Announcement - Thanks to my savvy, diligent and extraordinary beta-reader, Nancyjean – Both Lord Conqueror of the Realm and Queen of the Realm can now be found on an Ebook format as well. (epub, MOBI, PDF) on the
Xena Library web site. It is listed under the LORD CONQUEROR OF THE
REALM SERIES, so scroll down to the L's.
http://www.xenalibrary.com/ebooklibrary.htm

SPECIAL THANKS : My humble most ardent gratitude to the excellent, most brilliant Beta readers Nancyjean whom I can't thank enough.

Comments, thoughts, questions & feedback : MOST WELCOMED – The more you write me, the quicker I post – I mean it!

warriorjudge2000@yahoo.com

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Princess of the Realm

Written by WarriorJudge

Part 27


It was late in the afternoon. Athena and Sieglinde's naked bodies were blissfully limp and entangled. Athena stroked her wife's golden tresses as both basked in the afterglow of their physical and emotional rapture.

"I never thought one could feel this way… So absolutely elated with joy and love." It was Athena who spoke first.

With her ear pressed against Athena's chest, Sieglinde listened to the gradually slowing rhythm of heartbeats. She found Athena's words odd. Surely, she thought, Athena must have known joy and love with her mistress, Cynna. However, too happy to fret over Athena's sentiments towards another woman, she pushed the thought away from her mind. She was content with thinking that it seemed as though Athena loved her best. "I know of what you speak, Min Herre," Sieglinde said and perched her chin on Athena's chest, directing her gaze at her.

"I'm overcome with tenderness towards you and an insurmountable desire to be near you constantly and protect you. I feel… invincible, as if as long as I have your love I have everything and I could never fail," the Heir said like she had stumbled upon a great revelation.

Sieglinde planted a kiss upon the ridge of Athena's collarbone and smiled. "You shall have my love always, Min Herre," she said and her grey eyes shimmered.

Athena rolled over to lie on top of her wife, her forearm pillowing Sieglinde's head.

“Now you must explain to me," she said and brushed her finger over the tip of Sieglinde's nose , "why do you address me as 'Your Grace' in your native tongue?” she asked while her free hand glided down from the Nordic nose to cup and kneaded a Nordic breast.

A wide smile spread on Sieglinde's lips. The question she had dreamed she would one day be asked was finally presented to her. "I do no such thing," she answered like she had been preparing her reply for a long time, as she traced the left angle of Athena's mouth with a single finger. "I address you as 'My Lord' in my native tongue and I do so to distinguish you from the Lord Conqueror."

Under Sieglinde's fingertip another smile was born and Athena found herself falling deeper in love with the woman who was full of grace and goodness. "Then teach me how to say 'My Lady' in your native tongue."

"Min Dame," Sieglinde pronounced her words slowly.

"Min Dame," Athena repeated after her wife.

"Very good," Sieglinde complimented and chuckled, thinking it was odd hearing Athena's native accent wrap around and recompose the Nordic words.

Athena sucked an engorged, pink nipple into her mouth and played with it with her tongue, causing a blush to rise in Sieglinde. A thought then disturbed her ardor play and she stopped. "Sieglinde," she said with a daunting tone of voice.

"What is it?" Sieglinde tried to keep from sounding alarmed.

"About that night… When I took you for the first time… I must beg your forgiveness,'' she said, and could hardly meet her wife's gaze for the shame of it. "I behaved like a heartless brute and punished you for something that was not your fault. In my defense I can only say…it was not on my own volition that I came to your bed that wretched night."

Sieglinde lowered her gaze for a brief moment. "I suspected as much, because that was precisely how it felt."

"I rescind my words," Athena said upon further reflection, "Although it was not my will, still I could have been kind to you, but rather than showing you gentleness I chose to show you malicious cruelty."

Sieglinde delved her fingers into Athena's mane and massaged the back of her head. "My mother used to tell me that a lady who loved her lord would forgive all of her lord's sins towards her, but a lady who did not love her lord would give her lord credit for nothing, not even her lord's finest gestures towards her."

Athena smiled. "I think I've heard my mother say something similar only not in the same words."

They both laughed.

Then Athena continued, "One time I also heard her give advice to one of her ladies in waiting, who had had a row with her husband: 'Once you have forgiven your lord, you must not reheat his offences towards you for breakfast' she said."

"I admire the Queen," Sieglinde said most earnestly. "When I am Queen I should very much like to be like her. Care for your subjects with gentle power, modest wisdom and benevolence."

"And what would be your first act as my Queen?" Athena asked, enjoying the feel of Sieglinde's smooth warm thigh against her loins, occasionally rubbing against her heated center.

It did not take Sieglinde much time to ponder. "Have you build an orphanage in every province of the Realm," came her quick reply.

Athena's adoration towards her wife soared even higher. She captured Sieglinde's lips for a long, deep, probing kiss, pouring the flood of emotions she felt into every suck, nibble and nip, then breathlessly said, "Tomorrow morning, first thing - Cynna's villa will become the first orphanage in Corinth."

A couple of fair eyebrows rose. "And where will Lady Cynna reside?"

How obtuse Athena felt at that moment upon realizing that she had neglected to mention to her wife that her mistress had been dismissed. "I feel embarrassed to say it but I think you might have to forgive me again… With all the excitement of the discovery of our glorious love for one another it slipped my mind entirely to tell you that Cynna is no longer a part of my life and she will never be again. Whatever misguided and ill-rooted sentiments I once bore her pale into insignificance compared with the burning, great love I bear you."

"So is your heart mine, and mine alone?" asked Sieglinde, moved to her very core.

"Yours and yours alone, now and forever," Athena vowed and sealed the fervent testament with a searing kiss, parting Sieglinde's lips with her tongue and dancing inside the delectable warm mouth. "I know you had to witness your mother being betrayed time and again by your father. I did the same to you. I give you my solemn oath that I shall never be unfaithful to you and I shall never break your heart. On my honor, no one will ever pity you on my account."

And with those vows of love and fidelity, the lovers drifted into fierce lovemaking that was still very much interwoven with novel discoveries and promises of future ones to come. When the stormy ocean and its high waves of passion became calm again, Athena and Sieglinde lay in each others arms, their exhausted extremities interlaced, their cooling bodies pressed together as they were when the release from their desire unified their flesh and their features were so close together that they inhaled each others' breaths.

"I wish to marry you again," Athena said and nuzzled her wife's cheek.

Sieglinde chuckled. "Is once not enough according to the law of the Realm?" she asked, amused by the prospect.

"It definitely is," a snicker escaped Athena's lips. "Getting married twice, however, is more of a family tradition, if you will," she explained and wiped her brow.

"The Lord Conqueror and the Queen?" Sieglinde asked and stroked Athena's hard calf with the sole of her feet, admiring the outlining curves of the muscle beneath her soft toes.

"Hmmm," Athena hummed in the positive. "They had an additional Amazon ceremony a year before Terreis was born," she said, enjoying the circles that her wife's wandering fingers were drawing upon the taut small of her back. "My Sire wished to grant my mother a more joyous, a more loving and a more memorable celebration than their first wedding had been and I wish to grant you one as well."

"Nothing would please me more, Min Herre. Thank you," Sieglinde exclaimed and her eyes sparkled like polished silver while she wrapped her arms tightly around Athena's head and compressed it tightly against her bosom.

"If I told you that I intend to take you fishing tomorrow, would you press me harder?" came the Heir's jolly albeit muffled question from between smothering breasts.

Sieglinde nodded her head vehemently and tightened her embrace around her beloved's head. She was pure merriment.

"May we invite the Conqueror, the Queen and little Terreis to join us?" she asked between giggles before she finally released Athena from her grip, only to steal another kiss from the latter's mouth. "I would be delighted to see the Conqueror fish," she said with enthusiasm and touched her lips to Athena once more.

"Of course," Athena replied when their lips eventually detached.

Sieglinde's eyes darkened as if they were suddenly eclipsed by desire. "Will you love my body with yours again, Athena?" she moaned and arched her back beneath the strong body that covered hers.

Her name on Sieglinde's lips for the first time spoken with such want raised a wave of throbbing heat throughout her lengthy form. Nails raking deep into the flesh of her back sprung a surge of blinding need in her and she became hard with it. Sieglinde's fresh wetness poured from parted folds, anointing Athena's erect, protruding sex and enticing it on by slow sensual grinding motions that nearly pushed all coherent thoughts till there was nothing else left but desire.

Supporting herself on her strong arms for leverage, Athena growled "The sun…" as her burning loins thrust down and pounded against Sieglinde's soaking womanhood. More than anything else, even more than her own pleasure, Athena sought to give pleasure to Sieglinde. She attuned her senses to Sieglinde's responses to her touch to discern and study each of her movements, each clasp of her hands, each arch of her back, each sway of her hips; each of the sounds she made and every single quickened heartbeat and excited draw of breath.

"What?!" Sieglinde's mind was fogged with urgent, wanton need obfuscating any form of rational thought.

"The sun," Athena repeated, grounding herself harder onto her wife, feeling Sieglinde's fingers wandering provocatively down the small of her back then cupping the clamping muscles of her buttocks, joining in on the effort to achieve the much needed release by pushing and adding pressure. "The sun… about to… set," Athena grunted heavily and sucked hard on Sieglinde's nipple, toughening in her mouth. "Feast," she finally managed.

"Please, don't stop," begged Sieglinde.

Athena could not stop even if her life depended on it. Suspended on one arm now, she rammed her thumb into Sieglinde's sodden hot crevice and her middle finger pierced the puckered ring of the lower orifice, making Sieglinde's convulse then stiffen at the unfamiliar rear invasion. The ring of muscles began to tingle and blazing flames spread all over her damp skin like wild fire out of control.

When the sun descended into the Aegean Sea, Athena and Sieglinde climaxed in unison, holding each other closely, bonded like only two young lovers can be.

Athena threw a glance outside the window and saw the sky redden.

"We are expected in the Great Hall," she remarked and slowly disentangled her body from her wife's, immediately missing the contact.

Sieglinde nodded her head and moved to sit atop the bed. Her fingers, weak and feeble from being forcefully embedded into Athena's muscles by the sexual excitement, quickly toiled to braid her long hair.

"Call you ladies in waiting," Athena said as she climbed out of bed, "and have them prepare you, Min Dame." And before she left the bedchamber to wash in the bath chamber, she landed another solid kiss onto Sieglinde's lips.

***

Meanwhile in the Great Hall, the Conqueror and the Queen sat on their thrones with Princess Terreis by the Queen's side and a commodious table brimming with the finest cuisines the world had to offer. Egyptian dancers at the foot of the dais wore colored chiffon veils foiled with intricate latticework, their hands gilded with thin leaves of fine gold , and wearing bedlahs with two small mastoid golden domes linked to one another by a golden thread, forming a flamboyant sequined bra adorned by green crystals and small pearls accenting along the fringes. When the dancers performed, they became the living and moving archetype of what the audience expected to see.

The dancers w reathed the veils around their hips and tied them to accent their movements, framing the steps, and drawing the eye to the body part that was being utilized at that moment in the dance. Then they shook and shimmied their shoulders and hips to the rhythm of the beating drums, and the music and the jewels and other hanging ornaments on their scant attire emphasized the isolations movements of their agile bodies.

From the entrance and all the way to where the dancers were dancing, the Great Hall was crowded with fountains of various wines and mead and many rows of tables surrounded by the most esteemed in the Realm.

"I adore you in this tunic, my Lord," the Queen whispered a compliment in the Conqueror's ear and her eyes glanced over the regal, turquoise silk tunic with the delicate gold embroidery under the light armor. "And the crown on your head and the ceremonial sword on your strong thigh…" she went on to say and lustfully squeezed the Conqueror's sculpted thigh under the table. "You are the most handsome lord I've ever seen."

The Conqueror smiled under the rim of her goblet, moved her free hand from under the dark blue cloak and covered the Queen's hand with hers.

Laying down her goblet, the Conqueror turned to look into the Queen's eyes. "And you, my Lady, are the most beautiful of all women for your beauty scathes and softens the Destroyer of Nations' heart, and all is diminished by it and by your kindness and wisdom," she whispered back and lovingly caressed the Queen's neck with the side of her finger. The candlelight caught in the emeralds incrusted into the hefty silver-gold necklace around the Queen's neck and sparkled brightly. The Queen kissed her Lord's wrist and crossed her legs one over the other, making the layered green silk gown rustle with her graceful motion.

The lead dancer then stepped out of the line of dancers and approached the Royals' table and preformed for them.

“I should get you one of these here garments,” the Conqueror pointed out with a jest in reference to the dancers' exotic costumes.

The Queen frowned in humor and replied, “And would you have me dance in the Great Hall in it?”

“I would ask you to dance for me in bed with you in it,” the Conqueror answered with a lascivious look about her.

“Oooh,” the Queen moaned and absentmindedly her hand traveled up the Conqueror's thigh and her grip tightened further. “This I will oblige you, my Lord,” she whispered hotly and ran her lips against the Conqueror's facial contour.

Maintaining focus became a hardship for the Sovereign. "You've allowed your hair to grow a little longer," the Conqueror pointed out, fondly pinching a tress of golden hair between her fingers under the Queen's sparkling crown.

"Does it please you, my Lord?" the Queen asked and adoringly beheld her Lord.

"Very much, my Lady," the Conqueror replied with a contented smile.

Terreis' leaned forward. "Look, Majesty," she exclaimed as her face loomed from behind the Queen's left side to better see the Conqueror and flaunted her tresses with a shake of her head, "my hair has also grown . "

"Oh," the Conqueror emitted with overt satisfaction, "so I see."

"Do I please you, Majesty?" the little Princess asked.

"They are always most pleasing at this age, do you not find?!" the Conqueror whispered in her Queen's ear behind a concealing hand so that Terreis would not hear, inwardly remembering a time when in her eldest' world she had been a god.

The Queen laughed.

"Her Grace Princess Xena Athena and her Grace Princess Sieglinde," the ceremony master threw his resonant voice above the ceaseless chatter and the music in the Great Hall, making all heads turn to the direction of the Great Hall's entrance. Abrupt silence fell on the Great Hall and all movement halted at once. All but the Conqueror, the Queen and Princess Terreis rose to stand facing the approach of the Royals.

Princess Athena walked with slow measured steps in full regalia, with Princess Sieglinde on her arm, dressed like a Norse Princess on her wedding day. As Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde advanced towards their seats at the Conqueror's table, all the guests, entertainers and courtiers present reverently bowed and curtsied before them. But above all, the most distinct of all things was the major, unmistakable and undeniable change in what Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde exhibited, which was a harmonious, monolithic bond between spouses.

If happiness was rays of light then Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde were the sun, no matter how reticent and regnant the appearance they upheld.

To the Conqueror and the Queen, it was as clear as day that love was finally a denizen in the couple's marriage and no parents in the Realm at that moment were better contented and relieved.

Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde bowed and curtsied before the sitting Conqueror and Queen with the customary greeting and took their places at the Conqueror's right. Their subjects followed suit, and music, chatter and merriment ensued again.

"You are late," the Conqueror whispered from the side of her mouth to her Heir.

"My sincere apology, your Majesty,” Princess Athena said and threw a leer to the right where Princess Sieglinde was sitting and continued, with a barely controlled smirk, ” But I was otherwise engaged.”

“I don't want to know,” the Conqueror grumbled.

The Conqueror stood up, engrossing the attention of her audience, and lifted her goblet in the air, as did all in attendance. “To the glorious victory in the Nordic Lands and to your future Sovereign Lord,” the Conqueror stated, turning to her right and raising her goblet in honor of her eldest, and her subjects turned their goblets in honor of their future Sovereign's honor as well. The Conqueror then turned back to face her audience. “The dark days are over,” she announced and then paused. “But you must always remember that I or my bloodline shall defend mercilessly and ferociously our family and this great Realm against traitors, warmongers and those who seek to harm us, and teach our enemies the meaning of will and power.” The Lord of the Realm paused again before her sonorous voice continued to dispatch her message, “The dark days are over and it is now a time to rejoice,” and downed her wine with three gulps.

All in the Great Hall drank their wine and shouted the Conqueror's and the Queen's honorifics and the celebration resumed.

The Conqueror then turned to her Queen and offered her hand. “A dance, if you please, my Lady?” she invited with a warm smile and a warmer gaze.

“With pleasure, my Lord,” the Queen replied, matching the Conqueror's warmth with her own.

The Conqueror and the Queen stepped down the dais together, hand in hand. They faced each other at the foot of the dais as the Egyptian dancers vacated it.

“My Lady,” the Conqueror bowed before the Queen.

“My Lord,” the Queen curtsied deeply.

And as the music began, they danced together, riveting their subjects, their own family and servants included with their perfect movements of unity– causing male subjects to feel inadequate and female subjects, envy.

When the dance was over they returned to their thrones and enjoyed the grand meal that waited for them at their table.

Princess Athena extended her hand to her wife, “Do you think we could surpass my parents?” she asked mischievously.

“Well, it is true that the Lord Conqueror and the Queen have the advantage of years of practice, but we are younger and very much in love, are we not?” Princess Sieglinde replied and mirrored the mischievous look about her adoring Lord. She took the offered arm and both made their way down the steps of the dais.

“My Lady,” Princess Athena said when facing her wife.

What happened next made knives drop to the tables, jaws to cease masticating food and goblets halt in midair before reaching their intended destinations.

Princess Athena did not just bow before Princess Sieglinde but knelt before her, and if that wasn't' enough she continued even lower and kissed her wife's feet for all to see. All in the Great Hall save for the Conqueror, the Queen and Princess Terreis bowed and curtsied before the blushing Nordic Princess.

Princess Sieglinde was, more than anyone else in the Great Hall that day, stunned by Princess Athena's gesture.

The silence in the Great Hall was so thick that it could have been sliced with a blade, it seemed, so much so that the musicians' hands froze over their instruments and it took Princess Athena's prompting for the music to commence.

From their elevated vantage point, the Conqueror and the Queen wordlessly observed their eldest and their daughter-in-law's every step and every twirl and every gentle touch of bodies that were a testament of love.

When the dance ended and the crowd cheered, Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde returned to their seats.

The Conqueror briskly stood up. “I wish to have a word with you in private,” she sternly informed her Heir and pursed her lips in a manner that Athena had seen her do more times than she cared to remember when her Sire was trying to curb her temper.

Princess Athena rose to her feet once more and in her heart was a grave feeling that she was about to be berated for her earlier display before the dance.

The Queen touched the Conqueror's forearm and lifted up her humbly beseeching gaze to regard her Lord with concern and with a silent plea. The Conqueror leaned down and whispered something in the Queen's ear that appeared to put the Queen's mind at ease.

The Conqueror and the Heir left the feast through a short and narrow corridor behind the thrones leading to a small and quiet chamber. The Conqueror closed the door behind them, muffling the sounds of merrymaking.

Meanwhile, in the Great Hall, one of Princess Sieglinde's Nordic ladies-in-waiting approached her Mistress carrying with her a sealed scroll.

“Your Grace,” she addressed her Mistress with a quiet voice and in their native tongues. “This has just arrived for you,” she said and handed the scroll, which seemed like it had traveled a long distance. “The courier who brought it said it was urgent and for your Grace's eyes only.”

Princess Sieglinde could not recognize the seal. She broke it and perused the familiar handwriting. The scroll was written in her native language and was signed by Jarl Albrich, the Nobleman who had brought her from her father's home to the Corinthian palace.

“Not bad news, I hope,” the Queen commented when she saw the expression on Princess Sieglinde's face.

“No, your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde was quick to reply. “It is a message from Jarl Albrich.”

“I remember him,” the Queen said.

“He is alive. He wrote to say that my brother had imprisoned him before the insurrection against the Lord Conqueror and thus prevented him from raising the alarm. As soon as he was freed by the Realm's soldiers he wrote this message requesting my pardon for his failure to act on time and to inform me of my brother's traitorous intensions.”

“My Lord might find it most interesting and should be informed of it,” the Queen commented.

“I will of course tell the Lord Conqueror of this when she returns,” the Princess said and turned to look at the door where she had last seen her beloved.

“You mustn't worry,” the Queen said with an assuring smile.

“I shan't, your Majesty,” the Princess replied and averted her gaze back to her mother-in-law as she folded back the scroll.

“Good,” the Queen muttered, satisfied. “For it spoils the glow of happiness that is emanating from you,” she said knowingly. “So tell me, how did you feel when her Grace finally told you she loved you?”

At the same time, in the private side chamber behind the Great hall, it was Princess Athena who spoke the first words.

“You must be very displeased with me, Majesty, for kneeling before my wife in public and kissing her feet for all to witness,” she said believing that an explanation would be preemptive.

“That is…” the Conqueror began to say but her Heir cut through her speech.

“Please, Majesty… with respect, I beg you to allow me to finish,” Athena said and drew a healthy long breath of air. “I believe in atonement, Sire,” she continued, her speech softening as did her countenance. “I have been publically shaming my wife and future Queen for many moons… ever since we got married. I owe her the respect and reverence I took from her… the respect and reverence she deserves.”

Athena's voice deadened.

The Conqueror inspected her Heir's stance with sharp eyes and senses. “I am very proud of you, Athena,” she eventually said with a smile.

“So you are not cross with me, Sire, for publically showing humility before my wife, then?” Athena was surprised.

The Conqueror scoffed and shook her head. “Did you know… When I married your mother I did something similar.”

“Did you?!” Athena's blue orbs widened with astonishment.

The Conqueror nodded her head, and smiled as if the distant memory now amused her. “I knelt before her and tied up her shoelace during our wedding right there in the Great Hall,” she said and pointed at the direction of the Great Hall, “forcing my subjects to kneel before their Sovereign Queen.”

“Is that so?”

“Hmmm,” the Conqueror confirmed. “So,” she said, “It would appear that you are braver than I am for it did not take you years to confess your love to your wife as it took me.”

For a reason not yet known to her at that moment, tears welded up in Princess Athena's eyes. She refrained from squinting, thus preventing the tears from rolling down her eyes, and she swallowed the lump that rose in her throat for she knew her Sire's contempt for weakness.

“What is it, Athena?” the Conqueror asked.

Athena steadied her voice before she spoke. “It is of no importance, Majesty.”

“I shall be the judge of that, now out with it,” the Conqueror goaded her Heir.

But the future Lord of the Realm remained silent and downcast her eyes.

The Conqueror placed her hand upon Athena's shoulder. “It is out there,” the Conqueror tipped her head at the direction of the Great Hall, “that you should exhibit all power, supremacy and strength. In private – in my presence or in the presence of your mother or of your wife you can afford yourself freedoms, even the freedom of showing softness. That is why your mother and I relish our time in Thira.”

Athena lifted her gaze and beheld the Conqueror's. “Do you at all love me, Sire?” she asked trembling and her voice cracked.

“My dear child,” the Conqueror sighed and felt a sharp pang in her heart. “I love you with all my heart,” she replied, her voice was trembling. The Ruler outstretched her arms and her child fell into them. As the Conqueror's embrace tightened around her eldest, she stated, “You are my firstborn, the first child I've made with your mother. You are our flesh and blood.”

The Conqueror released Athena from her embrace yet still held her closely. “You were precipitous, truculent, malapert and temerarious and it was and still is my duty and responsibility to mold you into the next ruler of the world. That is why I had to be hard, demanding and strict with you, but my love for you is awesome and constant."

The Conqueror planted a kiss atop Athena's forehead. "Of all my achievements in life - your mother's love, you and your sister are my greatest ones and I would die a thousand deaths for each and every one of you."

Athena basked in her Sire's love, tenderness and warmth. She took a few short moments to collect herself. "Do you remember Sire, the conversation we had some years ago in mother's chambers the day that I discover she'd been your servant?" she asked.

"I do," the Conqueror replied. That particular recollection was one of the most vivid she held.

"You told me that a ruler could not love and that I must make a stone of my heart, for love was the greatest price I would ever have to pay in order to rule," Athena said.

"I remember," the Conqueror muttered, inwardly wondering why her eldest was keen on drudging up an ancient event.

The Ruler that stood before her that day, Athena knew, loved and adored her wife and Queen unreservedly and encouraged her, her successor, to do the same with her own wife and future Queen. In all humility and gratitude Athena dropped to her knees before the Conqueror and deferentially kissed her seal ring. "Thank you, my honorable Sire, for raising me and shaping me into being a person, a spouse and a future ruler I am proud to be," she said and her eyes watered again.

The Conqueror was profoundly stirred by it and her chest swelled with pride and love.

"Your mother is the one we both should thank," the Conqueror eventually said when she trusted her voice would be steady. She signaled her firstborn to rise up.

When she rose to her full stature again, Athena said, "With your permission, Sire, I would very much like to take Sieglinde to the Nordic Lands this summer and marry her there with accordance to Nordic custom."

"Why?" the Conqueror inquired.

"For one, it would please Sieglinde immensely and for another, it is my opinion that they would be better amiable to your rule once we pay them this tribute after the defeat they've suffered at your hand," Athena replied most confidently.

"Now this is the calculated mind of a worthy ruler," the Conqueror complimented with great satisfaction. "Permission granted. You may leave once your mother and I return from Thira."

"I shall dazzle you with yet another fine quality of a worthy ruler, which is taking advantage of one's adversary's well disposition," Athena smirked as she saw a frown forming on the Conqueror's features. "Sieglinde and I wish to invite you Sire, mother and Terreis to go fishing with us tomorrow."

The Conqueror rubbed her hands together, extremely pleased, and with eyes shining with glee she replied, "Meet us at the stables tomorrow at first light."

No, fishing never required much convincing. "We shall meet you there, bright and early," Athena concluded and was about to make her way to the doors and return back to the feast when she heard the Conqueror's voice calling her.

Athena turned to face the Conqueror, "Yes, Sire?" she asked.

"Wipe your eyes and nose before you enter the Great Hall," the Conqueror instructed her, amused and in good humor.

"Of course, Majesty," Athena complied with a lark and composed herself.

The Conqueror and the Heir returned to their seats at the banquet.

The Queen carefully examined both her Lord's and Athena's faces and came to a quick conclusion that matters between them were resolved. She would trouble her Lord for the specifics of their private conversation in a later, more appropriate time.

The Queen wasn't the only one surveying the Conqueror and the Heir's expression. Princess Sieglinde did the same and like the Queen she decided to reserve her questions and receive full account when alone with Athena.

"The Conqueror has gladly received our invitation for a day's fishing tomorrow," was all Athena said.

"Splendid," Sieglinde replied then cleared her throat to garner the Conqueror's attention. "Majesty," she said, "thank you for your benevolence."

"It will be my pleasure, your Grace," the Conqueror replied as her goblet was being refilled while the Queen refilled her plate.

Next, Princess Sieglinde conveyed the content of Jarl Albrich's letter to the Conqueror.

The Conqueror wore a resolute expression on her countenance all of a sudden like she had reached a decision and said to Princess Sieglinde, "You will accompany me and her Grace to the dungeons where your brother is being kept."

However decisive the Conqueror appeared, the Queen hoped that she would not render her verdict that night. Darkness, sadness and misery finally gave way to light, happiness and love and the thought of her Lord condemning Baldr to a cruel, atrocious and horrific death made her firm in the belief that it would taint the light with darkness again. And so as she was fretfully watching her Lord, Athena and Sieglinde furthering away from her towards the Great Hall's entrance, Cyrene came to sit at the Royals' table on the other side of Terreis. The Queen welcomed the distraction and was very eager to engage in conversation with the Conqueror's mother, filling her in on recent events.

***

As she stepped down the steep, stony uneven staircase in the dimly lit passageway behind the Conqueror and Princess Athena, lifting up the edges of her dress so as not to trip and fall, Princess Sieglinde felt the musty, stale air attacking her nostrils and she remembered how she had locked herself in the dungeons on the Queen's order when the Corinthian palace, her home had been under attack by one of her brother's coconspirators. And yet, with each step down she took, she felt her heart sink deeper in her chest till she felt as if she were being suffocated. Her feet trembled beneath her and she nearly lost her footing before they reached the last alignment. She wasn't sure what she should say to her brother. So much had happened to her since Athena's return to Corinth that she had pushed any and all thoughts about her brother into the most obscure recesses of her mind, wishing that day would never come. She was by no means torn between loyalties. Her loyalty was to her Lord, the Conqueror and the Queen and the Realm. She was not torn by love either. Her heart too belonged to Athena. Yet the ties of blood, however traitorous, were hard to either break or even ignore.

At the edge of the dank corridor, in a tiny cell guarded by two Imperial Guardsmen standing at attention, isolated and separated from all other prisoners of the Realm, Princess Sieglinde saw her brother, Baldr, chained by heavy stains to the wall.

“Open it,” the Conqueror ordered one of the guards.

Upon hearing the authoritative tone of the order, Baldr opened his eyes and stood up with a swift motion. The crown on the Conqueror's head made him recognize the Ruler of the Realm immediately. He frowned when he saw the one that had defeated him in battle and who had him dragged in a demeaning procession of defeat.

Then, from behind the Sovereign and her Heir, Princess Sieglinde appeared looking almost docile in her mannerism as if being in the presence of her brother took her to another place and time when she had been living in her father's home.

“Sister!” he called out to her in their native tongue and tried to reach the bars, but the heavy chains around his wrists and ankles wouldn't allow him to venture far from the wall he was chained to.

“Bow before my Lords, brother,” Princess Sieglinde told him in their native tongue as well.

He looked at the Conqueror and Princess Athena and bowed before them.

“Your Grace, facilitate our communication and translate our words if you please,” the Conqueror requested.

“By your will, your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde said and moved to stand to the Conqueror's left facing her brother with the iron bars between them.

“Before I question him and render my verdict, is there anything you wish to say to my prisoner, your Grace?” the Conqueror asked.

When Princess Athena heard her Sire speaking of rendering her verdict, her heart shrunk not out of pity or mercy for the traitor but out of fear that his inevitable death by her Sire's hand would muddy the waters and ruin the love she and her wife had just found.

“My deepest gratitude to your Majesty. I do indeed wish to speak to my brother. I shall translate for your Majesty's convenience,” Princess Sieglinde answered.

The Conqueror glared at the pale, light-haired young man in whom she saw a resemblance to her daughter-in-law. “Go ahead, your Grace,” the Conqueror said without breaking eye contact with her prisoner.


“Why, brother?”
Princess Sieglinde asked then translated her words for the Conqueror's benefit.

“Is this the female Prince our father had you marry?” he asked, seemingly eager to resort to prevarication as he cast a scornful look at Princess Athena.

“Min Herre is your better, brother,” she answered him unperturbedly.

“My better?” Baldr scoffed. “Do you wish to know why I was so eager and so inclined to wage war against this Realm you've married into, Sieglinde?!” he asked, raising his voice. “I've received word that Din Herre was whoring around with some low, savage wench – Shaming you in the eyes of your subjects!” he spewed, enraged.

The Nordic Princess translated, after sublimating some of her brother's chosen words before answering her brother.

The Conqueror and Princess Athena exchanged severe looks between them. Princess Athena was about to open her mouth and give her brother-in-law a piece of her mind but the Conqueror shook her head, signaling her to govern her temper.

“Is this the real reason?” the gentle Princess asked him.

“They should have treated you with all honor and observance!” he shouted.

Princess Sieglinde was not moved by her brother's adamant claim. She considered his words carefully then contemplated her reply to him.

“Your hypocrisy is what shames me. What has Min Herre done that you have not done to your wife, and our father has not done to our mother?!”

He offered no reply.

“Did you rebel against our father for shaming our mother? Did our mother's shame prevent you from casting the same kind of shame on your wife? The entire court knew of your and father's dalliances and ridiculed them, and yet it is my shame that bothered you so?"

"It is different. She is a woman!" He pointed his finger at Princess Athena and spat his words as if he meant them as in insult.

Princess Sieglinde translated the exchange between them as she stepped closer to the bars. "Min Herre is more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you could ever handle," she said to him.

He was stunned to say the least and could not speak.

" I am not so bereft of logic I do not know common sense when I see it. Y our true motives are clear to me, brother," Princess Sieglinde continued with some measure of ire, for she refused to have her wits underestimated. "If truly my shame was a thorn in your side then you should have written to me, or visited with me… Or better yet, requested an audience with the Lord Conqueror, her Majesty the Queen or Min Herre and relayed your grievances. You would not, however, have unlawfully raised arms against the most powerful Ruler the world has ever known and sent thousands of your people to their certain deaths – not to mention putting my own life and the lives of my loved ones in danger by having one of your co-conspirators launch an attack on Corinth."

He finally held his head down, for there were no intelligent arguments to present.

"Min Herre and I needed some time to form a true marital bond between us and now Min Herre is mine and no one else's." Princess Sieglinde spoke with pride and with her chin up, then paused again to deliver her words in the Greek. "The honorable Conqueror and the honorable Queen took me into their home and looked upon me as their own daughter."

She stepped closer towards the bars and regarded her brother closely.

"No, Baldr," she stated. "You rebelled because you would not submit to the Lord Conqueror. Your actions were designed to serve your interest – not mine."

Princess Sieglinde stepped away from the bars and walked up to the Conqueror. After telling her all that she had said once more in Greek she said, "Please accept my gratitude for allowing me to speak with Baldr, your Majesty."

"Will you be agreeable to any judgment I shall pass, your Grace?" the Conqueror asked her.

Princess Sieglinde tilted her head up and regarded the Conqueror. "I shall, your gracious Majesty," she answered, resigned to the Conqueror's will.

The Conqueror averted her attention to the prisoner and as they spoke, Princess Sieglinde translated their communication.

"Tell me - what did you promise Jarl Albrich in return for his silence and collaboration in your scheme?"

Baldr bit down on his lower lip and kept his mouth shut. He turned his head to the side in defiance, demonstrating his refusal to answer.

The Conqueror took a whip that was rolled over a hook on the wall behind her.

Baldr curiously fallowed the Conqueror's actions from the corner of his eye and not without uneasiness.

"You will do well to answer me," the Conqueror warned and though Baldr did not understand her words until his sister repeated them in their language, he did not mistake the Conqueror's intention.

The Conqueror raised the arm holding the whip and delivered a swift lash that tore through the air and landed on a nearby solid wooden barrel with three iron rings around its width, shattering it to bits and pieces.

Baldr knew the power of the Conqueror's blow was potent enough to rip his arm off.

“I will break your silence by first breaking your spirit,” the Conqueror told him, brandishing the whip and sending her arm backwards to deliver a second lash, this time through the space between the bars.

Before the Conqueror's arm moved, Baldr shivered and gave his answer quickly, "I promised him nothing. I had to lock up the old fool so that he would not reveal my plans to you."

Sufficiently confident that Jarl Albrich had taken no part in the rebellion, the Sovereign rolled back the whip and hanged it back on the hook behind her. Her movements were unhurried.

"Your fellow traitors met with the most horrendous punishment you can conceive of. They were executed after having suffered a more excruciating pain and a more humiliating death that any man under the sun had ever suffered before them. Witnessing what I'd inflicted upon them caused my Chief Healer to resign his post." She paused then went on to say more deliberately, "Fortunately for you, your sister like my wife and Queen is a goddess among women and has earned my favors. Killing you will grieve her." The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest and stated, "You will be banished to the province of Chin and your wife will be banished to the province of Persia. You will spend the rest of your lives in a sealed oubliette in complete isolation. No one will know who you are. You will forget the warmth of the sun and smell of fresh air. You will die after long days of darkness and you will die miserable and alone."

The Conqueror turned and began a vigorous stride in the direction from which she had come from, with Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde walking quickly behind her.

"Not a word about any of it to another soul. We shall talk about it tomorrow. Return to the banquet and inform her Majesty that I shall join her at the table before long," the Conqueror instructed.

"Of course, Majesty," Princess Athena said as she began to scale up the stairs.

“And when you visit the Nordic Lands in summer, appoint Jarl Albrich as my governor to the Nordic Lands,” the Conqueror bade.

The Conqueror's decision to repay Jarl Albrich's for his loyalty made Soeglinde very well-contented for she adored and trusted the old nobleman.

"May I ask, Majesty,” Princess Athena inquired, “Why did you spare him? Sieglinde said she would…"

The Conqueror interrupted the Heir's speech. "Her Grace is now angry towards her brother, but the anger one day will pass, and when it does - fond memories of her brother will replace it. I do not wish for her ever to resent you or me for taking away from her, her only keen."

Short of breath from the steep climb and lack of fresh air, Princess Sieglinde listened to the Conqueror's reply and she was overwhelmed by the wisdom and kindness. She touched the Conqueror's forearm. "Thank you, Majesty," she said with eyes glittering with unshed tears.

The Conqueror did not say a word but only smiled before their paths parted.

Half a candle-mark later, the Conqueror returned to the banquet and seated herself at her throne, promising her Queen that she would tell her all that had taken place in the dungeons earlier.

When the celebration was over, the Queen dismissed her ladies in waiting for the night and with the Conqueror retired to the Imperial bedchamber feeling tired and merry. Alone, getting out of their regalia and readying themselves for sleep, the Conqueror, true to her word, told the Queen what had happened in the dungeons earlier that evening.

"I had two of my most trusted men in the Imperial Guard smuggle him tonight through a secret passage outside of the palace and en route to the province in Chin," the Conqueror said and removed the crown from her Queen's head with great care. "The day after tomorrow it will be announced that he was not strong enough to survive my torture and died in the dungeons," she went on to say as her fingers meticulously labored to unclasp the necklace and remove it from around the white soft neck. "No one knows what he looks like aside from a handful of Imperial Guardsmen who saw him," she said and planted a kiss on her wife's shoulder before untying the laces of her extravagant gown, "and upon my order they will take my secret to their graves." The Ruler pulled the fine fabric from her wife's creamy, perfectly toned shoulders and placed another kiss against the exposed skin. "There is another condemned prisoner from the Nordic Lands, one of Baldr's close advisors about the same height and build and also fair-haired who has no family and is unknown. I shall present my subjects with his severed head and proclaim it to be that of Baldr's."

The Queen, now in her undergarments, listened carefully to her Lord's contrived scheme to deceive her subjects. She entered into her Lord's embrace, rose to stand on her tiptoes, reached her hands up and mindfully took the heavy crown off her Lord's head.

"Do you really mean to lie to your subjects, my Lord?" she asked, not out of lack of trust.

"It is for the greater good, my Lady. It was your handling of Nobleman Arcadius and Lady Hagne that gave me the idea."

The Queen unbuckled her Lord's belt and removed the ceremonial sword from around the lean waist. "So you've been planning and plotting it since then?" the Queen asked.

The Conqueror smile was all the admission that the Queen required.

Her hands toiled to remove the light armor from the shapely torso, then she stripped her Lord of the turquoise tunic that she found most complimenting. "Why did you not tell me?” she asked, caressing the flexing muscles she always believed were tempting her deliberately. “Why act in such ominous manner before going down to the dungeons and not simply tell Athena and Sieglinde of your intensions?”

The Conqueror knelt before the Queen and took her shoes off, one leg after the other, enjoying the way that their partially clad bodies felt when they touched as the Queen leaned against her to steady herself. “I did not tell you, my Love, for your beautiful face might have given it away and I did not tell them because I wanted my gesture to be better appreciated.”

The Queen smiled and motioned for her Lord to sit on the stool at the foot of their bed so that she could take the boots off. "The unexpected and unique venues that your extraordinary mind takes never cease to amaze me," she said and pressed her soft lips to her Lord's hard knee.

"As does your benevolent, loving soul," the Conqueror replied.

Tired from the wine and the exertion of celebration, the couple stripped off the remainder of their garments and discarded them in disarray. Together they climbed into bed. The Conqueror extinguished the flames burning in the oil lamps atop the nightstands, and only the silver rays of the full moon illuminated the Imperial bed.

The Conqueror trenched into the Queen's supple curves and rested her weary head onto the Queen's breasts and waited to feel the Queen's gentle strokes against her forehead.

"They looked so perfectly happy and so immersed in love," the Queen commented.

"Hmmm," the Conqueror agreed. "It makes me wonder…" she continued, ruminating.

"What if our beginning had been different?" The Queen wasn't really asking. She knew her Lord's mind, and so she did not wait for her Lord to confirm and gave her answer, "It happened the only way it could have happened, Xena. That it happened at all is no small marvel. The only thing on this earth that is more powerful than you – is our bond, and I am not convinced that it would have been so were it not for the way our bond was conceived and birthed. As such, I would not change a single moment of our lives together, not even the heartaches."

"A Goddess amongst women…" the Conqueror mumbled unintelligibly.

"What was that, my Lion?"

But the Conqueror kept it to herself.

"I am so very happy that you've kindly spoken to Athena and resolved matters between you."

Though the Queen could not see the Conqueror's face, she knew her Lord was smiling.

"I am most curious to know who Terreis will marry when she becomes of age," the Queen remarked and traced the outlines of the Conqueror's ear.

The very thought of it deeply disturbed and rattled the Conqueror down to her very core. She grunted, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

And to the sound of her Queen's laughter, the Ruler of the Realm fell asleep.

***

Under the early spring sun, unescorted by neither guards nor servants, the Conqueror, riding on her steed with Princess Terreis perched on the saddle in front of her holding onto the saddle-horn secured by the Conqueror's engulfing arm, led the way to the lake where years before she had taken her Queen not long after their wedding. The Queen rode not far behind her, along with Princess Athena and Princess Sieglinde. Commoners along The Royals' path bowed before them and with cheer and excitement waved at them, exclaiming: "Behold, it is the Queen!" and "Your Grace, your Grace!" or "May the Gods bless the Lord Conqueror!" and other such utterances.

The lake, which was well hidden by a small forest, looked just as the Conqueror and the Queen remembered it, as if no time at all had gone by; the leaves were just as green, the grass was just as soft and the water was just as calm and as blue.

The Royals dismounted their horses and tied the animals to the nearby trees, which stood tall and provided ample shade. A small camp was set quickly enough and as soon as the fire was lit, the impatient Conqueror along with her daughter-in-law dashed with fishing rods and other fishing paraphernalia in their hands towards the water, with little Princess Terreis following along behind her Sire.

Ridding themselves of their footwear, the Conqueror sat on a large flat rock at the edge of the bank that she thought was the perfect spot for fishing, with her feet dangling in the water and with a Princess to each of her sides.

While the Conqueror and Sieglinde discussed different methods of fishing, boasting to each other about extraordinary fishing stories and the advantages and disadvantages of various bait, and teaching Princess Terreis who seemed very eager to learn the art of fine fishing, the Queen and Athena remained reclining in leisure on the furs and blankets sprawled around the bonfire, enjoying the scented air of bloom, the generous sun and the qualities of sloth.

The Queen and Princess Athena talked in length about the events of recent days. The Queen was very grateful for the fact that fortunately her eldest was by far more loquacious than her Sire.

Once the Conqueror and the Princesses caught enough fish to satisfy their hunger and the love of the activity, they cleaned and washed them, preparing them for cooking. Princess Terreis looked with great fascination as the Conqueror gutted the fish with her dagger. It amused the Conqueror to see how although in appearance her youngest resembled her mother, she differed from her for her mother could never stand to watch the Conqueror gutting and skinning her kills for the cooking.

When the fish were clean, the Conqueror and the Princesses returned to camp with their catch and all around the campfire partook in the cooking.

As they sat and ate they engaged in conversation and laughter and never before had they felt more as a family. When they finished eating, the Conqueror and the Queen lay down next to each other, the Conqueror spooning the Queen as both faced the dancing flames of the campfire and rested, as did Athena and Sieglinde.

“I wish to travel to the Fjord tonight, Min Dame,” Athena said to Sieglinde and lowered her head to grace Sieglinde's temple with a kiss.

“Will you ride there or will you sail, min Herre?” Sieglidne asked the Heir.

With a smile on her face, Athena feigned deep contemplation and eventually said, “I should think, both.”

Sieglinde seemed too suspiciously pleased with Athena's response. “Very good min Herre,” was all she said.

"Are you going on a trip?" the Queen asked most innocently.

But the Conqueror was far from innocent. With a finger under the Queen's chin she guided the Queen to look at her. "They are not talking about travels. A Fjord is a long narrow inlet with steep sides of cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity, my Lady," she firmly and knowingly explained as she saw understanding slowly spreading upon her wife's features. "There are no Fjords here within a day's ride from here - nor within two. They are talking about…" and then she remembered that Terreis was there too and so rather than say the word she initially intended to use, she opted to say, "Bed sports." When she saw an amused smile forming on her wife's lips she continued in a disapproving tone of voice, "I figured out what "riding" means but I can only imagine what "sailing" means."

Athena and Sieglinde chuckled with no small measure of embarrassment for having been caught.

"Sire, what are 'Bed Sports' ? Will you teach me to play?" asked little Terreis.

"See what you've done?" the Conqueror scolded Athena and Sieglinde but not with any true intent.

"Apologies, Majesty," they young lovers immediately said.

"As for you, little Princess," the Conqueror said and tickled the child's belly, making a bursting laughter roll out of her mouth, "you are not yet old enough to play and when you are of age… Your mother will teach you."

The Queen frowned, ready to gently correct her Lord. "Your Sire will teach you," she said to Terries, "For your Sire is the better player and by far better versed in such sports than I am."

The Conqueror moved her long fingers that reached everywhere and started to tickle her wife.

When the Queen surrendered and the Conqueror ceased the bout of tickles, she looked around the peaceful lake. "Did you know," she told Sieglinde, "This lake is where my Lord and I decided to conceive Athena."

"Which reminds me," the Conqueror regarded Athena and Sieglinde. "It is time for you to address the issue of your succession," she remarked.

"With all humility, Sire, I wish to enjoy my wife just a while longer before being burdened by the responsibility of raising children,” Athena was repined.

Before drifting off into light slumber, and with a wicked half smile on her lips, the Conqueror threatened, “I shall be excepting a grandchild for each and every hair on my head which you've turned into grey.”

“Leave my Lord to me,” the Queen whispered once the Conqueror's breath became deep and heavy but after further consideration she bolstered confidence in Athena and her wife, “There were only three.” She then burrowed into her Lord's body and nestling there she succumbed to slumber as well.

After some time had gone by, the Conqueror and the Queen awoke to find that with every movement they made they felt a tug in their hair. While they slept, Terreis had tied their tresses together.

“So that you'll never part again,” she explained.

“We never shall,” the Queen promised.

“There is an invisible thread connecting your mother's heart and mine and whenever we grow apart, the threat stretches and pulls hard at our hearts and we have to grow closer again. So you see, child, your mother and I cannot be apart,” the Conqueror said then smiled, got up and picked Terreis in her arms. “Now, it is high time you learnt how to swim,” she stated and took the giggling child to the water.

The rest of the Royals followed the Conqueror to the water and near the waterline they all disrobed to their undergarment and entered the lukewarm water.

The Conqueror released her hold from Terreis and swam away from her, letting her test the water on her own. Terreis began flailing and floundering in the water, frantically.

“My Lord,” the Queen urged the Conqueror to aid their youngest.

The Conqueror grasped the Queen's hands and prevented her from swimming to Terries.

“You are my daughter!” the Conqueror reminded her youngest. “You do not panic! Now look at me and move your arms and legs against the water as I do,” she instructed and kept a watchful eye from the short distance, ready to reach her in a heartbeat should the need arise.

It did not take Terreis long to consolidate her mind and overcome fear. She moved her arms and legs against the water and kept her head above it.

“Very good, my beloved little Princess,” the Conqueror rewarded her with a compliment and soon after she continued to instruct Terreis until the latter swam like a fish.

“That is enough for today,” the Conqueror said when she sensed Terreis tire.

“Now swim to the bank, dry yourself properly, dress and sit by the fire for warmth.”

“Yes, Sire,” Terreis said and did as she was told, while the Conqueror's gaze escorted her till she was safe on dry land.

The Conqueror then swam to her wife and engulfed her in her arms.

“All the waters in this lake do not quench my fire for you, my Love,” she said and nuzzled the Queen's neck.

The Queen wrapped her legs around the Conqueror's waist, deriving great pleasure from the feel of their wet bodies sliding against one another by the gentle unseen waves. “Well, my Love, I should hope that the presence of your children does.”

The Conqueror let out a low chuckle. “I'm afraid not,” she answered most sincerely.

To which the Queen responded by splashing water onto the Conqueror's face and when she saw the familiar battle expression coming over the handsome features, she swam as hard as she could away from the Conqueror and towards the shore.

When she reached the shore she got out of the water in haste and turned her head back to see the Conqueror not two feet behind her, emerging out of the water like some mythical sea monster. Her heart beat fast as she turned to run again, but the Conqueror was too fast for her.

The Conqueror grabbed her by the ankle with one hand and her free arm she wrapped around the Queen's waist, catching her in midair before she fell.

The Queen was laughing hard and the Conqueror lowered her slowly to the ground.

“Please, my Love,” she barely managed.

The Conqueror, dripping wet, laid her body over the Queen's, pressing her chest against the Queen's back, trapping her then slithered downwards till she reached the apex of the Queen's buttocks.

“Have I told you how much I adore those perfect, little dimples, my Love?” the Conqueror asked the Queen as she sensually ran her tongue over the tiny twin wet clefts.

From a distance, sitting near the fire, Athena and Sieglinde could not tear their eyes away from the playful Sovereigns.

“I never knew the Lord Conqueror could be so very jocund, frolicsome and… amorous,” Sieglinde remarked, unable to hide her astonishment.

Athena wrapped her arm around Sieglinde's shoulder and pulled her into her embrace.

“When they call each other ‘My Love'… she said as she watched them, “these are not just words merely spoken out of habit. You can hear in them the weight of their years together, the sacrifices they've made… the concessions. They speak these words with profound and absolute comprehension as to their meaning, and they intend them. If one wanted to learn about love, then all one ever need do is observe the Conqueror and the Queen,” Athena said with a tremor in her voice.

TBC

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