DISCLAIMER : The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and some others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit.
This story is a sequel to the stories “Lord Conqueror of the Realm” and "Queen of the Realm." I strongly recommend you read them first because in this story there are references to events that took place in them. Here is where you can find them:
LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER : This story involves both love and sex (at times some rough/raw play with very mild BDSM elements – all consensual - nothing severe) between two adult women. If you're under 18 or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it.
SPECIAL THANKS : My humble most ardent gratitude to the excellent, most brilliant Beta readers Nancyjean and Alexandriaruth whom I can't thank enough.
Comments, thoughts, questions & feedback : MOST WELCOMED – The more you write me, the quicker I post – I mean it!
Go To Part 1
The following day, as soon as dawn spread its pale arms across the sky, Princess Athena and Cynna took a stroll in the Imperial Gardens . It was Cynna's first meeting with real grandeur and splendor. All her senses absorbed the vast richness and the intricate beauty of the Imperial Gardens and its marvelous array of colors.
"I've always wanted to see the palace in Corinth and its legendary gardens. Thank you, your Grace, for your generous invitation." Cynna said, drunk from the sights. To her, even the air in the gardens smelled rich.
"Her Majesty the Queen adores the gardens as well. I'm glad they please you," remarked Princess Athena and wrapped her arm around Cynna's waist.
"Truly, they are magnificent," Cynna sighed with amazed delight and leaned down to smell a rose.
"What if I told you that you could visit these gardens whenever the fancy takes you?" asked Princess Athena with glee in her eyes.
"Do you mean…?" Cynna lurched back up, wide-eyed and stricken by surprise.
Princess Athena took both Cynna's hands in hers. "Cynna, will you marry me?" she asked, smiling with joy knowing her proposal would make Cynna happy.
"Yes, I'll marry you!" she exclaimed and with shimmering eyes leaped into Princess Athena's arms. As they embraced, Cynna asked, "Would the Lord Conqueror and the Queen give their permission and their blessing to our union?"
"I'm confident that my mother would, and I'm sure she'd persuade the Lord Conqueror to do the same if need be."
The young couple kissed.
"Will you take me to see the famous Great Hall? They say it is spectacular."
The Royal chuckled at her betroth' exhilaration.
When they entered the Great Hall, the servants toiling in order to prepare it for the Nordic emissaries' visit halted their actions and bowed before Princess Athena, emitting 'Your Grace' as she passed them by, then went on about their business, scrubbing and polishing vigorously.
Cynna looked all around her, at the marble Corinthian style pillars, at the murals and the carpets, even at the unique brass torches along the walls, and she could hardly breathe from excitement. She stepped up the dais and felt as though she was standing atop a giant's shoulders and was almost giddy. She knew that this spot where she stood was the highest on earth, higher than any mountain. She touched the armrest of the Queen's throne with her fingertips and sensed a jolt coursing through her.
"There is something I need to ask of you…" Princess Athena said, gently touching Cynna's back.
Cynna turned to face Athena and stepped down the dais and from the look on her face, Cynna gathered that the matter about to be discussed was serious.
Words did not come easily to the future Ruler. "I wish to remain faithful to you throughout our lives together, and so I hope to receive from you, all that I require. Do you understand what I mean?"
Cynna's features turned grave for a moment. "I've heard the stories… about the Lord Conqueror… and about you."
"I don't think you truly understand. You might understand the words but you cannot comprehend…"
"I will try and tolerate it," Cynna said quickly as if she couldn't wait to get rid of the words, as if uttering them fast enough she wouldn't be beholden to them one day when the time came.
"And if not, the darkness will be directed elsewhere and it will have nothing whatsoever to do with us and what is shared between us," Princess Athena promised sincerely.
Cynna didn't care for the dark cloud in her skies that morning and couldn't wait for it to pass them by already. Sure in her abilities and strength, she smiled and simply repeated, "I will try and tolerate it."
Princess Athena took Cynna in her arms and kissed her lips and never before had she felt it so hard to resist taking what had been withheld for so long.
"I love you, Cynna."
"I love you, too, your Grace," Cynna nearly ingratiated herself with the sweetest of voice and tongue then went on to casually ask, "When will you speak to her Majesty the Queen?"
"This evening after the meeting, which reminds me, I must leave you now and prepare myself for it."
"Your Grace," Cynna curtsied before Princess Athena bidding her farewell.
"My Lady," Princess Athena bowed with a smile and left the Great Hall.
Later that day, the Conqueror, the Queen and Princess Athena were sitting on their thrones in the Great Hall, when the ceremony master announced the arrival of the Nordic emissaries. A party of seven men entered the Great Hall. The Conqueror's advisers, several of her noblemen, and military commanders whose presence the Conqueror had demanded, stared with great interest and fascination at the foreigners who passed by them on the way to stand before the Thorne.
Each of the men wore an over-tunic made of dark blue or grey wool with long sleeves which reached past the wrists and a single button to fasten the garment at the neck. Complicated braids decorated the keyhole neckline and cuffs. Long trousers covered their legs along with puttee-like leg wrappings from knee to foot and leather-made boots. Over their heads were caps made of sheepskin with fur around the rim. Dense woolen cloaks fastened by a penannular brooch were draped over them. They were dressed far too warm for the pleasant Corinthian climate.
When reaching close to the dais, the men bowed before the Conqueror and the Queen. "Majesties," they all spoke in unison with a heavy foreign accent.
The Royals nodded their heads.
"Welcome to the Realm," the Conqueror announced.
"Thank you, your Majesty," spoke the representative of the Nordic delegation, an elderly man with blush cheeks and a thick grey beard, "For your generous hospitality and for the honor of granting us an audience. I'm Jarl Albrich," he introduced himself. A Jarl in the Nordic kingdom was the equivalent of a Nobleman in the Realm.
"King Olof's Chief of Jarls," the Conqueror stated, letting the man standing before her know she was aware of the Nordic Kingdom 's internal affairs and hierarchy. "And how is your master these days?" she went on to inquire.
"Alas, King Olof's health continues to fail him."
"So I've been told. It is most unfortunate."
"His Majesty wishes to extend his belated greetings to both your Majesties for the birth of your second in line, Princess Terreis," the grey-bearded Norseman replied, letting the Conqueror know he was equally well-informed.
"The Nordic Kingdom is on the brink of a civil war between the Jarls who support King Olof and his next in line and the Jarls who appose them. Isn't that about the shape of it?" The Conqueror's words and manner in which they were delivered could almost be considered aggressive.
"Perhaps it is not quite that dire, your Majesty," the Jarl replied.
"Isn't it?!" the Conqueror questioned as she moved forward to sit closer to the edge of her throne, making the Norseman feel more agitated. "What does your master want?" she asked him.
The Nordic Jarl cleared his throat. "My master is a wise and reasonable King. He wishes to make an offer to your Majesty which would benefit both parties."
"I'm listening," the Conqueror urged him on with an impatient swivel of her hand.
"My King proposes a marriage between his nubile and maiden daughter, Princess Sieglinde, and your Majesties' Princess Athena," he said and as he spoke he directed his attention and words to the Conqueror only and nowhere else.
Princess Athena fought to keep a stoic and regal expression frozen about her and it took more effort than any of her most exhorting trainings. She realized then that never before had she felt so strongly that control over her own destiny was less in her hands than she'd ever allowed herself to think.
"And what do I get out of it?" the Conqueror sharply asked, her demanding eyes focused on the Norseman, making him feel as though he was standing in the Great Hall alone with her.
"A handsome dowry, of course. Peace between the Realm and the Nordic Kingdom , trading treaties and of course a close and fruitful alliance between us which naturally follows the union of such marriage. As a show of good will, his Majesty is willing to pay the Realm twenty of the best battleships in his fleet."
The Conqueror rubbed her jaw and wore a thoughtful expression about her countenance as if she was giving serious consideration to the offer. All in the Great Hall waited silently for the Ruler's verdict. After some long moments had gone by, she leaned back into her Throne, casually resting her back against it.
She shook her head. "Your King Olof negotiates beyond his means given his circumstances and the state of his kingdom, Jarl Albrich." Her voice sounded almost scolding, like she was berating him for taking her for a fool.
"I meant no disrespect, Majesty. The offer is sound and fair. I hoped to find your Majesty well-disposed towards my master's offer."
"Fairness, Jarl, is immaterial, as well you know. Here is my counteroffer. It is the only one I'm willing to entertain. It is final and nonnegotiable," the Conqueror stated. "Pursuant to the marriage, the Nordic Kingdom will become a province of the Realm. As all provinces, it will be under my rule and law. Its army will be dismantled. Taxes will be paid to the Realm."
Both Queen Gabrielle and Princess Athena sat unmoving like statues in their seats; both hoping that the Conqueror's outrageous offer was a part of some clandestine plot not yet revealed to them.
"And what will my King receive in return?" the Norseman asked, masking a protest in his voice.
"Peace and prosperity for his people. Making the Nordic Kingdom a province of the Realm by marriage would prevent the outbreak of a civil war and the bloodbath and mayhem which would inevitably follow, and it would prevent me from conquering what is left after the dust is settled as I did in Chin, now a province of the Realm. As in all provinces of the Realm, free hospices and academies for the welfare of his people will be built at my expense, and to sweeten the deal, I will appoint his son, Prince Baldr, as governor to the Nordic province. Having his sister married to my Heir would stifle any opposition."
Jarl Albrich remained quiet. His forehead became wrinkled with deep lines fraught with concern. He harbored no misconceptions in regards to his homeland's frail situation and both he and his master had known before his journey to Corinth that the Conqueror would have taken advantage of it; they had held no false hopes.
"I trust your master had given you sufficient authority before he sent you here," the Conqueror urged his response.
"Yes, Majesty," he replied.
"What is your answer then?"
"On behalf of my King, the Nordic Kingdom accepts your Majesty's offer," he gave the only response he could.
"Good. Before a treaty can be signed, I first must see Princess Sieglinde. How soon can she appear before me?"
"Princess Sieglinde is currently lodging in Athens . She did not wish to impose her presence upon your Majesty should your Majesty were to decline the marriage."
The Conqueror was impressed by the Nordic Princess' etiquette. "Very well. I will see her tomorrow, then."
The Conqueror signaled one of her advisors, who turned to Jarl Albrich and announced, "Your audience with the Lord Conqueror is over. You are excused from the Lord Conqueror's presence."
The Nordic emissaries bowed before the Throne and vacated the Great Hall. Next, the Conqueror ordered her advisors to draft an agreement before dismissing them.
When no one but the Royal family occupied the Great Hall, the Queen and Princess Athena rose from their thrones and stood facing the Conqueror.
"This is all a ploy, is it not?!" Princess Athena wanted to know immediately.
The Conqueror kept the same expression she had worn during her negotiation, such as it was – severe aloofness.
"Majesty," Athena implored, "Please tell me that you are not forcing me into marrying the Norsewoman."
"Athena," the Queen intervened, calling out her name to remind her daughter to whom she was speaking.
"You will marry whom I say you will marry," the Conqueror informed her Heir as clearly and as unequivocally as possible.
Princess Athena could no longer suffer being in the Conqueror's presence. Defiantly, she turned on her heels, showing her back to the Conqueror and commenced a demonstrative striding towards the Great Hall's exit.
The Conqueror jumped off her Throne, stepped down the dais with a single gate and grabbed her daughter by her elbow, preventing her from walking away.
"I pray you, my Lord," the Queen rested her hand over the Conqueror's forearm with a soft touch. She had to stop the conflict from escalating any further.
"I haven't even seen her," Athena claimed fiercely, her words being sifted through gritting teeth.
The Conqueror released Athena from her grip. "Which is why I have arranged for us to see her, tomorrow!"
"Athena, I wish to speak with my Lord in private," the Queen said.
Princess Athena was only too happy to oblige. The Conqueror's stance enraged her, and so, rather than do or say something she might later regret, she gladly opted to get as far away as she possibly could from the Conqueror.
Alone in the Great Hall, the Queen knew her best course of action was to plea to her Lord's heart. "Although she is strong and aware of her responsibilities, it will be hard on her to accept your choice of a wife for her."
"My mind is not entirely made up, yet. I must see the lass before making my final decision."
"I understand, my Lord. All I ask of you is to recognize that Athena is very much like you. She is every bit as passionate and as proud as you are."
From her Queen's words the Conqueror gathered two things, equally disconcerting: the first, that her wife and Queen would be on their daughter's side in this matter, and the second, that the Shamaness' apprentice was a bigger problem that she had initially thought.
Meanwhile, Princess Athena went straight to Cynna's assigned chamber for the duration of her stay in the palace. As soon as she caught sight of Cynna, she rushed to her and fell into her arms.
"What is the matter, your Grace?" Cynna asked bewildered and distressed for she had never seen the great Heir to the Conqueror so upset.
"The Conqueror means to command that I should marry the daughter of the Nordic King Olof, Princess Sieg… I cannot even speak her name!" she replied, fighting back tears. Even in her distraught mood there was only so much weakness, she thought, she could demonstrate.
"I thought we were going to be married," Cynna said, trying to make sense of things.
"Apparently ruling more lands is more important to the Lord Conqueror than her Heir's, her flesh and blood's, happiness!" Athena exclaimed as she tore herself from Cynna's arms.
A few moments passed in silence between them.
"What will become of us, then?"
Princess Athena slumped herself into a nearby armchair and covered her features with her hands.
"I have no idea. The Norsewoman is to come to Court and appear before us tomorrow. Perhaps the Conqueror would deem her unfit," Athena clung to hope.
“And what if the Conqueror wouldn't? What if the Conqueror decides that you should marry her? What then?!”
Princess Athena rubbed her forehead and let out a heavy sigh. She had an idea but she worried it would be ill-received. “Then I shall take you as my mistress.”
By the looks of Cynna's reaction, Princess Athena quickly learned just how appalled the Amazon was.
“I thought you loved me!” the apprentice exclaimed, mortified.
“It is because I love that I'm willing to consider it. Can't you see?”
“A mistress?! Do you think so little of me?!” Cynna was offended.
“You will receive all my love, I promise you. You will live here at Court and have anything you want.”
“And what status will I have? What kind of a reputation?”
“We'll be together. Isn't that enough? Isn't that what's important?”
“With all my heart I love you, your Grace, but I cannot nor will I be your mistress while you have a wife and Queen.”
The next day in the Great Hall, Princess Sieglinde was announced to appear before the Throne.
In complete silence, all eyes were glued to the entrance as a young lass walked inside, accompanied by Jarl Albrich. She was quite tall but shorter than Princess Athena by a head or so. Her skin was as pale as the light of the moon and her cheeks were blushed. She had big grey eyes and a pointy nose not unlike most of her race. She was just above plain looking but pleasing enough on the eye. Her features were delicate and gave out warmth, majestic modesty and affable kindness.
The lass wore an ankle length red linen under-dress with the neck closed by a brooch. Over it she wore a shorter length blue woolen apron-skirt, longer at the back than the front, suspended by shoulder straps fastened by brooches as well with decorative fabric panels hung from them over the suspended dress. A heard-dress with eight ounces of gold woven into the fabric adorned the lass' head, but in closer look one could detect a few strands of fair golden hair peeking out. Over her shoulders was a crimson silk cloak.
She stopped her graceful paces when she reached the dais.
"Majesties," she knelt before the thrones and remained kneeling with her head down.
With accordance to his Mistress' show of humility, Jarl Albrich knelt before the Conqueror as well.
Slowly, with her examining gaze pinned on the kneeling young princess, the Conqueror rose to a stand and stepped down the dais with deliberate steps. The Ruler leaned down and offered her hand to the princess at her feet.
Princess Sieglinde tilted up her head just slightly and kissed the Conqueror's seal ring, before looking further upwards but not meeting the Conqueror's eyes.
The Conqueror touched Princess Sieglinde's shoulder, signaling her to stand up and the Princess complied, still evading the Conqueror's gaze.
"Princess Sieglinde, welcome to my Court," the Conqueror said.
The Nordic Princess nodded her head and with a heavy Nordic dialect replied, "Thank you, your Majesty."
"Allow me to introduce my family," the Conqueror continued and gestured with her right arm to the direction of the Queen. "My wife, her Majesty Queen Gabrielle."
The Queen rose from her throne, stepped down the dais and approached to stand at the Conqueror's right.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Princess Sieglinde," the Queen extended a heartfelt welcome.
Princess Sieglinde curtsied, and then said with some measure of effort and apparent concentration, "Your Majesty is very kind and very beautiful."
"Thank you. So are you, your Grace," the Queen returned the favor.
The Conqueror outstretched her left arm to the left.
"My Heir, her Grace Princess Athena," the Conqueror continued and Princess Athena approached to stand to the Conqueror's left.
Princess Athena seized the opportunity to closely study the Norse Royal, but she was predisposed to disliking her. Her heart was hardened and there wasn't a sliver of chance for an affinity to be formed.
"Your Grace," Princess Sieglinde curtsied, meekly trying to steal a few curious and inquiring glances at the Conqueror's Heir and her countenance revealed nothing of what she thought and felt.
"Your Grace," replied Princess Athena as chilled and as apathetically as possible.
"And Princess Terreis," the Conqueror said with a smile on her lips.
The governess whispered in the child's ear and Princess Terreis walked over and stood to her mother's right.
Princess Sieglinde's expression brightened with a smile on her lips and in her eyes as soon as her gaze rested on Princess Terreis. She knelt down to face the little Princess. The striking resemblance between the child and the Queen was not lost on her. As she watched Princess Terreis curtsy and greet her by her title, Princess Sieglinde thought that Princess Terreis was the most beautiful and most adorable child she had ever seen and in her excitement she momentarily forget herself and the occasion and began to speak in her native tongue.
It did not, however, deter Princess Terreis, who smiled back at the Norse Princess even though she did not understand a single word.
Princess Sieglinde apologized and said, "It is a delight to meet you, your Grace," to Princess Terreis before rising to her feet once more.
The Realm's Royals returned to their seats.
Princess Sieglinde signaled to Jarl Albrich and the latter addressed the Conqueror on her behalf.
"Majesty, my Mistress wishes to inform you that regrettably she does not yet master the Greek language. On our journey here I tutored her some to the best of my ability. With your permission, my Mistress requests your permission to allow me to translate your communications for the time being."
"Granted," the Conqueror agreed, then added, "Should I decide in favor of the marriage, I shall appoint my best tutor to her Grace so that she may learn as quickly as possible."
Jarl Albrich translated the Conqueror's words to his Mistress, and she answered him back.
"Your Majesty is most generous," he said.
"Tell me, your Grace, how do you spend your days?” the Conqueror inquired.
After translating the question, Princess Sieglinde replied in her tongue with the Jarl repeating her words in Greek.
"I spend considerable time almost every day in the orphanage not far from our palace that my mother, Queen Ortlinde, had my father the King build for her before she died. When she was still alive, my mother took me there to help her care for the misfortunate children. After her death, I gladly took it upon myself to continue her legacy. Being orphaned from a mother myself, caring for the orphans there, who had neither mother nor father, provided me with great comfort and sense of purpose. I adore children, Majesty. They are resilient, honest and sweet."
Princess Sieglinde halted her speech for a few moments then continued with a touch of embarrassment. "I apologize if the answer I've given might not sufficiently impress your Majesty, but it is truthful. I also read and knit every day, and I'm proud to say that in my homeland, I'm well known for my knitting." A fierce red blush colored her cheeks as if her words caused her even further embarrassment. After all, she thought to herself, what interest knitting, caring for children, or other such trifles could be to the great Lord Conqueror.
"Who do you admire above all else?" the Conqueror posed her second question.
Princess Sieglinde did not hesitate. "My late mother, Queen Ortlinde, your Majesty, for setting an example for me to follow with her charitable way of life."
"And lastly," the Conqueror went on with her final question, "What is your gravest concern?"
"To see brothers raise arms against brothers in my homeland, Majesty."
As soon as the Conqueror rose from her throne, the Queen knew that her Lord's mind was made up. Fact was, she had suspected as much as soon as she had seen the way Princess Sieglinde had knelt before her Lord.
"Her Grace Princess Athena will marry you, Princess Sieglinde," the Conqueror announced. Jarl Albrich translated the Conqueror's words to the Norse Princess and demure mirth touched the blushed cheeks.
"The wedding will take place a moon from today, in Corinth , of course. In the meantime, you are welcome to stay here as my guest. Educators and instructors will be hired to teach you our language, customs and traditions. You may choose your own ladies in waiting. My household steward, Lady Satrina, will assist and advise you.”
Princess Sieglinde rushed to kneel at the Conqueror's feet once more and repeatedly kissed her seal ring.
“Thank you, Majesty,” she said over and over again before starting to speak in her native tongue again. “Thank you, most gracious Majesty for this great undeserved honor. I shall spend the rest of my life proving myself worthy of your Majesty's trust and honor given. I vow to be a good and true wife to her Grace.”
Jarl Albrich translated her words to the Conqueror.
The Conqueror ordered the Great Hall cleared, thus concluding the meeting.
On their way out, after attending to the Queen, the Queen's ladies in waiting curtsied before the Conqueror as the latter strode into the Imperial chambers.
The Queen was lounging on a settee by the fire in her nightgown, her gaze pensive and distant.
The Conqueror took off her crown and placed it on the desk. The clouting sound made by the meeting of metal and wood brought the Queen out of her deep pondering.
"You are awfully quiet, my Lady," the Conqueror remarked in order to provoke a conversation, pacing slowly to stand between her wife and the burning hearth.
"I know that Athena's marriage is a matter of state first and as such at your discretion, but I wish you'd consulted with me before making your final decision, my Lord."
"You have already made your position on this matter clear. I saw no point to it."
"Will you not even explain to me why?"
"Wars sometime have the habit of seeping outside the borders of the territory in conflict. Should a civil war were to break out, the Realm's northern borders might not be safe. The marriage will prevent it and our subjects in the north will be safe without the need for military intervention on my part," the Conqueror explained.
The Queen noticed that the Conqueror didn't name her desire to rule the Nordic Lands as a reason. She couldn't help but thinking that her Lord had been less than forthcoming with her about her entire motives and it bothered her. "And what of our daughter's happiness?" she asked.
"What of it? Princess Sieglinde is a suitable match. Perhaps her Grace has taken a liking to her now that she saw her."
But the Queen harbored no such assumption.The Conqueror kissed the Queen's temple before making her way to Princess Athena's chambers.
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