The current of the river was swifter than she had anticipated, carrying her away from the point of her escape in a matter of minutes. She could hear the sounds of fighting in the hunting camp and the sounds of men dying, probably at the hands of the Empress and her troops. In a panic she had grabbed the only oar she found in the bottom of the boat and had tried to paddle the small canoe back to the shore, maybe she could get back to the Empress's tent before she was noticed missing. But the current washing her down-river was just too strong. It was too dark to see anything but the fires at the camp through the thick trees and foliage. And it was getting more difficult to keep the fires in sight by the minute.

Gabrielle shivered through the thin silk gown she was wearing, torn almost in half by the Empress in her eagerness to have access to her new wife's body. The dainty slippers she wore were not meant for slogging through the mud or keeping feet warm. She pulled the rough woolen cloak around her. She could not see a thing now. Only blackness all around her.

'Why did I do such a foolish thing? I m free now but I'm lost and I'll probably drown out here. If I live through the night, she'll kill me when she finds me.' She thought about calling out for help, but what if one of Xena's enemies found her? And what would they do when they discovered she was the Queen? She had tried to remove the bracelet, but it would not budge. She took a strip off the cloak and rapped it around her hand, obscuring the bracelet and ring, and then she lay down in the bottom of the boat, trying to get comfortable.

Xena was livid. "How could this happen! I turn my back for two minutes, two minutes!"

Warhorse and his wife Ki were bound and on their knees before her. "Is this how you repay my generosity? " She had donned her battle leathers and had gathered her weapons to search for the Queen. "Ki, you were the last one to speak to the Queen, besides myself."

"She gave no indication that she wanted to leave, Highness. I swear."

"Highness, we had no part in her escape." Warhorse started to explain.

"No, but if she has been abducted by that bitch and her followers, YOU let it happen. I told you to watch out for the Queen, not me, and what would happen if you failed. So its very simple, isn't it?" She turned to the entrance to leave. "I just don't have time to execute you right now."

They could find no tracks in the dirt at the back of the tent, all of the horses and people running around in the confusion had torn-up the soft ground in the camp, making it impossible to discern one set of tracks from another

"Any boats missing?" She asked a guard returning from the shore.

"Several, Highness. Some of the slaves must have…" he realized too late the offense. Luckily, Xena only glared at him in the torchlight. "Pardon Highness, I did not mean to imply that the Queen is.." She raised a hand to silence him.

"All that matters to me now that she is found quickly, and safe. Take two boats, don't use any torches, you'll make yourselves targets if you do. Do the best you can in the dark, use your ears. There will be a very handsome reward for the men who find the Queen safe. I will take a small band and follow the shoreline down river. I have forces coming up behind to surround them through the tunnel system. Lets move."

She had nothing but finding her wife on her mind. She feared that Alti's curse was coming to pass. Not if she could help it! And if Gabrielle had left on her own, she would at least redden her ass but good for this, then give her a plowing that left no doubt in her mind who was in charge.

It was dawn and Gabrielle awoke on the fog-shrouded river, to find that two men were pulling the little boat onto the shore. They did not wear the uniforms of Xena's guards or troops, they were dressed as commoners.

"Another refugee. Don't worry little miss, you're among friends. You're safe now; we'll hide you from the dark one."

They helped her from the boat to the shore, it was hard to climb out and keep her near-nakedness covered. She was shown to a well-hidden cavern were a collection of refugees were grouped around campfires. She quickly scanned the enclosure for any familiar faces, any slaves or servants of Xena's that might betray her true identity. Finding none, she sat down on a log and placed her numb feet as close to the open fire as she dared. She stared at the flames and she thought of Xena, wondering how she could get back to the camp, and beg her forgiveness. She had never expected that she would miss her so much. 'My wife.' She thought to herself. 'The woman I love.' She finally admitted to herself. She felt like a hand was around her heart, squeezing it to death.

They appeared to have very little in the way of necessities, such as blankets, food and warm clothing. There were no able-bodied men, or young women around; mostly mothers and their children huddled together. 'This gold bracelet would feed a lot of hungry people if I could just get it off. If I get someone to help me pry it off, then, they will find out who I am and who knows what they will do with me.'

A small woman dressed in tan and blue battle leathers entered the cave, accompanied by two solders. Many of the refugees turned their attentions to her and many stood to greet her and thank her and ask her how the battle had gone.

"Our efforts last night were largely unsuccessful, but do not loose faith." She said in the gentlest of voices. "The light will always vanquish the darkness, and eventually the forces of light and goodness will help us to overcome the dark one." She exchanged pleasantries with many of the refugees, eventually making her way to Gabrielle.

"Well, hello, I'm Najara." She clasped Gabrielle's hand and smiled warmly. She was a slight, lovely young woman with delicate, bird-like features. "You're new here aren't you?"

Gabrielle nodded. "My name is- Bri." She thought it best not to reveal her real name, but she liked the woman immediately.

"You, are the leader?"

"Surprised? One need not be huge and frightening to lead others, only just and truthful." She looked Gabrielle up and down.

"You need more suitable clothes, before you catch your death. I think I have a pair of my old boots that should fit you. Come with me." She put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and led her away.

'Good, with a pair of decent boots, maybe I can walk back.'

Xena had an uncanny, almost animal-like ability to find her way about in the dark. Never stopping to rest, she led her guard on an all-night trek through the dense woods parallel to the river for miles on end. Woods that grew too thick for even horses to pass, only warriors single file. Warriors that soon doubled over try to catch a breath, or tripped over an unseen tree root, in their effort to keep up with a leader that soon became the silent nightmare of inexperienced lookouts, as the most beautiful woman they would ever encounter in their lifetime slit their throats from behind.

Najara's accommodations were modest and small; she politely kept her back turned as Gabrielle changed into a borrowed tunic and boots. At least these were warm.

"Much better." Najara said smiling sweetly at Gabrielle. She examined the torn silk gown. "I've never seen a slave wear anything this fine."

"I'm not a .." Gabrielle started, and then thought better of it.

"I can only imagine what you had to do or endure to stay alive, in that place-I've heard stories." She shook her head. "But you can't let your heart be hardened."

"I have to go back."


"To Xena. To the palace. I should never have left. I have to go back and try to make things right. I have friends there, they'll be harmed if I don't."

"What do you think will happen to you if you do go back? A young, innocent girl like you will be changed forever, if you spend much more time in the presence of such debauchery. You'll be beaten, or worse. Is that what you want? You should stay with us. You're free now, to stay that way join us, join the cause. We will eventually rid the world of the dark one."

Gabrielle was angry now. "You don't know what she's capable of. She has all the power. You'll just get thousands of innocent people killed. I don't belong here. I have to go back before she does something to my parents. She knows where they are."

"I see." Najara said softly. "You're in love with her."

Gabrielle turned her face away to hide her moist eyes. 'Yes, I am.'

"Do you really think that your love can change her? Somehow soften her heart, transform her into a human being? She is what she is. Your love means nothing to her; you mean nothing to her but another plaything for her bed. If she doesn't kill you for running away. And where will you be when she tires of you? When you grow a little older?"

"You don't understand anything."

"I understand that someone like me could not offer you as much, finery like this." She shook the handful of silk gown. "The life of luxury that you sold your soul for. You are blinded by lust and greed, let us show you a different way."

"Shut up! You don't even know me."

"We could use your help. You know the difference between right and wrong; join the side of right."

"It's right in your eyes. What ever is between Xena and me is none of your business. If I want to go back I will."

Najara's hands gently grasped her shoulders. "I won't let you leave, Gabrielle." She said, moving to kiss Gabrielle's lips.

Gabrielle broke away. "What are you doing? How did you know my name?"

Najara grabbed Gabrielle by the throat in an iron grip. Choking, she tried to free herself but the small woman's hand held fast.

"It wasn't even your idea to run away. It was mine! Queen Gabrielle. Didn't you feel me pushing you? Did you ever wonder how you escaped without being seen? I sent those poor fools in to attack knowing she would kill them all. And they provided the perfect distraction. They almost didn't make it in time, did they? Before she took your innocence. I had to stop her from doing that." Her voice sounding rougher. She grew taller and her hair and eyes grew dark. Before Gabrielle's horrified eyes she turned into the witch she recognized from the wedding feast.

"I need your virgin blood for the spell. It will make me so powerful that not even Ares himself can save his chosen one."

What frightened Gabrielle most was the thought of something happening to Xena, and the fact that she would die without ever having been with her. The hands tightened their grip and Gabrielle fainted. Alti realized she would have to work quickly; she could feel Xena very near now and heard the sound of fighting far off. She let Gabrielle slump to the ground.

Xena and her guard entered the camp of the crusaders slashing their way through the small number of brave men and women that met their invasion. They were confused and no match for the ferocity, training and experience of the Empress's forces. She had chosen men and women that enjoyed battle and killing as much as she did. "GABRIELLE!" Xena shouted between beheading one crusader and gutting another. The volunteers that lived through the first few seconds of the brief battle scurried for the river or the rocky hillsides that hid the cavern. "KILL THEM ALL!" Xena shouted. Her Imperial guardsmen drew their bows and shot each retreating crusader several times. They died wondering why their inspiring leader had deserted them. "GABRIELLE!"

Alti gathered the things she needed to complete the spell, a golden chalice and her ceremonial dagger that had been hidden from sight till then. With the dagger she cut the palm of Gabrielle's hand and drained some of the blood into the cup, mixing it with the herbs and other obscene ingredients. She drew a circle in the dirt with the dagger and stepped inside. She then raised the chalice toward the sky then drank down the pungent contents. Immediately she began to convulse violently, foaming at the mouth and screeching. The hellish noise had awoken Gabrielle and she now crawled toward the tent opening, keeping as far away from the twisting, pulsating form growing ever larger on the floor.

Xena ran toward the sound of the witch's screeching to see her Queen emerge from the small tent. For a second their eyes met. The sight of so many scattered bodies, the blood-spattered warrior Empress, holding dripping sword, and the battle-crazed look in her eyes, made Gabrielle fear for her life and she bolted for the rocky hillside. She didn't get far as the Empress closed the distance between them quickly with her long strides, waving to her guard to hold their fire. Certain she was about to be killed Gabrielle kicked out as hard as she could, when she felt the powerful hand grip one of her ankles. The loose stones gave out beneath her hands and she slid into the waiting arms of the Empress. Xena held her so tightly that she could hardly breathe, covering her face with kisses. "I thought I lost you." She breathed into Gabrielle's hair. "I'll never let you out of my sight again, my Queen." Gabrielle was on the point of telling Xena that she loved her, but something held her tongue. The Empress regained her composure, when her guardsmen caught up to them. Gabrielle watched the lightning-fast transformation from lover into their stern Empress.

"Did you find the crusade leader?"

"No Highness."

"Xena." Gabrielle turned her face back with a soft hand. "It was the witch, you called Alti, she changed into Alti." Xena's eyes grew wide.

The slimy form still hidden by the tiny tent continued to grow, till shrouded by leathery wings, it burst through and pushed it aside. The winged serpent stood as tall as twenty men and held its head down under its three fingered wings. The Empress, Queen and their guardsmen watched transfixed as the dragon unfurled its sinewy long neck and barbed tail. Xena pushed Gabrielle behind her, placing herself between her Queen and the beast. "Alti." She whispered. "Why don't you just stay dead?"

The dragon turned its narrow snout and slited yellow eyes toward their direction, its nostrils flaring. Gabrielle could see it from behind Xena's shoulder, where she sat with her arms tightly around the Empress. The thing was looking right at them snorting. The wings unfolded and the chest expanded. They could all hear the rush of air as the dragon filled its enormous lungs.

"SHILDS!" the Empress shouted, covering the Queen with her own body.

The Imperial guards brought their shields together as they were trained to, locking them together to form a tight shell around them all, with the Empress and Queen at the middle. Gabrielle could see nothing as she lay trapped under the Empress's body but she could feel the heat around them as the dragon's breath came and assaulted the shield enclosure with a white-hot wall of flame. When the dragon had expended the last of the breath, the guard broke the formation quickly, to release the heat that had been trapped inside, endangering the royal couple. Their shields, made from the finest metals were warped and smoking. Another blast and they would surely be melted through. Xena grabbed a nearby bow and quiver and her guard followed suit, opening fire on the dragon. A hail of arrows deflected harmlessly off the scales that covered its chest and belly. It was drawing in another deadly breath as the Empress reached into the quiver and notched the silver-tipped arrow that had mysteriously appeared there. Her aim was true. The arrow hit its mark, landing solidly in the beast's chest.

It threw back its head in a deafening roar of anger and pain. A ring of white light grew from the point where the silver arrow landed, the edges of which grew until they completely engulfed the dragon's entire body. The light grew too intense to watch, expanding then shrinking into a tiny spot the size of a man's fist. The spot of light winked out, leaving nothing. They were all motionless for a few minutes; not daring to believe it was all over with.

'That was too easy.' Gabrielle thought. 'Where did that silver arrow come from?'

They took what horses were left from the crusaders camp to ride back to the Empress's hunting camp. The refugees from the cavern where allowed to leave unmolested. The Empress rode with the Queen seated behind her, Gabrielle's arms around her waist. She knew that Xena was angry with her but that her explanation had to wait till they were in private, she was sure that the Empress would prefer it that way. She hoped that she would have a chance to explain.

When they returned to the hunting camp, Xena made sure that Gabrielle was always in sight as she conferred with her emissaries. She was present when the slaves bathed and dressed Gabrielle, the cut on her hand having been bandaged by the surgeon, sitting with her legs crossed, watching her with an unreadable expression, or not looking at her at all. Gabrielle tried to give her a small smile, but she just turned her face away. She seemed to be trying to come to some decision and Gabrielle feared that it was what kind of punishment she should receive. When Gabrielle was done with her bath, and the Empress had watched her emerge and put on a robe, she clapped her hands for the servants to leave. When Xena started to shed her leathers, Gabrielle moved to assist her. She raised her hand. "I can do it myself."

"I..Won't you just let me take care of you a little? You're tired."

"Just don't leave the room."

When Xena slipped into the tub, Gabrielle could not help but stare, entranced by the Empress's slender, muscular body. She said in a soft voice. "You can wash my back."

Gabrielle washed her broad back and shoulders, as gently as she could, using what she hoped would be soothing motions. The Empress closed her eyes and rested her head on the edge of the tub.

"You're very angry with me, aren't you?"

"Yes. We'll talk about it when we get home. I'm not in the mood right now."

"Will you please consider pardoning Warhorse and Ki? If I asked you to? Would you do it for me?"

Gabrielle tried not to make it sound like a demand.

"When we get home, I will consider it, since you put it that way. Wash my hair."

The Empress sat in a chair across the room, with her sword across her lap, as the Queen slept alone in their bed. Gabrielle did not fear that the Empress would harm her, but she yearned for her closeness. It had taken quite awhile for Gabrielle to fall asleep, knowing Xena was watching her in the dark. She had made no attempt to make love to her, even though Gabrielle had found herself sighing audibly several times, trying to entice her to come over. She was disappointed that the Empress didn't move all night. But perhaps she was trying to show Gabrielle how it felt to want someone that did not want to touch you in return.

The next day they left early for the palace. The Empress was still distant during their trip back, though she still saw to it that Gabrielle was safe and comfortable, her anger was still apparent in the way she ordered the servants and guard around. Her voice was rough and her temper was short.

A short time after they arrived, the entire palace staff was ordered to assemble briefly in the courtyard, for an announcement by the Empress. This time Xena led Gabrielle by the hand directly to her royal chambers. They stood on the balcony between the bedchamber and the trophy room, facing the household staff and guard. She lifted their clasped hands.

"This is your Queen." She exclaimed to the crowd. "I claim her as my Queen, and as my wife. Queen of all Greece, Egypt, and Rome. The keeper of the royal harem." Gabrielle could not disguise her shock at this. "She is to be treated with the utmost respect. You are forbidden to look her in the eye, and only her personal slaves and the royal surgeon are permitted to touch her in the course of their duties. Be warned; if I hear of one unfit remark, one sly look, one snicker, or one hint of gossip, you will answer to me. Whoever offends my Queen, offends me tenfold. And you know what that means. Carry on."

"Xena, I don't want to be the harem keeper." Gabrielle told her the next moment they had alone.

"Why ever not? It's mostly just a title. Wives always act as harem keeper." She put her hands on either side of Gabrielle's face. "Don't worry about it. Do you want Ki as your personal servant?" she nodded, and then Xena kissed her briefly.

The Empress kept Gabrielle busy with fittings by the royal dressmakers, who were delighted to have a subject that they could finally indulge, their creativity on with the finest silks from the royal stores. (Unlike the Empress, beautiful as she was, who never enjoyed dressing in elaborate gowns) In the same large room where Gabrielle had danced for the Empress, Xena sat watching them fuss over the Queen, drinking her wine, offering suggestions on how to make the gowns more revealing.

"Cut that lower." "Make sure I can see her belly in that one." "She needs shorter chitons for summer." "Make some more modest ones for state affairs" they had already made her some frocks that could be fitted by adjusting the lacings down the front or back.

Xena rose from her chair, unsteadily, either from the wine or the lack of sleep. She walked over to where Gabrielle was standing in the middle of the half dozen dressmakers and assistants. "Beautiful." She said, feeling some of the materiel they had draped around her.

"When you're done here we'll have dinner and get to bed." She said to Gabrielle. "First I have some issues I have to settle with the slaves." As the Empress turned to leave, she playfully clapped her wife's behind. Her sharp ears caught a young assistant's giggle, before she could cover her mouth. Xena's hand was instantly buried in her hair, with an iron grip, and her head was jerked back painfully. The Empress did not even look angry, as she looked the young assistant in the eye.

"I'm sorry Highness. I meant no harm, I swear! I beg of you, please don't hurt me!"

"Xena." Gabrielle interrupted. The hand stayed.

"Your Queen is so good to you that she shows you mercy that you don't deserve! Gabrielle sit down." Gabrielle lowered herself to sit on the stool she had been standing on. Xena warned her with a look, not to object again. She forced the girl to the floor in front of the Queen, then held up one of Gabrielle's feet. "LICK THEM." she commanded the assistant. "Lick the bottoms of the Queen's shoes clean!" the terrified girl leaned forward and started to comply, running her tongue up the soles of Gabrielle's sandals. Xena stood with one foot in the middle of the girl's back, while Gabrielle obediently held her foot up, her heart pounding. She was afraid that any attempt she made to help the girl would just incite more of Xena's venom. Everyone else in the room was motionless.

"You're not even fit to do that, are you?" She lifted the sobbing girl to her feet, by the hair and fairly threw her out into the hall.

"You can work in the stables from now on!" she strode past the assistant who lay in a heap on the floor.

Gabrielle watched her leave, knowing that in her heart that the Empress's anger was about to be expended on one or more of the helpless harem girls. But at least the worst seemed to be over for the assistant. She wanted to say she was sorry and was ashamed of herself for not doing more to help. But she did not want it to appear that she was challenging the Empress's authority. She had been brought up believing that a wife just did not question how the head of the house ran things. 'Gods know what would happen if I did that. Marriage is not going to soften her. When I get the chance to talk to her alone, maybe I can change some things. After all she said she wanted me to rule by her side. Maybe I can convince her to release the women from the harem. If I can do that, at least I would have done some good.'

The Empress traveled the familiar passageways and stairwells down into the bowels of the palace where the dungeons held any number of prisoners that had transgressed against the Empire of Xena in one way or another. These waited hopelessly for the guards to lead them outside to the crosses. Every cell door opened onto the main room where the guards and the array of torture devices and tables were. Xena had amassed an impressive collection of implements and racks from her travels around the world. The more cruel and slow the better. They were the only things the prisoners could see during their stay. With only torches to light the way at regular intervals, the dark and damp passages echoed the sharp footsteps of the Empresses boots. When the guards stood at attention suddenly, the prisoners knew she was coming and they backed up to the farthest corner of his or her cell, trying to disappear into the shadows. There was nowhere for them to hide. Xena paced the line of cell doors, listening to the dungeon master recite each prisoner's charge, till she stopped at the door of a man who had refused to donate the percentage of his share of profits to building a new temple to Ares.

"This one." She said. The master turned the key in the heavy cell door and it screeched open. The man was brought out and made to kneel before the Empress.

"Don't dare look her in the eye!" the master kicked the man.

Xena held out two closed fists, both facing down. "Ares demands a sacrifice for helping me slay the dragon. Pick the hand that holds the acorn; and you live. Pick the empty one; and you die."

The man's hands trembled, knowing that the choice that he made would mean his life. With a smile she opened the hand he chose to reveal that it was empty. "Well, aren't you the lucky one." She purred as the man began to plead. "You should be honored." The man was led away to the alter as Xena selected an ax from the collection. The dungeon master just smiled, knowing that both of her hands had been empty.

When she did return much later, Gabrielle had changed into a gown that she thought would be very attractive. She stood in front of the tall mirror in the bedchamber, the only mirror that she could find, to straighten the gown and brush her hair. As she did she noticed the reflection of Xena's wide fur-covered bed behind her. It began to really sink in that she was married to the Empress and would be spending all the rest of her nights here. 'What if I don't like it?' she thought about what Ki had said and how she felt when the Empress had first kissed her, how good and natural it felt.

Xena seemed to be pleased with how her Queen looked. First eyeing her up and down, then gathering her into strong arms for a kiss that took her breath. "Where were we?" she nuzzled Gabrielle's hair.

"I never got around to thanking you for saving my life out there." Gabrielle said softly. "Xena, I want you to know that I never meant to leave you."

"Then why did you?" she saw the look in Xena's eyes change. "I had such a romantic evening planed. I wanted everything to be so nice for your first time." She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and pulled her into the bedroom. She made Gabrielle lean over the writing table.

"Don't move."

"What are you doing?" she cried. Xena was fetching something from under the bed.

"Don't move." The Empress warned. She was standing behind the Queen with a leather flogger in her hand. She pushed the gown up over Gabrielle's hips and tore off her undergarment.

"I can't just let your disobedience go unpunished. Let's just get this over with as quickly as possible."

"Xena please! You don't have to do this to me! I'll never leave you again."

"I know you won't." she said softly, almost lovingly, caressing the smooth, round bottom laid bare before her, thinking of so many things she could do. "If you do you'll get far, far worse than what you're about to get now. Ten or twenty should do."

"You're going to beat me like a common slave?"

"Even though you're the Queen, you still have to answer to the Empress. This is to teach you a little lesson, so you won't forget. Didn't your parents ever give you a whipping when you were bad? Don't tell anyone about this, it's just between us. Don't worry I won't leave a mark."

"Yes you will. On the inside of me. One that will always be there." Xena paused, listening. "If you beat me, there'll be no going back from that. It will be between us forever. Alti wants to drive a wedge between us. If you do this then she wins. She made me leave. She told me she pushed me. The first thing I remember was being in the boat. I tried to make it back. Ki had nothing to do with it; none of the guards did either. I wanted to come back and be a good wife to you. Then when I saw you coming after me, I thought you were going to kill me, so I ran. That's the truth, all of it."

"I want to believe you. How can I, after all of the times you've told me how much you hate me."

"I don't hate you. I don't, not anymore. I don't think I ever have. You have to learn to trust me sometime. I won't betray you. I'm your, wife not your slave. Now release me. "

Xena continued to caress the Queen, becoming increasingly aroused. The brief need for the violence was replaced by lust that had waited so very long to be sated. (After all, she had slaves handy she could beat any time she felt like it). The way the Queen's bottom rose slightly in response to her touch. She squeezed and kneaded both cheeks, relishing the moan from Gabrielle that resulted. She bent down and bit into the pale flesh, gently raking it with her teeth. She ran a finger between the folds of her Queen's precious opening, pleased by the amount of wetness she found there, not penetrating yet. She heard the Queen gasp and whisper her name. She stroked the slick, tiny opening with deliberate slowness.

"You look like a little flower."

Her silk gown in a pile on the floor, Gabrielle again found herself on the bed beneath the Empress. She reveled in the way the furs felt against the naked skin of her back and rump. The Empress's body felt fiery hot everywhere it made contact with hers. Xena held Gabrielle's wrists above her head as she kissed her deeply, her tongue caressing the Queen's. Gabrielle felt silky hair brush her face, throat and chest as the Empress moved her open mouth to tease and suck a nipple to almost painful hardness. She responded by arching her back and her breast closer to the ravaging mouth. When her hands were released, she ran them over the length of the Empress's back, exploring her body as far as she could reach, enjoying the feel of her smooth skin. Gabrielle's body grew warmer where the Empress's knowing hands touched and teased her to a point beyond readiness.

Xena's mouth covered hers again in a kiss that quickly turned from tender, into that of a lust-crazed warrior. Strong, sure fingers, stroked and massaged Gabrielle's moist, sensitive center. She had never event touched herself there, except when bathing, but found the attentions of the Empress somehow soothing. She had never felt so free in her life as she did then, free of her clothes, and inhibitions. She raised her hips, to meet the strokes. She felt a long slender finger enter her, then two and finally three, filling her, straining the walls of her small entrance. The slight sting of pain mixing with her pleasure. Xena stared down into her eyes, as she slowly worked them in and out, thumbing a place at the top that soon had her squirming. With her knowledge of pressure points, she massaged a spot deep inside that caused her Queen to reach ecstasy with a long drawn-out scream. Her body stiffened and she felt the center of her womanhood swallow and grip the Empress's hand over and over again. When the convulsing of her body finally subsided, Gabrielle felt like she had melted to a puddle of warm liquid on the bed. A tear ran down the side of her face, as Xena kissed her very gently.

"That was a big one, wasn't it?" the Empress said softly.

She had never felt so wonderful in her life.

She was tied down to the cross, ready to be raised. Xena was there dressed in her black leathers, moving in slow motion, running her hands over Gabrielle's body. Gabrielle tried to speak, tried to plead for help. But when she opened her mouth nothing came out. The dragon was there. Xena turned and walked away leaving her to be eaten by the serpent.

Gabrielle awoke with a scream. Sitting up in bed, with pounding heart, she looked around the darkened room. Tears were running down her face. The Empress woke from the noise, ready for danger she held Gabrielle protectively. Satisfied that they were in no immediate danger the Empress comforted her.

"You're just having a bad dream. Everything is fine." Frightened, she moved as close to the Empress as she could, finding safety with the very person she had the nightmare about. She fell back to sleep in the Empress's arms.

Over the next few nights she had learned how to please Xena too. She liked to be kissed and petted and like a big cat, she stretched and luxuriated in every touch. When they bathed together, in the large marbled pool that was sunk into the palace floor, she often played with Gabrielle's feet. The Empress's smile was devilish as she sucked her toes. "You have the feet of a little baby, my Queen." Gabrielle thought to herself 'why can't she be like this all of the time?'

At breakfast Xena playfully pulled the Queen into her lap, where she sat on her knee. From where she sat she could just part Xena's robe enough to see the red welts on her shoulders and back.

"Did I do that? I'm sorry."

"Don't be, my sweet. I love it when a woman scratches my back when I make love to her. I'm proud of them." she slapped Gabrielle's behind a few times.

She decided that since the Empress was in such a good mood, now was a good time to bring up a few things.

"Xena, you pardoned Ki and Warhorse?" she smoothed Xena's hair with her hand.


"Because I asked you to?"


"Would you pardon all of the harem, if I asked you to?"

Xena looked up to face her. "No. I need them. They service visiting Kings and dignitaries. Would you have me throw them all out into the streets? Slaves are a fact of life Gabrielle, if they didn't belong to us, they would just belong to another household. One that was far stricter. They have every advantage here. Most of the time they have nothing to do but lick and plow each other. You've seen plenty of that, I'm sure. We allow that because it educates them on how to give pleasure. You can't get your way in everything." Gabrielle's disappointment must have shown.

"I think its time that we go to visit your parents. They should be in their new house by now." Gabrielle hugged her. "Can we? Oh thank you!" in the back of her mind she asked herself 'no tricks?'

"I have to attend to some shipping business in Poteidaea, anyway. I'll have you shown to the royal storerooms, pick out whatever you want to take to them. Fill up a wagon."

Xena and Gabrielle visit Gabrielle's parents at their villa by the sea. Just out side of the port city of Poteidaea, where she was born and from were her family had moved in search of better farming land. Poteidaea had grown and prospered in the years after the Empress took over. It now threatened to rival Athens and Sparta in size and culture. A new arena was almost finished, along with new temples and theaters. Her parent's new villa was on a hillside over looking the sea. They had servants and guards to attend them. There was a new road with a gentle grade leading right up to it. It was an open and airy villa fit for a nobleman's family. With two floors, a small central courtyard and a large terrace with a magnificent view of the sea.

Gabrielle's family had watched their approach from the hilltop. As the procession of horses and troops that surrounded the Empress and her Queen, they recognized Gabrielle, even in the unfamiliar finery. It was obvious whom the tall imposing woman in battle dress riding next to her was.

"That's her? She's coming here?" Gabrielle's sister Lila said to her mother.

Gabrielle's father was less than thrilled by their marriage. He remembered when Xena's troops came to their village to arrest Gabrielle for her protests and that of other young people. The army sacked the village and burned whatever they didn't steal as an example to other dissenters. Gabrielle's family had to make do with trying to rebuild along with the other villagers, suffering with little food and shelter. But then one day some solders came and took them to the villa by the sea in a wagon gave them furniture, clothing livestock and servants. Because they were the parents of the future Queen.

Gabrielle's father had not expected the Empress to be so young, or taller than most men. There was no mistaking who she was from the descriptions he had heard. He could hardly contain the rage he felt when he pictured the Empress they all called 'bloody Xena' with her hands all over his little girl. Their youngest daughter that had been thrown into the back of a wagon, like a common criminal by the very same Empress's men, screaming for her mother and father. He had watched from their hillside home as his wife ran behind the wagon till she stumbled and fell, her hand reaching out for the daughter she thought she would never see again. He took his other daughter out to the chopping block and hobbled the one child he could save, so she would not be forced to fight in Xena's army. They had assumed that their Gabrielle was dead by now, like so many others they had seen taken away.

Two vicious looking guards entered the house followed by the tall Empress and Gabrielle. Her dress was finer than anything they had ever seen her in, but the face and smile were still that of the sister and daughter they had always known. They now stood in stunned amazement as their Gabrielle was presented to them as the Empress's wife. They were equally stunned by the Empress's bearing and beauty, not daring to believe that they were standing this close to her. She seemed enormous with all the leather, armor and weapons that she was dressed in. Yet, her face and hair were soft and womanly. Lila stared at her, with wide eyes, secretly wondering what it would be like to be in bed with her. Gabrielle must be very brave or very lucky indeed.

Looking to her wife for approval, Gabrielle ran from Xena's side and hugged her mother and sister.

"What happened to you Lila?" her sister now had to get around with a cane.

"She had an accident." Her father said abruptly. By his tone she suspected it was anything but. As he faced the Empress he made no effort to disguise his hatred of her, knowing he was powerless to do anything about what she had done to his daughter.

"I'm going for a walk." Her father excused himself, not being able to stand being in the same room with her any longer. He headed for the sun-bleached rocky hillsides behind the villa, where he liked to spend hours walking and thinking.

Gabrielle followed him. Xena had made no objection to her doing so, she seemed to understand.

"Father, talk to me. It maybe a long time before you see me again."

"I thought you were dead. I don't know who you are anymore."

"I'm still me, father."

"First you get yourself arrested for speaking against her, and then you end up married to that murdering bitch. How did that happen? Did she give you a choice or did she make you do it? Have you just closed your eyes to everything she does? All the people she's killed for no reason, all the lives she's ruined? Don't you care anymore? I guess all you care about now is this." He jabbed his middle fingers up in an obscene gesture. Gabrielle was shocked and hurt. She had never seen her father ever do or say anything improper.

" Do you know how much it sickens me to see my daughter prostituting herself, so we can have a nice house to live in!"

"It's not like that!"

"I don't want to live here, but the guards won't let me leave."

"Father, Xena's just trying to keep you all safe."

"To Hades with her and to Hades with you too!"

"Father don't say that. She is my wife. You don't have to like it, just accept it."

"You were better off dead."

She stood and watched as her father climbed farther away, not even looking back at her. Gabrielle sat on one of the rocks for a long time, till her crying stopped. She did not want Xena to see that she had been crying. Back in the recesses of her mind, she worried that Xena would in some way harm her father, if she found out. When she did return she found her mother and the Empress sitting on the terrace talking as if they knew each other for years. But then, her mother could get along with anyone. The Empress looked at her in a way made her think that she knew and understood everything that had transpired between her and her father. She reached out and took her Queen's hand, kissing the back of it.

Sensing that Gabrielle was safe and would need some time alone with her family, Xena excused herself to the outside of the house.

When they were left alone, Gabrielle's mother did not know quite what to say, she hugged her daughter for the longest time, crying. "Mother I'm fine, really." They hadn't seen each other in nearly two years.

"Gabrielle, I can't believe it. She is very beautiful and so intelligent. But you're both so different. I can't believe she made you the Queen. How did all of this happen?"

"It's a long story, mother. Is there anything that you need? We brought gifts for you all." She had no intention of telling her mother about her time on the cross and the other unpleasant things that happened. It would only cause her to worry. Her mother held Gabrielle's face in her hands.

"She seems to care about you. Does she treat you well?"

Gabrielle nodded her eyes welling up. "She's very good to me."

"I don't care who she is, as long as you're happy. I only wish I had been there to see you get married."

'No you don't, mother.'

"I love her so much, mother." She cried in her mother's arms. "I can't help it. Even if everyone else hates her." 'And they probably hate me for loving her.'

Later Xena surprised Gabrielle by taking her to the new arena, which hadn't been used yet.

"What do they do in here, Xena?"

"Everything, fights, games, chariot races." She said excitedly. "It's not as big as the coliseum in Rome. Come on, I have a surprise for you." Four two-horse chariots had been standing by for practice runs, outside in the back entrance to the small arena. The keepers bowed to the royal couple. The Empress leaped up into the back of one of the chariots and held out her hand to the Queen. "Want to go for a ride?" Gabrielle smiled as she was helped into the back of the rig. She stood at the front as Xena stood behind her wrapping the reins around her body, so that her arms were around the Queen as she drove. "This is cozy. I'll teach you to drive one. Watch what I do."

She whistled and flicked the reins, bringing the team around through wooden gates, held open for them by the keepers, through a long dark tunnel into the sand-floored arena. As they emerged into the bright sunlight, the size of the arena made Gabrielle very small. The rows upon rows of empty seats made her feel uneasy, as if they were being watched. But riding around in the front of the chariot with Xena driving was so much fun! She started the horses out slowly then, soon they are racing around at full gallop, goaded by Xena's war cries. She headed them for the far wall at top speed, turning the horses sharply at the last moment. The chariot fishtailed in a circle throwing up sheets of sand. Gabrielle loved it. Squealing with laughter. It was scary but at the same time she felt perfectly safe with Xena in control. She drove the horses down into one of the tunnels and turned a corner stopping. Suddenly the sunlight was gone and they were in total darkness.

"Are you afraid of the dark, Gabrielle?"

"Not if you're with me."

"Good answer." She felt the hands of the Empress start to smooth over her body, claiming it.

"Give me some honey." She said in a husky voice. Remaining in the back of the chariot, the Empress spun her around and kissed her passionately, bending her body backward. Gabrielle felt a strong hand under her skirt, fingers that rudely invaded her. Thrusts that lifted her off of her feet and brought her quickly to a screaming climax. She clung to the Empress's shoulders for support, while she got her breathing under control. "I love you Xena." She breathed.

"It's about time you told me so, my Queen."

"Do you love me too?"

"I made you my Queen, didn't I? "

As they were leaving the arena and traveling back through town, the Empress's lieutenants brought three men before them in chains.

"These three were caught plotting against the Queen's family Highness. What do you suggest we do with them? Lifelong imprisonment?"

"Are you guilty?" Xena smiled down at them from her horse, her black hair billowing in the wind.

The men did not answer. Gabrielle suddenly felt a little ill.

"Put their heads on pikes and put them in the square as a warning for all to see."

She turned back to her Queen, and seeing how disturbed she seemed about what the sentence was she took Gabrielle's face in her hand gently.

"Everything is going to be fine, my Queen."


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