The Conqueror's Harvest
Xena stood with both eyes closed as the heat of the kiss filled every part of her being. Had it really only been a few days ago that the bard had kissed her for the first time? The flames she usually felt when taking kisses hungrily from the woman, despite her protestations, had been small in comparison to the ones she was now experiencing. It really did help when the other party wanted it just as much as you did and wasn't just caught up in the moment, cold regret waiting as an unpleasant guest in the offing. Had she ever experienced such unabashed joy, such unreserved purity of emotion?
"You can put me down now, Xena."
"Hmm? Oh. Now where did Ubris go in such a hurry? I'm sure she'll forget half the things I asked her to do. That lazy woman..."
Her lips were covered again and this time the Conqueror kept her eyes open. She marveled at the length of the blonde's fair lashes, and the creamy texture of the woman's lips, as they seemed to whisper against her own.
"Is this all I've had to do to get you to kiss me?" she asked when the kiss ended. "I shall have to remember to speak often, with an endless supply of foolishness falling from my lips..." She smiled lopsidedly.
"Well? I think that was your cue."
It was the blonde's turn to arch an eyebrow. And then both brows knit as she wondered just what had come over the Conqueror. This was the woman who had laid the whip to her, chained her to a wall, and treated her so cruelly? Gabrielle felt her neck nuzzled and then remembered that this too, was the woman who had tended her when she had fainted, risked her own life trying to protect her from dangerous assassins, and had trusted her with her own well being, knowing somehow that she could and would save her in return. She was so infuriatingly complicated! Gabrielle frowned as she thought of just how she knew the location of the nerve pinch. In the heat of things there was no way for her to remember exactly what the Conqueror had said let alone fully understand what the woman had mumbled before death all but overtook her.
Xena misunderstood the frown on the bard's face as pain and/or indecision and quickly settled the woman down gently on the bed.
"I'll be right back."
Gabrielle sighed gratefully and then touched her lips. Had she really been so bold as to kiss the Conqueror not once but twice? While certainly interested in partaking of the nectar offered by Xena's luscious lips, what the bard really needed at that moment was a drink of water. Running her tongue over teeth that felt decidedly furry, Gabrielle chose not to wait for the Conqueror's return, but to just tend to her needs herself. After all, the water pitcher was just there on the night table.
'What could have happened to the Lord in such a short time span to have her acting so very un-Conqueror-like?' Gabrielle dragged a sheet over her chilling flesh and tried to move into a better position to get the pitcher. The room began to spin in a decidedly unhealthy way and Gabrielle found herself unable to stop her forward motion.
"Oh gods!" The pain was excruciating as the bones twisted slightly in the leg splints. Scrambling to grab onto anything to prevent the inevitable, the bard squeezed her eyes tightly shut and begged that the threatening darkness would come quickly.
Two strong hands caught her just before her left leg could touch the ground but the resulting contact against her savior's hip was more than enough to send her flailing into unconsciousness anyway.
"Damned me for a fool, I should never have left her alone! Godsbedamnit!" The young woman's pale complexion seemed a mirror to the pasty white sheets the warrior now wrapped her in.
"How could I have been so pigheaded? Gods..."
Ubris handed the Conqueror a new concoction for the pain and then bent to help the Lord administer it.
"You could not know that she would fall, milord. Although she is unwell, you cannot surround her completely and live her life for her. She is bound to make errors in judgment, as are you. You are not perfect, sire."
She flinched inwardly as the Conqueror's face contorted with rage. She could not stand imperfection in others and would demand the same of her self. Xena's jaw muscles clenched tightly and Ubris knew only wine would help abate this coming storm.
Only after the Conqueror was addressed twice more did she turn to face the servant. "You may leave", she spit out between tight lips.
"Sire, it might be prudent if I stayed awhile, leaving you to walk the grounds?"
Xena narrowed her eyes. What did Ubris think she'd do: take her frustrations out on the girl? No, she needed to vent these feelings, to be sure, but not on the hapless body of her...
"Sire?" Ubris cocked her head sideways, as the torment seemed to slowly leave the Lord's countenance.
"Stay here until she awakens. I shouldn't be long." The thought of procuring a bottle of wine from the kitchen was very tempting but with Dagnine out who-knew-where, she couldn't take the chance. Besides, in her frame of mind, she wanted to kill something, not wallow in drunken disarray.
Quickly donning her pants and jerkin, the Conqueror grabbed her gauntlets and, with a brief backward glance, turned on her heel and quietly left her chambers.
The Captain of the Royal Guard drummed his fingers on the table and expelled a vast amount of air in exasperation. The Conqueror's second in command had just been in to see him, admonishing him to keep to the barracks for at least another week.
"But damnit, I can't sit still for another week! I'll go mad if I do."
One of the shadows in his room slowly dissolved into a shape and Polis jumped to his feet as he faced the icy blue eyes of the Conqueror.
"My liege!" He bowed quickly and Xena watched for any telltale sign of pain or discomfort. There was a slight hesitation as he regained his full height but that was to be expected.
"How are you, Captain?" Xena placed her sword on a nearby table and began rolling her sleeves to a more attainable length. If the man wished to return to service, she would run him through his paces. Prove to her that he was recovered and the resulting burst of action might well kill two birds with one stone.
"I am well, sire. In fact, despite what the good Lieutenant has to say, I am fit for duty."
Xena pursed her lips and nodded. "All right, then. Show me."
Polis stood there blinking. "Now?"
Xena nodded her head once. "Unless you've something else planned this evening, yes."
The Captain took a measured breath and a slow smile spread across his face as he noted the almost painless condition of his wound. There was very little pain, really, and if he could convince the Lord that he was indeed healed then he could actually get on with things. He had sat stoically and endured the boastful strutting of Christo as the man bragged about bringing Dagnine's head back in a sack. Although he doubted the man would be good enough to be taken alive, it was precisely what he'd do if given half the chance. The Lord should be the one to take the miserable sods life. While there wasn't exactly proof, it was a widely held belief that he was responsible for the attacks on Lord Xena and her household. His nose wrinkled as he remembered the stories of what had befallen the cook and his assistant. Gazing at the woman before him, he wondered at her hidden brutality. He was certain one of her many skills was that many of her foes miscalculated her strengths. Although a woman, she was by far the strongest woman he'd ever met. And brave? Why, there was nothing she hadn't faced. It was her contention that if she herself hadn't faced a particular circumstance, then she was loath to place her men in a position where they'd be without her calculated wisdom. For this reason alone, he and the rest of her Royal Guard would follow the Conqueror past the very gates to the Underworld.
Deciding that the slight pain he knew would result from this impromptu combat was a small price to pay, he nodded to the Lord and began his preparations.
Xena waited until the man had removed his short coat and rolled his sleeves up. A question rose in his eyes and Xena nodded towards the weaponry hanging by his bed. "Why don't we forego the test for endurance, man, and simply try your hand at swordsmanship? After all, a slight weakness is bound to be the result of an injury such as yours. Ribs can be tricky wounds."
Her brows knit as the Captain smiled. "Indeed, my Lord. They can be somewhat debilitating if you let them. However, there are those who can simply will the pain away and soldier on without the injury becoming apparent. Some are even fooled by this behaviour."
An eyebrow rose and Xena stilled her own hand as it betrayed the wound in her side. "Yes, but those who ignore such wounds usually find them returning to haunt them, in one manner or another."
Polis grabbed up his sword and slicing the air in a quick figure eight, advanced on the Conqueror.
"Those haunted souls, milord, seem quite fit enough to protect not only themselves but those in their charge. If the visitation were to occur, I'd wager the penalty to be less than severe in some cases rather than others. Why, there may be those equally up to the task."
Xena smiled toothily. "Why yes, Polis. Some people can handle pain..."
She flipped over backwards and grabbed up her sword in one fluid motion.
She reversed her weapon and stole past the man's defenses to press the hilt quickly against his healing wound. Polis hissed his displeasure but his grin was indicative of the game being afoot.
"...others find it easier to just convalesce for a few days more before returning to full duty."
Polis nodded at the woman's skill and then advanced again. This time, Xena found herself being pushed farther back as the man moved past the pain in a valiant effort to convince her of his skill and endurance. In doing so the man impressed her immediately. She'd hoped her trust in him was not unfounded, and although unwilling to hold his weakened state against him, was pleased he hadn't taken her offer up and quit the field so readily.
"Have I told you," she said as she changed hands, her weapon catching the candlelight and glimmering in front of the man's eyes. "That I was impressed at your skills in deflecting the arrows in my quarters?"
Polis ignored the question as he focused on the skills he'd require now that she'd shifted her weapon. Always being right handed, he had neither taken the time nor had the inclination to learn ambidexterity with the sword. His eyes flashed from her hand to her eyes as he tried to anticipate her next move. While he was indeed forcing the Lord to step backwards away from his onslaught, he knew it for the ruse it was. Even if he were in tip top shape, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that she'd have not only disarmed him long ago but would have severed his head from his shoulders and been on to the next man in the span of a few minutes had this truly been mortal combat.
His carefully planned retort sat unspoken on his lips as he found himself facing...nothing. With a slight yelp, he turned and felt his right shoulder tapped by a very sharp blade. Then Xena danced easily out of reach and held her sword up at the ready.
'Cat and mouse, eh?' The Captain pushed back his wounded pride and carefully brushed the sweat from his eyes.
Xena watched as the man dragged a few deep breaths down into his starved lungs. "Why, it's not quite time for rest period yet, Captain. However, I would accord you an opportunity to slake your thirst." And with that she tossed him a wine bottle from a table nearby and began an intricate pattern of sword moves. He watched in wonder, his jaw hanging open in amazement at her prowess.
"Do you mean to catch flies or drink wine, Captain? I doubt you can do both at the same time. Quickly now; I grow bored easily."
Shaking his head to clear it, Polis gulped down a few deep draughts and then nodded in the Lord's direction.
"Would you partake, milord? 'Tis a fine wine, one worthy of your attention."
Xena smirked at the man's gallantry.
"This night it wouldn't matter what the content, only that the bottle existed at all."
Catching the container easily, she tipped her chin in his direction and then drank the contents of the bottle down.
"Now, where were we?"
Reaching for the dagger at the small of his back, Polis flung it with precision, hoping that his belief in her skills was well founded. He released the breath he'd been holding as she caught the weapon inches from her belly.
"Ah, it'll be that way, will it? Very well, let the games begin."
The Conqueror nodded in appreciation as the Captain successfully parried most of her strokes. Using a harder maneuver, she feinted left, lunged right, and was pleased with the clanking of hilts as he easily blocked her move. Sparks flew as their blades slid dangerously along one another. A few more minutes of this and then when Xena could see the man's full attention was on how to continue his modification of her strategy, she changed hands and went on the attack.
Polis had time to smile once before his back was pressed painfully over the table. The contents of the bottle seemed to be trying to reappear, and he swallowed back the bitter taste, managing to roll out of reach as the Lord's blade split the wood from beneath him.
Xena could see as the pain became apparent on the man's face that her entertainment for the evening was drawing to a close.
Inch by inch, the Captain began to give quarter until the backs of his boots hit the side of the cot and he tumbled backwards onto his bed.
"You've made a good accounting of yourself this night, Captain. I'm giving you the next 24 hours..."
Polis struggled, the protest clear on his sweaty face, but the warrior simply pressed her hand down firmly on his chest and continued.
"...before you have to be back at your post. That means by supper tomorrow night. Clear?"
"But sire! Haven't I proven myself...?"
Xena gave the man an easy grin and nodded. "Yes, you have indeed. Which is why I'm giving you 24 hours instead of 48."
Watching the blue steel enter her eyes, the Captain decided he'd pressed his luck enough this night and lay back on the mattress.
Xena pursed her lips and then got to her feet nimbly.
"Sire?" Xena turned at the door and stood silently, awaiting his next words.
"If I may be so bold, how did you get the bruises on your chest, and has your wound healed?"
The Conqueror sheathed her sword and then crossed both arms over her chest. Polis maintained his eye contact and Xena decided that he'd at least earned that much for helping her protect the bard earlier. Not that she'd required his services, but...
Sidestepping his direct questions, she answered him carefully. "Have those stitches seen to in the morning, Captain. You see there are some who think they are above both pain and good sense. Not affording your body ample opportunity to heal leaves you vulnerable and open to further assault. It isn't a state I enjoy being in. Make sure you don't make the same mistake."
She fixed him with a knowing look and then turned on her heel and was gone.
"She hadn't even broken a light sweat." He sighed slowly and then began peeling his sodden shirt off. Placing his hand gingerly over his wound, the Captain of the Royal Guard winced painfully. Yes, she was correct in her summation; the stitches had pulled a bit, allowing irritation of the tissues and possible tearing of the flesh. Having heard of Daedalis's imprisonment, he'd have to swallow his pride and ask Christo for help.
"Blasted Britain doesn't do simple stitching, he has to perform works of art!" Rolling his eyes, Polis got to his feet and made his way to the ablution area. Although not the outcome he would have wished, the spring in his step told a different story. He'd had a private lesson from the Conqueror and had not been found wanting. Soon, whistling could be heard as he carefully cleaned his wound and prepared for sleep. His dreams would be nicely filled with images of a dark fiend with the body of an angel and the mind of a steel trap.
A dark pair of eyes watched carefully as the Conqueror walked by, totally oblivious to the danger.
The shadows seemed to part as the assailant inched closer. 'There at the base of the throat: just a one finger exercise, really. It wouldn't take any time at all, and even if she were ringed by twenty of her best guards, the results would be the same: death before she even hit the ground'.
But that would never do. No, destiny must be fulfilled. Pearl white teeth gleamed in the moonlight as she watched the warrior making her way back to the main castle. Yes, there was a definite spring in her step.
'All well and good, Lord Xena, but oh, how the mighty shall fall. You seem to have everything, yet you have nothing...nothing at all. Not yet.'
Xena scratched at the back of her neck and shooed away some non-existent night crawler but the itch persisted. Ignoring the small bead of sweat that suddenly sprouted up between her shoulder blades, Xena continued on her way, chalking it up to the change in temperatures.
"Change." Silently cursing her absentmindedness, the Lord all but flew up the stairs in her effort to get to her main chambers. It was time to change the bandages on the bard. Perhaps she would still be asleep? Xena scratched her chin. Well, it would be nice to just sit and look at the woman without her babbling or getting into some drawn out discussion on...everything.
Xena smiled at the mere thought of being with the young bard again. She chuckled and then halted in mid step. "I'm acting like some giddy and foolish maiden going on a tryst with her equally young pimple faced suitor." She sucked a tooth in distaste.
"That'll be enough of that nonsense. Its just Gabrielle, after all." Determined to curb her fanciful thoughts, she cleared her throat, adapted a more suitable bearing and continued down the hall to her rooms, all the while unmindful that her fingers were smoothing her jerkin and testing each button, making sure that everything was just so.
Ubris was just removing a damp cloth from the bard's forehead when the Conquer placed a hand on her shoulder.
"She is well, milord. From her restless behavior, it won't be long before she is awake."
Xena nodded solemnly. The sparkle in her eyes had somewhat abated, replaced by a rather worried look. Gabrielle looked so small and so very weak. She'd have to build her strength and see to it that the young woman's recovery was both swift and successful.
"Do you wish help getting her into the bath, milord? Even now the water is cooling. I think it would be most pleasant to awaken while being soothed by its warmth."
Xena eyed the platter of food by the bed.
"I think we'll have the patient conscious, Ubris. And judging by the noise, we'd better feed her before too long.
Another squelching growl filled the air causing both women to smile.
Ubris bowed and the Conqueror waved her away. "Go and have supper, Ubris. I shall tend to our patient myself." Stifling a yawn, Xena stretched her arms out wide and rotated her head until a few bunched muscles eased their stranglehold.
The Egyptian's fingers twitched as she thought about giving the Conqueror a nice slow massage. Although not certain where the warrior had disappeared to, it was clear by the sword she still wore that she'd been working off some of the pressures of the day. She wondered if Andros would be sporting any new stitches in the morning. The thought caused more than one giggle before she turned and left the room.
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