DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done…okay, they get a little worn, but hey…I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators, writers, and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright Devlin@xenafan.com. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.
VIOLENCE WARNING: There is violence (come on it's the Conqueror). The nature of the story is not nearly as dark as some Conqueror fiction, but it's essence is still the slave / master relationship that exists between Xena & Gabrielle.
TIMELINE: My own making. Xena is the Lord, Conqueror of Greece, but she is almost forty-five years old when she meets the slave, Gabrielle. Many of Xena's evil ways have been sedated, but not all. I call this Xena the "thinking woman's" Conqueror. She is a woman who wants to try to do the right thing, but doesn't always know how.
SEX: Yes, I'll have some, thank you. Ooops! I mean, yes there is. It is our favorite two Soulmates, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is quite explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual as well as non-consenting love (master/slave), sex and yes, even some light bdsm between two adult females.
HIGH ANGST WARNING: I was threatened within an inch of my life if I didn't start putting this disclaimer on some (all?) of my work. I will henceforth rate the angst content with sad faces, one being the lowest and four being the highest. This story earns: L L (2 sad faces for those without TT Fonts)
UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional…look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J
I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com
**Special thanks to Jim Kuntz for his permission in using any Lion of Amphipolis references.
The Conqueror Series
Tale One: Journey's End
By LJ Maas
"How many times do I have to tell you? I do not want any food!" I picked up the tray from the floor, flinging it, contents and all, toward the staircase.
I knew they were there, hiding around the corner on the steps, so I picked up the flasco of wine that was previously sitting on the floor outside my door, and tossed it down the hall as well. I stepped back into my room and slammed the door shut, turning the latch to lock it.
I crossed the darkened room to the open balcony. Leaning my back against the wall just inside the room, I let my body glide to the floor, allowing the chilly night air to sweep over me. The tears came again and I could no longer stop them. Just when I thought there were none left to cry, I would think of Gabrielle, remember exactly what her beautiful face looked like when I slapped her, then the weeping would begin again.
The day passed for me, just like this. The moon was high up in the nighttime sky by now, but I lit neither lamp nor candle. I left my rooms in the same darkened state I felt surrounding my heart. I was acting like a spoiled brat throwing the trays Sylla left, but physical violence seemed to be what I always reverted to, when angry or frightened. Hadn't I proved that earlier, when I lashed out at Gabrielle?
I heard the pounding on my door and recognized Delia's voice as she spoke with Sylla.
"I tried to leave the food like you said, but she threw it at the guards." Sylla's young voice sounded worried, making me sorry I acted like a petulant child.
"Never mind, Sylla. Go get a fresh tray and bring it up to Gabrielle, I'll tend to the Conqueror." Delia answered my maid.
"Did you hear, Delia, what they're saying about Gabrielle?" Sylla asked.
"If I listened to every bit of gossip that came through my kitchen I'd get precious little done with my day." Delia responded gruffly, and then seemed to reconsider her harsh answer, because her next words sounded softer, more understanding. "Yes, I heard what they're saying."
"Do you believe it?" Sylla asked.
"Not for a minute. Gods, Gabrielle is as honest a person as they come. Now go on, bring some hot tea and broth up and make sure she eats at least a bit."
"Lord Conqueror?" Delia resumed the knocking.
I sat there unmoving, wishing Hades would just take me now and get it over with. I heard a key in the metal lock and it didn't surprise me at all that Delia found a key to my room. I continued to sit there on the floor, watching as Delia moved expertly through the shadows of the room. She lit a large oil lamp in the corner of the room and proceeded to move around the spacious area, lighting one more lamp, and a number of candles. I lifted my head at the scent of the melting wax, it gave off an odd comforting smell that always reminded me of home, even when I didn't have one.
I sat with my chin resting on my arms, which hugged my legs to my chest. Delia came closer and I could tell what I looked like through the expression in her eyes. My hair was in terrible disarray, my eyes red and swollen, they burned from long hours of crying. She came closer and pulled a chair from the table, positioning it in front of me.
When she sat down and ran a gentle hand through my hair, brushing it away from my eyes, I pulled away. I couldn't bear the tenderness, it reminded me of something Gabrielle would do, and the tears fell again.
"Don't be nice to me," I scooted away a few more inches, turning my face toward the open balcony.
"So, the two of you had a row, it's nothing that can't be fixed." Delia replied, understandingly.
"It can never be fixed," I responded flatly.
I believe the ominous tone to my voice actually got through to Delia and she began to wonder.
"Exactly what did happen here this morning?" she asked.
"I hit her," I answered, trying not to break down completely in front of the older woman.
"Oh, Xena," Delia sighed heavily, leaning back in her chair.
I looked up into her eyes at last and I didn't see the rejection I was expecting. I saw a compassion that surprised and overwhelmed me a bit.
"Don't you hate me?" I asked, knowing how much Gabrielle meant to Delia.
She gave me one of those bittersweet smiles of hers. "Could my hating you, make you feel any worse about what you've done?"
I couldn't answer past the tightness of my throat and simply shook my head back and forth.
"Then what would be the point?" she replied firmly.
"I feel betrayed," I commented, feeling rather sorry for myself.
"You feel betrayed? How do you think that girl over there feels, Gods, it's a wonder she has any sanity left at all, living with you! One moment, you tell her that you love her, showering her with gifts and affection. Then, you refuse her freedom and keep her as a slave. Don't you think she pictured those actions as a form of betrayal?"
"She knew about the slave revolt and never told me!" I shouted back.
"Is that what this nonsense is all about? Good Gods, woman!" Delia jumped up from the chair and stood before me with her hands on her hips.
"But, Gabrielle admitted it," I responded weakly, "she said she knew."
"Xena, everyone knew…sweet Athena, even I knew!"
"She should have told me when it was going to happen…I could have done something," I countered defensively.
"I'm sure Gabrielle had no idea it was actually going to happen."
"Wha--" I was stunned into silence.
"Xena, Carra plans a slave revolt every day. Gabrielle brought her into the kitchen and I heard them talking, the cooks, scullery maids, Gods, half the guards in the palace have heard her plan this fool's venture! No one ever took her seriously. I don't think Gabrielle knew that it would actually take place this morning, any more than I."
Delia stood in front of me and I felt all the anger within me simply dissipate into nothing. I was left weak and confused. I simply didn't understand how the morning's events could have gone so wrong.
"She just admitted it," I said, almost as if to myself. "Why didn't she explain?"
"Did you really ask her, Xena, or did you interrogate? Did you assume her innocence or her guilt? When you looked at her, was it with an expression of understanding for the woman you loved, or was it harsh and judgmental?" Delia asked.
I didn't even have to respond to Delia's questions, she knew the answers as well as I, it was written on my face.
"Gods, what have I done?" I muttered burying my face in my hands. "What am I going to do?"
"What do you want to do, Xena?" she asked me.
"Die." I answered quickly, no trace of humor in my answer.
"And your second choice?" Delia tossed right back at me.
"How do I make it right with her, Delia?" My voice sounded so small to my own ears.
"You can do two things, that will be a start."
I looked into her eyes and knew what she was going to say before she uttered a word, two of my greatest fears in one fell swoop.
"I have to apologize and ask her to forgive me." I answered.
"That's one." Delia sat down in the chair once more. "If you love this girl as much as I think you do, then you need to make her a free woman."
We sat in silence for a few moments as I tried to envision myself doing either. "Do you think she'll forgive me if I free her?"
"Xena," Delia shook her head slightly. "You don't barter with people you love. You give and sometimes it's returned--"
"--and, sometimes it's not," I finished, lowering my forehead to rest against my arms.
"Yes, that is the chance we take when we give our heart away. It's the same with friendship. When you gave Gabrielle the writing materials and the desk, did you give it to her thinking you could make her like you?"
"No," I lifted my head indignantly, "of course not!"
"Of course you didn't. You did it for no other reason than to make her happy. That's what we do when we care for people, Xena. You have to give this beautiful eagle it's freedom Xena, this magnificent creature needs to know what freedom is. Only if she flies back to you, will you know if she is truly yours."
"I've never said it before," I mumbled.
"Apologized…I've never told anyone that I was…sorry." I answered against my arm, thoroughly embarrassed that a woman my age should have to ask for advice about such things.
"Ever?" Delia sounded surprised, and I shook my head.
"It will be the hardest thing you've ever done," she stated.
"Thanks," I replied with a great deal of sarcasm, "I feel loads better." I paused before speaking again. "I don't know if I can." I added.
"You can, and you will," she responded, rising from the chair and moving to my side.
"How do you know?"
"Because I know you," she answered, tugging on my elbow. "Come on, don't make this old back lift you up. Gods, you're a big girl," she added as I rose.
I was amazed. The course of action seemed so clear to Delia. I was even more astounded that a woman who was only ten, maybe fifteen summers older than myself was calling me a girl. This was Delia, however, and I thanked the Gods for a friend such as her.
"First thing you're going to do is to soak for a bit in the tub, wash your face and hair. I'll make up something to lay across your face to get rid of some of that swelling and puffiness…you look like Hades."
"I'm sure he appreciates that," I added as she pushed me into the bathing chamber.
"After your bath you're going to relax yourself with a cup of hot tea and then get something into your stomach."
"I'll throw up if I eat anything!" I shouted from the other room.
"Then you go ahead and throw up…we'll get some more into you after you do."
I eased my body into the tepid water without adding any more from the buckets that were kept heating by the fire. The cool water felt good on my hot skin and I splashed my face with the soothing liquid. I could hear Delia as she answered the door to Sylla.
"She drank the tea, but I couldn't get her to eat a bite," my maid said; I assume in regards to her attempt to get Gabrielle to eat.
"Go down and fix a light tray for the Conqueror and be quick about it." Delia ordered.
"Delia…Gabrielle, she has a bruise on her face"
"Sylla, I want not one word to pass your lips about that, do you understand? You and I are the only people who know about that. If I hear one bit of gossip, I'll know it was you and I'll have you demoted to scrubbing chamber pots for the next twenty seasons! Understand?"
I heard the door close and Delia came in a bit later.
"Here, lay this across your eyes for a spell," she said.
"Delia, would you do me a favor?" I asked. When she nodded, I continued. "Will you check on Gabrielle? Make sure she's not hurt too badly."
"You can do that yourself, when you get out of your bath," she answered.
"I know…I mean, I will. I am going over there, but I need to go to the jail first. I need to speak with Carra."
"Before speaking with Gabrielle?" Delia asked in confusion.
"Yes, it's important. I need to know why Carra deliberately led me to believe Gabrielle betrayed me. I want to hear it from her," I explained.
"Very well. I'll make sure Gabrielle is all right, then. Would you like me to do anything more for you, Xena?" Delia asked.
"No." I called out after she turned to go. "Delia?" She spun around to face me again. "I…I'm sorry I'm…such an idiot most of the time."
As apologies go it may have been lacking a little something in the way of finesse, but it was my first attempt, after all.
"There…was that so hard?" she asked.
"Yes," I offered her the best imitation of a smile I could muster given the circumstances.
Delia smiled back at me. Patting my shoulder, she turned to leave once more.
"Keep it up…it gets easier every time you do it."
As prisons go, this certainly wasn't the worst one I ever saw. There were dungeons under the palace, cells that were carved from the hard rock of the castle's foundation. The damp and darkened caves were still used on a rare occasion, but a few seasons ago, I ordered a new building erected to be used as a prison. It was a low, stone structure that existed beyond the soldier's barracks. Although the conditions were far from hospitable, the filth and the rats weren't quite up to the same level the old dungeon cells were.
No one stopped me as I made my way into the building. I'm sure the look on my face didn't encourage much social conversation, plus I had a feeling that even after cleaning myself up, I still looked like Tartarus. Once the outer and heavy inner doors were opened for me, I asked the jailer which cell Carra was in. He looked a little surprised, then a little frightened. He said that because of the never-ending racket she made, screaming obscenities, they placed her in the last cell in the building, at the far end of the darkened, twisting hall. He still had the strange look on his face. As I recalled, it was the same odd expression I was given by the guard who unlocked the inner doors. I could find nothing out of the ordinary to warrant the strange looks, so I picked my way slowly through the gloomy corridor, past empty cells, until I neared the end of the building. I heard voices, but the darkness kept me in the shadows. Peering around the corner, I already knew who I would see under the light of the torch, hung high upon the wall. I could distinguish her voice in my sleep, even hoarse, like it was now, obviously from candlemarks of crying.
Gabrielle sat on a bench, directly across from the cell Carra was being held in. The tall woman leaned against the bars, and at this moment, I liked the way she looked at Gabrielle even less than before. I was not going for a repeat performance, however. Yes, my first instinct was to burst in on the pair, confront Gabrielle with her betrayal, but that wasn't in me now. Gods, that realization surprises me more than anyone.
Gabrielle was right about me, it was because I didn't trust her, in her commitment or her love for me, that I never freed her from slavery. Here, I thought I trusted her with my life, but the truth of the matter is that trusting her with my life was simple; I never thought my own life worth much at all. Gabrielle's life was another thing entirely. She was worth everything, and once I realized that she might be the one soul to be able to illuminate the dark recesses of my heart with her special brand of light, I understood all of it; why I treated Gabrielle as I did, most importantly, why I held back from making her a free woman. It amazed and shamed me that while lying in a tub of rapidly cooling water, I would have such an epiphany.
Now, my aching eyes taking in the small figure, her shoulders slumped forward as an unmistakable indication of her own feelings of sadness and loss, I am ashamed that I forced Gabrielle to choose between her lover and her friend. That's what it boiled down to, in its most unrefined sense. Gabrielle never had any friends before this, nor experienced the gamut of emotions that giving away your heart to another person can create. The truth was that I placed her in a situation, she could never hope to liberate herself from, and gave her none of the resources necessary to combat the problems that would arise. I thought only of myself, how Gabrielle was changing my life. It never occurred to me to think how the change in her life was affecting the girl.
I leaned against the wall, completely covered in dark shadows, listening to what was transpiring. Yes, I suppose this was wrong, but my fear was that it would be the only way I would know of my young lover's thoughts and feelings. I was probably the last person she would feel like confiding them to. As I listened, my heart broke all over again. It simply never occurred to me that Gabrielle felt like a friend and a lover were betraying her all in the space of one day.
"But, why, Carra?" Gabrielle's strained voice was heard.
"Why?" The prisoner's deeper voice boomed back. "Look around you, Gabrielle. In case you've forgotten, I am a slave…we are slaves! The difference is that I don't have a master that dresses me in fine clothes, gives me lots of food to eat, and hands me expensive gifts!"
"Xena's not like that," Gabrielle countered.
"Xena? You do mean the Conqueror, don't you? You act as if she isn't your master…that she means something to you," Carra continued.
"She does." Gabrielle's head jerked back up and I watched, tears in my own eyes when I saw those emerald orbs begin to burn with fire. "And why shouldn't she?" Gabrielle was standing now, facing her friend down. "She cares about me…she," Gabrielle paused to choke back a sob, "she loves me." She finished, her jaw set in a defiant pose.
"Oh, really," Carra purred. "What part of I love you gave you that bruise then?"
Gabrielle's hand flew up to her cheek, her fingers tracing the discolored mark. I watched as she turned from the light, her face now hidden from my view. I didn't need to see her however, to know that tears filled her eyes. She couldn't deny what happened, nor did she try. I felt my own tears begin again, when I saw her turn back toward Carra, a very small voice attempting to explain.
"She felt betrayed," Gabrielle said softly, staring into the darkness at nothing. I watched and wondered if she was remembering the moment as I replayed it over and over again in my own mind's eye.
"She felt betrayed? Gods, Gabrielle after all you do for her, the way you service her, what right does she have to feel like the victim?" Carra shouted at the small blonde.
"Every right," Gabrielle's voice whispered. "She had a right…not for striking me, but for the way she felt. I did betray her."
"You didn't betray her, I simply led her to believe you knew more than you did. I let her think I was fucking you," Carra said without emotion.
"What?" Gabrielle's face held an expression of complete confusion "Carra…why would you do such a thing? I thought you were my friend."
"You still don't get it, do you? You are a slave, Gabrielle. She owns you! What do you think she would say if you told her you didn't want to sleep with her when she wanted you…do you think she would say she loved you, and it would be all right? Not for a heartbeat! She would take you and rape you until she showed you who was the master and who was the slave!"
"That's not true!" Gabrielle shouted back. "Xena would never treat me that way."
"She's done it before, what makes you so special?" Carra responded, snidely.
Gabrielle's face was contorted in pain. I never told Gabrielle the things I'd done, the ways in which I treated the women who came before her in my bed. I sometimes thought she knew, but she never questioned. The look on her face at this moment, told me that if she suspected any of the rumors were true, she never wanted to believe them. Again, I left her unable to fight against attacks like Carra's.
"She wouldn't do it to me," Gabrielle replied.
"Yea, right! She was more than willing to believe you betrayed her."
"It's you who don't understand," Gabrielle took a step forward. "I did betray her! I should have told her of your talk, and not because I am her slave, but because I am her lover! I didn't tell her a thing because I didn't believe her. I didn't believe she'd changed. I didn't trust her when she told me she was trying to be different. I saw that she could be good, but I also saw the darkness inside her and it frightened me. I was afraid of what she would do to you…to my friends." Gabrielle brushed her tears away and paced a bit in front of the cell.
"And, this is how you repay me." She turned sad, lonely eyes toward Carra. "You deliberately made Xena think that I hurt her, that I would be disloyal to her with you. Do you know why I hurt so, over this? Because it turns out that I lied to the woman that I love because I didn't trust her and it seems that, she is the only one I can really trust. With all her flaws, and yes she has hurt me, yet she has been more of a friend to me than you ever could be, Carra."
"And yet you remain her slave," The prisoner answered.
"And if I remain so the rest of my life, I will never know a greater love," Gabrielle answered.
Gabrielle turned to leave and it took every bit of willpower I had, not to run to her and sweep her in my arms. Gods, I couldn't believe that a woman such as this loved me. Did she still want me? If it took the rest of my life, I would attempt every day to make it right with her. I would show her that I could change, so she would never be in doubt again. I stepped further back, hiding myself in the shadows, but I felt my anger burn strong at the next exchange.
"As long as you remain her slave," Carra called after Gabrielle, "you will always be known as the Conqueror's whore."
Gabrielle kept walking, but as she passed me by, I heard the softly spoken whisper escape her lips.
"I know," Gabrielle said.
I had only one thought as I silently waited for Gabrielle to leave the prison. I took deep breaths to calm myself, feeling the beast tug and pull at me, demanding, then requesting, finally pleading release. I walked to the cell and stood there, Carra watched me with a look of pure hatred stamped across her face. Almost…I almost did it. I closed my eyes, willing Gabrielle's image in front of my mind's eye.
I must have made for an odd sight, my eyes closed, eventually the beginnings of a smile pulling at my lips. The beast was begging now, and although I was a heartbeat from opening the cell door and making Carra pay for the hurt and the pain Gabrielle suffered because of her meddling and lying, I stopped myself. I pushed my demon away, how, I don't know, opening my eyes to look on Carra.
"So, did you come here to do what you didn't have the balls to do this morning?" She sneered.
"That was my intent," I began calmly. I think the tone of my voice threw her off. "Carra, I walked up to this cell with every intention of causing you a great deal of pain. I wanted you to hurt the way your betrayal has made Gabrielle hurt. She thought of you as a friend and you thought of no one beyond yourself, and how you could use her to best suit your needs. I wanted to rip your heart out for that, but I realized that I was just as guilty. I have committed the same crimes, but now I seek forgiveness. How can I offer less to someone else?"
I turned and walked down the murky corridor, not expecting to hear her voice once I'd gone.
"Love has made you weak, Conqueror," she spat after me.
I smiled and I'm sure she thought I'd lost my mind.
"You're wrong, Carra. For the first time in my life, I'm strong enough to get down on my knees and beg for what I truly desire. Love hasn't made me weak…it's made me strong."
I stood out in the hallway, facing her door, feeling as if I'd been standing there for quite some time. My mind was taken back to Mycenae and the two full seasons I spent fighting back the Persians until, with the Gulf at their backs, they surrendered and departed from Greek soil. There were times when I visited the city, just southwest of my capital city, here in Corinth, and when I passed through the Lion's Gate upon entering Mycenae, I remembered the brutality of that campaign.
The monumental gate, built in my honor, was a ten-foot tall limestone slab carved to display two lions, flanking a pillar. The slab is held up by a massive stone lintel, which stretches over the high gateway into the city. Each time I enter the city, I am reminded of only one thing. That campaign and the many battles involved, were by far the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life.
My mind comes back to the present and I realize that when I walk through Gabrielle's door to speak to her, it will be as if I am walking under those creatures carved in my honor. I know that my perceptions will forever be altered as I raise my hand to knock upon the door. Now, I understand that there are scores of things mightier than war, and countless people who are stronger than warriors. I gently knock upon the wooden door, fortified with the knowledge that this will be by far, the hardest thing I have ever done.
She opened the door and we simply looked at one another. Her eyes were every bit as red and swollen from candlemarks of crying, as my own were.
"May I come in, Gabrielle?" I asked hesitantly.
She appeared startled, as if my civility surprised her. "Of course, My Lord." She pulled the door open wider.
I tried to hide the hurt at her use of my title instead of my name. At least she wasn't calling me Conqueror. We both stood in her outer room, beside the desk neatly absent of the familiar scrolls and quill. I realized that she probably wasn't much in the mood for writing. She didn't offer up a word and I knew it wasn't her place to. This moment was my responsibility to fix, to take the initiative at least. I shuffled my feet nervously, glancing at her, and then looking down at my boots again.
"I have something to say to you, Gabrielle…can we…can we go into your room, where it's…um, more comfortable?" I managed to stammer.
Gabrielle said neither yes or no, she simply turned and led the way into the bedchamber.
"Please," I laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, "sit down."
She immediately sat back on the edge of the bed. I found myself pacing and once I realized what I was doing, I stopped. Gabrielle looked up at me and for once, I couldn't read what was written in her eyes. Standing there, towering over her, I swallowed hard once or twice. I moved to stand in front of her, easing myself down onto my knees. She now looked down on me and it felt more appropriate this way, for I was the one who needed to beg forgiveness of her, and not the other way around.
I looked up to study her face, the slightly discolored bruise standing out against the pink skin of her cheek. I lifted my hand and lightly touched my fingertips to the sore area, so light that my skin was barely grazing her own. After all the tears I cried, I was surprised at my own reaction. The tears fell from my eyes, leaving wet trails along my face. I felt my breathing interrupted, as I choked back a sob. Gods, I didn't want to cry and sound so pathetic, but kneeling here in front of the small woman, no amount of strength seemed able hold the tears back.
"Gabrielle…I…I'm sorry…God's above, I am so sorry!" I wept and I think it was my reaction that caused the somewhat frightened expression on her face. I babbled out the rest, later realizing I could remember little of what I'd even said.
"I swear, Gabrielle, I will never do that again…ever. I will fall on my own sword before I ever allow you to be hurt by my hand. I know you probably can't, but I wondered if you could find it in your heart…maybe not now, but someday, when you have time to think about it more. If you could possibly…"
Gabrielle still hadn't spoken, but she lifted my face with one of her own small hands. Her brow was furrowed in what appeared to be a combination of confusion and concern. She moved both hands until she was holding my face in each, I could feel my eyes close when she brushed her thumbs across my wet cheeks.
"I'm sorry I'm so bad at this…I've never said I was sorry to anyone before. Actually," I opened my eyes and attempted to smile, "I practiced on Delia earlier."
"You practiced?" Gabrielle spoke for the first time. "You've never said this before…ever?"
I shook my head back and forth. "Never wanted to…never thought I needed to. I always thought it should be up to everyone else to bow to me because I was stronger and that if I said I was sorry it would be like saying I was wrong. I could never afford to be wrong. I thought being wrong and admitting it, would show that I was weak."
"Oh Xena, is that what you think? That saying you're sorry means you're weak?" Gabrielle asked sadly.
I was quick to notice that she used my given name, but I didn't want to let my heart hope just yet. "I did, but not anymore."
"What happened to make you change your mind?" she asked.
"You happened. I never expected to love you so much, Gabrielle." I took strength from the way Gabrielle let her thumb lazily stroke my cheek as I spoke. "I never knew one person could have such an influence on my life. I am so sorry I hurt you, Gabrielle, not just by hitting you, but also by mistrusting you in the first place. I'd do anything to go back in time to undo what I've done, but I know that's impossible. I'll do anything to make it up to you, anything at all."
I reached up and placed my hands over hers, grasping them, and pulling each one to my lips for a gentle kiss. "Anything that I have, little one, or anything that I have the power to do, any gift that I can give you…all you have to do is ask me and it will be yours. I don't do this for your forgiveness. I wouldn't blame you if you never offered it, and you don't even have to be with me anymore if you don't want to," I lowered my eyes, closing them tightly as I thought about what I was offering. "I just want to make it up to you, Gabrielle…make it right again. Just ask and anything in the Greek Empire will be yours," I finished.
"Anything?" she asked softly.
I nodded my head. I watched as she rose and stood in front of the balcony, the moon shining in and bathing her face in a silver light.
"You don't have to give me anything at all, Xena."
"I suppose I don't, but it's something I want to do, not have to do," I responded.
She turned and my stomach did a small flip at seeing that warm light burn in her eyes once again. "Then you should know that I forgive you, even without the gift."
I couldn't help the smile; it took over my whole face. It was such a spontaneous reaction that I found the young woman in front of me, smiling back.
"Then it makes the gift that much more special," I stated.
"First, I want to know…if you'll forgive me?" Gabrielle's eyes darkened instantly, seemingly overcome by sadness.
"Gabrielle, don't," I rose to stand beside her. "Please, you have nothing to be sorry for."
"I don't believe that's true. You're taking all the blame and it's true, you hit me, but still…it's also true that I didn't trust you, Xena. I didn't think you were that different from the Conqueror I read of in those scrolls, and I feared what you would do, how you would react, if I told you of Carra's plan."
Gabrielle looked down and wrung her hands together. "When I called you Lord Conqueror…I did it because I knew it would hurt you, and I wanted you to hurt like I did," she finished.
"Gabrielle, I think it's unnecessary, but if it makes you feel better, then of course, I forgive you for that. Please don't look so sad, it's only natural to want to lash out and hurt, when you feel that you've been wronged," I explained.
"It shouldn't be that way, not with someone you love," she muttered softly.
I walked away from her, hanging my head, while standing in front of the open balcony. The night air was rather chilly, but it felt good when the breeze blew in against my face.
"I'm afraid, Xena," Gabrielle stated simply.
I turned to look at her in confusion. Did she still not understand what she meant to me? "Gabrielle, what are you afraid of…is it me?"
"Not of you…I…Xena, what will become of me when you no longer want me?" she blurted out, tears already forming in her eyes.
"What?" I was speechless. Had I given her any indication that was what I intended?
Suddenly Gabrielle was sobbing. "What will become of me when you no longer care, what will happen if you sell me to another master? What have you left me fit for?" she continued to cry and I could only stand there, rooted in place, as the girl's weeping clutched at my heart.
"You have taught me to stand up for myself, to fight back, to even think that I'm worth something! When I have another master I will disobey an order or look the wrong way, I can't hide who I am any longer and I will surely be beaten or put to death because of it!"
Gabrielle's whole body shook and I didn't know if it was out of fear or anger. Gods, had I left the girl that much in the dark as to my intentions? It's true; I never spoke of our future together, did I? What seemed so clear a course of action was left unsaid between us.
"Gabrielle, come here," I pleaded, opening my arms and welcoming the feel of her small body, carefully enfolded in my embrace. I squeezed tighter, trying to somehow will her pain into my own body.
"I am so sorry, my love, for never telling you this before. Gabrielle, I have never had any intention of putting you away from me in any manner. I love you and I want us to always be together. Forgive me for never making that clear to you. I thought so many things, yet I said very few."
I kissed her forehead, feeling her slight body ease its trembling. I pressed my face into the silkiness of her golden hair, breathing in its beautiful scent. I pulled back slightly to look down into her face, it being my turn to wipe her tears away.
"Tell me, Gabrielle, what gift can I give you to try to make amends for all the hurt I've caused you?"
"My freedom," she answered, her green gaze looking clearly up at me.
I knew of course, that would be her answer. If it hadn't, I planned to give it to her anyway.
"Then so be it. Starting this very moment, you are a free woman, Gabrielle." I said softly, although my heart was heavy.
"Are you serious?"
"Yes, very." I moved away from her and sat on the edge of the bed, in the spot she occupied previously.
"It's that easy?" Gabrielle seemed dumfounded.
It was such a serious situation, but I couldn't help chuckling at her astonishment. "Actually, it takes a few days for it to be official, but for all intents and purposes, you are a free woman, Gabrielle."
The smile on her face…Gods, I wish I could capture it. The look of wonder and awe. I held it in my memory, for the day when she would leave, and memories would be all I had left.
Gabrielle moved to the open balcony once more. She must have been aware of such feelings of newness and power. I could see her face and it filled me with an indescribable pleasure, knowing I was the one who made it all come true for her.
"I'm free…I'm not a slave." She repeated to herself, staring out at the night sky. She turned quickly and looked directly into my eyes. "And, if you asked me to share your bed, and I refused, what would happen to me?"
"It would sadden me greatly, I suppose," I answered, giving her a bittersweet smile, "but you are a free woman, and are free to share your bed with whomever you choose."
"I could leave…leave the palace, right now and never look back?" she asked, turning to look at the lights of Corinth.
"Yes, Gabrielle." I answered her, even as my heart was seizing up in my chest. "You could ride away from here…from me, as fast as you could. As a matter of fact," I continued sadly, "I wouldn't blame you at all if you did."
I lowered my head and stared at the floor, waiting to hear the click of the door. To my surprise, I felt the smooth softness of Gabrielle's hand, caressing my cheek, and reaching down to brush the hair from my eyes.
"Would you tell people?" Gabrielle asked gently.
"Tell them you're gone?" I asked, looking up in confusion.
"No, silly," she giggled, "that I'm no longer your slave."
"Well," I started, not sure where to begin, "I would have to tell some people, I'm sure Delia would want to know where you were going, and I'd have to make up some identification for you to travel with."
"Xena, what are you talking about?" Gabrielle's brows came together in bewilderment.
"I, uh…I…Gabrielle, what are you talking about?" I asked her, suddenly having the realization that we were both discussing two different things.
"Would you tell people…you know, that I was free, so I could go through the palace, and go into the library in Corinth without getting arrested. Xena, what did you think I meant?" Gabrielle was looking at me like I was crazy.
"I thought…I mean if you wanted…Gabrielle, are you saying you would stay with me…here?"
"But, you would have to tell people, I wouldn't want them thinking I was still a slave." The small blonde stood before me, a mildly defiant look in her green eyes.
"Gabrielle," I said jumping up and nearly knocking her down, "I would make you my queen!" I exclaimed.
She laughed at that, placing her arms around my waist. "I don't want to be a queen, Xena, just your wife."
I was well and truly speechless as I lifted Gabrielle into my arms, kissing her for all I was worth. I don't think I ever knew such happiness before this moment. A few candlemarks ago I wanted to kill out of anger and hate, now I look at that space in time as if outside myself, watching a stranger. All of this was due to Gabrielle. Whether my lover would admit to it or not, there was something in her, something unique and blessed by the Gods. I vowed, to myself and my future wife, that I would forever be there, standing alongside of her.
"Look, Xena…see that star?" Gabrielle pulled me with her toward the balcony.
"Hmmm, it's new. I don't know when I first noticed it, but it's very new, and bright." I said, standing behind her and wrapping my arms around her. I felt the warmth of Gabrielle's body against my chest and kissed the top of her head.
"Do you think it's true, that the Gods toss diamonds in the sky to create the stars?" she innocently asked.
"I suppose it's as good an explanation as any." I replied.
"I first saw it on our way to Corinth. You know the top of your tent, where the side poles meet in the middle, and there's an opening in the tent, so the center pole can stand? One night I saw that new star through the flap in the tent. I was lying close to you, thinking it was so strange that you wanted me this way. I'd never slept with any of my previous masters, not for the whole night. I fell asleep that night and I had a dream."
Gabrielle looked up at me and the expression on her face told me that she thought this could be one of her visions. I smiled and kissed her gently, encouraging her openness.
"Tell me, my love…was it that kind of a dream?" I asked.
"I won't know, I suppose, until the moment happens. Do you want to know what I dreamed?"
"Tell me, please." I whispered.
"I was lying in bed in our room and you were standing over me. You kneeled beside the bed and Delia placed a baby in your arms. When I looked at you, you had tears in your eyes, and over your left shoulder, I saw the star through the window. Delia said that your daughter would someday make as wonderful a ruler as her mother."
"Is that it?" I questioned, suddenly full of questions.
"Yes." Gabrielle answered. "What do you think of that, Xena?"
"Is that what you would like someday, Gabrielle…children?"
"Your children," she answered adamantly.
I chuckled and pulled her closer to me. "I would like that too, only I fear I may be lacking the necessary equipment to produce the desired results."
Gabrielle turned in my arms to face me. "Perhaps if I make an offering every single day to Athena, she would bless us," she said seriously, with hope in her eye.
"We can certainly try, love. I haven't spoken with her in many seasons, but I'll see what she has to say." I replied.
"You've talked to the Goddess…and she's talked to you?" Gabrielle asked, her mouth hung open in astonishment.
"Yes," I laughed aloud at the look on Gabrielle's face. "I don't want to scare you, and it isn't like I've ever been to Olympus or anything, but some of the Gods have been known to visit me on occasion. Except Ares, he and I have a deal. He doesn't try to bother me any more and I don't kick his ass in front of mortals," I finished.
The talk of Gods, especially my old mentor, the God of War, brought back how long it was since the last time I was in Athena's temple. Right before the capture of Athens, the final battle in my quest to own the Greek Empire, I turned my loyalties from Ares to Athena. Whereas they both ruled the Olympiad when it came to war and warriors, Ares perpetuated chaos and destruction, while Athena was the patron of the disciplined aspect of war. I made a decision on the eve of my greatest campaign; I turned my back on Ares and his brutal ways. I gave up on his ways of madness and waste, bowing my knee and receiving Athena's blessing as her chosen one. From that day forward, my loyalties fell under Athena's strategic and glorious methods of war.
A kiss to my lips brought me back to the present and I smiled into the delicious sensation.
"I love you, Xena. I'm sorry I ever hurt you," Gabrielle said softly.
"I love you, Gabrielle. I promise, I'll do everything in my power, never to hurt you again."
We stayed there for a few more moments, staring at our star, as Gabrielle began to call it, and spoke of our future. I was never one for talk, but I told myself that Gabrielle would never again doubt my love for her because of my own silence.
At last, we walked back to our rooms, hand in hand. I'm sure I heard an audible breath of relief from the palace guard. It would be this same way for Gabrielle and I, many seasons from now. On the rare occasions that we would have a disagreement, the whole palace would hold its collective breath, until we made up and life could continue at its usual pace.
I lay in bed that night, Gabrielle in my arms, a look of peace and contentment resting on that beautiful face. I smiled to myself before I joined her in sleep. Tomorrow Kassandros and the others would be found guilty or innocent, and then I would sentence them. The court was in for the surprise of a lifetime. I smiled again as I drifted off to, meet up with my lover in Morpheus' realm.