aka Julia Noel Goldman
copyright July 2001
--I don't own the characters, I just love writing about them.
--There's delicious, passionate, romantic, X&G soulmate-type love between women described within.
--There's some non-explicit, barely-consensual m/f sex mentioned.
--There's some hurt/comfort elements relating to the above.
Thanks: To the Bardic Circle.
Description: A look at how our girls might have met if Xena hadn't fought back against Cortese.
Didja like it?: MiladyCo@aol.com
Do you remember the time we asked our parents how babies were made and Father took us out behind the barn and made us watch the sheep? Remember how I cried and cried because I'd wanted it to be beautiful and it wasn't? Weeks later when I told Mother about it she said that it was different with people, that it was beautiful, that I was right. Well, let me tell you, I was wrong.
Since I know I'm never going to send you this letter, I have no trouble saying that the loss of my virginity to my new husband was, gods, can I even find the words? Disgusting, demeaning, pointless? But I'll continue to endure the act because this marriage protects our people. Did I say it was disgusting? Good. And since I'm telling you the truth, I hate it here. It's dark and lonely and boring. No one to talk to or play with, nothing to do, nothing to see. Just a big, old, dirty, boring castle. I'm not allowed to talk to the servants and there's no one else here but my husband, and his room is on the other side of the building. It's not that I object to sacrificing my life, I'd just hoped to do it in a more heroic, less time-consuming way, like after running into a flaming building to save a baby or something. I mean, Lila, this is my whole life here; it's going to be nothing forever now. And it's not like Giles is approachable, to say the least. He barely speaks and is easily angered.
If I keep writing to you maybe I will feel less alone, even if I never send this. I wouldn't think of letting you all know how I suffer to protect you. That would be very unheroic.
There's not even any housework for me to do. I've started writing poetry about loneliness. You wouldn't like it at all. I asked if I could garden but he said no. I am being allowed to embroider instead. You know how bad I am at that.
I haven't laughed since the last time you and I had dinner together. That was months ago. I imagine this is not unusual for an arranged marriage, or for a wealthy couple. He's never around, I want for nothing. Except a life. Am I supposed to be grateful because he doesn't beat me? Someone is actually knocking at the door!
My husband has given me a most unusual gift! It's still a very strange sensation. Let me tell you from the beginning.
Two servants entered my sitting room. Between them stood a tall, muscular woman with long dark hair. There were chains attached to cuffs on her wrists and ankles and she stared at the floor somewhere between her feet and mine. She wore a plain yellow dress and I just stared. Her presence was hard to define, submissive and yet somehow almost aggressive.
She is for you, said one of the men, A gift from your husband.
A gift? I didn't understand him at all.
Keep her manacled. She's strong.
They turned and as they left, one of them handed me a key. To her bonds, I assumed. She's my slave, it dawned on me. She continued to stare at the floor.
Hi, my name's Gabrielle, I said, with more cheerfulness than I truly possessed, What's yours?
She didn't respond. So I did what I always do when I'm uncomfortable; I talked.
I've never owned anyone, so I'm not sure how to behave. If we could just be friends, that would be nice. I've been lonely here. There's no one to talk to, nothing to do. I mean, married life is not what it's cracked up to be.
She still wouldn't respond, I imagined out of a mixture of trepidation and pride. Who could blame a slave for mistrusting a master who appeared to be friendly?
Listen, you've got to tell me the rules or we're never going to get anywhere.
I am your slave, she said quietly, in a voice so deep and unused I had to lean forward to hear her, which I did without fear. My role is to do whatever you tell me, mistress.
Okay then call me Gabrielle, I said, What if I asked you to do stuff instead of telling you? For instance, if I asked you to sit with me now? I moved to the elegant table near the window. She followed hesitantly, and sat across the table from me, still staring down. I guess so, then. Good. Will you tell me your name?
She paused, then said, Lycea.
Nice to meet you, Lycea. What's your favorite color?
I don't have one.
That's mine too, I said, inexplicably happy. She looked up at me for the first time. Lila, I have never seen eyes so beautiful or guarded in my life. Blue would be my favorite color now if it hadn't been before, and I can't help but want to know what she's hiding. What's your favorite flower?
Mine too, I said. How wonderful that we have so much in common.
Lycea looked down at the table. She's beautiful like a statue of a goddess beautiful.There was a knock at my door and it was my husband's men, come to summon me to his chambers. Lycea looked at me strangely and I smiled. I had no choice but to go with them.
I don't like my husband, Lila. He's just not a nice person, I don't like his point of view, and I had to listen to him go on for hours after he had sex with me. Eventually I asked him why he had given me the slave, and he had the nerve to say it was to teach me how to give him pleasure! Apparently Lycea is an experienced sex slave. I was so insulted, Lila. I mean, I endure his pathetic thrusting and he insults me? I had wanted so badly to fall in love, to have my first time be romantic and special, and I know that if it were someone I loved, I would be a great lover.
When I got back to my chambers, it was late, and I was tired and depressed, feeling trapped. Lycea was awake, kneeling next to my bed. It made me so sad, I can't explain why. I pointed at the sofa under the window and told her to go to sleep.
Looking into my eyes, Lycea stood as she untied the knot on her shoulder that held up her dress. It slithered down her body and to the floor, and as my eyes followed its journey they found they couldn't get very far. Her body is as lovely as her face. I could feel my cheeks burning but I couldn't look away. I cleared my throat and looked into her eyes. No woman has ever looked at me like that before.
Thank you but I can't, I said softly.
Why? she whispered.
It just wouldn't be right, I said, with someone who had to do whatever I told them to. Don't you see that?
Yes, of course, she said.
You're very beautiful, though, I said haltingly, because I felt the need to say something and that was the first thing that came into my mind. She looked at me like no one had said that to her in a long time. I never really thought much about slavery, other than that it was wrong and I wanted to help stop it. It's so hard to understand, this incredible woman, so beautiful and strong and smart, doing what she was told to do. How can things like this be? Why do terrible things happen to people? Maybe that's part of what made me different from everyone else back home, do you think? The fact that most people just seem to be more accepting, to question things less than I do.
It's the next morning now and she's still sleeping; I am silence itself so as not to wake her. Her feet hang off the end of the couch, and I watch her chest rise and fall. She's like a giant, sleeping just across the room from me. I need her to be my friend, and I'm not positive how to make sure that happens.
Lycea is teaching me how to embroider. She is a patient and calm teacher. She didn't say much, just sat with me on the sofa under the window all day long and showed me how. When I did it wrong she guided my hands until I got it right. I'm not sure she said a word all afternoon, while I told her all about you, and the stupid things we used to do when we were kids. Like always, Giles' servants brought my meals to my room, and I actually had to specifically request that enough food be provided for Lycea as well.
She may appear calm and servile, but I know she's not like that at all. She vibrates in her own skin. It's as if any minute now she's just going to explode out of the confines of her bondage and do something. What, I'm not sure. She's like lightning in a bottle. It's fascinating to watch her, even when she's not doing anything at all.
I finally came up with a question that she was interested in answering.
Two brothers, she said, One older, one younger. The younger one is my favorite.
What's he like?
She stared at the bits of dust that floated in the sunlight that streamed into the room from behind us. He's always been the person I cared the most about, she said quietly, He's just kind. He's nice to everyone. He makes up excuses for people's shortcomings. Especially mine. She smiled, remembering her brother.
What kind of shortcomings do you have? I asked jokingly.
Too many to mention, she said, My temper, for one. We used to fish together, and practice sword fighting.
Are you good?
At both, she said, We used to go on fishing trips that lasted for days. We'd just joke around, or sit quietly together. I miss being with him.
I understand... I've been writing these letters to my sister, I told her, that I'm not gonna send. They're more like a diary, really. Somehow I can say things to her, even if she's not here.
She nodded and looked down at my work. I hadn't been paying attention. The way she sighed made me laugh.
So you can fight? I prodded.
Yes. I can sword fight and I'm good barehanded too.
How good? I asked, purposefully goading her.
Very good, she said, in a voice that reminded me of the woman I was starting to realize she was. Extremely powerful. Charismatic. Intensely alive.
We'll see them again, I said of our siblings, I'm sure of it.
She looked up at me sadly and said, I hope so, Gabrielle.
I don't know why he was so angry last night, but Giles was furious and took it out in the way he touched me. I don't think it occurred to us that this was practically prostitution. But I guess that's what marriage is to some extent, no matter what the circumstances. While he ravaged me I closed my eyes and thought of Lycea, of her blue eyes, her strong hands, her deep voice. The thought of her soothed me somehow, and it barely hurt. Afterwards he asked me if I'd fucked her yet and I just looked at him.
She has many skills, or so I've been told. Take your pleasure and learn from her. She studied in the Orient and you know what they say about Oriental girls... Though I was shocked and disgusted by his words, I was sure to thank him for her, to say that I was pleased with his gift.
When I returned to my chambers, Lycea was kneeling by my bed again. It gave me the shivers. As if I could ever use someone the way he uses me. Gods. I don't know how much longer I can stand seeing her in chains.
How long have you been a slave? I asked her.
That's a long time, but you've gotta just stop it; no more kneeling. What I need is a friend, not a slave.
She looked up at me and said, I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I was just doing what I've been trained to do. She watched me move slowly and carefully over to the sideboard to pour wine. Everything hurt, especially the parts between my legs.
Are you hurt?
I shook my head. I brought her a glass of wine. She took it from me and drank.
Please let me help, she said haltingly, I'll do what I would do for a... friend.
I smiled at her and told her I was at her mercy. She turned and gestured for me to follow her into the bathing chamber. Suddenly I realized how badly I wanted to feel clean. She undressed me slowly and as I continued to drink, she sat me in the tub and washed my body. No one has done that since I was too young to remember. She sat behind me and I closed my eyes and let her bathe me, softly moving the cloth and soap over my skin. Neither of us spoke, and I was so relaxed it didn't even feel strange to have someone touching me so intimately. The chains that hung from her wrists were warm and I barely noticed as they slid along my skin. She paused before moving her hand between my legs, and I nodded, and leaned back into her. She washed me there so gently I couldn't help but turn and press my face against her shoulder; what he did to me tonight still stung. I let her dry me off, wrap me in a huge towel, and escort me to my bed.
If I unlocked your chains, would you stay? I whispered.
Yes, she said, I have no choice.
Bring me the key, I said, pointing at the sideboard. She brought it to me and I unlocked all her bonds. She sat next to me on the bed and rubbed her wrists. I gestured for her to put her feet on the bed, which, after hesitating, she did. Her ankles were raw and I took from the bedside table the cool, damp cloth she had meant for me and pressed it against her skin. Why do you have no choice?
Cortese, the man who enslaved me, enslaved my family as well. I don't know where they are but he has promised me that if I ever escape, they will be killed.
What happened? I asked quietly, holding the cool cloth to her sensitive skin.
Cortese's army came to take our village, she whispered, and I could tell she was having a hard time keeping her emotions in check, even after all these years. I wanted to fight him. I thought we could take him, stand up for ourselves, protect our home. Everyone else was too scared to try, so we didn't. And so Cortese took the village, enslaved those of us he didn't kill, those of us who fought back even a little. She paused again, remembering, You really want to hear about this, Gabrielle?
Lycea's face was dark. Instinctively I moved a little closer to her on the bed. So we waited in our homes for Cortese to come and do whatever warlords did when they took a town. When his men arrived at our house, I can't tell you how badly I wanted to kill them but I had to control myself. I had to go along with what everyone else thought was right. But, I just, when the soldiers decided they were going to rape my mother, I couldn't just stand there. Could you have just stood there?
Her eyes were haunted when I looked into them. Of course not, Lycea, I would have done whatever I could to protect my mother.
Thank you, she said, and it made me wonder if she's thought all these years that maybe she'd made a mistake. So I fought the soldiers and killed them easily. Then Cortese arrived and they surrounded me and held weapons to my brother's throats, and I put down my sword.
I put my hand on her shoulder and squeezed. I'm so sorry, I said, feeling it was inadequate to put it mildly.
Thanks, she whispered. I brought Cortese's attention upon my family, and we're still paying. He couldn't help but want to conquer me, and so that's what he's been trying to do for twelve years now. I guess he gave up.
I can't blame him.
She looked at me and almost smiled. I tried to play the role, to make him think I'd given up. But there was always this part of me that stayed strong and hoped that some day something would give me the chance to get out of this.
I'm glad. So we are both prisoners for love, I said, watching her as she wet another cloth with cool water and brought it to me, placing it between my legs and pushing me gently onto my side.
What do you mean? she asked.
Get in bed and I'll tell you.
Lycea gingerly slipped beneath the covers behind me while pulling them up over us, and I pressed back until our bodies were touching. When my body was connected to hers it felt so nice. Was I taking advantage of her position? I just wanted to touch her, to touch someone. To be touched, in a way that made me feel good instead of dirty. But her concern for me seemed genuine, so I had to think her touch was as well.
I married Giles a few months ago, to protect Poteidaia, my home village. It's a trade, basically. We've had terrible trouble with warlords in the recent past. Draco, Borias, the Beast of Turkistan. They'd sweep in, take what they wanted, come back whenever they wanted for more. We were always afraid. It was a terrible way to live and one day Giles came through town. He was a powerful landowner with his own army; they were skilled if not huge in number. The village elders approached him and asked for his protection.
I assume he didn't offer it for free, she said.
Correct, I said, enjoying our conversation so much. I couldn't believe she was talking so easily. His offer was protection in exchange for a virgin bride. Once I heard this, I was quick to suggest that I fulfill our part of the bargain. How could I let anyone else go through that if I could help it?
I'm sorry, she said, You're an amazing person. A hero. I felt her hand graze my upper arm. I snuggled back into her, hoping to encourage her affection. I could feel different parts of her body very clearly, like her thigh against my bottom, her breast against my shoulder. Each point of contact tingled and throbbed to the same beat. I wondered if she noticed it as well.
So are you.
No I'm not, Gabrielle. I would be a hero if I'd stood my ground, convinced the villagers to fight Cortese, and won.
Lycea, you did what you felt you had to do. You'll never know for sure. Maybe things would have turned out worse if you did fight him.
As you say, we'll never know.
I guess we've both had bad luck, I said, But I'm glad we've met. I touched her hand where it rested on my arm.
I wish it were under different circumstances, she whispered. I could feel her lips moving against my hair as she spoke. It gave me the shivers and it felt nice.
Yes, she said quietly.
We could pretend, I said hopefully.
Close your eyes, I told her, and I closed mine. One day a sad princess named Gabrielle was walking through the gardens of her father's castle. It was a cool afternoon, it felt like it might rain, but Gabrielle knew it wouldn't. She was the kind of girl who noticed little things, like the tiny light green frogs that jumped off the path and out of her way, and the way the grass just glowed. Gabrielle had fantasies all the time; her head was as likely to be in the sky as on whatever activity engaged her hands. I wasn't even paying attention anymore as to what effect my story would have on Lycea, I just got caught up in it, following its flow. Somehow Gabrielle found herself in a tavern on the edge of her father's estate. It was a seedy tavern to say the least, and she was naive, so she went in to look for a ride home. There were many drunken men inside this dank building, all more than eager to give her a ride of a less wholesome kind. I heard Lycea chuckle here, and noticed she was playing with my hair. I paused to catch my breath and her fingers stopped moving, but when I continued, so did her touch.
Anyway, a few of the men had pushed Gabrielle up against the wall and were explaining to her various methods they wanted to use to take their pleasure with her, when she heard a strangled sound come from behind them. Someone was grabbing the men and pulling them away from her. It was a beautiful woman, with long dark hair and scandalous blue eyes, and Gabrielle was mesmerized.
Yeah. Once she had dispatched the men, the tall, beautiful woman looked down at Gabrielle and offered her her hand. Gabrielle asked her her name--
And Gabrielle said, 'Xena. What a beautiful name. I'm so happy to meet you. You showed up just in the nick of time.' Xena laughed and as they walked out into the afternoon she asked if she could take Gabrielle home. Gabrielle said she would rather go with her, so she did. And that's the story of how Xena and Gabrielle first met.
You're a good story teller, she said.
You liked it? I asked, trying to remember what I'd said. She nodded. Is your name Xena?
Yeah, she said quietly, My little brother's name is Lyceus.
Can I call you Xena?
And soon after, we fell asleep, just like that, in my bed together. I can't explain it, Lila. Xena is a much better name for her; strong, unusual, and to the point. I'm writing to you from bed, where she still sleeps. It's early morning now, so dark I can barely read the words as I write them. She's asleep on her stomach, facing away from me, and her long hair fans out over the sheets. I've never woken up in the same bed as anyone before this morning, and it was nice. Just that she was here, that she's here now. I'm sure I sound stupid. I don't know how to describe it any better than that.
Things are starting to take on a certain amount of clarity. We spent the morning embroidering and I told her some of my favorite stories. At lunch she asked,
Can we go outside today?
Outside? I'm sorry, I said, as embarrassed as I've ever been in my life, I'm not allowed to go outside.
Oh, Gabrielle. She reached out to take my hand and then pulled back reflexively. She looked down at the table. I guess we are both slaves.
Yes, I replied slowly, It hasn't been easy for me these past months, giving up my freedom. I had my own life, and now...
I understand. I went through the same thing, years ago. I wish I could help you, she said, getting up from the table and moving to stand at the window.
You do help me, I said, following her. I stood behind her, so close I could literally feel how angry she was.
Tonight, she said decisively, If he calls for you, I will go in your place.
No, I said, putting my hand on her arm, amazed that someone would offer to go through that for me.
I've done it thousands of times, she said, It's not a big deal. I don't even notice anymore.
I said no. He's my husband and it's my responsibility.
Please? she whispered, I just hate to think of you going through that.
Exactly. So spare me the pain of having to think it about you. I stroked her arm. I wanted to tell her how much what she offered meant to me, to let her know that it was okay to touch me. You have no choice anyway, remember? You have to do what I say.
She chuckled and I moved to stand next to her at the window. She looked at me and took my hand, weaving her fingers between mine. I don't want this life for you, she said.
What kind of life do you want for me? I asked.
A life where you're free. And with me. She looked down at her feet. It was as if the air surrounding us was suddenly swirling with emotion.
Then we'll find a way, I said with determination.
Xena looked at me with those deep blue eyes and suddenly I was able to see into them, to really see her, and what I saw pulled me closer. She moved closer too and our lips met. Oh, Lila, it was like nothing I've ever dreamed of! So soft, so tingly, so warm and all-encompassing. Each tiny movement sent new feelings through me, and all I wanted was more. She pulled me into her arms, and the feeling of her breasts against mine, her arms around my back; it was so good that nothing else mattered. I kissed her harder and she pulled me more tightly against her. I can't describe the way my stomach flipped, the way my heart beat, the way her body felt under my wandering hands. She pushed me up against the wall by the window and whispered breathily in my ear,
Xena pulled Gabrielle up onto the horse behind her and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's waist. They rode until they found a beautiful field of tiny purple flowers, and Xena laid out a blanket for them. They lay upon it and shared such kisses as only the poets can describe.
Gabrielle told Xena that she was her field of purple flowers, I said, and that wherever Xena went was where she wanted to be. She told Xena she'd never felt this way before and that she loved the way it felt.
Xena said she felt the same way, whispered Xena. She started kissing me again, kisses rich with a passionate tenderness that infected every inch of my body. I can't put into words how elated I felt, how my heart sang out with the most ecstatic joy...
BANG! Went the knock on the door. I wanted to kill someone. I turned to Xena and said, You stay here and relax. Don't you dare do anything. Her face held an expression of fierceness I've never seen on a woman before. Like she was a jungle cat, holding her wildness under control by sheer force of will. Think about the purple flowers. I'll be back.
So it turned out my husband wanted me to join him at dinner. There were visitors from other neighboring lands staying with us, and it turned out one of them was Cortese, the man who'd just given or sold Xena to my husband. Oh Lila, how I wanted to jump across the table and kill him. Stab him in the heart again and again for what he'd done to my Xena. And then I realized that seeing him gave me more purpose; if he was this close, perhaps we could defeat him somehow. I knew we couldn't live like this for long; something in the system would break down, and soon. Cortese's presence gave us a chance. Giles was so enjoying the company that he told me to go back to my room early, that he wouldn't be calling for me again. I felt such relief, because I knew Xena would be happy he hadn't touched me.
I walked back to my chambers with a new attitude. I was about to take control of my own life again. It scared me and excited me, just like Xena does. She's so special, Lila. You'd like her so much. You will, someday, when you meet her.
When I entered my sitting room, I saw Xena standing by the window. She turned and smiled at me.
Hey, I said, He only wanted me for dinner. To entertain his guests.
Good, she said, Because I want you for so much more.
We met in the middle of the chamber, breathing hard just from looking at each other.
I want to tell you, I said, I'm forming a plan that will save us all. I don't want to tell you about it yet, but I want you to know there's hope. I didn't want to tell her about Cortese yet; I didn't want to distract her from what I thought was happening between us.
I... I... she said, looking down at me, her face flushed. She stroked my hair and I touched her cheek.
This is about you and me, I said, as she bent down and we kissed. It got intense fast, and suddenly her hands were on my bottom, squeezing gently. I moaned and it seemed to excite her which excited me further, and our excitement changed my body in ways I never imagined. It was like every part of me was expanding, coming into itself with a sensual lushness. One of her hands reached my breast and I cried out. She stepped back and looked at me.
Don't stop, I gasped, I mean, please, I don't want you to stop.
I don't want to, she said, breathing hard.
Good, I said, grinning at her. I took her hand and led her into the bedroom, locking the door behind us. I wanted to be with her so badly I knew that if someone tried to stop me at this point I would kill them. Part of me realized I might actually have to kill someone before I was through here, but suddenly I knew I could do it if I had to. We sat down on the edge of the bed together and held hands. Xena reached out and began to slowly unbutton my dress. The little buttons started at my throat, and by the time she reached my waist, I could barely breathe and I was shaking. She leaned down and kissed my neck, then my throat, my chest, my stomach. I cradled her head with trembling hands and I moaned my pleasure. I was embarrassed for a moment and then remembered that my husband actually wanted me to be doing this, so it was a good thing if people heard.
Her lips on my skin aroused me so profoundly that I wanted to give myself up to her right there in that moment, so I did. I gently pulled my clothing aside to expose my breast. Xena looked up at me and smiled, then enveloped my nipple in her warm mouth, her hot tongue slowly painting my breast. I moaned and sighed as her hands moved inside my dress and caressed the heated skin of my back. I needed her touch like sunlight and water and air; it gave me everything. Xena's mouth slowly traveled up my body pausing to kiss each inch as if it were as important as the spots most commonly addressed. Finally Xena's lips were on my own again and as we kissed, she started to push me back onto the bed.
Wait, I said, I want to feel every inch of your skin. I lifted her dress over her head, and she did the same for me. We sat there for a moment and simply gazed at each other. You... just... was all I could say when confronted with her naked body, all muscles and shadows and voluptuous flesh.
You know, Gabrielle, she whispered, I don't need it to be a fairy tale. Just this is enough.
I grinned and pulled her into another kiss. Slowly she lowered me back onto the bed. As we changed positions, her skin touched mine in so many places; my thighs, my hips, my arms, my face. She crawled slowly up my body, letting her long black hair graze my skin as she moved. Finally she stopped, her face directly above mine. She bent to kiss me and as she did her nipples brushed my skin. My body felt close to bursting as I raised my hands to her breasts, and as I fondled them, her kisses became almost feverish. I was completely overtaken by my desire. I pulled her body down on top of mine, so she touched me everywhere, and her smooth, muscular thigh fell between my own. I pressed against it tentatively and let out a deep groan. As Xena pressed herself against me, I could feel her wetness spreading, sliding back and forth against my thigh. A shiver moved through me with the knowledge that I excited her so. I threw my head back and pushed up into her rhythmically. She moaned my name into my neck repeatedly as she kissed it, and with a single movement she changed our positions entirely.
Now I was on my knees, straddling her, gazing down at her glorious naked body in the candlelight. I caressed her face, then ran my hand slowly down her neck, past her breasts, and along her stomach. She began moving slowly underneath me, pressing her center up into mine from below while guiding my movements with her large hands on my hips. It was leisurely and wet, tantalizing. I squeezed her breasts as I ground myself against her, slowly moving back and forth with her. Our eyes locked and I couldn't tear my gaze away. Everything was burning, the feeling between my legs was so huge I couldn't imagine how my body could contain it for much longer. Xena's breathing was coming in rhythmic grunts as she thrust up against me and I pushed down against her, no longer noticing the passionate sounds that came out of my mouth. Then somehow she managed to push me just a little harder and just a little faster, and suddenly we came together, hard and loud. It was incredible. Like everything exploding and melting together.
Then Xena pulled me down on top of her and wrapped her arms and legs around me tightly. I felt, suddenly, great emotion coming off of her, like nothing she had shared so far.
Thank you, Gabrielle, she whispered.
For being you.
You too, I whispered. I really... think you're wonderful. I felt her grip on me tighten when I said that. Was it a stupid thing to say? I lay on top of her and enjoyed the feeling of her arms around me, our bodies sticky and warm. I felt like I knew so much more about her now, and that more would be revealed with each passing moment if I just stayed here in her arms, but I had to tell her what was going on. It wasn't right to hold back anymore.
So Xena, remember how I said I had this plan?
Yeah, she said suspiciously.
I need you to promise that you'll follow my lead here. Not because you're supposed to be my slave but because I'm the one with the better understanding of the situation. Do you agree that you won't do anything rash no matter what?
You're killing me, she said, as we moved onto our sides and pulled back a little so we could look at each other, our legs still entangled. I will be a good girl. I promise I won't do anything stupid, she grinned, and anyway, I'm still your slave.
You're not. I free you.
It doesn't work that way, she said, Your husband owns me; he has to free me. But that's beside the point. What's the plan?
Okay, it's not completely a plan yet, I admitted slowly, ignoring what she'd said. It's information that will surely lead us to one, though. She glared at me to get on with it. Cortese is still here. I could feel her body stiffen, see her eyes grow dark. I put my hands on her face and she looked at me. He's staying here for a few more days. There are a lot of people staying here; it's a practically a party. I can get us both around the castle easily, I can get us weapons. We can figure out a way to get to them and save our families too. I know it.
This is good news, she said, leaning forward and kissing me, her body relaxing, Do you think you could draw a map of the castle?
Yes, I said. But first... and we kissed for just a few more minutes. Her lips are so soft, Lila.
So we stayed up all night drinking wine and making plans. She seemed to be naturally good at this, at seeing how things could go wrong, at thinking of the different reactions people could have and how we should plan because of them. I guess it comes down to being a shrewd judge of human nature.
When I think about it, Lila, it's like we've suddenly met at just the right moment in time. That I would be here, that Xena would come, that we would both be enslaved, and yet I know we will leave here free and together. It all seems as if it was meant to be. How could the timing be like this otherwise? The way I feel when she touches me, that's not coincidence. I'm about to do something that endangers you, and Father and Mother, and that terrifies me. But I have faith in Xena. It's hard to explain. When she says she'll do something, it seems inconceivable that she might fail. It's early morning and I'm still drunk. I wonder if I can convince her to make love to me again. Cortese is here for a few days; we have more than enough time.
I guess you've probably figured out by now that I've fallen in love with Xena. The intensity of my emotion is like nothing I've ever felt. The way I feel in this moment, it's just incredible. It's as if my soul vibrates with joy. I know that sounds silly, I just can't think of a better way to describe it. And I'm supposed to be a writer. And, obviously, I officially take back what I said before about sex. It's hard to believe that what my husband does to me and what Xena does to me are both supposed to be the same thing. It totally depends on the person, and Lila, now that I've experienced it both ways, my sisterly advice is that you never compromise. I can't get this grin off my face; you wouldn't recognize me. All I can think about is her, every part of my body sings with the memory of her touch. There is no doubt in my mind that with her is where I'm supposed to be in this life.
If only I can remember all the plans. So involved. I'm keeping this scroll with me at all times now, in case we have to move out fast. I've spent the last day sneaking around the castle and collecting supplies. We've put Xena's chains back on to retain the illusion that she is my slave; they look locked but they're not.
Gabrielle, I'm going to ask you to do something you're not gonna like. Xena looked a little nervous, standing before me in that little yellow dress.
I need you to hit me in the face, she said, with a hopeful smile and raise of the eyebrow.
You're kidding, right?
Of course not. It's gotta be you or it won't look right. I can take it. I've been a slave for years; I can withstand a lot more than what you've got to give.
Purposefully trying to anger me, was she? Well. I would do whatever I had to do to get out of there and it needed to look like I didn't care about her, so I balled my fist.
Try for my cheekbone near my eye, she suggested.
Hey, I'm doing the punching here.
Xena closed her eyes as my fist came sailing towards her. It connected solidly with her cheekbone, right at the edge of her eye, and hurt my hand as much as it did her face, I imagine.
Ow, she said, smiling at me. Still shaking the effects of the punch out of my right hand, I took a step closer and pulled her towards me by the waist with my left.
I love you, I said. It came out in a whisper. Her expression changed completely and she kissed me, taking my breath away. She didn't say the words, but I know she loves me back. We're going to get out of here and I will see you soon, Lila. I swear it.
Xena sat chained in the corner like a good slave when the servants came to take me to dinner. She stared at the floor as they pulled me away, and I had the feeling the first part of the plan was about to go into action. This one was my call, and I was going to have to make it.
I was taken to the dining hall, where the evening meal was already in progress. There were about thirty people seated around the long table, and Giles sat me on his knee, absently fondling my backside as he ate. I controlled the urge to pull out the knife I had hidden in my boot and slit Cortese's throat. He was seated just to my left, and every so often his hand would accidentally-on-purpose graze my thigh. I had to go through this because if I didn't, this was the rest of my life. A situation that had somehow seemed bearable at some point simply wasn't anymore. I had to allow Cortese's touch, invite it in fact, if this plan was to work. And it would work.
As the evening progressed the food stopped coming and the alcohol continued to flow. I took only the tiniest sips of wine, yet the shadows from the candles dancing along the walls seemed strangely ominous. The drunken laughter of the men, and they were only men left in the room by now, was lecherous, and I could feel the lust in the warm night air. I could feel my husband's desire pressing against the back of my thigh, and he was so intoxicated he didn't notice Cortese's less than subtle inspection of my breasts, displayed as they were to their best advantage in my favorite purple dress. I imagined that after this was over, I would beg Xena to make love to me while I was still wearing it. It was time to make my move and it had to be subtle, it had to sound just right. I laid my hand gently on Giles' chest and whispered into his ear, letting my lips brush against his skin,
Husband, you were right about the slave. She has taught me many skills over these past days, I paused, letting him take in the implications, feel the sensuality in the sound of my voice If you would like, perhaps we could retire and...
Giles threw his head back and roared with laughter.
Cortese, he bellowed, reaching around me to slap him on the back, Did I tell you I gave that slave of yours to my little wife here?
Cortese looked into my face for the first time, and I could tell he could barely focus on it he was so drunk. I realized suddenly how similar the situation was to the story I told Xena about how we met, except she wasn't coming to my rescue any time soon.
Xena? he said.
She says the slave has many skills, said Giles, laughing hard, choking as he tried to swallow more wine.
Cortese squeezed my thigh hard and said, A girl like this wouldn't know how to use a slave like that one. I could show you a thing or two about taking your pleasure from a wild woman like her.
Really? I said with what I hoped was just the right amount of skepticism to bring us to the next phase of the plan.
Giles! said Cortese, much too loudly, while spilling wine down his shirt, This young wife of yours needs a lesson. Why don't we call for the slave and cap off our evening with some more interesting entertainment?
Giles and Cortese both dissolved in drunken laughter. This was almost too easy. I called to the servant who stood behind me to bring Xena to the sitting room nearby. Giles didn't bother saying good night to the rest of his inebriated guests as I led him out into the hallway. I half-carried my husband into the next room, and laid him down on a couch. Tapestries hung from the walls, and a few torches that were placed too high threw everything into a shadowy darkness that made me shiver. Cortese plopped down on the couch across from Giles, and I sat next to my husband. As I was pouring more wine, Xena entered.
She stood tall in the doorway, staring at Cortese. I could feel how much she hated him. I hoped not too much to continue with this version of the plan. I had to pretend that I didn't love her, that I didn't wish I were safe in her arms. I couldn't even look at her.
Xena, he said, staring at her with unmasked desire and dislike. To Giles he said, Don't tell me you haven't enjoyed the pleasure of this one!
I'm still enjoying my new wife, said Giles, pulling me onto his lap. I think that was the nicest thing I ever heard him say.
Xena was walking towards Cortese, slowly.
Why did you give her to me if you still like to fuck her? Giles asked Cortese, and suddenly they were both slightly more sober.
Cortese watched Xena approach, Well, a few months ago, my army became engaged in attempting to take a village that was more prepared than my scouts had thought. I lost much of my front line, my slave soldiers. Her brothers were among them, he said casually, jerking a shoulder at Xena. I held my breath as my heart tore in my chest.
You're lying, said Xena coldly.
Why would I lie? he asked scornfully. Why would I bother?
Xena looked blank, shocked. Giles looked confused, wondering how he'd gotten trapped into witnessing this strangely intimate interaction between Xena and Cortese, and I could feel that he wished he were anywhere else. I stayed in his lap and pretended I didn't care that Xena's brothers were dead.
Xena stared at him with a look of such detachment it terrified me. My mother? she hissed.
She was wounded badly, though she hadn't been in combat. I left her in a nearby town with the healer, Poteidaia I think it was. With only one leg, she wasn't much use to me anymore. I no longer had a guarantee against you, so I decided to let you go.
My hand was ready on my boot to pull the knife if necessary. I sat in Giles' lap and watched as Xena let her bonds fall to the floor as she finally reached Cortese. Though clearly afraid now that she was not chained, he stood up to meet her, and I realized we hadn't planned for this contingency. For her brothers to be dead and for her to no longer care about the plan. I watched in silence as her hand moved to his throat and began to tighten. Giles tried to get up but I pulled my knife and held it against his neck. He stayed put and watched with me as Xena continued to strangle Cortese.
Xena, what are you doing? I asked.
Killing him back, she stated.
Don't. Come on. You don't have to. Please?
I think it was the please that made her turn around and look at me, sitting on my husband's lap with a knife at his throat. Her eyes were red with holding back tears, and the veins in her forehead pulsated.
I didn't see Cortese pull the dagger, but it was in his hand coming at Xena. I called out and she let go of his neck as she ducked, wrenching her own dagger from her boot. Without looking, she shoved it up and behind her, and Cortese fell to the floor, dead.
I stood up, pointing my knife at Giles who was frozen on the couch, staring at Cortese's body. He was afraid of Xena now, and that gave me pleasure.
Which plan was that? I asked Xena as I moved closer to her.
The one I didn't want to tell you about, she whispered.
Let's get out of here, I said to her, taking her hand and holding it tight. I looked down at Giles and said,
Giles, I'm leaving. We're going to Poteidaia and we're going to protect it ourselves. Stay away if you want to stay alive.
He looked at me and nodded. I hoped it was the last time I ever have to see his face. I know I will never have to feel his touch again, and of that I am even happier. I slipped a piece of parchment out of my bodice and threw it down on the table next to Giles.
Free her, I said, and when he paused I grabbed a quill and put it into his hand. Just sign it.
My husband signed his name, then looked up at my lover and said, You are free.
Xena nodded at him. I pulled her out of the room.
So we got our bag, saddled a horse, and left. It was as easy as that. We rode for hours until we found a hidden cave, and we set up camp. It was wonderful, being free again, watching Xena build a fire. I held her as she cried for her brothers. Her pain to me is like my own, and I cried with her, stroking her and kissing her and yet knowing that nothing could ever really make it okay. She'd been a slave for them for almost half her life, and they ended up dead anyway. It was unthinkable. Her mother could still be alive, in Poteidaia, of all places. I tried to make that enough to get her through.
She insisted on making love. It was tender and slow and full of sorrow. It was beautiful; the first time since we were free, where we both knew for sure that it was real, that we were real. Her touch was even more expressive, and she let me hear her this time, sounds of pleasure and of love. She was on top of me, looking down, when she said it.
I am so in love with you.
I wasn't sure if I could survive the ferocity of the happiness that moved through me. I feared my heart or my head would explode from it, but luckily we were able to release some of the pressure with our hands and our mouths.
After a while we lay together under the furs and eventually Xena whispered,
If I were a man, I'd ask you to marry me.
I squeezed her hard, suddenly on the verge of tears. I'm already married.
Would you just agree to be with me always? she asked, as we turned to face each other. I told her yes, and I kissed her, and then we were making love again.
We rode for two days straight to get to Poteidaia, slowing down when we got near, at my request. I needed time to prepare. What would we find? What if something terrible had happened since I'd been gone? What if Giles sent word ahead? The what if's made my arms around Xena's waist tighten and she laid her hand on mine. It was a gray afternoon and as the village came into sight a light rain began to fall.
Things look fine from here, Xena said hopefully.
Yeah. Let's go for it.
So we rode up to my family's house and dismounted. I put my hand out for hers and she took it. Her hair was wet and I couldn't resist standing on tiptoe to kiss her. She squeezed me hard and gestured towards the door. I pushed it open and we stepped inside.
Four startled faces turned to stare at us. I have never felt so relieved as I did upon seeing my family in that moment. As Mother screamed my name and jumped up from the dining table, the stranger gasped Xena! and struggled to stand, using the back of her chair for support. As Mother enfolded me in her arms, and you screamed out Gab! I realized it had to be Xena's mother, and when Xena let go of my hand and ran towards her, I knew I was right. Father sat at the table with as close to a smile on his face as I've ever seen. It was a wonderful moment. You were there; you know. There was great confusion, as everyone reveled in their personal joy, forgetting to notice everyone else. Finally we calmed a bit and Xena and I introduced each other to the rest of our families. It was explained that our mother had taken Xena's mother in when she had nowhere to go. It's still amazing to me that even our mothers would find each other.
And you know the rest of it too, of course, 'cause you were there for the entirety of that tearfully joyful reunion. We sat around the kitchen table for hours, drinking and eating and catching up. Even the worst things were no longer unspeakable now that we were all together. Eventually you thought to ask how Xena and I had ended up here together. I looked at Xena and she smiled at me. I touched her face and it was like there was no one else in the room.
She was supposed to be my slave, I said, staring into her eyes, But she turned out to be my love.
The look Xena gave me in return was smoldering to say the least, promising much passion later. Watching us I imagine no one could have doubted the truth of my words. My love for her radiates from me, I can feel it.
Xena is an extraordinary warrior and strategist, I explained, We will all work together to protect our home. We've got lots of ideas.
I could tell Father was doubtful, but you and Mother, and Cyrene; you believed in us. I wanted to learn to fight, to build walls of stone, to protect the people I loved. Not by sacrificing myself this time, but by taking direct action. After a while Xena and her mother walked out into the garden, to talk about her brothers I assume, and Father wandered off to do whatever it is he does when he's alone.
Mother stared at me from across the table. You've grown up so much, she said. Though I knew it had only been a few months since she'd seen me, I couldn't disagree with her. The three of us sat up and drank and reminisced 'till Xena and Cyrene got home, and then it was time for bed.
You were kind enough to let us have our old bedroom for the night, and after we made love we talked about the house we would build for ourselves on the edge of town. It would have a look-out tower and endless gardens and Xena fell asleep talking about the kind of barn she wanted for the horses we would breed.
It's the middle of the night as I write this from my childhood bed, Xena sleeping naked beside me. The moonlight streams through the window, making her black hair shine blue. It's wonderful that we are both free again. It seems to effect her more and more as the hours pass. I know that if she and I work hard together, side by side, that we will be able to protect Poteidaia, make it a safe place to live. And maybe others will hear about it and come live here, making the village bigger and safer and more prosperous. It would be so wonderful to help make a world where people no longer had to live in fear, where people shared what they had; where there was peace.
I've decided to give this lengthy letter to you after all, sister. I want someone to know what really happened, and I know I could never look into your eyes and tell you the tale myself. I think the story I'll tell people of how we met will be more like the one I told her that night; how she came to where I was and she saved me. I know that in the version Xena will tell, it will be me who saved her. And you will know that both versions are true. That when Xena and I came together, we found the desire and the strength to be everything we were, and that in doing so we changed our lives. You will know what we were like when we were just beginning. There is so far for us to go.
Thank you for listening.
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