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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.

Chapter Text

AN: very long battle scene and it was difficult to write. Good luck to all, as usual, and enjoy :)

Chapter 10 –Gates of Fire

Gregory sat on his horse outside of the sultan's palace with his men surrounding the large fortress. He trotted along the front gates of the palace and saw the sultan's men running around inside the compound gathering up supplies and then he glanced up and saw the sultan on the wall, glaring at everyone.

"Xenophon!" he yelled upward. "Surrender now! You are surrounded!"

"Never!" Xena growled and ran along the wall to the other tower on the south side of the wall. "Prepare the archers," she whispered in Dajan's ear and smiled, looking down at the Templar master outside the gates.

A line of archers sat against the walls, loading their crossbows. Once the crossbows were loaded then peered over the north wall, aiming at all of the knights. Xena climbed the tower and raised her hand, Dajan watching her every move and he nodded.

"Fire!" Dajan ordered.

Joseph gasped and put up his shield protecting himself from the arrows. "Shields!" he shouted and all the knights on the ground formed a wall of shields and the arrows pierced through the shields, killing some of the men, but not many.

Xena growled and climbed off the tower and walked behind the line of archers on the wall. "Again!"

"This is insanity!" Joseph trotted next to his master. "He will not surrender without a fight!"

Gregory frowned and watched the sultan walk to the south wall, lining up more archers. He raised his eyebrow. What are you doing, Xenophon? "Get the catapults then. We will destroy his palace from the inside out."

"Fire!" Xena ordered and hundreds of arrows rained down on the Templar Knights. She smiled and then saw some of the Templars in the back of the fleet with three catapults and her smile instantly disappeared. She quickly ran down the stairs and unsheathed her sword, marching towards the south tower.

"They have catapults!" she yelled up at Dajan. He turned his head and saw the knights loading the catapults very quickly. They were going to destroy everything in just a few blows. The bad news was that Xena did not have anything as powerful as a catapult in this palace. In Thebes yes, but not Persia.

Xena panicked and saw the knights lighting the catapults. "Do we still have that Greek fire?" she shouted up at her adviser.

Dajan's eyes widened. "It's in the cellar but your highness...that is very deadly."

"I don't care!" she growled and grabbed four men along the wall. "Go to the cellar and get the Greek fire. I want all of the barrels brought up –"

The Templar Knights fired the catapult directly into the west wing of the palace. The explosion knocked several men off the wall and Xena was knocked back into a wall. She groaned and rubbed the back of her head and looked around to see the stables filled with horses on fire as well as the west wing. Her eyes widened and thought of Solan and Alexander. They were locked in their room as was everyone else. She crawled across the ground and grabbed her sword then took off running to the entrance of the palace.

As she ran up the stairs, the two large marble pillars in between the entrance collapsed and toppled over onto the staircase, blocking the entrance. She coughed from the large cloud of dust and debris filled the air. "No!" she cried out then snapped around, glaring at the arrogant Templar Knights.

Growling she ran to the four men finally getting to their feet. "I want that Greek fire now!" she demanded and they nodded, adjusting their helmets and ran down to the cellar.

Solan lolled his head to the side and his eyes fluttered open. He lifted his head and groaned, rubbing the back of his neck. The last thing he remembered was playing a game with Alexander and then a really loud explosion. He kicked off a piece of large wood off his legs and hissed. He looked down and found a nail sticking out of his arm.

He turned and saw the entire opposite side of the room was on fire and pieces of the marble ceiling crumbling. His eyes grew in fear and he pulled the nail out of his skin as he cried out loudly, biting his bottom lip. He tossed the nail aside and gripped his arm, then thought of his brother.

"Alexander!" he called out and a large portion of the ceiling fell right in front of him. He panicked and quickly got to his feet in search of his brother. "Alexander!"

He picked up pieces of debris, desperately trying to find his brother. He heard another explosion and the entire room shook. He dropped to his knees and then saw the large marble pillar in the room begin to crack. "Alexander!" he crawled on the floor and saw a small hand from underneath a large pile of rubble.

His heart stopped and he began throwing the debris aside and picking up large pieces of wood from the ceiling. He saw his brother covered in ash and soot. He grabbed his arm and pulled Alexander out from underneath the pile of wood and debris. He frowned sadly and put his ear up to his face and heard him breathing softly.

Solan smiled and picked up his small brother in his arms, then quickly ran for the door. The large marble pillar broke in half and timbered down in front of the door, blocking the only exit. "This is not good," he muttered and looked at the window on the far side of the room, the only part of the room that wasn't up in flames.

He ran to the window and then carried his brother on his shoulders, hanging onto his skinny leg. He opened the window and leaned over the ledge and he felt his stomach churn. That was a long way down. "Don't worry Alexander, I'm going to get us out of here..." he sighed heavily, "somehow."

He climbed out the window onto the narrow ledge, holding onto his unconscious brother's legs and arms. He leaned against the wall and slowly began side stepping along the ledge, trying not to look down. "Just don't look down, Solan, don't look down," he coached himself and exhaled heavily.

A few moments later he looked over and saw that there was not any more ledge space. There was a fifteen foot gap between the west and east wing. He grunted and looked for another way out. The cool breeze brushed against his skin harshly. He looked down and saw the gardens below and he sighed.

"Solan..." Alexander grumbled.

Solan smiled nervously. "Hey buddy...glad to see you're awake, but listen, whatever you do don't look down."

Alexander opened his eyes and he was hanging upside down on his brother's back. He saw he was up really high, too high for his liking. He frantically grabbed onto his brother's shirt and kicked his legs. "What are we doing up here?! Solan!" he began heaving heavily.

Solan growled and hung onto his brother's uncontrollable legs. "Alexander! Remain calm!" he sighed heavily and glanced upward at the roof. Looks like the only way is up, he thought. He switched the position of his brother and wrapped Alexander's arms around his neck.

"Hang on really tight and don't let go!" he said.

Alexander nodded and wrapped his legs around his brother's waist, shutting his eyes tightly. Solan frowned and put his leg on a window ledge and grabbed the top of the stone ledge and reached over to the other ledge, slowly climbing up the wall.

The girls in the east wing kept hearing loud explosions and a few chandeliers fell to the ground. Astremia tried to open the doors and rammed her shoulder against the door with the help of Francesca. "We can't get out of here! The sultan is trying to murder us all!"

Gabrielle frowned, rolling her eyes. "No, he's not."

Penelope smirked, folding her arms. "You know the sultan very well, Gabrielle. What is going on out there?"

"The Templar Knights attacking probably," Gabrielle grumbled as she sat on her bed. She felt completely useless sitting in this room. Who knows what was going on out there especially after what happened last night.

"And how would you know that?" Astremia smiled, nudging Francesca's arm playfully. "Is the sultan good in bed?"

Gabrielle stood and pushed Astremia. "Quit it, Astremia. I am not the sultan's sex slave. You should be grateful to be in a place like this."

The tall brunette cackled. "Grateful? That's wild coming from you! You complained about this place for weeks! You couldn't stand the sultan and now you're like his best friend. What's up with that?" she shoved Gabrielle gently.

Helena frowned and stepped in between the heated girls. "Stop it, both of you! We shouldn't be arguing like this."

"Helena's right," Astremia grinned. "Gabrielle is not worth my time. Not yet anyway."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "oh brother," she muttered under her breath.

Suddenly a loud explosion sounded throughout the east wing and many of the candle lanterns hanging on the ceiling came crashing down, igniting the fabric on the beds. All the girls panicked, screaming and tried to put out the fire with their pillows.

"We can't stay in here!" Yasmina cried out, panicking. Soon all the other girls began frantically talking over one another, fearing the worst. Another blow hit the east wing and the columns inside their sleeping quarters toppled over.

Gabrielle covered her ears listening to the girls arguing and bickering with one another. "Everyone, be quiet!" she yelled and all the girls gawked in awe at her. "Okay, now," she began, now that she had everyone's attention. "I'm sure none of you want to die so we need to create a plan to get out of here. Anyone got any ideas?"

"They're obliterating my palace!" Xena groaned as she saw the knights loading the catapults again. She turned to the men dousing their arrows in the barrels of Greek fire. "Do not get your clothes near this. It will ignite and you won't be able to put it out."

The men nodded and once their arrows were doused in the dangerous substance, more men lit the arrowheads on fire. The archers ran up the stairs quickly and aimed for the catapult loaders in the back of the fleet.

They shot the flaming arrows at the knights and they screamed in agony and others in terror. All the knights frantically moved away from their comrades who were now on fire, crying out for help. One of the ignited knights grabbed a friend's arm and his arm caught fire. The knight yelped and wagged his arm trying to put out the fire, but it just made it worse.

Gregory narrowed his eyebrows and saw the sultan next to several barrels, surveying the soldiers as they dipped their arrowheads into the molten liquid.

"Xenophon has Greek fire," he grumbled.

Joseph frowned and glanced over at his master. "Sir, what is Greek fire?"

"Something very deadly..." he looked back and saw some of his men rolling around on the ground trying to put the fire out, but it was no use. They were dying and didn't even know it. "Fire at the archers," he instructed and Joseph nodded then trotted off to tell the men to aim the catapults at the north wall.

Xena ran to the top of the tower and looked down at the archers with the Greek fire arrows. "Fire at the catapults! Destroy them all!" she yelled and the men loaded the arrows into their crossbows at her command.

Dajan frowned looking at all of the knights surrounding the palace. They were beginning to load the catapults again. He turned around to look at the palace and saw that more than half of the west wing was destroyed. His eyes drifted upwards and his mouth gaped. He saw Xena's two sons running across the roof of the palace.

"Your majesty..." he tapped her shoulder.

"What?!" she griped and he pointed to the roof. Her frown faded once she saw Solan running with Alexander across the roof. Her eyes widened and her heart palpitated.

Alexander ran behind Solan, stepping over large parts of the palace and breathed heavily. "Solan, you're running too fast!" he cried out and put his hands on his knees, heaving.

Solan sighed and ran back to get his little brother. "We gotta keep moving, Alexander. Just a little bit longer, okay?"

"Well, okay..." Alexander grabbed his brother's hand and they continued running across the large palace, now over the east wing.

They came to the edge of the east wing and Solan peered down to see a large balcony. He smiled and jumped down onto the balcony. Alexander frowned nervously and looked down at the far jump down. Solan held out his arms and smiled up at his brother.

"Jump! I will catch you, don't worry!" he shouted up.

Alexander shook his head. "It's too high, Solan!"

"Don't you trust me?" Solan smirked and his brother nodded. "I'll catch you! Come on! You can do it."

The younger brother sighed heavily and crawled over the edge of the building slowly. He held onto the roof and let his legs dangle in the air. He felt his fingers slipping because of the sweat. He bit his bottom lip then fell down. He yelped and landed right into his brother's arms.

"See, told you I would catch you," Solan winked and set down Alexander. They then unlocked the window and climbed inside.

All the girls turned around and saw two boys coming into their sleeping quarters. Solan brushed off some soot from his shirt and then turned around to see a lot of young women gawking at him. Alexander crawled inside and then his eyes widened, remembering all of these girls naked, burned into his brain.

"That's the little rat that came here while we were changing!" Joan yelled, pointing at Alexander.

"Uh oh," Alexander hid behind his brother, clinging to his pants.

Solan put his hands up as the girls approached them cautiously. "Ladies, we don't have time for this. This palace is being attacked by Templar Knights. We need to leave!"

Gabrielle smirked as some of the girls looked her way, realizing everything she said was true.

Solan saw the awful expression on Joan's face and folded his arms. "You know, I don't think the sultan would appreciate you calling the prince a 'rat'." He smirked and Joan's mouth gaped. "Follow me!" he ran off to a door hidden in the wall and pushed on it, leading to the dark hallway that connected to several rooms within the palace.

He walked down the hallway with Alexander trailing behind. All the girls poked their head inside the hallway, leary of following the two boys. "Are you coming or what?!" Solan called out as he continued down the dark hall.

Gabrielle grinned and pushed through the girls, running after Xena's two sons. She touched Solan's shoulder. "What is going on out there?"

Solan wagged his head. "It's a mess, Gabrielle. My mother taught you girls how to fight right?"

"Yes, but –"

"Okay good. We're going to the armory." He opened a door that lead to another hallway behind his mother's office. Soon, the other girls began following behind them, realizing they weren't going to get anywhere just staying in the locked room.

"There's an armory?" Gabrielle alleged.

Helena grimaced at the dark lit hallway she was walking in with the rest of the girls. She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and whispered, "Gabrielle, where are we going?"

"To the armory apparently..."

Helena's eyes bugged out and she watched the boys enter into a new room. "Do you know these boys?"

Gabrielle smirked, "the sultan's sons. I think we should trust them. They know this palace like the back of their hand!"

Everyone entered the armory and all the girls gasped. "Holy shit!" Helena said and covered her mouth, feeling a bit embarrassed that even came out of her mouth.

Solan picked up a sword and tossed it over to Gabrielle. "Everyone choose a weapon." He said and all the girls stood frozen, staring at all of the weapons in the large armory. "Get to it, ladies!" he yelled out and they began grabbing any weapon that caught their eye.

"What a bossy little twerp," Penelope muttered. She felt something hit her on her behind and she yelped.

Alexander chuckled and handed Penelope a scimitar. "Your sword, miss," he winked. Penelope hesitantly grabbed the sword, looking at the small boy. "Oh and my brother is not a twerp," he frowned and brushed past the girl, running towards Solan.

Gabrielle found a sword that was to her liking and then walked over to Solan, whom was handing out weapons to the other girls. "So, what's the plan?"

"I thought you had one?" Solan whispered.

"What? No! Solan, are you serious?" Gabrielle grunted and smacked her forehead with her palm. He shrugged his shoulder and she sighed. "Alright, okay...don't panic," she tapped her chin. "How many men are out there?"

Xena ran along the wall, snickering at all the destroyed catapults because of the Greek fire. "I will never surrender to you!" she spat at Gregory and Joseph.

"Lord have mercy on his soul," Joseph said and made the sign of the cross.

Gregory shook his head and pointed at the far wall, ordering his men to climb over and attack the sultan's soldiers. The Roman knights grabbed their ladders and put them against the west wall, climbing up as quickly as possible. The Persian soldiers ran along the west wall and knocked over many ladders as possible.

Bastards, Xena cursed under her breath and ran down the stairs. She was beginning to lose hope and was already frustrated at the amount of vigilance that these Templars had. They were not only stubborn, but they were incredibly annoying and wouldn't give up no matter what. Most of their first flank was gone and all of their catapults were gone, finally, but they still wouldn't stop.

Gabrielle climbed up a narrow staircase and stared out a small window. She saw a lot of the Templar Knights trying to come over the wall. Her eyes darted over to the north wall and saw Xena walking back and forth, yelling at her men then yelling at the knights below.

"Are we going to go outside or what?" Joan asked.

"Um...yeah," Gabrielle went through the opening of the tower and huffed audibly. She paced down the wall and then swung her sword at a Templar and kicked the ladder off the wall. She smiled and the Persian soldiers glanced over at her in shock.

Soon all of the other girls came out of the small staircase and ran across the south, west, east and north walls, helping Xena's men ward off the Templar Knights.

Alexander peeked his head out the window watching his mother's trainees wiping the floor with those Templars. He grinned and then tried to leave the tower until his brother grabbed him by his waist. "Oh come on, Solan! I want to see!"

"Alexander, I think we're in enough trouble as it is!" Solan carried his brother down the staircase while Alexander whined and complained the entire time.

Gregory frowned and nudged Joseph, pointing up to the walls. "There are women..."

Joseph looked up and couldn't believe his eyes. "By God. What the hell is this? Women attacking our knights! The sultan is insane, hiring women to do work for him! We cannot attack women, master."

"But they work for Xenophon..." Gregory said and noticed all of his men were being slaughtered by these young women. "This is ridiculous!"

Gabrielle came to the north wall and held up her sword, then bumped into Xena. "Your majesty..." she smirked.

Xena turned around and her eyes grew seeing Gabrielle and the rest of the girls attacking the Templars. "What are you doing here?!"

"You look like you needed some help," the blonde grinned mischievously and then swung her sword downward and knocked the Templar Knight's sword out of his grip and knocked the ladder over, sending him crashing to the ground, along with the three other knights on the ladder steps.

Xena raised her eyebrow watching Gabrielle fend off the Roman knights. She then saw all of the Templars riding away from her palace, including Gregory and his master in training, Joseph. She then ran to the far tower on the north wall and climbed to the top, overlooking the fleeing the knights.

"Are you surrendering?!" she called out and Gregory gave her a deep frown.

"This is not a surrender, Xenophon! This is only the beginning," the master Templar trotted off with the rest of his men.

Xena smiled seeing the knights leave her territory. She then turned around and frowned sadly, seeing the destruction that was done to her palace, her home. Almost the entire west wing was destroyed and part of the east wing was gone as well. She worked so hard to obtain this palace and now parts of it were gone.

Gabrielle ran to Xena with a big happy grin on her face. "We got rid of them!" she cheered and Xena kept staring at destroyed palace. "Oh...your palace." Her big smile turned upside down and her head hung.

Xena shook her head and turned around, facing Gabrielle. "Have you seen Solan and Alexander?"

The young trainee nodded. "They're safe. Solan gave us the weapons." She grinned and then saw Xena narrow her eyebrows. "He was a big help..." she added.

The Templar Knights camped out in Masada close to the Dead Sea. Gregory sat by the fire outside of his tent and always hated camping in tents. He had not been on a crusade in years and certainly hadn't lost as many men as he did today. He planned to attack Xenophon's palace and hopefully persuade him to surrender, but it ended horribly.

Xenophon not only had archers with Greek fire but he also had a lot of young women, no not women, girls, helping and knocking off the knights left and right. Why would the sultan have an entire extra army of women? Not only was that unorthodox but it was also strange and he began to question the method of Xenophon's madness. Nothing he did make any sense. He was like a concealed monster.

Joseph came to sit by his master, drinking some water out of a wooden cup. "The sultan had a lot of unexpected guests." He gathered.

Gregory nodded and tapped his fingers together, sulking in front of the campfire. "I am beginning to become suspicious of the sultan and his mysterious ways."

"He hides his face as if he were a leper," Joseph grinned.

"Forget his face!" Gregory growled, waving his hand dismissively. "He has women working for him! Do you not think that is odd?"

"Definitely not the work of God to make women fight in wars. It's barbaric," Joseph wagged his head slowly.

The Templar master sighed heavily and rubbed his beard pensively. "It's heinous. We must send word back to Pope Innocent to warn him about Xenophon and his Greek fire."

Lindel, one of the knights approached his master and Joseph. "Sire, we have word from the Grand Master in Constantinople." He handed the letter to Joseph to read.

The second in command frowned as he read quickly through the message. "The chieftain of the tribes in Ankara have allied with Genghis Khan. He is going to send his men and Xenophon's men to collude in the Golden Horde."

Gregory raised his eyebrow. "Xenophon? He is working with the Khan too?"

"The sultan made it clear that he would not surrender to anyone. Why would he ally with the Mongols?" Joseph added and his master agreed, though he was still highly suspicious.

Gregory stood and grabbed Lindel's cape. "Send a message to the Grand Master and tell him to blockade Ankara to prevent them from colluding with the Golden Horde."

Xena brought her two sons into one of the guest rooms on the first floor of the west wing, since they were no longer able to go upstairs because it was completely destroyed now. Alexander sat down in a chair while Xena kept wiping his dirty face with a warm wash cloth.

She rubbed his cheeks harshly and Alexander groaned, slapping his mother's hand away. "Mom, stop!" he whined. "I'm not a baby."

She smiled and kept cleaning his face, ignoring his whining and groaning. "Yes, you are."

"Mother, I am seven years old!" he got off the chair and Solan pushed him back down by his shoulders. "Not you too, Solan!"

His elder brother chuckled softly. "I think I liked it better when you were a baby."

Alexander grimaced, "oh really? And why is that?!"

"Because you couldn't talk," Solan rolled his eyes and his brother gasped loudly.

Soft raps at the door interrupted the three and Xena turned around to see Gabrielle standing in the doorway. Gabrielle smiled weakly at Xena and Alexander's eyes lit up as soon as he saw her. He instantly ran to her side and tugged on her arm.

"Gabrielle! Are you going to tell me the rest of that story?" he wriggled his dark thick eyebrows.

Gabrielle gave him a big grin and bent down to his eye level. "Maybe later, if your mother will let me."

He gasped and turned to Xena. "Mother, can she –"

"Another time, Alexander," she folded her arms and he whined. "Solan, take your brother somewhere else."

Solan blinked. "Where?" he scoffed. "Our rooms are gone."

"Some place where he won't get into trouble..." she hissed and he nodded. He grabbed Alexander's hand and left the room.

Xena sighed and took off her turban, throwing it onto the chair beside her. "You shouldn't have come outside." She said lowly.

Gabrielle pursed her lips then closed the door behind her. She walked over to the sultana and saw her tired eyes. She had stayed awake all night preparing her army to guard the palace and then she had to deal with her two sons as well as fighting against the Templar Knights. It had been quite a long day for sure and she saw that Xena was not willing to put up a large fight. She was too exhausted.

"The girls and I cleared out most of the debris in the east wing, but there's still a lot of work to do." She said and Xena stared off into space. "I...I'm sorry about your room and the rest of the palace. Those Templars sure know how to give a warm welcome!" she joked, hoping that would get onto Xena's nerves, but it didn't.

Gabrielle's smile faded and she cleared her throat, rubbing the back of her neck. She didn't like this silence and much preferred Xena to yell at her or make some smart remark. Her silence was more eerie. Maybe she's mad? Gabrielle shook her head, telling herself that couldn't be it. Well, of course she's mad, parts of her palace were destroyed.

" was Solan's idea to allow us to help you. I hope you won't be too angry at him..." she suggested.

Finally Xena frowned and turned her head slowly, glaring down at the short blonde. "I'm not angry at Solan. I'm angry at you!"

Gabrielle's jaw dropped and she threw her hands in the air. "Me? But I helped you! We all helped you!"

"I didn't ask for your help and now you've exposed yourselves!" she grumbled underneath her breath. "Now all of the Roman Empire will be onto me, because!" she pushed Gabrielle backward.

"Without us your entire palace would be a pile of rubble!" she spat and Xena widened her eyes. Suddenly she felt like she should have just agreed with Xena instead of mouthing off again. Slowly, she began backing up, but there was nowhere to go, unless she ran out of the room.

She opened the door carefully and Xena slammed her hand on the door, preventing her from leaving. The sultana smiled eerily down at Gabrielle then grazed her fingers along the blonde's soft cheek.

"Your mouth..." Xena whispered and her fingers ran along Gabrielle's lips. "Gets you into heaps of trouble." She grinned and Gabrielle held her breath, staring into her blue eyes. "Perhaps...I have been too lenient with you."

Oh no, definitely not too lenient for sure. Gabrielle shut her eyes and Xena pinched her cheeks.

"Open your eyes, Gabrielle!" she growled and the petite trainee opened her eyes, seeing the sultana only a few inches from her face. "You believe I am fair, don't you?"

Gabrielle nodded her head slowly and Xena gave her a closed lipped smile, humming under her breath. Dear god, what is she doing?

"Those councilmen down below have probably faced their fate already. It was fair of me to get rid of them because they wanted to get rid of me. Wouldn't you say so, Gabrielle?"

She nodded again.

"I am not a cruel person, otherwise I would have killed you already," Xena laughed and Gabrielle's eyes grew in fear. "But since I am fair, I didn't kill you. Isn't that right?" she put her finger over Gabrielle's parted lips. "Your mouth is dangerous, Gabrielle. It is a powerful weapon, but you will not use it around me." She smiled, stepping closer, their bodies touching. "Do you understand?" she whispered.

Gabrielle lowered her eyes and Xena finally stepped away from her then she was able to let out a heavy exhale. She felt like she was holding her breath forever. Those girls had no idea what they were talking about. They believed that the sultan was using Gabrielle as a sex slave or a pet, but it was far from that.

Xena sighed and took off her heavy soiled cloak off of her shoulders. "I have trained you how to use a weapon but I haven't trained you how to talk it seems," she chuckled.

Gabrielle frowned. "We could have died in here. Don't you care?"

"And there it is! Your mouth again!" Xena marched over to her and grabbed her long hair. "Forgive me, Gabrielle..." she looked into the young girl's emerald eyes and they were filled with fear. "I had a lot on my mind at the moment..." she released her and Gabrielle fumbled backward, rubbing her scalp.

"You are like a chameleon." The blonde began and Xena raised her eyebrows, folding her arms. "You change yourself according to who's around you. One minute you're a sultan, ruler of Greece and Persia, next, you're a mother, then you're...well, I'm not sure what this is right now." She huffed.

Xena smirked, quite impressed with this young farm girl. She had never met someone as feisty before. Willing to speak her mind no matter the consequences. Foolish girl, she thought.

"You think you have me all figured out, don't you?"

Gabrielle quirked her mouth. "No, I don't and that's the problem." She scoffed and placed her hands on her head. "I don't understand you and it's driving me insane!" she finally said and then she looked at the bewildered expression on Xena's face.

Xena raised her eyebrow and pursed her lips. "If I treated everyone the same, do you think I would still be alive today?" she said calmly and Gabrielle relaxed a little, steadying her harsh breaths. "The problem with our little...relationship," her lip quivered. " that I can't kill you and you have a big mouth. I don't trust you."

The blonde frowned sadly. "But I haven't told anyone about your secret! I've known for months now!"

Xena's eyes widened and she didn't know that little bit of news. She thought that she only knew for a short time, not months.

Oh dear, bad move, Gabrielle, she cursed silently to herself. "The girls think I'm your sex slave! They tried to get me to talk but I didn't! I wouldn't tell anyone..." she said and lowered her head.

Xena's anger dissipated and she softened a bit. She placed a hand on her hip and looked over at the petite blonde. Troublemaker she is, but she is honest, only when it benefits her, but she has not broken her promise to keep my secret as well.

"And I suppose those girls did that little number on your mouth?" Xena hinted. "Some chair," she jested and Gabrielle lifted her eyes, seeing a subtle smirk on the sultana's face.

"I would never tell anyone about who you really are," Gabrielle lifted her chin and Xena eyed her curiously.

"You don't even know me, Gabrielle. Why would you do that for me?" she asked, eager to hear this answer.

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed. "I know it means a lot to you." She said and saw the sultana's eyes narrow, studying her. She had no idea what she was thinking and it was incredibly hard to read her with that blank expression.

"Sometimes, it's okay for people to keep secrets," she added with a small grin. "I understand if you don't trust me but...I wouldn't betray you."

She turned the door knob and anxiously wanted to leave the room. "I'm going to help the girls some more..." she said and then left the room.

Xena frowned, folding her arms. Interesting girl, she thought. The thought of a person so young and a complete stranger knowing her secret would probably end in death, but not this time. She thought that Gabrielle wasn't going to withstand all the training and be one of the first girls to quit but when she didn't, that only made Xena push her harder. Although, Gabrielle's own curiosity killed any trust that Xena had in the girl, until now.

"Clever girl," she snickered.

Penelope threw a large board into the pile of debris to be thrown out tomorrow morning. She turned and saw Gabrielle coming towards everyone. She ran over to Gabrielle. "Hey Gabrielle! Were you with the sultan again?" she pried.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Are you and your friends going to punch me in the face again?" she chided and kept walking.

"I'm sorry about that Gabrielle," Penelope followed beside her. "You were really great out there earlier. We've never been in an actual real fight before!"

"You thought that was fun?" Gabrielle frowned, not believing this girl.

"Well, no, but it was pretty exciting, you have to admit," Penelope grinned, trying to make light of this situation, besides their room being destroyed. "So, what is the sultan like?"

Gabrielle grunted and picked up a board that was handed to her by another trainee. "He's...interesting."

"Have you seen his face?" she grinned mischievously.

Gabrielle smiled softly. "No, sorry." She made a promise to herself to keep Xena's persona a secret and she wanted Xena to trust her, if she didn't change her mind already.

Solan and Alexander were joking together until they came upon the girls. Alexander panicked and hid behind his brother, fearful of the girls. Joan, specifically looked over at the young brunette boy with distain.

"Help me, Solan..." he begged.

"Relax, brother, nobody is going to hurt you," Solan chuckled.

Joan folded his arms and three other girls joined her, approaching the boys. "That little worm came into our room while we were changing."

"Ladies, I'm sure it was an accident," he gave them a sweet cheeky smile and their frowns deepened.

"Yes, ladies, I'm sure it was," Xena walked into the room and Alexander ran to her, clinging to her dark robes.

All of the girls stepped away and unfolded their arms upon seeing the sultan. Xena smiled beneath her veil and placed her hands on her younger son's shoulders. "I hope my sons were not inconveniencing you all."

"No, your majesty..." Joan said and Alexander snickered.

"Since your room is destroyed, you will sleep in the west wing," Xena said and all the girls whispered with each other.

Gabrielle dropped a piece of debris and looked over at Xena. She was shocked that she would even suggest something like that. Xena looked her way and winked over at her. Gabrielle smiled softly and brushed a piece of her hair behind her ear.

Xena cleared her throat, addressing all of the girls. "That is enough cleaning for tonight." She motioned for the girls to follow Kara to the west wing to their new room.

Gabrielle waited until all of the girls left the area and hesitantly came up to Xena. "That was...nice of you."

"I won't let them sleep on the floor, Gabrielle," Xena said and Alexander tugged on his mother's arm. "Oh Gabrielle, I need your assistance in my room tomorrow. Can you draw?"

Gabrielle pursed her lips, thinking that was an odd question. "Sort of..."

"Good..." Xena grinned, "I expect you in my room at first light."

"Mother," Alexander tugged on her arm. She peered down at him and he smiled. "Can we read tonight?"

Xena sighed heavily and Gabrielle knew that she was really tired. "I can read to you, Alexander," she offered and Xena raised her eyebrow. "Maybe we can finish that story?"

Chapter Text

AN: Thank you for reading, everyone! A slow burn so far, but this chapter will put a fire underneath the next few chapters. Good luck!

Chapter 11 –Think like a Man, Act like a Ruler

Solan and Alexander finished eating breakfast really early in the morning. Solan wanted to help his mother's soldiers clean up the debris upstairs in the west wing, which also meant that Alexander would need to help too. This time he wasn't going to let his little brother out of his sight. He figured that he had disappointed his mother enough during his stay here and it hadn't even been a month since he got here.

The two went outside their room and Alexander yawned. "Do we really have to help them? I mean, my arm is broken. I can't really do much," he gave a smug grin.

Solan rolled his eyes and pushed his brother down the hallway. "You still have one good arm, Alexander. Besides, mother will kill me if I let you out of my sight again."

"Can I go into the gardens instead? I promise I won't get into trouble," he begged.

"No way! You said that when you were four and you nearly burned down father's yurt!"

Alexander sighed heavily. "That was one time..."

"Oh yeah? How 'bout that that time you dyed all of Natassa Khatun's dresses yellow instead of black?" he said and his brother pouted. "Or that time you broke all of mother's wine bottles in the cellar? Or how about –"

"Okay, I get it! Jeez," Alexander grumbled and folded his arms. "Am I really that bad?"

Solan chuckled and squeezed his brother's shoulders. "You're not bad, Alexander, you're just...spoiled."

"What? I am not spoiled!" he frowned.

"Your highness!" Dajan ran up to Solan a bit out of breath with a letter in his hand. Solan turned around with a smile and Dajan handed over the letter.

Solan read that the letter was from Ankara and shook his head. "Oh thanks, I'll give this to my mother. I'm sure –"

"It's um...for you," Dajan lowered his eyes and bowed curtly. He quickly left the hallway to go upstairs to begin clearing the debris from the halls and rooms.

Wow, for me? Solan grinned and ripped open the letter. He read over it as quickly as possible. He also felt his brother tugging on his arm, trying to sneak a peek at what he was reading. Solan began laughing aloud and his brother frowned in confusion. He continued reading and then his laughter died down softly.

"Who is it from, Solan?!" Alexander whined, jumping up to see the letter.

"Father," he answered in a soft voice. "Belach is no longer second in command anymore."

Alexander beamed. "That's great! Wait, what is 'second in command'?" he quirked his lips.

"Mother is going to be so upset. Father wants me to come back to Ankara and..." he sighed, folding the letter back up and put it in his pocket. "Mother has to agree."

"Oh..." Alexander frowned sadly. "She's not gonna let you, Solan. You heard what she said –her house, her rules!"

"I know..." he grabbed his little brother's arm and went to the staircase. "Let's get started on cleaning."

Borias paced back and forth in front of his son, glaring down at him. Belach hung his head, ashamed to even look at his father. Osman's nephew, Bahri, had come Belach's yurt to spar with him. Now that Solan was gone, he didn't have anyone as good to spar with except Belach. When he came into Belach's yurt he found his sister, Dilara, in bed with Belach.

Horrified and angry, Bahri ran to his uncle and told him everything. Knowing that his older sister was sharing the same bed with Belach, considering she was already engaged to someone else, he wasn't going to allow her to continue to have this relationship with Borias' son.

"Are you insane?!" Borias shouted and his son winced at his loud voice. "How could you do this?"

Natassa shook her head. "Not only have you embarrassed Osman, but now Dilara is no longer engaged!"

"I'm sorry," Belach mumbled.

Borias sighed and said, "you are no longer my second in command. I gave the position to Solan."

Belach's eyes widened and he lifted his chin, glaring at both of his parents. "What?! But father, I proved myself to have that position!"

"You should have thought about that before you decided to sleep with Dilara," Borias growled.

Natassa grabbed her son's chin and glared into his dark eyes. "You bring shame to our family, Belach. You knew that she was promised to someone else! What if she's pregnant?"

Belach blinked, staring at his mother. He hadn't really thought of that although it was rather ironic that he was ousted by Bahri and not his half brother, Solan. He swatted his mother's hand away and stood from the floor, grimacing at his father.

"You gave my position to that little rat?! I earned that position!" he growled.

Borias grabbed him by his jaw and inched close to his face. "You cannot talk about your brother that way, Belach. That position was taken away from you as a consequence."

"Half brother," Belach narrowed his eyes and Natassa smirked. "You giving away my rightful position to your whore's son, is the biggest mistake you will ever make, father."

Borias felt his blood boil and then snatched his hand away from his son's jaw. Belach rubbed his chin and both glared at one another. "You better pray that Dilara is not carrying your child," he hissed and his son gave him a smug smirk then stormed out of the yurt.

Natassa wrapped her arm around her husband's broad shoulders. "Perhaps, giving away his position as second in command is too harsh of a punishment, Borias." She chuckled softly, "and besides, Xena will never agree to allow her son to move back here!"

He frowned and grabbed her wrist, spinning around to face his righteous wife. "What did you say?"

She smiled nervously and ran her fingers along his chest. " know how she can be."

He shook his head and grabbed her hands firmly. "No, how did you know that I needed Xena's permission?" he asked and she scoffed with that nervous grin planted on her lips. "Natassa..." he growled and his grip tightened around her wrists then she cringed. "Have you been reading my letters?"


He pushed her backward and she fell onto the floor. He pinched her cheeks together and knelt down, staring into her frightened blue eyes. "My letters to Xena and my son are confidential. Remember, I am with you not her!"

Natassa narrowed her eyes and slapped her husband's hand from her cheeks. "Yet, you father two sons from her!"

"We have a son of our own, Natassa! And Xena has Solan and Alexander now! What more do you want?" he scoffed and left their home in a hurry. She grunted and slapped her hand on her knee.

Gabrielle walked into the guest room Xena was now living in, which was also in a secluded part of the lower west wing, far enough from the girls' room. She saw a huge piece of parchment on the floor that covered the entire Persian rug and she frowned.

"You're late," Xena said as she tapped the long pen against her palm.

"Sorry," the blonde nervously apologized then she waltzed over to the empty parchment. "So, what's this?"

Xena walked over the edge of the parchment and pointed to it with the long pen, tapping the parchment. "I want you to draw a battle plan to attack Anatolia."

"Um, and how am I supposed to do that?" Gabrielle folded her arms.

Xena smiled and came around behind her trainee and grasped her shoulders. "Think of this as another training session, Gabrielle. I will teach you how to strategize. Most wars are not fought physically but mentally. Smart people don't attack the enemy with their sword, but with their mind. You understand?"

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and felt a bit uncomfortable having the sultana incredibly close to her. Her cold hands on her shoulders and long hair grazing her backside. Too close, she thought, she's too close.

"Am I speaking a foreign language or something?" she frowned.

"No, no," Gabrielle scratched her cheek anxiously. "I understand. Where do I begin?"

Xena drew a few X's on the parchment with the long pen and Gabrielle looked over at her, analyzing the look in her eyes. So much fire, she thought, yet she was very calm and determined to oust the Anatolians. She was not such an awful ruler, Gabrielle realized. She was very smart and knew what she wanted when she wanted it and most importantly, she didn't let other people get in the way of her goals.

"We go through the mountains on the border of Persia and enter Anatolia through there in the west pass." Xena said and saw Gabrielle gawking at her with wide doe eyes. "Are you paying attention?"

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed and she averted her eyes down to the parchment that was now marked up with several X's and A's. She hadn't heard a word that Xena said and feared that she'd get angry, so she pretended to follow along, nodding her head.

"You weren't paying attention, were you?" she asked with a subtle frown and Gabrielle gave her a cheeky grin. "You have the same look on your face as one of my son's when he is in trouble," she grumbled. "Gabrielle, I need you to focus. Do you think you could do that?"

Gabrielle sighed and nodded. "You want to attack through the west pass..." she observed and walked around the large parchment, cocking her head. "Why not attack by ship instead?"

Xena smirked and wacked the pen against the parchment. "Ankara is far from the sea. It will do no good to attack by ship. Try again." She folded her arms, watching Gabrielle circle the parchment.

"There's a port by Constantinople," Gabrielle said. "You could go through that city to get inland instead of going through the mountains?" she suggested.

"The Grand Master of the Templar Knights has Constantinople heavily guarded. My men are great warriors, but we would never be able to get through without losing two to three hundred troops. Try again, Gabrielle," she bit her lip as she smiled, seeing the frustration growing in the trainee's eyes.

Is this another one of her games again? Is she trying to make me angry and create a ridiculous plan to attack Anatolia? Or is she trying to push me to try harder to come up with a different strategy better than hers? Or maybe she's trying to make me look stupid.

Xena chuckled under her breath and drew a circle around Anatolia's soldiers and a box around hers. "I am trying not to lose a lot of men in this war. Some of my men are employed to work for Osman in Ankara. He has several bases along the coast, thanks to me," she frowned. "I also have three bases in Greece –"

"In Corinth, Thebes and Athens," Gabrielle interrupted and Xena raised her eyebrows, surprised to hear her say that. She half smiled. "I pay attention sometimes..."

"Very good," Xena smiled. "So, I have a lot of military bases in Greece and two in Persia. What is your strategy to attack Anatolia?"

Gabrielle frowned and rubbed her chin, staring at the map. It was a mess now. Xena had marked it up with her pen so much it was all so confusing. "Can I see the pen?" she asked nicely and the sultana handed it over to her.

She drew circles around Xena's bases in Thebes, Corinth and Athens, then drew arrows pointing to the bases on the coast of Anatolia. She also drew a circle around Jerusalem and drew an arrow directly at Ankara. Xena frowned, folding her arms, overlooking Gabrielle's strange design on the battle map.

"What use your military bases in Greece to attack the coast of Anatolia. That will distract the men and create a diversion so you can go through the west pass into Ankara?" she offered and Xena raised her eyebrow, thinking silently to herself.

Oh no, she hates the idea. Her silence was impenetrable and a bit eerie as well. The longer she stayed quiet, Gabrielle was convinced that Xena hated the plan and she was just formulating a cynical phrase to combat her with to make her look dumb.

"Interesting strategy, Gabrielle," Xena spoke finally and Gabrielle smiled widely, happy to hear that and not some smart remark this time around. "But there is just one problem."

Of course there is, always a problem when it comes to me, Gabrielle cursed to herself.

"Using all of my men to attack Anatolia is foolish. That would leave Greece open for an attack by the Romans. Anatolia is smaller than my entire empire. I don't need to use so much brute force. That would just be..." she grinned deviously, "showing off."

Well that wasn't as bad as I anticipated it would be. "Okay, what if you just use the base in Athens to blockade Anatolia's coast? Athens has a stronger navy anyway."

"Actually, Gabrielle, Corinth has a stronger navy. Athens just has a larger port," Xena said and saw the disappointment in the girl's eyes. "But your idea is not bad. I will take it into consideration," she smiled and Gabrielle nodded, glad to hear that at least.

Xena walked over to her desk so she could jot down some notes. Meanwhile, Gabrielle stood over the map, tapping the pen against her knee nervously. Glancing over, she saw Xena concentrated on her writing and she wrote quickly, very quickly in fact. She looked so focused and determined to get rid of the problematic supposed allies in her empire. Another side I see from you, sultana, Gabrielle mused.

"You are very good at strategizing," Gabrielle said, interrupting Xena's writing.

"Years of practice," she curtly answered and continued writing.

Obviously. What a stupid thing to say, Gabrielle, she chastised herself. "I have a question..."

Xena sighed and lifted her eyes. "Of course you do."

"Are you training all of us so we can help you fight the Anatolians and the Mongols?" she asked and saw a subtle uncertain frown on the sultan's face. She wasn't quite sure what was going through the woman's mind at the moment, but her lack of response was enough to confirm her question.

"You girls don't know how to fight an entire army," Xena said and Gabrielle pursed her lips. "All of you girls were picked off from the streets. I don't expect to turn you into warriors overnight."

Gabrielle frowned and approached the desk. "I was captured by mistake. I wasn't supposed to be here in the first place."

Xena smiled eerily up at the blonde girl. "And now you wish you would have stayed at home, don't you?" she winked. "But now you're stuck here with me," she said and looked down at the paper and continued to write her thoughts down. "You are not my slave, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle scoffed and folded her arms, setting the pen on top of Xena's large stack of papers. "What about all the servants in your palace? Aren't they slaves?"

The sultana frowned and rose from her chair, leaning over the desk, barely a foot from the blonde's face. "I pay my servants, Gabrielle. Whatever lies you heard about me in Greece are not true. I don't allow slavery in my empire. My servants are free to leave when their contract is up with me. I don't keep people here against their will."

"Except me," Gabrielle blurted out and Xena's eyes widened. She instantly regretted saying that. Word vomit I can always count on you to get me into trouble.

Xena then laughed and Gabrielle's eyes grew in fear, watching her laugh loudly in this silent room. Suddenly, she felt so small standing in front of the dark haired woman, smaller than a mouse.

"You believe I am keeping you here against your will? Oh Gabrielle," Xena shook her head. "You did this to yourself! You were too curious for your own good! You couldn't just be like everyone else and mind their own business but you decided to spy on me! You know who I am and I cannot and will not, let you leave my side until I can trust you and by the way, I don't."

Gabrielle frowned and leaned on the desk, coming closer to the sultan's face, feeling bold all of a sudden. "So, you're punishing me?!"

Xena growled and grabbed Gabrielle's jaw firmly. "This is not a punishment!" she hissed through her teeth. "I am teaching you a lesson." She let go of her jaw and Gabrielle winced, rubbing her cheeks.

"Words go a long way in the diplomatic world and you would fit in much better with those arrogant diplomats than spending time with me. You don't know how to control your mouth. You speak your mind and while I am not against free speech, you have lost that privilege around me, Gabrielle. I am fair and I have been more than fair with you. Don't make me change my mind," she warned.

Gabrielle rubbed her arm and bit her bottom lip, gazing into Xena's eyes. "I don't know what you want from me."

"I want you to listen to me," the sultana answered. "You need to understand that I am not your enemy. I am your teacher, your mentor, just like I am with all the other girls."

I can get behind that, Gabrielle nodded. "I have another question."

Xena rolled her eyes and plopped back down into her chair. "What is it?"

"Why do you hate it when I ask questions? I am here to learn after all," she slyly hinted, playing the sultan's game.

Xena smirked and tapped her nails on the desk calmly. "You ask questions about me, not about training. You are not here to be my friend, you are here to train."

"Do you...have any friends?" Gabrielle asked another question and saw the sultana's lip quiver slightly. "Not allies, but friends."

"I don't need friends. They are a distraction. Do you have any more questions for me? Maybe something that pertain to training..." she smiled and Gabrielle shook her head.

An awkward moment of silence filled the room and Gabrielle's eyes wandered around the room. It was considerably smaller than Xena's room that was upstairs, but she gathered that Xena wasn't a very materialistic person. She gave up her identity as a woman to rule two territories. If that wasn't impressive, Gabrielle didn't know what else Xena could be good at. She was an excellent fighter, strategist and even a good mother, a bit strict, but she obviously never let her sons go without. She was good at everything! This only frustrated Gabrielle even more as she thought about it.

Although, Gabrielle once thought that Xena was a tyrant and a horrible person, she couldn't have been more wrong. Xena was pretty fair, as she said many times before, but there something missing. Something vital, something that Xena wasn't good at.

"I have a special job for you, Gabrielle," Xena blurted out, interrupting Gabrielle's inner thoughts. "I am promoting you to a position of authority. You will be in charge of all the girls' training, with my supervision of course."

Gabrielle blinked rapidly and began shaking her head, thinking this was a bad idea. "Oh no, no, no. They don't really like me."

"They don't have to like you," Xena smiled and walked around her desk, facing the nervous trainee. "I want to push you Gabrielle. You are a smart girl but you don't listen. I am giving this position to you not as a punishment, but a reward."

A reward? A reward for what? Not listening? Gabrielle frowned, not understanding why the sultan would give her such a large task and a position of authority. She obviously doesn't trust me so why give me a hard job? To push me? What does that even mean?

"You will start today," Xena grinned widely and saw the fear in those eyes. "I smell your fear again," she hummed and tapped Gabrielle's nose. "Don't let your subjects smell that fear." She whispered then grabbed her veil and turban. "I will be waiting for you outside."

Gabrielle let out a breathy exhale and collapsed against the wall. "She's trying to get me murdered out there."

Xena walked down the hallway and a few girls sat outside their new room, talking together. They turned and saw the sultan walking right past them and their eyes widened, gawking at her. The girls began whispering and Xena frowned then halted.

She turned around and walked back to the girls and smiled. "What are you all doing gossiping?" she asked and the girls stood up immediately. "Just because there was an attack on the palace does not mean we take a break from training. Go put on your armor!"

"Teenagers," she murmured. The girls hurried and ran back to their room and Xena smirked then continued to walk to the gardens, waiting for Gabrielle, which should be interesting, very interesting.

Gabrielle stood in front of the girls, holding a sword in her hand. She looked at all the eyes on her and felt extremely nervous. Her stomach churned and the longer she stood in silence, the more anxious she became. What was Xena thinking? Putting me in charge was not a good idea. I can't even talk to these girls.

Xena smirked and rest her cheek on her gloved palm, observing Gabrielle gawking at all the girls as if they were some kind of monsters getting ready to attack her. Though, the girls remained silent and kept their eyes locked on their new leader. She chuckled under her breath and could smell Gabrielle's fear from far away, it was pathetic.

Gabrielle turned around and saw Xena gloating in her chair underneath the shade. Xena smiled and waved at her. Oh great, she's mocking me already. Slowly turning around she was faced with the gawking girls again, some had smirks on their faces, while others looked confused. Okay, she coached herself, Xena gave me this job for a reason, so I need to impress her.

She took in a deep breath and tried to not let Xena's glare behind her bother her too much. "Okay, so today I will be training you all." She began and some girls snickered. That fear, they smell my fear. "We will..." her eyes darted to all the girls whispering and she frowned. "We will begin with hand to hand combat." She tossed her sword aside.

"We already know how to fight in hand to hand combat," Yasmine shouted from the back row.

Gabrielle huffed. This is not working and she could feel Xena's eyes burning into her backside. "Everyone could use more practice."

"Yeah right," Astremia laughed and some other girls joined in.

Gabrielle frowned, now growing frustrated. She snapped her head around and saw Xena waving her hand to continue the training session. Oh I see what you're doing now. You think I don't listen to you so now you're putting me in your shoes. Another game, Xena, I understand now. Fine, you want to play this game, then I will play along.

"Astremia, since you think you're the best. Come up here and show us all," Gabrielle smirked and Astremia frowned then dropped her weapon and approached Gabrielle in the front row of the girls.

Astremia steadied herself and put her fists to her face. Gabrielle turned and looked at the sultana, basking in this training session. "Oh you're not going to train with me." She said and Astremia frowned, lowering her guard.

Gabrielle grabbed three other girls from the front row and positioned them around the arrogant brunette. Astremia turned around herself and saw she was surrounded. Gabrielle adjusted the girls and took a step back with folded arms.

"You will fight your teammates. You will sometimes be faced with more than one enemy."

Astremia cackled. "This is ridiculous! Who put you in charge anyway?"

"Do as she says, Astremia," Xena finally spoke and the brunette lowered her eyes and snarled over at Gabrielle. She sat up in her chair, gripping the armrests, watching eagerly what Astremia was going to do. This should be interesting and maybe someone will end up with a broken nose. She smiled and looked over at Gabrielle. The two shared a glance at one another. Clever girl, she thought.

Joan looked apologetically at Astremia and blocked her face. Gabrielle came up behind Joan and fixed her stance. "Astremia is not your friend or your teammate right now, she's your enemy," Gabrielle sneered, glaring at Astremia. This is what you get for attacking me in the baths, she thought.

Astremia shook her head and then was caught off guard by Joan socking her in the jaw, sending her stumbling backward. She ran into Julia behind her and was pushed forward and collapsed to her knees on the hot sand.

Gabrielle smirked and looked over at Xena, but she wasn't amused, she was frowning. I can't win here can I? What am I doing wrong?

Valerie grabbed Astremia by her neck and kneed her in the nose. Astremia groaned and fell on her back, moaning in pain. All three girls leered over their beaten teammate and frowned sadly, eager to help her. Joan grabbed Astremia's wrist and lifted her off the ground slowly.

Julia and Valerie aided Astremia as she hung her arms over their shoulders. Gabrielle looked at the blood streaming down Astremia's face and her eyes widened. The brunette grimaced at her and hobbled off with the two girls.

Xena stood from her chair. "You will continue training with my men and use your weapons." She waved her hand over and the girls immediately grabbed their swords and walked over to the opposite side of the gardens, waiting for the male soldiers sitting off, waiting patiently for them.

Gabrielle's jaw dropped and she grabbed her sword then marched over to the sultan. "I thought you wanted me to take charge?"

Xena narrowed her eyelids, glaring down at her trainee. "I asked you to take charge, not vengeance. You failed," she said lowly then walked back to her chair to observe the other girls in their training.

Fail? I failed? Failed what? Astremia beats me up because I'm spending too much time with the sultan and then I get put into a leadership role and still fail? This is insane –she's insane! No matter what I do, Xena will never be happy, or maybe I didn't play her game correctly. That must be it, or she set me up to fail. No, Gabrielle, this is your fault, not Xena's.

Below the kitchen, Silvia saw a man carrying barrels of wine through the back door. She wiped her flour drenched hands on her apron and smiled, running over to the wine merchant. Frowning, she pushed one of the barrels to the wall.

"Where is Hasan? He normally brings the wine," she said.

The man smiled weakly and kept pushing the barrels over to the servant woman. "Oh, well, Hasan is busy delivering wine to Susa. He asked me to fill in for him."

Silvia nodded, cautiously looking at the strange wine merchant. "Where is this wine from exactly? These aren't the same barrels that come from Delphi."

He ignored her subtle comment and question then pulled out a dagger from his belt. He charged at her and thrust the dagger in her back. She gasped breathlessly and he put his hand over her mouth, muffling her screams. He twisted the dagger in her back and she closed her eyes and continued screaming. He pushed the blade deeper in her backside and she fell unconscious, slumping over his arm.

He took the dagger out and blood poured from her wound. He then grabbed her from underneath her arms and drug her off. He began panicking since this was not part of the plan. Why did you have to ask questions you stupid woman? Grunting he drug her across the floor, trying to find a place to put her body.

"Silvia! Where are you? I need two bottles of wine!" Miriam called out from upstairs in the kitchen.

Shit, he cursed to himself. He looked around the cellar and then a pool of dirty water. He drug her over, grunting and groaning then tossed her in the water, wiping his hands on his pants.

Miriam ran downstairs and frowned seeing the wine merchant still unloading wine barrels. "Where is the maid that came down here?"

He smiled at the young lady, "she stepped out to grab something. She told me to continue unloading the wine."

Miriam nodded her head slowly. Odd, she didn't think that Silvia would leave. They had everything in the kitchen they needed, except yeast, maybe she went to the market to get that? "Well, alright. When you're finished just exit out the back." She instructed and the man nodded.

Gabrielle walked down the hallway and was exhausted from training. She hadn't seen Xena in an hour since she left the session early. I don't understand what I did wrong? "What did I do?" she lifted her head and saw Solan with his little brother, covered in soot and dirt.

"Wow, what happened to you two?" she smiled, now a bit amused.

"We were cleaning upstairs," Alexander said and Solan rolled his eyes.

"More like I cleaned. He sat around, avoiding us all day!"

Alexander frowned and hit his brother in his ribcage. "Hey, I helped!" he pouted and Solan sighed heavily. "At least I didn't get in trouble today!"

"Yeah, right," Solan turned to Gabrielle. "How was training?"

Gabrielle groaned and shook her head. "Terrible. Solan, can I ask you something?" she asked and he nodded. "How do I get on your mother's good side?"

He chuckled softly. "She's hard to get along with sometimes." He then remembered his father's letter and knew that he would eventually have to face her wrath and tell her what was going on, but he needed to work up to that.

"Listen, Gabrielle, my mother doesn't really get along with a lot of people. She must like you since she keeps talking to you. Just be patient with her," he advised and she frowned, rubbing her chin. "Come on Alexander, let's go to the baths," he grabbed his brother's hand, brushing past Gabrielle.

Patient? How can I be patient with someone I don't even understand? Not even her own sons were patient with her, how am I supposed to do this? This is impossible! That's it, I'm going in. Gabrielle marched towards Xena's room.

Kara came into Xena's room and set down a tray of wine and some fruit. "Wine from Delphi came in this afternoon, mistress." She poured the wine in the glass and Xena took the glass, continuing to take notes on her potential war with Anatolia.

Gabrielle barged into Xena's room and marched over to the bed, glaring over the sultana. "I need to talk to you!"

Xena smiled softly and set the wine down on the table beside the bed. "Kara, that will be all," she said and the young servant nodded then quickly left the room. "What can I do for you? Since you think I am always available at all hours of the day." She teased.

Gabrielle rest her hands on her hips and grimaced. "What did I do wrong today? I thought you wanted me to instruct the girls? I was just doing what you asked me to do! And I know you wanted me to understand how you feel when I don't listen to you, but I don't understand you!"

Xena pursed her lips and folded her arms, leaning against the large pillows. "You know what you don't understand, Gabrielle? How to listen."

"I thought we established this already," the blonde curtly answered.

"That's what I'm talking about. You don't listen, you act without thinking. You weren't trying to train the girls. You wanted a piece of Astremia because you don't get along with her. Just because you don't get along with one of your teammates does not mean you get to act on your emotions. You are using your emotions to fight, Gabrielle. You can't do that."

Gabrielle scoffed and stared at the sultana, whom had a big smile on her face. "So what you're saying is that I should fight without emotion? What if I kill someone? Do I remain emotionless?"

Xena shook her head. "I didn't say to be emotionless, but you need to separate your feelings from those you dislike. Feelings are a distraction and they have no place in war."

"But...don't love and war go together?" Gabrielle pried.

Xena lowered her eyes and really hated that word love. It was a hard word for her to except and had been more of a burden her entire life than a blessing. She loved her sons and maybe at one point she loved Borias too, but the two grew apart quickly after Solan was born. All they could do was bicker and argue, even before Solan was born, mostly due to his wife, Natassa. Love and war, indeed.

"Sometimes they go together, but they shouldn't," she said then took a large sip of the wine.

Gabrielle sighed heavily, still not quite sure what Xena meant by that. "What can I do to improve?" she asked, almost hesitant of the answer.

Xena felt her lungs constrict and she held her hand over her chest, frowning. She sat up and breathed heavily. She looked up, staring at Gabrielle and her vision blurred. She shook her head and tried to get out of the bed, nearly falling over, she grasped the bedpost and hoisted herself up slowly, watching the room spin around her. She blinked rapidly, hoping it would go away.

"Are you alright?" Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows, looking into the sultana's eyes darting back and forth as well as holding onto the bed for dear life.

Xena reached for the wine glass, tapping her fingers on the table, trying to grasp the wine. She ran her hand along the stem and picked up the glass and sniffed the wine. Her eyes widened and smelled the foul stench from the wine and dropped the glass then heard Gabrielle yelp.

"Hello?" Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm, trying to make sense of what was going on. She held onto her arm tightly, shaking her. "Your highness?" Xena's eyes rolled in the back of her head and she fell backwards onto the bed, bringing Gabrielle with her.

Gabrielle gasped and she was on top of Xena and panicked, immediately crawling off of her. "Oh god," she muttered. She leaned over Xena and hesitantly put her ear over her mouth and heard her breathing. Oh good, you're alive. Alive and unconscious. She bit her bottom lip and pat Xena's cheeks softly. "Xena?" she whispered. She cupped the sultana's cheeks in her palms and shook her, but she was not waking up.

"This is really bad, really bad!" she frantically began fidgeting with her tunic as she sat next to an unconscious woman...on her bed.

She then heard loud banging on the door and she jumped. "Your majesty! I need to talk to you!" Dajan called from the other side of the door and Gabrielle bit her fingernails anxiously. Great, he's going to think I did this to her.

When Dajan didn't hear an answer he opened the door and stormed in. "Your highness, some kitchen maids found Silvia in –" he saw Xena laying on the bed with one of her trainees leaning over her. His eyes widened and ran to the bed's side. "What happened? What did you do?!" he growled.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Nothing! I didn't do anything! She passed out, I –I" she stuttered and Dajan lifted Xena up, checking to see if she was breathing.

He leaned over and saw a broken wine on the rug next to the bed. "She drank the wine?" he feared the answer and the blonde nodded. He sighed heavily and moved Xena's body to lay against the pillows. "I am going to put this entire palace under arrest. You stay here!" he rushed out of the room.

"What?! You can't leave me in here!" she yelled. Oh great. She sighed and looked over at Xena and frowned sadly.

Solan held the letter in his hands and walked down the hall, approaching his doom. He saw his mother's temporary room at the end of the hall and sighed. "Now, just remain calm. Explain to her that father means well and you are awarded this position because of Belach's stupidity." He smiled, nodding, thinking that was a good thing to say. That ought to soften his mother's wrath, yes.

"Your majesty!" Dajan yelled at Solan and he jumped, hiding the letter behind his back.

"Oh hello, Dajan. What can I do for you?" he put on a false big smile.

The adviser skid to a stop and caught his breath. "I need your help. You are your mother's second in command if she is not available."

I am? He frowned, not knowing that his mother gave him such a high position of authority. He smiled, quite excited and then realized that the only reason his mother probably entrusted him with this role was if...something happened to her.

"What's happened?" he asked, grabbing Dajan's shoulders. "What happened to her?!" he snarled.

"I can't explain right now." He didn't want to worry the boy even more than he already was. Besides, it would just cause him to become distracted. "Nobody is to leave the palace. I need you to round up all of the trainees to scope the palace. Can you do that?"

Solan nodded and Dajan walked off in a hurry. "Wait! What is going on?"

Dajan cringed and spoke over his shoulder. "Someone poisoned the wine."

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 –Conquered by Rats

Gabrielle paced back and forth in the room, constantly staring at Xena, hoping she'd wake up, but it had been almost an hour and she was still unconscious. As she paced back and forth she heard a lot of commotion outside in the halls and feared that this was definitely something more than what Dajan was letting on. Not to mention Kara hadn't come back in here, in fact nobody came in here!

She peered over at the bed again and saw the sultana's chest rising and falling gradually. "Xena?" she whispered, coming closer and closer, listening to her breathe heavily. She let out a heavy sigh and slumped her shoulders. She couldn't help but feel a little bit guilty somehow, even if nothing was her fault, she still felt responsible.

"Mother!" Alexander knocked on the door and Gabrielle gasped.

She ran to the door just as he was about to open it. She slammed the door shut and heard Alexander whine. "Um, Alexander, could you come back later?"

"But I want to see my mother! I have something to tell her!" he tried turning the knob and Gabrielle put all her weight on the door. "Gabrielle!" he groaned.

She rolled her eyes then opened the door slightly and Alexander was glaring up at her with his big brown eyes. She sneaked out of the room and closed the door behind her, blocking the entrance. "Hey, Alexander, you know you should really come back another time." She grinned nervously and he lifted his chin, studying her face.

"Why?" he asked, folding his arms.

"It's not a good time," answered, hoping this boy would not be difficult.

"Why?" he proceeded with his questions.

"Because, it's just not a good time."


She groaned inwardly and gave a tight lipped smile. "She's asleep."

He gave her a curt head nod. "But it's still early. She always goes to sleep late." He began pushing his way through and she grabbed his shoulders. "Let me through!"

"No!" she wrapped her arms around his tiny body and picked him up off the ground. "You are not going in there!" she yelled and he blinked, gawking at her. "You really don't behave well, do you?" she smirked and he kept gawking. She set him down and he brushed the wrinkles out of his pristine black robes.

"Who asked you anyway?" he chided and Gabrielle's mouth opened slightly, shocked at this little twerp's mouth.

"You're a brat," she said and he gasped. "You need to learn to listen to your mother, Alexander. She cares about you and wants the best for you."

He frowned deeply and folded his arms, brooding silently. "I just like to be around her, that's all."

She smiled softly and ran her fingers through his thick dark hair. "I know you do, but you need to know how to listen." Why does that sound awfully familiar?

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" Yasmine ran down the hall, waving her hand. She barely caught her breath and looked down at the boy bemusedly. "Dajan is asking for you at the entrance."

"Alright, I'll be right there," she left the door then cringed, turning back around to the solemn boy. She almost forgot about him. "Um, Yasmine, could you watch over Alexander while I'm gone?" she asked and her teammate didn't have a chance to answer before she ran off down the hall.

Alexander smirked and hooked his arm around the girl's. "So, wanna play a game?" he wriggled his eyebrows and Yasmine laughed nervously, already hating this job.

Gabrielle came to the front of the palace and saw Solan talking with Dajan, which was a strange sight to see on its own. In fact, it looked like Solan was ordering Dajan around instead of the opposite. A thirteen year old bossing around a military and royal adviser, what a sight to see.

She interrupted the two chatting. "Yasmine told me to come up here. Is there something you need?" she directed her question towards Dajan.

Solan turned around and folded his arms. "Yes, I want you to scout the outside of the palace with some of the girls. Make sure nobody can see your face, you know the drill."

She blinked. Did I just get orders from a teenager? Alright then, whatever he says I guess, no time to argue right now. "Okay...what about Xe...the sultan?" she asked, quickly correcting herself.

"I have already sent for the physician. He should be here soon," Dajan answered and Gabrielle nodded. She felt bad for the doctor. He would have to keep Xena's secret or die if he ever told a soul. She obviously chose these people carefully otherwise he wouldn't have the job.

She turned to walk off to go get her weapon and veil then Solan stopped her. "Where is my brother?"

She cringed, "um, Yasmine is watching him at the moment..."

Dajan smirked. "That poor girl," he muttered. He then turned to Solan. "Your highness, we need to dump all of the wine and check the food supply to see if anything else has been contaminated."

Solan and Dajan walked into the kitchen and all of the female servants were lined up in a single row with their heads hanging, mostly with embarrassment. Solan frowned and walked around the kitchen and dumped over a barrel of flour and then emptied out some bags of grains. He knelt down and picked up a few pieces of grain and sniffed it. Nothing unusual, he thought.

"I want all of the bags of flour and grain thrown out," he said and all the women nodded then went to the barrels and bags. They began carrying the bags of grain out of the kitchen and he saw Miriam and frowned. He grabbed her arm before she picked up a bag of grain. "Not you."

They went down into the wine cellar below where they were at least ten barrels of wine. He took out a dagger from his belt and stabbed the wooden barrel of wine and it spewed onto the floor. He stabbed one after the other until his boots were covered in the dark red wine.

Frowning, he saw a rat run along the floor and sniff some of the wine. Eyeing the rat, he noticed the animal began to convulse and was only able to move a few steps before it rolled over, breathing heavily. Poor animal, he frowned sadly.

"Were you the one who found Silvia?" he turned to the teary eyed servant girl.

Miriam nodded and bit her fingernails nervously. Solan walked over to the pool of water that was used to clean the wine bottles and dishes from the kitchen. It was now stained red with Silvia's blood. Dajan had her body removed when she was discovered and pronounced dead.

"Can you tell me what happened? What did you see before you found the maid?" he asked.

She fidgeted with her veil and wrapped it around her shoulders, feeling so vulnerable. "There...was a wine merchant unloading the wine barrels. Hasan usually delivers the wine, but it wasn't Hasan this time. I came to look for Silvia because she had been gone for a long time. He told me that Silvia had stepped out to grab something, but I knew that we had everything in the kitchen. I thought she went to buy yeast for the dough but after I checked the cupboards, I found an extra bag of yeast." She exhaled heavily and continued, "I came back down to the cellar and Silvia still wasn't here so I looked around...and..." she left that sentence trail off.

Solan nodded and looked at his wine soaked boots. Whatever was in the wine was obviously lethal. It was slowly killing the rat and he didn't even have drink a lot of it. He wasn't stupid, he knew that his mother drank the wine even though Dajan didn't tell him, it was obvious.

Now, the question was, who would want to poison his mother? Somebody either very close to her, or maybe it wasn't someone close at all. He thought of the Templars, but quickly ruled that out. Those holy knights of God wouldn't poison the sultan. It just wasn't their style. Mongols, perhaps? They are nowhere near Persia at the moment, but they did engage in poisoning as a tool to assassinate people, so he had heard.

"Hasan should be found." Solan said and ran up the stairs and Dajan followed behind him as well as Miriam. "If he's still alive then he might be able to tell us more about this wine merchant."

"Should I send more men to scope the palace?" Dajan asked and Solan quirked his mouth.

"No, send them into the city. He isn't stupid enough to hang around the palace after what he just did." Solan sheathed the dagger bag in its holster and walked into the kitchen, observing the women hurrying to take the bags of grain out to be dumped out.

Gabrielle, Aesha, Joan and Julia walked around the outskirts of the palace, sneaking against the walls quietly. Julia sighed and adjusted the veil on her face, holding her sword up as she trailed behind Aesha. "Why are we scouting the palace anyway? And why do we have to wear these dumb veils?"

"Shut up," Joan whispered.

Julia grunted. "Gabrielle, you are close with the sultan right?"

Oh here we go again. Gabrielle sighed and whispered, "not really."

"They have the entire palace on lockdown! You must know what is going on?" Julia pried some more.

"Again, not really. Let's just do what we're supposed to do, okay? And quietly, please," Gabrielle rolled her eyes and lead the girls around the palace's perimeter.

They came to the cellar entrance and Gabrielle peered down at the stairs leading to the cellar door and frowned. She looked around to see if she could find some clues. Scoping out the soil she saw large footprints and nodded. Quickly, she ran along, following the footsteps and the girls trailed behind.

The footsteps disappeared and Gabrielle knelt down and saw hoof indentions from a horse. Of course, you needed a fast escape. She followed the horse hoof prints and then noticed there was an awful lot of prints. And you didn't come alone, did you?

"What did you find, Gabrielle?" Joan asked, stepping forward ahead of all the girls.

Gabrielle stood and folded her arms. "Horse tracks. They went down the road that leads towards the sea." She pointed down the dark desert road ahead of them. "We should follow these tracks."

Julia scoffed. "Oh come on! I am not going to get killed. We were ordered to scope the palace, not go off on some wild goose chase!"

"Julia, if you say one more word, I'm going to cut out your tongue," Joan threatened and held up her sword to the whiny girl's throat.

"Stop it you two," Gabrielle griped. "I say we should follow –"

An arrow pierced the ground right in between Gabrielle's legs and she gasped, nearly escaping a horrible wound. All of the girls held up their weapons and formed a circle around one another, watching every dark corner.

"I didn't sign up for this," Julia whispered as sweat dripped down her forehead.

"I swear to God, I'm going to –"

"Be quiet!" Gabrielle shouted and knelt down, seeing a small container on the arrow shaft. She untied the leather strap and opened the miniature canister. A note, how interesting. She unrolled the small piece of paper and frowned, not able to read the note since it was in a different language.

"What does it say?" Joan asked.

"I don't know, it's written in some weird language..." Gabrielle squinted her eyes, trying to see if she could decipher it, but it wasn't in code, it was definitely a different language. Not Greek, certainly not Persian, Latin or Turkic either.

Aesha stepped forward, peering over Gabrielle's shoulder. "It's Syriac," she said and all the girls turned to her looking surprised. "My parents are from Syria." She frowned, trying to read the small note as best as she could, but the ink was a little smeared. "I think it says, Persia bears rotten fruit. The trees must be made fruitful again."

Joan crinkled her nose. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Aesha fumbled with her hands, trying to translate the sentence. "It's a phrase. It means that someone or something is corrupt and that someone or something needs to die for everything to prosper again."

"You got all that from that little sentence?" Julia asked and chuckled lightly.

Gabrielle tucked the note back into the canister and slipped it into her breastplate. Syriac? So now the Syrians want Xena dead too? Everyone wants Xena dead –the Pope, Genghis Khan, her own court and now Syrians? This didn't make any sense. Syria was part of the Greco-Persian Empire and yet they want Xena dead, but why? So far, Gabrielle had witnessed Xena and her methods of dealing with people. She was fair and definitely not a tyrant, but these people didn't seem to think so.

These people thought Xena to be the worst person alive. Her entire empire was being cornered by several different entities and now that she was poisoned by the contaminated wine, those Syrians must have gotten their wish. Still, Gabrielle couldn't wrap her head around this mess. If Xena wasn't a horrible person like she originally thought, other people must know that too? Or maybe they really hated Xena as Xenophon because she didn't put up with anyone's bullshit?

There's got to be another reason why everyone wanted Xena dead. There was something missing, but what?

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and picked the arrow out of the ground and marched back to the palace. Going on a wild chase to follow these Syrians was pointless, despite the archer that sent the message, he probably wasn't alone and they'd be outnumbered. Be wise, she thought, don't get caught in the middle of something you can't handle.

"Solan!" Gabrielle shouted and the blonde teenager turned around with a scowl on his face. She cleared her throat, "I mean...your highness..." she corrected and held the arrow in her hands. "This was shot at us outside when we were scoping out the area."

He grabbed the arrow and examined it. she then pulled out the small canister with the Syriac note. "And this note was attached to it." Solan quirked his mouth and took the canister and opened it up, unrolling the small piece of paper."It's written in Syriac so Aesha translated for us."

Solan nodded. "I understand what it says." He handed the arrow and note to Dajan and whispered in his ear. The adviser agreed silently then quickly left the area.

This boy is impressive, Gabrielle thought. He knows how to read a different language at his age? Must be Xena who taught him, of course. "So, what happens now?" she asked.

"Well..." he tapped his chin. "Thank you for finding this. I will keep it and show it to my...the sultan," he smiled and Gabrielle nodded, taking the veil off her face. "Did you find anything else?"

Joan interrupted, "Gabrielle found footsteps and horse tracks leading to the sea."

Very interesting, he thought. "You are all free to go for now," he shooed them away then grabbed hold of the blonde's arm. "Except you," he said in a hushed tone. "Gabrielle, can you do something for me?"

She smiled, "sure, anything."

"Can you put the girls in charge of guarding the west wing and entrance of the palace?"

Oh no, not this putting me in charge thing again. This didn't work the last time and it's not going to work now.

"I know my mother trusts you and I know you would be perfect to lead the girls," he smiled and pat her shoulder.

Trust me? You're wrong about that, Solan. Your mother doesn't trust me with even an inch of her life.

"I know I can count on you!" he kissed her cheek and her face flushed. "Thanks!" he ran off to go find Dajan.

"No problem..." she muttered and sighed heavily. She ripped the turban off her head and grimaced. She glanced over at the west wing and knew it was going to be difficult to get the girls to follow her orders. After what happened earlier, things weren't going so well and the girls obviously still were suspicious of her relationship with the sultan.

Listen to yourself, Gabrielle, Solan is acting more calm than you and his mother is the one who is poisoned here. Get it together.

She swung open the doors to their new sleeping quarters and saw all the girls sitting around. They turned their heads and immediately stopped chatting. "Okay, listen up," she held up her hands and stepped inside. "I need people guarding the west wing and the entrance of this palace."

All the girls didn't even budge and she groaned lowly. "By orders of the sultan's son, the Prince," she said and the girls then stood up and went to put on their armor. Rolling her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose. These girls didn't want to listen to her unless it was from someone in an authoritative position.

Joan and Aesha approached their frantic teammate. "Gabrielle, where is the sultan and what is really going on in this place?" Joan whispered.

"Someone poisoned the sultan," Gabrielle hissed and both girls gasped, covering their mouths. "You two should stay here and guard the west wing."

"Of course," Aesha said with a smile and walked outside the room with Joan.

Oh good, at least someone is listening to me finally. Yasmine came into the room with Alexander and Gabrielle turned around to see terror in the girl's eyes.

"Gabrielle, I am done babysitting him. I have played this game, Barckgimone three times now!" she griped.

Alexander huffed and folded his arms. "It's Backgammon and you're not very good at it, by the way," he grumbled.

Gabrielle sighed and nodded, taking Alexander off Yasmine's hands. "Fine, you will be guarding the entrance of the palace. Go put on your armor," she instructed and the girl let out a large exhale then brushed past her to go put on her armor.

Alexander tugged on her arm. "Can I see mother now?"

She smiled and knelt down in front of him, holding his hands firmly. "Not yet, but you will soon."

The seven year old scowled at the blonde trainee. "I'm not stupid, Gabrielle. I know something is wrong. Mother isn't really asleep, is she?"

At this point, she kind of wished that Alexander would be his normal bratty self instead of a smart little boy right now. Children were very in tune when something is awry and Alexander definitely knew something was up, but Gabrielle was going to make it her mission to not let him know anything until his mother was well and alive, hopefully.

"You're right, something is wrong, but I promise, your mother is fine!" she smiled and he pursed his lips, not fully convinced. "Why don't you show me this Backgamone game you were playing?" she offered.

His face lit up, "it's Backgammon!" he grabbed her hand and drug her out of the room and into the hallway. "You're gonna love it!" he then paused and turned his head up at her. "Do you like strategy games?" he inquired.

Oh, more strategy, as if I didn't get enough of that with your mother. "Okay...?" she said uncertainly and smiled falsely and he grinned.

"Great! I promise you're gonna love it, Gabrielle! My mother and I used to play it all the time, but I always lose. Maybe if I play with you I can actually win a game."

She gasped and continued trailing behind him. Did he just call me a loser indirectly? Am I about to be this little prince's pawn? Great, more games that I'm not very good at. "I can't wait..." she said through her clenched teeth. What did I just get myself into?

The physician inside Xena's room dropped some of her blood into a liquid with a dropper and frowned, seeing the results. Kara sat beside the bed, holding a pan in her lap anxiously. He hummed and saw her blood fizzing in the liquid and set the beaker down.

"It seems that it is a poison to kill rodents. It is commonly used outside the home and hidden in gardens." He dug through his bag and found a small vile and smiled, nodding. He walked over to the bed and leaned over Xena, and opened her mouth slightly.

"You should have that pan ready," he instructed and Kara stood and held the pan underneath Xena's chin. He poured the small vile of liquid into Xena's mouth and stepped back, observing carefully. "It should work any second now..." he waited patiently and Kara's hands began shaking as she nervously stood next to Xena, holding the pan.

Xena furrowed her eyebrows and lolled her head back and forth on the pillows. She licked her lips, tasting the bitter antidote and then leaned forward and vomited into the pan Kara was holding. Her eyes shot open and she began coughing and heaving.

Kara gagged and then Xena kept coughing, saliva dripping off her chin and she coughed up some blood. The physician frowned, not expecting that to happen.

"That's not supposed to happen..." he said and ran to his bag to look for something else to get rid of the poison.

Xena put her arm in front of Kara and sat up, continuing to cough violently. She leaned over the side of the bed and vomited all over the floor. The maid's eyes widened and she nearly dropped the pan in her hands.

"I think I got it!" the doctor triumphed and quickly went to Xena's side. He grabbed her chin and her eyes were glazed over as she stared at him.

She squinted her eyes, trying to listen to what he was saying. She saw a large vile he was trying to put into her mouth and then her vision blurred.

"Your majesty..." he warned and pinched her cheeks, trying to get her mouth to open enough so he could pour the vile of liquid in. "Open your mouth!" he shouted and Xena's eyes rolled back in her head and she fell back against the pillows. He groaned and leaned over her, opening her mouth and poured the liquid slowly down into her throat.

He sighed heavily and corked the vile and stepped away from the bed. "That should help."

Kara looked over at her mistress, horrified. "Help? What is going to happen to her?" she asked frantically.

"She will vomit a lot," he said and began packing up his belongings to leave. "It is the only way to get rid of the poison. Since it is already in her blood, she needs to be monitored just in case..."

"Just in case what?!" Kara stood, glaring at the physician.

He lowered his eyes and picked up his bag and cloak. "In case she dies. That poison is deadly to humans." He curtly bowed to the young maid then made his exit.

Dajan waited outside the room and the doctor jumped seeing the tall dark haired adviser. "What is the diagnosis?" he asked.

The physician sighed and walked down the hallway. "The poison is used to exterminate rodents. It is very harmful to the human body. I gave her two different antidotes, but it will be up to her to get through the expulsion of the poison."

"Will she live? How long does this process take?" Dajan put his arms behind his back, following beside the doctor.

"I am not sure, but I can come back in a week to check on her."

Dajan nodded and handed him a large pouch of Persian dinars. "You know to keep your mouth shut, don't you? Because if you don't, you will lose your tongue."

The physician nervously smiled and grabbed the large pouch of coin. "Of course, I understand..." he nodded. "I won't say a word as usual."

Solan ran up to Dajan as soon as the physician made his way out, covering his face with the large hood on his cloak. "Were any of my mother's treaties saved from the fire upstairs?" he asked.

The adviser folded his arms. "Yes, we put them in a large chest in her office. Why?"

The teenager smiled, nodding his head slowly. He grasped the man's shoulder and motioned for Dajan to walk beside him. "I want someone to go through all of her treaties. Does she have treaties from years ago?"

"I'm sure she does in the library, your highness," Dajan raised his eyebrow confusedly. "Why do you want documents that far back?"

"I need to find the Syrian sultan that she allied with years ago. I want to see what they agreed to so long ago."

"Do you think it has something to do with the poisoned wine?" Dajan asked, now catching on finally.

Solan nodded, "yes. I remember when my mother went to a meeting with the Syrian sultan, but I don't know what they agreed on so long ago. That note is in Syriac and I know it was a threat." He halted and looked into the taller man's eyes. "Is she going to be alright?" he asked with pleading eyes.

Dajan smiled softly. "I think so, she's fought worse things in her life."

Seven Years Ago

Solan waited outside of his the bathroom in his mother's room patiently. He had originally come to ask her if she would have time to play a game later this evening, but knew she had a very important meeting with the Sultan of Syria today.

He pressed his ear against the door and cringed, hearing his mother retching for the last few minutes. He heard running water and then the door knob turning, he stepped away from the door.

Xena opened the door and peered down at her son, who looked very confused and concerned. She smiled softly and wiped her hands on her pants. "What are you doing standing by the door?"

"Are you sick?" he asked, staring into her eyes. His mother sighed and ran her fingers through his messy blonde short hair.

"No, I'm not," she smirked and he frowned bemusedly at her, cocking his head.

"Sounds like you were," he muttered.

She nodded and bit her lip nervously. She cupped his cheeks in her large palms and smiled at him warmly. "I have something to tell you but you will have to wait until after my meeting."

Solan grinned, "is it a surprise?!"

Something like that, she thought. "Kind of..." she answered uncertainly. "Go to your room and when I'm finished I will come get you, alright?" he nodded excitedly. "Be good. This won't take long, I promise," she winked and kissed his forehead.

He ran to her desk and grabbed the turban and black veil. He held it out in front of him with a big smile and she took the turban and veil from him, chuckling softly under her breath. "Thank you, I will be needing this," she teased then left the bedroom, ushering her son out of her room and into his down the hallway.

Inside a large sitting room the doors were opened and Xena walked through. She immediately saw the Syrian Sultan smiling at her, also wearing a turban and veil, but he did not cover his face like she did of course.

"Xenophon," the Syrian Sultan bowed his head. "You have a lovely home. I must say I don't know much about Greek culture. I brought some wine for us to share." He motioned to his assistant that held a dark bottle of wine.

Xena eyed the alcohol and shook her head. "No thank you, but that was kind of you." She bowed her head curtly and the Syrian smiled, nodding.

"Of course. We will have coffee then?" he suggested with his charming grin.

Xena groaned inwardly, already frustrated with this man's wit and charming attitude. "I don't really drink coffee, Sidon."

"Please," Sidon smiled and waved his hand at his assistant. "I insist. Unless you prefer to drink something else?"

"Coffee is fine," she replied curtly and sat down in a chair, opposite of the sly sultan. She folded her hands in her lap, staring into his dark almond eyes. "Thank you for coming here to speak with me."

Sidon nodded and his assistant handed him a small cup of coffee then handed another cup to Xena. He eyed the strange Greek emperor. He had never seen such a strange person in his life. A man who hides his face must not be trusted, he thought. Slowly, he sipped the dark coffee and Xena set her glass on the table beside her chair.

"Won't you drink some?" he asked and Xena narrowed her eyes.

"I did not invite you here to drink coffee and eat cake, Sidon," she said firmly and the sultan lowered the cup into his lap. "Let's talk about Persia," she grinned.

Sidon frowned and set the cup on a table, crossing one leg over the other, clearing his throat. "What about Persia?"

"You have a lot of land and it is part of Persia. I want your land," she said and Sidon's eyes grew in shock.

He laughed aloud. "You can't be serious?"

"I'm very serious, Sidon." She tapped her gloved fingers on the chair. "How much do you want for it? I am willing to pay a large amount for it."

The sultan stopped laughing and saw the emperor was quite serious indeed. "A large amount?" he asked and she nodded her head slowly and silently. "What will I get in return if I sell you my land? How can I be sure that you won't attack my kingdom?"

Xena smiled and adjusted the veil on her face. "I will give you half of the money now and the other half when you leave your kingdom. I also want your army and control of all the tariffs. You will be paid if you agree to my conditions. Sound fair?"

He rubbed his chin and chuckled softly. "Two hundred thousand dinars and you can control the tariffs."

"One hundred thousand, tariffs and your army, Sidon. You aren't going to get another offer like this. I am offering to buy your land without invading. If you refuse I will simply keep decreasing the price and cut off all of your food supply into Syria."

Sidon gasped and nodded, leaning back in the chair. He then took a large sip of the hot coffee. "You are very stubborn," he mused. "But I like you. One hundred thousand dinars it is."

"And your army and tariffs," she added, making sure he wasn't reneging on that.

"Of course, Xenophon," he said.

Xena smiled and waved her hand at her men standing guard by the doors. The doors opened and two men carrying a large chest walked in and set it down in between herself and the Syrian Sultan. "Half now, half later, only if you give me complete control of your army and tariffs."

Sidon nodded and she waved her hand to her men to open the large chest filled with dinars. The sultan leaned over in his chair and smiled widely. He was definitely a fool if he didn't take up Xenophon on this offer.

"Alright..." he relented and she smiled and one of her men handed her a two page treaty. She presented the treaty to him and he frowned, taking it from her hand. He already had a treaty written? Very interesting, Sidon thought.

"Sign at the bottom on the second page and your land will belong to me." She pulled out a pen and stretched out her arm with a subtle smirk. "Sign..." she hissed.

Sidon grabbed the pen and pursed his lips. He flipped to the second page and saw her signature at the bottom of the page. Very nice handwriting, he noted. "And what of the Persian Sultan? Will you notify him about this treaty?"

"But of course. Sign it," she pressured him and he quickly inked his name on the bottom of the page and her eyes widened with excitement and satisfaction. He handed over the papers and she smiled, handing over the treaty to one of her men behind her.

"Your cooperation is much appreciated, Sidon," she said and stood from her chair. "I will retire for the evening and the chest is all yours." She smiled and gave a curt nod then walked towards the doors.

Sidon frowned and ran to the doors before she could leave. He blocked the exit and Xena grimaced underneath the veil. "You know Xenophon, in my culture, it is common for women to hide behind a veil...due to their immense beauty..." he smiled sneakily and Xena raised her eyebrow.

"Is that right? You must have very beautiful women in Syria then," she said then tried to evade him and walk out the doors and he blocked her again.

" is very strange to see a man hide his face," he looked into her blue steely eyes.

"I suggest you get out of my way, Sidon," she warned and he smiled, stepping to the side.

"I hope to meet again one day," he bowed his head and the doors were opened and she stormed out of the room. He frowned as he watched the emperor disappear into a long dark hallway and trail up a large staircase.

His assistant came to his side, "your highness, shall we take leave now?"

Sidon folded his arms and looked at the grand staircase. "Yes, yes. Take the chest outside to Dijephon. I would like to send a case of wine to our dear friend, Xenophon when we return to Syria," he smirked.

Xena ran into her room and ripped the veil off her face then burst into the bathroom. She heaved heavily and vomited into the bucket of lukewarm water. She wiped her mouth and leaned onto the wall, closing her eyes, feeling her stomach churning slowly. She slumped down on the wall and ripped the turban off her head and exhaled heavily.

"Mother?" a small soft voice came from the bathroom door and Xena's eyes fluttered open and saw Solan staring at her with a sad frown. "Are you okay?" he asked and she smiled.

She got up off the floor and grabbed his hand, leading him to her bed. She picked him up by his tiny waist and sat him on the large bed. She knelt down, buttoning his gold and burgundy robe. "I told you to wait in your room."

He shrugged his shoulders, "I couldn't wait anymore," he smiled softly. "Are you sure you aren't sick?" he asked again.

She sighed and nodded. "I'm sure." She made a note to make sure to kill Borias later and maybe curse herself too for allowing him to come here in the first place. "I have something very important to tell you." She began and Solan's eyebrows rose.

"Are you going to die?!" he shouted and she chuckled softly.

"No, I'm not going to die. Don't be so dramatic, Solan." She shook her head at his outburst and thought he had a very wild active imagination to jump to such a conclusion, or maybe he had been watching her spar too much with her soldiers.

"Solan," she sighed and kept adjusting his robes, avoiding eye contact. "How...would you feel if you had a little brother or sister?" she lifted her eyes and saw his eyes widen immensely.

"You're having a baby?" he asked and she nodded, afraid he was going to be very upset. "That is so..." he paused and she leaned forward, staring into his uncertain eyes. "Awwwweesome!" he grinned and she raised an eyebrow.

Awesome? She didn't expect him to say that. "Okay..." she mumbled.

"When will it be here?" he asked eagerly and she smirked.

The soldiers looked through several boxes of Xena's files and pulled out the treaties she kept from the last ten years while she was in Thebes. One of the men found a few treaties in a smaller box covered in dust and brushed some of the dust off the papers and saw the Sidon and Xenophon contract.

He stood and shouted, "your highness! I have found the treaty!"

Solan left Dajan's side and ran over to the soldier and snatched the treaty out of his hand. He quickly read through it and flipped to the second page where he saw Sidon's and his mother's signature at the bottom. As he read through it, he couldn't believe that idiot didn't read the treaty or if he did, he obviously didn't know what he was getting into.

He frowned and kept flipping back and forth between pages. He had always known his mother to be fair and reasonable but this treaty was ridiculous. In the second page he saw his mother requested more than the sultan's army and tariffs. She wanted control of all of his territories outside of Syria.

Solan raised his eyebrow and tried to remember that time, it was so long ago, but he did remember one day. His mother came into her room very upset one day, screaming at her adviser at the time in Thebes. She kept talking about a war between Sidon and the then Persian Sultan. She wanted to kill them all in order to obtain all of Persia and she was so determined to do it, even if she couldn't be in the battlefield herself.

He recalled that she sent her entire army to Syria to invade Sidon's kingdom only days before Alexander was born. She stayed behind in Thebes while her army obliterated the Syrian kingdom. He also remembered that quite a few of her servants died from a strange poison days before the army left Thebes. A poison in the wine.

His eyes widened and he wagged the treaty in Dajan's face. "It is Sultan Sidon. He is trying to kill my mother," he whispered.

"Sidon?" the adviser frowned. "He has not been a sultan for a long time."

Solan nodded, "my mother invaded his kingdom and won in a day. He sent poisoned wine to my mother's old palace before, but she didn't drink it. He's trying to kill her!"

Dajan sighed heavily and took the treaty off the boy's hands. "Why would Sidon want to kill her now? Why would he wait seven years?"

Solan folded his arms and clicked his tongue against his cheek. "I have no idea."

After playing Backgammon with Alexander for hours he finally fell asleep on a small sofa in his room. Gabrielle crept out of the room, hoping he'd stay asleep. He was very adorable, but such a handful, she realized. No wonder Xena was always in such a sour mood half the time.

She sneaked out of the bedroom and closed the door quietly.

"Gabrielle," Solan said and she screamed. She turned around, slamming her body against the wall and he smiled. "Did I scare you?"

"Don't do that!" she scolded and heaved, trying to catch her breath.

"Sorry," Solan said sheepishly. "I think I may have found the person who is trying to kill my mother." He waved the signed treaty in his hand and she frowned. "My mother took over Sidon's share of Persia seven years ago, before my brother was born. I think he may be out for revenge or something."

Gabrielle quirked her mouth to the side and folded her arms. "I don't know much about royal treaties and alliances, but why would someone wait so long to attack especially if they don't have any land to their name?"

He sighed. "I don't know! I've been trying to figure that out. I wish my mother could tell me what happened after she invaded Syria. I wish I could remember..." he frowned sadly, lowering his head.

She placed a warm hand on his shoulder. "She'll be alright, Solan," she reassured him with a gentle smile. "I think this Sidon person is working for someone. He isn't alone. Those horse tracks belonged to more than one horse. He had help and whoever he is working for, obviously wants your mother dead."

"Everyone wants her dead, Gabrielle." He stated flatly. "My mother used to get death threats all the time. I can't believe that nobody checked the wine before serving it to her."

She scratched her head and thought that was an interesting piece of information. "Does someone normally do that?"

He nodded. "Yeah, someone always taste the wine and food before its served to her."

She grinned deviously. "And this time they didn't?" she said and his eyes widened, now catching on. "I think you should interrogate the kitchen staff." She suggested. "Sometimes the poison is right in front of your nose and you don't even realize it!"

"You are a genius, Gabrielle!" he grinned widely. "I will tell Dajan. Could stay with my mother in case she wakes up?" he asked.

Oh boy, you want me to stay in the same room as your mother? The person that she doesn't really trust? Great, just great. Why do these things keep happening to me?

"Of course, Solan," she smiled falsely.

Once he left she went into Xena's room, peeking her head behind the large doors. She saw Kara sitting by the bed, patiently or anxiously, waiting for Xena to wake up. Obviously nothing had happened, but it was a lot calmer in here than out there, she thought.

Stepping inside, she closed the door and Kara turned, startled by her appearance. "Hello..." she greeted the young maid. "Solan asked me to watch over the...sultan."

Kara nodded. "I need to go get some fresh linens. I will only be a few minutes," she hastily got up and exited the room.

Oh no, you're leaving me in here, alone?! Great, Gabrielle grumbled, and then glanced over at Xena laying in the bed. It was probably the first time she had seen Xena at peace. When she wasn't talking she was kind of nice to be around, although her interesting games and riddle-talk were amusing at times, albeit a bit scary too.

She took a step closer, fearful that Xena would jolt awake and start yelling at her. No, relax Gabrielle, she's unconscious like she was hours ago. She saw Xena was drenched in her own sweat and her heavy bangs stuck to her wet forehead. She always thought that sweating was a good sign, or maybe it wasn't? She wasn't really sure of anything anymore these days.

"You are so strange," she spoke aloud and cocked her head, gawking at Xena. "Probably the strangest person I've ever met..." she sat down in Kara's chair, leering over the edge of the bed, waiting and watching attentively.

"But you are also very interesting," Gabrielle mused with a small grin on her lips. What am I doing? I'm talking to an unconscious person here. What am I? Insane?

"Gabrielle?" Alexander stood in the doorway, rubbing his sleepy eyes.

Gabrielle panicked and immediately went to the door, blocking his way. "Alexander! What are you doing in here? I thought you were asleep?"

He yawned, "I was but I woke up and you were gone," he frowned sadly and peered behind her, seeing his mother laying in bed. "Can I see mother now?"

She sighed and then grabbed his hand and closed the door. The two walked over to the bed and he peeked over the edge of the bed and saw her body was soaked in her own sweat. He rest his chin on his palms and looked up at Gabrielle.

"What's wrong with her?" he asked sadly.

She sat in the chair again and couldn't believe she was stuck babysitting the sultana's son again! Although, the boy was not stupid, he was very smart and witty, and of course cute, but she didn't want to tell him the truth, at least not the whole truth.

"She's uh...sick," she whispered.

He nodded. "Will she get better?" he looked up at her again.

"Yes, she'll be up and about in no time!" she winked and he grinned happily.

"Where's Solan? I haven't seen him all day," he whined.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and grabbed the boy, setting him on her lap, trying to distract him. "He's been very busy. He's your mother's second in command," she smiled.

Alexander tapped his chin and furrowed his brows. "What does a second in command do? My father told Solan that he is second in command in Ankara too!" he blurted out and Gabrielle's jaw dropped.

"Um, uh, a second in command is someone who is in charge if the ruler can't be in charge. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, I think so." He yawned heavily.

She peered down at the young boy and saw his sleepy eyes. "I think you should go back to bed."

He shook his head. "No, I want to stay here," he whined and yawned again.

"Your mother will still be here tomorrow." She picked him up in his arms and noticed he was incredibly light. He rest his head on her shoulder, slowly falling asleep.

She sighed and walked down the hallway to his bedroom, holding his limp body in her arms.

"Gabrielle!" Solan shouted and she cringed.

"Shh!" she hissed and he shut his mouth, seeing his little brother sleeping soundly in her arms.

"I have an interrogation set up for tomorrow," he whispered and she nodded then let out a long yawn. "I think you should get some sleep. Thank you for helping so much, Gabrielle." He smiled and then picked his brother out of her arms and Alexander muttered in his sleep and rest his head on Solan's shoulder.

Outside the palace the physician whom took care of Xena walked down the dark streets to his home. A group of men cornered him and put a black bag over his head and drug him off into a narrow street off in a secluded area of the city.

He grunted and moaned then was pushed down onto the ground face forward. He breathed heavily and then he was hoisted up to his knees and the bag was ripped off of his head. The frightened physician stared up at a man wearing all black and a matching turban. The dark clothed man glared at the doctor, creasing his thick dark eyebrows.

"You are the sultan's physician, are you not?" the man asked and the doctor nodded his head vigorously.

"Are you Saracens?" the physician eyed all of the dark clothed men surrounding him.

The man smiled and took out his sword, pointing it at the doctor's throat. "You Hebrews and your labels," he chuckled, staring into the doctor's eyes. "You gave Xenophon the antidote didn't you?" he hissed and pressed the blade against the doctor's throat.

"Yes!" he shouted.

The man chuckled under his breath. "Which means you saw the sultan's face, right?" he pried and the doctor lowered his eyes. "What does the leper look like? Is he hideous?"

"No..." the doctor mumbled.

The man sighed heavily. "You know, I have a hunch that the sultan is not who he says he is. Is there anything strange about the sultan?" he tilted the doctor's chin upward, looking at the terror written all over his face.

"I was sworn not to tell anyone...please, the sultan will cut out my tongue!" he begged, tears in his eyes, fearful of his death either by this Saracen or the sultan.

"You know what, how 'bout you keep your tongue and I rip out your heart instead?" the man threatened and cut the doctor's throat gently and slowly. "I'm waiting..." he smiled wickedly and the doctor moaned in agony as the sword glided against his skin.

"The sultan is a woman!" the doctor shouted and the man immediately pulled his sword away.

"Oh really?" he smiled and sheathed his sword. "What a great help you've been, doctor." He nodded at his comrades. "Take him away."

The doctor panicked and the bag was thrown over his head again. "No! Please!" he begged.

"A woman..." he rubbed his chin. "This should have been so obvious so long ago. Hiding her face from others, impersonating a man. The Templar Knights will be very intrigued to hear this." He smiled.

Chapter Text

AN: a lot going on in this chapter and it leaves you wondering who to trust and count on. Good luck to all ;)

Chapter 13 –The Red Wine Sea

A Few Days Earlier

Borias mounted his horse to meet with the Mongolian Golden Horde in Antioch, a day's ride from Ankara. Osman's men along with Xena's men were behind Borias as they trotted into the open fields, leaving the campgrounds. They were going to have to ride through the city of Ankara and the barren desert of Konya to get out of the area. Although, the ride was not long, getting there was difficult due to the large mountains in between all of the smaller cities leading to Antioch.

Before they even made it out of the campgrounds Borias looked around and saw hundreds of Templar Knights in the field, surrounding them. "What is this..." he growled and yanked on the reins of the horse and rode back into the campgrounds.

Osman was outside talking with one of his advisers and saw Borias riding straight for him. He shooed his men away and frowned at his commander. "I thought you were leaving, Borias?"

"We are surrounded by Templars!" he yelled and the horse skid to a abrupt stop in the soil.

The chieftain walked forward and saw all of the knights surrounding every exit possible out of this city. Nobody was leaving that was for sure. He folded his arms and raised a suspicious eyebrow. "This is a problem. Subutai is expecting you in Antioch tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps we shall find out why they are blockading us?" he suggested.

Borias rolled his eyes and rode off without speaking to his chieftain. He wants answers, fine, I will find out what these Templars want.

Belach walked towards his parents' yurt and then spotted Osman. He immediately turned around and headed back to his own yurt, trying to avoid him as much as possible, but it was too late. Osman frowned upon seeing the young teenager.

"Belach!" he called out and the son of Borias cringed, then slowly turned around. "Where were you heading?"

"To talk to my mother," he answered curtly.

"I see," Osman eyed the nervousness in the boy's dark eyes. "You should know that I sent my niece to live with my sister in Masada."

Belach gasped and ran to the chief. "But that is in Persia! You sent her to live in my stepmother's empire, are you mad?" he frowned deeply and Osman grabbed his shoulder firmly.

"Masada is a day's ride from Jerusalem, Belach. I highly doubt Xena would notice a girl that means nothing to her, living in her vast empire. You have such hate for her, don't you?" Osman chuckled softly.

"You don't know her very well," Belach grimaced. "She's evil incarnate."

Osman smiled and released the teenager. "I have known Xena for a long time and she is not evil, Belach. You may think she is because of what role she plays in your life. She wouldn't dare harm you, despite her distaste for your mother."

"She tried to break my arm when she was here last!" he shouted.

The chief frowned, glaring at the arrogance in this boy. He was definitely not fit to rule over the tribes of Anatolia yet, or maybe never if he kept up this awful attitude. "Perhaps you deserved that for whatever you did, Belach. It would be more beneficial for you to get on Xena's good side. Maybe one day you will understand that. She has helped you more than you know." He turned and walked off.

Is he serious? I would never accept help from that woman, my father's whore. She rules an entire empire while everyone here is stuck in Anatolia, ruling over hundreds of tribes, constantly at Xena's beck and call. The only thing she has done is make my life more miserable.

He marched into his parents' yurt and saw his mother sitting on the floor, sewing a patch onto one of her long dresses. She glanced up and ignored his presence, continuing to sew in silence.

"Mother, you can't let father give my position to Solan. He is a kid, he doesn't know how to rule a nation," he began.

Natassa sighed heavily and bit off the thread and tied a knot at the hem. "It is not my decision, Belach. Your father gave your position to Solan because he believes you are not ready for such a big responsibility."

"But he is only thirteen! I am three years older than he is! I am stronger and better at everything than him!"

"Your combat skills say otherwise. Perhaps if you spent more time training like Solan, instead of jumping into bed with the chief's niece, then maybe you would still have your role as second in command." She stood and folded up her dress and set it inside a chest filled with her other clothes.

He scoffed and rolled his eyes then rubbed his sparse beard. "But it is not fair. Solan always gets special treatment because of who his mother is. Xena makes sure father puts her bastard sons before me."

"Belach," she sighed, "Solan and Alexander are no longer living here. They will not be coming back here and yet you are still jealous of them."

His eyes widened. "And you aren't?! You hate Solan and Alexander, yet they are told by their mother to respect you and you go along with Xena's little game?" he rolled his eyes, thinking that his mother had gone too soft. She took care of Alexander when he lived here and never complained, and even though Solan was old enough to take care of himself, she was always nice to him in public.

Natassa loved her son dearly, but she was beginning to realize what a scoundrel he really was. He didn't act like this when he was only a few years younger. He continued to defy her and Borias, simply because he thought that he was better than Xena's sons. She began to realize that Belach's attitude was causing a lot of chaos around here and that was one of the reasons why Xena took her sons back with her, although, she didn't mind that those boys were no longer living in Ankara, but it was because of her own son that was the cause of Solan's and Alexander's departure.

"I don't play games with Xena. She and I do not get along for obvious reasons, but I do not succumb to her manipulative ways. Don't talk to me like that again," she warned and squinted her eyes, glaring up at her son.

He huffed and lowered his eyes then she walked back to the sitting area and began mindlessly organizing some bottles and cooking pans. Frowning, he lifted his head and glared at his mother. "Osman said that Xena has done more things for me than I know. Do you know anything about that?"

Natassa's eyes widened and she set the pans down silently. "Why would he tell you that?"

"He said I should be nice to Xena. Why would he say something like that, mother?" he pried, crossing his arms. Her lack of response only made him more suspicious. "Is there something I should know?"

She frowned and stood slowly, turning to her son and saw his uncertain eyes. "Do you remember when your father sent you to that academy in Edessa when you were eleven?" she asked and he nodded. "After we moved from Persia to Anatolia, our funds were extremely low. Your father suggested to me to send you to an academy for two years where you could live with other boys your age and learn how to write and read."

Belach didn't like where this was going and he felt his blood boiling already. He kept listening to his mother tell this awful story, which was supposed to be one of the good times in life, he felt it was about to turn into something he hated.

"We did not have enough funds to send you for two years so," she exhaled heavily then continued, "Xena offered to pay for your schooling, clothing and food in Edessa."

He laughed aloud and couldn't believe what his mother just told him. His stepmother offered to pay for his school? Is she serious right now? What an incredible lie. As if Xena would ever do anything nice for me, he thought.

"That's a nice joke, mother."

Natassa frowned and folded her arms. "It's not a joke."

His smile disappeared as soon as he saw his mother was quite serious. "But that school was over one hundred thousand dinars per year! Do you mean to tell me that Xena paid for that out of the kindness of her heart?" he spat and his mother narrowed her eyebrows. "I can't believe this!" he groaned and stormed out.

"We are surrounded because Xena refuses to surrender to the Pope," Borias explained and Osman nodded his head slowly. "They are not going to let us through as long as Xena keeps defying them."

Osman frowned at Borias. "Then you need to convince her otherwise." He said and Borias laughed. "This is not funny!"

"I know," Borias grinned, "you can't convince Xena to do anything, Osman. Haven't you figured that out already?" he sneered and the chief rolled his eyes.

Belach smiled, listening to his father and uncle talking. He ran over to them both with a beaming smile. "I can go talk to Xena, father."

"Ha!" Osman yelped and Borias couldn't help but continue laughing, meanwhile Belach frowned deeply, not thrilled that these two didn't trust him.

"Why not? You both need to stay here. I can talk to Xena on your behalf. It will give me a chance to prove to you that I am capable of holding my own. What do you say?" he raised his eyebrows, eyeing his father intensely.

"You are insane," Borias creased his eyebrows, glaring at his haughty son.

Belach smirked, copying his father's stance. "So is she. What do you say? Can I go?"

Osman scoffed, "what makes you think Xena is going to take you seriously, child?" he snickered. "She is more than just a simple stepmother to you, Belach. She is a ruler of a huge empire. I highly doubt she is going to listen to you."

"I can be very persuasive. I can take a group of your men with me through the mountains. If I say that I am serving on your behalf then she has to listen to me, right?" he smiled sneakily.

Borias shook his head, thinking this was a very bad idea. Obviously, his son was trying to prove that he wasn't just a sore in his eye, especially as of late. "You need to be on your best behavior."

"Does this mean that I can go?" Belach's eyes grew with sheer excitement.

His father nodded. "Yes, but Belach," he grabbed his son's shoulder. "Don't play games with Xena. You will lose."

"Of course not, father," Belach smiled.

"I mean it. Don't." Borias warned and his son nodded his head, anxious to leave already.

Alexander walked to the girls' room and knocked on the door. Joan opened the door and peered down to see the little prince, covering his eyes. She chuckled, a bit amused at this boy, and he asked, "are you ladies dressed?"

"Yes," she answered and he exhaled deeply then uncovered his eyes. "What can I do for you, Alexander?" she asked with a big smile.

"My brother is asking for Gabrielle," he said and she nodded then called out for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle walked sleepily over to the door and Joan left. She yawned and saw Alexander peering up at her with a cheeky grin. "Solan wants to see me?"

He nodded. "Yes, it's very important, if you know what I mean..." his eyes widened and she sighed. That only meant it had something to do with Xena of course, she thought.

They both walked over to Xena's room and found Solan leaning on the wall, tapping a dagger against his palms. Solan lifted his head and smiled once he saw Gabrielle coming towards him with his kid brother. "Gabrielle, thanks for coming. I know it's early."

"It's alright..." I don't need sleep anyway. Who needs sleep? "What's the problem now?"

He sighed, "Kara needs to go to the apothecary in the market to get some herbs for my mother. I want you to watch her while she's away. Can you do that?"

Gabrielle frowned and couldn't believe she was going from babysitting Xena's son to babysitting Xena herself. This is going to be great. Had it only been a day since this happened? Why yes, yes it has. "Sure, of course," she answered with a fake smile.

She opened the door and Alexander was following behind her until Solan grabbed his arm.

"Hey!" the little prince cried.

"Nice try, little brother," Solan teased. "You will be spending the day with Sarsa," he marched his brother down the hall.

Alexander gasped. "Oh no! Kara's sister?! She's mean!" he tried to wriggle his way out but Solan held his hand firmly. "Come on, Solan! Can't I spend the day with you? I promise I'll be really quiet!"

"Nope." Solan smiled, enjoying this. "Sarsa is nice, Alexander. You just don't like her because she doesn't let you get into any trouble."

"She tied me to a chair last time!" Alexander whined and grunted, trying to pull himself free. "Please, Solan, don't do this..."

"Don't be so dramatic, Alexander. Everything is going to be fine! You'll have a great time!" he snorted and his brother whined loudly.

"I hate you."

Solan smiled, "I love you too."

Gabrielle sat beside Xena's bed and thought she looked a lot better, less sweaty she noticed. Although there were dark circles underneath her eyes and her face was incredibly pale. In fact, she looked dead. Frowning, she leaned in closer and brushed a single strand of hair away from the sultana's cheek.

"I'm sorry this happened to you, Xena," she whispered, shaking her head. Obviously, there were so many enemies that wanted Xena dead and they were willing to do everything in their power to get rid of her. A simple poison in her wine was enough to kill her, though Gabrielle had faith that Xena was going to die, at least not yet. She was definitely stronger than that.

Staring at Xena unconscious in her bed just made Gabrielle think that Xena was human. She was vulnerable too, just like everyone else. Xena was like everyone else, despite her secrecy, she was a person. Gabrielle sometimes forgot that Xena was a person, part of that was because she thought Xena was very weird, yet fascinating at the same time.

She always thought that Xena or Xenophon, was a horrible ruler and cruel to her people. But, now, she guessed everyone outside these palace thoughts that. At the moment, every single person in this palace was trying their best to protect the palace and city from outside sources. Xena had a lot of people that cared for her. They didn't show their allegiance through fear, but through loyalty and trust.

"I see, Xena. You like people you can trust and you can't trust me because I lied to you many times. I lied to you because I wanted to know more about you and now I'm stuck here –yet not a slave nor a servant –but a servant to your will. I need to gain your trust, but how? I have helped you before and you thanked me but it wasn't enough because I thought I could outsmart you and I was wrong. I am helping you now and you can't even see it. This is just great." She sighed heavily.

"One day you will trust me, Xena," Gabrielle whispered with a small smile. "Or I hope you will. Sometimes, it's just...I can get carried away and say things without thinking, but I guess you already know that..." she sighed. This was getting nowhere.

She turned and spotted the huge parchment of the battle plans on the floor. She left Xena's side and peered down at the map. Quirking her mouth to the side she knelt down and flipped the map over onto the blank side and ran to the desk to retrieve the long pen.

She smiled and sat on the floor, drawing the boundaries of Anatolia, the Roman Empire, and the Greco-Persian Empire. She frowned, making sure the lines were perfect then wrote down the major cities in each empire –Rome, Ankara, Thebes and Jerusalem. It was a very weird love triangle, she thought.

"A triangle..." she tapped her chin with the pen. "Yes, of course!" she exclaimed and drew a giant triangle, the point at Ankara, the other on Rome and Jerusalem. She connected the dots of the three main cities. The most important cities in this giant chaotic mess.

She circled Jerusalem several times and realized this city was the problem of everything. She turned and drew the Mongolian Empire controlled by Genghis Khan. Those Mongols took over everything in such a short amount of time and they wanted Jerusalem too, in fact they wanted Persia entirely, but so did the Templars.

Gabrielle frowned. "Templars...Mongols...Anatolians." she sighed heavily, not making the connection here. She wrote down the city, Damascus, in Syria and circled the city. "Sidon..." she recalled the Syrian that Solan mentioned to her yesterday.

"Damascus, Jerusalem, Ankara...all important cities, of course, but why? Who are you Sidon? Who are you working for?" she muttered to herself. "Why did you invade Syria, Xena? What was your purpose? And why is Sidon after you now? You must have done something..." she groaned. "But what?!" she shouted.

Xena's eyes fluttered open and she frowned, hearing Gabrielle muttering to herself. She sat up slowly, narrowing her eyes as she watched Gabrielle writing on the map. Unconscious I may have been, and so I have heard everything you said.

"Clever girl," Xena said in a sickly voice.

Gabrielle froze and her eyes widened, staring at the wall in front of her. She didn't expect to hear Xena's voice and hoped that it was just her imagination. She dare not turn around so she could believe that this was all a horrible dream, a figment of her vivid imagination. Yes, that's it, she tried convincing herself.

"You know my name," Xena said and Gabrielle closed her eyes. No definitely not a dream, she said to herself.

"Trying to get into my head, are you?" she kept talking and the blonde didn't move an inch. Probably too afraid, Xena thought. "Lost your tongue, Gabrielle? You were talking up a storm earlier. Why stop now? You're on a roll." She teased.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and set the pen down on the parchment slowly. This is not happening. Xena is not unconscious, which meant she heard everything I said! How embarrassing...

"Come now, Gabrielle, you must tell me how I should trust you?" she smiled and Gabrielle turned around to see her sitting in her bed, glaring intently.

"I...didn't know you could hear me..." Gabrielle said under her breath.

Xena kept smiling and pat the empty seat next to her bed. "Sit," she ordered and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around herself. "Sit down!" she yelled in her hoarse voice.

The nervous blonde slowly walked over and sat down on the empty chair, avoiding eye contact with her at all costs. Not only was this embarrassing, it was nerve-racking! Xena heard everything. I'm so stupid.

Xena eyed her trainee and saw her cheeks were crimson flushed. "You believe you are a servant of my will? What is that supposed to mean?"

Gabrielle creased her eyebrows and shook her head, refusing to answer.

"Gabrielle, you don't need to be shy around me. You practically poured your heart out to me! I should be so flattered," she hummed and reached over and her hand touched Gabrielle's knee. She noticed that the blonde flinched at her touch. "It has been a long time since someone has shown such flattery towards me, especially someone who is not sharing my bed."

Excuse me? Gabrielle's eyes grew in fear and shock at the same time. She felt heat radiating off her cheeks by the second, especially since she felt Xena's hand on her knee. Why are you touching me? Why?

"You are trying so hard to convince me to like you..." she leaned over the bed and Gabrielle snapped her head around, eyes growing in terror. "Some people have yet to learn that they can't make me do anything." She saw the fear in the girl's eyes and backed away. "You don't have to convince me, Gabrielle. I like you."

Gabrielle felt a bit relieved but then became suspicious. Is this another one of her games? "You do?"

Xena nodded. "I liked you the first time I saw you," she smiled softly and coughed. She felt her chest burning and placed her hand over her heart. "You were the only girl that talked back to me." She cleared her throat and reached for the glass of water beside her bed.

She likes me? Is this a joke? Xena doesn't joke, right? "But I thought you hated me. You –you were so –"

"Hard on you?" Xena swallowed the water, feeling much better already. "I am hard on you because I see a lot of potential in you, Gabrielle. The other girls are fine, yes, they don't give me trouble, not like you," she winked and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip. "I like challenges, Gabrielle. You are my challenge."

And you're mine, you strange woman. Gabrielle chewed her lip anxiously and folded her arms, noticing Xena kept staring at her odd mannerisms. "I still don't understand you."

Xena chuckled lightly. "Many people don't. Do not feel left out." She sighed heavily and ran her hand across her stomach, feeling so nauseous. "Now..." she began, grabbing the blonde's attention. "Where is that rat, Sidon?" she narrowed her eyes.

Oh she knows. Of course she knows, she's Xena. "We're working on it..." she smiled nervously.

"We?" Xena growled and then leaned over the bed and vomited in the bucket. Gabrielle cringed and scooted away from the bed, wiping her pants gingerly with her fingers. Xena spat in the bucket and wiped her mouth with the backside of her hand. She let out a large exhale and lolled her head on the pillows, closing her eyes.

"I have not...felt this sick since I was pregnant with Alexander," she grumbled and Gabrielle crinkled her nose. She turned to her trainee. "Who is 'we'?" she frowned deeply.

Dajan barged into Xena's office where Solan was conducting the interrogation of the kitchen staff. Solan lifted his eyes as he was in the middle of writing. "Your highness, someone is here to see you."

Solan groaned and looked at the frightened woman. "You can go now, Emira," he said and the young servant quickly left the room. "Who is it?"

The adviser smiled deliciously. "Oh I think you should come see for yourself. He is waiting in the north wing."

Solan raised his eyebrow then stormed out of his mother's office and head to the north wing where the entrance was. He walked through the open hallway where he could see outside the palace walls. He saw someone with long dark hair standing by the open archways and then the person turned.

His blood boiled. "What are YOU doing here?!" Solan growled, marching up to his elder brother.

Belach smiled. "Hello, little brother. I have come to see your mother. Is she busy at the moment?"

"Who sent you? Why are you trying to talk to my mother?" Solan pushed his brother and Belach kept smiling.

"Hey, hey. I come in peace!" he brushed his dark vest and ruffled his long dark hair. "Now, where's your mother? I have some business to discuss with her."

Solan scoffed. "Right. Like I would ever let you talk to her! It's not like she'd listen to you anyway." He folded his arms.

Belach frowned and copied his brother, staring into his blue eyes. "I'm not here to argue with you. I'm here representing Osman. Where is she? I am not going to ask again."

"She's...not available to talk right now," Solan tried to stall his elder brother, but then he realized something. "Why are you here anyway?"

Belach rolled his eyes. "I told you, I'm representing Osman. It's a political thing, something you wouldn't understand. Now, I really need to speak to your mother, could you go tell her that I'm here?" he frowned deeply. He saw that his brother wasn't willing to go get his wretched mother. "Solan, I'm not in the mood for this shit. Where is she?!"

Solan smiled nervously and began backing away slowly. "Could you...wait here for a few minutes?" he asked then ran off. Belach raised his eyebrow and shook his head at his brother.

"So you know for sure that Sidon poisoned the wine?" Gabrielle asked, sitting in the chair beside the bed.

Xena nodded. "Yes. He's done it before when I lived in Thebes. He sent the wine as a gift a few days before I invaded his country. I didn't drink it because I was pregnant, but several of my servants bit the dust." She groaned and felt nauseous again, she cringed. "What I don't understand is why he decided to attack me now?"

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "We're been trying to figure that out, but we needed you to help us."

"Who is this we? I sure hope you aren't talking about Solan..." she frowned and Gabrielle smiled nervously. "I'm going to kill him."

" were the one who put him in second in command if you weren't available..." Gabrielle said and saw the sultana give her a terrible glare, something she didn't want to see.

Xena remembered that she did write that in her declaration as sultan, but it wasn't supposed to be implemented until he was a little bit older. She suddenly feared the worst when she thought of her teenage son taking over the palace and military. How long have I been knocked out?

"Is it chaotic out there, Gabrielle?" she whispered.

Gabrielle smiled, "no, he's doing a great job. I can't believe that he is also second in command in Ankara too!" she blurted out and Xena's eyes widened with fury and slowly turned her head towards her. Gabrielle's smile dissipated and realized she made a mistake, a terrible mistake.

"What did you just say?" Xena hissed and rose from the pillows.

Solan entered his mother's room and saw she was wide awake. Happy to see that he smiled brightly. "Mother, you're okay!"

Xena threw the blankets off of her and swung her legs on the edge of the bed. She slowly stood and held onto the wall, barely able to keep her balance standing up. "And you're in trouble."

His mouth gaped. "Huh?"

She gripped the bed post and Gabrielle stood up to help her. "Don't touch me!" she growled and Solan didn't like that tone of voice. He had heard that many times, too many times. "Solan...when were you going to tell me that your father gave you the position of second in command?!"

Solan blinked rapidly and he stuttered, "um, uh, wh –what are you talking about?" he feigned surprise, though now he was scared for his life.

"You are lying to me..." she gave a big eerie smile and let go of the bed post, slowly walking toward her son and his eyes slowly lifted, staring up at her. "Solan!" she gripped his arm tightly and he winced.

"Mother, stop! I was going to tell you, honest!" he pleaded and her grip tightened. "Let go of me!" he grunted and pushed her away. Xena gasped and then he slowly backed away. "I'm sorry," he quickly apologized. "It's just you never listen to anything I say! I'm so tired of you treating me like a little kid, mother. I'm not Alexander's age anymore. I'm sorry."

Xena felt her head throb and she hissed, shutting her eyes and then felt nauseous again. She leaned on a chair. She opened her eyes and saw her vision was extremely blurry again and her hearing muffled. Slowly she turned her head and saw Solan talking to her and she frowned, trying to make out what he was saying.

Belach stormed into the bedroom thanks to Alexander's help. "I got tired of waiting!" he said and Solan swiftly spun around and grimaced at his brother.

Xena shook her head and then vomited all over the rug beneath her. Gabrielle slapped her forehead and sighed heavily. Belach crinkled his nose and saw Xena barely able to stand up on her own. "Is she pregnant again?" he asked.

"Get out of here!" Solan demanded and marched over to his brother, pushing him back outside the room. "You can't just come into her room!" he yelled aloud.

Belach scoffed. "Well, you were taking too long, brother. What's up with her?"

"None of your business and why do you care?"

"Because I came here to talk to your mother," Belach said through a tight lipped smile. "Now, what the hell is wrong with her?"

"Nothing!" Solan pushed his brother and Belach laughed.

"You don't want to do this," Belach warned and shoved his younger brother backward. "Why don't you go back in there and help your mother like the good little boy you are?" he teased and winked mockingly at him.

Solan snarled and shoved his brother into the wall and he bumped into a large vase. Belach blew some of his long hair out of his face and grunted, brushing some dust off of his vest.

Gabrielle tried to help Xena off the floor and heard a lot of yelling outside in the hallway and something crash. That can't be good, she thought. Xena shook her head and grabbed the chair, hoisting herself up.

"um, I think you should get back into bed..." she suggested and Xena's lip quivered.

Xena hung to the chair and then the wall, making her way over to her sword hanging on the wall. She yanked it off the wall and tread to the door. Gabrielle began silently praying to herself that Xena wasn't going to do something stupid.

Gabrielle ran to the exit and sprawled her arms over the wooden doors. "I don't think you should go out there!"

"Get out of my way!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle and tossed her aside.

Penelope and Astremia came out of their room and saw two teenage boys fighting, one being Solan and the other they had no idea. Penelope frowned and saw the boys shoving each other against the wall and destroying everything in sight.

"What is the prince doing?!" Astremia asked as she watched the two fight.

"I don't know but he definitely gave that guy a bloody nose," Penelope cringed as she watched Solan pull out a large sword and swing at his opponent. "For a kid he sure knows how to fight."

"Yeah definitely better than you," Astremia teased. The two girls then saw someone come out of the sultan's room and it definitely wasn't a man. It was a woman. Astremia frowned and nudged her friend. "Who is that?"

Penelope poked her head around the large pillar and saw a woman with dark long hair come out of the sultan's room and with..."Gabrielle? What the hell is she doing in there?"

Xena saw Solan and Belach sword fighting with one another and growled. She thrust her sword down in between them and she knocked both blades out their hands. "Enough!" she shouted and both boys widened their eyes.

She grabbed her son's arm and tossed him aside. "Go to my room," she said lowly and Solan frowned.

"But mother!" he protested and she pointed the sword at her room.

"I said, go!" she shouted and he grumbled then walked into her room alone. She turned to Belach, "and you..." she smiled and walked over to him slowly. She shoved him against the nearby wall and pinned his arms. "You touch Solan again I will break your arm...for real this time," she raised her eyebrows. "You got that?" she hissed and he nodded.

"That's the prince's mother?" Penelope whispered.

Astremia shrugged. "I think so, but I've never seen her before?"

"I think...the sultan and the prince's mother are one in the same..." Penelope whispered back and Astremia's eyes grew in shock.

Xena breathed heavily and Belach stared into her eyes anxiously waiting for her to back away now. She hung onto his shoulders and dropped her sword, collapsing onto the floor. Belach groaned and grabbed onto her arms before she face planted onto the marble.

Gabrielle covered her mouth and panicked. "Get her back inside!" she told him.

Belach grunted and lifted Xena up and carried her back into the bedroom. Gabrielle scratched her head nervously and turned to see Penelope and Astremia gawking at them. Oh no, she thought, they must have seen everything. For now, she needed to go back inside and explain later.

Solan saw his elder brother set his mother down on the bed gently and scowled. The sight of him even touching his mother was sickening and made his stomach churn. Belach leered over her and her head lolled over on the pillows.

Belach frowned sadly at his stepmother and felt bad seeing her like this. He had always seen her so boisterous and feisty. "What happened to her?"

"Do you actually care?" Solan rolled his eyes.

"Just tell me what happened Solan. You don't see me killing your mother do you?" Belach said and Solan shrugged a shoulder.

"I think the previous sultan of Syria, Sidon, poisoned her wine yesterday."

Belach nodded and peered down at his stepmother and didn't like to see her like this, despite his hard feelings towards her his entire life. After what his own mother told him what Xena did for him he felt sort of horrible for treating her so badly and thinking terribly about her. He wondered why Xena would do something so nice for him even when he was awful to her when he was a kid and now a teenager.

"Seems like everyone wants a piece of your mother," he said and Solan nodded silently. "I came here to ask her to surrender to the Templar Knights. They're blockading Ankara so father can't leave to meet Subutai."

Solan frowned, "Subutai? The Mongol commander for Genghis Khan?" he verified. "Mother will never agree to that and since when did father and Osman ally with the Khan?"

Belach smirked. "Awhile ago. Is there any way I can help Xena?"

"Why are you being so nice all of a sudden? Don't you hate her guts as much as you hate mine and Alexander's?"

"Solan..." Belach smiled deviously and wrapped his arm around his brother, bringing him close. "Why are you so suspicious of me? I want to help. Despite my hatred for your mother, I don't want her to die. That would be very...cruel of me."

"Sounds like you, but your behavior is weird. I don't like it!" Solan grumbled and pried his brother's arm off of him.

Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Hey you two, can we focus on the bigger picture here? Xena is very sick and we need to do something!"

Solan agreed. "She's right. Do you really want to help, Belach?"

His brother nodded his head. "Yes, I really do."

"Okay, go take my mother's men and scout the city. Look for suspicious behavior and come back if you find anything."

"What am I going to tell father? I'm supposed to come back and give him Xena's decision. How can I do that if she's passed out?!" he groaned and looked over at Xena, whom was still knocked out.

Solan smiled cheekily and looked over at Gabrielle.

"What?" she saw that strange look in Solan's eyes and it reminded her of his mother, a little too much.

An hour later Gabrielle finished writing a letter to Borias. She immediately regretted doing this for Solan and his brother. She felt like this family was really strange, just like Xena was. She was beginning to understand why Xena was such a sour lemon all the time. She had to deal with her stepson and both of her own sons and her sons' father too? This is ridiculous.

"So, what do you think?" she asked and Solan read over the letter.

"It's perfect! You're an amazing writer, Gabrielle," he smiled and set the letter down on the desk. "Now, sign her name."

Gabrielle gasped. "What?!" she shook her head and slammed the pen down on the desk. "No way! I am not forging Xena's signature! She'll kill me!"

Solan grinned and pushed the pen towards Gabrielle's hand. "Come on Gabrielle, this is a dire situation! You can blame it on me..." he pressured her and she slapped her forehead with her palm.

"Solan, you don't understand what your mother is going to do to me. She doesn't trust me! Now after this, she's really not going to trust me! I am not doing this!"

"Gabrielle, this is really important! Since my mother is not able to rule her empire that means I am in charge so –"

Belach frowned, "excuse me?! She put you in second in command of her entire empire?! And father did the same thing in Ankara? This is insane!"

"Shut up," Solan turned to Gabrielle with one of his cheeky smiles again. "Please, Gabrielle. I can't do it! Your handwriting is so much better than mine." He held the pen in his hand and waved it in her face. "Please, Gabrielle?" he begged.

Xena is going to kill me. I should start digging my grave right now. Hopefully she doesn't wake up anytime soon. Gabrielle sighed and snatched the pen from the prince and signed regrettably signed Xena's name at the bottom of the letter. She immediately thought this was a terrible idea and she was definitely going to die, but Xena doesn't kill women, but maybe she'll make an exception?

Belach kept shaking his head watching Solan fold up the letter and stamp it with Xena's royal seal. "You are going to be in so much trouble when she finds out what you've done."

"I'm already in trouble," Solan said and smiled looking at the letter.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and buried her face in her hands. She felt like this was going to be the worst decision. This is borderline treason, she thought.

"So, when do I go scout the city?" Belach asked with a bit of mirth in his eyes, eager to get to the mission at hand.

Gabrielle stepped out of the room to get some air. She was trying to wrap her head around everything that happened. Not only was she brutally humiliated by Xena because of what she said, but then she accidentally mentioned something that she probably shouldn't have about Solan. She gathered that Xena had no idea what she was talking about and she cursed herself for saying what she did. That's the last time I trust a seven year old, she reminded herself.

As she strolled down the hallway, rubbing her temples to soothe her throbbing headache she spotted Penelope and Astremia glaring at her outside the room. Oh no, not right now, not today. I don't need this interrogation.

She quickly turned and evaded the two gawking girls, hoping they wouldn't bother her.

"Gabrielle!" Penelope yelled and the blonde groaned.

"What is it?!" she spat back.

The two tall girls approached her with curious expressions. "Who was that woman? The sultan's wife?"

"Or perhaps concubine?" Astremia inquired.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and turned back around to leave. "I don't really have the time or energy to discuss this with you two right now."

Penelope sneered and called out, "or maybe the woman is the sultan herself, huh?!"

Gabrielle stopped dead in her tracks and exhaled heavily. This is not happening to me right now. Why am I always caught in the middle of all these things? Why me? Xena is definitely going to kill me now.

She turned back around and grabbed both of their arms, pulling them aside in a separate hallway. She looked around to see if anyone was listening or passing by. Glaring into their eyes she whispered, "you can't say anything. I'm already in enough trouble as it is!"

Penelope smirked, folding her arms. "No wonder you are always with the sultan, or should I say sultana? Now, I'm curious as to why the sultana would reveal herself to you Gabrielle. I'm beginning to wonder if you really are the sultana's sex slave. Does she swing both ways or...?"

Oh my god. "NO!" Gabrielle rubbed her cheeks roughly. "It's not like that, at all. Stop saying stuff like that before she hears you. She knows everything, Penelope. You shouldn't underestimate her."

"I thought the sultan was weird, but now that we know the sultan is a woman –wow, that's new and yet...even more weird than before." Astremia frowned, suddenly realizing that what she said sounded so much better in her head.

Gabrielle shook her head, "whatever." She sighed and continued, "listen, you can't tell anyone. Please, I'm begging you. If she finds out that you two know she will be furious."

Astremia and Penelope shared a glance and smiled, turning to their comrade. "Sure, Gabrielle, we won't tell anyone," Astremia said.

"Lips are sealed," Penelope added.

Gabrielle released a sigh of relief. "Thank you," she shook both of their shoulders. "Don't tell anyone, got it?"

"We got it," Astremia said flatly.

Gabrielle nodded then left the hallway and walked out of the west wing by herself. Penelope frowned and grasped her friend's arm.

"This is insane! I can't believe the sultan is actually a woman. That explains why she always hides her face! Wow," she frowned deeply and tapped her cheek.

Astremia peeked her head from behind the wall and looked at the sultana's room. "Did you get a good look at her face?"

"Not really, did you?"

Astremia shook her head.

"I sure got a good look," Belach whispered behind them and both girls yelped, scared half to death. He smiled sweetly at them both, raising his eyebrow. "You two ladies talking about something?"

Astremia caught her breath and frowned at the dark haired teenager. "Who are you?"

He walked around, eyeing the girl from head to toe. "The sultan's stepson. Who are you?"

"She has a lot of kids," Penelope whispered and Astremia snickered.

Belach frowned and pulled out his sword then pointed it at both girls. They quickly shut their mouths and backed up against the wall. "You know about the sultan, don't you?"

"We won't tell anybody, we promise," Astremia said.

He nodded and saw the imminent fear in both of their eyes. He stepped closer to them both and tapped his blade against their shoulders one at a time. He suddenly got an idea and retracted his sword. "How would you two ladies like to help me out?" he smiled charmingly.

The girls raised their eyebrows and looked at each other, unsure whether to trust this boy.

"I have to go scout the city per request of my brother. Care to join me?" his smiled widened and the girls frowned. "Unless you want to face my stepmother's wrath, which I promise you, you don't want to see that."

Penelope and Astremia shook their heads and stared widely at the young brunette teenage boy.

"Wise choice. Follow me!" he sheathed his sword and whistled as he sauntered down the hallway.

Joseph was busy instructing his master's men to scout the area of Masada and make sure nobody came in the area. Gregory wanted to make sure that this area was off limits and didn't trust Xenophon's men at all. The sultan's men were not only great warriors, but Gregory knew for a fact that the sultan had highly trained assassins as well.

Once the men were on their horses they left the area and Joseph frowned, hearing loud horse hooves stampeding towards the campgrounds. "Saracens," he grumbled. His master thought it was a good idea to hire the Saracens to spy on Xenophon and the two parties made a deal with one another. The Saracens help the Templar Knights and the Church and they were allowed to stay in Egypt and Tunis without converting to the Church.

"Joseph," the Saracen said once he hopped off his horse and took the veil off of his face to reveal a big smile.

"Sidon," the Templar growled, not exactly happy to see the ex-sultan of the old Persian Empire.

Gregory smiled and approached Sidon and his second in command. "Sidon, we were not expecting you to return so soon."

The Syrian shrugged his shoulder. "I bring some very valuable news about Xenophon." He couldn't wait to see the look on the Templars' faces.

The Templar master frowned and crossed his arms. "I'm listening."

Sidon stepped closer and wrapped his arm around his Christian brother. "How would you feel if I told you that Xenophon is actually...a woman?" he sneered.

Joseph's eyes widened. "A woman?!" he blurted out. "That's blasphemous."

"Not to mention impossible!" Gregory stated. "Xenophon can't be a woman. I've seen him in person. He does not appear to act or even sound like a woman."

Sidon nodded. "I understand your doubts, brother, but...Xenophon always hides his face. I always thought there was something strange about that even when I met with her many years ago." He stepped away and saw the irate look in Joseph's eyes.

"Tell me brothers, have you ever looked into Xenophon's eyes? Is there not something feminine about those blue eyes? The way she walks...and her layers upon layers of robes to hide her body like the snake that she is..." he hissed.

Joseph groaned and grasped his master's shoulder. "Sire, this is a bigger problem than we ever could have anticipated. If what Sidon says is true then we have the authority to overthrow her and try her for multiple crimes."

Sidon snickered and saw the shock on Gregory's face. "You can charge her as a pagan witch of course and burn her at the stake to publically humiliate her. God knows that she has humiliated several of us before. She needs to die."

Gregory nodded, agreeing with both of them. "She is quite tricky, isn't she? She has fooled the world for over a decade. How does she manage to keep up this charade?"

"She hides," Sidon began, "she hid in her palace in Thebes and then attacked me months after I agreed to give her my share of the Persian Empire. She couldn't even show her face in battle. She not only destroyed my entire kingdom but took my army and control of all my trades and taxes."

He laughed, relishing in the thought of the sultan whom betrayed him so long ago, burning at the stake as the fraud that she is. "She is a liar, a thief, a fraud and a serpent from Hell. Destroying the paradise that me and the previous Persian Sultan created. A dark cloud looms over Jerusalem as she continues to infect it with her lies and deceit."

Joseph raised an eyebrow, gawking at the Saracen. "You people are quite poetic, aren't you?" he said and Sidon smirked. He turned to his master, "how do you want to handle this?"

Gregory frowned. "We write to Genghis Khan for aid. The Anatolians refuse to help us and they are very loyal to Xenophon. They are keeping her secret safe. We attack Anatolia and seek help from the Mongolian Khan to dethrone the sultana."

"And what of Xenophon? What shall we do about her?" Joseph inquired.

"We play along with her little game." Gregory smiled.

Sidon laughed and the two knights looked over at him. "I may have poisoned the witch's wine. She refused my wine last time I sent it to her, but I know that she cannot resist the taste of the devil's nectar."

"You poisoned her?!" Joseph growled and grabbed Sidon by his dark robes.

"But of course. It was a simple gift. Her physician gave her an antidote unfortunately but she will be weak for a long time. I am not sure if she will recover," he smiled deviously at the knight.

Gregory pulled his soldier away from the Saracen. "How do you know if she will recover or not?"

Sidon grinned, "I may have a little spy inside the witch's palace."

Chapter Text

AN: a bit shorter than usual. I had a very busy weekend. Enjoy and more later ;)

Chapter 14 –Carnival Palace

Three Days Later

Xena wrapped her hair into a low bun and pinned back her long thick bangs. She stared at herself in the mirror and stuck a pin in her mouth as she smoothed out the hairs against her forehead. She slid the pin into her hair and then grabbed her turban, carefully placing it over her hair, concealing her bun. The veil attached to the back of the turban draped over her shoulders and she touched her sunken circles underneath her eyes and frowned deeply. She had not realized how terrible she looked until now.

She had been stuck in bed for five days and she was tired of waiting around, even if she didn't feel one hundred percent herself, she felt like her palace being run by children wasn't exactly the smartest choice but she didn't really have a voice in the matter.

The door opened and Xena's eyes darted to the doors, glaring through the mirror's reflection. Kara smiled and dropped the linens in her hands upon seeing Xena up and awake.

The young maid clapped her hands together and was overjoyed. "Mistress, you are out of bed!" she exclaimed and Xena frowned, continuing to adjust the turban on her head. Then it hit Kara. "But you are not well enough..."

Xena grabbed the black face veil and hooked it to the turban. "I am well enough," she said lowly and folded the veil down to reveal only her eyes. She took one last good at herself and thought she looked good enough for now.

She opened the drawer in her vanity and pulled out her black leather gloves. She slipped one glove on, wriggling her fingers inside the tight leather. She slipped the other on and stretched out her hand. It felt like she hadn't worn these gloves in a year and might as well have been that long. Five days without remaining in control of her palace was torture for her and she was sure everyone else felt the same way.

Slowly, she stood from the chair and nearly lost her balance. She gripped the chair and Kara ran to aid her. She snarled and put her hand up. "I don't need your help!" she hissed then took a few steps before falling to her knees.

"Mistress, please," the girl pleaded. "You need to stay in bed for awhile longer. The physician said a week at most."

Xena growled and crawled across the floor and grabbed hold of the large bed post and hoisted herself up. "I don't need any more rest!" she chided and dreaded taking another few steps. If she left this room and suddenly fell over she imagined that all loyalty among her men and trainees would be lost.

Belach and Solan sauntered through the west wing of the palace. So far Solan sent his brother on two scouting missions these past few days and there had been no information to report back. Whoever was in charge of this attack could not have been far, but they definitely had fled Jerusalem.

"Are you sure you checked everywhere?" Solan asked.

His brother nodded. "I checked everywhere, Solan. I checked three times."

Solan sighed, not happy to hear this. He felt like he was failing his mother. He never realized how much his mother truly did on a daily basis until he was appointed her position for a short time. He knew that he was not fit to rule over entire nation like he thought he was. He thought that it would be easy, or at least his mother made it look easy, but she worked so much. Recalling all of those late nights he used to spend with her in her room, she always had stacks of papers to sign or read. If she wasn't reading or writing, she was in a lot of meetings or on the battlefield. Although, he couldn't remember the last time his mother was in the field.

He turned to his elder raven haired brother and raised a skeptical brow. "Why are you being so nice? Are you up to something?"

Belach smirked. "No, I'm not up to anything. I want to help, I told you. We are family, right?" he winked.

"That's not what you said a few months ago, Belach." He tapped his chin and smiled smugly. "If I remember, you called me a half breed and my mother a bitch, isn't that right?"

Belach rolled his eyes. "I'm..." he bit his tongue, "sorry...for what I said."

"Sorry? Did you just say you were sorry? My ears must be deceiving me!" Solan chuckled lightly and Belach folded his arms. "Can you say it one more time?" he begged.

"No." Belach said curtly. "Can we just go give the report to your mother before I revoke my apology?" he motioned for his brother to lead the way to his stepmother's bedroom.

"Worth a shot," Solan muttered and opened the doors to his mother's bedroom and found her trying to walk across the room but not without holding onto every little thing she could get her hands on. His eyes grew in shock. "Mother! You're up!" he smiled and Xena lifted her eyes, glaring at her son.

Her eyes darted to Belach standing beside Solan and her lip quivered. "You!" she pointed at the teenager. "Why are you still here?" she hissed and let go of the chair, walking slowly towards him, wagging her finger at him. "I thought I told leave..."

She fell to the floor and Solan ran to her, immediately grabbing her arm. Belach sighed and walked over to her and wrapped her arm around his shoulder and both boys hoisted her off the floor. "Mother, you are not well enough to be out of bed. You should rest some more," Solan advised.

"Don't tell me what I should and should not do!" she growled and snatched her arm away from both boys and nearly fell over again until Belach grabbed onto her. She snapped her head around and narrowed her tired eyes at the cocky teenager. Belach smiled nervously.

"I know you are not thrilled to see me, but I have another report for you." Belach said and saw her eyes widen, continuing to stare into his soul.

She snickered, "oh really? I just love being told what to do by a bunch of teenagers," her voice dripping with sarcasm. She eyed a staff leaning against the far side of the room. "Get me that staff," she instructed her stepson. "Go get it!" she snarled and Belach immediately let go of her and ran to retrieve the staff.

He presented the staff to her and she snatched it from his hands. She leaned on the staff for support and began walking slowly to exit the room. She grabbed her sword on the wall and sheathed it at her hip. Solan and Belach looked at one another, sharing the same concerned expression.

Xena swung open the doors and left the room, slowly walking down the long marble hallway. Some of the girls were wandering the halls, smiling and giggling with one another. Their laughter and jokes were interrupted once they heard a loud clicking sound against the marble. They turned and saw Xena walking towards them and their eyes widened and they began whispering.

Xena stopped and turned to look at the terrified girls. She frowned and grabbed one of the girls by her tunic, lifting her to her toes. "I want all of the girls brought to the foyer, do you understand?"

"Yes, your majesty..." the girl could barely speak.

She released the girl and yelled, "go!" both girls took off running to go warn the others of what the sultan just said.

Gabrielle rounded a corner and kept reading over a document that Solan brought to her earlier this morning. She was concentrated and focused, reading the paper in her hands. She couldn't understand why Solan wanted her to read this document in the first place. For one, it was really old and it was an agreement that Xena made with Sidon. Xena obviously knew that Sidon was the culprit here and Solan too, but this treaty meant nothing. She suddenly felt like she was missing something again, something wasn't right and the only person that knew the truth was Xena.

She couldn't exactly get a lot of information from Xena since she was practically bedridden and was asleep most of the time. She had never seen someone so ill in her life, but she had hope that Xena would soon recover, at least she hoped. She couldn't keep receiving orders from Solan and his brother Belach. She realized that Xena did a lot more than boss others around and play games with her. She had a very difficult job and she probably was not appreciated for it most of the time.

She sighed heavily and then stubbed her toe on something and hissed. Glancing upward she saw Xena in her sultan attire, walking with a large staff. She immediately rolled up the treaty and hid it behind her back.

"X...your highness, you're awake! What a surprise!" Gabrielle smiled uncertainly.

Xena frowned. "What is that paper behind your back?" she asked and Gabrielle's smile faded. She held out her hand and wagged her fingers. "Hand it over."

Gabrielle quirked her mouth and handed the rolled up paper to Xena. She saw her open the paper and read over it carefully. She wasn't sure if Xena was upset or not, it was hard to tell what she was thinking when one could only see her eyes.

Xena lifted her eyes and wafted the paper in Gabrielle's face. "Where did you get this?" she hissed.


Solan rushed forward and grabbed onto Xena's arm. "I got it mother and gave it to Gabrielle so she could read it."

His mother slowly turned her head downward at her son and narrowed her eyes. "Why are you looking through my things?!" she growled.

He smiled nervously. "Political reasons?" he lamely said and she crumbled up the paper in her hand and threw it on the ground then kept walking forward.

"Do not go through my things without my permission, Solan," she called out as she slowly made her way down the hallway. "You are no longer in charge."

Belach nodded, snickering and Solan glared at him. "What?" he grinned and his younger brother rolled his eyes. "Looks like you got your wish. Your crazy mother is back in charge of her palace again!" he teased.

Gabrielle ran to catch up with Xena and felt her palms become clammy. She didn't want to face Xena's wrath and be killed like those councilmen in the chamber below. She not only pretended to be Xena in the letter she wrote to Borias, but she also forged her name and used the wax seal. She didn't want to be put into a situation that she couldn't handle.

"So, what should I call you now?" she asked, trying to make small talk.

Xena's eyebrow rose at her question. "What you've always called me," she answered, "but when we are alone you may call me Xena."

Gabrielle smiled thinking that things were heading in the right direction. She then realized that Xena was going to explode the moment she found out about the letter. She knew that Solan wouldn't be able to pull that off. Xena knew his handwriting and besides, Xena is very smart.

"Why is your face like that?" Xena asked.

The blonde shook her head and sighed. "Like what?" she looked ahead and saw all of the girls in the foyer waiting patiently. "Why is everyone out here?"

Xena smiled softly and walked with the staff carefully. "You are about to find out."

Find out? What is that supposed to mean? Gabrielle frowned and then ran to the back line of the girls. Xena let out a heavy exhaled, already exhausted from walking all the way to the foyer from her room, which wasn't that far.

"You all..." she began and tried to catch her breath. Solan and Belach stood behind her, watching her cautiously. "...must have realized what is going on by now." She looked at all of the girls' eyes and leaned on the staff for balance.

"You must all understand that I can't trust anyone in my home." She said and everyone shared worried glances. "Strip yourselves of your armor and weapons."

Nobody moved a muscle and Xena banged the staff on the marble floor loudly. "Take it off!" she yelled and the girls rushed to get off their armor and tossed their weapons onto the ground.

Gabrielle frowned, quite unsure of what Xena was doing. She didn't understand why any of the girls had anything to do with what was going on, but it was obvious that Xena was paranoid. She took off her breastplate and tossed it in front of her.

Xena frowned, examining all the girls in their undergarments, studying them carefully. "Boots," she demanded and snapped her fingers several times to hurry the girls to take off their boots as well.

Belach folded his arms and leaned on the wall, observing Xena inspecting the girls as if they were criminals. He frowned and turned to his brother. "What is your mother doing?"

Solan shrugged his shoulders, "I have no idea."

"Belach!" Xena called out and the teenager immediately walked over to her. "Search the girls," she said and he smiled, nodding his head.

Penelope was first in line and her eyes widened, seeing the look on Belach's face. He was going to enjoy searching the girls, she had no doubt by the look in his eyes. He was a teenager and only teenage boys think about one thing and one thing only –girls.

He walked straight over to Penelope and Xena gripped his arm tightly, pulling him close. "You grope her and I will hurt you severely..." she hissed.

"Yes sir," he mocked and Xena groaned lowly. He then looked at the girl's frightened eyes. He raised his hands in front of her. He pat his hands along her ribcage and hips. He smirked and saw Penelope staring at his stepmother. He pat each of her thighs and rose to her ear. "You shouldn't gawk, she will know," he whispered.

Xena kept her eye on Belach as he continued to go down the line searching all of the girls. She narrowed her eyes and saw the horror in Penelope's and Astremia's eyes. She walked along the front line and stopped in front of Astremia, looking her up and down like a piece of game.

"Something on your mind?" she asked and Astremia shook her head.

Belach finished searching one girl and saw Xena glaring at Astremia. He stepped in between the two. "Your highness..." he smiled, gently guiding Xena away from the frightened girl. "I have work to do, if you don't mind."

Xena frowned, glaring down at Belach then limped away with her staff. The teenager frowned and turned to Astremia then began patting her down roughly. "Do not stare at her!" he whispered. "You didn't tell anyone did you?"

"No, of course not!" she whispered back.

"Solan..." Xena limped over to him and he straightened himself out, trying to appear tall and authoritative. "Where is Alexander?" she whispered, still keeping her eye on Belach.

He sighed, not expecting her to ask that. He was hoping that she'd give him a task to do. "He's with Sarsa. I left her in charge of him for the last few days."

She nodded, "go find him." She said and he ran off down the hallway. She turned around and saw one of the girls starting to put her armor on again. Xena snarled and wacked the girl's hand. "Did I say you could dress yourself?!" she shouted and the girl stepped away, rubbing her hand.

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and saw Solan leaving the foyer. Xena was more than paranoid, she should have been better by now, she thought, unless her body was really having a hard time recovering from that poison. Still, her behavior was more irrational than she had ever seen before.

Belach stood in front of Gabrielle with a smug grin. "We meet again," he jested. "Arms up," he said and she lifted her arms while her eyes were fixated on Xena. He pat her ribcage and hips roughly and she grunted.

"What is going on with her?" she whispered.

Belach rolled his eyes and pat her inner thigh. "Being her usual self," he grumbled. He checked underneath her long hair and behind her ears. "You really have no idea what she is really like Gabrielle."

Gabrielle shook her head and fixed her hair and watched Xena poke all of the armor with her staff. "I know that she is not being her normal self. She doesn't like act like this around us." She said and he pat her other thigh. "She is nice to us all the time."

He rose and glared down at the blonde. "Don't try to figure out my stepmother. You never will."

We'll see about that, Gabrielle thought.

Alexander grunted as he sat in a chair with his hands tied behind his back and his ankles tied to the legs of the chair. He wiggled around trying to loosen the knots, but it was no use. "I don't like this game, Sarsa. Can we play Backgammon like we did yesterday?"

Sarsa smirked and poured a bag of herbs into the hot tea and swirled it around with a spoon. Alexander whined and scooted the chair along the rug and she turned to see the boy about to tip over. Frowning, she walked over and moved the chair off the rug and onto the wood floor.

"You need to stay in the chair, Alexander or you'll get in trouble. Remember?" she smiled as sweetly as possible.

"But I've been really good!" he pouted and she ruffled his dark short hair.

"I know and that's because you're in a chair!" she chuckled and then walked over to the tea and grabbed a pouch from her pocket and he cocked his head, looking at the pouch. She took out a clutter of white flowers and he raised his eyebrow.

He decided to play along with Sarsa's game and remain seated. "What's the tea for?" he asked as she crushed the flowers in her palm and pour them into the tea glass.

"It's for your mother," she answered curtly and waited until the flowers dissolved. "She is very sick, you know."

"I know, but she will get better." He said and eyed the pouch of flowers on the table cautiously. "What's that herb do exactly?"

Sarsa sighed, growing tired of the boy's constant questions. She now knew why Kara hated watching him whenever the sultan needed to go on her long trips. "It's a special herb."

Alexander quirked his mouth and leaned over to take a good look at the flowers. He gasped, realizing what that was. "That's hemlock!" he shouted and Sarsa's head snapped around and she glared at him angrily.

"That is dangerous! It will kill her!" he yelled and tried to get out of the chair. "Help!" he shouted. "Somebody!"

"Quiet, you!" she growled and covered his mouth. He snarled and bit her finger and she yelped. "You brat!"

Alexander inhaled heavily and then let out an ear piercing scream. Sarsa covered her ears. She quickly grabbed a rag and stuffed it into his mouth. It muffled his screams and she smiled at the boy. "You should really mind your business, little prince." She said and pat his head.

The door opened and Kara stepped inside. Her sister grabbed the tray of tea and Kara looked down at Alexander. "I can see he was a bit of trouble..." she inquired.

Sarsa shrugged and Kara took the tray. "We're playing a game. The tea for the sultan."

Kara frowned and looked down at the tea carefully. "You used the comfrey herb I gave you right?" she asked and her sister nodded, but Alexander shook his head furiously behind Kara. "I don't think this herb is working. Maybe I should try a different one," she said undecidedly.

Sarsa's eyes widened and began pushing her sister out of the room. "Of course it works! You just need to give it time!"

"I don't know Sarsa, the mistress has been acting very strange." Kara frowned concernedly.

"I promise this will work this time," Sarsa reassured her sister and Kara nodded, then quietly left the room to go deliver this tea to Xena.

Once she left, Sarsa closed the door and marched over to the prince. "You will stay here!" she hissed and he let out a muffled scream. She smiled, "see, isn't this a fun game?" she pinched his cheek then left the room through another door.

Alexander grunted and tried to get his ankles and hands free, but it was no use. He couldn't bear to see his mother die and she was already sick, at least that's what Solan and Gabrielle said. He then swayed back and forth in the chair, trying to tip it over.

Solan walked down the hallway and heard a loud crash come from a room on the right of his path. He frowned and creaked open the door. He gasped, "Alexander!" he cried out and ran to his brother. He pulled out the cloth from his mouth and began untying his hands.

"Sarsa is going to kill mother!" he spat out and Solan cringed.

"What?" he laughed, not believing his kid brother.

"Solan! I am serious! I saw her put hemlock in mother's tea! Kara came and took the tea and –and you gotta stop her!" he exclaimed and Solan looked into his eyes. He saw that he was not lying or making this up. This was definitely not one of his silly stories.

Solan quickly untied his brother from the chair and hoisted him up off the floor. "Where is Sarsa?"

"She went out the back to the tunnels!" he said and Solan growled.

"Okay, we'll get her later. Come on!" he grabbed his hand and ran out of the room with Alexander.

After Xena inspected all of the girls armor she limped to the front and told them to put their armor and weapons back on. She felt light headed and could barely stand up straight. She put her hand on the wall and felt sweat dripping down her forehead.

Gabrielle frowned and sheathed her dagger on her belt then approached Xena. She tapped her shoulder and Xena slowly turned. "You look terrible."

"Aren't you the little expert?" Xena mocked.

"You are not well enough to take over your position again," Gabrielle whispered.

Xena snarled. "And who are you to tell what I should or should not do?!" she yelled and all the girls paused then looked over to the two. Gabrielle's eyes widened and she folded her arms.

"Because you are sick! You can't even stand up! Don't be foolish!"

All the girls gasped and then whispered among themselves. Xena's eyes grew with fury and she took a few steps closer to Gabrielle, gripping the staff dearly.

"Foolish?" Xena smiled, "I am being foolish? Me? You must be mistaken..." she hissed and banged the staff on the ground. She tightened her top lip underneath her veil and glared down at the mouthy blonde.

"Your majesty!" Kara came up behind Xena with a big smile. "I have your tea, should I leave it in your room?" she asked. Xena groaned and turned to the servant girl with wild eyes. Kara began backing away in fear, seeing that horrible look in her mistress' eyes.

"No! Don't drink it!" Solan yelled as he came charging down the foyer with Alexander running behind him. All eyes turned to him and Xena narrowed her eyebrows. "Don't drink it!" he repeated and then smacked the tray out of Kara's hands and the tea glasses shattered all over the floor.

"Solan!" Xena griped.

"It's poisoned," Solan breathed heavily and Alexander finally caught up to his brother. "Sarsa poisoned the tea with hemlock."

Kara gasped and bent down to pick up the broken tea glass and sniffed the tea smeared on the glass. It was a scent she had smelled before when she used to live in Syria as a child. Her family would use it to kill sick farm animals.

Alexander ran to his mother and hugged her legs. Xena nearly toppled over and she grabbed the wall. He hugged her tightly and she sighed. "I didn't want anything to happen to you..." he said in a soft voice.

"And nothing will," Belach folded his arms and Alexander's eyes shot up, staring at his brother.

"Belach? What are you still doing here? Aren't you supposed to be –"

"Be helping the sultan, right, Alexander?" Solan cut in and his little brother frowned confusedly.

"Huh?" Alexander looked at Belach slightly shaking his head and Solan glaring at him with an eerie smile. "But you said that he had to go –"

Solan grabbed Alexander gruffly and squeezed his shoulders. "Go help find Sarsa, yes, he will do that."

"Ouch, Solan!" he whined and wriggled out of his hold.

"I will?" Belach asked and Solan's eyes widened and nudged his head at his mother. Belach nodded and smiled nervously. "Oh right, of course. I mean, I will." He turned his attention to Xena. "So, what's the plan?"

Xena frowned, eyeing all three boys and was not sure what was going on between them. She had never seen Solan and Belach get along so well since they were small children. Very interesting, she noted. "I don't know what's going on, but I will find out." She said and the teenage boys smiled cheekily at her.

"You and me both," Alexander said and Solan covered his mouth. Xena frowned and looked at her blonde son skeptically.

Gabrielle felt her heart racing and the more Alexander opened his mouth, the more everyone was going to be in serious trouble. She stepped in and smiled. "So, what is the plan like Belach asked?" she eyed Xena.

"Have Dajan prepare my horse," Xena said and began walking off by herself. "Belach, you are in charge of the girls. Take them to scout the city to find Sarsa. She hasn't gone far."

Belach smiled and rubbed his hands together, quite excited to be put in charge of something important, even if it was an order from his stepmother.

Gabrielle, Solan and Alexander followed Xena on both sides of her. Solan whined, "but what about me? What can I do?"

"You stay here and watch Alexander."

He scoffed. "That is not fair! I don't want to be a glorified babysitter! I have done everything for you for the last few days!"

Xena snarled and swiftly turned around and he almost bumped into her. "Solan, I am telling you to stay here and that's what you will do."

"But you gave Belach a job! Why can't I do it? He's not even your real son!" he spat and Xena sighed heavily. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and thought that Solan was being irrational although, he did have a point.

"I want you to stay here. Why can't you just do what I say for once?" she pleaded and Solan pursed his lips, lowering his gaze. "I am giving you a job and it is the most important job," she placed her hand on his shoulder.

Not only had she been poisoned by an old enemy of hers, but she had been poisoned again for days by Sarsa, which explains why she couldn't do anything but fall over like a cripple and hack up bile for hours. Everything made more sense now and she needed to find Sarsa in order to get close to Sidon.

She also remembered what Gabrielle said to her about her harsh treatment towards her sons, specifically Solan. He obviously didn't feel appreciated by her or Borias, no matter what he did.

She took the veil off her face and smiled at Solan, lifting his chin to look into his blue eyes. "I am not putting you in charge of your brother because I think that you can't do anything else. I am putting you in charge of him because I can trust you to keep him safe, like you always do."

He smiled weakly and looked away from her gaze.

"You've been a great help, Solan and I thank you for taking over for me. It was very responsible of you," she smiled and Gabrielle grinned as well, nodding her head in silence.

"I helped too!" Alexander waved his hand and Solan rolled his eyes.

Xena shook her head and ruffled his hair. "I'm sure..."

"Hello! I told Solan about the tea didn't I? I am responsible too," Alexander beamed.

"In your dreams..." Solan murmured.

Xena hummed lightly and bent over, almost eye level with her smallest son. "You know what job you get to do?" she asked and his eyes lit up. She poked his nose, "you stay out of trouble for Solan."

Alexander frowned. "That is not a job!"

She tried to hide her impending laughter and nodded. "You want more responsibilities, right?"

"Yeah!" he cheered excitedly.

"Alright," she fixed his collar around his neck. "You can stand guard in my room to make sure nobody gets in while I'm gone. How does that sound?" she offered.

Alexander tapped his chin, "can I use a sword?"

"How about a wooden sword instead?" she said and he sighed.

"Okay fine, I'll do it." He relented and she kissed his forehead. He grabbed his brother's hand, dragging him down the hall. "Come on Solan!"

Gabrielle watched the two walk down the hallway and she turned to Xena. She saw the pain written all over her face and frowned sadly. "So, what can I do for you?" she asked, not used to having the tables turned at the moment, that was usually Xena's line.

Xena frowned and put the veil back over her face. "You are coming with me. I am going to search the city with my army."

Oh no, searching the city. "But I thought Belach was taking the girls to search the city?"

Xena smirked. "They are looking for Sarsa. You and I will be looking for Sidon and his clues. He is not as cunning as he thinks he is." She walked down the hall to the entrance where the stables were. "Sarsa is from Syria. She has to be working for Sidon. There's too many coincidences."

Gabrielle nodded and walked beside Xena. "And if she isn't?"


"Then I am out of ideas," she said and the doors swung open. She carefully tread down the stairs with the staff and saw Dajan with her black horse waiting by the gates along with a bunch of men from her army.

She mounted the horse and dropped the staff. She nearly fell off the horse and grunted, pulling herself up. Dajan then brought Gabrielle a horse for her as well.

"Gabrielle," Xena said and adjusted the gloves on her hands. Gabrielle mounted the horse and looked over at the sultana. "Do you know what is going on with Solan and Belach? They are acting very unlike themselves."

Her heart skipped a beat once she asked that question. If I lie, she might know, if I tell the truth, she is going to blow up and be unfocused for the task at hand.

"No, I don't really know Belach that well anyway..." she lamely tried to cover her lie, hoping Xena wouldn't become engrossed with those two boys and her own demise too. This was a spider web of lies that kept spreading. She is going to be so angry.

"Well, I do," Xena yanked on the reins and the gates opened. "And I don't trust him." She kicked the horse and rode off with her men. Gabrielle frantically kicked her horse and rode off, trying to catch up to Xena at the front.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 –Infidel

Six Years Ago

Solan poked his head out from the caravan's small window. He smiled excitedly and saw a lot of sand and very few trees. So far Persia didn't look anything like Greece. He thought it would be similar from the paintings he'd seen weeks prior to leaving Thebes.

"Solan, stop looking," Xena pulled him away from the window and closed the curtains.

He huffed and slumped on the cushioned bench, pouting. "I just wanted to see! This place looks nothing like Thebes."

She smiled and adjusted Alexander on her lap as he kept playing with her long robes and gloves on her hands. "I'm sure you will get used to it," she said and saw the disappointment on her son's face. Alexander grabbed the necklace around her neck and began chewing on it.

Solan cringed as he watched his infant brother slobber all over his mother's necklace. "He is so gross."

Xena shook her head and took the necklace out of Alexander's mouth and wiped his face. "That's not very nice, Solan."

"I didn't say I didn't like him, I just said he's gross," Solan smirked. Xena frowned and then reached over and placed Alexander into Solan's lap. "Ah, come on!" he groaned and Alexander smiled up at him. He looked into his little brother's eyes seriously and wagged his finger in his face. "Don't drool on me," he warned.

The caravan came to an abrupt halt and Xena frowned, putting the veil over her face. Dajan, her newly appointed adviser opened the door with frantic eyes. "Xenophon, you must come see this."

She stepped out of the caravan then turned around. "Don't come out here, alright?"

Solan nodded and held his brother in his lap. He frowned softly and watched his mother disappear with Dajan. He much preferred his mother's other adviser, Raphael, in Thebes, but it looked like that he wasn't going to be coming back anytime soon.

Alexander reached up and grabbed Solan's nose and giggled. "Alexander!" Solan griped and grabbed his brother's small hand. "Don't do that," he said and his brother's face contorted and his smile disappeared. "Oh no, don't cry please," he begged. His infant brother began to whimper lightly and he quickly looked around inside the coach to see if he could distract him.

He found his mother's scarf and smiled. He wrapped it around Alexander's head, creating a turban-like shape. "You look like a real prince now. What do you think?" he asked and his brother stopped crying, staring up at him with his big brown eyes. "See? You don't have to cry. This is a no crying zone!" he grinned widely.

Xena walked ahead of her army with Dajan and protected her eyes against the harsh sand whisking through the air. She saw three dead bodies nailed to crucifixes with the word 'Kafar' engraved on their bare chests. Birds were already picking at their skin, which meant they had been left there for a long time.

She frowned and folded her arms. Dajan approached her cautiously. "Who did this?"

"Sidon," she growled. "Take those bodies down," she ordered then trailed back to her caravan where her two sons were.

Dajan crinkled his nose and grabbed Xena's arm. "Your highness..." he felt that this was not a good idea.

She snatched her arm away from him. "I said, take them down! Bury them. We are not leaving until they are buried. They deserve to be buried not to be displayed as a means of humiliation."

"But your highness, it is a threat, a warning. Should you not be concerned?" he was aghast at her calmness.

"It is no threat to me," she smiled and swiftly turned around. "Get moving, we have a long journey ahead of us."

Xena, Gabrielle and some of her best elite guard trotted through the busy streets of Jerusalem, scouting for any suspicious behavior or weird sightings. Gabrielle stayed a few paces behind Xena and looked at the horrified faces below, gawking at Xena.

These people were horrified of her. So much for merciful sultan, she thought. As long as she'd known Xena, which wasn't that long, Xena made it seem like she was very kind to her people, and she was...sometimes. Despite what torture she inflicted on those councilmen, she was always kind to everyone else, well, sort of.

Xena was a powerful authority and she never wanted to appear weak to others, but perhaps that was her biggest weakness of all. Xena didn't want to be weak, so she made herself look and seem intimidating, by not only hiding her true identity, but also by saying few words to those around her, including the common people.

Belach was right, she was never going to figure Xena out, no matter how much time she spent with her. Gabrielle realized this when she continually saw Xena morph from one person to another throughout the day. One moment she was a strict and stern mother to her children, the next she was a mysterious sultan and also a mentor to the girls. Xena had many sides to her, but Gabrielle knew there was one side she hadn't seen of her Xena –her true self. She was always pretending to be someone she wasn't, especially to those that didn't know her.

Gabrielle understood why Xena hid herself and posed as a male, but maybe she could do more good as a woman and set an example to everyone.

She was deeply disturbed by the amount of terror in these people's eyes. She trotted next to Xena and stared at her concernedly. Xena was still not well enough to do much of anything. Her reflexes were terrible and so was her attitude.

"Um, what exactly are we looking for?" she asked.

Xena peered down at her anxious blonde trainee. "Anything that could point to Sidon. I know he is not far. He is so close I can almost taste him," she smiled and kept her eyes peeled for anything strange.

Gabrielle sighed and trotted ahead to scout the area. Xena raised her eyebrow and quickly followed her to make sure she wouldn't get herself in trouble or in harm's way. After all, she was responsible for her well being and of course, Gabrielle owed her a large debt, but also, Xena owed her, her life. She watched over her when she was very ill, almost on the verge of dying and she didn't think that anyone would do something like that for her.

Gabrielle halted her horse and her eyes widened at the horror before her. She saw a man nailed to a crucifix in the middle of Jerusalem's largest square. This could be why all the people had fear in their eyes. They must have thought Xena had something to do with this.

"Your highness..." she barely managed to say.

Xena stopped beside Gabrielle and saw her physician hoisted up on a cross with the word 'Kafar' burned into his chest. She had a flashback from six years ago. It had Sidon's name written all over it. He's done this before and now her suspicions were put to rest. He was not far, in fact he was incredibly close.

Her blood began to boil as she continued to stare at the poor innocent doctor. He lost his life and he was being used as a tool to lure her to Sidon. And the sad thing is, it's working.

"Take him down!" she ordered and her men dismounted their horses, immediately running to the physician.

Gabrielle felt sick to her stomach and turned away, no longer able to look anymore. "Who did that?" she whispered.

"Sidon, of course," Xena scoffed. "He's trying to humiliate me."

"What...what is that word on his chest? What does it mean?" she dared to turn around and saw Xena's men carrying the physician over their heads. That poor man, she thought.

"Infidel, disbeliever, heathen. Whichever way you translate it, it is a threat of damnation." Xena sighed heavily, shaking her head. She turned to her men, "take him back to the palace." She said and turned back to face the distraught citizens in front of her. They were more than horrified and what was worse, they thought she did this. She hoped that her people at least had more faith in her to believe she didn't do this, but by the look in their eyes, it didn't seem that way.

Gabrielle glanced around at the roofs of the buildings and frowned. She saw a veiled man, wearing all black. He pulled out something from his cloak pocket and looked directly down at Xena. Her eyes grew in fear and she grabbed Xena's horse's reins and pushed her out of the way.

"Xena!" she shouted and fell off her own horse, gripping onto Xena's horse's reins. The Saracen above threw down a smoke bomb onto the ground.

Xena snapped her head around and saw the Saracen run across the rooftops. She coughed as the square filled with smoke, but it wasn't smoke, it was gas. She pressed her veil against her mouth so she wouldn't breathe anything in.

The citizens in the square panicked and began running around like crazy. Xena squinted her eyes and she could barely see a foot in front of her. She heard Gabrielle coughing on the ground and reached down, grabbing her arm.

"Gabrielle!" she yelled and hoisted her up onto her horse. "Cover your mouth!" she shouted and ripped a piece of her robe off and turned to see Gabrielle leaned up against her, inhaling the gas heavily. She grunted and wrapped the fabric around Gabrielle's mouth.

As she saw people scurrying around, her heart raced. Her men were no help either, they were panicking as well. She held her veil against her mouth and trotted through the thick fog slowly, careful not to run into or over anyone.

She trotted by two of her men whom held veils across their mouths, watching the citizens running around like chickens with their heads cut off. "Take these people to the ocean front!" she ordered and the soldiers nodded.

Alexander was inside his mother's room swinging around his wooden sword while Solan was sitting on the ground, reading a book quietly to himself. He knew that his mother meant well, but he wanted to do so much more than babysit his little brother. Although, he felt special because he was the only one who got to watch Alexander most of the time, if not all the time, because she trusted him.

The only thing that kept bothering him was the letter he sent to his father and begged Gabrielle to forge his mother's signature. He knew that she'd figure it out sooner or later, but he hoped she wouldn't be too upset with him. He was only trying to do the right thing at the time.

He remembered all the times when his mother made hasty decisions and wrote people letters to either subside their anger or avoid them completely for at least a year. When he was nine, he was sent to live in Ankara with his father and Natassa. He also was in charge of watching Alexander too and that was the first year that his little brother was without Xena by his side. He whined constantly for days. Alexander was only two when he stayed in Ankara for six months.

At the time, he didn't understand why his mother and father constantly shuffled them back and forth between Jerusalem and Ankara, but now he understood. When he was very young he didn't understand why his parents were always fighting and every time the two were in a room together, all they could do was argue and bicker about everything –especially him and his brother.

"Hey Solan!" Alexander called out and he put down the book in his lap.

"What's up?" he smiled softly, putting his thoughts aside to pay attention to his brother.

Alexander sat down beside him and twirled the wooden sword in the air. "Do you think that we will ever go back to Ankara?"

Solan sighed and closed the book. "I don't think so, buddy."

"How come? I like living with father," he frowned sadly and held the sword in his lap now.

"I think mother wants us to live with her from now on." He wrapped his arm around his small brother. "It's kind of complicated."

Alexander nodded and sighed heavily. "Do father and mother hate each other? Is that why we can't go back?"

Solan peered down at his brother and saw such sadness in his eyes. "They don't hate each other, but I don't think they get along very well."

"Oh," Alexander nodded, sort of understanding his brother. "Is that why Belach calls me an accident? What does he mean by that?"

Solan's eyes widened, "accident? You're not an accident, Alexander. You shouldn't believe everything Belach says. He's a real hothead."

Alexander laughed lightly. "Yeah, a real piece of shit," he nodded with a smug smile.

"Alexander!" he punched him in the arm and his brother winced. "Don't let mother hear you say that," he warned. Although, he thought that his mother might enjoy hearing that, since she really didn't like Belach all that much, but he presumed that it was mostly because of Natassa and not so much Belach.

"But you said it first! Why can't I say it?" he said and folded his arms.

"Well, I shouldn't have said that. Besides, Belach has been really helpful." Solan hated to admit it, but it was true. Even his mother gave Belach a task to do, which only meant that she was probably desperate.

A loud crash was heard from outside the room and Solan immediately hopped to his feet and grabbed his sword laying on his mother's bed. Alexander crawled up off the floor and followed behind Solan closely.

"Stay here, okay?" he asked and Alexander huffed.

"But I want to come!"

"No!" Solan said firmly in a hushed tone. "It could be dangerous."

Alexander pouted and crossed his arms. "But I never get to see anything!"

Solan groaned and stood by the door. He knelt down in front of his brother and grabbed his chin. "Hey, you want to be responsible, right?" he smiled and Alexander nodded. "So why don't you stay here and make sure nobody gets in? If something happens to me, you run for help, alright?"

His brother smiled grandly. "Okay! I can do that!"

Solan crept out of the room cautiously, gripping onto the hilt of his sword. He saw a broken vase on the ground and frowned. He also saw one of the windows was wide open. Intruders, of course. He stayed close to the wall and tip toed along the wall, trying to be as quiet as possible.

He peeked around the corner and saw someone lying on the floor. There was a basket of linens sprawled across the marble floor. He recognized that person anywhere. It was Kara. He gasped and then crept along the wall to get a closer look.

As he glanced over he saw blood around Kara's midsection and blood spatter on her face as well. Poor Kara, he thought. I'll come back for you, he said to himself. He knelt down and covered her face with her dark veil and stepped over her.

At this moment, almost the entire palace was empty and everything was so quiet, eerily quiet. In fact, Solan couldn't remember the last time the palace was this quiet. There was always a lot of people walking around, except at night when everyone retired for the evening. He felt like these people were more than intruders. Whoever it was, they were here on a mission and to kill anyone in sight.

For the first time, he felt nervous and scared. He always thought he could handle his mother's job but apparently not. Since she wasn't here and neither was Dajan, her army or any of the female trainees, he was pretty much alone, aside from the staff that worked here.

He rounded a corner and saw the curtains swaying in the gentle breeze from the open arched windows. He frowned and felt sweat dripping down his back as he walked through the hallway. He also thought it was very odd that someone would attack in the middle of the day. Why not at night when it was less obvious and easy to get in and out?

As he crept through the hallway he heard a noise from above. He looked up and saw a dark figure, wearing a silver mask. The intruder ran across the wooden beams over his head and he gasped. "Stop!" he yelled and sheathed his sword then saw the intruder jump to a different beam, running across it.

He grunted and ran after the intruder, following below on the marble. He knew those beams didn't go on forever and the intruder would have to jump off eventually. "I said, stop!" he yelled and the person finally jumped down to the ground and ran around the corner.

Solan followed the masked intruder and skid to a stop once he saw a horde of people inside the palace, all wearing silver masks and dark clothing. "Oh crap," he muttered. Everyone turned once they saw him and he took off running down a separate hallway.

He would have to thank his mother for the secret passages she had built into this palace. He ran into one of the rooms and pushed on the wall and ran through a dark hallway. He breathed heavily and could hear footsteps running above him. He was trying to remember the layout of the entire palace, but these tunnels went on forever. There were so many directions and halls.

Hurrying through the dark tunnels, barely lit by the torches, he entered his mother's room and found Alexander reading the book he was reading earlier. He closed the door behind him and couldn't hear any commotion outside.

"Hey Solan, where did you come from?" he closed the book.

Solan ran over and grabbed his brother's arm. "We gotta leave!" he whispered and then opened his mother's door and poked his head outside to see if anyone was waiting. When the coast was clear, he darted down the hallway and entered his and Alexander's bedroom.

"Where are we going?" Alexander asked loudly.

"Shh! Be quiet!" Solan covered his mouth, then knocked on the wall, trying to find another hidden door.

Alexander glanced up at his brother confusedly. "If you're looking for the tunnels, it's behind the bookcase," he alleged with a subtle smile. Solan nodded and then went to the bookcase and forced it open. Alexander went inside first and Solan pulled the heavy bookcase back.

The two ran down the tunnels and heard people from up above, speaking in a foreign language. They were loud and seemed upset. Alexander frowned and grabbed Solan's arm. "Who's up there?"

"I have no idea, but whoever they are, they..." he looked down at his brother and smiled softly. He didn't want to tell his brother that Kara was dead. "They are after us, or mother. I am not sure."

"The Syrians?" Alexander asked and Solan halted, gawking at him. He shrugged a shoulder. "I know more than you think I do."

"I don't think those people are Syrians, Alexander. They wear silver masks. Come on, let's go," he smiled and grabbed his hand then took off running deeper into the tunnels.

Xena dismounted her horse carefully and stumbled, trying to keep her balance. Gabrielle groaned, rubbing her head gently. "Gabrielle, you really need to stop trying to save my life," she said and Gabrielle gave her a warm smile and took the fabric off from around her mouth.

"I will have to keep knocking off your time that you owe me," Xena jested.

"I couldn't let something happen to you," the blonde said with flushed cheeks. She hopped off the horse and grabbed the staff strapped to the saddle. She handed it to Xena. "You might need this."

Xena frowned and snatched the staff away from her. She walked with the staff and they were now on the beach with all of the citizens that were trapped in the smoked filled square, which was a deadly gas. She saw all of the children coughing as they sat on the sand with their mothers and other relatives.

"Sidon needs to die. I should have gotten rid of him years ago when I had the chance." She narrowed her eyes and felt so awful about what was happening around her. Everything was crumbling right before her eyes.

Gabrielle nodded and walked to stand beside Xena. "Can I ask you something?" she asked and Xena gave her knowing glare. "Not about your personal life!" she alleged as she was on the defensive side around Xena now. "That treaty you made Sidon sign. He agreed to everything and was more than amenable, but yet you still attacked him. Even before he sent the poisoned wine to your palace in Thebes, you already decided to attack him. Those kind of attacks take months to plan. Why did you do it?"

The sultana smirked. "Aren't you the little detective?" she teased. She went on, "I attacked him because he convinced the previous Persian Sultan to attack me. I didn't want that to happen because at the time I was planning to move to Persia within the next year. Persia was to be mine, until Sidon ruined it."

"What do you mean he ruined it?" she pressed.

Xena's eyes darkened the more she thought about it. "I wanted Syria and I wanted Persia so I decided to attack Sidon's share of the empire because he already betrayed me. My army destroyed Damascus in a day while I stayed in Thebes. A few days after the attack I gave birth to Alexander and then the Persian Sultan sent a treaty saying he didn't want to further his advances towards me because he was afraid of being overthrown."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and finally she understood the missing piece to this puzzle. Xena attacked Sidon because he betrayed her. "So, then what happened to Sidon and the Persian Sultan?"

Xena sighed and continued, "I banished Sidon from returning to Syria. He fled to Egypt. As for the Persian Sultan..." she lowered her gaze. "I killed him because I didn't want another war with anyone else. I got to him before the Templars could." She saw the horror in Gabrielle's eyes and avoided her gaze. "I don't kill people for sport, Gabrielle. I kill them because I know if I don't, they will kill me first. I was merciful to Sidon and exiled him. I could have killed him but I didn't. Now, I wish I would have."

Mercy. Xena, you show so much mercy, but hide behind a veil, but why? You could do so much good as a woman in the public eye. I am finally beginning to understand you. "I think that was kind of you. I don't know a lot about ruling an empire, but I think you make good decisions. I wanted to say that..." she inhaled heavily, hopefully she wasn't going to regret this. "I apologize about all the horrible stuff I thought and said about you for years."

Xena blinked. "Years? You spread lies about me?"

Gabrielle smiled nervously. "Well, to be fair, I didn't know you! And you were always hidden away in your palace so people always gossiped about you. I know that you aren't the horrible person that I once thought you were."

"Thanks Gabrielle," Xena said sarcastically. "We need to get back to the palace. We are doing no good staying on this beach."

The blonde trainee nodded. "Can I make a suggestion?" she asked, hoping she wasn't stepping over too many boundaries again. Xena gave her a curt silent nod. "Maybe you can leave your men here while we go back to the palace. Do you think Sidon and his minions would follow us all the way out here? You know him better than I do."

"Sidon is long gone by now, unless he's become an even bigger idiot than he was before," Xena snickered at the thought.

Xena and Gabrielle trotted up to the palace by themselves while the rest of the army stayed on the coast line watching over the civilians. Xena frowned once she saw a horde of people in dark clothes wearing silver masks. She also saw Templars inside the gates of her palace, armed with numerous amounts of weapons.

"What is this?!" she growled and trotted up to the gates and saw Gregory smiling smugly. "Get out of my palace!" she ordered.

The Templar walked to the iron rod gate and peered up at Xena on her horse. "I don't think so, Xenophon. We are arresting you for fraud."

She laughed. "Ha! Fraud? You are the fraud! You are violating your Godly laws by invading and trespassing on my land!"

Gregory groaned and folded his arms. "This is not your land! Jerusalem belongs to the church, not you! Surrender now and I won't expose your secret."

Xena felt her stomach drop and she unsheathed her sword, pointing it directly at him through the iron rods of the gate. "I don't know what you're talking about, Templar. This is my palace, my land, my empire and you are trespassing! You have no authority here!"

Sidon appeared from behind a crowd of Templars and unveiled his face. Xena saw him and felt her blood boil beneath her skin. Sidon, of course, what a huge idiot he has become. "Sidon!" she growled.

"Welcome home, sultan," the Syrian said. "Or should I say sultana..." he hinted and Xena's blue eyes grew in shock and fear all at once. "I must say, passing yourself off as an emperor for years was quite clever. But indeed, you are not an emperor, you are an empress. A woman ruling an empire is not only wrong, but illegal and punishable by death. I'm sure you are aware of the rules."

Xena lowered her sword and Gabrielle grasped her shoulder. "Don't listen to them," she whispered. "They're just trying to persuade you to tell them the truth."

"They already know the truth, Gabrielle," she said flatly.

Xena immediately thought of Solan and Alexander. She hoped they were not captured by the Templars or Sidon's men. She knew that Solan was a smart boy and that Alexander would be safe with him, but she had no idea what happened to them or what didn't happen to them.

"My Mongol friends invaded your palace. I saw your blonde brat. He's very sneaky and seems to know the palace well." He saw her eyes darken with rage. "Don't worry, we weren't able to find him. I must thank you for hiring my dear cousins, Sarsa and Kara. Too bad that Kara was oblivious to it all. Kara was always so sweet. She didn't suffer at all, I made sure of it. May her soul rest in peace."

"Sidon, that is enough!" Xena yelled then ripped off the veil from her face. Sidon's eyes widened once he finally laid eyes on her face for the first time.

Joseph stepped forward next to his master. "By God, Xenophon is a woman." He couldn't believe his own eyes. He pointed at her and snarled, "you will be held on trial for posing as a man!"

"I most certainly will not," Xena grinned and Gabrielle gasped. "You are still on my land and my territory. Everything in this empire is mine. If you want it, you'll have to fight me for it, just like anyone else would."

Gregory shook his head. "Sultana, this is no longer your empire! You have committed several crimes and posing as a man is one of the highest. The last woman who did that was publically burned at the stake. I can get the pope to lessen your sentence if you surrender to us now. So, surrender!"

"No!" she spat with a big grin on her face. "I will destroy you." She threatened the Templars and Sidon. "Now," she pulled out her sword again and waved it in front of her. "Get. Out. Of. My. Empire."

"You should have listened to us, Xenophon –"

"My name is Xena," she corrected. "I'm not going to ask you again. I am being nice," she winked at Gregory.

Belach and the girls trotted up to the gates and his mouth gaped open once he saw his stepmother showing her face to everyone. "Xena..." he said aloud and she looked over at him. "What is going on?" he turned and saw all the knights and Sidon. "Well, I guess it's too late to tell you that we couldn't find Sarsa..."

"Yes, Belach, thank you for your help." She said and he smiled. "I need you to do one more thing for me," she whispered and he nodded, trotting closer to her. "Get Solan and Alexander out of the palace. Quickly."

"Yes ma'am," he winked and then rode off and couldn't help but laugh at all of the shocked girls' faces. "Good luck, ladies!"

Gabrielle tapped Xena's shoulder. "What are we going to do now?"

"Kill them."

Chapter Text

AN: sorry about not updating but I had a short week of vacation before I start classes again. Promise the cliffhanger was well worth the wait ;)

Chapter 16 –Divine Intervention

Belach rode to the back entrance of the palace and dismounted his horse. He quickly ran to the back doors in the garden area and saw several broken glass windows. He hoped there wouldn't be any people inside and most of them were outside in front of the palace. Breathing in heavily he unsheathed his sword and kicked open the doors and cautiously walked inside, gripping his sword tightly.

Circling around himself as he tread through the dark halls, he heard a couple of voices and one was very familiar. He raised his eyebrow and walked along the wall, listening to the hushed voices. He pressed his ear against the wall and heard Alexander trying to whisper to Solan. Rolling his eyes he then sheathed his sword and walked over to the door where he thought his brothers were hiding behind.

He opened the door and was met with a dagger thrown directly at him. He gasped and dropped to the floor. Lifting his eyes he saw Solan with a sheepish grin on his face.

"I thought you were one of the intruders..." Solan lamely apologized.

Belach quickly jumped off the floor and turned to see the dagger in the wall behind him. He faced his brother and frowned deeply. "Nice aim, you nearly decapitated me," he said. "Come on, your mother wants me to take you out of the palace."

Alexander smiled and ran over to Belach still holding his wooden sword. "Are we going to fight?" he eagerly asked.

His elder brother smirked. "Sorry, no fighting for you. She told me to get you both and that's it."

Alexander pouted and folded his arms. Solan ran up to his younger brother and looked at Belach suspiciously. "Why are you helping my mother so much? What is your game?"

"No game, Solan," he sighed, "can we go now?" he grabbed Alexander's hand and began ushering him out of the room.

Solan snarled and pulled Belach's arm, thrusting him backward a few steps. "I don't trust you. You've been acting really nice since you got here and I want to know why."

Belach growled and pushed his brother aside and kept walking with Alexander. "We don't have time for this!" he quickened his pace to his horse outside and Alexander skipped with him, barely able to keep up with his long strides.

Solan furrowed his eyebrows and snatched the dagger out from the wall and ran to meet with his brothers. Belach hoisted Alexander up on the horse and turned around, motioning him to climb aboard.

"What is your deal, Belach? Why are you helping my mother?" the blonde teenager asked, incredibly skeptical of his brother.

Belach rolled his eyes and mounted the horse. "Solan, your mother asked me to do this. So would you just get on the horse? Don't make me force you."

"You can't force me to do anything," Solan grinned smugly.

"Just as stubborn as your mother," Belach smirked. "She has been ousted by the Templar Knights and Sidon. Everyone knows who she is now."

Solan's eyes widened in fear and his brother nodded his head slowly. "Yeah, that's right. You heard that correctly. If we don't leave now I'm pretty sure your mother's palace is going to be a pile of rubble. Now, get on this damn horse!" Belach demanded.

Solan quickly jumped on the horse and sat behind Alexander. He wrapped his arms around his younger brother and Belach rode off throughout the gardens. Alexander wrapped his arms around Belach's waist as tightly as he could.

"So, does this mean that mother is a sultana now?" Alexander asked.

Belach smiled and turned a sharp corner, weaving through the trees in the gardens. "More like dead meat."

Alexander gasped. "What?! She's going to die?"

"Belach, shut up," Solan rolled his eyes. He pat his little brother's shoulder. "She's not going to die, don't worry. I sent a letter to father." He whispered.

"I'm guessing you still haven't told her about that," Belach mused and Solan pursed his lips, remaining silent. "You're in deep shit, Solan."

Xena twirled the sword in her hand and smiled at Gregory. "Open the gates, Templar, and fight me like a man." She winked.

Sidon rolled his eyes and approached the gate, coming dangerously close to her large sword. He poked the end of her blade teasingly and grinned eerily up at her. "Syrian craftsmanship. The best in the Persian hemisphere. Much better than those Spartan swords you had in Thebes, huh?"

"Sidon, don't play games with me," Xena thrust the sword through the iron rods and he jumped backwards. "Don't like being at the end of my sword, do you?" she asked with a playful grin. "You must be very accustomed to my sword since your kingdom was destroyed in one day by my army."

Sidon snarled. "And where were you? Hiding in your luxurious palace like the real coward you are," he spat at her horse and she grimaced.

She bat her eyelashes and lowered her sword. She nodded her head slowly, licking her lips. "I have no reason to hide, Sidon. I am not hiding right now, am I?" she smiled and she saw his nostrils flare. "Oh, don't get angry, Sidon, it clouds your mind to make rational decisions. But, you are not very rational, are you?" she cocked her head.

Gregory groaned and unsheathed his sword. "Enough of your riddles, Xena. I am giving you one last chance to surrender to the Church. If you surrender, you may be pardoned, if not, you will be burned."

Xena sighed heavily and waved the sword in front of the large gates. "Don't bring your Church into this, Templar. Neither your Church or your heavenly deeds will save you here. You are in my empire. Your holy vows mean nothing to me. God cannot protect you."

The Templar chuckled lightly and waved his hand at Joseph. The other Templars, Mongols and Syrians began running to their positions. Xena frowned and saw archers lined up on all sides of the walls. "So you admit that you are a Godless woman, Xena."

"I didn't say that."

Her eyes darted to all the archers and she was obviously outnumbered here. She only had herself, Gabrielle and all of her trainees with her. Her army was on the coast protecting the civilians. There were too many people here and she knew she was going to lose if she attacked them head on. They obviously weren't going to surrender unto her either.

"Then you must submit to the Church or die. You don't belong in this holy land. You have corrupted it enough!" Gregory looked around and smiled. "And you are surrounded. You have no way out."

She narrowed her eyes and began backing away from the gates. Gabrielle grabbed her arm and saw the fear in Xena's eyes. "He's right, you know," she whispered. "We can't win this, Xena."

Xena smiled and Gabrielle eyed her confusedly. "This is not about winning, Gabrielle. They are bluffing. They won't attack me. They want me to suffer. If they kill me now they won't be able to humiliate me. Sidon has been waiting years for this moment."

Gabrielle's eyebrow rose then turned to all the shocked girls behind them. "What if he's not bluffing?" she asked and Xena turned to her. "They don't sound like they are."

"Gabrielle, I want you to take all of the girls and get inside the palace. Take them to the armory," she whispered.

Sidon rolled his eyes, growing impatient. "So much talk and so little action, Xena!" he yelled out. "You want to fight yet you gossip with those street rats you now own as your little warrior slaves!"

Xena grunted and Gabrielle looked over at Sidon nervously. "Gabrielle!" she hissed and the blonde snapped her head around, facing her with wide eyes. "I have Greek fire in large barrels inside the armory. I want you to ignite them then get out of the palace as fast as you can."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Are you crazy?!"

"Do as I say!" Xena growled and her petite trainee tensed at her tone. She smiled softly and said, "I have faith in you."

Gabrielle sighed and nodded her head. She turned to the girls and nudged her head. "Come with me," she said lowly and rode off on her horse. The group of girls soon followed her after they stopped gawking at Xena, completely ignoring everything around them.

Gregory raised his eyebrow as he saw all of the young girls riding off down the road and he turned to Xena with a bemused look. "Now you are all alone, Xena," he smiled. "One last chance."

Xena grinned smugly and wrapped the veil around her face again. She poked her sword through the iron rods at the anxious Templar teasingly. "Don't underestimate me, Templar." She winked then rode off.

Sidon gasped and looked upward at the Mongol archers. "Fire at her!" he shouted. The archers began shooting directly at Xena but missed terribly because she was too far out of their range. The ex-Sultan yelled up at the sky and pushed open the gates. He grabbed the nearest horse and hopped on.

Gregory yanked on the reins and stepped in front of the eager Saracen. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"I'm going to kill her!" Sidon kicked the Templar out of the way and he whistled at his men then rode off following Xena down the long dirt road through the desert forest ahead.

"Sidon, no!" The Templar cursed under his breath and then Joseph ran to his side. Gregory folded his arms whilst shaking his head at the foolish Saracen. "She is going to do something."

Joseph snickered. "She ran away, sire."

Gregory sighed and turned to his second in command. "She is not running away. She is up to something. She has a plan. If she was able to destroy Damascus in one day, imagine what she could do in a few hours, Joseph? Sidon is an idiot."

"His anger blinds him," the younger Templar said and Gregory nodded, agreeing.

Belach halted his horse once he saw a horde of people riding towards them in the barren desert far away from the palace grounds. He wasn't even sure they were in Jerusalem anymore. Alexander wrapped his arms tighter around Belach's waist and leered behind him to see the horsemen approaching.

"Who are they?" Alexander asked in a timid voice.

Solan raised his eyebrow and dismounted the horse then took off running to a higher place to get a closer look. Belach growled, "Solan!" he called out then kicked the horse to follow his brother. "Get back here!"

The adventurous blonde ran and climbed on top of a large rock formation. Belach halted the horse and watched him climb up easily. Solan put his hand over his eyes to block the blinding sun. he smiled widely once he was able to see who the horsemen were.

"Anatolians!" he shouted to his brothers. "Osman and father came here like we asked them to!"

Alexander frowned and tugged on Belach's sleeve. "You asked them to come here? Why?"

Belach grinned nervously and pat his brother's hand gently. "It's a long complicated story, Alexander. Although, I'm kind of glad that they came."

"Mother is not going to like this," Alexander shook his head in shame at his brothers.

Borias rode ahead of Osman's men and came to an abrupt halt to see all three of his sons in the middle of nowhere. He looked to Belach and wasn't quite sure what he was doing, especially with Alexander on his horse. And then there was Solan who was perched on a large boulder.

"What are you boys doing out here?" he asked all three of them.

"Well," Solan began and eyed Belach.

"Don't look at me," Belach put his hands up, refusing to give into this awful plan of his brother's.

Solan huffed and then jumped off the boulder and approached his father's horse. He almost didn't want to look him in the eye, considering he lied and his mother had no idea what was going on. "We needed help and I didn't know who else to ask, so I asked you."

Borias' eyebrow rose slowly and he rubbed his chin. "What are you talking about?"

Belach rolled his eyes. "That letter you got from Xena wasn't actually from her. Solan and I wrote it." he blurted out and Solan's eyes widened in fear.

"Where is your mother?" he turned to Solan.

The blonde teen shook his head unknowingly and Belach answered for him. "The Templar Knights, Mongols and Syrians have taken over Xena's palace. They know who she is and she's surrounded. She told me to get Alexander and Solan and leave the area."

Borias exhaled heavily and rubbed his face out of frustration. "Where is she now?"

Belach shrugged. "I guess she's still at the palace, but knowing her, she probably ran off somewhere. You know how she is," he smirked.

Osman rode up beside Borias and frowned at the three boys. "What is going on?"

"Xena didn't ask me to come here, my sons did," Borias grumbled and glared at his sons, specifically Solan and Belach.

"I knew she would never ask for your help," the chieftain chuckled lightly.

Alexander climbed off his brother's horse and ran over to Borias. He tugged on his leg and looked up at him with his big brown eyes. "Father, you need to help mother. I don't want her to die."

Borias smiled softly and grazed his hand across his small son's cheek. "She's not going to die." He said.

"Maybe she'll die of humiliation," Osman mumbled and Borias shot him a glare. "You know how prideful she can be..."

"Father, please!" Alexander pleaded with tears swelling in his eyes.

Borias sighed. "We will help her," he looked out and saw the huge palace a few miles away. He also saw a lot of black smoke filling the sky around it. "If we can find her..." he grumbled. He turned to Belach, "take Solan and Alexander far away from here."

Belach frowned, "I want to help! Let me come with you, father."

"No. You will stay with your brothers. Osman's cousin will be there to watch over you," he began trotting off and Solan ran to grab Alexander's hand. "Go!"

Belach groaned and hopped off his horse and walked with his two brothers to meet up with the rest of the Anatolians that were setting up a camp in the desert. Alexander looked over his shoulder and saw his father, Osman and the rest of the army riding towards the palace.

He sighed and turned to Solan. "Is she going to die, Solan?"

"I don't think so," his elder brother reassured him.

"It would take hellfire on earth to kill your mother," Belach said half jokingly and received a punch in the shoulder blade from Solan.

Gabrielle brought the girls to the armory through the secret tunnels that Solan showed them before. They walked inside and saw the plethora of weapons before them. Gabrielle frowned and tried to look for the barrels that Xena mentioned, but this place was huge.

She turned around to the stunned girls, all but Penelope and Astremia. "Okay, we need to look for large barrels. Xena said to ignite them on fire and then escape the palace as quickly as possible."

Helena folded her arms as did many of the other girls. "You lied to us, Gabrielle. You knew the sultan was a woman all along. Why didn't you say anything?" All the other girls agreed and began talking among themselves.

Gabrielle groaned. "We don't have time to talk about this right now!" she shouted and everyone immediately ceased talking. "The barrels are filled with Greek fire. Once we ignite them, this place is going to blow up. She told me to do this and we should work together. Okay?"

All the girls remained silent and Penelope smiled. "We should spread out," she suggested.

"The sultan said to work as a team not against each other," Astremia said. "Do what Gabrielle says," she said and then turned to her short blonde teammate and winked. Gabrielle smiled widely and her cheeks flushed.

Joan pushed through the crowd of girls angrily. "Why should we listen to the sultan...or She lied to us! She lied to everyone about who she is! Why should we save her stupid palace?!"

Gabrielle grimaced and approached Joan, staring up into her wicked eyes. "Because she brought you here to have a better life. She cares about you." She yelled out to everyone else, "she cares about us all!" she shoved Joan backwards gently.

"We aren't just trying to save her palace, we're trying to save her empire. Those men want her to burn at the stake in public! And why? Because she is a woman? We are all women too. We should help each other, like the sult...ana always says." She sighed and smiled at everyone. "She is not a horrible person. She is merciful, I've seen it for myself many times. She is a fair ruler and she deserves to be recognized for all of her good deeds."

She walked backwards and held out her arms. "Now, spread out so we can find these barrels." She said and all the girls looked at one another, feeling a bit ashamed and embarrassed at their behavior.

Everyone began running around the large armory to find the barrels that Xena wanted. Gabrielle walked off by herself and Helena ran over to her. "Gabrielle," she touched her shoulder. "You knew the whole time?" she asked.

Gabrielle nodded with a weak smile.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I don't like to betray someone's trust. It wasn't my secret to tell," Gabrielle answered and pat her friend's shoulder then walked off with Penelope to help look for the Greek fire filled barrels.

Astremia ran over and began pushing over wracks of weapons to find the barrels. She spotted Gabrielle helping Penelope. "Hey Gabrielle, you gave a really nice sappy speech back there," she teased.

"Thanks, I think," the blonde grinned and wormed through the small narrow paths of wracks upon wracks of weapons.

"The sultana is really pretty," Penelope stated aloud. "I can see why she hides her face."

Gabrielle smirked and tried to ignore that comment, although it was the first thing that came to her mind as well when she saw Xena's true face for the first time. Xena was not pretty, that wasn't the word. She was attractive yes, beautiful even, but she was very vigilant and strong, even at her weakest. That's what made her dangerous and her good looks were a plus.

Although, Gabrielle thought that Xena was different from other women. She not only posed as a man for several years, but she made her own empire from the ground up in a short amount of time. She also didn't and couldn't rely on her good looks to sway people to her side. That was definitely admirable considering that women were known for using their looks to entice men. Xena didn't use her looks to get anything she wanted.

"I found some barrels!" Joan shouted from the other side of the armory room.

"I found some over here!" Helena said with a big smile.

Gabrielle ran over to the girls and frowned, rubbing her chin pensively. If they light the barrels inside here, it will destroy the entire palace. Xena didn't seem to care what happened to the palace, she just wanted those men gone, dead or to vacate the area. Perhaps, there was another way to do this –a more strategic way.

"I have an idea," Gabrielle smiled smugly. All the girls turned to her and ran to the center of the armory where she stood. "We attacked the Templars on the walls before. We could go up to the tower and throw the barrels down at them and ignite them with arrows dipped in fire. It would give us more time to escape."

Astremia nodded. "Great idea, Gabrielle. We need to hurry though. We won't have much time before they run to attack us in the tower."

"We can throw them out the windows too, not just the tower. There are a lot of us," Helena suggested and Gabrielle grinned at her.

Penelope stepped forward, "alright, who's the best at archery?" she asked and ten girls stepped forward, raising their hands. "Come with me, let's go find some bows." She ran off and began looking for large war bows.

Borias and Osman approached Xena's large palace and it was indeed swarmed with Templar Knights and Mongols, which Borias thought was odd. He saw the men hoarding inside the gates, hiding or perhaps waiting. Xena was also nowhere to be found which meant she probably left the area and had a plan, as usual.

Gregory frowned once he saw a huge army of Anatolians outside the gates. He approached the chieftain and his second in command. "Ah, the sultana's loyal followers," he mused. "Have you come to help out your lying ally?"

Osman grimaced, "where is she?"

"She rode off. Perhaps she got scared and decided to flee because her precious palace is surrounded," he chuckled.

Borias scoffed. "Xena is not scared of anything. If she rode off then she has a plan already. You don't know her very well."

"I suppose you do?" the Templar inquired and Borias' eyes darkened. "I don't know why Xena chooses to ally with nomadic Muslims such as yourselves. She must think she is above you."

"She thinks she is above everyone," Osman interjected. "That's why she has been so successful, Templar," he smirked and saw that angered the Templar.

Borias trotted close to the gates and the archers on the walls pointed down at him. He raised his eyebrow and looked to the furious knight. "Where did she go?"

Gregory folded his arms. "East, but I doubt you'll find her. The Saracens are on her trail."

He spun around and whispered to Osman. "I'm going to find her. Don't leave this palace," he growled then rode off and a few of the men followed behind him.

"You should have taken me up on my offer, Osman. We could have taken Xena out a long time ago and obviously you knew about her treachery. You too shall face charges of fraud in the eyes of God," Gregory smiled wickedly at the chieftain.

"Xena is an ally of mine and always has been. She is more godly than you will ever be. She does not slaughter people to receive respect. She has always been fair to us and everyone in her vast empire. You underestimate her skills, Templar. I suggest you leave Jerusalem." Osman pulled out his sword and his men did the same.

Gregory laughed and all the knights pulled their arrows back. "Are you threatening me, chieftain? You actually want to protect the sultana even after she has deceived us, all except you, of course."

"I'm not threatening you, I'm asking you to leave. This land belongs to Xena. She conquered it fair and square years ago." Osman narrowed his eyes and looked up at the archers with their taut bows.

"She is a liar! She's been impersonating a man for over a decade and you kept her secret! Why would you do that for her? She means nothing! Women have no place to rule an empire! This is not ancient Greece!"

Osman smiled and waved his hand at his men and they rode off, spreading about the palace. They created a large barricade around the fortress and the knights held their fire until Gregory gave the signal.

"Perhaps Xena is more of a man than you will ever be, Templar," Osman teased.

"Fire!" Gregory shouted at his men. Osman backed up on his horse and his men pulled out their shields and formed a wall of copper over their heads.

Inside the gates the Mongols wearing the silver masks saw barrels being dropped a few stories above them. Two men looked down and saw black oil spill all over their boots and the ground.

Penelope and Astremia smiled and pulled back their flaming arrows. "Fire!" Penelope shouted and the girls shot down below directly onto the Greek fire.

Immediately the ground burst into flames and a few Mongol assassins were set aflame and began running all over the place, bumping into others and igniting whoever and whatever they touched. All the girls above in the balconies laughed at the men running around, panicking and fearing for their lives.

Gabrielle and a few other girls tipped over a large barrel onto the west wall and the Templar Knights spun around. They began running towards the tower and slipped on the oil, falling flat on their faces. The archers, on the balcony below the tower, shot their flaming arrows onto the wall and the knights self immolated and began screaming in agony.

The other knights ran to help but soon caught fire themselves and no amount of pat downs were going to put out Greek fire. Some of the knights toppled over and fell over the side of the wall and lit the grass and brush on fire as well.

"Fire on the east wall!" Gabrielle shouted and the girls on the opposite side tipped the barrels over the balcony onto the east wall.

Joseph on the ground spun around and saw everything up in flames and it was mostly his men and the Mongol assassins. His eyes widened. "Greek fire!" he shouted and his master turned around completely distracted and forgot about the Anatolians.

Osman whistled at his men to back away from the palace and saw a lot of young women, some no older than sixteen, shooting flaming arrows at the Templars. He smirked and sheathed his sword. Shaking his head, he couldn't believe Xena had girls in her palace, girls working for her.

"I thought she got rid of that stuff years ago," he mused, finding this rather amusing seeing an army of God being slaughtered by a bunch of adolescent girls.

Xena rode to the outskirts of Jerusalem and wouldn't dare go to the beach. Knowing Sidon he would kill all of those civilians and her army wouldn't be able to protect the people and fight off Sidon and his men at the same time. She looked behind her and saw Sidon still hot on her trail.

She rode through the barren desert and there was no protection at all. No trees, no brush, no mountains. She was far from Jerusalem, far from civilization. She was trapping Sidon and made sure that he would not harm anyone else. After all, she thought, Sidon is after me and he wants nobody else.

Sand kicked up behind her as she began riding in a large circle, trying to tire Sidon and his men out, but it didn't seem to be working. Glaring behind her she saw them riding through the dust storm and she growled. She saw a large area of sand dunes ahead and kicked her horse, riding faster towards the dunes.

Her horse sunk into the sand, slowing her down. She unsheathed her sword then jumped off of her horse and slid down the thick dune. She shielded her eyes as sand whisked in her face and eyes. She put her arms out and dug her boot into the sand trying to stop herself from sliding further.

Sidon yanked on the reins and frowned. He saw Xena in the dune, sliding down in the hot sand. He hopped off the horse and ran down the dune as his boots began to sink in the sand. "Xena! You conniving witch, you will not hide from me again!" he shouted.

Xena winced as she finally stopped her body and felt her legs about to give out. She forgot her staff was on her horse and she was not exactly able to stand for long since the poison was still in her bloodstream. She slowly rose to her feet and held onto her sword. She ripped the veil off her face and smiled as Sidon approached her from above.

"I'm right here, Sidon! Come and get me!" she teased. She felt her arms shaking as he came closer and shook her head, trying to focus.

The Syrian laughed and he pulled out his sword, merely a few feet away from her. "I see the poison is still in effect. What a shame it didn't finish you off the first time."

She smiled weakly and her hands began sweating inside her gloves as she glared at him. "That's because I didn't drink it the first time." She smirked and his smile disappeared. "Pretty cowardly of you to resort to poison. You should have faced me like a man, Sidon."

"You betrayed me, Xena!" he yelled and charged right for her. Her eyes widened and she evaded his attack.

"No, Sidon!" she breathed heavily and felt her left leg slowly giving out. She limped over to him and thrust her sword at his chest and he swatted her blade away. "It was you who betrayed me! I offered you a deal and you went behind my back! You planned to attack me! I wasn't going to stand around and wait for you to kill me!"

He grinned. "I bet you wish you killed me, huh? I'm glad you didn't because then we wouldn't be having this conversation right now." He chuckled and saw her struggling to stand and keep her balance. "Look at you, barely able to keep to your feet, yet I admire you. You never give up. It should be easy to kill you. Face to face," he winked and charged right for her and she dodged him, falling onto her side.

She groaned and held her ribcage. Sidon walked over and stomped on her back and she face planted into the hot sand. She gasped for air and spit out some sand. The sun was beaming down on the sand and it felt like shards of glass cutting into her cheek.

"I almost don't want to kill you," he said, seeing her so easily defeated.

"Why not?" she hissed. "Isn't this what you've been waiting for?"

He sighed and poked her back with the tip of his sword. "You are defeated, Xena. You can't even defend yourself. So pathetic, but so easy."

"Then why don't you just kill me?" she frowned and turned over her shoulder, glaring into his dark eyes. "What's the matter? Not man enough to finish the job?" she smiled smugly and he growled.

He rose his sword high into the air and then felt something stab him in the back of the leg. He moaned and turned around to see a giant arrow sticking out of his leg. Xena was waiting for the sword to be plunged into her back and then frowned.

She flipped over onto her back and saw a group of men attacking the Syrians on the top of the dunes and archers, continuously shooting at Sidon, though they missed several times. She squinted her eyes from the bright sunlight and saw Borias. What in the world is he doing here, she thought.

She tried to stand and fell back down into the sand, wincing in pain. She reached for her sword and began crawling away from Sidon, wrapping her arm around her midsection.

Sidon growled and saw Xena getting away from him. "No, you don't!" he limped forward and grabbed hold of her ankle and pulled her back.

Xena dropped her sword and it soon disappeared in the sand. She snarled and kicked Sidon away and he smiled. He grabbed her turban and unraveled it off her head and exposed her hair slicked back into a tight bun.

"Now you will show your true face, Xena –the lying snake that you are!" he hissed and grabbed her leg and drug her across the hot sand. She felt she didn't have any control over her legs anymore and was beginning to feel weaker as the hot sun beamed onto her face.

He wrapped his hand around her neck and yanked on her bun and her long hair tumbled down her back. Her eyes widened as he was merely a few inches from her face. "You are a beautiful woman, Xena. Shame you had to hide it for so many years. Look at you now, you were the most feared ruler in Greece and Persia, but are a ragdoll. You have no control of your limbs, do you?"

He pulled out his sword and held it against her throat and she clenched her jaw. "Not nice being on the other end is it?" he hissed. "When I'm finished with you, I'll fuck your corpse and feed you to the dogs." He smiled and she cringed as she felt his blade graze her skin.

Borias wrapped his arm around Sidon's neck into a choke hold and the Syrian gasped for air. He threw Sidon a few feet away and he tumbled in the dunes. He turned and ran towards Xena. He knelt down beside her and saw blood seeping from her throat.

He pressed his hand against the wound and she blinked rapidly up at him. "What...are you...doing here?" she choked out and he applied more pressure to her open wound.

He shook his head and ripped a piece of her robe off and wrapped it around her neck as tightly as possible. "It is a long story." He heard Sidon growl behind him and he rolled his eyes. "Don't move," he ordered her and he unsheathed his sword.

Sidon coughed and rubbed his neck. "Anatolian..." he grinned. "The allies of Xena of course. God must have sent you here, but that would be impossible because Xena is a godless woman."

"Save your prayers for later, Sidon," Borias said with a smile and slowly walked forward towards the irate Syrian.

"You will all burn in Hell. We are of the same religion yet you are loyal to that heathen of a woman," Sidon snarled.

Borias shook his head and lunged forward, thrusting his blade into Sidon's already wounded leg. The Syrian cried out in agony and grabbed Borias' long hair and kneed him in the nose.

Xena rolled over onto her side and her vision began to blur as she watched Sidon fight with Borias. She touched her neck and the fabric was soaked. She looked at her hand and saw a lot of blood on her palm. Her eyes became heavy and she reached forward, trying to crawl away in the sand.

She breathed heavily and saw Borias grab Sidon by the neck and toss him aside. Her eyes fluttered as she tried to stay awake and try to crawl away. She exhaled lightly and collapsed into the sand and her head lolled onto her stretched out arm. The winds began picking up and sand started to cover her body as she lay in the hot sand.

Sidon knocked Borias' sword out of his hand and Borias backed away slowly. A few Anatolians came running behind and he smiled. "Get rid of him!" he shouted at Osman's men then turned around to see Xena covered in a light blanket of sand. "Xena!"

His boots sunk into the sand dunes as he tried to get to her. He dropped to his knees and shielded his eyes as the wind grew stronger. He lifted her torso up and pat her cheeks. Her mouth parted slightly and he looked at the fabric wrapped around her neck. Too much blood, he thought, the cut was too deep.

He groaned and hoisted her up and threw her body over his shoulder then began to tread back up the dunes. He struggled against the harsh sandy winds and held onto her dangling legs. "You are insane, Xena," he grumbled.

The Templar Knights began mounting their horses and were eager to leave Xena's palace. Most of the men were still running around in flames or they were dead. All the Mongolians were dead and those girls kept throwing barrels over the balconies and towers.

The gates were opened and Gregory waved his hand. "We need to retreat!" he ordered.

The Anatolians surrounded the Templars as they were about to make a hasty exit. "Leaving so soon, Templar?" Osman smirked. "Why don't you stay awhile?"

"I do not have any quarrels with you, Osman. I've lost nearly all of my men!" Gregory shouted.

Osman tisked and shook his head. "That's unfortunate for you. You should have left when I asked you to then maybe this didn't need to end like this."

"Allow us to pass, chieftain. You would fight a man unfairly?" Gregory asked and nervously looked around at all the Anatolians dressed in black and gold, surrounding him and his men.

"Isn't that what you did to Xena?" Osman said with a playful grin. "That's the difference between you and Xena. She is fair, you are not. You claim to be servants of God but you don't follow the word of God, Templar."

Gregory scoffed. "We have different gods, Osman. This is hardly an argument."

The Anatolian laughed aloud. "We have the same God, Templar. I am sorry you feel differently. I can't allow you to pass, at least, not so easily." He unsheathed his sword. "Surrender to me and my army and no harm will come to you."

The Templar master looked to Joseph and what few men he had left. He barely had twenty men and Osman had over one hundred men, possibly more. There was no way he was going to be able to fight them all without losing a few more lives.

"It seems you are out of ideas, Templar," Osman grinned. "I will let you run back to your Church now if you don't attack. Back down now. You don't have a lot of options."

Gregory huffed and gripped the horse's reins tightly. "Don't think that I won't be back with more men next time, Anatolian." He rode off and the remainder of his knights trailed behind him. Osman smiled and then heard all the girls cheering loudly on the balconies.

"Wow that was amazing!" Helena said and hugged Gabrielle tightly. Soon other girls wrapped their arms around her and Gabrielle coughed as she couldn't breathe.

Joan looked down at the Anatolians and the dead Mongols and knights down below. She frowned and looked beyond the palace walls. "Where is the sultan –I mean, sultana?" she asked and all the girls' smiles faded instantly.

Borias rode in with Xena draped over the horse in front of him. "Osman!" he shouted and the chieftain turned around with a large frown on his face.

"What's happened to her?" Osman asked.

Gabrielle looked down below and saw the man she saw in Ankara the last time she went. It was definitely the father of Xena's two boys and she squinted her eyes and saw Xena's body on Borias' horse. A sad frown graced her lips and then she saw him riding off with Xena.

"Where is he going?!" Gabrielle gasped then pushed through the girls and ran down the spiral of stairs.

Penelope frowned and Gabrielle ran right past her. "Gabrielle, where are you going?!"

Gabrielle breathed heavily and ran towards the gates and approached Osman. She grasped his leg and he was startled by her presence. "Where is he taking her?" she asked and he sighed. "Where?!"

"To my camp in the desert not too far from here, girl," he answered.

She nodded and then he began trotting off. She ran in front of his horse and he snarled. "Let me come with you."

"I don't think so. You and your girls did a fine job today," he smiled then began riding off and she grabbed the reins and the horse reared on its hind legs.

"I won't take no for an answer!" she said and he frowned down at the petite blonde. "Please," she begged.

Solan stayed outside the tent with Alexander playing a game in the sand. He drew a chess board in the sand with a large stick and so far they had played through three games and he let Alexander win two times.

Belach leaned against a tree and sighed heavily as he watched his brothers play the game over and over again for the last few hours. He kept his eyes open for his father or Osman if they planned to return.

Solan frowned at his brother. "You can't move the queen in that direction, Alexander."

"Why not?" he pouted.

"Because, you just can't!" Solan shook his head and moved the large rock to a different square. "Besides it's my turn anyway," he smiled and grabbed the smallest rock, representing a pawn and was about to move it across the sand 'board'.

Alexander huffed and stood then kicked his boot in the sand, destroying the chess board Solan drew. "I am done playing with this game!" he folded his arms and Belach snickered. "I want to know what is going on! What is taking them so long, Solan?"

"I'm sure it won't take too long, Alexander. Just be patient," Solan sighed and rubbed his temples, feeling a headache emerging soon.

"Belach, do you know anything?" Alexander walked up to his elder brother.

Belach shook his head and ruffled Alexander's thick short hair. "Sorry kiddo, I know as much as you."

Alexander grimaced and ran his fingers through his hair. "I really wish you'd stop doing that." He grumbled. He then heard horses approaching and ran forward. He smiled upon seeing his father riding in. "They're back!" he cheered.

Solan stood and Belach walked ahead of Alexander and saw Xena draped over his father's lap and then he halted the horse. Borias hopped off and hoisted Xena off the horse and carried her in his arms. He spoke with Osman's cousin in a hushed tone, too far to hear from where he and his brothers were.

Belach raised his eyebrow and then saw Xena's neck drenched in blood and her limp arms hanging down. His eyes widened and then Borias walked with Osman's cousin to a tent in a secluded area.

Alexander ran forward and frowned. "Did father find mother? Can we see her?" he asked eagerly.

Belach watched their father disappear into a tent with Xena and sighed heavily. He knelt down in front of his younger brother and smiled softly. "Do you want to play another game with Solan?" he asked and his kid brother pursed his lips.

"No! I am done playing games! I want to talk to father. I know he found mother, I saw her on his horse," he smiled widely. "I want to see her!" he marched forward towards the tent and Belach quickly grabbed his arm.

"Alexander, no!" he yelled in a firm voice.

"Let go of me!" he whined and tried to pull away from Belach and kicked his shin. His elder brother groaned and then Belach picked him up, wrapping his arms around him in a bear hug. "Belach!"

Belach shook his head and walked away from the tents and set him down on the ground and pinned him to a tree. Solan frowned and looked over to see a lot of people crowding around the tent that his father was in.

"Alexander, you can't see your mother right now," he said in a softer voice.

"But I want to see her!" he frowned sadly.

"And you will, but you can't right now, okay?" Belach smiled weakly.

"Why not?" Alexander's eyes widened.

He sighed and placed his hands on his little brother's shoulders. "You can see her later. Now, about that game?"

"Belach, I am not stupid. I want to see mother!" Alexander tried to get up and Belach pushed him back down.

"Alexander! Please," he sighed.

Gabrielle rode in with Osman and the rest of the army. She hopped off the horse and Alexander caught sight of her and grinned. "Gabrielle is here! See, mother is okay because she's here. Gabrielle!" he waved and she looked over at him and smiled softly.

She walked over to the three boys and Alexander ran up to her. "Hey Alexander..." she smiled and pat his head.

"Did you see my mother?" he asked with a beaming grin.

"Not yet..." she lifted her eyes and saw the concern in Belach's eyes and Solan's uncertainness. She already knew that the two older boys knew and Alexander had no idea. "But I will go check on her for you, okay?"

Alexander nodded. "Can I come with you?" he asked.

Belach shook his head and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip. She knelt down and grasped his upper arms. "Not right now, Alexander. I will see her first and then come get you, how does that sound?" she smiled.

"Okay!" he said and she nodded her head slowly.

"Just stay here with Belach and Solan. I'll be back soon," Gabrielle pat his cheek lightly and then ran off to go find someone to talk to so she could see Xena. She knew something was wrong, but didn't know what it was and the look on Belach's face was more than concerning, it was not good. Belach was not even Xena's son and he looked worried, which was unusual.

Solan grabbed his little brother's hand and looked over at the tent and saw his father step out and talk with Osman quietly. He saw blood all over his arms and palms. He pulled Alexander away, shielding him.

"So, how about another game of chess while we wait?" he offered.

Chapter Text

I am working on a new story that requires a lot of research of historical characters and so on. Also, some of these characters are indeed historical and some of these events really occurred. (Sidon: a real Syrian ruler, Osman: Anatolian chieftain)

Chapter 17 –Valide Sultan

Gabrielle approached Borias and Osman in the middle of their conversation. She cleared her throat and both men ceased talking. "Excuse me," she smiled weakly, "can I see her?"

Borias raised his eyebrow, "and who are you?"

This is going to be a little awkward, she thought. "I am one of the sultana's trainees. I live with her," she said and Borias folded his arms, glaring at her.

"Gabrielle!" Helena yelled from afar and the blonde turned to see all the girls riding in on horseback and she immediately thought this was a horrible idea. She also didn't know why everyone followed her here either.

"What is this?" Borias saw the horde of girls riding in. All of them jumped off their horses and ran towards Gabrielle with concerned faces. He pushed Osman aside and blocked the girls from coming any further. "What are you doing here?"

Penelope stepped forward, "we came to see the sultana. We saw you ride in with her," she smiled and the other girls nodded their heads.

Osman placed a hand on Borias' shoulder and smiled gently at all the eager young women. "These girls got rid of the Templar Knights and Mongols at the palace."

Gabrielle saw Borias' face soften and she stepped forward to speak for everyone. "The sultana has been our mentor. She trains us to fight and we live in the palace with her. The Greek fire was her idea."

"An army of girls," Borias mused. "Nothing surprises me anymore," he rolled his eyes. "You can't see her right now, ladies."

"That's alright, we can wait," Penelope grinned and he groaned then left to go check on Xena.

Helena grasped Gabrielle's arm and looked at the tent that Borias disappeared into. "Have you seen her yet?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "I just got here," she turned around and frowned at everyone. "Why are you all here anyway?"

"We wanted to make sure the sultana was alright," Helena smiled softly and all the girls nodded. "If you say she is a good person then she must be. She must care about us and trust you a lot to put you in charge of that attack earlier."

Gabrielle thought about trust and she wasn't entirely sure she had earned Xena's trust yet. She still had no idea that she forged her signature in that letter, but she hoped that Xena would be lenient with her like always. After all, Osman and his army came at the right time, which is entirely unexpected. She was going to make sure to put most of the blame on herself instead of Solan and Belach, even though it was their idea in the first place.

Alexander ran up to Gabrielle and tugged on her arm. She peered down at him and smiled weakly. "Did you see mother yet?"

Helena grinned at the boy, finding him very adorable. And it was very odd to see hear him call the sultana 'mother', in front of everyone no less.

"Sorry, Alexander, I haven't yet. But don't worry, I will check on her for you," she said and turned to lay eyes on the tent again. Borias had yet to leave and she began to wonder how badly hurt Xena really was. There had been a lot of people coming in and out of that tent since she got here.

"Is she okay?" he asked, blinking his big brown eyes.

"Um," Gabrielle frowned, trying to think of something to say but nothing was coming out of her mouth.

Astremia interrupted and put her hand on Alexander's shoulder. "Knowing her, I'm sure she's fine," she winked and Alexander stepped away from her cautiously.

"I asked Gabrielle, not you," he folded his arms and Astremia widened her eyes in shock. She saw that this boy was definitely a spoiled prince, but he was smart and wasn't going to settle for a simple answer.

"She'll be alright," Gabrielle finally answered and he raised an eyebrow, staring at her incredulously. "Why don't you go play with Solan? He looks pretty lonely."

Alexander groaned. "I am not a baby, Gabrielle! You can't tell me what to do."

"Demanding little boy, isn't he," Penelope whispered to Helena and the two snickered.

"I heard that," Alexander eyed the girls and their faces paled. "I'll come back later and I expect an answer," he looked towards Gabrielle then walked off to the tree where Solan was waiting for him. He knew all too well that his brother was just trying to distract him from everything, but it wasn't working.

Joan scoffed, "wow, he's something else," she said. She looked over at the tree and saw Belach sharpening a sword by himself. "Who is tall, dark and handsome over there?" she nudged her head over.

Gabrielle shook her head and sighed heavily. "That's the sultana's stepson, Belach."

Joan smirked and then began making her way over to him and Yasmine followed her. Gabrielle's eyes grew and she gasped. "What are you doing?!"

"Introducing myself of course," Joan smiled.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you!" Gabrielle warned but her advise was not considered at all as she watched the girls walk over to Belach.


Hours later, Gabrielle sat outside on the cold sand with Helena. She had her eyes on the tent and Borias had to leave, which probably meant that Xena was extremely hurt, or something else. She wondered what happened to her and why she wasn't getting any information from anyone yet.

Borias finally stepped out of the tent and Gabrielle sat up, eyeing them. Helena was talking away and she completely ignored her entirely, trying to listen to Borias talk to Osman from afar.

"We don't have enough supplies here," Borias whispered and eyed all of the girls, who were now sitting with his sons and he particularly eyed Belach sitting with quite a few girls.

Osman rubbed his chin and sighed. "What else do we need then?"

"Medicine," Borias answered curtly. "That gash is too deep to repair with just a few bandages."

"And she hasn't woken up yet?" Osman inquired and Borias shook his head. "Maybe you should take a few of those girls with you into the city. I'm sure they know where to look to find medicine. They know this city better than we do."

"I've never seen Xena so off guard before," Borias folded his arms, thinking that was odd. She didn't even put up a fight against Sidon. "She didn't even try."

Osman shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps she was outnumbered."

Borias smirked, "that is never a problem for Xena." He pat his friend on the shoulder. "I am going to ask Belach and some of come with me into the city."

Gabrielle saw him leave and Osman step away from the tent. She smiled, thinking this was her chance now. Helena grabbed her arm just as she was about to leave her side. "Where are you going, Gabrielle?"

"Um, I'm going to check on the sultana," Gabrielle whispered. "Can you keep a lookout for me in case someone comes near the tent?"

Helena rolled her eyes. "You're always getting into some kind of trouble, Gabrielle. I don't think anyone is supposed to go in there."

"Please, Helena? I need to see what happened to her," she begged and Helena let out an exasperated sigh and gave her a curt nod. "Thanks, you're the best!" she grinned and leaned over, kissing her cheek.

She crept by and Osman was standing in front of the tent, watching carefully for anyone approaching. She realized she wasn't going to get past him easily, but there was something important, something that he should probably know.

"Excuse me," she tapped his shoulder and the chieftain turned around slowly.

"What is it, girl?" he asked in a gruff tone.

She grinned softly, "the sultana's army is on the beach protecting the civilians. They don't have any idea what has happened to the palace."

Osman furrowed his eyebrows. "Xena trusts you girls, doesn't she?" he asked and she nodded furiously. "They know the way to the beach area?" she nodded once more. He groaned inwardly, thinking that he had to succumb to working with women, not just women, but girls that were his niece's age probably. He didn't understand why Xena did this, but knowing her, she had a good reason, as usual.

He whistled at his cousin and a slew of men came running towards him. Gabrielle smiled sneakily as she heard them talking about Xena's army camped out on the beach. She took this opportunity to creep into the tent and finally see what happened to Xena.


She walked in and saw Xena laying on a pile of blankets and her wild dark hair sprawled across a bundle of animal pelts. She took another step closer and saw her neck was wrapped with a bandage, but it didn't seem to be doing its job. The bandage was completely soaked through with blood and her right arm was lathered in dried blood as well.

Frowning softly she knelt down beside Xena and lifted the bandage around her neck and saw a large gash. Her eyes widened in horror as she saw how deep the wound was. That Syrian bastard couldn't have gotten her in the ribs or something, but no, he went straight for the throat. Sidon was obviously out for blood and wanted Xena dead, literally. He waited so long to formulize this elaborate plan and even resorted to working with his enemy, the Crusaders, to oust Xena and kill her.

She couldn't help but think that Sidon almost succeeded in his plan if she was not saved right away. Borias was right, Xena was off her game with Sidon, but what he didn't know was that Xena had been recently poisoned and it obviously was still in effect.

Xena could barely walk or stand by herself, yet she tried to elude Sidon and his men far from the palace just to devise her plan with Greek fire. Gabrielle shook her head and grazed her fingers along the sultana's arm. Everyone seemed to hate Xena, but they didn't know who she was. She is merciful as she kept reminding Gabrielle time and time again.

Yet, Gabrielle didn't understand what Xena meant by that. So many people wanted her dead because she was a strong ruler and now the Templars, Mongols and Syrians were furious to find out that their foe is a woman. She couldn't imagine the embarrassment those men felt. To be conquered by a man is one thing and almost seen as noble but to be conquered by a woman is considered blasphemous. And Xena did such a good job at conquering in such a short amount of time.

She now began to realize why Xena hid herself for so long and it probably would have worked longer too, if there weren't so many snakes in the hen house. Sidon had this planned for years, employing his cousins to work for Xena was a brilliant plan. To ally with the Templars was also brilliant, considering they had a huge army, an army of God as they say, and Sidon was exiled from his kingdom. Xena spared his life, yet he is still vengeful.

They may have been able to get rid of the Templar Knights this time, but Gabrielle knew that they will come back and with a bigger army this time. Xena wasn't the type of person to ask for help as she really never needed it before. After all, she basically owned Anatolia and they followed her loyally. They were more than willing to help her without any questions asked, but that would have never happened if Solan didn't convince Gabrielle to send that letter to Borias.

Xena would have died, everyone probably would have died. Gabrielle smiled softly and grabbed a wet cloth and began cleaning off the dried blood on Xena's arm. She couldn't help but think of Xena's reaction once she found out that the father of her sons and his people, saved her. Xena would probably be furious and forget about her wound entirely. She was too stubborn to admit when she needs help for sure, Gabrielle knew that.

Also, Belach was here helping and Gabrielle had the feeling that Xena was not too fond of that boy and vice versa. Belach and Xena were obviously not related by blood, but she tolerated him, Gabrielle could tell. Belach on the other hand always made snide remarks about Xena, even if she were standing right in front of him, he didn't care. He was definitely a spitfire and very feisty, not to mention he looked so much like Borias. You'd have to be blind not to see the resemblance of the two. But Solan looked more like Xena and Alexander more like Belach with his dark hair and eyes. Gabrielle sensed a lot of tension between Solan and Belach when he first came to the palace, but she hoped that the two would work together more often in the future.

She sighed and brushed a few strands of hair away from Xena's face. "I'm sorry," she whispered. She watched Xena's chest rise and fall slowly. "Everyone is after you in every way possible."

She dipped the cloth into the water bowl and kept cleaning the blood of the sultana's bare arm. "If only people knew what a great person you are. If only they knew your true intentions then maybe they wouldn't be after you." She paused and chuckled, "or maybe they would still come after you. They thought you were a man all this time and still wanted you dead. They're afraid of you and now they're even more terrified since they know who you really are. Funny how men are so scared of women that are in positions of authority. Maybe those Templars should reread their holy book and recall all of the brave women in history then they'll really feel like fools!"

As she kept cleaning off Xena's arm she saw blood seeping from the wound and she panicked. She took off the bandage and blood came gushing out of the large gash. She gagged and covered her mouth seeing the thick crimson fluids running down Xena's neck and shoulder.

She placed her hand against the wound, pressing tightly. She frantically began looking for something to wrap around the wound, but all the bandages were used and soaked in blood. She mumbled to herself then ripped off a piece of Xena's robe laying on the floor beside her. She quickly pressed it against Xena's neck and tried to lift her head gently to wrap her neck, but more blood rushed out.

"Damnit," she groaned.


Alexander saw that nobody was near his mother's tent and he grinned, making his way over. He walked hastily and Helena lifted her eyes. She gasped and ran to block the tent's entrance. He huffed and tried to side step her.

"Get out of my way!" he demanded.

"Sorry, I can't let you in!" Helena frowned at the little prince.

He kicked her shin and she winced. "I said, get out of my way and I meant it, Helena," he pushed her aside and she fell on the ground, grabbing her hurt leg.

Upon entering the tent he saw Gabrielle holding a cloth against his mother's neck and she was covered in blood. His eyes widened in horror and he scanned the tent and saw bloodied bandages all over the ground and a water bowl that had turned crimson.

"Mother?" he said barely above a whisper.

Gabrielle snapped her head around and her face paled once she lay eyes on Alexander. "What...what are you doing in here?! I thought I told you to wait for me to come to you!"

He blinked rapidly and couldn't stop staring at the amount of blood all over Gabrielle's hands and his mother's neck. "You said she was okay," he frowned sadly, "she doesn't look okay to me," he shook his head and then ran out of the tent.

"Alexander!" she called out and she cursed to herself then kept applying pressure to Xena's wound.

"Osman!" Alexander ran up to the chieftain and shook his arm furiously.

Osman frowned and bent down, "what is it, child?" he stared into his teary eyes.

"Mother! So much blood! Blood everywhere!" he exclaimed and a single tear fell from his eye. Osman lifted his eyebrow and then grabbed the boy by his shoulder and escorted him to his cousin.

"Stay here," he marched off towards the tent.

Solan came running and saw his brother sobbing softly. He knelt down and frowned sadly, wiping his brother's cheeks. "What's the matter?"

Alexander breathed heavily and wiped his eyes. "Mother..." he frowned sadly and looked into his brother's worried eyes. "She is really hurt, Solan. I saw her," he shook his head.

"Hey, don't worry, she'll be alright –"

"Why does everyone say that?! She is not alright, Solan! Everyone lies to me!" he pushed Solan and he fell onto the ground.

"Alexander!" he gripped onto his little brother's shoulders. "Trust me when I say she'll be alright. She has a lot of people helping her, don't worry!" he said and Alexander blinked, wide eyed. "You want to hear a secret?"

The small prince nodded.

"When I was five years old I saw mother come back from a battle in Corinth. She was in her room for days and I wasn't allowed to see her. I didn't listen to those guards," he said and Alexander smiled softly. "I went in her room and saw bruises and cuts all over her arms, legs and face. I never forgot that, but a few days later, she was back to her normal self."

"Really?" Alexander inquired, not quite sure whether to believe his older brother or not.

"Yeah," Solan smiled. "Sometimes these things happen and that's why she doesn't want you to train with a sword. She thinks it is dangerous."

Alexander frowned, "but you train with one."

Solan rolled his eyes. "That was supposed to be a secret, and besides, she doesn't like it."

The young brother sighed heavily and wiped his teary eyes. "I don't want her to die."

"She's not going to die, Alexander. I promise you, nobody here would allow that to happen." He grabbed his brother's hand and escorted him away from the area, far away from his mother's tent. "Now, will you play a game with me?"

"I don't really feel like it..." he eyed the tent again and Solan sighed.

"You can't do anything except wait."


Penelope and Joan gathered the necessary items that Borias requested and quickly ran over to him and Belach as they sat atop of their horses. "Is this everything, sir?"

Borias lifted his eyebrow. "Yes," he said and Penelope nodded then walked over to her horse and placed the vials of herbs in the saddlebag. He turned to his son, "why do they keep calling me that?"

Belach smirked and shrugged a shoulder. "Just go with it."

Borias noticed that his city was fairly deserted and hardly anyone was in it, which he thought was strange. He felt like he was on constant alert and had no idea if the Templar Knights were waiting to strike again, although after what Osman told him, he didn't think they would come back anytime soon. Then there was Sidon and his men, which Osman's men gladly took care of.

"Father," Belach began and Borias looked over towards him. "Is Xena alright?"

His father gave a subtle smirk. "You care about her?" he pried and Belach frowned, sort of embarrassed.

"She's not so bad, I guess. I know she hates me anyway –"

"She doesn't hate you," Borias cut him off. "She always asked about you in her letters."

Belach's eyes grew in shock and somewhat in awe too. "Really?" he couldn't believe that Xena would even care about his existence.

"She even sent you gifts for your birthday every year, which you never got because of your mother," Borias rolled his eyes, thinking of how jealous Natassa could be.

"Wow," the teenager sighed heavily. "I am a huge asshole," he said and Borias' eyes widened. "I didn't know that she cared about me otherwise I would have never called her –"

Borias eyed him carefully and his son smiled cheekily. "Never mind..." he sheepishly said. "I should have never been so mean to Solan because I hated Xena. You never answered my question –will she be alright?"

Borias sighed heavily, "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?!" he spat.

"Is this needle a good size? I couldn't find a smaller one," Astremia presented a pretty large needle and Borias crinkled his nose.

"It's fine. We should leave," he trotted off and Belach followed him.

"Father!" he rode beside him. "What happened to her?"

"We can talk about it later," Borias answered curtly and rode off without his son. Belach groaned and waited for the girls to catch up to them.


"We should have killed Xena when we had the chance!" Joseph yelled as he paced back and forth in their camp in Masada.

Gregory sat in front of the fire, contemplating everything that happened. Nothing went like it was supposed to and not to mention those girls ruined everything. No doubt that those men and sand was still burning from that Greek fire. It was impossible to put out that fire, it was like hellfire on earth. He thought it was an omen. Xena had created a hell on earth, literally.

"Sidon was too ambitious. He wanted Xena dead years ago. He is probably long gone by now," the Templar master said.

"And those stupid Anatolians!" Joseph growled. "They are loyal to Xena. You saw how quickly that were to defend her and her precious palace?"

Gregory nodded and waved his hand. "Joseph, you are getting angry for no reason. I have no doubt that Xena is still alive. It seems she has several guardian angels surrounding her constantly. She has survived all this time as a male sultan and now everyone knows that she is a fraud. We need to report this back to the Pope and ask for guidance."

Joseph scoffed and took a seat next to his master. "So, are you saying that we leave Persia? Xena still has a huge army that will attack us!"

The Templar master chuckled. "We do not have enough men to fight them!" he snarled. "We need to go back to Rome and ask for help. We should consult the King of Hungary and King of France for aid."

Joseph shook his head, thinking that was a terrible idea. "With all due respect, sire, the King of Hungary has close ties with the Anatolians. They will not side with us and the King of France is far too liberal. He allows his wife to rule several provinces. King Phillip's wife is in charge of the Spanish army. They are too laissez-faire and would not aid the Church in this situation."

"That is where you are wrong, my friend. Xena has been known across Europe as Xenophon –a man. When they find out that Xenophon is not who he says he is, they will come to our aid."

"I am not too sure about that, sir." Joseph sighed and rubbed his chin. "Has Xena made any treaties with France over the years?"

Gregory furrowed his eyebrows. "I am not sure what treaties she has made with anyone anymore. I know she made one with the Anatolians and Hungarians, but I doubt she would dare send a treaty to France. That is not in her territory and far too ambitious."

"I wouldn't put anything past her. She is conniving and obviously very intelligent, for a woman," Joseph snickered. "How did she become the most powerful person in Greece and Persia so quickly? It was like she took Greece overnight and made it hers. We should have gotten rid of her years ago!"

The Templar master couldn't fathom either. He had been serving the Church for nearly two decades and remembered when he was sent a decree that a new emperor had taken over Greece. Greece belonged to Rome once upon a time ago, but Xena ceased it with ease. She didn't destroy any villages to gain the territory either. She simply took it over in a peaceful way, although, cities began revolting against her and they attacked her. Unfortunately for them, they lost and were forced to submit to her in the end.

"When we return to Rome, we must inform the Pope about our losses. Xena is a force to be reckon with and she must be eliminated. We will go to France to talk to King Phillip about giving us his army."

Joseph nodded and smiled, relishing in the idea of getting rid of the fraudulent sultana. "And we should consult the Queen of Spain and King of Germany. Once we have all of Europe on our side, Xena will be forced to surrender unto the Church. Since the Khan was no help, we have to resort to allies closer to home."


Borias returned with the girls and Belach. He and Penelope rushed into the tent and he found Gabrielle beside Xena. His lip quivered and he saw a black cloth wrapped Xena's neck. "What are you doing in here?!" he grimaced.

Gabrielle stood immediately and put her arms behind her back. "She wouldn't stop bleeding. I tried to clot it but Osman was able to stop the bleeding." She saw the malice in Borias' eyes and she lowered her gaze. "I'm sorry."

Penelope's mouth gaped as she saw the sultana for the first time up close without all her garb on. She always looked so intimidating and large, but now she looked so small, so defeated and helpless. This was not the person that she feared for months. She realized that the sultana was a human –a woman.

"Just leave, I can handle it from here," Borias knelt down and grabbed the supplies from Penelope's hands. He began unwrapping the bandage from Xena's neck and saw Osman stuffed the wound with some herbs and although it wouldn't hold for long, it was a quick face.

He turned back and saw Gabrielle and Penelope standing in the entryway. "I said leave!"

Penelope grabbed Gabrielle's hand to leave but Gabrielle refused to move. "I want to help."

Borias sighed heavily and he tapped his fingers on his knees impatiently. "You've helped enough. I can take over now. You can go. If anything happens I will tell you," he said in a softer voice.

"Come on Gabrielle," Penelope urged.

Osman caught eye of Gabrielle and frowned. He marched towards her and yelled out, "you!"

Gabrielle cringed and she saw the large muscular chieftain coming right for her. Penelope's eyes widened and she slowly began backing away. She didn't think she did anything wrong except look after Xena.

"Yes, sir?" she smiled sheepishly.

"I have sent my men to gather Xena's army and the Hebrews from the beach like you said. You should have not gone into the tent! Nobody is allowed in there!" he growled and she wiped the spit off her face.

"Well, I was just concerned. We all are," she folded her arms and his nostrils flared. "We can't stay out here forever. We need to return to the palace where it's safer."

Osman snorted. "I suppose you think you're in charge here, don't you, girl?" he said and her frown deepened. "We will return to the palace once her men put out that Greek fire. That stuff is lethal, you know."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Those Templars will be back! They aren't going to give up. She nearly bled to death awhile ago! She is not strong enough to fight an entire army of knights! She wasn't even supposed to be out of bed when this happened!"

The chieftain cocked his head. "What are you on about, girl?"

Gabrielle cursed herself and groaned inwardly. "Sidon poisoned her. She wasn't fully recovered and that's why she couldn't fight them alone. She could barely stand and this nearly cost her, her life."

She saw a flash of realization hit him and her features softened. "You didn't know, did you?"

"That explains everything," he muttered. He motioned for his cousin to come to his side. "We need to get back to Xena's palace tomorrow morning and dump all the grain."

Gabrielle interrupted, "that's been done already," she said.

He eyed her and then spoke to his cousin once more. "Dump all the wine and water."

"Done," Gabrielle smiled smugly. "Solan made sure all of the grain, wine and water were gotten rid the day after the sultana was poisoned."

"Solan?!" Osman frowned and eyed the blonde boy, casually playing with his younger brother in a secluded corner of the camp. "Well, alright then..." he grumbled. "Go back to the palace and help Xena's army then," he instructed and his cousin took a horde of men with him.

He eyed the smug look on Gabrielle's face and folded his arms. "You girls must be awfully special to Xena." He shook his head then walked off.

"Wow Gabrielle, I can't believe you," Penelope gasped breathily. "You got some nerve talking to the chieftain like that."


Borias stuck the needle through Xena's skin gently and tugged on it to make sure the wound was completely sealed. He furrowed his eyebrows and then saw Xena's face contort and her hand rose, clenching her fist. She moaned slightly and he kept sewing the gash closed.

"Almost finished," he said calmly and her eyes fluttered open and she began panicking. She breathed heavily and tightened her neck muscles. He frowned and grabbed her cheeks, turning her face towards him. "Hold still," he demanded and she blinked in silence.

He smiled once she began to relax and her arm lowered to her side. He pulled the curved needle through her neck and she gasped. "Stop moving," he said and she frowned. "You never liked needles," he mused.

He bit the thread and cleaned her wound gingerly. She winced and he shook his head. She croaked to speak and he gave her some water. He lifted her off the blankets and she drank the water furiously.

She laid back down carefully and touched her sewed up wound with her fingertips. "I didn't ask...for your help."

He shook his head and wiped his hands on a damp cloth. "No, Solan and Belach did. If you weren't hurt I would hit you."

Her eyes widened. "Solan?"

"We can talk about that later," he said and looked into her blue eyes very sternly. "What is going on with you? Sidon nearly killed you!"

She frowned, lowering her eyes. "Where are they? Alexander and Solan?" she asked.

He sighed, "they're fine. Belach got them like you asked." He saw a sign of relief on her face and he kept looking at her curiously. "Why didn't you tell me that the Templar Knights were after you?"

"Because you betrayed me, or did you forget?" she sneered then winced at her neck. She wrapped her hand around her throat.

"No, I gave you a chance to ally with us, but you refused. You almost died, Xena! Sometimes you need to swallow your pride, don't be stupid!" he spat and she pursed her lips in silence.

She sighed and winced in pain. "You should take the boys back with you," she said and his jaw dropped. "It is not safe for them to be around me."

"We're not doing this right now, Xena," he pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.

"No!" she grabbed his hand and he saw the intense look in her eyes. "You take them to Ankara! I am a walking target."

"Xena..." he began and she exhaled deeply, closing her eyes, trying to ignore the pain coursing through her entire left side of her body.

"Just do what I say for once, Borias," her eyes fluttered open and he sighed. "Please?" she frowned sadly.


He sighed and finally nodded, relenting to her request. He left the tent and saw Solan, Alexander and Belach sitting against a large tree, talking among each other. He frowned and walked over to the three of them and Belach hopped to his feet.

Alexander stood and Borias smiled down at him. "Is mother okay?" he immediately asked.

"Yes," Borias answered curtly and he kneeled down on one knee and grasped Alexander's shoulders. "She wants me to take you back to Ankara."

Solan gasped, "but we can't just leave!"

"But I want to stay here with her, why can't we stay?" Alexander frowned and creased his thick dark brows, glaring at his father.

Borias sighed heavily and Belach quirked his mouth. "Because that's what she asked me to do. She wants you to be safe."

"I want to see her," Alexander began marching off and Borias grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "Hey!" he whined.

"Not right now, Alexander," Borias narrowed his eyes and his small son stopped resisting. "You can see her tomorrow."

Alexander sighed heavily and then folded his arms. Solan tapped his father's shoulder. "Are you going to stay here and help her? She can't fight those Templars alone."

"And that's why Belach is going to take you both back to Ankara," Borias said and his eldest son's jaw dropped.

"I am?" Belach asked with uncertainty.

"Yes, you are," Borias frowned and Belach's cheek flushed. "I can trust you to do that, right?"

"Of course, of course," Belach nodded.

Solan grabbed his little brother's hand. "Come on Alexander, we should go to bed," he urged and for once, Alexander did not put up a fight and walked with him.

Borias folded his arms and had his eyes on the tent and Belach came up around him. "Can I talk to Xena before we go?" he asked and his father nodded. "When are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow. Tell your mother to be nice to them," he warned. "Or else," he walked off and Belach sighed.

AN: "Valide Sultan" means female sultan ;) the word "sultana" is nonexistent, even today. 

Another history lesson for you all -There was indeed a "Valide Sultan" that ruled Turkey/Anatolia after her husband died. She hardly came out of her palace and used her sons' names so she could continue to rule behind closed doors. She too, came from nothing and became the most powerful "Sultan" in Turkey/Anatolia. Later, other forces discovered that she was the brains behind the massive empire and sent mercenaries to kill her. She evaded all of the attacks and continued to rule until she was in her mid 60's then she was assassinated by her sister-in-law.

Chapter Text

AN: quite a turning point for Gabrielle and Xena in this chapter. Good luck ;)

Chapter 18 –Those Who Question The Sword in My Hand

Early the following morning Xena sat up on the spread of blankets, fully dressed in her garb, which took longer to put on than expected. Borias sat beside her and cleaned up the stitches on her neck wound. He dabbed the wet cloth on her throat, cleaning up the blood and she hissed, grabbing his wrist.

He smiled softly and looked into her fiery eyes. "Hold still, Xena," he advised and she let go of his wrist and he dipped the rag into the clean water and continued cleaning the wound as carefully as he could. He saw the wound was beginning to close due to the stitches but it was incredibly swollen and red from irritation.

She fidgeted with her thumbs in her lap as she waited patiently for him to finish. He noticed her antsy behavior and smirked, amused by it. "You squirm more than a child," he snickered and she shot him a glare.

"Forgive me, but it's a bit painful," she swatted his hand away. "That's enough." She scooted back against the pillows and grazed her fingers along the stitches.

He shook his head and threw down the rag, wiping his hands on his pants. "Are you sure you want Alexander and Solan to go back to Ankara?" he asked for the hundredth time.

"Yes," she answered and looked into his dark concerned eyes. "It will be safer if they are not around me. I should have never made this agreement with you."

He raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. "What are you on about?"

"I should have let you keep both of them in Ankara. Everyone wants to kill me and now I've made our sons targets," she ran her hand across her face and sighed heavily.

He put on a warm smile and grabbed her hand. "It was a good idea at the time," he tried to reassure her, but she wasn't convinced.

"You're wrong, Borias," she frowned deeply and narrowed her eyes. "It was never a good idea. I kept Solan from you for seven years because I was angry. I thought that if I sent Solan and Alexander to Ankara each year, I could advance my empire quicker. And I did." She lowered her eyes and his smile faded. "Now, my empire is falling apart and I am putting our sons in danger."

"Xena," he groaned, "they like spending time with you."

She folded her arms and avoided eye contact with him. "I want to see them before they leave," she said and he wagged his head then stood, taking one last look at her. "Borias!" she yelled and then winced, grasping her throat.

A few moments later Alexander rushed in and hopped onto the blankets, happy to see his mother. Xena grinned widely and stretched her arms out and he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tightly. Solan walked into the tent and raised his eyebrow at his brother's enthusiasm.

"Careful, Alexander," he called out and his brother pulled away, brushing the dirt off his mother's black garb.

He then saw the stitches on her neck and he frowned. "Who did that to you?" he asked.

Xena smiled softly and hoisted Alexander on her lap. "Not one of my friends, that's for sure," she winked and he quirked his mouth. "Your father told you that you are going back to Ankara, right?"

Alexander nodded, "I don't want to go. I want to stay here with you."

She brushed the sand out of his hair and frowned. "I know, but you will be safer there. You have friends there," she rubbed his arm and he sighed heavily. "It'll only be for a little while."

"Promise?" he squinted his eyes and she grinned.

"I promise," she held up her hand and he nodded, satisfied with that. He hopped off of her and looked at her sword with mirth in his eyes. "Don't you even think about it."

He folded his arms and huffed. "Will I ever get to learn how to sword fight?"

Solan snickered and blurted out, "maybe Belach can teach you, Alexander." He then got a horrid look from his mother and he scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "Or not."

"Solan, I want you to watch him for me," she said and he nodded. "Make sure he doesn't get into trouble and keep him away from Natassa. And don't let him –"

"Mom!" Solan interrupted and she pursed her lips. "I got it," he smiled. "He'll be safe with me, I promise."

She nodded and Alexander walked over to his brother. "Will you write us?" he asked.

"Of course, don't I always?" she winked and he beamed. "Now go, before I change my mind," she shooed them away and Solan grabbed Alexander's shoulder and began pushing him out of the tent.

As soon as the two boys left she buried her face in her hands. She immediately regret what she just did, although she knew that she wouldn't be able to live with herself if something happened to either one of them if they stayed with her. She kept reminding herself that it was better this way –better that they stay far away from her for the time being. The only problem was that she didn't know how long that 'time' would be. She only hoped that it wouldn't be too long, just enough time to deal with the Templar Knights and get them off her back.

"Xena..." a soft voice called from the entrance of the tent.

She lifted her face from her hands and wiped her eyes, averting her gaze. "What is it, Belach?"

He stepped further into the tent and played with his fingers behind his back timidly. "I'm going to take Alexander and Solan back with me to Ankara," he said and she wiped her nose, ignoring him. "I...hope that you trust me to do that..."

She lifted her eyes and raised her eyebrow at the young teenager. "I do trust you," she said curtly. "Anything else?"

"Nope," he smiled nervously then turned to walk out of the tent and then sighed heavily, stopping himself from leaving. He turned his head over his shoulder and saw her tending to her wound casually trying to avoid any conversation with him.

"Actually, yes, there is something else," he said and she frowned.

"What is it?" she folded her arms. She felt too exhausted to even combat anyone right now, especially Belach.

"I..." he stammered and couldn't take his eyes off of her stern face. Definitely more frightening now than ever before. "I want to say I'm sorry." He said and waited for some sort of reaction from her but all he got was a blank stare.

"And?" she waved her hand impatiently.

He grumbled and tried not to fold his arms because then she'd know he was definitely defying her. "I just wanted to apologize to you," he said and she lifted her eyebrows as if waiting for more. He frowned, growing more frustrated. "I'm sorry I called you horrible names behind your back and for being rude to you all my life."

She smirked, enjoying seeing the frustration and distain written all over his face. "And?"

"And?!" he spat, "and? What and? What more do you want from me?!"

She chuckled under her breath. "Nothing, I just want to make sure you are being sincere."

His face reddened and he slipped his hands in his pockets. "Oh, well, yeah, because I am." He said, avoiding eye contact with her at all costs after that embarrassing outburst. "Definitely. Totally sincere."

She looked at his dark eyes which reminded her so much of Alexander's and Borias'. "Belach," she said in a soft tone and he turned. "I don't hate you and never have –"

"I know, my father told me," he shrugged a shoulder.

She slowly rose to her feet and grabbed her sword off the ground. She cautiously walked over to Belach, towering over him. "But if something happens to Alexander and Solan, don't think I won't break your arm," she hissed and tapped her sword against his kneecap, "or your leg," she smiled and winked at him.

He held his breath and she made her way out of the tent. He saw her turban lying on the ground inside and he picked it up. "Wait!" she turned around slowly and he stretched his hand out. "Won't you be needing this?"

She smiled softly and waved her hand dismissively. "Why? Everyone knows who I am, right?" she left the tent and sheathed her sword at her hip. Belach grinned softly and followed behind her.

She stepped out of the tent, resting her hand on the small of her sore back. Her eyes widened when she saw all of the girls surrounding her tent and was not aware she had such an audience. She looked in some of the girls' eyes and some were still stunned, some were in awe, some afraid, but most of all, everyone was curious.

"Good morning..." she said to all the girls and they continued gawking at her. "Alright..." she grumbled and then slowly tread off and the girls turned their heads slowly watching her. Xena felt like she was more gawked at now than when she hide her face. It was a very odd feeling.

"Sultana!" Helena called out and ran after her, as did many of the other girls. Xena sighed and turned around, surprised to be surrounded by all the trainees again. "Do you feel better?"

"What happened to you?" Penelope asked.

"Did you kill the Syrian?" Astremia asked.

Xena's eyes widened as she was suddenly bombarded by all these questions by many mouths. Gabrielle watched from afar and gasped, seeing Xena trapped by all the girls. She ran to the crowd of girls and pushed them back gently.

"Girls, please!" Gabrielle said firmly and everyone lowered their eyes, ceasing their questions. "Give her some space," she advised and turned to find Xena's expression less than thrilled by her enthusiasm. Still, she doesn't trust me, I guess, she thought.

Xena turned and walked off without saying anything to the girls. She saw a horde of her war horses tied to the trees and her lip quivered once she saw the horse –her horse –tied to a tree. " horse?!" she screeched.

Gabrielle felt her heart sink to her stomach when she heard Xena's loud voice. Everyone winced and knew that Gabrielle was the one who took Xena's horse to ride into Osman's camp. Gabrielle began backing up into the large crowd of girls, trying to hide herself.

Xena spun around and saw Gabrielle hiding in the sea of trainees. "Gabrielle!" she yelled and the blonde cringed. "You horse?" she hissed and Gabrielle turned her head and saw the wild fury in those icy eyes and could only do one thing and that was to stay silent.

Penelope stepped forward, "your highness...we were in a hurry. She didn't know it was your horse."

"Oh, is that right?" Xena's smile grew as did her eyes. "Gabrielle, would you be so kind to show your face when I'm talking to you?" she said calmly.

Gabrielle took in a deep breath and stepped forward and Xena wagged her fingers. "Closer," she said and Gabrielle took a sizeable step forward again. "Closer..." she hissed. The nervous blonde took another step and Xena towered over her. "Don't ever ride my horse," she whispered, "but I would like to...thank you for bringing her to me," she gave her a wink and walked off to grab her horse.

Osman approached Xena on her horse as she adjusted the saddle and her body. "Xena, all of your men put out the Greek fire in your palace. We will follow you to your palace."

She put on her black gloves and looked at her palace from afar. "That will not be necessary. You may return to Anatolia. You are no longer needed here."

His mouth gaped. "But Xena, Borias saved your life and we were able to get rid of the Templar Knights. Your girls are the ones who did most of the work. You can't fight them alone."

"I said..." she glared at the chieftain, "I don't need you here."

Osman rumbled under his breath then took off to alert his men to leave at once. Obviously Xena's pride was not hurt during that excursion with Sidon. And if it weren't for Borias, Sidon would still be alive and her palace in ruins not for Osman's army and the young girls.

Xena turned on the horse and saw Osman angrily talking with Borias and his cousin. She eyed all of the girls and trotted over to them. "As for you all," she began and grabbed their attention. "You are free to go. I will send a ship to take you back to your homes."

All the girls gasped and ran over to her horse. "But sultana, we want to stay with you," Penelope said.

"We want to help," Helena said with an eager grin and all the girls nodded in agreement.

Xena shook her head and raised her hand, silencing them all. If she didn't have a headache before, she definitely did now. "And why would you want to help? You girls don't know anything about war. It is too dangerous for you."

Gabrielle frowned and stepped forward, "we like you. You're a great teacher and we can always learn more from you...if we stay." All the girls nodded their heads and Xena raised her eyebrow. "Teach us everything you know."

Xena sighed heavily and tapped her fingers on her knee. "This is not a game, this is war. I don't want to be responsible for the deaths of young girls."

"And we don't want to be responsible for your death if we stand by and do nothing," Gabrielle challenged her and the sultana smirked at her and all the girls. "Let us help you. We won't take no for an answer."

All the girls smiled and folded their arms, glaring up at the sultana. Xena lifted her chin and pursed her lips, slowly nodding her head. "You girls are either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid to follow me into a war."

"Let's go with the former," Gabrielle teased and Xena eyed her carefully.

The sultana began trotting off without saying another word and all the girls' smiles disappeared. Gabrielle frowned sadly and stepped forward, watching Xena leave. How could she just leave and desert everyone like this? She obviously needed help, but was too proud to admit it.

Xena looked over her shoulder and saw the depressed expressions on the trainees faces and couldn't help but be a bit amused. "Are you coming or what?" she called out and all the girls grinned, then quickly ran to the horses.

Gabrielle mounted the horse quickly and trotted beside Xena with a goofy grin on her face. Xena turned and shook her head silently. "So, what is the plan now?"

"We are taking a trip," she answered curtly, riding slowly in the desert plains.

"A trip?" the blonde inquired.

Xena smiled deviously. "We are going back to where this all started. We will return to my palace in Thebes to be closer to the Templar Knights. They want Jerusalem so bad, they're going to have to try a lot harder to take it from me." She turned and saw the shock in Gabrielle's eyes. "Oh, don't be so afraid, Gabrielle. They will be on my turf now. If they want to play, let's play," she winked.

Upon returning to Rome, Gregory spoke to the Pope about Xena and her army of Anatolians by her side. He also told the Pope that Xenophon was no man at all, but a woman and should be charged rightfully. Pope Innocent was more than willing to try Xena for her fraudulent behavior and destroy her empire, but it was now a matter of catching her first, which would be difficult. His knights failed several times already and the Saracens were of no help. Gregory believed that Sidon and his men had been killed already due to the interference from the Anatolians.

With the Church on the knights' side, Gregory took it upon himself to send emissaries to the various kingdoms and provinces to convince the European kings and queens to ally with the Church to be rid of Xena. He sent a group to Spain, Hungary, Germany and he had the opportunity to visit the King of France himself.

He now stood in front of King Phillip of France in a large throne chamber. His wife, Queen Joan, was seated beside him, eager to hear what the templar had to say since he had come such a long way.

"Xenophon, a woman, you say?" King Phillip asked and Gregory nodded his head. He rubbed his chin and crossed one leg over the other as he sat in his throne. "How fascinating is that," he chuckled and his wife grinned.

"Has she made any contracts or treaties with you in the last ten years, your majesty?" the templar asked, fishing for as much information as possible.

The king nodded. "I do recall a treaty with Thebes from a long time ago. He...she, offered to pay two thousand pounds to me each year if I supplied her with copper for her army."

Gregory grinned, finding that quite interesting. It appears that Xena was very ambitious and sought out other sources outside of Greece long ago. "And is the treaty still in effect, your majesty?"

"Of course and she pays two thousand per year as agreed." Phillip answered.

"Sire, if I must be so bold," Gregory stepped forward, "you must dispose of this contract with Xena. She is on a mission to destroy everything in her path. She has taken all of Greece and Persia. She practically owns Anatolia. Next she will come for you!"

Phillip sighed heavily and stepped off his throne, approaching the angry templar. "Now, templar, you are a man of God, aren't you?" he asked and Gregory remained silent. "I supply Xena with copper for her army and she does not attack me. What do you think she will do if I stop supplying her metal?"

"Your highness, you have the Church on your side. You must renege on this contract. His Excellency has asked me to come here to warn you. Xena will obliterate you."

"My answer is no," Phillip said.

Joseph stood in front of Queen Isabella of Spain and explained everything about Xena and her deceit to everyone. The queen seemed less than amused and slightly annoyed.

"Has Xena ever sent you a contract or treaty, your majesty?" the templar asked.

Isabella sighed heavily. "Of course she has but I do not see what is so important about it."

"The Pope must know, my queen," Joseph lowered his gaze.

"I paid the empress to keep Germany out of my kingdom five years ago. She did as promised and I awarded her a slew of men for her army."

Joseph groaned lowly. "And this agreement still stands?"

The queen frowned at the templar, "an alliance like that is set in stone, templar. I refuse to renege on my alliance with the Greek ruler."

Nicholas stood in front of King Ferdinand of Hungary and could only listen to the king's laughter for so long. The king calmed himself and turned to the irate templar.

"A treaty? From Xenophon? Of course I have a treaty with her. I am only surprised that it is a woman. Queen Isabella must be heartbroken to learn that she is not the only woman in Europe to rule." He sighed and rubbed his chin.

"What is the treaty you have with Xena?" Nicholas asked.

"She offered to provide aid to keep Germany out of my territories. In return I gave her protection from the Sultan of Persia, but as you can see, she seems to be the sultan of Persia now," he began laughing again.

Nichols smiled, finally seeing some hope. He hoped that his fellow knights were having better luck than he was right now. "So the treaty is no longer in effect?"

"Oh no, it absolutely is. She has her men guarding the borders between my empire and Germany all the time, templar." Ferdinand grinned.

Two weeks later all of the Templars returned to Rome to discuss their meetings with each country. Gregory was completely outraged that King Phillip was unwilling to renege on his deal with Xena. He soon learned that his fellow knights did not have much luck either. Xena was able to stick her nose in every province there was, except the northern European territories. He figured that she might go there next if she were desperate.

"She is spreading herself very thin," Gregory banged his fist on the table angrily.

Joseph folded his arms and shook his head. "No, she's not, sire. She is smart. She made alliances with each country so they wouldn't attack her. The royal families are more inclined to keep Xena as an ally than to dispose of her like we are."

"He's right, sir," Nicholas said. "Xena made her way around Europe right under our noses. Most of these alliances are very old, five to ten years old. She was making her rounds around Europe without anybody noticing."

"To build an empire, one needs alliances and trust from others and that's exactly what she did. She allied with everyone possible, knowing that maybe one day she would be caught and ousted. These monarchs will not attack her because they know she is powerful, yet they are unaware of her numerous amounts of treaties with everybody." Joseph said.

Gregory nodded, though the thought of Xena outsmarting the Church was unfathomable. "What I don't understand is that not a single person was surprised that she was a woman. Do they not care that she lied to them all?"

"What do they know? They marry their cousins," Nicholas snickered.

Joseph rolled his eyes and placed a hand on Gregory's shoulder. "Bottom line, sir, they do not care whether Xena is a man, a woman, or a mutant, as long as their kingdoms are thriving and protected."

"Then we do not need their alliances. We will gather all the Templar Knights around Europe and attack Xena," Gregory stated, smiling, as he very much liked this plan since he previous plan of allying all the European monarchs was a farce.

After what seemed like forever, two weeks later, Xena coordinated the trip to Thebes and had to make sure everything was in order before she left Jerusalem. Before leaving, all of her belongings were packed and boarded on the ship as well as the girls' things, which weren't much. Xena also let all of her staff go in the palace as she had no intension of returning anytime soon.

It had been years since she lived in Thebes and wondered how well the city held up after her absence. Sometimes, she missed Greece and longed to move back several times, but thought that she needed to establish herself as a sultan in Persia first. She stayed in Persia for six years and definitely did not regret it until now.

She felt very disconnected from Greece now and didn't even think of what might happen when she returned and she was sure that the news of her being a woman, would have reached Greece by now and she wasn't sure if her people would be very upset at her or surprised or disappointed. She didn't know anything anymore.

Osman and Borias, along with the army, stayed for a week until Xena finally convinced them to leave and return to Anatolia. She had yet to talk to Borias about how he even got to Persia in the first place, but her mind was elsewhere. She wanted to be free from all distractions and Borias was a distraction just as her sons were. She couldn't be distracted at a time like this.

She also began to become quite nervous going to war again. She hadn't been on the battlefield in such a long time. The last real war she had was days before she gave birth to Alexander and she wasn't even physically there in Damascus to see it all. Aside from that, her ruling in Persia and Thebes alike, had been very quiet, until the Templar Knights and Mongolians decided to raid her palace and oust her.

Secretly, she knew that this day would come eventually, but she didn't think it would end up like this. She tried so hard to please everyone and let her guard down. She became too comfortable and stopped thinking outside the box. She was a distraction to her own self.

In the belly of the ship, Xena stayed in a small private room, away from the other girls. She sat in front of a mirror, gradually taking out the stitches that Borias so kindly gave her a couple of weeks ago. She hissed and tugged on the thread, trying to pull it out of her wound.

She heard a knock on the door and she grimaced. "What is it?"

Gabrielle opened the door and smiled softly. Xena then lowered her gaze and turned back to the mirror, tending to her stitches again. "Just you, huh," Xena said and cringed as she gently pulled the thread out of the wound.

"That's going to leave a nasty scar," the blonde awkwardly said. Xena remained quiet and then began cleaning the wound with a fresh damp cloth. "I um...I was really sad to see Solan and Alexander leave," she said and Xena didn't even bother to look at her. "I even miss Belach, only a little bit," she grinned.

Xena dipped her fingers in the water and grazed them gently across her neck, frowning as she kept looking at the wound through the mirror. It would definitely leave a scar that's for sure, a huge scar. A big ugly reminder of Sidon for the rest of her life.

"Are you still upset with me?" Gabrielle felt the need to jump for the anticipated question that had been bugging her. Before Borias left, Gabrielle was able to explain to both him and Xena what happened with the letter. Solan asked her to forge her signature and send the letter to ask for help, which was out of character for Xena and Borias knew that immediately once he received it.

Xena turned in her chair and glared at Gabrielle. "You lied to me. You went behind my back and listened to my son to send a letter to Borias. I don't need anyone's help!"

Gabrielle huffed and she marched over to Xena, towering over her. "You did need help! You almost died, not once, but twice! You were badly hurt, Xe...Xena," she stammered and Xena rose out of the chair, now a monster towering over her.

"I was doing fine without Borias around! I haven't needed anyone's help during my time as sultan or emperor and I certainly don't need it from my sons' father," she spat and Gabrielle flinched.

"But...but he saved your life." Gabrielle lamely said and Xena put on a subtle smirk.

"And I've saved him and his stupid tribesmen countless times. One for him, a thousand for me. I don't need anyone's help, Gabrielle, and I especially don't need it from a little girl such as yourself." She brushed by her and grabbed a new cloak to wear when they arrived in Thebes.

Gabrielle felt her insides burning once Xena said that. She realized what she had done was wrong, but Xena didn't have to resort to insults to get her point across. I may have lost your trust Xena, but allow me to win it back, or gain it, whatever.

She spun around and grabbed Xena's shoulder, turning her body to face hers. "I am not a little girl! If it weren't for me your palace would be in ruins and you would have died if Borias didn't save you! You don't realize that you have so many people that care about you and you would throw it all away and for what? To save your pride? You rather boost your ego than come to the realization that you aren't alone. You've been living alone for a long time, Xena but only because you want it that way."

She inhaled deeply and saw Xena's eyes widen the more she spoke. She paused and then said, "a merciful ruler you definitely are, but only to strangers. You are not merciful to those that care about you and instead you push them away. You don't need to be tough around family. Maybe you'll think of that the next time you are in trouble and need help, your highness."

She shook her head and walked out of the room. Xena swiftly turned her head and saw Gabrielle storm up the stairs. She frowned sadly and held the black cape in her arms and then sat down on the bed. She threw the cape on the ground and groaned loudly, running her hands across her face.

Perhaps she is right, maybe I am too hard on myself and others around me. She began thinking about all the good deeds she did in Thebes to help young women, men and children. She was even merciful to criminals to a certain extent. She also began to think of all the times she was really stern and harsh to her own sons when they lived with her for half a year. Solan lived in Thebes with her for several years and she was not exactly very kind to him all the time. She was definitely jealous of Borias when she sent her sons back to live in Ankara. Each time they visited her, her sons would tell her all the fun things they were able to do and they couldn't do those things in Persia or even in Thebes so long ago.

She hid herself all the time and she put a lot of restrictions on Solan, especially when he grew older. Out of guilt from treating Solan like a miniature mold-of-a-soldier, she became very lenient with Alexander. She allowed him to do whatever he wanted and she soon realized that he turned into a bit of a brat sometimes, especially when he came back from Ankara. He too, had a lot of freedom with Borias and he allowed him to do as he pleased, probably out of guilt as well.

She wasn't able to balance anything in her life, including being a proper mother to her children. But most of all, she wasn't able to find balance in herself. She couldn't be an empress, a sultana, a friend and a mother all at once. It was almost impossible and thinking about what Gabrielle said, she was not as merciful to her family as she said. Everything she said was true and she brushed off everyone that cared about her as if they were disposable.

Human life is never disposable and in one instant they could be wiped out from your life, my life, she thought. She could lose everything in one second, one minute, one hour, one day. She almost lost her life not because she was careless, but because she didn't want help and was too stubborn to ask for it.

Xena stood and walked over to the mirror, staring at herself dressed in all black. It was her signature color –all of the colors of the rainbow meshed into one dark abyss, like her mind and perhaps her heart. She frowned and tore the sleeves off of her garb and ripped off the shawl covering her shoulders. She tore it in half and tossed it aside.

She grabbed the dagger on the table and cut into her tunic that covered her neck and chest. She smiled once she saw her arms were exposed and she showed a little bit of skin on her chest as well. She took a step closer to the mirror and ran her fingers through her long waist length hair.

She frowned and grab a large chunk of her hair and sliced through it with her dagger. She watched a sizable amount of her long locks fall to the ground. She looked at reflection and saw two sides of herself. She didn't want to be that same person anymore. She grabbed the other half of her hair and sliced through it and dropped the long locks on the floor.

"I wonder if the sultana's palace is just as big in Thebes as the one in Persia?" Penelope asked and Astremia shrugged her shoulders. Gabrielle leaned against the railing of the ship and watched the waves of the ocean glide against the ship steadily.

"You've been to Thebes, right Gabrielle?" Astremia asked with a grin.

Gabrielle frowned and looked into the sun, squinting her eyes. "I had a dream of becoming a warrior in Thebes once." She smiled weakly, remembering those days. It wasn't that long ago and a lot has happened since then.

"What happened?"

Then she was reminded of that very moment when she was accidentally taken by Xena's men and boarded a ship to Persia. "I got stuck here," she grumbled.

Penelope and Astremia looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. They turned around and went to look at the ocean on the other side of the ship to get away from Gabrielle and her dark attitude. They both halted once they saw Xena step onto the deck from below and they gasped.

All the girls on deck turned heads once they saw the sultana and she looked different, very different. Her hair much shorter and her clothes, not entirely modest anymore. Xena looked at the girls shocked expressions and then spotted Gabrielle standing off in a corner by herself.

She walked through Penelope and Astremia and sheathed her sword at her hip. She stood behind Gabrielle and placed her hands on her hips. This girl was entirely unaware of her surroundings, not a good move, she thought.

"Gabrielle," she announced.

"Oh, it's you," Gabrielle scoffed. "Look, I don't feel like talking to you right now, I just –" she turned around and her eyes grew with shock seeing Xena's shorter hair and clothes. " God's name..." she alleged under her breath.

"I want to...apologize to you," Xena never thought she'd say that, especially to someone like Gabrielle. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. I was angry at something else."

Gabrielle's eyes scanned Xena and she was definitely not the same person she saw a few minutes ago. She even got rid of her long black gloves. " cut your hair."

Xena smiled and folded her arms. "You were right, Gabrielle."

"About what?" the blonde managed to say, although she didn't know how she was able to, given what she had to look at.

"I am too prideful and don't when to recognize help when it's right in front of me. I have been pretending to be someone else for so long that I must have..."

"Forgotten how to be yourself?" Gabrielle smiled softly.

Xena's cheeks flushed slightly and she nodded. "Something like that," she exhaled heavily and turned her face away in order not to look at Gabrielle's goofy expression of satisfaction of being right. "Listen," she began and lowered her head, "when the ship docks at Thebes, you are free to go back to your family. I don't want to keep you here."

Gabrielle walked closer and cocked her head, folding her arms. "So, you're allowing me to walk free? No debt?"

"No debt," Xena said curtly.

Gabrielle nodded and pursed her lips. "Tempting," she paused and Xena lifted her chin, looking into her emerald eyes. "It's a kind offer, but I think I'm going to have to decline," she grinned cheekily and Xena furrowed her eyebrows.

"But Gabrielle, I am letting you go. You don't have to stay here with me anymore."

The blonde exhaled heavily and shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. "Well, since I'm a free woman I guess that means I can make the choice," she paused and saw Xena's eyes widen. " stay here."

Xena's mouth gaped and Gabrielle's smile widened. "Why? Why do you want to stay?"

"So you can teach me everything you know!" she exclaimed.

Chapter Text

AN: there is a new character introduced in this chapter that will play a vital role in this upcoming war with the Templar Knights. Once again, thank you all for reading and following along. This story is really fun and entertaining for me to write. Thanks and enjoy :)

Chapter 19 –When The Mockingbird Sings

Thirteen Years Ago

In the Persian Steppes near the Syrian and Anatolian borders, Borias and Xena stood within his yurt arguing with one another as well as Natassa. Belach hid in his room, peeking behind a curtain, watching the three fighting, talking over each other.

"I am warning you, Borias, those Crusaders are going to come into Persia and destroy everything!" Xena yelled.

"They are heading towards Jerusalem, not the Steppes, Xena," he said for the third time.

Natassa scoffed, "why should you keep arguing with her anyway? She doesn't know what she's talking about." She folded her arms and Xena shot her a glare.

Borias rolled his eyes at his wife then grabbed Xena by her shoulders, squeezing them firmly. "Xena, the Steppes are too far from Jerusalem. There is nothing here that they want," he shook her slightly.

She pushed him aside and inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself. "Just you wait, Borias. You are wrong and will come begging for my help."

"That won't be all he'll be begging for, I'm sure," Natassa made her snide remark and Xena growled, marching towards the arrogant woman and Borias held her back.

"Xena!" he snarled and she clenched her jaw, seeing the satisfaction written all over Natassa's face. Xena shoved Borias away and stormed out of the yurt as quickly as she could.

Natassa sighed and sat down on the floor, lounging on a few large pillows. "You allowed her into our camp to help us, Borias, but all she's done is share a bed with you." She saw him lower his eyes and turn away from her. "Don't think I haven't noticed the child she is carrying, Borias," she frowned deeply and narrowed her eyes and witnessed the shock and embarrassment written all over his face.

"Oh yes, I know. I must commend her on hiding it so well all this time, but I've always known," she smiled and sighed, stretching her arms along the pillows. "I would congratulate her if it wasn't my husband's child inside her," her nose crinkled in disgust and Borias frowned.

He scoffed, shaking his head, and turned and stormed out of the yurt. She sat up from the pillows and grimaced. "Yes, run to your whore, Borias!" she yelled and then settled into the pillows again, groaning lowly.

Later that evening Xena sat in her yurt, drawing a map of Persia on her floor bed. She grumbled and crumbled up the parchment and threw it across the room. By now there must have been a dozen crumbled parchment all over the floor. She grabbed fresh parchment and began drawing the borders again, trying to come up with a suitable plan to block the Crusaders. She knew they would come here, but didn't know when. The only thing she knew was that they were going to Jerusalem to see the Persian Sultan and possibly Damascus later, but they'd definitely make their way towards Anatolia and this camp just happened to be right in the middle of Anatolia and Syria's borders.

She heard some footsteps come inside the yurt and she grit her teeth. "I told you I don't want to see you, Borias!" she yelled.

Belach frowned confusedly and stepped inside the yurt, "Xena?" he called out and she lifted her eyes to see the tall three year old standing at the entrance with wide brown doe eyes.

"Oh," she pursed her lips and brushed her hair behind her ears. "What are you doing in here, Belach?" she asked nicely and he shrugged his shoulders. "Shouldn't you be with your mother?"

He shook his head silently and she sighed, rubbing her throbbing left temple. "What is that supposed to mean?" she asked, growing impatient by this child gawking at her.

"She's...not here," he answered in his small voice and she sighed deeply. "She –she left," he said. "Can I stay?" he asked and she set aside the parchment and nodded. He grinned and ran to her and crawled onto the bed.

He observed the drawing she was working on and he quirked his mouth, grazing his small fingers across the map she made. "Nice," he said with a smile and she smiled softly. "You draw nice."

She stifled a laugh and pushed the parchment further away from him so he wouldn't ruin it. "Nicely," she corrected and he looked curiously at her. "I draw nicely."

"Nicely," he nodded. He sighed heavily and fidgeted with his hands in his lap, turning his head around, looking at the inside of her yurt. Much different than his parents, he thought, and it only had one room, unlike his yurt that had three rooms.

Xena felt more awkward sitting with this boy than sitting in the same room with Borias and Natassa. He was being very quiet, which was unusual for him. She often saw him talking back to his mother or playing with Osman's nephew during the day.

She saw his eyes linger on her and she covered herself with the blanket, hiding her swollen abdomen. Belach frowned and scooted closer to her and looked up into her wide eyes.

He grabbed the blanket and ripped it off of her and her body tensed. He eyed her belly curiously and raised one eyebrow. "You have a baby?" he asked and she kept staring at him speechless. "How?"

She smiled nervously and she couldn't possibly explain this awkward situation to a child, especially Borias' and Natassa's son. "I have a present for you, Belach," she said, trying to distract him.

A big smile crossed his lips. "Really?" he asked and she nodded.

She reached over and grabbed a small box and set it in his lap. He excitedly opened the lid of the box and frowned, pulling out a necklace with some sort of ornament attached to it. "What is it?" he eyed her uncertainly.

"It's a falcon's talon," she said and he raised his eyebrow. "I know you like falcons. This is from one of the best falcons in Persia," she told him and his eyes widened.

"Really?" he asked skeptically.

"I swear," she winked and he threw the necklace on and touched the talon with his palm. "It's for your birthday."

He frowned, "my birthday was yesterday."

"A late birthday present," she said and he smiled cheekily. She then heard horses hooves outside and people yelling and screaming. Frowning, she grasped his cheeks. "Stay here," she whispered and struggled getting out of bed and grabbed her coat, throwing it over her shoulders.

She peeked out of the yurt and saw Templar Knights invading the camp, tearing women out of their homes by their hair and fighting Osman's army. Her eyes widened and she felt Belach rub against her leg and she peered down and saw horror in his eyes.

Belach saw the Templars ransacking the entire camp and then saw his mother riding in on a horse, wielding a large sword. "Mother!" he yelled then ran off and Xena gasped, grabbing his arm and pulled him back, holding onto him close to her.

"No, Belach!" she whispered and saw her horse not too far from her yurt. "Come with me," she grabbed his hand and ran outside to her horse. She picked him up and set him on the horse.

He frowned sadly and kept looking back at the chaos behind him. He saw his mother fighting a Templar. "But, my mother?" his eyes swelled with tears.

She smiled gently and adjusted the straps on the saddle as quickly as possible. "Don't worry about her, she'll be fine." She grunted and swung her leg over the horse and wrapped her arm around Belach's small body and rode off.

"Where we going?" he breathed heavily and couldn't take his eyes off the Templars attacking his family, his friends, his people.

"Somewhere safe," she frowned and kept riding far from the camp and far from the knights.

Belach stood in his room and held the small necklace that Xena gave him so long ago. He had forgotten he had it and he even forgot that he kept it all these years. This was the only present that he got from Xena since he came to know that his mother hid all the other ones from him as a child. He smiled softly and then heard someone enter his room.

"Belach," his mother said and he stuffed the necklace in his pocket.

"Yes, mother?" he turned around and she eyed him suspiciously.

"Your father wants to see you." She said and he nodded then closed the clothing drawer. "What were you doing?"

He smiled at her weakly and pat her shoulder. "Nothing," he ran past her and exited the yurt. He immediately saw his father talking with Osman outside in the open. He ran over to them both and they ceased conversation.

"You wanted to see me?"

Borias nodded. "I want you to count how many weapons we have. Set aside all the claymores and scimitars. We will send them to Xena in Thebes."

Belach stood and gawked at his father, his face contorted in confusion. "Does she know about this?" he asked.

His father rumbled, "yes! She told me to send them to her!"

"Okay..." Belach raised his hands in surrender. "Anything else?" he asked.

Borias and Osman widened their eyes and shared an uncertain glance with each other, finding Belach's nice behavior very odd. Borias cleared his throat and nodded. "We need to send her barrels of oil."

Belach raised his eyebrow. "Oil? Does she have cannons that we don't know about?" he chuckled and saw his father didn't find that amusing. "Okay, barrels of oil, got it." he smiled then ran off to go to the stone fortress filled with the weapons.

Osman scoffed and folded his large arms. "I don't know what Xena did to that boy in Persia, but she deserves a medal." He said half jokingly and Borias rolled his eyes. "Perhaps you should send him to live with her for awhile!" he laughed and slapped his hand on his commander's back and walked off. Borias groaned lowly and trailed after him, watching Belach run to the armory.

Solan was watching Alexander learn how to use a real sword, playing with Bahri, Osman's nephew. He saw Natassa walk by, heading back to her yurt. He leap to his feet and ran over to her and she frowned, trying to hide her distain.

"Natassa Khatun," he smiled smugly. "Are there any letters from my mother today?"

"Yes," she entered her home and Solan waited patiently outside, whistling to himself, occasionally looking back at his brother trying to do his best to spar with the much older partner he had. She came out of the yurt and handed him a rolled up scroll. "Here," she said with a stiff grin.

"Thanks!" he smiled then ran off, tearing the ribbon off the scroll and unrolled the paper. The letter was incredibly long, two pages he noticed. He sat back down on the grass and read over the letter carefully.

"Solan, Solan!" Alexander yelled and ran towards his brother in a hurry and had trouble breathing. He smiled and Solan lifted his eyes from the letter and gasped. "Look at this awesome cut on my face!" he squealed.

"Oh my god," Solan exclaimed under his breath. "Bahri!" he growled.

Osman's nephew shrugged a shoulder and twirled the short sword in his hand. "He didn't duck...sorry," he half grinned.

Alexander wiped his bloody cheek and lifted his chin proudly. "So, do I look like a true warrior now?" he wriggled his eyebrows.

"More like a stupid warrior," Solan said and Alexander frowned. "You really need to be careful, Alexander. You could really hurt yourself with that sword," he said and swatted his sword away. Alexander rolled his eyes and stuck the sword in the ground and peered over his brother's shoulders at the letter in his lap.

"Is that from mom?" his eyes widened and he plopped down on the grass beside Solan.

"Yeah," Solan scooted away from his brother's prying eyes. "Do you mind, I'm trying to read!"

"What does the letter say?!" the little prince tried grabbing the letter from his brother's hand and Solan shoved his hand in his brother's face, pushing him away. "Solan!" he muttered and slapped his elder brother's hand out of the way.

Solan finished reading the lengthy letter and he sighed heavily, setting the paper on the ground. Alexander wiped his mouth and cringed in disgust, tasting his brother's hand on his tongue.

"So, what did mother say? Don't keep me in suspense!" Alexander grinned and wrapped his arm around Solan's shoulder.

"She wants to send us to school," he said and Alexander gasped.

"School? In Anatolia?"

Solan shook his head. "No, in Alexandria."

"Hey, that's like my name," Alexander chuckled. "Where is Alexandria?" he asked curiously.

Solan crossed his legs and leaned his cheek on his palm, staring at the mountains far from the camp grounds. "It's in Egypt. It's really, really, really far from here." Alexander's beaming face soon died down once he realized that him and his brother would be sent far from Anatolia and Greece, far from everyone.

Belach finished counting the weapons and saw his brothers sitting in the grass with long faces. "What's up with you two?" he sat down next to them and Solan frowned.

"My mother is sending us to Alexandria to go to school," Solan grumbled.

Belach nodded his head slowly and looked at the mountains with his brothers. "Bummer," he teased and Solan shot him a glare. "Well, have fun in Egypt," he grinned and pat Solan on the back and rose to his feet.

"Why don't you come with us?!" Alexander smiled and stood, grabbing Belach's arm.

His elder brother laughed, "yeah right! School isn't really my thing."

"Yeah, you can't read for shit," Solan teased and Belach groaned.

Upon returning to Thebes, Xena realized that this palace was incredibly run down and not kept up like she thought it would be. She hired new workers in the first few days when she arrived. She also promised herself that she would continue training the girls while she was here. No reason to go back on her mission that she first started months ago.

She slept in the east wing while the girls slept in the separate west wing, incredibly far from her room. She remembered so many things happened in this palace. In fact, she remembered when it was first being built and she had a two year old Solan with her constantly. Those times were a lot simpler when she started out. She was new in Greece and didn't know anything about anyone in Thebes. She remembered everything, yet blocked out everything at the same time.

Early in the morning, she marched through the marble halls, dressed in dark pants, boots and a white tunic, carrying a large sword on her hip. She passed by a few male workers that were putting up new silk banners on the columns.

"Good morning," she said and all the men turned their heads, gawking at her. She smirked and kept on her way to the girls' sleeping quarters.

She swung open the doors to the large room where all the girls slept and frowned seeing them all still sleeping. She walked over to the windows and pushed the curtains back, letting in the bright sunlight. She heard a lot of groans and moans.

"Get up!" she yelled and some girls covered their faces with their blankets. She turned and ripped Joan's blanket off her body and she squealed like a little girl, curling up in a fetal position.

"Rise and shine, girls," she teased and the girls yawned, stretching their arms over their heads.

Gabrielle lifted her head off her pillow and groaned, turning over on her side. Xena raised her eyebrow and weaved through the beds and stood over Gabrielle, trying to sleep soundly. She bent down close to her ear.

"Gabrielle," she whispered and the blonde moaned softly. "Wake up!" she screamed and Gabrielle gasped and fell out of bed onto the floor. Xena folded her arms and Gabrielle groaned, rubbing the back of her head.

"No reason to sleep all day, girls. We have training to do. A lot of it," she walked back to the doors and saw the girls still waking up slowly. "You have five minutes to meet me outside," she said and all the girls' eyes widened in fear. "Go," she smiled and closed the doors as she left the room.

Helena ran over to Gabrielle and helped her off the floor. "Gabrielle!" she said breathily. "We have five minutes!"

"Huh?" Gabrielle groaned and stood from the floor then she saw all the girls hurrying to put on their armor.

Xena waited for all the girls to come meet her outside in the training grounds. Unlike her palace in Persia, this palace had a proper training area and it was quite large –so large it could hold half an army. She used this area to help her soldiers train for war many years ago and she had many memories of soldiers being injured and some dying from the summer heat.

She tapped her fingers on the hilt of the sword as she watched all the girls run outside, barely making it on time. She looked to the sky and saw the sun fully risen and smiled. She counted all of the girls in the first and second rows, making sure everyone was here.

Gabrielle stumbled outside, trying to tie her laces on her boot and Xena raised her eyebrow. Gabrielle huffed and finished tying her laces then quickly ran to the second row, breathing heavily and sweat dripping down her face.

Xena walked over to her and towered over her. She smiled widely and tapped the shoulder pads on Gabrielle. "Your armor is on backwards," she whispered and all the girls began snickering. "And you're late."

Gabrielle groaned and stripped the armor off over her head and frowned at all the girls. Xena walked off and swung her sword over her shoulder. "Sorry," she muttered.

"No apologies here, girls. We aren't going to apologize for anything."

She stuck her sword into the sand and everyone flinched. She smiled, amused at their terrified faces. "I know what all of you must be thinking, but I am the same person as before. Although here in Greece, I am not a sultan, or an emperor, but an empress. But today, I am not any of those things. I am your teacher," she looked to Gabrielle who was still trying to figure out how to put on the armor, struggling a bit.

"You will listen to me just like you did in Persia, except this time it will be different. Before, I was training you girls for my own amusement and to teach you all a lesson. Now," she frowned, narrowing her eyes, scanning all of the girls' faces. "You wanted to come here and for whatever reason, to help me fight the Templar Knights. There is more to war than learning how to use a sword. A sword kills, yes, but..."

She stepped forward and tapped her finger on the side of Yasmine's head. "The mind is a better weapon." She grinned and Yasmine's eyes grew in terror. "You must be better than your enemy. You must know every move before he strikes or you will die." She swung her sword around and nearly sliced into Yasmine's cheek, but stopped half an inch from the girl's face.

"But most importantly, you must have excellent reflexes," Xena frowned and lowered her sword from the frightened trainee. "If you had been alert then you would have blocked my attack, but you didn't and I could have killed you, Yasmine."

Yasmine swallowed and held onto her sword tightly, feeling her palms clam up. "I...I will be better next time."

"There is no 'next time' in war!" Xena yelled and Yasmine backed away from her face. She walked along the front line of girls, examining their eyes and armor. She stopped in front of Astremia and smiled as the girl tried not to make eye contact with her.

"How old are you, Astremia?" she asked.

"Twenty two," the brunette answered curtly and lifted her eyes hesitantly.

Xena nodded. "When I was twenty two I already had this palace built and a two year old, but that is beside the point. I did not see war until I was a few years older. My position was challenged by everyone and that's what I'm here to do –challenge you."

"So," she grinned and twirled her sword with her wrist with ease and agility. "Let's begin."

Hours later all the girls stumbled into the palace, moaning and groaning in pain. Helena and Gabrielle hung their arms around each other as they hobbled inside. Helena winced as she felt Gabrielle hit a new bruise on her shoulder.

"Man, she is insane," Helena said.

Gabrielle frowned and saw Xena walking ahead of all the girls, completely unharmed of course and looking very chipper. "I'll say," she slid out of Helena's hold and hobbled over to Xena, grabbing her shoulder.

Xena swung around and smiled. "Gabrielle, you did a great job today. You have very fast reflexes."

Gabrielle laughed nervously and nodded. "Yeah...I don't think I'll be able to walk tomorrow."

Xena kept grinning, slightly enjoying Gabrielle's pain. "Don't be so dramatic Gabrielle," she teased.

"You were really feeling your oats back there," Gabrielle rubbed her sore back and Xena pat her shoulder roughly and she winced.

"You volunteered for this, Gabrielle. Don't you forget that," she wagged her finger in her face then walked off. "I want you to come to my office tonight. I have some news to share with you." She called out and sauntered down the marble hallway.

Gabrielle sighed exhaustively and then frowned, realizing she had no idea where Xena's office was in this palace. "Great," she grumbled then hobbled off to the west wing with the rest of the girls.

After asking several people, Gabrielle finally found out where Xena's office was. Took long enough, she griped. Knocking on the door first, she waited for Xena's response but got nothing. She opened the door and saw Xena sitting on her large bed with her legs stretched out, reading. She's always reading, Gabrielle thought to herself.

"Hello..." Gabrielle greeted and Xena lowered the paper in her hand and smiled.

"Gabrielle," she set aside the paper and put it on the table beside the bed. "Come sit with me," she pat the empty spot next to her.

Oh, she wants me to sit on the bed with her, that's new and very weird. It's like her mood changed completely after leaving Persia. Perhaps that place was crippling her and she needed to go back to her true foundation of her empire to discover herself again. Or she's just crazy. Yes, let's go with that.

Gabrielle sat down on the bed cautiously and was very far away from her. Xena raised her eyebrow. "I don't have a disease. No poison," she jested. Gabrielle grinned softly and scooted closer to Xena, sitting up very stiffly.

"You know, I still don't understand why you want to stay with me after everything that's happened," she began and bit into a large apple slice.

Gabrielle sighed and wrapped an arm around herself unconsciously trying to protect herself, but she didn't know from what. "I told you, I want to learn everything from you. You are a great teacher, although, I think you may have over done it in today's session." She felt all the aches and pains settling into her body the more idle she became throughout the day.

"It's been awhile since I've felt this way," Xena began, feeling slightly shy. "I want to thank you."

The blonde lifted her eyes, "for what?"

"For revealing the truth to me. I've never had anyone say those things to me before. I think I was stuck in my own bubble and stopped caring about others around me." She said and Gabrielle's cheeks flushed. She reached over and grabbed Gabrielle's hand.

Dear lord, she is touching my hand. Gabrielle's eyes widened, but she tried to remain calm and collected without looking in Xena's eyes.

"You must understand that I put myself in a position that was very difficult. I did a man's job –I was the man. I had to completely shut myself off from the rest of the world, including people close to me. I hardly had anyone close to me besides my sons, Borias and his clan. I couldn't trust anyone and to be honest, I don't know if I can anymore."

Gabrielle realized that Xena was more alone than she thought. She isolated herself in order to gain power, but why? Why did you do it, Xena?

"Do you think life would have been different for you if you ruled as an empress instead of an emperor?" she asked.

Xena smiled and slid her hand off of Gabrielle's. "I wouldn't have made it six months in Thebes if I did that. You saw those Templars, Gabrielle. They want me dead. They didn't even bat an eye when I was emperor of Greece. It was only when I decided to take Persia that they became concerned. It's all about power. Power is the key to success and being a man. That too."

"But you are not an emperor now, or a man. You are an empress and everyone knows it." Gabrielle frowned, now feeling very conflicted in her logic. "I have a question that you haven't answered since I've met you."

"Yes?" Xena leaned forward, scooting closer to Gabrielle.

Oh, please, don't come any closer. She felt her palms begin to sweat and she tried to evade eye contact once more. "You've explained to me why you pretended to be a male ruler, but you never told me why. Why did you want your own empire? What made you want to do this? Surely, you didn't wake up one day and decide to rule a nation."

Xena nodded, thinking about her answer and it was probably something that Gabrielle didn't want to hear. "I wanted to be powerful." She answered and the blonde trainee looked to her with bemused eyes. "There was a time when I wasn't thinking straight. I wanted everyone to follow me, whether I killed them or not. I went all across the Steppes and was able to find an army willing to follow me wherever I went even though I was a woman, they respected me."

She continued, "I was ambitious and very young. I thought I knew everything until I met Osman and Borias. It was then I realized I didn't know a thing about warfare and strategy. I offered to aid their army and learn how to train with them. I was a horrible warrior," she smiled at the thought. It seemed so long ago.

"I stayed there for a year and then my life completely changed. I became friends with everyone, a little too friendly with Borias. When I found out I was pregnant with Solan I knew that I could never be in charge of an army, but I tried. It was then that I knew I couldn't rule as long as I was a woman. People treated me differently and only saw me as a woman with a child. I didn't want people to see me that way. I wanted to be better than them."

Gabrielle was now beginning to understand why Xena decided to go on this path. Although her way of thinking before she became an emperor was quite dark, too dark. She was definitely not the same person, but she was glad she didn't know Xena during that particular time.

"Then you decided to create an empire for yourself?" she proceeded to ask.

Xena nodded. "Yes, but I stayed in the Steppes for two years after Solan was born. I thought I could make a difference there, but nobody took me seriously. I decided to take all of my men and move to Greece. I decided that nobody would take me seriously unless I was a man and that was impossible. But I made it possible through a lot of persuasion and threats and...death."

She sighed and was beginning to feel a bit drained talking about her life like this. She had never really explained it before until now and realized how insane it must sound to a common person. "I wanted to be fair to everyone and having Solan was my reminder that I should treat people with fairness and kindness. I didn't want to be a tyrant ruler like the previous rulers in Greece. I wanted to be different."

Different, you definitely are, Xena. Gabrielle smiled and felt more relaxed that Xena was able to explain herself fully. She could tell that took a lot out of her. "Well, I think that was very brave of you to do that. I don't know a lot of people that would be willing to sacrifice so much and still be treated horribly in the end. And that's why you have so many people that care about you."

"Aren't you clever," Xena teased and saw the blonde's cheeks flush. "Don't be shy, Gabrielle, after all I just told you my entire life story."

Gabrielle grinned and stifled a laugh. "I'm glad that you did. It makes me understand you more. You used to confuse me and I thought I would never figure you out."

"And have you?" Xena pried.

"Have I what?"

"Figure me out."

Gabrielle quirked her mouth and shrugged her shoulders. "I am not sure yet, but I'm one step closer!"

"You are a smart girl, Gabrielle. I hate for you to waste your time learning how to fight and spend your young life with me. I know this is not what you want to do." Xena said with a bit of sadness in her eyes. She had grown to really admire the young blonde.

"If I wanted to leave I would have. I thought that being a warrior would be glamorous but it's far from that. I've learned a lot being around you."

"Me too," Xena said with a smile and Gabrielle grinned right back at her. "I've learned from all of you girls."

The two looked at one another for a few silent moments.

Xena then took this conversation into a different direction. "I've decided to send Alexander and Solan to a school in Alexandria. I don't have the time to teach them and I don't want to deprive them from learning."

Gabrielle nodded. "That's a great idea! I'm sure they'll love that city. I've heard it's beautiful."

"It's also next to the sea. Alexander has been begging me to take him to the beach ever since he got here, but I couldn't. Now, he can be around it all the time." She sighed and added, "I hope they won't be upset about moving again."

"Once they get there I think they're going to really like it. It'll be nice for them to be around children their own age," Gabrielle said, trying to reassure Xena of her decision.

"I worry about Alexander," Xena said with a frown. "He is obsessed with swords and wants to learn how to fight. Solan is more grounded like his father. I'm afraid that Alexander is more like me."

Gabrielle laughed aloud and Xena eyed her with distain. "Is that...supposed to be a bad thing?" her laughter quickly died down.

"I have a responsibility to teach him right from wrong and I can't do that if I'm not around all the time. I can't be in two places at once. I'm hoping the school will ground Alexander and force him to stay away from his obsession with weapons. He is too young to learn the ways of the sword."

This side of you I have not seen, Xena. A mother I've seen yes, but quite a strict one. This time, you are softer, nicer, kinder and more compassionate. Maybe opening up to someone was the key to finding some peace with yourself after all.

"I think you're doing a great job of raising him so far. He's a real...spitfire," Gabrielle said and Xena smiled softly. "He's a bright boy and he definitely knows how to give people the what-for. He doesn't let others push him around, including his brothers."

Xena rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Belach is a piece of work, like his dear mother," she clenched her jaw just thinking of Natassa. "I have never seen him so cooperative in my life."

"He was pretty helpful. I don't know too much of your relationship with him but from what I saw, he didn't really like you too much," Gabrielle hinted and Xena nodded vigorously.

"He fed into his mother's hatred of me. No child should grow up that way. He's a smart boy, but he doesn't think he is."

"Maybe you should send him to school too?" Gabrielle suggested and Xena started laughing.

"I did!" Xena inhaled deeply, halting her laughter. "I sent him to a school when he was eleven. He doesn't know that though," she winked and Gabrielle blinked rapidly. "I don't hate him, he's just a stubborn, arrogant teenager. He thinks he knows everything."

Gabrielle had to agree with that, she once thought she knew everything too. "I think after spending some time with you, he realized he doesn't know everything. You are a good role model to him."

"No, Gabrielle, I'm his evil stepmother," Xena joked. "He used to call me that when he was a child. He was very jealous of Solan once he figured out that was his younger brother."

"From what I saw, he and Solan worked really well together!" Gabrielle beamed.

"It must have been a miracle because that never happens," Xena said with raised eyebrows. These past few weeks have been crazy the more she recalled everything that happened.

"No, it's because they care about you."

In the valley of the kings in Upper Egypt, Crusaders had been pushed out of the province. News of Sidon's death reached the military commander of Egypt and when he heard of about the Templar Knights invading Jerusalem, he couldn't allow that to happen. It had been tried before with the previous Persian Sultan, but they failed. The commander knew that the knights were getting restless and more irritated.

The vizier, Imran, approached the commander with a scroll. "Sir, more news from Persia." He bowed his head.

Saladin took the letter and watched the Templars being escorted out of the Egyptian territory. He wanted to make sure that all of those rats were gone and sent back to their Church. He looked down at the letter and smirked.

"Xenophon is a woman, how remarkable is that," the Kurdish commander rolled up the letter and handed it back to Imran. "I have always been impressed by the Greek ruler and...her skills." He smiled. "She is allies with the Anatolians, yes?"

"Yes, sir, she is," Imran answered and Saladin nodded and rubbed his long thick beard.

"She is on our side then. The holy land belongs to us. She is one of us and is against the Templar Knights." He very much liked this idea and wasn't fazed that the sultan/emperor was in fact a woman. He would side with anyone that had the same values and beliefs as him.

He walked back towards his military fortress and his vizier quickly followed. "I wish to meet with this woman, what is her name?"

"Xena, amir," Imran said.

"Xena," Saladin smiled. "I want to meet her and form an alliance. She will be the bright jewel to my conquest to take Jerusalem. Perhaps we could share the empire together?" he thought that could be a possibility, although he had never made any deals with this woman before and figured she was hard to negotiate with, considering she posed as a man for so long, right under the Church's nose. He admired her ability to thrive in this world and create an empire for herself.

Together they walked into the simple fortress and he walked by a few of his soldiers and they gave him curt nods. "Imran, tell me, this woman, she must be some form of a leper like Baldwin IV, to hide her face for so long."

"On the contrary, sir, she is most beautiful. Eyes as blue as sapphires and skin like a ripe olive with hair dark as the midnight sky."

Saladin raised his eyebrows and stopped to examine a few weapons before they were going to be shipped off to Cairo later this evening. "Eyes blue as sapphires," he mused. "Sidon must have been very disappointed to find that his foe was a woman. What a fool he was." He scoffed and then waved his hand to the soldiers to take the weapons away.

"Instead of combating her, he should have allied with her. He was a fool to ally with the Crusaders," his lip quivered just at the thought of even coming within an inch of a Templar.

Imran smiled, agreeing. "But sir, it has been said that she is a godless woman that rules over Jerusalem. Sidon called her a heathen."

Saladin chuckled at that. "Sidon is a kafar! He was never meant to rule Syria. I should have swiped it from him when I had the chance. What a poor excuse for a sultan." He sighed and folded his arms. "But now he is dead because of his ill actions and decisions. God was never on his side, but He is on mine."

"Shall I send a letter to the empress about your desire to meet with her?" Imran offered.

The commander nodded. "Yes, do that, Imran. Together, Xena and I can form a crusade of our own against the Templars. It will be written in history." Saladin grinned deviously as he formulated this plan to ally with this formidable woman.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 –Beneath The Mask

Belach stumbled upon his brother's room and saw Solan packing very little of his belongings to leave for Alexandria with Alexander. He saw the sadness in his eyes and wondered if Solan truly wanted to leave despite his mother's wishes.

"Hey," he said and Solan turned around swiftly.

"Oh hey," the blonde answered softly and sighed.

Belach pursed his lips and walked further into the room, looking at his bag filled with some clothes and letters from his mother of course. He always kept Xena's letters, even when he was a kid. "Packing to go to school, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess," Solan grumbled and folded his arms, leaning against the bed. "I don't understand why I can't just stay here. There are schools here, right?"

Belach smiled softly and sat down next to his brother. "Only in Antioch and Edessa. There are schools in Athens and Thebes too."

Solan's eyes widened. "Then why doesn't she send us there?!" he yelled and stood, flaying his arms in the air.

"She probably doesn't want you and Alexander really close to her just in case, you know..." he trailed off.

"Just in case what?" Solan grimaced and Belach lowered his eyes. "In case those Crusaders come back?" he scoffed and added, "Alexandria is so far! I've never even been to Egypt!"

Belach rolled his eyes. "I think you will be fine in Egypt, Solan. Your mother obviously is sending you both there for a good reason. It's pretty much a neutral territory," he smirked.

Alexander ran inside the yurt and breathed heavily from running across the camp. Belach frowned and the boy smiled at him. "A letter for you, Belach!" he took the scroll from his belt and handed it over.

Belach snatched the scroll from his hands and unrolled it quickly. "A letter from...your mother?" he eyed his brother and Alexander shrugged his shoulders.

Solan folded his arms upon seeing Alexander with a black eye. "What happened to your eye?"

Alexander sheepishly grinned and shied away. "Um, nothing," he said softly and Solan marched over to him and cupped his cheeks. "Ah, come on!" he griped.

"Alexander! Who did this to you?" Solan grazed his fingers across his brother's eye and he squirmed.

"Nobody!" he shoved Solan out of the way and sat down on the bed, sulking. "I did it to myself."

Belach chuckled in the middle of reading the letter, listening to the conversation. "Nice going."

"I fell on my sword, okay," Alexander groaned and felt embarrassed just saying it especially hearing Belach's laughter and Solan's audible sneer of disappointment. "It was an accident...won't happen again."

Solan nodded. "That's right, it won't because you aren't going to continue training with swords anymore."

Alexander gasped. "But, Solan! I want to learn!"

"Forget it."

Belach stood up in a fit of rage and threw the letter onto the ground. Both younger brothers' eyes grew wide and immediately ceased conversation. "Hell no!" he growled.

"What did she say?" Solan asked.

"She wants me to take you two to Alexandria," Belach grumbled and folded his arms, brooding. Alexander's eyes lit up at the sound of that and he grasped his arms around Belach's waist, hugging him tightly. "Get off me!"

Solan smirked seeing Belach so upset, as always. "You better do as she says, or face the consequences," he teased.

"Yeah, Belach! Do as mother says or else!" Alexander grinned and Belach tried walking away and Alexander wrapped himself around his brother's leg, hanging on like a monkey.

Belach grunted as he exited the yurt with Alexander strapped to his leg. "There is no way in hell I am going to be your babysitter!" he groaned and shook his brother off. He saw his father not too far from the area and shouted, "father!" he frowned down at Alexander. "Get off of me you little twerp! Father!"

Borias rolled his eyes and made his way over to Belach and saw Alexander glued to his leg, unwilling to move. He folded his arms and smirked, sort of amused by his youngest son's agility and persistence.

"What do you want, Belach?" he asked with a smile.

"This is not funny!" Belach kicked his brother off his leg and Alexander fell on his back, groaning. "Father, Xena wants me to take these twerps to Alexandria."

Borias nodded. "And you will."

Belach gasped. "But father! You knew about this? And why didn't you say something?!"

His father smiled softly. "Xena wanted to tell you personally. You will take them, end of discussion." He began walking off and Belach caught up to him and grabbed his arm. "Belach!" he growled.

"I don't want to take them! She is not my mother, she can't tell me what to do. I draw the line there," the ruthless teenager shook his head.

"I don't think you are in a position to argue, Belach. Xena trusts you that's why she asked you to do this. Osman has not forgotten about what you did to his niece so I suggest you be on your best behavior and do what Xena asked of you, understand?" he eyed his son and Belach nodded his head.

Alexander seized the opportunity and took off running then jumped onto Belach's back, wrapping his arms around his brother's neck. "We are going to have lots of fun together in Egypt!"

Belach huffed and walked off with Alexander attached to his back, refusing to even bother to slump him off. "We'll see about that." He grumbled.

Gabrielle fell onto her back and looked up at the sunny sky above her. She had been knocked down by Xena several times this morning and was getting tired of being bested by her. She slowly rose up and saw Xena with a smug grin on her face, twirling the sword in her hand, a practice sword, but still quite deadly apparently.

These last few weeks in Thebes had been a lot different than the time she spent in Persia. Everything was different here, even the architecture of course. Xena's palace in Thebes was definitely a lot larger than her palace in Persia, although Gabrielle knew that the palace in Jerusalem belonged to the previous Sultan, but this palace here in Thebes, was built by Xena herself long ago. She wondered where Xena lived before she built this place.

But for now, she focused herself on fighting and that was obviously very important to Xena. She rose to her feet and spat some sand out of her mouth. She felt her body aching with every move she made and her wrists were very sore. She definitely knew that Xena was going easy on them in Persia after what she witnessed in Thebes during training sessions. Xena was determined to make every single one of these young women into warriors, just like her. But could it be possible? Gabrielle didn't know.

She shook her head and held the wooden sword tightly and gripped the shield, ready for Xena to attack her again. Meanwhile, Xena had a smile ready to kill and she had an advantage, well, many advantages. She wielded two swords and had years of practice to go along with it.

Gabrielle ran forward and swung her sword around and Xena leaned backwards then swung her leg around, knocking Gabrielle off her feet for the third time in a row. Xena chuckled as she heard the young blonde groan.

"You leave yourself open every single time, Gabrielle! You are beginning to amuse me."

Amuse you, huh? Gabrielle growled and stood to her feet quickly. She eyed Xena holding her swords, ready for another attack again. I'll show you amusing. She ran forward and thrust her sword into Xena's midsection, which was easily dodged. Xena spun around and elbowed Gabrielle in her neck and she hissed, nearly falling face forward into the sand.

Not again, I'm not going to fall yet again! She huffed and turned around swiftly then jutted forward, blocking Xena's attack with her shield, then swung her leg around to kick Xena off her feet, which obviously didn't work because Xena jumped, missing the attack entirely.

Damnit, Gabrielle cursed inwardly. Seeing that smile on Xena's face was enough to entice her to be better. Not again, not today. I will not fall again. She remembered what Xena said about attacking the enemy. Know your enemy and you will know yourself. You must know every move your enemy will make or you will die.

That's it, I am not thinking of Xena as an enemy. I'm thinking of her as my friend, as my ally. Xena is my enemy right now, not my ally, and even allies can be enemies too, right? Gabrielle grinned and then charged forward and Xena ducked as Gabrielle swung her sword around.

She then hit Xena in the face with her shield and knocked her back a few paces. She ran forward and flipped her shield over on its side and rammed it into Xena's chest. Xena gasped for air and stumbled backwards, wrapping her arm around herself, trying to breathe.

Gabrielle grinned with satisfaction once she saw Xena's footing was off for once. She took the opportunity and dropped her shield then grabbed Xena by her hair and head butted her. Xena fell backwards and Gabrielle's eyes widened, as if everything stopped in slow motion, watching Xena fall backwards onto her backside and crash onto the hard sandy ground.

All the girls outside stopped their training once they saw Xena laying on the ground, motionless. Gabrielle swallowed and stepped forward cautiously, leaning over to see Xena lie there like a defeated warrior.

"You knocked out the empress..." Helena said and lowered her practice sword.

No, I didn't meant to do that. "But, I..." Gabrielle breathed heavily and dropped to her knees, leaning over Xena. She touched her face and she was unresponsive. "Xena?" she whispered. A hand came to her mouth and she shook her head. That was not supposed to happen, she thought.

Xena's eyes shot open and she clutched onto Gabrielle's throat and flipped her over onto her back. Now she was sitting on top of her and held her wooden sword to Gabrielle's neck. She saw the surprise in her trainee's eyes and she grinned deviously.

"Never believe your enemy is dead unless you have proof," Xena winked and then got off the terrified blonde. She stretched out her hand to aid her trainee up off the ground.

Gabrielle grinned and grabbed hold of Xena's hand and hopped to her feet. "You scared me. I thought I really hurt you."

Xena nodded and looked over to the shield on the ground a few paces away. "Never drop your shield, Gabrielle. It will get you killed and never let your guard down. I could have killed you if that was a real sword, don't do that again."

Gabrielle sighed heavily. "I know, I was stupid. I should have been more careful!"

"Don't be too hard on yourself," Xena grinned and grabbed Gabrielle's chin to examine the large sum of cuts and bruises on her cheeks. "You are improving and I think you may have bruised my rib." She said teasingly.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean –"

"Don't apologize, Gabrielle. You have been paying attention in my sessions. I'm proud of you, but..." she stepped closer, dangerously close. "I will have to get you back later," she whispered.

Gabrielle's face flushed and she folded her arms, avoiding eye contact with Xena. Get me back later? What does that even mean?

Xena turned to face the rest of the girls and she handed off her practice swords to one of the male servants. "You are free to go for the rest of the day. But!" she held up her finger as the girls began to rush back into the palace, they halted in step. "No sleeping. Sleep is a reward, which you haven't earned yet. Which is why I have assigned each of you to a job in my palace." She heard all of the girls moaning and groaning under their breaths. "I don't want to hear complaints."


Xena sat in her room, hours after training with Gabrielle, she looked at herself in the mirror and saw a huge purple bruise on her rib cage. She touched it with fingertips and flinched at the touch. Yes, I will definitely have to get you back for this, Gabrielle.

She sat in her chair and wrapped her breasts with a bandeau carefully. She gathered her hair and then turned to look at the giant scar on her shoulder blade and frowned. Something she would never forget, a sweet reminder of a Templar that attacked her in Persia a long time ago. Sighing, she grazed her fingers along her neck, also another reminder of someone she hated –Sidon.

A knock came to the door and she jumped. Hiding the scar on her shoulder with her hair, she adjusted in her chair, wrapping her body with a black shawl to hide her bruises. "Come in," she ruffled her hair.

Dajan entered the room and she frowned, somewhat disappointed to see her adviser standing in the doorway. She had secretly hoped that it would be a little blonde that she had grown quite fond of as of late.

"Empress," he pulled out a scroll and she slowly stood from her chair and walked over, snatching the letter from his hands. He sighed, lowering his head. "Commander Saladin sent this to you, but it was lost in the mail."

Her eyes widened when she read the letter. "He wants to come here to see me?" she questioned and Dajan nodded. "I do not know this man, who is he?" she rolled up the scroll and handed it back to him.

"He is the Commander of Egypt, empress. He plans to make himself the Sultan of Egypt now that Sidon has been taken care of..." he tread carefully with his words, almost afraid to anger Xena. She had such hatred for the Syrian.

She chuckled lowly and circled around the chair. "And why should I meet with this man? He is just another Saracen that is going to get on my nerves!"

Dajan clenched his jaw. "Empress, Saladin is a highly esteemed commander. He has kept the Crusaders out of Egypt for more than a decade."

She sat down in the chair and bit her fingernail, thinking this over. Saladin obviously wanted to meet with her for whatever reason and of course it had something either to do with the Crusaders or he wanted a piece of her empire. Either or, she wasn't going to let him trample all over her like Sidon tried to do years ago.

"I should care of his accomplishments why?" she sneered. She picked up her sword and lifted it into the air, examining the sharp blade. She frowned upon seeing her reflection, a reflection of a woman –she knew Saladin would not be fond of.

"Does he know who I am?" she asked.

"Yes, Xena," Dajan nodded.

A sweet smile crossed her lips. "Oh goodie," she set the sword down on the table and eyed her adviser. "Fetch my turban and robes. I would make an impression upon this Saladin."

He frowned and nodded confusedly. Her turban and robes were normally worn in Persia when she was a sultan, but here, everyone knew who she was now. He didn't quite understand. "I'll have one of the maids bring it to you."

She gave a curt nod and tapped her fingers on the desk. "When is he supposed to come here?"

That was another thing he probably should have mentioned. "Well, empress, since the letter was lost for quite some time, I believe –"

"When?!" she hissed.

"This evening, Xena," he said and cleared his throat.

She grinned, nodding her head, already formulating a plan in her mind. "And my girls? Where are they now?"

"They're in their sleeping quarters, resting."

She sighed and stood, stripping herself of her shawl. Dajan averted his eyes and turned around, slightly embarrassed. "Have veils and turbans sent to them. Tell them to dress quickly and be ready within the hour in the west entrance." She instructed. "And have Gabrielle sent to my room when she is done dressing."

Dajan raised his eyebrow. "Of course, Xena..." he then took his leave and Xena smirked, staring at herself in the mirror once more. A woman inside, a man on the outside.

Astremia threw her veil onto her bed and grumbled. "I don't see why we have to wear these things again. I thought we were finished with them!"

Penelope nodded, agreeing with her friend. "Seriously, I hate wearing these veils. They're so itchy."

Gabrielle frowned, listening to the girls quarrel with each other. She too, didn't understand why Xena commanded that everyone don the veils again. We were free from Persia, free from everything and most of all, Xena free from her alternate persona, but perhaps she wasn't?

She pulled her hair back into a tight bun and secured the turban atop her head and held the veil in her lap, gawking at it. It was forever a reminder of what happened in Persia. Too many things happened there and that was the first time she met Xena, but not as Xena, but as Xenophon. She hid herself well, but not well enough apparently. It was only a matter of time before people found out, but she realized Xena knew this long ago that day would come. She only suspected that Xena didn't know it would come so soon.

This donning of the veils and turbans was most odd and all the girls were baffled by it. Nonetheless, Gabrielle strapped the veil onto her ears and sighed heavily. Xena, what are you doing? What is going on inside that head of yours? What are you planning?

Dajan opened the wide double doors and looked straight to the requested blonde. "Gabrielle, the empress wishes to see you." He announced and all the girls turned their heads to the summoned one.

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she felt like she was being targeted again by all of these girls. Although, they didn't look angry or upset, but confused. She slowly rose off her bed and began making her way to Dajan.

Helena grabbed her hand and whispered, "ask the empress what is going on, Gabrielle. I know she trusts you."

Right, trusts me. I'm not too sure of that anymore. "I'll try my best," she smiled softly.

Dajan looked to the rest of the girls once Gabrielle was by his side. "The empress wants you in the west entrance. Be sure to be there within the hour." He said and closed the doors. All the girls raised their eyebrows and shared bemused looks with one another.

Gabrielle exhaled harshly as she stood outside of Xena's bedroom. It was definitely more ominous than her bedroom in Persia. This palace was far larger, more intimidating and screamed the essence of the empress herself. Even the doors leading into her quarters were threatening. The large doors, the gold arches above, the statues of great Greek leaders beside each post. So extravagant, she mused.

She finally got up the courage to knock on the door, listening closely. "Come in..." Xena called out and Gabrielle held her breath, opening the doors.

Upon entering she saw two maids adjusting the black robes on Xena, the same ones she thought Xena got rid of Xena, but apparently not. One of the girls slipped on a long black glove onto one arm and Xena stretched out her other arm as the other glove was being put on for her. The veil attached to her turban was fluffed out and hung low, almost to her waist.

Gabrielle frowned and unveiled her face once Xena finally turned around, donned in her black sultan garb. "What is going on?" she asked hesitantly as she continued to gawk at Xena, as if seeing her for the first time, unveiled as Sultan Xenophon. It was a déjà vu moment for sure.

Xena smiled and wiggled her fingers in the fresh black leather gloves. She nodded to the female maids and they quickly took their leave. "I have a visitor coming by tonight."

"And...he knows not who you are?" Gabrielle guessed and saw Xena's smile widen.

"He knows about me as a woman and a man, but he wishes to meet with me," Xena walked around Gabrielle, tracing her fingers along the blonde's shoulders. "I do not trust him. He does not know what I look like. I want to play a game with this man."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow, unsure of the empress's intentions. "So, you are playing the role of sultan again? Why?"

"Do not forget what I've taught you. Not all wars are fought on the battlefield, Gabrielle," she whispered in her ear and Gabrielle stiffened. "You tense at my voice. Have I come to frighten you again?" she hissed.

Gabrielle held her breath and turned around to look into Xena's bright blue eyes. "Seeing you dressed like this again only brings back memories of seeing you for the first time." She said and heard Xena hum softly, leaving her side. Finally, I can breathe again.

"I couldn't figure you out then and just when I thought I have, I seem to be wrong. I don't understand this game you're playing, Xena," Gabrielle folded her arms.

"Do not act so defensive, Gabrielle. This attire is only a mask, a facade. I am not Xenophon. That title has been stripped from me," she frowned deeply, thinking of all her plans ruined. "I have never met this man before. He goes by the name of Saladin. I do not know his intentions by coming here to meet me. I must make him earn my trust so then he will see my face."

Gabrielle nodded, not understanding still. "But if he knows who you are, why are you hiding?"

Xena laughed and bit into a piece of fruit. "Gabrielle, I am not hiding. I am engaging in this man's fantasies! He knows about me, yet he does not know nor I him. He is nothing to me until I know why he has come all the way from Egypt."


"Yes, he arrives tonight. A rather impromptu meeting due to some complications with the mail..." she griped and threw the fruit down onto the plate. She sauntered over to the blonde and rest her hands upon her shoulders. "Do not mistake me for hiding who I really am. You trust me, don't you?"

Gabrielle nodded her head, staring up into the empress's eerie gaze. "Good," Xena smiled and pat Gabrielle's shoulders. "I want you to accompany me into my private office during my meeting with Saladin."

She gasped, "why me?"

Xena grabbed a black mask instead of a veil and strapped it over her face. Gabrielle's grew in fear. She'd rather see Xena's wild eyes than see nothing at all. She truly wanted to scare this man to death, Gabrielle thought.

"You wanted me to teach you everything I know, right?" she asked and Gabrielle stood frozen. "I will teach you the way of political warfare and fine conversation in my company." She stretched out her hand. "So, won't you join me?" she smiled underneath the black mask concealing her face.

Gabrielle reluctantly grabbed hold of Xena's hand and the two left the bedroom, descending down the staircase. "Welcome to my reality, Gabrielle."

All of the girls waited in two rows within the west entrance. Gabrielle stood directly behind Xena as she was centered in front of all the girls, patiently waiting for Saladin to make his entrance. Gabrielle lowered her eyes and felt like this idea was not good and something might go awry. Xena was playing a dangerous game, a game to a unknown person. Whether an enemy or not, Gabrielle was sure to find out what happens tonight.

Helena nudged Gabrielle. "What is happening?" she whispered.

"Be quiet!" Xena yelled and Helena's eyes widened and adjusted the veil around her face.

"Gabrielle..." Helena whispered again.

"Quiet, Helena. Now is not the time!" Gabrielle hissed.

Xena spun around and stared directly at Helena, instantly recognizing her frightened eyes. She walked over to her and towered over the small girl. "If you utter another word I will work you to death in the field tomorrow, understand me?"

"Yes ma'am," Helena said, feeling sweat drip down her face.

"A new troublemaker arises. So the powers have shifted," Xena mused and looked over to Gabrielle, whom didn't even make eye contact with her.

The doors opened and Xena turned to walk back to her spot. Saladin, commander of Egypt walked in and raised his eyebrow upon seeing the horde of soldiers behind Xena. He also saw the esteemed Greek ruler wearing a black mask and garb, completely concealing her face and body. Something he was not expecting.

He halted a few paces from her and bowed his head. "Xena, Empress of Greece, Valide Sultan of Persia. What an honor it is to finally be in your presence."

Xena gave him a curt nod. "Wish I could say the same about you."

Saladin grinned, hearing her muffled voice, eager to see the face hidden beneath. "Forgive me, I heard word that you were able to put an end to Sidon. I commend you for your triumph against the heathen."

"I was not without help," she said and Gabrielle smiled softly beneath her veil. "Why have you come here?"

He bowed his head with an eager grin. "I wish to talk of alliance with you. Your empire forever grows stronger against the Crusaders of Rome and I too have the same desire to push the knights out of my soon established empire."

Established, interesting choice of words, she thought. "We will talk in a more private setting of course," she said and he nodded. "But, forgive me, I do not trust people that unknown to me to come into my home." She presented the girls behind her. "My students in training will go through your belongings outside, if you don't mind."

Saladin's smile faded and he took a good look at the so-called students. "Not a problem, empress. I have nothing to hide from you."

Xena pursed her lips and waved her hands at the girls. "Do not speak so soon, Saladin. You must understand I cannot trust you."

"Of course, I understand. I too, would do the same if you graced my home." He bowed his head and then Xena's girls ran outside to his elite guard waiting outside these very walls, all but one.

"I'm sure," Xena said and walked off with Gabrielle right behind her. Saladin frowned and raised a suspicious eyebrow.

Inside the office, Xena sat down opposite of Saladin and Gabrielle stood beside her, watching her closely. Saladin smiled and presented a bottle of wine. "For you empress," he lowered his gaze.

Xena furrowed her eyebrows beneath the mask. The thought of wine only churned her stomach. "A kind offer most appreciated." She said calmly and Gabrielle sighed softly.

He nodded and set the bottle down on the table. "You yet hide your face still, empress..." he mused.

"A precaution I must take in your presence," she said and tapped her gloved fingers on the armrests of the chair. "Now that we are alone, you can tell me of your true intentions. You wish for alliance. Why?"

Saladin's jaw clenched and he adjusted in his seat, eyeing the young soldier beside the empress suspiciously. "You and I share the same goal. We both despise the Templars and I wish to rid them from Egypt. You have already tried to do so in Persia, but they will strike again. Recently, I got rid of a horde of knights from the Nile. I feel...we could work together, as partners."

She nodded. "I don't have partners, Saladin. I run this empire alone and I don't plan to change that."

"But you have allies do you not? The Anatolians perhaps? They are loyal to you. Allow me to show the same loyalty, empress." He grinned.

"Why should I ally with you? You have offered me nothing and I had no idea who you were until today." She crossed one leg over the other and saw his eyes linger, almost waiting for a glimpse of her bare skin, something he would not see, not tonight anyway.

Saladin chuckled lightly. "Empress, I am the finest commander in Egypt. My empire will rise. We could work together, create an empire that rivals the Church. I am at your feet," he bowed his head slowly.

Xena eyed the man and felt something was a bit strange about him. He was willing to risk everything to join her in defeating the Templars. "If you have a rising empire, why bother to ask for my alliance? Won't you rise up and fight against me if circumstances are right? Sidon did the same to me."

"Sidon is a kafar. He is not the man who was destined to rule. You seized Damascus before I had the chance to. I am forever grateful to you for ridding the earth of his treachery. God willing, we will get rid of the Crusaders together, if you permit it so...?" he hinted. It was difficult to see her reaction to such propositions, but he tried to corner her and engage with her. The time was short, he thought.

She snickered softly. "And what's to stop me from ransacking your supposed 'established empire', Saladin? I wiped out Damascus in one day. I could wipe out Cairo in hours, if I wished it so..."

He felt like he was losing a battle here and realized he may have underestimated this woman. He thought this would be easy to sway her, but perhaps not. He was out of his league. "Perhaps, I could convince you of my worth then, empress?"

"Oh? Enlighten me," she grinned and adjusted in her seat. Gabrielle listened to Xena's tone. She was most enticing, almost seducing, using her womanly skills this time. Perhaps, something Xena never relied on before, until now. Her voice was soothing, not frightening as a sultan, but maybe she was using the ways of a woman and a man all in one. I think I understand, Gabrielle thought to herself.

"I give you my entire army," he said and her eyes widened beneath the mask.

"Such a bold offer, Saladin. I do not know anyone so willing to be on my side that they would give me their entire army," she chuckled. "I certainly wouldn't do that."

Saladin grinned hearing the soft laughter from the empress. He was unsure if she was making a mockery of him or not. But he went on, "I will be loyal to you, empress, if you allow me to ally with you. I wish to be rid of the Templars and claim an empire for myself. I have almost completed the necessary actions. Your alliance would be of utmost importance to me and my rising power against the Church."

Xena sighed, "power is a dangerous thing, Saladin."

"But you know of such victories," he implied.

She nodded, "I do not have hatred for the Templars, but to those who wronged me. They made themselves my enemy. And while we sit in this room, in my palace, they are recruiting every knight across Europe to overthrow me. They've made it their mission and so now I have a mission of my own. They chose this path and I intend to put an end to it."

Saladin's smile widened upon hearing that. "So, does this mean we have an alliance, empress?"

"Only a fool would supply me their entire army which means you're either very smart or very eager to die." She stood and he along with her. Gabrielle eyed the two as Xena stared into the man's dark brown almond eyes.

"An alliance is nothing without an offering on my end..." she stepped closer and she saw his eyes tremble. "I offer you my finest battleships to combat the Crusaders if they choose to invade Egypt." She stretched out her arm and he eyed her hand. "Do we have a deal?"

He shook her hand and nodded. "Of course, empress. Gratitude for your alliance and your protection. My empire will thrive greatly under your rule," he bowed his head and sighed. "I must be going, but this meeting has been...most rewarding."

"Oh, you may stay here in the comfort of my home." She offered and Gabrielle's eyes widened. Is she serious?

"Empress, what a kind offer, but I wouldn't want to impose..." he held his hand over his heart.

"I insist."

He nodded with a subtle grin. "God shines on you, empress. Thank you," he bowed his head then took his leave.

Xena frowned and lifted the mask from her face once the doors were closed. "Saracen bastard," she griped.

Gabrielle ripped the veil from her face and frowned. "What was that about? You allow him to stay here and you give him your alliance?"

Xena took off the gloves from her sweaty hands and smacked them against her palm. "You must keep your enemies close, Gabrielle. A lesson that I have learned long ago when I made many alliances with the European monarchs. Saladin is so eager to get rid of the Templars, he is willing to risk everything to do it, even allying with an unknown person. He wants power, but it will only destroy him in the end if he is not wise."

"You gave him your word that you'd send ships to Egypt to aid him. Why would you do that?"

The empress grinned. "My sons are going to Egypt, Gabrielle. I will not see Egypt ransacked by the Templars if they so choose to attack again. I'd rather lose my entire empire than have that happen. I will keep a close eye on Saladin."

Belach walked head with his two brothers trailing behind after the ship docked at Alexandria's port. He wiped the sweat off his brow, not used to such immense heat. He huffed and placed his hands on his hips, surveying the city.

Solan carried Alexander's bag and caught up with Belach. "Where to now?" he huffed, breathing heavily at the dry heat.

"I'm supposed to take you to the school. Apparently, your mother made arrangements with the teachers for you to stay in the housing," he groaned, not used to a city so large and busy. He saw so many different kinds of people around him, also something he was not used to. Every person was of a different color, shape and size. Nothing like Ankara or Anatolia as a whole.

After asking around they were finally heading in the right direction towards the school. They had been wandering around for hours if not for Solan's suggestion to stop and ask for guidance. Alexander moaned as they walked up a large hill.

"It's so hot!" he complained.

"Better get used to it," Solan said and slung the bags over his shoulders. "It's not so bad," he smirked.

Alexander shot him a menacing glare. "Yeah right. Are we there yet?" he called out to his elder brother.

Belach raised his eyebrow and saw a huge white building, recognizing that architecture. It was Greek, so that must mean they were in the right place. "You're in luck, Alexander," he smiled and ran up the hill and Solan grumbled, trying to keep up, he grabbed Alexander's hand, helping him along.

Upon arriving to the large Grecian school, Belach saw a couple of boys his age and maybe as young as Solan, camping out in front, joking around, speaking a foreign tongue he was not familiar with.

"Hey," Belach said. "This is the school of Alexandria, right?"

The two boys grinned and hopped off the benches and approached the trio. "Why, yes it is. Who are you?"

Belach folded his arms, eyeing the dark eyes of these teenagers, not entirely sure to trust them or not. "Belach and my brothers, Solan and Alexander. Their mother has arrangements for them to stay here. Where are the teachers?"

The light skinned, dark haired teenager eyed the boys behind Belach and smirked. "Greek boys, huh?" he snickered and the other boy grinned.

"The teachers?" Belach insisted, growing annoyed with these two.

"My name is Al-Aziz Uthman, but Aziz for short," the dark haired teen introduced himself. "My brother, Ishaq Saladin," he said and Belach nodded.

"Yeah, nice to meet you both, anyway, I really need to make sure my brothers see to their rooms." Belach folded his arms, not allowing the two boys to pass.

Aziz nodded and eyed Alexander hiding behind his brother, Solan. "Oh yeah, well the teachers left for the day but my brother and I can show them around." He went around and Belach grabbed his shoulder.

"I don't think so," he warned. "I'll come with you."

Aziz sneered. "Yeah, hey, hands off. I'm not going to hurt your brothers, relax." He walked over to the blonde boy and folded his arms. "Solan, huh? Where are you from?"

"A lot of places," Solan frowned and Alexander clutched to his leg.

"And your brother? He doesn't look like you. You must be from the Steppes, am I right?" Aziz knelt down, eyeing the dark haired small boy. Alexander frowned and hid behind Solan. "Shy little guy, isn't he?" he mused and Ishaq shook his head.

Belach rolled his eyes and pulled Aziz away from his brothers. "Enough of this. Show us to the rooms or –"

"Or what?" Ishaq asked and Aziz folded his arms, glaring at Belach. "I wouldn't put a hand on my brother if I were you. We know people in high places."

Belach smirked, "so do I and trust me, you don't want to find out who that is," he winked. "So, the rooms?"

Aziz and his brother frowned and told them to follow up the hill to a separate building not too far from the school. Belach stayed behind them, watching them closely. Alexander grasped Solan's hand tightly as they tread behind their elder brother.

"Solan, I don't like them," he whispered.

Solan nodded, "let's try not to start any trouble with anyone while we're here."

"I am really beginning to hate this place already," Alexander grumbled.

Belach turned around and saw his brothers falling behind. He groaned and walked over and picked up Alexander, carrying him on his back. "Come on, Solan."

"I'm coming..." Solan sighed and ran up the hill to join Belach. "Who are those boys?" he whispered.

Belach shrugged and Alexander wrapped his arms around his brother's neck. "Will you stay here with us?" he asked.

The eldest brother sighed heavily. "Your mother so owes me for this, but I'd rather stay here until I know you are both in good hands or she will kill me. Literally."

Chapter Text

AN: I would to like apologize for all this politicking in these last few chapters, but I am in the middle of the pre-climax of the war. I  try  to make politics more intriguing by adding some surprises and here is a big surprise for you all ;)

On the upside, Xena and Gabrielle are growing closer together as they continue to "figure each other out". Enjoy everyone and thank you for your kind words in reviews. Much appreciated. Glad to see that you all are enjoying this story. I didn't think it would be liked at all because it's very AU.

Chapter 21 –The Knot

Borias stood in his yurt with Osman, talking for hours about what to do with the Crusaders. So far, Xena had not sent word to them if she would help or not, but Borias knew that she would. She had to, he thought, after all, everyone helped her against the Crusaders already in Jerusalem. Xena was not the one to turn a blind eye to those that help her, at least, that's what he remembered of her. He wasn't entirely convinced this was the same Xena he met fifteen years ago.

"We should ask Xena for help, Borias," the chieftain after a long moment of awkward silence.

Borias shook his head. "No, we don't need her help yet!"

Osman rolled his eyes and slammed his fist on the table. "Stop letting your pride get in the way! Xena is too proud to admit that she needed help. Don't you follow down that same path! You are willing to give Xena whatever she wants to combat the Crusaders. It is only reasonable that she return the favor and help us! We are closer to Constantinople than she is. We need her, Borias."

His second in command groaned lowly and rubbed his chin, looking at the table filled with letters from Xena she sent this past week. She asked for more oil and he couldn't help but wonder why she needed so much oil.

"Why does she need such an abundance of oil?" Borias growled and swiped his hand across the table and the letters went flying. Osman folded his arms and leered down at him.

"I know that Natassa is your wife, but you've always had a soft spot for Xena. You two rely on each other more than you'd both like to admit." Osman said and Borias' eyes darkened at that statement of fact. "I like Xena too, but she is being secretive and clandestine. Ask her for help or I will."

Natassa walked into the yurt holding a letter close to her chest. Both men turned in her direction and her husband crinkled his nose at the sight of her. "Leave us, Natassa. We are –"

"No, we are finished here," Osman eyed Borias and scowled. "Do it or I will," he hissed then left the yurt in haste.

She inhaled deeply and approached Borias with the letter cupped in her hands. "I need to talk to you about Xena."

He groaned and scratched his scalp anxiously. "Xena, so much talk about Xena!"

"I'd like to know why she sent our son to escort her sons to Egypt," she began and he folded his arms, staring off into the abyss. "I just received a letter from Belach. He wants to stay in Egypt with them. He's been gone for two weeks now, Borias! She has him tied to her little string and he does anything she says because you allow it!"

He grabbed her shoulders firmly and stared into her blue eyes. "Natassa! I don't have time to deal with your petty jealousy with Xena. She is no longer with me and has not been for years. Belach is keeping Alexander and Solan safe. Xena didn't ask him to stay with them so he wants to stay out of his own free will."

She laughed lightly and pried his fingers off her shoulders. "And why would he do such an act of kindness for his stepmother?"

"You fed your hatred for Xena to Belach for years, Natassa. Maybe he is learning that Xena is not the one who hated him all his life." He narrowed his eyes then turned, walking to pick up Xena's letters that were scattered across the floor.

She gasped, "I do not hate our son!"

He snickered and placed the letters back on the tabletop. "No, that'd be Xena." He sighed and turned to his shocked wife's face. "Osman wants me to ask for Xena's help against the Templars in Constantinople. He thinks they will attack us."

Natassa folded her arms and grimaced. Xena's help, she laughed inwardly at the thought. "And are you going to ask her?"

Sighing he looked to the ceiling. "If I don't, Osman will."

"And you're so sure that she will help us? You saved her life and all she has done is ask for supplies since she returned to Thebes! Does she not have enough weapons in that grand palace of hers?!"

Silence from the opposite party.

She pursed her lips and nodded. "Alright," she smacked the letter from their son on the table. "Do what you want as always. Bending to every wish that Xena commands. She curses every land she sets foot on, Borias."

Borias scoffed and turned round to his bitter wife. "Xena has a huge empire, Natassa. You know that she has helped us several times with no questions asked and no complaints. You hate her and I cannot change your feelings towards her, but I doubt she hates you. She doesn't hate Belach even though he has not treated her very nicely and –"

"I'm pregnant," she blurted out.

His eyes widened and then he started laughing, finding that very amusing. "No, you're not." He shook his head.

"Yes," she pressed.

"No," he refused to believe it.



She approached him slowly and grasped his shoulder, which he kindly shrugged her hand off. She frowned, lowering her eyes. "Borias, please," she begged softly. A whisper that he could hardly hear himself.

"Don't," he held up his hand and sighed heavily, refusing to look into her teary blue eyes. "I need to speak to Osman." He ran his hand across his rugged face and hurried out of the yurt to find the chieftain, eager to get away from his wife.

Gabrielle knocked on Xena's door and walked in slowly after she gave the command to come inside. She hobbled in, feeling very sore and achy after the training session from yesterday. Xena was nice enough to allow everyone to have a day off from training. She probably realized that these girls were not used to such vigorous training for hours on end. Saladin was still residing in the palace, which made everyone a bit uneasy, especially Gabrielle.

She saw Xena donning her old Sultan attire from Persia, constantly having her guard up around the Saracen ruler. It was like everything went backwards and suddenly they were in Persia again. Luckily, Xena held the training sessions early in the morning and did not permit the girls to wear heavy armor, cloaks or veils during combat. Although, Xena remained wearing her black garb and a very intimidating black face mask. Her emotions completely hidden and concealed to everyone around her. Not even her eyes could be seen, which made her stature even more frightening than ever before.

But now, Gabrielle gazed upon the empress not in her black robes, but in a simple form fitting burgundy gown, sitting on her bed with her hair down. She was being normal and Gabrielle liked normal Xena, definitely not Sultan Xena or Xenophon.

Gabrielle seized the opportunity and sat on Xena's bed willingly this time. The two shared a smile with one another and Gabrielle felt her stomach turn to knots. A warm smile that not everyone was able to witness, not even in front of the other girls.

"I..." she began, grabbing Xena's attention. "I have something to say."

The empress grinned and leaned back on the large pillows, folding her legs close to her. "I'm listening."

Here goes nothing. "You...wearing your sultan outfit unsettles me."

Xena frowned sadly and creased her eyebrows. "You're afraid of me?"

Oh no, I've upset her. Can she even get upset? Is she capable of having such feelings? Of course she is, she is human, duh Gabrielle. "No, no, I'm not afraid of you –this you." She sighed and realized she wasn't making much sense.

"It's the other you that I'm afraid of," she continued and Xena lifted an eyebrow at that.

"I'm not two different people, Gabrielle," Xena's tone changed from soft to firm in a matter of seconds.

Is she starting to get angry? "I didn't say that, I just meant that you've lived as one persona for a long time. I was starting to get used to this Xena, but you become a different person when you wear those black robes."

Xena tapped her fingers on her knees impatiently as her blood began to rise beneath her skin. "So, you are saying I have a good and bad side, Gabrielle?" she pried and saw the blonde's color drain from her face. "Now you're really afraid of me, aren't you?"

This is not going the way that I hoped it would, not at all. Gabrielle smiled softly, trying to reconcile her words and repair the damage she had already done. "I'm not saying that side of you is bad or good. I think you're a good person all around, but –"

"But you are afraid of me."

"No, I'm not! Let me finish!" she spat and Xena's eyes widened in shock. That wasn't supposed to happen either. Calm yourself, Gabrielle, you must remain calm. I can see the engorged veins in her arms. She's angry for sure.

"This is coming out all wrong," the blonde groaned and ruffled her long tresses. "I guess 'afraid' is the wrong word for this, but I don't know how to describe it," she huffed. "It's just, when you put on that outfit you morph into a different person."

Xena scoffed audibly and folded her arms, now annoyed with her trainee. "You are saying that I am two different people, Gabrielle! I am not! I've already explained my entire life story to you yet you don't understand."

Gabrielle frowned, also growing annoyed with this conversation that turned sour very quickly. "I understand! I understand why you did everything, Xena! But I think that you are comfortable with being an emperor and sultan. The entire Holy Roman army is after you because you're a woman not a man! You don't need to hide behind a mask to prove your worth. You're far more worthy than what a mask could give you." She said and Xena's eyes dropped to her lap, turning away in silence.

"I think you are spreading yourself too thin, Xena. I was fascinated by you when you were a sultan, but you fascinate me more as an empress and a woman now. You don't need to prove anything to anyone, especially Saladin." She smiled softly and Xena glanced over at her with a hint of a smile.

Yes, smile for me, I'm not trying to hurt you, Xena.

She leaned in close and grabbed hold of Xena's hand tightly. "You once told me that you couldn't trust me. I can see that trust is very important to you and I think you need to open yourself up in order to trust others, including yourself. You hide from Saladin but not to intimidate him. He has already recognized the power you have, you don't need to prove anything to him. Wearing that mask only prevents you from building a strong alliance. Who knows? Maybe Saladin could become a very trustworthy ally...if you allow it."

Xena lifted her chin and stared into those jade eyes, as if gaping into her soul. She finally let a smile slip and felt embarrassed. This girl was so much younger than her yet she possess such wisdom beyond her years.

"I think I'm the one who needs to figure you out," the empress expressed shyly.

"Get rid of the mask, Xena," Gabrielle's hand slipped from Xena's and she smiled warmly. "You don't need it."

Xena sighed heavily and nodded. "I will need the mask for later though when we go up against the Crusaders."

Gabrielle blinked rapidly. What is that supposed to mean? "Um...dare I ask why?"

"A plan to be later revealed, Gabrielle," Xena winked and pat her trainee's cheek lightly.

A harsh knock came to the door and both turned their heads. Dajan opened the doors and bowed his head curtly. "Empress, Saladin wants to have words with you. He is traveling to Athens within the hour."

"Athens?" Xena frowned, finding that very suspicious. A sister city of Thebes. Why would a foreigner want to go to Athens unless he is up to something. No, I should trust him as an ally like Gabrielle said. "I will be down in a moment then."

Dajan gave a quick grin and a firm nod. "I will leave you to dress then."

Xena stood from her bed. "No, it's alright. I will meet him now." She grinned and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip, not believing what Xena just said. There she was dressed in a long burgundy dress, forming to her soft curves and large thighs, not in her sultan garb, not like before.

Perhaps this is a step in the right direction for you, Xena.

Saladin waited patiently in the west entrance, anxious to leave. He felt he had stayed far too long in Xena's palace. It is a nice place, he gathered, but he was needed elsewhere. He paced back and forth continuing to wait and then he heard footsteps enter from the east wing.

He stopped and his eyes widened, expecting to see Xena clad in black with her face hidden, but she wasn't. She was far from hidden, he noted. His eyes scanned her body and she noticed his lingering eyes.

"Saladin, leaving so soon?" she mused with a smug grin.

He shied away, covering half of his face, unable to look into her beaming eyes. Blue as sapphire indeed, he thought. "Forgive me empress, but I have prior engagements. I did not...expect to stay so long."

"Is my palace not to your liking?" she teased, having a bit of fun with this prudish Saracen.

Saladin shook his head. "Oh no, empress, your palace is lovely. I've never seen such a beautiful piece of architecture displayed in such a way."

She stifled a laugh. "You are trying too hard, Saladin. I like to look into the eyes of whom I'm speaking to," she folded her arms and watched him slowly turn his head to gaze upon her. She bat her eyelashes. "Much better. My adviser told me that you are going to Athens. What business do you have in my sister city?"

He grinned nervously, eager to turn away again, but he refrained. He did not expect her to be so easy on the eyes and thought Imran was exaggerating, but apparently he wasn't. "I am to meet with an old enemy of mine in Athens. Baldwin IV, do you know of him?"

She frowned and shook her head. "Sorry to say that I do not. Who is Baldwin?" she was very curious now. How did all of these people mysteriously pop up in her life –these people that were slowly rising to power right under her nose? She obviously had been absent from Greece far too long.

"He is a leper who hides his face behind a silver mask. Many of which thought that was the illness that plagued you, empress, but it appears that is not the case," he grinned and she smirked, lowering her eyes. "I have received word that he plans to take over Jerusalem for himself and has allied with the Templar Knights. I was going to meet with him and threaten him to keep his distance. I trust that our alliance is still in effect?"

Xena raised her eyebrow and thought that was interesting. " is. You will let me know the outcome of this meeting?" she hoped so.

Saladin nodded. "Of course empress. We are allies after all. You can trust me. We are of one track mind, you and I."

She smiled nervously. "Right. Well, I shouldn't keep you waiting."

"Thank you for allowing me to stay in your lovely home and I will send word about Baldwin when I have left Athens safely." He bowed his head and turned to leave.

"Saladin," she called and he halted. "Allow some of my men to escort you. If we are allies then I should protect your well being," she offered.

"Most kind of you, empress," he grinned and hurried out of the palace.

Xena frowned, folding her arms. Gabrielle came to her side and touched her shoulder, startling her. "You're right, Gabrielle, being an empress is far more exciting than being an emperor. Did you see the look on his face?" she grinned with excitement.

The blonde smiled, seeing a new light from Xena. "He was very distracted but he managed to get his point across. Who is Baldwin by the way?"

"I was asking myself the same question," the empress frowned, rubbing her chin. "Dajan!"

"Yes, Xena?" he ran to her side.

"Find any information on this Baldwin IV and report back to me immediately." She said and he nodded then took off running. "I want to know all of my enemies. They seem to be popping up from their dark corners."

One of the maids hurried over to the empress and bowed her head, handing over two letters, one with a wax seal that she was most familiar with. "For you, your highness."

Xena took the letters and waited to open the one she knew would give her a headache. She ripped open the other letter and smiled, seeing it was from her sons in Egypt. She squinted, trying to read the bad handwriting.

"Alexander's penmanship was never very good." She mused.

Gabrielle smiled seeing the happiness in Xena's eyes. It had been over a month since Solan and Alexander traveled to Egypt to go to school. She was sure that Xena missed them a lot, especially since she couldn't keep an eye on them.

"What does it say?" she curiously asked.

Xena raised her eyebrows in shock. "Belach is staying with them and..." she squinted trying to read her son's horrible handwriting. "And they are having a good time in school. They went to the beach many times, he says," she pursed her lips and peered down at Gabrielle who was smiling widely.

She continued to read and couldn't make out the word. She lowered the paper to Gabrielle. "What does that say?"

Gabrielle frowned and read over the word several times. "Scorpion," she grinned. Then it dawned on her. "Wait, what?"

"Scorpion?!" Xena looked over the word and held her breath. "They have scorpions as pets..." she folded the letter up and exhaled deeply.

Gabrielle was waiting for Xena to implode at any moment, but her exterior was very calm, too calm. "Boys," she sheepishly said with a small smile. "What're going to do with em, right?" she shrugged a shoulder and Xena eyed her with distain. "What?"

Xena sighed and ripped open the following letter, knowing it was from Borias. She didn't want to read the letter, knowing there might be something horrible in it, as usual. She read over it and growled. "He wants my help? Oh really, now you want my help? How amusing."


"Osman and Borias are asking for my aid against the Templars in Constantinople. They fear they will be attacked because they are allies with me." She hummed softly as she continued reading the lengthy letter. Borias sure knew how to write a letter that's for sure. His letters were always extremely long but she figured that was due to their joint custody of their children.

She felt her heart race and crumbled up the letter and tossed it onto the floor. She marched off back to her room and Gabrielle stood there frozen and confused. She quickly followed after Xena.

"Hey, wait! What did it say? Xena!" she called after her, trying to keep up with her long legged strides.

She stormed into her room and paced around. Gabrielle huffed and puffed and closed the door behind her, leaning against it trying to catch her breath.

"He asks too much from me!" she blurted out and Gabrielle shook her head.

"What are you talking about?" she managed to say in between big breaths.

Xena grinned mockingly and wagged her finger. "I won't do it. I draw the line right there!"

"What line? Xena, talk to me! I'm in the dark here."

Xena's eyes filled with rage and Gabrielle backed up against the doors, not liking that look at all. Scary was an understatement to describe the horror displayed in Xena's eyes. "His inconsiderate wife is pregnant and he wants to send her here in case they are," she used air quotes, "attacked."

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and blinked rapidly. "Oh." That's awkward, also an understatement, she thought. "Well...what are you going to do?"

"Do? Do?!" Xena growled. "I will do nothing for that woman! She has been horrible to me ever since I met her. There is not a nice bone in that woman's body. I can't stand the thought of her living under my roof," she shivered at the idea and it was an awful one.

Gabrielle knew that this a very awkward situation and really none of her business. Although she knew that her children's father had a wife already, maybe they could put aside their differences. "But, she is Belach's mother and don't you care about him?"

Xena's demur softened at the mention of Belach's name. She never hated him and was always kind to him when he was a child. He was a sweet child and soon turned into a monster just like his mother when he grew older, but she saw much change in the haughty teenager lately since she spent time with him. She did not like Natassa, but Belach was also half of Borias, probably the only good thing that came out of that relationship. Belach had potential, but Natassa, she was something else. Xena may never be able to find common ground with the woman, despite Borias' request to keep her safe.

Although, Belach had a mother and Xena didn't wish harm to come to Natassa no matter how much she despised her.

"She never appreciated anything I did for Belach," Xena frowned, pouting a bit.

Gabrielle smiled softly and approached her with warmth. "You are a kind person, Xena. You are merciful like you said and family is important to you. Whether you like it or not, she's sort of...part of your family. I know you'd hate for Belach to go back to Ankara and find something terrible happened to his mother." She insisted on changing Xena's mind.

Xena quirked her mouth and rubbed her nose, turning away from the wise blonde. She knew that Gabrielle was right, but was too proud and stubborn to admit it.

"I am going to regret this," she said with a big exhale.

Gabrielle grinned and pat Xena's shoulder. "You know you're doing the right thing, Xena."

"If she complains about anything while she's here I can't promise I won't hit her."

The blonde sighed. "Well, that's fair...I guess," she nodded. No, definitely not fair at all, but this is none of business.

"Or wring her neck," a smile came to Xena's lips.


"Or slip something in her –" she eyed the big frown on Gabrielle's face and smiled. "Small joke."


"You know I don't kill women, Gabrielle," Xena winked. "I am merciful, remember?" she said in a most playful tone and Gabrielle eyed her suspiciously. She sighed and walked around the large chair in her room, gliding her fingers across the wood.

"Well, I wonder what Belach's reaction will be like? I long to see the shock on his face," Xena mused, already finding this situation super amusing. "How the tables have turned," she muttered to herself.

Gabrielle placed one hand on her hip, cocking her head. "Maybe he will get his act together?" she could only hope.

"I wouldn't be that optimistic, Gabrielle."

"So, are you going to send aid to them? You case the knights attack them?"

Xena sighed. "I suppose it would be the right thing to do..." she leaned on the back of the chair, sulking silently. "And I suppose I should tell Borias that Natassa can stay here..." she groaned lowly. "Or maybe I should just let their entire camp perish in the hands of the Templars!" she roared.

Gabrielle's eyes grew in shock and Xena turned around to face her with wild eyes. She must really hate this woman, Gabrielle thought to herself.

"But...that would be very insensitive of me..." Xena smirked seeing the shock written all over her trainee's face. "Alright, Gabrielle, you've convinced me."

"Huh?" the blonde contorted her face in confusion.

"To let Natassa come here and stay with me. I'll make sure she is well taken care of." Xena winked.

"I did what?"

Saladin arrived in the alcove of Athens to a discreet location where his old foe, Baldwin IV resided with his wife, Sibylla. He often felt bad for his wife since the eager rising leader of his Hebrew people, was a leper and his wife so beautiful and unable to come close to the man.

He stepped inside the large villa in the corner of the outside of Athens. He lay eyes upon the silver masked man. Baldwin set down his paperwork and Saladin noticed the leather gloves the man wore. He had his fill with masked rulers as of late, although Xena was a sight to behold, Baldwin was not. He had a reason to hide, Xena did not.

"Saladin," Baldwin spoke softly. "I was think you'd never make it," his voice raspy and short in tongue.

The Saracen bowed his head and sat opposite the Hebrew. "I had some prior engagements."

"Not with the heathen Greek ruler, I hope?" Baldwin cocked his head and stared through the open slits in the silver mask. He smiled beneath the mask seeing the color drain from Saladin's face. "I know of your meeting with the Greek empress. Do not think that I didn't have you followed and spied on."

"You cross lines, Baldwin," Saladin grimaced.

The Hebrew coughed as he let out a subtle chuckle at Saladin's demise. "You are my enemy, not my friend. Do not think that this woman will remain your ally, Saladin. She hid herself from the world for over a decade and you do not stop and think, why? I find that very...peculiar." he cocked his head, narrowing his slightly swollen eyes at the Saracen.

"The way she conducts herself as empress is not of your concern, nor is it mine."

Baldwin nodded and tapped his gloved fingers on the armrests of the chair. "You did not once think it odd that she posed as a man for so long? Or that nobody had seen her face?" he kept lolling his head from side to side eerily. "You are willing to trust this woman whom you barely know to combat the largest force on this earth –the Roman Church. You continue to make yourself my enemy, Saladin."

"Then she is your enemy as well, dear Baldwin," Saladin grinned and saw the man's eyes narrow in the slits of the mask. "You hide your hideous face from the world while Xena hides hers because she is a woman. I think God will judge who is the most fit to rule Jerusalem and it is not you."

"Jerusalem belonged to me once until that Sultan overthrew me and my family and forced me into exile. This Greek woman is now the keeper of the holy land and I will reclaim it with or without the Templars help. You can count on that, Saladin."

The Saracen chuckled lightly. He realized that Baldwin was incredibly bitter about his loss of Jerusalem long ago, long before Xena took over Persia. Baldwin had no deformities then, but he was a completely different man now. He resides in Xena's domain, hiding. Xena didn't hide, she was always out in the open unlike Baldwin.

"I have come to give warning," Saladin began. "Do not come near Jerusalem or Xena will obliterate you."

The Hebrew croaked a laugh. "Is that a threat, Saracen?"

"A warning," Saladin corrected. "We could have allied once, as friends, but you refused my offer."

Baldwin snarled and stood from his seat, towering over his foe. "You attacked me! You attacked my holy city to gain it for yourself! You are a fool to think that this Greek woman would ever allow you to control Persia and its finest glories! A fool!"

Saladin rose from his chair, staring into the hazel eyes of the leper. "And you are a fool if you do not heed my warning."

"I am not scared of your Greek ally, Saladin. You will crash and burn and you will be betrayed by her. I will sit on the side of my people and watch your world crumble right before my eyes."

"I was going to say the same thing about you," Saladin winked and then took his leave, ceasing this meaningless and pointless conversation.

Chapter Text

AN: the war finally nears as Xena comes to a breaking point. And corruption in Egypt lingers. Enjoy ;)

Chapter 22 –The Impostor

Alexander rushed out of the classroom of the school, eager to return to his room he shared with Solan and Belach, to see his new pets that he picked up a few weeks ago. His mother always warned him to stay away from the scorpions in the deserts of Persia, but he saw that these scorpions in Egypt were a lot different and by different, he meant bigger and seemed less harmful. He was able to capture the large black scorpions before they were going to be picked up and eaten on the streets. He couldn't fathom why anyone would want to eat a giant bug anyway.

He ran out and saw Belach waiting for him and Solan, leaning on a stone wall, twirling with his dagger with his wrist steadily. Solan sauntered slowly behind him and saw Aziz and Ishaq cackling behind him, whispering in hushed tones in a language they believed he could not understand.

Alexander ran up to Belach with excitement written all over his flushed face. "Belach, are you ready to go? I want to see Horus and Sekhmet." He spoke of his pet scorpions.

The elder brother shook his head. "We should wait for Solan first," he advised and Alexander sighed heavily and folded his arms as he watched Solan make his way over. Taking his sweet time, he thought.

"Come on, Solan!" the little brunette yelled impatiently.

Solan smiled faintly up at his brother and kept hearing the two boys behind him making small jokes of himself, Belach and Alexander in their mother tongue. He spun around and crossed his arms with a big frown on his face. Aziz and Ishaq stopped in their tracks and copied Solan's stance.

"Something to say?" he asked.

Aziz scoffed, "not really, Greek boy," he snickered as did his brother. "You're in my way."

"You shouldn't say those things about me and my brothers. It might get you in trouble later," Solan warned, refusing to allow the boys to pass.

"Yeah?" Ishaq eyed Alexander and Belach standing a few paces away against a building. "Your brother going to beat me and my brother up or something?" he chuckled at the thought and Aziz rolled his eyes.

Solan nodded his head slowly listening to these two laughing, finding this very amusing. "Just don't try me, okay?" he turned to walk off and Aziz grabbed his shoulder. His eyes widened and he pushed Aziz backward, sending him to the hot sand below.

Belach sheathed his dagger and folded his arms watching the two boys gawking at Solan, ready to strike at any moment. Aziz rose from the sand and brushed off his fancy clothing, glaring at the blonde boy. Alexander backed away slowly, not looking to fight anyone. He grabbed Belach's arm, clutching to it tightly.

"Belach, aren't you gonna do something?" Alexander whispered.

"Not yet," Belach grinned, waiting for the boys to attack Solan, but so far they were all words and no talk. He expected nothing less from two spoiled rich kids like themselves. Aziz and Ishaq hardly did any school work and the teachers didn't seem to bother them about it. He began to think that these boys were more than a couple of troublemakers, but they definitely had some power in this school. He wondered what family they were from, certainly not Roman by the looks of their clothes, language and features. They were dark skinned with dark hair to match and their clothes were not western at all. In fact, they appeared as if they could be from Persia or somewhere nearby.

"You should learn to keep your hands to yourself, Solan," Aziz warned, inching closer and closer to the blonde's face, gaping in his bright blue eyes. "Wouldn't want something to happen to you if word got out that you lay hands on two princes."

Alexander's face lit up. "Princes?" he jolted forward and ran next to Solan. "We are princes too!" he beamed. Aziz and Ishaq raised suspicious eyebrows at the boy and Solan's face drained of color.

Belach gasped and he walked forward, wrapping his hand around Alexander's mouth, pulling him close. "He doesn't know what he's talking about." He gave a sheepish grin.

The two Egyptian princes eyed each other and then looked to the tall brother, towering over the smallest boy. "Prince of what? Some tribe in the Steppes?" Ishaq asked with a light chuckle.

"He has a really overactive imagination. You know how kids can be," Belach said trying to sway the subject from the boys' minds. "Come on, Solan. We need to get back to our room," he urged and Solan frowned at Aziz and Ishaq, trailing beside Belach, while Alexander struggled to get free from his brother's hold.

Upon returning to their room Solan flung his bag across the room and Alexander ran to the window where the scorpion cage was located. He hopped onto a soft cushioned bench and smiled, admiring his new pets. Belach slammed the door behind him and glared at his youngest brother.

"Alexander!" he yelled and the boy cringed at his tone. "You can't tell anyone who you are!"

The boy turned and slumped on the bench. "But, why not? I don't like the way they treat Solan. They should be nicer to us."

"Or they will kill us if they find out who we are," Solan grumbled.

"Or mother will kill them," Alexander grinned and Solan blinked at his brother. He shrugged a shoulder and his smile faded. "What? She would..." he sighed and looked at his two older brothers glaring at him and the room filled with tension. "This sucks. Aziz and Ishaq get special treatment and it's because they are princes. We can get that treatment too!"

Belach rubbed his face and then walked over to his brother, kneeling before him. "Alexander, your mother doesn't want anyone to know who you are. You almost ruined it for everyone! You could have put us all in danger. You don't want that, right?"

"Well, no," the boy sighed, hanging his head. "I'm sorry."

Solan rolled his eyes and plopped down onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. "I hate this place and I hate mother for sending us here. Nobody likes us and we have no friends here."

Belach frowned and stood. "Solan, knock it off. It's not that bad. At least you can outside these walls anytime you want. Couldn't do that in Persia, right?"

"I can do that in Ankara," Solan sat up and glared at his brother. "And I have friends in Ankara. This city is full of smartass rich kids."

Alexander chuckled lightly and received a glare from Belach. "You call these kids rich, but your mother is probably one of the wealthiest people in the world," Belach reminded him. "You are richer than them all," he snickered and Alexander nodded.

"Yeah, well, I don't think about money or status like these kids do. Besides, mother never gives us anything whenever we want," Solan sighed and lay back down on the bed, sulking.

A knock came to the door and all three brothers turned their heads in silence. Belach frowned and opened the door and low and behold, Aziz and Ishaq waltzed into the room uninvited. They smiled upon seeing the room that the boys were given.

"Nice room, one of the best in the city," Ishaq marveled at the marble columns and three large beds. It had three balconies and even a bath inside, which was pretty rare in homes these days. "Very expensive."

Aziz folded his arms, admiring the room, almost as nice as his, maybe even better. "Very expensive, indeed. Who pays for your lodging?"

"Nobody that concerns you," Solan spoke for everyone and Belach eyed him cautiously. "Why are you two here?"

Ishaq grinned and nudged his brother's arm. Aziz began calmly, "we'd like to apologize for what happened earlier. It seems that we may have misunderstood you all. My brother and I would like to invite you to our sister's birthday celebration. Our mother allows us to bring a few guests so we'd like you all to come, if you can of course."

Alexander eyed his brothers, waiting for their response. Solan and Belach shared a silent stare with each other and the younger of the two decided to answer for everyone. "And where is this party?" he asked a nicer voice this time around.

Aziz grinned, "my home in Sharuba. It's about an hour west from here. The party is tomorrow evening and we'd like you three to come. So, will you?"

Belach sighed and nodded. "Fine, we will go."

"We will?" Solan arched an eyebrow and his brother gave him a curt encouraging nod. "We will..." he said with more enthusiasm this time.

"Wonderful," Aziz smiled as did his brother and they turned to leave. "Oh," he stood in the doorway, "you might want to wear something a bit more...fancy to the party, if you have anything of the sort," he chuckled and left with brother in tow.

Belach closed the door and growled. "Pieces of shit," he muttered.

"I can't believe you actually agreed to this," Solan spat and began pacing around the room.

"I love parties! I've never been to one though..." Alexander tapped his cheek. He suddenly wished that he had his finest Persian clothes to wear to the party, although he didn't bring any of those clothes with him.

Belach grinned and opened a chest then pulled out a large bag of ducats. He turned to his brothers with a smug face. "We will buy the finest clothes they have to offer in Alexandria."

"Using mother's money to buy pricey clothes?!" Alexander gasped and ran to his brother, wrapping his arms around his legs. "She will not like this, Belach."

"She doesn't have to find out, right?" Belach said and Solan exhaled heavily.

"We're going to have to ask her for more money next month and she's going to wonder why!" Solan slapped his forehead and fell backward on the bed with a heavy groan.

Belach shrugged, "she'll send it no questions asked. Anyway, want to go to the market or what?" he threw the bag of coin into Solan's face and he caught it with ease.

Amelia fell to the ground with a loud thud and she groaned, staring up at her opponent. "Gabrielle, are you trying to break my back?" she struggled to stand and her opponent helped her up off the ground.

"Nope, just trying to work on my swings. How did I do?" Gabrielle teased and Amelia shot her a menacing glare. "Pretty good, huh?"

Xena approached both girls and smiled, folding her arms. Gabrielle spun around and her eyes widened ever so slightly, surprised to see her here and so close. "Your defense is good, Amelia, but you shouldn't wait for your opponent to strike. You should already know her moves. Gabrielle can be very dangerous," she winked and Gabrielle blushed slightly.

"Yes, empress. I will try better next time," Amelia said meekly and lowered her gaze.

Dajan came running outside on the training grounds and approached Xena. "Empress, your guest arrives."

Xena's eyebrow arched and she clapped her hands together. "Finally," she muttered. Then she turned around to face the trainees. "Girls, you are finished for now. Join me inside when you have put away your weapons." She smirked and sauntered inside with Dajan treading behind her.

Natassa walked into the entrance of Xena's huge palace. Her eyes scanned the palace for the first time. She had never left her tribe from the Steppes and Ankara. A palace like this she had only heard of from Alexander and Solan, but she had never seen something so grand and so austere. Everything was marble and there were huge arched windows with flowing red draperies gently swaying in the breeze outside.

She was able to see the gardens from here and then saw Xena coming in from outside, dressed in black pants, tunic and knee high boots. It had been awhile since she had seen the woman whom she did not like, but she was different. Her hair shorter, but still long enough. The scar on her neck was visible and she was no longer wearing her sultan garb that she had grown accustomed to for many years now. No, she was just regular Xena, the Xena she used to know. Or was she?

Xena couldn't wipe the smile off her face upon seeing Natassa. She folded her arms and stopped a mere few feet from the woman. Her eyes roamed Natassa's attire and saw she still clung to her black and burgundy long sleeve dress with her coined headdress. Much of the same, she noticed. Her blue eyes stone cold as was her expression. Her long dark hair, reaching to her hips and rather wild from her journey from Anatolia.

"Natassa," she began and kept grinning, her eyes growing as she saw the woman's distain for her increase even more.

"Xena," Natassa said lowly. "Your nice."

Xena nodded, "it is, isn't it? I'd love to give you a tour sometime," she said and almost waited for a reaction, but all she got was silence.

"I'm only here because Borias forced me to come. I would never dare step foot in your home out of my own free will," Natassa said and the empress smirked, scoffing softly.

"And you are here because I was so kind to allow you to stay. I could have turned you away, but I didn't, now did I?" she hummed softly and wrapped her arm around her and Natassa stiffened from her touch. "Now, we are going to behave ourselves, right? We can make this living arrangement a living hell or we can learn to get along. What's it going to be, huh?" she hissed in her ear.

Natassa's eyebrows furrowed and she slowly turned her head to see the look in Xena's eyes. She'd seen that look before. "I can't promise a thing."

"Good enough," Xena smiled and saw all the girls run inside, sweaty and exhausted from their training session. They all stopped in the middle of the entrance once they saw her with a woman, a woman that they had never seen before.

"Oh girls," Xena clung onto Natassa, attempting to make her as uncomfortable as possible. "This is Natassa Khatun. She will be staying with us for awhile. She is Belach's mother and I want to make sure that you all show her the utmost respect while she's here, is that understood?"

All the girls nodded silently and Natassa's eyes grew in shock. Respect. Natassa wasn't expecting Xena to say anything like that. She half expected her to say something rude or something outright, but when she didn't, that really took her for surprise.

"Good, you all can go to your room and clean up. I have decided that we should eat dinner altogether," Xena smiled and then pulled Natassa with her down the hallway.

Natassa peered over her shoulder watching the girls descend down a different hall, then whipped her head around, glaring at Xena. "What are you doing?!" she pulled away from the empress's arms.

Xena frowned in confusion. "Showing you to your room. You will sleep in my wing, close to me, very close..." she leaned in and Natassa backed away slowly.

"No, why are you being nice to me?"

"Would you rather I show you the same treatment you showed me so long ago, Natassa? Would you like that?" Xena folded her arms, glaring into the woman's blue eyes filled with fury.

Natassa copied Xena's stance. "You slept with my husband. I do not think that I should have shown you respect, Xena."

The empress nodded slowly. "We all make mistakes. He is all yours now," she said in a teasing tone. "Will you follow me to your room, now?" she took off and Natassa groaned.

"You are using Borias, Xena! Like you always have with your frivolous wars! Now you use my son to babysit your bastard sons while you hide in your grandeur palace!"

Xena halted and spun around, almost tempted to strike this woman where she stood, but she refrained. "I am not using Belach to do anything, Natassa. He stayed with my sons on his own accord. I am not forcing him to stay with them. They are well taken care of without him there."

"Then why does he stay in Alexandria? He has no reason to abide by your rules!"

Xena steadied herself and inhaled deeply, trying to remain calm. She walked forward, inches from Natassa's face. "As I said, I am not forcing him to stay there. Despite what you believe in that little head of yours, I don't hate Belach. I would save his life before mine if I had to." She said lowly and saw Natassa's eyes widen.

Thirteen Years Ago

Xena took Belach with her far from the campgrounds to evade the chaos and invasion of the Templar Knights. She trotted in the dark, approaching a forest ahead. She yanked on the reins of the horse and skid to a stop. She felt Belach's small arms wrapped around her, breathing heavily as his cheek was pressed against her backside.

"We will have to stay out here for awhile until we can go back," she said softly and she heard him sobbing softly, wetting her coat. She frowned sadly hearing the boy sob softly, as if trying to hide his emotions. It was quite a sight to see his people being massacred like that at his age.

She heard a snap of a twig and unsheathed her sword, turning her horse around, scanning the area. She then saw two knights lurking in the shadows upon their horses with sword in hand.

One knight trotted forward, his teeth glistening in the moonlight. Xena frowned and pointed her sword towards him. "A Steppe woman. You are with Osman's tribe are you not?"

"I am not," she answered curtly. "Be on your way before someone gets hurt."

"A foolish woman you are. Willing to risk your life and with a child on your back?" he eyed the brown eyed boy, clutching to her for dear life. "Get her," he ordered his accomplice.

The Templar charged forward and their swords clashed together. She grit her teeth and was able to push him back. She swung her sword and sliced his arm. Though, the sight of his blade frightened her horse and it reared on its hind legs. Belach lost grip of her and fell on his back.

She spun around and gasped. "Belach!" she saw the fear in his eyes and began scooting away on the grass. She reached down as far as she could to grab his hand, but he was too dumbstruck to move. She felt a sting on her back and she cried out in agony.

Her hand went to her shoulder blade and felt blood seeping from a fresh wound by the knight's blade. She snarled and turned to face the templars but then a loud horn was sounded from beyond, from the camp.

"Leave her," the knight said, "we must return to the rest of the men." He smirked at her then trotted off with his partner.

Xena hissed and sheathed her sword, exhaling heavily. Peering down she saw the fear instilled in the boy's eyes and grabbed his arm, hoisting him up on her horse then soon left the area.

Upon coming to the forest ahead, she sat against a tree and took off her coat, tending to her gash on her shoulder. She slipped her sleeve off, exposing her bare shoulder and dabbed the gash with a cloth, wincing at the stinging pain.

Belach sat beside her, playing with a long piece of wheat and she turned her head, staring at him with soft eyes. Setting the cloth down, she carefully slipped the dress back onto her wounded shoulder. He eyed the bloody cloth and his mouth gaped.

"You are hurt," he said bluntly and looked up into her eyes.

She smiled softly, "just a scratch," she lamented and his eyes lowered. She wrapped her arm around his small frame. "Those knights are pretty scary, huh?" she asked.

He nodded silently and brought his knees to his chin, staring at the full moon above in the sky. "We...go home now?" he asked in a sweet small voice.

She sighed. "Not yet. We will have to wait until morning."

He gasped, "morning?!"

She nodded, "afraid so, but don't worry, you'll see your mother soon."

He yawned and leaned against her breast, cradled in her arm. He closed his hooded eyes and brought his legs close to him, wrapping his arms around himself, soon falling into a light slumber. She sighed and leaned her head against the tree, staring at the bright moon, waiting for morning to come.

Xena sat at her vanity, running her fingers through her hair. She asked all of the girls to join her for dinner this evening and that included Natassa. As much as she wanted to strangle the woman, she kept thinking about what Gabrielle said. Whether she liked it or not, Natassa was a part of her family –her very strange family.

The woman was so bitter even still. So many years later, she still felt hatred towards Xena, and of course the empress could not blame the woman. Although, she believed that Natassa wanted a reason to be angry at everything, including Borias and even Belach at times. She figured that Natassa was unable to let go of the past and leave it behind her.

Pounding on her door interrupted her thoughts. She frowned and suddenly Dajan rushed inside her bedroom with blood upon his hands. "Xena, you must come to the entrance."

She stood from her chair, dressed in a black and gold dress, far different from her sparring garb from earlier today. "What happened?" she grabbed her sword from the table and brushed by him.

Natassa stepped out of her room from across the hall and saw Xena storming down the hall, ready to trail down the stairs. She frowned slightly and looped the earring in her lobe. "What is going on?"

Xena halted and pointed the sword directly in the tribal woman's face. "You stay here." She ordered.

"You can't –"

"You stay in your room until I tell you otherwise!" Xena yelled and Natassa's lips parted, speechless. She then marched off with Dajan ahead of her already.

Xena came to the west entrance and saw three dead soldiers lying on her floor. She frowned and flipped one of the men over with her foot. "Saladin's men," she noted.

Dajan nodded, "they were delivered to the gates not too long ago."

"By who?" she spun around, gently swaying her sword back and forth impatiently.

"We do not know, Xena," he hated to admit. "They were delivered by horseback but it was too dark to see who came to the gates."

"Where is Saladin?"

"I...I'm afraid to tell you that I do not know the answer to that question either, empress," he sighed and saw her nod her head slowly, very dissatisfied with this news.

"Fantastic," she muttered. She waved her sword at the dead Saracens. "Dispose of the bodies and I will go scout the city for myself." She turned around and saw a horde of girls gawking with fearful eyes. I don't need this right now, she thought. "Return to your room, all of you."

The girls slowly began walking down the long corridor and she groaned, making her way back to her room before she was called for. "Xena!" that voice, the voice she did not want to hear right now.

Regrettably, she turned around and frowned heavily. "What is it Gabrielle?"

"You're going to scout the city. Let me come with you," the blonde offered with an eager glimmer in her emerald eyes.

Xena rumbled and ignored her statement then headed up to her room to put on a more suitable attire to ride into the city. Gabrielle gasped and trailed up the staircase just a few steps behind her. "Xena, please? I want to help."

"Not this time Gabrielle."

"Why not? I have come all the other times. What makes this time any different?" Gabrielle proceeded and Xena walked into her room, nearly slamming the door in the blonde's face. Gabrielle caught the door and stormed inside. "Xena!"

"Gabrielle!" the empress's lips quivered in rage. "I am ordering you to stay behind. When dead soldiers are delivered to my doorstep, it is not because someone is giving me a gift. They are condemning me and asking for a war!"

The blonde folded her arms and Xena turned around, stripping herself of her nice black gown into her pants, tunic and boots. "What good are we girls if you aren't ever going to use us for real war? All we've done is train and hardly seen any action."

Xena chuckled, "the Templars in Persia wasn't enough action for you?" she said mockingly.

"We can help you. Let us," Gabrielle wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer. Xena laced up her boots and turned to look at the determination in her eyes. She is too eager, Xena thought, but how could I say no to help that I need, again?

The bag was ripped off of Saladin's head and he growled upon seeing at least one hundred Templar Knights standing around him, staring at him as if he were a piece of meat. His eyes scanned the area and he saw that he was inside of a church by the architecture, though he supposed they were in a secret room below the large Cathedral.

Joseph grinned and knelt down in front of the Saracen. "You allied with the wrong person, Saladin." He hissed. "Baldwin told us what you are planning. How did you convince the cross-dressing empress to ally with you? Did she use her charm and her wits? Did she seduce you with her blue eyes and red lips?"

He grabbed hold of Saladin's throat, squeezing tightly. The Kurdish commander coughed, glaring into the Templar's eyes. "She...used...her political skills," he croaked and Joseph released his throat. He began hacking violently and another knight stood behind him, tightening the ropes around his wrists and he groaned lowly.

"You and I are not so different, Kurd. You are a God fearing man as am I. You may believe that Xena is on your side, but she is not. She is not a God fearing woman, she is a heathen, an infidel or...kafar, as you people say."

Saladin spat at the knight's boots in disgust. "I care not if she is a believer in my faith or yours. You are wrong not to ally with her. She will destroy you or have you not seen what she is capable of?" he grinned, chuckling weakly.

Joseph's eyes grew with malice just hearing this Saracen speak upon Xena's behalf as if she were a good woman. She is not. She is a heathen. He slapped Saladin across the face and leaned down, ripping off his black turban from his head, exposing his long dark hair.

"She will damn to you to Hell, Saladin. Do you not care about your soul? What will she do to your soul? She will corrupt it –destroy it from the inside out! She needs to be gotten rid of! She should have been taken care of long ago, yet she lives."

"Due to your incompetence," Saladin grinned smugly.

Joseph was about to strike the arrogant Saracen again until Baldwin stepped into the room. "Templar!" he yelled and the young knight slowly retracted his hand, though kept his eye on Saladin the entire time. Baldwin walked in between the horde of knights and fixed his gloves upon his hands.

Saladin's smile faded and looked into the eyes in the slits of the silver mask upon Baldwin's face. It was impossible to see what he was thinking, much like his first encounter with Xena. Although, he knew Baldwin well, long before his face became deformed and diseased.

"I warned you to stay away," Saladin hissed.

Baldwin folded his arms, cocking his head ever so slightly. "I did not heed your warning, Saladin. I'll have you know that Xena will soon find her city up in flames and her citizens turned against her."

The Kurd's eyes widened and mouth gaped. "What have you done?"

Baldwin snorted and paced around the chair Saladin sat in. "I may have paid a visit to Xena's city of Thebes. Her citizens do not know what she looks like and they do not know of me either. I torched the entire inner workings of the city in honor of her name. You should have seen their faces, their eyes, filled with fear and anger at their leader. They will really despise her after what she has done."

Saladin growled. "You personified Xena and burned her own city?! Why would you do such a thing? She has done nothing to you! She does not even know you exist!"

"Oh, but she will. She is a smart woman especially since she has run an entire empire for a decade. I must commend her on her bravery and vigilance. But, I plan to put that to an end. Jerusalem will be mine and I will be King of the Holy Land again just as I was before and I will not let a simple woman get in my way."

Saladin grinned and began laughing after hearing Baldwin's lengthy speech. He was truly amused. "She will come for you, Baldwin, and she will destroy you."

Baldwin sighed heavily and he smiled, adjusting his silver plated mask. "No, Saladin. I won't destroy her." He said and turned his head slowly, narrowing his sickly eyes at the Saracen. "You will."

He continued, "we both want Jerusalem and the only person standing in the way of that is Xena. Join me to defeat her and we can sort out our differences later. Like old times, eh?"

Xena, her army and a few selected girls trotted into the city of Thebes and saw it was up in flames. People were running around panicking trying to put out the fires in their homes and helping others escape the roaring flames.

Gabrielle gasped loudly and she couldn't believe the sight before her. It was like hellfire on earth, literally. She snapped her head around and saw a ten foot guardian angel statue at one of the old temples converted into a church, slowly topple over crash onto the burning ground, nearly crushing a few people running by.

"What is this..." Xena growled. She waved her hand at her men. "Go to the cisterns! Put out these fires!" she yelled and the dismounted their horses, quickly making their way to the cisterns in the outskirts of the square.

On top of the ancient Greek temple, a newly built twenty foot high crucifix was up in flames and slowly teetering downward, tempting to fall from the roof.

Gabrielle trotted on her horse and looked at the horror in Xena's eyes as she watched her beloved city burning to the ground. "Who do you think did this?"

Xena's jaw tightened and she hopped off her horse, ready to find some answers for herself. She grabbed a young man running past her by his arm. He breathed heavily, staring into her eyes. "Please! Don't hurt me!" he begged.

"Who did this?" she asked and he cringed at her tone. "Tell me!"

"The...the empress!" he croaked and Xena arched an eyebrow. "She torched the entire square!" sweat began dripping down his forehead. "Please!"

She released the young Greek man and he ran off, brushing by her shoulder. The more she thought about someone posing as her to act in revenge only made her blood boil. Gabrielle dismounted her horse and ran to Xena's side.

"Did he just say that you did all this?" she asked.

"Turning my people against me..." the empress hissed and heard all of the screams of terror throughout the square. Those screams she had heard before in the hands of the Templar Knights who attacked Osman's tribe in the Steppes long ago. She hated to hear those screams and she did not want to be the cause of it all, but it seems she was by proxy.

"Very clever, Templars," she smirked. "When I find out who is responsible for this they will not have their tongue nor any of their limbs when I am finished with them."

Gabrielle blinked and looked to the soldiers putting out fires with large buckets of water. Slowly, the fire was dissipating, but not fast enough. Another side that not many saw of Xena was her vengeful side. Gabrielle witnessed it when she killed all of the men on her court earlier this year. Xena gave them slow and painful deaths. Gabrielle was not sure if all the other girls knew what Xena was capable of. They had only seen the nicer and kinder side of the empress, but there was a hidden side to her, a dark hidden side. A side that not most people saw everyday and she was sure that Xena did not show that side of her very often, except when necessary.

The crucifix atop of the Greek temple broke off from its mount and fell into the fountain below, breaking the angel statue into several pieces from its heavy weight. Everyone panicked and screamed, running throughout the square. They ran by Xena, completely unaware of who she was, but she began to think that was a good thing at the moment.

"Xena..." Gabrielle spoke softly and lay a hand on the empress's shoulder. Xena stiffened at the touch. "We need to do something to help these people."

At that very moment Xena felt so enraged that someone was able to pose as her and not only set her city up in flames, but kill innocent people. She was never one to kill innocent people in her entire life. She also felt like her anger was getting in the way of everything and the more she looked at her burning city and hear the screams of horror, the more angry she became; the more she wanted to withdraw her sword and stab the screaming people to silence –silence them all.

She did not want to hear anyone else yelling for their lives, crying or shouting profanities about her when she stood right in their presence. They were oblivious, all of them, she thought. She never felt so disconnected from her people until this very moment. They had no idea who she was but now knew she was a woman as news spreads fast, but they did not her face. They only knew the mask she hid behind for several years.

While she was used to people looking to her in fear, it was mostly due to her mysterious and intimidating appearance, not because of any act she did. She never murdered any of her citizens. The only fear that stemmed in the people's mind were made up in their own heads, their own fantasies about the emperor/sultan. Now, they had the right to fear her because they believed she did this to her own people and city.

They fear me, Xena frowned sadly. She turned to look into Gabrielle's concerned eyes. She saw her lips moving, but she couldn't register what she was saying. Has she been talking this entire time? She wondered.

"Xena, did you hear me?" Gabrielle repeated, widening her eyes, staring at Xena. This expression worried her very much and the lack of response only worried her more.

"What did you say?"

The blonde exhaled softly. "I said we need to help these people. They're running amuck."

Xena nodded and looked to her burning city. Her men desperately trying to put out the larger fires first ahead of the smaller ones. But in her eyes, this was a giant fire –a giant massacre.

" them. You're right Gabrielle," she gave a faint smile and Gabrielle smiled back at her uncertainly.

I see rage in your eyes, Xena, a lot of anger and hatred circling in those enlarged pupils of yours. What are you thinking?

Solan, Alexander and Belach arrived to the Egyptian brothers' party they were invited to in Sharuba, albeit a bit late. The three boys walked inside the large villa set in the middle of the desert, not like the coastline city of Alexandria at all.

"Nice place," Solan observed as his eyes scanned the large place.

Alexander shrugged his shoulder. "Mother's palace is bigger." He said with a nonchalant attitude.

Aziz and Ishaq ceased conversation once their eyes were set upon the Greek boys standing in the center of the room, surrounded by guests. They both smiled and waltzed over to them. Belach frowned, folding his arms, while Alexander stuck close by to his blonde brother.

"So glad you could make it, guys," Aziz said with a warm smile. His eyes widened as saw the three wearing very nice clothing, clothing fit for royalty indeed. "Where did you come upon robes such as these?" his fingers grazed Belach's gold stitched vest.

"Well, it is a party isn't it?" Solan teased and Aziz nodded slowly as a frown appeared on his lips.

"Allow my brother and I to introduce you to our mother," the boy grinned and they walked over to their mother standing with a few women, talking away.

Ishaq tapped his mother's shoulder gently and she turned around, smiling at her sons. Alexander's eyes grew as soon as he saw their mother. She had pale skin, green eyes and her hair hidden with an elaborate veil, much like the women he saw in Ankara.

"This is our mother, Ismat Khatun," Ishaq said.

Solan smiled and bowed his head curtly. Belach pursed his lips and gave a short nod of his head, while Alexander remained dumbstruck.

"Khatun?" Alexander frowned. "You go by the name of Khatun?" he was quickly reminded of his stepmother, Natassa Khatun with the same title.

Belach and Solan shared a nervous glance, afraid that their little brother was going to give themselves away.

Aziz chuckled, "it means Lady," he said.

Alexander shot him a glare. "I know what it means," he spat.

Belach laughed nervously and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "What he means is mother goes by the same title."

Ismat nodded with a big grin on her lips. "I see. Where are you all from? We must share the same culture and customs."

Solan's face paled and Belach spoke for them all, "Ankara, Khatun," he answered politely.

"Ankara!" Ismat's smile widened. "You are Anatolian boys. How nice, I come from Syria. I am sure you have been there?"

Sidon is all Solan could think about and what hell that man caused for his entire family, his mother specifically. "Oh we know about Syria, but never been there." Solan addressed her.

"You should go sometime, it is very beautiful. Although I imagine you would have a hard time traveling while the Greek empress is in charge of Persia." She sighed and Solan's eyes darkened.

"You shouldn't talk badly about her, Khatun," Alexander said with creased eyebrows.

Ismat's smile faded and Solan covered his brother's mouth. Belach sighed heavily. "Don't mind him, he has a big mouth."

Ismat grin returned once more. "He is a sweet boy. As much as I'd love to keep conversing with you boys, I must attend to my daughter. Excuse me," she bowed her head then quickly left the room with a few women following her.

Ishaq snarled at the three boys. "Anatolia, huh? Who would've thought?"

"You should keep a tight hold on your brother. Nobody speaks to my mother that way," Aziz said.

Belach smiled tightly at the two boys and once they left the area, he glared down at his littlest brother. "Alexander! You almost blew it again! You can't keep popping off like that!"

Alexander shoved Solan away from him. "She can't talk about mother like that, Belach! She is an empress. Much better than a simple khatun!" he whispered in a harsh voice.

"We're supposed to be keeping a low profile, Alexander," Solan whispered in his ear.

Alexander huffed and crossed his arms. "I hate this party already."

"Wow, he's a real downer," Belach smirked. "Maybe a few glasses of wine would loosen him up," he grinned and picked up two glasses as a tray went by.

"Belach!" Solan gasped.

"Kidding," the elder brother winked. He sipped the bitter wine and looked to Solan. "You're in charge of the twerp for the evening. I am going to mingle."

"What?! Belach! No!" Solan hissed but it was too late, Belach already left the room and entered another. "Great," he muttered.

He felt a tug on his sleeve and peered down at his brother. "Solan, I want to go back to Alexandria," Alexander frowned. This is going to be a long night, Solan thought.

Hours later after Aziz's and Ishaq's sister, Nour, was given proper introduction, Belach thought to mingle around without the presence of his brothers. It wasn't that he didn't like hanging out with Solan and Alexander, but it was nice to get away from them for awhile. As he stayed in Alexandria, he realized that his brothers were very fun to be around and he enjoyed their company now much more than he did in Ankara. He never thought he would admit that until now.

Belach came into a room filled with older men and young, probably only a few years his elder. He frowned and held a cup of wine in his hands, weaving through the men as they talked among themselves. Finally, a room without a bunch of kids and women. All the women here were friends of Ismat Khatun. He had yet to figure out who these people were, but they were of some importance it seemed.

It felt almost wrong to eavesdrop on these men, but he was too curious to at least hear what they were talking about. And it wasn't like he didn't blend in with these people. He realized that these people were not of Egyptian origin at all by their clothing, their names, and facial features. They were either from Syria like Ismat Khatun or somewhere else. Perhaps the Steppes, he wondered?

"Saladin is in Thebes at the moment," one of the men spoke loudly and Belach's eyes widened. He slowly traced his steps back and had his back turned, listening to these three men conversing.

"Thebes? What could possibly be in Thebes?" another man asked with a light chuckle.

"The Empress of Greece of course, Afendim," the man said with a smile. "He wants an alliance with her so he can once again rule over Jerusalem."

"What a fool he is to ally with a woman! She used to dress as a male, did she not?"

Belach frowned and backed up closer to listen. They are talking about Xena, but why? And who is Saladin? Whoever he is he must be important and obviously Aziz and Ishaq were Saladin's sons and Ismat his wife. It was too obvious.

"I only hope he destroys her so he can take over her vast empire. We will rise to the top once more as we did long before Xena came along. She has corrupted the holy land as Sidon once did."

"But she has killed Sidon!" one man exclaimed with a huge grin.

"She kills everyone in her path it seems. It is she who will be met at the end of Saladin's sword, God willing."

Belach's mouth parted and one of the men bumped into him and he spilled his wine. The Saracen frowned and saw wine spilled all over the boy. "Apologies, boy. I did not see you there." He grinned and offered to clean his robes with a cloth.

"No, no, it's alright. It was my fault..." Belach brushed off the wine from his clothing and smiled briefly at the elderly men. "Excuse me," he said then hurried out of the room.

He rounded the corner and saw his brothers talking to some of their classmates. He grabbed Solan and Alexander by their arms and scurried off. Solan groaned and pulled away. "What gives?!"

"We need to get out of here," Belach said as they were already heading outside.

"But I was just starting to have fun!" Alexander whined.

Belach stopped and spun around. "We cannot be friends with these people!" he hissed and was wary of all the people passing them by. Xena seemed to have enemies across the Mediterranean he guessed. Enemies everywhere.

Solan saw the concern and even fear in his brother's eyes. "What are you talking about?"

He breathed in deeply and brought them further outside to a secluded area. "I heard a few men talking about Xena. This person, Saladin, which I guess is Aziz's and Ishaq's father, is in Thebes right now. He wants to ally with her." He saw the shock in his both his brothers' eyes. "But I don't think Saladin wants an alliance."

"You mean...he wants to kill her?" Solan hesitantly asked and Belach nodded.

Alexander gasped and cupped his cheeks. "Oh no! We must do something! I can't go through this again! Those stupid Syrians!" he growled and a few eyes turned their way.

"I don't think these people are Syrian, kiddo," Belach said.

Alexander shook his head and took both his brothers' hands and began marching off into the dark desert. "We must write mother. No time to waste!" he groaned as he pulled them along. He struggled. "Come on you two!"

Solan smirked and Belach picked up Alexander and threw him over his shoulders. "You are something else," Belach said, wagging his head.

"He's right though. We should warn her. She probably doesn't know, Belach." Solan advised.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm getting real tired of saving your mother. She so owes me."

Chapter Text

AN: the writer's block for this story was real, guys. What do I do when I have writer's block? Work on other stories, of course lol. If you've noticed, I work on multiple stories at once. That's my way of working through writer's block, plus my mind is never in one place, focused on one story at a time.

I've gotten several emails as to why I work on multiple projects at once and now you know why. Plus, I always have ideas and while some don't work out, I still like to write them down.

I always like to keep another project going once I finish one. It gives me something to look forward to and report to you all, because ya'll are awesome. Thanks for reading and following along.

Sorry for the long delay and enjoy :)

Chapter 23 –Greek Eye Part I

Solan sat with Belach on the hillside outside of the school. Their classes had finished and Alexander was laying in the sand, attempting to make sand castles, though this sand was not wet nor was it pliable either. Although, he still kept trying and that was good enough for him.

Belach leaned on his elbows, looking at the ocean below them. So blue and serene. He wished that Ankara was close to the ocean. In fact, he wished a lot of things. Solan picked at some figs and kept digging his fingers into the fruit, distracted, staring off into space.

Belach slapped his hand. "Are you going to mutilate all the fruit?" he teased.

Solan looked down at his purple stained fingers and sheepishly grinned. He wiped his hands on his pants and sighed heavily. "Sorry, I was thinking about something."

"About your mother," the brunette said and Solan nodded. "Solan, your mother doesn't need a babysitter. She knows what she's doing."

The blonde groaned and sat up, folding his arms. "You sent that letter to her right?"

Belach nodded, "of course I did."

"But she didn't reply. It's been a month now. She would have replied. She always writes us back no matter what!" Solan grumbled.

"She's probably busy, Solan. She isn't called Empress of Greece for nothing ya know," Belach winked and licked his berry stained fingers. He looked beyond the hillside and frowned. He sat up and squinted his eyes. He saw ships coming towards the shore and he quickly jumped up and ran to the hill top, stomping on top of Alexander's makeshift castle.

"Belach!" Alexander groaned and face planted into the sand, complaining and cursing under his breath. He lifted his head and spat out some sand. "I was working on that!"

Out in the Mediterranean Sea a horde of Greek ships were heading towards the port of Alexandria. Belach looked down below and saw all the port men, merchants and citizens walking around, talking among themselves, very loudly. So loud he could hear snippets of conversations ringing in his ears.

Solan shortly joined his brother and his jaw dropped once he saw the large war ships coming to the docks. The sails on the ships dropped down and revealed a large Greek eye. "What in the world?"

Belach folded his arms and smirked. "Your mother's ships."

"But...why?" Solan walked along the hill and there must have been twenty ships at least. "They're all war ships. There is no war here." He turned to his brother. "Right?"

Gabrielle knocked on Xena's door and waited patiently for an answer, but she received no response. She knocked again and yet no response. Growing impatient she turned the knob and it was locked. Groaning she folded her arms.

"Xena," she called. "This has to stop," she said. She pressed her ear against the door and couldn't hear a sound at all. She was beginning to think that Xena wasn't even in her room anymore and this was all just a mean trick.

She couldn't take it anymore and kicked the door. "Xena! You can't stay in your room forever!" she yelled. "You've been in there for a week now! Come on, just let me in!" she sighed and then spoke softly, "please?"

The longer she waited the more worried she became. Xena had not been herself for the last month and this week was just too much, apparently. Gabrielle noticed a change in Xena when she learned that Saladin had not returned to Thebes and her city was set to fire in the dead of night. She had no idea what was going on in Xena's mind because she wasn't able to get close enough to her to talk to her. Xena didn't want to talk to anybody.

Gabrielle waved her hand and then turned to walk off, no longer feeling the need to wait around. Then she heard the door unlock and she had never turned around so quickly in her life. Xena opened the door and she stood wearing her black silk robe, barefoot and her hair a bit unkempt. Gabrielle slowly approached her and Xena would not even bother to look into her eyes.

The sulking empress walked back into her room and Gabrielle stepped inside and her eyes grew. She saw papers all over the floor, scattered on the desk, empty ink bottles and empty wine glasses as well. There was also a pile of unanswered letters sitting atop of her desk. Gabrielle really thought that Xena had lost her mind at this point.

" going on in here?" the blonde tread carefully and closed the door behind her. She eyed Xena as she sat on her bed, looking over a stack of papers. "Xena...what is going on?" she asked and the brunette did not answer.

Gabrielle weaved through the papers on the floor, which almost covered the entirety of the room. She stood in front of the bed and saw Xena was frazzled and writing down some notes, quietly talking to herself. Frowning deeply, Gabrielle ripped the paper from Xena's grasp and threw it on the floor.

"What are you doing?!" Xena yelled.

"No, what are you doing? You've become some kind of hermit all of sudden, Xena! Everyone is asking about you." She saw those fiery eyes glaring back at her. "Everyone is worried about you, including me. What's going on with you? You're not acting like yourself."

Xena folded her arms and smirked at the young blonde. "I didn't let you come in here so you could lecture me, Gabrielle."

Yet another side that I have not seen to you, Xena. You are acting insane and I do not know why. Perhaps Belach was right, I will never be able to figure you out, Xena, never.

"I...I'm not trying to lecture you. I just care about you, that's all." Gabrielle said and Xena lowered her eyes, grabbing a new piece of paper to write some more. "Could you stop writing just for a second?" she begged and Xena held the pen close to the paper and then slowly set it down. Good, she's finally listening to me.

Gabrielle sat on the end of the bed and cocked her head, staring at the blue eyes. Those confused eyes, those fragile eyes. Xena, why are you doing this to yourself? "What is going on with you? You're torturing yourself sitting in this room by yourself."

Okay, she's not answering which could mean two things. She's angry or she's upset, or perhaps both? Gabrielle sighed heavily and scooted closer. "Xena, I'm trying to help you. I help you and you help me understand what's going on in that head of yours." She smiled faintly, hoping that would lighten the mood.

The empress scooted away from her and leaned against the pillows, staring at the wall on the opposite side of the room. "I'm trying to prepare myself." She finally said.

Now we are getting somewhere. Gabrielle wanted to move closer, but she refrained. It was obvious that Xena did not want to be touched or close to anyone right now. "Prepare yourself for what? For war?"

"No," she answered curtly.

Gabrielle frowned. "Then, what?"

"Death," Xena said and looked into the frightened emerald eyes of her trainee. "Many people will die in this war, Gabrielle and it will be on my hands."

"Well..." the blonde inched closer. "It's not all on your hands. The Crusaders are responsible for the deaths too." She tried to help but it didn't seem to work.

"Look, I'm sorry. I don't know anything about war and I want to help you, but I don't know how."

Xena smiled softly and looked up at the ceiling. Gabrielle's eyes soon followed. "War is easy, Gabrielle, it's the aftermath that is difficult. You lose people closest to you and knowing that you are responsible for killing a father or mother, a sister, daughter or son –weighs heavy on someone after awhile." She sighed and lowered her chin, staring at the confused blonde.

"I know you want to understand, Gabrielle, but the thing is...I don't want you to understand," she said with a sad smile and grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly. "And I hope you never do."

Gabrielle suddenly got the hint that Xena did not want her around anymore and her heart sank. She had really started to like Xena for numerous amounts of reasons. She even began to wonder what Xena was like when she wasn't being a ruler. Of course, she couldn't imagine Xena being a spoiled queen like the European monarchs, but maybe a more relaxed ruler. But now, she might never know.

She slipped her hand away from Xena's and her eyes darkened. "You don't want me to stay here, do you?"

Xena pursed her lips and looked to the blonde with a glimmer in her eyes. "Clever girl," she winked.

Gabrielle gasped. "But I've been here for half a year now! You gave me a choice! You said I could stay here or leave and I chose to stay!"

Xena stood from her bed and brushed by Gabrielle. The blonde continued, "I stayed for you!" she spat and Xena halted, wrapping her arm around the bed post, she looked over her shoulder with wide eyes. Gabrielle felt her face flush bright red and her eyes avert immediately.

"You what?" the empress said softly.

Gabrielle sighed and ran her hand across her hot cheek. "I stayed for you," she said, trying to her hide eyes but she felt Xena gawking at her. Please, stop looking at me. "I didn't stay because I wanted to learn how to fight. I stayed because I like you. I like learning from you and learning more about you. I thought if I stayed that I could keep learning and hopefully..." she trailed off.

Xena turned around and stood with her arms by her side, frowning confusedly at the young blonde. "Hopefully what?"

"Nothing, never mind," Gabrielle said, already too embarrassed by her behavior. Now that she had Xena's attention she felt like she was in the spotlight and she hated that. She didn't want Xena to think she had some weird obsession with her or a crush on her. It was probably the last thing that Xena wanted to hear.

Xena quirked her mouth and then she sat beside Gabrielle, grabbing her chin, forcing her to look into her eyes. "Gabrielle," she smiled softly, "you are a good person. You're very kind and warm, but strong."

That's not exactly what I wanted to hear, but alright, Gabrielle thought. She looked into Xena's blue eyes and saw softness there instead of the hard cold exterior she showed most of the time, except this time –each time they were alone together, away from prying eyes.

"But we are different." She said.

Gabrielle frowned, "but I want to be like you. You're so amazing!" her eyes lit up.

Xena sighed and leaned in close to the blonde's face. Gabrielle's eyes widened and her lips parted slightly. "No, I want to be like you," she winked and then turned her cheek away.

Gabrielle couldn't believe the words that just come out of Xena's mouth. Did she really just say that? She wants to be like me? But I'm not exciting at all, not like her, why be like me? Do I have something that Xena doesn't?

"You are free to do whatever you wish. I can't do the same things as you. I can't walk freely in the streets without worrying about others. I always have to worry about someone attacking me or trying to kill me," she smiled and continued, "I chose this life, but you never know what you life will be like later or how many regrets you'll have."

"You regret this life you have?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shrugged a shoulder. "Not really. I like my life the way it is, but sometimes I wish I could have more." She looked to her hands in her lap. "I love my boys, but I wish I could spend more time with them. They are the only things that I do not regret having in my life."

Gabrielle smiled thinking of Solan and Alexander. She knew that Xena loved them a lot. But there was obviously something missing from Xena's life that she desperately wanted or yearned for.

"I think...maybe after this war you should focus on yourself more." She suggested and Xena cocked her head, creasing her eyebrows. "You figure out what you are missing from your life." She smiled.

Xena felt Gabrielle trying to come closer to her on a different level. As much as she liked Gabrielle, she didn't want her to be stuck with her just because Gabrielle thought she was 'awesome' or 'amazing'. She couldn't keep this girl on a string for long. She just couldn't do that to her. Suddenly her warm sensation within her faded to an overwhelming sadness.

I'm sorry Gabrielle, but you and I are too different. That smile on Gabrielle's face lingered and that only made Xena feel even worse. She placed her hand on Gabrielle's thigh and said, "I know you will make someone happy one day, Gabrielle. You're wise beyond your years."

Gabrielle tried to keep the smile on her face but once Xena said that, it was hard to do so. She didn't want to hear that come from Xena's mouth and felt a stab in her heart. She thought that Xena would say something else, like, perhaps, stay with me and I really like you Gabrielle, but no. She didn't say that at all.

I can make you happy, if you let me.

Saladin remained in Athens per Baldwin's request to ally with him. The Saracen stood in front of the leper king, the former king of Jerusalem, and glared at him. The leper breathed heavily, the heat getting to him and causing his skin to soak up all the water he drank profusely.

"Saladin..." Baldwin croaked. He tapped his fingers on the armrest of the chair and cleared his throat. "We will move this war to the Holy Land. If my army is to fight Xena for Jerusalem then we should be in the land itself not in Greece." He coughed and scratched his arm with his gloved fingers. "I know that...Greece is Xena's motherland and safe haven."

Saladin nodded. "She wishes to fight on her own turf, Baldwin, just as you want to."

The leper king's eyes trailed upward to stare in the dark Saracen's eyes. "Yes, yes..." he sighed heavily. "But you will convince Xena to go to Jerusalem to fight. If she really wants to control the holy land and Persia then we will make her work for it, yes?" he proposed.

"You want me to lure Xena to Jerusalem only so you can attack her?" Saladin asked.

Baldwin nodded. "I know you are the man for the job, Saladin. We could have been friends, but you decided to war against me to gain Jerusalem for yourself."

Saladin scoffed. "I won Jerusalem, Baldwin."

"Until it was ripped from your arms by a new sultan. Then again by Xena. She had no idea who you were until now. She is a young warrior and ruler. She has her name stamped on Jerusalem. She does not deserve to rule such a holy place," the Hebrew king coughed and lolled his head against the headboard of the chair, exhaling slowly.

"We...all want the same thing," he continued. "Xena is the only person in the way of our victory. Ally with me and we sort out our differences later. She must be stopped at...all...costs," he growled.

Two Months Later

Xena sat inside her office going over all the documents that suddenly came rushing in and the ones she forgot to read while she stayed inside her room, forgetting about the world around her. She pulled a letter from her large stack and opened it up. She saw it was from her sons and Belach in Egypt and began reading it over.

Dajan walked in and she lifted her eyes. "Xena, a letter from Saladin." He bowed his head and she frowned, setting her sons' letter down and snatched the one from Dajan's hand.

She stood and crumbled the letter and threw it on the ground. She leaned on the desk and tapped her fingers. "The war moves to Jerusalem," she said and smiled smugly. "Baldwin wants to conquer on his own turf that he lost." She eyed Dajan. "Yet Saladin sends me this letter," she thought that odd.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked.

"We go to Jerusalem then. I will play his little game. Send word to Osman to go to Jerusalem. I have a feeling that I am going to be ambushed by Baldwin and his army of Crusaders. I want to make sure my people are there first," she said and Dajan nodded.

She walked out of her office with Dajan trailing behind her. "Also, I want all my ships brought back from Egypt. They are of no use to me if they are not docked in Greece. This war will not require war ships," she frowned and then saw Natassa talking with some of her maids and the two locked eyes with one another.

Xena stopped and Natassa folded her arms. She then looked to the maid with a certain gleam in her eyes and the girl quietly excused herself. "Natassa, I will be going to Jerusalem soon. I want you to stay here."

The Anatolian smirked and raised an eyebrow. "You allow me to stay in your palace without you present?" she questioned suspiciously.

Xena refrained from rolling her eyes. "For your own safety, of course. I know that you will be well taken care of in my absence."

"Will I be able to write Belach?" she asked and Xena quirked her mouth, crossing her arms.

"I'm sorry but no. I can't allow any flow of letters going to and from Greece without me knowing." She saw the sadness in Natassa's eyes then placed a hand on her shoulder. "I promise you, he is safer in Egypt than he would be anywhere else."

Xena entered the training grounds outside and all the girls ceased sparring with one another as soon as they saw her. Her eyes lingered over at Gabrielle and she smiled briefly at her, acknowledging her presence.

"We will be going to Jerusalem. There has been a change of plans," she said and all the girls frowned, whispering in each other's ears.

"I thought we were going to fight here in Greece?" Astremia asked, speaking for the rest of the girls.

Xena nodded, "so did I, but these Templar Knights play by their own rules. They are adamant about fighting in Jerusalem so I'll make sure that we are there to see it through." She saw all the girls fear stricken eyes and folded her arms.

"I know what you are all thinking. This is becoming a reality and we will no longer be on the training grounds anymore. When we reach Jerusalem I will try to convince them to surrender to me first. If they don't then I have no choice but to fight them. War is not something that I look forward to and I would rather not have war, but peace instead." She finished and saw all the girls still looking fearful as ever.

Gabrielle stepped forward and planted the spear into the ground. "We will help you no matter what happens." She said with a smile and Xena leered over at her with a sparkle in her eyes.

Helena nodded, "Greece is my home and I think I can speak for everyone here when I say that we really like you, empress. We wouldn't want anyone to rule Greece but you."

"Your people will appreciate you more if you finally get rid of those Crusaders," Amelia chimed in.

Xena's eyebrows rose hearing all these girls pledge their allegiance to her so willingly. If only they had done that before they knew who she really was. Gabrielle was right, perhaps she could rule as a woman and be an even better ruler than ever before.

"You are all wonderful girls," Xena smiled. "I will make sure that you all receive the recognition you deserve in your cities scattered across Greece and Persia."

Everyone nodded and smiled, happy to hear that. They weren't kidnapped from their homes for nothing it seems.

"I am lucky to have you all," Xena said.

"No, we're lucky to have you," Gabrielle said and folded her arms. She and Xena shared a knowing look with one another. Gabrielle couldn't tell, but she could have sworn she saw the empress's cheeks flush only for a brief moment. Careful not to expose herself, Xena recovered quickly.

"We will be leaving soon. So make sure all your belongings are packed. Osman's army will already be in Jerusalem by the time we arrive." She hoped that were true and she also hoped Baldwin would refrain from attacking until she arrived but she had her doubts.

Osman stood in front of Xena's palace in the desert of Jerusalem. They were in seclusion compared to the rest of the city. Gusts of sand swirled around him as the wind was strong today. A particularly windy day in Jerusalem, he noted, a sign from God that this would be a most difficult war.

Borias walked up beside him and squinted his eyes from the sand flying around. The day was hot, the sun blistering and the sand dunes were most unforgiving. He had never seen such a desolate land before and wondered why Xena would ever want to live in this God forsaken place. This so-called holy land was cursed, he believed. Everyone that set foot upon this dry piece of land was destined to fight forever or die. He didn't think it was worth it.

"Are you sure Baldwin is coming here?" Borias asked.

Osman let out a heavy exhale. "That's what Xena believes. She is normally not wrong about these sorts of things. You of all people should know that."

Although, he was beginning to worry that his army would not be able to fend off the Templar Knights. His army was not even half the size of the Crusader's and Xena's army was very large. Supposedly she was bringing all two hundred thousand of her men. He expected far more from Baldwin's side. He also did not trust Saladin and wondered why Xena would ally with a Saracen after what happened with Sidon.

Borias stepped forward close to the gates and saw something in the distance. A large golden cross of the Catholic Church in the midst of the sand storm. A line of dark figures riding on horses and on foot accompanied. He couldn't make out how many men there were, but by the looks of it, it was a lot. A lot of men. Too many.

"I think that bastard, Baldwin, is here," he grumbled and Osman skipped forward, covering his eyes from the beaming sun.

"So it seems..." the chieftain groaned and turned to his men on the wall above. "Prepare for an attack! We do not know if Baldwin will come anywhere near here! We must be prepared! Remain vigilant!" he yelled and all the soldiers scattered around the large stone palace.

Borias spun around. "Osman!" he yelled and then cursed under his breath, running after the chieftain. "Osman!"

He turned and saw Borias with a concerned look on his face. "What?!"

"He is not going to attack," Borias said calmly.

"How would you know?"

A smile came to Borias' lips. "Xena is not here. They are not. Going. To. Attack." He said with certainty and crossed his large arms.

A soldier from the tower hollered, "rider approaching!"

Osman and Borias turned and saw a man riding towards the gates wearing a turban and all black robes. Something that definitely reminded them both of Xena when she played her role as sultan not too long ago.

The rider stopped and uncovered his face. Osman's eyebrow arched. "Saladin."

The Saracen sultan raised his hand free of weapons. "A message from Baldwin!" he yelled out, yards away from the large gates. He saw the hesitancy in Osman's eyes and Borias' alike. "I come unarmed!" he unsheathed his sword and dropped it in the sand and lifted his free hand.

Osman looked to Borias and he gave him a worried look. "Open the gates," he told his men.

Saladin trotted inside and jumped off his horse. He got the most menacing glare from the chieftain and his commander. Smiling he looked around at Xena's palace that was completely armed with Anatolian men.

"Baldwin waits for Xena to arrive. He does not wish to attack you. He is not of your concern." He began.

"I fear you will be waiting awhile, Saladin," Osman said with a sly grin, "she brings two hundred thousand men aboard her Greek war ships across the Mediterranean."

Saladin simply nodded and Borias raised a suspicious eyebrow towards him. "You betray Xena, Saracen?" he implied.

The Kurd laughed lightly, "betray? I have not betrayed Xena at all." He leaned in closely to Borias and slipped a small note into his hand. "I must return to Baldwin. I await for Xena's arrival," he bowed his head, eyeing Borias with a smug smile. Then he mounted his horse and rode off across the sand dunes to the Templar campgrounds.

Borias opened his hand and took the small note, unrolling it. Osman scoffed at the Saracen and then saw Borias reading something so small that it could be carried by a pigeon or falcon.

"What's that you have there?"

Borias furrowed his eyebrows and watched the Saracen's dark figure riding in the sandstorm. "Chaos," he handed the note over to Osman. "Saladin has his men mixed in with Baldwin's. He is not betraying Xena, but Baldwin. He's going to attack Baldwin when Xena gets here."

Osman grinned, "maybe there will be no war after all. Saladin will take care of Baldwin's men and be done with it."

"I would not count on Saladin, Osman. He is a Saracen. They are not to be trusted," he spat on the ground and had his eyes on the sultan from afar, now under a large canopy in the middle of the desert, talking with Baldwin he assumed.

AN: the war begins the following chapter.

Chapter Text

AN: well it's been real guys lol. This battle was extremely difficult for me to write because of the way it's written. I had been avoiding it but I decided to face my fears LOL. Good luck and team Xena all the way :)

Chapter 24 –Greek Eye Part II

Day One

Baldwin sat underneath a large canopy, protected from the harsh sun. He had been waiting for Xena and her army to arrive for a week now. He was growing impatient but knew that she would come. She never backed away from a war especially if it was on her turf. He had heard many things about Xena and the way she ruled her split empire for years.

Posing as man, he scoffed inwardly. He wondered how long she could have done that for if she were not found out? How long could she have passed herself as a male emperor? If not for someone blabbing then she would have continued to rule as Sultan and Emperor of Greece and Persia. Though, Baldwin once had Jerusalem long before Xena came along, long before she was even ruler of Greece.

He wanted the holy land back and in his grasp again. Saladin also had Jerusalem when he took from Baldwin. The Saracen won Jerusalem fair and square but it was only because Baldwin had less soldiers at his disposal. If he had a huge army like Saladin then he would have won for sure.

This time, he wanted to be prepared. Xena had an army of over two hundred thousand men. She was always well prepared and nobody challenged her, of course why would they? She was posing as a man not as a woman. Now that everyone knew who she truly was, they wanted her gone. Exterminated. Baldwin did not want Xena to be killed, he just wanted his land back. Although, he began to think that Saladin was going to fight him for Jerusalem. Baldwin was confident in Saladin to take Xena's army down. For once, he was evenly matched against Xena's large army.

The leper king waft the mosquitoes from around his eye slits and stared at Saladin standing under the canopy, looking out at the sand dunes.

"You believe that Xena is willing to risk all of her men to fight me?" the king croaked.

Saladin smirked and he folded his arms. "Baldwin. Xena is not just an empress. She is a warrior. She knows how to fight."

"Yet you have never fought with her in do not know her skills...her strategies..." he inhaled deeply and coughed.

The Saracen chuckled softly under his breath. "I don't need to see her in battle to know that she is good at what she does. You underestimate her just like the Crusaders do because she is a woman. Are you truly so sexist, Hebrew king?" he turned to face the masked leper.

Baldwin squinted his eyes and tapped his gloved fingers on his knees. "My wife is an excellent queen. I do not believe she is unworthy of ruling an empire, Saladin. Xena is a fine empress and sultan. There is no female equivalent of sultan in any language. She is a Valide Sultan. An overseer but she is a liar and she is a heathen. She pays no attention to God or the Church and for that, she needs to be gotten rid of. Jerusalem does not belong to her."

Saladin nodded and turned around. He covered his eyes from the sand debris flying through the air. He saw a sea of black riding towards them. He smiled and saw huge flags, Greek flags of course. Greeks in the land of Persia.

"Why don't you tell her yourself, Baldwin?" he mused and motioned to the open sands.

Baldwin rose from his chair slowly and made his way over to Saladin. He looked out and saw Xena leading her army through the sandstorm. He clenched his hand into a fist and smiled beneath his silver mask.

"She finally makes an appearance." The king said and cleared his throat, his lungs filled with shards of sand. He really did not like this desert. The palace Xena had was where he wanted and needed to be.

Xena's army halted and the sea of soldiers parted and she rode out through the middle, wearing a black mask, covering her face. Baldwin's eyes widened and Saladin raised an eyebrow. She rode to the middle of the field in between her army and Baldwin's camp.

"She still hides her face," Baldwin noted.

"She does not trust you," Saladin said. Xena waited patiently in the middle of the field. "She wants to talk." He snapped his fingers to one of the soldiers to retrieve his horse.

Baldwin backed into the canopy and saw Saladin mount the horse and sheath his sword. "You are willing to speak to her?"

The Saracen smiled at the king and wrapped a veil around his face. "Baldwin, you must have little faith in me. Perhaps she is willing to surrender?" he kicked his horse and rode off. The leper king grunted and sat back down in the chair, exhausted already especially from the heat.

Xena clutched the reins of her horse and Saladin trotted close to her, a few feet away. His eyes lingered at the large army behind her, all wearing black masks just like her. He wondered if she brought those girls that were at her palace in Thebes. He wouldn't know because everyone looked the same.

"An army of black masks, Xena. Why?" he said and uncovered his face. Her mask hiding her true emotion, concealing her face before him.

"You side with Baldwin, Saladin? Why?" she cocked her head. "You sought for my help yet you go behind my back and betray me."

Saladin gave her a crooked smile. "You speak too soon, empress. I have not betrayed you. Your Anatolians are waiting for you. Have you come to surrender?"

"I don't surrender to anyone." She said flatly, her voice muffled behind the dark mask. "Baldwin's army will be slaughtered if he fights me and I'll make sure to wipe out all of his flanks one by one."

"God shines upon you, Xena. You have many allies behind you. These Templars are ruthless fighters in battle. I won Jerusalem years ago. I hope to see you keep the land for yourself."

She smiled beneath the mask. "So you can take it from me?" she implied.

"Maybe one day, but not today." He winked and she lifted her chin, eyeing him suspiciously and with extreme caution. He looked up and saw a falcon circling around them. The bird came down and landed on his arm. A message tied to the bird's talon. He retrieved the message and the bird flew off.

Reading the message to himself Xena frowned. "What is that?" she asked.

He smiled and tucked the small note in his cloak. "A message from my home base. Peace be upon you Xena," he curtly bowed his head and rode back to Baldwin's camp.

Peace was what she really wanted but she knew that this would not end peacefully. A lot of people were going to die and she hated to do this but these Crusaders were challenging her position and authority. She won this land on her own and now it was to be taken from her not because she was a tyrant ruler but because she was a woman and the Templars did not like that.

Xena marched through the gates of her palace and was met with Osman and Borias standing inside the compound. She lifted the mask from her face and frowned at the two. "Saladin sides with Baldwin and you do not attack them?" she eyed Osman.

Borias stepped forward, "Baldwin has been waiting for you, Xena. He didn't attack us because you weren't here."

Osman nodded. "And Saladin does not side with Baldwin."

She raised an eyebrow and her eyes darted back and forth between the two. "What are you talking about? I just saw him on the enemy's side. I just spoke with him!"

"He is going to betray Baldwin." Borias said and saw her eyes widen at that. "He has his army of men scattered within Baldwin's army. He is on your side. For now," he muttered.

Xena folded her arms and all of her girls trailed inside the compound talking with the Anatolian soldiers behind her. "Why would he do that? That doesn't make any sense. There is no point in fighting with Baldwin if Saladin is going to attack him."

"That's what I said," Borias turned to Osman. He tried to tell him that was very unusual but the chieftain refused to believe it.

"If the Saracen wants to fight the Hebrew king then let him. Less work for us all," Osman said with an eager smile. He did not want this war any more than Xena did.

She shook her head. "This is wrong. Something is wrong." She walked through them and head to the inside of her deserted palace. She was suddenly bombarded with some of the girls and she tensed up.

"Where would you like us to be, empress?" Helena asked.

"Stay inside the palace and don't come out until I tell you." Xena said and marched inside.

Gabrielle found Xena waiting on the highest wall on the outside of the palace, watching the pitch black field. Baldwin's entire camp was lit by torches and Xena sat in the cold desert night. Watching and waiting.

"When do you think they will attack?" the blonde asked, not evening startling the stoic empress.

"Soon. I am waiting for his attack first. I know he will strike first." She pointed to the outskirts of the enemy's camp. "They have catapults. He is going to use those to try and tear down my wall."

Gabrielle pursed her lips and leaned on the stone wall, wrapping her arms around herself. Suddenly she felt incredibly nervous. This was not a tiff between the Templars, this was a huge war. If she didn't know any better, she'd say that Xena was nervous too. Her eyes were fixated on the field miles away from the palace.

"I am assuming you have a plan," she said and Xena turned to her. Her face lit by the moonlight, her blue eyes sparkling.

"I always have a plan, Gabrielle." Finally, a smile appeared on the empress's harsh face and the blonde grinned. "I won't let Baldwin win. This is my land. My empire. I didn't rise from nothing to have this taken away from me. Baldwin will be sorry he ever set foot on this land."

Gabrielle nodded and stepped closer to the brunette. "And what will you do when this is all over? Send us back to our homes?"

Xena shrugged a shoulder. "I tried to make you all leave before and that didn't go very well now did it?" she smirked. "But I think...I will stay in Jerusalem for awhile. You know, keep an eye on things."

"But you miss Greece don't you?"

Xena nodded. "Yes I do. I started everything there but I need to be here. For myself, for my people, my family. I owe it to myself to win, Gabrielle. I am not going to allow them to win and take what is rightfully mine."

The blonde frowned and exhaled heavily through her nostrils. She saw the fires rising in the fields. They had many tents set up in the desert while Xena's army was settled inside the palace compound. Xena had the advantage here being in such a large building. She was well protected, but this land had been conquered before by others despite the large compound.

"Gabrielle," she began and the blonde turned to look up at her. "I hope this is the last war you ever see."

Day Two

Baldwin's army of Templar Knights rose early in the morning to gather up their supplies to attack Xena's palace from afar. He wanted to use the strategy that Saladin used on him when they fought in Jerusalem long ago. It was one of the best tactics he had ever seen Saladin use and he knew it would work to win the holy land from Xena.

Baldwin trotted on his horse to the front flank. He witnessed Saladin behind the line of catapults behind the fourth flank. Using catapults to attack the walls of the palace was the best way to catch Xena off guard. She was completely concealed. Hiding in that compound of hers. Her army was also inside, waiting or perhaps lurking. As he trotted in the hot sands he squinted his eyes and saw Xena standing on the north wall, glaring at him. Unmasked, he could see, but she was too far to see her face. Though, he could feel her eyes burning into his skin even from afar.

He was half expecting Xena to attack his army in the morning but there was no sign of any man outside the compound or inside the gates. There weren't any men along the wall either, only Xena standing by herself, glaring. Baldwin scowled and trotted along his first flank of men. Thousands in the first legion and he had many more to fight. If Xena was as good as a strategist as Gregory claimed then this could go on forever but he hoped not. Jerusalem was his and only his. Disputes with Saladin would have to be worked out at a later date. But first, Xena needs to go. She needs to be eliminated.

The leper king trotted to the back flank where the catapults were being loaded. Saladin oversaw the soldiers and spoke to them harshly as he waited for all the catapults to be ready to launch. He halted on his horse and stared down at the Saracen.

"We will attack the wall. Once it falls, I send the first legion to attack. Xena will send her army to defend the palace." Baldwin said, very sure of himself.

Saladin nodded and looked ahead at the desolate desert and saw Xena standing on the wall alone. "She awaits for the attack." He smirked. "She anticipates your plans, Baldwin. Xena is not to be underestimated yet you demean her strategies."

"I do not demean her, Saladin. She is a fool to stand there and watch her palace be blasted into pieces." He grunted and trotted along the flank of catapults. "Fire at will!"

Saladin shook his head and waved his hand. "You heard what he said!" he griped at the soldiers as they were holding onto the ropes of the heavy siege engines.

Xena saw fiery ballistic bombs hurling towards the palace. She turned and ran down the wall. "Get off the walls!" she yelled at her archers crouched down along the walls. They quickly ran down the stairs and inside the palace.

She waited until everyone was inside and then closed the large doors behind her. They ran to a stairwell that lead to underground tunnels of the palace. The walls of the palace shook and she lifted her eyes up at the ceiling. Pushing the men in front of her as they stopped. She growled. "Go!" she yelled and they ran down the stairs.

Borias turned when he saw Xena and her men entering from the narrow staircase. He marched over to her. "What is going on up there?!" he hissed. "They are attacking the wall!"

She wiped the sweat off her brow. "I know." She brushed past him and the underground room was filled with almost everyone. It was extremely crowded and she stepped over a few soldiers as they were sharpening their swords.

Osman stepped over a few men and growled. "Xena! We are waiting down here like cowards while they fire at the wall!"

She frowned deeply. "Let them attack the wall. I don't care about the wall." She said and turned to look at the gaggle of girls talking quietly with themselves. "They want to bring down the wall so they can attack on foot."

"Don't you have catapults?" he asked and watched her eyes linger and the palace was struck again. Everyone gasped and she placed her hand on the wall to not fall over.

"No and I don't need them to win."

"So we are just going to wait down here then?!" he asked.

She smiled. "That's the plan." She turned and walked off to go talk to the female trainees. Osman groaned and threw his hands in the air in frustration.

Gabrielle rose to her feet when she saw the empress weaving her way in between the mass of soldiers to get to them. She walked over to her and grabbed her arm. "What's going on up there?" she whispered and then saw lingering eyes and let go of Xena's arm, her cheeks flushing bright red.

Another attack hit the wall and rocked the foundation of the large palace. Debris fell from the ceiling and the girls indistinctively covered their heads, talking at all at once to one another, expressing their fears and worries.

Xena brushed some dust off her long sleeve and walked over to the group of girls with a small smile. "Don't worry. They will stop firing by nightfall."

Astremia scoffed and rose to her feet. "You mean we are staying beneath this palace while they are attacking us?!"

"That's right."

"That is the most ridiculous plan I have ever heard of!" Astremia yelled and the other girls saw the empress glaring down at everyone, especially Astremia with the loud mouth.

"You need to have faith in me, Astremia. I have done this many times. There is no point in us staying outside while they continue blasting the walls." Xena shook her head and walked off.

Gabrielle quickly followed her, trying to be discreet. "I don't think a lot of people are understanding your strategy, Xena." She whispered and saw eyes glancing upward at them both. "They are nervous."

"Do you trust me?" Xena grasped the blonde's shoulder.

"Y...yes," she muttered.

"So, trust that I know what I am doing, Gabrielle." The empress smiled and pat her cheek gently then walked off, weaving through the crowd.

Day Three

Baldwin oversaw his attacks against the wall of Xena's palace. Saladin stood beside the ballistic flank in the back. He had seen no sign of Xena and he knew why. She was going to attack Baldwin's army with full force. She wanted the wall to come down. Baldwin was too arrogant to see through Xena's plan. He believed he can just walk right in and slaughter her army with ease.

Now it's the third day and Saladin was growing weary of his enemy's plan. He wanted to attack, but he couldn't. He had to wait for Baldwin to fall back so he could attack and then Xena would not have to fend off the leper king's army by herself. Saladin had this all figured out. He only hoped that Xena trusted him which he knew she didn't. She did not trust anyone.

The leper walked over to the Saracen and looked onward at the wall that refused to break and crumble. "What is her palace made out of? Stone from the Heavens?" he mocked. "I want to send in the first legion to attack her palace. Her walls are too thick. I will have the catapults moved closer so I can strike with more force."

Of course, what a brilliant plan, Baldwin. "A fine idea," Saladin grinned and whistled at the soldiers behind the siege engines. "We move to the center of the battlefield!" he yelled.

Gabrielle and Helena hunkered down on the north wall and ducked for cover every time the wall was hit by Baldwin's machines. They lifted their heads once the attacks stopped. Slowly their eyes were over the wall, watching closely.

"They are moving on foot!" Helena whispered.

Gabrielle smiled and grabbed Helena's hand and they ducked down as they ran across the wall by themselves. "We need to tell Xena," she bit her lip, "I mean the empress." Her cheeks flushed.

They ran inside and down the stairwell into the underground part of the palace. They both saw Xena talking to Osman and Borias, having a very hushed conversation together. Gabrielle ran up to the trio and their conversation ceased.

"They are moving on foot close to the palace." She said and Xena nodded, folding her arms.

Helena stepped forward to stand beside her friend. "And they are bringing the catapults with them!"

"Good," Xena smiled and turned to the chieftain. "Osman I want all of your archers on all sides of the walls." He curtly nodded then ran off to find his soldiers to quickly head up to the walls of the compound. "Borias, remember that oil I told you to send?"

He eyed her curiously. "Yes..."

"I want it brought to the north wall. All of it," she showed a crooked smile and he shook his head, stifling a laugh.

"You are insane." He muttered then walked off, yelling at his Osman's men to follow him to the tunnels to retrieve the barrels of oil that were brought by ship.

The room was soon being evacuated so quickly that Gabrielle didn't know what to do next. Her heart raced and the moment she saw Xena about to leave her side she gasped breathlessly. She grabbed her arm and the empress spun around, smiling with warm eyes.

"What...what's going to happen now?" she asked in a soft voice.

Xena saw fear in the blonde's eyes. This is why she did not want these girls to come here. They had never seen war –true war. They were all afraid but she had to remind herself that these girls chose to stay and they wanted to fight. She wasn't stupid enough to send these young girls onto the field.

She placed her hand over Gabrielle's, feeling the warmth radiating off of her. She truly was afraid. "We aren't going to leave these walls. We will fight inside the compound. We will not go into the field."

Gabrielle cocked her head. "But don't we need to be in the field to win?"

"Not necessarily, Gabrielle. Baldwin grows bored attacking my palace walls. I'm going to make sure his men do not breach these walls. You trust me, right?" she grazed her palm on Gabrielle's full cheek.

The young trainee nodded. "I trust you but that doesn't make me any less nervous."

"We will win, Gabrielle. I promise." The empress grinned from ear to ear. "I'd be worried if you weren't nervous at all."

Saladin saw Xena's men running across the wall, scattering everywhere but they weren't coming outside to fight. Well played Xena, he thought. He looked behind him and saw Baldwin sitting on his horse in the back of all the flanks. He wasn't going to come near these walls. He was too sick and too cowardly to fight face to face. He was too weak and Saladin wondered why this king remained alive still.

Osman ran along the wall and looked at Baldwin's men marching forward. Those Templar Knights with those large red crosses on their tunics and chainmail armor. "Have your bows ready!" he yelled and walked down the wall watching all his men grab arrows from their pouches behind their backs, ducking behind the wall.

Xena came to the north wall and saw a sea of knights coming for her palace, marching slowly. She also saw Saladin with the catapults and frowned at him. He smiled at her and trotted on his horse giving her a subtle wave. She wasn't sure what his intentions were or when he supposedly was going to attack Baldwin's army. She had little faith in everyone right now except the men at her disposal.

She unsheathed her sword and walked along the wall behind the archers, eyeing the knights coming closer and closer. Osman called out. "Fifty yards!"

"We will not let those Templars come over these walls!" she yelled. "We will not let them break through this wall with their machines!"

"Forty yards!"

"We have more men than them!" she kept walking along the wall twirling her sword casually. "We aren't leaving this compound until all of those Crusaders are dead!"

"Thirty yards!" Osman yelled and folded his arms. The archers waiting patiently with their bows.

She turned and walked the other way and eyed the girls standing on the west wall. Some terrified, others excited but all were nervous. She and Gabrielle shared a glance and smiled at one another. "Fight for the people in this empire not for me!" she yelled and the men looked up at her as they crouched down against the north wall.

"Twenty yards!"

She stopped in the middle of the wall and lowered her eyes, glaring at the knights. "We fight honorably and...freedom." she eyed Borias and he winked at her.

"Ten yards!" Osman growled lowly. Xena's eyes widened when she saw the army coming closer. "Prepare your bows," he said to his men. The archers pulled their bows tautly and the wood creaked. At this moment everything was silent.

"Kill them," Xena commanded. Rain of arrows poured onto the Templar Knights below. Xena watched as many of them fell to the sands, moaning in agony. She smiled once they saw the rest of the army running towards the wall with ladders.

She stormed down the wall and felt the walls shake. She stumbled and leaned against a tower. Spinning around she saw the catapults at work again. "Where is the oil?!" she yelled and marched down the wall.

Borias leaned over the side and saw the barrels of oil being hoisted up by pulleys to the wall. Osman's men grabbed the barrel one by one and Xena frowned. "Line them up along the entire north wall." She demanded.

Templars climbed the ladders up to the wall and Xena spun around, kicking down a Templar that was attempting to climb over the wall. She snarled and peered down the wall and saw over a dozen ladders on her wall.

She grabbed one of the barrels oil and with the help of Gabrielle and some of the other girls they tipped the black oil on top of the knights. She smiled at the girls and turned to the archers. "Ignite the oil!"

Archers dipped their arrows into the torches surrounding the wall and shot at the oil soaked Templars, igniting their bodies. Screams of agony filled the air and Xena smiled then kicked the ladder down full of the knights and they toppled over falling into the fiery oil below immolating themselves.

"Aim at the catapults!" Xena yelled then ran across the wall to Osman who just threw a knight over the wall. "Dump all the barrels of oil on them," she said and he nodded turning to his men, yelling at them to carry out her orders.

Saladin, in the center of the field, arched an eyebrow. He saw oil being dumped onto Baldwin's men and then archers igniting them on fire. He was suddenly very amused. He had never seen Xena in action before but he was glad that he did. He witnessed a new tactic he could use in the future. Her army was without fancy ballistic machines but relied on archery and guerilla warfare to conquer the knights.

"Hold your fire!" he yelled at the catapult holders. All the soldiers eyed him curiously. "Do not waste precious ammo. We wait." He wanted to see what else Xena could do. It was not the time to attack. First he would watch how strategically ousted these Templars and use these skills for himself later.

Baldwin gripped the reins of his horse as he watched his first flank being set on fire by the heathen woman. "She is obliterating all of my men!" he growled and coughed, leaning over on his horse. "Second flank march ahead to the palace!" he demanded and his men marched forward as he remained behind.

Xena crouched down and a chest was brought up to the wall. She waved her hand to motion the girls to come close to her. They all crouched down around the chest. She unlocked it and opened it. she pulled out a small bottle and smiled at them, though they looked confused and interested.

"I want you all to throw these at the knights below."

Gabrielle picked up one of the clay bottles. "What's in them?" she eyed it curiously and tapped on the side.

Xena grabbed her wrist firmly. "Be careful with that," she hissed and the blonde's eyes widened in fear. "They are filled with Greek fire. Throw them and allow the archers to ignite the Greek fire. Do not get any of it on you. Even the slightest bit and you will burst into flames that cannot be put out. You understand?"

All the girls nodded with wide excited grins. They all picked up a few bottles into their arms, being very cautious, as if they were holding a baby. Walking steadily to the wall they leaned over peering down at the knights and threw the bottles down, hitting a few of the men on their heads.

Borias kicked one Templar and threw him over the wall. Breathing heavily he turned and eyed Xena. "There are too many of them."

She smirked. "Not for long." She folded her arms. "Ignite the Greek fire!" she yelled at the archers.

"Greek fire?!" he gasped. "Xena..."

"Baldwin wants Jerusalem so bad he's going to have to try very hard to take it from me." She lifted her chin and saw more men coming her way. Shaking her head she turned to Borias, her former lover. "Tell Osman we need more archers."

"We have no more archers!"

She cursed beneath her breath. "Then we will fight the old fashioned way." She unsheathed her sword and ran to the opposite of the wall to help Osman's men get the Templars off her wall. She cried out and plunged her sword into a Templar that almost stabbed Osman in the back.

The chieftain spun around and saw a Templar inches from his face and Xena withdrew her sword and the knight fell over. Osman gasped and took a step to the side. He turned and saw Xena holding a blood sword in her hand and both smiled.

"You owe me," she teased.

"Fighting for you isn't enough?" he playfully teased back.

She heard footsteps behind her and growled. Twirling her sword around she thrust it into a Templar's gut from behind. He dropped his sword and she slid the sword out from his body and he fell to the ground by her boots. Osman blinked and shook his head.

"Stupid Templars," she smirked.

She felt a sting in her arm and gasped. Glancing down she saw a large gash on her upper arm and spun around. A Templar smiled at her. "Xena, the heathen woman."

She growled and clashed swords with the Templar and he backed up, continuing to fight with her. Gabrielle lifted her head as she grabbed a bottle of Greek fire. She saw Xena fighting against a Templar and then another one came from behind her and kicked her in the spine.

Xena crashed into the tower and groaned. Gabrielle gasped and unsheathed the sword at her hip and ran forward, thrusting the blade into the knight's back just before he was to strike Xena through her side. Xena growled and spun around, grabbing the other Templar knight by his collar and threw him over the wall.

Gabrielle stood motionless as she held the blade stuck in the knight's back. She let go and backed away slowly and bumped into the wall. Slumping down she couldn't believe she killed someone like that. Killed someone to save Xena of course.

"Gabrielle!" Xena ran over to the frightened blonde and knelt down beside her. Cupping her cheek she turned her face to meet hers. Those horrified green eyes of hers. "Gabrielle..." she said softly, "you really have to stop saving me," she half smiled.

"He was going to kill you but I...killed him." Gabrielle lowered her eyes.

Xena stood and grabbed the sword out of the dying knight's back and kicked him over the wall. She then wiped the blood off on her black pants and stood towering over the young blonde. "Fight with honor, Gabrielle. Think of the aftermath later, not now." She urged.

Gabrielle lifted her eyes and Xena held out her hand. She smiled and grabbed her hand rising to her feet and grabbed the sword.

"Xena! They are retreating!" Osman called out. She spun around and smiled seeing the men running back to their camp far away. Everyone along the wall cheered and Xena clenched her fist. The entire sands below were up in flames and the smell of flesh burning was not something she wanted to smell.

She turned and grasped Gabrielle's cheeks and kissed her lips. Gabrielle's eyes widened and Xena pulled away with a big smile. She felt the heat radiating off of the blonde's cheeks. She took a step back and leaned on the wall with a hand on her hip.

Gabrielle touched her lips and felt maybe slightly embarrassed like she had been exposed in front of everyone. Did she just do that out in the open for everyone to see? "What was...that for?"

"You ask too many questions, Gabrielle," Xena shrugged her shoulder and turned to watch the Templars leaving the area.

Gabrielle turned, her smile immediately disappearing when she lay eyes upon Borias leaning against the wall with his hand over a large wound in his side, blood pouring out all over his hand. Her eyes widened and she shook Xena's arm. "Xena..."

The empress frowned and snatched her arm from Gabrielle. Finally turning around her eyes widened seeing Borias wounded. She knelt down and looked at the large gash on his side. "Let me see," she said and swatted his hand away.

Shaking her head lightly and pressed her hand against his wound to clot the bleeding. "Osman! Take him down below!"

Now it was nightfall and all of the bodies were brought back from Xena's walls and were to be set on fire so no disease would spread within the coming hours. Saladin stood by the leper king, the infuriated king growled lowly.

"She destroyed both of my flanks," he grumbled.

Saladin hid his smile. And you are next, Baldwin, he thought. "I told you that she is not to be underestimated, Baldwin. You did not take my words seriously."

Baldwin folded his arms and felt weak just standing over the horde of corpses before him. "Just do it," he waved his hand and left the area. Saladin followed him just after the soldiers lit the bodies on fire in the pit they dug.

Standing under the canopy the king took off his glove and glanced at his diseased hand. "We will attack the wall tomorrow morning. Once we breach her palace then the Templars will invade and slaughter Xena and her Anatolian allies."

Still at that wall, Saladin thought. "You believe that close combat your men will win?" he inquired, curious to know. The king slipped his glove back on and turned to face the Saracen.

"I do not have any other choice now do I?" Baldwin sat down gingerly in his chair, relaxing his sore body. "I still have a lot of men."

"So does she."

"Indeed, but I will see that all her army will be wiped out tomorrow. I will have Jerusalem once again. This is not over yet." He tapped his fingers on the armrest impatiently and Saladin smirked then walked off to go to his tent.

Xena sat beside Borias as he lay on a table. His torso bandaged and she cleaned the blood off his skin with a damp cloth. His eyes fluttered open and he winced as he tried to get up. She gently pushed him back down onto the table.

"Don't even think about it," she said and he gave her a weak smile and relaxed. She smiled faintly and dipped the cloth into the water and continued cleaning his bare chest.

He sighed heavily and stared at her as she kept dressing his wound. "The Templars...?"

"They retreated but they will be back," she said and lifted her eyes, meeting his. "You're staying here. I won't let you go back out there."

He frowned and grabbed her wrist, rising slowly, inches from her face. "I'm not going to stay here."

She smiled and grazed her fingers along his cheek. "You have more important things to worry about than fighting with me. You've done enough of that already." She leaned forward and pecked his lips and winked at him. "Thank you for helping me."

"I would help you no matter what, Xena. You know that." He smiled and she nodded, lowering her eyes.

She pushed him back onto the table gently and stood. "Stay here and don't move or I'll hurt you." She warned and he shook his head. She gave him a small smile and walked off.

Gabrielle met eyes with the empress as she was coming her way. Rising to her feet she wiped her wet hands onto her pants. "How is he?"

"Alive," Xena jested. "How are you?" she grabbed her shoulder and Gabrielle stiffened.

"I...I'm okay," she answered in a hushed voice.

"Killing people doesn't get any easier the more you do it unfortunately," Xena said.

Gabrielle hung her head and was disappointed that was what Xena meant. She thought that she was talking about what happened earlier. She unconsciously touched her lips, recalling the moment hours ago on the wall.


The blonde snapped her head up towards the empress and immediately retracted her fingers from her mouth. "Yes?"

"Are you sure you're alright?" she pressed, raising an eyebrow.

Smiling gently, she nodded. "I'm alright." She said and Xena pat her shoulder then turned to walk off. "Xena!" The empress turned at her voice. "About earlier..."

A smug grin crossed Xena's face and she placed a finger over her lips. "Our little secret." She winked then sauntered off to go check on the rest of the wounded men.

Our secret, Gabrielle nodded and folded her arms. Everything with this woman is a secret, she supposed.

Day Four

Yesterday's battle against Baldwin's Crusaders was not too difficult but Xena lost a lot fighters. They were severely wounded but so far no deaths which was good on her part. She couldn't say the same for Baldwin and those Templar Knights. Their supply of arrows was limited and they had no more oil. Early in the morning the catapults started again, threatening to tear down the wall of the palace.

Xena realized that they couldn't stay below the palace. The palace walls creaked as it continuously was hit over and over again. As they waited inside the doors of the palace, the air was still and quiet. In just a few moments she heard the wall come crashing down outside those doors.

Her eyes darkened and she heard the Templars pounding on the doors, trying to ram through it. She turned around the first thing she saw was fear in those girls' eyes. She also saw fear in the Anatolians and even some of her men. She would be lying if she said she wasn't afraid herself. It had been a long time since she fought in a war like this. In fact, she had never really set foot on the field herself in years. She always conducted the decisions and army from afar or in another city entirely. But not this time.

The sound of the Templars yelling outside alarmed everyone. Debris began falling from the ceiling. Xena closed her eyes and breathed in deeply to calm herself. Her heart racing. She had completely lost faith in Saladin. So far he had done nothing. It was day four and he still was with Baldwin. Saracens could obviously not be trusted, just like Sidon.

Her eyes shot open and she saw the look of fear before her. "Those Templars are going to come in here and try to slaughter us all. They will come." She pointed to the large doors. "They are making their way through. Do not think they won't come!"

All eyes darted towards the doors and saw the wood breaking off from inside. "We have a limited supply of arrows and no more oil. We must rely on our combat skills to fight against them. We aren't going to let them take this city, right?" she asked.

Everyone cried out and she smiled, turning around, she unsheathed her sword. Waiting patiently for the doors to be knocked down at any moment now. She gripped the hilt of her blade and held it in front of her, ready to strike. She was the first one, heading the horde of men and young women behind her.

"Come on..." she whispered and felt sweat dripping down her cheek as she waited in the hot palace with thousands of her men. Everyone remained quiet and very still.

The wounded soldiers beneath the palace heard the loud ramming against the doors above. Borias lifted himself off the table and frowned. The palace walls shaking. He knew that the wall was already down. Those Templars were going to come inside and ransack the place.

Xena grit her teeth and then the ramming against the large doors at the entrance stopped. There was loud yelling and swords clashing against one another. Furrowing her eyebrows, she lowered her blade. Without thinking, she ran to the stairs on the opposite side of the palace.

Breathing heavily she looked out of one of the large windows and saw Saladin's army attacking the Crusaders and a big smile graced her lips. He did not betray me after all, she thought. She ran back down to the foyer and saw shocked faces on all her men and the young trainees.

She head towards the doors and unlatched the lock and the soldiers eyed her curiously. She swung open the doors and stepped outside. There she saw Saladin riding through, plunging his sword in the Templar knights that tried attacking him.

Saladin raised his sword and glanced over at Xena as she stood in the doorway of her palace. He winked at her then rode off to fight with the rest of his men.

She turned around at all the shocked faces behind her. "What are you all waiting for?!" she yelled and they raised their weapons. "Attack them!" she pointed her blade at the fleeing Templars.

Gabrielle ran to the doorway and Xena grabbed her arm, pulling her aside as everyone else ran past them outside to fight against the Templars.

"Gabrielle," the empress smiled softly. She leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Fight honorably," she pat her shoulder and the blonde grinned warmly.

Hours later after the battle the Hebrew King Baldwin stood underneath a canopy a few yards from Xena's palace. He had his arms folded and she smiled, sauntering over to him, covered in blood and sand in her long locks.

"You lost, Baldwin." She said and he lowered his eyes. "Jerusalem is mine."

The king glared at her. "I would have won if not for Saladin's treachery against me."

"Can't trust those Saracens can you?" she winked and eyed Saladin standing off to the side. "Leave this place and don't return. If you do, you know where to find me."

Baldwin uncrossed his arms and cocked his masked face. "There will be another crusade against you Xena. You are under God's watchful eye."

"Well, God must be shining upon me at this very moment." She bat her eyelashes and he groaned lowly. She lifted her head and saw the dark clouds looming over the holy city. "He seems upset with you." She teased.

"This is not over Xena. We will meet again." Baldwin spun on his heel and walked back to his camp to gather up the rest of his troops and leave the area.

Everyone behind her cheered and she grinned at them all and gave a nod at Osman for his help. She also eyed all the girls that had big smiles on their faces and she nodded at them as well.

"You see Xena, I was on your side all along," Saladin walked up beside her and she spun around.

She arched an eyebrow. "Would have been nice if you attacked yesterday."

"I was waiting for the opportune moment." He smiled and she shook her head. "Jerusalem is yours now."

"It's always been mine."

Chapter Text

AN: the boys are back in business lol.

Chapter 25

In the classroom in the school of Alexandria the students were fully engaged listening to the teacher talk on and on about Egyptian history. Solan sat beside his brother, bored out of his mind. He didn't want to hear about the history of Egypt because this wasn't his homeland and this lecture was going on for two hours now.

He peered over at his younger brother and saw he was sleeping with his head on the desk and drooling all over his school work. He kicked Alexander's leg and the boy jolted awake, drool gliding down his chin and Solan chuckled. "Try and stay awake, Alexander."

The dark haired boy yawned and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "This is so boring!" he whispered.

"Yeah I know but you can't just fall asleep or he'll see you," he whispered back.

Alexander groaned and propped his elbows on the desk, trying to follow what the instructor was talking about. He probably missed over half of the lecture already and was so lost. "Is he talking about Cleopatra..." he muttered. Solan shrugged his shoulders and tapped his pen on the desk impatiently.

Ishaq turned around in his chair and frowned at Alexander and Solan. "You ladies done chatting?" he hissed.

"Are you really paying attention to this?" Alexander griped.

The young prince and son of Saladin smirked. "It's the history of my people. Too bad your people mean nothing so they aren't written in history lessons."

Alexander growled and stood up. "You just –"

"Alexander," the instructor stopped his lesson and all the students turned around. The boy's face flushed bright red. "Is something wrong?"

"Um..." Alexander spun around at all of the eyes on him and felt embarrassed. "No, sir..." he plopped back down in his chair and slumped, covering his face.

"Alright then. So back to Cleopatra and Marc Antony," he smiled and was about to continue his lesson until three men in dark turbans entered his classroom. Creasing his eyebrows, he folded his arms defensively. Yet another interruption. "May I help you?" he asked the men.

One of the men stepped forward and bowed his head curtly. "We've come for Alexander and Solan." He said.

Alexander and Solan spun around and smiles appeared on their faces, knowing exactly who those men were. The teacher scoffed. "You can't just walk in here and demand to take my students! I don't know who you are but –"

"The Sultan of Persia sent us," the soldier interrupted the irate teacher. "We have orders to take the princes home."

Ishaq and his brother, Aziz, dropped their jaws and Solan smirked, immediately grabbing his schoolbag and Alexander hopped out of his chair. "Alright! We're going home!" Alexander cheered and ran over to the Persian soldiers.

He turned to the sons of Saladin with a smug grin. "I told you we were princes," he whispered and Ishaq growled, spinning around in his seat and crossed his arms, fuming.

Solan walked over to his brother standing beside the tall Persian officer. He looked at his teacher's shocked face. "Great lesson by the way but you might want to mention that Cleopatra was allies with Julius Caesar, not Marc Antony." He smiled and the instructor's jaw dropped.

Alexander tugged on the soldier's pants. "Is the war over?" he asked.

"You know I'm not allowed to discuss that, your majesty. I have my orders to bring you back to Jerusalem." The soldier said with a subtle smirk on his face. "Excuse us, continue your lesson please." He nodded and pushed Alexander along and Solan followed them out of the school.

Alexander ran towards the coastline and saw Belach leaning on the docks waiting for them. "Belach!" he ran to him and grabbed his hand. "Mother is bringing us home! I'm so excited!"

Belach nodded. "I can tell."

The boy frowned sadly, "but what about Horus and Sekhmet?" he sighed.

Belach picked up the cage with the black scorpions and Alexander's face lit up. "I don't think your mom is going to be happy about this."

Alexander jumped up and grabbed the cage with his pets and smiled, walking onto the ship. Solan shook his head and flung his bag over his shoulder. "I can't believe you actually saved his pets."

Belach shrugged. "It makes him happy besides, I'm just glad to get the hell out of this place." He turned and walked on the ramp to the ship.

"It wasn't that bad," Solan said and his elder brother cast him a glare. "Okay, okay. It sucked." He chuckled and Belach wrapped his arm around him, squeezing him tightly. "Belach! Let go!"

The elder brother grinned and both walked onto the ship as Solan was trying to pry his arm off of him. He turned and shoved him into the wall playfully. Solan groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. He saw that Solan was now taller than him and he wasn't even fourteen yet.

"You tall freak. Just like your mother." Belach folded his arms and leaned on the railing of the ship.

"Hey guys I can see the entire city from up here!" Alexander shouted from one of the tallest sails on the ship. Solan gasped and Belach rolled his eyes.

"Alexander! Get down from there!" Solan yelled.

"Why? It's awweeesome!" he grinned and sat down with his two scorpions, admiring the sea from up top.

Belach snorted, "you and your mother baby him too much. Just let him have some fun before he gets punished when we get back to Persia. I'm sure he'll get into something else and Xena will ream him."

Solan grunted and folded his arms. "Alexander! I swear! Be careful!"

"Okay!" Alexander called out and smiled from above. He looked into the cage at his two pets and raised an eyebrow. "Hey Solan!" he rose to his feet, leaning on the railing. "Do you have any bugs?!"

Belach shook his head and walked down below to the belly of the ship. Solan smacked his forehead. "Yeah, let me just pull some out of the ocean."

Alexander frowned. "All you had to say was no." he grumbled and sat back down next to his pets.

Helena sat on her bed with Gabrielle, packing her things. She looked over at her solemn blonde friend. "Why the long face, Gabrielle?"

The blonde shrugged her shoulder. "I just don't want you to leave. You're my friend."

Helena grinned. "I need to go back to my home. The empress said that we are free to go. I donno about you but I've had enough of war for now." She chuckled and folded one of her tunics and placed it in the bag. Gabrielle began helping her fold clothes.

"I know but you can stay here! She told us that we can stay if we want to."

Helena raised her eyebrow and looked around at the girls. Some were leaving and others opted to stay. As much as she really liked spending time here and getting to know everybody, fighting just wasn't her thing. She wanted to go back home and build a life for herself even if she was alone. She felt much more equip to deal with life now as opposed to before.

"I'm forever grateful to the empress and everything she's done for me and the other girls. She definitely gave me a new way to appreciate life and I want to live. I'm not going back home to be a nobody again."

Gabrielle smiled at her friend that she would miss dearly. "So, what are you going to do when you go back to Greece then?"

Helena sighed. "I don't know yet. Maybe a teacher or a painter...or I don't know. The empress is sending some of us to Corinth. I've never been there before."

Ah, yes. The city where Xena sends all her girls and criminals to work off their crimes and debts they owed her. Gabrielle too, thought what lay in that city and it must be very important if Xena sent everyone there.

"Well, I hope you figure it out eventually." Gabrielle smiled and pat her friend's knee.

Dajan opened the doors to the girls' quarters and everyone turned their heads. "Gabrielle, the sultana wishes to see you."

Gabrielle frowned. "Right now?"

"Best not to keep her waiting," Dajan said with a grin. Gabrielle sighed and climbed off Helena's bed and walked over to the Persian.

Xena lifted her eyes when she saw Gabrielle enter her bedroom. She smiled and took the pen out from her mouth. "Gabrielle," her eyes widened. She scooted over on her bed and spat the empty spot next to her. "Come sit with me."

Come sit with you? Alright, sure why not. Let's just forget what happened during the war last month. Why not. Gabrielle inhaled deeply and sat down on the bed beside Xena and smiled faintly, looking in those steely eyes opposite her.

The sultana pushed her papers over to Gabrielle. "I was thinking I should open a academy for girls in Jerusalem and in Athens. Boys can join too of course..." she added.

Gabrielle leaned over and looked at Xena's plans and nodded her head. "Good. Sounds good."

Xena frowned. "Something wrong?"

"No, no." Gabrielle smiled, wagging her head.

"You're lying to me. You know I hate when people lie to me."

Oh I know. The entire world knows you hate that. Gabrielle sighed and hung her head, feeling a little bit awkward. "So, does that mean I'm free of my debt to you?"

Xena grinned. "After everything you've done for me, I think I'm the one who owes you. You're free, Gabrielle." She touched her heart.

"Free? You're allowing me to leave?" Gabrielle lifted her eyes and saw a sting of pain in Xena's eyes. Almost as if she didn't want her to leave.

The empress nodded her head and put on a false smile. "Of course. You are free to go like the other girls. You don't have to stay here." She turned and went back to her papers, writing a few things down in silence.

Xena, why can't you just admit that you are sad if I leave? I can see it in your eyes. You want me to stay so just say it. "I can go home. No strings attached?" she added.

Xena nodded. "You're not a prisoner here, Gabrielle. I said you're free to go." Her voice more stern.

But you don't want to me to go. "You want me to leave?"

The dark haired empress lifted the pen from the paper and turned to look into the green eyes beside her. "No..."

Finally, you admit it.

"But I can't make you stay."

A big grin crossed Gabrielle's lips and she flung her arms around Xena's neck. "Thank you," she whispered and pulled away to see the shocked confused look on Xena's face. Her cheeks flushed and she pulled her hair back behind her shoulders.

"For what?" Xena cocked her head.

"Xena, I want to stay here. I just wanted to hear you say it." she said and Xena finally smiled softly, her cheeks flushing slightly. "I have so much to learn from you! I can't go back home yet!"

Xena shook her head. "I don't think you should learn anything from me, Gabrielle. I'm a ticking time bomb," she said.

"You know what you need?" Gabrielle sat on her feet and leaned in closer, dangerously close to the empress's face. "A party."

Xena scoffed. "Gabrielle, I don't have time for parties."

Gabrielle ripped the papers from Xena's grasp and threw them off the bed. "Just stop for one moment and appreciate life, Xena! The war is over! We should have a party!"


"Why not? Come on, it'll be fun! When's the last time you went to a party, anyway?" Gabrielle pried and Xena quirked her mouth, crossing her arms. "That long huh?"

"Gabrielle," the empress arched a brow, "even if we did have a party, nobody would come. Nobody likes me in case you haven't noticed."

Gabrielle grinned. "I like you." She immediately cursed herself for saying that aloud and saw the shock in Xena's wide eyes. "A lot of people like you, Xena! You can invite the Anatolians and even Saladin."

"You obviously don't know Saracens very well. They don't have parties that often unless it's a wedding, funeral or birthday." Xena rolled her eyes.

"Come on!" the blonde whined and grabbed Xena's hands. "Please? It'll be fun I swear."

She shook Xena's arms and the empress groaned lowly. "Alright!" she said firmly. "Alright, we'll have a party." She grumbled and Gabrielle beamed. "I am expecting Solan, Alexander and Belach tomorrow morning. I'm eager to see them," she smiled grandly.

Gabrielle nodded and leaned on the pillows beside Xena, throwing her arms behind her head. "Even Belach?"

Xena smirked. "I'm more eager to see the look on his face when I tell him that his mother is pregnant."

"Do you think he'll be upset?"

Xena shrugged a shoulder lazily. "Maybe it will make him grow up. He hasn't always been an arrogant boy. It will definitely give him something to do and get his mother off my back." She sighed heavily.

"She wasn't that bad," Gabrielle said and received a menacing glare from the empress.

"She was on her best behavior..." Xena grumbled. "Anyway, enough about her. What do you think of my academy idea?"

Gabrielle pursed her lips. "I think it's a good idea." She said and Xena eyed her. "Honest!"

Xena smiled and slapped Gabrielle's thigh. "Good because I'm putting you in charge!" she got off the bed and walked over to pour herself some wine and a glass for Gabrielle as well.

Gabrielle gasped. "What?! Xena!"

Xena spun around with two glasses in her hand with a sneaky grin. "You wanted to stay here, Gabrielle."

"But I can't do that! Be in charge of an entire academy! You saw how those girls treated me the last time! Xena, please don't humiliate me like this..."

Xena laughed lightly and sat on the edge of the bed, handing over the glass. "Gabrielle, you should have some faith in yourself. I know I do." She winked.


"Would I lie to you?" Xena smiled and Gabrielle shook her head.

"I don't know you kind of pretended to be a man for years so..." Gabrielle teased and Xena playfully nudged her arm after she took a sip from her wine.

"Very funny, Gabrielle."

Alexander hopped off the horse once he saw his mother's palace, his home. He smiled and ran to the gates and his eyes widened upon seeing the destroyed north wall and many workers repairing the wall on ladders.

Belach and Solan walked up behind him and their eyes lifted, gawking at the tall wall that was no more. "Whoa, this place looks like shit," Belach said and Solan nudged his arm. "What? It does." He shrugged his shoulder.

Alexander stepped inside of the gates and saw his mother waiting for them at the entrance. His smile grew once he saw her and dropped his bag, immediately running towards her. Xena grinned and knelt down with her arms out and he crashed into her, wrapping his entire body around her. She grunted and stood up, holding him in her arms, his legs wrapped around her waist.

He pulled away from her and she kissed his forehead. He frowned staring into her blue eyes. "Don't ever send us to Egypt again, mother," he chastised her.

She chuckled softly and ran her fingers through his dark hair. "I take it you didn't have a good time?"

He exhaled dramatically. "It was okay but these boys were so mean to me and Solan."

"What boys?" she furrowed her eyebrows.

"Ishaq and Aziz. They are princes of Saladin." He rolled his eyes.

She set him on the ground and grabbed his hand. "Saladin, huh?" she raised an eyebrow. "I will talk to him."

"Really? You know him? He is your friend?" he eyed her suspiciously.

She shrugged a shoulder. "Something like that." She lifted her eyes and saw Solan walking towards her with Belach by his side. "Boys." She greeted them both and Solan came to her, hugging her warmly. "You took care of your brother, right?" she whispered in his ear.

Solan pulled away and gave her a knowing look. "Of course I did. He's alive isn't he?" he jested and then grabbed the cage of scorpions and Alexander grinned, lifting his arms to grab the cage. The look on his mother's face was priceless. She was horrified. "I hope you don't mind but uh, Alexander has some pets."

Alexander grabbed the cage and held it close to his chest and Xena grinned nervously. " scorpions..." she nodded.

"They're my friends. Their names are Horus and Sekhmet," Alexander wriggled his eyebrows and she sighed, rubbing her temple. "I can keep them right?" he pleaded with his big brown eyes.

"I suppose..." she grumbled. "As long as they are kept in the cage," she narrowed her eyes at her smallest son.

Alexander nodded his head vigorously. "Thanks! I will take good care of them, don't worry!" he lifted the cage and eyed the black scorpions waving their stingers. "Where's Gabrielle? I want to show her."

"She's inside," Xena said and he took off running up the stairs and into the palace. She sighed and turned to her blonde son and stepson. She was about to speak to both of them until she heard girls shrieking inside the palace and Solan laughed lightly.

"Come on girls! They are really nice!" Alexander said inside the palace and Xena rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

Belach folded his arms with a big smirk on his face. "I don't think the girls like his pets..."

"Solan, would you go check on your brother and make sure he didn't let those things out of the cage..." she suggested and Solan nodded, quickly running inside the palace. She then turned to Belach with a faint smile. "Belach, I need to talk to you." She then began walking into the palace and he trailed behind her, already dreading what she was going to tell him.

Finally alone in her bedroom Belach sat in a chair, his eyes roaming around the room, a little bit nervous. Xena sat opposite him and saw a smirk on her lips. He immediately knew that whatever she was going to tell him, it probably wasn't good news. He didn't want to know.

"Belach," she began and leaned forward in the chair staring into his dark concerned eyes, "I'm going to send you back to Ankara tomorrow. Your mother has been waiting for you and she's very anxious to see you."

His eyes widened. "Is something wrong? Did something to happen to her?"

"Oh something happened to her alright," she said with a big smile and his face drained of color. She frowned once she saw the horrified look in his eyes. She reached for his hand. "It's not bad. She wanted to write to you but I told her that she couldn't."

He breathed in sharply, holding his breath. "So, what is it?"

"Well, your mother came to Thebes for awhile because your father wanted her to be safe and –"

"Is she hurt?" he asked and she groaned. "Did you do something to her?" he eyed her suspiciously.

"No!" she rubbed her forehead. "Belach, would you listen to me?" she asked politely and he nodded silently. "She's pregnant and she will have her baby in a few months so she wants you to come back to Ankara." She finally said and saw the shock on his face and she couldn't help but smile. She had been waiting for this moment. "Belach..." she looked into his stone cold eyes and expressionless face.

She waved her hand in front of his face and he didn't even blink and then he exhaled heavily, lowering his eyes. "Are you alright?" she asked, now not finding this very amusing anymore. She almost expected him to be upset but he was speechless. That wasn't the reaction she was hoping for.

"Mom!" Alexander ran into her bedroom and she grunted, leaning back in the chair, resting her chin on her palm. "Astremia tried to kill my scorpions!" he frowned sadly.

She sighed and looked at her son's teary brown eyes. "Why don't you keep those things away from the girls, Alexander?"

"But I was just showing them! They're not mean, I swear!" he sighed and Solan ran into the room after his little brother.

"There you are!" Solan growled and grabbed hold of his brother's arm. "You let one of your pets outside of the cage and it almost stung one of the girls!"

Xena gasped. "I told you to keep those things in the cage!" she snarled.

"They're not things!" Alexander pouted. "They're my friends..." he muttered.

Solan rolled his eyes then turned to see Belach sitting still as stone. He didn't even have a smart remark to combat Alexander. He playfully hit his elder brother's shoulder. "What's up with you?" he leaned down and Belach tapped his fingers on the armrest.

"What's wrong with him? What did you do to him?" Solan asked his mother.

"I didn't do anything! Why does everyone assume I'm doing something to someone around here?" she griped. "I just told him that his mother is pregnant and..." she stared at Belach once more, "I'm not sure how he is taking it..." she raised an eyebrow, waiting for a reaction.

Alexander gasped and slapped his palms to his cheeks. "A baby?!" he turned to his mother with his mouth wide open and Solan chuckled. "That is so awwwesome!" he grinned and wrapped his arms around his mother's neck from behind and she gasped. "You know what this means?!" he yelped. "I won't be the smallest brother anymore!"

He jumped off his mother and threw some punches. "This is great news! I'm so excited!" he jumped onto Belach's lap and he grunted, staring down at Alexander. "You will be a big brother...well, a big brother again..." he rubbed his chin. "Anyway, when does the baby come? Can we see it?" his eyes wide with glee and Xena sighed.

"Soon, Alexander," Xena muttered.

"You should have another baby, mother," Alexander said and Solan slapped his forehead.

Xena glared at her son. "No thanks I have my hands full already with you."

He frowned and then wrapped his arm around Belach. "So, Belach, what do you think?"

Belach turned to his brother then to Xena and Solan. "Well..." he began and Xena had her eyes on him, gaping. "I wasn't expecting that."

Alexander grinned and hopped off his elder brother. "Finally, I won't be the little brother anymore. There will be a new brother and –"

"Or sister," Solan interrupted.

Alexander contorted his face in disgust. "Sister?!" he shook his head. "Girls are so overrated." He said and Xena glared at him. "I mean...yeah...a sister...would be nice too." He grinned sheepishly then hid behind Solan from his mother's piercing eyes.

"So, I'm leaving tomorrow?" Belach finally said something to Xena other than being speechless.

She smiled. "Yes. Sorry to spring that on you but I didn't want you to be surprised when you returned home."

He nodded then got up to leave. Alexander immediately ran over to him, grabbing his hand. "If the baby is a girl Natassa Khatun should definitely name it Alexandria. Because you know, it's the best name," he grinned smugly.

Xena shook her head and Solan sighed. "Did he develop some kind of ego in Egypt?" she turned to her son.

Solan shrugged. "He's always been like that, mom."

Gabrielle ran into the bedroom, breathing heavily and Xena stood. "Gabrielle?"

"Those pets of Alexander's are in the baths and the girls are freaking out," she wiped the sweat off her brow.

Xena groaned lowly. "Maybe I should have left Alexander in Egypt for awhile longer," she grumbled then walked out of the room.

Solan smiled at Gabrielle, happy to see her again after so long. "How was the war?" he asked.

She rolled her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it..."

"Alexander!" Xena yelled from downstairs.

She and Solan cringed at her voice echoing in the marble halls. "Well, it's nice to have you back." Gabrielle grinned nervously and he nodded. Xena's voice traveled throughout the palace again and Gabrielle winced. "We should probably go help..."

"I think I'll sit this one out," Solan said. "But you go ahead, Gabrielle." He smiled.

Gabrielle looked over the balcony and saw Alexander running out of the girls' quarters and heard Xena yelling at him. "On second thought, this is much more entertaining to watch," she smirked watching the tiny prince run down the hallway. "He's never going to cut her a break is he?"

Solan shrugged. "Nope. That's what she gets for treating him like a baby." He chuckled. "But I'm sure when he sees Natassa's baby he might change."

"You really think so?"

He nodded. "He won't be the baby anymore especially when we go to Ankara to stay with my father."

Gabrielle rubbed her chin. "You think your mother is going to let you do that still?"

"I hope so because I really like Ankara." He leaned into her and whispered, "we don't have a lot of rules over there, just between you and me."

She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Now she understood why Alexander didn't listen to anything Xena said. Borias allowed him to do whatever he wanted in Ankara and she was sure that Natassa didn't watch over them considering their relationship.

"Well, just between you and me," she whispered, "I think Alexander needs some structure."

Solan agreed. "He has a different life than I did. I lived with my mother for most of my childhood and she was very strict with me but not with Alexander. He grew up in Ankara and Jerusalem. He's spoiled and my mother doesn't really have time to give him enough attention."

Well, we'll just have to change that, she thought. "Maybe she will now."

Five Years Ago

Xena stood in front of Borias in Osman's camp in Ankara holding two year old Alexander on her hip and Solan clung to her black garb, staring at his father. She and Borias came to an agreement that their children should spend time with both of their parents instead of with one parent. Borias kept staring at her, eyeing Alexander as he was playing with a toy in his hands, oblivious to everything.

"Xena," he began softly, "I will take care of them. They are my sons too you know."

She sighed and brushed Alexander's hair from his face and he smiled at her. She then peered down at Solan and felt him clinging to her robes. She knelt down and set Alexander on the grass. She cupped her blonde son's cheeks and he frowned sadly at her with his big blue eyes.

"You will stay here for awhile with your father," she said with a warm smile and he quirked his mouth.

"How long?" he asked.

"Just for a little while. I will come back for you and your brother." She adjusted his collar and brushed his hair away from his face. "And you will be on your best behavior, understand?"

Solan nodded, unsure to what he was agreeing to. He didn't know how long he was going to stay here but he did as she said. "Okay, mother. I will."

She kissed his forehead and looked behind her to see Alexander wandering off towards the goats. She quickly ran over and picked him up and he frowned, pointing at the animals, mumbling nonsense. Walking back to Solan, Borias was waiting patiently.

She pushed Solan along and he walked over, lifting his eyes at his father. Borias smiled softly and he looked over at his former lover. "Xena," he cleared his throat, "Alexander," he wagged his fingers.

She nodded and handed him over to Borias and Alexander frowned confusedly. She grinned and kissed his small hand, looking into his big dark eyes. "Don't let Solan play with any weapons."

He half rolled his eyes. "Alright, Xena, no weapons."

"And don't give Alexander any sweets of any kind."

"Xena," he interrupted and her eyes widened. "No weapons, no sweets. I got it." he smiled.

She sighed and bent down, kissing Solan's head. "I love you very much," she whispered.

"Love you too," Solan grinned faintly and spun around hearing his name being called.

Belach sauntered over with a smirk on his lips and he ran his fingers through his shoulder length dark hair. "Little brother, looks like you will be staying here with us, huh?" the eleven year old said and Solan raised an eyebrow. "Shall I show you around?" he lend his hand and Solan eyed his mother.

She nodded and Solan smiled then grabbed Belach's hand and they walked off talking together. Borias turned and saw the malice in her eyes. "I will take care of them, Xena. Don't worry." He reassured her.

She wrapped the veil around her face and mounted her horse, eyeing Alexander who was gawking at her. "I will write you." She narrowed her eyes then trotted off with her elite guard trailing behind her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26 – Commoners

Over the next couple of months Xena had an academy built beside the palace for the girls and boys who wanted to join. She told Gabrielle to be in charge of the academy and made that decision not even thinking of Gabrielle and her life choices. She just assumed that Gabrielle would stay here forever but as time went by she realized that she was selfish in her thinking. Constantly, she offered Gabrielle many times to leave Persia and return to her village, Potidaea, but each time Gabrielle declined. In fact, she was annoyed that Xena kept asking her to leave, but she assumed it was because Xena felt bad in a way.

Gabrielle knew that Xena was not a bad person and she never was from the beginning. She tried so hard to keep her identity concealed to everyone, but that was obviously out of the question. The citizens of Jerusalem were more wary of Xena now that she was exposed as a woman than when she was a male sultan. They suddenly did not trust her anymore and questioned everything she did.

Xena on the other hand, remained cloistered in her palace from the public eye. Gabrielle knew that this was not the right choice if Xena was to gain her people's trust. In Greece it was different, people were a bit more accepting of others, but in Persia, these people were more clandestine. There were so many people from different parts of the world that lived in the second half of Xena's giant empire. Some of these people weren't even natives of Persia. Some were from Mongolia, China, India, Anatolia and Greece. Some even from Africa and Arabia. One can imagine the difference of opinions when it came to the sultan or...sultana.

The academy was almost finished being built next to the palace, but the word had not gone out to everyone just yet. The more time Gabrielle spent with Xena the more she saw fear in her. Xena, the almighty ruler, emperor, empress, sultan, sultana, was afraid of her people. Maybe fear was not the right word she supposed. Maybe Xena was nervous to see her people for the first time without her mask.

Xena stood inside the unfinished academy, walking around, inspecting the place. She wrapped her hand on one of the pillars and lifted her eyes at the open ceiling still being worked on. This would be finished within the next month or so she hoped. She also wondered if she was doing the right thing by building this place.

She didn't think that she would build an academy to train young girls and boys. She mainly brought those young women and teenagers from broken homes in Persia and Greece because she was bored with her life. She had lived among the shadows yet was powerful throughout several monarchies in Europe and ruled over Anatolia by proxy. Now that she spent time getting to know all of her female trainees she realized that there was something different and missing from her life.

She had spent so much time trying to expand her empire and make herself known throughout the world that she forgot how to be herself at times. She even neglected her children in order to promote her vast empire across the Mediterranean. Feeling guilty, she sought after young women to train out of boredom but it turned into much more than that. She liked those girls and while some stayed, she gave everyone the opportunity to leave. She recognized that not everyone was not meant for war or training with weapons for the rest of their lives like her. Not everyone thought like she did and she was beginning to realize that.

Gabrielle waltzed into the building with a big smile on her face. She turned about herself and looked at the fine craftsmanship of this academy. She was impressed to say the least. Then she saw Xena standing by herself in the middle of the academy her head in the clouds.

"This place is really nice, Xena!" she said.

Xena jumped at the sound of her voice. For once, she was caught off guard. Turning slowly, she saw the blonde with a big grin. She too smiled faintly and nodded at her presence. "I'm glad you like it," her voice soft.

Gabrielle frowned, cocking her head. Walking over to the sultana she grabbed her arm firmly. "Something the matter? I thought you would be happy about this? After all, this was your idea."

The raven haired ruler sighed. "I am happy. I'm just thinking of all the times that I could have done better for my people. Now they don't even trust me."

"Xena," the blonde arched her eyebrow and Xena peered down at her. "They don't even know you." She said and saw the sultana's eyes lower, saddened to hear that. "You should talk to them. Get to know them so they can know who you really are."

Xena groaned and folded her arms. "How do I do that? I lied about who I was for years. How can I make them trust me now? They don't even know what I look like and I don't think they care."

Gabrielle nodded and then her eyes grew, sparkling at a revelation. "I have an idea," she clapped her hands together and Xena frowned. "We should go to the city and observe. Listen to what people have to say about you. Since they don't know what you look like..." thanks to you being a hermit, she thought. "You can ask questions about what they think of you. They won't have any idea."

The sultana rubbed her chin and eyed the fiery blonde beneath her. "You will come with me, right?" she asked, almost afraid that Gabrielle would reject.

"Of course!" Gabrielle grinned and playfully nudged Xena's arm. She then saw the sultana's eyes grow and her smile disappeared, now fearing that was not the best idea to hit her. Please, don't hit me.

Then Xena broke out in a soft smile and Gabrielle inwardly sighed a sigh of relief, thanking God that Xena had at least somewhat a sense of humor and playfulness as oppose to her hard exterior. "We will ride out today, how does that sound? I will bring Dajan and –"

"Whoa, whoa!" the blonde held up her hand, interrupting the sultana. "We can't take any elite guards, Xena. The people will know it is you. We will have to go as..."

"Commoners?" Xena said.

Gabrielle frowned. "You probably shouldn't call them that. They are people, not commoners. We will have to get rid of this..." she pinched Xena's long black sleeves, "garb.." she sheepishly smiled. "And those boots."

Xena frowned, glancing down at her black shiny boots. "What's wrong with my boots?"

Sighing, Gabrielle looked into the blue eyes above her. Could she really be this clueless? "Xena, your boots and clothes scream royalty. Nobody has clothes like this in the city. They don't have their clothes washed and pressed every month like you do. We will have to wear something less...flashy." she suggested.

"Alright, I will follow your lead." Xena smiled and Gabrielle hid her smile, turning to look at the inside of the academy again.

Solan and Alexander walked into the academy. Both boys' eyes wandered around and Alexander ran up the stairs to the unfinished second floor. Xena spun around and snarled at her youngest son, crawling on his knees.

"Alexander!" she yelled and he smiled down at her, waving his hand.

"This is so cool!" Alexander beamed and stood slowly, walking across on a plank to the other side of the floor.

"If you fall don't come crying to me," Xena folded her arms, scowling at her son.

Alexander giggled. "Stop worrying mom! I'm not a baby."

Solan scoffed, copying his mother's stance. "He thinks he's a man now," he whispered to his mother.

She smirked. "I'm sure he does. Spending too much time with Belach." She turned to her son, "have you heard anything from him?"

Solan nodded, "yeah he says that he wished he lived here."

Her eyes widened at that response she was not expecting. "Does he?" she smiled softly. "I wonder why he would say something like that." She honestly wondered why Belach said that. He had grown to despise her only because he listened to his mother, but perhaps, he grew out of that and no longer listened to Natassa. Or maybe, she stopped spewing hatred from her mouth since she had more important matters to worry about.

Solan shrugged his shoulders. "He says that father is making him do a lot of work in Ankara. I guess being second in command isn't what he thought it would be." He frowned, still a bit sour that his position was given to his elder brother, but he was not in Ankara anymore and it wasn't likely that his mother would allow him to go there any time soon.

Xena looked down at the scowl on her son's face and couldn't help but find that amusing. "Maybe we can go to Ankara together to see Natassa's baby."

Alexander gasped and jumped down to the ground from the second floor. "Can we?! I miss Ankara and I really want to see the baby. I hope it is a boy." He grinned deviously.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and Xena did the same. He turned up to his mother. "When can we go?"

"When she has her baby," she said.

"When is that?" he pried, raising an eyebrow curiously.

"Alexander," Solan huffed, "you asked this yesterday! No matter how many times you ask it's going to be the same answer!"

Alexander groaned and crossed his arms. "I'm impatient," he mumbled.

Xena laughed. "Understatement of the year," she teased and he shot her a glare. "You said it, not me."

"Doesn't mean you have to agree!" he spat and she pat his cheek then began ushering him out of the academy. "Hey, where are we going?!"

"Back to the palace where I can keep my eye on you," she answered.

"But I've been really good, mother!" he whined. "Come on, cut me some slack..."

Solan stifled a laugh and Gabrielle shook her head. "He's really milking it," he whispered to Gabrielle.

The blonde nodded. "I expect nothing less." The more time she spent with Xena's sons the more she came to realize that Solan was more like his father and Alexander probably a mirror image of Xena. He was filled with so much fire and always was getting into things. Solan was more grounded than his brother. Alexander was super disobedient but it was as if he didn't know what he was doing was wrong.

Dajan stared at Xena as she was wearing common folk clothing, old boots and no weapon at her side. She briefly told him what her plan was and he wasn't sure this was such a good idea. If anyone recognized her, which was unlikely, but still a possibility, she could be hounded and mobbed out of her own city.

Xena adjusted the beige veil around her head and fixed her thick dark bangs, turning around she placed her hands on her hips. "How do I look?" she asked.

He sighed heavily. "Sultana, allow me to come with you."

Frowning, she turned back to the mirror and adjusted the skirt she wore over her pants. "No, I am doing this on my own. Gabrielle is coming with me. She said it would be better to get the people's opinions if I am less of a threat to them."

"So, you take a girl's word over mine?"

She spun around, her eyes wide and he lowered his head shamefully. "I trust Gabrielle and if you say anything against her then you are also against me. Understand?"

"Yes, sultana," he said lowly.

Gabrielle walked into the room and saw Xena in a less threatening attire and smiled. She wrapped the scarf around her long golden locks and circled around Xena, examining her clothes. "Very nice. How did you come by these clothes so quickly?"

"My servants," Xena said.

Gabrielle arched an eyebrow. "Okay well...this will have to do. We should get going." She urged and Xena nodded, eager to get out of her home but also a bit nervous to hear her people's reactions about her as well.

Dajan placed his hand on her shoulder before she left. "If you are not back by nightfall...I will have a party search for you."

She cast him a reassuring smile. "I will come back in one piece." She said and he bowed his head. "Make sure Solan and Alexander do not leave the palace."

"Of course..." he groaned and knew that would be difficult. He hated watching Xena's sons, especially Alexander. Solan sometimes instigated his brother at times and worked with him to terrorize the girls. This is not what he wanted to do for the day. A glorified babysitter.

Together they walked the busy streets of Jerusalem and Xena was constantly shoved as people passed by her. Gabrielle was casually walking beside her and noticed the anger rising in her as she was not used to being a nobody. Everyone always parted ways when they saw the sultan, but today Xena was not a sultan or sultana. She was just like everyone else. A commoner.

Gabrielle chuckled and Xena cast her a glare. "Xena, you should learn how to relax."

Xena groaned and wiped off some fruit juice that was spilled on her. "Everyone keeps running into me!"

"You are not the sultana today, remember..." Gabrielle whispered. Xena sighed and nodded, almost forgetting the plan entirely. She was already annoyed and they had only been outside for less than an hour.

Gabrielle spotted a tavern and grabbed Xena's hand, pulling her along. "Come on, we should sit down in there. I'm sure there's gossip in there!" she grinned.

Xena cringed at the sight of the place. There were men everywhere and some of them kept eyeing her. She snarled at one of them and they fell backward into the sand. She smirked and walked into the tavern behind Gabrielle, as if she didn't have a choice in the matter.

Gabrielle found an empty table beside a group of men drinking and conversing together. Xena's nose crinkled and she wiped off the dust with her fingers and brushed the bench off several times. Gabrielle was calling over a waitress and spun around to see Xena cleaning the bench with her hand and crookedly smiled.

"What are you doing?" she asked and Xena's head shot up.

"It's filthy in here," she muttered and Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

"Just sit down," she said and Xena reluctantly sat down on the bench, careful not to touch the table and took her sleeve, wiping the dust off the table.

The men beside her gawked over seeing her cleaning the table, or trying to. Some of them were amused and chuckled lightly. One man leaned back in his chair and she lifted her eyes. "Afraid you're not going to get that table any cleaner, miss," he winked and she arched her eyebrow.

She desperately wanted Gabrielle to come back to the table before she made some horrible remark to these men. "Maybe if you all didn't act like such pigs then this place wouldn't be so filthy!" she hissed.

All the men's eyes widened and silenced. Some other people behind her heard the conversation and leered over. Gabrielle came back with some mead and hesitantly sat down noticing a lot of eyes on Xena. She leaned over the table with a frown.

"What did you say?!" she whispered.

"I didn't say anything," Xena gave a tight lipped smile and glared over at the man who spoke to her earlier.

"Yeah right," Gabrielle rolled her eyes and pushed the cup towards Xena. "Drink this and try to act normal."

Xena picked up the cup and stared at the dark mead. She stuck her finger in it and rubbed her fingers together. Gabrielle's mouth parted as she was about to take a sip of the mead. What in God's name is she doing? Slowly, she set the cup back down on the table and Xena smelled the mead.

"It's not poison, lady," the man said and his friends chuckled. "This isn't the sultan's palace!" he cackled.

Xena growled and was about to stand up until Gabrielle firmly grabbed her hand. "Don't," she warned and Xena exhaled slowly and heavily. Gabrielle then turned to the men with a big smile on her face. "You're making fun of the sultan?" she asked.

The man shook his head, "I didn't say anything. I hear the sultan is a woman. Donno how she managed to pull that one off!" he grinned and she nodded.

"So, you are not upset that the sultan is a woman?"

He shrugged. "I couldn't care less if she were a mutant. She's never shown her face before when she was a man and she still hasn't." he eyed her cautiously. "You aren't a spy are you?"

Gabrielle laughed lightly. "Far from it," she joked and saw fear in his eyes. Xena kept glaring at him and she pat his hand. "Just a joke." She cleared her throat, "anyway, so you're saying you don't like the sultana? She's been very nice to you all."

"Nice?!" he scoffed. "She is far from nice. Sure she erased our foreign taxes and allowed us to have more jobs, but everyone is afraid of her. Nobody's even seen her face before. How can we trust someone like that? She hides in that grand palace of hers." He shook his head and drank his dark ale.

Xena lowered her eyes and her stance softened. Her thoughts about her people were true. They didn't trust her because they didn't know her, just like Gabrielle said. That's not what she wanted at all. She wanted everyone to trust her. That was the most important thing in her life was trust and she didn't give her trust to just anyone. But if she could give her trust to her people then she can earn it from them. But how?

She leaned forward on the table. "Are you saying that you would like the sultana to come speak to everyone?" she inquired, very curious. Gabrielle cast her a warm smile and turned back to the man.

Sighing he leaned backward, staring into her bright blues. "Listen, lady, I don't have a problem with the sultana but it would be nice to see her face once in awhile. I am beginning to think she's a ghost that haunts this place." He chuckled. "Even the Pope makes appearances daily! The friggin' Pope! But the sultana?" he scoffed, "she's like an enigma."

Xena nodded. "Is there anything else that you would want do?" she felt awkward talking about herself in third person.

The man turned to his friends and one of the friends smiled over at her. "Yeah, there is one thing, but not like it matters if I tell you."

She smirked, "and if I told you I know the sultana, would you tell me then?"

All of their eyes widened. "You know her?"

"Something like that. So, you were saying," she waved her hand for him to continue.

"Well," he nursed the cup of ale in his hands. "It would be nice if she lifted the trade ban with China. We get a lot of business from them."

Xena frowned and rose to her feet. "I don't think that she will agree to that."

Gabrielle glared at Xena, pointing to the bench and slowly, the sultana sat back down, glaring at the men. "And why wouldn't she agree?" she played along and Xena squinted her eyes at her for going along with this idiocy.

"Because," Xena bat her eyelashes with a forced smile, "China is allies with the Khan and the sultana is not allies with him. So therefore...there is a trade ban!" she growled.

The men eyed her curiously and a few of them scooted in their chairs to get away from her hostility. "Well..." Gabrielle's smile never left her lips and she saw Xena's temper rising. "Maybe you could talk to the sultana and convince her to lift it?"

"I will not!" Xena's voice raised and she stood from the table. She looked over at the confused men gawking at her as she was growing more impatient and irritated. She relaxed her shoulders and eyed Gabrielle. "I'd like to leave now."

Gabrielle drank her mead, "oh but we just getting started!"

"Gabrielle!" Xena hissed and the blonde rolled her eyes and left her cup then followed Xena out of the tavern.

"Hey!" Gabrielle yelled and Xena halted. "What was that back there?" she thumbed the tavern and Xena turned around slowly.

"They ask too much from me. I cannot and will not lift the trade ban with China!" she hissed, eyeing everyone around her cautiously, afraid someone might recognize her.

The blonde folded her arms. "We're supposed to be discreet and find out what people think of you. You are being ridiculous and acting...stupid." she said and Xena gasped.

"I am not."

"Yes you are!" she grabbed her arm and ushered her into a narrow alleyway away from prying eyes. "You aren't sticking to the plan, Xena, like we agreed."

Xena folded her arms and quirked her mouth, turning to look at the people passing by. "Gabrielle, they can't just demand these things from me. I put that trade ban in effect because the Khan is trying to control Persia. This is political."

Gabrielle half smiled. "Then why don't you let the people vote on it?"

"Oh right. Like I'm going to allow common..." she lowered her eyes, "my vote on these political decisions. I don't need them."

"Without them you would be nothing, Xena." She said and heard Xena sigh heavily. Yes, that's right. You know I'm right Xena. Too stubborn to admit it, as always. "They are part of your empire and without them you would have an empire of empty space. Their voice matters."

She placed a hand on the sultana's shoulder, looking into her eyes. "Be the merciful ruler that you claim to be." She smiled. "Besides, they could possibly make the empire a better place, you never know!"

Xena hid her shy smile. "You are very convincing."

"I know," Gabrielle smiled proudly. Hooking her arm with hers they walked out of the alleyway. "So, shall we scout the rest of the city?"

"I don't know Gabrielle. That was enough for me..."

"Come on, Xena! We're just getting started!" she grinned deviously.

"I really need to get back home..." Xena protested.

Gabrielle turned to her with a knowing look of disbelief. "No, you don't. You're just stalling."

"And it's not working, I am guessing?" Xena teased with a small chagrin. Gabrielle shook her head and jerked her forward and she gasped.

Hours after going through the city and talking to various people Xena felt incredibly drained. She never heard so many people speak about her right to her face and they were oblivious to it all. Some of the things that those people said were true and they had a right to not trust her. She was basically someone else right under their noses and here she was, disguised as someone else, standing before them listening to them debase her. She didn't know how to feel anymore and felt conflicted. Most people really liked her but at the same time there was a trust issue. She wanted people to trust her just like she trusted her allies. She began to think of these people more than commoners. Gabrielle was right, they were the reason she was in her position today. She'd be nothing without them. How could she have been so blind?

Gabrielle suggested that they go to the beach and rest after today. The sun set already and Xena didn't want to stay too long, fearing that Dajan would send someone looking for her. She didn't want any attention drawn to her today, not today.

As they sat together Xena looked out at the dark ocean in front of her and forgot how nice it was to sit and do nothing for once. For now, she had the Templar Knights off her back and she could rebuild her palace and create her academy. With the feedback she got today she realized she needed to talk to her people and connect them on a different level. None of this would have happened if Gabrielle hadn't suggested it. Nothing that happened in the last year would have happened if she didn't bring those girls in and Gabrielle wouldn't be here beside her.

Gabrielle was so different, yet she fascinated Xena despite their age difference and background. Xena turned and gazed at the blonde beside her. Gabrielle completely unaware of her gaping eyes as she sat admiring her. A smile crossed the sultana's lips. She wondered how such a petite blonde Greek girl could change her life for the better and move into a direction. Bringing those girls from across her empire was probably the best decision she's ever made. If she didn't do that she wouldn't have Gabrielle by her side. She also wondered how Gabrielle felt being here. It wasn't as if Gabrielle didn't want to be here, but Xena wondered why she chose to stay instead of leaving. She gave her the choice of leaving several times and Gabrielle declined them all. Why? She still didn't know.

Catching Xena's gaze on her she turned and smiled. "What?" she asked.

Xena's smile widened. "Nothing," she said softly. "I was just thinking my life wouldn't be the same without you."

Gabrielle blushed. "Is that a good thing?" I sure hope so, she thought.

Nodding, Xena looked out at the ocean, the dark waves rolling over one another and the gentle breeze coming to the shore was so peaceful. "I would say so." Her hand slithered across the sand and intertwined her fingers with Gabrielle's, gripping firmly.

The blonde looked down shockingly and Xena's eyes turned to face hers. "I think I finally figured you out."

This peeked Xena's interest and she smiled slyly. "Oh?" she cocked her head, slightly amused.

Gabrielle nodded. "But that is my secret." She winked at her and Xena kept the smile on her lips.

The longer Gabrielle stared at Xena the more she realized that her life would be forever changed now. She couldn't go back home, not like this. She didn't want to go back home either. At first, she did, but that was before she didn't understand Xena. Considering that she thought Xena was a man, her relationship with her was pretty odd and stagnant. The first time she saw Xena's face unveiled was the moment she knew that she had to stay and figure out who she really was.

Now that they spent months together, she thought she had the key. I have finally cracked the code, Xena. I know who you really are now and I'll keep that to myself. We all have our secrets and I think friends are allowed to have secrets. You trust me and that's how I figured you out. You want trust but you also want love. Something that's been missing from your life for a long time. You were so focused on ruling an empire you forgot how to love and trust others. You've always wanted trust from people close to you and from your allies but you forgot one huge thing. Trust goes both ways.

"We should probably head back before Dajan comes searching for me." Xena sighed and stood, brushing the sand off her clothes. She hated to leave this serene place. It was a good place to come and think.

Gabrielle stood up and they began walking back to the forest ahead. It would be awhile before they reached the palace since they walked everywhere today without horses.

Xena grinned. "I think I will take the boys to the beach sometime. Alexander begged me to take him when he got here and I told him no."

"I think they would like that." Gabrielle nodded. "They deserve some fun in their lives."

Xena agreed and she had been so focused on Sidon, Saladin, Baldwin and the Templars that she completely forgot to be a mother to her own children. It was no wonder that they loved to spend their time in Ankara. There was nothing going on there, nothing like here. She felt guilty for ignoring them but she had to do what was necessary.

"Speaking of fun..." Gabrielle grinned deviously and saw Xena roll her eyes. "What about that party, huh?"

"I said we can have a party, Gabrielle. You don't have to remind me about it. I didn't forget." She grumbled.

"When can we have the party then? Can I be in charge of that too?" she hoped and Xena shot her a glare. "Or not...?"

Xena sighed. "I don't plan parties. Only wars."

"Let me help you! I can arrange everything!"

"Alright, fine..."

Gabrielle let out a satisfied exhale, hooking arms with Xena as they walked down the sandy path towards the palace. "This is going to be so much fun."

Chapter Text

AN: I have a few more chapters left! Enjoy all :)

Chapter 27 –Party Favors

With Xena's permission Gabrielle planned the party and invited Osman and his men. Gabrielle tried to get Borias to come but he opted out so he could stay in Ankara with Natassa because her baby is due very soon. Belach wrote to Gabrielle and said that he was able to come, which excited Alexander even though they just saw each other two months ago.

The guests were already swarming the palace and Xena stayed in her room, fondling over different dresses to wear. Gabrielle convinced her to wear a dress that was not black, but apparently most if not all of her dresses were black. So while Xena was getting ready by herself, Gabrielle was in charge of the guests, trying to be a good hostess.

Alexander was at the entrance of the palace, greeting everyone that walked by. Gabrielle decided that he should be involved in the party somehow and it was a good way to keep him out of trouble. Smiling at everyone he said hello until he saw a large group of people heading up to the doorway.

Saladin brought his sons, only daughter and wife to the party. Alexander's eyes immediately went to the smallest sons, Aziz and Ishaq. He was not happy to see those boys at his mother's home and really wanted to slam the door in his face.

"You must be Xena's son," Saladin said with a warm smile. Alexander eyed him and then looked at his wife, Ismat.

He nodded, "yes, my name is Alexander."

Ismat leaned down and pinched his cheek. "Such a sweet boy. I remember you from my daughter's party. My two boys told me a lot about you and your brothers."

Alexander smirked at the two young princes of Saladin. "Did they?" he cocked his eyebrow. "Welcome to my mother's palace. Hope you enjoy the party!" he grinned cheekily.

Ishaq and Aziz glared at Alexander as they walked in behind their mother and father. Alexander grinned smugly and the rest of Saladin's sons and daughter trailed in. Alexander spun around and saw Belach walking up the stairs and his eyes lit up.

"Belach!" he squealed and crashed into him, wrapping his lanky arms around his brother. "I missed you!"

Belach sighed and pried his brother's arms off him. "It's only been a couple of months, Alexander." He ruffled his little brother's hair. Alexander peered behind him and saw a group of teenage boys huddled together. "Oh yeah, I hope your mom doesn't mind but I brought some friends. Gabrielle said we can bring a few guests," he smirked.

Alexander raised his eyebrow and all the teenagers waltzed into the palace. "I've never seen them before..." he frowned.

"I met them in Antioch on a mission with father. They're really cool," Belach smiled and walked off leaving his brother to be the doorman again.

Solan walked through the large foyer and saw Belach huddled with five or six teenagers and folded his arms. "Belach..." he grabbed his brother's arm. "Who are these boys?" he whispered.

The elder brother chuckled softly. "Just a few friends. Your mother won't mind will she?"

Solan shook his head. "Don't do anything stupid, Belach."

"You worry too much, Solan. Relax, it's a party, jeez," he smacked the back of the blonde's head and Solan growled. "Don't be so uptight like your mother," he teased then walked off with his posse.

"I am not uptight..." he muttered under his breath then walked over to his little brother.

"Oh hey Solan," Alexander smiled and greeted more guests coming inside. "There's a lot of people here..." he said nervously.

Solan nodded and couldn't help but look back at Belach and his little group of friends. He had a feeling that this was going to be a very interesting night. He also caught sight of Saladin and his sons, specifically Ishaq and Aziz. He wasn't even expecting them to come to the party and he also had no idea Saladin had so many children.

He felt a tug on his arm and snapped back round to his brother. "Do you think mother will care about all these people in the palace?" he asked and Solan shrugged his shoulder. "Where is she anyway? She's taking forever!"

"Women," Solan scoffed.

Ishaq and Aziz sauntered over to the two princes by the door. Solan turned and Alexander finished greeting a couple more guests and then his smile disappeared once he saw Saladin's sons. Ishaq smiled and both boys folded their arms defiantly.

"So, your mother is the sultan. We thought that the sultan was a guy but I guess not. Where is she by the way? We've been here for awhile and haven't seen her yet." Ishaq grinned.

Alexander rolled his eyes and Solan grabbed his shoulders. He promised his mother that he would keep his brother in line tonight but now he had to worry about Belach too and he really didn't feel like babysitting two brothers right now.

"She' her room. She'll come out soon," Solan said with a forced smile.

"Why don't we play a game?" Aziz suggested. "I'm sure your mother has some cool games around here somewhere."

Alexander folded his arms, scowling at the boys. "We have Backgammon and...Chess...and that's about it."

"So, does that mean you don't play...more active games? Like racing outside with horses?" Ishaq nudged his brother playfully.

Solan's eyes widened and he put his hand over his brother's mouth. "We aren't allowed to go outside the palace without our mother's permission."

"Well, that sucks. I'm sure your mother has really nice horses here. I saw some Arabian horses outside. Where did she get them? Syria?" Aziz asked and Solan remained quiet. "I would really like to see them. Could you show my brother and I?"

Alexander swatted his brother's hand off his mouth and walked up to the two teenagers, staring up at them. "You heard what Solan said! We aren't allowed. To. Go. Outside." He growled.

Solan eyed Belach with his horde of friends and he smiled sneakily. "On second thought, we would love to show you the horses."

Alexander spun around and gasped. "Solan!" he protested and Solan grabbed his arm, leading him off to the side. "Mom said we can't go outside, remember?"

"I know, I know," Solan whispered and looked back at Ishaq and Aziz waiting patiently. "But I'm going to ask Belach to do a favor for me."

"A favor..." Alexander creased his eyebrows and crossed his arms. "What kind of favor?" he whispered. "We better not get in trouble or we're going to be sent to our rooms for the rest of the party! And I'm going to blame you!" he poked Solan in the chest.

He grunted and rubbed his chest then hit his little brother in the shoulder lightly. "Since when do you obey mother anyway?"

"Since...since...I've never been to a party before!" Alexander huffed. "Don't mess this up Solan or I'll..."

Solan smirked, "you'll what? Hit me?"

"Just go ask Belach for your favor," the dark haired boy grumbled. He sauntered over to Ishaq and leaned his elbow on his shoulder. He suddenly felt so incredibly short and now he wished he were as tall as Solan and Belach. One day, he thought, one day I will be tall.

"Sooooo..." he grinned from ear to ear and the Saracen princes frowned. "How do you like my mom's palace? Pretty nice huh?"

Gabrielle waited for Xena to come out from the bathroom. She leaned against the wall patiently, although for a woman that never used to show her face to anyone she sure was taking an awful long time getting ready.

"Xena," she sighed and banged her head against the wall lightly. "I'm sure you look fine. Can we go now? There are people actually waiting for you."

"I don't normally wear dresses Gabrielle," she said from behind the door and Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

I know and this is why you are taking so long. "Xena, come on!" she growled and the door finally opened. She spun around and her eyes widened as she looked up and down at the dark blue gown Xena wore. Her mouth gaped and Xena felt uncomfortable by the look on Gabrielle's face.

She adjusted the long sleeves and kept trying to pull the bodice up, forgetting that her bare shoulders were exposed. "Does it look alright?"

"You look amazing!" Gabrielle grinned and grabbed her hand. "Let's go!"

"That's it, I'm changing," Xena said.

"No!" the blonde yanked on the sultana's hand, pulling her to the door. "You are not changing again! By the time you change into another dress this party will be over. Now, let's go!"

They walked down the hallway together and Xena heard a lot of people talking in the foyer of the palace. The closer they came to the foyer the more she wanted to turn and run the opposite way but it was too late now. She had already made eye contact with a few guests that she saw her walking with Gabrielle. She didn't know how many people Gabrielle invited and it appeared to be a lot by the looks of it which was surprising to say the least.

Osman turned and saw Xena enter the room and smiled at her. He left his spot where he was conversing with some of Saladin's older adult sons and made his way over. Xena whipped her head around hearing the sound of boots nearing.

"Xena, you look very nice," he grinned and she nervously smiled. "I didn't know you owned gowns," he teased.

"Very funny, Osman," she said flatly. "I happen to own a few."

He nodded. "You should wear them more often." He eyed her taut waist and square shoulders and then averted his eyes when she saw him gawking. "Borias says hello," he said without looking into her eyes but at the guests surrounding them. "Oh, I almost forgot," he reached into his cloak pocket and pulled out a letter.

She frowned and grabbed the letter, not recognizing the handwriting. "What's this?"

He grinned mischievously, "a letter from Natassa. She told me to give it to you."

A letter from Natassa? She thought that was strange since the two never wrote each other and why would they ever need to anyway? She broke the seal and opened the letter, reading it silently to herself. Gabrielle came up to her with two glasses of wine and her eyes peered over to see what she was reading.

"What's that you got?" she asked curiously.

Xena smiled softly and folded the letter back up and grabbed the wine glass from her. "It's from Natassa," she said and saw the shock in Gabrielle's eyes. Much the same reaction she was expecting. "She said that she would like Belach to spend more time with me."

Gabrielle's nodded slowly. "Wow that's really...strange. Why would she want that? I thought she hated you."

The sultana sipped her wine gradually and shrugged a shoulder. "She said it would be good for Belach to be around Solan and Alexander more." She frowned and then looked around the room in search of those boys. "Speaking of...where are they?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "Probably playing a game or something." She smiled at some of the guests and looked out the window and saw Ishaq and Aziz tied to the pillar outside and Solan was laughing along with Alexander. Belach was with a few friends and had two of Xena's black horses at his disposal. She gasped and Xena turned around.

"What?" Xena furrowed her eyebrows and Gabrielle grabbed her arm, ushering her away from the sight outside the window.

"You know, they are definitely playing a game. So we should mingle, right? People don't know you so you should get to know them. Oh look, Saladin is here!" she pointed and the Saracen smiled at her. She pulled Xena along across the room.

"Gabrielle!" she groaned and nearly spilled her wine.

Saladin grinned at them both and Xena glared at Gabrielle as she adjusted her bodice and smoothed her gelled back hair. "Xena, you look lovely. I would have never thought you'd throw a party..."

"It wasn't my idea," she lamented and her blonde trainee grinned widely.

He stifled a laugh and wrapped an arm around his wife. "This is my wife, Ismat and my daughter, Noor," he introduced. Ismat smiled at the sultana, eyeing her dress from head to toe. Noor grinned and bowed her head curtly. She looked to be about Belach's age and looked very much like her mother –pale skin, dark hair and light eyes.

"Nice to meet you both," Xena said with a small grin.

"And my sons," he nudged his head for his sons to come over. They were huddled together and Xena's eyes widened. She didn't realize that Saladin had so many children, she thought he just had Ishaq and Aziz but she was wrong. "This is my oldest, Afdal." He said.

Afdal smiled and bowed his head. Saladin went to the next son, "and Zahir, Jacob, Daud and Masad."

Xena nodded her head slowly and they were all adults. She suddenly felt so lucky to just have only two sons. " have a lot of heirs to your throne..." she said unsure of what to say.

"I seem to be missing two of my sons," Saladin frowned and searched for them.

"As am I..." Xena said.

Gabrielle smiled nervously. "Oh they're probably playing together somewhere. I'm sure they'll turn up sometime..."

Ismat spoke up, "where is your other son?"

Xena frowned, "my other son?" she asked.

"The dark haired boy," Ismat said.

"Oh," Xena smiled, "Belach is not my son. He is my stepson. Come to think of it I don't know where he is either..." and that troubled her. She didn't fully trust Belach especially when he got together with her sons.

"Probably with the boys!" Gabrielle said with a forced smile and Xena turned, eyeing her suspiciously. "So, Egypt, huh?" she turned to the Saracen family and all of them fell silent.

Aziz growled. "Alright! You've had your fun! Now untie us!" he spat.

Solan chuckled and turned to his little brother. "What do you think Alexander? Should we?"

Alexander folded his arms, shaking his head. "No way!"

"You can't keep us here for the entire party!" Ishaq yelled.

Belach sighed heavily. "Listen kids, I got two of my stepmother's horses. How 'bout we have a race? First one to the beach and back is the winner. What do you say?" he raised an eyebrow.

"We should have a sword fight!" Alexander clenched his fists, his eyes widening with excitement.

Solan frowned, eyeing his little brother. "Okay, no." he sighed and Alexander grunted. "I'll race you Aziz and then Belach can race Ishaq. Seem fair?"

"What about me?!" Alexander pouted, grabbing his brother's arm.

Solan rolled his eyes. "You can sit with me on the horse, okay?"

"Alright!" Alexander clapped his hands together and glared at the Saracen boys. "You are going down! Prepare to eat dirt!"

Solan untied Aziz from the large pillar and Ishaq wriggled in the tight ropes. "Hey! Aren't you going to untie me?!" the Saracen prince griped.

"Sorry, you'll stay like that until I beat your brother in the race," Solan winked and grabbed one of his mother's horses and frowned at Belach. "You took my mom's war horse?!" he hissed, "are you insane?" he whispered.

Belach shrugged. "It's her best horse right?"

"Belach...she will kill me if I ride her horse. I thought you were going to get a regular horse! Not...her horse!"

He wrapped his arm around Solan's neck. "Don't worry brother. Just win the race and come back in one piece then we'll return her horse before she even notices!"

Alexander climbed onto the saddle and pat the seat in front of him. "Come on Solan! Let's do this! I'm so ready kick Aziz's ass!"

"Alexander!" Solan gasped and hopped onto the horse. All he could think of was his mother's reaction to him riding her horse. She is going to kill me, he thought. "Don't let mother hear you talk like that."

The boy zipped his lips. "Secret is between us," he winked and Solan groaned lightly.

Aziz trotted up beside the Greek princes with an eager smile on his lips. "You ready to lose, boys?" he chided.

"In your dreams!" Alexander spat.

Belach stood in between the horses. "Remember, first one to the beach and back wins." He smiled. "Go!" he shouted and they rode off, kicking up a lot of sand around him. He coughed and waved his hand in front of his face.

Gabrielle and Xena migrated to a small corner of the room after a long discussion with Ismat, Saladin and Noor. Gabrielle sighed heavily and grabbed a new glass of wine and Xena raised her eyebrow, still working on her own glass.

"I can't believe that Saladin's wife wants her daughter to meet Belach. What do you think about that?" she asked, taking a large swig of the wine.

Xena cocked her head. "Are you alright? The wine isn't water, you know."

Gabrielle nodded. "Oh yeah, I'm fine." Though, she was just trying to distract Xena from what was happening outside the palace walls. And now she had no idea what was going on out there and she probably didn't want to know. Also, it would just ruin Xena's mood and that was never a pretty sight to see. Everyone could agree to that.

The sultana nodded her head slowly. "Uh-huh," she turned around to keep looking for her sons but there were no sign of them. "I will talk to Borias about Ismat's proposition. I don't think he would like Belach to court a Saracen but we'll see." She frowned and lifted her chin, looking over the heads in the room. "Where are they?"

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she kept drinking the wine. "Playing, I'm sure."

"Are you lying to me?" Xena leaned in towards the blonde's face.

Gabrielle smiled sheepishly. "Come on Xena. Don't you trust me?"

"I don't trust my sons. You know where they are, Gabrielle." She inched closer to her face.

The blonde placed a hand on Xena's shoulder. "Xena. They're having a good time. Why can't you do the same? You're always worrying over them."

"You obviously don't know them very well." She said then turned around at the sound of music and frowned. "You have music...for people to dance to..." she said in an almost growling tone.

Gabrielle had a big smile on her face and she leaned into Xena, not quite sure if she was just in a good mood or she had too much wine too fast. The party was just beginning and Xena was already irritated which was not a good sign.

" should really loosen up. Belach is so right," she laughed lightly. "You are so uptight sometimes." She intertwined her fingers with Xena's and pressed her cheek against her arm.

Xena rolled her eyes and took the glass from Gabrielle's grasp. "Alright, I think you should stick to water for now." She grumbled then saw Saladin heading her way and she desperately wanted to get away.

"Xena," Saladin smiled. "Would you like to dance with me? You won Jerusalem after all. I am at your feet," he bowed his head.

She gave a curt smile and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle. "That sounds nice but I should really get Gabrielle to her room." She tried ushering her along and Saladin nodded.

"Allow my wife to help you," he offered and Ismat walked over dutifully. Xena half rolled her eyes and really didn't want anybody's help but she recalled what Gabrielle said. When help is offered you shouldn't turn it down no matter what.

Ismat grabbed hold of Gabrielle aiding Xena through the crowded room, side stepping the dancers in the center. Xena heard a loud noise outside and her head spun around towards the sound instantly. Her eyes widened when she saw Solan and Alexander on her horse. She clenched her jaw and felt her heart pounding.

"My horse!" she screeched and let go of Gabrielle, marching through the crowd, pushing people aside to go outside.

"We won!" Alexander cheered. Solan smiled and high-fived his brother then saw their mother storming towards them. "Oh crap," he muttered.

Solan's face paled and he began trotting off and Xena grabbed the horse reins, glaring at her two frightened sons. "Get off now," her voice terse. Solan immediately jumped off the steed and grabbed his brother, hoisting him off as well. She whipped her head around and saw Ishaq, one of Saladin's sons tied to the pillar and another boy riding up on another one of her war horses.

" on here?" she growled and Ishaq's eyes widened. He had never seen the sultana before and she was quite scary he noticed. She was probably very nice he guessed but right now...he really wished he could run and get out of the area as soon as possible. "Get off my horse, boy!" she yelled and Aziz jumped off so fast he nearly fell to his knees.

She pushed her horse gently off to the side and folded her arms. "Stealing my horses for your little games. Whose idea was this?" she asked and both her sons pointed their fingers at Belach. She snarled and turned to the dark haired teen.

Belach scoffed, "oh come on guys! Solan was the one who tied up Ishaq and Aziz, Xena!"

Xena spun back around to her blonde son and he stared at her with wide blue eyes, not blinking at all and Alexander hid behind him. "A group effort, huh?" she nodded her head slowly. "Get inside the palace. All of you." She demanded and they slowly walked into the palace. "You too!" she turned to Saladin's boys and they quickly ran by her trailing behind the trio.

"Your mother is scary," Ishaq whispered to Solan.

"You don't even know," he whispered back.

Inside Xena's office all five boys were lined up standing before her, Saladin and Ismat, all with their arms folded and disapproving looks on their faces. Solan and Alexander couldn't bear looking at their mother so they resorted to the floor instead.

"I allow this party in my home and this is what you do? Play stupid little games with my horses! Not to mention you tied up Ishaq and Aziz!" she yelled and her sons winced at the tone of voice. "If you were one of my soldiers I would have you imprisoned! Stealing my horse is a crime, do you understand?" her voice rising. "Do you understand?"

"Yes..." both her sons answered in unison.

"And you," Xena turned to Belach and he lifted his eyes, staring at her sheepishly. "You are older than them. You are supposed to be an example for them but I see you have not changed. Don't think that I won't tell your father about this."

"But, Xena!" Belach whined.

"No!" she yelled and he cringed then lowered his eyes, sighing heavily.

Saladin glared at his two sons and they lifted their eyes, ashamed to look at their parents. "This is not how you act in a guest's home. And Xena told me you treated her sons horribly while in Alexandria. I didn't teach you to treat anyone differently despite what family you come from."

"Yes father," both boys said quietly.

Ishaq turned to Xena and quirked his mouth, twiddling with his thumbs behind his back. "Sorry," he said meekly.

"Yeah, sorry," Aziz mumbled.

Xena gave them a curt nod, acknowledging their apologies. She then turned to her sons and narrowed her eyes. "Don't you two have something to say?"

Solan sighed and turned to Ishaq and Aziz. "Sorry," he muttered. He nudged his brother's arm and Alexander groaned.

"Sorry, jeez," Alexander grumbled and then saw the vehemence in his mother's eyes. "Sorry," he said again more sincerely.

Xena exhaled heavily and rubbed her temple. "Go to your rooms. Belach you'll stay with Solan." She said and all the boys began trailing out of the office with their heads down.

"Great! Now we're going to miss the party!" Alexander griped and Solan slapped the back of his head. "Ow!" he moaned.

"Shut up, Alexander," Belach grumbled.

"I'm just saying..." he said barely above a whisper.

Later in the evening after the guests were trailing out of her palace, Xena was incredibly tired from greeting and saying her goodbyes to everyone. She walked into her room and took out of the pins from her bun and her long hair came tumbling down her back. She took off her shoes and kicked them to the side. She trailed over to her bed and saw Gabrielle sprawled across the sheets, passed out.

She smiled softly and lifted her dress, climbing onto the bed, sitting beside the blonde. She brushed a few long tendrils away from Gabrielle's face. She so wanted this party to work and to have fun like Gabrielle hoped for but as usual nothing ever went her way. There was always something. Something.

She knew that inviting Belach was probably a bad idea but she didn't think they would do something like this. She had no idea that her sons would team up with Belach against Saladin's sons and steal her horse, of all things to do. They could have blown up a part of the palace and she wouldn't be as angry but to steal something so precious and something that didn't belong to them was more than aggravating.

Sighing she gaped at Gabrielle lying beside her. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and a small smile graced her lips when she saw Xena's face above her. She winced and held her head. "Is over?" she asked.

Xena nodded. "Afraid it is." She ran her hand over the blonde locks. "Are you feeling better? I told you to stop with the wine you know."

"I'll make sure to remember for next time..." she groaned and sat up slowly, rubbing the back of her head. "How was it?"

Xena sighed dramatically. "Eventful." That was the best word she could use to describe what a disaster that was earlier.

Gabrielle frowned. "That doesn't sound good..." she sighed and leaned against the pillows. "What happened?"

"I'd rather not talk about it. I'll have to deal with it tomorrow." She rolled her eyes.

"That bad huh?" Gabrielle gave a crooked smile and Xena shrugged a shoulder, still smiling and staring into her eyes. "Well," she sighed, "I should get back to my room with the others."

Xena frowned and grabbed hold of her arm. "You can stay. No point in waking everyone up, right?"

Is this your way of asking me to stay, Xena? Because if it is you really need to work on your execution. But if you insist. "Are you sure?"

"You're already my bed," Xena raised an eyebrow.

Very clever, sultana. "So I am..." the blonde smiled. "Sounds like you didn't have a fun time at the party." She admitted, a bit disappointed. "I really wanted you to have fun."

"I appreciate the effort, Gabrielle," Xena scooted closer to her. "I've learned not to expect much from these sorts of things. You're the only person that went through so much to make this happen and you did it for me and I want to thank for you for that. It means a lot to me."

Gabrielle blushed. "I really wished that you could have enjoyed yourself and that I could have been there," she grumbled.

Xena leaned in and kissed the blonde on the lips gingerly. Pulling away she cupped her flushed cheek. "It's the thought that counts, Gabrielle." She whispered and saw a smile that could light up a room. "But I think I'm done with parties for awhile," she jested.

"So...what exactly happened?"

The following morning Xena sent Belach and his horde of friends back to Ankara and made sure to send a letter to Borias home with Belach. She warned him that if he didn't give the letter to his father that she would know and definitely bring him back to Persia to be punished further. She hoped that instilling fear in the boy would make him comply. As for Alexander and Solan, she's never truly punished them for anything that they've done over the years because she was too busy with her empire but now it seemed like she had all the time in the world. And this was the perfect time to make sure that her sons would never do something as stupid as this again.

She put Alexander and Solan to work in the stables in the front of the palace. They not only had to take care of her horse but the entire army's horses, which included giving them shoes and grooming, as well as cleaning the inside of the individual stables.

The look on their faces was enough and amused her but she stood outside for the first few hours watching them work, bickering and arguing with each other. Alexander set down a bucket of feed for the horses and yelled at his older brother and Solan threw a bucket of water on him.

Xena smirked and folded her arms, watching them continue to fight. "Boys!" she called out and they turned to her. "Work together as a team, remember?" she snickered.

"This is all your fault!" Alexander pointed his finger at his brother and shook out his wet hair.

"You can't put all the blame on me!"

Alexander laughed. "Fine! I blame you and Belach equally! How's that?"

Gabrielle came up beside Xena, witnessing the boys arguing. "I can't believe you're actually letting them do this for their punishment."

"They won't learn if I continue to let them do whatever they want. I know Borias does not give them a lot of rules and that makes it harder on me," she raised an eyebrow and saw Alexander tackle Solan to the ground.

Gabrielle cringed. "Aren't you going to stop them?"

Xena smiled faintly. "Nope."

"How long are you going to let this punishment go on exactly?" Gabrielle cocked her head watching Alexander and Solan rolling on the ground still bickering.

"Until they finish."

Gabrielle gasped. "That will take weeks."

"Now you're catching on Gabrielle," Xena gave her a wink then looked at her sons and saw Alexander's nose bleeding and she frowned, no longer finding this amusing. "Stop it!" she yelled and Solan got off his brother.

Alexander wiped his nose and saw blood. The realization of pain finally hit him and his eyes filled with tears. Xena shook her head and knelt down in front of him and dabbed his nose with her fingers. She cupped his cheeks, examining his nose.

"It's not broken, you'll be fine," she smiled and pat his cheeks and he frowned. She saw the tears beginning to stream down his cheeks as he was holding back his emotions. She wiped his cheeks and looked into his dark eyes. "When you're both finished for the day how about we do something altogether?" she suggested.

Alexander's face lit up immediately forgetting about his nose. "Really?"

Gabrielle shook her head and crossed her arms from afar. Of course you would never be mean to your children, Xena. Your heart is too soft. No matter what those boys do you're always trying to bargain and please them. I'm not sure if that is a flaw or something to be admired. You continue to fascinate me.

Xena nodded. "Yes, really." She tapped her cheek. "We could read a story together. I know how much you like that."

He nodded. "Can Gabrielle tell the stories? I like when she tells stories."

Xena smiled and sighed, getting to her feet. "Okay, Gabrielle can be the storyteller." She ruffled his wet hair and he grinned from ear to ear. "But finish your work for today." She warned and he nodded.

Gabrielle's mouth gaped. "Did you just put me in charge of something else again?" she whispered.

"Not up for the challenge?" Xena teased.

Oh no, I'm always up for the challenge but the question is, why do you keep allowing me to do all of these things? Is it to amuse you? To study me? I think I need to learn more about you, Xena. Perhaps I haven't figured you out after all like I thought.

"I'm ready for any challenge you throw at me."

"Careful, Gabrielle. Alexander is a tough person to please," the sultana joked and walked back to the palace. Gabrielle smirked and then ran after her.

Chapter Text

AN: this is pretty Gabrielle "lite" but next chapter will not be. Thanks for continuing to read, everyone! I have two more chapters after this and this lovely piece will be complete. Enjoy ;)

Chapter 28 –Next of Kin

A month after that disastrous party, Xena kept her promise and took Solan and Alexander to Ankara to see their new sibling that was born only a couple weeks earlier. On the journey to Anatolia, Gabrielle traveled with them and never realized how much Alexander could talk until she was stuck riding with him the entire way. She gathered that Xena did this on purpose since Solan had his own horse. Alexander obviously couldn't be trusted with a horse of his own so Xena stuck him with Gabrielle.

When they finally reached Ankara, Gabrielle couldn't wait to get rid of Alexander. He literally talked the entire way and she really wished she could have taped his mouth shut. It wasn't that she didn't like the boy because she did, but he was far too talkative especially during a long journey. She thought he would be exhausted from stopping multiple times through the mountains of Persia, crossing into Anatolia, but no.

To make matters even worse, Xena also allowed her sons to sleep in the same tent as them. Gabrielle thought she was going to die because they both stayed awake all night for three days in a row, playing games and whispering. She didn't know how Xena slept through it all but she promised to herself that she vowed never to have kids after this experience. Never, ever.

Gabrielle tied the horses to a nearby tree and walked over to Xena whom was standing far from the camp watching her sons wait patiently. She yawned and Xena turned slightly with a grin on her face.

"Tired?" Xena mused.

The blonde grumbled and folded her arms. "No offense, Xena, but I really wanted to punch Alexander for running his mouth."

Xena chuckled softly. "I want to do that often," she said half jokingly. "He's just excited. Don't worry, he'll crash soon. He's been awake for three days."

"Well I hope he sleeps for three days on the way back to Persia," Gabrielle mumbled.

"You must really enjoy your sleep..." the sultana grinned smugly, finding Gabrielle's grumpiness amusing.

"I can't function without it!" Gabrielle growled and Xena's smile widened. She sighed and rubbed her temples. "Sorry, I'm just exhausted and it's getting to me."

Xena scoffed, "really? I didn't notice." She said sarcastically and the blonde cast her a mean glare.

Alexander stood beside Solan outside of the yurt. While Solan was being very patient, Alexander was quite the opposite. Groaning loudly the little prince threw his hands in the air. "What is taking so long!?" he griped.

"Alexander, we're supposed to wait for father to come get us. Just be patient," Solan advised and rolled his eyes.

"I have been patient for months now! I've been waiting and waiting and now that we are here, I have to wait some more," Alexander exhaled heavily and folded his arms.

Borias finally came out of the yurt and Alexander's eyes lit up. "Can we see the baby now?" he asked eagerly and Solan sighed heavily, shaking his head.

"You have to be really quiet," Borias said and Alexander nodded his head.

Solan scoffed, "yeah, right." With that remark, his brother glared up at him.

"I'm serious," Borias' tone darkened and Alexander's eyes widened.

"I can be quiet, " Alexander whispered. "I promise! Can we please go see the baby?" he begged and received a curt nod from his father. He grinned and grabbed his brother's hand, quickly running inside the yurt.

Borias looked out to the forest area of the camp and saw Xena standing with Gabrielle. The two locked eyes with each other and he smiled faintly at her and she did the same then turned her back towards him.

Gabrielle frowned slightly and turned to Xena. "Aren't you going to see the baby?" she asked.

Xena shook her head. "No. it's not my place. I promised to bring Alexander and Solan here and that's all I'm going to do." She said and Gabrielle shrugged a shoulder then walked off to go sit down for awhile, hoping she wouldn't pass out. Xena turned around and saw Borias talking with Osman and the smile reappeared on her lips for a brief moment.

Thirteen Years Ago

Xena held her son in her arms, gaping into his large blue eyes that stared back at her. She couldn't wipe the smile off her face. The moment she lay eyes upon him she knew that he was going to be very special and that he was the best thing in her life. This small creature in her arms would change her life forever and she wanted to make sure that she kept him close to her at all times.

His large eyes wandered around, observing his new surroundings and she grazed her finger against his plump cheek. She wrapped the blanket around his small body and cuddled him close to her chest as she leaned back against the pillows, admiring her infant son.

She lifted her eyes and saw Borias enter the yurt and she frowned at the sight of him. He hadn't seen her in nearly a week and she presumed that was due to Natassa's obstinacy. She could only imagine what horrible things she was saying behind her back at this very moment. Though, she was surprised to see him show up since he only saw his son for a mere few hours before he left her alone.

Borias lowered his eyes, not willing to look at her and reached outside the yurt and grabbed Belach's hand, ushering him inside. Xena lifted her chin to look over the bed and saw the tall toddler gawking at her with wide brown eyes, obviously very curious.

"He wants to see you," he said.

"At least someone does," she smirked and he groaned lowly then pushed his son forward gently.

Belach slowly made his way over to the edge of the bed and she smiled down at him. He blinked up at her. "Do you want to see?" she asked nicely and he nodded his head vigorously. She pat the empty spot next to her and he climbed onto the bed, scooting close to her arm.

She lowered her arms and Belach peered over and gasped, his eyes widening seeing the baby. She grinned seeing the shock on his face, yet he was very curious. He leaned down and grinned at the blonde baby, gaping into his blue eyes.

"This is Solan," she whispered and then eyed Borias. "Your brother."

Belach's jaw dropped and he raised an eyebrow. "My brother?" he pointed to himself and she nodded. He cocked his head, staring at his so-called brother and quirked his mouth, unsure what to think of this new brother of his. "He's so small," he stated the obvious.

Xena smiled and unwrapped the blanket around Solan and his small arms stretched out, reaching to Belach's falcon talon necklace. Belach took the necklace off and set it on top of his brother's chest. "You can borrow it," he told his brother and Xena arched an eyebrow.

Borias folded his arms and sighed. "Belach, we need to go." He said tersely and the toddler reluctantly hopped off the bed heading towards his father.

"Wait," Xena called out, "don't you want your necklace back?"

Belach turned around with a smile, "he can borrow it." He grabbed his father's hand. "Can I see my brother tomorrow?"

Borias peered back at Xena and she was coddling Solan, completely ignoring him. "Maybe," he said.

"Mom! Mom!" Alexander yelled. She shook her head, jarring her from her memories and turned to see her son running towards her. She smiled warmly and he breathed heavily, nearly tripping over himself and she gasped, grabbing his arms.

"What's the hurry?" she asked.

He swatted her hands away. "Mom, guess what."

She folded her arms. "What?" she mused.

"The baby is a girl!" he said with excited eyes and she nodded, smiling down at him. "Her name is Nadia and her eyes are blue like Solan's," he pointed to his own eyes. "And she has black hair. Like me," he said proudly.

"A sister, huh? I thought you said girls were overrated?" she teased.

He quirked his mouth. "Well, I take back what I said. She's so cute," he slapped his cheeks and gasped aloud. She shook her head, stifling a laugh at his over-excitement. "When she gets older me and Solan are gonna teach her some awesome moves," he wriggled his eyebrows.

"You are?" she asked, playing along and he bobbed his head several times. "What did Natassa have to say about this?"

Alexander's face paled. "Well..." he sheepishly grinned, "we didn't really tell her yet. You know, keep it a surprise."

"Uh huh..." she chuckled.

He looked behind his mother and saw Gabrielle knocked out by a tree and he pointed to her. "Uh, did she pass out?"

Xena turned around and saw Gabrielle laying in front of a tree, snoring lightly and smiled. "It would seem so..."

"Alexander!" Solan called out and the young brother spun around. "Father is asking for you."

Alexander sighed, "coming..." he ran off, brushing past his brother and saw his father waiting at the bottom of the hill.

Solan walked over to his mother and caught sight of Gabrielle. He laughed lightly. "I'm surprised she lasted this long," he joked. Xena nodded and turned to face her son, grinning at him. He pursed his lips and folded his arms. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

She ran her fingers through his short golden locks and he cringed. "Mom, come on," he whined and stepped back, fixing his hair. "What was that for?"

"Nothing," she inhaled deeply. "I love you very much, Solan. I don't want you to forget that."

He eyed her suspiciously. "Okay..." he folded his arms. "Is there another war coming?"

"Solan!" she snarled and he chuckled.

"Kidding. I love you too," he said and she smiled once more. "Are you going to see the baby?"

Xena shook her head. "Maybe later."

He swayed back and forth on his heels, whistling to himself during the awkward silence. He knew that his mother and Natassa never got along and he didn't understand why until he was a little bit older. It was when he was ten years old that he noticed Belach was being different towards him. They too started to bicker and argue with each other, but he hoped that this phase was over with now since he was able to spend more time with Belach. Although sometimes they didn't get along but it wasn't anything major, not like it used to be.

"So..." he began, "what are you going to do about her?" he nudged his head towards the slumbering Gabrielle.

Xena sat outside the yurt that Borias so kindly allowed her to stay in. It was one of Osman's yurts in the center of the camp. She finally was able to coax Gabrielle to the yurt and there she had been sleeping for the last few hours while Xena remained wide awake. Alexander too, crashed inside the yurt on the floor, not even bothering to get in one of the beds. Solan was off with Belach, meeting all of the teenage posse that Belach had befriended during one of his missions with his father in Antioch.

She sat by the fire, her hands curled beneath her chin. It had been a long while since she was able to sit in silence by herself. Now that she had both of her sons living with her she hardly got any peace and quiet, which was a nice change since she didn't get to spend a lot of time with them before. Now she had all the time in the world to spend time with them but she suddenly didn't know what they really liked anymore. Solan was interested in swordplay while Alexander was reckless, as usual, but he too had an interest in the sword, which she didn't really like. He was too spontaneous and far too young to learn how to use any kind of weapon even if it was made of wood.

Borias walked over to the campfire and she lifted her eyes, seeing a warm smile on his face. "Can I sit with you?" he asked.

"I'm not going to stop you," she teased and he slowly sat down beside her on the grass, looking at the roaring flames.

"I was watching you from the yurt," he said, trying to make conversation with her.

"I know."

He nodded and ran his hand across his face. "Of course," he grinned and dipped his head. "Xena," he began in a soft tone. "You haven't said anything to me all day since you got here."

She sighed and kept her eyes firmly focused on the fire. "I told the boys I would bring them to see Natassa's baby and that's it."

He leaned back on his palms and stretched his legs out in front of him. "Just because we aren't together anymore doesn't mean we can't be friends, Xena."

She scoffed and folded her arms over her knees, avoiding eye contact with him. "I don't think your wife would like that very much."

He rolled his eyes. "Natassa," he sneered. "I'm not talking about her, I'm talking about you. We can't be friends?" he cocked his eyebrow and she finally turned around, gaping into his dark eyes.

"I'm the mother of your children, Borias. I think we are far beyond friends," she said in a curt voice.

He chuckled beneath his breath and agreed with her. "So if we are not lovers or friends, then what are we?"

She smirked, "partners." She put out her hand and he eyed her cautiously then grabbed her hand, shaking it firmly. "You help me, I help you. But, I'm not ever babysitting your daughter," she pointed her finger in his face and he grinned smugly.

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead then cupped her cheek. She lowered her eyes and tried to hide her shy smile. In the middle of their quiet moment they heard a loud breathy gasp behind them. They spun around and saw Alexander with his mouth ajar and wide blinking eyes.

"Mother!" Alexander exclaimed and slapped his cheeks.

Xena and Borias groaned, turning back around, brooding quietly to themselves. Alexander wedged himself in between his parents and they frowned, staring at the fire. He wrapped his lanky arms around both of them and nodded.

"So, you two huh," he mused with a haughty smile. "See, you guys should definitely have another baby."

Xena and Borias spun around and stared at one another then glared down at their supercilious son. He exchanged glances at both of his irate parents. "Is that a no?" he asked meekly and their stares became more intense. He chuckled nervously and slowly stood. "Okay know, I really gotta be going..."

Borias stood and grabbed him by his waist and hoisted him over his shoulder and he yelped. "Put me down!" he whined. "It was just a joke! I take it back! Mother!" he called out for her and she shook her head, rubbing her forehead.

Gabrielle woke up groggily and walked out of the room and saw Xena sitting on the floor eating by herself. She smiled and ran her fingers through her messy hair. "How long have I been out?" she asked and the sultana turned her eyes upward.

"You passed out yesterday afternoon. I got Osman to carry you to the bed," Xena smiled and grabbed a plate. "Sit with me."

Gabrielle sighed and sat down slowly opposite of the raven haired sultana. "What did I miss? Anything exciting? Did you see the baby?"

Xena frowned and scooped some fruit onto the plate and handed it over to the blonde. "No I didn't and I don't plan to."

"Xena, it's just a baby. I thought you would have gotten over the fact that Natassa doesn't like you," Gabrielle grabbed a spoon and kept eyeing Xena stabbing her food with a fork. She cringed. "What did the vegetables do to you?" she jested.

Xena smirked and set down the fork. "I don't think it's my place, that's all. And after what happened last night I definitely don't want to go near Natassa."

That peeked Gabrielle's interest. "What happened last night?" she inquired curiously.

Xena sighed heavily and looked down at her food, poking it incessantly. "Alexander suggested that Borias and I have another baby."

Gabrielle choked on the fruit and coughed. Xena lifted her big eyes and Gabrielle laughed aloud.

"This is not funny, Gabrielle."

The blonde drank a swig of water and exhaled lightly. "Yes it is." She then saw the distain in the sultana's eyes. "You aren't thinking of doing that...are you?" she hoped not.

"No!" Xena yelled and groaned, folding her arms. "Alexander was an accident," she said. "A blissful accident," she corrected herself. "The time of Borias and I has long passed since then."

Gabrielle nodded and leaned in, examining Xena carefully. "If you don't mind me asking..." she began and saw the sultana glare at her. She nervously continued, "if you and Borias weren't you together at the did you...why..."

Xena smiled softly, "like I said, it was an accident. He came to Thebes to discuss the move from Persia to Ankara and things just got heated just happened," she shrugged a shoulder.

I see what you did there, Xena. You were lonely at the time and took something that you knew very well and at the time it was Borias. What about now? Are you lonely now? Or maybe you think you still are and don't want to admit it? I'll have to find out myself eventually.

"Well, I guess those things do happen," Gabrielle mused, trying to make light of the situation. "Can't blame Alexander for trying I suppose." She chuckled and Xena frowned deepened. "It's just a joke..."

"I know," the sultana smiled. "When we return to Persia I want to send out notices throughout the empire for the academy. What do you think? The construction is almost complete."

Gabrielle's face paled at that news. She hoped that Xena's men would prolong the construction without her presence but apparently not. Her stomach turned to knots at the thought of training all of those kids, kids younger than her, boys and girls. She didn't think that she could do it but Xena seemed to have some faith in her so it wasn't like she could say no. Nobody said no to Xena, obviously, and if they did, the consequences were dire. She's seen it before.

"Oh...yeah..." the smile on her face as false as her feelings towards being the academy trainer. "Listen, Xena," she sighed and set down her spoon on the plate. "I don't know if I can do this alone."

Xena placed her hand on the blonde's knee. "You won't be alone. I will be there some of the time. I have a lot of free time now. I will help you but I want you to take charge of the academy. I know you can do it," she smiled. "When I first met you I knew you were going to be a challenge for me and I was not wrong. Now, I'm challenging you. You said you could take any challenge I throw at you. Are you going back on your word?" she playfully asked.

Gabrielle pursed her lips. "I accept the challenge but I don't know if I will be able to be a good teacher to all of those kids, Xena."

"I'll help you. I won't leave you in the dark but you did pretty well commanding all of the girls during the Templar attack on my palace." Xena's eyes grew as did her smile. She had problems appreciating things people do for her and made a promise to herself to let go sometimes and thank others.

"Thanks but to be honest, kids scare me." Gabrielle lamely admitted.

Xena laughed and the blonde scowled. "Don't show your fear in front of children, Gabrielle. They can smell fear!" she wiggled her fingers and Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "You've done well with my sons. If you can handle them then these kids will be a piece of cake. No doubt!"

Gabrielle sighed. "We'll see about that..." she pushed the fruit on her plate mindlessly. "Are you going to enroll Alexander in the academy?" she asked.

Xena tapped her cheek. "That is not a bad idea. I didn't think about that."

Is she serious? She didn't think about teaching that boy how to actually fight so he would stay out of trouble? She must be really disconnected from her kids, apparently. "I think he needs some structure in his life."

"I agree. I don't know what to do with him. He's so disobedient. Solan was not like this at his age. He was so well behaved and Alexander...he just..."

"You treat him like a baby," Gabrielle interrupted.

Xena gasped. "No I don't."

"Yes you do."

"No. I do not." Xena folded her arms.

Gabrielle snorted, "yes you do, Xena. You don't punish him for the things that he does which makes him think it's okay to run amuck. Even Solan agrees with me. If he enrolls in the academy with me...then I know he will get some structure. It might do him some good to get socked in the face a couple of times!" she jested.

Maybe she is right, maybe I do treat Alexander like a baby. "Okay...he can join the academy."

"Great! I'll be like his other mother during our training sessions. I'll take care of him don't you worry," she grinned deviously already thinking of ways to punish the arrogant little boy.

Xena cocked her eyebrow. "Sounds like you have it in for him."

Gabrielle's cheeks reddened. "I just want to teach him a lesson. I mean, he's a smart boy and all but you know how he can be." She shrugged her shoulders guiltily and Xena lifted her chin, gawking at her fretfully.

"Anyway..." Xena changed the subject. "I was thinking of leaving Solan here for awhile and taking Alexander back with me. Solan should be around children his own age and I need to give more of my attention to Alexander. Maybe if he spent more time with me like Solan did with me, he wouldn't have turned out the way he did." She frowned sadly, hanging her head shamefully.

Gabrielle was too busy formulating a plan to whip Alexander into shape that she completely missed Xena's statement. She cleared her throat and looked over at the raven haired sultana. "Oh...well hey, you have a lot of time to pay attention to Alexander now. He's very young and can change." And you have me, now, she thought.

"I guess I just feel that I've missed out on so much of his life already. I was so focused on myself and my empire that he became a second priority to me." Xena sighed and ran her hand across her forehead.

"So what's your priority now?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

Xena furrowed her eyebrows. "Well, my empire will never go away but I need to focus on my children first and me last, now." She lifted her eyes and saw the disappointment in her counterpart's eyes. Smiling softly she grabbed Gabrielle's hand firmly. "Thank you for talking to me. I feel like I don't thank you enough. You've helped me discover a lot of things about my life and myself since you came and I will forever be grateful to you, Gabrielle."

Grateful. Those were the same words that Helena said to Gabrielle when she spoke of Xena. She was so grateful to her for all the doors she opened for her and the other girls. Now Xena says she is grateful to a little farm girl that escaped her home life in hopes of finding something new and exciting. How ironic is that. A powerful ruler of Greece and Persia, thanking a simple girl like myself, Gabrielle mused.

"I'll always be here if you need me, Xena." She said finally.

Xena nodded. "Are you sure you don't want to go back home?"

Gabrielle frowned. "I really wish you would stop asking me that. I told you I want to stay here."

"Just checking," Xena teased and both shared a warm smile with one another in silence.

"Mom!" Alexander burst inside the yurt and Gabrielle screamed. "Sorry Gabrielle, I didn't mean to scare you," he laughed.

She groaned and stood to go change into another pair of clothes. "I wasn't scared." She fixed her hair and walked off.

Xena sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "What is it, Alexander?"

"Natassa Khatun wants to see you."

She lifted her head and squinted her eyes at her son. "Why?"

He threw his hands in the air, shaking his head. "I don't know. She just told me to get you."

Xena walked into the yurt and saw Natassa sitting on the floor sewing something. She stepped further inside the large home and Natassa lifted her blue eyes, smiling briefly. Xena grinned curtly and her eyes wandered around the yurt, snooping to see the new addition, Nadia. Despite her standoffish attitude she was still a bit curious and wanted to see the baby with her own eyes.

Natassa saw Xena's eyes lingering and she stood, placing her sewing tools aside. "The only way I was able to get rid of Alexander was if I asked him to get you."

Xena whipped her head around and raised an eyebrow. "Sorry if he was bothering you."

"He wasn't but he talks a lot," she sighed.

Xena hid her smile and folded her arms defensively. "So, you don't really need to see me, do you?" she asked suspiciously.

Natassa folded her arms, "you received my letter, right?" and Xena nodded. "I didn't propose that by the way. Belach did. He told me he wanted to stay with you for awhile." Her accented voice soft.

"And you approve of this?" Xena asked with skepticism. She couldn't imagine Natassa ever agreeing to allow her only son to live with her husband's ex-mistress.

"Well, no," Natassa snickered. Of course not, Xena thought, that was too good to be true. She circled to the other side of the room. "But, he told me that he likes you." She admitted softly. Xena's eyes widened at that. She hadn't heard Belach say that before and was even more surprised that he'd tell his own mother that. It must have felt like a stab in Natassa's back.

Xena couldn't help but smile with satisfaction but remained poise and calm. "I don't mind if he stays with me. I might have a job for him that he may enjoy." Her smile grew. Alexander wasn't the only one who needed structure.

"Mother, I got everything and –" Belach paused in mid-step. "Oh, Xena..." he said and she slowly turned around, smiling at him. "What are you doing in here?" he asked, "I mean...why are you here?"

Natassa spoke before Xena could, "I told her that you wanted to spend time with her."

He gasped. "Mother!" his cheeks flushed and averted his eyes from the smug grin on his stepmother's face.

"So, you like me, huh?" Xena raised an eyebrow and he groaned. "Don't be shy. I'm leaving in a couple of days and taking Alexander with me. I want Solan to stay here but you are more than come with me." She hinted and he crossed his arms.

"I'll think about it," he grumbled. He lifted his eyes, embarrassed to look at her. "Did you see my sister?" his eyes lit up.

"No..." Xena's smile faded.

"Come with me. I'll show you," he grinned widely.

She shook her head, "another time, Belach." She looked over at Natassa whom was eyeing her carefully. She briefly smiled at the teenager then walked out of the yurt.

Outside, she bumped into Borias and frowned, shoving him off her. He grunted and rubbed his chest. "Xena!" he snarled.

"You're in my way."

"No, you're in my way," he inched closer to her face and she narrowed her eyes. "What were you doing?"

She turned her cheek. "Natassa told me that Belach wants to spend time with me."

His jaw dropped. "He...what?" he said breathily and she turned back, amused at his shocked expression.

"I want Solan to stay here with you for awhile. I will take Alexander back to Jerusalem with me and Gabrielle. I offered that Belach could come back with me, if that's alright...with you?" she folded her arms.

He sneered, "why would he want to spend time with you?"

She gasped and clocked him in the shoulder and he frowned then punched her in the shoulder. She raised her fist and he grabbed her wrist and she raised her other and he grabbed it as well, holding her arms close to him. He smiled deviously into her eyes.

"Hey, hey, what's going on here?" Alexander walked up with Gabrielle by his side.

Xena snatched her wrists from his hold and both folded their arms. "Nothing," she muttered.

"Were you two arguing?" he asked skeptically.

"No." both his parents answered in unison then glared at one another.

Gabrielle nodded her head slowly. "Alright, well..." she grabbed Alexander's shoulders. "We should start packing to leave..."

"Leaving so soon?!" he whined.

"In a few days," Gabrielle ushered him away and widened her eyes at Xena.

"Aweh man," he sighed.