Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.
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The Conqueror Series
Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose
By LJ Maas
Chapter 4: For Mercy Is A Greater Thing Than Right
The musicians and the bards were entertaining enough, but I found my attention constantly pulled back to the main doors of the banquet hall, awaiting Gabrielle's return. It seemed as if quite some time had passed since she left to freshen up, yet I don't know why I worried. Many of the ladies left the festivities, to return wearing a fresh gown or skirt. Many people came and went, which was why it came as no surprise to find that Solan had left the hall, perhaps in hopes of acquiring the favors of one of the prostitutes who lingered outside the palace walls on evenings such as this.
I finished another two cups of port and was generally feeling my wine by this time. I motioned to Atrius, requesting that my Captain check to see if perhaps the evening had simply been too much for Gabrielle. I so wanted to leave myself, picturing in my mind my Gabrielle in tears over something someone had said or done. This was all very new to her, and although she handled herself with a fair amount of grace and dignity, I still worried. When I worried, I drank. By the time my lover re-entered the room, on the arm of one of my soldiers who looked about ready to pass out from fright, I was rather drunk. Now, I've consumed much more alcohol than the amount I drank this evening, and still possessed the ability to cut a man down with my blade. Tonight was different. It was as if I'd given myself permission to let go just a small bit. For the very first time in this palace, I felt at ease. Tonight, friends surrounded us, and so, when I saw Gabrielle, I did something she never expected.
Even as I pulled Gabrielle into my lap, a fleeting thought crossed my mind regarding my dignity and the way it might appear, the Conqueror and her lover necking at the head of the table. It had been my goal all along to make certain that my future bride always be shown the proper respect, as befitting a woman of her rank and station in the Empire. Gabrielle's nearness, the smile on her face, even the unmistakable sigh that passed her lips when I kissed her neck, they succeeded in reducing my behavior to that of a lovesick schoolboy. When Gabrielle whispered seductively in my ear, it took nearly every bit of the control I had left, not to carry her to our rooms right then and there. I made a mental note to myself to explain to Gabrielle that this was a very special occasion. Rather like a private party in our own home. When strangers visited, of which I don't know why I didn't count Solan as one, I would still show my devotion to my wife, but I would have to become much stronger than this at curbing my, sometimes wanton, displays of affection.
I tried to be as dignified as possible, offering thanks and a merry evening to all who helped to make it a success. I wasn't so drunk that I was suffering from many outward symptoms, but my inhibitions had certainly been lowered to the point where Gabrielle and I left the hall hand in hand. I heard a few comments and caught a few winks exchanged between my guests. The old Xena would have drawn her sword and immediately confronted the jokesters. I was feeling something very different this evening. The laughter was not raucous, nor the jokes ribald, at the expense of the honor of the woman I was about to bed. Rather the looks were of envy. The snatches of conversation I overheard during the evening, proclaiming a fresh new wind blowing through the Empire. A number of men, as well as a few women, exclaiming their jealousy as well as delight in the beautiful young woman the Conqueror had won.
I left the room in a euphoric state. Not only had Gabrielle charmed the nobility of my court, but for the first time in a very long time, I felt as if I were doing what was good and right. The words of envy I heard sprinkled through the hall did not comment on how the Conqueror killed or stole for the woman at her side. They did not hint that I had seduced another man's wife away, simply to use her for a night's pleasure. I didn't hear the words whore or slave when they referred to my conquest. No, they did me the honor of recognizing my victory in winning Gabrielle's heart. No one in that room would ever know how deeply that simple acceptance affected me, and I alone would always know that it was not a thing I could have accomplished without the small blonde pressed against me now.
I leaned heavily against the wooden door at my back, Gabrielle using her surprising strength and my lack of sobriety to press her advantage. She took my lips in a kiss that made my body wish the feeling would go on forever, even if it should mean forgoing fresh air into my lungs. I fumbled, quite literally, for the door latch, eventually pushing open the main door to our private chambers. I stumbled backward until the ache between my legs wouldn't allow me to be teased any longer. I picked up the beautiful blonde and made my way into our bedchamber.
Making love with Gabrielle was like some new experience every time we came together. Her newfound assertiveness affected her passions as well, and I found myself on the receiving end of some rather aggressive sexual play. It wasn't something I regretted for one moment, either. I think what I enjoyed the most was Gabrielle's discovery of her own pleasure. Gods, I will never be able to describe how or why my excitement reaches such an incredible peak, merely listening to the sounds of Gabrielle's desire. To hear her ask, command, even beg for the pleasure she desires can be more than my physical body can stand on some occasions.
I simply told her how proud I was of her, and I meant every syllable I uttered with all my heart. Mere words from me inflamed her to the point where she is roughly pulling at my clothes, and me catching her wrists in my grasp and teasing her, my strength keeping her from what she desires. She growls in passion and frustration Gods, growls at me! I give the rough treatment back to her, holding both her wrists in one of my hands, to slip my other hand under her skirt, past the linen slip until my fingers are teasing the undergarments that stand as a barrier between my attentions and her skin. My palm presses upward and the undergarment is soaking wet, a testament to Gabrielle's need. I continue to kiss her, removing my hand from underneath her clothing and causing whimpers of disappointment to escape her throat.
I release her hands and they are about my neck pulling me against her even tighter. I pull the shoulder of her blouse down and my mouth finds the smooth skin of her neck, sucking and pulling hard at the flesh there in order to mark her, to draw attention to the fact that she is mine. It is not so much that old habits are hard to ignore. In an odd way, I feel just as elated to display the marks on my own body, produced by Gabrielle's passionate attentions. I finally learned that this sign of ownership, of belonging to another, was not demanded, but given, freely and in love.
I ran my hand along her ribs, roughly kneading her breast through the fabric of her blouse, which is more off her than on at this point. I switch hands, pressing my weight on top of her slightly more and I grab her other breast, squeezing the flesh in my hand.
Gabrielle whimpers sharply into the kiss and I feel her trying to pull her body back from my hand at her breast. I lean further on my side to glimpse her face and she cries out when I press against her arm.
"Gabrielle," I ask in concern. I instantly move my body off her completely to lie beside her. Her hand goes to her breast and it's obvious she's in pain.
"It's nothing, just tender."
"Let me see," I say as I push her fingers aside and unbutton the blouse the rest of the way. Pushing aside the material, I freeze as all the passion flees my body at once.
Quickly rising bruises that will look even worse by morning now mar the creamy white skin of her breast. I look at the arm I leaned so heavily upon, and I find the same marks, angry welts that will soon be ugly looking bruises.
"Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. My love, I didn't mean to hurt you I'm sorry," was all I could keep saying. I raised eyes that I knew would fill with tears in a few short minutes, to look into her emerald green gaze.
"I'm so sorry " I repeated once again, stunned at what I'd done. I hung my head in shame.
"Xena it's all right, love."
She pulled my face up to look into her eyes and I could see that she was at war with herself. She wanted to say more, her mouth opening and closing as if trying to find a way to begin. She decided at last and when I heard the words, I had to ask her to repeat them.
"You didn't do this," she answered, lowering her gaze away from me this time.
Perhaps the alcohol was making my brain so slow to respond, although at this moment, I no longer felt its effects. Just as the passion had quickly departed from my body, so did my intoxication. I felt the coldness of sobriety make itself known, along with another sensation that I was quite familiar with.
The beast within began to pace back and forth, looking for an avenue of escape. Like a longtime companion, it was the dark entity that saw the truth before my own mind did.
"Someone someone else did this to you?" I asked in a tightly controlled voice.
Gabrielle nodded. I could see fear in her eyes, but not fear for her own person. It appeared as if it were fear for another.
"With your permission? You allowed someone to touch you like this?" Again, I only seemed capable of speaking in short, clipped phrases.
"No, Xena never again. I would never allow another to touch me."
I could hear my own rapid breathing and I knew that I was past any point where I could call back my anger, beyond any rational thought. My eyes darted back and forth and I could feel the tremors begin in my arms.
"Please, Xena listen to me."
I heard Gabrielle's voice, but it was soft, sounding faint and far away. There was nothing that could be heard over this rush of blood keeping time with my rapidly beating pulse. It was anger. It felt like a fury so intense that there was nothing else, nothing else existed for me but this rising ball of infuriating fire in my belly, swirling, capturing me and attempting to control me, control my thoughts, my will. I wanted the dominance back, I never gave it up willingly, but this time I needed it back, fearing what I would do, and to whom I would do it if the beast had free reign.
"Who?" I hissed the question, teeth tightly clenched together.
"Xena, please "
"Who?" Louder this time.
I hesitated only once.
"Don't let it rule you. Fight it, Xena!"
I heard the words, and somewhere inside I knew why I should, but they were meaningless words, and to the beast that rose to free itself from the prison of my will, the words meant nothing.
I jumped up from the bed and methodically tucked in my shirt, tying off the laces to my trousers, all the while hearing something soft and gentle trying to reach out to me through a thick fog. I lifted the heavy lid of the chest at the foot of my bed, retrieving my sword. I fixed the blade into its scabbard and belted the weapon to my hip. Again, the softness and I shook my head, the beast laughing now at my attempts to take back some authority. There it was again, a peaceful sound like rain falling lightly against the roof of a tent. I moved toward the door and something held me back. The darkness rose up and tried to sweep the obstacle away, but there was a tiny piece of me, deep inside, that could not lash out at the barrier between my revenge and me.
I could hear the growl that rumbled deep within my own chest. An impediment stood before me, holding me back. I felt the physical restraint on my arms, and I wondered why I was suddenly loath to simply shrug the hindrance off. I was in front of the door; there was freedom. Just another step and I would fling the door wide, releasing the beast to exact swift punishment for the harm done to Gabrielle.
"Please, Xena don't do this! You are stronger than it is, fight it, Xena!"
I felt a sharp slap across my cheek and it was so unexpected that it even loosened the hold the darkness had upon me. I could see it almost, it was right in front of me. Again, the stinging vibration across my jaw and I pushed the beast back simply to reach the cause of my pain. Yes, right there! I took hold of the annoyance before me and held it against the door. Something caused me to search the room for something someone. I turned, looking for Gabrielle.
I released the burden in front of me to immediately feel pounding fists against my chest and another biting slap to my face. I pushed inside my mind with all my might, propelling the beast in my head away from my quarry. I drew my sword, surprised that the sound of metal blade against oily inner scabbard should cause me to see the outside world with sudden clarity.
I stood there, blade in hand, panting like a wild animal. I squinted, blinking sweat from my eyes. Then there was a sound. A soft sound reminding me of when I was a child, safely tucked in bed during the middle of a thunderstorm.
"And will you use that blade on me if I try to stop you?"
The sound was a voice. It was like a bright lantern; its muted yellow glow holding back the darkness, keeping a child's fears at bay until the morning sun took over. It reminded me of Gabrielle.
I brought my eyes to focus on the small woman before me, her clothes in disarray, tears streaming down her cheeks. I then looked at the blade I held in my hand and back to the woman who either bravely or foolishly stood up to the Beast.
"Gabrielle?" My voice sounded strange to my ears and my throat felt burned and raw.
I had no idea how much time passed with me standing there, looking down at the sword in my grasp. I don't even have a clear recollection of giving the weapon up to hands so small it took two of them on the hilt to lift it. I remember shivering and feeling cold. Being led to the fire, my clothes removed by those same small hands, warm flesh pressing against my own under a fur robe.
It seemed an eternity before I could speak again without tears, listening the entire time to Gabrielle relating nonsensical tales of love and humor. I finally smiled at Gabrielle's admonition to hit me again if I didn't stop asking for her forgiveness.
"I've never been that far gone and returned before," I said at last. "Not without hurting . . . killing."
Gabrielle kissed my cheek and it was my turn to wince. "You really hit me hard," I said, bringing my fingers up to rub the tender flesh.
I meant the comment to be in jest, but for a moment, I saw real fear in Gabrielle's eyes. I quickly leaned forward and lightly brushed my lips against the softness of Gabrielle's. When I pulled back, I gently stroked her cheek, reaching in again to kiss the tip of her nose.
"There are few men and even fewer women who would have faced down the Conqueror in such a manner. I don't know whether you're an extremely brave woman or a very foolish girl, but it doesn't matter. I love you either way, Gabrielle."
"I--I'm sorry, Xena," tears welled up in the dark green eyes. "I--I just couldn't--I couldn't let it beat you "
She broke down then, crying, as I'd never seen Gabrielle do previously. The sight broke my heart, but more so because I was the cause of her sadness and pain. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, tell her how sorry I was to be the source of her pain. Those words I'm sorry. They were still new for me. Once again, I found myself wanting so much, to offer more, and yet I found myself physically unable to carry out those desires. Perhaps it was true; perhaps love and commitment would never be mine. Quite possibly, they were things not meant for the Conqueror.
My ineffectualness as a lover and partner overwhelmed me in a way. I froze there, not even offering the smallest amount of comfort to Gabrielle. I'm uncertain as to why, but suddenly Gabrielle seemed to remember herself. I watched as she took a deep breath, swallowing down any more sobs. When she looked up again, she appeared much more in control. The expression on her face shocked me; it was the look of Gabrielle, the slave, impassive, even defeated. My pain increased as I realized that this would not be the first time that I would hurt her so badly that she would retreat into that shell. I rolled away from her, lying on my back. I lifted my arm to cover my eyes, unwilling for her to see how much I hurt, disinclined to share these childish emotions.
"You should go, Gabrielle," I answered in a weak voice. "Leave this place, this castle me. I can't promise that I won't ever hurt you again. It will always be like this and you don't deserve a life such as this."
The silence was quite deafening and at one point, I wondered if I missed the girl fleeing from where she lay beside me. I was too afraid to uncover my eyes, reluctant to see the truth and agreement in Gabrielle's gaze. It wasn't long before I felt her warmth alongside me, soft skin pressing against my own. Gentle fingers wrapped themselves around my forearm and I found myself unable to resist the tender touch. She moved my arm away from my face, and I refused to meet her eyes at first, but the continued softness of such a gentle hand did something extraordinary. It was almost as if Gabrielle were using her voice to call to me. It was a language that only my heart could hear and I felt myself respond. I eventually opened my eyes to her. I saw none of the harshness I expected, no judgmental glare. I was genuinely surprised that I should find myself looking up into a face, fairly glowing with adoration, overflowing with love.
"Xena, look at me," Gabrielle said. If it was a command, it was the softest spoken order I'd ever received.
"Really look at me," she said once she captured my attention. "I am no longer your slave. I am a woman who makes her own decisions, about who she will be with and whom she chooses to love. I belong to myself, My Lord, and no other. And, because my heart belongs to no one but me, it means something to me. It has a place inside of me and I'll let no one take what is mine. What of you, Xena? Do you know what place you have in here?" she gestured, placing her hand over her chest.
I remembered these words. They were my own, the words I used when trying to convince Gabrielle of her own self worth. I knew the answer she was looking for and scant moments ago I could not have answered her. Now, however, looking into eyes the color of a lush green forest, I felt a warm, penetrating sensation deep in my chest. It started small at first, but in no time at all, the small kernel spread in an outward direction until I could feel its warmth all the way to my fingertips. I realized the welcoming sensation was hope. I felt the smallest beginnings of a smile and I answered Gabrielle's query.
"I belong to you?" I responded and the tentative tone in my voice sounded strange to my ears.
"That's right, Xena," Gabrielle smiled at last. She leaned against me, her facing drawing so close to my own that I could feel her sweet breath upon my lips. She closed the remaining distance and kissed me. "You belong to me." She kissed me again, this time slipping her hand around my neck, pulling me to her in order to deepen the kiss. "Remember this, Conqueror you belong to me, and I'll let no one take what is mine, not even a beast who is so much a coward that it will not meet my challenge face to face."
Gabrielle moved her hand forward to cup my cheek and I was lost in the air of self-confidence the girl suddenly exuded.
"Xena, whether this be the only encounter, or we have to face down your demons a thousand more times, I promise, I'll stand my ground and challenge any man or beast that tries to take you from me."
Her voice caught, choking with emotion and the tears that welled up in her eyes, matched my own. I knew that I had finally come to love and care for Gabrielle. I even came to a place where I could admit as much, to myself as well as others. However, I honestly don't think I truly believed that Gabrielle loved me the same way until this moment. She may have been repeating my own words to me, but this young woman, who has seen so much of life in her limited years, used them with such conviction and purpose that I indeed felt their power. Gabrielle loved me and yet some unknown fear inside of me wouldn't allow me to accept it completely.
The emotional world held so much fear for me. In the physical realm, I could touch and taste. If I could see it before me it became easier to believe, but these affairs of the heart they left me in a state of confusion that wreaked havoc with my brain. How could I entirely accept what I wasn't sure I could give in return? What I not only didn't feel worthy of, but what I could not see?
Gabrielle moved her body over me and I immediately spread my legs, allowing her to position herself between them. I groaned as she slid her body along the length of my own, hovering just above me, letting her nipples rub against mine. The sensation caused my hips to jerk upward and I reached behind her to grab her backside and pull her tightly against me. Gabrielle's kisses were sultry and soft, her tongue dancing with my own, me allowing her to lead wherever she had a mind to take me.
"I love you, Xena," Gabrielle whispered. She lowered her head running her tongue along the corded muscles of my neck, down to the uppermost swell of my breast.
"I love you too, little one," I responded breathlessly.
She continued to use her lips and her tongue until she reached a hardened nipple. She tenderly kissed the darkened flesh around the elongated nub. Her caresses so gentle as to be infuriating. I was panting quite heavily by this time, but it was her gentleness that aroused me above all else. Her warm lips enveloped a hard nipple, but the sucking motion was light and easy. She worked the area over with her tongue, looking for all the world as if she were making a feast out of my body, savoring every bite, each caress.
I swear it was candlemarks later by the time Gabrielle was kissing her way down my belly, her chin resting atop the silky, black curls. She looked up at me and I honestly wondered how she knew all that I thought, my fears, as well as my passions.
"Let me, Xena," she murmured against my skin. "Let me love you."
Gods, did she know that was what I'd been thinking or was it an innocent comment about pleasuring me? Did she realize how frightened I was at allowing anyone to truly love me, knowing she would ultimately demand the same from me? I looked on as she rubbed her cheek against the triangle of dark curls, me lifting my hips slightly to prolong the contact. I groaned again and opened my eyes wide, taking in the site of her kissing my parted thighs, looking up at me in delight.
"May I, Xena?" she pleaded. I could do no more than nod my acceptance at such an offer, trepidation filling my soul at the implication of my surrender.
Her head dipped low and just as I felt her warm breath blow against the very wet flesh between my legs, I stopped her with a hand to the top of her head.
"Please, baby I need to see you," I pleaded.
Always waiting for her to think me a pervert in some way, I wasn't prepared when she rose quickly and brought back an armful of soft cushions from our bed. She piled them in a heap beside me and patted the mound of pillows with one hand, a delightful smile on her lips.
"Sit here," she commanded and I moved over.
She pushed a few more pillows behind my back and used her hands to again open my thighs. She used her tongue along the insides of each leg, stopping just when she reached the tender flesh between thigh and labia. Then she ran her tongue along the path of that juncture.
I raised myself up, leaning on one arm to see her.
"I want to watch you," I said hoarsely. "I want to see everything everything you do," I insisted.
I believe the thought excited her and I watched as those green eyes darkened with desire, then twinkled up at me in a combination of seduction and mischievousness.
"Your wish is my command, my Conqueror."
Gabrielle used her fingers to gently spread my sex open to her feasting eyes, and soon to be, tongue. She brought the fingers of one hand to her lips and licked my own essence from each digit, never taking her eyes off mine. Returning her fingers to my sex, she parted the slick folds, holding them open so that I might see all she would do. She lowered her head and dipped her tongue in to taste the overflowing wetness that I offered.
It was otherworldly, the amazing sensation of seeing that pink tongue slide along the length of my sex, watching as the nerve endings in my cunt fired repeatedly from Gabrielle's lapping at my center. I was mesmerized, lost in a haze of physical pleasure as I watched her swirl her tongue around and over the hard nub of flesh, now swollen and aching for her touch. She let her tongue run softly along each fold, only to speed up her movement, rougher and faster each time she arrived at my clit. The tip of her tongue gently spread inner folds apart and she lovingly explored each crease and crevice. All the while, I watched what she was doing to my body; my breath coming in short, audible exhales. I observed while her tongue's strokes became shorter, harder, the muscles in my belly twitching and jumping.
I leaned back on one hand, my other hand pressed atop the golden head between my thighs. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around my legs and pressed herself deeper. Her tongue found its way to a very sensitive clit. She simply pressed the flat of her tongue against the tender bundle of nerves and I could feel my orgasm begin. I spread trembling thighs wider and Gabrielle took the nub of flesh between her lips and sucked hard, releasing it to let it slide against her tongue.
"Sweet Athena! Please...unh, please, Gabrielle...don't stop." I begged without shame as Gabrielle began to concentrate on the tight nub of flesh where my whole world concentrated at this moment.
The pleasure washing over me was far from enough, even after the intense climax. Gabrielle must have sensed it, or read it in the way my hips continued their slow grind against her face. She moved her attentions away from the pulsating bit of flesh. She continued her tongue's well-placed caresses until I could hear myself whimpering, the sounds quickly changing to throaty moans, and my hips beginning to thrust against the tongue that she slipped inside of me.
I writhed and drove my hips to the rhythm of the strokes from Gabrielle's tongue; faster and deeper I could feel the muscle fill me until I couldn't prolong the pleasure any longer. The penetration brought me to the verge of another release. I could feel my body, as well as my soul, giving in to the absolute surrender Gabrielle demanded of me.
"Oh, Gods, yes! Gabrielle...Gabrielle!" I cried out.
I continued to stare, hypnotized at the combination of sensory delights, watching as well as feeling. I could see Gabrielle pull back, then move forward, me, leaning back on both hands now to thrust my hips forward, to impale myself further as she plunged her tongue deeply inside of me.
"Don't stop," I begged hoarsely, even as I fell back into the cushions, my hips still working to draw every last bit of the pleasure into and around me. Convulsive spasms took my body as they rolled throughout my frame like a never-ending wave. I finally cried out, as I exploded in orgasm, my whole body tensing, then releasing in jerks and shudders.
Gabrielle ran her tongue tenderly around the still quivering flesh, gathering the juices my climax produced. It was so soft and soothing, not meant to arouse, but to gentle. She was working her magic on me, but I was in no position to resist. A part of me still wanted to reciprocate the pleasure, but my desire to make love to Gabrielle was overwhelmed by a flood of post release emotions.
I felt her move to lie beside me, suddenly my head on her shoulder, my lips nuzzling her neck. He arms, always so delicate, held me in a strong embrace. I found I could do no more than release additional tears, so overcome with it all. Thankfully, Gabrielle either knew why I cried, or had the good sense not to ask. There were so many reasons, I wasn't sure I knew them all myself. I certainly knew I wasn't in any shape to explain them. As always, Gabrielle said the exact words my heart needed to hear.
"It's all right, my love. I'm not going anywhere. I'm still here, Xena," she whispered, placing a gentle kiss against my temple. "I'm still here, my love, and I always will be."
She ran her fingers through my hair. "Do you love me, Xena?" she asked.
I pulled my head back to look up into her face. She wiped my tears away with her fingertips, and I knew I looked so vulnerable like this. There was no one in the known world, however, that I was willing to look more exposed or defenseless for than Gabrielle.
"I never thought I could let someone love me like that because it meant that I would have to return it the same way. I've never felt myself capable of feeling that way . . . that much . . . until you. I do love you, Gabrielle, with all that I am."
Her tears matched my own just then, but her smile told me it was happiness. I reached up to lightly brush my lips against her own.
She hugged me tightly and I heard her whisper in my ear, "No man, or woman, could possibly need more."
She settled against me then, lying on the cushions before the fire, the heavy fur robe draped over us. She seemed content to drift off, while I continued to struggle to keep myself awake.
"Gabrielle . . . little one, we still need to talk about this evening . . . what happened with Solan." I felt the bile rise in my throat when I thought of it, but the sound of Gabrielle's voice eased my ire.
"I have an idea, if you'll permit me, but tomorrow I'm so sleepy just now." She snuggled against me and we repositioned ourselves so that now my small lover felt herself cradled within my embrace.
"I hope your idea involves me kicking his scrawny ass at some point," I murmured.
She chuckled and I felt her smile against my skin. "If you wish," she yawned. " My idea does involve you stretching your muscles against him. I think if Solan wants to act like a child, he should be treated like one. Good night, Xena."
I waited for more information, but the next sounds I heard were the tiny, gentle snores that indicated my lover was fast asleep. "Sweet dreams, my love."
I smiled to myself, placing a kiss on top of her head. I wondered what Gabrielle had in mind. Just before Morpheus claimed me, I thought about the fact that Atrius had walked back with Gabrielle to the banquet hall, then proceeded to scowl the rest of the time. I wondered what his part was in Gabrielle's attempt to conceal what had happened to her. I made a mental note to speak with my Captain first thing upon rising. It wouldn't do for my most loyal man to withhold information from me. Again, I smiled to myself. However, if Atrius would lie to me, simply for Gabrielle's honor, then I had a position within this palace such a man could fill.
I think I chuckled lightly just before I fell asleep.
To be continued in Chapter : "Chapter 5: A Lion Fighting-Mad With Rage"