An unusual feeling for her...
Everyone had a weakness, Kodi was Sevastian’s. She should take him to task for neglecting duty by returning to search for the kid, but she simply couldn’t will herself to do it. If she had stayed nearer to Lyceus... Perhaps then he would...
A muted sigh of regret left dark lips.
Outside the men, not on guard, had long since succumbed to drink and fallen asleep. As a general rule, she didn’t approve of drunkenness, but there were times when she tolerated it. A win like this, she couldn’t fault the men for indulging.
The Amazons, those warriors were still up. She could hear them singing and dancing even as dawn approached.
Her force had pulled off the single most lopsided victory in Greek history. Some 300,000 Persians soldiers were under guard, their king dead. Thousands of the enemy had escaped due to the onset of darkness, but without means of supply those would most likely die in the desert wastes. The contents of the Persian camp had been seized; she controlled sundries of every kind imaginable to include thousands of magnificent horses.
Incredibly she hadn’t lost a single soldier, not as of yet anyway. Many were injured, some still might die despite the best efforts of healers, but taken as a whole her losses would be minuscule.
The one thing muting her personal joy of victory was the loss of servants. She hadn’t expected the Persians to attack her camp or to loot it and had paid the price. Strangely, it angered her that she had failed to protect the most vulnerable. So much so that she went to the burials, spoke heartfelt words of sorrow with their lives. Changes would be made. The numbers in Solari’s guard would be enlarged, more warriors to protect the camp during a battle.
Having her long dead conscience try and resurrect itself was troubling.
Shifting a bit, she slid long legs across silk sheets to get a bit more comfortable in the bed.
With the defeat of the Persians, the door to the East had been smashed open From Mesopotamia, to India, to Chin.
She would take it all.
Problem was, she needed to turn west, and her force had to take Egypt before the Romans. After much thought she finally had settled on the fact that Egypt was too strategic a land for Caesar to pass up. Julius was many things, narcissistic, selfish, conniving, deluded in his visions of having some great destiny, but... he was not stupid. Even with Pompey in Italy, she was convinced he would move to take Egypt. With that in mind, she’d had Autolycus send a missive to Caesar, and had her spy force Dagnine to write as well, the last from Dagnine. She’d held up her part of the deal, sparing his life in return for his writing missives to Caesar. Dagnine had been overjoyed when she announced he would be placed under house arrest for the rest of his days.
She’d ordered Dagnine to be immured. All the doors and windows had been bricked up. The house on the tiny Greek island of Anafi would be his tomb.
Her thoughts turned back to the cause.
To get to Egypt faster, Caesar would have to march inland across the sandy wastes...
That would slow his army...
He would need resupply...
All that would take time...
Still it would be impossible for her to conquer the east then turn back to fight Caesar.
A solution came to mind, the only one possible.
A muscular arm fell across her torso causing her to frown in disgust. These after battle trysts were becoming both tedious and stale.
Ares then tried to pull her to him to...cuddle. She would have none of it!
Pulling away she rose to don one of her many silk robes. This one a deep green in color and lined with bear fur. The desert was blistering in the day but quite chilly at night.
“Don’t those women ever shut up?” Ares grumbled from the bed he was sprawled out on.
She ignored him, instead moving to a basin and jug to wash.
“Come back to bed Xena,” A command.
Turning she eyed him frostily.
“Please?” he amended after opening one eye to peek at her.
Turning back to the basin, she dipped hands in the cool water and splashed her face; taking soap in hand she began to wash.
“I don’t know why you find it necessary to rise before light touches the firmament.”
She gave no response.
Fine, have it your way.” She heard him rise, and then snap his fingers.
She rinsed the soap away; taking towel in hand she dried her face.
Turning back she observed that Ares was once more in his black leathers. The plush bed vanished.
“Don’t you ever wear anything else?”
“What?” he asked incredulous.
“You always wear the same thing Ares, dark leathers and boots, dark jacket... try something new. Change is a good thing.
The god raised his arms to either side, looking down for a moment he inspected his attire.
“Maybe try wearing white leathers for once.”
“I’m the god of war, I wear black,” one of his hands rose, finger pointing at his chest. “I’d rather Zeus proclaim me the God of Love before I’d wear white leather.”
He snapped his fingers again; a table appeared, laden with delicacies.
“Come, Conqueror of the East.” he invited, pulling out a chair for her.
“You always do that.”
“Assume. I’ve told you time and again it is a bad habit.” she scolded, “I have not conquered the East Ares.”
“You will,” he said smug as she sat. Xena deciding it was just as well that she break her fast.
She sat, pouring herself a bit of watered down wine into a golden chalice
“Now that you’ve beaten the Persians, you can focus on taking the rest of the east then fighting the Romans. Time to forget about this stupid girl.” said Ares as he moved to be seated as well.
“I will find her and I will not discuss the matter further with you.”
The god sat up abruptly in his chair. “We will discuss it if I say so! “March Xena,” he pointed at her. “Remember the Ides of March!” His hand slapped the tabletop. “Remember the vow you took that day, to serve me. Remember how I agreed to help you when no one would! When the now great Xena was nothing more than a lowly peasant girl, desperate to save her stinking village!”
“I remember Ares,” she said soft, her gaze distant. “I never forget a debt... or how much I’ve paid on it.”
“Why do you harbor such interest in this girl Xena?
“I can’t explain it...You know where she is?” she asked abruptly the hope showing on her face amused him.
“No, Xena. Unlike you I care little about useless slave girls.”
“What a liar you are!” she hissed.
“I may have made a few discrete inquires” he admitted.
“She is safe.”
“In a place you have not yet conquered.”
“Mind being a bit more specific?” she drawled.
Ares remained silent, unwilling to give any more information.
She dipped her head, after some moments of glowering at the god.
Everyone has a weakness. Ares has found mine...Gabrielle
“Eat Chosen; you mortals do need food after all.”
In the silence which followed, she eschewed the slices of pheasant and wild boar as well as the heavy cream sauces. Instead the gaudy silver plate was filled with a bit of barley cake, flat-bread porridge, and a mishmash of myrtle berries, dried grapes, and figs.
“You can’t take the peasant out of the empress.” Ares observed, noting her lowborn choices of food and drink.
“I prefer it, unless you wish to tell me what to eat.”
“Oh no.” Ares sat back in his chair, a smirk upon his lips. “After partaking in your beauty last night, I have no qualms about your dining habits. That peasant diet has done well to make you powerful, Chosen.”
“Tell you what,” Ares prefaced “In the best of times I’m decidedly uncaring and cruel, but your sadness over the girl has moved me.” She looked up, eying him coldly. “Now, now Xena, be careful with that tongue of yours.” He warned, “Or I may not offer you a deal for the girl.” Ares leaned forward, his seductive darkness flowing though her due to his proximity. “How badly to you wish to have her Xena?” How badly do you want me to tell you where she is?”
For long moments, she stared at her untouched plate. Finally she willed herself to speak the words necessary to mollify his pride.
“What do you wish of me, my lord Ares?”
She bristled at the god’s laughter. “My lord! How many seasons has it been since you’ve called me that? You do want this little toy don’t you?”
“What was that Xena?” he asked genially “I didn’t quite hear--”
“I said yes, Ares!” she shouted, hating his turning her own methods back on her
“Ah! There rises your fire! Though I admit I am enjoying your groveling.”
“Quit gloating. What is it you want me to do? You got another demigod sibling you wish me to imprison in another dimension?” Xena stood, walking away from the table. “Another warrior you wish me to fight and defeat for your entertainment?”
“No. Nothing so pedestrian Xena,” He placed elbows on the table top as she turned on her heel to gaze at him.
“Well?” her arms rose at her sides, hands outstretched. “You care to give me a clue as to what I need to do? Never mind that I have an empire to conquer! Why, I’m ever so pleased to drop everything just to do your bidding!”
“You want the girl, you do as I ask.”
“Agreed, what is it you wish?”
“I want temples to me, built upon the sites of...our...Victories.” He smiled watching her anger rise. It had to be taking all her considerable will to hold her tongue for what she saw as her successes. “I have asked you several times to build me temples.” He raised his hand stopping her from speaking. “The one you ordered built in Athens is nice,” he continued. “But still unfinished, I’d like to have many more.”
“Done.” she said curt.
“That is not all.” Ares became serious. “There is an Eastern teacher, a guru, a man named Eli who spouts drivel about something he calls Way of Love, preaching about there being only one god. Kill him and all who follow his teachings.”
“Done.” She said without a moment’s hesitation.
“There is more Xena, in the lands near what was the Egyptian Kingdom; there is a city, Jerusalem. Go there personally, desecrate the great temple dedicated to their one god, and re-purpose it as one dedicated to the Greek Pantheon. Banish the people from the city, disperse them to the winds.”
“My, you are sure of yourself, such confidence that you can accomplish these tasks.”
“I’ve killed thousands Ares, visit Jappa if you need further proof. I’ve leveled cities; go to the ruins of Sparta if you doubt my resolve. One more city torn asunder or one more death matters little to me. What matters to me is having the girl.
“There is the Chosen I know! Cold of heart and so beautifully ruthless!” Ares Praised as he rose from his chair. Fulfill these tasks, and I will tell you where the girl is.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she appraised him. It was time to take control.
“You know what I think?” She walked beside him, leaning in so her lips were close to his ear. “I think you are afraid.”
“I am afraid of nothing.” he defended, unconvincingly.
“Yes... you are.” she rasped triumphant. “Afraid of this one god.”
“This doesn’t sound like you Ares.” Xena straightened, walking away from him. Her words stated with too much glee for his liking. “Oh, the temple building does, you love monuments that attempt to match the size of your ego.”
“Xena.” his tone was low in warning.
“You’d have me fight a challenger to the death,” she continued undaunted. “Maybe impersonate someone in my family to try and sucker me into doing your bidding, or put me though some asinine warrior test you’ve dreamed up. No, Ares, This one god worries those on Olympus; they put you up to this.”
“Do we have a bargain Xena?” he asked after a long silence.
“It appears I am in position to set a few conditions. When I accomplish these tasks, I demand you tell me truthfully where the girl is.”
“I will tell you true.”
“Once you’ve told me were she is. I want no interference in my obtaining Gabrielle, not from you or any of the other Gods on Olympus.”
Ares was silent for some time, listening to voices only he could hear.
“The Pantheon agrees.” Xena smiled, it was those on Olympus who wanted this.
“Then as your humble servant, I take... joy.... in doing your bidding Ares.”
Her tone grated on him, but she had agreed, the followers of the one god would disappear from the world, because nothing would stop Xena once her mind was set.
In a flash, he departed.
“If... I don’t find Gabirelle first.” Xena whispered when he was well and truly gone.
For a moment she collected her thoughts, and then looked about the empty space.
“You coulda at least left my breakfast!”
Opening his eyes Sevastian blinked while letting out a groan. “No more whiskey.” he vowed.
Swinging his feet over the cot, his look softened a bit seeing Kodi curled up on the floor. He supposed the boy had come over to sleep here after being dismissed by the Empress. Kodi had seen the brutal nature of war up close, felt the fear of loosing his life. It would take time for him to process the horrors he’d witnessed. Right now, he was too spooked even to sleep with the servants.
Sevastian decided he really needed some tea. His mouth felt as dry as the desert surrounding him.
Standing he paused to throw on a black tunic in the style of Chin and belted gray trousers After gulping a few cups of cold tea, he went thought the daily ritual of making a fresh pot and washing up. Once that was done, Sevastian knelt to pick up Kodi and gently deposited him on his narrow camp bed. With care he placed a rolled woolen blanket under the boy’s head, and then set about arranging the furs over him.
He heard the shuffle of the Amazon guard at the tent as they came to attention.
“I wana spar!”
Uh Oh... The thought trailed off as he looked up to find a very besotted Siri staggering near, wearing full Amazonian ceremonial regalia, In one hand she held a haladie, and was coated in perspiration, probably from dancing and carousing the whole night through.
“Ah... how bout some tea?”
“Don’t want tea, wana spar!” she swayed on her feet, Sevastian thought to grab her as she appeared ready to fall.
He gently touched her with one hand, guiding her left arm over his shoulders while sliding his arm round her waist. “Maybe take a seat, rest a moment before we spar.”
“You’re adorable!” she cooed, dropping the haladie while looking down at him. She abruptly hugged him tight causing Sevastian to blush.
“He’s annoying!” Siri spied Kodi curled up on the cot. Good thing the kid had always been a sound sleeper, if he woke and saw this; Sevastian doubted he’d ever hear the end of it. Kodi was still making light of him patching Siri up.
A groan from her was the only warning he got. Siri’s legs gave way and Sevastian staggered as the full weight of the Amazon landed in his arms. “Of all the times to pass out!” he huffed as his knees nearly buckled. Sevastian struggled to grab hold in the attempt to keep her from flopping down hard on the floor. Siri seemed larger than the Colossus of Rhodes!
“Victorious in battle and victorious in love,” A familiar and very amused voice rose behind him.
When it rains, but it pours.
Of course Xena would choose this moment to make a rare appearance in his tent. Who knows how long she’d been standing there.
He turned to face her, Siri held in his arms.
Decorum demanded he kneel, but with Siri ... it...well… he couldn’t. Oh he could kneel, just wouldn’t be able to stand up again.
“Empress, your pardon, it is not what it seems!” he pleaded.
Xena only folded her arms over her chest and quirked one eyebrow.
“You gonna put her down, or just let her drop when your arms give out.”
“Ah...um.” Sevastian fumbled while awkwardly moving to the cot to lay Siri upon it. It was a very tight fit on the narrow cot. One of Siri’s arms flopped over Kodi, her legs extending well over the end.
His half-brother mumbled something unintelligible, but grumpy sounding as he turned over, to curl up against Siri.
“Adorable...” Siri murmured pulling Kodi to her.
Looking up aghast, Sevastian watched Xena’s right eyebrow quirk just a bit higher.
“Put your boots on adorable,” Xena ordered, “then meet me outside.”
As Xena walked out of the tent Sevastian tried desperately, but failed to stop his flush of embarrassment.
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