The Boar Hunt
Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Darphus, and some others are all the property of Renaissance Pictures and are borrowed here without any express written consent on the part of the producers or distributors of the program. (In fact, they’d probably be rather distressed to see what I’ve done with one or two of their characters.) Any characters that have not appeared in any episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" or "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" are products of my rather warped imagination and therefore are mine and mine alone.
This tale takes place during the reign of Xena, Conqueror of Nations, as presented in the episode of Hercules called Armageddon Now, Part II. Callisto has succeeded in killing Alcmene, Herc's mommy, before he was born, so he's not around as an adult to tame the wild Xena and put her on the path toward goodness and light. Some of the things that are depicted here are not for the weak of mind or faint of heart. There is violence of several sorts, both sexual and non-sexual. This story also involves sexual situations between persons of the same sex, (you mean there's another kind?), BDSM, and bestiality. If these offend you, they are illegal where you live, or if you are under the age of consent where you live, don't let the door hit you in the butt as you retreat from these pages.
This is not the same Xena the Conqueror that others have written about. If you are expecting the same old Gabrielle redeems the Conqueror story, this isn't it. If you are expecting the same old Gabrielle and Xena rule together story, this isn't it.
For providing guidance and encouragement, I wish to thank Tori (who has been there for me and kept me from falling totally apart more times than I care to remember), Sandy (for holding Tori together while Tori was holding me together), Val, Liz, Kim, Dina, and Angie. A special thanks to the newest presence in my life who has shown me that the two first-class women who grace my life are not flights of fancy. Last, but not least, to the Phantom Kisser for, well, you know…
Comments gratefully accepted at: Xenafyre@aol.com
Xena looked out the window at the sunlight beaming down on the rooftops of the city. The monotonous drone of the official from -- what town was it? Dermus? Doormouse? Draemus? Yes, that's it, Draemus! -- was serving no other purpose than to put her to sleep. She really had no desire to sit and listen to another droll little individual give her a drachma by drachma accounting of where the money went and why some expenditures were really necessary. When would these idiots learn that all they had to do was send her a parchment with the figures on it so she could read them for herself? Instead, they all wanted to ingratiate themselves to the Conqueror, make themselves known so that maybe they, too, could someday be a part of the royal entourage.
"Give me the bottom line, Trenus. How much are you in the black this season?" Xena asked, fed up with the boredom.
"Conqueror, I am pleased to announce we are seven thousand dinars to the good after such a plentiful harvest."
"And what do you plan to do with this money, Trenus?"
"Why, turn it over to the Empire, of course, your Majesty." Trenus looked as though he thought Xena might have thought he was holding some of the money back for himself. That bothered him, for unlike the leaders of other villages in Greece, he knew how dangerous such an act would be. The Conqueror did not tolerate local officials who thought they could skim the profits that were to go to the Empire. Being on the border of the northern Barbarian regions, Draemus was often the target of raids by small bands from the armies that were poised on the border to invade Greece once the word was given. Xena kept an army garrisoned near the village to help repel the raiders and protect the village. For that, alone, Trenus was grateful to the Conqueror.
The Conqueror turned to the Treasurer of the Realm. "Make sure that Trenus receives a bonus of one thousand dinars for his personal use as a reward for his honesty and loyalty."
"Thank you so much, my Liege," Trenus smiled. "I look forward to meeting with you again after next harvest." He bowed and backed away three steps before turning and going out the door.
"Who's next?" Xena asked. Darphus stepped up beside her.
"Your Majesty, we have arrived at the criminals who are to be tried and sentenced for their transgressions against the realm and her citizens." Xena sat up a little straighter. This was one task she enjoyed -- meting out punishment to those who deserved it, rightly or wrongly. Five men in chains were led into the throne room and stood before her.
"First," Darphus barked. A tall, rotund man with a three-day growth of beard and two weeks' worth of filth covering him stepped forward.
Xena muttered under her breath, "His crime must be smelling like an unmucked out stable."
Darphus suppressed a smile and read from the scroll he held. "Singis is accused of the crime of robbery in that he stole a loaf of bread and ten dinars from the baker in a nearby village."
"What do you have to say for yourself before I pass sentence?" Xena asked the accused.
"Your Eminence, I took the bread to feed my children. Your army left us with nothing. I took the money so I could buy food in the future."
"For the crime of theft, I sentence you to ten lashes with the whip, followed by ten suns in the dungeon, and your left hand is to be cut off as a reminder of what you've done and to let others who might be so inclined know how the Destroyer of Nations deals with those who break my laws." Xena looked at the man, who was visibly shaking. "You will serve as an example for lengths around. Now go." She gave a slight wave with her hand and the guard led the man away. "Next."
A lank, short man with chains pinning his arms to his body stood before her. Xena was surprised to see that he was one of her soldiers. Darphus' voice carried a sneer, "Algus is accused of beating, and then raping the daughter of a resident of Poteidaia when we raided that village six moon cycles ago. We just now caught him because he got drunk one night and started bragging." Her second-in-command looked up to see dark fury in Xena's normally bright blue eyes.
Xena rose from her throne and walked down the steps until she was nose to nose with the man. "When you joined my army, you swore an oath to obey my orders and rules. One of those rules carries the death penalty, and that is the rule you've chosen to break. Rape. Even the word disgusts me. How old was the woman you raped?"
"Twelve, ma'am," the man whispered.
Xena exploded, "Twelve summers? What in the name of the gods were you thinking?"
"It had been a long time since we'd fought, I had all this energy built up -- we all did -- and I had to release it somehow. I thought breeding would be the best way, ma'am," the soldier said softly, but matter-of-factly.
"What you did wasn't breeding, you scum! It was nothing more than you exerting your strength and power over someone smaller and weaker than you. And MY property, to boot!" She turned to Darphus. "What became of the child he assaulted?"
"She is with child," Darphus replied.
Clenched fists at her side, the Empress turned back to the prisoner. She spoke evenly, without emotion. "For the crime of rape, you are sentenced to die in a manner of MY choosing." She stomped back up the steps and sat on her throne. "You will be given fifty lashes, then emasculated, both publicly. If you are still alive after that, you will be nailed naked to a cross and left in a field for the vermin to dispose of your carcass." She looked down as Darphus started to motion for the guard to take the prisoner away. "And one more thing. You will provide Darphus with the name and location of your nearest male relative. If the girl dies in childbirth, or if the baby dies, your kinsman will experience the same punishment you will suffer." She raised her hand and waved the condemned man away. "Darphus, you will carry out his punishment in front of the other members of his regiment, then give each of those men five lashes for not stopping him."
"Yes, my Liege." Darphus grinned -- he loved dishing out mass punishments.
"I'm too angry to continue right now. Impose the usual sentences for the crimes. I'm going back to my quarters.
"Yes, Empress," Darphus bowed as she rose and left the throne room.
Xena stormed into her quarters and slammed the door behind her and slumped into the chair behind her desk.
Alinia, Xena's personal slave, placed a goblet of wine at her right hand. "Mistress?" Xena looked up at her, picked up the goblet and drained it. Alinia refilled the goblet, but knew her Mistress had something bothering her. The Conqueror's mind wandered back to that day eleven summers ago that helped forge her steadfast rule regarding sexual assault against women.
Teenaged Xena and her best friend Jennas were in the woods, gathering blackberries for a pie. The two girls had been inseparable from the time they were toddlers, running here and running there throughout the village. When villagers saw one of the girls, the other was not far behind.
The girls were just finishing a picnic lunch of cheese, meat and bread that Cyrene had packed for them and had laid back on the blanket when he arrived. Xena never found out what warlord he soldiered for or even what he was doing in this part of Greece, for that matter, although she had tried for years, finally deciding that the bastard must have died in battle. She swore she would never forget his name, though -- Dimitrios. She had gotten that much out of him before he made his move.
Xena knew what he wanted, and was determined that Jennas would not be hurt in that way. She offered herself for his gratification, but he just laughed as he struck her jaw with his fist and she fell unconscious to the ground. When she regained her senses, she realized she was tied to a tree, the bodice of her dress torn to expose her breasts, and unbearable pain between her legs. Over on the blanket, several lengths away, Jennas lay in a crumpled heap, her clothing gone, her body riddled with lash marks and bruises. Dimitrios was nowhere to be seen. "Jennas?" she called. Her friend stirred. "Jennas, can you come over here and untie me?"
As Jennas got to her knees, Xena saw her face, covered with wounds as though their attacker had simply drawn his knife across the soft flesh in a haphazard manner, wanting only to destroy the beauty that Jennas had once had. Swallowing hard, Xena smiled. "Jennas, come untie me so I can get you to the healer." Jennas picked up a knife and crawled over to the tree, then cut the ropes holding Xena in one spot. Xena immediately gathered her friend in her arms and the two sobbed together. Jennas didn't want to let go of Xena, so they moved together over to the blanket. The dark-haired future Conqueror wrapped her friend in the blanket, then picked her up and carried her the short distance back to the village.
As she walked through the town square, some of the men offered to take Jennas from her, but Xena refused, asking them only to notify her mother to meet her at the healer's. Cyrene was there when Xena arrived. Xena stood silently while the healer worked on Jennas' many wounds, Cyrene beside her with a hand on her daughter's shoulder. Because of the look of hatred on Xena's face, no one asked what happened, but waited for her to tell them in her own time. Only when the healer had finished with the obvious wounds the girl bore did Xena speak. "She was raped." The healer nodded and went to her workbench for some more herbs. Cyrene looked down at her daughter and for the first time saw the ripped bodice and the swollen, bruised jaw. A solitary tear rolled down her cheek.
"Xena? Were you raped too?" her mother asked. Xena sighed, nodded, and proceeded to tell her mother what had happened -- at least as much as she knew. The healer handed the girl a mug of tea.
"It's bitter, but it will help the healing down there." Xena nodded and drank it quickly, then helped hold Jennas up so she could drink some of the same concoction. Jennas had not spoken a word since Xena had come to, and as Xena looked into her eyes, she saw no life, no spark of what Jennas had been before this day. And Xena knew that it would only be a matter of time before her friend chose to cross over the bridge. In fact, it was two moons. Jennas had disappeared one day and Xena was sent to look for her, for Xena was the only person to whom she would respond. When Xena found her body, hanging from the tree underneath which the attack had taken place, the future warrior swore vengeance. Somehow, some way, she would find the man who had violated them and violate him in a most heinous manner. And while many people attributed the birth of the Conqueror to Cortese's attack on Amphipolis, Xena herself knew that the Conqueror was actually born the day her friend Jennas killed herself.
Alinia was looking at her with an anxious expression on her face. She had served the Conqueror for nine season cycles with love and admiration -- much longer than any of the other slaves Xena had kept in her household -- and had earned her Mistress's implicit and explicit trust. She was also the only person in the realm who saw a human side of the Destroyer of Nations. But Alinia was more than a simple slave to Xena -- the two had been friends growing up in Amphipolis. It was Alinia who understood Xena's rage when it came to crimes against women, for she had seen the transformation Xena had undergone when she had carried Jennas' body to town for the funeral and tried to remain close when others began to distance themselves.
When Cortese had attacked the village, Alinia's parents had been killed. Xena had taken the orphan under her wing and they had been inseparable ever since. While Alinia didn't approve of everything Xena did, or many of her more cruel actions toward people, she stayed loyal to her friend. She was also the only one of the Conqueror's slaves that had never been whipped or forcibly bedded, and could speak openly to the Conqueror without fear of retribution.
"You're angry about something?"
"Yes. Soldiers who commit rape on twelve-year old girls." Xena drained the goblet again and Alinia refilled it once again. "NO one has the right to abuse one of my subjects except ME!" She drained her goblet again. "Bring me one of my body slaves. I don't care which one."
Alinia nodded and went to fetch the slave. The mood Xena was in, the slave knew it would not be an easy time for the young woman who serviced the Conqueror and debated with herself about which one to bring back. She also knew she would spend that time in the kitchen -- she hated hearing the screams of pain.
Xena quickly removed the shimmering embroidered satin gown she had been wearing and put on her brocade robe. A quick check of her quarters confirmed that everything she wanted was in its proper place. She pulled a flogger and a leather harness from the wall and placed them where she could easily reach them. She heard the door behind her open and close quietly and turned to see her slave. She smiled; Alinia had chosen well. "Come, Sandria -- you know what I want of you."
"Yes, Mistress." The slender woman quickly shed her clothing and went over to a chair against the wall. She started to sit.
"No, on your knees on the floor," Xena ordered. "Face the chair." The woman complied and the conqueror fastened the woman's hands and arms above her head to the back of the chair so that she was leaning with her belly on the seat. She spread the slave's legs wide and tied each one to a leg of the chair, then ran a finger through the woman's slit. "Mmm, you're already wet. Good." Xena licked the wetness off her finger, then picked up a small box and placed it between the helpless woman's legs.
"Yes, ma'am. For you ma'am." Xena opened another box and pulled something out, then held her hand down so Sandria could see it -- a brown rat, about six inches in length. The slave's eyes grew large -- this was something new.
"Sandria, my little friend here has been especially trained for moments like this." She put the rat on the box between the slave's legs. The long whiskers tickled the woman's inner thighs as it sniffed the air, smelling the aroma it had been trained to seek. Putting its nose between the woman's lips, it began licking at the wetness that was there. Sandria squirmed as the rat's little tongue lapped. Xena's hand smacked hard against the slave's ass. "Hold still, bitch!" The rat's tongue found the little nub of pleasure and began nibbling at it with its long front teeth. Sandria screamed as the sharp incisors clamped down hard on her clitoris, drawing blood and producing pure pain. The sting of a riding whip on her buttocks produced more pain but reduced the screaming to a whimper. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as the rat nibbled harder and licked as much of the blood as it could.
Xena could feel her own excitement and wetness growing as she watched her slave's clit being devoured by the rat. She reached down and took the rat away, putting it back into its cage. Turning back to the slave, she was amazed to see the amount of blood dripping onto the floor. She ran her finger through the crimson puddle, put it in her mouth, and savored the metallic flavor. It, alone, was almost enough to bring her to climax, but there was a rage inside her that needed to be quieted. She picked the long bullwhip off the wall and stretched it out in front of her. "Sandria, who have you serviced since the last time you were with me?" the Conqueror snarled.
"No one, ma'am," the slave whispered, trying to talk through the excruciating pain. She flinched as the thin leather sliced through the skin on her back. She spoke louder, "No one, ma'am, I swear it!" The whip sang as it traveled through the air, biting her back a mere inch from the first welt.
"Then who was that I saw you walking in the courtyard with?"
"That was Demetria, ma'am. She is one of Darphus' slaves. We have become friends." Xena's whip continued landing on her back and buttocks, raising welts, drawing more blood that dripped down and mixed with that already on the floor. Xena was in a state -- some called it a "Warrior's Haze" -- where nothing short of Death herself could have stopped the punishment she was inflicting on the undeserving slave. She switched from the bullwhip to a riding crop, using the smaller instrument on the bottom of the woman's feet, her ankles and calves, and then the backs of her thighs. Sandria had never known such pain, had never known her mistress to inflict such punishment on anyone. It was all the young girl could do to remain conscious.
When she heard the short whip clatter to the floor, Sandria looked up, tears from the pain having stained her cheeks. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the Conqueror remove her robe to display what looked like a male member. Specially made for the Empress from the finest black marble, the phallus was longer and thicker than any Sandria had ever seen. Frightened, the slave struggled against her bonds, knowing that the device would tear her apart. Quickly, her Mistress knelt behind her, grabbed the slave's hips and thrust the rod deep inside her womanhood while pulling the woman's hips to her. Sandria screamed as she felt her flesh ripping, the screams only serving to heighten Xena's excitement. Slowly at first, then faster and harder, roughly enough to induce more bleeding from her receptacle's clit, Xena moved with the rhythm and animal instinct of dog breeding dog. First holding onto the smaller woman's shoulders, Xena's hands gradually moved until they were circling the slender neck. Squeezing tighter and tighter, Sandria struggled to get her breath, but Xena did not let go. Neither did she notice when Sandria went limp, but continued her movements until she exploded in climax, collapsing over the inert woman beneath her.
Xena roused and stood, removing the phallus she had used. She then went to untie her slave. Once loosened from her bonds, Sandria collapsed into the pool of blood. Xena looked at the woman a moment, then put two fingers on her neck to feel for the non-existent pulse.
"Damn!" she said out loud. "Killed another one." She went over to the corner beside the large ornate bed and pulled the bell rope. Alinia soon appeared.
"Yes, Mistress?" She tried not to look at the carnage surrounding the chair or at all the blood covering Xena.
"Get rid of this rubbish and have someone clean up the mess." Xena sat in the chair by her desk, not bothering to cover her nudity.
"Yes, Mistress." Alinia stopped to cover Sandria' face with a towel, and then went to the kitchen to get the help she would need. Half an hour later, Xena was asleep in the main bedroom while three servants were on their hands and knees cleaning up the blood. Sandria' body had been removed and taken to the pauper's cemetery for burial.
All of the member's of Xena's household knew of her sexual appetites, for several times they had been called upon to clean up the carnage created when the Empress went berserk with one of her body slaves. But they also knew to speak of such things beyond the walls of the castle was to risk being on the receiving end of such punishment, and none wanted to have any part of that. Those who were in the know felt pity for a new household slave who caught the Conqueror's fancy. While the newcomers thought it an honor to be elevated from common household slave to Xena's personal slave or body slave, they had no idea that it could mean their deaths if the Conqueror took such a notion. Once done with the slave, Xena always fell into a deep sleep for 12 or more hours, then awoke refreshed.
Gabrielle filled the buckets at the central well and headed back to the small house she shared with her mother and sister. It was hard eking out an existence in the reign of the Conqueror, but they were better off than a lot of people who had been displaced by the fierce fighting that had taken place. Every day, the young girl thanked the gods for the roof over their heads and the food on their plates, no thanks to the soldiers in the army of Xena, Destroyer of Nations.
Xena's army had swept through Poteidaia six months earlier, killing many of the men in the village including Gabrielle's father, despite the village's surrender. Gabrielle's curiosity had gotten the best of her while she and her sister Lila had hidden in the hay loft of the barn and she crept over so she could look out and see what was happening in the town plaza. Her father already lay dead along with ten other men -- friends she had known since she was small. As a soldier raised his sword to strike another Poteidaian, a whirling disk sang as it flew through the air, collided with and broke the sword, and returned to its thrower -- a magnificent woman on a golden palomino. Gabrielle had heard the legends of the Warrior Princess so she instantly knew who had stopped the execution.
"Darphus!" the woman screamed. "What are you doing? This village surrendered on good faith and you come in and start killing all the men? Have you no honor?"
The seedy looking man walked up to her. "They weren't moving fast enough to get the supplies we wanted, my Liege."
"So you KILLED them??? A taste of the whip is all they needed, not death!" Even from where she was hiding, Gabrielle could see Xena's lieutenant seething because of his humiliation in front of his men. "The terms of their surrender included a provision that they would negotiate only with me. You have broken the terms of the surrender." She dismounted. "For disobeying me, you will receive five lashes. And let it be a lesson to all of you -- you don't strike out on your own unless you know exactly what you're doing. The difference between being a barbarian and a warrior is honor. Without honor, you are nothing more than a killing machine. With honor, you become someone who will be respected and trusted. And if you can't trust the man fighting next to you, who can you trust?" She walked down the line of soldiers standing at attention, and then looked at the dead bodies littering the plaza. She looked at the houses surrounding the square, knowing that behind the shutters and barred doors, villagers waited in fear that they would be the next to die. "The families of each of these men will be given fifty dinars. I know nothing will bring back your husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, but never let it be said that Xena the Conqueror condoned what happened here today." With that, the warrior remounted her horse and rode out of the village. The soldiers slowly filed out behind her.
Since her father had died, Gabrielle had worked hard to keep her mother and sister from just giving up and going through the motions of just living. Hecuba and Herodotus had been married 25 summers. He had been her first love and she his. And while he had been disappointed she hadn't given him a son, he was equally proud of both his daughters. Gabrielle had always been headstrong and independent while Lila had doted on her father, seeking his constant approval.
Because neither Hecuba nor Lila had seen what transpired the day Herodotus died, they both harbored a deep hatred for the Conqueror. Gabrielle, however, had developed an interest in this Destroyer of Nations who apparently had a Code of Honor. Xena was unlike any other warlord Gabrielle had heard about who cared little who was killed on the journey to victory, and she had impressed the peasant girl with the fury she had displayed upon learning her men were slaughtering innocents.
Gabrielle set the pails on the dry sink and sat down to catch her breath. She jumped with a start when the door flew open and Lila rushed in. "Gabrielle!!" she said excitedly.
"Slow down, Lila. What is it?"
"Did you hear the news? They caught the soldier who raped Naglus. Xena sentenced him to a slow, painful death. And if Naglus or the baby dies, one of the scum's male relatives will die, too!!!"
"Sounds as if the Conqueror has a sense of justice, after all," Gabrielle pointed out.
"They said the Conqueror was really furious!"
"I imagine she was. I've always heard she's forbidden her troops to kill women and children. Raping a woman is worse. Raping a child is unpardonable."
Lila grabbed some cookies from the sideboard and flopped down in a chair to eat them. "Well, I've heard she's a mean old bitch who has a contract with Hades himself for send as many souls to Tartarus as she can. And don't forget, she killed Father."
Gabrielle sighed, "How many times do I have to tell you, she punished the men who killed Father and the others because they were acting against her wishes."
"I just don't see how you can defend her."
Hecuba walked in carrying a basket of vegetables. Gabrielle jumped up, took the basket from her mother and set it on the counter. She then poured a cup of water and handed it to the older tired woman who had occupied her usual chair at the table. "Thank you, precious." She took a long drink, and then set the cup on the table. "What have you two been up to, today?"
Lila scowled. "We were talking about the Conqueror."
A tired smile crossed her mother's lips. "Yes, she is quite the topic of conversation in the marketplace. Naglus' mother is weeping with joy at the news that her daughter's tragedy will not go unpunished."
Gabrielle cleared her throat, hesitating to change the subject. "Mother, it's time for me to go visit grandmother again." Hecuba's mother lived on a farm two days' journey from Poteidaia. Gabrielle and her father had made the trip several times a season, taking food, medicines, and other supplies, and spent several suns, or even half a moon, helping out on the farm. Though no longer producing livestock or marketable crops, the elderly woman resisted all efforts to move her to Poteidaia where caring for her would be easier. In the time since her father's death, Gabrielle had made the journey alone.
Hecuba sighed. "You're right, of course. The snows will come soon enough. When do you want to leave?"
"Tomorrow, mother. The nights are already starting to get cold. Lila and I can spend the rest of the day packing the wagon. I pretty much have all the supplies in one place."
Lila scrunched up her face. "I wanted to go swimming this afternoon."
Hecuba smiled at her youngest daughter. "If you hurry, you'll still have time for a swim before supper." As Lila perked up and headed for the door, Gabrielle saw the worry on her mother's face.
"Let's go, Gabs." With typical teenaged enthusiasm, she bounced out the door.
"OK." Gabrielle turned to her mother. "I'll be all right."
"You know how people have just disappeared, recently, child." Hecuba paused. "And I had a dream last night."
"I'll be very careful. And this is one of your dreams that is NOT going to come true."
"I pray to the gods you're right. At the first sign of trouble, you run, Gabrielle. I don't want to lose you, too."
"I'll stick to the main road and not take any side trips, mother. I should be back in less than a moon's cycle."
At the end of three hours, Gabrielle called for a rest period. Lila went in the house, got two cups of water and brought them out. Handing one to Gabrielle, who had parked herself under a tree, she sat on a bench nearby. "Thanks, Lila," Gabrielle said before taking a sip of the cool liquid.
"What do you do at Granny's, Gab? It's got to be awfully boring."
"No, not really. I help her get food enough to eat for the moons I'm not there -- salt or smoke the meat, get vegetables stored in the root cellar, stuff like that."
"But what do you talk about all day?"
"She tells me stories -- she's where I get a lot of the stories I tell at the inn and during the festivals. And she's teaching me about herbs and how to be a healer." Gabrielle paused. "And she tells me a lot about mom when she was a girl. You know, from what Grandmother says, you're a lot like her."
"Really?" Lila asked. "How?"
"It seems like mother was pretty boy-crazy until she met father." Lila blushed. "And she was kind of a tomboy like you -- she liked to fish and swim and stuff like that."
"Mother? OUR mother?"
"Yep, our mother." Gabrielle drained her cup. "I can finish loading the wagon. You go ahead and go swimming."
"Thanks, Gabs!" Lila jumped up and disappeared. Shaking her head in amusement, Gabrielle finished loading the supplies, covered them with a canvas tarpaulin, and then went in to help her mother prepare dinner.
"Darphus!!" Xena the Conqueror was restless. It had been months since she'd been outside the city walls and weeks since she'd even ventured outside the castle walls. Her ice-blue eyes watched as her second in command slithered into the room and bowed before her throne. She smelled him as he got closer and tried hard not to gag -- unwashed and unshaven for weeks, his odor preceded him by a good ten paces.
"You called, Empress?"
"I want to go on a hunt. I feel like a prisoner in my own castle. I need to get out and smell the clean air and feel the sun on my face."
"But Empress," Darphus smiled, "it still isn't safe for you to go out. My men are still finding the pockets of resistance I've told you about. As soon as we get rid of one, another pops up. And I would hate for it to be said that the Destroyer of Nations was killed because I did not do my job."
Xena looked at him carefully, not knowing if she should believe him or not. If his troops were unable to crush a few dissatisfied peasants, maybe it was time she thought about replacing him. "All right, Darphus. I will give you and your men one more week. If things are not cleaned up by then, I will find someone who CAN do the job. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Conqueror. Will there be anything else?"
"Yes. Take a bath, and use soap. I will not have anyone in my command smelling like he just took a roll in a pigsty. Any enemy downwind of you can detect you a league away." She turned to her personal slave. "Open the windows to get rid of that stench." The slave bowed and went to open the windows and let the fresh air inside.
Darphus bowed and backed away from the Empress for several paces, then turned and walked out the door. Xena walked over to the window and took some deep breaths trying to rid her deepest sinuses of the offensive odor.
Take a bath, indeed! Darphus fumed as he left the Conqueror's chambers. By the time I'm through with you, that's one more thing you'll regret saying to me! Actually, the idea of a hunt pleased Darphus. He and some others had been plotting for several moons on the best way to rid the Empire of Xena and take over its leadership. There are so many different things that can happen on a hunt that could cause a hunter's death, no one would think twice about the news that the Conqueror had been so badly injured that she did not survive. And with the rules of succession as they were at that moment, he was first in line to become Emperor. He chuckled to himself. That bitch really thinks she can trust me! She's given me a week to plan her own demise! He hurried off to find Jamus, his lieutenant, and to begin making plans.
Xena sighed and returned to her desk. She had known of Darphus' desire to take over her position as Emperor of the Known World for several weeks, now -- ever since the new body slave she had been using had revealed, with some persuasion, of course, her knowledge of her Second-in-Command's plans. That was the beauty of taking Darphus' household slaves for herself -- she learned much from them about what Darphus was thinking and planning. And Darphus paid so little attention to his slaves, he never knew when one had left and another had taken her place. Once Xena had extracted what she needed from them, the slaves disappeared, never to be seen again.
"Are you sure going on a hunt is such a good idea?" Alinia asked. "You could get hurt or killed, if Lord Darphus has his way." The slave's brown eyes showed the fear she held for her mistress's safety.
The Conqueror smiled. "I'm counting on him using this opportunity to at least try. But he doesn't know that I'm aware of his plan to depose me and take over. That gives me the advantage." She picked up a scroll, began reading it, and then put it down again. "I will need for you to do one thing for me, Alinia."
"Yes, ma'am. Anything you say."
Xena rose and walked over to the window. "Find my leathers and my armor. I'm not going to wait the week that I told him -- I'm going out tonight, alone. Have the stable master get Argo ready as though for a simple ride around the courtyard, and threaten him with loss of some body part if he should tell anyone."
"Alone? " Alinia asked, alarmed. "I'm not to go with you?"
"Yes, Alinia, alone. Pack the saddlebags with enough road provisions for a quarter-moon as well as my bedroll and all the other things I used to carry. While I'm gone, I want you to find out which slave of Darphus' or Jamus' will have the knowledge of their plans so I can extract the information I'll need. When you find out, bring that slave here to me."
Alinia nodded. "Yes, ma'am. It won't be too hard to find out. Give them a little too much wine, and they'll brag about what they've heard."
"Don't put yourself in any danger," Xena admonished.
"I won't, ma'am," Alinia smiled. No one would believe that Xena, Conqueror of Nations, could actually care about the well being of a lowly slave. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Ma'am?"
"No. Just get started on everything -- I want to leave just after sundown."
"What will I tell anyone who wants to meet with you?"
"Um, tell them I'm having my pre-bleeding cycle curse -- no one wants to be near me during that."
"What about your body slaves? Surely they'll wonder why you're not bedding them?"
"Tell them I've found another to bed for now and I'm giving them a rest. Or bring them up here, get them drunk, give them the amnesia herb, and bed them yourself. They'll never know the difference." Alinia blushed. "Oh, yes, I forgot -- you don't need sex the way I do. Which reminds me -- make sure I have about a hundred dinars in case I need cash. Not gold -- get me the type of currency the commoners are using." Xena smiled. "Go now -- there's lots to do."
"Yes, ma'am," Alinia nodded. She saw that an old sparkle had returned to Xena's eyes -- a look of happiness she had not seen in them in a very long time. The slave left to deliver the message to the stable master, then returned and began preparing for the Conqueror's departure.
Darkness began creeping over the land as the sun slid behind the horizon. The activities of the daylight slowly ground to a halt and the activities of the nighttime came to life and action.
Xena had donned her leathers, the smell and texture bringing back some wonderful memories. "Alinia, you've done a wonderful job maintaining these."
"Thank you, ma'am," the slave blushed. She helped her mistress don her armor, greaves, bracers and epaulets, and then handed her her favorite sword and chakram to complete the transformation from Xena, Empress of the Known World to Xena, Warrior and Hunter.
Xena jumped up and down to settle everything into place. "By the gods, it all still fits. I was a bit worried with all this rich food and soft living that I had gotten too big for my leathers."
"Not at all, ma'am. You look wonderful!" Xena smiled. "Please be careful, Xena?" The Conqueror knew that it took a lot for her old friend to use her name.
"I promise. If I'm not back in two quarter-moons, or if you have a problem and need me to return, send Callas to find me. I will head north toward Poteidaia -- there's an area there that is said to be home to some of the finest boar in Greece. It's a one-sun ride from here. Callas knows where it is." She put her hand on her slave's shoulder. "You have my permission to do whatever you need to do to convince people I'm still here, including impersonate me if you must. Just try not to antagonize Darphus, all right?"
The slave moved closer to the Conqueror. "I shall miss you." Her lips tentatively sought a kiss from her old friend. Xena captured her mouth, devouring it with a passion she never displayed with her body slaves and pulled Alinia close to her. The Conqueror's hand slipped under her servant's tunic and found her hardened nipple, pinching and rolling it between her thumb and forefinger. The maid felt both her desire and her wetness growing quickly.
Alinia gasped, "Xena, please. Take me. Now…"
Xena reclined on the large ornate bed. "You know what I want, Alinia."
The slave nodded, and standing directly in Xena's view, slowly began to undress. Xena studied her with a practiced eye, savoring the erect, dark nipples that were surrounded by a sea of firmly bronzed, dark-brown flesh. Slipping one finger of each hand under the top of her pure white breeches, Alinia slowly slid them down and stepped out of them. Xena could feel her mouth begin to water the moment the lush mound of black, kinky hair was revealed to her, and it took all of her skills not to lunge off of the bed and take her slave on the floor where she stood.
Alinia approached the bed and stood there, waiting for permission. Xena gave a slight nod, and the slave slipped onto the bed and proceeded to straddle the warrior's chest. Xena wriggled her way down between Alinia's thighs so that her mouth and nose were close to the musky wetness above. Alinia slowly lowered her sex until she completely covered Xena's face, her knees pinning the warrior's arms to the bed. She began rocking back and forth as the Conqueror's tongue sought out the nectar being created just for her. Xena timed her breathing to coincide with the woman's movements as Alinia let up on intervals only to push back down harder each time. This served to heighten Xena's senses, as her lover's pussy became her whole world.
Lips, tongue, and teeth ravaged the tender, young flesh being served. Alinia bit the inside of her cheek, drawing blood, as she fought to keep herself from burying her fingers in her master's raven hair. Instead, she clutched fistfuls of soft, silken bedclothes as she felt herself spiraling upward. Faster and faster she rocked herself on Xena's tongue and nose until finally she stiffened and exploded in climax. Xena hungrily lapped up every sweet drop, luxuriating in the quivering, sopping flesh that surrounded her. Finally the warrior grunted her satisfaction and Alinia collapsed on top of Xena, then rolled onto the bed beside her. The life-long friend turned and crawled into Xena's arms.
The two laid that way for half an hour, relishing the closeness they shared. Finally Xena stirred. "I need to leave before Darphus comes in and finds me in my leathers." Alinia sighed and rose, helping the Conqueror off the bed. She gave Xena another long hug.
"Be VERY careful, please."
"I will. I promise." Xena clasped her friend's shoulder, smiled and turned to leave through a secret entrance she had once found while exploring her quarters. With three possible termini -- the stable, outside the castle walls, and the Grand Room of the castle where the majority of business was conducted -- Xena could have come and gone without anyone knowing. She had used the passages very little though, fearing that Darphus or one of his followers would find them and close them off while she was inside and trap her in an untenable situation. With torch in hand to light the way, the Conqueror made her way to the stable.
Darphus paced back and forth in his quarters. Smaller than the Conqueror's, they were only marginally less luxurious, a source of pride to the crude son of an Athens street whore. He had grown up with only the bare necessities of life, eking out an existence on his own when his mother died from the pox when he was eight. Robbing, pimping, and even prostituting himself to wealthy Athenians had only made him desire more -- more money, more power, more stature, more respect. And while being the Conqueror's Second in Command offered some of what he hungered for, there was still much dissatisfaction within him, and many times his ambition overruled his common sense.
"How could this have happened?" he roared to no one, waving a parchment in the air. A messenger had brought him the news that the Conqueror had been seen the day before in a village twenty leagues from Poteidaia -- identification had been positive. "How in Tartarus could she have gotten out of the castle without anyone seeing her?"
"My lord, she IS the Conqueror, and the threat of death would seal anyone's lips," the messenger replied. A mousy little man of indeterminate age, he did not realize that the moment he spoke, his life was forfeit.
Darphus stopped and glared at him. "Tigus!!!" he bellowed. Darphus' personal slave appeared from behind a curtain.
"Yes, Master?" he said as he bowed low.
"I want you to talk to the others -- kitchen slaves, house slaves, even Xena's personal slave. Find out when she left, and how she got out of the city without being seen." Darphus thought a moment. "And find out where she went and when she is due back."
"Right away, my lord," the slave said, retreating but keeping his face toward his master. When he had exited the door, he straightened up and ran for the kitchen.
The power-seeking second in command looked out the window that overlooked the courtyard while turning a dagger over and over in his hands. Maybe this could work to my advantage, he thought. Maybe somehow, I can get the people to think Xena has abandoned them, or that she's gone insane and had to be confined for everyone's safety including her own. I'd wanted to kill her myself, but I can send an assassin and make it look as though I had nothing to do with her death. Turn her into a martyr for the Empire. Yes! That's it! Her body will be found and brought back here for a state funeral, giving her the send off the Empress deserves. Not that the bitch really deserves it. If it were up to me, I'd leave her out as carrion for the vultures. He sighed. By the gods, I hate having to put up appearances like that, but a state funeral will allow everyone to see that she's really dead. Now who can I send to kill her once I find out where she is? He turned and walked over to his desk, not noticing the blood that dripped from his hand where he had cut it by gripping the dagger by its blade.
Gabrielle's first day on the road had been uneventful, so she had made better time than she'd anticipated. Three more hours of traveling tomorrow and she'd be at her grandmother's. She drove the heavy-laden wagon off the road, through some woods to a small camping area she and her father had often used. The area was grassy with a few trees and bisected by a small stream. The grass provided good grazing for her horse while a firepit dug long ago provided a place for her to cook her dinner. Firewood was no problem because of the unwritten rule that campers replace what was used from the stack that stood nearby.
After spreading her bedroll underneath the wagon in case of bad weather during the night and eating a small dinner, Gabrielle walked over to the stream to wash her face and hands. Footprints she saw in the mud along the bank reminded her that her father had always told her to be on her guard. Wild animals such as mountain lions, boars and bears often came to this stream to drink, and any one of them could attack her at will. She finished her tasks quickly, then hurried back to the relative safety of the wagon, wondering if it would be better for her to sleep in the wagon rather than under it. It only took her a few minutes to set up a fairly comfortable spot to sleep on top of some bags of grain and get settled in for the night.
When morning dawned, the young woman quickly completed her tasks so she could get back on the road. While she enjoyed visiting with her grandmother, she hated having to spend so much time on the road getting there. The trip was really rather boring without her father to talk to -- she should have brought Lila. She constantly looked around her as she progressed, looking both for danger, and for something that might spark a new story she could relate to her grandmother to get tips on how to polish it up to use during one of her barding sessions at the next festival. Gabrielle's eyes shot to the right at the sound of a snapping twig. 'Marauders trying to sneak up on me?' she thought, ”Or just a squirrel," she concluded as she chuckled out loud, relieved when the small furry creature scampered across her path with a large, meaty nut in its teeth. 'I wonder where that squirrel got such a large nut?' She looked around for a nut-bearing tree but couldn't find one. "'Maybe the squirrel's a marauder?" Gabrielle's eyes opened wide as she pictured the little guy outfitted in your basic marauder outfit -- ill-fitting pants and a scruffy leather tunic. "And he fashions tiny twigs into arrows, and uses larger ones to make staffs." The young woman's mind was in full bardic gear now making up a fanciful tale, and before she knew it she was stopping in front of the little house she knew so well.
"Grandmother!" she called as she climbed down from the wagon. "It's me, Gabrielle!" She tethered the horse to the porch railing and went inside. Things were quiet. Too quiet. By the time Gabrielle reached the porch, she knew something was wrong. Timidly, she opened the door and walked in. The two-room house was empty. Gabrielle turned and was heading for the barn when she saw one of her grandmother's neighbors running up the road.
"Gabrielle!!" The young woman was out of breath from running.
"Victria!! Where's my grandmother?" Victria stopped about two lengths away and held up her hand asking for time to catch her breath. After a moment, Gabrielle became a bit impatient. "Victria?"
She swallowed and took a breath. "By the gods, Gabrielle, I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you. Your grandmother passed to the Elysian Fields two suns ago." Tears began streaming down Gabrielle's cheeks. "It was peaceful. She had been ill, and mother took her to our house to take care of her. Before she passed, she asked for a parchment and quill, and when she was done, asked me to give this to you." She handed her a folded piece of parchment. "We buried her beside your grandfather yestersun."
Gabrielle looked at the parchment without really seeing it. Her grandmother, her mentor, her friend was gone. "Thank you Victria. You've always been a wonderful friend." Gabrielle hugged the dark-haired woman.
Victria returned the hug. "You know I'm always here for you. We've known each other since we were children -- sometimes I think even before that, in another life, perhaps."
Gabrielle smiled. "Perhaps. We've had our moments, though. Remember when you accused me of sending love notes to your boyfriend and didn't believe me when I told you I didn't do it?"
Victria laughed. "We didn't talk for a long time and I didn't think we'd ever get to the point of being close friends again."
Gabrielle looked at the parchment in her hand. "I'm going to go in and read my grandmother's note, then go visit her grave. Thank you for taking care of things for me. Will you come back tomorrow?"
"Of course," the woman smiled. "I'll being you some nut bread."
Gabrielle smiled sadly at her once-closest friend then went back into the cabin. Victria watched as the door closed, then turned and walked slowly up the road.
After putting some water into a cup from the waterskin she'd brought inside, Gabrielle sat at the table and unfolded the parchment.
If you are reading this, you know I have passed over to the Elysian Fields. My passing, I hope, was quiet, but I leave this life troubled by visions of you that I have seen for the past two moons -- visions of your death. I do not know by what means or by what hand, but it is nothing that can be prevented.
The only reason I want you to know of the visions is so that you can prepare your legacy here, in this house. To that end, hidden in our special place are two dozen scrolls, bottles of ink, and quills. I want you to write down our stories so that others who pass this way might read and enjoy them. Leave them out on the table, and with the grace of the Muses, someone along the way will carry them to one of the great libraries in Athens or Sparta for preservation through eternity.
You have always been special, Gabrielle, and Hades must have something very special he wants you to do in Elysia. Don't fear your death. Celebrate it. Your grandfather, father and I will be there to welcome you when Chiron's boat docks. Until then, my child, I am,
Your loving Grandmother.
Gabrielle re-read the letter, trying to figure the meaning of her Grandmother's visions. Both Gabrielle and her ancestor had been blessed with the gift of foresight, and often both had the same visions. But in this instance, Gabrielle had experienced none of the visions mentioned in the parchment.
The Conqueror crouched in the fork of a tree, high above the oft-used animal trail. She had been tracking what appeared to be a large boar from the size of the tracks it left. It had been wandering toward a small stream a quarter league away. An experienced hunter, Xena knew that since she was upwind of the animal, this was as close as she dare get to it. By tethering her horse away from where the boar would be able to pick up its scent, and by climbing a tree so her scent would go over the boar, she stood a good chance of catching it by surprise and killing it.
She'd stayed at the inn in Poteidaia two nights earlier and now actually found herself missing the warm bed she'd paid for. The accommodations were actually better than she'd expected, reminding her of the inn her mother kept in Amphipolis. No one had recognized her as she supped, then sat observing the townspeople while drinking several mugs of port. She found herself actually relaxing for the first time in a long time.
Her back to the wall and facing the door, she listened as the people around her talked about the events of their lives, worries and problems, the local gossip, and was even surprised to hear the punishment she had inflicted on the soldier who had assaulted the village girl being discussed. Interestingly, no one disagreed with the harshness of the decision she had handed down, and in fact, several applauded it. Traveling incognito, she was able to learn of the problems created by the minor officials she had put in charge of the province and resolved to take care of them when she returned to Corinth. The innkeeper refilled her mug several times, and once commented that it was too bad she had arrived on a night that Gabrielle, the village bard, was not available. Perhaps the young woman would be available to tell stories on another visit from this tall, dark stranger. Xena had simply smiled and said she hoped so, too, for she loved to hear stories told well.
Xena heard something moving in the underbrush and notched an arrow while watching and waiting. The unmistakable sounds of a boar rooting for food drifted to her ears and she froze, not wanting a sudden movement to draw attention to herself. As he slowly emerged, she took stock of his weapons -- long, razor-sharp tusks jutted from his lower jawbone, while his cloven hoofs appeared to be as sharp as any warrior's sword. Slowly, she drew back the string on her bow, balancing only on the balls of her feet, and waited for the wild pig to come into range. Meandering slowly along the trail, the boar stopped and sniffed the air, picking up the scent of an unseen enemy Xena had not detected, then slowly walked toward the tree in which the Conqueror waited.
When the animal was close enough, Xena let fly with her arrow, its path straight and true. It imbedded itself between the boar's ribs and pierced his heart. Squealing in anger and pain, the boar ran around in circles, trying to dislodge whatever was hurting him. He brushed up against a rock, which only drove the arrow in deeper. His poor eyesight mistook the tree for an enemy and he charged it, hitting it with full force and shaking it hard. Xena teetered for a moment, trying to catch her balance.
The mountain lion that had been lying in wait for the boar smelled the blood and sprang into action, leaping high in the air and landing on the boar's back. His sharp claws ripped at his prey's throat, ripping it open and sending blood flying everywhere. The boar took a few more steps, and then collapsed. At that moment, the Conqueror lost her battle with gravity and fell off the branch, landing almost on top of the boar. Her leg impaled one of the tusks, ripping it almost to the bone, severing an artery, her blood mixing with that of the animal she had shot. The cougar, surprised at seeing a human in his reach, paused and then launched himself at the prone woman.
Xena heard the cat's cry and looked up to see him flying at her in fury. She automatically put her arms up to try to deflect him, but the force of him hitting her arms bent her elbows and he landed on top of her. His teeth and claws were everywhere, ripping her leathers and leaving bites and furrows in her skin. She tried hitting him with her fists to no avail, and then managed to reach her chakram, which had been dislodged from her belt when she landed. Trying to get the right angle, she sliced the cat's pelt several times, making him roar with pain. She felt herself getting weaker from the loss of blood. Finally, the cat raised its head enough she was able to get the chakram under his chin and pull it across his throat, slicing it open. The cat froze, and then toppled over beside her, dead. Xena lay there, trying to catch her breath and slow her heartbeat.
Once her breathing and heartbeat had returned to normal, the Conqueror crawled over to lean against a tree and take inventory of her injuries. Several small scratches would heal quickly on their own. Her leg concerned her the most - she could see her blood spurting out in rhythm with her heartbeat. Reaching her bow, she unstrung it and retied the string around her leg. The bleeding slowed to a trickle. Having treated thousands of wounds on the battlefield, Xena knew she needed help and needed it right away. But where? She'd passed several small farms on her way to the hunting area -- maybe someone at one of them could assist her. Feeling herself getting dizzy, she knew she had to act quickly. Placing two blood-covered fingers in her mouth, she let out a shrill whistle. Moments later, Argo appeared in the clearing.
Giving the dead cat wide berth, Argo walked over to her mistress. "Hey, girl, I'm in a mess here." Xena grabbed onto the stirrup leather and pulled herself upright. Argo kneeled, lowering her back so her mistress could climb aboard, then raised back up. Xena used her rope to secure herself to the saddle, and then let Argo do the rest. Not knowing the reason for it but understanding the necessity, Argo walked slowly but surely toward the closest farmhouse, picking her way carefully through the underbrush. When she reached the road, Argo turned in the direction they had come from, trying to maintain a steady gait without jostling her injured passenger.
Xena was keeping a hard, steady pressure on her leg wound where the blood had been spurting. If she was surer of herself, she would take the time to sew it up, but her hands were shaking and her vision blurred. She could only hope that whomever she found to help would be able to properly stitch the wound closed and stop the bleeding. Fighting unconsciousness, the battered Conqueror was only moderately aware of her horse turning into a lane that led to a farmhouse.
When she went through the larder of the small house, Gabrielle found that there were fruits and vegetables which should be eaten quickly, so she made a pot of stew that she could feast on while packing up the things she would take back to Poteidaia with her. Victria would be back on the morrow to take anything she wanted and that Gabrielle could not fit into the wagon. The rest would be left in the house for any weary travelers who might stop in for a rest or to get out of inclement weather.
Whenever she had some free time, the young writer would do as her grandmother asked and put quill to scroll to document the stories the two had devised. She began with the stories that were the most popular when she related them at fairs and other gatherings -- stories of the gods, of mythology, and of the Conqueror, though because they seldom had a happy ending, she reserved those for her more adult audiences. In order to make certain the stories were perfectly preserved, she would often put down the quill and recite them from memory to the chickens in the yard or the bird that had landed on the windowsill. She told the pig and the horses of the adventures of Zeus and Ares, the cow of the beautiful Aphrodite. She sometimes wondered if the Conqueror ever entertained a bard at Court, or if she would even consider doing so.
Gabrielle had also been using the time alone to inventory the vast number of herbs and healing potions her grandmother had left behind on the shelves that lined the room she had used for treating the sick and injured. The young woman planned to take them all with her so she could begin her own practice back in Poteidaia. Once in a while, she would stop and caress a particular jar, one she had seen her grandmother use when making a poultice or solution for healing. The memories of her grandmother working on a treatment for a friend or neighbor would bring tears to her eyes. And while her grandmother had taught Gabrielle much by word of mouth, the young healer was greatly relieved when she found a shelf full of parchments detailing the herbs in the jars, their uses and interactions with other herbs. The scrolls were a godsend to her, and she read them during the times she wasn't packing things away.
She had just finished putting some jars into a wooden box and was carrying it out to the wagon when she saw the big golden mare coming down the lane from the road. Setting the box on the porch, she walked out to greet her visitor.
"Hello! Are you lost?" she called. The horse kept walking toward her, the rider weaving in the saddle. Oh, boy. Another drunken soldier, she thought. Preparing herself for an argument, she stopped and stood her ground. It was then that she saw the blood on the side of the horse and on the rider's leg.
"Please, I need a healer," the rider croaked out. "I was injured while hunting."
"Oh, by the gods," Gabrielle exclaimed. She grabbed Argo's bit and led her quickly to the doorway of the house.
Xena untied the rope holding her in the saddle and slid down to the ground, Gabrielle catching her as she started to fall. With the young healer acting as a crutch, she made her way inside and sat in a chair next to the dining table. Gabrielle ran into the healing room and grabbed the box with the suture supplies in it, then ran back to her wounded guest. She put some water in a kettle over the fire to heat, grabbed some clean rags and a bowl with cool water, went back and started cleaning dried blood away so she could see where the wounds were.
"The worst one is the leg, here," Xena pointed out. "I got caught on a boar's tusk when I fell out of the tree."
Gabrielle looked at the long gash. "I'll definitely have to stitch that. Putting that cord on to stop the blood flow was good thinking." She opened the box and pulled out a long piece of thread and a needle.
Xena smiled through the pain, "I'm used to doing it for arms or legs that have been sliced open in battle."
"I'm afraid this is going to hurt a bit -- I don't know which herb I could use to deaden it."
"Not to worry," Xena replied. Quickly, she jabbed two fingers into her leg. "I've just taken away the pain. You can go ahead and stitch it and I won't feel a thing." Gabrielle shook her head and examined the wound. She realized she would need to stitch the severed blood vessel first, and began with tiny, even sutures. "You're very good at this," her patient commented.
"My grandmother taught me everything I know," Gabrielle answered as she worked. "She was the local healer, and whenever I came to visit from Poteidaia, she would teach me something new." When the blood vessel was rejoined, she reached up and loosened the bowstring, then smiled when no new blood squirted out from between the stitches. She removed the string completely.
"Nicely done," Xena complimented her. "Not many people realize you have to stitch from the inside."
Gabrielle blushed. "Are you a healer?" she asked.
"No, just someone who's been around a lot of injured people. I've picked things up here and there. I would have stitched the wound myself, but I was a little too shaky to do it properly."
The strawberry blond nodded. "I can understand that -- you've lost a lot of blood." She finished stitching the length of the wound, and then looked at one on the hunter's upper arm. Xena jabbed her leg, again, and gasped and reeled as the pain returned. "You all right?" Gabrielle asked. The Conqueror nodded. The young healer returned to her work, stopping only to make a cup of Echinacea tea and hand it to the dark-haired woman at the table. "Start drinking this now and we can hopefully deep these wounds from getting infected."
It took three hours for Gabrielle to attend to all the wounds, cleaning, stitching, dressing, and putting salve on them. When she was done, she sat back. "A boar did all that damage?"
Xena shook her head. "No, I had to fight a mountain lion for the pig."
Gabrielle shook her head. "By the Empress Xena, you are lucky you're not dead!" She stood and helped her patient rise. "Let's get you to bed so you can rest."
Once Xena was settled in bed, Gabrielle went back to the healing room and looked for one particular jar, found it, and went back to the small kitchen and made a mug of tea using the powder. After the powder dissolved, she added a bit of cool water to make it drinkable, and then took it in to her patient. She set it on the table beside the bed and helped Xena sit up. "Here," she said as she handed Xena the mug. "Drink this."
"What is it?"
"It's a tea that will help relieve the pain so you can rest." Xena smiled and took a sip. The taste was pleasant, so she emptied the mug and handed it back to Gabrielle.
Lying back down, the Conqueror looked into her savior's green eyes. "Where's your grandmother now?"
"She passed over to the other side a few days ago. I'm just here packing up her things and closing up the house."
Xena could feel her eyes getting heavy. "Lucky for me you were here," she said as she fell asleep. Gabrielle pulled the covers up over the quiet form, and then went out to take care of her horse.
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