I Am Livia of Rome

Title: I Am Livia Of Rome
Fandom: Sylum Clan Universe, Medjai Clan, Xena: Warrior Princess
Characters/Pairings: Xena/Gabriella, Ares, Livia of Rome, Eve(Livia), Medjai Clan Members, Sanguen Vitae Clan members
Rating: PG-15
Summary: When reports Rogue vampire, Livia, had left Rome for India while leaving bodies in her wake reaches Sanguen Vitae’s Lead Hunter Siberius Vaako, he’s glad Ardeth Bey talked Alexander into inviting Xena to remain in Greece after finding her Mate in Potidaea. Now, all he has to do is convince Xena to accept the Hunt for Livia. But will Xena’s still Human Mate agree to Vaako’s plans?

 ~ 73AD ~

Checking the edge of her sword for nicks and gouges from steel meeting steel during her sparring session with her Sire, Xena watched out of the corner of her eye as Ares stood bent over, his hands on his knees.

“For someone that hasn’t had to breathe in 2,000 years, you’re doing an awful lot of huffing and puffing.”

“As War Counsel of the Medjai, I don’t have time to be in the arena practicing all hours of the day.” Ares straightened to glare at his opponent.

“As the ‘God’ of War, it will behoove you to join us if you want to keep your pretty head.” The tall curvy brunette brushed the dust off her arms and clothes while taking verbal jabs at her sparring partner.

While pricking Ares’ pride, blue eyes scanned the training grounds until they found a petite red-head holding her own against another Medjai Hunter. Worried about her still Human Mate being hurt, she was relieved to see Gabriella’s sparring partner was Iolaus. A bit of a dichotomy, the Hunter was also a Healer and exceedingly patient when teaching the Clan’s youngsters. He would be careful using his Vampire strength against the young Human, but from the looks of the bruises blooming on Iolaus’ skin, Xena would say Gabriella was holding her own.

Seemingly lost in admiring her Mate, a presence brushed her senses, Xena reached back and grabbed whoever was behind her and pulled them over her shoulder to land in the dust with a thud.

“Even at home, a pretty form seldom diverts all of my attention.” She smirked at Ares as she moved toward Gabriella and Iolaus.

“The least you could do is help me up.”

He growled at his Childe, rubbing his sore shoulder, and wrinkling his nose at the sweat and dust combining to make rivulets of mud on his arms. Time for a bath before the others noticed his less than pristine condition. Xena never slowed nor looked back as she chastised the combatants to move out of the heat of the mid-day sun while herding Gabriella toward the communal baths.

Trailing water from the bath, Xena thanked the attendant for the towels as she wrapped her hair and began to dry off. Gabriella was still chattering about the new moves Iolaus had shown her. With an indulgent smile at the redhead’s rambling, Xena wondered how long Gabriella’s dissertations would become when she no longer needed to breathe. She thought of the bard’s tales the girl had written as she trailed alongside Argo on their journeys, always determined not to be a burden to the Medjai Hunter. Dressing in a cotton skirt and blouse, the brunette let her Mate’s voice drift to the background as she thought about her first meeting with the spunky redhead.

~ Flashback 70AD ~

The verbal sparring between Xena and her Sire, Ares, came to a halt when they noticed heavy smoke on the horizon. Urging their horses into a canter, they stopped before reaching the top of the rise. Dismounting, they approached the hilltop on foot to observe the valley below. What they saw convinced the Hunters from the Medjai Clan that they were drawing closer to their target.

When Ardeth informed his War Counsel, he and Rick were going to Greece to visit Alexander, Ares insisted he and Xena travel with them as protection. Ardeth had dismissed the need for protection but had seen a restlessness in Xena that nothing in Egypt could calm. Not since her Turning had she returned to her homeland while she waited for the legends of the Warrior Princess to fade from people’s memory. This trip would perhaps assuage her temper … And she could visit with her old friends, Alexander and Marc. Perhaps Ardeth could convince his Childe to keep her in Greece. Alexander could use a Hunter of Xena’s caliber while Dastan and Tamina were in Masyaf.

Marc had been excited while Alexander glared at the smirking Xena when Ardeth made his case for her to act as the Medjai envoy and help until Dastan and Tasmina’s return. That lead them to where they were today. Hunting down the latest on Alexander’s list of problems. How he heard about the antics of a small-time warlord on the opposite side of Greece was still a mystery to the Hunters.

The first job, Alexander had given his new Hunter, after loading Ardeth and Rick on the boat back to Egypt had been finding the warlord, Draco, who was rampaging through villages and taking women and young girls to sell at the slave markets. This led them to where they were no, laying on their bellies watching Draco’s men drag young women into a cage they’d mounted on a wagon.

Xena reached over to flick Ares’s ear with the back of her hand to stop the litany of complaints.

“Tell me again why you didn’t return to Egypt?” She continued to watch the actions below.

“I didn’t want to leave you without back-up.” Ares smirked at the warrior princess.

“Staying to annoy me will not get you into my bed.”

“So, if I stop annoying you will you have sex with me?”

“The fact you walk among the living annoys me.” Xena growled as she watched a young red-head get back-handed when she put herself between a raider and a smaller girl.

“Spunky.” Ares grinned at Xena.

“Not the word I’d use.” She slid backward before getting to her feet to head to the horses. “We’ll follow them to where they camp before we take the girls back.” She loosened Argo’s girth and lengthened the reins so the mare could graze.

“So we’re just going to wait until they leave?”

“No sense in causing more damage to their village.”

With a sigh to show how put out he was with the wait Ares settled his horse before throwing himself down next to Xena as she watched the village. The shadows were getting long when the small army headed out of town putting the wagon in the middle of their formation. By the time they tightened their horses’ saddles, there was enough distance to keep Xena and Ares from being spotted by the rear scouts.

They traveled five miles from the village before finding a suitable place for that size group to camp. The two vampires watched and waited as they used the young women to set-up camp and fix a meal for the marauders. Soon the girls were back in the cage, perimeter guards were set, and liquor was pulled out of saddlebags.

An hour passed … Then another. Those not used to strong drink sought out their bedrolls, while the hardened veterans continued to drink and gamble. Draco made his round of the camp reminding his men they would be getting an early start, so they could get to the slave market.

Around the edges of the camp, the guards supplied the two rescuers with needed sustenance. Their lives were forfeit, so Xena and Ares saw no reason to waste the chance to Feed. With the perimeter guards and most of the camp dead, the two Hunters ghosted up to the wagon holding the girls. Glaring the girls into silence, Xena worked on the lock while Ares watched her back. After the last girl got out of the cage, Ares took the lead back to their horses while Xena protected their rear. Realizing the girls did not have their superior senses, the smallest girl grabbed Ares’ belt while everyone behind took ahold of the person in front of them. Surprisingly, the strange caravan moved a lot quieter than Xena would have given them credit for as they made their way back to Potidaea.

As the sky started to lighten, Xena called for a break. The older girls began pulling out bread and cheese they had hidden while they were serving Draco and his men. Soon they were piled together like puppies, exhaustion, and fear finally taking their toll. Even the energetic red-head had settled down next to a younger blonde. In the false dawn, Xena could see the similarities between the girls and assumed they were sisters. Seeing Ares keeping watch, she used the lessons learned from Lao Ma, and dropped into a light meditation. She could rest, but still, be aware of her surroundings.

It was just before lunch the next day when the footsore troop of girls entered Potidaea. It didn’t take long before the surprise of being reunited with their stolen daughters began to wear off, and the people of the village turned to Ares and Xena for answers. It took the Vampires until after the mid-day meal for them to get away from the town’s people. They had barely ridden a half-mile when Xena pulled Argo to a stop.

“What?” Ares turned around in his saddle.

“We’re being followed.”

“By whom?”

Xena pointed to the same red-head that had talked until she had fallen asleep and began again when she woke up.

“Seriously? Is that why she’s following you like a hound pup?”

“She wants to hear my stories and learn to be a warrior.” Ares arched an eyebrow. Xena frowned at her Sire as he continued to wait. Rolling her eyes, she finally gave in. “Her name is Gabriella and she’s my Mate.”

Ares just stared. The warrior woman had not been happy when he Turned her, had never fallen for his advances and had never wanted a Mate. Now, her Mate was trailing behind them asking questions faster than one or the other could answer. The ‘God of War’ threw his head back and laughed.

~ Present ~

In the three years that Gabriella had accompanied Xena on her Hunts, she had honed not just her combat skills, but also her Bardic skills. Xena found it funny that Gabriella was something of a celebrity in Athens after she’d won a contest at the Bardic College. A smirk was all she received from Xena when complaining of simpering fans that trailed them when they left the shelter of Alexander’s villa.

Leaving the spartan office of Sanquen Vitae Clan’s Lead Hunter, Siberius Vaako, Xena was contemplating slipping off without her Mate. Pausing to look out over the water, she remembered the few times they had kept secrets from each other. None of them had turned out well, especially when they had travelled to Chin. Xena had nearly ended up in prison for a very long time. That little escapade had nearly broken their partnership. Hurt and feeling betrayed, Xena had left Gabriella in Greece and returned to the Medjai.

~ Flashback 72AD ~

Seeing the angry warrior princess storm her way into the Clan’s compound without her Human Mate, the Clan Leaders had worried that something had happened to the outgoing young woman and they were not looking forward to dealing with Xena on the verge of insanity.

“She’s not dead.” Xena snapped when Ardeth, Rick, and Aragorn had formed a loose circle around the angry woman. “I just can’t be around her right now.”

Ares chose that moment to come out of the house. He’d just arrived from Greece after leaving Xena’s irritating Mate with Alexander and Marc. Having gone to Chin with Gabriella to find Xena when she had begged his help. Then he had to suffer through the journey home after Gabriella had betrayed her Mate to the man Xena had traveled to the Far East to kill.

With betrayal burning in her throat, Xena barely acknowledged their presence and only Fed enough to keep the Hunger at bay as they sailed toward Greece. Not wanting to traverse the Canal of the Pharaohs in the dark, the captain tied up the boat for the night. When they awoke at dawn to continue through the canal, Xena was gone.

“She’s right. I left a very irritated Gabriella in Athens ranting about not being able to solve anything if you were hiding in Egypt.”

After that Nefertiri had taken the Hunter as a bodyguard so she could make the rounds of the different Medjai camps to check for problems. By the time they returned to the main Medjai compound, her time with Nefertiri had calmed her hurt, so when she saw Gabriella standing in the courtyard to greet their return, Xena stepped off Argo to engulf the strawberry blonde in a hug.

“I love, you.” They said in unison.

Xena watched the satisfied Nefertiri turn her horse for the stable. “My work here is done.” She heard the Clan’s Second-in-Command mutter to her horse.

~ Present 73AD ~

Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the past, Xena went in search of Gabriella. With everyone staying inside to escape the heat of the day, she was sure she would find her with the children that lived in the compound. Gabriella loved sharing her stories and teaching. She leaned against the doorway of the classroom watching her Mate telling of their time spent with the Amazons. That had been a time of tremendous personal growth for the naïve farm girl from Potidaea.

Feeling eyes on her, Gabriella looked through the screen of her lashes to see who was interrupting her story. Green eyes met ice blue with a smile as she finished her story and sent the children off to their parents.

“Xena.” She always felt breathless around the taller woman and wondered if all Mates felt this way about each other. She’d have to remember to ask Nefertiri the next time they were in Egypt. Shepsit Hemet Amun-Ra always intimidated her a bit with her cool poise and expressionless mask. Gabriella didn’t think anything would make the former priestess of Ra breathless. Her attention jerked back to Xena went the taller woman moved away from the door frame.

“We need to pack. Vaako wants us to check out reports that one of the Clan’s enemies has left her hideaway in Rome and is spreading bodies and chaos in India looking for someone calling himself Eli and preaching The Way of Love.” She started to walk toward their quarters always certain Gabriella would be at her left hand. “I wasn’t going to take you with me because there’s something not right about this whole situation. Livia is not one to break a sweat.”

Xena’s stream of thought was interrupted by a sputtering Gabriella when she grabbed the taller woman and pulled her to a stop. “What do you mean you weren’t going to take me! You know we do not do well apart. Why would the thought even cross your mind to not tell me what was happening?”

Placing her hands on Gabriella’s shoulders, Xena’s face went soft as her eyes roamed over the beloved face. “You’re still Human, Gabriella. Dealing with Rogue Vampires is a lot different than dealing with Human warlords, thieves, and assassins. They wouldn’t hesitate to take you from me.” Her voice trailed off.

Gabriella wrapped his Mate in a hug. “We’ve made it this far. I’ll be fine. Besides, I want to meet this Eli and hear what his Way of Love is all about. It’s almost the Winter Solstice. I bet by the time we travel to India take care of this Livia person and come home …” Gabriella’s voice took on a sly tone. “I’ll probably be 25 …” She batted her eyes at Xena.

Knowing when she was beaten, Xena rested her forehead against Gabriella’s. “It should be easier to say no to you.” Her voice was whispery, sending chills down Gabriella’s spine. “Know if something happens, I’ll Turn you then kill whoever hurt you.”

“I’d expect no less.” She laid her small hand over where Xena’s heart should beat under her fingers.

“I promise to do my best to remain as I am until we return to Egypt. I think I’d like to stay with the Clan instead of going back to Greece.”

“What about your family?” Xena was suspicious of Gabriella’s change of heart about Greece.

“I’m not that girl anymore.” There was a note of sadness in her voice as they continued the trek to their rooms. Xena threaded her fingers through Gabriella’s and gave a squeeze in support. “I mean … I’ll go visit them for the big family things like if Lila gets married, has babies, or if something happens to my parents, but …” She shook her head at the tangle of thoughts.

“You’ve become a warrior, an Amazon queen, and a Bard of some renown. Of course, you’re not that naïve farm girl anymore. I’m not the only that’s changed over the years since we met.” Xena used the hand she was holding to pull the smaller woman against her side.

Tucking her under her arm, they talked about what to pack for their trip to India.

~ Harbor, The Next Morning ~

Xena stood on the deck of their ship to Alexandria trying to catch sight of her Mate. They had arrived at the dock, and as Xena started to lead Argo onto the ship for the cruise across the Mediterranean, Gabriella’s attention was caught by something down one of the side streets. Calling out she would be right back, Xena had waved her off as she worked to get her mare settled.

She stayed with the mare nearly an hour before she started to worry. Going above deck, she saw the men working the docks were nearly finished loading cargo and supplies, but there was still no sign of Gabriella. Just as she thought they would set sail without her Mate; the breeze carried the unmistakable scent of Gabriella to her sensitive nose. Entering the main thoroughfare was Gabriella, but a new Gabriella. Gone was the farmstead homespun. In its place was a leather skirt and top that any Amazon warrior would wear with pride. Strapped against her boots were two Sais. Metal adorned her wrists and biceps, and the hair that was red in the winter had bleached out to blonde in the strong Grecian sun was now cut short. It would make it more difficult to be used against her in battle. Drawing in a deep breath as she watched Gabrielle stride toward the boat, Xena had an excellent idea of how to eliminate the boredom of the two-week journey to Alexandria.

Unbeknownst to anyone except Romulus of Rome, another party was on their way to India. As soon as his watchers inform him Livia and her most trusted men had slithered out of Rome, a messenger was on the way to Athens and then on to the Medjai Clan.

With the hold full of cargo and supplies, the trip from Athens to Alexandria was spent on deck with little comfort and even less privacy. Thankfully, the weather held, and by the time they got Argo off the boat, all the women were looking for was the fastest way to the Clan’s house for a hot bath, clean clothes, and a bed. Feeling safe for the first time in two weeks, they slept in the next morning, rising to a late brunch and several Chosen Ones for Xena to Feed. She’d found several of the sailors on the ship very accommodating thinking they would get their hands on the famous warrior princess. Curling her nose at the smell of unwashed body and the taint of alcohol leaving an aftertaste in her mouth, Xena still left her donors feeling satiated. It made her thankful for the Clan’s Chosen Ones.

The pre-dawn air was still cool the next morning, when Argo and a horse for Gabriella from the several kept for Clan members that might be in the city were saddled and waiting in the courtyard. Packing a week’s worth of supplies in two sets of saddlebags along with extra waterskins. The women were covered in lightweight burnooses, Xena had one of the servants purchase for the trip to the Medjai compound to protect their fair skin from the burning desert sun.

Taking advantage of the moon in the last quarter before full, Xena and Gabriella traveled after moonrise until the heat of the day before finding someplace to shelter out of the sun to sleep. The last morning they pushed through to reach the Medjai compound, not wanting to approach the well-guarded fortress after dark. Tired women and horses were settled in their rooms after Gabriella handed a packet of messages from Alexander over to Ardeth. They would begin planning the next leg of their journey tomorrow.

“You’re going to miss breakfast if you don’t get up.” The covers disappeared from the sleeping woman.

“Ugh. Didn’t we just go to bed?” Gabriella rolled over and tried to grab the covers.

“I know our sleep schedule’s all messed up, but you need to get up if you’re going to get back to normal.” Xena bent down to kiss the pouting mouth.

“I hate you.” She rolled off the bed and began looking for her robe.

“You love me. Hurry up. Sallah had Cook made several of your favorites.” She gave her Mate a swat on the butt before hurrying out of the room while Gabriella was looking for something to throw in retaliation.

They ended up needing three days to prepare. The Clan had cargo going to the port at Zaafarana, and Ares was using it as a training run for young Medjai warriors. Soon they had a caravan of 20 camels with their handlers along with 30 Medjai warriors. Xena bemoaned the fact it was going to take seven to ten days to get to the port. She’d thought she’d take Gabriella and ride ahead, but the ship they were taking to India was one of Sinbad’s taking the cargo to Mumbai, so they were stuck traveling camel speed to Zaafarana. The one good thing about traveling with the group was Xena didn’t have to worry about Argo while they were gone. Ares may be constantly disappointed about not warming her bed, but he always appreciated good horseflesh.

“Don’t be surprised if she has a foal on her heels when you get back.” Ares took control of the mare’s reins as Xena glared at him. “Well, she has been flirting with my stud.” He reached out to lift the hair off Xena’s shoulder.

“You should take a step back.” A voice came from behind Xena.

Ares stepped back to see around the solid presence of Xena. He chuckled when he saw Gabriella. He felt like he was being threatened by one of the stable cats until he noticed she was spinning a Sai. He blinked several times as he caught Xena smirking at him.

“Have a safe trip home. We’ll send news if we get the chance.” Xena chuckled as she and Gabriella picked up their gear and boarded the ship. At least they would have a cabin for the trip instead of ten days on deck, and there were even a few Chosen Ones among the crew.

Favorable winds had them making port in Mumbai ten days later. The ship’s captain gave them directions to lodgings and a stable where they would get a fair deal on a couple of horses. He was smiling as he watched the two women walk down the gangplank and disappear into the crowd. The country of India was in no way prepared for the havoc those two could create.

Satisfied with the captain’s advice on their accommodations, Xena settled into a shadowed corner with a tray of the local tea as she watched her Mate hold court with her storytelling. The taproom was fairly quiet as most were listening to Gabriella, but there were still people sitting with their heads together talking around the room. Trying to tune her Vampire hearing into the conversation only garnered her bits and pieces of conversations, but she finally struck gold when she heard the name Eli mentioned. Under the guise of returning her tray to the barkeep, Xena homed in on the conversation.

“They say this Eli has amazing powers.” One whispered.

“Don’t let the local Devis and Devas hear you. They’ll make you pay dearly.” His partner warned.

“He teaches The Way of Love. It would be good to no longer give our money to the Maharajahs to support their armies.”

“I hear one of them hired a mercenary army out of Rome to kill him.”

“Bah, we have enough killers for hire in India. Why would they hire outsiders?”

“The rulers don’t want to make a martyr of the man they just want him and his teachings to disappear.”

“So who is this Roman mercenary?”

“Calls herself Livia of Rome. Word from the docks says she fucked her way through the Roman government to get what she wanted.”

“Maybe we should find this Eli and take the reward for ourselves.”

His companion laughed at his audacity. “Your woman barely lets you come to the tavern. There is no lifetime in which you would be allowed to leave home.”

“You speak the truth, my friend, you speak the truth, but oh what a woman she is. You should be so lucky.” He slapped his friend on the shoulder.

Xena’s eavesdropping was interrupted by the bartender with a fresh tray. He studied the warrior as she pulled to coin out her pouch for the tea. “You search for the Deva preaching love?” He asked quietly.

“If it leads me to the Roman. She is of interest to my people.” Xena added several more coins to the price of her tea.

He gave her a small smile. “Word has it his group is on the road to Indore.”

“Thank you for your hospitality. We will be leaving the day after tomorrow.”

“I’ll have my daughter freshen the room when you are about your day.” He assured her. “Oh, tell your friend she may keep all she makes. I will forego my fee since my business tonight has been most excellent.” With a nod of acknowledgment, Xena headed back to her table.

Gabriella joined her when she returned to her table. Silence reigned while they each prepared their tea. “The owner says you can keep the money.” Blue eyes moved around the room making note of anyone close by who might overhear their conversation.

“That was nice of him.” Gabriella sipped her tea, watching Xena for cues of what she was supposed to do. “We going to the market tomorrow?”

“Among other things. Finish your tea. We need to get an early start.” She set her cup down then moved around the table where she planted a hand in the small of Gabriella’s back as she directed her across the taproom toward the stairs to their room. A hand reached out to touch the red leather skirt before his face abruptly met the tabletop. “She’s taken.” Xena hissed. They passed unmolested to their room.

The last night at the inn, they got everything packed and ready for leaving at first light. As much as she would like to take advantage of their last night in a bed, they were still two women traveling alone in a world of men. No matter their prowess as warriors there were still ways the Hunter and her Mate could be taken down, so Xena set her senses to alert her if anyone tried to enter their room before wrapping around Gabriella and drifting into sleep.

~ The road to Indore ~

Though she would never admit it, Gabriella was glad Xena insisted they buy two horses. The road to Indore was wide enough for two wagons to pass, but it was in poor shape. There was fording numerous streams and traveling around the bottom of the mountains. Xena often scouted off the road in both directions but had not found any sign that any large groups of warriors had passed through. Gabriella had hoped this hunt would end quickly. She would like to settle in at the Medjai compound until after she was Turned and Mated. Five years of traveling with brief stays in Athens were beginning to wear her down. That and she needed time to edit her scrolls while the memories were still fresh. Dilios was always harping about getting the little details. Sometimes she thought it was less about preserving history and more about entertaining the historian.

The sound of a cantering horse brought Gabriella out of her thoughts. She knew better than to let her attention wander while they were on the road. Shaking her head at her mistake, she looked up to see Xena riding towards her.

“The town of Nashik is just ahead. We should be able to find a room and a bath for the night.” Xena had seen the tiredness in her Mate. She had been pushing them hard to find either Eli, so she could use him as bait or to find Livia before she found Eli. She still thought they were chasing an imposter. The Livia she knew of would never be caught roughing it across the countryside when she could sit in a comfortable house ordering someone else to do the heavy lifting.

Xena wasn’t far off the mark. Livia hearing news of a young brunette woman who was using some of the most powerful men in Rome to achieve her goals had earned the ire of the ancient Vampire. The fact that she was using Livia’s name was also anger-inducing as this false Livia’s actions would slam a lot of doors in her face. When they began calling her Livia, the Bitch Queen of Rome, it had so angered the ancient Vampire that one of her minions had lost his head when he spoke out of turn. As soon as word reached her villa the false Livia was leaving Rome with a band of Roman warriors, the beautiful blonde was making plans to follow, hopefully without crossing paths with any of her enemies in Greece or from the Medjai.

~ Livia the Bitch Queen of Rome ~

Once upon a time, a girl child was born to one of the fiercest warriors in the Amazon nation. It was both a time of celebration and sorrow for the exhausted mother who had only enough time to hold her beautiful dark-haired, blue-eyed daughter and to name her Eve.

As a part of the queen’s guard, Eve’s mother was wounded saving her queen when the tribe had been attacked by a war band only a few days before. Most of the marauders had been killed while the few remaining had retreated. Amazon scouts had followed the survivors until they caught up with them several miles from camp, and permanently stopped them from attacking anyone again. The healers fought to keep mother and baby alive until the child could be delivered. After a hard struggle, the queen called her tribe together and presented Eve as her adopted daughter. The balance was maintained as one died and another lived. Thus Eve began her life as an Amazon princess.

Twenty-five years later, Eve had packed her belongings on her horse and left her tribe. She loved her Amazon sisters, but she felt squeezed … Like everything was too small for her, so she was taking herself to Rome. The Roman army was known for its warriors, and she wanted to be the best. She had been raised on stories of Xena, warrior princess, and her companion, the Amazon princess, Gabriella. She wanted to make the world forget they even knew those names and replace them with hers. She needed something more noteworthy than Eve. By the time she reached Rome Eve had become Livia. Livia was a woman warrior with no softness in her heart and would do anything for money.

Once in Rome, Livia began circling the men in power looking for the weakest link. She had learned well the lessons learned watching her queen and foster mother as she dealt with those who would take advantage of mere women. It was not long before those in power were coming to her to ‘fix’ their problems. The secrets she carried and the skeletons she could unearth earned her the name Bitch Queen of Rome. Now they had sent her to India to eliminate a man cutting into their business of war and conquest.

Their ship had put into port at Rajapuri, which was miles south of where she wanted to be, but nothing would convince the captain to go to Mumbai until he had off-loaded his cargo. The best the captain would offer was to let Livia and her men off the ship first.

She sent her most trusted men to gather supplies and information while she and the remainder rode out of town to find a suitable campsite. Tents had been set-up, firewood and water gathered when Livia’s scouts began returning to camp. After eating everyone gathered around their central fire.

“Word is Eli is to the north in Nashik. We will strike camp at first light and push hard to reach Nashik before he moves on. The quicker he’s dead, the quicker we’re sailing back to civilization.” That brought chuckles from her men as she headed back to her tent.

~ Nashik ~

Xena could not believe their luck. They had practically fallen over Eli holding court as they were scouting for a campsite. Gabriella had been so excited she had nearly levitated off her horse to get to the man’s side.

“Can’t you feel it?” Her voice sounded breathy as she tossed her reins to Xena.

“Feel what?” Using the skills taught to her by Lao Ma about energy manipulation, she could feel Eli was something, but whatever he was, though he looked Human, he was not.

“He just feels so …” She signed as she headed toward the group.

“I’ll just be over here setting up camp.” Xena shook her head as she led the horses to a nearby stream.

Once the horses were settled to graze, she began gathering firewood after finding an overhanging rock that would offer shelter from the elements. Fire burning down to coals that would be used for cooking dinner, Xena shed her sword, armor, boots, and chakram to wade in the river to catch a few fish to go with the greens and tubers she’d collected along the riverbank.

Fish and vegetables cleaned and washed, she re-dressed before heading back to camp with her bounty. She had used her enhanced hearing to keep track of her Mate and Eli while she was at the river. She also caught the scent of brewing tea as she neared the campsite.

Before stepping into the open, Xena observed the two people sitting by the fire. Eli had long, dark, curling hair, beard, and dark eyes. His skin-tone and body type were of the people of the region. He had spread his cloak to give a layer of protection between himself and the ground. It looked as though he was settled in for the night. They had been looking for him to protect him from Livia. Giving a little huff of annoyance, Xena walked into the small clearing with her contribution to dinner.

“Xena!” Gabriella jumped up and grabbed the basket of fish, tubers and greens. “This is Eli. He tells the most amazing stories.” Green eyes sparkled as she danced back to the fire to bury the tubers in the hot coals.

“Is that so?” She gave a nod of acknowledgment to the man. He began to stand but Xena signaled him to remain seated.

“Gabriella was kind enough to offer a spot by your fire for the night. I believe we gathered enough wood for the evening and brought the horses in close.” He offered, to show he intended to pull is own weight.

“Any friend of Gabriella’s is welcome.” Xena was sure her smile looked more like a baring of teeth, and she was careful to not drop her fangs.

This man was no threat to her relationship with her Mate. Beings like Eli nearly always ended up being martyred or becoming the charismatic leader that turns out to be a dictator. Men like that did not have time for the sins of the flesh, they were all about their higher purpose. She prepared a spit to hang the fish over the fire while Eli and Gabriella continued to talk.

That night set the tone for the next several weeks. While Gabriella traveled toward Indore with Eli, Xena would scout a large circle around the road looking for signs of Livia. She often stopped to talk with those traveling behind them. Tales of people being murdered that had been seen with Eli were becoming prevalent. This news caused Xena to travel further back the road toward Nashik. It was sometimes two or three days that she would be separated from Gabriella. Each time she returned something was different about her Mate. The changes in clothing were not of concern, but when she put away her staff and Sais and refused to carry a weapon, Xena began to become concerned.

Her latest foray in search for Livia of Rome found her away from Gabriella for a week. Xena could not remember the last time they’d been separated that long, but her scouting finally paid off. Camped about a mile off the main road between Nashik and Indore she found a dozen warriors led by a young woman that looked to have not yet seen 30 turns of the year. Before her horse could call to the ones in the camp. Xena moved to where she could use her enhanced senses to observe the camp without being seen. She heard the woman called Livia by several of the men, but from the description she had of Livia of Rome from Alexander and Marc, this woman was not her. Though she was surrounded by her band of warriors, this woman was Human.

An evil smile crossed her face as a thought occurred to the Hunter. Knowing Eli and Gabriella were more than three days to the north, Xena swung up on her horse and set off at a trot back toward Nashik. What or rather who she was looking for should not be that far away.

Livia was a seething mass of silk and temper. Her ‘luxury’ carriage was a step away from a chariot and was the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever ridden or attempted to sleep in. When she found this false Livia, she’d finally have somewhere to vent her ire. Thankfully, they would soon be finding a place to camp.

Xena had traveled a mere two miles when she saw the small caravan traveling north. She nearly laughed out loud when keen hearing heard the litany of complaints coming from inside the enclosed carriage. This could all work out perfectly. All she needed to do was introduce Livia to Livia. She had a good idea where Vampire Livia would camp, she turned and headed back toward the camp of the Human Livia.

Traveling as the crow flies, it took her about a half hour to reach a spot close to the perimeter of Human Livia’s camp. Tying her horse out of sight, she let her Vampire out to play as she silently stalked the perimeter guards. After taking what she needed from him while making sure he was sated and susceptible, she strongly suggested they could fill their pockets with Roman gold if they were to attack the camp at daylight.

When Livia stepped out of her tent the next morning and looked around. The camp was unnaturally quiet. There were no sounds of men breaking camp or having breakfast … In fact, there were only two men left in the entire camp. Furious she was going for her horse when the sound of numerous horses were coming toward the camp. The three watched as four men leading six horses came into camp.

“What is this!” Livia demanded.

“Clavius came to us after his shift on the perimeter and said he had information about a camp of Roman nobles camping just over the hill, and they should be easy pickings. So, at daylight, we rode out with him since we didn’t want to miss out on any of the fun.”

“You’re missing six men. How much fun did you have?”

“I have never seen anything like it. I never seen people move so fast. They were on us in no time. Even the woman. They bit them on the neck then killed them when they were finished.

“What kind of horse dung are you trying to sell.” The man at Livia’s right hand spat.

“It’s the truth. I swear on my mother’s soul, may she rest in the Elysian Fields.”

When he stepped forward toward the storyteller, Livia stopped him. “Wait, Patrin. I’ve heard stories of such creatures when I lived with my family.” She approached the soldier. “Did their eyes glow like a fire from within.”

“They did. Nothing we did seem to kill them.”

“Nonsense. Everything dies.” Patrin denied.

“Not if it’s already dead.” Livia said in a quiet voice that made everyone shiver. “We need to break camp. They may be tracking you back here. Move it! Get these tents down! I want to be out of here as soon as possible. We’ve still got a prophet or whatever he’s calling himself to hunt down.”

Xena smiled as she turned north. That should even the odds, and it gave Livia the scent of her enemy. It had been a good day’s work.

~ Dhule ~

Xena caught up with Eli and his troop outside of Dhule. Gabriella threw herself at her and started babbling. Instead of re-mounting her horse for the ride into town, she walked with her arm around Gabriella’s shoulders taking in the essence of her Mate.

Settled in their room after dinner and a hot bath with Eli in the room next door, Xena pulled Gabriella onto the bed and showed her exactly how much she missed the smaller woman. When they were both coming down from the aftershocks of their orgasms, Xena told Gabriella the story of the two Livias.

“You’re not serious.”

“I am.”

“Xena …”

“Look, Gabriella, I know you’re not like me. You have a reverence for life that I only seem to have when it comes to children. I am not asking you to be like me. I know you’ve taken a life in defense of others, but never just for the sake of watching their life’s blood color the dirt …”

“Xena …”

“If this Way of Love is your path, I won’t stand in the way of you following Eli.”

“Yes … I mean … No … I mean … Damn it. You get me flustered. What I am trying to say is, yes, I’m interested in learning because it just feels so right, but when it’s time to go home, I’ll be right there with you. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She pulled Gabriella close and let her scent lull her to sleep.

They stayed in Dhule two more days before moving on to Varshi. Xena still rode scout against the presence of the two Livias and hunted to provide food for the camp. She was quick to put down any unwelcome advance the men on the road made toward any of the women in the group. Gabriella tried to make excuses to Eli for Xena’s confrontational attitude, but he was quick to point out that just because Xena chose to follow the Path of the Warrior was no reason for Gabriella to feel she was in the wrong.

“But …”

The Way of Love is the same as any path. It is a calling. Each path takes its own type of strength to walk. There are times when we may find ourselves torn between walking two different paths.”

“How is that possible?”

“You’re a warrior just like to one who is the other half of your soul.” Gabriella gasped. Only members of the Clan knew they were Mates. “It’s a small gift.” He gave her a slight smile. “Some of us walk more than one path.”

“Yes, I have learned to fight, but I consider myself a Bard … A storyteller of our travels, but I don’t think I’m a warrior.”

“When you still carried your weapons, you stepped between me and a man with a sword.”

“You were unarmed.”

“But you showed your warrior spirit in your defense of me. You will have plenty of time to figure out your path.”

“The world needs to hear your teachings.”

“There will always be others after I’m gone.”

“You don’t have to be in a hurry.” Gabriella huffed.

He smiled at her like he knew something she did not.

~ Dabhashi ~

They reached the town of Dabhashi on Gabriella’s 25th birthday. The Indian sun had bleached all the red out her short hair leaving it the color of new gold. Xena had several small gifts in her saddlebags including a ring of gold and silver intertwined with emeralds the color of her Mate’s eyes.

The town turned out to be quite crowded because of a festival to a local Devi. Gabriella convinced Xena to put her leather aside for one day and come with her to the festival. By the time they returned they returned to the inn, they were covered in Mehndi ink. Not sure if it was the designs, something in the ink, someone she drank, or just the energy of the local deities, but the whole day they both felt like they were outside of themselves. The women were still in the altered state when they fell into bed to sleep off the strange day. Xena gave a brief thought to the gifts in her saddlebag but decided it could wait.

The next day Xena was back in her leather though the ink from the day before peeked from under her armor. She was watching the crowd while Eli held court when she noticed the dust cloud heading toward town. She stayed relaxed even as she watched the Human Livia and her six remaining men rode through the gates.

The Romans all went in different directions except the one Livia called Patrin. When Eli noticed them listening at the edge of the crowd, he invited them to join in. The soldier spat on the ground as they walked away toward the tavern.

“I assume I can’t talk you into leaving town today.” Xena looked at Eli.

“You would assume right.”

“Xena?”

“The Roman was the Human Livia.”

Gabriella laid a hand on Eli’s arm. “Rome sent her to kill you.

“Why would Rome send someone to kill me.”

“You’re beginning to draw crowds like the Nazarene that was popular some 50 years ago.”

“I have no interest in some newfound religion.”

“It’s not about religion. It’s about power. Popularity. Money. Influence over people. If we make love, not war who would hire their mercenaries.”

Eli made a face. “I have more important things to worry about.”

“Like being a Deva?” Xena asked.

Eli startled. “How?”

“I saw how the temple’s Devi reacted to you. Your God must be higher on the food chain then hers.”

“I …” He exchanged looks with both women.

“I can’t throw stones.” Xena shrugged.

“I won’t be driven from where I’m needed in fear.” Eli straightened his back.

Xena looked at Gabriella in her lightweight cotton and sandals. “I’ll do what I can.”

“That’s all anyone should ask.” The hand on her arm squeezed in understanding. With a nod of acceptance, they walked toward their lodging.

They had just sat down to dinner when the sounds of horses and wagons stopped in the courtyard. A handsome dark-haired man came in and secured three rooms. When he came back inside, he was accompanied by a beautiful blonde woman and four other handsome men.

“I wonder who that is?” Gabriella whispered.

“The original Livia of Rome.”

“Oh my.” Gabriella’s eyes followed them across the taproom. “Both Livia’s in the same town. I can’t imagine that going to be good.”

“No, but it could be interesting. For Livia to leave her spacious palace to sail halfway around the world, I would say she’s in a bit of an uproar.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Me?”

“Yeah.”

“Nothing. Not my fight. They might even kill each other.”

“But …”

“Just let the dust settle, Gabriella. She might be on the enemies list, but she hasn’t done anything wrong … yet.”

They spent the next three days trying to watch everyone. Gabriella stayed with Eli, but all that happened was Livia taunting him after one of his talks, but she found her studying him after he healed a little girl who’d fallen and broken her arm. All Livia had said was she now understood why Rome wanted him dead.

Xena followed Vampire Livia’s minions as they ran errands for their mistress and tried to keep an eye on Human Livia’s soldiers. By evening she was more than ready for a hot bath and her bed. She was on her way to the baths when she met Livia in the hall.

“What are you after, Hunter?” She sneered at Xena.

“Nothing so long as you play by the rules. I’ll even let you go back to Rome with your head to be Remus’ problem.”

“How magnanimous of you. I didn’t think Xena, warrior princess let her enemies walk away.”

“Like I said …”

“I have no interest in your preacher or his little blonde friend.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Xena continued to the baths.

Xena sat with Eli and Gabriella after she ordered from the barkeep. “I talked to Livia.”

“Which one?”

“The original.”

“And.”

“She gets to keep her head as long as she and her minions behave. She can continue to be Remus’ problem.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes.” Xena frowned. What did Gabriella want her to do? Take her head in the middle of the street for no reason?

“The other one?”

“We won’t much longer to wait. She’s getting twitchy. Eli makes her question herself. She probably hasn’t done that since she left home.”

“How can you know that?”

“I see signs that she was once an Amazon.”

“I should …”

“Nothing. She chose her path. We all have our crisis of faith.”

Gabriella nodded. “You’re right. Her trial.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Eli looked back and forth between the women.

“It’s like when you were talking about paths and choices.”

Eli nodded and returned his attention to his dinner.

The next morning started peaceful enough until they left the inn. They made as far as the town’s well when Livia and her Roman soldiers attacked. Gabriella pushed Eli back toward the inn so Xena would not be distracted trying to protect her unarmed Mate. A strike from Xena’s chakram took out one of the soldiers headed their way. It took out the second on its return trip to its owner. That left two soldiers and Livia. The three were pressing the Vampire hard. Xena was trying to appear Human without getting herself killed.

Gabriella watched in morbid fascination as signs of battle began to appear on Xena’s body. The other three were in worse condition since they did not have a Vampire’s constitution, but the blood loss was beginning to take their toll. Torn between being at Xena’s side as she had for the past five years and adhering to The Way of Love, all she could do is watch until a slash from behind caused the warrior princess to fall.

“XENA!” Gabriella shouted as she snatched up the dead soldier’s sword and moved to protect her Mate.

A quick thrust to the heart and the man who had caused Xena to fall was dead. With no time to waste crying of lost ideals, she continued to fight as Xena made it to her feet. She stepped back to let her take the lead, and when the last soldier fell, Gabriella dropped the Roman sword and made her way back to Eli. The sound of steel clashing continued as Livia and Xena continued their battle. Finally, she was able to disarm the young woman.

“Yield?” Xena asked.

“Why would you do that? Have you gone soft?” Livia sneered.

“No, I just see a different person under all that Roman frippery. Who is Livia, the Bitch Queen of Rome?”

“Yes, I’d like to know that, too.” A blonde woman stood glaring at them both.

“Who are you?” Human Livia asked.

“Livia of Rome, and you’ve upset quite a few of my plans …” She looked at Xena. “Which I will forgive if you never return to Rome.” She snarled with a flash of fang.

Wide blue eyes took in the woman before her. Though she was dressed to the hilt, there was no give in the woman’s demeanor. She looked around town at the people staring, the bodies and blood in the streets. Slowly she began unbuckling her armor. Once it was removed, she held her hand out Xena.

“I am Eve. I was raised in the Amazon tribe near the Rodopi Mountain Range.

“Good people.” Xena clasped her forearm.

“I think I need to talk with Eli.” Eve gathered her armor and sword and walked away.

“Well, now that that’s settled, I can return to civilization.” Livia huffed.

“Remember, I’m right behind you all the way to Egypt.” Xena smiled.

The smile disappeared when she saw a tearful Gabriella talking with Eli. There was nothing to do but face the music.

“Gabriella, I’m so sorry …” Xena was interrupted by Gabriella throwing her arms around her.

“When you went down, I was so scared … I just knew I couldn’t lose you like that after all we’ve been through.”

“But I caused you to break your way.” Xena pushed her back so she could look at her face.

“You’re my way. What good is the way of love if that love is dead?” Gabriella gave Eli a watery smile as Xena pulled her back into a hug.

“Oh, Gabrielle, you’re my way, too.”

~ finis ~

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