DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess and its characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Dear gentle readers, the title of our story is, not surprisingly, the root for the English words infamy and infamous. In ancient Rome it was a legal term as well and sometimes applied to those engaged in disreputable occupations (such as gladiators) and others not recognized as Roman citizens. That being said, this is a good time to remind you that Baby is not a classics scholar, just an idiot writing a story and who thought said story would sound better with a fancy Latin title.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Vivian Darkbloom


Part X


The ship, a modest galley with a crew handpicked by the Empress—all that can be spared during the current crisis—is ready to sail for the relative safety of Cyprus. The woman, Pompey's widow, stands on the dock. Among her class grief takes the form of numb rage, inexpressible and unyielding unless provoked.

Xena, of course, has always been the prefect provocateur. Although her intent in this instance is not provocation, but penitence. She knows Cornelia, the widow, holds her responsible for Pompey's demise. Xena accepts this because she herself feels similarly. It is one thing to kill a man with one's own hands; quite another to set into motion a concatenation of events that bring about an ignoble, senseless death. She walks the dock as if Cornelia is her executioner. Which she might just be. The widow's face is as a mask worn in a play—not necessarily a tragedy, but a comedy. The kind of aching, nihilistic comedy that, pondered too deeply, slices to the bone.

"The ship awaits you." Xena steels herself with a breath. "Cornelia, I—" She stops as the widow opens her mouth as if to speak. Instead, a gobbet of spits hits her face. While it isn't the first time, or even the most painful and insulting occurrence—that honor goes to her mother, who spat on her after Lyceus's funeral—Xena has always hoped that her current status in the world would prevent further such incidents. From her belt she removes a freshly sharpened dagger and offers it to Cornelia, hilt first. The widow's eyes alight in a wild, frightening way—a grim range of possibility clearly playing out in her mind. What am I doing? Xena only hopes that if she takes the dagger she will aim badly and thrust weakly. Additionally she takes minor comfort in knowing that, despite her perfunctory pleas to the contrary, Pullo has already vowed to "kill the fucking old bitch" if Cornelia is successful in avenging her husband's death.

Xena swallows. "You have the right."

Immobile, Cornelia stares at the blade. She laughs sickeningly, which does not exactly hearten Xena, and takes the dagger. She runs a thumb along the blade, drawing blood on skin too fine and soft to handle a weapon. Then, with a limp toss, dispatches the dagger into the sea. "If I have the right," the widow rasps her sibylline pronouncement, "then I condemn you to the worst fate possible: Live with it."

The sea wind billows the ship's sails. The Empress walks away.


At dusk, the flames of a distant fire peel away the encroaching darkness. From a parapet of the royal residence—by default, now her residence alone—Xena watches the fire. Her soldiers control the palace and the port. The rest of Alexandria, however, is disconsolate in the absence of their king and prone to troubles. Such as rioting and starting random fires. Why? she wonders. When she brought the sniveling king to his knees—in a gesture that more or less relinquished his sovereignty over Alexandria and resulted in Ptolemy fleeing the palace—she had foolishly thought that her particular brand of order would set everything right. The grain shipments to Rome would proceed apace, which would detract attention from the sloppy execution of a consul and officer of the Empire and further defuse the political situation with the Optimates. Not that she—or anyone else in the city—would so easily forget Pompey. Yet until she could appoint a decent regent—where are you, Cleopatria?—there was nothing to do but rule the city with fairness and equanimity. Surely the Alexandrians would prefer a strong and just regent over a stupid and weak one.

In the open square below the palace, another skirmish breaks out between her Roman soldiers and the scattered remnants of Ptolemy's army.

Apparently not.

She sighs. Any leader you have, no matter how weak or despotic, is preferable than a foreigner. It was what drove her out of Amphipolis—unable to bear the thought of her home controlled by a warlord, she fought back. And even though she won, she still lost everything, leaving in bitter. Ironically, she is now on the other side of it once again—the outsider, more reviled here than when she first set foot in Rome.

Standing beside her, Titus Pullo also watches the conflict below while two of the Praetorian guard loiter nervously behind him. Like the rank and file troops, the Praetorians had expected an exotic holiday in Alexandria—and not a civil war. In the square below a phalanx of Ptolemaic soldiers have renewed the flagging fight, and the Romans there are now outnumbered. "Too close for comfort, that." Pullo's hand curls possessively over the hilt of his gladius. "Should we go down?"

Xena shakes her head. "Not yet. What they possess in numbers, they lack in common sense. Ptolemy's army is a like a snake without a head."

Either disheartened or confused, Pullo frowns at the simile.

Thoughtfully Xena rubs her jaw. Something occurs to her. "Pullo."

"Yes, Empress?"

"Where is—?" she trails off suggestively, raises an eyebrow for emphasis.

His mouth drops open.

"Lost her again, have you?"

"No," he retorts quickly, then emphatically: "No."

"All right then, where in Zeus is—"

Pullo nods at the square. "Down there."

And there she is. Just enough evening light exists to reflect Gabrielle's blonde hair—as if the gladiator were the Pharos lighthouse in miniature—as she charges into the fray, armed with pike and gladius. Cannily she employs the pike as a staff, taking down as many men with possible with it; in a low, bold crouch she sweeps two men off their feet, sending them barreling into two more. Like a spoke in a wheel the pike glimmers in motion, smashing into heads and tripping feet before fatally lodging itself into one soldier, thus rendering it useless and abandoned. This whirlwind displays heartens the Romans, who fight harder and eventually disperse the remainder of their opponents until they are nothing but shadows swallowed into the dark breach of evening.

That Xena needs to remind herself to breathe is, she believes, not a good sign. Whether as observer or participant the excitement of a good fight is not a new sensation for her. She wants nothing more than to be down there, by the gladiator's side. Not surprising, she thinks; she always wants to be in the thick of it. A certain element, however, corrupts this pure exultation: Concern.

Pullo chortles in admiration. "If you had ten more like her, you wouldn't have to wait for troops from Pergamum."

"If I had ten more like her—" Xena breaks off abruptly to censor the remnant of her lascivious wish: I might be able to persuade one of them to sleep with me. She turns her frustration on the hapless Pullo. "Yes, that would be wonderful, but the truth of the matter is I only have one of her, and I would like to keep her intact and alive. She's far too valuable to waste on petty skirmishes with a bunch of half-assed Alexandrians that my mother could defeat with an artillery of crockery!"

During this ouburst Pullo's easy grin has slowly hardened into a professional mask.

"Go get her. Bring her back here."

"Empress!" Yet, he hesitates. "Will you be all right?"

"Go on. I'll be fine." Xena jerks her thumb toward the slab of Roman beef behind her. "I'm in good hands here with—what's your name?"

Bewildered and alarmed, the centurion blinks. "Gnaeus, Empress."

"Yeah, Gnaeus. Good old Gnaeus." She glares critically at him. "Why must you be named Gnaeus? Why must you have the same fucking praenomen as Pompey?"

Even more alarmed, the centurion stammers helplessly, "I—"

"Never mind. Latin is a wretched tongue. All right, Gnaeus, you're with me. And Pullo, you're with her. Go find her, keep an eye on her, since you do it so well."

Under this heaping of richly deserved scorn, Pullo retreats. For hours he scours the darkened streets before giving up in sheer exhaustion and returning to the palace to find her alone in her room, bloody and covered in soot—for after her initial battle she found two more street fights to win and a fire to quell—ravenously devouring a leg of lamb while rereading her beloved Cicero by candlelight. Despite his fiercest look, she merely blinks and chews.

His lips tremble with rage, he snarls a demand: "Well?"

"It was a busy night."

"That all you've got to fucking say?" Pullo shouts incredulously.

In payment of the trouble she's caused him, she decides to share an intimate, pressing concern, something she has not dared to speak aloud to anyone: "I'm getting a little tired of Cicero," she admits.

The idyll

She first heard of the library at the banquet, just before the discovery of Ptolemy's unfortunate gift, in a scrap of conversation between a slurring satrap and his lovely female companion: "—has access to the greatest library known to man right here, and he wants to go to Pergamum to study!"

"Clearly," the woman responded, "he wants to get away from you."

At this point the remainder of the exchange was lost to Gabrielle as she heard the young king loudly refer to Xena as a hag. She had glared at the foolish boy before retreating, quietly exultant, into a fantasia about finding the city's library and even entering it—over the bodies of skewered librarians, perhaps. She knew her type—a slave, a woman, a dirty, bloody-handed foreigner—would not be granted entry. On her first day in Rome so many years ago, stumbling barefoot and chained through mud, she had passed a temple with a courtyard filled with men—young and old, fit and fat, bearded and baby-faced—all reading, exchanging, and discussing scrolls. Her attempt at discreet gawking stopped when one of the slavers slammed a staff into her back and sent her sprawling into the muck.

But the glimpse of this idyll, this Elysium so close at hand, remained indelible in her mind. When it did not torture her with the seeming injustice of a lofty world so distinctly perfect from her own, it tantalized her with proximity: All the knowledge of the known world at one's fingertips. Perhaps then she would finally understand the tired old conundrum of her life, why it had played out the way it did, and why she dreamed so vividly sometimes of a life oddly parallel to this one. And why, sometimes, the Empress featured in those dreams.

On her majesty's secret septic system

They're titans, she thinks. Or giants. They might be giants.

They guard the entrance to the magnificent library, a long temple of stone and brick, with a terracotta roof bright in the sun; on overcast days the roof is the shade of dried blood. Some seek relief from the heat in the stagnant water of a fountain cosseted by the stolid wings of the library to create an open, airy square.

First she attempts a diversion. She pays a limber beggar to cause trouble outside. The beggar rants and scares people—while stripping his rags and pissing into the fountain—so that the guards come charging outside. As the beggar engages them in a prolonged reel around the fountain, she slips into the library and, breathlessly indecisive and overwhelmed by the cool dark beauty of the sacred hall, stands gawking in abject wonder. The shadow of Serapis looms in flight across the wall, away from the gathering of candles at the altar. An elderly man in a robe appears and, at mere sight of her, shrieks, which garners the attention of yet another behemoth guard, who snares and smothers her against him like an overeager child with a kitten and laces his arm—thicker than her thigh—around her neck. Instinctively she clutches at the arm crushing her windpipe. Clearly underestimated the guard situation.

Go limp. Always, this was Iolaus's advice in these situations. Be slippery, like an eel. Except that for once she allows her emotions full reign and struggles wildly, because the prize here, the library, seems greater than survival in the ring. Before he can choke her to death, however, the guard lobs her out of the building, as if she were nothing more than a ball in a game of episkyros. She hits the ground tumbling, garnering a shroud of dust along the way, before rolling to a stop near the fountain. She lies there for a while. The beggar whom she had bribed earlier looks down at her pityingly. It has come to this, she thinks. Rubbbing her neck she sits up and stares a hole in the door that is perpetually closed to her. She is still sitting on the ground when the Empress and a handful of Praetorian guards, including Pullo, discover her.

To her credit, Xena is amused. "Should've known you'd be here." She offers an arm to Gabrielle, who latches on and hauls herself up.

"Why aren't you in the palace?" Gabrielle blurts.

"Got bored. Besides, the longer I stay barricaded like a prisoner, the more the people will think of me as weak and afraid. I need to start acting like a ruler and not a hostage."

The gladiator brushes dust off her tunic. "Ponthius is still on the loose." She gently reminds the Empress of Ptolemy's scheming eunuch. The former king himself had been discovered dead, drowned in Lake Mareotis, days ago.

"I know. But without his king, he's powerless. Still, he might seek out Cleopatra and ally himself with her. Which is why it's important we find her as soon as possible." The Empress takes a long, admiring look at the building. "Been a long time since I was here last."

"You were in the library?" Gabrielle realizes her mouth is hanging open. She closes it, only to open it once again: "I thought they didn't allow women—"

"Oh, it wasn't the library proper. There's a mithraeum underneath the building. Where I had my initiation." At the curious expressions of both Gabrielle and Pullo—who has stopped cleaning his nails with a knife and who, like many soldiers, respects the cult of Mithras beyond words—she tantalizes further: "Had to wrestle a bull naked, slit its throat, drain the blood, and then they put me in this pit and dumped the blood on me. Good times."

Pullo wonder if a declaration of love would be untoward. Wisely, he holds to silence.

Rubbing her jaw, Xena once again glances at the building. "Obviously they still have the giants guarding the place—otherwise you would have gotten in." The Empress then does something curious. As if looking for something, she paces the ground. Finally, she finds what she wants: a large stone that fits perfectly in her hand. "Pullo, get one of those overgrown idiots out here."

Pullo swaggers to the door, heaves it open, and bellows: "Oi! Fat ass! A word, please!" He is nearly bowled over as an angry giant-guard rushes outside.

It happens so quickly that Gabrielle cannot appreciate the perfect form of the throw: The set, the spin, the torque of Xena's long arm as she sends the stone through the air, striking the guard right between the eyes. Blood blossoms upon his face and he collapses, dead, with nary a sound but the thunder of his fall.

"Well!" Xena releases a satisfactory sigh. "That should send a message."

As Pullo cautiously circles the giant, looking for signs of life, Gabrielle can only gape in astonishment at the Empress.

"Giants have a weak spot," Xena explains. She taps a spot above the bridge of her nose. "Here. You hit 'em there, they're as good as dead. Guess you never faced a giant in the ring, eh? Good thing. Now listen." Xena rubs her hands excitedly. "Here's the plan. We're going to tell the librarian that you're my personal scribe, and that you require unlimited access to the library in order to research—Babylonian systems of waste disposal for a royally sanctioned citywide improvement project. Okay?" The Empress interprets Gabrielle's alarmed befuddlement as complete complicity. "Excellent. Let's go. Pullo, will you have the giant taken away?"

Pullo scrunches his nose. "Where?"

"You'll figure it out," Xena retorts. They push open the great doors and a gust of cool air welcomes them.

Gabrielle thinks of the poor, thin elderly man she encountered earlier, and apprehensively asks, "You're not going to kill the librarian too, are you?"

"Not planning on it. Somehow I suspect he'd be harder to kill than the giant."

A little light reading

She does not know where to begin. Row and rows of racks, piled with scrolls, as far as the eye can see—how are they organized? By author or subject? Why are some encased in leather or linen and others not? And why was the ancient librarian hovering so close to her, nervous and nebulous within the voluminous folds of his robe? She knows why. But the old man is not so uncomfortable that he beyond sarcasm: "I suppose," he murmurs archly through pursed lips, and while casting another look at her muscular, scantily clad body, "you want to read Sappho."

Gabrielle pries her gaze away from the scrolls. "Who?"

The librarian's long, bony, tinder-like fingers splay melodramatically alongside his temples. "The gods guide me. You are even more primitive than I imagined."

As Gabrielle had suspected this wizened old man, whom she had encountered on her first entry into the library, was indeed the head librarian. His name is Apollonius. To his credit, he held up well during the Empress's unexpected visit—even though she had killed his favorite guard—and where he was coolly informed that he had no choice but to allow some dusty, unkempt barbarian woman to wander freely within the great, sacred library. The gladiator could tell that he did not for a moment believe the story about Babylonian septic systems; but one did not grow as old as he, let alone ascend to a position of substantial power, by being unduly, foolishly acquiescent to arbitrary rules.

Apollonius shuffles through the maze of library, a morose minotaur pursued by a curious Theseus. "I wish you would wear a robe. It's only proper."

It's hot. But she realizes he could be far less accommodating to her. "Of course. I'll wear one next time."

He grunts and stops abruptly. "Ah. Here we are." He rummages through a rack, sending scrolls bounding to the floor. Alarmed, and quietly appalled at such careless treatment, Gabrielle gathers them together and cradles them in her arms as if they comprise a parchment-bound infant.

"Personally," Apollonius says while squinting at scrolls here and there, "I think she's overrated. Erotic gymnastics. Badgering Aphrodite over the love of some cow-eyed shepherdess or whatever. But gods above, she is popular. That's why we have nearly fifty copies of everything she's written!" He swaps the bundle in Gabrielle's arms for a new bundle, presumably of the too-popular, overrated poet. "Take them—to the palace, if you like. I'm not worried about them. As I said, we have so many copies. Now." Apollonius sighs. "What's next?" His long fingers drum thoughtfully against his lips. He regards the gladiator as if she were a project—something to be fixed, not unlike the wobbly shelves that house the rhetoric scrolls.

Then all the names, untapped in Gabrielle's mind yet retained and catalogued through years of eavesdropped conversations involving Cato's intellectual cronies during dinner parties and partially read scrolls provided her by Cato's eldest daughter, all of them, like reinforcements during a battle, diligently reappear in the forefront of her consciousness. "Anaxagoras. Strabo's Histories. Protagoras's On the Original State of Things. Pliny the Elder, particularly his work on rhetoric—" she stops to take a breath.

Apollonius pauses. "Well," he finally admits, "perhaps you are not completely hopeless."

Making an entrance with her usual flair

In the weeks that follow Gabrielle falls into what she easily considers the happiest, most satisfying routine of her life: Mornings spent in the library, afternoons divided into reading at the palace whatever scrolls Apollonius will allow her to borrow and attending the Empress as needed. Sometimes in the evening she prowls through the palace and its grounds, anticipating trouble—yearning for it, actually, because even though her mind is now stimulated well beyond its usual humble expectations, her blood still sings for fighting.

In the Empress's vast suite she sits in the perch of a window, periodically scanning for activity in the courtyard and beyond. Satisfied for the moment, she turns her attention back to Strabo's Histories. She is reading it out of order because Apollonius has misplaced the earlier volumes. No matter. She immerses herself in Strabo's journey to the Kingdom of Kush.

Until Xena bursts into the room, accompanied by the usual foul mood that has percolated during a day of nothing but listening to and resolving complaints from the citizenry. She had wanted to appear as a "regular ruler" to the Alexandrians and, unfortunately, her wish has been granted at least in part, for the common folk have no qualms about petitioning the Empress about broken viaducts, the paternity of a slave's baby, or stolen goats. In a concession to protocol she dresses in the usual finery of an Egyptian royal, including the thick, braided wig of stiff, banged black hair threaded with gold. Once the door closes, however, she wrenches the damnable wig off her head, curses the Egyptians and their rituals and their styles and the invisible, missing Cleopatra, who is the standard-bearer of said style. She tosses the wig at a slave, who fumbles the catch. The other attendants circle her like prey, scavengers to pick at a bracelet or knotted silk, devourers of every anticipated wish. "Leave me," she commands.

The attendants take flight. Following suit, Gabrielle marshals together her scrolls, ready to retreat to the sanctuary of her tiny room. One scroll escapes and bounces teasingly across the floor.

Xena fixes her with a glare. "Not you."

Gabrielle sits, but doesn't dare read.

"Why is it running Alexandria is as tedious as running Rome?" she muses aloud. "Don't answer that." Xena bends and yanks a painful-looking pair of sandals from her feet. "Zeus. If anything, they are even more pathetic than Romans—more whiny, if that's possible, complaining about the most ridiculous—" Xena stops abruptly. "Damn it." She runs a hand through her sweaty, limp hair. Stands stock still. "Why—? What am I doing?"

Ignoring the rhetorical question, Gabrielle stares longingly at Strabo. When she glances up again the Empress is stripping away her ceremonial dress. What are you doing? You are taking off your clothes in front of me. As a slave, she was more than accustomed to states of undress among everyone, male and female, in the average Roman household; she had even seen more of Cato than she would have liked. So she has no idea why seeing this particular woman fully naked is so—unnerving.

Particularly when Xena is so casual about it. "Tell me what you're reading." The Empress quickly runs a brush through her hair. While naked.

Scars. I am reading scars. Xena has a few: Xena has a few, nothing major, save a long one along her torso—Gabrielle can tell that the wound had been cauterized and not stitched—and some smaller ones on her right leg, the pattern suggesting several blows from a mace. 

Suddenly, these scars are as fascinating as the scrolls at her feet. Most striking, however, is something inorganic: A thin, gold chain circling her waist. Gabrielle realizes the Empress awaits a response from her and tries to say "Strabo" but instead makes an awkward squawking noise, like a baby bird demanding food.

Xena looks intrigued, as if the gladiator is attempting to converse with her in a new language. "What?"

"Chain," Gabrielle manages to say. "The chain you're wearing. It's very—beautiful." That burning sensation across her face—was she ill again?

"It's a chastity belt."

Gabrielle blinks.

"You're supposed to laugh. It's a joke."

"Oh." She doesn't laugh.

"If I were relying on you to be some toady or a yes-man, Gabrielle, I would have to execute you." Xena sighs and puts on a robe. "Come with me. I'm going to the baths."

"I've already bathed today." Displeased, Gabrielle frowns. "Do I smell?"

Xena gives her an exasperated look.

"Oh!" Quickly, the gladiator trades scroll for sword.

In the bath, the comfort of tepid water surrounds the Empress. Before entering the marbled pool, however, Xena had removed the chain—frowning as it slinked around her fist, realizing how tired she was of it, and what it represented. She is glad the taciturn gladiator has not pursued a line of questioning regarding the chain. It is indeed a "chastity belt," another one of Caesar's curious, joking gifts, given to her on their wedding night. I know you won't play the dull Roman matron. I know you won't be faithful. And I won't either. And that's exactly what I want. This said as he had draped the chain, cool against her sweaty skin, and kissed a path down her back. She had laughed with him about it, professed relief that he was so enlightened, even though he seemed more than a little self-congratulatory about it all. It was only in the milky haze of morning that she quietly bristled at the gift, at the assumption that she was, at least to him, not worthy of that expectation of exclusivity, that struggle toward fidelity. As far as he was concerned, the only necessary fidelity she should possess was toward Rome, and apparently her existence as an aimless pirate without a home had thoroughly convinced him she was incapable of any kind of loyalty except the kind that generated power and privilege.

She ducks under the water. When she emerges, the gladiator is kneeling at the edge of the pool, expectantly nymphlike, and it creates an odd, abrupt intimacy between them. For Gabrielle is close enough that the strange, shifting colors of her eyes, like a mosaic bearing witness to the day's passing moods and light, are almost inescapable. In a bid to regain her equilibrium Xena momentarily focuses on the gladiator's sandaled foot, her muscled calf, the smattering of scars on her kneecap resembling a school of silverfish, before meeting Gabrielle's gaze again. "Yes?"

"There are two Egyptians—Pullo says they're former soldiers from Ptolemy's army—requesting an audience with you now. They come bearing a gift."

Xena laughs mirthlessly and props her head on damp forearms. "Like that worked out so well last time." The slight smile that Gabrielle offers her, she thinks, will be worth whatever the troublesome gift is.

An hour later, dressed and with her hair still irritatingly damp against her neck, Xena watches dourly as the two Egyptians stumble into her antechamber, awkwardly lugging between them a shabby rolled-up carpet. The former soldiers look no better than the rug: Their uniforms are dirty and tattered, their dusty, broken sandals slap loudly against the marble floor as they approach.

Critically Xena looks at the lumpy carpet, wonders if this time they decided to go with an asp—an army of asps: "You're kidding me, right?"

"Empress," one of soldiers begins in a low, unctuous tone. "We beg you, please, do not be fooled by the humble appearance of this gift. For what it holds is indeed priceless."

The Empress pinches the bridge of her nose. "Let me say right now—if Pompey's body is in there, I will kill you both on the spot."

Both soldiers shake their heads vigorously. Xena glances at the gladiator, who stands in that liquid, deceptively relaxed yet carefully poised fashion of hers, like a cat ready to pounce. "All right, boys. Let's see what you have."

The carpet unfurls and out falls a woman. Cleopatra, of course. The Egyptian queen's first act upon liberation from the musty old rug into the sanctuary of the royal palace is to sneeze several times. "Horrible mode of transit," she mutters to no one in particular.

Xena studies the queen: Small, even shorter than the gladiator, slender yet appealingly curvaceous, bronze skin, face dominated by large nose and thin lips—but also possessing arresting golden eyes that defiantly assess the Empress, this trespasser upon Ptolemaic lands, this guest posing as mistress of the palace. Attractive, Xena thinks, but not the magnificent creature the scribes rave about. Xena pours wine into a cup, hesitates, then pours more into another cup. "Good trick." She toasts Cleopatra. "It dates back to Dido of Carthage. They say she used it to seduce a Tyrian king. Aeneas, of course, received a more straightforward treatment—Romans are usually perplexed by elaborate mating rituals."

"And you would know, wouldn't you?" Cleopatra parries, and then pauses to ensure that her response is not interpreted hostilely. She laughs softly. "Well. I was warned you would not be easily impressed." Waving off assistance from her soldiers, she stands. "But you are no Roman, Xena of Amphipolis."

"True." Xena hands a cup of wine to the queen and with that simple gesture begins the dance, the delicious ritual marked with the familiar burn of pursuit—and yet this time the pleasure is diminished by the fact that Gabrielle bears witness to this predatory part of her in action. "Are you disappointed I'm not Caesar? Or Antony?"

Cleopatra stares into the cup. "They are legendary." Looking up at Xena, she unleashes a smile so unexpectedly dazzling that her reputation as a great beauty is now breathtakingly confirmed. "And so are you."

It's an easy compliment, all part of the game—rather, its opening ceremonies. And as competitors in any sport, the two royals are oblivious to the anxious boredom of Cleopatra's attendants, who single-mindedly focus on the possibility of getting their first real meal in weeks, and to the bemusement of Xena's gladiator, who rolls her eyes at this seemingly ridiculous display and wonders at how great and transcendent beauty actually is when it is nothing more than a machination in pursuit of power.

Part 11

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