THE BLESSINGS OF MOTHERS
By CJ Wells
Disclaimers: Xena‚ Gabrielle‚ Palaemon‚ Lao Ma‚ M’Lila‚ Marcus‚ Borias‚ Perdicas‚ Seraphin‚ Glaphyra‚ Xena’s kin‚ Gabrielle’s kin‚ the Amazons‚ Callisto and Argo 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 them here is the personal satisfaction of toying with the characters in my own image. All of the aforementioned real Roman guys of my preceding stories were‚ yes‚ real Roman guys. All of the other Roman guys named and all of the other characters named are mine.
Series Credit: This is an installment of my continuing Embrace/Freedom Conqueror Series. Please read all of the preceding stories‚ beginning with The Embrace & Freedom‚ or this story will seem like it’s coming out of left field or something. For this installment‚ I gleaned information from informative websites on Paganism‚ but the tone and content of ceremony within is entirely my personal concoction.
Character Warning: If you’ve come this far‚ I think the point has been made abundantly clear. I would like to advise that the character of Marcus from the episodes "The Path Not Taken" and "Mortal Beloved" is given a Roman Citizen identity in this story‚ although he’s essentially the same guy. Don’t worry‚ he and Xena won’t be "gettin’ busy" in this story‚ however.
Women Gettin’ Hitched Warning: Sex‚ sex and more sex of the woman on woman variety. Underage and/or PAX TV viewers… GO AWAY!
Blasphemy Warning: South Park ain’t rated TV-MA for nothing.
Violence Warning: Yes‚ but it’s not gratuitous and is necessary for the plot.
To my beta readers Inga‚ Sue‚ Mary & Jean‚ thank you!
Comments and Feedback: I would be greatly honored.
I. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
It had been quite some time since the last occurrence‚ but during my afternoon rest with Xena‚ I had yet another one of those strange dreams. It was of an incident that occurred about a month after the last time that Xena had ever used her whips on me.
I was summoned to the Conqueror’s bedchamber for service. I entered her bedchamber and went to my reporting spot. The Conqueror walked over to me and ordered me to take off my garments. Since the brutal beating that she had inflicted on me four weeks before‚ the Conqueror had been insisting that I report to her in my sleep shift‚ since most nights now ended with me actually sleeping with her in her bed.
After I removed my sleep shift‚ the Conqueror began removing her beautiful silk chiton while standing in front of me. When she was completely nude‚ she stepped up close to me and began looking me over‚ as if she was inspecting me for wounds or infestations. She was so close as she did this‚ her hardened nipples periodically rubbed up against my face‚ chest‚ and shoulders as she circled me.
"Go lay down‚" she commanded after her inspection.
I went over to my spot on her bed and assumed my servicing position. She waited a few moments before coming over and lying on top of me. She positioned herself so that both of her legs were between my spread legs‚ although her legs were somewhat spread as well. As we looked at each other‚ eye-to-eye‚ she took one of her fingers and gently ran it down my nose‚ my lips and my chin. Then she lightly kissed my lips before turning her attention to my left ear. She began licking it‚ sucking my lobe and biting the skin just below it. As she did this‚ she gripped my wrists‚ which were positioned above my head‚ and then she arched her back‚ spread my thighs even more and bent her knees so that her sex could connect with mine. Since I was wet from the moment she removed her clothing and exposed her glorious body in front of me‚ her subsequent rhythmic rubbing caused my already throbbing sex to pulsate intensely. Release for me came quickly.
The Conqueror’s release came several moments later. She had moments before turned her attention to my other ear and was breathing very heavily into it when her climax hit. She continued to lie on top of me until her body had completely relaxed. Then‚ rising up‚ she crawled over to the other side of the bed and sat on its edge. It was quiet for many moments.
"Go to your bedchamber‚" the Conqueror ordered‚ her back to me. "I’m done with you."
"Yes‚ my Lady." I climbed out of her bed and put on my sleep shift. As I was walking toward the door‚ she spoke.
"Gabrielle‚" she said.
I turned around and looked at her.
"You didn’t climax‚ did you?" she asked.
I was shocked by the question. The Conqueror had never before given any indication that she cared if I was receiving any pleasure at all. Above the shock was the fear of revealing that I had climaxed too early.
"Yes‚ my Lady‚" I responded. "I did."
"It came moments after we… after I… began my service‚ my Lady‚" I responded as I immediately looked down. I was instantly terrified at the error of my response and began anticipating a severe punishment. However‚ my response was met with a long silence. When there was no indication of movement on her part‚ I finally looked up at the Conqueror. She had a smile on her face that I had never seen before. Her teeth were pearly white and her blue eyes sparkled like gems. I didn’t know what to make of that smile.
"Go on now‚ Gabrielle‚" she said as the smile vanished.
"Yes‚ my Lady."
I awakened to the sounds of slaves milling about in our guest bedchamber. Xena was in such a deep sleep that I pondered the events of the last two days must have been very draining on her. Deciding not to awaken her‚ I slipped out of bed and‚ after relieving myself‚ wandered over to where the slaves were doing their various duties.
I approached a young slave wiping down one of the mirrors. "Hello‚" I said to her.
"Good afternoon‚ my Lady‚" the attractive‚ dark haired young woman replied.
"Please‚ please don’t call me that‚" I said in gentle voice. "My name is Gabrielle."
The girl looked down. "I’m terribly sorry for offending you‚ Lady Gabrielle‚" she said.
"You didn’t offend me‚" I responded. "And it’s Gabrielle‚ just Gabrielle." I grabbed her trembling hand. "You needn’t fear me‚" I continued. "I was indentured at one time as well."
She looked up at me and I smiled at her. "What’s your name?" I asked.
"Esme‚ my La… Esme‚ Gabrielle‚" she responded.
"That’s a nice name‚ Esme‚" I said. "How long have you been serving in the Proconsul’s palace?"
"Since I was 15‚ my… Gabrielle‚" she answered. "I’m 20 now."
"How does he treat you?"
"He is a decent Master‚ Gabrielle‚" she told me. "He doesn’t strike any of us‚ as I’ve heard… other rulers… do."
I could feel the heat in my face rise. "I’m glad to hear that‚ Esme‚" I said.
Esme and I spoke for a few moments. She told me a little about the atmosphere in the palace between Octavius and his slaves. She began telling me about her relationship with the other chambermaids when we both noticed Xena stirring. "Will the Conqueror be angry at me for speaking with you‚ Gabrielle?" Esme whispered.
"No‚ she’s fine‚" I responded smiling before looking over at Xena‚ who ran her fingers through her hair and looked around the room. I squeezed Esme’s arm and smiled at her before dashing over to the bed and literally jumping on it.
"Hello‚ my Conqueror‚" I said playfully. "Sleep well?"
"Apparently‚" she responded. "That’s a pretty little thing you were talking to over there‚" she said as she shot Esme a look that I didn’t like.
"Oh‚ you think so?" I asked smiling‚ trying to keep matters light.
"The question is‚ do you think so?" Xena queried in a tone that was getting increasingly uncomfortable.
I took her hand in mine and leaned into her. "She is pretty‚ Xena‚ but you’re beautiful‚" I whispered in her ear with all frankness.
Xena looked away. Something was bothering her. Perhaps it was the conversation that we had had prior to our rest. Perhaps she had had a disturbing dream. Or perhaps she was still battling with that jealous and possessive part of herself that cannot stand to see me pay any attention to anyone besides her. "Would you like for me to get you something to drink‚ Xena?" I asked.
She was still looking away. "You’re not my slave‚ Gabrielle‚" she said "Have one of THEM get it."
I was offended by her words. Placing my fingers on her chin‚ I brought her gaze back to me. "What is the matter with you‚ Xena?" I angrily asked while Esme and the others in the room decided that that moment was the perfect one for them to leave the chamber and give Xena and me some much needed privacy.
"Oh‚ I don’t know‚" she said mockingly. "Perhaps I’m a tad bit miffed that you were off chatting with some cute house whore rather than lying here with me."
Ah‚ so it’s the ugly jealous Conqueror‚ I thought. "Well‚ excuse me for having a mind of my own‚ my Liege‚" I stated as I folded my arms in defiance.
Xena looked away again‚ but she didn’t move. She had learned quite some time ago that my anger toward her intensified when I began calling her by anything other than her name. I guess it was my way of signifying my anger with her and reminding her that we are lovers. Because I have a different level of expectation from her than that which she bestows upon her soldiers and her servants‚ I would resort to addressing her in the same manner that they do in order to make my point to her. Xena had made a great deal of progress in controlling her jealous nature over the last few months‚ but I had noticed her discomfort in our bathing with our friends and my Amazon Sisters during our first night in the palace. I don’t think it was lost on anyone just how close she sat next to me in the bath or the number of times that she placed her hand on my neck or my shoulder or my thigh as I scrubbed myself. She was even more obvious during the entertainment of the three Roman poets‚ when she had placed her arm around me firmly and kept it there for the entire oratory. Part of me finds Xena’s possessiveness flattering and endearing‚ but I am also quite unabashedly aware that this behavior in a woman like Xena‚ despite the changes that she has made‚ still could be dangerous or deadly.
"I’m thirsty‚ Xena‚" I proclaimed after a long and difficult silence. "I’m going to get a drink."
"Stay here‚" she said. "I’ll get it."
Xena marched over to a huge table where a jug of fresh water sat and poured two goblets. When she returned‚ she sat on the edge of the bed after giving me one of the goblets. She downed her drink in two larges gulps. I moved over and sat next to her.
"We both have demons of jealousy‚ Gabrielle‚" Xena said after letting out a huge sigh. "You don’t like to be reminded of those in my past while I fear those who may come between us in our present and future."
"Why do you worry about other people when I’ve so often professed my love for you‚ Xena?" I asked.
"Because of our past‚ Gabrielle‚" she responded. "I’m afraid that you’ll meet someone or… or fall for someone you already know‚ and… and they… no one’s hurt you like I have. You’ll decide that you could be better off with them."
"Well‚ I fear that you’ll eventually grow tired of me‚ like you’ve done with every lover before me‚ Xena‚" I remarked.
"What makes you think that?" she asked.
I looked down. "You didn’t tell me the whole story about your life when you had your affair with Callisto‚ Xena‚" I said. "You left someone out."
"What did Callisto tell you?" Xena queried.
"Would you like to know everything she said to me during my abduction‚ Xena?" I responded with a question.
* * * *
I was strolling through the Forum marketplace with my friends and Amazon Sisters. I had consumed quite a bit of water that morning and desperately needed to relieve myself. I announced that I would dash into one of the public bathhouses to use the pot. I gave Anthia my staff‚ which I had been carrying all that morning‚ to hold until I returned. It would be the biggest mistake I could make up to that moment.
As I stepped out of the bathhouse pot‚ a man came up to me and nudged my shoulder. At that same moment‚ I felt an arm wrap around my neck and begin to pull me. The man who bumped into me grabbed my arms and said in a heavy accent‚ "You come with us."
I began fighting‚ kicking the man behind me and trying to free my arms from the man who spoke. When I yelled out‚ "HELP!" the man behind me placed his free hand over my mouth. They took me‚ struggling all of the way‚ to a carriage a very short distance from the public bathhouse. When the man facing me let go of my arms to mount the wagon‚ I swung at him and punched him hard in his face. He seemed at first startled‚ but it quickly turned to anger when he raised his fist and struck me in my face. Everything went black.
When I regained consciousness‚ I was in a dark‚ hot and musty cellar. My wrists were bound above my head. I looked up and saw a young woman sitting on a stool reading a scroll. Two oil lamps illuminated the room.
"Why‚ hello‚ Gabrielle‚ my darling‚" the woman said. "Did you enjoy your nap?"
"Who… are… you?" I asked‚ still quite groggy from being knocked out.
"I’m Callisto‚ Gabrielle‚" she responded. "Surely‚ Xena’s told you all about me."
I looked around the room before returning my attention to my captor. "No‚ I’ve never heard of you."
"Tsk tsk tsk tsk… naughty Xena‚" the woman said. "But I’m not surprised. I’m sure there are a lot of things she hasn’t told you."
"Where am I?" I asked. "Why am I here?"
"You need not concern yourself with your current whereabouts‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "As for why you’re here‚ well‚ perhaps your pretty Xena will explain things when she finds you."
I was both angry and scared. At the moment‚ the pain in my arms was causing my anger to dominate over my fear. "WHO ARE YOU!?!" I yelled. "I want to know why I’m here tied up like an animal!"
The woman stood up and walked over to me. I expected her to strike me‚ but instead she pulled out Xena’s chakram and lightly touched my lips with it. "Shhhh…" she said. "I wouldn’t want the men upstairs to hear us down here‚" she said before bringing the chakram to her own lips and kissing it.
"How did you get Xena’s chakram?"
"Pretty Xena threw it at me‚" she responded. "Too bad for her."
I looked at the woman from head to feet. Blond hair‚ dark eyes‚ sassy tongue. "You’re Marius’ wife‚" I proclaimed.
"Oh‚ so she has told you about me‚" Callisto said as she beamed me a wide grin. "Just left out the name."
"At my request‚" I said.
"Oh‚ why is that?"
I didn’t need to tell her anything. "Your issue is with Xena‚" I said. "Why abduct me?"
"Because I want her attention‚ Gabrielle‚" Callisto said. "And you’re the best way to get Xena’s attention these days." She returned to her seat. "Also‚ I’ve been looking forward to some chit-chat with you."
It was obvious that this woman was a lunatic‚ but I surmised for the moment that the key to my survival was to keep her talking. "What would you like to discuss?" I asked.
"You love Xena‚ don’t you‚ Gabrielle?"
"Yes‚ yes I do."
"Interesting‚" she said. "Tell me‚ darling‚ how is it that you can love someone who repeatedly raped you?"
"Xena’s not a rapist!" I exclaimed.
"Oh no?" Callisto smirked. "So you’re saying that in those many years of servitude‚ every single time that you had sex with her you would have done so willingly had you been given the choice?"
"It’s not that simple‚" I responded. "Our… relationship… has so many complexities."
"Uh-huh…" she retorted as she came back over to me. She lightly grabbed my chin between her thumb and index finger. "Well‚ Gabrielle‚ honey‚ the whip scars on your belly and the brand on your back seem quite simple to me."
I opened my mouth to respond‚ but nothing would come out.
"She’s a monster‚ you know‚" Callisto said as she again turned her back to me and sauntered back over to her stool.
"She has been‚ yes‚" I whispered.
"Yet‚ you love her‚" she stated almost as a question.
"I didn’t always‚" I responded‚ ever mindful that talking was probably the one thing keeping me alive and from further harm. "I hated her for a long time."
"For raping you?"
"I didn’t feel violated back then‚ Callisto."
"What did you feel‚ Gabrielle?"
"I don’t know‚" I said. "Many things. Confused‚ used‚ shamed‚ unloved. I hated her when she hurt me… but I hated her when she was gentle too."
"Please do explain‚ sweetie."
"Sometimes‚ she was so gentle and… and almost loving‚ that I thought that‚ well‚ I… I… that perhaps she loved me. Ironically‚ she did love me. She loved me from almost the beginning. She was petrified about telling me."
Callisto crossed her legs. I had her full attention. "Go on‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "This is very interesting."
"She would do things… little things that made me think that she cared about me."
"Really? Like what?"
"Just little things‚" I said. "But then she would turn around and say or do something to humiliate me or hurt me or anger me. For years I believed it to be a sick game of hers."
"Hmm…" Callisto grabbed a mug and drank. My head was aching and I was dying of thirst‚ but something told me not to request a drink. "Has Xena told you about her other lovers?" she asked.
"What other lovers?"
"Oh‚ really‚ she cannot have possibly kept such well-known information from you."
"Do you mean Borias?"
"The nomad that she arranged to have murdered… no‚" Callisto responded. "She didn’t tell you about Marcus Lucius Agrippa?"
The comment about Borias was still swirling through my head when she made her last statement. "Who’s Marcus Agrippa?"
"Why he’s Proconsul of Pompeii‚ my dear‚" she informed me. "She gave him that position after she had my dear husband send me to the Spartan nuthouse."
I lowered my head. "I know that there are a lot of men in Xena’s past‚ Callisto‚" I said. "It bothers me‚ but she has assured me that no one has meant to her what I mean to her."
Callisto burst out laughing. "Is that what she told you?" she blurted. "Well‚ dear‚ you keep telling yourself that and maybe someday you’ll truly believe it."
My mind was a bit jumbled‚ but I was quickly realizing that this entire conversation was Callisto’s attempt to create in me an insecurity that could cause a rift between Xena and me. I wasn’t about to let on to her‚ but it wasn’t working. I have known Xena for almost six years‚ as her slave‚ and then as her friend and lover. I know Xena‚ much more than Callisto ever will. Xena is capable of many things‚ but she has always been honest with me. In all of those years of servitude‚ Xena never once told me that she didn’t want me anymore. She never threatened to sell me. Quite the contrary‚ her actions always suggested that she needed to have me around her. There was this one time that Xena claimed she wanted to turn me over to Palaemon. It was one of her silly games. I know that now. But even then‚ she made the choice mine. I chose her‚ but I know now that had I chose Palaemon and had he accepted my choice‚ Xena would have initially honored the deal‚ but would have eventually done something sly to undo it. Callisto was clueless about Xena’s ongoing struggle‚ with herself and her love for me‚ during my years of servitude. She only knew about the old Xena‚ the evil Xena‚ the corrosive yet also eroding Destroyer of Nations.
"Well‚ I’m waiting…" I said. I was about to play the game as well.
"Waiting for what?"
"Tell me about Marcus Agrippa."
"Oh‚" she began‚ "he’s a fine man‚ Gabrielle. African born… from Koumbi Saleh‚ I do believe‚ but Roman reared and educated. He’s taller and darker than your attractive little Egyptian Guard friend‚ but not nearly as black or beautiful as that Parisii Sapphic traveling with you. He is rather handsome and quite intelligent; more of a politician than a warrior. He fought alongside Xena and my dear husband Marius when she was battling Julius Caesar. They were quite the item when I met them. But Marcus was a person of integrity‚ so unlike the Warrior Princess‚ and he didn’t like being one of a crowd in her bedchamber."
"I guess that didn’t bother you‚ eh Callisto?" I chimed in.
"As a matter of fact‚ no it didn’t‚" she responded. "I knew that she was using me to get Marius to fight in her silly war. But I was using her too‚ you see."
"How is that?"
"Well‚ Xena is the world’s greatest warrior‚ Gabrielle‚" Callisto continued. "There’s no denying it. She has skills‚ skills that I wanted to acquire. The only way to learn how to fight like Xena was to learn from Xena. I was making some headway when she decided to convince my dear husband to have me committed."
"Why do you want to be a warrior‚ Callisto?"
"Why‚ to kill Xena‚ my dear‚" came her blunt answer. "One cannot beat the unbeatable unless one fights like the unbeatable."
"Why do you want to kill her‚ Callisto?"
"Vengeance… for Cirra."
II. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
As Gabrielle told of her capture and conversation with Callisto‚ I looked into her sad eyes. I knew that she was battling many conflicting feelings. I was battling them as well. How dare that bitch dump so many embellishments and flat out lies on Gabrielle. How dare she use Gabrielle as her little tool to get to me. How dare she try to kill Gabrielle‚ merely to repay some debt she believed I owed her. I had suspected that Callisto had an agenda when she and I had our affair‚ but I didn’t dwell on the prospect back then. I had too many other things on my mind at the time. Callisto’s conduct over the last couple of days definitely shed new light for me. That fucking bitch!
When Gabrielle finished‚ she looked down at our now clasping hands. Her eyes filled with tears. I began weeping as well.
"Was what she told me true‚ Xena?" she whispered her question.
"Only some of it‚ Gabrielle‚" I responded as I caressed her hands. "She exaggerated some facts and even told you a couple of lies. Would you like to know the truth‚ Gabrielle?"
My lovely Gabrielle looked up at me. "Yes‚ Xena‚ I would."
I wiped my eyes. "I guess that I should start with Caesar‚ Gabrielle‚" I said.
"Yes‚" I began. "After my village was raided‚ I started pirating. About a year into it‚ I captured Caesar during one of my sea conquests‚ or so I thought at the time. I seduced him‚ but I was very young and rather impulsive‚ and I didn’t see that it was actually I who was being seduced… and conquered. Caesar’s Roman forces overtook my band of pirates and had us crucified. He condemned me to the cross and had my legs broken."
"By the gods‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle gasped. "How did you survive?"
"A young‚ Egyptian-born‚ Gaelic runaway slave rescued me off the cross‚" I continued. "Her name was M’Lila. She had stowed away on my pirate ship some weeks before. We had become friends‚ Gabrielle. Although M’Lila was no older than me at the time‚ she was my first real mentor‚ having taught me hand-to-hand combat. I had only perfected sword battle up to that point‚ but under her guidance‚ I learned how to hit‚ kick and leap. She also taught me pressure points."
"Were you lovers‚ Xena?"
"I was very attracted to her‚ but she didn’t respond to me in that way‚ so we never became intimate‚ Gabrielle."
"What happened after she rescued you?" Gabrielle asked.
"My legs needed immediate attention‚ so M’Lila took me to a healer in northern Thrace‚" I said. "Caesar learned of my escape and sent some of his centurions to find us. They eventually located the healer’s dwelling while I was still recuperating‚ stormed in on us‚ and in the ensuing fight‚ one of them killed her. In retaliation‚ I killed them all right then and there. Shortly thereafter‚ I met Borias in Thrace."
"What did you do‚ Xena?"
"I loved M’Lila‚ Gabrielle‚" I confessed. "She was the first person that I truly cared about after Lyceus. I felt that I had lost another sibling. When she was murdered‚ I was hardened with sheer hatred and a white hot rage and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life killing and conquering."
Gabrielle began caressing my face. I kissed her palm before continuing. "Borias and I really only had a physical relationship. He had an efficient army and he was a brilliant tactician. We pillaged‚ stole and murdered during the day and fucked each other at night. I never really loved him‚ because I had lost my belief in love‚ but I did feel a connection with him. Eventually‚ our conquests took us east. I wanted to explore the Deccan subcontinent…"
"You mean that land that some call Magadha and others call India?"
"…Yes‚ but Borias was more interested in Chin. Back in those days‚ I rarely deferred to the wisdom of another‚ but on this occasion‚ I took his advice.
"Chin was a vast land divided by warring wealthy kingdoms. The wealthiest kingdoms were the kingdoms of Qin‚ of Zhao and of Ming. The most elusive‚ and thus challenging kingdom for us to conquer was the kingdom of Lao. Borias and I initially tried to forge an alliance with the leader of the Ming family‚ who was a greedy and corrupt despot named Ming Tsu. But when that fell through‚ we strategically approached Ming’s greatest enemy‚ the head of the kingdom of Lao."
I looked down at our clasping hands. Gabrielle sensed my tension. "What happened‚ Xena?"
"I… I fell in love‚ Gabrielle‚" I confessed. "For the first time in my life."
"The leader of the kingdom of Lao."
"What was his name?"
"HER name was Lao Ma."
* * * *
I told Gabrielle everything about my time with Lao Ma. I told her how I had initially attempted to kill Lao Ma in a drug-induced rage and about my abduction of her son. I told her about Borias’ betrayal of me to Ming Tsu‚ Ming’s vengeance and Lao Ma’s rescue of me. I told her about the months that I had lived with her in her palace‚ learning about the power of the mind‚ the will of the spirit and the passion of the heart. I told Gabrielle about Lao Ma’s desire to create from my murderous beast a noble Warrior Princess‚ and about how she entrusted me with the mysterious weapon that would become the icon that defines me as the Warrior Princess. I told her about how Lao Ma had eventually healed my crippled legs and tried very hard to salvage my crippled soul. I told her about how I ultimately betrayed Lao Ma‚ about my murdering Ming Tsu‚ my attempted murder of Lao Ma’s son and my banishment from her kingdom.
"She sounds like a truly wonderful person‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle said as her tears flowed a steady stream down her beautiful face.
"She was‚ Gabrielle‚" I said. "But as much as I loved her‚ my love for her wasn’t enough to yank the darkness and evil from my heart. It was still there. It was always there. I could actually feel it. Hatred and bloodlust had consumed me once again."
"Is it still there‚ Xena?"
"The first day in my life that I no longer felt that darkness was the day that you told me that you love me‚ Gabrielle‚" I confessed. "There was a light and a paradise that filled my heart that day. There is darkness still within me‚ but that hole in my heart has been filled. Lao Ma had great physical and spiritual powers‚ Gabrielle. But even she could not compare to the simple powers of your love and compassion for others‚ the gift of your storytelling and your ability to forgive. These are far greater strengths‚ strengths that captivated and overpowered me. I know that now."
As both Gabrielle and I took in the words that I had just spoken‚ I realized that I had not yet actually answered her original question. "Gabrielle‚" I continued. "Callisto lied about Borias. I didn’t have him murdered. He was murdered by one of my men‚ but I didn’t order it. I didn’t want it. When I learned which one of my men murdered Borias‚ I personally murdered that man."
"Why was Borias killed‚ Xena?"
"That was my world‚ Gabrielle‚" I said. "Part of the game of conquering the world was murder; ruthless‚ heartless‚ territorial. No one reason ever existed."
"I see‚" she whispered.
"As for Marcus Agrippa‚" I said‚ "yes‚ he was my lover‚ but only for a short time. He had joined my army around the same time as Palaemon and Cassius Rommodus. I cared about him for much of the same reason that I cared about my brother and M’Lila and Lao Ma. He was a good man with a kind soul who was forced to exist in a corrupt world. But I didn’t love him enough to sacrifice my power-hungry ambitions."
"Why didn’t you tell me about him when you told me about Marius and Callisto‚ Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Because there was no reason to‚ Gabrielle‚" I answered. "Callisto wasn’t entirely honest about my situation with Marcus either. Marcus ended our relationship before I began my affair with Callisto. He ended it because of my plan to seduce Callisto‚ but he was out of the landscape when Callisto and I began our affair."
"But didn’t he fight in your army‚ Xena?"
"Marcus wasn’t a battlefield warrior‚ Gabrielle‚" I said. "He was a strategist. He organized battles and oversaw my spies‚ but he was definitely instrumental in our defeat of Caesar."
"You could have mentioned him when you told me about Callisto‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle concluded.
"I suppose I didn’t want to further trouble you with revealing still more of my former sex partners‚ Gabrielle."
"Well‚ when you were having sex with Callisto‚ wasn’t she the only one at the time?"
I cleared my throat. "Uh‚ no‚" I said as I diverted my eyes away from Gabrielle. "I had body slaves."
Gabrielle stood up and walked over to the table. She refilled her empty goblet. Her back was to me. "Xena‚" she said‚ "are there any other past loves that I should know about?"
"Marcus was the last person that meant anything at all to me… before you‚" I responded.
* * * *
Gabrielle and I had spent much of the afternoon talking. Although I was initially scared to divulge my past sexual relationships with her‚ I was glad that we were getting things out in the open. I actually felt relief that she was learning all of this information about me. I still had one significant piece of history to divulge‚ but I had severe trepidation about how she would take it. I decided that‚ at that time‚ she had had enough Warrior Princess history to process for one day.
Later in the afternoon‚ we joined Bahri‚ Demi‚ Mia‚ Illiana‚ the Parisii couple and the Amazons for theatre. We walked over to one of the Roman amphitheaters and watched a rather silly pantomime performed by two Persian immigrants. Gabrielle suggested the pantomime so that our non-Latin speaking companions could enjoy the entertainment as well. It was delightful watching Gabrielle laugh hysterically at the physical antics of the performers. I found myself diverting my attention to her quite a few times as we were being entertained. I could literally feel the warmth that had months ago replaced the hardness and cold of my heart.
After the show ended‚ Octavius had arranged for a large carriage to take us back to the palace. During our short ride back‚ a brief but troubling conversation ensued.
"May I ask a question‚ Conqueror?" queried Bahri.
"Yes you may‚ Field Sergeant‚" I responded.
"The barbarian Niall and that woman Callisto‚" she began‚ "will they be receiving any type of training as gladiators‚ my Liege? Are gladiators even trained to fight?"
Gabrielle‚ who was sitting next to me‚ turned her body toward me and wrapped her arm around mine. "That’s a good question‚ Bahri‚" she said. "I’m curious as well‚ Xena."
"They will be trained in a special school that the Romans call a ludi‚" I advised. "It’s a tough school‚ very disciplined‚ but if they survive‚ they’ll be as skilled as any of my greatest warriors on the battlefield."
"If I may say so‚ my Liege‚" Bahri continued‚ "Commander Palaemon told me that Niall was already a very skilled warrior."
"Well‚ then I expect him to excel in his studies‚ Field Sergeant‚" I stated.
"Do you think Callisto will make it through training‚ Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"I fucking hope not." Gabrielle released my arm. My words were harsh‚ but I was being honest. A successful gladiator who survives numerous combats would likely become a hero to the Roman citizenry and could eventually gain freedom. I didn’t want Callisto released back out into my world‚ to do the gods only know what. I wanted her to die in the Colosseum and I secretly wanted to be present and watch it happen.
After returning to the palace‚ Gabrielle and I went to take a private bath. We didn’t speak‚ but the covetous look on her face and the heat in my loins told me that a long night of glorious passion awaited us. Remembering something that she had said to me after my return from my war in Rome several months before‚ I had an idea.
After we dried ourselves and dressed in our evening robes‚ I moved a stool to the middle of the floor in the bedchamber as Gabrielle was helping herself to a bowl of grapes. I asked her to sit on the stool. She grabbed a goblet of water and complied with my request.
I walked up behind her and‚ kneeling‚ I pulled back a lock of hair covering her ear. "I want to dance for you‚ Princess Gabrielle‚" I whispered in her ear. "Would you like that?" When I licked her lobe‚ she flinched and then looked at me startled. I walked around and faced her. "Would you?"
She nodded maniacally. Slowly and seductively‚ I removed my robe. It was all that I had had on. Still facing her‚ I spread my legs and sat on her thighs. I slipped my hands up under her robe and began lightly stroking her breasts. When I leaned in and gently kissed her neck‚ she dropped her goblet. It shattered on the floor.
I stood back up and began dancing in front of her. I danced for a few moments‚ circling her a couple times. When I was behind her again‚ I grabbed her robe and pulled it down off of her shoulders and then began massaging her neck and shoulders. I then sensuously rubbed her chest and breasts from behind as I planted light kisses on the back of her neck. She fidgeted from my touches until the robe was completely down to her waist. I then returned to face her. Her look of desire and the hardened nipples on her firm breasts were igniting me. Getting down on my knees‚ I opened her robe and licked. I licked from the blossoming nub of her sex up to her belly button‚ up to her chest‚ and then up to her neck. When I reached her chin‚ I began sucking it. I then brought her lips to mine. I kissed her passionately as I held the back of her neck with my right hand and kneaded her inviting breasts with my left. I was still on my knees.
"What do you want‚ my Princess?" I whispered after breaking the kiss.
"I want you…now‚" she demanded before grabbing my arm and escorting me over to the bed. She forced me prone and then‚ spreading my legs‚ she slipped her tongue inside of me. As she licked‚ she enthusiastically stroked and massaged my inner thighs and pelvis. Gabrielle’s passionate lovemaking sent me over the edge in a matter of moments. As my body was still convulsing with the effects of climax‚ she moved up and positioned her sex on my face. I began feverishly licking her tangy center‚ stopping only for a moment to profess‚ "Mmm… tasty Gabrielle‚" before resuming. Moments later‚ Gabrielle screamed when she reached climax.
After her storm passed‚ she laid down next to me and wrapped her arm around my waist. Her beautiful green eyes met mine. She looked startled. "I can’t believe I did that‚ Xena‚" she said.
"Did what‚ Gabrielle?"
"Took you like that!"
"Do you hear me complaining?"
I looked at her and smiled. "Hmm?"
"You temptress‚ you‚" she said as she playfully nudged my arm.
"Only for you‚ my Gabrielle‚" I said. "Only for you."
Moments later‚ desire rekindled and we made love again.
* * * *
The following morning‚ Gabrielle and I both decided that it was time to head back to Greece. We were eating morning meal with our companions in the stateroom when we clasped hands and she whispered to me that she was ready to go home. I agreed. Palaemon‚ Octavius and Tubero eventually joined us. I had noticed since our arrival in Rome that Palaemon seemed to harbor a budding interest in the Amazon Ephiny. He inconspicuously sat next to her during the poetry recital. Because of some matters I had him attend to‚ he didn’t accompany us to the pantomime‚ but he approached our entourage before we began our walk to the amphitheater for no particular reason other than to show off to Ephiny the crisp new uniform that I had him wear.
Watching him that morning‚ babbling to Ephiny like some lovesick schoolboy‚ caused me to snicker out loud.
"What’s so funny‚ Xena?" Gabrielle turned to me and asked.
I leaned down and whispered in her ear‚ "Ephiny’s not Sapphic‚ is she?"
Gabrielle whispered in my ear‚ "I don’t think so‚ why?"
I whispered in Gabrielle’s ear‚ "Because someone’s got a crush on her‚" before turning my head to indicate Palaemon.
Gabrielle giggled. "Oh‚ how cute‚" she whispered in my ear. I threw my arm around her shoulder and chuckled in her ear. She chuckled in mine. We were both giggling like gossiping little girls when Octavius spoke up.
"Conqueror and friends‚" he began‚ "I wish to propose a toast to you‚ our esteemed guests from Greece and beyond… It’s been delightful having you as our honored company." He raised his goblet. "To you!"
As we raised our goblets‚ two scantily clad athletes entered the room. "Our morning entertainment‚" Octavius announced as the two men began doing a series of strange‚ yet intriguing acrobatic feats. Everyone seemed to enjoy the performance. Everyone except Bahri‚ who turned up her nose in disbelief.
"You’ve gotta be kidding‚" she said. "Does someone actually pay these guys to do this?"
"Ita‚ pecuniam nobis re vera solunt hoc agere‚" one of the athletes proclaimed before flipping over the other athlete. Bahri turned to Palaemon for the translation.
"He said‚ ‘Yes‚ they actually pay us money to do this‚’" Palaemon obliged.
The resulting laughter filled the entire room.
After our morning entertainment‚ Octavius wanted to show me the state of his Roman troops. "I’d be very interested‚ Octavius‚" I advised.
Our entire group was taken to a military practice field that was adjacent to the palace. Octavius had assembled his finest palace guardsmen to stand in platoon formation.
"Well‚ Governor‚" I said‚ "let’s see what they’ve got."
Octavius raised his arm‚ indicating to his commanding officer to order the men to engage in defensive drills. I was impressed‚ but I had a lesson to teach.
When Octavius’ commander ordered the men to stop‚ I approached him. "Present to me your strongest swordsman‚" I told the commander.
"Yes‚ Conqueror‚" he said before gesturing to a very tall and muscular palace guard.
When the man approached me‚ I turned to Bahri. "Approach‚ Field Sergeant‚" I said.
The differences in height‚ weight and strength were painfully obvious to everyone. "Engage‚" I ordered.
The large guardsman drew his sword and growled at the Egyptian. Bahri stood fast‚ even smiled a bit. When the guardsman raised his sword to strike‚ Bahri kicked him in his groin. When he dropped his sword and grabbed his privates‚ she kicked him in his belly. When he doubled over‚ she kicked his face as if it was a play ball. He fell back unconscious. Bahri was still smiling.
"Three blows‚ Governor‚" I said‚ proud at my little Field Sergeant and Gabrielle’s good friend. "Bahri doesn’t speak much Latin‚ but she knows three words that are tantamount to her existence as a member of MY Imperial Guard."
Bahri unsheathed her sword and raised it. "Compone! Accomoda! Supera!" she shouted.
Octavius nodded. "Improvise‚ adapt‚ and overcome‚" he translated. "Words for a woman to live by."
"Yes‚ and that’s why women make the best warriors‚ Governor‚" I said before turning on my heals and departing; Gabrielle and our entourage of friends in tow.
* * * *
Our group departed for Greece later that afternoon. Before leaving‚ I instructed Vice-Governor Tubero to keep me abreast of Niall and Callisto’s progress in the ludi and to inform me when both of them met their ends in the Colosseum.
Turning away from dark matters of state‚ I was pleased that our new Parisii friends decided to journey to Greece with us. They were quickly learning our language and I was beginning to sense that either an enlistment in my Imperial Guard or indoctrination into the Amazon Nation was in their future.
It took us less than three full days to cross outer Rome. We moved fast during the days and set up camp in the evenings rather than bask in the luxurious accommodations of the local politicians whose territories we passed. I found that staying with these blowhards caused us to waste valuable time and I was anxious to get back to Greece and marry Gabrielle. When we finally reached the Messapian village of Brundi at the shores of the Adriatic Sea‚ one of my Corinthian ships was docked there and ready to sail us home.
During our days of travel through outer Rome‚ Gabrielle and I talked about a lot of things. She told me that she wanted to see an end to slavery in the Realm. "Slavery destroys families‚" she told me‚ remarking how although she understood how hard it was for me to watch my brother die‚ for years it had been equally hard for her not even knowing whether her parents or her sister were dead or alive. I tried to restrain tears when she told me that she still considered my allowing her to see her parents and attend Lila’s funeral to be one of the greatest gifts that I gave her.
I do have some decisions to make about slavery.
I told her more about Lao Ma. I spoke about her great philosophical teachings and her extraordinary healing powers. Gabrielle‚ as both a student of philosophy and a novice healer‚ was very interested in my tales of the Eastern beauty who was my mentor and first love.
I also told Gabrielle about Cirra. I told her how that Macedonian village‚ along with several other villages along the Aliakmon River‚ was destroyed in the months following my attack of the northern Amazons. Callisto was probably one of a lucky few to survive the brutality of those days‚ and in retrospect‚ I could understand why her hatred toward me was so strong.
Gabrielle and I spoke about our childhoods. It was wonderful to learn that‚ as children‚ neither one of us were "ordinary" girls. I never played with dolls or dallied in a kitchen. I much preferred to fish with Lyceus or throw ball with Seumius and the other village boys. Girls in Gabrielle’s village weren’t allowed to attend school‚ but instead of learning to sew‚ cook or deliver babies‚ Gabrielle and her sister would sneak off during the day and get into all kinds of mischief. Of course‚ they often got caught‚ but her misadventures were perfect plots for the stories that she concocted and told to the other village children‚ including her friend Seraphin.
I told Gabrielle about the fate of my father. "He was killed‚ Gabrielle… by my mother."
"By the gods‚ Xena!" she gasped.
I explained that my father was often absent from our home. He would join a band of warlords here or there and be gone for months‚ leaving my mother to raise us and operate her tavern alone. I explained that when he was home‚ he was often crazed with drink and would abuse my mother. I told her that when I was seven‚ he came home after having been gone for eight months. He was drunk and started hitting my mother. My brother Toris‚ who was twelve at the time‚ tried to fight him off of her. He knocked Toris unconscious and then came at me. He grabbed me by my throat and said that he was going to kill me. He was crazed‚ saying that I had to die. Frantic‚ my mother grabbed an ax and sliced his back open.
"Was your mother punished by the village magistrate?" Gabrielle asked after I finished my story.
"No‚" I responded. "My mother said that she acted in my defense and the magistrate pardoned her. There was no reason not to. My mother was and still is a respected citizen of Amphipolis. My father was a pile of horse dung."
Talking about the darker elements of my past was deeply painful to me‚ but Gabrielle was always there‚ to brush away a tear‚ to hold my hands‚ to embrace me. I love her so much.
The night before we arrived in Brundi‚ I asked Gabrielle if she had ever been in love before me.
"There was a boy from my village‚" she started. "His name was Perdicas. We were very good friends as children‚ and as adolescents he became my boyfriend. When we both reached 16‚ we were betrothed."
My heart began racing. "Did you love him?"
"Yes I did‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle said. "He was a kind and gentle boy and he loved to hear my stories‚ but I’m not sure if I would have actually ended up married to him."
"I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in Poteidaia‚ Xena. I didn’t want to sit around milking goats and having babies. I wanted to be a bard."
"But you were betrothed to marry him‚" I exclaimed. "How were you going to get out of that?"
"Well‚ I thought that maybe he would be willing to leave Poteidaia with me‚" she responded. "Otherwise‚ I had planned to run away to Athens."
I thought for a moment. Slavery could have hampered her dream‚ but ironically Gabrielle was able to fulfill it as a slave. She realized this as well. "Funny‚ Xena‚" she said. "I know now that I would have never been admitted to the Academy in Athens because of my illiteracy‚ but you let me learn to read and write."
"Yes‚ but only because of my love for you."
"Perhaps‚ but I’ve been telling my stories… and writing them."
"Yes‚ Gabrielle." I kissed her beautiful hands. "Was Perdicas handsome?" I asked.
"Yes‚ I think so‚" she said. "But he’s no Xena Warrior Princess." She smiled.
"Did you and he ever… ever… anything?"
"We would kiss in his barn loft‚" she said‚ blushing. "Boys don’t know how to kiss‚ though. He would pucker his lips too hard. He never…"
She brought her lips to mine.
"… touched them gently…"
She brushed her tongue across my lips.
"… I never felt his warm tongue in my mouth…"
She brushed her tongue across my teeth.
"… his lips weren’t soft like yours…"
* * * *
Once we reached Brundi‚ Gabrielle and I gathered our entourage together to advise them of our plans.
"We’ll be sailing to a sea port near Ambracia‚" I explained. "Gabrielle and I will be continuing on to the Amazon village in Thessaly. I expect that her Sisters will accompany us."
"Absolutely‚ Conqueror‚" Ephiny spoke up. "But why are you coming to our village?"
"Xena and I want to have our union ceremony there‚" Gabrielle chimed in. "Do you think that Queen Melosa will preside over the ceremony?"
"Queen Melosa would do anything you ask of her‚ Princess‚" Ephiny said‚ and then looking at me‚ added‚ "Regardless."
I turned my attention to Bahri and the palace servants. "I summoned you folks to Rome because I had originally planned to have the ceremony there. Of course‚ Gabrielle prefers that we unite in the presence of all of her Sisters and friends‚ and what Gabrielle wants‚ Gabrielle gets."
Demi‚ Mia and Illiana chuckled. "We would be honored to attend your Royal union ceremony‚ my Liege‚" Demi said.
Gabrielle grabbed Bahri’s arm. "I would like for you to be there too‚ Bahri‚" she said.
"Well‚ you know I’m there!"
I turned to my loyal Chief Commander. "Palaemon?"
"It would be my sincere pleasure‚ my Liege" he remarked; obviously happy that he was going to allowed to spend more time with Ephiny.
"There are others that we would like to be present‚" I said to Palaemon. "When we arrive in Ambracia‚ send word to my Commanders in Corinth‚ Athens‚ Thessaly and Thrace. I’m sure Gabrielle would like others from the palace to attend as well."
"How much time will I have to assemble all of these people‚ Conqueror?" Palaemon inquired.
I looked at Gabrielle as my heart began racing again. "Gabrielle and I will only be in the village for a day or two‚ to set things in motion. We have to go to Amphipolis… and Poteidaia‚ but we’ll be back in three or four days. That should be plenty of time to assemble everybody."
Palaemon’s eyes widened at my revelation. Ephiny spoke up. "Our village is going to get crowded‚ but we Amazons always welcome ceremonious visitors."
III. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
As we neared Poteidaia‚ I noticed that the ever stoic Destroyer of Nations was shivering like a frightened kitten. Over the last year‚ I had discovered that seeking forgiveness was the hardest thing for Xena to confront.
We had landed in Greece only four days before. Our entire entourage of friends from Rome; Commander Palaemon‚ Field Sergeant Bahri‚ the librarian Demi‚ Illiana the dressmaker‚ Mia the chambermaid‚ the two Parisii women‚ Hadiya and Stanislas‚ and my Amazon Sisters accompanied us to the Amazon village. Once there‚ my Queen established guest lodgings for our friends from Corinth after agreeing to preside over the ceremony. We left the village a day and a half before arriving in Poteidaia. Xena requested that Stanislas and Hadiya join us. I think she planned to use them in some military capacity‚ if the situation warranted. I almost laughed to myself at the prospect. The men of my homeland‚ including my father‚ were simple farmers and herdsmen. My father wasn’t even a skilled hunter‚ let alone a warrior. But as is the Conqueror’s usual practice‚ she never goes into a "situation" without backup‚ and hostile future in-laws were about as grave a situation that she had ever had to face.
We arrived on horseback in the early afternoon. Xena insisted that we set up lodging at a small military outpost just north of Poteidaia. We were able to bathe and eat an afternoon meal before proceeding on to my parents’ farm. I noticed that at the outpost‚ Xena barely touched her food. Her eyes were cast upward; her mind was many lengths away. She also meticulously cleaned her battledress‚ polished her breastplate and other armor and sharpened her weapons. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to make a good first impression or if she was preparing for war.
Clean and sated‚ I was ready to head over to my parents’ home. Xena‚ who looked absolutely stunning in her cleaned and polished attire‚ wasn’t sharing my enthusiasm.
"Perhaps you should ride over there alone‚ Gabrielle‚" she suggested. "You know‚ break the ice."
I grabbed her trembling hand. "Are you nervous‚ my Conqueror?" I asked.
"NO!" she yelled‚ yanking her hand from mine. "I’m sorry‚" she immediately apologized. "I… I guess that I’ve never been in this situation before."
I placed my hands on her shapely hips. "Having to seek blessings from the parents of the woman you are to marry?"
Xena looked into my eyes. "That and asking them to forgive me for shaming their daughter in front of them."
I cupped her cheek. "Seeking their forgiveness is the best you can do‚ Xena‚" I said. "The rest is up to them."
When the four of us arrived at my parents’ farm‚ Father was in the front yard clearing away some brush. I suspected that Mother was preparing evening meal. Recognizing me‚ despite my Amazon attire‚ shorter hair and having just dismounted from a horse‚ Father ran to me and gave me a hard‚ yet loving embrace.
"By the gods‚ look at you!" he exclaimed. "You’re beautiful!"
"Thank you Father."
"HECUBA! HECUBA!" he called out to my Mother. "GABRIELLE’S HERE!"
The door burst open and my mother ran out with the sprint of a woman half her age. "By the grace of Hestia!" she proclaimed as she threw her arms around me. "You look so… so different. These clothes‚ your… your body. What’s happened to you?"
"You disapprove‚ Mother?"
"Absolutely not!" she stated in excited glee. "You look… free!"
"I am free‚ Mother‚" I said. "I was freed a week after I left here."
Father‚ who had noticed the three tall women on horseback accompanying me‚ turned to me. "Why?" he asked. "Did that monster finally have enough of you? Did she find some new girl to torture?"
I immediately looked at Xena‚ who had looked away. I was surprised that my parents hadn’t recognized her yet‚ but it had been almost five years and they had only seen her once. Xena looked colder then‚ evil. The Conqueror was dressed in elaborate royal robes‚ had on heavy makeup‚ and her hair was pinned up and accentuated with a crown. My Xena of that afternoon looked nervous‚ but refreshingly beautiful with her sharp battledress‚ blushing cheeks and lovely‚ long and flowing black hair. Sitting atop Argo and alongside Stanislas and Hadiya‚ who were also outfitted in military attire that was provided for them at the outpost‚ Xena barely stood out next to the fiery redheaded Stanislas and black-skinned Hadiya.
Mother began crying. "Why did you not come back home then?"
"Yes‚" Father chimed in. "Perdicas has finally left that beast’s army and he is still unmarried‚ and I don’t think that he would hold it against YOU that you’re not‚ you know‚ untouched."
I looked up at Xena again‚ who was now desperately fighting tears.
"He has inherited his father’s farm‚ Gabrielle‚" Father continued. "Over a dozen goats and plenty of room in the house for raising children."
I gently pulled away from my parents’ embrace. "Mother‚ Father‚ I’m an Amazon now."
"An Amazon?" Mother said‚ perturbed.
"After Xe… the Conqueror freed me‚ I went on the road as a traveling bard‚" I explained. "Circumstances arose and I met the Amazon tribe of Thessaly. I’ve been made a Sister of the tribe. I’m their Princess."
"But that can’t be!" Father exclaimed. "Amazons are bloodthirsty savages. They hate men‚ rape women and murder children. They’re an abomination."
"Where did you hear such lies‚ Father?" I was angered by my Father’s words‚ but then instantly remembered why staying in Poteidaia was so unappealing to me as a young girl. I could never truly adopt the closed-minded beliefs of my childhood friends and neighbors. It seemed that anyone who was not from our little province in Macedonia‚ who did not look like us or think the same way or worship the same gods‚ was somehow unworthy of existence. In a sense‚ their beliefs were more barbaric than the Conqueror’s lust for power.
Father returned his attention to the three women on horseback. "Are these some of your Amazons?" His tone was angry and disgusted.
"No‚ Father‚ these…" before I could continue‚ Xena jumped down off of Argo and stepped up to my parents and me.
"This is Hadiya‚" she said‚ gesturing to our friend. "And this is Stanislas‚ her life mate. They are from the great island north of Gaul."
At that moment‚ Father had apparently recognized the Conqueror. He ran over and grabbed his ax. Coming toward Xena‚ he raised it. "Get off of my land‚ you DEMON!"
Mother screamed. "Herodotus‚ NO! She’ll kill you!"
I grabbed my father’s arms as he held the ax over his head. "No she won’t‚" I said to Mother before returning my attention to Father. "Put it down‚ Father‚" I told him.
"No‚ Gabrielle‚ she…"
"Put it down."
Tears began streaming down Father’s face‚ but he lowered the ax. "Let’s go inside‚" I said. "I want to explain everything to you."
"That beast is not welcome in MY house‚" Father said.
"Fine‚" I responded. "She’ll stay out here with the others‚ but I need to explain everything… please."
Mother grabbed Father’s left arm and as I held his right‚ we escorted him inside the house. As we walked to the door‚ I turned to Xena and said in a voiceless whisper‚ "Stay here."
Mother prepared warm broth for the three of us and we sat down at the kitchen table. I talked. They listened. I told them about the last incredible ten months. I told them about
my return to Corinth after Lila’s funeral and the week that Xena and I embraced. I told them how I professed my love for Xena and how she freed me. I told them about Xena’s long‚ unrequited love for me and how her fear of that love drove her to do the heinous things that she did to me.
I told them about Xena’s war against Marcus Antonius and my friendship with Bahri‚ about Xena’s return from war and my decision to leave Corinth and why. I explained my encounters with the Amazons and the wonderful things that I learned from them. I told them about how Xena was later instrumental in bringing to justice the man who murdered the Amazon Princess whose right of caste I bear‚ and about how she helped to reunite my tribe with the northern Amazons that she had long ago disenfranchised.
When I told them about the events leading up to and after Xena’s Hard Death‚ I saw a change in Mother’s face. Up to that point‚ both of my parents had held hard expressions as I spoke‚ but Mother’s face became softer‚ sadder. I wanted to believe that she was beginning to make sense of this implausible story that I was telling.
I pressed on‚ telling them about our amazing adventures in Albion and Rome. I didn’t mention Xena’s proposal of marriage or my acceptance. I wanted to save that until after Xena had had her chance to seek forgiveness‚ but I did tell them about my abduction in Rome and Xena’s successful rescue of me‚ as well as her decision to give me the role of Jurist as to the fates of Niall of Calleva and Callisto.
Finally‚ I told them about Xena. I told them about a girl with a troubled childhood who lost her younger brother when she was 19. I told them about the tremendous forces that brought about the Destroyer of Nations. "I know there is really no excuse for the monster that she became‚" I told them‚ "but she has been working hard to make things right. I know she has a very long way to go‚ and I don’t think she’ll ever believe that she can atone for everything‚ but she knows that she has the power to enrich the lives of many in the Realm‚ and I truly think she wants to do that."
I could tell that Father was unmoved by my explanation‚ but Mother seemed to be considering. "Why did you come here‚ Gabrielle?" Mother asked.
"Xena wishes to ask you something."
Mother stood up and went outside. Father and I followed her.
Xena was standing by Argo and Chulytis. I immediately noticed that she had removed her breastplate‚ her greaves‚ gauntlets and her weapons. Stanislas and Hadiya had dismounted their horses and wandered over to my parents’ well to quench their thirst. When Mother approached her‚ Xena stepped away from the horses.
"What do you want to ask me‚ Destroyer of Nations?"
Xena appeared to be taken aback‚ but she knew the purpose of our visit. "I’m seeking your forgiveness for what I did to your daughter‚ for everything that I did to your daughter‚ and for what I did to you and your husband. I am so very sorry. I love Gabrielle very much and I want to spend the rest of my life proving it to her."
"Has my daughter forgiven you?"
"She says that she has."
"Well‚ she’s a bigger person than I am."
At that moment‚ I ran up to them. "Please mother‚" I said as I took her hands into mine. "I know this isn’t easy‚ but…"
"Easy?" she quipped. "Easy? Do you know what isn’t easy? Watching the child that I brought into this world‚ the child that drank milk from my breasts as a baby‚ the child who depended on me for everything‚ the child that I loved more than anything‚ stand in front of me and expect me to forgive the creature who beat her‚ who scarred her‚ who took her body whenever she pleased."
Mother turned to Xena with a rage in her eyes that I had never seen before. "YOU ANIMAL!" she yelled as she started pummeling Xena with her fists. Xena stood there and took the beating‚ the tears streaming from her eyes the only clear indication of the pain she was feeling. Mother hit Xena’s chest over and over. She hit Xena until she was too exhausted to continue. Backing away slightly‚ she slapped Xena across the face. "I hate you!"
At this point I was crying‚ but I made no attempt to stop Mother. It was obvious that Xena expected this. That’s why she removed her armor and weapons. It was also likely that she welcomed it. When Mother backed away‚ Father approached. He spit at Xena’s feet. "Get off my land‚" he said.
Xena turned and mounted Argo. A click of her tongue and the horse took off. "Goodbye Mother‚" I said. "Goodbye Father. I love you both." I mounted Chulytis and took off after Xena. As I rode away‚ I looked back briefly and saw Stanislas hand Mother a small scroll. I assumed that she and Hadiya left only moments after I departed.
Xena had returned to our small bedchamber at the military outpost. When I entered the room‚ she was sitting on the bed. I sat down next to her.
"That went well‚" she said before burying her head in my shoulder and crying.
I began stroking her beautiful black hair. "We’ll leave tomorrow and head north to Amphipolis‚ Xena‚" I said.
* * * *
Cyrene’s Tavern was the center point for socializing in Amphipolis. Residents of that village and many neighboring villages came to eat‚ drink and enjoy the local entertainment. I mused that if I had ever made it that far north as a traveling bard‚ I probably would have performed in her establishment.
I walked in with Hadiya and Stanislas. Xena had insisted that for this part of our mission‚ she needed to make a grand entrance alone.
Taking our seats at a table‚ the woman I believed to be Xena’s mother came right over to us. "Ah‚ strangers‚" she said. "We always welcome strangers here at Cyrene’s."
I regarded the woman. Beautiful‚ like her daughter‚ but much shorter. Cyrene was a woman of about 50 years of age‚ with buxom breast‚ a perky smile and the same captivating blue eyes.
"Hello‚" I said.
"Hello to you‚" Cyrene responded. "And where have you women journeyed from?"
"This is Hadiya and Stanislas‚" I said. "They are of the Parisii clan from Albion."
"Britons!" Cyrene exclaimed. "They’ve come a long way." She smiled a smile that reminded me of Xena’s.
"I am Gabrielle‚ Bard of Poteidaia‚" I announced.
The smile was instantly gone. "Where’s Xena?"
By the gods‚ I thought. "How do you know of my connection with Xena?"
"Word traveled here months ago of a pretty young bard named Gabrielle who told tall tales of my infamous daughter‚" she explained. "The story has it that you were her body slave‚ but that she freed you out of compassion. Is that true?"
"Yes‚ ma’am‚ it is."
"Where is she?"
"She’ll be here shortly‚ Cyrene‚" I said.
"Well‚ while we wait for the Destroyer of Nations‚ would you women like some cider?" she asked the three of us.
We nodded. As she turned away‚ Hadiya gently grabbed my forearm. "I have question‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "I not understand how people of this village know about you as bard and no one hear about you in your village. Even your parents‚ they know not about you either."
"Yes‚" Stanislas chimed in. "And we further away north from Thessaly. Why is that?"
"My village is quite closed up‚" I admitted. "They don’t welcome outsiders as folks around here apparently do."
"Strange‚ very strange‚" Hadiya said as Cyrene returned with three warm mugs of cider.
"Drink up‚ girls‚" she said. "This is my house brew. I think you’ll like it."
The cider was strong and it felt like it was going right to my head‚ but it tasted wonderful. We sat and sipped the hot fermented drink for a few moments before Xena entered the tavern.
"Hello Mother‚" she said.
"Xena the Conqueror‚" Cyrene announced as she walked over to Xena. The entire tavern went silent. All eyes were on the two women. "I’ve met your little slave."
"I freed her."
"So I’ve heard. Must be a first."
"What’s your story‚ Destroyer of Nations?"
"Do you like her‚ Mother?"
"Yes‚ she’s very lovely."
"I’m in love with her."
"I didn’t know Xena the Conqueror was capable of love."
"Well‚ I am."
"That’s nice‚ Conqueror. Tell me‚ what does she call you?"
"She calls me Xena. We’re going to join in union‚ Mother."
"Am I invited?"
Xena pulled out a small scroll like the one Stanislas had handed to my mother. "Yes‚ you are."
"She’s a beautiful young woman‚ Xena‚" Cyrene said as she grabbed the scroll. "You finally did something right."
"I thank the gods for her everyday‚ Mother."
Cyrene turned away from Xena and walked over to our table. I guess this is how Xena and her mother talk to each other‚ I mused as she approached us. The tavern was still silent and attentive. "I know that your life with my daughter hasn’t been easy‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "I know what she’s capable of."
"No‚ it wasn’t‚" I responded. "But it’s good now."
"I’ll attend your consortium ceremony‚ but if she ever lays another hand on you‚ kill her."
* * * *
That night‚ we stayed in Cyrene’s inn‚ which was adjacent to the tavern. I had another one of those strange dreams. It was of an incident that occurred about six months before I was freed.
I was summoned to the Conqueror’s bedchamber for service. When I entered her bedchamber‚ the room was very dark. I had to feel my way to my reporting spot. The Conqueror came up behind me.
"Afraid‚ Gabrielle?" she asked.
I was afraid. "Yes‚ my Lady‚" I responded.
"Good‚" she said as she grabbed my neck and walked me over to my side of the bed. "Lay down‚" she commanded.
I laid down and assumed my servicing position. She laid on top of me and grabbed my left hand.
"I killed three people today‚" she boasted. "Killed them with my bare hands." She was stroking my palm with her thumb.
It was very dark‚ but light from a full moon came through one of the windows and I was able to make out the Conqueror’s majestic blue eyes. "Are you afraid‚ Gabrielle?" she asked again.
"Yes‚ my Lady‚" I repeated.
"Afraid you’ll be number four?"
"Yes‚ my Lady."
The Conqueror looked at my hand. "Your hands are so small‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. "I don’t think you could ever take a life with them‚ could you?"
"No‚ my Lady."
"Not even mine?"
"No‚ my Lady."
"I don’t wish to kill you‚ my Lady‚" I said.
The bedchamber was silent as the Conqueror began gently running her fingers all around my hand. After moments of doing this‚ the Conqueror took in a heavy sigh and laced my left fingers with her right fingers. "Don’t be afraid. I don’t wish to kill you either‚ Gabrielle‚" she whispered before positioning herself to give me oral pleasure.
I awakened before dawn the next day. Xena was beside me and was wide-awake as well.
"Did you sleep‚ Xena?"
"Not really‚" she responded.
"I’m sorry about my parents‚ Xena‚" I said.
"Don’t be‚ Gabrielle. I didn’t expect their forgiveness. I’m just glad I didn’t have to prevent your father from axing me."
"Oh‚ Xena‚" I said as I took her in an embrace.
Xena gripped my arms and pulled herself from my embrace. "Gabrielle‚" she said‚ "there’s something that you need to know‚ something I haven’t yet told you about me."
I was immediately concerned. "This sounds serious‚" I said.
"It is‚" she said. "It may change the way you feel about me. I’m regretting that we’ve come this far with our union announcement. This may change your mind‚ but you need to know."
I grabbed Xena’s hands. "I’ve accepted so much of your dark past‚ Xena‚" I professed. "I can’t imagine anything that will cause me not to want to spend the rest of my life with you."
I embraced Xena again. "I want to believe that‚" she said.
IV. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
The time had come for me to tell Gabrielle that last‚ darkest part of my past. Holding her in my arms‚ I took a deep breath and began.
"Gabrielle‚" I said as I hoped that my heart wouldn’t stop beating‚ "shortly after I left Chin with Borias‚ something happened."
"We went to Thrace. It was where we met the northern Amazons. I became ill."
"What was wrong with you?"
I took a deep breath to slow my pounding heart. "I wasn’t sure at first‚ but I suspected. That shamaness in Thrace confirmed it for me."
"I was with child‚ Gabrielle‚" I said as I looked into her wide‚ shocked eyes.
I took another deep breath. "I didn’t tell Borias right away‚ but he had to know eventually." Another deep breath. "I was with child when I murdered Queen Cyane and the leaders of the northern Amazons‚ Gabrielle. I was with child when I pillaged and murdered throughout Thrace in those days."
Gabrielle still held me‚ but she looked down. "I kept the pregnancy a secret from my men‚" I continued. "As my belly got bigger‚ I wore heavier clothing. The weather was getting colder‚ so the timing was perfect. I was in Macedonia when the baby was born. Only two female body slaves knew of the pregnancy. I had sold off the rest of my body slaves when I started showing. The two that remained helped deliver the child. It was a boy."
"What happened to him?"
"I returned to Thrace and gave him to Toris and his wife Iolanthe to raise‚" I said. "The two sons that I told you Toris has‚ my son is one of his two boys. He doesn’t know that I’m his mother."
"What about Borias?"
"Borias had split our armies and left me when I was five months pregnant‚" I explained. "He hated what I had done to the northern Amazons. He hated the monster that I had become. I assumed that he had decided to abandon me and the baby‚ not that I really cared at the time.
"I didn’t know this then‚ but when I was close to delivery‚ Borias attempted to penetrate my stronghold. He had planned to take the baby away from me when it was born. He didn’t think I would be a fit mother. He had approached one of my two body slaves and asked for her assistance in abducting my child after its birth. She told him that she would help him‚ but that was a lie. She alerted one of my lieutenants of his presence in my stronghold. That lieutenant fought and killed Borias.
"I was sick with labor when all of this was happening. I would learn later that my son was born the day that his father was murdered. I killed the lieutenant and I killed that body slave as vengeance for the death of my son’s father."
"What about the other body slave‚ Xena?" Gabrielle queried. "Did she betray you as well?"
"The other body slave was Mia‚ Gabrielle‚" I confessed and then watched as her eyes widened with surprise. "She is the only slave that I had at that time that is still with me. She’s the only one‚ besides my mother‚ Toris‚ Iolanthe… and now you‚ that knows about my son."
Gabrielle thought for a few moments. I imagined that she was processing all that I had revealed to her‚ the least of which was the fact that I had been‚ at one time‚ physically intimate with one of her closest friends. "You told me that you killed that shamaness because she tried to have you assassinated‚" she finally said. "But she knew about your pregnancy as well."
"If you’re wondering whether or not I killed her to silence her as well‚ yes‚ that was part of it‚ although I had already left her territory early in my pregnancy."
Gabrielle was silent for many moments‚ but to my surprise‚ she was still holding me.
"Xena‚" she said after the long quiet‚ "why did you give your son to Toris? Why didn’t you keep him with you?"
This was the question that I feared. "Because if he had stayed with me‚" I responded‚ "he would have become a target for my enemies. He would have been exposed to things a child should never see‚ nor hear‚ nor experience."
Gabrielle looked into my eyes. "Because I didn’t want my son to become like me‚" I told her.
"You love your son‚ Xena?"
"I haven’t seen him since three days after he was born‚" I said‚ "but deep down inside of me‚ I have loved him every day of his life. He is my child. He is of my body and giving him up was the most painful thing I had ever done."
Gabrielle delicately ran her fingers down my cheek. "Well‚ perhaps now he should watch his mother get married."
"I don’t want him to know that I gave birth to him‚ Gabrielle‚" I said. "Iolanthe is the only mother he has ever known."
"I know‚" she responded. "Still‚ he should be there‚ with Toris‚ Iolanthe and their other son."
I began quietly weeping. "You… you don’t find it revolting that I gave up my child?"
"Despite everything you were back then‚ Xena‚ you still wanted the best for your son‚" Gabrielle said. "Toris wasn’t a fighter. He wasn’t a warrior. You knew that he wouldn’t abandon your son the way that your father had abandoned you and your family. Toris would be there for him." She paused‚ then asked‚ "Tell me‚ does Toris have contact with your mother?"
"Of course‚" I said. "Toris hasn’t disgraced her."
"Then you have given your son a great gift‚ Xena. You’ve given him a normal childhood with a loving family and a doting grandmother." She kissed my cheek. "You wouldn’t have been a good mother then‚ Xena‚" Gabrielle said matter of factly. "You certainly weren’t mother material when I came into your service."
Gabrielle was being honest. I wasn’t offended. "I was an animal‚" I said‚ remembering what Gabrielle’s mother called me the day before.
"But you would make a fine mother now‚ Xena‚" she said smiling.
I smiled as well. "You’d make a finer mother‚ Gabrielle‚" I said.
Gabrielle and I relaxed in our comfortable embrace. I sighed once again‚ feeling that the weight of the world was finally lifted off of my shoulders.
"Xena‚" Gabrielle said in an almost whisper‚ "what’s your son’s name?"
"Iolanthe named him Solan."
V. GABRIELLE’S SCROLL ENTRY
We left Amphipolis the morning that I had learned that Xena had a son. On our way back to Thessaly‚ I insisted that we stop by the home of my old childhood friend Seraphin. I wanted to tell her about the union ceremony and request her presence. Seraphin jumped for joy at the news and insisted on journeying with us to the Amazon village. She even brought her children and her mother with her.
We reached the Amazon village at noontime the next day. It was bustling. News of the union had spread fast in the five days that we were gone. Several of Xena’s loyal military leaders were present‚ including Commander Rhamos and the ever-pleasant Commander Glaphyra. More of my friends from the palace had also arrived‚ including Alithia‚ one of Xena’s chambermaids‚ her husband Khalit‚ Andronius‚ the head palace cook and Moyshe‚ the leather craftsman. I was also delighted to see several members of Xena’s Imperial Guard and the two women sergeants from Pharsalus‚ Favrie and Viera.
At one point‚ Queen Melosa approached Xena and me. Three female Imperial Guardsmen that I had occasionally seen patrolling the palace over the years‚ but had never actually met‚ accompanied her.
"Conqueror‚" my Queen started‚ "I take it that you know Corporal Ambra‚ Corporal Mytilini and Sergeant Shay Na."
Xena looked slightly startled. "Yes‚ but how do you know them?"
Queen Melosa looked at me. "Recall when I told you that we had Sisters in the Imperial Guard‚ Gabrielle?" she asked.
I smiled. "I recall."
"Meet your Sisters in the Imperial Guard."
I looked up at Xena and was relieved to see her smiling. "Operatives for the Amazons‚" she said. "I’m impressed‚ Queen."
I returned my attention to my Queen and the three Guardsmen. "Mytilini…" I said. "Interesting name."
"My mother named me after the birthplace of the great Amazon‚ Sappho."
* * * *
Although I was most happy to learn that many of my Sisters from the northern tribe had come to attend the ceremony as well‚ I was sad to learn that their elder‚ Comparat‚ the woman who had raised most of the tribe after Xena’s raids‚ had journeyed to the other side. I was told that she died peacefully in slumber and with happiness in her heart over the reunion and growth of the northern Amazons. Otere had been made Queen of the tribe‚ Ouri was their lead healer‚ Tania and Yakut their chief spiritualists‚ and the robust Escritt had become the tribe’s chief jurist.
Palaemon and Bahri also delivered bad news to me upon our return to the village of my tribe. My first slave Master‚ Chayym Eben‚ had died during our stay in Rome. When we were still there‚ Bahri had told me that Chayym was of ill health when he was removed from the palace dungeons‚ but that she had summoned‚ by request of the Conqueror‚ the palace healers to tend to him during his confinement in the Corinthian Military Compound. She said that he was improving when Xena summoned her to Rome. Palaemon was advised upon our return to Greece that Chayym’s chest had a severe ache that caused his breathing to stop.
Before turning in that night‚ I went to the village worship yurt and lit two candles; one for Comparat and one for Chayym. Xena still didn’t understand why I had any sympathy for him‚ but she respected my need to express my sadness at his loss.
I wanted to make love with Xena the night before our union‚ but I believed that she was still reeling from the events in Poteidaia and Amphipolis. I think she was also nervous about the prospect of Cyrene arriving with her brother Toris‚ his wife‚ their son and Xena’s son Solan. I couldn’t imagine having a child that I hadn’t seen since his birth‚ so I was very mindful of the mass of thoughts that were whirling through her mind that night. Instead of seducing her‚ as I would have liked‚ I held her lovingly. She responded with a tight embrace and a repeated "I love you" in my receptive ears.
Before dawn the next morning‚ two of my Sisters barged into my yurt and abruptly awakened Xena and me. It was Eirena‚ our head shamaness‚ and her assistant Jael.
"Time for cleansing!" she stated rather loudly as a very disoriented Xena instinctively reached for her chakram.
"Xena!" I shouted as I grabbed her arm.
Xena’s eyes flew open. "What the fuck!" she yelled. "It’s still dark out."
"I know‚ Conqueror‚" Eirena said. "The cleansing ritual takes place before the sun rises."
We were taken to the baths yurt and literally scrubbed by Eirena and Jael. I was amused by this activity‚ but Xena was far less enthusiastic.
"What are you trying to do?" she said to Jael‚ "scrub my skin off?"
"This is an important part of your union‚ Conqueror‚" Jael responded. "Amazons have been doing this cleansing ritual for centuries."
"Well‚ hurry it up‚" Xena demanded. "I’m not that dirty and I’m beginning to prune here."
All I could do was laugh at the entire spectacle.
After the cleansing‚ Xena and I were dressed in ceremonial union tunics and then separated. I was taken to Daphis and Anthia‚ the two women who had trained me to be an Amazon. Xena was taken to Ephiny‚ probably because she was our leading tribal warrior. We were not allowed to eat or drink anything and we remained separated with our respective escorts in their yurts until the early afternoon‚ when everyone who had arrived in the village to observe the union ceremony was assembled at the village plaza.
When Daphnis and Anthia escorted me out of their yurt‚ I was shocked to see the number of people gathered to watch the ceremony. I recognized most of them‚ but my eyes fell upon two boys standing on either side of Cyrene. They were the same height and probably the same age. One boy had dark hair and eyes and closely resembled the nice-looking woman standing on the other side of him. The other boy had fairer hair and instantly recognizable blue eyes. I smiled at him‚ but then my eyes fell upon a woman standing off to their right and behind some other spectators.
"Mother‚" I whispered to her. She wore a simple green dress and had a scarf over her head. She was weeping‚ but she smiled slightly and nodded.
I approached Queen Melosa‚ who was standing in front of the plaza banners. A moment later‚ Xena walked up and stood next to me. We regarded each other. Xena was the vision of perfect beauty. Moreover‚ she had a calm‚ happy expression on her face. I assumed that she had seen her mother and son.
"Your mother is here‚ Gabrielle‚" she whispered as she smiled her most beautiful smile.
"So is yours‚ Xena‚" I said‚ smiling back. "But I’m happiest to see Solan’s mother."
We both looked at my Queen. "Down on your knees‚" she ordered us. We complied.
"In the Amazon Nation‚" Queen Melosa addressed the spectators‚ "an Amazon who professes her love for another‚ be it a woman or man‚ may request to have her love sanctified by the Nation. My Sister‚ Princess Gabrielle‚ Heiress to my throne‚ has requested that her love of Xena of Amphipolis‚ Conqueror of Greece‚ Empress of the Realm‚ be blessed in union. Bear witness‚ my friends and Sisters‚ to this blessing."
Queen Melosa lifted a large and ornate bowl over our heads. "Before dawn‚ Gabrielle and Xena were purified of body. They were cleansed and have been denied food and drink. But they will receive their sustenance here."
My Queen put the bowl down in front of us and reached into it. She lifted up some dirt that was in the bowl. "Amazons believe in the power of the Earth. It is our life force. It is part of a duality with the other elements that sustain us throughout our lives and the Goddesses that guide us through our lives. It is sacred."
Balling the dirt up in her right hand‚ she sprinkled it in a line in front of us. "When an Amazon marries a man‚ she is awarded the two elements of female polarity. He is awarded the two elements of male polarity. It is that simple. When two women join in union‚ I take to task the designation of the four elements‚ one female and one male‚ to each woman."
Queen Melosa looked at me. "Cup your hands‚ Gabrielle‚" she said. I did. "Naturally‚ I start with the element of Earth itself." She poured some of the dirt from the bowl into my hands. I rubbed my hands together. "Earth is female. She is the body. She is endurance‚ stability‚ survival‚ growth and wisdom. The Goddess Demeter blesses her. The color of Earth is the green of Gabrielle’s eyes‚ the sense of Earth is Gabrielle’s gentle touch‚ and the influence of Earth is Gabrielle’s undeniable power over the Destroyer of Nations. Gabrielle is Earth."
My Queen looked at Xena. "Cup your hands‚ Xena‚" she said. Xena cupped her hands. Queen Melosa took a flask and poured water into them. Xena rubbed the water onto her hands as Queen Melosa spoke. "Water is female. She is the womb. She is flowing‚ cleansing‚ sensual‚ emotional and intuitive. The Goddess Aphrodite blesses her. The color of Water is the blue of Xena’s eyes‚ the sense of Water is Xena’s taste for winning and ruling‚ and the influence of Water is Xena’s indisputable beauty. Xena is Water."
Queen Melosa regarded the spectators. "When Earth and Water are joined‚ the soil of the Earth is nourished and vegetation blooms. Earth needs Water. The creation and life of every living thing comes from these basic female elements."
Eirena and Jael approached Queen Melosa. My Queen gave Eirena the flask. She took it and poured water over my hands so that I could wash the dirt off. Eirena then gave me a cloth to dry them. Jael gave Xena a cloth to dry her wet hands as well.
Queen Melosa then pulled out a long hollow wicker tube and looked at me. She blew into the tube‚ which sent a burst of air to my face. "Air is male‚" she said. "He is the breath. He is floating‚ imaginative‚ fresh‚ moving and clear. The Goddess Athena blesses him. The color of Air is the yellow of Gabrielle’s hair‚ the sense of Air is Gabrielle’s instinctive and keen smell‚ the influence of Air is Gabrielle’s supreme intellect. Gabrielle is Air."
Queen Melosa ignited the hollow tube and waved it in front of Xena. "Fire is male. He is the energy. He is heat‚ strength‚ will‚ passionate‚ and destroying. The Goddess Hestia blesses him. The color of Fire is the red of the blood that Xena has lost and spilled‚ the sense of Fire is Xena’s amazing sight‚ and the influence of Fire is Xena’s remarkable charisma. Xena is Fire."
Queen Melosa again regarded the spectators. "We need Fire to keep us warm and prepare our food‚ but without Air‚ Fire cannot light or breathe. Fire needs Air. The sustenance of life for every living thing comes from these basic male elements."
She looked at us. "Rise‚ Gabrielle and Xena‚" she said. We stood up.
"Gabrielle and Xena need each other. They want each other. When they join‚ when their four elements join‚ they become the Spirit. They are centered‚ throughout and about‚ north‚ south‚ east and west‚ up and down‚ transcendent‚ everywhere and nowhere. To each other‚ they are bodies joined‚ wombs intertwined‚ and they are the source of each other’s breath and energy. They are enlightened‚ they form a greater body‚ and they are soulmates.
Eirena gave me a ring. Jael gave one to Xena. We placed the rings on each other’s fingers.
"I bless your union‚ Gabrielle and Xena‚ in the presence of your mothers‚ your friends and family‚ your Amazon Sisters and under the watchful eyes of Artemis‚ Goddess of the Amazons. You are joined."
Everyone began cheering as Xena and I bestowed upon each other a simple‚ tender kiss. We turned to face our friends and family‚ many of whom rushed to us to give us hugs and pats on our backs. I looked at Xena. "I’ll be right back‚" I said before dashing over to Mother. We embraced.
"Thank you for coming‚ Mother‚" I said.
"You’re my daughter‚ my only surviving child‚ and I love you‚" Mother said. "I could not miss this moment of your happiness."
"I love you too‚ Mother."
"I don’t think I’ll ever really forgive her‚" she professed‚ "but I suspect that she’ll never really forgive herself either."
"You’re probably right‚ Mother‚" I responded. "What about Father?"
"Your father does not believe that two women should marry‚" she said. "He wanted you to marry Perdicas and he is angered that he will not be getting any grandsons‚ Gabrielle."
"Well‚ that’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility‚" I intimated‚ smiling. Mother cocked her head in question as I quickly changed the subject. "Please come and meet my Sisters and friends‚ Mother."
I escorted Mother over to Queen Melosa‚ who promptly took Mother by her arm and began the introductions. I then looked over at Xena‚ who was lovingly embracing Cyrene as her brother‚ sister-in-law‚ nephew and son observed. My ever-growing family has just gotten a little larger‚ I mused.
This is a good thing.
VI. THE CONQUEROR’S LOG
My mind was floating during our union ceremony. I’m not sure if it was because of the euphoria I was feeling in joining with Gabrielle‚ the fact that Gabrielle’s mother‚ my mother and Solan were present‚ or if it was because I was famished‚ but I felt light‚ airy‚ almost as if I was in a dream.
This was a dream; a dream come true.
When I faced my love after Queen Melosa said the magic words‚ I saw perfection. Emerald eyes‚ a rose petal mouth‚ inviting cheeks and a sprightly smile. We kissed a kiss that sent a burst of energy throughout my body. I could die at that moment knowing that I had experienced life’s greatest pleasure.
As our friends surrounded us‚ Gabrielle went to speak to her mother. I needed to speak with mine. I excused myself from the crowd and walked‚ nervously I must admit‚ over to my family. I immediately took my mother into my arms. We embraced for many moments‚ the first time we had done so since I became the Conqueror.
"Thank you‚" I whispered‚ "for everything."
"Treat her right‚" Mother responded in a whisper. "She deserves it."
"I will‚" I said. "I promise."
Toris was now a man of 37. The once long‚ dark mane that he sported as a younger man was now closely cropped and had fringes of gray at the temple. He was still lean‚ however. Tending to his farm and raising the boys had kept him fit. Iolanthe was a little heavier than when I last saw her‚ but she was still very lovely. Her always deep and expressive brown eyes cast upon me as I took in the sight of my son.
"It’s been a long time‚ Sister‚" Toris said as he looked down at his son. "Sergius was just an infant of one the last time we saw you. He’s twelve now."
"It’s a good thing he looks like his mother‚" I said in jest as I patted my brother’s arm.
"I look like my father!" Solan spoke up. I tried to contain my tears.
"You look like your grandmother‚" I shot back at him.
"Nuh uh‚ she’s a lady‚" he quipped.
"So‚ you still look like her‚" I proclaimed‚ and he did. I saw some of Borias in his face. He has my eyes‚ but he’s Cyrene through and through.
"Father says you used to be evil‚ but the Amazon Princess made you good again‚" Solan said. "Is that true?"
"Gabrielle brings out the good in me‚" I said. "Are you good?"
Iolanthe stepped up. "Both of the boys are very good‚ Sister‚" she said. "They do their studies and I don’t have to get after them about their chores."
I couldn’t contain my tears any longer. "You two boys mind your parents‚" I said. "They know best."
"Why are you crying‚ Auntie?" Sergius asked.
I wiped my eyes. "Because that’s what women sometimes do when we’re happy‚" I said weeping‚ "we cry. Silly‚ huh?"
"Yeah‚" Sergius agreed.
"I haven’t seen you cry since you were a child‚ Xena‚" Mother said as she took my hand.
Gabrielle approached at that moment and took my other hand. "Hello Cyrene‚" she said.
"This is my brother‚ Toris‚" I introduced. "His wife‚ Iolanthe‚ and their boys‚ Sergius and Solan."
"Pleased to meet you all‚" she said. "Isn’t Xena beautiful?" She looked up at me.
"For a girl‚ I guess‚" Solan retorted.
Sergius interjected‚ "Can we go and play with that older boy over there wrestling with the two dogs?"
"Oh‚ yes‚ can we?" Solan added.
Laughter broke through my tears. "Bahri’s a grown woman‚ boys‚ but I don’t think she’d mind if you fellas joined in."
"Great!" they both yelled as they dashed off to help Bahri in her wrestling match.
I returned my attention to my brother. "Solan looks well‚ Toris‚" I said.
"He is well‚ Xena‚" he said.
* * * *
At long last‚ Gabrielle and I were allowed to eat. The Amazons Solari‚ Eponin and their hunter Sisters had caught two large bucks and several pheasants earlier that day‚ and in addition to the venison and birds‚ we had a parade of vegetables‚ fruit‚ nuts and bread to eat. Gabrielle was particularly amusing as she stuffed her mouth with morsel after morsel.
"I take it you were quite hungry‚ eh Gabrielle?" I asked as I ran my fingers through her hair.
"Umph‚ um‚" she nodded‚ unable to better articulate herself because of all of the bread and walnuts stuffed in her mouth.
The celebration went on into the late afternoon. We were entertained with a tribal dance by some of Gabrielle’s Amazon Sisters while others played various musical instruments to accompany the dancing. At one point‚ some of the guests joined in dancing‚ including Commander Glaphyra‚ Sergeants Favrie and Viera‚ and my mother. Relaxing next to my bride‚ I sat back and observed the people around us. Many of the Amazons‚ once great enemies of mine‚ were eagerly mingling with my soldiers‚ palace servants and Imperial Guardsmen. Even Ephiny seemed to be responding to Palaemon’s flirtations. Demi and Gabrielle’s mother were talking. I thought that to be a good thing. He basically replaced her as Gabrielle’s parent when she came into my service and I suspected that he was sharing with her mother the many special moments of his relationship with her over the past six years.
I thought about my son and smiled. He and Sergius were off on an "adventure" with Toris‚ Bahri‚ Charicleia‚ and some of the Amazon children. For so long‚ I hated Toris for leaving Amphipolis rather than staying and fighting with Lyceus and me‚ but I needed him to be there for my son when I could not. I realized that Toris wasn’t a coward‚ he simply wasn’t a warrior either. I knew now that if Borias had been successful in taking our son away from me at his birth‚ Solan would not have ended up the happy and healthy eleven-year-old that I saw laughing and frolicking that day.
As I pondered a myriad of thoughts‚ Gabrielle leaned over and whispered into my ear. "Let’s go make love‚ baby."
"Right now?" I whispered back.
She smiled that devious Gabrielle smile. "Right now."
"Gabrielle‚ we’re in the middle of our union reception‚" I protested.
"And your point being?"
I thought for a moment. Why am I arguing with her about making love. Am I sick?
We jumped up and sprinted off toward Gabrielle’s yurt. "Where are you two going?" my mother yelled from behind us.
"We’ll be back!" Gabrielle responded.
I turned my head briefly to see my mother shaking hers. "By the gods‚ can’t they even wait until the end of the reception?" A huge smile masked her mock disapproval.
Inside Gabrielle’s yurt‚ we stood facing each other. "Hello‚ my bride‚" she said to me.
"Hello‚ my bride‚" I responded.
Gabrielle loosened my belt and reaching up‚ she began pulling my tunic off of my shoulders. I likewise untied her belt and opened her tunic to reveal her sexy stomach. I began running my hands all over her breasts and hips. She closed the space between us and grabbed the back of my head‚ bringing my lips to hers.
As we kissed passionately‚ my hands roamed up and pulled Gabrielle’s tunic off of her shoulders. The garment fell to the floor‚ revealing that she had not put on any undergarments. My hands then roamed south‚ taking full advantage of the glorious nude body before me. I ran my hands over her shoulders‚ back and rear. Our lips were still locked as our tongues danced back and forth between our two mouths.
As my hands ventured further south‚ Gabrielle let out a sensuous moan into my mouth. She had slipped her arms around my waist in a tight embrace. My tunic was still on‚ but it was open enough for the skin on our bellies and breasts to connect. We stood in this locked kissing position for quite a few moments before Gabrielle broke the kiss. "Lay down with me‚" she said in a low‚ seductive tone.
I didn’t respond. Instead‚ I excitedly lifted Gabrielle up and carried her over to her high bed. Gently depositing her there‚ I removed my tunic and climbed up‚ straddling her at her hips. She reached up and began massaging my breasts. "Are we dreaming‚ Xena?" she asked.
"If we are‚ I hope that we never wake up‚" I answered as I leaned down and kissed her again.
I stretched out so that I was lying completely on top of Gabrielle. She threw her arms around me once again‚ but this time she focused her attention on my rear. Alternately rubbing and kneading it‚ she broke the kiss and began sucking my neck. I was blissfully running my hands all over her upper body as I moaned over and over again at her touches.
Eventually Gabrielle’s right hand reached around in between us and her fingers began stroking my sex. I was beyond ready to receive the touch as I likewise felt my way down to her warm‚ inviting center. I leaned over to her right somewhat so that we both could look down and watch as we pleasured each other. It was so amazing looking at her beautiful hand moving back and forth under my sex while her hips responded rhythmically to my stroking of her sex.
As we continued our mutual stimulation‚ my eyes moved upward‚ looking at Gabrielle’s moving arm‚ her sweat-beaded belly‚ her erect nipples and her desire-filled eyes. Climax was coming soon for both of us.
"Kiss… me… Xena‚" Gabrielle said in a moan.
I again pressed my lips to hers. Our tongues connected and then… CLIMAX! It sharply struck us both simultaneously. For brief moments‚ I thought that the world shook. Still shaking‚ I scooped Gabrielle into my arms and held her there for many moments. Finally breaking free from the embrace‚ I looked into the eyes of my love. I lived once. I had a life and then I lost it. I lost it to years of hatred and murder. I betrayed those who would love me and allied with those who would later try to destroy me. I sacrificed happiness for power and relinquished the child that I had borne because I believed that I wasn’t worthy of motherhood. And then Gabrielle came into my life‚ and for years‚ I tried to destroy any possibility of love from her while trying to extinguish my own love for her. Yet‚ she held fast onto me and I found my life again. And now here she is‚ my consort‚ my bride‚ my soulmate.
"Gabrielle‚" I said. "You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You are the greatest thing in my life."
"I love you‚ Xena."
"I love you‚ Gabrielle‚ so much."
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