The fearsome Empress Of The Known Worlds, Destroyer Of Nations, stood on the balcony of her palace late that night, contemplating the town square below. She had changed out of the horribly uncomfortable ceremonial dress into a loose fitting robe and let her hair down. She despised dressing in elaborate royal garb; she much preferred well-worn battle leathers or a comfortable robe, something she could move in. Despite all the guards that surrounded her and the secured palace, Xena liked to always be ready for a fight. Liked her powerful legs to be free to kick, maim, and kill if need be.

The gladiator games she’d attended in her honor had been disappointing, boring and not nearly bloody enough. If not for the damned kimono she had been persuaded into wearing, she would have jumped into the ring herself and slaughtered both the combatants. (Now there was an idea, maybe for a surprise next time?) And that little man had stolen the top of her scepter right in front of all the guards and then vanished. Was he some sort of wizard?

A few of the upstarts she’d been forced to punish still moaned and writhed on the crosses where they’d been displayed as a warning for all to see. She thought about having the guards spear a few of them for good measure but she’d already done that many times in the past. Time to come up with something new.

Her eyes had fixed on one figure in particular, one that hung now motionless, head down, corn silk hair blowing in the wind. What a shame to have to waste such a lovely little thing. When she was presented to the Empress, she was felt compelled to approach the girl and touch the rare and delicate beauty with her own hand. Why was that? You had to admire the little witches’ guts; even after her legs had been broken she had continued to rant and rave about the need to fight for freedom to the crowd of onlookers. There was no need for the Empress to worry, though, her place in the world had been guaranteed by the god Ares himself. Upstarts like her provided her with welcome entertainment. On impulse, she called to the guards below; one rushed to below the balcony while the others stood fast at their posts.

"You’re wish, Highness?" he said with a bow and salute.

" The tramp with yellow hair; if she still lives, cut her down and take her to my surgeon. Tell him that she’s to receive the best care. I want her alive and well. I have plans for her."

"Right away Highness." He ran off and started yelling instructions to the other guards.

She turned down the marbled hall toward her bedchambers, her two burly personal guards Cyclops and Warhorse following silently at a respectable distance.

Gabrielle awoke to find herself in a warm, comfortable bed in the middle of a small dimly lighted room.

She felt lightheaded and drowsy. She could not feel any thing from the waist down but she was too groggy to be alarmed.

Suddenly an old man with a long beard and kindly eyes was staring down at her.

"We thought you would never wake-up," he said. "The pain drought has kept you out for the past three days."

"Where am I? Am I dead?"

"Heavens no, you’ll live. The breaks are clean and healing well. You should be as good as new in time. Just lie still and let us care for you."

"But where am I?"

"The royal harem infirmary. Her ladyship Xena ordered you brought here to convalesce."

Gabrielle sat up in a panic causing her head to swim.

"But why!? Why does she want me alive?" ‘Oh gods, she keeps a harem!’

"We don’t question, we only obey. You would be well advised to do the same."

"I have to get out of here, you don’t understand…"

"You will not be able to even walk for the next several weeks. You are not going anywhere till then"

Resigned to her fate, Gabrielle lay back on the bed till the evening meal was served, her mind obsessed with unanswered questions and escape plans.

She never saw the Empress during her stay in the room. (Which was a great relief). Only the surgeon and several servants that attended to her needs. She was washed gently, every day (even her hair) was served the best food she had ever eaten in her life, and even had gowns that were simple but like nothing she could ever hope to afford. After a few weeks she was encouraged to start walking with the help of the slaves and two poles that fit neatly under her arms. Her legs were still kept tightly bound, but she could see when the surgeon changed the dressings that the bruises and swelling were fading.

She managed to enjoy sitting in the windows that faced an enclosed courtyard during the day. It was beautiful; stone paths, fountains, statues, glorious flowers and even a towering gilded iron cage filled with exotic birds. It was like a dream. She longed to spend some time there almost forgetting her situation.


She turned her head.

"For you."

The servants had carried in a small table piled high with a dozen or so scrolls.

"For you to pass the time."

Gabrielle could hardly believe this was all happening. Only the rich families could afford such luxuries as story-scrolls. She would question the motive behind the kindness later; no mater how much she hated Xena, she was dying to read all of these.

She spent all the rest of the day and evening reading by the light by the window till even after dark, when the moon came out and the servants lit candles and lanterns in the room. She read till she was so tired her eyes started playing tricks on her. She thought she could see shadowy figures in the courtyard below. Perhaps it was only servants or guards. She decided it was time to get to bed.

She was awakened from a sound sleep and a pleasant dream by a commotion; two guards were carrying a pallet into the room, closely followed by the surgeon and assistants. By the candlelight still remaining, Gabrielle could make out the motionless form of a young woman; her unclothed body criss-crossed front and back by red welts, bruises, and human bite-marks.

"Highness must be back from the battle." She heard a servant girl remark, softly.

"Hush now!" said the surgeon.

She lay in her bed, frozen, her heart pounding as she listened to the girls’ pain. That was me a few weeks ago, she thought. This is the room where they bring all of Xena’s broken toys to piece them back together again. This is the real part, everything else the past few weeks had just been a trick to win her trust, and to make her think life was safe and lovely here. Now she had to plan in earnest her escape and that of possibly others held captive. Time to stop wasting time reading books and focus on getting her legs strong. Hot tears of hatred rolled down her cheeks; for the first time in her life, she thought she could actually kill someone.

The next day two servants helped her down the halls. She could walk well enough with the help of the sticks, but they accompanied her to see that she did not fall. They were shown through a series of locked, heavily guarded doors to the harem keep. As they went Gabrielle made note of how many doors, their location, how many guards and any other detail she might need in the future. It was a slim chance perhaps, but she was determined not to give up. She would watch and listen. Learn anything that might be helpful and wait for her opportunity.

The keep itself was a large and opulent room filled with silk pillows sleeping mats and low tables carved from ivory. Elaborately carved latticework surrounded all the sides of the room. Young and beautiful women of all descriptions were scattered about the room, laughing, talking, playing instruments, painting, making jewelry, eating fruit, and drinking. There were about fifty in all. Male and female guards stood around the edges of the room like statues, not even looking at the women.

All the women were dressed in mere gossamer skirts and tops that covered very little.

A frightening thought occurred to Gabrielle; ‘If I'm in her harem then one day I may be summoned to the royal bedchamber myself’. She couldn’t even imagine lying with the Empress. ‘I can’t, I just can’t. After everything she’s done to me. I could never do that with her.’ she said to herself. That would be the last day of my life, the girl in the infirmary in her mind. She had to escape before that day came.

She sat carefully on some pillows near two girls who were weaving on small looms.

"Hello," one of them, a tiny oriental girl, greeted her. "My name is Ki, and this is Emerald." She gestured to the other girl, a very fair redhead.

"Gabrielle. How long have you both been here?"

They looked at each other.

"How many full moons?" Gabrielle rephrased.

"Not many."

"Can’t remember."

"Have you ever been asked to the royal…"?

"Shhh!" said Emerald, her eyes wide. She leaned in close to Gabrielle. "We never discuss her. It is not allowed. If she comes in don’t look at her or speak to her unless she asks you a question. Pretend she’s not even there. The punishments can be very severe."

"Would you like to learn to tight-weave?" Ki offered with a smile.

Gabrielle just nodded. ‘I guess I had better keep my mouth shut until I learn what the rules are.’

She got to be good friends with Ki and Em (as she liked to be called). They slept next to each other at night, ate their meals together and swam in the grotto pool that was provided for the harem. It was a cave like enclosure that resembled a large underground lake, with shallows and deep parts. The swimming made her legs stronger. She eventually no longer needed the polls and splints. When her legs would ache, Ki massaged them. She would braid Ki’s hair, which fell almost to her knees. They were free to roam between the keep, the grotto and the bathing room. They were kept clean, well fed and given things to do. It was almost too easy. ‘I can’t let myself relax,’ thought Gabrielle. ‘We’re all like the birds in that cage; she takes care of us but she can do whatever she wants to us.’

Part of the walls of each room were made of the same lattice-work, Gabrielle noted, and occasionally she thought she could see the same shadowy figures moving behind it. Perhaps there were passageways, so we could be watched without the watcher being seen.

She approached the lattice, when she thought no one would notice, and probed with one finger. It was made of iron and there was dark, tightly woven mesh behind it. But this close she could definitely see a passage.

Suddenly a guard was beside her, loudly pounding the butt of his spear on the floor once, neither looking at nor speaking to her. ‘I’ve broken a rule’ she thought, quickly moving back to her friends, ‘and that was a warning.’

During the night she could hear the sound of women who had paired off and were pleasuring each other. During the day, she observed them openly kissing and touching right in front of the guards. Apparently, this was not against the rules. Still the Empress did not appear. Once and awhile a girl was called away, and returned hours or days later. Sometimes the girl would return with lash marks and bruises, sometimes she’d return unscathed. The injured girls would sometime retreat to a corner and cry softly to her self. None of the others would make a move to comfort or even look at them. They chose not to think about or see the suffering, till it was their turn. They paid a high price for all the pampering and luxuries, Gabrielle thought sadly.

One morning a guard walked up to Gabrielle; "Follow." He said, without looking at her. Ki and Em went on about eating their breakfast as if they didn’t hear. But the command was not for them.

"FOLLOW." The guard repeated, rapping the spear on the floor.

She got up and did as she was instructed. ‘Gods this is it.’ She thought. She was steeling herself for the conflict to come, ‘ Be brave.’ She repeated to herself over and over, when to her astonishment she was led out to the magnificent courtyard she had admired from the window.

It was even more breathtaking than she remembered; everywhere she looked there were new enchantments; a huge stone sea serpent seemed to be swimming right through the ground; a cherub was poring water from a jug into a pond filled with large golden fish, another held up a birdbath; life-sized male and female statues held torches in upraised hands; and there were rose bushes of every color. The courtyard was enclosed on all sides by tall marble columns that supported the upper level terraces and walkways. On the ground level many doors and archways opened on to the court, each heavily guarded or gated. Gabrielle made mental notes of their number and location and that of the windows and terraces above. The bird atrium held large brightly colored, noisy parrots. On top of the grand three-tiered fountain was a statue of a woman with a fish’s tail instead of legs.

Her hand smoothed the cool stone of an incredibly life-like horse. ‘If it wasn’t for her, I’d be happy to stay here forever.’ She mused. ‘I could maybe climb the bird cage and jump to that balcony, it doesn’t look that far.’

"Gabrielle." She heard a female voice say. "My name is Sky."

A very lithe young girl approached her. She seemed friendly enough; she had finely chiseled features, large brown eyes, close-cropped dark hair, and skin that was so pale she appeared to be one of the statues. She was dressed only in a silk shawl that was wrapped around her under her arms.

" Please sit," she gestured Gabrielle to a stone bench. "I will teach you to dance."

"Maybe you better teach someone else, I’ve never been very go.."

The girl nervously glanced toward one of the archways and back again.

"That’s a wonderful idea, I’d love to!" Gabrielle hoped the girls’ forbidden look hadn’t been noticed.

Over the next several days the lessons continued at the same time and Gabrielle found herself enjoying them immensely. She learned to move her arms like a snake, to make circles with her ribcage, roll her hips one at time and make the muscles in her belly undulate up and down. Even she was surprised at how good she was becoming at it. ‘I could do this for a living when I get out of here.’ She thought.

One day in about the second week; she was had paused to drink from one of the fountains and take a rest on one of the benches, when she looked up to find Sky looking down at her strangely.

She dropped her wrap to the ground and stood there. She had tiny gold rings through each nipple, her navel and even two in her hairless nether region. She turned around and dropped to her knees in front of Gabrielle dropping her head to rest on her elbows on the ground.

Gabrielle had gotten used to the casual nudity of the harem and even had grown accustomed to roaming around in states of undress herself, but this vulgar display embarrassed her. Sky backed-up closer to Gabrielle, offering herself. Gabrielle folded her arms tightly around herself. ‘If I touch her we’ll both be punished.’ She thought ‘I won’t give her that satisfaction.’

Sky looked over her shoulder at Gabrielle and began to finger her own openings, as if showing her what to do. "Please," she whispered. "Please."

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle, said. "You don’t have to let people use you like that. You’re a human being, you.."

‘SKY!" a female voice thundered, freezing them both.

Gabrielle turned her head to see the Empress Xena herself leaning in an archway. She was not dressed in the elaborate kimono and headdress that Gabrielle had last seen her in on that fateful day. She was dressed head to foot in form-fitting black leather and silver breast plates. Her hair was loose and her lips were blood red. Gabrielle’s heart pounded with hatred and fear. ‘How can anyone so beautiful be so evil.’ In her gloved hand she held a silver handled flogger, but instead of leather strips this one was made of a hundred or so fine silver chains.

Sky ran over to the Empress and fell to her knees kissing, the tops of her boots.

"What is going on?" she demanded, toying with the silver chains.

"She refused to accept your gift, Highness." Sky answered, never looking up.

"Well, you know what happens to those who fail to give pleasure." Xena said softly, wrapping the tiny chains around her gloved fingers. "Now we get to play in my special room. You know the way."

"Yes Highness." They both turned to leave.

Without thinking Gabrielle bounded toward them. "NO!" She screamed. Two guards bared her way with spears. "SHE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING WRONG! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? XENA! XENAA!" Gabrielle might as well have said nothing at all for neither one of them even acknowledged her. Then, just before they disappeared from view, the Empress turned and looked right in her eyes. She draped the whip over one shoulder and gave Gabrielle a brilliant smile.

"Did you have a good lesson?" Em asked her when she returned. She and Ki were stringing tiny glass beads together. "You’re so lucky you get to go to the garden every day." Lucky yes, she thought. ‘They had to have heard me screaming. Doesn’t anyone care what happens around here?’ She felt ashamed that she didn’t offer to take the girl’s place. She never wanted to see the garden again as long as she lived. She wished Xena had left her alone to die on the cross. This was a nightmare.

Gabrielle never felt like doing much of anything after that. Apart from eating and bathing, she mostly lay in her pallet, covers pulled over her head, sleeping. She dreamed of home on her parent’s farm. The room she shared with her sister. The plans she had made of finding her one true love and getting married. The farm animals she’d loved so much she had named them all and their dog Prince. She often woke-up in tears.

"Why do you look so sad Gabrielle?" Ki asked her one day. They had both finished bathing and were sitting by the sides of the harems’ communal bath. Gabrielle continued to study the mural at the bottom of the bath, while Ki combed her wet hair. They were both wearing only short filmy shifts.

Two guards had entered the room and seemed to be searching among the girls for someone in particular. ‘Not again.’ Thought Gabrielle, as they approached. This time both she and Ki were summoned to follow. Outside the keep doors, the guards shackled both of their hands in front of them. Ki looked at her, shaking with fear. "Don’t let her see that you’re afraid. She enjoys it." Gabrielle said.

"SILENCE." Said the guard.

This time they were led out through the passages behind the lattices. Everything that went on in the harem could easily be seen from there. Gabrielle observed. This must lead directly to the royal chambers. If she no longer cares that we know about the passage, then we’re probably going to be killed. After whatever kind of hell awaits us.

They were ushered into a very large room decorated with barbarian splendor. A carved stone fireplace that was taller than a man, in front of which was the skin of a strange striped animal with the head still attached. Other beast’s heads hung from the walls mounted on wooden plaques. Spears, axes, swords, shields, wicked-looking knives and monstrous masks were displayed on the walls. In one corner chains hung from the ceiling, around these were hung an assortment of floggers. And SHE was there, sitting in a huge chair built out of animal horns and hides, on a raised dais. On her left side was a very large spotted cat with a chain around its neck; it looked at them flicking its long tail. (Gabrielle had never heard of a cat that was bigger than a dog!)

As they came closer Gabrielle could see the Empress was dressed in leathers and studded armor. The horns in the back of the chair seemed to grow out of the side of her head. Her black hair was tussled. Her beautiful blue eyes were fixed on Gabrielle’s and Gabrielle stared back defiantly.

‘No matter what she does to me, I will not scream or beg for her mercy.’

The guard took Gabrielle to a cushion on the right side of the throne and affixed her shackles to an iron ring in the floor. Now she found herself sitting next to the Empress’ throne looking at the terrified Ki who stood there with her head down.

"Cyclops! Warhorse!" the Empress called.

Two very large muscled men appeared, one had a shaved head and the other had close-cropped black hair, both were very handsome. They stood one on either side of Ki. She looked like a child next to them, not even reaching their shoulders. They were both naked except for short leather skirts.

"Highness," Gabrielle offered. " May I take my friends’ place and her punishment?"

"No you may not." Xena answered without turning her head.

She addressed the men; "For your loyal service you have the chance to earn a prize." She reached out her sword and cut the straps holding up Ki’s shift and it fell to the ground. "Do a good job of entertaining me with this whore and she’s yours to keep. Fail to entertain me," she placed the tip of the blade against Ki’s stomach. "And I’ll have to feed her entrails to my leopard."

Ki fell to her knees and started to beg and plead to Xena, who sat unmoved as the girl was dragged across the room by the men. They both removed their skirts and the shaved headed man sat open-legged in a chair, he grabbed Ki by the hair and forced her head toward his lap, the other man stepped up behind her, his thick manhood in his hand.

Gabrielle quickly turned her head and closed her eyes but she couldn’t shut out the sounds of Ki being violated. She felt like being sick.

"You’re not watching the show, my pet." She could feel Xena’s hand stroking her hair.

"You are a monster." Gabrielle said, choking back the bitterness that rose to the top of her throat.

"You say that like it’s a bad thing. Now look." Her hand jerked Gabrielle’s hair so that she faced the scene again. Her eyes opened for a second, just long enough to see Ki face-up sandwiched between the two huge men. " Some day you may have to choose between them, and me." She was allowed to turn away again; the Empress resumed stroking Gabrielle’s hair.

"I'm very generous to those who serve me well. You have a beautiful body, I shall like to see you dance for me, when I return from my hunting trip. Dancers and musicians earn many favors.

What was your trade before you came to be mine?"

"I used to write and tell stories." ‘And I'm not yours.’

"With lots of rape and killing?"

"I don’t write stories like that."

"You should, those are the kind I like." Xena purred.

"What happened to Sky?"

"I put her in my army’s brothel. She will be fine." ‘And I'm next.’ Thought Gabrielle. ‘If I don’t keep her entertained.’

"I want to go home."

"You are home."

The sounds of Ki being violated seemed to go on forever. Xena often offered her own depraved suggestions of what to do to her. Gabrielle kept her eyes tightly shut and her hands over her ears. There was a final scream and then silence.

"Highness" she heard one of the men say close by. Warhorse and Cyclops stood before the throne both bathed in sweat. Ki was draped over Warhorse’s shoulder, her body limp, her long hair brushing the floor.

"You both did an excellent job of saving that whore’s life." She heard Xena say. "You should be proud. She is yours to keep."

"Thank you Highness." They both bowed.

"Escort my pet; Gabrielle, back to the keep. She’s had enough excitement for one evening."

"Ki is not a whore," Gabrielle said to Xena as she was unchained."She's not."

Xena only grinned at her wickedly. "Don’t stop amusing me, now."

She was boiling with anger as she tried to sleep that night and Em was annoying her. Her friend kept trying to get closer and closer. "Em, it was horrible. Ki was used by two men at once." Gabrielle whispered. "So excuse me if I don’t feel like.."

"Gabrielle, I'm not trying to rut with you, I was trying to tell you that Warhorse is Ki’s husband."

Gabrielle was too stunned to answer.

"They were married for many full moons before you came. Xena likes to watch them make love, just like she does us. They do it all the time for her. Please don’t let anyone know what I told you, it could mean my life. I just don’t like to see you this upset."

‘Why is she doing this? Why is Xena tormenting me with all of these grand shows of cruelty? Because she knows nothing in the world can hurt me more than to see others suffering. What if Em says is true, and it is just a show? What if Em is the one lying about Ki being married? What if she’s working with Xena? In case she is I should be careful what I say and just play along.’

A few days later she was summoned to a corner of the keep to be dressed by the slaves for dancing before the Empress. From a small wooden case they produced finery the likes of which she had never seen. Her arms, neck and ankles were dressed with golden chains and cuffs. A sky blue gossamer skirt was fastened low on her hips. It was made of many gold trimmed panels that revealed her legs when she moved. The belt of the skirt was heavy with tassels and loops of stringed beads.

The bodice matched the skirt in color and was also decorated with strings of beads that hung down in a fringe that tickled her stomach. She winced as a slave pulled the laces of the bodice so tightly, that her breasts were pushed up and together. A delicately woven gold headdress was put over her head, framing her face. Her eyes and mouth were painted with tiny little brushes. And at the last a large crystal was pressed into her navel.

She felt like a different person as she was led once again through the passageways, the wide matching blue veil covering her. This time unchained, she felt like a fairy princess in an enchanted palace. Just like in one of the scroll stories.

‘But I'm not.’ She reminded herself. ‘I'm a prisoner, not a princess, and tonight I’ll be someone’s whore.’

This time she was led to a different room than the one she and Ki had gone to. The slaves left her at the doorway; she heard hypnotic music from inside the suites. Oh, how she loved music! What little she had heard in her life was nothing compared to this. A guard let her into the chamber.

The sounds and smells of the room almost intoxicated her. A group of harem girls made up a small band, playing flutes, drums, sitars and various other instruments. Strangely, they were all blindfolded.

On a low table, a feast was set out. There were meats, cheeses, fruits, breads, teas and wines.

At the head of the table sat the Empress, lounging on pillows, staring at Gabrielle as she entered.

Xena was dressed in a loosely belted red robe, her hair was brushed into black silk, and her lips were the same blood red.

"You look good enough to eat." She said, looking Gabrielle up and down. Those luminous blue eyes made her feel naked, as though they saw into her very soul. She bit into a large strawberry and moved her tongue inside of the fruit obscenely. Gabrielle sat dazed onto another pile of cushions. "Please, help yourself to whatever you want. I brought down the venison myself, just this afternoon. It’s very savory. I want to keep you filled out."

Even this uncomfortably close to the Empress, Gabrielle found she was too hungry to resist and sampled much of the food, which was heavenly. Xena just watched her, sipping wine from a goblet, occasionally indulging in a morsel of food.

"You may speak freely."

"Do you have to stare at me like that all the time?" Gabrielle asked her, a little annoyed.

"I like looking at you. I can do any thing I want to you. And I was just wondering, - if you had thought about picking up one of the knives from the table and attacking me with it. I hope you don’t. I'm a seasoned warrior, and I could cut you in half before you put a scratch on me. I would miss your company. Don’t we always have a fun time together?"

‘You would miss tormenting me.’ Gabrielle thought.

"After you dance for me, perhaps we can get better acquainted." Xena ran her tongue over her lips.

Gabrielle said nothing, as if she had not heard, and kept sipping her wine. ‘Or maybe I’ll kill myself with one of these knives.’ She thought.

Just then Cyclops and Warhorse entered the room. Between them was Em, naked, blindfolded with her hands bound behind her back. They deposited her on her knees in front of the musicians.

"What is this?" Gabrielle demanded.

"Just a little extra motivation for you. If your dancing pleases me, no harm will come to her."

"Take her back now. Or I won’t dance at all."

"You’re in no position to make demands of me. I'm your Empress and if it pleases me I’ll have you both slaughtered right now." Xena warned in a low voice. "Now rise and dance for me."

Gabrielle got up from the table on shaky knees, with a pounding heart. The music switched to a slow sensual rhythm. She began to move haltingly, at first, then remembering she must do well she tried to get over her embarrassment and move slower. Demonstrating the moves that Sky had taught her, she finally fell into step with the music and the moves felt more natural. She moved her arms like they had no bones. She held them above her head so her whole frame was stretched and moved her ribcage forward, followed by her hips. She did this several times as slowly as she could. She twirled around in a circle holding her vale so that it flew around her like wings.

She stopped, facing Xena and looking her straight in the eyes, rolled one hip then the other slowly toward her. The Empress seemed frozen, transfixed by the sight. Gabrielle clasped her hands above her head and rippled her belly muscles, first up and down then down and up. The Empresses eyes seemed riveted on the jewel in her navel. Gabrielle was enjoying the effect she was having on the Empress. She found herself trying to be as tempting as she could. The Empress nodded and the two bodyguards exited the room with Em.

‘Now it’s my turn to tease and torment.’ Thought Gabrielle. ‘But how do I end this?’

Gabrielle turned, and with her back to the Empress, moved her hips ever so slowly. ‘She wants a show, I’ll show her what she can never have.’ And with an exaggerated movement of one hand, she reached around and undid the laces of her bodice. The heavy garment slipped off her arms and fell to the floor. Now except for all the jewelry she was naked from the hips on up. She continued to move her hips slowly and held the veil up under her eyes and turned back to face the Empress. Her full breasts and sharp nipples revealed under the transparent veil. Her dance and nakedness were having the desired effect. Xena stared at her body with heavy lidded eyes that were full of undisguised lust. So much so that Gabrielle thought she would jump up and attack her at any moment. Gabrielle couldn’t resist the temptation to tease the Empress. She sank to her knees and bent her body backward till her head touched the floor, still undulating her hips and ribcage.

She suddenly felt herself pulled to her feet by strong hands around her wrists and then she was upside down over the Empress’s shoulder. She was alarmed that a woman had the strength to carry her like that with such apparent lack of effort. She was carried through an archway to a large room with a roaring fireplace and the biggest bed she had ever seen. She was lowered to her feet near the fur-covered bed.

The Empress lay back on the bed and leaning on her elbows, smiled wickedly up at Gabrielle. Her robe had fallen open to reveal the longest most beautiful pair of legs Gabrielle had ever seen. She wondered what it would be like to run her hand along their length. What would that smooth tawny skin feel like? ‘Stop it!’ she told herself. ‘Don’t be a fool.’ She lowered her eyes.

Xena patted the spot on the bed next to her.

"Come on now, let’s have some fun. I won’t hurt you, like the others. Why don’t you do that little dance in my lap?"

Gabrielle’s chest was burning with her anger.

"Do you really expect me to lay with you after everything you’ve done to me?"

"You can’t stay mad at me forever for having your legs broken. Didn't I see to it that my healer tended them? You’re fine now! I’ve given you everything you could ever want. You have an easy life, surrounded by beauty and peace. You’re protected from harm; you have beautiful clothes to wear; you never go hungry; the rain never even touches your head! Is it to much to ask that you show me a little appreciation?!" Xena raged at her.

"I'm your slave! Because of you my family lost everything they had! You crucified me, had my legs broken and left me to die a slow death, like I was nothing! You cheated me out of my home; my freedom; my life; and even my death! I could never lay with someone I don’t love. I will never lay with you Xena." Tears of anger ran down Gabrielle’s face. "If you had done no harm to me ever, I still could not stand the sight of you. I will always hate you more than any living thing on earth and I will never lay with you, I swear it!"

Xena’s face hardened. "I could force you."

Gabrielle could not answer, she could only stand there shaking with fear and anger, her eyes fixed on the floor. She stood paralyzed as she heard Xena call the two bodyguards. Felt them standing next to her, each holding one of her arms in a strong grasp. Maybe she had gone too far, made a mistake. She just wanted to say things to Xena that would hurt her as much as possible. She must never find out that Gabrielle harbored growing feelings that she was deeply ashamed of. Her courage was gone and she was afraid. She expected to feel a blade enter her body at any moment.

That’s when she felt the gentlest of kisses touch her forehead; the same lips first softly touched one eyelid then the other. She had never felt anything like it in her life. Two arms enfolded her as tenderly as a mother would hold her baby, and the soft, warm lips pressed hers, sucking on them so tenderly. She did not want to open her eyes; did not want the dream to end.

But the arms and mouth withdrew and Gabrielle opened her eyes to find her enemy’s face mere inches above hers. The blue eyes holding hers.

"I just thought you would like a sample of what you’ll be missing tonight." Xena said softly.

"Return her to the keep." She said with no other look or word to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle threw off the costume into its box, sobbing uncontrollably. She didn’t remember dressing, but went to bed and to sleep.

Xena stormed to the room where the orchestra had stopped playing and awaited further instructions, still blindfolded. Xena’s gaze settled on a girl who had the misfortune of being a blonde. She strode over and grabbed the girl by her hair and dragged her behind her to the bedchamber, the blond girl struggling to stay on her feet. "You’re not nearly as pretty as she is, but I guess you’ll do, for now." She said throwing the girl on the bed. The slave had been here before and lay on her back submissively, still wearing her blindfold. Xena tore off the girl’s skirt and retched her legs apart. She did not even feel like kissing her, but quickly and violently penetrated her with her whole fist. She continued to piston her fist in and out, fast and hard as she could, till the girl was crying out in fear and pain, and she herself was exhausted and wet with sweat. She withdrew her hand from the slave and picked up a knotted flogger she kept near the bed. She held it in her hand for a second, looking down at the pathetic slave girl. She threw it across the room.

"GET OUT OF MY SIGHT" Xena yelled at the girl. "GET OUT!"

In Gabrielle’s dreams they were together as if nothing were wrong, their naked bodies intertwined in the most beautiful expression of mutual affection. She could even feel the weight of the Empresses body on top of her, so realistic was her dream.

She awoke with a start, breathless; looking around the darkened harem room till she was satisfied that it was just a dream. The warm feeling of her own submission still lingered. She lay there on her back and closed her eyes trying to recapture the feeling, to remember exactly everything that occurred in the dream.

‘What are you doing?’ she said to herself. ‘You hate her remember? You must never forget that. Don’t think about her, think about home; of mother and father, think about the moment when the mallet broke your legs. How much it hurt, how many hours you hung there in horrible pain.’ All she could see when she closed her eyes was Xena’s face. The most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. ‘She’s never hurt me since she put me in the harem, though she’s hurt others. She could have forced herself on me last night but she didn’t. It’s as though she treating me with some sort of respect that she gives to very few. Maybe she does like me…Oh Hestia help me!’ Gabrielle cried. ‘I can’t think about her like this. She is evil. I have to take control of my emotions. I can’t allow myself to fall under whatever spell she’s cast on me.’

Xena’s advisors from the west brought the latest news of the growing resistance movement, or the Crusaders, as they had called themselves, led by a woman named Najara. They had been traveling from province to province, gathering members who were only too eager to join up with a leader who promised freedom. Xena’s governors had allowed them to gather unmolested just several hundred

Miles beyond the Empress’s lands. They were heading her way, just as she had calculated they would. And they would be allowed to come closer still.

"Shall we send in a legion to wipe out the vermin, Highness?" asked the emissary.

"We’ll send a few hundred troops to bloody their noses a bit, just so they don’t wonder why its been too easy." Said Xena licking her lips. "Make sure no harm comes to their leader, save her for me."

"Very good, your Highness." The emissary smiled.

"You’ll be my guest for a few days, long enough to stay for a small ceremony." Xena said.


"Yes, my wedding. I’ve decided to take a Queen."

"This is lovely news. I'm quite honored." He bowed. Secretly, he puzzled; ‘who in their right mind would marry her?’

Gabrielle was shown to the trophy room again, this time alone. She was dressed in a simple off-the-shoulder white gown, with her wavy blond hair loose. The Empress stood in the room alone, waiting for her. She was a tall, imposing figure and the black leather armor made her seem even larger. Gabrielle could feel her heart pounding at the mere nearness of her [enemy?] and tried to avoid looking into those eyes. It was hard, she wanted to more than anything.

"You look lovely." Xena said softly to her.

Gabrielle didn’t answer. This was exactly what she was fearing would happen; the Empress

was attempting to forge a bond between them. She did not know if she could stand this much longer.

"We need to talk. I have something I want to tell you."

Gabrielle still did not look at or answer her, she was determined to show her only coldness.

The Empress came closer, till they were only inches apart. Still Gabrielle kept her eyes on

the floor.

"Can’t you look at me when I'm talking to you?" Xena said softly, lifting Gabrielle’s chin till

they were face-to-face. Gabrielle wanted to run, but her body would not move.

"I’ve decided to make you my Queen."

This time Gabrielle had no trouble moving; she gave a little cry and turned to run. Xena

caught her in two strong arms before she barely took one step.

"Let me go!" Gabrielle cried panic stricken.

"Sshh, little one. Calm down." Xena whispered in her ear. "I’ve seen the way you look at me. I know you have feelings for me no matter how hard you try to hide them; everything shows in your eyes. I love the way you stand up to me. No one else does. They do everything I command, like sheep. They’re stupid, and they bore me. They deserve to be beaten. You’re different; you respect yourself. You’re honest and brave. You have the heart of a lion, the heart of a Queen. When I rule, I want you to be at my side. I want you to help raise my children, our children. I want them to be like you, strong in mind as well as body. I’ll find the most beautiful babies in the world for you." Tears flowed down Gabrielle’s face; she loved children and had always dreamed of marrying and having her own, -but not like this!

"Pick somebody else!" she sobbed.

"I don’t want anyone else. No one else is worthy. You should be proud. If you accept me as your wife, you’ll never regret it, I promise. I’ll have your parents set up in a beautiful villa by the sea; they’ll never have to work in the fields again. You can be in charge of building hospitals, schools and theaters in every province, wouldn’t you like that Gabrielle?" the Empress said, kissing the side of Gabrielle’s head. "You can help so many people as Queen. Queen Gabrielle."

"I can’t Xena, you know I can’t." Gabrielle sobbed, "I don’t want anything from you. Everything you have is just spoils of war stolen from other people. I don’t want any part of it, and I don’t want you."

Xena pushed her away. For a brief second, Gabrielle thought she saw hurt in the Empress’s eyes, then the stern, mean look was back.

"You don’t have a choice. The world is mine and everyone in it is my servant, including you. You will obey me." The Empress told her in a low voice. "In a few days we will be married and you’ll move into my chambers. I suggest you get used to the idea. Don’t be so stubborn."

Gabrielle was shown to a small luxurious bedroom of her own instead of the harem-keep. It had a balcony that opened onto the courtyard that she loved so much, and was full of natural light. She stepped through the billowing, sheer draperies to the small balcony feeling lonelier than she ever had in her life. Everything seemed hopeless; it was a nightmare. Married to Xena, she would never be able to find and fall in love with somebody special, like she had always dreamed of doing. That door would be closed forever. Marriage was a responsibility Gabrielle had always held sacred. She would be bound by loyalty to a creature so vile, so evil that her own soul would be forever tainted. She thought about killing herself, but how? And she would be condemned to Tartarus for the unforgivable sin. She didn’t think she could bring herself to do that no matter how desperate she was. Maybe she could make the Empress angry enough to murder her.

Why was the Empress marrying her in the first place? Gabrielle knew the Empress was so powerful now that she needed no one’s help ruling the realm. It must be another way of tormenting her. All of these thoughts were whirling like a dust storm in her mind, making her dizzy. Her head throbbed. A fresh breeze from the courtyard brushed the hair from her face. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind.

Her revere was broken by the sensual, haunting sound of a woman singing a ballad of star-crossed lovers. The lilt and tone were husky and perfectly hypnotic to Gabrielle’s senses. She opened moist eyes to see the Empress standing on the balcony opposite of the court to hers. Her enjoyment of the Empress voice and beauty kept her frozen to the spot for a few minutes.

Xena’s look of self-satisfaction disgusted Gabrielle. She tore from the window and dove into the little bed, pulling the covers over her head. She tried to imagine herself someplace else. The seductive singing continued however, lulling Gabrielle to sleep.

The next day Gabrielle was roused early by slaves and dressed in a riding frock. After a light breakfast, she was taken to the main court where a large riding party was assembled. Two columns of Imperial Guards were poised to lead, and two to follow. There were several dozen-pack horses, about thirty male and female slaves on horseback and two rider-less mounts. Gabrielle was shown to one of these horses that was next to a small flight of stairs. All she had to do was climb the steps and lower herself into the sidesaddle.

‘I-I don’t know how to ride." She said to one of the slaves.

"Don’t worry miss, someone will lead him, just hold on."

Gabrielle nervously, lowered her self onto the saddle, which was surprisingly comfortable.

The Empress strode out to the other horse, dressed in her black leathers and armor, her height allowing her to easily step up into the saddle. She did not speak to Gabrielle, but gave the command to the party to set out. A slave took the reigns of Gabrielle’s horse and led her a few paces behind the Empress. "We are going to the hunting camp, Lady." The slave leading the horse told her. After that she was pretty much ignored by everyone in the hunting party, including Xena. But she could guess that she was being closely guarded both from attack and escape.

They left the environs of the palace and Gabrielle was enjoying being outside, remembering that the last time she had passed through the gates, she had been a prisoner looking through the iron bars of a wagon. It seemed to be lifetimes ago.

They traveled along tree-lined roads, past villages, orchards, grain-fields, and fragrant vineyards that seemed to stretch on forever. Gabrielle was enjoying the hot sun on her face, and the birds singing. She almost felt like she was a free woman again. She had resolved to enjoy those moments of her life when she found herself alone, when she could at least pretend that everything was normal again. But thoughts of the Empress kept creeping into her mind, almost constantly now and it would surely get worse after their marriage. The way she saw it she had one of two choices; she could either try to be a friend and good wife to Xena or she could be cold and unresponsive. The latter of which would cause unbearable stress and the rest of Gabrielle’s life to be very hard indeed. With Xena against her, it would be impossible to use any power she might have as a Queen to do positive things. She remembered that Xena could be very generous.

They arrived by dusk at a large tent filled permanent hunting encampment. It rivaled a large village about a hundred small tents and a large mess tent already had been inhabited by guards and troops. There was also one large group of elaborate tents for the Empress and her personal slaves. Beyond the camp Gabrielle could see several small boats moored by a swiftly moving river.

Ki, who she thought she would never see again, led Gabrielle to a large multi-roomed tent. Ki seemed to be fine and even happy.

"Gabrielle you are so lucky."

"Why does everyone keep telling me that?" they were left alone in a small tent room where a tub of hot water, soap and towels was waiting for her.

"Gabrielle, you’ve never.."

Gabrielle shook her head.

"Don’t worry about tonight. Highness is very fond of you. I can tell. She is a very skillful lover and quite passionate. Don’t let that frighten you. Be submissive, but not till the end. She’ll see to your pleasures first."

"Does it hurt?" Gabrielle asked, shyly.

"Just a little. But it’s worth it! Everyone is a little scared the first time. You’ll wonder what you were scared of, then you want to do it all the time."

"You talk like.. have you been, with her?" Gabrielle asked.

"Oh, I was her bed-slave for a short time. She let me go when she learned Warhorse and I had fallen in love."

This astonished Gabrielle. "She never saw that as a betrayal?"

"No. She even blessed our union. I’m so happy for you both. We’ll see each other all the time now. I bet she’ll make me your personal servant. I have one thing I need to do for you after your bath."

She bathed and dried herself as quickly as possible, fearing that Xena might choose to walk in on her at any minute. ‘How silly I'm being,’ she thought. ‘She’s probably watched me bathe a thousand times in the harem. And if she wants to come in here and grab me a few silken drapes won’t stop her-nothing will.’ She found a delicate white tunic, lay out on a small bed and slipped it on. Her hand moved down between her legs to tentatively touch the clean-shaven skin there. It was such a strange sensation. So soft, so smooth. Ki had carefully shaved her with a small, very sharp blade after applying a cream that made it glide over the skin smoothly. Another slave girl had stood watch over the proceeding, bearing witness that Gabrielle remained innocent. Ki said that it had been a tradition in some cultures.

She was amazed how used she had gotten to having everything done for her. She never had to fetch heavy buckets of water from the well, help prepare meals, gather eggs, wash clothes, sweep, do the mending ….It made her mind spin thinking how hard she worked at home. Home. It seemed like another life. Someone else’s life.

‘She has me spoiled. Like the handsome prince in a fairy-tale. I used to tell stories like that.’ Wearily, she curled-up on the small bed and fell asleep. Latter she was awakened and attended a feast at a low, long table in the larger tent-room. Many men and women she didn’t recognize were at the table, with the Empress at the head of it, deep in conversation with a very frightening-looking older woman.

The woman was almost obscured by her robes and beaded headdress. Her eyes were intense and ringed with black. As she studied Gabrielle, a grin spread over her thick lips. She stroked the head of small blond girl next to her that apparently belonged to her. They both looked at Gabrielle as though she was a piece of meat and they were starving. Gabrielle was suddenly embarrassed about how much of her chest was exposed by the gown she was wearing. Xena did glance at her as she sat on the pillows near the center of the table and she did not look too pleased. Gabrielle wondered if she should have set closer to the Empress, but there didn't seem to be enough room.

"Your bride is bountifully endowed Xena. Perhaps we may have a small taste after you have broken her in?" she said in a gravelly voice.

"Over your dead body Alti," Xena said suddenly standing up. "And your little bitch’s too."

Xena sat down behind Gabrielle, arms and legs enfolding her, while she chose food for the both of them to eat. Gabrielle was glad for the closeness now; she leaned in to Xena’s body, grateful for the protection from the strangers.

When the dinner was over and Xena retired to her tent to prepare for her wedding, Alti barged in. By the look on the shaman’s face Xena knew what she was thinking.

"Not this one Alti, no one touches her but me."

"You and I shared Fenica. We nearly killed her." Alti reminded her.

Xena remembered that time; Alti’s little mate was scarred with lash marks. She vowed that Gabrielle’s creamy skin would never be marred like that.

"We both want her. The three of us could…."

Xena turned and stopped the witch with a stare that could make grown men cower.

"I helped you defeat the Amazon nation and the Centaurs, Empress!"

"And I gave you everything you asked for! The blood of my enemies. The choice lands that you wanted and the pick of the slaves-including that little wench of yours. I owe you nothing, Alti."

Alti’s face grew dark. " With a curse, I can make sure you never know the love of your new bride."

By the time Alti had read Xena’s thought, her head was rolling in the dirt, so cleanly severed from her body that she felt nothing but a light breeze. In the last second of her life she saw Xena standing, sword-in-hand, observing the red geysers sprouting from her headless body before it finally crumpled to the ground.

Guards rushed in at the sounds.

"Clean up this mess," she said. "You can give her bitch to the troops, I don’t care."


Later that evening they stood together in the tent that was outfitted to be a temple dedicated to Ares. Xena stood on one side of a flaming cauldron and Gabrielle the other, mesmerized by the sight of the Empress illuminated by the flames. She was dressed in her battle leathers and armor, a heavy fur cloak that made her look even taller and more broad-shouldered than she was. Xena stared at her intensely. Something stirred within Gabrielle; a restlessness. Offhandedly, she wondered where the witch-woman had disappeared to.

A Priest in robes stood on a third side of the cauldron and unfurled the scroll, preparing to perform the marriage ceremony. Xena attempted to join hands with Gabrielle, but she jerked them away instinctively.

"Can’t you see she’s not willing?" The Priest grumbled at Xena.

"Mind your business old man!" she warned, placing her hand on the hilt of her sword. "You can be replaced, you know."

After both brides exchanged the words, they drank from intertwined goblets. Xena put a beautiful gold ring on Gabrielle’s finger. Attached to the ring were two golden chains that were attached to an elaborately engraved gold bracelet.

"This token will inform others that Gabrielle belongs to the Empress and the Realm forever."

The priest of Ares announced. A servant came fore ward and with iron tongs he, very gently, squeezed the two ends of the bracelet together, till they meshed under Gabrielle’s wrist. She read the inscription in the cauldron-light;


She accepted Xena’s kiss in a daze.

They went outside to join troops, slaves and guests in a huge celebration. There was dancing music and much drink. Xena and Gabrielle, now Queen Gabrielle, sat hand in hand observing the erotic dancing of some shapely slave girls. Drums played a sensual rhythm. The dancers soon shed their gossamer shifts and pared off in groups of two and three. They commenced to perform a variety of lovemaking acts on one another. Xena sat behind Gabrielle, enfolding her in her arms; her hot breath on Gabrielle’s throat. Suddenly she pulled Gabrielle’s head back and covered her mouth in a savage kiss. The sensation of being off balance caused her hands to reach out for something to hold on to. Her arm reached around the Empress’s neck. Loosing her self in the deepening kiss, Gabrielle stroked the cool raven hair she’d been dying to touch for so long. Xena moaned into her mouth. She felt intoxicated with Xena’s presence. She found herself arching her back as the warm hands of the Empress moved to cup and caress her breasts.

Xena suddenly broke off their kiss and stood pulling Gabrielle to her feet with her. The crowd was clapping rhythmically and shouting "Xena! Xena!" As she lead Gabrielle back to the royal tents by her hand. The shouts and whooping of the crowd followed them. As they passed through the entrance to Xena’s opulent sleeping enclosure, Gabrielle felt herself swept up off of her feet into the Empress’s arms. She found herself unwilling to resist any longer but rested her head on Xena’s strong shoulder. Xena sat on the edge of the large fur covered bed, Gabrielle stood before her. She easily tore the gown Gabrielle was wearing to the waist and began to cover her belly with wet noisy kisses.

"You swore once you would never lay with me." She said in a throaty voice. "Do you want me to stop?"

"No." Gabrielle whispered. Xena turned her around and laid her down on the bed. Gabrielle felt a shudder of fear as the warrior rose above her, the weight of her body trapping her. Hear breath was rapid and her eyes were wide, as she realized she was finally about to be taken. Xena stared kissing her deeply, her tongue invading Gabrielle’s mouth. She soon found herself caressing Xena’s tongue with her own. She started to struggle a little when she felt the hand pushing up her gown to her hips.

"You’re not afraid of me now, are you? Just let go." A finger lightly traced over the skin between her legs, making her shudder.

"I am the falcon, you are the dove. With my talons, I take you, flying above. Together we fall, through the clouds, into love."

"Did you write that, Xena?"

"Gods no! I have no talent for such things. I just remembered it from long ago. It reminds me of us." Xena smiled down at her so beautifully.

This was the moment that the crusaders chose to launch a surprise attack on the camp. They could hear horses and men running and shouting. Xena jumped up and went to the entrance.

"Stay there." She said to Gabrielle, who was pulling a sheet to cover herself.

"What is going on!" Xena shouted to her second in command.

"The crusaders Highness, a small band of them, have hit us and run. Most of them are being killed."

"Suicide! The cowards." She quickly donned a cloak to cover her state of undress and headed out of the tent with her weapons. "Look after the Queen!" she shouted to two of the guards. "If any harm comes to her, you die."

She turned just in time to see one of the crusaders riding straight toward her, horse at full gallop, sword raised. Deftly avoiding his blow, she swung as he passed, slicing through the saddle’s cinch.

The man fell to the ground his weapon out of reach. Before the royal guards could run to Xena’s defense she had buried her sword in the crusaders chest, twisting it for good measure.

"Throw their bodies into the river. How dare they interrupt my wedding night."

Gabrielle did not remember finding a part of the tent wall that was lax enough to crawl under. Did not remember running through the camp, unnoticed in all of the confusion and darkness nor finding the heavy cloak that covered her. But she found herself on the floor of one of the small boats, being carried away down river by the strong currents.


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