The Conqueror's Harvest
The characters in this story are based on those belonging to Universal Pictures, Renaissance Pictures, and MCA. No infringement of their rights is intended.
This is a Conqueror story, and some of the characters are based on the Hercules episode, Armageddon Now.
This is intended for mature audiences and has quite a few dark scenes that are considered hurt/comfort, but also lean towards bdsm, consensual/non-consensual dominance. The relationship depicted is one of a same-sex adult nature. If you find this offensive, please read something else.
Many thanks to my Sue for continued support and understanding, even though she hates the Conqueror. Thanks to both Sue and Carla for helping me wade through my disjointed feelings and thoughts, so that I could coalesce things into some semblance of order.
Any offerings burnt or otherwise, can be directed to me at ArdentTly@yahoo.com
You're as tyrannous as you seem to be,
And your beauty makes you profoundly cruel,
For as you know just what you are to me,
The rarest and most desired of all jewels.
There are some that shall protest your soul's worth
That your ill fame has brought nothing but pain
Some will see vain attempts at truth, full mirth
And dark sorrow shall your relations gain.
To say they are wrong denies a bold truth
For brave rivers of Thebes shall not run dry
I shall know of desires held not aloof
And nightingales serenade as I cry.
The great doors of the palace swung shut and Gabrielle hobbled into the foyer. She glanced behind her, giving the two soldiers a baleful look. They smirked and slowly shook their heads. There was a bet going on as to just how long this slave would last. Taking a deep shaky breath, the two men checked their uniforms, and then followed the prisoner into the room.
Gabrielle had heard the rumours herself. She had no illusions as to her fate; it was really only a matter of time. It had taken all of her will to survive the long days and endless nights of pitiless barbarism, the cruel hands of her tormentors invading every inch of her body, stopping just short of taking her very soul. That she could not allow.
A day on the cross hadn’t broken her, and neither had the months of brutality at the hands of cruel men and crueler prisoners whose only thoughts were to survive. But now she had come to the attention of the Conqueror herself. With this summons, her fate was sealed.
‘Everything is just a matter of degree,’ she reassured herself. Even death can be a beginning. And the journey to that end, while a certainty, can be one filled with hope and success.
Gabrielle quickly glanced about the large room, and then made her way over to an area covered with carpeting. She stopped to orient herself under the guise of admiring the tapestries. The pain in her legs had blossomed past the constant ache she normally had to bear. She gritted her teeth and took slow measured breaths, willing away the numbness that threatened to reduce her to tears. The coppery tang of blood spread across her tongue in an effort to keep her emotions at bay.
A quick view of the room gave the woman a few insights as to what she could expect. There were the two guards behind her, but that was all. The room, while finished in rather colourful and exotic finery, was rather austere, really. It lacked a human touch. There were no windows, and only three points of entry. At the very end of the rectangular shaped room was an area a bit brighter than the rest. At its center was a large throne of heavy wood. Bits of green sparkled as the torchlight seemed to dance across its surface.
Startled, Gabrielle looked down and found that she had picked up a piece of fine jade while observing her surroundings. The warmth of the stone surprised her, but it was the shade of it that held her spellbound. It was the colour of sea mist, and she immediately felt a kinship to it. Inhaling slowly, she could swear the faint scent of jasmine could be detected.
One of the soldiers watched as the prisoner admired a few of the Conqueror’s knickknacks. He gave her a quick going over with his eyes, trying to see where a small thing like her could hide a bauble. He bit his lip nervously. It wouldn’t do any good to have something stolen on his watch.
The prisoner was thin, but not sickly thin. And her hair, while dull and scraggly, was at least clean. The skin on her arms and legs were mottled with bruises, old and new, but other than the lumpy and misshapen legs, the woman seemed to be in remarkably good health. For this he was glad. It would reflect directly on he and the other royal guards if the prisoners weren’t in an acceptable condition to be presented to the Conqueror.
A slight gesture from the other guard had his immediate attention, and they both began to herd the prisoner forward. The Conqueror was waiting.
The petite woman started with pain as she felt herself being prodded from behind, and stumbled forward as her splinted legs buckled under her.
"Oh!" Wincing briefly, she prepared herself for the inevitable pain associated with the stone floor impacting on the bridge of her nose. Gabrielle observed her surroundings, as they seemed to play out in slow motion, and wondered if she’d actually black out this time. Her left knee made agonizing contact as the ground rose up to meet her, and then she found herself seized in a vice-like grip, her face mere inches from stone.
The blonde blinked rapidly as she tried to regain her composure. It wouldn’t do to present herself as being weak, not to someone as dispassionate and calculating as the Conqueror.
She found herself resettled roughly upon her feet where she swayed a little until the wobbling in her knees subsided. And just where was the infamous Lord Xena? The hall seemed barren, except for the two guards that seemed to shadow her every move. She resisted the urge to look in their direction, certain it would result in another assault on her already bruised kidneys. They seemed frightened under all their false bravado. Gabrielle couldn’t imagine living their lives. To live under the constant threat of death must be horrible. She couldn’t see that their misery paralleled her own. Up until her capture with a few others that had resulted when soldiers had raided their innocent gathering, the blonde truly believed that life was good, not great but not too horrible either. It never occurred to her that there could be anything other than Lord Xena’s rule. It had been ten years since the bloody battle had placed the Conqueror on the Corinthian throne, freeing most of Greece from the tyranny of numerous warlords and their petty squabbles. As naïve as some of her friends considered her to be, Gabrielle was nothing if not a total pragmatist. Lord Xena was the better of two evils.
Of course, she’d heard stories of the Conqueror’s brutality, but had never witnessed it herself. Until now of course, she corrected herself. Now a peaceful gathering of poets and would-be scholars had been seen as seditious, and its members labeled enemies of the state.
The blonde fingered her worn shift nervously and shuddered as she remembered the first time she’d been in Lord Xena’s presence. Regardless of what she’d been told, she was not prepared for the cold elegance of the woman. She had been all but blinded by the woman’s almost ethereal beauty, stunned by the brilliance behind piercing blue eyes, and almost hypnotized by the sensuality of her voice. At least her rags had been replaced.
Gabrielle blinked once as a quiver ran through her slight frame. There was something about the Conqueror, something that beckoned to her.
She was rudely startled from her daze with a push from behind. Nodding slowly, she moved closer to the carpeted area.
Finally reaching the first of the rugs Gabrielle glanced down at her filthy feet, and then hesitated before stepping forward. She felt a strong hand take hold of her neck, and then gasped as she was pushed slowly down onto her throbbing knees.
It took everything she had not to fall forward as her injured legs twisted, shooting shards of pain into her gut. Gabrielle swallowed deeply in her effort to quell her rebellious belly, but couldn’t quite stifle the moan that escaped from between her clenched teeth.
Blinking deeply, she concentrated on slowing her heart and respiration to more manageable levels.
‘Do not throw up, do not pass out, do not scream.’ Sparkling lights danced behind her tightly closed eyes as she felt her head pushed down.
‘The Conqueror.’ Butterflies did frantic pirouettes as she realized she would soon be in the presence of Fate herself. It was this moment in time that would determine her future,or if she indeed had one.
Moments ticked by and the sweat began to run like rivers down her back. And still the hand maintained its steely grip. Gabrielle could feel the pulse in her neck pounding in rhythm inside her skull. She felt nauseous, light headed, and almost as if the eyes in her sockets would explode.
Finally, the presence behind her shifted and the grip was removed. She all but whimpered as the blood flow returned to normal.
The tips of Gabrielle’s fingers were tingling, and it took a few seconds to realize someone had been speaking to her.
She had only a second to react as the presence behind her returned, and she was wrenched off the floor. Her legs screamed their relief as the bones all but clicked back into place, but it was a brief respite. It didn’t take long before Gabrielle realized she was a good two or three inches off the ground, dangling in space, as the pressure around her neck increased.
"I said ‘I’m waiting,’ girl."
Her mouth opened and closed, much like the cod she’d seen sold in the market place, and Gabrielle was certain that wasn’t where the resemblance ended. Her head felt as if it were going to explode, causing a red curtain to slowly descend upon her vision.
"You’ve been my guest for some time now, dissident. I’ve fed and housed you, kept you entertained, and now silence is what I’m paid?"
Confusion rolled over the young woman as she tried to understand what was being said to her. ‘Fed and housed? Entertained?’ She opened her mouth to protest but only a slight gargling sound came out. Gabrielle wondered if this was just a hallucination, and she wasn’t back in the dungeons below the castle. She flinched again as a finger was drawn across her clavicles and then along her jaw line.
A low chuckle was heard and Gabrielle cringed as she was lowered back to the ground. The pressure on her neck was slightly released, and she squeaked as she forced a cough from her still restricted throat.
"You wish to speak? To thank me, perhaps?" Purred a deep voice just behind her, causing goose flesh to appear on her arms.
Gabrielle sagged as the pressure was removed and the guard moved off to the side. She ran a shaking hand over her neck and face before finally opening her eyes.
The mind is a funny thing sometimes. Having prepared herself to see both guards on either side of her, Gabrielle was shocked to see that only one person was near by. She recoiled as her eyes focused and she realized there was someone only a few inches in front of her. A steady hand gripped her elbow as she began falling backwards, and Gabrielle recognized the chuckle. There hadn’t been a guard gripping her, only,
Her eyes widened as the Conqueror stepped back.
Xena smirked as the young woman all but swallowed her tongue with an audible click. She ran a tongue over her front teeth as she appraised the young woman before her. Although young and undoubtedly quite terrified, the petite woman was doing a fair job at maintaining a fearless façade. Xena nodded approvingly as she watched the woman steady herself, nostrils flared at the obvious pain she was enduring.
The Conqueror had been observing the young woman ever since she’d entered the castle. While it was her custom to do so, there was something about this one that had her paying closer attention than usual. She was pleased with the woman’s appearance, having no illusions as to what harsh confinement could do to a body. While exposure to the prisoners was a daily experience, one didn’t have to be subjected to the realities of filth and running sores. A moderately thick dark eyebrow rose as her eyes slowly traversed over the fine bones of the woman’s dainty features, across her narrow shoulders, and then settled at the apex of her modestly concealed cleavage. She pursed her lips. Perhaps that’s all the attraction was, a bit of unexpressed desire?
Lord Xena sucked a tooth. Her reputation for finding and bedding any and all tasty morsels in the empire was well known. While there was something slightly familiar about this one, the woman was certainly not her usual fare.
She snorted with amusement as she lifted her gaze from the swell of flesh to lock briefly with the blonde’s slightly defiant look. Her grin broadened as the blonde dropped her gaze, cheeks crimson with the knowledge she was being appraised, and perhaps found wanting.
‘Hmmm.’ Perhaps it was only the prisoner’s slightly veiled defiance that drew her?
Lord Xena always made a point of knowing everything possible about those who would come before her. The small amount of information available on the woman before her had only entertained the Conquer for a few moments at best.
She snorted as she went over the list once more. Quiet no nothing past, secret meetings, insurgent plots, caught with four other dissidents, thrown in jail, end of story. Xena had been terribly bored by it all, which had entailed alternate forms of entertainment, much to the royal guards’ chagrin. Xena smirked and flexed her large hands, enjoying the small nicks incurred during a few short impromptu bouts of hand to hand combat. Four of the six guards would have to be replaced. She detested ineptness. And boredom. A deeper wound began to seep again, and the Conqueror sucked on it noisily as she walked slowly around the prisoner.
"I’m still waiting. And I don’t like to wait."
As the Conqueror was assessing the bard, the blonde was taking her own opportunities. The brunette stood just over six feet, had very well developed musculature, and was in truth one of the most beautifully striking women the bard had ever seen. The combination of black and purple leathers accented by silver buckles further enhanced the Conqueror’s magnificence and strength. The Lord was both broad shouldered and narrow hipped, medium boned yet heavily muscled. The leathers creaked and groaned as the brawny flesh moved beneath their tight confinement, and Gabrielle felt as if she were in the presence of some large jungle cat. The Lord’s high cheekbones and almost jet-black hair indicated a mix somewhere in her ancestry, but it was the woman’s saphirine eyes that dominated this vision of cruel power. She was also very intelligent, that was clear, but judging by her treatment of others was devoid of any depth of emotions,other than indifference and rage.
‘How very sad.’
Gabrielle opened her mouth intent on clearing the air as to just how she felt about the Conqueror’s hospitality but thought better of it as the front of her bodice was seized.
"No need to open that pretty mouth again, slave. I can tell by the insolent look on your face that your very next words would be your last. We can’t have that, not when we’ve just so recently become acquainted."
Lord Xena scratched her chin thoughtfully. "I’m not quite sure what it is about you, but I’ve decided,you’ll be my diversion for the day. It will undoubtedly be a short one, I’m sure, with that pouty expression on your face getting you into more trouble than you’re worth. But I’m feeling magnanimous today. So,"
She paused, fingers curled around the loose fabric of the younger woman’s bodice, drawing her ever closer, her blue eyes blazing as cold as ice. "Entertain me, slave."
Gabrielle all but sputtered as the Conqueror pronounced her fate. She didn’t even know her name! Anger boiled up as she watched the woman smirking at her. Did her life have so little value as to be simply dismissed as ‘entertainment’? Was she to be a mere plaything for this monstrous woman? Was that the sum of her existence, her life reduced to nothing more than a dalliance, a momentary diversion?
The pain in the woman’s twisted legs was forgotten as she seethed with indignation. Her mind filled with the cruel taunts the guards had thrown at her in their efforts to elicit more than the indifference she offered them. Her repeated violation had only made her more determined to simply endure it silently, thus depriving them of any enjoyment whatsoever. A bit of pride bubbled up to join the righteousness infusing her heart as she remembered each kick, each round house blow, thinking of them as badges of honour as opposed to evidence of punishment. In the end they’d left her alone, bleeding and broken in body, but never in spirit. She would take that small victory to the grave gladly.
Xena watched as the green eyes sparked in response, denying her the pleasure of even a hint of fear. ‘We’ll see about that.’
She let a cold curtain fall over her face, the smirk dying on her suddenly cruel lips. A blank look came into the blonde’s eyes, and Xena decided on a different tactic immediately.
‘Well, if I can’t get a nice quiver of dread from the fine slip, I’ll bet I can get one of a different sort.’
She snorted softly, and brought both hands up to the nape of the woman’s neck.
"You cannot deny me, slave. I always get what I want."
Gabrielle set her jaw, and slowly willed herself to that safe place that had become a haven; that alternate universe where life was good, people were decent to each other, and the greater good was the strong thread weaving everything together.
"Oh no, we can’t have you disappear now, Gabrielle of Poteidaia."
Xena smiled as the green eyes focused and the young woman gasped.
"I know everything that happens in my realm, bard. Your secret little meetings may seem innocent to some, but we both know the truth. Knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. And in the hands of those who have no use for it? Positively life threatening."
"But, I’m not,"
"Not what, Gabrielle? Not too smart for your own good?" She pulled on the woman’s bodice a little harder, a fiery glint entering her eyes as the fabric began to tear.
Flames began to spread from her lower belly upwards as Gabrielle felt the front of her bodice ripped open and the cold rush of air play against her heated skin. Her nostrils flared as her respiration became shallow. Her vision was filled with ocean blue as the Conqueror leaned in closer and closer still.
‘What’s happening to me?’ she screamed silently. But she knew. She hadn’t been strong in her resistance against the attempts to break her. She wasn’t impervious to their pain, their taunts, and their horrors. They had simply been using the wrong bait.
Fear slowly spread, joining the self-hatred and unquenchable lust roiling beneath the surface, and Gabrielle knew her very soul was at stake.
And then she felt the soft dead lips of the Conqueror and was
Dagnine watched from the corner as Lord Xena removed the knife from her belt. The dagger was very sharp, very pointed, and he smiled, baring the usual mouthful of rotting, neglected teeth his kind was known for.
The tip of his tongue protruded as he watched the blade move slowly over the young girls pale flesh. A red line appeared as it traveled up her torso, across her shoulders, and down between her heaving breasts. He swallowed convulsively as a few drops of crimson began to ooze along the trail.
Gabrielle panted, her face contorted with both pain and pleasure as her face was gripped and her mouth violated once again.
Xena reveled in the honeyed taste of the blonde, one eyebrow arching as she heard a rustling behind her. She sucked the young woman's lower lip into her mouth, feasting upon it, and then brought a hand up to cup a firm breast. They were small but oh so inviting. She would know more of them this very night. But first,
Gabrielle gasped and opened her eyes wide as a yell was heard fifty paces away.
"Godsbedamnit, Xena! You bitch! Ah, my fucking hand!"
The dark lord dismissed the man's pain as undeserving of her attention, refusing to even turn her head. Why bother? She knew she'd hit her mark.
"A few things, Dagnine. Only trusted advisors get to call me Xena. You were not invited to share the enjoyment of my desires therefore you were denied them. Be thankful it was just your hand pinned to your thigh. Fix your trousers and get out. I’ll deal with you later."
His nostrils flared as he backed slowly out of the room, clutching his dripping hand. His leather leggings had taken most of the brunt of the blade, but his hand had been totally pierced.
'Damn her to Hades! The rumours are right...she is a monster, with eyes in back of her head and the cunning of a serpent!'
He seethed with rage as he watched Xena continue to take her pleasures. It sickened him to think that a highly passionate woman such as the Conqueror would even consider spending a minute of her time with the likes of a slave rather than be with a real man like him. She had spurned all of his advances, taking every opportunity to belittle him and debase him in front of his own men.
Couldn’t she see they’d be an unstoppable force together? Couldn’t she see he was the only one for her? He had to make her understand. Somehow.
Gabrielle's swollen lower lip trembled as she felt the fabric being removed from her shoulders. She wanted to stop this woman...this monster...she wanted to push her away, to deny the lust which bubbled up, threatening to consume her.
She squeezed her eyes shut as two callused hands moved over her exposed flesh, and willed the threatening tear away.
She would not cry for this woman. She would not give in. She would not help.
The softness of the woman’s lips surprised her. The warmth infused her, making her rethink everything she knew about the Conqueror.
‘Perhaps there was hope after all?’
"Come, precious. I think it's time for a hot bath."
She felt herself leaning forward, anticipating the next kiss, wanting it, needing it,But she would not, could not,
"And then a little fresh air to blow the stench off you. While prison is the great equalizer, it does nothing for one's keen senses."
The blonde's face reddened with the remarks, and she tried to pull away.
Xena chuckled as she pinched the hardening flesh between her fingers.
"Yes, I like fire in a woman. But before I enjoy the blaze, I'll want the surface to be at least palatable."
She gave the young woman a shove. "Now go." The lord snapped her fingers and two nubile young women came rushing into the room, bowing deeply.
"Take her away for preparation."
Gabrielle made it to the door before the first tears began to fall. It would be the first of many things denied to the conqueror.
Gabrielle lay curled up on the bed, trying to concentrate enough on settling her nerves before the Conqueror made her entrance. It seemed like hours since she’d been bathed and cleaned, dried and powdered, and then finally left to lie naked in the huge bed that dominated the ruler’s bedroom.
She had to center herself, and reach that point where nothing could touch her. If she could do it for months in the prison where there were no niceties of life, then she could do so here where satin sheets, deep pools of cleansing hot water and fresh cool air were commonplace. She had to.
Her fingers absently smoothed the shiny material beneath her as she focused on nothing. She rolled onto her back, and slowly unfurled her tired and broken body. As her mind began to clear itself of fear, Gabrielle felt more settled, more at ease with the path she would have to walk. There could be no hope for a future, no desire in her life; she had to remember who she was dealing with, and that someone was devoid of human emotions. The Conqueror was cold and distant, and incapable of understanding love let alone ever returning it.
The Conqueror stood by the door and watched as the torchlight played across the slave’s skin, all but igniting the sheets beneath her. The woman’s head seemed to be crowned with a cap of burnished gold accented with coppery strands. Xena decided she looked quite angelic laid out like an offering against the crimson altar of her bed. Part of her despised that and wanted to destroy it, while another more base part felt humbled in its presence. Either way, it made the Conqueror very unsettled.
Her lip curled with distaste at the bruises and scars that dotted the fine if somewhat wasted flesh of her slave. She slowly made her way to the bed so as not to disturb the blonde. Xena wanted to see the woman in a somewhat relaxed state, free of fear, bitterness and deceit. She wanted to slowly bring those and other negative qualities out herself, concentrating on the last to her best advantage.
Xena narrowed her eyes as the woman’s breath evened out and a feeling of tranquility seemed to radiate from where the blonde lay. That would never do. No one was that perfect, that pure, that decent.
She watched intently as her keen eyes picked up the faint pulse of blood flowing through the veins running just under the surface. Gabrielle’s skin was so pale as to be all but translucent. Xena supposed it must have been the girl’s confinement below floors. She tried to remember just how long the young woman had spent in the cold and very effective hands of her jailers. Judging by the sallow complexion, it must have been awhile.
Xena wondered at the silkiness of the woman’s skin, despite the telltale marks of confinement. She took a slow measured breath and smiled, satisfied that the unpleasant odor was removed from the slave’s body, and then lowered her lips to confirm it.
Gabrielle stiffened and her thoughts began to cloud over once more as she felt the surface of her calf kissed. Her fingers clenched the bed sheets as the flesh of her torso was nipped and licked. Her heart hammered painfully as every inch of her fevered skin was consumed.
And still she resisted.
Xena straddled the slave’s hips, writhing against the heat she found there. Taking both marbled globes into her large hands, Xena massage them to hard points, pressing them together before taking the rosy tips into her hot mouth.
Gabrielle gritted her teeth as she fought back the urge to arch up into the assault upon her breasts. The sweat ran from her as she valiantly tried to maintain control of herself. Oh, how easy it would be to give in and be carried along by the river of fire consuming her.
The Conqueror sensed the turmoil in the woman beneath her, and tried to press her advantage.
"You know you want it. You know I have what you need. Ask for it, Gabrielle."
The bard pressed her tongue tightly against the roof of her mouth, forcing herself to just look beyond it all, and find that place, that haven.
But the velvety voice got in the way. The length of the woman took her form away, molding her perfectly into parts she never believed would fit, and never knew were missing from her own soul. Every time those cold blue eyes looked at her, it was like her very skin was being stripped away, allowing the woman complete control over her.
It was both wildly exhilarating and tremendously frightening.
A shudder ran through the small frame as the Conqueror’s total weight eased down upon the slave, and Xena knew she almost had the woman. She grinned as the shaking continued, and then took a dainty earlobe between her teeth, moaning softly.
"Give yourself to me."
The bard gasped as a jolt pierced her will.
"Get up." Xena whispered as she danced the tip of her tongue along the ridge of the bard’s ear.
Gabrielle blinked with surprise as the Conqueror rolled off the bed and walked over to the large table in the middle of the room. Xena snapped her fingers and the two young women returned with trays of food and drink. The bard felt a wave of jealousy hit her as the Conqueror fondled one of the women before dismissing them both.
"Don’t make me ask again, slave. Now move!"
Gabrielle’s hands trembled as she tried to cover herself. Xena merely chuckled as she stuffed another piece of meat into her mouth.
"Why are you treating me like this? Do you have so little respect for me and yourself that you’ll just take what you want, even knowing you could have it for the asking?"
"But Gabrielle, why should I ask when I can take? Over to the wall, there." The Conqueror said between mouthfuls. Then burping loudly, she quaffed down a large goblet of wine and came towards her.
The blonde found herself being herded backwards, and lost her balance once before finding herself against a cold slab of oak.
Tears of shame came dangerously close to falling as the young woman was shackled into place. She felt violated, and totally stripped of her humanity as she lay spread-eagled. Her heart felt numb, and she wanted to scream her outrage as her body was examined.
Xena watched with interest as one tear slowly made its way down the side of the slave’s cheek.
"This isn’t exactly the type of moisture I’m expecting from you, Gabrielle."
Xena leaned in and took the slave’s face roughly in her hands, and then kissed her hungrily, greedily, leaving the young woman breathless and totally out of sorts. She was barely coherent enough to realize a hand was being pushed between her legs.
"Your body betrays you, Gabrielle. For all your purity and sanctimonious words, the evidence lies here upon my fingertips."
Gabrielle’s chin quivered as she fought the angry tears back. If she willed it hard enough, believed it long enough, even the evidence would mean nothing, nothing at all. It was like the act of breathing, done unconsciously without its owner’s permission. She could no sooner deny her passion than she could stop a breath. To deny it would be to deny her self.
"Yes, you own my passion, Conqueror, for the evidence is clear to see."
"Why do I hear a ‘but’?"
Gabrielle pulled gently on the restraints and then lifted her chin a little. "You have my passion but you shall never have me."
Xena’s chin jut forward, and she removed her long silk gown, affording the blonde a view most in her empire would kill for. Never one for modesty, the Conqueror was known for displaying her many attributes on occasion. However, complete nudity was reserved for a chosen few; those deemed worthy of the gift and other times as a means to an end.
It was strange, really. While dressed, she was the epitome of danger, malevolence and pure, undiluted power. One had only to look within her eyes to see Death’s child. Whereas while she was naked, things shifted and all that remained was raw sensuality in its most dangerous guise.
Fingering her only bodily adornment, the warrior grinned in pleasure as she saw the raw desire dancing like firelight in the slave’s open and greedy eyes as her breast ring twinkled with each step taken.
"We shall see, slave."
Gabrielle found she could hardly take a breath, so painfully beautiful was the woman before her. It was almost to hard for her to bear, and she closed her eyes in shame as her body began to respond.
She was at a loss as to why she felt as she did. Why was her head filled with thoughts of loving this woman, this heartless creature whose form would certainly rival that of Venus, but would only ever see such a gift as a weapon? What would possess her to believe that in the giving would be absolution?
Hours of endless torment had transpired as the battle of wills continued. Each different position tried left the Conqueror more frustrated than before. Her jaw was set as she lay on a few more stinging blows to the slave’s buttocks and back of thighs. Thin white stripes were evidence the woman had endured much the same before. A new tactic was in order. Xena smiled with rancor and then walked to the table, exchanging the flogger for a goblet of wine.
A fine sheen of moisture adorned the blonde’s reddened flesh, the droplets dangling like fine jewels from the tip of each breast, the point of her chin, and the delicate end of her well-defined nose. The Conqueror watched as a shudder ran through the slave, feeling both frustration and a grudging respect for the woman.
Xena sipped absently, her thoughts filled with ways to break this insolent slave. What had seemed a mildly amusing way to spend the day was becoming slightly more than she had bargained for. Why didn’t she just have the guards take the brat away? She fingered the jeweled dagger on the table. What’s more, why didn’t she just kill the bitch herself and be done with it?
She poured more wine and tried to wrap her mind around things. Why was it so important to break this girl? And why was she feeling guilty for trying to do just that? She was the Conqueror; everyone was there to do her bidding, not to refuse her!
Xena’s head snapped up and she found herself caught by the sorrowful and forgiving eyes of her slave.
"Why do you look at me with pity, girl? I could pluck those damning eyes from your pretty face and then where would you be? How dare you feel anything but gratitude for your ruler? You live to serve me in whatever fashion I deem fit. You’ve only lived this long because,"
She paused, a look of confusion tempering the anger welling up inside.
"Why am I still alive? You must know that I am no threat to anyone." Gabrielle lay her forehead against the oak boards and caught her breath.
"Once you conquer me, my lord, then what? Will you become bored and require a new plaything? I’m a human being, not a toy."
Xena glared at the young woman, and then began removing the restraints.
"You’re a slave, and nothing more."
Her hands moved slowly over the reddened flesh of the slave’s back, and then she ground her hips against Gabrielle’s heated buttocks, enjoying the responding whimper.
The bard sagged painfully against the oak as the tension in her arms and legs was released. Then she yelped in surprise and pain as the Conqueror turned her over and shackled her back into place.
"There is no reprieve, slave. You have been judged guilty of a crime against the state and the punishment is mine to mete out. And judging by the light in the sky, we are far from done. Before this night is over, you will be mine."
Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly as she thought of her future. Her time in the prison was over, and certain death was all she could look forward to. Releasing a small sigh, she began to relax. There was something to be said for that, after all.
She had been taken, but had not given in. Her control, although wavering, was still her own. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle settled herself against the wood in preparation for more brutality.
Xena stood admiring the flesh before her. There was something about this woman, something that beckoned to her. Her instincts to succor and protect this young waif kept bubbling up as she continued to take her pleasures. It was not an unpleasant feeling, but it was confusing nonetheless.
She sighed with frustration, pushing the uneasiness away, and drank deeply from the goblet.
The bard swallowed painfully as a few crimson rivulets coursed down either side of the Conqueror’s mouth and splashed against her proud bosom. Xena lifted an eyebrow quizzically knowing full well the slave would refuse the Burgundy, and smiled wickedly.
"Do you disdain the liquid or merely the vessel, Gabrielle?" The blonde moaned piteously as Lord Xena offered up a full breast, tantalizingly close to her lips.
Her eyes rolled back before closing as one dusky nipple caressed her lip, and again Gabrielle’s body defied her. Xena’s nostrils flared as a combination of the woman’s desire and the creaking of straining leather hit her hard. She all but moaned herself as the blonde finally succumbed and opened her mouth to suckle.
The goblet clattered to the floor and the warrior’s two callused hands wove their way into the golden tresses as she pressed her flesh deeper into the woman’s eager mouth.
"Yes, Gabrielle." Xena’s breath caught in her throat as she tilted her head back in response to the deep pull.
A deep moan issued from the lord’s mouth as teeth surrounded the ring. It felt so right having this woman giving her such sweet attention. She wanted to feel the bard moving against her, bestowing her love,Images of her sweet infant son filled her mind, and the Conqueror breathed in the warmth of its purity.
The scent of the Conqueror’s skin was a mixture of jasmine and gingiber, and each breath seemed to make Gabrielle more light headed than before. A trembling had begun in her battered knees, and soon the bard was shaking as with fever.
Xena felt the slave’s body collapse against her, and pulled away carefully, easing the blonde’s damp face to the side. She noted the pale complexion and fluttering eyelids, and correctly deduced the young woman was in some sort of swoon.
Stepping back, the Conqueror went to the table and sipped her wine, lost in thought. Strange feelings were becoming mixed up with her carnal emotions, and she was at a loss as to how to proceed. Pulling her long fingers through her tangled mane, Xena pondered the word she’d just used. Love? That was for fools, and she was no fool.
Steeling herself from examining her turbulent emotions any closer, the Conqueror glanced at the limp form chained to the wall. She looked to be reasonably healthy and strong. Had the woman been below floors in the dungeon, her treatment would have been much harsher. Perhaps she was being too lenient, holding herself back for some reason?
Her skin pebbled as her body began to cool down. Sweeping her long hair out of her face, Xena stood and put on her gown. Pouring more wine, she quaffed the contents of the goblet and then began to prepare the fireplace. As the flames started to flicker, the Conqueror thought back to another time, another place.
She remembered sitting in a very large room, surrounded by silken pillows and fancy screens. The air had been warm and sweet with the scent of jasmine wafting over everything. Xena found herself smiling as she relived the softly tapered, long and eloquent fingers of the concubine on her skin. No one before or since had been able to bring her to such ecstasy. Time with the oriental woman had been well spent, with lessons well learned.
As she closed her eyes, Xena could still see the pale jade of Lao Ma’s eyes. The woman had been a living contradiction: a powerful student of the martial arts, she had resorted to the use of force only sparingly, preferring the mental challenge of intellectual sparring. Xena had found the spiritual aspects of the courtesan tedious at best, immersing herself completely in the soft and giving nature of the woman instead.
Lao Ma had been a gift to her by the Emperor of Ch’in. Ming Tsu had been a very autocratic man, comparing his worth with that of the gods. Such a large obstacle became hard to ignore, and even harder to deal with, but a task ultimately enjoyed as she set about his removal. Such detestable posturing was to be reviled, not applauded; even her fealty to Ares was forced. Xena had taken much pleasure in seeing the Emperor’s last moments on earth filled with searing pain as she reminded him of his mortality. Her brutal treatment of the man had caused a rift between she and the concubine, who had insisted that all life was sacred and that blood was not to be spilled needlessly.
Xena remembered many scenes where the Emperor had publicly humiliated the woman, and yet Lao Ma had remained silent and serene. The warrior had taken that as a sign of weakness, that she had been afraid to defend herself against such disgrace. It had taken Xena many months to fully appreciate the patience and fortitude required ignoring the Emperor’s impudent ways, and dealing with more important things underlying at the core.
Xena rubbed her chin as she remembered her own treatment of the woman. Lao Ma had offered her tranquility, purpose, and absolution. She had refused all with a sneer. A small twinge of guilt niggled at her belly, and for the first time in three years, Xena wondered what had become of the porcelain beauty.
She rubbed callused hands over her eyes, as if forcing the images of their parting away. After publicly dismissing her in shame, the royal houses had shunned her as well. It became known that Lao Ma, ex-mistress of the slain Emperor, dismissed because of dissatisfaction, could not keep a foreign barbarian woman happy either. This had undoubtedly caused the woman a great loss of face, and yet Xena hadn’t even thought twice about it. Until now.
Xena couldn’t put her finger on what she was feeling. It was sorrow, surely, but something more. The breath caught in her chest as she remembered the look on the woman’s face. It had been one of betrayal, Xena knew that now. At the time, the warrior took it to mean something quite different. Lao Ma had been too demanding, asking for something that Xena very little about. They had shared companionship, and a great deal of sex, but it hadn’t been enough. The warrior had been too caught up in the politics of expanding her sphere of influence to be concerned with love or friendship. The concubine had told Xena that in time, she would fulfill her destiny and find both, but she hadn’t told the warrior what it was.
She rubbed her hands together briskly, and then went back to the table for more wine.
"Destiny. Men make their own destiny. It’s not for the gods, and not just a matter of throwing the dice either." Her head spun with the jumble of thought she’d heard the concubine speak of. Duty, loyalty and love. If these were things Lao Ma prized above all, she must have been sorely disheartened when none were forthcoming from her companion. The thought was like a harsh slap across her face.
"Why did she expect so much from me? If you believe the very worst, then you are never disappointed." Nodding in agreement, she quaffed more wine.
Her belly rumbled as she spied the food tray. Popping bits of succulent venison and lamb into her mouth had her growling with pleasure. She ate a few more mouthfuls before returning to the slave.
The blonde’s head moved almost imperceptibly, and the Conqueror took hold of the woman’s chin. The bard’s mouth was slack and the pupils moved sluggishly beneath the lids. The woman’s skin was slightly blue, and very cool to the touch. Xena thought it best to just leave the slave where she was, the servants dealing with her in the morning.
Dismissing the woman from her mind, she turned away, her thoughts already on more important issues, such as whether she should partake of more food and wine before, during, or after a hot bath.
Gabrielle looked across the campfire, puzzled to see the smiling face of the Conqueror, and wondered when they’d left the castle. She watched as the woman talked animatedly about her life as a warlord, and all but gasped as Xena described giving her only son up to her enemies for safe keeping. The firelight caught a tear as it slowly made its way down the Conqueror’s fine jaw, and Gabrielle longed to experience it on the tip of her tongue.
She watched herself move around to the other side of the fire, and it was only then that she realized there was no pain, no disfigured and misshapen legs that she was forced to live with. She wanted to thank the gods for the miracle, but was unable to do anything more than observe the play she found herself a part of.
The feeling of total ease swept over her as the Conqueror took her into strong loving arms, kissing her forehead with love and acceptance, and Gabrielle wanted to weep with joy. It was this bond that was missing from her life. Her only attempt at happiness had been dismal when she’d finally married the local boy who had proven to be much better at plowing the fertile fields of the local taverns than tend the crops at home. The only good thing to come out of their union had been when the physical abuse forced her to seek intellectual stimulation with others of like mind. Although it had brought her into the direct path of imprisonment and certain death, the bard could no sooner regret the life that she’d chosen than she could cease to think or feel.
She watched as another tear leaked from the warrior’s unblinking eye, and then embraced the woman fully. Although there was some resistance, Gabrielle could feel the honest emotions between them.
"I love you, Xena."
Xena worked the cloth over her shoulders and then eased back into the water. Sighing contentedly, she began working the soap between each toe, flinching as her body spasmed in response. The wound in her hand was next, and the Conqueror nodded with satisfaction at the rate of healing. She sucked a little on the nick and thought of a certain blonde’s eager mouth. A sneer twisted her well-sculpted lips as she thought of another who would like to be in the bard’s place.
"Damned Dagnine. How dare he profess his undying love to me. Weasel. As if I’d have anything to do with the cur." A shudder ran through her glistening body as she soaped herself again. She drank more wine, as if purging her mouth from even speaking his name.
"He wanted my heart, well, I gave him something else instead." She chortled as she thought of the mark he’d forever wear.
Her eyes glassed over as she contemplated other marks she’d left on those who would own her. No, she did the owning. Her nostrils flared as she thought of the sweet blonde in the other room. Oh, how she wanted to leave her mark on that woman. Her teeth gleamed in the candlelight as she imagined the succulent flesh offered up for the taking. Blue eyes flashed once before closing as the Conqueror played with her nipple ring. She could almost taste the trail of fire she’d emblazon upon the marbled skin of the bard.
She growled deeply as both hands began to bring bronzed flesh to taut peaks.
Her reverie was interrupted as a muffled noise was heard in the other room. Stepping silently from the bath, Xena grabbed a nearby dagger and eased back into her darkened bedroom.
A few of the candles had gone out, and yet her keen eyesight could discern no danger. Moving quickly forward, Xena could see that the slave was twisting in her restraints as she attempted to come back to full consciousness.
"So, the child awakens?" Dropping the knife onto the table, she grabbed another goblet. Scowling deeply, Xena examined the contents, and reached for more wine. The bottle was all but empty, and the warrior was tempted to rouse her lazy house slaves for more.
Her ears perked up as the young woman began to speak.
"Speak up, slave."
The blonde murmured again, her words a muddle.
"I can be of use to you,I can foretell the future,don’t leave me,"
Xena shook the woman’s chin, but got no response. Lifting her hand in frustration, the Conqueror stilled her stroke as she finally made sense of part of what the woman was saying.
"What do you mean, don’t leave you behind?" She snorted derisively.
"You my dear, are caught up in some sort of delirium. One I’m sure I can bring you out of."
Xena pushed the frail shoulders back, forcing the blonde’s head up, and then bestowed a deep kiss upon the slave. Her loins ignited once more as the bard began to respond.
Xena’s eyes fluttered closed as the blonde began to dominate the kiss, gasping as her mouth was invaded and conquered. She pushed herself against the petite body, grinding her pelvis against the lower belly of her slave. Both women moaned in response.
The Conqueror barely noted the familiarity, choosing to focus on the electricity produced from hearing her name spoken, and the tingling of her scalp as their lips met.
Gabrielle moaned in frustration as she strained against her bonds, so close but unable to touch the woman against her. She cried out softly as the Conqueror’s muscled thigh came into contact with her damaged legs.
The bard could see them in their bedroll, the flames highlighting every plane of the woman’s bronzed flesh. She could see the love shining up from the woman beneath her, a golden curtain descending as she bent down for another sweet kiss.
"Oh gods, Xena,let me hold you. I need to touch you."
Xena nodded as her mouth was covered again, swallowing up any thought other than sharing herself with this woman.
Her skin seemed to tingle as the bard moaned against her. She found herself wanting to give so much to the woman. There was so much pain and sorrow in her life. Perhaps,
"Yes, Gabrielle,yes." Her eyes closed again as she felt her lower lip feasted upon, and she began to rhythmically move against the smaller woman’s thigh.
The pain became intense, dragging Gabrielle up from the depths of her self imposed dreamscape. Fear gripped her as she fought with the realization that it was all a dream; the woman in her arms was not the warm and loving person she’d been making love with, but a cold hearted killer, taking her much as the guards had.
"No! Don’t you touch me!" She pulled back from the Conqueror’s embrace, her green eyes spitting fire, and then collapsed as the truth of her reality slammed into her.
Xena stood, mouth agape, eyes bright with unshed tears as she recognized the look of pure hatred play across the blonde’s face before falling back into unconsciousness.
"Oh my gods," The Conqueror stumbled back as she felt the keen loss of the look this hateful one had replaced. There was such warmth, such unconditional love there,for her. A sob rose up from her throat, and Lord Xena dropped slowly to her knees.
She would never know that look, never earn such abiding love in her lifetime. The realization cut her to the quick, and she mourned her cold and empty existence.
Xena wiped her eyes angrily, tamping down the emotions as best she could. What was wrong with her? How dare a slave make her feel like this!
She dragged herself up and sat heavily in the chair. The blonde moaned a little, whispering small one-syllable words, barely discernable. The Conqueror’s breath caught again as she heard her name spoken with reverence. After all the torture Gabrielle had endured below floors, all the abuse she’d endured at her hands,
Lord Xena stretched out her trembling hands, and stared at them, as if they might yield up some sort of truth she could hold onto. It was her duty as the law of the land to mete out punishment. The girl was guilty. Wasn’t she?
The Conqueror was filled with confusion. Judgement had always been dispensed at the end of a sword. Her loyalty was in the service of violence and brutality. It was all she’d ever known.
Clenching her hands into fists, the Conqueror sat alone, impervious to the cold night air, kept warm by her own confusing self-hatred.
"What of love? If my destiny consists of all three, where is the love?" Somehow knowing that her destiny was already fulfilled was of little comfort. Surely there was more to her life than,this?
At some point, she found herself holding the young bard carefully against her chest, trying to ease the pain they both felt.
Gabrielle wept in agony as the Lord released her from the oak, and tenderly carried her to the large bed. After meticulously settling the bard under the covers and tucking her in, the Conqueror threw on a long satin shift and began pacing the area around her bed.
Lord Xena looked down upon the damp face of the blonde and felt a tightening in her chest. She looked so forlorn, so weak. The warrior blinked slowly and then passed a tired hand over an equally tired pair of eyes.
Gabrielle groaned and began to flail weakly.
The Conqueror flinched as her name slipped off the bard’s tongue. It was said with such care, with such emotion. Xena shook the cobwebs from her mind as the amount of wine consumed began to take their toll.
What did she know of aiding someone in pain? She was well practiced in the giving of pain, not the release from it. She growled in frustration. How could she help this woman if she didn’t know how?
"Alright, think Xena. You’re on the battlefield, one person down. What do you do?" She pounded her fist into the palm of her hand. Leave them. Kill them. Move on.
"Fine, what if you can’t leave them?" Both eyebrows shot up. That had never come up in all the time she’d been a warrior. It was a given. You had an objective, you met force with force, you pushed forward, and you won the battle. Very little time or energy would be spent on sick or dying soldiers. You couldn’t afford to molly coddle the men, it was a sign of weakness.
"If it was a king or a queen you were protecting, then. Now what?" Xena scratched her head. When was the last time she’d been a mercenary hired to protect royalty?
"Shite. Alright, so she’s a family member then." The frown disappeared. Well now, this was something she could deal with. What if it was Solon on the bed? She looked down at the restless blonde and pictured a small baby there. How many years had it been since she’d seen her son? Ten, eleven, fourteen?
She sighed morosely, yawned, and walked over to the table. Pushing the empty bottles away, she grunted as her eyes settled on a pitcher of water. Grabbing a crystal goblet, she filled it to the brim and then drank it down. Xena wiped the back of her hand against her mouth, and then refilled the goblet.
"So, let’s pretend it’s Solon here, and he’s sick. Well, I’d make certain he were comfortable, of course. I cannot summon the healer for a,slave, but she needs attention." Xena bit the end of her finger.
"Ah!" Snapping her fingers, she eased forward and tried to touch the goblet to the bard’s lips. Unfortunately, the glass was at such an angle that it tipped the contents over the brim.
The Conqueror cursed as the liquid spread across the sheet covering the young woman. Gabrielle looked dazed as she tried to focus on what was happening around her.
Her head fell back onto the pillow as the room began to spin.
"I thought,perhaps you were thirsty."
It took a second or two, but then Gabrielle was able to pry her tongue from the roof of her mouth.
"Yes, I am. Thank you, Conqueror."
Xena nodded slowly, feeling a little disappointed that the young woman had stopped using her given name. ‘Well, it isn’t as if we are friends.’ An eyebrow came up. ‘Friends? I don’t think I’ve had any of those’. Regret blossomed up again as she thought of Lao Ma.
"Would you like more?"
Seeing as she hadn’t had any, the blonde nodded, and then watched as the Conqueror came back to the bed with another cupful.
Xena stood there, glass held out.
Gabrielle blinked, and tried to focus. Was it her eyes or was the Conqueror so very far away?
The weak smile began to falter on the warrior’s lips. Now what? She stuck her finger into the goblet. The water was cool. She held it out again and then frowned as the woman remained where she was.
Gabrielle could all but taste the water held out to her. The ruler was waiting for something, but for the life of her, the bard couldn’t understand exactly what that was.
Xena thought about the young woman in her bed. When had she stopped thinking of her as a criminal, a lowly slave, and started thinking of her as someone to be cared for? She blinked as the blonde struggled to prop herself up, peeling the sodden fabric away from her body.
Her heart lurched as bite marks were revealed along with a myriad of bruises and other cuts. For the first time in a very long while, the Conqueror felt shame.
The bard winced as the Conqueror clenched her fists. Then she remembered: they had unfinished business. Gritting her teeth, she eased her legs out, wrapped herself in the damp sheet, and got unsteadily to her feet.
"The dawn is but a few hours away, Conqueror." Gabrielle limped over and gratefully took the goblet from the larger woman’s hands. With little hesitation, she quickly brought it to her lips and drank greedily.
Xena reached a hand out to steady the woman as a coughing fit ensued, but was rebuffed as the blonde flinched, and took a step backwards.
A few more sips and the bard had consumed the liquid, placing it carefully on the table before heading back towards the far wall.
Xena frowned, wondering what the young woman was doing. The way she was tottering, it would only be a matter of time before she blacked out again. She followed, careful not to get too close, thereby making Gabrielle flinch again. Each distant look received from the bard stabbed at her heart, making her feel very small inside. It wasn’t a feeling she enjoyed.
Gabrielle bit her lower lip, took a deep breath, and then let the sheet pool at her ankles.
Lord Xena furrowed her brow as she watched the woman take her place against the oak, trying very hard not to stare as Gabrielle’s nipples hardened before her eyes. She tried to make eye contract, but failed miserably as she watched the woman pull into herself.
The absence of the woman’s presence felt like a physical blow, and the Conqueror stepped closer, placing her hand on the woman’s cheek.
"No don’t go, Gabrielle. Please, stay with me?"
Gabrielle’s eyes cleared slowly, and she looked at the Conqueror expectantly. Why wasn’t she being shackled? Surely, the woman didn’t expect her to do it herself?
"Why? I have no intentions of falling for any new games. So you know about me. All right, fine. I thought perhaps I was a faceless stranger to you, but discovering that you’ve known something about me from the very first makes this more personal, more brutal."
Xena swallowed the lump in her throat as she watched the blonde fiddle with the restraints.
"You,you don’t have to do that, Gabrielle."
The bard snorted softly.
"Look, dawn will be here in another few hours, and then you can be rid of me. I know I have no right to ask, but,"
Xena tilted her head quizzically, and then it dawned on her. She believed her life was over when the sun rose. Her left eye began to twitch as the woman fingered her own nipples, and then slowly moved her legs into the restraints.
"If I make it a good show, will you be,merciful, when the time comes?"
Well, wasn’t it going to be just as the young woman believed? Hadn’t she planned on raping her for hours? Wasn’t her intent to glean every bit of pleasure from this young woman’s body, and then disposing of her as soon as she was finished?
Gabrielle watched the muscles in the larger woman’s jaw working and flinched back as both biceps bulged.
Shrinking back against the oak, she whimpered.
"No, please,I’m sorry. I had no right to request anything."
Lord Xena turned quickly, squeezing her eyes tightly, and focused on just keeping herself under control. She moved to her armoire with measured steps, donned a pair of black leather pants, jerkin and boots, and then stormed over to the door.
Xena stopped in her tracks, but didn’t turn around. She waited, every fibre of her body coiled tightly, like a hair trigger just waiting for release.
"I’m sorry I’ve displeased you. Shall I,shall I await your return or am I to be dealt with now?"
Xena had the overwhelming urge to face the woman. She would beat her senseless, torment her sexually for hours, leaving her abused body on the floor like so many others before her. Like so much detritus. Because she could, because it felt like a nice white noise, blotting out all of the torment, all of the fear and self loathing, allowing her to just feel,nothing.
With her heart hammering in her chest, the Conqueror slipped on her leather bracers, pushed wide the double doors, and disappeared like a phantom in the night.
A combination of Gabrielle’s trusting yet accusing look hit her like a physical blow as the events of the last twenty-four hours played through the Conqueror’s mind. She burned as memories of reddened flesh seared into her brain, leaving her feeling cold and weak. Xena blinked the sweat from her eyes and then dodged what would have been a bone breaking punch. The scent of the woman, and the soft, loving touch of her mouth left the Conqueror trembling with each beat of her disordered heart.
Both men came at her, sensing her indecisiveness, intent on causing as much damage as possible. Part of her reveled in the knowledge that this was an all out war, and yet the Conqueror knew that she was already at a disadvantage, her attention split between where she wanted to be and what she had to do. After having one kick blocked, Dagnine spun on his heel, raised his elbow sharply, and caught the warrior squarely on the point of her chin. Xena saw stars as her head snapped back with the force of the blow and the practice field spun dizzily as she dropped slowly to one knee.
"Thracis, give Lord Xena something to drink. Perhaps her night with the slave has been too much?"
Xena grunted as she got to her feet, and spit a mouthful of blood out before taking a deep pull of the skin. She blinked as the contents were noted.
"Wine this early in the morning, Dagnine? One would think you were trying to press the advantage."
Both men grinned wickedly and watched as the Conqueror slowly made her way over to the bench.
"One could suppose it would logically follow, my lord, that you might be in a depleted state after a night of frivolity. It is our duty to winnow out any weakness and seize upon it, is it not?"
Xena began removing her greaves, and then took another long pull of the wine skin. She shook herself vigorously as the wine hit her empty belly.
"I like you, Thracis; you have potential."
The two men waited as the woman began slowly braiding her long hair into a thick plait.
"Since you feel there is a weakness, please feel free to act upon that assumption."
The men narrowed their eyes as the Conqueror turned her back to them and commenced checking her boots and leathers, seeing that each lace was taut, each buckle was cinched, and that her hair would not further impede her vision.
Dagnine nodded and gestured for his companion to move to the right, while he in turn made his way left. Thracis smiled as the woman began humming a bit. The Conqueror must have imbibed quite a bit to be in such a state. He scratched the back of his neck as he thought of the comely wench undoubtedly still lying in the lord’s bed.
He covered a yawn and flexed his hands. Dawn was still busy threading red fingers across the sky, and they’d been sparring for a good two hours previous. Regardless of the slight beating the woman was taking, there wasn’t one bit of him that didn’t fervently wish that he too could have the excuse of being sexually overtaxed. He had thought being Dagnine’ second would afford him some leeway with the women. He’d been wrong; no one came willingly to the Lieutenant’s bed. And while there was something to be said for taking what you wanted, he enjoyed the times when women gladly fell into his arms and stayed for more than the threat of a knife in their bellies.
His jaw tensed as he watched the play of muscles move across the lord’s shoulders. She was so confident, so terribly capable, making things look so damnedably easy. He and the rest of the guard were just playthings for the Conqueror. She took great glee in pointing out their shortcomings in such a way as to leave them in pain for days. The skin over his right shoulder trembled as the memory of his first combat encounter with the Conqueror popped into his head.
Having his clavicle broken and his shoulder dislocated had been painful enough to endure, but it had been nothing compared to the pain and humiliation she had subjected him to in her recounting of the tears she’d seen on his face afterwards. It had taken him some time to live that moment down having to prove himself constantly as man after man sought to better their position through his perceived weakness. He’d gotten stronger since then, he’d had no choice.
With a sneer, he pushed his matted hair off of his face and then moved forward.
A small evil grin curled up the corner of Xena’s mouth as she heard the two men advancing towards her. She made a point of groaning as she bent to inspect her bootlaces again. Her keen hearing detected a slight rustling and she shook out the tension in her arms.
"Ah, ah, ah Dagnine. This is to be unarmed hand to hand combat only. Unless you relish the thought of displaying a matching wound in the other hand, I’d suggest you drop the daggers."
Dagnine cursed silently, and dropped one of the daggers carelessly onto the ground, all the while burning holes into the Conqueror’s back with his jet black eyes. He had a score to settle with the bitch, and he meant to even things up, if only a little. He’d take the victories where he could find them.
He snorted derisively as she took another swig from the skin. Yes, the night must have been vigorous indeed, and Lord Xena very weary, for them to have gotten in as many strikes as they had. He smiled thinking about the tooth she’d spat out earlier. There would be more where that came from. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so many waiting in line to enter the bitch’s bed after a few perfections were eliminated. He pursed his lips as he thought of how quickly the woman healed, and how very hard it was to leave her scarred. Yes, she was a well-oiled inhuman specimen, just his kind of woman.
Anger seethed just below the surface as he thought of the Conqueror cavorting with the wench that he’d seen in the foyer. His nostrils fluttered as he remembered the blonde’s delicious breasts popping free of her bodice. Lord Xena had impeccable taste in women, granted, but her propensity for winning their ardent ways was severely cutting down on any chances the rest of them had. He clenched his fists and then winced as the wound in his hand throbbed painfully. When was the last time he’d had a beautiful woman in his bed? Only the comely ones seemed to warrant any protection as the more popular officers held court. That left him with the dregs, and they were becoming tiresome. He’d almost gutted the last one, as she lay all but comatose, waiting for him to finish. He gripped his second dagger as visions of the great Lord Xena down on her knees, hands stretching out in reverence as he unbuckled his pants swam before his eyes.
And then a black boot slammed into his forehead, and he found himself sailing across the field. Xena smirked as the other blade fell into the mud.
Thracis dodged a roundhouse blow, and then gritted his teeth as the Conqueror’s boot came in contact with his left side. He moved back trying to think of a new strategy, but the woman pressed forward, throwing him off balance as she rained blow after blow upon his head and shoulders.
He managed to get in a body shot before his wrist was seized painfully, and then stars filled his vision as her head impacted on his own. Staggering backwards, he noted the arrival of two more men onto the field.
"Dimitri, Prastin!" Both men dropped their lances and raced in his direction.
Xena grinned and waited as the three of them began circling her.
"Yes, please do join our little party, gentlemen. The more the merrier."
The cockier one of the two newcomers hunched his shoulders and came at her. She easily dodged his blow and smashed her elbow into his face, pushing his grasping hands away as he went down. The other two made brief eye contact as they saw her momentarily distracted and then took her head on.
Xena oofed as the wind was forced from her lungs and grunted with surprise as she felt her breasts being mauled.
"Always press the advantage."
The Conqueror winced again as Thracis’ meaty hand grabbed another handful and then her breath caught as she felt a sharp pain in her left side. With a roar, she centered her focus and rebounded in her attack.
A small whine seeped from between slack lips as one man rolled over clutching his groin and then Thracis found himself pinned on his back in the mud, the woman’s strong thighs all but crushing his hips.
"Always," replied the Conqueror.
"One must know exactly where their opponent’s weaknesses are, Thracis." She dug her strong fingers into his shoulder joint and grinned cruelly as he screamed in pain.
"Yes, I thought this was the right shoulder."
Her eyes scanned the field as the crowd that had gathered began to disperse. She locked eyes with a few of the bolder ones, and wiped her hands on her leathers as she slowly got to her feet.
"This is a regular training day, boys, and unless you’re waiting for your turn, I’d suggest you pair off and go about your business." One man stepped forward and Xena smiled.
"Good. Come along then." Taking a defensive stance, she gestured him forward with one hand, smiling all the while. Two more joined the first and Xena decided a lesson had to be learned. She wiped the mud from her face, and smirked as she noticed a smear of blood.
"Just because your opponent is unarmed, and looks to be injured, it would do you well to remember that appearances can be deceiving."
With a short cry, she leapt forward, jabbing her stiff fingers into the neck of one man, rotated her left leg backwards, pivoting the heel, and sent a next man reeling with a broken nose.
One of the two men left standing backed away, hands held up in defeat, while the other grinned and pulled a knife from his boot sheath.
"I’m going to cut you, bitch. You think yer all that and more. Even if ya do beat me, I’ll have the pleasure of knowin’ I marked ya."
He began slicing figure eight’s into the air in front of the Conqueror. One eyebrow lifted as Xena relaxed and dropped her hands to her sides.
"Another lesson to be learned, of course, is that one should never,"
She waited as the man moved closer.
",Use a weapon," Xena grabbed the man’s right hand painfully and watched as the grin left his lips.
",As a threat, your main objective being intimidation, knowing that to do so might mean your very life. Pulling a knife means you intend to still your opponents heart any way you can. And pulling a knife on me,"
She shoved the dagger up suddenly, pushing the blade deeply between the man’s ribs and then watched as the look of surprise changed to one of sorrow.
",Is just foolhardy, because the use of weapons are never a threat, they’re a promise."
She held the man against her as warmth spread across her leathers, and watched as the light began leaving his eyes.
"I see you’ve learned this particular lesson, haven’t you? Too bad you won’t be able to apply it."
And with that, she released him, and glared at the crowd that had gathered.
"If you use a weapon against someone, know for a certainty that you are willing to die taking his or her life. This isn’t a game, gentlemen. We cannot afford to be soft, pulling our punches, and playing wooden soldiers. Some of you will prove yourselves and go on to become my elite. Others will act as fodder. It’s up to you which one you’d prefer."
She nodded as a few of her trusted Lieutenants came onto the field.
"My liege! Are you hurt?" Xena looked down at the blood dripping from her chest and belly.
"No, Andros. It’s not my blood." He nodded and then gritted his teeth.
"You shouldn’t be sparring without seconds nearby, Lord Xena. The men can sometimes be,rambunctious. You know of the civil unrest, my lord. It would take nothing for someone to place an assassin on the training field."
Xena shook her plait free, and grabbed her weapons as they were offered.
"It is your job to make sure my palace is free from assassins, Andros. But no matter; if I cannot defend myself, then I’m not fit to rule."
"My liege, please. You don’t understand how hard it is. While it’s true you’ve ruled this land fairly, it has been done with an iron fist. There are many displeased with your methods."
Blue ice glinted as she turned to face him.
"You and Christo are like old women, Andros. The people, for the most part, love me. How can they not? I’ve made their land free from tyranny, strife, and slaughter. Their children grow fat by the efforts of this iron fist, and you would both do well to remember it."
Christo gave the Conqueror a sullen look and pulled at his friend’s jerkin.
"By your leave, milord."
The Conqueror nodded her head as Christo bowed curtly and left.
"Hold, Andros. I need some questions answered. Belacos is in charge of recruiting the troops, is he not?" She grunted with his affirmation.
"Make sure he realizes there are to be stricter induction rules from now on. My days of accepting riff-raff are long since gone, Andros. I want my men to be sharp, battle ready and loyal. This recent lot has none of those qualities. Get rid of them. Now."
"Yes milord." He cleared his throat.
"Lord Xena, you seem to be,bleeding."
She pursed her lips tightly when her right hand came away from her side sticky with blood.
"Yes, I know. Just a nick, I’m sure, and nothing a little catgut won’t fix." One black brow rose dangerously as the man opened his mouth to protest. "Alright, send the healer to my rooms." She sighed dramatically.
"Bloody nursemaids. I remember tending to my own wounds. Never needed a healer back then, and I probably don’t need one now. Yes, in fact belay that order, Andros. I’ll tend to the problem myself."
She held one hand up, the set of her jaw brooking no arguments.
"Tell the healer to drop his kit by my sitting room sometime this afternoon. I have things to attend to."
Andros nodded and then cleared his throat again.
"Spit it out, man. Are you sick, or do you have something to say?"
Andros scrubbed his square jaw with the back of his hand, and coughed again.
"You’re a good man, Andros, but if you don’t tell me what’s on your mind right now, I’ll seriously consider replacing you as my second. I need someone I can trust, and someone who isn’t afraid to speak plainly with me. I thought you were that man."
Andros swallowed the lump in his throat, determined not to irritate the Conqueror with any further hesitation. Although trust wasn’t something he was sure Lord Xena had a great abundance of in her life, he was honoured that she felt he warranted even a small measure of whatever she did have.
"Milord, it’s about the slave."
Lord Xena’s expression remained stony as the man continued, although in reality a tightening of her abdominal muscles was occurring. She had tried to blot out any thought of the woman, punishing her body with endless drills, and baiting Thracis and Dagnine with any sort of distraction she could. Xena probed the vacant spot where a back molar had been. Yes, they had acted true to form. She knew of their deep abiding hatred of her, and was only too happy to foster it. If the men were openly plotting and collaborating against her, they were less likely to be trusted by the others, those who may have their own political axes to grind, but were unwilling to draw public attention to themselves. People like Andros and Christo performed the necessary clandestine services needed to make sure the two factions didn’t end up in bed together.
Andros watched carefully as the Conqueror tried to hide the pain that was becoming obviously more intense as she tried to draw breath. He was both glad and surprised the woman had even considered the aid of a healer. He bit his lip as he realized just how bad the wound must be if she had given in so easily. Thinking about the terrible bloodshed the resulting civil war would cause made his scrotum shrivel. Images of his own battered remains hanging from a cross flittered briefly in front of him before he blinked it away. That was assuming there would be anything left of his body after the numerous torture sessions, of course.
"What about her?"
The Captain shuddered as his imagination continued down the same merry path. He knew there would be no stone unturned by the Conqueror’s many enemies to obliterate every man, woman and child connected with her reign. Andros was one of the few men who had been with Lord Xena from the beginning. The rest were firmly ensconced in Hades’ cruel embrace. Only he and Dagnine had survived. There was very little love lost between the two of them, Andros being privy to the majority of the skeletons jangling in the man’s closet. He was a man who knew too much, a fact that kept him ever vigilant in his dealings with the troops.
Images of he and those loyal to the Conqueror trussed up on crosses over the land were horrible, but what Dagnine and his henchmen would do to Lord Xena made him want to run blindly into the night, seeking what little solace he could find in the arms of madness. Such beauty, such strength, such courage,such a damnedable waste, languishing here in a prison of her own making, and such a sin against the gods in the hands of her numerous enemies. His heart seemed to stop as the lord reached out to touch his shoulder.
"Come along, man, why do you quiver and shake like an old man. She isn’t that horrible. Obstinate, brooding and strong willed, but all the more,comely, for it." Both sets of eyebrows rose as the words left Xena’s lips. Just what did this woman mean to the Conqueror?
"I see. I only ask because the lord’s chamberlain was dismissed last night, the weekly appointment cancelled without cause, and today you seem quite distracted. I’ve not seen you in such shape after a morning in the practice field in a very long time."
"Are you suggesting that perhaps I’ve had too much to drink, that perhaps my evening didn’t go as planned? She’s just a stupid girl who’s more trouble than she is worth. And since when did I need an excuse not to see Mikos, or anyone else for that matter? I think you presume too much, Andros."
The dangerous glint had returned to Lord Xena’s eye, but Andros smiled nonetheless, his cheeks aching with the force of it. He wondered why this slave seemed to be so important that she was worth two nights of the Conqueror’s attention. He noticed the muscles in her jaw flexing rhythmically, and supposed the lord Chamberlain might never know of his good luck. The Captain had had to explain many an unseemly death away as accidental when the rage was upon the dark lord. With the Conqueror, one never knew which way to jump.
Andros decided that the best course of action was placation. As sorrowful as he might feel for the poor sex slave awaiting her fate in the lord’s chambers, perhaps her death wouldn’t be in vain and the rage he could see dancing in the Conqueror’s eyes would be slaked.
"Mikos is his own excuse, milord. I’ve only had the displeasure of being caught in his web of endless words once. I have no idea how you stomach the man. I’m sure whatever dalliance you may find will be more interesting than a night with him."
Xena squeezed her arm hard against the seeping wound and smiled brittly, her momentary fatigue forgotten.
"So you see? This common slave is a momentary distraction, nothing more. In fact, she may prove to be an excuse again tonight, though perhaps not to her liking. Yes, see to it that the lord Chamberlain is kept from my door. And the meeting I had with the emissaries later this afternoon? Cancel them. I don’t want to be disturbed."
Andros nodded slowly, his brow furrowed with confusion. Lord Xena’s eyes had a distinct feral look to them. Perhaps the diversion wouldn’t be such a good thing after all. Biting his lip, he said nothing more as the Conqueror stalked back towards the castle.
The healer grimaced as the thread was pulled through the edges of the small gaping wound. He should have known better, but he felt it his duty to prepare and offer an herbal pain reliever prior to work on a wound. That she had dismissed it as unneeded was not a surprise, however, given the amount of intricate sutures, he knew there must be a fire racing through the lord’s reddened flesh.
He made sure not to spend any time gazing at any particular part of the Conqueror’s torso, and blushed as the nipple ring twinkled every now and again. He absently caressed the end of his left ring finger, remembering how his willful mouth had gotten him into trouble. Daedalis counted his blessings, however, feeling quite lucky that he’d gotten away with the loss of a fingertip, as opposed to a limb, or more importantly, his life.
‘A small transgression nets you a small punishment, healer.’ No, he’d decided shortly after his unfortunate incident with the Conqueror to make only comments pertaining to either the weather or medical advice. Even the latter was a risky subject, the lord being the type who felt she could heal herself.
He noted the other faint scars dotting the surface of the Conqueror’s skin, and had to admit the woman certainly had a flare for needlework. The thought caused the middle-aged man to smile a little wider, the difference all but imperceptible to those who didn’t know him.
The Conqueror’s lips twitched as she skewered another bit of flesh, making the stitches as small as possible.
"Hold the damnedable mirror steady, Daedalis. Perhaps you should have taken your own remedy if you are so fainthearted?"
One eyebrow rose dangerously. "You seem somewhat distracted."
Daedalis muttered something under his breath, and steadied his hand. The glint in the woman’s eye had him wary: it was usually a precursor to trouble. He was determined not to give the lord any excuse to unleash her fury.
Lord Xena smiled cruelly as she tied the last knot in the catgut. Taking a cloth and wiping the residue from her body, Xena took a few deep breaths and twisted her torso. Yes, it was a good thing the blackguard had no idea how to use a knife. She accepted the proffered wad of fabric, pressing it tightly against the wound, and then smiled, as her inspection revealed no further seepage. The wound had been somewhat deep, but could easily be dismissed as being nothing more than a flesh wound since it had only pierced her side.
The healer swallowed deeply as the ring seemed to dance across the woman’s pebbled flesh, making a line of sweat appear over his brow.
Needing a distraction, less his body betray him, Daedalis cleared his throat and fumbled with his herbs. "Let me get the antiseptic, milord."
Xena grabbed the man’s satchel and bottles, crammed in the thread and needles, and all but threw them at him.
"Oh be gone, healer. I’m not a child and this is nothing more than an abrasion."
The man opened his mouth to protest and then yelped as he was taken by the scruff of the neck and seat of his pants and frog marched to the door.
"But Lord Xena,"
"Your body betrays you once more, little man." And with that, she threw the healer out into the hall.
Xena stood against the closed door, both hands becoming tight fists at her side, as she gazed across at the entrance to her bedchambers. The guards stood stoically, having only paid enough attention to the goings on to discern that the healer was no threat to their liege.
Xena pursed her lips, went to the side table, and poured out a fresh bowl of clean water. The only sound in the room was the occasional rasp of leather and steel as she cleaned her leathers and weapons of blood and grime. She was the epitome of patience as she mended and oiled her equipment. However, things were not quiet in the mind of the Conqueror. If the guards had not reported an attempt at escape, it meant that the lovely slave still remained within her quarters. Somehow, the thought of the young woman being dragged back down to the dungeon was an image totally unpalatable. It left Lord Xena feeling distraught. How could such a young slip of a girl elicit such tenderness, such care from her? Hours of bone breaking practice on the field had neither dulled such thoughts nor dampened her need to quench them.
Gabrielle smiled sleepily and burrowed deeper into the covers. How soft and warm they were! Her fingers moved fervently over the satiny texture of the sheets, almost willing the raven beauty of her dreams to reappear. Shivering slightly, the bard tasted the woman’s name in her mind once more, and then rolled over.
"Xena" she crooned, her voice rich with emotion. The image of the warrior’s dark form swam tantalizingly before her closed eyes, filling her soul with passion. Her nostrils quivered as she remembered how the lamplight had danced across Xena’s dark, oiled flesh. She watched the play of the woman’s taut muscles just below the surface and groaned as Xena opened her gown, then slowly let it fall to the floor.
Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to just love the Conqueror, in all of her glory, good, bad and indifferent. Why? She wasn’t even aware of the ‘why’ of things, just the ‘need to’ that pulled at her.
Her mouth felt dry as images of Xena’s proud, full breasts filled her mind. Oh, how she longed to grasp the cold metal between her teeth.
The bard groaned inhaling the heady scent of sweat, oiled leathers and steel, all of which immediately thrust her back into the present and her cold reality. Her eyes snapped open, and she found herself caught by glacial orbs of blue.
With pulse racing, the blonde fought with inner turmoil. There at the edge of the bed, skin glistening, and hair wild and free, sat the Conqueror looking dangerously calm. Gabrielle swallowed, her mind filled with the many excuses she’d thought of in Lord Xena’s absence. She had lain cold and shivering at the foot of the oak boards for many hours before deciding to give into comfort, if for only one last time. If she were to die at the crow of the rooster, then she may as well have spent her last few hours’ deeply ensconced in life’s last opulent respite.
She had hobbled over to the sideboard, hesitating but once, and then descended upon the leavings of last night’s supper. It wasn’t so much that she was hungry per se, even having been denied food for a good twenty-four hours, but more that these things would be undoubtedly denied her. She had filled her senses with the aroma of Lord Xena’s robe, and reveled in the intoxicating scent that permeated the bedding. There had been nothing but the cold hard granite to lie upon, and although her exploration of the Conqueror’s chambers had shown the cold remains of a bath, Gabrielle had hesitated on partaking of either it or the overlarge bed which dominated the room. Slaves did not eat the left overs from a lord’s table, and they certainly did not enjoy the deep luxury of their master’s bed, or the tepid waters left from their bathing. That was, however, precisely why this slave decided to do so.
Hadn’t she already been beaten, starved, humiliated, and then finally abandoned to her own terrible thoughts? Hours of torment had been endured before Gabrielle had even felt the first stirrings of sleep come creeping upon her. Guilt and defiance lay as strange bedfellows until the blonde relinquished her tenuous hold on integrity.
She’d been born to parents who believed you had to work for everything you had. Wanting something you couldn’t have was for foolish dreamers and asking for it was proof you were both foolish and selfish. Gabrielle had wanted to be a storyteller, much to her parent’s horror. They had tried very hard to instill high moral standards in both their daughters, and traipsing all over the known world was unacceptable behavior. An uneasy truce had been put into effect, but by her sixteenth birthday, Gabrielle had already begun walking the path of independence. She had lost everything in her desire to pursue something she could never have. Was she being selfish? The question niggled at her, but before sleep finally claimed her, the woman had decided that being selfish was one thing, giving away the last bastion of her very soul was another.
Steeling herself from the blow she felt must surely come, Gabrielle clenched her teeth and waited as one strong hand lifted towards her.
"I’m a human being, Lord Xena. If you must punish me for that, then do so, for I am guilty of needs, and wants, and,"
Gabrielle’s heart fluttered as strong fingers wove through her newly washed hair. The sure and gentle touch of this dark woman gave the bard hope that perhaps they could come to an understanding. She felt her head tipped back and then green eyes locked on blue.
Gabrielle flinched as her hair was caught tightly in the woman’s fist.
Xena took hold of the top edge of the sheet and slowly pulled it down, exposing the young woman to the crisp morning air.
"You may have availed yourself of my hospitality without permission, slave, but I shall reap the benefits."
Gabrielle brought both hands up to cover her breasts and the Conqueror laughed.
"After our time together last night, why the pretense of humility? You are my slave, and I’ll take what I want, when I want it."
She smiled cruelly. "And I want it now."
A sneer painted her lips as she heard the young woman gasp while she pushed the hands away.
"You have my passion, Lord Xena! Please,don’t do this. I will give it to you gladly. You may have my passion,"
‘But you shall never have me.’ Xena’s eyes darkened as she remembered the bard’s words. They had been said in defiance, but now what the Conqueror heard was a combination of threat and challenge.
"Ah, but where’s the adventure in that, slave? There has never been a question as to your seduction, only your submission. And you will submit, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle groaned as she felt strong teeth nipping a trail from throat to collarbone. Before she could open her mouth to protest, both wrists were gripped tightly over her head, and the full weight of the Conqueror was upon her.
"Please Conqueror,stop this. If by submitting to you, my honour is upheld, then I do so willingly. I submit to your will."
A sharp cry filled Xena’s ears and she smiled around a tightening bud. Her teeth grazed across the soft, warm flesh, and then the woman’s nipple was held firmly between a flash of white teeth.
"I’ve always held your passion, you said so yourself. But I shall have more, slave. I shall have all of you, body and soul."
Gabrielle felt her legs pushed wide, briefly noting that care was being taken with them, and then felt a fire erupt as she was entered. Biting the meat at the side of her hand, she arched her back as the Conqueror’s hot mouth moved over her flesh, teasing and tantalizing her breasts to painful erection. A tear escaped the corner of her eye as she felt the softness of Xena’s touch, and the tenderness belying the woman’s words. She wanted to touch that softness, feel the ice melt from the warrior’s heart, and fill that space where she alone belonged. The gift she would give had to be taken with care and love not wrenched from her body with indifference.
"I’ll submit, oh please Conqueror, stop. I’ll submit to you."
Blue eyes peered carefully, and Xena stilled her questing fingers.
"Give yourself to me. Hold nothing back."
Gabrielle nodded as tears were squeezed through closed eyes. She would give of herself, and in the doing, free them both.
The Conqueror groaned as a small well-formed hand pushed its way through her thick mane and she gasped as the bard offered herself up as a lamb to slaughter.
Gabrielle found herself focusing on the little things around her, rather than the enormity of the situation.
She had pondered her fate as she washed the grime from her body, surrounded by the overwhelming scent of the Conqueror. How could she leave, even if she were able? With her legs the way they were she’d have had little chance of success. Fate had placed her in the hands of this woman, and Gabrielle would see things through until the end.
Her buttocks and lower back stung as her body bore the full weight of the woman above her. She felt the Conqueror’s mouth on her, teasing her mind and body as she urged her onwards, towards that place that Gabrielle dared not go.
The smaller woman panted fast shallow breaths as her ribs were compressed, and her knees pushed ever higher. She wanted to moan with each droplet that slowly made its way down the chiseled jaw of the Conqueror to splash upon her own bosom.
"You will be mine, my pretty. There will be no others after me. Ever."
Xena maneuvered her fingers, her thrusts becoming longer and deeper, and went back to feasting upon the young woman’s breasts. Her excitement rose as the bard struggled beneath her.
‘She’s a feisty one, making it all the sweeter to break.’ Xena growled as the fingers tightened in her hair.
The chords of muscle stood out in Gabrielle’s neck as she craned backwards in an effort to focus on anything but what was being done to her body. But the fires of passion rose inside and she gasped, sharp white teeth pulling at her flesh. Oh, how she wanted to give into the ecstasy that lay in wait for her. She had never experienced such raw animalistic power before, and she found it exhilarating and terribly frightening, all at the same time.
Her earlobe was enveloped in sweet hot fire, and the bard focused on the memories of the torture she’d been subjected to in the prison cells. Her body quivered in response to the Conqueror’s breath playing across her body, making her all too aware of just how deeply sensitized she was becoming. It was almost as if this woman knew exactly what her body craved. Her skin felt as if oozing molten lava were flowing just beneath the surface. And yet, she couldn’t give in. She focused on the cold and dispassionate tone the warrior had used as the flogger sent shivers of pain and delicious fire across her body, making her feel haunted, as if certain doors that were never to be opened suddenly had. This was not of her choosing, this dark path she found herself walking. And as much as she wanted to give in to the deep Cimmerian abyss that surrounded her, Gabrielle was resolved to deny her wants and needs for as long as she was able.
The bard’s feeble attempts at denial were stilled as the Conqueror whispered her name, the three syllables caressing her mind towards acceptance.
Xena grinned, watching the woman’s eyes begin to roll back into her head, and took the bard’s mouth in a searing kiss.
Gabrielle tasted blood as her lower lip was pierced, and she wept sad, bitter tears. Her legs ached as the Conqueror shifted position, and then she found her leg straddled by two strong thighs. Slow gentle strokes of the woman’s hand seemed to soothe her tormented limbs and she groaned with relief.
Xena redoubled her efforts as the bard refused to succumb, and pressed one strong leg hard against the woman’s swollen flesh. Her mind reeled as the lubrication spread easily over the heated surface and she growled deeply, entangled in her own web.
Her breath was soon caught as she felt soft hands pushing the leathers aside, exposing her buttocks.
"Gabrielle," she whispered again, throwing her head back.
The Conqueror found herself moving quickly over hard flesh that rose up to meet each thrust. Her nipples tightened beneath their leather confines, her battle dress suddenly feeling a size or two smaller than normal. Her elbows locked as she worked feverishly over the slave, intent on bringing her to orgasm, and a smile of peace slowly swept over her face as the woman’s inner muscles and tissues began to respond to the fiery inevitability of their union.
Gabrielle mourned the loss of what they could have had together. The Conqueror was so intent on taking what she could that she was oblivious to what she was already receiving. Couldn’t the woman see that their paths lay together, not as master and slave, but as friend and lover? Her heart tore and she cried, as Xena looked down at her, confident in her sexual prowess, but lacking even the common decency one would afford a casual lover.
It was as if someone had doused her mind with cold water and she set her jaw with determination.
Xena forced her eyes open, expecting to see the lust and desire mirrored in the eyes of the blonde and time seemed to stop as hot tears splashed against her hands. Guilt blossomed within her chest as she saw a sorrowful love she had no right to expect. She squeezed the slave’s face harshly in an attempt to deny such truth, and then a keening wail rose unbidden from her throat as her own orgasm was touched off.
"Give yourself to me," whispered Gabrielle while the Conqueror tumbled over the edge.
Xena lay gasping as the last of her orgasm left her. Her nostrils flared as she clenched her teeth. What had just happened? How had things changed so drastically? One minute she was in control of the seduction, and the next she was at the mercy of it.
Gabrielle watched as the Conqueror ran both hands roughly through her hair.
The Conqueror flinched and rolled to her side. Her name on this woman’s lips had sounded like ambrosia only hours ago. Now, it hurt. No more was she master, conqueror, or lord. Now she was simply ‘Xena’. Everything she’d ever accomplished over the years, every war she’d waged, every battle hard won, simply vanished as a small woman from Poteidaia stripped her bare and dominated her.
Xena pulled herself to her feet, wiping the woman’s name from her lips, and stalked over to the side table.
Her jaw quivered as she tried to still the shaking in her hand. She grasped the bottom of the goblet, and then the wine came gurgling out of the bottle and onto the counter.
‘Damnitalltohades!’ She moved to block her second attempt at pouring the wine from the somber eyes of the woman still wrapped cozily in her sheets. Xena’s eyes blazed a cobalt blue as she relived what had been taken from her. She was the master. She was in control. She was the pure essence of power! She ruled an empire, and she would rule one small bard. One way or another.
Gabrielle pulled her sheets up high as the Conqueror hunched her shoulders and gripped the sideboard. The sound of dripping reached her ears and the bard watched as the deep crimson wine puddled at the woman’s feet. It was clear that Xena was very angry.
She, on the other hand, felt wonderful. Seeing the look of ecstasy come over the Conqueror was an amazing thing to behold. It made her feel alive knowing that she could elicit such rapture. But there was something more. She had felt a bond so strong it was palpable. And Gabrielle was determined to experience it again.
Her breath caught as the Conqueror lifted one of the flagons and gulped down three or four heavy draughts, her green eyes transfixed as the wine trickled down and stained across the front of the warrior’s leathers.
Gabrielle raised herself up on both elbows.
"Why are you so angry, Xe,Lord Xena? I wanted to show you how good we could be together. I wanted to show you my love."
Xena blew her breath out with a resounding snort at the slave’s words, and moved closer to the bed.
"Yes, I know everything will be alright if you just let me love you."
"What do you mean let you love me? What in Hades does that have to do with anything?"
"Just give me a chance, Xena,"
"I am The Conqueror, and you’d best remember that, slave." With a sudden yelp of surprise, Gabrielle found her throat gripped inside one large callused hand, causing a whimper to escape as pressure was applied.
"You will pay me all the due respect and distinction my title affords me, wench."
"Lord Xena, please,"
Bright stars flitted across Gabrielle’s eyelids as she was shaken cruelly. Her teeth rattled and a weak cry was forced from her constricted throat while a rough hand pinched and kneaded her breasts.
"Your body is mine, slave, to do with as I will. You belong to me, now and forever. You do not take - I take. When I want and how I want. Is that clear?"
Gabrielle nodded weakly as her buttocks left the sheets momentarily, and then she was slammed back down, and pushed over onto her belly.
"Your actions fly in the face of the law, slave. I am the law. My position as ruler in your life is sacrosanct. And since you continue to defy me, I have no other choice but to punish you accordingly."
Gabrielle tried to argue and plead as the sheets were wrenched from her body, and her legs forced open.
"One day, little one, that look of petulant obstinacy will garner you another summons before my prison’s headsman. Perhaps I shall watch with a tinge of sorrow as that beautiful flash of green is removed from your continence? After all, a thing of beauty should be both visually and physically appealing. What a disappointment that would be, to lose such beauty. Now, lie there quietly."
The bard felt her heart increase its pace, all but thudding against her rib cage, and prepared herself for the next level of torment she would have to endure.
Why hadn’t she just let the woman have her way, acquiesce to every demand, and simply take the humiliation meted out to her? Couldn’t she just for once see the truth of her dire straits and act accordingly?
Her home life had been much the same way, sadly. Gabrielle had always felt the need to push a point through, to stand her ground, and even make frequent attempts at having the last word. Her parents had tried to convince her that her behavior would not only earn her harsh punishment and endless chores, but would gain her nothing in the long range scheme of things. Who would marry such a troublesome girl? What man would find her opinions or thoughts of any relevance other than those he would give her himself?
She had wept hot, bitter tears as each lash of the whip creased her back, and had felt nothing but shame that she could not conform to her parent’s wishes. Hadn’t Lila netted herself a good husband? And even if the man brutalized her more often than not, hadn’t she fulfilled her duties as daughter and productive member of society?
Gabrielle wasn’t conscious of just when her radical viewpoints on the worth of all human life came into being, just that it had. His purse, his landholdings, or his station in society did not dictate the true value of a person.
She yelped in surprise as the first lash of pain trickled across her buttocks.
"Yes, Gabrielle. Tell me what you want. Tell me what you need. I’ll see what I can do about fulfilling your requests. All you need do is completely submit to me. I am your lord, your master, your,"
Xena’s head jerked back as if she’d been slapped. A tick began to twitch at the corner of her left eye, and her hands gripped the handle of the flogger until her knuckles grew white.
Throwing down the whip, the Conqueror hissed her displeasure, and then proceeded to rip the balled sheets into strips.
"Roll over, slave. Do it quickly!"
Gabrielle fought with the urge to cry, determined that although her body was unsubstantial in many respects, her mind and her indomitable spirit would continue to be held steadfast.
"You will not refer to me in that manner!"
She grabbed the blonde’s chin and locked eyes.
"Do you understand, slave?"
Silence was her only response. Xena gritted her teeth, and a low rumbled emitted from the back of her throat.
After lashing each of the young woman’s limbs to the corners of the bed, she moved back over to the sideboard to finish off the rest of the wine.
‘How could she continue to defy me? Why does she deny my power over her?’ Xena seethed as she paced, and was somewhat startled as she eyed the bottom of the empty bottle.
The rage ebbed and flowed as Xena plotted her next move. She played her eyes greedily over the naked body of the slave, trying to elicit a whimper of fear, or even a groan of hidden pleasure. It had stirred something in her when the bard responded. She crossly had to admit that the woman’s unforeseen impetuosity had been somewhat of a thrill as well.
The Conqueror had always taken the dominant role in any of her sexual forays. She’d felt comfortable and natural in the role of pursuer, and had only suffered once as the pursued. Her lips thinned as the gentle continence of Zeus’s fair-haired boy wafted across her mind. While it was to be expected that any man’s will would soon crumble before the onslaught of her dangerous beauty and sexual cunning, Xena felt nothing but contempt at the deep affection the half-god had professed for her. As she had grown tired of the man, his pursuit increased, causing her to feel more than a little vexed. She was more at ease with wanting something denied her, something she had to take, oftentimes with force. She knew exactly what she wanted and certainly didn’t want anyone trying to convince her otherwise. Finally, in a pique of anger, she had told him that even the lowliest female slave had brought her more entertainment value than he ever could. His pride finally damaged to the point of no return, the great Hercules had admitted defeat, taken his broken heart and left for parts unknown.
It was strange that while she held total sway over the man, relishing each moan and quiver she could drag out of his hulking body, it had meant nothing to see him all but destroyed by her casual indifference to his declarations of undying love. Not a single twinge of guilt had been felt as she coldly observed the man’s shattered remains as she spurned him. He was weak, and she was strong. His will was ripe for the plucking, and like any battle, she had planned well, her victory assured.
However, things were different now. She had pursued the young blonde, and been spurned herself. Then the woman had responded much as Xena had known she would, creating the false image of total subjugation before once more contravening every effort she had employed to assure her of its truth. Xena knew the game was afoot, and even relished the hunt. But on a different level, was totally flummoxed that her skills as battle technician had been so easily thwarted. Truth be known, she had anticipated a quick victory. Why hadn’t she pushed the issue, and just simply taken the woman when she was so obviously offering herself? Had the hesitation been a moment of weakness on her part or that of the blonde’s?
Xena pondered those very thoughts as the two servant girls entered the room with platters of food and drink, and had set about lighting the tall candles and helping her ease out of her now more than confining damp leathers.
The smaller of the nubile young women began unlacing the Conqueror’s dark leathers as the other one poured wine into an ornate goblet encrusted with jade. The servant stood silently beside the table, waiting for her cue. As the last of the damp, dark leathers had been peeled from the warrior, the other servant took her place beside her taller companion.
Gabrielle wondered about the two women, who were obviously foreign. She suspected by their physical attributes that the women were of Egyptian blood. Both women were smallish, probably two finger’s width shorter in height than Gabrielle was herself. Their clothing consisted of a short linen dress, which fell to mid thigh. Both were quite comely, and the bard briefly entertained thoughts as to whether the lord had taken one or both to her bed.
A knot formed in her belly as fleeting images entered her mind. Would the Conqueror strap them down, beat them senseless, take them repeatedly, and then,? While she could see no outwardly demonstrative affection towards them, neither was there any barbarity.
She watched as the Conqueror smiled indulgently as her leathers, boots and grieves were taken away. Gabrielle could see a faint pinkish blotch on the left side of the woman’s shift. Was it her blood or someone else’s?
With a simple nod of her head, Xena sent one servant to light the fireplace, and then strode over to where the other had been preparing food and wine.
Gabrielle strained as she crooked her head forward to see. The small servant girl trembled as the warrior stroked her back and neck gently. Then with a quick intake of breath, the woman took a careful sip of the wine, then closed her eyes tightly, and swallowed.
Xena narrowed her eyes and focused on any telltale signs of poisoning, and then nodded. She snapped her fingers and the smaller servant appeared by her companion’s side.
The bard frowned as the servant swallowed a few pieces of food, clutched her throat, and then fell to the ground.
With a shriek, the smaller servant began to pull and cry at her friend before being dragged off by the Conqueror, who spoke a few strange words, which seemed to somewhat calm the young woman.
Pushing a chair aside, Xena dropped to her knees, and then quickly went to work on the dying servant. Gabrielle strained at her confines but could see nothing of the injured woman.
"Xena? Is she,?"
Gabrielle felt her heart break as a veil of sorrow passed unguardedly across the Conqueror’s face and then was gone.
Lord Xena turned her back to the bed, damning her weakness, as her sorrow became evident. Gently turning the servant over, Xena peered closely at Ankara’s pupils, and felt for the life pulse just under the servant’s jaw. It was weak and shallow; death was imminent. The Conqueror quickly shoved her fingers deeply into the woman’s throat, and then pushed hard with both hands below the rib cage.
"Ubris, fetch Andros straight away. Now run, girl." She gave the woman a smart smack on her bottom, and then turned back to the woman at her feet. Xena leaned forward and whispered a low incantation over the cooling remains of her servant.
She was quiet as the contents of the servant’s stomach were examined, and then she carefully sniffed her fingertips. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized the scent.
‘You go too far, Dagnine.’
A murderous red filled her vision as she went through the list of how to best deal with those responsible. A man such as the inept Lieutenant wasn’t able to function by himself in such matters. Thracis was involved, most assuredly. How many more were coming under the cancerous influence of an enemy she would have done well to dispose of years ago? She had mistakenly thought Dagnine might prove to be useful in dealings with the other warlords. That time had come and gone, and still she had done nothing.
Xena frowned. She was becoming soft, a condition that could easily mean her very life if not rectified as soon as possible. Now seemed to be as good a time as any to attend to that very matter.
‘What to do, what to do.’ The resulting grin was very predatory.
Gabrielle craned her neck once more as the Conqueror moved out of range, disappearing into the bathing room. There was a loud pounding on the door and two guards and a rather barrel chested man hurriedly entered the room.
Andros carefully averted his eyes from the young woman pinned to the bed. Try as he might, he couldn’t keep the blush from his face as the woman wriggled about, trying to shield her nakedness.
He cleared his throat.
Gabrielle felt the heat of her embarrassment branding her face and chest, bringing her nipples to very hard points. Straining at her bonds, she finally settled for turning her head to the far wall and closing her eyes.
‘I’m not here. I’m not here. I’m far away in some camp, helping to brush down a golden horse.’ An eyebrow popped up and she wondered just where that thought had come from. Then images of her dreams swam before her, and she felt at ease. In that world, she knew her friend, her partner, her Xena, would always protect her, love her,
She felt the soft touch of silk float down over her body, and sighed. Yes, the Xena she knew would always be there to protect her.
The faint smile that graced her lips faltered when she opened her eyes to see the strange man standing over her.
"Don’t worry, little one. I will not harm you." He continued to spread the fabric over her body, affording her as much privacy as he could from the curious eyes of the guards.
"Ah, Andros, there you are." Xena dropped the towel carelessly, and approached the Captain. Her teeth ground together silently, the man’s obvious attraction to her slave most evident by his solicitous behavior.
Andros’ head jerked up as his elbow was griped.
"My lord, you summoned me?"
"What took you so long? Never mind. Ankara is dead. Food poisoning." She snapped her fingers and pointed to one of the guards.
"You. Fetch the cook and his assistant."
She turned her back, dismissing the man immediately, and all but dragged her Captain away from the bed.
"Ubris, come here, child." The small form of the other servant could be seen just beyond the doorframe, and then the woman quietly entered the room.
She placed her hand on the small of the Captain’s back and pushed him towards the woman.
"She’ll need comforting, Andros. I’ll be somewhat detained, so why don’t you just perform that function for me. There’s a good man."
Andros opened his mouth a few times, and then, feeling two penetrating orbs of blue burning into the back of his neck, nodded once, and then took the servant girl by the arm.
Gabrielle swallowed with a harsh click as she locked eyes with the young woman. Ubris tried to smile, but failed miserably as fat tears began to fall from her almond eyes.
"Show her some charity, won’t you, but have her back before dawn. She has a job to perform, after all. I believe I’ll have worked up quite an appetite by then."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to say something, anything, about the harsh scene she was witness to, but found her words choked off as two rather overweight men were dragged before the Conqueror.
"Sire,please," The larger of the two cried out in pain as he was backhanded across the face.
"Silence! The only words I wish to hear from your miserable, worthless mouth, are those of apology. Not only am I being inconvenienced by the loss of a good servant girl, but I’m being interrupted from a private matter that requires my immediate attention."
Gabrielle felt herself shrinking into the mattress as two sets of piggish, leering eyes sought her out.
With a quick poke with her fingers, both men were rendered immobilized, and slowly began to slump to their knees.
Xena’s lip curled.
"My servant was forced to perform a very painful duty in my care because you failed in yours. Should your punishment be any less than hers?"
The cook shrank back as Xena extended her fingers once again. White even teeth filled his vision, but instead of immediate death, he felt the pressure removed from his neck. The pounding in his head began to ease, and he swallowed painfully.
"Thank you, my,my lord. What has happened?" He coughed a few times, and then began to fidget, his actions very reminiscent of a cornered ferret. His foolish attempts at concealing his interest in both the servant and the slave upon the bed were not unnoticed.
"Tell me," She blinked slowly at the man.
"Oh! I’m Stephanik, my liege."
"Yes, of course you are." She crouched in front of the man, her face inches from his.
"Tell me what I want to know, little man."
The cook held his breath, his eyes shifting back and forth from the door, the guards and Lord Xena. Perhaps if he were to run,they’d protect him. Of course they would. They’d bide their time until an army could be raised, and,
"And just how far do you suppose you’d get, cook? Feeling brave?"
Thoughts of revenge vanished from his mind as more basic ones took their place. There would be time enough later for dark plans and darker deeds. Right now surviving this current ordeal was paramount.
She stood up, kicked the other man over, and then pressed two fingers into his diaphragm. The assistant coughed once, and then dragged a slow breath of air into his lungs. He tried to clear his vision, but found himself unable to move his limbs as the Conqueror applied deeper pressure to the base of his neck.
Xena nodded once as the man gurgled piteously. She scanned the room quickly and then moved back towards the cowering cook.
"The question of your culpability in this incident is rather moot, you being in charge of food preparation. It matters not whether you are guilty of adding the poison to the meal, or stood by as others did the deed, the punishment will be the same. It’s all just a matter of degree, really."
She slapped the man’s face with a sharp stroke as a moan left his lips.
"Oh, come along man. I haven’t even gotten around to the punishment. Let’s not jump the fence quite yet."
Stephanik felt his bowels loosen and prayed fervently that he wouldn’t disgrace himself before this heartless woman. That would surely be his undoing.
Xena smiled smugly as she watched the man squirm. Her ears pricked up as she heard Gabrielle trying to break free. No doubt the young woman would be attempting to free both traitors from their certain fate. Her kind always did. A sneer painted her lips as she blamed the state of chaos that now ruled a good deal of the known world on such thinking. She snorted derisively, and then turned her mind back to the task at hand.
"You certainly don't look intelligent enough to engineer this by yourself, so that means you are working for someone. Which means treason and insurrection. I don’t suffer either easily, Stephanik."
The cook mewled a few mumbled words the lord took to be some sort of denial. She found it quite amusing just how brave the common man was when meting out his form of justice from a distance, and yet just how quickly that emotion changed as they were held accountable for their actions.
‘One must pay the piper at one time or another.’ It was a steadfast rule most seemed to forget in their haste to be judge, jury and executioner. It was, however, something she felt quite at ease doing herself, so sure was she that her path of justice was right. Men needed discipline and direction in their lives, and if the lessons came at the point of a sword, so be it.
"Now, as to the degree of punishment, well that does somewhat depend on you, little man."
The cook moaned and then shook his head. If Dagnine knew of his confession,
Xena’s cruel smile twisted into a snarl of rage as the man defied her.
"You will tell me what you know, and you will tell me now!"
A trickle of hot urine began to seep down the inside leg of the cook’s trousers, and he fumbled, trying to stem the flow.
"Guard, hold him!" The two guards snatched the arms of the fat man quickly, and held him in a gripe of iron.
Xena all but strolled over to the table and retrieved her dagger.
"Well, I suppose I could spend hours showing you the error of your ways, whereupon you’d gladly tell me exactly what I want to know. However, since I already know Dagnine is involved,"
Any efforts to quell his body’s natural reaction to abject fear simply ceased to exist as the Conqueror forced his mouth open.
"Xena! Oh gods, please,don’t do this!"
Further protest was stilled upon the bard’s lips as Lord Xena fixed her with a hateful stare so cold that Gabrielle could all but feel the blood in her veins turn to ice.
"Since you have yet to speak on your behalf, your degree of punishment shall be severe."
She motioned to both guards and then yanked the poor cook’s tongue out of his mouth. His struggling ceased as she jabbed a finger into his right temple, leaving his tongue hanging limply. Xena waited a few seconds until the man’s eyes cleared, and then spoke quietly and very distinctly to him.
"You have defied me, betrayed me, and inconvenienced me to no end, little man. Since you won’t use this, you won’t be needing it either."
Although unable to move a muscle, the cook watched with incredulity as the blade of the knife quickly flashed before his eyes and then his world of fear was replaced with that of unending, all encompassing pain.
His ears filled with the shrieks only his mind could hear. His eyes rolled as images of the knife descending upon him repeated, over and over. All of his efforts to appear as brave as possible were for naught as the blood filled his throat, making him gag, and then coming back up as his belly denied acceptance. He was totally oblivious to his body’s betrayal as the life’s blood ebbed and flowed out of his ghastly wound. Stephanik’s final thoughts were of just how foolish he had been to fear wrath when even the God of War would tremble at the feet of such a demon.
He would tell her all he knew and she would let him live. Perhaps his life would be hard without a tongue, but still, it would be life nonetheless. Yes, she would forgive him, she would,The faint smile slipped quietly off his lips as his eyes glassed over.
Xena moved back to the assistant, and roughly pulled him to his knees.
"And as for you, whether you are guilty as well is beside the point. If it’s any consolation, you may explain to Hades that you were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time."
She stepped back and snapped her fingers at one of the guards. He blinked slowly back at her, his mind trying to erase the image of the blood still pumping out onto the granite flooring. Perhaps his recent promotion to Royal Guard was more of a curse than a blessing, money be damned.
"If you foul yourself, guard, there shall be more than two bodies to be removed this night."
The guard blanched and swallowed hard. He knew the penalty for failing in his duties as a Royal Guard. There were no second chances in the life of Lord Xena’s chosen.
"Now, give me a coin, and be quick about it."
The guard fumbled and almost dropped the dinar he had fished out of his pocket, and then handed it over with fear. His mind refused to go anywhere as he fought the urge to close his eyes.
"This is payment, fool. Guilty or innocent, I’ve not let you plead your case. My will be done."
And with that, she pushed the coin into the man’s mouth.
Gabrielle struggled and then gasped as the Conqueror jabbed the assistant again, his face purpling almost immediately as he began to flail about on his back, his toll for Charon held tightly behind clenched teeth.
With casual dismissal, the Conqueror walked back over to the sideboard, picked up her goblet, and then drank slowly as the life casually seeped out of the man.
Only the sickening gurgle filled the room and Gabrielle bit her lip harshly, pushing back both anger and fear at what she had been forced to witness. How could someone so cruel, so evil, and so terribly heartless, touch something so elemental in her? Gabrielle’s belly rebelled as she fought with a harsh truth: although totally repulsed by what had occurred, it did nothing to dissuade her from the love she felt for this very complex woman.
"Have Christo report to me in the morning, guard. I want a full report on this, at his convenience, of course."
Both men nodded stiffly, the Conqueror’s biting sarcasm painting a dismal future for their esteemed weapon’s instructor. Instantly thankful it wouldn’t be their necks, they took hold of the scruff of each corpse, and then made off with their grisly parcels.
Xena sighed with disgust at the pools of urine and blood left in their wake.
"Pigs. Obviously, they weren’t men or they would have died as one."
Gabrielle’s bile rose as the Conqueror wandered slowly over to the table and picked up a piece of fruit. She peered carefully, and then grunted with satisfaction as no blemish was discovered.
"At least this was untouched. Thank you, Ankara, for a job well done."
As the harsh sounds of crying hit her ears, Xena gripped the tabletop, forcing herself to finish the mango. A very good woman had given her life so that she could partake of it, after all. Her belly felt clenched between the fists of some giant as she forced piece after piece down her gullet. The death of the servant had suddenly made her aware of just how much more important than bed warmers both women had become.
Perhaps Ubris would answer her questions on how it felt to lose someone who had been a constant in their life for over five years. She’d been privy to their acts of affection on many occasions, sometimes at her bidding, and oftentimes as an active participant. Xena wiped her chin free of juices as she mentally went over the suitable replacements for the dead servant.
"Now slave, where were we?"
Gabrielle shrank back as the Conqueror moved closer to the bed. Oxygen was pumping through her lungs at an alarming rate, and she fought with it and her rebellious stomach as each fought for dominance.
A dark eyebrow rose as the blonde flailed weakly in her bonds. Xena had seen the signs of shock before, and knew what was coming. As if on cue, the bard’s face went still, and then turned ashen white as the contents of her belly was emptied onto the rumpled sheets beneath her.
The Conqueror sighed resignedly. Was there no respite from the endless torment she had to endure?
Gabrielle watched as Xena lifted the dagger and moved purposefully towards her. She tried to stop her struggling and weeping, all too afraid that they were the cause for the look of irritation displayed on the warrior’s face, but found things compounded as drops of blood trickled down the blade and onto the Conqueror’s hand.
There had been so much blood, so much pain, endured by each man as they were judged wanting by the Conqueror. In her mind’s eye, Gabrielle could see other men and women, summarily dealt with, their blood staining the lord’s hands a deeper red with each death, the bodies mounting endlessly, until Xena stood before her drenched in crimson.
Xena frowned as the young woman cringed with terror.
"I only mean to cut your bonds, girl." She dropped the knife onto the bed, intent upon using her fingers instead. Her palm was sticky with blood, and she rubbed both hands together in an effort to smear at least some of the gore away.
"Oh gods," whimpered the bard, as the stain seemed to spread.
"It’s only blood, slave."
"No, no,keep away,"
"Stop being silly, it’s only blood. I have no weapon. I’m not going to hurt you. Gabrielle,"
Xena stilled her progression towards the bard as the woman’s movements became frenzied. It would do no good to have her plans thwarted yet again because the foolish girl fell into a dead faint. She’d had far too many interruptions this night as it was.
"It’s alright, calm down."
"So much blood, Xena, it’ll never come off, never wash away."
The image of a blood drenched warrior persisted, and Gabrielle watched in horror as the room began to fill with it, rising higher and higher, until they were both sure to drown in it. And then with a shriek, Gabrielle’s eyes rolled up into her head, and she fell back into a deep well of blackness.
Xena sighed dejectedly, and her temper rose as the fires within her continued with a roar.
"Damned hands. Damned foolish men. Godsbedamned Dagnine! This is all his fault, the pox-ridden, weasel-faced sorry excuse for a,"
She turned quickly at the slight noise behind her, coiled to defend herself against another attempt on her life. Giving the blonde one last look, Xena snatched up her dagger and then moved carefully over to the bathing area. Focusing herself mentally, the warrior began to breathe slowly, and emptied her mind of everything but the task at hand.
Taking thumb and forefinger, she quickly extinguished the two nearest candles, cursing the resulting hiss under her breath. The room quickly faded to half-light. Xena perked her ears, focusing all of her senses on the slight movement she could detect coming from the other room.
She sneered as images of the large boned Lieutenant creeping about in the dark entered her mind. No, he was more the type to get others to do his dirty work. The last two attempts proved that. Another assassin? She flicked her thumb across the sharp edge of steel and grinned coldly.
‘There will be more blood this night, Dagnine. Soon it will be your own.’
Xena brought the blade up against her cheek, and the coppery scent of drying blood filled her senses. The day’s stress seemed to melt off her as she felt herself filled with the cold, clean energy of battle lust. Gripping her dagger briefly, making the handle smear across her palm, Xena moved silently forward.
Faint shadows danced across the open door, and the Conqueror refocused all of her attention on the contents of the adjoining room. The usual scent of virgin olive oil, anise, and bergamot was detected, and she could tell that whom ever it was, they were not rifling through things; they were familiar with these surroundings. Xena concentrated deeply, detecting only one occupant. One eyebrow shot up. ‘Not that it mattered.’ Sending three or more against her would make no difference. Xena narrowed her eyes, wondering just whom she’d find in her bathing chamber. It was common for anyone in a position of power to have the usual attempts on their life, and Xena had endured more than her fair share over the years. She had learned early that one could trust no one completely.
‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’
Who ever it was,a knot formed in the pit of her belly as Andros’ name bubbled up. Closing her eyes quickly, Xena dismissed the thought from her mind. No, he would never betray her. Why? She ground her teeth with the realization that she had been placing more trust in the man than was prudent. They’d been through so much together over the years, sharing good times and bad. And through it all, only Andros had been a constant positive element in her life.
Xena’s lip thinned at the man’s perceived betrayal and a slight tremor began in her hand.
Then a familiar sound filled her ears as she recognized the low humming of her servant and Xena felt the muscles in her chest and shoulders relax.
Suddenly, the smell of gingiber filled the air, wafting over the rising steam, as the bath began to fill. Pushing her lower jaw forward, Xena dropped her hand down to her side and took a few deep, cleansing breaths.
The small hairs on her forearms prickled with energy as she eased into the room. Placing the dagger on the table, Xena silently moved up behind the servant.
"Ah!" Ubris yelled as a strong arm encircled her waist.
"Why aren’t you with Andros? Did you work your magic so quickly, leaving him spent and snoring between the sheets?"
Ubris swallowed deeply and then shook her head.
"No, my lord. He,he did not want me." The woman’s face flushed deeply with embarrassment.
"I’m sorry, lord."
Xena pressed the smaller body against her, one hand cupping the woman’s belly as the other gripped her chin.
"No, little one. It could never be you, Ubris. The Captain must be,tired, for no one could resist your charms. Not even me."
Ubris moaned softly as sharp teeth grazed across the base of her neck and shoulders.
Xena grinned as she bit down on the tender flesh of her servant, hands moving in rhythm as they massaged the woman’s breasts into rigid peaks.
The woman writhed deliciously against her, and Xena responded it kind.
"Let me take you to the temple of Re-Atum,I will help you traverse the sky."
Ubris sighed deeply as the words of her homeland caressed her very soul. A shudder ran through her slight frame as the soft linen was ripped from her body.
The servant felt all the tension leaving her as she was lifted and carried into the rising water.
"You are my temple,"
Xena moaned as Ubris whispered into her mouth. She pressed her body against the younger woman, pinning her against the wall of the bath, and began nibbling on the tender lips before her. Xena closed her eyes and thought of the blonde in the other room.
The foreign words that sounded like honey on the Conqueror’s tongue began to flow over the servant, filling her mind with visions of Thebes, and the sacred Valley of the Kings. Her heart broke with longing for her homeland, and what life used to be with her family, and her beloved.
Her eyes bright with pent up lust Xena continued her assault on the willing servant, stopping only briefly to turn the water off.
Xena growled low as her fingers sought out the inner heat produced only for her. She reveled in the moisture that seemed to feed her demons, urging her forward. Teeth made purchase, and small red marks were left in their wake. The oiled water frothed and boiled as the two bodies moved hard against each other, their shadows performing an opera across the alabaster walls.
The Conqueror gasped as the servant girl’s little finger hooked the ring hanging from her breast. As the woman began to shudder, Xena stilled her hand, causing Ubris to cry out weakly.
"Stay with me, Ubris. Give me your fire."
The smaller woman gasped as fingers caressed tender points on her body, making her ultra sensitive. She squeezed her eyes tightly as she fought back the urge to give in to her pending orgasm.
"Your body is mine to do with as I will, Ubris." Xena closed her eyes and began caressing and squeezing the tender, slippery body beneath her.
"Yes, you are my master. I give myself to you, only you. Please,"
Urgent hands found their way into the Conqueror’s hair, pulling and pushing, in attempt to entice the lord’s attention to other areas burning with need.
Xena sneered and took both petite wrists into her strong right hand and held them high, denying Ubris everything.
Panting and thrashing her head back and forth feverishly, Ubris was frantic. So close was she to ba that even the sound of fluttering wings could be heard.
"My lord, please,release me!"
Xena’s mind was filled with intense pleasure as she exerted complete control. She was there on the plain with Ubris both of them surrounded by the energy produced by total submission. Xena was reaching that point where she could release that tightly bound energy within and just be the rapacious predator she truly was.
Ubris cringed at the transformation taking place, and cried out as the bones in her wrist were ground together.
"Lift your legs."
The petite woman’s heart beat crazily as Lord Xena moved slowly between them.
"Oh yes, my lord,please."
"Ubris, do it now."
The realization of what her master was asking swirled about her subconscious like buzzing bees not yet acknowledged. She whimpered as her master’s fingers abandoned her, leaving her anxious with need.
Ubris looked up into the almost black eyes of her master, and shuddered with the force of it. She recognized the predatory gaze, so seldom seen, which made the appearance all the sweeter. The thrill of the unknown was a double-edged sword, producing both cold fear and a rising hot desire. The Conqueror’s sweet attention had left her so very close. Every fibre of her being was in full blossom so that she virtually thrummed. With further attention and practice, perhaps she would be truly able to appreciate the great honour Lord Xena was willing to bestow upon her now. It really didn’t matter, however, for as ready and willing as she might one day be, it would do nothing to help her now. She had always watched in awe as Ankara had received the most precious of gifts from their master. To have someone of great power and divinity reach inside and anoint your very soul was something very few had shared. While only a few visitors to the Conqueror’s bed had felt the great hand upon them, none had been privileged to a repeat performance. That Lord Xena felt the need and desire to share it predominately with her lover made Ubris beam with pride.
‘Ankara, my love.’
Tears welled up in the servant’s eyes as the loss of her lover swaddled her in its cold, clammy embrace. There would be nothing that would keep them apart if she but knew of a way; not even the great god Osiris would be able to turn his back on their undying love.
Ubris was jolted back to reality as Xena’s blues eyes bore through her. Although terribly frightened and confused, the servant was determined to make both her lord and her lover proud, and steeled herself for the pain she must endure.
Her legs were gently eased open and then Ubris felt the focused attentions the lord began to bare upon her body. Each inch of her skin felt revitalized as it was kissed, kneaded, and teased. She groaned aloud as the pressure between her legs increased.
Xena watched as a glazed look came into the woman’s eyes. Oh, how she wanted it to be Gabrielle beneath her! Just the thought made her need for release that much more urgent. She looked down at the woman and could feel the time was almost ripe. A blonde brilliance filled her mind as the image of the bard took the servant’s place. Pouring some olive oil liberally over her hand, she began to stroke in deeper, stretching the tissues as gently, but as firmly, as she could.
"You will be mine."
Ubris gasped as the width increased, and tried to deny the fear blossoming inside. While Ankara had born two children, she herself was barren. She had never known anything but the gentle touch of affection, the lord always being careful with whom she shared her bounty. Many others were not so blessed. She blushed once more as the memory of Andros tucking her in before taking his place above the sheets filled her mind. Was she so undesirable that he felt she was to be considered a mere child and unworthy of his seed?
Xena ignored the increased tension as the muscles began to clamp down on her fingers, denying them further access. Blood was rushing through every fibre of her being, making her feel invincible. She could almost sense the impending implosion within her mind, and almost taste the sweet purity of nirvana as it rippled tantalizingly before her. She would claim this slave, this woman who would profess total love but deny her everything. She would make Gabrielle see,
The Egyptian tried to center herself, moving beyond the increasing pain, but found herself unable to do so. She opened her mouth, and clutched at the invading hand, trying to plead with her master.
Gabrielle urged her on with defiance as memories of earlier battles needled Xena’s ego.
‘You may have my passion, but you’ll never have me.’ The words kept eating at her, and the supposed power she lorded over those around her began to slip. If a lowly slave could continue to defy her, what did that say about the iron grip she exerted upon her realm?
‘I love you, Xena.’ Seemed to scratch across her soul, leaving Xena confused as to whether the acceptance of it meant she was weak or strong because she could acknowledge it.
Her hand slipped up around the blonde’s neck as Gabrielle whispered, ‘Give yourself to me.’
And with one thrust, she pushed through the tearing ring of muscles and was bathed in wondrous, enveloping heat.
As she bent to her task, the steam rose and swirled around them, giving Ubris the impression that the world of pain she was enduring was really only a bad dream.
The Conqueror’s disembodied voice caressed her ear, and the Egyptian began to pant with effort. The room spun at odd angles as she tried to disengage herself from the all-encompassing pain, but it was there, waiting everywhere she ran.
Gabrielle’s sweet face was twisted with agony as she reached out a trembling hand to touch the Conqueror’s face.
‘How could you hurt me?’
Slowly disengaging herself from the illusion, Xena gazed down with incomprehension at the anguished look of her servant girl, her eyes wide with fright and pain.
‘Oh Gabrielle, what have I done?’
Blood slowly dripped from the slave, its heat turning Xena’s soul cold. The coppery scent filled her nostrils and mind with the images of broken bodies strewn over numerous forgotten battlefields. Raw feelings of conquest and battle lust lay as a feast before her, and Lord Xena’s desperately empty life was offered up as a dish of cold ashes. Was blood all the harvest she would ever reap? Worms of promise ate at her belly, the truth a horrible thing to behold.
‘No!’ She blinked savagely and then felt such shame, the clear brown eyes of her servant tinged with a look of betrayal.
"Ubris,stop moving. Just breathe slowly."
It was like falling from the great mountains of Olympus. Gone was the exalted feeling of total power; gone was the exit to paradise. Only remorse lay like the last quiverings of a horrible dream.
The Conqueror had never resorted to physically forcing someone into giving what she knew they wanted her to have. She was much too successful a seductress for all that. Both men and women gladly fell into her arms, her bed, and willingly at her feet, to be used as she saw fit. There had never been the need to take someone against his or her will because for Xena that was not the prize. For her, the ultimate challenge was to make someone see that although they were in a ‘no’ mindset, she alone could not only change their way of thinking but make them embrace their hypocrisy and admit that she had been right from the beginning. For Xena, it was the ultimate domination to have someone’s set rules of engagement dissected, renounced and shown for the sham they were. People may be perfectly willing to live in a self-imposed world of denial, but they could never lie to her. She knew instinctively exactly what they needed, whether they wanted it or not, whether they could face the realization of this new truth or not. Many a man or woman’s spirit had been broken with careless ease as they were offered up such harsh truths, and then were found wanting by someone who viewed the whole journey as merely entertainment.
The haunting look of her treasured servant continued to plague her as she gently bathed the unconscious woman’s body with a mixture of cool water and herbs. While the examination had shown no evidence of internal damage, the amount of blood was cause for worry. Xena silently blessed the healer’s prompt reply to her summons and then stepped back, allowing Daedalis to finish up. The man’s body language left the Conqueror no doubt as to how he felt about the state of her servant. Patching soldiers together and even administering the basic medical attention to those deep in the clutches of the prison’s headman were commonality in his line of work, but dealing with the aftermath of something like this was beyond the call of duty.
He gulped and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, the anguished cries of the damaged servant girl ringing in his ears. He could only surmise that the lord was meting out some sort of punishment, so bruised and swollen was the young woman’s body. If the Conqueror had been a man, he’d have heavily counseled him on the care and treatment of copulating with a slave who was obviously ill prepared to accept his attentions. Although the legendary sexual prowess of Lord Xena had been a topic well discussed, and the rather foolish question as her ability to father children given grudging credence, Daedalis wondered at the state the servant was in.
His brow creased as she walked into the bathing chamber and then tossed her shift out a few moments later.
"About the slave." Some splashing was heard and then Xena appeared at the doorway, a thick towel swaddling her hips while she used another to dry her hair.
"Gabrielle? What of her?"
Daedalis cleared his throat having completely forgotten about the other woman tied to the bed. It was becoming clear to him that all the supposed rumours had indeed some foundation of truth to them. He darted his eyes carefully at the Conqueror’s midriff.
Xena caught his glance and looked down at the catgut at her side. The edges were still raw looking and swollen, but only a bit of blood oozed every now and again.
"It would take far more than a weak knife thrust to truly injure me, healer. Give it no further thought. Now, about Ubris. How does she fair?"
Daedalis had been thinking about the mythical legends of half man-half women that seemed to pervade Grecian lore. As dangerous as he knew it to be, he couldn’t help but wonder, finding his eyes wandering back to just what the towel might be concealing.
He yelped with a squeak as his neck was caught in a vice like grip.
"And just what is it that holds your unwavering attention, little man?"
The healer tried to swallow but found his Adam’s apple squeezed far too tightly, preventing him from doing much more than wheeze in a breath or two.
Shaking him as a dog would an old shoe, Xena grinned dispassionately into the man’s face. She was already suffering the side effects of self-hatred, the hurt look on the young servant’s face etched into her mind. Had Ubris asked why she had hurt her, or was it the daydream she had been having about the bard that had put the question into her mind? Was it her true intention to hurt the young bard, forcing her to accept total rule, or did things just get away from her? She ground her teeth at the thought. Control was very important to her and why she seemed to be losing it of late preyed on her mind.
Inflicting pain was something Xena neither glorified in nor shirked. It was a means to an end in many ways, but was certainly not something she relished doing to a lover. There had been some who took great satisfaction from her prowess with a flogger, and Xena was rather fond of the resulting design and heat, but when it came to an intimate act between two or more people, forced penetration was not something she wished to entertain. Rape was something only cowards employed. Sex, even of a casual nature, was to be enjoyed, the resulting bond something worth attaining by far gentler means. Although having heard the rumours floating about her court, Xena was less inclined to right the misconceptions, preferring to add to the myth, rather than detract. It mattered not, however, for at that very moment, the last thing she intended to endure was the disproving look of this weasel of a man dressed as healer.
A weak choking noise finally penetrated her daze, and Xena released the man’s throat, somewhat amused that even in her somewhat inattentive state, the man had correctly surmised that being rendered unconscious was by far more preferable than the resulting rage a struggle would have produced.
"The slave, man, out with it. And be quick as I’ve no time for your foolishness."
Daedalis coughed weakly, any thoughts of questioning the Conqueror on matters of anatomy completely gone from his head.
"She seems well, sire, under the circumstances. A cold compress should be applied to the,ah, nether regions, milord. I will send an assistant to take care of her needs, of course."
Xena dismissed him, and walked over to the screen by the bed. The healer watched surreptitiously as towels flew in all directions, and then the Conqueror emerged wearing a crimson silk robe.
"Shall I send for a litter, sire?"
A shove towards the door was his only answer. Daedalis wore a look of incredulity as he watched the Conqueror gently lift the medicated young servant into her arms and then move to the adjoining guest chamber.
Xena stopped at the door.
"Oh, and Daedalis, see to Gabrielle, won’t you. I believe she’s asleep but she might have fallen into a swoon at the shock."
Two grey eyebrows lifted.
Xena gave the man something akin to a kind smile, albeit one that never fully reached her cold blue eyes.
"I believe the young bard was under the misconception that I was torturing my servant as opposed to making love to her."
Daedalis swallowed his answer, certain that his viewpoint on one being synonymous with the other would be seen in an unfavourable light. The look did not go unnoticed.
He quickly dropped his gaze as the Conqueror’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Yes, milord." He went over to the bed, and dutifully checked the slave’s restrained wrist. Nodding quickly, he all but fell over in his haste to extract himself from her mounting anger.
Xena smirked as the man dropped his packets of medicine carelessly back into his bag, edging ever closer to the door and freedom.
"You may leave, healer, but be sure to return in the morning. I will not lose another slave to the foolish mishandling of those in my court. Oh, and do something about the condition of my room, won’t you."
Daedalis nodded absently, his eyes locked on the reddish mess in the middle of the room. He had seen what was left of the men employed in the Conqueror’s kitchen. He’d also done his own tests on the remains of the young Egyptian. The type of poison found within the contents of the woman’s belly was distinct, and very uncommon in that part of the county. It had been his experience that the belladonna plant was found farther inland. Nevertheless, death by Nightshade was a most disagreeable way to die.
As the adjoining door closed with a click, the healer made quick work of sponging the young slave off before gathering the soiled sheets from beneath her. He grumbled carefully under his breath, watching the door all the while, lest the Conqueror enter unexpectedly. No, that would never do.
"A servants job. After all my years of service to this and the preceding monarchy, I’m reduced to being a servant to a,slave." He scratched the end of his nose and began to wonder about the poisoned servant. It was a surety that Lord Xena had been the target of the latest attempt. Wasn’t it?
Stroking his chin thoughtfully, Daedalis made his way back to his quarters.
"My lord," said the Egyptian in a weak and raspy voice.
Xena pressed a finger to the woman’s lips and settled her carefully onto the bed.
Another stab of guilt pricked at the Conqueror as she watched the woman’s eyes flutter open and closed in an effort to remain conscious.
"Just rest, you’ll feel better in the morning."
Ubris nodded slowly, her eyes already closing as the herbs began to overwhelm her once more. Xena waited until the young woman’s breathing was slow and even and then sat down carefully on the bed. Tenderly wiping the moisture from the servant’s brow, Xena sighed deeply as images of the young bard filled her mind.
What if she had lost control with the blonde, leaving her in much the same state? Both servants had been in her employ since they were but children and her bond with them was strong. The women had been instantly attracted to each other shortly after their coming of age, and had begun expressing their feelings openly, at the Conqueror’s bidding. Watching the first curious attempts Ankara had made trying to entice the slim hipped Ubris had bothered Xena at first. It had been hard to see the sweet fumbling without noting that her own first sexual encounter had been less than endearing. Her partner had been willing, but neither had the faintest clue as to how to proceed. As anger and frustration mounted, they had finally fallen upon each other like two wild animals bent on the other’s destruction. The frenzied results had born little resemblance to the patient and considerate attempts both servants had employed. The end result had been one of beauty, and sweet surrender, not the battle royale that Xena had waged and endured. Terms of engagement had been exchanged as opposed to terms of endearment in that tense battle of wills. Now she couldn't even remember the young man's name. The simple joy her two servants found within each others presence touched Xena in ways she had tried to ignore. Many nights found the lord darkly brooding well into the early morning hours, unable to recognize the loneliness of her life.
Now she saw it only too clearly as she listened to the young woman crying out in her sleep.
A flinty look came into the Conqueror’s eye as she pondered the events of the day. Dagnine would pay dearly for his attempts on her life. Being straightforward and honest was never one of his strong points, and Xena knew only too well just how devious the man could be. However, by attacking her servant, he had gone too far. She would not be satisfied to play his game of cat and mouse any longer. This was war, all out, no holds barred, war.
Getting wearily to her feet, Xena looked down at Ubris, and sighed deeply.
"I,this should not have happened." Then she bent down and kissed the brow of her servant, wincing as Ankara’s name was again whispered in anguish.
The guards stood at rigid attention, their eyes forward, as the Conqueror moved down the hall towards them.
"Summon the Captain of the guard, and have him report to my chambers immediately."
Both men nodded and then began walking quickly down the hall. Then the smaller of the two stopped and raced back.
"Milord, is it safe to leave our posts?" He swallowed quickly as Xena’s eyes turned a dangerous indigo. "Yes, milord!"
Xena’s fists were clenched at her side as she counted off the minutes before the Captain arrived.
"Captain Polis, my liege."
Xena nodded slowly, suddenly remembering this man’s hasty promotion due to an unfortunate accident during drills the morning before. This man was taller than the other, standing almost as tall as she did herself. She sucked a tooth and wondered just when things had began to go wrong in her world. The tight grip she’d held on everyone around her had seemed so assured, so deliciously present in every averted eye she came upon. Now,now, she was spending far too much time away from the men and the daily rigors of her usually stringent routine.
"You will be in charge of securing the area around the castle, Captain. I want double guards posted at each entrance, and each man will have a three hour watch, is that clear? I want ‘round the clock protection until I can get to the bottom of this,unpleasantness."
The Captain nodded agreeably.
"Yes, Milord. It shall be done. But sire, may I ask the sort of protection required? What are we defending against, and what has already transpired?"
Xena pressed her lips together tightly, unaccustomed to being questioned in this manner. However, she ignored her first response which would have certainly cost the Captain his life, and decided that while a little information could be damaging, in this case it was integral to their safekeeping.
"There has been an attempt on my life this night, Captain, leaving one person dead. Two others have also lost their lives, having forfeited same for their part in the murder."
Xena snorted. "I’ve found both the cook and his assistant guilty of treason by way of attempted poisoning. Their punishment has already been meted out."
"But milord, they may have held the key to the person or persons behind it all. This may not end here, with further attempts in the offing. I should have been counseled with regards to interrogation."
Lord Xena seemed to grow in stature before the Captain and he stepped back as a wave of malevolence rolled over him.
The Captain gasped as his shirt was taken into the woman’s fist, and he marveled at her brute strength once again. Even dressed in a flimsy gown, he knew his very life hung in the balance should she find him wanting in any way. Lieutenant Thracis had complained to all that would listen how he’d bested the Conqueror in hand to hand combat, inflicting a terrible wound in the process. However, if Lord Xena had indeed suffered a grievous wound, she was either a rapid healer or had a very high threshold of pain, because there didn’t seem to be any weakness that he could discern.
"They knew nothing I didn’t already know, Captain. Neither you nor your men could have gleaned any further information in a week filled with torture than I did in the last ten minutes of their miserable lives."
Xena exerted a tighter hold on the man’s collar, unhappy with the rather preoccupied and unconvinced look upon his face. Was her empire going to rack and ruin, her control slipping, as each day came to a close?
The man’s back teeth rattled as he was shaken by the neck like a rat between the iron jaws of a wolfhound.
Xena pulled the man forward until his face was but inches from her own.
"Do I have your full attention now, Captain Polis?"
He nodded and blinked rapidly before she released her grip, leaving him to fall backwards gasping for air.
"Yes milord. It was just," He swallowed as the lord advanced upon him.
"My liege, there have been rumours. It’s been said that you were wounded on the practice field, and that the wound was,most severe." He bit his lower lip.
"By some accounts, you’ve been bleeding heavily, and,"
"What’s this about a mortal wound and who dares to spread such lies? Do I look wounded to you? Am I pale with the loss of blood? Am I not the picture of health?" She paused dangerously. "Tell me, do you disbelieve your own eyes, Captain?"
The Captain recoiled with each question as if from a blow, each one fired in rapid succession until he was unable to discern which should be answered first so as to avoid the Conqueror’s growing wrath.
"Some of the men are uneasy, milord. If you should be disabled in any way,there are factions, sire, who would set upon us all, dragging the country back down into the ruin that was Greece low these ten years past!"
Xena sighed dramatically, making sure all eyes were upon her as she drove home a point.
"I’m well aware, Captain. However, I can assure you, I have not been wounded, nor am I in any way incapacitated. See for yourself."
Xena held her arms straight out from her body and did a slow turn before carefully pulling the crimson gown open to expose more cleavage than any of them had ever dreamt of seeing. Turning her back to them all, Lord Xena then slowly let the fabric fall away from her shoulders, thus exposing herself from nape to base of spine.
"Tell me, Captain. Do you see a wound, even a slight dimpling of the flesh to indicate I’d even been nicked recently?"
Both guards coughed nervously as the Conqueror slowly turned to face them, her arms crossed over her breasts, and the silk barely concealing much of her lower torso.
Xena smiled wickedly, taking great delight that not one man would meet her steely gaze, the discomfiture apparent both physically and mentally. It did a man good to feel both desire and fear, sometimes in the very same instant.
"It seems I’ve been away from my duties too long, gentlemen. Tomorrow that will change, assassin or no assassin. As for tonight, you will make this castle a veritable stronghold. I want no chance of another attempt this night; tomorrow may take care of itself."
Slowly rearranging her robe, Xena nodded to the Captain and then turned on her heel. The three men were left standing, mouths agape, as the sound of swishing filled their ears. Although no intimate flesh had been bared, not one man could swear that he hadn’t seen what his fantasies had offered every night since first setting eyes upon the Conqueror.
Captain Polis chewed his inner lip, having noted the slightly darkened area in the silk on the Conqueror’s left side. He glanced at the others quickly and was pleased when neither man remarked upon it. They both seemed all too eager to revel in the female pulchritude they’d been exposed to than anything else. Which of course, was exactly what their liege had planned.
The Captain slapped both men on the back, walking them back to their posts.
"Yes, well, if you do say, I’ll have your tongues for breakfast. We were entrusted with that bit of information, and it would do us well to realize that although Lord Xena has not been quite herself as of late, she is still a formidable warrior, the Empress of Corinth, and our Lord Conqueror, Guardian of Greece."
Polis made a slow sweep of the second floor, noting the specific guards and their placements, and then went down to the guardroom, intent on working over the shifts so that everything ran smoothly. He would show the Conqueror that her faith in him as the Captain of her Royal Guard was not misplaced. It seemed that he and a few other new members had an important task before them. He would begin drills at daybreak.
Xena carefully lit the candle and walked over to the washbasin. Pulling the silk aside, the grimaced as both fingers came away sticky with blood. Sprinkling a clean cloth with herbs the healer had left her, she quickly placed it against the wound, and applied pressure.
She heaved a sigh of relief as the late hour was sounded. At last the horrible day she’d just barely endured was over. Her belly felt queasy as she thought of just how things could have gone had Gabrielle or both servants partaken of the food before it had been thoroughly checked. The idea of the small bard lying on a cold slab of marble as Daedalis worked over her body, trying to discern any further information, performing terrible acts upon her lifeless form,
Having seen to it that the wound had stopped bleeding, Xena closed the belt tightly about her and walked into her main bedchamber.
There was still a slight odor of sickness hanging in the air, but Xena could see that at least the healer had seen to the well being of the slave as per her instructions.
She gazed down on the petite woman, her hair a tangle with sweat and neglect, and found her heart aching. What was it about this little bard that pulled at her so? She ran a weary hand over her face as she reviewed the day’s events. In the last 24 hours, she’d been openly defied, endured two murder attempts, lost someone as close to being a friend as she’d ever had, and had to face her rising lack of control which almost caused severe damage to another of her trusted servants. The results of such a day had left her feeling both confused and angry, her self-hatred burning great holes in her ordinarily impervious stoic suit of armour.
Gabrielle groaned weakly, and Xena set about releasing the young woman from her bonds. She watched sadly as the bard rolled over on her side, facing away from her, and settled into a tight ball beneath the sheets.
Xena hadn’t noticed just how much she’d been looking forward to seeing the young woman in her bed at the end of the day. It seemed the more insistent her need had been to spend time with Gabrielle the more demanding her life had been, keeping them both apart. This new feeling of longing was very a different and unique experience for her. She wasn’t too sure just how she felt about it all either. Never let anyone inside, keep everyone outside, and they can never hurt you. She had lived by those words for a very long time.
The Conqueror’s jaw cracked as she yawned deeply. Stretching out the tight muscles in her shoulders, Xena lumbered to her feet and made a careful sweep of the room, ensuring the bard’s safety.
She nodded with satisfaction and then sat down on the edge of the bed. With double the guards at each post, and the windows secured in her rooms, even if she were to briefly nod off, there would be no danger to the woman forthcoming.
Xena swallowed the tail end of yet another yawn and decided that she might just close her eyes, but only for a moment or two.
She flinched as the blonde instinctively moved as far away from her as possible without falling out of the bed. An image of her cuddling with Ubris briefly made its way into her tired brain but was instantly dismissed as the name Ankara echoed in her ear.
Xena rolled over onto her back and stared up at the intricately tiled ceiling. Would there ever be someone who would love her so much that she would still reach out to her from beyond the grave?
Everyone she had ever loved had either been taken from her or had turned their backs on her years ago. She had a brother somewhere. Was he still alive?
Thoughts of her childhood flitted like delicate butterflies, never quite landing, as they wove their spell upon her. Xena wasn’t even aware of falling into sleep’s embrace, and not even the restless movement of the bard could jolt her from it.
Sometime in the night, Gabrielle rolled over to face the Conqueror, oblivious to anything but the comfort of the bed, and the warmth of the body close to her. She snuggled nearer until her head was on Xena’s right shoulder, and the warrior’s hands were holding her in a close embrace.
Both women smiled in their sleep, finally giving in to the connection they’d both been battling with for days. For the bard, it was as if her dream warrior had finally taken breath. For the warrior, it was as if she had finally returned home after a very long and lonely absence.
Soft words were murmured in the night, neither even aware that the other was responding in a close familiar fashion.
Little words of wisdom, passed o'er lips of wine
stripe across my soul in an endless flow of pain
dripping like sweet honey or pearls before swine
they dance across my heart like little feet of clay
Each word a sweet caress, slaps across my face
as bitter truths denied me, leaving me in shame
to ponder on that which love cannot erase
that our blissful union was nothing but a game
Tears continued to fall long after the wisps of her dream had vanished into thin air. Gabrielle lay with her eyes tightly shut, unwilling to face her cold reality and the truth it contained.
She sighed and a small cry left her lips. If only this Xena was like the one in her dreams. That Xena was strong and fearless, but also loving and kind. And there was no one braver than she was. This Xena was a cold and heartless woman who thought nothing of,she shuddered involuntarily as images of the two tortured men in their death throws seemed to swamp her senses. She tried to blank out the desperate look the younger one wore, as blood dripped from his nose and ears, and the panic etched across his face. He had died so horribly. Was that justice?
"My Xena wouldn’t have carved a man’s tongue out of his head. Nor would she have cruelly watched with total dispassion as he flopped about like some poor fish out of water afterwards."
Gabrielle turned over and hugged the pillow to her. If she just kept her eyes closed, perhaps her Xena would be ‘real’ for just a little while longer?
She sighed and a small smile graced her lips as she thought about just how perfect it had felt while lying in the strong woman’s arms. A low hum of satisfaction seemed to purr forth as she remembered the absolute rightness she’d felt while listening to her Xena’s heartbeat.
A larger smile painted her expressive mouth as she imagined manipulating that heartbeat, causing it to race alarmingly, as she smothered the warrior’s face with kisses.
Rolling over onto her back, she finally opened her eyes a crack and stared up at the intricate tile work set into the ceiling. The colours were quite bold, and although the tile work was indeed well done, Gabrielle couldn’t quite make out what the scene was. The longer she looked, the more difficult it was for the picture to coalesce. There was something,
The image seemed to jump out at her as she began to see the scene before her. There were nymphs and other mythical fauna in various areas of the scene, as well as both men and women in different poses. Gabrielle tried very hard not to see the images that began to flow together, but it was as if she were bewitched by it all.
It was a landscape scene right out of someone’s darkest soul, the images both erotic and fanciful but also violent and debasing. There had been so much time and effort invested in it that Gabrielle felt regardless of the subject matter, it was both breathtaking to behold as well as thought provoking.
The bard squinted and could see the dominant figure of the dark haired, blue eyed Conqueror orchestrating the frenzied activities before her. Everywhere that she looked was another scene of rampant and unbridled sexuality. She found her cheeks hot as she finally tore her eyes away with embarrassment. Peeking through her fingers for one last look, she shook her head in puzzlement.
She sucked at her swollen lip thoughtfully, and was pleased to note it had stopped bleeding sometime during the night.
"Now, surely that’s impossible even for her?"
Closing her eyes again, Gabrielle’s fingers trailed down over her breasts, legs and buttocks, tracing each bruise and bite mark left in her frenzied encounters with the Conqueror.
‘With the Conqueror, perhaps not.’
Gabrielle pulled the covers up high, leaving only a mop of blonde hair and a pink little nose poking out. The darkness seemed to somewhat soothe the bard’s racing heart.
It was the morning of the fourth day of her time spent with Lord Xena. Although she had initially embraced the surety that a cruel death was the only outcome she could expect, Gabrielle was finding that perhaps there might be more to her last days than just the constant pain that was a means to an end. Perhaps she wasn’t as eager to leave what she considered a miserable existence after all?
What was the summation of her life? Had there been love, laughter, hopes and dreams fulfilled? And what of passion? While it was truly the way of the martyr to have led a life of pain and misery, couldn’t one appreciate it all the more by experiencing the very things being denied if only once before the life was wrung from their bodies? She wanted the passion she instinctively knew only Xena could give her. She was both surprised and afraid of just how responsive she was to the Conqueror’s focused lust. How could someone that intent on eliciting such intense sexual satisfaction co-exist inside the cold and cruel shell of a ruthless killer? The ideal Xena of her dreams was bold and fearless but also romantic and giving. Part of her reveled in the animalistic abandon the Conqueror applied to her physical needs. She was so forceful, so ardently confident, and Gabrielle could see such strength and potential there, as yet unplumbed. However, it didn’t follow that just because she wanted this Xena to love her, respect her, and change her ruthless ways that it would ever come to pass. This Xena, this Conqueror, had no future mapped out with them both in mind, it was a dream only she could experience, regardless of just how terribly foolhardy it was to do so. All she was to the woman was a sex slave with a very short life expectancy. There was no investment of time and care involved at all. The cold and cruel realization of this truth was akin to a harsh physical blow. She would have to put aside such fantasies and deal with the reality she now lived in. Death could indeed be a harvest well reaped.
Gabrielle clenched her teeth with the memory of them sweating amongst the sheets, both so very close to orgasm. She hadn’t given in, denying herself even that bit of pleasure, and had thought that by letting the warrior use of her body for her own release that it would appease this need to own her. If anything, things had gotten far worse. If what she had heard being done to the small slave was any indication, her partial submission had only added fuel to the fire.
The memory of the young servant’s desperate pleas hit her again, causing a shudder to ripple across her body. While not prone to fainting spells, Gabrielle was very pleased that she hadn’t been privy to exactly what the Conqueror had done to the young woman nor the aftermath of such an encounter. She had been very surprised to awaken alone in the lord’s bed. And although both wrists and ankles were still red and chaffed, the restraints had been removed while she’d been unconscious. Gabrielle was sure this alone was the reason for her sound sleep and presently alert demeanor.
Just what exactly did the Conqueror want? Was her soul, the very essence of who she was the only thing that would assuage the demanding beast lurking behind blue eyes?
Although she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to accept total domination at the hands of someone that wouldn’t even appreciate the gift, Gabrielle was coming to the realization that perhaps that would be the only way she’d survive. If Xena was intent on taking her physically, then there was nothing she could do to stop her, but knowing that her continued resistance was the very thing that fed the woman’s demons helped the bard to see that the inevitability of her total submission was truly the only way. Perhaps by giving in totally she could defuse the anger, and the mistrust. Perhaps then they could build on what was left?
A feeling of calm settled over the young woman and she expelled a deep cleansing breath. All the unrealistic notions she’d been having about ‘her’ Xena seemed quite childish all of a sudden. As much as she would have relished living in the world where that Xena existed, the truth was that she didn’t. All she could ever expect from this Xena was pain and humiliation if she didn’t submit. At this point, she had everything to gain and nothing to lose by just playing the game. And in reality, the final outcome was never really in question, just the method by which she would offer it up.
But oh, how she wanted to feel that burning in her loins when her Xena looked at her, touched her, spoke her name,She groaned.
Pulling her covers back from her face slowly, the bard cocked an ear. Had someone truly spoken or was it just her imagination again?
A slight squeaking noise had her sitting bolt upright in bed, heart thudding painfully, and throat suddenly very dry with fear.
"Ah, I see you’ve decided to join me here in the land of the living. Had plans to spend the whole morning in bed, did you? Well," The Conqueror slowly arose from the chair she was in, and approached the bed.
Gabrielle managed a dry swallow in the half-light. She began to fidget as the corner of the sheet was slowly pulled from the bed.
"I have some plans of my own." Fear gripped the blonde more firmly as the burning eyes of the Conqueror played over her gradually exposed flesh. She watched as the warrior made every effort to look as menacing as possible.
Closing her eyes briefly, the bard gathered what little strength she had and decided that if the Conqueror wanted to continue to play this game, she was going to change some of the rules. After all, a person could die but once.
"I,I will do as you ask, milord. You may have me, at your leisure. I shall submit to your every whim. I would ask, however, that I be given sustenance and a chance to prepare myself for you."
Xena had been prepared to face tears and a wailing and gnashing of teeth. She was ill prepared therefore, to see the calm woman before her, whom it seemed, had decided to accept her fate. There would be no terrified waif, no tearful pleading, and finally no battle of wills hard won.
‘And where is the fun in that?’ she asked herself.
Xena tapped her lower lip coyly.
"Oh, I shall have you when ever and which ever way I wish, slave."
She tightened the sash around her robe and then came to where Gabrielle was sitting at the side of the bed. The blonde’s body was covered in a fine sheen of sweat, despite the cool morning air. Xena smirked, knowing just how hard it must be for the little thing to keep together and not fall into a puddle of quivering, frightened flesh. After the ordeal of the past few days, it was a wonder the woman wasn’t totally incoherent.
"You’re a bold little thing, aren’t you? I like that. So. You’ve decided to comply with my wishes? Why do I find that hard to believe?"
Gabrielle lifted her chin and gazed unflinchingly into the eyes of the Conqueror.
"I gave myself to you, as you wished, but it wasn’t enough. I,I don’t know what it is you want. But I will comply."
Xena snorted and inched her knee between the woman’s pale thighs.
"You took, slave. It wasn’t yours to take. What I ‘want’ is simple, really. I ‘want’ everything. And compliance is essential for total submission, slave. And yes, sooner or later you will comply, Gabrielle." A very cold smile graced her lips, the kind that freezes the soul with its cruelty.
Gabrielle found the tip of her chin pinched painfully between two tapered fingers.
"‘As I wish.’ Let’s take a close look at that phrase, shall we? Just to be sure that we both know where we stand, of course."
Gabrielle attempted to pull the edge of the sheet up around her lower torso, and winced as the fabric was wrenched from her fingers.
"Ah, ah, ah. Now you see, this is exactly what I’m referring to. Did I not pull the sheet from your body? That does somewhat indicate my wishes for your current state of undress, does it not? Good."
Xena moved her hand slowly along the woman’s jaw line and then settled her hand around the bard’s throat.
"It’s been a fine chase, slave, but now it’s over. Your defiance has gotten you no where. Unless you consider a tepid bath and some food payment for pain inflicted thus far? Do you come that cheaply, slave?"
She smiled as the fire returned to the blonde’s eyes. ‘That’s much better. Complacency was just so,boring and terribly predictable. Now fire, that held a hint of promise.’
"Now, I believe you had some,requests."
Gabrielle glared briefly, and then dropped her gaze, taking care to smooth the claw-like hands in her lap. Her nostrils flared as the hurt bubbled to the surface.
"Yes, milord. Unless you’d prefer me in my base form, chained to the wall, the surface of my skin decidedly unpalatable. I’ve not been adequately prepared, and still have the stink of the commoner upon me."
Stars sparkled in front of Gabrielle’s eyes as her head snapped back from the blow inflicted. The tip of her tongue came out and danced across her newly split lip.
Xena pursed her lips angrily, taking pleasure out of the nicely forming outline of her hand across the slave’s face. She waited, her hand poised for another blow, and was somewhat disappointed to see the young bard regain some of her lost control.
"While you speak the truth, slave, it is your tone that I’ll take issue with. Now, stand up."
Gabrielle blinked a few times, forcing hot tears to recede, before she lumbered to her feet. Her jaw quivered with the effort it took to bite back an angry and ill-timed retort.
Xena pointed to the bathing chamber, and then watched with covetous eyes as each careful step made the young woman’s breasts bounce enticingly. The marks she’d made there were already beginning to fade; something she would remedy at the earliest opportunity.
Her eyes seemed to devour the woman as they trailed over every inch of her pale skin. Although the slave was slightly underfed, Xena could fully appreciate her splendid physical attributes, much as one would a fine piece of horseflesh.
Gabrielle’s hair fell just past her shoulders. Even though they were both standing in partial light, Xena could imagine the lustrous shine as the woman moved across the floor. Her small boned shoulders were perfectly proportionate, leading the observer to contemplate their taste and texture. The bard’s hips were somewhat narrow but framed her well-turned ass admirably.
Xena’s eyes continued on their merry path until reaching the rather misshapen mass that was Gabrielle’s knees. A sharp pang hit the Conqueror and she quickly looked away. Walking angrily over to the bench against the wall, she hastily sat down. Crossing one leg daintily over the other, she did her best to ignore the gnawing feelings of guilt and just focus on the task at hand.
"Take the soap, girl, and do a thorough job of it. Start at the ears and work your way down."
Gabrielle thought briefly of defying the Conqueror. She hadn’t been told to wash behind her ears since she was a wee child and was more than capable of taking care of her own hygiene without having someone overseeing the project.
"Perhaps you need help?"
The bard turned quickly and then stepped into the cold bath water. Her jaw was rigid as she began to scrub her arms and shoulders.
"I think you’d best wipe that belligerent glare off your face, slave, before I have to deal with it myself."
Touching her purpling lip carefully, Gabrielle decided petulance wasn’t going to get her anywhere. If the lord was intent on belittling her, any childish response on her part would only contribute to the behavior.
Xena tapped her fingers against the wood with impatience as the young woman slowly moved the cloth over her body. The still pink stripes seemed to ripple like waves as the muscles moved tantalizingly over her back.
Gabrielle bit the inside of her check and then turned to face the Conqueror.
Xena held her expression in check as a bit of blood appeared at the corner of the slave’s bruised mouth.
She didn’t like to punish the woman. Why did she have to be so stubborn, so brazen? If she only did as directed, there would be no need for punishment. Xena cast a hateful look down at her willful hands. She had always been quick to temper. While taking some satisfaction from sexually tormenting the woman, meting out discipline that would result in marring her beauty was not something she particularly enjoyed.
Gabrielle stood self-consciously and watched as look of sadness crossed the Conqueror’s face.
Xena’s head snapped up and she let go of the fabric clenched between her two fists.
"Why do you make me strike you? I am perfectly willing to entertain any thoughts you may have on the accumulation of momentos," she grinned lasciviously, "but blows given other than with a passionate hand is something I’d rather not deal with in the confines of my bed chambers."
Gabrielle’s lower lip trembled. "I don’t like being abused, Lord Xena. And if you truly wish to show me your passion, I would embrace it with much less reluctance were it offered with a more gentle hand."
A very disgruntled warrior stared back at her.
"Why is it what you want? It’s what I want that counts right now."
"But I’m willing to give you what you want, why do you have to take it?"
"I always take, Gabrielle. It’s what warlords do."
"But if I’m willing to give it,?
"You say you are, but you continue to defy me, giving me no recourse but to take it."
"If you were more gentle, more loving,"
Xena’s voice began to rise as she found herself enmeshed in another long and protracted ‘discussion’ with the willful bard. Why was she even arguing this point?
"Why should love have anything to do with it? I want you sexually. That’s all. If you give yourself to me completely, then l won’t have to punish you, and take what you profess to offer."
"But l do offer it, Xena. I want to make love with you."
Xena stood as if poleaxed. "What do you mean ‘make love’? When did that enter into anything? You keep bringing that point up and yet there is no basis for doing so."
"But l can’t submit willingly unless there are intense emotions involved."
The Conqueror arched her brow at the word ‘intense’.
Catching the knowing look, the bard poked the air with emphasis. "And by intense I do not mean binding me and striking me with a whip."
Xena narrowed her eyes. "You looked to be enjoying it at the time."
"I did not enjoy being brutalized, Xena."
Clenching her jaw fiercely, Xena leaned forward.
"You will refrain from using my given name, slave."
Gabrielle’s jaw dropped open. "Is that all I am to you? Just a slave to be used sexually and then cast off?"
Xena’s mouth opened and the words were released callously before she even pondered their impact.
The hurt expression on Gabrielle’s face felt remarkably like the knife blow Xena had sustained earlier. Guilt was an emotion the warrior was just newly becoming acquainted with. So far the close encounters Xena was experiencing left much to be desired. As much as she wanted to drill into this woman’s head just how little she truly meant to her, there was a part of her that died, knowing to do so meant the truth: there was no one in her whole miserable existence that meant anything to her, nor she to anyone else. If she died tomorrow, would anyone cry for her the way that Ubris had for her beloved Ankara? The answer was like ashes in her mouth.
The blade of guilt was twisted deeper as the young woman slumped down into the cold bath water. She hated this feeling! This reptant lack of control, even over her own body, was becoming more than she could bear.
"I dislike arguing, sla,Gabrielle. You will learn to do as you are told, or you will suffer the consequences. Is that understood? I will brook no further arguments on this subject."
The bard nodded quickly as the tears continued to fall.
Xena pointed to the woman’s belly and breasts. "I believe you’ve forgotten a few areas. Be quick about it now."
"I’m not a child."
"Then don’t act like one. Stop the petulance and simply submit to my will. It will go all the easier for you if you do. However, if you wish to continue your path of defiance, then you force me to react in a certain way. This will be your doing, Gabrielle."
The young woman quickly wiped her tears away, turned and then went back to scrubbing her body, muttering all the while. With a final stomp, she exited the bath and reached for a towel, oblivious to the lord’s mounting fury.
The Conqueror got slowly to her feet and towered over the slave.
"What was that you mumbled?" This was too much. Having a slave openly insolent was something Xena would not abide. Reaching out with brutal intent, Xena stopped short of connecting with the side of the slave’s head as the woman dropped to her knees before her.
"Please, lord! I mean no disrespect." She hugged the woman’s knees tightly and prepared herself for the blow that would surely come.
"I remember the first day you came before me. I knew then that you were nothing but trouble, and said as much, I believe."
"You called me pouty, milord. And stubborn. And I am quite willful, as well. And I do deserve to be beaten, lord, truly. But please, not today?"
The fury that threatened to consume her seemed to disappear, and Xena wove her fingers through the impossibly golden hair of the slave.
"I dislike thrashing you, Gabrielle, but you will submit."
Gabrielle nodded and got to her feet.
"I would offer up my soul if you would but ask it."
Xena pulled her hand back and frowned.
"It was what I mumbled, lord."
The Conqueror stood lost in thought as the bard finished drying her face and body.
‘But I’ve always taken what I’ve wanted. Why would I ask? Her will counts for nothing, mine counts for everything.’
Gabrielle turned to face the warrior, intent on asking whether she should leave the towel behind, but closed her mouth as a look of confusion knit the Conqueror’s brow.
‘She must give in to me. My will shall be done. But she is young, and will learn in time. But there is no ‘we’ and therefore no ‘time’.’
Xena sighed at the empty feeling the thought produced. A soft kiss placed upon her palm startled the warrior and she refocused her attention.
"If I were to offer a caress with one hand and yet a blow with the other, which would produce the desired results?"
"I suppose it would depend upon the results I wished."
"If you wished to have me,sexually, milord,do you believe an adequate response to a blow would be total compliance, in every way?"
‘Coercive seduction has always worked before,’ she thought silently to herself but said nothing.
"If you wished to have me writhing beneath you, eyes clouded over with lust, and body ripe for the taking, lord, would not a caress be more apt to guarantee such a response?
Gabrielle dropped the towel slowly and stepped closer to the warrior.
Xena probed a few front teeth and then smirked.
"This discussion is ended. Get into my bed, now." She pursed her lips, as her decree wasn’t met with an immediate response. She gnashed her teeth as the blonde all but pranced coquettishly.
With nostrils flared, Xena grabbed a fistful of the blonde’s hair and pulled her closer.
"You would do well to remember that I am well versed in the art of seduction, slave. You’re little feminine wiles will get you no where."
Gabrielle winced as her face was pulled closer and her mouth covered with a brutal kiss.
Xena sensed a stiffening in the young woman’s body and enfolded her more tightly within the embrace. ‘And still you resist me.’
Finally, Gabrielle pulled back and wiped at the blood dripping onto her chin.
"Why must everything be taken with force? You say you know the art of seduction but in truth the skills I've seen thus far are comparable to those used in an act of war. I am not a possession, Lord Xena, I am a human being."
‘You are a decidedly large pain in the,’
"Why can’t you simply treat me like a human being?" Gabrielle began pacing back and forth in front of the perplexed warrior.
"Don’t I have needs and wants? Can I not voice these from time to time without the threat of torture hanging over my head? Why can’t you just be nice for once?"
"Nice? Why should I be nice? And yes, you are a human being, but you are also a slave. My slave. Mine to do with as I please. And I please to have you naked and in my bed now. Without further argument. Writhing beneath me. This instant. Do you understand?"
Gabrielle shook her head slowly. The woman just could not understand that the typical niceties dealt to another human being would net her more favorable results than threats and abuse.
‘Perhaps she was dropped as a child?’
"But I want to be writhing beneath you, lord. I want to scream out your name in total ecstasy."
Xena rolled her eyes skyward. "Then do as you are told and I shall entertain your request."
Gabrielle bit her swollen lip in an effort not to smile, but it was a losing battle.
"Would you entertainment my request in a softer tone?"
Xena frowned, feeling totally flummoxed as to exactly what was going on. In the first place, the slave defied her at every turn. And then she professed to want to be ravaged. Well, perhaps not ravaged, per se, but taken nonetheless. And then she began spouting off requests and demands, knowing she would be beaten for it. And smiling all the while? When had she lost control of this vexing woman?
She was totally at a loss as to just how to proceed. Should she strike the girl, drag her into bed and just have at her? Xena dismissed such an idea immediately, knowing she would be no further ahead in the taming of this stubborn shrew than before. Perhaps she should growl and threaten, torment her verbally, and then chase her into bed? Well, while such things had worked in the past, in this instance Xena doubted they would achieve the desired results.
She huffed dramatically and dragged a hand across her forehead. "You’ve given me a headache. I detest taking potions and now,well, you’ve ruined another evening."
Gabrielle blinked slowly. "Should I go for the healer?" And then she gasped as the Conqueror’s gown fell open revealing a partially covered wound. That was bleeding.
Xena dismissed the wound with a wave of her hand. "It’s nothing. I’m experiencing far more pain right now from your constant rebellion. Oh, please stop talking and go away."
The bard stood uncertainly, wishing to offer assistance but unwilling to cause the woman further discomfort.
"Shall I,go to your bed?" She tried hopefully.
"Yes, go to bed. Anything, just do it quietly."
Xena retied the sash about her waist and then walked over to the sideboard in the main chamber. Gabrielle watched as the woman took a pinch of this and a pinch of that from a few small vials. Then a very large quantity of wine was poured over the concoction and consumed quickly.
The Conqueror sighed happily and then smiled as a small burp escaped her lips. Having dispensed with the need for breakfast, Xena found the room spinning as the wine began to have a very immediate and pleasing effect.
Gabrielle shifted from foot to foot until the warrior stretched out on the bed. Climbing in beside the woman carefully, the bard propped herself up with one elbow and just lay watching the warrior.
"The herbs will begin to take effect momentarily and then we shall continue our discussion on why my needs and desires are not being met."
Gabrielle suppressed another smile.
"Well, I suppose I’m making headway after all."
Xena peered carefully at the woman beside her. "Well, you’re not writhing deliciously beneath me, but I suppose I’ll have to settle for you being in my bed,for the moment." And then her eyes fluttered once and then closed completely.
Gabrielle waited patiently and then carefully placed the woman’s hands at her side. Then gingerly opening the sash, the bard went about inspecting the wound. While the injury wasn’t life threatening, it was swollen and somewhat discoloured. The stitching looked rather good, and the bard commended the healer on his fine work. Her mouth twitched as she gazed upon the assortment of other scars that littered the beautiful body of the Conqueror.
Her breath was caught as she gazed over every inch of the woman. Rosy nipples stood at attention in the cool air and a slight breeze seemed to move over them, causing the blonde to shudder. She swallowed deeply as the soft crinkled hair covering the woman’s mound was ruffled. Her eyes were almost black with desire as she contemplated the taste such bounty of olive skin would offer.
She wanted to reach out and touch such beauty, realizing that only in slumber was such a thing possible. It had been most apparent that the lord didn’t enjoy being touched. It was almost as if the only way she could truly enjoy physical contact was when she initiated it. Gabrielle wondered if it was fear that had her so bound by her need for control.
She sighed and then marveled at the way the pulse point thrummed with every breath the warrior took. Gabrielle caressed the crimson silk of the woman’s gown and then wondered at the opulence surrounding her. Everything was so pleasing to the eye. She fingered a few pieces of jade in the headboard and then went back to admiring the luscious beauty of the Conqueror. There really was no comparison. Her brow knit as she contemplated the ring adorning the Conqueror’s breast.
"See something you like?"
Gabrielle gasped as her wrist was taken in a strong grip.
"I was just admiring your,jewelry, lord."
"Of course you were. Now, I believe your requests were addressed, yes? Perhaps we can continue our conversation regarding your total submission, thus fulfilling my ‘requests’. Good."
Gabrielle squeaked as the warrior rolled quickly over and covered her completely.
"I believe this is when you complete your part of the bargain."
The bard squirmed as both wrists were pinned to the bed.
"I remember you saying something about me being ‘nice’."
Christo walked slowly back to the barracks. It had been a tough morning. ‘These damned new recruits,’ he thought morosely, fingering another vacant lot in the back of his mouth. He stopped to pop his shoulder back into place and then walked over to the cistern. Dragging up the bucket, he closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and then emptied the contents over himself.
"By the gods, that’s fucking cold! Bloody stuff’s only good for drinkin’."
Andros watched as the Lieutenant shook himself like a furry dog, the blood and grime sluicing down to puddle at his feet.
The swarthy hunk of a man cleared his eyes with one hand as the other went to the hilt of his dagger.
"It’s only me, Christo."
"Ah, Andros my friend." He reached out a grimy hand, which was taken after a moment’s hesitation.
"Time for your yearly bathing?"
The instructor shook his head vigorously, spraying the other Lieutenant in the process, and then stripped off his sodden shirt.
"Bah, I think this cleaning ritual is very bad for you. How can scraping off all that good fine protection and having to start all over again be good for you?"
Andros scratched his fingers through his short beard. He’d certainly wondered about that himself but had to admit that since the Conqueror had forced her men to bath more often, the occurrence of illness had dropped almost 90%.
"It takes bloody weeks to get a fine layer of gunk back on ya to keep the fleas ‘n ticks ‘n creepy crawlies off ya."
The taller man grinned in sympathy. If it wasn’t the Deer Flies it was the Black Flies. "Well, think of it this way, at least people won’t have you scented a good half mile before you arrive in the area. Though you might have them running for the hills as they take you for a complete stranger. You might even persuade some nice maiden to marry you, Christo. After you scrape a few inches of mud off of you. Have you been bathing in the stuff, man?"
"Bah, I’ve no time to play silly bugger with the women or the bleedin’ water. I’ve been up to me brisket going through drills with Polis. A friendly disagreement as to who was best prepared to defend Lord Xena came up. Before too long, the practice field had been reduced to mire, my friend. I have dirt in places I haven’t looked at in months."
Andros grimaced as the man rummaged about in his mouth with hands that looked as if they’d been rooting through pigswill all morning. His nose crinkled as more of the man was exposed to the light of day. He resisted the urge to step back from his comrade, and forced the grimace from his face.
Christo looked up and laughed sheepishly. "I don’t have a clue as to who won. But I believe that new Captain has a little more respect for us." He dragged another bucket up and then eyed the soap cake suspiciously.
"I suppose that means you’ll have to look more respectable then, hey my friend?"
"Bah! I’d rather have the grit than smear this bloody stuff around." He sniffed the cake with disdain and dropped it into the water. "I wish the Conqueror weren’t so particular, Andros. She’ll be the death of me before even discharging me duties. Say," he said as he scratched a bare spot on his belly. "I thought the lord was going to be down at the practice field this morning. Didn’t she say so?"
Andros nodded and then handed his dagger to the Briton.
"Do your nails, man. Might as well look as clean as you’ll be smelling."
Christo grunted but went about cleaning and paring his nails as told.
"I take it you haven’t you been up to her chambers, then? I remember the good Captain of the Guards paying you a visit last evening. Said you were to report to her. She’ll have your guts for garters now, you fool."
The burly man grinned evilly and went about completing his ablutions. He seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in dawdling as he scrubbed his chest and arms before rinsing.
Andros glared at the man. Well, if he were foolhardy enough to disobey a direct order, it was nothing to him. He scratched at his neck hairs and then turned to leave.
"Don’t be leaving too soon, my friend. I’ve got some news, I have. If you’ve an ear, you can listen."
Feeling rather put out but curious nonetheless, the Lieutenant nodded and leaned comfortably against the horse stall. A large bay poked her muzzle into his shoulder, demanding attention, and was granted a scratch or two before being ignored again.
After a few long drawn out minutes, Andros huffed with disdain. ‘It can’t be anything much,’ he thought snidely, ‘or the man would have been bellowing it out to all that would listen. Probably nothing but hearsay, anyway. I’ve better things to do than listen to rumours.’
Dark eyes danced in merriment as the burly man observed the Greek’s indecision. Just when the Lieutenant was ready to leave, he laughed wickedly.
"Alright, alright. Well," he said in a stage whisper. "I did go to her chambers, me man, and stood there waitin’ outside a good hour, too." He nodded his head once and then winked.
Andros sighed with frustration. "Well? Get on with it, man! I’ll be old and grey before you even had your foolish story out! Oh, I’ve no time for this nonsense." He patted the filly once more and turned on his heel.
Christo smirked. "Ah, well then. I suppose you’ll not be wanting to hear how her lordship was having parlay with a common slave since early light? Having a right fine conversation, they were."
The taller man placed both hands on his hips and turned slowly to face the blackguard. Regardless of what was heard, the fool had no business sullying the lord’s reputation by repeating it,and to her second in command at that. Did the man have anything betwixt his ears but dirt?
"I won’t listen to slander, Christo. You might think nothing of starting rumours, but,"
The Briton unleashed the other man’s dagger quickly, and grinned as it thunked into the wood a few inches from Andros’ head.
"It’s not rumour, it’s fact. And the reason I repeat it is because I’m worried, mate. I don’t know what’s going on with the Conqueror these days. Seems to be a funny chill in the air concerning her. Oh, there have been rumours, to be sure. As instructor I hear more than I’d care to, but I’ve not been spreadin’ them. You’ve got my word on it."
Andros nodded and plucked his knife from the wood, placing it back into his belt.
"I apologize, my friend. My head’s being filled with discord lately, and these rumours have got to stop. Frankly, I’m worried, too. I’m beginning to see shadows were there aren’t any."
He sidled a bit closer to the man, and then went on. "There were two attempts on her life last evening, and one of her personal slaves paid the price for it. We’ve got to be on our toes, man, and winnow out this traitor, whom ever he is."
Christo grabbed his shirt off the post and scrubbed his face dry.
"Aye. I’ve been noticing a few leery glances myself lately. That Belacos, for one. He and that popinjay Prastin have been thick as thieves. And then, of course, there’s Dagnine and his lot. I suppose it was just luck that Lord Xena took out one head of the hydra when she killed Dimitri. He was thick with both groups. I never liked that weasel." Andros scratched his beard for a bit and then nodded.
"Well, it seems our Belacos is up to his ears in this one. I suppose he’s never gotten over his dismissal from the Royal Guards. Come to think of it, I believe he’s the only one the lord let live. The usual price for stupidity is death."
Christo hitched his belt and smiled. "Aye, but it were thievin’ he was caught at. She took his farm along with his position in her guard." He scratched his belly. "Might have thought the bloke beneath her contempt. She suffers fools far less than bandits, me thinks."
"Hmmm. I suppose she still thinks he’s useful. But if that bloody lot I dealt with yesterday is any indication, I’d say his usefulness is coming to an end."
The smaller man nodded as he gargled with the greasy remains of the bucket.
"Aye, but it means breakin’ in a new lot and I’m not getting any younger. This bunch is as green as the grass, they are." He chuckled. "Though they did give a good accounting of themselves, I’ll grant ‘em that. I expect Lord Xena will be a might more pleased next time she comes onto the field."
Both men walked through the stabling area into the officer’s quarters while continuing their discussion.
"I don’t suppose there is any real way to stop an assassin from gaining the field, but we can do our best about restricting the use of short arms there." He pursed his lips a bit, deep in thought, and then clasped the other man on the shoulder.
"I’ll have a talk with our weapons chief myself. I’ll make a point of having him round up the dirks and daggers and such. That way, he’ll know he has to answer to me directly. Let’s see which way this fish jumps, shall we?"
Andros peered around carefully and then poked the instructor in the chest.
"I don’t know exactly what you heard, my friend, but I don’t want to hear it second hand from the barracks, right?"
The bear of a man smirked and then whispered something into the other man’s ear. The Conqueror’s second stopped in his tracks, both hands on hips, and just laughed.
"I swear to you, Andros. It’s what I heard."
The other man scratched at his beard. "I’d heard she was a feisty one, and I must admit I’m surprised she’s lasted this long, but the lord can’t abide a wagging tongue. You say Lord Xena was arguing with her? For hours?"
Christo grunted. "At great length, I swear it. Perhaps she’s a witch put a curse on our lord? For all the days I’ve been here, I’ve not heard so much palaver come outta the lord’s mouth."
Andros shook his head in puzzlement. While the lord had a certain gift for verbosity prior to leading the men into battle, he’d always done most of the talking when they had conversed privately. The woman wasn’t openly receptive to anyone’s attempts at friendship, and given her steady and murderous rise through the ranks, he could see why.
‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ had been her watch phrase for almost as long as he’d known her. He supposed he might be the only person alive who knew as much about her as he did. This wasn’t a comforting thought. He, too, had noticed a change in the Conqueror, even more so since the arrival of this newest slave. Perhaps she was another assassin? He dismissed the dark thought immediately. By the Lieutenant’s account, this could only be taken seriously if the slave was going to talk the Conqueror to death.
He stroked his chin thoughtfully as the other man detailed the argument he’d overheard. And then the tight ball of fear in his belly eased as the weapon’s instructor went on about how the slave had pleaded to scream out the lord’s name in ecstasy. There had been a bargaining of sorts and then the two had ended up in bed. If the Conqueror hadn’t killed the woman yet,
Perhaps there was more than physical release required from this slave? There had been many that had spent time in the lord’s good graces, but none that had really stood the test of sand. At the ripe old age of 35, could Lord Xena have finally found love?
"It’s quite possible there is some magic involved, Christo." The smaller man rubbed his head thoughtfully as the Greek smiled toothily and walked away with a bounce in his step.
Gabrielle strained against the force holding her down and then, seeing the glitter in the Conqueror’s eyes, ceased all movements and steadied her breathing.
The lord’s predatory gaze flickered once and then disappeared.
Gabrielle pondered the set of the woman’s jaw, determined not to anger her further.
Xena held the bard’s wrists a little firmer, hoping to see the fire rising in her eyes. She wanted to take this woman with rousing passion, forcing her will to crumble against her onslaught. Only then, when the slave was caught up in the throws of passion would she realize that her will meant nothing. That was the way it had been and always would be.
"Is this but another ruse I see before me? You open your legs but do you submit completely?"
She pushed away from the blonde, walked back over to the table and poured more wine. Xena winced slightly as her hand moved over her wound. Glancing nonchalantly over her shoulder, Xena met the calm green eyes straight on. She smirked as the other woman refused to drop her gaze.
"You have always held my passion, lord. If you wish to have more, you have but to ask."
Xena snorted. It was always riddles with this one. She coughed with a grimace and drank deeply from the goblet, sighing with relief as the wine soothed her raspy throat.
‘This one could talk the legs off a mule.’ While the constant nattering was of great irritation, she reluctantly admitted the mental sparing more than made up for it. Rubbing her jaw thoughtfully, the Conqueror pondered the best method of assault.
Having someone just lie waiting to be taken was no great sport. Breaking one’s spirit was a matter of foreplay for the warrior. First there was the chase, then the battle –filled with strategy and surprise, of course – and then the conquest. One didn’t just jump a step in a well-used plan of seduction. Without a battle, what was there but empty victory?
Her focus shifted as the bard’s hunger was announced.
Gabrielle covered her belly and blushed an attractive pink. Xena found herself almost smiling in response.
"Food. Stay where you are and don’t move." Gabrielle stared at the large index finger pointed her way and merely nodded.
Tapping twice on the adjoining door, Xena poked her head in expecting to see her servant still resting.
"Ubris?" The sheets lay rumpled, and a look of worry crossed over the lord’s face as she noticed the crimson stain there.
Xena’s head whipped around as the servant came from behind her screen.
The Conqueror relaxed seeing the woman looking a little more herself. Her eyes all but caressed the nude form of her servant as she checked the woman for telltale signs of injury.
"Are you well, Ubris?"
The Egyptian smiled awkwardly, and bowed her head.
"Yes, my lord." Ubris sighed as a large hand smoothed the crown of her head. She had thought her mistress would banish her for the last day’s transgressions. After all, had she not failed to do the Conqueror’s bidding with the esteemed second in command? And then had she not compounded things by failing in her personal duty with the lord herself?
Her burning tissues throbbed and burned painfully, reminding the young woman that she needed apply more herbs soon. She had awakened many times in the night, finally in such a state that she’d gone into the lord’s chambers in fear. There had been so much blood and such intense pain that she had been certain her time had come for final judgement by Anubis.
Even in the half-light afforded by the candle, Ubris could see just how tightly was the embrace between master and the slave. She’d felt a jealous twinge as the Conqueror snuggled closer to the blonde, and her consciousness shifted as she realized that there was no one in her life that could ground her as completely as Ankara had. Like a blind child, she had presumed the honour and duty between she and her lord would stand as a beacon, keeping her from harm. The truth was that she would have to do that for herself.
Stumbling back into the quest quarters, Ubris had searched and finally located the healer’s bag Ankara always kept nearby. It was a few frantic minutes before she finally remembered the proper mixture and then set about creating a soothing balm. While still terrified, she’d taken some comfort in the fact that she could take care of herself if the need arose.
Now, with the lord’s gentle hand upon her, she sighed deeply with the knowledge that she would still be a part of the Conqueror’s household.
Xena’s brow furrowed as she watched intense emotions flit briefly across the servant’s face. Although some colour had returned to the woman’s complexion, it was clear she was still feeling the effects of their,
The Conqueror blinked once. She wasn’t used to thinking about relationships. People were there for amusement, serving a purpose only she could divine. When had things become so complicated?
Part of her railed at the surging turmoil of emotions. The servant would heal, she’d take her partner’s place, and Xena would continue to reap the benefits. That was all.
But what if she didn’t heal quite as quickly? What if the urges returned? It was clear the slave wasn’t going to co-operate, and although pushed beyond the point of no return she would not take what wasn’t freely given. Seduction was one thing, rape quite another.
Xena gritted her teeth. ‘Godsbedamnit! She will submit, and sooner rather than later!’
"Have you come to an agreement with the slave? Or is she,?"
Xena knit her brows. The question had been thrown out in such an offhand way, that the Conqueror found herself caught completely off guard. ‘Agreement?’ The word rattled around her brain, touching off several explosions.
Sensing a fit of pique in the offing, the servant knelt carefully before the Conqueror and waited.
Silence filled the room as the words hung heavily in the air.
"There is no ‘agreement’, not now, not ever. It is my will therefore it is just a matter of time. As always. She is a slave, Ubris, and nothing more."
Ubris swallowed the lump blossoming in her throat. Images of just how complete her lord appeared as she wrapped her arms more tightly around the slave flashed before her. She could continue this line of conversation or she could wisely take another tact, admitting her misspoken words, and retreat post haste.
However, ever a woman of sincerity, she chose the path one rarely walked with the Conqueror – one of truth.
Xena’s index finger curled under the servant’s chin, tilting her face up painfully. She looked deeply into the woman’s eyes, the expected glint of fear glaringly absent. Rather than feeling angry, Xena found herself curious instead.
Ubris felt herself almost falling into the clarity of her lord’s eyes, so warm and inviting was her gaze.
"Last night," she began. "Last night I saw you with the slave, lord. You seemed most at ease with her. I have not seen you more relaxed."
Xena frowned and thought back on the previous evening. The bard had argued incessantly, giving her a headache. Relaxed? Her ire had risen dangerously as the foolish girl had gone on and on. Finally, in her own defence, she’d take a few herbs and then,Xena bit the inside of her cheek and almost sighed in feral pleasure as the familiar taste of copper danced across her tongue.
She had to get a firmer hold on things. It was evident that the slave was having a very strange and ill effect on her. It had to stop.
Her fingers absently caressed the servant’s face, unaware that the image of the small bard had replaced that of the servant’s in her mind’s eye.
"She is corrupting me, making me weak, and it must end."
Ubris heard the harsh words but the voice speaking it belied their veracity. She leaned into the caress and closed her eyes, thinking of her beloved Ankara.
Gabrielle inched closer to the door, her eyes wide as she watched the servant curl a hand around the Conqueror’s leg, a smile of great satisfaction on her face as she was caressed in return.
She had ignored the lord’s demand that she stay put as curiosity got the better of her. Half expecting to see the warrior chastising the woman for failing to provide the morning fare, she was surprised to see the tenderness evident between them. Perhaps she had misread the scene earlier, imagining violence when none was present? Her eyes became a flinty green as she watched the tender scene. ‘Why isn’t that me?’
Xena’s nostrils twitched and her senses began to thrum in alarm. She cursed under her breath as she realized her weapons were in the other room.
A sudden shadow flickered in her peripheral field, and she squinted trying to discern exactly what it was, if anything, that she’d seen. Eyes darted quickly from one area to another, but no danger was detected. A slight noise sounded behind her and she turned quickly.
The Conqueror had bare seconds to react as the whole scene unfolded before her in a painfully slow ballet of death.
The servant’s hand came up slowly, pointing in the direction of the far windows. Xena’s head snapped back around and she moved forward. Gabrielle cried in alarm as an arrow flew towards them, not knowing if the target was the Conqueror or the servant. Xena growled low in her throat, a terrible glint in her eye as the arrow was plucked just inches from Ubris’ face.
"Move! Get behind me, both of you!"
Gabrielle’s mouth hung open as she watched two arrows summarily dealt with in quick succession. She watched as Xena’s hands went naturally to her hip in search of weapons that were not there.
‘If I quickly dart back into the room,’ but that meant leaving the two alone to face the assassin or assassins. Despite her obvious lack of skill and protection, the bard was loath to stay hidden behind the lord’s skirts. Oh, how she wished to dash forward and force the black guards out into the open!
Xena flicked another arrow harmlessly away from the bard and sought a way out of their predicament.
"Ubris, alert the guards while I hold them off!" Xena pushed the servant back towards the door and then pulled the bard closely behind her. A familiarity washed over her as she and the bard dodged the arrows, almost in tandem, and when the young woman pressed herself against her, Xena felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
Gabrielle began to inch backwards as the Captain of the Guards came running towards them.
Captain Polis began brandishing his sword, deflecting a few arrows before gaining the Conqueror’s side.
Xena shook her head and remained focused as another volley of projectiles was lobbed their way.
She heard a slight gasp and feared the young bard had taken an arrow, but felt the tightening in her chest ease somewhat as a hand moved to the small of her back.
"I am well, lord."
And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
Xena cursed loudly as Polis staggered against her. Gabrielle flinched, expecting a cold response to the man’s injury. Her eyes widened as the lord placed her hand over the man’s wound, stemming the flow.
The blonde stood as if pole axed, watching in horror as a steady stream of blood oozed through Lord Xena’s fingers. ‘So much blood.’
"Bloody assassins! I’ll hunt every last one of them down. And I think I know exactly where to start."
The Captain swayed a little and then grimaced bravely as the Conqueror eased him down into a nearby chair.
The bard swallowed the growing lump in her throat as the sodden shirt was pulled away to expose the Captain’s angry wound. She bit her lip as the Conqueror went on as if such things were a common occurrence. Perhaps they were? Gabrielle shuddered as she thought about the kind of life this woman had led and would continue to live. How would she be able to reconcile herself with it all?
"Where are the others?"
Polis blinked slowly. "Others?"
"Yes, man. The guards, my men stationed at the door. I had them doubled earlier. There should have been at least four men outside."
The Captain shook his head to clear it and then shook his head.
"There were no others."
Xena noted the man’s slurred speech and pallor. Quickly placing two fingers to the left of his right clavicle, she tapped twice and then nodded to herself as the man took a deep shuddering breath. She began to move quickly over the Captain’s wound with an air of detached irritation. However, her mind was carefully working with the task at hand while going through the list of possible suspects.
Gabrielle sighed with exasperation. Why was Xena going on about some missing guards? This man had almost died, and surely would if they didn't summon the healer quickly. Biting a finger, the bard wondered if she should just go and find the man herself? She scratched her bare tummy absently. ‘How hard could it be to find a healer?’ Where should she look? The bard shook her head in frustration. With a castle this big, he could be anywhere. She sighed deeply as the monotony of their conversation bit into her patience. Did the woman have to prattle on and on about inanities? The man was all but bleeding to death! She spun on her heel facing away from them and crossed her arms in a huff.
Xena pursed her lips as Polis slowly came back to himself and his colour improved. She smirked, half expecting the young bard to stamp her foot like a child. Certainly there was enough going on around her to keep her amused? Perhaps it was the sight of blood? She wondered if she herself had ever been that naive, that totally innocent? How her life might have turned out, if only,
"Go on." She said calmly, moving quickly over the damaged area, and dismissing her current train of thought.
"Your servant came to find me, lord, and I must confess, I had assumed the others were in here with you. The young woman was rather distraught, and speaking in her foreign tongue. I’m sorry, lord, but I couldn’t understand her."
Xena nodded. "That’s fine. As to the guards, did you see anyone outside my chambers before you came rushing in?"
"No, lord. In fact, the soldiers by the landing to the second floor were absent as well, come to think of it."
"I see." Xena ground her teeth. ‘Heads will roll.’
Gabrielle shrank behind the taller woman in a rather wasted effort to conceal her state of undress as the Captain’s eyes seemed to clear. However, he was far too interested in concentrating on what the Conqueror was saying to notice anything else. As she peeked around the woman, the bard stood transfixed. As Xena was peppering the Captain for information, she had begun the arduous task of working the arrow out of his side.
Her lower lip trembled as the shaft was gripped tightly. She stared in wonder as the man sat seemingly oblivious to the lord’s efforts. She moaned piteously as the end of the arrow was pulled through the distended flesh, making an odd squishing sound.
Quickly grabbing up the corner of the tablecloth, Gabrielle snatched it from beneath the few dishes littering its surface and then wrapped it tightly about herself. Anything, she had to concentrate on anything but what the Conqueror was doing, what the man was enduring, oh gods,
Dishes. Yes, that was it. Think of the dishes. She remembered how hard this trick had been to learn, a small curl to her lip beginning as she thought of Lila’s dismal attempts.
She smiled smugly and then the grin faltered as she found herself looking into the amused eyes of Lord Xena.
"Quick with your hands, I see."
"I have many skills, m’lord," she mumbled.
Xena sucked a tooth. "Yes? And I will be seeing some of those soon enough." She tapped the Captain on the shoulder and watched as he came out of a slight daze.
"I’ve finished up now. You may return to duties, but first," Xena pulled the man’s hand up to cover the wound and then pressed hard. She nodded as he absently continued the pressure.
Then she jabbed two fingers into the base of his neck and held his shoulders as the full force of his wound was felt.
Polis gritted his teeth and his body protested madly as the pain rushed through him. How had that happened? He looked down and was somewhat amazed that his shirt was open and a small amount of blood was oozing through his clenched fingers.
"See the healer as soon as possible. You should probably eat something, Captain, to aid in recovery. Yes, a nice bowl of mutton stew should do the trick. I expect you to be at your next watch, is that clear?"
Polis prayed fervently to any god listening that the contents of his stomach would stay where they were. Images of greasy meat floating in a pasty gruel entered his mind and he swallowed deeply.
"Yes,lord," he gagged.
"Oh, come along, Polis. It’s only a flesh wound, after all."
Gabrielle reached a hand out to the man, almost voicing her displeasure at the Conqueror’s cold demeanor but thought better of it as she noted a small damp area at the woman’s side. Xena had more important things to think of and at least Polis would be seeing the healer. Somehow, Gabrielle didn’t think the healer would be making a visit to these quarters tonight.
‘Stubborn, damned stubborn. Well we’ll see, Conqueror.’
Xena walked over to the sideboard and pulled a long cord. Gabrielle frowned as the woman counted under her breath and then two men rushed in and saluted.
"You’re late. I don’t know which part of the castle you’re running from but I want to know who was in charge of the last watch on this floor. Understood? Now get this man to the healer."
Both men paled noticeably as the lord wiped her bloody hands on the edge of the blonde woman’s clothing and then the Captain got to his feet. What could he have done to incur the Conqueror’s wrath? Perhaps the rumours they’d heard about an insurrection were true?
Taking the man by both elbows, the two guards quickly moved out of the room. Gabrielle sighed as the door was closed quietly behind them.
She turned to the woman and frowned as she caught the end part of a painful grimace as it flashed across her face.
"Lord, you’re hurt!"
Xena winced and grabbed up her goblet, draining the contents in two or three gulps.
The tension seemed to leave the taller woman’s frame momentarily. Gabrielle wondered if the Conqueror could perform the same feat that she’d done to the Captain on herself.
"What you did to the Captain, can you do it again?" She gestured with two wiggling fingers and Xena almost smiled.
"Yes, but it isn’t really a good idea right now. Perhaps later, when I have access to a few of the healer’s tools. A bit of catgut, that sort of thing." She opened her gown and fingered the freshly seeping wound.
"Damned assassins. I don’t suppose they could have waited another night; I’d have been healed up by then. After all, what good is an easy target?"
Gabrielle felt her belly flip at the gallows humour. They might have all been killed and here she was making light of it. She would never understand the woman.
"But lord, you’re injured. If you allow it, I’ll stitch the area closed. If you use that pinch thing, then you should be without pain while I work."
Xena arched an eyebrow. "Oh, you’re that bad, eh?"
Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest and then saw the twinkle in the woman’s eye.
The warrior poured another goblet full and then walked over to sit on the bed.
"Ah, that’s better. Come join me. I think we have unfinished business, girl."
Gabrielle turned, hiding her disappointment as their camaraderie seemed to vanish on the wind. Would the Conqueror ever really let those barriers down and just be,human?
"Did I say you could put that on?"
The bard sighed and glanced up at the ceiling. Some things just didn’t change. The woman had a one-track mind. Would it always be like a war between them? A minute flicker of movement caught her eye and she whirled to face the Conqueror.
The goblet clattered to the floor and then the nearest candlestick was pushed over, it’s red wax pooling across the floor in the fading light, thrusting the room into darkness. Then the table was pushed over and the Conqueror went in search of the bard.
"Xena," the bard cried as she all but threw the cloth from her. She opened her mouth again and then began struggling as a large hand was placed roughly over her lips. Gabrielle squirmed as she was crushed against the firm surface of another body.
"My, aren’t we just full of surprises?" Gabrielle began to relax as she recognized the lord’s voice purring in her ear as she was dragged away.
"Now why would you want me alive, girl?" Xena snorted and then moved both hands possessively over the woman’s bare breasts.
Gabrielle groaned as her body responded. "I hardly think this is the time or place,oh, gods." Her eyes fluttered closed as she was pushed down to the floor.
Xena chuckled and then the blonde felt sharp teeth sinking into the tender flesh of her throat.
"Why this is the perfect time, girl. Thrill of the hunt, blood in the air, an assassin close by. Sets the mood perfectly." Gabrielle breath seemed to leave her body as Xena’s large form moved over her.
"Oh gods,now? Can’t we discuss this?"
Xena rolled her eyes in the darkness and then grinned cruelly as her search came up with the dagger she’d left on the table earlier.
"I’ll attend to you in a moment. But first,"
Gabrielle’s eyes darted back and forth as something whistled past her ear.
Xena sneered as her fine hearing detected movement across the room. She reached out and pinched the blonde painfully on her leg as an arrow thunked into the wood next to her.
"Ahhhh!" And then a hand was placed over the bard’s mouth roughly, causing her to swallow an angry retort.
Xena narrowed her eyes as she heard the rustle of weapons being put away. From the movements, she could discern only one person, using a crossbow. There was no snick of metal as a sword was drawn so that narrowed things down to a small arms defence as the likely weapon of choice.
The warrior smiled cruelly as she envisioned the plucky assassin all but patting himself on the back for a job well done.
‘Come along, little man. It’s your move.’
She could feel the hot glare of the bard’s green eyes burrowing into her and then leaned in. Gabrielle wasn’t too sure just what to expect but it wasn’t the soft kiss placed on her brow.
"Quiet?" Xena whispered and then waited until she felt the bard nod.
Slipping off her satin gown, Xena brought the blade to her lips and then crouched silently, like some jungle cat waiting for prey.
Gabrielle tried to see what was going on but could barely even see her own hand in the darkness.
Xena cursed silently as an object was thrown nearby, making the bard jump in surprise. She grumbled under her breath again and fought back the urge to hiss at the foolish woman.
Another crash broke the silence again, this time from a different direction, and Xena knew the assassin was on the hunt. She craned her neck and just closed her eyes, willing all of her senses into a full state of alert.
Her nostrils fluttered as she noted the close proximity of the bard who was painstakingly making her way closer to where she crouched. A small breath was released as the woman’s hand moved up to her hip. Then the soft hairs lining her ear were tickled as the blonde whispered carefully, causing a shiver to run up her spine.
"I’m sorry, Xena. I wasn’t expecting there to be more than one. What are we going to do?"
Xena tensed as someone stepped over a fallen article.
"Only one. Wait." She pressed her hand to the woman’s mouth and then eased over to the right side of the upturned table.
It was a few seconds before Xena could discern the assassin’s new location and pursed her lips in concentration. She could almost see him inching forward in a tight grid, making sure his victims didn’t get past him to safety. An eyebrow bobbed once as another article was tossed towards them. Xena could feel it coming straight at her and simply ducked to avoid impact instead of obeying her first response. Grabbing the object out of the air was a clear way to show exactly where they were and indicate they were on to his deception. No, that would never do. While she was unsure as to exactly what type of weaponry the man had at his disposal, she was confident that the only life being taken this night would be his own. She picked up an empty bottle and tossed it over into the opposite corner and then waited. Sure enough, the assailant paused, unsure as to whether they had separated and were coming at him from opposite sides. Xena shook her head ruefully. ‘If the bard hadn’t been there,’ And then a twinge of truth hit her. If the bard hadn’t been there, would she have been prepared for the second attack? She mentally kicked herself again. Her keen senses were usually on high alert. Why she hadn’t detected this one was beyond her. Well, she’d have to do her best about disarming the man without killing him. Perhaps the interrogation would prove to be entertaining and useful.
The Conqueror looked back towards her last position and nodded, pleased that the bard was at least paying attention to the simple ploy and not rising to the bait again. She would have altered tactics at this point, but then no one knew military strategy as well as she did.
Counting quietly, Xena bit down on the blade, tensed for half a second, and then launched herself forward. A resounding ‘ooof’ was heard and then both bodies went down with a crash.
Gabrielle reached out, grasping at the air, and then inched forward. What was happening? If she called out, then she’d give away her position. She steeled herself mentally, determined not to become more of a distraction than she knew she already was. The Conqueror had wasted far too much time making sure she was safe and Gabrielle knew if she hadn’t been there, the assassin would have been caught and dealt with easily by now.
‘Oh, gods!’ she intoned quietly, hoping she was doing the right thing by just keeping out of the way. ‘But what if,?’ She wrung her hands desperately and then moved in a little closer.
Xena pushed her knee up against the body struggling against her. Inching her fingers closer to the assailant’s neck, she smiled almost woefully. It was too easy! If this was the best they had to throw against her,
Suddenly, the body stiffened and the Conqueror found herself grasping thin air as the man gained his feet and stood waiting. She closed her eyes and then sprang forward, confident in both her method of surprise and the strength levered against her opponent. She’d take him down, probably breaking his knees, and then apply the pinch. The time for games had past. Mind you, there was still the interrogation.
Her head snapped back painfully as she collided with what could only be the upturned table. ‘But how could that be?’ She had been facing in the opposite direction. She spun on her heels, blinking rapidly until the sparkles dancing behind her eyes receded. Somehow, she’d lost her knife in the scuffle, leaving her somewhat disoriented. She could ‘feel’ the man, so close and yet,
A soft breath played across the back of her neck. With a growl of frustration, Xena lurched around and found herself unable to detect her opponent. Nails dug painfully into her palm as she forced herself to become centered, to become calm, and to reason out her fear. Relaxing her shoulders, the Conqueror placed her palms outward and made a slow circle.
Gabrielle heard the scramblings and then a grunt of surprise. A weak groan followed a sudden crash and she wondered how badly the intruder was injured. Knowing of the Conqueror’s penchant for violence, she tensed as an image of a very large dangerous jungle cat playing with her victim filled her mind. She gulped noisily, thinking of someone with Xena’s skills tormenting an opponent who was terribly outclassed.
"Ah!" She jumped as a fingernail was trailed up her forearm. Shrinking off to the side, Gabrielle found herself fumbling with the assorted articles on the floor around her. Surely there would be something, anything, to use against this unseen foe?
Or was it Xena, playing with her?
A very small amount of light began dulling the darkness as night inched towards morning. Xena closed her eyes and counted silently to three before taking in her surroundings again. A few shadows danced just beyond her peripheral vision but she made a point of not looking at one place too long. Crouching low, she extended her senses and waited for a telltale movement. As good as this bastard was, she’d already caught him unawares once. Her fingers twitched as she remembered just how close they had been to the man’s neck. Even at such close quarters, she’d been unable to discern any facial features. It was dark, but was it that dark? The question plagued her. She’d been playing a game of cat and mouse then, but now that time was gone. Now, he had the upper hand and was playing with her.
Gabrielle yelped as a cool hand was pressed against the base of her spine.
The Conqueror spun at the sound, orienting herself mentally, and fixed her position back at the upturned table. There! The crouching figure must be Gabrielle, so,
Gabrielle gripped the chair as she heard an almost inaudible exhalation. Was that Xena or,Two dark globs meshed together and then pulled apart. Which one was Xena? She inched forward as one figure stretched out menacingly at the other. Was that Xena with her knife or did the stranger have a weapon, too? Were the quarters too close for the crossbow?
The bard cursed the darkness. She hated screaming out like that but knew that at least it would provide some sort of purpose, if only as a means to discern which figure was Xena's. She looked from one darkened figure to the other but neither one had looked her way. Providing there were only the three of them in the room, one of them had touched her. She shuddered as she relived the memory of the small hand at her back. Now she felt totally flummoxed. When had she realized morning was coming and she could discern images, if only faintly? Had the person touched her from behind and then moved to engage the Conqueror or had Xena already been in combat with the original assailant and there were two, perhaps more intruders in the room with them.
Her heartbeat increased as she felt a closeness begin to swamp her. What if the assailants turned all of their attention on the Conqueror, leaving her to be a mere spectator, a blind witness to Xena’s demise.
The thought filled her with a deep foreboding sense of panic. She squeezed her eyes shut as the memories of strong hands and persistent lips fluttered against her in the darkness. The knowledge that all the images that she’d ever have were how she pushed this woman away, even though she’d felt such passion, such fire when they touched, sat like ashes on her tongue. She couldn’t let it happen, not like this!
The Conqueror’s nostrils flared as she picked up a slight scent on the early morning air. She tried to process it, matching it with flitting memories but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. It was familiar and yet very foreign. Turning her attention to the foe before her, she feinted to the side and watched as her movement was all but mirrored. While there was no reason for the assassin not to be able to see her as clearly as she saw him, it was a little disconcerting to see just how quick and agile the man was.
Xena bit back a moan as the man struck out like a viper, hitting her left shoulder with impunity and then dancing beyond reach. She winced as a low burning began rushing across her flesh and then the air whooshed out of her as her arm went slack. She couldn't allow him another strike! The assailant had to know just how vulnerable she was in her current condition and would likely make another move to totally immobilize her. Or would he just dance in and out of range, hitting pressure points and inflicting damage at will, playing with her until she was all but useless? It was something she was very familiar with herself. No, she couldn’t allow that with the bard’s very life at stake.
Gabrielle recognized the low moan and could tell the warrior was in pain. If he could reduce Xena to such vulnerability in mere moments, she cringed thinking what a little time might afford him.
She wanted to turn and run; she wanted to find the knife; she wanted to throw herself at the man, keeping him totally occupied, if only for a moment so that the Conqueror could escape. She wanted to do so much but in the end found she could do nothing but watch the horrible dance of death before her. ‘Oh, Xena,I’m so sorry I’ll never get to really know you.’
Xena gulped a breath in and steadied herself. The pain was excruciating and threatened to pull her down into a well of blackness. Slowly releasing her breath the Conqueror beat back the growing lethargy that threatened to consume her and eased her shoulders back. She had to concentrate and try to glean as much information as she could from her adversary. There had to be something she could use against him. Her mind began to clear a little as more of the man became visible. Although it was rather difficult to pinpoint exactly just how tall he was, Xena estimated it at about five foot nine. He seemed slender in build and quite wiry in his musculature. Did he have short hair or long? She couldn’t tell. Well, that would change, soon enough.
She moved forward, swinging her foot in an arch, intending on knocking the man’s feet out beneath him but met emptiness instead. Rolling into a tuck position, Xena jumped back to her feet, her right arm stretched out into a defensive stance, and then feinted again. This time, however, the man stood his ground. She had just been in the midst of a forward thrust, her momentum totally committed, when she heard the bard scream.
Jerking her head hard to the left, Xena twisted her torso, hoping to at least catch her prey with the brunt of her right shoulder. However, the dark shape had already exited the area and stood directly behind the blonde. The light had increased to such an extent as to afford the Conqueror an almost crisp image of her assailant. His dark form loomed menacingly over the young woman and Xena ground her teeth in frustration.
Gabrielle swallowed another scream as a strong hand gripped her throat.
Xena heard the strangled gurgle and a mixture of emotions ran through her, leaving her disoriented, and a victim once again to her lack of control. Swallowing back the pain and rage that threatened to obliterate what little control she could still marshal, Xena held her palm open and straightened her stance. She couldn’t loose the bard. Not yet, not now. Gritting her teeth, she winced as the pain spread across her chest.
"Stop. It’s me you want, let the girl go."
Xena watched as the dark figure cocked his head to one side. He increased the pressure at the base of Gabrielle’s neck and the warrior felt such an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that she all but dropped to her knees.
Her heart thudded painfully in her ears as the blonde began to fall back against the man. "You know I’m already hurt. Leave her and come finish the job."
She squinted and finally realized why she couldn’t make out any facial features. He was wearing a full-face mask of some sort. Not only did it deny the observer an opportunity to see his eyes but also his heritage.
However, as the masked assailant began speaking in low Chinese, that question had at least had been addressed.
"Do not fear me but those who would become me." And with a slight bow, the figure moved slowly back towards the fading shadows.
Xena seethed with anger as she cursed her lack of weapons. This man would be hers if only,The room spun crazily and she dug her nails deeper into her right palm. It wouldn’t take much more to have her flat on her back, out cold. She needed a weapon, and needed it now.
She snorted softly. If she took her eyes off him, he’d be gone. And that would never do. She needed to learn everything she could before he vanished.
She took in his true height, his slender build, his grace and fluidity of movement, and the clear sense of bushido he seemed to wear as a second skin. Yes, this man was no ordinary thug sent to murder them in their sleep. Why had he come in so quickly after trying to kill them the first time? Surely, it would have been far better to attack when she was busy with the Captain? She tried to concentrate on whether it was Low Mountain dialect or rural low Chinese the man had spoken, and found her thoughts suddenly filled with Ming Tsu.
Her attention had wandered slightly, and she barely managed to look up in time to catch the man’s final gaze at the bard before he dropped from the window ledge. Stumbling towards his last point, Xena knew it would be futile to even consider going after him let alone trace his escape route. If her present condition was any indication, she’d be dead within the hour.
The Conqueror’s frustration began to recede as two soft hands were placed at her hip and then the bard molded herself to her, causing small tremors to be ignited across her back.
"I thought," Gabrielle swallowed a sob and then squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
Every breath the Conqueror managed to drag into her lungs seemed composed of molten lead. When her knees began to vibrate with the strain of maintaining her upright stance, Xena gripped the bard’s wrist and pulled her close.
"I need you,"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Not that again! Don’t you ever quit? Just because I thought you were dying, being murdered before my very eyes,Well, I really couldn’t see, but you know what I mean."
‘What was she blathering about? She had to listen,’
Leaning heavily against the stone wall, Xena pulled her robe open and tried to place the small hand over the tender flesh at the top of her right breast.
"Now look, Conqueror. I really don’t think this is the time or the place. Say, you don’t look very well." Gabrielle peered closer and then her head snapped back as she watched eyes as blue as the ocean begin to roll back into the Conqueror’s head.
"This isn’t a ploy, is it? I mean, you really are hurt?"
Xena began to gasp and her knees buckled suddenly and she slumped to the floor.
"You,push there,hard. Can’t breathe,"
‘Oh my gods, what do I do, maybe if I go fetch Ubris, she’ll know, that’s what I’ll do, yes,’
"Be dead soon,"
"No! Just,just tell me what to do."
Xena found she couldn’t lift her chin and the tiny motes sparkling behind her eyes had gotten quite a bit brighter. She was finding it very difficult to concentrate on the woman in front of her. What was she saying?
Gabrielle flapped her hands in frustration. "I don’t know what to do! Gods, you look so pale, Xena. What did that man do to you?"
‘She has such soft skin,’ thought the warrior, wondering briefly what it would be like to feel those hands caressing her face and see only love shining from eyes as green as fields of fallow pasture.
Part of the Conqueror railed against the cloying darkness, her imagination going on wild tangents as she thought of the young bard being left to fend for herself. She couldn’t leave,
Gabrielle watched with gathering alarm as the Conqueror’s jaw began to sag.
"No, no,Xena,stay with me,tell me what to do! Oh, gods! You said,what did you say? Push here,or there? Help me, Xena! I can’t lose you, not now!"
A sense of peace settled over the warrior as she felt all of the intensity of who she was leave her body. There was no more need for control, no desire to inflict pain. It was all gone. Only the truth of what this young woman had tried to offer her was left.
"Why,would you want me,to live?"
The bard began to cry as the warrior’s words became terribly slurred.
"Because,because I love you! Even though you’re a horribly mean and desperate woman, I love you! Even when all you want is to take, and give nothing in return, I love you!" She cried harder as Xena’s hand inched closer to her leg. She shuddered as the cold blue fingers fell against her, twitching once before falling still.
"No, I won’t let you just give up! Where is that bitch! Where is that woman who wanted to force me to her will, and who tormented me for hours until I all but screamed for release? I’m here, Xena,take me!"
Gabrielle sobbed frantically and began pulling on the collar of the silken robe, her fear and anger igniting within as the Conqueror’s body slumped sideways to the floor.
"Don’t you leave me! Don’t you dare leave me!" She pummeled her frustration upon the lifeless body of her,
"My soulmate, my lover, my life, my reason for being here!" Shaking the woman frantically produced no response at all, and Gabrielle finally sat back on her legs in defeat.
"What can I do? What did she say to do? I don’t know what she said!" She wiped her nose with the back of a shaking hand and then moved closer to lie her head against Xena’s chest.
She was so cold, almost like ice.
Gabrielle’s focus began to recede until the only thing she was aware of was the beating of her own heart. How could that be? Surely it would stop soon? How could it continue to beat when it’s been shattered into a million pieces? But no, it was beating strongly, as if unaware of the misery surrounding it. Each thump of her heart was like a sledgehammer against her soul and the bard closed her eyes tightly, willing the noise to cease and leave her alone in her torment!
Why didn’t she just die, too? She could if her will was strong enough, she reasoned. Concentrating deeply, the bard centered herself and then began to slow the beating of her heart. In her mind’s eye, she could sense each beat becoming less a part of the others. Each inhalation was tuned out, the twitch of her muscles was ignored, and finally all she could hear was a faint drumming in the background. She would concentrate on drowning even that out,and then there would be nothing.
Her nostrils flared and her chest contracted as she enforced her will upon the thriving life within herself. But try as she might, that slight beating wouldn’t go away. Perhaps she only needed to get more comfortable. Leaning against someone making noise was just making it very difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.
Her eyes flew open.
She pushed her ear harder against the soft skin below her cheek. At first she was unwilling to believe that the slight thumping might actually be something other than her own heart. Placing two fingers on her own pulse point, Gabrielle began to count the rhythm. Bump bump,bump bump,bump bump. It wasn’t anything like the one she could hear. That one was more of a bumpbump, bump, bumpbump, bump.
"Alright, Gabrielle. Settle down. And think. Now, what would Xena have been trying to say? She talked about pressure points before. She used them on that Captain. All right. I can use them on her. I don’t know where these pressure points are,but,I could run and get Ubris! She’ll know!"
The bard scrambled to her knees and then screamed with rage.
"No, godsbedamnit! I can’t leave! I have to,I have to,"
She looked down at the beautiful woman in gentle repose. She wasn’t dead. If she could hear a heartbeat, then the warrior was still alive. If only barely. So think.
‘Place your hand there and then press hard.’
Gabrielle blinked in consternation. Her head wiped back and forth as she checked the room. Someone had spoken, hadn’t they?
She swallowed painfully, certain that her heart was the lump sitting there.
Thinking back to the incidents earlier, Gabrielle tried to put her memories in some sort of order.
"Xena had tapped his shoulder gently. Alright, I can do that." She tapped the woman’s clavicle and waited, the small hopeful smile slipping as no change occurred.
"What did she say? Put your hand over there and press hard? But where?"
The bard’s mouth fell open, as her fingers seemed to move of their own volition. There, above her right breast was the spot she needed to concentrate on. Gabrielle bit her lip painfully and then just closed her eyes, offering up anything to those who would listen.
"I’ll give anything, anything at all, if only,let her live, please let her live." And then she took both index fingers and pressed into the spot.
She peered closer, placing her cheek against the lord’s lips. Very faint breath could be felt but it was hardly what the bard would consider an improvement. She poked the spot again, this time a little bit harder.
And still nothing.
Grinding her teeth in frustration, Gabrielle pressed her lips together, squeezed her eyes shut and then brought one tiny fist down hard.
She almost jumped in surprise as the warrior took a slow wheezing breath. Wringing her hands once, she bit her lip and then repeated the action.
When a deeper, much easier breath was taken, the bard decided to throw caution to the wind. She had both hands up high over her head with a gleam in her eye before common sense prevailed.
‘No, that might be too hard.’ She looked at one curled fist, nodded and then brought it down full force towards the Conqueror’s exposed chest.
"Ack!" She screamed as an iron grip settled around the descending wrist, stopping it in its tracks.
"Nuff. Are you,trying,to kill,me?"
With a strangled cry, the bard threw herself on top of the brunette and covered her face with kisses.
Xena began to thrash wildly as the newfound air she was dragging back into her burning lungs was deprived. A harsh breath was squeezed out of her as the bard began to hug her fiercely.
‘At this rate, my savior will kill me with kindness!’
She pushed weakly at the young woman, one hand pushing the bard’s shoulder as the other flailed miserably at her side.
‘Damned thing! Gods, what did that man do to me?’ A prickling sensation seemed to be moving up from her numbed fingers, dragging painful circulation back into parts given up for dead, and she bit back a scream of agony.
She’d been aware that the paralysis that seeped down from her shoulder and moved across her chest had effectively deadened the use of her left lung. If the bard hadn’t performed her deed almost flawlessly,The idea of both lungs being slowly turned into stone, squeezing the life from her, denying her even the reflexive action of breathing filled her with dread. Anything, she could withstand anything but that horrible feeling of being buried alive.
Gabrielle felt the warrior shudder against her and finally loosened her grip.
"I thought you were dead."
The room tilted at odd angles and Xena decided to just lie there, eyes closed, until things were put right again. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so disjointed if she held onto the body beside her.
The smaller woman pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down into the still ashen face of the Conqueror. Taking the lord’s hand, she began stroking it softly.
"That man tried to kill you! What are we going to do? How many attempts have you had in the past few days? Is this normal? And what happened to those,mrphhh!"
Xena pressed her good hand tightly over the young woman’s mouth and pinned her with a very stern look.
"Do you always talk this much or am I being singled out for preferential treatment?"
Gabrielle blinked as the older woman struggled to get her words out. Lord Xena was still feeling the after effects from the attack. She pinched the Conqueror’s hand and waited for a reaction.
The skin twitched a little and the bard bit her lip. ‘What if,?’
Xena frowned as the young woman’s eyes filled with apprehension. Her head still seemed filled with yards of cotton, and she found herself blinking to keep from falling back into the welcome arms of the abyss. Xena began to pant as she struggled into a sitting position.
"Gods, Xena,no, lie back down. You might hurt yourself even more if you,"
",Don’t get up. I have to. If someone were to come in right now,if he comes back,"
Both heads turned in tandem as the big doors to Xena’s chamber were pushed open.
"Ubris!" The blonde moved over to the servant girl quickly and then both women raced back to where the Conqueror was. Xena mumbled curse after curse as she struggled to drag herself up against the wall. The dark shadows lengthened as the Egyptian set flame to candle and the room was bathed in a soft yellow light.
"Lord, what has happened?" Ubris gestured the bard to help her move some of the furniture back to its rightful place and then she ran to fetch the guards.
"I’ll be back with help, lord!"
Xena struck her forehead with a slap as the words she’d wanted to say sat stupidly on her tongue. ‘I’ve got to get focused. If word gets out,’
"Help me up. Quickly!"
Gabrielle closed her retort with a snap as she saw the helpless rather worried look cross the Conqueror’s face.
She grunted as the woman’s 175 pounds fell against her like a dead weight.
Xena smiled weakly. "Be thankful I’m not in full armour. That’s a bitch to move when a soldier’s injured."
Gabrielle arched one eyebrow thoughtfully, "I’ll try and keep that in mind. You never know when that kind of information will stand a bard in good stead."
She smirked as the warrior tried to roll her eyes. ‘Yes, she’s beginning to feel better.’ Gabrielle pursed her lips as the two of them staggered over to the bed.
"Shall I get something, Xena?" She winced as the Conqueror gritted her teeth against the pain.
"Just,look, girl. You can’t call me that, not in front of others, anyway. And I can’t look to be ailing or unfit in any way." Gabrielle began to feel a bit better as she watched the woman shake some feeling back into her fingers, though from the stiffness present in the rest of her arm and shoulder, it was going to take time before whatever had been done was past.
"I’ve got to think. If Da,if the person I believe is behind this, then he’ll have spies out trying to find the truth of my condition. Quick!"
Gabrielle had time to yelp as she was dragged into the bed. An unsteady hand was pressed against her protestations and then the uneven weight of the Conqueror settled over her frame.
"Quiet, girl,just play along." Xena waited a beat and then swallowed. "Please?"
Swallowing carefully and averting her eyes as the Conqueror wiggled her shoulders out of her robe, Gabrielle flinched as a wave of unchecked passion rolled through her. Her skin seemed to ignite where ever it came into contact with that of the Conqueror’s. Her nostrils twitched as the heady scent that was Xena seemed to permeate every part of her being.
Xena smiled down gently and then took her hand away. "There, that isn’t too bad, is it?" She smirked as she maneuvered her lower torso between the young bard’s legs.
Gabrielle squeaked and shook her head quickly.
"Good." Easing herself down carefully, the Conqueror winced as she dragged her useless hand up beside the blonde’s head.
"Can you feel anything, lord?"
Xena wiggled her hips into a better contact position and one dark brow rose suggestively.
"Oh, I’ve been feeling things for days, bard. It’s you who seems willing to ignore them."
Gabrielle’s jaw fell open. "That’s not true! I told you,"
The door burst open just as the Conqueror’s mouth put a stop to any further discussion.
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