Disclaimers; all the characters in the following story are owned and copy righted by universal studios, and others. No copyright infringment is intended. This just another uncompensated work of fan fiction.

Warning: like the previous two installments this may contain situations of violence, explicit ff sex, b/d. So mature audences only! Please. Like i said in part one a hard core fary tale, it gets rough and bizzar at times, especially near the end. It makes very little sense but it was fun to write! And i hope fun to read. Long live our cyberspace warrior!

The lovely Queen of all Greece, Rome and Egypt stood on the balcony of the palace, overlooking the village square where she had almost died two years before. Her legs always ached just before a rain. She held up her left hand, admiring the golden eternity bracelet that identified her as Xena's Queen, turning her hand so that it shimmered in the moonlight. Her mother had always told her that you only have one mate in life. 'I must be crazy.' She thought. 'I have to be crazy for loving someone who did that to me. I can't stop. I don't think she could ever do anything bad enough to make me stop loving her.' No crosses were erected in the courtyard now. That did not mean they wouldn't be used again. 'She's never even told me that she's sorry.'

The punishments that the Empress implemented were no less severe or frequent, since their marriage. Gabrielle knew there was little she could do to change how the Empress saw fit to run the realm. She had learned to never question the Empress's authority in front of any subordinates, and everyone alive was a subordinate. That was a hard and fast rule; if she disagreed with Xena she had to consult her in private. Sometimes she had successfully argued the Empress into showing mercy on a subject, sometimes she didn't. It depended on the mood of the Empress. She still seemed to delight in dangling the fate of an innocent prisoner or slave over Gabrielle's head. 'I think she just married me to use me as another excuse to hurt people.'

She had been careful not to wake her Empress as she eased out of their bed in the middle of the night and wandered the cool marbled halls in her bare feet. Unable to fall asleep, she had come here to think. Or rather she had ended up here. She could pretty much go anywhere in the palace she wished now; it was secure with guards everywhere within earshot. They discreetly watched over her without interfering. She was used to it now, she no longer felt like she was being watched.

In the distance she heard the sound of people laughing. The village was mostly made up of the guards and servant's families and farmers that fed the people of the palace. She wondered what they were doing.

Thinking that it was time that she got back, she turned around and was startled to find the Empress standing right in front of her.

“Xena! You scared me.”

“Sorry, my sweet. When I rolled over and you were gone.” She embraced her Queen. “Are you still dwelling on the past?” She moved back so she could look the Empress in the eyes. The moonlight cut deep shadows in the tall woman's cheeks and eyes, making her look hard and cruel.

“Xena, why did you do it?”

“Because you broke the law. You committed treason.”

“Why did you have me cut down?”

“I don't really know. I was bored, I needed amusement.” When Gabrielle shook her head, she added. “I couldn't get you out of my mind. That's the truth, of it.” She pulled her Queen close and kissed her lips. “I don't expect you to forgive me. All I can do is try and make you happy.” They lingered on the balcony, kissing deeply, over and over again, till the Empress swept her off of her feet and carried her back to their bedroom. Despite everything that happened, and their less-than-perfect union, making love with the Empress was still the greatest pleasure she had ever found in her life, one that she knew she could never live without. As cruel as she was, Gabrielle still believed that the Empress cared for her deeply; she had never given her a reason to think otherwise. Even that did not come without a price. As much as she loved being with her Empress, she sometimes found the intensity and constant demands of her wife's appetites almost too much to endure. She had to admit that she sometimes found herself wishing that the Empress would visit the harem every now and again.

When they had first returned from the trip to Poteidaea, Xena had spent hours during the day training her elite troops, and the nights poring over maps and conferring with advisors and messengers. Thinking that she should take an interest in what her wife was doing, Gabrielle had begun to watch the training from one of the balconies, so that she would not be in the way. She soon found that the Empress's training methods were not for the faint hearted. When she sensed that a recruit was hesitant, lazy or did not take their possible position in the guard seriously enough, she singled that one out as an example. The unlucky trainee soon found himself or herself fighting for their life against the greatest warrior ever born. In hand-to-hand against Xena they were easily beaten to a bloody, frightful heap, while the Empress barely broke a sweat. If their mistakes were made during swordplay, the resulting spar with the leader of the known world, the offending recruit might end up missing a limb or worse. Xena was no easier on the female recruits: “Anyone of you women that don't prove to me that you're ready to kill in my name, --and without mercy-- like any of my men, will be put to work in the brothel, to be used by my men.”

Gabrielle was grateful that her father had hobbled her sister to spare her this, even if he had broken one of the Empress's laws, Lila was no fighter.

Looking over the crowd of young men and women dressed for training, Gabrielle recognized a young woman from the village where she grew up. One she had known as the village merchant's daughter, but had never been friends with. The tall blond woman looked up at the Queen, and she knew that she had been recognized. 'I wonder if Xena knows she is from the same village as I am. Should I tell her?' Someone from the village where she had grown up hearing horrible stories about the murderous conqueror Xena and how she had been killing thousands, stringing bodies up along the roadside for display. No longer a child, not quite a woman, Gabrielle had belonged to a group of young people that were talking about and plotting ways to defeat 'bloody Xena'. But their talk came to nothing. They had never taken any serious steps in fulfilling their plans. No one seemed to know how word about their harmless little group had gotten around to Xena's general. They couldn't imagine what friend or relative had betrayed them. But then these were desperate times, and there were cash rewards offered for information on any insurgents.

'What kind of justice is that?' she thought. 'When all you have to do to be pardoned, or get out of trouble is point a finger and lie about one of your friends?' She had been questioned about her friends, but had done her best not to reveal too much about any one else. Up until then, their village had apparently been too insignificant for the conquer to bother with. They had all been arrested and carted away in wagons to Corinth, the home province of the now self-proclaimed Empress.

Gabrielle had been separated from the others, (she had heard one of the guards remark that the Empress had an eye for pretty girls, and maybe he could get a bonus for discovering her) and been transported to the palace cells. She had spent the nights in her cell listening to less fortunate prisoners being tortured for hours. She had deduced that one of her 'friends' had wrongly identified her as the leader. Within days of her arrival she had been dragged out to the courtyard where crosses had been erected. She was somehow grateful that the end was near, because, she could not stand to witness anymore suffering. When she had been brought face-to-face with the Empress Xena, she had been awed by her unexpected youth and beauty. It was not only her physical beauty that had caused Gabrielle's heart to pound on that day, not even fear, it was the strange feeling that she knew Xena already. 'Perhaps some deep instinct was telling me that we would end up together. That it was fated to happen. And she felt it too, that's why she cut me down.'

Instead of frightening her into silence, the horrors of the dungeon had emboldened her determination to speak out. Gabrielle had still taken advantage of the one chance she might have to change things. Words were the only weapons she had to fight the conqueror, and she had lost.

The wild-haired girl was still beautiful, even though a blade that had come too close had scared her face. When Xena approached the new troops, twirling her sword;

“Who else will face me today?”

“I will, your Highness.” The blond announced, stepping foreword.

“What is your name?” Xena asked assessing her opponent, they were almost matched for size. Maven was not as tall but she was more heavily muscled.

“Maven, Highness.”

“Let's see if you have what it takes.”

Before beginning the match the Empress faced the balcony where the Queen stood watching and saluted her with her sword.

The crowd moved back to give them room, and they circled each other warily. Maven attacked the Empress with a savage growl and a series of blows that made Gabrielle very fearful as she watched. She could tell the newcomer was not only trying to prove herself, but was actually trying her best to kill Xena. Maven's moves were skilled ones, but Xena easily parried and sidestepped each one of them, further enraging her opponent. Just when Maven thought she might be getting the best of her Empress, she found herself flat on her back, her sword out of reach. The Empress deftly stepped on the hilt of Maven's sword, flipping it into her own hand and now stood with both blades crossed at the fallen recruit's throat, her booted foot squarely on the other woman's chest.

“You held nothing back, I like that. With the training you receive here, you'll learn to make the most of that raw talent. With practice you may even be invited to join the palace guard.”

Gabrielle wondered why she ever had worried about the Empress when it was so evident that no one could defeat her.

Xena was taking so long with the training that toward the evening, Gabrielle left the balcony to bathe and prepare herself for dinner and bed. The evening meal was left waiting on the table and Gabrielle was lying on the tiger-skin rug in front of the roaring fire, reading one of the scrolls she was working on, when the Empress returned. She quickly joined the Queen on the rug, ravishing her with kisses and running her hands over her body.

“Aren't you hungry Xena?” Gabrielle laughed.

“Oh, I'm very hungry. But for my Queen, not for food.” She ran her hand up Gabrielle's thigh. The Empress was still dressed in her sleek leathers, her hair damp and her skin glistening with sweat.

“Did watching me fight excite you?” she leisurely ran her hands up and down the Queen's legs.

“Xena, I don't like that woman. She wants to kill you, I think.”

“Everyone wants to kill me. Were you worried about me?” she nuzzled the Queen's neck.

“She's from the same village where I grew up, Xena. Your men destroyed her father's business. What they didn't steal, they burned.”

“My men have permission to confiscate the goods of any merchant that does not pay his fair share of tithes.”

“Her father almost died trying to protect his store. It took his whole life to build. They took him away somewhere.”

“He probably raised a weapon against my men, they're allowed to defend themselves if that happens.”

“Why do you run everything that way? It's so cruel.” She prepared for Xena's anger, but she continued to caress and tenderly kiss the Queen.

“It may seem that way, but its necessary.” She said rolling Gabrielle on her back.

“It's the way of the world. People need a strong leader.”

“Don't trust her. Don't turn your back on her.”

Maven and her fellow newcomers were introduced to Xena's army's local brothel by the palace guard. They were entitled to regular visits as part of their compensation. The place was dark smoky, music played from somewhere in one of the rooms. Partially clothed young women and a few young men stood on display about the room, waiting to be chosen. Maven was delighted to be a part of all this and the friendships she was hoping to form with the palace guards, would surely get her close to Xena. It was part of her plan. It was what she had fought her way up through the gladiator pits for, dispatching both male and female opponents. And what she kept in mind while welcoming the sometimes ugly and stinking men in charge, who could advance her secret plan, into every conceivable opening in her body. All of her suffering and self-sacrifice were beginning to pay off now. This was way better than village life, though. The rewards of serving the Empress were sweet.

With encouragement from her fellow soldiers, she chose the smallest, fairest girl she could find among the assorted whores. And quickly gave her a shove toward the stairs to the rooms on the second floor. The guards told her that however she chose to work off her frustrations, was her business, and she took it to mean that rough treatment of the whores was not against the rules. She grabbed the girl by her hair and threw her on the bed, twisting her arm behind her back till she grunted with pain. As she roughly rode the girl toward her release, she fancied it was the Queen herself beneath her. Maybe someday it would be, if her plan worked and she was able to rid the world of the Empress. She would treat herself to Xena's woman before she killed her off too. Picturing that moment in her mind caused her to climax rather quickly. Today she had gotten close, and she had hoped that she hadn't given herself away by the fervor of her sparing attack on the Empress. In hindsight she could see how the Empress had led her to believe she had had the upper hand in the fight, and then had quickly taken advantage of her over-confidence. She had set a trap and Maven had stepped into it. It would never happen again, Maven had vowed. Someday the tables would be turned and the Empress would be the one to make a mistake that left her wide open. Then she would have her revenge.

Gabrielle spent time every day in the garden that she loved so well, with her friends from the harem, Ki and Em. She wrote for hours on end, sometimes reading what she rote to them. Even though she insisted that they could act normally when they were alone with her, the two servants still kept to the law of never looking their Queen in the eyes.

She wrote letters to her family on a regular basis, Xena had employed runners to deliver and return replies just for that reason. Her mother and sister answered her every letter, but her father never did. Her friends could see her disappointment as she read the latest letter.

“Your father still does not answer you?” Ki asked.

Gabrielle shook her head. “He just can't accept my being married to the Empress. I don't think he ever will. But that's no reason not to speak to me. I'm still his daughter.”

The two servants exchanged looks, they were still forbidden to discuss the Empress, even with Gabrielle.

“I'll just keep writing to him till he answers me. He's bound to someday.” She said wiping her eyes.

They were unaware that they were being watched from one of the balconies above, and that their every word was being listened to.

She had visited the harem once more, that day reliving old memories. Even though she had been a prisoner during her time here, there were things about being in the harem that she had enjoyed and missed, like the companionship of the other women. All of the women in the room dropped whatever they were doing and fell to their knees, lying prone on their faces, when she entered. She walked among them, not knowing if she should have had come here. She wanted to see for herself how they were doing, if they were still well cared for. If she couldn't free them all at least she could see to it that they were treated humanely, if she could. Everything seemed to be fine. She tried to converse with several of the harem, but she sensed that their answers were less than honest. They would not meet her eye, or even raise their head and gave carefully worded, inoffensive answers.

After the harem she had gone to the village, her contingent of guards and servants in tow, to visit the local school that she had founded. At her insistence the girl-children were also being instructed on reading writing and counting. After all, it did not make sense not to educate little girls when the leader of the world was female. They were also instructed in 'The Glorious History of Our Courageous Empress'. She said nothing to indicate how much this disturbed her, as she observed the precious little children at their rough-hewn desks. She realized that the children were being taught a washed-clean, romantic version of Xena's bloody campaigns to rule the world. In the version they were being taught, Xena was a hero who had saved the world from ciaos and had brought about peace. She knew they knew she was the Queen; her dress and hair and attendant had alerted them to that. Unlike most commoners they were allowed to talk and look at her freely. They had brought her flowers and little gifts they had made. She found them all so sweet, and they're little faces so open and beautiful. She wondered what they were being taught about her, if her crucifixion had been part of their lessons. About how she had met and married their 'Glorious Empress.' She doubted that any of it had.

She had enjoyed talking to and reading to the children so much, that she had lost track of the time.

When Gabrielle returned to the royal chambers, Xena was in the trophy room. She was sitting in the hide-covered throne with her long legs hooked over the arms. As she watched the Queen with intense eyes, she drank from a bottle of wine with large gulps. Other empty bottles littered the room.

“Where have you been all day?” she asked licking wine from her lips. She staggered to her feet and approached the assortment of weapons that adorned the wall near the fireplace.

“I've just been visiting friends, the harem and the school.” Finding out what lies the children were being taught was working on her mind and now this. The sight of the drunken Empress only disgusted her now.

“I could not find you. You spend more time with them than you do with me.” She picked up a pair of elaborate daggers and studied the way the light played over the polished blades.

“That is not true and you know it! You should have sent for me Xena.”

“I should never have to send for you! I should come first. Always!” she hurled the two blades and they landed in the heavy doors behind Gabrielle. She screamed and dove to the floor.

The Empress just laughed. “I didn't mean to scare you, my love.”

“You just tried to kill me, Xena! What's gotten into you?”

“If I were trying to kill you, you would be dead, believe me!” still laughing, she held a hand out to help a shaken Gabrielle to her feet. “Don't worry, I won't do it again. Ooh, you look so appealing when you're scared.” She started to kiss Gabrielle's throat, working down to the top of her breasts. She tried to push the Empress away but her embrace was too strong.

“Xena, I don't want to make love with you right now, you're drunk!” she had seen her intoxicated before, but never this badly and she really feared being hurt.

“Who do you want to make love to? One of your friends?” with her teeth gritted, she tore the top of the gown Gabrielle was wearing off her shoulders. “You belong to me.” She bent to take a nipple into her mouth.

“Xena stop it!” she pushed the Empress's head away.

“No, you stop it, Gabrielle! You're my wife and I need you now. I have been needing you all day. I didn't get married to take care of myself, you know!” She began to undo her leathers. “I'm hot. Do not dare to refuse me!” she made a move to grab Gabrielle, but the Queen slapped her face so hard that her head spun around. For a second they stood there, both too shocked that Gabrielle would do such a thing. Then the Empress smiled at her wickedly.

“Well now,” she said grabbing Gabrielle. “This is going to be an interesting evening, my little spitfire. Go ahead and fight me.” The Empress headed off to the royal bedchamber with a screaming Queen tucked under her arm.

“Xena, you're hurting me!” she tried kicking and pleading but her struggling only seemed to further incite Xena's lust. Suddenly the bodyguard Warhorse appeared directly in front of them, barring the way. For a moment Gabrielle feared that Xena might have invited him to take part. He bowed.

“Highness! Pardons, but there is an urgent matter. You must come quickly!”

Gabrielle then realized that he was risking his life to intervene on her behalf. Probably lying to the Empress.

She looked at him with reddened eyes. “Can't you see that I'm busy! How dare you interrupt me when I'm about to make love to the Queen!” the huge powerful guard bowed. “ She needs me now, you bastard! Get out of my way!”

Warhorse knew that he had to careful now; even this drunk the Empress was still extremely dangerous. Even though he was quite a bit taller than the Empress, he dared not try to detain her physically, she could kill with just a touch. But even so he would stand his ground to protect the Queen that had protected he and his wife. They had heard the commotion and fearing that the diminutive Queen might be hurt, even accidentally, by the Empress, had concocted a story they hoped would be enough to distract her.

“A thousand pardons, Highness! But you must come to the stables at once! It will only take a moment of your time, Highness.” There was no problem really, but he would have to make something up on their way out.

“Well, this better be good.” She set a relieved Gabrielle on her feet. “You stay here.” She ordered Gabrielle as she turned to follow Warhorse. As she ran down the corridors, it occurred to her that this was how the Queen had disappeared the first time on their wedding night. But she had confidence in the security of the palace and the Queen's word that she would never leave her again.

As soon as they were out of sight, Ki appeared at Gabrielle's side.

“Come with me. We will hide you.”

“I can't do that. If she comes back and finds me gone…”

“It's only till the morning, Gabrielle.”

“It's too dangerous for you, Ki. I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I can't let you risk your lives for me. She'll be all right after she's had a chance to calm down, I can handle her.” Obviously if she could, she wouldn't have needed them to save her from her own wife. She saw this in Ki's eyes.

“It is our duty to protect you also, my Queen. The Empress has ordered us to do so, and with our lives if need be. You are all that stands between life and death for many in the realm. We would both have been executed if not for you.” Overcome with emotion, Gabrielle hugged her friend. For a moment the Empress's strict rules were forgotten and they were like any other friends.

“Thank you.”

Xena soon realized that Warhorse and Cyclops were leading her on a wild goose chase. Checking on matters of little or no consequence. It only served to make her angrier.

“What is all of this about!' she shouted so loudly that everyone in the palace could hear. “You have done nothing but waste my time! I should have you both whipped, now get back to the Queen!”

They hesitated, not wanting to desert their post at the Empress's side.

“Well, go! Do as I say! You don't think I know what you're up to? You wanted to protect the Queen from me, then go protect her! That's an order! I can take care of myself. Now leave me.”

They finally turned and walked back down the hall. As she watched them go she said to herself. “If that's the way you want it Gabrielle. I'll leave you alone tonight.”

Gabrielle sat up waiting for Xena's return and wishing that she had just given in to her. She might be sound asleep in their bed right now. Ki stayed with her. Every sense she had was telling her to go look for Xena. She was afraid of what she would do in her state of mind. She was afraid of what someone might do to her. She was a skilled warrior, but still, what if someone with a grudge against her took advantage of her vulnerable state? She thought about Maven.

“All married people have arguments.”

“This is the worst fight we've ever had, Ki. I'm so worried.” She sobbed.

Xena ended up wandering into her army's brothel, where she found Maven sharing a table and drink with some of her guard. It wasn't that unusual to see the Empress there, but it had been quite awhile since she had last spent an evening with them. They had assumed that she no longer needed to visit a brothel now that she was married. But the men who were married understood that sometimes one needed a break from even the most pretty and agreeable of wives. Xena sat near to Maven and they talked of battles they had fought and women they had bedded. The talk of battle became ever the more gruesome and the talk of bedding more explicit. They discovered that they both craved the thrill of battle and overpowering of other females. They were beginning to like each other.

“They like it in the end. After they put up a little fight, every one of them. The more innocent they act the more they love it.”

“We have so much in common.” Xena remarked, raising another tankard of strong grog. Her third so far.

“If I were you,” Maven drunkenly leaned in closer. “I'd be home, giving it hard and fast to that little…” a cold blade against her throat stopped her in mid sentence. Gods! Even this drunk the Empress was lightening fast. The guard had all jumped to their feet, ready for trouble. The Empress waved them off and they relaxed again.

“Now you're treading on sacred ground, bitch!” she said in a whisper. She could feel Maven's fear, but she did not apologize or plead. She met the Empress's stare defiantly. Were those unshed tears that made the Empress's eyes glisten? She thought. “Keep your filthy mouth off the Queen, or else I'll have a dozen of my guard give it hard and fast to you!

“I'll be careful next time, Highness.”

Maven felt the knife scratch her neck as the Empress pulled it away. She put her hand up to discover that the Empress had left a small cut. There was blood on her fingers when she took her hand away.

“You're just lucky that I like you.” She got up from the table and motioned Maven to follow her. They went upstairs where the rooms were and entered one. The young whore assigned to the room, bowed to the Empress. Xena looked about the room. It was simple but clean.

“This is nothing compared to my harem. Play your cards right and I'll let you use it sometime.”

“You have a job for me, Highness? I'm at your command.” She had to hear this. She was anxious for any chance and would do just about anything, to advance her career as a guard.

“Well, that's more like it.” She flopped into one of the chairs. She addressed the young prostitute.

“Wait outside the door.”

The girl obediently waited outside the door till her legs were falling asleep. Finally Maven emerged and instructed her to go back inside. The girl was sore afraid to face the Empress alone, after everything she had heard about her, especially seeing that the Empress had undressed and was sitting in the chair with her great legs open.

“Don't just stand there, come here.” When the girl came within arms-reach and dropped to her knees, Xena grabbed her by the hair and brought her face close to where she wanted it.

“You're going to do what your Queen wouldn't tonight.” The girl slowly approached to begin, terrified of what would happen if she failed to pleasure the Empress to her liking. Before she even had a chance to touch the Empress, a foot on her shoulder pushed her away. She fell back on the floor.

“I don't want you! I want my Gabrielle!” The Empress was actually crying, pitifully. Her hands hiding her face. “Get out of my sight!”

Gabrielle had fallen asleep on their bed and the dawn was just breaking, when Xena returned to the bedchamber. At the Queen's insistence, both Cyclops and Warhorse had located the Empress and followed her at a distance, so as not to be seen. Without her being aware of their presence, they watched out for her safety. Gabrielle woke to find the Empress curled up beside her, with head on her shoulder and her arms tightly around her waist. Gabrielle kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair, which was in need of a wash. She smelled of strong drink and tobacco.

“I love you Xena.” she whispered. “Why can't you just believe that?”

“I'm sorry about last night.” The Empress said quietly. She had thought that the Empress was asleep, but she stirred and hugged Gabrielle even closer.

“I'm sorry too.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about. I don't deserve you. All I ever do is hurt you. It scares me how much I need you, Gabrielle.”

“I'm scared too.”

After that night, they had gone back to being lovers. They went for swims and horseback rides together and held hands when they walked down the halls. Xena was still every inch the stern leader, but when she was alone with Gabrielle her face was open and she was loving in a more tender way.

There was a large ball that was to be thrown in honor of visiting dignitaries from the Britannia, Persia and the East. The Empress did take this occasion to dress in a formal gown. Her hair was upswept into a headdress of golden chains and a gown that was so low-necked that almost all of her breasts were exposed. The sides were split to her hips so that when she walked, her long legs were revealed with each steep she took. Her long slender arms were decorated with cuffs and bracelets, also of gold. And her full lips were painted deep red that matched the dye of the gown. When she went to check on the Queen's preparations, she stood in the doorway in a slinky pose until Gabrielle noticed her there. She ran her fingers lightly over the dress where her hardened nipples stood out under the thin silk material.

“I thought I would tease you a bit.” She said to the Queen. She stood on a raised stool while the servants, fussed with her hair and dress, which was much more demure than that of the Empress.

“I love the way you look in red.” She smiled.

“Now who's teasing who?” she walked over to where Gabrielle stood. She was delighted that the stool, she was standing on made her temporarily taller than Xena. She took advantage of the chance to play the aggressor, and holding Xena's face in her hands, kissed her passionately.

“I love it when you're forceful, my Queen.”

The ball was a huge event attended by hundreds of men and women dressed in the most amazing finery, Gabrielle had ever seen. She sat at Xena's side and they held hands most of the evening. Even thought she was dressed in a breathtaking blue gown of her own, she felt rather plain and small next to the Empress, and she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of her. Xena smiled and squeezed her hand as the dignitaries from other countries had their slaves lay belated wedding gifts at the Queen's feet. There were yards of fine silks, linens and firs of every description, scented oils, spices, musical instruments, jewels, and works of art native to each country. There were intricately tooled leather saddles and bridles, carved furniture and statuary, even exotic animals. Gabrielle exhibited what she believed was the expected amount of gratitude, and Xena seemed to be pleased with the tributes paid to her Queen, but inside she felt guilty for having so much when so many people still lived in poverty. And she felt guilty for forgetting so easily.

It was all so magical an evening; there were dancers and acrobats, magicians, storytellers, jesters that made them laugh. The food served covered several tables; venison, foul, pork and lamb, cheeses, breads, fruits, fragrant wine and dark, heavy grog. Wile the music played and the couples danced, the Empress and Queen sat at the Imperial table with the chosen guests. Two of the visiting rulers; the Lord of Britannia and the Regent of Persia were even discussing their desire for their countries' independence from the realm with Xena. Gabrielle was pleased to see that the Empress was taking their requests seriously. She gathered from the conversation that they had been invited to the palace for that very reason. The Empress even made a gift of two beautiful slave girls to each ruler, as a token of her goodwill. Was it possible that she could be changing? Gabrielle could not imagine a more perfect night, and she wished it could be like this all the time. Even though the heavy food and all the excitement exhausted her and she soon found herself yawning. She was enjoying herself too much to even take notice that Maven had taken a post as one of the palace guards.

Gabrielle drifted off to sleep watching as the Empress slowly disrobed in front of the full mirror, staring at her own reflection, deep in thought. She did not mind that the Queen had fallen asleep, she had been the perfect little co-hostess tonight and had charmed everyone in a way that Xena herself could never do. People were not threatened by her and they felt that they could talk to her; they only feared Xena.

As the hosts, necessity dictated that they be the last to leave the ball and the Empress watched as the emissaries from Britannia and Persia retired to their rooms with the luscious slaves she had chosen for them draped one on each arm. She had learned that two slaves worked much better than one, and were less likely to be overpowered and killed by the intended target. By now, if the plan were successful, the slaves would have earned their freedom by utilizing the various weapons hidden about the lavish guest rooms on the two emissaries. There would be two less betraying bastards for her to worry about. When she received word that the deed was done, she would grant the four slave girls their unconditional freedom, if they survived. And the emissaries would be sent back to their homelands in quarters.

She could see the reflection of the Queen sleeping peacefully on their bed. No need for her to know. Things between them were so good now and she did not want to spoil that.

One night Gabrielle had a vivid dream about an orgy and strange ceremony in the palace temple of Ares. She had been blindfolded and led to the secret temple of Ares. The dream was so real that she could hear the groaning of the heavy doors and feel the rush of warm air on her face. It was thick with the scent of incense and burning lamp oil. When the blindfold was removed she was astounded by what she saw. It looked like a scene from Hades, with flaming cauldrons and torches that lent the whole room an eerie red glow. Hundreds of alcoves in the walls displayed skulls and skeletal hands holding burning candles. The floor was obscured by what seemed to be hundreds of naked people making love in every possible combination. Men with men; women with women, women with two men, men with two women, on and on. She couldn't tell where one body left off and another began. Somehow she knew it was just a dream so she wasn't afraid, just fascinated.

A tall robed figure in a golden ram-head helmet, took her by the hand and led her through the crowd toward a stone alter. The alter was intricately carved with hellish scenes of war and was draped with red velvet. As she came closer she could see that some of the carvings were obviously that of the Empress. Dozens of hands stripped off her gown and eased her down upon the alter, a pillow was placed under her head. 'Don't worry,' a voice reassured her. 'Its not that kind of sacrifice, Gabrielle.' The helmeted stranger climbed upon the alter and straddled her, while the crowd started to chant. The figure slowly removed the helmet and robe, and thick raven locks tumbled over strong graceful shoulders. The sight of her Empress naked and above her made her forget everything else in the room. Gabrielle was consumed by the all-to-familiar need to be taken. She reached out her arms in her dream-state and pulled Xena down on top of her, surrendering completely. She could hear cries and moaning of the other people in the room as Xena began to make love to her. She had never felt such intense feelings of love for her Empress before; something was different. Xena bent Gabrielle's legs painfully upward till her feet were almost behind her head and sat on top of her. She began moving her hips back and forward, so that her wet center slid against her wife's, stimulating them both. She moved her hips slowly at first, till they both began to feel the rush toward the climax, then she thrust forward faster. Gabrielle cried out and dug her nails into her mate's back, as the Empress grunted with the effort of grinding her hips into the Queen's. Finally, her eyes rolled back and she gave a tortured scream. Gabrielle felt the Empress finish with a gush of searing hot juice that combined with her own. The Empress collapsed on top of her, still shuddering. As with the end of many of her dreams she felt herself falling backward and landing in her own bed.


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