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08 May 2011 @ 10:44 pm
A Hopeful Bard (1/?)  
Title: A Hopeful Bard (1/?)
Rating: R
Status: In Progress
Author: maggiemerc
Characters/Pairing: Xena/Gabrielle, Conqueror fic
Disclaimer: Do not own them. The only profit I seek is an ego boost from good feedback.

Summary: The Conqueror (though she'd really prefer you call her the Empress) meets the Playwright (a title she's totally fine with). There's some verbal sparring. Some physical sparring. Some gods. Some emperors. Maybe some ribald comedy.

There was this haze that came over a person sometimes. They’d be waking up and all they’d feel was the pleasure. They wouldn’t feel the crusty sheets, the stickiness on their skin, or the sweaty bodies all pressed up against them. Just the loose limbed feeling in all their limbs. Then a bed partner would stir. Hands and lips and everything else would be pressed against them and they’d wake up.

Xena had woken up that way far too often in the last few months. She’d heard Vidalis mutter about her wanton ways a few times. She’d ignored it. He was the seneschal and she the empress.

Today there were two of them in her bed. Dancers who’d arrived the night before. After the entertainment she’d invited the two to her private chambers. Wine had flowed freely until the woman, lithe and pert, had draped herself over Xena. Then the man had joined in. Now the two of them were waking and trying to start up where they had left off.

She sighed and looked out her window. The sun was rising and she could hear the sound of soldiers drilling in the courtyard. A hand drifted low on her body and she resisted the moan that leapt to her lips. “Not now,” she whispered into the ear closest to her lips. Her companion giggled. Another hand squirmed beneath her to lightly stroke her back.

“You sure?”

A hand found her breast. Skin quickly tightened beneath curious fingers. She arched up.

A loud pounding at the door attempted to end any more play. Her new friends ignored it. Hands caressed and stroked and pinched.

The door opened suddenly. The male dancer, a man who had no right to be as well formed as he was, jerked up from where he’d been attending to Xena’s lips with his own. “Excuse me?”

Xena caught his chin, “Never mind them.”

More kissing and stroking.

Out the corner of her eye she watched as her seneschal oversaw the preparation of her bath. Clothes and food were laid out.

Heat pooled. Muscles tightened.

Vidalis, perhaps the worst seneschal she’d ever had the displeasure to employ, cleared his throat.

The handsome male dancer’s hand pumped in and out. The pretty woman’s tongue lapped at a nipple. Her breath quickened.

“Really Empress. You have an entire day ahead of you.”

“Just a—“

He added a third finger. She turned her attention to the other nipple. Everything turned taunt. Then the languid relaxation returned.

“All better.”

She quickly moved out from between the dancers and headed towards the bath that had just been drawn. As damp skin immersed itself in hot water she listened to Vidalis. He was so very good at seeing off her new friends. This time there was only a little shouting. The shock and anger was muted. She found it always was when she took more then one at a time. That sense that they were special wasn’t quite as prevalent then.

Xena let herself sink further into the bath. Let the heat drain the ache away from muscles and joints. Her groan of relief was caught by the hot water and turned to bubbles that gently moved to the surface and disturbed the flower petals floating there.

Vidalis soon reappeared. His portly form distorted by the water. She pushed herself back up and took in a deep breath. She’d surfaced mid-sentence and Vidalis didn’t bother to start his tirade again. “—And you know full well you’ve got too many things to do today to waste your entire morning in bed with a bunch of dancers.”

“They’re my loyal subjects Vidalis. What kind of an empress would I be if I didn’t hear their grievances?”

“No, they’re the loyal subjects of that Persian you seem so keen to keep on the throne. He was very upset with their absence this morning at breakfast.”

She waved a hand dismissively and nodded to a servant. The girl curtsied quickly then dashed over to wash Xena’s hair. “Slowly,” she murmured.
Then to Vidalis, “Darius will survive. At this point he’s still grateful I let him live.”

“And you’re a fool if you think he’ll stay indebted an eternity.”

She twisted in the bath to stare at him, her pale eyes narrowing menacingly, “And your a fool to think you can speak to me that way.”

Vidalis must have realized he’d taken liberty, his normally pallid skin grew a shade paler and he bowed nervously, “Apologies Empress.”

“See that Darius is brought to my office in an hour’s time. Push back the meeting with the ministry.”

“Yes Empress.”

The seneschal quickly left the room, taking the majority of the servants with him. Only the young woman remained. Xena watched the girl as she ducked her head and continued her ministrations. She was a pretty thing with hair like spun sugar. She was dressed in the white and gold tunics all servants in the castle wore and her curves complimented the drape of the fabric well. She reached up to touch the girl’s cheek then stopped herself.

She did have a long day ahead of her and seducing the help would only make it longer.

Still.

“You’re new,” she said.

The girl took up a gold bowl, filled it with water then used it to rinse out Xena’s hair.

“I’ve worked in the kitchen most of my time here.”

She reached to fill the bowl again and Xena caught her hand then held it close to examine it. “These aren’t the hands of a girl confined to the kitchens.”

“I told stories,” she confessed, “played songs.”

“An entertainer? And what has you here now scrubbing the Empress’s back?”

The girl blushed.

Xena smiled. “Serena usually attends to me in the morning. A favor owed?”

The girl bit her lip then looked up at Xena with eyes like a meadow in the summer. “I wanted to see you, Serena agreed to switch with me for the day.”
Xena allowed herself to reach out and stroke the girl’s cheek. She ducked her head and tried to fill the bowl again. Xena’s hands stilled her. “Perhaps you’d do a better job if you joined me?”

The girl looked up and smiled.

Xena glanced at the sun light now streaming through the window. It would be close, but she had time.

********************


Xena surprised herself when she managed to make it to her office on time. She’d taken a seat behind the large polished oak desk and was trying to look busy going over reports from a province in Chin when the doors swung open and Darius swept in. His perfume tickled her nose before he was even halfway across the long room.

She’d specifically had the office built that way—forcing her guests to cross the marble at a hurried pace to reach the chairs before her desk in a timely fashion. She delighted watching the skinny and fat alike run. Darius didn’t move as quickly. He took his time. He eyed the tapestries, mosaics and the beautifully carved statues that lined the room. He seemed to take particular delight in the mosaic that made up the floor at the center of the room.

Xena had to admit he had good taste. The tiles had been imported from Rome and arranged to show Xena receiving her chakram from Ares. The story had changed over the years and even she had started to believe that it was the action of a benevolent god choosing a new leader to unite Greece.

Darius toed the tile work a moment and Xena found herself almost standing to join him. Finally, pleased to have made the Empress wait he finished crossing the room and took a seat. Xena refused to allow herself to be goaded into irritation by the man. It was a daily trial when they were in each other’s company.

“I hear you enjoyed the talents of my dancers last night?”

She looked for some pool of calm at her center.

“They were quite entertaining. Though they seemed too tire easily.”

He smiled. “The rest of us are mere mortals Xena. You must remember this.”

“I’ll try.”

He wiped at his long nose and the multitude of gold bracelets on his arms jangled with the movement. She noticed that more gold appeared to have been weaved into the dark curls of his hair and beard. It reminded her of a few wigs she owned. They’d need to be rewoven, the braids made more intricate, for the next time she wore them. Wouldn’t do to be out fashioned by a sycophant like Darius of Persia.

“Now we still must discuss these expectations you’ve saddled me with,” he asserted.

“I have few expectations Darius. Really all I ask is that you maintain the terms of our treaty.”

“And provide you with more then two thirds of my standing army.”

“You should be pleased to have any army Darius. In Indus it’s hoplites that ride the elephants.” She said it all with a smile, her white teeth gnashing at the words.

He ignored what she said, “Every day you move my armies further from my borders. I don’t have Egypt’s navy Xena. And now I don’t have much of an army.”

“You think Egypt will invade?”

“You don’t?”

She leaned on her desk, steepling her fingers together, “Unlike you I have a cordial relationship with Cleopatra.”

He raised an eyebrow. They were well groomed. She wondered if he plucked them. “As cordial as Rome’s?”

He watched her, waiting for the sneer that always crossed her face at the mention of Rome. She resisted, lest she give the weasel more satisfaction. “I like to think so. Cleopatra is an old friend, and trade between our nations has always been forthright. She won’t risk that for Persia.”

“You’re asking me to trust you Xena. I think we’re both adult enough to admit that that’s a silly request.”

She broke the steeple created by her hands. Her knuckles popped loudly. “I’ve allowed you to keep your throne, and I’ve allowed you to keep some small part of your army, but be under no illusions Darius, Persia is mine. And Cleopatra knows that.”

Darius was a tan man, his skin had a rich olive tone that darkened easily in the sun. Xena watched him calmly now as he flushed bright red. She thought she saw a vein briefly bulge on his brow. “You bitch,” he finally spat out.

She clapped, the noise hollow in the expansive room, “I love your way with words Darius. The people of Persia must marvel at your cleverness.”

He looked liked he wanted to lunge across the desk. Xena found herself hoping he would. But the King of Persia caught himself. His eyes, hateful and venomous, never left her own. She noted the way he glared and the way his hands gripped the chair, his knuckles white.

“You hubris will be your downfall.” It was an attempt at a threat—or an insult—his way of attempting to unnerve her as she’d so viciously unnerved him.

It failed.

She cocked her head, “As it was yours? Don’t blame me for the crumbling of your empire. You had the army, the wealth. You were a fool and this—sitting here in my glorious presence? Think of it as your penance.” There was no humor in her tone. Darius needed a lesson in humility and Xena, his empress, was obliged to teach him.

Suitably chastised Darius settled. Part of it irritated Xena. Their relationship had developed a predictable rhythm. Darius took things too far, Xena put him in his place, Darius bristled at the control she exerted, Xena sighed. Wait a month and then repeat. It would have been much more interesting to have just put the man to death when she’d won Persia. Set a governor on his throne and enjoyed the war that would have undoubtedly resulted.

But a puppet king brought peace. A puppet king bolstered her army and her coffers. Darius dealt with the rabble-rousers who remained in Persia and allowed Xena to focus her attention elsewhere. Like the borders she shared with Rome. Or Egypt. With Cleopatra as queen the nation had prospered. It could never rival the might or size of Greece or Rome, but it commanded the seas of the Mediterranean and worked as an excellent buffer, both between Greece and Rome and between Europe and the kingdoms of Africa and Arabia.

Darius finally left her office much more bitter and downtrodden then he’d arrived and Xena went to a meeting of her ministers. She listened to her foreign affairs minister argue with the military minister about Persia. The commerce minister and arts minister then had a huge blow up over a series of plays to be preformed in the capital next month. Apparently the plays chosen had some nasty things to say about the government and about the men and women who supported it financially. Her commerce man was terrified of what it would do to trade. Her arts man demanded freedom of speech.

Xena yawned.

Years ago when she’d marched into Corinth and claimed her first Grecian city-state she’d never anticipated just how boring statecraft could be. Waging war, humbling warlords and kings, outwitting generals; those were the things that quickened the beat of her heart and caused her blood to sing. Lecturing Darius and listening to well-dressed little men argue over plays? The stuff of Xena’s nightmares.

She half hoped Rome would make a bid for her land or Lao Mao would try to take back the provinces Xena had claimed. Anything to end the monotony of the meetings that now made up Xena’s day.

The ministry meeting final puttered to an end. Xena plastered the polite look of indifference on her face and thanked the men and women who’d gathered. She wondered if her Imperial Guard was still drilling. It was nearly noon and they’d soon be gathering for the midday meal, but if she quickened her pace she’d still arrive in time to spar for a bit.

Her steps were loud on the marble floor. Another set of footsteps caught her ear and she stopped and turned to see who was following her to the practice fields.

Marcus, the only general to regularly make his home in Corinth stopped short and bowed abruptly. “Apologies Empress.” She frowned. Marcus was as old as friend as she had. The length and quality of their relationship was precisely why he was the only general stationed in the capital. It was irritating to hear him call her Empress and to watch him bow like one of the other sycophants in the palace.

“Marcus,” she said, “Something the matter. I was just heading to the practice yard.”

“I’ve just received some,” he paused, “interesting news. I think we should discuss it in private.”

She sighed. A sword fight with a dozen of her best trained soldiers would have to wait.

********************


Back in her office Marcus had the courtesy to wait until Xena was settled behind her desk before he took a seat opposite her. Servants appeared and offered them food and wine but Marcus declined. Xena took a bite of cheese and waited for him to speak.

He did so, but only after he was certain the last servant had left. “I think we might have a problem.”

Nothing good, if Marcus’s insistence of privacy was anything to go by. “Rome?”

He shook his head, “Apollonia.”

It was a province she’d taken from the Illyrians many years before. Rome constantly lusted after it and with good reason. It’s wine and fig orchards were considered some of the finest in the known world and the harbor in Apollonia proper was one of the main ports of commerce between Greece and Rome.

“What’s happened?”

“After Philemon died you never appointed a new governor.”

“That’s because Talmadeus hasn’t had any trouble.”

“And you know why,” Marcus asked. She shrugged. “He’s a clever man. He’s been having Philemon’s widow manage the province.”

That…that was interesting. “Didn’t know Philemon was married.”

“Apparently they were wed about six months before he passed. She’s been living in his home and running the entire province from it. It’s quite an open secret.”

“Then why has it taken this long to reach Corinth?”

Marcus shook his head, “I wish I knew. I suspect the two of them have reached some sort of arrangement. He takes the credit and keeps us out of her hair while she plays little lady queen in one of the richest provinces in Greece.”
Xena leaned back in her seat, the leather and wood that made it up creaked with the movement. “I’m going to have to go up there and sort this out aren’t I?”

“I was actually going to suggest I go. You’ve got the meeting of Congress in little more then a month. Wouldn’t do for you to be out of the city.”

No it wouldn’t at all, but Xena desperately needed a change of pace and scenery. A trip to a province she’s avoided for nearly five years was a good excuse, and dealing with Talmadeus and this widow would be an excellent diversion from the monotony she faced every day.

“No,” she said, “I’ll go. I’ll leave in the morning in fact.”

Marcus raised an eyebrow, “You sure that’s wise?”

They were alone and so she let the veneer crack, let the old friend see the shadow she’d become. “Maybe not, but Marcus, if I don’t get out of this city I’m afraid I’ll kill someone at Congress next month.”

“So you abandoning Corinth is for the good of the nation then?”

“The good of the world.”

He allowed himself a small smile in his Empress’s presence. Xena realized it had been years since she’d seen him smile. “I’ll make the arrangements. You want company?”

“No. You stay here. I’ll take a small contingent of Imperial Guard. Should be enough.”

“Just be careful Xena. Talmadeus has a huge garrison there in Apollonia. If he snaps—“

Xena would have her first armed rebellion since taking Persia three years previously. Hopefully avoidable, but in her current mood it was far from regrettable.

“What about this woman? Anything on her beyond her capability of running an entire province in secret.”

He took a deep breath that raised Xena’s hackles. Marcus was preparing to give her news she wouldn’t like. “That may be the bigger part of the problem. She’s actually very popular, and not just in Apollonia. She had a play in Athens that nearly started a riot. Another one’s supposed to go up here next month and it’s been killing me to work out the security for it.”

“Plays?”

“She’s a playwright. Gabrielle of Apollonia.”
 
 
 
demoka: xena'sgabrielledolldemoka on May 9th, 2011 02:18 pm (UTC)
Oooh! What a promising start! And you get bonus points for making this a Conqueror fic! I love me some Conqueror! (Although for the moment your Conqueror is so bored that she seems relatively tame!) Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to see what happens next!
(Deleted comment)
maggiemercmaggiemerc on May 10th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah Conqueror stories. They really are my favorites too. :D

I'm going to do a chapter a day for the next few days...hopefully.
spanishtvjunkie: starspankspanishtvjunkie on May 28th, 2011 02:45 am (UTC)
Just when the world can't get any crazier, some good ole Conqueror fic to take the edge off!
Love the way she starts her days, she really has her priorities straight! lol And no shame. I just love the conqueror and her badass ways. I'm looking forward to the rest of this story! Thank you thank you thank you! And your muse too!