The Conqueror's Harvest
Gabrielle found herself in the soothing waters of a steaming bath but couldn't imagine how she'd gotten there. The last thing the bard could remember was...
Her mind skittered carefully away from painful images that threatened to dislodge her from the tranquility that surrounded her.
As she lay there, voices were heard off to the side and she felt an urge to scramble out of sight to avoid being seen in her current state of nudity. However, it was a fleeting distraction, the calm overtaking her once more, and Gabrielle lay back in the water, content in the certainty that she was in no danger.
"It must be a dream. I'm out in the middle of some tub, I haven't a stitch of clothing on, I'm alone...and yet I feel no fear when strangers are coming my way." And then it seemed that her senses were somehow heightened and she could discern at least one of the speakers. As she peered into the darkness, one of the figures began to form into a very familiar sight.
"You must be demented. What do you mean not attack it with my body, but with my mind? That's just crazy!"
Gabrielle blinked as she watched a younger Conqueror towering over a fine boned Oriental woman. She winced as the warrior's voice growled out her words, certain by the look on Xena's face that violence was just in the offing.
"You must be as the droplets of rain, Xena. Each one can be inconsequential when up against a large unyielding force." The slender Oriental woman dipped her long fingers into a bowl of water and flicked a minute amount of liquid at the fireplace, causing the flames to sizzle and flicker. "But should the water's strength and fortitude outweigh said force, then the reaction is quite different." The woman cupped both hands into the bowl and then threw the contents into the fire. There was a brief scream as the flames fought to continue their existence, but it was only a matter of seconds before the fire was nothing but black pools of ash. "Nothing can withstand the raging flood."
The blonde flinched visibly as the ceramic bowl sitting on the table before them was glared at. She'd been on the receiving end of such a look and rubbed her chilled flesh in response. Gabrielle jumped in alarm as the Lord growled menacingly and then grabbed the bowl, flinging it into what remained of the fireplace.
"You speak nonsense, concubine." The Asian's demeanor changed ever so slightly, but it was plain that the Conqueror's words had hit their intended mark. She smirked as the Oriental flinched, ever so slightly.
Xena grabbed the silk collar and pulled the reluctant woman closer. "Oh, you are so damned weak. You know, it almost makes me sick to watch how you just submit." Gabrielle felt a mixture of anger, embarrassment and shock as Xena wrenched the fine silk robe open, exposing the woman's full bosom. The ruined cloth further impeded the Oriental's struggles, and Xena laughed derisively as the shorter woman finally ceased her attempts to break free and seemed to shrink in size. There was still a somewhat stately air to the woman and she wore her pride as rare family heirloom, something never to be taken lightly, if at all.
"But you gladly submit to me, don't you...concubine?" A fierce look flashed briefly across the almond shaped eyes and then was gone, leaving the bard wondering if it had been there at all. And then she felt small worms of jealousy rise up slowly as the Lord's large hands cupped the tan breasts, and then felt her breath catch, as was that of the woman's, as Xena grinned wolfishly and then attacked the proffered neck with both teeth and lips.
"That's all you'll ever be to me, woman, nothing more. Ever." A small tear seeped out from beneath long lashes and Gabrielle felt her lower lip tremble. That someone who was undoubtedly trying to help the Conqueror would be so contemptibly treated was totally incomprehensible to her. Hadn't her Xena at least been aware of a good find, using it in such a way as to be at least palatable and not as glaringly ignorant of how she might look in the short and long-range side of things? If this Asian woman wasn't an ally, she could certainly be tempted into being an enemy, if she weren't already. Gabrielle didn't know who this woman was, but it was apparent she meant something to Xena; regardless of the maltreatment she was presently enduring.
"I wish to be only what you need, Xena."
Xena's head bobbed up, her eyes dark with lust, and Gabrielle felt her skin pebbling at the predatory air that infused the Conqueror's being.
"I don't need anything or anyone. Life is filled with things that catch my fancy, hold my interest, and keep me amused, however briefly. And right now, you're the entertainment."
Her laughter was short, sharp and piercing and the bard felt her belly roll as a slight tremor ran through the other woman. It was quite clear to Gabrielle that the façade the Oriental had erected wasn't as impervious as hoped.
Again a tear fell from the shorter woman's almond eyes. Gabrielle gasped as the Conqueror took the Easterner's chin roughly into her fist.
"That could change, concubine. While your play for my sympathy is somewhat amusing, its continuance would be ill advised."
Another few tears slipped quietly down the woman's tawny complexion and the warrior turned away in apparent vexation.
Gabrielle could see the war of emotions rolling through the Conqueror as she fought to hide her response. She felt her own emotions surge as the warrior turned once more to face her prey. With two large steps, Xena was positioned directly in front of the Oriental. The woman's slim shoulders were gripped fiercely and then the air seemed filled with the rumble of Xena's displeasure.
"Stop it now, this very instant or I shall have you flogged and sent packing, back to that popinjay Ming Tsu. It's no wonder he's seen fit to send you to me; you're too much trouble, wench!"
Dropping to her knees, the Easterner covered her glistening face with both hands. She remained silent as she attempted to gain control of herself. Gabrielle watched a brief look of sorrow tinge the warrior's heated glare with softness and wondered at how malleable she had become, her anger all but defused with a few small tears.
"Forgive me, Xena. I am but a helpless woman who is unworthy in her attempts at entertaining her most esteemed Lord. Shall I have one of the other...?"
The warrior's last attempts at reproach seemed to peter away to nothingness as the robe slipped silently to the ground.
"There are many things I can teach you, Lord, and many paths I can show you, but you must choose the way."
The now naked Oriental was pulled to her feet and the bard watched as small delicate fingers worked quickly over the warrior's battle dress. Although strange in their appearance, Gabrielle could see some of the same lines the Conqueror would employ in the battle attire she'd wear in the future.
"You talk far too much, concubine. I grow weary. Perhaps you should bring one or two of the others in..."
Now it was the smaller woman's turn to employ her wiles, and although it was blatantly apparent that Xena knew this age-old game, she seemed content to watch the scene unfold.
"Someone else tried to show me the way, concubine. 'All roads lead to Rome', he said. My destiny is Rome and beyond and he shall be one small casualty along the way."
Both women made their way over to the large pallet that dominated the room and the bard felt a longing tug at her heart as the last of Xena's clothing was pulled off.
"Your greatness is pre-ordained, Xena. I've seen it foretold in many ways. But in order for you to grasp its purity, you must learn certain skills."
Xena chortled suggestively as she pulled the other woman beneath her. "Ah, but I already possess many skills, woman."
Both hands were pulled over the Oriental's head and Xena laughed once more as she began nipping and biting at the pert flesh of the woman's heaving breasts.
"You cannot take what is not freely given, Xena. You may conquer but never fully claim that which is denied you."
The sneer slipped from the warrior's lips and she gripped the wrists tighter.
"I'll take until there is nothing left to give, concubine. I will feast upon you until you beg for release."
Gabrielle blinked as the smaller woman seemed to move slightly and then it was Xena who was being pushed down into the mattress and the Oriental who sat astride her, a slight mock to the smile she beamed down at the larger woman beneath her. Xena had become prey in a matter of seconds and the bard marveled at the Easterner's prowess at maneuvering around a seemingly unmovable force.
"You must stop willing Xena, and simply become one with the obstacle before you. Only then can you see what is being offered and the path you must take."
Xena struggled momentarily, the brief anger seeping quickly from her reddened face as she pondered the woman's words.
"Must you always be so...inscrutable? All right, teach me. What is being offered, and what is being denied?"
Gabrielle leaned forward as the Oriental moved her fingers up and down the warrior's torso, and then her eyes widened as the woman pressed two fingers somewhere along Xena's lower torso.
The Conqueror groaned in response and both hands moved to surround the tiny waist writhing gently over her.
"Lesson number one?" Xena purred as the effects of the pinch flamed across her skin.
"I am the way, Xena. I am your truth."
"Perhaps we can both learn something from this experience." Rolling over quickly, Xena pinned her prey back beneath her. A low growl was cut short as two long legs made their way up around her waist. Although both wrists were held tightly against the bed, it was Xena who was being devoured as the Oriental went to work on her neck and earlobes, her sharp, even teeth eliciting exactly the sort of pain the Conqueror needed. Xena's wicked chuckle filled the air as the two began to move in rhythm.
Gabrielle felt deep pangs of sorrow as she watched the two women making love. 'It should be me. Look how gentle she is, even when force is employed. Could she ever...?'
Taking a slow shuddering breath, the bard closed her eyes and could almost feel those same large hands playing over her own body, and those sapphire eyes crinkling with amusement as the Conqueror gazed down at her. No, as much rough bravado as she'd seen aimed at the stranger, Gabrielle could see the woman meant more to Xena than the Conqueror was willing to admit. She sighed deeply and then her body trembled as a warm breath seemed to waft across her face. All at once she was surrounded by the scent of Xena, filling her mind, her being, her very soul, and she could have wept with bliss.
The Conqueror wiped the sweat from her brow as she made her way across to the fireplace. She signaled Andros who nodded and both he and the servant girl went about the room lighting candles. Xena began to peel the clothing from her body, leaving a trail leading to the bed.
"Sire?" Xena turned in surprise her attention having been fixed on the young woman who it seemed had finally fallen into an easy slumber.
Andros quickly averted his eyes as the last bit of cloth dropped to the ground leaving the Conqueror quite naked. He was careful to keep the longing and sadness from his gaze as he watched her proudly turn to face him. He had always admired her straightforward manner and the unassuming way she carried herself, totally unaware of the beauty she possessed or the disarray she left in her wake as those who viewed her were all but struck blind.
Xena could see a faint blush rising up the man's neck and remembered their last conversation. Although perfectly willing to watch any man twist in the wind, knowing the struggle he had to endure if she were to actually set her passionate ways upon him, this was a friend, someone she...
She frowned as the realization hit her. Yes, she respected the man, but what was more surprising, she liked him and was unwilling to cause him distress. Grabbing a blanket from the bed, Xena turned her back on Andros and replied.
The Lieutenant blinked once in confusion and then remembered his train of thought.
"Sire, how is the girl? In her current state, surely you don't mean to...have relations? And it's quite evident the young bard has feelings for you, Lord. Have you told her, well, about the things we discussed earlier?"
Xena's expression hardened briefly, until she realized it wasn't a criticism the man was offering but the simply questions one friend put to another. She rolled her eyes and looked over at her servant. Ubris chose that moment to be looking elsewhere, her attention studiously focused on the hem of her dress. Xena could see no help in that quarter, and although feeling slightly uneasy about the new level of friendship she now enjoyed with her second in command, she was determined to at least try to be civil. Certainly the bard should be the one to handle such awkwardness? A strange feeling swept over her as she felt the stirrings of a proprietary air fill the distance between she and her Lieutenant. Andros had shared his heart with her and now, now it seemed she was beholden to him for it. Although there had been an instant out on the field whereby the need to unburden her own heart had all but overtaken her, she'd resisted, letting the wind sweep the truth away in an effort to prevent either of them from the awkwardness they now seemed to be in.
It was strange, really. While certainly not the type to engage in frivolous conversation or explain her actions to any of her men, she found the thought of talking at great length and ease with this small slip of a girl quite appealing. The subject matter seemed to mean little to Gabrielle, and Xena had found herself surprisingly happy to just listen as the bard prattled on about anything, even to the point whereby the small woman all but had arguments without aid of a combatant. She smiled thinking about just how Gabrielle could turn things around and make her justify her actions, as if she were the lord and master and Xena the insignificant slave.
Lord Xena coughed and then cleared her throat as another image of the young bard popped into her head. She could remember the woman standing petulantly in the bath as she was directed as to which body part needed the soap next. She could almost see the perfect lines as each inch of skin was washed, the dainty fingers dancing over breast and buttocks before moving down to her legs and then Xena felt the fingers of guilt niggling at her once more.
The Lord's hands tightened into fists as she watched the hammer descend, pulling her farther down into the morass of guilt, and then the peaceful tint of green promising love glinted from the bard's eyes catching her up short.
'She has such soft skin behind her ears.' A sigh escaped her lips and then her head snapped as she turned, finding two pairs of eyes gazing at her in worry.
"What?" she demanded defensively. Rubbing a hand roughly over her face, she continued. "Haven't you two got anything better to do? Andros," she barked. "Have you seen to the squad's preparations for their duties tomorrow? And what of Polis, how does he fair? If you've nothing to do, I'm sure I can find something to keep you quite busy, long into the early hours of the morning. I believe there was some talk of mucking out the barn earlier?" Andros nodded and then shook his head, his mouth moving silently as blue eyes raked over him and then swiveled their attention on the small Egyptian beside him.
"And you, you lazy girl. What have you been doing all day whilst I was out? You should have been tending to your chores, not to mention the girl, seeing to everything she could want. This room's a disgrace and we can't have the bard wasting away to nothing. After all, once she's recovered from her..." The Conqueror faltered briefly but then went on. "There's a position as my scribe that she can fill as soon as she's able."
Xena heard her voice babbling on and wished she could catch her tongue between the sharp molars at the back of her mouth, anything to stop her foolish drivel. However, she was unable to do just that as she continued her insipid rant.
"I don't know what else to do with her, really. She'll have to prove herself useful if she's going to stay on in my household. I'll have to keep her busy and out of trouble, and you know how she loves to chatter..."
"Yes, milord." Xena scowled as she caught the tail end of a smirk as it flitted across the servant's lips.
"I'm glad you find all this so amusing. Perhaps ten lashes will change your manner?"
Ubris dutifully let her face adapt a solemn look and snuck a sideways glance at the Lieutenant who swallowed his own grin with a cough.
"No sire. We shall leave you to your preparations for the bard, milord. I shall find something for the Lieutenant to do."
Andros tilted his head in question. "Preparations?" He wasn't too sure just what that entailed but he had promised himself that the young woman would come to no harm, not if he could help it. "Perhaps if you gave her a few days before...?"
Xena had had enough. Dropping the blanket to the ground, she marched over to the man, both hands on hips, and fixed him with a haughty stare.
"I am not a monster, Andros. Cruel and sadistic when warranted, but I'm far from the rumored fiend who preys on the flesh of young children. How could you think that I would treat Gabrielle so..."
Ubris watched a painful look come into the Conqueror's eyes and she could have easily pushed a pin through the stupid man's hand for his thoughtlessness.
"Come, Lieutenant. By your leave, Lord Xena?" Ubris bowed without waiting for a response, and taking hold of the man's arm quickly left the room.
The door had barely closed when she turned on the man and hissed, "Have you no sense, Andros? You call our mistress friend and yet you cause her undo pain and suffering." Placing both hands on her hips the servant looked the man up and down, the curl upon her lips indicative of the disdain she now held him in.
"How could you?"
Andros stepped back from the woman totally flummoxed as to the venom she was aiming his way.
"How could I what? Protect that young girl from the passionate antics of an oversexed warlord? I've heard all the rumors. You of all people should understand my need for seeing to Gabrielle's safety. After all..."
Ubris blushed furiously. "That was not an attack! The Lord was gifting me with the pleasure of her love making, sharing an act few have partaken in." A lump rose in her throat as she thought of her mate. "How could you even consider that the Lord would be thinking of making love when she knows how much pain she has inflicted on the bard?"
Andros watched as a tear fell from the dark eyes of the servant. "But the blood, your pain..."
Ubris quickly turned her back on the man. It was not the same! How could he ever understand? While not a gift she had eagerly sought out, it was a connection that she and the Lord shared that bound them closer than before, and she knew she would welcome such attentions again.
Two bushy eyebrows rose as the Lieutenant tried to sort through the new definition of something he considered to be gentle and painless act.
"If that was an example of her love making..." He leaned heavily against the stonework of the hall and tried to calm himself, but while he was trying to form words the servant placed a small hand at his elbow.
"The blood was my fault. I had not adequately prepared myself for the full attentions of the Lord. Ankara had always..." She rubbed her damp nose against the back of her sleeve. "I have always been a willing participant, Lieutenant. The Conqueror never takes a gift that is not freely given."
The Lieutenant saw that it was neither the time nor the place to enlighten the slave with past examples of just how untrue that statement was. Andros was very glad those dark days were past. Glancing at the young Egyptian, he wondered if some of the days were still present in one shape or another. He shuddered as he thought of how the healer had tended the servant late into the night. There had been so much blood. "But the pain, your torn flesh..."
"Have you felt the teeth of a lover as they graze over your body, Lieutenant? Have you felt sharp nails as they rake the tender flesh of your inner thighs? When you feel your lover's breath against your neck, just before she takes that tender flesh between her teeth, do you fear it or beg for it?"
Andros swallowed slowly. How long had it been since he'd felt such attention? Too long, it seemed.
Ubris could see the man was only worried about the safety of the young bard and reined in her temper.
"She would not hurt the young woman. You have but to see the way she looks at the bard to know that."
Andros pursed his lips peevishly. "Oh, I am well aware of the Lord's feelings for this slave, Ubris."
The Egyptian gave him a knowing look.
"We are all half in love with the Conqueror, Andros. Despite the façade she serves up on a daily basis, we who know her can see the truth." She drew in a slow breath as a look of pain rose in his eyes.
"If you love her, you should understand the measure of the love she feels for the bard."
Andros pinched the bridge of his nose painfully. "What does she know of love? She's always taken what she's wanted, never giving in return. What kind of future can a ruler have with a common slave?"
"She is a free woman, Andros. I've seen the documents, haven't you?"
By the look on the man's face, it was evident he hadn't.
"She's been somewhat occupied of late, Ubris. Perhaps I should go back in..."
Her eyes widened at the thought of the resulting storm the interruption would cause.
"No! Leave them. Tomorrow will come soon enough."
The Lieutenant sighed and wondered just how he'd get through 'til morning. Thoughts of another restless night tossing and turning in his worry for Xena, pondering why she would never return his love, or perhaps just who was behind the second attempt on the Lord's life entered his mind. Now he had to add the young bard's welfare to that list. Sighing with resignation, Andros decided that sleep was just not going to be on the list at all. If he could keep busy...He'd have to check in on Polis first. The man was healing up quite nicely, and quite eager to return to his duties. Another 7 days ought to see just that. As for Christo, well he could all but hear the man now, gnashing at the bit in his efforts to track some real prey. Not that Dagnine was all that dangerous but he might prove to be somewhat entertaining.
"I've got some errands to do so I'll be off." He stopped and then turned. "Oh, you mentioned 'preparations'?"
Ubris smiled. "Yes, the Lord will first bathe the young woman, soothing the fear and anxiety from her, and then anoint her body with healing oils. It is a very long drawn out process, Lieutenant."
'And she does this naked? I have definitely been with the wrong courtesans.' He sighed heavily. "I see," he squeaked. Images of the two women writhing against each other, all slickered up with scented oils, their bodies gleaming in candlelight, with soft touches, sweet kisses, and promises murmured all through the night plucked dangerously at his sanity and Andros feared he'd not make the sanctuary of his rooms before wailing out his anguish.
Ubris watched the man work his way down the hall quickly and shook her head. It was quite evident that he did not see at all. Perhaps someone could show him? Covering her small mouth, Ubris giggled. Although not her place, perhaps she could talk to the Conqueror in the morning? He was a good man and did look to have some potential.
The sound of the large oak doors shutting brought Xena out of her inner turmoil and she darted a glance at the still sleeping bard. 'I could never hurt you. Not now, when you've gotten so deeply past my defenses. Now that you've wheedled your way into my heart, and shown me that I have one, I can't bear the thought of losing you. Oh, Gabrielle.'
Picking the blanket up from the floor, she wrapped herself up and then sat on her haunches by the fire. Andros had done a good job at tending to the blaze, and Xena found the flames almost intoxicating in both heat and colour. Could it be her imagination or did they burn a deeper red this night?
This night. Her teeth clenched as she tumbled back to a time when the monster within was more than just a feeling behind her eyes, its rapacious hunger allowed to feast at will. Although she could now truthfully say that she'd never taken anyone by force, there had been a time...
The look on the woman's face as she was held down, her clothes ripped from her body, her legs forced open...the mindless laughter of her men as they watched with glee as her first conquest of war was served up...the addictive sound of both pleading and grunting as the girl moved past pain and into a place where she became a willing participant...they seemed to skitter like large spiders, spinning their web over her heart, her soul, stealing what little honour she'd felt at leaving that part of her life far behind.
She had changed. Those days seemed so filled with horror, and were so long ago. It was a different lifetime...wasn't it? Had she really left that untamed demon behind? Wasn't she just sitting there inside, waiting to be unleashed? Dark laughter echoed in her mind and Xena placed both fists hard against her temples.
"I'm not a monster...I'm not her. Never again...never..."
"No you're not. I can see such light within you, Xena. You have to believe it's there, too. You have to."
The Conqueror jumped to her feet and all but threw herself at the bed.
"Are you all right? Has the pain returned?" Noting the lack of temperature on the bard's forehead, Xena decided that perhaps the woman was catching a chill.
"If you wait a minute, I'll stoke the fire. Would you like some wine? No, that'll never do. You'll need water. I'll have Ubris draw a bath. Yes." Xena stopped in her tracks as a cool hand touched her arm.
"Stay with me. I don't need anything, at least not right now. Although I think I could use a trip to the...If you'll help me, I think I can stand."
All thoughts of ever leaving the blonde's side leapt out of her mind and without another word, Xena simply bent down and carefully lifted her patient easily into her arms.
"Why walk when you can be carried?"
"But I'm too heavy with these splints on, and you'll hurt your back. Xena, put me down."
An eyebrow crept up. Gabrielle's lips thinned in consternation. "Well, you could have Ubris find me some crutches. Perhaps you could have a cot set up in the bathing room? If you gave me enough potent I wouldn't feel the pain when I..."
The dark head shook in response to each entreaty and Gabrielle just sighed and laid her head against the strong shoulder of the Conqueror.
Xena stood with her back to the young woman as she finished up at her toilet. Each small moan the young bard tried to conceal felt like daggers in her heart. Feeling a brief touch on her leg, she turned and carefully lifted the bard, making her way back to the bed without mishap. Xena looked down at the rumpled bed sheets and frowned.
Gabrielle clutched the woman about the shoulder and neck as the Conqueror yelled out for the servant.
A dark head poked quickly into the room and the bard felt a blush covering every inch of her body.
"Run a nice hot bath, will you? And set out those oils, a few towels, and another healing concoction. But first, see to this bed. We need clean linen, fluffed pillows, another blanket..."
Ubris disappeared into the bathing area making agreeable noises all the while as the Conqueror went on and on. Gabrielle bit her lip as the Lord shifted from one foot to the other, and wondered if her remark about being too heavy had been more than just something to say. The Lord was very well muscled and definitely in marvelous shape, but even she might find the addition of heavy wood and bandages a little much for any great length of time.
"Um, Xena? You could place me on a blanket by the fire while she..."
Xena stopped in mid-sentence.
"Why? Don't you like to be in my arms?"
"Huh? Oh no, I do enjoy it. ' I love to feel your strong arms about me, and oh how I long to feel you moving against me again, and oh gods but these damned legs will take so long to heal...'
Xena nodded. "Well then." Resettling her load into a slightly different position, the Lord went back to spewing forth a long list of things she wanted the servant to do.
"And we'll need some food, Ubris. I'm famished, aren't you hungry too, Gabrielle?"
The bard's stomach rumbled in response.
Ubris was just smoothing the covers on the bed when Xena took a step towards her. "When was the last time you fed our charge, Ubris? If I can't even trust you to take care of Gabrielle, then I'll have to find someone else to do the job."
"But Xena...I've been asleep."
"Because really, it isn't that much to ask. I have no idea just what you've been doing, Ubris..."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed as her words were ignored. She wiggled her body against the Lord's strong form. Nothing.
The warrior continued to prattle on.
Ubris bit her lower lip as she peeked at the two women. Gabrielle, it seemed, had heard enough chatter for the evening. The thought of the rather taciturn warrior adopting the manner of the rather overly verbose bard had the Egyptian almost overcome with giggles. Who would believe it?
Bowing once after turning off the water, Ubris shrugged as she could see both women were totally oblivious to her presence. Both eyebrows shot up as the kiss continued. 'May you sleep without torment, Xena.'part 6
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