The Conqueror could be fearsome and aloof, yet she could also
be kind and affable in her unguarded moments. At least, she was that way with
me. I felt we were developing an understanding — a friendship of sorts. In the
evenings, we would talk, or I should say, I talked; she mostly listened. She had
even started asking for my opinions on military matters. At first I was a little
confused as to why she should ask me when she had experienced soldiers, like
Commander Darnell, to advise her. However, I felt honoured and excited to be of
I looked forward to discussing her victory in the battle for Larissa, but when General Xena returned that night, her attitude towards me changed. As I watched her approach the tent, her easy stride stiffened and she hunched her shoulders. When I tried to talk to her, she was brusque, and distant, and had a stormy look in her eyes.
"General Xena," I greeted her, "congratulations on a great victory."
She barely acknowledged my presence as she entered her tent and immediately reached for a pitcher of water.
"Allow me, General." I intercepted the pitcher and poured her a goblet of water.
Still without a word, Xena took the goblet and glugged down the water.
"You may go," she said tersely, while grabbing the pitcher from me and pouring herself another cup.
"You mean after I help you with your armour, and— "
"No!" Xena said vehemently. She took a breath before adding, "I-I need to be alone tonight."
"As you wish, General." I tried not to let my disappointment show, hoping she would change her mind and let me stay.
I said goodnight and left, assuming Xena was simply tired. After all, she had just defeated the Thessalian army and taken their capital city. But when she dismissed me early again the next night, I couldn't help feeling a little wounded. And the night after that it was the same thing again. I lay awake all night wondering what I had done wrong.
This went on for almost a week. In the mornings, Xena seemed more herself, but at night her whole demeanour changed; she was edgy, like a prowling tiger. She would dismiss me before her evening bath, and I'd go back to my tent and spend the rest of the night asking myself the same questions over and over. Did I do something to make her angry? Did it have something to do with her kissing me? Did she blame me for what happened that night? Did I do something to provoke her? If it wasn't that, then why was she treating me this way?
After the seventh sleepless night, I decided to get up before first light, so I could talk to Xena and find out what was wrong.
As the first rays of morning sun warmed my back, I walked up to the entrance of the Conqueror's tent and said good morning to the guards standing watch. A glance passed between them, and for a moment I thought they were going to stop me from entering, but they focused their attention forward again and let me pass.
Pushing back the tent flap, I stood just inside, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the shadows. The sunlight that fell in from the open flap illuminated two figures in the bed.
"Uuhh." I let out a barely audible gasp before I could stop myself. The general was normally awake when I arrived in the mornings, so I wasn't expecting to find her in bed, let alone with someone else.
Before I could even move a muscle, the agile warrior had bolted up out of bed and in one swift movement, grabbed her sword and held it to my throat. I froze, praying Xena would recognise me before she sliced my head off.
Fortunately, she did recognise me and lowered her sword. She stared at me with a strange, almost embarrassed look. I stared back at the naked woman standing before me, her well-defined muscles twitching from the adrenalin.
Over Xena's shoulder came a muffled sound from under the blankets. I looked over towards the bed and saw an equally naked young woman pushing back the covers. She was giggling.
It shouldn't have shocked me to see that Xena had taken a lover. She was, after all, a passionate woman; she was bound to have needs. Perhaps the bigger shock was seeing that the girl in the Conqueror's bed looked a lot like me.
"Uh, sorry...I...excuse me...I-I didn't mean to wake you, General. I'll just go and...er…I'll just go."
I ran out of the tent as fast as I could. I didn't care where I ran, just as long as it was away from the Conqueror's tent. "Oof!" I turned a corner and ran directly into polished bronze chest armour.
"Whoa there." Lieutenant Galates steadied me as I collided with him.
"I'm so sorry, Lieutenant, I didn't see you."
"Where are you off to in such a big hurry?"
"Nowhere, I-I just needed to get some fresh air."
"Well, I'm heading to the practise field, so why don't I walk with you a ways?"
"I wouldn't want to trouble you."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all."
"Well, uh...okay." I didn't think I could refuse since he was being so nice.
We walked silently along the path. I really didn't feel much like making conversation, but I was grateful for his company. Eventually, we came to the turn-off for the practise field. Lieutenant Galates stopped walking, but I was so lost in thought that I kept going a few paces further. I turned around when I realised he had stopped.
"Are you alright, Gabrielle? You seem a little preoccupied."
"I'm fine," I replied with a forced smile. "I just...I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Okay. Well, I better be going — don't want to keep the Conqueror waiting."
"Oh, you're meeting General Xena? I'd better warn you, she might not be in a good mood."
"Thanks for the warning."
We stood there for a long moment shyly eyeing each other, neither quite knowing what to say next. Finally, he broke the silence. "Well, like I said, I better get going."
"Yes. Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Call me Galates, and you're welcome."
I watched him walk away and then headed toward my tent. I say "my tent"; however, like most members of the support units, I had to share. The tent was big enough for two cots with a narrow gap between them. It was only meant for sleeping in, and as my bunkmate, Perdita, and I worked long hours, that was about all we did in it. We got along as well as we could, though being a cook's assistant meant she was up before me and in bed asleep by the time I returned. Fortunately, Perdita was already at work and I had the tent to myself.
Slumping down on the stool between the cots, I couldn't hold back the tears. I felt embarrassed for walking in on Xena and finding another woman in her bed. I felt confused as to why it mattered to me. I felt humiliated. I felt angry. But more than anything, I felt rejected.
I was so frustrated I didn't know what to do, so I beat the stuffing out of my pillow. It was only when I was covered in goose down that I realised I was acting like a pouting child hiding out in my tent.
Eyeing the satchel under my cot, I briefly contemplated running away, but then I remembered my mother's words: you can't run away from your problems, you have to face them.
I tried lying down, but I couldn't quiet all the thoughts colliding in my brain. I tried writing, but the words came out a jumbled, mixed-up mess. Finally, I decided to go for another walk to try and clear my head.
My walk took me to the edge of the camp, near the practise field. Along the way, I passed by the camp stores, where I picked up a wineskin. I told them I was taking it to the Conqueror, but it was really for me. If I couldn't make sense of these feelings, then at least I could dull my brain for a little while.
In the shade of a cart, I found myself a spot where I couldn't be seen and sat down. I watched the two combatants on the field — General Xena and Lieutenant Galates. The handsome young lieutenant was barely holding his own against his formidable commander-in-chief. He matched her in height, but she had the strength of ten men and the skill to best Ares, the God of War, himself. She held nothing back, and poor Galates scrambled to keep from being seriously injured.
With each blade strike, I got more indignant. Clang. Why didn't she tell me she had taken a lover? Clang. Had she been dismissing me early all week just to be with that other woman? Clang. What does she see in her anyway? Clang.
I opened the wineskin and brought it up to my lips. After a few mouthfuls, I felt giddy. After a few more, I felt sad. Half a wineskin later, I started losing the feeling in my arms and legs.
While Xena and Galates continued sparring, I continued drinking — and thinking. How could she be so unaffected by what had happened this morning? Clang. Didn't she care at all about my feelings? Clang. Why did she conceal it from me? Clang. Was I seeing things, or did that girl look just like me? Clang. What's she got that I haven't got? Clang.
When I couldn't figure out how to get the wineskin in my mouth, I decided I'd had enough. I climbed unsteadily to my feet and set off back to my tent. I spent more time on my backside than my feet, as I stumbled and giggled my way along the uneven path. I wasn't "falling down drunk" — just falling down!
After falling for the umpteenth time, I decided to stay down and wait for the ground to stop moving. That's when I heard a voice behind me. I looked up at the sweaty, dirt-streaked face of Lieutenant Galates.
"Hi," I replied with a beaming grin. "Would you like to hold the ground steady so I can walk on it?"
Galates lifted me off the ground and brushed off the dirt on the back of my tunic. "Have you been drinking?" he asked.
"Noooo …" I replied. Trying to keep my feet underneath me, I grabbed his arm to steady myself. "Of…cour…snot…." Then I fell over.
"Uh, huh," Galates replied. The haggard lieutenant picked me up and carried me in his arms all the way to his tent. He gently lay me down on his cot and loosened the belt around my waist. That's all I remember, because once my head touched the pillow, I fell into a wine-induced sleep.
I awoke to darkness and an empty tent. Nothing looked familiar. I tried to get up to see where I was. Big mistake. The room started spinning and my head felt like it was going to split wide open. The tent flap suddenly opened, allowing the pale light of dusk to shine into the tent. It was enough to blind me. As I sat cradling my head, Galates walked in carrying a bowl of foul-smelling broth.
"Ack, what is that smell?" I held my nose and tried not to throw up.
"Ah, you're awake, good." He placed the bowl on a table and lit some candles. "How are you feeling?" he asked, ignoring my reaction to the broth.
"Oh, peachy." I said facetiously. "Ooh!" I grabbed my head — talking out loud made my hair hurt. Whispering this time, I rattled off a bunch of questions. "Where am I? Is this your tent? How did I get here? How long have I been sleeping? What happened?"
"Whoa, slow down. Yes, you're in my tent. I found you practically passed out behind a wagon near the practise field. You've been asleep for about four hours. And you're going to have one Hades of a hangover come the morning." Galates handed me the bowl of broth. "Here, drink this while it's hot."
My face soured at the stench and my stomach rumbled again. I pushed it back towards him. "No thanks."
"It'll make your head and stomach feel a lot better. Besides, I bet you haven't eaten all day." He pushed it back towards me and gave me a determined, but caring look.
I brought the bowl up to my mouth and took a sip. "Delicious," I said with a pained look on my face.
He sat on a stool next to the cot. "Now, would you like to tell me what in Tartarus you thought you were doing?"
I desperately wanted to tell him, but I didn't know what to say. I didn't know myself, or I did but didn't want to admit it. Instead of trying to explain what happened that morning, I asked him the first thing that came into my head.
"Do you like me?" I blurted it out like a lovesick adolescent.
It was something I had wondered about ever since that night Xena kissed me. She said she had seen the way Galates looked at me. He was looking at me the same way he looked at me that night.
"Of course! What a silly question. What's not to like about you?" He gave a shy grin, and I detected a slight blush.
"I like you, too," I said bashfully. "You're not like other soldiers."
"It's not my first career choice. I used to be a farmer."
"Really. Why did you give it up?"
"I had a small farm outside Argilus in Macedonia. I was barely eking out a living when the local ruler demanded yet another crushing tax. Then the Conqueror came. The king's forces retreated back to the city and burned everything behind them — my farm included."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Oh, don't be. I wasn't making it as a farmer, so I thought I'd give soldiering a try." He chuckled dryly. "When the Conqueror's army liberated Argilus, I joined up, thinking I'd wait until they took some fertile land, then quit and set up a new farm. However, this life has grown on me."
We fell silent as I took another sip of the broth.
"What do you think of the Conqueror?" I asked.
He seemed surprised by the question, as though no one had ever asked him before. "She's a brilliant commander. Sometimes her methods are a little harsh. But I don't know her that well personally. You probably know her better than most of us soldiers. Do you like her?"
"What do you mean?" His question triggered a knee-jerk over-reaction from me.
"I mean, do you like working for her?"
"Oh. Yes, I like her. It's just that..."
"It's just that, what?" he prompted me.
"It's just that at times she can be a bit… intimidating." I chose my words carefully.
"Hahahaha!" Galates broke into unrestrained laughter.
"What?" I felt a little offended.
"That, my dear Gabrielle, is an understatement."
I felt my cheeks flush when he pointed out the irony of my comment. "What I meant to say is General Xena is the most fascinating person I've ever met and the most difficult to understand. She has this "Conqueror" side, you know — formidable, unapproachable, and commanding. Yet, when we're alone, she's more relaxed and informal. She's got a wry sense of humour. And, she'd probably have me flogged for saying this — sometimes she's even been kind."
We both smiled at the image of a "kind" Conqueror. Then Galates turned pensive. He reached out and touched my shoulder. "Is that what happened today? Is that why you were so upset?"
I gave him a quizzical look.
"Did she hurt you?" he asked tentatively, shifting from the stool to the cot.
"What do you mean?" His question threw me, and all the questions flooded my mind again.
"Did she strike you?" His tone was serious and protective.
"Oh," I said, finally registering his words and understanding his meaning. "No, she didn't hit me, that's not it. No, it was..." I hesitated. How could I explain to him why I was so upset, when I wasn't sure myself? "It's just that ever since Larissa, General Xena has changed towards me. Now, she dismisses me early in the evening with no explanation. We don't talk anymore. She doesn't even allow me to stay to fix her bath. I know it sounds silly, but I can't help feeling rejected." The pain I felt then wasn't only in my head. I started crying.
Galates gathered me up in his arms and held me as tears streamed down my cheeks. He held me and gently rubbed my back until my sobbing turned to sniffles. When I finally stopped crying, he let me go. Lifting my head up with his finger, he wiped away my tears with his thumb.
"Feel better?" he asked.
I gave him an unconvincing smile.
Galates didn't take his hands away from my face. Instead, he cupped my cheeks in his hands and held my gaze. He hesitantly moved his head closer to mine and then paused. There was a tentative look in his deep brown eyes, so I made the next move. I tipped my head slightly and leaned forward, closing the distance between us. He took my cue and moved in closer until his lips met mine.
His kiss was unhurried and tender, not urgent or forced — nothing like the way Xena had kissed me. Xena. Why was I thinking about Xena when I was in the arms of such a kind-hearted man as Galates? It must've been the affect of the wine, I reasoned.
Galates broke the kiss and pulled back to see how I reacted to his advance. I reached up and stroked the hair around his ear. He took that as a good sign and leaned in to kiss me again. This time, he kissed me with a soldier's resolve — strong and impassioned. I offered little resistance to his advances; in fact, I welcomed his attentions.
Galates' desire shone in the umber hue of his irises and there was an urgency in his expression. I needed comfort and Galates seemed willing to provide it. I shifted position on the cot and tugged him on to it.
"Gabrielle, are you sure—"
My lips silenced him. My hand found its way inside his shirt. While my fingers ran through the hairs on his chest, his tongue traced a path from my lips to my neck. I was so blinded by the need to feel wanted that I ignored my body's lack of response to his touch.
We clumsily removed each other's clothes and lay down. Galates positioned himself over me and extended his legs between my knees. It was the first time I had seen a man naked or felt a man's erection against my skin. I was scared. All the lectures from my mother about waiting until I had met the right person and got married echoed in my still aching head. He slowly lowered himself down until his glistening torso pressed against me. I started to feel a little apprehension. What was I doing?
Galates must have sensed I was nervous by my tensing muscles. "Don't worry, it won't hurt much, I promise," he said, trying to reassure me. The corner of my mouth turned up in a little smile and I did my best to relax. He kissed me again, starting from my lips and gradually working his way down my neck. I flinched when Galates shifted his position and the head of his penis settled at the apex between my thighs. Suddenly, I felt panicked. This was wrong!
"Galates…" I brought my hands up to his chest and frantically pushed him away. "Galates, stop."
"Stop, please. I-I- can't."
He looked crushed, but immediately rolled off me and sat up. "You've been drinking. I shouldn't have taken advantage of you. I—" He climbed out of bed and fumbled around for his trousers. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle."
"No, it's not your fault. It's me. I'm…just not ready for this." I pulled the covers up to cover my breasts. "I'm sorry, Galates, it's just..." words failed me.
He turned to face me. I expected to see anger on his face, but he smiled gently. "No, Gabrielle. This wasn't meant to happen today," he paused, handing me my shift, "I don't think it's meant to happen at all." Ever the gentleman, he turned his back to allow me some modesty.
"It's not you," I explained as I quickly put the shift back on. "You can turn around now, thanks." Galates turned back around and joined me on the cot. I continued my explanation, "I just don't feel...I want it to be special. I want it to feel right. I want to be in love—"
"You don't have to explain, Gabrielle. I understand." He took my hand. "I would like to be more than just your friend, but if that's all you can offer, then that's good enough for me."
I felt humbled by his understanding and compassion. Any woman would be lucky to be loved by this handsome, kind-hearted soldier-farmer. But, it wasn't what I wanted.
"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
Galates reached out and put his hand over mine. "Gabrielle, I believe you are incapable of hurting anyone." He patted my hand and then stood up. A sad look now coloured his brown eyes. "I'll leave you to finish getting dressed." He paused at the tent flap, looked back, and said, "there's an old saying: don't search for what you already have. You already have what you want, Gabrielle. Stop looking for it."
I puzzled over his words as I watched the tent flap close behind him. I know now what he meant, but at the time I was still confused. The feelings were still new to me.
The next morning, I reported for duty as usual, though there was nothing "usual" about the way I felt. My palms were sweaty and I felt nauseous. I wasn't sure if it was from being hung over or having to face the Conqueror. I took a deep breath and entered her tent.
Xena was fully dressed and seated at the table reading a report.
"Good morning, General."
"Morning." She looked up briefly from the scroll.
I moved slowly towards her and placed her breakfast tray on the table.
She reached out and ripped off a hunk of bread and went back to reading.
I crossed the room to make her bed and tidy up. It looked like she had spent the night alone. There was only one crumpled pillow and the blankets were still relatively undisturbed on one side of the bed.
Then it dawned on me that for the previous week Xena had tidied up her bed herself, before I reported for duty. How could I have been so blind, so naïve? And why did she go to so much trouble to conceal it?
Neither one of us spoke. Every minute that passed was pure torture wondering what she would say or do. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and decided to force the issue. I moved to the table and stood in front of her.
"General, about yesterday..."
She put the scroll down and looked up at me. Her steel-blue eyes betrayed no emotion. "Yes?"
"I just wanted to apologise for my behaviour yesterday. I put you in an embarrassing situation, and then running off like that. I'm sorry if...forgive me, General. I'll understand if you dismiss me—"
"Gabrielle," she interrupted my nervous babbling, "you have nothing to apologise for. And I have no intention of dismissing you. You caught me in, as you say, an 'embarrassing situation.' I think the matter is best forgotten."
"Yes, General. Perhaps—"
Xena looked quizzically at me. "Perhaps, what?"
"Perhaps, you could give me some sort of...um...warning if you have company and I should—"
"I said the matter is best forgotten. It won't happen again, so let's put it behind us," she said with an almost apologetic tone.
"Yes, General." I acknowledged her with a mixture of bemusement and relief.
And with that, Xena and I returned to our usual routine. She didn't dismiss me early anymore and we resumed our evening chats. We never talked about what happened in Thessalia until much later. It was definitely a turning point in our relationship, but we didn't know it at the time.
One month after the capture of Larissa, the Conqueror's army was again on the move. Xena left Commander Braextus in charge of Thessalia and focused on her next objective: Athens.
We marched onto Athens to face King Hippias and his army. Athens was the centre of Greek culture and home to the Royal Academy of Performing Bards. It also was the last major obstacle Xena faced in her conquest of Greece. The battle was bloody, but brief.
The citizens of Athens cheered wildly as the victorious army of Xena the Conqueror marched into their city. Xena rode at the head of her army and up to the gates of the palace where Hippias formally surrendered. The king was put in chains and thrown in the dungeon, along with his family, courtiers, and senior military leaders.
Throughout the night, Athenians celebrated in the streets while the Conqueror and her senior officers had a banquet in the palace. I started the evening helping serve Xena, but she soon asked me to join her. Darphus made room for me to sit between him and Commander Braextus, who sat to the immediate left of General Xena. Braextus had arrived from Larissa shortly before the banquet had started and looked like he'd been celebrating all the way to Athens.
"Here," Commander Braextus pushed his plate towards me, "help yourself."
"Thank you, Commander." I picked up a chicken leg and took a lady-like bite.
"Heh, heh. Go on, it's not going to bite you!" Darphus elbowed me in the ribs.
I didn't want to display poor table manners, but I noticed that Xena was eating as heartily as the men at the table. As they say, when in Athens, so I grabbed the chicken leg off my plate and gnawed on it until the bone was picked clean.
"There, that's more like it. Come on, eat up!" Darphus grabbed a whole chicken and ripped off the meat like a ravenous wolf.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Xena quietly chuckling at my attempt to be "one of the boys."
"Gabrielle, your insight helped a great deal in this campaign," Xena said.
"Yeah," agreed Darphus placing a mug of ale in front of me, "if we left it to Darnell, we'd still be fighting at Larissa." He chuckled and patted my shoulder.
I caught a glimpse of Commander Darnell, sitting to Xena's right. He paused as he lifted a glass of wine to his lips. There was a faint tightening of his jaw muscles as he fought down an angry response.
"Lighten up," Darphus called out and lobbed a bread roll at the second-in-command.
Xena's lightning reflexes caught the roll before it hit Darnell. "Thank you," she said to Darphus and took a bite of the bread.
Darnell stood and I thought he was going to start a fight, but instead he raised his glass and began a toast to Xena. I don't recall exactly what he said; I was intent on watching Xena's reaction to it. She appeared almost uncomfortable to begin with, and then settled back to enjoy it.
"...no army, no nation, no empire can stop Xena the Conqueror. Her name will be a rallying call for us and strike terror into the hearts of the enemy," Darnell continued.
As Darnell spoke those words, I noticed a flicker of confusion in Xena's eyes, as though she were just a normal woman who had been mistaken for a great warrior.
"To Xena, First Empress of a united Greece!" Darnell finished with a flourish and raised his goblet.
"To Empress Xena!" Braextus exclaimed as he stood and raised his goblet.
The rest of the assembly quickly followed suit and Xena basked in their praise, looking around the room until her eyes fell on me. There was that flicker of doubt again.
"Thank you." Xena stood and raised her glass. "This is as much your celebration as mine, because your loyalty, bravery, and service have made this possible. To the Greek Empire."
Everyone raised their goblets again and toasted.
Xena waited until everyone sat down. "Well, I must prepare for a coronation in the morning, so I'll leave you to it. Goodnight."
She left to a rousing cheer. I took a moment and then followed her.
"What do you want?" she asked me distractedly.
"I wanted to see if you needed me." I meant that more as a friend than an assistant.
Xena stared at me with a far-away look in her light-blue eyes. "No. You return to the party."
"I'm not really in a party mood," I replied, sensing that Xena would rather talk than be alone.
"Nor am I. It's strange, huh? I should be happy, but I somehow feel..."
"A sense of anticlimax?" I offered.
"Possibly." Xena studied me for a moment. "Come with me."
I followed her to the quarters she had commandeered.
"Now that I have conquered Greece, Gabrielle, it will mean a big change in our lives." Xena crossed the room, sat down on a divan, and beckoned me to take a seat beside her. "To begin with, we won't be travelling as much. I will need to rule the empire from a capital city rather than horseback. I have chosen Corinth to be my empire's capital city. We'll move as soon as we secure Athens."
"You mean you're not going to make Athens your capital city?" I was surprised and a little disappointed to find out we weren't staying in Athens. Athens was the centre of Greek culture. I had hoped to attend the theatre, and perhaps study at the Royal Academy of the Performing Bards. However, I was glad to hear her talking about a future that included me. I had often wondered what would happen after she conquered Greece — whether there would be a place for me.
"No. I've chosen Corinth because it was the first major city I captured when I set out to conquer Greece, and because it has a major trading port and is easily defended by both land and sea. This makes Corinth the ideal choice as the seat of government for my new empire."
She stood up and walked over to the window and surveyed the city she had just conquered. "I'm going to declare myself Empress tomorrow. And Greece is just the beginning. My empire will one day extend across the entire known world. Right now though, we must concentrate on establishing a government and expanding the army." She turned from the window and came back to sit next to me.
"Liege," Xena corrected me, "I'll be royalty tomorrow. I'll be addressed as 'My Liege' or 'Your Highness.' You may want to practice," she added with a relaxed laugh.
"Yes, My Liege," I replied with a playful laugh of my own.
Xena smiled at me, and then stood and walked over to a chest near the bed. "I want to show you something."
She removed a large wrapped object from the chest. She unwrapped its velvet covering and brought the object back to show me. It was a sceptre made of gold, braided in an intricate weave. Crowning the sceptre was the large green, conical-shaped jewel King Quallas had given her.
"It'll be a perfect symbol for my power."
"It's lovely, My Liege," I politely commented. To me it was just a bilious green stone, but Xena was pleased about it.
"The coronation will take place immediately following the executions of Hippias and his supporters..." her voice trailed off as she sensed my mood change. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, General," I said mournfully.
"Tell me, Gabrielle. If you have something to say, then say it."
I took a deep breath and met her gaze. "Why must you execute the king's entire staff?"
"They're loyal to him, therefore, I can't trust them."
"They could be persuaded to follow you," I pressed. "After all, the war is over — you've won."
"What if I had been defeated and Hippias had captured you. Would you switch your loyalty?"
"Never," I answered immediately. The force of my words surprised me.
Xena reached out and laid her hand on my shoulder. "So you see, I have no choice."
"Couldn't you spare the lives of some of the King's lower ranking staff and servants?"
"No. This is a critical time for me and for my empire. I must be seen as strong and decisive. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, but showing mercy wouldn't be seen as a sign of weakness. It will be seen as a magnanimous gesture from the new Empress of a united Greece."
She was pensive for a moment. "Well, I suppose I could order only the King, his senior advisors, and his military commanders to be executed. The lower ranking staff can be sold into slavery."
"That is very reasonable of you, General, however—"
Xena raised one eyebrow and scowled. "However, what? Is it not enough that I've agreed to spare the lives of all but the most senior?"
"But wouldn't you be better served if the lower ranking Athenian army commanders were integrated into your imperial army rather than sold as slaves? After all, they have the loyalty of the common soldiers, and you said you needed to expand the imperial army."
"Hmm, I suppose. Yes, that might work to my advantage. You're something special, Gabrielle. I wish all my advisors were as wise and as loyal as you." Xena's face lit up with an affectionate smile.
I felt my breath catch. By the gods, she was beautiful when she smiled.
GO TO CHAPTER 6