Note: Short one because it's been years since I wrote and I think it shows, lol.
The Conqueror emerged from the clearing of shrubbery and looked towards her palace. The torches decorating the courtyard seemed like fireflies dancing in the distance. Murmurs of conversation filtered the air as people gathered. Xena thought she heard also heard the muted beat of a drum. The wedding would go on without her, of course. Salmoneus had insisted she attend, otherwise it would her absence would be as a statement, a confirmation of a growing chasm between her and the generals. But she didn't care. She would not be humiliated to attend a marriage she didn't approve of. She wouldn't give Marcus that kind of satisfaction. At the sound of rustling, she lifted a few branches behind her to allow the Egyptian princess an unfettered pass into the clearing.
"Looks like it's going to be a big party," Arsinoe stated simply as they both stared.
"Hm," Xena acknowledged then motioned for the princess to follow, "let's go."
A short crossing down the hill revealed a dozen of the imperial guards on horses. As they got closer, Arsinoe noticed a young woman already seated on Xena's horse, Argo. Her hands were bound at the wrists and resting on her lap. Staring from her towards the guards, she noticed them eyeing her curiously, as they had surely never seen her before. One of the guards handed the reigns of a horse to her.
"Conqueror says you are to ride this horse," He stated gently.
The princess looked towards Xena who nodded slightly and climbed onto the saddle. Xena soon followed, climbing behind the young woman on her own horse.
They rode in silence, a few guards riding behind and some in front with enough distance to keep the Greek ruler and her fellow riders privacy. Several times Arsinoe found herself eyeing the pair that rode next to her. Though the position was intimate, she noticed the Conqueror kept frigid behind the young woman and was careful not to let her arms touch the woman as she held onto Argo's reigns. The young woman seemed almost like a child beside the ruler's towering presence. The woman, for her part, stared straight ahead as if afraid the ruler would rebuke her for being any less than stone statue.
As the sun began to set, the travelers came across an outpost. The Conqueror halted and ordered the men to stay put while she and Arsinoe would continue alone.
"Conqueror, this is not a wise decision, please let us accompany you," One of the guards reasoned.
"Do as I say," Xena rumbled in a menacing voice. Arsinoe noticed the young woman sitting in front of Xena visibly shiver and her eyes momentarily filled with fear at Xena's command.
The guards seemed to look towards each other, as if trying to figuring out if they should obey the command or rebel against it. None of them thought it was smart for their commander to enter enemy territory alone, with little defense and especially not when there was a war looming on the horizon that hinged on her leadership. Finally the guard who had spoken up gave a slight bow and moved back, allowing Xena and her companion space. So they trotted onwards.
It seemed like a candlemark ago when they had left the guards behind, the Conqueror seemed to show no signs of wanted to slow down. The sun was dipping further below the tree line and dusk was eminent. Arsinoe had goosebumps on her flesh as the cold air stirred around her. The Egyptian wrestled with herself, wondering if she should speak up but Xena seemed to be in a terrible mood. She wanted to ask if when they would stop to rest. About the girl and her fate. About their destination.
"Where are we heading?" the young woman's soft voice penetrated the air, breaking Arsinoe from her thoughts.
There was silence for a long time and both women wondered if the Conqueror would ever answer her. The woman kept her eyes on the path in front of her, not daring to confront Xena.
"I'm taking you home," the warrior woman said. Adding, in an almost imperceptible whisper, "something I should have done a long time ago." Arsinoe didn't miss the pained expression on the ruler's face.