Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com


*This chapter does come with a "maybe you shouldn't read at work" warning label!*

The Conqueror Series

Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose

By LJ Maas

Chapter 8: After The Battle On The Field Of Rout

"What?" I was, quite abruptly, wrenched from my fantasy concerning a certain golden-haired woman.

"Are we finished for the day, Lord Conqueror?" Antillius asked me.

I had been hearing petitions for the better part of the afternoon. My mind was easily distracted today and I blamed it completely on the state Gabrielle left me in this morning. She has become my equal in every way, whether she realized it or not. In the bedroom, well, let's simply say that I have no fears that she will ever disappoint me there.

This physical need was something I had never thought to feel again. I am, after all, the Conqueror. In the past, I had only to command, and I could have any woman I desired before me on her knees. Now, I not only have no desire for anyone other than Gabrielle, but she has reduced me to that of any ordinary lover. I must wait patiently for her to bestow her favors on me. No more can I simply take. Now, I must plead and wait. Gods! Didn't she realize it would be torture for me today? Especially after the condition she aroused me to this morning, only to disappear from the room before my eyes were even opened.

I thought again of her words, the reason my mind had wandered so often today. Was she serious? She can be commanding in the bedroom, it seems it brings out all of her own power, but her words this morning smacked of control and authority. Could I even begin to go there? I smiled to myself at the thought of being dominated by the small woman. I swallowed hard as I realized that if Gabrielle wished it, she most certainly could control me in that arena. My need for her, physically and mentally, grew with each passing day. The idea of such pleasure secretly thrilled me, but I wasn't at all sure if I'd come that far yet, or ever would.

"So, shall I tell them to return tomorrow, Lord Conqueror?" Antillius asked again.

"What? Oh, uhm, yes . . . let's start fresh in the morning." I answered.

It was late afternoon and our private rooms were empty. I assumed Gabrielle was still with Solan. I made my way to the young man's rooms, but I stood at the door for the longest time. I wasn't sure if I should knock, or walk right in. I compromised by knocking, then walking in.

The candles and oil lamps brightened the otherwise cheerless room. Gabrielle was nowhere in sight, and Solan lay sleeping in his bed. The room had Gabrielle's distinctive mark upon it. Everything looked clean and fresh, even down to the cut flowers in a vase upon the table.

I went to stand at Solan's bedside, noticing the thin reed sticking out from a mug of water. I smiled at the ingenuity, and simply knew that Gabrielle was the one responsible. I probably should have left then, but something held me there. I pulled up a chair and sat, crossing my legs and leaning back. I looked at his face as he slept, swollen and battered from a beating he'd taken at the hands of his own mother.

I found my fingers weaving their way into my hair. I leaned forward in my chair, elbows on my knees. The last time I saw Solan he looked much the same way. I bloodied his lip back then too, I thought ironically. He was only eight, but I was a younger, more insolent version of the Conqueror then, much more full of myself. Most of all, I was much less tolerant of people in general.

* * * * * * * * * *

I had just dismounted, and a lad came at me with a small dagger. I remember waving off my guards and even the centaurs, amused that the fellow had the jewels to come after me. I easily plucked the blade from his grasp and backhanded him across the mouth. I had no idea it was my son, the boy Kaleipus invited me there to meet. This dark haired boy with his mane in a wild mop, dirt streaked across his chin, I never took him for my own until he looked up at me.

Sky blue eyes stared back at me, and as I was wont to do in those days, I pushed him into the dirt. I did so to try to hide my own emotions, dangerously close to the surface, seeing my child for the first time since I held him as a baby.

"He's the adopted son of Kaleipus." One of my Lieutenants pointed out to me.

The boy raced back up to me and I caught him by the neck of his shirt, lifting him off his feet to face me. He kicked his feet, but with my long arms, I held him away from me, dangling in mid air.

"You killed my father!" he screamed.

My expression changed, and I quieted the boy with a stony glare. "Who told you that?" I hissed.

I could see the fear in his eyes now.

"Some people said it." He squirmed. "They said the Destroyer of Nations killed Borias, my father, in the war with the centaurs.

"Things happen during a war, boy. Don't believe everything a drunken centaur tells you."

"I hate you!"

I brought his face closer to my own and answered him in an intimidating tone. "You hate me do you?I guess that makes me your enemy. You best remember, boy, don't ever lose your head in front of the enemy . . . or you just might lose your head to the enemy." I sat him on the ground, turned away, and remounted my horse.

"They said you killed my mother, too!" He shouted up at me.

That certainly caught my attention. I remember wanting to climb inside a hole and die right then and there. No matter what I did from this point on, Solan would grow up thinking of me as the Conqueror, the woman who killed his mother and father. Although I wasn't the one who struck the fatal blow to Borias that night, I did kill Solan's mother. Somewhere, long before Solan was born, I killed Xena of Amphipolis. I killed her just as surely as if I'd taken her life at the end of my blade. I made a deal with the Dark God of War, and Xena was no more. In her place existed the Conqueror.

I looked down at the angry young boy and left him with words that I hadn't even remembered until this moment. "No one stays around forever, boy. Get used to it."

* * * * * * * * * *

"Did you come to gloat or to sleep?" I heard Solan's voice mumble hoarsely.

I quickly raised my head to see sleepy eyes staring at me. I hadn't even realized I nodded off.

"You talk in your sleep, Conqueror," Solan accused.

I feared that I repeated some of what my dream encompassed, but instead of Solan's usually angry glare, there was confusion in his expression. I was uncertain as to how to read him.

"I'm sure it was of no importance," I answered.

"Perhaps not to most," he returned quickly, if not somewhat cryptically.

"Uhm, how are you feeling? All things considered, that is."

"Considering you tried to kill me, you mean?"

"Thirsty?" I asked, motioning toward the pitcher of water, ignoring his reply. I wasn't certain whether he was being facetious or abrasive.

He nodded and winced. "She left some medicine . . . uh, can I have that first?"

I noticed the forced tone to his voice. He was only being civil to get what he wanted. I wasn't about to fool myself into thinking that one day with Gabrielle, and Solan suddenly developed a conscience, or manners. I wanted to laugh at myself . . . that was how it was when I met Gabrielle, though, wasn't it? After one night with her, I wanted to be more. Actually, Gabrielle made me want to be a better woman. I noticed, too, when he said she left the medicine. It was as if Solan couldn't, or wouldn't, speak Gabrielle's name.

I stirred the liquid in the bowl and held the thin reed up to his bruised lips. Once I returned the bowl to the table, I offered the mug of water until he drank his fill.

"Have you eased your conscience yet?" Solan asked.

I knew instantly that he referred to the fact that I was there. Gods, the boy loved pushing me!

"There are a good many things that still gnaw away at my conscience, Solan, but I have to say that whipping your ass on that field is not one of them," I lied. "You look warm," I noticed the sweat on his brow.

"Actually, I'm kind of cold," he answered.

I crossed the room to add a couple of logs to the fire; a warm, orange glow then lit the room. It seemed to warm my soul as well as my body.

When I turned around to look at him, I enjoyed the surprised expression he wore due to my words. Our uncomfortable silence was broken by a knock, then one of the kitchen maids entering the room. She brought a tray with instructions from Delia. It seems my friend, and personal cook, had made Solan's nutritional needs her own special mission.

"Shall I assist you, my Lord?" The young woman asked Solan. She appeared hesitant, as if Solan had cuffed her about in the last day or so. Either that, or she had heard how ill tempered he could be.

"What is your name?" I asked. It amazed me that I had so many people working in this palace, and I knew so few of their names.

"Lydia, Lord Conqueror."

"I'll assist him, Lydia. Thank you for bringing the food and thank Delia for me also."

"Yes, my Lord." She fairly ran from the room, and I don't know if it was me, Solan, or all she'd heard about the two of us, which caused her to take flight so quickly.

The boy made short work of the food. It seemed to go smoothly enough even though I tipped the bowl too far, and some of it ended on the napkin covering his chest.

"At least she managed to get it in my mouth, and not bathe me in it." Again, his offhanded reference to Gabrielle.

"I'm a ruler, not a maid," I answered. I was beginning to grow short-tempered by his constant, sniping remarks. I was allowing him to get to me, even though I told myself that was exactly what he wanted.

He asked for a drink of water again, and I, like an idiot, fell right into his game. His skin appeared rather flushed and he was sweating a bit, so in my own defense, it made sense. It had been nearly the sixth or seventh time he asked for a drink, taking one sip each time. I could swear he was actually grinning this last time. He was baiting, and even though I knew it, I couldn't stop the inevitable. One the eighth request, I blew.

"Ares balls, man! You're going to float away with the sea of water you're drinking!"

"She said I should. She said the medicine would make me thirsty." He answered casually, patronizing me as if I were a child, which as this moment I was doing a wonderful job of imitating.

"Oh, she did, did she? Well, then I suppose it must be true, since you're making everything that came out of her damn mouth sound like it came from Almighty Zeus himself!"

He chuckled then and I froze. Good Gods…he's worse than Gabrielle, I thought as I realized he didn't even have to lead me to that proverbial water to drink . . . I ran there myself, and dove right in. The next thought I had was how delightful the sound of his genuine laughter was, even if it was at my expense.

I could do no more than what I always did when Gabrielle showed me up for being so obtuse. I smiled and shook my head.

"You are such an ass," I said. By now, I was chuckling at my own actions.

"You're easier to bait than her, though. She pretends she can't hear half the things I say, but you know she does. You, though, you're pretty classic, Conqueror. Your temper's about as short as a blade of grass."

My face grew serious at that. "Perhaps if I'd spent half my life being abused, instead of being the abuser, I might have the same qualities that Gabrielle seems to possess."

My words took the smile from his face. It must have been the medicine because I heard him sigh loudly. Just when I was about to feel compassion for the boy, he stepped into it all over again.

"I'll tell you the same thing I told her. This won't work, what you're doing. I'm not an idiot Conqueror. There isn't a leopard in the jungle that can truly change its spots," he hissed. "Oh, it can hide, camouflage its markings, but it can never truly change."

"What in Hades are you talking about?" I asked. One moment we were sharing a somewhat laughable, awkward moment, the next instant, Solan's suspicious nature came into play.

"Being nice to me won't help . . . not now, Conqueror. It's too late."

He turned his head from me, and although he was a man, I thought I glimpsed a hurt little boy, before his eyes looked the other way.

"It changes nothing," he hissed.

I was thoroughly confused at, not only this turn of events, but also the very words he spoke. They seemed to make no sense, and I truly wondered if the boy was talking to himself or me. Perhaps the medicine was causing him to hallucinate, or perhaps it was reacting badly within his body. I'd seen instances of men who became raging lunatics while on herbal medications. The instant the herbs where cleansed from the body, however, the individuals returned to their right minds.

"Changes nothing! You and she . . . I can see what's happening. You can't make up for it now . . . you may think you can with a pat on the head, and a 'good boy,' but this won't change things. It won't change anything."

Did I say suspicious nature? I'm sure I meant rampant paranoia. I crossed the room and poured myself a large goblet of wine from the flagon on the table. I downed about half of it in the first swallow. "What won't change things?" I asked. My back still faced the boy.

"You being my mother."

He spoke the words so matter of factly that I was stunned, my feet frozen to the floor. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I heard him wrong. I thought that perhaps what I heard came from my head, and not Solan's tongue. This was ludicrous, wasn't it? The boy was ranting, hallucinating . . . perhaps too much painkiller. I was still too afraid to turn around. If I faced him, confronted him with his words, then I would have to deal with them, wouldn't I? Am I ready for this? Was he ready for this?

"You were never meant to discover that, Solan. Who told you this?" I asked. At last, I turned to look him in the eye.

"You did," he said slowly from his clenched, swollen jaw. "Just now. I thought . . ." he blinked sweat from his eyes, and his face now held a feverish cast to it. He licked his bruised lips. "I thought it absurd . . . impossibly implausible . . . so, it's true. You gave me away like so much rubbish because you didn't want me."

He suddenly appeared rather vulnerable.

"That's not true!" I cried out, moving closer to the bed. "Whoever told you that lied. What I did that day was the hardest thing I'd ever done! I agonized over that decision!"

"For how long?" he whispered. "Heartbeats?"

"Don't you understand what your life would have been like with me, provided you had lived past your first birthday? You would have been a target for everyone that wanted to get to me!" I hissed.

"So you got rid of me just like you got rid of my father. Borias was--"

"Borias was a fool!" I paced the room, my hands pushing back the hair that fell into my face. How had this meeting gone so wrong, so fast? "Look, I don't like to say it that way, but he was."

What happened to my life so suddenly? This was happening much too quickly. Why didn't I simply shut up? Why didn't I say it was all a lie so we could go back to our mutual tolerance and dislike for one another. Why was I allowing this to happen?

The answer came to me as soon as it echoed through my brain. Somewhere, deep inside, I truly wanted Solan to know that I was his mother. I can't really say why I desired this, but I can say that I think I wanted it to be so. I didn't want to keep it a secret any longer. I wanted this one piece of my past brought out from under the dark cloak I'd wrapped around it for the last twenty-three seasons.

"Do you think it was easy?" My tongue forged ahead, while my brain told me to just quit talking and deny it all. "Do you think you would have lived any longer with your father than you would have with me? Borias was a fool because he grew idealistic. He thought he could just quit the life we led. You don't just walk away from being a Warlord! People aren't going to just let you walk away from a thing like that, not when you spent the previous ten seasons killing them."

"So, you killed him?" Solan's voice was hoarse. I thought it was from emotion, but I realized his eyes had a glazed, faraway look in them.

"No, but I was responsible. I didn't have the kinds of feelings I should have for the man, those were my failings, Solan, not yours. I was sorry he died . . . afterward, but at the time . . . well, I have to admit that I would have fought him myself if I thought he stood between me and my goals."

I stood by the bed now, attempting to look anywhere but at Solan.

"I don't understand," he said

When I looked up, I could tell by his expression that he didn't understand. He had built all this up for so long, really only half expecting it to be true. It probably became convenient to believe in it, convenient to blame any, and all, failings in life on it. Perhaps it was the reason why he'd never taken responsibility for his own actions. It might have become second nature to blame me for everything. Now that he was faced with the truth of it, he looked as though he'd been kicked in the gut.

Why?" Solan asked softly.

"Because it's what I did best. I was an evil, sadistic bitch. I did everything for only one reason, and that was for how it would profit me. I was as hateful, ruthless, and as power hungry as I could get away with being. I did what I wanted because I was strong, and others were weak."

I had to stop just then. I would not allow myself any tears before this boy, but my throat constricted with emotion, and I had to swallow down the feelings that threatened to make themselves known.

"When I had you, suddenly all the old rules didn't seem to apply. One thing your father said did get through to me, though. He said that you would never be able to live a normal life as long as you were around me. I wasn't afraid of his warning that you might be used as a pawn to get to me. I worried that you would become like me. I took, Solan, from everyone. From the moment I left my mother's home, I never gave anyone anything, until the moment I gave birth to you. Giving you to Kaleipus was the first decent thing I'd done in a long time."

I looked down at the boy, lying there suffering from injuries that I had caused. "I'm sorry, Solan." I used the words that only Gabrielle ever heard from me.

He turned sullen eyes away from me and I pretended that it didn't hurt. What had I expected? Did I think that once he found out, things would suddenly change? I really never allowed myself to look that far ahead. I had found, in my life, that unfulfilled expectations could cause more of a hurt, than had they never been wished for in the first place. Well, it was out in the open now. I had no idea how to proceed, where to take things from here.

"How would you like to treat this news?" I asked. What an inane question, but one that had to be asked.

"It doesn't really change things," he responded. He was quieter now, the edgy ramblings abated. "Do you want anyone to know?"

He asked the one question that I had no answer for. I simply wasn't sure. I decided to be honest with him. I owed him at least that much.

"I'm not sure," I answered. I decided to try a little levity. I should have known better. Comedy is not my forte. "Of course, I don't want anyone knowing as long as you continue to be an arrogant ass." Even my smile was lost on him.

"It's just the way I am," he replied. "It's too late to change now."

"It's never too late to change, Solan. Please, remember that. If my life teaches you only one thing, let it be that."

"I think . . . we should just keep it to ourselves . . . for now."

I admit to myself that those words hurt. I hadn't expected them to, but they did all the same. Again, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do; I only know how I felt. His quiet change in manner encouraged me, along with his last couple of words . . .for now. It gave me hope that my son and I could somehow come to a truce of sorts. I knew one thing; his manner would have to improve a hundredfold before I would take any pride in calling him my son.

I awkwardly reached out to simply touch my hand to his face. He didn't pull away completely, but he certainly didn't acknowledge the gesture. I passed the act off as though I was checking his temperature.

"You're a bit feverish. I'll call Kuros."

I called out for the attendant, and bid him to send for the healer.

"So, does this mean I have to put up with her everyday? I suppose she already knows our little secret. Is that why she's trying to be nice to me?"

"Gods, boy! You're more paranoid than even I am. Maybe she's taking care of you because she's a wonderfully compassionate woman. Maybe it's because she sees something more in you than the insolent little child you've shown everyone so far. Maybe she's just doing it for me, because she knows I can't . . . or won't."

"I don't need her trying to win me over."

"Let me inform you, Solan. I am marrying Gabrielle, and she will be the Queen of this Empire. Now, whatever distaste you find in my consort being a woman, or whatever problem you may have with her because she was illegally held as a slave, you have two options. If you want to get along in this castle, you can get over it, or keep it to your self. I have neither the time, nor the inclination to deal with anyone that treats her with disrespect, least of all my son."

He rather flinched as I said, my son. It was the very first time either of us said the words aloud, and it sounded oddly foreign.

His shoulders slumped a bit, and I recognized the appearance of defeat in his body language. He was more boy than man, emotionally, and so I thought, just maybe, his confusion was genuine. He was caught, in a way. He was an abundantly proud young man, caught in the position of having to rely on others to care for him. He was smart enough to recognize the fact that he needed us right now, but he was just temperamental enough to hate himself for having to rely on someone else. Gods, how well I knew what he was going through.

"So, what am I supposed to do while she mothers me all day?" he asked. I did notice that the tone of his voice didn't hold that harsh edge to it any longer. It would again, of that I was sure. My young son was too much like his mother to let go of a grudge that easily. I suspected that his physical condition had pulled a bit of the fight from him.

"Do you play King's Men?" I asked, attempting to keep the laughter from my voice.

"Of course," he answered.

"You might engage her in a game. She's quite good."

He smirked, and Gods! It was like watching my own expressions. "I've been taught war strategy and theory all my life, and you want me to play a game of strategy with a woman who probably doesn't even see the need for war?"

I smiled, knowing what the outcome of a game between the two of them would be. "Trust me, Solan. Warriors come in all shapes and sizes, genders, and philosophical backgrounds. The truly great warriors are the ones who usually don't even know it until the time is at hand. Play the game . . . I think you'll be surprised."

Kuros's young apprentice came into the room and bowed deeply. "Lord Kuros is in the village, Lord Conqueror, but he is coming straight away. He bid me to begin mixing a medicine to reduce the Emissary's fever."

I nodded and thanked the young man, allowing him to carry on with his task. He went into the next room and sat at a table, using a stone carved mortar and pestle to grind some herbs that he removed from small leather pouches. Solan felt warm, but not burning with the fever. I didn't worry, knowing capable hands were delivering his care.

"I should leave you to your medicine and some rest," I said.

"Thanks," he said. His voice was sardonic, but I could see his lips were trying not to turn up in a smile. I hated feeling ill, but worse than that, I hated medicine. Kuros was sworn to secrecy, but on the rare occasions when I developed a fever, a huge gulp of honey was the only way I could tolerate the healer's usually foul tasting potions.

"Tell Kuros you want a spoonful of honey after. It will take the bitterness away," I suggested.

I moved toward the door to leave, but had to ask. "Solan, what you said . . . about Gabrielle the other day. Was it true?" I asked, facing the door.

There was a long pause before he answered and I wondered if he would try to drive the dagger in my heart, or if he would throw me a bone.

"No," he answered softly. "I . . . it was just to get to you."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I would never be completely sure that Solan was telling me the truth with this profession, but what touched my heart was his admission. If the event actually happened, my son was showing the first bit of compassion that he'd most probably ever exhibited to anyone. If he was telling the truth, then his consideration for how that knowledge would affect me was nothing short of amazing. Either way, it was a first step.

"Thank you, Solan." I answered before bidding him a good evening and leaving the room.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'm not sure how I looked, but my body language must have been enough for Gabrielle to immediately pour me a cup of wine. I slumped down onto the loveseat beside the fire.

"Well, no new cuts or bruises, so it couldn't have gone too badly," she teased.

She handed me my wine, and I took a large swallow before speaking. "It was very . . . different, almost confusing."

"How so?" she asked, taking a seat beside me.

I couldn't help but enjoy the sweet, clean scent of her, and the way her silk robe fell off one shoulder. It was apparent that she wore nothing underneath the robe, and once that thought was in my brain, all I could think about were her promises from earlier that morning.

I admit; I must be a pathetic mother, or just a sexual deviant. As soon as I thought about Gabrielle's promise to make me scream, I felt myself become wet with desire. I promised myself I would tell her about Solan in the morning.

"Xena, are you all right?"

"Hhmm?" I asked, while leaning toward her. I reached down and kissed her exposed shoulder. She chuckled slightly at my behavior.

"You're very cute when you're confused," she whispered, kissing the side of my neck.

"Please, Gabrielle." I tried to put on an affronted expression. I placed my cup on the floor, and pulled her slight body closer to me. "I'm a warrior. Cute is not really the look I'm going for."

She quickly moved to straddle my lap, continuing her affections to my neck and jaw. "But you do get that cute little puppy dog expression when you're confused about something."

I slid my hands along the tops of her thighs, grabbing her backside, and pulling her against me tighter. I teased myself by imagining the feel of her skin against my fingers. I anticipated that it would feel as soft as the silk of her robe.

"It's a very sexy look for you, Conqueror . . . being vulnerable."

"Oh," I half moaned. "Is that how you want me . . . helpless?"

"It's the way I want you tonight." She breathed in my ear. "Do you love me, Xena?"

"Completely," I answered in between kisses.

"Trust me?"


"Would you do anything to please me?" she asked.

"You know I would, little one." Gods, I was so whipped. I prayed none of my enemies ever found out. Ah, to Hades with them, I bet they aren't getting laid tonight.

"I want you tonight, Xena."

"You have me, love. Body and soul."

"I mean I want you. I want to take you."

My eyes opened in the middle of our kiss, and I pulled away just slightly. "What, like when I proved I was a rotten slave?" I grinned in nervous confusion.

"Even more." She responded in a low, husky tone. "I want all of you."

She placed both hands along the sides of my neck, massaging the area. She slid them into my hair, her nails raking along the base of my scalp. I'm not sure what it was about this little move of hers, obviously some sort of pressure point that I never learned. My scalp tingled deliciously where she ran her fingers, and I felt small sparks intermittently ignite in the area between my legs.

My eyes closed at this arousing pleasure, and I tilted my head back, listening to her words, and allowing her to mark my neck with her rough kisses. "I want to be your whole world, the only source of your gratification. I want to know that you belong to me. Tonight, I want to own you, Xena."

I can't say I was exactly certain of what she had in mind, but I knew two things. One, whatever she had planned, the satisfaction would be mind numbing. Two, when she used words like own and belong, we were talking about, as yet, uncharted area between us. I opened my eyes and swallowed hard at the intensity in those passionate emerald eyes.

I watched as she extricated her body from mine and stood. "I'll understand if you can't, Xena, but I want you to know, it would please me greatly if you could."

I could hear the plea in her gentle voice; see the desire in her gaze. In an instant, I thought of a hundred reasons why, in the past, I was unenthusiastic about submitting to another's will. I could think of only one, however, to accept Gabrielle's request.

I was quite unwilling to refuse this woman anything.

I took a deep breath and turned toward the door that led to the castle hallway. I pulled the heavy bolt over the latch. Whatever my lovely consort had in mind, I didn't want to be caught in a compromising position by an overzealous guard, especially if Gabrielle made good on her promise to make me scream.

I went to stand before her. "What do you want me to do?" I asked.

She smiled at that, and I know that no matter what, I would do anything to keep the light in that smile. She held out her hand saying, "Come make love with me."

I smiled broadly. "I can do that," I replied.

* * * * * * * * * *

She kept her own robe on as she undressed me. It was a good thing, too. Having her stand naked before me would have been just too much temptation to resist.

"Sit down." She indicated the edge of the bed.

I sat there, nervously watching as she opened the standing cabinet on the other side of the room. She brought a bundle over, and laid it on the bed beside me. I didn't know what it contained, but I was certainly no stranger to hedonistic delights. I assumed what the cloth covering contained. Gods, I was actually nervous. It wasn't that I didn't feel safe with Gabrielle, it was the not knowing what we would be doing, what exactly she desired of me. It was a fear of the unknown that began to attack me.

She stood in front of me, and let her robe slip off her shoulders, soundlessly falling to the floor. She stood there, just like that, for long moments. I allowed my eyes to take in every inch of her. When I saw what she reached for first, it became clear why she permitted me to take in the sight of her. She held out a long black cloth, and then stood between my parted legs.

I wasn't at all thrilled with being unable to see. It was ironic, though; that the last sight I would see, before she covered my eyes with the soft cloth, was the golden curls covering her sex. It was the intoxicating scent of Gabrielle's arousal, which convinced me to comply with her unspoken demand.

She tied the cloth lightly, but sufficiently to block any trace of shadow.

"Lie back," she said, and helped me to position my body in the middle of the large bed.

I felt the heat coming off her as she straddled my belly. When she rested her body against mine I could feel her wetness, and I began to wonder just whose pleasure this seduction was for. I felt her body lean against me as I tried to imagine what she might be doing. When her breasts touched mine, I couldn't contain myself, running my hands up her back.

She chuckled at my lack of restraint, taking my hands and bringing them over my head. I have to give the girl credit. She tried to gentle me every step of the way, and it led me to believe that she'd done this before. I could be so thick some of the time. My future wife had lived half her life as a body slave, yet I always got a mental picture of Gabrielle as rather an innocent. I think that notion was about to be dispelled in a big way.

She brought my hands up until they nearly touched the large headboard. She opened my hand with her fingers and placed something in my palm. I should have known what it was right off, I mean, I'd used them myself once or twice in my lifetime, although I'd never been on this end of the situation.

I tugged on the straps. They were a soft leather, but thick and strong. Once I had my wrists strapped into these, there would be no escaping. I could feel my breathing deepen. It was an involuntary response, as if there were not quite as much air in the room as before. I was going to say something in the way of a refusal, but suddenly Gabrielle's upper body was lying pressed against mine, and her mouth covered my own. Her tongue began to do some amazing things that I honestly felt all the way to my toes. My heart rate escalated a bit more, but now it was from desire. Her fingernails gently ran up the sides of my torso, continuing along the length of my raised arms. What saved me was my absolutely, one-track mind where this woman was concerned. I figured as long as she kept touching, and kissing me this way, I would barely notice I was tied down.

When she tightened the last strap, an odd feeling passed through me. My flesh no longer felt heated. On the contrary, a cold, clamminess settled on me. A light sheen of sweat covered my skin that had little to do with arousal or anticipation. I recognized the sensation as fear.

Images flitted back and forth across my mind's eye. I tugged on the straps that bound my wrists, realizing that I would be hard pressed, even in an emergency, to escape from my confined state. Suddenly I was thinking the most outlandish thoughts. In this position, someone could do anything they wanted to me. Gabrielle was in a position to hurt me, if not kill me. I couldn't see, couldn't move. I was well on my way to an anxiety attack.

All at once Gabrielle was there, her body pressed against my skin, her lips meeting mine. She kissed her way around to my jaw, and then up to my ear, her hands rubbing my arms.

"I'm right here, Xena. It's just the two of us, love."

Her kisses moved along the corded line of my neck.

"This is only about love and gratification, Xena," she said softly. "I won't do anything you don't want me to, and I'll stop anytime you ask me to, no questions asked. I won't cause you any pain other than what you find pleasurable, and I won't ever humiliate you."

I think I might have asked her to stop right then and there, if at the moment her words ended, a warm mouth hadn't enclosed the nipple of my right breast.

"Gods!" I cried out sharply. The combination of adrenalin coursing through my body, and nervous tension simply accentuated the satisfaction of the sucking motion. When her tongue got in on the action, my whole body was flooded with warmth.

She slid down the length of my body, and I quickly parted my legs for her. I felt her tongue on my belly, making little swirling patterns on my skin. In my mind, I could see every move she made. I felt that same tongue licking its way along the edge, tracing the outline of the black triangle of curls.

"Xena, I'm going to do something, and if you don't like the sensation, tell me, and I'll stop." She kissed her way along my inner thigh, placing a gentle kiss on the heated, very wet flesh between my legs.

"Ohhh," I moaned at the sudden loss when she pulled away.

I felt two or three fingers feeling their way slowly along the line of flesh where thigh met labia. Almost as if she found the spot she was searching for, Gabrielle pressed inward quickly, and I felt a sort of popping sensation there.

"Sweet Athena!"

"Should I stop, Xena?" Gabrielle's voice held a tinge of concern, but I was rather lost to it.

"By the Gods, don't you dare!"

If she had asked me to beg, I most certainly would have. My entire sex throbbed, that was the only word that came to mind. It was as if my clit was being subjected to a delicate massage, but Gabrielle wasn't the cause, not directly anyway.

"Gods, baby . . . what . . . what is that you're doing?" I stammered.

I felt her smile against the skin on the inside of my thigh. "A pressure point."

"I know of no pressure point . . . that will do that."

"That's because you weren't trained as a concubine. Warriors learn the skills they need, and body slaves learn different skills altogether."

"The feeling, Gods it's . . . ohhh . . ." she swiped her tongue along the body part in question and I suddenly felt as if I were floating on a cloud of pure delight.

"It's meant to prolong the sensations," she murmured, her fingers beginning to run feather light touches everywhere on my body. "It will cause pleasure, but not release. I can keep you suspended in this state of excitement for candlemarks, but beware, Conqueror. The longer you wish to continue its effects, the more powerful your climax will be."

She slid along the length of my body, stopping to use her teeth and tongue along the way, until she whispered in my ear.

"I wouldn't want you to simply explode, my Conqueror."

I reached for her, to feel her skin, and the way she moved against me, but was stopped by the leather restraints. I groaned in frustration, even as her tongue was tracing the outline of my lips. My groans turned into languid moans when she ground her hips against mine, enhancing the pressure point's stimulation.

It was some time later, however when I learned the truth of her warning regarding the use of the pressure point. I was hovering between intense arousal and ecstasy, but no matter how hard I willed my body, I simply couldn't achieve a release. By the time Gabrielle removed her own particular version of the pinch, my orgasm very nearly stopped my heart. Now, candlemarks later, I lost count of the times she set the pressure point, then eventually released me.

What I was experiencing was unimaginable. I must have looked a mess. My muscles quivered in exhaustion. Sweat and my own juices drenched the sheet below me. The rather pathetic part was that I continued to beg for more.

I must have blacked out after the last climax because when I woke, I didn't feel Gabrielle. I heard noises beside the bed, however, and that feeling of anxiety rose a notch.

"Gabrielle?" I rasped. My throat was raw. Gabrielle was right . . . I screamed her name out to the heavens . . . more than once.

"I'm sorry, love," she was there in an instant. She lifted a cup of water to my lips, and I drank deeply. I felt a cool cloth begin its journey across my body, and I couldn't keep from moaning at this simple pleasure. She laid her body down along mine, stroking the flesh gently. She touched me everywhere, but wouldn't allow me to feel her pressed against me. She teased the, now saturated, dark curls covering my sex, and I could feel my desire beginning to smolder once again. My hips moved unconsciously toward her hand.

"Please," I whimpered.

I don't ever remember begging this much. In fact, I don't ever remember begging anyone before Gabrielle, for anything. Certainly not sex. She explained that the pleasure points, as she called them, could be addictive, and needed to be used in moderation. I begged and cajoled, promising her everything for one final release. In truth, I'm sure it would be final, because my body was showing some definite signs of wear. I'd never experienced anything remotely similar to this evening. All I could say was that Gabrielle was certainly putting me through my paces, and I was barely able to keep up.

Gabrielle moved her body over mine, and my breath caught in my throat when she initiated the pressure point once again. She ran the flat of her hands up along my rib cage, still not allowing her body contact with mine. She stopped at my breasts, gently stroking the overheated flesh in small, circular motions. Continuing her upward journey, she stopped at a point just below each armpit. I felt that same, quick jab press into my flesh, and that's when the heat began.

It first started as a sort of tingling sensation, followed by the feeling of pins jabbing at me. In another few heartbeats, my nipples felt like they were on fire. I pulled harder against my bonds over this than at any other time during the evening. It wasn't painful; it was arousing as all Hades. The sensation bordered between a desire to scratch an itch you couldn't reach, to wishing I could put out the inferno. When Gabrielle's tongue took long, slow strokes to cool the area down, I think I cried real tears. I shamelessly arched my back, thrusting my chest outward in hopes that she would take more pity on me.

The throbbing between my legs continued, too, and I wasn't sure which area needed greater attention. Finally, Gabrielle pressed her body against me, and what I felt between my legs made me cry out in relief.

"Is this what you want, Xena?"

Her own voice was rough and shaky, and I realized that she'd denied herself any release during all this time. She pressed the phallus into my wet folds to get it lubricated, using long strokes without any penetration. It had been quite some time since I'd used one of these toys on myself, and longer still since I'd been with a man. Just the thought of the penetration caused a new flood of wetness that made Gabrielle groan in satisfaction.

"Yesss, baby. Gods, please . . . do it, please, Gabrielle," I pleaded.

I was literally aching with need when Gabrielle pressed full into me in one long stroke. I had wondered if she held the toy in her hand, but I felt her pressed between my legs, and the straps around her thighs rubbed against my skin. Both her hands were on my hips, the phallus thrusting into me, and the pressure point massaging my clit, all at the same time.

The sensation was incredible. As she fucked me with the dildo, her mouth reached down to cover a fiery nipple.

"Harder, please . . . harder." I moaned, as I strained against the leather restraints.

"Harder here?" She thrust into me and my smile grew larger. "Or here?" She sucked the flesh harder, nipping at the tip of the flesh with her teeth as she pulled away.

"Dear Gods! Yes! Everywhere, harder everywhere!" I begged.

That's exactly what Gabrielle gave me, too. I could hear her breathing pick up, and listened her own moans of pleasure. I knew she was close herself

"Please baby, now. Let me come now." I asked weakly.

The moment the pleasure points were released, I could feel myself soaring higher. I was caught in that perfect spot, where it feels as though you're outside your body watching everything that is happening to you. I remember freezing, becoming completely motionless. I was barely breathing, but I could feel the heartbeats passing as if they were candlemarks. Then, all the feelings, and sensations, swirled, melding into one. They focused all their energy and direction back into my body. I could hear Gabrielle, crying out, and arching her body forward, determined not to lose contact with my body. I came with a scream of my lover's name, just as Gabrielle had predicted, again.

I didn't pass out this time, but it was sheer will alone which caused me to stay coherent. I couldn't even lift my arms. My muscles were shaky and uncooperative, so I lay there, patient and unmoving as Gabrielle released me from my bonds. She offered me more water and I downed the entire cup. Finally, we curled up around one another and fell into an instant slumber.

I believe that for all my fear and nervousness regarding the evening, I managed to fall asleep with a massive smile on my face.

To be continued in Chapter 9: "Woman or Goddess, which is she?"

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