THE ANTONIUS SITUATION

© 2000 by CJ Wells

 

Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Palaemon, Darphus, and Petracles belong to those rather fortunate individuals affectionately known as The Powers That Be at Studios USA, Ren Pics and whatnots. The only thing Iím gaining from using them here is the personal satisfaction of toying with the characters in my own image. This series started with my two-part inaugural fan fiction pieces, The Embrace & Freedom, which were inspired by the characterizations in Chattel & Thrall by Dark Angel and Remuneration by Day. Marcus Antonius, a.k.a. Mark Anthony (83 B.C.- 30 B.C.), Gaius Octavius a.k.a. Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (90 B.C.-13 B.C.) and, of course Gaius Julius Caesar (100 B.C.- 44 B.C.) were all real Ancient Roman guys. All other characters named are mine.

Credits: Because this is a continuing saga, it is highly recommended that you read The Embrace & Freedom first, as this will make virtually no sense otherwise. Also, Iíll be tickled pink if you do. This story chronicles events from both womenís points of view in a (hopefully) cohesive chain. And, this goes without saying; Iím taking great liberties with ancient history here. But doesnít the Michigan Mafia do it all the time?

Character Warning: The Xena and Gabrielle depicted in this story are not the subtext-challenged Warrior Princess and former Amazon Queen we see on the show. Being that Xena is the Conqueror, she tends to eviscerate now and ask questions later. The newly emancipated Gabrielle, on the other hand, is making friends and doing the bard thing. In addition to being the despicable toad we know and hate from The Gauntlet, the Darphus of this story is a foul-mouthed pig and a racist.

Women in Love & Lots of Lesbian Sex Warning: What can I say? They canít get enough of each other. If you have a problem with that, or if you havenít received your draft card yet, I hear the Beverly Hillbillies are back on Nick-At-Nite.

Violence Warning: Yes. Xenaís off to war. You know what that means. There is nothing too graphic and there is no sexual violence, however.

Dirty Mouth Warning: Terrance and Phillip would endorse this story.

To all of my wonderful beta readers, commentators and third eyes: Sue, Mary, Viv, Jamie, Xenabat & Critter and a belated salute to my Embrace/Freedom beta-queen IseQween; Thank You All!

Comments & Feedback: Please!


 

I. THE CONQUERORíS LOG

A new era of the Realm began the morning I freed Gabrielle.

That morning began with me waking and finding myself alone in my bed. I quickly threw on a tunic and headed for Gabrielleís bedchamber. I knew sheíd be either there or in the Imperial library. I tried the bedchamber first because, frankly, with the fragrance of our wonderful night of lovemaking still emanating from her body, I imagined sheíd want to wash first before being in the presence of my elderly librarian and her close friend, Demitrius.

I found Gabrielle in her chamber writing in one of her many scrolls. After watching my Gabrielle write for a few moments, quietly, like a wild cat slowly moving, as it would be going for its prey, I walked up behind her. I suspect she sensed the heat from my body as her first sign that I was in the room. She quickly jumped up from her seat and faced me. Her face was beet red and her hands were behind her back. I suspected that she was gripping the table for dear life. She looked terrified.

"My Lady," Gabrielle started. "Iím sorry for dismissing myself from your service without permission. I have no excuse." Despite her submission, she didnít bow her head and her eyes never left mine.

Gabrielle didnít realize it, but I was far more terrified in what I was about to do. My heart pounded in my chest and my palms sweat so badly that I began frantically rubbing them on the sides of my tunic. I wanted to take her hands in mine, but I was afraid sheíd notice just how moist they were.

"Gabrielle," I began. "I want to talk to you." I took in a large breath of air and continued. "IÖ I have come to a decision. IÖ I have decidedÖ"

I stopped for a moment. My heart was beating too fast and I was afraid I was going to hyperventilate. Gabrielleís terrified look had relaxed somewhat to that of utter confusion.

"Gabrielle," I began again. "UmÖ Youíre free."

She had no reaction. That wasnít unexpected. Emancipation is almost unheard of in my Realm. Iíve never personally freed anyone before. Never had a reason to. Now here I was making the most important decision of my life and I feared I was going to pass out from it.

I took in another deep breath. "Iím freeing you. I will have Demitrius make the appropriate annotations in the official scrolls. IÖ I canít have you as my body slave anymore. I donít want you as my body slave anymore."

That came out too harshly. Much to my surprise, Gabrielleís expression seemed to take on one of disappointment. I needed to explain myself.

"Gabrielle, if you ever again allow me the pleasure of making love with you, I want it to happen because you want it to, not because you are required to. Understand?"

By the gods, that felt good to say. I watched in amazement as that beautiful face went from concern to joy. Gabrielle smiled and reached out her hands and took mine away from their safe nesting places crumpling the sides of my tunic. But when she drew both my hands to her mouth and planted a light kiss on each hand, my legs gave out on me and I dropped to my knees at her feet. I pulled my hands away from hers and threw my arms around her waist. Then I buried my face in the crook between her soft breasts and started wailing. "Oh gods, Gabrielle, Iím sorry! Iím sorry! Iím so sorry!" My apologies went on almost incoherently. "PleaseÖ please forgive me!"

As I babbled on like a lunatic, my mind was sharp with the thoughts that frightened me about this decision. I was granting Gabrielle freedom. She could now choose to stay at the palace as a paid servant, if a position was available to her, or she could choose to leave the palace and go wherever she pleased. Of course, my single biggest fear was that she would elect to leave Corinth and return to her birthplace, the tiny village of Poteidaia, which is an almost two-day ride from here. Even if she chooses to stay here in Corinth, I told myself, sheís not going to stay with me after all Iíve done to her. Holding her and thinking as I did, the Conqueror in me wanted to force her to make the decision to stay with me. Even with her freedom, Gabrielle still belongs to me, I reasoned. Iím not letting her go anywhere. I fought hard to dismiss those possessive thoughts as I cried on.

Of all the thoughts that sailed through my mind, the one that never occurred to me was the thought that sheíd actually want to stay with me.

I looked up at Gabrielle. Iíve never cried in front of her before. I must have appeared frightening to her with my tear-stained face and bloodshot eyes. Iím sure she found seeing the Destroyer of Nations crying like a baby amusing. She wiped away the wetness under my eyes with her thumbs and cupped my cheeks in her palms. Then I heard a low rumble under my chin.

"Iím hungry, Xena," she said. "Are you hungry?"

Count on my dear Gabrielle to find the most intense and emotional time to think about her stomach.

"I could eat something." I whispered.

I rose to my feet and now looked down at the most beautiful woman in the known world. "Have you any ideas about what youíre going to do with your newfound freedom?"

I was petrified at what the answer might be.

"May I walk the streets of Corinth, Majesty?" she asked. "Iíve always wanted to talk to the street vendors and roam in and out of the shops."

"Youíre free, Gabrielle." I said, sighing deeply with relief. "You can do whatever you want." I thought for a moment, and then asked, "Will you be staying on here in the palace?"

Gabrielle smiled at me. "Yes, Majesty, if I may."

"I would like that, Gabrielle."

* * * *

Gabrielle and I ate a hearty meal of fresh baked bread, boiled fowl and a vegetable tray. Then we bathed together where we spent as much time kissing as we did washing. Kissing is still a very new exploration for us. And I do love kissing Gabrielle. I wanted nothing more than to spend the day kissing her, talking to her, holding her and making passionate love with her, but I had important battle matters waiting. After our bath, I headed for the Imperial library. I told Demitrius to prepare the official emancipation annotations for Gabrielle. For a moment, I thought he was going to faint. I also told him not to make the proclamation public knowledge, not yet. With my impending departure, I felt it safer for people to continue in the assumption that Gabrielle was my slave. It is quite simple. In my Empire, if one does damage to my property, one dies. I did instruct Demitrius to make sure that all of the palace guards were informed that Gabrielle was to be allowed unrestricted passage through the various palace exits.

I then retreated to the war council chamber in the palace. My two Corinthian commanders were present and waiting for me. Commander Palaemon is the head of my Imperial Guard. Commander Petracles heads my Corinthian Army. Petracles is a former lover. Heís brash and arrogant, like Palaemon, but older and not nearly as sharp and insightful. My Corinthian Army is a much larger force than my Imperial Guard. Petraclesí forces are the military presence for the entire Peloponnese, excluding Athens and the surrounding region of Attica, which has its own separate Army. And although Petracles commands my Corinthian Army with precision and possesses keen tactical and maritime skills, I would never trust him with the uniquely trained elite of my Imperial Guard. The Guard is the main enforcement of my law upon Corinth and the special Army to the Palace. It is essentially everything that represents Xena the Conqueror. While my various Armies serve to protect my various lands and city-states, the Imperial Guard serves to protect my inner world and me. These are men and women I must trust with my life. Thus, when I go into battle, certain battalions of the Guard always accompany me.

"Commanders," I started. "I trust youíve been briefed on our situation in Rome."

"We have, my Liege," Palaemon responded. "Our forces in the Apennines say Marcus Antonius and a still yet unidentified Greek traitor are building legions in the territories surrounding the mountains."

"Commanders," I queried. "As of now, do our Roman forces and the Sabine and Etruscan allies outnumber the Antonius legions?"

"Our intelligence sources say Ďyesí for now, Conqueror," Petracles chimed in. "But I donít think we should be liberal about the number of troops we choose to send."

"Iím never liberal, Commander Petracles."

"Of course not, Conqueror," he said with that familiar smirk on his face. I chose then to ask myself what was it that I ever saw in the man.

"Who is his greatest enemy next to me, if you know, Commander?"

Petracles couldnít answer, but Palaemon knew, as did I. "Gaius Octavius, my Liege. Caesarís adopted son and Governor of Rome," he said.

A plan immediately began brewing in my head.

"If I may so inquire, Conqueror," Petracles started. "You look absolutely radiant."

"Where in Tartarus is this coming from?" I asked.

"Iím just wondering," he responded ever so smugly. "Is there a new Ďfrictioní stroking that royal button of yours, Majesty?"

"Lay off, Petracles," Palaemon stepped in. "Itís more than that, much more."

"Shut up, Palaemon." The last thing I needed was Palaemon, a male subordinate, feeling the need to protect my honor against another male subordinate. I also wasnít in any hurry for my entire military leadership to learn that I was hopelessly in love.

"Oooohh, more," Petracles ranted on. "So is it you, my man? You been slipping her your ĎImperial Guard.í"

Palaemon laughed. "Absolutely not. I donít even come close."

All of a sudden, Petracles forgot I was in the room. "Who is the lucky guy then? One of your captains? One of those brazen young bucks on your surveillance detail? Or is Xena the Conqueror chasing hydras again? Iíd thought sheíd given up harlots after that fine piece of Amazon ass in Thessaly. You know, the one that commands the two battalions near Pharsalus. What was her name?"

"No, itís no Amazon and Gabrielleís no Ďharlot!í" Palaemon shouted.

"Shut up Palaemon!" I repeated loudly.

"By the gods! That little irritating blond body slave! Iím sure sheís a very qualified lay but I canít believeÖ" He couldnít finish his sentence because he lost consciousness after I kicked him in his chest, which caused him to sail to the far wall, smash into it and then land on his face.

"I donít need for the Commander of my Corinthian Army to spend this entire mission in the ship infirmary, Commander," I said to a not-so stunned Palaemon. "I need him alive and kicking, at least for now. So make sure he keeps his fucking mouth shut."

"Yes, my Liege."

"Have him carried to the ships and have someone look at his chest. I felt a crunch in his ribs when I kicked him."

"Yes, my Liege."

I continued in my barking orders. "I also want you to immediately notify my Athenian Army Commanders that for the duration of this campaign, they are to join with the remaining Corinthian forces by expanding their military protection to include Corinth and the surrounding regions."

"Yes, my Liege."

"And Commander Palaemon," I added, "When I tell you to shut up, you shut up."

"By your will, Conqueror."

He smiled mischievously. I rolled my eyes.

"Then lets get to the docks, Commander, and start loading the warships."

 

II. GABRIELLEíS SCROLL ENTRY

Iím free! I am satiated heart and soul with good food and I am free! After our wonderful bath this morning, the morning that she decided to grant me my freedom, the Conqueror left to go talk war with her army Commanders. In a haze, I wandered to the library. Demi approached me and gave me a hearty, warm hug.

"Oh Demi," I said. "She freed me."

"I know, dear," he replied. "The Conqueror told me to prepare the annotations. Would you like to see the scroll that emancipates you?"

"Oh yes!" As I read through it, I began to cry.

"Demi," I said. "I donít really know what this means." I fully understood the words, but I couldnít begin to conceive of their implications. Freedom had become as unknown to me as the world beyond the palace walls. Demi understood.

"I know, Gabrielle," he replied. "I donít really know what this means either."

"Where is she now?" I asked.

"I do believe the Conquerorís in meetings with her battle commanders."

"Iím going to find her." And with that announcement, I hugged my dear friend and left the library heading for the war council chamber. When I arrived there, I found it empty. I went to the central courtyard. Empty. The palace barracks and the Imperial Guard mess hall were also void of the Conquerorís presence. Maybe the palace guards will know something, I thought. My heart began to pound in my chest as I approached the front gates to the palace. I had never walked across those gates before. Even when I left the city to attend my sisterís funeral two weeks ago, I left the palace, and thus the city, aboard a vegetable carriage from a rear palace shipment gate.

I could feel the eyes of the two palace gate guards burning into me as I slowly walked past them. I turned to face them both. Their eyes were now off of me and staring straight ahead. One of the earliest things I learned in my service to the Conqueror was that the men of her armies and Imperial Guard knew there was a price to pay for looking at me too attentively.

Now I knew I was free. Otherwise, the guards would have grabbed me and detained me until I could be dragged to the Imperial dungeon to await punishment for insubordination. I looked at the guard to my left first. He was tall and fair and had a prominent scar on his left cheek. The other guard was shorter, leaner and very nice looking. His darker complexion and curl in his hair told me he was of the race of people from the great lands south of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Could either one of you tell me where I might find the Conqueror?"

Their heads didnít turn, but their eyes looked at each other. "Please?" I added.

A long moment passed before the tan-skinned guard spoke. "Her Majesty is at the warship docks."

"Can I get there on foot?" I asked.

He now turned his head to the fair-skinned guard who was shaking his head in a "donít-tell-her-or-the-Conqueror-will-skin-you-alive" fashion. The darker guard looked down considering his options, I suspect.

"If you walk down this road to the main road leading to the agora," he finally spoke. "But head left instead of right, you will see the docks a few lengths down. The warship docks are at the very end to your right. If Her Majesty is not on the docks, sheíll be on one of the ships there."

"Thank you, Guard." As I began to chart my destination, I heard one voice behind me saying, "Youíre a dead man, Bahri."

* * * *

The warship docks were humming with activity. Soldiers of every ilk, centurions, hoplites and Imperial Guardsmen were loading weaponry, food and supplies on huge ships. I recognized the Conquerorís Imperial Guard Commander Palaemon in the distance, giving orders to some of his men while looking over a series of scrolls. I perched myself on a covered barrel and waited for the Conqueror to emerge from one of the warships.

While I waited, I thought about what brought me here. I love Xena. I love this passionate and funny, evil and dangerous woman. Am I insane? How can I love her? Is it only because I believe she loves me? Is it only because I have not been afforded the opportunity to fall in love with another? Am I not capable of falling in love on my own accord? As I considered all of the reasons why I shouldnít love her, loving her actually made all the more sense to me. I still felt as though Iíd totally lost my mind though.

When she stepped off the plank of one of the ships, Xena spotted me right away. My stomach began churning as she approached me. I didnít know what to expect. Custom dictated some form of punishment. What would freedom yield? I wondered. Without slowing her stride, she walked right up to me and lifted me off the barrel by putting one arm under my knees and the other behind my back. She then brought her lips to mine and kissed me hard and deep right in front of her troops. I threw my arms around her neck and returned the favor.

When we broke our kiss, I glanced over and saw Xenaís Imperial Guard Commander smiling at us. She followed my eyes and cocked her head as though to send a message to him to find something better to do. Palaemon seemed to get the signal because he immediately ducked behind two of his own men.

"Iím done here for now, Gabrielle," she said. "Letís head back to the palace."

Xena put me down and we walked over to where her cream-colored palomino, Argo, awaited us. As we walked, she casually inquired of me how I managed to find her at the warship docks. I told her that one of her palace guards gave me directions and then immediately regretted telling her. Have I put that young man in danger? I asked myself. She didnít seem angry, so I didnít broach the subject. When we approached Argo, she mounted the mare first then grabbed my arm and pulled me up behind her. I threw my arms around her waist and held on for dear life as the horse galloped back toward the palace.

As we neared the gates, Xena asked, "Did you hold on this tightly when that man rode you to Poteidaia?"

"Yes, my Lady." I responded, not surprised that she knew exactly how I made it to the village of my birth those weeks ago. "But he didnít feel as nice."

"Why donít you call me Xena?"

"Iím not sure if it would be wise in front of your other subjects." I whispered.

"Good point," she responded. "Although I insist on it when we are in the comfort of my bedchamber."

"By your will, Conqueror."

Xena laughed.

When we approached the palace gates, she suddenly stopped Argo and climbed down. Both guards promptly saluted her.

"Which one of you gave Gabrielle directions to the warship docks?" Xena asked.

I became frightened. Had I forfeited a manís life by a mere request for directions? I decided I would watch what course of action Xena would take, but, by the gods, I was going to do whatever it takes to prevent her from killing the man.

"It was I, my Liege," the shorter guard spoke up.

Xena walked over to the shorter man and almost touched her face to his. "What is your name, Guard Corporal?"

"Bahri of Nepata, my Liege."

"You answer to Guard Captain Archillius, correct?"

"Yes, my Liege."

"Do you enjoy your service to my Realm, Egyptian?"

"Very much, my Liege."

Xena stepped back and looked at me. She then returned her attention to the young Egyptian guard. "I think you have served as my palace gate guard long enough," she said. Assuming she was going for her side dagger, I was about to dismount the horse and tackle her if need be to prevent her from killing him, but then her next words gripped me in my place. "I will instruct Guard Captain Archillius that you are to immediately assume security duty in the palace. And I think a raise is in order, say 25 dinars more per week."

"By your will, Conqueror," the young man said while trying desperately to suppress a smile. My sense of money is somewhat off, but I suspect 25 extra dinars a week for a young soldier is akin to a small fortune, especially if heís single and childless.

Xena returned to Argo and me. "Climb onto my saddle," she said. When I did, she climbed on behind me and wrapped her strong right arm around my waist pressing my body to hers. Although this position stirred a strange desire for her in me, I was still on a horse. Thus, I gripped the long saddle horn for dear life. She nuzzled her cheek on my head and, chuckling in my hair, grabbed the reigns with her left hand and guided Argo to the Imperial stables.

I had not been to the Imperial stables since that horrible incident four years ago which resulted in the hideous burn scar that stains my left shoulder blade. Images of that awful night; the memory of the stench of my burning flesh and the intense pain I experienced caused me to shake. Xena noticed because she wrapped her other arm around me from behind in a tight embrace. She then quickly dismounted the horse and approached that terrible man who branded me.

"My Liege," he stood and bowed.

"Kier," Xena began. "Is there some method to reverse a scar brought on by branding?"

"No, my Liege," he responded. "Once the animal has been branded, the scar is permanent."

"Iím not talking about an animal, Kier." Her tone was that of anger and, I suspect, shame.

The stable master looked at me and frowned. At that moment, the hatred I harbored for him evaporated. I realized that he only did what was demanded of him those years ago. "Iím sorry." His lips said in a noiseless whisper.

"Is there no potion? No antidote? Anything?" She inquired desperately, although it was obvious she knew the answer.

"Nothing, my Liege. The purpose of branding is permanence. Iím sorry."

"Fuck!" Xena shouted. "Come on, Gabrielle." I climbed down Argo and sprinted to catch up with Xena, who was walking at a fast pace toward the inner palace chambers. As we walked, neither one of us spoke. I didnít know what to say to her. I was quite confused in my emotions. I hated her for what she did to me then. I think a part of me still hates her for it, but I also found myself actually feeling sorry for her in her guilt over permanently disfiguring my body. Love makes one totally illogical at times, I suppose.

All of a sudden, she stopped in her tracks, turned and looked at me. There was darkness in her eyes. "Go to the library, Gabrielle."

"Xena, are you ok? Letís talk about it." I grabbed her forearm. She pulled it away.

"No, I need to be alone. Just go." With that, Xena turned and continued down the corridor toward her bedchamber.

As I watched her walk down the corridor, anger built up in me. She had given me freedom, yet she was still ordering me around. I believe she loves me, but she wonít talk to me. She wonít share with me her inner pain. She wonít let me express mine. She wonít allow me to help both of us deal with our history together. Is this what freedom to Xena means? I thought. I can call her "Xena," but everything else remains the same?

"Iím not going to the library," I said to myself. "Iím free. Iíll do whatever I damn well please." And with my newfound determination, I headed for Xenaís bedchamber.

 

III. THE CONQUERORíS LOG

I want to kill Kier. I want to kill him for fucking up Gabrielleís back and not having the wisdom to fix it. I want to kill again that boy who threw me in the rage that caused me to order Kier to brand her. I banged my fists on my table and swiped at a vase sending it sailing across the room. Then I upended the table causing the rest of its contents to fly everywhere.

I went to another table and began smashing its contents with my fists. I didnít care that shards of ceramic and glass were embedding in my flesh. As the blood flowed from my arms, I ripped tapestries off the walls and then marched over to the full-length limestone statue of myself that stood near my marble brazier and kicked the head off. I then stood in the middle of my bedchamber and let out an angry roar that almost deafened me. Under all the noise I was making and havoc I was raising, I heard my bedchamber door open and saw Gabrielle step in.

"WHAT ARE YOU FUCKING DOING HERE!?!" I shouted at the top of my lungs. "I told you to go to the library!"

"Am I still free?" came the quiet, terrified reply.

"What?" I asked, and then answered, "Yes, youíre free."

"Then I chose to come here, Xena."

I literally felt my body deflate. I was losing equilibrium fast so I walked over to my bed and sat. I was so enraged at that moment. I could hurt her so badly right now, I thought. Donít hurt her! I pleaded to myself. Gabrielle started slowly walking toward me.

"Donít come near me," I demanded.

"But youíre bleeding. I want to helpÖ"

"I said stay back!" I just needed to stop shaking. I needed to calm down and reassure myself that the demons within me wouldnít do anything to harm Gabrielle. I looked down at my arms and back up at her. She just stood there fighting tears. I once again succeeded in paralyzing her with fear. This is not how I wanted our life together to be. Her freedom to me meant that if she chose to share her life with me, our lives together would be that of lovers, of friends, of confidants, of equals. Now I was fighting tears. Can I ever repair the damage Iíve done to her, to me, to us? I started to feel the pain from the fresh wounds in my arms and began picking at the tiny pieces of glass and ceramic sticking out of my skin. Tears started dropping onto my arms as I picked. When I looked up at Gabrielle again, she was still standing in the same spot, but she had now allowed her own tears to flow. Without saying a word, I stretched out my arms in invitation. She came to me and threw herself on me, forcing me prone onto the bed. I threw my arms around her and hugged her tightly. We were like that for a very long time.

Finally I spoke. "Iím sorry about your shoulder, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked into my eyes. "Why did you do it, Xena?" she asked.

"You know," I reminded her. "Because of the way you were looking at that young soldier."

"What young soldier?" she inquired.

I was perturbed. "The one whoÖ who watched."

"Is that why he watched?" she responded. "Why you branded me? Because you thought I was looking at him?"

"Well, you were."

"Conqueror, I faintly recall giving the man a friendly smile," she said. "But I wasnít Ďlooking at him.í"

Gabrielle sighed deeply and then took her eyes off of me. She then returned her head to its resting place on my shoulder in a continuing embrace. I started staring at the ceiling. By the gods, I permanently scarred the woman I love and killed a man over a "friendly smile," I thought. I felt like throwing up. My skin started to feel cold and clammy and I began trembling a little.

We remained in our embrace. Despite that, a tension rose between us. I wanted to cry, but I forced myself not to. Gabrielle didnít cry either. I believed she was beyond crying over this. I needed to sooth her. I needed to sooth myself as well. So I then began softly stroking her hair and back. I will figure out a way to fix this, I promised myself.

There was another lapse of time before I spoke again. "Iím bleeding all over you, Gabrielle," I said.

"I can help you bandage your arms if you like, Xena," she said in my ear.

After a time, having her on top of me like that caused me to forget the pain in my arms. My desire for her, always present, was building fast and I found myself kissing her neck and shoulder. "Gods, youíre beautiful, Gabrielle," I whispered seductively in her ear. "Making love right now would be so marvelous."

Gabrielle had relaxed in my arms by then and had actually giggled, I assume at my attempt at seduction and my peculiar timing. "Can we clean and bandage your arms first, Empress?" she responded.

I grabbed her face in my hands. "You find my mountainous libido quite humorous, donít you, Gabrielle?"

"Yes, my Lady," she replied. "I do."

Gabrielle was very thorough and meticulous in cleaning and bandaging my arms. Her precision was driving me crazy. Her close proximity to me, along with her sweet smell, was driving me even crazier. I wanted her to hurry up so that I could begin ravishing her body. I think she was taking her time on purpose so as to further torture me. As she was tying the last cloth strip to my arm, I proclaimed, "Ok, thatís good enough." I then grabbed her wrists and forced her back on the bed. Straddling her waist between my legs, I stripped my body of my tunic and britches and then stared down at her and remembered something.

"Is this what you want too, Gabrielle?"

She beamed me a huge smile, pearly white teeth and all. "Absolutely, my Lady."

I sighed. I guess itís going to take a while for her to get use to calling me "Xena."

* * * *

Gabrielle and I spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening engaging in this wonderful new adventure of lovemaking. I took charge first, gathering her in my arms and peppering her face with quick kisses and her ears with quiet endearments. I lowered her body and began sucking her breasts. Then, as I kneaded her breasts with my hands, I started licking her. I licked her hips and belly. I licked her inner thighs. Then I stuck my tongue inside of her center, thrusting it in and out. Then I licked all around her outer sex while I stuck three fingers inside of her. She grabbed my head with both hands and pushed me further into her.

"XENA! OH XENA!" Her release hit hard. Her thighs scissored my head. My mouth smiled on her sex. Thatís right Gabrielle, say MY name, woman! I thought. Hearing her say my name as she climaxed was, I felt, an uproarious accomplishment.

"My turn," Gabrielle said.

Looking up at her, I asked, "What would you like?"

"Bring it to me here," she responded. Her eyes were glazed with passion. I had seen it at times over the years, but I know she fought hard to suppress it. It was so wonderful that she desired me. It was even more wonderful to see her allow herself the freedom to express her own desires. This is why I freed you, Gabrielle, to witness that untamed desire, I thought as I straddled her face between my thighs. My sexual juices were dripping on her. That excited both of us even more as I lowered my center onto her mouth. I had had Gabrielle in this position countless times, but had never allowed either of us the pleasure of having my sex on her face this way. She moaned as she indulged in my throbbing, wet center. I could feel her tongue frantically absorbing all of me down there. Two of her fingers were manipulating my sphincter. Her other hand was wildly groping my body. This combination of sensations made me feel as though I was riding the waves of a storm only Poseidon himself could bring about. My climax came crashing onto me and I convulsed uncontrollably while grabbing the head-posts of my bed.

When I came down from release, she simply looked at me and said, "Your turn again."

* * * *

Lovemaking had become a marathon between Gabrielle and me that day. It went on for candlemark after candlemark and was literally a race to see which one of us would drop from exhaustion first. We experimented with new and exciting positions and in between each sexually intimate round we hugged or tickled or massaged each other. I learned something very valuable about my love that day: when it comes to sexual stamina and the freedom to fully command it, Gabrielle of Poteidaia is as stubborn and determined as Xena the Conqueror.

We slept through the night long and hard in each otherís arms. I woke first the following morning. Then I looked down on Gabrielleís sleeping form sprawled across my body and kissed the top of her head. She was such a vision. She was also snoring slightly, an obvious sign that I had been successful in my mission to wear her out. Yes, I even gloated to myself that morning. I had to smile, but it faded when I realized that in a few short candlemarks I would be on a ship to Rome to engage in a battle that may separate us for weeks, maybe months. I slowly reached over and pulled the cord that summoned my indentured chambermaid Mia. As she entered from the smaller side door leading into my bedchamber, I watched as she took in the carnage that I had made of the room. She walked right up to the bed and bowed. Modesty had never been an issue with me and, in my tyranny; Gabrielle had learned the hard way that it was not to be an issue with her either.

"Summon Commander Palaemon, Mia," I said as I caressed my sleeping Gabrielleís back. "Also, have one of your assistants prepare my personal chest for travel. I am going on a war mission. I expect the usual accoutrements. And have my bedchamber cleaned by the end of daylight, got it?"

"Yes, Majesty."

"Oh," I added. "And draw my bath."

"By your will, my Lady."

As she departed, I nudged Gabrielle. "Wake up, my little spitfire."

Gabrielle groaned and pressed her face further into the crevice between my breast and arm. I started shaking her more heartily. I wanted her awake before Palaemon arrived. She wasnít budging. Ah, this situation called for more drastic measures. With a sinister smile on my face, I threw her off of me. "Get up!" I said to her as I chuckled with mischievous glee.

Gabrielle was startled. I stood. "Sorry, Gabrielle," I said. "But you are one hard woman to wake."

She began wiping her eyes and taking the stray strands of hair off of her face. She was still very disoriented. "Itís all your fault," she said, more to herself than me, but I heard it.

"Oh, and why is that?"

Gabrielle looked down at her sweaty, musky smelling and slightly bruised and bitten body. "You have to be so wickedly gorgeous," she whispered.

She looked up at me and found me smiling from ear to ear, in her words, wickedly. "See what I mean?" she implored as her face went red.

A knock on my chamber door broke my euphoria.

Palaemon entered and Gabrielle immediately covered herself. When I looked at her, she merely cocked her head and said, "Iím free, Conqueror. Remember?"

Palaemon bowed and looked around the room. As this was not the first time I had ever destroyed my bedchamber during a temper tantrum, he was not immediately alarmed. Ever cautious, however, he drew his sword as he spoke his greetings. "Morning, my Liege. Morning, Gabrielle," he said as he quickly averted his gaze. He had also become skilled at not looking too closely at my naked body or the naked body of my love.

"Morning Palaemon," I replied as I pondered various pleasurable punishments I could inflict on my sharp-tongued former body slave.

"Your arms, my Liege," he inquired looking at my bandaged wounds. "Are you ok?"

I nodded and quickly changed the subject. "Am I to assume that Captain Archillius will not be joining our fleet?"

"Absolutely not, my Liege," he responded as he re-sheathed his sword. Captain Archillius has faithfully served me since my days as the infamous Warrior Princess. He is an older man, very skilled in intelligence and security, but rather inept on the open battlefield.

"I want you to summon him here, along with that young brown-skinned corporal in his battalion."

"You mean Bahri, your palace gate guardsman, Conqueror?"

"Yes."

"By your will, Conqueror."

As Palaemon departed, Gabrielle said teasingly to his turned back, "Good morning, Palaemon."

A few moments later, three men, Palaemon, Archillius and Bahri, entered my bedchamber to observe two naked women wrestling like misbehaving school children on my bed. Gabrielle noticed them first and squealed.

"Oh shit!" I exclaimed while she grabbed the nearest blanket to cover herself. I threw on a nearby robe. "Donít you know how to fucking knock?"

"Pardon me, my Liege, but I did knock." Palaemon said.

I ignored him for the moment and turned my attention to the young Guard Corporal. Bahri is somewhat short and svelte, but taller than Gabrielle, and unusually beautiful. Heís much too pretty for a man. He also shows no evidence of ever growing any facial hair, although thatís not that unusual for men of Oromo or Ethiopian origin. But despite his youthful appearance, there also appears to be a wisdom in his eyes. He couldnít be that young and be a member of my Imperial Guard. Thus, from his looks and masked effeminate demeanor, I immediately began to suspect that he was a sodomite. That would be perfect for my plan.

"Tell me your curriculum, Bahri of Napata." I demanded of the young guard.

The Egyptian bowed and presented to me his honorable credentials. Born in Napata in the southernmost region of Egypt, he left home at 15 and sailed with pirates up the Nile to the shipping port city of Abu Simbel. He learned much from the pirates and continued his travels and lootings with them for the next five years. He looted cities and villages along the Nile, eventually ending up in the great city of Alexandria, where he decided to abandon piracy and instead take up the sword in land battle. At that time, the Dorians of Crete were recruiting Egyptian mercenaries to fight both my growing forces and the forces of my greatest enemy, Julius Caesar. Bahri joined the Dorians and sailed to Crete. When the Dorians of Knossos allied with my forces against Caesar, many of the mercenaries joined my Greek Army, including Bahri, where we successfully defeated the Romans there. Bahri must have proven himself competent in battle for him to be among my Imperial Guard now.

"Impressive, Bahri," I said after he was finished. "How old are you?"

"Iím 26, my Liege."

"You donít look a day over 14, Guard Corporal," I responded. "I have decided to reassign you. As you know I will be sailing to the outer Roman territories of Apulia by the end of the day. I want you to watch over Gabrielle while Iím gone. You are to be her bodyguard. See that no harm comes to her in my absence. If she should so much as suffer a hangnail, Iíll break your neck, do you understand me?"

A look of grave disappointment crossed his face. "Did I wrong you or the Realm somehow, my Liege?"

Enraged and insulted for my Gabrielle, I grabbed him by his neck and slammed him against my chamber door before Palaemon or Archillius could stop me. As I began choking him, I felt small hands grab at my left forearm. "Please stop! He thinks youíre asking him to watch over a slave, Conqueror." It was Gabrielle.

I released Bahri who immediately began rubbing his neck. Asking a skilled warrior to watch a slave in my Realm is akin to asking him to watch over a kennel of dogs. I understood the insult to him.

Bahri needed the clarification. "Gabrielle is an emancipated citizen of Corinth. I want you to treat her and respect her as though she was myÖ myÖ my consort, Guard Corporal Bahri." I was afraid to look at Gabrielle after that statement.

A renewed glee crept upon the features of that pretty face of his. "Yes, I understand, my Liege," he said. "I will guard Gabrielle with my life."

Even his voice is pretty. I was beginning to regret this decision. By the gods, I hope heís a sodomite, for his sake, I thought as a budding jealousy loomed. "Very well." Turning to Archillius, I said, "Guard Corporal Bahri is to receive an added stipend of 25 dinars per week effective immediately."

"By your will, Conqueror," he replied.

"Oh, and Captain," I added, "If anything happens to Gabrielle, Iíll hold you just as responsible. You know what that means."

"I do."

* * * *

After the men departed, a long silence began between Gabrielle and me. Mia had prepared the bath and was already cleaning the chamber with two other slaves when Gabrielle and I got into the tub. We bathed in silence. For some reason, I couldnít even meet her eyes. What am I so afraid of? I asked myself. I love her. She knows I love her. Why canít I just say the words "I love you" to her? What in Tartarus is stopping me? I would catch her staring at me. I knew she wanted to talk, but I suspect she didnít know what to say either. She possesses the skills of a scribe and a bard, but what does a bard, who also happens to be a former slave, say to her former mistress about being in love? Thereís a part of me that just wants to tell her everything. I want to tell her that this love I feel isnít new, that it was almost always there. But how can she possibly believe that. Much of what sheís experience with me hasnít been loving. How can I rationally explain the pain to her that came with that love? Thanks to me, she doesnít know that I love her. She doesnít know just how much and something inside of me is paralyzing me from telling her.

After bathing in silence, we dressed in silence. The silence was driving me insane.

I looked at Mia and her assistant chambermaids cleaning and packing my battle garments for travel. I then looked at Gabrielle, who looked as though she was about to cry. "Come with me, Gabrielle."

I saddled up Argo and rode her to the warship docks. At this point, much of the supplies were aboard the ships. We dismounted Argo and she was led away to the ship stables. I then bashfully put my arm around Gabrielleís shoulder and looked down at her. She was visibly crying now. The tears were flowing down her lovely cheeks, but she made not a sound.

Palaemon approached. "My Liege," he greeted and bowed.

"Howís Petracles?"

"Better, Majesty," he responded. "You cracked two ribs, but heís well bandaged and will be able to navigate our ship across the gulf. Two advance ships departed last night, per your orders, Conqueror."

"Excellent," I said. "We will depart when my personal trunks arrive from the palace." I looked at Gabrielle and then back at Palaemon.

"Summon Captain Archillius, Commander," I continued. "Guard Corporal Bahri is to start his duty now."

"By your will, Conqueror."

"Now leave me alone with Gabrielle." He departed and I turned to her. I gently placed her face in my hands and kissed her lips. I could taste the salt from her tears on her mouth. They could have been mine. I was crying now too.

Our kiss was deep and went on for several moments. She placed her hands on the back of my head to draw my face even closer. When we finally broke it, she looked around at the various soldiers trying desperately not to stare at us. They were invisible to me. At this moment, only Gabrielle and I existed.

When she returned her attention to me, rather unexpectedly she chose this moment to nervously chuckle. "I know what theyíre thinking," she whispered to me in reference to my men.

"Whatís that?"

"Theyíre thinking, Ďisnít it just like a typical woman Destroyer of Nations to fall in love with her body slave.í"

"So Iím in love, huh?"

"Are you?"

"Yes."

I pulled her into a tight embrace. "Yes," I repeated in her ear. "Iím so in love with you, Gabrielle." There, I said it.

I needed to go now or I would never leave. I broke off the embrace and began backing away from her. Her lips mouthed in silence, "Please donít do this."

"I have to, Gabrielle," I said. "But Iíll be back."

"I love you!" She shouted. With those words piercing my inner ears, I turned and ran onto the ship. Once below deck, I retreated to my ship cabin where I locked myself inside and screamed and cried my agony of emptiness. I already missed her terribly.

I would be at war with Marcus Antonius for four months.

 

IV. GABRIELLEíS SCROLL ENTRY

That first night after Xena left, I attempted to sleep in her bed. Her unique fragrance was billowing off the sheets and served no other purpose but to further torment me with her absence. I got out of there quick and ran to my own bedchamber where I collapsed on my bed and cried for hours.

This wasnít fair!

We had finally reached that reality in our lives that I had always hoped for but had always dismissed as an intangible dream. She loved me. She freed me. She wanted me truly as a woman rather than as a piece of property. She was also learning to temper her violence, well, at least toward me. With more time, I could have worked with her, helped her understand that hitting, choking, kicking, stabbing and killing people wasnít always the answer. But now she was off surrounding herself with blood, violence and murder. In the past, after a battle, Xena always returned to the palace with a particularly high level of anger and brutality. These were, by far, the worse times in my service to her. Now I feared something even greater. I feared this war would erase the transformation she underwent with me. Killing comes naturally to Xena. She had to learn how to love. Will this war take away all she had learned?

For the first few days, I remained secluded in my bedchamber. Bahri was very patient. He posted himself outside my door, making sure the meals I refused to eat came to me three times a day. Demi would wander by and talk with Bahri outside in the corridor. Neither one of them bothered me, but finally one day, Bahri knocked and entered my bedchamber uninvited.

"Ok, Gab," he started. "Thatís enough. You need to get out of here."

"Iím not going anywhere," I responded defiantly as I lay on my bed clutching my pillow.

"Yes, you are, girlfriend," he said as he playfully grabbed my ankles and pulled me from the bed. "Take a bath, get dressed and meet me out in the corridor. Weíre going shopping."

Who is this man to barge into my bedchamber and spew his demands at me as though I was his whimpering wife? I thought as I shot Bahri an evil look. "Donít look at me like that," he responded. "Iím not going to have you wasting away in here. If the Conqueror comes back and finds you all emaciated and stinking like the gods know what, sheíll have my ass!"

He then simply left the room and waited for me outside of my chamber door. I stood there for a few moments and began to understand how one could want to bang someone else over the head with a baking pan. Then I washed, got dressed, wolfed down a piece of stale bread and joined my bodyguard for a day in the city marketplace.

Bahri is a very strange fellow, I concluded.

The next day, I returned to my favorite place in the library. Demi and I resumed one of our many debates about politics and philosophy, and whether or not Xena is evil incarnate or simply a misunderstood and lonely woman. Bahri seemed to find our discussions quite boring. One day, as Demi and I spoke about Greek versus Roman fashions, Bahri decided to join in.

"By the gods," he started. "Donít you two ever just talk about women?"

"What do you mean, Guard Corporal?" Demi asked.

"You know, about breasts and ass and soft skin and sex. Surely youíve had a fulfilling life of sexual escapades, old man. And you Gab, sex with the ever-so-beautiful Conqueror could be a thrilling three-act drama."

"Are you insane?" I implored. "Weíre not two of your barracks buddies. And Iím a woman. Why would I want to discuss an obvious topic of leering single men?"

"Because youíre also Sapphic, Gab, thatís why."

"I AM NOT!"

"Oh, really," Bahri was laughing at me. "Then what do you call being a hydra who sexes another hydra?"

I stood up. "Get out!" I shouted, pointing to the library door.

"Oh no," he responded ever so casually. "Iím your well-paid bodyguard. Iím not going anywhere. But Iíll shut up now." He grabbed a scroll off the wall, sat down, put his feet up on our table and began to read, but added, "When you two decide to talk about something interesting, like women, let me know. We can swap war stories."

When I looked at Demi, he was smiling. I couldnít believe he actually liked this pompous ass. I couldnít believe that I was beginning to like him too.

Yes, Bahri is truly a strange fellow.

In the following weeks, Bahri and I argued a great deal. But we also had wonderful and stimulating conversations. He is like the brother I always wished I had. We would venture to the central agora of Corinth where he would haggle with vendors or volunteer me to be a street magicianís assistant or listen to the traveling bards. We attended plays and wrestling matches together and watched as the great artists created murals, tapestries and frescos in the great Temple of Apollo. By the gods, we even climbed a few trees together.

But thereís more. In a weird way, Bahri is also like the sister I had and lost so many years ago to our slavery. Sometimes we bickered like two hens in a coop. One day we took a walk through the Conquerorís massive palace gardens. Bahri named off the roses, mums, hibiscus, daisies, hydrangeas, tulips and lilies that carpeted the gardens. And he loves music. I would accompany him to the small symposiums given by retired guardsmen or well-to-do citizens, and we would spend much of the evening sitting near the talented musicians enjoying the wonderful sounds rather than indulging in mind-numbing conversation with the wealthy of Corinth.

If not for his obsession with women, Iíd swear Bahri was a sodomite. But itís women he loves, and during that time, he was constantly trying to bait me into a conversation about my sex life with Xena.

One day, as we lounged in the palace kitchen eating fresh baked bread and feta cheese, I finally caved. "Ok, Bahri," I started. "What do you want to know?"

"Youíve got me all wrong," he responded. "Iím not interested in your various positions or anything. I want to know when it was that you actually realized that you were hot for the Destroyer of Nations?"

It was a simple and complex question at the same time. I didnít know how to answer it.

"Let me explain something," Bahri continued. "Practically every man I know desires Xena the Conqueror. No doubt sheís dangerous and will kill you with a blink of an eye, but she also has this raw sensuality that drives the guys wild. They all envy you, even though they only see you as her plaything. Youíve been to and seen places on that Imperial body that they could only dream about. Understand?"

I nodded.

"But theyíre men," he went on. "What makes me curious is how a woman like you, who doesnít consider herself Sapphic, feel the same way about the Conqueror?"

As my face blushed, I thought long and hard for an answer. Most of palace servants have told me that I would make a great bard. They say the stories and poems I tell are as creative and profound as any trained orator. But for some reason, my tongue wasnít working that day.

"I donít know. I just do."

At that moment, I started thinking about her and how much I was greatly missing her. He saw that my eyes were beginning to tear. "You love her a great deal, donít you Gabrielle?" he asked.

"Yes, Bahri, I do."

That evening, Bahri decided to cheer me up by taking me on an adventure. He dressed me as a man, concealing my long hair under a hat worn by the people of his homeland. I also wore a manís tunic, cinched with a belt, and a chlamys. My feet were covered with menís styled calcei boots. Bahri wore his usual Guardsmanís uniform. We went to a hot, overcrowded and musty tavern on the north end of Corinth, creatively called the North End Tavern, where Imperial Guardsmen, as well as soldiers from Corinth and Athens, were drinking mass doses of ale and smoking long smelly pipes. Bahri was well known and respected among the soldiers, but it was the courtesans and maids of the tavern who showed true affection toward him. I now knew why he was so overbearing. Women flocked to him like flies to horse dung. Why not? Heís very handsome and his clear, bronzed colored complexion was an attractive contrast to the cream and olive colored ladies of the tavern.

One woman, a Persian I suspected from her appearance and dress, grabbed Bahri and escorted him to the center of the tavern, where she sat him in a chair and began dancing on his lap to the strange music of her land. He groped her sides, thighs and bottom as she danced and when she was done, he kissed her passionately on her lips. Then he motioned me over and stood up from the chair.

Handing her a coin, he said, "This is my buddy, ĎGabe.í Heíd like a lap dance too."

Before I could object, the woman pushed me down onto the chair and in a breath her bellybutton was in my face. She swiveled and turned and ground her pelvis into my thighs as Bahri stood off to the side laughing and cheering with some of the other soldiers. Maybe it was the music, the smoke, the darkness or my celibacy, but as she performed, I closed my eyes and started imagining Xena doing this to me, sliding her long, muscular and scantily-clad Warrior Princess body all around me like a cobra. I imagined taking my hands and feeling all over that luscious body. I imagined Xena rubbing her drenched and inviting sex all over my body in a dance of seduction. The illicit thoughts about my former Lady and Mistress shocked and confused me. Just then, the Persian dancer licked my cheek and kissed my ear whispering a request, "You and Bahri come to my room tonight, no?"

I opened my eyes and shot up from the chair. "NO!" I said and grabbed my bodyguard by the arm and retreated to the far corner of the tavern.

"I could kill you Bahri!" I said.

"Relax," he responded. "Sheís a courtesan. Sheís paid to say stuff like that. Let me buy you a mug of ale and we can sit and watch the rest of the show, ok?"

I relaxed and smiled. "Oh, all right," I responded as those inferno thoughts of Xena on me still rolled around in my head.

That night, while I lay in bed, I thought deeply and provocatively of my Xena as I stimulated my own sex.

A week later, Demi received a report on the military operation in outer Rome. Bahri and I sat and gave Demi our full attention as he read aloud Commander Palaemonís report.

We set sail the first day from Corinth up the gulf past Achaea to the Island of Corfu to rendezvous with our advance ships. From there we crossed the Ionian Sea to the Roman village of Lecce, where we gathered more food and supplies. From there, we sailed north along the Adriatic Sea to the village of Foggia where we left the ships and proceeded on chariots and horseback toward the Apennines. The Conqueror sent word via her spies in the west to Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Governor Octaviusí field lieutenant, that our troops were present in response to intelligence sources that Marcus Antoniusí legions were planning to overthrow Octavius. Of course, it was a lie. Our intelligence informed us that Antonius was actually interested in an alliance with Octavius, but felt he needed to credit himself to Octavius by defeating our Imperial power structure here. We know Antonius hates Octavius, but he hates Xena the Conqueror more.

Octavius, being from the same idiotic stock as that other pathetic and dead Roman, Caesar, bought our story hands down. With our loyal Roman troops and Sabine and Etruscan allies supplying catapult power, horses and armor, we were initially able to defeat two of Antoniusí three plebeian legions present in the Apennines. It was not easy. Antonius managed to build a sizeable army of plebes. They met us as a phalanx on the battlefield those first days. But we had Xena the Conqueror. No army is too great for her. In the first two months of battle, she alone killed over 1100 men. We captured seven forts and military outposts set up by Antonius and took over 200 prisoners of war. Predictably, Lepidus sent his Roman troops from the west to counterattack Antoniusí forces on the other side. When Lepidus stepped in, we did a temporary retreat to allow the moronic Romans to kill each other off.

What we didnít anticipate was the Greek traitor, Darphus, who used to be the Conquerorís lieutenant and knew quite a bit about her battle strategy, had apparently informed Antonius that getting Octavius involved was part of our plan. It was Xena The Conqueror who figured out who the traitor was when she saw a discreetly placed banner, bearing his signature and crest, among those of Antonius. When word spread among both Antoniusí troops and Lepidusí troops that we were planning on increasing an Imperial stronghold, the tables turned for us and now we were facing two enemy Roman armies.

Morale among our troops never waned as our Conqueror had yet another plan ready at hand. A century of my Imperial Guard, along with Petracles and two battalions of Corinthian soldiers, accompanied her as they retreated back to the ships and sailed north to the village of Pescarius. Traveling by horseback for several days, they located the central post where Antonius and Darphus had their commands. They were greatly outnumbered, but the Roman dogs, having become too lazy and smug, were no match for them in swords and shields. They were able to eliminate most of them. The Conqueror took on both Antonius and Darphus herself. Our Ruler could have easily killed them both, but she spared them. She needed them to parade to the rest of their flock that she and Greece were the greatest powers in the known world.

They didnít head back to the Apennines. I had been placed in command of our remaining allied Roman forces and other allies where we were still fighting both the forces of Antonius and Octavius. Our Conqueror and her troops headed west, to Rome, where they stormed the Governorís palace and presented our prisoners to Octavius himself. Xena the Conqueror made Octaviusí choices simple; call off his army or die. Octavius immediately sent word to Lepidus to call off his troops. They then headed back east, with Antonius and Darphus in tow, to where we were, at the central point of the battle. When Antoniusí troops saw their illustrious leader dragging behind the great war palomino Argo, they immediately put down their weapons. Many scurried away like the rodents they were. Others chose to remain and pledge undying allegiance to the Conqueror.

No longer trusting the Romans to their own accord, our Majesty feels it necessary to establish a Greek Army here. Many of the men of my Guard and the Corinthian Army will remain. Our Roman allies and the Sabine and Etruscans who assisted us were given military commissions in the newly formed Greek Armies of the Apennines.

We will be sailing from Foggia in a fortnight. Our two advance ships left today. We have Antonius and Darphus with us to face the public judgments in Corinth. We lost approximately 40 percent of our Greek forces here, but gained an impressive-sized local force. Octavius lost almost 80 percent of his troops by the time of Lepidusí retreat and Antoniusí forces were almost all obliterated. Petracles lost his sword arm against an Antonius battle commander. My left leg is broken. And the Conqueror returns to her Realm battered and bruised but fully intact.

After Demi was finished, he handed me a small piece of parchment rolled and tied with a silk cloth. "This is for you, my dear, from the Conqueror."

Retreating to a private corner in the library, I opened the parchment and read: "Hello my GabrielleÖ By the time you read this, we will be on the ships to return home from our mission. It has been a hard battle, but the hardest part of it was being separated from you. My mind is possessed with constant thoughts of you, my love. I know that in the past, after a war, I came home to you a vile monster. I will not be that monster this time. I canít wait to hold your soft and beautiful body in my arms and feel your lips upon mine. I love you more than life and everything I do, I do for youÖ Xena."

 

 

 

V. THE CONQUERORíS LOG

It was beyond the midnight candlemark when I returned to my palace. When I entered my bedchamber, much to my surprise, I found Gabrielle sleeping in my bed. I was so happy just to see her, but I was disappointed as well. I didnít want her to awaken and see me the way I was. I had been at war for over four months. My body was covered with dirt and dried blood and tiny fragments of dead menís skin, bones, hair and organs. I had bruises and sores, and that rat bastard Darphus managed to slice a clean cut in my side. I broke his jaw and sliced his thigh to the bone with my chakram for his trouble.

I looked and smelled like death.

I quietly walked over to the side chamber door and summoned Mia who sleeps in a room on the other side. She nearly fainted at the sight of me. I donít believe Iíve ever looked this bad after battle. I whispered an order for her to draw me a bath with healing herbs and special fermented ointments and then I literally peeled off my dented cuirass and my filthy battle dress, greaves, gauntlets and boots. I also pried from my sweaty skin the one piece of garment that remained relatively clean and intact; a tiny piece of a silk scarf belonging to Gabrielle that I stole from her bedchamber before I left Corinth. I kept it hidden under my battle dress near my heart and, early on, before my own body scent took over it, would pull the silk out and sniff it when I was sure no one was looking. I handed it to Mia to place in my bath.

As I finished undressing, I accidentally dropped my chakram on the floor. Gabrielle woke up. When she saw me, she jumped out of bed and came toward me. I halted her.

"Stop, Gabrielle," I said. "Donít come any closer."

"Why, Xena? I want to hug you." The chamber was dark and she was unable to get a close look at me.

"No you donít," I replied. "IÖ I donít smell very pleasant right now."

"I donít care!" Before I could stop her, she was throwing her arms around me. Now she was close enough to see and smell and absorb.

"By the Gods!" she exclaimed, taking it all in. Gabrielle had never seen me directly after a battle. When I returned to the palace in the past, she was always in her own bedchamber or somewhere else. I would summon her for service after cleaning myself and bandaging my wounds. Now I felt disgusting. I had written her a promise that I would not return to her a monster. Although I meant something else, that was apparently still a lie because here she was, looking at a vile and hideous creature. She released me from her embrace. "Youíre hurt," she said.

"Not bad. I just need to take a bath and clean my teeth, Gabrielle," I responded. "Go back to bed. Iíll join you in a little while."

She backed away from me. She then turned away and retreated to the bed. Her expression said it all to me. Yes, Gabrielle, this is the monster you fell in love with, I thought.

As I bathed, I would glance over at Gabrielle. She had fallen back asleep. I watched her. Her soft creamy legs were exposed over her sleep shift and her supple breasts rose and fell under the material with her breathing. I started feeling an intense heat between my legs. My center began to throb and hurt. My face began to flush. My heart started beating faster. It was a familiar feeling I had after returning from battle. The adrenaline of pure lust and the denial of sexual pleasure were replacing that of my bloodlust. The beast had awakened. These were the times in the past where Gabrielle ceased to be Gabrielle and she just became the piece of female property for me to take any way I desired. This was the monster of which I referred in my letter to her. I was often violent with her because I saw sex with her as an extension of my fighting on the battlefield. Fucking her was the sweet dessert that followed the full course dinner of war.

When I was finished bathing, I climbed out of the tub and walked over to the bed. I didnít even bother to dry myself. I pulled Gabrielleís sleep shift off of her. It was all she had on. When I saw that glorious body before me, the already intense arousal between my legs increased and I felt as though my blood was boiling. My beast was ready for the attack. She awakened then. I lay hard on top of her and grabbed her wrists tightly in my hands and sharply pulled her arms up over her head. I growled and then I kissed her lips fiercely. She tried to call out my name, but my tongue was buried deep inside of her mouth. Finally she broke the kiss by sharply turning her face away. Looking back at me, she simply said, "Now kiss me, Xena."

I took a deep breath. Then I released her wrists and took her face in my palms and whispered an apology. My wonderful Gabrielle effectively killed the beast within me, replacing it with the calm passion of a mortal woman. I kissed her correctly this time. Our tongues bathed each other. We moaned and I began stroking her hair. She began stroking mine. We kissed for a long time and then started rubbing our hips together. Then I felt three of her small fingers enter me. I reached down with my hand and entered her as well. I arched my back as I thrust into her. She took my left breast in her mouth and sucked hard while her left arm was wrapped around my lower back rubbing it. My left arm was supporting my weight as the fingers of my right hand pumped in and out of her. She was growling as she took my right breast in her mouth and began biting my nipple. Gabrielle was the beautiful beast now. "By the godsÖ GabrielleÖ that feelsÖ so good!" I said in between moans.

We both started thrusting harder and faster. I took my free hand and grabbed a large lock of her hair and balled that hand into a fist. Then I looked down into her green eyes of desire and said, "Come on, give it to me. Let me hear it." With that, Gabrielle let out a loud scream of release. Her head tilted back and the veins in her neck enlarged. As her inner core locked onto my fingers, my own release came. I shouted as well before collapsing on top of her.

I hugged her so tightly afterward, I think I may have caused her to lose air.

* * * *

I woke to the sight of Gabrielle sitting cross-legged on the bed, still naked, eating a bowl of cherries and staring at me. She is so gods-awful adorable.

"Afternoon, my Lady," she said.

"Afternoon?"

"Uh huh," she responded. "Youíve been sleeping for 16 candlemarks. Which wore you out more, the battlefield or me?"

"You," I teasingly responded, smiling.

Gabrielleís expression became serious. "Youíre hurt, Xena. These bruises and scars look awful." She looked at the stitched stab wound. "And what happened here?"

"My belly got in the way of Darphusí sword," I answered. "Donít worry. He looks a lot worse."

"Did you kill him?" I saw an expression on her face Iíve seen a million times. I still canít define it.

"Not yet," I responded. "Heís in the palace dungeons with Antonius. Iíll be paying my respects to both of them soon."

Gabrielle looked down. What did she expect? They are traitors to the Realm. They waged war against my Empire. They betrayed me. What am I to give them? Banishment? Life imprisonment? No, execution is their only fate. She knows this.

I didnít want to think about Darphus. I didnít want to think about how I plan to parade him at the agora for all of my Corinthian subjects to witness. I didnít want to think about how I plan to personally sever his head from his body.

I wanted to make love to Gabrielle again.

I sat up on the bed and took the bowl of fruit aside from Gabrielle. Then I lifted her head with my fingers on her chin. "You know you are most desirable when you eat cherries," I said in seduction. I then leaned over and kissed her. For a moment she didnít respond, but then I felt her cherry-tasting tongue enter my mouth. I shifted my position where I was now sitting cross-legged in front of her. I reached my arms around her waist and drew her closer. She uncrossed her legs and wrapped them around my body. The strong scent from her sex tickled my nostrils. She grabbed my breasts in her hands while I grabbed her ass in mine. Our simple caresses went on for a while. Eventually, we both lay down side to side, facing each other. Then we shifted again and she was lying on top of me. It was a simple sensation, our hips in a sensual dancing rhythm until we each found release.

Later, in the bath, I had Mia summon Gabrielleís bodyguard. When he arrived, I called him over to the tub where I was resting up against it and had Gabrielle positioned between my legs with her back resting against my chest. When he walked up to the tub and bowed in formal greeting, I folded my arms around Gabrielleís neck above the bath water so that he could clearly see them. I guess I was marking my territory.

"Have you served in your position honorably, Guard Corporal?" I inquired.

"Yes, my Liege." He didnít appear to be the least bit phased by looking upon two naked women embracing in a bath.

"Gabrielle," I spoke into my loveís ear, "Did he serve as your bodyguard with honor?"

"Yes, my Lady, he did."

"Very well," I continued. "Your services are no longer needed here, Guard Corporal, but I will command that you be reassigned to Commander Palaemonís palace security detail. Youíll need to be trained in that regard, but Iím confident youíll do fine."

The young manís expression conveyed that he could have jumped for joy right there. "Thank you, Majesty," he said ever so enthusiastically.

"You may leave, Guard Corporal."

"Wow," he said to himself. "Iím sorry, I mean, by your will, Conqueror!" He quickly bowed and dashed out of the chamber. Gabrielle was giggling.

"Bahri is so strange, Xena."

"Heís a sodomite, my dear," I informed her. "Thatís why there was no sweat on his brow or lump in his pteryges when he was before us."

Gabrielle turned and looked into my eyes. "Oh no, Xena," she informed me. "Heís not. Heís quite the ladiesí man." She turned back around.

I was afraid for the moment to inquire further.

There was not that many candlemarks left in the day, so I decided to spend it with my Gabrielle. We ate huge meals and walked hand-in-hand along the palace corridors and grounds as she rattled on about her life here without me. Of course, she insisted that I visit the palace healers to have my injuries examined and to rule out any diseases or infections to my body. At nightfall, we returned to my bedchamberÖ our bedchamberÖ for an evening of food and wine and, I was hoping, some serious lovemaking. Gabrielle was obviously feeling indulgent, because she drank four whole goblets of the fermented liquid. Intoxication had set in by the second one. Gabrielle is a little talker. With wine in her sheís a big little talker.

We were sitting up on the bed and Gabrielle was becoming quite frisky with her hands on me as she went on and on about things she and Bahri did in my absence. I hate to admit that I wasnít paying much attention. It was partially envy, but for the most part she was just so lovely, even in this state, and I found myself staring at her soft face and luscious body as she spoke and fondled me innocently. But then she said something that brought me out of my Gabrielle-induced reverie.

"Bahri asked about you and me a lot," she slurred. "Ya know, about us."

"What did you tell him?" I tried to remain calm, but already I didnít like where this was going.

"Oh, nothing," she responded in between drunken giggles. "He doesnít understand how I could desire you, being that Iím not Sapphic. Iím like, Ďwhatís not to desire?í Look at you, Xena. YouíreÖ Youíre absolutely magnificent. Your silky black hair, your smooth skin, your muscles, your unreal face and those blue eyesÖ by the gods! You are beautiful!"

Gabrielle started sensuously rubbing my thighs with her soft hands. "I asked him if he desired you, ya know."

"Oh?" I queried, tempering my fury. "And what did my little Guard Corporal say?"

"Oh, he said, Ďsheís fine and all, but I donít like my women so tall and deadly.í He is truly a nut bread." More giggling followed.

My next question caused Gabrielle to raise her eyebrows. "Did you happen to ask if he desires you?"

There was a pause. "Uh, no," she finally said. "But I seriously doubt he does, Xena. Why would he desire me?" Then she grabbed my shoulders and planted a strong kiss on my lips. "Wanna make love, my Lady?"

"Thatís a silly question, Gabrielle," I answered. "I always want to make love to you."

"My Lady," she said rather proudly I do believe, and then there were no more words from her lovely lips, except in passionate moans, for the next two candlemarks.

This latest round of sexual ecstasy wore out my already inebriated Gabrielle. As we lay in each otherís arm, sleep was prepared to claim me when Gabrielle said something that jarred my eyes wide open.

"You know what that nut bread did, Xena?" she slurred very quietly as Morpheus as well as an intoxicating stupor were quickly claiming her. "He paid a Persian courtesan to dance on my lap in a tavern. Made me think of you. MmmmÖ tasty Xena. Maybe I am Sapphic." She giggled and then silenced in slumber.

I waited until I was sure that Gabrielle was sleeping soundly, and then I gently released my body from her embrace and headed for the Imperial Guard barracks. When I found Bahri sleeping in his rack, I grabbed him by his nightshirt and dragged him outside behind the barracks building. He had awakened but said nothing in protest as he was being handled so roughly. When I got him back there, I backhanded him across the face and then threw him up against the wall. I then took two fingers from each hand and applied my soon-to-be fatal pressure point to his neck.

"Iíve cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you rat bastard. Now Iím going to watch you die."

"Itís not what you think, Conqueror," he pleaded between gasps for air.

"Then what is it, you fucking little worm?"

"Iím a woman!" Bahri shrieked between breaths. "A woman!"

I immediately released the pinch and ripped open Bahriís nightshirt, which revealed two female breasts and two hardened brown nipples staring directly at me. She was desperately trying to retrieve air she had lost. I lifted her up by her shirt.

"Why the charade, Bahri?" I asked, looking into her large brown eyes. "Women can serve in my Imperial Guard."

"Yes, my Liege," she responded, still breathing heavily. "But my charade began eleven years ago on a pirate ship in Abu Simbel."

I understood.

"Iím sorry, my Liege," Bahri continued. "I assume this is about me taking Gabrielle to the North End Tavern. I meant no disrespect to you, Conqueror. You see Iím Sapphic, like you, like her. Sheís just in denial about it. She was missing you and I just wanted her to have some fun. And I donít like her in Ďthatí way, Conqueror. Gabrielleís my buddy. I really didnít mean anything by it, my Liege, I swear my life on the Realm."

I couldnít respond. Something was happening inside of me and I didnít know what it was.

"Go back to bed, Bahri," I said, feeling a tightness in my chest. "Tomorrow, Iíll have you reassigned to the womenís barracks. You donít need to hide your gender anymore."

"By your will, Conqueror." She said, covering her front with her torn shirt as she departed.

As she was walking away, I added, "Iím sorry for striking you andÖ and the pinch thing." She looked over her shoulder and bowed slightly before resuming her departure back to her rack. I think she was trying not to cry.

On my way back to my bedchamber, I found Gabrielle walking briskly toward me in the corridor. She was barely wearing one of my oversized regal peplos, that she had obviously grabbed in haste, and she was visibly shaken and crying. When she saw me, she ran to me and clutched my upper arms tightly in her small hands.

"Xena!" she said, tears pouring out of her angry eyes. "Please tell me you didnít kill BahriÖ please!"

"I didnít kill Bahri."

Not immediately seeking an explanation as to my whereabouts, Gabrielle grabbed me in an embrace and began a litany of explanations and apologies regarding Bahri. Now I knew why my chest was so tight. I almost took away an important person in Gabrielleís life. Theyíre good friends, like her and Demi. But Bahri fills another need in Gabrielle; her need for a platonic companion her own age and gender, even though Gabrielle wasnít aware of Bahriís womanhood at that time. I realized the pain of loss that I would have caused her, irreparable pain, irreparable anger, if I had taken this young woman away from her. And for what? My unjustified fury? My insecurity? My jealousy? My stupid assumptions? My chest began to cave in and I returned the embrace and cried in her hair.

As I held her I also realized that I almost made the same pathetic mistake twice.

After she stopped, she looked up at me. "Where did you go, then?

"I went to kill Bahri," I confessed. I felt so ashamed.

"What stopped you?"

"SHE did."

Gabrielle looked puzzled only for only a moment, and then it sank in. Then she lowered her face back down onto my breasts and resumed crying. A teardrop from my eye fell onto her branded shoulder.

* * * *

The following morning, I paid Darphus a visit in the palace dungeons.

"Morning, Darphus," I said to him through the jail bars. "Enjoying your accommodations?" Darphusí holding cell was small, dark and putrid smelling. There was no outside light and the air was unbearably foul and stagnant. From my various injuries to him, he looked like Tartarus. Aside from the poorly wrapped bandage on his leg, he was completely naked. I had him shackled at his wrists and ankles. His arms were extended very tightly upward and his legs were spread apart at an armís length so from a distance, he looked like an "X". He was not relieved of this position for anything. Prisoner slaves fed him bread and water and placed a bucket below his feet for defecation. He was forced to urinate on the floor.

"Fuck you, bitch!" he muffled through his broken jaw.

"Donít worry, Ďlieutenant,í you wonít have to suffer much longer." I taunted him. "You know, you were a real lousy fuck in bed Darphus, but when I hack off that ugly head of yours, I think Iím finally going to get such a charge from it. It may even be sexual."

"Go on, you evil bitch. It isnít over," he responded. "You won this round, but something or someoneís going to bury your tight harpy ass. I can see it coming. Maybe itíll be one of your ass-fucking sodomite men. Maybe those idiotic Romans will try again. Or maybe the rag-head Persian pigs, or the slant-eyes or the Egyptians or Moors, or their black-faced cousins to the south. Maybe that little cunt-sucking whore whose been fucking your brains out day and night will turn you into a sniveling heap of hydra shit, ripe for the taking. Yea, Xena the Conqueror, Iíve heard about her. ĎXena the Conquerorís little blond fuck slave.í Iíve heard how sheís got your perverted Sapphic cunt all wrapped up so tight."

"Open the bars," I calmly ordered the jail watchman.

I walked into the cell and punched Darphus once into unconsciousness. Shaking the pain out of my hand, I instructed the watchman to have one of the guards give him twenty lashes when he regained consciousness.

I retreated back to the main palace corridors toward my bedchamber to be with the woman I love.

 

THE END

You are cordially invited to read my next installment,

Darphusí Revenge,

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