Death of a Conqueror
by Lori A Meyers
The Conqueror turned to the Captain as they both dismounted their horses in front of the Tholos. “You have been awfully quiet this evening, Palaimon. Is there something I should know?”
“Several things, actually, my Lord.”
Xena adjusted her dress uniform. She was wearing a purple chiton with a black leather belt around her waist. A black cape was pinned to her shoulders by two golden clasps. She wore her golden laurel crown. “Well?”
“That new scribe said something this afternoon that’s been on my mind. He told me that someone from the Pnyx came to him and delivered the decree of his promotion. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The Conqueror smiled to herself. “Why is that, Captain?”
The Captain swallowed. “I am assuming one of the first things you did after leaving the docks this afternoon was kill Salmakis and his slaves, my Conqueror.”
“Your assumption would be correct, my friend.”
“My Lord, who else but you and me knew you was planning on doing that? We were alone in the Bouleuterion when we talked about Salmakis.”
The dark warrior took her sword and chakram and attached them to her saddle. “Obviously not as alone as we thought. Someone who works at both the Pnyx and the Bouleuterion, who was hiding at the time? Think, Captain, who services me at both?”
The Captain pondered for a moment then his eyes widened. “No, my Lord, I don’t believe it!”
“I know I didn’t see her leave the proceedings, Captain. So I’m assuming she hid behind the draperies.”
“The page, my Lord, she’s only twelve years old!”
“It’s not her I blame, Captain, so don’t worry, I won’t kill her. But someone has enlisted her to spy on me. It’s actually quite brilliant, if you stop and think about it. Why would anyone suspect a child of espionage?”
“I know I wouldn’t.”
“Who do children trust, Captain, usually only their immediate families, close relatives and friends—not strangers. I want you to find out if there is anyone who works both in the Pnyx and the Strategeion. And then find out if that person is related to my page.
Oh, and Captain, have you figured out the second phase of weaving the web?”
“Yes, I have, my Lord. Annoying people will usually make them so frustrated with you that they will drop their guard and say things they wouldn’t normally do. It worked for me earlier, and I didn’t even try that hard.”
“Excellent, I’m sure you will tell me all about it. Shall we go and see to my guests, Palaimon?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
The guards at the entrance to the Tholos immediately stood at attention when the Conqueror entered with her Captain. Those who were near stopped what they were doing and acknowledged the dark warrior. Xena nodded to them and was about to say something when laughter could be heard towards the other end of the building. Xena followed the sound with the Captain at her heels and noticed there was a woman lounging on her chaise. The woman was dressed in a thin white garment, golden sandals, and was holding a golden chalice. She was laughing almost hysterically while General Eteokles filled up her cup.
The General, still pouring the wine, glanced up at Xena then stopped what he was doing. “I’m sorry, my Lord.”
Xena sighed and shook her head. “Aphrodite, what are you doing here?”
The goddess lifted up her chalice and saluted the dark woman. “Xena, how can you have a party without me…you big, bad naughty Conqueror.”
Some people, who were near the goddess, snickered at Aphrodite’s appraisal of the Conqueror. One look from the dark warrior shut them up, however.
A young man, who was similarly dressed as the goddess, except that he wore a golden crown, laughed rather loudly. “You throw the best parties, Xena!” He raised his arm and his glass of wine suddenly filled to the brim. He laughed at his own cleverness.
Xena noticed that Gabrielle and her party were standing a few chaises away from the immortals. When she noticed the look on the blonde’s face she turned to the young god. “Eros, your mother is obviously drunk. Why don’t you take her back to Olympos.”
The young god only smiled at her. He rose to his feet and approached the Captain. “What a gorgeous specimen of manhood you are.” As he raised his hand to the Captain’s face he noticed the beautiful blonde nearby.
“Oh, and what lovely are you?” He pushed the Captain aside and sauntered over to Gabrielle.
The Conqueror took the god by the arm and led him to his mother. “Aphrodite, will you please leave…and take your inebriated son with you.”
Aphrodite stood up and pouted. “You’re a whole lot of no fun, Xena.” She snapped her fingers and she and Eros disappeared in a golden shimmer.
The Captain shook his head and lowered his voice. “I’ve never disrespected a deity before but I was about ready to smack that jerk.”
The dark warrior stepped up to her chaise and indicated for the musicians to stop playing.
“My fellow Athenians and honored guests.” She nodded to Gabrielle. “We are here tonight to welcome our emissaries from Thrace. Once again all the tribute collected this year indicates that my Empire flourishes and my lands are contented.” She lifted her chalice and offered it to her guests. “Let’s drink to the continued prosperity of the Hellenic Empire!”
All those in the Tholos cheered and drank along with the Conqueror. Everyone returned to their couches as the Conqueror sat and poured herself a cup from the second, smaller amphora on her table. As the musicians began playing a lyrical tune the Captain left Xena to join some friends at their table.
Perdikas put some pickled olives on flatbread then drizzled it with oil. He rolled the bread and put it in his mouth. “Hmmm…these are good, Gabs. You gotta try it.”
Telemakhos, who had joined them, sank back on the couch and hummed as he devoured some figs dipped in honey. “I’ve never been to one of these things before. Food’s not bad.”
Gabrielle picked up some lamb meat wrapped in fig leaves. She smacked her lips as the delicious morsel hit her tongue. The blonde woman glanced over at the Conqueror and was surprised to find her dining alone.
She glanced over at the dark woman for a few minutes, while eating, before rising to her feet. “Will you two excuse me?”
Neither man got up as the young woman stood and slowly made her way to the Conqueror’s table. As the dark woman dipped some bread into oil she noticed Gabrielle’s approach. She put down her food and stood up.
Both women regarded each other for a moment, each at a loss on how to engage the other. Finally the dark warrior stepped back and indicated her chaise. “Will you dine with me, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle smiled somewhat and sat down. “Yes, thank you, Lord Conqueror.”
The Conqueror snapped her fingers and two servants brought more food and wine to the table.
Xena sat next to the blonde woman, but not too close. The subdued lamplight brought out the highlights in the blonde’s hair and softened her beautiful features. After an awkward few moments the Conqueror poured a cup for Gabrielle from the second amphora. “Would you like to try something different, Gabrielle?”
The young woman took the cup offered then took a sip. She wrinkled her nose then looked up at the Conqueror. “It’s kind of thick and somewhat bitter—but I like it. What is it, my Lord?”
“I import it from Egypt. Its called beer.”
Gabrielle smiled and lowered her head. “I thought imports from Egypt were illegal these days?”
“One of the perks of being Conqueror is that I do what I wish, and get what I want.” The Conqueror noticed that the blondes’ hands were shaking slightly. “Are you okay, Gabrielle?”
The young woman sighed deeply. “I’ve never seen any of gods before, my Lord. It was a little unnerving.”
“They pop up all over the place here in Athens—irritating me and the religious leaders. Aphrodite is especially aggravating. She wants me to build a temple for her to replace her small altar. Naturally I refuse to do it, she’s done nothing to help the Empire.”
Gabrielle glanced briefly at the dark woman before turning away. She wondered if the Conqueror’s complaint was more personal in nature. Maybe she’s done nothing for her…
The blonde looked at the food displayed before her. “Do you have such parties all the time, Conqueror?”
“In the beginning of my reign we used to hold banquets every week to celebrate my victories. But they became boring and tedious so it’s a rarity these days.”
Gabrielle drank more of the beer. “My dad gives parties all the time in our residence for the local merchants. He expects me to host them when my mother is away, which is often these days.”
Xena eyed the young woman. “Is that why you’re here in Athens and not him? Is Herodotus too preoccupied with revelry that he ignores his responsibilities?”
Gabrielle slowly put her cup on the table. “I’m sorry I said that, my Lord.”
The Conqueror leaned back on her pillows. “Don’t ever be sorry for telling the truth, Gabrielle. I respect that very much.”
“Please don’t think that my father is shirking his duties, my Lord. I was the one who insisted on coming this time.” She drank more beer. “There’s nothing for a single woman to do in Poteidaia, Conqueror. I help run the vineyards and write poetry—that’s all. I just wanted more responsibility and my dad gave it gladly.”
A single woman? “So you and Perdikas are not –together?”
“No, my Lord.” Gabrielle looked up and caught the Conqueror’s gaze. She looked away when the dark woman’s eyes were too much to bear.
Xena turned away from the blonde woman for a moment, under the pretence of pouring more wine. Over the past, there had been many beautiful women to grace her court, but none of them had ever made her feel like this. Just one look from those verdant eyes made her insides lurch, dislodging her equilibrium: it delighted and disturbed her at the same time.
The blonde ate some chicken. “You said earlier, my Lord, that being Conqueror has its perks. It must be nice to have such freedom.”
Xena poured another drink for the young woman. “Freedom? That’s one word I would never use to describe it, Gabrielle. It does have its many obligations.”
“What do you mean, my Lord?”
“I am the founder of a great and vast Empire, Gabrielle. I am solely responsible for it—no one else shares the burden. Even though I have regional governors, a council, and an assembly, I have final say over everything.”
“How do you mean, Conqueror?”
“People look to me for anything and everything; from how to worship the gods properly to how to dress at a state function. As leader that is expected, so I’m not going to do anything that would jeopardize the confidence the people have in me. So you could say I’m really not as free to do just anything. I would never do anything to undermine the Empire, or bring disgrace to it.”
Gabrielle’s eyes lingered on the dark woman for a few moments. “May I say something, my Lord?”
Xena put down her cup. “What is it?”
“You are nothing like I expected, Lord Xena.”
The Conqueror tried to hide a chuckle but couldn’t. “I’m always doing that to people, you know—confounding people’s expectations.” She poured more beer into her cup. “Where you expecting a hydra maybe? Or a female minotaur?”
Gabrielle blushed. “No, no—that’s not what I meant at all.”
The dark warrior glanced up at the blonde, taking note of her deep blush. Is that apprehension I see there? “What did you mean?”
“Well, sometimes people listen to rumors they shouldn’t.”
A small smile touched the corners of Xena’s mouth. “Ah, which people would that be, Gabrielle?”
“Me, my Lord.”
“And what rumors have you been listening to?”
“The ones that paint you as some sort of tyrant, my Lord.”
Xena was silent for a long moment, then her voice lowered dangerously. “I bet I can guess who has been saying such things?”
Gabrielle looked up in time to see a dark look in the Conqueror’s eyes just before it vanished. “You can, my Lord?”
“Isn’t your estate bordered on the north by an even bigger one, with a vineyard even larger than your family’s?”
The blonde blinked. “Yes, it is.”
“Owned by Eumaios of Olynthus?”
Gabrielle shook her head. “How did you know?”
“Just like I was saying before, Gabrielle, being ruler means that I must keep up on everything that happens in my Empire. Eumaios has been spewing out dissent for years, to anyone who will listen. He objects to my taxes, although I would wager he hasn’t a clue as to where the money really goes. I let him keep his estate because he’s just a complainer, albeit a very annoying one. If his activities ever ventured beyond just complaining then I would have to do something about it.”
“What would you do, my Lord?”
“Have him arrested, charged with treason, and confiscate his land—among other things.”
The Conqueror seemed lost in thought for a few moments before turning to face Gabrielle. “How did we get on such an unpleasant subject?”
The blonde took a large drink of beer, and then picked up her plate. “I suppose I was confessing to believing in rumors, Lord Xena.”
Xena smiled. “What a foolish thing to do.”
The young woman grinned, lowering her head. “Yes, it is, my Lord.”
“Frankly, I’ve looked myself over in the mirror numerous times and I don’t think I look like a hydra at all.”
Gabrielle laughed and, just as easily, let the words slip off her tongue. “You’re way too beautiful to be a hydra.”
Beautiful? Xena let the words sink in; they warmed her to the core, and spread out until she felt the tingle work its way up her spine. “Likewise.”
The word was barely a whisper, but Gabrielle heard it clearly. She looked up into the cobalt depths and found something there unexpected. You are not the woman I’d thought you’d be. The charged moment was fleeting, however, as the Conqueror turned away from her.
The blonde put down her plate. “I’m sorry, my Lord.”
Xena turned to the young woman. “For what?”
“For earlier, Lord Conqueror.”
Earlier? Xena put down her chalice and looked pointedly at the small woman. “Is there something on your mind, Gabrielle?”
“I wanted you talk with you earlier, lord Xena, but the Captain told me it wasn’t a good idea.”
The dark woman averted her eyes. “When was that?”
“We were up in the palace…on the terrace that over looks the agora, and we saw…we saw…” The young woman looked away and tried to compose herself.
Xena turned fully to the blonde woman and reached out to her, but drew her hand back abruptly when she realized what she was doing. “You saw me and the wolves?”
Gabrielle blinked back her tears. “Yes, my Lord.”
“You said ‘we.’ Did someone take you out to the terrace…just to see that?”
“I think so, my Lord.”
Xena moved a little closer to the blonde. “Who? Who did, Gabrielle?”
“I don’t want to get him into trouble, Conqueror.”
The dark warrior stared for a moment before realization hit her. She clenched her fists then stood up abruptly. “Palaimon!”
The Captain’s cup fell from his hand as he jumped to his feet. “Yes, my Lord?”
Everyone stood as the Conqueror rushed to the door, the Captain of the Guard close at her heels. Gabrielle hesitated only for a few moments before, she too, followed the Conqueror.
When they were outside the Conqueror whirled and grabbed her Captain and spun him around. “How could you do it, Captain? Why did you expose that young woman to my darkness?”
Gabrielle rushed up to them and grabbed the Conqueror’s arm. “Please, lord Xena, it’s not his fault!”
Palaimon choked, but he resisted the urge to push Xena away. “Please, Gabrielle, go inside. It’s going to be all right.”
“Don’t lie to her, Captain!”
“Please, lord Xena, let him go…please…please…its not his fault. Its mine!”
Both Xena and the Captain turned to the young woman. Xena loosened her hold on Palaimon and pushed him away. He stumbled and almost fell to the ground. “Go inside, now, Captain! We will talk later.”
The Conqueror turned puzzled eyes to the blonde. “How is what the Captain did your fault?”
Gabrielle finally broke down. “Don’t you see? It’s my fault…I made you mad this afternoon…I was angry that you thought Perdikas was my leader! I was the one that made you angry and I did it on purpose!” Without thinking, she threw her arms around the Conqueror’s neck and sobbed.
There are few constants in the universe, precious few certainties. But Xena knew one assurance was her ability to handle any situation presented to her. Her ability to assess individual circumstances and then act appropriately was never an issue with her. Her instinct at this moment was to push the blonde away and to ignore her outburst. As she reached up to disengage the young woman’s arms a part of her hesitated. She inhaled deeply as some of Gabrielle’s tears slowly dripped between her breasts.
The blonde’s close proximity caused a tingling sensation down her spine that spread outward to settle in her stomach. A hand absently found its way to the young woman’s back, only to slowly travel upwards, reveling in the soft material, so unlike her own. That same hand pulled Gabrielle somewhat closer and she adjusted her stance to accommodate the small body. This moment was somehow different and she knew it, although at the time she could not have defined it. Xena sighed and lowered her head, feeling the center of her being shifted somehow, precariously on a new axis.
Xena slowly brought her arms around the young woman and held her. The blonde’s anguish washed over her and left her feeling helpless. “Shh, shh…it’s okay now.”
Both women broke from the embrace and turned towards the Tholos’ entrance. The Conqueror frowned and gently pushed Gabrielle behind her. The blonde blushed and turned away from the door. The Naurachos Laodameia stood there; from the way she looked she was obviously not pleased with what she had just interrupted.
The admiral took a drink from her cup then placed her hand on the wall to keep steady. She was drunk. “What do we have here? Have you found a new playmate, Conqueror? Am I not good enough for you anymore?”
Gabrielle gasped and looked up at Xena. The Conqueror briefly looked to her before turning a wrathful gaze on the admiral. “Watch your tongue, Laodameia!”
It was not too early in the evening for the entire agora to be closed. Some shops in the Stoa of Attalos were still open along with some taverns and brothels. Some people, who were in the vicinity of the Tholos, stopped what they were doing to watch the scene.
The admiral threw her cup to the ground. “Watch my tongue! You don’t want that anymore, either?”
Xena advanced to the admiral and backhanded her. The Naurachos fell to the ground and moaned. “Palaimon!”
The Captain, who had followed the admiral to the door but had not gone outside, appeared. “Yes, my Lord?”
“Put her in the drunk tank. I’m sure a night in prison will sober her up sufficiently.”
“As you wish, lord Conqueror.” He looked to the growing crowd. “All right, everybody, the show is over so be on your way!” He summoned another guard, and the two of them dragged the woman away.
As the crowd dispersed Xena turned to the young woman. “Perhaps we had better go inside.”
Gabrielle turned away from her. “I don’t want to. They must have heard everything that vile woman was shouting.”
“She is drunk, Gabrielle. I’m sure they know that as well.”
The blonde hesitated. “I’m sorry for throwing myself at you, lord Xena.”
I’m not. The Conqueror moved to Gabrielle and gently turned the young woman around. “I won’t let anyone say anything negative about you, Gabrielle. I’ll cut their tongue out before I let that happen.”
“Thank you, Conqueror. I’m ready now…I think.”
The dark warrior extended her arm and Gabrielle entwined her smaller one in it. As they entered the Tholos everyone stood and either bowed or nodded to the Conqueror. Xena led Gabrielle to her couch and when they sat down so did the rest in the room. As the musicians started to play again Xena lay back against the pillows and watched as Gabrielle piled her plate high with food.
The blonde noticed Xena’s amused look and shrugged. “I’m hungry, okay?”
“Nothing wrong with having a healthy appetite.”
Gabrielle smiled. “That’s not what my mother would say. She tells me I’ll never catch a local boy with my, so called, ‘healthy appetite’.”
“Is that important to you?”
Gabrielle rested her plate on her lap. “Is what important, my Lord?”
Xena leaned forward, a mischievous grin on her lips. “Catching a local boy?”
The blonde looked up, matching Xena’s look. “No, no it isn’t, my Empress.”
“I didn’t think so.”
Gabrielle grinned. “Is that so, Conqueror?”
“You’re far too much for any local boy to handle, aren’t you?”
The blonde chuckled. “You have no idea…I haven’t decided if it’s a blessing or a curse, though.”
Xena laughed and looked away, then poured herself another cup of beer. “Your friend doesn’t look very happy.”
Gabrielle followed the Conqueror’s gaze and noticed that Perdikas was watching them intently while drinking cup after cup of wine. Telemakhos was settled on the same chaise and was too busy eating to notice that his companion was drinking too much.
When Perdikas got up and staggered toward them the Conqueror had already summoned a guard.
“What are you doing with her, Gabs?” The young man nearly fell just before the guard took hold of him.
“Put him with the other drunks, guard, and then tell the Captain to come back to the festivities.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
Gabrielle shook her head as the guard dragged Perdikas away. “He’s harmless, Conqueror. Please don’t put him in jail.”
Xena wrapped some chicken and olives into the flatbread and ate it. “It’s for his own good, Gabrielle. He’ll be safer in there than wandering the streets, or anywhere else where his mouth might get him into trouble.”
The young woman realized the Conqueror was right. She did not want a repeat of what happened just a short while ago with the admiral. “Thank you for your consideration, lord Xena.”
“He and Laodameia can keep each other company in the morning. I probably won’t have them released until the early afternoon.”
“The admiral seems a bit arrogant, Lord Xena. This afternoon she found me in her usual suite and thought I was some sort of gift—a prostitute.”
Xena laughed. “She is a younger version of me, Gabrielle. She reminds me of how I was about twenty years ago, before the wars were over.”
“She doesn’t appear as diplomatic as you, Conqueror.”
The dark warrior ate another bite of cheese. “Don’t take her at face value, Gabrielle. She is almost as smart as I am and her skill at claiming the seas is unparallel. See that man over there?”
The blonde woman followed Xena’s gaze to a nearby chaise where a man and woman were dining. “Yes, my Lord?”
“That is General Eteokles. He’s my Chief General and in charge of the army. He’s very good at what he does but if you put him on a ship and told him to sail to Korinthos he’d run the ship into ground or sink it at sea. But place him on dry land and he will know how to out-flank his opponents every time. Sometimes he doesn’t think before he opens his mouth just as the admiral does. You see, Gabrielle, I am well aware of the character flaws of my underlings because they are so much like myself. In that way it makes it easier for me to anticipate what they will do because I would do the same thing. I’m just a little older and wiser than they are—time has taught me that.”
“You are a wise woman, Lord Xena.”
“And you are a remarkable woman, Gabrielle of Poteidaia, do you know that?”
The blonde looked away. “I don’t know what you mean, my Lord.”
“You possess something that time has never taught me. Your compassion for others is genuine and without guile. I haven’t met a lot of people who are like that. ”
Gabrielle blushed. “I have my bad moments, too, lord Xena.”
“I am certain they are few and far between.”
“You flatter me, my lord.”
The Conqueror leaned in and whispered in Gabrielle’s ear. “I never flatter, Gabrielle. I only tell the truth as I see it.”
As Xena turned to her meal Gabrielle watched her out of the corner of her eye. What a remarkable woman…
Xena paused at the door to the Captain’s office and looked inside. It was dim because the Captain had only one oil lamp burning. Palaimon was at this desk writing on a parchment and humming a tune.
Palaimon looked up before standing. “Yes, my Lord?”
“You didn’t come back to the party as I instructed.”
“I know, my Lord.”
The dark warrior noticed the pained look on her Captain’s face. “Well, I’m sure one act of disobedience every twenty years is forgivable.”
The Captain met the Conqueror’s gaze. “Thank you, Xena.”
The Conqueror nodded. “It was wrong of me to treat you as I did earlier, Palaimon, and I ask for your forgiveness. You are my friend, the only one who has remained loyal to me all these years. It is really not my place to question your judgment, because of that loyalty. But I am curious as to why Gabrielle had to witness that carnage this afternoon, my friend?”
“She is a smart woman, my Lord, and I felt it was necessary that she have no illusions as far as you are concerned.”
Xena stepped into the office. “But, why?”
“Must I say it aloud, my Lord?”
The two looked at each other for a few moments before Xena turned away. “Yes, I see. Well, thank you Palaimon for your insightfulness. Goodnight, Captain.”
Gabrielle stepped out of her bathroom into the warm spring night. To her right she could see the glimmering lights of the agora below her; they resembled the twinkling stars far above, and the night air was pungent with the perfume of jasmine and eucalyptus. The light from the bathroom and a few small oil lamps hanging from poles illuminated her porch. She wrapped the blanket around her and walked in the direction of the lights of the agora until her porch ended. She sighed deeply and let the beauteous evening calm her. It was then that she noticed she had an unobtrusive view to the Conqueror’s private porch, which was about thirty feet away from her own, separated by a rock garden and shrubs.
She was about to turn away when the dark warrior stepped out to her porch, a glass in hand, and moved to gaze at the city below her. There weren’t any oil lamps on the Conqueror’s porch, but the blonde could easily make her out by the light coming from the doorway. Mesmerized, Gabrielle could only watch as the woman unwound a blanket from her, and let it fall to the ground. What was underneath was practically see-through. She could easily make out the naked form of the powerful woman before her and the sight alone caused her mouth to go dry and her pulse to quicken. She had known arousal before, but it was never like this. Never this sudden, and never this intense.
Xena took another sip of wine then turned to go back inside when she noticed that she was being watched. The light from the porch beyond was muted, but she knew instantly who was watching her. She lowered the cup and turned to face her admirer, not knowing why she really did, only that if felt like the right thing to do. She saw the young woman take a deep breath, and then she saw her lower her blanket, exposing her naked shoulders, and the swelling of her breasts. The Conqueror froze, rooted to the spot by the sight before her. She felt the ache not only in her chest, but between her legs, as well. She was just about to step forward when she heard a knocking at her door. Reluctantly, she turned away from the scene before her and entered her rooms.
Gabrielle, not hearing the knock, lowered her head when the dark woman turned from her and entered her chamber. She turned around and went into her own set of rooms, the feeling of volatility now gone. When she was seated on her couch she let her mind wander, to what might have been, and suddenly, for the first time in her life, felt really alone.
Xena opened her door only to find a child standing there. All the frustration she had felt left her as she looked down on the small boy. “Hi.”
The boy smiled back. “Hi. Mom sent me.”
Xena lowered on one knee so she could be at eye level with the boy. “Who’s your mom?”
“Your maid, silly.”
The Conqueror looked around. “Where is she, now?”
“In her room below. She’s sick. I suppose to give you ‘dis.” He handed her a small package.
She knew immediately what it was. Every night her maid, Callas, left a small box of candy by her bedside, an evening treat. Xena took the box and smiled again at the child. “Tell your mom, thanks. I’ll check up on her tomorrow and see if she’s feeling better, okay?”
The Conqueror reached into the box and produced a small piece of candy. “Would you like some?”
The boy snatched the morsel without speaking and bounced down the hall towards the stairs. The dark woman watched him for a few moments, a warm smile on her face, before turning into her suite. When she reached her patio she found that the blonde was gone. She watched the empty porch for a few minutes, feeling a sense of loss that was totally new; different from anything else she had ever felt in the past.
In the morning the Captain of the Guard stopped at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo Patroos, a small temple just north of the Metroon and next to the Stoa of Zeus, and lit some incense. He took it into the temple and put it at the foot of the statue of his patron god. He left his customary donation in the collection pot and stepped outside, almost running into the Archon.
“You are just the man I want to see.”
“What can I do for you, Captain?”
“Just a few questions, really. Do you know of any administrator who is dually assigned to work in the Pnyx and the Strategeion…and maybe even the Bouleuterion?”
The Archon scratched his beard. “No, I can’t think of anyone. I don’t think the Conqueror would want to pay for such a high salary. The only people who work throughout the whole city are the gardeners and clean up crews.”
The Captain smiled. “Thank you, Leukippos, you have eased my mind.”
“Yes, I was rummaging through some records in the Metroon and came across one name, Lysias Demosthenes, and I thought I read that he was pulling two salaries.”
“Oh no, Captain. Lysias was the junior administrator for the Bouleuterion about a month ago and was just recently assigned to the Strategeion. So he’s only getting one salary.”
“As I said before, thank you.” The Captain nodded and headed north towards the Poikile.
Xena paused at Gabrielle’s door and was about to knock when she heard a splashing sound. She opened the door slowly and stepped into the room. She heard sounds coming from the bathing chamber and, as quietly as she could, stepped to the door and looked inside. The blonde was floating lazily on top of the steaming water; eyes closed, twirling her hands slowly.
The Conqueror froze at the sight of the young woman’s supple body. Her eyes followed every curve of the young woman’s naked flesh and finally rested on the peaceful look on Gabrielle’s face.
“I have your towels, miss.”
Xena whirled as a servant entered the suite. When she saw the Conqueror she stopped abruptly and shrieked.
The dark woman reeled again at the sound of Gabrielle’s scream and hit her head on the bathroom door. She cradled her aching forehead and stepped back. “Ouch…damn it!”
The blonde flew from the pool and was at Xena’s side in an instance, she reached up and brushed away errant strands of hair to examine the injury. “Are you okay, Lord Xena?”
“Your towels!” The servant threw the towels on a couch and ran from the room.
Neither woman heard the servant’s scream. Xena was rooted to the spot as Gabrielle’s gentle exploration continued. She closed her eyes briefly, relishing the soft touch on flesh that was already heating as an unexpected wave of arousal crashed throughout her.
The Conqueror gasped, feeling the touch reach all the way down to her bones. She opened her eyes took a step backwards in her confusion, never breaking eye contact with the young woman.
Gabrielle’s look of concern vanished as she looked down and suddenly realized she was naked before the Conqueror. Her eyes widened and she screamed again. “Turn around!”
Xena reluctantly turned, hoping that her reaction went unnoticed, and rubbed her forehead. “This is going to leave a bruise, I know it.”
“A small price to pay for your voyeurism, lord Xena.”
“How long were you standing there?”
“Don’t talk to me in that tone, young woman!”
“How could you?”
Xena turned back to the blonde in indignation. “I’m not a voyeur!”
Gabrielle blinked, ire overwhelming modesty, and stormed up to the Conqueror. “Oh, really! So why are you still looking at me!”
The Conqueror put her hands on her hips. “I’m not!”
“You’re still here and I’m still naked, so what am I missing?” Gabrielle’s feeling of indignation flared for a few moments, then crumbled as searing cerulean eyes bore into her, causing her throat to constrict. A spark began in her stomach—a feeling of something exhilarating beyond anything else—then spread outwards, achingly, robbing her of her breath.
Xena lowered her arms when the young woman turned from her. “Look, Gabrielle, I’m sorry,” she whispered.
The dark warrior turned and stepped to the door, she hesitated and glanced over her shoulder. She froze at the sight; the young woman had turned slightly and was eyeing her. She watched, almost helplessly, as the blonde’s eyes traveled from her powerful thighs to the blush in her cheek. She knew that look; the shock of it registered like an inner quake, finding reciprocal heat in the other. She straightened to her full height.
Gabrielle’s eyes roamed over the Conqueror, drinking in the vision of her. She looked magnificent standing there, her blue eyes sparkling like winter ice. She felt a stirring in her that was new, and a little disquieting. A part of her screamed at her to stop, that what she wanted to do at this minute was madness. She listened to that voice for only an instant, and then hesitated only a moment before fully turning back to the dark woman, exposing once again her nakedness.
They came together instantaneously—two unstoppable forces meeting on a field of attraction. The hug was fierce and the kiss brutal. There could be no mistaking this kiss as one two friends might share. The Conqueror demanded entry into the blonde’s mouth and the young woman gave it willingly.
Both women broke apart after a short while and stared at each other. Gabrielle clutched at the fabric at Xena’s shoulders and held her at bay, all the while trying to get her breathing under control.
The Conqueror fared no better, she brought shaking hands up to her collar and loosened her cape. When it fell she gasped for breath.
The blonde, panting slightly, watched the garment fall to the floor then looked back up to the dark woman, still holding her by the shoulders. “Oh, gods.”
Xena’s right hand wrapped around Gabrielle’s neck and brought their mouths together again, the kiss was frenetic, searing their mouths together even as their bodies collided once again. She worked at her belt and managed to loosen it, it landed at her feet along with her cape.
Their breaths were coming in short gasps as they both struggled with the other, each grappling with her own desire. Finally, the young woman allowed herself to be drawn into a tight embrace. Xena’s hands frantically ran up and down Gabrielle’s back, and reaching around her left thigh, lifted the leg up. When the young woman wrapped it around the dark woman’s hip, Xena groaned. This simple action spurred Xena on; she lifted the blonde higher and settled her on her hips.
Gabrielle threw her head back and gasped. She pulled at the Conqueror’s clothes. “Off…take this off…”
Xena stumbled backwards as Gabrielle’s hands tore at her clothes. She connected with the wall with a grunt. The dark woman slid against the wall until she bumped into a small table; she managed to disengage her hand from Gabrielle’s breast long enough to sweep it across the tables surface, sending the bottles of soap and perfume crashing to the floor. When Gabrielle closed her eyes and parted her lips the Conqueror bent down and began to devour her mouth once again. They clutched at each other as hands and mouths frantically tried to bring the other pleasure.
Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s hair and forced her head back. The blonde almost screamed when the dark woman bit into the flesh of her neck. She continued to hold her head back and rained kisses down on her neck, working her way down to the young woman’s breasts.
The dark woman ground her pelvis into the blonde but she could not keep her balance. She turned them to the side and lowered Gabrielle onto the table, her own body following without breaking contact.
Xena lifted her mouth only slightly from the blonde’s, panting into her mouth. “Gods, Gabrielle, you feel so good.”
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’s powerful shoulders. “Harder, Xena, harder…”
The Conqueror lifted slightly, and with Gabrielle’s help, managed to remove her crumpled chiton. She ran her hands down the young woman’s silky thighs, savoring the softness as it brushed against her skin. She slipped a hand between their bodies and parted her nether lips, and adjusting her hips, brought her sex in contact with the blonde’s. The sweet contact caused both women to moan.
Gabrielle groaned as Xena’s breasts pressed into her own, taut nipples raking over already over-sensitized flesh. She felt her whole body tingle as slick flesh glided over flesh, creating a friction that was like nothing she had ever experienced.
Xena ground her hips against the blonde and pressed them tighter together; the sweet friction almost intolerable as heated flesh burned with desire. She ran her hands under Gabrielle’s knees and lifted, bringing them to rest over her shoulders, and using her weight, crushed the blonde’s body to her own.
The room reverberated with the sound of the their lovemaking; the table creaked rhythmically as it hit the wall in time with Xena’s thrusts. There would be time later, maybe, for a gentler seduction. This coupling was raw, filling both women with an over-powering need for immediate release. The very air around them was charged, mingling sounds and scent into a cacophonous, unrelenting hunger.
Gabrielle reached the threshold first. “Oh, Xena…I’m going to come…oh gods, oh gods…” Her climax was like a million tiny stars suddenly exploding, flowing outward along her limbs, until her whole body shuddered with the impact.
Xena felt the blonde’s release down to the core of her being, and followed her over the precipice into a burning sea.
Gabrielle clutched at Xena and attempted to get her breathing back to normal. Both women stared into each other’s eyes as their breathing quieted.
Gabrielle finally closed her eyes and turned her head away from the Conqueror. Xena lifted from the young woman and staggered back until she hit the wall again; she reached out to touch Gabrielle’s hand but the young woman drew her hand back. When Gabrielle refused to look at her she brought her hand around and gently turned the young woman’s face around. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
The blonde broke away from the Conqueror’s touch and picked up the towel and draped it around herself. She seemed confused and finally turned away from the dark woman. “Please go, Xena.”
Xena wiped at the sweat on her brow. “What?”
What? Xena took a step closer to the blonde. “Why? Please, Gabrielle, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Go, now! Please?”
Xena shook her head in confusion but she did as Gabrielle wished. She grabbed another towel from the bed and abruptly ran from the room.