Chapter Twelve


Quiet moments to be found within
Cruel flames
Are fanned by denial and doubt.
Clarity is found within the bond
Of trust as restraint turns to embrace,
And aggression shifts to acceptance,
The balance of life found
Within the sweetest tear of pain.



The Conqueror moaned softly as a questing tongue tentatively pushed past her lips. Both eyebrows rose as the bard’s small hand caressed her lower back. It was an effort, but the warrior managed to compartmentalize the slowly receding pain in her body to the point where it was barely noticeable. Except when she took a breath. Which, if the blonde had anything to say on the subject, wasn’t going to be too often.

"Let’s make this look good," she crooned softly into the blonde’s ear and then bent down for another passionate kiss.

Gabrielle felt as if the room had shifted. The Conqueror was talking to her not at her. They were now both co-conspirators in this ruse to keep the truth from the Conqueror’s castle guards. And there was passion; she could feel it. Xena wanted to make love to her, not to dominate and control her. She moaned as the warrior slipped her tongue past eager lips.

Both women were barely conscious of the urgent hesitance of the visitors who were caught between the ire they knew would arise should they interrupt, and the obvious worry they had in response to the servant’s frantic and somewhat garbled information.

Finally Andros could stand it no longer. He cleared his throat once, fidgeted and then repeated the action in an effort to gain some sort of response.


Xena was about to reply when her lower lip was seized between a set of very sharp teeth. Her forehead scrunched as the pain caught hold of her breath. She moved both hands over to cup Gabrielle’s breasts, and silently cursed as the fingers of her left hand spasmed as she tried to rein them in.

Feelings of frustration increased as she heard her first Lieutenant and the other guards mewling in the background.

Although the action of kissing the bard had been one born of devious need, it was rapidly becoming one of pure necessity…on both their parts. Xena could feel the heat against her lower belly, and Gabrielle’s undoubtedly unconscious hip movement as she tilted her pelvis against the woman. She felt alive, as if this was the very thing glaringly absent from her life.

Slowly extracting her lip from between insistent teeth, Xena employed her own on the tender flesh of the bard’s earlobe. She growled low in the back of her throat and then whispered seductively to her.

"Give yourself to me, Gabrielle. Give me what you want."

Gabrielle’s breath caught as she tilted her head back, feeling more than her skin pierced, but that of every wall she had erected against this woman.

Andros found himself looking anywhere but at the bed. He cleared his throat a few times more and winced as the lord gazed balefully in his direction. The guards immediately ceased their fidgeting and stood to attention. A droplet of sweat trickled down from the temple of one of the men as he tried unsuccessfully to obliterate the image of the two women fornicating before his very eyes.

Maltor had begun working as a guard in the palace just days previously, having been sent with orders to report on the comings and goings of the Conqueror to his superior. Although Dagnine hadn’t seen fit to make him privy to the reason, the young guard new a chance for advancement when he saw it.

Maltor’s lower belly ignited as more of the Conqueror’s golden flesh was exposed. He’d heard she was a beauty, but nothing could have prepared him for the goddess before him.

"I’m busy."

Ubris knelt carefully by the bed and blinked slowly as she, too, found something more interesting to look at.

"Lord, I summoned the guard, as you wished."

Xena swiveled her gaze on the young servant, the steel in her eyes softening.

"You acted in haste, Ubris. There was no need to summon my Lieutenant for something as inconsequential as a few loose stitches." With tremendous effort, the Conqueror placed all of her weight on her incapacitated arm, and opened the rest of her gown. Gabrielle quickly buried her face in the woman’s bosom and then surreptitiously grabbed hold of Xena’s elbow. The Conqueror felt the brace and relaxed her shoulders minutely. The bard was pleased she had stopped the vibration in the warrior’s arm but began blushing furiously as she looked up into the woman’s smirking face.

"Oh, please continue…slave. Don’t let them interrupt you."

The warmth of the look bestowed upon her disguised the brutality of the label Gabrielle had thought herself beyond. The bond that had begun in the dark with death staring both of them coldly in the eye had moved them into an area whereby the bard was something more than a slave, and yet something far less than a peer. But it was something tangible for the young woman from Poteideia to hold onto.

It was a struggle, but Andros managed to keep his tongue behind clenched teeth as the lord’s ample breasts were exposed. Each nipple was hard and ripe for the succulent mouth of the young bard who attempted to capture each morsel before the Conqueror pushed herself out of reach.

Gabrielle moaned as the warrior caressed her face. Xena’s eyes were dark with passion as she slipped her thumb into the young woman’s mouth. She felt her breasts tightening as Gabrielle began to suck on it. With an effort, she drew her eyes away from the delicious sight and contemplated the Lieutenant once more.

"My servant was rash in her attempts to bring help. I believe I’m quite capable of staunching the flow of blood. A little pressure applied here…" She pressed her bosom against the blonde’s eager mouth, "and another firm bit applied there," Xena eased her torso down against the now writhing bard, "and I believe we’ll have things well in hand."

Andros swallowed with a snick as the blonde moved her legs farther apart.

Xena began to wonder just how much was play acting and what went beyond those boundaries as the blonde moaned deeply against her ear. And then Gabrielle’s breath caught and her body stiffened as more pressure was applied to her inner thighs and kneecaps.

A twitch appeared at the corner of the warrior’s right eye as she realized it was pain and not ardor that had elicited such a deeply felt moan. For the Conqueror, a show of force was only employed as a means to an end. Whether it was to incite fear or to exact retribution, it was never used carelessly on someone as innocent of guile as was the blonde beneath her. In her worry that she might be seen in a weakened condition, Xena had completely forgotten about the injury sustained by the bard. And she had been the cause of it.

A look of remorse filled the Conqueror’s sapphire eyes and Gabrielle clutched her closer.

"It’s all right. Just give me a moment."

The blonde’s face contorted again as Xena all but raised herself off the bed. The Conqueror’s throat constricted as doubt of her initial judgement filled her mind. ‘How could someone as pure as this bard be guilty of anything?’

"Milord, I must confess I was worried when your servant girl came to fetch the guards. Your safety is paramount."

"I’m fine, I tell you." The tone in the Conqueror’s voice startled him. It was further evidence that things with the woman weren’t all they might seem. He cleared his throat.

"Yes, Conqueror…I can see that. But I…"

"Leave us."

"But sire, I’ve just been given news that two emissaries from Rome will be arriving. They are expected to reach the castle by nightfall."

"Get out!"

The two guards began to tremble as the Conqueror leapt off the woman pinned to the bed and stalked towards them.

"Get out of my chambers now. I will speak to you later, Andros. Now leave."

The men saluted smartly and then turned on their heels. They waited hesitantly at the door as the Lieutenant tried to plead his case.

"But milord…we must make ready. This isn’t the scheduled meeting we were told about. Caesar…"

Xena grabbed her left arm and dragged it behind her. She stood perfectly still as she tried to keep her emotions in check. It would do no good to let the men see her flailing about like some incapacitated lunatic. It was hard, but she had to admit to herself that she was afraid. What if the total use of her arm never returned?

"A pox on Caesar, and another pox on his damned emissaries." She walked slowly over to her Lieutenant and then stood before him, capturing him totally with her dangerous glare.

"You will make ready, Andros. To be sure. There will not be any further…scenes like the one earlier tonight. Caesar hopes to catch us with our pants down, and asses bare to the breeze." She strode over to the two men quivering by the door and just looked them up and down.

"I don’t recognize this one, and the other looks to be far too young for his position." She released the death hold she had on her other arm and then poked Maltor in the solar plexus.

"Why do you tremble, boy? Have you never seen a half naked woman before?" It pained her that the robe she wore was left open for these two puppies to gawk at, but since she was hardly in a position to keep it closed, she’d try and use it to her advantage.

"When did you begin your service in the castle?"

Maltor gulped noisily and then squeaked out his response.

"I…I began two days ago, milord, though I’ve been in your employ for nearly a full year. Sir. Ma’am."

Xena snorted. "You must be all of sixteen. What unit have you been training in?"

One dark brow shot up as Dagnine’s name was mumbled.

"Ah yes, my other trusted Lieutenant. And just what is he up to these days…?"

"M…Maltor, milady."

Xena took hold of the young man’s chin and held it tightly. "You’d do well to remember my station, boy. I am ‘milord’, ‘sire’, or ‘Conqueror’. I am no ‘lady’, is that clear?"

It took all the man’s will not to release his bladder in his efforts to keep his eyes from roaming. He focused harder and then felt his heart being squeezed as the bluest eyes he’d ever seen were brought closer to his own.

"I won’t eat you up, boy. I see your response to my state of undress. That’s understandable. However, you will not gaze openly at me at any time, clear? I am a woman, that is also clear, but I am also the meanest bastard you’ll ever meet. You do not want my undivided attention, understand? Do your job and you may live to be promoted. One day in the distant future."

She turned to face Andros once more. "I am not pleased with the selection for my guard. Either find more seasoned soldiers or hire babysitters for the ones we have. Either way, I’ll not have them breaking their teeth in at my expense."

Andros nodded quickly, and then put a hand on the Conqueror’s right wrist.

"Men, you are dismissed." He waited until the door closed behind them and then released the breath he’d been holding.

"Sire, I can see that you are unwell. Has something happened this evening? I couldn’t understand much of what Ubris was saying, other than you were hurt. Is this true?"

Xena shook the man’s hand off. "I’m fine. It’s Gabrielle that needs a heeler right now. Ubris, go fetch Daedalis. He can tend to the bard’s legs."

"And your wound, sire."

Xena ignored the Lieutenant and moved over to the window.

"See to the girl. I told you, I’m fine."

"But sire…she’s but a slave. Or is she more than that? Having a nice bit waiting in your bed is all well and good, but you’ve a duty to the realm. You must be at your best when the em…"

"Silence! Do not provoke me, Andros. I know my duty. Do you?" Xena glared at her second in command. The tick reappeared in the corner of her eye, and she struggled to control it.

"I know that you’ve been spending far too much time with this girl. I know that the men are beginning to get restless. I also know that you aren’t acting yourself and that if you aren’t very careful, you’ll not only have Caesar down on your neck but your own soldiers, too!"

Xena’s hand swept up quickly and Andros’ head snapped painfully to the side.

"Just fetch that damned healer. If you and Christo can’t handle a few seditious busy bodies, then perhaps you shouldn’t be in a position of authority. Perhaps you should go and sweep stables for me, Andros. You’re good for little else."

The Conqueror glanced back out at the morning sky, biting the inside of her cheek in an effort to control her anger.

"Godsbedamn you! Fetch that windbag Mikos. It’ll be his head if preparations aren’t in order. Can you manage all that, or should I write it down for you?"

Xena’s head was pounding in her efforts to regain control over her emotions. Why was she snapping this man’s head off? Why did everyone around her seem to suffer in one way or another? She railed against her loss of control, knowing that self-flagellation was the only thing keeping her sane. ‘If I centered more on the battle warring inside my head, then perhaps I’ll have less time to mete it out to those around me.’

Gabrielle stood wobbly-kneed beside the servant, her mouth agape at the exchange between the two combatants. For that was exactly how they appeared to her at that moment. No longer was there an air of camaraderie between them. Now the Conqueror was sarcastic and rude and the Lieutenant petulant and demanding.

"Lord Xena, please. I am only a slave and can be tended to by your servant girl."

Xena gripped the bricks tightly with one hand and forced herself to respond with indifference. No one could know just how important the little bard was becoming. It was bad enough that Andros had an inkling. Would he have bandied it about in the barracks? She’d have his guts…No. He was loyal, he was her…’Well,’ Xena thought carefully, ‘he’s been with me since the beginning. Why does he stay if there is nothing but the promise of an early death? He’s more than an ally.’ Without realizing it, she’d been spending more time in his company and giving the man more trust as the years went by. Their easy, albeit somewhat fiery, relationship must be built on something more than just duty.

Xena dragged her limp hand carefully over her belly, and closed her robe against the chill morning air. Sighing deeply, she turned to face her Lieutenant.

"Andros, you’re right. I’ll see the healer forthwith. But I do want Gabrielle to be tended to as well. In fact, you are going to stay with her tonight."

The Lieutenant frowned. "But milord…?"

"Take her away, Andros. Just do it," she said wearily.

Her next words made his blood run cold.

"And have Daedalis break her legs."

"But Lord Xena! Is she being punished? What could she have possibly…"

"Silence! Do you dare question me?"

"No, lord…please!" Ubris threw herself at the Conqueror’s feet and began pleading in her own language, begging for the safety and well being of the young slave. Xena knelt carefully and spoke quietly to the Egyptian, and then after a short nod of understanding, she quickly rose to her feet and left the room. Each bow as she exited made the Conqueror wince.

Andros looked from the frail looking blonde standing by the bed and then back at the Conqueror. He could see the torment written on both their faces. The word ‘preparation’ had been whispered, leaving him to wonder just what was in store for the young bard. And then a look of understanding washed over him. For the first time, he took a close look at the young slave. Both legs were misshapen from knee to ankle as if they had been…

He closed his eyes tightly. When news of a young slave being held in the prison had reached his ears, he had thought it was merely a case of theft, or perhaps adultery. Now, with proof that the slave had suffered a fate dealt to those on the cross, Andros began to wonder just what the bond was between the two. Why would the lord have had her crucified and then reclaimed? While he had entertained thoughts of a romantic sort blossoming up between master and slave, it was one of brief infatuation. She was merely a slave, after all. In the many years he’d known the irascible warrior, not once had either man or woman spent more than a fortnight in the Conqueror’s company. Many had left with both mental and physical scars, their time with the dark lord brief but forever remembered.

A shudder ran through the man as he contemplated the ramifications of the slave’s preparations. He only hoped Daedalis would use as much powder as it took to alleviate all of the pain she’d have to endure. She was much too young to be suffering this fate twice.

"No, sire. It shall be done." He moved carefully over to where Gabrielle was standing. The girl wrung her hands piteously and it broke his heart to watch.

The bard locked her eyes on those of blue, and could see an ocean of pain. It was like a physical blow to her. Oh, how she wanted to embrace the warrior, Lieutenant be damned! She didn’t want to leave, not now, not when things were going so well.

When they had been lying there tightly in each other’s embrace all the pain and sorrow of the world seemed so very far away. Every kiss they had shared seemed to strengthen the bond between them. She had felt so shattered when a look of pity had crossed the lord’s face. It had been so hard to hold back the mounting pain as Xena had eased herself down upon her. Things had been quite easily ignored at first, the flames of desire hot enough to sear any thoughts of discomfort from her mind. But the arrival of the Lieutenant and his men seemed to provoke the Conqueror from her show of tenderness. The increasing force brought to bear upon her body had turned red flame into white-hot pain, terrible in its all-encompassing form, and impossible to deny.

Watching the lord’s response to her crippling pain had been brutal. Gabrielle had wanted to run away and hide because of her terrible weakness. How could someone as strong and virile be attracted to someone so obviously deformed? And then the truth eased past the barricades and the bard had realized that it was not pity but the initial stirrings of tender concern and…?

Gabrielle started as she felt the man’s hand on her elbow. "Wha?"

"You must come with me, girl. It’s for the best."

"Yes, for the best." Taking hold of the man tightly, Gabrielle began her walk past the silent form of the Conqueror. She wanted to speak with Xena once before leaving, to at least settle the torment she saw on the woman’s face. How would she repair the damage done by the assassin? Who would she trust to help her?

Xena forced herself to look away as the two exited her chambers. The stillness of her rooms descended upon her like a deathly pall.


Chapter 13

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