AN: Welcome back. If you haven't read "The Commander's Poet" I suggest you do so because you will be very confused reading this story.
I missed writing these characters a lot and felt I left the end of the story really hanging on a thread. I don't normally write sequels and I've only written one and it was fun. I feel I can offer more to the Hun story arc. Perhaps, I shouldn't call this a sequel, but a continuation from where I left off. Do not be put off by this first chapter.
I really wanted to keep this story for myself and not share with everyone because I loved it so much LOL. It's been waiting in my computer to be published.
I had doubts about writing this second part of this series because I wonder who would read it, but since I have it, I thought I'd share it with you all.
This story will focus on the love and loyalty between Xena and Gabrielle as well as close family bond they have with the infamous Hun family. Enjoy ;)
The Huns: A Continuing Saga
Part I: The Commander's Poet
Part II: The Consul's Warrior
Once the infamous Huns were the most feared among several tribes spreading across the Baltic and Caspian Seas became the least of the Roman Empire's worries after Attila's death. After the Scourge of God's passing, his eldest son, Ellac, took the reign over the fierce Huns. Ellac met defeat against the Gepids and Visigoths when they invaded Pannonia only a year after his coronation.
Ellac's death was mourned among the Huns of Pannonia and his brother, Dengizich soon took the throne, but he was the least successful during his reign. Only ruling five years as a young Hun King, Pannonia dwindled as a raging power and force in the Balkans. The Bulgur Huns began to rival Dengizich and commanded him to surrender under them. Out of greed and ill will, Dengizich split his father's crumbling empire among the Bulgur and Atlyn Huns.
Dengizich slowly lost power and was forced to resign as a king thus giving his mantle to his brother, Ernak, the youngest prince and son of Attila. At the tender age of twenty one, Ernak was able to push the Bulgur Huns out of Pannonia, regaining his father's territory once more. He made an alliance with the Atlyn Huns and paid them a sum of coin to keep them out of his homeland.
Although, Ernak faced the ultimate challenge when the Western Roman Emperor, Valentinian, was assassinated and a new emperor came to power soon after. Odoacer assumed the role of Roman Emperor counteracting the new Eastern Roman Emperor, Zeno. The two were at odds and always tried to compete with one another. Attila's scourge across the Roman Empire, was only the beginning of the fall of the Romans. This was the mark of the downfall of the Roman Empire, though the Eastern Empire continued to thrive and combat the Huns, threatening to exterminate them all and ripe their homeland from them.
The ambitious Hun King relied much on his mother, Kreka, for advice on how to push out Emperor Zeno and his army from Pannonia. He soon came to realize that no advice or guidance from his mother was enough to push the Romans out of his motherland. Kreka, still widely known as the Barbarian Queen across the Balkans, was stricken with grief when her stepson, Ellac, died soon after her husband.
She realized that there was no way to save her husband's empire against Zeno and his growing forces in Constantinople. Kreka relied on her husband's trusted Commander, Xena, to oversee Ernak and his reign as king, but she saw in Xena's eyes that this was a lost cause.
In the summer ten years after Attila's death, Ernak planned an attack to push out Emperor Zeno and allowed Xena to be his commander of his army. This battle changed the life of every Hun in Pannonia forever and it was the bloodiest battle in the history of all battles that the Huns ever fought.
Emperor Zeno's army was unforgiving and slaughtered hundreds of Huns in a three day battle. Knowing that the Huns would not surrender and having heard of Attila's infamous Commander, he knew that he had to take her out in order to win the war.
The blood of a thousand or more Huns was on Zeno's hands and he took his opportunity to put an end to the young Hun King's will to thrive. He took it upon him to strike Xena down and crucify her in the middle of a corpse filled Pannonia as a warning that nothing will stand in his way of victory.
While Ernak and the remainder of Huns fled from Pannonia, Xena, a once formidable foe to the Romans and great Commander of Attila, was left to die nailed to a cross. Ernak made a promise that Xena, his second mother as he called her, would be avenged.
Gabrielle, loyal to the Huns and an envoy of Ernak, was horrified to witness Xena's body being nailed to a cross and hung in the middle of the battlefield. Emperor Zeno humiliated Xena and her companion tried to bring her almost lifeless body from the crucifix but was taken by the Roman Emperor as Zeno thought she would be a great asset to defeat the last of the Huns.
This marks the fall of the Great Hun Empire that Attila and his father built so long ago. The fight against the Romans did not stop at Emperor Valentinian and Flavius Aetius. This is a continuation of the infamous Huns and the story of their existence before they were wiped from the earth –never to be heard from again.
A year after the bloody battle between Ernak's army and Emperor Zeno, the young king thought it best to flee to a secluded area of the Steppes. Ernak took his family, or what was left of it, to the Caucasus Mountains and sought refuge with the White Huns. The loss of Ellac, ten years ago was hard on everyone but Ernak noticed that his mother, Kreka, was most affected by the loss even though Ellac was not her blood son.
Anastasia became numb after the death of Ellac and father to her only son, Csaba. As the years passed by, she tried not to think much of Ellac even though they grew up together, almost as siblings and later lovers. She knew that one day that he would perish by someone's sword, although she did not know that day would come so soon when he was such a young king.
Her son would grow up fatherless, much like what happened to her own mother. She relied on her mother and Gabrielle to help cope with the loss of Ellac and help raise her son the proper way. She too knew that one day Csaba would grow to wield a sword in battle, but she didn't want him to suffer the same fate as Ellac.
The day after that battle when Xena was left to die in Pannonia, Anastasia didn't want to leave, but Ernak, being the smart young man he became to be, advised her to flee with them to the Caucasus. Although, she expected Gabrielle to come with them and when she learned that she was taken by Emperor Zeno, she felt she had lost two mothers in one day.
She too became numb after the loss of her mother and the displacement of Gabrielle. A year waiting and yearning, she did not want to believe that her mother was gone. She knew it deep it in her heart that she was not dead, but alive somewhere. And Gabrielle might as well have been dead to her once she was in the hands of the Romans.
A year. One year changed everything. The White Hun King, Navaz, welcomed the Pannonian Huns into his kingdom with open arms. He also sought after Anastasia due to her beauty as a young woman and desired her to be his wife. His mother, Tuya Khatun, had been pressuring him to find a young woman to marry.
Kreka presumed the role of Anastasia's mother once Xena was pronounced dead among the Huns. She told Anastasia never to tell these White Huns about Xena and that she was her mother for the sake of her safety and Csaba's.
Within a few months of arriving to Balaam in the Caucasus, Anastasia married King Navaz despite her reluctance. Kreka told her that if she married the king that it would be the ultimate sacrifice to save the last few of the true Huns –the Huns of Pannonia. Anastasia, too numb to care, she did as Kreka said and married the king. Anastasia, being the only young woman within the Hunnic tribe, King Navaz could not refuse the offer and her beauty was most promising to bearing him gorgeous White Hun children in the future.
Now, a year has passed and Tuya, the Hun Queen mother of Navaz had been most unruly towards Anastasia due to her barren womb. Navaz seemed less concerned that there were no children that sprung from his new wife, but his mother thought otherwise. Tuya and Kreka, being the elder mothers, never got along and it was a different relationship than what Kreka had with Xena. At least with Xena, she was able to tolerate her as the years went by, but Tuya was impossible.
Kreka walked across the grassy plains of Balaam and entered Anastasia's yurt suited for a fine Hun queen of course, which is what Anastasia was now, was finally. Xena did not allow her daughter to marry Ellac and when he was killed in battle, the two were never able to call themselves a married couple due to Xena's stubbornness.
She saw the young woman, now quite tall, the same as her mother, long dark straight hair, big blue eyes and sun-kissed skin, just like Xena. A mix of her mother and father alike. She saw the girl staring off into space on the bed, her eyes fixated on the dust particles roaming in the air. She would always be a girl in Kreka's eyes.
"Anastasia..." she said in a soft voice. Still, the young Hun Queen did not budge. "Anastasia," she spoke in a firmer tone, louder this time.
Anastasia lifted her eyes and saw Kreka gaping at her with her hazel eyes. Her hair now filled with streaks of silver, but her face remained the same. Her beauty all the same though still had that rigid queen-like attitude about her even though she was a queen no more.
"Yes?" she finally spoke.
Kreka smiled softly and saw the woman before her, no longer the outspoken teenager that she once was, but a quiet woman who barely said a word these days. She walked over and sat beside her on the bed, brushing her hair from her shoulders.
"Tuya is asking to see you in her yurt," she said and saw the color in Anastasia's blue eyes darken. "You know what she is going to ask of you."
The young Hun Queen nodded, "yes, I know," she rose from the bed and sighed heavily. "I do not want to bear Navaz's children. I do not love him. I've been lucky enough to remain barren for so long."
"But, you can't keep this up for long, Anastasia. She is going to think you are truly barren and we both know that you aren't," she smirked. "Teas will not save you forever and it is not as if he isn't handsome."
Anastasia frowned and turned to her adopted mother. "I do not care if he is the most gorgeous man in all the lands. I don't want his children. I fear that I would only hate the child and what of Csaba? He is a true Hun, from Attila's line."
Kreka's eyes widened and she grasped the girl's shoulders. "You cannot tell anyone about that, Anastasia. We've talked about this. It has been six months since you've married Navaz and Tuya will dissolve this marriage if you do not bear a son!" she griped.
A heavy burden weighed heavily on the daughter of Xena. She felt like she was betraying all of her people if she went against Kreka's wishes. She knew that Kreka was only trying her best to prolong the existence of her people, but as they lived among the White Huns, Anastasia felt like they were more like slaves than anything else. They weren't allowed the same freedoms as everyone else and were seen as outcasts from the rest.
"I will go meet with Tuya, but I want to lay down some rules. I still not stand by idly and be made a bearer of Navaz's children. I am more than a wife to him and more than a queen. I am a warrior's daughter and my mother would be ashamed to see what has become of me, what has become of our people!" Anastasia marched out of the yurt before Kreka could stop her and talk some sense into her.
Tuya Khatun, Queen Mother of King Navaz, stood in her yurt, leaned over a table filled with an abundance of jewelry from China, their neighboring country. She spoke softly to her maid beside her, picking up each necklace, observing it carefully.
Anastasia frowned upon entering the yurt and all the maids turned at her presence. Tuya lifted her head and turned slowly to see the young queen standing at the entrance. A smile graced her lips and she dismissed the young maids. Anastasia took note of her the glimmer in the woman's black eyes, a smile shown on her oval pale skinned face.
"Üm Anastasia," Tuya bowed her head curtly. "I have brought these jewels from China. They just arrived this morning," she picked up an emerald necklace and showcased it to the youthful queen. "You would look stunning in this, wouldn't you say so?"
"I suppose," Ana said and tried to keep her composure. "I'm sure you did not invite me here to look at simple jewelry, Khatun." She said with a firm voice and Tuya's smile died down and set the necklace on the table.
Tuya nodded and her long straight brown hair swayed as she walked towards the young queen. Anastasia stiffened upon the woman's touch. "Certainly not." She hooked arms with Anastasia. "My son is leaving to meet the Shah to negotiate a treaty between our people and his. He will be leaving in a few days and I am sure he would love to have you in his quarters before his departure," she grinned slyly and Anastasia's upper lip quivered.
"I'm sure he would." Ana inhaled heavily, holding her breath, trying not to let her temper get the best of her.
The Khatun gripped Anastasia's shoulders firmly and bore into her eyes. "I don't know what you've been doing to keep your womb empty of a child for over half a year, Anastasia, but I plan to put an end to it. God knows you are not barren since you have a grown child of your own. You are young and at a childbearing age. I care not if you have affection for my son or not. He will need an heir or I will throw you and your people out of Balaam."
Anastasia sensed such malice in this woman's voice. If her mother were here she was sure that Tuya would be long gone and this marriage would have never happened in the first place. She decided to play right into the woman's hands.
"I will give him a son," she said and saw Tuya's eyes widen with surprise and accomplishment. "But," she spoke and Tuya's eyes darkened once more with anticipation. "I have a few conditions." She grinned and watched as the Khatun grow impatient.
"I want to be the commander of my husband's army and oversee all his military plans that he wishes to carry out." Just like my mother before me, she thought. She had seen her mother use this game of riddles several times throughout her life and learned how to perfect it on her own without her mother by her side.
Tuya was almost choked up for words. She had never heard such a demand from a young woman before. No woman wanted to be on the battlefield, let alone a queen. "My dear child, that is impossible. My son would never agree to such terms."
"Then I guess he will have to wait another six months for me to finally give him an heir," Anastasia grinned and bat her long thick eyelashes at the Khatun. "These are my conditions. See them brought up to Navaz and then I will share a bed with him." She smiled subtly then left the yurt.
Kreka saw Anastasia storm out of Tuya's yurt with a mission in her eyes. She had seen that look before, that look resembling Xena. She caught her as she was passing by. "What did you say to her?" she whispered.
"I asked her to make me commander of Navaz's army," Ana answered curt as she briskly walked across the campgrounds.
Kreka gasped, "Anastasia!" she hissed and pulled her arm to stop her. "Why would you do an idiotic thing like that?! Now surely they will throw us out!"
"No they won't, Kreka. I promised to give Navaz a child if my terms are met. Tuya is so desperate to get her son's seed inside me she cannot refuse," Ana grinned eerily and Kreka frowned.
"You are acting as ambitious and unpredictable like your mother, Anastasia –"
"My mother is dead!" she spat and the widowed Hun's eyes grew. "If you all had listened to her then we wouldn't be left without a place to call home! She was right from the beginning and you didn't listen! None of you ever listen to her!"
"Mother!" the rippling tense conversation was ceased once Csaba ran up to his mother and Kreka, carrying a large sword, almost half his size.
Anastasia glared at Kreka and then looked down upon her twelve year old son. "Wow, that's a large sword you have there. Where did you come by it?" she inquired with a meek grin.
His eyes lit up, "Dengi gave it to me. He said I should learn how to fight so when I become king I will slay all of the Romans with my blade!"
Kreka rolled her eyes and Anastasia nodded, glancing over at Dengi talking with his brother, Ernak. Those two never seem to grow up despite their age. "How nice of him."
She smiled at her son's bright green eyes that reminded her so much of Ellac and his smile of her mother. She took the sword from his grasp and saw his smile fade. "I will keep the sword in my possession."
"But mother..." he began to complain and she held up her finger, silencing him.
"I will teach you how to use it responsibly." She said and his smile turned upward, each end reaching his ears with happiness. She winked and pat his cheek gently. "There is more to a sword than swinging it around mindlessly."
Csaba nodded, becoming very serious. "Like grandmother says," he said.
She nodded, lowering her eyes. "Yes, just like she said. I still don't think she likes being called that, Csaba," she teased and his cheeks flushed.
"I miss her," he said in a small voice and Kreka smiled weakly.
"tatlı çocuk," she whispered and kissed the top of his head. "Me too," she said and looked into his innocent eyes that reminded her of two very important people in her life that were ripped from her far too soon.
"Now," she hid her teary eyes and put on a smile. "Go with Kreka to get ready for tonight. We are having dinner with Navaz," she pushed him towards Kreka and she gladly took him by the hand.
Csaba furrowed his eyebrows, glaring up at his tall mother. "I don't want to go. İ don't like him," he said.
"I don't care if you don't like him. You are going," she pressed and narrowed her eyes and he bit his bottom lip and turned away from her gaze. He had seen that face before on his grandmother and his mother copied that look to perfection.
"Okay," he said lowly.
"Csaba!" Kreka hissed and pinched his arm.
He cringed, "yes mother!" he groaned and Anastasia smiled then walked off with sword in hand.
After dinner Anastasia went back with Navaz to his quarters in his Adame, much similar to Attila's although a bit smaller and more ornate. The entire place was covered in gold and fine furniture from China and even some from Persia, she recognized.
She walked over to the mirror and began taking off her jewelry and her jeweled crown. She gradually took the pins out of her bun and her hair came tumbling down her back, reaching her waist. Gazing into the mirror she caught sight of Navaz derobing and saw his bare muscular back. His broad large shoulders and cinched taut waist. Lowering her eyes, she began unlacing the front of her dress.
As she was undressing herself she couldn't help but think of the only few times they shared a bed together and she could count them on one hand. İt wasn't that he was ugly, because he was very handsome, but she just didn't love him. She'd only slept with one person and that was Ellac. Now that he was gone, she didn't think she could love anyone else and it has been eleven years since he passed.
She remembered the first time she told her mother that she was pregnant with Csaba at the time. She would never forget the look on her face. She was disappointed and she wanted to kill Ellac and she probably would have if he were not Attila's son. That seemed like a lifetime ago and now they were all gone from her life –Attila, her mother, Ellac. The people that influenced her most in life were dead.
The look of disappointment and rage in her mother's eyes was burned into her mind. She couldn't help but remember that expression at this very moment. Her mother would not approve of her marrying Ellac back then and she certainly wouldn't approve of this marriage either. Her mother was her ultimate protector all her life and now that she was gone, it was up to her to protect herself and her family, what little of it she had left.
She was going to use all the skills her mother taught her to get what she wanted no matter the costs. Anastasia's dress dropped to the floor and she wore a mesh black gown, covering her bare skin. Slowly, she turned around and saw Navaz sitting on the bed, naked from head to toe. She lowered her eyes and her cheeks flushed. He was obviously thirsting for her.
She smiled and lifted her eyes, brushing her long hair behind her bare shoulders. Sauntering over to him she ran her hand across his short black locks. "You heard my conditions relayed by your mother, yes?" she asked barely above a whisper.
The Hun King nodded and grabbed her soft curve of her hips, bringing her close. "You want to be my commander..." he said and kissed her flat abdomen through her dress, longing to feel her skin touching his lips.
"Yes, I do. I would be a great asset to your army." Her muscles tensed as his hands roamed around to the small of her back. He lifted his head and saw apprehension in her eyes and grinned lightly.
He stood and slipped the straps off her shoulders, not taking his eyes off of hers. She gasped once the dress fell to the floor, though the two remained locked in one other's eyes. She did not want to lose focus and get lost in the moment so she turned her cheek.
"I am a good warrior. My mother trained me well," she went on and he grazed his knuckles on her soft cheek.
"I have no doubt that you are considering you are from the same land as Attila. If not for my father's alliance with Attila, Balaam would cease to exist." He said and kissed her temple and turned her cheek to look into her blue eyes.
She smiled widely, "so, I can be your commander?"
Navaz chuckled and kissed her forehead. "You Pannonian women are used to getting what you want, aren't you?" he inquired and she arched an eyebrow, uncertain of his game. "You may be my commander if you give me an heir. Our agreement, yes?"
Agreement, she thought, yes I will agree to that. I will avenge all the deaths on Pannonia soil and gladly give this king an heir to get what I want, she thought. "A deal is a deal, right?" she winked.
At this very moment as she felt his hot breath against her neck she only saw the horrible look that her mother would give her when she was doing something wrong. Closing her eyes shut she tried to get that menacing glare of her mother's out of her mind. Not only could she see her angry face but heard her voice too –her voice filled with rage, anger and most of all disappointment.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as her eyes filled with tears.
Navaz frowned and pulled away, "sorry?" he asked.
She gasped and realized that she had spoke aloud by mistake. Smiling she wrapped her arms around his neck, flesh touching flesh. "Nothing," she said.
He gently pushed her onto the bed and began pressing his lips against her inner thigh. Her eyes were to the ceiling and though she tried to think of this as a business transaction, it was difficult. Her body was reacting completely different than what she wanted. She felt as if she were betraying Ellac, her only lover and her mother, her protector, and Gabrielle, her life mentor and former tutor.
Perhaps Kreka was right, Navaz was handsome and he was a good king. He was kind to her and was very patient with her. He never forced her to have sex with him even after months of leaving him high and dry. She wondered if she could open her heart once more and let someone in after so long. She had not allowed herself the chance to grieve properly after her mother's death and felt responsible. She also was unable to give her mother a proper burial was the most important thing in her culture –to send loved ones to a safe place in the afterlife.
And maybe, Navaz could teach her how to love again, if she permit her heart to do so. Maybe, just maybe, she could find love for her mother and Ellac through this child she hoped to conceive on this very night.
It was not Gabrielle's intention to be kidnapped by the Romans. She had been kidnapped before and that felt like a lifetime ago. Xena took her from Athens when she saw an opportunity as she called it. as they spent more time together, Gabrielle was able to see Xena through a new lens. Xena was not a barbaric woman that everyone made her out to be. Sure, she was a fierce warrior and commander of one of the greatest leaders in history to rival Rome.
But now, Xena was gone. Xena's death was celebrated in Constantinople and Rome. Emperor Zeno thrived in victory once he saw the commander's body hung from that crucifix. Her body shot with arrows, her legs broken, her palms and ankles nailed to the wooden cross.
Gabrielle would never forget that day. It was a day of nightmares. There was so much going on during that battle. Xena was the commander of Ernak's army just as she was when Attila was king. She had never seen Xena fight so much alone. She fought several Romans and had gashes all over her arms. She was badly beaten. Flavius Aetius and Valentinian were a cakewalk compared to Emperor Zeno and his army. Constantinople thrived after Theodosius died, meanwhile Western Rome was struggling to rival its counterpart.
Xena fought valiantly and she did her best to fend off the Romans just as she did hundreds of times before. But it was too much for her. She had been injured before yes, but not like this. Gabrielle saw the look of horror in Xena's eyes when an arrow struck her in the breast and then another to the back of her thigh. Gabrielle saw everything and stood by and did nothing.
She felt almost responsible for watching Xena die right before her eyes. She wanted to help but Ernak's men did not permit her to go onto the battlefield. She deemed that was Xena's request and not Ernak's. Xena was always trying to protect everyone, especially Gabrielle and Anastasia. She loved her family, every single one of them, perhaps more than she loved herself.
Even when Xena was struck by multiple arrows she continued to fight. Gabrielle watched Xena fight off the last few Romans the best she could, until that moment when she was struck in the spine by a Roman's shield. She watched as Xena fell to her knees, gasping for air, her eyes wide and fearful. She remembered that look in her eyes when she turned around and gave her one last look –the look of death.
Emperor Zeno was most unkind. Ernak and his army were surrounded. Without warning, everyone began fleeing the area, leaving Xena behind. Gabrielle tried to run onto the field and save Xena, but she couldn't. Zeno's men captured her and tied her up, knowing she would be very useful to him and his growing empire.
She saw everything. She saw Xena being hoisted on a crucifix. She heard the gasps of air escape from Xena's lips –no longer able to cry out in pain. She was numb from the pain already, she felt defeated, Gabrielle saw it in her eyes. She didn't understand why Ernak and the rest of the Huns left Xena to die. Perhaps, they were to come back for her body, she didn't know, she hoped.
Now, a year later, Gabrielle works for Emperor Odoacer of Rome. Emperor Zeno sent her to Rome to be his consul after she served her time in Constantinople. She tried to forget about that battle, but would forever remember Xena and her people. She felt like those people were her family now after spending so much time with them. She was seen as an outsider once and then was included into the circle of Attila's family as the years flew by.
She missed them all. She missed Anastasia, Csaba, Ernak, Dengi and even Kreka. Those people became her family and she loved them all. She wondered if they were able to escape and hide from the Romans. Now that she worked for the Romans, her hatred was already embedded into her mind. They spoke of Xena like she was an animal even after her death. They celebrated it. They had a party for it.
Emperor Zeno and appointed emperor, Odoacer, felt free of the Huns now that Attila was dead and his commander was dead also. Xena was the Romans' worst nightmare and once they knew she was gone, they were relieved and felt their empires could thrive.
Gabrielle heard that the Hunnic tribes across Thrace and the Balkans were warring with each other. Attila's grand empire was falling apart. And now that Xena was gone, it would fall to pieces within a decade or less. The Huns were a dying breed, as Odoacer said.
Perhaps if she did not know Xena personally, she would have celebrated with the Romans in their victorious defeat, but she couldn't. She loved Xena and they took her away forever from her arms. The only thing she had left of Xena were memories, good and bad. She didn't even get to say goodbye, which was the most difficult thing. She watched her breathing, begging for life, on that crucifix and she couldn't even say anything to her before she was taken by Zeno.
She wondered what was going through Xena's mind at that very moment. A smile was not even on her lips when she looked into her eyes. She looked dead when she was still alive. A living corpse.
She remembered the words that Emperor Zeno said to Xena before they vacated Pannonia.
"You have terrorized Rome for the last time, Xena."
Those words stuck in her mind even a year later. She'd never forget them and if she saw Zeno again she wasn't sure if he would live to see another day. She wondered if Ernak and the rest of the Huns felt the same.
Still, she had tender memories of Xena that she hoped would never fade from her mind. She wanted to keep them forever to remind her of what a kind soul Xena had, despite her warrior way and path of the sword. She was kind, especially to children. She loved Csaba, her grandson. He was the most special thing in her life. Gabrielle knew that she too had a special place in Xena's heart but that was for a different reason entirely. Csaba was her special gift that was given to her by Anastasia at the most unexpected and chaotic time. He was the light in her eyes.
Five years after Ellac died, Xena was more than willing to help Anastasia cope with the loss and help her raise Csaba. Anastasia knew that her mother loved Csaba dearly and would do anything for him just as she had done for her.
Csaba sat inside Xena's yurt, six years old, drawing on a piece of parchment with Gabrielle's quill. He tried not to make a huge mess on the rug, though it was inevitable that he did. Xena sat beside him, watching him draw in silence. He was completely focused, contorting his face and crinkling his nose, trying to get the lines perfect.
Gabrielle was busy trying to make food, as Xena wasn't the best cook, she tried at least. Gabrielle offered to cook from now on because she couldn't live with Xena's cooking any longer. She never seasoned anything correctly.
Csaba exhaled heavily and lifted the parchment, showing Xena. He smiled grandly. "What do you think?" he asked, hoping she'd like it.
Xena grinned and took the parchment in her hands. "It's very nice," she titled the parchment and arched an eyebrow. "What is it?" she inquired.
He groaned and scooted closer to her, leaning on her thigh. "It's Pannonia. See the mountains there and the sun," he pointed to the drawing.
She nodded, now understanding the picture. "I see it now," she turned to him and he had a big grin on his face, happy that she liked the drawing. "I'll keep it with me always," she winked and folded it and put in her pocket to show that she was serious in her promise. She always kept her promises and he knew that.
Anastasia came into her mother's yurt and saw Csaba hovering over her and she smiled softly. She was glad that he was having a good time but she felt guilty leaving her mother in charge of him for the entire day. "Csaba," she called out and he spun around. She extended her hand, "time to come back with me."
He frowned sadly, "but I want to stay here."
"tatlı çocuk," Anastasia muttered and her mother stifled a laugh. "I think you've bothered your grandmother and Gabrielle enough for today."
Xena rose to her feet and placed her hands on the boy's shoulders. "He is not bothering us," she said with a grin.
Ana sighed heavily. "I feel bad if I keep leaving him here with you..."
"He likes hanging out with us," Gabrielle interjected and spooned some rice into mouth and hissed at the heat burning her tongue.
Csaba ran to his mother and tugged on her arms. "Please, mother, can I stay, please," he begged and Xena folded her arms, wagging her head.
"Well..." Ana lifted her eyes to her mother, "only if she says it's alright."
Csaba whipped his head around and gawked at his grandmother, hoping she'd say yes. Xena grinned, "of course it's alright," she said and he squealed then ran into Xena's room.
He came out with a game that Gabrielle made for him. He collapsed onto the ground, crossing his legs and placed the board onto the rug. "We can play this game, right Gabby?" he asked and she ran her fingers across her burning tongue.
"Uh-huh," the blonde said, not even bothering to turn around to see what the boy was talking about.
Anastasia smirked and folded her arms. "Oh boy, more games." She walked over to her mother and looked into her eyes nervously. "Are you sure that –"
"Anastasia, don't worry. I enjoy having him here. You trust me, don't you?" she teased.
"Mother..." Ana rolled her eyes.
Gabrielle smiled, remembering those small moments that Xena was able to be a 'normal' person. When Anastasia was a young teenage girl, she often asked her mother to be normal, but as she grew older she knew that her mother would never be normal. Although, Gabrielle saw Xena act normal more times than anyone else. Nobody would know how kind she was, how gentle she was and how much she loved the people around her, contrary to her hard exterior.
Now, nobody would truly know what kind of a person she really was. Her life was robbed by the Romans. And soon enough, Gabrielle's thoughts and memories of her loved one, were robbed by a rude interruption.
"Gabrielle, Emperor Odoacer summons you," a Roman guard stood at her door of her office.
She frowned and hated this emperor so much, more than Valentinian. He was not a childish emperor like Valentinian was. He actually got things done and was continuing to clean up the mess his predecessors made. He was repairing Rome's wealth, status and military to rival Zeno in Constantinople.
She reluctantly grabbed her parchment and quill to head out of the office with the guard. She walked down the hallway. She saw the large archway that lead into Odoacer's throne chambers. He was waiting for her and called for her several times during the week. She never thought she could provide anything of use to this man, especially since the Huns were the least of his concern.
He sat upon his throne and smiled once he saw her enter. He waved his hand to dismiss his slaves. "My beautiful consul," he greeted and Gabrielle felt the need to quiver, but smiled instead. "We have important things to discuss. Huns."
That perked her interest immediately. It had been a year and she had no word about the Huns. She hoped that Xena's family and people were alive. "Huns?" she tried to hide her shock and feign surprise. "What about them?"
He sighed and twirled an empty wine cup in his hands. "The Shah of Persia wishes to ally with the White Huns in the Caucasus. They are no threat to me. After all, Navaz is no Attila. Anyway, Shah Peroz wants to come here before he makes the decision to ally with the Hun King."
She nodded. White Huns, she noted that. They must be important if Odoacer is concerned. "And when will the Shah arrive?"
"I expect in a few weeks. He meets with Navaz as we speak at this very moment. I doubt he will be able to convince the Huns to back down. They are a ruthless people, you know?" he said and she lifted her eyes, giving a blank face. "Oh right, you do know. I wonder what Pannonia looks like now. It must be a pile of ruins."
That only made Gabrielle's stomach churn. "You believe these White Huns are a threat, your highness?" she grit her teeth.
He sighed heavily and shrugged a shoulder. "Navaz is a young and hungry king. He is begging to attack anyone around him. He might have attacked Pannonia but Xena was in the way," he chuckled. "Now that she is dead, there is no reason to go to Pannonia. It belongs to the Bulgur Huns now."
She tried to think of something happy and blissful just to keep herself from strangling this man. He had the audacity to praise Xena's death, knowing that she was very close to her and the rest of the Huns. Although, he didn't know how close she truly was to Xena. He knew that she was Xena's scribe and loyal ally or more like asset as he repeatedly said.
"You know, Gabrielle, I do not believe Xena was the terror of Rome as everyone claimed her to be," he said and she frowned confusedly. "I had the pleasure of meeting Xena a long time ago, when Attila's uncle was the King of the Hun Empire. She was new and Attila loved her. He fawned over her as if she were a new puppy in his grasp."
Gabrielle arched an eyebrow hearing this very interesting piece of information. "I take it you were very close with the Huns of that time?" she inquired, trying to pry information out of him.
Odoacer nodded, "I was, yes. Attila was a great friend of mine. Xena snubbed me at every chance she could. Rua and Attila put her on a pedestal and did almost anything she commanded. She was a very good commander, until she became pregnant that is," he chuckled. "She should have never spread her legs and maybe she could have been the Queen of the Huns."
Gabrielle's eyes widened. He was very close to the Huns of Pannonia obviously. Everything that he said, she knew from Xena telling her long ago. She knew about Rua, about Borias, Bleda, everyone. Odoacer knew a lot about Attila and his people. Too much.
"I wonder where that child of hers is now? I left long before she gave birth to her spawn."
Oh good, he does not know about Anastasia, Gabrielle thought. That is very good news indeed.
He sighed, "enough about Xena. She is old news." He waved his hand. "Make sure the arrival of the Shah is brought to the Senate's attention. I want to be prepared for when he comes. I trust you can make the proper arrangements?" he asked with a simple grin.
She nodded and gave a false smile. "Of course. I will do everything necessary to make sure the Shah's arrival is up to par with your standards, emperor."
She waited and stood for further direction. Odoacer turned his head and grinned. "You may go now, Gabrielle," he waved his hand and she bowed her head then quickly left the chamber, eager to get away from this man.
At this point, Gabrielle thought she'd rather go back in time and be kidnapped by Xena all over again than live here in Rome under the rule of Odoacer. He was far worse than Valentinian ever was. Valentinian was not a good emperor and all of his decisions were made by Flavius Aetius and his elder mother, Placida. She secretly wished that Xena or Attila would have killed them when they had the chance, but she was glad that they were assassinated by a person whom Aetius trusted. Never trust a snake. She learned that from Xena.
Flavius Aetius often called Xena a snake or a medusa, but she was far from a serpent or gorgon monster. The Romans were the snakes and that proved to be true in the end when they were betrayed by people they were very close with.
Walking outside of the Roman palace she head towards the Senate down the road on the opposite side of the city. She couldn't help but think that Odoacer knew too much about the Huns. He mentioned that he was friends with Attila. She would have never guessed that by his desire to be emperor.
While under the employment of Emperor Zeno, Odoacer was not emperor at the time. Romulus Augustus was appointed emperor shortly after Valentinian was assassinated, but Romulus did not stay in office for more than a couple of weeks. He was quickly gotten rid of by the Senate and Odoacer who challenged his position of power. Gabrielle wondered how Odoacer was able to convince the Senate to appoint him as ruler. She hardly knew anything about the man since she got here.
She now made it her mission to figure out just who Odoacer was and how he got the role of emperor. She entered the Senate and saw all the elderly and some young senators talking among themselves in the auditoria. Their voices echoing in the dome shaped building.
"Ah, the Consul of Rome finally graces us with her presence," young Senator Lucius announced behind Gabrielle.
She turned around, slightly startled by his voice as her mind was elsewhere. "Lucius," she grinned.
"Looking lovely as ever," he flattered and she rolled her eyes. He noticed the scroll in her hands, her fingers fidgeting. "What news do you bring from the emperor?"
She looked down at the scroll that held vital information about the Persian Shah. "Shah Peroz is coming to Rome in a few weeks to discuss important negotiations with Odoacer," she said and frowned, staring at all the senators, completely unaware of her presence, which she thought was good. She didn't want to be in the spotlight.
Lucius shook his head. "Persians. They always want to butt in Rome's business. They believe they are superior."
She raised an eyebrow and completely blocked out anything he said as well as the others around him. "Do you know where Odoacer is from?" she asked randomly.
He blinked, caught a bit off guard by her question. "I don't know, Gabrielle. That's a weird question to ask. Why do you want to know?"
She tapped the scroll on her palm and sighed. "No reason, just asking," she smiled. "So, let's get this meeting going, shall we?" she motioned him to step to the center of the auditoria to make the introduction of her news from the emperor.
King Navaz kept his promise to his wife that he would include her in all military negotiations and political affiliations. This also included Anastasia traveling to the Steppes to meet with Shah Peroz in neutral territory. His mother was reluctant to allow Anastasia to go with him on this mission, but Navaz made a promise and he intended to keep it.
The White Huns set up camp in the Steppes, planning to stay for a few days or as long as it took to convince Shah Peroz to come up with a simple agreement among both parties. Anastasia sat outside the tent in front of the warm fire as dusk was approaching. She remembered that it got very cold in Steppes. She was not used to being so high in the mountains. Pannonia had mountains, but the land was mostly flat and open, not like Balaam and the other Caucasus territories. The terrain was much rougher up here and the weather was harsher too. Horrible winters and cool summers, not like the blistering summers in Pannonia and mild winters.
Navaz admired his wife from afar and she lifted her eyes and both exchanged a small smile. He came to sit beside her on the hard ground. He looked at the mountains ahead and sighed. "I am not used to a woman accompanying me on these political missions."
She smirked, "you don't know me very well. I've been to many places in my life."
"Like where?" he asked curiously.
She shrugged a shoulder, "Athens, Thebes, Rome, Constantinople, Nicaea, Persia, even Spain," she said with a big grin and his eyes grew in shock.
"I never knew the Pannonian Huns to travel so much."
"We don't normally, but my mother was a busy woman," she said and smiled, remembering all the strange things that happened in her life. Her mother was always getting into some kind of mess, but she always knew how to fix it.
Navaz nodded. "You don't really look like her," he said and her heart sank when he said that. She then realized that he was speaking of Kreka and not her true mother.
"I look more like my father," she said softly and she had no idea what her father looked like. She definitely knew she looked like her mother but was always reminded that she had her father's charm and smile.
"And where is he now?" he asked.
"Dead," she said bluntly with a flat tone. Adding, "killed by the Visigoths a long time ago, before I was born."
He frowned sadly and looked at her as she was fixated on the fire in front of her. "My father died when I was a boy. The Persian Shah Yazdgard took his life."
"I'm sorry," she said softly and turned to look into his saddened eyes. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it firmly. She grinned and he kissed her hand gingerly. Turning away, she felt her cheeks flush a pale pink.
Horses approached the small camp and Anastasia snapped her head around and saw the Shah riding in with his men. He looked to be only a few years older than her or perhaps the same age. She was expecting an elderly Shah like the previous Shah, but this man was young.
Shah Peroz halted his horse and Navaz walked over to him and Anastasia followed. The Persian bowed his head. "King Navaz," he greeted.
"Shah," Navaz smiled and grabbed his queen's hand, ushering her to stand beside him, not behind. "This is my wife, Queen of the Caucasus, Anastasia."
Peroz bowed his head, awestruck by his wife's beauty. "Very nice to meet you, Anastasia Khatun."
She smiled tightly and gave a curt nod. She was not used to being called Khatun. That title was for older women, women like Kreka and Tuya, not herself. She also felt like she did not deserve such a title like that even though she has the largest title of them all. She is the Queen of the White Huns, but to be a Khatun and a Queen like Kreka was, she didn't know if she did anything of worth to be given an honorable title.
Khatun in technical terms did mean queen or lady, but Khatun was a special title, a title that held more meaning than the word 'queen' ever could. Kreka was definitely worthy of being called that, but she perhaps, she needed to prove her worth, especially to Navaz as his new commander and his demanding mother, to earn the title of Khatun.
All three were gathered inside the tent as nightfall finally came. Peroz could not take his eyes off of Anastasia and she was well aware and tried to ignore his persistent eyes. Navaz lifted his eyes after reading the proposition that Peroz presented.
He saw the Shah gawking at his wife and frowned. "Your eyes linger too long, shah," he noted and Peroz smiled nervously at the Hun King.
"My apologies, Navaz. Your wife is a striking beauty, none like I've seen before."
Navaz cleared his throat and placed the parchment on the floor. "You will respect my wife, Peroz. She is my commander of the White Hun army. I trust you will listen to her just like you would me, understand?"
Anastasia looked at her husband with shocked eyes. She didn't expect him to defend her so quickly, especially to a shah no less. A small smile graced her lips and felt she was at least worth something more to him than a child bearer that Tuya deemed her to be. There was no love between them but at least she had his mutual respect and that meant more to her than love.
Peroz nodded, "of course. I am all ears."
Hours after negotiation and bickering back and forth, Peroz left well into the evening, leaving Anastasia alone with Navaz in the tent to think over the proposition that the shah presented.
Navaz sat on the floor with his chin resting on his palm. Anastasia stood by the entrance, watching Peroz and his camp not too far from here. She watched him go in and out of his tent several times arguing with his adviser it looked like.
"We shouldn't take him up on his offer," she said in the dead of silence.
"You don't believe it is good enough?"
She smirked, "no amount of coin is good enough to be rid of us. You forget who we are. We are Huns and we are better than him. We can outsmart him," she said, thinking like her mother would in times like these. Turning her head she saw apprehension in his eyes. He truly was conflicted.
"He is trying to buy your trust, Navaz. You can't buy trust, you must earn it." she paced back and forth and his eyes followed her every step. "You will deny his money and tell him to find a new treaty that we can all agree to. When he has the new treaty written we will meet again." She grinned wildly.
"That could take months, Anastasia," he reminded her.
She halted and sat down in front of him, grabbing his hands in hers. "I don't care if it takes months. That will buy us more time to come up with a backup plan if he decides to ally with the Romans."
He cocked his head and furrowed his eyebrows. "You believe that Persians would ally with Rome?" he asked, almost ready to mock her, thinking it was a ridiculous idea.
She sneered, "I've seen it happen before. People will go to great lengths to get what they want. You trust me, right?" she said in a soft tone, gaping into his eyes.
Navaz sighed heavily and hung his head, feeling very unsure of himself. "I do trust you. It just...just seems impossible that Peroz would try to ally with the Romans."
"Anything is possible," she said and he lifted his eyes and saw that gorgeous smile of hers and he grinned, his mood suddenly lifted.
He was about to head out to go be around the male soldiers and leave the tent for herself to get some rest. She sat on the bed made with animal furs and saw he was ready to exit. "Navaz," she said and he turned slightly. "You defended me in front of Peroz."
Their eyes locked with one another in a moment of silence.
"Thank you," she said with a warm smile.
He nodded, "you are my wife and my queen," he stated then left the tent.
She sighed and took off her cloak and tossed it aside. She leaned on her palms, relaxing her body finally after hours of being rigid in front of Peroz. She didn't know how her mother was able to do this for almost thirty years. Being a queen was tiring and being a commander was equally as tiring and it was only the first day. She couldn't imagine doing this for years on end, but if her mother could do it then she surely could.
She constantly asked her mother for guidance on what to do with her life. She was feeling lost for awhile, but slowly everything was coming into place. She didn't expect Navaz to be so accepting of her offer and did not expect him to show such warm yet coy affection towards her. It was not an intimate affection, but affection nonetheless.
Still in the back of her mind she kept thinking of what her mother would say to her at this very moment. Anastasia imagined her mother would have the same reaction when she found out about her and Ellac. Even though she was a grown woman now, she still felt like a child standing next to her mother. She knew nothing and was not taught nearly everything.
"Teach me everything, mother," she whispered softly and closed her eyes and laid onto the floor, curling her legs close to her chest.
Gabrielle stood beside Odoacer jotting down some notes, anxiously waiting for Shah Peroz to arrive to the palace. Persians were notorious for being late to important meetings, parties and weddings. It seemed that this shah was no different and stayed true to his customs.
She tried to block out everything that Odoacer was saying. He was bickering and being really rude to his servants, making sure that his people were in order. She didn't understand what was so important about this Shah. The last shah she met was with Xena and he was less than enthused to see her and wanted the Romans dead, all of them. Too bad he died due to his arrogance.
She found it odd that a Persian would want to ally with a Roman emperor and why go to Odoacer instead of Zeno? Constantinople was bigger, better militarily and had more status than Rome at the moment. Gabrielle sensed that there was more to this meeting than Odoacer was letting on.
Lucius was no help when she asked where Odoacer was from. She dug deep into the archives and found no record of Odoacer's birth place or motherland, which was odd. She didn't know if that was because he didn't want anyone to know where he was from or because he was recently sworn into office. Something was very off about him and she wanted to know what this man was thinking.
"Gabrielle, you have the proper questions?" he asked.
She cursed under her breath and scratched out a word that she had misspelled due to her mind being scattered in so many directions.
"Gabrielle!" his voice raised.
She lifted her head and saw the irate emperor glaring at her. "Oh yes, I have the questions," she smiled tightly.
Moments later the doors swung open and Shah Peroz waltzed in with a big grin on his face. Odoacer turned around and approached the Persian with open arms. "Peroz! So glad you made it! I was beginning to think you were not going to make it."
The two embraced and Peroz nodded. "Yes, well I had to make few stops along the way. Sorry to keep you waiting."
Gabrielle refrained from rolling her eyes. Persian kings were not to her liking, knowing that they hated all Huns and Romans. This meeting should be interesting most definitely. She grabbed her quill and was ready to write down any notes that Odoacer commanded her to.
"So, tell me about the meeting with King Navaz. Did it prove fruitful?" Odoacer snapped his fingers, ordering his servants to bring over cups of wine.
Peroz sighed and sat down with the emperor. His face drained and eyes tired from traveling such a long way across the Eastern Roman Empire territories and into the West not long after he left the Caucasus Steppes.
"I did not have a problem with Navaz. He is a young king and ambitious but his wife," he shook his head, already feeling his throbbing headache rising once more. "A rare jewel she is, but she is not easy to negotiate with."
This peaked Odoacer's attention and he sipped the lush wine. "Wife? A Hun allowing his wife to dictate the meeting? I am not surprised to hear that. The Huns hold their wives on a pedestal and allow them such leeway in politics."
Gabrielle smirked as she recorded the conversation. The Huns were very respectful to their women unlike the Romans and Greeks. She thought all her life that the Huns were savages and treated their women like dogs, but it was just the opposite. Their women had power and she was glad to hear that it had not changed since she was so rudely uprooted from Pannonia.
Peroz groaned lightly and adjusted in the chair, growing uncomfortable. "She is not only Queen of the Caucasus, but his commander of his army! I don't know how I feel about this. I do not wish to face yet another female commander," he said, eyeing the emperor.
Odoacer frowned at the shah's subtle mention of Xena. "Indeed, I know how you feel. I am assuming that Navaz and his wife were not able to come to an agreement with you?" he guessed.
The shah shook his head. "Unfortunately no. Anastasia, his wife, did not agree to my terms. She told me to come back after I have conjured another treaty," he scoffed, "can you believe it?"
Gabrielle's eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat, her stomach knotted. Anastasia. She is alive and well. Such great news, she thought and a big smile appeared on her lips. Her blood rising to her cheeks when she heard Xena's daughter's name. She thought Anastasia was lost forever or perhaps killed. But to hear that she was a Queen and Commander of the White Huns! What a feat and Xena would surely be proud of her.
A piece of Xena yet lives and she is making a name for herself across the Balkans and Caucasus once again, rivaling Rome. She thought she'd never hear about the Huns making a comeback, but there is hope, so much hope. She needed to find out more information about Anastasia's whereabouts and maybe even try to contact her.
A letter from Anastasia would mean the world to her at a time like this. She lost all hope and connection with her adopted family. She wondered what life like was for Ana now? And what about Ernak, Dengi, Csaba and Kreka? Were they with her? She needed answers.
She waited so long for this day to come and almost thought it would never come. Overjoyed by this news she completely blocked out conversation from Odoacer and Peroz. Wagging her head, she quickly began writing down the continued conversation between the two as her hand shook. She was flustered and so many emotions overcame her, she tried to hide it or risk being caught.
"Should I write a new treaty and visit with the Huns again?" Peroz asked. He felt like he was out of his comfort zone and didn't know what to do. His grandfather was so much better when it came to handling the Huns, but these Huns were not like the Pannonian Huns, they weren't as ruthless or vicious. At least, that's what he assumed.
Odoacer rubbed his chin in deep thought. "Perhaps, you should draw up another treaty. We will play into the king's game. His wife seems to think she can outsmart Rome. If she is anything like Xena, which would seem impossible. Nobody is like Xena and her fine negotiating skills –then we should be wary of her and Navaz. She will corrupt his mind to attack you, I foresee it."
"A beautiful woman such as herself?" Peroz chuckled at the thought. "She looked like she couldn't pluck a flower, robbing it of its nutrients."
"Xena was not ugly herself, Peroz," the emperor said with darkened eyes. "She was very gorgeous, eyes as blue as the Aegean and a smile that could seduce any man. What makes you think this 'Anastasia' is any different?"
Gabrielle couldn't help but snort at the two conversing. Anastasia was becoming like her mother and although the young woman she became to be, she was very kind and warm, unlike Xena. Xena was none of those things unless one was able to witness the true side of her when she was around the people she loved the most. Gabrielle guessed that Anastasia's heart was beginning to harden from all the heartache she had from the loss of Ellac, her mother and her homeland. Anastasia was growing cold, Gabrielle could feel it. She didn't need to see Ana's face to know it. She hoped that Anastasia's heart would not turn into the black stone that Xena's once was from all the war, hate, lack of love and human loss. She hoped.
"I trust that you have my allegiance if this deal doesn't work out with the White Huns, right?" Peroz asked, staring into the emperor's eyes.
"Of course, shah," Odoacer laughed heartily and sipped his wine. "Rome has your back. We will not allow the Huns to invade Rome again. Zeno is on his own as he refuses to send aid to my provinces."
The shah grinned, feeling somewhat relieved. "Gratitude, emperor." He stood from the chair. "I must be on my way. I have pressing matters back home. Sorry to cut this meeting short."
Odoacer stood and shook the Persian's hand. "Your presence was most welcome, Peroz. I hope to see more of you in the future. Long live Rome."
"Long live Rome," Peroz smiled and bowed his head then took leave.
Once the Persian left, Gabrielle gathered her notes, finishing up the last couple of words. Odoacer made his way over with a big smile on his lips. "Here, I have the recorded conversation," she said and handed it over.
He looked over the parchment and nodded his head. "Excellent. Your service never ceases to amaze me, Gabrielle. You are free to go for the rest of the day. You did very well, I thank you."
She bowed her head and he turned to his servant to fetch for more wine. "Emperor," she began and he turned to her with a soft face. "Where are these White Huns from? Are they as dangerous as the Huns of Pannonia?" she inquired, trying not to seem too suspicious and eager.
Her heart raced and all she could think about was Anastasia. A last glimmer of hope yet lives and rises to position of power. How wonderful, she thought. He sighed and sipped the bitter wine. "Balaam is the capital of these White Huns. I do not believe they are as ruthless as those Pannonians, but we should tread carefully. I do not want to be caught off guard if they choose to attack." He said.
She nodded. Balaam. That was the capital. I can write to her. "Hopefully they will not be as troublesome as the Pannonians then," she grinned, trying to seem more inclined to side with Rome, but it only made her sick.
"Indeed," he said.
AN: quick recap of all the Hun tribes.
Akitziri Huns (Xena's previous land) –Caspian Sea
Onogur Huns –Baltic Sea
Bulgur Huns –Thrace
Atlyn Huns –Lower Thrace and Scythia
Ashina Huns (Kreka's people) –Mongolia/China
Pannonia Huns (Attila's homeland) –Hungary
White Huns (Navaz's people)–Caucasus/Armenia
One Year Earlier
A day after the massacre in Pannonia, Ernak took his family to a land far away to escape with the promise of avenging Xena and all of the fallen soldiers, women and children. He took the rest of his men still alive and the few tribe women and children to the Steppes.
Ernak asked for help from other Hunnic tribes across the Eastern lands. He didn't bother to ask the Atlyn or Bulgur Huns for help since they were warring with him and his people. He never understood why his own people wanted to take over. He knew that these Huns didn't see him or his brothers as a threat once their father died. Attila was a great warrior and king. He knew how to keep these Huns in line.
He sought help from the Akitziri Huns but their numbers were far too low and they weren't well equip to fight in a war so that was a lost cause. He sent scouts to deliver letters to various tribes across the Balkans, Steppes, Near East and Kush lands. Every response was denied. He had no help except for Xena and not even she could fend off thousands of Romans on her own.
Word of Attila's death spread across all of the Hun tribes and his death was mourned. Everyone turned down Ernak when he asked for aid. His word calling for help reached all the way across the Sassanid Empire of the Persians into an uncharted territory by the Volga River.
While the Bulgur and Atlyn Huns of Thrace were eager to be rid of the Pannonians and others were low on soldiers and weapons, there was one outcast group of Huns that listened to Ernak, but they responded too late.
All too late.
The Nezak Huns from the Stan Steppes of Kazakhstan arrived in Pannonia a day too late. Everyone was dead and everyone had fled the area. The Nezak Bey, Malka, trotted into the bloody filled grass lands of Pannonia. He frowned upon seeing the men of Attila's sons scattered across the once beautiful and powerful motherland of the Huns. There were corpses everywhere and there was no life here.
It was silent. Not even birds or animals dare come to this land. The stench of the bodies filled the musky air. The sun did not shine upon Pannonia anymore. It was grim and dark. Desolate and heartrending.
His eyes scanned the bloody battlefield and he saw someone hoisted on a crucifix. A woman. A woman with long dark hair veiled over her face, her limbs gone limp. He waved his hand to his men. "Go see the crucified woman," he commanded.
The Nezak soldiers dismounted their horses and weaved through the corpses and looked up at the crucifix, tilted on its side. One soldier touched the woman's leg to see if she yet lives. He heard a small breath escape her lips and his eyes widened.
"She lives, Bey!" the soldier yelled from across the field.
"Take her down!" Malka yelled and trotted through the field, stomping on the lost souls of Pannonia. "Be careful not to harm her even more." He saw the nails in her palms and ankles, blood dried on her black armor and crimson cape that she wore.
His men carefully lowered the cross to the ground and untied her wrists. Her head lolled over and her eyes fluttered open, blacken around the edges and her mouth dry from lack of water, lack of food. Arrows stuck inside of her chest and ribs, yet she breathes, though not well.
The soldier took the nails out from her palms and she did not even wince. Her fingers limped and her legs, Malka saw that they were broken. Her shins shattered from the inside. She was unable to walk. He jumped off his horse and knelt down in front of the woman.
He lifted her chin and stared into her glazed over eyes. He knew that she must be of some importance otherwise why crucify her and not everyone else in this cursed land. "Who are you?" he whispered and she closed her eyes, letting out a soft exhale. He checked her pulse. "Get her on a gurney. We will take her with us."
"Bey," respected elite soldier, Ghar, stood beside his ruler. "Are you sure it is wise to transport her? She has already lost a lot of blood."
Malka nodded and his men carried her off and put her on a gurney to be transported on one of her large weapon wagons. "She is the only person alive here. She is important, Ghar. I will not leave her behind." He sighed and took one last look at the great Pannonia. "We should have come sooner and maybe this massacre would not have happened."
"We got here as fast as we could, Bey," Ghar lowered his eyes in shame for the Pannonian Huns –Attila's people –they were gone, all of them. All except one.
Days later, the Nezak Huns returned to their homeland near the Volga. Malka had this woman placed under the best medical care that he could offer. So far, she was still alive and breathing, though unaware of her surroundings.
Malka walked into the room inside his large home and saw the healer working to repair the damage done by the arrows that struck her. He dug inside her ribs to dig out the arrowhead pieces with gentle care. He walked around the table and scanned her badly beaten body. Her legs now in splints and stripped of her armor, only covered by her pants and a sheet covering her breasts.
"Will she recover?" he asked.
The healer sighed and got the last bit of arrowhead out of her ribs then began dressing the wound. "It is a miracle that she is still alive, Bey. I have never seen such terrible wounds in my entire life."
Her lips pale as snow, her eyes engulfed with deep purple bruises, indicating that the Romans must have beaten her face before she was crucified. Her cheeks sunken and her neck filled with scratches and more bruises most likely due to choking. She had seen a lot of pain and suffering before she was put on the cross to die.
"God willing she will make a speedy recovery. The Romans must have hated her so much. They did not stop after they crucified her. They wanted more of her. They beat her senseless," he shook his head. He did not understand the hatred of some people sometimes.
The healer nodded and patched up the wound on her side then proceeded to dress the gashes on her arms and collar bone. "Whoever she is, she must be another Scourge of God much to be treated as an animal."
Malka rubbed his chin, gawking at the woman on the table. She was important indeed. He knew that and being the only survivor among hundreds, it was truly a sign of God that she was supposed to live.
"Notify me if her condition changes." He said then left the room, allowing the healer to do what he did best.
Two weeks later Xena's eyes fluttered open. She thought she was dead. She felt dead. She might as well have been dead after what happened. She turned her head and saw a scrawny man wearing a turban and in all black hovering over a table filled with herbs and a hot cauldron of water.
She groaned softly and lifted her head and saw her legs were in metal splints. Her hands roamed her body and felt the wounds where the arrows struck her, though the wounds were slowly turning into scars, huge scars on her breast and ribs.
She tried to sit up and the sheet fell off her body and gasped, wrapping her arms around her bare breasts. The healer turned around and dropped the wooden bowls filled with herbs. She frowned and furrowed her eyebrows.
"Where am I?" she asked in a hoarse voice, begging for water to quench her dry throat.
The healer waved his hand at the guard standing by the archway. "Alert the Bey!" he said. He smiled and approached her cautiously. "Do you remember what happened to you?" he asked in a calm voice.
Xena exhaled heavily and felt a ting of pain in her side and winced. She couldn't get off the table and run away and where would she run to? She had no idea where she was and how she got here. She didn't remember anything after that awful day.
Malka hurried into the room and saw the bright blue eyes of the woman whom he saved and brought back to his motherland. He came round the table and she eyed him with tired red eyes. He took off his cape and threw it over her bare shoulders to make her feel less exposed.
"I am overjoyed to see you are awake. I was beginning to think you had fallen into an eternal slumber," he said and she kept glaring at him. "Give her water," he ordered the healer.
The old scrawny healer handed Xena the cup of the water which she downed in seconds. He filled the cup up once more and she downed the second cup. Exhaling heavily with a sigh of relief to finally have water drain down her throat.
She wrapped the cape around her shoulders tightly. Her eyes roamed around the candlelit room and turned back to the dark haired man. "Who are you?" she asked.
The Bey bowed his head. "My name is Malka of the Nezak Huns from Kazakhstan." He introduced himself.
Nezak Huns. She hadn't heard of them before and Attila never mentioned them. Then it dawned on her. Kazakhstan. She was so far from Pannonia. She was located beyond the Persian lands and in the mountains, the snowy mountainous area. Her mind immediately went to Gabrielle and Anastasia. She had no idea what happened to them.
"Pannonia. What happened?" she asked.
Malka's eyes lowered in sorrow. "Dead. Everyone is dead." He said bluntly.
Xena's eyes grew and she felt a pain in her chest –a stab in her heart. No, she wouldn't believe that. They couldn't all be dead. She knew that her daughter and Gabrielle were not dead. They couldn't be, though she couldn't say the same for the soldiers, those brave soldiers.
"When King Ernak asked for aid I was more than willing to help. Unfortunately me and my army arrived too late. You were the only survivor there."
She nodded her head slowly trying to let all of this sink in. She suddenly didn't want to be alive anymore, knowing that everyone else had perished at her hands –her failure. "Ernak...did you...recover his body?" she dared to ask and almost did not want to know.
Malka sighed. "We did not find the king's body."
Hope. There was hope that he and the others were able to escape the wrath of Zeno. She had hope and faith on her side. That was the only thing she had now. She was all alone in a foreign land, though not with foreign company. At least she was killed by the Romans or in the hands of slavers. She was with Attila's people and that was almost comforting to know.
"You saved me," she said softly and looked into his grey eyes. "Why?"
The Bey grinned and stepped closer, though she saw her body stiffen. She was wary and untrusting of anyone that came near her. That was understandable.
"I knew you were important. You were the only crucified Hun in that bloodbath." He said and saw her eyes soften. He saw such sadness. So much misery in those beautiful blue marbles. "What is your name? Who are you? I'd like to know who I saved."
She lifted her chin and pursed her lips. "Xena," she said calmly. "Former Commander in Chief of Attila."
Malka's eyes grew with shock and he heard the healer gasp. "Xena?" he said breathlessly. He was suddenly so enthralled to have someone with such high status in his presence. "I have heard so much about you. I longed to meet you when Attila was still alive. You are a great warrior. Rome fears you."
"Not anymore," she muttered, feeling drained emotionally and physically. "Thank you for saving me," she said, her heart softened and broken at the defeat she faced by the Romans. She had never seen such a bloody battle in her entire career as commander before.
He bowed his head. "The honor is mine. You are welcome to stay here and recover. I am afraid that nothing is left for you in Pannonia. You may call my home your new home."
Home. A place did not have to be a home. No place would ever feel like home knowing that the ones she loved were separated or gone from her side forever. Gabrielle was her home. Anastasia was her home. Pannonia was a place, a place she once called her home, now lost forever and soon to be taken over by Bulgur Huns.
She felt alone, so alone. She felt lost and displaced.
Fucking Romans, she cursed them all.
A year after Xena arrived in Ghazna, Kazakhstan, she had to allow her legs to heal. The other wounds were minor in her eyes, but her legs. Her shins were shattered and it took more than six months for her to get up around on her feet to learn how to walk again.
Now, she was able to walk, though with a slight limp and she was beginning to feel like an old woman, despite her young age. She was not old, but her body said otherwise. She was constantly reminded to use a walking stick by the healer, which she ignored. She was not going to be crippled for life. She wouldn't allow the Romans that satisfaction after what they did to her. She was not going to let them win. Not this time, not ever.
The desire to kill Zeno had entered her mind several times as she stayed in this foreign land. He robbed her of her ability to fight for her people and her family. He also robbed her of Gabrielle and her daughter. That, she would never forgive him for.
As the months passed by her anger towards Zeno slowly faded and she realized that she was letting hatred get in the way of her thinking. She was allowing the Roman to seep into her mind –the dark abyss that she hoped to never return to. She didn't want to succumb to her dark ways again. She couldn't, not after all the years she spent with Gabrielle.
That blonde poet showed her that there was more to life to feeding into hatred and anger. She was the light of Xena's eyes, the meaning of her existence and she wouldn't allow Zeno to taint those lovely memories. Those memories were hers and hers alone. They didn't belong to the Romans and she couldn't let herself slip into a dark abyss knowing that Gabrielle was gone from her side.
Every morning she woke and hoped that she were dead, but then realized that was rather selfish of her. If Gabrielle was alive, which she hoped she was, she let that little string of faith hang in the back of her mind. She longed to see those emerald eyes and her soft touch, her warm smile and sweet voice. But, Gabrielle was not the woman that she once was when they met so long ago.
Gabrielle was a teacher from Athens, a poet and a friend to many. She had a certain way with people despite her size and sweet demure she was a strong woman. She was willing to go through many lengths for those she loved. Xena began to love Gabrielle more and admire her as the years flew by. She once treated her so horribly and probably could never forgive herself for that. But their relationship grew into something most unexpected and turned into something special. Xena thought she could never feel those special feelings again, not with anyone else but Gabrielle.
Not even with Borias she felt those feelings. She loved him dearly even though she did not show it while he was still alive. It wasn't until after he was dead and she gave birth to Anastasia that she realized she loved him more than she wanted to admit. She took his life for granted and wished that Anastasia could have met him, just once. He reminded her a lot of Anastasia. She was so grounded and turned into a fine woman.
A saucy and sassy outspoken teenager had to grow up quickly at the tender age of fifteen when she was to have a child of her own. Xena thought that Anastasia was wise beyond her years, though she felt responsible for keeping her so cloistered her entire life. As the years passed, Ana grew into a smart young woman and a loving mother to her son, Csaba.
Xena missed him a lot and it was a sliver of Anastasia, Borias, Ellac and Attila that was close to her heart. All the people close and dear to her were within Anastasia's son and he was almost an exact copy of Ellac. So kind and gentle, yet strong-willed much like his mother. His soft green eyes that resembled his grandmother, Cera, also a kind soul that was taken from this earth far too soon.
The people that she loved were ripped from her and sometimes she wished that could have done more. She felt like she didn't do enough to protect them, especially during the battle. Ernak tried his best, bless his soul. He was a young king and rivaled that of his father's reign. He was very smart and cunning, more than Dengi ever was when he had his short reign as king.
She knew that Ernak would bring back the title of Scourge of God, honoring his father. Ellac and Dengi had doubts about their youngest brother, but Xena knew all along that Ernak would be the savior of the Huns. But, it seemed that was not true. Pannonia fell to the Romans and she was left to die.
As she stayed in Ghazna she realized that the Romans thought her dead and if her family and companion were alive, they thought she was gone too. She felt in her heart and mind that they were not dead. If she wasn't, how could they be? She wanted answers, but felt that she would never have the honor of receiving such answers.
She stood on the balcony of Malka's villa settled in the crevice of the mountains. Closing her eyes she felt the cool breeze graze her skin. She tried to make peace with herself as best as she could. A year passed and she longed to see her family, though she felt them slipping from her fingertips.
"The weather is beautiful in the mountains," Malka came to her side and her eyes shot open.
Her thoughts ceased and now she was brought back to reality. She was here in Ghazna, not in Pannonia. Memories of Gabrielle, her daughter and all the others flooded her mind. She sometimes felt like they were with her every moment when her eyes were closed. She could enter a new place when her mind was clear and her eyes dark to the world around her.
"Yes, it is," she finally answered.
The Nezak Bey sighed and leaned on the balustrade, overlooking the mountains. The summer was mild here which was nice for crops, but the winters here were harsh and frigid. "For a fierce warrior you are not a woman of many words," he noted with a subtle grin.
She smiled faintly, almost finding that amusing. "I've never heard that one before." Her voice soft and broken.
"Your people are very important to you, I can tell. The sadness in your eyes still lingers even after a year has passed. I too, understand that loss. It is difficult to move beyond the death and chaos and find a new meaning to your life. To begin anew." He said.
Those words had never been truer until this moment. Xena's bitterness towards the Romans had somewhat faded and she focused on reliving memories of her loved ones, but that's all they were, memories.
"How do you find a new beginning? I am not sure if I can find the same path that you did, Malka." She said, lowering her eyes as the pain still felt fresh. It seemed like yesterday that she lost everything dear to her.
The Bey ruffled his dark locks and exhaled deeply. "I focused on those that I loved. I asked them for guidance on what I should do. God directed me in the right path and I chose light, not darkness."
She scoffed, "are you asking me to pray?"
He smiled. "God is all knowing. Pray to whomever you'd like. They will be answered, I assure you that, but there is one thing you must have to see those prayers answered." He looked into her blue eyes. "Patience."
Patience. Gabrielle spoke of patience many times throughout their relationship. Xena was never one for patience but Gabrielle seemed to be a master of it. Another skill that Xena had yet to master even all the years she stayed beside the blonde's side. Patience is a virtue and Gabrielle was most virtuous when it came to patience. She saw the light in everyone, even when the heart was black with pain and hatred.
Xena thought to rely on Gabrielle's teachings to guide her. She did not want to feel like this forever –lost. She felt so alone, but it was a different kind of loneliness. A piece of her was gone. In fact, many pieces of her were gone. Her heart left one sliver and that was of her own self. Her heart had room for only her mind and being.
She would feel more like a failure if she did not try to reach out to Gabrielle even if it was through a spiritual plane. If she failed on the physical plane, she would not want to let Gabrielle down on a different one.
Anastasia sat inside of her yurt as Kreka was braiding her long hair. It had been over a month since she and Navaz last spoke with Shah Peroz. She felt confident that the Persian would heed her advice and write another treaty. She really didn't trust the man and wanted Navaz to understand that you can't always play by the rules to win. He truly was an unskilled king and ignorant of how to rule properly. Well, proper may not be the word. She relied on her mother's teachings to maneuver in between the fine lines of things.
Kreka was finishing up the last few strands of braiding Anastasia's hair. "So," she began.
Oh no, here it comes, Ana knew that this question was bound to come up sooner or later.
"Do you feel any different? It's been almost enough time since you shared a bed with Navaz." Kreka pried, knowing that Tuya was going to be on her case any day now.
The queen sighed, "I don't know yet. I need another a week at least," she said and Kreka fell silent, tying her hair with a large red tassel at the end, weighing her braid down for stability. She turned and looked into the woman's eyes.
Kreka saw tears forming in Anastasia's eyes and she smiled softly. She cupped the girl's cheek and wiped a tear that fell from its duct. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know if I am ready to do this. I am trying to remain calm and focused, but there is too much for me to handle right now. On top of being a queen, I also am a commander and must be a mother to Csaba. How can I also be a mother to this new child if my heart is not in the right place?"
The widow queen sighed. "Sometimes we must do things that we do not want to in order to achieve a bigger goal in the future."
"What future?" Ana stood from the bed and folded her arms. "We have nothing now! We are nothing!"
"You are queen, Anastasia. You have power here, I do not." She grabbed the flustered girl's hand and sat her back down on the bed. "You know what I think?" she said and Ana shook her head. "Your mother would be so proud of you. You have blossomed into a strong woman and though you may not have her spite, you are a one of a kind. She would see that you are sacrificing yourself for the greater good of our people and that is the most special and most difficult thing a person can do."
Anastasia wiped her cheeks and hung her head. "I don't feel like she would be proud of me right now. I feel her eyes boring into my soul. She is telling me something. I feel that she knows I am not in my right mind. I don't know what to do."
"What do you think Xena would tell you?"
"Divorce Navaz," Ana said with a slight chuckle and Kreka arched her eyebrow. She sighed. "She would tell me to do what I feel is right in my heart. But I don't know what is right from wrong anymore. I feel lost and confused without her."
Kreka nodded. "I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. Your eyes say it all. I think you need to revaluate what is important in your life and go with your instinct."
Anastasia agreed and she looked into the woman's hazel eyes. "I've never seen you show such kindness to me before."
Kreka smiled widely at that. "Xena and I may have had our differences in the past but I can't allow that to cloud my judgment when it comes to your relationship. You are a bright young woman, Anastasia. Don't forget that."
Tuya's scribe entered the yurt and averted his eyes. "My queen," he addressed Anastasia. "A letter for you." He held out a folded parchment.
She frowned and walked over to him. She never got letters, not since they left Pannonia. What is this? Her stomach churned as she held the letter in her hands. Slowly, she broke the seal and opened it, reading over it.
My dearest Anastasia,
I thought you were gone from my grasp forever. I thought I would never see you again, but it seems all my prayers have been answered. I will not reveal my name in this letter, because it is too dangerous. I had to find a currier that traveled to the Caucasus to send this letter to you. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to reach out to you after a year. A very long year.
I work for Rome now, under a new emperor, far worse than Valentinian ever was. I cannot say too much about him now. I must be careful of everything that I do. I am Consul of Rome and I'm always being watched. Sending this letter was probably not a wise choice, but I had to write you once I heard you were alright.
The emperor had a visitor come to Rome, which I can't disclose who it was for my own safety. I heard that you were married to a Hun and was overjoyed to hear that you were alive and living well! I hope that you are doing alright and also wonder if the others accompanied you.
I know of your location, but I'm afraid I can't do anything about it. I want to see you, but I think it would be too dangerous and suspicious for me to leave Rome. I just hope this letter got into your hands and give you a glimmer of hope that is at the end of the tunnel.
I want to write to you again, but if you think it is too risky, I won't wait for your response.
Anastasia smiled from ear to ear and held the letter close to her chest. Her heart filled with warmth. Perfect timing. She needed something to bring her to the light at the end of the tunnel, just like Gabrielle wrote.
"Who is it from?" Kreka asked, rising from the bed.
"Gabrielle," Ana said in a soft gentle tone. "She is in Rome. She's a Consul for the new emperor."
"Gabrielle?" Kreka walked over and examined the letter for herself. "Of course, the Greek lives." She smirked.
Anastasia clutched the letter in her hands and folded it up, slipping it in her dress pocket. "I am so glad that she is alright." Alright was the understatement of the year, but at least she was alive. "I was hoping that she'd be alive. Do you think she knows anything about my mother?"
Kreka frowned sadly, "I doubt it, Ana."
"Writing her back is too risky like she mentioned," she tapped her cheek. "I want to go to Rome to meet with her."
"Anastasia, no!" Kreka warned. "You can't just leave. What will you tell Navaz? He will suspect something."
Ana grinned, "then we will come up with a plan. I must see Gabrielle. She is the only thing I have that is close to being my own mother. I need to see her. I must."
Kreka's lips upturned into a sly grin. "A diplomatic mission then, ordered by the queen herself." She suggested and Anastasia grinned, almost maliciously.
Bey Malka caught Xena swinging a sword outside in the field beyond his large villa settled in the mountains. He saw the lackluster within her eyes and the hand that holds blade. He walked outside and she turned her head, acknowledging his presence.
"You swing your sword without purpose," he noted and she lowered the blade slowly.
"I have no purpose to wield a weapon anymore," she said with a faint smirk upon her lips.
He exhaled as his eyes looked to the mountains beyond them. This land was a perfect location. So cloistered from the rest of the world and hidden among enemies. The terrain was so harsh that there had been barely any attacks from their Persian neighbors over the last two decades. This was a peaceful land.
"Odd words spoken from Attila's commander," he chuckled and she was tempted to give him the satisfaction of an eye roll, but refrained.
She shook her head, "I have not been Attila's commander for ten years. I am no one's commander now." She answered with sorrow in her tone.
She secretly longed to seek vengeance on the Romans, but felt like it would be a lost cause. She had nothing except her memories now. Her body did not even serve her well as of late. She did not feel like herself anymore.
He came up beside her and embraced the gentle breeze that passed through the mountains. "You can't step away from the sword. It will always follow you wherever you choose to go. You can't escape your destiny to be a warrior, Xena. I've tried it myself and I had a miserable life."
"I don't want to run from my path. You have me all wrong," she grinned softly. "I long to embrace the sword again, but my mind is not in the right place. It is clouded."
Malka had a feeling that she would say such words. He had not known Xena for a long time, but he observed her. She was once the greatest commander in the Balkans and now she looked so defeated. She was hurt from the inside and out.
"Listen Xena," he began and she turned her head to look into his wary eyes. "I know that I cannot clear your mind from the pain that has been inflicted on you, but I would like to make you an offer."
"Oh really?" her lips turned into an eager smile. She had heard many offers in her lifetime and so few proved to be fruitful. Though, this man was a Hun and one of Attila's followers. She felt she could trust him. He was not a serpent.
"I know the sword is your passion, but how would you feel about being my political envoy?" he asked of her.
She scoffed, "I am not one for politics, Malka." She swung the sword onto her shoulder and began walking off.
He followed her, quickening his pace. "You have great political skills, Xena. You were able to become Rome's General."
"A lifetime ago," she admitted firmly.
"It would be an honor to have you by my side. Do you not have purpose in life? I'd hate for your wonderful gifts to go to waste in this mountainous tribe." He said and she halted, turning slowly on the heel of her boot.
She grinned and pointed the sword directly at his throat teasingly. She saw his eyes widen. A sight that she had missed dearly –seeing the fear in her enemies' eyes. "What...could I possibly bring to your table?"
His eyes looked to the blade and he gulped nervously. "The Shah of Persia wishes to unite with all the Hun tribes in hopes that he will overthrow us one day. I thought I could ask you for guidance. I know that...you've had certain negotiations with the Shah's grandfather long ago."
She lowered the blade and pursed her lips. "Persians," she bobbed her head slowly. "It has been awhile since I've had the slip of a Persian's tongue come in close proximity to me."
He smiled and stepped closer and then she grabbed his shoulder, preventing him from coming a step nearer. "I have heard word that the White Hun King has tried to negotiate with the Shah but it proved unfruitful."
"Of course it did," she was not surprised. "I was not aware there was another Hun king. Who is he?"
"King Khushnavaz of the Caucasus Steppes. He is a young king I've heard but I've never met him before. He has been king since he was a small boy after his father's life was taken by Shah Yazdgard."
Xena's lip quivered at that name. She hated that Persian and was glad that his life was snatched from him by the hands of Attila and Kreka so long ago. Now it seems his spawn has taken over the empire and he too wishes to be rid of the Huns.
As a means to distract herself she decided to take Malka up on his offer. "Tell me more about this Shah."
Navaz sat on a mound of pillows inside his yurt outside of his grand Adame with his mother, Tuya standing by his side. He rubbed his face and sighed heavily.
Anastasia stood in front of him waiting patiently for his answer while Tuya glared at her with such vehemence.
"You wish to go to Rome?" he asked and she nodded. "Why in God's name would you want to go there?"
She inhaled deeply, remembering her plan. This is for you Gabrielle, all for you. "I thought that I could give insight as to who this new emperor is and report back to you. I am your commander after all. It is expected of me to go on missions to seek new information."
He fell silent and she witnessed Tuya scoff at her little speech.
Anastasia's eyes darkened and she stepped forward, dangerously close to the king. "We made a deal, Navaz. I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and now it is time you fulfill yours," her tone low and almost threatening to achieve what she wanted.
The king's eyes lifted at such news that he had not been privy to until this very moment. Tuya's eyes widened and her lips parted with such surprise. Then she narrowed her eyes, glaring at Anastasia, knowing full well that the young queen's womb had not been barren as such and she had been avoiding the task at hand for months now.
"You are with child then?" he asked and Ana lowered her eyes in silence. A smile not present on her face as the one expressed on his.
Tuya interrupted the less joyful moment. "She should not be permitted to travel at such great lengths," she said with a malicious grin and Ana felt air escape her and glare at the mother queen, aware of her agenda.
Navaz nodded and stood from the rugs. "I do not wish my wife to travel so far from my side knowing that she carries my child within her." He grasped her shoulders and she stiffened at his touch.
"I am capable of taking care of myself. Allow Dengi and Ernak to accompany me so I can assure you of my safety." She offered, refusing to take no for an answer.
"You would defy your king?" Tuya said.
Anastasia smirked. "I do not defy, but simply offer another option. As my husband he should respect my decision and compromise with me." She gazed into his uncertain eyes but then saw a small glimmer of hope. A hope that he would relent and allow to go on this journey.
He sighed, "and you do not want me to come with you?"
"No!" she spat and then her cheeks drained of color. "No, I would rather go alone. Ernak and Dengi are like brothers to me. They will protect me at all costs." As if I need protecting, she thought. "I will not disappoint you."
He smiled weakly and kissed her forehead. "I trust you would never disappoint me. Güzel kadın," he whispered in her ear.
Her cheeks flushed bright red and Tuya clenched her fists. "You take orders from your wife, Navaz? She is not even of our own kind!"
"Bastırmak!" Navaz turned to his mother, silencing her tongue. Tuya's eyes averted his gaze. "I am king of this tribe! You dare talk over me and question my authority? You may be my mother but I am still your king." He shook his head then hurried out of the yurt to pressing matters with his men outside.
Anastasia grinned deviously seeing the embarrassment written all over the mother queen's face. Navaz had defended her to Peroz and now to his own mother. Things are not as bad as they seem, she began to wonder. He defended her honor twice now and she relished in it, especially a defense against his mother.
"I will go tell Dengi and Ernak about the mission," she said and began to dismiss herself.
Tuya called out, "do not think that I am not aware of your deceitful tongue, Anastasia." She saw the young queen stop in her tracks. "My son's seed ceases to be planted in your womb until a proposition is raised by your tongue. You get what you want and suddenly a child grows within you. Imagine that. Must be a miracle from the gods above." She mused.
Anastasia bit her tongue and refused to turn to see the smug look on the woman's face. "You should not make me your enemy, Khatun. It is not wise to do that."
"The arrogance that spews from your mouth is not very becoming of you." Tuya chuckled softly.
Ana grinned and turned around, folding her arms. "You have me all wrong, Khatun. You mistake confidence for arrogance. I have the power to exile you from your people. I am above you now. Show respect towards me and I will show you the same. Until then, our relationship remains stagnant." She winked then left the yurt.
Tuya's hand came to her chest and she gasped at the audacity of the Pannonian Hun. She had definitely underestimated her wit and bewitching manner. And worst of all, her own son favored his new wife over her word.
Dengi and Ernak sat inside of a yurt, sharpening their swords together, sharing words. Dengi shook his head. "These women in the mountains are much shier and modest than the ones in Pannonia."
Ernak nodded, "yes they are, but they are beautiful. I plan to make my move with the young Sahabi soon," he wriggled his eyebrows.
"Little brother, you are a fool. She will not even look your way! She thinks us barbarians even though we are the same people!" Dengi growled as he could not perfect his blade.
His younger king brother snatched the sword from his grasp. "It is no wonder you made an awful king, brother. Your sword looks like shit," he teased and received a kick in the shin from Dengi. "Allow me to show you how it is done."
Anastasia entered the yurt and both brothers lifted their eyes. Ernak grinned at the sight of her. "Sweet Ana, what do we owe the pleasure of your beautiful presence?" he asked playfully.
"Quit it," she said. "For a king you still act like a child," she said with a stern voice and both brothers scoffed.
"Moody," Dengi muttered.
She rolled her eyes. "I want both of you to come with me to Rome. I have important matters there."
Ernak laughed aloud. "Rome? Anastasia, that is dangerous territory. No way I will go back to that land of filth that slaughtered all of my people."
"I received a letter from Gabrielle. She works as Consul of Rome. I want to see her," she said and the two young men fell silent.
"Gabrielle?" Dengi lifted his eyes and she nodded with a small grin. "You sure it is from her? It's not a trap?"
She wagged her head. "No trap. I know it is her, Dengi! We must go to her. I have prayed for this moment for so long and now my prayers are finally being answered." She sat down on the floor in front of them. "Please? Navaz won't let me go unless you two accompany me. Please?" she bat her eyelashes much like a little girl would when asking for the impossible.
Dengi groaned. "You make it really hard to say no," he said and she grinned and kissed his cheek and he cringed. "Alright, alright," he gently pushed her away. "Only for you."
"Whoa, hold on a minute. I am king here. Just because Gabrielle sent you a letter doesn't mean that you can just waltz into Rome! We are Huns. We will be given away just by our clothing." Ernak pressed and tossed the sword into his brother's lap.
She smiled and grabbed his hand. "Then we will buy new clothes. I have to go talk to Gabrielle. She is the only thing that I have left. My mother is gone and if I could just feel her presence once more, I know it would be worthwhile. Gabrielle is all I have left of my mother, Ernak. You still have your mother, but mine was ripped from me. I am asking you to do this not for me, but my mother."
The son of Attila sighed heavily. "Fine. We will go. Only for your peace of mind." He said and she kissed his cheek.
"Thank you, it means a lot to me." She said softly and stood slowly.
"Any news of your...problem?" Dengi sneered and Ana shot him a glare.
"It was never a problem and it has been solved," she grinned sneakily. "I made a deal with Navaz. I give him an heir if he made me his commander." She turned and walked out of the yurt, completely satiated.
Ernak and Dengi shared a concerned look with one another. "Did she just say commander?" Ernak whispered.
"Anastasia!" both brothers yelled in unison and dropped their weapons and scurried out to follow her trail.
A few days into their journey towards Rome, Ernak suggested that they go through the Steppes of the old Pannonia Empire instead of traveling through the eastern Roman empire. He did not want to be caught by Zeno's men and risk being killed or jailed. Although, it was a lot faster to travel through Anatolia, it was just too dangerous.
Anastasia traveled behind Ernak and Dengi, observing the large trees and mountains surrounding them. She breathed in heavily, smiling softly, remembering her homeland. It smelled the same and looked the same as well. It felt so long ago that they were in Pannonia even though it had been a year. It felt like eons and she longed to be back home again. She loved Pannonia and had a hard time letting it go.
Ernak halted and looked below the large hill and frowned. Anastasia trotted up beside the young king and saw their land, Pannonia. It was now inhabited by the Bulgur Huns and they had a large number of people living inside the grass plains. There were thousands of yurts, thousands of people.
"Bulgur Huns," Ana groaned, her blood boiling just thinking of those traitors that now took over her motherland. "I wish to see their hearts ripped from their chests after what they did to us and our people."
Dengi chuckled, "you are becoming more like your mother every day, Anastasia."
Her heart pounding. Her hands clammy. Her veins engorged. Her eyes wild. She grinned and kicked her horse and rode down the large hillside, approaching the gates of Pannonia. Ernak gasped and growled. "Anastasia!" he called out after her then rode his horse following her with Dengi shortly trailing.
She skid to a stop as she stood outside of the gates. The Bulgur Hun guards stepped forward, eyeing her suspiciously. She grinned at them all and they pulled out their spears, unsure if she were a threat, although they looked behind her and saw only two men that accompanied her and figured three people were not a threat.
"What brings you to Pannonia, kadin?" one soldier asked, gripping his spear tightly in his grasp.
"Who is your Bey of this province? I wish to speak to him," she said.
Ernak and Dengi pulled up beside her, glaring at her. "What are you doing?" Ernak hissed.
"Finding out some information," she whispered back and turned to the traitor Huns. "Well? Will he see me or not? I'm Queen of the White Huns. I require some information about the Roman Emperor."
Dengi rolled his eyes. "She's a mad woman," he said to his brother.
"Wait here, Khatun," the soldier said and ran off to his Bey's yurt.
Moments later the gates were opened and all three trotted inside their once-called motherland. The heartland of Attila and of the true Huns. She saw eyes all upon her, not recognizing her. Her mother hid her well for many years and all those that knew her were now dead and gone from this world. She felt suddenly more important now than when she was a Pannonian Hun woman.
Being a queen had its perks, she supposed. She saw a middle aged man appear from a yurt at the far end where the Adame was. Her stomach turned as she saw the Adame now filled with this Bey's people, most likely his many wives and slaves. They tainted this land.
"I thought we were going to Rome," Ernak whispered as he trotted alongside her.
"We are, but I want to find out who is in charge here," she grinned and dismounted her horse as the man, whom she assumed was the Bey of Pannonia now, walking towards her.
The man bowed his head and placed his hand over his heart at the sight of her. "Queen of Balaam," he smiled and she curtly bowed. "You are Navaz's wife. Forgive me but I have not heard much about you."
"I have been busy," she said. "Won't you welcome us into your yurt or should we stand outside in the hot sun?" she said.
His cheeks flushed and motioned her to join him in his yurt. "Of course, Khatun," he bowed his head and she brushed past him and the wary sons of Attila followed her with grimaces on their faces.
The four sat on the floor inside the Bey's yurt and were offered hot tea on this summer day. Anastasia kindly refused the tea. Her eyes roamed the inside of this yurt and it once belonged to Kreka. One of the largest yurts outside of the Adame. It was a queen's yurt, decorated with such fine ornaments. It was like nothing had been touched. Everything was in its rightful place, minus a few new things she had not seen before. The flag of the Bulgur Huns hung inside the yurt. The desperation and urge to pull it down subsided within her.
"My name is Basil. I am Bey of Pannonia. What brings you all the way from the Caucasus?" he sipped the tea and Ernak eyed him cautiously as Dengi sat beside Anastasia, eyeing her cautiously as well.
She grinned and folded her hands in her lap. "Pannonia once belonged to Attila. It must be a heavy burden to live in a place that was once ruled by the Scourge of God." She said.
Basil nearly choked on his tea and he set the glass cup down. "It is no burden, your highness. I see it as a gift and opportunity. It took awhile to be rid of the corpses." He grinned and her eyes darkened.
She decided to play coy with this Bey and further the conversation. "I heard Attila's former commander was crucified in this land. I am sure she was the first body you disposed of, yes?"
Basil shook his head. "When we arrived days after the battle we did not find Xena's body. Only an empty crucifix laying upon hundreds of dead Pannonians."
Her eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat. She began to wonder if her mother escaped her death or perhaps she was saved by someone? She saw her mother being hoisted on the cross and beaten by the Romans with large staffs and spears as she remained silent on the crucifix –awaiting her death before her.
Ernak cleared his throat. "Her body was not found?"
The Bey eyed him curiously. "As I said, the crucifix was barren of a body. It looked as if the ropes had been cut. Perhaps Zeno had come back for her," he grinned and sipped his tea.
Anastasia clamped her hands together so tight that her knuckles turned white. She did not know whether to be furious or overjoyed at the thought that her mother may be alive somewhere. She needed to focus herself and come up with something else so she could stay awhile longer. Sorry, Gabrielle, I must do this for my people.
"Your numbers are strong but this land is too small for you to raise your people. What if I make you an offer?" she grinned as her eyes grew wild and filled with ambition.
Basil eyed her and saw the look upon her face, a look he had seen before. That look of Xena. Those eyes. Those piercing blue eyes. That smile. That eerie smile. All too familiar.
"And what offer might that be, your majesty?" he asked calmly.
"Allow me to rule Pannonia by proxy. You pay me a tax and I will supply you with necessary goods such as food, weapons and other supplies. You will be allowed to govern your people as long as your demands do not exceed my terms. I would be happy to be your proxy ruler. A queen of such high status, you cannot refuse." She leaned inward and the Bey nervously sighed.
"What in God's name..." Dengi muttered and turned to his brother and shock written all over his face.
His lack of response began to trouble Anastasia. She reached out and touched the Bey's hand. "Unless you have a better offer riding on your back?" she asked and he shook his head. "I will allow you some time to think it over. We are heading to Rome and that brings me to ask another question. Do you know anything of the new Roman emperor? I hear he is very ruthless and overbearing."
Basil nodded, "he goes by the name of Odoacer. He claims he will be Rome's first king. He no longer wants the title of emperor."
Very interesting, she thought. "Thank you for your time. You've been most helpful," she smiled and stood slowly, brushing the wrinkles out of her black and red gown. Ernak and Dengi jumped their feet and clung close to her, afraid of the worst to come.
Basil ran to her side and bowed his head. "You are welcome to stay here for a few days. The journey to Rome is long."
She nodded. "How kind of you," she hissed and touched his chin and he kissed her hand. She cringed and pulled her hand away slowly. "I will stay here for awhile if you give me an answer about my offer. Is that reasonable?" she bat her eyelashes and he smiled nervously.
"Of course, your highness. It is an honor to have Navaz's wife in my presence. You are welcome to stay here and I will give you my answer in the days to come. I will have my servants prepare a yurt for you and your guests."
"You are insane!" Dengi yelled inside the yurt as he paced back and forth in front of his brother and Anastasia.
"Dengi, don't overreact," Ernak said and lounged on a few pillows. Anastasia frowned up at Dengi and saw the rage in his eyes.
"Was this your plan all along, Anastasia?!" Dengi went on and threw his hands in the air. "To seduce the Bey into your scheme of taking over Pannonia? Was that your plan? Was it? You are playing a dangerous game and I am not sure you can handle it!"
She groaned lowly and felt a wave of nausea hit her and she wrapped her hand over her stomach and exhaled slowly. "I am not playing a game! I want Pannonia back just as much as you! I am seizing an opportunity. I do not permission from Navaz. I am his commander and queen. I have a voice."
Dengi scoffed, "please," he folded his arms.
"Did you not hear what he said?" she spat. "He did not find my mother's body! She could be alive somewhere."
Ernak lowered his eyes and sighed heavily. "Anastasia..." he reached for her hand and she snatched her arm away.
"Why don't you two believe me? You are like my own brothers. I know she's alive. If Gabrielle is alive then surely my mother is too," her eyes swelled with tears and Dengi scratched his head and sat down in front of her, grabbing her hand.
He smiled gently and looked into her pale blue eyes. "If she were alive, don't you think that someone would have noticed by now? Everyone knows your mother, Ana. I mean, everyone."
"Please, Dengi, why can't you just believe me? I know what I'm doing. I will bring Pannonia back to us. I am capable of doing it. I need your support." She tightened her grip and he let out a huge sigh.
"You're crazy," he said with a slight laugh and she smiled. "But ambitious and courageous. I know your mom would be proud of you." He said and she wiped her cheeks with her palm.
Ernak grinned and flung his arms around both of them and Dengi cringed and Anastasia smiled, being crushed by his warm embrace. A clash of thunder roared in the skies and all three looked up to the ceiling of the yurt.
"So, shall we play a game?" Ernak suggested. "Since we're stuck here."
"I'd rather not..." she said. "We should come up with a plan when we arrive in Rome. I have no idea how we are going to find Gabrielle in such a large city."
Dengi wagged his head. "Do you ever stop strategizing?" he reached over and grabbed a bottle of wine. "We should have some fun," he sneakily smiled at his younger brother and poured two glasses for himself and Ernak. He then poured a small glass for Anastasia.
"A small glass for you," Dengi winked. She sighed and grabbed the wine, swishing it around gradually staring into the dark red liquid.
Ernak raised his glass. "We should have a toast," he said and she raised an eyebrow. "To Anastasia's new baby," he winked.
"Oh no, no, no," she shook her head. Dengi wrapped his arm around her, squeezing her tightly and she gasped, almost spilling the wine all over herself. "Dengizich! Aptal adam..." she cursed under her breath. "Get off me!"
He tightened his grip around her and drank from his glass, enjoying that he was annoying her. She growled and elbowed him in the ribs and he choked, gasping for air. She then grabbed his arm and flipped him over onto his back and glared down at him. He laughed loudly seeing her angry face.
She poured the wine on his face and Ernak busted out laughing. "Now it's a party," he said and drank from his cup. Anastasia's lips turned into a smile as she saw Dengi shake the wine out of his long hair and she grabbed his hand, helping him to sit up right.
"Pregnant women," Dengi grumbled.
Ernak downed his wine and laughed lightly. "You know if your mother is alive, I have no doubt she would kill Navaz for marrying and impregnating you," he winked at the woman who now he called his elder sister.
She rolled her eyes. "I am married this time."
"Somehow, I don't think Xena would care if you were married or not," Dengi commented and she slapped the back of his head and wine spilled all over his tunic. As if he was not drenched in wine enough already.
"God damnit, Anastasia," he groaned and wiped his face with his soaked tunic.
"Well, he's not wrong," Ernak said and she saw the look in her eyes and he too was about to get punched or slapped. He quickly hopped to his feet and ran to the other side of the yurt. "Hey now! You've already wasted enough wine! No reason to keep hitting us. It's not our fault!" he chuckled and she pursed her lips.
"I will go fetch more wine..." he said and then exited the yurt.
As soon as he stepped out into the stormy weather he was met with swords pointed at his body and throat. He dropped the wine glass and slowly raised his hands, backing up gradually.
Basil walked through the circle of men and smiled, patting his dagger against his palms. The rain falling off his fur hat, he glared at the young Hun. "It has come to my attention that you are not White Huns according to an anonymous source of mine," he said and Ernak breathed heavily.
"We are White Huns," he lied and remained to the plan.
"You bear the face of Attila and that so-called Queen of Balaam bears the same face of Xena. Quite interesting that I find you three in Pannonia, isn't it? Trying to overthrow me and my people."
Ernak growled, "you stole my father's land!" he spat.
"So, you are Pannonian Huns!" Basil laughed. "I could keep you here for myself, but maybe I should send you to my good friend, Odoacer."
Ernak's eyes widened. They have been played. Basil knows Odoacer. He conspires with the Romans and it is no wonder that he knew more about him than anyone else. Of course, he thought, how foolish we have been.
"King Navaz will have your head if you lay a hand on his wife," he warned.
"Will he?" Basil smiled. "Your highness, I have come to my decision!" he called out.
Anastasia and Dengi walked outside of the yurt in the rain and were surrounded by Bulgur Huns. Her eyes widened and Dengi grabbed her shoulders, clutching her and bringing her close. He stepped in front of her, protecting her.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Dengi yelled at the Bey.
"Pannonian swine!" Basil spat at Ernak's feet and the young king growled and tried to attack him, but was knocked down one of the soldier's spears.
"Ernak!" Anastasia cried out and leapt onto the ground, cupping his cheeks. She lifted her head, squinting her eyes from the rain flourishing by, almost blinding her. "My husband will cut out your tongue!" she hissed.
Basil smiled. "You expect me to believe that you are Navaz's wife when you are truly the daughter of Xena, the best commander in all the Hunnic lands? The daughter of a serpent, equally as snake-like as her dear dead mother?" he winked and Anastasia groaned lowly.
"Your eyes resemble hers so much. I would hate to gouge them out. Perhaps I should keep those lovely blue marbles to myself and hang them on my wall?" Basil said and her jaw clenched.
She rose slowly, drenched and her dress heavy as she walked into the center of blades surrounding her body and throat. "I am Queen of the White Huns. I have no reason to lie about who I am."
"Yet you did not mention you were the daughter of Xena. How fascinating and how deceitful much like your late mother!" he pointed his dagger at her throat. "Detain her and the other Pannonian snakes!" he ordered.
Dengi pulled out his sword and stood in front of Anastasia and Ernak's head lolled over, groaning lightly. "You will not lay a hand upon her!" he said defiantly.
"Put down your sword, Pannonian, and I will see no harm done to her," Basil said.
Dengi breathed heavily and Ana placed her hand upon his shoulder. "Dengi," she whispered, "do as he says."
Slowly, the Hun prince lowered his blade and Basil nodded. "I knew you'd see things my way." He said and the soldiers grabbed Anastasia by her arms and pushed her along. Dengi was also detained and Ernak lifted to his feet, barely conscious.
"I will see that you are properly delivered to Rome as a gift to Odoacer. He will be most pleased to have the daughter of Xena and sons of Attila at his feet." The Bey sauntered off back to his yurt.
Odoacer sat on his throne, lounging one leg over the side. Gabrielle stood inside the throne chambers, unsure why she had been summoned at such a late hour. She was not supposed to have any duties today, at least not that she could recall.
He licked his fingers, finishing off a sweet dessert and grinned at his Consul. "Gabrielle, do you know why I've brought you here?"
She frowned, "I do not..."
He waved his hand and she heard the doors open. Slowly she turned around and saw a man wearing a dark tattered cloak being thrown onto the marble floor. Her eyes widened and her throat knotted. She immediately felt like her life was to be taken from her at any moment now.
A soldier grabbed the man by his hair and lifted him up. The man panicked and his breathing became labored. He dare not look at Gabrielle, but at the emperor perched on his throne with the most smug smile on his lips.
"This currier was seen crossing the Steppes of Pannonia and into the land of Armenia," Odoacer began and Gabrielle's eyes darted from side to side, trying to figure out a way to save herself from this situation. Her letter might have cost her everything. Her life.
"I should have you know that letters being sent to the Huns are illegal and can cost a person their life. You are aware, aren't you Gabrielle? Being my consul of Rome I know you are aware of such matters." Odoacer grinned.
She steadied herself. "Yes, I'm aware." She said calmly.
"It's a crime that is unforgiveable," he said, batting his eyes and she nodded. "I know you would never betray me, right, Gabrielle?"
"I would never do such a thing," she said and eyed the currier beside her. This poor man, she thought. He was going to be killed by her ill actions.
The emperor sighed and wiped his hands on his white toga. "I knew I could trust you. I was told that someone inside Rome sent a letter. Do you happen to know who it was so I shall bring the criminal to justice?"
She felt her heart racing and inhaled deeply. "I'm afraid it is hard for me to keep track of everything that goes on in this city."
Odoacer nodded, "understandable but as Consul, I trust you to keep an eye out for such suspicious behavior." He leapt off his throne and pulled out a dagger from his belt and handed the dull end towards her. "Kill the currier," he demanded.
Her eyes widened and she took the dagger in her hands. The man's eyes were pleading and begging for life. She felt horrible, but she wanted to talk to Anastasia so badly. She couldn't bring herself to kill this man even if it meant her own life.
"I have a better suggestion, emperor," she said and Odoacer's eyebrows rose. "Imprison the currier until I find the suspect who sent the letter."
The emperor grinned and chuckled. "Always the diplomatic one, aren't you? You love compromise and hate conflict." He sighed and waved his hand. "Send him to the cells and his fate will be decided later, per Gabrielle's request. He is of no use to me anyway."
For a moment, she felt relief, but knew that she would have to do something to stall this poor currier's life that would be ripped from him at any moment. And another thing, she did not trust Odoacer to keep his promise either. As she said, he is far worse than Valentinian ever was.
"Thank you, sire. I know I will not let you down," she smiled and nodded her head then decided to take leave.
"Gabrielle," he called and she stopped, turning slowly. "Once the traitor has been found, I wish to speak with him."
She nodded once more. "Of course, emperor."
"Remember what we talked about, Xena. You are to remain hidden from prying eyes. You are a fly upon the wall, nothing more," Malka said as the two walked down the long hallway to meet their awaited guest.
She flipped the hood over her head and walked behind Malka. "It is the first time that I live among the shadows," she smirked and tried to keep up with his strides. Her legs ached, her hip bones grinding against one other. She didn't feel the same but tried to work through the pain.
Shah Hormizd waited in the large foyer inside Bey Malka's home. He spun around and smiled seeing the Bey and a hooded guest accompanying him. "Bey Malka, so kind of you to invite me into your home," he bowed his head.
"The honor is mine, Shah. Your brother does not accompany you?" Malka noted the absence of young Peroz.
The Persian king nodded. "He is busy attending to other duties back home. I hope that my presence alone is enough?" he half joked and Malka grinned.
"Of course. Please join me outside in the gardens," Malka motioned the way beyond the foyer and into the gardens. He eyed Xena and saw a smile on her lips beneath that dark hood. She quickly trailed the Persian and he followed suit.
King Hormizd sat opposite of Malka and his strange hooded guest sat beside him. He could feel the person glaring at him from beneath the hood and it made him most uneasy. He eyed Malka whom was pouring everyone some coffee.
"Your hooded guest is most ominous," the shah alleged.
Malka grinned and saw Xena hid her face further and turned to the shah. "My political envoy. I hope you don't mind an extra body during our discussion? Anything you say is confidential in front of my envoy." He said.
Hormzid nodded and took the coffee. Xena reached for the small cup and the shah noticed the hands of the envoy. Feminine hands. A female envoy? Most interesting, he thought. "I do not mind..." he sipped the coffee. "You brought me all the way from my home. You wish to discuss an alliance I am assuming?"
Malka cleared his throat. "I want more than an alliance. I want your empire to stay out of my land. It is my duty to protect my people as you must protect yours. You understand, don't you?"
"I understand," the shah bowed his head curtly and watched the female envoy sip the coffee, listening quietly. "My...brother has recently visited the White Huns in the Caucasus. King Navaz and his wife were most unruly. They did not accept my brother's offer. I hope we can have a more reasonable conversation and more fruitful as well." He lifted the cup.
The Bey rubbed his chin, "why did they turn down your brother? Was the alliance not worthy? Those Caucasus Huns can be very flighty with their decisions. It is the reason they remain secluded from all –"
"It was not King Navaz who turned down the offer," Hormzid interrupted. "His wife, Anastasia, declined the offer. She has quite a mouth, so my brother told me."
Xena's eyes widened once she heard her daughter's name. She had thought her daughter lost and gone from her side forever, but she was not. She set the cup of coffee and listened to the shah further. The sound of her daughter's name made her heart flutter, beat faster than ever. A wave of warmth filled her body and she had hoped for this day to come. She was so close, yet so far. She wished to hold her once more.
But, one thing, she also heard the shah say Anastasia was the wife of this White Hun king. Anastasia got married? Something about that marriage proved to Xena that her daughter was desperate and needed some way to survive. She wished to know more but did not want to risk her person to be discovered so soon.
"I was not aware Navaz had a wife," Malka frowned and eyed Xena's fidgety fingers in her lap. She grew nervous or perhaps anxious? Xena knew something and it was bothering her, he could tell.
Hormizd chuckled. "Have you not heard the Huns rave about her beauty? She is supposedly the most gorgeous Hun woman in all of the eastern lands. If her blood was not tainted with the Hun line, I might have my brother marry her."
Xena's fists clenched and she was tempted to throw herself over the shah and tackle him to the ground, but she refrained. Her blood boiling, her lip curled with a subtle snarl.
"No offense, of course. I know Hun women to be the most beautiful among all women, even of my own kind," Hormzid held his hand to his chest, bowing slightly. "I wish to discuss an agreement if we cannot ally with each other. The Pannonian Huns are no more and the Bulgur Huns have taken over Attila's homeland. What a shame. I would not dare ally with those heathens." He chuckled.
He continued onward, "I do not believe the Nezak Huns to be of the same blood as the Bulgurs and Pannonians. You are a more civilized people and I would never ally with the Bulgurs. They are far too barbaric for my liking. You Nezak Huns are very warm and welcoming. I am counting on you to come to an agreement with me, if you'd like to hear it?" he leaned forward.
Malka smiled apprehensively, "of course." He was not sure if he should be insulted or not, but he was willing to do anything to get these Persians off his back and stay far from his land. He worked hard to keep intruders out for twenty years and he did not want to stop that winning streak.
"You pay a tax to the House of Sasan and you may keep your peaceful land." Hormzid provided and he heard a snort from his envoy. He eyed the hooded woman and frowned. "Your envoy does not agree? She finds this amusing?"
Malka's eyes widened and Xena turned her cheek away, hiding her face. "Perhaps I should trust my envoy. What kind of tax is this?"
"A religious tax. I know you Huns believe in your deities but that is not permitted among my empire." The shah said.
"If I am to pay a tax that would mean you control my land under your House?" Malka frowned, not liking this idea at all. It was not what he had in mind.
Hormzid sighed. "But of course. That is why you called me here isn't it? You didn't think you could keep your land, did you?" he stood, adjusting his robes and cape. "Agree to the tax or I will bring the wrath of God upon your people, Bey Malka."
He stormed off and Xena rose from her chair, uncovering her face. "Malka!" she grabbed his vest, bringing him close to her face. "You underestimate the Persians! You are a fool!" she hissed.
He growled and pushed her aside, adjusting his collar. "It would seem so." He rubbed his neck and saw her eyes filled with fury. "You are not well. Your eyes show much malice. Something bothering you?" he inquired.
Her eyes lowered and her heart softened. "The King's wife," she said lowly.
She folded her arms. "His wife is my daughter," she admitted and looked into his surprised eyes.
"Oh," he cleared his throat. "That is wonderful news. Your family is still alive!" he grinned, but she saw she was less enthused. "You are not happy?"
"I fear my daughter is unhappy. She did not marry this man out of love." No, she only loved one man and now he was gone. Everyone was gone. Anastasia looked for a way to make a name for herself and Xena felt responsible. She felt like she failed her, failed everyone.
She lifted her eyes and clenched her jaw. "I want to go to the Caucasus. If my daughter is there I want to see her."
"And if she is not?"
"I will find her."
Dengi glared at Anastasia as they were inside a large iron rod cage being transported across the Steppes, passing by the Goth territories and soon into the Roman empire borders. Ernak sat beside Ana, playing with a piece of hay trying to find the light in this situation, though there appeared to be none.
"This is all your fault, Anastasia!" Dengi snarled and she lifted her tired eyes. "We should have just gone straight to Rome, but no! You wanted to stop by and pay a visit to the Bulgurs!"
"I realize I have made a mistake. You don't have to lecture me," she sighed heavily and stretched her arching legs outward, crossing with Dengi's in the small space they shared. The horsemen weren't exactly taking an easy route and it was extremely bumpy, which unsettled her stomach.
"This is so ridiculous. We shouldn't have been in this mess but because of your stupid –"
"Enough!" Ernak yelled. "Do not make her feel even worse, Dengi."
"He is right," she said softly.
The wagon halted and they jolted forward and groaned. Ernak rubbed the back of his head and then heard footsteps approaching from behind. A Bulgur Hun came to the cage and smiled at them all. "We will be passing you off to the Romans in Milan." He said and eyed Anastasia, her cheeks pale and her eyes worn.
He waft a fresh piece of lamb in her face from the camp the other soldiers made. She cringed and turned her cheek away. "Do you not wish to dig your teeth into this, all mighty queen?" he teased.
Ana shook her head and turned away. He grabbed her cheek from inside the iron rods and stuck the meat close to her nose. She winced in disgust and her eyes widened. Ernak snarled and grabbed the Bulgur's wrist firmly.
Dengi rolled his eyes and scoffed. "She's pregnant you stupid fuck," he said to the Bulgur and the man released Anastasia's cheeks. "Salak..." he muttered, calling the man the idiot he truly was.
Ernak clung close to her and she gagged, breathing heavily, almost to the point of dry heaving. He brushed her hair away from her face and whispered to her, wrapping his arm around her. She leaned against his chest and steadied her breathing.
The Bulgur frowned and stepped away. He then walked back to the camp and Dengi watched him out of the corner of his eye. He saw him talking to a few men and all of the soldiers turned their eyes towards his direction.
"They're coming back," Dengi whispered.
General Salezar came to the cage filled with the treacherous Pannonians. He folded his arms and looked to the woman grasped within Ernak's arms. He snapped his fingers and one of his men stepped forward with a bowl of grain and another bowl with water.
"Food and water for your child," the general said with a bit of distain. Ernak eyed the man with vehemence and he clung to Anastasia, not trusting the Bulgur at all. "Do not think I am a monster! Take the food you aptal kadin!" he yelled and Dengi lunged forward. The soldiers surrounded the cage with swords, ready to pierce the prince's throat.
Ernak held up his hand and Dengi relaxed. Slowly the soldiers lowered their weapons. Ernak then extended his hand and grabbed the bowl of grain and the water and set it in front of himself. "A Bulgur shows his kindness. How generous of you," his words dripping with malice and sarcasm.
Salezar scoffed. "I would not deprive a pregnant woman of food and water. We are Huns, are we not? We take care of our own, yes?" he winked and walked off with the soldiers in tow.
"What a piece of goat shit," Dengi muttered.
Ernak sighed and brought the warm grain to Ana's face. "For you," he said with a smile and she looked up to him with tired eyes.
She dug her fingers into the grain and spoon it into her mouth slowly. Ernak nodded and held the bowl of water close to his chest. Dengi groaned and banged his head against the rod iron cage. "We need to figure a way how to get out of here." He said.
"We will, but we need to get to Rome first. If Gabrielle is there, she might be able to help us," Ernak suggested.
"If she's even there," Dengi snorted.
"She is, I swear it." Ana lifted her eyes and glared at Dengi.
Gabrielle walked out of the senate with Lucius and felt so drained after the speech she gave. She gave a false speech of finding the cohort that wrote the letter to the Huns, but if the emperor found out it was her, she would be ruined. She'd be dead. She felt sick just thinking about it.
She did not like to lie, but she desperately wanted to call out to someone, someone close enough to Xena. Anastasia was the closest thing she had to Xena and knowing that her daughter was alive warmed her heart. She only wished it would have happened some other way. If only there was a way.
"You seem distracted," Lucius noted.
She smiled softly. "I have a lot on my mind at the moment."
"Finding the traitor who sent that letter is bound to have anyone on edge," he said and they walked through the streets, weaving through the commoners in the narrow pathways.
Loud yelling was heard from the square and Gabrielle frowned. She heard people yelling out obscene words and phrases that she thought were most foul. She pushed the crowd of people while Lucius shortly followed, trying to keep up with her.
She pushed her way through the front line of people and saw a horde of Roman troops, transporting prisoners in a large iron rod cage. She ran down the line to see who they were. It was not normal to see such a sight in Rome of all places and so public.
She breathed heavily and saw people throwing rotten fruits and vegetables at the prisoners. Her heart sank once she saw who they were. "Anastasia..." she whispered beneath her breath. She then spotted Ernak and Dengi inside the cage with her and she ran to the other side of the street to take a closer look, while dodging the fruits and vegetables flying by her.
Anastasia lifted her head and saw Gabrielle's emerald eyes gaping at her. She lunged forward to the opposite side of the cage and clung to the iron bars. She reached her arm out through the bars and Gabrielle smiled softly.
Gabrielle reached forward and their fingertips glided against each other like soft quill feather. She felt the warmth she had missed for so long finally touch her. As the Romans continued onward, Anastasia kept staring at her with a big smile and tears swelling in her eyes, unable to speak a word, but the touch was enough. Enough for now.
Lucius found Gabrielle and saw she had a forlorn look in her eyes. "It seems the emperor has captured those Hun animals and brought them for quite a show."
Her eyes darkened and she spun around, glaring at the young senator. "They are people too. They do not deserve to be treated like this." She stormed off.
"They are savages, Gabrielle!" Lucius scoffed. "Gabrielle!"
Ernak and Dengi were thrown onto the marble floor inside of Emperor Odoacer's chambers. The Roman soldier grabbed Anastasia by her arm. "Kneel!" he yelled and she cringed and knelt down slowly beside the two brothers.
Odoacer grinned and tapped his fingers together, gawking at the trio. "You've brought me Huns. What an unexpected surprise!"
The Roman General, Basilius stepped forward to claim this rare bounty. "Unexpected indeed." He grinned at his ruler. He showcased the two brothers. "Sons of Attila," he said and Odoacer's eyes grew with excitement. He stepped back and ripped the headdress off Anastasia and gripped her hair and she growled. "And daughter of Xena. Gifts from Bey Basil himself."
The emperor stood from his throne and walked down the dais. He approached the woman with wide curious eyes as if she were a rare jewel. He grazed his fingers along her soft dirty cheek. "Xena's daughter," he whispered and looked into those gorgeous eyes of hers with the long black eyelashes.
"What a rare bird she is. Even more beautiful than her mother. Those eyes. Piercing. Icy. Blue as the Mediterranean and skin as soft as Egyptian cotton. Rose colored lips." He hissed and her nostrils glared, glaring into his eyes. "What a thing of beauty that sprung from Xena's loins. I would not have imagined it so..." he chuckled.
"My husband will kill you if you lay a hand on me," she spat.
He folded his arms. "Husband?" he snapped his fingers. "You must be the wife of Navaz! The White Hun King. I envy him. You cling to his arms, spread your legs for such a mighty king. He is so lucky to have you, little bird." He winked and she snarled. "And feisty too."
"What should I do with them, emperor?" Basilius asked and grabbed Ana by her arm, hoisting her up to her knees, arching her back.
"You touch her, you die!" Ernak yelled and a Roman kicked his spine and he fell face flat onto the hard marble.
Odoacer laughed loudly, his voice echoing in the grand palace. "Remind me to send a thank you note to Basil for these lovely gifts he has given me." He sighed at the two brothers. "Sons of Attila. How I've longed to meet you both. I've heard so much about you. Although, there seems to be one brother missing..."
He grinned, "oh that's right, he's dead!"
Gabrielle ran into the palace and observed from far away, hiding behind the throne chamber walls. She saw Odoacer's general holding onto Anastasia and Ernak with Dengi on the floor, glaring. She felt the heat radiating off her body. She could not allow them to be treated like this. She couldn't do it. if Xena were here, what would she do?
"Xena, what would you do?" she whispered to herself. "Help me, Xena. I need your wisdom and guidance more than ever." She shut her eyes for a split second, hoping to hear her companion's long lost voice.
Her eyes opened and she sighed heavily. "Please, Xena," she begged, her breath unsteady and heart racing faster by the second. "What do I do?"
"Sometimes, the mind is much stronger than any weapon in your hand," Xena said.
Gabrielle frowned and looked up into those blue sincere eyes. "What if I don't know what to do when I am left with a weapon and my own mind? How will I know when it's the right time to make that choice? To use my mind or my weapon?"
"You'll know when the time is right, Gabrielle." Xena smiled."Just follow your heart."
Gabrielle breathed in deeply and marched into the throne chambers, interrupting the little fun that emperor was having with these Huns. Her people. Her family she had grown to love over the years.
"Gabrielle, you've come at an opportune moment. Look what Bey Basil has sent me!" Odoacer grinned.
My mind is my weapon. She tread carefully and tried to not to make eye contact with Anastasia, Ernak and Dengi. She must remain calm in front of the emperor or risk everything. "What will you do with them? Have they committed any crimes?"
"Crimes?!" Odoacer cackled. "They are Huns, what could be more criminal than that?"
Xena, this is not working. "Maybe...you would like to hear their side of the story? Why would the Bey give these Huns to you? Unless, he wants something in return?"
Ernak eyed Gabrielle and she quickly made eye contact with him with a blank slate face. He lowered his eyes, feeling this was hopeless.
Odoacer rubbed his chin. "You make a valid point, Gabrielle," he wagged his finger at her. "You are a good one, I can always count on you." He smiled and she nodded her head slowly and saw the pain on Ana's face, which made her heart sink.
"I could behead them publically but that would be too easy and take the fun out of everything. What do you suggest, Gabrielle?"
Her eyes widened and she stepped forward. "Hold them as prisoners until we get more information from them." She suggested.
He nodded. "Fine idea. And to think that you were once in the company of these savages pains me, Gabrielle. You must have felt like such a prisoner, especially at the hands of Xena herself. She is brutal, is she not? A serpent rising from Hell itself, unleashing her barbarity upon the earth to destroy Mother Rome!"
She frowned. I want to kill him. Guide me, Xena, tell me what to do so I don't rip out his heart. "We are all our own prisoners, sometimes," she said calmly with a faint smile, trying to satiate the emperor awhile longer.
"Put them in the holding cells," Odoacer waved his hand. The Romans grabbed the three and pushed them along.
Anastasia turned her head over her shoulder, frowning sadly at Gabrielle. Her other mother that she had grown to love. Gabrielle turned away, not able to look at the sadness within Xena's daughter's eyes. She couldn't bear to see that look. She felt like a traitor and failure, but she could not do anything else at the moment. Everything would be soiled and ruined.
"Xena's daughter is quite a treasure. She is a woman of every man's dreams. A fine jewel that I should have kept in my grasp if I had known Xena bore a daughter instead of a son, I could have married her." The emperor said.
Gabrielle's heart raced and she had to remind herself that she couldn't just leap forward and strangle the Roman just yet. Not yet, she told herself, not yet. The time is not right. Xena wouldn't do it. She would play her famous riddle game to get what she wants and that's exactly what Gabrielle was going to do.
"You would not want to taint your line of potential heirs with a Hun, would you, sir?" she grinned deviously, feeding into the man's lust for Anastasia and her exquisiteness.
He sighed heavily. "Alas, another great point you make, but I am not so far off from the Huns." He said.
This peeked her interest immediately. "Oh?" she played coy.
"I was born in Pannonia, but the senate made sure that was eradicated from all documents. I am Roman now. I belong to Mother Rome. I. Am. Rome." He grinned triumphantly.
Well, that explains everything, she thought. That explains so much as to why he knew so much about Xena and Attila from so long ago. So long ago that she did not even exist in the life of Xena or embrace her love. Odoacer, you are a fool.
"You chose to ignore your heritage on purpose?" she asked, stepping forward. "And you hold your own people prisoner?"
Odoacer spun around with malice in his eyes. "Those savages are not my people any longer! I am Roman. My past ceases to exist! They are dogs beneath my feet!" he scoffed and walked off with General Baslilius to follow.
The following day Gabrielle came to the cells below the palace and looked to the guards. She peered through the bars and saw Anastasia sitting on the ground with the two sons of Attila, chained to the wall. Frowning she looked up to the Romans.
"Odoacer said I can interrogate them," she said sternly and the Romans looked to one another. She grinned, "you wouldn't disobey a command from your emperor, now would you?" she arched a brow.
Gabrielle walked into the dark cell filled with very little sunlight. She smiled sadly, staring at all three of them. Anastasia lifted her head once she saw leather sandals at her feet, blocking the very little sunlight there was in here. The young Hun woman smiled upon seeing the petite blonde, finally, after a year, a year of silence.
"Gabrielle..." she whispered in a hoarse voice and began sobbing softly, her eyes red from exhaustion and the swelling of imminent tears. She reached forward with her wrists bound in chains, touching Gabrielle's soft plump cheeks.
Gabrielle grinned and kissed Anastasia's dirty palm and held her hand close to her, squeezing it gently. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, she had something close to Xena. Ana was not Xena, but she was close enough. Her same eyes, her long hair, her height, her kindness –all from Xena.
"Anastasia," she looked into those tired blue eyes. "What...what are you doing here? How did you get here?" she looked back to check if the Roman guards were looking and kept her voice low to a whisper.
"I...I wanted," she began unsteadily, her breathing labored in between words, "I...wanted to see you...Gabrielle," she smiled dimly, though her eyes beaming with joy and a bit of relief. Gabrielle shook her head at the thought and felt responsible for this entire mess.
Ernak yawned and lolled his head, opening his eyes. Dengi was still asleep, leaning against the wall with his wrists shackled to the stone. He blinked once he saw Gabrielle and smiled brightly. "Gabrielle!" he whispered harshly and the consul turned her head.
She gave him a faint grin and turned back to Anastasia. "What happened? Maybe I can help you."
Ernak scooted over as far as his shackles would allow him. "We were coming to Rome to find you, but Anastasia decided to take a turn and go to Pannonia." His voice still sour from the disaster that she got them into. "The Bulgur Bey, Basil, figured out who we were and sent us to the emperor as his gifts."
Basil. Odoacer spoke of that name and the two seemed to know each other very well. Gabrielle heard Odoacer confess he was indeed a Hun, a Hun from Pannonia. She needed to keep that secret to herself or risk everything and the safety of her family –of Xena's family.
"You shouldn't have come here," Gabrielle whispered. "It's too dangerous."
Anastasia shook her head and cupped Gabrielle's cheeks, her hands shaking, in awe of being able to look into her eyes again. "I...would do anything to see you again," she smiled and a tear streamed down her cheek.
Gabrielle couldn't help but smile and wiped the tear from Ana's cheek with her thumb. "Not this way..." she sighed. She then saw the look of disappointment in Xena's daughter's eyes. "But, I am happy to know that you are alive," she added and squeezed her hand.
Ernak coughed and exhaled heavily. "Could you, perhaps, bring us food and water?" he whispered, eyeing the guards. He saw the distraught look on Gabrielle's face and frowned. "Please, Gabrielle?" he glanced over at the woman he called his sister. "For Anastasia's child."
Gabrielle's eyes widened and she looked into Anastasia's eyes with concern and fear. "You –"
Ana pressed her fingers against the blonde's lips. "No, do not tell anyone, please," she begged.
"Consul!" one Roman guard yelled from afar.
Slowly, she stood and immediately let go of Anastasia's hand, trying to appear less intimate with them all. "I'll see what I can do," she whispered.
"Wait!" Ana called out and Gabrielle turned around. The Romans awaited for her and opened the door. "My mother...her body...was never found," she said.
Gabrielle felt her heart sink to her stomach and she wrapped one arm around herself. The guard frowned. "Consul!" he yelled again and she nodded, looking over her shoulder at the three, Ernak and Anastasia staring at her with pleading eyes.
She stormed down the hallways of the palace and left quickly to go to her living quarters down the road in the largest street in Rome. She swung open the door to her flat and marched to the desk inside her room and ripped a piece of parchment from a large scroll.
Sitting down, she wrote furiously, her handwriting messy and unkempt, which was unlike her. She felt a fire inside her when Anastasia said that Xena's body was not found. That could mean two things –she was dead and taken by the Romans, perhaps Zeno, or she was alive. Gabrielle hoped and wished for the latter.
And if Xena were alive then she was out there somewhere, hiding, or perhaps lurking, Gabrielle didn't know. She knew Xena couldn't be dead. The Romans had celebrated victory too soon. But why Xena? Why are you hiding or are you truly gone from this world? From me?
She folded the letter up and stamped it with a wax seal and smiled, lifting the letter into the air. She thought it was good enough and ran outside to find a currier. It was the middle of the day and she knew that most curriers left in the morning, but she had to find someone.
Running through the streets of Rome she came to the square and saw a man on a horse holding a large bag of scrolls, letters and other important documents. Gasping, she quickly ran to the young currier and grabbed the horse's reins before he was able to leave.
"Wait! Where is this horse going?" she asked the currier.
He frowned, "Ravenna, Milan and Aquincium," he said.
She tapped her finger against her chin and he was about to leave. "Wait, please! Could you deliver this to Stagira?" she held the letter out and the currier widened his eyes in shock.
"M'lady, Stagira is Hun territory. No letters are permitted to go through lower Thrace."
"I can pay you extra," she dug into her small pouch of coin and presented him with a few extra Roman pounds. Her eyes plead and he sighed. "It's very important," she pressed.
He took the coin and looked at it in the sunlight and tucked it into his pocket. He grabbed the letter from her hand and stuffed it into his bag filled with the others. "I cannot promise you that it will be delivered to Stagira."
"I need it to be delivered there," she said with urgency in her tone. She was not going to take no for an answer. "What can I do to make sure that the letter is safely delivered to Stagira?" she asked, desperately wanting to do this. For you, Xena.
The currier grinned and held out his hand. She rolled her eyes and gave him two more pounds. "I will see it done." He gave her a curt nod and rode off outside of the square.
She ran forward and watched the horse leaving the city gates. She exhaled heavily, her breath unsteady and hesitant. She gripped her throat, feeling anxious. "Forgive me, Xena," she whispered and smiled softly, looking at the bright sunlight in the horizon. A light of hope.
"I'll find you, wherever you are."
Csaba stood on a stool as Kreka was hemming his pants. He was being very fidgety and Kreka tried constantly to avert the sharp leather needle away from his legs, but he was really testing her patience for the last half hour.
"How much longer do we have to do this?" he asked and blew some hair away from his face.
She arched an eyebrow and stuck the needle through his pants. "Until I'm finished," she smiled and he groaned, lifting one leg in the air, slightly losing his balance. "Hold still, child," she groaned lowly and then poked his ankle by accident.
"Ow!" he whined and she lifted her eyes with a smug smile.
"I told you to hold still, Csaba," she said nicely and bit the thread with her teeth and pat his leg. "That wasn't so bad now was it?" she teased and he hopped off the stool, happy to be finally done with this sewing.
He walked over to the mirror and looked at the back of his gold and black pants, nodding his head. "Very nice, I like it," he smiled. He turned to look at her and folded his arms. "When is she coming back?"
Kreka grabbed her basket of sewing supplies and set it on the table inside the yurt. "I am not sure." And truthfully, she had no idea when her sons and Anastasia were going to return. It had been two weeks already and they were still not back.
She feared the worst, although she kept that to herself. She did not wish to alarm the boy in case something did happen. Rome had always been a treacherous place for Huns and even more so now that the different tribes were spreading among Thrace.
Loud horns were sounded throughout the grounds and Csaba's eyes immediately lightened, beaming at the thought that his mother and uncles have finally returned. He quickly ran outside and Kreka grabbed her headdress and equipped it before exiting the yurt.
She frowned, squinting her eyes from the bright sun and saw men riding in on their horses beyond the entrance, bypassing the guards. She held onto Csaba's shoulders and looked upon the men riding past her and a hooded rider passed them both.
The hooded person lifted the cloak's hood up slightly and Kreka's eyes widened, once she caught sight of those eyes and wide smile. Xena put a finger to her lips and winked at Kreka.
Csaba's jaw dropped as he watched all these unknown people ride past him. He was desperate to follow them all but Kreka pulled him back. "Who are they?!" he asked, turning to look into her eyes. He frowned once he saw the color drain from Kreka's cheeks and her eyes wide, doe-like and slightly afraid or shocked, he didn't know.
"Kreka Khatun?" he spoke softly, still gaping into her hazel eyes.
She finally snapped out of her shock and felt faint. She rubbed her cheek and stared down at the boy with a small smile. "I...don't know who they are." Her eyes immediately went to Xena, the one beneath the hood. She felt like she had seen a ghost, but it was no ghost. Xena was alive. But how, she wondered?
King Navaz stepped out of his home and saw a horde of Hunnic men lined up outside. Tuya stepped out beside him and folded her arms, glaring at the men. He lifted his eyebrow. "Who are you people and what brings you to Balaam?"
Malka stepped forward, bowing his head, "your highness. My name is Malka, Bey of the Nezak Huns in Kazakhstan."
"Nezak Huns," Navaz said and Malka nodded. "You have traveled a long way. I hope it is for a good reason."
The Bey nodded, "yes, it is. It concerns your wife. Might we have a more private conversation?" he proposed.
"My wife?" Navaz folded his arms and lifted his chin. "Why does my wife concern you?"
"Please, your majesty, a private setting," Malka suggested and eyed Xena beside him. He felt very wary about this, but Xena seemed to be calm and collected so far. He had heard many stories of the commander and her ways of interrogation. She was very skilled in making people talk and get what she wants.
The king allowed Malka and his political envoy inside of his Adame. Tuya sat on the rug floor beside her son and Malka sat opposite with Xena, still cloaked. Navaz spoke to his servants and offered them tea as they were Huns, he must show his customs to new guests.
Xena looked down at the tea and through the black shreds of fabric, glaring at the king. He was handsome, she noticed, older than Anastasia, but too much older. He did not seem like a threat nor a horrible person. She then eyed Tuya, the mother of the king, and she could tell that this woman was a problem. Very strong willed like Kreka, though maybe a bit malicious, unlike Kreka was.
Tuya eyed Xena, trying to figure out the face beneath the hood. Her dark brown eyes burning a hole into the hood and Xena smiled softly. The woman's oval pale face turned to her son, directing her full attention to him.
Navaz cleared his throat and stared at the Bey. "Now, what is it that you wanted to talk me about? My wife, you mentioned. How did you come to know about my wife?"
Malka smiled, "through the grapevine. I've heard that she is very beautiful." He said and the young king frowned, not finding that very enthralling to hear. "Is she here?"
"Unfortunately, she is not," Tuya interrupted.
Xena felt her blood simmering under her skin. "Where is she?" she asked in a low voice. Tuya snapped her head around once she heard Xena's voice. A feminine voice.
"I do not see why it concerns you, respected Bey and..." Navaz trailed off, looking at the hooded envoy.
Xena took the hood off of her and stood up, unsheathing her sword, pointing it directly at the king. Tuya gasped and scooted back. Navaz stood up slowly and gripped the sword at his hip. Xena grinned, her blue eyes sparkling.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she warned. "I can rip you to shreds in seconds." She titled the sword and the point of the blade was dangerously close to his throat.
"You've come all this way to assassinate me?" Navaz began slowly, eyeing the sharp blade.
"If I wanted to do that, you'd be dead already," Xena grinned, batting her eyelashes. "Now, your wife, Anastasia. Where is she?" her eyes widened.
He bit his tongue, refusing to answer and she growled, pressing the blade against his throat.
"I am not going to ask again!" she hissed and pinned him against the wall.
Navaz breathed heavily, staring into those fierce blue eyes filled with fury. "Rome, she went to Rome on a diplomatic mission." He finally spoke and Xena lowered her sword and her lip snarled.
"She did what?" she hissed. "You allowed her to go to Rome? To that place of filth?" she held the sword up to the king again. "Why did she go? How long has she been gone?"
He folded his arms and she snarled. "How long?!" she screeched.
Tuya stood, glaring at Xena. "You dare speak to a king this way?"
Xena arched her eyebrow and pointed the blade at the woman. "Queen Mother," she scoffed. "I do not care about you or the words that come from your mouth." She turned to Navaz. "Tell me how long ago she left." She demanded.
Navaz sighed heavily. "Two weeks ago," he said and Xena finally lowered her guard. "I should have you put to death for the way you treated me and my mother."
Xena chuckled softly and sheathed her sword. "Trust me, you don't want to do that, pretty boy." She winked. "I'm your best ally you have right now."
"Ally?!" Navaz yelled and marched forward, standing eye level with her. "You put a sword to my throat!"
"And would you like it to pierce your skin? Should I have finished the job?" Xena proposed and her lips turned into an eerie smile. "We could be friends, Navaz, if you cooperate..." she whispered in his ear.
He felt her hot breath against his skin and goose bumps rose on his arms. She leaned in closer. "Your wife is very precious to me and if anything happens to her I will put your head on a pike." She pulled away, still grinning and saw fear in his eyes.
"So, we are allies, then?" she asked and bat her eyelashes.
Navaz frowned and took a sizeable step backward. "Who are you?" he asked.
Malka held his breath and Xena looked to him. He gave her an apologetic look, not sure what answer she should give, but he had no sound advice. It was only a matter of time, he supposed.
She turned around and looked into the king's dark eyes. "Xena, former Commander of Pannonia and King Attila."
Tuya's jaw dropped and the look of distain faded from Navaz's face. He looked into her eyes and thought he had seen a ghost before him. "Xena? You...you are supposed to be dead."
She grinned, "it would appear I am not, obviously," she rolled her eyes. "If anything happens to my daughter I swear I will rip your beating heart from your chest."
"Anastasia is your daughter?" he asked, confusedly and eyed his mother, whom was also very bemused.
Xena folded her arms. "Yes, she is." She said and saw the shock in their eyes and she cocked her head. "I should...thank you for keeping her out of harm's way." She continued and Navaz blinked his eyes, gawking. "But you are foolish for letting her go to Rome."
"I...I could not refuse. She is the commander of my army. I made it so," he shook his head.
Her eyes widened and felt her stomach turn to knots. "She is a...commander?" her words barely parting from her lips. Suddenly she felt nervous, anxious and a bit of pride. Her daughter, also a commander of a Hun army, like she was. But the fact that she went to Rome made little to no sense.
She turned and marched out of the yurt and her eyes locked with Kreka. The former wife of Attila had a smile on her face, overjoyed to see her and Xena smiled faintly at her. She walked down the stairs and Kreka ran forward.
The two women looked into each other's eyes for quite some time. Kreka grabbed Xena's hands and her eyes glazed over. Without warning, the queen mother embraced Xena, flinging her arms around her neck, bringing her close.
Xena huffed and couldn't believe such warmth that sprung from this woman, a woman that she never truly got along with and their relationship had not always been the best. It was unexpected for her to react in such a way that Xena had no idea how to respond.
Pulling away from each other Xena's eyes darkened. "Why is Anastasia in Rome?" she asked, gripping Kreka's shoulders.
The hazel eyed woman sighed deeply and wiped the tears from her eyes. "She got a letter from..." she lifted her eyes, "Gabrielle."
Xena felt the air escape her lungs once more. Gabrielle, she is alive. A prayer sent to the heavens above and they were answered. Her daughter and lover, her companion, were both alive. The people she cared most about were alive and so close to her that she could almost feel their embrace. Joy overcame her and she smiled softly, trying to hide her emotion.
But this news could only mean one thing. Her light mood soon dissipated. "Gabrielle is in Rome," she stated. There was no question about it.
"Yes," Kreka said curtly.
Rain began to drizzle and Kreka looked to the darkened skies. She grabbed Xena's arm. "Come with me," she said and pulled her along into her yurt not too far from Navaz's Adame.
The two sat inside the yurt and Xena took off the cloak, tossing it aside. Her eyes scanned the yurt and it was very nice, fit for a queen of course. Kreka was hovering over a fire, making tea in silence. Xena sighed heavily and rubbed her face.
"Anastasia is a queen," she said with a weak grin.
Kreka smiled, stirring the hot tea with a wooden spoon. "Yes, she is. A very good queen and commander." She turned, locking eyes with Xena. "Just like you."
She brought two cups of tea and sat beside Xena on the floor. Eyeing the ex-commander cautiously, she could not believe that she was still alive. How? How was she alive? She couldn't wrap her mind around it. "Xena," she began, "what happened to you?"
Xena nursed the hot tea in her hands. "Malka found me in Pannonia. The Nezak Huns came to help us but it was too late. He saved my life. I am forever grateful to him," she admitted softly. She never had so much help from a stranger before.
"I'm glad you're alive. I knew that it would be hard to get rid of you. God has spared your life once more," Kreka joked and sipped on the tea.
Xena nodded and smiled at the woman. "Csaba, is he here?" she asked.
Kreka's smile widened with warmth. "He's sleeping. He missed you a lot. He talks about you every day."
To hear that warmed Xena's heart. She loved that boy a lot and he was a sweet reminder of all the people she loved and lost over the years. He was a bright boy, just Ellac and Anastasia.
The two sat in silence, drinking their tea and Kreka tapped her fingers on the glass cup, while Xena's eyes were focused on the dark tea, her mind probably wandering, over thinking and in shock from everything.
Kreka sighed and set the cup down. "Xena, there's something you should know."
"What is it?" Xena frowned, furrowing her eyebrows.
"Anastasia..." she began and felt Xena's eyes boring into her soul. "She's...pregnant," she blurted out and lifted her eyes slowly and steadily. She saw Xena's eyes grow in fear, shock, worry and anger all at once.
"And that idiot let her go to Rome?!" Xena stood and threw the cup onto the ground and Kreka ran her hand across her face.
"Xena..." she tried to reach for her hand and Xena paced around. "Dengi and Ernak are with her. They gave me their word that she would be safe."
Xena's lip quivered. "You let her go?!"
"Xena!" Kreka stood up irately and the two women glared into each other's eyes. "I cannot make her stay! She is not a child anymore!"
Something so dear and close to Xena felt like it had been ripped from her not once, but twice. She sighed heavily and ran her fingers through her hair. "But, she is my child." She said softly and Kreka's face softened.
"I have to go to Rome."
Kreka blinked. "Xena, you can't. The emperor knows who you are –all of the Romans know you who are. You will be recognized in an instant!"
"My daughter was taken from me and so was Gabrielle. I thought I lost everything, but now that I know they are both alive...I need to see them both with my own eyes. I won't wait around for her to return because I fear that she will never return."
Kreka nodded, understanding where Xena was coming from completely. "I know. And I also know that you will stop at nothing to see her again."
"Is she...happy?" Xena asked, tears swelling in her eyes.
Kreka smiled dimly, "I'd be lying to you if I said she was." She saw the light fade from Xena's eyes. It definitely wasn't something a mother wanted to hear. "But I saw happiness in her eyes when she received that letter from Gabrielle. She believes Gabrielle is the second best thing to having you by her side."
"So, she went to Rome to find her," Xena nodded.
"Wouldn't you?" Kreka said and Xena looked into her eyes.
"I came here to find my daughter, hanging onto a string of hope. I'm not going to stop until I can hold her and Gabrielle. They are special to me and I don't want to lose them. Again."
Csaba came into the center of the yurt, awakening from his slumber. His eyes fluttered and both women turned around. His jaw dropped and Xena smiled at him. Slowly, she walked towards him and touched his cheek as he kept gawking into her eyes.
"Sweet boy," Xena whispered and he stared at her for a moment longer until he wrapped his lanky arms around her.
"I missed you," his voice muffled in her dark hair. He pulled away and she ran her thumbs across his teary cheeks.
She kissed his forehead, "me too." She sat down and grabbed his hands, not able to wipe the smile off her face, overjoyed to see her grandson again. Another person she thought she lost forever. The light of her eyes.
"My...my mother is in Rome right now," he said, lowering his gaze.
She lifted his chin, "I know and I'm going to find her."
"You will bring her back?" he asked skeptically, lifting one eyebrow.
Grinning, she nodded. "Of course I will. I promise," she leered into his eyes and he finally broke out into a smile, knowing he could always trust her. She pulled out a tattered folded up piece of parchment. It was very old and wrinkled from years of wear.
She unfolded the fragile parchment and Csaba looked at it carefully, cocking his head. "My drawing," he beamed. He gave that to her when he was so small, just a little boy. "You kept it?"
"I said I would keep it with me always," she winked and folded the drawing back up and tucked it into her pant pocket.
Anastasia opened her eyes to the dimly lit cell and exhaled heavily, feeling sweat dripping down her back and forehead. Dengi kept eyeing her cautiously as did Ernak beside her.
"Ana," Dengi spoke softly and she lolled her head back against the wall. "Anastasia!" he said louder.
"Be quiet!" a Roman guard yelled and Dengi grimaced.
Ernak shook his head. "She's going to pass out," he said to his brother. He scooted over and rubbed his leg against her dress, trying to keep her awake. "Hey, don't fall asleep," he said and her lips parted as she closed her eyes. "Stay awake!" he bumped her leg and she jolted awake.
The cell door creaked open and both brothers saw two Romans come inside. They knelt down and unlocked the shackles around Anastasia's wrists. Dengi creased his eyebrows and the Romans lifted her up by her arms and she fell to the ground.
"Pick her up," the Roman cell guard grumbled.
"Where are you taking her?!" Dengi yelled and the Romans ignored him as he watched them carry Anastasia off and lock the door behind them.
"Hey! You stupid fuck!" he yelled again. "Fucking Roman dog!" he spat.
Ernak raised his eyebrow. "I don't think that is going to help our cause, brother."
"They just took her! We have no idea where she's going!" his brother yelled.
"Maybe Gabrielle..." Ernak spoke in hushed tones. "Is going to help her?" he raised his eyebrows and Dengi settled down, banging his fists against the wall, groaning loudly.
"If there is a merciful God, I wish he would obliterate Rome," Dengi muttered.
Warm water was dumped on top of Anastasia and she gasped for air, wrapping her arms around herself. She blinked rapidly, trying to gain consciousness as to where she was again. She felt someone pulling on her wet long hair and soap drenched all over her shoulders. Her body tense and while the water was warm she felt so cold.
"Leave us," Gabrielle said and the Roman slaves left the baths quickly. She knelt down beside Anastasia and poured some water onto her soapy arms. She smiled and ran a comb through Ana's long hair.
Slowly, Anastasia turned at the gentle touch and blinked, water dripping from her long eyelashes. "Gabrielle," her smile stretched from ear to ear.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get you out sooner but I had...other duties," she grumbled and rubbed a damp cloth over Anastasia's shoulders. "I convinced Odoacer to release you. He wouldn't allow Dengi and Ernak to come out of the cell, I'm afraid."
Ana nodded her head slowly and then grabbed the blonde's wrist. "Will...you tell Navaz that I am here?" she asked barely above a whisper.
Gabrielle sighed, "I can't send letters to any Huns. I already risked my life sending you that letter and I may have put myself in even more danger."
"What do you mean?" Ana's eyes grew with anxiety and fear.
"I sent a letter to Xena's brothers in Stagira. I know that city has been claimed by Atlyn Huns, but they are still Xena's brothers." She said and Anastasia frowned.
A few years after Attila died, Gabrielle finally convinced Xena to reunite with her brothers after being away from each other for many years. Her brothers, Pirro and Ditron, instantly recognized her, but she did not recognize them. At that time Stagira was still part of the Greek-Thracian territory, but now it belonged to the Atlyn Huns –the enemy of Pannonia.
And now, Pannonia was no more and the Atlyn Huns warred with the Bulgur Huns to conquer as much land as they could. A united Hunnic Empire was no more, but several tribes fighting each other just like it was before Attila became king of the Huns. It seems that history was due to repeat itself.
"Gabrielle, why would you do that? Now they will know I am here!" Ana yelled and Gabrielle cringed at the rise of her voice.
"Anastasia, I didn't have another choice! I am stuck here and I can't leave. I am Consul of Rome now. I am not an innocent poet or teacher from Greece anymore. I have duties here and I don't like living here, but I can't just go out and risk being killed. Not when you're here and alive. I can't do that." Gabrielle shook her head and continued combing the Hun's hair.
"And so you thought that a Hun invasion into Rome would spare my life and what about Dengi and Ernak? Those boys now turned to men I call my brothers. What about them?" Anastasia frowned and tears swelled in her eyes.
Gabrielle hated to see her cry, she never liked to see that and it seemed that's all she was doing since she came here, which was understandable. "Your mother's brothers care about you."
"They are my enemies, Gabrielle. They live with the Atlyn Huns –"
"Not by choice, Ana!" the blonde griped and the young queen's eyes widened. "Stagira was captured by those Huns! They had to surrender or die, you know that."
"Saçmalık," Ana muttered and received a smack in the back of her head and she gasped.
"It's not bullshit," Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and Anastasia sulked, sinking into the water.
"I am a grown woman and I feel like a child," Ana frowned, folding her arms.
Gabrielle smirked and poured some water onto her long dark tresses. "I'm sure your mother would react just the same."
Anastasia sighed and lifted some water into her palms and turned around, leaning against the title of the bath. "Gabrielle, how did you convince the emperor to let me out?" she asked.
The blonde consul bit her bottom lip and lowered her gaze. "I promised that you would dine with him."
"I couldn't let you sit in that cell another day, Anastasia! I love you too much to do that," she said with a softer voice and Ana's eyes warmed.
"I love you too, Gabrielle," she grabbed her hand. "I wish my mother were here."
Gabrielle nodded, "me too." She sighed and grabbed a long robe and stood. "Come on, we have to get you dressed."
Anastasia reluctantly rose from the water and slipped the silk robe on, wrapping the sash around her body. She felt sick just thinking about sitting in the same room as Odoacer. The way he was ogling her days ago was enough to make her vomit upon his sandals, yet she did not. She refrained, by the grace of God.
Xena sat inside Navaz's yurt with Kreka and Malka by her side. Tuya was glaring at the two women, feeling as if she was being conspired against. She felt more than tricked, she felt lied to and knew the instant she met these Pannonian Huns, she would regret. And she was right.
"You want to go to Rome?" Navaz asked.
"I don't trust the Romans. If Anastasia has been gone for two weeks that means something is wrong. I know it is because I can feel it," Xena clenched her jaw, locking eyes with the young king.
Navaz couldn't take his eyes off of Xena and everyone else was noticing especially since he was silent. Xena raised her eyebrow and snapped her fingers in front of his face and he blinked, now embarrassed.
"Forgive me," he said softly, "she looks so much like you."
Xena smirked, "that is beside the point. I will go alone to Rome and Kreka will stay here to keep an eye on things," her eyes immediately went to the Queen Mother, Tuya.
"Oh please," Tuya rolled her eyes. "I do not need to be ordered around by a bunch of Pannonian Huns."
Kreka's hazel eyes darkened. "We are both Huns. We should work together not against one another."
"And we should trust you now? You have lied about being Anastasia's mother for an entire year." Tuya scoffed.
"For good reason," Kreka spat.
"Enough!" Xena yelled, quieting everyone in the room and Kreka smirked at Tuya and she received a cold shoulder. "I will leave tomorrow morning."
Navaz presented himself politely, as if trying to impress her. "Allow some of my men to escort you."
Xena and Kreka looked to one another and grinned. "That won't be necessary. I am capable of taking care of myself."
Malka interrupted, "I will come with you, Xena. My men could use some excitement in their lives," he only half joked.
"You call an invasion of Rome exciting, Malka and I call it chaos and all I can see is death," Xena said with a dark tone.
"I will not let you go alone," the Bey said and Xena sighed. Kreka grabbed her arm firmly.
"Let him go with you, Xena. You cannot go into Rome by yourself or risk being caught and then you'll never get Anastasia or Gabrielle back." Kreka whispered. "Do not be stubborn," she advised, "I hate it when you get like that," she teased and Xena arched a brow at the ex-Hun queen.
"Fine," Xena stood from the floor. She had enough of this long conversation and grew tired of the king's mother glaring at her for the last couple of hours. She turned to the young king. "If any harm has come to my daughter do not think that I won't skin you."
Tuya frowned, "you make threats against the king?"
Xena grinned, "that is not a threat, but a promise and a warning. I always keep my promises."
Dengi looked down at his boots and kept whistling throughout the day, trying to keep himself distracted and occupied. Although, the infernal whistling irritated the Roman guards to no end, but he no longer cared. He and his brother had been confined in the cell for days, possibly weeks, he lost count. He also hadn't seen any sign of Anastasia since the guards took her away.
Ernak lifted his head and sighed heavily, his throat dry from lack of water and his stomach he presumed, eating itself as the Roman emperor hardly gave them any food. He looked at his brother and his unkempt hair, whistling. The sound triggered him and he snarled.
"Stop it!" he yelled and Dengi bit his bottom lip.
"How long do you think we've been in here?" Dengi asked, becoming worried. Today there was no sun, but rain. In fact it had been raining for the last few days, maybe three days, he didn't know.
The young king sighed and banged his head against the wall. "I don't know, but I feel like I'm going insane inside of this place." He groaned and rattled the shackles. "Where is Anastasia? I haven't seen her in weeks!"
Before Dengi could bother to answer a Roman guard came inside and dropped two old pieces of bread and set two cups of water on the ground. Ernak raised his eyebrow and Dengi chuckled. "He gives us bread this time, brother, we should praise him and his emperor," he teased and Ernak laughed.
The Roman rolled his eyes and Ernak reached for the bread, immediately biting into it. As he was chewing the bread he bit into something hard and cringed. He pulled a large scrap of metal from his mouth and his eyes widened.
A key he held in his hand and a big smile graced his lips. "Gabrielle, you are a goddess!" he whispered and Dengi lifted his eyes and saw his brother holding a key to their shackles.
Ernak hurriedly unlocked the shackles from his wrists, eyeing the Romans cautiously. He quietly slipped the chains off and threw the key to his brother. Dengi grinned and quickly unlocked the chains and stood to his feet.
Both brothers walked quietly, approaching closer to the cell gate. Ernak wrapped his hand around the Roman's mouth and Dengi did the same to the other guard. The Romans muffled screams and cries for help were unheard. Dengi's eyes grew wild and he snapped the guard's neck.
Ernak nodded, "alright then," he twisted the other Roman's neck and both of them fell to the ground. He reached through the iron rods and grabbed the set of keys on the Roman's belt.
Ernak tried several keys and finally unlocked the cell door. The two stepped out quietly and Dengi checked around the corner for any soldiers. "The coast is clear," he whispered. He looked at his brother putting on the Roman's armor and cocked his eyebrow upward. "Clever, brother."
Anastasia sat in front of the mirror, running her fingers through her hair. She had been given Greek gowns and dresses, which she thought she'd never wear again. She remembered wearing such clothing when she went to school in Thebes and Athens and her mother was not pleased with the attire she chose.
A smile came to her lips as she remembered her mother's face. She couldn't forget that face her mother gave her when she arrived in a Grecian gown that was very revealing, more revealing than her mother would have liked. She was a rebellious teenager, but now she was a woman and she didn't feel rebellious at all. She felt trapped.
So far, she had been here for two weeks, maybe three, she lost count. She was able to continue this charade with Odoacer and dine with him and entertain him by saying absolutely nothing. He would stare at her constantly, fawning over her while he was drunk with sweet honey wine. Luckily for her, she refrained from wine and only sipped it throughout the night, hoping that it would make the nights go by faster, but alas, it didn't.
Gabrielle walked into the room and closed the door behind her. Ana turned around and frowned seeing her once more. "Ernak and Dengi should be out of the cell by now. You remember the plan, right?"
Anastasia nodded, "yes, but I don't know if this is going to work, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle hoped that this plan would work and she really wished Xena were here. Things would go more smoothly if she were here. "They aren't going to leave without you. Once you're out of the palace I want you to ride out of Rome. Don't come back here."
Anastasia gasped and grabbed her other mother's hand. "But, what about you? I don't want to leave without you, Gabrielle! I came all this way and won't leave without you!
Gabrielle smiled and touched her soft cheek and sat down beside her. "Ana, I love you, but I will be fine here. We will see each other again, I promise." She kissed her cheek and heard Anastasia sobbing softly. "Don't cry. This is not the end, but a new beginning. You need to leave Rome. Take care of yourself and your baby."
Anastasia frowned and her eyes darkened. She snatched her hand away from the blonde consul. "I don't care about this baby!" she rose from the chair and Gabrielle's jaw dropped. "It is nothing but a business transaction I made with my husband."
"You don't mean that," Gabrielle tried to calm the girl down.
"Yes, I do," she said in a softer tone and couldn't bear look at the shock and sadness on Gabrielle's face. She felt like she was in her mother's presence. "I wish I felt different, but I don't."
Gabrielle sighed and could feel the girl's pain. She was obviously depressed and missing something, missing her mother. "Anastasia, don't let your heart harden. Your mother wouldn't want that and I don't want that for you either. Despite your feelings for Navaz, don't blame your child. It's innocent and I know you are a loving woman. You wouldn't let your heart harden because of a child, would you?"
Anastasia sighed and folded her arms. "I don't know how to feel right now." She muttered.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her and brought her in close. "Just remember the plan, alright?" she whispered.
"If Odoacer tries to grope me I swear I am going to vomit all over him." She said and Gabrielle stifled a laugh. "Maybe just this once, I won't be able to control myself," she smirked and sauntered out of the room, readying herself to be in the company of the emperor again.
Xena and Malka crept in the dark corners of Rome's busy streets. Xena hid her face with a dark hood and frowned as she watched Romans pass her by. Malka kept his hand upon the hilt of his sword, eyeing everyone, being overly cautious.
"Where do we go now?" Malka whispered.
She lifted the hood and the hot rain poured down on the dirt roads. "We need to get close to the palace. Kreka said Gabrielle is consul of Rome so she would be close to the emperor at all times."
Being in this very city gave Xena the creeps. She hated Rome and she hated emperors. They always claimed to be working for God and greater good, but they weren't working for the greater good. They hated anyone and everyone that opposed them. Flavius Aetius once tried to befriend Attila, but that didn't turn out the way he had hoped.
There was one good thing about this dreadful place and that was Gabrielle. A sweet smile came to her lips when she thought of that blonde woman. She loved her dearly and knew that they would not live forever, but she wanted to be with Gabrielle even after death. Being so close to Gabrielle, yet so far, made Xena quiver inside. Her heart warmed.
Dreams of coming into Gabrielle's arms haunted her for an entire year. She never lost hope that one day she would be in the close proximity of Gabrielle again. Two people so different from one another yet worked so well. Oil and vinegar, as Gabrielle said long ago. They only go together if you shake the bottle first.
She and Malka walked through the streets, passing by all the civilians unnoticed. She had never been in the shadows, lurking like an assassin before. The thrill of it all sort of excited her and she was so used to be hated for what she looked like and who she was. But now, nobody knew who she was because they couldn't see her face and these citizens had no idea what she looked like. It was new, something new.
Every blonde body in the crowd made Xena's heart flutter, hoping that one person would be Gabrielle, but when she realized they weren't, her hope faded.
Rounding a corner she caught a bunch of senators walking together, talking. She also spotted someone wearing a white gown and short blonde locks. A smile appeared on her face and she waited for the woman to turn around.
She waited and waited. Walking closer to the center of the street she caught glimpse of Gabrielle and her sweet smile, her plump cheeks and muscular yet lean arms unhidden from the sleeveless gown she wore, accentuating her taut waist and thighs and slender calves.
"Gabrielle," she said beneath her breath. She saw Gabrielle walking off by herself and decided to follow her with Malka trailing behind cautiously holding onto his sword just in case something happened to them.
Walking a few paces behind Gabrielle she could almost smell her, taste her and feel her touch once more. A year too long, a year that felt like an eon. She almost felt like this was the first time she was seeing Gabrielle, not as a capturer, but as a lover, a friend, a companion, an ally. And the best thing of it all, Gabrielle was clueless.
She wanted to reach out to her, but didn't want to cause alarm. She continued following her and saw Gabrielle heading towards the senate. If she goes in there then I won't be able to see her. Reacting on impulse she wrapped her hand around Gabrielle's mouth and drug her into a dark alleyway.
Malka raised his eyebrow and blocked the alleyway so nobody could come by. He figured he should trust Xena even though he felt like he was left in the dark with this woman's plans.
Gabrielle screamed, muffled by Xena's hand and looked at the lips beneath the hood. Her screams faded and slowly her body relaxed. She had seen those lips before, but she couldn't believe it. slowly, she reached forward and lifted the hood and saw those blue eyes that she had longed to see once more. Just one more time.
Her eyes grew with shock and swelled with tears. Xena took her hand from her mouth and smiled warmly. "Xena..." she whispered and felt her heart about to beat out of her chest. She didn't know how to feel right now. She felt excited, betrayed, tricked, loved, sad, happy, all of the above.
She touched Xena's cheek, her fingertips gliding on her rigid high cheekbones. Her fingers roamed to her nose, lips and chin, making sure that Xena was in fact real and this was not a dream.
"Gabrielle," Xena smiled widely and kissed her hand.
"I...you're alive," Gabrielle said and that definitely wasn't the first thing that she wanted to come from her mouth. "You..." she flung her arms around the tall brunette, squeezing her tightly for the first time in a long time.
"I missed you so much. I thought you were lost forever," she exhaled heavily, smelling her hair that reminded her of hot campfires, wood and yet a small hint of lavender. A smell she missed dearly.
Xena pried Gabrielle's arms off her and was at a loss for words. She had so many things she wanted to say to her but suddenly she was mute. She cupped the blonde's cheeks and gaped into those jade colored eyes. "You can't rid of me that quickly, Gabrielle," she jested.
Gabrielle laughed whilst sobbing softly and hit Xena's shoulder playfully. "Your jokes are never said at the appropriate times," she wagged her head. She then realized that Xena was in Rome. Her city. The most hated city among the Huns. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.
"I'm looking for Anastasia," Xena said.
A smile graced the consul's lips. "She's here. I've been with her."
Xena's stomach turned and she gripped Gabrielle's shoulders. "Is she alright?" she hoped and Gabrielle nodded. "How is she?"
Loud horns sounded throughout the square and Gabrielle covered her ears and Xena cringed. Malka grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her to the entrance of the alleyway. "Xena!" he pointed to the slew of Roman horses stampeding through the square following two horsemen and one woman.
Xena's mouth parted as she saw Anastasia sitting behind Dengi on a Roman horse and Ernak riding beside them. They passed by her and she heard Ernak laughing loudly and saw Dengi with a big smile on his face.
Gabrielle pushed through Xena and Malka and gasped. "Oh no," she slipped and Xena looked down at her.
"What...are they doing?" she asked lowly, already becoming irritated.
"I...I told Anastasia that she could escape quietly with Dengi and Ernak. I didn't think they were going to steal horses!" Gabrielle slapped her forehead and then felt a tug on her arm and she was being pulled by Xena down the dark alley. "Xena!"
"You're coming with me," Xena mounted her horse and extended her hand. "Gabrielle, I did not come all the way to Rome to leave you behind." She wriggled her fingers and the blonde stayed put, thinking for a few brief moments and Xena creased her eyebrows.
"You aren't thinking of actually staying, are you?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "It's not that, it's just Odoacer will think that I –"
"Odoacer?" Xena interrupted and she tightened the grip around the reins. "Odoacer is emperor?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. That look. Gabrielle had seen that look in Xena's eyes before –a look that could kill, literally.
"That bastard," she muttered under her breath. "I thought he was dead!" she growled and looked to Gabrielle. "You're coming with me." She grabbed her arm and hoisted the blonde on her horse.
"Xena! No! Wait just a minute!" Gabrielle groaned and yelped as the horse took off at great speed. She wrapped her arms around Xena's waist and leaned into her backside, squinting her eyes from the racing rain. Suddenly, she had flashbacks of the first time she met Xena and the first time she was taken by her.
"I'm not losing you again!" Xena said and rode through the rains. She spotted Anastasia, Dengi and Ernak trying to flee from the Roman guards with no weapons on hand of course. She smiled and took a shortcut through a few streets.
Gabrielle gasped and ducked her head from a large canopy ahead. She had forgotten how awful it was to ride with Xena. She was an insane horseman and always did unpredictable turns.
Now riding directly behind the Romans Xena smiled beneath the rain soaked hood and pulled out the bow upon her back and grabbed an arrow. "Gabrielle, take the reins."
"Just do it," Xena grinned and Gabrielle shook her head and grabbed onto the reins, steering the horse to the left, riding behind a Roman. Xena squinted one of her eyes and released an arrow. The Roman screeched and fell off his horse, clutching onto the arrow pierced through his throat.
Gabrielle couldn't help but smile as she saw the Roman fall to his death soon followed by another soldier. Xena kept loading her bow and the Romans began to catch on and turned around to see her riding on the horse and her eyes widened. This is not good, Gabrielle thought.
"Huns!" a Roman soldier shouted. "The Huns have the Consul!" he turned around on his horse as did the three others and began charging right for Xena and Gabrielle.
"Xena..." Gabrielle began panicking and Xena smirked, slinging her bow behind her, she grabbed the reins and steered off in the opposite direction, leading the Romans away from Dengi, Ernak and Anastasia.
Malka, lurking in the shadows came up from behind and swung his sword, slicing through a Roman's arm. Xena unsheathed her sword and looked over her shoulder to see two Romans following her and felt Gabrielle's grip around her waist tighten.
Ernak and Dengi skid to a stop and realized they weren't being followed anymore. Anastasia frowned and saw Gabrielle on the horse with a hooded person with a long sword, a sword she recognized. Air escaped her lungs, her chest constricted upon itself and she kept gawking at the sword –her mother's sword.
"Alright Gabrielle, bringing the Huns to Rome!" Ernak smiled, nodding his head. "She's got more balls than most men I know."
Anastasia's eyes were locked on the hooded rider and watched as the rider twirled the large sword with such ease. The small flick of the wrist and plunge the blade into a Roman and it was then she knew it was her mother. She heard a loud cry as the sword thrust into the Roman's flesh –her mother's voice.
She slapped Dengi's upper arm over and over again. "My mother!" she pointed to the rider and both brothers looked onward. "My mother! It's her!" she yelled with excitement and she grinned from ear to ear.
She pushed Dengi off the horse and took hold of the reins and rode down the road to meet with her mother and Gabrielle. Dengi groaned and Ernak laughed. He spun his head around and mounted the horse with his younger brother.
"God dammit, Anastasia!" Dengi punched his brother in the shoulder. "Follow her!"
Xena let out a loud war cry and thrust her blade into the last Roman and breathed heavily. Gabrielle ran her hand across her face and couldn't believe this was happening right now. First, she thought Xena was dead, and now that she was alive, Xena was causing chaos all around her. It was not unusual, but unwarranted.
"Mother!" Anastasia called out and Xena turned at the sweet voice she had longed to hear again.
Anastasia skid to a stop and Xena pulled back the hood, revealing her face. Both smiled at one another and Anastasia hopped off the horse, running to her side. Xena swung her legs over and wrapped her arms around her daughter, squeezing her tightly.
"I thought you were gone forever," Ana whispered, sobbing softly in her mother's veil of hair.
Xena pulled away and wiped the tears from her daughter's cheeks, grinning warmly. "I'm not going anywhere." She winked and kissed her forehead. "Are you alright?"
She nodded, "Gabrielle took care of me."
Xena turned and smiled at Gabrielle and saw her cheeks flush. "Of course she did."
Ernak and Dengi pulled up and both had shocked looks upon their faces. Slowly, Xena turned around and folded her arms, glaring at both brothers. "Boys," she addressed them.
Ernak scoffed, "we are not boys anymore, Xena," he jested and hopped off the horse, staring into her eyes. He opened his arms for a hug and he grinned sheepishly. A smirk graced her lips and she embraced him and he sighed with relief.
Although a sigh of relief came too soon when he got punched in the arm and he hissed, stepping away. "Ow! What the hell!"
Dengi saw Xena's lingering eyes focused on him and her fist clench. He put his hands up and began walking backward. "Now, Xena...we can talk about this." He begged and she came sauntering towards him until Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"Later, Xena," the blonde pressed and Xena grunted then turned back to her daughter, smiling once more.
Malka chuckled at the fear in the brothers' eyes. They truly looked like children about to be spanked by an adult even though they were both grown adults. They obviously feared Xena and he now understood why. All the tales he heard of Xena were true. She was a great fighter and she certainly cared a lot about her family.
"The rumors seem to be true about your daughter," he mentioned and Ana brushed a wet tendril behind her ear. "She is quite a beauty."
Ernak rubbed his arm, fearful of coming within a foot of Xena. He cleared his throat. "I don't mean to interrupt this lovely moment but I think we should get the hell out of here before more Roman dogs show up." He suggested.
Gabrielle agreed. "He's right and now that I'm absent, Odoacer will notice. We should leave."
"Oh, I thought you wanted to stay?" Xena teased and hopped on her horse.
Gabrielle crinkled her nose and climbed onto Xena's horse. "It wasn't even like that."
Hours later after riding in the rain they crossed the Tiber river into a small lesser Roman city. Gabrielle thought it best that they stay away from the larger cities to risk being caught by Odoacer's men. She knew that he would send a group of scouts to come look for her once he knew that the 'Huns' kidnapped her.
Anastasia, dressed as a Roman citizen as well as Gabrielle, were able to find a place for everyone to stay during the storm. Xena, Malka, Ernak and Dengi were snuck in through the back so they were not seen by the tavern owner. Their clothing would instantly give them away and Gabrielle didn't want to lose them again after everything that happened. It would be too close of a call.
Gabrielle walked into the room that the tavern owner so kindly gave them for the night. She was wrapped in a sheet, allowing her wet dress to dry. She looked and saw Xena sitting beside a slumbering Anastasia, cuddled in a warm wool blanket and her dress hanging on a rack to dry.
Xena ran her hand across her daughter's hair, watching her sleep soundly, completely exhausted, she could only imagine. The sound of footsteps caused her to turn head and she grinned faintly upon seeing her blonde companion she longed to see again.
The blonde sat down beside Xena and felt a little self conscious all of a sudden. She rubbed the back of her neck and then saw a gash on Xena's arm. She gasped and immediately gravitated to the warrior's wound.
"You're hurt," she said.
"Just a scratch," Xena said and Gabrielle went to grab a cool cloth to clean the wound, but Xena pushed her gently back onto the bed. "Gabrielle." Her eyes pleading for her blonde to stay by her side and not leave her, not even for the littlest thing.
Gabrielle smiled and settled onto the bed, gaping into the warrior's blue eyes. The feeling of seeing Xena again was overwhelming and she couldn't understand why her counterpart appeared to be so calm and collected. Perhaps she was holding back, Gabrielle didn't know, but what she did know is that, she couldn't hold back her emotions for so long.
Tears fell from her eyes and Xena cocked her head, frowning sadly. "Don't cry, I'm here." She said softly.
"You left me," the blonde whispered. "You promised you would never leave me."
Xena lowered her eyes and pursed her lips. "I kept my promise, didn't I?"
"Xena," Gabrielle's face contorted and Xena lifted her chin, daring to look into those sad green eyes. "I thought you were dead. I almost came to peace with it until...I saw your face. I –I didn't know what to do, how to feel. I still don't know..."
The warrior grabbed hold of the consul's hands and gazed into her eyes.
"There were times when I thought I couldn't go on living after what happened in Pannonia. I thought it would be better if I left the world for good and cursed Malka for saving me. I couldn't imagine my life without you or Anastasia but as time passed I realized that you wouldn't want me to be angry. I thought of you every day, Gabrielle. I thought of what you would say to me when I felt doubts about living. And when I saw you and heard you I knew that I could go on knowing that you'd always be with me no matter where you were. You were and are always with me."
To hear those words from Xena's lips warmed Gabrielle's heart. She felt her stomach flutter at the thought that Xena actually listened to her. She thought of her even if there was a possibility that she could be among the dead instead of the living. Gabrielle was in Xena's thoughts and that's all Gabrielle wanted to know and it was even nicer to hear it straight from her.
Gabrielle had known Xena to be cold sometimes and shut herself off from the world and that included her emotions. She felt overjoyed that Xena was able to say these words from her heart, from within, without hesitation. She truly loved her and her well being more than she had ever before it seemed and it showed greatly.
"You don't know...how much that means to me..." Gabrielle smiled, wiping her eyes. "To hear you say that." She sighed unsteadily, her breathing labored in between soft sobs.
Xena leaned in closely to the blonde's face, longing to touch and feel her once more after so long. Her fingers grazed her soft cheek and she kissed Gabrielle's lips tenderly. Silencing the world around them, ceasing all words, Gabrielle was caught off guard by the gentle kiss.
They pulled away from one another and Xena brushed a few short tendrils behind Gabrielle's ears, smiling. "I love you, Xena," she whispered.
"I love you too, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered back and their foreheads met as they locked eyes. Gabrielle cupped Xena's cheeks and couldn't help but let out a small chuckle, happy to see her face once again, after what seemed like a lifetime.
Ernak swung open the door and cheered, lifting a bottle of wine in his hand and a cup in the other. "We have wine!" he roared at the top of his lungs.
Xena groaned. "Ernak!" she hissed and motioned her head to Anastasia, whom was sleeping.
He cringed and whispered, "we have wine..."
Anastasia stirred in her sleep and she rose to sit up and saw Ernak with Dengi. Both with apologetic looks on their faces. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shoved a pillow in Ernak's face.
"Nice going," she grumbled and walked over to see if her dress was dry yet.
Ernak scoffed, "come on, Gabrielle!" he walked over to Anastasia and smiled, sitting down on the floor beside her. She wrapped the blanket around herself and grimaced. "I brought some figs for you," he wriggled his eyebrows and pulled the fruits from his pocket.
"Oh joy," Ana sarcastically said, though she did not deny the fruit and set them in her lap.
Xena leaned backward on her palms, tapping her fingers on the bed, a little irritated that these boys, as she called them, interrupted her moment with Gabrielle. A moment she had been waiting for. A moment alone, but no, never alone, she thought.
Ernak poured a cup of wine and hopped onto the bed, wrapping his arm around Xena's shoulder. "I really missed you, you know," he began and Xena rumbled lowly. "I love you..." he said with a cheeky grin, hoping that she would forgive him for putting her daughter in harm's way.
"I'm going to give you three seconds to get off me," Xena said in a calm voice. "One..." she began her count.
Ernak chuckled nervously and he slunk down to the floor again, scooting far away from her. He huffed and sipped the wine and Anastasia smirked at him as did Gabrielle from afar.
"Don't be angry with him, mother. It was my idea to go to Rome and to Pannonia. It's all my fault."
"Ha!" Dengi cheered and he received a menacing glare from Xena and he cleared his throat, sinking into the ground, chugging the wine.
"Anastasia," Xena ran her fingers through her daughter's hair. "You shouldn't have gone anywhere to begin with especially since you're pregnant."
Ana gasped, "Gabrielle! You promised!" she griped.
Xena frowned. "Gabrielle didn't tell me," she quickly eyed the blonde though. Wondering if Kreka didn't tell her, would Gabrielle keep that from her because of Anastasia? Would she? "Kreka told me."
Anastasia's face drained of color. "You...saw her?" she asked in a meek voice.
Her mother nodded. "Yes, I met everyone. Why do you think I was in Rome?" she winked and Anastasia sighed heavily. "We need to talk about Navaz."
Ernak sighed and stood. "Well, looks like it's time to go," he nudged his brother and Dengi was completely engrossed in this conversation. "Dengi!"
"Okay, fine," Dengi groaned and stood, following his brother out of the room.
Anastasia cursed this moment. She had lived this moment in her dreams. Her mother's penetrating glare would forever haunt her and now that is was a reality, she regretted this so much. She regret marrying Navaz and she regret being in this very room at this very moment.
Gabrielle slipped on her dry dress and sat down beside Xena, rubbing her arm gently. Xena smiled, slightly distracted and then she focused on her daughter who refused to look at her.
"Navaz is a nice man. I could tell that he cares about you. He was very concerned for your safety in Rome." Xena said and Ana frowned, lifting her chin to stare up at her. "I want you to know that I am glad to call him an ally and hopefully a friend."
"You are?" Anastasia asked and her mother gave her a blank stoic stare. She suddenly felt bad for what she said to Gabrielle before. She felt that the child she carried was not important because of her marriage with Navaz, but now that she had her mother's approval, she felt awful for saying she didn't care about her child.
She whimpered softly and Xena frowned sadly then sat down on the floor, wincing at her aching hips. She wrapped her arm around the sobbing daughter of hers. "Why are you crying?" she whispered.
"I'm a horrible person," she said softly. Gabrielle lowered her eyes once she heard Anastasia say that. She thought of her as her own daughter, especially since she spent so much time with her.
"No, you're not," Xena smiled and ran her fingers through her daughter's hair.
The Hun queen shook her head. "Yes, I am. I...I promised to give Navaz an heir if he made me his commander. I convinced myself to not care about this child. I wanted you to be proud of me."
"Oh," Xena sighed and brought her daughter closer. "I am proud of you, so proud of you. Gabrielle is proud of you, everyone is." She kissed her temple and allowed her to lay her head on her shoulder. "Remember before you had Csaba and you were so afraid that I would be disappointed with you?"
Anastasia remained quiet and toyed with a tendril of her hair, listening to her mother's heart beat against her ear.
"I wasn't disappointed with you then and I'm not disappointed with you now. I love you very much and only want the best for you, Anastasia. You know Gabrielle and I would do anything for you."
Gabrielle smiled and sat on the ground in front of them, wiping Ana's cheeks with the back of her thumb. "She's right. We would do anything for you and we love you no matter what."
Anastasia laughed softly. "And I thought you were going to be mad at me."
"I could never stay mad at you," Xena said and Ana grinned, staring into her eyes.
"So sweet," Ernak said as he poked his head behind the door with his brother listening.
"Ernak!" all three women yelled unison and he smiled cheekily then quickly closed the door.
AN: Tuya bit off more than she can chew. Enjoy all :)
Gabrielle sat on the bed watching Xena and as she spoke with Anastasia. She was focused on Xena, not even bothering to listen to Ana's story. She had a faint smile on her lips while she was gawking in awe at the woman. She couldn't believe that Xena was alive and right in front of her at this very moment. A person she loved more than life itself was ripped from her arms and now she was here in the flesh. Gabrielle began to wonder if this was a dream and if it was, she'd never want to wake from it.
Xena smiled, laughing lightly listening to her daughter tell her all the horrible things that Tuya would say to her. Xena obviously found it very amusing. Gabrielle leaned back on her palms, watching Xena's mouth part, speaking to her daughter, laughing and the wrinkles around her eyes crease as her eyes squinted into the shape of crescent moons when she grinned from ear to ear. A smile that she missed the most. A smile that could show so many sides of Xena, sides that some people never got to see and this was one of them. Her smile of warmth and kindness –a smile that a Roman would never lay their eyes upon. Ever.
"Remember, Gabrielle?" Ana said. Xena turned and saw Gabrielle staring at her with dreamy eyes and she blinked.
Xena grabbed the blonde's arm, startling her. "Are you alright?" her voice soft.
Gabrielle's cheeks flushed and she cleared her throat. "Oh yeah, I'm fine," she waved it off and turned to Anastasia. "Remember what?"
Anastasia's eyes darted from Gabrielle and her mother, half smiling. She saw such love in Gabrielle's eyes and it was something that was missing from Gabrielle when she first lay eyes upon her after a year of being a part. She was glad to see that love was not lost and quickly regained and obtained.
"I was just telling mother about the time when Kreka didn't really like me. I compared her old behavior with Tuya, which is Navaz's mother."
Gabrielle gave a crooked smile and nodded her head. "If I recall, that woman never really liked me either and I'm not sure if she does even now..." her eyes lifted to the ceiling as she tapped her fingers on her thighs.
Ana snorted, "she likes you Gabrielle. She's just...not a very warm person. She's a real –"
"Pain in the ass," Xena interrupted. "Pain in my ass," she corrected.
"Mom," Ana arched an eyebrow with a serious face. "She's been very nice to me in your absence."
Xena nodded and rolled her eyes and added a large exhale to go with her dramatic response. Gabrielle stifled a laugh and could see that Xena was just teasing, but Ana did not see it that way.
Ernak walked up and wrapped his arms around Anastasia as she sat on the floor. She gasped and clutched to his arms. "Are you talking badly about my mother, Ana?" he whispered in her ear playfully.
"Only the truth," she jested and slapped his arm. "Get off me." She said firmly and he sat down beside her, crossing his legs, matching hers.
He lifted his eyes and pat the dagger against his palm. "So..." he began and all three women stared at him which made him extremely nervous. "How are you even alive?" he asked Xena.
Anastasia punched his arm and he yelped, scooting away from her. "Ernak, what the hell?"
"It's a valid question!" he spat and rubbed his arm. "You hit hard," he muttered. He looked into Xena's steely eyes. "I didn't mean it like that," his eyes looked to Anastasia and bit his bottom lip, now fearing her. "It's just...you were crucified. I saw what they did to you. You were practically dead." He tried to get that image out of his head.
"You left her," Ana hissed.
Xena held up her hand before Ernak could combat with her. "Malka took me back to his tribe. I don't know how I survived. Although, it took me a long time to recover and I'm still...not how I used to be."
Gabrielle frowned sadly and uncertainly. She wondered what Xena's body looked like beneath the furs and clothes she wore. Did she have scars? Were her legs badly beaten still? She noticed that Xena did not walk very well, certainly slower and not with determination like she used to. Xena always walked like she was on a mission, even when she wasn't, but now –now she didn't walk like that anymore.
Ernak nodded slowly. "Well, I'm glad that you're alive. We all missed you even though you still scare me a little bit."
Xena smirked and felt Gabrielle's fingers touch hers. Shivers went up her spine and she briefly smiled at Gabrielle then turned her attention to Ernak. "I thought you liked me, Ernak? You used to run to me when I returned home from a mission when you were a boy."
He scoffed, "well I was innocent back then!" he teased. "I didn't know any better," he winked and she sighed heavily.
Anastasia intervened. "I don't mean to be a downer, but when are we going back to Balaam? I don't want to be in Roman territory anymore."
Xena nodded. "We will be leaving today. Don't worry, I don't want to stay here any longer than you do."
Gabrielle pulled her hand away and she stood from the bed, clamping her hands together. She gave Xena a sheepish grin and her body stiffened. Xena frowned. She had seen that look before. It was the look of Gabrielle doing something bad or sneaky, something out of the ordinary.
"What did you do?" Xena's voice sharp and irritated already.
The blonde laughed lightly. "Oh, you're going to think this is great, but...I sent a letter to your brothers in Stagira. I asked for their help to get Anastasia back to Balaam but...I guess...it doesn't..." she stopped talking once she saw the darkness loom inside Xena's eyes.
Slowly, the ex-commander rose from the bed, approaching Gabrielle, glaring down at her like a dark tower. Gabrielle suddenly felt so small.
"Gabrielle," she began calmly. "Why did you do that?"
"I didn't have any help," Gabrielle spoke quickly, "Ican'tleaveRomeIamtheConsultoOdoacerIjust –"
Xena covered her mouth and took a moment of silence for herself and saw the shock on Ernak and Ana's faces, both staring up at her with wide eyes. She turned back to Gabrielle and smiled widely, her eyes blinking rapidly.
"Change of plans, kids," she said and Ernak hopped to his feet.
"Are we going to Stagira?" he almost said with some hope.
Xena grabbed her sword and cloak, wrapping her it around her shoulders. "Yup." Her eyes darted to the blonde and saw she was trying to hide her face, looking to the ceiling, avoiding her gaze.
"Praise the Lord above!" Ernak grinned. "Finally, some normal Huns in my life! I gotta go get Dengi!" he grabbed his sword and darted out of the room in a hurry.
Anastasia frowned and grasped her mother's arm. "But I want to go back to Balaam. I want to see Csaba and Navaz. I need to talk to them." Her eyes pleading.
Xena smiled softly and pinched her daughter's chin. "I will take you back to them, Anastasia. But we have to go to Stagira first. I promise I'll bring you back to Balaam." She kissed her forehead and glared over at the blonde. "Are you coming or what?" she said in a sour voice.
She walked out of the room and Gabrielle quickly put on her shoes. "Xena! Wait!" she called and hobbled out of the room with one shoe on. "Does this mean that you're mad at me?" she asked.
"Xena!" she groaned and ran down the stairs. "Xena! Come on!" she begged. "It's not that bad!" she whined. "Xena!"
Outside of the large Adame Kreka was teaching Csaba how to use the sword that Dengi gifted him. She couldn't bear the forlorn look on the boy's any longer. He was sad that his mother and both uncles were gone and was also disappointed that he got to see Xena for only a couple of days before she departed as well. Now that the two were alone she figured that could use the sword as a distraction.
Although, she felt she was a bit inexperienced these days. It had been a long while since she picked up a sword especially after Ellac died soon after Attila. Though, she wanted the boy to be occupied and less focused on his mother's absence.
She gripped her sword and swung it slowly around and he lifted the large sword, blocking the slow block. She smiled. "Very good, Csaba, but you should really practice with a smaller weapon."
He frowned. "I want to practice with this sword." He remained adamant.
"Azimli," she muttered beneath her breath. He was more stubborn than his mother at times. He was beginning to remind her of Xena. "Alright. Come at me again, but faster this time." She instructed and gripped the sword.
Csaba creased his eyebrows and he swung his sword towards her and she blocked the blow easily. "Again," she said. He swung again and she spun around, their swords clashing again. "Again." He attacked again, and again and again.
Navaz came outside and heard swords clashing together. The metal scrapping he was most familiar with. Curious, he rounded the corner and saw Kreka teaching his stepson how to use a sword. A sword twice the boy's size, he noticed. He also saw that Csaba was getting frustrated and that was never good during battle or any other time for that matter.
He walked forward, folding his arms and observed them both. He and Csaba never spent much time together and he knew that was because the boy simply didn't like him. Anastasia forced her son to spend time with him, but it was clear that the twelve year old had no desire to do so, but he obeyed his mother's wishes no matter what. Navaz admired the boy's vigilance and respect for his mother and Kreka.
"I am not good at this!" Csaba whined.
Kreka sighed and lowered her sword. "You must have patience. Nobody is born with a sword in their hand." Except maybe Xena, she thought. "Come on, let's try again." She urged him and he pursed his lips, folding his arms. "Csaba, come now, don't be stubborn."
Navaz saw the ire in the boy's eyes and walked forward. He stood behind the boy and tapped his shoulder. Csaba gasped and turned around with his green eyes, gaping into Navaz's dark eyes. He towered over him, making him feel like a small ant.
"Will you let me help you?" he offered.
Kreka raised an eyebrow and Csaba was hesitant and too coy to allow Navaz to come anywhere near him. The king grabbed the boy's hand and wrapped his hand around his. He grabbed Csaba's other hand and put it on the hilt of the sword. He pointed the blade right at Kreka.
"The first thing you must know about holding is sword is the grip. It must be firm," Navaz instructed. "You understand?" Csaba nodded and his grip tightened so hard that his knuckles turned white. "Now," he whispered in his ear, "you can't think of Kreka Khatun as your friend. She is your enemy. Think of someone you hate."
"Emperor Zeno," Csaba's frown deepened and his eyes darkened.
Interesting choice, Navaz thought but he went with it. "Okay. Think of her as Zeno. Focus on your enemy." He whispered.
Csaba narrowed his eyebrows and Kreka raised her sword. She saw such malice in the boy's eyes. A look she had seen from his mother and Xena alike. He had that same fire, that same look that they both did. And it was not something Kreka wanted to be on the opposite side of.
"Now attack," Navaz said.
The twelve year old let out a loud cry and cast the heavy sword that seemed light as feather now. His sword clashed with hers and she gasped. He lifted the sword and swung again and she barely was able to dodge the blow. Navaz placed a hand on his hip and watched as Csaba continually attacked with fire running through his veins. He was pissed off.
Csaba growled and he thrust the sword forward and knocked the blade from Kreka's hand and he pointed the sword at her throat, breathing heavily. His eyes softened once he realized that he was pointing his sword at Kreka and not Zeno. Fear and horror in his eyes as he lowered the blade and Kreka placed a hand on her chest, her breath baited.
"Well," she began, "that was very...good." she looked into the boy's eyes and he stood frozen. She stepped forward and slowly took the sword from Csaba's grasp. "Why don't you go inside and change clothes?" she offered and he walked off, sulking slightly.
"He fights well," Navaz commented.
Kreka shot him a glare and planted the tip of the blade in the dirt. "He was angry. He allowed his hatred to fuel him in the fight. That is not something that Xena or Anastasia would want." She had seen what that did to Xena long ago and it was not something she wanted to see again, especially in a child.
She walked off and he sighed, following her. "I wanted to help."
She spun around with fury in her large hazel eyes. "I think we should wait until Anastasia comes home and Xena can oversee his training."
Navaz frowned. "I've heard a lot about Xena. She is intimidating."
"That's not the word I would use," Kreka scoffed. "You shouldn't get on her bad side, Navaz. I am warning you now. Do not take my warning lightly. You've already hit strike one with her."
"Strike one?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
"You married her daughter," Kreka gave a crooked smile and wrapped the veil around her shoulder and sauntered off. "Bet you wished I was your true mother in law now, don't you?" she let out a light laugh.
He stood confused and in a daze. He knew Xena was one of the best commanders and ally of Attila for a long time. He had never met Xena before and his first meeting with her was not exactly very nice either. He didn't want to be on Xena's bad side, whatever that meant. He also didn't know what was going to happen to him if anything happened to Anastasia. He suddenly began questioning why he married Anastasia in the first place. He also realized that his wife, his queen and Xena's daughter was carrying his child. Would Xena hate him for that too? Did she even hate him? He didn't know, but he wanted to.
He walked into the Adame into his mother's quarters. He saw her fawning over more jewelry. She was obsessed with Chinese jewelry. "Mother, I need to talk to you." He said and she turned around with a smile and then saw his worried face.
She sighed and dismissed her servants. "What is it, Navaz?" she said curtly and picked up a pair of onyx earrings.
"Did I make a mistake in marrying Anastasia?" he asked.
She scoffed, "you know I am not fond of the girl." She clicked her tongue against her cheek and put down the earrings and picked up a necklace. "Despite her wicked tongue, I know she will give you a gorgeous son." She smiled and turned to face her son and frowned, seeing his concerned face.
"Navaz, please," she rolled her eyes. "Do not look at me that way. You look like a little puppy and it is not very becoming of a king."
"Mother!" he griped and grasped her shoulders. "You must not understand this but Kreka is not Anastasia's mother. Xena is." He said seriously and her eyes widened.
"You fear Xena?" she laughed.
He frowned. "No, I don't. I want to prove to her that I can be a good husband and father. Kreka warned me not to get on her bad side. I don't want to disappoint Xena."
Tuya's lip quivered and she brushed her son's hands off her shoulders. "You shouldn't listen to that old sow, my dear son. Her status means nothing. She is nothing. Kreka is the least of your concerns."
"Mother," he cut her off. "Kreka is the wife of Attila!" he spat and her mouth parted. "You didn't know did you? I was told by Xena before she left." He saw the shock in his mother's eyes. "She is the Queen of the Huns, mother. She has more status than you, than all of us, yet she remains hidden and does not evoke her duties as queen as long as Anastasia is here. You shouldn't talk ill of her."
Tuya growled. "These Pannonian women are full of secrets! They curse our people with their presence. I knew that Kreka nor Anastasia could not be trusted. Xena is no different. Next we will come to find out that Attila is not even dead, but hiding!" she huffed and threw the necklace across the room.
Later that night, Tuya stormed outside the Adame and stood in front of Kreka's yurt. She stepped inside and saw the fire in the pit had just been put out not too long ago. The embers still fresh. She walked through the yurt quietly and looked through a curtain and saw Csaba sleeping soundly. Frowning, she walked over to the next room and peeked through the curtain and saw Kreka sleeping on her large bed. Her long stick straight dark hair sprawled across the pillows and a candle still burning.
She stepped inside the room and pulled out a dagger from her belt and leered over the widowed wife of Attila. She pat the dagger against her palm and breathed in heavily. Kreka stirred in her sleep and lolled her head across the pillow, adjusting her body. Tuya bit her tongue and gripped the dagger, raising it above her head.
She did not wish to see Kreka gain her power back as queen and ruin everything. So far, Anastasia had swooped in took her son as her husband. What next? She couldn't allow her to live any longer. Her eyes widened and she was to thrust the dagger straight into Kreka's heart.
As her hands were about to drive the blade into Kreka's heart she felt a stab in her gut and she gasped for air, dropping the dagger. The drop awakened Kreka and her eyes fluttered open. She saw Tuya standing over her and gasped, covering her mouth as she saw a blade sticking out of
Tuya's gut from behind.
Blood seeped through Tuya's dark cotton dress. She felt the blade glide out of her body and her hands went to the wound in her stomach. Kreka hopped out of bed and saw Csaba holding a bloodied sword in his hands. Dengi's sword that he gave him.
Csaba lifted his green eyes to his aunt. "She was going to kill you." He said flatly.
Kreka side stepped by Tuya and cupped the boy's cheeks. "Dear God, Csaba," she whispered and took the blade slowly from his grasp. "Um.." she scratched her head. "Go back to your room."
He looked at Tuya who was clutching her wound and sitting on the bed, breathing heavily. Kreka began pushing him out. She whispered, "this never happened. This was an accident," she pushed him along. "Go!"
Kreka now turned around with a huge frown on her face. She dropped the sword and grabbed Tuya by her throat. "Do you not know who I am?" she hissed and Tuya croaked. Kreka pressed her free hand on Tuya's wound.
"Wife...of Attila," the Caucasus woman answered.
Kreka smiled eerily and her grip tightened. "Oh no, that title has been long gone." She whispered and pressed her fingers inside of Tuya's wound and the woman gasped for air as the pain worsened. "I am the Barbarian Queen of the Steppes. Queen of Pannonia! Wife of Attila! Queen of all Huns!" she growled. "Mother of Ernak, King of the Huns!" she continued. "Ally of Xena! Princess of the Ashina!"
She breathed heavily and released Tuya's throat. The woman coughed violently and Kreka walked away to grab a gauze. She ripped it in half with her strong teeth.
"Now," she knelt down beside Tuya and ripped open her dress. She saw the wound and it was not fatal. Not yet anyway. She began wrapping the woman's wound with the gauze. "What happened tonight will never leave this room. You will stay here. I will tell Navaz you had an accident." She grinned and saw fear in the woman's dark eyes.
"You aren't going...to kill me?" Tuya asked as her voice trembled.
Kreka grinned. "Oh no, I won't kill you. That'd be too easy. Now, we will become the best of friends you see?" she winked and continued dressing the wound. "This will be our little secret."
She leaned in and saw Tuya flinch. She pecked her cheek with a soft kiss and pulled away with a menacing glare and wide lipped smile. She then grabbed the dagger off the floor and waved it in Tuya's face.
"And this will be my insurance," Kreka winked and slipped the dagger in her breast. "Don't underestimate me again, White Hun." She hissed. "If you lay a hand upon Csaba after tonight, I will leave you in Xena's care. I'm sure you don't want that," she chuckled softly. "She won't show any kindness to you."
Tuya immediately regretted coming in here to kill Kreka. Now she was trapped. Kreka had her wrapped around her finger now. She would not be able to escape so easily.
The group arrived to Stagira and Gabrielle tried to talk to Xena multiple times throughout the journey bu was given the cold shoulder or replied with short curt responses. Gabrielle realized what she had done was not exactly ideal but to be fair, she didn't know Xena was alive.
Ernak and Dengi lead everyone and they stopped on a hill, overlooking the large city of Stagira, now inhabited by Atlyn Huns. Despite the wars and hatred, the Atlyn Huns were the only allies Ernak had. The Bulgurs took over Pannonia, but at least the Atlyn Huns never warred with them. They were considered alright in his book.
Dengi scoffed. "Looks like they're having a party," he nudged his head to the large bonfires and women dancing with one another and men singing with each other drinking wine and mead.
Xena raised her eyebrow. "Wonder how they can celebrate at a time like this." She grumbled. "Let's go," she trotted down the hill with Ernak shortly following. Anastasia wrapped her arms around Dengi's waist as he lead a slow trot.
Anastasia inhaled deeply and leaned against Dengi's backside. He peered over his shoulder. "Are you okay back there?" he asked in a soft voice.
"Yes.." she answered barely above a whisper.
"Don't sound okay to me," he frowned and trotted beside Xena. "I don't think she is feeling well," he said.
Xena halted her horse and spun around to see her daughter leaning against Dengi, eyes closed, inhaling deeply. Gabrielle frowned and hopped off the horse, tapping Ana's thigh. Slowly, the Hun turned her head and saw green eyes gawking from below.
"Hey," Gabrielle smiled warmly. "Are you feeling alright? We're almost there."
Anastasia gave a tired smile and nodded. Xena sighed. "She is probably just tired," Xena said and hoped. "When I find my brothers we will let her rest." Her voice bitter, still a bit upset at Gabrielle for concocting this plan of hers.
There, on the bottom of the hill in a group of men, Xena spotted her brothers. She hopped off her horse and approached them from behind, both unaware of her presence.
"Ben senin yerinde olsam ufak ufak uzarım durmam, valezimi toplar giderim. Göz yaşına bakmam bakmam bir dakika bile kalmam, sevene zulüm edeni yakar geçerim."
Ditron and Pirro, youngest brothers of Xena, sang together in unison. Xena folded her arms and Ernak came up beside Xena. While Dengi and Gabrielle aided Anastasia off the horse slowly, moving towards everyone else.
"Akıl karı değil ızdırabınm böylesi. Bu aşk değil esaretin ta kendisi", Xena sang after her brothers. The two young men gasped and ceased singing and turned at the sound of her voice.
"Xena!" Pirro hopped to his feet, sloshing the wine in his cup. "An Angel from above!"
Ernak scoffed. "Wow, he must be really drunk." He joked and Xena shot him a glare.
"You know our language?" Ernak questioned the men, trying to avoid Xena's harsh gaze.
Ditron, remembering Ernak well smiled and wrapped his arm around the young Hun King. "We had to...learn it. You know, since the Atlyn Huns kind of ransacked our city." He whispered. Ernak nodded his head slowly.
His eyes caught sight of Gabrielle and he gasped. He ran to her and hugged her. "Gabrielle! I thought you were dead!" he kissed her cheek and she blushed. He then realized and turned to his elder sister. "Wait, aren't you...supposed to be dead?"
Xena sighed heavily. "I will explain later." She turned to her daughter. "Do you have somewhere that we can stay? Preferably somewhere with less drunken men and loud music," she groaned. Not much of a person who liked parties anyway.
Young Pirro wrapped his arm around his sister, matching her in height and same blue eyes with sandy blonde hair much like their fallen brother, Lyceus. "Sister, dear sister, don't be such a downer. Parties are fun!" he raised his wine and Xena rolled her eyes. He kissed her cheek and she cringed. "I am happy to see you alive! Word had that you were crucified and left for dead by Emperor Zeno!"
She grew impatient with her brother's behavior. "Yes, yes. I'm alive and well. Now, do you have a place to stay or not?"
Ditron grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her along. "Of course we do! I will lead the way." He grinned from ear to ear. Xena shook her head and felt her head already pounding. "I missed you," he whispered. He noticed she was less enthused to see him and he frowned, slapping her on the arm and she shot him a glare. "You should really lighten up, Xena. You are alive, so is Gabrielle and Anastasia. When I thought you were dead I was saddened by the news. I couldn't bear to lose another sibling. Not after Xander and Lyceus. I couldn't lose you too."
She softened and realized that she had everything she wished for. Gabrielle was safe, sort of, and her daughter was alive and well, considering everything. She realized that she was not giving herself enough time to heal and repair her mind, soul and body. She didn't ever give herself time for anything. Being reminded her brothers that died because of her actions was something she didn't want to relive, but it was her reality. Her sad reality. But her two other brothers were still alive and that was something she shouldn't take for granted. Not again. She wouldn't lose any more of her family. Not again. Not ever.
Inside the Greek apartment, everyone sat on a large floor rug. Since the Atlyn Huns took over the city, there were no yurts except for a few in the field, but everyone had flats they stayed in like they did before the Huns invaded. A Greek-Hunnic city, something that Xena thought she'd never see. It was very strange. What next? A Hun inhabited Athens? She hoped not.
Gabrielle sat beside Anastasia as she lay on a few pillows, sleeping soundly after she ate some food and drank some much needed water. Dengi and Ernak sat together while Ditron, Pirro and Xena sat together. The brothers of Xena kept gawking at her, surprised to see her face after such a long time. They hadn't seen each other in five years and they didn't ever expect to see their sister again after the news they heard.
Xena felt a bit awkward as her brothers kept staring at her. She ran her fingers through her hair. "Gabrielle sent you a letter, right?" she broke the silence.
Pirro nodded. "Oh yes, we got the letter. We were worried about Anastasia of course. We informed the Bey about it. But now that you're all here...I guess it doesn't matter anymore," he grinned.
Ditron nudged his brother, almost sober now. His head throbbing from all the wine he had this evening. "It matters because the Bey was going to set an attack for Rome before Gabrielle's letter came. After he read that Anastasia was alive, he wanted to go in and take her from Odoacer."
Odoacer. Xena hated that man. She met him a long time ago when she was with Borias and Attila. He was very arrogant and thought he was the best warrior there was. But he was nothing. He was an awful warrior and an awful human being too. She remembered the first time she met Odoacer and he was part of King Rua's court at the time. Attila was not fond of him either.
She figured that he probably told everyone that he left Pannonia out of his own free will but that was not the case. Attila banned Odoacer from returning to Pannonia. He tried to kill her, Borias, and Attila. To be exiled was worse than anything for a Hun. Nobody would accept you into a new tribe. Word spread around fast. Xena figured that Odoacer had disappeared or died, but that was apparently not the case. Odoacer warned Attila that he would be king one day and she supposed he was not wrong. He was an emperor now. An emperor of Rome.
"Is the Bey still planning the attack?" she asked and the room fell silent.
Gabrielle looked to her companion with utmost concern. "Xena," she spat and shook her head. "No. We are not attacking Rome. No. Not after I just got you back!" he voice trembling.
"Gabrielle! You don't understand! Odoacer is a monster," Xena's voice low and serious.
The blonde folded her arms. "No! Forget it! We are not going into Rome and I won't risk losing you again. Not this time."
"He could have killed my daughter!"
"And what do you think he will do to you?!" Gabrielle's voice raising in the heat of the argument. "Reward you with the status of General? He is not Valentinian! He is not stupid! He knows what he's doing and he will find you, Xena. He will know something is wrong now because I am gone. Being taken by Huns is not something to be taken lightly in Rome, Xena."
"She's right ya know," Dengi said.
Gabrielle huffed. "If the Atlyn Huns want to invade Rome, fine. Let them. But we are not going! We are going back to Balaam like you promised! Or don't you keep your promises? You promised Anastasia." Her voice cracked. "You promised me," her frown lessened and her eyes watered.
Xena quirked her mouth and lowered her gaze. She wanted to kill Odoacer but she also didn't want to go against her promises. She thought she lost so much and now that Gabrielle was sitting in front of her, she didn't want to lose her or anyone else in a war against Rome. But at the same time, she didn't want Rome to win. She had longed for vengeance against the Romans, especially Emperor Zeno but it seemed that this was not the time to do it.
The voice of fear and sorrow was not something Xena wanted to hear from her most loved and cherished person in the world. "Fine," she said softly.
Gabrielle heard that word before. She didn't trust Xena when she said that word and she wasn't going to let her get away with it. "No, it's not fine. We're not going. We. Are. Going. Back. To. Balaam. Right?" she hissed.
Xena lifted her eyes and saw such fire in Gabrielle's eyes. "Alright," she said, "alright, we're not going."
Now she could breathe easily. "Thank you," Gabrielle exhaled heavily.
Ernak let out a large exhale. "Wow," he broke the awkward tension in the room. "I need some wine." He hopped to his feet.
His brother shortly followed. "Me too," he grinned, desperate to get away from that awkward intense conversation that just happened.
"I would have thought you'd set your wares on Zeno after what he did to you," Ditron said.
Oh, he's next, Xena thought. She eyed Gabrielle who was glaring at her intently. "The thought hadn't crossed my mind," she said, still locking eyes with the blonde's.
AN: the fluff is strong with this one lol. Tender moments between Gabrielle and Xena that were not often used in the first story.
Gabrielle sat on the bed inside Ditron's bedroom, watching Xena take off her cloak. Xena had her back turned to her and she cocked her head, watching as Xena quietly unlaced her top in silence. It had been a year since Gabrielle lay eyes on Xena. It still felt like a dream but she was glad it wasn't one of those dreams that she begged to stay in forever. She had Xena now and that's all that mattered.
Xena turned her head over her shoulder, seeing the soft, warm green eyes. "You...should turn away," she advised in a soft voice.
The blonde half smiled and walked over to the tall warrior. Her hands lowering the sleeves of Xena's blouse, sliding down her arms. Gabrielle frowned seeing the scars on Xena's backside and saw a huge one on the side of her ribs.
Gently, she ran her fingers across Xena's bare back and felt the bumpy scars. She saw Xena stiffen and she smiled, lifting her eyes. "You look the same to me," she said and Xena furrowed her eyebrows, turning slowly to meet her eyes.
She reached for the blouse at Xena's chest to pull it down and Xena clutched it tightly to her chest. Gabrielle wrapped her hand around the warrior's and saw fear in those blue eyes. "I want to see." She pressed and Xena relaxed her hand and let it slip to her side.
Gabrielle slid the blouse off of Xena's torso entirely and tossed it aside. Her eyes widened upon seeing the horrible wounds on Xena's chest. She reached out and saw her body stiffen. Touching a scar beneath Xena's breast, her fingers gently caressed the wound that would forever be a reminder of the Romans. Of death. Of separation. So many things.
It had been a long time since she felt hands caress her body the way Gabrielle was doing right now. Any human contact intimately had long left Xena's mind until she lay eyes on her sweet companion once more.
"Gabrielle...I," she began and felt fingers pressed against her lips, silencing her.
"Shh," Gabrielle grinned and her hand gripped her consort's bare shoulder, their eyes locked on one another. "I love you no matter what," she said barely above a whisper. "You could be a one eyed monster and I'd still love you," she jested and winked.
Xena smiled faintly and her cheeks blushed slightly. A rare sight for anyone to see, even Gabrielle. She didn't feel like herself at the moment. Not anymore. Her body was so badly damaged, but Gabrielle didn't see that, she knew that, but she still felt self conscious.
"Where is Anastasia?" she asked.
Gabrielle grinned and sat on the bed, pulling Xena's arm with her. "In Pirro's bedroom."
"And the others?" Xena stood in front of the petite blonde.
"With your brothers I'm sure," she bit her bottom lip. She really didn't want to talk about Ernak, Dengi and Anastasia right now. Together, they were finally alone and Xena was avoiding her touch. She for once, had to be patient with her.
She saw such pain in Xena's eyes and knew that the way she looked was not what she envisioned when they reunited. Gabrielle had not forgotten the so-called savage woman's gentle touch on her skin or her broad smile, her warm eyes and long dark hair that seemed to have lost its sheen. Xena was not vain with her looks but Gabrielle knew that Xena wasn't the same. Her body was different, but she'd always see Xena the same even if she had graying hair and wrinkles around her mouth and eyes.
Xena looked into the blonde's lingering eager eyes and sat down beside her, unaware that she wrapped her arm around her bare chest, covering her breasts. She felt as if she were sitting next to a stranger for the first time, in a room by herself.
She felt Gabrielle inching closer and a hand wrap around her shoulders and her body tightened. She winced at the pain in her leg.
Gabrielle frowned seeing the pain in her lover's eyes. Something she did not want to see. "Xena..." she began and saw the black veil hang in front of her face, hiding her true emotions. She grabbed the warrior's chin to turn her face towards hers and saw tears in Xena's eyes.
She frowned sadly. "Xena," she cupped her cheek and stared into her glossy eyes. Xena never shed tears and if she did it was for a good reason, but what reason could that be?
"I'm here," the blonde grinned. "You can tell me. What's bothering you?"
Xena exhaled heavily and placed her hand over Gabrielle's as it still lay on her cheek. Her touch, so warm and loving. A touch she longed for. Closing her eyes, she sat still for a moment, taking it all in. She didn't know why tears suddenly emerged but perhaps it was because the thought of losing someone so close to her again was too much. She was too tired and older than she was when she met Gabrielle to lose someone again.
Opening her eyes she saw those green piercing eyes staring at her. She smiled and kissed the hand on her cheek. "Nothing. I just kept thinking for a year that I lost you and now that you're here...I guess I wasn't able to process it all until now."
For a woman with such a hard exterior, she sure had a loving and giving heart. Gabrielle smiled and leaned forward, kissing her cheek. She didn't want to pressure Xena into anything too soon. Her emotions and body too raw to handle something new.
A soft kiss as all that she needed. Xena never left her eyes and she leaned forward, feeling less exposed emotionally than she was before. She ran her fingers through Gabrielle's soft blonde short locks and her lips parted, taking the moment in. She wasn't going to take anything for granted anymore. She couldn't afford it.
Gabrielle saw Xena's hands roaming to her dress strap and slowly it slipped off her shoulder. Xena grinned weakly then slipped off the strap, gazing at her small breasts. That scar beside her breast, Xena took note of it. She grazed her fingertips across the subtle fading scar that she gave Gabrielle what seemed like eons ago. A reminder of someone she never wanted to be again and a horrid reminder for Gabrielle too.
The blonde noticed Xena's eyes lingering on the scar and she grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly. "It's in the past," she said and the warrior lifted her large eyes with uncertainty.
Both women scarred for different reasons, but all reflected similar circumstances. It was in the past. Xena half smiled and leaned forward, pressing her lips against Gabrielle's gently. A sweet taste that she had missed. Both pulled away and grinned at each other. Xena pressed her forehead against hers and cupped the blonde's full cheeks.
Gabrielle breathed heavily, her hot breath against Xena's warm face. She bit her bottom lip and then kissed her again, more fiercely this time and Xena's hands began taking off Gabrielle's dress, slipping it off her legs. Smiling in between soft embrace and warm lips, Gabrielle unlaced Xena's dark pants at her waist.
Gabrielle laid back on the bed and Xena crawled on top of her, pressing their bodies together as their lips never parted. Until, Gabrielle pulled away, leaning into the pillows and Xena frowned confusedly.
"Are you sure...that you are alright to do this?" she asked.
Xena grinned. Oh, she's being very polite, she thought. "Yes, I'm sure." Dipping down, she relaxed her lean body against Gabrielle's, careful not to move her leg in any odd positions. She leaned down and pressed her lips against the blonde's, her hands roaming along her outer thigh.
The following morning Anastasia awoke from her slumber and groaned slightly, seeing the bright sun shining into the bedroom. She rubbed her eyes and rolled over onto her back. Staring up at the ceiling, she frowned. She didn't remember being in a bedroom and in...a bed. She wondered how long she had been asleep and supposed one of the men carried her to this room, which appeared to be one of her uncle's rooms.
Sighing she sat up against the pillows and saw her dress draped on a chair and she was in her undergarment dress, a simple black thin dress beneath her cotton dress she wore daily. She peered down at her stomach and she ran her palm across the small life growing within her. Choosing to ignore the child she carried as not a wise choice now, especially since she couldn't anymore.
As if reverting back to her teenage days, she chose to ignore the changes that happened to her body even though she knew she was carrying a child, she was in denial. Still, even now, she felt that denial, especially since this child was not made out of love. She instantly felt awful for thinking this way about someone that shared half of her blood.
She cocked her head and kept staring down at the unborn child, glaring at it. As the days went on, she felt the life within her every day and that was not something she could ignore especially since it was more obvious that she was pregnant. Her belly small, but round and not flat like it was but two weeks ago and it was forever haunting her.
She groaned and threw the blankets off her body and grabbed her dress, slipping her arms through the long sleeves and buttoning the dress up in the front. She looked at herself in the mirror and felt the dress tight around her waist and hips.
She walked out of the bedroom and saw both of her uncles passed out on the floor. Dengi on a couch with his leg draped over the edge and Ernak slumped in a chair, still holding an empty chalice. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "Men," she muttered.
She rounded a corner and heard voices of her mother and Gabrielle talking quietly to themselves. She peeked through the crack of the door and saw her mother already dressed and Gabrielle lounging in bed. Clearing her throat, she knocked on the door.
"Come in," Gabrielle called out.
Anastasia smiled faintly and stepped inside and Xena turned at her presence. "Ana," Xena smiled and walked over, examining her daughter's body and face. "Are you feeling better?"
Her daughter nodded. "Yes, a lot better." She felt her mother's hand come to her forehead and she swatted her hand away. "Mom, please. I am not a child."
Xena smirked and pat her daughter's cheek. "You'll always be my child, Anastasia." She walked to the mirror and adjusted the black blouse, fixing the sleeves. "Speaking of children..." she said and heard her daughter let out a dramatic sigh. "How's the baby?"
Anastasia folded her arms and glared at her mother. Gabrielle arched an eyebrow and lifted from the bed, covering her bare chest. "I'd rather not talk about the baby, mother."
Xena frowned and slowly turned to her tall daughter, both staring into each other's blue eyes. "Just because you don't love Navaz doesn't mean you should take it out on your child, Anastasia."
The young Hun queen's eyes softened and she frowned sadly, letting her guard down a bit. Xena saw that she may have hit a nerve, reminding her daughter that she was married to someone she didn't love. "Navaz is no Ellac, but he is kind and he cares about you a lot. If you spent more time getting to know him, you may grow to love him."
Anastasia sighed heavily and plopped down on the bed, her eyes gazing at her child. "But his mother hates me."
Xena nodded. "She is something to be desired..." her lip quivered. "Let me handle her," she grinned deviously.
Gabrielle saw that look. "Xena, don't do something irrational." She warned.
"What? I was just going to talk to the woman. Gosh, Gabrielle. No faith in me at all. Has our time together meant nothing?" she winked and the blonde's cheeks flushed.
Gabrielle crawled to the end of the bed and wrapped her arm around her Xena's daughter, and now she liked to consider Anastasia her daughter as well. "Listen, this could be a sign that you can start over. Have a new life away from the war and violence." She said softly and saw tears swelling in the young woman's eyes. "And Csaba I'm sure is excited about having a sibling."
Anastasia sobbed softly and Gabrielle's lips parted and she looked up at Xena for help, but she wasn't any help at all. "I...I haven't told him," she said in between soft sobs.
"Oh this is going to be a great reunion," Xena snidely remarked.
"You are not helping," Gabrielle spat and Xena shrugged a shoulder.
"Relax, Anastasia," Xena put on her cloak and smiled, looking at her attire in the mirror once more. "You have nothing to worry about. Csaba will be fine. Everything will be fine. You are stressing yourself out too much."
Anastasia's tears ceased for a brief moment and cast a dark glance at Xena. "Mother! I am Queen of the Huns! I am also Navaz's commander! I have a lot on my plate here and you are not helping..." she sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes.
Xena sighed and knelt down in front of her daughter, grabbing her hands. "Then let me lighten your load for you," she grinned, "allow me to be Navaz's commander."
Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Oh no! No, no, no!" she spat and both women turned to the irate blonde. "You are not going to be a commander again, Xena. No way in Hell!"
"Who says?" Xena smirked.
"I say!" Gabrielle groaned and clutched the sheets. "Why can't you just...just..."
"Be normal?" Anastasia interrupted and Xena spun her head around staring up at her daughter. "It won't work Gabrielle. She'll never be normal."
Xena growled and stood up, folding her arms. "Just let me take your place, Ana. Just until the baby is born and you can have your title as commander back. Seem fair?" she grinned deviously, her eyebrows rising, disappearing in her bangs.
Anastasia quirked her mouth and took one last look at the furious blonde behind her. She then turned to her mother. "Well...I could use your help and God knows that Navaz needs help," she smiled sheepishly.
"I do not like this," Gabrielle fumed and leaned against the pillows, crossing her arms.
Later Xena was mounting her horse with Gabrielle placed firmly behind her. Her younger brothers frowned sadly. Ditron stepped forward. "I hate to see you all go so quickly!"
Pirro nodded, "yeah, we never get to see each other and not to mention, we thought you were all dead!" he chuckled and Xena rolled her eyes.
"We will see each other again," Xena said. "Tell no one that I was here. I don't want any Romans lurking in the Caucasus."
Both brothers nodded. "And when can we see you all again?" Ditron proposed.
Ernak had a sneaky smile on his face and slapped his hand on Anastasia's thigh as she sat behind him on the horse. "You're invited to Anastasia's senlik party!" he blurted out and Xena shot him a glare.
Anastasia slapped him on the back of the head and he winced. "Ernak!"
"A senlik? What is that?" Ditron eyed his elder sister.
"Nothing. Just forget it –" Xena said.
"A party for expecting mothers!" Ernak spat out again and he received another slap by Ana. "Would you stop?!" he growled and she hit him again.
Ditron's and Pirro's eyes widened. "You're pregnant?" Ditron asked with a big smile on his face and Xena slapped her forehead.
"I'm going...to kill you..." Ana whispered into Ernak's ear.
Gabrielle smiled in the midst of the tension. "I love parties," she said and Xena spun around, glaring at her. "Oh come on, it'll be fun."
"I really don't want a senlik," Ana protested.
"Your last senlik was fun," Ernak nudged her arm and she snarled and he chuckled nervously. "It'd be nice to have some fun for once..." he advised.
Xena rolled her eyes and looked to her brothers. "I will write to you both," she said and they nodded. She yanked on the reins and took off, leading the way through the field.
"So, we're not having a senlik?" Ernak said and Ana hit his arm as they rode behind her mother. "Ow! God..." he groaned. "You want to steer the horse or keep hitting me?"
She smirked, "I am a better rider than you anyway."
"Alright kids," Xena sighed and slowed to a trot as they came to a rocky terrain.
Dengi frowned. "Hey, don't rope me into this!"
"Shut up, Dengi," Ana spat.
Gabrielle stifled a laugh as she had her arm wrapped around Xena's waist. "They sound like five year olds."
"Well, I'd rather ride with Dengi than you!" Anastasia shoved Erank's shoulder and he growled.
"Oh yeah? Then why don't you?"
Dengi steered his horse through the rocks. "No way. You keep her. I don't want to get smacked for nothing."
Xena groaned lowly and heard Gabrielle laughing quietly. "Remind me to tape their mouths shut when we stop for camp."
"Mother! Tell Ernak that I –"
Xena snarled and unsheathed her sword and turned on her horse, pointing the blade at all three of them. They immediately shut their mouths and widened their eyes. "Not another word from either one of you." She hissed. "Do I make myself clear?" she asked and the three nodded their head silently. She sighed and sheathed her sword. "Good. Gabrielle tell me if any one of them says anything."
Gabrielle grinned mischievously and she got glares from all three riding behind her and Xena. Suddenly she felt like she was transported to a time ten years ago when all three were much younger, more innocent but it seems like their behavior has not changed since then.
Dengi scoffed, "like she can do anything to us," he eyed his brother and both snickered.
Xena spun her head around, glaring at the two brothers. "What did I say?! I said not another word!"
Dengi smiled, "what are you going to do, Xena?"
She laughed lightly and glared at the arrogant young man. "You really want to find out?" she hissed.
His eyes widened as he saw her hand reaching for her blade. "No ma'am." He shook his head. He, his brother and Anastasia all had memories of Xena's and Attila's swords. Such pain they inflicted when the three children of Pannonia misbehaved. They could just feel their thighs burning at the thought.
"I thought so," Xena turned and continued through the open field. "And don't call me that. I hate that."
Ernak exhaled heavily. "Your mother is crazy," he whispered to Ana.
"That better not be your voice I hear, Ernak!" Xena called out as her trot quickened.
"No, Xena!" he said and felt the color drain from his cheeks and Ana chuckled, wrapping her arms around his waist.
Gabrielle shook her head and leaned against Xena's backside. She couldn't help but find the situation amusing and all three seemed to find Xena horrifying even though they were not children anymore. "So, what were you going to do to them?" she asked.
Xena grinned crookedly. "Nothing. I just like to instill fear in them. Works every time."
"Xena!" Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "That isn't nice and they aren't children anymore!"
"Then they shouldn't keep falling for it," Xena grinned and the blonde couldn't argue with that logic.
Kreka poured some tea into a glass and lifted the tray. Csaba was waiting patiently sitting on an ottoman. "Take this to Tuya," she pushed the tray into his chest and grumbled, taking the tray from her hands.
"Do I have to?" he whined.
"Yes! Take it to her and try to be nice to her, Csaba. She is your grandmother now you know," she eyed his bright green eyes.
He frowned and groaned lowly. "No she's not." Xena was his only grandmother and he didn't need nor want Tuya in his life. He turned and walked out of the room into a smaller bedroom. "She's a bitch," he muttered.
He walked through the curtains and saw Tuya sitting in bed propped up against a few pillows. He really did not like the woman especially after he saw her try to kill Kreka, a person that he really loved in his family. He set the tray down on a table harshly and glared down at her.
Tuya blinked and eyed the tea and then the twelve year old. She reached for the tea glass and he grabbed it. "Allow me," he said and she eyed him cautiously. She took the glass of tea from his hand and sipped it, not taking her eyes off of him.
"When my real grandmother gets here she's not going to be happy with you."
Tuya smiled faintly and lifted a dark brow at the boy. "You're very audacious, aren't you? You really admire your grandmother don't you?"
He nodded and folded his arms. "She would do anything for me. I'm warning you Tuya Khatun. Be nice to her or else."
"Or else what, boy?" she spat.
"Face the dire consequences!" he growled.
"Csaba!" Kreka called out from the sitting room in the yurt.
His eyes widened as he stared down at the woman and he slowly backed away. "I warned you," he pointed his finger at her then ran off to go see what Kreka.
Entering the sitting area he saw Navaz standing beside Kreka and his tough attitude faded a bit and he walked closer eyeing his stepfather. The king smiled down at him and Kreka looked to the nervous boy. She knew that he was not very close to Navaz but that would have to change.
"Navaz offered to teach you how to use a war bow," she said with a subtle grin and he lowered his eyes. "What do you say, Csaba?"
Navaz inhaled deeply and watched the boy anxiously swing his foot back and forth, remaining silent. He cleared his throat and Csaba lifted his head. "It will be fun, Csaba. It will give you a chance to get away from the women," he teased.
The pre-teen weakly grinned. "Okay..." he walked along and Navaz grasped his shoulder as they left the yurt together.
The king walked with his stepson towards the back of the Adame where the weapons were held in an armory. Navaz had set up the field for an archery lesson for Csaba, eager to try and spend more time with him. He peered down and saw the scowl on the boy's face and knew this was not going to be easy to get the boy to like him. Csaba had some very influential and important people in his life. Those people were all women and Csaba was a strong willed boy that was raised by a bunch of strong willed women.
"So, have you ever used a bow before?" he asked trying to lift the tension.
Csaba nodded. "My mother taught me a couple of times."
Navaz sighed. "Listen, Csaba, I know you don't like me that much. I can't replace your father but I was hoping that we could be...friends?"
The boy turned his head up at the dark haired Hun king and quirked his mouth. "I can't really remember my father that much but my mother says that I look like him."
Navaz smiled, nodding his head slowly. "I care for your mother a lot, you know. She is a very smart woman and she did a good job raising you."
They came to the field and Navaz picked up a bow and handed it to Csaba. The boy examined the bow cautiously and felt like an ant next to it. the weapon was nearly as tall as he was. Navaz saw the apprehension in his eyes and chuckled.
"I know your people are used to using swords but here we use bows. You will learn how to use one since you are the Prince of the White Huns now." He grinned and strung his own bow and picked up an arrow for himself and Csaba stood beside him, watching his every move.
Navaz eyed a target about forty yards away and shot the arrow dead center. Csaba's jaw dropped and the king turned to his shocked face. Picking up an arrow, he handed to him. "You try," he urged the boy.
Csaba breathed in heavily and stepped forward, eyeing the target. Navaz gripped his elbow and raised it to his ear. "You have to keep your elbow on the same level at your eyes." He whispered. "Pull back tightly," he said and Csaba grunted, pulling the arrow as far back as he could. "And...release!"
The arrow soared through the air and landed on the outside of the target. Csaba sighed and Navaz pat his shoulder. "At least you hit the board. We can try again." He pulled another arrow. "Focus on the target this time."
Xena rode into Balaam and saw Kreka beating a rug outside of the yurt. Gabrielle hopped off the horse and was wary of the Hun woman. Xena smirked and dismounted her horse, watching Kreka beat the rug fiercely.
"What did that rug do to you?" she called out.
Kreka immediately spun around and smiled seeing her two sons, Xena, Anastasia and Gabrielle all in one piece. She dropped what she was doing and ran for them with a big grin on her face. She wrapped her arms around Xena, nearly toppling her over. Xena's eyes widened and she hesitantly pat the woman's back gently.
Pulling away she saw Gabrielle and both stared at one another for a long time. Kreka smiled and embraced Gabrielle warmly for a brief moment. "I can always count on Xena to bring back the Greek girl," she teased.
Gabrielle smiled nervously and stuck close to Xena's side. "Must have been fate I guess..."
"Aren't you going to greet us? Hello? We're your sons!" Ernak called out and his mother turned him and hugged him as well. She pulled away then slapped his arm. "Ow! Mother!" he griped.
"Where have you been?!" she yelled and Dengi slowly began backing away, carrying the bags over his shoulders. "Dengizich!" she spat and he halted. "You were supposed to keep Anastasia safe and now you were saved by Xena no doubt. Again."
Dengi rolled his eyes. "We would have come back sooner but someone..." he eyed Anastasia, "decided to take a detour to Pannonia and get us captured and taken to Rome."
Kreka gasped. "You went to Pannonia?"
Anastasia stepped forward, "it was my idea and I know that we shouldn't have gone but I just had to see who was in charge. But unfortunately, now they know who we are know that I am married to Navaz. I don't know if they believed me when I told them that or not..."
She received a menacing glare from the khatun and Xena grabbed her hang, pulling her away. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." she eyed the empty Adame and yurts surrounding it. "Where is Navaz?"
Kreka folded her arms. "He is teaching Csaba how to use a war bow behind the Adame."
Ana's jaw dropped. "Navaz spending time with Csaba?" she eyed Kreka and the woman nodded. "Mother will you..."
Xena smiled, "yes I'll come with you." She walked behind her daughter and snatched the blonde's arm along the way. "Come on, Gabrielle."
They rounded the Adame and there was Navaz instructing Csaba on how to properly hold a bow. Anastasia smiled, clamping her hands together she walked forward behind them, observing. Xena folded her arms and leaned against the large building with Gabrielle standing beside her.
"Well, he's handsome," Gabrielle whispered.
Xena smirked, nodding her head. "Anastasia will grow to love him eventually."
"You think so?"
The warrior shrugged a shoulder. "It would sure make her life a lot easier."
Anastasia crept up behind her husband and watched her son shoot another arrow, nearly hitting the center of the target. She smiled and finally spoke, "not bad for a swordsman," she said.
Csaba spun around and he dropped his bow. "Mother!" he smile reached from ear to ear. He ran and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tightly. "You're back! She promised she'd bring you back."
Ana frowned, "who?"
He lifted his head from her chest with his sparkling green eyes. "Grandma of course, who else?"
"Ah," she nodded and ruffled his hair. "You know she doesn't like being called that, Csaba." She pried his arms off her and turned. His eyes widened when he saw Xena and then he saw Gabrielle standing next to her. Both of them waved their hands and he beamed.
"Gabrielle!" he quickly ran across the field to meet the one person whom he could share his secrets with. He thought she was long gone from his life until now. He had two of the most important people in his life again.
Navaz eyed the blonde woman curiously and walked over to his wife. "Who is that?"
She turned and her cheeks flushed. "Oh...she's my...other mother. It's a long story." She suddenly felt very vulnerable around Navaz and even though he was her husband she couldn't get close to him. She thought of what her mother and Gabrielle said to her back in Stagira and realized that she shouldn't project her anger on her child just because she was in an unwanted marriage.
He smiled and titled her chin to look into those blue eyes that he missed seeing. "You're alright, yes?"
She nodded, "yes, I'm fine."
His eyes drifted to her small expanded waist and a smile crossed his lips. He placed both his hands on her belly and she sighed, grabbing his hands in her own and he gazed into her worried eyes.
"We need to tell Csaba," she said with urgency and he nodded.
"Of course. Whenever you're ready," he smiled and she half smiled.
"And...another thing...my mother wants to help command the army," she added and his eyes grew but he remained silent, unwilling to combat her on the subject, already wary of Xena. "By help I mean, she wants to take my place as commander." She held her breath. "Just until I have the baby."
He pursed his lips and eyed Ana's mother from afar talking with Csaba. "Okay..."
She exhaled, "okay? You're okay with this?"
He grinned and brushed his thumb against her cheek. "She is your mother, Anastasia. Who am I to step in between your relationship with her?"
She felt a sense of relief overcome her and a smile finally graced a lips, a natural one. "Thank you." She finally said and he saw the relief in her eyes. "I don't know what I would had done if you had said no. My mother doesn't like that word."
"I can imagine..." he muttered.
"She just wants to help that's all." She said and he nodded curtly. "At least she hasn't threatened to kill you. When I was pregnant with Csaba I thought she was going to kill his father." She chuckled.
Navaz's eyes widened and he suddenly felt his entire body stiffen. Anastasia thought that was a joke but he didn't think so. "Does that mean she likes me?" he inquired.
She shrugged a shoulder. "She hasn't tried to kill you yet so I guess that means she thinks you're alright." She teased.
"Navaz," Xena strolled up to him with Gabrielle and Csaba on either side of her. She saw the king's dark eyes widen. "I trust that my daughter told you everything?"
He nodded. "Yes, Xena."
"Good, very good." She wrapped her arm around Gabrielle. "This is Gabrielle. She is like family so you will treat her with respect, understand?"
He smiled nervously. "Of course. Hello," he bowed his head.
Gabrielle grinned cheekily, "hello." She gave him a curt nod.
Xena grinned mischievously and wrapped her arm around the king harshly and he winced. They began walking off together. "So, Navaz. You and I are going to have a long chat and get to know one another very well, how's that sound?"
"Sounds...very nice, Xena."
"Mhm. So, let's begin with your mother," her eyebrows furrowed and her smile widened. He shot her a confused look as they waltzed back to the Adame.
Gabrielle folded her arms and shook her head. "Poor guy. He doesn't know what he's in for."
Csaba grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder. "Aren't you going to tell me about all your adventures in Rome, Gabrielle?" his eyes grew with excitement.
Ana grinned and grabbed her son's shoulders. "I don't know, Csaba, maybe another time?"
Gabrielle didn't want to see any disappointment in his eyes and looked to Anastasia, who seemed awfully tired. "No, it's alright. I will keep him entertained for hours. You should go rest. I'll watch him."
"Are you sure, Gabrielle?" Ana lifted a brow.
"'Course I'm sure. We'll have lots of fun, right Csaba?" she smiled and he nodded.
He turned to his mother, grabbing her hand as the three walked together, him wedged in between the two women. "Yeah, don't worry about me, mother. You should rest. You look awful."
Gabrielle's mouth parted and Ana frowned. "Thanks," she grumbled.
He chuckled, "I mean, you look beautiful as always. No offense, mother." He shrugged his shoulder and she sighed heavily.
AN: this sequel won't be nearly as long as the first story. I am mainly writing this for my own enjoyment lol. Enjoy :)
Chapter 10 –The Little Commander
Csaba walked across the field and saw his two uncles sparring with their swords. He smiled and looked back at Kreka's yurt. He wondered where she hid his sword and really wanted to practice with them. She had insisted that he wait for Xena to oversee his training, but Dengi and Ernak were trained by Xena too, so they had to be good at swordsmanship, he supposed.
He walked over to them hoping that they would teach him some moves since his mother was busy with Xena, Gabrielle and Navaz. They had been inside the Adame for hours on end and he didn't want to know why. His mother never exposed him to any kind of politics growing up and neither did Xena.
Ernak clashed his blade against his brother's and both had smiles on their faces, not taking this sparring session very serious.
Dengi pushed his brother back and circled around him. "You shouldn't have brought up the senlik to mother, Ernak. Now she's going to bug Xena about it. You know that Xena doesn't like parties."
Ernak scoffed, "well, she's not the one having a baby, now is she?" he growled and swung his sword around and was quickly knocked down to the ground by a swift kick to his shin by Dengi.
"Fair enough but do you remember how irritated she was when Kreka planned the senlik the first time?" Dengi chuckled and helped his brother up.
"Yeah, well, Xena needs to relax. She's always got a stuck up her –"
"Csaba!" Dengi interrupted and glared at his little king brother. "What's up squirt?" he grinned and twirled his sword and Ernak ran his fingers through his long dark hair.
The boy raised an eyebrow, "why are you guys talking about a senlik? Who's having a baby?" he eyed them both and saw their faces void of color.
"Oh...you know, lots of women," Ernak grinned cheekily and Dengi rolled his eyes.
Csaba folded his arms and looked around at all of the women that passed by talking quietly to themselves. Some with their families outside. He had been here for a year now and so far he hadn't seen any pregnant women and if there was a senlik, he surely would have known.
"I don't see any pregnant women here, Ernak." He said with suspicion.
Ernak laughed nervously and ran up to the boy, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "That's because it's a secret. You know how secretive women can be sometimes."
Csaba furrowed his eyebrows and shrugged Ernak's arm off. "What do you two know that I don't? I know you're lying."
Ernak looked to his brother with wide eyes and Dengi sighed. "Listen, Csaba, I'm sure your mother wanted to tell you herself but –"
The boy's eyes grew in shock . "My mom is pregnant?!" he blurted out and Dengi half smiled. He didn't bother to wait for his uncles to reply and took off running towards the Adame.
"Csaba! Wait!" Dengi tried to run after him and Ernak grabbed his arm.
"It's too late now, brother. Anastasia is really gonna kill you now," he laughed. The elder brother shot his brother a glare and shoved him down to the ground. "Hey! Don't take it out on me!"
Dengi shook his head and walked off to go back to his dwelling. "Oh yeah? And who do you think is going to be more upset? Xena!"
Ernak's laughter faded and he quickly jumped to his feet. "We should go hunting! So she won't be able to find us! Dengi, wait up!"
Xena ran her finger across the map of all the Hunnic tribes. "We should barricade the Caucasus and the rim of Scythia so the Romans don't come in." she suggested.
Gabrielle folded her arms and frowned. "Why Scythia? Odoacer knows that Anastasia is in Balaam. Why would he even bother to go through Scythia?"
Xena eyed her with a tight smile, "because Scythia borders the Caucasus, Gabrielle."
"Seems a little excessive in my opinion," she said and Xena narrowed her eyes.
Anastasia rubbed her temples as she sat in a chair listening to these two go back and forth for the last few hours. Two weeks since they arrived back in Balaam she was beginning to regret allowing her mother to oversee the army and the entirety of the Caucasus Huns.
She slammed her hand on the table, grabbing everyone's attention. "I have a suggestion. Why don't we just send scouts out to the outskirts of Balaam so they can survey the area and report back to us every couple of days?"
Navaz nodded and smiled at his wife. "I like that idea."
Xena shot him a glare. "Of course you do."
"Well, I prefer Anastasia's idea," Gabrielle chimed in. "I think it would be wise to use less men. We don't know if Odoacer is willing to cross all the Hunnic tribes just to get to us. The Caucasus is really far away from Roman territory."
Anastasia gave a satisfactory grin and saw her mother was unhappy but silent. "What do you think, mother?"
Xena tapped her fingers on the table and sighed heavily. "Fine, we will go with your idea but if that doesn't work then we use mine. Barricades work every time."
"Your highness!" a guard ran after Csaba just as he barged into the room. All eyes turned to him. "Sorry, my king, but he insisted on coming in..." the man bowed his head.
Navaz gave him a curt nod and looked over at his stepson. Csaba's eyes went immediately to his mother and she rose from the chair with a concerned face.
"Csaba, what's the matter?" she asked calmly.
His eyes darkened and folded his arms. "Is it true?" he asked.
Ana raised an eyebrow and walked towards him and he took a step back. Xena frowned deeply and grasped his shoulders.
"Csaba..." her voice deep, looming over him.
He lifted his head to see the anger in his grandmother's eyes and wasn't stupid enough to shrug her off like nothing so he said nothing and turned back to his mother.
"Is what true?" Anastasia asked.
"That you're having a baby," he stated and his eyes drifted to her stomach that was well hidden by her dark dress. Navaz's eyes grew and Xena tightened her grip on his shoulders. "That you're having his baby?" he eyed Navaz.
Anastasia felt her stomach churn when he said those words. "Who told you that?"
"So it's true then," he said and shoved Xena away. "Get off me!" he growled. He shook his head then took off, running out of the room.
"Csaba!" Ana frowned and ran after him.
Xena balled her fists up and Gabrielle grabbed her fist. "I can go talk to him," she offered and felt Xena's fist relax to a normal state. She gave a brief smile to Navaz who seemed miffed by what just happened. "I'll be back later," she pat Xena's arm then ran after Anastasia and Csaba.
Ana ran down the stairs and saw her son running across the field and she stopped no longer able to keep up with him anymore. She leaned on a large column outside the Adame and frowned sadly. She felt an hand on her shoulder and spun around.
"I will go talk to him," Gabrielle said with a warm smile. "Xena is asking for you."
The queen shook her head. "I don't want to talk to her right now."
"Well, I'm sure she'll find you either way. You can't avoid her forever," she rubbed Ana's arm then ran off to catch up to Csaba. She suddenly came to realize that this boy must be part gazelle since he was able to run incredibly fast.
Xena walked out of the Adame and saw her daughter at the end of the stairs looking out into the fields, watching Gabrielle chase after her son. She uncrossed her arms and walked down the steps and stopped a step behind her daughter.
Anastasia frowned, "what do you want?" she hissed.
"Gabrielle will talk to him, Ana. She is good at those sorts of things," Xena half grinned and her daughter spun around with teary eyes. "Don't cry. I hate when you do that," she frowned and wrapped her arms around her daughter, bringing her close.
"I don't...want him to hate me," her voice muffled in her mother's chest.
Xena pulled away and wiped the tears off her daughter's cheeks. "He doesn't hate you. He loves you. You know that. He's probably upset but he'll get over it." she sighed and Ana nodded her head, wiping her eyes. "Why don't you go rest and I will...spend more time with Navaz discussing the Romans."
Anastasia rolled her eyes. "You are enjoying this far too much, you know."
"What gave you that idea?" Xena winked and pushed her daughter along down the stairs. "Go to Kreka's yurt. I will meet you there within the hour." She said and Ana eyed her suspiciously. "Go, go!"
Gabrielle caught up to Csaba in the forest by the mountains. She huffed and leaned on a tree, watching him sit on a tree stump. "My god...you run fast," she jested and he didn't bother to look at her.
"Go away, Gabrielle. I want to be alone."
She steadied her breathing and walked over and sat down beside him on the grass. "I didn't run all the way over here just to get shunned out." She said and brought her knees close to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs.
"You were pretty rude back there," she said and he quirked his mouth, remaining quiet. "Your mother cares a lot about you."
"Yes, I know."
She sighed and nudged his leg. "And you were very rude to Xena."
He rolled his eyes and groaned lowly. "She's probably going to lecture me later."
She smiled, "maybe you could talk to her first." She paused and saw his eyes firmly focused on the grass below in deep thought. "I know that you are probably upset about the baby which is understandable, it's a big change and –"
He furrowed his eyebrows and finally turned his head. "What? No." he shook his head. "I'm not upset about the baby. I can't be mad at a baby, Gabrielle. I'm upset at Navaz." His eyes darkened.
That wasn't the response she was expecting. She sensed some hostility when he spoke of Navaz, his new father, his stepfather. "Navaz...is very nice you know. He really cares about you and your mother."
His face softened. "He cares about me?" his voice quiet.
She nodded. "Yeah, he asks about you all the time. He was asking Xena how he could approach you and spend more time with you."
"Oh." He sighed and folded his arms. "Well why did he have to marry my mom? Now she's having a baby and..." he scowled, "I want to go home. I hate it here. It's too cold and the people are different here. And I hate Tuya! Kreka says I have to be nice to her but I don't want to, not after what she did."
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "What did she do?" she asked.
His face paled and he wagged his head. "Nothing, never mind."
She would have to ask Kreka about this later, she made a mental note. "Maybe you could befriend some of the boys in the tribe? They might like you. You're very likable," she nudged his knee and he smirked. Finally a smile, she thought.
He shrugged. "I donno Gabrielle. They don't really pay attention to me. They think that they can't talk to me because I'm a prince, but in Pannonia, I was a prince too and nobody treated me differently."
She nodded and rocked back and forth, holding her knees close to her chin. "You never know if you don't try." She advised and he shrugged his shoulder again. "Listen, Csaba, I love you a lot and I know your mother does too. I think it would be wise for you to have a relationship with Navaz. He wants one and is more than willing to try. I think you should give him a chance."
He grunted. "Fine."
Fine. That word. Gabrielle heard that so many times and Xena often said it when things didn't go her way. It was her way of compromising. "No, not fine."
"Okay!" he stood and flung his arms in the air. "I'll try and spend time with him. Okay?"
She sprung to her feet. "Good. Now, let's go back there." She held out her hand and he sighed, grabbing her hand.
"I feel so embarrassed..." he mumbled.
"Can't help you there but I think you should apologize."
"Do I have to?"
She grinned. "You're going to have to or Xena won't let you hear the end of it."
"Okay, okay, I'll apologize!" he'd rather not see his grandmother's wrath. He didn't like to disappoint her or Gabrielle, but especially Xena.
Anastasia saw the tray of assorted foods in front of her and she put a hand over her stomach, shaking her head. "Kreka, please, I can't eat anymore."
The khatun smirked and brought over some tea for them both then sat beside her on the floor. "You barely ate anything! Tatli kiz," she pushed the tray of food closer. "Please."
Ana sighed and picked up a pastry filled with dates and took a small bite out of it. Chewing slowly, she glared at the woman. "Happy?" she said with her mouthful.
"I will be when you finish that," Kreka smiled and sipped her tea. Her eyes lifted when she saw Xena enter the yurt. "Xena."
Xena raised an eyebrow and saw the tray filled with food and Anastasia eating a pastry with a malicious look in her eye. She smirked and took off her cloak and threw it aside on a chair. "I see you are force feeding my daughter again."
"She doesn't eat anything."
Ana looked up at her mother with her mouth full of the pastry. "Make her stop, please," she begged.
Xena laughed lightly and sat down beside her and took the pastry off of her daughter's hand and finished it off for her.
"Xena!" Kreka groaned.
"What? You cook better than I do. I cannot resist your pastries," Xena grinned and the khatun rolled her eyes.
Csaba and Gabrielle entered the yurt and Anastasia grinned, slowly rising to her feet. "Csaba," she walked over to him and his eyes immediately lowered upon seeing her and he felt Xena's eyes glaring at him, burning a hole into his flesh.
Gabrielle nudged his shoulder. "Go on..." she whispered.
"I'm sorry," he muttered.
"And?" Gabrielle frowned and he sighed then she punched him in the shoulder.
"Ow!" he hissed and lifted his head, looking into his mother's eyes. "I'm sorry for the way I acted. I wasn't upset at you or the baby. I was upset at something else."
Anastasia grinned and hugged him warmly. "It's alright. I'm just glad that you don't hate me."
"I could never hate you, mother," he smiled and saw Xena turn the other way, fingering the assorted food on the tray. He quirked his mouth and pulled away from his mother and walked over to Xena, standing over her.
"Um..." he kicked his boot back and forth with his hands behind his back. Xena lifted her head, staring up at him and he refused to make eye contact with her. "I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...acted the way I did." He finally met her eyes and she smiled warmly.
She pat his leg and continued eating some fruit. "I accept your apology, but you definitely owe me." She turned to him and gave him a wink.
He smiled nervously. "Okay, like what?"
"You train with me and Navaz tomorrow." She said and his jaw dropped. "And bring that sword of yours."
Kreka's eyes widened. "I don't think that's a good idea. He was quite good with the bow –"
"I use swords, not bows." She eyed the woman and turned to Csaba. "Bring the sword."
Csaba looked to Kreka and she had a frightened look on her face. "Alright...I'll bring it..." he said.
Anastasia frowned seeing the tension rising in the room. The look on Kreka's face was not one she saw often. It was fear. Kreka never feared anything. She grasped her son's shoulders. "Csaba, come with me. I want to talk to you and Navaz together." She ushered him out of the yurt.
Gabrielle sat down beside Xena and eyed the khatun across the way. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Kreka sighed and set down her glass of tea. "Xena, there's something you should know about Tuya."
Xena's eyes lit up at the sound of the woman. "Oh yes, Navaz told me you were watching over her after an accident she had before we came back. How...is she?" she smiled and bit into a strawberry.
"There was no accident," Kreka began and Xena's face darkened, tossing the strawberry back onto the tray and licked her fingers. "She came into my room and tried to kill me..." she began and saw Gabrielle's eyes grow wider by the second. "Csaba stabbed her with his sword that Dengi gave him. I hid the sword so you see –"
Xena rose to her feet. "Where is she?" she marched to the back of the yurt and Gabrielle gasped.
"Xena!" she groaned and followed after her. Kreka sat on the rug, casually sipping her tea. She had longed for this moment and a small sneaky grin graced her lips.
Xena flung the curtains aside and saw Tuya sitting up in Kreka's bed. She smiled and walked inside the room and Tuya's eyes widened in fear and tried to scoot away from her. Xena grabbed the woman's leg and sat on the bed.
"My presence frightens you, queen mother?" she grinned eerily and Tuya kept gaping into her steely eyes.
Gabrielle walked in the room and stayed by the entrance, watching Xena work her magic of course. She definitely knew how to instill fear into people just with her looks and words. Sometimes less is more.
"You wouldn't have happened to try and kill Kreka, would you?" she asked and Tuya's eyes widened. "Your silence is a good enough answer." She sighed and scooted closer to the woman's face. "Kreka is my friend. She and I may not always see eye to eye, but she is a trusted ally of mine through Attila. We've known each other for a long time and I would never...betray her. She trusts me."
Tuya frowned. "You befriend a renounced queen? She does not evoke her power and yet your daughter remains queen of us all."
Xena nodded and grabbed Tuya's hand, gripping tightly. "Kreka is very smart. Do not underestimate her. She does not have the title of Barbarian Queen for nothing, you know," her eyes widened wildly and Tuya backed away slowly.
"You know...Attila had another wife after Kreka. Her name was Kriemhild. I'm sure you do not know of her and do you know why?"
Tuya shook her head.
"Because Kreka killed her." Her smile deepened and finally saw that fear she was looking for. "Kriemhild was insane. She killed her own children and Kreka killed her to protect the reputation of her people yet...she lets you live. Her heart must have softened over the years, but mine hasn't." she grimaced and stood from the bed, eyeing the woman's fear stricken face.
"Come near my daughter and grandson and I will make sure you don't live to see the next day," she spun around and left the room. Gabrielle lifted her eyebrow, giving one last look at the woman before following Xena.
Kreka lifted her eyes when she saw Xena come out of the bedroom. "So?"
Xena grinned and grabbed her sword, heading out of the yurt. "She won't be bothering you anymore. Come on, Gabrielle. I want to spar with someone and you are the lucky winner."
Gabrielle gasped. "But Xena, I haven't fought in a really long time. I have lost a lot of my skills."
"Then you'll just have to relearn them now won't you?" Xena grinned and walked out of the yurt and Gabrielle sighed heavily and reluctantly followed. She felt like she was going to regret this.
Emperor Zeno sat in his throne chamber and the doors swung open. He smiled upon seeing his government consul marching in on a mission.
"Flavius Anastasius," he said and saw the young man's anger in his eyes. "You bring good news, I hope?"
Anastasius shook his head. "No, emperor. Sorry to say that I bring only bad news." He apologized and handed over the scroll to the emperor and Zeno snarled, snatching it from him. "Odoacer had captured Huns in his possession but they have escaped from Rome. He wants them brought back to Rome to face charges."
Zeno nodded, reading quickly over Odoacer's letter and tossed it aside and rose from his throne. "Why does he even bother with those Huns? They are to be extinct soon. I've gotten rid of the most important Huns –Pannonians –Attila's people." He grinned, feeling very proud of that victory.
Flavius Anastasius bit his tongue and averted eye contact. "Emperor, those Huns are not just any Huns. They were the sons of Attila and daughter of Xena. They stole your Consul."
Zeno clenched his fist and lifted his chin, fuming. "Gabrielle? My Consul? Those savages took her?!" he growled. "I did not think that those bastards would dare come to Rome!"
"They didn't. Bey Basil captured them and sent them to Rome as a present for Odoacer. The emperor believes that Gabrielle knows them, especially since the daughter of Xena lives."
Zeno growled and knocked over a vase and began pacing back and forth. "They cannot go back to Pannonia. That is a land they lost long ago. Where is the woman now? The daughter of Xena."
Anastasius grimaced. "Her name is Anastasia and she is Queen of the White Huns."
Zeno laughed. "You share the same Greek name of that savage woman. I do feel for you, Anastasius." He rubbed his chin. "Find out more about the White Huns and where they live. I want Attila's and Xena's line wiped out! Wiped out, you hear me?!" he yelled.
The governor nodded. "Of course, sir. I do believe that these White Huns live in Armenia."
The emperor quirked his mouth. "The mountains. A very good hiding place. Well played Pannonians." He grinned maliciously. "Send mercenaries to the Caucasus region but do not attack. Find the daughter of Xena and bring her to me."
"Yes, emperor," the governor saluted and then stormed out of the chamber.
"Oh and, do send Odoacer a thank you note for relaying this most precious message to me," he said and Anastasius nodded. "Do not harm the girl. I wish this to be a peaceful kidnapping. She will go willingly if there is no violence."
"As you command, emperor."
Gabrielle threw herself on the bed and sprawled her arms out. Xena turned around as she was taking off her tunic and smirked. "What are you doing?"
The blonde smiled, "enjoying a bed to myself. Navaz gave us our own yurt!"
"Gabrielle, it's just a yurt," Xena shook her head and slipped the tunic over her head and began unlacing her pants.
Gabrielle turned over onto her back and stared at Xena's long dark hair. "But it's our yurt," she wriggled her eyebrows and Xena turned her head over a shoulder and grinned softly. "Not that I mind staying with Kreka, but she still kind of scares me."
Xena let out a laugh and her pants dropped to the floor and she grabbed a dark mesh slip and slipped it over her head. "Kreka is not scary, Gabrielle and she likes you. She'd let you know if she didn't like you, trust me."
"If you say so."
"I do say so," Xena crawled onto the bed and lay on her side, staring at the blonde with soft eyes. "So, what do you want to do?"
Gabrielle tapped her cheek and plopped back down onto the bed. "We could roll all over the ground, staking our claim on this yurt!" she grinned and Xena raised an eyebrow. She turned to see the incredulous look on the brunette's face.
"Okay, or not." She shrugged. "I'm just really excited about having our own place."
Xena rolled her eyes. "I can tell." Her fingers roamed along Gabrielle's arm. "You know...you were really...bad at sparring the other day," she snorted.
Gabrielle shot her a glare. "Look, I told you I was out of practice!"
"I didn't know you were that out of practice," Xena chuckled and she received a punch from her consort. "Ow!" she grunted then punched Gabrielle back.
"Hey!" she groaned and rubbed her arm. "That isn't fair, Xena. You hit way harder than I do!"
Xena grinned mischievously and pinched Gabrielle's arm. Gasping, Gabrielle pinched her back.
"Quit it!" Gabrielle scooted away and saw Xena crawling towards her. "No...no," she warned and Xena inched closer and closer, pinching her fingers together. "No, you don't!" she yelped as she fell off the bed.
Xena smiled and leaned over the side of the bed and the sight of Gabrielle contorted on the floor caused her to laugh lightly. "You did that to yourself," she chided and sat up on the bed and waited for Gabrielle to climb back on, cursing beneath her breath.
The two stared at one another for a long while and Gabrielle smiled, leaning forward and kissed her lips gingerly. Her hand cupping her cheek and Xena grinned, inching closer.
Over the next month Xena oversaw Csaba's training with Navaz's help. She was surprised that he was more skilled with a bow than a sword and she hated to admit it. Bows were useful but only in distant combat. Csaba was able to let himself open up to Navaz slowly as the days went on, spending time together.
Today was an exceptionally cold day and Xena stood behind Csaba as Navaz taught him how to use the bow to shoot at a fifty yard distance. It had been going so well until Xena kept intervening. Anastasia sat behind them underneath a canopy watching the three.
Gabrielle came up behind Anastasia and grabbed her shoulders. She gasped. "Oh Gabrielle, don't do that." She smiled.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," the blonde sat down beside her, watching Csaba shooting arrows one after the other. "He's very good."
"Yes he is. I'm glad that he is warming up to Navaz."
Gabrielle nodded and then saw Xena begin arguing with Navaz about his technique. Shaking her head she sighed heavily. "And what about you?"
"What about me?" she lifted her chin, watching her mother scold her husband, a king of all people. Titles meant nothing to Xena.
"You and Navaz," she said and Ana lowered her eyes. "Have your feelings changed for him?"
Ana shrugged her shoulders. "He is good to me and he must have the patience of a god to be able to deal with my mother every day," she smirked. "I just don't know yet."
Gabrielle nodded. "And your baby? Your feelings haven't changed?"
Anastasia smiled softly and peered down at her child, her belly growing larger every day and it was no use of hiding it anymore. Everyone could tell she was pregnant now. "My mother was right. I shouldn't be angry at something so innocent."
Gabrielle smiled at that. Perhaps her heart wasn't as hardened as she originally thought. She turned to see the bow lesson and saw Navaz marching straight for them carrying a bow. "Oh boy."
Navaz growled and held out a broken bow in front of his wife. "Anastasia," he inhaled deeply, "I respect your mother but this is the second bow she has broken in the last week! I can't work with her if she keeps undermining my teaching abilities!"
Anastasia bit her bottom lip and smiled nervously. "Navaz, I know she can be difficult sometimes, but she knows what she's doing. She's a very good teacher. She taught Dengi and Ernak."
Navaz smiled mockingly and threw the broken bow down. "Well, that's nice but I can't work with her!" he stormed off.
"Navaz!" Ana growled and stood up slowly from her seat. She saw him making his way back to the Adame. Then she spun around, glaring at her mother. "Mother!" she snarled.
Xena turned and saw her daughter standing behind her. "Anastasia, go sit down. I am teaching Csaba how to properly use a bow," she grinned.
"Mother! You broke his bow! Again! You can't keep doing this." She folded her arms, glaring at her backside.
Xena held Csaba's arm, holding it close to his cheek. "He has other bows." She said and then whispered into Csaba's ear and he nodded, adhering to her instruction and he released the arrow and hit dead center. Xena turned to her daughter with a smug grin. "See? I'm a better teacher."
Csaba turned around and saw the anger in his mother's eyes. She was fuming. He lowered his bow and frowned nervously. "Mom, don't be angry. It's not good for the baby," he smiled.
Xena smirked. "Yeah, Anastasia. It's not good for the baby so go sit down and leave me to the lesson." She waved her hand, shooing her away.
Anastasia groaned and stomped off in a hurry. Gabrielle stood and saw her by passing the canopy. "Anastasia?" she called out. "Where are you going?!"
Gabrielle huffed and walked over to Xena, tapping her shoulder. "Xena, you really upset her."
Xena scoffed and held the bow, adjusting Csaba's hands. "No I didn't. She's just mad that I broke her husband's bow," she smiled.
"Xena," she began more firmly. "I'm serious." She said and the warrior ignored her. "Xena!"
Xena sighed and lowered the bow in her grandson's hands. "Oh alright," she said and turned to see a fuming blonde behind her. "I'll go talk to her."
Navaz sat in his room watching Anastasia pace back and forth, talking nonsense in her native language. Some words he understood and they were not very nice words that's for sure. "Anastasia," he said and she ignored him, continuing to talk to herself. "Anastasia..." he leaned forward in the chair and watched her dig a hole in the carpet. "Anastasia!" he yelled and she turned at his loud voice.
"You are driving yourself mad," he said calmly and she groaned, continuing to pace. He stood and grabbed her arms, turning her around to face him.
She breathed heavily, staring into his dark eyes and he smiled softly. He grazed his fingers along her cheek and she sighed, slowly calming herself down. "It's just a bow," he whispered in her ear and she half smiled.
"It's not about the bow, Navaz."
A knock came to the door and Xena walked in. Anastasia frowned immediately upon seeing her. The king inhaled deeply and kissed her forehead then took his leave to allow the two to talk. Xena stepped further into the room and pursed her lips.
"I didn't...mean to upset you." She began and her daughter folded her arms, turning away. She looked to the ceiling and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry," she said.
Ana turned and her eyes grew with amazement. "Did you just apologize?"
"Don't make me say it again." Xena said flatly. She walked over to her daughter and grabbed her upper arms firmly. "I don't want to upset you. That's the last thing I want to do. If you want me to back off then just say –"
"I want you to back off," she said immediately.
Xena's lips parted and Anastasia saw the astonished face and smiled. "Mother, I love you but sometimes you can be very...overbearing. Let Navaz instruct Csaba his way."
"But his way is wrong."
"Mom!" she griped. "We can compromise," she said and saw her mother roll her eyes. "I know you don't like that word, but I think you need to. How 'about this; you teach Csaba how to use a sword and Navaz teaches archery? Seem fair?"
Xena bit her bottom lip and sighed dramatically then looked into her daughter's hopeful eyes. "Alright," she relented.
Ana grinned and kissed her mother's cheek. "Thank you. That's all I ask. Oh and, please don't break any more of Navaz's bows."
Before Xena could come back with a smart remark there were drums heard outside. She frowned and turned to her daughter. "Stay here."
She ran outside and saw Dengi and Ernak riding in with a few scouts trailing behind. Ernak skid to a stop in front of Navaz and Xena. "Romans approaching."
Navaz's eyes darkened. "Are you sure there were Romans?"
"I think I know a Roman when I see one," Ernak said and turned to Xena. "What do you want us to do? Blockade them?"
Anastasia came outside and stood beside her mother and Xena snarled. "I thought I told you to stay inside!"
"Romans?" Ana said, stepping forward and Ernak nodded. She turned to her mother with a worried look.
"I told you we should have barricaded the area," Xena folded her arms defiantly.
"They are eastern Romans, bearing the crest of Emperor Zeno," Dengi spoke up, holding his horse's reins, ready to attack at any moment. "Anastasia, what do you want us to do? You are the commander."
Xena smirked and Ana breathed in heavily and placed her hands on her hips. "Well..." she began, "you should hold them off and bring one Roman as captive. We can question him here." She turned to her mother for approval.
"You're the commander," Xena said with a smile and Anastasia quirked her mouth then turned to Dengi and Ernak.
She gave them a curt nod. "Bring back a Roman."
Gabrielle walked up with Csaba and frowned seeing horsemen riding off. "What is going on?" she asked.
Xena turned to the blonde. "Romans are in the area. Anastasia told them to bring a Roman back to camp."
"And you're letting her do this?" Gabrielle raised a suspicious eyebrow.
Xena shrugged her shoulder nonchalantly. "She wants to be commander, so I will let her."
"But you are her overseer, Xena. You're going to let her fail her first mission?"
"She's not going to fail, Gabrielle. I'm going to let her continue with her plan," Xena said and kept smiling. "She has no idea how to be a commander. I will teach her."
Gabrielle sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"Capturing a Roman is never a good idea, but she will learn."
Anastasia breathlessly turned and grabbed her mother's arm, desperate for help. "What do I do when they come back with the Roman?"
Xena grinned and looked into her daughter's pleading eyes. "First, we wait and see if they are even able to capture a Roman. You shouldn't have sent out your best men to scout the area. Always send mercenaries, not your elite." Her eyes darkened and her mind going to a place that she hadn't been to in a long time.
"So, what do I do?!"
"We wait," Xena said and saw the fear in her daughter's eyes.
"What if I go and help them?"
Xena's eyes widened. "No!" she yelled and Ana jumped. "I mean...no, you never leave your post. Lesson number one, Anastasia, always let your men come to you, not the other way around."
AN: I revised the summary because it was too vague. Kinda bad at summaries.
Title taken from Chapter 38 of "The Commander's Poet" when Xena is trying to control her daughter when she was a teenager and Gabrielle is the confidant of Anastasia at the time. Some things never change.
Chapter 11 –Mother Commander
Anastasia stood in front of the captured Roman soldier, holding the sword close to her. She kept eyeing her mother silently and then eyeing the kneeled Roman in front of her. Dengi held the soldier and waited for quite some time, holding the rope around the man's neck. He waited, and waited...and waited, for Anastasia to do something. Interrogate him, hit him, just something, but he got nothing.
"Ahem," he cleared his throat and she lifted her big eyes. "Aren't you going to interrogate him?" he whispered.
She nodded and looked over at her mother standing off on the side with Gabrielle shaking her head, leaning up against a wall. For the first time in her life, she was mute and didn't know what to do. When she proposed the idea of being the commander for Navaz's army, she didn't actually think she would have to act upon anything until now. She did alright with the Persian Shah, Peroz, but that was political, this was just straight up dangerous and definitely her mother's territory.
Gabrielle nudged Xena's arm. "She obviously doesn't know what to do, Xena," she hissed. "Help her!"
Xena smirked and watched her daughter stare at the Roman, completely clueless on what to do and how to approach the situation. She realized that Anastasia took on a role that she was not ready for and had no experience in. With another nudge from her blonde consort she swatted her away and walked forward, standing behind her daughter.
"Ask him why he came here," she whispered.
Anastasia turned with wide troubled eyes. "Why can't you ask him?" she whispered back.
"Because, Ana," Xena grabbed her shoulders and forcefully turned her round to face the Roman. "You are the commander," she hissed.
But I don't want to be a commander anymore, Ana thought. She turned around, holding the blade close to her and pleaded with her eyes. "Mother, you can take my place as commander."
Xena folded her arms. "I thought you could do it by yourself?" she grinned smugly.
"Well, I was wrong," she pushed the sword into her mother's chest. "I can't do it by myself."
Xena took the sword from her grasp and gently pushed Anastasia aside. She held the end of the blade at the Roman's throat. "Who sent you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
The soldier remained quiet and Xena eyed Dengi. He nodded and yanked on the rope around the soldier's throat, cutting off his air. She grinned and stepped forward, holding the blade to his neck. "Tell me who sent you or you die in thirty seconds," she whispered.
"Z...Zeno!" he finally blurted out and Dengi released the strain on the rope.
"Why did Zeno send you here?" she asked, titling his chin upward and he spat at her. "Tell me!" she kicked him in the chest and he flew backward, landing on his backside a few feet away from Dengizich. She walked over and stomped her boot on his chest and he coughed, gasping for air.
"Tell me why he sent you and I will release you," she said sweetly and he nodded. She let her boot off his chest and Dengi hoisted him up to his knees again.
"He wants...the Queen. He only wants the Queen..." he said, breathing heavily, blood dripping from his mouth.
Xena nodded and walked over to her daughter's shocked face, handing over the sword. "We have our information." She said and Ana took the sword cautiously. "Now, kill him."
Anastasia's lips parted and Xena kept glaring at her, completely focused. "You want to be a commander, Anastasia. You need to kill him," she pushed the sword to her chest. "Do it." she whispered and walked off to stand next to Gabrielle.
The blonde wagged her head and leaned against the wall. "I really hate when you do that," she said.
"Kill people. I mean, well...I guess this is a good exception," she noted Zeno's soldier still kneeling and Anastasia standing in front of him. He gawked up at her, barely able to kneel before her. "She's not going to do it, Xena."
Xena waited a few moments longer and Anastasia was hesitating too much. Thinking too much of the aftermath. Growing impatient, she marched forward and ripped the sword from her daughter's grasp and plunged the blade into the Roman's chest. Blood splattered all over Dengi and he cringed, letting go of the rope and walked off, wiping the blood off his face.
She grinned and kicked the soldier down and withdrew her sword. Anastasia stood with wide shocked eyes. She handed the bloody sword to her daughter and pat her shoulder. "You hesitate too much, Anastasia. Don't think about it. Just do it."
Anastasia's face contorted and walked over, leaning over the staircase balustrade outside the Adame, retching and dry heaving.
Gabrielle cringed and Xena turned away, rubbing her temple. Dengi shook his head and turned to the Hun soldiers. "Take the Roman away."
Xena stepped forward, "put the body on a pike," she said and Dengi eyed her curiously. "To send them a message."
Dengi nodded, "do as she says."
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm. "Hey what do you think you're doing? That sounds like old Xena behavior." She hissed and peered over her shoulder listening to Anastasia still vomiting in a corner by herself.
"Gabrielle," the Hun warrior turned and cupped her cheeks. "I am taking Anastasia's place as commander. You know how these Romans are. They need to be taught a lesson. They don't know I am alive and I plan to keep it that way." She pat her cheek then walked inside the Adame.
Inside the large office Anastasia sat at the table while Navaz knelt down, talking to her quietly. Xena and Gabrielle stood off close to the map on the wall, whispering among themselves. Gabrielle rubbed her chin and her eyes kept veering over towards Anastasia.
"She is not ready to do this, Xena." She whispered.
Xena nodded and crossed her arms. "I do not recommend being pregnant while commanding an entire army."
Gabrielle shot her a knowing look. "But you did it!"
"And it was very difficult," she frowned. "I was not allowed to go into the field and had to do all the decision making behind closed doors. But I had help," she frowned sadly.
"Borias helped you," Gabrielle stated and Xena nodded. "And you want to help Anastasia the same way he helped you."
Xena sighed and saw Navaz trying to talk to his sick wife and she kept shaking her head, whispering to him, though her voice was rising, obviously irritated. "Except there is a difference between Anastasia and I. She is too soft, like her father. She doesn't know how to command an army, Gabrielle. She has watched me for years and thought it was easy until now. She may have overextended her offer to Navaz, not knowing that it was going to be difficult."
"She wants to learn. Teach her, Xena. You are a good teacher," Gabrielle smiled and traced her fingers along the warrior's arm gently.
Xena let out a heavy exhale and walked over to her daughter and Navaz stood, moving out of the way. Anastasia wiped her cheeks and hid her flushed cheeks and teary eyes. She grinned and knelt down in front of her daughter.
"I want you to be the commander of your army, Ana, but you can't do it alone. You need my help," she said softly.
Anastasia inhaled heavily and averted eye contact with her mother. "I thought I could do it by myself but I can't even interrogate a Roman, of all people!" she grunted and folded her arms.
"Anastasia," Xena grabbed her arms, unfolding them. "Commanding an army is not easy and it comes with practice. You will fail many times, but this time, we can't afford to fail." She said and saw her daughter begin to sob. "Don't cry, no crying," she said firmly.
Ana's eyes widened and she suddenly felt like she was a child again, fearing her mother's stern voice.
Xena sighed and quirked her mouth. "I'll tell you what. I'll be the commander in chief and you can be the commander and work under me." She smiled softly and her daughter bit her bottom lip, unsure to take the offer. "Your father did the same for me before I had you. He was commander in chief and I was commander. Your role will be just as important as mine and we will work together, alright?"
Anastasia finally nodded and Xena pat her knee then stood. Gabrielle waltzed over and tapped Xena's shoulder. "So does this mean I get my job back as your scribe?" she wriggled her eyebrows.
Xena rolled her eyes. "If you want to, Gabrielle. Nobody is forcing you," she teased.
"I'd rather work as your scribe than Odoacer's any day!" the blonde beamed and Anastasia smiled faintly.
Xena groaned and unrolled a large map across the table. "Dengi said that the Romans bear the crest of Zeno so that means Odoacer is communicating with him. The Roman mentioned that he wanted the queen," she eyed her daughter, "that means Zeno wants to talk to you."
Ana frowned. "And will I?"
"Absolutely not," Xena scoffed. "Now, he probably sent mercenaries, thinking it would be easy to persuade you to come willingly to Constantinople. A Roman soldier is dead and the others will report back to Zeno. He will see you as a threat just as he saw me as a threat. Never go to your enemies. Let them come to you so they know you will not surrender to them. You understand?"
Her daughter nodded and rose from her chair, leaning her palms on the table, overseeing the large map. She dragged her finger from Balaam to Constantinople and cocked her head. "It would take nearly two weeks at least to travel from the eastern empire to the Caucasus. Odoacer must have sent a message to Zeno a month ago at least."
Gabrielle grinned and sat down, writing on the parchment, recording everything. Xena nodded and gave a brief smile at her daughter. "Right. So I think we should barricade the entire area, including Scythia, like I mentioned before. Zeno is not stupid enough to send more mercenaries. He will probably send an adviser of his or something to talk to you."
Anastasia bit her bottom lip and was unsure what to say next. She lifted her eyes and stared at her mother focused on the map. "And...will I talk to them?" she asked softly and hesitantly.
Xena grinned, "of course you will. Show the emperor that you are willing to negotiate with him. Offer him a deal. War is often fought behind a table, not a sword. If you offer a good enough argument, Zeno will see you as a threat and maybe back off for awhile."
The young queen smiled and nodded. "Okay, I can do that. I was able to convince Peroz to come up with another negotiation but I haven't heard from him in months."
Gabrielle's eyes widened at that and she stood. "About Peroz..." she began and all eyes turned to her. "He is going to ally with Odoacer behind your back. I heard him talking about it in Rome awhile back. He is not going to agree to your terms," she eyed Anastasia and Navaz, both with angry yet shocked faces.
"Persians," Xena grumbled. "We will deal with him next, but Zeno is more important. He has already sent people to take you to him. Peroz has done nothing. He is hiding like the coward he is."
Anastasia rubbed her forehead and felt her head throbbing. It had been a stressful day. She didn't expect the day to turn out the way that it did. She spoke before her mother could, "I think we should guard the borders we have with Persia. I don't want the shahs getting any ideas."
Gabrielle nodded. "I agree with her." She eyed Xena for the go ahead.
"Alright. We will guard the borders as well," Xena said. "But we need some help. Some outside help."
The room remained silent and an idea popped into Gabrielle's head. "I have an idea!" she said and everyone turned to her, gaping down at her. She never realized how short she was until now as she stood in front of the three looming warriors.
"We can ask Kreka to contact her tribe in Ashina. They were a great help against the Persians years ago."
Xena smiled and nudged her arm. "A brilliant idea, Gabrielle."
Anastasia furrowed her eyebrows. "Are you sure Kreka is going to agree to that?"
A devious smile crossed Xena's lips. "She will because you are going to convince her. You are the commander and queen of this land, Anastasia. This is your second lesson –convincing another monarch to side with you even if that monarch is your close ally. They will not always agree, but it's your job to make them see they will benefit from your cause."
The queen felt her face drain of color and she folded her arms. She had a somewhat good relationship with Kreka, but sometimes, she did not get along with the woman at all, especially when it came to royal duties. Kreka was probably more headstrong than Xena was. She is the Barbarian Queen after all.
"You mean...I have to talk to her...alone?" her voice low and almost broken. Afraid.
Xena bobbed her head slowly, staring at the fear in her daughter's eyes.
"What if she says no?!"
"Then you will just have to convince her otherwise, Ana. This is not a game," Xena raised her eyebrow and Anastasia exhaled heavily. "Kreka is part of our family but she is also a queen too. Do not think of her as a relative during your discussion or you will fail. There have been many times that I had to speak with her about political matters. She is quick to turn off her friendship and turn on her queen-mode in front of others. I am not an exception and do not think you aren't either."
Anastasia suddenly felt so much pressure was upon her and this was truly the first day of her enacting her role as a commander. She didn't know how her mother was able to do this for so long and now that she was back, she picked up her commander skills with a snap of a finger. It was so easy for her.
Gabrielle climbed on top of the bed, wearing a white slip. She sighed heavily and waited for Xena to get out of her garb and into her slip. "You were really understanding today about Anastasia's anxiousness over being a commander."
Xena shrugged a shoulder. "You told me to help her so I did."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but the old Xena would not have done that. She would have lost her temper and yelled at everyone. Instead you were very...kind to her. I like it when you act that way. I wish others could see that side of you more often."
The warrior looked over her shoulder and threw her tunic aside. "I can't be kind to everyone, Gabrielle."
"I know, but still, I prefer you this way." Gabrielle rolled over onto her stomach and rest her chin on her hands. Her eyes focused on Xena's backside and her long hair. She raised an eyebrow and saw Xena bend over to slip her boots off. A clap of thunder sounded through the skies and she pursed her lips.
"Xena..." her voice lingered and she smiled cheekily.
Xena paused and lifted herself up and pulled the slip over her head. She knew that tone of Gabrielle's voice and she knew she was going to ask something. "What is it?" she asked flatly.
"Can I brush your hair?"
Xena turned with an arched brow and a half smirk on her lips. "You want to...brush my hair?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. "What a weird thing to ask." She snorted and then grabbed a brush and threw it at the blonde.
Gabrielle yelped and caught the brush just before it smacked her in the face. "No offense, Xena, but your hair looks like a bird's nest." She chuckled and Xena cast her a glare, but sat down on the bed without complaining. Then, she grabbed a section of the dark locks and ran the boar bristle brush through her long tresses.
Xena sat patiently and crossed her legs on the bed as Gabrielle brushed her hair. She winced slightly as the brush caught the tangles in her hair, but she remained silent.
"Do you think that all these conflicts with the Romans will ever stop?" Gabrielle asked.
The brunette shrugged her shoulders. "I don't think so. The emperors do not like Huns. They want to exterminate everyone to fulfill their Roman utopia."
Gabrielle sighed, already knowing the answer to that question but it pained her when Xena said those words. Now it was true and nobody could do anything about it. She grabbed another large section of Xena's dark hair and began streaming the brush down her locks.
"Have you ever thought of just leaving and hiding somewhere? Nobody knows you're alive anyway."
Xena frowned and fidgeted with her thumbs in her lap. "I hid in Kazakhstan. Anastasia has a life here. I can't just leave her here. I was separated from you and everyone for a year. I don't want to leave anyone behind again. Ever."
Gabrielle swayed her body back and forth and kept brushing the dark tresses gently. "I mean, we could go somewhere else. We don't have to stay here. We can take Navaz with us."
The warrior turned and grabbed the blonde's wrist, gazing into her solemn green eyes. "Gabrielle, what's all this talk of leaving?"
"I just want you to be happy. I don't want you to spend your life commanding an army and constantly fighting people."
Xena smiled warmly and cupped her consort's cheek. "I am happy, Gabrielle." She said and saw those green eyes linger elsewhere. "I am happy to be wherever you are. As for war and commanding an army –I can't stop doing that. That's all I've known." She said and cocked her head. She lifted Gabrielle's chin able to stare into her eyes once more. "Are you...happy?"
The blonde gave a faint smile. "Of course. I have you here with me."
"It doesn't matter where we are. Pannonia is a place that is filled with so many memories. Good and bad. But, it's just a place. You are my home, Gabrielle." She gently poked Gabrielle's heart and squinted her eyes as her smile grew.
Gabrielle's cheeks flushed bright red. "Forget what I said earlier," she muttered.
Xena winked, "I won't forget what you said. I've thought about it before. I wanted to leave the violence behind me, but when I was stuck in Kazakhstan with Malka I realized that everything that I built my life around was gone. I didn't want to follow my sword anymore, but I felt like I was betraying myself and who I really was. I can't stop being who I am. The sword is my life. You are my life."
"Can you promise me something then?" Gabrielle leaned forward and Xena nodded. "Promise me that whatever happens, you won't become a monster, Xena. I can't watch you go back to the way you were when we first met."
Xena's head hung and she frowned sadly.
"Don't get sucked up in the violence again. I know it's easy to do. I've seen it happen to you before. Fight for the good of your people –of your family. Don't seek revenge or vengeance." She shook her head and grabbed Xena's chin to look firmly in her eyes. "I saw vengeance in your eyes when we were in Stagira. You wanted to kill Odoacer. I saw it in your eyes. I don't want to see your heart harden again. So, promise me."
Xena nodded. "I promise," she said in a soft voice.
"I won't let that happen to you again. I can't allow it to –"
Xena smiled and grabbed Gabrielle's cheeks, leaning in closer. "I promise, Gabrielle." She whispered and touched foreheads with her. "I always keep my promises, don't I?"
Gabrielle nodded and the warmth of Xena's hands upon her cheeks warmed her entire body. She suddenly jumped when she heard thunder again and rain pouring down outside of the yurt.
A drip-drop sound was heard from across the room and Xena turned to see the yurt's fabric roof leaking. She groaned and crawled off the bed to grab something to catch the water in. She grabbed their water basin used for washing their faces and set it on the floor.
Gabrielle heard the rain slowly dripping into the marble bowl and cringed. "That has to be the most annoying sound I've ever heard in my life."
Xena climbed back onto the bed. "Then you shouldn't be in my interrogation room." She teased and the blonde shot her a glare. "Torture is my specialty."
"That isn't funny."
"It wasn't a joke," Xena arched an eyebrow and Gabrielle smacked her arm. "Hey!" she winced.
Anastasia sat on her bed, brushing her long hair. The sound of rain was calming and that was definitely needed after today. She had so many things rushing through her mind and she wasn't sure if she was doing the right thing or not. She knew she could trust her mother. After all, Xena was Attila's commander for a very long time and then a commander for Ellac, then Dengi and Ernak later. Now, she was Anastasia's commander and Navaz's.
She sighed heavily and combed through the knots at the ends of her hair. She had to give Navaz some credit. He was being very understanding about this entire situation and tolerated Xena more than she expected him to. She thought he was going to decline her mother's offer to be commander, but he was alright with it. She wasn't sure if she should be suspicious of that or not.
Her eyes lingered on the fireplace in the room and her eyes were fixated on the flames while she kept brushing her hair. She thought it would be best to stay in the Adame in the queen's quarters. She normally stayed with Kreka in the yurt beside the Adame, but she told herself to make an effort to get closer to Navaz, even if they were not lovers, he could at least be her friend.
The more she thought about her marriage with Navaz the more thankful she became with each passing day. She could have married an awful man, but Navaz was nice and he was making a huge effort to involve himself in Csaba's life. She also saw that her mother did not dislike Navaz and she actually trusted his judgment. Xena didn't just like anyone and Anastasia knew that Navaz was nothing like his awful mother, Tuya. He was very kind and very patient. Ellac was not patient, but he was sweet and loved her a lot. He would do anything for her and she wondered if Navaz would do the same for her?
She saw the door to her bedroom open and Navaz came inside, closing the door behind him. Her eyes dropped to her hair as she combed through the knots, the same knots, over and over again. He smiled softly and walked over to the bed, his eyes fixated on her beauty and the ivory sleeveless gown she wore.
He hardly ever saw her in anything sleeveless or low cut, showing off her chest. He cleared his throat softly. "May I sit with you?" he asked and she nodded, meeting his eyes for a brief moment.
He sat down and saw her avoiding his gaze. He lend his hand out and she eyed his palm. "Let me help you," he offered and she slowly handed him the comb. He grinned and scooted closer to her and held her long dark hair in his hand and he gently ran the comb through her locks.
"Your hair reminds me of an Arabian horse," he said.
She raised an eyebrow. "Why's that?" she asked quietly with a small grin.
"They have hair black as night and they are the best horses in the world. They are said to be the most beautiful creatures," he said and she turned slowly, staring into his brown eyes and her smile widened.
"You're embarrassing me." She said shyly and hid her smile.
He leaned in closer and pulled her hair back from her hidden face. "You are very beautiful, Anastasia. I don't say it enough. You are my wife and my queen. You deserve to be treated like one." He smiled and her cheeks flushed. He leaned in close to her and kissed her cheek.
She turned to gaze into his eyes. Her body relaxed and her demur softened by his gentle touch. She smiled and leaned in, kissing him on the lips gingerly. She then pulled away and saw the smile on his face grow as did hers.
He cupped her cheeks and kissed her lips again and she did not turn away, but leaned into him. He briefly pulled away and she scooted back against the pillows, staring at him with wide blue eyes. He caught sight of her exposed slender thigh as the slit on her dress opened slightly. Slowly he laid beside her, propping himself up on his elbow and she lifted her knee, not taking her eyes off him.
Unconsciously his eyes drifted to her slender neck and her bare arms. He would have never thought a woman's arms were a sight of beauty until now. He rarely saw Anastasia in anything other than her long sleeved cotton dark dresses. She was always covered from her neck down, concealing herself and sometimes wore a burgundy veil, hiding her long tresses.
She noticed his eyes fixated on her arms and she began feeling self conscious. "What are you staring at?" she half smiled.
He lifted his eyes. "Your arms," he said softly.
"My arms?" she raised an eyebrow. Of all the parts on her body, he chose to stare at her arms.
He nodded. "And your neck." He fingers glided along her bare collar bone and she shivered at his gentle touch. He saw the strange look she was giving him and couldn't help but laugh. "Sometimes the smallest things are most appreciated."
She shrugged a shoulder and kept smiling. His eyes drifted down to her breasts and his eyes grew. She caught his eyes this time, not looking at her arms or her neck. She raised an eyebrow and leaned against the pillows, smirking at his wandering eyes.
He felt almost embarrassed for staring for so long. He was never in a room alone with her since she told him she was pregnant. Now that they were alone he was just starting to notice small things about the subtle changes in her body. One being the size of her breasts and he couldn't stop staring.
Anastasia finally let out a laugh and he shook his head, turning away. "You act as if you've never see me before, Navaz."
He grinned and ran his fingers through his short dark hair. "Well, not since we shared a bed last...I haven't. Forgive me." He said softly.
Wow, he was being so polite, she thought. Too polite. She was not used to that at all. Not even Ellac was as polite and coy as him when they were alone. She smiled, enjoying seeing such shyness from a man. She wasn't used to seeing that before. She grabbed his hand, squeezing it firmly and he turned, gaping into her light blue eyes.
She guided his hand closer to her body and saw him stiffen and resist. "Relax..." she advised and he stopped resisting. She saw the apprehension in his eyes and smirked. She placed his hand on her swollen abdomen and saw the tension leave his eyes and his fingers relaxed on the curvature of her body.
A smile crossed his lips and she smiled, placing her hand over his. His large hand nearly covered the entirety of her belly. His eyes grew as he felt a small flutter against his hand and he was tempted to pull away. She pressed her hand against his, putting her other hand on top. His stiff fingers relaxed once more when she had her hands over his.
Another small movement grazed his palm and he smiled, turning to meet her eyes. She grinned widely seeing the excited look on his face. A moment that she once had with Ellac a long time ago and Navaz had the same expression. A moment of joy that she was happy to share. And to think that she wanted to ignore her child –their child's presence all because of her sour attitude about the marriage. She thought of what her mother said and knew she was right but was too stubborn to admit it until now.
A glimpse of happiness in the midst of chaos and war was enough to satiate her for now. She took her hands off of his and he kept his hand on the child.
"It will be a boy for sure," he said with certainty and scooted closer to her.
"Don't tell Kreka that," she said and he eyed her curiously. "She was more than disappointed when Csaba was born. She really wanted a girl because we're surrounded by men." She joked and he smiled, nodding his head.
"A princess would be nice too." He said and she smiled softly, sinking into the pillows, finally able to relax, though she was beginning to feel a bit awkward as his hand continued to roam across her belly. "Or both," he said with a sparkle in his eyes.
Her eyes widened and she sat up abruptly. "That is not funny. Don't make jokes like that." She pointed her finger in his face.
He chuckled. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry." He gently pushed her back down to the pillows.
Suddenly, the doors swung open and Anastasia gasped, grabbing Navaz to shield herself, feeling super exposed. Navaz furrowed his eyebrows and held his arm out to the side, covering his wife.
"What are you doing in here?! You can't just come into the queen's chambers!" his voice loud, but firm.
The Hun soldier turned around. "Apologies, my king," he said awkwardly and hung his head. "Xena asks for you to come outside. There's been an attack at the border."
Navaz growled lowly. "I will be there in a moment," he said and the soldier hastily left the room, closing the doors behind him.
Anastasia began getting out of bed and he shook his head, placing his hands on her shoulders. "You stay here." He said with a small smile.
She frowned. "I want to come. I am the commander. I should be there with you," she pleaded and tried to get up but he pushed her down gently.
"Anastasia. Your mother is not carrying my child. You are. I want you to stay here." He said and saw the disappointment in her eyes, the first time he saw that look and he definitely didn't want to see that again. "I will have Xena come and relay the information to you when I'm finished. Okay?"
She folded her arms. "Fine," she muttered and sat back against the pillows, scowling.
Xena waited outside the Adame with Gabrielle beside her. She swung her sword around casually as she patiently waited for Navaz. She began whistling and then heard footsteps coming down the steps. Turning, she smiled smugly at the young king.
"In the queen's quarters, huh?" her eyebrows rose and he avoided eye contact with her. "I hate to interrupt your evening with my daughter but I need you on the field." Her tone darkened. "The Romans came through our borders. Dengi and Ernak are with your men right now. Zeno sent more men that we thought. They are not mercenaries."
He frowned and squinted his eyes as the rain poured down on them, soaking their fur cloaks. "They will not reach my camp will they?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Not if Dengi and Ernak are holding them off. They've done this a hundred times." She hit his arm and he jumped. "But we are going to ride out to meet with them," she grinned and hopped on her horse.
Gabrielle smirked seeing the shocked look on the king's face. She mounted Xena's horse and wrapped her arm around her waist.
"Anastasia will be safe here, won't she?" he asked with concern and mounted his horse given to him by a soldier.
Xena scoffed. "You are such a worrier, Navaz. My daughter can take care of herself. She is not helpless but I trust your Adame is well guarded," she smiled then rode off and he sat on his steed, dumbfounded.
"Protect the queen," he advised his men that stayed behind.
"Yes, your majesty." The soldiers said and ran back to the Adame.
Dengi drove his sword into a Roman, not once, but three times. "Fucking Roman dog! Swine from hell! Semen from all the Huns' cocks!" he growled and plunged his blade into the dying soldier for the fifth time.
Xena raised an eyebrow and Gabrielle's eyes grew, listening to the once sweet boy she knew, spout off obscene and crude phrases. "You kiss your mother with that mouth, Dengizich?" she called out and he spun around.
"'Bout time you showed up!" he snarled. "There's more of them than we thought!" he saw a Roman charging for him and he cried out, raising his sword in the air and slicing through the soldier's arm and kicked him to the ground.
She hopped off her horse and grabbed Dengi by his soaked fur collar. "Nobody gave you an order to attack!" she hissed.
"What was I supposed to do? Let them invade the grounds?!" he spat in her face and she shoved him backward.
"You are supposed to send a scout to report back to me first not attack because you feel like it, Dengi!" she yelled and he rolled his eyes. She tightened her lips and grabbed his arm firmly. "I am the commander in chief. Anything and everything needs to be reported to me first! You know the rules."
He frowned. "Apologies." He said in a low voice and she released his arm.
She shook her head and saw the Huns attacking the Romans. She didn't see any more Romans and figured that Dengi and Ernak took care of everything. "Where is Ernak?" she asked and he shrugged his shoulders.
Gabrielle heard someone yelling in the distance and she spun around. Her mouth parted when she saw Ernak riding through the rain with a rope wrapped around a Roman's neck, dragging him through the mud. "I think I found him..."
Xena gasped and saw Ernak riding towards them with a big smile on his face, dragging a Roman through the mud. "For the love of –" she stepped forward in his path and Ernak shook his head.
"Xena!" he yelled. "Get out of the way!"
And she folded her arms, not budging. Gabrielle's eyes darted from Xena to Ernak, riding dangerously through the rain at great speed. "Xena! What are you doing?!" she shouted.
Ernak grunted and yanked on the reins and skid to a stop, a foot away from Xena. He breathed heavily and glared at her. "What the hell, Xena!"
"Just what do you think you're doing?" she asked calmly, noting the Roman tied up.
The young Hun king smirked. "I brought you a Roman officer. Pretty good, huh?" he wriggled his eyebrows and she groaned. "Oh come on, Xena! I did good!"
"No!" she pointed her blade at his throat and he backed away, eyes wide and fearful. "You are being reckless!"
While Xena continued to reprimand Ernak about his reckless behavior Gabrielle saw two Roman horsemen riding towards the grounds in the darkness. She narrowed her eyes and then ran forward, snatching the sword from a fallen Roman and hopped onto Xena's horse.
"Gabrielle!" Ernak called out and Xena spun around to see the blonde riding back towards the Adame.
"Gabrielle!" Xena ran forward and growled. "She just stole my horse!" she roared aloud and Ernak chuckled. She spun around. "You think this is funny, boy?" she waltzed over to him holding her blade outward.
"No, ma'am," he shook his head and saw her eyes widen. "No, Xena!" he corrected himself.
She lowered her swords. "Your father would be ashamed of you both," she eyed Dengi and he lowered his eyes. "Acting like irresponsible animals," she grumbled. "Get rid of the Roman. He is of no use to me."
Ernak gasped, "but, Xena!"
"Do it!" she walked off when she saw Navaz heading towards them. "I did not teach you to act this way," she said softly and both young men hung their heads in embarrassment.
Navaz halted the horse and looked at Xena's irate face and her hair drenched, her bangs pulled from her face. "What's happening?" he asked.
"Gabrielle stole my horse. She is going back to the Adame," she said and he immediately spun around, eager to go back. She grabbed his reins, stopping him. "There are no more Romans here. We should have barricaded this area like I suggested! You underestimated Zeno!"
Anastasia got out of the bed and walked over to her vanity set and pulled out a small vial of perfume. She frowned and set it aside then opened a drawer, scrounging through her notes that she kept. Letters that she wrote to her mother that she would keep forever. Not knowing that her mother was alive at the time, it made her feel better to write down her thoughts to keep her close always.
She smiled softly and her sweet moment was interrupted. A hand was wrapped around her mouth and she screamed, grabbing onto the strong arm that was wrapped around her neck. She was being drug backwards and she saw her sword on the other side of the room.
She growled and bit the hand around her mouth and the Roman hissed. She gasped breathlessly and ran across the room and grabbed her sword off the wall and turned around to see not one but three Romans, surrounding her with weapons. She pointed the blade at them and grimaced.
"Your highness, come with us willingly and we will not harm you," one Roman said with a smile.
"Get out," she said and wafted the sword at them and they gradually came closer to her, enclosing her in a circle.
"She is with child," another Roman said quietly.
"All the more reason for her to obey." The Roman officer smiled. "Come with us, your highness. We will not harm you..."
She gripped the sword and backed away slowly. "I am not going anywhere with you!"
"Do not make this difficult!" he snarled. She gave him a small grin and he shook his head. "Hun swine. Get her!" he growled at his lower subjects.
The other two Romans charged for her and she swung her sword, clashing with one Roman and saw the other coming for her to her left. She kicked the other soldier in the chest and he fell to his back, sliding across the wooden floor.
She grit her teeth and felt the weight of the Roman's sword coming down upon her. He knocked the blade out of her hand and she gasped. He grinned and she grabbed him by the back of his neck and head butt his forehead, sending him stumbling backward.
She quickly turned and saw her sword. She reached down for it and then was hit with a fire poker in her back and she fell to the floor. She winced and cradled her child. She saw her sword and furrowed her eyebrows, getting to her knees slowly she reached for her blade.
The Roman officer stomped on her hand and she cried out in agony. He pressed his boot against her hand and gasped for air. He grinned and shook his head. "What a brave woman you are. You are almost as good as your mother but not quite. You are too slow." He kicked her to the ground and she cringed, laying on her side, bringing her legs close to her.
The doors swung open and Gabrielle ran inside with a slew of Hun soldiers. She pointed the sword at the three Romans. "Attack them!" she yelled and the soldiers rushed in and the Romans' eyes grew and began backing away, trying to escape through the large windows they came in.
Gabrielle saw Anastasia lying on the floor and she knelt down beside her, running her hand across her dark hair. "Anastasia..." she whispered, shaking her head lightly. "Are you alright?"
Ana cringed and grabbed Gabrielle's arm firmly, looking into her eyes. "The baby...I.." she exhaled softly and rest her head on her arm.
Gabrielle cursed beneath her breath and nodded. She called for help while the Huns were fending off the three Romans, which seemed to be tougher than they anticipated.
"Protect the queen!" A few of the Hun soldiers came over and formed a circle around Gabrielle and Anastasia.
"What the..." Gabrielle growled. "She needs help! She can't stay here!"
The soldiers did not turn their heads but one of the head officers by the name of Zolten, spoke to her with his back turned. "We are not permitted to lay eyes upon the queen if she is dressed like so, kadin."
Gabrielle grunted and tugged on one of their pant legs. "For the love of god," she muttered, "give me your cloak!" she ordered and the Hun stared at her confusedly. "Give it to me!" she snarled and he took it off and she draped it over Anastasia. "Now you can look at her." She rolled her eyes and they finally turned around.
Zolten picked up Anastasia in his arms and quickly exited the room. Gabrielle shortly followed, leaving the rest of the soldiers to get rid of the Romans.
To be continued.
AN: Gabrielle notices a change in Anastasia and fears that history is repeating itself.
Chapter 12 –Gabrielle's Intuition
Xena slammed her sword down on the table and everyone in the room flinched. Gabrielle lifted her eyes and saw malice across Xena's face. Dengi and Ernak remained quiet and had their hands in their laps. Navaz sat with arms folded and Kreka sat beside her sons with her eyes fixated on the table in front of her.
"None of this would have happened if we just did what I said in the beginning!" she yelled and everyone lowered their eyes. "Because of you two," she pointed to the sons of Attila, "and your idiocy and reckless behavior, we were attacked!"
"You can't blame everything on us!" Ernak combated.
Xena picked up her sword and pointed it dangerously close to the young king's throat. "Oh is that so, Ernak? Because you and Dengi not reporting back to me like you were supposed to, we were ambushed! My daughter was almost kidnapped!"
Ernak sunk in his chair and hid his face with his hand, feeling more embarrassed than ever.
"And you," she directed her attention to Navaz and he looked up at her. "You were supposed to have the Adame guarded. An attack like that has never happened in my entire life as commander! Nobody gets inside an Adame without me knowing! That was my job when Attila was alive and you know what? Nobody ever set ten feet from that dwelling."
She grunted and shook her head. "If it weren't for Gabrielle my daughter would have been taken or dead, thanks to your incompetence!"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Xena," she spoke and the warrior spun her head around. "Yelling at everyone is not going to solve anything."
"I have never had an ambush like this before. I have never had a bunch of people that do not listen to me!" her eyes focused on the blonde scribe.
"She is right," Gabrielle said and Ernak's jaw dropped. "Nobody listened to Xena and this is what happened. Emperor Zeno is not Theodosius and he is not Valentinian. His army is much stronger and more ruthless."
Kreka twiddled with her thumbs on the tabletop. "Emperor Zeno has declared war on this land now. We need to gather ourselves and listen to one another –listen to Xena. She is a good commander and has overseen an army of over two hundred thousand men. Anastasia is no longer fit to be commander. I can take her place."
"Mother!" Dengi griped.
Gabrielle leaned forward, eyeing Kreka from two seats down. "You would do that?"
"Of course. If Xena allows it," the khatun half smiled, her eyes meeting Xena's.
Xena sighed heavily and folded her arms. "The only time we ever got along was on the field."
"My point exactly. Enact me as commander, Xena. Your daughter cannot fulfill her position." She narrowed her eyes and Xena relented, agreeing to her offer.
Navaz frowned deeply. "Do I not get a say? This is my kingdom! My land!"
Xena snapped her head around and glared at the king. "You lost your say when you almost got my daughter kidnapped."
Csaba waited outside the room his mother was in. He jumped to his feet every time he saw the door open and women coming in and out. He saw a young maid exit the room and ran to her, grabbing her arm.
"Can I see my mother now?" he asked.
The girl smiled softly. "I'm sorry, your majesty. You are not allowed to go in there." She walked off down the hallway.
He groaned and sat back down on the floor, leaning against the wall, resting his chin on his knees. He waited for hours to find out at least a little bit of information but those women didn't tell him anything. He sat outside for the entire day, waiting and waiting some more.
He heard jingling sound from around the corner and knew immediately that it was Xena. He smiled and jumped to his feet when he saw her round the corner with Gabrielle. "Thank god you're here!" he said and Xena stopped in front of the room. "Can I see her now? I've been waiting hours."
She smiled gently at the boy and pinched his chin. "I'm sorry Csaba but I told everyone to stay out of this room."
"But she's my mom!" he begged and she nodded.
"I know and you will see her, but not now." She opened the door and he rose to his toes, trying to see inside but he couldn't really see anything except a lot of people crowding the bed. Once the door was closed he groaned, crossing his arms.
Gabrielle grinned and he plopped back down on the floor. "Don't worry, she'll be alright."
"I just want to see her," he mumbled. "Why are they taking so long? Does that mean something is wrong?"
She shook her head and sat down next to him. "She is being well taken care of, Csaba. Nothing is going to happen to your mother, not under Xena's watch." She nudged his arm and he smiled faintly.
"You should go eat something," she suggested.
He shook his head. "No, I'm going to wait here until I can see her." He stood his ground and she sighed, leaning against the wall.
Emperor Zeno turned when he saw Flavius Anastasius enter his chambers. "Ah, governor. You bring news back from Armenia I hope."
The governor nodded. "Yes emperor."
"And you've brought the queen? Xena's daughter. Yes?" he asked and the governor lowered his eyes. He frowned. "I ask you to do one thing and you incompetent fools cannot follow my simple instructions!"
"Sir! The White Huns attacked our fleet! The leaders were Attila's sons!"
Zeno rubbed his chin and nodded his head, tracing his finger along the table. "Attila's sons." He began eerily, his tone calm. "They are working with the White Huns. And why do I not see the woman, Anastasia, before me?"
Anastasius let out a heavy exhale. "She has a royal fleet at her disposal, emperor. I was told that she is carrying a child."
The emperor let out a loud laugh. "The lineage of Xena continues it seems. The girl spreads her legs for King Navaz and will bear him a child of true Hun blood. Those Hun women breed like rabbits." He clenched his fist. "Tell Odoacer to send me his best troops. I will train them under my watch and see that the Shah brothers of Persia are on our side. We will attack those Caucasus Huns from all sides."
"Yes, emperor," the governor bowed his head and quickly exited the room.
Zeno looked out the window at the sea surrounding his beloved holy city. "I will exterminate all of the Huns." He turned to his scribe. "I wish to write a letter to Queen Anastasia."
The scribe quickly grabbed fresh parchment and dipped the quill in the ink, ready to record. Zeno tapped his foot impatiently and narrowed his eyes. "Tell her that I wish to meet with her in person. I would like to see the face of this almighty queen." He turned, "don't write that part." He said and turned back to gaze at the sea. "Also, tell her that I wish Navaz to be present. You got that?"
The scribe nodded. "Yes, your majesty."
Kreka entered her yurt and saw Tuya slowly making her way to leave. She blocked the doorway and folded her arms. "Just where do you think you're going?"
Tuya smiled softly. "I am not your prisoner, Kreka. Allow me to pass. I wish to speak with my son. I know that Romans came here." She walked forward and was face to face with the former wife of Attila, inches from her face. "Get out of my way."
"You're not going anywhere. I can't trust you."
Tuya's smile grew. "I will not relay what happened between us to anyone. Now, let me pass. I do not belong to you."
Kreka refused to move and Tuya growled lowly. "Wrong. You do belong to me now. You tried to murder me!" she hissed and pushed the queen mother down onto the floor. Tuya gasped and Kreka unsheathed her sword at her hip, walking forward and Tuya's eyes widened. She scooted backward on the rug.
"Scared?" Kreka grinned and inched forward, pointing the sword at Tuya's neck.
"Kreka Khatun!" Navaz's voice boomed through the yurt and Tuya smiled at her son. He saw the sword in her hand and pointed directly at his mother. "What are you doing?!" he yelled and ran forward, helping his mother to her feet.
Kreka lowered her sword and frowned. "This is not what it looks like, Navaz."
He grasped his mother's shoulders and grimaced at the hazel eyed khatun. "You dare raise a sword to my mother? The queen mother of the White Huns?" he hissed.
"Your mother is the one who raised her sword to me!" she yelled. "She tried to kill me!"
Tuya grabbed her son's hand and stared into his shocked dark eyes. "You believe her Navaz? After all, she is a Barbarian Queen. She apparently thinks I tried to kill her. Why would I do such a thing like that?" she winked at Kreka.
Kreka gasped and sheathed her sword. "Deceitful cadaloz!" she hissed. "You lie in front of your son? In front of the king?!"
"I'm not the one who pointed a sword in my face now am I?" Tuya grinned.
She held her tongue and looked to the miffed king. "Navaz, I know she is your mother and you are inclined to believe her but she is a liar!" she yelled and he frowned, creasing his brows. "Xena will vouch for me."
"I'll have no doubt she will. You and Xena are very close." He said flatly.
"I am not a liar and neither is Xena. Ask her for yourself."
Navaz eyed his mother and she smiled up at him. He grabbed Kreka's arm and ushered her out of the yurt. She growled and swat his hand away, trying to get away.
"Take your hand off of me!" she spat. "I am a queen!"
Ernak and Dengi stood outside the Adame and saw their mother being pulled along by Navaz and Tuya walking behind. Ernak ran forward. "Let go of my mother!" he grabbed his sword and then immediately a horde of soldiers surrounded him when he pointed the sword at Navaz.
Dengi folded his arms and cocked his head at the king. "Take your hands off our mother, Navaz."
"She accused my mother of murder. I am taking her to Xena to put an end to this."
Ernak chuckled and lowered his blade. "Alright, go ahead. My mother is not a liar." His eyes darkened. "But let go of her or you will have to deal with me later."
Navaz released their mother and Kreka spun around to Tuya. "You gain nothing from this. You will only embarrass yourself in front of your son!" she whispered.
Xena stood at the foot of the bed gazing down at her daughter sleeping on her side. The healer came up beside her and she touched her arm, startling her. "How is she?"
The woman smiled softly. "She will be alright. She has some minor bruises on her back but other than that, nothing too serious."
Xena nodded and folded her arms. "And the baby?"
"I could not find anything wrong with the child she carries," the woman said. "Shall I tell the king of her condition?"
Xena frowned at the mention of Navaz. He promised her that Anastasia would be safe, but she was nearly taken by Romans just as Zeno wanted. He was careless and though she knew that he cared for her daughter, she couldn't help but think to strangle him with her bare hands.
"Yes. Tell him," she finally said and the woman nodded then left the room.
She rounded the bed and pulled down Anastasia's dress and saw the bruises on her backside and frowned. She pulled the dress up by her leg and saw a bruise on her hip. She came to the other side of the bed and sat down gently, careful not to wake her. Smiling softly she brushed her daughter's hair away from her now fuller face.
Anastasia stirred and her eyes fluttered open. She saw her mother with a warm smile on her face. "Mom..." she held her aching head and sat up slowly.
"Don't get up," Xena pushed her back down onto the pillows. "How do you feel?"
"I have a headache," the young Hun queen groaned and then her eyes widened. She swung the blankets off herself, staring down at her child and Xena pressed her hand on her arm.
"Nothing's wrong, Anastasia. You'll both be fine," she reassured her.
A breath of relief escaped her lips and she relaxed on the pillows. "Where is Navaz? Did you get rid of the Romans?"
Xena pursed her lips and tapped her fingers on her thigh impatiently. "Yes, we handled them."
Ana grinned and swung her legs over the bed and tried to get up and Xena pushed her back down. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Mom, I'm fine. I want to know what is going on." She tried to get up again and Xena firmly placed her hands on her shoulders. "Mom! I am the commander! I should know what is happening!"
Xena snarled and looked into her daughter's eyes. "You are not the commander anymore. I appointed Kreka as the new commander."
Anastasia gasped and shoved her mother back and rose from the bed. "You what?!" she yelled and shoved her again in the chest. "How could you do this to me?" she hit her shoulder and Xena tightened her lips and bit her tongue. "I am not a child! You can't just take my position away from me. A position I proposed in the first place!" she hit her again and Xena grabbed her fist, crushing it and Ana gasped.
"You are not fit to be a commander. You are too inexperienced!"
Anastasia growled and flung her arm out, taking a step back. "Mother, I am a Queen now. My role outranks you." She folded her arms. "I am above you and you can't tell me what to do."
Xena smirked. "I don't care if you are a queen, Anastasia. You're not commander anymore."
"I may be your daughter, but when politics are concerned I am still a queen and your word means nothing to me." She grabbed one of her long robes and slipped it on and stormed out of the room.
Gabrielle heard the doors fling open and saw Anastasia storming down the hallway. Csaba smiled and hopped to his feet. "Mother!" he called out but she ignored him and rounded a corner with a few guard following behind her. He frowned confusedly at the sight of her leaving without saying anything.
Xena came out of the room and Gabrielle saw the look in her eyes. A look of anger and sadness mixed together. "What happened?" she whispered.
"I told her she was not commander anymore and she didn't take the news very well," Xena grumbled and walked down the hallway.
Csaba followed Gabrielle and his grandmother. "What's wrong with her? Why is she so upset?"
Gabrielle smiled down at the boy as they rounded the corner. "Politics."
He nodded. "Of course. Always politics."
Anastasia saw Navaz walking with his mother and Kreka coming towards her direction. Navaz's eyes widened seeing her out of bed so soon. "Anastasia –"
She held up her hand and stopped in front of him. "I need to talk to you." She said and he hesitated. "Now!"
He raised an eyebrow. "I am occupied with something else. I was on my way to see your mother."
She grabbed his hand. "My mother can wait. This can't," she pulled him along and he turned over his shoulder seeing Kreka fuming and his mother less than amused by his wife's assertive behavior.
She lead them to the office and closed the door behind her. He folded his arms. "What is this meaning of this and why are you out of bed?" he asked.
Anastasia's lip quivered and she punched his arm and he gasped. "You let my mother appoint Kreka as commander! You are a king! You have power over my mother! Just because she is a commander doesn't mean she gets a say in everything!"
He rubbed his arm and frowned at his irate wife. "It's not like I had a choice in the matter, Anastasia. Your mother is not easy to negotiate with! You of all people should know that." He saw her nostrils flaring as her breath quickened, her fists clenched and her eyes wild. "I didn't object to the idea either. I don't think you should be a commander while you're pregnant."
Her lips parted and eyes widening. She shoved him backward and he stumbled back into the table. "You have no say in what I can and cannot do! Our baby is not due for months, Navaz!" she saw his sword strapped to his hip and unsheathed it.
"Anastasia..." he put his hands up as she pointed the blade at his chest with a wild smile.
Xena and Gabrielle walked into the room and both saw Anastasia holding a sword close to Navaz's chest. Xena squinted her eyes and spoke calmly. "Anastasia, put the sword down."
At the sound of her mother's voice, her smile faded and she inched closer with the sword towards her husband. "Go away mother. Navaz and I are having a private conversation."
"Put it down," Xena said again, her voice still calm.
Gabrielle frowned deeply and saw the same attitude that Xena had a long time ago. The fire in her eyes, the smile on her face. A hardened heart. "Anastasia!" she yelled and the young queen spun her head around, staring at the fuming blonde. "Put the sword down. Now." Her voice dark and Xena eyed her, surprised to hear that tone in her voice. She hadn't heard it often, especially towards someone close to her.
Anastasia's heart raced and slowly she lowered the sword and turned to Navaz as he was already backing away from her, adjusting his cloak. She furrowed her eyebrows and threw the sword across the table and glared at her husband.
She growled and then pushed Xena and Gabrielle out of the way and stormed out of the room. The three stared at each other in awkward silence.
Gabrielle paced back and forth inside their yurt hours after that little incident they witnessed with Anastasia and Navaz. Xena sat on the bed, her eyes darting back and forth as she watched Gabrielle pace incessantly.
"Did you see the look on her face?" Gabrielle shook her head, fuming and folded her arms. "Her eyes were filled with anger! I've never see her act that way before." She kept pacing.
"She is just upset," Xena chimed in.
Gabrielle paused and glared at her warrior. "No, she's not! She's turning into you!" she spat and saw her consort's eyes grow in alarm. "The old you..." she corrected, her voice softer and quieter. "I've seen that look in your eyes before and I never wanted to see it again but I saw it in her eyes."
Xena sighed and held her face in her hands. Gabrielle turned and saw the warrior sulking and went to sit on the bed beside her. "This is my fault." Her voice muffled in her palms.
Gabrielle placed a hand on her back and leaned into her shoulder. "No it's not. You can't control what your daughter does or feels, Xena. She was really hurt when she thought you were dead. She wanted to take vengeance and I thought...that left her mind, but apparently it hasn't."
Xena lifted her face from her hands and wiped her cheeks. Gabrielle wrapped her arm around her broad shoulder, smiling softly. "You know...Dengi told me that she was going to tax Pannonia and rule it by proxy in Balaam..."
"She what?" Xena spun around and looked into the big green eyes under her.
The short haired blonde nodded. "She wants to take Pannonia back from the Bulgur Huns. That's why they were captured by Odoacer's soldiers. The Bey of Pannonia sent them to Rome when he found out who they were. She's on a mission, Xena –a mission to kill."
"And she wants my help," Xena sighed heavily. "Was that her plan all along? Is that why she asked Navaz to make her a commander?"
Gabrielle shrugged a shoulder. "I don't know but whatever is going through her mind is not good. She is inexperienced and asked for your help. She must have a plan in her mind to attack everyone, including the Bulgur Huns."
"She's been waiting for this moment," Xena frowned. She was not pleased to hear this. She didn't want her daughter to go down a path that she could never come out from. She didn't want her to turn into something she was not. Anastasia was very kind albeit stubborn sometimes. She knew what she wanted when she wanted it. She was not a child anymore –not the innocent teenager she once was.
"You can't let her do this to herself, Xena. You know more about this path of darkness than anyone here."
The warrior nodded. "I know but I can't convince her to do anything. You should have seen the way she reacted when I told her she couldn't be a commander anymore."
"If anyone can convince her, it would be you." Gabrielle smiled softly and Xena eyed her with uncertainty.
"No, Gabrielle. I didn't magically change overnight and I wasn't the one who decided to change. You convinced me. I can't convince my daughter to do that. She won't listen to me."
The blonde frowned and realized that Xena was probably right. Why would Anastasia listen to someone that walked down that path for so long. Xena's words would have empty meaning to them but it was unlikely that she'd listen to Gabrielle either.
"Maybe she needs to be reminded of something that she loved or someone –someone like Ellac," she suggested and Xena eyed her with a half smile. "He would not like her behavior if he was alive."
Xena nodded. "You may be right, Gabrielle, but if she has distanced herself already then she won't listen to you or me."
Gabrielle's head hung and thought of the first time she met Anastasia. She was only thirteen and a very smart young girl. She was kind but very assertive. She didn't want to see someone that she watched grow up turn into a monster and she wondered if Xena thought it was too late to convince her otherwise.
"Who are you?" the teen asked.
Gabrielle pushed her empty bowl away from her and felt nervous that Xena might come out of her room any minute now. "Gabrielle..." she said and the girl nodded, wiping her mouth and the blonde cringed.
"My name is...Anastasia," she said.
A soft smile graced her lips recalling the moment the two first met. The girl's voice so sweet and innocent.
"Are you sure your mother won't mind we are using this?" she asked.
Anastasia smiled, shaking her head, "we're just borrowing it. I'll give it back when we're done."
And when she attempted to teach Latin to her and Xena was furious the following day.
"What do you think Gabrielle?" she asked with a smile.
Gabrielle took a step back and looked at the gown, and thought it was very beautiful, but she figured Anastasia would look beautiful in anything, just like Xena would. "Well, it's very nice, but I think it's a bit too...revealing for you," she nervously laughed and put the dress away and grabbed a long sleeved blue dress instead. "What about this one?" she offered.
Or when Anastasia tried picking out a dress by herself for the first time and sought out the most revealing one only to anger Xena.
The longer she sat in silence remembering the sweet moments she had with Anastasia as a teenager the more she knew that she couldn't let her become someone she was not. Anastasia was slowly following into Xena's old path and although Xena still evoked her power as commander and skillful warrior, she now thought before she acted upon everything she did in life. Xena no longer used her sword first and thought later. She used both or sometimes ignored her sword altogether until necessary. Anastasia was not thinking, she was acting.
She was allowing her heart to harden and that soft exterior was soon to be wiped away with hard shell. She wasn't using anger to drive her, she was using pain. Everything she loved was gone and even though her mother lives, that pain still dampened her heart and mind. Pain and anger go well together and Anastasia was letting both of those feelings project in her thinking. Anger clouds the mind as Xena has said many times but what about pain? Does pain cause the mind to drift? Gabrielle wasn't sure, but she knew the Hun Queen was hurting inside.
Gabrielle turned to Xena, watching her gape at the wall in silence. "You have to try and talk to her. If you won't do it then I will."
Xena sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "She seemed to listen when you told her to put the sword down. She didn't even bat an eye at my voice."
"Then I will talk to her," the blonde narrowed her eyes. She too stared at the wall intensely, thinking that this conversation was not going to be easy but Anastasia was not Xena. She was softer and that hard exterior had not yet formed completely. It was not too late.
Anastasia was inside the office with a group of elite Hun soldiers. She stood at the end of the table and pointed to the map on the table. "I want a group of our best mercenaries on the borders of Persia." She began and the men nodded. "We border with the Magyars. They came to Pannonia a long time ago to discuss an alliance with Attila. I want to make peace with them and convince them to join us against Persia and Emperor Zeno."
Zolten frowned and rubbed his chin, "my queen, are you sure that it is wise to spread ourselves so thin? What if the Magyars do not want to ally with us?"
"We will force them to ally with us," her jaw clenched and he folded his arms, peering at the map. She drug her finger across to the Nezak Hun area in Kazakhstan. "Send word to Malka that we will need his alliance against Persia. The Sassan family's empire is wedged in between the Caucasus and Kazakhstan. If we join together then we can push Peroz and Hormzid out and force them to surrender under us."
Zolten shook his head, not liking this idea that his young queen had. "Your highness, what is the point of asking the Nezak's to join us? They are the only nation that is peaceful and had no quarrels with the Sassanid Empire in the last twenty years."
"I want to unite all the Huns under one empire, Zolten," she smiled and leaned against the table. He eyed her suspiciously. "Attila is gone. The Huns are scattered and warring against each other! I want to bring everyone together. We are stronger in numbers. Emperor Zeno will not come to Balaam again unless he brings his sword. I will not talk with him or any adviser of his!" she spat and Zolten backed away slowly, fearing the look in her eyes.
"Your highness," a maid at the door called out softly.
Anastasia spun around, snarling. "What?!"
"Your mother wishes to speak with you."
The queen turned back to the map on the table. "Tell her I don't have time to talk to her."
"Why not?" Xena appeared in the doorway and her daughter spun around, glaring at her. She sauntered in and stood beside her daughter, not taking her eye off her. She peered down at the map and saw it marked with wooden totems in several areas. Magyars, Kazakhstan, Persia and...Pannonia. Perhaps what Dengi said was true after all. Anastasia was on a mission.
"What is this? Planning an attack on the entire Hun nation?" she asked.
Anastasia folded her arms. "Mother, this doesn't concern you."
Xena stood up right, equal height to her daughter. "I am chief commander. Anything that you do needs to be brought to my attention and I don't recall you being commander anymore, Anastasia. I revoked that position from you."
"I don't need you to tell me what to do, mother. I am a queen."
Xena pursed her lips and looked to the men standing behind her daughter. "Out," she said.
"You can't tell them to leave!" Ana hissed.
"Get out," she told the soldiers and they quickly left the room. She turned to her irate daughter. "Now you're going to listen to me. You cannot attack Huns outright because you are angry, Anastasia. That is poor decision making."
Anastasia smirked. "I'm not going to attack them. I want to recruit them to my side to fight against Persia and the Roman Empire." She motioned her hand to the map. "I will create a White Hun Campaign."
"White Hun Campaign..." Xena muttered. "You have no idea what you are doing, Anastasia."
"Yes, I do!" she combated. "What is so bad about uniting all the Hunnic tribes together? We used to be united. Everything fell apart when Attila died. Dengi ruined the alliance with the Atlyn Huns and Ernak sought war against the Bulgurs. I want to unite everyone under one empire."
Xena's eyes widened. "Empire?" she said and her daughter did not even blink at the word. "You want a Hun Empire?" she folded her arms. "You are ambitious. May I remind you that since you are married the king rules the empire, not you. He conducts all the rules, policies and regulations. You have no say in the process."
"Then this will be a new Hun Empire. Men make too many decisions in this world. I want to be an important Queen. A Queen of the Huns will not sit back and do nothing like all the other queens before me. The Queen of Scythia commands her own people."
Xena arched a brow. "The Queen of Scythia is not a Hun, Ana. She killed her own brother to take the crown. She is ruthless. You don't want to be like her."
"Attila killed his brother to become king," Anastasia said.
Xena nodded, "that's because Bleda was an awful king and person. The Scythian Queen's brother was a good king. She wanted power –she's power hungry and that is why her land has never been conquered. Everyone fears her. She executes her own people for miniscule crimes. She is a tyrant. You are not."
Anastasia narrowed her eyes. "Have you come to persuade me to stop my campaign? Because if you are then you can forget it. I'm going through with my plans. I know it will work."
"Anastasia..." Xena began and touched her daughter's shoulder. The young queen shrugged her hand off and stepped away, focusing on the map again. Xena groaned lowly. "I don't think you understand how this works. Campaigns are different than simple alliances. The only way for a campaign to work is through force and violence, not peace."
Her daughter turned with a smile. "You really have no faith in me, do you?"
"I didn't say –"
"You don't have to say it. You took my position away as commander and why? Because you think I am inexperienced? You didn't even give me a chance! I am carrying out my campaign with the Hunnic tribes and I don't need you. You aren't my chief commander anymore. I revoke your position."
Xena's lips parted and couldn't believe that she had been demoted, something that never happened to her and by her daughter of all people. "You are making a big mistake, Ana. You need my help."
"No I don't. I've watched you command Attila's army since I was a child. You thought you were helping me by taking on the role of commander but you only did it because you didn't believe what I am capable of. I will take back Pannonia and I will create a new Hun Empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River."
"I will become Conqueror of Asia. You doubt me but I know I can create a new Hun Empire –a better one."
Gabrielle waited outside of the conference room and finally saw Xena come out of the room. Her face solemn and yet confused. She was not angry nor was she irritated, she looked distressed. "How did it go?" she dared to ask.
"She revoked my position as chief commander." Xena said.
"She did what?" the blonde gasped. "She can't do that!"
"She can, Gabrielle and she did. She is a queen. Her status outranks me. I can't control what she does but she thinks she can create a new Hun Empire. Not even I was that ambitious at her age." She folded her arms. "She is young and thinks she doesn't need my help. But she will."
Gabrielle stepped closer to her consort. "And if she doesn't need your help?" she whispered.
"Then I will have no choice but to watch her fail." Xena frowned and walked off.
Navaz sat in his private quarters and many letters were delivered to him to oversee before they were sent off. He frowned and unfolded one of the letters and grimaced. He then picked up another one and another one, and another. He threw the last letter on his desk and yelled at his messenger.
"What is the meaning of this?!" he spat.
The messenger lowered his eyes, "Queen Anastasia wishes to send these letters to the Beys of all the Hun provinces."
"I'm aware of that, but why?" he tapped his fingers on the desk impatiently.
"She is ordering a campaign to unite all the Hun tribes to against Persia and Rome, your highness."
Navaz ran a hand across his face. He had no idea his wife was so ambitious and was doing this right under his nose. He would have guessed Xena would have a say in this or at least be told of this plan.
"That woman," he grumbled. "She's going to give me grey hair." He rose from the desk and passed his messenger. "Do not touch those letters. I will have words with my wife."
He barged into his wife's room and saw her sitting on the bed in a black nightgown. The evening was late, too late to be awake. He stormed in and stood at the foot of the bed. She lifted her eyes and raised an eyebrow.
"Just what do you think you're doing? A campaign?! Why was I not informed about this little plan of yours?" he folded his arms.
She smiled. "I am the commander of your army. I oversee the military, Navaz. I know what I am doing. Do not doubt me like my mother."
His eyes grew as he stood infuriated with her. "And where exactly is that mother of yours?"
"She's probably off with Gabrielle somewhere. I revoked her position as chief commander a few days ago." She began braiding her long hair.
"Excuse me?" he scoffed. "Anastasia, I told you that you can't be commander anymore. I agreed with Xena. This is not a good idea. You are carrying my child –our child!"
"I am well aware!" she spat. "You don't have to remind me. I am reminded of it every day." She lowered her eyes and focused on braiding her hair once more.
His stance softened and he uncrossed his arms at her tone. "You don't care about our child?" he asked, a bit hurt.
She lifted her eyes. "Yes, I do."
"Then renounce your position as commander!"
"No!" her voice raised slightly. "You made a deal with me, Navaz. Like my mother, I keep my promises. I will not renounce my position. End of discussion."
AN: the women are obviously in charge here lol.
Kreka sat opposite of Gabrielle and Xena as they told her what Anastasia was planning to do. Last week everything was chaotic and the Romans came to Balaam. So far nothing else has happened, except this news troubled Kreka a lot. She had never seen someone with such ambition before, except Xena. It seems that her daughter was following in her footsteps but there was something else. Anastasia was a queen now and she had say over every little thing that happens in the Caucasus region. She did not need Navaz to oversee everything she wanted to happen and since she was a commander, she could carry out any mission with little to no aid from her husband.
"Aptal kiz," she groaned. "That girl will be the death of us all," Kreka muttered and ran her hands across her face.
"Xena tried to convince her to stop her campaign, but it didn't work," Gabrielle said.
Xena remained quiet, not saying a word to either one of the women. She was remembering all the times that she was commanded by Attila to go on raids in Hun regions. She forced them to surrender unto Attila and Pannonia. They not only surrendered but Attila took control of all the regions surrounding Pannonia. He wanted a united Hun utopia, much like the Romans. Anastasia also wanted the same thing, but she was a queen and commander. Those two don't normally mix.
Attila was not in charge of his army, Xena was. She oversaw everything and carried out her own missions without Attila's permission and some with his permission. Anastasia didn't need anyone's permission to carry out an attack. And she didn't need Navaz either since she was a queen and commander.
"She doesn't listen!" Kreka growled. "Xena, why can't you talk some sense into her?!"
Gabrielle turned and saw Xena's mind wandering off elsewhere. "Xena?" she nudged her arm.
Attila growled. "I command you to stand down!" he yelled and Xena paused in front of the entry way.
She turned around. "What?"
"I order you to stand down Xena, as your king," he placed his hands on his hips and ousted his chest.
Xena smirked. "Since when do you order me around like a common soldier?" she challenged him. "I train your army to be the best. I lead all the attacks and you have always trusted my judgment. Why stop trusting me now?"
"You don't listen Xena. You never have. Stand down now," he ordered for the last time.
"Xena..." the blonde said her name for the third time.
The warrior blinked and turned to see Kreka and Gabrielle gawking at her. "What?"
Kreka rolled her eyes and slammed her hands on her knees. "You need to tell your daughter to stand down. She is not prepared for what she is about to do! She will drive us into the ground!"
Xena nodded and sighed. Suddenly a smile crossed her lips and Gabrielle raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "She needs to work with Navaz. She can carry out whatever plan she wants to but she needs his help. This is his land too. She needs to realize that they are supposed to be a team and she isn't willing to work with anyone. If they work as a team then her plan will work."
"You can't be serious? You are going to allow her to do this campaign? This is very unlike you, Xena." Kreka folded her arms, not thrilled to hear this at all.
"And how exactly are you going to convince her to work with Navaz?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena shot her smug grin and the blonde shook her head, knowing that look. "You are. She listens to you."
"How am I supposed to do that?!"
"Work your philosophical magic, Gabrielle. I have faith in you," Xena winked and the blonde groaned.
To take a break from conversing with the elite soldiers she was busy teaching Csaba how to write Latin. A language that she really disliked because it was used across the Roman Empire, but she it was very useful she hated to admit. Her mother forced her to learn how to read and write in Latin and she wanted Csaba to learn how to as well. Although she learned at a very young age and Csaba would be thirteen soon.
She sat with him at the table in her quarters and observed him writing with the ink quill on the parchment. Sitting beside him for the last hour or so, she continually corrected his penmanship which was not that good. She now knew why her mother was always so frustrated with her when she misspelled words.
"tatlı çocuk," she leaned forward in her seat and pointed at his ill written sentence. "That's the wrong verb, Csaba and you misspelled that other word."
He groaned and dipped the quill in the ink pad to write the sentence over again for the third time. "Can we take a break mom?" he begged.
She sighed. "Alright, we can take a break. You've been practicing for hours." She smiled and he set the pen down, sinking into the chair with relief. "Not bad for your first try." She said and he shrugged.
"I don't see the point in learning Latin anyway." A phrase she often said herself to her own mother. She understood why it was important now but at the time she didn't.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's important I promise." She leaned back in the chair.
"But we don't even speak Latin," he said and crossed his arms.
"No, but Romans speak it, read it and write it. It's important to know other languages besides our own."
Gabrielle walked into the room and Csaba smiled upon seeing her. His mother was less enthused at her presence. She waltzed over to the table and saw Latin on the parchment and looked at it curiously. She eyed Csaba's green eyes.
"Learning Latin, huh?" she said.
He nodded. "Yeah but to be honest, I'm not a big fan..." he quirked his mouth.
She pat his shoulder and eyed Anastasia sitting quietly in the chair opposite her. She was glaring at her. Her radar eyes. "Latin is important."
"That's what mother said," he groaned. "Do you know Latin, Gabrielle?"
"Yes..." she lifted her eyes and saw Anastasia about to leave. "Hey could I borrow your mother for a few minutes?"
He nodded and hopped out of his seat. "She's all yours," he grinned and hurried out of the room, anxious to get away after being cooped up for hours.
"What do you want, Gabrielle? Has mother sent you here to talk to me?" Anastasia circled around the table towards her bookshelf to put back the parchment, quill and ink set away.
"No, she didn't."
Anastasia grinned and turned around, placing her hands on the back of the chair. "You're lying to me, Gabrielle. You never lie to me."
"She told me to come here and talk to you about Navaz –"
The young queen scoffed. "Navaz!" she waved her hand. "He has been ignoring me and his mother is probably spreading her hatred in his ears about me."
Gabrielle pinched the bridge of her nose. "Forget about Tuya. I'm here to talk to you –about you." She said and Anastasia frowned, avoiding her gaze. She pulled out a chair. "Sit with me," she said and Anastasia finally met her eyes. "Please."
Finally relenting, Anastasia sat down beside Gabrielle and adjusted the veil attached to her crown upon her dark hair. Gabrielle exhaled heavily and twiddled her thumbs in her lap not sure where to begin. Xena asked her to come and convince Anastasia to work with Navaz, but she thought that approach was too forward and probably wouldn't work.
"Anastasia, I've known you for a long time and you would say that we are friends, right?" she asked and Ana nodded silently. "More than friends," she smiled and continued, "you used to tell me all your secrets with ease and I would keep them from your mother and I still haven't told Xena about the secrets you've shared with me."
Ana's eyes widened at that. "Really?"
Gabrielle nodded. "I would never betray your trust but I sense...a lot of change in you. You aren't the Anastasia that I have come to known over the years. You're different. You're not acting like yourself."
"I'm the same person that I've always been. You and mother expect me to be that innocent little girl that I once was but I'm not that little girl anymore. I haven't been her in a long time. I left her behind a long time ago."
"I don't expect you to be the same. You are a woman now and you are very smart and you are a good mother. The way you've been acting is not...it's not you. You –"
"You think I'm acting like my mother and that scares you." She took the words right out of Gabrielle's mouth. At this point Gabrielle knew that Anastasia was fully aware of what she was doing and how she was acting. She reached forward and grabbed the blonde's hand. "Listen, Gabrielle, I'm not like my mother. We are two different people but I meant what I said. I'm going through with my campaign and there's nothing you or mother can tell me to convince me otherwise."
Gabrielle sighed. "But Ana you aren't listening –"
"No! You are the ones who aren't listening! My mother is just trying to control me and –"
"She's trying to help you." The blonde interrupted.
"No she's not. She wants to control the entire army, Gabrielle. She wants to ransack Rome as much as I do. She doesn't want to listen to me. If she really wanted to help she would have listened to my plans instead of debasing my authority as queen and commander. So you see, she's the one not listening, not me."
Both women stared at each other in a moment of silence and Anastasia sighed, crossing one leg over the other, adjusting her dark dress.
"I know my mother better than you Gabrielle. I've known her my entire life. She can be very controlling."
"She's not like that anymore, Ana." Gabrielle combated and saw the Hun's eyes narrow at that, disbelieving her. "She was really upset at the way you reacted. She blames herself for your behavior."
At that Anastasia's defensive stance was broken and she frowned sadly. "She thinks this is her fault? But why?"
Gabrielle shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe she thinks that she failed in raising you. She doesn't want to see you fail and would do anything to help you, you know that." She rose from the chair. "I think you should talk to her. We aren't your enemies, Ana and neither is Navaz. Talk to them both and make them understand how you feel. You may be surprised." She smiled softly and kissed her forehead then left the room.
Csaba sat with Xena inside her yurt waiting for Gabrielle to return. Xena hoped that Gabrielle was able to talk some sense into her daughter, but she had her doubts –not in Gabrielle, but in Anastasia. As she patiently waited for her to return she was teaching Csaba how to properly sharpen his sword since he already trained with Navaz today on the bow.
He held up the sword, "what do you think, grandma?" he asked.
She folded her arms. "My name is not grandma how many times do I have to tell you that."
The boy grinned smugly, knowing that got on her nerves. "But you are my grandmother ya know..." he said and his smile widened.
"Grandmothers are old ladies. Do I look like an old lady to you?" she teased and leaned in towards him.
He playfully chuckled, "well, you're like ten times older than me so yeah I'd say so."
She glared at him for awhile longer and then smiled, pinching his cheek firmly. "Ten times huh? Maybe I've been too lenient on you during our training sessions." She grabbed the sword from his grasp and looked over it to make sure he sharpened it correctly. "Better...but it's not good enough. Try again." She placed the weapon in his lap.
He gasped, "but I already did it three times!" he whined and she handed him the stone. He grumbled and snatched the sharpening stone from her palm.
"It would have been perfect the first time if you didn't use your sword to hit tree trunks..." she said and the color drained from his face. "I have eyes everywhere," she winked and he groaned, sharpening the sword in silence.
Gabrielle walked into the yurt and smiled seeing Csaba sitting beside Xena. Csaba lifted his eyes and saw one of his favorite people. "Gabrielle! Did you finish speaking to my mom?"
Xena looked to her blonde consort. "Csaba go outside."
He groaned and got off the floor. "Fine, fine. I will leave you two to your girl talk," he teased and drug his sword on the ground. Xena cringed when she saw that but chose to ignore it.
Gabrielle sighed and sat down in front of Xena who was anxiously waiting to hear how it went. "Well, the good news is, she's not unapproachable," she smiled. "She doesn't think you're listening to her and I don't think she is losing herself. I think she's just upset with you."
At that moment the dark haired warrior lowered her eyes in shame and felt the blame shifted upon her again. She didn't want her daughter of all people to be upset at her.
"She wants you to be proud of her."
Xena lifted her chin. "But I am proud of her."
Gabrielle grabbed her consort's hands, squeezing them firmly. "I think you need to show her that. Tell her that. She's still going through with her plan so there's no stopping her."
Xena looked past Gabrielle's shoulder and saw Anastasia enter the yurt, standing in the doorway. Gabrielle turned and smiled. She leaned forward and whispered in Xena's ear. "I'll be outside."
Anastasia shared a brief smile of recognition with Gabrielle before she left. She stepped forward and met eyes with her mother. "Can I talk to you?"
Xena nodded and pat the empty spot next to her on the floor. Anastasia sighed and walked over. Xena grabbed her daughter's hands and helped her to the floor gently. Together they sat on the floor and the young queen's eyes roamed around the yurt. She had not visited often and felt more awkward being in a room with her mother than with Gabrielle. She looked over at the blue eyes that kept staring at her. She knew that her mother was being very patient and quiet, waiting for her to speak first.
"Mother," she began, "I just want to let you know that I...it's not as if I don't want your help and I know you mean well but...I can handle this on my own. I just wanted you to listen to me but you didn't want to. You shut me out without hearing me out first. I don't want you to be angry with me I –"
"I'm not angry with you," Xena said softly. "I just want to make sure you know what you're doing. I don't want you to fail and be disappointed with yourself and the outcome. Sometimes, things don't always go as planned as you know from past experience."
Anastasia nodded and looked in the mirrored eyes beside her. "I was really hurt that you took my position away from me. I negotiated that deal without you. I thought I was making the best decision at the time and I wanted to please everyone, including Navaz. I want to be a good commander and you demeaned me. You undermined my authority as queen."
Xena sighed and ran her hand across her face. Now she felt awful for the way she treated Anastasia, but she was only trying to help her but it obviously didn't come across that way at all. She had no idea she was overstepping a boundary with her daughter and knew she was responsible for the way Ana felt. She was more than upset, she was hurt and felt underappreciated. That wasn't her intention at all.
She grasped her daughter's hand. "Listen, Anastasia, I am not trying to humiliate you. That wasn't what I wanted to do. I just wanted to help you. I didn't want you to go down a path that you could never come out from. I realize now that I shouldn't have taken your position from you without your consent. The idea of you being a queen also never crossed my mind. I still see you as a little girl but I know...you are far from that now."
She inhaled deeply and leaned in closer to her daughter's solemn face. "Can you forgive me? Please?"
Anastasia nodded and then her mother embraced her warmly, crushing her. She gasped for air. "Mom, I can't breathe."
"Sorry," Xena grinned and pulled away, fixing her daughter's collar on her dress. "So...does that mean you don't want my help?" she asked with an eager grin.
Ana rolled her eyes. "When I want it I'll let you know. I promise."
Xena wasn't going to argue with that. It was better than having her daughter shut her out. She eyed her daughter's stomach and grinned widely. "So, are you hoping that this time you will have a girl?" she raised an eyebrow and Anastasia sighed heavily.
"I don't mind if I have another boy but I'm sure Kreka will be really upset again if it's a boy." She shrugged her shoulders.
Xena's eyes roamed her daughter's body and looked at her full cheeks. "Well, I see that she can't say anything about you being too thin anymore." She winked.
Anastasia gasped and touched her cheek. "Are you saying I'm fat?"
Xena stood up and walked over to grab some wine. "No, of course not." She poured a glass of wine and turned to see her daughter's miffed face. "I want you to focus on yourself and the baby first, not your campaign. Understand?"
"Yes, yes I know." She sighed. "I guess I should go talk to Navaz now. He's been ignoring me." She tried to stand and Xena walked over and grabbed her hand, helping her to her feet. "Thanks," she smiled faintly.
Csaba ran inside with his sword and Anastasia gasped. He walked over to his grandmother with fiery eyes. "Okay, it is ready for inspection!" he beamed.
Xena set down the glass of wine and looked over the sword and smiled down at the boy's hopeful face. "Good enough."
He grumbled and took the sword from her grasp. "I'll make sure it's extra sharp for our training session. You'll see."
"Oh yeah?" Xena grinned and sipped the wine.
He turned to his mother. "Kreka is asking for you. She wants you to pick out fabric for your dress."
Ana frowned, cocking her head. "Dress?"
"Yeah, for the senlik!" he grinned from ear to ear. Xena choked on her wine and covered her mouth. He looked to his mother's angry face and folded defensive arms.
Gabrielle entered the yurt and saw the look on Anastasia's face and Xena shook her head silently behind her daughter at Gabrielle. Ana turned to her mother with a menacing glare and Xena drank some wine quickly. "Alright, who did it? Who let Kreka be in charge of this? I told you I didn't want a senlik!" she growled.
Gabrielle cringed and she began backing out of the yurt and Anastasia spun around. "Gabrielle!" she yelled and the blonde smiled sheepishly then exited the room. "Gabrielle!"
Csaba grabbed her arm, firmly looking into her eyes. "Mom. No stress, remember?"
Anastasia huffed and looked down at her son and smiled softly. "Stress? I'm not stressed. No." she turned to her mother who was casually sipping her wine. "You knew the entire time." She narrowed her eyes.
Xena smiled softly. "I have no idea what you're talking about." She sipped the wine again, avoiding her daughter's harsh eyes upon her.
Csaba grabbed his mother's hand and began escorting her out of the yurt. "I can help you pick out the fabric. I know you will look really nice in burgundy." He grinned and she sighed trailing behind him against her will.
Khan Arpad, leader of the Magyars in the Eastern Steppes of the Caucasus, read over the letter he received from the White Hun Queen, Anastasia. He smirked and set the letter down on the table and looked outside at the snowy mountains. Winter approaching quickly. He stroked his beard and squinted his eyes.
"Anastasia," he muttered. "I have heard this name before."
His vizier spoke up, "she is the daughter of Xena, mother of Prince Csaba. Attila's grandson..."
Arpad nodded. "Ah, yes. I definitely remember her now." He grinned mischievously and turned to face his vizier. "She was just but a child the last time I was in Pannonia and now she is a Queen, wife to Khushnavaz. Xena would be very proud of her."
He remembered Xena well and he did not fancy her that much when they met. She was very forceful and he realized that her attitude had trickled off onto her off spring it seemed. Attila paid him so he wouldn't invade Pannonia and he kept his promise even long after the Hun King died. But now, Pannonia was ruled by the Bulgur Huns and the rest of the Pannonians fled to the Caucasus it seemed.
"Well," Arpad scoffed, "it seems the child has now made a name for herself and she wishes to ally with me against Persia and the Roman Empire."
The vizier's eyes grew. "She is very ambitious, sir. What will you say? Will you ally with the Huns?"
Arpad sighed heavily. "I wish to see Queen Anastasia for myself. She is my neighbor after all," he chuckled. "I will ride out tomorrow to meet with her. Make the arrangements. I will arrive by nightfall to Balaam."
"Yes, of course, my king," the vizier bowed his head.
Malka read over Anastasia's decree and he frowned, folding the letter up. He had met Anastasia only briefly before he returned to his home in Kazakhstan. Now he was faced with a conqueror and that conqueror was Xena's daughter. He knew that if he declined, Anastasia would come to his land herself and convince him to side with her.
"What do you want to do, Bey?" Ghar asked.
Malka sighed heavily and folded his arms. "I will ally with Xena's daughter. I do not wish to see the wrath of young Anastasia upon my land. She is more than a Commander, she is a queen too. If she is anything like Xena then I'd rather side with her. Besides, Peroz and his brother, Hormizd, is begging to tax my land and I will not pay them. Surely, they will invade Ghazna if they do not collect their taxes by the end of this season."
Ghar nodded. "You believe the young Hun Queen is capable of rivaling the Sassan family, Bey?"
Malka smiled at his elite soldier. "With Xena by her side I am sure the Persians will feel her wrath if they do not comply with her. I long to see the Sassan family fall."
"She will create a new Hun Empire," Ghar stated.
"I believe she will."
Xena circled around Gabrielle with her blade. "Come on Gabrielle I'm waiting," she teased.
The blonde shook her head and held up her sword and charged forward clashing swords with her consort. "I'm getting better you have to admit!" she grit her teeth and Xena knocked her down with a swift kick to the shins. Gabrielle landed flat on her back and she gasped.
Xena smiled and leaned over her sparring partner. "Not good enough apparently." She chuckled and grabbed hold of the blonde's arm, lifting her off the ground. "Did you abandon your sword while you were Consul in Rome?"
Gabrielle huffed and brushed some dirt off her pants. "I couldn't exactly train while I was writing for Odoacer, Xena." She saw the warrior's eyes narrow at the mention of the emperor's name. "He mentioned to me that you knew him when Attila was alive. What was he like? Did you think he would end up as emperor?"
Xena shook her head. "I don't like Odoacer and neither did Attila. There was always something off about him. I'm surprised the Roman Senate allowed a Hun to be emperor of Rome."
"He convinced the Senate to wipe out his documents about him being a Hun," Gabrielle said and twirled her sword. "Do you think he will come looking for me?"
"I doubt it! Odoacer doesn't give a shit about people apparently since he treated my daughter, Ernak and Dengi horribly. His own people!" Xena groaned and thrust her sword forward. "Are we going to spar or talk about idiots?" she raised her eyebrows.
Their swords clashed together once more and Gabrielle swerved to the left, dodging Xena's attack. She ducked when she saw Xena's sword swing over her head. She kicked Xena in the shin, sending her staggering backwards. Gabrielle grinned and went straight for her gut, thrusting her sword forward. Immediately, she regret her move when Xena grabbed her arm and flipped her over her head and onto her back again.
"I should have seen that one coming," the blonde sighed and slowly rose from the ground.
Xena held out her hand and sheathed her sword. "Truce?"
Gabrielle shook her hand firmly and leaned towards her ear. "For now." She whispered.
"You want more, huh?" Xena teased. "Maybe you should spar with someone more your speed."
"Are you saying that I am not good?" Gabrielle folded her arms.
Xena wrapped her arm around her petite scribe and exhaled heavily with a big grin. "No, you're just really out of practice."
"Only with my sword..." the blonde said, implying something else and Xena's eyes widened at that. "I could show you," she lead her towards their yurt and Xena arched a curious brow at her. "Unless you have commander duties.."
"I'm not a commander anymore, remember?" Xena smiled and walked with Gabrielle to their yurt.
Navaz sat up in his bed wide awake. He peered over at his wife sleeping soundly next to him and smiled softly. He was glad that they were able to talk together and she even came to his room and had been here ever since. He wasn't entirely sure if her plan was going to work, considering he was not one to start wars, but as long as she was his wife, he would side with her.
He gently brushed her hair long hair away from her face and saw her chest rising and falling heavily as she slept on her side, her mouth parted and her arms tucked beneath her cheek. Tracing his fingers along her bare arm he leaned his body towards hers, pressing his chest against her back. He pecked her bare shoulder and she stirred in her sleep then slowly rolled over onto her back. Her arm sprawled on the pillow.
Gradually he scooted away from her and leaned his cheek on his palm, staring at her as she slept. He saw her eyebrows furrow in her sleep and she adjusted her body, rolling over onto her side again, her face towards him with her arm draped over her hip.
Her eyes fluttered open tiredly and she saw Navaz gaping at her. She smiled faintly. "Navaz..." her eyes adjusted to the candlelit room and saw him grinning down at her. "What are you doing?"
"I didn't mean to wake you," he whispered.
"You didn't." she frowned and rest her hand on the unsettled child inside her.
He smiled, nodding his head and inched closer to her, placing his hand on top of hers. His smile disappeared and her hand slipped from underneath his and she stared up at his worried face.
"What?" she asked.
"Csaba's father. He was Attila's son." He said and she nodded. "And your mother wanted to kill him because you had a child with him?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She smiled widely and sighed. "I was fifteen, Navaz. If you're thinking that she might kill you, I promise you she won't."
"Are you sure? She hasn't been very nice to me after what happened with the Romans..."
She touched his cheek. "If she wanted to kill you she'd let you know real fast. My mother tends to stay angry at things for awhile but she'll get over it." she saw the disbelief in his eyes. "If it makes you feel any better she was angry up until Csaba was born." She playfully hit his shoulder and his eyes grew in shock.
He cleared his throat and leaned back onto the pillows staring at the ceiling. "That's not very reassuring."
Anastasia kept smiling and rose from the bed, leaning on her elbow. "Just don't suck up to her. She really hates that."
"So what do I do?" he turned to her slightly amused face. She was enjoying this, he thought.
"Just be yourself!" she said. She traced her fingernails along his bare chest and grinned deviously. "Although, there is one thing that my mother really hates."
He widened his eyes. "What?"
"Don't marry another woman," she lifted her eyes and he smirked.
"One woman is enough for me."
She snarled and punched him in the chest and he grunted. He sat up and rubbed his chest and turned to her menacing glare. "By God, Anastasia," he croaked and let out a soft cough. "I have a new rule. No hitting your husband." He shook his head and kept rubbing his sore chest, trying to breathe properly. She smiled and laid back down on the pillows.
He gently punched her in the arm and she gasped and slapped him back. He pinched her arm and she crinkled her nose and pinched his bicep. Grinning, he pinned her arms down to the pillows and crawled on top of her.
"Navaz, no," she smiled and he leaned downward kissing her softly. "Get off me," she protested, breathing heavily and he stared down at her, both smiling at one another.
The door of the bedroom opened and Navaz groaned. "Your highness," Zolten announced and Navaz rolled off of his wife. "Sorry for the intrusion but King Arpad of the Magyars is here. He wishes to see the Queen."
Anastasia rose up off the bed and shared a glance with the king. "I will be there in a moment," she said and Zolten nodded. "Oh and, could you get my mother?"
"Of course, my queen," Zolten bowed his head and left the room.
She climbed out of the bed and grabbed her dress, slipping her arms through the sleeves and buttoned it up in the front. Navaz swung his legs off the bed and eyed her backside, her long hair dipping to her hips. "You want your mother's help?"
"I just want her to observe. She knows Arpad. He came to negotiate a deal with Attila a long time ago in Pannonia. I want her to be there without Arpad knowing," she turned and smiled at his worried face. "You trust me, right?"
He rose from the bed and walked over, buttoning her collar for her and smiled down at her. "Yes, I trust you." He kissed her forehead then grabbed her crown and veil, placing it on top of her head. He smoothed out her black veil over her hair and rubbed her arms. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No, I can do this by myself." She said with a faint grin on her lips.
Gabrielle moved her last chess piece on the board and cheered victorious. "I win, again!" she laughed and clapped her hands.
Xena groaned and finished off her wine. She pointed the empty glass at her consort. "We play again." She grabbed the half empty bottle of wine and poured another glass. Gabrielle moaned and fell backward against the pillows on the floor.
"Come on, Xena! This is the third game!" she lifted herself up and saw Xena arranging the board again. "Just face it. You lost, not once, but three times! You suck!"
"Practice makes perfect," Xena hid her soft smile. "If I win you have to do something for me, fair?"
"Like what?" Gabrielle raised a curious eyebrow.
Xena grinned deviously. "Polish my boots for a week."
Gabrielle scoffed. "And what do I get if I win?"
"Well," Xena's eyes drifted to the ceiling, pursing her lips. "I'll cook for a week, how's that?"
Gabrielle cringed. "I'd rather you not. You're not very good at cooking, no offense." She chuckled and Xena frowned deeply. "Okay, if I win then you have to wear a dress for a week."
"No way!" Xena shook her head.
"Xena, a deal is a deal!" Gabrielle leaned in and the warrior groaned lowly. "Come on...don't be a poor sport, Xeeeena..."
"Fine, fine." Xena relented and set up the chess board ready for their fourth game in a row this evening.
Gabrielle grinned mischievously and stretched her arms outward. "Prepare to lose."
"In your dreams, Gabrielle," Xena made her first move and the blonde studied the board trying to decide her next move.
"Xena!" Zolten called from outside the yurt. Xena groaned and set her wine glass down.
"For crying out loud," she grumbled. "What is it?" she yelled back.
"Queen Anastasia asks to see you to oversee the meeting with King Arpad. They are in the Adame," he said and there was a long silence.
Gabrielle grinned. "Looks like she needs you after all."
Xena smiled at her blonde consort. She immediately jumped up and slipped on her black pants. "I will be there!" she called out.
"She asks that you remain discreet," he said.
Gabrielle grabbed her pants and boots getting ready herself. She slipped off her gown and threw on her tunic. Xena stood, lacing up her pants. "This game is not over. I will win again."
"Yeah right," Xena smirked and threw her slip aside and grabbed her black tunic, slipping it over her head. "Better get that wax ready, Gabrielle. It's got your name on it," she teased.
The Magyar king walked into the conference room within the Adame and saw Anastasia sitting at the end of the table looking very much like the queen she has become. He smiled softly and bowed his head. "Queen Anastasia," he greeted.
She bowed her head curtly. "Arpad," her response short. She gestured to the seat at the end of the table. "Sit, please," she offered. He took the seat at the end of the table and took off his fur cap and set it in his lap. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Yes, I apologize for the impromptu arrival, your highness. I wanted to speak to you immediately. I hope I was not interrupting anything?" he smiled with a bit of sparkle in his dark eyes.
Not exactly, she thought. "Not at all. You've come to discuss my alliance with you, is that why you came?" she asked. Lifting her eyes for a brief moment she saw her mother and Gabrielle enter the room from a separate door and lurk in the dark corner of the room. She smiled and turned her attention to Arpad.
"Yes. I must say I was surprised to find the daughter of Xena sending me a letter as a Hun Queen no less. My condolences for your mother," he bowed his head.
She nodded. "She is very close to my heart always," she hid her smile. "So, my alliance. Will you join me or not?"
He chuckled and swirled his fingers on the tabletop. "I am surprised to find a Pannonian in my neck of the woods. One of Attila's Huns of course. If I'm not mistaken it was your mother that convinced the righteous king to decline my offer." He tapped his fingers on the table.
She squinted her eyes and Xena shook her head over in the corner. She inhaled deeply. "My mother is no longer in the picture and neither is Attila. I am offering you a deal. I wish to unite all the Hun tribes together to defeat the Persians and Romans. Zeno sent his men to Balaam not too long ago. I don't want another invasion so I am making alliances with the kingdoms surrounding my own." She paused and placed her elbows on the table. "Will you ally with me or not?"
"What happens when I decline your offer?" he smiled.
"Then I will ransack your territory and claim it as my own." She bat her eyelashes with a soft smile.
Gabrielle ran her hand across her face. Xena rolled her eyes and folded her arms, listening to her daughter. She was using threats to get what she wanted, much like Xena did long ago. It worked, but Xena was not sure her daughter had the strong negotiation skills to make Arpad back off.
"Mother like daughter," Arpad laughed lightly. "I admire your young spirit, your highness. But threatening me will get you nowhere."
"I'm not threatening you. That is a promise. I will claim your territory if you do not ally with me," her eyes darkened.
"Sounds like a threat to me." He frowned. "Why would you want to ally with me anyway?"
Anastasia looked over at her mother briefly and Xena narrowed her eyes, nodding to her to go ahead. "Your army is strong and would be a great asset to my kingdom against Persia and Rome." She said and Xena gave her an encouraging smile and Anastasia turned back to the Magyar.
"You want my army? Ambitious girl," he rubbed his chin. "How much coin will you pay me if I give you control of my army?"
She panicked and didn't even think she would get this far. Briefly staring at her mother she saw her holding up one finger at her. She inhaled deeply and smiled at Arpad. "One fourth of my husband's treasury."
"A fourth?" he scoffed. "No deal."
Anastasia frowned and then saw her mother holding up three fingers and then just one, glaring at the Magyar. "One third and that's my final offer."
He hummed quietly and rubbed his beard, staring at the eager young queen. "Alright, I will take your offer." He smiled and stood. She stood up immediately after him. "I will expect it delivered to my kingdom." He said.
The queen looked over at her mother and Xena shook her head. "You will receive the money once you send me your army," she grinned and he turned, glaring at her. "For insurance, of course. So I know you won't go back on your word."
"Fair enough." He put his fur hat back on and bowed from the waist. "It was a pleasure to see you, your highness." He chuckled lowly then exited the room.
Anastasia exhaled heavily and slumped back into the chair. Xena and Gabrielle came to her side. "You did a really great job!" Gabrielle cheered her on and rubbed Ana's shoulder.
Lifting her eyes she saw the look on her mother's face. "That is too much money! I can't give him one third of our treasury, mother!" she griped.
Xena smirked. "You're not going to give him anything." She said and her daughter gave her a bemused look. "You will take his army and claim it as your own." She saw the shock on her face and Gabrielle smiled. "I told you that you would need my help."
"So I just gave him a giant bluff?" Anastasia cocked her eyebrow.
"Magyars are greedy. He just wants the money. He doesn't care about your campaign or alliance. He doesn't take you seriously, Anastasia, because you are young. Attila knew way back when that giving him money would keep him away from Pannonia. His thought process hasn't changed." Xena said.
Gabrielle chimed in, "and since he won't have an army anymore he won't be able to attack you."
Xena grinned. "What she said." She thumbed her partner beside her.
Anastasia sighed and frowned, not wanting to admit that she needed her mother's help. Although, she didn't know what she would have done if her mother weren't standing over there giving her silent advice. "I still think I can do this by myself," she muttered.
"And you can but you still need help. Don't be stubborn, Ana." Gabrielle advised and the young queen folded her arms.
Zolten walked into the room and all three women turned to him. "Forgive me, my queen," he bowed his head. "I have received word from Emperor Zeno. He wants to meet with you and Navaz personally."
Anastasia's jaw dropped and Xena shook her head. "That bastard won't quit." Xena growled.
"Tell him I will meet with him," Ana said.
Xena spun around with wide eyes. "Anastasia, no!"
"Mother, you said you want to help me right?"
"More than anything."
"Then help me negotiate with Zeno. Teach me."
Xena pinched the bridge of her nose. "Negotiating with emperors is not my strong point..."
Gabrielle grinned. "I can help you, Ana. I worked for Zeno and Odoacer. I know how they think and what they will ask." She eyed Xena and saw the disapproval in her eyes. "Let me help you, please?"
Anastasia nodded and turned to Zolten. "I will meet with the emperor." She smiled and Xena shook her head, knowing this was a bad idea.
AN: I try really hard to incorporate as much historical accuracy as possible in everything I write. The characters like Navaz (Khushnavaz), Shah Peroz, Shah Hormizd, Emperor Zeno and Emperor Odoacer are all historical people. The White Huns are also known as the Hephthalite Huns. They became to be known as the "Terror of Asia". Their biggest enemies were the Sassan Family of Persia.
There was a real "White Hun Campaign" against Eastern Rome and Persia. Later, this campaign turned into a series of wars that lasted for years. This series of wars was called the "Anastasian War" (this will be explained later).
Anyway, enjoy lol.
Chapter 14 –Ghostly Encounter
Peroz stood with his brother, Hormizd, in the large throne chamber, miffed and fuming at the same time. Peroz slammed his fist on the table in frustration. "That cunt Anastasia is allying with all of the Huns! She is going to attack us, brother!"
Hormizd nodded and sat down on his throne, rubbing his chin. "We ally with Emperor Zeno remember, Peroz? Navaz does not have a big enough army to defeat both empires, no matter how many Hun tribes ally with him and his wife."
"Our scouts have spotted Huns at the borders. The White Huns have already breached our territory. There will be more of them, brother." Peroz said, infuriated that his brother was not more concerned about these Huns potentially invading their family's land.
"There is one tribe that the queen will never have. Her homeland, Pannonia," Hormizd grinned. "She will never be able to convince the Bulgurs to come to her side. They are her enemies now."
Peroz sighed and rubbed his temples firmly. "She is not going to ally with them! She is going to attack them! When Emperor Zeno meets with her I want a full report from his governor."
"We will have one, brother. Don't you worry. You fear these Huns but they are nothing to be concerned over. Their people are dying out slowly. The tribes are not allied together and they're falling apart." Hormizd frowned and stood from his throne. "We will wipe them all out."
"Then I will send our scouts to the borders to prevent them from coming into our empire," Peroz turned to walk off.
Hormizd pointed his finger and yelled, "you will do no such thing!"
Peroz spun around with a large frown. "Why ever not?! You allow these Huns to linger on the border?"
"They pose no threat, brother! They are standing idly at the border. If we attack then we declare war on the White Huns."
"Isn't that the idea?" the younger brother growled.
Hormizd nodded. "Our time will come but we will wait for the Huns to attack us first."
Gabrielle sat on the floor going over her papers filled with questions to grill Anastasia with. She had been at this for a week now, teaching the young queen how to negotiate with Emperor Zeno. She sighed heavily and rustled through the papers.
"Okay, what will you say if Zeno asks you to stand down?" she asked.
Anastasia fidgeted with her fingers in her lap. "I will tell him that I will attack Persia."
"But he will attack you anyway. What will you say then?"
"That I will...attack Constantinople?" she asked unsure.
Gabrielle smiled softly. "Very good." She stacked the papers into one pile. "I think we should take a break. How are you feeling? You don't look well."
Anastasia shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. "I'm alright, just tired." She looked over at her mother and Csaba playing a game of chess while she studied with Gabrielle. Smiling at the two she saw her mother grow more irritated when she was losing to her grandson. She had no idea her mother was so bad at chess and loved hearing Gabrielle rant about her victories against her mother when they played the game together.
She winced when she felt like her unborn child was stabbing her in the ribs. Her face of discomfort alarmed Gabrielle. "Are you alright?"
Lifting her eyes she nodded with a weak smile. "Yes, I'm alright. Just uncomfortable," she sighed heavily and rubbed the back of her neck.
"I win!" Csaba jumped up and pointed at Xena's face. "In your face!" he chuckled.
"Yeah, yeah," Xena mumbled. "You win in chess but I win in the battlefield, boy." She raised her eyebrow and he folded his arms.
Csaba turned to his mother and went to her side, kneeling down. "Mother, are you okay?" he placed a hand on her shoulder.
She smiled at her son and nodded. "I'm fine, really. Don't worry about me."
He crouched down beside her and kissed her cheek. "I'll always worry about you, you're my mom." He said and she cupped his cheek and stared into his eyes that reminded her of Ellac's so much. He looked so much like him and he was very sweet, just like Ellac.
"Do you ladies have clothes on?" Ernak called from outside the yurt.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Very funny," she said and Ernak walked in wearing his fur coat and smiled at everyone.
"Can't be too careful these days," he said and then caught eye of his nephew beside Anastasia. "Csaba! My little man!" he grinned and Csaba stood up and gave his uncle a secret handshake that only they knew how to do. Ernak grabbed the twelve year old, wrapping his arm around his neck.
"Ernak! Come on!" Csaba groaned.
Ernak let go of his obstinate nephew and eyed Anastasia and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "And how is my sweet Ana?" he whispered in her ear.
She frowned. "Get away from me," she sassed and he let go of her, backing away slowly.
He eyed Xena, thumbing her daughter. "Touchy," he muttered. Xena smiled and shook her head at the young king.
"I heard that," Ana spun her head around and he smiled cheekily at her. "I'm sorry," she muttered, "I'm just stressed out about this meeting with Zeno."
Ernak sat down beside her and smiled. "Don't worry, Ana, your mother and Gabrielle will help you. Like always." He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and she remained still and quiet, her head hung and he heard her sobbing softly. "Hey, don't cry," he whispered.
Gabrielle was putting some dishes away on the table and she shared a concerned look with her counterpart. Xena set the chess board into a chest by her bedroom and heard Ernak trying to talk to her daughter quietly.
"I think she is feeling overwhelmed," Gabrielle whispered.
"If I could take over for her I would in a heartbeat," Xena said and folded her arms, casting a glance over at Ernak trying to comfort Anastasia and Csaba sitting beside her.
Gabrielle quirked her mouth and cocked her head up at her warrior. "And why don't you?"
Xena spun around with shocked eyes. "I can't show my face anywhere, Gabrielle! Especially to Zeno," she muttered.
"He's bound to find out you exist eventually," the blonde shrugged with a faint smile. "Are you honestly going to sit back and let Navaz attack Rome and Persia by himself? I know you are dying to go back into the field no matter how much I hate it. You're itching to. Admit it, Xena."
She saw the conflict in Xena's eyes but she knew that Xena wanted to take her position back as commander, no matter what her daughter said. Gabrielle knew Xena very well and also knew when she wanted something so badly and it was out of her control. Anastasia wasn't going to allow her mother to help –there were boundaries –but Gabrielle knew that Anastasia could be convinced otherwise.
"Anastasia isn't allowed to go into the field but you can. Negotiate with her and tell her she can handle the politics and you do her field work for her." Gabrielle advised and Xena arched her eyebrow.
"You've become quite the diplomat," Xena gave a crooked smile at her blonde consort.
Gabrielle shrugged nonchalantly. "I guess Rome is good for something."
Xena sighed and walked over, towering over Ernak. He lifted his head and saw the look in her eyes. She nudged her head towards the exit and he nodded, jumping to his feet. He looked over at Csaba who was clinging to his mother's arm.
"Come on Csaba. Dengi got a new bow and he's been dying to show you," Ernak smiled.
Csaba frowned sadly and he looked over at his grandmother and he sighed. "Alright," he mumbled and stood, grabbing his uncle's hand and left with him.
Anastasia wiped her cheeks and let out a heavy exhale. Xena set down in front of her on the floor and Ana did not lift her eyes to meet with hers. She felt so embarrassed showing any sign of weakness especially in front of her mother. She was afraid that her mother wouldn't take her seriously and try to convince her to help.
Xena felt her daughter's tension and it wasn't even worse that she wouldn't look at her. "I know...you said that you don't want my help but what if I offer you a proposition?" she began.
Anastasia frowned and lifted her head, glaring at her mother. "Whatever it is, no." she sniffled and wiped her nose, turning away.
"You haven't heard what it is yet."
"Mother!" she hissed and glared into the eyes that mirrored her own. "I don't need your help. I told you that. Why can't you understand that?"
"You don't need my help, huh?" Xena smiled softly. "Gabrielle helped you prepare for your meeting, didn't she?"
Anastasia folded her arms. "That's different. I asked for help. I am not asking for your help right now."
"Then why were you crying?" Xena creased her eyebrows.
"Because I'm pregnant," Ana said flatly.
Gabrielle stood off on the side and covered her mouth, stifling her laughter. Xena's face softened and she held in her laugh, smiling instead. "Fair enough," she nodded. "Do you think you could turn off your cold queen exterior for just a minute?" she asked and Anastasia relaxed her shoulders.
"Allow me to sit in on the meeting with Zeno." She said and saw her daughter about to protest. She held up her finger, "I'm not finished." She saw Ana's mouth close. "Any field work you leave to me. Everything else you can do by yourself like we discussed. Alright?"
Anastasia sighed unhappily. She wasn't allowed to go with Navaz anywhere unless it was a diplomatic mission, but so far, everyone was coming to her, which was nice. She saw that her mother really wanted to help and Gabrielle was kind enough to give her a lesson on how to talk to Romans. She didn't want to say no and then regret it later but she also didn't want to give her mother the satisfaction of saying yes either.
"Fine," she relented.
Xena smiled and leaned forward to kiss her daughter's forehead. "Good girl," she said softly and rubbed her arm. Anastasia had a scowl on her face and her arms crossed, looking like she was throwing a bit of a tantrum much like she used to do when things did not go her way when she was a child.
Gabrielle walked over and bent down staring at the irate queen. "You know, you look so much prettier when you smile."
Anastasia's face softened and couldn't help but smile at the big grin upon Gabrielle's face. "I'm sorry it's just I'm so frustrated with myself. I have a plan in my mind but when I have to actually implement it, it's not turning out the way I want."
Xena scoffed. "Welcome to the real world. I could formulate a plan to take over the world easily but the execution isn't always easy."
Gabrielle shot her a glare. "You've actually thought about that before?"
Xena smirked, "no of course not. What kind of person do think I am, Gabrielle?" she winked and the blonde eyed her suspiciously. "It was a joke."
"Sure it was," Gabrielle rolled her eyes and turned back to Anastasia. "It's okay to ask for help, Ana. You shouldn't be ashamed to ask."
Ana sighed. "I'm not ashamed to ask I just want to do things on my own for once. You two are always helping me and I appreciate that but I want to be in charge of something important." She looked up and Gabrielle kept smiling at her. "And I'm also frustrated that I'm pregnant right now," she grumbled.
"You will have your baby soon. I'm afraid you can't speed up that process," Xena said and smiled as she was pouring some tea for her daughter.
Anastasia sighed and took the glass of tea that was handed to her. "And when I do, this will be a lot easier for me."
Xena frowned and sat beside Gabrielle. "What are you talking about? You can't do both at the same time –be a new mother and commander at once."
The young queen sipped the hot tea. "Why not? You did."
"No I did not!" Xena spat. "I took a year off after I had you."
"Well, I was hoping...that you could watch the baby," she smiled cheekily and Xena's jaw dropped and Gabrielle pursed her lips, eyeing the shock on Xena's face and the smug grin on Ana's.
"What do I look like? Your built-in babysitter?" her mother raised an eyebrow and Anastasia's smile widened. "I thought you didn't want my help?" a smile graced her lips and saw her daughter's face pale.
"But this is different mother," Ana lowered the glass.
"Oh, it is?" Xena leaned in and narrowed her eyes at her daughter.
"Mother, come on, don't be ridiculous," Ana frowned.
"Oh no, you want to do things by yourself. I'm not allowed to help you remember?" Xena grinned and Gabrielle slapped her shoulder gently. "I want to hear you say it. Come on." She cupped her ear and waited for her daughter.
Gabrielle realized that Xena was only teasing but Anastasia actually looked worried that she wouldn't help. This back and forth conversation was very amusing to watch and she stifled a laugh, seeing the pale faced queen scowling at Xena.
"I want...you to help me," Anastasia muttered.
Xena's mouth parted. "Sorry, I didn't hear you."
"Mom!" Ana frowned and Xena looked at her with a playful smile.
"Of course I will help you with your baby, Anastasia, but Gabrielle and I are not your babysitters." She warned.
Ana nodded. "You've made your point," she slowly sipped the hot tea and Xena lifted her glass, casting a wink at her.
"But since you will be taking care of your baby you will have no choice but to enlist me as commander in your absence," Xena grinned and pat her daughter's knee and Ana's jaw dropped, holding the tea close to her lips.
Gabrielle leaned over to Xena. "You've shocked her mute," she chuckled and Xena raised her eyebrows, grinning at her speechless daughter.
"You didn't think this through did you?" Xena said and pat her daughter's cheek.
Navaz sat with Anastasia in the conference room inside the Adame. He looked over at her and she was tapping her fingernails on the table repeatedly for the last half hour. He placed his hand over hers and she turned to him and saw he was smiling.
"Don't be nervous," he whispered.
"I'm not," she frowned and stared at the doors waiting for Emperor Zeno to come in any minute now. Zolten alerted her that Zeno and his men were approaching Balaam an hour ago. She was waiting and waiting for him to appear. It was going to take a lot for her to keep her temper in check during this meeting especially after what he did to her people in Pannonia and what he did to her mother was unforgivable.
The doors opened and Emperor Zeno walked in wearing his red and gold armor. He cast a smile at the young queen and king sitting at the end of the table. A few of his royal guards escorted him inside. Anastasia darkened her eyes glaring at the Romans.
"Tell your men to leave," she blurted out without even greeting the Roman.
Zeno widened his eyes. "Your highness, you do not even greet me? I am your guest," he grinned smugly.
"They leave or this meeting is over!" she slammed her fist on the table.
Zeno raised an eyebrow and nodded to his elite guard to leave the room. He took the seat at the end of the table and Xena slipped into the room just before the doors were closed. She grinned and walked behind Zeno, completely oblivious of her presence.
"Not much of a warm greeting from her highness," he noted and she scoffed audibly. "I would like to start off by thanking you for agreeing to meet with me." He bowed his head.
Navaz bowed curtly and Anastasia gave a short nod at the emperor. He eyed her fingernails scrapping on the table and he gripped her thigh below the table and her fingers relaxed slightly by his touch. "We were both surprised to see your letter." He said calmly.
Zeno nodded. "I have no doubt." He cocked his head at the young queen. "You resemble your mother so much, even your anger resembles hers. I did not think I would have the opportunity to speak to Xena's daughter. I feel so honored to be in your presence."
Xena raised her eyebrow and folded her arms, glaring at the emperor's head from behind. Anastasia gave a tight smile. "As you should. So why have you come here?" she asked and eyed her mother stepping dangerously close to Zeno.
The emperor sighed heavily. "It has come to my attention that you have soldiers at the Persian border. You know that is a big no-no," he chuckled. "Rumor has it that you want to create a new Hun Empire. I have come to offer you a deal."
Navaz frowned. "A deal? Huns do not do well with Romans, emperor."
"Yes, well, Attila was once allies with Rome until his Commander ruined it all," Zeno shot a glare at Anastasia. "Listen, I am willing to work with you both."
Ana's eyes widened as did her smile. "You see us as a threat, emperor?"
"Hardly," Zeno said with a blank face. "I do apologize for attacking your motherland, your highness, but your people were getting out of control. So you see, I had to attack you." He smiled. "I am willing to never step in Balaam again if you pay a tax to my empire. Convert to the Holy Roman Church and I will not come near your precious kingdom. Do we have a deal? Odoacer has written a decree and we need your signature. Both of you."
Navaz shared a look with his wife and Anastasia smiled, turning back to the emperor. "No deal, Zeno."
"You decline my offer? If you do this then you will be making the biggest mistake of your life!" he growled.
Xena wrapped her arm around the emperor and he gasped. She covered his mouth and leaned down beside him. "You know what your biggest mistake was, Zeno? Crucifying me and leaving me to die," she hissed in his ear.
Zeno's eyes grew in fear as he heard the sound of her voice. Xena's voice. Slowly he turned his head and saw her penetrating blue eyes staring at him with a wild smile on her rose colored lips. Xena leaned in inches from his face and felt his breathing quicken against her palm.
"So you see, we aren't going to accept your petty deal because I know Romans. You will attack Balaam and go against your word. Romans are filthy good for nothing pests on this earth." She snarled and knocked him over in the chair.
He groaned and she lifted him up in the chair up right. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he stiffened his entire body. "Not happy to see me, Zeno?" she teased. "We were never able to have a proper conversation but now we can." She pat his shoulder and he gasped.
She rounded the table and unsheathed her sword, grazing the tip along the fine wood, scrapping the table. Zeno cringed at the noise and she smiled, turning to her daughter and Navaz sitting patiently. The look in her daughter's eyes was most frightening. It reminded her of herself long ago. She was angry, more than angry, she was livid.
She placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Do you want my help?" she whispered and Ana looked up at her and nodded. Xena smiled and turned to the frightened emperor.
"How are you alive?" Zeno frowned.
Xena walked behind the two monarchs and hopped onto the table, crossing one leg over the other with her sword resting on her thigh. "Must have been divine intervention," she cast a slow wink and his upper lip quivered. "Listen, Zeno, you can take your offer and shove it where the sun don't shine. You understand?"
He clenched his fists. "I will come for you Xena. I will slaughter these White Huns just like I did with Attila's people."
She chuckled and hopped off the table, waving her sword around casually. "We'll see about that, Zeno. I know all your dirty secrets and strategies." Thanks to Gabrielle, she thought.
His mouth parted. "You are not Roman and I am nothing like my predecessor, Theodosius. He was incompetent. I will cut off your hands and crucify you in Rome's square!" he yelled. "I will do the same to your daughter!" he eyed Anastasia and she was about to stand up then Navaz grabbed her arm firmly.
"You lay a hand on my daughter and I will cut you into little pieces, Zeno," she threatened.
He stood from his chair slowly with an eerie grin. "Protective mother indeed. I hope your daughter is the same to her son and...unborn child." He looked over at the irate young queen. "Congratulations to you." He turned and flung open the doors.
He stepped outside the room and saw Gabrielle with a smug grin on her face and his eyes widened seeing her alive and living with these savages. Immediately he growled and turned to his men. "We leave at once!" he stormed out of the Adame passing by his former Consul.
Xena sighed and sheathed her sword. She turned to her daughter and Navaz. "And that's how you negotiate with those Roman bastards." She smiled.
Anastasia rose from her chair and flung her arms around her mother, embracing her tightly. "Thank you," she whispered.
Gabrielle stepped inside the room and saw Xena hugging her daughter. "So, I take it the meeting went well?" she asked and both women turned to her.
"Well," Ana began and pulled away from her mother, "now Zeno knows my mother is alive and he is definitely going to attack us."
"So we should get started, right?" Navaz chimed in and all three women turned to him and he grinned nervously.
The following week Navaz, Anastasia, Xena and Gabrielle all left Balaam to scout the borders of Persia. Xena suggested that they try and negotiate with Peroz and his older brother one last time. She knew that Zeno was to send word that his offer with the White Huns was void and invalid at this point. She also knew that it was really bold of her to expose herself to one of the most important people in the eastern half of the world. Peroz and Hormizd would definitely be expecting them so Gabrielle offered to talk to the shahs on Anastasia's and Navaz's behalf so Xena could stay behind and remain alert without them knowing she was present.
Meanwhile, inside the Adame, Kreka was in one of the large sitting rooms in the front of the dwelling. Tuya walked by the room and saw the khatun sitting on the floor, sewing quietly to herself. She grinned and stepped inside the room, knocking on the wall.
Kreka lifted her head and frowned. "Tuya," she greeted curtly.
The queen mother waltzed in and peered down at the dark burgundy fabric in Kreka's lap. "I'll have you know that I was able to convince my son to forget about that little incident you displayed in your yurt." She said snidely.
"How kind of you..." Kreka bit her tongue to prevent her from losing her temper. She drove the needle into the fabric, trying to focus on sewing this dress for Anastasia instead of Tuya standing in front of her. She didn't want to make matters worse especially right now so she refrained from making any remarks towards Navaz's mother. It was obvious the woman was not well liked among everyone here.
Tuya sat in the chair, observing Kreka's sewing skills. "What are you doing?"
The hazel eyed khatun lifted her eyes for a brief moment and saw the woman was genuinely curious. "I'm sewing Anastasia's dress for the senlik next month." She looked down and kept digging the needle into the thick fabric.
Tuya scoffed. "Shouldn't Xena be doing that? She is her mother after all."
"I offered to do it and Xena is occupied with other things as usual. She doesn't mind that I am doing this for her daughter. I did it last time," Kreka said and lifted her eyes and saw the confused look on Tuya's oval face, her sharp dark almond eyes doing no favor to conceal her emotions whatsoever.
Kreka bit the thread and tied it off. She spread the dress on the ground to look over her work, studying it. Tuya tapped her fingers on her knee impatiently. "As much as I am elated by your presence...I really need to finish this dress," her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Unless you want to make yourself useful and hand me those sheers over there," she pointed to the table.
Tuya frowned and walked over to the table to retrieve the sheers and hand them to the khatun. Kreka nodded and began cutting the long sleeves of the dress slowly. "You know Tuya..." she began, "it would befit you to help out with the senlik." She tossed the left over fabric to the side and straightened out the cut sleeves and rose, glaring at the queen mother.
"This is your grandchild too, not just Xena's. You've done nothing but pressure Anastasia to bear a child and now that she is, you resent her for it. You can't have it both ways."
Tuya snubbed Kreka and turned, avoiding her gaze. "I do not care for Xena. She does not like me."
"I don't like you either. You tried to kill me, but we must put that behind us..." she smiled and held up the sheers. Tuya lifted her chin cautiously staring at her. "I suggest you offer to help Anastasia more. Be nice to her and be especially nice to Xena. She is not as kind as I was to you," she winked and the queen mother's frown deepened.
Tuya adjusted the emerald green veil on her head and pursed her lips. "Senliks are not popular in the Caucasus," she admitted in a terse tone. "I am not familiar with the tradition."
Kreka smirked, seeing the queen mother's subtle interest. "Gifts are brought to the mother during the party. Since you are the mother of the king and grandmother you will be required to give the most extravagant gift."
Tuya's eyes widened and Kreka couldn't help but smile, relishing in the woman's priceless facial expression. "That includes giving a gift to Xena...since she is the most important person in the ceremony next to the expecting mother..." she added and Tuya's lips parted.
"How in God's name am I supposed to come up with a suitable gift?!" Tuya snarled.
Kreka shrugged a shoulder and grabbed the dress then began working on hemming the sleeves. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
"Mother," Dengi ran inside and frowned upon seeing Tuya. "Should I come back later?" he crossed his arms.
"No, it's alright we were just talking..." Kreka hid her smile and Tuya sat in the chair, staring off into space, her mind ticking on what to do. "What is it, Dengi?"
He never took his eyes off the queen mother while he spoke. "Ernak and I are going to scout the borders of Balaam per Xena's orders. We will be back by nightfall."
Kreka had the large needle in her mouth and nodded at her son. "When will Xena and the rest return from Persia?"
"Xena said no more than three days tops," he said and she nodded once more, shooing him away with her hand and he glared at Tuya before exiting the room.
Gabrielle rode back from the border and saw Xena waiting on foot with her arms crossed. She skid to a stop and hopped off the horse and shook her head. Anastasia rubbed her temple and Navaz turned to her concernedly.
"They not only said no, but I think Peroz called me a bitch in his language," Gabrielle crinkled her nose in disgust.
"That was expected," Xena said and looked at the Persian borders with all of Navaz's men guarding it, creating a wall around the Persian Empire.
Anastasia trotted closer to her mother. "What do we do now?" she asked.
Gabrielle stepped forward, wrapping her coat around her as snow began falling. "They are waiting for you two to attack them. But I really think that is not a good idea. Persia has a strong army."
Anastasia nodded, feeling a little bit hopeless. Xena grabbed her hand, staring into her bright blue eyes. "Now is the time to use your power as queen, Anastasia. Tell the Nezk Huns to attack Persia and hope for the best. We will attack them when you and Navaz give the command."
The queen turned to her husband for help. He smiled softly at her and gripped her shoulder. "I will send word to Malka and he will attack from the opposite side. When we have the go ahead then my army will go through Persia's borders."
"Finally thinking like a king, Navaz," Xena teased and he half smiled, his cheeks blushing lightly. "We return to our camp now and head back to Balaam in the morning to make the preparations."
"I tried, Xena, I really tried," Gabrielle shivered and wrapped the wool blanket around her cold body. She really hated winter and this weather in the Caucasus Mountains was far worse than winter in Pannonia. It had been snowing nonstop for days now and it was likely to get worse as the months passed.
Xena nodded and took off her fur coat and tossed it aside inside their tent. "I know you did, Gabrielle and you did a great job, as usual. I know I can count on you to use your diplomatic skills to persuade the enemy."
"Well, I didn't persuade them to do anything except get angry and call me awful names!" the blonde griped and wrapped her arms around herself, still shivering. "Aren't you cold?!"
Xena shrugged a shoulder and sat down beside her. "I am used to it." she wrapped her arm around the blonde, rubbing her arms to warm her up.
"I should have worn the leather pants," Gabrielle muttered.
"You definitely should have," Xena raised an eyebrow and leaned in closely, kissing her cheek. Gabrielle scooted closer to her for warmth and leaned her head against the warrior's shoulder.
"You know," the blonde began, "I missed this."
Xena pursed her lips. "Missed what?"
"Going on missions with you! I used to complain about it all the time but I never realized how much I missed it until it was gone –until you were gone." She frowned sadly.
The warrior sighed heavily and ran her fingers through the short blonde locks. "Well, I'm here now and I'm not going anywhere."
Gabrielle hoped that remained a promise that Xena intended to keep. She always kept her promises no matter what they were and she liked that about her. She was a woman of her word unlike some people, those people being Romans. She really hated working for Zeno and then for Odoacer. It wasn't like she had a choice in the matter and she was just trying to survive from day to day without Xena by her side. But now, that didn't seem to matter anymore.
She began chuckling to herself when she recalled the first time she met the Huns. Xena frowned confusedly and pulled away from the embrace. "What's so funny?" she asked.
Gabrielle's laughter calmed and she looked into those steely eyes. "Remember when I used to call you all barbarians and savages?"
Xena arched an eyebrow. "Yes..." she was wondering where this was going.
"I was just thinking how wrong I was. I wish more people understood you all then maybe there will be less war." She sighed.
Xena grinned and leaned back on the pillows. "There will always be war, Gabrielle but I wouldn't mind some peace and quiet once in awhile."
Gabrielle laid down beside her, wrapped in the wool blanket, snuggling close to the warrior. "Do you ever think that will happen?"
Xena shrugged her shoulders and lolled her head over to Gabrielle's big eyes. "Eventually the Romans will stop fighting us. Then we will have a few years of peace then they will attack again. It happens every time."
"Well, I like this moment of peace and quiet. Just us together." She bit her bottom lip anxiously and wrapped her leg around Xena's.
A devious smile appeared on the warrior's lips and she rolled over onto her side and leaned down, kissing her infamous scribe's lips gently. "Me too," she whispered.
"We haven't finished our game of chess you know," Gabrielle wriggled her eyebrows.
Xena rolled her eyes and groaned. "You sure know how to kill the mood."
Gabrielle whined and climbed on top of Xena. "Come on! I'm sorry. I just want to see you wear a dress. You look so nice in dresses." She pouted and Xena frowned as she lay beneath her. "Love you..." she grinned sheepishly.
She couldn't stay mad at her for long. Xena smiled. "Love you too," she rubbed her blonde's arm and then narrowed her eyebrows. "But you're going to lose in our next game. Bet on it."
"In your dreams!" Gabrielle teased and playfully punched Xena in the shoulder. She saw the warrior's eyes enlarge and she put up her hands, covering her face. "No, no. I'm sorry, please don't hit me!" she begged.
Xena chuckled softly and flipped Gabrielle over onto her back, now on top of her. She pinned the blonde's arms down on the floor. "If you make a sound I will punch you..." she hissed and Gabrielle zipped her lips.
Navaz stepped inside the tent after talking with a few of his men about the plan and that they were leaving tomorrow. He took off his black fur coat and saw his wife shaking out the snow from her midnight tresses. Her hair parted straight the down middle accentuating her high cheekbones and soft full cheeks.
She smoothed her hands over her hair and lifted her head to see Navaz. She smiled softly. "Why do you keep looking at me like that?"
He sat down in front of her and she kept running her fingers through her hair. "I can't admire you now?" he teased.
Trying to be very polite again, she noticed. After Ellac died she thought she would never find someone that special again. She chose not to find another man knowing that she didn't need one to complete her life. Csaba was the only male in her life and he was very special to her. When she met Navaz she was forced to marry him out of necessity and neither one of them knew one another very well and she constantly distanced herself from him for an entire year.
Avoiding the subject of children haunted her for a year and then when she found out she was pregnant she knew that she made a big mistake at the time. It wasn't until she reunited with her mother and Gabrielle that she was able to find peace again somewhat. She put her feelings aside about the baby and focused only on herself but those thoughts she had no longer existed.
As she was able to spend more time with her family and Navaz these last few months she realized that life was too short to focus on the negative. She learned that quickly after she saw her mother alive a year after her presumed death.
And the more time she spent with Navaz the more she started to like him a lot more than she thought she ever would. He was sweet to her and allowed her to do anything she wanted and she had yet to thank him for putting up with her and...her mother of course.
She reached forward and cupped his cheeks gaping into his dark brown eyes. Briefly kissing him softly on the lips he smiled, leaning closer to her. She pulled away and he halted hesitantly. "Thank you."
"For what?" he furrowed his thick dark eyebrows.
"For everything. For helping me and putting up with my mother. I know how she can be," she smirked.
He nodded and ran his hand over her dark hair. "She loves you and would do anything for you." He took in a breathy inhale. "Just like I would."
Her eyes widened. "Really?" she asked in disbelief.
He chuckled and scooted closer to her. "Yes, I would." He said with sincerity. He placed both of his hands on her belly that carried their child. She peered down and both shared a smile together. "And I will do anything for our child as well."
Her smile widened hearing that. It was probably the only thing that meant a lot to her at the moment in the midst of the chaos surrounding them. He lifted his eyes meeting with hers and kissed her lips gingerly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing him closer. His hands trailed up the side of her body. Closing her eyes she smiled as their lips never parted.
She lay down on the floor and he lay beside her, his lips roaming to her neck. Her ears perked up when she heard rustling outside and she frowned. "Navaz," she said firmly and he kept kissing her neck. She gently pushed him off. "Stop, stop."
He saw the alarm in her eyes. "What? Are you alright?"
"Shh!" she hissed and both of them listened. "Someone's outside," she whispered.
He immediately got up and grabbed his sword. "Stay here," he said and left the tent. She sat up slowly and frowned, trying to listen to what was going on outside.
She heard someone yelling and swords clashing against one another. She heard her mother yelling outside and she gasped. Trying to get up she saw Gabrielle poke her head in the tent.
"We need to leave," Gabrielle came inside and grabbed Anastasia's hand helping her to her feet. "Come on," she said in a hushed voice.
They exited the tent and Anastasia saw her mother and Navaz fighting off Persians –Peroz's men. Her eyes widened and she was being pulled along by Gabrielle.
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's horse and urged Anastasia to hurry it along but her eyes were fixated on the fight. "Anastasia!" she hissed and the Hun woman turned her head with wide worried eyes. "Get on the horse!" she yelled. The Hun queen climbed onto the horse and Gabrielle hopped on, grabbing the reins.
"But what about them?!" Ana asked, turning her head to see her mother driving her sword into a Persian soldier.
"Xena told me to get you out of here and that's what I'm doing," she kicked the horse and rode off. Ana couldn't turn away from the fight and her heart raced. Snow flurries flying on her hair and face as they rode quickly through the white blanketed terrain.
"Where are we going?! We can't just leave them behind!" Anastasia snarled.
Gabrielle shook her head and squinted her eyes trying to see the path ahead of her. "Don't worry about them, Anastasia! They will be fine. We're going back to Balaam."
"But my mother –"
"Is more than capable of taking care of herself," Gabrielle interrupted with a devious grin on her lips.
Xena cried out and plunged her sword into a Persian lying in the snow. She breathed heavily then looked up to see Gabrielle and Anastasia riding off back to Balaam. Her eyes darted to a Persian horseman than began following them.
"No, you don't," she growled and grabbed the dead Persian's sword and threw it at the horseman. It pierced through his backside and he cried out then fell off the horse. She smiled with satisfaction then kicked a Persian down as he was charging right for her.
She winced and gripped her leg. She pulled her sword out of the soldier's body and Navaz ran to her. "Where is Anastasia?!"
"Gabrielle is taking her back to Balaam," she said and she groaned, limping forward. Her back against his as they were surrounded by Persians. She smirked and gripped her blade in front of her. "Let's see how you fair in swordplay," she said over her shoulder.
"I prefer the bow," he grinned. "But I am trained in your weapon of choice."
"We'll see," she said then swung her sword around, slicing through a Persian's midsection and he fell forward, face planting into the snow. She picked up the Persian's sword and now had two blades. She grinned wildly. "Come on," she hissed, twirling both swords with ease.
Navaz thrust his sword through a Persian's leg and kicked him down. Spinning around he saw Xena wielding two swords and holding her own against four men attacking her. He raised an eyebrow watching her fight so gracefully yet furiously.
Breathing heavily, she smiled, turning around after she knocked down all four men. Navaz nodded his head. "Impressive," he said.
"Swords are much better than bows," she winked.
"You!" Peroz rode in on his horse, yelling at Xena. "Attila's Commander," he chuckled and halted on his horse. Xena raised her eyebrow and lowered her weapons. "You are supposed to be dead."
"Sorry to disappoint you." She shrugged a shoulder. "You are no longer in Persian territory, Peroz. Get lost."
The Shah grinned. "That young queen is your daughter. Quite a spitfire she is." He cocked his head. "Too bad my men are following her and your blonde Consul."
Xena's heart sank but she remained calm. Navaz, not so much. He pointed his sword at the Shah. "You do anything to her and I will kill you!" he yelled.
"You're lying," Xena said calmly to the Persian king.
Peroz shook his head, adjusting his gloves on his fingers. "Afraid not, Xena. Why would I lie about something like that?"
Navaz rode off on his horse and Xena spun around seeing him leave without her. She growled. "Navaz!" she called out but he wasn't listening, not anymore.
"What will you do now, Xena? Looks like your party left you." He shook his head and rode off with the rest of his men laughing.
Gabrielle rode in between the large mountains and the snow flurries soon started to turn into a snow storm. She wrapped her scarf around the lower half of her face and guided Xena's horse through the rocky terrain. Anastasia had her arms wrapped around Gabrielle's waist, holding on tightly.
"Come on!" she grunted and finally made it over a large hill. She lifted her eyes and saw black horses emerging from the mountains, surrounding them.
Ana gasped and whipped her head around to see more horsemen coming up from behind slowly. Persians of course. Her grip tightened around Gabrielle's waist.
"Anastasia..." she said slowly and unsheathed a sword at her hip. "Take the horse and continue riding to Balaam." Her eyes not leaving the soldiers as they trotted closer and closer, creating a circle around them.
"But what about you? I don't want to leave you!" her voice cracking and her breath quickened.
Gabrielle held the sword in front of her and hopped off the steed. "Don't worry about me, just go!" she kicked the horse and Anastasia gasped, grabbing onto the reins, riding off through the path in the mountains.
Two Persians turned their heads and growled. "Get the queen!" one shouted and then rode after her.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, not quite thinking this one through. She sure wished Xena would hurry up and get over here before things went sour. At least Anastasia wasn't too far from Balaam and there would be people there to help her when the Persians entered the grounds.
An arrow pierced one of the soldier's in the neck and her eyes widened. Another one hit a soldier and he fell backwards off the horse. Spinning around she saw Navaz riding in shooting arrows continuously at the Persians.
"Gabrielle!" he grinned and slung his bow on his shoulder, hopping off the horse. He unsheathed his sword and joined her by her side. "Where is Anastasia? I thought she was with you?"
"I told her to ride back to Balaam but some Persians are following her."
He frowned deeply at her and put up his sword as he saw the Persians unsheathe their weapons ready to attack.
"Where is Xena?" she asked, gripping the blade tightly.
"She's...still at the camp..."
"You left her?!" she hissed.
Chapter 15 –Revival of The Commander
Ernak waited on the border of Balaam with his brother. Idly, he sat in the snow, drawing pictures in the frosty soil, bored out of his mind. Dengi sat on his horse and squinted his eyes, overseeing the border. He trotted a few paces and saw dark horsemen riding right towards them. "Xena's horse!" he yelled.
Ernak jumped up and ran closer to the border. "That's not Xena. It's Anastasia!" he hopped on his horse and rode out with brother. "Where the hell is everyone else?!"
Dengi frowned. "I don't know but those are Persians following her." He drew his sword from his belt. "Let's go!"
Anastasia turned her head around and saw the Persians were ganging up on her, riding closer and closer to her. Looking ahead she saw Dengi and Ernak coming to save her. She smiled seeing them and then moaned aloud in agony. Glancing over at her shoulder she saw an arrow pierced through her. Gripping her bleeding shoulder she crossed through the border, riding past Dengi and Ernak.
She came to a slow trot and Zolten ran over to her once he immediately saw the arrow sticking out of her shoulder. He lifted her off the horse and briskly walked into the Adame. Tuya came down the hallway and saw Anastasia in the arms of Zolten and frowned. Kreka came out of the sitting room where she was working on Anastasia's dress and saw Zolten walk by with the queen in his arms.
She ran over and Tuya stood with her mouth agape. "What happened?" she asked.
Tuya shook her head. "I don't know but she is wounded."
Kreka spun around and saw her sons outside fighting against Persians. Of course, she thought. "Stay with Anastasia," she said and walked to the entrance of the Adame.
"Me?!" the queen mother gasped and Kreka shot her a glare. "She doesn't like me!"
"I don't care if she doesn't like you. Stay with her. I'm going outside!" she picked up her dress and ran down the steps to meet with her adult sons. Tuya folded her arms and looked down the hall towards the queen's quarters, already people trailing in to aid Anastasia. She swallowed her pride and tread down the hall.
Entering the bedroom she saw the healer beside the bed, tending to Anastasia's wound. The screeching scream echoed through the room when the woman pulled the arrow from Anastasia's shoulder. Tuya cringed and Zolten walked over to her with concerned eyes.
"Tuya Khatun, will you stay in this room? I must go outside to help Dengi and Ernak," he asked and she exhaled heavily, not really wanting to stay but with nobody else here it looked like she had to stay. Finally, she nodded and he bowed his head then hurried out of the room.
Hesitantly, she walked over to the side of the bed and Ana's head lolled over on the pillows as she breathed heavily. A frown imminent on her face when she saw Tuya in her bedroom. The healer kept dressing her wound and she soon forgot about the pain, glaring at Navaz's mother.
"What are you doing in here?!" she yelled and Tuya lowered her eyes. "Get out!" she hissed.
"Your highness, please, stay still," the healer advised. Anastasia clenched her jaw and relaxed against the pillows, doing as told.
Tuya folded her arms and felt Anastasia's on her the entire time, burning into her flesh. "Kreka asked me to stay with you," she said calmly. She saw the vehemence in the young Hun's eyes. "I know you don't want me in here but –"
"You got that right. Get out, Tuya." Ana said as the healer began wrapping her shoulder. Wincing, her shoulder was lifted off the pillows and the woman tried to be as careful as possible, but even the smallest movement caused her a lot of pain and discomfort.
At that moment the queen mother then thought of what Kreka told her yesterday. She was advised to be nicer to Anastasia and put in some effort showing that she cared for her somehow. But the reality was that she didn't like Anastasia and certainly didn't like Xena and wasn't too fond of Kreka either. But at least they both had one thing in common –Navaz. She loved her son dearly and he was only her child and son. She wanted to make him happy but her recent actions hadn't proved fruitful among anyone, especially with his wife.
Ignoring Anastasia's demand she pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. Ana's eyes widened at this and the healer had finished wrapping her shoulder and gathered the bloodied clothes. Quickly, the healer left the bed to go find some medicine for Anastasia to take to make the pain subside for awhile.
Now the two were alone in the bedroom and Ana lifted herself up slowly, leaning on a mound of pillows. Tuya blinked slowly at her and smiled softly. "I thought I told you to leave," the queen hissed.
Tuya nodded. "You did, but I am staying here. You are in no condition to fight me on this, Anastasia," she arched a brow. "Are you...alright?"
Ana scoffed. "Stop asking as if you really care."
The queen mother sighed heavily and leaned back in the chair. The room was silent and incredibly awkward. One could cut the air with a knife the tension was so thick. "I'm trying to be nice."
Anastasia smirked and turned to the khatun. "And that's so hard for you, isn't it?" she said and Tuya whipped her head around, her mouth ajar and her dark eyes wide. "You've been nothing but rude to me ever since I got here. Why don't you like me? Navaz likes me. What is it that he sees that you don't?"
Tuya frowned and unfolded her arms, now less defensive since she came in here. "I wanted my son to marry a girl from our own tribe," she said, finally admitting her true feelings. "But he wanted you. He refused all the young women that I brought to him before you came to Balaam. When he saw you he told me he wanted to marry you and no one else."
Anastasia's eyes softened when she heard that. She didn't know that Navaz had really liked her so much when they first met but they didn't know each other very well and she still felt that she didn't know him as well as she'd like to. She only agreed to marry him because Kreka told her it was the best thing to do at the time. She didn't hate Navaz then and she certainly didn't hate him now. In fact, she thought they had grown to be such good friends now and hopefully more. He was so nice to her it was hard to believe that Tuya was his mother because she was not nice at all.
"And you hate me because of that?" she asked, a bit confused.
Tuya shook her head. "I don't hate you, Anastasia. I was upset that he married someone out of our own tribe. I wanted him to marry a Caucasian woman, not a Pannonian."
"Well, I'm afraid you're stuck with me now," Ana said and Tuya nodded then turned to see the smile on her face. "You know...it would be a good idea to become friends with my mother. It would make your life a lot easier."
Tuya blinked and assumed that Anastasia was not privy to what happened between her and Kreka awhile ago. Xena must have kept that secret from her daughter and rightfully so, otherwise her son would be obliged to believe his wife. He adored Anastasia.
"That is unlikely to happen..." she grumbled.
"Despite my mother's hard shell she can be very forgiving," Ana advised. "She is very protective of Csaba and I don't think this child will be any different. You're going to have to pry the baby from her arms if you want to see it."
Tuya's eyes widened. She hadn't even thought of that and she certainly knew that Xena loved Csaba a lot and would do anything for him. Xena made that perfectly clear when they last spoke. The realization of Anastasia carrying her son's heir finally crossed her mind. She was so preoccupied with herself that she hadn't thought of the aftermath of the baby. Kreka was right, this was her grandchild too, not just Xena's and if she wanted to see her only grandchild then she would have to be nice and somehow make Xena like her or at least tolerate her. Even if she didn't care for Anastasia or her mother, she needed to make a concerted effort to show kindness to them both.
Navaz rode into Balaam with Gabrielle sitting behind him. He narrowed his eyes and saw Dengi had all of the Persian soldiers tied up by their necks and wrists. He yanked the reins of the horse and halted in front of the line of Persians, scowling.
Dengi sheathed his sword and eyed the king. "What the fuck is going on and where the hell is Xena?!" he growled.
Gabrielle shot a glare at Navaz. "Someone left her behind!"
"You did what?!" Dengi marched over to the king, snarling.
"It wasn't intentional..." the king lamented. "Where is Anastasia?" he asked.
Ernak tightened one of the ropes around a Persian's wrist and stood, wiping his bloody hands on his pants. "She's inside. She took an arrow to the shoulder," he said and saw Navaz's eyes widen fearfully.
"Salak!" Kreka yelled as she stormed through the snow in her black fur coat. Her sons turned at the sight of her and saw malicious intent. They immediately took a step back as she was marching right towards Navaz. She pointed her finger at him. "You!" she hissed and Navaz's face paled. "You allowed your wife to ride back by herself! And now she is injured!"
He frowned, "I did not. That is not how it happened, Kreka."
Gabrielle spun around hearing loud horse hooves and smiled seeing Xena riding back with the rest of the elite Huns behind her. She immediately hopped off Navaz's horse and Xena came to a skidding halt and saw Kreka glaring at Navaz then looked at all the Persian soldiers tied up behind Dengi and Ernak.
"What is going on?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle bit her bottom lip as she was about embrace Xena's wrath, something she hated to see. "I was taking Ana back to Balaam like you asked but Persians followed us. I told her to ride back so I could fight them off myself."
Xena shot her a menacing glare. "You what?" she said lowly. "That is not what I asked you to do! I told you to get her back safely, Gabrielle!" she growled and jumped off her horse, limping over to Kreka. "Where is she?"
Kreka folded her arms. "Inside the Adame with Tuya. An arrow pierced her shoulder."
All color drained from Xena's face and she spun around to her blonde consort. "Gabrielle!" she yelled. "Because of you my daughter is injured! If you would have done what I told you none of this would have happened!"
Gabrielle huffed and marched over to the irate warrior. "What was I supposed to do?! They were going to kill her! I did what I thought was the best thing at the time!"
"Wrong!" Xena stormed forward, towering over the blonde. "There is always another way. You know that. You weren't thinking and this is your fault." She spun around and walked briskly through the snow to get to the Adame.
Everyone stood in awkward silence and Ernak clicked his tongue against his cheek. "So..." he began, breaking the silence, "what do you want us to do with these assholes?" he grinned.
Navaz frowned, "execute them." He said then rode off to the Adame.
Dengi turned to his brother with an eager smile. He saw the fear in the Persians' eyes. Withdrawing his sword he walked over to the line of soldiers, staring into their fear stricken eyes. "I guess the king is really pissed," he cocked his head. "You hurt the queen, Xena's daughter. Bad move on your end, boys." He sighed and raised his sword over his head.
Gabrielle cringed when she saw one of Persian's heads roll in the snow and Ernak let out a hearty laugh. She turned and saw Kreka glaring at her. She not only had Xena angry at her but now she had Kreka angry at her as well. She thought she was doing the right thing by letting Anastasia go back to Balaam on her own but apparently she was wrong and now everything was her fault, according to Xena.
Ernak came to stand beside his brother. "Okay, okay. My turn," he grinned. He turned to see Gabrielle standing off by herself with her arms wrapped around her body. "Oh sorry, you want a go at it Gabrielle?" he asked.
She turned and frowned then walked off. He shrugged then smiled. "I get this one and you get the next," he told his brother.
Xena stormed into her daughter's bedroom and saw Tuya sitting beside the bed. Anastasia lifted her eyes and gasped. "Mother! You're alright, you –"
"Are you alright?" she asked, interrupting her daughter.
Anastasia nodded. "I'm fine but...but what happened? Where is Navaz? Gabrielle? Are they okay?" she sat up and winced from her shoulder wound.
Xena opened her mouth to speak until Navaz entered the bedroom. "Anastasia!" he said and she spun around to see the king brush by her to go tend to her daughter. She folded her arms and then saw Gabrielle appear beside her and frowned deeply, not happy to see her.
Gabrielle dipped her head and felt Xena's cold shoulder. She didn't think it was fair that she was being blamed for Anastasia's injury. She was only doing what she was told and didn't think that Ana would get hurt in the process but she didn't have a choice. She wasn't going to let Anastasia fight alongside with her and she was lucky that Navaz showed up when he did otherwise she might have had some serious injuries or be dead.
Navaz sat on the edge of the bed, eyes roaming over his wife's body and his hands touched her arm and face, examining her thoroughly. Ana smiled and grasped his hand. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, concern written all over his face.
She nodded. "I'm fine, don't worry about me. What happened to the Persians?"
His eyes darkened and his hand slipped from her grasp. "I told Dengi and Ernak to execute them." At that her eyes widened, not expecting that to come from his mouth. That was something she expected to hear from her mother not Navaz.
Xena cleared her throat and all eyes turned to her. "Navaz, you need to tell the Nezak Huns to attack Persia immediately. Word will get back to Zeno within a few days. We don't have a lot of time."
The king gave her a curt nod and turned to his wife, smiling warmly and kissed her forehead. He left her side and stood beside Xena.
"I will have a letter sent out right now," he said.
Gabrielle spoke up, "I can write the letter for you," she offered and he gave her a small smile and nodded. She eyed Xena briefly. Still ignoring me, she noticed. Then she trailed out of the room with Navaz to go to his office to write the letter to Malka.
Xena briskly walked back to her yurt through the light snow storm and saw the two sons of Attila smiling, talking among themselves. They immediately caught sight of her and shut their mouths. She pointed to the Persians' decapitated heads on the ground. "Send the heads to Peroz."
Ernak smiled, nodding his head. "Yes ma'am." He said and she narrowed her eyes. "Yes Xena," he corrected and she shook her head, storming off to her home.
She charged through her yurt and threw her cloak and sword onto the floor. Rubbing her temples she sighed heavily and began pacing around in a circle, talking to herself quietly. When she was Attila's Commander things were a lot easier because she was in charge and Attila was by her side most of the time. He allowed her to have free range to do almost anything she wanted, except for a few things. She and Attila were a great team and relied on one another for years, thinking in sync with each other.
Bu this –this was different. She was not commander anymore, her daughter was. This was not Pannonia and these people were not Pannonian. Valentinian and Theodosius were dead and had been for a few years now. Emperor Zeno and the new emperor of just one year, Odoacer, were nothing like their predecessors. It only made matters worse that Xena knew Odoacer very well many years ago. She also hated Zeno and really wanted to crush his little holy city all by herself, but she couldn't do that.
Anastasia and Navaz were the monarchs of this area and Xena had no say here. She was beginning to wonder if her daughter would ever let her help indefinitely but she understood why her daughter wanted to do things by herself. After all, she did well for herself a year after the war in Pannonia. Anastasia married a king and tolerated his family and people. She is a queen but she doesn't know how to rule and Kreka is also a queen but has no authority in Armenia. Tuya is the queen mother but she too has little authority in her own kingdom now that her son is married and has a new queen.
Tuya depended on her son to rule Armenia but now she had little to no say in anything because of Anastasia. Xena sat down on the floor, resting her chin on her palm, thinking what a chaotic mess this has turned out to be. She thought that she had pretty easy Roman emperors to deal with when she was an active commander. Anastasia and Navaz had ruthless Roman emperors at their doorstep and they were very young, too young to know how to control them and keep them away.
The couple may be king and queen but they are not a team, Xena thought. She rubbed her chin and frowned, gaping at the wall in the sitting room next to the entrance. They do not know how to work together because Anastasia wants to be in charge of the army while Navaz aims to please her and his people.
"This is not going to work," she muttered to herself.
She kept thinking of Attila's and Kreka's relationship together. After their marriage, Kreka ceased all combat when she had her sons. She too was from a warring tribe in Asia, though her bloodline comes from the Balkans. Kreka allowed Attila to rule over his people while she had some say, they worked together as a team on and off the battlefield. Even if Kreka was not present on the battlefield she knew what was going on and Xena would be in charge of the entire army. Attila and Kreka worked well together. Anastasia and Navaz were not working together and that was the problem.
She was beginning to think it was impossible for a queen to be a commander and overseer of the people at once as well as a mother. It was extremely difficult and maybe that is why Attila's campaign over all the Hunnic tribes was so successful. He had a queen and a separate commander. Although, it was not impossible to have a queen as a commander, it was just not very ideal and often failed.
Xena allowed Kreka to work as her second in command during the war with Theodosius in Nicaea, but that was different. They still worked together and Attila was still in charge of his own people, holding his own. She felt like this campaign that Anastasia wanted was going to fail indefinitely if she did not take over no matter how much her daughter didn't want her to. This was not down to experience but about teamwork and Anastasia is not a team player. She didn't quite understand the consequences of her actions yet and thinks it is easy. Xena realized her daughter has too much on her plate and should focus on a political campaign at home in Balaam instead of building an entire empire.
Baby steps, she thought and a smile came to her lips. She turned when she heard the flaps of the yurt and Gabrielle stood in the doorway. Her smile faded once she saw her and turned back around, brooding silently. She couldn't help herself but to blame Gabrielle for what happened to Anastasia and sensed the blonde inching closer.
Gabrielle took in a deep breath and sat down beside her. Xena ignoring her, staring at the wall in a tense silence. "Are you going to talk to me?" she asked.
Xena breathed heavily through her nostrils. "You could have gotten my daughter killed."
"Xena, I didn't know what to do! I thought I was doing the right thing by sending her off by herself!"
The dark haired warrior whipped her head around, her eyes wild. "You weren't thinking! You've been enough tough situations to know what to do when you are surrounded! You knew they were going to follow her and you stupidly left yourself open for an attack!"
Gabrielle huffed. "I'm not like you, Xena! I rely on you!" she frowned, lowering her eyes. "Maybe too much..." she mumbled. "I was lucky when Navaz showed up."
Xena narrowed her eyebrows. "You should have let him fight the Persians on his own and you go after Anastasia. He can take care of himself."
"Are you saying that I can't hold my own?"
"I didn't say that."
"Then what are you saying, Xena?" the blonde's frown deepened and she crossed her arms, glaring at the blue eyed warrior.
Xena sighed and looked into Gabrielle's bright green eyes. "I don't want to lose you Gabrielle. I asked you to get my daughter safely back to Balaam and you couldn't do it! You say you rely on me too much and you do. I'm not always going to be there when things go sour. You said you were lucky when Navaz showed up to help but you should never rely on luck. That's a recipe for disaster and you know it."
Gabrielle's eyes softened and she uncrossed her arms. "I reacted on impulse," she said softly, "and I was wrong. I shouldn't have done that I know."
"I should have never allowed Anastasia to come with us in the first place," Xena grumbled.
"Xena, we didn't know that Peroz was going to attack us."
Xena lifted her eyes, gaping at the wall. She lifted her chin and said, "and I'll make sure that never happens again." She rose to her feet and grabbed her cloak.
Gabrielle turned around. "W –where are you going?"
"I'm going to talk to Navaz and convince him to agree to a proclamation to forbade Anastasia to never claim her role as commander ever again," she wrapped the cloak around her shoulders, buckling the clasps.
"Xena...you already tried that and she said no."
Xena sighed and sheathed her sword at her hip. "I can go above her head to her husband who is the king. This system they have is not working. This kingdom will be in the ground by the end of the season if Anastasia continues with her obstinacy."
Gabrielle stood and brushed the wrinkles out of her tunic. "She's not going to like what you're doing, Xena."
"I don't really care." Xena said. "And you're going to help me write the proclamation."
"Oh great so she can hate me too?" the blonde scoffed.
"This is not personal, Gabrielle and I know she's going to take it that way but this is not a game." Xena placed her hands on her consort's shoulders, smiling softly. "Help me."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Okay but...do you forgive me?"
Xena squinted her eyes as her smile grew. "I already did but..." she said and Gabrielle's eyes widened in fear. "We're going to need to work on your tactics."
Three days later Gabrielle stood next to Navaz flipping through the proclamation that she and Xena drew up together. He sat glaring at the document listening to Gabrielle speak and his eyes lifted to Xena sitting across from him. Kreka and Tuya stood behind Xena with both their arms folded.
Gabrielle turned the page and pointed the feather pen at the lengthy document. "And this states that Anastasia will no longer be commander in any shape or form. She will be in charge of political matters only. This also states that she is obligated to form a court of her own to help her with decisions. You do not need to be present when she makes the decisions as long as the court's votes are unanimous." She stated.
She turned to the last page. "This last page states that you need more than two signatures of royal authority to commence this deal that Xena and I have made. So you will need to sign here," she pointed to the bottom of the page, "and your mother will sign beside your name and Kreka beside hers. Any questions?" she asked and looked into his dark eyes.
Navaz sighed heavily and scratched his head, looking at the empty space at the bottom of the page and Gabrielle holding the pen close to his hand, begging to sign the proclamation. "So...this means that I have to enlist Xena as the commander of my people?"
Gabrielle nodded, "correct," she smiled. "But you are the overseer. Xena will do anything you say as long as she agrees with you."
"She is fair, Navaz," Kreka spoke up and Xena smirked at that comment.
He shook his head and grabbed the pen from Gabrielle's hand then quickly signed his name. Gabrielle grinned and pushed the paper towards Kreka and Tuya. Both signed their names and Gabrielle nodded her head and clutched the document to her chest.
Xena and Navaz stood, staring at each other. "There is one more thing you need to do to seal this deal," she said and he raised an eyebrow. "You need to make Anastasia sign the document."
"You must be joking?" Navaz scoffed.
Gabrielle handed over the proclamation to the king with a smug grin. "Afraid she's not. It's your duty to do this, Navaz."
"Don't tell me you're afraid of your wife, Navaz," Xena teased.
"I would be," Kreka scoffed and shrugged her shoulder when the king shot her a glare.
Navaz sighed and rubbed his temple, fearing the worst. Anastasia was the last person he wanted to talk to about this. With her injury she had been in bed for days now and she wasn't allowed to leave until her shoulder was semi healed at least. Now he was going to have to tell her that she had no rights as a commander and he wasn't ready for that especially since her mother and Gabrielle decided this for her.
"I will tell her tonight," he said and walked out of the office eager to get away from all the women.
Xena chuckled and shared a devious smile with her counterpart. She then turned to the queen mother, looking her straight in the eye. "Thank you for watching over Anastasia these last few days," she said and Tuya blinked surprised to hear that. She smiled and grabbed Gabrielle's arm leading the way out.
Kreka smirked and folded her arms staring at the miffed queen mother. "I suppose you are getting in her good graces after all."
That evening Navaz presented the document to Anastasia over dinner in her bedroom. She flipped through the pages three or four times as they sat in silence. He anxiously waited for her response but so far she was silent and that was either a good thing or a bad thing. He hadn't been close enough to her to know what her reactions were to these sorts of things. He was beginning to sweat the longer his eyes were glued to her as she continuously flipped back and forth of the signed document.
"Anastasia," he said and she lifted her eyes. "Please, say something," he begged. He had been on the edge of his seat for almost half an hour now.
She sighed and closed the large packet of papers and scooted it over on the table towards him. She read over the proclamation and instantly recognized Gabrielle's handwriting and her mother's words transferred onto paper. She couldn't blame her mother for trying to look out for her and she really wanted to be angry but she was too tired to be angry anymore. She tried so hard to make something hers when obviously she was incapable of executing it. She wanted to make her mother proud and though her mother did say she was proud, she knew her mother meant that. Her mother was not a liar and would never say words of encouragement out of pity. She was just being...a mother and it was apparent she really wanted to be a commander again.
She also forgot about her child and realized that she was acting very selfish and didn't even think twice about the child inside her. Once, she hated the child because of what it represented and then she slowly grew to love it and now she neglected it once again to thrive in her new position as queen and commander. Her mother was right, you can't do everything at once. It was nearly impossible and she could have died a few days ago but she was lucky that she didn't.
Sighing heavily she nodded her head. "Okay," she said then grabbed the pen and signed her name at the bottom.
Navaz grinned, happy that she was willing to agree. He didn't want to have to deal with an angry wife especially since they shared the same bed together as of late. He was very surprised to see that was being very agreeable and immediately became suspicious.
"You're not going to argue?" he asked hesitantly.
She shook her head. "No, not anymore. I'm done arguing with everyone," she exhaled heavily then caught him staring at her with a big grin on his face. "What?"
"Nothing," he lowered his lingering eyes. "I'm just surprised. You've been..." he trailed off, not wishing to finish that sentence whatsoever.
She frowned, "I've been what?"
"Never mind," he leaned forward and kissed her hand. "How's your shoulder?"
"It's better. Have you been able to check on Csaba? I haven't seen him in days," she frowned sadly.
He nodded. "Kreka has been taking care of him."
She quirked her mouth and ran her fingers through her hair. "She's been doing everything for me lately and so has Gabrielle and my mother. I really owe them my life, don't I?" she half smiled.
"I'm sure they would do anything for you, Anastasia. Everyone cares about you, including me," he winked and she blushed lightly.
"It seems everyone is taking care of me except me," she sighed. "I hope you know what you just did , Navaz. You made my mother your commander."
He frowned and grabbed her hands, gaping into her light eyes. "Should I be worried?" his throat suddenly became dry.
She shrugged a shoulder. "Worried is not the word I would use but you just gave her full control of the entire army. Under Attila, he allowed her to do whatever she wanted. She was ruthless. If the Romans find out that she is your commander you bet they will come for Balaam. Valentinian and Theodosius tried to get rid of her but failed. Zeno almost did but he failed and she knows Odoacer." She gripped his hands and felt sweat on his palms. "She will attack Rome, Navaz. She hates Romans. Attila never attacked Rome during his reign."
His head dipped and he let go of her hands then leaned back in the chair, rubbing his bearded chin contemplatively. "But don't we want to attack Rome?" he asked quite unsure of himself now. He had never been in a war before and his people were of no concern to anyone except the Persians.
Anastasia smiled. "That's no longer up to you." She saw the fear and anxiousness in his eyes. "You don't know how this works do you?" she chuckled. "My mother is now in charge of everything. She carries out anything you want but she is allowed to do what she pleases too. You have no idea what you just signed away, Navaz."
"But, I can still trust her, right?" he asked, now rethinking this document that Xena and Gabrielle wrote up together.
She sighed heavily and folded her hands in her lap. "My mother is very fair and trustworthy. You don't have to worry about trusting her, it's her actions that you will have to worry about."
Xena smacked the long wooden rod on the map upon the ground of the royal office inside the Adame. "We will go to Pannonia and attack the Bulgur's camp." She said and the elite soldiers folded their arms and stood in silence.
Gabrielle rubbed her chin and she turned to Xena. "Why do you want to attack Pannonia? What will you gain from it?"
The commander smiled faintly. "If we take back Pannonia then the White Huns will share the territory. We will have more land and that scares Romans. We want them afraid of us, Gabrielle."
"So, you are following through with Anastasia's original plan to take Pannonia back?" the blonde asked.
"Precisely but we do things my way," Xena eyed the soldiers. "We ride out tomorrow. I will tell Navaz and Anastasia the plan tonight." She said and the men nodded.
Zolten interrupted, "how many men will we need?" he asked.
She shrugged, "two fleets, three at most."
His eyes widened in fear. "But, commander, the Bulgur Huns are among the hundreds in Pannonia. Surely, we will need more men?"
"Are you questioning my tactics, officer?" Xena grinned maliciously and traced the long wooden rod along Zolten's throat.
"No commander..." he bit his tongue and her smile grew as she lowered the stick.
"Good." She tapped the stick against her palm. "You can go now. Prepare for tomorrow. We leave at first light."
Gabrielle folded her arms and saw Xena focused on the floor map intensely. "You really want to take Pannonia back for yourself, don't you? You never wanted Anastasia do it by herself but it's alright if you do it?" she arched an eyebrow.
Xena lifted her head and turned to her concerned yet irritated consort. "I wanted to protect Anastasia. She doesn't know anything about being a commander so I will carry out her plan for her. Her idea of unifying all of the tribes is not a bad idea but she couldn't do it alone. Now that I finally have her consent I will crush the Bulgur Huns into submission." She grit her teeth and snapped the stick in half.
Gabrielle nodded and gave a mocking smile. "Really?" she chided. "Surrender or die? Is that what we're doing now, Xena? You're resorting to that?"
"Gabrielle," the commander sighed and held the broken stick in her hands, somewhat embarrassed. "Pannonia was taken from us. When I get it back we will have control over everyone again. I will make them submit to me!" she growled.
"To you? Or to the White Huns?" Gabrielle frowned.
Xena smiled faintly and tossed the stick aside, crossing her arms. "To us of course. Don't you trust me?"
"Not really, no. I've known you as a commander the entire time I have been with you. Attila, Ellac, Dengi, Ernak and now Anastasia. You can't stop and I don't want you to do this again –go down that path."
Xena's eyes darkened. "I was a fair commander under Attila's sons. You saw me! You were with me!"
"Yes you were but things are different now. Zeno wants you dead, Xena. This is going to be harder than it was ten years ago. I never forgot that look in your eyes back in Stagira. You wanted to kill Zeno and I see that fire has not left your body. You've been waiting for this."
Xena frowned sadly. "Gabrielle, I can't let another war destroy my people's homes again. I won't allow that to happen. I failed last time and lost everything –almost everything," she smiled softly, touching the blonde's full cheek. "I love you Gabrielle and I want you to be on my side. I want to win not for me, but for everyone."
Gabrielle sighed and kissed Xena's palm. "I want Zeno dead as much as you do but I also want peace."
"So do I but we can't have peace without war, unfortunately. I won't go overboard," she said and the blonde leered up at her. "Promise."
A smile came to the blonde's lips. A promise meant everything to her. Xena's promises were like gold and everyone could always count on her to fulfill her promises. "There is one thing that I want to do though..."
"Yes...?" Xena asked nervously.
"I want to be your adviser!" her eyes grew as did her smile.
Xena's mouth gaped. "Adviser? You don't want to be a scribe anymore?"
Gabrielle scoffed. "Please, Xena. I am more than qualified. Plus, I just want to keep you in check," she winked at her consort.
"You're not going to let me say 'no' are you?" Xena said and Gabrielle shook her head. Sighing she relented. "Alright...fine..."
"I need to get permission from Navaz don't I?"
"Let me take care of that for you. I'm sure he won't disagree..." she grinned.
Anastasia stood in her room wearing her new dress for the senlik that she was opposed to last month. Kreka sat behind her, adjusting the bodice of the gown. She pulled the fabric close together and Anastasia gasped.
"Too tight?" Kreka asked and Ana nodded. "I hope you will be able to fit into this next month." She dug the needle into the fabric and began sewing slowly.
"What are you saying?!" Anastasia griped and turned around.
Kreka grunted and turned Anastasia's body back around. "Nothing, talti kiz," she smiled. "Your baby is due at the end of the season and I want this dress to look amazing on you!"
Ana sighed heavily and felt a tug on her breast area. "Too tight," she said and Kreka loosened the bodice some more. "I feel huge everywhere!" she groaned. Looking down at her enlarged breasts and ran her hands down the fabric.
"Anastasia, you look stunning as always," the khatun grinned and accidentally poked Ana's backside. "Sorry."
Xena and Gabrielle walked into the bedroom, seeing Anastasia in her burgundy gown. Xena's eyes lit up and she immediately circled around her daughter, admiring the gown as Kreka sat continuing to sew. She came round to her daughter and cupped her cheeks.
"You look beautiful. Pretty girl," she kissed her forehead and Anastasia grinned softly.
"You always say that." Ana said shyly.
"But I always mean it," Xena said and took a step back, admiring the dress. "Who picked out the fabric?"
"Csaba did. He said I look good in this color," she rolled her eyes.
Gabrielle pinched the fabric in between her fingers. "Well he sure knows what he's talking about."
Xena pulled up a chair and sat down lazily leaning back. "Anastasia I want to let you know that I will be taking the army to Pannonia. I'm going to make the Bulgur Huns submit to us."
Her daughter's eyes lit up and her smile brightened her face. "You're going through with my campaign?" she asked with hope and clamped her hands together.
Xena smiled, not able to resist enjoying seeing the happy look on her daughter's face. "Yes and Gabrielle will be my adviser."
Anastasia jumped up and down lightly with the smile firmly planted on her face. Kreka groaned. "Aptal kiz! Stop moving!" she chastised.
"Sorry, Kreka," her cheeks flushed and she stared at her mother. "Thank you mother, and you too Gabrielle. This means so much to me."
"See Ana, we just wanted to help you. We've always wanted to help you," Gabrielle said.
Anastasia nodded. "I know but I wanted to do everything by myself but I obviously can't." she felt a tug on her waist and gasped. "Kreka! Any tighter and I won't be able to breathe!"
Xena stood and placed her hands beneath her daughter's breasts and stared down at Kreka. "Why don't you just loosen this part of the dress?"
Kreka smirked and took the needle out from her mouth. "Who's the one sewing here? Not you, Xena."
"I know how to sew!" Xena combated the khatun.
"Flesh wounds," Kreka chuckled softly and stuck a pin in the bodice to be sewn later.
Xena frowned and came behind her daughter and ripped open the back of the dress and Kreka gasped. "This is too tight."
"Xena!" Kreka stood, throwing the basket of thread on the table. "I've been working for weeks on this dress! Now I'm going to have to redo everything!"
Anastasia rolled her eyes and Gabrielle shook her head. She mouthed the words 'save me' to Gabrielle.
Xena smiled. "And now you'll do it correctly this time." She teased.
"If it's so imperfect then why don't you do it?!" Kreka growled.
"Because I'm leaving for Pannonia tomorrow."
Anastasia gasped and slipped the gown off letting it fall to the floor. "Tomorrow?!" she reached over for her silk black robe and brushed her long locks behind her shoulders. Kreka sat in the chair holding the dress in her lap, cursing under her breath quietly.
Xena and Gabrielle both nodded in unison. "The more allies we have the better," Gabrielle said.
"Which reminds me...the Bulgur that imprisoned you," a devious smile came to Xena's lips. "Basil was his name, right?" she cocked an eyebrow.