Chapter 15 –Infidel
Six Years Ago
Solan poked his head out from the caravan's small window. He smiled excitedly and saw a lot of sand and very few trees. So far Persia didn't look anything like Greece. He thought it would be similar from the paintings he'd seen weeks prior to leaving Thebes.
"Solan, stop looking," Xena pulled him away from the window and closed the curtains.
He huffed and slumped on the cushioned bench, pouting. "I just wanted to see! This place looks nothing like Thebes."
She smiled and adjusted Alexander on her lap as he kept playing with her long robes and gloves on her hands. "I'm sure you will get used to it," she said and saw the disappointment on her son's face. Alexander grabbed the necklace around her neck and began chewing on it.
Solan cringed as he watched his infant brother slobber all over his mother's necklace. "He is so gross."
Xena shook her head and took the necklace out of Alexander's mouth and wiped his face. "That's not very nice, Solan."
"I didn't say I didn't like him, I just said he's gross," Solan smirked. Xena frowned and then reached over and placed Alexander into Solan's lap. "Ah, come on!" he groaned and Alexander smiled up at him. He looked into his little brother's eyes seriously and wagged his finger in his face. "Don't drool on me," he warned.
The caravan came to an abrupt halt and Xena frowned, putting the veil over her face. Dajan, her newly appointed adviser opened the door with frantic eyes. "Xenophon, you must come see this."
She stepped out of the caravan then turned around. "Don't come out here, alright?"
Solan nodded and held his brother in his lap. He frowned softly and watched his mother disappear with Dajan. He much preferred his mother's other adviser, Raphael, in Thebes, but it looked like that he wasn't going to be coming back anytime soon.
Alexander reached up and grabbed Solan's nose and giggled. "Alexander!" Solan griped and grabbed his brother's small hand. "Don't do that," he said and his brother's face contorted and his smile disappeared. "Oh no, don't cry please," he begged. His infant brother began to whimper lightly and he quickly looked around inside the coach to see if he could distract him.
He found his mother's scarf and smiled. He wrapped it around Alexander's head, creating a turban-like shape. "You look like a real prince now. What do you think?" he asked and his brother stopped crying, staring up at him with his big brown eyes. "See? You don't have to cry. This is a no crying zone!" he grinned widely.
Xena walked ahead of her army with Dajan and protected her eyes against the harsh sand whisking through the air. She saw three dead bodies nailed to crucifixes with the word 'Kafar' engraved on their bare chests. Birds were already picking at their skin, which meant they had been left there for a long time.
She frowned and folded her arms. Dajan approached her cautiously. "Who did this?"
"Sidon," she growled. "Take those bodies down," she ordered then trailed back to her caravan where her two sons were.
Dajan crinkled his nose and grabbed Xena's arm. "Your highness..." he felt that this was not a good idea.
She snatched her arm away from him. "I said, take them down! Bury them. We are not leaving until they are buried. They deserve to be buried not to be displayed as a means of humiliation."
"But your highness, it is a threat, a warning. Should you not be concerned?" he was aghast at her calmness.
"It is no threat to me," she smiled and swiftly turned around. "Get moving, we have a long journey ahead of us."
Xena, Gabrielle and some of her best elite guard trotted through the busy streets of Jerusalem, scouting for any suspicious behavior or weird sightings. Gabrielle stayed a few paces behind Xena and looked at the horrified faces below, gawking at Xena.
These people were horrified of her. So much for merciful sultan, she thought. As long as she'd known Xena, which wasn't that long, Xena made it seem like she was very kind to her people, and she was...sometimes. Despite what torture she inflicted on those councilmen, she was always kind to everyone else, well, sort of.
Xena was a powerful authority and she never wanted to appear weak to others, but perhaps that was her biggest weakness of all. Xena didn't want to be weak, so she made herself look and seem intimidating, by not only hiding her true identity, but also by saying few words to those around her, including the common people.
Belach was right, she was never going to figure Xena out, no matter how much time she spent with her. Gabrielle realized this when she continually saw Xena morph from one person to another throughout the day. One moment she was a strict and stern mother to her children, the next she was a mysterious sultan and also a mentor to the girls. Xena had many sides to her, but Gabrielle knew there was one side she hadn't seen of her Xena –her true self. She was always pretending to be someone she wasn't, especially to those that didn't know her.
Gabrielle understood why Xena hid herself and posed as a male, but maybe she could do more good as a woman and set an example to everyone.
She was deeply disturbed by the amount of terror in these people's eyes. She trotted next to Xena and stared at her concernedly. Xena was still not well enough to do much of anything. Her reflexes were terrible and so was her attitude.
"Um, what exactly are we looking for?" she asked.
Xena peered down at her anxious blonde trainee. "Anything that could point to Sidon. I know he is not far. He is so close I can almost taste him," she smiled and kept her eyes peeled for anything strange.
Gabrielle sighed and trotted ahead to scout the area. Xena raised her eyebrow and quickly followed her to make sure she wouldn't get herself in trouble or in harm's way. After all, she was responsible for her well being and of course, Gabrielle owed her a large debt, but also, Xena owed her, her life. She watched over her when she was very ill, almost on the verge of dying and she didn't think that anyone would do something like that for her.
Gabrielle halted her horse and her eyes widened at the horror before her. She saw a man nailed to a crucifix in the middle of Jerusalem's largest square. This could be why all the people had fear in their eyes. They must have thought Xena had something to do with this.
"Your highness..." she barely managed to say.
Xena stopped beside Gabrielle and saw her physician hoisted up on a cross with the word 'Kafar' burned into his chest. She had a flashback from six years ago. It had Sidon's name written all over it. He's done this before and now her suspicions were put to rest. He was not far, in fact he was incredibly close.
Her blood began to boil as she continued to stare at the poor innocent doctor. He lost his life and he was being used as a tool to lure her to Sidon. And the sad thing is, it's working.
"Take him down!" she ordered and her men dismounted their horses, immediately running to the physician.
Gabrielle felt sick to her stomach and turned away, no longer able to look anymore. "Who did that?" she whispered.
"Sidon, of course," Xena scoffed. "He's trying to humiliate me."
"What...what is that word on his chest? What does it mean?" she dared to turn around and saw Xena's men carrying the physician over their heads. That poor man, she thought.
"Infidel, disbeliever, heathen. Whichever way you translate it, it is a threat of damnation." Xena sighed heavily, shaking her head. She turned to her men, "take him back to the palace." She said and turned back to face the distraught citizens in front of her. They were more than horrified and what was worse, they thought she did this. She hoped that her people at least had more faith in her to believe she didn't do this, but by the look in their eyes, it didn't seem that way.
Gabrielle glanced around at the roofs of the buildings and frowned. She saw a veiled man, wearing all black. He pulled out something from his cloak pocket and looked directly down at Xena. Her eyes grew in fear and she grabbed Xena's horse's reins and pushed her out of the way.
"Xena!" she shouted and fell off her own horse, gripping onto Xena's horse's reins. The Saracen above threw down a smoke bomb onto the ground.
Xena snapped her head around and saw the Saracen run across the rooftops. She coughed as the square filled with smoke, but it wasn't smoke, it was gas. She pressed her veil against her mouth so she wouldn't breathe anything in.
The citizens in the square panicked and began running around like crazy. Xena squinted her eyes and she could barely see a foot in front of her. She heard Gabrielle coughing on the ground and reached down, grabbing her arm.
"Gabrielle!" she yelled and hoisted her up onto her horse. "Cover your mouth!" she shouted and ripped a piece of her robe off and turned to see Gabrielle leaned up against her, inhaling the gas heavily. She grunted and wrapped the fabric around Gabrielle's mouth.
As she saw people scurrying around, her heart raced. Her men were no help either, they were panicking as well. She held her veil against her mouth and trotted through the thick fog slowly, careful not to run into or over anyone.
She trotted by two of her men whom held veils across their mouths, watching the citizens running around like chickens with their heads cut off. "Take these people to the ocean front!" she ordered and the soldiers nodded.
Alexander was inside his mother's room swinging around his wooden sword while Solan was sitting on the ground, reading a book quietly to himself. He knew that his mother meant well, but he wanted to do so much more than babysit his little brother. Although, he felt special because he was the only one who got to watch Alexander most of the time, if not all the time, because she trusted him.
The only thing that kept bothering him was the letter he sent to his father and begged Gabrielle to forge his mother's signature. He knew that she'd figure it out sooner or later, but he hoped she wouldn't be too upset with him. He was only trying to do the right thing at the time.
He remembered all the times when his mother made hasty decisions and wrote people letters to either subside their anger or avoid them completely for at least a year. When he was nine, he was sent to live in Ankara with his father and Natassa. He also was in charge of watching Alexander too and that was the first year that his little brother was without Xena by his side. He whined constantly for days. Alexander was only two when he stayed in Ankara for six months.
At the time, he didn't understand why his mother and father constantly shuffled them back and forth between Jerusalem and Ankara, but now he understood. When he was very young he didn't understand why his parents were always fighting and every time the two were in a room together, all they could do was argue and bicker about everything –especially him and his brother.
"Hey Solan!" Alexander called out and he put down the book in his lap.
"What's up?" he smiled softly, putting his thoughts aside to pay attention to his brother.
Alexander sat down beside him and twirled the wooden sword in the air. "Do you think that we will ever go back to Ankara?"
Solan sighed and closed the book. "I don't think so, buddy."
"How come? I like living with father," he frowned sadly and held the sword in his lap now.
"I think mother wants us to live with her from now on." He wrapped his arm around his small brother. "It's kind of complicated."
Alexander nodded and sighed heavily. "Do father and mother hate each other? Is that why we can't go back?"
Solan peered down at his brother and saw such sadness in his eyes. "They don't hate each other, but I don't think they get along very well."
"Oh," Alexander nodded, sort of understanding his brother. "Is that why Belach calls me an accident? What does he mean by that?"
Solan's eyes widened, "accident? You're not an accident, Alexander. You shouldn't believe everything Belach says. He's a real hothead."
Alexander laughed lightly. "Yeah, a real piece of shit," he nodded with a smug smile.
"Alexander!" he punched him in the arm and his brother winced. "Don't let mother hear you say that," he warned. Although, he thought that his mother might enjoy hearing that, since she really didn't like Belach all that much, but he presumed that it was mostly because of Natassa and not so much Belach.
"But you said it first! Why can't I say it?" he said and folded his arms.
"Well, I shouldn't have said that. Besides, Belach has been really helpful." Solan hated to admit it, but it was true. Even his mother gave Belach a task to do, which only meant that she was probably desperate.
A loud crash was heard from outside the room and Solan immediately hopped to his feet and grabbed his sword laying on his mother's bed. Alexander crawled up off the floor and followed behind Solan closely.
"Stay here, okay?" he asked and Alexander huffed.
"But I want to come!"
"No!" Solan said firmly in a hushed tone. "It could be dangerous."
Alexander pouted and crossed his arms. "But I never get to see anything!"
Solan groaned and stood by the door. He knelt down in front of his brother and grabbed his chin. "Hey, you want to be responsible, right?" he smiled and Alexander nodded. "So why don't you stay here and make sure nobody gets in? If something happens to me, you run for help, alright?"
His brother smiled grandly. "Okay! I can do that!"
Solan crept out of the room cautiously, gripping onto the hilt of his sword. He saw a broken vase on the ground and frowned. He also saw one of the windows was wide open. Intruders, of course. He stayed close to the wall and tip toed along the wall, trying to be as quiet as possible.
He peeked around the corner and saw someone lying on the floor. There was a basket of linens sprawled across the marble floor. He recognized that person anywhere. It was Kara. He gasped and then crept along the wall to get a closer look.
As he glanced over he saw blood around Kara's midsection and blood spatter on her face as well. Poor Kara, he thought. I'll come back for you, he said to himself. He knelt down and covered her face with her dark veil and stepped over her.
At this moment, almost the entire palace was empty and everything was so quiet, eerily quiet. In fact, Solan couldn't remember the last time the palace was this quiet. There was always a lot of people walking around, except at night when everyone retired for the evening. He felt like these people were more than intruders. Whoever it was, they were here on a mission and to kill anyone in sight.
For the first time, he felt nervous and scared. He always thought he could handle his mother's job but apparently not. Since she wasn't here and neither was Dajan, her army or any of the female trainees, he was pretty much alone, aside from the staff that worked here.
He rounded a corner and saw the curtains swaying in the gentle breeze from the open arched windows. He frowned and felt sweat dripping down his back as he walked through the hallway. He also thought it was very odd that someone would attack in the middle of the day. Why not at night when it was less obvious and easy to get in and out?
As he crept through the hallway he heard a noise from above. He looked up and saw a dark figure, wearing a silver mask. The intruder ran across the wooden beams over his head and he gasped. "Stop!" he yelled and sheathed his sword then saw the intruder jump to a different beam, running across it.
He grunted and ran after the intruder, following below on the marble. He knew those beams didn't go on forever and the intruder would have to jump off eventually. "I said, stop!" he yelled and the person finally jumped down to the ground and ran around the corner.
Solan followed the masked intruder and skid to a stop once he saw a horde of people inside the palace, all wearing silver masks and dark clothing. "Oh crap," he muttered. Everyone turned once they saw him and he took off running down a separate hallway.
He would have to thank his mother for the secret passages she had built into this palace. He ran into one of the rooms and pushed on the wall and ran through a dark hallway. He breathed heavily and could hear footsteps running above him. He was trying to remember the layout of the entire palace, but these tunnels went on forever. There were so many directions and halls.
Hurrying through the dark tunnels, barely lit by the torches, he entered his mother's room and found Alexander reading the book he was reading earlier. He closed the door behind him and couldn't hear any commotion outside.
"Hey Solan, where did you come from?" he closed the book.
Solan ran over and grabbed his brother's arm. "We gotta leave!" he whispered and then opened his mother's door and poked his head outside to see if anyone was waiting. When the coast was clear, he darted down the hallway and entered his and Alexander's bedroom.
"Where are we going?" Alexander asked loudly.
"Shh! Be quiet!" Solan covered his mouth, then knocked on the wall, trying to find another hidden door.
Alexander glanced up at his brother confusedly. "If you're looking for the tunnels, it's behind the bookcase," he alleged with a subtle smile. Solan nodded and then went to the bookcase and forced it open. Alexander went inside first and Solan pulled the heavy bookcase back.
The two ran down the tunnels and heard people from up above, speaking in a foreign language. They were loud and seemed upset. Alexander frowned and grabbed Solan's arm. "Who's up there?"
"I have no idea, but whoever they are, they..." he looked down at his brother and smiled softly. He didn't want to tell his brother that Kara was dead. "They are after us, or mother. I am not sure."
"The Syrians?" Alexander asked and Solan halted, gawking at him. He shrugged a shoulder. "I know more than you think I do."
"I don't think those people are Syrians, Alexander. They wear silver masks. Come on, let's go," he smiled and grabbed his hand then took off running deeper into the tunnels.
Xena dismounted her horse carefully and stumbled, trying to keep her balance. Gabrielle groaned, rubbing her head gently. "Gabrielle, you really need to stop trying to save my life," she said and Gabrielle gave her a warm smile and took the fabric off from around her mouth.
"I will have to keep knocking off your time that you owe me," Xena jested.
"I couldn't let something happen to you," the blonde said with flushed cheeks. She hopped off the horse and grabbed the staff strapped to the saddle. She handed it to Xena. "You might need this."
Xena frowned and snatched the staff away from her. She walked with the staff and they were now on the beach with all of the citizens that were trapped in the smoked filled square, which was a deadly gas. She saw all of the children coughing as they sat on the sand with their mothers and other relatives.
"Sidon needs to die. I should have gotten rid of him years ago when I had the chance." She narrowed her eyes and felt so awful about what was happening around her. Everything was crumbling right before her eyes.
Gabrielle nodded and walked to stand beside Xena. "Can I ask you something?" she asked and Xena gave her knowing glare. "Not about your personal life!" she alleged as she was on the defensive side around Xena now. "That treaty you made Sidon sign. He agreed to everything and was more than amenable, but yet you still attacked him. Even before he sent the poisoned wine to your palace in Thebes, you already decided to attack him. Those kind of attacks take months to plan. Why did you do it?"
The sultana smirked. "Aren't you the little detective?" she teased. She went on, "I attacked him because he convinced the previous Persian Sultan to attack me. I didn't want that to happen because at the time I was planning to move to Persia within the next year. Persia was to be mine, until Sidon ruined it."
"What do you mean he ruined it?" she pressed.
Xena's eyes darkened the more she thought about it. "I wanted Syria and I wanted Persia so I decided to attack Sidon's share of the empire because he already betrayed me. My army destroyed Damascus in a day while I stayed in Thebes. A few days after the attack I gave birth to Alexander and then the Persian Sultan sent a treaty saying he didn't want to further his advances towards me because he was afraid of being overthrown."
Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and finally she understood the missing piece to this puzzle. Xena attacked Sidon because he betrayed her. "So, then what happened to Sidon and the Persian Sultan?"
Xena sighed and continued, "I banished Sidon from returning to Syria. He fled to Egypt. As for the Persian Sultan..." she lowered her gaze. "I killed him because I didn't want another war with anyone else. I got to him before the Templars could." She saw the horror in Gabrielle's eyes and avoided her gaze. "I don't kill people for sport, Gabrielle. I kill them because I know if I don't, they will kill me first. I was merciful to Sidon and exiled him. I could have killed him but I didn't. Now, I wish I would have."
Mercy. Xena, you show so much mercy, but hide behind a veil, but why? You could do so much good as a woman in the public eye. I am finally beginning to understand you. "I think that was kind of you. I don't know a lot about ruling an empire, but I think you make good decisions. I wanted to say that..." she inhaled heavily, hopefully she wasn't going to regret this. "I apologize about all the horrible stuff I thought and said about you for years."
Xena blinked. "Years? You spread lies about me?"
Gabrielle smiled nervously. "Well, to be fair, I didn't know you! And you were always hidden away in your palace so people always gossiped about you. I know that you aren't the horrible person that I once thought you were."
"Thanks Gabrielle," Xena said sarcastically. "We need to get back to the palace. We are doing no good staying on this beach."
The blonde trainee nodded. "Can I make a suggestion?" she asked, hoping she wasn't stepping over too many boundaries again. Xena gave her a curt silent nod. "Maybe you can leave your men here while we go back to the palace. Do you think Sidon and his minions would follow us all the way out here? You know him better than I do."
"Sidon is long gone by now, unless he's become an even bigger idiot than he was before," Xena snickered at the thought.
Xena and Gabrielle trotted up to the palace by themselves while the rest of the army stayed on the coast line watching over the civilians. Xena frowned once she saw a horde of people in dark clothes wearing silver masks. She also saw Templars inside the gates of her palace, armed with numerous amounts of weapons.
"What is this?!" she growled and trotted up to the gates and saw Gregory smiling smugly. "Get out of my palace!" she ordered.
The Templar walked to the iron rod gate and peered up at Xena on her horse. "I don't think so, Xenophon. We are arresting you for fraud."
She laughed. "Ha! Fraud? You are the fraud! You are violating your Godly laws by invading and trespassing on my land!"
Gregory groaned and folded his arms. "This is not your land! Jerusalem belongs to the church, not you! Surrender now and I won't expose your secret."
Xena felt her stomach drop and she unsheathed her sword, pointing it directly at him through the iron rods of the gate. "I don't know what you're talking about, Templar. This is my palace, my land, my empire and you are trespassing! You have no authority here!"
Sidon appeared from behind a crowd of Templars and unveiled his face. Xena saw him and felt her blood boil beneath her skin. Sidon, of course, what a huge idiot he has become. "Sidon!" she growled.
"Welcome home, sultan," the Syrian said. "Or should I say sultana..." he hinted and Xena's blue eyes grew in shock and fear all at once. "I must say, passing yourself off as an emperor for years was quite clever. But indeed, you are not an emperor, you are an empress. A woman ruling an empire is not only wrong, but illegal and punishable by death. I'm sure you are aware of the rules."
Xena lowered her sword and Gabrielle grasped her shoulder. "Don't listen to them," she whispered. "They're just trying to persuade you to tell them the truth."
"They already know the truth, Gabrielle," she said flatly.
Xena immediately thought of Solan and Alexander. She hoped they were not captured by the Templars or Sidon's men. She knew that Solan was a smart boy and that Alexander would be safe with him, but she had no idea what happened to them or what didn't happen to them.
"My Mongol friends invaded your palace. I saw your blonde brat. He's very sneaky and seems to know the palace well." He saw her eyes darken with rage. "Don't worry, we weren't able to find him. I must thank you for hiring my dear cousins, Sarsa and Kara. Too bad that Kara was oblivious to it all. Kara was always so sweet. She didn't suffer at all, I made sure of it. May her soul rest in peace."
"Sidon, that is enough!" Xena yelled then ripped off the veil from her face. Sidon's eyes widened once he finally laid eyes on her face for the first time.
Joseph stepped forward next to his master. "By God, Xenophon is a woman." He couldn't believe his own eyes. He pointed at her and snarled, "you will be held on trial for posing as a man!"
"I most certainly will not," Xena grinned and Gabrielle gasped. "You are still on my land and my territory. Everything in this empire is mine. If you want it, you'll have to fight me for it, just like anyone else would."
Gregory shook his head. "Sultana, this is no longer your empire! You have committed several crimes and posing as a man is one of the highest. The last woman who did that was publically burned at the stake. I can get the pope to lessen your sentence if you surrender to us now. So, surrender!"
"No!" she spat with a big grin on her face. "I will destroy you." She threatened the Templars and Sidon. "Now," she pulled out her sword again and waved it in front of her. "Get. Out. Of. My. Empire."
"You should have listened to us, Xenophon –"
"My name is Xena," she corrected. "I'm not going to ask you again. I am being nice," she winked at Gregory.
Belach and the girls trotted up to the gates and his mouth gaped open once he saw his stepmother showing her face to everyone. "Xena..." he said aloud and she looked over at him. "What is going on?" he turned and saw all the knights and Sidon. "Well, I guess it's too late to tell you that we couldn't find Sarsa..."
"Yes, Belach, thank you for your help." She said and he smiled. "I need you to do one more thing for me," she whispered and he nodded, trotting closer to her. "Get Solan and Alexander out of the palace. Quickly."
"Yes ma'am," he winked and then rode off and couldn't help but laugh at all of the shocked girls' faces. "Good luck, ladies!"
Gabrielle tapped Xena's shoulder. "What are we going to do now?"