Soft yet hard
cruel yet kind
gripping with intensity
yet anointing with sorrow.
Large and well formed
protected by bracers
silver or brass
by a myriad of scars
Tapered and long
strong and careworn
cold harsh unforgiving
capable of holding life
and taking it
of discharging judgment
and winning it.
Hands that have known strife
miles of grief
yards of blood.
Tools of war
bringers of peace
meting out pain
with one flick of the wrist
or pressed to lips in farewell.
Palms up in supplication
or pressed feverishly against death
or entreating desire.
gripping life tenuously
demanding supple pained.
Skin stretched tightly
over muscle and bone
each nick stain break
a masterpiece of a life
Xena hesitated as the bard lowered the sheet. Somehow the size and condition of her beaten and scarred hands seemed unworthy as she compared them to the soft, creamy skin of the woman who was now offering everything she had tried to take by force. Had a week gone by so quickly? No, it must have been closer to a fortnight. Yes, surely that. In all her time spent in the arms of other women Xena had never gleaned as much loving information or gratification; there had never been any desire to look beyond her own needs. The very idea of breaking a subject, albeit one who seemed only too pleased to be in her company, felt hollow and somehow terribly desperate to her now.
Looking at the soft smile of the woman she loved was more of a gift than any sexual gratification she had known or had any hope to receive.
“We don’t have to do anything but just…be together, Gabrielle. Just holding you, tasting your scent, the hue of the aura that seems to envelope you…”
The bard lazed a fingertip up from the warrior’s bicep, trailing it past the muscled shoulders and then across to the hollow at the upper portion of her chest.
“You know, I could listen to you talk for hours, Xena. I remember…” She laughed somewhat self-consciously. “Heh, when we were going to…be together the first time, oh a couple of days ago I think, you accused me of prattling and giving you a headache. I suppose I did break the mood somewhat.”
Xena grinned and then grabbed the inquisitive hand.
“Your touch is like fire against my skin, bard. I’ve read your words in the scrolls that were confiscated when you were first arrested. You have a skill indeed. However,” She paused and then kissed the woman’s fingers. “I don’t think you employ that gift orally.”
The bard swatted the woman’s shoulder and then covered her mouth at her audacity.
Xena grinned again. “You do prattle…on and on, little one. But somehow…somehow your voice, which had initially seemed quite irritating and nasal…”
“Ouch!” she growled in mock anger as she was struck again.
“Nasal? Why, I’ve been told I have a great voice for barding.”
One dark eyebrow slowly rose.
“Well…I have! There was this boy in our group…and, and a woman in the market place who said…” She found her lips twisting into a smile despite her attempts at displaying a more mature manner. Her disappointment and tone of voice told another story, making the warrior chuckle aloud.
“Was the woman offering you a position as fish monger?” She reacted swiftly, capturing the small hand instantly before another hit could be scored.
“And the boy was undoubtedly smitten with your dazzling smile, your charming wit and your curvaceous beauty.” She all but leered.
Gabrielle’s jaw opened as she attempted to raise some ire in her defence but hesitated as she realized her folly. While the former was a blatant attempt at raising her humour, the later was surely a lie. Could Lord Xena actually find such a weakened specimen as she attractive? She pushed the thought away. What good would it do to argue the point right now? Now she wanted to convince the woman of her desirability, not prove her wrong! No, if Xena found her attractive in any way…but why else had she spent days, weeks trying to seduce her? Gabrielle knew the Conqueror could have any woman or man she fancied, so why waste her time. The thought almost made her laugh. ‘Xena is quick to criticize, even quicker to condemn, and certainly had better things on her mind than to spend time with a…cripple’. She pushed threatening tears away and decided that she certainly knew what she wanted and if Xena thought for even one moment that she was exactly what she needed in her life…well, who was she to argue?
Her eyes wandered over the physical beauty of the woman whose skin and tempting attributes were but a caress away and wondered exactly what she could have seen in the somewhat pimple faced youth from her group. Her foolish fawning over the boy made her skin crawl now that she knew exactly what she wanted in a mate. What had Xena said? It didn’t seem to matter that she was a lowly slave…or used to be…only that she was what the warrior wanted, too.
Suddenly, the self-conscious foolishness she’d been thinking faded away and the bard laughed with relief.
“I’m pleased to have amused you, Gabrielle. Pray tell, was it something I said or have I found a ticklish spot?’
Her belly twitched and Gabrielle looked down. Her smile froze as she felt the tip of the warrior’s finger circling and then dipping into her belly button.
She gulped deeply. ‘Woolgathering is not what you should be doing right now, silly bard. Be attentive, take notes, be alert!’
The blonde giggled somewhat nervously and Xena felt herself fall deeper under the spell this charming woman was casting. ‘I would surmise the young beauty is oblivious to the magic she weaves.’ A shudder ran up the warrior’s spine and the tip of her tongue darted out to wet suddenly dry lips.
“I am caught by your beauty, young Gabrielle.”
The bard blinked. “I’m not that young; why do you keep referring to me in that manner? Do I seem childish, immature or naïve in some way?” Xena noted the change in the woman’s voice and somewhat rigid posture. ‘Oh no, this will never do.’
“You misunderstand me, lit…my sweet. It was merely a term of endearment, nothing more.” She poked the woman’s waist and then smiled at the resulting squeak. “You are, however, quite a few years my junior, would you not agree?”
Gabrielle opened her mouth and then paused before closing it quickly with a snap.
“What’s age any way? Good things come with maturity; think of all the things you can show me.” She shot the woman a quick grin.
“Middle age comes with maturity, Gabrielle, along with scars, nightmares, hopes and dreams unrealized, and a fond wish to die in your sleep.”
“Ha,” said the bard as she traced a firm bicep. “I’d say you were in very good shape for being middle aged. Why, there isn’t an inch of fat on your body and you move as swift as a spitting cobra.”
Xena nodded slowly. “Yes, but I have to work at it. In five months I shall be 36. Very few warrior’s live to be 50 and most wish for an early death to avoid the humbling grip of age and the justice it metes out to those who wield a sword.”
A gentle sigh escaped the bard and Xena frowned quizzically.
“You are so elegant in your speech, Xena, yet you rarely employ it.”
The Conqueror shrugged and then began to caress the soft skin just above the bard’s right hip.
“I don’t have much to say most of the time. My men don’t care to hear florid speeches; their interests lie in whether they’ll live to battle another day.” She growled again and nipped the skin warmed by her fingers.
“But Xena, you have such a gift…”
“I make myself understood; my men require little more than orders, and very few of them would appreciate the depth and span words afford us. Why waste a mouthful of words when the prick of a sword will do the job?”
Gabrielle smiled as a large finger was placed against her lips.
“Enough talking. I for one would rather be communicating by other means.” Her hand moved slowly as it followed the crease at the top of Gabrielle’s thigh.
This time the bard was more than willing to comply, and sighed gratefully as her splints were carefully adjusted. Her eyes fluttered closed as kisses accompanied inquisitive fingers and she felt Xena’s lust bubbling back up to the surface. And for that she was pleased, having feared the somber topic of their conversation would dampen the warrior’s ardor. Her lips curled into a small knowing grin. ‘I doubt much would dissuade this woman from anything, once her mind was set.’
There had been a time earlier on when she wondered just how far her resistance would take her; driven to the point when the conflict was too taxing, and surrendering the only recourse afforded her. As much as it had rankled her to think of just how pleasant that surrender would be, part of her relished the fact that she’d lasted long enough for Xena to realize that although it could be taken accepting what was freely given was the true prize.
Her hips rose suddenly bringing her out of her haze and Gabrielle pressed the warrior harder against her burning flesh.
Xena could tell by the bard’s rapid breathing and the rising blush spreading across her body that the time for release was close. She thanked the patience gained over the years as well as the skills she’d learned along the way, and moved to another part of the blonde’s body.
Gabrielle groaned weakly as the pressure decreased and found her clenched hands teased open with soft breath and sweet kisses.
“Xena,” she implored, “I want you, I need…”
But the warrior only smiled and began trailing her fingertips up and around the bard’s ever tightening nipples. Just when Gabrielle felt unable to withstand the mounting frustration, Xena’s hot red mouth began to suckle. She felt the intensity searing her, elevating her to another level as a slick finger played slowly between her legs. Each pull of the woman’s lips travelled down to the very core of her being; each push of the woman’s hand rushed up to cause bright lights to form just behind her eyelids. And then the pleasure was eased leaving her panting and bewildered.
“No…I need more…”
Tender kisses and small nibbles began at her waist, traveling past the point they were most needed, over flesh previously held in pain’s angry maw, and Gabrielle squeezed a small cry through thin lips as the soles of her feet were bathed in moist heat. Her abandoned center spasmed rhythmically as the warrior’s soft yet raspy tongue darted here and there between the tender flesh of each toe. She mewled weakly as her legs were parted a little more and her hands grasped handfuls of air as she urged the woman higher.
Xena closed her eyes as her head was filled with the soft noises of pleasure rolled over her. Perhaps it was the tone of the bard’s voice but she was instantly reminded of her inevitable clash with Caesar’s elite forces. Their tone had been pleading as well, and yet the release they found was quicker and yet less satisfying than the one the bard was currently enduring. But for all that Xena could see the beauty and balance in each encounter and the resulting rush consumed her with the flames of raw power. She loved the reactions she could elicit, and basked in the knowledge that for her conquest was only a matter of when not if. With the blaze engulfing her Xena moved up to watch that moment of surrender in the bard’s eyes. She had waited so long, and had fought so hard…
“I want you to see what I feel, Xena,” cried the bard haltingly as she held the woman’s face tenderly. “…feel what I give you…I give you all of me!”
“Oh gods!” the warrior yelled as her fingers were engulfed and wielded tightly to the woman who screamed her name. There was no surrender only a journey taken together, and Xena felt her narrow focus expand with a brilliant white light.
Gabrielle felt the warrior falling forward, resting her damp head against her midriff and moved a shaky hand over the woman’s matted bangs.
They lay there until the roar of their encounter eased off and then passed them by. Finally, Xena rolled over to lie beside the young woman and wondered at the afterglow she was experiencing. Every fibre in her body shouted that she’d just experienced a wonderful orgasm, and yet it had been something beyond her experience.
‘Perhaps this type of response is felt only between those who truly loved each other?’ Her smile began to widen as she contemplated the joys to come.
Tender yet persistent fingers began to play over her body and she steeled her response; while dominance was her forte, instincts told her measured steps in that direction were called for. ‘He who keeps control at bay, learns to reap another way.’ She smiled at her own wit but decided Gabrielle might not appreciate it nearly as well. Her thought processes stilled as certain parts of her body were teased, and she responded immediately by arching up against the bard’s questing mouth.
The moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds causing shadows resembling latticework to pattern the courtyard. Crickets filled the October night, their noisome praise battling with the calming rustle of painted leaves. The air suddenly went still as the shadows began to change and then a muffled cry was heard.
A lone figure watched from high above the parapets, nodded once, and then faded back into the night.
A pair of guards huddled around a banked fire as they tried to keep warm, oblivious to the malevolence surrounding them until their lives were snuffed out, much like the coals that sparked and then died beneath the feet of a large contingency of men. The next set of guards met a similar fate, and the group continued their way towards the main keep. A similar group of men were waiting for the signal to take the armouries and the guardhouse. When at last the order was given, all pandemonium broke loose.
Captain Polis yelled in surprise as he was yanked into consciousness and pushed against the wall, a sharp knife held against his throat. Glancing quickly about the tower room, he could see no sign of his bedmate and relaxed a touch. A torch was shoved close to his face and any effects the wine might have had disappeared quickly as he recognized some of the men he had thought trustworthy.
“You scum…how could you…?” His jaw wobbled loosely as a blow broke one tooth and weakened another.
He strained against the arms pinning him and then spat a mouthful of blood as a dark form pushed its way through the crowd. Thracis grinned and then sent the man to the floor with hard blow to his midsection.
“We’re right on schedule, Polis me man, so don’t play silly bugger with me. Two questions, two straight answers and you live. Anything else and you die. Clear?”
The Captain narrowed his eyes and slowly took in the men’s faces surrounding him. While he counted over twenty in the torchlight, he was certain there must be more. A weak clanking hit his ears and he turned his attention to the right. There in the flickering light was the sheen of metal he recognized immediately: it was Roman by design. His lips tightened as he noticed the cloth batting tucked beneath the armour.
“Do I have to pull you up just to knock you down again, Polis?”
The young man took his time sucking in the much needed air and then slowly got to his feet. Deliberately slurring his speech somewhat, he peered closely at the traitor and smiled.
“Hallo…is that Thracis come home again? I must say, I’d wondered where you’d gotten to. Well, this is a fine how’dyou do, I must say.”
Thracis frowned and then smiled widely. “You see? The great Lord Xena fell for the trap perfectly, just as Dagnine said she would. All her men should be good and drunk and exhausted from patting themselves on the back, the fools.”
Polis’ mind scrambled as he tried to keep one step ahead of the man. If Dagnine knew they’d be celebrating their victory over the Roman emissaries, and there was evidence of Roman soldiers there in the room…
“Ha…and why not? We beat those stupid Roman’s easily. In fact, the Lord was so pleased that she left the garrison only partially filled, and gave most of us much needed leave. Say,” He batted at the hands that held him.
“You’re not looking for her, are ya? Why, you won’t find her here, not bloody likely. I believe she and a small escort went into town early last evening.”
Thracis scowled and then signaled a man by the door. “Any news from the garrison?”
One of his men nodded and then pushed forward. “Tynus says they’ve got the Briton but no one’s seen Lieutenant Andros.”
Polis found a knife pricking the skin at his throat again and forced himself to be calm.
“What’s going on? Is this some sort of joke? Andros? I told you the Conqueror had left…and of course her first Lieutenant would lead the escort.” He smiled widely.
“Right you…” He backhanded Polis viciously, then turned to the men holding the man and gave them instructions to kill him if any of the news proved to be a lie.
“And make it a slow one for the Captain of the Royal Guard. Bah. I’ll be back.”
Polis darted his eyes quickly before the torch was pulled from his face. Some of the men had left with the traitor, leaving him with about ten men. Thinking quickly, he began to wretch and was pleased as the men closest pulled back in alarm.
“Oh gods…I knew I’d had too much to drink…gods…here comes that moussaka…”
As the torch was dropped, he rolled quickly, knocking two men to the floor, and then grabbed a nearby spear, using the blunt end to knock the owner senseless before pushing his way through.
The room was filled with loud curses as each man scrambled to get hold of the fallen torch. Polis felt the anger welling up but knew he’d be dead as soon as the light was restored. No, his best chance lay in finding Andros. Perhaps between the two of them they could keep Thracis and his men from Lord Xena’s chambers.
He smiled wickedly as the point of the spear was pushed in-between the hasps of the breastplate of the man in his path and then made his escape through an open window. Having become disoriented in the darkness, the Captain was only too pleased to see that the window he’d chosen wasn’t overlooking the courtyard. Taking a few seconds to orient himself, he kept to the shadows and made his way down towards the Mess.
Andros yawned deeply as he placed the cold dish of mutton back into the larder. An easy burp pushed passed his lips and he smiled slowly. It had been a good day’s fighting yesterday. Yawning again, he scratched at his growing beard and wondered how Christo was fairing.
“I wonder what patterns the man will be employing with this wound?” A wide smile creased his face as he pictured the dainty work the Briton performed. ‘Mind you, the resulting design certainly made for a more interesting scar.’ He pinched out another candle and chortled at the thought.
He stopped mid step and cocked an ear. Was that a yell? He frowned and strained a little harder to hear. Nothing. Harrumphing to himself, Andros brushed the crumbs from his tunic in the fading light and walked back over to the table. The small hairs at the nape of his neck began to bristle and he lunged forward, grabbed his sword from the table and rolled into a crouched position. The last flickering candle told him that someone had just opened a door. He waited silently in the shadows and then sprang up quickly, knocking a dark figure to the floor.
Polis placed both hands up in surrender and then breathed a sigh of relief as the Lieutenant removed his hand.
“What the devil are you doing up again, Polis? I’ll warrant you’ve had enough to drink this night.”
His eyes opened wide as the young man pressed a hand against his mouth and motioned him to be quiet.
“Listen, we’re under attack sire. About twenty or thirty men, Dagnine’s men, now have the tower and I suspect the garrison and armoury as well. There’s no time to lose, we’ve got to reach Lord Xena!”
Andros’ mind went quickly into gear as he went through different plans to reach the Lord’s chamber.
“Right, you say over twenty men? Was Dagnine with them? And were they all armed to the teeth?”
Polis nodded. “Yes, well over twenty, and I’d wager there must be another tangle of them if they’ve taken over the armoury and the garrison. Didn’t see that blackguard but Thracis was there.” He wiped the back of his hand over his damaged mouth and the Lieutenant peered closely.
“How long did they hold you? How many others got away? We’ve got to find out if anyone escaped, Polis.”
“Stop. First off, the men were armed well and…there are Roman soldiers with them, sire. While I wasn’t alone in the tower when I went to sleep, the girl was gone and the room was filled with the traitors. I don’t know how long it was, probably not very, but I did hear Tynus say they had Christo.”
Andros made a face. ‘Damnit all to Hades!’ “Well then, there’s nothing for it. Most of Dagnine’s lot knows the grounds like the backs of their hands. We’ll have to assume we’re on our own and protect the Conqueror ourselves.”
Polis nodded as they gained their feet and then both moved stealthily in the direction away from the coming noise.
Xena smiled lazily as she stroked the ruffled head of her lover. Gabrielle snuffled a bit against the warrior’s chest but continued to sleep. Glancing out the partially opened shutter, the Conqueror could see a faint light coming from the East. She stifled a yawn, and then coaxed the bard back onto the mattress before extinguishing the lone candle by the bedside.
She lay looking up into the darkness, both hands cradling her head, and sighed deeply. It was funny how quickly things could change. Just a few days ago she’d been wondering if the bard would ever speak to her again and now…She glanced sideways and then froze as the woman slowly moved over in her sleep to rest her head against the hollow between neck and shoulder.
Xena bit her lip in consternation. ‘There goes any thoughts of me sleeping tonight. I hate to be touched and cuddling is just something I can’t abide.’
While her mind was busy complaining about the situation, her body was already responding as she created a little nest for the bard to ease into, and then Xena draped her arm protectively against the bard’s lower back and fell asleep.
Dagnine’s ruined face glittered in the torchlight; his badly healing wounds red and angry looking. Thracis flinched but brought himself quickly under control before the man could look his way.
“I’m pleased, Thracis. We’ve got the barracks, the weaponry and most of the main Keep.” He began picking at one of the scabs dotting his jaw. “But where is Andros?”
Thracis cleared his throat and tried hard to keep the disgust from his face. “Polis said both he and the Conqueror had left early last evening.” The man closest piped up, “Yes, we’ve sent a small squadron of men to scout the area. If she’s there, they’ll find her.”
“Bah…I don’t believe it. No, she’d have come back here to roost. After that encounter between she and the centurions, I’ll wager she’s busy taking out her battle lust right about now.” A sneer of disgust painted his lips as he thought of Andros enjoying what should have been his alone.
“Where is Polis, by the way?”
Thracis and the other man looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Thracis noticed a narrowing of the man’s eyes, and that maniacal look that periodically set his teeth on edge, and stepped away from his comrade.
“You let him escape?” He set upon the soldier in a murderous rage, slicing and hacking at the defenseless man until both hands were covered in gore.
Thracis dangled a cloth over his shoulder and Dagnine got shakily to his feet. “Thank you. I needed that. Now, where would Polis go and what else haven’t you told me?”
The burly Lieutenant swallowed deeply as he watched Dagnine’s tongue snake out to lick a bit of blood from his upper lip.
“Nothing, Dagnine. Christo and the other second Lieutenants are all in the stockade. And if Andros is in town then there is no one to run to. If not, then I’d wager he’d make a bee-line for the main chambers.”
Dagnine nodded slowly, finished scrubbing his hands, and then threw the cloth down over the body. He shook himself like a dog and Thracis waited until the madman’s eyes had regained their normal hue. It was times like this when he truly feared this man far more than the Conqueror. At least with Lord Xena you knew where you stood; it was either her way or death. With Dagnine, no one knew just when he’d go off the deep end or who would have to pay the price. He looked down at the remains of his man and thanked the gods he knew the signs; it could well have been him lying there in a pool of blood. And just how long would his good fortune last? He swallowed again, lost in thought.
The Lieutenant stood blinking at the other man. “Well? C’mon, let’s go!”
Thracis jumped a little and then nodded vigorously. “Yes, of course.”
The two men quietly made their way down the corridor with Andros in the lead. He narrowed his eyes as they came across a closed door. He couldn’t be too sure which door it was in the dark but if his paces had been counted correctly, then it was the private servant’s quarters.
“Let’s see if this area of the castle has been breached yet, shall we?” he whispered.
Polis opened his mouth to protest and then rolled his eyes as Andros quietly pushed the door open.
The room was bathed in blackness but Andros’ trained ear could detect someone in the room. That someone was being very quiet but the fear all but rolled off their skin. Grabbing Polis by the arm, he gestured to go right while he went left. Polis began picking his way along slowly but stopped suddenly as a small noise came from the opposite direction.
Polis moved back the way he’d come and there before him was Andros and one of Xena’s servants.
“Ubris says she’d be awakened by a noise outside her window. She said the crickets woke her up.”
“No, I did not say the crickets woke me up, silly man. I said the noise they make was not present and that woke me up.” Ubris shook her head and pulled both men towards the door.
“We must not tarry; Lord Xena must be in grave danger. We must hurry!”
Andros nodded but then quickly pulled both people away from the door. “Someone’s coming!”
Leaving the door as it was they moved to the back area towards the adjoining bathing chamber. Both men had to stifle curses as they stubbed their way along in the dark. Ubris gritted her teeth and wondered just how two men such as these had lived this long. But while she knew just how agile she was and how capable she was at being covert, Ubris knew she lacked one important thing: strength.
She pushed back as both men walked into her. Cocking an ear, she felt along to the edges of the common door and waited. No candlelight showed from under the door but the servant knew that meant nothing; Xena enjoyed stealing up to her prey in the darkness. She’d wait for a signal. Ubris sighed mightily as the two men jockeyed for position behind her.
Sensing a change in her surroundings, the Conqueror popped one eye open and listened. The door to her chambers opened a crack and a small figure stood there…waiting.
The figure bowed quickly but stood silent.
“What is it, woman?” Having received no response, Xena eased over onto her side, checked the sleeping bard, and then motioned the woman forward.
“Come along, Ubris. What is it?”
Suddenly, the figure at the door made a strangled cry and fell to the floor. Before Xena could even respond with shock, both doors were flung open and a swarm of men pushed their way inside.
Xena sneered as she was dragged from her bed. The torchlight was sufficient for her to recognize a few of the traitors that had left with Dagnine. Although he was nowhere to be seen, she was certain he was responsible. A quick look at the body by the door told her how foolish she’d been to assume the figure was Ubris. Unable to get a good look at the woman, Xena surmised it must have been one of the kitchen helpers and by the state the woman’s body was in it was clear she’d resisted. This was somewhat comforting.
“What do you hope to accomplish by this, Dagnine? My men won’t just stand by and let this treasonous act go unpunished.”
He stood back; waiting until he was certain the men had her well in hand. He swallowed deeply as the Conqueror’s muscles bulged. The man became all but transfixed as the sheet was ripped away, and the awesome beauty that was Lord Xena was displayed in all of its glory.
Standing in the shadows Dagnine fingered the healing scar that ran from his forehead down to the opposite side of his jaw. He had tried to talk to the Conqueror about his feelings. He still felt the sting of her words as she told him how nature used things like love to fool mankind into mating. She would have none of it, she assured him, and those stupid enough to fall in love with her would be killed. She didn’t have time for such foolishness; it was a sure sign of weakness. And everyone knew just how the Conqueror felt about weaknesses.
She had decided to make an example of him after he’d all but professed his love, assuring her that the blonde slave must have her under a spell. Why else would she be spurning his advances?
His already shattered ego shrank a little more as he remembered how the great Xena had laughed at him. To her, his love was only noteworthy because it proved once and for all that he was unfit for duty in her army. More over, he was unfit to live. But she hadn’t stopped there; she was determined to have him cast out as a pariah, not even worth the time and effort to kill. She had gifted him with the wound he now traced gingerly, and then had turned her back on him, dismissing him from her mind.
That had been a mistake. After a few hours with the men, spreading dissention along with cheap grog, Dagnine had more than a few top advisors in his fist. It really hadn’t taken much convincing when it came to pitting one black-hearted warlord against another. And for the spurned would-be lover, once he admitted to himself that Xena would never entertain the idea of him as a partner, she became nothing more than a distasteful obstacle.
Xena strained forward, peering into the darkness, and began to taunt the man.
“I can see you trembling like a child, Dagnine. You can’t hide from me; even if I were blinded I could still sense you out there. People like you exude fear, little man.” Pulling the soldier holding her hard to the right, she feinted left but found two more gripping her fiercely. Thracis was awed by her wild animalistic power and could feel the hypnotic trance of her dangerous blue eyes. Dagnine, however, felt both knees go weak and trembled before her.
“Take her away for preparation”, he squeaked. Clearing his throat, he stared at the men surrounding him and those who dared to gaze back knew their lives were forfeit. Like a petulant child in many ways, this madman never forgot or forgave a slight, real or imagined. The intensity of his rage began to build and those closest shrank back, looking from one unpredictable monster to the other. A few jumped right along with their master as Xena roared in their direction.
“You’re dead…all of you!”
Gabrielle tried to make herself as small as possible as she watched the nightmare play out before her. She recognized a few of the men as being in Xena’s Royal Guards and was certain she’d seen the barrel-chested man before. ‘This has to be a nightmare for the Conqueror’s trusted men to turn on her in such a way. Perhaps I’m still dreaming?’ She remembered hearing about the grand parade in the Conqueror’s honour, the great tributes being paid by foreign heads of state…where was the loyalty now?
Her head snapped back as she was struck brutally across the face. A man with a cruel scar running the length of his cheek darted forward, pushed her roughly from the bed, and then laughed as she collapsed onto the floor.
“A cripple! The great Lord Xena is bedding a cripple! Wait until your enemies hear of this.” He chuckled darkly and then advanced on the mewling blonde.
“Whatever Xena owned is now mine.”
Xena’s shoulders were all but wrenched from their sockets as she twisted in the guard’s grip at the bard’s scream. Dagnine took note and began feeling quite cocky. If she hadn’t been able to free herself by now, well chances were she wouldn’t ever get away.
“Dagnine! I’m going to kill you for this, slowly.”
He laughed evilly and nodded. Given half the chance, there was no doubt whatsoever that the Conqueror would follow through on her threats. Which was exactly why she wouldn’t be given the chance; no one survived the gauntlet.
“I’ll have you begging for death, pig!”
Dagnine turned away from the blow he’d been about to deliver to the wretch huddling on the floor. Knowing every eye in the room was centered on him, he decided to play up his part, thus securing his position as her successor.
“We’ll see who begs for death, Xena. Bind her with chains.”
“I’ll begin with your genitals, Dagnine…I’ll stuff the lot of them into that grinning mouth of yours…they should all fit, pitiful bundle that they are! Then I’ll take your eyes out…with burning pokers…”
Gabrielle shrank back against the wall in fear. This was the woman she’d just been making love to? Squeezing her eyes shut, she reminded herself of the tender touches, the sweet and eloquent words of love and was reminded again of how Xena had described herself: a cold hearted killer that couldn’t change. Although the bard knew the latter part to be a lie, she was witnessing first hand just how true the former description was.
Dagnine felt his knees turning to water and suddenly felt the need to relieve himself. That she could be totally at his mercy and still be able to reduce him to such weakness galled the man terribly. Her words began echoing in his head and he felt he might go mad.
“And gag her! Now!”
Two soldiers hurried forward and wrestled with the four men holding the Conqueror. Xena snapped and roared her defiance, leaving one man missing a thumb and the others fearing for their very lives. At last the chains were secured and Dagnine stepped closer to admire his prize.
“Yes, I like this much better. Perhaps we can make it permanent? Why, just imagine how much nicer you could have been if we’d had this done years ago, Xena?” He laughed at the image of the Conqueror barefoot and pregnant, her tongue having been ripped from her mouth. But thoughts of the reality of his vision began to settle in his mind and Dagnine groaned. She would never be able to kiss him, filling his mouth with that glorious tongue; never be able to drag it across his manly body; and certainly never be able to scream his name after being conquered in the way only he could. No, the tongue would have to stay.
He made a point of checking the leather gag and how it was fastened at the back. Given a little time Xena would have that off and be free to fill his head with all sorts of gruesome thoughts. No, he’d have to get the smithy to make something a bit grander…something with buckles. He smiled and stepped back.
A bit of sniveling caught his attention and he trained his focus on the blonde body slave.
“Heh, and as for you, slave…I think I have a position in my army for you…beneath me!” He laughed at his own joke and advanced on the bard.
The Conqueror’s Lord Chancellor sauntered into the room and brushed his newly acquired rings over his robe. As distasteful as it was to deal with a man like Dagnine it was somewhat preferable than being reminded of his inadequacies as both a man and a politician. Glancing at the woman with disdain, he dismissed her shocked looks with a flick of his hand.
Xena shook her head with a vengeance and tried to dislodge the gag.
Mica smiled, licked a finger and smoothed an unruly hair at the back of his head.
“I don’t think you should do anything to the young prisoner, Lord Dagnine.” He pursed his lips as the fool of a man ate his false platitudes up. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the bard is really a witch.” He placed a hand to his mouth in mock horror as Dagnine whirled on him in surprise. “I did mention that, didn’t I? Why, I’ve got it on good authority that she is indeed a practicing witch.”
Dagnine bounded over to the rotund man and grabbed up his collar. “Where did you get this information?”
Mica smiled sweetly. “From the healer, sire; Daedalis has been confined to the dungeon for two or three days now for daring to confront both the witch and the Conqueror. Poor man was driven mad…probably the witch’s doing.”
Dagnine scratched his chin thoughtfully. “A witch, eh? Hmmm…well, I suppose it makes perfect sense, her controlling the Conqueror like that and being a cripple and all. Damned black magic!”
Nodding quickly, Mica loosened the man’s grip on his clothing and spoke in conspiratorial tones. “She should be burned at the stake, sire, and as soon as possible. But we should have a public hearing, no?”
Dagnine shrank back in horror, stepping away from the woman as if she were the embodiment of evil.
“Fine…take her away…to the dungeons for now. I’m not too sure I want a witch mad at me right now. She might prove to be useful.” He fingered the wound on his face. “Yes, for now she’ll stay safe.”
Polis jammed one hand firmly between his teeth to prevent the wail that threatened to escape while his other arm slowly seeped blood down the servant’s chin.
Andros grabbed Ubris by the waist and whispered harshly into her ear.
“You’ve got to stop this now, Ubris! You’ll get us all killed and then who will save Lord Xena!”
Ubris removed her teeth from the Captain’s forearm but fixed both men with hate filled eyes.
“We cannot leave her like this! They will surely kill her; you must know this! If we rush into the room now…”
Captain Polis spoke through clenched teeth. “…We’ll all be killed. Do you wish the Lord to witness our deaths? Those who would survive would be tortured in front of her, make no mistake about it.”
Andros placed the woman’s feet back on the ground and then put a hand to her shoulder. “I know Dagnine and what the Captain says is true. For her very safety, we must leave now.” A loud noise came from the hall and Polis moved to the window. It was going to be a very tight squeeze to get through but if he removed his heavy jerkin…
“We’d better be going now then. I think our chances of getting out of this alive are dwindling as we speak.” The Captain nodded to Andros as he took off his shirt and jerkin. “You’d best do the same.” Ubris blushed, as the man looked her up and down.
“My shift stays on.” She fixed the Captain with a stare and Andros cleared his throat.
“Yes, Ubris.” He was just pleased the young servant was both nubile and narrow of waist.
He picked up the pile of clothing and threw it out into the night.
“Right, get going Polis.” He gave the young servant a light squeeze and smiled. “Everything will be all right, Ubris, I promise it.” Ubris said nothing and he looked away. Polis gestured through the window and he nodded. “Go on.” Handing the woman to the Captain he waited until they were both out of sight. Flinching as the Conqueror’s roars of defiance filled his ears, he pressed both fists to his temples.
‘I can’t leave her!’ His heart was filled with a terrible seething hatred as he imagined Dagnine having his way with both women. And he knew that would just be the beginning. A small tear seeped from the corner of his left eye but seemed to freeze part way down his face as a cold calm came over him.
“I’ll be back.”