The roar echoed around the room, making the windows rattle in their frames and several guards wince.
"Your Majesty, please," the healer soothed. "Just another moment."
The queen nodded and tightened her fingers in the sheets, gritting her teeth against the pain. The healer carefully cleaned the wound and poured some herbs into it before placing layers of bandages over it and tying them down. The queen, propped up on one elbow, pushed her sweat-soaked hair out of her eyes. "Have they found them yet?" she asked, suddenly feeling totally exhausted. She lowered herself carefully onto the black silk sheets and rested her head, blowing out a long breath as the searing pain eased to an excruciating ache.
The captain of the guard stood to attention. "No, Majesty, not yet."
Somehow, the queen found the strength to raise her head again. "I want them found, Palaemon, and brought to me. No one gets away with attempting to assassinate the ruler of this land."
Captain Palaemon raised a fist and tapped his chest in a salute before turning crisply and heading out the door. The queen sighed and rested her head again. "Stupid," she muttered. "Thought I wouldn't be able to get myself out of trouble, didn't you, you sick bastards."
The healer pulled the sheets up over his queen's shoulders and bowed to her. "I'll be back to check on you in a few hours. Until then, try to get some sleep." He reached out boldly then and stroked her hair. "Xena, I've known you a long time and I know what you're like. I don't want to see you sparring or on your horse for a least a sevenday. Do you understand?"
With a quirk of her lips, Xena sighed and closed her eyes. "Alright," she mumbled. "But only because you asked nicely."
Salmonius chuckled and packed up his healer bag. "I'll be back soon. Rest now."
Xena was asleep before he even reached the door. Sparing a fond look for the queen, he left to get some rest himself.
As Palaemon strode across the yard to the barracks, a drizzle of rain began to fall and he sighed, wondering if he'd see his bed this night at all. Not that he really cared. Someone had hurt his queen and now that someone would pay. A surge of anger welled up inside him and he gripped the hilt of his sword, squeezing it and stomping the ground with each step. "I shouldn't have let her go out there," he muttered. "I should have stood up to her." He had to pause a moment and chuckle. "Yeah, right. I'd probably be dead now if I had." He waved at the guard in the watchtower and stopped for a moment to make sure everything was quiet before ducking into the barracks. The men who hadn't gone after the queen's would-be-assassin were busy mending armour and cleaning their weapons but they stood to attention when their commander entered the room.
"Evening Cap'n," one man greeted. "We were wondering, Sir, how Her Majesty is doing?"
Palaemon sighed and leaned against the wall, folding his arms and crossing his ankles. "She's alive." A collective sigh of relief whooshed through the room and he smiled a little at his men's loyalty to their queen. Most of them had been part of Xena's army when she was a vagabond warlord and had a healthy respect for her fighting ability and wisdom. Every man in the place would give his life for her... and do it gladly. "I want any public court sessions and functions patrolled until the assassin is brought to justice and I want you all to be extra vigilant. Got me?"
"Yes, Sir!" came the chorused reply and he nodded proudly.
"Good. Now, I'm going out to dig a little. The queen gave me a lead that I need to follow up. As you were."
With that, Palaemon strode out of the barracks and into the waning light of dusk.
Groaning softly, Xena eased her head up and propped herself up on her elbows. She'd slept for a few hours and she felt a bit stronger but stiffness had set in and made movement a little difficult. She eyed the chamber pot in the corner and sighed, counting slowly to five to psyche herself up. Rolling her eyes, she moved up onto her hands and knees. "Just do it, Xena," she growled and with a quick flip, got herself into a sitting position. Her back hurt like Hades and she had to take a moment to stop seeing stars while trying to get her laboured breathing under control. "Not good," she murmured as her stomach threatened to rebel.
Steeling herself for the pain, Xena took a few deep breaths and then stood. She caught her balance and then slowly walked to the chamber pot, cursing every god she could think of along the way and some that she probably made up. "Damn arrow." The queen glanced over at the low dresser where the bloody arrow still sat and shook her head. "And you didn’t even see it coming. Some warrior you are."
This, she suddenly realised, was bothering her more than the hole in her back. For the first time in longer than she could remember, the part of her that was a warrior hadn't even sensed the attack. With a mixture of anger and bemusement, Xena wiped her sweaty forehead on her forearm. "You're getting soft, Xena. Lording it over these people has taken up so much of your time and thoughts that you've let yourself get rusty."
Xena was suddenly in a foul mood and she finished up her business quickly before moving back to the bed. The short exertion left her exhausted and she sank into the sheets with a long sigh. A short time later, she was asleep again.
Crouching behind a bush, Palaemon signalled for his men to stay back. He parted the foliage carefully and quietly and peered into the clearing. Tents... He smirked... Just as the queen had expected. He sent her a quiet word of thanks and praise. Signalling for his second to come forward, Palaemon replaced the branches. "Surround the clearing," he whispered. "I want total silence. We're going to hit these guys so quickly that they won't know which way to run."
"Yes, Sir," Saterus replied and then crawled back to pass on the orders. Moments later, Palaemon led the first wave of silent attackers into the camp. His men were well trained and efficient and before long, the small band of mercenaries was in custody and tied up.
The captain prowled the camp, looking for the leader's tent. He wanted information but he also needed proof that it was these men who tried to kill the queen. Finding an arrow with the leader's colours would do the trick. Palaemon spotted a larger tent standing a little away from the others and approached it quietly. He ducked inside and paused a moment to let his eyes adjust to the gloom. The tent was in perfect order and a table in the centre was covered in neatly folded maps and scrolls. "A tidy warlord. That's one for the books," he chuckled but a small sound made him spin and draw his sword. "Come out!" he ordered toward a pile of blankets and rags sitting in the corner and very slowly, the blankets parted and a tear streaked face peeked out. "Come out," he said again, this time more softly as he realised that the face belonged to a woman. "It's ok. I won't hurt you."
The blankets parted further and a short, slim, trembling body appeared along with the face, framed by dishevelled blonde hair. "They captured me," she said very softly. "I'm not sure how long I've been here."
Palaemon moved a little closer, squinting in the dim light but he shook his head when he got a closer look. "You're just a kid," he blurted out.
The young woman met his eyes. "I'm not a kid," she replied. "I'm nineteen."
They just looked at each other for a moment but then the captain chuckled. "C'mon, Kid. Let's get you outta here." Nodding gratefully, the young woman followed him out of the tent. She wrapped her arms around her middle, willing her body to stop shaking but to no avail. Tears of relief welled and before long, she was crying. Palaemon blinked and then awkwardly patted her shoulder. "There, there," he soothed. "We'll have you back at the palace in no time. When Queen Xena hears that you were here, she'll definitely want to speak to you. Did you know that these men..." He chucked a thumb over his shoulder at the line of bound and gagged mercenaries. "Tried to assassinate her?"
"I heard some of their plans," the young woman replied quietly. "They didn't think I was paying attention but I was."
"Well then... um... What's your name?"
The young woman smiled shyly. "Gabrielle."
Palaemon returned the smile. "Gabrielle, I know for a fact that the queen is going to want to meet you. You have valuable information."
Putting on a face that was a hundred times braver than she felt, Gabrielle nodded. "I'll do anything I can to help. I owe you my life."
"No," the captain replied. "Your life belongs to you, Gabrielle, not me."
With a heartfelt whisper, the kid squeezed the man's arm. "Thank you."
Salmonius tutted as he pressed his hand against the queen's forehead. "You have a fever, Xena."
"Tell me something I don't know," she replied testily. "I know a chill when I feel one."
"Hmm, feverish and bitchy," he teased as he got out his herbs and started to mix them together into a small cup.
Xena tried not to grin. "Just get on with it, you old goat."
"Yes, Majesty." Salmonius chuckled as he poured some hot water in on top of the mixture.
Xena's nose crinkled. "That smells really bad. I'm laying bets that it tastes worse."
"That'd be a safe bet," the healer replied with a sympathetic smile. "You know damn well how this tastes. You've administered it enough times."
"Yeah," Xena sighed, remembering the number of times she'd had to treat her own men for the coughing sickness. The queen was a skilled healer in her own right but, in her position, she could afford to have someone else take care of her. Despite that, Xena pretty much took care of herself. She didn't need people to fawn over her but in this case, she had no choice due to the position of the wound. She couldn’t reach her own back.
With an exasperated sigh, the queen took the cup and swirled the liquid for a moment. "Bottoms up." Then she grimaced, knocked back the entire contents of the cup in one gulp and chased it with a swallow of wine. "Oh gods, that sucks," she muttered as she lay back down on her belly. "Hey, is Palaemon back yet?"
"Not that I know of," Salmonius replied as he pulled back the sheets and carefully lifted the bandages away from the queen's back. She didn’t make a sound but the tension in her body and the way her fingers gripped the sheets told of the agony she was experiencing. "It's looking very..."
"I know. Just do it," Xena ordered. "You have to get the nasty stuff out."
The queen almost bit her lip through in pain as the healer applied pressure to the wound and then cleaned out the yellow pus. Once thoroughly cleaned and bandaged, he sat on the edge of the bed and covered Xena's clenched hand with his own. "It's done."
She nodded, loosened her grip on the sheets and sniffed back any tears that threatened to leak through her stoic exterior. She looked up at him. "Thanks."
"Take care of yourself. I'll be back soon to check on you again."
Xena nodded and then collapsed back onto the bed in utter exhaustion. Her pillow muffled her voice when she groaned. "I really hate being hurt."
Gabrielle was almost asleep when she felt the movement under her stopping abruptly. She lifted her head and looked around her, her green eyes trying to make out where she was in the darkness. Palaemon slid down from the horse and offered her a hand. "C'mon, Little One. We've arrived at the palace."
Oh. The palace. "Wow, it's huge," the young woman said softly, her voice full of wonder as the captain set her gently down on her feet.
"Yeah, it is. Xena had it extended when she got rich and powerful."
Gabrielle nodded, suddenly very curious about meeting Xena: Warrior Princess, Conqueror of Nations and Queen of Greece and it's surrounding lands. "Where is she now?"
Palaemon shook his head. "I'd imagine she's in bed, in considerable pain. She took an arrow in the back."
Gabrielle gasped and her green eyes widened. "By the gods."
"Yeah," the captain replied. "She was judging a riding contest and before I know it, she's on her knees with an arrow sticking out of her back. She didn’t even sense the attack coming."
"Sense?" Gabrielle asked confusedly.
"Sure. The queen can catch arrows but she never saw it coming. If she hadn't turned slightly just before the arrow hit, she'd be dead right now."
"Is she going to be ok?" the young woman asked.
"She'll be fine, Kid. The queen is a tough woman. Now come on. Let's find you somewhere to sleep."
Gabrielle followed Palaemon into the palace and waited while he spoke to the head servant. A few moments later, the woman led her to a warm and comfortable bedchamber. "Get settled, Miss and I'll bring you something to eat and drink."
"Thanks," Gabrielle replied with a warm smile. The servant left her and she wandered around the room, studying the tapestries and paintings on the wall. "How beautiful," she whispered as she gazed at a portrait of a tall, muscular woman with long, dark hair and very blue eyes. The painting mesmerized her and she just stood there, soaking in its essence until the servant woman returned with a tray.
"I hope you like chicken and bread," she said. "I'm afraid there isn't much else at this time of the night."
Gabrielle gladly took the tray. "This is wonderful. Thank you."
"Well." The woman smiled and bustled across the room. "You eat up while I turn down your bed." Gabrielle demolished her meal, much to the servant's amusement, and washed it down with a mug of warm milk. "I'll leave you to sleep now." After gathering up the tray, the woman left the room and Gabrielle took off her old dress. She washed quickly at the washstand and then climbed, exhausted, into the high, comfortable bed. On the count of three sheep, she was asleep.
Through The Eyes of The Conqueror by Cheeya - 135 pages
This isn't your traditional conqueror story. This is love story that has a bit of violence and other stuff in it but it can get a little mushy and ... Hell! I just like happy endings, ok?!