For long moments, Sevastain stood dumbfounded at the ordered confusion occuring within the marble halls of the governing palace. Servants scuttled about, moving personal items of every sort. He surmised upper rooms were being readied for use by the Empress… he paused when the title crossed his thoughts. The Polemarchos, he had been informed, now held the position of Empress of all Greece.
Absolute power now hers to wield.
Those rounded up in the course of his mission to destroy the Athenean Assembly had been placed in cells, their names recorded for the Empress to peruse when she deemed necessary. The one who called herself Callisto, he placed in the lowest level of the dungeon. That young woman had trouble in holding her tongue. The silver coin had been counted in his presence, and it and the various treasures of the Assembly secured in the vaults used by the courts of law. Once finished, he had met with several of the commanders, ensuring the troops were both well supplied with rations and billeted for the night. His inspection of the soldiers placed to watch the streets and upon the city ramparts was complete. The army was secure, scouts properly positioned.
The word tired, were it applied to him, was an understatement. Sevastain longed for a bath, and rest, but Xena had ordered him to make a report upon completion of his work this day, and her will was his command.
Problem was he didn’t have a very good understanding of the layout of the Palace. Well… high time to find out where the Empress was holding court. Stepping forward, he was taken off guard by the stoppage of work as those in the room noted his presence. Servants upon scaffolds paused in tearing down Toris’ old banners; those carrying items halted their progress. Wary eyes turned to him as if awaiting instruction. Glancing down at his armor Sevastian figured he made for quite a sight bloody and gore coated as he was.
“You do realize they await your orders.” Meleager’s voice sounded in his ear, the man having walked up behind him.
“Why?” Sevastain was well and truly confused by it all causing Meleager to chuckle.
“You ask why my friend? Word travels quickly; they understand something you have yet to grasp. In the new government, you are second only to the Empress.”
“I am second in the army, a soldier like you.”
“No longer,” His closest friend rebutted. “Xena rules an Empire, and you as her chosen second, wield power both on and off the battlefield.”
The weight of Meleager’s words settled upon Sevastian, a most heavy burden was now his to bear.
With a flick of one hand, Sevastian commanded work in the hall to resume. For a long moment he watched the bustle, noting the cautious glances thrown his way.
“I believe I prefer the battlefield Meleager.” Sevastain looked back over one shoulder, eyeing the old veteran. “There it is far easier to tell who your enemy is.” He whispered.
“Yes?” Sevastian cursed inwardly at allowing the exhaustion he felt to creep into his tone. Casually turning his head back toward the voice, his eyes widened and tracked upward quickly. He need to crane his neck back a bit to take in the imposing woman standing before him.
“The Empress calls you to station, Lord Commander.”
Sevastain straightened immediately his bearing solemn. “Lead on, it is unwise to keep the Empress waiting.”
The woman turned on her heel and paced away, both he and Meleager following.
“Pardon me for asking,” Sevastian prefaced, “but I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Siri, Lord Commander.”
“Siri,” he repeated, “A pleasure.”
Silence… Apparently Amazon’s did not think much of exchanging pleasantries.
“Are all Amazon’s so…” he stopped mid question thinking it foolish to ask.
“No,” she replied, not turning to answer.
“I see.” He replied wondering if she even knew what he was about to ask.
“However, I believe nearly all are taller than you.” She finished.
Meleager laughed, seeing the frown Sevastian displayed.
Now that the oaths of fidelity were duly sworn, she would now instruct them as to what she expected.
“With the…” Xena paused thinking a moment her head quirking over to one side ever so slightly, “abrupt adjournment of the Athenian Assembly.” A dark smile, “I now give power to you, my Governors. Each one of you will be administrator to one of the 39 provinces now part of my Empire.”
“Corinth has surrendered?” Halting her step at the end of the first row, she paused to smile down at the man who had asked the question, Andronicus.
Andronicus had served her loyally as had all of her newly appointed territorial governors. The man had once been part of her Old Guard, wounded during the capture of Sparta; he lost a leg to gangrene, hobbling about now by use of crutches. Others in the lineup were also scarred by their service to her. Unable to fight with her front line troops, but still adept in administration, they now would be enlisted to run the provinces of her empire.
Sliding round Andronicus, Xena strode down the second row. “I give you command of a core of my veteran troops, around which you will build a Militia to keep order within your territory. I also send veterans of my army whose days of fighting have come to an end. I expect you to give them good farmland so they may enjoy a comfortable retirement. Remember, these soldiers have earned that land by serving Greece in her time of need so treat them well. I also expect you to survey all property owned by peasants, I want those who make good use of the land to prosper, those who fail to produce removed from… my… land.”
“Forgive the impertinence, Empress.” Andronicus spoke from the first row, his back to her, “but what should we do with the peasants who, as you say, fail to produce.”
Xena halted her stride, white cape of Athena swirling round her ankles before falling still.
“Andonicus, I have always believed that men and women are capable of having many skills. If a man is a useless at farming, we… you… shall enlist him in another trade. Perhaps he might be of use in the mines, shipbuilding, weapon making, a sailor, construction, or even serving your household in some capacity. We are made to work, my Governors, work builds a man up, while idleness tears him down.”
“While we are on the subject of work…” a smile played upon her lips as she anticipated the firestorm her next words would provoke. “I expect to see plans from you for the construction of a network of roads linking all the cities and villages within your provinces. I want these plans personally delivered to me within the next three fortnights.”
“Buh-but, Empress!” Nereus sputtered daring to say what all thought. “Building such roads would take untold thousands to complete!”
Then may I suggest you start recruiting your labor force from the untold thousands sitting idle in the many dungeons across Greece”
“Empress,” Nereus pressed, “Greece has many mountains…”
“Tunnel though them.”
“So many deep valleys…”
“Build bridges over them.”
“Many would succumb to illness having to work in such rough conditions, my liege.” Theron, one of the youngest of the newly appointed governors said with concern.
“Whether, one criminal dies, or ten thousand die does not concern me, what concerns me is that the road is completed, understood?”
Her words shocked all present into silence for a long moment.
’How should we pay for such work? Even the criminal must be fed and clothed?” Theron was pinned by those azure eyes and dipped his head.
A gesture from her and a rather tubby little man, Vidalus stepped forward to hand each Governor a scroll, sealed with wax bearing the image of her signet ring. Inwardly she was impressed that the palace steward, known by all as the major-domo, already had placed names with faces. Although he was part of the old regime under Toris, he appeared to be worth keeping as his work thus far was satisfactory. Already, he was revamping the governing palace precisely to her liking. She had explained in broad stokes what she had wanted, and he was filling in the details expertly. Actually, Vidalus reminded her a bit of Salmoneus in some small way.
“In each of these scrolls, you will find a list of all that I require from your province. Fulfill the tasks I assign you, and you will find me to be most benevolent. Fail me,” a long and very tense pause ensued. “And you will be – replaced - by someone more capable.”
The door to the throne room was opened discreetly and all present watched as Sevastain slipped in with Meleager alongside followed by the Amazon Siri.
For a moment, Xena gave a genuine smile to the man. He had proven to be the most loyal of all those in her service. Nearly beaten to death by her due to Athena’s treachery and still he remained faithful.
“My second, Sevastain.” she introduced. “Should he choose to grace you with his presence;” she paused to lean in behind Eustathius, noting how the little hairs on the nape of his neck rose. “Be worried.” She finished darkly.
“Empress, I beg your pardon.” Again Theron spoke. “But I feel I must address a matter dear to the hearts of the people of Thrace, which I am sent to rule.”
“And that would be?”
The people are accustomed to democracy, surely they will grumble at having the franchise taken from them and you appointing all public officials.
“Then hold elections Theron.” Xena counseled.
“You mean to allow--”
“It is enough that the people know there was an election.” She advised, “As long as you understand that the people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. You count the votes Theron. Clear?”
She paused at the end of the third line, standing in front of a very bewildered appearing Hippolyta.
“Amazon, your expression bespeaks confusion.”
“Why am I here?”
A rare full laugh erupted from the new Empress. “Amazons! Always straight to the point! Hippolyta, I return you to your rightful place ruling Athens, only this time you do so in my name.” The Governors around them murmured to each other in shock.
She watched as Hippolyta let out a huff of disbelief, shocked she would rule once more.
“Certainly,” Xena raised her voice so all would hear clearly, “none of you expected that the Chosen of Ares would remain in Athena’s city?”
“May I exact some measure of retribution on those who killed my husband and only son?” the Amazon asked discreetly.
“Why of course,” a low velvety purr from the Empress, “If you can find them, you see, from early reports, my second was most thorough today.”
“I shall find those who are left.” Hippolyta vowed.
“Do so, vengeance is always sweet.”
Turning, Xena paced round the lines of Governors, stepping to the raised dais upon which her throne sat.
Seating herself, she stretched her legs out, and then crossed them at the ankles.
“Go,” she commanded the men, “read my instructions and tonight at sunset we shall celebrate my rule of Greece.”
With a multitude of bows, they departed from her, huddling in groups, speaking in low tones. Invariably, some would challenge her, and would have to be killed.
So be it.
In her experience, death solved all problems, no man, no problem.
“Station, my Lord Commander.”
No matter how many times he had spoken with the Polema... the Empress. Being called forth by her was, as ever, an unnerving experience. Marshalling his courage, he stepped forward, footfalls silent upon the long narrow crimson rug leading to the throne.
His mistress sat upon a golden throne with a low rounded back. Cushions of pure white, beneath and behind supported her long frame. Even a plush matching footstool stood ready to receive her feet. As Sevastain stopped to bow before her the first time, he glanced up in time to see one of her booted feet kick it out of the way, sending it tumbling down the steps.
Straightening once more, he walked a few paces, and then bowed again, the silence within the hall palpable. The room was as plush as the throne the Empress sat upon, eight columns cut from blood red marble split into four on either side rose up to support a beautifully gilded vaulted ceiling. Mid way up the columns were corbels supporting white marble arches which soared above the rug leading up to the throne. Attached to each arch were the banners of Toris, evidently there hadn’t yet been time to haul them down and replace them with the Empress’ standard.
Nearing the throne, for the third and final time, Sevastain bowed low.
“Always focused on propriety, my second,” Xena muttered soft, the comment directed toward Vidalus who was standing near.
“Quite so Empress,” replied the Major-domo, “refreshing to see such a display of respect to your person.” Though his bow could use a little work, Vidalus wisely chose to leave that tid-bit unsaid.
Reaching the steps of the throne, Sevastain did far more than kneel; instead he moved to lie prone before his Empress.
“Rise, my friend.”
Sevastain did so, gracefully returning to his feet
“Your Imperial Majesty,” Sevastain prefaced, noting the smile Xena displayed at the use of the honorific. “The members of the Assembly have been executed, their corpses reduced to ash as the building itself was used to give them a pyre.”
“Appropriate, a fitting end for greybeards.” Shifting slightly, Sevastain watched as she turned her attentions toward Vidaus “I wish a temple to Ares to be built where the Assembly once stood. The Architect Karpion still resides in Athens, no?”
“Tell him to draw up plans for my approval, explain that the temple should be grand, but not so that it competes with the Parthenon, we do not wish to upset the patron of Athens.
“As you order, so it will be done Empress.”
Sevastain straitened as her gaze fell upon him once more.
“The women and children were spared and now reside in the cells beneath us, awaiting your judgment. All valuables held within the assembly to include 70 chests filled with silver, have been accounted for and now are locked in your vaults under guard. Names of those rounded up and lists of treasures specified within. The within being the two scrolls Sevastain held up A gesture from the throne and the Amazon who guided him, Siri, stepped forward to take the documents from his hand. Turning the woman handed them to the Major-domo when a gesture from the empress so ordered her do so.
All present watched as Xena twisted slightly in order to nonchalantly position one leg over the throne arm. The breech of etiquette caused Vidalus to sprout such a look of horror that it was all Meleager could do to keep from bursting into laughter at the sight.
“I am most pleased with your work Lord Commander.”
“Too kind Majesty,” Sevastain dipped his head
All present watched as Siri stepped down from the dais Xena was situated upon, silently gliding around Sevastain, she took up position behind him and to his right.
“Meet the new captain of your personal guard.”
Sevastain stood shocked, “Personal guard?” he huffed. “Majesty, I must protest, I see no reason to—“
“I require it.” Xena stated succinctly, silencing his objection.
Sevastian bowed low in deference to her will.
“Greece is surrounded by many enemies,” she explained, “some on the battlefield, while others slither like snakes through the halls of power. On the battlefield I have no doubts as to your abilities, but here one must be on guard for a knife in the back. The Amazon and her compatriots will ensure that knife does not find you. Go my friend, Siri will show you to your quarters. Rest, I will expect you to join me later this day for celebrations in the great hall.”
Sevastian bowed once more, stepping back without turning he again bowed to the Empress.
As he was about to turn, Sevastian realized he had forgotten a bit of information.
“Yes?” He watched as Xena’s gaze turned from a curiously red faced Meleager toward him.
“A messenger from Corinth just arrived and awaits an audience with you, it seemed important.”
“Important for him,” Xena responded curtly. “Send him in.”
“I will do so.” Sevastian bowed one final time before taking his leave.
“Finally proud Corinth is forced to submit to my will. How pleasing it is to have cornered them, leaving them with no other option but surrender. Best of all, I’ve done it without fighting.” She smirked down at Vidalus who stood at the foot of her dais. “And I will make clear just who now rules them.”
As the messenger from Corinth entered the chamber, Vidalus felt the Empress’ gaze upon him and looked up. “Prepare yourself for a trip to Corinth, you leave tomorrow” she commanded.
“Antonius! Our ally deserts us!”
Looking to the East, Antonius allowed the tip of the bloody sword held by his hand to touch the deck.
“Cleopatra!” he screamed above the din of battle, while casting the sword aside.
Running deftly across the deck, he released the catches holding his armor to him, his helmet flung off.
“Antonius!” Cornelius dove at his commander fingers grazing one boot as the general mounted the railing, to then plunge into the blue waters.
“What manner of plan is this?” asked a shocked centurion standing near.
“No plan, Macrinus,” Cornelius dropped his head as he leaned against the rail. “Antonius is a lovesick fool, chasing the woman who betrayed him, and us.”
“What should we do?”
Cornelius shook his head, eyes tracking to the carnage occurring on deck, the destruction of the fleet. “We now have but one option available Macrinus.”
“The tide of battle has turned!” Octavian yelled over the cheers of his men on deck. “Mighty Antonius raises the flag of surrender!”