.

"Whoa." Ri was taken aback by Iona's attire.

She wore a yellow tunic, ebony leather trousers, and boots. Her blonde locks were tied in a pony-tail; similarly, like her mother's once more.

"I know, right. Except for my hair being pulled back, totally different, huh?" Iona squealed excitedly, shutting the door. "Lieutenant Tessa asked if I wanted to go with her to Minerva's temple. I'm going to ride a horse alongside her."

"Darn it. I forgot she was visiting there today. She did proffer if I would accompany her yesterday." Ri rubbed her head, attempting to rid herself of the ache that was setting in.

"You knew?" Iona was surprised. "She didn't mention it. Do you want to join us? We rarely have any Cronus together, now that you've locked yourself into your studies and storytelling."

"Please, don't allude to my lessons, Iona. Master Eramus is a rhetoric bore and I can't wait to be done with him."

Iona's honey-colored irises went wide at Ri's saucy declaration. "What happened today? Have you been drinking again, or is it another secret that you want to tell me, but can't?"

"It's not. I'm not consuming any spirits either." Ri clarified. "And forgive me, I did aver I would be informing you of everything concerning me, but the Chancellor commanded me to remain silent."

"You're still going to spill, right?" The teen insisted.

Thereby, Ri displayed a guilt-ridden visage.

"Well, it's not your fault." Iona reluctantly understood. "Come on, Tessa's at the front of the castle waiting for me. You can apprise me of your session whilst we walk."

Ri descried the blue chiton she was wearing. "Do you think I should change?"

"Nope. You're fine as you are." Iona tugged on Ri's hand. "Let's go."

{C&R}

"He laughed at you, but haven't listened to you entice an audience with your tales?" Iona was baffled after hearing Ri's recount of what betided as they traipsed outside the castle's doors. "Not even on one occasion?"

"Master Eramus never spared me a moment in Cronus, and he expects I'm gonna listen to him." Shaking her head vigorously, she uttered, "He's got another thing coming because I am going to write my stories, regardless."

"I agree. You should do it, Ri." The younger girl encouraged, prior to happily avowing, "There's Lieutenant Tessa."

Below the steps, the brunette was atop her horse and holding the reins of another, while gazing at the two females descending the stone stairs.

'Oh, boy.' The Fifth Army Lieutenant thought when she saw Ri.

"Lieutenant Tessa, Ri wanted to know if your recent offer stands?" Iona questioned as they stood next to her.

"Um, here, Iona, and give us some distance. I need to chat with Ri alone." Tessa proclaimed, handing the horse's straps to her.

"Oookay." Iona was uneasy, walking away with the mare to give them privacy.

"I don't mean to impose, Tessa. I didn't expeditiously confer with you apropos to your proposal, and can fathom if you intend to go to the temple with Iona alone." Ri expounded.

"It's not that." Tessa dismounted her steed, trying to figure out how to tell the storyteller they couldn't be around each other anymore. "I can't take you with me."

"I see...'cause you do have transportation for merely you and Iona." Ri implied the two horses, trying to lighten the shifting atmosphere. "Besides, I am inept at riding them. Yet, they're not enormous like Milady's and don't frighten me. I could hold onto you or her from behind, and we can travel that way."

'I would love to feel your arms encircling my waist.' Tessa's cognition stirred, notwithstanding, she stayed uncomfortably quiet.

The silence was all the answering Ri received, and catching the hint, she relented. "It's okay, Tessa. Perchance on your return, we can have dinner, or-"

"We can't."

"What?" Ri became confused. "Why?"

"Ri, I'm sorry." Tessa gave her an apology. "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I can't spend any Cronus with you. We cannot be friends."

Tessa spun around, mounting her horse again.

"I don't understand. Why can't we continue being friends? Is it something I've done?" Ri urged.

"Let's get going, Iona!" The Lieutenant blared.

The light brown-eyed blonde slowly climbed the saddle of the brownish mare, wanting to know what was going on between Tessa and Ri after noticing her friends' countenances. "What's wrong!"

"I'm unsure, Iona. Tessa won't tell me." Ri verbalized sadly to her best friend who'd cantered to them.

Tessa allowed herself to become irked. "Maybe you should've told me that you and the Prince have an intimate relationship."

"Prince Lyceus?" Ri couldn't believe her ears. "Did he make up fabrications to you?"

"The Prince enjoined for me to stay away from you, and that's what I am doing." Tessa predicated tersely. "See you around, Lady Ri."

Lieutenant Tessa started her horse into a trot and Iona followed, looking back at her friend with a remorseful expression before they took off in a full gallop.

Her emotions in tatters, Ri observed them until they vanished. She was beginning to feel like Lyceus and Meleager opted to control her life. The two most important people whom she had been raised with, were also the same ones causing her emotional chaos.

Ri turned to the doors, restraining herself from crying whilst ascending the steps to enter the lonesome Corinthian castle.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Ri lied awake on her bed before Apollo commenced his chariot ride across the sky. The petite storyteller wasn't aware of how many candlemarks had come and gone until she gazed out of the window to see that it was morning. Upon entering her chamber, she didn't bother getting undressed last night, choosing to cry herself to sleep. Ri's headache became worse and she associated it with the three people she'd thought fondly of. A tutor who wanted to hold her back from excelling. The Prince's betrayal and his desire to control whom she could befriend. And lastly, the Chancellor of the Realm, commanding her not to speak of the love she held for the Conqueror or their future courtship. Every one of them was set in their own mind that they had her best interest at heart.

'Do they fathom a tad bit what they are doing to me?' Ri cogitated. 'Does any of them know how much I hurt? Do they care at all what I want?'

Tears welled in her pupils again and she made no attempt to stop the droplets from falling. She mused about the Lord Conqueror, but that purely caused her more melancholy. Ri no longer felt secure in their mutual understanding of being together in a relationship like she did after they departed Minerva's temple. Her hopes seemed dashed when General Darnelle stated the Ruler of Greece loved her similar to a daughter.

Adding Meleager's announcement to refrain from telling anyone else 'bout what happened between them, just created a whirlwind of possibilities, and they were all negative, nothing to strengthen her resolve that the Conqueror loved her romantically or sexually. Even the kiss they shared wasn't enough to convince Ri to keep faith in her Lord anymore.

'Why couldn't Milady effectively reveal how she felt for me then and there in the temple.' Ri ruminated in despair. 'I don't know how to feel now. Our kiss was so brief, it could have meant nothing to her, albeit a farewell embrace.'

Small fingers touched the platinum necklace circling her neck.

'This remarkable gift she gave me probably means nothing either. A show of her power and magnificence, not a promising symbol.'

Ri heard herself whimper as her eyes leaked. Being a peasant from parts unknown who had no family or friends, other than the denizens in the castle who'd taken pity on her and having no choice aside from showing sorrowful compassion for a girl whom somehow captured the attention of the Conqueror, she wept for being idiotic. How stupid to conceive a great woman like the sable and silver-haired Gerent would ever love her passionately.

Ri's self-worth plummeted while her tears knew no bounds. Eramus was right; her storytelling wasn't astonishing the way she'd been told by many of people. The former Handmaiden's talents were simply decent, and to become a playwright would showcase how lacking she really was.

Her apprenticeship to Aristotle didn't seem unique now. She was to be trained by him so she'd pick up badly needed new skills. The denizens showered her with pleasantries because it would appease the Conqueror; it was their Lord who everyone respected and feared. For surely if one did not, death would certainly follow.

Maybe that was why Meleager ordered Ri to not speak of what transpired at the temple. He wanted to protect the naïve female and keep her from spreading false information which would rouse the Conqueror's anger, bringing a horrible outcome for his niece. The strawberry-blonde sensed she was no more than a mere pet to the Conqueror of the Realm. The jewelry reminded her of a collar used for such animals, impelling fury.

Grasping the necklace with all her might, she tugged at it, having intentions to rip it off, however, the fasteners didn't break. Focusing on removing it, Ri reached behind her neck to find the enclosed clasp and started to unclose it, but the chain wouldn't loosen. 

The gleaming pendant was stuck.

'I am being punished by the gods!' Ri surmised, rolling on her side. 'I swore to be honest referring to everything in my life when I cannot be. I must lie and sidestep honesty. I'm a fraud, not fit for anything.'

Unnoticed by Ri, because she placed a hand on her weeping face, the chamber door she'd forgot to lock the previous evening had opened and Iona walked over to the seemingly slumbering woman. "Hey, sleepy head. Wake-"

Ri let loose a scream once Iona's voice startled her out of the dreary cogitations.

Iona instantly grew worried. "Ri, what's wrong?"

Recognizing her, Ri threw herself into the younger girl's arms, crying uncontrollably. Iona did nothing whilst she clutched her friend, wondering what made her act out of sorts. She'd never seen the storyteller in this manner and it had begun to frighten her.

"Shh, everything's alright, Ri." She consoled. "Everything's alright."

"No, it's not, Iona. Everything's...not... It's not alright."

"What's wrong? Talk to me. What is the matter?" Iona entreated.

"My life...it's messed up... I-I-I..." Ri stuttered.

"Get your bearings, then try talking." Iona coached.

Ri did what Iona insisted, and after awhile, she tried again.

"My life is such a mess." She rested on Iona's bare lap. "I'm not happy at all."

"Does it has anything to do with what happened yesterday with Lieutenant Tessa?"

"Maybe." Ri was honest. "I'm not sure anymore. It provoked me to take a perspective of my life and I'm not content with what I am seeing."

"What do you mean?" Iona prompted.

"Am I good at spinning stories, or reasonably fair?" Ri questioned. "Do you believe I'll do well as a playwright, or were you purporting what I want to hear?"

"You are an awesome bard." Iona stroked Ri's long tresses. "I know you're not a professional yet, and I'm not being biased because you've recited tales to me when I was a kid. I know you have true talent and are blessed by the muses. Also, I have faith you'll do wonderfully as a playwright. I can't say it's undoubtable that you'll be amazing at it, 'cause I haven't heard anything you've written. Still, I think you would be equally talented in that field, too."

Ri wrapped her appendages around Iona's tunic-covered waist, squeezing tightly. "I love you. You're the best."

Light-brown orbs became agleam with unshed tears from the affirmation. "Stop, Ri. You'll cause me to cry." 

"I'm being truthful with you." Ri lifted herself from Iona. "We are sisters after all."

"Well, scoot over, sister, and let me lay next to you."

Ri allowed Iona to settle on the bed with her. While the young teen leaned back against the bedpost, the future bard settled in her arms once more.

"Is that all that's troubling you?" Iona queried, twirling Ri's hair.

The storyteller wanted to say more, nonetheless, she opted to stay quiet on the matter, altering the issue instead, "No, I'm okay now. How was your trip with Tessa?"

"Minerva's temple is incredible, Ri!" She exclaimed with a childish glee. "So lavish and extravagant. You can clearly descry the goddess of war and wisdom is the patron of the Realm."

"It is impressive, isn't it." Ri acceded.

"Yes." Iona agreed, redundantly. "Lieutenant Tessa and I went inside, becoming astounded further by the interior of it. The altar appeared to be created from the same metal as your necklace, but I digress. If I decide to become a full architect, I'll have my work cut out for me trying to top Minerva's place of worship."

"Not if you become the greatest builder on Terra." Ri averred.

"Yeah, you're right." Iona smiled. "I don't think so, though."

"Why's that?"

"At the temple, after we'd finished with our prayers to Minerva, Lieutenant Tessa explicated she would start my training." Iona was jubilant. "She and my father conversed about it for days. They had wrought out rules because you won't believe the vulgar words that can sprew from the Lieutenant's mouth. I begin learning from her tomorrow."

"Congratulations." Ri snuggled onto Iona firmly, bestowing her sincere praise.

"Ri," Iona pronounced seriously, recalling what occurred in front of the castle. "I'm looking forward to being Lieutenant Tessa's pupil. Notwithstanding, if she has hurt you in any way, tell me and I'll renounce her offer."

"That won't be necessary, Iona. Tessa is a nice person and has been kind. Trust me, she did nothing wrongful to-"

A knock on Ri's door interrupted her sentence. 

"I'll get it before they enter and compel you to shriek again." Iona jested, making Ri silently chuckle as she watched the fifteen-year-old stand up and traverse to the shut entrance to query, "Who is it?"

"Akemi."

Whilst Iona cracked the door ajar, Ri couldn't visually detect Akemi, but she did let out a deep breath, greatly agitated by the Chambermaid's arrival.

"Good morning, Iona." Akemi greeted politely. "I've come to deliver a message to Ri."

"Morning." Iona glanced back at her friend on the bed.

Ri shook her head vigorously, conveying she didn't want to be bothered.

"She isn't feeling well at the moment." Iona half lied. "Relay it to me and I'll pass it on to her."

"The Chancellor of the Realm request her presence before the afternoon arrives. It's to discuss an important subject." Akemi apprised.

"I'll let her know."

"And one other thing," Akemi added. "Tell Ri I hope she'll feel better."

"Will do." Iona nodded, closing the door and returning to Ri. "I take it you heard what was spoken."

"Akemi is phony. 'I hope she'll feel better'." Ri mocked, arising off of her bed. "What a load of crap."

"She seems nice. But I haven't hung around her a lot, so you would be more knowledgeable of Akemi than I." Iona responded. "The few occurrences I have noticed her, she always wore fancy clothing. Lately, she wears plain servant's apparel."

"I've caught on to that, too." Ri concurred. "It's been like that since Milady left Corinth."

"Anyway, let's get you prepared for the Chancellor. You can't be donned in the exact clothes from the day prior, and your eyes are bloodshot."

Ri observed her image in the mirror. "Gods, you're right, Iona." 

"Glad I'm here to fix you up." She teased. "Now sit on down, we are going to make you beautiful."

Ri sat at her vanity table, locking irises with Iona's reflection. "Thanks for everything."

"You're welcome," Iona replied. "I have a clear schedule for the day. Once you are done discoursing with the Chancellor, we can go to the kitchen and visit Minya for a late breakfast. How does that sound?"

"Like fun." Ri accepted, and Iona began to comb her hair. "Sounds like it'll be fun."

{C&R}

A half candlemark later, Ri entered the Conqueror's chambers.

"The Chancellor will be with you." Akemi professed. "It's wonderful to see you're healthy. I was starting to fear you weren't coming and that would've been a shame."

Ri claimed a seat on one of the black divans, retorting, "I'm sure it would have."

Gazing at Akemi's attire of a grey tunic and sandals, Ri was given more confirmation that the Japian solely dressed up when the Conqueror was around. Her ebony hair was visibly absent of an arrant combing, or brush.

'Akemi is amorous of Milady. Well...well, she can have her.' Ri mentally declared, remaining disconcerted with the Grecian Ruler, and creating additional sadness in her heart.

"Are you ready?"

"What?" Ri didn't catch the inquiry.

"Are you ready to go to Athens?" Akemi rephrased.

"Like you care."

"Oh, I do." She asserted smugly. "Following your absence, things will change here, I believe." 

The smirk on Akemi's expression coaxed Ri's irritation to exacerbate beyond control.

"Do you?" Ri fingered her necklace, trying to aggravate the Chambermaid. "I should let you in on a little secret since you're an oracle."

"What would that be?" Akemi fell into the trap, fairly hiding her displeasure at the sight of what Ri was doing.

"Milady is visiting me in Athens." She evinced.

"You..." Akemi was becoming livid. "She can't...she's imperative to her empire and will have too much to do in Corinth."

"Ask Milady yourself when she returns."

"Stop calling her that..." Akemi nearly shouted. "She is the Lord Conqueror, not Milady or another unbefitting name you want to give her."

Ri lost her temper, rising onto steady feet. "Servant, look around yourself. I was Milady's handmaiden, but I'm not any longer. I'm gonna travel to Athens to become the apprentice of Aristotle; a brilliant philosopher, while you will reside here folding clothes and fetching others for your betters."

"Very profound, coming from a girl who did the same thing." Akemi shot back.

Ri laughed cruelly. "That's a fatuous declaration, Akemi. I begged Milady for a position of servitude when I was younger, so I could bask in her glory. Isn't that what you desire, you sniveling cow? She'll never love you intimately the way she loves me. We even kissed 'fore she departed Corinth. Top that, you silly foreigner!"

"What's going on out here?" Meleager investigated, exiting the bedchamber and espying his niece. "Akemi, why didn't you tell me Ri had arrived?"

Akemi looked like she was going to cry. "Forgive me, Chancellor."

Covering her facial features, she ran out of the antechamber, stunning Meleager. "By King Jupiter, what happened, Ri?"

"I..." Trying to force herself to calm down, Ri couldn't articulate completely.

She allowed her exacerbation to overcome moral sensibilities and was shocked at the unwilling choice she'd chosen when deciding to relinquish her love for the Conqueror, so she could possibly be with Akemi, just to quickly recant. Ri was elated by the will to make the Chambermaid privy to everything which took place between herself and the Lord of the Realm. The storyteller did embellish truths with exaggeration though, such as beseeching the Conqueror to become a handmaiden to revel in her glory, and that the powerful woman of Greece loved her.

Nevertheless, Ri aimed to hurt Akemi and didn't regret it at all.

"What happened, Ri?" Meleager echoed.

"I'm stupefied myself." She fibbed. "Akemi spoke of Milady and got excited. I think she misses her."

"I hope she'll be alright."

"She will be." Ri grinned uncaringly, preceding her curtsy. "Good morning, Chancellor, what is it we need to talk about?"

"Morning to you also. Take a seat." Meleager offered, and once Ri had reclaimed her original spot again, the Chancellor did as well on the adjacent sofa. "We must make arrangements for your travel to Athens."

Ri tilted her head to assent.

"You can either get there by carriage or ship," Meleager disclosed to her. "A water vessel would be faster than horses, but it's your decision."

"I haven't been on a ship before, and I've heard motion sickness is the worse." Ri proclaimed. "I don't mind the carriage."

"I'll arrange that for you." 

"Thank you, Chancellor." Ri was getting up till Meleager gently placed a hand on hers.

"How are you, Ri?" He probed. "I haven't had the privilege of your presence in a while. Akemi imparted you weren't feeling well today."

"I'm fine. Busy with studying and storytelling. Same old thing day in, day out." Ri elucidated. "How about you?"

"Got to go over a bunch of details now that almost all of the Realm's generals are back in the castle. Alexander II is a visitor in Corinth, too."

'General Draco has returned, along with that uppity man from Macedonia... Hooray.' Ri fretted, remembering meeting Alexander a year ago, and taking a dislike to him.

"That's why I had to confer with you early. I have to attend the War Room when Prince Lyceus and Lieutenant Oris arrive from the Agora."

"I won't keep you any longer."

"There's no rush." Meleager planned on bringing up the Prince's woes. "I wanted to question why you and Lyceus had a falling out?"

Ri put on a positive countenance. "I'd confided in him and he betrayed my confidence."

"I have chatted with him, Ri. He swears he didn't betray you."

"It doesn't make a difference anymore," Ri answered. "I will leave here and all will be as it should."

"That won't repair your and his companionship."

Ri shrugged her shoulders. "So be it."

Meleager was veritably dismayed by Ri's disregard of the situation. "You don't care if Lyceus is hurting over this?"

"At first, I cared...but, no, I don't now."

"What changed your stance?" He urged, thoroughly curious.

"He ruined a blossoming friendship of mine." Ri unveiled. "Lieutenant Tessa and I had enjoyed each other's company for the past fortnight. Yesterday she said that Prince Lyceus told her to stay away from me like I'm a child who's incompetent to select my own options, save for making traveling preparations."

"He's looking out for you." Meleager defended. "Lieutenant Tessa has a reputation. She gambles and whore, sailing too close to the winds. Lyceus is ensuring you don't sail too close to her and crash onto the rocks."

"I'm cognizant anent to Lieutenant Tessa's promiscuity." Ri voiced. "Cease making further decisions for me. I can take care of myself."

The statement invoked Meleager to discern something. "You're also implying me for telling you not to speak with people concerning your belief that the Conqueror will begin courting you?"

"I was upset for half a moon because of that." Ri swallowed deeply to prepare her predication, "I've begun to acknowledge your views with clarity. Perhaps I have been mistaken about Milady and myself."

"It wasn't expounded to disturb you, Ri. It's simply illogical."

"Illogical?" She became completely incredulous and internally disquisitive.

"The notion of you and the Conqueror of the Realm in love with one another is senseless. It holds no solid ground to be veracious." Meleager gave his explanation, "You both haven't ever garnered long moments around each other. It's more of a hi and bye between you two, with some periods being longer than others. You've spent more Cronus with everyone else in your life besides her, and so has she."

Ri couldn't refute that fact. Prior to the Conqueror going off to conquer Corinth, including her subsequent conquests, they were rarely able to spend a huge amount of Cronus together. Apart from issuing an order here, a command there, they were seldom in one another's presence. Going to Minerva's temple at the beginning of the new moon of May was the longest they'd spent together in ages.

"Fond of each other? Yes. Love in a romantic way? I don't think so." Meleager banged the final nail in the coffin regarding their so-called sensual love.

"I have to go, Chancellor." Ri felt stupid. "May I be excused?"

"Yes."

The trim female stood, curtsied, then traipsed to the door.

She halted her steps while Meleager emitted, "Can you tell me what secret Lyceus supposedly divulged?"

"That I was going to Athens." Ri avouched.

"But everybody knows of your departure." Meleager laughed, thus spying Ri's disturbed mien, he quickly sobered. "I'd assumed it was far serious than that. I think you should, at the very least, reconsider giving Lyceus another chance. Okay?"

'You wouldn't understand.' Ri thought, opening the door without a comment and headed back to her chamber.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Hanging with Iona and Minya did nothing to heighten Ri's spirit yesterday. On the surface, she managed smiles with laughter at her two friends' banter, happy they were getting along after what happened between them 'cause of the teenage blonde's callous mentioning of her unknown lineage a while ago. Still, her mind was befuddled from what Meleager had spoken that day.

['Fond of each other? Yes. Love in a romantic way? I don't think so.']

It was relayed in such a direct manner that it created condemnation to think otherwise. He had also voiced why Ri and the Conqueror couldn't possibly be in love. Being illogical, or any other phrases based around mental unreasoning could be used to describe how she mistook her Lord's motives in Minerva's temple.

'But I was there with her.' Ri cogitated, sitting at her vanity table, wrapped in her robe during the early morning. 'There weren't any mistakes about Milady's intent.'

Once finished with her bath, the petite storyteller sat where she was, remembering what the Chancellor had said to her at the Banquet Hall. Since then, that was when doubt snared Ri's thoughts, causing her, in the end, to concede to Meleager's logic. Their last conversation inside the Conqueror's chambers dismantled the notion, forcing Ri to re-evaluate everything.

'He appeared more concerned about the Prince and me, playing as a mediator for us. Is he trying to appease both parties involved or only Lyceus?'

Ri discarded the cognition. Her self-proclaimed uncle hadn't ever acted malicious towards her, no matter how malignant he seemed when it comprised of her relationship with the Lord of the Realm. Although he was content with it after she'd confided in him, the following day the Chancellor told her to dismiss the idea until the Conqueror returned.

What instigated a change in him?

A name beamed within Ri's skull, 'Lyceus.'

What did he say? Did the Conqueror's younger brother confess his feelings of love for Ri to Meleager? If so, it had begun to make perfect sense. Nevertheless, it didn't answer the main question; why would the Chancellor back Lyceus and not the Conqueror?

"I'm going in circles with nothing but speculation at this point." Ri huffed, putting her head on the desk.

Overall, Meleager enunciated a key factor that was irreproachable. Ri and the Conqueror never stayed in each others company for long periods of Cronus. One moment the Overlord was there, then she would be gone out of Ri's life, off to conquer new land, if not bringing someone to heel.

The Lord Conqueror nearly missed Ri's birthday the season she turned eleven inside the newly acquired Corinthian castle, and the young female never forgot it.


["Milady?" I prod, opening the door to her assumed chambers.

I view the inner antechamber with glee. It's huge! I wonder will mine be similar in size. Me, Lyceus, and Uncle Meleager had come here to Corinth from Tegea two moons ago. No permanent residence is made for me as of yet, due to the fact Milady has been preoccupied with other matters. For now, I'm temporarily sheltered in small quarters.

Strolling farther, I enter into the bedchamber. With help from Selene's glow, the room is semi-dark and I begin to have second thoughts for my decision to come here, despite that Meleager did tell me she would be back in the castle today. I can discern the bed is covered with decorative, silk sheets and blankets, but not the body of Milady. Maybe this isn't her lodging at all.

Besides that, it's night. Shouldn't whoever occupy this chamber be in bed?

Whatever uncertainty I have about this being Milady's chambers are dashed when hearing her melodious tone coming from the outer room I was recently in.

"Gods, Old man!" Milady exclaims. "I've just returned, at least allow me to bathe before we talk of my progress."

She sounds irritated and it makes me panic. Footfalls echoes closer to the area I'm trespassing in, so I hide under the bed, tightly clutching the rolled parchment I plan to give her.

"Can you blame me for wanting to know what happened in Sparta with King Leonidas?" Meleager asks as they gait into the bedroom. "Now that you took Glaucus and his heir out of the political arena, he's practically the head of the Peloponnesian League."

Servants enter the room, too, lighting candles to illuminate it.

"I will prepare your bath, my Queen." One of them insists.

Is Milady royalty now?

It's put to rest when she states, "Don't call me that. I am not your queen."

"Yes, my Mistress."

I hear footsteps moving 'round till finally, Milady says, "Thank you. You may all leave my chambers."

"Yes, Mistress." Different voices reply in sync.

Hurrying feet traipses out of the bedchamber and the door closes.

"You could have left also, you know."

Huh? Has she discovered me?

Dread takes hold of me, 'til Uncle Meleager laughs and asserts, "I am not going anywhere yet."

I see Milady take off her boots. Short moments later, she's sitting down on the bed and the sound of liquid getting poured in a cup greets my ear.

"I'm not too fond of having slaves. They will all be given their freedom and can choose to work here for pay, or leave." She pauses briefly. "And I don't want them all in my chambers like that. I'll have to get a Chambermaid."

"As you wish... Hey, that's the second cup you're pouring! Don't drink too much of that."

"Please, Meleager. I don't overindulge in spirits. I know how you are concerning alcohol."

"Is King Leonidas with us or against?" He questions briskly.

Milady releases a sigh. "He is on board. He's not entirely upset about the ordeal either. 'King Glaucus was useless'. His words."

"And how does he feel regarding Prince Bellerophon?"

"That's a bit touchy with him. Though his father was a horrible tyrant during this war, the King of Sparta had great hopes for the Corinthian heir." She responds.

"Bellerophon remains alive," Meleager spoke. "Do you think King Leonidas will join him if the exiled man ever tries to reclaim his rightful throne?"

Milady reviles, "Bellerophon is broken. I made a decree that his name shall forever be left unspoken after today. As far as anyone on Terra is concerned, I am the Ruler of Corinth. King Leonidas doesn't like it, yet agreed all the same."

"What's next?" Meleager inquires.

"We end this stupid strife that is tearing Greece asunder. I'm gonna head back to Tegea tomorrow. There's something in those mines on the outskirts of the town. I can feel it. Afterward, we'll have more than enough funds to supply the castle's servants and our campaign."

"Is this about the numerous silver ores you believe is buried inside?" Meleager chuckles. "You have faith because you found a couple, you'll discover more?"

"They're not silver ores and laugh all you want." Milady retorts. "How is Lyceus?"

"He's excited by all of this. I have him settled in his own chambers. He picked it out himself." Meleager pronounces. "Do you like how I have taken the liberty with yours?"

"I do. This is where King Glaucus resided. It's grand and fitting for you." Milady declares.

"No, no. This is yours. You deserve it. If not for you, none of this would be." Meleager affirms. "I have my own anyway."

"Well, when I go venturing away from Corinth, these chambers will be yours, Meleager."

"You are very kind, Young lady."

"Please. I'm no longer youthful." Milady scoffs. "My birthday is tomorrow, marking me another seasonal cycle older."

"That's why I had your chambers decorated for you. Happy birthday. Now that you know you're getting older, perhaps you'll stop referring to me as-"

"Not a chance, Old man."

They both start laughing, whilst I'm freezing on the cold floor.

Silence fills the room, until Milady queries, "How's Ri?"

She's asking about me... She hasn't forgotten me.

"She is fine. I plan to have Ri choose her own room tomorrow, seeing it is her birthday, too." Meleager answers.

"If only we really knew what day she was born." Milady sounds sullen.

"She loves having the same born-date like you."

"I want to set out early, so I'm going to miss Ri... Tell her happy birthday for me."

Meleager accedes, "I will. You should get to that bath while the water is hot. I'll see you off in the morning."

"Alright." She rises from the bed. "I'll walk you to the exit, General."

I listen as they depart the room and become sad with the knowledge that Milady won't be celebrating our birthday with me. We haven't seen each other since we'd traveled to the goddess of war and wisdom's temple. Missing her would be an understatement for me. I can't explain it, but it's like my soul cries out for her.

The tears sting my pupils prior to shutting them.

Opening them again, I recall where I am and realize I must have dozed off 'cause the chamber is shrouded in darkness once more. Yawning, I start to crawl from under the bed. No longer beneath it, I remember the scroll I brought with me to present to Milady. It's the purpose I came here in the first place, other than seeing her.

Crawling underneath the bed again, I grab the parchment and whilst moving backward on my knees, I collide against something behind me. Awkwardly, I turn around and see a pair of bare feet. My gaze looks up and up, then up some more, locking eyes with Milady. By the gods, she's tall.

"Ri?" She prompts dubiously. "What are you doing?"

Shaking off the shock, I find my vocals, "To see you, Milady. I wanted to give you a gift."

She bends slightly, placing me onto my feet. Next, Milady traverses to a table stand and ignites a candle. When she looks at me in the candlelight, I don't simply notice the beautiful robe she's wearing, but her facial expression as well. It's a look I've never seen her give me. Self-consciously I peep down at my white shift to ascertain what's wrong. Finding nothing out of the normal, I focus on her again.

"Ri." Her mien changes to happiness. "Come here."

With haste I am in her arms, absorbing every bit of warmth, and dare I say love, that I can get out of our embrace.

"You are cold." She holds me. "Let's get you warmed up."

My legs are lifted off of the floor and I'm carried over to her bed. Milady pulls the covers over top of my frame, making me feel cozy already.

"So, what did you bring me?"

Showing the scroll I've made for her, I profess, "I don't have any dinars to buy you anything, but I pray you'll like it."

Milady takes it out my hand and I arrest my breath while she reads it. It was a retelling of our Cronus together at Minerva's temple and the journey back to Tegea with poetic flair.

"This is good." Milady caresses my hair playfully. "You could be a great story writer. Darnelle told me you tell stories to his daughter, Iona."

"Yes." I concur. "She seems to like them a lot."

"I don't have a present for you, notwithstanding, I can arrange something special."

"Like what?" I smile.

"I can get you a master tutor. They can teach you all that is required to be the most amazing bard ever." Milady avers.

My heart soars. "Will you?"

She leans down kissing my forehead. "Yes."

I watch as she gracefully moves to set the scroll on her table. Blowing out the candle, she lays adjacent to me on her comfortable bed.

Memorizing what she conveyed to Uncle Meleager, I timidly offer my services. "Milady, if you don't want any slaves, I could be your Chambermaid...or Handmaiden."

"You've heard that, huh?" She probes.

"Yes...I did." I faintly hesitate, 'fore becoming bold. "So can I?"

"Ri, I don't know. I do not want you becoming a servant to anyone, especially me."

"But I want to do that for you." I press. "It'll allow me to see you more whilst we are here. Please. I'll be good at it. I know I will. Please."

"It is our birthday." Milady gives in. "Fine, but not until after the Winter Solstice."

"Thank you." I enclose a sole arm around Milady, bestowing a physical connection with her.

"You are welcome, Little one."

"For everything." I imply, squeezing harder.

"Everything?"

"You saved me from slavers. You're taking care of me. Said we would live in a castle, which we do. You are having me tutored by a master and letting me become your Handmaiden." I elucidate.

"I didn't take care of you, Ri. Meleager, Darnelle, Glaphyra, and Lyceus, to an extent, did that."

"Nonetheless, it's because of you." I correct. "In a way, it was you."

"How did you get so smart for your age." Milady tries tickling my sides, coaxing me to giggle but she suddenly halts after accidentally grazing my chest.

Quietness descends upon us and I am unsure what to think as she shifts away from me. Perchance that is why she was staring at me. My body has developed quickly for a ten-year-old. I have grown a bit taller. My breasts, although not too big, has gotten bigger since we last laid sight on each other.

"Milady?"

"Yes." She draws out silently.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, if you answer mine first." She counters.

"Okay."

"Why do you call me, Milady?"

"I'm sorry." I feel admonished. "It's the sole appellation I know to call you. I can refer to you by what others are."

"And what is that?"

"Destroyer." I expound tentatively. "The Destroyer of Nations."

She ejects a deep breath. "No, Milady is a wonderful name. You've called me that since we'd met and I like it. Don't ever stop, okay?"

"I won't. Yet, you asked more than one query. If this was the question game that I and Uncle Meleager play, you would've lost." I jest.

"Since I'm technically the loser, whatever you ask I will oblige." Milady proclaims.

"Spend all day with me tomorrow." I predicate without hesitation. "Don't go to Tegea."

"If you were a spy, you'd have known all my grand designs from under my bed."

I nod my head, pondering if she can see me clearly in the dark, giving the space between us.

"You little sneak." Milady snickers, answering my cerebral inquiry. "Well, I am a woman of my word. We'll go to Minerva's temple and after that, we will do whatever you desire."

On impulse I hug Milady again, setting my chin above her chest, and breathing in the lovely scent that permeates from her. "Do we have to ride Nightmare there?"

"Nightmare is gone, Ri. We'll take a carriage instead."

Her verbalization is glum for reasons unknown, causing me to kiss her cheek, thus bringing a grin to Milady's face.

"You're sleeping with me tonight, so rest up. We're heading out at the earliest. Gods above, let's hope it doesn't snow."

"Alright." I obey. "If there happens to be an enormous snowfall, we still can travel to the temple, right?"

"Of course." She smirks. "I have many skills."

Smiling and closing my irises, I snuggle firmly on her. "Goodnight, Milady."

Her fingers commence twirling my long hair. "Goodnight, Ri."


"She does love me." Ri raised up from the table. 'It has to be more than fondness. I know it...I know it. We spent the whole day together on my eleventh and her thirty-sixth birthday. She did leave the next day, but my feelings never altered and her attitude towards me didn't either... Or has it?'

The retention that Meleager ordained was no longer applicable. Ri had to talk with somebody apropos to this. She couldn't keep it restrained inside her cerebration. Albeit who could she speak to? Iona was beginning her training today with Lieutenant Tessa, and Minya would probably share Ri's words with others; the Royal cook was a good friend, but she was terrible at keeping quiet about things.

Regardless of that, the strawberry-blonde needed to remain tactful. The last outcome she wanted was for the Chancellor of the Realm to find out she'd become disobedient. There was purely one other person she could converse with. Following the ending of her class with Master Eramus, Ri chose to go to his apartment.

Therefore she would explicate everything.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

"Do you rue the night I'd conferred this mission to you?" The Conqueror questioningly teased. "'Cause your dour is on full display."

"Just suffering from boredom," Glaphyra claimed. "You did omit we would be touring the whole of Greece."

"Did I?" The Conqueror smirked, walking over to the helm.

She had a cognition to relieve the wheelman of it and take control over the ship herself. It'd been so long since she'd steered a vessel.

'Was it when I departed Japa last year?' The Conqueror asked herself. 'Yup, it was.'

"Don't even think about it, my Lord." Glaphyra stood behind her.

"You're telling me what to do?"

"No. I'm not suicidal." She uttered. "You shouldn't be concerning yourself with such labors. Not when you have others to do it."

"I love having control, though." The Conqueror replied.

"Of course you do. You're a control freak."

The older Ruler laughed and Glaphyra joined in. Their ship was sailing close to the Thermaic Gulf, and while the Conqueror enjoyed herself out at sea, the General of the Sixth Army was becoming weary of it.

"Talk with me, Glaphyra." The Conqueror affirmed. "Perhaps you can help me with a minor situation."

"What might that be?" She prodded.

The Conqueror began gathering her thoughts. She didn't want to reveal Ri's identity but desperately required aid.

"I want to court someone, howbeit it's hard to tell them exactly how I feel."

Glaphyra burst out in mirth to the Conqueror's dismay. "You...you need assistance in courting someone? Now that's funny."

"Forget it, Glaphyra. I'd assumed I was talking to a friend. If you're going to laugh at me, I can see I've been mistaken."

"My Lord, please pardon my disrespect." Glaphyra apologized. "I did not know you were serious. I don't mind helping you. It would be an honor."

"Thank you."

"So, who is it?" Glaphyra inquired.

The Conqueror glanced at one of the men who'd carried her saddlebags onto the ship before they had first set sail. "It's a soldier."

"In which Army?"

"I want to keep that discreet." The Conqueror responded.

"Okay." Glaphyra accepted. "Forgive me for saying this, but you are the Lord of the Realm."

"Your point?"

"You can have anybody you want. All you have to do is walk to the trooper whom has your affections and they'd be all over you, like that." Glaphyra snapped her fingers to emphasize the point.

Leaning on the side railing, the Conqueror released a sigh. "It's not that simple. The person I adore is too gentle and sweet. I feel almost awkward around them."

Turel smiled whilst he listened in earshot of the conversation. 'She's talking about me, I know it. When she told General Glaphyra it was a soldier, the Conqueror sneaked a peek at me beforehand. Oh, I can't wait to tell the guys.'

"Sounds like you're in love with this individual." Glaphyra said.

"I am, and I can admit it to myself. Even to you. Whereas to aver it to them..." The Conqueror took a breath. "Would you believe me if I told you I'm terrified."

Turel frowned. He didn't want the Conqueror to be afraid of asking him for courtship. If anything it was he who felt nervousness mixed with excitement for being chosen by her.

Glaphyra participated in the pronoun game. "Do they love you?"

"I surmise they do, but I fear they're confused also, and don't really know how to feel." The Conqueror asserted. "It's really complicated. I haven't given my heart away to somebody in a while. I've only been intimate with two people my entire life."

Glaphyra gazed at the Conqueror, acknowledging how vulnerable she appeared. "You got it bad, my Lord."

'Simply two people knew the Conqueror carnally?' Turel ruminated. 'I can't fathom that. She's so freaking hot! Like, Venus hot! I will be gentle with her.'

"You should tell them how you feel. Don't keep it inside, especially if you've held the love for them hostage in your heart for this long." Glaphyra explained.

"That's an understatement. I've kept it inside me for multiple seasonal cycles and I feel like I'd been waiting for this person all my life."

"You have to tell them that," Glaphyra stated. "You're gorgeous, my Liege. I'm more than sure they will return the sentiment."

"Thank you, Glaphyra. Your advice has really jolted me into action."

Placing her hand on the Conqueror's shoulder, she confirmed, "I'm here for you."

'Here's my chance.' Turel cogitated, gaiting towards the conversing women. "General, Lord Conqueror. Are we to keep the banner down off of the mast?"

"Did anyone say otherwise?" The Conqueror queried.

"No, but I-"

"Did I say otherwise?"

"No, Lord Conqueror. I thought-"

"That's the problem. Tura, is it?"

"It's Turel, my Lord."

"You are thinking too much, Turel." The Conqueror proclaimed.

"Why don't you sit and relax throughout this voyage without volunteering your services until you are commanded to do something." Glaphyra added.

"Yes, General." Turel turned on his heels and traversed away, slightly crestfallen. 'I should have waited for General Glaphyra to leave, then talked to the Conqueror alone. Weird that she doesn't know my name, though.'

Turel's suggestion coaxed Glaphyra to probe, "Conqueror, when Draco and Palaemon passed us during that rainstorm, do you think they recognized our ship without your sigil being visible?"

"Probably not. If they went back to Corinth and made a comment about it to the Chancellor, I'm certain it will come to nothing."

"Will we raise it once we head for Crete?"

"I haven't decided yet. We'll see." The Conqueror gazed at the upcoming Gulf.

"I'm going to get something to snack on. Do you want anything, my Lord?"

"A lemon." She answered, raising Glaphyra's displeasure.

"If I eat one more of those, I'm gonna turn into a lemon." Glaphyra mumbled, traipsing below deck.

Smiling faintly, the Conqueror continued to stare at the vast body of water with her sapphire orbs. She wasn't keen on eating the sour fruit herself, but the forty-three-year-old woman knew of the ailments a human could suffer during an extended travel at sea on a vessel. Using lemons to counteract the effects of scurvy had been expounded to her by Meleager.

The Chancellor of the Realm informed the Conqueror about a lot of important information for surviving physically and mentally when she was a teenager. Still, he taught her things as a grown-up, too.

Most warnings she heeded earnestly. Some were discarded from her intellect, causing the younger warrior to learn life's lessons the hard way.


["Xena, is that you?" My mother queries from her bedroom.

So much for sneaking in to change and getting my sword. "Yes, mother, it's me!"

"Thank the Queen of the gods! Come here, I need your help! I'm going into labor!"

What? Not this.

Not now!

Running up the stairs to enter her room, I see my mother laying supine on the bed.

"The baby...is coming." She strains to announce. "You...gonna have to get...Anisa."

Elius' mother... I wonder does she know about the imminent danger that is posed at our village.

"Okay." I caress her face that's showing intense pain. "I'll be right back."

Therefore descending the stairs, I'm quickly out the door and down the pathway that leads to Anisa's home. Coming closer to her residence, I see her and several other villagers outside with worried expressions. They probably caught word of the warlord.

"Anisa." I halt in front of her. "My mother is going into labor. She needs you to help deliver."

"Xena, did you hear the dreadful news? An army of scoundrels is trying to attack Amphipolis. Meleager and most of the village males has gone to the outskirts to engage them." Anisa explicates, seemingly ignoring my comment.

"I'm aware. Everything will be alright." I try to relieve her, and reiterate, "My mother requires your aid this instant. Please, come with me."

She nods her head. "Let me pack my things."

I impatiently wait outside, listening to the neighboring villagers bemoan to each other, regarding the village's possible peril.

"What are we gonna do?"

"My son and husband are out there!"

"We aren't fighters."

"I say we give the warlord what he wants!"

My prepared protest is interrupted before it starts once Anisa, along with her daughter, exits their home.

"We must hurry." Anisa takes the words out my mouth. "I'm bringing Elisa with me just in case the worse happens."

"Great, let's go." I reply briskly.

We make haste back to my house. Getting inside, Anisa checks on my mother while I observe from the hallway.

"My water broke." My mother groans.

"It's coming," Anisa states, helping my mother sit up on the bedpost. "Xena, bring me a bowl of warm water and cloths. Elisa, hold Cyrene's hand till her daughter returns."

I do what Anisa requests. Setting the ceramic bowl beside her, I begin to take my leave.

"Xena, I need you to exchange places with Elisa." Anisa tells me.

"I can't." I blurt out.

"Sure you can. There's nothing to be afraid of." She assures me.

My mother grunts loudly, "Xena... I need you with me."

By Juno, why is this happening now! I got to get to my companions-in-arms. Maybe all is well and there won't be a battle. Withal, if it is, I have to be with them.

I must!

"Anisa, can I speak with you in the hallway?"

She looks quizzical, then follows me out of my mother's room.

"Xena!" My mother yells.

"We have to be quick. What is it you're being secretive of that compels you to talk to me away from your mother's ear?" Anisa questions.

"I can't stay here."

She folds her arms, displaying a dubious mien. "Yes, you can. Your mother is in labor. Cyrene is having this baby and I'm certain she'll want you by her side."

"I have to go." I emit.

"Where are you needed that's highly imperative than being here with your..." The inquiry ceases and she chooses another, "You plan on going to fight those ruffians, aren't you?"

"Yes." I'm honest. "I must protect this village."

"Xena." Anisa shakes her head with a grin. "I always presumed you were weird wanting to use weapons with Meleager and his trainees. Elius has told me you are very passionate about it."

The knowledge of Elius speaking positively of me amazes my mind. He had purely given me grief since I've begun sword training.

"Xena!" My mother shouts again.

"Go," Anisa whispers. "I'll make an excuse to cover for you."

"Thank you, Anisa." I hug her, and in advance of me disengaging completely, she grips my hand.

"Look after Elius." She entreats. "Don't allow him to fall today. I...I can't lose my son."

"I'll do all I can. I promise."

Anisa squeezes my hand firmly and goes into the room to succor my mother. Ignoring my mother's loud moans to race into my bedroom, I replace my grey tunic with a dark one, covering myself in black trousers. I sheath my sword on the right side of my hip and add a dagger inside my boots after lacing them tightly.

Tying my hair back, I once more rush out my family's home and to the outskirts of Amphipolis. Running with all the speed I can muster, I come across villagers running in the opposite direction of me.

"Turn back, girl. Amphipolis is doomed." An older man says, carrying a young boy.

"What do you mean?"

"The warlord is winning, Meleager's warriors are losing. It's a massacre." He looks terrified. "They will inevitably enslave all the women, killing every man and child. I'm going to tell the villagers Amphipolis has fallen. If we surrender to them without further trouble, they may go easy on us."

I roughly grab the man, causing him and the child to cry out. "You'll do no such thing. You will go to the elders and have them send a warning to the people of Amphipolis so they are prepared to escape into the mountains. Do not dare suggest we have lost and are facing bondage, nor propose surrendering."

"But I have seen the battle with my own eyes. The warlord pretended to leave, and after the aggression seemed to calm, they began an assault on Meleager's unsuspecting men when they'd turned their backs."

"You will do as I say!" I yell.

"And who are you?" He insists.

"My name is Xena."

"Xena." The man repeats as I release him. "That will be the appellation I divulge to the Amphipolitans, so they'll know the foolish girl to blame for their woes."

He holds the child in his arms soundly and takes off again. I'm disheartened by his pronouncement, but, instead of letting it hinder my efforts, I allow it to invigorate the fire to fight these cowards who have no honor. The rules of engagement burn in my memory whilst I sprint closer to the battlefield. To beset your opponent from behind after agreeing that no belligerence is declared, were unworthy to call themselves a warrior.

My acute hearing picks up the sounds of metal clashing, males shouting, several voices screaming in rage and agony. Next, I view the site in front of me.

The elderly man was right.

Our once beautiful glade is full of bodies, alive and dead. I can discern the mutilated, bloody corpses littering the ground are mostly the defenders of Amphipolis. The warlord still has over three hundred men to our one hundred, if not lesser now.

Anger and fear swell within me for Cortese and my village. The pompous asshole believes he can subjugate us with his cronies. It's not happening. Not this day.

Not ever!

I withdraw my blade and concentrate. These are not the fellow villagers I've sparred with and I don't have to go easy on them. They can be injured in any way I see fit. I can even kill them if I want to.

The acknowledgment fills me with agog anticipation. I will try to restrain myself from taking a life, nonetheless, I will maim many of 'em.

Gripping my sword tighter, I let loose a shrill war cry, running into the melee. Soldiers of Cortese's army notice and direct their attention on me. One of them swings their weapon, but I block it and see an opening immediately. My sword slices the tendon in his leg, compelling him to fall on the grass. His scream gives me no ounce of regret as I do the same to his buddy. Afterward, the next challenger reaps the same misfortune, until I'm deep in the throes of action. I become saturated by the thrill of bloodlust, letting its mellifluous, intoxicating effect take over me.

My blade severs the arm of another man and the extremity of the other, splattering blood everywhere. Crimson liquid soaks the greenery, including me, and I relish in it. Soon appendages of either kind are removed from the opposition because of my sword and the tide of victory looks to be turning in our favor.

Keep your friends close and your enemies far away from you.

Recalling my mentor's phrase, I shove a sole man down to commence relieving him of both his legs. Thereafter, I start to survey the carnage for three people; Meleager, Toris, and Elius...  I have to keep my promise to Anisa.

I slash a contender's rib and spot Toris. He is holding himself really well. I can't focus on him too long and my blade makes another man a cripple. I'm able to gaze around again, catching sight of Meleager. I swiftly take my eyes off him. The Old man is doing excellent, which I already knew he would be. When my irises fall on Elius, my heartbeat quickens. The dark-haired warrior isn't doing good and appears to be wounded from the blood seeping through his tunic. He's also favoring his right side.

I amputate the sword arm of a couple men prior to trekking towards Elius. Within range of him, I feel a bastard grasp my hair from behind. I yank my head down as his blade aims to decapitate me. In lieu of my neck, it is my tied ebony tresses that take the sharp steel. Meleager has been on me referring to my hair, averring I should cut it shorter. I told him my mother would have a fit.

Well, he got his wish.

Clipping the man from a crouched position, I plunge my weapon's tip into his upper thigh, twisting the blade so the wound doesn't close. I get back on course and make it to Elius in the nick of Cronus. The injured son of Anisa is kicked down on the ground and his attacker is ready to pierce his chest. My sword parries the downward stroke and I cut both his hands off with two quick strikes, knocking him out with a punch to his face.

I shake my left hand to ward off the bruised knuckle. Gods, that hurts!

"Xena?" Elius prompts, staring at me in bewilderment. "Is that you? What happened to your hair?"

"It was sacrificed in place of my life."

"Huh?" He asks.

"Your mother implored me to look after you. Elius, can you stand?" I quiz, swiping the hamstring of an incoming antagonist.

"Yeah, but-"

"We are going to win this. I'm gonna find someone to guard you."

I see a few more villagers in need of assistance and hastily end their plausible debacle.

"Elius is hurt. You guys must defend him." I tell them.

The males bestow gratitude, and I descry their enervated aspects.

"From the looks of it, you all may be on the verge of becoming debilitated. However, if you three work together, you can form protection for him and each other." Their features are confounded, so I shout, "Go, do what I said!"

Instantly they are moving to Elius' idle position like I'd commanded. Turning about, I liberate more of my comrades and distinguish I've done really well on one part of the phrase my mentor had preached to me.

Keep my friends close.

Now, I have to keep my enemies far away and the best way to do that is by defeating the instigator...

Cortese.

Nevertheless, I have no idea whom I'm hunting for. I don't know what his appearance consists of.

Severely harming eight pugnacious men, I glimpse Meleager again. He seems tired, but battling on regardless. Thenceforth, I espy Toris engaging a man with cropped black hair. His attire is different from the warriors I or my compatriots has battled with. His fighting style is more skilled as well.

"Cortese." I deduce, albeit my deduction can be wrong.

Four of his so-called warriors stand in my way, and I persevere by causing them to lose arms and legs. Moving onwards, I'm forced to the bloody grass as one of the men, whose tibia I'd severed, grabs my ankle. He crawls on top of me, the longsword remains held in his clutch.

"You're...going to pay." He threatens.

I try to get up, but, extraordinarily, the one-legged man is fast and he weakly bashes me atop my head with the handle of his blade.

Dropping my sword, I briefly map out stars 'fore gathering my wits. I will not die here. I can't die here.

I won't!

He straddles my waist, the blood from his mutilated leg is bleeding out on me. Aiming his sword for my heart with a smug countenance, he doesn't expect, nor note me pulling the dagger from my boot. Slashing his face with it, he cries out, losing both the sword and his balance, thus giving me enough leverage to push him off me.

Standing on my feet and depositing the dagger back inside my footwear, I pick up my blade with my right hand, adding his discarded weapon in my left. Dismembering his arm above the elbow, I remember what my mission is and spin on my feet to catch a terrible scene.

"Toris..." I murmur.

My older brother has succumbed to the warlord's sword. Cortese unceremoniously kicks him off his impaled weaponry like he's nothing.

"Toris!" I hear myself blare.

Cortese inspects me and I pace up to him. All I see is red while both of my blades connect with his singular sword. He is better than I had initially analyzed, blocking and evading my twin swords whilst I tediously strike at him, eager to take his head off from the shoulders.

Attacking with a wide arc using one sword, that he impedes, I try to thrust the second into his sternum. The warlord easily dodges my attempt with a sickening smile and it angers me extremely. I go into a berserker fury, my tactics becoming unfocused, and with a parry, Cortese disarms the weapon from my left hand.

I realize, although he is admittedly stronger, Cortese isn't far skillful than me. Rage has blinded me, making me foolhardy in our swordplay. Because of it, he's been toying with me. I have left myself open frequently, but he hadn't taken advantage of it. He is underestimating me, treating me like an inept little girl who doesn't belong on the battleground among men.

That's fine, 'cause two can play this game of wits.

Redoubling my efforts, I utilize my single sword and feign losing control of my senses. I swing my weapon repeatedly, deliberately leaving my right side open for his strike. Therefore seeing my numerous, yet planned, rookie mistakes, he finally grows taxed of me and takes the bait, thrusting his blade at my unprotected ribs.

With swiftness, I latch my arm onto his sword as if his thrust has hit home. Masking my features with a pained visage, I drop to my knees, releasing my longsword, too.

"You stupid girl." The man sneers. "Go meet your lover in Tartarus. When you get there, tell Pluto the Amazing Cortese sent you."

He laughs and I'm certain this is the dumbest warlord on Terra.

"Xena!"

I hear Meleager's panicked voice and it distracts Cortese enough for me to grab my hidden dagger again. Accordingly, he tries to pull his sword free from me to assail my agonized teacher, but I keep it tight to my body.

Looking at me in puzzlement, I correct him, "He isn't my lover, you moron."

Cortese appears dumber now, not having a clue at all, and I lunge forward, sending the point of my dagger into his throat.

"He is my brother!"

Blood gushes out of the wound and ooze from his mouth while he falls backward with me landing on top of him. I surge the short knife into him farther 'til it is buried to the hilt.

"When you get to Tartarus." I taunt. "Tell the god of the underworld it was Xena of Amphipolis who put you there."

I lay atop his body and watch the light leave his eyes. Sadly, I feel no elation. No sense of peace. No jubilance. Cortese's death leaves me feeling hollow within.

I remember Toris and abandon the dagger inside its victim. Rising, I dash to his procumbent frame.

"Toris?" On bending knees, I slowly turn my brother on his back and lift him into my arms.

"Xena?" He rasps. "It's you... Your...your hair... Mother's... Mother..."

He raises his hand to touch it and I finish, "Mother is gonna be mad. I know."

Toris smiles, preceding a look of horror that comes over him. "Cort... Cortese."

"It's alright." I soothe him. "He's dead."

"You...killed him?"

I nod before gandering around us, observing that the battle has reached its conclusion. The men of Cortese's army who'd survived ran off into the surrounding woods. We were the victors.

"We won, Toris. Amphipolis is safe."

"Because of...you... I saw...you. We were...losing... Tricked us... Cortese lied..."

"I know, Toris." I try not to gawk at the gaping cut in his abdomen. "You're going to be okay."

"You're a horrible liar, sis." He predicates, coughing blood. "Xena... I'm proud of you... I love you. You...you know that?"

"Yes. I love you, too." Tears well from my pupils and down my cheeks. "Forgive me for all I have-"

"No. There's nothing to forgive." Toris ends my apology. "Tell mother, I... Xena... I'm cold... I'm...cold, Xe..."

His lifeless, dark-blue eyes are open, but is no longer watching me. "I'll...keep you warm, Toris. I'll keep you warm."

I tug him securely to me, knowing he is gone, and strangely, accepting the revelation. I'll have to go home, apprise our mother, other guardians, parents, siblings, and family members, of the great deprivation of human existence which occurred today.

Meleager walks to us, kneeling beside me and my murdered brother.

"You were right, Old man. Taking a life change you." He beholds me with sadness, and I attest, "It changes everything."


"Your lemon, my Lord."

The Conqueror tensed at the intonation of her General, noticing she'd subconsciously unwrapped the bandage from around the self-inflicted wound she gave herself at Minerva's temple more than a fortnight ago.

"Conqueror, are you alright?" Glaphyra queried, holding the sliced yellow fruit.

"Yes." She professed, espying her healed palm. "Got snared up in old memories from my past."

"Must've been some memory." Glaphyra reasoned.

The Conqueror grabbed the lemon from Glaphyra's grasp, and prior to biting into it, she vocalized, "You have no idea."

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

"Commander Brutus. Commander Cassius." A Roman Centurion entered their tent, saluting.

"Speak." Brutus enjoined.

"Scouts sighted a ship that belonged to the Grecian Realm a couple of days past."

"A sole vessel?" Cassius queried.

"Yes, sir. It posed no threat to us. The ship's trajectory was headed towards the mainland of Greece."

"And here you are, delivering useless information." Brutus admonished, impelling the warrior to become anxious.

"How are the Legions that are camped on Dia's port holding up?" Cassius intervened.

"We have been out there for a fortnight with no activity and barely enough food to go around. The true reason I am here is to pick up more provisions." He hesitated. "If...if I can make a suggestion?"

"What would that be?" Brutus inquired.

"We are to keep a vigilant lookout for the Conqueror. Yet, all we've seen was the Greek ship I've mentioned and merchants' vessels after the rainstorm had recently cleared away three days ago. Our reserves are quickly becoming exhausted by the few Legions that are encamped there."

"Get on with it!" Brutus flared, having grown impatient. "What is it that you want?"

The Centurion flinched. "Perhaps one if not two of the Legions could be sent back here. My men, along with myself, will remain in the encampment at the port."

Cassius gazed at his half-brother, praying he would resolve the matter indefinitely.

"Send a single Legion back... Only one." Brutus overly clarified.

"Yes, Commanders." The man saluted once more, departing the tent.

"Did I communicate with you about how much I disapprove of this plan to engage the Conqueror?" Cassius spoke.

"Several, actually," Brutus smirked at his newly clean-shaven companion. "I'm not changing my mind."

"The Conqueror will destroy us!"

"Don't be a cynic, Cassius." Brutus rebuked. "If she arrives with her entire army, the men know not to confront them and we will be forced to play it by ear. However, if she comes here with anything less, I see no problem in humbling her."

"Antagonizing the Monarch of the Greek Empire isn't a bright idea to me." Cassius affirmed.

"If she survives the attack, we'll make an excuse that we were protecting ourselves. We are in conflict with Marcus Antonius and Octavian. If the Conqueror dies..." Brutus hunched his shoulders. "So be it."

"We still need her aid." Cassius stated. "Being secluded here on this island has driven you insane, Brutus."

"Self-imposed seclusion." He corrected. "What's the problem? I thought you would grow to accept the plan. After all, the Conqueror did kill your slave."

"Pindarus is not a slave."

"Right, you freed him." Brutus was sarcastic.

"Please..." Cassius shunned Brutus' sarcasm and supplicated, "Withdraw all three Legions from the port."

"The discussion of bringing all of the Legionnaires back here became closed when I told the Centurion, whom just left, what to do." Brutus elucidated. "A Legion will return. Be jubilant for that."

Cassius broadcasted his deprecation with a scoff.

Brutus clapped his arm in a brotherly manner. "You look quite dashing with your haircut and shave, so be of good cheer. If our two Legions contend with the Conqueror, try to look at it as justification in honor of your slave."

Henceforth, he left the tent, leaving behind an agitated ally.

"He isn't a slave." Cassius mumbled.

{C&R}

"You want me to do what?" Joxer didn't hide his bafflement.

"Sign up for soldier training." Virgil repeated.

Father and son were seated within their home, trying to fix the quandary that came between them.

"I'm the court's jester, Virgil. We make good dinars doing what I do. I like what I do."

"But everyone laughs and make fun of you." Virgil's features were saddened. "The residents, even a few of my classmates, call you names."

"Ignore them. People are always going to have something to say." Joxer gently touched his son's face. "I'm an entertainer, it's what I do. Making the denizens, nobles, and warriors alike laugh is what my job entails. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Your mother, the gods rest her soul, used to always enjoy watching me entertain. It made her happy, although she'd overheard many of insults directed at my profession, she remained proud of me."

"Mother is gone, father. I don't like what others are saying about you, and because of that I'm never going to any of your entertainments again." Virgil pronounced with finality, moving from his father's encouraging touch. "I have a class to get to. At least ponder on it."

The thirteen-year-old arose from the couch and opened the door, nearly colliding into the person who was about to knock.

"Virgil."

"Hey, Ri." He gushed, giving her a hug.

"Is your father available?"

"Yes, come in." Virgil offered whilst their attachment ended.

"Ri-Ri." Joxer greeted, walking over to them.

"Hello." She requited, strolling inside.

"I have to get going. Will you be here when I return, Ri?" Virgil was hopeful.

"Maybe. I'm pretty much free today now that my study with Master Eramus is over."

"Great. Perhaps you can coerce my father into quitting his shameful job." Virgil trudged out of the apartment.

Ri grew perturbed, querying Joxer, "He's still unhappy about that?"

"Yeah. Howbeit don't concern yourself over it." Joxer hugged the petite woman, then pulled apart and gestured for her to take a seat on the soft furniture. "I heard you were busy with the whole going to Athens thing. What brings you by?"

"I wanted to visit you, and yes, I've kept myself immersed in studies to be ready for my new teacher." She became serious, sitting down. "If I'm not holding you up from anything, I would like to chat."

"Please, not if it's anent to Virgil's misgivings." Joxer sat as well. "Can you believe he wants me to sign up for soldier training? What am I gonna do in the Conqueror's army?"

Ri was shocked into merriment. "Virgil wants you to become a warrior? Wow, he's intent on having you stop being a jester."

"He imparted that individuals in the castle are calling me unpleasant names. I told Virgil to ignore them, but I suppose they're getting to him."

"He's young and doesn't want anybody disrespecting his father. It's merely so much he can turn his ear from." Ri asserted.

"I know, and I'm assured he's hearing the same derogatory comments his mother, Meg, would catch people spewing when I was the jester at the Athenian castle, before transferring here after the Conqueror razed all of Athens to the ground. After she had apprised me of how some were insulting me with words like imbecile, idiot, moron, buffoon, and other phrases to enounce I'm a dimwit, I was going to stop immediately. Nonetheless, she sternly averred to me that I'm a hilarious entertainer, but most of all, I make her laugh, and everyone's not gonna respect who I really am like she does." Joxer explained, preceding his sullen visage. "I miss her."

Ri seized Joxer's hand, proffering comfort.

"Meg resembled our Lord of the Realm. With the exception of their voices and height, she had the same blue eyes, plus long, ebony hair. She dyed her tresses purple while in Athens, and cut it shorter so nobody would confuse her for the Conqueror, 'cause she was an enemy of the city throughout the Peloponnese Purge. My wife predicated that it was only fair to look as wacky as her Jester-husband acted." His tonality had gotten increasingly somber, "During our travel to Corinth, she caught a chill and became grievously ill... She died before we arrived here at the castle. It was hard on us, particularly Virgil. Now, this obloquy from people is happening all over again and my son has to listen to such nonsense."

"Speak with him, Joxer. Let him know how you feel and how his mother felt whilst she was alive."

"If I do that and Virgil still persist on me resigning, what am I supposed to do?" Joxer urged. "Quit?"

"No," Ri replied. "A compromise has to be reached somehow."

"He thinks if I become a swordsman, it'll show I deserve esteem."

"So do it." The storyteller acceded.

"Huh?" He became mystified.

"There's the settlement." Ri grinned. "You continue on being a jester, and in the duration of your free Cronus, get some sword practice."

"I can't join an army." Joxer frowned.

"You don't have to. Showing initiative with soldier training will go a long way with Virgil. He'll see you are trying and should appreciate that." Ri hoped.

"Oh, Ri-Ri, you have possibly solved my problem." Joxer beamed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She squeezed his hand, letting it go afterward. "You have a lot to ruminate on, I'll bother you with my situation another day."

"No. That's foolery and I thought I was the Fool." He tried lightening the mood. "You helped me, allow me to assist you."

"Okay, but my divulgence cannot be spoken to anyone else."

"You know you can trust me." Joxer professed.

"I'm certain of that." Ri drew in a deep breath, clutching the glimmering adornment which rested around her neck. "This jewelry was given to me by Milady, our Lord. She presented it to me in Minerva's temple, prior to leaving on progress. It symbolizes a promise; an avowal that she will visit me in Athens."

"The Conqueror will be traveling there to see you?" Joxer was astounded.

Ri nodded her consent to his question. "She plans to make visitations at the Academy."

"The Academy of Performing Bards!" He exclaimed. "I presumed you were going to Athens to be tutored by Aristotle."

"My apologies, Joxer." Ri voiced, admitting, "In all the excitement of this moon, I've forgotten my original purpose for journeying there in the first place."

"That's amazing, Ri-Ri."

"Um, there's more..." Appearing pensive, the former Handmaiden cogitated on how the jester would take her forthcoming admission. "Also, we, uh...we osculated in the sanctuary."

"What?" Joxer became flummoxed again. "What's that?"

"We kissed." She chose to expound further, "Milady intends to court me once she returns, but the Chancellor doesn't think so. He has the inclination to believe I'd imagined our affair and commanded my silence on the matter. I'd begun to accept that, albeit after conversing with him yesterday, I feel he purely demanded it because of Prince Lyceus."

"Why would he do that?"

"I can't fathom the Chancellor's intentions fully. Withal the Prince evinced that he is in love with me."

"Romantically?" Joxer's dark pupils had widened while Ri gave a concurring nod, hence his joke, "Seems you got sibling troubles."

"There is no room for your expertise in foolish notions." Ri swatted his arm playfully, pertaining a woeful tone, "I don't know what to do, Joxer."

"Does the Conqueror love you as Prince Lyceus do?" He prompted.

"She shows it, but never verbally disclosed it to me. I love her, though, and...I feel Milady does, too."

"That's all that should matter, Ri-Ri." Joxer smiled. "If you feel, in your heart, a strong bond for the Conqueror, then, by all means, it's there, and, perchance, the Lord of the Realm feels it as well. She did bestow a magnificent necklace for you to adorn."

"The jade jewel glows, too." Ri blurted without deliberation. "Well, it did once following a dream I had that felt real."

"What dream?"

"You've helped me enough. Let's get some food and talk about other interesting topics." Ri began to stand, just for Joxer to gently tug her back down on the couch.

"Uh-uh. Tell me about this dream." The Jester insisted.

"You're going to think I'm weird."

"Try me."

Sighing, Ri summoned the courage to explicate everything like she planned, "It occurred the first night I donned the necklace. I'd dreamt Milady was on the deck of a ship fighting these people who looked like Akemi."

"The Conqueror was beating up multiple chambermaids?" Joxer questioned.

"No." Ri giggled, rephrasing, "She was battling male warriors who had the same ancestry as Akemi. The difference was, Milady resembled a younger version of herself."

"Ohh... Yea, I think you're weird." Joxer jived.

Ri chuckled. "Let me finish. When she defeated all of them, another combatant, whose identity was concealed by a helmet and clad in blue armor, unsheathed a metal pole off of his back to assault her. Thus, Milady equipped herself with a circular weapon, before they charged at each other."

Joxer was getting into the story. "What did she do to him?"

"I'm not sure. The scene changed and I was in this spacious room with an assortment of weapons. My hair was cropped short and I wore a sky blue robe, pointing a curved sword at an auburn-haired female, who withdrew hers. Thereafter, the scene altered again."

"Come on, Ri-Ri," Joxer complained. "You can't get me immersed into your tale and leave me hanging when it gets to the good parts."

"I'm telling you exactly how it took place in my dreams." Ri proclaimed, becoming sardonic. "Shall I continue or not?"

"You can keep going." He acquiesced, hoping she wouldn't cut out any more exciting aspects.

"The fourth scenario revealed me and Milady in the room with the various weapons. She still appeared young whilst holding out her hand as if she wanted something from me. I got up quickly and threw that same disc-shaped weaponry she had wielded against the blue-armored warrior. She'd managed to duck under it, only for me to commence attacking her with these pronged daggers in both my hands. It ended with her shoving me onto the wall. Then...then..."

"Theeen?" Joxer probed in anticipation, wanting to hear more.

"We...made love." Ri recalled the passionate sequence with vividness.

Joxer swallowed hard. "Love... Like, 'love'? Actual..."

"Yes, sex." Ri informed him.

"Well, was it...amazing?"

"It had the illustration of looking that way." Ri's eyes landed on Joxer's attentively. "But I don't think it was me."

The Jester laughed. "Of course it wasn't. You were dreaming."

"It was more than that. I can't describe my cognition wholly, notwithstanding, I'm positive it was real, and the towhead I'd dreamt wasn't me."

"Once you awoke, is that when the jade glowed?" Joxer quizzed.

"Briefly," Ri answered. "It stopped, and so far, it hasn't ever glowed again."

"Hmm. Have you had any dreams like that before or after?"

"Not that I have a recollection of."

"Wouldn't it be hilarious if the necklace caused you to have that dream and it truly was a vision or something?" He asked humorously.

Ri started tittering. "Putting it that way, declaring my dream is grounded in reality does sound ridiculous."

"That's my point, Ri-Ri." Joxer emitted. "It was just a dream, nothing more. There are explanations for why your pendant glowed. The morning rays of Helios probably reflected off of the gemstone. Or you were so groggy, your eyes made its own depiction of it seemingly glowing."

"Plausibly...it's all in my head." Ri dwelled on Joxer's proclamation, concluding, "You're right. It was solely a dream that I became obsessed over."

"Yup." The Jester's agreement preluded his licentious query, "So...did the sex part last for a while?"

"I'm not exposing anymore." Ri blushed.

"That's not fair. I listened to you drop all the action and now you deny me a simple request?" Joxer fretted.

"Okay." Ri yielded. "I'll tell you something."

"Thanks, Ri-Ri." He said and got comfortable.

"Milady twirled her long, hard, shiny blade twice, and clipped the first guy who fought her." Ri teased. "The second challenger became disarmed when she deflected his sword and swirled their adjoined blades together. Thereupon, she performed a jump kick, knocking him down. The third man got kicked in his head by our powerful Lord, but managed not to fall. So, she smacked him on the rear with the flat of her sword, preceding striking him with a fist. She hit the guy with such force, he wounded up twisting off of his feet in midair and landed on the floorboards with a thud. Milady had a radiant smile, causing all of the other warriors to rush her as one, just for them to be vanquished also."

Joxer applauded. "That's not the scenery I was going for, but it'll do."

"Thank you." Ri began to redden. "Maybe I will share my more erotic story with you after Milady and I tie the knot."

Joxer espied the emotion in Ri's optics. "You really love her, huh?"

"Yes, I do. I have for a long Cronus now, and can't picture my life without her." Ri closed her greenish-blue orbs, confessing, "Milady's everything to me, and it's not 'cause of who she is and what she's accomplished. It's her essence that many, if not anyone, can see, other than myself. Milady can be so stoic around people, but whilst she's with me, she is beyond being the Ruler of a Grecian Empire. She is greater than the Realm itself."

The Jester keenly listened to the aspiring bard express herself.

"Our Lord is the life that breathes into me and creates a fire, which burns for her love. If she takes me... When we make love, I will give her all of me, until we're both consumed with nothing, except one another. My savior is the spark driving me, ergo after I see her again, I'm going to make sure she knows." Done with the poetic monologue, and upon opening her irises, Ri saw the misty-eyed Jester.

"That was beautiful, Ri-Ri. That's how I felt about my wife." He cried.

The strawberry-blonde moved closer, gathering Joxer in her arms, allowing him to weep for the woman he'd loved and had to let go. Ri counted herself lucky she had someone who made her swell with loving affection, and wasn't going to let anybody take it away from her. Numerous candle-drips had passed, nevertheless, the storyteller and Jester stayed on the couch in an embrace till Virgil traipsed into the apartment, returning from his class.

"Whoa." The teenager was taken aback at the sight of the two adults, noting the dried tear streaks on his father's cheeks. "I'm aware you like being a Fool, but I didn't think you'd cry over it."

"Don't tell him the true purpose for why I was crying." The dark-haired man whispered to his friend.

"Telling Virgil that, what kind of monster would I be?" She retorted.

Thereon, Ri and Joxer descried each other, laughing once more with smiles.

To Be Continued...