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The Conqueror Series
Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose
By LJ Maas
Chapter 11: I Long Have Known Myself What Love Can Do
Added in Xena, the Lord Conqueror's presence by Queen Gabrielle of Potidaea
We took tea, and then an evening meal in Yu Pan's rooms. A sense of pride filled my heart when he looked around the quarters in surprise, even more so when he smiled and nodded his head in approval at my accomplishment. With Delia's help, I had transformed the rooms to resemble those that I remembered belonged to my friend when we both served in the home of the nobleman, Galataeus.
Back then, because of the healer's remarkable skills, the master allowed Yu Pan a room to himself, to have time to practice his craft. I remembered the large pillows he used as chairs, and the table upon which he ate his dinner. The table had no chairs, and was very close to the ground. When we took tea, or when Yu Pan would make dumplings for me, we sat upon the floor. I had actually grown accustomed to many of these traditions and ways of Chin from my time with Madame Li.
I waited in silence as Yu Pan prepared the tea, whispering words known only to a learned few over the steaming pot. Even after we had begun to sip the hot drink, the quiet lingered. It had been many seasons, but I was quite familiar with the old man's silence. For a time, when I was in Yu Pan's care, it served to both unnerve, and calm me. Perhaps that was why Xena's occasional bouts with speechlessness did not bother me. The healer taught me that as much can be communicated from a person's stillness, as with their words. Out of respect, I would wait until he was ready to speak, which was not to be much longer.
"It seems that we have come full circle, nǚÈr." Yu Pan said at last.
"Yes, it appears to be so," I answered. "I'm so glad you came, Yu Pan, for Solan as well as myself."
"Gabrielle," he reached across the table a placed his hand atop my own. His was as worn and gnarled as a twisted oak branch. "I have heard stories, some fanciful, some too unbelievable to mention. All the stories are of the young woman who will soon be Queen of the Greek Empire. Tell me, how did you come to be here?"
Therefore, I began a tale, one that took us quite late into the evening. I left no detail out of the telling, all the good and the bad I revealed to my old friend. It would do no good to alter the truth, for Yu Pan could surely see into my heart. I was convinced he possessed that gift from the Gods. If he didn't, then I was the fool, for I believed in the man's power completely.
"This, then, nǚÈr, this is what you would have for your life's path?" He asked.
I smiled, knowing that he asked about more than simply the life I was leading. He was thinking that which he did not put into words.
"She is who I have dreamed of for most of my life," I answered simply. "You believe that people can change, don't you?"
"We can change anything about ourselves, with the proper motivation, of course. I see that the two of you exist for one another. It is not often that I am given the privilege to see such an example of the yin, and the yang."
"The light and the dark?" I asked, feeling I was about to receive a lesson from my old teacher.
"It is not only about light and dark, but what the light and the dark represent, what they symbolize. The yin and the yang represent balance and harmony. They are two halves of a whole. Where there is one, there must exist the other. One half does not change of its own accord. It is the way it is because of it's other side.
I can see that in you, nǚÈr, and the Lord Conqueror. I have heard much of her, some tales recent, some set down on parchment before you were born. I only witnessed but a moment of your interaction with one another, but I can feel this bond between you. It seems as though she has had much to do with you becoming the woman I see before me today. On the other side of that coin, I believe that you have had an equal amount of influence over the woman that now rules as Conqueror. You exist for one another."
"I agree, Yu Pan. It feels as if we balance one another. Where one of us is strong, the other is lacking. Where one is in need, the other excels."
"Now, tell me what the others do not see." He said and smiled at me. "Tell me of this woman called Xena."
I watched as he lit a long stem pipe, the smell of the tobacco taking me back to a time when I would sit in his room in our master's home, listening to Yu Pan recite an epic poem, or tale. He had the power to mesmerize me with his stories. They were usually about his people, or the Gods and Spirits in whom the people of Chin believed. His tales usually had a personal message or moral for the listener. Many times, he used a story to assist him in the healing of a patient. I have enjoyed stories all my life, but I truly fell in love with the art of storytelling when I met Yu Pan.
"Yu Pan, you already know more than I about the Conqueror," I answered.
He chuckled at my response. He held out his pipe, to which I declined with a shake of my head. I noted it was the same pipe, which he owned many years before. The bowl was intricately carved from a solid piece of ivory.
"Very true, my nǚÈr. I know much about the Lord Conqueror. What I ask is for you to tell me who the woman you have fallen in love with is. Tell me not of the reputation, nor the title. Tell me of the woman."
"Ahh, the woman," I nodded, leaning back upon the cushions, and tucking my bare feet underneath me. "She is a paradox." I stated easily. I was unprepared for this question, but suddenly I found that the words to describe Xena fell easily onto my tongue.
"She is strength and weakness, darkness and light. She can be harsh, yet loving, meager, and giving. She seeks a path of redemption for her past, yet she will never allow herself the forgiveness that might be offered. She is nothing that I can explain; yet, I could speak for days about her."
I stretched out upon the cushions, and clasped my hands behind my head. I felt very relaxed, here in the sanctuary of my old friend's rooms. It felt strange, too. For the first time, I was speaking my feelings aloud, and there was a certain contentment at the freedom to do so.
"She loves me with all her heart, Yu Pan. I only recently came to truly believe that. I believe she would give her life for my own, of which I would gladly do the same. She is intensely loyal and true. I don't believe that Xena would ever be unfaithful to me. She is intelligent, humorous, and when she wants to be, very charming. She loves to read, she has a natural fondness for animals, and a good eye for horseflesh. She loves children, although they terrify her somewhat. Last of all, I don't think she's ever been second best at anything in her entire life."
Yu Pan's silence worried me, and I rose from my reclining position to lean up on one elbow. He was smiling, more so than I could ever remember before.
"What?" I asked him. I could feel the flush beginning to heat my face.
"Love suits you, my child." He responded. It was a cryptic reply, but coming from Yu Pan, it was a compliment of the highest degree.
"You approve then?" I asked him, I'm still uncertain why I asked him that.
"Do you need my approval?"
"No, but I seek it all the same. I'm not sure why,î I answered.
"If I told you that you and she were not suited for one another, that your alliance is ill timed, what would you say to me then?"
"I would say you were wrong." I answered adamantly, unsure if this was a test or not.
"And, you are so sure of this love of yours, that the bond that exists between the two of you will flourish?" Yu Pan asked.
"I would wager my freedom against the odds." I countered, my ire starting to rise at his insistent questioning along this line.
He laughed aloud then, something he seldom did in all the time that I knew him. I must have looked confused. Actually, I only just realized that he had been testing me all along.
My nǚÈr, it is only necessary that the two of you believe in your love. For, if you believe, others will see and respect. If you desire a blessing from an old friend, then I can do no more than follow my intuition. My mind says that you have as much chance as being hurt in love as the next woman. My heart, however . . . it feels, Gabrielle, that you have at last come home."
I smiled in relief at my friend's words. To many, what an old man felt in his heart might mean very little. Knowing this healer, and teacher, the way I did, I knew that when Yu Pan spoke from within, the words held great truth.
"Thank you," I answered.
"Now," Yu Pan began again. He drew a long breath from his pipe, and released the smoke in an easy exhale above our heads. "Tell me of the young man."
"His name is Solan--"
"First," Yu Pan interrupted by raising one hand in the air. "Tell me what you see, then tell me what you feel."
His manner of retrieving information didn't surprise me. I had been his student at one time, and it was how I learned to express myself under his tutelage. When a patient spoke to him, he listened, and processed the information in two ways. First, he took their words at face value. He used his physical senses to learn about the person, how they spoke, and acted, their outward appearance. At the same time, he used his inner senses to learn even more. We all have the inner sense, as Yu Pan described it. The healer had honed his into an incredibly intuitive talent. He felt a person, the ideas they hid from the world, the face they displayed only to themselves in a looking glass.
Yu Pan taught me the basics of using my inner sense, but our time together was cut short when Galataeus lost me in a game of chance. Over the seasons, I became accustomed to being treated like so much chattel. The pirate who won me, however, was in many ways, kinder than Galataeus.
I never became as adept as my old friend did at this particular skill, but I never forgot the principles, either. I thought briefly about the reason I had stayed with Yu Pan. It seemed so long ago. I shuddered at the memory of the pain. It had become an all but a forgotten part of my past; a portion that I hadn't yet even shared with Xena. Actually, I could barely remember the night I had been delivered to Yu Pan's doorstep. The healer had been given orders simply to work his magic on valuable property. He had certainly done that. Barely a mark was left on my flesh to ever indicate that my body was once left as crushed and broken as Solan's was.
"It was a long time ago, my nǚÈr." Yu Pan interrupted my painful reminiscing with his gentle voice. As he always could, he seemed to look straight into my heart, aware of where my thoughts had taken me.
I nodded and smiled slightly, glad that he pulled me from the unpleasant memories.
"Now, what do you see in this Solan?" he asked.
I took a deep breath and thought about the young man. "He is Xena's son," I began. "That's confidential, of course," I added. I paused briefly to explain to my friend the situation between mother and son. "Solan is arrogant, opinionated, selfish, and downright mean at times. He seems--"
"Ah, ah, ah." Yu Pan broke in. "Is this what you see or is it what you think?"
I chuckled and nodded at being caught. I had become too close to Solan to completely separate what I actually saw in him, from my feelings about him."
"What I see," I enunciated the word for effect, but it was lost on Yu Pan. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, intent on my words. "Is a young man who acts in an ill-tempered, spoiled, and selfish manner. He has fits of thoughtfulness, however, and reacts to kindness shown to him in a like manner. Meaning, the kinder he is treated, the better his own behavior has become. There is still some small part of him that refuses to behave, however."
"And now, Gabrielle, your feelings. Stop and listen for a moment, and tell me about those." Yu Pan directed.
I knew I was being given a great deal of credit by my friend, and one-time teacher. He seemed willing to listen to my own insight regarding Solan, and that was unusual.
"I feel pain and resentment from Solan. Not simply directed at me, although there is something I can't quite grasp being directed toward me personally. It would be easy to assume that his anger comes from being denied his birthright, but I feel there is more. My feelings about Solan tell me that there is a great deal more to him than what he allows people to see. I feel sensitivity there that he either denies, or that he himself doesn't even know exists. I feel a man who denies a large part of who he is out of fear. I feel he is unhappy in his life, but too proud, and afraid to change the path he walks."
"Well done, nǚÈr." Yu Pan complimented me.
"You surprise me, Yu Pan." I added.
"Why is that?" He answered in a distracted manner, but I was aware that the expression was merely a ruse meant for those who didn't know him as well as I.
"Why would you want to taint your own evaluation of Solan with my impressions? Won't you be meeting him with preconceived notions in mind, now?"
"Not if you continue on, and tell me now what you have kept hidden from even yourself."
"What?" I answered in surprise.
"Tell me now, Gabrielle, why you are jealous and resentful of the man."
Yu Pan asked me this in such a calm manner, that I was stunned into silence. I wanted to laugh his accusation off, but it would do no good. If he already felt this to be true, no amount of argument from me would convince him otherwise. I thought I had successfully buried these petty emotions of mine, but obviously it hadn't been deep enough. Now I would be forced to confront them, and in doing so, admit the validity of them.
"It is a foolish student who hopes to outwit her learned master." I responded with what I hoped was the proper amount of humiliation.
"To show human emotions is a most pardonable transgression." Yu Pan answered. "Open your heart to me, Gabrielle."
I ran my fingers through my hair, almost in frustration. "He is Xena's son." I stated simply. " No matter what happens between them, good or ill, they will always share that bond. No matter that Xena should marry me, that the Gods should intervene and I might carry her child, I will still only be her mate. She and I will never share such an unalterable bond."
"You believe that the union which you and Xena have between you is less than the one shared between she and her son?"
"Theirs is a blood bond!"
"This is not your true worry, is it, Gabrielle? Somewhere in your mind you have convinced yourself that the closer Xena becomes to Solan, the farther apart she and you will grow. You have let fear alter what you know in your heart to be true. If you look into your very soul, you will see that the bond that you and Xena share transcends all others. It is more than love, more than blood. It goes beyond what we can define with any man's language. It defies language and explanation.
Gabrielle . . . nǚÈr, what have I always taught you about fear?" Yu Pan asked gently, but I could already feel the tears running down my cheeks. I had forgotten the first lesson in Yu Pan's Shao Lin teachings. He caught me giving in to a concept that I thought I'd grown beyond, at least in some part.
"If you fear, you can do nothing. The basic principle is to overcome the fear within you." I answered.
Yu Pan reached over, and his weathered hands wiped the tears from my face, as he offered a tender smile. I instantly felt better. My heart was at ease, knowing that no problem truly existed. It simply took a gentle reminder from an old friend to show me that my worries had been created in my head, and had no basis in reality. Fright and panic were like that, and I of all people, should have remembered that fear is merely the substance of man's own inadequacies.
"You weren't supposed to come here to heal me." I said in a hoarse whisper, wiping my face.
He said something that confused me then. It was unexpected and cryptic all at once.
"You asked me to come and heal a young man. It wasn't until this very moment that I realized that his Qi is inexorably tied to your own."
* * * * * * * * * *
It was late, nearly early morning when I finally returned to our own rooms. I expected to find Xena sound asleep by this time, but as I slipped into our bedchamber, I could tell she was awake. Her breathing was not the deep, rhythmic sound she usually made when asleep. I slipped between the silk sheets and curled myself against her muscular back.
"Why aren't you sleeping, love?" I whispered.
"Couldn't get comfortable," she answered. Her voice held that tone she uses when she is tired and grumpy.
"Am I making it worse?" I asked her, pulling away from her body a slight bit.
She turned, facing toward me, and pulled me against her. In the small amount of light from the oil lamp on her side of the bed, I was able to see the frown that creased her brow. I gently kissed her lips, and pressed my body against her tighter. The smile that lit up her features transformed her entire face. Where there was a dark, brooding woman, now lay a beautiful, smiling lover.
"I found out that I can't sleep without you in my bed, Gabrielle." Xena whispered to me.
I kissed her again and she responded more fervently this time. "Then I'll have to be sure never to stay awake this late again." I smiled.
She chuckled, her good humor having returned. "I'll hold you to that, my love." Then she rolled the two of us over, hovering over me and teasing me with her playful kisses.
"Did you have a pleasant evening with Yu Pan?" she asked.
"I had an interesting one leastways." I answered, wondering how much I should tell her. It took only a matter of heartbeats for me to decide to be completely honest.
Xena adjusted to rest on her side again, and leaned up on one elbow. "What went on this evening, love? You look unhappy."
I didn't mean to, but suddenly I found myself with tears forming in my eyes. I was lying beside the woman I loved more than my own life, yet I had to tell her that I wasn't the compassionate lover she thought I was. I needed to confess the hidden emotions I had toward her son, and I worried what her reaction would be. Therefore, the tears came unbidden.
"Gabrielle," Xena with concern. She cradled my face in both her hands, and kissed my tears away. "What's wrong, little one? What happened?"
I enjoyed being comforted by her, but I knew that in only a matter of moments her concern would turn to anger at the thought of someone hurting me.
"Talk to me, little one."
I told her all that I had discussed with Yu Pan. I told her of my assessment of Solan, and that I had given the information to Yu Pan. Finally, I explained, as well as I could, my fears where she and I where concerned with her son.
I sniffed and wiped my eyes one last time. When I eventually had the courage to look up and meet her gaze, I should have trusted that this would be the sight I would meet. Her blue eyes had warmed to a deep hue, and her thumb caressed my cheek as her hand was cupped there, brushing any remaining tears away. Her expression, and her actions, displayed such love; I never would have known that I was sharing my bed with the Conqueror of the known world.
"Gabrielle," she leaned in close against me, one arm around me, and the other hand still caressing my face. "Baby, don't you know by now that that there is nothing, there is no one that I would ever let come between the two of us. The thing, or the person simply doesn't exist that could drive in a wedge to separate you and I. Nothing, little one." She kissed me again. "No one."
With one last kiss, she had befuddled my mind enough to cause me to forget my fears and confusion. Suddenly all I could think about was her. I think she took that as a good sign, especially when I couldn't hold back the moan that she swallowed up with an intensely, hungry kiss.
I pulled her close to me once more and we kissed. Just before our lips touched, she ran the tip of her tongue along my bottom lip. Perfect, white teeth teased me by nipping gently at the skin on my neck.
"Let me make love to you." She requested sweetly.
"Yesss." I drawled out.
I closed my eyes and took pleasure in the feel of her naked skin pressed against mine, our legs entwined together. We did no more than kiss, and caress one another for a long time. Our kisses were slow and deep, more of an exploration, as our tongues met, neither warring to be the dominant player.
I felt myself floating along on a wave of pure pleasure, sensations washing over me in a torrent of passion. Xena's mouth pressed harder; became more insistent, more demanding. My body betrayed me. I already felt the wetness trickling away from my sex, gentle moans filled the air, and I was quite surprised that it was the sound of my own voice.
She moved her attentions to my breasts, using her lips and tongue to stroke the tender flesh into submission. Her mouth wrapped around a pale pink nipple, and she was soon sucking the pebbled flesh hard between her lips and teeth.
"Oh, yesss, Xena...just like that," I moaned in ecstasy.
She slid down my body to settle between my legs. I allowed her to spread my thighs farther apart with strong hands, and move in closer. I groaned at the feel of her breath against my sensitive sex. She kissed the blonde triangle of hair and I felt her pause. She had a habit of pausing ever so slightly before tasting me. She breathed in deeply. A long guttural moan passed her own lips, at what I knew was the pleasure she derived from using her own tongue to bring me pleasure. She took one long, languid stroke against my sex and immediately I whimpered at the tenderness of the caress. I lifted my hips higher toward the source of the exquisite pleasure. I felt the warm wetness of her tongue, her breath, and the vibration against my skin as she moaned aloud at this first taste.
This is where I became completely, and utterly, trapped within the spell of seduction that Xena wove. In all the time that men and women handled me . . . used my body, no one ever touched me with tenderness and compassion, until Xena. Her, sometimes hesitant, caress, the way she asked for permission before entering me, and her slow insistence that I be allowed to control my own pleasure, they all combined to create the most passionate love making that I have ever experienced.
Her tongue slipped within every fold, stroking me again, and again with infinite patience, until I gasped as the muscle slipped slowly inside of me. My body shuddered at her deliberate actions and I tried to revel in it, letting my flesh simply experience the pleasure of it all. So soft, so gentle, Gods, she knows exactly what I need . . . precisely what I desire!
My hips rose and fell to keep up a steady motion against the rhythm of the strokes from Xena's tongue. I know the sounds that I made were probably waking up the whole castle, but I was powerless to stop. My legs began to tremble; I spread them wider in silent invitation for her to continue. I wanted to beg her not to stop, but I found myself without the ability to speak.
I felt her tongue and teeth rake across the hooded bundle of nerves and my hips bucked toward her at the exquisite contact. Finally, I found my voice.
"Gods, yesss, Xena. Please . . . right . . . there . . . oh, Gods!"
I exploded from within before I could even finish my thought. It didn't matter because she knew exactly what I wanted and she did exactly what I meant. I felt my body as it slowly rose once again, ready for another release as Xena lapped at the fluid between my legs, careful not to lose a drop.
I felt her hand slide up my thigh, and she paused, as she always did waiting for my permission.
"Yes, please," I begged.
I felt her fingers enter me, and then she returned her tongue to its circular, caressing motion against my clit. It wasn't long before I came again, my body still convulsing from remembered pleasure, even as Xena moved up and wrapped me in a tight embrace.
I felt so sleepy and weak, so completely sated; I could do no more than smile dreamily at the light kiss to my forehead. Just before I drifted off into the arms of Morpheus, I felt the silk coverlet pulled around me, and heard Xena's voice in my ear.
"There is no one, my love, that could ever come between us."
End Addendum to the Lord Conqueror's Manuscript from Queen Gabrielle of Potidaea
To Be Continued in Chapter 12: For Many a Fellow is so Hard of heart