Oh, to ride the swells
and feel the goal of it
upon my straining back!
To feel it coursing through
the very soul of it,
though righteousness it lacks.
Oh, to ride the exaltations
of my battle lust,
wrathful truth my aegis!
Rage with acrimoniously
duty my accomplice.
The Conqueror yawned and stretched as she left the common Mess area. Although she’d left strict orders not to imbibe too heavily, Xena knew the men would be feeling very little pain in a matter of hours. A few strains of a very bawdy song reached her ears and Xena found herself humming along. How long had it been since she had sat with the men, leading them in verse after verse of either ribald poetry or limericks? ‘I really must do something to remedy that.’
“Xena?” She turned and stifled another yawn. Although his behavior earlier had rattled her somewhat Xena was pleased her Lieutenant had very little interest in getting totally inebriated. Despite young Polis bringing up a few points that had blown some of the fog of self-doubt away, she was certain Andros felt some uncertainty regarding a few of the unsettling changes taking place. ‘As well he should.’
She ground the knuckles of her hands into both eyes and then squared her shoulders. The tightening in her chest was back.
The Conqueror waited, impatience written on her face. ‘Well, what can you expect,’ thought Andros. He wished he had a woman waiting in his bed, too. ‘Hmm,’ he grumbled to himself, ‘not just any woman.’ Although it was because of the bard’s amorous influence on the Conqueror that he had been able to drop the scales of deceit from his eyes, there was a part of him that truly felt his destiny was heavily entwined with the woman. Why couldn’t Xena return his love?
“I must apologize for my behavior earlier, sire. I think this change has made others view you as vulnerable and that concerns me. While your reign has always held its own fascination for would-be successors and their assassins, you’ve had at least twice the usual number in the past six months. You heard the Romans, sire; Caesar himself has been apprised of the situation here and feels he can move rapidly on what he sees as an easy conquest.”
The warrior nodded slowly and leaned against the wall, taking some comfort in the effects the cold stones were having on her body. She really was feeling bone-weary, and that would never do; she had plans for the evening.
“I don’t think we need concern ourselves with Caesar, Andros. But just to settle your worry, have a full company of men added to the border patrols in that sector. Now, was there anything else?”
“But sire, what of Dagnine? He is still out there.”
“Yes, isn’t he just? At least we know what rascality he’s been up to and in whose ear he’s been whispering. Now that I’ve put a stop to his brief alliance with Caesar, I suppose he must be hiding, his tail securely positioned between his legs.” She rubbed her chin. “I think a nice long chat with our two friends might yield up his whereabouts.” A cruel smile twisted the tired look on Lord Xena’s face and Andros had a brief image of two more heads being added to the tribute she would be sending along to Rome.
“Sire, if you’d permit me, I’d like to interrogate the men myself. You’ve had a long day and I’m sure you haven’t been sleeping well because of the betrayal deep within your own ranks. You may rest assured that if the Roman’s know of his whereabouts, Dagnine will be in our hands by nightfall tomorrow.”
The Lieutenant relaxed as the Conqueror shrugged her shoulders in agreement.
“You will keep me advised.”
He nodded and then rubbed the back of his neck as she walked away muttering, ‘Damned Dagnine, I should have dealt with that problem years ago.’ He was in full agreement. However, knowing the Lord’s feelings regarding familiarity breeding contempt, he did wonder why he himself had lasted so long. Mind you, unlike Dagnine he’d had no visions of grandeur, only visions of love. That they were unrequited was something he’d have to deal with. And he would, given time of course.
His belly grumbled alarmingly and the Lieutenant decided a short trip to the kitchen pantry might be in order. He gazed over his shoulder and saw that Polis was nowhere to be seen. ‘Young pup is probably already bedded down for the night.’ His curiosity was piqued as to which of the local wenches it was but then his attention was dragged back to things more important as his belly growled again.
Still muttering under her breath, the Conqueror made her way down the partially lit hallway towards her chambers. Her brain and heart were in rebellion; her first thoughts were centering predominantly on the bard as the days went by, making her feel more isolated. Andros was right: the number of attempts on her life were increasing and if she was going to have someone special around then certain safeguards had to be in force. That meant beefing up security again. She sighed dejectedly. That also meant bodyguards. The most powerful woman in the realm was becoming not only a prisoner but also her own worst enemy.
It didn’t matter how powerful you were, or how well you insulated yourself from the truth, there would always be someone there to take what you have. Her relationship with the men and the peasants would have to change. Only by accepting her role as an uncaring ruler could she see the change required. Only by accepting the bard’s pain as her own failing could she accept the total love the woman was offering. Only by change could she guarantee her own future.
Walking into her ready room, Xena felt as if a terrible weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She stood looking into the mirror and watched a stranger remove her armour and weapons. Gazing at the fresh nicks on her hands, the Conqueror could see a pattern of old wounds and new. At one time, these would be looked upon as evidence of her prowess. Now they were evidence of a different sort; although caught in a web of her own denial, the truth was clear: you rule with an iron first, then you will die the same way. That too would have to change.
Wringing the cold cloth and then washing the areas exposed as she disrobed further revitalized the warrior and she began feeling a little more settled about the day’s events. It was good to discover that she had the backing of most of her men; if nothing else, the day was not wasted for that very reason.
Xena stepped into a fresh silken robe placed by the bathing room and silently thanked her servant. Surveying the room as she cinched the belt around her, the warrior could see that Ubris had performed the duties she had longed to do in her stead. The heady scents of menthol and tiger balm were still present and Xena took a nice deep breath, letting the aroma settle about her.
The candles flickered as she slowly pushed open the adjoining door to her chamber. The faint light cast a gentle spell on the sleeping bard, making her seem to be some beauty under the power of some evil Emperor. Although somewhat piqued that the woman wasn’t awake and willing to continue their gentle seduction, Xena found her temper waning, replaced with a building sense of awe. Coming closer to the bed, Xena could see that both women had been busy preparing for her return. The bard’s hair had been brushed to a golden brilliance and her skin seemed to glow with health.
Her pulse quickened as the young woman’s eyelashes fluttered and then she found herself the benefactor of the most wondrous and loving smile. ‘Just for me.’ That truth forced her to take a slow and measured breath as she steadied the faint tremor in her hands.
“Xena. I…I had a dream.”
A look came to the Conqueror’s face and Gabrielle continued in a rush. “No, I wasn’t dreaming of her…you…oh, you know what I mean. I had a dream that you were in danger. But…”
Xena sat by the woman and tried to listen as the bard prattled on about her dream but her focus kept shifting to the creamy colour of Gabrielle’s skin, more of which was being exposed as the woman became increasingly animated in her storytelling.
Nodding in what she assumed were the right places, the warrior continued her perusal of the bard’s beauty. Had she been aware of the finely chiseled nose, the dainty fine hairs that swept at the corners of the woman’s temples, or the exquisite mouth that seemed to promise more than she was currently offering?
She blinked slowly as a small hand caressed the length of her forearm. The spell having been broken, the Conqueror decided that small talk was not something she wished to engage in any longer than necessary.
The bard swallowed as her name purred off the warrior’s sculpted lips. ‘How does she do that?’ pondered the bard as a few fine hairs at the nape of her neck twitched.
“Do you really want to continue regaling me with the symbolism of your dream?”
Gabrielle’s mouth went suddenly dry. “But sire, perhaps it portends something…”
Xena’s mouth dipped down on one side.
“Sometimes a dream is just a dream, bard. I can think of many other things I’d like to be discussing. Like…”
The blonde groaned as the tips of her fingers were nibbled and her eyes shut with ecstasy as the inside of her wrists were sucked upon. Strong fingers gripped her forearms and the bard reveled in the heat the warrior was radiating.
“…How sweet you taste, your vintage akin to the finest ambrosia served in Athens.”
Gabrielle swallowed with a click. Although Lord Xena was certainly not a verbose or overly demonstrative woman by any means, the bard was discovering she was both very learned and extremely skilled in the ways of romantic love. She forced a fine eyebrow back down as she wondered how often the woman had employed such skills. From all accounts it seemed the Conqueror was used to an easy conquest, the women all but flocking to her bed with the merest crick of one of her long well shaped fingers.
She frowned as her eyes picked out something against the olive colour of the warrior’s skin; a slight stain was visible on one wrist and palm.
“Xena?” The warrior scowled slightly and glanced quickly at her robe. No, there was no swatch of colour visible, therefore no re-opening of her wound. Her fingers moved over the spot quickly and efficiently, and noting no seepage, she cocked her head.
“What is it?”
Gabrielle swallowed. It was like that dream she’d had days ago about the room filling with blood, with Xena at the very center of it.
The bard closed her eyes briefly and chastised her actions. ‘What did you expect, dolt? She’s still Lord Xena, irregardless of what fancy thoughts you may have. See her in the light she so readily walks in!’
Looking about the room the Conqueror could see nothing amiss. It was only when she placed a slightly crimson finger to her lips in pensive thought that she understood the bard’s reaction. Glancing down at both hands, Xena snorted quietly and then moved to the corner basin.
“It’s nothing a little water won’t fix, Gabrielle.” Xena blinked deeply as she pushed the washcloth mindlessly over her hands and forearms, her vision captured by the events of the day. The squeals of fear as the Centurions made overtures of mercy twisted her lips into a smile and she wrung the cloth tightly. ‘If I just close my eyes…’ Her fingers twitched as she remembered the soft wet feel of matted hair, its rusty seeping colour perfectly suited to the black leather gauntlets she wore. Oh, to ride the wild exhilaration of battle lust!
The blonde nodded but averted her eyes, oblivious to the Conqueror’s thoughts. Wanting to keep her mind on anything but the truth of why blood would be on the warrior’s hands, Gabrielle shifted and then moved into a semi-sitting position. The small gasp that she uttered wasn’t missed and Xena’s neck muscles twitched as she gripped the sideboard. She could feel a slight pressure building just behind her eyes as the burbling blood lust began thrumming throughout her body.
“Here, let’s get you a bit of wine,” she said as she dragged herself away from the images. “I’m sure you must be quite thirsty after your nap.” She busied herself pouring two goblets and then, eying a platter by the main table, placed both amongst the food and carried it all over to the bed.
“And I’m certain you must be hungry, too.” Xena smiled blankly as the bard’s belly rumbled. Her thoughts slowly flowed into the river of emotions that had begun that day when she’d come upon the Centurions. There had been a hunger then, too. But there had been something different this time; regardless of the heat she’d felt fanning her rage and seething passions, the joy usually found as the enemy’s blood anointed her blade and hand seemed dull and somehow bittersweet. In the end, she’d only felt a hollow sense of being unsatisfied, her elaborate feast denied.
Yet the blood continued to roar past her ears, thrumming like some ancient beat that seemed to goad her passion and increase her hunger.
Gabrielle bit her lips and covered her stomach with both hands. “I guess I am hungry, thank you.” The bard watched the Conqueror quizzically as the woman dipped two fingers into her wine and sucked at them slowly. It was obvious Xena was thinking of something else, and the bard found it quite unnerving. Her hand trembled slightly as a droplet of red dripped slowly down the underside of Xena’s jaw. ‘Oh, how I long to capture it with the tip of my finger, or perhaps my tongue,’ she thought distractedly.
A slow grin spread across the warrior’s lips as she blinked slowly and focused on the sheets that pooled about the woman’s midriff.
“I must confess I’ve an appetite, too.”
The bard’s eyes cleared as she felt a deep flush cover her throat and chest, and suddenly found it very hard to tear her eyes away from the wolfish expression on the Conqueror face.
“You have that look on your face,” she whispered aloud, finishing off the sentence silently to herself, ‘As if you would gladly eat me alive,’ and then shuddered like a leaf.
Xena could feel the pressure boiling just below the surface. Her nostrils twitched as she thought of the bard’s flesh dimpling under her closed hand, her rapacious eyes longing for that look of shared lust as it slowly crept into her lover’s eyes. Would Gabrielle be like the lamb to slaughter or would she be a willing accomplice? Visions of the bard’s lower body pinned against the wall, her legs wobbling as she lapped slowly, seemed to freeze any thought making them vanish like early morning mist at noon.
“What do you see, Gabrielle?”
A fire of lust roared over her mind as Gabrielle looked deeply into the warrior’s darkening eyes. She knew what Xena wanted, and having witnessed that expression of blood lust on more than one occasion she was well versed. When Xena had been out on the field bashing heads; when she’d meted out her terrible punishment to those who would defy her; when the evidence of her violence was still visible upon her very body, Gabrielle knew only too well what the warrior required. But was she up to the task?
She twitched her toes and felt a slight tingling. ‘It’s only a question of mind over matter. I can ignore the pain…can’t I?’
“Lord? I have known the coarse side of your amorous nature. Will you show me its moderation and tenderness as well?”
Grinding her teeth, Lord Xena smiled briefly and then turned to refill her goblet. Oh, how she wanted to throw caution to the wind and just fuck the girl! The urgency of her battle lust was so that it all but screamed in her very ears. She had hoped the wine might dull the effects, somehow postponing the inevitable, and cursed her nature silently. It would not control her!
She looked down at her shaking hand as it gripped the goblet and felt a sense of growing shame. Could she just forget the look on the young woman’s face as the mallet fell again? Could she just ignore the love that was so very pure and so very evident in every look the bard threw her? Although the warrior could sense some trepidation in the bard, it acted as an aphrodisiac as opposed to a reality check. It was with this that the Conqueror battled, knowing that one false move would destroy the trust she and the blonde were building. She didn’t want that; not now, not when her heart was just beginning to thaw out. Having seen the look of betrayal on Lao Ma’s face those many years ago, Xena was in no hurry to have it repeated. No, if nothing else, the warrior was no fool: she learned by her mistakes the first time and if the mistakes were still drawing breath they were fixed so as not to be troublesome in the future.
Xena turned slowly and judged the bard’s reaction to her growing sense of urgency. Yes, the bard had witnessed it on more than one occasion, but she had been trussed up, a lamb for the taking.
‘Can she take what I offer?’
“I want to feel your body, your desire, your heated breath against me, Gabrielle. I need to fill every part of you with what I am, making you shudder with the intensity of it all.” She moved closer to the bed. “I will have all of you, bard.”
Gabrielle trembled, her very heart missing a beat every now and again making her feel quite lightheaded.
“I know of your passion, milord. I can see your need all but consuming you even now.” She carefully held the satin sheet away from her body, swallowed once and then flung them aside.
“All I ask is temperance, sire. Guard my heart well, Lord, I offer it up willingly.”
Xena reached for her wine and frowned at the empty state. She needed more time, she needed to think, to puzzle out her next move. There was no intension on her part to harm the girl, not now. Although her mounting lust demanded an outlet, there were ways to release it safely. She only needed more time. Grinding her teeth slowly, she forced her mounting need to abate, if only for a moment. She needed to think. ‘I take, she gives; that’s always been the way.’
Then she realized the formality the bard had used in addressing her. It was almost as if the last four or five days had ceased to exist, plunging them back into a time when love was not part of the equation. But it was and its reality was like a fresh breath of air to the Lord. ‘What if I give and she takes?’ She bristled at the idea at first, unfamiliar with the concept and then saw that in the giving was the taking, too.
“Am I no longer ‘Xena’ to you, Gabrielle? Does my passion reduce us to master and slave once more?”
“I will not deny you, Xena. I can’t. Not any more. I know what you need…” She placed a small hand at the top of her right knee and waited.
“I want you, yes, but I won’t take you, hurt you…my passion could never make me forget who it is I’m making love to, Gabrielle. Never.”
The bard’s lower lip trembled and she held her left hand out. ‘Making love to…to me.’
“Xena? Something happened today, something that has you feeling like some caged animal. Are you always this way? Is it the sight of blood that spurns you on or just the act of battle?”
“Both. It’s who I am, Gabrielle. I can’t change that.”
“But you already have, Xena. Don’t you feel it, and haven’t you fought against it for days?”
A small pained look came to the warrior’s eyes and then it was gone, but not before Gabrielle had it noted and put away for future reference. It was times like these and bits of evidence such as this that truly fleshed out the Conqueror, making her certainly more approachable.
“If you are expecting me to just change my ways over night…”
Gabrielle’s forehead crinkled. “No. I don’t expect you to change so drastically. In fact, you don’t have to change…and certainly not for me.”
Xena threw an intense glare her way.
“How can you say that now? Haven’t you been pushing me closer to the brink each day, all but demanding that I change?”
Gabrielle pulled the woman closer, holding tightly until the rigid posture eased somewhat.
“I don’t want you to change for me. I don’t think you could, really. I only want you to…modify your behaviour, not change it.”
Xena snorted. ‘Modify or change, it means the same thing! And what does she mean I couldn’t? I can do anything I put my mind to.’
“Can we make love carefully?” Xena looked at the bounty spread out before her and knew in her heart she’d do whatever it took to possess this woman…finally…and at last.
Easing onto the bed, the warrior hastily pulled off her robe. ‘Where to start?’ Easing herself slowly down onto the bard was met with a small cry of fear.
“You’ll be careful not to…my legs, Lord…Xena.”
Xena bit her lip. Well, it didn’t really matter how carefully she placed her weight on the woman, the end result would be pain. ‘Alright, that has to be out.’ An eyebrow flew up as she crossed off the other scenario of pinning the woman to the wall. ‘I could take both our weights, but for how long?’ She flexed a bicep and then scratched her jaw. How romantic would it be to have to remember where her legs are, where my hand or mouth is, and whether we’d end up in a heap at any given moment? ‘No, that’ll never do.’
She stroked her chin thoughtfully and then began to caress the woman’s hip and thigh, tracing the trail of her fingertips with tongue and lips.
Gabrielle twitched as her lower belly became encased in molten fire. The bard gasped as both fingers and tongue began to stroke the tight curls between her legs. Her fingers gripped the soft sheets as her legs moved to accommodate her rising ardor and the sounds of desire became those of anguish.
Squeezing her eyes tightly, Gabrielle tried to will the pain away, if only for a while. But try as she might, it was increasing to such a level as to be all encompassing, narrowing her focus from what she wanted to experience to how much pain she could endure.
Fingers seem to tease at her will, making her curse the growing pain, and she pushed gently, and then more firmly, at the warrior.
“Gods, Xena. You have to stop. I can’t…the pain is too great. Please…”
The Conqueror felt insistent fingers tangling in her hair, stroking her scalp in that rough sort of way she found quite arousing, and bent to her task. Smiling widely, the warrior thanked the gods for giving her such a passionate beauty. The woman’s moans of ecstasy seemed as music to her ears and she purred her response.
“Yes. Tell me how it feels, just what I do to you…tell me.”
Gabrielle’s teeth began to ache as the pain radiated from knee to ankle.
“Xena! Please, you have to stop…by all the gods, Xena!”
She sighed with relief as the dark head lifted and then her vision was filled with the concerned look on her lover’s face.
“What is it?”
Gabrielle brushed a few tears from her cheeks and then covered her eyes with crossed arms.
“Do you ever listen to those you bed, Conqueror, or do you just blot them out completely? Perhaps you only hear what you want to?”
Xena pulled her head back quickly.
“What? How can you say that? You were just making these delicious sounds in response to my lovemaking. I commented in the correct fashion, did I not?”
“Can’t you tell the difference between agony and ecstasy? I would think there would be a discernable difference.” Looking somewhat nonplussed, the warrior took a breath before continuing.
“I can’t say I’ve really noticed, Gabrielle. Cries of pain or ecstasy sound the same in any close encounter.” She shrugged, looking somewhat defensive.
“Have you made love to someone who was injured, Xena?”
The warrior thought back to the couplings she’d enjoyed on the field of battle, a few who had been seduced into compliance, others with the aid of wine, making them forget their injuries…although none of them had qualified for what the bard would consider ‘love-making’. No, in truth they were merely a battle of a different sort.
She mumbled her response and the bard knew from the set to her jaw that the subject might be one she’d best put off for another time.
“Just give me a little time to compose myself, please. It’s my legs, Xena.”
A stricken look came to the warrior’s face as she realized just how carried away she’d gotten; to the point of ignoring the entreaties of someone she only wanted to please.
“I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I thought…”
Pressing the warrior’s face deeper into her bosom, Gabrielle settled back and began to float away on the intensity of her feelings. This enigma she’d fallen in love with tugged at her heart one moment and threatened to make her tug on her hair the next.
“I just need a little time.”
Xena smiled and kissed the woman’s nose. She could give her time, why they had all night. She snuggled her face into the valley between the woman’s breasts and began to think of other ways to please her. The rise and fall of the bard’s flesh against her cheek began to entice the warrior once more as different scenarios were thought up and then discarded.
“Couldn’t you just place a nerve block on my legs?”
Xena retracted her questing tongue. “I could but the pain would be so intense afterwards that you might pass out.”
Gabrielle grimaced in pain as she eased her hip. “A partial block? Is there such a thing?”
Xena thought of the cook’s aid and the effects of the partial block she’d administered while interrogating the cook. ‘He must have had some sort of heart attack as I was dealing with the other stupid man. No matter; he was just as guilty.’ But would she want the same thing to befall Gabrielle?
“I don’t think that would be advisable”, she said as she looked at the woman out of the corner of her eye.
The bard stroked the Conqueror’s back absent-mindedly as she thought of how limited her plans had become. While it was both something she had wanted and an act of the greatest generosity on the part of Lord Xena, Gabrielle was coming to think of the second break as something of a mistake.
She blinked back a few tears as she thought of the Lord’s face as she’d ordered the healer to perform his grisly task, and shuddered. Although part of her detested the man for his uncaring manner, Gabrielle knew there had to be something terribly wrong with him. The man’s unwavering determination in his attack on her had left her feeling both scared and terribly confused. She had thought the old man harboured some like for her. Feeling his hands close tightly around her neck had been such a shock; one that had continued long after the healer had been pried away from her. Her forehead creased as she remembered the look on Xena’s face once the deed had been done. A shiver ran through her as she thought of the warrior finishing up the job Daedalis had begun; it had hurt Xena deeply, even though Gabrielle knew the act itself meant the woman was looking to some sort of future that included her.
The memories flooded in as Xena’s calloused hands stroked her arms and shoulders. Although unable to form clear images of the warrior tending to her late into the night, there was no doubt it had indeed been the Conqueror. Her eyes played over the well-formed muscles of the warrior and watched as the candlelight flickered through dark strands of the woman’s hair. It pleased her to no end to realize that even then the Lord had been contemplating a life they could share. Well, she’d just have to console herself with that truth and hope it would keep her warm throughout the long nights of convalescence.
She pouted and then closed her eyes slowly as she felt nimble fingers working at the knots in her neck.
“Oh, that feels so nice.” She began humming with a smile as the fingers danced up into her hair. Then she gasped as the Lord’s demanding fingers tangled in her tresses and her neck was slowly offered to equally insistent teeth.
“That’s the whole point: feeling. Why would you want to diminish that in any way? No, I want you to feel all of it; every second of every minute that I’ll be spending on your body will be emblazoned on your mind long after this night is done.”
Xena grinned wickedly as a flock of goose pimples raced across the bard’s flesh. Her feral expression grew wider at the prospect of reducing the blonde to a moaning mass of quivering flesh without using the typical mode of seduction.
Gabrielle’s breath became laboured as the onslaught on the Lord’s feasting continued. And then the warrior’s grip loosened and she opened her eyes, feeling almost bereft despite the pain. There before her, straddling the area just above her knees was Xena in all her glory. Gabrielle’s blood roared through her ears as sultry blue eyes pierced her where she lay. Very slowly and methodically, the warrior began to braid a thick plait, tilting her head this way and that, reveling in both the display of her wanton nature and receiving the equally desired response.
Having completed her chore, Xena reached behind her and dabbed long fingers into a small jar. Meticulously spreading the scented oil across her shoulders, down her arms and then over each breast, the warrior slowly began to run her fingers from the tops of her thighs over and down the bard’s trembling torso.
She smirked at the bard’s feeble attempts at controlling herself. Running both hands back up her body, Xena cupped her full breasts and then slowly flicked a thumb across the hardening nipples. Gauging the woman’s reaction was going to be easy if the current response was what she could expect. No, at this rate the young woman would be finished before they’d even begun.
Leaning over slowly, Xena placed both hands on either side of the wriggling bard’s shoulders and then let her anointed breasts slide their way down the woman’s face.
A very low moan began at the back of Gabrielle’s throat, one she wasn’t even aware of making. All she knew was the woman of her dreams was right here in her arms.
Xena started as two small hands gripped her face tightly and then she answered the growl still vibrating through the bard’s chest.
“I don’t want a dream or a fantasy, Xena. I want you. You think you’ll hurt me, that somehow you’ll drive me away. You can’t, I won’t let you.” And then she kissed the warrior passionately, leaving no doubts as to the intensity of her truth.
Xena noted yet another flinch as her mouth was explored. The temperature of the bard’s hands had dropped minutely and the tremors had increased.
“Why don’t you…” She began sucking on the blonde’s lower lip. “…Let me make you more comfortable?” Gabrielle tried to answer but the insistent teeth and fingers denied her the use of her mental faculties, leaving her feeling all but frozen in place.
“You need another potion,” Xena purred against the woman’s open mouth. “I want you so badly, Gabrielle, but I can’t…I won’t…not when you can’t concentrate on anything but the pain.” She kissed the woman deeply. “Don’t deny it.”
The battle begun within the bard only lasted seconds as another jolt ran from knee to hip. ‘At this rate,’ thought the bard crossly, ‘I won’t even know my own name.’
“Fine, another potion, whatever, just so that we can be together. I don’t want to disappoint you, Xena. Even if…Just stay with me?”
Gabrielle reached up to caress the suddenly solemn expression on her lover’s face.
“What is it, Xena? Have I said something…?”
The warrior closed her eyes suddenly overcome by a truth so pure it hit her with the force of a battle mace. All that concerned the young woman was that her pain would deny Lord Xena sexual satisfaction. The Conqueror blinked once and then re-focused on the woman beneath her. She’d been looking at things the wrong way. Things shouldn’t have been centered on what she could do for the bard at all, but rather what they could do together.
“I know you want to please me, Gabrielle, and I would desire nothing more than to feast upon you, taking you to heights of passion you could never dream of, but…”
Gabrielle held her breath as self-doubt began to eat at her. How could she have been so stupid to think such a woman, such a magnificent creature, could find her the least bit attractive?
Xena grabbed the bard’s arms as the woman tried to turn away.
“Why should you be sorry? I’m the one…” She cleared her throat and then sat gently beside the bard.
“My whole life, I’ve seen those around me as things to manipulate, control or destroy. Sex has never been anything more than a weapon to employ in achieving my goals. Sad isn’t it?” She ran a tired hand over her face. “In all the years that I’ve been a soldier, only once did I ever feel anything that might have been construed as ‘love’. As diluted as I now see that emotion was, it is one hundred times what I’ve felt as the mighty Xena, Conqueror of Corinth!”
The bard rolled over carefully and touched her forehead to the woman’s outer thigh, afraid to break the bubble that enveloped them. She wasn’t sure just where this conversation was going but it seemed to be veering away from any wrong doing on her part. This could only be a good thing. She wanted so much for them but felt as if she were walking on eggshells. If she had self-doubts, could it be the warrior did, too? Blinking the growing pain away, she began to lightly stroke the woman’s arm as the Conqueror stared out into space. It was a full minute before the warrior continued.
“I’ve never cared for another human being the way I care for you.” Xena said in a gravelly voice, then snorted softly and looked down at the bard. “I know you’ll find this hard to believe but I’ve never made love before. Oh, I’ve had sex, and I’ve fucked many a time, to be sure. But I’ve never been with someone I want to pleasure, knowing there will be very little I’d glean other than the sheer enjoyment of their resulting joy.”
Gabrielle touched the woman’s smile and the pain seemed a little farther away. Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears as her lover moved to the sideboard and began mixing another potion.
Xena turned, potion in hand, and stopped suddenly, noting the look upon the young woman’s face. She seemed to simply radiate everything she now knew was missing from her life. How could she have been happy before this young woman came into her life? ‘No,’ she reasoned. ‘It wasn’t that I was unhappy, just that my happiness is now ten fold, no, one hundred fold.’
“First, you are going to drink this down and then I’m going to see about making you feel much more comfortable than you are now.”
Her eyebrows shot up at the look on the bard’s face. “More comfortable than I am right now? How could that be?” Xena smiled crookedly. ‘The pain must be far worse than I expected; she must be in some sort of delirium now.’
Gabrielle grimaced again as she struggled to sit up.
“No. Stay where you are while I arrange things.”
The blonde shuddered as she thought of the grim tasting potion. But if it meant some relief from the pain then she’d gladly consume twice the amount.
Xena’s lips twitched as the bard screwed her face up. “I think I can see exactly what you looked like as a child.”
Gabrielle fidgeted and tried not to look so…childish.
“I haven’t been a child for many years, Xena. And I can’t remember the last time I had to drink down something so vile. In fact, I think my mother used to add honey in an effort to reduce the bitter taste.” She glanced at the warrior briefly and Xena found herself laughing out loud.
“Oh, you’ll get no honey from me, little one. Not at this hour, anyway.”
The cutting words were tempered by a smile and the look in the warrior’s eyes made her realize just how foolish she was being. After all, wouldn’t she endure almost anything just to be right here, right now?
“And besides,” said the Conqueror with pursed lips and stern voice, “If you aren’t a child then you needn’t act like one.” Gabrielle frowned as Xena picked up a small flagon of amber liquid and added a dollop or two before handing it over.
Her face remained blank as she gestured the bard to drink up. Then her façade weakened as she all but pushed the goblet to the woman’s lips.
“Do drink up. It’s not poison, you know, just a bit of mead. A small trick my own mother…”
A look of sorrow passed over her face and was then gone.
“So.” She made to throw herself on the bed and relax and came up short. “Ah, sorry.” And then sat at one corner of the end of the bed, looking pensive.
“So,” agreed Gabrielle, waiting for something more.
“Hey.” Xena motioned with her fingers. “Drink it.” Gabrielle sighed behind the brim of the cup; their moment of easy bantering and levity seemed to have melted into the darkness once more.
Gabrielle’s nose wrinkled coquettishly as the honey mead hit her palate. Resigning herself to bear the somewhat acrid bitterness of the brew, she was pleasantly surprised. “Oh. This is good.” She licked a finger. “What is it again?” She knew perfectly well what the concoction was but needed something to lighten things. How had they gotten from playful lovemaking and somber tenderness, to this quiet, pensive moment?
Xena laced the fingers of both hands together, letting them dangle between her knees. She began to fidget. The toe of her right foot beat out a rhythm only she could hear, its tempo increasing as she waiting for the drug’s effects to take hold.
Tipping the last of the contents into her mouth, Gabrielle reached over and placed the cup on the nightstand. What had the Conqueror been saying? Oh yes, the mead was something her mother had given her, or told her about.
“Xena?” She waited until the dark head nodded, albeit almost imperceptibly, and then cleared her throat. “You were saying something about your mother?”
The fingers that had been loosely interlaced were now pushed together, making one large fist.
Xena forced her hands apart. It wasn’t something she wanted to really dwell on, but it had hurt her that her very own mother had turned her in for bounty money. She hadn’t really faulted her, what with a husband dead, one son off on one crusade or another never leaving word, and then her only daughter turning out to be an up and coming mercenary. That left one son at home and Mother had been determined to keep him from following his siblings into certain death. Money was what was needed and money she was certain to get; one way or another. Oh, she hadn’t gotten it, of course, as the guards hadn’t really proved to be more than babysitters. A twitch began at the corner of one eye as she remembered the look on her mother’s face. The woman had shrunk back in total fear, believing that her very life was now forfeit, now that her errant bloodthirsty killer of a daughter had been betrayed but had broken free.
“My mother made a mistake, a long time ago, and although she didn’t end up having to pay for it, I did.” ‘And continue to.’
Gabrielle began feeling the effects of the potion as it slowly seeped into her muscles and joints, freeing her from the pain. It was a nice warm feeling, but one that loosened her lips a bit more than she wished. Before she could even form the thought, it was out of her mouth, lying between them like some black lump of meat turned bad.
“Did you kill her?”
Xena’s head snapped up. “No, I didn’t kill her!”
Gabrielle clutched at the sheets as the warrior began pacing the room, her mood darkening by the second.
“I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you…I misspoke, Xena. It’s the potion, it’s made me quite bleary eyed.”
Finding herself at the sideboard, the warrior reached out a hand for one of the bottles, its contents exactly what she needed at that moment. Anything to rid herself of the image…her mother denouncing her, turning her back and then filling young Lyceus’ head with horror stories of the monster his sister had become. Stories? Well, there was some truth to them, of course. But she’d rather believe the boy had enough sense to discover the truth at some point. However, that was not to be. Despite their mother’s care and attention, the boy had followed his older brother’s footsteps and had been killed by some warlord or another. Oh, how she had wanted to return to Amphipolis to pay her respects upon learning of his death! It was so wasteful, so terribly foolish, and yet it seemed each of the siblings had a violent destiny to fulfill. Toris had lost his life against the greater armies of Rome, low these six years past, leaving only Xena to tend their mother in her old age.
“She betrayed me, Gabrielle, and yes, while she certainly deserved my wrath I was unwilling to mete it out. You see she’s the only living relative I have left now. I think she still lives…yes, I’d have heard if it were not true.” A cruel laugh echoed in the chambers making the bard shiver. “Not that it matters. To her, I’m already dead. My one saving moment when I didn’t follow my bloodthirsty instincts is the one she hates me for the most. How many times has she begged me over the years to just exact my revenge? ‘Kill me and free me from my torment! Let me be with my family, those I love and cherish above all!’ It mattered nothing that I sent money her way, that I had someone go and work her crops. Knowing of her great pride, I even offered her a position in my court with a huge salary. She called it blood money and would have nothing to do with any of it.”
The Conqueror snorted. “Even when I was made regent and Lord Conqueror…she hated me then, she hates me still.”
Although the glass had been filled, Xena was unwilling to partake of its numbing qualities. No, it was better this woman see the true Xena, in all her glory, and then to decide whether she could still love a monster.
Lips that had twisted into a snarl grew slack as the bard began to speak in a soft, somewhat melodious voice.
“I was never what my parents wanted me to be. Didn’t matter what I tried, it just never measured up. They think I’m dead. They’re probably somewhat relieved, I suspect. When I began to write…my father called me unnatural and some sort of a freak. Young girls didn’t go around the country telling stories. Why didn’t I want to follow my sister’s footsteps and get married? Oh, the fights we had!”
Xena turned and watched as the young woman fingered a spot on her lower back. Narrowing her eyes, she recalled seeing a rather deep gouge mark there, a wound that hadn’t healed very well, leaving a rather nasty scar behind. Her nostrils flared in anger. ‘How could anyone…?’
“I don’t know that I’m too interested in sharing the truth, once my legs have healed, after everything I’ve been through.” She swallowed deeply.
“They won’t ever hurt you again, Gabrielle. You have my promise. I’ll never let anyone hurt you…” Placing a shaking hand over her eyes, the warrior continued in a broken tone.
“…Not even me.” A moment passed and then she went on. “I gave you your freedom and although I’d hoped you would stay on…” Xena moved away from the sideboard, the wine forgotten, and stood near the bed.
“I can’t expect you to forgive me for what I’ve done to you. And I know that regardless of the number of dinars I place in your care, it would be nothing compared to what you’ve endured…given…”
Gabrielle rolled easily over onto her side and reached a hand up. “You tried to take, Xena, but what I gave you was a gift, not a prize hard won.”
Xena’s lower jaw quivered as she thought of this young and oh so innocent woman before her. Not only had she painstakingly loved her unconditionally and without hesitation, but had also saved her life. Having seen the face of death on more than one occasion, the warrior knew this young bard could pass any test of strength and fortitude set before her, attaining the very same level as she put herself on. No longer could the woman be thought of as just a mere body slave, a plaything to use and then discard. Somewhere along the way she had become a friend and an ally. ‘And something more.’
“I love you, Gabrielle.”
The Conqueror had said these longed to hear words in such a detached fashion that the bard was uncertain as to her reply.
Was this confession something the warrior hadn’t been aware she’d spoken aloud? Gritting her teeth as she prepared to pull herself up against the headboard, the bard sighed in relief. Her efforts, however awkward, were accompanied by very little pain.
“Xena? My legs…”
The Conqueror traced her fingertips along the same trail the bard used, from ankle to knee and then to the top of her thighs, and was caught with a beaming smile. ‘Ah, the potion has kicked in,’ she thought thankfully. Although the earlier doses had been adequate, Xena had decided to increase the potency, hoping that it would afford them time to be together before the pain resurfaced.
“You haven’t slept well for days now. Perhaps you should…”
Xena’s arm was grabbed and she allowed the bard to pull her onto the bed.
“I don’t want to sleep. I want to be with you, Xena. I’m not too sure exactly what I’ll be able to do, but I want to make this time special.”
Xena nodded and then carefully drew the woman against her and pulled the satin up over them.
“I’ll be very careful, Gabrielle. And we don’t have to do anything that would entail…pain.”
The bard slowly rolled over onto her back and looked up into the expectant face of her lover.
“But I like your forceful side, Xena. I don’t need to be mollycoddled. Godsbedamn my legs to Hades and forget them; it’s what I plan to do.”
Xena’s eyes closed slowly as the bard wove her fingers through her dark hair and then scratched her nails across the base of her skull.
“You told me you loved me. Show me.”