Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: ljmaas@yahoo.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand

LJ Maas

Chapter 34: I Hereby Swear To Uphold Your House…

We both felt considerably more human after a bath and some rest. I had a bite to eat and attempted to entertain Amira while Gabrielle met with the Amazon seamstresses. I suspected we'd need about three hired women just to keep up with Amira in a place as big as the palace in Corinth. She never seemed to tire.

I wore my official garb in honor of my wife's special night. The tunic I would put on at the last moment, however, since the thing was about the most damned uncomfortable piece of clothing I'd ever owned. My mother and Selene were in the other room with Gabrielle, and I had begun to wonder what they could be dressing her in that could have possibly taken so long.

Amira and I had been trying to throw olives in each other's mouths. The girl had good aim, but even when we missed, we just laughed and tried again. Actually, I could see having a little fun around the castle with Amira around. I hadn't stopped to think, at the time, how odd that feeling should have been.

In between olive tosses, I polished my sword. Amira reached out to touch the weapon and I threw her a cautioning gaze.

"Don't touch, Amira. It's sharp and it will cut you. Understand?"

She nodded her head. Not having much experience with children I, perhaps foolishly, considered my warning enough and the matter finished. After all, I had given orders to men twice my size on a daily basis. Very few ever disobeyed. I soon discovered that a soldier made a career out of following orders and to a girl of five, rules were something to sneak through or work around.

Too quickly for me to stop, Amira reached out for the blade once more.


I believe the sharp edge to my voice alarmed her. Unfortunately, in her fright, she jumped back and her finger slid across the blade. The girl let out a scream that could have awakened a hibernating bear. Everyone came running and I saw Gabrielle rush into the room, absolute dread in her eyes. I froze. In my panic, I could see myself trying to explain to Gabrielle how I had cut her daughter's hand off the very first time she had put me in charge of watching her.

Gabrielle scooped up the child. Amira clutched her hand to her chest and large tears rolled down her cheeks. Looking over at me, Gabrielle silently asked for an explanation. I finally propelled my body into the fray.

"She grabbed my sword," I said. I had to practically shout in order to make myself heard over the girl's screams. "I told her not to touch it!" I added quickly in my own defense.

"Let me see, sweetheart," Gabrielle said, attempting to pull Amira's hand open.

I figured there should have been a lot more blood, but was thankful for small miracles. Finally, Amira stopped screaming. She sniffed and eventually held out her hand for Gabrielle to see.

"Is it bad?" I asked trying to get a look. "Do I need to call the healer? Is there a lot of blood? It—it—" I reached out and grabbed the tiny fingers that Gabrielle wiggled back and forth.

"Wait a—it's not bleeding," I said, looking closer. "It's not even scratched."

"Thank the Gods," Gabrielle sighed.

Amira held out her hand and I thought she was pointing her finger at me. I looked back at her uncomfortably, as though it had been my fault.

"What?" I asked. I wondered if I sounded as guilty to everyone else as I did to myself.

Gabrielle smiled and Amira continued to point her finger at me.

"I didn't do anything."

I noticed that my mother now smiled, as well.

"If you kiss her finger, the hurt will go away, my dear," Cyrene said.

I looked at Amira and Gabrielle in disbelief. "Are you kidding?"

Gabrielle gave me one of those looks and of course, I caved. I self-consciously looked around me. They stared elsewhere when I glared at them. I reached over and placed a quick kiss on the tip of Amira's small finger. She immediately smiled and sniffed back her tears. I was amazed at the healing properties of such an act. Why hadn't I been told of this before? Were these secrets written down somewhere?

Gabrielle used her hand to wipe away the tears on Amira's face. "Amira, did Xena tell you not to touch her sword?"

The youngster hung her head and nodded.

"You could have been hurt very badly, my child," Cyrene added, laying a comforting hand on Amira's back.

"Good girls do what their Mama tells them, Amira," Gabrielle said. "Do you want to be a good girl?"

"Uh huh," Amira replied. "Sometimes it's hard, though."

Gabrielle tried hard not to laugh at the girl's response. "I understand, but I want you to try very hard for me. Okay?"

Amira nodded.

"Do you think you should say something to Xena?"

Amira looked up at me. "Sorry, Xena."

The expression she wore sliced right through to my heart. We had so recently met, yet I knew that this girl would always be a princess in my heart. Green eyes, Gabrielle's eyes, stared repentantly back at me. As usual, however, I couldn't find the words to express such emotions.

"Come on you," I took her from Gabrielle and tossed her over my shoulder until she laughed and screamed in delight.

I knew it wouldn't be the last time we would experience such dramatic trauma, but I hoped that it would always end so innocently.


" Are you insane?" I heard Gabrielle shout from the other room.

Gabrielle rushed into the room followed by the rest of the women. I almost choked on an olive at the sight. Gabrielle wore about as little as one could and still be considered dressed. It didn't even look as though she wore a top. I believe the Amazons thought the many lengths of beaded necklaces that lay across her chest were covering enough. The leather skirt had a slit along each leg, nearly to her waist. Part of me wanted to do more than look until I noticed the indignant look in Gabrielle's eye.

"Do you see what they want me to wear?"

"I do indeed. I don't think it's even enough to cover Amira," I replied.

"I thought I made it clear the last time they dressed me in Corinth that I can't go there," Gabrielle explained more to them than me.

"Gabrielle, you look great," Selene said.

"That's sort of the problem. Too much of me can be seen."

From the very start of our relationship, Gabrielle had surprised me by her modesty. I never thought that a woman so trained in the art of pleasure, who had been a body slave to so many different masters over such a great space of time, could have such a chaste attitude toward revealing her own body. She did, though, and she had changed little in the past season. Even after coming to know the Amazons, and the rather relaxed outlook they held toward clothing, she refused to change, and I liked it that way. The less anyone saw of Gabrielle's body, the fewer jaws I would have to break.

"Teema," Gabrielle attempted to explain to the seamstress. This is simply too revealing for me to wear."

It's not exactly…her," Anya added.

Teema truly had no idea what Gabrielle meant. "I—I—but it's what every Queen has worn since—"

"I'm afraid some traditions are going to have to change."

"But, it looks beautiful on you."

"Don't you have something more…" Gabrielle searched for a word that would get her point across. By the look on her face, it was apparent the Amazon had simply never run into a Queen who had taken such a stance.

"More…modest?" Gabrielle finally finished.

Teema stared blankly in answer and Gabrielle looked ready to blow. I stepped in, not worrying this time if it looked as though I was pulling rank. I figured I could put it in some way that Teema would be able to understand if I did intimidate a little.

"Teema, I want you to look at Gabrielle," I said.

She looked in Gabrielle's direction in a slightly tentative fashion, unsure of where I was going.

"Actually look at her." I paused a moment more before continuing. "Now, what do you see?"

"Lord Conqueror?"

"See…when you look at Gabrielle dressed that way."

"Oh. Well, she is quite beautiful."

"Very attractive," I added.

"Yes…very." She let her eyes linger longer on Gabrielle's body. "An extremely handsome woman," she said, trying to remember Gabrielle was also her Queen.

"Now, stop and think about this a moment. If any of the women at this evening's ceremony look at Gabrielle in the same manner that you are now, since you've realized just how beautiful my wife is, I'll have to kill them."

I let my words sink in, folding my arms across my chest, and towering over the woman. My height worked for me in such situations and I purposefully used it to intimidate the much smaller woman.

"I suspect that might put a damper on the evening's festivities, don't you agree?" I continued. "So, now—are you beginning to understand what Gabrielle means by modest?"

"Suddenly, it's crystal clear. My apologies, Your Highness."

"Don't give it a second thought, Teema," Gabrielle replied.

"Perhaps I could—"

"You know what, my friend? I'm going to wear my own clothes."

"Your own?"

"Yes. I promise you, I'll look like a Queen and I won't let the Amazons down."

"If you insist. You'll call if you need anything at all?"

"You'll be the first one I contact. Go on now. I'll see you later."

Gabrielle turned and walked back to her dressing room.

"What will you wear, dear?" Cyrene asked Gabrielle's exiting figure.

"I have no idea," she replied and closed the door behind her.


When Gabrielle appeared, a short time later, she surprised us all. I knew that she wouldn't dress as she had for the coronation in Corinth, but I was indeed curious as to what she would choose. As was the girl's habit, she surprised us all.

Gabrielle wore tight leather pants, dyed black as my own were. She had chosen to wear the Amazon leather boots and a belt adorned with clay beads and feathers from a reddish brown hawk. For a top, she sported her golden-coined armor. I believe that surprised me the most. She looked rather elegant, but very much like an Amazon with the manner in which she decided to wear her armor. Instead of the traveling, long-sleeved blouse customarily worn beneath the armor, Gabrielle had decided to wear only a sleeveless slip. It protected her body from the uncomfortable armor, but still made it look as though she had nothing on underneath. What a smart woman.

It took me a moment's musing to figure out exactly why Gabrielle looked so different—good, but different. She appeared taller, but she wasn't really. Her body posture no longer appeared ready to bolt at the first loud noise. She stood ready and prepared for anything that might happen.

The change in her didn't stop with manner. It included her appearance. I quickly realized that it had to do with her daily workouts. Days on end this summer of sitting a horse and working out everyday with her Amazon escort had caused Gabrielle's body to go from frail to fit. Her shoulders had some definition to them and her bare arms looked tan and muscular. As my eyes roamed her body, I found the same to be true of her legs, the muscles noticeable through the tight leather of her pants.

I could imagine many a lover disliking such an appearance change in their spouse, but I couldn't have been happier. Gabrielle had changed inside as well as out. She would never again have to cower in fear or subject herself to the whim of another. She might not see it in herself just yet, but it was there. I saw it and it only made me love her more. This was a first for me, as well. For the first time in my life, love and respect went hand in hand.

"Well?" she asked us all. She looked a little nervous.

"Superb," I said with a smile.

"Definitely Queen material," Selene added.

"Mama!" Amira ran up to Gabrielle and my wife surprised me by easily lifting the girl into her arms. "I told you ta wear this one." She tugged on Gabrielle's armor. "You look like a real Queen now."

"That's the best compliment I've ever heard," Gabrielle answered.

The two of them were naturals together. I looked over and saw my mother with the same thought, tears lightly misting her eyes. Gabrielle's face suddenly turned peaceful, actually appearing quite confident. It wasn't only Amira. I knew that. For the first time in her life, Gabrielle found herself surrounded by family and friends who loved her, trusted her, and respected her for who she was. How could anyone feel anything other than extreme confidence around such a thing?

"All right, Amira, let's get you dressed now, shall we?"

The youngster pouted as Gabrielle set her to the floor.

"What's the matter, sweetie?" Cyrene asked. "Don't you like the new dress we put together for you?"

"Why come I have to wear a dress?"

The conversation caused me to smile. How many times had I asked my mother the same question as a youngster?

"You have to look like a real princess tonight, love," Gabrielle explained. "People will expect the Queen's daughter to look especially nice."

"Can't I look nice in these?" She wore an Amazon child's customary leathers, a short little skirt and top.

"How about at least trying the dress that Cyrene made, all right?" Gabrielle asked. "She went to a lot of trouble to make one of Selene's dresses fit you."

"Okay, Mama." Amira took mother's hand and they went off into the bedroom. Amira wore a defeated and unhappy expression.

The soft knock on the door startled all of us, so wrapped up in the moment were we. Ephiny poked her head inside.

"It's nearly time. Are you ready, Gabrielle?"

"I believe we're almost there," she said.

I put on my tunic and strapped my sword belt on over it. Anya helped me on with the jacket. She had taken to creating my clothes as well as Gabrielle’s apparel. She had recently taken the jacket in, since I had lost a stone or two in weight. The material, tight fit, length, everything about the tunic felt awful. It always had, but my advisors had told me repeatedly that I needed to look official on certain occasions.

“What’s wrong, Xena...is it too tight?” Anya asked.

I tugged at the collar and squirmed. “Why does it itch so much?”

“It’s too tight?”

“No, it just...” I squirmed around some more. “It always itches so.”

As if on cue, Cyrene came out of the bedroom. Following in her shadow was a fidgety, uncomfortable looking Amira. At that very moment, every woman in the room knew that some girls just weren’t meant to wear dresses. Amira was a beautiful child, but she looked a lot like Ephiny had when I met up with her in Athens. Sort of like a guy wearing a dress. That’s not very complimentary, but it’s the only way I know how to describe the sight. Amira wiggled and scratched in a most unladylike manner and in some very unladylike places.

”Amira,” Selene said with a laugh. “Princesses don’t scratch their butt in public.”

“But it itches!” Amira retorted. “Why do good clothes have to be so itchy?”

Every eye in the room turned toward me. “What?” I asked about as defensively as one person could.

“You sure she’s your daughter?” Selene said to Gabrielle out of the side of her mouth.

Gabrielle laughed heartily. “All right, this has gotten out of hand. Ephiny, tell them we just need a few more minutes, okay?”

Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Amira. “How about if Cyrene and Selene get you dressed in some proper Amazon clothes?”

“Yeah!” Amira clapped her hands and spun around the room, nearly tripping on the dress she wore. Can’t I look like you, Mama?” she stopped to ask.

“Tell you what...” Gabrielle took one of the short necklaces off and put it over the child’s head. “Everyone will know you’re my little girl now.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed.

She sent the three once more to the bedroom. “And you...” she crooked a finger at me. “You do look pretty cute all officially dressed and all.”

I chuckled. “Hey, what did I say about calling me cute? I’m a warrior. I can tough it out.”

“Yes, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable in that black leather outfit you wore that night in Athens?”

“You want me to wear that?” I looked around rather self-consciously at the gleam in Gabrielle’s eye. The others still in the room wisely acted as though they had more pressing words to have with one another.

“I thought you looked extremely sexy that night.”

“Really?” I began to feel a bit pleased.

“Indeed. Besides, tonight I want you looking your sexiest.”

“In a village full of Amazon women?”

“Absolutely, I want them all to want you and then to realize that you belong to me.”

Her words stunned me into silence. Had it truly only been a season or two since Gabrielle had been that timid and fearful slave girl? Before me now stood a woman, a Queen, She was confident in herself and our love. Gods above! Athena, bless you. I had hoped that the girl would become a woman such as this, but on many occasions, I feared it only a dream.

I leaned in and placed a fervent kiss upon her lips, which she returned with an equal ardor. “I have eyes for no other, my little one. You truly own my heart.”

“And, mine is yours, as well. There will never be another for me, Xena.”

The moment would have turned into tears or lovemaking if we had been alone. Of that, I was certain. Realizing we weren’t alone tended to have an embarrassing affect on me.

“Right...um, give me a few moments, then.”

Moments had been all that it took. Amira and I were so ecstatic at being allowed to wear our regular apparel that we were ready in no time. She wore a slightly longer skirt than usual and a short leather top that showed her tummy, baby fat and all. As for me, I felt at home in the leather outfit that Anya had designed. It caused me to realize that I would chuck the official tunic out the window when we returned to Corinth. I would have Anya create a fashionable, official, yet comfortable, article of clothing.

“Do you approve, Your Highness?” I asked Gabrielle when she came into our private room to check on me.

“Very much so. I would add a few things, however. Trust me?”


She opened the baskets we traveled with, containing our clothes and personal possessions. I already wore the black leather pants that laced up the front of the legs. Such a thing wasn’t practical, but it did make for a damn good decoration. I sported the sleeveless leather armor that matched the pants and black boots. Created as a sort of leather jerkin, its decoration consisted of riveted leather straps crisscrossing my chest, along with gold medallions.

Gabrielle handed me a pair of leather and gold gauntlets that went from my wrist to the middle of my forearm. She then held up the heavy, but extremely impressive gold belt that had the same coins fashioned onto it as my armor.

“Your sword fits onto this belt, right?” she asked.

“Perfectly,” I answered as I fixed the scabbard to the metal as proof.

“Now that’s sexy,” Gabrielle said once she took a step back.

“As long as I don’t have to go swimming, I’ll be fine. You have a perfect eye for accessories, my love.”

“Thank you. Hhmm, no swimming, eh? That may cancel some plans I had for us for later.” She winked at me and saucily strolled from the room.

As usual, Gabrielle’s suggestive reply left me thinking of only one thing for the rest of the evening. The Conqueror was going to get lucky tonight.


Amira watched the gleaming metal of my sword from a safe distance, a new respect for the weapon evident in her eyes. I had no worries that her slight experience with my sword would put her off the blade. She still had a sort of gleam in her eye when she gazed at the lion's head.

Once our group neared the center of the village, Adara and the other leaders of the twelve clans met us. Ephiny had explained earlier to Gabrielle how things would go during the evening's ceremony, but the Amazon had agreed to act as a sort of translator for our group, whispering occasional explanations. As Gabrielle's family and close friends, we were to sit directly in front of the stage they had erected in the center of the village.

Mother and Selene took charge of Amira, who oohed and ahhed at every sight. I admit; the forest became quite the spectacle. Every torch, candle, and oil lamp had been lit and the lights flickered off every leaf, on every tree, surrounding us. It was as if bits of glowing copper and brass hung from every branch. Encircling the arc of the stage, banners from each clan waved in the slight breeze of the evening.

A great number of chairs and benches had been set up next to the stage. We would sit there. The only people directly on the stage would be Gabrielle, Satena, and the clan elders. A couple of nameless Amazons directed us to the front, leaving Gabrielle and the elders behind for what I expected would be a formal entrance. Before leaving her side, I kissed her and whispered into her ear, offering a few words of love and encouragement. She smiled and returned the affection, appearing surprisingly confident. I had thought she would be more nervous, but upon reflection of the moment, perhaps she felt comfortable at finally coming into her own. I know I would have been a wreck.

Amira sat beside me, Mother and Selene on the other side of the youngster. On my left sat Ephiny, Yu Pan, and Solan. My son looked back nervously, no doubt at his centaur friends. Kaliepus and the centaur delegation stood at the very rear of the staging area. I had no worries on that front. Adara had given her word that no Amazon would start any sort of trouble during the evening. The tone of her voice assured me that the woman who crossed that line would be a sorry Amazon, indeed. Scylla, Kuros, Atrius, Anya, and their children sat in the row behind us.

We had left one chair directly behind me empty. Athena said that she preferred to watch the event with us. Personally, I believed she simply wanted to make Artemis more uncomfortable than ever. Not given to small talk with mortals, the Goddesses appeared mere moments before the ceremony began. Athena's sister sat beside Gabrielle, looking more regal than when dressed in her hunting gear earlier. Artemis also looked considerably nervous, but given her uneasiness around humans, it wasn't unexpected.

The center of the village was awash in light, conversation, and activity. When Adara stood and stepped to the front of the stage, hundreds of Amazons and their guests immediately fell silent. It had been many seasons since a Queen had accepted the mask. Most of the women in the village had never seen such an event. The older women could probably remember the day Melosa accepted, but that had been so long ago. Still, no one had ever witnessed what was to happen on this evening. Tonight, the Goddess Artemis herself would place the Queen's mask in Gabrielle's hands. The drums began and we watched as Artemis and Gabrielle led the way to the stage, followed by the Elders.

"Fellow Amazons and most appreciated guests," Adara began. "I am Adara of the Panther clan. I welcome all of you to a most glorious and momentous event. Our lives are about to change in a most positive way. The Elder Council agreed unanimously to offer the right of royalty to Gabrielle of Potidaea. Not only has Gabrielle accepted, but also our patron, the Goddess Artemis, has personally blessed her. The Goddess sent Gabrielle to us, so it should assure all of us that the right woman holds the highest position of power within our tribe."

Every warrior who held a sword rapped the flat of the blade against the sides of their seats, shields, and trees, anything that would echo the sound. Others simply cheered and shouted their approval. The sudden rush of sound caused a few babies in the audience to begin crying.

Had I noticed an angry twitch to Lexa's eye? It was apparent that Adara's last words had been meant to add a certain finality to the issue. How could any Amazon now declare Gabrielle unfit to lead when Artemis herself had selected her for the job? Even Lexa wouldn't have nerve enough to declare that her patron had made an error.

There was a great deal of talking, music, and dance productions, but they eventually came around to the reason we were all there. Satena bid Gabrielle rise and the Priestess tied a leather band around Gabrielle's right wrist.

"The royal crest is painted on the leather," Ephiny whispered. "She only has to wear it until she receives her permanent mark."

The permanent mark Ephiny spoke of would be a tattoo placed on the inside of Gabrielle's wrist. All Amazons received one at a certain age. Once a girl had chosen a clan, she received the emblem of the clan in the form of a small tattoo on the inside of her wrist.

Gabrielle would take the emblem of royalty, a blue feather lying atop a sword. She hadn't flinched when they told her. Of course, she wouldn't. She already had the large tattoo of the Order of the Rose along her neck and scalp, mostly hidden by her hair. As for me, I grew slightly sick at my stomach at the sound of the word tattoo. Now, I have willed my body to do many things in my life, to ignore most forms of pain, but the very thought of sharp points of bamboo and metal being stuck into my skin turned me into an overgrown baby.

"She's absolutely beautiful." Athena leaned forward and whispered in my ear.

I smiled with pride, as well as in appreciation. "She is indeed. Thanks."

"For what?"

"You know…all of it."

She patted my shoulder. "I hear you every time you think it, Xena, and your thankfulness gladdens my heart."

She reached out and squeezed Amira's shoulder. The youngster had been listening intently to our whispered conversation.

"And how are you, my little tadpole?"

"Okay," Amira whispered slightly louder. She wore a large grin and held up the necklace Gabrielle had given her to wear. "See what Mama gave me?"

"How beautiful. And, are you and your mother doing all right together?" Athena asked.

"Uh huh. She's perfect!"

We returned our attention back to the stage. Mostly Gabrielle just stood there while Satena lit candles, burned incense, and waved the smoke around with the feather from a large bird. Gabrielle repeated the words Satena said to her, and then the Queen's mask was uncovered.

It was a combination of carved wood and dried reeds woven around the outside. The wood was extraordinarily light. Amazon warriors wore their masks into battle, mostly to scare the Tartarus out of the enemy. The faces fashioned onto the front were frightening and sometimes grotesque. The bright paint made it even more so.

Again, Ephiny whispered an explanation for most of us to hear. "Every Amazon creates her own mask once her chosen clan has accepted her. Actually, work begins on the mask at a young age. It's a very personal thing, part of a girl's ritual from child to woman. It happens for most at puberty, but that's not written in stone. For some girls it's younger, for some older. It's even considered good luck for a pregnant woman to fashion her child a mask before birth. A Queen, however, hands her mask down to her heir. That mask Satena is holding has been used by the royalty of our tribe all the way back to Queen Nyalda."

Amira snuggled closer to me. When I looked down, she explained with one word. "Scary," she said.

"They're supposed to be, princess. When the Amazons go to war and fight, they wear their masks to scare the enemy. You don't have to be afraid, though."

Gabrielle's mask showed some wear, but that was to be expected since it had been passed down to so many generations of Queens. Satena lifted the mask up as if it was some sacred object, holding it delicately by its edges. Artemis stood and walked toward Satena. The priestess kneeled before the Goddess and Satena held out the mask. Taking it into her hands, Artemis then turned to Gabrielle.

Had Gabrielle grown taller at some point? It must have been my eyes playing tricks on me. Perhaps I was seeing her with my heart instead of my eyes. She appeared confident and strong, standing toe to toe with the Goddess Artemis. It was no trickery of the light, however. No longer was Gabrielle the small and timid slave who had helped to redefine my life. Others might always see her as such, but I gazed at my wife through different eyes, the eyes of love and adoration. She looked like a glorious Titan to me. Hadn't I always seen something of inordinate value behind those emerald eyes?

"For all to see and hear, within the mortal realm as well as the heights of Olympus, I claim Gabrielle as my chosen,” Artemis began. “I ask that she and her heirs lead my people for the rest of their days. I command of my people to follow her words as though they be my own. What say you, Gabrielle? Will you accept or turn away from the mask of royalty?"

I could almost hear the heartbeats of those around me; such a silence had fallen upon those present. They waited anxiously, leaning forward in their seats slightly to hear Artemis's words. It was no secret to the village that Gabrielle had considered herself an unworthy candidate for the mask. I am certain they wondered whether she would turn down the right.

Artemis held the mask out to Gabrielle. It was all up to her now. She could accept or decline. This situation hadn't been of her choosing. Rather it had been thrust upon her. Given her choice, I suspected that Gabrielle would have desired nothing more than life on some quiet farm with a loving spouse, loads of children, and a quill with which to write. As with everything that had happened in her life, however, I was certain she would accept her destiny without question, along with the grace and dignity of which she always seemed capable. That was why it came as no surprise when Gabrielle reached out and accepted the gift of the mask.

Still, the crowd had scarcely yet taken a breath. Gabrielle turned to the people looking back at her and lifted the mask into the air with both hands, uttering the words that generations of Amazon Queens before her had spoken.

"I hereby swear to uphold your house!" Then, she placed the mask over her face.

" Behold, Gabrielle, the Queen of the Amazons!" Satena called out.

The Amazons dropped to one knee in a display of respect. Then, the entire village erupted into a raucous combination of shouts, cheers, and cries so loud that I was certain neighboring lands could hear the commotion. There would have been no way of continuing the ceremony, even if that hadn't been the end. Those on the stage rushed to bow and congratulate Gabrielle. I noticed that Artemis had quickly disappeared, probably frightened out of her immortality by the noise. Athena's seat was suddenly empty and there she stood on the stage, placing a blessing upon Gabrielle.

Gabrielle made her way from the stage and I allowed the others in our group to congratulate her first. I watched as our family curtsied and bowed respectfully as Gabrielle stood before each of them. Even Amira appeared in awe of her mother until she lifted the face covering of her mask. The whole evening, and late hour, caught up with the youngster rather quickly as she yawned loudly in her mother's arms. Cyrene took the girl and Amira went off to bed, but not before the promise of a story and a sweet treat from my mother. Gods, the girl was so like me that she could have been my flesh and blood daughter.

Gabrielle came to me and although I hadn't planned it, I believed it was the right thing to do. Before all our friends and family, and perhaps a thousand strangers, I bent to one knee before my beautiful Queen. Did she think I would never be able to do that? It wouldn't have surprised me. I had done many things in my lifetime, in earnest and for political gain, but kneeling before anyone else had not been among them.

Gabrielle had tears in her eyes as she reached out and touched my cheek. She extended her other hand and I took it in my own, rising to stand beside her.

"I'll not have you bowing to me, My Conqueror."

I believed she chose her words with great care. With that one statement, Gabrielle told everyone present there would be little anyone could do to break apart our alliance. We would stand together, the Amazons and the Empire, equals, much as Gabrielle and I had become. I kissed her soundly, laying claim to her before her people. She had become Queen to me long before Amazonia received that entitlement.

To be continued in : Chapter 35: When Push Comes To Shove...

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