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The Conqueror Series
Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand
Chapter 44: A Mighty Flame Follows A Tiny Spark...I woke to an empty bed, which put me in a bad humor rather promptly. The sort of day the weather indicated it might become didn't help to improve my attitude any. A heavy fog hung over the village, leaving me unable to even see the ground. It was early and would probably burn off after the sun had risen higher in the sky, but just then, it felt as though I floated in a house among the clouds.
Gabrielle had left a note for me on the table in the dining area. She had risen early and went off to make a trip to Artemis's temple. It wasn't unusual behavior for her, and considering that she did leave me a note, I decided to be forgiving about her absence. Besides, she had a great deal less to drink than I did last night. Going to sleep as early as we did, she must have been wide awake and waiting impatiently in the dark for Apollos chariot to take flight. I, on the other hand, had a head the size of all Greece from all the drink Id imbibed.
After a morning clean up, I dressed and looked out the window again. The mist had already begun to lift. Perhaps the day would turn out clear after all. I heard muffled voices and quiet laughter outside on the balcony. Thinking Gabrielle had decided to visit with someone out there, I headed that way. Im certain surprise registered on my face when I saw Selene and Prax sitting on my balcony furniture as though they belonged there.
"Hi there, big sister," Selene said.
"What are you two doing here?" I asked in a not-so-polite fashion.
"Youve got a hangover, dont you?" Selene grinned at me, but at least Prax had the decency to jump to her feet t, recognizing my station.
"Forgive us, Lord Conqueror. We only wanted to wait out here until you and the Queen awoke. I wanted to be the first to tell Queen Gabrielle that I passed the physical tests administered by Captain Ephiny this morning."
"Im sure shell be thrilled to hear it. How did you two get up here, anyway?" I asked, leaning over the railing to see the ground at least eighty hands below us.
"We climbed," Prax answered. "Selenes actually getting quite good."
Selene beamed at me. I believed there to be a touch of triumph in that expression. Perhaps too much so for my liking.
"See that you dont break your neck before we get to Corinth." I know I sounded rather testy, but my head pounded and I desperately wanted a hot cup of strong tea, but I had no idea how much tea Gabrielle put in the pot. The last time I tried to make it myself, the brew came out sort of like muddy water with about the same taste.
"Yes, sister dear," Selene muttered. At least it sounded a lot like that to me.
"What did you say?" I glared at her.
She must have realized that she had crossed a line. "I uh said...looks like the days going to be clear."
"Uh huh," I answered, turning back to face Prax. "Sorry to disappoint you, but if youre looking for Gabrielle youre in the wrong place. She went off to the temple at first light."
Prax jumped out of her chair again. "But I thought she was with you!"
"No," I said slowly. "For her to be with me that would require that she actually be present, which she is not."
"You mean shes alone?"
"Im not really sure, but"
The oddest thing happened then. The girl fairly jumped over the balcony railing, hopping from branch to branch until she was very quickly gone from our sight. Selene and I simply looked at one another.
"Shes your friend," I said.
"You think this guard thing between her and Gabrielle is going to work out?" she asked.
"I think Gabrielle will have her thrown in the dungeon inside of 6 moons if the girl doesnt relax a tad."
Selene laughed. "I know what you mean, but Gabrielles pretty patient. I mean, she puts up with you, after all."
"You should be on the stage, you know that? Perhaps I should send you off to the Performing Arts Academy in Athens? Stop talking and make me some tea."
She laughed again, ignoring me in much the same way as Gabrielle usually did. "Aw, did Gabrielle leave the house and not make your morning tea?"
"The tea!" I glared again, rubbing my temples.
"Youre not much of a morning person. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"Actually, never," I replied to her wide eyed expression. "Usually I dont stop hearing what a sensitive and compassionate woman I am first thing in the morning."
She just stared at me for a long moment, then she laughed loudly. "Yea, right before you run them through."
We both laughed this time. We sat down and enjoyed our tea together. I remember thinking that having Selene around would keep me on my toes. She would be a breath of fresh air in Corinth, if not a shock to the system. She had matured in an amazing fashion over the last couple of moons. She may have had my physical build, but she had Gabrielle's temperament. She had developed the ability to laugh at life. That attitude would take her far, of that I was certain. Whereas our little Amira looked and acted just as I had at her age. Gods above! The only way to tell that the girl was truly Gabrielle's daughter was by those emerald green eyes. I wondered if the tyke would be able to master King' Men the way Gabrielle had.
I humorously wondered what my advisors would think about the new family that was soon to descend upon our estate. I had a feeling that life would never again be the same in that large old palace.
Addendum to the Lord Conqueror's Manuscript: Separate Parchment
Added in Xena, the Lord Conqueror's presence by Queen Gabrielle of Potidaea
"Oh, Gods, Prax, don't do that." I said to my new guard, stopping short of slapping her in the arm. I turned around and there she was, standing silently beside me. I believe my heart nearly stopped beating.
"But, Captain Ephiny just told me this morning that part of a guard's job is to be stealthy and silent."
"To the enemy, Prax. Not to me."
"Oh. You really shouldn't go out alone, though, Your Highness."
I chuckled. "Look around us. I'm never alone. There are at least twenty members of the Royal Guard, Empire and Amazon, around us."
Prax looked around and I knew that even with her keen eyes, she could probably only glimpse about half the guards. Her cheeks reddened.
"Sorry about that. I guess I was just a little I don't know "
She smiled and nodded. It was as though I spoke to a completely different person. She no longer even looked at me with anger smoldering in her eyes as she had done for so many days. Suddenly, I found it easy to like the young woman walking beside me.
"Look, if we're going to have this work, Prax, we're going to have to create some guidelines. First off, I will accept that youre a personal body guard shall we say. I promise I won't try to ditch you anywhere much."
She laughed appropriately. "Ephiny told me that you've eluded your guards on more than one occasion. She appeared rather embarrassed by the notion."
"Yes, well, I promised Xena I wouldn't be doing that again, so you're safe there. It will be your choice, but I think that once we arrive in Corinth, you should live in the palace"
"On the same floor as you and the Lord Conqueror?"
"I'll think about that one. Next, when Xena or Ephiny are with me, I may excuse you." I quickly held up my hand. I could tell that she was about to say something.
"And no argument from you over any of these ground rules. Agreed?"
"I" She stopped abruptly and nodded her head. "Yes, Your Highness."
"Good. One other thing, Prax. As my personal guard, you'll be privy to many conversations of a most private nature, things that others should perhaps not know about for one reason or another. Nothing you hear can be repeated to anyone. Is that understood?"
"You can depend on me to be discreet."
"Lastly, I reserve the right to add or amend any rules as I see fit. Agreed?"
"I stopped walking and looked up at her.
"Yes, Your Highness," she answered. I felt a little sorry for her. She looked as though she was a child and I'd just stolen her favorite toy.
"How are you with children?"
"You mean little kids?" I almost laughed aloud at the look on her face. It reminded me of the first time I saw one of Anya's little girls wrap her tiny arms around Xena's neck.
"Don't panic. I just don't want you scaring my daughter, Amira. I intend on having her with me during the day as much as possible."
"I think all of this can work, Prax. You just need to relax a little."
"I know I can be rather intense, but it's truly something I'm working on. It's hard, though."
"I understand Yu Pan's been tutoring you. One of the first things he taught me was patience and perseverance."
"Oh, yea, I've learned an awful lot already, but well, you see I thought that maybeI mean, you wouldn't have to do muchof course, I know how busy you arethen there's our positions to consider"
"Okay, stop, you're making me dizzy and I have no idea what you're trying to say."
"Sorry. I'm not usually thisI guess the whole day has been kind of exciting for me. I feel like I'm turning my life around and well, it's all new."
"I understand better than you think. Just take a deep breath and start over."
She took in the breath, slowly letting it out. "I was hoping, actually Master Yu Pan first suggested the idea, that you might be my mentor for learning Master Yu Pan's way."
Her request stunned me into a few long moments of silence. When I finally found my voice, I had no idea what to say. "Oh, Prax, I don't know I meanI'm not a teacher. I'm still a student of the way myself."
"But Master Yu Pan says that you're his greatest student."
"He flatters me, but I still don't"
"Could you at least think about it please? I can't think of anyone better to teach me these principles that Master Yu Pan talks about. You see, from the first, once I got past all my anger, when I looked at you, I saw well, I saw the kind of person I wanted to become."
If her request dumfounded me, this latest revelation did as much to paralyze me. It also dawned on me as to why Prax had wanted to be my personal guard so badly.
"Prax, does this have any tie to why you chose to become my personal guard?"
She hung her head and dug her booted foot into the soft reddish dirt. "I figured it was the best way I could serve youkeep a promise I made to Artemis, but at the same time be as close as possible to you, to learn from you."
"But why me? I'm not complaining. I'm really awfully flattered, but I'm a little surprised considering what we've gone through."
"My mother once told me that in order for me to be the best at something, I needed to be instructed by the best. When it comes to the way, you are the bestand I don't mean just because Master Yu Pan says so. I know you're the best because of the things that I've seen you say and do, the way you act and the way you think, the way you treated me. I think you're the best, and I want to learn from you."
"II truly don't know what to say, Prax. Thank you for the gracious compliments, but I'm nothing special, and I'm certainly not the best."
"Don't you see? That's what makes you the best. Master Yu Pan said that if you thought you were, you probably wouldn't be."
I chuckled. "Oh, he did, did he? Master Yu Pan has taught you a great deal already, whether you know it or not."
"Does that mean you'll do it?"
"That means I'll think about it. Let me speak with Master Yu Pan, and I'll let you know what I can do. Okay?"
"Yes, my Queen."
"Okay, I'm starving. Have you eaten anything yet this morning?"
"No. I think I was a little too nervous."
"Then let's go to the dining hall. I'm buying."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's just a joke. We really have to work on getting you relaxed."
"You're really just telling me to lighten up, aren't you?"
"See," I looked up at her and winked. "We're developing a sort of intuitive relationship already."
"The Queen's retreat?"
Xena and I had been quite busy, having no time for ourselves. First, all my time had been consumed by plans for our marriage ceremony, which had taken place the previous day. Now, it seemed there was an endless number of details to go over in order to prepare for us to return to Corinth. We sat together, taking a few precious private moments together when Ephiny and Selene called on us.
"Queen's retreat?" Xena repeated after me.
"They should take this act on the road...maybe the Apian Way," Selene turned to Ephiny and said.
Ephiny tried not to smile. I think she was still trying to hide the fact that she and Selene, while not officially seeing one another, had at least a mutual attraction going. It reminded me of how painful that particular parting might be when it came time to leave the Amazon village.
"It was created by Dexithea, the last Amazon Queen to wed during her reign. It's just a cottage really, but she built it as a wedding present for her mate. Every Queen since has spent some time there when she needed a spell away from the village.
"Where is it at? Why haven't we seen it yet?" I asked.
"It's about a candlemark's ride away from here, up in the hills. It's a particularly beautiful area that Artemis deigned a specially sanctified spot in our forest. I think you'll know why when you see it."
"When Ephiny told me about this place, I thought it would be absolutely perfect," Selene added.
"Perfect for what?" Xena asked.
"For you two, of course. You haven't had a proper night to yourselves since the ceremony, and what with going back to Corinth in two days, I thought you could spend at least a day or so there, some time all your own."
"Oh, Selene, I don't know..."
I so wanted to say yes, and I looked at Xena to see what her reaction to the news had been. I shouldn't have wondered. She held a gleam of excitement in her eye.
I kept thinking of all the things I had yet to do before leaving this village inin whose capable hands? I had yet to choose a Regent. I had thrust the position upon Ephiny when we had been in Corinth, but now that I had lived in the village and gotten to know its people, I realized that another would probably be the woman I should choose. How would I break that to Ephiny?
I had been stressed lately and perhaps neglecting my spouse and family. I tried to recall Yu Pan's teachings about stress. He would have told me that stress came from making things more important than they are, or than they should be at any rate. I wondered if that had been my experience. Had I been concentrating too much on all the wrong things? Gods, that was another thing. What to do about mentoring Prax? I needed to speak with Yu Pan about that.
All these thoughts helped me to decide. "I think it sounds wonderful," I suddenly said, looking at Xena sitting next to me.
"I agree," she added in a restrained tone.
She couldn't hide her excitement from me, however. I could tell by her almost relieved smile that she had waited, wanting to see what my answer would be before speaking. I had taken notice of her biting her tongue on more than one occasion here in Amazonia. She was accustomed to making the decisions, but she held back here where I was the ruler. I know I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but she constantly considered how it might look to the people I now ruled. It was a loving and respectful gesture that I would not forget.
"So, when do we go?" I asked.
"As soon as you can ready yourselves. I have a squad already prepared with horses and supplies."
"Pretty sure about my response, eh Captain?" I asked.
"Pretty sure you needed the time away is all."
"A very diplomatic answer, my friend."
It only took a short while for Xena and I to put ourselves together enough for an overnight stay. Of course, convincing Amira that she would have a better time with Cyrene and Selene took some doing. She nearly had me in tears with the forlorn expression on her face.
"Don't you want me with you no more?" She said followed by a pout.
"Oh, my love, I certainly do. You and I, and Xena, will have lots of time to be together in Corinth, though. Besides, the day will go so quickly that you won't even notice Xena and I are gone."
"I think you're going to make your grandma Cyrene sad with this behavior."
"Why will she be sad?" She straightened up slightly, seemingly interested in this new news.
"You know that Cyrene was looking forward to you and her having a whole day and night together, just the two of you. She's not coming to Corinth with us, and she'll miss you terribly when she goes back to her own home. In fact, Cyrene already has permission from Breena to go into the kitchens so you can help her make some special sweet pastries."
"Really?" She perked up. There was a long silence. "Which kind?" she asked, still not convinced, but I could see that she was her mother's daughter. Her stomach called louder than her hurt feelings.
"I think she said something about those tiny balls rolled in sugar, the ones with the red syrup inside."
"Ooh, those are my favorites. Okay, I'll stay with Grandma Cyrene and Aunt Selene. Just one day right?"
"Yes, princess, just one day."
The girl definitely knew the fine art of emotional manipulation, of that I was certain.
"Oh, Xena, it's breathtaking." I could think of no adequate words to describe the beauty of the valley we had just entered.
"It must rival Olympus," Xena replied in a voice filled with awe. She had traveled throughout most of the known world, and yet she still looked as impressed as I was at the sight.
It quickly became apparent why Queen Dexithea chose such a location for the retreat. Its beauty was obvious, but as we entered the lush glade, I noticed that it was protected by sheer cliffs on two sides. The third side led up a mountain covered with a dense overgrowth of trees and thorny shrubs, nearly impossible to navigate on foot or horseback. The Royal Guard's job would be made much easier, since the only entrance lay through the Amazon village itself. A fact I'm sure would make Prax and Ephiny happy.
We traversed a well worn path on horseback, passing by a stream that ran up the side of the mountain. I heard the crashing sound of a large waterfall and realized that it must lie on the other side of the mountain. When the wind was right, I could actually hear the falls from the village.
Enormous trees, their magnificent boughs blotting out the sky, created a sort of sound proofing. The air was still and humid, a blanket of silence thoroughly wrapped around the area. Long green trails of moss hung down from the branches of the trees, connecting each tree to its neighbor.
"It's just beautiful," I told Ephiny as we rode closer to the cottage, which looked more like a small palace to me.
We dismounted in a clearing not too far from the main house. The soldiers kept riding toward what looked to be a stable. Two of the Amazon guard took our horses down in that direction, also.
"They're not billeted in the stable, are they?" Xena asked.
"No," Ephiny answered. "Just behind the stable is a small stream, and on the other side is a medium sized barracks and dining hall. It's pretty comfortable, actually."
Ephiny led the way to the front doors followed by Xena and I with Prax only a few paces behind us. The pathway up to the home had been paved with flagstone, rough flat pieces of rock embedded into the ground. The trees and bushes grew lush and the entire area smelled wonderfully moist, as a forest just after the rain. When I commented on the fact, Ephiny explained that the massive falls on the other side of the cliffs dropped about five hundred feet, spewing up a great deal of water and mist into the air.
I was even more surprised by the inside of the home. It wasn't all marble columns and open-aired porticos like our palace in Corinth. This place looked more like the farm homes in the Greek countryside with an Amazon flair.
"The stream runs through the inside of the house!" I said as we strolled from room to room. Indeed, through one corner of the house, the crystal clear stream, along with it's rocky bed, meandered, ending at a rather large pool complete with its own little waterfall, all inside the spacious home. I had seen the large bathing halls certain Greek and Roman noblemen had built, but I'd never seen anything like this, a pool inside the house.
"Built for relaxation, that's for sure," Xena said.
"I think we're going to have to come back to Amazonia just so we can stay out here a little longer."
Ephiny chuckled. "I suppose it's the only really decadent spot in the Amazon Nation, but we tend to think our Queens are worth it.
"Well, I don't know about that, but I'm eternally grateful, Eph. Thanks so much for bringing us here. And, thank Selene for thinking of it, too."
"There's a full compliment of supplies in the kitchen. Breena sent some of her girls ahead this morning and loaded you up with enough food and drink to entertain a small army."
"Why don't you and Prax stay and have dinner with us then?" I asked, perhaps without thinking. I caught the fallen expression on Xena's face.
Ephiny and Prax looked at each other and grinned. I immediately remembered why we were there.
"I think we'll leave you two alone. You have the rest of the afternoon and evening to yourselves. Besides, Breena filled up our barracks with fresh food, too."
"Are you sure I shouldn't be posted somewhere closer to the house, Captain?" Prax asked.
"I'm sure," Ephiny replied, practically grabbing my serious looking bodyguard by the neck.
"If you two need anything, all you have to do is yell loud," she called back from the door. "Your personal guard are still stationed around the house. A discreet distance away," she added.
I found it surprising, the way Prax's cheeks reddened, apparently in regards to what she thought Xena and I would be doing that evening. What surprised me about myself was that I actually thought more about being with my wife than the fact that there would be others all around us.
There had been a time when I was overly conscious of the guards around me. In my past, there had been occasions when I had been made to perform my sexual duties before many eyes. Those days still had the ability to haunt my dreams. Of late, I had become more and more conscious of those men and women around me during times when Xena and I were intimate. I don't know why, perhaps merely my own demons come to light. But, just now, I realized that these guards had no wish to laugh at me or humiliate me in any way. In the case of harm to me, any one of them would willingly give their lives up in my place. I suppose maybe it was this thinking, which suddenly put me so much at ease.
How I looked forward to this evening. Too long had it been since Xena and I had been able to enjoy one another at our leisure.
"It feels wonderful," I exclaimed only to see Xena nod in agreement.
The day had turned quite warm for the end of the summer season, and the water in the pool felt delicious against my skin. Xena and I even gave in to the little girls inside of us and started a rather playful water fight. I fought valiantly, but it was a losing battle, and I wasn't too proud to say so and beg mercy. This was the side of Xena that few other people would ever see and I thought that a shame. It was, however, something that caused me to feel quite fortunate, even special.
We continued to lounge in the beautifully landscaped pool, listening to the water as it fell down the rocks. I could not even hazard a guess as to how the water was continually recycled from pool to waterfall. We held one another, bathed unhurriedly, and simply relaxed with no particular agenda. Well, perhaps one agenda, but we knew that would come.
It was easy to relax with the sounds coming from outside. At first, it sounded as though musicians played just outside our doors. It turned out to be the most ingenious of devices. Pieces of hollow bamboo, along with metal tubes, hung in groups. When the breeze tossed the pieces against one another, they gave off some truly melodic sounds.
"Mm, know what I feel like doing now?" Xena came up behind me and kissed the top of my ear.
"I bet I can guess."
"You're such a mind reader."
It was a most inopportune moment, but my stomach decided to protest my choice of priorities, or what it assumed was to be my next action.
"Have you eaten today?" Xena asked. Her look of concern touched my heart.
"I swear I had a morning meal. Prax is my witness. Sorry, love," I said after my stomach rumbled once more.
"Maybe we better eat food," she added quickly to my arched eyebrow. "We have all evening," she reminded me. "Besides, I'm hungry myself."
"Well, I suppose we should keep up our strength." I chuckled. "Why don't I see what Breena's prepared for us?"
"Excellent idea, love."
Xena exited the pool first, and as always, I watched her body, feeling that familiar, tingling warmth assail my belly. She was an incredibly beautiful woman, and I took the opportunity to tell her so.
"I bet you say that to all your consorts, my Queen," she said as she offered me a hand and helped me from the pool.
We wrapped ourselves up in the soft towels I found in a woven basket not far from the pool. We made our way to the rather large kitchen space and dining area. What I found there certainly stunned me into silence. I wasn't sure if it was from embarrassment or not.
"Surprise!" The familiar lilting voice rang out.
Although I had only met her once before, Aphrodite looked exactly the same as she had at our last meeting. Surrounded by Athena and Artemis, the trio stood around a fully laden dining table. Candles burned to enhance the romantic setting and the smell coming from a bubbling pot hanging over the coals of the fireplace made my mouth water. Athena looked confident, Artemis, as usual uncomfortable around mortals, and then there was Aphrodite. Her smile was infectious, but I did tug at my towel self consciously. Her diaphanous gown did little to conceal her own naked form.
"Oh no! What are you all doing here?" Xena questioned.
I suppose the Goddesses had become used to Xena's ill-mannered attitude, but I couldn't bring myself to be anything but in awe. I bowed, as I always did in their presence.
"Gabrielle, they're in our house, not the other way around." Xena sounded testy, but I ignored it. She was always that way around the immortals. Even more so when she had our privacy on her mind.
"I call Gabrielle's behavior respectful," Artemis said. She looked miffed, as well, while Athena only smiled that mysterious smile of hers.
"Forget it, sister. I gave up on her a long time ago. Getting Xena to act decorously is like trying to teach a child to dislike sweets."
I winced. Athena's analogy was sure to get Xena's temper going.
"Look" Xena took a step forward, but I intercepted her.
"Calm down, love. This all looks rather innocent."
"That's always the way they" She stopped, sighed, and looked down at me. Leaning forward, she kissed my forehead. "Sorry don't know what came over me."
"I do," I answered. "We only have one night here," I turned to Athena to say. "We haven't had any time to ourselves in so long."
Xena turned toward the three Goddesses. "Sorry," she mumbled. She couldn't seem to meet their gaze.
"It was never our intention to spoil your evening, ladies. In fact, Aphrodite prepared all this food from her very own recipes just to make your evening that much more pleasant. We wanted to wish you both well, since we didn't come to the ceremony yesterday," Athena said.
"Well, now I feel like an ass," Xena said.
"A good start." Athena grinned over at Xena.
"The three of you will always have a place in our lives," I said. "I hope you forgive our surprise at seeing you. You know that Xena meant no real disrespect."
"Always watching out for me, eh?"
"Oh yes, there was that, but well, the food does smell awfully tempting." It seemed my humor was able to diffuse the situation. All four women smiled at me fondly, Xena wearing that special expression that she reserved for me alone. The one that said she appreciated being taken care of, even if it was sometimes humiliating.
"So, now that everybody likes everybody else, dig in, girls," Aphrodite said.
I looked longingly at the food, glanced up at the Goddesses self consciously and once more tugging at the towel around me, my only dress at the moment. I think Athena understood.
"We'll leave you two alone. Have a wonderful evening." Athena winked at us, and I couldn't help but blush. I don't know why, since Xena and I were married now. I suppose it was simply because I knew that she knew what we would be doing in a short while. It constantly amazed me when I acted in such a manner; acting like an innocent schoolgirl. I had been used and abused in public so often during my life of slavery that it was always a surprise that my mind even had the inclination to blush, let alone the audacity. It was, however, a most pleasant amazement.
Before we could even say goodbye, the Olympians vanished, leaving behind semi transparent sparkles where they'd been standing. We took our food into the dining area and sat down to enjoy the sumptuous meal, merging the food with conversation about life in general, our futures, and our new family. I found that there existed nothing as romantic as a simple meal, affable conversation, and being alone with the woman I loved.
End Gabrielle's Addendum
I sat at the small table we shared, gazing into those emerald green eyes across from me. We talked about our lives and how we wanted life to be for Amira and the other members of our new family. As I listened to Gabrielle's hopes, loves, and fears, I suddenly realized what had been happening to me. I had been falling in love all over again. The sound of her voice, the way her eyes shone, and the golden color of her hair by the light of the candles, it all made me realize that this was not a mere physical attraction. I loved and needed this woman for so much more than simply sex, although I will be honest. Just then, it was rather high up on my to-do list.
"More?" Gabrielle said as she rose and indicated the empty bowl before me. I wasn't really one to have more than one serving, but I felt myself uncharacteristically famished.
"I think I will. Here, let me." I stood and grabbed both of our bowls much to my wife's astonishment. "Hey, I can serve it up as long as someone else does the cooking."
We both laughed and I headed back to the kitchen. When I walked through the beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the dining area, I nearly ran into Athena. She stood near the fireplace, bending over the cooking pot.
"Lose something?" I asked.
I always thought the immortals knew everything ahead of time, but Athena actually jumped when she heard my voice.
"What do you mean sneaking up on me?"
"I beg your pardon. Isn't this our house?"
"Well " I asked. I wouldn't have pressed her, but she stood directly in front of the cooking pot and the stew I wanted.
"Oh, I " her eyes darted around the room and I just knew she was going to lie to me. "I, um forgot something."
"Really? What exactly did you forget?"
Again, her eyes scanned the room. "This." She quickly grabbed an object from the mantel over the fireplace.
"That vase is yours?"
"Yes, in fact. It's it's a family heirloom."
"Look, just eat your dinner."
"I would if " I indicated with one hand that she blocked my way.
"Oh. Well I better go." Saying that, she disappeared, clutching the vase.
I thought about her strange behavior, but not for long. Suddenly, all I could think of was having more food. I suppose if I had taken the time to think about that unusual desire, I could have avoided a certain amount of pain I was to suffer later.
Gabrielle and I wolfed down a second bowl of stew and I once more returned to the kitchen. We decided that one more serving wouldn't hurt.
"Oh, no!" I exclaimed upon seeing Artemis in much the same spot Athena had been in. "Let me guess. An old family heirloom?" I reached out and lifted up the closest vase, which appeared surprisingly like the one Athena had made off with.
"Why in Tartarus would I want an old piece of pottery like that? Have you lost your mind?"
"Sorry. Private joke. Can I help you?"
"I just "
"Yes, that's it."
"What exactly did you forget?"
"I something that " She turned her head, searching the room.
How could Goddesses lie so badly and why?
"I thought I forgot it, but turns out well, I didn't."
"Well then " She swiped at the air with one hand, looking a little like she was waving goodbye. All at once, I stood there alone.
"Gods!" I muttered, spooning out some more of the delectable stew.
" Does it feel awfully hot in here?" Gabrielle asked.
I had actually been thinking the same thing myself, but I'd already opened the doors out to the garden and a cooling breeze blew into the room. It did nothing, however, to cool my burning skin and I wiped the perspiration from my brow.
"I was thinking the same thing. Maybe just the spices in the stew?" I continued to kiss her neck, ignoring my escalating body temperature, which just happened to match my increasing libido.
We had moved to the living area, pillows and couches set near another fireplace. We had no need for a fire, so we shed our clothes and reclined upon the many pillows spread out on the floor. Neither of us felt any inhibitions, even though our soldiers stood guard somewhere outside of the house. I didn't think it particularly odd, however, considering that some time had passed since Gabrielle and I had been able to let loose and make love as freely as we had back in Corinth.
"I guess maybe it's been way too long since we've done this then." She shivered as I hit a particularly sensitive spot behind her ear. "I'm out of shape."
"Know what you mean," I mumbled. "My skin feels like it's on fire." I took Gabrielle in my arms, pulling her back against me, groaning at the feel of her hot skin against mine. "It has definitely been too long," I added in a husky voice, as I felt a trickle of wetness from my sex.
I wanted to know if Gabrielle felt the same, so I pulled her hips back, grinding myself against her. Her back pressed against my breasts and I felt my nipples grow hard at the contact. Easily reaching my fingers down between her legs, I groaned once more as if in pain at the exquisite wetness pouring from Gabrielle. How we had become so excited that fast was unexpected, but no surprise. It had indeed been a long while. It had grown almost painful; how much I felt myself wanting Gabrielle.
I didn't know what to do first. I wanted to do it all, use my lips, fingers, and tongue. I had my hands across Gabrielle's body, barely giving her time to concentrate on one area of pleasure before I moved on. Quickly, I pulled her backward until she was lying on the bed and I moved over her, placing kisses and running my fingertips across every area of bare skin, pausing at those spots I knew she found pleasurable.
Her body felt like a taut bowstring under my fingertips. It fairly hummed with passion, her body writhing and her hips lifting from the mattress, silently begging for my attention. I gave it gladly. My kisses moved down her body as though the scent of her excitement was a noose around my neck, not that I had to be forced or drawn between her legs involuntarily. Just as I dipped my head, Gabrielle stopped me.
"Turn around," she whispered in a rather frantic tone.
I turned my body and positioned my sex over Gabrielle's face. This was no time for gentle and unhurried discovery. We were much too excited for that, beyond any reasonable thought. Using my fingers to part the delicate, pink folds, I lowered my head and reached my tongue out to taste her.
Gabrielle grasped my hips, pulling me down to meet her waiting tongue. Just as when our skin had first touched, we groaned loudly at the lightning bolt feel of the contact. Tongues working in furious unison, I worked to bring her to climax while fighting to prolong my own pleasure. I was fighting a losing battle, though.
Easing my tongue forward, Gabrielle's sweet taste spurring me on, I slipped my hands underneath her hips to pull her more firmly to me. It was at that moment when my brain slipped from concentrating on pleasuring Gabrielle to feeling the intense satisfaction of my own pleasure.
I felt the warm wetness of Gabrielle's tongue. First she tasted, swirling her tongue against all those most sensitive spots. Then, she pulled down on my hips, and I felt her tongue enter me. Suddenly my hips began their unconscious dance, swirling and grinding against the tongue pleasuring me. It was too much pleasure too soon, I felt my climax rushing upon me much faster than I would have liked.
"G-Gabrielle..." I paused in my own task, hoping to stave off the rise of intense gratification that had me so close to the edge.
Gabrielle never stopped. Knowing me as she did, I'm sure she knew what my shaking body and tightened muscles signaled. Her teeth pressed down against my swollen clit, her tongue continually pressing inside of me. I gripped the bed clothes as I felt her tongue licking across my clit in more forceful strokes. Closing my eyes, I remembered wishing that I could have continued pleasing Gabrielle, but the waves of delight pounded me to the bottom of the surf and I nearly lost my breath. My body jerked, my muscles tightening and releasing involuntarily.
I must have simply froze in place because I felt Gabrielle gently roll me off of her and to the bed. I couldn't even speak as I waited for my body to recover from the intense climax.
"Are you all right?" she asked, stroking my forehead.
I nodded, but after a small while speech returned to me. "Gods," was all I could say at the time.
I noticed that Gabrielle still breathed rather heavily. I cursed my selfishness at taking my pleasure first when all I had really wanted had been to please her. Well, it wasn't all I wanted, although I did want it a great deal. The odd thing was that although I had just experienced an extremely powerful climax, I felt nowhere near sated. All I could think was how much I still wanted the woman beside me.
"Much better," I said as I quickly pushed Gabrielle back onto the bed, beginning once more where I had started.
I licked my lips in eager anticipation. I was ready to come again, or to be brought to that point at any rate, but I wanted to do this for Gabrielle, wanted to take my time. Sliding my palms up the insides of her thighs, I allowed my fingers to bring Gabrielle back to her previous level of excitement. Her body had begun to flush with desire, and a light sheen of perspiration covered her skin. There was nothing as sensual as a woman who enjoyed giving pleasure as well as receiving it. Gabrielle had spent her life giving, and I took a particular pleasure in seeing her receive.
"Just a moment," I said, moving away for a moment.
"Xena," Gabrielle's voice held a combination of frustration and anguish.
"Close your eyes," I commanded, jumping up from the bed.
She immediately did as I requested. It took me a few moment to find what I'd been looking for. "Lift," I said when I returned, easing her hips up with one hand. I slid a thick pillow underneath her, tilting her hips up at just the right angle.
Gabrielle had not been the only one of us to possess superior skill in lovemaking. Although I'd let her lead in most of our sessions, that was about to end on this evening, albeit temporarily. Tonight I wanted her on my terms and in my way. Besides, I had been told that I possessed some talent at this particular pleasure, and it was always rather stirring to perform it on a woman who didn't expect or demand it, but found it to be an exhilarating bonus.
My belly tightened with desire. Gabrielle's scent did more than urge me on, it was actually appetizing. I found myself needing to do this, almost craving her taste once more. "So beautiful," I whispered as I looked down and examined her sex. Soft curls the color of amber honey were soaked with Gabrielle's own resplendent moisture.
When I ran the tip of my tongue along the delicate folds, I felt the gathering of moisture from my own body, as well. I licked along the edges first, looking on her sex as one of the rare and precious flowers in my rose garden. Slowly, and with great care, I unveiled her petals, exploring with only the touch of my tongue. I nearly lost myself in the pleasure of this mere act alone, but for Gabrielle's strained voice.
"Xena please," she begged in a voice that shook with restrained passion.
Lifting her hips in a silent plea for more, she moaned with delight when I took one long, languid stroke against the swollen area at the top of her cleft. I wrapped my arms under her hips, sliding my palms upward. My surprise came out as a groan against the lips of her sex when I found her own hands already massaging her breasts. I couldn't resist gazing up to watch her. I began to time the strong licks from my tongue with the way the tugged and pulled on her nipples.
Legs trembling, she began forcefully thrusting her hips upward while intermittently grinding them against my mouth in a circular rotating motion. I had honestly meant to take more time, but our combined passions simply couldn't hold out. Suddenly Gabrielle cried out just as loudly as I had earlier. I wasn't about to let her climax end there, however.
Before she came down from her second climax, I moved on top of her. Her eyes opened wide, suddenly realizing what that long something was that lay atop her thigh and I smiled down at her, waiting for her reaction. She gasped slightly. I wouldn't have even thought of using such a thing if I hadn't the idea that Gabrielle would enjoy it. She had often used a phallus on me during our lovemaking, but had never requested that I return the pleasure. Carefully watching her for any sign of fear or resistance, I reached down and kissed her.
Gabrielle didn't waste time. She wrapped her arms around my neck and when our open mouths met, her tongue searched for mine. Wrapping one leg around my waist, she bucked her hips upward, almost grinding herself against the custom made phallus.
"Yes! Xena, please " She pleaded without any hint of shame.
It was now obvious that Gabrielle wanted this just as much as I had. I let the phallus slide along the length of her drenched sex. She gasped and then moaned as I pressed into her more fully. I stopped pushing, pulling back ever so slightly.
There was a clear desperation in her voice now, as she used words that she rarely uttered. "By the Gods, Xena please, Xena, Gods, fuck me!"
Spreading her legs open and lifting them at the same time, it allowed me to easily enter her. She spread her legs wider, thrusting upward and the phallus impaled her. Gabrielle cried out, but it was a sound of relief and pleasure, not pain. Once I was sure of that, I moved my hips, pushing in and pulling out. Repeating those exact movements, my own wetness increased as the phallus pressed up and against my own sex. We both groaned, moaned, and called out to as many Gods as we knew.
We fell into a rhythm punctuated only by Gabrielle's pleas of harder or deeper. The intensity, especially coming from her, surprised me. If I thought this would be some gentle, loving act, I would have been wrong. It was certainly loving, but it was anything but tender. We pushed and pressed against one another. I gasped in both pain and pleasure when Gabrielle pinched my nipples, pulling at them roughly. I used my teeth and tongue to return the favor. The rhythm picked up, and I finally let Gabrielle control the pace, meeting each of her demands for more.
"Gods you feel so good inside me!" Gabrielle rasped with a ferocious sort of intensity.
Her words, some of them rough and demanding, were all it took for me. I had been holding back my orgasm since nearly the first moment when I had entered Gabrielle. The sound I made as I climaxed could only have been described as a howl. I'm uncertain if it was the noises I made or the hard thrusts of my hips as I came, but it was enough to send Gabrielle off into her own climactic abyss. Her entire body shivered and shook. I believe she would have screamed if her voice hadn't grown raw from her continual pleadings.
I lay slumped over her still, panting body for some time before I could clear my brain enough to force my own body into the slightest action. I slid the phallus from her, listening as she made a mewling sound at its absence. Rolling onto my back, I pulled Gabrielle into my arms. She settled her head in the crook of my neck and we remained still until our breathing came close to being normal.
"Oh, Gods," I finally said as I chuckled in amazement.
"Want to hear something totally and utterly insane?"
"It's too embarrassing."
"Xena, it's me." Gabrielle laughed. "What could be that bad?"
"I want to do that again."
"Good." She leaned up on one elbow, looking down on me.
"I mean I want to do it again now right now."
"Good," she said again, but this time an almost feral smile spread her lips.
It was to be only the beginning of a very long night. One very long, pleasurable night. Somewhere along the way, the pleasure turned somewhat painful as we grew sore from the prolonged contact, but we still couldn't seem to get enough of one another. Our bodies, thankfully, knew better than we did. We each passed out around the same time, blessedly before we could hurt ourselves beyond repair. At the time, I didn't even have the strength to wonder at our odd behavior.
To be continued in : Chapter 45: When I Have Seen By Time's Fell Hand
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