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

Special Disclaimer: For this chapter I thought I'd give a heads up, so to speak. There is a wee bit of light bondage and a whip does come into play between our two gals. If this isn't your cup of tea...well, you've been warned.

The Conqueror Series

Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand

LJ Maas

Chapter 7: Flower in the crannied wall…

"Lord Conqueror, you look well."

"As do you, Cleisthenes. How fares Athens?"

I could see that he was staring at me, perhaps a little too intently. I wanted to laugh aloud, knowing that he was thinking a woman of my age should be showing…well, her age. It seemed as though Athena had put time in reverse for me, to a certain point, anyway. The physical indications were far less than the inner signs. I felt half my age, and whether it was due to having Gabrielle in my life or Athena's touch, either way I considered it a gift.

"Extraordinarily well, Lord Conqueror."

It was a stiff and formal reception that I received from the generals and the polemarchos, or war leader. I recognized a few of the generals from the Athenian campaign so long ago. Themistocles, Aristides, and Stesilaus were all excellent soldiers, getting a little long in the tooth, but weren't we all. Militiades was the polemarchos. I had issues with the man because he had served the Persian king, Darius, before I conquered Athens. Militiades pledged his allegiance to me before I swept into Athens, however, and that had saved him. He was simply too good a warrior to execute and he proved his loyalty throughout the years. After all these seasons, it was still Militiades old tie to the Persians that fueled my suspicion. He allied with the enemy once. What was to keep him from doing it a second time?

When I shook Cleisthenes's hand and offered him a friendly hug, they all looked as though I'd just lopped the man's head off. I had changed much since I was last in Athens, nearly five seasons previous. I didn't take any notice of the generals' reserved behavior. They didn't mean their actions as a personal affront to me. They were warriors and I would not have expected anything different from them.

Cleisthenes, however, had never reacted much to who I was or the abominable way I acted. He seemed to take it all in stride. I remember I had been in a meeting with him once about restoring the great library. During my siege of the city, much of the building had been damaged, but quick thinking citizens had relocated most of the parchments to the library's subterranean level to save them from destruction. During a pause in the conversation, I had ordered the execution of a man I considered a traitor to my throne. It was a gross over reaction, but I was prone to such behavior back then. Cleisthenes never blinked an eye, even though I could see that my order affected him. He paled, swallowed once, and continued his presentation. Being a very young man at the time, he had impressed me with the control he had over his emotions.

At that moment, Gabrielle returned from a meeting with the Amazons. Ephiny and two members of the Royal Amazon Guard stood with the young Queen. We had nearly given up on receiving the generals, as darkness drew near. Gabrielle was dressed rather casually in her riding clothes, as was I. She wore her hair tied back at her neck, but looked every bit the Queen in her leather togs.

"Gentleman, may I present my wife, her highness, Queen Gabrielle," I said as Gabrielle came over to stand beside me.

The generals made their perfunctory greetings, each in their turn. To their credit, they each dropped to one knee to acknowledge Gabrielle's royal status. Cleisthenes stepped forward and kneeled respectfully before Gabrielle. He appeared a bit dazed, but it wasn't the first time Gabrielle had this affect on a man.

"So, it's true then," he said in a voice filled with awe.

He looked between Gabrielle and her Amazons. Ephiny glanced at me and we each arched an eyebrow in question to his statement.

"True?" Gabrielle asked as she looked around at all of us.

Cleisthenes paled slightly as he realized his rudeness. "Forgive me, your highness. I meant no disrespect. It's simply that…well, all of Athens is talking about it."

"Talking about what?" I was quick to ask. If I had hackles, I was certain they would have been standing straight on end.

"Well, that you…" he stammered and hesitated. "Well…that you married a beautiful Amazon Queen," Cleisthenes explained all in one breath.

I chuckled as I noticed that the Amazons stood just a little taller.

"I admit," Cleisthenes said as he shook Gabrielle's hand. "I think the rumors truly underestimated your beauty, however. If I may be so bold as to say."

He said this last to me and I grinned like a hero who had just had a medal pinned to her chest. "You may indeed."

Gabrielle flushed appropriately at the comment. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you, gentleman. I can see why Athens stands so proud with leaders such as you. Militiades, it's a privilege. I've read many of your war stratagems. I'd very much like to discuss some points with you, if you have the time."

Militiades inclined his head stiffly in Gabrielle's direction. "You honor me, your highness."

He was civil in tongue, but the polemarchos's expression said that discussing battle strategy with a woman was the last thing in life he wanted to do. Hades, he used to grind his teeth when he took orders from me. He had an Athenian manner to be sure. They had been the worst city in Greece when it came to the rights they gave women, especially their wives. A prostitute had actually been able to travel to more places, unattended, than a nobleman's wife could. Wives had no money, no status, and were often as much a prisoner in their own homes as their slaves. My reign tried to change some of that, which made me no friends among the aristocracy left in Athens.

I smiled to myself at the man's predicament. The only reason he obeyed me was probably because I could kick his ass from here to Corinth and he knew it. As an afterthought, I realized that Gabrielle could probably kick his ass, too. That hero's grin on my face grew larger.

"Cleisthenes, I've heard wonderful things about your work. I'm especially interested in visiting the city library," Gabrielle continued with her greeting.

"Ahh, you appreciate the parchment, your highness?"

"I do indeed," Gabrielle answered. I knew the library and the schools would be high on Gabrielle's list of places to visit within the city. I wanted to be there when she walked into the library for the first time. The library in Corinth would seem miniscule in comparison.

"Then I shall be at your disposal during your visit. Please allow me to show you anything our city has to offer."

"Thank you. I shall definitely take you up on your gracious offer," Gabrielle responded.

"I believe we should be on our way, then," Cleisthenes began. "I understand that you have yet to take your evening meal and we have no wish to intrude further. Will you ride into the city tomorrow, Lord Conqueror?"

"I think at midmorning," I answered.

"The citizens are quite excited over your arrival. Who should I speak to regarding the processional, Lord Conqueror?"

"Atrius is my Captain. I believe many of you remember him. He can make any arrangements and speak for me in these matters. Atrius," I called to my second in command. He stepped forward.

"Please see that Cleisthenes has what he needs in order to make arrangements for tomorrow."

"Aye, Lord Conqueror," Atrius responded.

"If there is nothing else, I bid you a good evening, gentlemen."

"Aye, Conqueror," they said in response.


The morning began overcast and I feared it would rain, not an auspicious way for Gabrielle to ride into the city her first time. By midmorning, the skies cleared and the light breeze from the coast blew off any chance of poor weather.

Now, I should go back and tell of a brief conversation that happened during our meal the previous evening. We had been invited, along with our friends and family, to the Amazon camp for dinner. The meal had gone exceedingly well and we enjoyed the friendly conversation.

Gabrielle and I sat across from one another and Ephiny sat beside Gabrielle. She had gloated some over that seating arrangement, but what could I do? Their camp; their rules, so to speak. I wasn't in the mood to cause trouble about it, especially since I was beginning to enjoy this little game of one-upmanship Ephiny and I continued to play in regards to Gabrielle.

"Can you believe the nerve, though," I overheard Gabrielle telling Ephiny. "The man was more impressed that I was some Amazon Queen than with anything else."

Ephiny and I laughed at the same time. "Well," Gabrielle pouted slightly. "I wonder what he'd think if he knew just how much Amazon experience I actually had."

"So," Ephiny began. "Why not give the people what they want?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"If they want to see her Maj--um…Gabrielle as an Amazon, surrounded by her loyal Amazon warriors, then why not give them what they want. Besides, think how good you'd look Conqueror. All those adoring citizens thinking you won the heart of Amazon royalty."

"Very amusing," I responded. I saw the expression on Gabrielle's face, however.

She looked over at me and I saw the twinkle in her eye. She had that look that told me her brain was working up something devilish. She smiled at me then and I knew I was caught.

"Go on and do it then. What's another thirty or forty Amazon's in our procession," I said.

I spoke with Atrius and my officers before mounting Tenorio. Not only had the procession been planned like a military engagement, but safety had been an even greater concern. Atrius had already doubled the personal guard that would ride around Gabrielle and me. We traveled with 400 of the best of Corinth's army. It was an enormous amount of manpower to take on a holiday, but we had women, children, and the very throne of the Empire in our caravan. I wished to take no chances with our safety.

I mounted Tenorio, who had been waiting beside Gabrielle's mare. "Ready?"

"If I said no, could we do this another time? Maybe in…oh, I don't know…a few seasons?"

"Athens will fall at your feet, my love."

I meant that with all my heart. Gabrielle sat straight in her saddle, wearing her riding leathers and body armor. The bright gold coins that made up her armor glittered and cast the sun in a thousand different directions. Eponin had showed her how to braid small beads into her golden locks and on the horn of her saddle; Ephiny had strategically placed the Queen's mask. It was a frighteningly impressive mask, and I knew it would work its magic on the people of Athens.

"Shall we ride?" Indicated with a wave of my hand that we were finally ready.

It only took us a little over a candlemark to reach the city gates. Gabrielle and I were somewhere about three quarters of the way back. We had a few surprises for the ride in, mostly entertainment for the crowd. In addition, there was Gabrielle's Amazons. The men we sent to the city in advance of our party said that word had spread quickly of the Amazon Queen. The city streets were jammed and people lined up six and seven deep. The city had all but come to a stop in hopes of catching a glimpse of never-before-seen Amazons.

I turned to see Gabrielle's hands tightening around her mount's reins. The white knuckles gave away her carefully concealed apprehension. I reached over and took her hand in mine. I leaned down slightly as I brought her hand to my lips. Turning her hand over, I gently kissed the open palm.

"I have waited my whole adult life to ride into a city where welcome waited for me on the other side of the gates. I never even dreamed that it would happen with a woman so incredibly wonderful as you by my side."

I waited for her to chuckle or make light of my declaration. I waited anxiously for her response. It was still difficult to make myself vulnerable and open my heart, even to Gabrielle. When I let my heart speak, instead of my brain, I found myself saying the things I actually felt. I feared that such openness came with a price, however. I should not have doubted.

Gabrielle squeezed my hand and her thumb caressed the back of my hand. "You always know exactly what to say to make me feel safe and loved."

It was a good thing that I was on horseback. She looked at me with an expression that melted my knees. Then she smiled that refreshingly open smile she has.

"I love you, Xena." She squeezed my hand once more.

It always startled me to hear my given name. Even Gabrielle had given to calling me Conqueror most of the time, even though she used it as more of a pet name than my title. To hear my name and her profession of love in the same breath, I thought that at that moment, I could have flown into Athens. I returned the sentiment.

"I love you, Gabrielle."

The horns at the front of the procession told us that the front of our line had reached the gates. When an enormous chorus of voices all cheered out at the same moment, I knew that they had entered the city. It was unlike anything I had heard in a great many seasons.

The first sounds to reach our ears had been cries of, "Lion! Lion!"

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and actually struggled to hold back the tears that pushed their way past my tightly held control. How time does change everything. Ten seasons ago, small children threw rocks at my party upon entering Athens. Old women spit on the ground and clutched the talismans around their necks when I rode by. They thought of me only as the Conqueror, one time Destroyer of Nations. To them, I was an abomination, a freak of nature, or perhaps a joke of the Gods.

Now, my reputation may still have been tarnished, but it was no longer as black as the pits of Tartarus. Some of my former self had begun to show through and it was all because of the woman by my side. I may have begun to change before Gabrielle came into my life, but I would have been a lost soul, floundering without guidance had it not been for her light. I slowly made my way to her goodness and light as if they were beacons set upon the rocks. Her soul steered me clear of the dangerous cliffs and toward the shore, to the promise of home.

I could not see the spectacular display as we entered Athens, but I knew exactly what was happening. I had witnessed it a hundred times before. I could see with my mind's eye as the soldiers of Corinth lined themselves six across. They wore bronze armor polished to such a luster that it gleamed as would gold. The cavalry, about two-dozen men on horseback, preceded the infantry. The soldiers' parade tunics were deep purple with golden trim. They matched the banners that the front line men carried. On poles seventeen hands high, the men steadily unfurled the deep wine colored banners bearing the massive head of a lion.

Before the cavalry and the infantry, though, would come the archers. These were ordinary archers, but within their quivers, they held most astonishing arrows. I could picture the scene as the people cheered, rushing toward the front of the streets, jostling for a position by which to view the spectacle. The archers would separate from the ranks and run forward. In unison, they would drop to one knee and fire their arrows high into the sky, directly over the crowd.

I listened for the crowd's gasp to indicate the archers had let loose their arrows. I counted to five, waiting for the expected cheer to rise up from the crowd. I wasn't disappointed and neither, from the sounds, was the crowd. The reason for their amazed cries were because the arrows were actually brightly colored parchment tightly rolled into the shape of ordinary shafts. When the faux arrows were shot into the sky, the parchment quickly loosened and colored streamers fell upon the delighted spectators.

The city provided musicians and soon, even from our distance, we could here the reverberation of sounds beyond the gates. The soldiers before us advanced steadily, and we moved slowly behind them until Gabrielle and I could see the wide-open gates to Athens.

"I suppose this is it," Gabrielle looked over at me and said. Her voice betrayed the nervousness that her expression hid. I silently applauded her.

"I'm beside you, little one. Just remember that."

"For always?" she smiled at me and I understood the reassurance she was asking for.

"For always and then some, my love."

It seemed to be exactly what she needed to hear and I silently thanked Athena for giving me the words. Gabrielle's smile broadened and she urged her mount forward.

"Then I guess we should go smile and wave at all the people."

I chuckled lightly. "Tell you what. You smile and wave and I'll ride along and look like my usual menacing self."

"You are a kill joy, my Conqueror," she said as she laughed.

"Then I am nothing if not predictable," I replied with a sly grin.

Ephiny directed the Amazons to surround us in a semi circle in front and with four lines of soldiers behind. The Amazon warriors, dressed in their skins and feathers, and outfitted with short swords, looked quite fearsome as they slipped their masks over their heads. The frightening, hand-carved masks maintained the notion of their strength.

It was our turn as we entered the gates of Athens. The crowd caught sight of the Amazons and a collective gasp, along with assorted oohs and ahhs, went up from the people. Then the people took in the vision of Gabrielle and myself.

A sort of hush fell upon the thousands, of people lining the streets. Balconies were filled to overflowing, people crowded the side streets, and young boys even hung from the olive trees. That one moment seemed to last forever as I prayed that whoever held a dislike for me would not take it out upon Gabrielle.

Just as suddenly, cheers exploded into the air. The sound was deafening, as Gabrielle looked at me in complete surprise. I don't think either of us had been ready for the hero-like reception the people of Athens showered us with. I could barely hear the musicians, or even the sound of my own horse's hooves on the limestone streets.

The applause and cheering followed us all the way up to the Acropolis. We had arranged earlier to end our procession on the steps of the Parthenon.

Although it had been Pericles who had begun the work of the Acropolis, it had been my coffers that had actually finished the labor to make it one of the true glories of Greece. There were three contrasting temples and a most impressive gateway. They had recently begun the building of the Theater of Dionysos and I had hopes of building an additional, even larger, theater there. It was Athena's temple for which I spared no expense.

I had entrusted the sculptor, Pheidias, with supervising my new temple to Athena. I figured it was the least I could do, given that Athena herself had awarded me her city and, consequently, victory over Greece. Many questioned my decision to give Pheidias the job. He was an artist, not an architect, but it was mostly as a reward for the incredible sculpture of Athena that he had created upon my commission. The Parthenos, an impressive statue that stood over 50 hands high, had been ornately covered in ivory and gold. It was so priceless, in my opinion, that I believed it deserved a house just as worthy.

Pheidias hired the architects, Kallikrates and Iktinos to plan the marble structure. They used Pentelic marble, found in the quarries of Mount Pentelikon in Attica. I was most impressed when I sat down with their plans and drawings. Instead of building in the traditional sense, with straight lines, they used curves. As I said, I was most impressed with the idea to make the structure appear even more majestic than it actually would be. All of the columns had been designed to swell in the middle and all lean inward just slightly. At the same time, the foundation rose from the center somewhat.

My favorite part of the temple had always been the pediments and friezes that went around the entire temple. I, most especially, enjoyed the intricate sculptures on the east pediment. Created by Pheidias and two of his students, Agorakritos and Alkamenes, it was an incredibly complex and life-like sculpture of the birth of Athena. Nearly all of Olympus was present in the work, and as little as I care for the Gods, this one always impressed me.

The temple took only nine seasons to complete. I had the temple dedicated to Athena during the Great Panathenaia, a festival that we celebrated all out only once every four years. Held in the late summer, it was always in honor of our patron goddess, Athena.

When it came time for Gabrielle and I to dismount, we did so and stood on the steps above the Beule Gate. It was over a quarter of a candlemark before the crowd silenced enough for us to speak. I was uncharacteristically nervous and if I felt that way, Gods only know how Gabrielle was holding up. She refused to let go of my hand, but I suppose it made us look more the newlyweds, endearing us to the people even more. I forgot what I even said when I finally spoke, but whatever it was it must have been sufficient. For the first time in my memory, I saw noblemen, slaves, and even metics, foreign residents living in Athens, standing side by side and cheering for a like reason.

I think that as long as I exist in this mortal life, I will never completely forget the vociferous sound of that one word, shouted over and over again by thousands of cheering Athenians…Lion.


"I never knew you liked to take so many baths," I said to Gabrielle.

My wife had her eyes closed, a sort of half smile on her face. It was obvious that she was relaxed and feeling wonderful as she luxuriated in the warm water.

"I never knew I did either, but Xena, just look at this!" she exclaimed, waving her arms around her. "Have you ever seen anything this big that wasn't a lake?"

I chuckled at Gabrielle's childlike expression. The marble bath was indeed a sight. It was easily large enough to hold a dozen people. The servants must have placed the floating flowers there just recently as their scent filled the room caused by the reaction with the warm water. I suppose I assumed Gabrielle had seen such opulence before in her varied life, but she was in awe of the entire house.

The house was one that I had built for the occasions that I would stay in Athens, which were few. Unlike the palace in Corinth, this house had been created in traditional Greek style. The design left most of the house open from one room to another with a few private rooms, such as our bedrooms and study. Gabrielle loved the open balconies. She seemed a new woman since we rode into Athens yesterday. Actually, I believe the changes started the day we began our little holiday.

I stretched out on the floor beside Gabrielle, still in her bath. There was something so wonderfully sexy about a woman who had no idea how absolutely beautiful she was. I rested my head in the palm of one hand and simply watched her.

"Conqueror?" she asked in such a coy manner that she must have seen where my eyes had strayed.

"What?" I asked. I really thought I was getting that innocent look down.

"Don't even try that false innocent expression with me."

Damn! I suppose it need more work.

I inched closer until I was able to kiss her ear, enjoying the sight of the gooseflesh that rose upon her skin. "Can I help it if every time I see you naked I feel like being bad?" I kissed her neck.

"Hhmm," Gabrielle hummed. "Remember, Conqueror, bad girls get spanked."

Gods above! Instantly I was wet. Now, I had never once entertained the notion of allowing any man or woman to take me, let alone play the submissive in that kind of game. Of course, I was the first person to admit that a little pain with my pleasure did marvelous things for my libido, but to let another dominate me? Ares balls! It was all I could do to allow Gabrielle to tie me down in our own bed. To allow her control of my pleasure was one thing, to trust her to carry out physical pain using a sensual method, that was another…wasn't it?


I quickly came out of my sexual haze, uncertain how long Gabrielle had been calling my name.

"I am only teasing," she said.

I was sure she said the words to comfort what she must have perceived was some sort of distress on my part, but when she uttered those words, something in me felt…well, disappointed.

Gabrielle read my mind. "You look disappointed."

"No! I mean…well, I…I mean, it's just that…" How eloquent I could be. The question was, did I want to go there? Why did the vision keep popping back into my head, and why do I feel so damn hot just thinking about it?

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked slowly. "Is this…is it something you want to explore?"

"I uhm…I think…maybe I--how do you feel about it?" I abruptly turned the question around.

Gabrielle smiled one of those slow, delicious smiles of hers. She stood up in the water and turned to face me. I was still lounging beside the bath when she leaned forward. The ledge around the bathing area pushed her breasts even further into my view. Gabrielle leaned in and kissed me, gently at first, but expertly using nothing but her lips and tongue to build the heat between us. Eventually, she paused to take my lower lip into her mouth and sucked, but as she released my mouth, she took a sharp nip from my bottom lip.

That was it…I was a goner. My body had instantly turned into liquid. I lay there in a puddle unable to articulate one single thing. At that moment, if Gabrielle had even thought about touching me I would have come for her in an instant. I believe I may have made some unintelligible noises, but that was being generous. In reality, I think it came out as more of a strangled groan.

"I'll take that as a yes?" Gabrielle asked.

I could do no more than nod, hypnotized by her emerald gaze.

The sound of someone softly clearing their throat interrupted our plans. We both looked up to find one of the young female servants that worked in the house.

"Many pardons for the interruption your highnesses, but there is a soldier who says that he has a most urgent message for the Conqueror."

"Who is our caller, Lydia?" Gabrielle asked, submerging herself back into the bathwater.

"His name is Lieutenant Acasia," My Queen.

"Ah, I should speak with him." I rose quickly. I didn't want to take one step away from this spot, but if Acasia had followed me to Athens then his news must have been important. "He's uh…doing a few things for me," I explained to Gabrielle.

"Don't forget, Conqueror," Gabrielle began in a very saccharine voice. "We have a date later."

I grinned and quickly kissed her goodbye. As I left the room, I was overcome with a feeling of dread combined with intense sexual longing. I didn't even know I could feel both of those sensations at the same time.


"Are you sure they said it was the doctor that gave them this child?"

Acasia had brought me very interesting news, indeed. I was trying to concentrate on the man's information and not on the ache between my legs, that Gabrielle had left me with. My mind was even further preoccupied with the sort of evening I might find waiting for me when I arrived home on this evening.

"Aye, Conqueror. Everything they told me is in the report."

"So, you actually spoke to the parents of the child? Did you see the doctor, as well?" I asked as I took the sealed parchment from the soldier's hand. I began to peruse it as I listened.

"I spoke at length with the father. He was anxious to give out information in the local tavern for free drinks. I was unable to speak with the doctor."

"Why was that?"

"Your Governor there has him working in the palace now. It's odd, that is."

"Odd in what way? I understand he's good at what he does."

"Aye, Conqueror, but I thought it strange that as soon as I began my discreet inquiries as to the child, the doctor ended up working in the palace. I'm unable to get close to him. Even when he goes outside, now, they have him with at least two guards."

"Yes," I nodded slowly. "I find that most odd."

"I was afraid that I would be discovered or arrested sooner or later. It seemed as though the only way to get inside the Governor's palace would have been on the Conqueror's business. I wasn't about to reveal anything."

"Of course not," I answered in a distracted fashion as I read his report. "So the doctor found homes for this orphaned baby. Did that happen often?"

"Aye. It was a common occurrence in that province, more mouths to feed than most places with fewer resources. It wasn't until one of my informants contacted me about some farmer. Turned out the man and his wife have a little business going on that the doctor was unaware of. It's very discreet. The farmer and his wife take in a stray and raise it until it's old enough to be sold on the black market."

"And the child they have now…this child?" I indicated the parchment in my hand.

"Another two seasons until even the Persians will take her as a slave."

I relaxed, but only slightly so. I thought about the young girls I'd saved from that sort of servitude back in Corinth. For the first time in a fortnight, the beast clawed at my chest.

"I want a watch placed on her every moment of every day until I arrive in Thessaly."

"Aye, Conqueror."

I continued to read the scroll. I wondered if Acasia had any idea why I was so interested in this child. If he held any curiosity whatsoever, he hid it well. It probably didn't matter to a soldier such as him. He took orders and carried them out steadfastly. I wished for an entire battalion of soldiers this loyal.

"Acasia," I paused and looked up at the still standing soldier. I tossed the scroll upon my desk and leaned back in my chair. "Do you know why this child is so important to me?"

"It's not my place--"

"I'm making it your place."

"No, Conqueror, I have no idea."

"Certainly you've thought about it…guessed?"

"It's true, I've held my own counsel on the matter."

"And your conclusion?"

He looked most uncomfortable, but since I had asked him a direct question, he could hardly refuse to answer.

"I assumed…well, the child has dark looks, just like…" He paused in what could only be described as embarrassment.

"Like me?" I asked.

"Aye, Conqueror."

"I suspect that this child is the daughter of the crown, Acasia, but not mine."

He looked away to the wall, then back to me. His eyes squinted together as he finally understood my meaning. Then he did a most strange thing. He smiled. Now, I think it had easily been over five seasons since I had seen anything resembling humor on this man's face. Actually, I wasn't certain that I could ever recall such a time. His reason was about to become clear.

Then I think her highness will be very pleased, Conqueror."

"Why is that?"

"The child, my Lord. Her natural coloring is dark; it's true. She has hair and skin the shade of yours, but she has one distinguishing feature."

"Which is?" I leaned forward, never having expected the conversation to have taken this turn.

Acasia's smile grew broad and it looked out of place on his face.

"The child has eyes the color of two of the greenest emeralds I've ever seen, Conqueror."


Not only could I not get back to our rooms before dark, I had a sexual frustration building like a ball of fire inside of me. Spending all day terrified and elated, plus in a near constant state of arousal had me as tight as a bow string.

When I arrived at our home, the first thing I noticed was that all the guards were outside, even some distance for the house.

"Explain?" I demanded of the first man I encountered.

"The Queen's order, Lord Conqueror."

"Oh." I entered through the front doors and dismissed my own guard to set themselves up some way from the house, just as the other soldiers had.

The house was quite dark except for a large dining area. The room, one of the few closed off from the rest of the house, was surrounded by seven marble columns and in the center waited my Gabrielle. She was surrounded by at least fifty candles and she stood beside a table filled with food. Along the floor she had spread cusions and pillows.As I quickly took in the room, I noticed a small wooden table. The table obviously had items atop it, but they were covered with a length of cloth.

All that inspection took place in the blink of an eye because the true focus of my attention definitely clung to Gabrielle.

"You've been shopping," I said as I moved in and kissed her.

She stood there in a most traditional Greek gown. The cloth fell just off her shoulders and there was a split in the floor length dress all the way up to her hip. The only difference between this dress and any other Greek woman's gown was that this material was sheer. It was refreshingly delightful to Gabrielle's naked body, yet to feel that she was still clothed.

She kissed me long and slow.

"Where are the servants," I asked in a hoarse whisper.

"I sent them away for the evening. There isn't another soul within…screaming distance of the house."

I swallowed hard at the emphasis she placed on that one word.

"Are you…hungry?" She extended a hand toward the table of food that just happened to be at the same height as that triangle between her legs.

That's when I saw it.

Gabrielle had shaved the golden hair of her pubis and it simply beckoned to me. I could see it, but with the sheer cloth, I thought perhaps I had imagined it. I looked again, taking a good long look this time. Her fingers played with the tile at the edge of the table before her, which drew even more attention to the spot.

I didn't want to know how she did it, I didn't want to even think about if she had help to do it, I only knew at that moment, that I wanted nothing more in life than to run my tongue along that smooth flesh. My mouth actually watered.

"Xena, would you like to…eat?" she asked with that same come-hither expression.

It nearly undid me when she dipped an index finger into the bowl on the table in front of her, drawing my eyesight to her shaved sex once more. She brought the finger to her mouth and slowly licked the sauce away with her tongue.

Gods! What did I have to do to get over to her? Walk, yes that was it…Gods-be-damned…why couldn't I remember what walk meant?

"Not hungry yet?" she asked.

Suddenly I remembered what nodding was. I shook my head vigorously. I tried to verbalize a thought, but I think it came out as a grunt. Okay, I can do this…I want this, right? Gods, I don't think I can do this. My thoughts raced and I'm certain Gabrielle saw that implosion was nearing.

"Come along, my Conqueror," she smiled and grasped my hand and led me to our private rooms.

Over a candlemark later, I had been lovingly bathed and Gabrielle had given me a most relaxing massage. I had one or two quick orgasms along the way, but she never really concentrated for long on pleasuring me. I was soon to realize that it was because she had much bigger things in mind.

We lounged on cushions in the dining area. Gabrielle had done her best to elude my wandering hands. At one point during an exceptionally passionate kiss, she broke away. Rising, she went to the covered table and folded the cloth back, exposing part, but not all of the items beneath. What she had exposed was a whip made of black, well-oiled leather.

I closed my eyes as my belly cramped in pleasurable anticipation.

"Remove your robe," she asked softly.

It wasn't an order, but I found myself wanting to stand before her naked, wanting to feel her eyes roaming across my body, hoping her hands would soon follow. I rose and let the robe fall to the floor. I walked over to her, already feeling my palms grow sweaty and my body flush.

"What do you want me to do?" I asked in a moment of bravery or foolishness. I wasn't certain which.

She led me over to one of the columns and told me to place my back against it.

"Put your arms around to the sides."

The table was before me and I saw her hand slip under the cloth and pull free a set of leather restraints. In moments, I felt my wrists bound behind me around the column.

Her voice was stern, commanding, but the tone held a sound like indifference. She was now in her mode of expertise. Not just that, but it was as though she had completely immersed herself in her role of dominatrix. I began taking deep breaths as I watched her walk away.

"Are you sure, Xena? Certain that this is what you want?"

Hades no, I wasn't sure. I certainly was the other day, though, and this morning. Hadn't I gotten aroused at the mere thought of Gabrielle controlling me…dominating me? Hadn't I gotten sopping wet just picturing her holding the same whip that lay on the table before us now? So why were my knees feeling a bit weak just now? This is your wife, your lover. She would never really hurt you…would she?

It was that one bit of doubt that made something such as this so alluring. The fear was what added to the pleasure. The fact that I could be hurt, but that I trusted Gabrielle not to hurt me…Gods…what a powerful thought. Not hearing any dissent, Gabrielle simply waited patiently. I knew she would wait for as long as it took for me to process my fears and to decide. She moved to the table and carefully picked up the whip. I watched as she examined the soft, dark leather. Gabrielle held out her arm and the whip uncoiled until it reached the floor.

Two warring emotions competed within me just then…panic and pleasure. I think my undoing had been when I tested the leather restraints around my wrists. As Gabrielle examined the whip, testing its weight in her hand, I pulled my wrists apart. I could feel the leather stretch and hear the creak as I reached the limits of my bonds. I realized that at that moment I was well and truly caught. That's when the panic set in. I pulled even harder, the muscles in my arms bunching together and straining to pop out from beneath my skin. I took in a deep gulp of air when I gave up and relaxed my arms.

I wanted to surrender. I wanted to know what it felt like, especially at Gabrielle's hands. Only for her. I wanted Gabrielle to know how much I loved her and just how much trust I had in her. I could feel the sweat trickling down my ribs and hear my own panicked breaths. I was moments away from simply losing it and tearing the column from the floor in my attempt to escape.

Gabrielle looked at me as if this was nothing out of the ordinary, as though she had six feet of naked warrior tied up before her everyday. The lines in her face spoke of indifference, but the tone in her voice betrayed the depth of emotion she herself experienced just then.

"Xena," she called out my name as she came toward me.

I tried to focus on that beautiful face, but suddenly the room had turned unbearably hot, making it all that much more difficult to breathe. My vision tunneled until all I could see was her.

Gabrielle drew closer and gently pinched and rolled my nipples between her fingers. She looked at me until I closed my eyes in pleasure. I opened them again when I felt her tongue and then her warm mouth enclose a frighteningly hard nipple. By the time she'd finished giving that treatment to each breast, I was rocking my hips into the air. This was the pleasure. She definitely had me focused, but I knew that it was only momentary, or so I thought. I believe I underestimated her skill in this area.

"Xena, this will only happen if you want it to happen," she whispered between kissing my neck and throat. "I will never hurt you beyond what you desire for pleasure. I will never humiliate you. "This," she indicated the whip that was still in her hand, "is something that requires the ultimate level of trust between lovers."

As she spoke, she began to stroke my overheated flesh with the whip. She brushed the plaited leather across my nipples repeatedly until an involuntary moan leapt past my lips. Moving behind me, Gabrielle ran the whip along my back. Suddenly, I felt my wrists released from their restraints.

"No, Gabrielle," I said breathlessly. "I can do this." I felt like crying. Why was control so hard for me to give up…even to this woman?

"Quiet!" a sharp slap to my backside told me that Gabrielle had not given up on the game.

I felt my hands bound together again, but this time it was a silken scarf that restrained me. I knew Gabrielle's intent and I wanted to shout for joy. Part of my fear had, of course, been of Gabrielle and the pain of that whip, giving her the power to hurt me. There was more to it than that, though. I had been afraid of having no way out. If harm befell us, tied up as I had been, I could not have escaped. With the scarf binding my wrists behind my back, I could always break free. It was a way out if I needed it.

Gabrielle's voice came to me softly as she kissed the backs of my shoulders. "You could break free if you want, but if you do…I'll stop."

Those words were like a death knoll and I realized that she meant them. It was also rather interesting that she allowed me the opportunity to hold myself back.

"Control can be so arousing, but you already know that, don't you, my Conqueror? But to control yourself, testing yourself not to break your bonds…it makes you so wet, realizing you're in control and yet not…doesn't it? Of course it does. I can smell the scent of you, all desperate and excited at the same time."

Her hand roamed the front of my body, never staying in one place long. She moved to the table once more and I watched as she brought over a delicate chain, lifting it to my sight. In the middle was a circular piece of metal and on each end of the chain hung a small dragon's head. I'd seen an object like this before, even used them on others, but never myself. Just the thought caused a trickle of wetness to run down the inside of my thigh.

"Know what this is for?"

I nodded.

"Any objections?" she asked, but the tone of her voice told me she didn't expect to receive any. She was so right.

I shook my head back and forth quickly.

Gabrielle leaned in and sucked each nipple hard until they tingled and my knees felt like melting. She took the dragon heads at each end of the chain into each of her hands. She held them between her thumb and forefinger and squeezed until the jaws of the head gaped open. She quickly attached the clamps to each of my nipples and I threw my head back and groaned. She allowed me a moment for the initial shock to wear off, and then she gently tugged on the circle in the middle of the chain, pulling toward her.

Oh, Gods!" I exclaimed. It was as if my nipples and my groin were connected in some way. I felt the pull deep inside of me.

She leaned up and kissed me fiercely. I nearly forgot what breathing was, not wanting it to end. She stood on tiptoes to whisper directly in my ear.

"That's your safe word, Xena. Remember that it's not enough to simply say no. When we explore our passion in this way, saying no becomes part of the game. If you ever are unsure, or you want to stop for any reason, use your safe word. I'll stop without hesitation."

She lowered herself back down to her normal stance and looked at me with an intense gaze. I saw the emerald fire sparking behind those demure eyes and I marveled. Who knew that such a dominatrix hid behind that demeanor?

"I'll ask you once more, Xena. Are you sure?"

There was no hesitation this time. I loved Gabrielle…I trusted her.


The words had barely left my mouth before I felt the handle of the whip pressed against my center. Gabrielle moved the length of the handle along my entire sex, coating it with the wetness that I already knew would be abundant.

"Right here?" she asked. She pressed the knob at the end of the handle against my clit, just as she reached up to tug gently on the chain dangling between my breasts.

"Gods, please," I moaned. I had never begged before, but Gabrielle had barely touched me and I was already a quivering mess.

"Tell me what you want, Xena. You'll have to beg me if you expect to get release."

"Gods…Gabrielle…" she pressed the handle into my opening and I struggled to spread my legs wider. "Please, mistress, fuck me."

In that moment, not only was I entirely lost as Gabrielle slipped the handle of the whip inside me, slowly stroking my inner walls, but I knew that she deserved the title of mistress. At that moment, she had complete and utter control of me. Even more, I knew that if Gabrielle didn't give me release, I would simply die. No amount of pleasuring with my own hand or another would bring me to feel the way I knew Gabrielle could. It had to be her and I was willing to prostrate myself in any manner to feel her special brand of pleasure.

To Hades with being a Conqueror tonight!

A long, languid moan fell from my lips as Gabrielle thrust the handle inside, pulling back just as my inner walls tried to grasp the object and draw it back in. I came in a rush that I wasn't even prepared for. I cried out loudly and my legs trembled as I fought to stay upright.

I caught my breath and looked up just as Gabrielle raised the handle of the whip to her lips. She licked my wetness from the leather, her eyes never leaving mine. That one quick orgasm had obviously done little to sate me as I groaned, unable to tear my eyes from her as she licked the whip's handle clean.

She stepped behind me and loosed the scarf from my wrists. I watched as the red silk fluttered to the floor.

"Turn around," she commanded. I obeyed immediately, facing the round column.

Moving behind my body once more, she ran both hands up my backside and along my spine. She raked her nails back down the way she'd just come. I shivered and cursed my body's betrayal. Surely, I could hold out longer. I was about to find out just how long.

"Place your hands on each side of the column and spread your legs apart."

I did as I was told and waited.

"If you let go, Xena…I will stop." She repeated her earlier command.

Just like that, and I knew that she meant it, too. I admit, I was terrified just then. I was more afraid of letting Gabrielle use that whip on me than in fighting any battle I'd ever fought. Thank the Gods for my libido, however, because my raging hormones finally told my brain to shut up and enjoy the ride.

"I understand," I responded earnestly.

"And you're sure this is what you want? To give this to me?"

"Gods, yes," I replied in a voice hoarse from passion.

I heard her step away and I flinched when she tested the whip by cracking it in the air. I wondered just then if I shouldn't have found out if Gabrielle well and truly could handle this whip. An odd time to wonder that, I know, but thinking was difficult with my clit pulsing its need incessantly.

I felt the feather light rush of air just before the whip touched my skin the first time. I gasped, partly from surprise and in part from the sensation. It was like a slightly stinging touch. Gabrielle's hand was expert with the whip as she placed three more hot kisses of the whip against my back, moving lower with each strike. It came to me then, in a jumble of passion. Of course, Gabrielle was an expert at this. She had been trained in every aspect regarding the art of pleasure.

My skin grew hot and I could feel my body beginning to arch toward the sizzling sensations that came with each flick of Gabrielle's wrist. She went lower to my backside and I could feel each blow as though it was Gabrielle's tongue on my clit. I wanted to open my legs wider and press them together at the same time.

Gabrielle paused. "Do you want me to stop?"

The words that came from my mouth fell out in a jumble of begging and pleading. "Gods, no…please, mistress, please, don't stop."

In my mind's eye, I pictured the corners of Gabrielle's mouth upturned in a delightful smile. The next blow barely landed on my skin, snapping almost tenderly against the highly sensitized flesh of my backside. I finally spread my legs apart even further and attempted to arch into the caresses, presenting myself for Gabrielle's whip.

That's when it happened…three sizzling kisses from the leather in rapid succession. The last felt as though it had been aimed precisely at my clit. I cried out in ecstasy, but before I could even come down from the high of that orgasm Gabrielle was behind me. I felt her fingers inside of me, her hand pumping in and out until my hips thrust back against her roughly, nearly demanding that she give me everything she had.

She removed her hand and when I felt her enter me again, her thumb penetrated my ass.

"Yes!" I cried out with the only coherent word I could utter at the moment. The feeling was incredible as I silently granted Gabrielle permission to touch me in a way that no other had ever been allowed. Just as I could feel my orgasm rising up to meet me, Gabrielle's hand left me. My hips rocked against nothing but air for a few moments before I even realized that she had moved away.

"Please, mistress," I was quick to beg without any prompting.

It didn't take long before Gabrielle returned and I felt her naked breasts press against my back. I felt the hard leather thickness of a phallus press against my sopping opening, but as she moved her hips into place, I felt her beginning to penetrate my ass, too.

"Good Gods!" I shouted at the filling sensation.

Gabrielle stopped pushing. "Do you want me to stop?" she asked.

"Fuck no!" I said forcefully. Remembering who was controlling my pleasure, I quickly apologized. "Forgive me, mistress. Please…don't stop. It feels so good…I'm so close," I whimpered pathetically.

Satisfied with my contrition, Gabrielle reached around and pulled none too gently on the clamps connected to my nipples. The sparks flashed behind my eyes and I felt myself penetrated completely. I shamelessly pushed back against her thrusts, begging her to take me harder and faster.

I promised her everything once she pressed that spot on my inner thigh with her fingers. It had been a while since she had used that pressure point on me, but I felt it down to my soul. It felt as though a million tongues were lapping at my clit at the same time. The down side was that it sort of disabled my ability to come. Instead, the feelings built up and once I heard Gabrielle's own moans, I realized what she was building up to.

She took me, for that's exactly what I had wanted, even though I had been unable to admit it to myself. I wanted to be possessed, controlled. Perhaps not always, maybe never again, but at least this once, and Gabrielle was the only person in this world that I could imagine giving it up to.

"Gods, Xena!" Gabrielle cried out just as she released the fire in my groin with an expert touch of her fingers.

With the pressure point released, every nerve ending around my clit fired at the same time. I came so hard I dropped to my knees. Both our bodies shook for long moments after. I remember the emptiness as Gabrielle removed the phallus and its companion piece from inside of me.

The hot, stinging flesh of my backside cooled when I felt Gabrielle's wetness on me. She opened herself and began to rub her swollen sex along my ass. Something in me snapped when I heard her languid moan from behind me.

I turned around quickly and pushed her the rest of the way to the floor. I kissed her passionately, tasting myself upon her lips from when she had licked the whip clean of my wetness.

I went up on my hands and knees and lowered my head to her spread legs. With no more preamble than that, I dove in and eagerly explored her sex with my tongue. I moaned into the wet flesh as I ate her. I couldn't stop, even after her second orgasm. Not that she seemed to want me to. Gabrielle's fingers curled within my hair and she pulled me harder and harder against her.

I sucked her swollen clit as she bucked against me. I spent a long time just doing what I'd wanted to in the first place, running my tongue along the smooth, newly shaved skin. Just when I felt that she'd go over the edge any second, I simultaneously slipped two fingers inside of her and used my teeth to, ever so carefully, bite down on her clit. The effect was amazing and I thought for a moment that her orgasm would never end.

After what seemed like an eternity, we both relaxed and our breathing returned to normal. My heart hadn't yet resumed its normal cadence, but I couldn't resist grinning as I pulled her into my arms.

"Okay, I think I'm hungry now," I said as Gabrielle breathlessly laughed in my arms.


It wasn't long before Gabrielle slept soundly in my arms. After the paces she'd put me through, I thought I would have been the one to slip into Morpheus's realm first. Instead, I lay here, my body reliving moments of our previous pleasure. The memories weren't intended to arouse, rather they were pleasant, warm emotions.

I marveled at the small woman in my embrace. What a treasure she was, I thought with a smile on my face. It wasn't the sex or her extraordinary capabilities in that regard. There was so much more to this woman than that. What I loved the most was that Gabrielle had the amazing ability to surprise me when I thought that no such surprises existed anymore for me in this life.

I saw a flower once, growing into what appeared to be solid rock. It was an old stone wall that had fallen into some disrepair. Against the most staggering odds and under the most inhospitable conditions, the tiny blossom not only existed, but thrived. I thought of the similarities between my Gabrielle and the flower in that crannied wall. She was a thing of beauty who had existed in a harsh, oftentimes hostile environment. I could not rush in and save the flower from its predicament, for it had grown accustomed to living there, grown used to a life on its own terms.

I could never give Gabrielle back the life that had been stolen from her. I could only stand in awe of the ability she drew, from who knows where, to sustain her beautiful spirit through it all. The last thought I had, as my eyes grew heavy with fatigue and my thoughts grew dim, was of Gabrielle's beautiful face and that flower in the crannied wall.

To be continued in : Chapter 8: When the lamp is shatter'd…

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