By CJ Wells
Disclaimers: Xena‚ Gabrielle‚ Argo‚ Palaemon‚ Darphus‚ and those lovely Amazons Melosa‚ Ephiny‚ Terreis‚ Chilapa‚ Velasca‚ Eponin and Solari belong to those rather fortunate individuals affectionately known as The Powers That Be at Studios USA‚ Ren Pics and whatnots. The only thing I’m gaining from using them here is the personal satisfaction of toying with the characters in my own image. This series started with my two-part inaugural fan fiction pieces‚ The Embrace & Freedom‚ which were inspired by the characterizations in "Chattel" & "Thrall" by Dark Angel and "Remuneration" (Part I) by Day. Marcus Antonius‚ a.k.a. Mark Anthony (83 B.C.- 30 B.C.)‚ Gaius Octavius (63 B.C. — 14 A.D.)‚ Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C.- 43 B.C.) and Caesar‚ Julius Caesar (100 B.C.- 44 B.C.) were real Ancient Roman guys. All other characters named are mine.
Credits: Because this is a continuing saga‚ it is highly recommended that you read The Embrace‚ Freedom & The Antonius Situation first‚ in that order‚ as this will make virtually no sense otherwise. Also‚ you’ll make me all warm and cozy inside. Again‚ this story chronicles events from both women’s points of view. I would like to add that I tapped into some of the historical practices and traditions of the great Cherokee Nation in describing some of the aspects of Amazon culture for this story. The Cherokee is a rich and strong matrilineal Nation and seemed a perfect inspiration for this purpose. Other stuff within I made up as I was going along. Oh‚ and one more thing. A certain part of the male anatomy is given its classic Greek pronunciation within this story‚ thus the "misspelling" is intentional.
Character Warning: The Xena and Gabrielle depicted in this story are not the "don’t-ask/don’t tell" would-be Destroyer of Nations and sai-wielding Sidekick we see on the show. Xena is still the Destroyer of Nations‚ nuff said? And Gabrielle may be dealt a royal flush as she’s doing the bard thing.
Women in Love & More Lesbian Sex Warning: They’re here‚ they’re queer‚ get used to it. If you can’t‚ might I suggest ESPN2.
Violence Warning: With Darphus and Amazons in the story‚ it’s a given. Also‚ there will again be some minor past-tense references to bondage concepts and actions‚ but no sexual violence.
Profanity Warning: Mr. Garrison and Mr. Hat sent me to see Mr. Mackey‚ m-kay?
To all of my beta readers‚ commentators and third eyes: Sue‚ Mary‚ Cyane‚ Xenabat & Critter; Thank You All!
Comments & Feedback: Please!
I. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
I originally thought my world changed the day Xena freed me‚ but I was wrong. The real transformation came the night after she returned from her four-month war with the Roman‚ Marcus Antonius. Gods‚ I remember it as though it was yesterday.
I had awakened in the middle of the night‚ which was quite unusual for me. Earlier in the evening I had celebrated Xena’s homecoming a little too much by indulging in the sweet wine she enjoys drinking with her roasted game meat. I believe I had about four whole goblets of the drink‚ which left me quite tipsy. With that much wine in me‚ the chamber pot called much earlier than usual. When I woke up‚ Xena wasn’t beside me. I wasn’t immediately alarmed simply because I was too concerned about my bladder and the monstrous headache the wine had given me. But when I exited the small relief chamber‚ I remembered I had mentioned to Xena about that strange night my former bodyguard and good friend Bahri took me to a tavern to have a courtesan dance for me. All of a sudden‚ a chill consumed my entire body. She’s gone to kill him‚ I thought as I grabbed the first piece of clothing I saw and dashed out of the bedchamber in search of Xena.
I saw Xena coming toward me as I rounded the corner heading toward the corridor that led to the Imperial Guard barracks. She was dressed in an unusually dark tunic and an even darker hooded cloak. I couldn’t see if she carried a dagger or her chakram‚ but that wouldn’t have made any difference. Xena the Conqueror kills easily with her bare hands. When I saw her‚ tears started streaming down my face. I feared the worse. She killed him‚ she killed him‚ I know it‚ I repeated in my mind as I ran toward her.
When I reached Xena‚ I grabbed her arms and looked into her eyes for signs of the Conqueror’s savagery. The corridor was dark but I could see that‚ instead of her signature harshness‚ Xena seemed drawn and pale‚ as though she had seen a ghost. I didn’t know what to make of her expression‚ but I still feared the worst. Gripping her arms‚ I asked her if she killed Bahri. She told me that she hadn’t. Although I was instantly relieved‚ I still strongly suspected that her midnight stroll had something to do with him. I felt the need to explain his actions‚ so I anxiously explained to her that Bahri had many acquaintances but virtually no friends. He was sensitive‚ intelligent and insightful but also very much an oddity amongst the rugged Guard with his boyish good looks and Egyptian heritage. I could relate to that feeling of isolation on a certain level‚ given my former position in the Conqueror’s household. Bahri and I bonded almost instantly‚ even though I found him to be quite impetuous and arrogant at times. I told her that I considered him a very good friend‚ as much so as my dear friend Demi‚ the palace librarian‚ and that our friendship was very much like that of siblings. I told Xena that I believed the only reason Bahri took me to that tavern was to cheer me up.
After I finished my oratory‚ I looked deep into Xena’s bright blue eyes and asked her what she was doing up in the middle of the night. She closed those eyes and confessed that she had‚ in fact‚ gone to kill Bahri. When I asked her what prevented her from doing so‚ she told me something that deep down I already suspected. She told me Bahri was a woman.
I cried in Xena’s arms for a few moments‚ but the emotion of the moment caused the pounding in my head to become unbearable. I broke out in a cold sweat and became nauseated. She lifted me up and carried me back to her bedchamber and deposited me on her bed. She kissed my sweaty forehead lightly before applying a strong pressure to a point at the back of my neck.
"This should help with both the headache and the nausea‚ Gabrielle‚" she said before getting up to grab a cool moist cloth to apply to my head. Her pressure point worked quite well. The throbbing diminished to a dull ache. Xena then had me eat a spoonful of crushed gentian root and then I chased the bitter-tasting medicine with a drink of cold water. After I was settled and relaxed in bed‚ she removed the cloth and then began gently caressing my face and forehead. She kissed my cheek and began humming a tune. The combination of soft stimuli and the effects of the medicine summoned Morpheus‚ and I was in his grasp within moments.
My remaining sleep was restless that night. I dreamt of an actual situation‚ which had occurred between Xena and me about two years ago.
I was summoned to the Conqueror’s bedchamber for service. As soon as I entered the chamber she grabbed me by my upper arms from behind and forced me over to the bed. She literally ripped off my clothing and pushed me down on the bed‚ face down‚ and then she climbed on top of me from behind. She put all of her weight on me. Since my face was smashed into the mattress‚ I turned it to the side so that I could breath. She took my arms and extended them over my head and tied my wrists with some of the torn material from my sleep shift. She then bound my wrists to one of her bedposts.
The Conqueror rested the side of her face on mine and‚ reaching her arm around me‚ began sensuously stroking my sex. When I was moistened down there‚ she penetrated me with three fingers of her right hand. Her left arm was clutched around my waist holding me very tight. She was very excited as she thrust in and out while her pelvis bore into my bottom side. It was rough‚ but not particularly painful. She even planted hard kisses on the side of my face and ear a few times. She was moaning and groaning rather dramatically and she was sweating profusely. I didn’t know what came over her. She behaved as though she had been denied my services for months when in actuality‚ we had had sex earlier that day.
As the Conqueror’s hand was frantically at work and she was panting very heavily‚ she whispered in my ear‚ "Do you always think of me when I’m fucking you‚ Gabrielle?"
Speaking to me during sex was a rarity.
"Yes‚ my Lady‚" I responded.
The Conqueror cocked her head so that she could look into my eyes. "Look… at me …and say… it!" she demanded as she panted hard. Sweat from her brow dripped onto my face.
"Yes‚ my Lady‚" I repeated. As my body was now responding to the provocative touches‚ I was also breathing heavily at this point.
I locked my eyes onto hers. "I always think of you when you’re fucking me‚ my Lady‚" I responded in one long breath as I was now‚ for the exception of my wrists being bound‚ very much enjoying the sex and her closeness.
The Conqueror climaxed but continued to stroke me sensuously. "I always think of you when I’m fucking you‚ Gabrielle‚" she said to me when she came down from release‚ then added‚ "Problem is‚ I always think of you when I’m not fucking you too."
The following morning‚ I awoke alone and troubled by that dream. From the look of things‚ Xena had already washed her face and dressed. I waited for a short while‚ but when she didn’t return‚ I ate some fresh fruit delivered by Mia‚ the Conqueror’s chambermaid‚ and then headed for the Imperial Guard’s palace headquarters to locate Bahri. Palaemon was at the headquarters. Like Xena‚ he looked worn and tired from the effects of that war. His face was bruised and his broken left leg was bandaged between two lengthy strips of wood. He was speaking with one of his field captains‚ but when he saw me‚ he terminated his conversation and hobbled over to me.
"Morning‚ Gabrielle. You are literally a sight for sore eyes."
"Thank you‚ Commander Palaemon‚" I responded quite bashfully. "Have you seen the Conqueror this morning?"
"No‚ actually‚ I haven’t. Would you like for me to have her Majesty summoned here?" he inquired.
"Well‚ actually‚ I’d like to know where you have reassigned my former bodyguard‚ Guard Corporal Bahri." Palaemon curiously cocked his head. "There’s something I need to tell him."
"Uh‚ Gabrielle‚" Palaemon’s face went quite red. "I don’t know how you’re going to take this‚ but…"
My heart started to almost beat out of my chest. She went and killed Bahri anyway‚ I thought. Oh‚ by the gods… by the gods… I’ll kill her!
"Bahri’s a female."
I hadn’t realized that I stopped breathing. I nearly fell back as Palaemon grabbed hold of my arm. "Are you okay?" he asked. "Shocking‚ huh?" he added.
I took a deep breath. "No‚ it’s not that. I thought you were going to tell me something else."
"Well‚ I was shocked‚" he continued. "I mean‚ no disrespect to your wonderful gender‚ but Bahri’s such a… a ‘guy.’ He… I mean she… can drink and curse and grope women with the best of us men. All of the women at the North End Tavern are in love with him… I mean her."
I laughed at Palaemon’s confused disappointment. "Some of the Guard are quite angry with her for the deception‚" he added. "Others are relieved."
"Why ‘relieved?’" I inquired.
"This is somewhat embarrassing to admit‚ but some of the men were quite confused in their fancy for Bahri. They’re not sodomites‚ but she had a few of them considering it. They’re glad she’s a woman. Guys she used to drink and party with as a man may now be calling on her for courtship. Funny‚ huh?"
"I think the women at the North End Tavern will fare better‚" I responded.
We laughed and then Palaemon directed me to the field officer training grounds. As I headed out of the headquarters chamber‚ I heard him say to himself‚ "I wonder if those women know?"
The training grounds were not located within the palace‚ but rather in a separate building. My understanding of field officers was that they were a militia unit of the Imperial Guard. They policed Corinth‚ solving crimes and arresting malfeasants. I spotted Bahri right away when I saw a group of Guardsmen listening to a trainer. Like the other field trainees‚ she was wearing a special training tunic and long cothurni boots. Of course she stood out. She was shorter and darker than most of the rest of the trainees and was much better looking. She was also the only woman. Her arms were crossed and she looked very attentive to her instructor. As I approached her‚ I noticed a prominent red bruise on the left side of her bronze-colored face.
"Excuse me‚" I said‚ interrupting the instructor. "May I have a short word with Corporal Bahri?"
The instructor was an older man; very large and burly with hair apparently all over his body except on his head. "And who are you?" he inquired with an intimidating air.
"It’s okay‚ Captain Mandros‚" Bahri chimed in. "She’s the Conqueror’s bard and I use to serve as her bodyguard before my reassignment here."
"Very well‚ Corporal‚" Mandros responded. "But make it quick."
Bahri bowed and dismissed herself from the group. We walked over to the corner of the room where I gave her a big hug and kissed her on her reddened right cheek.
"I guess this means you’re not mad at me‚" she said.
"Of course not‚" I answered. "I think this is wonderful." Bahri smiled instantly.
"Well‚ I’m glad you do‚" she responded. "A lot of the guys are pissed. I’m not worried though. They’ll get over it."
"Bahri‚" I inquired‚ stroking my finger down her bruised cheek‚ "Did Xena do this to you?
Bahri’s face instantly displayed anger‚ true anger‚ something I had never seen on her face before. "Well… yeah!" she responded. "By Zeus‚ Gabrielle‚ what did you expect? She almost killed me last night. She put her infamous pinch on me." Bahri started rubbing her neck. "I’ve never known such pain‚" she continued. "Why the Hades did you have to go and tell her about the North End Tavern thing?"
"By the gods‚ Bahri‚" I started crying. "I’m so sorry! I was drunk. I didn’t think she’d take it that seriously."
"Who in the Tartarus are we talking about here‚ Gabrielle?" Bahri was raising her voice. "Maybe you need a reality check‚ girl. All this love shit has caused you to forget who you’re dealing with… who we’re all dealing with." And with that‚ she turned her back on me to return to her training group.
Who am I dealing with? I thought. "Bahri‚" I called out to her. "Tell me how to get to the palace dungeons."
* * * *
Much to my surprise‚ the palace dungeons were not actually under the palace. They were located underground in a cavern that I suspected was quite close to the gulf waters. I entered the dungeon main gate within the palace grounds. It was an area of the palace that had always been forbidden to me. After descending some stairs‚ I walked down a very long‚ dark and extremely moldy-smelling catacomb to a second series of gates. The guard of these gates demanded to see some form of identification‚ so I presented a small parchment bearing my name and the Conqueror’s crest. This parchment‚ which Xena had Demi draft for me‚ indicated to anyone reading it that I was a free servant of the palace. The guard let me in and I walked down another long catacomb. A jail watchman now accompanied me.
I felt as though I was walking down toward the River Styx for the boat ride to Tartarus. The catacomb sloped downward and began smelling more and more foul. My ears were filling with the sounds of people in agony. When I reached the end of the catacomb‚ the stench became unbearably strong. I put my hand to my nose in a desperate attempt to filter away some of the odor‚ but when I saw the first prisoners in their cells‚ the combined sensations became too much and I vomited in front of the first cell. The jail watchman signaled for two very dirty and sick looking individuals in leg chains to clean up the mess.
I looked at him in question. "Prisoner slaves‚ Miss‚" he said. "Any indentured servant who commits a crime against the Realm becomes a slave to these prisoners."
I vomited again.
When I was able to compose myself‚ I asked the jail watchman to direct me to Antonius and Darphus’ cells. He took me to Antonius’ cell first. Antonius was lying on the ground with his arms extended and shackled to the sidewalls. He had on nothing but a loincloth to cover his privates‚ and he was unconscious. He looked dead.
"Why is he positioned that way?"
"The Conqueror plans to crucify him‚ Miss‚" the jail watchman began. "He’s placed in the crucifixion position just in case he dies beforehand. Makes it much easier to place him on the cross if his body’s in the right position than trying to move limbs once rigor sets in."
"Is he already dead?" I asked.
"No‚ not yet‚ Miss‚" he answered. "He’s lucky though. He’ll probably be dead by the crucifixion candlemark. Better to die in here than out there on the cross."
The jail watchman then directed me to Darphus’ cell. If I had anything left in my stomach‚ I would have thrown that up at the sight of him as well. They had him shackled in the shape of an "X." He was totally naked and had several fresh lash wounds across his chest and legs. I knew the wounds well. One leg had a filthy bandage on it. The scar it covered was obviously infected because that thigh was almost twice the size of the other one. His head was slumped‚ but when the jail watchman hit the jail cell bars‚ his head jarred up. I remembered from Palaemon’s war report that Xena had personally fought him. His face was battered. His jaw appeared broken and his left eye was scratched and blackened. Fresh blood was oozing from the scratch.
"You have a visitor‚ traitor!" the watchman yelled.
Darphus looked at me. "Who… are… you?" he said through his teeth.
"My name is Gabrielle. I’m a bard‚" I responded. "I have a question to ask you."
"Gabrielle‚" he responded. "Sounds familiar."
"I understand you used to be the Conqueror’s lieutenant‚" I continued. "Why did you betray the Realm?"
"You’re pretty‚" Darphus said as spittle began draining from his mouth. "Why don’t you come in here and suck me before the bitch cuts my head off."
The watchman started to go into the cell to punish Darphus‚ but I halted him. "Why did you betray the Realm?" I asked in demand. "Was it worth this to betray your own homeland?" As I took in the sight of him‚ I thought‚ nothing is worth THIS.
"You think I’m in this living Tartarus because I betrayed ‘The Realm?’" he responded. "No little girl‚ I’m living and dying like a diseased dog because I betrayed that bitch."
I responded‚ "No‚ you have no honor for your…"
"HONOR?" he interrupted me as best he could through his teeth. "This isn’t about any fucking honor. This is vengeance‚ Xena Warrior Princess style. Want to hear a story from me‚ bard? I’ll tell you a story. Eight years ago I turned Xena’s army against her and made her undergo the Gauntlet. She had the living shit beat out of her. Nobody survives the Gauntlet‚ but she survived it. Bitch has to be half god or something. Although I had turned most of her men against her‚ she rebuilt another army fast. Then she came after me. I hid. I hid in plain sight where the Warrior Princess wouldn’t find me. She probably thought I would head east to Persia or west to Rome‚ but no‚ I went to the island of Syros. Stayed right here in Greece. That island has a prisoner colony‚ so I just laid low there."
Darphus’ head slumped back down and for my benefit‚ I supposed‚ the jail watchman banged on the bars again. His head jarred back up.
Darphus continued. "Xena the Conqueror came through Syros and Ceos and Cythnos and all the other Greek islands probably twenty times over the last eight years. Never spotted me. Then one day I met this stupid Roman named Phinius. He kept going on and on about Antonius and how he was going to take Rome back from that cunt. I knew Antonius helped her take Rome from that maniac Caesar‚ but I guess he was pissed because she wouldn’t fuck him or something. Unusual‚ since Xena fucks pretty much anything on two legs."
When his head slumped again‚ I contemplated leaving. I didn’t know how much more of this "story" I could take. I always knew a lot of people hated Xena. I had hated her as well. But I guess years of isolation in the palace insulated me from the magnitude of that hatred. And I didn’t particularly want to be reminded of Xena’s famed promiscuity either.
His head jarred back up a third time and he struggled to speak. "So‚ I got on a boat and sailed west to outer Rome where I met this guy‚ Antonius‚" he continued his rambling. "What a moron. He couldn’t build an army if he had Ares himself sitting on his back. So I built him an army. I built him an army in his name. I figured if we were fortunate enough to beat the bitch‚ I’d take the glory afterwards. It was supposed to go quietly. We’d knock off a few of her Roman pansies and then get Octavius in on the action. But fucking Antonius couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Bragged to one too many people. One of them pigeons went back and squawked to the Destroyer. Gods‚ I loathe that fucking whore."
I had heard enough. I turned and began departing when Darphus called out to me. "Hey‚ Gabrielle the bard‚ I know you’re her little blond piece of ass‚ girl. I hear you’re working her ‘Imperial’ cunt good‚ but you want some advice? Don’t piss her off. You’ll end up like me."
I ran to the dungeon’s secondary gates where the guard post was located and awaited the jail watchman to catch up. I leaned over but was too afraid to breath in the putrid stench too heavily. When he approached me he placed his hand on my shoulder. "Are you all right‚ Miss?" he asked. "Would you like for me to walk you to the entrance?"
"No‚ thank you‚" I stated as I began walking toward the main gate. Something then hit me. I turned to face the jail watchman‚ who was writing in the gate guardsman’s log. "How is he going to be executed?"
"He already told you‚ Miss. He is to be personally decapitated by the Conqueror."
II. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
After my unpleasant visit with Darphus‚ I decided to check up on Guard Corporal Bahri for a quick spell before returning to my love‚ Gabrielle. The day shift Guards were already up and engaging in their daily duties and I wanted to make sure Bahri was properly reassigned to her new station under Commander Palaemon and that her lodging was transferred to the women’s barracks. Strange‚ but I guess I also wanted to make sure she was alright after last night. Palaemon was at the Guard headquarters. He couldn’t do much since his broken leg was in splints‚ so he was resigned to temporary desk and stationary drill duty. Palaemon was not a happy man.
"Morning‚ Commander‚" I said cheerily to further infuriate my next in command.
"My Liege‚" he bowed from his seat. "Good morning."
"How’s the leg?"
"Still broken‚ Conqueror."
"Aw‚ too bad‚" I said as I shot him a sinister smile. I walked around his desk and perched my bottom next to his elevated leg. "Well‚ at least you look comfortable in your boredom."
"And you’re too disgustingly cheerful‚ if I may say‚ Majesty."
"You may not say‚ Commander‚ but since you already have‚ I suppose there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’ve come to ask where you’ve reassigned Guard Corporal Bahri."
"Guard Corporal Bahri has been assigned to field officer training‚ my Liege. It’s what she requested‚" Palaemon responded. "I almost fainted when she reported to me this morning. When did you find out she was a woman‚ Conqueror?"
I looked down. "Last night." I responded. When I was trying to kill her‚ I thought.
I’m sure Palaemon noticed the sudden change in my demeanor‚ but I wasn’t going to give him any additional confession at the moment. I stood up from his desk and left the chamber heading for the field training building. When I got there‚ I watched Bahri from a distance for a short while. She had a real look of focus on her face as she was participating in tactical maneuvers. She seemed to be a quick study and I suspected she would make a fine field officer. It was an interesting career choice for her. I watched her training until I was overcome with longing for Gabrielle. I missed her‚ even though she was only a short walking distance away. Satisfied that Bahri was in good hands‚ I turned my attention to returning to my bedchamber and my sweet Gabrielle.
When I got there‚ Gabrielle was gone. Probably went looking for me‚ I thought. I knew she would return sooner or later‚ so I decided to stay in the chamber and wait for her. I summoned Mia and ordered her to bring bread and some more fruit‚ since Gabrielle had apparently eaten some before her departure that morning. I then washed my face for a second time that morning and combed my hair. After a full candlemark passed‚ I decided to go look for her. I went to the library first. Not only was she not there‚ Demi had not seen her all morning. I then decided to check her bedchamber. It was empty as well and looked completely undisturbed. I became worried at this point. After checking my own bedchamber one more time‚ I decided to summon Palaemon.
"My Liege‚" he responded to my question about her whereabouts. "She came to me just before you did asking for Bahri."
"WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?" I implored.
"You didn’t ask‚ Conqueror."
I headed back to the field training building. At this point‚ Bahri was receiving weapons instruction. I ran right up to her. She was holding a dagger and I didn’t doubt she thought about using it on me.
"Morning Bahri‚" I said to her as her fellow classmates watched in wonder.
"Morning‚ my Liege‚" she responded and before I could ask: "Yes‚ she was here‚ Conqueror. She wanted to know how to get to the palace dungeons."
"WHAT?" I was flabbergasted. "Why?"
"I don’t know… Conqueror." The response was curt.
I was not immediately concerned about Bahri’s obvious contempt for me. I needed to find Gabrielle. I left the field training building and headed for the dungeon gates. I was told that "my little blond bard" had just been there and had seen my two prized prisoners. What are you up to‚ Gabrielle? I thought as I once again ran back to my bedchamber.
This time‚ she was there.
* * * *
Gabrielle stood by the window facing the palace courtyard. She was dressed only in a towel and her hair was wet. I was disappointed to see that she had decided to take a bath without me‚ but I was more concerned about her trip to the dungeons. I walked up to her and put my hands on her damp shoulders. I leaned in and kissed the side of her neck and gave her a morning greeting. She didn’t respond.
I started massaging her shoulders. "What’s the matter‚ Gabrielle?" I didn’t want to let on that I knew she had gone to the dungeons‚ not yet.
"Xena‚" she began. "Remember what you wrote in your letter to me when you were fighting in Rome?"
"About how much I love you‚ Gabrielle?" I responded.
"About how everything you do‚ you do for me‚" came her response.
"Yes‚" I said.
"Is it true‚ Xena?"
"Yes‚ Gabrielle‚ it’s true."
Gabrielle turned to face me. Her face was unusually pale but her expression was serious. "I want you to spare Darphus‚ Xena."
"WHAT!?!" I shouted in question. "What did that bastard say to you?"
"It’s not what he said‚ Xena‚" she responded.
"Then what?" I was becoming angrier by the moment.
"If you kill him‚ he wins‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle said. "You will reaffirm everything he stands for‚ everything he believes. Everything everyone believes. They all think you’re a monster‚ Xena."
"I am a monster‚ Gabrielle‚ or haven’t you noticed?" came my cynical response.
"No‚ Xena‚ you’re not‚" Gabrielle continued. "You can change. You have changed. No one knows better than I who you are. You were a monster to me‚ a vicious monster. For a long time I thought you were evil incarnate. Then‚ as time passed‚ I didn’t know what to make of you. You were a living contradiction‚ gentle one moment and beastly the next. But I found you‚ Xena. And you found your ability to love. Somewhere inside of you‚ you found love for me. You have the great power of love inside of you. It’s greater than your hate. Greater than your fighting ability. Let others discover you as I discovered you‚ Xena. Let them learn about the passionate‚ warm‚ beautiful and loving woman you are. Do this not just for me‚ do it for yourself‚ for you soul. Please‚ Xena‚ please spare Darphus."
As she spoke‚ I was seething with more and more hatred for that bastard. How dare he seduce and manipulate Gabrielle’s most vulnerable personal traits‚ her ultimate goodness and her supreme regard for human life. That pig didn’t deserve the compassion of gutter vermin. He certainly didn’t deserve the compassion of my wonderful Gabrielle. "You don’t understand‚ Gabrielle‚" I responded in earnest. "Darphus doesn’t deserve to live. He deserves to pay for the lives of my men lost in that bloody war."
"I saw him‚ Xena‚" she said. "You obviously know that now. I saw him. He has paid. He is paying."
I was incensed. "No! He’ll pay when I slice his fucking head off‚" I said.
"For the Realm‚ Xena‚ or for the Gauntlet?"
I was silenced. This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. She was accusing me of using my power as Ruler of the Known World to exact my personal vendetta. She knew the answer‚ as did I‚ but I became mad at her now for insinuating the obvious.
"You just don’t understand‚ Gabrielle‚" I said as I felt the fire of my blood ignite. "What do you know besides scrolls and servicing me?"
There was a silence as I immediately regretted what I said. But the next question came at me like a pile of stones. "When were you going to tell me that you almost killed Bahri?"
"I did tell you!"
"No you didn’t‚" she accused. "You told me you went to kill her and she stopped you. You didn’t mention that she somehow managed to talk you out of it while she was dying from your pinch. Is that what happened‚ Xena? She talked you out of it while she was dying?"
"I don’t have to answer to you! She’s alive. What more do you want?"
"I want you to spare Darphus!" Gabrielle was yelling at me now.
"Well‚ that’s not going to happen."
Another longer silence erupted. What’s happened to my Gabrielle? I thought. Yesterday at this time we were in celebration of our reunion. We were walking together‚ talking together‚ laughing‚ teasing‚ and making love. Now she stood before me with a look that I’ve seen a million times. It was a look that I had hoped I’d never see again after professing my never-ending love to her. She looked disgusted with me. My heart wanted to beg her not to look at me that way‚ but at that moment my heated blood and my fury were winning the inner battle to control my soul.
"I went to see your precious Darphus this morning also‚ Gabrielle. You know what he called you?" I could feel my heart harden as my fury wanted to insult her as much he insulted her. "He called you my ‘little blond fuck slave.’ My ‘cunt sucking whore.’ Is that what you are‚ Gabrielle? Is that what you still are?"
"I don’t give a damn what he said‚ Xena. This isn’t about him. It’s about you."
I folded my arms. "Ok‚ then ‘I’ am going to derive great pleasure in watching the blood from his spine spout out of his neck when I slice his head off."
Gabrielle looked away from me and started to walk toward the door. "Where do you think you’re going?" I asked as I gripped her upper arm in my hand.
"Am I still free‚ Conqueror?"
I didn’t answer. "Am I?" she asked again.
"Then I’m going to my own bedchamber." She pulled her arm out of my grasp and briskly walked toward the door.
"Gabrielle!" I called out. "Gabrielle!" I yelled again‚ but when she opened the door‚ Palaemon was coming in. She brushed by him. I started to go after her‚ but Palaemon had come to inform me that the candlemark of the public judgment had arrived.
III. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
Of all of the traumatizing moments I’d had with the Conqueror‚ of all her brutality‚ this was the most devastating. Sure‚ I’d suffered physically and verbally at her hand in the past‚ but this argument ruptured me emotionally. I saw the woman that I love losing a war within her. I witnessed the potential of a strong and compassionate woman be thrown away by hatred and vengeance. The fact that I love her so much‚ that I’m in love with her and recognize that potential‚ made her betrayal to herself that day that much harder to bear. I couldn’t stand to witness that‚ and thus‚ I just couldn’t be in her presence anymore.
I retreated to my bedchamber to cry my tears of defeat. From there I could hear the horns blowing which signified the commencement of the public judgments. When I was her slave‚ Xena didn’t permit me to attend her judgments. I never knew why. The judgments had always taken place in the city’s central agora‚ which was too far for viewing from any point in the palace. But now I was free‚ and I was debating with myself whether or not I wanted to subject myself to the beast everyone believed her to be.
After pondering it for moments‚ I decided to go there. I had a plan. I would position myself in the crowd where Xena could plainly see me. Then I would plead to her with my eyes. I would find her beautiful blue eyes and just gaze at them in a silent communication. I would tell her with my eyes that she was above all of this. She had a soul and a heart and could put all of this filth of hatred behind her.
When I arrived at the central agora‚ it was teaming with people. Maneuvering myself through the thick crowd was not easy‚ but it was at this time that I firmly appreciated my diminutive stature. I was able to find a place to stand close to the massive dais at the north end of the agora. There were three tall stone pillars on each side of the dais and twelve heavily armored Imperial Guardsmen formed a line in front of it. Each Guardsman was wearing a crisp white uniform with a ceremonial aegis as opposed to the standard cuirass. The Conqueror’s banners were blowing in the light afternoon breeze and tall foliage added to the overall beauty of the platform.
The Conqueror appeared on the dais with two additional Imperial Guardsmen. She had on a regal chiton and gold-crested himation clasped with a gold pin shaped like a charging lion. She was covered in the finest gold jewelry‚ her beautiful black hair was up and she wore a gold laurel wreath. Xena the Conqueror was breathtaking. She immediately motioned for someone to join her up on the stage. It was Marcus Tullius Cicero‚ the famed Roman orator whom the Conqueror had recently commissioned as her Imperial speaker and scribe. Standing in front of her‚ Cicero briefly recalled for the audience the events of the four-month war against Marcus Antonius. He described in brilliant detail how our supreme Empress was able to subdue both the forces of her enemy as well as the influence of perhaps her greatest threat in the Roman territories‚ its own Governor Gaius Octavius.
As he spoke‚ I moved closer and closer until I was satisfied that Xena could spot me. I then made a gesture with my right hand that was common for me. I took a lock of hair and placed it behind my ear. It was almost a nervous trait of mine and one that I guessed would get her attention. It worked. Xena looked right at me just as Cicero was calling out the first prisoner.
Antonius was brought out on a cross. His eyes were open‚ but fixed. His skin was an almost pale green color. I think he was already dead‚ but Cicero spoke to him as if Antonius could hear him.
"For betraying the Realm and causing the deaths of almost twenty thousand men‚ both Greek and Roman‚ the penalty is death. Is there anything you wish to say?"
Of course Antonius couldn’t say anything.
Then the Conqueror spoke. "Stake him with the other condemned. He is to remain until his rotted body falls off the cross." Her voice was deep and cold‚ and her menacing tone sent a shiver down my spine.
Antonius was carried away. Xena looked at me again. I lifted my eyebrows in a pleading gesture to her and then I smiled. She looked away. It was then that Darphus was brought out. He looked worse and I suspected that death would be upon him within a candlemark or two anyway. He had more lashes on his body‚ his nose was bleeding and one eye was swollen shut. Two Corinthian soldiers gripped his arms tightly as they carried him toward the dais. Then they tried to get him to kneel‚ but his legs had been in that tight standing position so long that his knees wouldn’t bend. So both soldiers proceeded to kick the backs of Darphus’ knees‚ which forced him into a kneeling position. They then held him upright. This brutality was obviously painful to Darphus‚ but he remained silent.
Cicero repeated the same sentencing order. "For betraying the Realm and causing the deaths of almost twenty thousand men‚ both Greek and Roman‚ the penalty is death. Is there anything you wish to say?"
Darphus said nothing.
"My sword‚" the Conqueror said to Commander Palaemon‚ who had now joined her and was standing at her right. The two other Imperial Guardsmen walked up to either side of her and placed a thick red peplos over her dress. As she casually twirled the sword in her hand‚ one of the men tied a thick belt over the peplos to close it‚ fully concealing the clothing underneath. She then began walking down the steps of the dais to where Darphus was kneeling. I watched her eyes intently and started shaking my head. At one point‚ her eyes met mine‚ although she didn’t turn her head in my direction. I whispered to her‚ "Please don’t‚ Xena." But she just looked away and closed her eyes.
As the Conqueror came upon Darphus‚ she looked down on him. "Crucifixion is too good for you Darphus‚" she spoke loudly so that the immediate crowd could here. Then she leaned in closer and said something. I was close‚ but not enough to hear the whispered words. Then‚ in an instant‚ she let out a blood-curdling scream and whipped her arm across the front of Darphus’ kneeling body. Her sword sliced through his neck like it was a piece of parchment and his head sailed like a thrown ball. Blood started splattering on the Conqueror‚ the soldiers and the unfortunates that were standing too close. I don’t know what happened after that‚ because I turned and ran through the thick crowd to an open barrel where I once again emptied the contents of my stomach.
Back in the security of my bedchamber‚ I cried. I felt lost. I could have tried to stop Xena‚ but I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted it to be her decision. I so wanted her to look at that pathetic heap of human flesh that had been tortured and beaten beyond recognition and say to herself that that was enough. She didn’t have to exact her ultimate revenge on him. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I love her more than anything‚ but if I couldn’t get her to at least reexamine her life and her role as our leader‚ how can I stand idly by‚ like I did that afternoon‚ like I’d done for five years‚ and know that she was torturing and killing people.
As I lay on my bed in thought‚ I looked over at my ever-growing pile of scrolls. In an instant‚ a decision was made.
* * * *
Several candlemarks later‚ there was a knock at my chamber door. It was Xena. She entered slowly and walked rather timidly over to where I was sitting on my bed. Her hair was down and she wore a simple tunic. Her hands were nervously rubbing the sides of the garment. She looked absolutely beautiful‚ although there was a profound sadness in her brilliant blue eyes. My heart always sinks at her sheer beauty‚ and this transitory time of my life was no exception.
"Hi‚ Gabrielle‚" she spoke softly.
"Hi‚ Xena." I didn’t take my eyes off of hers and I watched them as they shifted to gaze at my travel bag sitting next to me on the bed.
"What are you doing?" Xena asked as she again fixed her eyes on me.
"Do you think I’m a good bard‚ Xena?" I responded with a question.
"Yes‚ Gabrielle‚" she answered contemplatively. "I enjoy your stories. Why?"
"Well‚" I began‚ "I always desired to wander as a traveling bard. Had I not been abducted and sold into slavery‚ I would have eventually left Poteidaia and journeyed to Athens to learn the talent. I’ve written tons of poetry‚ Xena. And recently‚ I have written all of these wonderful stories about the Xena that I know and love. I want to share them with people. I want to tell them about how I went from being your voiceless slave girl to becoming your best friend and greatest admirer. Maybe if others begin to see you as I see you‚ then you’ll begin to see yourself that way too."
"That’s totally insane‚ Gabrielle‚" Xena said as she crossed her arms and looked upon me patronizingly.
"Maybe‚ but it’s certainly better than sitting around here watching you execute people and not doing ANYTHING to change that."
"You can’t change me‚ Gabrielle‚" she responded as her tone went flat.
"No‚ only you can do that. But if you refuse to at least listen to me‚ I can try to change how others see you. I have to do something‚" I said with determination.
"Well‚ forget it‚" Xena said. "Maybe I don’t want to change. Either way‚ you’re mine and I’m not letting you go anywhere."
"Am I not still free‚ Xena?"
Xena started her nervous pacing in my bedchamber. "You know‚ I gave you your freedom‚ girl‚" she started as she pointed her finger at me. "I can take it back and we can go back to the way things were." She was angry‚ but remained surprisingly calm for the moment. I‚ on the other hand‚ was frightened by the threat. My heart started pounding in my chest and sweat began to bead on my forehead.
I stood up‚ still very scared‚ but also in my determination I found her eyes and held them. "Is that what you want‚ Conqueror?"
I was almost shocked at the angry tone of my own voice. Xena noticed it too‚ because she didn’t answer me right away. She merely looked at me‚ arms still crossed‚ breathing in and out quite heavily. I’m sure she was contemplating the idea. Xena the Conqueror enjoyed power. She enjoyed controlling people and having them cater to her every whim. Xena the woman had discovered my free will and I like to believe she preferred it that way.
Xena rushed over to me and gripped my arms as though she was going to shake me. She didn’t‚ but she brought my face close to hers and held me like that for a few moments. We stared at each other in a silent bittersweet communication. Then she planted a hard kiss on my lips. "Fine‚" she finally said‚ while the cracking of her voice and the moisture in her eyes began to betray her. "You get the fuck out of here‚ then. You get the fuck out of my palace‚ out of my city. I don’t ever want to see you again!"
She pushed me as she let go. Then she turned and headed for my chamber door. I don’t know what insanity possessed me‚ but I felt at that moment she needed to hear this: "I love you‚ Xena‚" I said as she stormed out of my bedchamber. The words caused her to pause only for a moment. After the chamber door slammed behind her‚ I just stood there and stared at it as the tears started to flow. I should have felt destroyed by her words‚ but I didn’t. I knew her now. Xena didn’t mean what she said. And even if she did‚ it was because she was hurting. She loved me and I hurt her. That became a preposterous notion. I never imagined that I could ever hurt the impenetrable Conqueror of the Known World. I knew that she needed to get away from me. That pain I was causing her caused me to cry. Don’t worry‚ Xena‚ you will see me again‚ I thought. Wiping my face‚ I grabbed my bag and went to find the one person who would keep a close eye on her in my absence.
Commander Palaemon was drilling a platoon of men in the palace central courtyard. I walked up to him and told him I was leaving Corinth and why. He took on a look of sadness that I found flattering. I told him to watch over Xena. I didn’t understand why at the time‚ but I knew Palaemon had her utmost respect. He hugged me and told me I was making a huge mistake. I told him the greater mistake for me was to do nothing. I didn’t think he understood‚ but I took comfort in knowing he was genuinely concerned about Xena. Palaemon seemed to know how much Xena and I loved and needed each other. As I walked away from him‚ he broke up the platoon and began hobbling in the direction of Xena’s bedchamber.
After saying my goodbye to an equally saddened Demi‚ I left the library to find Bahri in the field training building. She apologized for her earlier outburst and gave me her Imperial Guard dagger to carry as protection during my travels. She also insisted that I write to her. I thanked her for the weapon and promised to write. Then I gave her a goodbye hug before wandering to the Corinthian propylaea. I turned and looked at the palace once more before charting the course for my mission.
* * * *
The first few days of my adventure were pretty amazing. I spent the days wandering through the towns and villages requesting the audiences of people to hear my poetry and my inconceivable stories of the warm and funny woman who had managed to destroy the lives of many of those who listened to me. It was an education as much for me as it was for them. Many of the patrons in the taverns and inns where I spoke taunted me and called me crazy and a liar. I expected that. It was interesting‚ actually challenging‚ to contradict their rants about Xena the Conqueror‚ the "demon despot‚" the "bloodsucking witch from Tartarus." None of my tavern room arguments escalated into anything more than that‚ because for some reason‚ there was always at least one patron present who wanted to hear what I had to say. That was wonderful.
At night‚ I would lodge in the stable lofts of gracious farmers. Most often‚ these folks had heard my stories and poetry earlier in the day and‚ I believed‚ felt a sense of familiarity with my situation or me. I discovered that there were a lot of kind people along the Greek countryside. In the larger towns I visited‚ Megara‚ Plataea‚ Thebes and Coronea‚ the innkeepers were kind enough to allow me to lodge without payment. My "entertainment" as a bard in their inns attracted an audience and was payment enough‚ I supposed.
I cried a lot. I missed Xena terribly and would write simple poems by oil lamp light at night‚ musing about our love and our passion. I was amazed at how provocative my poetry had become as I sometimes wrote in graphic detail of the physical pleasures we shared. For sure‚ those particularly erotic poems of my love affair with Xena were certainly not included with the poetry I recited to my tavern audiences.
Almost every night I cried myself to sleep while clutching the one possession of Xena that I took with me‚ her blue scarf that she wore the last day we spent together before my departure. I had pulled it off of her neck before I attacked her in a wonderful romp of lovemaking that night. I was quite drunk at the time. Before returning to my own bedchamber after witnessing her murder Darphus the next day‚ I had gone to her bedchamber to retrieve the scarf. I hadn’t made the decision to leave yet‚ but something in me told me to grab it.
The scarf had her unique scent on it and its color matched her eyes. I knew I was torturing myself by having it with me‚ but I felt it would be a greater torture not to have anything with me other than my memories of her.
After my performance as a bard in Trachis about a month and a half into my journey‚ I was wandering down a country road heading north to Pharsalus when I spotted a familiar face coming in my direction. It was Hebrion‚ the palace produce supplier who had helped me in my travel to Poteidaia to attend my sister’s funeral six months before. Although he was heading toward Corinth‚ he offered to turn his carriage around and ride me to Pharsalus. I refused his generous offer. I enjoyed walking. Slavery was ever so physically restrictive. The second greatest pleasure I was getting out of this adventure‚ next to telling my stories of course‚ was the freedom to walk when I wanted‚ sit when I wanted‚ smell the flowers‚ take a swim in a stream‚ eat wild fruit or climb a tree. I could go on.
After his friendly departure‚ I continued my stroll when I heard a strange sound. It was coming from the bushes a few paces from the road. I headed in the direction of the sound and found an injured woman hiding within the brush. She was moaning and the first thing I noticed was that her hands clutched an arrow sticking out of her stomach. She appeared to be small‚ like me‚ with wild red hair and deep hazel eyes. Her strange clothing was unfamiliar to me‚ but it seemed the attire I thought to be worn by Amazons.
The young woman was alive‚ but only semi-conscious. I bent down and took her hand in mine.
"My name is Gabrielle‚" I said. "I want to help you."
"I am Terreis‚" she responded. Her voice was raspy.
"Terreis‚ I need to get this arrow out of you‚" I implored. She nodded in agreement. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing‚ but I succumbed to my own instinct and adrenaline. Breaking the arrow first‚ I then gripped it where it met with her skin and yanked it out. Then I took my sleeping garment out of my travel bag and began applying pressure to the wound to cut down on the bleeding. I took her hands and put them over my sleep shift. "Hold this as tight as you can‚ Terreis‚" I told her. I then took my travel bag and placed it under her head to make her more comfortable.
"Is there someone I can go find to bring back to you?" I asked‚ amazed at myself for the composure I managed.
"Please stay here with me‚ Gabrielle‚ please?" Terreis pleaded. "My Sisters will come to us."
Grabbing my water skin‚ I nodded and lay down next to her. I gave her water‚ and placing my hand over hers‚ I began talking to her. I hoped to take her mind off of her pain as I also hoped she was correct about being found. I told her the story about my good friend Bahri‚ the dashing young man of the Conqueror’s Imperial Guard who turned out to be a stunning young woman. Terreis was in great pain and losing more blood by each passing moment‚ but she was amused by my little story. I hesitated for a moment‚ but then I started to tell her about my love‚ Xena.
Terreis was correct. Only a few more moments passed before a group of masked women found us in the brush. There were three of them and each one drew her sword on me.
"Who are you‚" demanded one of the masked women.
"I am Gabrielle‚ a traveling bard‚" I answered.
Terreis spoke up. "She found me here and helped me‚ Ephiny." Her voice was becoming weaker.
The woman spoke to the other two. "Daphnis‚ Anthia‚ we need to build a litter quickly." She looked at me. "You‚ look after our Princess."
I nodded. Princess?
The women were quick and efficient in building a litter. Then‚ after one of the Amazons picked up the bloody broken arrow‚ all four of us carefully lifted Terreis onto the litter and I helped them carry her to their village. The village was different than any I had ever visited. The homes were rounded huts they called yurts. They were not made out of unbaked brick or limestone or terracotta like the homes of Corinth. They were made out of wood‚ clay and animals skins. The yurts circled a central plaza. There was no dais in the plaza. Instead there was a large fire pit and several very tall and decorative palisades formed in a circle. At one end of the plaza‚ there were also several narrow poles erected in a straight line‚ with beautifully colored banners blowing in the calm breeze.
We took Terreis to the hospice yurt. Once inside‚ two other women removed my blood-soaked garment from her wound and began treating her. A third woman with very strong and distinguished looking features came into the hut and took Terreis’ hand. I was then ushered out of the hut.
"You need to see our Queen‚" said the woman called Ephiny. She still had not yet removed her mask.
I was taken to another hut and told to wait. This was apparently a community hut and was the largest hut in the village. Ephiny left‚ but her two companions from the woods stayed with me. It was not a long while before Ephiny returned and took me back to the hospice yurt. I was brought before Terreis.
"She has requested to see you‚" Ephiny said.
Terreis took my hand and pulled me closer to her so that I could hear her whisper. "I’m giving you my right of caste‚ Gabrielle." She looked over at the distinguished looking woman and nodded. "My sister is my witness." She looked back at me. "You are a good and strong woman‚ Gabrielle. I thank the Fates for bringing us together. Bahri is lucky to have you as a friend. Xena is fortunate to have you as a lover." Terreis drew her last breath and crossed over.
I couldn’t move‚ so I just stood there clutching her hand. Ephiny took me and guided me out of the hut. I was returned to the community hut where‚ a while later‚ the distinguished looking woman entered.
"I am Queen Melosa‚" she began. "I lead this tribe of the Amazon Nation. Terreis was my blood sister and the heir to my throne. In giving you her right of caste‚ you become that heir."
I was stunned. "I… I… can’t accept that honor‚ Queen Melosa."
"By Amazon law‚ you have no choice‚" the Queen responded.
"But Queen Melosa‚ you don’t understand. I am‚ I was…"
"I know who you are‚ Gabrielle. You are Xena the Conqueror’s body slave."
My mouth dropped. The Queen continued‚ "Before you were summoned to see her‚ Terreis mentioned to me that you told her you love a woman named Xena. She instantly knew who you were then. You see‚ Gabrielle‚ I have three Amazon Sisters of our tribe serving in the Conqueror’s Imperial Guard. They send periodic reports back to us about the Realm and that vile woman who rules it. For awhile‚ Terreis and I have known about the Conqueror’s personal servant‚ your name‚ what you look like and all. We have also known for quite some time that Xena has fallen for you. Of course‚ the men of her troops and in her government don’t see it. You are her personal piece of flesh to them‚ but our Amazon Sisters in Corinth can easily perceive the unchained heart of a woman in love. Her love for you has even begun to reflect in the way she rules. She’s still a monster‚ mind you‚ but a few seasons ago‚ before you‚ she was much worse. You are a remarkable woman‚ Gabrielle. That’s why my sister chose you to have her right of caste. By your simple presence in the Conqueror’s life‚ you have managed to somewhat tame her‚ the wild beast of Amphipolis‚ and I suspect you didn’t even realize it."
I was speechless. Queen Melosa went on. "You can’t be a runaway. You wouldn’t have gotten this far. I must then conclude that the Conqueror freed you for some reason. This tells me that her love for you has grown immeasurably over the seasons. There is hope for all of us since it seems our illustrious ruler has a heart and a soul after all."
The other women laughed. Queen Melosa raised her hand‚ silencing them. I could tell from the heat on my face that I was seriously blushing.
"The Conqueror hasn’t loved me that long‚" I finally said. "It has only been a few months.
"Oh‚ you are so wrong‚ Gabrielle‚" the Queen responded as she smiled at me. "Xena the Conqueror has loved you for a few years."
Another silence. That’s impossible‚ I thought.
"Tonight‚ I will mourn the death of my sister‚" Queen Melosa spoke again. "Tomorrow‚ we commit her to the flames." She looked to Ephiny. "You are in charge of Gabrielle‚ Ephiny. Train her in the ways of our Nation."
Queen Melosa then looked to yet another masked women. "Solari‚ you and your Moiety will commence the investigation into the identity of the Thessalian soldier who killed my sister." The Queen handed the woman the arrow.
"Yes‚ my Queen‚" Ephiny and Solari spoke in unison. Then Ephiny grabbed me by my arm and escorted me out of the hut and took me to another one.
"This is Terreis’ yurt‚" she said. "It’s yours now. We’ll begin training after the funeral pyre."
As she walked toward the yurt entrance‚ I called out to her. "May I see your face?" I asked. Ephiny removed her mask to reveal a lovely young woman approximately my age‚ with clear light brown eyes and short curly blond hair. She said nothing‚ just turned and left.
I lay in Terreis’ high bed that night and cried over the tragic event of the day‚ for the new friend that I lost‚ and the woman that I loved and missed deeply.
* * * *
In the following weeks‚ I learned a great deal about life as an Amazon. My days started early as the tribe ate morning meal as a community. I was immediately placed in training as a scout-guard. Had I been raised as an Amazon from birth or early childhood‚ I would have been trained in this capacity upon reaching adolescence‚ so needless to say‚ I was noticeably the oldest scout-guard in training. Whatever awkwardness I felt about my age was quickly dissipated by my Sister trainees. They were very friendly and inviting young girls‚ and with their encouragement and Ephiny’s persistence‚ I was also discovering muscles in my body I didn’t know I had. The physical training went on for several candlemarks each day and was very grueling at times. Ephiny was a temperamental and fastidious trainer‚ but in time she became my good friend.
The tribe of Queen Melosa was comprised of a Claus‚ which was dispersed into seven sub villages called Moieties. There were four peace Moieties: Justice‚ Hospice‚ Agriculture and Spiritual; and three war Moieties: Training‚ Hunting and Guard. Every Amazon belonged to at least one Moiety with most belonging to two. Ephiny‚ for instance‚ was the chief trainer of Training and the top lieutenant of Guard. Her two second-in-commands‚ Daphnis and Anthia were hunters and guards. Solari was Queen Melosa’s chief hunter‚ but she also served as a jurist of Justice. Queen Melosa decreed which Moiety each Amazon joined. It was determined that I was best suited for Justice‚ although I was still trained as a guard. Although not everyone was a member of the Guard Moiety‚ all Amazons receive guard training simply because the hostile world surrounding the village necessitated knowledge in weapons and defense.
Although I received some training in wielding a sword‚ throwing a dagger‚ hurling a spear‚ shooting an arrow and fighting with chobos‚ my chosen weapon was the staff. I preferred it mostly because it was not a lethal weapon and it seemed to work best for me in my improving grace and coordination. I would practice defensive moves on a human-shaped figure stuffed with goose feathers or spar with my trainer Anthia‚ who also carried a staff. Sometimes I would simply twirl my staff over my head and around my body to increase my comfort with it. I was very proud of myself in my development and often wished that my beloved Xena could be present to see how strong and confident I had become.
I learned quickly that the Amazons were not a shy bunch. Located behind the community yurt was the baths’ yurt. The baths’ yurt was almost a second community hut where my Sisters gathered to share stories‚ comfort‚ support‚ and even joke amongst each other as they bathed together. They were also very open in discussing and accepting individual spiritualities and varying relationships. Most of the tribe worshipped Artemis‚ the Goddess of the Amazons. A smaller number worshipped Athena‚ the Goddess of Wisdom. Others worshipped the foreign deities of their Thracian and Anatolian homelands. And a few of my Sisters were immigrants from Judea and they worshipped the one God of Abraham. Over half of my Sisters were married to or romantically involved with either other members of our tribe or women from the surrounding villages. A smaller number had male lovers. Three were actually married to men. The remaining Sisters took a vow of chastity for whatever reason. Although most of my Sisters believed my "chosen" to be a demon‚ I still took the opportunity of the baths to repeat the stories I had told people during my travels as a bard of the Xena that I knew. Unfortunately‚ the Amazons were a much tougher audience to convince.
Another interesting thing I had discovered in the village was that the Amazons had apparently had some influence over Xena at some point in her life. One day‚ about three weeks into my training‚ I stumbled onto a beehive and was stung several times. Ephiny and Anthia immediately took me to the hospice yurt where I was treated with a medicinal combination of honeysuckle leaves‚ wild onion and wild garlic. While I was there recovering‚ I glanced around the yurt and noticed that most of the labeled medicines used by the Amazons‚ like gentian and arnica root for headaches and yellow-spine thistle for burn scars‚ were the very same remedies used by Xena and her personal palace healers.
During this time with the Amazons I was sleeping soundly‚ probably because of all the physical exertion I endured during the day‚ but I was also having strange dreams. Sometimes I had vicious nightmares that I couldn’t even remember upon waking. Sometimes I dreamt about my indentured life in the palace or my life back home with my parents and sister. Sometimes these existences blended together in the dreams. The most vivid dream I recall from that time however was another actual situation that happened between Xena and me about one year ago.
I was summoned to the Conqueror’s bedchamber for service. I entered the chamber and walked over to my usual servicing spot to await instruction. The Conqueror appeared before me completely nude and‚ grabbing the back of my neck‚ escorted me over to the bed. She took off my chiton and sat down on the edge of the bed and commanded me to get on my knees. I did. Then she said simply‚ "Service me." I began sucking her sex. A few moments into my service‚ she said‚ "Go inside." I took three fingers and penetrated her. The Conqueror’s sex was the only part of her body I was allowed to touch with my hands for some strange reason. She usually held my other wrist at her side.
In the past‚ the Conqueror had usually been the pillar of control during sex‚ but on this occasion oddly enough‚ she was letting loose in her arousal. She moaned and stated incoherent words very loudly while she ran her fingers through my hair and massaged my head. I loved the taste of her sex and delighted in servicing her this way‚ and the caresses to my head furthered my pleasure. Her whole body constricted when she climaxed and for the first time she actually screamed out during her release.
When the last torrents of climax ended in her body‚ the Conqueror stood up and then lifted me up off the floor. She was very excited as she threw me on the bed and then climbed on top of me. She lifted my arms‚ in my standard servicing position‚ and held my wrists with her left hand. She then took my fingers that had been inside of her and licked them. She then started licking my mouth. As her tongue stroked my lips‚ I impulsively opened my mouth slightly and allowed my own tongue to touch hers. She actually responded to the touch and for a single moment‚ we had a marvelously passionate exchange with our tongues and lips. But then she abruptly stopped the tender kiss and‚ taking her right hand and grabbing the back of my head; she started fiercely sucking my neck below my right ear. The Conqueror had done this to me countless times over the seasons. It was a strange sensation of pleasure and pain and always resulted in a hideous looking bruise afterwards. After a few moments‚ she started sucking my neck under my left ear. As I was starting to think of just how awful my neck was going to look the next morning‚ the Conqueror removed her right hand from behind my head and penetrated me with three fingers. As her scent‚ beauty and touches aroused me to the extreme‚ my sex was definitely ready to receive the invasion. The combination of sensations was very pleasurable to me‚ and I closed my eyes and allowed my body to relax and enjoy this dangerously beautiful woman who was ravishing me.
However‚ in the midst of it‚ the Conqueror stopped sucking my neck and whispered in my ear‚ "Do you ever have thoughts of love‚ Gabrielle?"
I didn’t answer.
The Conqueror looked into my startled‚ open eyes. "Answer me when I talk to you‚ slave."
I became instantly petrified. "Yes‚" I said hesitantly. "I have thoughts of love‚ my Lady."
"Who consumes these thoughts?" she asked and then quickly added‚ "Never mind. I know it’s not me‚ and I don’t want to have to kill anyone else tonight."
Never pausing in her rhythmic thrusting of my sex‚ the Conqueror resumed sucking my neck. After a few moments‚ I again relaxed.
Then‚ moments later‚ the combination of sexual stimulation and temporary insanity struck me and I whispered in the Conqueror’s ear‚ "Do you ever have thoughts of love‚ my Lady?"
The Conqueror grabbed me around my throat. "I ask the questions‚ slave‚" she said‚ then loosening her grip‚ continued‚ "But since you had the courage to ask‚ yes‚ I do have thoughts of love."
The Conqueror started sucking my throat. "And I hate you for that‚ Gabrielle‚" she mumbled‚ but I heard it.
At the end of my six weeks of training‚ the village held a festive busk or thanksgiving ceremony. The huge fire pit in the central plaza was filled with wood and‚ at nightfall‚ every member of the village gathered for dancing and jubilation around the huge fire. Queen Melosa told me that this was a time to rekindle the sacred fires for spiritual renewal. The fire served as a symbolic cleansing of the spirit. Queen Melosa officially announced me as her heir to the throne of the village. As I sat and watched my Amazon Sisters dance in celebration and joy‚ I began to feel something deep within me. I sensed that Xena and I would reunite very soon.
IV. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the madness that possessed Gabrielle. Less than two days after my return from war‚ she garnered some insane interest in the fate of that bastard Darphus‚ insisted that I spare the scum and then decided to leave me when I gave him what he obviously deserved. Now here I was‚ sitting on the edge of my bed‚ sharpening my favorite sword‚ torn between going after her and begging her not to leave me and going after her and chopping her into little pieces.
There came a knock at my bedchamber door as the second option started sounding better and better.
"May I enter‚ my Liege?" It was Palaemon.
"What do you want‚ Commander?" I responded in question as he entered my bedchamber anyway.
"I came to see if you’re all right‚ Majesty."
"Go away!" I shouted. "I don’t need you checking up on me." I never ceased my sharpening.
Palaemon deliberately disobeyed my command and proceeded to walk closer to me. Apparently he needed to be reminded that I was an enraged killer brandishing a lethal weapon. I immediately stood up and pressed the sharpened sword to his throat and backed him up against the wall next to the door. Palaemon was my Imperial Guard Commander for many reasons. One‚ he never lost his cool‚ even in the face of death.
"Conqueror‚" he started as best he could as the blade was cutting into his neck. "Gabrielle came to see me. I don’t agree with her reasons for leaving‚ but I’m honoring her wishes out of respect for her and for you."
"I don’t want to hear about her‚ especially from you‚" I said as I pressed the blade even further. As much as I tried to suppress them‚ my emotions betrayed me once again and the tears started to flow. Palaemon was in pain from my sword‚ but he grabbed my forearms gently and looked into my crying eyes.
"Remove the blade‚ please‚ Conqueror‚" he said. "I’m worth more to you alive than dead."
I quickly removed it and turned away from Palaemon. He spoke. "Conqueror‚ I have taken liberties to make sure Gabrielle’s travels are safe. I have a small detachment of Guardsmen following her. Two women‚ four men. They have been instructed to report back to me by messenger every twelve candlemarks. She’s a small woman with no fighting skills. I know you wouldn’t want any harm to come to her."
Palaemon took the initiative to do what I would have ordered him to do had I been in the right frame of mind. I still refused to face him. "Very well‚ Commander‚" I said. "Now‚ I have important matters of state to attend."
* * * *
I decided not to go after Gabrielle. I had emancipated her and she was a grown woman. I love her more than anything in this world‚ but I told myself that I was not going to force that love or my body on her‚ not anymore. If she returned to me‚ and I hoped every passing moment of every passing day that she would‚ it would be of her own choosing. So‚ over the next few weeks‚ I did everything in my power to keep my mind off of her. Two days after her departure‚ I finally took that much needed trip to Crete to meet with my governor there. Palaemon wanted to accompany me‚ but I refused. I wanted him where he could get to Gabrielle quickly if he needed. After Crete‚ I sailed east to Lydia in the Asia Minor to engage in battle against a small and insignificant uprising near Arginusae. My presence wasn’t really needed to beat the band of Ionian warriors stirring trouble in my region‚ but the desire for the metallic taste of blood was coursing through my veins and I needed release from the anxiety of my absent love.
By day I was spearing‚ gutting and generally brutalizing men in combat. I rode through villages shouting my battle cry‚ gouging flesh with my sword and slicing muscle with my chakram. At night‚ when I managed to sleep at all‚ I tossed and turned. I dreamt about the men I slaughtered. They were lined up in a row as I hacked them one by one. Always at the end of the line was Gabrielle‚ wearing that dress Illiana made that drove me crazy three years ago. She looked at me as she did on the dais that day I killed Darphus. It was that disappointed look. Sometimes in the dream‚ Darphus was with her and had his arm around her shoulder‚ smiling his evil smile. Sometimes it was Antonius. Sometimes it was the boy I killed the night after I had her branded. Once‚ she was there with her sister that I had never met. Those dreams haunted me‚ haunted my soul.
Other times‚ I dreamt of Gabrielle and me in the throes of passion. She was always in control of me and was literally fucking my brains out. I often climaxed in my slumber during those intense dreams and would awaken with my sex painfully throbbing and sweat pouring off of my skin. My chief Lydian warrior‚ Commander Potamos‚ kept insisting I take a local villager as my body servant to relieve my "tension". He even had the audacity to offer himself as sexual relief for me. I had fucked him once a long time ago in order to persuade him to join my growing army‚ but I had no desire to repeat that experience. I did consider taking a lover a couple of times while I was fighting in Lydia‚ but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Gabrielle had walked away from me‚ yet I still couldn’t betray her with the body of another. Quite the contrary‚ as time passed‚ I longed for her more and more. Going to war had not worked. Her living spirit was consuming me. I couldn’t get Gabrielle out of my mind.
When I returned to Corinth‚ Commander Palaemon wasted no time in updating me on Gabrielle’s travels.
"What has she been doing?" I asked him as I relaxed in my tub scrubbing the filth of war off of my body.
"Well‚ my Liege‚" Palaemon began‚ "She had been performing as a bard‚ like she said. She visited about fifteen towns and villages in the Peloponnese before heading north to Thessaly. The citizens were quite taken with her‚ I’ve been told. Interesting‚ Conqueror‚ but she never made it to Athens as I thought she would. Her path was north. I personally think she would have eventually ended up in Poteidaia‚ but…"
"Never mind the commentary‚ Commander‚" I interrupted. "Where is she now?"
"Pardon me‚ my Liege‚" Palaemon responded. "Seven weeks ago‚ she aided an injured Amazon near Pharsalus. She was taken back to their village. She’s been there ever since."
I leapt to my feet in the tub. "WHAT!?!" I exclaimed. "What has she been doing there?"
Palaemon looked around the room in a desperate attempt not to eye my soapy naked body. "I don’t know‚ my Liege‚" he responded. "The Amazon lands are heavily guarded and even my two female Guardsmen were discovered spying and ejected."
He thought for a moment‚ then added‚ "Oh‚ and Conqueror‚ your lieutenant in Pharsalus hasn’t been of any help to us whatsoever."
"Damn that bitch‚" I said under my breath as Palaemon smirked. "Do you even know if Gabrielle’s alive?" I asked.
"I have no reason to doubt it‚ my Liege‚" he responded. "I have received correspondence from her twice since she went to live amongst the Amazons. She asked about you‚ by the way‚ Conqueror. And before my Guardsmen were spotted and ejected‚ they reported that Gabrielle appeared to be a welcome member to the tribe and was receiving some form of combat training.
I was out of the tub upon hearing the word "combat" and was quickly drying off. "Palaemon‚" I inquired. "Has Gabrielle kept in contact with anyone else here in Corinth?"
"Demi… I mean Demitrius… informed me that he received word from her about three weeks ago‚ my Liege. And although I haven’t spoken to Bahri in a while‚ I wouldn’t doubt Gabrielle has written to her as well."
I had a plan. "Did our little Egyptian complete her field training?" I asked.
"Oh yes‚ Conqueror. You’re going to love this. She’s been promoted to field sergeant‚ in charge of interrogations."
"This I have to see‚" I said as I quickly finished dressing and headed for the Corinthian Militia Compound.
* * * *
I walked into a darkened chamber and stood by a small band of Imperial Guard Militiamen and a group of citizen onlookers who were observing as Field Sergeant Bahri had two heavyset Imperial Guardsmen hold down a suspect she was interrogating. I wore a dark cloak with a hood that concealed my face so that no one in the chamber would recognize me.
"Ok‚ Raimius‚" she said. "You tell me who your partner was who helped you break into the homes of the good citizens Doros‚ Conosis and Aegion‚ and I won’t cut off your phallos."
"Go to Tartarus‚ you black Nubian bitch!" came the muffled reply from the badly beaten suspect.
"Fine‚" Bahri responded in a relaxed manner. "Gentlemen‚ cut off his phallos."
The two heavy Guardsmen lifted the man to his feet while a third Militiaman came up to him and removed his tunic. As the Militiaman grabbed the end of the suspect’s male member‚ the suspect spoke up. "You can’t do this. You just can’t take away the most important thing on a man’s body!"
"Ah‚ but ‘thing’ is the operative word‚ isn’t it?" Bahri said as she casually cleaned her fingernails with her dagger. "Let’s get an understanding‚ Raimius. I don’t give a squat about you or your sad little pasty white ‘thing.’ All I care about is the identity of your partner in crime‚ since we all know you don’t have any gods-given sense to pull off these thefts on your own."
As the Militiaman drew blood‚ the suspect finally relented. "Theodor!" he shouted. "His name is Theodor."
"Very good‚ Raimius." She looked to the two Guardsmen. "Hold him." She said and in an instant she drew a short-bladed sword from her belt‚ grabbed his right arm and cut off his hand. As he screamed his pain‚ she said to him in a calm tone‚ "That is your punishment for thievery and for forcing me to have to see the sight of your sad little pasty white ‘thing.’"
As the bloodied suspect was being led from the room‚ I removed my hood and turned my attention to Bahri. "Very well done‚ Field Sergeant Bahri‚" I said. She was startled at the sight of me‚ but bowed in formal greeting.
"Afternoon‚ my Liege."
"I need to speak with you in private‚" I said. Bahri immediately ordered the other Militiamen‚ Guardsmen and civilians to leave the chamber. Taking her shoulders in my hands‚ I looked into her brown eyes as I tried desperately to control my emotions.
"Bahri‚ have you heard from Gabrielle?"
"It’s been awhile‚ my Liege‚ but yes‚" she responded. "She’s living amongst the Amazons… lucky girl." Bahri had whispered the last two words to herself. I should have been amused at Bahri’s typical eccentric demeanor‚ but at the moment I wasn’t. Those whispered words were exactly what I did not want to hear.
"Bahri‚ I want you to go with me to Thessaly. I want to see her. I need to see her. And I need your help."
"Why not take a detachment of Guardsmen‚ Conqueror?" she asked.
"No‚" I responded. "It has to be you."
Bahri didn’t understand‚ but she nodded. "By your will‚ Conqueror."
* * * *
We set out for Thessaly the following morning. Although I had promised myself to make no attempt to seek out Gabrielle‚ the fact that she was now living with a tribe of strong‚ independent‚ and in many cases sensuously beautiful women changed all of that. Riding hard and fast‚ we arrived at the Amazon territories before nightfall. The weather was unbearably hot. I hadn’t meant to tax Argo so much‚ so we camped at the bank of a small lake where we could water down the horses and take a cooling swim if necessary.
Bahri didn’t say much to me. Gabrielle had remarked to me after my return from the Apennines that Bahri was as much of a talker as she‚ but I suppose Bahri was at a loss in what to say to the Destroyer of Nations. She also elected to swim only after I had finished my dip. I swam in the nude‚ but Bahri preferred to swim with her britches on. When she was done‚ I went back in and caught two fat and healthy lake trout for our dinner. I had bread in my saddlebag to eat with the fish and Bahri had packed some grapes in her saddlebag. I built a fire and we slept outside. The following morning‚ we rode closer to the village where I was ready to put my plan into action.
I removed an Amazon mask and some apparel from my other saddlebag. These items were some of the many trophies I had accumulated over the years in my battle victories. I instructed Bahri to put on the mask and clothing and employ the surveillance skills she learned in field training to penetrate the village proper and discover which yurt Gabrielle occupied. Bahri didn’t question my instructions‚ but she wondered why we needed to go about this in such a covert fashion.
"It’s simple‚ Bahri‚" I told her. "The Amazons hate me. If I ride into their village‚ they’ll surely try to capture me or even kill me. My Thessalian troops won’t let that happen and we’ll be at war with the Amazons. I’m not about to place Gabrielle in that kind of danger."
"I understand‚ my Liege‚" Bahri said‚ and with that‚ she set off to accomplish her goal.
Bahri was gone the better part of five candlemarks and I was beginning to wonder if she had been captured or she had fallen prey to her own sexual vices. For a man or a Sapphic‚ an Amazon village could appear to be a virtual paradise. But the Amazons were savvy and they knew how to sexually manipulate the weaknesses of both. As I considered that‚ I began to envision Gabrielle in the arms of a faceless‚ sensual Amazon. Images in my mind of her making love with another woman were torturing me. I fought hard to dismiss the thoughts‚ but they kept surfacing. Waiting impatiently for Bahri’s return didn’t do much to temper my brimming anger and jealousy‚ and I spent much of the time sharpening my sword‚ my dagger and my chakram.
Finally‚ at the evening candlemark‚ Bahri returned. "Okay‚ my Liege‚" she began. "I counted 35 yurts in the village‚ give or take a few. They’re in a circle facing a central agora these women call the ‘plaza’." Bahri drew out a circle map on the ground. "Pretend this is a sun dial. The Queen’s yurt is here and faces south…" she pointed to the top of the circle. "Gabrielle’s yurt is here…" she pointed to the quarter candlemark. "The group yurt is here…" she pointed to the half candlemark. "The group yurt is the largest in the village‚ the Queen’s yurt is the most decorative."
Bahri efficiently laid it out for me. She had learned the guards’ schedules and routes and when there was a changing of the guards. She learned when the Amazons ate and when they participated in their worship times. When I was confident that I had a complete picture of the village and its routine‚ Bahri added something. "I looked hard‚ my Liege‚ but I never saw Gabrielle. I know I walked by her yurt at least ten times. I even peeked in when no one was looking. Nothing." Bahri looked at the mask I had her wear. "Of course‚ seeing out of this ugly thing didn’t help‚ Majesty. I do believe she’s there somewhere. I heard her name mentioned a couple of times. I just didn’t see her."
I patted Bahri on her shoulder in thanks. Despite what I had almost done to her three months ago‚ she had remained loyal to my Realm. I can see why Gabrielle considered her like a sister. I could see her as my sister as well.
After dark‚ I made my way to the village. I instructed Bahri to take the horses back to the lake where we had camped the night before and wait there. I had Bahri accompany me in order for her to infiltrate the village and provide me its layout. What I didn’t tell her was that I had planned to abduct Gabrielle.
* * * *
It was past midnight when I made it to the rear of Gabrielle’s yurt. I had managed to dodge four Amazon night guards without having to kill any of them. I was dressed in the same long‚ dark and hooded cloak I wore to Bahri’s interrogation chamber and I was roasting in it. Upon reaching Gabrielle’s yurt‚ I took out my chakram and threw it causing it to ricochet off of a barrel and some hanging pots. This was to draw the attention of the roaming guards away from the yurt. When it returned to me‚ I used it to cut a single slice in the yurt’s thick animal skin coverings and I slipped inside.
A single oil lamp illuminated the interior of the yurt. I proceeded to walk over to the high bed and look down onto its sleeping occupant. Now I knew why Bahri didn’t see Gabrielle. She didn’t recognize her. I looked upon her entire body in total astonishment. Because of the intense heat of the summer night‚ Gabrielle was nude save a thin loincloth covering her soft blond curls. Her skin was tanned from the great deal of exposure she had apparently received from being outdoors. The muscles on her arms and legs were toned and defined. Her stomach was flat and muscular. Her hips were curved and solid. Her breasts were firm and voluptuous. Her hair was cut at the neckline and its blond tone was lighter from all of its exposure to the sun. Gabrielle looked strong‚ more mature‚ and more beautiful‚ if that was possible. I gently took her right hand and tied a thick twine to it. Then I took the left hand and secured it to the right hand. My face started to quiver as I delicately ran my fingers down her tanned muscled arm and then her tanned face. "By the gods‚" I whispered in amazement at this vision of perfect beauty as I leaned down and gently kissed her soft‚ reddened lips.
V. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
I awakened to the sight of the most beautiful clear blue eyes I had ever seen and the feel of soft lips covering mine. Just as I began responding to those familiar lips‚ they were replaced by the callused right hand of the Conqueror. She tightly covered my mouth as her eyes glanced over at my staff lying beside my body.
"Oh‚ no…no…no…" she said in whisper. "We can’t have you using this‚ now can we?" She grabbed my staff and threw it to the floor. Then she replaced her right hand with her left hand as her right hand reached down to grab her chakram. She started rubbing the side of the sharp weapon down my face while the weight of her upper body was pressing into my chest. I couldn’t reach up to stop her because she had bound my wrists when I was still asleep.
"So‚ Gabrielle‚" the evil Conqueror I remembered said in that familiar cold and poisonous tone. "I need to pay you back for walking out on me. Where should I start cutting first? Your face? Your neck?"
I couldn’t respond with my mouth‚ obviously‚ so I responded with my eyes. I held in my terror and looked deep into the eyes of the Conqueror. I looked past the frost to the warmth of my Xena. I refused to take my eyes away from hers as I searched for the woman I love. Sensing that I found her‚ I carefully moved my arms up the best I could and‚ taking the backs of the cupped fingers of my right hand‚ I began stroking her cheek in the exact same manner she was stroking mine with her chakram.
Xena flinched a little at my initial touch‚ but she didn’t move. She then put the weapon down and removed her left hand from my mouth. I touched her face with both of my tied hands.
"You look tired‚ Xena‚" I said. "Would you like a mug of water?"
She didn’t respond with words and she looked away. I slowly started to sit up. She actually leaned back to give me room. I held out my arms to her. Still looking away‚ she untied the bindings. I then hopped down off of my high bed and walked over to my table and poured her some water. When I brought it to her‚ I lifted the filled mug up under her lips. She drank and gave the emptied mug back to me. I went back over to the table and poured another full mug. She drank only half of it. I drank the other half. Then I set the mug down and hugged her. I hugged her tightly as I began to cry a little on her scratchy wool cloak.
After embracing each other for a few moments‚ I looked up to see the sweating face of the most gorgeous woman in the known world. "You must be burning up in this thing‚ Xena‚" I said in reference to the cloak. She still said nothing as she took it off. When I saw her beautiful figure before me‚ particularly her hardened nipples sticking to the sweaty material of her tunic‚ I was overcome with passion and longing and I grabbed her behind her neck and drew her sweat-glistened face down to mine. We kissed and embraced for the longest time. I missed her so much. I longed for her so much as we moaned in each other’s mouths and stroked each other’s tongues. Her hands were roaming all over my almost-naked body. My skin burned with desire to her touches. My arms were draped over her neck and I played with her long wet hair.
Then‚ as we kissed‚ I began undressing Xena. I removed the belt that held her tunic closed. I grabbed the wet tunic and pulled it off of her shoulders. I then broke the kiss so that I could pull down her britches. "Go sit on the bed‚" I demanded. She did. I took off her sandals. I then climbed on the bed next to her and pushed her back prone on the bed. I climbed on top of her and began kissing her again. By the gods‚ I wanted her so bad. My sex was throbbing to the point of pain as Xena took her hands and began kneading my ass. I pressed my thigh in between her legs and began rubbing her soaked center. I pressed my center onto her thigh to relieve some of the sexual pressure there. We started grinding in rhythm as our kissing lips and working tongues continued in a wondrous fight for dominance.
Then‚ all of a sudden‚ Xena broke the kiss. She took my face in her hands‚ touched my forehead to hers and glared into my eyes. "Have you taken a lover in my absence‚ Gabrielle?" she asked in a shy whisper.
"No‚ Xena‚" I responded. "Have you?"
Xena was struck with a flurry of emotion. The tears began streaming out of her eyes. "By Zeus and all the gods‚ NO‚" she responded. "No one else exists in my world but you."
Those words and her tears shot through me like a lighting bolt from Zeus. We resumed our passionate lovemaking and climax came quickly for both of us. After a short rest from our release‚ we began again… and again… and again.
* * * *
The following morning‚ as we practically stuck to each other from the sticky sweat of the hot and humid morning‚ and the outburst of passion from the previous night‚ Xena and I began a conversation of mindless dialogue. The intensely hot temperature must have affected our common sense for some moments‚ because we bantered on like two gossipy schoolgirls: "You’re so cute‚ Gabrielle." "Not as cute as you‚ Xena." "You stink‚ Gabrielle." "I stink like you‚ Xena." "How’s Palaemon‚ Xena?" "Demitrius misses you‚ Gabrielle." "Is Argo still stealing carrots‚ Xena?" The small talk came in spurts between tender touches and soft kisses.
However‚ well into the "conversation"‚ Xena’s expression became serious. Stroking my face with the backs of her fingers‚ she started‚ "I’m sorry for insulting you‚ Gabrielle‚ you know‚ before you left."
"Thanks to years in your servitude‚ Xena the Conqueror‚ my skin is thick‚" I replied. "I was more troubled by your actions than your words."
"Well‚ Darphus had to die‚ Gabrielle‚ for the Realm‚" she said‚ then added‚ "But you were right. I killed him to avenge the Gauntlet as well."
"Do you think you could ever learn to stop killing‚ Xena?" I asked.
Xena didn’t answer. She just sighed and kissed my forehead. She then looked into my eyes.
"Think about it‚ Xena‚" I said. "Please." Then we just lay there staring at each other.
A knock at the entrance to my yurt broke the long‚ irksome silence that followed.
A voice from outside called in. "Are you awake‚ Gabrielle?" It was Queen Melosa’s chief Jurist‚ Chilapa. She knocked again and spoke. "We have a prisoner. A female Imperial Guardsman. She claims she knows you‚ my Princess."
Xena shot me a questioning look.
"I’ll explain later‚" I said as I jumped out of bed‚ threw on my robe and dashed for the entrance. Before slipping out‚ I whispered back to Xena‚ "Wait here‚ my love. I’ll be right back."
I joined Chilapa as we walked up to the group of tribal leaders: Ephiny‚ Solari‚ her second-in-command Eponin and Queen Melosa. They surrounded the Guardsman who was bound at the wrists and on her knees. When they cleared my range of vision‚ my mouth dropped.
"BAHRI!" I exclaimed. "What in Tartarus are you doing here?"
Bahri’s eyebrows raised. "Wow! Gabrielle‚ you look… different!"
I immediately untied Bahri’s wrist. She stood. "What are you doing here?" I repeated.
"I uh… I thought I’d come and pay you a friendly visit‚ that’s all‚" came her reply.
Ephiny stepped forward. "My Queen‚" she said to Queen Melosa. "This Imperial Guardsman lies. She was apprehended on our land with two horses‚ a stallion and a palomino mare bearing the Conqueror’s brand.
All of my Amazon Sisters’ eyes locked on me. Great! Xena’s permanent act of jealousy haunts me once again‚ I thought.
"Princess Gabrielle‚" Queen Melosa spoke. "Is Xena the Conqueror on our Amazon land?"
At the word "princess"‚ Bahri’s mouth dropped.
"She’s in my yurt‚ my Queen‚" I responded. "She came to me late last night. I think she was planning on killing me or abducting me‚ but obviously that didn’t happen."
Queen Melosa‚ who was now standing right next to me‚ looked me up and down and smirked. "Well‚ Gabrielle‚ I can SMELL that that didn’t happen."
I blushed beet red. "What do you want me to do‚ my Queen?"
"Xena the Conqueror is a war criminal‚ Gabrielle‚ a war criminal to this tribe and to the entire Amazon Nation‚" Queen Melosa responded. "If she’s within our village‚ she should be tried by our Jurists."
Before I could respond‚ Xena nonchalantly walked up to our group wearing her tunic and sandals. She was unarmed. Every Amazon in range‚ with the exception of our Queen‚ drew her weapon but stood fast. Xena and Queen Melosa regarded each other. I expected a chill between the two of them‚ but for some reason‚ there wasn’t one.
"I only came to see Gabrielle‚" Xena finally spoke. "I’ll leave today‚ if I have your word that no retaliation befalls her."
Queen Melosa looked around to the group of armed Amazons. "Re-sheath your swords and daggers‚ my Sisters‚" she said. She returned her gaze to Xena. "Gabrielle has the right of caste‚ Conqueror‚" the Queen replied. "She is my sister."
Xena looked at me and raised her eyebrow in scrutiny. Queen Melosa continued. "You know our laws‚ Conqueror. You are on our land‚ and by Amazon law‚ we can detain you and try you as a war criminal."
"Well‚ ‘your land’ belongs to me‚ so you know that’s not going to happen‚ Queen Melosa."
I wasn’t shocked that Xena knew our Queen by her name‚ but I was surprised that she was willing to bestow upon Queen Melosa her appropriate honorific.
"But I am curious‚" Xena continued. "How is it that Gabrielle has the right of caste?"
"She didn’t tell you?"
"We haven’t been doing much talking since our ‘reunion.’" Xena looked at me again with that same scrutinizing gaze. All I could do was smile in my utter embarrassment.
"A soldier of your dear lieutenant killed my sister Terreis a few weeks ago‚" the Queen responded. "Gabrielle found her in our forest and comforted her before she died. Terreis’ last wish was for Gabrielle to have her right of caste." Queen Melosa paused‚ then referring to Xena’s Thessalian lieutenant‚ said‚ "She enjoys doing that‚ you know‚ having her men act as snipers against my Amazons."
"Do you know which one of my Thessalian soldiers killed your sister‚ Queen?" Xena asked.
"Yes‚ Conqueror‚" Queen Melosa answered. "My tribal hunters were able to ascertain his identity sometime ago‚ but SHE won’t let us bring the man to justice."
Xena took a deep breath. "I’ll tell you what‚ Queen Melosa‚ in return for welcoming Gabrielle into your tribe‚ I will deliver to you the man that murdered your sister. But then‚ I leave with my Imperial Guardsman here‚ and no blood is shed."
"You’re a ruthless woman‚ Xena the Conqueror‚" the Queen responded. "I would prefer to put you on trial‚ but alas‚ I am a realist. You’ve done much against our Nation‚ but I’ve never known you to lie to the Amazons. With regards to this Thessalian soldier‚ do I have your word?"
"You’ll have him in your custody by the noon candlemark."
* * * *
A detail of Amazons rode with Xena to the Thessalian battalion fort. I joined them‚ despite Xena’s passionate protest to Queen Melosa that I remain safely within the village. Xena led on Argo with Bahri on her black stallion Ru. Riding with me directly behind them were Ephiny‚ her sister trainers Daphnis and Anthia‚ hunters Solari and Eponin and two guards‚ Chloe and Charicleia. We Amazons were masked and geared in ceremonial Guard Moiety apparel‚ and we all carried our chosen weapons. Xena hadn’t spoken to me since the news of my right of caste‚ but she looked upon me with amazement‚ and I suspected a little bit of pride‚ when she saw me mount my own horse‚ Chulytis‚ and carry my fighting staff with confidence as I rode. I actually caught her discreetly staring at me a few times. I supposed that she was quite bemused by the revelation of my royalty and the changes in me‚ and I knew she wasn’t happy at the idea that I was expected to remain with the Amazons as their royal heir. I didn’t know what to do. These wonderful women gave me direction‚ made me believe in myself as a strong and intelligent woman and yet‚ a part of me would gladly go back to being Xena’s body slave just to be with her.
As I rode in deep contemplation of my future‚ I also listened as Xena decided to engage in conversation with Bahri.
"So‚ Field Sergeant Bahri‚" she started. "You troll through the Amazon village for candlemarks and managed to bring me back an entire plan of the village and their daily itinerary‚ yet you’re easily apprehended‚ while you’re supposed to be watching MY horse I might add‚ a clear candlemark’s ride away from the village. Why is that?"
"I’m sorry‚ my Liege‚" Bahri responded. " I was watering down Argo and Ru by that lake and the Amazon Charicleia came up to me and… well… I… I’m so ashamed‚ my Liege."
"Why‚ what did you do?"
"I… I… I fancied her‚ my Liege."
"You let yourself get caught‚ didn’t you?"
"I’m so sorry‚ Majesty. I have disgraced the Realm." Bahri lowered her head in humility. But then the most incredible thing occurred. Xena broke out in a rich laughter.
Everyone stopped their horses and watched as the Destroyer of Nations laughed to the point of tears. When she finally calmed down‚ she placed her hand on Bahri’s shoulder. "Don’t worry about it‚ Bahri. I let myself get caught last night too."
* * * *
When we reached the outer perimeter of the Thessalian battalion fort‚ Xena instructed us Amazons to wait until she sent Bahri out to get us. She and Bahri then rode into the fort compound. Bahri told me later that when they rode in‚ Xena was immediately greeted by her battalion lieutenant‚ whom Bahri said began inappropriately peppering Xena with flirtatious banter. Bahri said Xena remained stoic‚ and ordered the lieutenant to assemble her entire battalion in phalanx formations. When that was accomplished‚ Xena sent Bahri out to get us.
When we rode into the fort‚ the Thessalian soldiers began drawing their weapons.
"STAND DOWN!" their Conqueror ordered. She was off Argo and facing her army.
Xena’s lieutenant stormed up to her. The lieutenant was average in height and rather thin‚ but was an attractive woman with long brown hair and menacing gray eyes.
"My Liege‚ what is going on?" she asked.
As she gave her response‚ Xena the Conqueror looked upon her lieutenant with that familiar ice-blue stare that had terrified me an innumerable amount of times over the seasons. "Lieutenant Velasca‚ I understand that one of MY Thessalian soldiers took the life of the Amazon Princess of this region."
"Oh‚ so what‚ Conqueror‚ what do we care about these…"
"SHUT UP!" Xena barked. "The men of my armies are warriors‚ soldiers of the Realm‚ not spineless snipers who kill unsuspecting women for sport. Taking your petty vengeance out on your former Amazon Sisters has consequences‚ Velasca. The murder of this particular Amazon has consequences that personally affect me." Turning to us‚ she said‚ "Which one of you knows the identity of my soldier who killed the Amazon‚ Terreis?"
Although we all knew the answer‚ only Ephiny stepped forward. "I do‚ Conqueror."
"Point him out."
Ephiny dismounted and walked four rows back to a tall bulky man with red hair. "It was this man‚ Conqueror."
"Come forward." Xena ordered. The man complied‚ of course. "Your name‚ soldier‚" she demanded.
"Dropolos of Pharsalus‚ my Liege‚" the soldier responded in a rich deep voice.
"Did you kill the Amazon‚ soldier?" Xena asked.
"Yes‚ my Liege‚ I did‚" came the remorseless answer.
"Bind his wrists‚" Xena indicated to Bahri. "He’ll walk alongside the horses." She then returned her attention to her lieutenant. Her face was an expression of sheer contempt. "Lieutenant Velasca‚ if I hear of one more death of an Amazon by a Thessalian soldier under your command‚ not only will I personally kill each and every man in this battalion‚ I’ll personally kill you. Do you understand me?"
"I do understand you‚ my Liege‚" the lieutenant said as she gestured to us with a look of contempt. "Just tell me which one she is‚" she said to Xena. "And I’ll spare her any harm." The lieutenant was whining as if she was a child being deprived of her favorite toy.
The Conqueror grabbed the lieutenant by her cuirass and yanked her close. Her venomous words were a whisper‚ but I heard them. "Assume I’m fucking all of them‚ Velasca. You kill any Amazon‚ you die."
Xena released Velasca roughly and she fell back. She then mounted Argo and we rode out of the fort.
Once we were clear of the fort‚ Xena halted our entourage and reached down into her saddlebag. She pulled out a roll of parchment and began writing some instructions. She then rolled the parchment into a scroll and tied it with thin twine. She handed the scroll to Bahri.
"I want you to ride back to Corinth‚ Field Sergeant‚" Xena began her instructions. "On your way‚ take this scroll to my battalion commander in Thermopylae. His name is Commander Rhamos‚ and he is the highest-ranking officer in my Thessalian Army. Tell him he is to do exactly what’s written on it. You are a commissioned sergeant of my Imperial Guard so he’ll receive you attention."
"By your will‚ Conqueror‚" Bahri bowed formally as she answered.
Xena looked back at us. "You." She pointed at Charicleia. "I would like for you to accompany Field Sergeant Bahri to Thermopylae. The instructions written on this parchment affects the Amazons and Commander Rhamos may need to send word back here. Since Field Sergeant Bahri’s continuing on to Corinth from there‚ you may be required to deliver a message from my commander to your Queen."
I looked at Bahri and smiled while Bahri looked at Xena and smiled. The Destroyer of Nations is many things‚ I thought. I never would have guessed that she is a matchmaker as well. Charicleia didn’t seem to mind the request either. "I’ll accompany your Guardsman‚ Conqueror‚" Charicleia said. She was smiling too.
Bahri handed Xena the rope that bound the soldier. Then she trotted Ru to where we were and leaned over and gave me a hug and kiss on my cheek. "Write me‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. I nodded as she and looked upon her new riding companion‚ Charicleia. Then I watched as the two women rode off together.
The others Amazons looked at me as Ephiny leaned over to me. "Our Queen was correct‚ Princess Gabrielle‚" she whispered. "You have tamed a wild beast."
When we returned to the village‚ Queen Melosa and Chilapa were holding shackles ready to take our prisoner into custody. Chilapa removed the soldier’s rope bindings and replaced them with the metal shackles. He was then taken to the prisoner holding yurt to await trial before the Jurists.
"I have sent my Imperial Guardsman and one of your Guard to Thermopylae to deliver instructions to my commander there‚ Queen Melosa‚" Xena said. "Your former Amazon sister‚ Velasca‚ in her capacity as my Thessalian Army lieutenant‚ has engaged in practices that have negatively affected the Realm and she will be dealt with because of them."
"Thank you‚ Xena the Conqueror‚" Queen Melosa said. Turning to me‚ she indicated‚ "I would like to speak with you‚ my sister."
I rode Chulytis along side Argo and grabbed Xena’s arm. "Don’t leave yet‚ please." Xena didn’t respond. She just looked at me. I could tell she was strenuously fighting back tears. I wasn’t that strong.
I dismounted Chulytis and joined my Queen in her royal yurt. Once inside‚ she grabbed me in a strong embrace‚ something she had never done to me before.
"Gabrielle‚" she said as she began wiping my tears with her thumbs. "I want you to go back to Corinth with the Conqueror."
"But my Queen‚ I…"
"Shhh…" Queen Melosa placed her finger on my lips‚ silencing me. "You will be of more value to our Amazon village‚ to the entire Amazon Nation of Greece and beyond if you remain with Xena. You have an undeniable power over her‚ Gabrielle. Because of you‚ we will have justice for Terreis and a tyrannical officer will likely be stripped of her authority. Think of all that you can accomplish with the Conqueror by her side."
"But my Queen‚" I responded‚ "I left three months ago because I wasn’t able to stop her from a single murderous act of revenge."
Queen Melosa cupped my face in her hands and gazed into my eyes. "But my sweet sister‚" she said‚ "I bet you could now."
My Queen handed me my already packed travel bag and for Argo‚ an additional saddlebag filled with more of my belongings. Chulytis would remain in the village under Ephiny’s care. She then guided me out the yurt entrance and walked with me over to Xena‚ who was preparing to journey back to Corinth.
"I’m going back with you‚ Conqueror‚" I simply said. "By the will of my Queen‚ and by my own will too‚ if you’ll have me."
Xena’s stoic expression was unyielding as she nodded her acceptance to Queen Melosa‚ took my saddlebag‚ and loaded it on Argo. She then climbed up on her horse and reached down to hoist me up as well. Before grabbing her arm‚ I hugged my Queen and my Sisters Ephiny‚ Solari and Chilapa‚ who had joined Queen Melosa in bidding me farewell. Then I let Xena lift me onto Argo and we rode off together as my Amazon Sisters chanted‚ "Gab-ri-elle… Gab-ri-elle… Gab-ri-elle…"
* * * *
Xena and I had reached the Peloponnese by nightfall. We had reached the village of Plataea and Xena was concerned that Argo needed rest. I suggested that we seek lodgings at the homestead of a local farmer. Xena thought I was crazy‚ but I told her I had developed a knack for negotiating sleeping arrangements with kind farmers as well as village dwellers. We rode up to a small goat farm that had a perfect stable with a loft. Xena stayed on Argo as I went to the door and introduced myself as the traveling bard‚ Gabrielle. The farmer recognized my name immediately. Handing him a solid gold dinar of the Realm that Xena had given me‚ I offered it as payment for one night of lodging in his stable loft. Knowing the payment was grossly disproportionate to what I sought‚ he began offering his own bed as lodging‚ and food and farm animals as further offerings for my compensation. I told him that two warm linen blankets to place over the hay and some apples for Argo would be enough.
Argo was secured in the stable and given cold water and juicy red apples to eat. The farmer’s wife brought me the two blankets I requested‚ as well as jug of fresh drinking water. She then returned with a kettle full of hot stew‚ two mugs and spoons‚ and a basket of fresh baked bread. I thanked her and handed the food to Xena‚ who stood silent. I then climbed up the ladder onto the loft and spread out the two blankets. Xena closed and secured the stable door and then climbed up the ladder behind me. I undressed down to my britches and then I took the stew and bread and started eating. I was famished. Xena undressed completely and‚ setting her sword and chakram near her‚ joined me in the feast. We ate in silence.
There was something I needed to ask Xena since my visit to Darphus in the palace dungeons three months before. "Xena‚" I started. "How many lovers have you had?"
Xena nearly choked on her bread. "What? Why do you ask‚ Gabrielle?"
"Velasca was your lover‚ wasn’t she‚ Xena?"
Xena hesitated. "Yes‚ yes she was‚" she said and then looked away.
"How many lovers have there been‚ Xena? More than hundred?
Xena couldn’t look at me. "I don’t know‚" she said and paused‚ considering. "Yes."
"More than a thousand?"
"I don’t know‚ Gabrielle."
I looked down at my stew. "Velasca‚ Darphus‚ Palaemon?" I asked. "You’ve bedded all of your military leaders‚ haven’t you?"
"Not Palaemon‚ Gabrielle‚" Xena answered. "That’s one of the reasons he commands my elite Imperial Guard. I haven’t ‘spoiled’ his focus with my callous seductions." She thought for a moment. "The others whom I had‚ especially the men‚ probably can’t get past seeing me as a woman first and their Conqueror second. To Palaemon‚ I am truly the Conqueror."
I wanted to meet her eyes‚ but I couldn’t look at her either. "Did you love them?" I asked as I nervously stirred my stew.
"No‚ Gabrielle‚" she replied. "I didn’t have sex with any of them out of love. It was a means to an end."
"What about the others?" I asked. "The ones who didn’t end up commanding an army?"
I could see at the side of my vision that Xena was picking at the fabric of the blanket on which we were sitting. "Different reasons‚ I suppose‚" Xena said. "Lust‚ manipulation‚ a desire for power‚ rattle a foundation. Love didn’t factor in." She then said in a quiet voice as she looked at me. "Before you‚ I hadn’t loved in a very long time. I’ve never loved like the love I feel now." She looked back down.
"When was the last?"
Xena‚ who had been sitting at two arms length from me‚ crawled closer and ran her fingers through my hair. "I haven’t touched another body in passion since you came into my service‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "How could I?"
My bowl of stew started looking very intriguing. Xena placed her fingers under my chin and lifted my head to meet her eyes. "How many have there been for you‚ Gabrielle?"
I didn’t hesitate in answering. "The warlord who abducted me from my village had me and all of the other girls‚ including my younger sister‚ several times the first three days and nights‚" I responded‚ shocked that Xena would actually covet this information. "His second in command had us all as well. They were both very brutal. Then at the end of the three days‚ that bastard sold us as ‘virgins’. That was the last time I saw my sister before her funeral. My first master trained me as a body servant‚ although he was actually fairly kind. And then there was you."
Xena began stroking my cheek. "I’m surprised you wanted to know‚ Xena‚" I said.
"I always wanted to know‚ Gabrielle."
"Why didn’t you ask before?"
"Because now I know I won’t seek each man out and kill him‚" Xena responded‚ bluntly. "Although knowing this may cause me to have second thoughts about sparing the first two." I looked down in my humility. Xena took my hands in hers and continued. "I knew you weren’t sold to me a virgin‚ Gabrielle‚ and that wasn’t that important to me when I acquired you‚ but when I fell so madly in love with you‚ I became resentful of the ones who had had you before I did. They took away something I felt I was entitled to. I wanted to be your ‘first’. I wanted to be your ‘only’. But that doesn’t matter anymore now because‚ well… you never loved them. They never made love to your body the way I do." She paused and snickered. "Pretty smug‚ aren’t I?"
I wanted to ask her when she first fell in love with me‚ but for some reason‚ that particular moment wasn’t the right moment. Maybe I was afraid to know the answer. "I find your smugness rather endearing‚ Xena the Conqueror‚" I settled on saying in jest.
We set the food aside and started kissing on the soft linen blankets. Xena became restless and drew back from the kiss. She then got up and climbed down the ladder to retrieve yet a third blanket from her saddlebag. It was amusing watching the naked Conqueror scurrying down the ladder and trotting across the stable floor. When she returned‚ I laid back and she draped it over me. Then she slipped under it at my feet like a child hiding under the covers and slithered up to me and rested her body on mine. She removed my britches on her way up. "Your body is so incredible‚" she said as her hands roamed everywhere. We kissed for a while before she grinned this evil grin and scooted back under the blanket to find my sex with her tongue. "I’m still hungry‚ Gabrielle‚" she announced ever so playfully as I stared at the ceiling of the stable and saw stars.
* * * *
The following morning‚ we both awakened to the noise of a bucket handle dropping on the side of a tin bucket. I looked over at the ladder and saw a young girl staring at us. She was no more than ten‚ but didn’t seem particularly startled at the sight of two women lying so close together on some hay. Xena’s face was planted next to mine‚ her leg was draped over both of my legs while her arm rested over my waist in a casual embrace. There was no denying the closeness‚ but I was sure she couldn’t tell we were naked. Xena’s blanket covered us both.
"Hi‚" I said to the little girl.
"Hi‚" she replied. "I brought you apples to eat."
"Thank you‚" I responded. "What’s your name?"
"Teria‚" she said.
"I’m Gabrielle." I looked over at Xena‚ who was staring at me. "This is Xena."
"Pleased to meet you‚ Gabrielle. Pleased to meet you‚ Xena." The little girl then climbed down the ladder.
Xena wiped her sleepy blue eyes. "Damn‚ I thought I locked that stable door."
Later‚ as we were preparing to leave the farm‚ the farmer and his wife came up to us and gave us a basket of bread and fruit for our journey. I thanked them both for their kind hospitality and mounted Argo behind Xena‚ who was already on the horse and ready to ride. When Xena indicated to Argo to take off‚ the little girl ran out of the farm house toward us‚ waving her arms and yelling‚ "Goodbye‚ Gabrielle! Goodbye‚ Xena!"
I looked back to see the ghastly expressions on the faces of that poor couple‚ both of whom had been struck with the revelation of who they had lodged in their stable the previous night.
By late afternoon‚ we reached the beautiful propylaea of the Corinthian acropolis. I had been holding Xena only casually during our ride‚ but the sight of that remarkable gateway overcame me with emotion. I gripped her tight around her waist and pressed my cheek in her back. "We’re home‚ Xena." I said as I embraced her.
"Yes‚ Gabrielle‚ we’re home. Together."
You are cordially invited to read my next installment‚
The Trial of the Destroyer‚ Part One
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