The empress lounged in the hide-covered throne of her trophy room, in her usual black battle leathers, having removed one studded greave, so that the newborn princess could doze on her left forearm. Her sword at her right side, ever ready for trouble, especially with the infant princess near. She was listening to some governor or other recite off a scroll about new ordnances in his province. She only remembered that the man was a replacement for one she was forced to have executed, for stealing from the royal coffers. This one stammered and stuttered as he read, being his first time under that icy blue gaze. Imperial guards stood close at his side, ready to cut down any visitor that was even suspected of having motives against the royal family, if Xena gave the signal. He had heard that the empress would kill someone on the spot if she did not like the looks of him or her. He thanked the gods that he would only have to report back once every three moons. He thought about giving a complement on the baby, but then thought he was much safer not saying anything. She absently stroked the baby as she listened.

To the new governor's horror, she picked up her sword and cradling the sleeping princess to her chest, she stepped down from the dais. She began to poke and whack the terrified man with the flat of the blade about his head and body. The guards laughed to themselves, as the man tried to shield himself from the harmless, yet no less terrifying blows.

"Enough! You are boring me to tears, old man! The punishments for rape, thievery and murder are to remain the same as always, death. Any one, who steals in the realm, steals from the Princess Xandria, and that will not be tolerated. If they steal from my baby, they deserve nothing less."

When he had left the empress whispered to her daughter; "I'm a legend, someday you'll be a legend too, but not for a very long time. Your first lesson; make sure you leave no doubt as to who is in charge."

Gabrielle had been listening to the whole thing from the entrance to the royal chambers, and when Xena came in to put the baby in her crib, felt compelled to mention it.

"Xena sometimes people steal because they're hungry, or to support their families. Allowances should be made for that."

The empress gently tucked the princess in to her bed. Then she turned her attention to the queen, eyeing her from head to foot, hungrily. The silken gowns she always wore had a way of making her look like a regal lady, while barely disguising her luscious curves. 'Gods, she looks like a dream!' Xena thought. 'Without even trying to.'

"Or they just don't work hard enough." The empress added.

'Or maybe everything they worked for is taken from them.' Gabrielle thought.

"Come here, little one." The empress smiled, crossing the room in a single stride.

The empress caught the queen in her arms and began to kiss her deeply, tangling her fingers in the soft golden hair. "You're too compassionate for your own good," kiss, "my Queen." kiss, "I know you need a little more time," kiss, " to heal up," kiss, "but every time I look at you," kiss, "I just want to," kiss, "throw you down and…" Gabrielle moaned as the empress's warm muscular tongue dove into her mouth.

The empress released her and began to undo her leathers, and Gabrielle helped, slowly caressing each part of the warrior's body as it was revealed. An arm, shoulders, and the broad back she kissed as she reached around to cup the sharp-tipped breasts and sleek, flat belly. The empress tilted her head back as the queen's hands explored her, arching her back and raising her arms in submission. Finally Gabrielle striped the fine leather from the even finer hips and thighs of the empress. As powerful as she was she still occasionally enjoyed being totally taken by the queen, even a little roughly. And Gabrielle found that she enjoyed the challenge of pleasuring the empress and being the aggressive one on occasion. Growing up a village girl, she never imagined the kind of things she did now with and to Xena, things she'd never even heard of. As time passed her skills as a lover had grown and she was even proud of them. She was able to read the empress's moods most of the time, knowing by the look in her eye whether she was in a playful mood, or in the mood to be totally savagely, in command of the queen in bed. Tossing back her mane of black hair, the empress looked over her shoulder with a wicked smile.

"I'll be your whore tonight, my Queen. Do with me as you wish."

She crawled up on the bed on her hands and knees, displaying her perfectly rounded ass and center laid bare.

"Be gentile with me mistress. Or rough."

Gabrielle brought her right hand down on the empress's bottom with a loud crack. The empress moaned her encouragement. Gabrielle's heart pounded, every time she took the empress like this something seemed to come over her and she felt quite drunk with the momentary control she was granted over her mate.

"May I have another, mistress?"

After she had covered the empress's shapely behind with angry red handprints, in between teasing her with her hands, stroking her opening with out entering it, she had the empress begging.

"Take me! Take me, please mistress, please!" 'I'll give you what you want.' She thought, a little angrily.

The queen administered another hard slap. She took a handful of Xena's damp hair and jerked her head back, causing her to gasp, suddenly thrusting her fist deeply into the empress's slick opening, the way Xena had taught her, causing her to scream. Holding onto the empress's hair, she continued to plunge her fist in and out, twisting it, enjoying the empress's cries of pleasure. The mighty Ruler of the World's spread thighs quivered as they fought to support her, through one climax after another. Her light brown skin glazed with sweat, the empress moved back and forward, on her wife's hand. Gabrielle continued her assault on the empress, quite carried away by the moment, until the climaxes ceased and Xena collapsed exhausted on the bed, and then she slowly withdrew. Gabrielle lay down next to her and pulled the covers over them both, as the empress rested her head in her favorite spot on the queen's shoulder.

The newborn heiress to the empire lay sleeping contentedly between her parents, blissfully unaware of her importance. Her mother, the queen watched, both her daughter and mate as they slept, amazed at how much resemblance there was in one to the other. She could see it in the shape of her mouth and the faint eyebrows and of course, the true black hair. After Xandria had woken up hungry, Gabrielle had just let her sleep in their bed after she had finished suckling her fill. This might be the only child she would have and she did not want to miss a moment with her, even if it meant not getting much sleep.

She had known of rich women who had employed wet-nurses and nannies, but both she and the empress had naturally assumed that Gabrielle would be taking care of little Xandria herself most of the time, rejecting the notion of having servants raising their child. When she went outside to the garden the baby went with her in the well-padded basket. Trusted servants, Ki and Em did assist when they were needed, and they were good with the baby. Xena spent as much time as possible with her as well, holding and singing to her. Gabrielle did not object, despite the fact that every moment the baby was not with her she was desperately lonely for it. It was so evident to Gabrielle that the empress loved her new daughter deeply, that she did not want to interfere with the time they spent alone together, in fact she encouraged it. Perhaps, it was her hope, that this innocent little baby might have the power to finally melt the heart of an empress.

Xena spent a little extra time languishing in her bed the next morning marveling at her wife and child. Gabrielle caught an unguarded expression in her eyes that she rarely had a chance to see. Sometimes when she looked into Xena's eyes, she believed in her heart that she was looking at her true soul mate, at other times she felt like she was looking into the eyes of a total stranger. A terrifying stranger who cared nothing for the thoughts, feelings or even lives of others, one who had crushed entire nations under the heels of her boots, and had enjoyed doing it.

"Xena, I have a request. In honor of our daughter being born, I think we should grant one slave their total freedom."

Xena smiled at her as though she had told a joke.

"It would be a beautiful gesture. One could be granted freedom on each of her birthdays for the rest of her life."

She could see in Xena's eyes that her loving wife had vanished and in her place was the conquering empress.
"Beautiful gestures do not fit into my plans for the realm. As you well know, I am not a softhearted, magnanimous ruler, I was thinking more along the lines of a sacrifice to Ares in her honor." Starting with that bitch Maven.

"Xena, please, please don't do anything like that. I'm begging you."

"It's just the natural way of things here. It has been long before you came, and will be long after we're both gone. Don't fret about it love, its no big loss to the world."

She leaned over to kiss the queen, but Gabrielle turned away.

"You intend to refuse me every time we disagree?" she chided, tickling the queen's ribs till she jumped.

"Good! Every time you get angry with me, I get to seduce you all over again" the empress licked and nibbled the queen's shoulder. The queen would forgive her, she knew; she always did.

"At one time Xena, you considered me to be no big loss to the world too."

"Yes, you would have been. I almost made the mistake of thinking so, if not for Ares. I would have died at the hands of Maven, and so would have you and the baby, if not for the God Of War's intervention. Don't forget that."

"What are you talking about, Xena? When did Maven almost kill the baby and me?" She abruptly sat up expecting an answer. "You told me she had been killed by your guards after she shot you." This time it was Xena who turned away.

"By the gods, Xena! Did you lie to me again?"

"At the time, I didn't see the need to upset you in your condition, but Maven followed you into the temple, Ki and the guards found her there, she just missed you."

Gabrielle was stunned. "Why would she want to kill me? What did I ever do to her?"

"She confessed, to everything. I don't think she would have killed you though, I think she is quite taken with you."

"What happened to her, is she still alive?"

"She's in the prison. Under heavy guard."

"I want to talk to her!"

"Absolutely not"

"Are you going to execute her?"

"Eventually." The way the empress's beautiful lips turned up at the corners, made Gabrielle feel cold.

"Xena, I know, I know the things you must be doing when you go to other parts of the palace. I don't mean that you've been unfaithful. I mean cruel things that you don't want me to see. I know it. I can just feel it. Things you're too ashamed of for me to see."

"I make it a point never to be ashamed." She said a little coldly.

"Maybe you should be, Xena, at least once in your life." Gabrielle said before she could stop herself. She waited for the empress's anger, but she only regarded her with one eyebrow raised.

"Where's the fun in that?" She then took the queen's face in her hand. When she did this, it reminded Gabrielle of the day they had first met, when the empress had touched her face and asked if she was guilty.

"Gabrielle, there are many very unpleasant things I must take care of, that are expected of me, do you really want to have a front row seat to all of them?"

Gabrielle shook her head sadly. 'I did have that time.'

"I just want to ask her why."

"Gabrielle, there is no point in doing that. I absolutely forbid it. You know I've never been unfaithful to you, you satisfy me in every way. You have nothing to worry about in that respect. Believe me, I know the value of what I have, what we have. It's my duty to you to keep you sheltered from harm, to take care of you. There is no need for you to be troubled with such matters, things that you don't have the stomach for. Just worry about taking care of me and that beautiful baby of ours."

Maven turned her head toward the stone archway of the dungeon, when she heard the sharp footfalls, on the wet stone, announcing the empress's arrival. She had been shackled, naked to the rack for some time and had almost dozed off.

The dungeon master stood close by, with crossed arms. His experience had been vast, or so he had thought, when he was summoned to be the master of the empress's private dungeons. But he had learned much from her since that time, he had no idea that a woman could have such an evil and fiendish talent for the art of torture. He was anxious to see what Her Worship would come up with tonight. He was surprised that this woman prisoner had lasted this long, but it had seemed that the empress was reluctant to end it. The empress had given him permission to help himself to the prisoner and he had done so many times, finding her to be not only willing, but also quite anxious to please him.

"Xena, I've missed you."

"Silence!" the master ordered. But he knew that Maven was never quiet unless she was gagged or fainted. And the empress never gagged her.

"It hasn't been that long."

"I'm beginning to feel like I'm your second wife, we spend so much time together."

The empress lightly ran her fingertips over the prisoner's large, firm breasts as she brushed the tangle of blond hair away. In the many moons she had kept Maven here she had taken care to leave few permanent marks on the goddess-like body, even though the visits had involved a great deal of pain. She slapped Mavens face hard, Maven only smiled at her. She strained in her shackles, arching her back, trying to attain the most alluring way to display her body.

"Is that the best you can do, Highness? A little bitch-slap?" she laughed. "I bet you slap the Queen harder than that! Come on Highness, rape me! You know you always wanted to!"

"I wouldn't filthy myself on you, you smell like rat dung."

This was not exactly true. Buckets of soapy water were delivered to her cell every other day, so she could wash; a privilege not afforded the other prisoners. This was done as a courtesy to the dungeon master more than anything else. Xena believed in keeping her whores clean for the people they serviced.

The empress rarely responded to Mavens taunts anymore, they were the helpless ratings of a person who had nothing left to lose. She turned her attentions to the assortment of torture devices, picking up and turning each one in her hand. There were not many left that had not already been used on Maven. With a favorite knotted flogger she turned back to the prisoner.

"Why don't you bring your whole army in here, I'll take every one of them and you can watch. Their little things don't scare me! You can kill me, but you can't make me fear you, no matter what you do. Put my eyes out, cut out my tongue, nothing will make me fear you, and you know it."

"Shut up!" she hated to admit to herself that Maven had been right, but she was the only person she had come across that she had not been able to make feel the fear of the Empress Xena in her heart. Even the queen, as strong as she was, had finally submitted to the fear. Until Maven did the same, Xena would not, and could not end her suffering with the release of death. She had wanted Maven's punishment to last a good long time for trying to kill her, the queen and the unborn princess. That first night back, still weakened by her battlefield wound, she had whipped Maven front and back with a demon-like frenzy, till she was exhausted. Then she stood back and watched as the dungeon master satisfied himself with Maven's limp form. But Maven had stubbornly held on to her will to live for all these moons. It seemed to be a contest of who could hold out the longest. And Xena did not like to lose.

"If you don't kill me soon Xena, I'll find a way to get out of here, and then I'll have some of that juicy little wife of yours. How did you ever get someone like her anyway, somebody decent and pure? Even you can't think she's actually happy waking up with you every morning, can you? She's gotten real good at pretending, her life depends on it."


"I'm sure the poor little thing had no choice in the matter. The only way you can get anyone to spend time with you is by force. Of course, I may not be man enough for her, but I promise I'll do my best."

The empress calmly walked over to where Maven lay, took both of her nipples in her hands and twisted with all of her might, pulling up on them. Maven grimaced with the pain, but did not cry out.

"I'll take your place one day, Xena." She panted. "In everything."

The empress's face came within inches of hers. "That will never happen." She whispered. "Better people than you have tried, believe me. It's a pity; I had such plans for your future. Now it looks as if you haven't got one."
It occurred to Xena that perhaps Maven had feared not dying.

"Except staying locked up here for the rest of your life." She could see the change in Maven's bravado now. Perhaps she had finally found the key.

"Yes, I think I'll keep you here forever, alive and well. You're a tough girl, but everyone has his or her limit. You begged me too many times to kill you, to end your miserable existence here, but I can only kill you once and that would end my fun wouldn't it?" The empress gently brushed the flogger's leather strips over Maven's body.

Maven struggled against her shackles, as if she were ready to fight the empress, clearly panicked.

"I'll have to make it a standing order that all torches down here be extinguished at sunset." She traced circles on Maven with the tips of the flogger. "When the dungeon master has gone home for the night and you're down here all alone in the dark. Then you can sit in your cell and wonder what is in the corner watching you, that you can't see."


Now she could see a tear running down the side of Maven's face.

Gabrielle took the scroll from its hiding place. She knew she had some time to write before Xena returned for dinner, and knew she would have plenty of time to put it back by the time she heard the familiar footsteps coming down the marbled halls. She had learned to recognize the way Xena's boots sounded and could pick them out easily and she usually barked an order two on her way to the private chambers. She had begun the scroll when after the first few moons she was in the palace, and had added a few entries when she was heavily pregnant with the princess and it had been some time since she had returned to it. Not that Xena ever read her scrolls anyway, unless Gabrielle showed her a poem that she had written.
The princess was in her crib happily kicking her feet and gurgling to herself, making the whole crib shake. Gabrielle smiled at her baby daughter. 'Gods, you are growing so fast.'

{I can't believe I have come this far.} She read over some of what she had written many moons back. {When I think back at everything that has happened to me, it seems so unreal. I have been more swallowed up by my life, than I have actually lived it. To say that this is not how I envisioned the way it would turn out would be a monumental understatement. While I always knew I was not cut out for village life, but for something somehow different, something that I thought would be better. I always planed to become a great bard or poet and travel the world. Little did I know what the fates had planed for me. I only knew that I did not want to end up like most of the other girls or women in my village-married too young and then one baby after another, without a thought as to how to feed them, always under their husbands thumb, doing their 'wifely duty'. Did I really have a right to think I was better than that? Now I am under Xena's thumb, and I do my 'wifely duty' the way I was brought up thinking I should. Only it does not feel like duty to me at all, with Xena it's fun; I really do enjoy it. The intensity of my own feelings and actions when I'm with Xena, never ceases to amaze me. When we make love, it just seems so right and natural, when before her it had never occurred to me to ever kiss another girl, let alone go to bed with one. Isn't it funny how things change? }

{When I first laid eyes on her, even though she was my enemy, I had never seen anyone, man or woman, who was so beautiful. The greatest artist in the world could not have imagined and created a more breathtaking vision. My heart stopped.
I had never ever heard of two women being married when I was growing up, but there were two widows that had lived in the same house for 'safety's sake' and now I wonder? I do suppose that the stronger or older one would naturally take the control the way a husband would. Like Xena has with me. On one hand she is the best mate anyone could ask for; she has never beat me, she gives me everything I could ever need or want, she is gentle and loving with the baby. But it still hurts when I think about how she chose to trick me into having her. It was like a nightmare that still haunts me day and night. Sometimes I feel so terribly used by Xena, for her purposes. Like it's my job in life to service the empress, look pretty for her, and give birth to the heirs to the throne. I suppose that's a wife's lot in life. Why did she feel she needed to deceive me to have a baby? Why did she drug me when I always come to her willingly? Like the crucifixion, I don't think I can ever forgive Xena for it.}

{Our baby Xandria, is the light of my life. Her heir. She is fast developing her own personality. I thank the gods for her. I don't care how she got here; I love her with all of my heart. She looks just like Xena, and to tell the truth, I cannot think of any one else I would rather have her come from. No matter how horrible her ways are she is my one true mate. Can she be evil through and through, if she is so loving toward the baby and me? Does that not mean that there exists some good in her? I must still believe that or I would have found a way to leave her forever. If something were to happen to part us, I know that I could never love anyone else the way that I love her. Is it possible to love someone and hate them at the same time? Why am I so weak and feel such love and loyalty, to someone who tried to kill me, and has such evil ways?}

{I did not sleep very much last night; another nightmare woke me. I lived being crucified all over again and it felt so real! I woke screaming, with my heart pounding out of my chest. I wake up from a nightmare with her that did it to me right next to me in bed. For a moment seeing her scares me anew. Xena is my only comfort when the dreams come and she knows what they are about without asking. She always holds me till I relax and can sleep again. Sometimes she strokes my head, kisses me or sings softly to me. It's all she can do; she can't change the past or take away the pain she had caused me then.}

{It hurts me so that someone like Maven, someone that I barely knew in my former life, could hate me so much just for being the Empress's wife, that she tried to kill me and the child I carried. We will forever be the targets of all those that hate her, I fear. It makes leaving the Empress impossible, although I've been considering it for sometime, it would leave us both defenseless in the world. And I could not leave without my daughter. All I can see when I think about leaving is Xandria and I living in a run-down hovel somewhere, cold and hungry, always hiding from those who would harm her because she is the empress's daughter. Always hiding from the empress herself, and no one can hide from her for long. How would I protect and support us both? I should have kept going that night in the boat, now it's too late, I'm too deeply involved with Xena's life. It's my life now and I can never go back to where and who I used to be.}

"Queen Gabrielle." She heard Ki call softly from the anti-chamber. Gabrielle hurriedly rolled-up the scroll and placed it back in its hiding place.


Gabrielle emerged from their private chambers to find her sister Lila waiting for her. She stood up with the help of the guards from a pallet that they had carried her in on, but she looked healthy. Gabrielle nearly knocked her taller sister over, in a rush to hug her. They both embraced and cried. "I'm so happy to see you! By the gods Lila, Father let you come here!"

"He couldn't stop me! I'm of age now. When the royal escort came to our house to bring us here to visit, he wouldn't let mother come with us to see the baby."

Gabrielle helped her sister stand with the help of her two crudely made crutches. Lila looked at the way her sister was dressed, in the flowing gown of pale crème silk, sprinkled with tiny embroidered flowers. Her golden hair swept to one side and over her shoulder with a jeweled comb.

"You look like a goddess, Gabrielle."

"Xena likes to see me in pretty things. She must have sent for you and mother to surprise me. Was father very angry when you left?"

"He was yelling for me to come back, but I missed you so much!" she looked all around her with wide eyes. "Is this where you live? Everything is so big. I've never seen a real palace before Gabrielle; it's beautiful. I wish I was married and had my own home." She looked around with wide eyes at the huge fireplace, banquet table with its ornately carved chairs and the impressive collection of the empress's hunting trophies and captured weapons.

'That's funny, I was wishing I was not married and still living at home.' Gabrielle thought.

"How was your trip?"

"Long. The servants and guards were all so nice to me! They waited on me hand-and-foot." Even now two servants discretely followed at their side.

"Come see the baby, she's sleeping but you can look at her." Gabrielle led her sister toward the royal bedchambers. Lila seemed hesitant to enter beyond the curtains.

"Gabrielle, I can't go in there!"

"Don't worry, Xena won't be back for awhile."

The princess Xandria was already awake and pushing herself up on her little hands, watched her aunt approach the crib. Her resemblance to Xena startled and even frightened Lila a little, till the tiny princess lifted one sweet hand toward her, mouthing baby words.

"Her eyes are green like yours, Gabrielle! I think she's saying she likes me." Lila's eyes grew moist as she smoothed the princess's soft black hair. "Look at her eyes, it's like she knows what I was thinking."

"Oh yes, she's wise beyond her years. She's an 'old soul' as grandmother would say."

Lila slowly turned her head, taking in the splendor of the spacious bedroom; huge deep chairs and settees near the stone fireplace, the heavy carved writing table, the ornate iron candle holders and lanterns, the fancy wooden trunks, the tapestries and silken drapes, the corner alcoves with their deep velvet cushions were perfect to sit on while reading. The one room alone was big enough and held enough furniture for the average house.
Lila eyed the expansive, fir-covered bed that her sister shared with the empress, nervously. It looked to be ready for an evening of romance. Shelves that held scented candles, bowls of fruit and jugs of wine surrounded it. She caught Gabrielle's eye by accident and blushed deeply. Gabrielle kissed her cheek.

"I'll get the baby ready and we can go into the garden. It's my favorite place."

They spent the afternoon in the garden playing with the baby and talking. Ki and Em accompanied them and served Gabrielle and her sister wine, cheese and fruit from silver trays.

"Gabrielle how…?" Lila had so many questions she wanted to ask her sister about where the baby came from.

"It's a long story. It was very strange and I still don't understand how she did it, but she came from Xena. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just hope you can accept her and love her for being my daughter too." Gabrielle had tears in her eyes when she watched her innocent baby daughter and thought about the person that Xandria would become one day. "I miss mother; I wish she had been able to come with you."

"You know its because father doesn't like her, the empress, I mean." Lila whispered.

"Even so, he should not take it out on his granddaughter. He is still welcomed to come to our home, and she's overlooked what he did to your foot to keep you out of the army. Do you know what the punishment is for that?"

Lila shook her head, amazed at her sister's sudden flair of anger. She looked every bit the queen at that moment, not only her dress and hair but also the way she sat on the stone bench with her back perfectly straight. Lila remembered when they were children; their mother was forever having to tell Gabrielle to sit up.

"Xandria is his flesh and blood and so am I! How can he be so spiteful to me? He's the one tearing our family apart, not Xena. Someday he'll be sorry."

"Gabrielle, what will you tell her when she asks you why she doesn't have a father?"

"That I'm better than any father." The empress said approaching them from a nearby archway. She walked proudly tall in her battle leathers, slowly striping off her gloves, fresh from a session training troops, as if displaying her self to the two smaller women. Startled, Lila started to rise to her feet, still too shy to meet the empress's eyes. Xena placed a hand on her shoulder.

"There's no need for you to bow to me; you're family. So what do you think of our little princess, my sister?"

"She's perfect." Lila answered shyly.

"Just like her mother."

She took Gabrielle's face in her hands and kissed her deeply, not seeming to care that their sister and baby were watching them. Lila could not help but stare at the unashamed display of passion in the way Xena kissed and caressed her younger sister, she was mesmerized by it. She could see that Gabrielle was hopelessly in love with the empress. Xandria was becoming hard for her to hold, leaning forward and stretching her arms toward her parents and squealing for their attention. Xena let go of the queen long enough to gather the baby into her arms, brushing the skin of Lila's arm with her hand when she did so. The empress and Gabrielle both showered Xandria with kisses till she giggled. Lila was still reeling with the sensation of the empress's accidental touch and the power of the look in her eyes when she greeted her. She felt a little ashamed of being attracted to her sister's wife, but she couldn't help it.

The empress commissioned a skilled woodcarver to make a set of crutches for her sister-in-law that fit under her arms and were far more comfortable than the ones her father had made. She invited successful young officers, both male and female to the royal dinner table to meet Lila. The empress had set the group of slave-girls from the harem, who were trained musicians, to playing for them all at the dinner in Lila's honor. The young warriors that Lila had met at the empress's dinner table had all been very impressive, attractive and seemed to find her interesting as well. She was hoping that at least one of them would pursue that interest. They were tall, strong and dashing. Most of them were not put off by her infirmity at all, but had insisted that she dance with them.

The empress looked on with approval as one of her warriors led Lila slowly and patiently in a dance. Her sister Gabrielle just looked concerned. My sister, she thought, who sat near the head of the table looking so small and fair, next to the dark powerful ruler of the world. Yet they looked so right together.

The young men were nice, but she found herself toying with the idea of romance with a woman, since Gabrielle seemed to enjoy being with the empress so much. The women warriors were not nearly as beautiful as Xena, but they were not bad looking at all, and smiled at her kindly.

"Xena, what are you up to?" Gabrielle asked her later that night. "Are you trying to arrange a marriage for my sister?"

"Why not? She's certainly not going to meet anyone locked away with mommy and daddy. They were all very good prospects I invited, reliable and trustworthy. You never mentioned whether she prefers men or women, so I invited some of both. Don't you want her to live a full life?"Maven would easily have been a potential match for her sister-in-law if she had not ruined everything by plotting against them, could have married herself into the royal family and a hansom salary.

"I want you to stay out of her life."

"I'm in everyone's life." The empress smiled wickedly at her. "It's what I enjoy." She dove into the bed alongside her queen. Her hands snaked their way under Gabrielle's nightgown and slowly up her legs. Her fingertips lightly slipped under the edges of the Gabrielle's fine silken undergarment, as she took her tender earlobe between her teeth. She was rewarded by Gabrielle's giggle.


"Of course," she purred, "we could always add her to the harem."

"You better be joking." The queen warned her.

"Or I could make her my second wife. Think this bed is big enough for the three of us?"

"Xena stop it."

"Think I could keep the both of you satisfied?" The way the empress laughed frightened her.

"Xena I hope you are not being serious."

"I'm teasing my love."

"You have a very disturbed sense of humor."

Lila was enjoying everything about her visit so far. Since Gabrielle had married the empress she, her mother, and her father, had been given the finest silk and linens to wear and sleep on. They had a cook who prepared them sumptuous meals of the finest food that the realm had to offer. They had everything they could want thanks to the empress, and her mother and she had enjoyed the new luxuries in their life, even if her father did not. She lay in bed wide-awake from the excitement of the day. The empress had made her feel so special and cared-for; she found it hard to imagine that she was really as evil as people said she was.
Xena was careful not to wake the queen as she eased out of their bed in the middle of the night. Xena started to reach for her robe to cover her nakedness and changed her mind. If the queen did wake she would just assume that the empress had gone to the bathing chamber to relieve herself. She checked to see that the princess was sleeping peacefully.

She walked through the halls of the palace, passing guards that bowed reverently. She walked with the grace of a panther with her head high and her shoulders back, her small breasts proudly erect in the cool palace air. Barely anything moved on her body except her hips and legs and these she swayed from side to side in practiced control.

The guards snapped to attention as she appeared around each succeeding corner. She waved to them to relax their posture, signaling that all was well. They were used to her late-night meanderings and wondered if and when they would be hearing screams from other parts of the palace in her wake, thanking the gods that they had her favor-for now.

Mentally, she dared anyone of them to look at her nude body; it would offer a good excuse to punish someone. But none gave her the satisfaction. They were so well trained and familiar with the consequences of disrespect toward the empress or the queen. She made her way through the passageways behind the harem, and watched through the latticework.

Everything was dim in the great harem room; most of the girls fast asleep while the guards stood ever vigilant. She turned her attention to the grotto, which was also dark, but not too dark for her to see something that brought a smile to her lips. One of the slave girls had another in the grotto pool, pinned against the edge, her one arm disappearing into the water in the vicinity of her 'victim's' nether region. The girl had her head back, her mouth opened in silent display of ecstasy, her glistening wet breasts pointed to the ceiling, as her partner's mouth reached for a nipple. They had learned to do things quietly, so late at night apparently. The one doing the plowing was so aggressive!

'Ah, a woman after my own heart.' She thought, 'give it to her good.' Xena was enjoying the show as she had for years, her own privates throbbing, watching for signs of any violation of rules.

She remembered when she had thus spied on her future queen's daily life in the harem. Had watched her secretly as she bathed, always with her back turned toward the other women, modestly. How she had resisted the advances of the other women in the harem, preserving her innocence. The other women were so luscious and obviously skilled at pleasuring, that the empress wondered what in the god's name was wrong with this little Gabrielle, that she did not take advantage of the playthings that were there for the taking. She had even sent one of the best of the lot; Sky, to tempt her in a more outright manner. When that failed, it finally dawned on the empress; 'She's saving herself for me! She wants only me, no one else is good enough for her.' She then had no doubt that the romantic little tart had fallen in love with her, -much against her will. What a sweet memory that was, a victory over a truly virtuous heart.

Late as it was, she wanted to go back to her chambers and wake the queen up. She had the urge. Oh, Gabrielle would push her away a couple of times, protesting that she wanted to sleep, before finally surrendering to her relentless empress. It had been a while since she had 'attacked' the queen in her bath, catching her in a stubborn embrace from behind. Maybe tomorrow morning she would do that again. When she grew bored with the slave girls rutting, she roamed through other parts of the palace wing set aside as the royal family's private living quarters. On impulse she turned down the corridor to the guest bedroom where her sister-in-law was staying.
Gabrielle was surprised that her sister did not appear at the breakfast table that next morning. Ki had set the princess Xandria next to her mother in a special chair that secured her high and close enough to the table so that she could be fed the mashed up vegetables and grain that she was now eating. Gabrielle checked these carefully to make sure they were fine enough, not too hot or spicy, by tasting them herself. She made sure that anything that did not meet her approval was sent quietly back to the kitchen for replacing, before Xena had a chance to punish an innocent cook or helper that she was convinced was trying to poison, burn or choke her daughter. This morning the empress had gone on an early morning ride. The queen got back up from the table sensing something was wrong.

"Ki take care of her, please, I need to see what's keeping my sister."

"Yes, my Queen."

Gabrielle found Lila sitting on her bed, fully dressed. She turned away from Gabrielle so she could not see her face.

"Lila, what's wrong?" she sat on the bed by her side. A long held back sob escaped Lila.

"Gabrielle, I just want to go home!" Gabrielle took her sister's face in her hand and turned it toward her, in an instant fearing to see bruises, but thankfully there were none. Still Lila kept her eyes tightly closed.

"Did something happen? Tell me what's wrong Lila!"

"I hate it here, Gabrielle! I want to go home now, please!"

"But why, all of a sudden? What happened to you last night? Did she do something to you? Did she touch you?"

Lila shook her head violently. "No, no Gabrielle, but someone was standing in the doorway watching me, just watching me! I was so scared!" She had lain there too frightened to move a muscle; through squinted eyes she could see the silhouette of a very tall, obviously naked woman. Though her room was dark the figure was highlighted by torches that burned in the palace halls. The woman stood there for what seemed like forever, until finally leaving.

Now the Queen was becoming angry. "Was it Xena?" she shook her sister by the shoulders; with a strength she did not know she had. "ANSWER ME!"

Lila nodded, crying even harder. "Gabrielle, I was so scared! What would I have done if she had laid down on me?"

"Well, that is not going to happen." The queen said quietly. "You have to get out of here as soon as possible." Gabrielle stood up and looked down at her sister, taking her hand and helping her up. "I'll arrange for you be escorted home today, they can be ready to leave by at least noon. Come to breakfast now, and say goodbye to the baby. Don't worry, the Empress is out riding."

Gabrielle turned to her sister with a look in her eye that Lila had never seen the likes of before.

"You know this might not have happened if you wouldn't keep making eyes at her all the time, like you do. Xena is not the kind of woman you want to go around teasing."

Lila was horrified. "Gabrielle, how can you say that to me!"

Gabrielle covered her face with both hands, and then she shook her head. "I'm so sorry, Lila! I didn't mean it, I swear. I don't know why I said that, it just came out." She hugged her sister, very hard.

The empress had taken her hunting bow and arrows with her on her ride and had easily bagged two plump pheasants. These would be great for dinner, she thought, the queen would be pleased. Xena could hardly wait till Xandria was old enough to take hunting. She would have to see to it that bows were made for both the Princess and Gabrielle, and that the queen started practicing with hers' soon. Perhaps a crossbow would be better for the queen, if she lacked the strength in her arms to draw a bow. She'd have to have a set of leather jodhpurs and tunic made for the queen, maybe in a light brown or a bright blue. Xena had it planned out in such detail that she could picture the queen in the outfit. She always did most of her thinking and best planning when she rode.

She urged her horse to a run and crested a hill overlooking one of the royal farms. Hundreds of slaves and paid servants were bent to the work of harvest or handing baskets to be loaded into wagons. She dismounted and watched from the cover of a tree. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and aimed at one of the field workers, keeping it trained on his chest as he picked. She aimed at a succession of men and women as they worked, waiting for one of them to slip something from the harvest into their pocket, inside a shirt, under a hat. 'It would be so easy,' she thought, licking her lips. They had no idea how she had their lives in her hand and that she could snuff that life out at any moment. 'You live only because I allow you to.'
She spun on her heels and the Imperial guardsman that had come to deliver a message, found himself facing the business end of an arrow. The look of sheer enjoyment on the empress's face left him paralyzed in his tracks.

"Almost. Well, what is it?" she growled, still aiming at him.

"Pardon the intrusion, Highness." He bowed, trying to maintain his dignity. "I come to inform you that Her Royal Highness the Queen, has ordered an escort assembled to return Lady Lila to her parents home as soon as possible." He hoped that he had worded it so that it would not appear that the guards were spying on the queen. Not telling the empress was risky as well. If she had returned to find her sister-in-law gone without her knowledge, she might have their heads.

"Oh, she has, has she?" Xena relaxed her pose, bringing the bow down, replacing the arrow. "Well, I hope she was given the proper amount of assistance from the staff."

Organizing the escort of guards and supply wagons to carry her sister back to their parent's home was not that difficult for Gabrielle; she had been present enough times when the empress had gotten similar processions together. She was not waiting around for the empress's permission. At first the servants seemed reluctant to carry out orders that were not given by the empress herself, but her friends Ki and Warhorse quickly set an example of obedience to the queen for the others to follow.

Xena could see the traveling procession for Lila assembling on her way to the royal stables and she passed them without a word. The guards had stopped the empress as she returned her horse to the stables. They lead her through the courtyard entrance to the dungeon. They held their torches high above the rack so she could see. The dungeon master was lying there dead, stabbed cleanly through the heart with one of the torture implements.

"We found him this morning, Highness."

"Maven." She whispered. They did not need to tell her she was long gone. The Empress whipped around and backhanded the nearest man to her, sending him to the ground.

"You idiots! Find her! Bring her back to me alive! She couldn't have gotten that far! I want a through search of the palace, make sure she is not hiding anywhere inside. Make sure the caravan is searched too. Lock up all the guards that were assigned with watching the dungeon last night; they weren't doing their job! I'll deal with them later." she was already rushing up the stairs to the private living quarters. Her sharp eyes and listening skills were on the alert as she scanned every corridor and doorway that she passed.

"GABRIELLE! GABRIELLE!" she could not get to them fast enough. Gabrielle was bouncing the princess Xandria in her arms and talking to her softly, ignoring the empress's frantic calls to her. When Xena saw that they were safe in the trophy room, she immediately ran to them and embraced them both. Gabrielle held tightly to their daughter, her body stiffened where the empress touched her. Xena was satisfied by the fact that her family was safe, but Gabrielle's cool reception told her that something was wrong nonetheless. The queen was not about to commence an argument in front of the guards and with the baby so close. She let the empress take the baby and marched off to the royal bedchambers. Xena followed close behind, she did not want to let either of them out of her sight. She gently laid the drowsy child into her new, larger crib.

"Alright, what have I done this time, my Queen?"

"By the gods, Xena, my SISTER?" the look on the empress's face so further angered Gabrielle that she aimed several blows at her face, blows that were easily fended off. The empress caught both of Gabrielle's small fists in hers.

"Gabrielle," she almost whispered, "you don't want me to hit you, you don't hit me." In one fluid motion, she spun the Queen around and wrapped her arms around her from behind.

"Let's just keep our disagreements between ourselves, shall we? You don't want the guards to think that we're fighting and they have to come and save you, do you? I might have to really hurt them this time."

"What were you doing in her room?"

"I went to check on her and she got the wrong idea, that's all."

"How can I believe you when you're such a liar?" Gabrielle struggled to free herself, but the empress's grip on her was too strong.

"What I'm telling you is the truth, Gabrielle. If she would have woken up, we would have talked, that's all."

"She knew what you were there for! She could sense it! And you're trying to tell me you were there for a sisterly talk, in the middle of the night, completely naked? Do you think that I'm stupid, Xena?"

"Of course not, love," She kissed the back of her queen's neck, "but you have to believe me when I tell you I would never touch another woman."

"You're just so evil Xena. Damn you." Gabrielle said quietly.

"Yes, I am," she whispered in Gabrielle's ear. "I'm a demon and you're my little angel, aren't you? My opposite, my perfect mate; my perfect match. Only you can't be as pure an angel as you think, because you can't live without my evilness, and me can you? You crave it, just like you crave me every night. That's why you didn't keep going that night in the boat. That's why you went to the temple of Ares and prayed for my life and came running to the battlefield to be by my side when I was wounded. You didn't want me to die; you didn't want to be free of me then did you? Oh no. Actions speak louder than words my dear, and your actions haven't been those of someone who wants to be free; they're the actions of someone who could not bear the thought of living without me." Gabrielle squirmed to free herself again, but Xena held her even tighter. The humiliation of knowing that Xena was right about her made her even angrier. "I'm your weakness Gabrielle, just as you are mine; we might as well just accept that and go on."

"You're insane." Still the husky, sensuous sound of Xena's voice and the feel of those hot hands on her abdomen caused familiar warmth to spread through Gabrielle's body. Suddenly she stopped struggling.

"Xena," she said calmly, hoping that Xena could not still hear the anger in her voice, "at least let me go long enough to say good by to Lila, will you? Just give me a little time alone with her and when I come back, then we can be together." She caressed Xena's arms and hands when she said this, and it seemed to work; the empress's grip on her relaxed.

Gabrielle straightened her clothes and hair and picked Xandria up out of her crib.

"Where are you going with her?" the empress demanded.

"I'm taking her to see her aunt before she leaves." When the empress moved to join them, Gabrielle held up a hand to her. "No! Xena, she doesn't want to see you, stay here. You've done enough damage."

"You're trying to tell me…." The empress was incredulous. The look on her queen's face stopped her.

"Xena please?!" Gabrielle closed the gap between them again; she caressed the empress's face with her free hand and kissed the skin of her chest. "I'll make it really nice, I promise."

The empress sat back down and crossed her arms. "If that's the way you want it, my queen, I can be reasonable. But the both of you will have plenty of guard. And remember, I'll be waiting."

"Of course."
Gabrielle lingered at the door of the rather opulent wagon that Lila would ride back home to her parents in, her hands griping her sister's. She had brought Xandria down too, so that Lila could say good-by to her and Lila had hugged the child close for quite awhile. Xandria had already learned how to kiss and she repeatedly did so on her aunts' cheeks. Always the princess Xandria's own guards, hand chosen by the empress, stood close by. Lila eyed them nervously. She realized that Gabrielle was Xena's prisoner, as well as her wife and queen.

"Do they think I'm going to hurt her or kidnap her Gabrielle?"

No, but Xena doesn't trust anyone. I'm kind of glad they're around, though." She thought about the night that the guard Warhorse had intervened when the drunken empress had nearly raped her. " Lila, I'm so sorry you had to leave like this. I'm sorry about everything."

"How can you stand to live with her? I wish you could come with me. You and the baby."

"You know I can't do that, we wouldn't get far. And it wouldn't be fair to Xandria to take her away from Xena. They're very close. Xena really loves her very much. And she loves me too; deep inside she loves me I know she does. If I didn't believe that I couldn't stay here. Besides, if I'm not here to raise her, Xandria may turn into another Xena." Her tears fell freely now. "We'll come to visit soon, I promise. I miss mother-and father too. I'll talk Xena into it. I'm learning how to play her game."

Xena stood just out of sight on the balcony, she did not want to be seen but she did not want to let her wife and child out of her sight now, not after what Maven had said. Gabrielle continued to waive in the direction of her sister's traveling caravan till she could no longer see it, then she turned back for the palace entrance.

Part 6

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