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One Night With The Sultan

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AN: I promised myself I would write this story three years ago. I could never get a good plot down, but I have one, finally. I am having writer's block on my other story, so until then I will focus on this because it has a much bigger story line.

Enjoy, good luck and of course, be ready for a very interesting alternate story ;)

One Night With the Sultan

On a hot summer day in the holy city, Jerusalem, citizens from all walks of life lived as one under the rule of their new Sultan, Xenophon. The citizens spread rumors of the sultan and say that under his mask he is the most hideous, although his piercing blue eyes say otherwise. Children tell tales of the people who see the sultan and never come out of that enormous palace alive. Once you're in, you can never get out.

The previous sultan of the empire mysteriously disappeared and the people of Jerusalem doubted it was the holy Crusaders that set foot upon this land. They all knew that the new sultan disposed of him. Under the new rule of the sultan in recent years, life for the citizens of Jerusalem, Aleppo, Persepolis, Susa and others alike, were struggling. Food was scarce due to a massive drought and the sultan was more than unwilling to help them.

Xenophon was a mysterious sultan. He was never seen in public and if he was, he wore a veil shielding his face. His attire all black and hands donned with leather gloves. The people of Persia began to wonder if the sultan was even a real person and he sent out a double in disguise to fool them all. Lord only knows.

Criminals were sent to the palace immediately to face their crimes before the sultan. If these criminals were able to be set free, they told horror stories about meeting the sultan face to face. The piercing eyes of the sultan bore right into your soul, as if he were to rip it out. Though, the ruler was very lenient with the punishments these criminals received, unless it was a murder or rape charge. Those people were sent to death or lashed until their backs bled for weeks. They would forever be shamed by the citizens, per the sultan's request. Public humiliation was Xenophon's ultimate goal.

The Persian lands had been conquered several times and there had been many sultans. The last sultan was an honest man, though he was cruel to his people and kept all the empire's wealth to himself. The new sultan, traveling all the way from Greece, decided to overthrow him. Usually, the citizens knew quite a lot about their ruler, but Xenophon was full of secrets. He never allowed anyone to know his business or even allow anyone to see his face.

In one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem, boys carried buckets of water while the young girls carried baskets of fruit or bread over their heads. The group of children laughed with one another, playing jokes and the girls threw fruits at the annoying boys.

The children walked through the large street, pushing through the crowd of people and heard an extremely loud horn sounded at the gates. The boys dropped their buckets of water and lifted their heads slowly, gawking at the men dressed in all black, mounted on their huge horses.

The girls' jaws dropped and Sultan Xenophon narrowed his eyebrows, glaring down at the children. They all stared into his blue eyes, the only visible thing to the eye.

"Sultan Xenophon!" elite guard, Dajan spoke loudly and the crowd lifted their eyes and immediately cleared a path for the sultan and his guards to trot through the street.

Xenophon smirked at the children and trotted past them slowly, glancing at the citizens fearful eyes. He lead the way with Dajan following beside him. He frowned, looking at all the poor women and even some children, huddled in the streets together. He hadn't stepped outside the grand palace in so long and almost never came into the city unless he proclaimed war against opposing empires.

"Why are there so many impoverished people?" Xenophon asked, adjusting the black veil around his face.

Dajan frowned, glaring at the people gawking up at the military men in awe. "The previous sultan left his people with nothing, your highness."

Xenophon hummed lightly and then saw a few men grab a young girl, barely even sixteen, by her hair and drag her out of the fruit stand. His eyebrows creased and hopped off the horse, unsheathing the large scimitar.

"Your majesty!" Dajan gasped and hopped off the horse, following his master.

The fearless sultan stormed up to the men and pointed the sword at their faces. "Let her go," he warned. The men immediately dropped the woman and began backing away, fear instilled in their dark eyes.

"Why are you handling this girl like a piece of meat?" he asked, lifting his chin, towering over the men.

"She –she was stealing fruit, your highness!" one of the scrawny men of the bunch said.

The sultan lowered his sword and looked down at the frightened, sobbing girl. He then glanced over at the fruit stand and was outraged at the prices. "You charge seven dinars for one apple?"

The fruit merchant nervously smiled and clasped his hands together. "Your highness, we need money too. There is no income coming through this city. The Greek trades have stopped coming to Jerusalem."

The sultan frowned and sheathed his sword. He grabbed the girl by the arm and she squealed, avoiding the blue eyes of the sultan. He pulled out a small pouch of several dinars and threw it at the fruit merchant.

"That is enough to buy your entire fruit stand," he said and drug the girl off. The young maiden tried to pull away, fearful that she was going to be tried as a criminal and receive a harsh punishment.

"Please!" the girl begged and dropped to her knees. The sultan raised an eyebrow and saw the girl prostrating on her knees, asking for forgiveness. "I won't steal again, I promise!" she sobbed under her breath.

Xenophon rolled his eyes and lifted the girl up off the sandy ground. "You are coming with me," he handed the girl over to Dajan and mounted the horse. "Take her to the palace." He kicked the horse and rode off with the elite guards following quickly behind him.

Dajan looked at the girl and she was so thin, so filthy. Why in god's name would the sultan want a girl like this, he wondered? He grabbed the girl. "Come on," he gruffly said and the young girl sobbed then tried resisting. "You best not resist, girl!" he warned and threw her over his horse, scaring her half to death.

Xenophon stormed through the palace's doors and the guards inside immediately straightened themselves. He walked through the large corridor and handed his weapons to the nearest servant girl. Dajan brought in the poor girl, holding onto her arm so she wouldn't dare run away.

The sultan turned, placing his hands on his hips, cocking his head, staring at the girl. "You will stay here and work for me," he said.

"Please don't kill me!" the girl begged for mercy.

Xenophon rolled his eyes and grabbed the girl's cheeks, pinching them together. They were inches from each other's faces. "You need a lot of work," he hissed and the girl's eyes grew with fear. The sultan then circled around the young girl, touching her waist with his gloved hands and then her long dark hair. "And you smell like a pigsty." He crinkled his nose.

He sighed heavily and walked off, waving his hand dismissively to Dajan, "send her to the baths, Dajan. I will deal with her later."

The sultan entered his private quarters and slipped off the leather black gloves. He cracked his fingers and sighed heavily. Xenophon then unclipped the veil off his face and took off the turban. Long dark hair tumbled down his back.

Xenophon then took off the heavy black outer coat and leaned over a water basin, washing the sand imbedded in his cheeks. He wiped off his face and looked into the mirror, frowning.

A knock came to the door and Xenophon's heart stopped. "Who is it?"

"Kara, your highness!" the maid said and then opened the door. She smiled seeing the sultan finally undressed. She lay out a black abaya and jeweled khussas on the sultan's bed. "Is there anything else I can get you, mistress?" she asked in a soft voice.

The sultan looked to the young girl. "No thank you, this is fine. Tell Dajan to come to my quarters."

Kara nodded, "of course." She bowed her head then quickly left the room.

Dajan entered the sultan's room and saw he was no longer a sultan, but a sultana. He bowed his head and saw her long hair down her back, now dressed in a black form fitting abaya, brushing her long locks. He cleared his throat and she eyed him. He was not able to read her face.

"Xena, why have you brought me here?"

Xena set the brush down and looked at herself in the mirror, running her fingernails through her hair. "The women here are treated badly," she stated and Dajan remained silent. "Don't you agree?"

The military man smiled weakly, "well, Xena, the previous sultan did not care for his people. It is a hard adjustment having a new sultan in the empire."

She frowned and turned in her chair, as the abaya slipped and showed a good amount of her upper thigh. Dajan avoided her legs and looked to the far wall. "And what is this Greeks not trading with us anymore? I own Greece!" she growled.

He nodded. "Of course you do, but there has been a few problems with the Greeks and Romans, Xena."

"Such as?" she asked, crossing one leg over the other as she leaned back in the chair.

"The Holy Roman Empire does not wish to trade with Persia or Greece anymore. They believe you are the enemy." He said and finally looked at her and her face was not happy at all.

Xena pursed her lips and she tapped her fingers on her knee. "Is that so?" she smirked. "Well, we'll just have to change that." She stood and walked over to her bed, grabbing her book that she read during her spare time, too much spare time, she thought.

"I want to help these poor people. I want you to send out a team to find all the poor young girls in the streets of Persia and Greece and bring them to me." She said and sat down on her large bed with her book in her lap.

Dajan's jaw dropped. "But Xena, that will be a lot of in the palace. Are you sure –"

"Are you questioning me, Dajan?" she smiled sneakily and he shook his head. "Good. Round up as many girls as you can. I will be waiting." She lay down on the pillows and opened her book. She saw the man still standing by the door and frowned. "What are you waiting for, an invitation?!"

He bowed his head and hastily exited the room. She groaned and snuggled down in the pillows, reading the book quietly to herself. "Stupid man," she murmured.

Thebes, one of the largest cities in Greece, and also home to Emperor Xenophon's main base. The city was thriving due to the emperor's hard work over the last ten years. Xenophon was renowned as being a harsh ruler, but was able to give the people what they wanted within means of course.

Gabrielle, a simple farmer's daughter from Potidaea, decided to leave her home with her friend, Lucia. The two were the best of friends and although they were from different villages, they managed to see each other several times a week throughout the year. Gabrielle desired to become a better person in the last year since she left home.

She told her parents that she was going to study in Athens, but she had no real desire to study in Athens. Thebes was where all the warriors were, minus Corinth, which held the largest military base in Greece.

Lucia was reluctant about traveling to Thebes with Gabrielle, but she couldn't let her best friend leave home alone. She too was curious about the rest of Greece and over the last year, the two saw some pretty strange yet interesting things.

Outside a small shop, Lucia waited for Gabrielle to finish her shopping. she groaned and tapped her foot rapidly. "Gabrielle, we've been here for hours! Are you finished yet?!"

The blonde farmer's daughter stepped out in a new outfit and Lucia's eyes bugged out of her head. "What do you think?" Gabrielle smiled.

Lucia shook her head and touched her curly red locks. "Gabrielle, you cannot wear that!" she exclaimed. The blonde admired herself in the mirror, loving the new attire. Lucia couldn't stop staring at the pants Gabrielle wore and a short crop top, exposing her midsection. "People are going to think we are harlots."

"You're overreacting," Gabrielle rolled her eyes and grabbed her friend's hand, skipping off outside the market square. "Where should we go first?!"

"How 'bout going back to get your old clothes?" Lucia offered as she was being pulled along by her rambunctious blonde friend.

Gabrielle sighed and looked into her friend's concerned eyes. "Lucia, we are in Thebes. We can wear whatever we want here. Life is different here!"

Lucia frowned, folding her arms, scanning Gabrielle's new 'look'. "Yeah...right," she mocked, rolling her eyes. "We don't belong here, Gabrielle. This city is full of warriors. We're farmer's daughters!"

The blonde groaned and walked off without her friend. "Potidaea is boring, Lucia. Thebes is really exciting! There are so many people here from all walks of life!"

She kept walking and spotted a horde of men in black, some on horseback and some not. Lucia caught up to her and grabbed her shoulder. "Does that include Persians too?" the redhead whispered.

"Haven't you heard, Lucia? The emperor of Greece moved to Persia. I wonder why his thugs are here," she frowned and walked towards the horde of Persian soldiers.

"Gabrielle!" Lucia hissed. "What are you doing?!" she panicked and followed her friend. "Gabrielle you can't just walk up to the emperor's soldiers. Who knows what they might do to you?" she drug Gabrielle off, out of sight from the Persians.

The blonde grunted and crouched down behind a tree with Lucia cowardly seated behind her. She saw the Persians rounding up young girls and putting them in a large wagon, a wagon with...bars? what is this? The roundup of prisoners? She saw some of the girls were resisting and fighting back, but the Persians tried their best not to hurt the young women and push them into the wagon one by one.

"We have to do something! They're taking those girls away!" Gabrielle gasped.

Lucia shook her head and held onto her friend's arm. "Gabrielle, no! this is none of our business!"

Gabrielle pulled away and stood, glaring at the Persians. "The emperor is probably preparing a large harem so he can marry all of those girls." She had an awful taste in her mouth. She then ran forward and Lucia hissed, trying to call her back.

"Hey!" Gabrielle yelled and the Persians turned their heads.

"Oh another one," one soldier muttered and approached the young blonde with a smile. "You are coming with us," he tried grabbing her arm and she snatched it away. "Don't be difficult, girl!" he warned.

Gabrielle stepped away and three other Persians surrounded her. Clad in their black armor and turbans they were definitely a scary sight. "Where are you taking those girls?!"

"To the Sultan," another soldier spoke up. "He requests many impoverished girls to come to his palace." He extended his hand. "Now, come with us before we have to hurt you."

"Are you insane?!" Gabrielle spat. "That awful emperor Xenophon is probably going to use those girls for sex slaves. How could you do this?"

The Persians eyed one another and then crowded around Gabrielle, towering over her. She smiled nervously at them all and began backing up slowly until she bumped into one soldier. Lifting her eyes she saw the Persian soldier glaring down at her with his big dark almond eyes.

"You know what, I think I should mind my own business..." Gabrielle chuckled anxiously and turned around to leave but she was blocked by a circle of Persians.

"Grab her!" one soldier said.

The soldiers grabbed Gabrielle's arms and began dragging her to the wagon, already filled with many other girls. Lucia gasped and hid behind a tree. The look on her friend's face was anger and fear all in one. She didn't want to let her friend be taken from her, but at the same time, she didn't want to be put in the same position either.

They threw Gabrielle into the wagon and closed the door. She grabbed the bars, pressing her body against the cage. "You are all disgusting!" she spat and the Persians smiled at her then mounted their horses. She eyed Lucia and frowned sadly. You did nothing, she thought.

The wagon jerked forward as they began riding away. Gabrielle stared off at Lucia, wondering where she was going and why. She hoped she wasn't going to be the emperor's wife. She grunted and sat down beside the rest of the young women. She bumped shoulders with another girl and smiled nervously.

"Do you know where we're going?" Gabrielle shyly asked.

The woman's head hung, "to Jerusalem where the Sultan lives."

"Xenophon, right?" she asked and the girl nodded. "What a sick man," she wagged her head.

Xena impatiently sat inside her private office, listening to these men spout off about the political alliance between Anatolia and the Holy Roman Empire. She tapped her gloved fingers on the armrest, trying to keep herself focused, but this man just kept talking and talking.

"That's enough," she raised her hand the talkative man bowed his head and stepped away. She groaned and turned to Dajan, adjusting the veil around her face. "Why is Anatolia allying with the Romans? I have given them everything."

Dajan nodded, "well, the Romans fear that the Mongolians will invade so they want Anatolia on their side."

Xena scoffed, "Mongolians," she mumbled. "They will never reach beyond the Russian Steppes, Dajan." With a wave of her hand she dismissed the man. "Next issue."

"But your highness, I think we should be aware of the Mongolians. They have already taken over China, specifically the Song and Lao kingdoms." He whispered and Xena rolled her eyes.

"I said, next issue," she said bluntly and wagged her fingers to the next man in line.

The man took off his turban and bowed, kneeling in front of the sultan. "Your highness," he began and Xena lifted her chin. He eyed her big blue eyes and tried to see beneath her veil and she leaned forward dangerously close to the petrified man.

"Yesss?" she hissed.

He averted his gaze to the floor, finding that more interesting. "I have received word that Anatolia and Hungary are working with the Romans and refuse to pay taxes to you..."

Xena balled up her fists and stood from her chair. All the men in the room took a generous step backward. "First the Greeks do not want to trade with me, and now this! I own Greece, they cannot stop trade with me. I am Greece!" she growled and sat back down in the chair, slumping down, resting her cheek against her leather gloved hand.

"I want to speak to Osman," she demanded and the man stepped away from her, taking his spot back in the line of councilmen.

Dajan nodded and took note of that. "I will write a letter to him and make sure it gets to Anatolia."

"No. I want him brought to me," she said and Dajan's eyes widened and he let out a large sigh then wrote that down on his notepad.

Kara, Xena's maid, came into the office and all eyes went to her. She lowered her gaze and wrapped her veil around her face and quickly approached Xena. "Forgive me," she apologized for interrupting and whispered into Xena's ear.

Xena tapped her fingers on the armrest then stood. "Council meeting is over," she said and walked off with Kara following behind her.

Dajan gasped and chased after her. "Sultan, we have not even discussed anything about the taxes the Romans have tried to put on Hungary and Anatolia!"

Xena spun around and narrowed her eyes at the man. "Let me worry about that," she said in a hushed tone. "You have other things to worry about. Where are my girls?" her eyebrow rose.

"They will be here soon. Your men are traveling from Thebes as we speak." He said and she nodded then sauntered off with Kara.

As soon as Xena was in her quarters she ripped off the veil from her face and turban off her head. She slipped off her leather gloves and threw them aside on the table. Kara took unveiled her hair then smiled at the sultana.

Kara hastily went to an adjoining room and Xena ruffled her long hair, staring at herself in the mirror, she took off the black shawl around her shoulders.

"Mistress," Kara cleared her throat and Xena turned around with a big smile.

She knelt down with her arms held out in front of her. The little brunette boy came running towards her and crashed into her. Xena smiled and hugged her son.

"Did you have a good time in Anatolia?" Xena asked and her son smiled widely, nodding his head.

"I brought you something," her son pulled out a gold necklace with an onyx jewel and Xena grinned.

She took the necklace. "Thank you, Alexander."

Alexander frowned, widening his big brown doe eyes. "Aren't you going to put it on?" he asked with a sad frown.

Xena unclasped the necklace and put her around her neck then saw her son's eyes light up. She grabbed her son's hand and picked him up, hoisting him on the bed. She knelt down in front of her son, eyeing him curiously.

"I thought your brother was supposed to come with you..." she slyly hinted. She hadn't seen either one of her sons in a year and was hoping to see both of them at once, but was only sent one son.

Alexander sighed heavily, "he told me to tell you that he doesn't want to come see you anymore."

Xena felt a stab in her heart and she frowned sadly. She grabbed her small son's hands and looked into his big brown eyes. "Really?" she asked and he nodded. "Did he say why?"

Her son shook his head and gave a big shrug. She decided not to let that spoil her mood, no matter how much it hurt her to hear that. She smiled and went to her table and picked up a box. "I have something for you too," she said and sat beside him on the bed. "I'm sorry I missed your birthday."

Alexander's eyes widened and he held the big box in his lap. "It's okay, Solan and Belach gave me presents."

Xena frowned as soon as she heard her son mention Belach's name. Her stepson was a really bad influence on Solan and she hoped that Alexander wouldn't succumb to that boy's devious ways when he gets older. Solan and Belach were only three years apart and the two apparently got along very well according to Alexander the last time he visited her.

He opened the box and pulled out a black and burgundy turban. He excitedly placed the turban on his head and it drooped down to his eyes. Xena smirked and lifted the turban above his eyes and adjusted it on his head properly.

"How do I look?" he asked, standing up, looking at himself in the mirror.

"Very handsome," she concluded and he grinned proudly then sat beside his mother again. She wrapped her arm around his small body, bringing him close to her. "So, what have Solan and Belach been doing in Anatolia?"

He groaned, "mother, I don't want to talk about it!" the seven year old hopped off the bed.

She sighed and watched him go through her belongings on the table, picking up her veil and turban. She didn't exactly know why she really didn't like Belach. Borias' wife, Natassa, had Belach three years before Solan was born and the two women never got along. She hadn't seen Borias in many years and although they had two sons together, she opted to have their sons spend time with him for half the year and she would get them the other half.

Lately though, her sons were staying longer in Anatolia than she wanted and apparently Solan didn't want to come to see her at all. She hadn't seen him in over a year, longer than when Alexander came to visit.

She just couldn't help herself and went ahead and asked her son. "Is Solan spending a lot of time with...Belach?" she pried.

Alexander turned around and folded his arms. "I said, I don't want to talk about it." he narrowed his dark eyes and she nodded slowly and smiled weakly.

"Alright," she said, changing the subject. "What do you want to do today?" she smiled.

Alexander lightened his mood and grabbed his mother's hand. "Can we go to the beach?"

Xena frowned. "No."

"Why not?" he pouted. "We went last time."

She shook her head. "I can't leave the palace right now, Alexander. Maybe we can go another time," she said and took off his turban setting it on the table then ruffled his dark hair.

"Okay, what 'bout riding instead?" he hoped and saw the frown on his mother's face. "Come on!"

"How about this," she bent down, staring into his dark eyes. "We stay inside and play a game."

Alexander pursed his lips. "That doesn't sound very exciting."

She smiled and grabbed his shoulders and began pushing him towards the other section of her large quarters. "It'll be fun."

"That's what you said last time," he grumbled.

Seven Years Ago

Xena's reign as emperor in Greece was short lived after she found out she was pregnant again. She stayed inside her palace in Thebes throughout most of her pregnancy. She didn't want to let anyone see her and discover that she was in fact a woman.

The Holy Roman Empire would never allow a woman to be an empress of an entire nation and neither would Anatolia, Persia or any other territory or country for that matter. She had worked very hard to remain seen as a male emperor in the public eye. She did most of her work inside the palace and would return to the public once her child was born. She could be more open with everyone.

It was definitely tricky to be known as an emperor and she constantly had to hide her face, as most men in her life have already seen her, including Borias, though he already knew of her plans. He chose not to say a word to anyone about it within the clan. Currently, he was in Persia, facing the wrath of the Sultan in charge there.

She worked day and night in her bedroom, going over documents and signing paper after paper. It had been almost a year since she had been in the field with her army. She was growing bored spending every day in her fortress looking over documents.

On a stormy night, she sat on her bed, tapping her pen against her lips as she went over the documents Raphael, her Grecian advisor at the time, gave her. They were delivered this morning from the Roman Pope. He wanted to tax her land because he did not want her to keep expanding the empire. Already, she had control over all of Greece, including Anatolia and her next goal was Persia.

Her door creaked open and she lifted her eyes and saw Solan enter the room. He waited by the door and she sighed. "What is it?" she asked.

The little blonde boy quirked his mouth to the side. "Can I come in?" he asked in a meek voice.

Xena raised her eyebrow then pushed aside some of the papers and nodded her head. He grinned widely and closed the door behind him then jumped onto the bed. He crawled over and lay down beside her. She tried to remain focused on the papers somewhat. She had barely made a dent in the stack and it was already well into the night by now.

"Why are you awake?" she asked and thunder roared across the sky. She saw the curtains swaying in the wind and rain pouring into her bedroom. She frowned and got up to close the large window and locked it.

When she turned around she saw Solan hunkered down in her pillows and she smirked. "It's just a storm, Solan." She walked over and carefully sat back down on the bed, crossing her legs. She frowned just looking at the stack of papers that seemed endless.

"That's a lot of papers," Solan mused.

Xena smiled and ruffled his short blonde hair. She then picked up a paper and read through it carefully in silence. She heard Solan sigh loudly and then he fidgeted with the blankets, making a lot of noise. She lifted her eyes, trying to ignore him. He then began looking through the papers.

"Solan!" she yelled and he immediately snatched his hand away from her work in fear. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just...don't touch anything, alright?"

A few minutes later a knock came to her door and she groaned. "God...what is it?" she asked and the door opened and a large frown appeared on her lips. "What do you want Osman?"

The Turcman stepped inside and smiled at her blonde son. The man was in charge of the clan in Persia and was one of Borias' very good friends. She really didn't like him nor trust him. "Could I speak to you alone?" he requested.

Xena turned to her son and pat his cheek. "You can come back in when I'm finished," she said and he nodded then quickly ran off and out of the room. She folded her arms and looked to Osman. "What?"

He stepped closer to her bed but kept his distance. "Borias wanted me to tell you that we are leaving for Anatolia very soon." He began and saw her eyes darken. "And that he wishes you well."

"Oh, does he?" Xena gave a tight grin.

Osman nodded and continued, "also, he will send money to you for the baby."

Xena scoffed and rolled her eyes. "I don't want his money, Osman."

"I had a feeling you might say that," he chuckled lightly. "He also wants Solan to come with him to Anatolia."

Her eyes widened and she immediately got off the bed and marched towards him. "No!" she spat in his face and he took a generous step back. "He will stay with me."

"He hasn't seen his son in two years, Xena!" he yelled and she stepped closer to him. He increasingly became more nervous the closer she got.

"I'm not stopping him from coming here now am I?" she hissed with a iniquitous smile. "He can see Solan whenever he wants, but Solan is not going to Anatolia."

Osman sighed and Xena folded her arms defiantly glaring at him. "And what about the other child?" he asked, peering down at her abdomen.

She raised her eyebrow, "will also stay with me," she smiled. She waved her hand, "now if you excuse me, I have a lot of work to do. Why don't you run along and tell Borias the news," she winked and Osman snarled then left the room.

Solan saw Osman leave his mother's room and then he stepped inside, staring at her as she rubbed her forehead anxiously. "I'm going to Anatolia?" he asked with saddened eyes.

Xena looked to her son and knelt down in front of him, cupping his cheeks, staring into his blue eyes. "No, no. You'll stay here with me, I promise." She smiled and kissed his forehead.

Gabrielle fell asleep throughout most of the journey to Persia. It was hard enough traveling in this cramped cage with these other women, but it was even worse on the boat ride over the sea. They were back on land now and were traveling to Jerusalem.

She was jolted awake from the wagon rolling over a rock. She rubbed the back of her head and then her eyes widened when she saw the big tall columns outside, framing the streets. She crawled to the other side of the cage and saw a huge palace at the end of the long street they were on.

Her mouth gaped as soon as she saw the huge palace. She had seen Xenophon's palace before in Thebes, but nobody was allowed near it, except outside the gates. She also never saw the emperor before in real life.

She eyed the Persian horsemen that rode on both sides of the wagon, watching the girls carefully and the road as well. She frowned and leaned back, startling one of the girls.

"Sorry," she whispered and the girl shied away from her. "Have you been here before?" she asked, trying not to bring too much attention to herself.

The brunette shook her head. "Have you?" she whispered back.

Gabrielle shook her head at her as well. "Have you actually seen the emperor?"

The girl nodded, "once yes, when I was in Delphi. He wears a lot of black," her eyebrows creased as she tried to recall seeing the sultan. "And covers his entire face, except his eyes. He also wears gloves."

Gabrielle scoffed, "is he a leper or something?" she joked. The girl didn't seem to get the joke so she quieted down. "My name is Gabrielle." She introduced herself with a warm smile.

The brunette shyly smiled, "Helena," she spoke softly. "I hear that the sultan is very vicious."

"Must be. He obviously wants an entire harem of women to himself," Gabrielle sighed, folding her arms. She couldn't believe she got herself into this mess. She just wanted to live in Thebes, but no. And another thing, Lucia left her there to be captured and did nothing to help her. She would probably never forget that, but she couldn't blame Lucia.

Chapter Text

AN: and now the fun begins ;) enjoy and feedback appreciated!

Chapter 2 –I Will Make a Man out of You

Xena sat at her desk, writing a letter to her elder son, Solan. She couldn't shake the idea that he wouldn't want to see her after being apart for a year now. She knew that Solan, at thirteen now, was more likely to start sword training, especially with Borias' oldest son, Belach. An awful taste in her mouth appeared as she thought of the sixteen year old. She understood that Belach was a child himself, but she really didn't like him and she definitely didn't like him hanging around Solan either.

Alexander came out of the bath, ruffling his damp hair with a towel, he stared at his mother as she was writing furiously. "What are you doing?"

"Writing your brother," she said curtly and dipped the pen in the ink well and kept writing, finishing her last few sentences.

He quirked his mouth and Kara came in with his clothes and set them on Xena's bed. He smiled at the young maid and she disappeared into a separate room. He waltzed over to the bed and cringed at the clothing Kara picked out for him. He tightened the towel around his thin waist and glanced at his mother again.

"Do I really have to wear this?" he picked up a long black robe with pants to match. Xena sighed heavily and kept writing.

"Yes, just put it on," she signed her name at the bottom of the letter then folded it up. She stamped the outside of the letter with a wax seal and looked at her son's distain of the clothes. "What is wrong with the clothes?"

He frowned and held up the black and gold robe with jeweled buttons. "It looks girly..." he threw the robe back onto the bed. "Can't I wear the clothes I came in?" he asked.

Xena smirked and wondered when her son had become such a brat. She walked over to him and picked up the black robe, holding it up to his small frame. "You will look very handsome," she tried to persuade him but it didn't seem to work. "You wore something similar last time, what's wrong with this?"

"I don't want to look like a girl," he folded his thin arms, lifting his chin glaring at his mother. She pushed the robe against his chest.

"You're wearing it," she narrowed her eyes and his mouth opened slightly then he suddenly didn't feel like arguing anymore. He slipped the black robe on and buttoned it from the top to the bottom.

He let his arms hang and the sleeves completely covered his hands and he sighed. She smiled and looked at him. "It's a little big, but I can ask Kara to take up the sleeves."

Alexander grumbled then slipped on the black pants, muttering to himself quietly. He stared at himself in the mirror and frowned deeply. "I still think it looks girly."

She shook her head and then Dajan opened the door slightly. He saw her son in the room and smiled. "Xena, your girls are here," he announced and her eyes lit up. She nodded and dismissed him.

Grabbing her gloves, veil and turban she began dressing herself accordingly. Alexander climbed on top of her tall bed and watched her put the veil across her face and tuck her hair in the black turban. "Why do you dress like that?" he asked innocently.

"A Sultan is a man, Alexander," she smiled and adjusted her black leather gloves on her fingers.

He pursed his lips and folded his arms, the long sleeves draping over his elbows. "Why can't you be a sultana instead?"

Xena smiled and touched his cheek softly. "I find myself asking the same thing." She pat his cheek. "Now, don't come out of my quarters. You can only go in the west wing and that's it."

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I know the rules." He grumbled and she nodded, fixing her veil on her face, making sure none of her features were visible but her eyes. "Maybe that's why Solan doesn't come back," he mumbled.

Xena frowned and slowly turned around. He was kicking his feet back and forth as he sat on her bed. "What did you say?"

He lifted his head and saw that look in her eyes and he stuttered, "n–nothing mother," he said with a cheeky grin.

She raised an eyebrow then grabbed her scimitar hanging on the wall and opened the door. "Do not come out of this wing, do you understand?"

"Yes, alright!" he groaned and she sighed then shut the door. He scowled and mocked his mother, "don't go outside, don't go riding, don't come out of this room, blah, blah, blah". He rolled his eyes then glanced over at his mother's armor hanging on the far wall. His eyebrow rose and smiled. He hopped off the bed and approached the armor.

He saw the large sword hanging on the wall and jumped up, trying to reach it. He huffed then looked around the room for a stool or chair. He eyed his mother's large chair at her desk then ran over behind her desk. He tried to push the large chair and grunted, using all of his weight to push the chair.

He kept pushing the chair and then finally it moved only but an inch. "This isn't going to work," he muttered then spotted another chair near her vanity set. He smiled sneakily then grabbed the lightweight chair and pushed it towards the wall with the hanging armor.

Once he had the chair where he wanted it, he hopped onto the chair and grabbed the heavy sword off the wall. He nearly toppled over on the chair, carrying the heavy sword. He faltered and then grabbed hold of the chair and let out an impish laugh. He hopped off the chair and held the heavy sword with his weak wrists.

He squinted one of his eyes and swung the sword around, pretending to sword fight. He had seen his elder brother and half-brother do this a million times. Smiling, he swung the sword around and then the long blade smashed into his mother's armor.

Alexander's eyes widened and he saw the silver breast plate fall on the ground and then her helmet as well. "Oh no, no, no!" he panicked and then the entire case of armor fell onto the floor, nearly crushing him.

He hit the ground and covered the back of his head with his hands. He lifted his head and coughed from the large dust cloud surrounding him. He slowly turned around and saw his mother's armor scattered all over the floor.

"I'm so dead."

All of the girls rounded up from various cities in Greece and Persia were brought outside behind the palace in a large garden of some sort. Gabrielle and Helena decided to stick together and they clung close to one another as they stepped outside with the rest of the girls.

Gabrielle blinked at the bright sunlight beaming down on her. She squinted her eyes and saw a person wearing all black, long sleeves, pants, gloves and a face veil.

"Is that the sultan?" she whispered to Helena.

The girl nodded, "yes that's him."

Gabrielle's eyebrow rose and saw the sultan was not only tall, but quite intimidating to look at. "He must be hot in all those clothes," she jested. Helena smiled, trying not to laugh. "Who wears long sleeves in the desert, am I right?" she joked some more and Helena's eyes widened. "Hello?"

"Hello," Xena spoke and Gabrielle jumped back, seeing the sultan towering over her. "And you are?" she leaned forward, coming dangerously close to the young blonde.

Gabrielle's eyes grew as she stared into the sultan's blue eyes. Xena batted her eyelashes, raising her eyebrow. "I am talking to you!" Xena spat.

"Gabrielle," she answered finally and the sultan nodded her head.

"Gabrielle," Xena repeated and took a step back, folding her arms.

The blonde smiled nervously. "You see, I'm here by mistake. I shouldn't be here. I was taken by mistake so could I just leave?" she asked and the sultan narrowed her eyes. "Or maybe not..."

Xena smirked, "you are not leaving, Gabrielle. I am here to help you."

Gabrielle scoffed, "help me? You stole all these girls! What are you going to use them for? Sex slaves?" she presumed.

Xena's eyes widened and she whipped out her sword and swung it around, stopping an inch from Gabrielle's throat. "Do not toy with me, Gabrielle or I will make you a slave if you prefer that line of work?" She suggested and Gabrielle shook her head vehemently. She smiled and pulled the sword away from her throat.

"I didn't think so," the sultan sheathed her sword then walked away from Gabrielle and pulled out a wooden staff from a weapon's rack. "And since you were so kind to volunteer, Gabrielle..." she turned around slowly and motioned her to come stand by her.

The blonde stammered. "But...I didn't..."

"Don't make me come to you," Xena warned and Gabrielle slowly began walking over to her cautiously. She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and thrust her forward and clutched onto her.

Gabrielle held her breath and never felt so scared in her life. She frowned and smelled something on the sultan's dark layered clothing, a floral fragrance and she lifted her eyes, staring at the veil around Sultan Xenophon's face.

Xena put the wooden staff in front of Gabrielle and her eyes traveled downward. She saw the blonde scoping her out and she growled. "Something the matter, Gabrielle?" she hissed.

Slowly, the Greek girl lifted her big green eyes and smiled nervously. "No, of course not."

Xena smiled and pushed the staff in her face. "Good. Take this staff," she demanded and the blonde grabbed hold of the large staff.

She stepped away from her volunteer and spoke out to the frightened girls. "Now, I have brought all of you here to better yourselves," she began and saw the girls staring her with wide fear filled eyes. "I have noticed...that the people in my empire are unhappy and most of them are young girls like yourselves." She clasped her hands together and scanned the crowd of girls.

"Most of you come from poor backgrounds and some even come from...the works of pleasure," she frowned and some of the girls snickered in the back. "And some of you are troublemakers." She turned to Gabrielle, "so my volunteer, Gabrielle, is obviously one of those troubled girls." She grabbed her arm, pulling her to her side.

Gabrielle gasped. "Wait just a minute!" she protested. "I don't belong here!"

"Sure you do," Xena's grip tightened on her arm and Gabrielle winced. "Gabrielle here, will represent all of you!"

The blonde's eyes widened and she looked at Helena, who seemed equally as confused and scared. "I don't think you understand, Xenophon –"

Xena snapped her head around and her leather gloved fingers wrapped around the blonde's arm even tighter. "What did you call me?"

Gabrielle's mouth went slightly ajar and she became speechless. "Your...highness...?" she tried to fix herself and Xena narrowed her eyes, leaning in very close to her face. She could feel the sultan's breath through the thick black veil.

She saw the sultan's eyes squint and her cheeks rise, indicating a smile. Even though Gabrielle couldn't see the sultan's face, she knew that smile was anything but warm.

"Troublemaker, you are," Xena whispered close to Gabrielle's face. She then turned back to the girls and everyone tensed their bodies.

A waft of that floral fragrance passed by Gabrielle's nose again and she raised her eyebrow. She heard the sultan talking to the girls, though she kept examining Xenophon's face, specifically his long nose and high cheekbones and striking eyes. She tried not to seem too obvious and avoided the sultan whenever she turned her head to look at her.

"So, Gabrielle," Xena began and pushed her forward into the center, in between herself and the crowd of girls. "I want you to pick a partner."

Gabrielle turned and eyed the sultan curiously. Xena lowered her eyes and Gabrielle sighed then turned her attention back to the girls. She immediately smiled and chose Helena.

Helena stood by Gabrielle and Xena circled around the slender girls. "I want you to hit your partner with the staff."

Gabrielle's jaw dropped and she whipped her head around, scowling at the sultan. "Excuse me?!"

Xena smiled, "do it," she hissed and grabbed the staff firmly, staring into Gabrielle's eyes. "Unless you want to spar with me instead?" she teased.

"I'm not going to hit her. She is my friend," Gabrielle said and Helena held her breath, wrapping her arms around herself.

Xena growled and snatched the staff from the blonde and wacked the back of Helena's knees, sending her straight into the sand beneath her. All the girls took a step back and didn't understand what was going on at all. Gabrielle frowned deeply and saw Helena cowering on the ground.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Gabrielle ran forward and nearly pushed the sultan down until she was wacked in the arm. She winced and rubbed her arm, glaring up at the sultan.

"And that is why you are here," Xena twirled the staff then handed it back to Gabrielle with a devious smile hidden beneath the dark veil. "I will teach you how to defend yourselves."

"By hitting people?!" Gabrielle spat and Xena walked up to her slowly with her hands behind her back. Oh crap, Gabrielle said to herself and lifted her eyes, staring into the sultan's blue icy eyes.

Xena leaned over the outspoken blonde. "Don't make me your enemy, Gabrielle. You don't want to do that, trust me." She winked and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and leaned backwards as Xena kept coming closer and closer towards her.

The sultan smiled and then walked away from Gabrielle. "That is enough for today. You will be shown to the east wing where you all will stay." She waved her hand and walked through the crowd of girls disappearing into the large palace.

Helena slowly stood from the ground and saw the sultan walking through the palace, her black cape swishing behind her. She rubbed the back of her knees and held onto Gabrielle's shoulder for balance. "You really shouldn't talk to the sultan like that, Gabrielle..." she advised.

"Well, he's insane!" she retorted. "And he smells like flowers..." she raised an eyebrow and then threw the wooden staff aside, helping Helena walk with the rest of the girls as they were being ushered inside the palace.

Later, all the girls were in the east wing, specially for them. They were allowed to use the communal baths down the hall from their rooms. Gabrielle and Helena were sitting on the ledge of a mosaic tiled floor bath, soaking their legs in the hot water.

Gabrielle couldn't help but think that this idea the sultan had was a bit strange. A man wants to train girls how to fight because why? Because he feels bad for them? She frowned, staring into the water and Helena nudged her arm.

"What's wrong, Gabrielle?"

The blonde sighed, "I think we should escape from this place. It's obvious that Xenophon wants to use us for something else. Why would he want to teach us how to fight?" she scratched her head bemusedly.

Helena shrugged her shoulders and waded her feet in the water. "Maybe he just wants to help?"

Gabrielle scoffed. "Yeah right. I don't trust him." She folded her arms and then a few girls stepped into the hot water, soaking their long hair. She rolled her eyes and lifted her legs out of the water and grabbed a towel, drying her legs off.

"Where are you going?" the brunette grabbed her new found friend's hand.

"Away from this place," she scowled at the talkative girls in the bath, laughing together.

She left to go to a large room with many floor beds and already picked out one for herself by the large stained glassed window. She sat down on the mattress and looked up at all the lanterns hanging from the ceiling, creating beautiful candlelit patterns on the walls.

As she sat beside herself she wondered what life would have been like if she just listened to Lucia. Although so far, things weren't so bad. She had a place to sleep and was inside a gorgeous palace. Except getting hit by the sultan, everything was fine, so far.

Helena came to join her and she wrung out her wet wavy locks and sat on the bed beside Gabrielle's. "You aren't like the rest of us, Gabrielle," she said and the blonde looked at her strangely. "You aren't like we are, I know you aren't." she smiled softly. "You don't belong here."

"And you do?" Gabrielle frowned. "You shouldn't be taken away from your home to be kept as a prisoner by the sultan, Helena."

The brunette sighed. "I didn't have a home, Gabrielle. You obviously did," she said and a sad frown crossed her friend's face and lowered her eyes.

Gabrielle began, "I wanted to live in Thebes and become a warrior." She sighed and Helena towel dried her hair, listening intently. "I was tired living in a farmer's village. I was supposed to marry this guy," she rolled her eyes. "Once I heard that, my friend Lucia and I left our homes in search for a new one."

"You intentionally left your home?" Helena frowned, not understanding that and Gabrielle nodded. "Why? You had a home and you left? I would give anything to have a home like you, Gabrielle." She shook her head and began braiding her hair.

Suddenly, Gabrielle thought she really had it good in Potidaea. Helena obviously didn't have any family or a home, or at least that's what Gabrielle supposed. She had a sister and friends and two loving parents and she left it all because she wanted to go on adventure. Now, she felt terrible for even bringing this up. She felt very privileged.

"I didn't..." Gabrielle sighed, "I'm sorry."

Helena smiled, "don't be sorry Gabrielle. Just remember that not all of us are that lucky in life." She finished drying her hair and lay down on the mattress, rolling over onto her side.

Alexander was trying to put back his mother's armor for the last few hours while she was away. He hoped that she would stay away as long as possible. He tried picking up the large wooden shelf that held her armor and moaned, using all of his strength.

He then heard footsteps and saw the door knob turning. He gasped and immediately ran and crawled under the bed.

Xena opened the door to her room and then ripped off the veil around her face. She turned and saw her armor scattered across the floor and her war sword lying in the middle of the rug. Her eyes widened with fury and she balled her fists up.

"Alexander!" she yelled.

He cringed and scooted further back underneath the large bed. He saw her boots walking right past him and he covered his mouth as he breathed heavily. He watched her boots as she walked across the rug and then he didn't see them anymore.

Frowning he looked around the circumference of the bed and didn't see her at all. He then felt himself being drug out from under the bed and he squealed loudly.

Xena held her son upside down by his ankle and he smiled nervously at her with his arms hanging by his ears. "Hello mother," he greeted in his sweetest voice possible and saw her eyes darken and a large frown on her lips.

"You wouldn't believe what happened," he began and she raised her eyebrow. "The shelves just came crashing down and nearly squashed me!"

Xena lifted him higher in the air and looked into his dark eyes and cheeky grin. "You wouldn't be lying to me, would you?" she smiled maliciously.

His smile widened, "nooo..." he said and she growled and threw him onto the bed.

"I told you not to touch anything!" she yelled.

He huffed and stood on her bed, "but it was an accident, honest!" he pleaded.

"Everything with you is an accident!" she spat and he frowned sadly and plopped down onto the bed, folding his arms, letting his head hang.

"I'm sorry," he muttered.

She sighed heavily and placed her hands on her hips. Then she glanced over at her son. "Just leave my room," she said softly.

Alexander lifted his eyes and pouted then hopped off the bed. He walked over to her and hugged her legs. "I said I was sorry."

Xena frowned and folded her arms. "Go," she said firmly and he sighed then walked away slowly into the room beside hers.

Papal States –Rome

Pope Innocent IV gathered at the table with his nine council of cardinals. He drank the wine in the goblet, trying to quench his thirst, or perhaps drown his worries about these political issues rising in the atmosphere.

"Your Excellency, wine is not water," cardinal Rovere spoke softly.

The pope coughed and cleared his throat. "This meeting is not about wine, Rovere," he rubbed his chin then stared at his council. "We must discuss the growing Greco-Persian empire."

Cardinal Caprese nodded, "I agree. Xenophon has expanded his empire into Jerusalem –the holiest of holiest cities in the world."

Pope Innocent sighed heavily and tapped his fingers on the table. "He is our land that we have fought long and hard for. We mustn't let another Persian sultan take over the holy land. Besides, the Mongolians have already threatened Anatolia and the Caucasus."

Rovere frowned and interjected, "the Mongolians are the least of our problems, your majesty. We must act now and dethrone the sultan."

"Xenophon is a native Greek, Rovere," cardinal DeSforsza interrupted his colleague.

"So? He has made Jerusalem his capital so therefore he is our enemy. He is a foreigner on holy land. We must act now!" Rovere slammed his fist on the table.

The pope raised his hand, silencing the bickering councilmen. "We must not argue with one another. Instead, we should be working together and our allies." He said and the men lowered their gaze. "I shall proclaim a Crusade on Xenophon's newfound empire in Persia." He said and all the cardinals looked to one another fearfully.

Caprese raised his hand to interrupt. Pope Innocent gave him the go-ahead to speak freely. "Might we recruit the Anatolians to aid us in this Crusade, your Excellency?" he suggested.

DeSforzsa agreed. "The Anatolians pay their dues to the church every year. They are faithful servants of God. They should aid us against Xenophon."

Pope Innocent smiled, nodding his head slowly, growing tired of all this political nonsense circling around Rome. "Send the Crusaders to Anatolia in the morning then," he said and coughed lightly then stood from the table and dismissed himself to retire for the evening.

Rovere and DeSforzsa stuck around in the room after the other seven cardinals exited. Rovere began, "the pope will begin another Crusade in Jerusalem to get rid of Emperor Xenophon, yet he knows nothing of the taxation between Anatolia and Xenophon's empire."

DeSforzsa frowned and rubbed his bearded chin. "Yes, indeed. That poses a problem. We must convince the Anatolian Chieftain to cut ties with Xenophon. They have been allies for a long time and Xenophon hardly taxes them at all!"

The devious cardinal smiled, "then we shall tax them heavily." He proposed and DeSforzsa grinned at his dear friend.

After fixing the shelves filled with her armor on the wall, Xena sat on her bed going over a request letter sent by Anatolia's Chieftain, Osman, asking for more money in the coming year. She scoffed and tossed the paper aside.

"Always asking for money," she grumbled and opened another letter from Hungary, also asking for more money for aid against the Mongols. She growled and rubbed her forehead, staring at all these unopened letters.

Alexander poked his head around the corner and saw his mother cursing to herself under her breath. Xena lifted her head and saw him peeking. He gasped and disappeared from sight.

She let out a huge sigh. "Alexander..." she called out in a calm voice. "Come out here," she said and he poked his head around the corner.

He slowly slinked against the wall, fearful that she would yell at him again. She wagged her fingers at him, motioning for him to come to her. He took a step forward and then approached the end of her bed. She smiled softly.

"Am I an accident?" he asked and her eyes widened.

"I didn't say that," she said and grabbed him by his waist, pulling him close. She brushed the hair out of his face and he quirked his mouth.

"That's what Belach and Solan say," Alexander said softly and lowered his eyes.

Xena frowned and lifted his chin. "Well, it's not true." She got that awful taste in her mouth again just thinking about Belach again and his mother, Natassa. Bad influences, she thought and they were around her sons all the time when she wasn't there.

"You really shouldn't listen to Belach, Alexander." She warned and he sighed heavily.

"But he's my brother. I have to listen to whatever he says!"

Xena frowned and folded her arms. "Who said that?"

"Solan..." he felt like he suddenly made a mistake saying these words to his mother since he saw the look in her eyes, and it wasn't good. "Father said that I have to listen to Solan when he is away..."

Her mouth hung open slightly and she took in a deep breath. "And, where is your father?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno. He said he'll be back soon though," he smiled. "Are you mad?"

Xena pursed her lips and completely ignored her son's question. She couldn't get the thought of strangling Borias out of her mind. He tugged at her sleeve and she blinked, then gleamed down at him. "What?" she asked.

"I asked if you were mad..."

She smiled weakly, "no, I'm not mad." I'm furious, she thought to herself. "So..." she began and anxiously fixed her son's robe, trying to distract herself. "Who watches over you while your father is gone?"

"Natassa," he answered immediately and Xena's jaw clenched. He felt her squeeze his arms and he winced. "You're hurting me!"

She let go of his arms and ran her fingers through his thick short hair. "Sorry..." she pat his shoulder and he frowned, rubbing his arm. And this is why my sons should have stayed with me, she kept cursing herself.

"I'm sorry I knocked over your armor..." he twiddled with his thumbs, looking down at the floor.

"Remember what I told you about touching things that don't belong to you," she poked his chest teasingly.

He smirked and bobbed his head. "I know and I'm really sorry!" he apologized, pleading with his big doe eyes. His mother smiled and kissed his forehead, unable to stay mad at him for long.

There was a lot of yelling coming from downstairs and Xena frowned, creasing her eyebrows. Alexander immediately ran to the door. She hopped off the bed and grabbed him before he could open the door.

"Stay here!" she warned and he groaned.

Gabrielle and Helena were in the middle of the large foyer surrounded by Persian guards. Helena hung onto Gabrielle's arm."I don't think this was a good idea, Gabrielle..." she whispered.

"I didn't think we were going to be surrounded by guards!" she hissed back and began backing away from the soldiers, smiling nervously.

Xena looked over the balcony in the shadows and frowned, tapping her fingernails on the railing. She turned around and grabbed a bow hanging on the wall and an arrow. She pulled the arrow back and the taut bow creaked.

She released the arrow and it landed right in front of Gabrielle's and Helena's feet. She lowered the bow and saw their eyes travel up to the balcony.

Gabrielle blinked and was able to see the silhouette of the sultan looking over the balcony. The face unrecognizable in the darkness. Helena hit Gabrielle's shoulder. "I think we should go back to our quarters now!" she advised and began pulling her ambitious friend away as the guards kept threatening to poke them with their spears and swords.

The blonde nodded and kept staring up at the balcony. She saw the sultan's hand, revealed from the small moonlight shining through the windows, and raised her eyebrow. The sultan walked away in the darkness and rounded a corner, not saying a word. Gabrielle was being pulled away by Helena.

The two were shoved back into their quarters and the guards shut the doors. Helena groaned and began pacing around. All the other girls were not asleep obviously since most of them were up talking or probably still in the baths together.

"I can't believe you actually thought that was a good idea!" Helena spat, shaking her head.

Gabrielle grabbed her friend's hand and looked into her frightened eyes. "I saw the sultan's hand."

Helena frowned. "So?"

"So?" the blonde gasped. "Nobody has seen the sultan's skin, except his eyes. Perhaps he is not a leper after all," she said with a big smile.

"Don't be ridiculous, Gabrielle. The sultan was never a leper!" she sighed heavily and went to sit back down on her bed by the window. Gabrielle quickly followed her and sat on the bed with her. "Maybe he's allergic to the sun or something?" she guessed.

Gabrielle tapped her chin and shook her head. "You sound ridiculous now. The sultan is obviously hiding something. He just doesn't want us to see his face."

"Maybe he's deformed," Helena laughed. She saw the look on Gabrielle's face and her laughter slowly dissipated. "What? I'm just throwing stuff out there."

"Do you think we will train with the sultan tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked with mirth in her eyes.

Helena shrugged her shoulder. "I don't know, but if we do, don't do anything stupid this time!"

Xena returned to her room and she growled, throwing the bow down onto the floor. Alexander was looking through her papers and she snarled. "Get away from my papers!" she yelled and he immediately hopped off the bed.

"I was just looking," he lamented, hiding his hands behind his back, scooting away from her.

She eyed him as he slowly backed away. "What is behind your back?" she asked.

"Nothing," he smiled and she held out her hand. He groaned and then handed over her gold pen.

Xena frowned and leaned down, glaring into his dark eyes. "What is the matter with you lately?" she raised her eyebrow and he tightened his lips, not saying a word. "First you destroy my case of armor and then you steal my things."

He sighed. "I wanted the pen so I could write to Solan," he admitted.

"That doesn't mean you can steal my things, Alexander," she folded her arms. "Since when do you steal from people, especially me?"

He gave her a cheeky grin, "Belach and Solan told me that if I wanted something, I should take it."

"Oh, is that right?" she smiled tightly. She began ushering him into the adjoining room. "I think it's time for you to go to bed."

"But, but!" he protested and she gently pushed him into the room and closed the door behind her.

She leaned against the door and tapped the pen against her chin. Perhaps Solan not being here was a good thing after all. Alexander couldn't keep his big mouth shut and told her everything that her eldest son was doing without her supervision. First, he tells her that Solan doesn't want to come and see her and then Borias is nowhere to be found, and now Belach and Solan are teaching her youngest son that it is okay to steal from others.

She marched over to her desk and saw the sealed letter to Solan and ripped it open. She sat down and decided to mention a few more things, though did not mention Alexander's name.

She stared at the letter for a few moments and decided not to add the things Alexander mentioned. It will be a surprise, she thought. Smiling, she sealed the letter again and would make sure to send it out tomorrow, as soon as possible.

Xena folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. Aside from her both of her sons' disobedience, she also had to deal with a certain troublemaking girl from Greece. She didn't think that she would have such a hard time with these girls, but Gabrielle, she was different, she liked to speak her mind.

She would make sure that Gabrielle understood who was in charge here and not the other way around.

AN: a softer conqueror this time around

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 –Curiosity Killed The Cat

In the heart of Anatolia in the large city of Ankara, Osman and his clan lived together spread out through the mountainous terrain. Together, Solan and Belach were sitting outside their yurt sharpening a few older weapons.

Belach, sixteen years old, quite often liked to keep Solan around as his pet little brother. He taught him how to do so many things when their father was not around, or his mother, Natassa. He sat and watched Solan try and sharpen the blade over and over with a stone.

"You're doing it wrong," he said and Solan lifted his eyes. He wagged his fingers and Solan handed over the weapon. He began showing him how to sharpen the dull edges correctly.

"See, it's easy," Belach smirked and Solan took the sword and copied his brother's skills.

Natassa saw her son sitting with Solan and frowned. She walked over and stood in front of the sandy blonde boy and Solan saw her colorful dress and lifted his chin.

"Natassa Khatun..." Solan smiled nervously.

She scowled and pulled out a letter from her pocket. "A letter from your mother," she said and then walked off into her yurt a few yards away.

Solan looked at the letter in his lap and wondered whether to open it and read it or not. Belach scoffed. "A letter from your mom, huh? I bet she misses you," he mocked, puckering his lips, teasing Solan.

The thirteen year old frowned. "Would you stop?" he said and Belach laughed.

"Did I hurt your feelings?" he snickered and Solan groaned lowly, crinkling the letter in his hands. "Oh come on, Solan. You can't be a mamma's boy forever. Let her have Askander," he chided. Belach often called Alexander by his Turkic name, Askander, instead of his true Greek birth name. He didn't really fancy Greek people, especially when he first met Xena when he was a young child. Since he met her, he said he would hate all the Greek people from then on.

"I am not a mamma's boy," Solan spat and Belach chuckled, shaking his head. "Your mother still washes your clothes and you call me a mamma's boy."

Belach frowned and tossed the sharpening stone on the ground. "It is a woman's work," he folded his arms and Solan stood up, almost the same height as him, glaring into his dark brown eyes.

"My mother doesn't even wash her own clothes," Solan smirked.

"Well your mother is also a backstabbing bitch, Solan," Belach narrowed his eyes and Solan gasped then pushed his elder half-brother into the bench behind him. Belach growled and ruffled his dark hair then grabbed Solan by his shoulders and backed up into the yurt.

Natassa was outside her home beating a rug when she saw Belach and Solan fighting with one another. She widened her eyes and quickly ran over to them both.

"Belach!" she grabbed her son's arm and pulled him away from Solan. "What are you doing?!"

Her son adjusted his vest and breathed heavily, smiling down at Solan. "Just playing around, mother." He said and Solan frowned, wiping the blood off his lip. He turned then looked into his mother's blue eyes and touched her cheek. Sighing audibly he grabbed his sword then left the area.

Natassa creased her eyebrows then looked to Solan and scowled. "Are you alright?" she asked, folding her arms.

Solan stood and ran his fingers through his short blonde locks. "I'm fine," he brushed past his stepmother and marched right for Belach.

Her eyebrow rose as she watched Solan ran after her son. She shook her head and adjusted the coined headpiece on her head and folded her arms, leaning on the canopy. As much as she despised Xena, she promised Borias that she would watch over Solan and Alexander while they lived here without Xena. Alexander was much easier to mold than Solan was. Solan stayed with Xena for a very long time until he was nine years old until he began living in Ankara. Alexander only lived with Xena until he was two so he was more exposed to both his mother's life and his father's as well.

As Belach grew older he began to really dislike Solan, only because he was Xena's son. At first, the two got along very well until two years ago. The only time those two got along was when Borias was here or when Solan was with his mother in Persia, but since he didn't not to go this year, Natassa was stuck with two bickering boys.

Solan marched towards Belach and grabbed his shoulder. "I'm not finished with you!"

Belach smirked and ran his fingers through his long dark hair. "You are really becoming more and more like your mother, Solan. You even look just like her with those baby blue eyes," he pat his cheek harshly and Solan growled. "At least Askander inherited more of father's traits. He doesn't look like a Greek boy like you." He frowned and mounted his horse.

"We are from the same people! The same blood, Belach! Why do you suddenly hate me?"

Belach growled, "we are not the same! You are a half breed!"

Solan was about to yell back until a stampede of Crusaders charged through the campgrounds and both boys turned and saw the Roman Crusaders, wearing their large red crosses on their tunics, carrying heavy shields and swords.

Belach smirked and yanked on his horse's reins. "You're better off staying in Persia with your mother, Solan. You don't belong here." He kicked his horse and rode off to meet with Osman and the Crusaders. Solan huffed and ran after his brother, curious as to why Romans would come all the way to Anatolia.

An hour later, Osman, Ankara's Chieftain invited the lead Crusader, Gregory, into his large yurt to talk. Belach accompanied Osman since he was the eldest son of Borias. This meant that Solan was not invited, though he stayed outside of the yurt, listening in to their conversation.

Gregory thanked the chieftain for the coffee and spoke bluntly. "The pope proclaims another Crusade on Jerusalem and wishes to give his hand to the Anatolians for aid. Emperor Xenophon's empire is expanding too quickly and he wishes to put an end to it immediately."

Osman lowered his eyes and he sighed. "Forgive me but, we pay taxes to Xenophon..." he said lightly and saw the Roman did not falter. "In return he gives us money to fund our military."

"Rome can double the amount Xenophon gives you, Chieftain," Gregory said with a smile. "If you ally with us, you will no longer have to pay taxes to the Greco-Persian empire."

Osman rubbed his chin and Belach smiled, knowing this decision would be very easy for him if he were in charge. Little did the Romans know that Xenophon was no man, but a woman. Xena. The woman whom he hated and Belach would love to see her empire crash and burn and what better way to do it than with a Crusade?

"We should take the offer, uncle," Belach suggested.

The chieftain eyed the ambitious teenager and frowned. "We will take it under consideration."

Gregory nodded. "As you wish. I will need a decision in the morning." He stood and left the yurt.

Belach growled and stood up irately. "Why do you hesitate?! Xena's empire could be destroyed in a second and you must think about it?"

Osman frowned and stood, towering over the angst teen. "I cannot attack Xena's empire, Belach. Borias is on a mission at the moment and I can't make this decision without him."

The teen folded his arms. "If I were chieftain I would have agreed to ally with the Crusaders." He stormed out of the yurt.

He saw Solan hunkered down listening outside and he growled, picking up Solan by his collar and tossing him aside. "What do you think you're doing, you rat?" he snarled and Solan frowned.

"You want to see my mother's empire fall? What is wrong with you?!" Solan spat, fixing his tunic.

"She gets what she deserves." Belach turned and began walking off.

"My mother has done more for you than the Crusaders ever will!" Solan called out and Belach kept walking, ignoring him. He sighed heavily then pulled out the letter from his mother in his pocket. He hadn't read it yet, but then he quickly ran to his yurt to read the letter in peace.

Xena sat outside in the barren gardens watching the girls train with each other with wooden weapons. She wasn't stupid enough to give them real weapons as of yet. So far, these girls had been here for a week and some of the girls were not very cooperative as she hoped.

She quickly learned that some of the girls were pregnant and decided to take them out of training, but keep them in her palace and put them to work in other jobs that were less strenuous. While some girls threatened to run away or even kill themselves, Xena warned them that if they tried to escape, they would have a hard time leaving the palace.

She then too took those suicidal girls and gave them a different task to focus on. She sent them to the seamstress down below the palace so they could help weave large Persian rugs. As each day went by, she was left with very few girls to actually train with, maybe twenty or so and she started out with over fifty of them.

Xena groaned and began sweating under all the layers of clothing she wore. She lifted her veil and scratched her drenched neck.

Gabrielle pushed her partner down and stomped her sandal on top of her chest. "Looks like I win again," she smiled proudly. Helena groaned and threw her head back, defeated for the third time in a row. She chuckled and twirled the staff in her hand then glanced over at the sultan sitting down in the hot sun underneath a small canopy.

She eyed the sultan and saw his bare neck and then Xenophon lowered the veil again, shifting in the chair. Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and then was startled by Helena grabbing her shoulder.

"Shall we go again?" the brunette eagerly asked then saw her friend's eyes on the sultan. "You shouldn't stare, Gabrielle. He might see you."

"I've been trying to get his attention for a week now, Helena!"

Her friend scoffed and pulled her aside. "Are you insane?" she whispered and eyed Xenophon again, completely unaware of their conversation. "Why would you do a stupid thing like that?"

Gabrielle smiled. "He's so strange. He only comes out during training and just watches us like a hawk then he disappears upstairs in that lair of his and we never see him again. Don't you think that is weird?"

Helena frowned, "no! He is a sultan, he can do whatever he wants! Now come on, we need to get back to training," she begged.

Gabrielle sighed and went back to their corner, "fine," she grumbled and then wacked Helena's arm unexpectedly and laughed.

"Gabrielle! I wasn't ready!" Helena groaned, rubbing her arm.

"A warrior always needs to be ready," the blonde smirked.

Xena raised her eyebrow and then looked up at the balcony and saw Alexander sitting in between the stone columns of the railing, swinging his dangling legs over the edge. He was eating an apple, observing the training. He caught eye of her and started waving. She frowned and waved her hand up at him to go back inside.

She groaned, seeing he was deliberately disobeying her once again. She saw the smug look on his face as he kept chomping on the apple, peering down at the girls training below.

Once the training sessions concluded for the day Gabrielle walked inside the palace with the rest of the girls and peered over the sea of heads. She was too short and pushed through the girls and saw the sultan disappearing to the west wing.

She smiled and then once she realized all the girls were gone, she saw Miriam, one of the girls that worked down below with the seamstresses, carrying gold threaded fabric in her hands. She was heading straight for the west wing.

Gabrielle quickly ran and stopped Miriam. "I can take these off your hands. You must be really tired."

Miriam frowned. "Don't you train outside with the other girls?" she asked.

She bit her bottom lip, "well, I have two jobs now. I work outside and inside the palace." She held out her arms and the brunette eyed her cautiously. "I'm sure you have loads of other work to do. Just tell me where to take this and you can get back to sewing."

Miriam sighed and looked up at the second floor of the west wing. "These must be taken down the hall in the west wing, upstairs, second door to your right, not second door to your left. Do you understand?" she stressed and Gabrielle nodded. She then handed off the fabric to her and walked off in a hurry to get back to work downstairs.

Gabrielle inhaled deeply and hastily walked through the hallway and rounded a corner to find the stairs. She then saw the sultan walking up the stairs as his dark cape drug on the steps. She waited until the sultan made it to the second floor before she ran up the stairs.

She quietly made it to the second floor and hid behind a large pillar. She poked her head around the pillar and saw the sultan enter the bedroom on the second door to the left of the hallway. Once the coast was clear she cautiously walked down the hallway and eyed the large doors on her right, then looked at the doors on her left, which was obviously the sultan's quarters.

She was too curious and wanted to see what the sultan was hiding and why he hid himself away for hours on end. She only saw Xenophon for a few hours a day and that's it. Gabrielle was beginning to wonder if Helena was right and the sultan was deformed. That was probably the only explanation.

"Are you the new servant girl?" Alexander came up behind Gabrielle, scaring her half to death.

She turned and looked down to see a small thin boy with dark hair grinning up at her. She fumbled and held the fabric in her arms. "," she smiled nervously.

Who was this boy and why is he here, she thought. Did the sultan have children too or was this a nephew of his? He couldn't be a servant by the looks of his black and gold robes and nicely polished boots.

His eyes lit up as soon as he saw the gold fabric. "Oh great, you brought the fabric!" he smiled and Gabrielle raised her eyebrows, seeing the excited boy take the fabric from her arms. "This is going to go nicely with my new outfit," he wriggled his eyebrows and she stifled a laugh.

This fabric was for a boy? Is he serious right now? "The sultan ordered the fabric for you?" she asked.

Alexander frowned, "no, I did!"

"Alexander!" Xena called out from her bedroom. "Who are you talking to?"

Gabrielle frowned and knew that was a woman's voice, not the same voice of the sultan's. Was this his wife perhaps?

He panicked and then opened the door on the right side of the hall and tossed the fabric inside his room. "Nobody!" he answered and then when his mother didn't answer he let out a sigh of relief. He grabbed Gabrielle's arm and began ushering her out of the hallway.

"Listen, you really gotta go now," he said and began pushing her down the hall.

Gabrielle gasped and she couldn't believe she was being pushed around by a scrawny boy. "But, I..." she stammered and he groaned and kept pushing her.

"Go, go!" he said and heard his mother's door open. "Go!" he hissed and Gabrielle began descending down the stairs.

Xena frowned and saw her son at the foot of the top of the staircase. "Who was that?" she asked.

He swiftly turned around with his hands behind his back with a big grin. "Oh, just a servant girl."

Gabrielle gasped as soon as she heard the boy say that. She was halfway down the staircase, listening to the two talk to one another.

Xena folded her arms. "I didn't request anyone," she eyed her son and he kept smiling.

"I know," he shrugged and grabbed her wrist, pulling her along. "That's why I sent her away," he chose his words carefully.

Gabrielle heard the door close and she peeked over the second floor from the stairs and raised her eyebrow curiously. That boy obviously didn't want her around, but he was quite a piece of work. Asking for fabric without, she only assumed, his mother's permission. The sultan has a wife? She frowned, tapping her chin then ran down the stairs to go to the baths in the east wing.

After bathing Gabrielle smoothed out her sheets on her bed then saw Helena reading quietly to herself. She lay down on her stomach and kept staring up at her friend. "You want to hear something?" she whispered.

Helena smiled and closed the book. "What is it now?"

"I went into the west wing," Gabrielle smiled.

"Gabrielle!" she hunkered down in her bed and made sure nobody else was listening. Almost everyone was asleep by now. "You aren't allowed to go over there!"

The blonde nodded. "Just listen," she began, "I think I heard the sultan's wife and there was this really demanding boy, I think might be the sultan's son..." he frowned, still not getting over that.

Helena chuckled softly. "The sultan doesn't have a wife."

"How do you know that? He could keep her locked away," Gabrielle supposed.

"The sultan hasn't married anyone, Gabrielle. Everyone knows that. Maybe she's his concubine or something," Helena sighed and opened her book again, reading silently.

"Yeah...maybe," Gabrielle rolled over onto her back, staring up at the dark ceiling.

The following morning, Xena walked with Dajan down the hallway after the meeting they just had with the council. She adjusted the veil around her face and saw many of the girls already heading outside to train.

"You sent the men to Ankara, right?" she asked.

Dajan nodded, "yes they were sent two days ago, your highness." He said and they kept walking. He pulled her aside and whispered. "Xena, I don't know if bringing Osman here is such a good idea," he warned.

Xena frowned and folded her arms. "And why is that?" she hissed.

"Our spies in Anatolia saw Roman Crusaders heading towards Ankara. I fear that Osman will ally with Rome."

She scoffed. "Not if he wants to die!" she stormed off. "Notify me when he is brought here!" she called out.

Gabrielle woke up late and struggled putting her sandals on as she stumbled out of the sleeping quarters. She spotted the sultan heading to the gardens. Oh now is my chance, she thought. She quickly tied her sandals then ran up to the sultan.

"Your highness!" Gabrielle greeted loudly and Xena's shoulders tensed. She slowly turned around and saw the blonde smiling up at her.

"Ah, the troublemaker," Xena said. "What can I do for you?"

Now suddenly standing in front of the sultan, Gabrielle was at a loss for words. Xena raised her eyebrow and leaned down, their eyes meeting. "I...uh..."

"Suddenly you are not so talkative, are you Gabrielle?" Xena smugly grinned beneath her thick veil.

"I, well...I do have one question," Gabrielle smiled nervously and Xena folded her arms.

"I'm listening."

Gabrielle inhaled deeply and avoided those piercing blue eyes. "Why would you want to start a school for girls? I mean, an important person such as yourself probably has so many other things to do!" she nervously rambled and Xena smirked.

"You are very nosy," Xena remarked and Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock. "I have a special training session for you all today and I'll make sure you are the first to participate." She turned and walked off.

Did I just volunteer myself again? Gabrielle groaned and then walked outside, slumping her shoulders.

Outside all the girls stood in two rows of ten and Gabrielle stayed in the back row standing beside Helena. She kept eyeing the sultan and saw him pull out a dagger from beneath his belt.

Xena held the dagger by the tip of the blade and looked up at the large pillar. She smiled and threw the dagger to the top and it stuck inside the pillar. All the girls' eyes traveled upward, the sun beaming into their eyes.

"Today will be a different training session. Not of strength or bravery but of perseverance and patience." She began and all the girls stared at her confusedly. "The first to reach the top of the pillar and retrieve the dagger accomplishes the exercise." She smiled and saw the fear in all of their eyes.

She then eyed Gabrielle and smiled deliciously. "And Gabrielle will go first. Won't you, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle slowly glanced up at the pillar and could barely see the dagger. The pillar seemed to be miles long, it was so tall. How could the sultan expect anyone to complete the task? But, she stupidly spoke out again and volunteered herself for the job.

She stepped forward and Xena smiled, handing over a large sash. She frowned and took the sash and stood in front of the tall pillar.

She turned and looked into Xenophon's smirking eyes. "And what if I can't retrieve the dagger?"

Xena smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "Then you will try again, and again, and again, until you do!" her eyes darkened and then she sat down underneath the canopy. She waft her gloved hand at the outspoken blonde. "What are you waiting for?" she teased.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and wrapped the sash around the pillar and tugged on it with her wrists, making sure it was taut. She kept cursing herself for even speaking to the sultan in the first place. Helena was right, I have a big mouth, she thought.

She jumped up and wrapped her thighs around the stone pillar and groaned, hoisting herself up with the sash and Xena smirked, watching her struggle. Not even five feet up the pillar, Gabrielle fell down onto her back and she groaned.

"Oh, nice try Gabrielle. Better luck next time," Xena said and waved her hand to the next girl in line. "Next," she said and Gabrielle quickly got up and shoved the sash into the next girl's chest, then proceeded to walk to the end of the line.

This continued on for two hours and Gabrielle tried to climb up the pillar four times already, but she didn't get much further than she had the first time. Xena stood from her chair and looked at the dirty, exhausted girls.

"Tomorrow, you all will do this again until you get it right," Xena frowned and walked past the girls and heard them all moaning, complaining among themselves.

"This is ridiculous!" Gabrielle griped.

Xena frowned and heard Gabrielle, instantly recognizing her voice. She swiftly turned on her heel and walked over to the feisty blonde. "You think you are so tough, don't you, Gabrielle?"

The blonde folded her arms, glaring up at the sultan.

"You will stay outside for the rest of the night by yourself." The sultan said and Gabrielle's jaw dropped.

"For what? This training exercise is pointless!" she spat back and Xena pinched her cheeks together with her leather gloves.

"You know what else is pointless?" Xena whispered. "Arguing with me." She gently pushed Gabrielle away from her and grimaced. "You will stay out here. You can get acquainted with the scorpions." She chided then walked off brushing by the startled, terrified girls.

Xena sat by the window, brushing her long locks, getting through the knots in the ends. She frowned and brushed more firmly. Alexander was in the middle of her room, pretending to fight her wooden bedpost with a piece of long fabric. Ever since he knocked down her rack of armor, she forbade him from possessing any sharp objects.

He circled around the post, making faces at it and pretended the piece of long fabric was a whip. Xena turned and raised her eyebrow watching her son in the middle of a battle, putting all of his force into it. she chuckled softly and he stopped, glaring at his mother.

"Why are you laughing?!" he folded his arms.

"No reason," she stood and grabbed him by his waist, lifting him in the air and rest his slender body on her hip. She frowned and pinched his skinny arm.

"Hey!" he whined.

"Are you sure they're feeding you in Ankara?" she asked and he rolled his eyes.

He pushed away from her, "mother, I'm not a baby! Put me down!" he moaned and he hopped out of her arms and onto her bed.

He then jumped up, grabbing the wooden rod, holding the bed together. He swung back and forth and Xena folded her arms. "We really can't go to the beach?" he asked.


"Aweh," he whined and let go of the wooden beam and fell on his back on the large bed, gawking at the ceiling. "This is so boring." He let out a huge sigh and she rolled her eyes.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she tugged at his leg. "I could tell you a story."

He rose up and stared at her incredulously. "You are a bad story teller, mother." And she gasped loudly and he smiled. "What? You are. Solan is much better at telling stories." He sighed and crawled off the bed. "I think I'm going to bed now, goodnight." He ran off to his room.

Xena shook her head then walked over to the large balcony, overlooking the gardens and she leaned on the balustrade, feeling the cool desert breeze against her skin. She then peered downward and saw Gabrielle pacing around the gardens, talking to herself.

Amusing, she thought. She smiled and kept watching Gabrielle muttering quietly. She watched her then walk over to the weapons rack and raised an eyebrow. Gabrielle grabbed a long rope and walked back over to the pillar with the dagger stuck in it at the very top.

"What are you doing?" Xena whispered as she watched Gabrielle tie a small knot, making a loop with the long piece of rope.

Gabrielle then swung the rope up at the pillar and Xena kept watching intensely, curious to see what her trainee was doing. Gabrielle then tossed the rope up again and looped the rope around the hilt of the dagger.

Smiling, Gabrielle yanked on the rope and the dagger popped out of the side of the pillar and dropped to the sand.

Xena frowned, "very clever..." she straightened up and tapped her fingers on the balustrade. She then slowly slipped away from the balcony to disappear into her room.

Gabrielle grinned and held the dagger in her hand. She lifted her head and saw a silhouette from the balcony and then descend into the bedroom. The curtains were drawn and she saw the figure in the candlelight moving around in the room. Lowering the dagger, she ran past the pillar to get a closer look and then the candles were blown out and she could no longer see the silhouette anymore.

Xena walked out into the gardens and saw the girls were already lined up, though they were talking among themselves. She heard a few whispering about the missing dagger and she grinned.

"Good morning," she announced and the whispers ceased. She swung around and looked at the line of girls. She noticed Gabrielle was very tired and not very attentive as she should be.

Peering up at the pillar, she saw the dagger mysteriously gone and smiled. "It seems that someone was able to retrieve the dagger." She said and eyed Gabrielle's sudden alertness. "Won't the victor step forward?" she asked.

Gabrielle stepped forward and took out the dagger from behind her back. Xena raised her eyebrow and walked over to the sleepy blonde. She took the dagger from her hands and examined it.

"What a great feat you have accomplished Gabrielle," Xena admired and the blonde lowered her eyes. She grunted then threw the dagger to the top of the pillar again and Gabrielle's jaw dropped.

"Won't you show us how you did it?" the sultan asked and Gabrielle widened her eyes. "Don't be shy." She teased.

Xena then walked over to her chair and lifted her long cape and sat down, eyeing the nervous Gabrielle, gawking up at the dagger.

Is he serious? He wants me to retrieve the dagger again? Gabrielle couldn't understand the ways of this sultan at all. Not only was she about to be humiliated again, but the sultan was obviously playing a game with her.

"We are waiting," Xena's voice carried and Gabrielle cringed.

Gabrielle sighed and then turned to the sultan. "I'm very...tired..." she lamented, which wasn't a lie, but also she didn't want to be embarrassed.

"So you refuse to do as I say?" Xena pressed, tapping her gloved fingers against her cheek. "You must have worked all night to retrieve that dagger," and Gabrielle said nothing, hanging her head. "You are obviously a very strong young lady," she smiled, relishing in Gabrielle's embarrassment. She even saw her cheeks flush.

The sultan sighed heavily. "You know, I really don't like liars," she announced and Gabrielle's stomach tightened. "It would be a real disappointment to me if any of you lied to me," she hissed and saw the fear in the girls' eyes.

She turned her attention back to Gabrielle. "Gabrielle," she called out and the blonde lifted her head. "Retrieve the dagger." She demanded.

Gabrielle looked up at the pillar and frowned. "I can't," she said softly.

"I can't hear you!"

"I said, I can't!"

Xena smugly grinned, "and why not?"

Gabrielle knew she was going to regret this. "Because I didn't retrieve the dagger. I pulled it off with a rope." She muttered, folding her arms.

The sultan tisked. "Oh, that's too bad. I appreciate your honesty, Gabrielle..." she chuckled softly. "And since you were so honest, your teammates should thank you." She said and Gabrielle frowned confusedly and all the girls eyed one another.

"All of you will stay out here all day and night until one of you retrieves that dagger. The right way," she said firmly.

All the girls groaned and immediately glared at Gabrielle. Suddenly, Gabrielle felt even more embarrassed than ever, especially in front of all these girls. Helena rolled her eyes and Xena smiled, tapping her fingers on the armrests of the chair.

"Well, looks like you girls have a lot of work to do!" Xena said and the girls lined up, cursing under their breaths, getting ready to make the dreadful climb up the pillar. "All thanks to Gabrielle," she smiled.

"Thanks a lot, Gabrielle," Astremia said and pushed her aside, grabbing the sash and looked up at the tall pillar. Gabrielle sighed and walked to the back of the line.

She eyed the sultan sitting in the chair, basking in the humiliation. Xena's blue eyes followed Gabrielle's menacing stare and she smiled beneath the veil.

Three hours went by and Xena was notified by Dajan to come to the falcon room immediately. She stood from the chair and walked by all the exhausted girls. Some of them sat down in the sand, waiting for their turn to climb the pillar.

She walked by Gabrielle and whispered in her ear, "don't play games with me, Gabrielle." She smiled and kept walking back into the palace.

Gabrielle blinked and turned her head, gawking at the sultan descend into the palace. The balcony from last night, she remembered. Of course, how stupid of me. She cursed herself and folded her arms. Helena grabbed her shoulder firmly.

"You sure know how to make yourself known, Gabrielle," she grumbled and rubbed her sore back as she fell off the pillar from half way up.

Chapter Text

AN: well, good luck to all :)

Chapter 4 –The Leader

Xena walked into the falconry room and took the veil off of her face. Now that she was able to breath, she wiped the sweat off her upper lip. Dajan waited with the blind falconer and held the small note in his hands. She frowned and made her way over.

"It is from Ankara," he said.

She bit the tip of her leather glove and slipped it off her sweaty hand. She unrolled the small paper and read through it carefully. She smiled and knew instantly it was from Solan and recognized all the small abbreviations he wrote down. She taught him from a very early age how to write letters with abbreviations so nobody else would be able to understand the message.

As she kept reading her face contorted and she growled, ripping the note in several pieces. Dajan's eyes widened and he took a generous step backward.

He dared to ask, "what was it?"

"The Crusaders went to Ankara and are trying to persuade Osman to join Rome and attack me!" she growled and put her gloves back on. "I want Osman brought to me now!" she demanded and Dajan sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose.

He followed her down the hallway. "Your men are on their way to Ankara as we speak."

"They are taking too long! They've been gone for three days now!" she snarled and put the veil back over her face. "If they don't bring him to me, heads will fly, I promise you that," she hissed.

Alexander frowned, "whose head?" he said and Xena frowned down at her curious son.

"What are you doing back here?! Didn't I tell you to stay in the west wing?"

He blinked and bit into a large date. "I got bored."

She groaned and grabbed his arm and began forcibly pulling him along down the hallway. He dropped his bag of dates and tried desperately to keep up with her strides.

She marched up the stairs in the west wing and opened her bedroom door and tossed him onto the rug. "You will stay here until I tell you to leave," she commanded and he gasped and stood up.

"But mom!" he ran to her and she then closed the door. He heard her locking the door and he pressed his cheek against the door. "Come on!" he whined. "Mother, please!"

Kara passed by with a basket of linen and she lowered her eyes, seeing Xena. "Mistress..." she greeted softly.

"Do not let him out until I say so," Xena said and brushed by the servant girl and went back downstairs.

Kara fixed the veil on top of her head and looked over the railing, watching Xena storm off down the marble halls. She sighed and heard Alexander from the other side, begging to come out. She smiled softly and put the basket of linen down.

"Alexander," she said and he stopped whining.

"Kara!" he pressed his face against the door.

"Your mother said I can't let you out of her room," she said sadly and she heard him groan loudly. "I'm afraid she also took the key with her."

Alexander huffed and slid down against the large doors. "Well, this is just great," he grumbled.

Xena returned to the training and saw all of the girls laying on the sand, worn out already. She frowned and adjusted the gloves on her hands. "Why are you all sitting around?" she asked and stepped over one of the girls.

Gabrielle lifted her head and frowned at the sultan. "We are exhausted. It is impossible to finish this training exercise."

Xena turned around and folded her arms. "Nothing is impossible, Gabrielle. Besides, you are to blame for your teammates' suffering." She glared at the blonde girl.

Finally, Gabrielle stood up and brushed the sand off her clothing, or what little of it there was. "It is my fault so why punish everyone else?" she said and walked over to the sultan, staring into the steely eyes, glaring down at her. She was inches away from Xena.

Xena leaned down, coming dangerously close to Gabrielle's face. "Because you are a team. One person messes up and everyone suffers. And since you don't like playing by the rules, this is the consequence."

Gabrielle huffed and did not avert her eyes and kept staring into the sultan's bright blue eyes. She wasn't going to back down this time, but since this entire situation was her fault, she thought it'd be best to be more cooperative.

She spoke softly, "what can I do to fix what I have done?"

Xena smiled and looked up at the dagger at the top of the stone pillar. "Retrieve the dagger." She said in a low voice and Gabrielle's frown deepened. She then took a step away from her blonde trainee.

"Well, I have an important meeting to attend. I will all check in with you tomorrow morning," Xena turned and walked off. "Remember, work as a team," she called out and disappeared into the palace.

Xena entered the council room and everyone stood, taking off their turbans. The orator was about to announce her entire status and she waved him off and he closed the door behind her. She walked over to the chair and plopped down, wiping the sweat off her forehead with her gloved hand.

Dajan cleared his throat and peered down at Xena. "Sultan Xenophon, we have a man from Mongolia here to see you," he whispered.

She eyed the Mongolian man instantly, by the shape of his eyes and tanned skin. She frowned and shifted in the chair. "What do you want?"

The Mongol stepped forward, removing his fur hat and bowed his head. "Your majesty, I have traveled a long way to meet with you. My name is Oktai and I work for Genghis Khan, the Emperor of Mongolia."

"I know who he is," Xena answered curtly. "What is it that you want?"

Oktai smiled generously and looked straight into the sultan's eyes. "He wishes to take your land under his reign. If you do not surrender then he will raid your empire."

Xena clenched her jaw and stood irately. "Get him out of here!" she demanded and the two guards at the door grabbed Oktai by his arms and began dragging him out of the room. She snarled, "wait!" she asked and her men halted.

She walked to Oktai and looked at the military pendant tacked to his armor. She smiled and ripped it off and slipped it into her pocket. The Mongol stuttered and shook his head violently.

"You can tell your khan that I surrender to no one," she said and then the men took Oktai away. Everyone in the room fell silent and she sighed heavily, taking her seat once more.

"So," she began, "who is next?" she smiled, adjusting the veil around her ears. All the men eyed one another, afraid to step forward and speak to the sultan after what they witnessed. Luckily, she spared that man's life only so he could return to Mongolia and relay the news to his khan.

After the sun went down all of the girls tried for hours to climb the pillar and while some girls were close, they failed and fell down into the sand. Everyone was exhausted and they weren't able to eat at all while they were outside.

This was Gabrielle's second time spending her evening outside. She never realized how cold it got in the desert and she was mindful of the small icky creatures that crawled in the sand. She sat with Helena leaning against the wall, staring up at the bright moon in the sky.

Helena sighed heavily and began picking at her dirty fingernails. "We're never going to get that dagger, no thanks to you."

Gabrielle frowned, "hey, nobody can do it!"

"But you lied to the sultan, Gabrielle! Why would you do that?!" she chastised.

Sighing, she nodded. "He was watching me last night when I grabbed the dagger with the rope. I saw him from the balcony up there," she pointed to the far west wing and Helena's eyes traveled to the large balcony on the second floor.

"He knew the entire time I was lying. He was playing a game with me," Gabrielle groaned and kicked the sand with her sandal. "I should have never cheated in the first place." She hung her head and Helena leaned on her shoulder, rubbing her arm.

A few silent moments passed by and Gabrielle lifted her head, staring up at the tall pillar. It was her worst nightmare. She then thought of what Xenophon said to everyone. Work as a team. She smiled and hopped off the ground and ran to the exhausted girls huddled together in the middle of the garden.

"Girls, I have an idea!" she smiled brightly and they all frowned up at her. She knew they weren't exactly thrilled with her at the moment. "I know how to get the dagger."

Penelope stood and frowned, towering over the petite blonde. "Are you going to use the rope again and make us spend another night out here?" she raised her eyebrow. All the girls nodded and glared at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle nervously grinned at all the girls. "No, the sultan said we should work as a team. So, maybe if we work together we can retrieve the dagger."

Amelia stood and looked up at the pillar. The dagger glistened in the moonlight. She then turned back to her teammate. "What do you have in mind?"

Over the next few minutes, Gabrielle organized all the girls by height and convinced them to build a pyramid in order to retrieve the dagger. The taller girls acted as the base and each one kept climbing on top of one another. Gabrielle was the smallest of the girls and volunteered to get the dagger. She thought it was the least she could do.

She tied the sash around her waist and huffed, glaring at the dagger that seemed to be teasing her. She stepped on Penelope's and Amelia's shoulders, hoisting herself up on top of the other girls. She grunted, trying to be careful as possible. A few girls groaned, feeling the weight of everyone on top of them.

Gabrielle grabbed Helena's hand and smiled down at her as she climbed onto her back, standing tall, at least fifteen feet in the air.

Amelia, Penelope and Astremia groaned as their arms shook. "Hurry up, Gabrielle!" Amelia cried out.

She steadied herself on Helena's back and felt the pyramid of girls teeter. She untied the sash from her waist and wrapped it around the pillar. She took in a deep inhale and then hopped off her friend's back and wrapped her thighs around the stone pillar. Grunting, she scooted herself up the pillar slowly, wrapping the sash around her wrists as tight as possible.

The girls began jumping off one another, relieving the girls at the base. Helena, once on the ground, looked up and smiled. Gabrielle crossed her ankles and kept inching closer to the top. Sweat dripped down her cheeks and she groaned and slipped a bit.

"You can do it Gabrielle!" Helena yelled from below.

Penelope was helped up by Amelia and she brushed the sand off her knees. She saw Gabrielle barely three feet away from the top and grinned. Folding her arms she raised her eyebrow. "Well, I didn't think this was going to work."

Xena peered out from the curtains on her balcony and saw Gabrielle climbing the pillar and all the girls below cheering her on. She frowned and then stepped outside, folding her arms. Gabrielle clutched onto the top of the pillar and pulled the dagger out and hoisted herself up. She sat on the pillar and smiled at everyone, holding the dagger high in the air.

Xena raised her eyebrow and smirked. She slowly turned around and went back into her bedroom.

Gabrielle threw the dagger down into the sand and she glanced over at the sultan's balcony, seeing the lights were still on. She smiled softly and never thought that this was possible at all. In fact, she thought that this exercise was stupid and ridiculous, but perhaps the sultan had a method to his little game. Teamwork was the most important thing and Gabrielle finally understood what the sultan meant by perseverance and patience –something she didn't have.

The following morning, all the girls were lined up in two rows waiting patiently. They were too exhausted to talk to each other, especially spending the night outside, sleeping under the stars.

Xena slipped on her gloves and then walked outside into the gardens and came to the front, staring at all the girls. "Good morning," she greeted everyone and they lowered their eyes. She played along and glanced at the pillar with the dagger now gone.

"I see one of you has retrieved the dagger," she smiled and put her hands on her hips. "Who was it?" she feigned surprise.

Amelia stepped forward with the dagger and Xena frowned at the girl. She definitely remembered seeing Gabrielle climb to the top of the pillar, not Amelia. The young girl held out the dagger to the sultan.

"We worked together to retrieve the dagger," Amelia said and Xena lifted her eyebrows in surprise. "It was Gabrielle's idea."

Xena took the dagger and tapped it against her palms. "You girls surprise me." She sighed heavily and sheathed the dagger in its holster on her belt. "Congratulations, you have completed your first exercise." She said and all the girls smiled at one another. "And now I have another task for you all," she said and all of their smiles disappeared. She smiled, "follow me," she turned and walked off, beyond the gardens.

Gabrielle was sure that the sultan would allow them to at least go back inside to their quarters and bathe and at least eat something, but no. Of course not, she thought. There was always something new! She grumbled and followed behind everyone else trailing behind the sultan.

Finally they reached the end of the dry barren gardens and Xena pulled out her bow and arrow. All the girls caught up to her and stared at the desert land beyond the palace grounds. Xena squinted her eye and shot the arrow high into the sky.

All of their eyes traveled the arrow and it landed in the middle of the desert, far, far, far away. She turned around and saw all of their horrified faces. She then walked over to the first girl in line and shoved the bow into her arms.

"If you can shoot at my distance or further, you complete the exercise," she said and all of their jaws dropped.

Melanie held the bow in her hand and was horrified. She turned to the sultan with fear written all over her face. "I...I don't know how to use a bow..."

Xena frowned and looked at all of the other girls faces. "Do any of you know how to use a bow?" she asked and by the doe wide eyes gawking at her, she got her answer. She rolled her eyes and sighed heavily.

"Alright then, change of plans," she ushered them back to the training area in the garden again.

Within the hour, she gave each girl a bow and she held a large war bow, walking through the first row and the second, examining all of the girls' stances. She fixed a few girls holding the bow incorrectly.

She then came to Gabrielle and noticed her finger placement was off. She hooked her bow around her back and came behind Gabrielle, placing her hand on her shoulder. Gabrielle's body tensed immediately feeling the sultan's gloved fingers on her bare skin.

"Never lock your elbow," Xena said gently and then took Gabrielle's arm, relaxing the muscles. Her gloved fingers traveled down the blonde's arm and grabbed her fingers. "And never hold your fingers close to the arrowhead." She advised. "Unless you want to lose a finger," she teased.

Gabrielle smiled softly and then allowed the sultan to adjust her fingers in the right place on the bow. She could feel the sultan's hot breath against her ear and her eyes widened. So close, she thought, he is really close to me.

Xena's hand then traveled to Gabrielle's waist and she placed her hand over her midsection. "You must tighten all of your muscles before you shoot or you will have bad aim," she said and Gabrielle said nothing. "Do you understand?" she asked and the girl nodded silently.

She then proceeded and turned Gabrielle's thigh outward, fixing her footing. Gabrielle's entire body was stiff as a board. She didn't think this was going to be as awkward as it was right now. A whiff of that floral scent appeared again and she frowned, peering down at the sultan as he was fixing her foot placement.

As soon as Xena stood, Gabrielle immediately averted her eyes back to facing forward. Xena pulled out an arrow from her back and placed it carefully in Gabrielle's grasp. She had herself pressed against Gabrielle's back and then placed her hot gloved fingers on the blonde's shoulder.

"Now, aim for something," Xena said and Gabrielle squinted her eye and saw a small tree in the garden. Xena's fingers traveled along Gabrielle's arm and pointed the bow in the direction of the tree. "Always aim more to the right, even if you think it is off center. Understand?"

Gabrielle nodded and then released the arrow, hitting the tree's small trunk dead and center. She grinned and turned around, looking into the sultan's blue eyes. She suddenly felt even more awkward and embarrassed. Her cheeks flushed in color and saw the sultan raise her eyebrow subtly.

"Not bad, for a troublemaker," Xena teased and then moved onto the next girl in line.

That evening, all the girls were more than thankful to return to their quarters to bathe and eat food as they hadn't eaten anything since yesterday morning. Gabrielle ruffled her damp hair with a towel and sa Helena huddled in her bed, reading a book.

She smiled and her friend glanced up at her. "Where did you get that book anyway?" she asked.

"There is a library down the hall," Helena answered. "Do you like to read?"

Gabrielle nodded, "of course. Are we allowed to go in there?"

Helena shrugged her shoulders, "nobody stopped me." She smiled and then went back to reading.

Gabrielle threw the towel down onto her bed and decided to go to this library. She had been stuck here for over a week now and while things had been more than interesting than anything in her life, she wanted to do something normal for a change. She left the quarters and tread down the long hallway and surprisingly, nobody was standing guard in this hallway. Strange, she thought.

Well, the library was technically still part of the east wing, right? She guessed that's why nobody stopped Helena from going in there in the first place. As she walked down the long dark hall, she ran her fingers through her damp hair.

She saw there were two large double doors which could only be the doors to the library, since there were no other rooms in this hall. She frowned and saw one of the doors was slightly ajar. Cautiously, she crept up by the door and peeked inside.

Scanning the room she saw someone sitting in a chair, reading quietly. Raising her eyebrow, she decided not to say anything. She figured that she had brought enough attention to herself already. Creeping inside, slipping through the small crack of the door she padded over to a large book shelf that almost reached the ceiling.

Gabrielle peeked through the books and saw a woman with long black hair, flipping through the pages of a book. She hadn't seen her before in this place and it definitely wasn't any of the trainers either. She walked in between two book shelves and poked her head around the shelf.

The dark haired woman was drinking some wine and wearing a dark robe, crossing one leg over the other and barefoot as well. Gabrielle picked out a book from the shelf and crept out from behind the shelf and watched the oblivious woman continue to read. She felt like she was being a stalker, but she was more than curious to see who it was.

Suddenly the woman stood up and Gabrielle panicked and quickly ran back to the shelf, hiding her face behind the book. She peered over the edge of the book and saw the tall brunette walk to a bookshelf and began scoping out through the large selection.

She moved further down the shelf and Gabrielle slowly followed her path and peered in between the shelf, trying to be as stealthy as possible. She then saw the woman bend down to take a closer look at the books and saw her face. Gabrielle's eyes widened as her lips parted, gawking at her.

Finally, the brunette chose a book and then someone walked into the library. Gabrielle gasped and then ducked down, hiding behind the bookshelf.

"Mistress, Alexander keeps asking for you," Kara said.

Gabrielle frowned. Alexander? I remember that name. That sassy boy from upstairs in the west wing. She set the book down on the ground and crawled behind the shelf, peering out to see the servant and the tall woman throw the book on the table.

"I told him that he cannot come out of my room for whatever reason," Xena said.

Kara nodded, "yes I know, but he already tried to escape twice!" she cried. "The last time I checked in on him, it didn't sound like he was just waiting around..."

Xena groaned and finished off her wine. "That child, I swear." She handed Kara her empty wine glass and slipped on her shoes. "Tell Dajan that I want to speak with him."

"But the hour is late..." Kara said and then received a menacing glare from her mistress. "Yes, of course I will tell him," she curtly bowed her head.

Xena added, "and I wish to go to the girls' quarters once I am finished with Dajan."

Gabrielle's eyes widened in fear and then she scooted back into the depths of the library. She leaned against the shelf and breathed heavily. She began putting the two together. She had not seen another woman in this palace since she got here until now. That woman was talking about meeting with the adviser and nobody does that if they are part of the council or...the sultan himself. Gabrielle covered her mouth and realized that the sultan was not a man, but a woman.

She quickly got up off the floor and made a run for the doors. As she got up abruptly, one of the books fell off the shelf.

Xena snapped her head around at the sound. She raised her eyebrow and then began scoping out the library. She walked through each bookshelf aisle to see if anyone was here. She came to an aisle and saw a book lying face open on the floor and frowned.

She then heard a creaking sound and turned to the doors. She saw one of the doors creaking open and she grimaced.

Gabrielle ran down the hallway and then into the sleeping quarters to see almost everyone was asleep except a few group of girls, talking to each other, telling stories. She breathlessly ran to her bed and plopped down.

Helena raised her eyebrow and set her book in her lap. "Did you find the library?"

Gabrielle slowed her breathing and turned on her side. "Yeah..." she said and scratched her arm anxiously. She didn't think she was going to make it back in time, but she was glad that she did.

"Are you okay?" Helena touched her friend's shoulder. Gabrielle then jumped and Helena pulled her hand away. "Gabrielle, did something happen?"

"No, nothing happened. Nothing," she said as she curled her legs close to her chest. "I think I'm going to go to sleep now..." she said softly and pulled the blanket over her body, staring at the doors. She didn't think she was going to get any sleep tonight at all.

Xena put on her sultan attire for the last time before heading to bed. It was the middle of the night and after meeting with Dajan, she really wasn't in the mood for any more surprises. She wanted to see if she could get the girls a set of armor and he questioned why she'd do something like that.

She went on to say that the girls were more than experiment to her. The girls that actually made it through the training, were very good fighters so far. Some of them were a bit more difficult to train, but she promised herself that she would make this dream of hers come true one day.

She slipped on her gloves and opened the doors to the east wing and saw all of the girls sleeping in their beds. She walked through the room, stepping in between the mattresses, looking carefully at all the girls.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and saw the sultan walking through the room. She panicked and hunkered down in her blankets and kept one eye open, watching her, not him, as she found out, walking through the maze of beds. She hoped that the sultan wouldn't come near her or she might do something stupid, as Helena often said.

Xena kept weaving through the beds and looked down, adjusting the veil on her face. She spotted a book laying next to Helena's bed and frowned, narrowing her eyes.

Gabrielle felt frozen as she watched her come closer and closer to her bed and Helena's. She then realized that she spotted the book next to Helena's bed and silently cursed to herself.

Xena bent down and picked up the book. She opened it and began flipping through the pages and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip, as the sultan was dangerously close to her, barely a foot from away from her.

Xena turned her head and saw Gabrielle. She closed the book and placed it quietly back down next to Helena's bed. She reached forward and pulled the blanket up, covering the rest of Gabrielle's upper half.

Gabrielle tried to remain calm and felt the gloves touch her bare skin and urged herself not to open her eyes and say something by mistake. You're supposed to be asleep Gabrielle, she kept telling herself. She then heard footsteps descending from her bed and opened one of her eyes, watching the sultan, or sultana she should say, leave the room as quietly as possible.

When Xena left the room and closed the doors behind her Gabrielle threw the blanket off of her, feeling incredibly hot and sweaty. She wiped the sweat off her brow and sat up, leaning against the wall, burying her face in her hands. This was something that she needed to keep to herself, she thought. Nobody else must know about this.


Chapter Text

AN: this is incredibly long but necessary! Action saved for the following chapter. Interesting things in this chapter, good luck and thank you for reading ;)

Chapter 5 –The Holy Land

Two Months Later

Xena's men brought Osman to Jerusalem as she requested and the two argued for days about the Crusaders. She warned him if he even came close to joining them, she would cut off all aid to Anatolia and invade Ankara. Osman believed that Xena would never bluff about something as dangerous and vicious as that, but he felt conflicted.

He wanted to ally with the Crusaders only because that meant they would receive more coin and military aid to attack the Mongols if they came that far. There had been rumors that Genghis Khan and his army moved across the Caucasus Mountains, which was incredibly close to Anatolia. Osman didn't know if Xena was even remotely worried about the Mongolians. He always believed that she was very arrogant and thought she was the best warrior in the western world. Although, she had a massive empire that spanned from Thrace to far east of Persia.

In the end, the two never reached a decision and Osman was forced to return to Ankara since he got word that Borias came back from his long four month mission. Xena began trying to pry information out of him about Borias and this so-called mission, but he wouldn't dare tell her anything.

He knew that if Xena was to know about this mission it would ruin everything. Osman was playing with fire between the Mongols and Roman Crusaders. He wanted to ally with the church because they were a much stronger influence than Xena could ever be. The Romans even warned him that since Xenophon was the church's enemy and took control of the holy city, they would revolt and destroy Ankara.

He was forced to make a tough decision –keep alliance with Xena and her empire or side with Rome. Neither alliance was convincing enough so he turned elsewhere for help. He made no promise to Rome that he would aid in their Crusade to attack Jerusalem, but he also did not make any promises that he would keep his word and remain friends with Xena either.

Upon Osman's return he told Borias that he desperately needed to talk to him alone. The two sat together in the large yurt in the campgrounds.

The chieftain rubbed the back his neck anxiously. "I spoke with Xena about the Crusaders. She threatened to attack Ankara if we ally with Rome."

Borias let out a heavy sigh and shook his head. "She does not know when to stop," he growled. "You will not befriend the Romans will you?" he asked with a bit of hesitance.

Osman shook his head, "no, I have decided not to ally with them. I told them that I wouldn't two months ago when they paid a visit to Ankara. But, they insist that it is a much better offer to become alliances with them instead of remaining allies with Xena's empire."

"She will attack us, Osman," Borias knew Xena very well, even though he hadn't seen her in several years, nothing has changed about her since the time has passed.

The chieftain sighed and rubbed his knees, trying to distract himself. "What about your mission?"

Borias grinned widely. "I spoke to the khan and he agrees to ally with us. We will join with the golden horde in the Caucasus."

Osman nodded, glad to hear at least some good news. "And what did he say about the Greco-Persian empire?" he feared that if Xena found out about their alliance with the Mongols, she'd definitely destroy Ankara.

"He said that if Xenophon," he began and really hated calling Xena by that name. It left a sour taste in his mouth. He continued, "does not surrender under him, he will attack the empire. He sent one of his officers to Jerusalem months ago, but I know that she declined. I can't say I am surprised," he rolled his eyes.

"Perhaps, you could persuade her to surrender?" Osman offered politely, knowing the two haven't seen each other in years even when Alexander was born, the two did not meet.

Borias let out a roaring laugh and the chieftain frowned at the ghastly response. "Osman, I love you as a friend, a brother, of course but..." he chuckled and rubbed his chin. "She will never agree."

"It amazes me that you two were able to have two children together," Osman widened his eyes and tightened his lips just thinking about those two. They were totally two opposite people.

The chieftain's dark haired friend nodded, agreeing with him. "People change," he said and Osman's lip curled into a smile and Borias chuckled softly.

Osman lifted his cup of wine and smiled smugly. "Probably should have stopped after the first child," he teased and Borias frowned, sipping the wine slowly. "You should have never went to Thebes," he chortled, remembering that trip he took.

Borias coughed, almost choking on the wine. "Hey, hey," he held up his hand. "I thought we weren't going to talk about that anymore?"

"What was it again? An irresistible urge?" Osman laughed and his friend hung his head embarrassed that even happened.

"It was one time," Borias grumbled and finished off the wine in one swig.

"I can still see the look on Natassa's face when –"

"Are you done?" Borias glared at his friend and Osman cleared his throat, nodding his head.

Solan thought that his mother would have written back to him by now. It had been two months since he sent that message about the Crusaders. Usually, he got a response from her within the week, but he had got nothing yet. It was really out of character for her not to reply back in a timely manner and he was beginning to worry that something might have happened.

The worst thought came to his mind. Maybe the Roman Crusaders already invaded Jerusalem and she was dead, but if that were true, he would have found out already, so that couldn't be it. Or maybe she was busy building her army and that's why she hadn't replied.

He walked around the grassy plains coming up with different scenarios in his head. His mother always had something going on and always found time to write back to him even if she was super busy.

Sighing he scratched his head and then turned to see his stepmother dying some fabric outside her yurt. She had her arms fully submerged in the dyed water and kept pulling fabrics in and out of the large bins. He ran over to her and she lifted her blue eyes, frowning slightly.

"Natassa Khatun," he smiled, greeting her as sweetly as possible.

"What do you need Solan? I am busy," she groaned and took out the fabric and hung it over the drying wrack beside her.

He saw her struggling to pull out the heavy fabric out of the water and he took the fabric off her hands and walked it over to the drying wrack. Natassa raised her eyebrow and now she knew he definitely wanted something. It was difficult to hate a child, but he was the child of Borias' whore, as she called Xena many times. Over the years the two spent together, he was always polite to her. She suspected that his mother told him to be nice to her.

"What's all the fabric for?" he asked curiously.

She took the white linen and dipped it in the burgundy dye. "Dresses for the women," she answered curtly.

Solan nodded and twiddled his thumbs behind his back. She lifted her eyes and sighed, staring at him. "What is it?" she was growing tired of him lingering around, since she had so much work to do and very little time to do it.

He smiled nervously. "Well...have you got any...letters from my mother?" he asked.

Natassa shook her head. "No I haven't." she saw the disappointment in the boy's eyes. "Are you expecting one?"

Solan shrugged his shoulder. "No, no. I was just wondering. You will let me know if you get anything...?" he asked and she nodded then continued dying the fabric. He quickly ran off leaving that awkward situation.

He saw Belach's yurt and frowned. He marched over there to talk to his brother. He hadn't really spoken to him these last couple of months at all. He barged into his yurt and saw Belach in bed, but he wasn't alone. His eyes widened as he looked at the young girl with long curly dark hair.

She gasped and covered herself with the sheets and Belach frowned. He got out of the bed and grabbed Solan's arm, pushing him out of his yurt.

"Who do you think you are, coming into my room?!" Belach growled.

Solan was still star struck and looked into his brother's irate dark eyes. "That...was...was that Dilara?" he was speechless and couldn't believe that Osman's niece was in his brother's yurt, or in his bed for that matter.

Belach rolled his eyes and folded his arms. "So what if it was?" he smirked.

"She is promised to someone else, Belach!" Solan yelled and his elder brother snarled, grabbing hold of his arm.

"Solan!" Borias called out. Both boys turned to their father and they saw a huge frown on his face. He was coming their way.

Belach tightened his grip on his younger brother's arm. "You know nothing about this," he hissed and then smiled at his father. "I didn't know you were back, father..." he wrapped his arm around Solan.

Borias' eyebrow rose and stared at Solan and saw a scowl on his face. "Why aren't you with your mother?" he asked.

"What a great question," Solan smugly smiled and looked to his brother. Borias glanced back and forth between his sons, very confused as to what was going on.

Belach chuckled and pat Solan's shoulder. "Xena said it was alright if he stayed here for awhile longer. Hope you don't mind..." he pinched Solan's arm, keeping him quiet.

"That doesn't sound like her," Borias said and Solan smirked. Belach faltered and his smile disappeared. "Did she tell you that, Solan?" he turned to his blonde son.

Solan began to talk and Belach pinched him. "Stop it!" he growled and pushed his brother away gruffly. "No, she didn't tell me that!" he spat and Borias frowned. Now he was even more confused. "I wanted to stay here," he lied.

"Did you tell her that?" his father pressed and Solan shook his head. "She will blame me for this, you know that, right?" he sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead. He didn't want to deal with Xena at all. It had been nice these last few years without seeing one another, but since Solan decided to stay here, she was probably upset and he didn't have the energy nor time to deal with her wrath.

"She knows that I am staying here," Solan added and his father eyed him curiously. "Alexander told her."

Borias smiled frustratingly. "Of course...Alexander..." he sighed and walked off without saying another word to either of his sons.

Belach pushed Solan and snarled. "You almost got both of us in trouble!"

Solan frowned and brushed off his brother's slimy sweat off his tunic. "It's your fault that I am here in the first place. Why don't you go back to your lover girl?" he teased then sauntered off.

Early in the morning after Xena finished yet another meeting with the council, she walked through the hall with Dajan before she met with her girls. The training had been going well for the last two months, although, a couple of girls broke down and could no longer handle the strenuous training she put them under.

She turned to Dajan and stopped in the middle of the hallway. "Have you received anything from Ankara?" she hoped and he shook his head.

"Sorry, your majesty," he said with a sad smile. "I will let you know immediately if something comes in." he said and she sighed heavily.

"Thank you," she said softly and he walked off to go finish the rest of his duties for the day. She folded her arms and was very bemused. She had sent several letters to Solan for the last two months and had not received anything back yet. She was beginning to think that either something happened to him or someone was hoarding her letters. She also wrote Borias not once, but twice and she knew he was not much for writing, but he did respond to her rather quickly. She too, didn't receive anything from him either.

Gabrielle walked through the hall after getting up super early this morning. She was ahead of schedule than all the other girls. As she tread through the hall she abruptly stopped once she saw the sultan standing by herself. She inhaled heavily once she saw her.

She tried to avoid eye contact with the sultan ever since she found out her secret two months ago. Although, she also didn't make her life easier during training sessions. The sultan always gave her extra tasks to do for some reason. Gabrielle took Helena's advice to stop making herself super noticeable to the sultan, but it didn't seem to work.

No matter how much she tried, she was always in the spotlight and that was probably because the sultan knew her and remembered all of her faults. Gabrielle didn't understand why the sultan picked on her so much. Just last week she had to crawl through the hot sand for half a mile, which was much longer than the other girls, but she did it reluctantly anyway.

Gabrielle knew that she couldn't just avoid the sultan forever and decided to approach her. She exhaled deeply and then put on a big smile.

"Good morning, your highness," she greeted warmly and slowly the sultan turned around.

Xena grinned and stared into Gabrielle's big green eyes. "Good morning, Gabrielle," she said politely. "What can I do for you?"

Gabrielle's smile faded and she pursed her lips. "Well...uh.." she tried to avoid the sultan's eyes as much as possible but it was nearly impossible. "I just wanted to say hello." She saw the blue eyes still staring and the sultan said nothing, which made the situation even more awkward.

"And that...I am really anxious to see what you have in mind for today's session," she said with a big cheeky grin and then felt really stupid for saying that out loud. She cringed at her own words.

Xena smiled softly and finally lowered her eyes. "You try too hard, Gabrielle. Remember, we are not friends," she turned and walked off down the hall.

Gabrielle blinked and she then ran after the sultan. "I know that, but I mean...can't I be excited about training?"

Xena frowned, narrowing her eyes, she kept walking with the annoying blonde by her side. "After last week I didn't think you would be 'excited' about training."

Laughing nervously, Gabrielle spoke, "well I have to admit, you really pushed me to my limits."

Xena halted and then turned to face her trainee. Gabrielle then realized that she probably shouldn't have said what she did. She studied the woman's eyes and didn't even have to see her face to know what kind of emotion she was portraying.

"I have never met anyone like you before," Xena said.

Neither have I, Gabrielle thought, but she remained quiet.

"You know what gets you in trouble, Gabrielle?" Xena stepped closer to the petite blonde. "Your mouth." She leaned in towards her face. "You must have been quite a talker back home," she implied and Gabrielle hinted at a small smile. "Ah, so you are. That explains everything," she smiled and folded her arms.

"I have a very special surprise for you girls today," she said and all the color drained from Gabrielle's face. "And since I know you love volunteering for everyone..." she chuckled and left the blonde alone in the hallway.

I have really got to stop thinking out loud, Gabrielle chastised herself.

A bit later Helena caught up with Gabrielle outside in the gardens along with the other girls. She nudged her friend's arm playfully. "Hope you didn't get yourself in trouble again," she teased.

The blonde frowned deeply. "Thanks, Helena," she grumbled.

Xena came outside and she brought a slew of her soldiers with her. All the girls turned around and saw men carrying large chests behind the sultan. Xena stood before her trainees and the men set down the three chests down in a row beside her.

She smiled and folded her arms. "Today you will no longer wear the rags to train," she said and gestured to the soldiers to open the chests. They pulled out a couple of black tunics, pants and breastplates. "I had these armor sets made in Persepolis a month ago." She said and all the girls' eyes grew in awe.

"From now on you will wear this armor while training," she said and motioned for the girls to receive their new armor. They all lined up and Gabrielle lifted herself on her tip toes to see over the taller girls' heads.

"I knew there was another reason why the sultan wanted us here," Helena whispered and Gabrielle frowned.

"Yeah..." Gabrielle muttered. She folded her arms and poked her head around Penelope's shoulder, gawking at the sultan. She couldn't believe that the sultan was in fact a woman. She wondered if anyone else knew about this secret. But there had to been someone else that knew and that boy, Alexander, was definitely her son, she guessed. She could only assume that's what the boy's relationship was to the sultana.

She was given her set of armor after Helena and the rest of the girls. She held the heavy armor in her arms and stared at the sultana with a curious expression. Xena looked directly in her eyes, tapping her gloved fingers on the armrest of her chair.

Xena stood and kept eyeing Gabrielle. "You will all go take your armor to your room and report back tomorrow morning. There will be no training session today," she concluded and all the girls were thrilled to hear that. They had been working very hard for the last two months, crawling through hot sand, sparring with one another and learning hand to hand combat.

Gabrielle gasped and saw the sultana walking back into the palace. While the other girls were gossiping about their armor and how happy they were, she decided to follow the sultana.

"Wait!" she called out and Xena slowly turned on her heel. "Was this the surprise?"

Xena lowered her eyes and answered, "yes, it was."

Gabrielle felt confused about this. She was expecting something far worse and what about all that talk of volunteering. "I thought we were going to have a session today?"

Xena smiled softly, "tomorrow, Gabrielle. I have a lot of things to do. Hope I did not disappoint you," she winked and pat the trainee's shoulder gently then walked away to the west wing.

Xena sat in her bedroom with Alexander sitting on her bed beside her. He cuddled up next to her as she held a book in her hands, tracing her finger along the sentence slowly. Alexander furrowed his eyebrows, muttering to himself, trying to read the words.

He folded his arms and studied the sentence carefully, trying to figure out how to say the word. "Let your plans be dark and..." he stuttered, "im...impen..."

She smiled softly, "impenetrable," she said slowly and he sighed.

"Impenetrable as night," he continued, "and when you move, fall like a...a..."

"Thunderbolt," she said and he huffed.

"Reading is so hard," he said and she smiled, closing the book to set it aside. "What does that even mean?" he looked up at his mother.

Xena pursed her lips and wrapped her arm around his small shoulder. "I think it means that you should always trust your instincts and strike when necessary," she smiled and poked his stomach.

He chuckled and sighed heavily. "I think I understand. Can we read something else now?" he asked and she nodded. "I'll go to the library!" he crawled out of bed and ran out of the bedroom.

Gabrielle dressed herself in a black abaya and a veil to match. She easily walked through the east wing passed the guards and even saw a few maids walking by. She hid her face behind the veil and hoped that nobody else saw who she really was, especially the sultan, or sultana.

She walked through the large dark marble hallway and then saw Alexander running right towards her. She panicked and her eyes grew in fear. He ran right past her down a separate hallway. She exhaled heavily and probably realized that he must think that she's another random maid in this huge palace.

Okay, Gabrielle, she told herself, I will go to the west wing, but how? How will I get there without her noticing me?

Kara saw Gabrielle and ran towards her with a basket and smiled. "Excuse me!" she called out and Gabrielle froze. She didn't want to be caught this soon in her plan, not now, she cursed herself.

Kara breathed heavily and grabbed Gabrielle's arm, not recognizing her. "I have to go to the seamstress' room. Will you take to this to the west wing for me?" he handed over the basket and Gabrielle hooked it on her arm. "You must be new here," she implied, gleaming into her eyes and Gabrielle shied away.

She smiled, "you know where to go right?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. "Good, and don't stare too much," she warned then skipped off. "Thank you!" she then started running down the hallway and Gabrielle let out a sigh of relief.

Don't stare too much? Gabrielle walked to the stairs in the west wing and held her breath. This was such a bad idea, she thought, a very bad idea. What if she sees who I am? Am I going to die if she finds out? Or what if she continues to play this lying game and torture me in training sessions?

She walked up the stairs slowly and looked at the double doors on the right. She wrapped the veil around her face and felt her heart racing. She had never felt so nervous, scared and excited all at once. Although, she began to wonder why the sultan would ever want to portray herself as a man. There was probably a lot of things she didn't understand.

Now, standing in front of the doors, she couldn't help herself to knock. She wanted to turn back and go to her quarters, but she had already come this far. Readying herself she rapped on the door softly and heard a soft greeting.

Slowly, she opened the door and saw the sultan sitting on her bed. Don't stare too much, she remembered.

Xena frowned, "are you going to just stand there?" she asked and Gabrielle quickly stepped inside and closed the door behind her. "Put the basket over there," she pointed to the table next to her vanity set.

Gabrielle said nothing and walked to the table. She set the basket down and looked inside to see a bunch of paper tied together, fresh ink, some pens and also a few bottles of wine she guessed. She began taking the stuff out of the basket and setting them on the table as slowly as possible.

Peering behind her she saw the sultana, who was completely oblivious to her gawking. She could finally see her face clearly for the first time and now she understood why the woman hid her face. She was gorgeous and Gabrielle couldn't help herself from staring. She thought that her eyes were the most beautiful part of her face because that's all she could see, but it was much more than that. The sultana's face was strong, yet feminine and her hair was very long and shiny too.

Her hair dark framed her high cheekbones perfectly and Gabrielle's eyes widened as she saw the brunette woman adjust the sash around her waist.

Xena lifted her eyes and Gabrielle panicked and turned back around. She continued taking the items out of the basket. Xena's eyebrow rose and she eyed the veiled maid.

"Put the paper on the desk," she asked of the maid.

Gabrielle didn't say a word and she picked up the heavy stack of paper in her arms and looked to her left and saw the sultana's huge desk. Carefully, she walked over to the desk and glanced at her documents laid across the tabletop. She frowned as soon as she saw a few documents with the titles of "Khan" and the other, "trainees".

"Why are you dawdling?!" Xena yelled and Gabrielle dropped the stack of papers on the desk and felt her hands clam up and she wiped them on the black abaya. "Bring the wine to me," she said.

Gabrielle's eyes grew in fright and she slowly made her way back to the other table with all the other items. She picked up the wine and closed her eyes, saying a small prayer to herself. She hoped that the woman would not look into her eyes and she hoped she could keep herself from staring. This was definitely a terrible idea, she thought.

Xena held out her arm and wagged her fingers at the maid. "To-day, girl," she griped and Gabrielle stepped closer to her bed and handed over the bottle of wine. Xena uncorked the wine and poured a glass for herself then set it on the bedside table.

Gabrielle lifted her eyes for a brief moment to catch a glimpse at the sultana's face again. Those blue eyes were definitely not her best feature, she gathered. Her eyes lingered to Xena's bare thigh, slipping from the slit of her robe.

Xena sipped her wine and lifted her eyes, gawking at the maid. "I have never seen you before," she mused with a smug smirk. Gabrielle adjusted the veil around her face and averted her eyes elsewhere. "Where is Kara?"

Kara? Who is Kara? "I...I'm not sure," Gabrielle answered softly, muffling her voice so the sultana couldn't recognize her voice.

Xena kept looking at the nervous maid and swished her wine. "Where do you work in the palace?" she asked and crossed one leg over the other.

Oh crap, Gabrielle's entire face paled and she turned around with her back facing the sultana. Xena frowned and grabbed her arm firmly. "I am talking to you!" she said and Gabrielle was pulled closer and she immediately lowered her gaze.

"I...I work with Kara," Gabrielle didn't know what to say and Xena frowned, trying to look into the girl's eyes that lingered on the rug below her feet. "In...the seamstress room," she continued, nodding her head. Yes, the seamstress room, of course.

Xena let go of the maid's arm and tapped her nails against the wine glass. "Kara doesn't work in the seamstress room..."

"I got some great books!" Alexander ran into the room and threw three books onto the bed and hopped aboard, crawling towards Xena. "I got The Knight with The Lion," he held up the book, "oh and, The Holy Grail and Theo...theo...well, we can skip that one," he smiled and saw his mother glaring up at a maid.

He tugged on his mother's sleeve. "Mom, can we read the book about the knight?" he asked and Xena turned to her son.

She smiled gently, "of course we can."

Gabrielle took this opportunity to slip away from the sultana and quickly exit the room.

Alexander opened the book and set it in his mother's lap, anxiously waiting for her to begin the reading. Xena frowned, eyeing the door close once the young maid left her room.

"Mother!" he whined and Xena shook her head then peered down at her son. She smiled and wrapped her arm around him, bringing him close to her. He began reading the first sentence out loud and Xena eyed the door once more.

"How do you say this word?" he asked politely and Xena forgot about the strange maid and looked down at the book.

She sighed and traced her finger along the last sentence of the first paragraph. "Apprehensively," she read the word aloud and he nodded.

"What does 'appre-hen-sively' mean?"

"Fearful...nervous..." she explained as she thought of that mysterious maid, the lying maid. She would need to talk to Kara about that later, she made a mental note for herself.

Alexander thought that was a reasonable explanation and then turned the page, reading more of the story. He frowned and tugged his mother's sleeve again, grabbing her attention. "Does this book really have a lion in it?" he asked and she smiled down at him.

She had read this book with Solan a long time ago when they still lived in Thebes. He asked very similar questions that Alexander asked. The only reason she remembered that night when they read the book because she was stuck in the palace for more than a year.

Seven Years Ago

Solan walked into his mother's room holding a large book in his arms. He tried not to disturb her lately because she wanted to be left alone, but recently, he was stuck inside the palace with her and with nothing to do. And it kept raining too, for several weeks.

He slowly approached her side of the bed and saw her reading something. "Mother..." he whispered.

"Hm?" she answered curtly.

He kept fidgeting with the book in his arms, shrugging his shoulders. "Um...are you busy?" he asked in a shy voice and she replied with a simple nod. "Are you too busy to read with me tonight?" he murmured as he batted his long eyelashes.

Xena set down her documents and peered down at her six year old son and smiled. "No," she pat the empty spot next to her and he beamed then climbed on the bed. She grabbed the book from his arms and looked at the title. "The Knight with The Lion," she said and he cuddled up close to her.

"Is it a good book?" he asked.

"A very good one, but it will hard for you to read," she noted and he smiled then opened to the first page, determined to read the book anyway. "Alright..." she sighed and brushed her long hair behind her shoulder.

Solan smiled and looked at the first sentence and thought it was pretty daunting at first, but he tried to read it anyway. He sighed then waited for her to read along with him, but she didn't. "I want to read this book to my brother or sister one day," he said.

Xena grinned softly, "I think we should finish the story first," she suggested and he nodded.

She began reading and then he interrupted. "When is the baby coming anyway?"

She frowned, "Solan, you asked me this yesterday. I told you, soon. Now –"

"How soon is soon?" he interrupted her again.

She sighed heavily and rubbed her temple. "Any day. So, are we going to read now or what?" she asked and he gave her a big smile and nodded. She found where she left off and continued reading from there.

"Is there really a lion in this story?" he asked curiously, interrupting her yet again.

"Solan..." she warned.

Gabrielle ran to her bed after ditching the abaya and veil along the way of her escape. She climbed into bed and pulled the blankets over her body and stared at the ceiling, her chest rising and falling heavily. Helena groaned and rolled over, opening her eyes from her slumber.

"Gabrielle, where have you been?" she whispered.

She snapped her head over and licked her dry lips. "Nowhere," she answered curtly.

"Nowhere huh?" Helena yawned and cuddled against her pillow. "Do you know what time it is? You've been gone for over an hour. Were you in the library again?" she smirked.

Gabrielle shook her head, "no, I wasn't."

"Then where were you?" the brunette asked, now a bit curious. "And why are you sweating like a stuffed pig?"

The blonde frowned, "just go back to sleep," she rolled over and tucked the blankets underneath her chin. She stared at the wall in front of her and heard Helena getting comfortable in her bed and thankfully, said nothing more. She couldn't believe she did something that bold as to go into the sultan's room. She didn't think she was going to get that far. She just thought she'd be able to wander around the west wing, but no, she was asked to go to her room, all alone.

As she lay in the bed she couldn't help but think of the sultana's face. She definitely wasn't deformed, although some people might say so if they really knew who she was. She was a woman posing as a man, which could get her killed if anyone found out. Gabrielle now understood why the sultana refused to let her face be visible to the public –she wasn't ugly at all. Perhaps if she had more masculine features she could show her face, but she didn't, at all. Anyone could see that she was definitely a woman. By a glimpse of her long legs and shapely thighs, it was no wonder that she hid her body beneath long robes and wide pants. The appearance of a man was important in this land as it was everywhere else. Perhaps, Gabrielle thought, the sultana had a method to her madness, but only time will tell, she supposed.

She began to wonder what the sultana's name really was. She knew it wasn't Xenophon because that was a man's name. If only she could get within an inch of her without having to wear some ridiculous disguise, then she'd be able to find out for sure. Until then, she would make sure to get on the sultana's good side and build a relationship with her. Gabrielle was tired of the sultan calling her a troublemaker. The sultan didn't even say her name was much anymore and only referred to her as the 'troublemaker'.

Xena walked through the hallway, heading towards her office where all the council meetings were held. She slipped on her gloves and passed by Gabrielle heading her way.

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she immediately lowered her head and quickened her pace, hoping the sultan wasn't going to say anything to her or even worse, suspect that she was definitely in her room last night. Please, no, she begged.

Xena dropped her glove on the floor in front of Gabrielle's foot and she lifted her eyes, looking at the terrified blonde girl.

The trainee bent down and picked up the glove and Xena frowned, snatching it right out of her hand. Gabrielle caught a glimpse of the sultana's hand and long fingernails at the end of her slender fingers. Xena hid her hand and slipped on the glove quickly. She nervously smiled, staring into the woman's blue eyes.

"Why are you up so early?" Xena questioned, tightening the glove around her fingers.

Gabrielle stammered and played with her hands behind her back. "Well...I –I just wanted to get a head start on training for today. I couldn't sleep well last night," she grinned falsely.

Xena was about to respond until Dajan came running to her side. "Your majesty!" he yelled and she turned her head. "The Templar Knights are here to see you. Shall I turn them away?"

She opened her mouth and then turned to see Gabrielle still standing there, frozen. "Do you mind?" she snidely remarked and Gabrielle nodded with a cheeky grin then quickly left the two to talk to each other.

Gabrielle hid behind a large pillar, intentionally listening to the sultan and her adviser talk to one another. Templar Knights in Persia? That never happens and if it does, that can't be good, she thought.

Xena sighed heavily and began, "do not send them away. I have nothing to hide," she grinned. "Send them to my office. I will be waiting." She sauntered off down the hall and Dajan shook his head, fearing this could not end well.

Gregory, the leader of the Templars, stepped inside the large office sequestered in a hidden part of the large palace. He hadn't been in a place this big since he went to the Vatican to talk with the Pope. He stepped in and saw Xenophon sitting in his chair, patiently waiting. He eyed the sultan cautiously and the rumors of the hidden sultan were true. He was covered head to toe in black garb and hid behind a veil, covering all but his piercing light eyes.

Xena turned her head and smiled at the knight. "Don't be shy..." she motioned for him to step in further and he did so and the door closed behind him.

Gregory smiled and bowed his head to the sultan, eyeing his almond blue eyes. He cleared his throat and spoke, "Sultan Xenophon, I have traveled a long way to come see you. I hope that you will hear me out."

"I didn't kill you, now did I?" she teased and the knight blinked rapidly. "Just a small joke," she smiled.

He finally smiled weakly and nodded. "Of course," he continued, "I have been ordered by Pope Innocent to ask you to surrender your city to the church." He saw Xenophon's eyes narrow, glaring intensely at him.

"With all due respect, Sultan, this land does not belong to you."

Xena sighed and tapped her fingers against one another, staring at the knight. "With all due respect, Templar, I don't see your name on it," she mocked him.

Gregory frowned, growing tired of this sultan's games. "Your majesty, this land belongs to the church, not you. Go back to Greece where you belong, respectfully..." he bowed his head.

Xena snarled and stood from the chair. Dajan eyed her carefully and she stepped down off the dais, approaching the knight. Gregory lifted his head and saw the sultan coming closer and closer.

"This land is mine. I dethroned the last sultan and I claimed Jerusalem. This land does not belong to the church or to anyone, but me!"

The knight raised his eyebrow, looking into those menacing eyes of the sultan. "If you do not surrender the holy land now, we will be forced to take you out of it. Me and my knights have already paid a visit to your neighbors in Ankara." He saw the sultan's eyes widen. "You must be overjoyed to hear that they are very loyal to you," he smirked, "they declined to help the church, but the big problem here is you. We are giving you an opportunity to surrender now without bloodshed."

"Oh, how kind of you," she mused and turned back to sit in the chair slowly. "I will never surrender to your church. Just what I told the Mongol spy that was sent here awhile back. This land is mine."

Gregory sighed, knowing this meeting was probably going to go nowhere in the beginning. He didn't even know why he bothered to talk to the sultan in the first place, but orders were orders.

"Then you leave me no choice but to tell the pope to proclaim a Crusade on your empire, your highness." He said and Xenophon remained silent.

Xena smiled, "what a fool you are. You tell me when you're going to attack me before you do it. And who says Templar Knights were the brightest?" she winked, finding this very amusing.

Gregory nodded and was tempted to roll his eyes, but kept his composure. "I would not be so arrogant, Sultan," he warned, "the Mongols will coming knocking on your door. They are closer to your neck of the woods than you think."

With that, he left the room eagerly without another word. He felt like he had nothing left to say since he was unable to convince the sultan to surrender, there was no point in staying here any longer.

Xena's heart raced as her blood pressure rose. She could have had that man killed but she didn't, for now. Surrender, she scoffed.

"Dajan," she stood, "I want to leave for Ankara in the morning. Make the preparations," she then hastily exited the room.

All of the female trainees waited patiently outside for their mentor to arrive. Helena yawned and adjusted the armor on her body, still getting used to the weight of it. She stood beside Gabrielle and nudged her arm.

"Where did you really go last night, Gabrielle?" she asked.

Gabrielle pursed her lips and twirled the staff in her hand. "I was just...roaming around. Nothing out of the ordinary," she smiled.

Helena didn't believe that for one second. "When you came back you looked like you just finished running a marathon," she folded her arms. "Come on, tell me the truth!"

Xena walked outside, storming to the front of the line. "Good morning everyone," she greeted and all the girls stood up straight, awaiting their next training session. She turned and saw everyone was being very attentive and she eyed every single girl, looking in their eyes.

"I have to go to Ankara tomorrow morning. While I am away I will have someone here to train you all," she began and the girls did not flinch at all. "I will choose three of you to come with me."

This news perked Gabrielle's interest immediately and she tried to hide her excitement.

Xena walked the first row of girls and pointed at Penelope, "you." She said and saw the girl smile brightly. She continued down the first line and then walked to the second row. "You," she tapped Francesca's shoulder.

She walked to the end of line and looked between Gabrielle and Helena carefully. Both girls didn't look into her eyes and remained focused, staring straight ahead of her. "And you," she pointed to Helena then walked off.

Gabrielle's jaw dropped and she saw Helena's face pale immediately. She couldn't believe that the sultan chose Helena over her. Helena wasn't even that good of a fighter. Sure she didn't get in trouble and was a very quiet girl, but still.

Xena clapped her palms together and motioned her head to the ropes on the sidelines. "Today you all will climb the ropes. I know that we have done this exercise before but it is a lot different with armor on." She smiled and saw all the apprehensive expressions on the girls' faces.

"And to make things more exciting, you will also have weights strapped to your ankles," she said and all the girls sighed heavily, embracing their doom. She told them to walk towards the ropes and followed behind them.

Gabrielle turned her head over her shoulder and watched the sultana follow behind them as they head to the ropes. She grimaced and decided it was going to be now or never.

"Your majesty," she began and Xena lowered her head.


"Why didn't you pick me to go with you? I am really good at all the exercises and never complain. I also think I am a much better fighter than Helena," she said in the most respectful way possible.

Xena smirked, "you are a troublemaker, Gabrielle. While you may certainly be all of those things, and I think you are, you are unpredictable."

I'm unpredictable? She can't be serious, Gabrielle thought. She wanted to lash out immediately but bit her tongue. I'm not the one who is cross-dressing as a man, she groaned inwardly.

"I don't suppose I could change your mind?" she asked with an eager smile.

Xena placed her hand on the blonde's shoulder. "Maybe next time, Gabrielle." She winked and walked off to instruct the girls on what to do next for the exercise.

Maybe next time? What the hell! Gabrielle folded her arms and kept walking in the back of the line.

Gabrielle sat with Helena in the baths, scrubbing their sore arms. Gabrielle frowned at her friend and never felt so jealous before until now. She waded in the hot water and smiled at her friend.

"Helena..." her voice carried and the brunette raised her eyebrow. "You should let me take your place so I can accompany the sultan to Ankara tomorrow!"

Helena gasped, "Gabrielle! Are you insane?!" she shook her head and dipped her long hair in the water.

"Come on, Helena. I really want to go! I bet the sultan would have picked me but..."

"But you always get yourself in trouble," Helena butted in. "Sorry Gabrielle, but I don't think that is a good idea. You could really get both of us in a lot of trouble."

Gabrielle huffed and folded her arms. "I'm a better fighter than you anyway," she muttered under her breath.

"What?" Helena asked and her blonde friend smiled widely. She sighed and grabbed the towel, stepping out of the warm bath water. "Listen, Gabrielle, I don't really want to go, in fact, the sultan really scares me, but he asked me to go and I have to. I think you should respect the sultan's decision." She wrung out her hair then walked off to go get dressed.

Gabrielle sunk deeper into the water, brooding quietly to herself. She eyed all of the other girls smiling, laughing and gossiping in the baths. Once she found out that the sultan was really a woman, the more intrigued she became about the mysterious woman. She wanted to know more about her, but it was nearly impossible to get close to the sultana due to her seclusion in the west wing.

It was also impossible to talk to her alone and ask her questions because she had no idea that Gabrielle knew of her secret. Gabrielle lifted her fingers from the water and ran her fingers through her wet locks. Frowning, she furrowed her eyebrows and wondered why the sultan would ever pretend to be a male ruler in the first place.

She questioned, has the sultan always posed as a man? Has her role as sultan was always a man or perhaps she started as a woman and hid herself away? Gabrielle didn't know the truth but she was definitely curious and she wanted to know more, but she couldn't do that if the sultan kept pushing her away purposely.

Penelope waded in the water close to Gabrielle with a subtle smirk. "Too bad you can't come with us tomorrow," she said and Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I thought for sure that the sultan would have picked you!"

Yeah, me too, Gabrielle thought. "Maybe next time," he mocked the sultana's words and then climbed out of the baths, wrapping a towel around herself.

She walked over to the dressing area and grabbed her clothes and thought about what Penelope said and it angered her. She threw down her clothes and groaned. She decided she is going to go tomorrow no matter what happens.

Kara was busy packing Xena's clothes and other belongings in a large chest for tomorrow's trip to Ankara. Alexander lay on the bed hanging upside down over the edge of the bed.

"Can I go to Ankara with you?" he asked his mother as he watched her pace around the room, gathering stuff for her journey.

"Sorry, Alexander but you are staying here. I would love to take you with me –"

"But..." he interrupted.

She smiled and handed Kara some of her veils and turbans. "But, it's a business trip and I think it would be better if you stayed here with Kara."

"Aweh," he rolled over and felt the blood rushing from his head and collapsed onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. "But I want to see father."

Xena frowned and folded a few of her pants and handed them to Kara. "You were with your father all year, Alexander. Don't you want to spend time with me?" she smiled softly and he rose off the bed.

"Yeah, but I still want to go," he folded his arms. He hopped off the bed, "can I go get some juice?" he asked and she sighed then nodded. He smiled then ran out of the room to go downstairs.

As soon as her son was gone, Xena stared at Kara. "Kara," she began and the maid looked to her.

"Yes, mistress?" she grinned.

"The maid you sent to my room last night, does she work with you?"

Kara frowned and tried to remember last night and the veiled maid came to her mind. "Oh yes, that girl." She shook her head, "no she doesn't, mistress. I was in a hurry and asked her to take the basket to your room. I hope you don't mind." She stuffed the clothing into the chest.

Xena frowned and folded her arms thinking that was rather strange. That maid appeared out of nowhere and came to her room. If Kara didn't know who she was, that certainly raised her suspicion.

Alexander came back into the room and she eyed him carrying more than a glass of juice. "I thought you were getting juice?" she asked.

He grinned and had a semolina cookie sticking out of his mouth. He set the juice down on the table and chomped on the soft cookie. "I saw cookies," he grinned and Xena rolled her eyes.

Chapter Text

AN: feedback much appreciated and thank you for reading ;)

Chapter 6 –Judas Part I

Early the next morning Gabrielle woke up in her bed and saw Helena walking to the baths while everyone else was asleep. She pretended to be asleep and kept one eye open as Helena disappeared into the baths with Penelope and Francesca.

Smiling, she threw the blankets off of her and weaved through the sleeping trainees, being as quiet as possible. She poked her head inside the baths and saw Helena undressing and getting into the bath with the two other girls. Gabrielle immediately eyed Helena's armor sitting on a bench and crouched down.

She began crawling across the floor and hid behind a wall, waiting for Penelope and Francesca to leave the baths. She knew that those two were very quick to wash their bodies and didn't even bother washing their long hair, taking their time like Helena always did. Every single day, she thought.

After waiting for awhile Gabrielle saw the two girls leaving with their armor in hand. Helena was still bathing and washing her long hair. She quickly grabbed Helena's armor and snuck out of the room to change into the armor. She was going to be with the sultan and her cavalry no matter what happens.

Xena instructed the three girls to meet her at the front entrance of the palace outside the gates so they could leave as soon as possible. She told them to wear their helms with veils to hide their faces. She did not want the rest of her soldiers and any of Osman's men to find out they were women either. She worked very hard to keep her secret to her army and did not want to change that. People might think it strange that a male sultan employed women to work with her outside of the palace.

She waited on her horse for the girls to arrive. She told Kara not to let Alexander out of her sight and make sure he didn't leave the palace for anything. Although, since she wasn't there he was allowed to roam to whatever place he liked in the palace. Xena feared that her son did this every time she left for a long time and didn't expect him to obey her. It seems that he was the prince of misbehavior this time around.

Finally, the three girls came outside the palace and joined her in the entrance. She took the reins and trotted over to the veiled girls. She inspected every single one of them and gave them a curt nod.

"Your horses are over there. You will follow me and do not wander off. Nobody is to know that you are women so don't give yourselves away," Xena said and the girls nodded then mounted the steeds.

Gabrielle mounted the horse and she couldn't remember the last time she rode a horse. The only time she rode a horse was when she was six years old and she wasn't alone, her father was riding with her. Now, she was riding beside the sultan on this clandestine mission to Ankara. She eyed the sultana and watched her trot off with a slew of soldiers behind her and she along with Penelope and Francesca followed the sultan and troops.

She eyed the caravan traveling with them and it was filled with an assortment of weapons, stakes and tents. She wondered where in the world they were going and why they needed this many supplies. Though, she wanted to see why they were all heading to Ankara in the first place. She remembered the sultan talking with her adviser about Ankara when she eavesdropped, but she didn't know what was in Ankara. All she knew was that it was the capital of Anatolia and that's it.

More than half the day went by as they continued traveling and Xena decided to stop and make camp because there was quite a violent storm with high winds once they crossed the mountains. The troops made their own tents and Xena told the girls to pitch their own tent off in a corner of seclusion from the other men.

The three trainees looked at their tents laying on the ground and stared for half an hour, trying to figure out how to pitch the tents. Gabrielle picked up a large part of the tent and examined it carefully.

"Maybe you're supposed to put this end in the ground first?" she suggested.

Penelope adjusted the itchy veil on her face and frowned. "I don't think that's how you do it..." she eyed her teammate and recognized that voice and it certainly didn't sound like Helena at all.

"Well we can't sleep outside!" Francesca cried and began helping the other two to figure out how to put this monstrous tent together. She picked up a stake and frowned, not quite sure where to put this. "This is ridiculous. We're going to get eaten by the wolves if we stay outside." She huffed.

"There are no wolves out here, stop being a baby," Penelope griped. "Helena hand me that end of the tent," she instructed.

Gabrielle was too busy trying to figure out which end was which and didn't even hear Penelope.

"Helena?" she reiterated.

Gabrielle finally heard her and turned around. "What?" Penelope pointed to the far end of the tent and wagged her fingers. "Oh right," she nervously said and picked up the large end of the tent and walked it over to her.

Xena's men finished putting up her large tent and they brought in her chest of clothes inside. She stepped outside and cocked her head, watching the three girls arguing with one another, trying to pitch their tent. She smirked and enjoyed watching the girls try and work together, but all they could do was bicker instead of work together.

She decided to make her way over and stepped over a few unlit campfires. Penelope was arguing with Francesca while Gabrielle was on the ground trying to put the stakes in the ground without having the tent set up in the first place.

"Is there a problem?" Xena announced and the girls stopped bickering and stared up at her with wide frightened eyes. "It would be easier if you pitched the center of the tent first..." she implied.

Gabrielle groaned and threw the stake down, frustrated at herself. She stood and placed her hands on her small hips. "You know what we can just sleep under the tent, how's that girls?" she turned around and saw the sultan standing there and her eyes grew immensely.

Xena's eyebrow rose and she approached the frightened trainee, eyeing her emerald eyes. "You wouldn't be making trouble for yourself, would you?" she questioned.

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, your highness."

Xena stepped closer and felt the girl's hot breath seeping through the thick veil. She smirked and stepped away. "Perhaps you have been hanging around the troublemaker, Gabrielle, too much, Helena." She joked and the other girls grinned.

Meanwhile Gabrielle frowned and didn't find that joke funny at all. "We...don't know how to pitch the tent."

"I can see that," Xena said. "Figure it out," she sauntered off. "Work as a team."

Penelope scoffed and took the veil off her face. "This is pointless. It's like the sultan wants us to fail!"

Gabrielle watched the sultana disappear in her large tent and her mouth quirked to the side. She listened to the two girls bickering constantly and her ears were burning with frustration, listening to those two.

"He's right," Gabrielle said, interrupting the girls. "We need to work together. It's just a tent. We've accomplished much harder things!"

"By the time we get this tent set up it'll be morning," Penelope muttered then Gabrielle tossed a couple of stakes at her.

Solan was outside during a hot morning and had been sparring with one of Osman's nephews for the last few hours. He put his fists up to his face and saw his opponent breathing heavily, glaring at him. Osman's nephew, Bahri, was only a year older than Solan, but the two liked to spar with one another.

Bahri thrust his first forward and Solan grabbed hold of his arm and flipped him over onto his backside. Solan then wrapped his leg around Bahri's and pinned him to the ground with both hands.

"I win again," Solan smirked and Bahri rolled his eyes.

"You got lucky, Solan." Bahri was helped up by his partner and the two wiped their sweaty brows with the backsides of their hands. Bahri handed a ladle filled with water to his friend and smiled. "Are you going to the coronation today?"

The water dripped from Solan's chin and he frowned. "Coronation?"

"You mean, you don't know?" Bahri asked and the blonde young teenager kept staring at him blankly. He gave a light chuckle and wagged his head in disbelief. "Belach is going to be crowned as Osman's second in command alongside his father."

Solan's eyes widened and he threw the ladle back into the bucket of water. His father hadn't told him anything about this since he got back, but he did remember his father telling him that he would be in second command before Belach would be, only because he was a better fighter than him, despite their age difference.

He stormed off and Bahri frowned. "Solan! Hey! Where're going?!" he called out to him.

Solan burst into his elder brother's yurt and saw he was praying on the rug, muttering his prayers. Belach turned and saw the blonde Greek boy standing at the entrance with a scowl on his face. He smiled and finished his prayers and stood, rolling up the rug.

"It's rude to interrupt someone during prayer, Solan," Belach hissed and then tossed the rug aside by his bed. He grabbed a cup and began pouring some water for himself.

Solan growled and knocked the cup out of his brother's hand and Belach gasped. "How could you do this?!" he pushed Belach onto the floor and felt his heart racing.

Belach's eyebrows creased and he stood up then pushed his brother back. "What's your deal?"

"My deal?" Solan huffed, "my deal is that I was promised the position of second in command. Not you!" he spat and Belach smiled, stepping closely to him, inches from his face.

"That position was given to me fair and square. You're just a kid, Solan. You're not ready to take a position like that."

Solan's eyes widened with fury and he clocked his brother in the jaw sending him a few feet backwards. Belach grumbled and rubbed his jaw. "I am a better fighter than you!" Solan spat and Belach smirked, shaking his head.

The elder brother then grabbed Solan by his shoulders and began pushing him out of the yurt. Once they were outside, Solan pushed his brother back then the two grabbed one another's hair and fell to the ground, fighting one another.

Borias walked outside of Osman's tent and saw quite a lot of people looking at the two boys fighting one another on the ground. Osman frowned and Borias pushed through the crowd of people and saw Solan on top of Belach, punching him in the face repeatedly.

"Solan!" he yelled and Solan ignored him. He frowned and wrapped his arms around his son and pulled up off of Belach. "What is the meaning of this?" he shook his son's shoulders.

Belach sat up and spat blood and glared at his younger brother. "Yeah, Solan." He snickered and Solan growled, ready to attack him again until his father grabbed hold of him. Borias wrapped his arms around Solan preventing him from escaping.

"Solan!" Borias growled as his son kept squirming in his arms.

Loud horns were sounded throughout the large campgrounds and everyone turned their heads and saw a horde of horsemen riding towards them. Osman's jaw dropped and he approached Borias.

"Sultan Xenophon approaches!" one of the soldiers announced.

Borias frowned and let go of his son and saw Xena leading the group of her Persian troops over the large hill. Belach chuckled and wiped his mouth. The crowd began dispersing and Belach approached Solan. "Saved by your mommy again," he hissed and walked off.

Osman stood by Borias and whispered, "what is she doing here?"

"I don't know," Borias frowned, folding his arms. He turned and saw Solan walking off, following Belach. He groaned and went after him, grabbing his arm. "Where do you think you're going?"

Solan snatched his arm from his father. "Getting away from here." He eyed his mother coming into the campgrounds with her troops and frowned. "I want to see mother later if she has time for me," he snidely said then stormed off.

Penelope turned her head and whispered, "when were you going to tell the sultan that you decided to steal Helena's place?!"

Gabrielle frowned at her teammate. "Don't say anything. I deserve to be here, not Helena."

"You stole her position! How do you deserve to be here? You heard what the sultan said, he hates liars! You make your own fate, Gabrielle." Penelope shook her head and the horsemen abruptly stopped once the sultan dismounted the horse, walking towards the girls.

Xena approached the girls and adjusted her gloves. "Osman's guards will show you to your yurt where you will stay for the time being. You are not to expose yourselves while we are here. Do you understand?"

All the girls nodded and Penelope eyed Gabrielle maliciously. Xena nodded and then turned to walk off. She immediately spotted Borias glaring at her along with Osman by his side.

Gabrielle hopped off the horse. "Your majesty!" she called out and Xena cringed then turned slowly. "What will we be doing here?" she pried curiously.

"Nothing until I come for you," Xena eyed the green eyes of the girl and raised her eyebrow, carefully studying those eyes. Very deceiving eyes, she told herself.

Xena head straight for Borias with a slew of men following behind her. Osman put on a false smile and she frowned beneath her veil. Borias folded his arms and scanned Xena's entire black attire, hiding her body and her face. It was definitely a strange and intimidating sight. Everyone in the campgrounds kept staring though they kept their distance, watching attentively.

"Borias," Xena greeted.

He half smiled, "Xen...ophon," he snickered and she grunted lowly.

"Can I have a word with you, alone?" she glared at Osman and the chieftain slowly backed away, bowing curtly at her. He allowed them some space and instructed his guards to escort Xena's trainees to their yurt during their stay.

Borias motioned for her to step inside his home and he smiled. "After you," he politely gestured and she brushed past him, gruffly hitting his shoulder and he groaned lightly.

Once he entered the yurt he sighed heavily. "Xena, what are you –"

She swiftly clocked him in the jaw and he gasped, stumbling backwards. He rubbed his bearded jaw and grimaced. She ripped the veil off her face and marched towards him, clasping her gloved hand around his throat.

"Why haven't you answered any of my letters?" she hissed and he frowned, gleaming into her striking wild eyes. "When I write you I expect you to answer, especially if it's about our sons!"

He growled and slapped her hand away and pushed her backward, grasping her shoulders and backed her up into a corner. "What letters?" he asked and her eyes grew.

She waft his hands off her shoulders and adjusted her cape. "I wrote you twice, Borias!"

He took a step back and breathed heavily then creased his thick brows together. "I never got your letters, Xena." He said sincerely and she folded her arms, thinking silently to herself. "I always write back to you. You know me better than that."

She began pacing and he rolled his eyes. "Someone is hoarding my letters. I tried to write Solan multiple times but never got a response. I thought something was wrong so I –"

"So, you rode all the way to Ankara to find out?" Borias chuckled. "Come on Xena, that's not why you're really here."

Xena frowned, glaring at him. "Alexander told me that Solan didn't want to see me anymore. I'd like to know why."

Borias raised his eyebrow and rubbed his chin. "That's not what he told me. Belach told me that you said you asked Solan to stay here, but then Solan said that he wanted to stay here."

She laughed mockingly and he stared at her as she kept laughing maniacally. "I see what's going on here..." her smile disappeared and she stepped in front of him, inches from his face. "Your son is trying to keep Solan away from me," she spoke of Belach and Borias frowned.

"No, he's not, Xena."

She smiled, "oh?" she folded her arms. "Belach doesn't like me, Borias, so he's taking it out on Solan. He is an arrogant child."

"Xena..." he warned.

"You have other sons, Borias. Don't you forget that." She hissed.

Natassa walked into the yurt and frowned upon immediately seeing Xena. "Xena, I didn't know you were here," she said with a tight smile.

"Do you mind? We were talking," Xena eyed the brunette woman.

"I live here," Natassa set down her bundle of fabric on the chair and Borias pinched the bridge of his nose.

Xena decided to play this little game and put on a big smile. "You know Natassa, I am not here to steal Borias away from you. In fact...he's all yours," she pat Borias' cheek and put her veil back on her face. "We will talk later," she said lowly and then stormed out of the yurt.

Natassa growled and marched up to her husband. "You invited that whore into our home?!"

"She wanted to talk to me, Natassa," he explained and saw the irate look in her blue eyes and her lips turn into a deep frown.

"The last time you two talked she ended up pregnant with another one of your bastard sons!" she growled and he shook his head then left their home.

Gabrielle huffed and sat down on the bed inside the yurt. She and the other two girls shared the large yurt together, though she was glad everyone had a separate room and a window, thank god. She wasn't in total seclusion.

She took the helmet off her head and could finally breathe. She didn't understand how the sultan could breathe underneath that veil she wore all the time. She took out the measly short sword that the sultan gave them and didn't understand why she didn't give them swords already. Gabrielle supposed it was because the sultan didn't trust them with actual weapons, at least not yet. She also didn't understand what they were doing in Ankara and she certainly wasn't going to get any information just sitting in this yurt all day and all night, waiting for the sultan's word to come out.

She sighed heavily and flopped onto her back, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what the purpose of all this was. She also began to think about how disappointed Helena was right now and when the sultan found out, she was going to be furious.

As she lay on the bed she heard two people arguing outside the yurt and she frowned. Crawling on the floor she peeked her eyes over the fabric ledge of the window and saw the sultan arguing with a dark haired Anatolian.

She studied the two carefully and it appeared that these two obviously knew one another by their tone and body language. Gabrielle kept a low profile and tried to listen carefully to understand what they were saying.

"We can't talk right now. Not here and not now," Xena hissed.

Borias rolled his eyes. "Then when, Xena?" he asked and reached for her arm.

"There are too many people around," she whispered and brushed his hand off of her. "I want Solan brought to my yurt later this evening. Do you think you could do that for me?" she turned and marched off and Borias rubbed his face, grumbling to himself then walked off in the opposite direction.

Gabrielle hunkered down underneath the window ledge and tapped her cheek. Xena, that is your name, very interesting, she said silently to herself. And you have another son, also very interesting.

Francesca walked into Gabrielle's bedroom and frowned. "What are you doing on the floor?"

Gabrielle immediately hopped to her feet. "Nothing. What do you want?" she folded her arms.

"Dajan just told us to stay inside here and not to leave until the sultan says so," she said and the blonde nodded. She sighed, "I can't believe you took Helena's place. The sultan is going to have your hide when he finds out." She turned and walked out.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and mocked the young trainee then plopped back down on the bed. Xena, she kept repeating the name to herself. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger, staring blankly at the wall. "Why, Xena? Why do you pretend to be someone you're not?"

Xena sat on the floor in the yurt that Osman was kind enough to lend her during her stay. She was in a secluded section of the grounds, though close to her trainees, just in case something happened. All of her troops were also stationed nearby, including Dajan, whom slept in the yurt next to hers.

She heard footsteps at the entrance and lifted her eyes to see Solan standing by the entryway with a sheepish look on his face.

"Solan," she began and dipped her pen in the inkwell and kept writing. "Why didn't you come to see me?"

Her blonde son sighed heavily and rubbed the back of his neck. "Just because," his voice muffled.

"Because why?" she kept writing and looked up, seeing the anxiety written all over his face. "Solan, this is not an interrogation." She finished writing and then folded the paper and stamped it with the wax seal. "Alexander told me that you didn't want to see me anymore."

Solan's mouth gaped and he shook his head. "That's not true!" he cried out.

Xena raised her eyebrow and set the paper aside. "Then who said that to Alexander?" she asked and saw his eyes lower. "Was it Belach?" she came to her feet and placed her hands on her hips. "Solan, I asked you a question."

He nodded, "yes..." he answered in a soft voice. "Are you mad at me?"

Her eyes grew and sadly smiled. She walked over and lifted his chin, staring into his blue eyes. "I could never be mad at you." She rubbed her hands along his arms. "But I think you should come back to Persia with me." She eyed him and he smiled. "Permanently," she added.

Solan gasped. "What?!" he shouted and she walked away from him going to attend to something else to distract herself. He followed her into her bedroom and frowned sadly. "I have friends here!"

"You can make new friends," she grabbed her clothes for tomorrow and set them on her bed, laying each piece out neatly.

"But mother!" he growled. "It's bad enough that I have to live in two different places! You and father use me and Alexander as a barter between you two!"

Xena's eyes widened and she turned to face her suddenly outspoken son. A side she had never seen before. "Your father and I agreed to this arrangement a long time ago. I can't be in two places at once, Solan!" she spat and he took a step back, folding his arms.

She sighed. "Either you can stay here or you can come live with me."

"How 'bout neither," he stormed off and she gasped.

She threw down her clothes and chased after him. "Solan!" she yelled and he left the yurt. "Solan!" she called out and saw him marching through the dark field. She growled and then kicked over a table.

Early the next morning Xena marched through the grounds and Gabrielle peered out from the yurt and saw her heading towards a young teenager with dark hair. The blonde put on her helm and veil, shielding her face, she decided to step out of the yurt to take a closer look.

Penelope frowned. "Where do you think you're going?" she set the spoon down into her bowl of warm oats.

Gabrielle waved her hand, "don't worry about me, I'm just looking," she smirked and Francesca shook her head and continued eating beside Penelope.

Xena grabbed Belach by his shoulder and turned him around forcefully. He smiled once he saw the veiled sultana standing before him.

"Oh Xena, good morning," he said with a sly grin.

"Where is Solan you brat?" she hissed and shook his shoulders.

Belach growled. "Take your hands off me!" he snarled and pushed her away. Xena's eyes grew with fury and she grabbed Belach by his arm firmly and twisted it behind his back and he winced.

"I'm not going to ask again," she said and he moaned in pain as she kept twisting his arm.

"How should I know where he is? I'm not his keeper!" he groaned. "Let go of me!" he whined.

Borias stepped out of his yurt and saw Xena manhandling his son. "Xena!" he growled and she let go of Belach's arm. He marched towards them both and looked at her eyes, the only visible thing to his sight. "What is going on?!"

"Solan left last night and I don't know where he went," Xena admitted and Borias' mouth hung open.

Belach rubbed his arm and glared at Xena. "I saw him leave last night on his horse," he said with a cheeky grin.

Xena snarled, "I thought you didn't know where he was?!" she shouted and pulled out her sword and Borias grabbed her wrist firmly.

He eyed his son, "Belach, why didn't you tell her where Solan was if you saw him?" he asked.

The teenager huffed and threw his hands in the air. "Because my stepmother is insane!" he stormed off and Borias sighed heavily and let go of Xena's wrist.

She snapped her head around to Borias. "If something has happened to Solan I will kill you," she threatened and Borias raised his eyebrow. She mounted her horse and then heard loud horns sound throughout the campgrounds.

Both looked to the hill and saw Mongols riding towards them. Xena's eyes widened once she saw a horde trotting in and she grit her teeth. "Mongols!"

Borias shook his head, "no, Xena you don't –"

She took off riding and whistled at her men to follow her. Her troops immediately mounted their horses and began riding off. Borias growled and then Osman came out of his yurt and approached him. The chieftain saw Xena approaching the Mongols with her troops.

"What in God's name does she think she's doing?" he said.

"She doesn't know about the alliance..." Borias muttered and ran off to get his weapon and horse to ride after her.

Dajan went to the trainees' yurt and sheathed his sword. "You are needed," he instructed and the girls immediately began grabbing their weapons and helmets. "Sultan Xenophon is riding towards the hill. Come quickly!" he said then ran off.

Gabrielle grabbed her short sword and went outside to grab her horse. As she ran to the stable she saw Xena riding with her men to the hill and her eyes widened once she saw who she was about to meet. "Mongols..." she whispered.

Penelope and Francesca mounted their horses and saw Gabrielle standing dumbfounded. They then saw Anatolian horsemen riding out to the hill and were immediately confused. "Gabrielle, let's go, come on!" Penelope urged and the blonde nodded and mounted her horse.

Gabrielle suddenly didn't know what she got herself into. She felt like she needed more training especially against warriors like the Mongolians. They were definitely were among some of the best trained warriors in Asia. They took over China overnight it seemed. The kingdoms of Lao and Song were conquered by Genghis Khan and he vowed that all other lands would succumb to his reign next, including Persia.

Xena rode head first and saw the Mongolian commander halt his horde and she saw the realization that they were about to be attacked. She smiled and grabbed the bow on the back of her horse and shot three arrows at the soldiers standing beside the commander.

Subutai, the Mongolian Commander, frowned and raised his hand to his archers. "We are under attack!" he yelled and began trotting backwards away from the fight. He saw the malicious Greek Sultan riding right towards his men with a slew of black Persians following behind.

The Mongol archers aimed directly at Xena and released a rain of arrows on her and her men. She dropped the bow and unsheathed her sword and broke several shooting arrows in half and kept riding.

Penelope, Francesca and Gabrielle rode behind the sultan's horde of men and saw raining arrows coming straight towards them. "Dear God in heaven," Penelope panicked and ducked her head down to the horse's mane and the arrows flew right over her head.

Gabrielle shielded herself and then saw the Anatolians ride in a circle, blocking half of Xena's Persian troops from attacking the Mongols. She saw then the two armies fighting one another and Xena charging right through the Mongolian horde with the other half of her men.

"They're attacking us!" Gabrielle said and the other girls lifted their heads, still afraid of the potential raining arrows from the enemy. She saw the Anatolians creating a blockade around the Persians and frowned. She yanked on the horse's reins. "We must help them." She rode off.

Francesca gasped, "Gabrielle!" she yelled out and Penelope shook her head then decided to ride off, following the crazy blonde into this battle.

Xena hopped off her horse and drove her blade into a Mongol's chest and stomped on him. She growled and saw the commander, trotting away with a few other cowardly men. She smiled and marched through the crowd, watching her men slaughtering the Mongols and vice versa.

She saw a sword swing at her from the corner of her eye and she blocked the blow. She saw it was Borias who was attacking her. "What are you doing?!" she yelled.

"Xena, this is a mistake!" Borias said and she pushed his blade back then continued marching towards the commander. "Xena!" he ran after her and grabbed her arm. "You don't understand."

She growled, "what don't I understand, Borias? I am doing you a favor! I am helping you get rid of these Mongol rats!" she marched onward and he blocked her path. "Out of my way!" she had her eye on the commander and he was getting away as long as Borias kept blocking her way.

"I made an alliance with the Khan!" he spat out finally and her eyes widened. "They are here to negotiate!"

Xena snarled and then swung her sword at him and he side stepped her. "You betrayed me?!" she snarled and swung at him again and he dodged the attack and then their swords clashed with one another. "Why? I have been nothing but loyal to you and your people!"

"It was either Rome or Mongolia, Xena!" Borias pushed her aside and he turned to see her men slaughtering his, left and right. He growled then ran off to help the others. Meanwhile Xena stood dumbfounded and then a Mongol came behind her and tried to slice through her back.

She swiftly turned and drove her sword into the soldier's leg and kicked him down on the ground. Snarling, she glanced up at the commander, waiting at the top of the hill with his elite guards. She smiled and thrust the blade out of the soldier's leg and marched upward by herself.

Gabrielle ran through the sea of people and was able to fend off for herself with Penelope and Francesca behind her. She sliced a Mongol's arm then quickly ran off, fearing for her life. She breathed heavily and unveiled her face, feeling the cold air against her skin. She didn't think she could continue fighting. This was too much and a lot more strenuous than training back in Jerusalem. She began to think that she should have paid more attention to the sultan's training after all.

She saw two Mongols running right for her and she gasped and dropped to the ground and the two men smashed into each other. Her labored breathing quickened and she crawled across the grass and quickly got to her feet before they could attack her again.

She spotted Xena marching up the hill by herself and then saw a few Mongols waiting. Her eyes turned and saw a Mongol following Xena with a large blade and her eyes widened. "Oh no..." she looked down at the short sword in her hands and felt like she needed to do something. After all, despite the sultan's oddness, she taught her so many things in a short amount of time.

A memory came rushing back to her as she watched the Mongol approaching Xena sneakily and Xena was totally oblivious.

In the training grounds Xena instructed the girls to throw daggers at a target from a fair distance. She sat in her chair under the shade and watched the girls failing each time they tried to aim for the center.

She rolled her eyes and yelled out. "The target is your enemy!" she began and all the girls looked directly at her. "This is not just a piece of cloth you're aiming for! It is your enemy! Now throw like you mean it!" she yelled.

Gabrielle lifted her head and grasped the hilt of the short sword and narrowed her eyes. The target is my enemy, the enemy is my target. She inhaled deeply and then saw the Mongol stab Xena in her left shoulder blade and she gasped. She heard Xena cry out in agony and then turn around to attack the Mongol.

She huffed and then aimed directly at the Mongol whom Xena was now trying to attack with a blade sticking out of her shoulder. She was losing, and losing a lot of blood. Gabrielle closed one of her eyes and then threw the short sword directly into the Mongol's chest.

He gasped and then stumbled backwards, falling on his back, bleeding out. Gabrielle smiled, feeling very proud of herself then immediately saw Xena drop to her knees and hold onto the sword sticking out of her upper half.

She panicked and ran over to her and knelt down. "Let me help you," she suggested and Xena's gloves were soaked in her own blood. Gabrielle grabbed the hilt of the sword and pulled it out of Xena's shoulder. She hissed in agony and then covered the wound with her hand as blood gushed down her body.

Gabrielle ripped off a piece of her veil and held it up against Xena's wound and then saw the sultana lift her eyes, staring at her. She completely forgot that her face was not hidden beneath the veil and hadn't realized.

Xena's eyes widened once she saw Gabrielle, her little troublemaker, helping her. "YOU!" she growled and Gabrielle's heart raced, seeing the anger in her eyes. Xena grabbed Gabrielle's face with her bloody gloved fingers and squeezed her cheeks together. "You..." she hissed and Gabrielle began sweating then saw Xena's eyes roll in the back of her head and she slumped to the ground.

Gabrielle's mouth gaped and she slapped Xena's cheek, trying to wake her. She felt the blood soaked clothes and tried to lift her off the ground. "I need help!" she cried out.

Penelope and Francesca ran towards Gabrielle and covered their veiled mouths once they saw her covered in blood. "What did you do?!"

"Nothing!" Gabrielle frowned. "I need help!" she exposed Xena's open shoulder wound. "Go!" she ordered and the girls ran off to find a few of the sultan's men to help.

Natassa sat inside the yurt and went through a stack of letters that were supposed to be sent to Xena from Borias. She went through the stack and found Solan's letter to Xena and frowned. She opened it and began reading over it carefully. She found that Solan was acting as Xena's little spy, telling her everything that went on here, including a private meeting that Osman and Belach had with the Templar Knights.

Borias stormed into the yurt and Natassa put the letters back into the box and hid it underneath a pile of clothes in a large chest. She stood and saw he was rather flustered since the impromptu battle earlier today.

"I heard Xena was injured..." she said, pretending to care. She walked over and took off his animal pelts and saw dried blood all over his clothes.

He gently pushed her away as she kept fussing over him. "Have you seen Solan?" he asked.

She frowned and folded her arms. That was definitely not the first thing she wanted to hear especially after what happened earlier. "I have not," she answered curtly. "I don't keep tabs on that boy. He is just as flighty as his mother. One minute he's here, the next, he's nowhere to be found." She smirked.

Borias snapped his head around and grabbed his wife's shoulders. "I don't have time for your jealousy, Natassa!"

"As if I would be jealous of that slut's son, Borias. Shouldn't you be by her bedside?" she chided and stormed out of the yurt.

Gabrielle saw people going in and out of the sultan's yurt for the last few hours. She stood outside, watching like a hawk. She saw that no guards were standing by the entrance and heard a few Anatolian women talking to Dajan and she decided to make her way over to the yurt quietly.

She slipped into Xena's yurt and saw a sheer curtain surrounding the bed. She was able to make out Xena's face hidden behind the curtain. Cautiously, she trailed around the curtain and peeked inside. she saw Xena unveiled, the second time she had seen the true face of the sultan. She also saw a large bandage draped across Xena's shoulder and her entire chest.

Gabrielle decided to step through the curtains, making sure to be as quiet as possible. She knelt down and looked to see if Xena was well and awake, but she was asleep or unconscious or maybe drugged, she didn't know. She sat beside the bed and watched the sultana's chest rise and fall slowly and the blood from the shoulder wound seeped through the bandages.

Hesitantly, she grazed her fingers along Xena's wound, checking the bandages. She eyed the dark haired sultana carefully to see if she would move, but when she didn't, she continued to lift the bandages and saw the huge gaping hole in her shoulder. She only assumed there was also a huge wound on her backside as well.

Curiously, she traced her fingers along Xena's bare arm and saw blood stained all over her hands. She frowned sadly and grabbed a damp cloth from the water basin and wiped off the blood from Xena's hands gently.

Xena's lip twitched and she furrowed her eyebrows. Gabrielle gasped and immediately stood, seeing the sultana squirm in the bed, moaning softly, though her eyes were still closed. She stepped outside of the curtains and watched Xena lift her arm slightly and cry out in agony.

Gabrielle heard people hustling inside and she hid underneath a table. The same women that were in the yurt earlier pulled the curtains aside and took off Xena's bandages and began dabbing the open wound gently. She heard Xena yelling at the girls and was obviously fully awake and alert now.

She panicked and began crawling across the floor of the yurt and heard Xena saying some pretty heinous things to those women. She quickly exited the yurt and exhaled deeply, placing a hand over her heart. It was pounding profusely and she heard Xena moaning loudly once more then took off running to her yurt she shared with Penelope and Francesca.

Chapter Text

AN: the meat! so much meat :)

Chapter 7 –Judas Part II

Xena exhaled heavily and glared over at Borias as she lay in the bed. "How could you do this to me?" she hissed.

He folded his arms and defended himself, "Osman didn't want to ally with Rome, Xena."

"So you went behind my back and allied with the Mongols instead?!" she growled and winced, moving her wounded shoulder as she lifted herself from the pillows. She settled back down onto the bed and Borias kept staring at her.

"I have done everything for you and your people, Borias. I was loyal to you and this is the thanks I get." She sighed heavily and he rolled his eyes.

"Xena," he stepped closer and she widened her eyes. He generously took a step back, smiling softly. "We had no choice but to ally with the Khan. His hordes are already coming this way to take over. He has China and the Caucasus, it is only a matter of time before he takes Anatolia, Hungary and Persia." He saw the malice in her eyes and the distain on her face.

He continued carefully, "ally with us Xena and your empire will be saved."

Xena smiled deviously and held her hand over her chest. "Oh, my heart. You are too kind," she mocked. "I am simply overjoyed by your generosity!" she growled. "I will never ally with you and Osman. You are the ones who ally with me," she snickered. "I surrender to no one. Now, get out," she shooed him away and he didn't bother to move at her command.

"Get out!" she yelled. He grunted and waved her off then hurried out. She then sat up against the pillows and called out, "wait!" she said and he halted. "Have you found Solan?"

"No," he answered curtly then exited the large yurt.

Xena folded her arms then called for Dajan. He immediately came to her side and lowered his eyes. "Bring the girl that saved my life," she instructed and her adviser lifted his eyes, staring at her bemusedly.

"Your highness...are you sure that is wise?" he asked.

She nodded, "she will not see me. Bring her to"

Solan walked into the campgrounds with his horse, feeding his steed some apple slices. Belach saw his brother sauntering in and he growled. Immediately, he threw down his bowl of food and marched over to him.

"Where the hell have you been?!" Belach growled and Solan raised his eyebrow and kept walking along. "Your crazy mother almost broke my arm!"

Solan smirked, "good," he said and Belach grabbed hold of his arm. "Belach, let go of me before I hurt you," he warned and the elder brother lifted his hold and walked alongside him instead. Sighing, he kept feeding the horse the apples.

"I went to Konya for awhile so I could think," he said.

Belach gasped and stopped his younger brother mid-step. "You went all the way across think?" he questioned.

Solan nodded, "that's right," he brushed past his brother and continued walking. "How was the coronation?" he asked still a bit salty about the opportunity that their father was supposed to honor him and not Belach.

His elder brother frowned, "it didn't happen because your mother decided to do something stupid yesterday." He saw Solan's concern and then he smiled, deciding to milk the boy's feelings. "Oh and she is quite injured. A Mongol drove his sword into her like butter."

Solan's eyes widened and he left his horse then took off running. Belach smiled, folding his arms. The hose nudged his nose against his head and he groaned, pushing the animal away then went on about his way.

He ran as fast as he could and tried to enter the yurt until Dajan grabbed him, pulling him away. "I want to see her!" he cried out and Dajan frowned, wrapping his arms around the boy.

"She is busy!" he grunted and set Solan on the ground.

"Is she okay?" he tried to peek through the entrance and Dajan gently pulled him aside.

"Yes," he shook his shoulders lightly. "She is fine," he smiled and Solan breathed a sigh of relief.

Gabrielle stood in front of the bed nervously. She couldn't really make out Xena's face behind the sheer curtains, but she didn't have to. She knew that Xena was not happy to see her just by her eerie silence. Even though she was unable to see her eyes, Gabrielle knew that Xena was glaring at her with those fiery eyes of hers.

"Gabrielle..." she finally spoke and the young blonde's body froze in place. "The troublemaker," she smiled softly. "I must...commend you for keeping yourself hidden so well and for so long too. You are good at deceiving me."

Gabrielle sighed lightly and tried to focus on Xena behind the curtains, but she couldn't make out anything aside from an arm reaching over for something beside the bed. Suddenly, she felt more nervous standing in the room without being able to see Xena's face. She'd rather stare at her veiled face and intense eyes instead.

"It...was not my intention to deceive you..." Gabrielle spoke aloud and she heard nails against a glass and that only made her more nervous.

"Tell me Gabrielle," Xena sat up in bed, eyeing the young girl through the semi sheer curtains. "What was your intention?"

The blonde lowered her head and tried to think of something quick to say but all of a sudden she had nothing. Her mind went blank and Xena was expecting an answer, or was she? Was she trying to play another one of her games with her? No, that couldn't be it, maybe...perhaps, she was being truthful or maybe not. Gabrielle didn't understand Xena and why she pretended to be someone she wasn't, but the one thing she knew was that Xena liked to play this riddle game. It was a very intimidating game for sure. It scared everyone, even herself sometimes.

Gabrielle smiled and spoke, "I...wanted to learn more about you."


Xena set the glass of water on the small table and rest her arms by her sides, staring at Gabrielle through the curtains. Very clever, girl.

"So you thought that lying to me was a good way to start, is that it?" the sultana asked.

Gabrielle bit her tongue then took a step forward closer to the curtains. "I'm sorry I lied to you but I think you made a mistake."

Xena smiled. "A mistake?" very interesting, Gabrielle, very interesting.

"You chose Helena over me. You know I am better than her at everything yet you chose her instead. I didn't think it was fair so –"

"So you decided to take her place instead and lie to me?" Xena interrupted and Gabrielle frowned, folding her arms. "I don't like liars, Gabrielle. I think I made that perfectly clear to you before."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. She hates liars, yet she is one herself. How hypocritical of her. She turned her eyes to the shielded sultana again.

"But...I must say one thing," Xena began and felt herself losing a part of her ego at this moment. "You helped me and saved me. So, thank you."

"You're...welcome," Gabrielle said with a small smile. She waited and then grazed her fingers along the soft fabric of the curtains. She smelled it and then frowned. "What...can I do to earn your trust?" she asked.

Xena lifted her eyes and raised an eyebrow. She didn't understand this girl, but she was obviously very eager to learn or she just liked getting into trouble and being rewarded punishments. "You sure talk a lot for a small town girl. Where did you say you were from?"


"Oh yes, a farming village. I hope there aren't more girls like you in Potidaea," Xena toyed with Gabrielle to see if she would spout off.

"Probably not," Gabrielle smirked, now catching onto Xena's small games she liked to play. "May I say something?" she asked and there was a long stretch of silence. She hoped that meant she could say something, but if not, she did anyway.

"I find it very strange that an important person as yourself trains young girls. What made you decide to do that?" she pried.

Xena frowned and tapped her fingers against her thigh impatiently. "Poverty is not a pretty thing to see, Gabrielle." She sighed and shifted in the bed. "You may go now, I am finished with you for now."

For now? Gabrielle frowned and stepped away then walked to the entrance. She then smiled and turned around, staring at Xena grabbing a few things from the table.

"Oh your majesty one more thing..."

"What is it?" Xena was growing impatient.

"You smell like flowers. Orchids, maybe?" Gabrielle smirked then exited the yurt.

Xena's eyes widened and she growled. She tossed the papers off her lap then swung her legs out of bed. She hobbled out of bed and then saw Solan rush in. Oh great, more trouble, she thought.

"Mother, are you okay?" he rushed to her and she ignored him. "You should stay in bed. Should I go get father?"

"No!" she yelled and he took a step back. She looked down at his fear stricken eyes and pat his cheek. "No, Solan. I'm fine." She then realized that her son had gone missing then turned and glared at him. "Where have you been?!"

Solan bit his bottom lip and slowly started backing away. "Um, I just went to Konya for awhile."

She kept walking closer towards him as he continued backing up. "And why didn't you tell anyone where you were going?" she questioned and he stuttered then bumped into the bed and smiled nervously. "Something could have happened to you!"

"But nothing happened mother! I was safe I promise!" he pleaded with his large blue eyes.

She grabbed his arm and hissed, "you are coming to live with me." She pushed him gently along to leave the yurt. "Go pack your things, we are leaving tomorrow morning."

He gasped and clutched onto his mother's arm. "But why?! I want to stay here for awhile longer. Please, mother."

"Do as I say..." she said calmly and pried his fingers off her arm. Solan huffed and stormed out of the yurt without saying another word.

Alexander sneaked into the kitchen on the first floor of the palace. Without his mother here he was able to roam the entire palace since she couldn't stop him. He had been evading Kara for over two hours now and she kept looking for him. Every time she asked someone if they saw him, each person said something different. Kara was beginning to believe that Alexander liked playing hide and seek more than anything and she really hated babysitting the boy, despite his mother's wishes to keep him hidden away, he never obeyed.

Although, even without Xena in the palace, Kara never told her that Alexander misbehaved the entire time while she was away. Due to this secrecy, it was probably not the wisest choice since he continued to misbehave and continue to do whatever he wished without his mother present.

The naughty prince crawled under the table and saw women scurrying around, preparing food and talking among themselves. He smiled and kept crawling underneath the long table. He came to the end of the table and lifted his head, peeking over the edge. The women were completely oblivious and he grinned. His eyes darted to the right and saw a bowl of fruit, another bowl of bread and a tray of helva. His eyes widened and he really wanted the helva.

As long as his mother was here, he was not allowed to have many sweets and they were pretty scarce in Ankara too. He reached for the tray and saw one of the women look over at a small hand appearing from underneath the table.

"Your highness!" the young maiden yelled and dropped the flour and ran over to the tray. He panicked and grabbed three pieces of the sticky helva and ran out of the kitchen.

She groaned and slammed her fist on the table. She heard the other maids giggling as they continued rolling out dough and cutting up fruits and vegetables. She sighed and picked up the tray of now ten pieces of helva instead of thirteen.

"It took me three days to make these!" she griped and tossed the tray back down on the table. "I hope the prince's teeth rot," she grimaced.

One of the elder women raised her eyebrow and handed the rolled out dough to the young maiden next to her. "Silvia, he's just a child. Children like sweets."

Silvia groaned and dipped her hands in the flour and rolled a small ball of fresh dough in between her palms. "When is the sultan coming back? He behaves much better around the sultan!" she slammed the ball on the table and angrily rolled out the dough.

The elderly woman smiled and began cutting some fruit into large pieces.

Alexander ran until he was out of breath and went into his mother's office. He sighed and shut the door behind him. Smiling, he saw his mother's chair at the front of the room and he ran and hopped into the large chair, hanging his thin legs hang over the armrest casually.

He bit into his second piece of helva and the sticky taffy sweet stuck to his teeth. He smiled and rest his head on the other armrest, enjoying eating in peace. His eyes scanned the room and he remembered that his mother told him never to come in here, but this was a desperate situation. He had to get away from that dreaded maid, Silvia. He knew that she hated when he stole food from the kitchen, but alas, he did it anyway and he would continue to do so because his mother was away on a trip.

As he was enjoying the candy he heard people talking and footsteps. He saw boot shadows from underneath the door. He panicked and immediately hopped out of the large chair and hid behind it. The door opened and he heard the two men continue talking. The door closed and he crawled under the chair, watching the two men.

He had seen them before. They were part of his mother's court, noblemen of course. Alexander rolled his eyes and the two men walked further into the room, talking freely.

"The sultan is still in Ankara, but he will return," the respectable Awat spoke to his colleague.

Vahid nodded and rubbed his long curly beard. "Yes, but I am not expecting him to return anytime soon. He refuses to ally with the Templars and the Khan of Mongolia. He will damn us all to Hell!" he shouted and Awat agreed.

"Xenophon thinks that he will eventually rule all of Christendom. What is next? Exile the Hebrews from the Holy Land?" Awat frowned and continued, "our people do not obey the sultan because he is a heathen. He is not even of Persian descent!"

Vahid smiled, "indeed he is not. He is from Greece, a rival of Persia that goes back before the Holy Roman Empire." He placed his hands upon Awat's shoulders. "We must convince the court to join with the Templars. Once that is done we can overthrow Xenophon and take back the Holy Land and then take out Rome. We will have a great Islamic empire once again, Awat!"

Alexander gasped and he crawled out from underneath the chair and hid behind it, tapping his fingers together, completely forgetting about the candy. Overthrow? That means they are going to kill her. My mother. He began formulating a plan in his head and then he heard the two men leave.

He ran his fingers through his hair and widened his eyes. "What am I going to do?!" he whispered to himself. He ran came out from behind the chair and ran out a different door that lead to the secret hallways, as he called them.

He ran through the torch lit corridor and entered a large room. A room full of his mother's trainees. All the girls gasped and covered their naked bodies.

"Dear god in heaven!" Alexander covered his eyes and all the girls whispered to each other.

"My apologies sorry," he blindly walked through the maze of girls and all of them were staring at the small child. He bumped into a girl and she gasped. "Oh, excuse me," he uncovered his eyes and his jaw dropped. "So sorry!" with that last note he quickly ran out of the room.

"Who the hell was that?!" Joan asked as she wrapped the robe around herself.

Helena lifted her eyebrow and set her book in her lap. "The sultan's son," she blurted out.

The room filled with whispers and Joan frowned, folding her arms. "Well, he's a little punk. Where did he come from anyway?" she began looking around the room for any openings.

After seeing a few young women completely naked he definitely wasn't going get that image out of his mind anytime soon. He shook his head and cringed. He then ran to the west wing where he bumped into Kara, the chambermaid.

Kara growled and grabbed him by his arm. "Where have you been?! I have been looking for you everywhere!"

He breathed heavily and looked around to see if others were watching. "Kara! You gotta listen to me!" he grabbed her hand and pulled her aside into the next narrow hallway. She grumbled and couldn't believe she was being drug around by a seven year old.

He exhaled deeply and stared up at her. "Something terrible is going to happen! Something so awful! I have to warn mother..."

She frowned concernedly and never seen him so anxious before. "Alexander..." she knelt down and brushed his hair away from his dark brown eyes. "What's going on?"

"Her –her court, is going to be friends with Rome and then –then they're going to kill her!" he placed his hands atop his head and began heaving heavily.

His heavy breathing concerned her as much as the news that she heard. Despite his misbehavior, he was never one to lie to her or his mother. "Alexander," she began calmly and grabbed his hands. "Calm down..." she advised and he slowed his breathing down. She smiled and touched his cheek. "Good boy. Now, we will go to your room and eat something, okay?"

The two walked down the hall, heading towards the large staircase in the west wing. He frowned as he held her hand. "But what about mother? I have to do something! I gotta tell her!"

She sighed. "You will when she gets back from Ankara. You can't do anything right now." She wrapped the dark veil around her hair and saw the councilmen walking down the hall and frowned. "Don't worry."

Xena crept into the girls' tents while they were sleeping. She kept her face hidden of course and cautious of her wounded shoulder, though kept her sword on her hip. She looked into each separate room and saw Francesca sleeping in the far right room and Penelope in the room beside her.

Smiling, she walked over to the last room on the far left of the yurt and peeked inside. There she saw Gabrielle sleeping soundly in the bed with her armor sprawled across the floor. Messy, I see, she noted. Stepping inside quietly, Gabrielle stirred in her slumber and rolled over onto her back, exhaling heavily.

Xena unsheathed the dagger from its holster and stood over the bed, waving the blade back and forth. She cocked her head and grinned beneath the veil. She then placed her hand over Gabrielle's mouth and climbed on top of her body.

Gabrielle's eyes opened immediately and saw the sultana sitting on top of her, inches from her face. She peered down and saw a dagger held up to her neck and her muffled screams were blocked from Xena's hand.

"Na uh, Gabrielle," Xena whispered, "if you scream I will cut you." She held the blade against the blonde's throat. "You promise not to scream?" she asked and the trainee nodded, fear in her eyes as both stared at one another.

Xena removed her hand from her mouth and Gabrielle breathed heavily, gawking at Xena's blue eyes. "Now...what do you know?" she asked.

Gabrielle stuttered, "w –what do you mean?" she whispered.

"You know perfectly well what I mean," Xena pressed the blade firmly against the blonde's succulent neck.

Oh that, Gabrielle thought. If I say something, I might die. I shouldn't have been so outspoken earlier, she cursed herself. "I...I know more than you want me to..." she chose her words carefully.

Xena raised her eyebrow and then it finally dawned on her. "The mysterious my room that night. Of course," she chuckled lowly. "It was you!" and Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "Clever girl..." she hissed and Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly.

"If you're going to kill me just get it over with!"

Xena smiled and pulled the dagger away from the girl's throat. "Kill you? You believe that I am so merciless?" she began and Gabrielle opened one of her eyes and saw the dagger was no longer at her throat. "If I kill you I go against all that I stand for. I don't kill women, Gabrielle," she growled and slid her body off of her and stood beside the bed.

Gabrielle frowned and sat up in bed, glaring at the sultana. "What about all those women in Thebes a few years ago? I heard you arrested them for their crimes and they were never seen again!"

Xena smiled and tapped the dagger against her palms. "I sent them to Corinth to work for their crimes. Once their debt was repaid, they were sent back to their homes."

Oh, well that is unexpected, Gabrielle gathered. It seems all of those tales of the emperor of Greece was not as cruel as people made him...or now, her, out to be. Now she was curious as to what was going to happen to her.

"Will you send me away too?" she asked hesitantly.

Xena turned to her and sheathed the dagger. "No. You know too much about me." She unhooked the veil from the turban and exposed her face. Gabrielle had seen her face before, but it was like she was seeing her for the first time, the first time as Xena and not as a male sultan.

"But," Xena said and Gabrielle's shoulders tensed. "You owe me a debt. You will work for me and once your debt is repaid you will return to Potidaea just like all the other girls before you." She saw Gabrielle's head hang and she stepped close to her, grabbing her face. "And I will make sure to work you very hard," she said with an eerie smile. "A troublemaker you are, but a smart troublemaker..." she hissed and Gabrielle's grew in fear. "Saving my life is only part of your debt that you have already repaid."

She released Gabrielle's face then turned to leave the small room. "You will tell no one about this conversation. Do you understand?" the blonde nodded her head and Xena left the room.

Gabrielle let out a large sigh of relief and plopped her head onto the pillow. Now she knew she wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep again especially after that. She touched her body and realized she should be grateful that she was still alive, but there was a question that begged to be answered. Why hide yourself, Xena, why?

A few short hours later it was morning and Gabrielle was still in bed, wide awake. Penelope entered the room already fully dressed in her armor. "Gabrielle, why are you still in bed? We are leaving soon, Dajan said so!"

Gabrielle nodded slowly, "okay," she answered curtly.

Penelope leered over the bed and looked into her teammate's eyes. "Jeez Gabrielle, you look awful." Noting the dark circles underneath her eyes.

"I...I didn't sleep well last night." She sighed and finally rose from the bed and began grabbing her armor that was sprawled across the floor. "I'll be out in a few minutes."

Solan put the last of his belongings onto his horse and saw his mother walking towards him wearing that awful garb he hated so much. She smiled beneath the veil and grasped his shoulder.

"Are you all packed?" she asked.

He nodded and tightened the bag on the horse. "Do I really have to go?"

She sighed and cupped his cheek. "Yes, you really do. I missed you and hope missed me too."

Solan smiled softly. "Of course I missed you. You're my mother. Am I going to come back?"

Xena sighed heavily and pat his cheek softly. "I think it will be better if you stayed with me for awhile, Solan." She saw his mouth gape open and she grinned weakly. "I'm going to speak to your father before we go."

She walked into Borias' yurt and saw Natassa hovering over a hot pot of tea. She took the veil off her face and folded her arms. "Natassa, I need to speak to Borias alone."

Natassa stood irately and glared over at her husband's former lover. "This is my home, Xena. You cannot ask me to leave."

Xena gave the woman a tight smile. "Fine," she turned to the woman's husband. "Borias, ask her to leave."

Borias rolled his eyes and nudged his head to his wife. "Leave us, Natassa. This won't take long." His wife snarled at Xena then hurriedly left the yurt, bumping into Xena on her way out.

Xena grunted and looked over at Borias. "She's a real treat," she sneered. "I wanted to talk to you about Solan."

"Xena, if this is about Belach, let me explain –"

"No," she held up her hand. "I'm taking Solan with me back to Persia. For good." She said and he widened his eyes.

"Xena, no. We agreed to share both of our sons after Alexander was born..." he walked closer to her and she unsheathed her sword, pointing the blade at his chest.

"You betrayed me, Borias. You and Osman stabbed me in the back. How could you ally with the enemy? What does it matter if it were Rome or Mongolia? You lied to me!" she growled and he looked down at the blade and took a step back while she took a step forward.

He frowned and put his hands up for surrender. "Ally with us Xena and your empire will not be destroyed. I did not have a choice."

Her eyes narrowed. "Yes, you did! I gave you everything! I am keeping Alexander and Solan. You won't see them again."

Borias' mouth hung open and she lowered the sword. "You can't do this, Xena," his tone was low and rough. He took a couple of steps closer to her. "You can't keep me from seeing my sons."

"You should have thought of that before you betrayed me, Borias." She turned on her heel and marched off.

Gabrielle sat on her horse and was sitting beside Solan as he waited patiently on top of his steed. She turned and adjusted the veil on her face. Solan looked over at her and smiled awkwardly. He waved his hand. "Hi," he said and Gabrielle smiled.

"Hello," she greeted. "You're the sultan's son, I take it?"

"That's right," he said and scratched the back of his neck. An uncomfortable silence passed between the two. "Say, what are you exactly?"

"Gabrielle," Xena interrupted and mounted her horse, wincing from moving her shoulder too abruptly. Solan averted his eyes as did Gabrielle. "I hope you are not boring my son."

Solan blinked and realized this person was indeed a woman. "She wasn't..."

Xena smirked and then trotted off. Gabrielle, the two other girls and Solan followed behind her as well as the troops.

Alexander sat on the balcony in front of the palace, swinging his legs back and forth. He stuck his head in between the balcony's iron rods. He then saw his mother riding in with her soldiers and he beamed. He quickly stood and ran inside.

"She's here! She's back!" he bumped into a few maids and they gasped, dropping their baskets of laundry.

Kara saw the young prince running past her and she frowned. "Alexander! Slow down!" she warned and he kept running.

He slid down the balustrade of the staircase. He then ran down the hall and saw his mother walking straight towards him. "Mother!" he ran to her and she frowned, seeing him in such a hurry. He crashed into her and tugged onto her dark robes. "Mother, I have to talk to you!"

Xena pat his little head and kept walking. "Not now, Alexander. I have a lot of things to do."

Solan smiled down at Alexander. "Hey baby brother!" he greeted.

"Oh hey, Solan," Alexander wrote him and chased after his mother. "Mom, this is really important!" he tugged on her arm and she snarled as he kept following behind her up the stairs.

They reached her bedroom and he grabbed hold of her arm as she was unlocking the door. "Mother!" he pleaded and she ignored him. "Listen to me!" he shouted and she turned around and gently pushed him away.

"Alexander, I don't have the time to hear about your silly stories!"

"But mom, it's not silly. Please!" he begged and she went into her room and closed the door. He grunted and tried opening the door but it was locked. "Mother!"

Solan reached forward and grabbed his little brother's shoulders. "Alexander, she's really tired. Maybe you can tell her about your story later?" he offered and the young seven year old grunted and pushed Solan away. "Hey, come on!"

"It's not a story! Nobody listens to me!" he folded his arms and pouted.

Solan sighed and placed his hands on his hips. "Would you like to play a game?"

"No!" Alexander spat.

"How 'bout we go find some cake then? And I can tell you scary stories?" Solan grinned and his brother groaned lowly. "Wow, you're turning down sweets. This must be serious, huh?" he teased.

"Laugh all you want, Solan, but it's not funny!" Alexander stormed down the hallway and Solan huffed, then ran after him.

"We could go riding!" Solan chased after his brother. "Alexander, come back here!"

After the sun went down Xena was in her bedroom and hadn't left since she arrived in the morning. She spent her entire day looking over treaties she made with Anatolia and she was becoming overwhelmed. Once she asked Dajan to bring her all the documents she had with every country she allied with she never realized how many papers she actually signed until now.

Kara folded Xena's clean clothes that were brought to the room a couple of hours ago. She laid the veils out carefully and put the turbans on a wooden post so they could dry properly. She eyed Xena out of their corner of her eye and saw the frustration written all over her face.

Xena sighed heavily and slumped in her chair and scratched her head. "Kara, where is Solan and Alexander?" she hadn't heard a word from them all day.

"Last I remember, they were in the gardens. Solan was teaching Alexander how to use a staff."

Xena rolled her eyes and slammed the pen on her desk. "Great," she grumbled. This was too much for a person to do alone with no help. She then smiled and leaned her elbows on the table. "Kara," she announced.

"Yes, mistress?"

"Bring Gabrielle to my room."

Kara blinked and stood slowly. "Mistress?" she was so confused now. Nobody ever saw her true face unless they knew who she was.

"Bring her to me!" she demanded and Kara nodded then quickly left the room.

Helena sat in her bed and frowned deeply at her so-called friend. "I can't believe you did this Gabrielle."

The blonde sighed heavily. "I'm sorry, Helena, but I had to do it! You just don't understand."

"Oh I understand alright. You have a weird obsession with the sultan. You are too curious for your own good! I'm surprised he hasn't beat you with a stick already!" Helena sunk down into her bed.

Gabrielle pursed her lips and scooted to the edge of her bed. "Helena, listen –"

"Gabrielle," Kara called and all the girls turned around to see a veiled young maid at the door. "The sultan wishes to see you."

Helena smirked and Gabrielle's stomach churned. "Wonder what you did this time?" she teased.

Whispers filled the room as Gabrielle slowly made her way over to the chambermaid. She got some strange stares as she was leaving. Gabrielle folded her arms and Kara gestured for her to exit the room.

The doors closed behind them and all the girls were talking inside their chambers. Gabrielle walked with Kara in silence down the hallway, heading directly to the west wing. Oh, so she trusts me enough to let me into her room. Gabrielle's heart felt as if it were going to burst out of her chest. She had never felt so nervous in her entire life until this moment. Is this where she's going to kill me? No, she wouldn't. She said doesn't kill women, or maybe that was a lie. Although, she doesn't lie, she hates liars.

They arrived at the large doors on the second floor of the west wing and Gabrielle inhaled deeply. "Did the sultan say why I had to come here?" she asked.

Kara shook her head. "No." She opened the door and Gabrielle saw Xena sitting at her desk, reading quietly. "Don't make her wait," she whispered and pushed Gabrielle inside and closed the door. Gabrielle stood frozen with fear.

Xena lifted her eyes and smiled from ear to ear. "Gabrielle, good evening." She greeted and Gabrielle said nothing in return. "Feeling shy are we?" she stood and walked around to the front of the desk. She pulled out an empty chair and motioned for her to come.

"Sit," she said.

Gabrielle finally felt feeling in her legs again and slowly made her way over to the desk. Steadily, she sat down in the chair and Xena stood behind her. She felt her hands wrap around her shoulders and Gabrielle immediately tensed up at her touch.

Xena bent down, close to Gabrielle's ear. "You owe me a debt, remember?" she whispered and the blonde nodded her head slowly. "I have a lot of work to do and I need your help." She smiled seeing the nerves seething from the young woman's skin.

She walked back around to her chair behind the desk and sat down. She gestured to all the documents, "I have to go through all the papers and treaties I have made with every ally I have. It is a long process but I am sure you will be able to help me. You a smart girl," she teased and Gabrielle stared directly into her eyes. "You can read, right?"

Gabrielle nodded and Xena smiled. "You can talk Gabrielle, I'm not going to hurt you."

"Yes...I can read," she finally spoke.

Xena clapped her hands together, startling the young blonde. "Fabulous!" she stood. "I want you to find all the treaties from Ankara and put them in a separate pile. All the other papers you can leave to me." She left her desk and Gabrielle's jaw dropped.

She turned in her chair and saw Xena was about to leave the room. "Wait," she called and Xena turned around. "May I ask why I am doing this for you?"

Xena's lips turned into a smile and she approached her. "You do as I say or I will make you suffer in the training grounds. You know about me and I know about you. You are indebted to me, do I make myself clear?"

Gabrielle nodded and frowned slightly, a bit nervous seeing that odd look in her eyes.

"I will return in an hour to see your progress." Xena smiled and grabbed her veil and head out of the room.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and looked at the stack of documents. Her doom. She could understand why Xena didn't want to do this by herself, it was a lot, but making someone else do it for her seemed a bit strange. Didn't she have people to do this for her?

She walked around the desk and sat in Xena's large chair and began going through the first pile of papers out of many. "Treaty number one," she grumbled.

Xena walked through the dark palace and it was completely empty. All of the councilmen had gone home for the day but she was sure to see them bright and early tomorrow morning. She also needed to begin training with the girls again, which she was beginning to think was quite fun and enjoyable. She was eager to see the disappointment on their faces whenever she gave them a new task.

She came to the gardens to see if her two sons were outside like Kara told her. She stepped outside and saw Solan laying beside Alexander on the sand, looking up at the sky. She folded her arms, listening to the two talking with each other.

Alexander pointed at one of the largest stars in the dark sky above. "What about that star? Do you know the name of that one too?"

Solan quirked his mouth and sighed. "I haven't studied that one yet." He heard Alexander exhale heavily and he smiled, turning his head. "But maybe we can look in the library to find what its name is," he suggested.

"Really?" the younger brother beamed and Solan nodded.

A few silent moments passed and then Alexander turned to his brother. "Solan?"


"How come you didn't come with me to see mother?" he asked and Solan let out a heavy sigh.

Xena listened intently now, waiting for her eldest son to speak his mind.

Solan looked up at the stars and finally spoke, "I did want to come back, but Belach told me I had to stay because father was away. Anyway, I shouldn't have listened to him. He's a piece of shit."

Xena's eyes widened once she heard that and Alexander chuckled softly.

Alexander smirked, "yeah, he's a real –"

"Boys!" Xena stepped and both of them lifted on their elbows and turned to face her. She took the veil off her face and clenched her jaw. "What are you doing out here?"

"Studying the stars," Solan smiled.

Meanwhile, Alexander frowned and lay back down, staring up at the sky. Solan stifled a laugh and Xena sighed, kneeling down beside her youngest son.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier, Alexander, but –"

"You didn't even want to hear what I had to say," the boy said as he continued to look at the stars.

Xena sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Solan kept smirking at her and she shot him a glare. He nervously smiled and lay back down, pretending not to listen to their conversation.

"Maybe you can tell me about it tomorrow?"

Alexander let out a heavy sigh. "I donno if I want to anymore." He toyed with her and Xena frowned. Then Solan chuckled softly and Xena pinched his arm.

"Ow!" he griped. "Come on, Alexander, just tell her what it is already!"

The young boy pursed his lips. "Tomorrow I will on one condition."

Am I really going to bargain with a seven year old? Xena bit her tongue and she relented. "What?"

"We go to the beach," he smiled.

"Absolutely not," she said and he frowned.



Alexander groaned and he sat up, staring at his mother with a sneaky grin. "Helva?"

Xena raised her eyebrow and Solan rolled his eyes. "You want candy?"

"Well you won't let me have anything else," he shrugged.

"Fine, alright," Xena said lowly, feeling a little defeated and Alexander beamed.

"It's a deal then," he lay back down on the sand and looked up at the stars. "You promise I will get the helva after I tell you?"

Xena stood, "don't push it," she warned and he shut his mouth. "Now, will you two go to your rooms now? I don't want you two outside."

Solan huffed. "But why? It's really nice outside." He stared up at her and saw the horrible scowl on her face. He grabbed his brother's arm. "Come on Alexander..."

"But, I'm not tired yet!" Alexander whined as he was being drug inside the palace.

Xena returned to her room once she saw both boys go to their rooms and not wander off somewhere else. She closed the door and threw her veil on the chair beside the entrance. She smiled, untying the sash around her waist, looking at her little helper.

"How's it coming Gabrielle?" she asked.

Gabrielle lifted her eyes and she had gone through two stacks of papers already. "I am more than halfway done." She alleged and Xena nodded then took off her garb and shoes. "I don't understand why you're making me do this."

Xena disappeared into another room and Gabrielle blinked. She returned wearing a simple knee length robe and let her hair down. "You ask a lot of questions."

"And you don't give a lot of answers," she mumbled and Xena frowned.

"What was that?"

Gabrielle smiled nervously. "Nothing." She put the last paper on top of the Ankara stack and already started on the next pile of papers. "I am finished."

Xena waltzed over to the desk and checked over the stack of papers, going through the first five pages to make sure everything was in order. She noticed that Gabrielle organized all of the other stacks by country, but she didn't ask her to do that.

"You are a fast worker, for a troublemaker," she teased. She sat on her bed and pulled out a small bottle of oil and crossed one leg over the other.

Gabrielle stood and watched Xena pour oil onto her skin and she couldn't stop herself from staring. "Um, does this mean I can go now?"

"Yes, but I have one question before you go," she said and Gabrielle inwardly sighed. More questions, the blonde thought. Xena lifted her eyes, smiling at the young girl, probably no older than nineteen or so.

"What did you think of me as the emperor of Greece?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle blinked and lowered her eyes. She didn't want to answer that question, not at all. This must be another one of her games, yes that's it.

"Feeling shy again?" Xena sighed heavily. "You ask many questions yet I ask one...simple...question and you are mute."

Here goes nothing, Gabrielle cursed herself. "I...thought you were a tyrant –called you terrible names –and that you were a pig." She held her breath and saw the smile widen on Xena's face.

"Thank you Gabrielle, you may go now."

That's it? No cynical retort? Nothing? That's it? I should probably count my blessings, I guess. Gabrielle quietly left the room without saying another word.

Xena frowned and corked the bottle of oil and tapped her fingers against the glass bottle.

Chapter Text

AN: I will be putting a lot of flashbacks in this story. They're very important. Read and enjoy ;)

Chapter 8 –Your Way

Seven Years Ago

Xena was passed out in her bed with her arm slumped over the edge and her hair sprawled across the pillows. Solan went into her room quietly and crept up beside her bed. He watched her sleep soundly and her chest rising and falling heavily.

He sighed and poked her arm. "Mother..." he whispered and she didn't even stir. He grabbed her wrist and whispered her name again. She furrowed her eyebrows and tucked her arm underneath her cheek and shifted in bed.

Solan climbed on top of the bed and went behind her. He shook her lightly. "Mother, wake up!" he said loudly and Xena groaned.

Her eyes fluttered open and she turned over and saw her son sitting over her with a sheepish expression on his face. She frowned and looked outside and saw it was still dark. "Solan...what are you doing?"

He sighed, "sorry for waking you up mother but someone is here to see you..."

Xena grunted and swung her legs out of bed and ran her fingers through her hair. She grabbed her robe and put it on, tying the sash underneath her breasts and got up slowly. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw dark circles under her eyes and frowned.

She turned to Solan, whom was still sitting on her bed. "Stay here." She said and he nodded, and plopped down on the large pillows, relaxing.

She walked down the stairs in her private wing of the Thebes palace. She had segregated the palace into three separate wings. Those who knew her were allowed to come to her wing and see her without all her garb on. She hoped that it wasn't someone she didn't want to see.

She opened the door and frowned seeing Borias standing outside. He smiled at her and she folded her arms. "What are you doing here?" she said in a low tone.

"I wanted to see how you were doing," he sheepishly said. "Can I come in?"

Xena rolled her eyes and motioned him to come inside. She then saw his ten year old son, waltzing in behind him with a great big smile on his face. Her mouth gaped and she closed the door.

Belach observed the large dark palace lit by candles and nodded. He turned to his stepmother and smiled. "Hello Xena," he greeted and Xena raised her eyebrow, slowly turning around watching the boy wander around her home.

She grabbed Borias' arm and pulled him aside. "Why did you bring him?" she hissed.

He sighed and looked over at Belach who was now exploring the large palace, looking at all the large statues. "I had to take him with me. We are on our way to Athens." He peered down at her belly and saw their child had grown much since he had last visited her. In fact, it looked as if she were about to burst. "And the child?"

"Borias!" she hissed and Belach turned to them both, gawking. "Why are you really here? You didn't come all the way to Thebes to, what was it? 'Check up on me'."

He folded his arms and smiled weakly at his son. Belach grinned and continued exploring. "Osman is moving the entire tribe to Ankara soon. We are leaving Persia."

"He's what?!" she snarled. "Why is he moving to Ankara?"

"Because Xena, the sultan in Persia is a monster. We are leaving next month." He said and she exhaled heavily.

"And you're here to what? Propose that I continue to send troops and money to your beloved chieftain?" she smirked and he lowered his eyes. "Of course, I should have known. You can tell your chieftain that I will send coin and soldiers once you are settled in Ankara." She relented and rest her hands on her hips.

He nodded. "Thank you, Xena." He smiled and she waved her hand dismissively. "So..." he began awkwardly and felt her staring at him intently. "Can I see Solan? I know he is here."

She shook her head. "I don't think so." She walked off towards the staircase. "You may show yourself out," she called out and walked up the long staircase.

Borias frowned and Belach ran over to his father. "Does this mean I can't see my brother?" he asked politely.

"Not right now, Belach." He pushed his son along and saw Xena disappear into the darkness on the second floor. "Let's go."

Xena rushed to her room and slammed the door, growling lowly. Solan blinked and hunkered down in the bed. She eyed the little blonde boy and smiled gently. Throwing her robe onto a chair she climbed back into the bed and sat up, propped up against the pillows, staring at the ceiling.

Solan scooted closer to his mother. "So, who was it?"

She peered down at him and frowned sadly. "Your father." Solan quirked his mouth and remained silent.

She shifted in bed and looked down at herself and felt her unborn child kicking up a storm within her. She sighed and rest her hand on her stomach trying to soothe the child. She knew that she had a few weeks left until the baby arrived, but she didn't know if she would make it that far. Sighing, she scratched her arm anxiously and kept telling herself that she hoped that the baby would wait, just a little while longer so she could finish what she started in her empire.

"I hope the baby is a girl. I want to have a sister." Solan said and she smiled, lifting him up and set him in her lap.

Xena fixed his hair and looked into his eyes. "Oh really?"

Solan nodded with a grin, "I already have a brother so a sister should be nice."

"You won't be disappointed if you get a brother?" she teased and Solan wagged his head. "What would you name your brother?" she asked sweetly.

He tapped his cheek, "Alexander," he beamed, "like Alexander The Great!"

Xena laid on her stomach passed out and heard her name being called several times and her arm being shook as well.

"Mother, wake up!" Alexander groaned and kept shaking her shoulder.

"What?" Xena lifted herself up and saw her youngest son staring at her intensely and Solan standing behind him. She looked outside and saw the sun was barely rising. "Alexander...what are you doing?"

"I tried to stop him," Solan lamented.

Alexander sighed. "Mother, I gotta tell you what I heard while you were gone. I can't wait anymore!" he pleaded and she nodded sleepily and threw the blanket off herself. She rose from the bed and walked over to her vanity set and looked at her reflection. Tired eyes, she saw. She was beginning to look more like a crypt keeper than the strong woman she used to see in the mirror every day.

"Mom, can we hurry this up, please," Alexander begged.

Xena frowned and brushed her hair. "Just one moment, Alexander." She heard him grumbling to himself and she washed her face with cold water and wiped her face.

Kara came into the room with a tray of food and set it on table, placing three plates for them all. She set out the small plates of fruit, cheeses and tea. Solan sat down and Xena picked up Alexander and set him in the chair beside her. She grabbed the plate and put mostly fruit and bread on Alexander's plate and put it in front of him.

The boy frowned and pushed the plate away. "I am not hungry."

Xena raised her eyebrow and pushed the plate towards him. "Eat it."

He reluctantly bit a piece of the orange slice, glaring at his mother. Solan smirked and filled his plate with minimal fruit and mostly bread. Alexander then stuffed all the fruit and bread in his mouth and his mother's eyes widened as she finished pouring him some tea. Solan's jaw dropped and stared at his brother, gorging himself in a matter of seconds.

Alexander grabbed the glass of tea and downed it quickly to help swallow his food. He pat his chest and finished eating his food. "Okay, I'm done. Can I tell you now?" he said and both his mother and older brother kept gawking at him, a bit horrified.

"I really hope you don't puke after that," Solan said and felt a little nauseous all of a sudden.

Xena sipped her tea and kept staring at her smallest son in horror. "Fine...go ahead..."

"Okay so, I went into the kitchen and stole from helva from Silvia," Alexander began and Xena frowned. "It's part of the story. Anyway, I ran into your office," he saw his mother's eyes grow with fury and he grinned nervously. "Also part of the story..." he continued, "I was eating the helva and then I heard two councilmen come into the room and I hid behind the chair –your chair. I heard them talking about being friends with the Templars and then getting rid of you!"

Xena frowned and sipped her tea slowly, thinking over what her son had told her. Alexander could be a bit of a brat sometimes, but he was never a liar, at least he never lied to her that she knew of. Solan turned his plate around the table and whistled the fill the thick tense air in the room.

Alexander folded his arms and looked at his mother then to Solan and back to his mother again. "So...what are you going to do about it?"

Xena set her glass down and swirled the spoon in the tea. "Are you sure you heard the men correctly?"

"Yes, yes! I am positive!" her son exclaimed.

"Who were the men? What did they look like?" Xena asked and tapped the spoon against the tea glass impatiently.

Alexander pursed his lips and tapped his fingers on the table. "One of them had a long really curly beard. Kinda tall and the other was bald and real skinny."

Xena kept tapping the spoon on the glass until it broke and tea spilled all over the table. She sighed heavily and put the spoon down beside her empty plate. She knew exactly who those two men were just by a description given to her by her son. Vahid and Awat. They were always incredibly slimy and never liked to do their share of work in the council. Snakes, she cursed them.

"Thank you for telling me Alexander," she smiled tightly and stood from her chair. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you earlier."

Her son smugly smiled and eyed his brother. Solan scoffed and rolled his eyes and kept spinning the plate around the table.

"I have work to do," she grabbed her garb and veil to get dressed. "Solan, watch your brother."

"Yes, mother," Solan sighed and then Xena left the bedroom.

Alexander still had that mirth in his eyes and Solan kept looking at him, wondering what he was thinking. "So, am I going to get my helva or what?"

Xena came outside finally reuniting with her female trainees after more than a week of being apart. She clapped her hands and all the girls stopped talking and faced the front. She came around to the front and watched all the nervous expressions on their faces.

"Today will be a different training exercise today." She nodded at Dajan at the back of the gardens and a slew of male soldiers came out of the palace in two long lines. All the girls turned their heads slowly and saw a lot of the sultan's troops.

"You will be training with men today. You all need to understand that most of the time your enemy will be bigger than you and stronger than you. You will be using real weapons today. My men are very skilled warriors and I know this will be a challenge for you all."

Gabrielle's eyes widened and looked at all of the troops and frightened girls. Training with men? This is bound to be a disaster, she thought. These girls might give up and drop like flies. She eyed Xena as she kept talking on and on. She couldn't hear anything she said because she was too stunned.

Why Xena? What are you planning? Is this about Genghis Khan? What is going on here?

Helena then nudged Gabrielle, startling her. "Gabrielle those men are so huge!"

"What? Oh yeah..." she answered softly.

"What's the matter Gabrielle? I thought you of all people would be excited about this! It's quite a challenge!" Helena smiled.

Gabrielle frowned, eyeing Xena while she continued partnering up the girls with her male soldiers. It came to her Helena that were the last ones chosen. Xena smiled at the two of them and Helena lowered her eyes, now feeling nervous.

"Gabrielle..." Xena grinned. "Helena you will be partnered with Jamshid." She said and the nervous brunette walked over to the man waiting for her on the other side of the garden. Xena now turned her attention to her favorite trainee.

Gabrielle saw all the men were taken and there was no one else to be partnered with. "There's nobody left..."

Xena nodded. "That's right," she pulled out her sword and Gabrielle's grew in fear. "I will be your partner."

She's got to be joking. I am not going to spar with the sultan, Gabrielle thought. She began shaking her head and Xena nodded hers. I am going to be made a fool of, she cursed inwardly.

"Come on, Gabrielle. I don't bite." Xena grabbed a sword and tossed it at her. Gabrielle caught it easily and gawked at the sultana. "I'll go easy on you."

With that last note she swung her sword and Gabrielle gasped then dropped to the sand so fast. Xena smiled and looked down at her opponent and stomped on her back with her boot. The blonde trainee grunted and her cheek dug into the sand.

"Remember your training, Gabrieeeelle," Xena smirked and put more weight onto her back. Gabrielle huffed and was now getting sand inside her mouth as Xena kept forcing her into the hot sand.

Gabrielle growled and grabbed Xena's ankle and twisted it then wacked her kneecap with her elbow. Xena winced and stumbled backwards. She got off the ground and spat sand from her mouth and breathed heavily, glaring at her opponent.

Xena rolled her shoulders back and smiled at Gabrielle, holding her sword in front of her body. "Very good, Gabrielle," she complimented and saw a grin on the young girl's face. She then grabbed the blade and stabbed the hilt into Gabrielle's chest and she fumbled backwards, cringing. Xena frowned and then swung her arm around and clocked Gabrielle in the jaw, sending her to the ground.

Gabrielle stared up at the sky and wiped her bloody bottom lip. Oh no, you are not going to win, not today. Xena cried out and swung her sword downward and Gabrielle held up her sword horizontally, blocking her blow. Xena's eyes widened and she forced all of her weight onto the blade and Gabrielle saw her palm begin to bleed from the sharp edges of the sword.

She forgot that these were not wooden swords. Bad tactic, she gathered. Xena chuckled lowly and Gabrielle sat up, pushing all her weight off of Xena's sword and quickly got to her feet.

"I said you were going to go easy!" Gabrielle breathed heavily, wiping the sweat off her forehead.

"I am." Xena smiled, twirling her sword.

Gabrielle inhaled deeply and thought this was just an awful idea. Xena knew that she wasn't as skilled as she was and yet she insisted the two spar together. Xena spun around and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's neck, not enough to choke her though.

"You are not paying attention in combat training, Gabrielle. I could have killed you already," Xena whispered and she heard a low growl from her opponent. "Don't get angry...anger clouds the mind," she hissed and pushed Gabrielle forward.

Gabrielle rubbed her throat and then turned around holding the sword firmly, glaring at Xena.

Xena smiled, "I am bigger than you and stronger than you, Gabrielle. You are not using your size to your advantage." She bent her knees and held her sword out, opening herself for her trainee to attack her straight on.

Was that a nice way of calling me short? Gabrielle huffed and then looked at Xena's body stance. She was opening herself up for an attack, to make things easier of course. She studied her long legs and arms sprawled out. Xena was definitely taller and stronger, but perhaps she was going about this all wrong. She kept trying to attack Xena's upper body instead of her lower body, which was more to her height equivalence.

"I'm waiting," Xena teased and Gabrielle smiled smugly.

Gabrielle charged forward and thrust her sword towards Xena's gut and Xena dodged it by barely a few inches. She then knelt down and swung her leg around nearly knocking Xena off her feet until she jumped up, barely missing the attack again.

Xena's eyes widened and she saw Gabrielle turn her sword around and stab her with the hilt right into her gut. She winced and wrapped her arm around herself, stumbling backwards a few steps.

Penelope and Helena were taking a break with their male sparring partners and decided to get some water. Penelope sipped from the ladle and turned to see Gabrielle sparring with the sultan. Her jaw dropped and she nudged Helena.

"Look at that," she said and Helena wiped her mouth and turned to see what all the commotion was about. Penelope smirked, "Gabrielle is totally whipping the sultan's ass."

Helena gasped and saw the sultan being beaten by a woman half his size.

Xena growled and grabbed Gabrielle by her arm and threw her across the sand, growing more frustrated by the minute. Gabrielle smiled and rolled off the sand and then grabbed Xena's long veil attached to the back of her turban and kneed her in the nose.

Xena gasped and felt blood trickling down her lips. She snapped her head around and grabbed Gabrielle by her cheeks and head butted her in the forehead, sending her stumbling backwards.

"This is not a death match, Gabrielle!" Xena yelled.

Gabrielle moaned and rubbed her forehead, then turned to see Xena becoming very angry and already irritated. She smiled and her breathing labored. She wagged her swore wrist around and looked into the sultana's furious eyes.

"You are getting angry..." she said and Xena frowned.

The sultan turned and saw a gaggle of girls gawking in their direction. "What are you all staring at?!" she shouted and they all averted their eyes and picked up their weapons to begin training again.

Gabrielle nervously adjusted her armor and looked at the infuriated sultana. She now felt more afraid than when the training began. She not only kneed Xena in the face but she stabbed her in her midsection with the butt of the sword too. Bound to leave a bruise she was sure, unless Xena was wearing armor under all that garb, but by her pained reaction, Gabrielle doubted it.

Subutai returned to Ankara alone with a few of his elite guards this time. Osman sent a message to him that Sultan Xenophon had gone from the area and that was the only way the Mongolian Commander would return to talk with the Anatolians.

Borias, Osman and Subutai sat in the chieftain's yurt together, awkwardly staring at one another for several minutes. Osman broke the ice and said, "my apologies for Xenophon, commander." He bowed his head curtly.

The Mongol frowned. "That insane man almost killed all of my Khan's soldiers. Why did he attack me?"

Borias sighed and spoke for his friend and chieftain. "Xenophon did not want to take up the offer of allying with the Khan and us."

Subutai nodded. "I see. You must understand that the Khan does not like rogue rulers. We will attack Persia and Greece to make the sultan surrender. If he does not, I will kill him myself." He stood and thanked the two Anatolians for their hospitality and left the yurt.

Osman rubbed his chin and glared at the Mongol as he kept walking off to his elite guards. "Xena is going to slaughter everyone in sight. She already has the Church on her back."

Borias agreed. "She did this to herself. I gave her an opportunity to ally with us and the Mongols but she refused. And she took my sons from me."

The chieftain sighed heavily and looked at the sadness in his colleague's eyes. "She will stop at nothing to win, Borias. You know this to be true."

"She doesn't want to win. She wants to rule. Conquer. Obliterate. This is not about winning, Osman." Borias shook his head and left the chieftain's yurt.

Back in the Persian palace in Jerusalem Xena waited in a hidden torch lit room underneath the large fortress. She asked Dajan to send a few men to capture Vahid and Awat from their homes and blindfold them to bring them to her palace.

Vahid and Awat were hung upside down with their ankles shackled together and their hands behind their backs tied tightly. Vahid was held over a fire pit and Awat was dangling over a well filled with water deep enough to be submerged into.

Xena smiled and folded her arms walking into the room to see both men hanging over their fate. Fate of death. They were silent and didn't know where they were or how they got there. She had one soldier by the Vahid's lever with the fire pit and another soldier by Awat's lever.

"Well, well," Xena said loudly and the men's mouths hung open immediately hearing the sultan's voice. "I heard from a little bird that you two have been conspiring against me."

Vahid whimpered, "that is not true, your majesty!" he whined.

Xena frowned and nodded towards the soldier. Vahid was then lowered closer to the fire below him and he could feel the heat against his head and he panicked. Wiggling in fear, trying to set himself free from the shackles.

"Your highness, please!" Vahid cried out and began sobbing. Xena smiled and allowed the soldier to lower him closer to the fire. Vahid screamed in agony and his partner, Awat panicked and tried to free himself as well, wondering what his fate was to be. Vahid's long cape began burning in the flames.

Xena raised her hand and the Persian councilmen was raised from the fire. She turned to the other conspirator. "And what about you, Awat? What do you have to say for yourself?!"

Awat's breathing quickened and he shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about, sultan!" he pleaded.

Xena rolled her eyes and nodded to the soldier. Awat was lowered into the well of water, slowly drowning him. He screamed from underneath the water and she heard the bubbles rising to the surface. Sighing, she instructed the soldier to lift the idiot out of the well.

Awat spat out some water and dry heaved. "Your Excellency, please, have mercy!"

"Mercy?" Xena laughed. "Not today, Awat. I don't like liars!" she marched over to him and ripped off the blindfold, staring into his dark fearful eyes. "Are you or are you not conspiring to overthrow me and ally with the Templar Knights?!" she growled.

Awat whimpered in fear and Xena sighed and he was then lowered back into the well. "No, no! Please!"

"Start talking," she folded her arms and the top half of his face was already in the water.

"Wait!" Awat pleaded and Xena smiled. He was then reeled up from the well.

"I'm listening..." she hissed.

"Vahid has conspired against you, your majesty. It was all his idea!" Awat sold his friend out.

Vahid gasped. "How dare you! You bastard!" he yelled and wriggled in his shackles.

Xena chuckled and Awat stared at the sultan, bemused at this odd behavior. "I told you Awat, I don't like liars. You are a worm, a viper. I should cut off your manhood while I'm at it. Do you feel lucky, Awat?" she pulled out a dagger and tugged at his belt. "Well, do you?!" she spat and he swallowed roughly.

She saw he was remaining silent and she smiled and tore off his belt and he gasped. She ripped his pants and Awat sobbed softly. "Please, your highness...please..."

Xena cocked her head to the side and held the dagger against his bare groin. "Please? Oh yes, please, say it again," she smiled and cut into his skin. He moaned in agony, biting his bottom lip until it turned white. "Beg for me!" she smiled and cut sliced deeper into his groin.

"Alright, alright!" Awat pleaded and Xena pulled the dagger away. "We worked...we worked together," he stammered and she nodded, listening intently, wiping the blood off her dagger. "We –we sent letters to the Templar Knights. We did it, the entire court!"

Xena sighed. "Thank you. Now was that so hard?" she sheathed the dagger and walked off.

She waved her hand at her men by the levers. "Kill them."

Awat's eyes widened and Vahid gasped, while still blindfolded. Both men were lowered to their deaths, whether it be the fire or the well. "No! No!" Vahid screamed.

Xena walked down the narrow hallway and heard Vahid screaming as he was being burned alive and Awat drowned to death in the well.

In the evening Gabrielle crept out from her quarters and hurried over to the west wing. She tread up the stairs and saw Kara leaving Xena's room with a bowl of some sort. Frowning she ran up the stairs and hid behind a large pillar.

Kara walked down the stairs with a water basin stained red and Gabrielle's eyes grew seeing that sight. She carefully walked down the hallway and creaked open Xena's bedroom door. Peering inside, she saw Xena sitting in a chair holding her head back with a cloth draped over her nose.

Oh no, did I do that? Gabrielle stepped inside the room and approached Xena slowly.

Xena's eyes looked over and saw the blonde come into her room. She frowned and lowered her head, pulling the cloth away from her nose. "What are you doing in my room?!"

Gabrielle saw how red Xena's nose was and instantly felt awful. "Your nose. Did I do that?" she feared.

Xena grunted and pinched her nose with the cloth again. "It's fine."

"I didn't mean to do that." Gabrielle stepped closer and Xena held out her arm, preventing her from coming any closer. "I'm sorry." She said and Xena didn't respond. "It's just...I just got into the moment!" she grinned.

Xena lowered her head again and raised her eyebrow. "You sure did. Make yourself useful and hand me a new wash cloth," she pointed to the table and Gabrielle ran over and got a fresh cloth.

"Can I ask a question?"

"Why not? Humor me," Xena wiped the blood from her nose and held her head back again, staring at the ceiling.

Gabrielle grinned shyly and her cheeks reddened. "Um, why are we training with men now? When I was looking at your paperwork I saw a lot of treaties between Ankara, the pervious Persian sultan and Hungary. You went to war with them all and won. You created those treaties."

"What's your point?" Xena said, holding her nose still.

"Are you...going to war with Anatolia?" Gabrielle asked, almost fearing the answer. Perhaps she already knew the answer.

Xena smirked and crossed one leg over the other. "Clever girl," she chuckled.

Gabrielle nodded, feeling stupid for even asking that question, since she already knew the answer. "But why? It looked like you and the Anatolians have been friends for a long time."

Xena frowned, creasing her eyebrows. "Allies are not friends, Gabrielle. Don't confuse the two."

Duly noted, Gabrielle said to herself. "And what about the Roman Church and the Khan?" she spoke and saw the sultana's pupils grow at the mention of those two things. "You are backing yourself in a corner."

Xena growled and lowered her head, grabbing Gabrielle by her loose robe, bringing her close to her face. "When I ask for your opinion I will let you know..." she hissed.

Solan barged into the room and saw his mother with a young blonde woman. They both turned towards him and he smiled awkwardly. "Sh–should I come back later?" he proposed.

Xena looked at Gabrielle again and let go of her robe. She saw the anxiousness in the girl and smirked. "No, it's alright. What do you want?"

He glanced at Gabrielle and then back to his mother, not quite sure if he was supposed to address her as his mother or not.

"Solan?" Xena narrowed her eyes.

The teenager began, "um, well you see...could I talk to you alone?" he asked and Xena stood then walked into the adjoining room. He followed behind her while Gabrielle stood in the middle of the bedroom. She felt even more uncomfortable being alone and was not quite sure what she was supposed to do now.

Was she done talking to me? Or maybe she wanted to speak to me some more? I probably should wait until she says something. Yes, I will do that.

"He did what?!" Xena shouted from the other room and Gabrielle jumped hearing her voice echo throughout the two rooms.

Xena came into her bedroom and didn't have time to get into her garb. She grabbed a head scarf and wrapped it around her long dark hair and slipped on some shoes then turned to see the lonely Gabrielle standing in her room.

"Wait here," she instructed and Gabrielle nodded quietly. "And don't touch anything." She swiftly left the room with her son and stormed down the hallway.

She marched into the library with Solan and opened the double doors to see at least ten tall bookshelves knocked over like dominoes and she gasped audibly. So many books were scattered across the floor and then she lifted her eyes and saw Alexander hanging upside down from the chandelier above her in the center of the library.

Alexander smiled sheepishly and swung from side to side. "Oh hello mother. I can explain..."

Her lip quivered and she immediately grabbed a ladder and walked over to the center. She climbed up the steps and saw his pants were caught on the chandelier. She ripped the bottom of his pants off and lifted him into her arms.

He winced and held his left arm close to his chest. She frowned and climbed down the ladder and set him on the ground.

Xena snarled and bent down, staring into his dark brown eyes. "What were you thinking?!" she scolded him and he pouted then averted his eyes. "Look at me!" she pinched his cheeks and his eyes grew in terror. She saw his eyes swell with tears and she softened.

"Let me see your arm," she pushed up the long sleeve on his arm and he winced. She examined it carefully and sighed. "Your arm is broken."

She grabbed his other hand and left the library. Solan walked beside her and she frowned deeply. "I put you in charge of your brother, Solan!"

Solan sighed, "I just left for a few minutes! I didn't think he was going to do something like this!"

"You're supposed to stay with him at all times! That's what I mean when I say watch him!" she chided and Solan grumbled.

"I'm sorry," he said meekly.

Gabrielle waited inside the bedroom and then heard a lot of commotion outside. Xena returned with both of her sons and her smallest son was in tears. Xena frowned and pointed to the chair she was sitting in earlier. "Sit there," she demanded and Alexander sat on the chair, sobbing softly.

Xena was busy looking for bandages and something to make a splint for Alexander's arm. Solan leaned against the wall with his arms folded, brooding quietly to himself.

Gabrielle smiled and knelt down beside the dark haired boy. "Alexander, right?" she asked and he nodded. "What happened to your arm?" she saw him holding it and he didn't say anything.

Xena dropped to her knees and unbuttoned Alexander's shirt. "Hold out your arm," she said and he did as told. "I'm going to have put it back in place, it will hurt..." she warned.

Alexander couldn't take his eyes off his arm and tears streamed down his cheeks. Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and she pat his knee. He snapped his head around to her and she smiled.

"Do you like stories?" she asked and he gave her a slow nod of his head. "You know, there is a story about a prince that lived in the mountains." She began and his unsteady breathing calmed down somewhat. "The villagers called him the dancing prince because every night he would dance for gold and entertain the people in his kingdom."

Xena raised her eyebrow and numbed her son's arm, listening to Gabrielle tell this story of hers.

Gabrielle looked over at Xena and saw she was about to put the boy's arm back in place. So she continued, "and one night it got really cloudy outside and there was a legend about a dragon that lived inside the mountain. He only came out of the cave inside the mountain every one hundred years!" she smiled and Alexander's eyes widened as he listened attentively.

Xena snapped her son's arm back in place and he winced slightly, though he didn't feel nearly as much pain as he should have.

Gabrielle continued to distract him. "And then the villagers panicked! The dragon swooped down and stole all of the gold from the kingdom!" Alexander's mouth gaped slightly. "And the people began crying because they were so sad that they lost everything. The dancing prince told them that he could get the gold back from the dragon in the mountains."

Xena grabbed the splint and set it on her son's arm and began wrapping it with a thick bandage. Alexander was engrossed in the blonde's story, so she continued tending to his arm silently.

"But, the villagers didn't have faith in the prince. So then, the prince said, 'I will get the gold back and slay the dragon!' and so he went on a journey to travel to the snowy mountains where the dragon lived. Legend says that nobody has ever made it back alive," she smiled, animating the story very well and Alexander kept listening, waiting for more.

Xena finished wrapping his arm and pressed her fingers in between his collar bone to take the numbing away. He winced and moaned loudly.

Gabrielle frowned and then she continued her story to make sure he was listening. "The prince began his long journey to the mountains. And on his journey he encountered a witch living in the forests. He stopped and asked for directions, but," she paused and Alexander's breathing calmed down, temporarily forgetting about his arm.

"But what?" Alexander asked and held his arm close to his chest, bringing his knees to his chest.

Xena stood slowly and interrupted Gabrielle's little tale. "Alexander, it's time for bed."

He whined, "but I want to find out what happens!"

Gabrielle smiled. "Maybe we can finish the story later?" she winked and the young boy grinned then hopped out of the chair and ran to Solan. The two left the bedroom shortly after and she kept smiling then looked up to see a miffed sultana standing before her and her smile disappeared instantaneously.

She rose to her feet and Xena folded her arms, studying her silently. "You are quite the storyteller..." she noted and Gabrielle's smile reappeared.

Xena circled around the young trainee and now thought she was even more intriguing before. She was able to distract her son for a short while, although it was a small gesture, albeit nice one, it was strange. She had never met a young girl like Gabrielle before. She was not just a troublemaker and a bit outspoken but she was able to come up with wild stories on the tip of her tongue.

"You are a strange creature," she observed and that made Gabrielle uncomfortable especially with Xena in such close proximity to her.

"I was just trying to help," she lamely admitted. "And it worked," she grinned nervously while Xena kept circling her like a vulture.

Xena finally came 'round to face Gabrielle. She raised her eyebrow and looked into her emerald eyes. "You like helping people don't you?" she asked.

"Y –yes," she answered.

Xena smiled deliciously and folded her arms. "Come with me tomorrow to ride into the city. We will be looking for the other councilmen on my court."

Gabrielle frowned confusedly, not sure what that had to do with helping people. It sounded a bit suspicious. "And why are you looking for these men?"

"They have committed crimes against my empire. I want you to help me find them. You can bring whatever weapon you like," she said and brushed past her. Gabrielle blinked her eyes rapidly and folded her arms.

"You want to be a warrior, right?" Xena called out.

"Yes...?" the blonde's darted from side to side, trying to figure this woman out. What is she talking about? She speaks in riddles all the time. She is worse than the ancient philosophers.

Xena smirked and then looked on her shelf filled with perfumed oils. "And you believe I am tyrannical?"

Gabrielle froze and she was speechless.

"Come now, these are your words. What was it? A tyrant and a pig?" Xena scoffed and grabbed two bottles of oils and sat on her bed. She had a ritual every night. The girl had her back turned to her and she cleared her throat. "I like to see the face of the person I am speaking to, Gabrielle."

Regrettably, the blonde turned around and saw a strange grin on the sultana's face. She suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline course through her veins.

"You didn't answer my question."

Gabrielle let out a large sigh. "I don't know how to answer that question anymore."

Xena smiled. "So you don't believe I am a tyrannical ruler anymore? You believe I am merciful?"

No, to be honest you fascinate me and scare me at the same time. "I don't know."

"Suddenly you are tongue tied and unsure of yourself..." Xena spread the oil on her bare legs and Gabrielle averted her eyes elsewhere. " is fear?" she guessed and received no answer. "I gave you my word that I would not hurt you yet I sense fear in you."

She rose from the bed and approached Gabrielle, touching her soft blonde locks. "I smell your fear," she whispered and circled around her once again. Gabrielle closed her eyes and held her breath. "Fear is the driving force in us all. Even I have fears."

Gabrielle felt the brunette's breath on the back of her neck as she continued to circling around her. "Are you afraid of me, Gabrielle?" she whispered and Gabrielle felt her breath close to her ear this time.

"I would be lying...if I said no," she managed to say.

Xena chuckled lowly and stopped in front of the petite blonde. "Warriors may fear their rulers, but they must never show it. I can taste yours, Gabrielle. Learn to control your fear and you will thrive in this world." She finally walked away from her and Gabrielle could breathe in peace.

"What is your fear?" she blurted out and Xena froze.

"Why are you so curious to figure me out, Gabrielle?" she turned with a deep frown on her lips.

The trainee fidgeted with her thumbs behind her back. "You impersonate yourself as a man."

Xena smirked. "To think like a man, one must become a man."

Silence passed between the two for several minutes.

"You can go now," Xena shooed her away and sat in her bed, getting ready to organize her large pile of treaties that Gabrielle helped her with the other day.

Gabrielle nodded and then head for the exit, eager to leave but at the same time eager to stay.

"The story you told Alexander. Where is it from?" Xena called out to her.

She halted mid-step. "I made it up. I used to tell it to my sister when we were children."

"I'm sure he would like to hear the rest of it sometime," Xena said and Gabrielle hid her shy grin then left the bedroom, closing the doors behind her.

Chapter Text

AN: thank you all for reading, ya'll are dolls. Enjoy ;)

Chapter 9 –Fight Club

Early the next morning all of the girls continued their training with Xena's soldiers. While the girls were training, Xena was absent from the morning session, getting her elite troops gathered to go into the city today. She needed to find the rest of the councilmen and luckily she knew where they all lived. Although, she suspected that the men might know something is wrong because she hasn't had a meeting with all of them since she came back. Certainly, they would know something is amiss when they find out their colleagues, Vahid and Awat, were missing in action.

Gabrielle raised her sword to her male opponent, who was a lot taller than her and stronger. The tactics she used on Xena yesterday weren't really working with this soldier. He knew all of her moves and that really made her question her sparring lesson with Xena yesterday.

Xena was a very skilled fighter too, a very good one, so Gabrielle assumed, otherwise how could she have lived so long as a ruler of Greece and now Persia? She not only nearly broke Xena's nose but she also injured her in several spots on her body too. Was she being careless during the fight or was she playing another one of her mind games?

Perhaps, Xena wanted Gabrielle to triumph in the spar? Gabrielle concluded that was the only reason why Xena was allowing herself to be beaten so badly. But no, there was something else –something that she just thought of. Maybe Xena didn't allow her to win, but maybe she was rusty and out of practice. How long had it been since Xena had been on the battlefield, Gabrielle wondered?

Xena must have had a lot of men in her army, thousands of men at her beck and call. And so perhaps, just maybe, Xena had grown lazy and complacent. Her men did everything for her while she stood off on the sidelines, watching the battles from afar.

The Persian soldier then wacked Gabrielle in her shoulder with his elbow and she winced, stumbling backwards. She allowed herself to become distracted by her thoughts of Xena, again.

He sighed and held out his hand to help her up. "That is the third time you let yourself open for an attack, Gabrielle."

She nodded and rubbed her shoulder. "Sorry. I have a lot on my mind," she lamely said.

"Gabrielle!" Xena called and the blonde immediately snapped her head around. "Come with me." She instructed then walked back into the palace. Gabrielle dropped her sparring sword and quickly ran after the sultana.

Astremia lowered her sword and gawked at Gabrielle following the sultan into the palace. She grimaced and turned to Penelope. "Did you see that?" she asked.

Penelope wiped her brow and frowned. "See what?"

"The sultan and Gabrielle," Astremia shook her head and stuck her blade into the sand. "She has become very chummy with the sultan lately. Why do you think that is?"

Penelope shrugged and breathed heavily, taking a break from sparring with her partner. "Why are you so worried about it? Gabrielle keeps getting herself in trouble. Maybe the sultan is punishing her," she snickered.

"Or the sultan knows something that we don't. Maybe Gabrielle is the sultan's sex slave after all," she laughed and Penelope rolled her eyes.

Gabrielle rode alongside Xena through the streets of busy Jerusalem. She kept eyeing the women and children. There were so many children and so many women. She wondered where all the men were. Some of the men she saw were either very young, probably the same age as her, or they were incredibly old.

Xena trotted through the street and the citizens immediately parted a path for her and her men to come through. "We will take the back street to find the councilmen." She turned abruptly and head down a very narrow street, ducking her head underneath the archways.

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and adjusted the veil around her face. She still couldn't understand how Xena could wear this thing. It was so hot and itchy. "What are you going to do once you find these men?"

Xena smirked. "You'll see."

Her cryptic riddles were not to Gabrielle's liking. She sensed trouble brewing and wondered why Xena invited her to this little search party escapade anyway. If Xena was preparing for war, Gabrielle couldn't understand why she wanted to find her councilmen, but she guessed she had a reason.

Suddenly Xena halted her horse coming to a large apartment complex. All her men surrounded the complex and Gabrielle's eyes darted back and forth, watching these elite soldiers line up with their bows and arrows.

Xena shouted, "come out now!"

No answer.

"Come out or I will break down your door!" she shouted again. The door on the first floor opened and a woman came out with her two small girls. Xena frowned and then unsheathed her sword. Gabrielle's eyes widened.

"Ahmad!" Xena yelled, "I know you're in there with your little friend, Rashid!" she snickered and the two men appeared behind the woman and two children. "Stop hiding behind your wife and children," she growled.

Ahmad grabbed his young wife and daughters, clinging to them. Xena rolled her eyes and pointed the blade at the man. "Your majesty does not normally make house visits..." he said calmly.

Xena smiled hid beneath her veil, "well today must be your lucky day. Let your wife and children go. I don't want them, I want you and Rashid."

Rashid grabbed the dagger on a table beside the door and hid it behind his back. Xena wagged her blade, motioning Ahmad to move his wife and children out of harm's way. Rashid gripped the dagger in his hand and huddled close to his colleague.

"Step out of the house slowly," Xena said calmly and watched Ahmad coming out of the complex, still with his wife and children. "Show me your hands!" she yelled and he lifted one free hand. "Both hands..." she hissed.

Rashid furrowed his eyebrows and eyed the sultan. He hid behind Ahmad, remaining completely oblivious to the sultan. He grit his teeth and threw the dagger directly at Xena.

Xena saw the dagger and blocked it with her sword, knocking it into the ground. The soldiers reacted immediately and pulled their bows out and began shooting at everyone. Xena's eyes widened when she saw one arrow hit Ahmad's wife.

"No!" she shouted and then swung her sword around and sliced through one of her soldier's bows. "I did not order you to shoot!" she growled and then kicked one soldier off his horse.

Gabrielle's eyes widened in horror seeing the woman lying on the ground, bleeding out profusely and her two daughters calling out to her, huddling over her. She glanced up and saw Rashid running out of the home and down the street with Ahmad.

Xena narrowed her eyes and pointed her sword at the two escapees. "After them!" she demanded and her men began riding after the councilmen. "I want them brought to me alive! Alive, do you hear me?!" she yelled out.

She hopped off her horse and sheathed her sword. Glancing over at the terrified look on her trainee's face, she frowned. "Gabrielle, come here!"

Gabrielle shook her head then dismounted the horse and ran over to her. Xena knelt down by the injured woman and the children lifted their teary eyes, frightened of the sultan leering over them both. Gabrielle frowned sadly seeing the horror in the girls' eyes.

Xena took off one of her gloves and touched one of the girls' shoulders. "Can I look?" she asked politely and the girls stared at her, dumbstruck.

Gabrielle saw that the two girls were too horrified to even speak to Xena, which was reasonable. She knelt down beside Xena and the wounded woman. "The sultan wants to help your mother. Will you let him do that?" she asked sweetly and the girls looked at her then slowly backed away from their mother.

Xena blinked, staring at Gabrielle. She was a very charming girl, she realized, and she was good around children as well as other people. She focused her attention on the woman and broke the arrow in half, then tossed it aside. The woman groaned in agony. Xena reluctantly dug her fingers inside the open wound.

The two girls heard their mother crying out in pain and shielded their eyes. Gabrielle smiled weakly and pat both of their shoulders lightly. Xena then pulled out the large arrowhead and sighed, wiping her moist bloody hand on her black garb. She then tore a piece off of her robes and wrapped the woman's shoulder as quickly as she could. It was not a very good patch job, but it will have to do.

Xena sighed and slipped her leather glove back onto her hand. "You need to go see a doctor, but not here. You need to leave Jerusalem and never come back."

The woman looked into the sultan's bright blue eyes and raised her eyebrow. Seeing those eyes, she knew something was different about the sultan. Xena averted her eyes and stood up. "Do you understand me?" the sultana repeated.

She nodded and Xena turned to walk back to her horse. The two girls ran to their mother with big smiles on their faces, clinging onto her dress. All three approached the sultan and Xena was busy fixing her glove on her hand with her back turned.

"Thank you," the woman said and Xena turned around slowly, lowering her eyes silently.

"Don't come back here," she said lowly.

The woman and her daughters fled the area and Gabrielle folded her arms, glaring at Xena. She came up to her and cleared her throat. "What exactly are we doing here? Why are you hunting these councilmen like a cat hunts a mouse?"

Xena smirked. "A troublemaker, a storyteller and an analogist. You are something else."

"What is going on?" Gabrielle said with a large frown.

"Those men are traitors. They planned to kill me so I will make sure that does not happen," she grinned deviously.

Gabrielle saw Xena's cheeks rise and the subtle wrinkles around her eyes appear, which only meant she had one of those eerie grins. "So, you're going to kill them?"

"Clever girl," Xena chuckled. "You want to be a warrior, Gabrielle, so you will be my warrior. My warriors do as I say and don't talk back to me. You will do the same, you understand?"

The blonde raised her eyebrow, not quite sure how to answer that. If she rebelled then things definitely wouldn't end well for her and if she said yes, she'd only be lying to herself and Xena. So many lies and Xena doesn't like liars.

"Yes," she finally said and Xena kept eyeing her, inching closer to her face.

"Xenophon!" one of the soldiers shouted. He and the rest of the men on horseback came back with some baggage. Ahmad and Rashid were tied and being drug along behind.

Xena smiled and stepped forward, folding her arms. She pinched Rashid's cheeks together and his breathing became labored as he glared into her eyes. "Rashid, I thought you were one of the good ones. You disappoint me," she tisked, wagging her head.

"I'm sure you know why I have come for you and if you don't, you will soon join your friends, Vahid and Awat," she winked and his eyes grew in fear. "Take them to the palace," she stood and walked to her horse and Gabrielle.

"Come Gabrielle, we have a lot of work to do." Xena smiled and mounted her horse. Gabrielle frowned and then she too, mounted her steed, yanking the reins, trotting alongside Xena. "Find the rest of the councilmen and bring them to me!" she ordered her men then rode off back into the city.

Upon returning to the palace Gabrielle followed Xena down a dark staircase underneath the fortress. She took her veil off and coughed at the awful smell. "It reeks of rotting corpses down here," Gabrielle covered her mouth with the veil.

Xena raised her eyebrow and kept walking in silence. They finally were in the long torch lit pathway and Gabrielle looked around the small narrow hallway. It was so dark in here and so creepy at the same time. She didn't know why they were down here, but she feared that she was getting into something that she would not be able to get out of.

They entered a large room and Gabrielle's jaw dropped. She saw a lot of strange torture devices down here and a large...crematory as well. She uncovered her mouth and walked around, not sure whether to be in awe of everything or mortified.

"What is all this?" she hesitantly asked.

Xena took off her gloves, allowing her skin to breathe for awhile until her men brought the traitors of course. "A place of no return, Gabrielle," she said so calmly that it made Gabrielle very uncomfortable.

"You torture people?" the blonde looked at the pulleys and lever systems hung from the ceiling. God only knows what Xena does to these people. All the tales she heard of the emperor in Greece seemed to be true, at least somewhat. She was beginning to realize that Xena was a very strange person and not just because she dressed like a man.

"It's not torture if the perpetrator deserves it. They commit a crime and should be punished."

Oh, so does that mean that everyone receives the same punishments then? "So if someone steals...a piece of fruit, do you torture them like...this?" she looked at a wheel with chains on it and cringed. She didn't want to know what that was used for.

Xena smiled softly. "Do you really think that I am so terrible, Gabrielle? I am reasonable and fair, despite what others say about me. They don't know me and...neither do you."

"Sultan Xenophon!" the soldiers brought in the other five councilmen along with Rashid and Ahmad. "We have everyone that you asked for."

Xena grinned and all of the men were thrown onto the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. She unsheathed her scimitar and walked along the line of traitors. "You seven have disappointed me greatly. You should have never listened to Vahid and Awat. Oh but, you can't now, can you?" she chuckled. "Because they're dead!"

She saw all of their eyes widen in shock. "Yes, they're dead. I don't like liars and I don't like traitors." She stopped in front of Rashid and tapped her blade on the top of his head. "And you..." she smiled down at the young councilman. "You are so young. You have your entire life ahead of you."

Rashid frowned up at the sultan and spat at her feet. Xena squinted her eyes and lifted the young man's chin with the tip of her sword. "You disappoint me the most, Rashid. I was considering letting you go with some minor conditions of course but threw that dagger at me."

She knelt down, inches from his face. "Bad choice," she hissed and he held his breath, shaking nervously.

Gabrielle had seen only two sides to Xena. One being a mentor to all the girls, posing as a man and two, a woman caring for her children. She had never seen this side before and wasn't sure she wanted to stick around for it. Yes, she wanted to be a warrior, but be a warrior for a person like this? She wasn't too sure.

"You're going to kill all of them?" Gabrielle blurted out.

Xena smiled, "of course I am. I can't have them talking, now can I?" she turned to her troops and began instructing them to hang each one of them from the ceiling against the far wall of the room. The men were drug off, grunting and pleading for their lives.

"It will be a slow death for them," she said and Gabrielle slowly looked up at her. Xena grinned and peered down at the bemused blonde. "Something the matter, Gabrielle?"

"No..." she lied and folded her arms. She watched as the Persian soldiers hoisted each man up with shackles around their necks, slowly being lifted off the ground. She heard them choking slightly, but not enough to kill them, not yet anyway.

All she could think was, by God, this woman is insane.

"Would you like to watch?" Xena asked in a sly tone and Gabrielle shook her head silently. "You're right, it will be very boring. This could take hours." She smiled and Gabrielle blinked her eyes several times as her mouth gaped.

They left the torture room from beneath the palace and walked in the large hallway, leading towards the west wing. Gabrielle took off her helmet and veil, finally able to breathe. Although, she still smelt the stench from that room wafting in her nostrils.

"I guess I should go back outside with the rest of the girls..." Gabrielle suggested, sort of anxious to get away.

Xena frowned. "Leaving so soon, Gabrielle?" she said slyly and her trainee sighed lightly. "Have dinner with me tonight," she smiled.

Eat with you? Dinner? In your room? Dear God why is this happening to me? "Sure..."

"Kara will come for you. You are free to go," Xena waved her hand and walked off to the west wing to go to her room for the remainder of the day.

Gabrielle finished washing her long hair and wrapped the towel around her body. She sighed heavily and dried her wet hair roughly with a soft towel and rubbed her face, grunting. She really felt like she still smelled like that dungeon from earlier. Rotting corpses for sure. Torture, death and dinner all in one night. Great.

She took the towel off her face and saw she was surrounded by a group of girls. "Uhh...hello girls...?" she looked at the expressions on their faces and wasn't sure if they were confused or angry. Maybe both?

Astremia folded her arms, stepping closer to Gabrielle. "You've been spending a lot of time with the sultan lately."

Gabrielle backed up slowly and the other girls circled around her. "So?" she smiled nervously.

"Are you the sultan's pet now?" Penelope asked.

Gabrielle scoffed, "no! What –what is this about?"

"We saw the way you were sparring with the sultan yesterday," Astremia said with a chagrin. "You were really handing it to the sultan," she chuckled. "Didn't know you could fight so well, Gabrielle." She shoved the blonde backward.

"Hey!" Gabrielle groaned and then the other girls shoved her into the wall.

"You some kind of sex slave for the sultan now, Gabrielle?" Astremia laughed and shoved her again.

"Knock it off!" Gabrielle warned and tried to leave the area but the group of girls enclosed around her. "Come on, I have somewhere to be."

Penelope smiled. "Somewhere? Somewhere to be with the sultan?" she hinted and pushed her down onto the ground. "Why are you hanging around him so much? Are you sucking his cock to get special treatment, huh, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle growled and kicked Penelope in her shins and quickly got to her feet, putting her hands up by her face. Astremia frowned and came for her and Gabrielle socked her in the jaw. Francesca gasped and grabbed Gabrielle's arms and tossed her aside into the next wall.

Astremia rubbed her jaw and pushed the other girls out of the way and jabbed her elbow into Gabrielle's mouth and chin. Gabrielle groaned and spat out some blood and wiped her lips. "You are a piece of work, Gabrielle!" she hissed.

Helena came into the baths and saw Gabrielle's bloody mouth. "What is going on?!" she quickly ran in and pushed everyone aside to get to her friend. She touched Gabrielle's face and frowned sadly. "Gabrielle..."

She spun around to the group of girls with a scowl. "How could you do this? We're supposed to work as a team, not against one another!"

Astremia rubbed her sore elbow and glared at Helena and Gabrielle. "Your friend is getting special treatment from the sultan. You shouldn't hang around her because then you too will become the sultan's sex slave." She then left the room with the rest of the girls.

Gabrielle sat on her bed while Helena cleaned her mouth with a damp cloth. "I'm so sorry they did this to you..." Helena shook her head, ashamed of her teammates' behavior.

"Just forget it, Helena. It's nothing to be worried about." She pushed her friend's hand away from her mouth and still could taste blood from her busted lip.

Helena sighed and set the cloth down on her bed and folded her arms, looking deeply into her friend's eyes. Confused and...confused, very confused. "Gabrielle, why are they calling you a sex slave? Is that really true? Are you the sultan's slave?"

Gabrielle frowned. "No, I'm not. It's not like that."

"Then what is it like?" Helena pried.

Complicated, she thought. "I can't tell you..." she muttered.

Kara entered the room and everyone turned around. "Gabrielle, the sultan wants you now."

Astremia scoffed. "Of course, Gabrielle is at the beck and call of the sultan." She licked her lips teasingly and her hands roamed across her abdomen and down in between her legs.

Helena cringed and Gabrielle rolled her eyes then threw a pillow at Astremia. "You are disgusting." Gabrielle spat then grabbed her shoes and hurried out of the sleeping quarters to go with Kara.

Xena sat at her desk flipping through two books trying to get information to draw a map to plan her attack against Anatolia, Rome and eventually the Mongolian empire. She frowned and flipped through the pages of one book tapping her pen against the desk. She lifted her eyes and saw both her sons sparring together with wooden swords.

"I really don't think that Alexander should be sparring with his broken arm," she said.

Solan smiled and slowly swung his wooden sword around waiting for Alexander's sword to clash against his. "Don't worry mother, I am going easy on him."

Alexander thrust his sword into Solan's gut and his brother dropped his sword, backing up into his mother's bed, pretending to be severely wounded. "I win!" he cheered.

"Oh, you got me, Alexander," Solan wrapped his arm around himself and feigned moaning and whining. "You really got me." He grinned and grabbed his kid brother, tickling him profusely.

"Solan, stop!" Alexander laughed uncontrollably and dropped to his knees."Please, I'm begging you!" his brother then stopped tickling him and his laughter slowly died down. "When will I get to train with real swords like you and Belach?" he whined.

Xena frowned and set her pen down, glaring over at Solan. "Training with real swords? I told you that you couldn't train with real weapons until you were fifteen."

Solan folded his arms and grimaced down at his brother. "Nice going," he grumbled and Alexander shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. "Look mother, father allowed me to train with weapons on my thirteenth birthday."

"Oh really," Xena nodded her head repeatedly, chuckling softly under her breath. "Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore because you are living with me now and you will not use any more weapons."

Solan gasped and ran over to stand behind her chair. "But mother, I am really good! You could train with me and I'll show you!"

"No!" Xena slammed her pen down and rose from her chair. Solan began backing away with a sad frown upon his face. "I said no, do you understand me?"

Kara opened the door and Gabrielle stood beside her, trying to hide her busted bottom lip. "Mistress, I've brought Gabrielle."

Xena sighed and motioned for Gabrielle to come inside. "Solan, take your brother to his room please," she said and Solan frowned and marched off, grabbing his brother's arm on the way out.

Alexander smiled upon seeing Gabrielle. "Hey, are you going to tell me the rest of that story?"

"Not right now, Alexander," Xena called out. Then Solan pulled his brother out of the room and Kara smiled, closing the door to the leave the two alone.

Gabrielle folded her arms and pretended to scratch her cheek in order to hide her lip. "You have really sweet boys," she said and Xena sighed heavily.

"Sometimes," the sultana said and rounded her desk, grinning at her trainee. "Come sit with me," she gestured to the table and Gabrielle nervously walked over to the table, still concealing her mouth. Xena frowned, "what's the matter with your mouth?" she asked.

Gabrielle shook her head, "nothing, it's nothing."

Xena came closer to her and snatched her hand away from her face. Her eyes widened and saw Gabrielle's swollen bottom lip with a large cut. "Who did that to you?"

And she cares why? "Nobody...I –I tripped and hit my mouth on a chair..."

Xena raised her eyebrow and touched Gabrielle's lip, examining it carefully. Judging by the cut, Xena knew that Gabrielle in fact did not hit herself on a chair like she just said, or rather lied. "A chair did this to you?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. "I don't like it when people lie to me..."

She lifted the blonde's chin and saw a bruise on her jaw as well. "Who hit you, Gabrielle?"

"I –I can't tell you..." she said, lowering her eyes, feeling more embarrassed now than she did in the baths with the other girls earlier.

"If I ask you a question I expect you to answer me truthfully," Xena smiled slyly and felt the heat radiating off of the blonde's face. "You are indebted to me and I am a fair woman, Gabrielle. Now, tell me who did this to you. I can't have rogue trainees in my palace."

I can't tell you because the reason why those girls cornered me is because of you. It's all your fault and it's your fault I'm in this mess to begin with.

Gabrielle remained silent and Xena let out a heavy sigh then sat down at the table. "It's alright, Gabrielle. I will find out who they are sooner or later." She smiled and Gabrielle put on a fake smile. "Sit."

Xena leered over at her guest and scooped some rice onto both of their plates. She scooted the bowl of stewed meat close to Gabrielle. "Do you like lamb, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle anxiously scratched her head and said nothing. Xena sighed and scooped some of the lamb onto Gabrielle's plate and pushed it near her. Gabrielle looked down at the food and suddenly didn't feel very hungry anymore, but she was Xena's guest. Maybe if I stay really quiet nothing strange will happen. This is already uncomfortable enough as it is, she thought.

The sultana smirked and spooned some of the rice onto her spoon and stared at Gabrielle intensely. "This is going to be a very boring dinner if you won't talk." She chewed her food slowly and finally her blonde guest decided to eat some of her food. In silence.

Oh so you want me to talk now? You don't like it when I talk a lot, but suddenly you want me to. Interesting. Gabrielle sighed heavily and put the spoon back onto the plate. "Why did you invite me to have dinner with you?"

"She finally speaks," Xena smiled softly. "It is not the lamb I smell but your fear. You are afraid of something or someone. We've already established you are fearful of me, but Gabrielle, you don't have to be afraid of me. I told you I wasn't going to harm you." She winked and saw that made her guest even more uneasy.

Sighing, she continued, "I thought we could...get to know one another since we will be spending a lot of time together. A lot," Xena grinned and kept eating her food. Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows and cringed. "So, you are from Potidaea. That is a nice village."

"Yes...I suppose it is."

"What was your life like before you came here?" the sultana asked and sipped her water.

Gabrielle smiled remembering all of the good times she had with her younger sister and her parents. She began questioning why she left her home in the first place. Now she was stuck here and in debt to this woman, a very strange woman at that.

"It was nice. My sister and I used to tell stories to the kids in the village all the time. I used to have this horse that I loved, but my father always thought he was a little dumb. I only rode him twice until my parents gave him away when I was thirteen." She kept smiling and then thought of everything that happened after her eighteenth birthday and those times weren't always so cheery.

Xena nodded. "Sounds like a nice life. Why did you leave?"

Gabrielle sighed. "I wanted to do more with my life than be a farmer's daughter, I guess."

"You were going to be married off then," she interrupted and Gabrielle's eyes widened. Xena smirked. "It's why all girls like you want to leave their home." She drank the rest of her water then decided to switch to wine.

Gabrielle nodded slowly and then took a good look at Xena. She kept herself so hidden, but some people knew her secret. What happened to those people if they ever squealed? Somehow, she didn't want to find out, especially since she was now one of those people. But, she had some questions of her own that she wanted to ask.

"Um...why do you dress like a male sultan?" she blurted out and Xena narrowed her eyes.

"If you haven't noticed, there are no female rulers in this world, Gabrielle. And if there are they are assassinated or gotten rid of quickly. People listen to men, not women." She explained and Gabrielle already knew that part, but she was still so confused.

"How were you able to keep this up for so long? You've been an emperor for over a decade. Some people are bound to know your secret." She folded her arms and Xena tapped her fingers on the dinner table leisurely.

Xena chuckled softly and reached for her wine. "Those who know understand not to tell anyone or I will kill them." She said flatly without remorse and Gabrielle rubbed her chin in deep thought. "Any more questions?" she sneered.

Gabrielle leaned on the table and began thinking about all the treaties with Ankara and the short trip they took. That was not a usual trip, in fact, it looked like nobody was expecting her to come. "Yes, in of your sons was there. Someone knows your secret in Ankara." She saw the dark haired Anatolian talking with Xena multiple times in heated arguments or privately in a yurt. "The father of your children perhaps?" she pried then saw a dark frown on the sultana's lips.

"My sons' father knows not to tell anyone." She answered curtly.

The blonde nodded. "You don't have a relationship with him anymore?"

"Why are you so curious to know about my personal life, Gabrielle?" Xena was now getting a little heated talking about Borias. The two have not been together since Solan was two years old.

At that point in Xena's life she decided that she could no longer stay with Borias and his wife in Persia. The triangle they were in was beginning to put a strain on everyone so she decided from that point on she was going to leave and never come back. Of course, Natassa didn't mind, but Borias did. She took Solan with her and left for Greece to start a different life, a new life. And when she arrived in Greece she realized that nobody was going to take her seriously especially with the reputation she got in Persia so she decided to take up a new persona –the male persona.

Within one year, she was able to gather an entire army that bent to her beck and call. She established a new regime to take over Greece to combat the Pope's holy empire and start a new one. A Greek empire had not been active in thousands of years, but she made it happen in a matter of three years –invading, pillaging and slaying all across Greece until everyone surrendered unto her. At that point, Solan was five and she had to constantly keep him hidden from other people, especially those close to him like his father, who tried several times to see him but Xena always slammed the door in his face.

Under her new reign as emperor of Greece, this caused a stir between the Romans and Persians. They feared there was going to be another revolt from the Greeks and tried several times to overthrow her, but it didn't work. Her army was far too strong and the Romans had grown lazy and complacent and the Persians were not concerned with Greece as their empire was far larger.

Gabrielle twiddled with her thumbs on the table. "I want to know more about you since we will be spending a lot of time together..." she threw Xena's words right back at her.

Xena smiled and sipped her wine. "Clever girl."

Solan sneaked out of the palace with Alexander in tow. He made sure he wasn't going to let his little brother out of sight this time. He smiled and then went for the stables outside, making sure none of the guards saw them. He glanced upward and saw two guards walking along the walls and ducked down.

Alexander looked around and frowned. "Where are we going?"

Solan grabbed his mother's large black stallion and tried to soothe the animal so she wouldn't make any noise. "You wanted to go to the beach right?" he smiled and saw his brother's face light up instantly. Solan picked up Alexander and placed him on the saddle.

"Wait, won't mother be upset about this?" the younger brother asked with a subtle frown of concern.

Solan smiled and hopped onto the horse. "It'll just be for a little while. We'll be back before she notices, I promise."

"Well, okay," Alexander sighed. "I trust you, Solan." He grinned happily and wrapped his arm around his brother's waist. Solan rounded the horse to the back exit of the palace and rode off heading towards the beach in the darkness.

An awkward silence filled the room and Gabrielle was able to finish more than half of her food, but she wanted to know more about Xena, a lot more. She tapped her fingers on her knee and looked over at Xena who was now drinking silently to herself.

"You know, my sister saw you when she was a little girl." Gabrielle said.

Xena smiled, "I'm sure she has."

"We were on a trip to Delphi to visit relatives and my mother sent her to buy food from the market in the square. She saw you on your horse in the middle of the square. She was so horrified that she dropped all of the money our mother gave her and ran back to my cousin's house." She said and Xena lowered her eyes. "I was curious and decided to go to the square to see you, the emperor, for myself, but by the time I got were gone."

"Curious about me even as a child, Gabrielle," Xena winked. "I should be flattered."

Solan and Alexander arrived on the beach and sat on the cool sand, looking at the dark ocean in front of them. Alexander sighed heavily and smiled, staring at the stars above the dark waters. Solan chuckled and laid back on the sand comfortably.

"Aren't you going to get in the water?" Solan asked.

Alexander shook his head. "Mother will kill me if I ruin these clothes."

Solan rolled his eyes. "She can get you new ones, Alexander."

"This is my third set of clothes this month. She will definitely kill me if I ruin these!"

"I never understood why she was always so stingy with her money. She is probably the richest person in the world!"

Alexander giggled lightly and nodded. "Yeah, she's so weird. Except, I really like when she gives me gifts for my birthday!" Solan shook his head and glanced up at the stars. "Is it possible to have two birthdays?" he pried and his brother nudged his arm playfully.

Solan let out a big sigh and closed his eyes, listening to the waves and felt the cool breeze on his skin. His ears perked up once he heard voices and horses nearby. He shot up and frowned, looking around the barren beach.

"What's wrong, Solan?" Alexander asked.

"Stay here," Solan went to his mother's horse and pulled out a short sword then began treading along the sand slowly, watching every corner and eyed the trees on the seawall. He crawled on his knees into the trees and followed the muffled voices.

"We should keep going. Xenophon's palace is right up that hill," Gregory said and the Templar Knights rode along in the dark woods.

Solan frowned and hid behind a few trees, following the large army of knights. He crept up behind a brush and held onto the hilt of the short sword.

"Maybe we should not attack the palace, sire. It is surrounded by innocent people," Joseph advised his Templar master.

Gregory nodded, "we will invade the sultan's palace. We will not harm the innocents. The sultan should really get a better court," he chuckled. "Not even his own people like him."

Solan gasped then ran out of the woods to his brother. Alexander was busy drawing in the sand with his finger until his brother grabbed his arm, lifting him up roughly. "Hey!" he groaned.

"We need to go back," Solan urged and put his brother on the horse and he mounted it soon after.

"What's going on? I thought we could stay a little longer?" Alexander frowned sadly, a little disappointed that this trip was getting cut short.

"Well, we can come back another time," Solan kicked the horse and rode off through the woods, trying to bypass the Templar Knights.

Joseph frowned and heard loud horse hooves behind him. He turned over his shoulder and saw a large black stallion heading in the same direction as them. In the darkness he couldn't make out who was on the horse, but instantly recognized the crest on the horse's royal drapery around its neck.

"The sultan's horse!" he shouted and Gregory snapped his head around.

Gregory saw the horse riding off in the dark woods through a narrow path. "Follow the horse, and take Lindel and Morsis with you." He nodded and Joseph growled then the three Templar Knights rode off following the horse.

Solan looked back and saw a few Templar Knights on their trail. "Dammit," he grunted and rounded a corner and Alexander frowned then turned over his shoulder to see Templar Knights following them.

"Are those Templars?!" Alexander said and Solan ignored his brother's cry.

"Stop!" Joseph yelled and rode faster, following the dark riders.

Solan narrowed his eyes, "Alexander, duck," he said and they rode underneath a large branch and heard his brother gasp and leaned over into his brother's backside, gripping onto him as tightly as he possible could.

Alexander looked behind them and still saw the knights following them. "They're still after us!" he shouted in Solan's ear. Solan then steered the horse to the left and right, weaving through the trees and Alexander's eyes widened. "Dear god," he muttered. "You are crazy! How did you learn how to ride like this?!"

Solan smirked, "watching mother." As they kept riding Solan heard a whistling sound and saw an arrow pierce a tree they just passed. His heart sank to his stomach and his eyes widened in fear. He heard his brother panicking behind him.

"Now they're shooting at us! We're gonna die," Alexander breathed heavily.

Solan growled, "we are not going to die! Now, hang on!" he saw the palace gates right ahead and turned to see the knights still hot on their trail. He rode faster and knew that the guards weren't going to open the gates especially since they had no idea that he and Alexander had left. He frowned and leaned forward into the horse's mane, eyeing the gates ahead.

Alexander saw the iron gates of the palace ahead and feared the worst. He shook his head and gripped onto his brother. "Solan...what are you doing?" he asked. "Solan!"

Solan smiled and yanked on the reins of the horse and leapt into the air. Alexander shut his eyes tightly and they jumped over the gates into the palace grounds. The guards on the wall looked over and began shouting at both of them. Solan panicked and the horse wouldn't stop and they were heading straight for the large double doors at the entrance.

The horse galloped up the stairs and charged right through the doors inside the palace. Solan groaned and pulled on the reins and the horse reared on its hind legs and both boys fell off the stallion and onto the hard marble floor.

Alexander rolled over onto his stomach and winced at his broken arm. Solan rubbed his head and sat up, looking over at his brother laying on the floor. "Alexander!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," the younger brother stood up and brushed off some dirt from his clothing. He pointed his finger up in Solan's face. "You are crazy!" and Solan smiled proudly, feeling very accomplished. "And now my clothes are dirty! Great!" he huffed.

Dajan came running down the hallway and saw Xena's two sons covered in sand and dirt and...Xena's horse? He frowned, "what are you two doing?!"

"We can explain. I need to see my mother," Solan ran off and then saw his mother marching towards him, wearing a veil around her hair and her long black robes. Although since it was late, nobody was out here and she wasn't wearing a face veil and once he saw the horrid expression on her face, he wished she would have.

Xena gasped once she saw her horse inside the palace and Alexander brushing dirt off of his clothes. Then she saw the sheepish grin on Solan's face. She grabbed her son by his ear and he winced. "You better start talking," she hissed.

Gabrielle caught up with Xena and then lifted her eyebrow, a bit confused to see a horse inside. Although, she had seen stranger things in her life, especially living here that's for sure.

Solan cringed as his mother kept pulling on his ear. "Okay, okay but could you let go of my ear?" he begged and she released him. "Thank you..." he rubbed his ear and then explained, "before you get angry, Alexander and I were escaping from Templar Knights. They were chasing us."

"Yeah and shooting arrows too!" Alexander added and Solan rolled his eyes and Xena walked closer to him, towering over him.

"You left the palace?!" Xena snarled and Solan scoffed.

"Didn't you hear what I said?! Templar Knights were chasing us!"

"This is exactly why I forbade you to never leave the palace without my permission!" Xena growled and grabbed her horse then marched to the doors. She looked outside at the gates and was able to see lights from afar. Must be the Templar Knights, of course. And Solan just lured them over here, making them very suspicious.

"Dajan!" she yelled and her adviser came to her aid. "Take my horse to the stables."

She whipped around and then grabbed Alexander's hand and Solan's arm and stormed down the hallway to the west wing. "Gabrielle!" she called out and the blonde hurried behind them.

Alexander had a hard time keeping up with his mother and Solan tried resisting her, though she gripped tighter. Solan groaned and tried to pull way. "You're hurting my arm!" he griped.

They came into her bedroom and Gabrielle followed them inside and slowly closed the door behind her. Xena let go of Solan's arm and he frowned, rubbing his bicep.

"How could you do a stupid thing like this, Solan?!" she yelled.

"Mother, I came back with Alexander in one piece. Nobody got hurt!"

"You disobeyed me!" she snarled in his face and he folded his arms defiantly. "I don't know what kind of rules your father has in Ankara but in my house you will abide by my rules."

He grunted lowly and lowered his eyes. "I'm not a kid anymore, mother."

She bent down, cleaning off Alexander's face with a rag and then glared up at her eldest son. "Yes you are. And I don't know why you keep disobeying me, Solan. You were never like this before until you started hanging around Belach."

Solan rolled his eyes. "This is not about Belach! You're embarrassing me..." He scratched the back of his neck and looked over at Gabrielle who stood at the door in silence, watching this horrible conversation.

She laughed, "embarrassing you?!" she stood. "You're embarrassing me! Whatever I say, you do the opposite! And Alexander follows your example, Solan. Your bad behavior you learned from Belach has rubbed off on you. I should have taken you away from Ankara a long time ago," she sighed and pinched her nose.

"Go to your room and take Alexander with you," she pushed her youngest son gently towards Solan. "And don't even think about leaving." She warned and Solan frowned and grabbed his brother's hand and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Gabrielle jumped and she wrapped her arms around herself. She saw Xena shaking her head and she ripped the veil off of her hair and sat down in a chair with her arms folded and biting her fingernail. "You...were pretty hard on him."

Xena lifted her eyes and glared at the petite blonde. "Did I ask for your opinion?"

Gabrielle quirked her mouth and sighed heavily. "No...but," she began and saw Xena's eyes darken. "...if you keep punishing them both they're going to keep rebelling against you."

Xena chuckled and shook her head. "Do you have children, Gabrielle?"

She wagged her head.

"Then you don't get to tell me how to parent my children." She sat in the chair, brooding and staring at the wall, shaking her ankle impatiently.

Gabrielle frowned. "Children deserve some freedom."

Xena sneered, "oh, like you, huh?" she smiled. "You are making it sound like I am a prison warden."

Well, you kind of are –a warden of yourself and others. "I didn't say –"

"Forget it. Just go back to your quarters. I have to set a barricade around my palace now."

Gabrielle hung her head then made her leave. She had a bad feeling about what was to come for tomorrow's training, if there was going to be any session after what just happened.