Disclaimer: as with the previous three installments, the characters in the following story remain the sole property of universal studios and others. No copywrite infringment is intended. This is just an uncompensated work of fan fiction written for fun.
Warning: this is intended for mature (over 18) readers only! Like pts1-3 it may contain depictions of alt f/f sex, b/d, and violence, so beware.
If you havent read parts 1-3 yet you will be lost. I don't know yet if there will be a part 5, but who knows? Anything's possible and i' m not closing any doors.


Gabrielle spent the next several days in bed too exhausted and too comfortable to get up. The last time she had been confined to her bed for this long, she had been a child with a fever. And the bed as not that of a tyrant's pampered Queen, but that of a common village girl; built with rough-hewn timbers and homespun blankets instead of silk. The strange dream about the temple of Ares played over and over in her mind, every time she drifted off again. She was aware that the servants were leaving trays with her meals several times a day, but all she could manage to get down was some broth and hot tea. She drank a lot of tea with honey. She also was aware of Xena's presence next to her, stroking her hair and sometimes washing her with a cool cloth. Her back and legs were stiff when she finally sat on the edge of the bed. She was hungry and she wanted a bath, but her head swam when she tried to stand.

“Are you feeling better, my sweet?” Xena asked her, helping her to stand.

“I want something to eat. I'm starving!”

“You can have any thing you want.”

She seemed to be making up for lost time as she consumed several servings of rice and cups of milk with honey. The Empress watched her with amusement.

“Don't eat too fast, you'll be sick.”

After a few days Gabrielle returned to normal; her energy came back and she seemed to have a heightened sense of enjoyment about everything around her. Food tasted so good to her now and she couldn't seem to get enough rice. Ki made it just the way she liked, with a raw egg mixed in. The perfume of the flowers in the garden that she had noticed before, but was now intoxicating. And watching Xena when she practiced or instructed the guard, how her black battle leather fit her hips and thighs like a glove, the way her hair shined and flew in the wind, drove her nearly mad with desire. The Empress would catch her staring as she trained her guard, or went about her other duties. The look in the Queen's eyes left no room for doubt as to what she was thinking. Gabrielle only had to get up and head for their bedchambers, knowing that the Empress would not be far behind. She couldn't seem to get enough of that either, and the Empress was only too happy to comply. Her breasts were extra sensitive and she loved it when the Empress sucked and squeezed them. When she had been taken several times in the course of their frenzied lovemaking, she hungered to feast on the Empress's salty flesh and warm juices and did so with uncharacteristic zeal. She loved making Xena thrash and scream out uncontrollably. Loved seeing her Empress fall asleep, exhausted and covered with sweat.

“What has gotten into you, my Queen?” Xena asked her. “Whatever it is….” Suddenly a strange look came into her eyes and she looked away, but she was smiling.


“Nothing.” The Empress only hugged her close. “You can do anything you want to me, my Queen.”

The Empress was busy with matters of the realm. The Persians were mounting an uprising after the condition, or rather pieces, in which Xena had returned their representative. They threatened to move into and destroy Athens. So far the forces she had sent were sufficient, but the Persians still threatened to spill the fighting over the borders that she had drawn many years ago when her armies had beaten them into submission. Risking the wrath of the Empress, they spread their encampments into other country-provinces under her rule. They would have to be taught another painful lesson in who was in charge once and for all and Xena found herself excited by the prospect of teaching it. Just the thought of getting in the thick of things and cutting down hundreds of the invading warriors with her own sword, delighted her to no end. She smiled. Ares must know how much joy she found in being on the battlefield. To some this invasion was the biggest threat to the realm in years; to her it was a gift. It was many days ride but she did not worry about leaving the Queen alone, there were plenty of guards and she would see to it that extra troops would be posted at the borders of Corinth. She would leave a plan with her most trusted guards, Cyclops and Warhorse, should the Queen ever need to be spirited away and hidden. But that plan would only be needed if the Persians got past her, and she did not intend for that to happen.

Gabrielle had bathed and was getting ready to dress that day she had caught her reflection in the mirror. When she removed the large towel, she had to look closely, not sure if there was really a change in the way she looked or just her imagination. Her hair was almost to her waist now, and when she turned to the side to brush it, she noticed that her belly wasn't as flat as it had once been. She ran her hands over it. It no longer sloped in, even when she took a deep breath and held it, and it was hard. 'I must be eating too much rice.' She thought. 'It's making me fat.' Still she was frightened. If Xena had noticed in the last few moons she had not said anything. No wonder it felt like something was in her lap when she sat down. It was a little frightening; maybe she should go and see the royal surgeon. Another thought occurred to her. 'I can't be that. I've never been with a man.' And that thought made her laugh. Just then it felt like something the size of a mouse was squirming inside of her stomach, making her feel like she had to retch.

“Oh, by the gods!” she sunk to her knees. “Oh no.” 'How, how can I be with child? It's impossible! If Xena finds out, she'll think I was with a man and she'll kill me!'

Ki and Em came running to find the Queen pale and shaken.

“Fetch the surgeon! And find the Empress.” Ki ordered Em, who quickly left.

“No! I don't need the healer. Please Ki.” She covered herself with the towel too late; she saw Ki's eyes drop. “ I just need some air. I'll be fine.” Ki helped her too her feet.

She slipped on a chiton and sandals. “Don't bother the Empress now, she's busy.”

Ki followed her into the halls. “Where are we going my Queen?”

“I have to find something.” She stormed down the marbled halls of the place with Ki close behind her, going down one wing that was little used, opening doors. There was so much of the palace that she had not explored, even after more than two years. The guards at the doors now parted for her, bowing reverently. Finding old libraries, bedrooms, storage rooms and sitting rooms that she did not know existed before. She was looking for the heavy doors she remembered from the dream. An old library she entered was thick with cobwebs and dust that made clouds around their feet. A set of doors opened from the library onto an overgrown garden. She followed the walls of the small garden pushing aside the dried tangle of dead grape vines till she found an archway.

“Ki go back and find a candle.”

“Lady, I don't think we should go in there.”

“Just do what I say, please Ki? I won't let you get into trouble.”

The archway led down spiraling stone steps, with a corridor at the bottom, at the end of the corridor were two tall and heavily carved doors. They were carved in relief with scenes of battle similar to what she remembered on the stone alter in her dream. She pushed open one of the huge wooden doors and it groaned just like it had in the dream and the smells that wafted out were just as she remembered. She could not see inside till Ki came up beside her with the candle. The horrible temple was there just as she remembered it.

“It wasn't a dream, it was real! Oh gods! Why did she do that to me?”

“You'll find out why.” the Empress said behind them. She had a smug look on her face and she looked down on Ki.

Ki bowed, but Gabrielle was ready to slap her again. “Oh, I know why.” She raged at the Empress. She was so angry the tears started to flow. “Why couldn't you have just asked me if you wanted a child?” Xena moved to embrace her but she jerked her body out of the Empress's arms.

“You would have said no.”

“I might have said yes. And since when do you care if anyone says no? You forced me to become your Queen and now you're forcing me to carry your heir. You just go ahead and do whatever you want, no matter what anyone else wants.”

“We discussed having children, remember?”

You discussed having children. You said you would find beautiful babies for me.”

“It's better this way. This way it's really ours.”

The Empress gently laid her hand on Gabrielle's stomach. Her hand was slapped away.

“Don't touch me!”

“Don't you want her?”

“What other choice do I have? What kind of magic did you use on me, Xena? Did it come from Ares? Is it some kind of unholy thing that I'm carrying? Tell me the truth for once!”

The Empress embraced her and this time she did not resist. What was the use in that? There was no escape. She started guiding the Queen back through the palace, smoothing her hair and trying to calm her down. ”No, she comes from me, from my sprit. Aries only made it possible. He made it possible for me to have an heir. She's a baby, like any other. She'll have a lot of me in her, but she'll also have a lot of you too.” Xena hugged her close and kissed forehead. “She'll be so beautiful coming from you. Don't blame her for what I've done. Please.”

“Don't worry about that, I won't take what you did out on an innocent child, no matter where it comes from. And I will try to be the best mother I can to her, but I don't think I can ever forgive you for this.”

“I only do what I must do to secure the future of the realm. You were not harmed in any way, I saw to that. You have a position of great honor as the mother of my heir.”

“That must have been the reason you cut me down from the cross in the first place. You don't love me, you never loved me! You were just using me from the beginning.”

“Gabrielle that's not true! I've loved you from the moment I first saw you, I know that now. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me.”

Gabrielle threw up her hands. “You know what, your Highness? I just don't care anymore.”

She did not speak to or look at Xena the rest of the evening; she ate her dinner in relative silence.
The closeness they had shared earlier in the day now was gone, but Xena never stopped trying to win her over her angry mood by touching and kissing her. Gabrielle did not respond and held her body stiff as a board. They went to bed without making love. The realization that she was to become a mother, at last, made her cry even harder. It was the way that Xena had seen fit to sire it that made her so angry. She had to have given her some sort of potion that made her sleep through the whole thing and think she was dreaming. She felt betrayed and deceived. She had no control over her life or body. So many times she had been hurt and used by her Empress. And every time Xena had loved her way back into her heart. Even if she had the last she could stand of Xena and her tricks, there was no way she could ever leave her own child. If she somehow found a way to leave with the baby, they would be totally defenseless on the outside without the Empress's protection. She was sorry that she ever thought ill of the baby; it did not ask to be conceived. Xena was in control of both of their lives.

Lying on her back, she felt the tiny life inside squirm as if trying to find a comfortable spot. She ran her hands over her stomach again and again. She was scared of what the future might bring; what f the baby didn't like her? She wondered why she even thought that. There was no reason to think that it wouldn't. 'I'm your mother, and I'll be on your side even if no one else is.' The baby meant that their bond would last forever. Xena moved closer to her and put her large hand over the Queen's and they both stroked the baby till it calmed down.

Gabrielle was not too happy about the Empress's plans to join in the fighting, at dinner the next night.

“Why, Xena? It's so far away! What am I supposed to do here all by myself?”

“Do what ever you want. Make things ready for the baby. There's lots of work to be done. There are plenty of people here with you.” The Empress said, taking another bite of meat. “I'll have your sister or mother sent for and they can stay with you. Would you like that?”

She knew her father would never let her mother or sister come to the palace. “You won't be here when the baby's born?”

“Oh yes I will. I'll be back home in plenty of time for that. I won't let you go through it alone. And I wouldn't miss it for the world.”

“Is Maven going with you? She'll stab you in the back if you give her half a chance. What if something happens to you?”

“Nothing is going to happen to me, I've been through hundreds of battles. I can handle her. Besides,” she got up from the table. “You said you don't care anymore, and I guess I can't blame you for that. If I do get killed, then you'll be rid of me like you always wanted.”

She reached out and took Xena's hand as she walked by.

“Don't talk like that, Xena. You know that's not what I want.” And there were tears in her eyes. “I'm sorry I was so mean to you. I was just so angry. I know you care about me. I want us to get along together again, like we have been.”

“You are trying to make up with me for a change? I like that. If you want something, all you have to do is tell me, it's always been that way.”

The Empress bent down and picked her up in her arms and carried her back to their room.

“You're getting heavy!” she joked.

“That's not my fault!”

The Empress pulled Gabrielle's gown over her head. Gabrielle crossed her hands over her body.

“What's wrong? Don't cover up, you look beautiful.” The Empress began to kiss and caress her, lowering her gently on the bed, but her usual aggressiveness was tempered with a sort of reverence. She was totally enamored with the Queen's expanding belly, kissing and stroking it. Gabrielle was quickly aroused by the attention. She desperately wanted to make love.

“Are you sure it won't hurt the baby?”

“I'll be careful.”



“That name keeps going around in my mind.”

“Princess Xandria. I love it. It's beautiful, like her mother. Princess Xandria it is.”

“Xena, I don't want Maven around me or the baby. Put her some place else, please.”

“Alright.” Though she enjoyed Mavens company and toying with someone she knew wanted her dead, she would never take chances with the safety of the baby.

When the day came for Xena to leave, she found Gabrielle on the balcony watching the sun come up. The Empress came up behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist.

“She was up all night, tossing and turning.” Gabrielle said.

“I used to do the same thing, my mother told me.”

“I don't want you to go, Xena.”

“I know you don't, but I have to.”

“You have plenty of other people who can lead the fight for you.”

“And what if the enemy never sees me on the battlefield? What if they start to think that I don't care how the realm is being run? Especially since I've gotten married? I can't afford to let them think I've gone soft,-we can't afford to let them think that. The only way to make sure everything is done the right way is to do it myself.”

“To make them fear.” No one could instill fear the way that the Empress could, she was sure of that. And she had missed the killing; no doubt, she had gone too long without fulfilling that lust.


They couldn't seem to stop hugging and kissing when it came time for her to leave. Her black warhorse and columns of troops standing by. Gabrielle gave the Empress a long lock of her golden hair to keep with her.

“I'll be thinking of you every moment, my Queen.”

“No, don't think about me. Just bring yourself home safely to us.”

How many Persians deserted in the cover of the night when they learned of the Empress's arrival, might never be known. But a strange breeze rustled the trees through their camps and the eerie war cry of the Empress reached their ears from the darkness. It seemed to surround them on all sides. Legend had it that she could fly through the sky in a flaming chariot, and that the men in her armies were not really human at all, but apparitions. Her methods may have not been considered honorable by most self-respecting warriors, but then she was not interested in honor, just results. Slowly her columns had surrounded the Persians on all sides and when they had she herself led the charge right down the middle of the fray. With Maven at her side she slaughtered many, spilling blood, guts and brains onto the virgin soil, showing mercy to none. They both worked with a kind of animal ferocity, guarding each other's back. Maven watched with awe how the Empress fought, with her uncanny ability to predict and intercept her opponent's every move. Sometimes she took on more than one warrior at a time, a smiling grimace on her face as she slashed and ran each one through.

To take her mind off of how much she was missing Xena, Gabrielle busied herself with preparing for the baby's arrival. She picked out silks, laces and the softest of linen for the clothes, even helping with the sewing. But she often found herself sitting still; staring off into space, wishing Xena was there. At night she kept candles burning so the room would be light, and she fell asleep hugging Xena's pillow because it smelled like her.

What Persians that survived were intercepted and quickly dispatched by her troops on the outside parameters. The wounded and dead were ordered to be displayed on X frames on hillsides and along roads. Merely winning was not enough for the Empress, she would settle for nothing less than total devastation. The Empress and her army drove the invaders back behind the borders of their homeland, burning villages and towns, torching crops to the ground, killing off all livestock, wiping out every trace of their religion, culture and history. Every able-bodied survivor was sold to slavers. In effect the Empress had wiped out an entire nation.

The leader of the Persian forces hung now from the center cross, surrounded by his commanders and generals, staked where they could watch what was left of their country smolder in the distance, as they died. The Empress sat proudly on her warhorse beneath the display. “I do hope you enjoy the view”

The Persian leader spat at her. Her sword sang through the air as she slashed across his belly, spilling his steaming pink entrails. This shocked even Maven; she raised her crossbow to put the man out of his misery.

“No! Leave him, he'll die eventually. Don't waste the arrow.” The Empress had an evil grin on her face, and Maven wondered with fresh disgust whose father the man was. How could that little strumpet she called a Queen be so blindly devoted to this cold-hearted murderer? They must have been meant for each other.

At the Empress's camp that night Maven sat with Xena as they celebrated the victory. Xena had drunk more than her share of grog, as Maven watched her whooping and laughing at the troops abusing terrified slaves they had captured. The Empress's armies were allowed to loot whatever goods they wanted from what was left of the Persian kingdom. And they could keep as much as they could carry. Much of the unwanted furniture they had collected now fed the enormous bonfire in the camp. One of the men had found an elaborately gold adorned baby cradle and presented it to the Empress. She was well pleased with it and she was anxious to get home to the Queen.

“Maven, you will be leaving the palace when we get home.”

“Why Highness? Have I done something wrong?”

“No. Your presence makes the Queen uncomfortable. Don't worry, we'll find you a suitable position.” She could see the disappointment on Maven's face. “Would you like to keep one of the women we've captured? Go pick one.”

Realizing that time was running out for her chance to kill the Empress, she made a show of joining the revelry around the bound slaves and menacing the young females. She grabbed one plump, dark-haired one by the arm and dragged her back to the tent she shared with five other soldiers, making sure she was seen. The girl unknowingly assisted her by her struggles and screaming, drawing everyone's attention. Once inside, Maven quickly gagged her, picked up her crossbow and slicing the back wall of the tent with a knife, slipped into the darkness.

She lost track of how long she waited in the cover of the trees and shrubs, the revelry seemed to go on all night. From where she sat she could watch her tent and make sure that no one entered. She watched as the Empress became carelessly drunk, starting up a makeshift gladiator game with a male captive, to the delighted cheers of her men. For a second she glanced to the wood as if sensing she was being watched, then the close swipes of the slave's sword distracted her again. That's when Maven let her arrow fly.

Gabrielle sat bolt-up right in bed. “XENA!” her heart was pounding and her breath came in rapid gasps. The baby was twisting and kicking. She ran to the wash corner to be sick.

When she saw the Empress carried off, to the healer's tent, Maven snuck back into hers. For a moment she wondered what she should do with her captive, she could not kill someone innocent just for nothing and that would mark her for sure as the killer of the Empress. Surely no one would suspect her, the Empress's friend. The girl did not speak or understand Greek anyway so it should not be a problem. She reached down and ripped the girl's clothes and messed her hair. “Sorry.” She said to the girl who was trying to scream through the gag. Then she emerged out of the front of the tent flaps as if for the first time since the commotion had begun. Troops were already scouring the woods for the assassin. There was a large crowd gathered outside the healer's tent.

“What has happened?” she asked one of the guards. He shook his head.

“The Empress has been felled by an arrow. No one knows where it came from.”

“Is she dead?”

“Everyone is saying so.”

That was the rumor circulating around the camp, and Maven could not get close enough to any one in authority to confirm it. Maven volunteered to carry the news back to the palace. The distance it took them two weeks to travel, she covered in three days, riding her horse nearly into the ground, stealing fresh ones when she could find them.

Ki could not convince Gabrielle that something had not happened to the Empress. But she did convince her not to say anything that might start a rumor around the palace.

“I know it may be improper of me to say, lady, but many people would much rather see you in charge of the realm.”

“I don't want to be in charge. And you're right, it is improper of you, don't speak of it again.”

Waiting for a runner to arrive from the front might take agonizing days. The last one that had arrived, had brought a note from Xena and carried one back from Gabrielle. Without going into detail, Gabrielle had gathered from the note that everything was going well and there was no need to worry. The only thing she could think to do was to go to the temple of Ares and beg the god to help the Empress.

It was already night when Maven arrived at the palace she knew she had to be careful. Some of the guards let her pass because she was one of them but she figured that the two closest to the royal couple would not be so easy to fool, so she avoided them.

“I have news for the Queen, from the front, its urgent. Do you know where she is?” she asked each posted guard in turn, tracing the Queen's steps to the little garden. Once inside the garden, she easily located the hidden door.

That night while Gabrielle prayed for Xena at the alter of Ares, she heard the groaning of another door opening and looked up to see a door open in the darkness behind the alter. Before then she had not been aware of another doorway to the temple; this one must have been hidden. Was this an answer? Were the gods trying to show her something? She picked up the lamp and slowly approached it. It opened onto a long causeway that steadily sloped upward. Lifting her skirts she followed it to an archway. Silhouetted against the moonlight was a figure that motioned to her with its hand. She knew she should not take such a chance but she felt compelled to follow the mysterious figure, she sensed it meant her no harm.

Maven entered the temple searching for the Queen, the guards letting her pass with not a second glance. After all she was one of their number, and her concern for the Queen seemed genuine. Such a dark place would be perfect for what she had to do. She would simply tell them she had found the Queen dead by her own hand. Drawing her sword, she thought what a hero she would be proclaimed for being the one to kill the Empress and her spawn. It was really a shame that Gabrielle had lowered herself to be the Empress's whore in the first place. Looking over the skulls that adorned the surrounding walls, she wondered which one belonged to her sacrificed father. But she saw no sign of the Queen. She felt a draft brush her face and saw the secret door that it had come from. Figuring the Queen must have escaped through it, she ran to it. Just before she was in reach, it slammed shut. Try as she might she could not force it open, even when she leaned her weight against it. She screamed her frustration.

The sound of the slamming door momentarily distracted Gabrielle, when she turned back the figure was standing in the back of a mist-shrouded chariot, two black horses waiting to draw it. 'Don't be afraid, Gabrielle,' she heard the voice in her head. 'You must come with me.' A strong hand helped her to climb in. Standing this close to the figure, she could see that it was a coltish young girl of about twelve or thirteen, with flowing black hair. She stood taller than the Queen, but in the dark Gabrielle could not see the color of her eyes. The driver flicked the reins once and the chariot drove off into the mist. The girl slipped a protective arm around Gabrielle's waist that was light as a feather. The ride was so smooth that it felt like they were floating and everything was obscured by the mist. Gabrielle could see no road in front of her and no palace behind her, only the galloping horses and her companion's noble profile.

“Where are you taking me?”

'To where you're needed.'

Maven soon discovered that she was not alone. Warhorse, Cyclops and Ki approached her.

“Where is the Queen?” Ki asked her.

“I don't know. She's gone. Looks like you haven't done your job.”

“Take her to the dungeon.”

Maven was determined not to be taken alive and, tried to fight her way past them, but the tiny unarmed Ki quickly rendered her helpless with a few graceful moves. Maven ended up writhing in pain on the cold stone floor, wondering what had been done to her.

Gabrielle could feel the chariot wheels make contact with the ground. They had traveled hundreds of leagues in a mater of minutes. The mists parted to reveal a huge army encampment with hundreds of tents. They had come to a stop before the Empress's elaborate tent, and even though there were guards and troops everywhere none of them seemed to see them.

“You brought me to Xena? She's not dead. But how…?”

'As soon as you step down they will see you, show them the bracelet. We'll see each other again, soon.'

“Who are you?”

'You already know my name.'

With tears in her eyes Gabrielle stepped down from the chariot, knowing that when she turned back it would be gone.

The guards at the tent entrance parted for her when she displayed the engraved bracelet. Inside she found Xena on a pallet shivering, the healers doing what they could for her. The wound had been cauterized, but not before she had lost a great deal of blood. But the wound was not that serious as to be life threatening, they told her. Gabrielle did what she remembered her mother having done for her when she was a child; she got under the covers and warmed the Empress with her own body till the chills stopped. All the while Gabrielle talked to her and smoothed the damp hair from her brow. “Don't you leave me. I need you. The baby needs you. I love you.” Xena moaned in her sleep.

“I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. I'm sorry I hurt you.”

Gabrielle did not recall falling asleep, but when she awoke it was morning and she was alone in the bed. The sheets where Xena had been laying were bloodstained. She heard cheering from outside; “Xena! Xena! Xena!” 'Are they cheering because she is dead?' Gabrielle thought, with tears in her eyes. 'Of course they are.' She put her head down on the pillow and sobbed uncontrollably, till she felt a hand smooth her hair.

“Whatever are you bawling about now?” she heard the Empress ask teasingly. She looked up and it was Xena standing there, unwashed and pale but very much alive. She threw her arms around the Empress and she winced. “Careful. You didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?”

Moving a little stiffly, Xena sat next to her. “I had the strangest dream. How did you get here so fast anyway?”

“I'll tell you later.” She said kissing Xena's face and neck. “I'm so happy that you're not dead. In my heart, I knew, I just knew you were alive.”

“I wouldn't have been if I hadn't turned when I heard that voice calling my name. I came close.”

Though they made the Queen as comfortable as possible, Gabrielle found the trip back to the palace not nearly as smooth. The Empress rode at the front of the procession, but she checked on the Queen frequently. And the healer and assistant attended her the entire way. Out the back of the wagon they had prepared for her, she could see the total devastation left in the Empress's wake. Even thought they avoided riding near the villages they had plundered and leveled, Gabrielle could see that the ground was littered with bodies. She closed the drapes and tried to sleep.

In the last weeks before the baby came she was restless and uncomfortable. As soon as Xandria was placed in her arms, Gabrielle forgot the hours she had walked around in the pain of labor. The Empress had helped as much as she could, supporting her and massaging her to ease the pain. The midwife let her catch the baby in her large hands. She came into the world with a full head of black hair and a screeching wail. Both her parents cried tears of joy. She looked up at them with her sapphire eyes that did not yet comprehend what they saw.

“Oh Xena, I love her so much already!” she held the baby close and gently kissed her head. “Thank the gods.” Gabrielle cried as the baby nursed, thinking how this innocent little baby might grow up to be another conqueror, of the things she would and must learn from Xena. Her heart broke when she thought of how her grandfather might not even want to see her because of how he felt about the Empress. As if she were to blame.

“Thank you, my Queen for my beautiful and perfect daughter.” A tiny hand grasped the Empress's little finger. “Strong too.” The Empress met her eyes with an expression of such absolute love. “She'll take care of you when she grows up.”

“She'll take care of both of us.”

They both stayed up all night at the foot of their bed, just watching her sleep peacefully in her cradle. Xena watched with her chin on the Queen's shoulder as she fed the princess.

“She's always hungry!” Gabrielle laughed.

“You're so lucky,” she said. “I wish I could feed her.”

She was a quiet baby for the most part. When she did cry, Xena often walked with her down the marbled halls and sang to her softly. She took her to the temple to show Ares his newest servant and to give thanks. She was already making plans; when the princess was walking she would have toy swords to play with and she would get her used to riding on horses. She would learn reading, writing and mathematics. Also science, philosophy, and languages.

“Someday the whole world will be yours, and if you're very lucky, you'll find someone as wonderful as your mother to love.” The Empress told the baby. She looked up at her Sire-mother with eyes that seemed to be too wise for that of a newborn.

“And you'll be coming here often for guidance from the god of war.”

As soon as she stepped over the threshold, Xandria started to cry. “What is the matter, my little one?”

The closer she got to the alter, the louder little Xandria became, kicking her little legs and shaking her tiny fists. Puzzled by her reaction the Empress quickly returned to the bedchambers with her. “Your battle cry is already impressive. I guess we can wait till you're older.”

After months of languishing in the dungeon, Maven was crudely awakened by a boot in her ribs. From her resting-place on the stone floor, she could make out the Empress silhouetted against the blinding light, something that looked like a long black rope coiled in one hand.

“Maven, what am I to do with you? You've turned out to be a real disappointment.”

Part 5

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