Part 26

Just after dawn the next day, bright and early, before she even opened her eyes Athena felt a weight gently pressing down on her chest. She opened her eyes and saw her wife sleeping peacefully with her head resting just beneath her collarbone, slowly rising and falling to the idle cadence of her breathing.

Indeed, she thought, Sieglinde was the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on and pain stabbed her heart again.

Carefully, so as not to disturb her wife's slumber and barely able to part with the pleasant warmth emanating from the luscious body draped over hers, Athena slid from under her. She dressed with the clothes she had discarded the night before and left for the practice field on the palace's grounds. Some exercise of unadulterated violence ought to put her mind off her sadness, she thought, as she strode through the corridors and passed by several of the Realm's nobility on her way.

When she neared the field under the cloudless spring sky, from a distance she discerned a tall figure, as tall as her, wielding a sword most particularly masterfully. A signature Conqueror's move. She recognized her Sire, immediately. Incurred still by the ire that her Sire had provoked in her, the last person she wanted to chance that morning was its instigator.

As she was about to turn on the axis of her heels and return back to the palace to search for her mother, who was probably still in bed she supposed, she heard the Conqueror's unmistakable, distinct voice calling out to her.

Left with no choice, she covered the ground between them and stepped onto the field, reluctantly.

"Majesty," Athena bowed before the Conqueror, who was dressed in plain, unadorned garments suitable for training.

"Well?!" the Conqueror did not dally around it but went straight to the point, returning her sword back into its scabbard.

"Well what?" Athena asked, sensing a sharp spike in the temperature of her blood. The ire resurfaced in her, but she was more interested in her Sire's inexplicable inquiry.

"What happened yesterday after you'd left? Did you go to visit your mistress?" the Conqueror asked and in her voice one could detect the effort she put in to sounding as casual as possible like there was absolutely no purpose to her questions other than courtesy and benign interest.

Athena found it odd for her Sire not to exhibit anger when she mentioned the woman she'd taken exception to and even odder that she did not use some creative derogatory name in reference to Cynna.

An epiphany crashed onto her. "You did it intentionally!" she accused her Sire.

The Conqueror looked at her firstborn unwaveringly.

"You brought me to a great state of agitation yesterday and you did it on purpose, Sire. You manipulated me, knowing full well what would happen."

The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest and scoffed. "It is high time you took responsibility for your own choices and actions."

That morning with the events of the previous day making her more malleable, her Sire's words found a fertile ground in her and at long last reached her.

"You are right, Sire," she finally admitted with a tremor in her voice, and with slumped shoulders.

The Conqueror saw her Successor defeated and she unfolded her arms. "Come here, Athena," she spoke softly and beckoned her.

The Conqueror and her Heir walked together to the edge of the practice field where a low wooden bench stood.

"Sit down," the Conqueror said with an inviting gesture of her hand and sat down.

Athena seated herself next to her Sire, her body dropping onto the hard surface with a thump. She felt a sting in her eyes, but held back her tears. If there was something that her Sire could not tolerate, it was weakness she had learnt from a very early age and she wished it was her mother sitting next to her instead of her Sire.

"Tell me everything that has happened," the Conqueror requested.

Absentmindedly, Athena cast her gaze at the direction of the palace.

"Your mother is still very much asleep," the Conqueror remarked, and after a brief pause she added what sounded like a promise, "I will not judge you and I will give you the soundest advice I can."

Athena was in too dire need, and too desperate to wonder as to her Sire’s uncharacteristic, if not aberrant kindness towards her. "I did go to see Cynna yesterday," Athena confirmed what the Conqueror had already known.

"And?" the Conqueror urged on.

"She rejected me and did so in the most deplorable and insufferable manner," Athena answered, not meeting her Sire eyes, "And so I dismissed her and banished her from Corinth, as I'm sure you must have already heard, Sire."

TheConqueror cleared her throat. "Lady Satrina was kind enough to mention something to that effect at breakfast," she confirmed.

Athena was sure that the news must have pleased her Sire to no end, but she failed to detect any signs of gloating or unspoken ‘I- told- you-sos' about the Conqueror.

"As much as it pains me to say it, Sire, you were right about her."

The Conqueror rubbed her chin thoughtfully, "But Sieglinde did not reject you, did she?" It wasn’t a question, really, but a confident statement of fact.

"No, she did not," Athena kept her answer brief and once more looked up at the direction of the palace, specifically at the balcony of the Imperial chambers.

The Conqueror ignored it, and went on to inquire, "Is that why you are sad? Over the loss of Cynna?" She knew the answer to that question as well, but she asked it all the same because what she was really keen to observe was her eldest' response to it.

"No, Sire. I came to realize yesterday that there wasn’t any love in my heart for Cynna, and I know now that there never has been any, either," Athena answered and buried her gaze back into the ground.

“Why, then?”

"When I came to Sieglinde, she was waiting for me, Sire. She was waiting for me ready and willing to receive who I am," she said and after a short pause in her speech she continued. "She wanted me, Sire. She wanted to give herself to me not because I ordered her to, but because she wanted to. And when I was with her, I saw her. I saw her soul and her beauty shine in all its unassuming glory and I knew there was nothing more worth having than that woman and her love. I bear her great and true love," Athena said and she forced herself to swallow the tremor in her voice and the lump that rose in her throat about to obstruct her speech. "I love her so much, Sire, it hurts," she said and covered her heart with her right hand.

The Conqueror observed her eldest and saw the face of true and devastating love this time. Secretly, she admired Athena for possessing the ability and the boldness to exhibit her tender emotions so plainly, without hiding them. The Conqueror recalled how many years ago she'd sat with her own mother, the Lady Cyrene, and had refused to confess her love for her body slave. Athena's ability had to come from her mother, the Conqueror inwardly smiled to herself. She kept silent and waited for Athena to continue.

Athena cleared her throat and paused momentarily to compose herself. "After all the disgraceful slights I have committed against her and after the way I have treated her since she first came here… She could never return my feelings for her and I cannot blame her for it. How could I have been so blind and so utterly dim-witted?"

To the Conqueror's ear, Athena's concerns sounded frightfully familiar. She suppressed a grin and rested a caring hand atop her firstborn's shoulder. "What are you willing to sacrifice for Sieglinde to love you?"

"All that I have," Athena answered immediately.

"That's not enough and it won't do," the Conqueror stated. "What else?"

Athena reconsidered then after some thought she replied, "All that I am."

"Go earn her love, then," the Conqueror goaded her. "Make yourself worthy of it."

"How?" Athena asked, skeptical raising an eyebrow.

"Woo her!" the Conqueror replied.

"Woo her?!" To Athena, her Sire's answer sounded suspiciously short.

"Yes. Woo." The Conqueror insisted vehemently.

"Did you woo mother?" Athena asked, still doubtful. Such a complicated predicament could not possibly be resolved by a short, simple, single-syllable verb such as 'Woo.'

"Perhaps in a way," the Conqueror recalled, going back years in her mind. "Our bond is different and what suits us may not suit others. A bond does not materialize out of thin air. It is created, shaped, maintained and shared throughout the years." The Conqueror combed her hair with her fingers. "I lavished your mother with jewels and dresses and flowers after I freed her… When all she wanted from me was to know that I loved her. My advice to you is – tell Sieglinde in words and in actions that you love her."

A sudden shiver of fear made the hair on the back of Athena's neck stand. "What if she does not reciprocate?"

The Conqueror knew, of course, that Sieglinde was already very much in love with Athena and that she had long forgiven Athena's many offences against her, but the Sovereign Lord of the Realm was in the belief that something one did not labor arduously in order to obtain wouldn't be as appreciated, as cherished, and as harder to lose as something one did labor in order to obtain. So she bit down on the inside of her cheeks and granted no relief to her eldest.

"There can be worse things than existing in a loveless marriage," the Conqueror finally stated, testing her firstborn's determination and fortitude as much as prodding her to reveal what was in her heart to her wife.

"You don't… You can’t really believe that," Athena directed a skeptical gaze at her Sire.

"No, I don’t," the Conqueror agreed to divulge. "But it bears no difference. You ought to tell her that you love her, whether she reciprocates or not. This is the price we pay when we risk our hearts, child," she said softly, then the Conqueror smiled. "But to gain the love of a truly extraordinary woman not just in beauty but in kindness and moral stature… It is well worth the risk." The Conqueror then lowered her hand to the small of Athena's back and gently pushed her, spurring her onwards to stand up and return to her wife. "Now go to her and tell her that you love her. Bare your heart and soul to her," she said then added with a twinge of regret in her voice that did not escape Athena, "Do it now and don't waste time as I have."

Athena stood up. "Thank you, Sire," she told the Conqueror.

And in return the Conqueror wore her infamous wicked half-smile and said, "I reckon we'll see how brave you are."

Athena rolled her eyes to the sky and shook her head before making her way back to the palace.

Very pleased with herself, thinking that her wife and Queen couldn’t have handled it better than she had, the Conqueror rose to her feet as well and rushed to her wife to tell her all about it, seeking her approval more than anything else.


Meanwhile, in the Palace, the Queen's ladies in waiting finished making their final adjustments to the rims of the Queen's dress.

"Thank you, ladies," the Queen said as she examined herself before leaving the Imperial Chambers and made her way to Sieglinde's chambers, confident that her Lord had been correct in assuming that their eldest had spent her night there.

Princess Siglinde's ladies in waiting greeted her with a curtsy at the door.

"Where is her Grace?" she asked the Princess's servants.

"Her Grace is taking a bath, your Majesty," one of them answered.

With small paces the Queen reached the bath chamber and gently rapped on it. "Your Grace?" she called out to let the bathing Princess know it was she.

"Please, do come in, your Majesty," came an exclamation from the other side of the closed door.

The Queen entered, shutting the door behind her while her inspecting eyes ran over the Princess. She saw a towel around the Princess’ figure and the Princess tying the laces of the cap over her wet, braided hair. On Princess Sieglinde's left shoulder she saw the fading scribbles in a language she knew only too well.

"Your Majesty," Princess Sieglinde curtsied before the Queen, and quickly intercepted the Queen's gaze lingering on her shoulder.

"I came to offer you a salve to treat your skin, but I if I am not mistaken, it seems to me that there is no need," the Queen remarked.

"There isn't, your Majesty, thank you," Sieglinde assured, blushing.

The Queen wished to exchange a few private words with her daughter-in-law about what she thought must have transpired between her and Princess Athena, but an announcement of the Princess Athena's presence is Sieglinde's chambers, made by one of the Nordic ladies in waiting, drew both women in the bath chamber's attention to the outer chambers.

The Queen was the first to exit the bath chamber. When she entered Sieglinde's antechamber, she was met with Princess Athena's surprised expression.

"Majesty," Princess Athena bowed before her mother.

"Your Grace," the Queen greeted with a slight dip of her head, while Princess Sieglinde's ladies in waiting took their Mistress' attire and went into the bath chamber in order to dress her and to afford the Queen and the Heir privacy.

"I did not expect to see you here, mother," Athena commented.

"I came to inquire after Sieglinde," the Queen replied and slipped the vial with the salve she was holding under her sleeve.

"And how is she?" Athena asked with a mischievous smile.

The Queen replied with an indecipherable smile.

The doors to the antechamber were opened and in came one of the Queen's ladies in waiting. She curtsied before the Royals then deferentially addressed the Queen, "Nobleman Arcadius and Lady Hagne are waiting to be granted audience in your Majesty's chambers."

Although she adored her mother, Athena was glad to learn that her mother's presence was needed elsewhere, for she wanted to speak with her wife before she lost her nerve. "If you will excuse me, mother, but I have urgent business to discuss with my wife," she said as she glanced over her mother's shoulder to the direction of the bath chamber.

Athena's anxiousness was evident and the tension in her could be seen from the way her body was taut as an arrow and as restless as a winter wind.

The Queen was not sure as to what her eldest’s intensions were in regards to Sieglinde and felt it pertinent that her eldest consult with her beforehand in light of the delicate, frail and crucial stage she thought matters between them were. "Perhaps you might wish to confer with me first?"

"Thank you, mother, but I have already received an advice from my Sire," Athena replied.

"Then indeed you have all the advice you need," the Queen answered and before she left Sieglinde's chambers she reminded her eldest, "My Lord your Sire is giving a feast in your honor at sunset in celebration of your victory over the Nordic Lands."

"It would be impossible to forget, mother, with half of the Realm's nobility swarming within the palace walls. We shall be there," Athena assured her mother with a nod of her head.

As the Queen made her way to her chambers, she hanged high hopes and expectations on the fact that Athena had used the words 'We' in reference to her and her wife.


Not a quarter of a candle-mark had passed since the Queen entered her chambers to grant audience to Lady Hagne and Nobleman Arcadius when the Conqueror entered the Queen's chambers, disrupting the proceedings.

Upon hearing the announcement of the Sovereign's presence in the Queen's chambers made by one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, all in the Queen's antechamber rose up from their seats and faced the entrance, bowing and curtsying before the Conqueror.

"My Lord," the Queen greeted with delight.

"My Lady," the Conqueror greeted back, smiling with joy at the sight of her Queen as if she was looking at a new unconquered land.

"Did you wish to speak with me, my Lord?" the Queen asked.

"It will keep, my Lady. Do not interrupt your meeting on my account. I shall wait until you conclude your business," the Conqueror said.

"I am grateful for my Lord's patience," the Queen said and signaled her ladies in waiting to produce a chair for her Lord to sit on.

The Queen returned her attention to Lady Hagne and Nobleman Arcadius. "Nobleman Arcaduis, you've expressed your wish to receive my blessing to the dissolution of your marriage to Lady Hagne on the grounds of infidelity. What proof have you to offer against your wife?" she asked.

"She was seen cavorting around and huddling with another Nobleman," he claimed most confidently. "Which, with your Majesty's permission, I shall not name out of respect to his wife."

"Seen by who?" the Queen inquired.

"One of our servants which I consider to be trustworthy, Majesty," the Nobleman, who had a decade of life on his wife, answered.

The Queen knew that it best served her Lord's interests and therefore the Realm's interests that Nobleman Arcadius and Lady Hagne stayed married, for Lady Hagne descended from a prominent family. Her father was the Chief Commander of the Conqueror's legion in the province of Persia and her mother had inherited her family's fortune. She also saw no point in tarnishing young Lady Hagne's good name and saw no fairness in it especially not over taking sexual liberties, which husbands often took far more freely than wives and without being subjected to social scrutiny.

"And when did this alleged ill-conceived assignation take place?" the Queen asked him, leaning against the backrest.

"A day after we'd arrived at Corinth to partake in the banquet with accordance to the Lord Conqueror's summoning – two days ago in the afternoon, Majesty," her replied. "I returned to our assigned chambers and she was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere for her. When I asked the servant as to the whereabouts of his mistress, he told me about the tryst he'd witnessed in one of the vacant chambers not far from the Great Hall."

The Conqueror observed her Queen's dealings with great interest. Because of her many duties which robbed her of free time and opportunities, watching her wife and Queen granting audience to their noble subjects was a rare indulgence for her.

"And have you confronted your wife with this accusation?" the Queen questioned further.

"She denies it, of course, Majesty," he replied and threw an angry glance at Lady Hagne as though he could not stand to bear the sight of her. He then turned his gaze back to his Sovereign Queen and added, pointing towards the antechamber's entrance, "My servant is waiting outside. Your Majesty is free to question him if your Majesty so wishes."

The Conqueror watched her wife intently, like there was nothing too small to escape her attention, and waited for her next words with great anticipation.

"There is no need for that, Nobleman," she dismissed his suggestion. "Your servant is mistaken. Two days ago in the afternoon Lady Hagne accompanied me in a stroll I took through the Imperial Gardens."

How clever her Queen was, the Conqueror thought, feeling immense pride rise in her but not allowing it to show upon her countenance. Neither would make a liar out of the Realm's Queen. A servant would not dare contradict the Queen' account and the Nobleman would not dare challenge her.

It was apparent that the Nobleman did not expect the Queen's answer. Nevertheless, if the Queen said that his wife had been with her, than for all intents and purposes no assignation with another man could have taken place at that time.

"Now tell me, Nobleman, have you yourself been true to your wife throughout the years you've been married?" the Queen asked and was now glaring at him, leaning forward with her arms resting over the armrests.

Under her glare and with her intrusive question hovering over him, he wriggled uncomfortably in his seat, fixating his eyes at the mosaic under his feet. In the presence of the Conqueror, the Queen's servants and his wife, he was taught the taste of public shame firsthand.

"Your silence has already answered for you, Nobleman," the Queen finally broke the silence, letting Nobleman Arcadius know she did not think for a moment that he'd been faithful to his wife by the expression on her face and her rigid voice. "And it is my advice to you that in the future, you will not take a servant's word over that of your wife's who has dedicated her life to you and has given you children," she continued to say and her words to him sounded more like a berating than an advice. "Your petition for my blessing to the dissolution for your marriage," she concluded, "is hereby denied," then she addressed both parties, "It is my will that you should remain married."

"Yes, your Majesty," both noble wife and noble husband murmured.

"You may leave my presence," the Queen informed him.

The Nobleman and the Lady stood up and bowed before her. "Thank you, your Majesty," they said deferentially than bowed before the Conqueror before vacating the antechamber.

"Ladies," the Queen addressed her servants, "I wish to be left alone with my Lord."

The Queen's ladies in waiting obeyed the Queen's order and left the Queen's chambers one after the other.

Once alone, the Conqueror walked up to her wife and wrapped her arms around the slim waist. "You lied to him," she remarked, pleasantly surprised to some degree, "You were with me from dawn till dusk the day before yesterday."

"I thought it necessary. It is you, my Love, who taught me that a sovereign may willfully deceive or lie to his subjects for the sake of the public good and that a sovereign was justified if the deceptions were necessary to protect his subjects," the Queen explained thoughtfully and rose to stand on her tiptoes, leaning in deeper into the Conqueror's embrace.

"Yes, I did," the Conqueror grinned and pressed her lips against the Queen's forehead.

"Whether she had been unfaithful to him or not, Lady Hagne wished to remain married to her husband, otherwise she would not have denied her infidelity. After all, she has means of her own and does not depend on her husband to provide for her. And I knew their marriage benefited you and the Realm, so I lied to him."

"How deviously clever you are," the Conqueror whispered. "You did very well, Gabrielle," she relayed her utter satisfaction then captured her wife's lips with her own.

"Athena told me that you had given her an advice, Lord Conqueror," the Queen whispered back, amused and playful after their passionate kiss had ended.

"It would appear that our firstborn is desperately in love with her wife, Lady Conqueror," her Lord returned the jest as her hand mindlessly traveled south on the Queen's body until it latched on a firm round buttock.

"I do hope that you've advised her to tell Sieglinde that she loves her and that she ought not to squander precious time as you had," the Queen teased and it earned her a gentle bite into her neck and a yelp escaped her lips.

When the Conqueror released the Queen's flesh from her between her teeth, she husked into the Queen's ear, "That is exactly what I have told her, my Love."

The Queen's features turned perplexed. "When I saw her earlier in Sieglinde's chambers, she seemed purposeful-like yet anxious."

"Naturally," the Conqueror said and squeezed the mound in her hand. "She is about to risk her heart."

The Queen's eyebrows slanted over her nose, baffled. "She risks nothing, for Sieglinde loves and adores her with all her heart as well."

"True, but Athena is unaware of it and I might have neglected to reveal it to her."

The Queen smiled knowingly, for she understood perfectly her Lord’s reason and motivation behind her omission. "You did very well, Xena," she said and traced the Conqueror's jaw line with the tips of her fingers.

"You seem glowing with happiness," the Conqueror pointed out, amused.

"There is peace in the Realm; Athena is soon to discover the bliss of true love and my Lord will dance with me at the banquet tonight."


Meanwhile, the air in Princess Sieglinde's chambers was far from being as light and as cheerful as it was in the Queen's chambers at that time, but rather was laden with dense tension and unsettling anticipation.

"Min Herre," Princess Sieglinde welcomed her spouse with immense joy that brightened her eyed and signaled her servants to leave.

Princess Athena drew out a long deep breath and watched her wife's damp hair beneath the cap staining the fabric with scented bath-water that tantalized Athena's olfactory sense. She was lost for words. Her tongue lay heavy in her mouth and she thought it absurd and most disconcerting that she, who had led the campaign in the Nordic Lands and who had blandished countless women into her bed without difficulties, could struggle to state a simple truth to her wife.

"My Lady," she eventually said, "There is something…" her speech trailed off and she sighed.

Princess Sieglinde was rapidly exhibiting signs of discomfort upon seeing the Heir struggle with her words, surmising whatever it was that the Heir had to tell her, had to be dire.

"Please, do not be alarmed or concerned," the Heir was quick to say with upheld hands. "I simply…" she tried again and inwardly rebuked herself for rushing into it without first arranging her words in order. "I wish…" The Heir shut her mouth and pursed her lips with frustration. "Would you please accompany me to my chambers?" she eventually asked.

"Of course," replied Sieglinde with a puzzled look. Her presence in the Heir's chambers had never before been requested, and she wondered what it would look like.

They walked together down the corridor in silence, Sieglinde with foreboding feelings troubling her due to Athena's uncharacteristic behavior and Athena thankful for the opportunity to gather her thoughts together and muster her courage.

Upon arriving at the doors, Athena quickly reached for the door handles and gallantly pushed them open for her wife to walk through.

Once inside, Princess Sieglinde immediately noticed certain familiar items decorating Athena's chambers, items which she had not seen since she had left her homeland to come to Corinth. She saw the woolen carpet that had covered the floor in her former residence' antechamber covering the Heir's antechamber, as well as the deer head that once hung above the hearth and the twin chairs that once stood in front of it. She looked at Athena and immediately understood what the Heir had done.

Upon seeing the joy upon Sieglinde's features, Athena grew more confident. She took her wife's hand in hers and guided the Nordic Princess into her bedchamber, where Sieglinde quickly recognized her oil lamp standing on an exquisitely crafted desk, her brushes and her broaches on one of the nightstand by the spacious bed, and her dolls perched in perfect array as they had been in her old bedchamber upon one side of Athena's bed.

"You've been to my old home, Min Herre," Sieglinde clapped her hands rejoicing and dashed to the nightstand, running excited fingers over her personal possessions.

"In your homeland I felt constantly surrounded by you, my Lady," Athena spoke with a low trembling voice and wondered if her wife noticed the significance of her words.

"Thank you, Min Herre," Sieglinde scuttled back to Athena and with mirth and exuberance landed a kiss on Athena's cheek.

Athena's heart skipped a beat. Far less modest physical gestures had never elicited such a response from her.

"I brought something else that I hoped would please you," Athena announced and walked over to her bed, squatting down and pulling a chest from underneath it. She carried the elongated chest to her desk, so as not to soil the linens with dust, and opened it. From inside she retrieved a fishing rod, which she had found in Siegline's childhood chambers.

Princess Sieglinde covered her mouth, too emotional for words, and her eyes welled up with tears.

When she had overcome her initial response, Sieglinde removed her fingers away from her lips and said, "My mother gave it to me despite my father's objection and disobeyed him."

Athena smiled, "I guess that is simply what mothers do."

Sieglinde burst into a rolling laughter and when it subsided, she wiped a tear from her left eye and said, most sincerely, "Thank you for your generosity, Min Herre."

"It was my pleasure to bring you joy, my Lady." Athena's words were spoken softly and her heart swelled in her chest.

"And how can I repay you your generosity, Min Herre?" Sieglinde asked.

Athena thought she was now brave enough to tell her wife what was in her heart and ask for forgiveness, but then she heard herself say, "Would you make these chambers yours?"

Sieglinde's form somewhat stiffened and when she found her voice she barely managed to ask, "Do you mean…?"

"Would you be willing to share my bed as the Queen shares the Lord Conqueror's bed?"

Sieglinde swallowed hard. She wasn't sure what was the basis of this odd request. At first she suspected that perhaps she misunderstood the Heir’s intention and meaning. After all, the Heir had never before invited her to sleep or spend the night in her bed.

"Would you want me to?" she asked like she wanted to be sure.

"I would," Athena answered. She knew it was not enough. Her resolve nearly crumbled and a fleeting thought ran through her mind that perhaps it would suffice, that perhaps she would be contented with leaving things the way they were, leaving well enough alone. But her hungry heart grumbled and gurgled. She looked intently into her wife's eyes, as if she were drawing strength from them, and said, "I wish for you to be all things to me and for me to be all things to you."

Sieglinde parted her lips to speak but Athena would not have it. The Heir pressed a hushing finger against Sieglinde's lips. "Please," she pleaded, "Allow me to say what I need to say to you before I lose my nerve."

Sieglinde's nodded her head and Athena removed her finger from Sieglinde's mouth. "If I lived two lifetimes I still would not be able to atone for my shameful and despicable way I've treat you – A fact which would not have troubled me so if it weren't for…" then came one last deep exhale of air, and a long piercing gaze into grey Nordic eyes, "My heart is overflowing with pure and seamless love for you, Sieglinde."

Sieglinde fanned her hand over her heart and her chin began to slightly quiver.

Athena went on to say, "There can be no pardon for the grief and shame that I've foolishly and heartlessly brought upon you and I cannot in good conscience say that I am worthy of your forgiveness or have a right to lay you with requests or wishes or expect…"

But this time it was Sieglinde who threw herself into Athena’s arms and put a cease to Athena's words by pressing her lips hard against Athena's.

“I was smitten with you before I even saw you,” Sieglinde moaned in-between kisses, “And when I first saw you, Min Herre… I have loved you ever since.”

"You have?!" Athena asked in near disbelief and absorbed Sieglinde's warmth through her sweet kisses.

"Oh yes," Sieglinde sighed as her lips pelted Athena's cheeks with kisses. "I asked after you while I was waiting in Athens for the Conqueror's invitation to court."

Athena was beside herself with happiness and elation such as she had never experienced before and hands roamed over the woman in her arms, wanting to touch everywhere, to feel as much of her as she could. "You did?" was all she could manage, being completely at the mercy of Sieglinde's amorous attention.

"I was told you were tall and had the most stunning, engaging blue eyes. They said you were educated in the Military Academy in Rome, which was the best of its kind," she said breathlessly and moored her fingers around Athena's neck to pull her closer, "and that you bravely fought alongside the Lord Conqueror against the Horde in Phrygia." Sieglinde felt her knees becoming weak and the stir of familiar need searing her insides again. "They said that the Princess of the Realm did not know what fear was, and that your sword was as skilled as that of the Lord Conqueror and I wished more than anything in the world for the Lord Conqueror to invite me to Corinth so that I might see you."

Sieglinde's words were like music to the Heir’s ears. "Tell me more," she urged passionately and began to undo the Nordic cap laces so to free her wife's exquisite hair and let it pour down.

"I knew I just had to see you," Sieglinde chuckled and when her hair was loose she shook her head to untangle the many braids for Athena's pleasure. "I knew I had to behold such magnificence." She spoke with all the fervor of a new convert.

"And when you saw me?" Athena whispered when her teeth gently clasped around a sensitive earlobe.

Surges of fire shot through Sieglinde's body. "My greatest wish of all became that one day you would come to love me."

Athena wondered why it felt like the ground was no longer under her feet and why it felt like she was floating on air. Impatient hands began to fight against garments. "I was so arrogant and even a bigger fool. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. How did I not see it before?!"

Sieglinde understood that now her spouse was looking at her through love's eyes, but said nothing, and felt more beautiful than ever before.

"You are wearing too much clothes," eager and panting, Athena growled and made Sieglinde, who basked in Athena's burning desire for her, chuckle again.

"My legs are about to buckle under me, Min Herre," Sieglinde warned and tightened her hold on Athena's shoulders.

Athena lifted her wife up and cradled her in her arms. Reverently, she carried her to bed, their eyes never leaving on another.


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