Princess of the Realm part 17 by WarriorJudge

Part 17

The Conqueror loomed above her Queen, who was kneeling at her feet with tears trickling down from her green eyes. One by one all present in the palace entrance hall, the guards, the household staff, the Queen’s ladies in waiting, and the Corinthian subjects that took refuge, knelt down before their Sovereign Lord in deafening silence, not even mumbling ‘Majesty’ for they were all too awe-stricken to form and utter words. Out of reverence to their Deliverer, as though they were in the presence of a God, none lifted their heads or dared attempt to behold the terrible Conqueror.

The Conqueror, whose breath was deep and heavy, crouched over her Queen, and gently hoisted her up by her armpits.

“Rise,” the Conqueror whispered to the Queen, and the Queen made use of her legs.

With a mute gesture, the Conqueror offered her Queen her arm for support, and the Queen gladly took it.

They walked together in silence through the motionless corridor. Through the gauntlet covering the Conqueror’s forearm, where the Queen clutched, she could sense the heat glowing from her Lord’s flesh, and beneath her Lord’s skin she could see bulging veins pumping hot blood mired by lust and power.

When they passed by the Lady Satrina, the Queen stopped and touched Lady Satrina’s shoulder to garner her attention.

“Have my Lord’s grooms prepare a warm bath for my Lord and have supper brought up to the Imperial chambers, as well. Be sure to tell the cook to prepare both fish and veal.”

“Yes, Majesty,” the Lady Satrina whispered.

As the Conqueror and the Queen continued to walk, almost saunter through the corridors, the Queen caught sight of Thetis kneeling as all were. The Queen immediately threw a glance at her Lord to see if her Lord was eyeing the kneeling redheaded personal attendant, but the Conqueror kept her gaze fixated ahead.

The Royal couple reached the entrance of the Great Hall, where the Conqueror halted her gaits, looking down on her subjects, men, women, and children kneeling before her.

From behind one of the pillars, Cynna cautiously peeped at the Conqueror. Common sense led her to believe that it was best for her to stay out of the Conqueror’s sight. From her hiding place she saw the wild, glaring eyes and the wired, hulky, pumped up body and she realized she was witnessing the infamous blood-lust that up until that point she’d almost succeeded in convincing herself was a legend created for the sole purpose of invoking fear. Her mind quickly made the connection between what she was seeing and what she would face once Athena returned and a shiver ran down her spine.

“Subjects of the Realm!” the Conqueror addressed them, “The threat over the province of Corinth has been lifted. You have demonstrated great courage and resilience in the face of danger, and maintained superb order and restraint in spite of the peril posed against your lives and the lives of your families. I stand before you proud and content for having set my home and the foundations of this great Realm amongst you fine citizens of Corinth ! Rise!”

The subjects stood up with pride, admiration, and gratitude thudding in their hearts.

“All hail to the Lord Conqueror!” a spontaneous outburst erupted from the crowd.

“Hail the Lord Conqueror!” the crowd echoed with great enthusiasm.

“All hail to the Queen!” another cry came from a different direction.

“Hail the Queen!” the crowd roared.

The Conqueror and the Queen resumed their walk towards the Imperial chambers as the Queen’s ladies in waiting walked behind them. As they were climbing up the stairs, the Queen beckoned one of her ladies in waiting and told her, “Go to the dungeons and release her Grace Princess Terreis, her Grace Princess Sieglinde and Lady Cyrene from their confinements. Have the Imperial Guard Commander send word of my Lord’s victory to Athens and have him assign one of his men to supervise the dispersal of our subjects to their homes. Tell him that our subjects are not to see the dead on the palace grounds, for no one, least of all children, need ever be exposed to such horrors.”

“Of course, Majesty,” the Queen’s servant confirmed.

The Queen gazed at her Lord and her breath suddenly became labored and her breasts, though covered completely by the royal Amazon attire she was wearing, were conspicuously rising and falling in heaves. “My Lord and I are not to be disturbed before breakfast tomorrow.”

“Yes, Majesty,” the servant meekly murmured, curtsied before the Royal couple and went about her business.

The Conqueror and the Queen entered the Imperial chambers and stood facing each other in silence, as though they had forgotten how to talk to one another.

“You have acted in your capacity as Regent most admirably, my Lady,” the Conqueror said, her eyes wildly scintillating in the dimly lit chamber.

“Thank you, my Lord,” the Queen replied and modestly lowered her gaze to rest on her Lord’s belt and the whip-handle dangling from it. She wished to comment about her Lord’s battle on the palace grounds but she found herself speechless – there were simply no words for it.

After some time had slipped between them without words, the Conqueror turned and went to the bath-chamber within the Imperial suite. Through the chamber walls, the Queen could hear the muffled sounds of the Conqueror’s grooms greeting their Master and the sliding sounds of the sheathed sword being removed from her Lord’s thigh, the metallic clanking sounds of the breastplate being taken off and the metallic clinking chainmail being pulled off, then the gauntlets and the greaves. She heard their footfalls nearing the bath-chamber door, next she heard them tapping across the Imperial bedchamber. Shortly after they appeared from behind the opened doors, in the antechamber genuflecting before her one after the other as they passed her by, carrying in their arms all the tools of war, taking them back to the armory, no doubt, to be cleaned, oiled, honed and polished, she thought. Her eyes followed them fastidiously till she spotted the groom holding the Conqueror’s whip.

“Leave it here,” she told him.

The young man was puzzled, but he hid it well as he placed the Conqueror’s whip on a table and continued on his way out of the Imperial chambers and join his fellow grooms on their way to the armory.

Alone, the Queen thought with a small sigh, finally they were alone. She closed her eyes and allowed the tension of that terrible day to fade away from her body and mind. She knew well what was expected of her and she had to prepare herself for what was about to come just as her Lord had had to prepare before setting out to war. This was her craft, her mastery, her skills, and her field.

She began to disrobe. Her ladies in waiting, she thought, couldn’t prepare her for what she was about to face and receive, in the same way that her Lord’s grooms had prepared her Lord before her mission. She freed her breasts from their confinement and in her mind’s eye, images of her Lord commanding the most feared beasts in nature with a whip flashed before her eyes, and she licked her swollen lips with delicious anticipation.

When she unbuckled her belt and pulled down her skirt, she heard a splash of water coming from the bath-chamber. Her Lord, she thought, had disrobed of her dark blue chiton, black leather trousers, and breeches and was now leisurely soaking her strong chiseled body in the warm scented water. She imagined it in her head. It had been so long since she had clapped her eyes on her Lord’s robust nakedness.

When she was naked, the Queen washed her face in the basin then ran a scented piece of moist cloth over her body. She then took a small polished sheet of pure silver so to see her reflection being mirrored back, and held it close to her features. She mixed her oily red color and delicately and meticulously accentuated the natural color of her lips, careful not to smear it outside the outline of her lips. It would please her Lord, she thought as she smiled to herself.

Another image came to her when she brushed her golden hair, the image of her Lord standing before her on the palace grounds, covered in the blood of her enemies and the massive beasts cuddling against her, seeking her Lord’s affection and licking the blood off of her, grooming her. Her Lord was more than a Lion; her Lord was the king of Lions, nay, the Conqueror of Lions. That notion made desire tingle all over her body.

Next, the Queen unbuckled her collar from around her thigh and fastened it around her neck. Her mind presented her with another memory – Her Lord wielding her sword and the way her body had moved to evade her opponents’ strikes, and the mighty smites that her Lord had delivered, such powerful blows with utter control and dominance, like a dance of war that her Lord had known all the foreseeable steps to. And when she took a small knife to trim the golden patch between her legs, she realized how wet and slick she had gotten. It had been too long since last she had been one flesh with her Lord and her passions knew no limits.

Her Lord was beleaguered by battle-lust; perhaps more than her Lord had ever been before, the Queen knew, as she rubbed scented oil into the sensitive flesh to preen her womanhood. Nothing mattered, she thought. Not a thing on earth mattered at that moment; not the disagreement about the marriage, not her Lord’s alleged infidelities, not the Realm, not her own guilt, not even their family. Nothing mattered but what would soon take place in the Imperial bedchamber, their place of worship – their temple.

When she was ready, Gabrielle waited on her knees before the bed, trembling.

The Conqueror emerged from the bathroom after the long immersion in the soothing water, well scrubbed from the filth of war. Donned in her long, brocade, dark robe, the Conqueror strode slowly into the bedchamber.

Gabrielle gaze was buried in the ground. She didn’t need to look up or to listen in order to know that her Lord had entered the bedchamber. She could sense her Lord’s despotic presence thickening the air and sucking all light and sanguineness. Her heart thumped so rowdily in her chest that she believed it climbed up and lodged itself in her throat.

Large feet invaded Gabrielle’s range of sight. She could imagine, as she had done so many times in past years, how her Lord looked like casting an enormous, lofty shadow over her, the only shadow in the world that cast heat.

Dark blue glare hovered over the chamber and landed on the whip, resting on the desk then arcing downwards. It was late and her woman was already there. The Conqueror observed the body at her feet, and discerned the minor changes it sustained over the years since the first time she had gorged on the sweet, tender flesh. It was still tight, firm and even better-toned. The Conqueror leaned down, roved rough fingers through the golden hair and with a violent yank upwards, forced Gabrielle’s head up and the green, subdued eyes to pay heed.

A long, peremptory finger directed to the bed.

Gabrielle got up quickly so as not to keep her Lord waiting and laid her body atop the bed, like an offering on an altar. As she brushed a glance and observed her Lord, she knew in her soul that something was amiss, perverse. At first, she thought perhaps her Lord had already satisfied her battle-lust with other women, but it couldn’t have been. She could see battle-lust cascading down her Lord’s form in gushing currents .

Still, it seemed frightfully known to her. She was facing the ruthless Master of many years ago, however; not the one that had branded the insignia into her shoulder-blade, but the utterly indifferent one that had touched her dispassionately, and had remained impervious, as if engaging in some benign task rather than taking all kinds of sexual pleasures.

“On your stomach,” an even, abstained voice ordered her.

Gabrielle turned over to lie on her stomach, hoping to feel the lash of her Lord’s whip soon. When it did not come, she lifted her head and turned it in order to see, but a rough hand pushed her head down into the sheets.

Gabrielle fixated her gaze on her Lord’s shadow, which was cast on the western wall of the bedchamber, and saw her Lord parting her robe open, not fully discarding it. Soon after she felt her Lord stepping forward and felt her Lord’s robe tickle her feet. Then a pair of large hands moored themselves into the sides of her hips and her hips were lifted upwards to fit her Lord’s height.

And like that, her womanhood was filled. The act was no more than a vertical rending devoid of any expression of emotion, neither gentle nor violent. Her Lord paid no attention to any of her bodily tokens, save for the crevice her Lord was using.

It couldn’t have been more than seven or eight trenchant thrusts before a strained, stifled grunt was emitted and Gabrielle felt her Lord withdrawing out of her, leaving much to be desired. Disappointment wasn’t the word for it.

The ache in Gabrielle’s body was nothing compared with the wounding ache in her soul.

She heard her Lord staggering to her feet, than trudging towards her favorite armchair by the fire and slumping into it.

Gabrielle did not move right away. She harbored hope that her Lord would return to bed, but a few moments later she heard deep, even breathing coming from the armchair. Her Lord had fallen asleep, without even touching the food that had been brought up.

Absolute consternation overwhelmed the Queen. Profound, unspeakable, unimaginable fear and terror gutted her. She had never been more frightened in all her life except for when on route back from Persia many years ago when she’d thought her Lord had died of the sweats.

A tempest of thoughts swept through her mind when tremendous pain throbbed everywhere in her body, inside and out. Her Lord had not and would not forgive her.

She moved to occupy her side of their bed and rolled her body into a tight orb, hugging her legs.

The only time in their shared past that her Lord was able to control her battle-lust was when the Queen had been with child and her Lord had returned from Cyra after quelling the mutiny lead by Nobleman Perous, whose child she had saved. Back then, her Lord had been loving and it had been only with her help that her Lord had managed to arrest her brutal lust so as not to cause injury to her pregnant Queen and unborn child. Her Lord was lost to her. She did not deserve forgiveness and her Lord had never been forgiving.

The Queen clung to hope that perhaps her Lord had simply been too tired. After all, she thought, her Lord had fought in Thessaly then had ridden all the way back to Corinth and had fought against Likos’ men. Perhaps it had simply been extreme fatigue after recent grueling events.

The next morning the Queen woke up alone in bed. She got up and went to her Lord’s armchair, only to discover it empty. Her Lord had already gone out to start her day.

She put on her gown to cover her naked body when a knock on the doors to the Imperial chambers drew her attention to them. Her ladies in waiting arrived to attend her and prepare her for her day.

Her ladies in waiting walked into the Imperial chambers, approached their Mistress and curtsied before her.

“Good morning, ladies,” the Queen greeted them.

“A warm bath is ready for your Majesty,” one of them told her.

When the Queen finished bathing herself, she wrapped a dry towel around her body and went into the bedchamber.

“Is my Lord waiting for me in the Dining Hall?” she asked.

The ladies looked mutely at one another before one of them said, “The Lord Conqueror has already eaten breakfast and is currently in the dungeons, conducting an inquest, interrogating the traitors imprisoned.”

The Queen tried to hide her disappointment. “Dress me,” she requested with a dry mouth, holding her chin up.

The Queen’s ladies in waiting exchanged looks between them for the second time that morning. Years in the Queen’s service had taught them that for several days after the Conqueror would return from the battlefield, the Queen would insisted on dressing herself without their assistant, not allowing a soul to catch sight of her naked form, and they had all known what their Mistress was trying to keep hidden.

Lady Astraea took the towel off the Queen’s body while two other ladies in waiting brought a beautiful frock out from the closet to dress the Queen in. When the Queen’s body was exposed, the ladies saw not a single mark on her bare figure.

Upon seeing the unblemished skin, they all knew there was something wrong. The despondent expression on their Mistress’s face and her tense body confirmed their suspicions.

Lady Astraea began to dress the Queen, and when she tied the laces of the frock at the Queen’s back she felt compelled to say with a motherly tone of voice, “A nice stroll in the fresh air after breakfast would do your Majesty a world of good.”

Inwardly, the Queen knew that all the fresh air the world would not change a thing.

“I wish to see my daughter,” she told them.

“Yes, Majesty,” they all murmured and once the Queen was fully dressed they all made their way to Princess Terreis’ chambers.

When the Queen entered Princess Terreis’ chambers, the child was brought to her. The Queen picked her daughter up in her arms and held her tightly against her body to the point where little Terreis began to fear that something was wrong with her mother. As the Queen held her daughter in her arms, her heart longed for her eldest, who had always given her great succor. She couldn’t help but worrying for Princess Athena’s safety on her long journey at sea to the Nordic Lands. Princess Sieglinde had told her that it would take over a moon to get from Corinth to the Nordic Lands. The Queen thought it was too long and too dangerous. Many lose their lives at sea, not by storm or by the waves, but by diseases. It would be awhile before she would receive word from her firstborn.

“Mother, my Sire came to visit with me this morning,” Terreis said when the Queen put her down.

“My Lord, your Sire, returned yesterday and defeated our enemies,” the Queen smiled, immensely proud, and watched as her daughter nodded her head with joy.

“My Sire said that the lions helped,” Terreis began to laugh, but the Queen’s eyes began to weld up with unshed tears.

“Be sure in your heart constantly that my Lord, your Sire bears us great love and will protect us always, sweetheart,” the Queen said and her voice quivered.

***

Meanwhile, down below, in the foulest place in the Corinthian palace, the Conqueror was interrogating Sirus and his sons in one of the torture chambers, not far from cells where the rest of the prisoners, Likos and his family and household staff and the rest of Sirus’ family and household staff, were kept. The Conqueror wanted all of them to be within hearing distance from the torture chamber, so that they would not miss a single scream or whimper stemming out of pain.

In the torture chamber, a sizable stony chamber, there were no windows, not a ray of light and no hope of any kind. The torches flickered against the mothy, sooty stonewalls and filthy straw was scattered across the flagstone floor to absorb the blood and the feces. Chains were fixed to the walls, stained with dried blood of former prisoners, mutely testifying to the horrors of past anguish and savagery. In each corner of the bleak chamber stood several barrels that contained fetid water.

The Conqueror sat on a large wooden chair with a high backrest and spacious armrests, which stood on a dais. Four Imperial guardsmen stood to each side of the chair. To her left stood a table displaying an array of knives, hammers, brands and pincers and on her right an iron barrel with burning cinders glowing inside.

Sirus and his two sons were naked and chained to three heavy crosses in front of the Conqueror. To each side of them stood the Empire’s professional torturers, whose sole trade was to cause as much pain as humanly possible. Next to where they stood, sat two more tables upon which rested tools of torture.

“You will answer all my questions,” the Conqueror said to Sirus . “For each question that you fail to answer, your sons will suffer the same torment that I’ll inflict upon you.” The Conqueror leaned into the backrest, seeming almost lukewarm. She knew that Sirus would be quicker to break if he was made privy to the torture of his sons. “Shall we begin?” the Conqueror asked and rubbed her hands together.

Sirus tried to struggle against the chains.

“When did you first meet to conspire against me?” the Conqueror asked.

Sirus turned his head away and remained silent.

“The hard way, then,” the Conqueror mattered and rose to her feet. She took a pincer and approached Sirus.

With her, the other torturers took the pincers on their tables.

The Conqueror clamped the pincer on Sirus’ fingernail and yanked it out, leaving the finger bare and bleeding. A horrible scream escaped Sirus’ lips. The other torturers repeated the Conqueror’s actions on Sirus’ sons.

When the screams subsided, Sirus spat at the Conqueror’s face.

The Conqueror did not lose her temper, but remained in perfect control. She would not kill him so easily. She wiped his saliva off her face.

“When did you first meet to conspire against me?” the Conqueror repeated the question and shoved the iron branding rods into the flaming embers.

The Conqueror had to repeat that question until Sirus and his sons had no fingernails left.

“About a moon after the Royal wedding,” he finally answered, thinking that piece of information wasn’t worth keeping for such unbearable pain.

“Whose idea was it?” came the Conqueror’s next question.

“Likos'” he was quick to confirm the Conqueror’s suspicions. Obviously, he figured Likos wasn’t worth his suffering.

“Who else was attending this meeting of yours?”

“Drusus,” he quickly answered that question as well.

“Not much loyalty in you, is there?! But of course I already knew that. I elevated you to a nobleman and you betrayed me in return. What did Likos say to you that convinced you to join him?”

Sirus seemed only too eager to reiterate Likos’ words, thinking it would humiliate the Conqueror.

“Likos said that the Queen no longer let you in between her legs and if you could not control your wife then you were too weak to control the Realm. He was also adamant about reminding us that you were but a woman who had to squat in order to piss!”

He waited to see the Conqueror become livid, but what he saw was the Conqueror smirk. He realized that the Conqueror had just taught him a lesson in self-discipline.

The Conqueror brought the pincer to his genitals. When he felt the cold metal against his privates, Sirus cringed. The Conqueror’s smile widened on her lips when she glanced at Sirus’ seasoned, shriveled member and asked him wickedly, “What are you worrying about?! It’s not like you’ll ever use it again, lest you intend on swiving the rats in your cell when you await your execution… After all, it is the suitable measure to fit a rat.”

“No!! Please, no!” he yelled frantic, his eyes popping out of his head in horror.

“Calm down,” the Conqueror smiled a smile that made the blood in his veins freeze, “I will not cut your jewels…” she briefly looked down a second time then added, “such as they are, just yet. I shall cut them off in public for all to see.”

Cold sweat ran in rivulets down Sirus’ forehead and hairy back.

“Is the iron burning hot already?” the Conqueror asked her fellow torturers.

“Yes, Majesty,” they replied.

“Very good. Shall we proceed?!” the Conqueror asked and took out the orange-glowing branding rod from the fire, then turned to Sirus and ordered him, “Name your coconspirators.”

He wildly shook his head from side to side.

For the next candle-mark or so, the Conqueror left two dozen branding marks on his body, until it was covered with bloodied boils and swollen, mangled skin and flesh. His sons both suffered the same. Their screams and yells struck pity even in the Imperial guardsmen present. From the cells nearby, the cries and whaling of his women could be heard loud and clear. Wounded men in battle sounded differently than men being tortured. The only thing akin to it was the screams that had come from Likos’ men who had met the Conqueror’s lions.

Whenever any of the tortured lost consciousness, the torturers would throw squalid water over the prisoners so that they would regain it and suffer their agonizing pain fully.

During the horrific interrogation, Sirus gave up a few names of weaponry traders who had dealt arms to him.

The Conqueror knew that there had to be more. Sensing that Sirus had reached his limit for the day, the Conqueror ordered him to be cut down from the cross, to be returned back to his cell and his hands to be manacled so that he wouldn’t be tempted to kill himself, thus denying the Conqueror her pleasure.

After his beaten body had hit the muddied, dirty floor, the Conqueror went to stand over his scathed body, unbuckled her leather trousers, and lowered them down just slightly to expose her massive phallus. The Conqueror closed her fingers around it and waved it above his head. “This here is my measure. This here is the measure I give,” the Conqueror shouted then pushed her pelvis forward and relieved herself on him, making his open wounds sting as if spikes were scraping his flesh.

“Does it look like I’m squatting?!” her voice roared all the while.

It was the day that ushered dark times over the Realm. The Realm’s soldiers were dispatched to arrest the men whose names Sirus had mentioned, to be brought to Corinth and face the Conqueror’s merciless judgment.

A short while after noon, Thetis requested an audience with the Queen.

“Majesty,” she curtsied after she was shown in. “The Lord Conqueror requests your presence in the Great Hall to receive the bereaving families of the two hundred Imperial Guardsmen who had fallen, protecting the palace.”

The Queen’s ladies in waiting dressed the Queen in her regal attire and placed her crown atop her head, then escorted her to the Great Hall at the bequest of her Lord.

The Queen entered the Great Hall. All present bowed and curtsied before her as she made her way to her throne till she seated herself next to the Conqueror.

“Loyal subjects of the Realm!” the Conqueror addressed them. “I have gathered you all here today to pay my respect to the courage of your loved ones; your husbands, your fathers, your sons and your brothers. I owe you all a debt of gratitude for your great sacrifice and theirs. Know that their loss has not been in vain. In their deaths they have bequeathed us life. The price you’ve all paid shall never be forgotten.”

The Queen saw tears washing the faces of sad women and children and she could not stop her own for she had suffered a loss, as well.

The Conqueror continued, “Lift up your heads and be proud of your men as I am. They exhibited extraordinary and exemplary bravery, fighting few against many; their hearts strong in the face of dire circumstances and their resolve in performing their duty remained unwavering. They all died honorable deaths protecting their families and mine. There is nothing that I can give you that would ease your pain for their passing, but I will grant you all lands and handsome compensation so that you will all be provided for, for the rest of your lives. You are all our family from this day forth, and I vow before you all that those who plotted and orchestrated the events that led to their deaths will meet my justice. I shall be your avenger!”

The Conqueror and the Queen stood up. The Conqueror took off her seal-ring from around her finger and the Queen followed the Conqueror’s action and took her crown off her head and her seal-ring from around her finger. The Royals left the symbols of their station on their thrones before stepping down from the dais. They walked amongst the grieving families as though they were their subjects’ equals.

The Queen saw her Lord asking the family members for their fallen loved one’s name and the Conqueror would remember the soldier and tell his wife and children stories about him and how good a warrior he’d been. It amazed the Queen how involved and caring her Lord was and how patient. She noticed the gratitude on the mourners’ faces, for the acknowledgment and the participation of the Great Ruler of the world in their grief.

After the sun had set, supper was served in the Great Hall. The Conqueror and the Queen sat amongst the grieving families and not at their thrones as they ate.

***

The Conqueror was immersing in bathwater in the bath-chamber while Gabrielle was waiting, kneeling on the floor as she had done the night before. Battle-lust had not been spent yet, and the Queen hoped that that night her Lord would finally bestow her dark power on her. Her Lord hadn’t spoken a word to her since supper in the Great Hall had ended.

When the Conqueror finally appeared in their bedchamber, Gabrielle instinctively braced herself.

Alas, the Conqueror took from her no more than she had taken from her the previous night. The act itself was over in mere moments. The Conqueror never even pressed her body against hers. Gabrielle felt as if to her Lord she might as well have been anyone. Unsatisfied, Gabrielle’s fear grew stronger.

That night the Conqueror fell asleep in her armchair again, leaving Gabrielle alone in their bed. It was deliberate, Gabrielle knew, the Conqueror would not sleep beside her.

The next day, while the Conqueror continued interrogating Sirus and his sons, she was informed that her Legions had won the battle in the province of Rome and that Drusus and his family and household had been captured alive and were presently on route to Corinth .

The Conqueror ordered all three former noblemen’s possessions to be confiscated.

When darkness fell, the Conqueror’s use of Gabrielle’s body did not vary in any way from the previous couple of nights.

Before the Conqueror achieved her release, the Queen extricated herself from beneath her and turned around to lie prone on her back. Her tearing eyes sought signs of emotions in her Lord’s cold ones but there were none to find.

“Kiss my breasts,” her broken voice begged while her hands ran enticingly over her own breasts to provoke her Lord. “Caress my thighs,” her voice continued to plead as her hands slid down her taut stomach and over her inner thighs in an effort to elicit if only a sliver of warmth, of care of any kind. “Give me pain,” Gabrielle choked on her tears when she saw that the Conqueror was not responding. Her chin began to tremor as she prayed for mercy, “Speak to me, for my soul cannot bear your silence any longer.” Sobbing uncontrollably, she rose to sit on the bed, naked in her need and desperation.

The Conqueror stood in front of her stoic and unmoved.

Gabrielle climbed off the bed, went to the Conqueror’s desk where the Conqueror’s whip had been resting untouched and unused since one of her grooms had placed it there. She brought the whip to the Conqueror, and then knelt at her feet, offering the whip to her.

She tilted her head backwards and beheld the Conqueror with entreating eyes. “I beseech you to possess me with it,” she implored, her lips contorting downwards and deep sorrow grooving her features.

But all her pleas fell on deaf ears.

“I beg of you, tell me you love me . Take your pleasure,” she grasped the edge Conqueror’s robe and tugged it as if she could shake loose a flicker of sentiment from the cold Ruler towering over her. “Restate me as your Queen. Reclaim me as your wife.”

The Conqueror backed away from her without speaking a single word and turned to walk to her armchair.

“Be my Lord again, please!” Gabrielle exclaimed, out of her senses with complete devastation. However, facing the Conqueror’s indifference, her heart and soul fell to ruins that night.

The Conqueror did not turn to face her again. She yanked her robe from Gabrielle’s clutch and continued to walk to her armchair.

With war, it was easier for the Conqueror to harden her heart and it was now cloistered away, far away from Gabrielle’s reach.

After that night, Gabrielle could not keep on lying to herself that it had merely been fatigue any longer. When she woke up the following morning, alone in their bed once more, she remained lying there, lifeless.

Her ladies in waiting pleaded with her to rise, but their Mistress kept lying on her side unmoving, with her eyes open, staring at nothing, giving them no indication that she even realized that they had been speaking to her.

Lady Astraea sent one of the ladies to fetch Lady Satrina and when Lady Satrina failed to reach her friend and Mistress, she sent for the Conqueror’s mother, Lady Cyrene.

Lady Cyrene tried words and gentle supplications but to no avail. Eventually, she was resorted to gentle shakes to make the Queen rise.

The Queen finally lurched upwards and sat up in the large bed.

She looked at them as if she was surprised to see them there, and weakly muttered, “I have lost my Lord’s love.”

Several of the Queen’s ladies in waiting covered their mouths in dismay.

“With respect,” Lady Satrina rushed to respond. “Your Majesty must be mistaken. It cannot be true,” she whispered in panic.

“Oh, But it is…” the Queen spoke as if already resigned to the truth of her assertion.

“Majesty, perhaps you’re unwell…” Lady Cyrene suggested and touched a worried hand to the Queen’s forehead.

“There is nothing wrong with me,” the Queen insisted. “My Lord does not love me anymore.”

“How do you know?” asked Lady Astraea.

The Queen sighed deeply and boiling tears streamed down her distraught features. “A wife knows,” she replied with profound sorrow.

And then there was silence. No one could confront the Queen’s argument. The Queen got out of bed and went to her cupboard. She rummaged through the many garments that were hanging there for long moments in search for something till she found what she was looking for. She took out the plain cotton-made dress she had received to wear when she had entered the Conqueror’s service as a body slave.

She disrobed of her silk nightgown and dressed herself in it, much to the shock of the ladies present.

She then took off her collar from around her thigh and wore it again around her neck. “Ladies,” she said to them, “You are hereby dismissed from my service.”

All of them were too stunned to speak, as the Queen wandered off out of the Imperial chambers and walked through the palace’s corridors.

As the grief stricken Queen paced in the corridors aimlessly, a few of the household servants encountered her on their way to their daily tasks. They could not hide their shock when they saw their Mistress walking around in her servitude garments. Nevertheless, they all bowed and curtsied before her, mumbling in utter confusion, “Your Majesty.”

To which their Mistress scolded them, “Get up! What are you all doing?!” Her voice sounded mortified. “I am not your Queen, do you hear?! I am no one’s Queen.” She went on to rant to all who would listen, “I am my Lord’s humble servant.”
Part 18
“Go after her Majesty, and bring her back here!” Lady Satrina urged the Queen’s ladies in waiting. “We must contain this travesty and prevent the Lord Conqueror from finding out about this. Be quick!”

The Queen’s ladies in waiting dashed out of the Imperial chambers and chased after their Mistress.

“The poor soul,” muttered Lady Cyrene and hoped that Princess Terreis would never chance upon her mother is such a state.

“My dear friend needs the Lord Conqueror’s love like a flower needs the sunlight to thrive. Without it, she will perish,” Lady Satrina told the Conqueror’s mother.

“This cannot go on. We cannot allow the Realm’s subjects to think that their Queen has lost control over her faculties,” Lady Cyrene commented and shook her head.

“Someone ought to appeal to the Lord Conqueror to take pity on the Queen’s Majesty,” Lady Satrina stated firmly, subliminally hinting to the Conqueror’s mother to assume responsibility, knowing full well that none would volunteer for the perilous task or survive it. She herself wouldn’t entertain the notion of appealing the Conqueror herself.

“The Lord Conqueror will not stand for any meddling,” Lady Cyrene replied. “And in these dark times we live in, and without the Queen’s luminous light the Conqueror would not pardon any such interference.” The memory of the last time that she’d intervened in the Conqueror and the Queen’s affair when the Queen had been in the Amazon Lands was still clear and pristine in her mind. She was sure she would never forget how the Conqueror had banished her from Corinth just for exhorting her to make peace with the Queen.

Lady Satrina searched for an answer. Her first thought was Princess Athena, but alas the Heir was leagues away. After some time had passed, she came up with another idea. “I shall have Shamaness Smyrna of the Amazons come and tend to Her Majesty. Her Majesty has always told me how the Shamaness was a great healer, not just of the body, but of the soul as well.”

“You must use any means available to you,” urged the Conqueror’s mother, even though her stomach was full of complaints against the Shamaness.

“I intend to do just that.” Lady Satrina was resolute in her mind and on light and fast feet scurried to have the Shamaness brought to Corinth .

Meanwhile, a few corridors away, the Queen in her disturbed frame of mind searched after the chamber that she had occupied when she had been her Lord’s body slave. Princess Sieglinde, who was on her way to take breakfast in the Dining Hall, heard the Queen’s ramblings about not being Queen, but her Lord’s insignificant servant. Princess Sieglinde darted at once, careful not to trip over her long dress, to the spot where the Queen’s voice was coming from and was horrified to see her Mother-in-law in a slave’s attire.

She could guess for herself the reason for it. She placed an engulfing arm over the Queen’s shoulders and urgently led her back to the Imperial chambers, altering between telling all that came across her path that the Queen simply had eaten something that did not agree with her, and whispering calming words into the Queen’s ear.

Once inside the Imperial chambers, Lady Satrina and Lady Cyrene put the Queen in bed and allowed her to rest, both women grateful that the Queen was amiable enough and did not raise any protest.

“I think it is best if her Majesty were to stay in my own chambers for the time being. I wish to care for her Majesty and my ladies in waiting can be trusted not to have their tongues run away with them,” Princess Sieglinde whispered soon after the Queen had closed her eyes and succumbed to shallow slumber.

“I agree, dear child. Her Majesty best be kept away from the Lord Conqueror,” Lady Cyrene concurred. “We shall move her to your chambers as soon as she wakes . ”

***

Days came and went. The Spartan Legion that had since returned to Corinth was sent to track down and apprehend all those whom Likos and Sirus had named during their long, brutal and insufferable interrogations. The Spartan Legion performed their task relentlessly and efficiently.

It was then that the mass executions in the central square in Corinth began, where a large scaffold had been built by the order of the Sovereign. Each day at noon, a mob-like crowd gathered, edging close to the stage where the fresh scent of pine used to linger before the blood begun pouring, holding baskets of rotten vegetables and stones to throw at the shackled prisoners, shaking their fists in the air and yelling curses at them as they were dragged to be put under the Lord Conqueror’s blade. A few women circled the high platform selling wares to the gathered crowd, taking full advantage of the substantial traffic.

Each and every day, dozens of men were executed by the Conqueror’s own hand, for she was of the opinion that her subjects needed to fear her far worse than they needed to fear her soldiers. There were even days when so many executions were performed that the straw scattered over the planks of wood became too saturated to soak up all the blood and the condemned scheduled to be executed that day were forced to return to their cells in the palace, as their execution had to be postponed to the following day.

Some of the condemned lost control of their bodies and emptied their bladders and their bowels on the platform, adding foul odors to those of blood and sweat. Some seemed apathetic and silent as if they’d either accepted their fate or no longer cared – feeling at ease for not having to run away any longer and experience constant fear of being captured; others pleaded for the crowd’s help or for the Conqueror’s mercy; and there were even those who repented without begging the Conqueror for their lives but for the Conqueror’s forgiveness.

The Conqueror granted neither mercy nor forgiveness. The Ruler swung her arm over the heads of the kneeling conspirators and the only kindness she was willing to show them was that she removed their heads clean off their shoulders with a single smite of her sword.

Their heads were put on spears and were carried throughout the Realm.

Each night the Conqueror returned to her empty bedchamber, assuming that the Queen was sleeping in hers again. Her heart did not soften, not by a hair, but the other way around, it grew harder and colder. The Conqueror was enthralled by her viciousness and cruelty, as was required in order to insure and secure her hold on the Empire and in order to keep the promise she had given to the grieving families, whose loved-ones had fallen in Corinth .

The Queen’s mental state continued to deteriorate in an alarming manner. Princess Terreis was kept away from her so as not to cause the young child distress and anguish.

When the Shamaness finally arrived at the palace, Lady Satrina looked upon her as a savior and quickly rushed her to Princess Sieglinde’s chambers, where the Queen had been lodging for the past days.

The Shamaness sat next to the pale Queen and recognized an even greater sadness in her than the sadness she had witnessed when the Queen had stayed in the Amazon Lands.

She did not waste any time. She touched her hand to the Queen’s wet forehead. She could hardly believe how thin the Queen looked and how shallow her breath was.

“Hasn’t she eaten at all?” she asked.

The Queen’s ladies in waiting, as did Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting, shook their heads in the negative.

“We tried to pour some chicken broth into her,” Princess Sieglinde said.

“But her Majesty could not keep it down,” Lady Cyrene finished Princess Sieglinde’s sentence.

“We tried everything,” Lady Satrina spoke with desperate tears in her eyes. “Bathing her, feeding her… But her Majesty wouldn’t…” her voice trailed off. She was too distraught to speak.

The Shamaness asked one of Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting to put a pot filled with fresh water over the burning hearth, while her hands were busy taking some herbs out of the satchel she had brought with her.

“Something happened between the Lord Conqueror and our Queen. What was it?” the Shamaness asked. She knew that there could be only one thing that would cause the Queen such profound, debilitating sorrow.

All in Sieglinde’s bedchamber exchanged looks between them, not sure what to say.

“We have no time to worry about improprieties, ladies. Our Queen is in danger, you can all be sure of that,” the Shamaness urged them with a foreboding tone of voice.

It was Princess Sieglinde who took it upon herself to answer, “Her Majesty and the Lord Conqueror had a major dispute regarding the marriage between Min Herre, Athena, and myself.”

Lady Satrian continued Princess Sieglinde’s account of events. “Soon after the quarrel between them, her Majesty decided she would not share the Lord Conqueror’s bed and moved into her own chambers.”

The Shamaness shook her head slowly with severity about her as she stood over the pot and brewed her herbs, which gave out a strange odor as she stirred it over the fire.

The Conqueror’s mother glared at the Shamaness with a pair of reproachful eyes. “If you had kept better control over your apprentice and had kept that Cynna woman on Amazon Lands rather than let her come to Corinth and seduce Princess Athena by unearthly means, then none of this would have happened,” she accused.

“No, please,” the Queen’s words were carried on weak, labored breath, “It is no one’s fault but my own.”

The Shamaness removed the pot from the fire, poured the steamy concoction into a cup and brought it to the Queen’s lips.

“Drink, my Queen,” she said softly. “It will strengthen you.”

The Queen took a few sips and felt instant relief as she sensed the warmth of the liquid spread through her slender, haggard body, and took comfort in its familiar taste.

“Please, sit,” the Queen asked all the ladies around her bed.

Princess Sieglinde, the Shamaness, Lady Satrina and Lady Cyrene all sat around the Queen on her bed. Princess Sieglinde’s ladies and the Queen’s ladies took chairs and seated themselves in front of the Queen.

The Queen pulled herself to a sitting position and reclined back against the pillows, holding the hot brew in both hands. “I am to blame for this,” she began to say.

“Majesty,” Lady Satrina sighed, “You mustn’t…”

But the Queen gently hushed her friend with an upheld hand. “It is the truth,” she insisted and took another sip.

“Majesty,” Lady Astraea tried to assuage some of the Queen’s guilt that obviously tormented her. “No one suspected Cynna to be so greedy and a manipulative woman who cared for nothing but her own selfish aspirations for wealth and social standing – no one!” she said and threw an apologetic glance at Princess Sieglinde.

The Conqueror’s mother chose to pin her glare onto the Shamaness as Lady Astraea spoke, as if waiting to see what the odd-looking elderly Amazon had to say for herself or what sort of justifications she might conjure.

“She does not matter. Cynna has no bearing on the issue between my Lord and me,” the Queen dismissed. “My Lord hasn’t closed her precious heart to me for my disagreeing with her…not even for my defiance, but for a different reason altogether,” the Queen claimed then averted her gaze to Lady Satrina. “Your Princess Lao-Ling was one of the wisest women I have ever met,” she spoke to all of them but kept her tired eyes on Lady Satrina still, seeing how emotional her old friend was at the very mention of the late Princess of Chin. “Before I was married, this great noble woman gave me three advices. One of them was that I must never place anyone above my Lord. I remember thinking it was the easiest rule to follow for I could think of no other soul on earth I would place above my Lord. Princess Lao-Ling then told me that one day we might have children and that I must not place them above my Lord either.” The Queen paused and lowered her head, looking into the cup that she held in her hands. “But I have,” she muttered.

“Majesty,” Lady Astraea, who had always pined for children but was never able to conceive and bear children of her own, argued, “It is natural and understandable for a mother to put her children before anything else, even before her spouse.”

“That assertion might apply to all spouses in the world, but it does not apply to mine for no one is like my Lord, and the bond we share is like none other.”

Princess Sieglinde rested a gentle palm atop the Queen’s knee. She was perhaps the only one who could truly understand what the Queen was saying.

“That day when I saw my Lord fighting men and commanding beasts, I was reminded of something I suspect I might have forgotten. I have forgotten who my Lord is. My Lord is supreme power over all things.” The Queen paused again and prepared herself to further open her heart and reveal its secrets. “I foolishly and arrogantly got it into my head to set terms to my great Lord – ‘Either you annul the marriage or I shall keep denying you'”

The tears washed the Queen’s tortured features and her voice grew smaller as she went on to say, “When my Lord returns to me from war, My Lord harbors a great and terrible hunger, and when I’m in the presence of my Lord I feel the same hunger in me. I cannot explain it. It is like no other sensation I can think of and it is excruciating and enlivening. You cannot imagine how it feels to be touched by such demanding power and consuming desire. The hunger never leaves me until my Lord releases me from it.”

As the Queen was speaking, Princess Sieglinde was stroking the Queen’s knee in empathy. Lady Satrina had some idea also as to the meaning of the Queen’s words, for after all she had once been the Conqueror’s body servant as well, but she understood that the Queen’s experience had been far greater and more intense than hers could ever had been, for the Queen had the Conqueror’s love.

“Such is the bond between my Lord and me,” the Queen concluded, “and I willfully betrayed that bond.”

Then it became silent when they all seemed to contemplate the Queen’s words, until the Queen’s youngest lady in waiting said, “Surely, your Majesty can ask for the Lord Conqueror’s forgiveness.”

All present looked at her when the Queen said what everyone else already knew, “My Lord does not forgive betrayal.” It was the truth to which the central square in Corinth provided ample proof.

The Queen covered her mouth with a shaking hand, too weak and too distraught to form a clear thought. “What am I to do now?”

The Shamaness held the Queen’s hand in hers. Her Queen’s pain was her pain. “My Queen,” she spoke softly, “you must be strong for your daughter’s sake and for the sake of your position in the eyes of your subjects.”

Lady Cyrene nodded her head in agreement with the Shamaness’ words.

“Her Grace, Princess Terreis is asking about your Majesty constantly, for days now,” one the Queen’s ladies in waiting commented.

Lady Astraea’s eyes ran over all the women in the chamber, garnering their approval as she spoke, “We shall all assist your Majesty with functions and duties.”

“Indeed, we shall do so gladly, Majesty,” Lady Starina said with all sincerity.

And after a few moments, the Queen averted her watery bloodshot gaze to her daughter-in-law and asked, “And what should I do in regards to my Lord?” In light of the events that had led her to her current state she was afraid to trust her own judgment in matters concerning her Lord and so she sought counsel from her daughter-in-law, in whom she recognized herself or perhaps who she’d used to be.

Princess Sieglinde took a deep breath. She felt deeply honored that of all the women in her presence that were older than she was, the Queen asked for her advice in the greatest matter of all. The weight of the responsibility was not lost on her either and settled heavily on her shoulders.

“Your Majesty,” the young Royal began to say and her speech was unhurried and measured as if she were contemplating her words very carefully as she spoke, “I am unworthy and incongruous to give advice to the greatest Queen the world has ever known, and so I will say this…” she said and lowered her head in humility. “If I were in your Majesty’s shoes, I would have made myself available to the Lord Conqueror,” she said then looked around, blushing with embarrassment.

The Queen saw that Princess Sieglinde found it difficult to speak in such a large forum, since privacy was required and better befitting the content of the advice she was about to give.

“Please, ladies,” the Queen requested, addressing her servants, “Leave us for now.”

After the ladies left and the Queen and Princess Sieglinde were alone, the Queen encouraged Princess Sieglinde to continue. “Please, sweet Sieglinde, speak as freely as you wish for the more honest and unembellished your advice is, the better it will serve me.”

“Of course, your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde said and was now looking into her mother-in-law’s eyes. “I believe that your Majesty should return to the Lord Conqueror’s bed forthwith, no matter what your Majesty might face and no matter what treatment your Majesty might receive. It is my opinion that your Majesty should submit to her Lord’s will at any cost if what was once shared is to be restored.” Princess Sieglinde then leaned in to be closer to the Queen, and tried to hide the envy in her voice. “Your Lord has an appetite for you, Majesty.”

“My Lord has an appetite,” the Queen responded with a bitter scoff.

“Your Majesty mustn’t think this way,” Princess Sieglinde said. “A battle for your Lord’s heart is about to commence and your Majesty cannot afford to wallow in defeat before it even begins. Your Majesty is the strongest Queen I’ve ever seen, and I have no doubt in my mind that your Majesty will find her way back into her Lord’s heart.”

***

The Queen’s ladies in waiting, along with Princess Sieglinde and the Shamaness, circled around the Queen at all times and never left her side. They restored her back to health and provided her with much need consolation, till the Queen felt herself capable of visiting with her youngest without raising suspicions in the child that there had been anything other than the ordinary.

During those days in which the Conqueror was toiling arduously to cleanse her Realm of conspirators and collaborators – mornings conducting interrogations in the dungeons and by noon performing mass executions – fear was running rampant in many provinces of the Realm, not just in Thessaly, Epirus and Rome but in their neighboring provinces, as well.

A few men whose hands had been one with the traitors tried to flee, some even abandoning their families behind to fend for themselves, believing they had a better chance of surviving without the extra burden. However, doors were slammed in their faces for in those dark times, with the news spreading like wildfire from Corinth about the killings and with the headless corpses being dragged in the streets followed by the severed heads on spikes, none were foolish enough to harbor fugitives away from the Lord Conqueror – not for all the gold in the world. There was no escaping the Lord Conqueror’s vast grasp, and in those days people learned that there was a difference between greed and the Lord Conqueror: even greed, it would appear, had its limits – not so the Conqueror.

At the sound of soldiers’ footfalls marching in the streets, subjects of the Realm barred their doors and windows and kept still and frightened inside their homes, hoping not to hear beatings against their doors, anxiously waiting for the footfalls to pass by and further away till they could no longer be heard from outside.

When the Conqueror returned to her chambers at dusk, she went first to bathe so to wash the bloodstains off her person, then to eat supper in seclusion. Every evening, Gabrielle would wait naked in the Imperial bedchamber kneeling with nothing but the slave collar around her neck, waiting quietly for the Conqueror to finish her meal before coming to her.

The ritual never changed, though. The Conqueror took from Gabrielle nothing more than was absolutely necessary for her to sate her needs and gave absolutely nothing in return, not even a brief glance or a single syllable. Miserliness was across each and every one of the Conqueror’s handful of gestures.

It bewildered Gabrielle just how many contradictions resided within the Conqueror: extreme ruthlessness resided alongside extreme gentleness, intense hatred alongside intense love and excessive generosity alongside excessive stinginess. One thing was apparent and lucid above all else – the Conqueror did everything with passion, even her indifference was passionately displayed, Gabrielle thought.

It always ended in the same manner, as well. When Gabrielle realized that the Conqueror was done with her, which was customary a few short moments after the act had begun, she left the Imperial chambers, like a slave who concluded performing her function, like she had done in a different lifetime, and returned to Princess Sieglinde’s chambers, as she had promised she would for the betterment of her state, aching with hunger and empty of anything else.

***

The fleet under Princess Athena’s command neared entering the icy water of the North Sea . Her ship had made one quick stop at the borders of Britannia, knowing that an invasion via the sea hadn’t been expected and most Nordic warriors had been sent to battle on the borders of Northern Gaul . The Heir had enlisted the help of the local fishermen to advance ahead and sink the Nordic Lands’ docked and unattended fleet so that her forces would not meet even an extemporary resistance, should word about her coming reach the Norsemen, and to amplify the Nordic Lands’ devastation.

The weather was harsh and so was the icy sea. The strong, cold winds scathed the Realm’s warriors’ faces with cold-burns and it sometimes happened that everyone on board ran about from side to side, as the ships yawed to and fro with every gust and every wave as if there was no hand at the wheel.

However, these violent conditions did not bother Princess Athena, for other things, such as the battle ahead, preoccupied her mind. Never before had she commanded over an army by herself. She was burdened by the awesome responsibility she had to the Realm and to the thousands of lives that she would command on the battlefield. What equally troubled her was the possibility of not living up to her Sire’s great expectations. Failure or defeat was not an option.

Nevertheless, Athena was the Lord Conqueror’s progeny, and so she forced all such thoughts far and out of her mind, and focused entirely on the battle and on planning for it.

Dry land could not have been reached soon enough. The men on board craved war better than they craved the sea, for at least war would keep the blood warm. As soon as the Realm’s fleet landed on Nordic Lands, it began to snow.

After the last of the Imperial Guardsmen touched his feet onto Nordic Lands’ soil, they fell into ranks and awaited Princess Athena’s command.

“Warriors of the Realm! On our way to the battlefield we will pass through populated lands of the Norsemen. You will not harm unarmed civilians but you will tread carefully and be vigil at all times. Keep warm and maintain a good pace. You will kill them all in the name of our Lord Conqueror!” she shouted, and thus Princess Athena led them to the battlefield.

Princess Athena proved to be as brilliant and as devious a tactician as was her Sire. She deployed her forces masterfully so to cut the Nordic Lands’ warriors’ path of retreat into their own territory and to cut the lines of supply and communication. The surrounding of the Nordic Lands’ warriors was complete, leaving them trapped between Princess Athena’s forces and the Legions of the provinces of Britannia and Gaul .

Princess Athena took command over all of the Realm’s forces on the battlefield and issued orders to begin tightening the Realm’s ring around the Nordic army.

The fighting lasted for seven days, in which Princess Athena managed to force the battle back and deeper into the Nordic province. The Nordic Lands’ warriors were better trained and better organized than the armies that had been raised by Likos, Sirus and Drusus, but Princess Athena expected as much. What she did not expect, however, was to see a few women warriors amongst the Nordic Lands’ ranks fighting alongside the men. As her sword engaged in battle and as she spilled the blood of her wife’s kinsmen, she further realized that the Nordic Lands bred tougher women.

The Conqueror’s Heir showed no pity and her sword spared not a single soul. As she had been instructed, she ordered the men under her command to shout out her name as they fought and they all did as she commanded till her name could be heard louder than the clashing of weapons against weapons and shields.

The Realm’s warriors destroyed the Nordic Lands’ entire army down to the very last one. No prisoners were taken and none escaped. Princess Athena had never before fought a battle in the snow, and so she was mesmerized by how red the blood appeared, plentiful against the whiteness of the snow. Not a single drop disappeared into the earth.

Prince Baldr, Princess Sieglinde’ brother, was the last Norseman who remained standing. He stood horrified and alone, surrounded by the Realm’s warriors. He made an attempt to fall on his axe, but he was stopped by one of the Imperial Guardsmen and his weapon was removed from his hand by force.

Princess Athena, drenched in blood, ordered her field-groom to be brought to her. He was the one carrying the Conqueror’s crown for her. He gave her a clean cloth to wipe the blood off her face and presented her with the Conqueror’s crown.

Princess Athena placed her Sire’s crown over her head and looked around. Her men pounded the hilt of their swords against their shields and shouted her name so loudly that it reached the ears of the Norsemen who resided closest to the battlefield. It informed them of their bitter defeat and of the Realm’s victory over them.

To the Heir, their cries sounded like an affirmation that they trusted her, and that she succeeded in proving herself to them as their ruler. She remembered that the Conqueror had once told her that the warriors under her command must trust her in order for her to command over them. She realized that they had followed her lead and had obeyed her orders before victory was achieved solely because of her station, but henceforth they would obey her out of trust and respect for her command and capabilities; in other words, based on merit alone.

The Chief Commanders of the Legions of Britannia and Gaul approached her and bowed before her.

“Commanders,” she addressed them.

“Your Grace,” said the Chief Commander of the Legion of Gaul, “Fighting under your command was akin to fighting under the Lord Conqueror.”

“Did you expect anything less?!” the Heir retorted with a stern expression.

“Of course not,” he quickly replied.

“Order the men to kill all the remaining wounded and secure the area. Our wounded are to be treated by the healers. The enemy’s dead are to be stripped to their bare arses and all their equipment is to be loaded aboard our ships. Once they are done, they are to set camp before darkness falls. I will give you gold to purchase fresh provisions from the villages surrounding us. Tell the men to keep their cocks in their breeches. If I catch any of them raping a woman I will have them hang their cocks exposed to the wind and what won’t freeze off, I’ll cut off, am I making myself clear?”

“Vividly clear, your Grace,” the Commanders confirmed, grimacing and squeezing his thighs together against one another.

“I will not pardon any acts of looting, is that understood?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“No soldier is allowed to imbibe more than a single goblet of wine,” the Heir continued to deliver her orders.

“The men are not going to like it,” the Chief Commander of the Legion of Britannia commented, seeing before his eyes the benefit of the men under his command.

“The men will do as I command, or I shall punish them so severely that it would make them wish I’d allowed them to drink more and freeze to death over the night.” The Heir then paused and wore a wicked smile on her lips. “If they wish to keep warm, let them have women rather than wine.”

“By your will, your Grace,” the Commanders murmured.

“Now bring Baldr to me, and assemble a detachment of a hundred men,” the Heir ordered them.

As they left her presence, the Conqueror’s Heir walked through the killing fields and her eyes gauged the measure of the Realm’s fallen soldiers. As she treaded through the maimed lifeless bodies scattered in the snow, mindful of her steps, she recognized the bodies of two brothers who had attended the Military Academy of Rome with her. They had been a couple of years older than her, and had occupied the chamber next to hers in the Academy’s dormitory. She remembered how their mother, the Lady Demetra, would visit them during their trainings; she would always bring nut-bread with her when she visited and Cleon and Dexios would share it with her. After graduation, they had been posted by the Realm to serve as junior officers in the Realm’s Legion in northern Gaul and she hadn’t seen them since. Their father had died recently, she suddenly recalled hearing mentioned in passing.

Princess Athena knelt next to Cleon’s and Dexios’ bodies and observed their whitish faces and thought how they had lost the tan of the Roman sun, then her eyes moved down to the purplish complexion of their closed lips, then further down to the mortal wounds on their chests. There it was, the Heir thought – death, the end of life and living, the absolute finality of existence upon the earth. Cleon and Dexios would never marry, would never have children, would never laugh and love again and she would never see them again.

Princess Athena had fought on the battlefield only once before alongside her Sire against the Horde in Phrygia soon after she had graduated from the Academy. She’d been younger then and war to her had seemed like a game; the strategy, the tactics, the planning, the challenge of outsmarting your opponent, and the overpowering of the enemy when facing him on the field. War is not a game. War is not a challenge. War ends lives. War creates widows and orphans. War bleeds one dry. War wrecks pain and sorrow even when it is won; therefor war has to be avoided if possible, she understood her Sire’s lessons to her. The Conqueror’s Heir finally grasped the true meaning of her responsibilities. Whenever she would lead men into battle, it would be her and no other who would be held accountable for the lives of the men under her command and it was that understanding that was at the foundations of a great ruler.

Princess Athena called out to her groom, and pointed at her dead subordinates. “Have these two cremated and storage their ashes with my personal belongings. I myself shall return them back to their mother,” she said. When her groom left, she looked over and saw the dead bodies of the Nordic warriors.

It was the first time she noticed their faces rather than their eyes or their necks or their arms and legs or chest, in search for an opening to plunge her weapon into their flesh. There were fifteen thousand of them lying dead, men she had killed or those who warriors under her command had killed by her orders. It was such a staggering number. Fifteen thousand families’ lives would be altered forever. The Heir knew it hadn’t been the Realm that initiated the first act of aggression and that she had been defending the Realm’s subjects. Nevertheless, she had spilt their blood and it laid heavy on her. She wondered whether her Sire had ever given thought about all the many lives she had taken or whether her Sire had been carrying it with her, as well.

The Heir lifted up her head from the killing fields and surveyed the vast scenery around her. Her wife had been right, for there were no words to adequately describe the humbling beauty of it. She decided that one day she would take her wife and bring her back to her beloved homeland to travel together and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of her childhood.

Some time later, the detachment was ready and the Chief Commanders returned to Princess Athena, dragging her brother-in-law Baldr with shackles around his hands and feet. They threw him to the ground, to kneel before the Heir.

Princess Athena and Baldr glared at each other for the longest time, studying one another for the first time. Princess Athena could easily detect the resemblance between her captive and her wife.

He was the first to speak, only he spoke in his native tongue, and before he finished the Heir delivered a forceful slap to his face with the back of her hand, making two of his teeth fly out of his mouth followed by trails of blood that splashed against the snow.

“What did he say?” asked the Chief Commander of the Legion of Britannia, curious to know what had earned Baldr the strike.

“I do not speak his language, but whatever he said sounded unpleasant,” the Heir grinned, relishing the blood-lust hammering in her veins. The Commanders burst into laughter. “What we have to say to each other can keep until we are in Corinth ,” the Heir continued. “I shall take him to his former palace via the streets, for the Norsemen need to see their ruler conquered and their ruler’s conqueror.”

“Very good, your Grace,” said the Chief Commander of the Legion of Gaul.

“Have fire signals sent from the nearest beacon, informing Corinth that I have defeated the Nordic Lands in the Lord Conqueror’s name,” Princess Athena ordered.

“By your will, your Grace.”

“I shall return to camp tomorrow.”

With the Conqueror’s crown upon her head, dragging Baldr behind her by a long, iron chain, the Conqueror’s Heir rode along with the detachment through the streets leading to Baldr’s former place of abode, the palace in which her wife had grown up. The streets were silenced by the stinging defeat and mute lamentation. They gazed upon their conquered prince with disdain in their eyes and at their conqueror with fear and acceptance.

When they reached the Nordic palace, Baldr’s wife and their household were captured and placed under arrest. Princess Athena searched the palace for her wife’s former chambers. When she found them, she entered them and allowed her eyes to peruse through them in leisure. She saw her wife’s dolls sitting on the bed, some scrolls resting on the nightstand, her wife’s clothes inside the chests, fishing rods, shoes, brushes, pins and caps and many such items, which had served her wife throughout her early days before she had become of age and had been sent by her father, far far away to be married off to a complete stranger.

Princess Athena touched a few of the items with the tip of her fingers. She ordered one of her men to load the entire contents of her wife’s chambers on one of the ships.

“I wish to surprise my wife,” she explained.

The next day they returned to the camp.

“Military regime is in effect until such time that the Lord Conqueror appoints a new governor to the Realm’s province of the Nordic Lands and assembles and assigns a Legion to these parts,” the Heir told the Chief Commanders. “A detachment of twenty of the Imperial Guard’s warriors on horseback is to accompany me back to Corinth .”

Part 19
When the fire signals reached Corinth, heralding the defeat of the Nordic Lands, the Queen and Princess Sieglinde were sitting together in the Imperial Library, reading for some distraction. It was Lady Satrina who came bearing the good news. Such wonderful news caused the Queen and Princess Sieglinde to forgo their customary regal reserves and all three women embraced each other with tears of joy and relief in their eyes and free, careless laughter on their lips. During those dark times in the Realm of torture, relentless persecution and bloodshed, good news was in short supply.

There was nothing the Queen wished better than to run to her Lord and share with her, her mirth that their eldest was alive and on her way back to Corinth after having vanquished the Realm’s enemies. However, they no longer shared such a bond between them and before the Queen began to drift into her own despair, she suddenly noticed that Princess Sieglinde’s tears of joy had turned into tears of grief and mourning. Sieglinde’s tears soon turned into loud sobs and the Queen caressed the wet cheeks.

Lady Satrina pushed aside the parchments that were scattered over the oak table before the royals, poured a cup of water and handed it to Princess Sieglinde to drink and calm herself.

“My homeland… My people…” Princess Sieglinde barely managed between sobs. “I imagined I would be strong enough to…” she mumbled between quivering lips. “It is not out of disloyalty to the Realm, Majesty,” she tried to explain her strife to her mother-in-law, “but I know the atrocities that are an integral part of war… the rapes, the senseless butchery… I cannot stop my heart from grieving for my people.”

“Shhh…” the Queen hushed the Nordic Princess and tightly hugged her shoulders. “Warriors of the Realm are bound by my Lord’s code of purity of weapon. Unarmed civilians are never to be harmed and women are never to be taken against their will. My Lord does not tolerate even the slightest disobedience or deviation from her law.”

“Of course, Majesty,” the young Princess said and sniveled in an effort to stop the sobs. “Please, forgive me for I did not intend to cast any blemish or any doubt…”

“Do not trouble yourself, your Grace,” the Queen rubbed her palm against the Princess’ back to calm her.

Princess Sieglinde raised her bloodshot eyes and directed her gaze to the Queen’s. “My brother is alive still, is he not?” she asked with a small voice, croaky by profound concern.

“If my Lord’s treatment of Likos, Sirus and Drusus is any indication, then your brother is still alive and on route to Corinth to face my Lord’s judgment,” the Queen answered as softly as she could and wondered if her words were any consolation, for her Lord meted severe punishments, far worse than death on the battlefield.

Renewed streams of tears slid down from the grey eyes. “Poor Baldr… So foolish and proud… I thought I could be brave enough to accept his inevitable fate… But I don’t think I can.”

The Conqueror had been promoting the knowledge of the extensive torture methods that the traitors suffered in the palace dungeons by her hand.

“Sweet Sieglinde,” the Queen spoke like a mother, “I shall beg my Lord to pardon your brother.”

“I am profoundly grateful for your gracious Majesty’s graces, but the Lord Conqueror will not pardon such acts of sedition and insurrection. All I can hope for is leniency and pray the Lord Conqueror to grant my brother a quick death.”

The Queen knew that Princess Sieglinde was right to think so. In the past, her Lord had been willing to spare Phillipon’s, her previous owner’s daughters, because no one outside Amazon Lands had been aware of their offence against their family. With the Nordic Prince it was different, for the entire world knew about his betrayal. Therefore, the Conqueror would not spare his life and would execute him in public for all to behold and dread.

“I shall appeal to my Lord and beg for leniency, then,” the Queen offered wholeheartedly.

“With respect, I do not wish to further add burden to the discord already existing between your Majesties, and moreover, Baldr is my brother, therefore, it is I who should be the one to plea in his behalf,” the Nordic Princess answered.

That morning was the day of Sirus’ and Drusus’ executionsand first of the three days of Likos’ execution. The Conqueror had promised Likos that his dying would last for days and the Conqueror had never gone back on a promise.

Contented that she had extracted all necessary information out of them, the Conqueror stood in the dungeons and watched as the three former noblemen and their families and households’ staffs were being prepared to meet their deaths. The men’s bodies were black, blue and red from all the beatings and injuries they sustained during their interrogations, and some of their fingers and toes were missing.

The children in their families were allowed to say goodbye to their parents and grandparents, and then kicking, screaming and crying they were torn away from their mothers’ and grandmothers’ arms by Imperial Guardsmen. Their efforts to grab hold and cling onto their mothers’ and grandmothers’ rags failed. The cries and the wails were insufferable, and it was all the guardsmen could do not to grimace and hold their hands to their ears and press as hard as they could to at least muffle the horrendous sounds.

Likos’ wife threw herself at the Conqueror’s feet. “Majesty,” sheimplored, wailing. “What will become of my grandchildren?” she asked.

“All underage children will be banished to the province of Chin, never to set foot outside its borders upon the pain of death,” the Conqueror answered through pursed lips, stern and stoic as she looked down at the older, grief-stricken woman at her feet. “You ought to be grateful for it, for if I were to do to them as your husband had intended to do to my wife and child, I would have raped you and all the women and children in your family, and then have the entire Imperial Guard take turns.” The Conqueror kicked the woman off her boots as if not wishing to get filth on them, then yelled: “But I am not a savage!”

“Your gracious Majesty,” Drusus said as one of the guards detached his shackles from the iron ring embedded into the stone wall of his cell, “I beg of you to take pity on the women and banish them, as well.”

The Conqueror looked at his beaten, scarred body, noticing that his legs were barely able to carry him. “During the interrogations it was established that the women had been well aware of your plot, but rather than act upon the allegiance they owe me, they chose to be loyal to you, and for that they are equally guilty. All who resided under your roofs had knowledge and yet none spoke up!”

Sirus, huddled in the corner, shivering and burning in turns, coughed before he managed to speak, “I beseech your gracious Majesty to forgive me before I die.”

The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest. “I keep wondering,” she began to say thoughtfully and rubbed her chin with her forefinger, “What did you all think would have happened if by a small chance you had succeeded in defeating me and conquered my Empire with that dastardly act of treason of yours?!”

Likos, Sirus and Drusus exchanged looks between them.

“Was it your intention, perhaps, to form a peaceful republic, where each of the Realm’s provinces would have been divided among you and your coconspirators? Is that what you thought would have happened?!” the Conqueror demanded to know as she paced back and forth in front of them.

It appeared that all three of the traitors had no answer to give.

The Conqueror began to laugh, but then her brows furrowed. “Of mankind I say in general, they are fickle, hypocritical and greedy of gain. How long, do you reckon, before one or all of you would have raised arms against the other for greater portion of the spoils or for greater power?!”

The three traitors held their heads down and mouths shut.

“I remember what sort of a place the world was before I conquered it and became its Ruler. Warlords fought each other for more power, more lands and more gold while commoners paid the price – their homes plundered and burnt to the ground, their wives and children raped and sold into slavery so as to finance their wars, innocents killed and the earth soaked with blood. That is how it has always been until I rose… the weak being trampled over by men with some power – but you do not care about the commoners, do you?!”

The Conqueror ceased her pacing and faced the traitors. “You need me to rule you all! Not everyone can master and wield power!” the Conqueror shouted. “Do you think your republic would have been better than my autocracy? What form of government is of no consequence – what is, however, is what type of sovereigns are in rule – the type who lead and protect their subjects or the type who only care for their own personal gain.”

A few moments passed in silence and then the Conqueror continued, “It is I who make and unmake Noblemen in this Realm. It is I who make and unmake Generals in this Realm. I ordain the Realm and you should have remembered it and acceded to it.”

Before the Conqueror turned to leave the dungeons and ride to the scaffolds, she said to them gleefully, “My Heir defeated your collaborator in the North, of course,” then turned to the guardsmen and said, “Bring them all to the central square. The women, households’ staff and adult sons and daughters of these traitors are to be put under my blade first, for I wish Sirus, Drusus and Likos to watch me take from them all that they have left.”

“By your will, Majesty,” the guardsmenconfirmed the order rendered.

“And have the Imperial Healer brought to the scaffolds, for I do not wish for these wretched men to expire before I am satisfied,” was the Conqueror’s last order.

***

The streets of Corinth, much to the vendors’ delight, were teeming with people from all over the Realm, noblemen, courtiers and commoners alike to witness the traitors’ executions about to take place in the centre square where the scaffolds were waiting.

The grey skies were grim with clouds, but the ominous weather did not deter the masses from attending.

The Conqueror was standing upon the high platform when the iron barred wagons carrying the condemned arrived at the centre square and were driven to where the scaffolds stood, from which Sirus, Drusus and Likos had a clear view.

The condemned huddled against the iron grates, some weeping and some raving, both weak and malnourished.

One by one, starting with the traitors’ household staff, men and women stretched their necks under the Conqueror’s swords and their heads were swiftly severed and their lifeless, gaunt bodies dropped to the side with a twitch to the cheers of the masses. The guardsman in charge of the heads was quick to pick up the rolling heads by the hairs and hand them over to the Conqueror to be held up. This was done not to display the crowd with the heads, but to show the heads the faces of the audience and their own fallen bodies. Consciousness remains for a few moments after beheading before death occurs. The heads were then given away to be put on spikes. In-between strikes, the Conqueror’s sword was honed so that the blade would not become blunt, and the procedure remained relatively dignified and painless.

When the decapitations of Sirus, Drusus and Likos’ families were about to begin, and the wives, mistresses, sons and daughters were being aligned at the foot of the scaffolds, the Conqueror turned her glare to the wagon where the former noblemen were confined to, still.

“Enemies of the Realm!” the Ruler called out to them, “you will open your eyes and witness your families’ executions or I shall nail your eyelids to your foreheads, I give you my word!”

As Drusus’ trembling wife was escorted up the stairs to the scaffolds, pale as a sheet and shaking all over, her husband began to cry and unintentionally averted his eyes away. The Conqueror signaled two of the guardsmen standing beside the wagon. The guardsmen climbed up the wagon and entered the iron cage and with the thumbs and forefingers forced Drusus’s eyes open and with their palms fixed his head to face the platform.

“Given your former station, have you any last words?” the Conqueror asked the frightened woman, who was supported still by the guardsmen leading her to kneel upon the straw that was drenched with the blood of the previously executed.

She nodded her head, and with a faint voice she said, “I wish to thank your Majesty for granting me an honorable death, and pray your Majesty to pardon the despicable offence I have committed.”

The Conqueror looked down at the woman with a sealed expression. “Remove your hair from around your neck,” were the only words spoken.

But the condemned’s hands shook too hard to manage even such a simple task, and so one of the guards exposed her neck instead, nevertheless Drusus’ wife trembled violently and was unable to keep steady.

“You must keep still, Adonia, or I shall have to swing my blade repeatedly rather than complete the act with a single strike,” the Conqueror spoke without anger. “It’s for your own good.”

“My apologies, Majesty, but I cannot control the shakes,” Drusus’ wife sobbed.

“Guards!” the Conqueror called out, and two guards held Adonia down, steadily.

And finally, with a single blow, the Conqueror ended Adonia’s life.

Next, under the Conqueror’s sword, came Drusus’ son and two daughters – their blood mixing with their mother’s on the solid planks underfoot, and after them came Sirus’ family and household, then Likos’, while Sirus, Drusus, Likos and his three sons were forced to watch.

Drusus, Sirus, Likos and his sons were shoved up the stairs of the platform. When they reached the landing, they were chained to the five wooden crosses arrayed in a crescent moon shape so that they could each have a clear view of the other. A few slashes of the Conqueror’s sword to the rags that covered the prisoners’ beaten bodies left them naked as the day of their birth for all to see, so to shame them.

“Subjects of the Realm!” the Conqueror addressed the audience gathered around the scaffolds, and approached the fore of the platform, her leather boots stepping over the puddles of blood she had spilt. “Let the punishment I am about to mete upon these wicked, treacherous men set an example to all those who dare foment rebellion in my Realm and plot against me. Insurrections against the Throne shall never be pardoned.”

The Conqueror stuffed four branding iron rods into the burning iron barrels standing in the left corner of the platform, and then took her whip into her hand.

All five men received forty lashes each. Whenever one of them fainted due to the severe pain, the Imperial Healer was ordered to treat them so to be able to continue to withstand the Conqueror’s chastisement, which was far from over.

The entire frontal sides of the traitors’ bodies were covered with open, bleeding welts by the time the Conqueror finished.

“Drusus! Sirus!” the Conqueror called out to both men, whose heads were drooped between their shoulders, too weak to keep them upheld.

The Conqueror approached them with a dagger and released their right hands from the cross, making their bodies slump forward.

“Take your cocks in your hands and stretch them outwards,” the Ruler ordered them.

Both men shook their heads, wailing and instinctively covered their genitals with their free hand.

“Please, Majesty… Mercy!” Drusus squealed.

“Do not test my patience!” the Conqueror’s voice raged. “Pull it out now for if you don’t, I shall make it twice as painful!”

The men cried buckets as they stretched out their genitals to be put under the Conqueror’s blade.

The Conqueror brought the dagger to Drusus’ member and testicles and rather than remove them with a single strike, the Conqueror slowly sliced into the soft, live flesh. “If you let go,” the Conqueror warned through his screams of agony, “mark my words – I shall feed it to you – raw!”

When his manhood was completely severed, the Conqueror ordered him to first lift his hand holding the organ in the air and to show it to the grimacing crowd, then to throw it into the fire. As gashes of blood came in spurts from his injury, the odor of burnt flesh permeated the air. Before Drusus died from extreme loss of blood, the Conqueror asked him for his last words, but he was in too much pain to speak intelligible words. Upon receiving no answer, the Conqueror disemboweled him and cut off his head with an axe, which was considered a lower form of a beheading.

Sirus received the same treatment as Drusus, but Likos and his sons suffered far worse than that.

“These pigs’ crimes surpassed those of their coconspirators,” the Conqueror announced as she gestured with her arm in the direction of Likos and his sons, “for not only have they waged war against me, but they meant to rape my Queen and my daughter. Therefore, their execution will last for three days, and by the punishment I have designed for them you will all know without a doubt that there is no greater crime in the Realm!”

In the Conqueror’s mind, Likos and his sons’ crimes had been far greater than that of Perous, who had instigated the mutiny in Cyra, and therefore deserved far worse than Perous had suffered by her hand.

The Conqueror then turned to Likos and his sons, still chained to the crosses. “In the next three days,” the Conqueror stated so to put the fear of death in them, “Every body-part that you intended to touch to my wife and daughter you will lose.”

On that day, the Conqueror severed Likos’ and his sons’ genitals, but cauterized their wounds so that they would survive and remain alive for the next day. When they were returned back to their cells, the Imperial Healer was charged to keep them alive to face the Conqueror again.

On the second day of Likos’ and his sons’ punishment, the Conqueror delivered forty more lashes and cut off their tongues.

And on the third day, the Conqueror signaled the guards and on her cue they carried four stony blocks, which resembled alters with metallic manacles in two of its corners, up the platform and placed them at the fore of it.

Likos and his sons were released from the crosses after suffering forty more lashes of the Conqueror’s whip. They were made to turn around and show their bare buttocks to the spectators where the Conqueror had branded her insignia into the flesh. It made the audience laugh and mock them.

Then, their lambasted, mutilated bodies were forced to bend over the blocks and their hands were secured by the manacles.

The Conqueror sodomized them with a hot branding iron as her victims floundered beneath her pernicious and violating attention. The sights, sounds and odors were too unbearable to witness and many of the people in the crowd covered their faces, pinched their noses and averted their eyes away. Nobody laughed anymore, as shrieks burst out of the men’s strained throats and as smoke came out of the men’s rears while their flesh was charred from the inside. The Imperial Healer was ordered several times to approach Likos and his sons to force awareness upon them, so that they would not miss even a single moment of the horrid experience.

Their hands were the next members to be cut off.

At noon, Likos and his sons’ trounced bodies were bound to the stakes and small fires were set at their feet, for it was the Conqueror’s pleasure that they should not die too quickly of suffocation by the smoke but that they should die slowly by the burning flames.

For their last words, Likos and his sons, who no longer had tongues in their mouths, could offer only pitiful mewling. When the fire began to consume their flesh, horrifying screams erupted from their throats and made all in attendance that day wince and squirm.

Weak and tiny raindrops began to fall from the sky and many present believed that it was the Conqueror who controlled the clouds and made the rain to pour down just slightly so that the burning of Likos and his sons would be prolonged even further without the fire being put out.

When the flames reached the condemned’s necks, the Conqueror disemboweled them with her sword and decapitated them with an axe.

There were no cheers from the spectators this time. Once more, subjects of the Realm who attended Likos’ and his sons’ executions were overwhelmed by their Sovereign’s uncompromising, fantastical cruelty and ruthlessness to the point where no voice could have been produced. No one moved until the Conqueror stepped down the platform and only then did they bow and curtsy before her.

A short while later, in the early afternoon, the Conqueror retired to the Imperial Chambers, and one form of lust was replaced by a different form altogether.

***

The Imperial Healer faltered on stumbling legs to the infirmary in order to continue in private the libation which he had began from the moment that Likos and his sons finally had died. When he tumbled into the infirmary, drunk beyond measure, he saw the Queen showing the facility to the Shamaness.

“Majesty,” he barely managed, and even that single word came out slurred. He tried to bow before her but his body slanted to the side and he fell into one of the empty beds closest to him, knocking over a chair as he clumsily went down.

Both the Queen and the Shamaness rushed to his side. The Queen pried open his hand and took out the flagon of wine he was clinging to with all his might as if his life depended on it.

“Majesty,” the old man sobbed like a child and directed his bloodshot, watery gaze into the Queen’s eyes.

“What happened to you?” the Queen exclaimed, alarmed, though she suspected as to the reason behind his uncharacteristic drunkenness.

“In all my years as the Lord Conqueror’s Chief Healer, I have treated many injuries and seen petrifying, repugnant and horrible sights,” the old man wailed so strongly that the Queen could barely understand what he was saying, “but to this day I have never seen such display of ultimate human suffering.”

The Queen then realized that that Likos’ and his sons’ executions had ended. She looked down at the broken man who had been at her side for many years and from whom she had learnt so much and her heart went out to him. She gently stroked his white hair and found no words to comfort him. The reaction of a seasoned Chief Imperial Healer to the executions taught the Queen just how atrocious Likos’ and his sons’ executions had been.

“I shall beg the Lord Conqueror to permit me to retire from service for I can no longer…” he mumbled but then his eyes framed by deep wrinkles closed and he fell into a deep sleep.

The Queen covered her mouth in anguish and could not arrest her tears. “What am I to do?” she sounded desperate.

The Shamaness cleared her dry throat. “The darkness?” she inquired tentatively.

The Queen nodded her head. “Princess Sieglinde once told me that in her homeland… there were lands far, far to the north, when during the wintertime, so the stories told, nighttime would last for days upon days.” The Queen wiped her tears away. “That is how I’ve been feeling for so long… Days upon days of thick, omnipresent darkness that pervades me as though I’ve been buried in the earth whilst still breathing.”

“I know, my Queen.”

The Queen looked down at the old healer, who was obliviously snoring, and understood that he toowas infected by the darkness.

“I have been dutifully servicing my Lord for these past days, but my Lord…” the Queen paused to consider her words, “remains unattainable to me,” she eventually said and downcast her eyes to look at her hands, playing with the embroidery of her dress.

“Gabrielle,” the Shamaness covered the Queen’s hands with her own and searched her eyes.

“Every night I wait on my knees…” the Queen emitted a scoff as though she was mocking herself for something. “Seems appropriate enough… waiting on my knees like a beggar, with my hand out – wordlessly begging my Lord for pittance of her love and affection. But my Lord…” her voice trailed off and after some time had passed she added, “My Lord is too immersed in darkness…,” and her voice trailed off again.

“May I advise you on the matter?” the Shamaness asked.

“Please, do.”

“Perhaps it is your expectations,” the Shamaness delicately suggested.

“How do you mean?”

“The Conqueror is highly astute and can sense your expectations. The Conqueror can read your posture, your expression, and your tiniest gestures and know that you want something from her and expect to receive it and are disappointed when you do not. The Conqueror must sense that you have your own agenda, and that you are there for yourself as well.”

“You are correct,” the Queen’s shoulders dropped and a deep sigh escaped her lips. “I understand now what I must do.”

“Do you?”

“Neither my love, nor my desire has won me my Lord’s heart the first time, but my selflessness and submission to my Lord’s will alone,” the Queen said with an air of determination about her and got off the bed in the infirmary.

***

Meanwhile, in the Imperial Chambers, Thetis gentle rapped upon the doors and entered the antechamber. The thick curtains were drawn and so although there was daylight outside, the Imperial Chambers were dimly lit.

The Conqueror was sitting in her armchair. Her pensive gaze was fixed on the flames dancing low in the hearth. With no small amount of effort, the Ruler tried to think about absolutely nothing.

Thetis made three tentative steps into the Imperial antechamber and would not venture any further than that. It was best, she thought, to keep close to the entrance. An ominous feeling deep in her stomach advised her against coming too close to the Conqueror at that time, and she trusted it.

“Majesty,” she called out with a small voice at the general direction of the dark figure sitting, brooding near the hearth, whose profile was barely discernable.

It took awhile before Thetis was granted a response.

“What?” a single word that sounded more like a low growl of an animal was thrown at the attendant.

It was odd, Thetis thought, that she saw no movement. “Pray, pardon the intrusion, but her Grace, Princess Sieglinde, requests an audience with your Majesty.” Thetis’ words were uttered very carefully.

She waited again for quite some time before she heard a deep breath being exhaled and saw the dark figure stir in the armchair.

“Show her in, and before you do, open the curtains,” the Conqueror said.

“Of course, Majesty,” Thetis replied and went to draw opened the curtains and allow light into the bleak chamber, thinking all the while that her Master probably did not wish to scare the poor lass to death.

When the antechamber was washed with daylight again, Thetis, who still opted to keep her distance from her Master, gandered at her from the corner of her eye, and saw her brushing her fingers into her dark, somewhat disheveled mane and straightening the regal chiton at her shoulders.

The attendant went to the entrance and invited Princess Sieglinde inside, then left, closing the doors behind her.

The Conqueror rose from her armchair and saw Princess Sieglinde curtsying before her.

“Your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde greeted.

“Your Grace,” the Conqueror greeted back.

The Nordic Princess straightened upwards. “Thank you, Majesty, for granting me audience.”

“What can I do for you?” the Conqueror asked.

Princess Sieglinde seemed hesitant, even nervous. She stood in front of the Conqueror picking and choosing her words in her mind, unconsciously touching the cap that covered her hair briefly, till she realized she was making the Conqueror wait for her.

“I…” she began to say, and then paused.

The Conqueror clasped her hands behind her back. “You may speak freely, your Grace,” she encouraged her daughter-in-law.

Nevertheless, Princess Sieglinde wondered just how freely she could speak, really. She decided to be brave.

“I heard about the traitors Drusus, Sirus, Likos and his sons’ executions which took place earlier today,” Princess Sieglinde stated and her eyes absentmindedly evaded the Conqueror’s.

“And?” the Conqueror asked with a rise of her brows and something in the manner in which she spoke gave Princess Sieglinde the impression that the Conqueror had a pretty decent idea as to the purpose of her visit.

“I came here initially to beg your Majesty to show leniency towards my brother, Baldr, for although a traitor, he is still my kin, and it troubles me greatly to think that he should meet with the same punishment as your Majesty’s punishment to his coconspirators.”

The Conqueror wore a curious expression on her face and intrigued, waited for Princess Sieglinde to continue.

“But now that I stand here before your Majesty, I have come to realize that if your gracious Majesty is to grant me but one wish, then I best spend it on someone who deserves it better than my brother and whom I have grown to love and cherish as a mother.”

The Conqueror’s features turned from one of curiosity into one of ire, for she could foresee the direction in which Princess Sieglinde was going, placing herself, perhaps unwittingly, in what every child in the Realm knew was the most dangerous place in the world.

Princess Sieglinde noticed the fast change in the Conqueror’s mood and the frown on her features, of course, and she was well aware of the grave danger she was in.

“I beg your Majesty to forgive the Queen, for I think the Queen deserves your Majesty’s mercy better than my brother.”

And there it was in a flash. Princess Sieglinde caught a glimpse of the beast riddled with blood-lust that the Queen had told her about, rearing its head and glowering at her through feral, intimidating, shinning eyes. It was pure instinct that made Princess Sieglinde lower her head and exhibit capitulation.

“Withdraw your plea before I deny it,” the Conqueror gave the young Princess an opening to reconsider.

But Princess Sieglinde would not take it.

“With all humility, I beseech your Majesty to hear me out, and afford me the license to speak freely,” she implored and was now looking directly into the Conqueror’s eyes, not out of defiance but out of conviction.

“Go ahead, then,” the Conqueror finally said. She knew that there was no necessity in warning the Princess to tread very lightly, for Princess Sieglinde was wise enough and well bred to do so without it.

“Both her Majesty and I are wives,” Princess Sieglinde said and a faint smile suddenly adorned the angles of her lips as if she enjoyed saying it or delighted in that notion, but quickly enough the smile disappeared. “We are wives of great Rulers and as such, we are frequently required to be forgiving on small offences which oftentimes go unnoticed by our Lords and for greater offences which oftentimes aren’t appreciated or even acknowledged.”

As Princess Sieglinde spoke, the Conqueror detected neither bitterness, nor resentment. To the Conqueror, Princess Sieglinde spoke as one who had shrewd understanding of her reality and who had accepted it completely and without reservations – not out of some resignation to something she had no power to change, but because she genuinely believed that that was how it ought to be.

“We forgive when our Lords are being detained in meetings; we forgive when our Lords are kept away from us due to their many obligations to their station; we forgive when our Lords’ anger towards others’ is directed unintentionally at us, and we forgive our Lords’ indiscretions. We forgive as is our duty and so that our Lords, who carry great responsibilities, are able to perform their duties with a carefree mind.”

“As wives,” Princess Sieglinde continued, “we are expected to forgive and we do so wholeheartedly even when it is difficult, and we do not expect our Lords to apologize to us.”

The Conqueror beheld her daughter-in-law with perfect adoration. The Ruler comprehended what was spoken between Princess Sieglinde’s words. What Princess Sieglinde was also saying, the Conqueror understood, was that she had already forgiven and would continue to forgive truly, Athena’s infidelities and that she did not expect Athena to apologize to her – for Princess Sieglinde understood that Rulers of the world need not apologize as a principle because of who they were.

“Some may think it a weakness, but I think it is our strength,” Princess Sieglinde said and smiled, “and I know so does the Queen’s Majesty.”

Oh, how clever was her daughter-in-law, the Conqueror thought, and had it not been for the circumstances and her foul mood, she would have cracked a smile of her own in delight.

Princess Sieglinde halted her speech once more.

“Go on,” the Conqueror urged the Norsewoman.

“I shall not intervene any further in the specifics of the discord between your Majesties and I shall not argue in her Queen’s Majesty’s defense.”

Both the Conqueror’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“I will only say this,” Princess Sieglinde continued, “and with that I shall conclude my earnest plea to your Majesty: The Queen’s Majesty has forgiven your Majesty many times over the years. I know it to be true not because I was told as much, but because the Queen is your Majesty’s wife and so she must have. More than I wish for my brother a quick death, I wish for her Majesty the Queen to be happy again.”

Princess Sieglinde breathed out slowly, as if she had just completed a great, arduous task. She did not expect the Conqueror to answer her plea. She simply said, “Thank you, Majesty, for granting me audience and for hearing my appeal.”

The Nordic Princess curtsied deeply before the Conqueror and murmured, “Majesty,” before vacating the antechamber.
Part 20
Later that evening after suppertime, as had become her routine, the Queen, clad only in her nightgown, entered the Imperial bedchamber. The fire wasn’t burning in the hearth and her breath was visible to the naked eye, like white smoke against the blackness. The floor beneath her bare feet was so cold that her toes nearly frosted against the marble before she finally reached the Persian carpet. Her eyes squinted several times to adjust to the darkness before they discerned a dark figure lying in wait for her, then moving in the shadows, almost skulking.

The Conqueror was waiting for her that night, unlike in previous nights when the Conqueror had unceremoniously approached her after finishing eating or bathing and had perfunctorily taken her as if it had been just another casual, mundane chore that needed to be done before sleep.

When she’d been the Conqueror’s slave, she used to dread these little deviations from what had become their habit. Back then she had believed that the Conqueror had devised these little changes for the sole purpose of rendering her without the customary cues that had informed her of how she ought to behave.

Gabrielle became frightened of the Conqueror, knowing she was no longer shielded and protected by the Conqueror’s love – a sentiment she had not harbored for many years – a sentiment she could not believe she would ever harbor again. She removed her gown from her shoulders, made sure that the collar was fastened properly around her neck, and then she knelt with her knees against the carpet’s hairs.

Gabrielle wore no expression over her countenance. However frightened she was, and however needing or desiring, her face remained sealed. Inwardly, she reverted back to those times when she had been in service and all that preoccupied her mind was to perform her service to the best of her abilities and please her Master. She quelled her expectations, and suppressed any desire to be forgiven or to return back to the Conqueror’s favor and good graces, effacing herself and subjugating completely before her Master.

How ironic, she suddenly thought, that back in her servitude days she had appeared to the world as nothing but a body slave while to her Lord she had been far more than that, and that now she appeared to the world as a great Queen while being nothing but a body slave to her Lord. The Fates, she learned, were not without a cruel sense of humor.

A percussion of metal striking against flint ignited sparks that flew into the dormant hearth and fire caught in the kindle resting there. There was light in the Imperial bedchamber.

The Conqueror was revealed to Gabrielle, standing squared shouldered by the hearth in leather trousers and a dark heavy robe that almost reached the Conqueror’s ankles.

On the prowl, the Sovereign Lord covered the distance between them, and leered at the woman who was kneeling between her immodestly parted legs, motionless as a statue before her.

“Do you know what I did three days ago?” the Conqueror asked with an even tone of voice as if she was asking about some trifle matter such as where her boots were.

Through the leather Gabrielle could smell the potent scent of the Conqueror’s arousal and felt its overpowering warmth permeating her senses at the expense of all others, till she almost forgot that the Conqueror was waiting on an answer. She wasn’t sure what answer was expected of her, and as her mind reeled in search for a satisfactory reply she heard the Conqueror hiss a warning at her.

“You will answer me when I speak to you.”

Upon hearing the Conqueror’s warning, Gabrielle thought it odd that her soul seemed to hold two conflicting emotions, terror on the one hand and relief on the other – terror, for obvious reasons and relief, for the Conqueror finally broke her ruinous silence.

“My Lord exacted justice on the traitors Drusus, Sirus and Likos,” Gabrielle replied succinctly.

An unnerving half smile appeared on the left angle of the Conqueror’s mouth and Gabrielle knew it wasn’t amusement that that half smile reflected but something sinister.

“That is correct,” the Conqueror said then dropped two more words, “in part.” The Conqueror folded her arms over her chest, and her biceps flexed beneath heated skin. “I also had to kill their families,” the Conqueror paused again, letting the words fall slowly and heavily out of her mouth. “Specifically, I had to kill Khryseis, Melantha and Adonia – the wives of all three traitors. You do remember them, do you not?”

The muscles of the Conqueror’s back tightened and hardened. Her ravenous battle-lust, that had been arrested for long days and through enticing events and had been pressing to be unleashed, began to beat against its cage as the Conqueror was slowly releasing her grip over the muzzle.

Of course Gabrielle remembered them. They had met in formal factions at the Great Hall and had exchanged pleasantries on several occasions over the years.

“I do, my Lord,” Gabrielle replied and inwardly she immediately felt sorry for them. She was not sure as to why the Conqueror chose to bring up the matter of the traitors’ executions. At first she thought it might have been the Conqueror’s way of explaining her current frame of mind but Gabrielle had to dismiss that thought. The Conqueror was not one to provide explanations to her actions. Uncertainty began to slip through the cracks of the very core of her being.

“Can you guess what thought crossed my mind as I swung my blade over their heads?” The Conqueror posed a question that Gabrielle had no possible way of knowing the answer to.

Her reply would not satisfy the Conqueror, but it was the only reply she had to offer. “I cannot, my Lord.”

A vein in the Conqueror’s neck began to swell and her jaw slightly jutted. “Of course you cannot!” she shouted incensed and with a swift motion leaned down and closed powerful fingers around Gabrielle’s jaw and neck and lifted the smaller woman slightly upwards till her knees detached from the ground leaving only her taut toes to flutter against it to support her weight.

Feeling like her head was about to be ripped off her body, on an instinct, with neither thought nor intention, Gabrielle’s hands latched around the Conqueror’s strong arm, which held her by her throat and jaw almost suspended in midair while her legs were crumpled beneath her body. It felt like touching hot, corded steel.

“As I killed them, I thought to myself how I envied their husbands!” the Conqueror yelled as she brought her raging features closer to Gabrielle’s ensnared ones. “You made me envy my enemies. Madame!” the Conqueror castigated her.

The Ruler’s eyes were flaring fire and brimstones and her lips were thin with ire.

The pain of the Conqueror’s iron grip was immense. “Please, my Lord,” Gabrielle barely managed to utter through her trapped jaw.

“Did I give you leave to speak?!” the Conqueror scowled at her.

Gabrielle could hardly breathe and she became wild with fear, squirming like a fish out of the water.

The Conqueror’s arm did not seem to tire. She raised it even higher till Gabrielle’s toes could no longer feel the carpet beneath them. Taking a few short steps with Gabrielle flailing helplessly in her snare, the Conqueror shoved her captive into the wall.

The hit against the hard wall was agonizing, but so was the desire and want that Gabrielle bore towards the Conqueror. She kept reminding herself that it was necessary if they were to have hope, ever again.

The Conqueror’s fingers eventually fell from Gabrielle’s jaw. Leaning her elbow against the wall above Gabrielle’s shoulder, the Conqueror pushed her forearm against Gabrielle’s throat, slightly leaning her weight against it as her fingers encircled a rosy nipple.

Gabrielle was not afforded the slightest room for movement even if she wasn’t too paralyzed by fright to attempt movement.

“Do you know why I envied my enemies?” the Conqueror almost crooned and calloused fingers began to pinch the sensitive flesh.

Gabrielle failed again, as the Conqueror expected her to, wanted her to.

“I do not, my Lord,” she whispered and fought her tears.

“Let us try an easier question,” the Conqueror said almost sounding sincere, “and do make an effort to reply, this time.” It was by no means an attempt on the Conqueror’s side to give aid or allowance to Gabrielle. It was yet another tactic to break the woman whom she believed had wronged her, by inspiring hope, vain hope that she might succeed and thus appease her Master.

“Why did I execute the wives?” the Conqueror asked.

And just as the Conqueror expected, she saw a sliver of hope flash across Gabrielle’s face. Evidently, she thought she knew the answer to that question.

“Because they knew about their husbands’ plot against my Lord and did not inform my Lord about it,” Gabrielle replied.

“Obviously!” the Conqueror bellowed and scoffed with displeasure.

Gabrielle felt her nipple being squeezed harder and harder between the Conqueror’s fingers and it shot both pain and pleasure through her body. The small nub became sore and erect under the Conqueror’s punishment.

“They placed their husbands above their Sovereign Lord. Their only crime was their loyalty to their husbands, and as I severed the women’s heads from their bodies, I envied my enemies for having such loyal wives who chose them over me.”

The Conqueror’s nostrils flared before she sunk her teeth into Gabrielle’s lips, piercing the flesh.

Gabrielle yelped as she felt the blood seeping out of the wound down her chin and onto the Conqueror’s forearm beneath it. She believed she deserved it for having caused the Conqueror far greater pain.

“Those miserable bastards I’ve tortured, castrated and butchered were sent to their graves knowing that they were richer than I am for they had wives who put them above all else.”

The Conqueror’s wrath was loose and rampant and Gabrielle could not be sure who was controlling whom. She was desperate for the Conqueror’s forgiveness but she wasn’t granted permission to speak and her subservience to her Master would not allow her to voice any requests or expect anything beyond her Master’s pleasure and satisfaction.

Whether it had been loyalty or good old-fashion greed that had guided the wives of the traitors, there was no disputing or arguing with the Conqueror, not when every fiber of her being was overwrought with battle-lust, unprecedented in its intensity and ferocity.

The Conqueror released Gabrielle from her confinement and Gabrielle plummeted to the ground with a gasp for air, but before she was able to compose herself the Conqueror’s fingers viciously pulled at her hair, yanking her head as far backwards as her neck allowed, jerking her entire body with the force of the motion.

She then saw the Conqueror unbutton her trousers and fingers disappear behind the leather and a fist forming around the long, thick shaft, underneath, then extracting it out and revealing it to Gabrielle’s eyes.

The hand grabbed the golden hair as if it were reigns, callously swirled Gabrielle on her knees to face the stone wall. She was then shoved against it, feeling her breasts being scraped against the hard, uneven surface.

Next she heard the Conqueror kneeling behind her, and from the corner of her eye she caught sight of the Conqueror’s robe billowing then blanketing the floor around them like a spill of tar. Gabrielle masked her excitement when she felt the heat emanating from the Conqueror’s seething blood glowing against her back.

She was too scared and too aroused to move. She could hear the Conqueror’s ragged huffing grow louder and she realized that the Ruler was nearing her.

“Are you still denying me, Madame?!” the Conqueror’s voice was a growl into Gabrielle’s ear that made her skin bristle.

When she had been the Conqueror’s body slave, whenever the Conqueror had ordered her into that position, the Conqueror had come to expect her servant to arch her back and raise her rear asset to give access and accommodate it.

“No, my Lord,” Gabrielle answered with a small voice and arched her back.

“Splay your flesh for me, then,” the Conqueror ordered, encumbered by the sting of being jilted by the woman in front of her. For too long she had being suffering the hurt of being abandoned by the woman who was supposed to love her above all else and had felt dejected and powerless.

Gabrielle parted her mounds with both hands, exposing her orifice for the Conqueror’s pleasure, bracing herself for the Conqueror’s dominance. She recalled how tormenting it had been as a slave to hide her body’s sexual awakening from the Conqueror’s overbearing, perennial attention.

The Conqueror did not penetrate her, though. The Conqueror’s hardness slithered back and fro like a giant stiff snake in the valley between, grazing the sensitive opening and making it tingle and sizzle with want and un-fulfillment.

Tears of frustration blurred her vision, but Gabrielle, who pined for the reaming to commence, repressed the urge to weep.

“I could have any woman on this earth,” the Conqueror spoke with a gruff voice, “yet the one I desire,” the shaft stopped in its track as if to not let the movement distract the receiver’s attention from her words, “my own wife spurned my advances and rejected me from her bed again and again!” the Conqueror’s chided.

It seemed as if sheer rage pushed the Conqueror backwards, making her shaft pull away abruptly from Gabrielle’s buttocks with a sharp motion, but before Gabrielle had time to grieve the loss she was spun away from the wall to face the Conqueror again.

Blind pain shot through Gabrielle’s upper face and neck and it took her a few moments to register what had happened. It had happened so quickly that she hadn’t seen it coming. A dull ache began to pulsate in her left cheek. Noticing the bruise on the Conqueror hard knuckles, and the feel of warm, thick wetness slowly slither down her cheek, she gathered that her flesh was split between her cheekbone and the Conqueror’s backhand.

To her recollection, the Conqueror had never before caused injury to her face, or had it been too long ago for her to recall, Gabrielle wondered.

It became harder for Gabrielle to keep her wits about her. On all fours, she shifted her weight to her arms to catch her breath, unwittingly granting the Conqueror clear view of her scarred shoulder blade.

From above, the Conqueror’s haunting stare lingered on it for a few moments. She then leaned down and with a single, almost gentle fingertip traced the outline of the mark she had branded years ago.

“I should have branded my insignia into your breast rather than on your back,” the Conqueror growled as she slid her finger from the brand mark and slipped it beneath Gabrielle’s collar, “for perhaps if you were able to see it better,” she continued and yanked the collar forward and forced Gabrielle down to lie on her stomach, “then you’d have remembered constantly to whom you belong, Madame,” she concluded, and went to her desk from which her whip wasn’t removed since she had returned to Corinth.

Gabrielle swallowed hard. Her throat was dry and sore. She saw the Conqueror brandish her whip downwards, and down the leather spiraled to the ground. The first lash landed on the floor a hair away from Gabrielle’s head. It meant to call her fear to attention. The Conqueror, she knew, never missed her mark.

“You do not deserve the taste of my whip, Madame. Consider it the last act of kindness I show you,” the Conqueror stated and sent her whip flying with considerable force to paint a long cerise welt on Gabrielle’s back.

As she felt a hot line burning on her back, silent tears no longer obeyed Gabrielle’s will and departed from her eyes.

“Tears?!” the Conqueror shouted. “Are you giving me tears?!” the Conqueror shouted again and whipped Gabrielle’s buttocks, leaving another scolding, reddened welt across both mounds of white flesh.

Gabrielle did her very best not to flinch from the brutal contact of the harsh ragged whip with her body. She wasn’t sure whether it was her imagination playing tricks on her or whether the Conqueror’s strikes indeed were more powerful now than ever before. Her skin tingled as if small flames were dancing on it, and beneath it sprouting wet, tongue-like roots down to her very core. She could not reconcile her tortured body and soul with her surging desires.

“Do you think your tears will save you? Do you think your tears will soften me?” Another bout of flagellations covered the inside of her thighs and firm, perfectly round globes. “Do you think your tears hold any power over me, Madame?”

Gabrielle’s tears seemed to enrage the Conqueror to a much higher level, but Gabrielle could not control the renegade tears, which kept rolling down on their own accord as the Conqueror’s whiplashes bit and sliced her body.

“Your tears lost their power when you decided to deny me bed and board –“ Infuriated, the Conqueror continued and raised the arm gripping the whip to strike Gabrielle’s calves, “when you chose my Heir over me! When you broke our covenant!”

“Look at me when I am speaking to you,” the Conqueror ordered and Gabrielle lifted her wet face, and with bloodshot eyes, she looked up at her once lover, who had loved her at times as gently as the warm light breeze of spring and who at times loved her as roughly as the stormy sea. She knew that for this tremendous loss, she would live the rest of her life mourning with profound regret far greater than any before and hence forth.

“I am immune to your tears,” the Conqueror said almost pleased, like she was glad she finally got rid of some pest, some ailment, or impediment. “There’s nothing here anymore,” she said and hit her chest with the fist around the whip handle. To Gabrielle’s ears the thud upon impact sounded frightfully hollow.

The Conqueror then went to crouch over Gabrielle and straddled her. She then wrapped her whip around her throat, pulling it hard, choking her, forcing her head up and backwards to look at their marital bed.

“Do you remember what you said to me right there on our wedding night, Madame?” the Conqueror whispered in her ear and loosened the leather noose from around Gabrielle’s neck to enable her to speak.

“I do, my Lord,” Gabrielle answered hoarsely.

“What was your promise to me that night when I took a slave and made her a Queen?”

Gabrielle felt the Conqueror’s hardness push against the scorched flesh of her buttocks, parting the globes at the middle, tittering over the rim.

“I promised my Lord that in this bed, I was my Lord’s ever willingly obedient, ever willingly submissive, ever willingly compliant servant,” Gabrielle answered.

The Conqueror’s free hand cupped Gabrielle’s taut left breast and squeezed the hard, erect nipple between two fingers. “You lied to me, Madame!” she hissed between clenched teeth, never neglecting the chastisement she wreaked on the ample breast snared in her grasp.

“Go lie in my bed one last time,” the Conqueror ordered.

Gabrielle’s heart felt as if it stopped beating. The pain inside her chest was excruciating, far more so that any physical pain the Conqueror had ever or could ever inflict upon her. It was as the Conqueror closed a clenched fist around the pulsating organ that gave life and squashed it and Gabrielle’s entire body suddenly became numb. She no longer felt the throbbing ache in her lips and cheek, or the burning sensation of her singed backside from the whiplashes she had received. It was all gone, drowned down and shut by the agonizing pain she felt in her heart and soul.

She felt the Conqueror’s hold on her loosen and then the Conqueror rising up and off her body, allowing her to get up and obey her command. Gabrielle feared neither the Conqueror’s wrath nor what it would wreak on her body, any longer. The only fear nestling, clawing, tearing up her soul was the notion that she would never lay with the Conqueror again.

The cool silk linens soothed her heated back and buttocks. She took comfort in the fact that the Conqueror did not order her to turn over and lie on her front. If this were the last time she would ever experience the Conqueror’s passion, she did not wish to be taken from behind but rather facing the Conqueror so that she could behold her glory where it was at its sublime best, even more than on the battlefield.

A pinch of disappointment twisted her scathed and bleeding heart when she saw the Conqueror climb into bed without first disrobing, as if she did not wish to have that naked contact with her own body. It was the Conqueror rejecting her and the rejection plunged Gabrielle into abject misery.

Intentionally, she did not spread her legs in an invitation as she would usually do when she and the Conqueror had made love in the past. She wanted to see whether the Conqueror would order her to spread them, or rather coax her thighs herself, so to confirm her suspicion.

“Open your legs,” the Conqueror ordered.

Gabrielle did as she was ordered.

The Conqueror moved and suspended her body over Gabrielle on one arm, as her free hand guided her member into Gabrielle’s womanhood.

Gabrielle suppressed a sigh. The Conqueror did not fondle or stroke the nub crying with need with her fingers as she usually did, and kept her distance as if she couldn’t stand the propinquity. The rejection was unbearable, demeaning even, and Gabrielle suddenly realized that the Conqueror was repaying her with equal measure to her offence.

Suspended on both her full-length starched arms, hovering over the woman lying in silence beneath her with her robe veiling them, the Conqueror pushed herself all the way into Gabrielle.

Gabrielle gasped at the aggressive intrusion. She looked up and studied the Conqueror’s tussled hair and the piercing eyes boring into her. She felt muscles swell and harden against her, working in perfect harmony for the Conqueror to achieve release. These were not thrusts, Gabrielle thought, but stabs wrenching at her insides as if the Conqueror was trying to kill something deep inside of her.

It was as if her body was divided into two parts, the lower half of her body was writhing with divine pleasure, pushed to the brink of rapture, and the upper half was torn and aching by unimaginable despair.

The Conqueror’s breath came in shallow labored pants and in her eyes, beneath heavy lids, was undifferentiated fog of lust.

Time was running out. She was about to lose the war. She would not survive defeat and the arid era filled with unrequited longing for the one she loved more than anything else. I am the Lord Conqueror’s wife, she told herself; I’m the mother of the Lord Conqueror’s children; I’m Queen of the Realm, she reminded herself, and Queen of the Amazons. She would not lose without a fight. Love is my power.

Queen Gabrielle released her clasp from the sheets, raised her hand and tentatively touched the Conqueror’s face.

Two flaming blue eyes opened widely in surprise. “Do not touch me,” the Conqueror growled out and reamed harder into Gabrielle.

But the Queen did not obey. She brought her other hand to the Conqueror’s face and lovingly caressed the handsome, sculpted features she adored and worshiped.

“I said, do not touch me,” the Conqueror warned a second time.

But the Queen did not heed the warning. She lifted herself upwards to reach the Conqueror’s face and began to lay tender kisses along the trails of her caressing fingers. Cupping the Conqueror’s face in both hands, she brushed her lips along the Conqueror’s jawline, kissed the plains of the Conqueror’s high, carved cheeks and stroked the angles of the Conqueror’s mouth with her tongue, eliciting a deep groan from the Conqueror.

The pressure of the impending rapture grew stronger in the Queen. “You are forever my Lord and Master,” the Queen moaned between passionate kisses. “Forever my sole Possessor.”

The Conqueror violently shook her head, trying to release herself from the Queen’s tender affections, but the Queen clung tightly and would not let go of that which was most dear to her.

“Do not speak!” the Conqueror’s voice roared and her wrath was so severe that her furrowed eyebrows met above her nose.

Again, the Queen disregarded the Conqueror’s order. “You will never know how deeply sorry I am, my Lord,” she ardently whispered between kisses.

The Conqueror’s anger was not assuaged. With a swift motion, she coarsely removed the Queen’s hands from her face, splayed her palm against the Queen’s breasts and pushed her back down against the bed. She gripped the Queen’s face and leaned down till their noses nearly touched.

“It’s not that you thought you knew better than me,” the Conqueror scowled at the woman trapped beneath her, still inside her, “and it’s not even that you defied me by denying your favors, but that you managed it. You succeeded in keeping away from me, Madame – and that’s what cuts the deepest.”

The Queen wept uncontrollably. “I beg of you, my Lord… Forgive me.”

“You broke my heart and so it is only fair that I should break yours,” the Conqueror jeered, incensed.

Retribution, one of the most potent weapons in the Conqueror’s arsenal – the Queen was desperate. She sent her hand to reach beneath the Conqueror’s pillow till she felt a cold metal that she expected to find there. She grabbed the ivory hilt of the Conqueror’s dagger, placed it in the Conqueror’s hand and brought its blade to her neck.

“If my death might satisfy your anger towards me,” the Queen said, “if it might replace the rage in your heart with a loving memory of me,” she went on to say and pressed the Conqueror’s hand holding the dagger even closer against her neck till its sharp edge nearly broke skin, “if it might enable you to forgive me and allow me back into your heart – then I pray you, do it, my Lord… It is a sacrifice I am glad to make,” her voice broke and her tearing, shimmering eyes beheld her Lord with all the love that she bore her, “as glad as I was when I sacrificed my freedom for you on the road back from Persia .” The Queen sighed heavily and spoke her next words with absolute conviction and perfect sorrow, “Death has to be better than living without your love.”

The Conqueror observed her wife and Queen, willingly making the ultimate act of penance and contrition, prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice to demonstrate her submission, utter capitulation and above all – her love. Her shoulders began a slight shuddering and her brows receded as she witnessed her wife’s gesture of purity. The Conqueror’s eyes thawed and melted. The beast was on the run now, retreating back to the bleak abyss from which it hailed.

The Conqueror removed the dagger from the Queen’s neck and laid it down.

Hot, purging tears weld up and sparkled in the Ruler’s eyes. “Oh, Gabrielle…” It was a sigh that sounded as if it originated from the deepest corner in the citadel in which the Conqueror’s soul dwelled. The vise-like grip on Gabrielle’s face softened into a gentle caress.

Gabrielle watched in awe at the metamorphosis of the Conqueror from an enraged, vicious, chthonic beast back into her spouse and lover. Reaching up a hand, she brushed a stray strand of hair away from her Lord’s face.

The Conqueror leaned down and touched her lips to her wife’s lips. The intense contact of affirmation made their hearts hammer in their chests. Their souls were uplifted and in their soar to the highest of heights they merged together again.

“Xena,” Gabrielle breathed into the Conqueror’s mouth before their lips pressed together again in ravenous hunger, and when she felt the Conqueror’s tongue sensually twirl around hers deep inside the cavern of her mouth, Gabrielle thought that if she spent the rest of her life with her Lord’s lips against hers, she would want for nothing more.

Sensing teardrops falling from above and onto her face, mixing with her own tears, further inflamed Gabrielle’s raw need. She ripped her Lord’s shirt and what she did not manage to tear she sliced with the dagger. She cut through the fabric of the robe around the Conqueror’s neck as her feet pushed down the leather trousers, sliding the soles of her feet against the scented animal skin, feeling the chiseled curves of her Lord’s body moving beneath them. The torn garments were discarded in haste on the floor and heated, naked bodies were now joined together.

When the Conqueror’s mouth closed around a tough nipple, Gabrielle thought she would come and the flicking tongue against the pebbled flesh along with the firm suckle caused her slit to ooze wetness. Her nails raked hard against the Conqueror’s back like claws of a wild animal desperately trying to embed itself into the object of its desires, and her legs wrapped themselves around the Conqueror’s slender waist.

The Conqueror resumed the adulating motions of her harnessed pelvis, only this time there were reverent thrusts which stroked the sodden, contracting cave and reached the spot of her wife’s source of pleasure. Slowly and deliberately she grinded her pubic bone into Gabrielle’s swollen bud while their lips were locked in a powerful, breathtaking kiss.

Throbs of delicious pain – radiating from the pierced lips, split cheek and stripes on her backside from brutal treatment – were replaced and drowned in throbs of pure pleasure.

Queen Gabrielle withheld nothing, concealed nothing, and denied nothing. She unabashedly glimmered with a breadth of emotions.

“Am I forgiven, my Lord?” the Queen asked between kisses and shallow pants, when she felt her rapture approaching.

The Conqueror released the flesh of Gabrielle’s neck she was sucking on and groaned into her ear, “I forgive you, my precious Lady.”

The Conqueror’s forgiveness was the final form of the Conqueror’s ineffable, great love for her wife, and with that they tightened their embrace as hips bucked and rocked against each other before that last jounce when the Conqueror plunged as deep as Gabrielle’s sopping wet sex allowed and kept it in there pressing hard against Gabrielle’s bud when the climb to the precipice began.

As release began to hit them with gusts of almost unbearable pleasure and release they kept still, not even drawing breath, connected together as one body while the world around them quaked. The tearing pleasure and exultation of souls was so intense that they did not feel the basic urge for air.

The tempest subsided. The lovers gazed at one another in silence, relishing the satisfaction and serenity spreading through their tangled limbs.

“I am in bindings for you, my Lion,” the Queen said through leisured, weary smile, “And I love you.”

It was still dark outside and a weak azureous moon cast soft, pallid sliver-blue rays onto resting bodies of the Conqueror and her Queen, safely wreathed by strong, encompassing arms.

The Conqueror was the first to move. She poured fresh water into a basin and dipped a clean piece of cloth into the cool water then wringed out the excess water. She brought the damp cloth to her wife and with a tender touch she began to rinse the blood off her face, the evidences of her savagery.

As the cloth moved with care over her features, the Queen looked up and examined her Lord’s gaze, which avoided hers and intently followed the movements of her cleansing hand.

“Do not trouble yourself, my Lord,” the Queen said again.

“I won’t, my Lady,” the Conqueror answered but her countenance did not match her words.

After some time passed between them in silence, the Conqueror washed the cloth from her wife’s blood in the basin. “Turn around, Love,” she gently requested.

The Queen rolled over with some difficulty to lie on her belly. Now she felt the burn of her Lord’s whip’s bites all over her back, buttocks and along the back of her legs. Her nipples were sore, as was the crevice that the Conqueror invaded and filled so completely.

The Conqueror soothed the heat with the wet cloth, watching the droplets of water slide down her wife’s narrow waist, thinking how much she adored her wife’s curves.

Once the Queen’s body was completely washed, from her wife’s nightstand the Conqueror retrieved a salve made by the Queen’s hand, which hadn’t been used in a long time. With butterfly-like touches she applied the salve to the welts she had left.

“All will heal in a few days, my Lord,” the Queen said, basking in the afterglow of their passionate intercourse and her Lord’s tenderness.

After all wounds were carefully and mindfully treated, Gabrielle returned back to her Lord’s loving arms and rested her head against the strong chest. A single finger strolled along the Conqueror’s collarbone.

The Conqueror looked down into her wife’s glittering eyes as her fingers gently skimmed over the injuries she had inflicted to Gabrielle’s features. “I have been too rough with you, my Love,” she muttered with an almost sad smile that reflected remorseful, apologetic compassion.

“Please, my Lord…” the Queen tangled her fingers into the Conqueror’s moist mane and fondly combed it. “Do not apologize to me,” she whispered.

Remembering what Princess Sieglinde had told her, the Conqueror’s lips drew an inscrutable smile. The Queen wondered about that enigmatic smile but did not ask about it.

“I thought I was protecting our daughter,” she suddenly began to say.

The Conqueror did not reply but allowed her wife to speak without adversity.

“With a single decision I offended against you three times: I did not trust your remarkable sagacity, I’ve betrayed our bond by allowing another to come between us and above you, and superciliously I’ve allowed myself to forget who you are,” she said.

“Shhh…” the Conqueror placed a hushing finger over her Queen’s lips, “All is forgiven, my Lady.”

Queen Gabrielle was defenseless against what she thought to be her Lord’s unwarranted kindness towards her, overwhelmed by it, and feelings of guilt and unworthiness came about her and forced mute tears down her face again.

“I know and I am forever grateful for your undeserving benevolence,” she replied, stifling the sobs obstructing her throat, “but I wish for you to know that I have realized my great error when I saw you delivering us from Likos’ men on the palace’s grounds.”

The Conqueror chuckled knowingly. “Huh, yes…” she said, “The lions… You were impressed by the lions.”

“I was impressed by you and your power, my Lord,” the Queen replied and her eyelids felt heavy. The emotional day exhausted her and left her drained. She had so much more to say, so much more to share after such a long dry spell of silence.

“Sleep now,” the Conqueror whispered and lazily stroked her Queen’s hair. “We’ll talk more in the morning.”
Part 21
Bright, early winter rays of sunlight woke the Royal lovers in their Imperial bed. The Queen rested a loving gaze on her Lord, who was stretching her limbs and rubbing her eyes, happy that morning had come for the night sleep kept her away from her Lord whom she missed.

“Good morning,” the Conqueror said, studying the look her wife gave her.

The Queen planted a kiss on her Lord’s cheek, still warm from slumber. “A most excellent morning,” the Queen replied.

The Conqueror threw a glance out the balcony. “It appears that today will be a beautiful day,” she remarked and gathered a very contented Queen in her arms.

Lying on top of the Conqueror, the Queen relished the sensation to the point of feeling intoxicated. She caressed the muscles of her Lord’s calves with her toes and rained random, lingering kisses on her Lord’s chest then trailed their path with her tongue. The Conqueror hummed in pleasure and Gabrielle enjoyed the vibrations against her lips.

“If it pleases you, I wish to remain here with you and make restitution…”

The Queen did not finish her sentence when a movement and a crinkle in the Imperial antechamber drew their attention to the door and a brief moment later a knock on the door followed by the door opening caused the Queen to roll off the Conqueror’s body and throw the blanket over them.

“Good Morning, Majest-” the Conqueror’s attendant Thetis walked in and just as she was about to curtsy, much to her surprise, she noticed the Queen peeking from above the rim of the blanket that covered her up to her nose and concluded her greeting, “-ies.”

“Thetis,” the Conqueror greeted back and remained lying beneath the blanket on account of her nakedness.

“My apology, Majesties, I was under the assumption… I thought your Majesty…” she mumbled, embarrassed and blushing.

“Anything important?” the Conqueror asked, putting her attendant out of her misery.

“A few officials are waiting for your Majesty’s audience,” Thetis informed, neglecting to elaborate on the particulars due to the state of shock she was still in.

The Conqueror looked at her wife, who was looking back at her with pleading eyes and the exchange did not go unnoticed by the attendant and it filled her heart with joy.

“Tell them I shall be engaged…” and after another look at her wife, the Ruler continued, “for a few days.”

“Yes, Majesty,” the attended confirmed.

“Short of an outbreak of plague, fire or war, her Majesty and I are not to be disturbed.”

“By your will, Majesty,” Thetis answered too gleefully for the Conqueror’s taste.

And just as she was about to curtsy and leave, the Conqueror called out to her, “And Thetis,” making the attendant halt.

“Yes, Majesty?”

“Wipe that smirk off your face!”

“Yes, Majesty,” Thetis said but try as she might, the smile would not come off, despite the Ruler’s command. She was too happy to see the Conqueror and the Queen together again, and could hardly wait to spread the gossip and bring cheer to the palace household and herald the end of the dark days.

Alone again in their bedchamber, the Conqueror rested her upper body over her elbow and pillowed her Queen’s head, while her free hand roamed over her taut belly and firm, ample breasts.

“How are you feeling?” the Conqueror asked in reference to the Queen’s bruises.

However, the Queen was in a too euphoric a state to be bothered by them. “Wonderfully well now that I am back in your arms again,” she said, then a faint smile appeared on her lips. “There were nights, I tell you…” the Queen’s fingers mindlessly played with a few strands of her Lord’s hair, “that my longings for you were so awesome and the temptation to slip into your bed was so great that I had to ask Lady Astraea to lock me in my bedchamber so to keep away from you.”

The Conqueror chuckled, “Queen of the Realm – prisoner of her own desires…”

But the Queen laughter was short lived. “Not of my desires but of my love for you,” she corrected. “As I was watching you from the balcony ruling the lions with your whip, I thought to myself how every time, just when I think that it is impossible to love you more than I already do, I am proven wrong. It was the weight of my love for you that brought me to my knees that day.” The Queen lowered her gaze. “And then I though to myself, ‘how dared I…?’ ”

The Conqueror stopped her hand from roaming and simply wrapped her arm around her Queen’s waist, and listened.

“That is why I came that night to your chambers… Only to learn, much to my horror and devastation, that alas reckoning had come too late.”

“You never lost your place in my heart,” the Conqueror assured. “I just made it very difficult to reach, not just for you but for me as well.”

“You were brilliantly efficient, my Lord,” the Queen said and shuddered at the thought. “I was… out of sorts with grief by the thought of losing you. I thought I would live the rest of my life in perpetual darkness.”

“It is behind us, now,” the Conqueror tried to ease her wife’s mind.

“I feel like I haven’t apologized to you enough…” the Queen said with some distress and then with even greater concern, she covered her mouth in dismay, “and your trust in me…”

The Conqueror gently removed the Queen’s hand from her mouth and replaced it with a kiss. “I trust you.”

But that was far from being enough. Still feeling that she owed a debt to her Lord, the Queen bore her gaze into her Lord’s and said, “On pain of death, I vow before you, my Lord, to keep you forever first in my heart, to never betray your trust in me again, and to never allow another between us, not even our children.”

The Queen sealed the vow she made with a kiss.

“I accept your vow to me and I shall hold you to it,” the Conqueror stated.

The Queen was pleased and contented. “Please, do, my Lord.”

After a few moments when they lost themselves to their passions, touching, embracing and ceaselessly kissing, the Queen clasped her hands behind the Conqueror’s nape. “Now tell me all about the lions,” she urged and elicited a hearty laughter from her Lord.

“What do you wish to know?” the Conqueror asked with a wide smile stretching her lips from one ear to the other, for she welcomed the opportunity to impress her wife and to boast about her uncanny prowess.

“Everything!” the Queen exclaimed. “How do you make them obey you?” the Queen asked.

The Conqueror’s fingers wandered down past her navel and trimmed patch of golden down and painted lazy circles around the Queen’s hardening bud, making the Queen’s sharp intake of breath catch in her throat.

“The same way that I make all in my world obey me,” the Conqueror remarked with an air of arrogance, “I simply am. ”

The Queen held on to her Lord’s shoulders, her nails digging into the muscles and her head pushing back into the Conqueror’s forearm beneath it. Her entire body tightly arched under the Conqueror’s teasing touch.

“It seems,” the Queen rasped, “beneath you to be called “My Lion ” now.”

The Conqueror closely observed her wife’s wanton response as she glided two fingers into the warm, succulent slit. Her tongue scaled up the Queen’s neck and when it reached the Queen’s ear, she whispered hotly in her ear, “But it pleases me when you call me ‘My Lion,’ ” and when she sucked her wife’s earlobe through her teeth and into her mouth, she felt her wife’s womanhood sucking her fingers and heard her wife reach a shuttering zenith.

Seeing distilled lust in her Lord, the Queen turned in the Conqueror’s arm to lie on her belly, wiggled the saturated opening which was still quivering with the aftermath of extreme climax against the Conqueror’s length, and said, clutching the sheets with anticipation, “Please, sate your need.”

The Conqueror’s thighs pressed against the back of hers and the sweet, owning penetration into her depth rekindled the fire. The Queen bounced her hips against the Conqueror’s loins while her Lord drove herself in and out with adulating grindings.

The Queen felt her Lord everywhere on her body. It felt like being encased, bound inside a cage with hot steel bars from which she never wanted to break free. To the Queen it was Elysian pleasure on earth, and when her Lord’s first drops of moisture hit her buttocks, it sent her into a whirlpool of ecstasy soaring to a second crest. From above, she heard her Lord howl her release and felt a torrent washing her petal-like nether lips.

The Conqueror lay splayed, shuddering and panting on top of the Queen’s back, recovering from the effort and the intense and raw eruption. Both knew that there would be no containing the emergence of their passion.

When she overcame her crisis, the Conqueror pampered the Queen’s back with countless clusters of kisses then took the salve and applied it to the welts once more.

The Royals lay in bed, facing each other afterwards.

“I have trained the lions during the nights… I’ve spent most of my nights apart from you in the menagerie,” the Conqueror explained.

The Queen lowered her head and wasn’t sure if the burdensome feeling that was pressing her ribcage was shame or something else.

“I haven’t been unfaithful to you and I did not leave my chambers to visit other women’s beds,” the Ruler spoke matter-of-factly but she strained to do so.

The Queen wasn’t sure what she should say. The sentiment that gnawed at her most notably was that of being undeserving.

“But in all honesty I do admit that after I won the battle in Thessaly, I meant to take other women and if it hadn’t been for the realization that Likos was on his way to Corinth, I would have quenched my lust with as many women at my disposal and I know I would not have failed in doing so.”

The confession was difficult to listen to and it eviscerated the Queen’s heart. She cried without tears and did not speak until she was confident that her sorrow would not play in her voice, so as not to trouble her Lord.

“I would have forgiven you with all my heart and without carrying a grudge,” she said then paused, “and I would have done so not out of my own guilt.”

The Conqueror let out a long, deep sigh, “I know,” she finally said.

“Please, hold me in your arms,” the Queen requested with a weak whisper, feeling a desperate need to be close to her love.

The Conqueror gathered her wife in her arms and held her as tightly as possible without crushing her.

***

When the Queen’s mysterious absence was explained by Thetis’ incredibly good news about the Royals’ reconciliation, a spontaneous celebration ensued in the palace kitchen. The household staff, including Lady Satrina, the Queen’s and Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting and the Shamaness, cheered and clapped their hands in mirth and relief. It sounded almost too fantastic to be true

“Are you absolutely sure, Thetis?” the Lady Satrina insisted, nearly grabbing the attendant by her frock’s lapels.

“There was no misconstruing what my eyes have witnessed in the Imperial bedchamber, Lady Satrina,” Thetis maintained most adamantly.

“Oh, dear me,” Lady Satrina fanned her palm against her chest with some shortness of breath.

To further convince the steward, Thetis went on to say, “I was even ordered to wipe the smirk off my face.”

“You smirked in the Lord Conqueror’s presence?!” Lady Satrina questioned with a raise of her brows.

“I couldn’t help it,” Thetis said in her defense.

“On the contrary,” said Lady Satrina with a smirk of her own, “I admire your restraint.”

The steward sent Princess Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting to make haste and deliver the auspicious news to their mistress, to the Conqueror’s mother and to Princess Terreis’ governess.

But as soon as the Princess’ servants were about to exit the kitchen, they were accosted by Lady Cyrene. “One could hear the racket you’re making throughout the…”

But Lady Satrina rushed to the Conqueror’s mother with words shooting out of her mouth, “The Lord Conqueror and the Queen have reconciled.”

Lady Cyrene was careful not to get her hopes up. “How do you know?” she asked suspiciously.

“Thetis saw them together in the Imperial bedchamber.”

“Hmmm… The bedchamber, you say…” Lady Cyrene contemplated out loud. “That rings as the truth to me,” she mumbled and moved away from the entrance allowing the ladies to go about their business, and as always when she was happy and feeling great relief her mind turned to food and feeding. As she was standing in the palace kitchen, she took control over the familiar domain and instructed the cook to make an especially hearty breakfast consisted of freshly baked bread, poached goose eggs, goat cheese, vegetables and fruits. She then instructed the maids to take it upstairs to the Imperial chambers and leave it in the antechamber so as not to disturb the Conqueror and the Queen.

“I know my own business…” the cook grumbled. “I’ve been doing very well on my own for years now.”

But on such a merry morning, the two elderly women were simply too happy to engage in a war for dominance.

Realizing that her task had been completed, and knowing that it would be days before the Conqueror and the Queen would remerge from their chambers and be seen again in public and wishing to take advantage of the comfortable weather, the Shamaness packed some provision for the ride back to Amazon Lands and said her goodbyes to the women in the kitchen.

But she had one stop to make on her way back home – Cynna’s lavish villa.

The Heir’s mistress was most surprised to see her old mentor standing on her spotless doorstep. The meeting grabbed at her and threw her back to another life she had shirked off her and deserted.

“Shamaness!” Cynna exclaimed.

“How are you, Cynna?” the Shamaness asked.

“Very well,” Cynna answered. “Excellent, in fact.”

The Shamaness wondered if the fact that Cynna had yet to invite her in was due to her not wanting to blend the old life she had discarded with the new one she had so eagerly adopted.

“What brings you to Corinth ?” Cynna asked.

“I have come to pay a social visit to our Queen.”

“A social visit?!” Cynna’s response suggested she did not fully believe the Shamaness’ reply and suspected the old Shamaness was being less than forthcoming and perhaps even hiding things from her. “And how is her Majesty these days?” Cynna asked.

The Shamaness wondered if Cynna’s question was indeed sincere. “She’s doing ever so well. She and the Lord Conqueror have bridged over their differences.”

Cynna smacked her lips. “I am glad to hear it,” she simply stated.

The Shamaness half-expected Cynna to exhibit some semblance of scruples since she had had a hand in the matter, at least in part, but it was apparent that the young woman she had mentored was long gone.

“May I ask what has changed?” Cynna inquired, trying to appear nonchalant.

“How do you mean?” asked the Shamaness.

“What made the Conqueror and the Queen end the quarrel and make peace?”

The reason for Cynna’s question suddenly became disappointingly clear. “You needn’t worry,” the Shamaness replied, not guising her discontent. “It had nothing to do with you. As far as I know, your circumstances haven’t changed,” she took a long pause then added, “yet.”

“Yet?!” Cynna scoffed in a derogatory manner.

The Shamaness folded her arms over her saggy bosom and said, “I have come to give you a chance to return back home with me.”

Cynna began to laugh, “What is there for me on Amazon Lands? Deer hunting, wood chopping and freezing communal bathing in winter? I have a good life here. Everything I want, I receive. I am the future Ruler of the world’s lady, remember?!”

“For how long?” The Shamaness was not in the mood to mitigate the harsh reality about to hit Cynna hard, especially in light of Cynna’s disrespectful behavior.

“For as long as I wish,” came Cynna’s confident response.

“The Conqueror’s Heir will be back in Corinth within a fortnight and you will soon discover that along with the Conqueror’s Throne, she inherited other, less appealing…”

“What is some rough treatment in bed compared to all the riches and power in the world?!”

“You silly child…” the Shamaness sighed in frustration. “Our Queen is convinced that I’ve made a great err in judgment with you, but now I see that I did not. I’ve simply began to train you as a shamaness prematurely.”

“What am I suppose to take that to mean?” Cynna asked somewhat unnerved.

“You will understand in a fortnight, I’m sure,” the Shamaness with a mysterious smile, which Cynna read as near insidious, and before the Shamaness turned to leave Cynna’s luxurious villa, she muttered, “From your current position – The fall will be a long and painful one.”

***

Close to noon, the Conqueror and the Queen finally left their bed in search of food. The Queen took the silver tray and set the table for them to dine on the sunbathed balcony.

“Athena will soon be back from the Nordic Lands,” the Queen commented as she loaded the Conqueror’s plate and placed it in front of her.

“And straight to the arms of that self-serving harpy, no doubt,” the Conqueror’s countenance wore a severe expression as she ripped the bread in half.

“That would be a fair description of her, I suppose,” the Queen muttered pensively and took her seat opposite the Conqueror.

With a lascivious look, the Sovereign beckoned her Queen to come and sit in her lap.

The Queen smiled for she was happy to see that her Lord did not bear any ill-feelings towards her on that score. She approached her Lord and facing her, she seated herself on the Conqueror’s knees, straddling the lengthy form casually reclining in the roomy seat.

“So you see it too, then?!” the Conqueror asked, very pleased with herself to the point of appearing gloating. Behind the Queen’s back she dipped the bread in the liquid yolk resting in the plate on the wooden table and brought it to her wife’s mouth, and when a yellow drop trickled down her wife’s chin she sensually licked it.

“I’ve suspected it for quite awhile,” the Queen said as she pelted her Lord’s calm face with small kisses. “But when she hosted a feast in her villa while you and Athena were out defending the Realm, I’ve realized what you knew all along.”

“A feast in Corinth during wartime?!” the Conqueror asked as if she did not believe her wife, as if some record of vulgarity and indecency had been broken.

“I wouldn’t have believed it myself had I not seen it with my own eyes,” the Queen said, and took half a fig off her Lord’s mouth.

“What were you doing in that woman’s villa?” The Conqueror was intrigued.

“Sieglinde asked my permission to invite Cynna to the palace during the war, so that Cynna would be safe with us and would not be alone whilst Athena is away, so for Athena’s sake we went there in person,” the Queen said then added with a wicked smile, “The wife you’ve chosen for Athena, my Lord, is a greater woman than I.”

“Is she, now?” the Conqueror teased and vigorously kneaded Gabrielle’s left buttock while with the other she toiled to extract her wife’s breast from under the thin fabric covering it. “How so?! Do tell, wife of mine…”

“I do not think that I would have it in me to show such grace to any mistress of yours,” the Queen purred with delight as her Lord pleasured her and felt immense gratitude that her Lord had never put her in the position to know for a fact.

The Conqueror covered Gabrielle’s mouth with hers. “I think you would have if you thought it would please me,” she said and Gabrielle knew her Lord was correct. “She came to see me yesterday, did you know?” the Ruler asked when the kiss ended.

“Sieglinde?” the Queen asked.

“Yes. She said that she came to beg me for a quick death for her brother but had a change of heart and instead decided to beg me to forgive you, as you have been forgiving me for years.”

The Queen was not surprised, for she knew that Princess Sieglinde was virtue and grace and such an altruistic act was not beyond her; but she was deeply moved by the great gesture of intervening in her behalf and especially one which had been made with great risk to herself, facing the dark Conqueror with such a delicate matter.

The Conqueror went on to say, pulling her wife out of her musing, “I was able to listen to her because she was not you and I wasn’t trammeled by my fury towards you when she pleaded in your behalf. I saw your light glittering in her.”

“She is an extraordinary young woman. She could have easily resented me for picking Athena’s side during the division between us, but her actions and conduct were exceptional and beyond reproach. A young lass from the Nordic Lands has taught me a lesson in humility and has done so by example,” the Queen said. “You could not have chosen a better wife to Athena and a better future Queen to the Realm.”

The Conqueror smiled and gently stroked the Queen’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “When I first saw her, she reminded me so much of you. Her answers to the questions I posed to her spoke of her modesty, selflessness and compassion… How I hoped that Athena would discard that bed-warming termagant of hers and eventually grow to… at least care for Sieglinde if not cherish and adore her.”

The Queen kissed her Lord’s grooved forehead, trying to ebb the worries away. “I suspect you just might get your wish, soon,” she said and tangled her fingers in her Lord’s mane.

“I spoke with Athena before she left for the Nordic Lands and she kept on defending that awful woman to me,” the Conqueror claimed. “Do you know something that I do not?” she asked, deriving great pleasure from her wife’s fingers fondly combing through her long tresses.

“Some time ago, Athena complained to me that Cynna was willful and demanding.”

“Did she, indeed?!”

The Queen could not curb a smile when she saw how delighted and gleeful her Lord was upon learning about Athena’s expostulation regarding the former Amazon whom the Conqueror hated with passion.

“She also alluded to the fact that Sieglinde was more clever than she had initially thought and also generous and kindhearted.”

“Is that so…?” The Conqueror’s smile grew wider and her brows rose higher.

The Queen nodded in the positive. “And before leaving for the battlefield, Athena came to see me, as well, and receive my blessing.”

Upon hearing her wife’s words, a grim shadow crossed the Conqueror’s features when she remembered how she had left for the battlefield without so much as a farewell to her wife, and what if she had not returned alive from the battlefield? The notion was too desponding to contemplate.

“She did not wear her own sword which you had given her around her waist but a different sword with a sumptuous, foreign design which I believe had been given to her by Sieglinde,” the Queen continued. “When I looked outside from my balcony I saw her halt and turn back. She looked up. At first I thought her eyes were searching for me, but I quickly realized she was looking at the direction of Sieglinde’s chambers. It was her that she sought after.”

The Conqueror was the picture of content. “That is indeed most encouraging, my Lady,” she commented.

“It is my opinion, my Lord, that it is only a matter of time before Athena grows tired of Cynna and forms deep affection towards her wife. Sieglinde’s light shines bright and Athena will see it and cherish it eventually and even sooner than you think.”

The Conqueror showed her gratitude by planting a kiss between her wife’s partially bare breasts.

Gabrielle embraced her Lord’s head and pressed it harder against her body, still yearning for constant contact.

After a few moments that passed between them in wordless bonding, the Queen was the first to break the silence.

“May I offer you a word of advice, my Lord,” she asked.

“Of course you may,” the Conqueror immediately replied.

“Afford Athena a clear path to you with neither confrontation nor rebuke, for when she realizes her mistake it will be difficult enough for her to admit she’d erred, especially to you more than anyone else.” The Queen ran her fingers over the lines curved in the Conqueror’s stalwart shoulders. “She has her pride and is very much capable of carrying on with Cynna rather than admit to you that you’ve been right, and whether you are aware of it or not, my Lord, she is in constant competition or rivalry with you.” Her fingers roamed down the Conqueror’s biceps. “I beseech you to refrain from adding insult to her injured pride.” The Queen directed her gaze into her Lover’s, and after a short pause went on to say, “Yours is a hard shadow to come out from under and she is to succeed you one day.”

The Conqueror kissed the Queen’s lips. “My wise wife,” she said affectionately, “I shall act as you advise.”

The Conqueror rose from the table, carrying the Queen in her arms. The Queen immediately wrapped her legs around her Lord’s waist.

“Would you join me in the bath?” the Ruler playfully asked.

The Queen laughed. “Would you wash me in all the strategic places?” she salaciously teased and placed a special emphasis on the word ‘strategic’.

“Do you not think I ought to make you dirty first?!” the Conqueror groaned in the Queen’s ear.

“As dirty as you desire, my Lord,” the Queen moaned and suggestively tightened her legs around the Conqueror’s waist and grated her sex against the Conqueror’s checkered abdomen.

With the Queen wrapped around her like a snake, the Conqueror walked across their bedchamber and into the bath-chamber. The Queen clung to her as the Conqueror leaned down to light the fire beneath the bath stone floor so to warm up the water. Then she starched back up to her full stature and pressed her Queen’s back against the nearest smooth marble wall.

Secure between the wall and her Lord’s body, with her legs encircled and locked around the strong, firm figure, the Queen’s hands were free to sneak down the Conqueror’s body. She parted the loosely hanged robe and guided the Conqueror’s member into her gaping cleft.

They both grunted when the Conqueror rammed her length further into the Queen in full.

“This is how I worship you, my Queen,” the Conqueror drawled and took the Queen’s hands in hers. Their fingers interlaced in need to be connected in lust and in love.

The Conqueror’s release burst first. She strived arduously for it on purpose, aiming to achieve fulfillment before her wife did. For her wife’s release she had planned a different method of action.

The Queen sensed the tremors in her Lord’s body and felt her Lord’s come dribbling down her inner thighs but said nothing in spite of her surprise.

The Conqueror withdrew from the fleshy sheath, her shaft glistening with the Queen’s slick moisture. She bent her knees and with a tap of her hand signaled the Queen to slacken her grip from around her waist and stand on her own feet.

With her back to the wall, the Queen stood as her Lord knelt before her. The Queen knew her Lord’s mind perfectly well. Her Lord desired to taste her freshly from the oozing source.

When the Conqueror surrounded the Queen’s sex with her lips and when her warm, slippery tongue flicked the Queen’s pulsating nodule, bolts of fire coursed through her and the Queen tried to grasp at the wall, weakly emitting: “Have mercy,” to her Lord.

Three custodial fingers cleaved into her, stimulating her soaking core when the pressure became unbearable and a series of intense explosions of liberating pleasure began to hit her clamping sex.

When the ecstasy subsided she slumped over the Conqueror’s shoulder on her last legs.

Grinning, the Conqueror rose up and carried her exhausted, limp wife like a sack of grain to the bath. She dipped her hand to make sure the water was warm enough and gently lowered her wife into it, disrobed and entered the water, too.

The Conqueror derived great pleasure in watching the thin refined fabric of the gown cling to her wife’s curvaceous body. The expression on her face made the Queen laugh.

The Conqueror took her giggling wife’s feet and massaged scented oil into it. “I cannot understand it. I’ve just had you and I bear longing for you, still.”

“I feel the same,” the Queen replied and swam into the Conqueror’s arms. “But I cannot understand it either.”

The Conqueror pilled away the gown from the Queen’s body. Soon after, the Queen moved to sit behind her Lord and washed her hair, occasionally rubbing her breasts against her Lord’s back.

“My Lord,” she whispered, “May I ask something of you?”

“You may, Gabrielle,” the Conqueror replied and ardently caressed her wife’s thigh.

“I wish to repay Sieglinde for the infinite kindness she has shown all of us. Though a traitor, her brother is her only living kin. It will devastate her if he were to suffer the same fate as his coconspirators… and she has had very little reason to be happy since coming here and joining our family,” the Queen argued most vehemently.

The Conqueror sighed deeply and turned to face her wife. “My Love,” she said gravely for she knew she was about to disappoint her.

The Queen recognized her Lord’s tone of voice. “My Lion,” she begged, “I will not ask you to do it for me. I will, however, ask you to consider this: you always pride yourself in owing nothing to anyone. Forgive me, but you owe a debt of gratitude to this young lass for all that she has done for us. I will repay her the debt that I owe her, myself, but I cannot repay her your debt to her. Only you can do that. Therefore, I urge you to extend her brother some leniency.”

“My Lady,” the Conqueror spoke heavily then after a few long moments of contemplating her wife’s arguments, she said, “I will consider it.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” the Queen said with a smile.

When they finished bathing, the couple found supper waiting for them in the antechamber, and when they finished dining, they retired to their bed to quench their need for one another and become one as they had always been in the throes of passion.

Part 22
The following day, during twilight, the Conqueror and the Queen were reclining atop a hip of furs and pillows as the setting sun made its decline into the calm sea. The Queen appeared gloomy and pensive.

“What could be the cause of such a disconsolate air about you when we are together?” the Conqueror inquired with a beguiling smile that momentarily lifted up the Queen’s glum mood.

The Queen trenched herself deeper into her Lord. “I was thinking about the sights I saw on the palace grounds from the balcony during the battle with Likos and his men…”

The Conqueror pressed warm lips to her wife’s temple and moved them against it as she spoke, “Did the violence and the blood disturb you?”

The Queen took a few moments to consider the Conqueror’s question. “At first it did. The blood and the sheer brutality are the most immediate, most noticeable things that snare one’s attention in the beginning. It has such an overwhelming effect that it was almost difficult to discern anything else beyond the most obvious. But now that I am far from it, I can say that the displays of pain, suffering and dread of meeting with death are the things that have stayed with me… Faces contorted by terror and agony… the cries and the screams…” Her voice faded, her features went white as a sheet and her eyes became transfixed and glazed like she could see the awful sights before her.

“I wish I was better able to spare you…” The Conqueror’s voice was laden with regret, such as the Queen had never heard before.

“You have spared me the partaking in the carnage of war, my Lord.”

“I got here just in time, did I not?” The Conqueror tried to lift up her wife’s spirit with a light and mischievous comment. “Though I must say, you looked very fetching in your Amazon Queen attire.”

The Conqueror waited in vain for a smile to appear on her wife’s lips.

“The Imperial guardsmen disobeyed my order and prevented me from joining the battle –by your orders, I was told.”

The Conqueror kept her face sealed, and wondered whether her wife’s words were merely a statement of fact or a grievance of some sort.

The Queen argued: “I could have fought alongside them and been of some help defending my family and my subjects. I was well trained.”

“My love,” the Conqueror whispered and her voice had an appeasing quality to it. She placed a gentle finger beneath the Queen’s chin, motioning the Queen to face her. “I have no doubt in my mind that you are a capable Amazon Queen, who is well versed in the art of war.”

“You were protecting me, Xena,” the Queen faintly smiled and the fact that she used her Lord’s name implied that she profoundly cherished what she knew was her Lord’s gracious and thoughtful act of love.

“Not just your life,” the Conqueror explained.

“I know, you meant to save my soul from the damaging residues of killing. Your order was not that I must never fight but that I must never shed another’s blood .”

“It is my will that you should forever maintain your innocence. I did not wish for your light to be vanquished by blood.”

Cradled, the Queen stirred in the Conqueror’s arms. The topic of conversation evoked troubling memories that made contrition bloom in her. “I must confess an offence I’ve committed against your privacy.”

“That sounds awfully dire,” the Conqueror commented, amused. “How so?” she asked curious.

“One evening, on my way to my chambers, I heard you engaging in conversation with the attendant about killing foes in battle.”

The Conqueror seemed quite astounded but she was in good humor and in a particularly forgiving mood, and inwardly she went as far as to feel guilty for having tormented her wife for her disobedience by invoking jealousy in her.

The Sovereign recalled the conversation quite well.

“Did you hear all of it?”

“I heard most of it. I think you weren’t entirely truthful with the servant.”

“In what way, do you reckon?” the Conqueror asked. She knew that the Queen was right in her assumption but she wondered as to her wife’s thoughts.

“You told her that when you killed for the first time you felt nothing and I do not believe it to be the truth,” the Queen replied.

The Conqueror mindlessly brushed the tip of her finger against the Queen’s healing lips. “And what do you think is the truth?”

“It is the fact that you feel so strongly and so passionately that you need to build such massively strong, shielding walls around you.”

The Conqueror observed her wife, who knew her better than she knew herself, with loving eyes and said nothing.

“When I saw the horrors of war occurring before my eyes, for the first time, I think I got a true, real and potent taste of the toll it takes on mind and soul and the turmoil it must create within one’s self to inflict them even when not striking the first blow – even for the purpose of protecting and fighting for the greater good.”

After a few more moments passed between them in silence, the Queen continued to say, “I think it is why you exhaust yourself so… Waking up at the crack of dawn and falling into bed late at night… So that you will have a dreamless sleep… so that the faces of the people you’ve destroyed won’t return to haunt you during the short time between when your head is laid on the pillow to the moment when sleep claims you.”

“I sleep well in Thira ,” the Conqueror muttered.

“Because in Thira you know that I am safe, and because in Thira you can pretend that you are no more than Xena of Amphipolis, born by Cyrene and husband to Gabrielle rather than the ruthless Conqueror of the world.”
There were no words the Ruler could offer against the truth and what emotions her wife stirred inside her she swallowed.

“I know that you have been keeping from me that…” she paused in search for words, “that price you pay and I admire you for it because of the great self-control and immense effort it draws from you and I love you for it because of this urge you have to constantly save me from the darker elements of life and rule, but I am your wife and sometimes I too have the urge to protect you, your peerless power notwithstanding.”

“You do, without even realizing that you do. When I come to bed at night and lie next to you… just having you there with me… knowing that a pure-hearted woman like you loves me and is willing to share a bed with me is comforting beyond anything you can imagine.”

The Queen experience another moment of great revelation – When she had refused to share a bed with her Lord, not only had she betrayed their bond but she had also robbed her Lord of her place of refuge and solace and the shame she felt at that moment inspired her to wish to punish herself for it. She knew, however, that self-flagellation would serve no good, nor would it serve her Lord, for certain.

She kissed the Conqueror’s palm, callused from years of rigorously wielding weapons. “I am your love and companion on this earth. You needn’t carry the burden alone. You can speak to me even about those terrible secrets you keep buried beneath layers of the stony ground in your heart and allow me to carry it with you – and share this heavy encumbrance with me without ever fearing either my scrutiny or staining my innocence.”

A clutter of dishes being arranged outside at the antechamber informed them that the evening meal had arrived and was waiting for them.

“Shall we go and have supper?” the Conqueror asked, deliberately refraining from making a promise to her wife or even hinting that things would be different henceforth. She did not wish to give her word that she wasn’t sure she could keep but inwardly decided to make everything that was in her power to fight herself and break molds it took years to create.

The Queen understood. She nodded her head and disentangled her body from that of her Lord’s.

At first they took their supper in silence, as if they said all that needed to be said to one another already, but when the Conqueror saw her wife pushing the fish on her plate from one side to the other, she said, “It would seem that you are not without your own shadows tonight. What has darkened your spirit?”

The Queen poured herself some sweet wine, which she rarely ever consumed, and it worried her Lord even more. A notion, a dark notion that she had been pushing down into the most obscure recesses of her mind caught up with her all of a sudden.

The Conqueror put down her knife and covered the Queen’s hand resting on the table with hers as her gaze sough out that of the Queen’s.

“What is it?” she asked gently, suppressing her alarm. “Tell me.”

“I am afraid to,” the Queen replied with an unreadable tone of voice.

“You were brave enough to meet Likos and his army on the field… brave enough to face me yesterday… muster up that wondrous courage of yours and speak to me.”

“I’m afraid to say what I dread in my heart is true.” The Queen averted her gaze away from her Lord as if she could not face her.

“What is?!” The Conqueror could no longer hide her concern and shook her wife’s hand under hers.

“I fear that the uprising against your reign and the subsequent wars and lives lost – all happened because of me… that my defying you has made you appear weak in the eyes of your subjects, giving them the grit and the cause to betray you.” The Queen burst into tears and her eyes reflected horror and profound guilt. “I am responsible for so much death!” she sobbed uncontrollably, and in her distraught state nearly knocked the plate before her off the table.

The Conqueror immediately rose from her seat and knelt next to her Queen still seated at the table, shoulders quivering by the force of her grief.

“Stop it! Do you hear me?!” The Conqueror raised her voice so to be heard over her wife’s cries. She tried to catch her wife’s eyes with her own and when she couldn’t she pinched her wife’s chin and forced her to direct her gaze at her. “Stop it at once!”

The Queen did her very best to obey the command, and her cries somewhat subsided into whimpers and sniffles.

“Now you heed my words,” the Conqueror spoke firmly. “It is not your fault!” she stated fervently. “You did not foment rebellion in the Realm. It was not you who plotted against me – not you who raised arms against me. You are not accountable for the actions of treacherous men in my domain.”

“But -” the Queen attempted to speak but the Conqueror cut through her speech.

“Hush now, and listen to me,” the Conqueror said and rested her finger over the Queen’s lips, barring her from speaking. “Do you honestly think that four noblemen raised armies of thousands and challenged the greatest force in the world… because you would not open your legs for me?!”

The Queen listened carefully and considered her Lord’s words, hoping they did not sound convincing to her simply because she was so eagerly wanting to be convinced.

The Conqueror continued, “Rebellion against rule is a certainty – an integral part of being in power. It will always happen regardless of anything either you or I can do. Trust that every few years someone will try to free himself from under my authority – And this time, if it hadn’t been our discord, it would have been some other excuse, equally poor – such as the position of the stars in the sky or the word of one oracle or another. The only reason that rebellion does not occur every other day but once in a decade or two is because of the fear I strike and cultivate in the hearts of my subjects. However,” the Conqueror shortly paused, “once every few years the world needs a reminder of who I am – and I give it.”

The Queen calmed down as the Conqueror tenderly wiped the tears from her flushed cheeks.

“Are you being truthful with me or are you…?” The Queen trusted her Lord completely, but she just found it hard not to trust her own feeling of guilt, still having hold over her.

“You know I am.” The Conqueror smiled and the Queen pressed her body against her Lord’s as a silent plea for an embrace. Her Plea was answered.

After some long moments passed between them taking comfort in each other, it was the Queen who pointed out, with her chin still resting on the Conqueror’s shoulder, “Your food is getting cold, my Lord.”

“If it is only my food that is getting cold then indeed I am very fortunate, my Lady.” The Conqueror let out a low, thick chuckle the melted away any remnants of concerns the Queen held.

They went on to eat their supper, exchanging lewd comments and jests between them and laughing about them, while excessively stroking each other with their bare feet under the table. When they finished eating, the Conqueror rose from her seat and extended an inviting hand to her wife.
“Let us go back to bed, my Lady, for you are far from finished compensating me.”

“I do not think you will ever deem me finished compensating you, my Lord,” the Queen teased, taking the offered hand and standing up in one sensual, fluid motion.

“Was that a complaint I’ve just heard you raise?!” the Conqueror inquired, amused as she gently pulled her wife towards the bed.
Wearing the mask of false innocence, the Queen replied, “Of course not, my Lord.”

“Then get your ass back to bed this instant!” the Conqueror feigned an irresistible order with a mixture of wickedness and arousal glittering in her eyes.

***

The following night, after competing over who would fall from exhaustion first by several, consecutive intercourses, they lay spent, panting and sweating in each other’s arms again. The Conqueror rested her weary head atop her wife’s rising and falling belly and from her wife’s drenched sex she inhaled the blending scents of their desires.

“I haven’t revisited the memory of my first kill in many years,” the Conqueror began to speak as her wife fondly braded a few strands of ebony hair as was often her habit.

But as soon as the Conqueror finished uttering her sentence, she felt her wife’s hands stop their task.

“He was approximately my age. A handsome lad, he was with big dark eyes and sparse beard, untrimmed, like he was so proud to finally exhibit signs of manhood that he did not have the heart to cut a hair of it – a misguided young fool, who joined a band of raiders in another man’s quest for power, sweeping through Amphipolis. He was weaker than me, to be sure, but I had not expected to gain the opening for my lethal strike as soon as I did, or perhaps I hadn’t wished for it to present itself to me quite so soon, as if in fear that I was not ready for everything in my life to change so vastly and so abruptly. I remember hesitating for a brief moment, but my sword-arm was steady. Nevertheless, I missed his heart, if you can imagine,” the Conqueror spoke as her eyes moved sluggishly over the sight of her wife’s glistening thighs slowly drying. “My sword hit just below his shoulder and then not even deep enough, at that. The injury caused him to drop his sword to the ground, and I saw his big dark eyes open so widely that for a moment they appeared as though belonging to a fawn. He seemed shocked like he was not prepared to die, and I think he was not prepared to kill either. My second strike did not miss its target and after he fell at my feet my sword-arm moved like it was being mastered by some force other than me, and before long others fell one after the other. To this day I would not recognize their faces if they stood right in front of me in the noon-sun.”

The Queen resumed playing her fingers into her Lord’s hair, and the Conqueror drew in a deep breath and went on to tell the events of that day. “I am not sure how long it took. I had not sensed time as it passed when I realized I was standing in the midst of dead bodies, right in a shallow pool of blood next to a ripe pile of horseshit. I heard my men, my fellow villagers, my neighbors whom I had equipped and trained, shouting my name. It sounded like they were shouting it from leagues away, when actually they were standing no more than a few feet away. Next I remember being lifted up in the air. I looked down and saw two older men, my childhood friends’ fathers. I was sitting on their shoulders, which pressed against each other. My blood pounded in my ears like I had never felt it before, not even after running to the limits of my abilities. Waves of heat, as though I was sitting in the middle of a bonfire, broke on my skin… so hot that I could feel it humming in flashes. Lust and rage – were the only sensations I could recognize. I thought that if I would open my mouth and spit, I would surely spit fire that would burn the whole of Amphipolis to the ground. I do not remember the ride to the brothel and I do not remember renting a chamber and three women that night, like I knew one wouldn’t be enough. One moment I was carried while all around me people were cheering and the next I was in a middle of this poor young woman…”

The Conqueror considered turning over to face her wife but found herself unable. “Close to dawn they limped out of my chamber, sore and bruised like a savage animal mauled them… And I was left alone. I had half a mind to pay them extra so that they would stay with me and sleep next to me, but I did not wish for rumors about how the semi-god from Amphipolis was too scared to sleep alone to circulate and damage the reputation I meant to build for myself. I remember lying that night in near darkness. Too tired to get up and add logs to the hearth but not tired enough to fall asleep, it seemed. For all the exertion I placed on my body, you would think that I must have felt my muscles aching but all I felt was, was the weight of an incredibly heavy mass crushing my chest and though opened, before my eyes – all I could see was those big dark eyes like that of a fawn in a sea of red.”

The Queen was silent. She touched her suddenly cold palm to her Lord’s forehead and gently motioned it to turn. The Conqueror complied and turned to face her wife and observed her loving features through two round mounds.

“What happened after that?” the Queen asked almost in a whisper.

“The next day I walked around like a drunk for I was very tired , however inwardly I dreaded the night . Much to my mother’s chagrin, I spent the following night in a brothel as well, hoping to wear myself enough for sleep to come quickly, but it did not – not that night. When I left the brothel at first light I went back to my mother’s tavern. Both she and my brother Lyceus could tell immediately that I was not myself. They made several attempts to question me but I rudely rejected them all. As the days went by it became easier to fall into sleep. I had to force my mind to stop from thinking about that lad, but despite all my efforts as well as Lyceus ‘, I could not restore myself back to who I had been before. A few days later, the warlord regrouped and charged Amphipolis a second time.”

The Conqueror watched her fingers move over the wavy pattern of her wife’s ribs like they were the strings of a lyre. “Toris had just gotten married so he took his bride to safety. Lyceus insisted on joining the fight. He died under my command…” the Conqueror said with a tremor in her voice and after a short recess she went on to say, “I haven’t felt anything after that other than rage and lust for carnal needs and blood… until you.”

The Conqueror sensed her wife’s heartbeats quicken, and in her eyes she saw oceans of love and happiness.

“You saved the lives of the innocents,” the Queen said and caressed the high cheekbone, “and as for that lad, misguided and foolish as he might have been… You told me only yesterday that I was not accountable for other people’s deeds, and as much as you might wish it, even you, my Lord, cannot control everything.” The Queen smiled and saw her smile being mirrored back to her. The Conqueror obviously found her last claim amusing.

“He made his choice and so did you,” the Queen concluded.

“I know that now,” the Conqueror replied, and after a while of heavy thought, she said, ” I’ve known men who could kill indiscriminately and without scruples, who could slay without ever loosing a night’s sleep over it. I used to covet that ability and perceived my emotions as weakness that would surely hinder my path one day.”

“These men are rabid monsters who are the weak – they are not honorable and strong as you are. You fight for the greater good.”

“The greater good,” the Conqueror scoffed. “Have I managed to convince you of it or do you love me so much that it distorts your view of me?!” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “I do care for my subjects and I assumed upon myself my obligations towards them, but -”

The Queen wouldn’t hear of it. She cut through the Conqueror’s speech, rising higher against the pillows under her back to better her sight at her Lord. “I do not discount your insatiable hunger for power, but your lust for power does not negate the peace, the prosperity, the order, the wise leadership…”

The Conqueror covered the Queen’s mouth with her own and swept her into a long, enticing kiss that made the Queen’s toes curl. “I know,” the Conqueror smirked, “I was just teasing you. I do so love to hear you praise me. Yours are the sweetest praises ever spoken.”

“Absolutely insatiable…” the Queen whispered and looked into her Lord’s smoldering eyes.

The Conqueror stretched and expanded her spine in a languid, agile movement like a lion rising from its lay and blanketed her wife’s naked body with hers, pressing her loins between the Queen’s thighs.

“My peace and pleasure, my love, are in your keeping.” The Conqueror lured her wife with leisured kisses coupled with the slow building simmer stoked by illecebrous grinding into the Queen’s sex.

“As do mine in yours, beloved Lion.” The Queen melted underneath her Lord and crossed her legs over the clamping and unclamping muscles of her Lord’s backside.

***

It had been five days since the Conqueror declared the sequestration and seclusion of the Imperial bedchamber from the rest of the palace, and the world. Another lovely morning of high spirit and bright light celebrated the reunion between Lord and Lady.

The Queen lay on her stomach with her head in the direction of the foot of the bed, purring like a satisfied feline, savoring every knead and every touch that her Lord, who lay in the other direction, applied to her feet as she massaged with incredible skill.

“Have you the feeling that we are forgetting something?” the Conqueror asked her wife as she watched the part of the Queen’s anatomy that she cherished to no end.

The Conqueror’s stare was so intense that the Queen could feel it furrowing the firm flesh, and the only thing she suspected that she had forgotten was the sensation of clothes against her skin.

“Not even an inkling, my Lord,” the Queen moaned while her Lord’s thumbs were rubbing the arches of her feet. Immersed in her own distracting pleasure, she let out weakly, “This feels so good,” drawing out her words.

“I have this gnawing feeling that we are forgetting something…” the Ruler insisted, never neglecting to apply perfect pressure to her wife’s delicate feet. “We are forgetting something small,” she said thoughtfully.

“The Realm?” the Queen suggested, too preoccupied by the sensations that her Lord was creating in her. Her feet had always been sensitive and her Lord knew exactly how and where to touch them so to create this unhurriedly built carnal desire in her.

The Queen’s response proved to the Conqueror just how distracted and hazed her wife was. She brought the Queen’s feet to her mouth and began to suck and lick each and every one of the Queen’s toes, lavishing on them warm wetness and delicious tagging that made the Queen squirm in pleasure, feeling like the hot cavern of her Lord’s mouth was suckling at her sex nub. The Ruler released her wife’s feet from her warm hands, and from the foot of the bed she heard her wife emitting a displeased groan of protest.

“The Realm is not small.” The Conqueror moved from her reclining position and walked on all fours upon the bed, then gently embedded her teeth into her wife’s teasing rear asset and moved to hunker down over her. “The Realm is vast,” the Conqueror husked in her wife’s ear . “You are in heat again and it addles your mind, Gabrielle.”

The Queen’s buttocks swayed suggestively against the Conqueror’s crotch, and were confronted with aggressive, imposing hardening pushing back against her.

“And just what do you call that bulge asserting itself onto me, my Lord?” the Queen inquired knowingly and made the Conqueror’s lips stretch into a lascivious smile.

“I have yet to give it a name, my Lady.” The Conqueror snaked a hand beneath her wife’s wet folds and the stiff little fleshy crown above them, and grazed her teeth against her wife’s nape.

The Queen groaned, intoxicated by arousal. “Should I take it to mean that you are leaving naming it to me, my Lord?”

The Conqueror chuckled before she tenderly bit the Queen’s earlobe and whispered, “Well, you are the wordsmith in our family, are you not?”

A slow rocking began between the two bodies, desperately striving towards the climax of their passion.

“I still cannot remember what that small thing I think I’ve forgotten is,” the Conqueror muttered, her voice strained and ragged.

“It seems to me, my Lord,” the Queen said as she grounded herself against the Conqueror’s hand while above her the Conqueror did the same against the swell of the Queen’s twin globes, smearing them with her fluids, “that you are not investing your full attention to the task at hand.”

“And what task would that be, my Lady?” the Conqueror asked. Of course she knew the obvious answer, but she craved to hear her wife utter obscenities.

And she was not disappointed. The Queen quickened the pace of her urgent bucking and stated simply: “The task of making us come, my Lord.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the door in the Imperial antechamber, breakfast was being placed on the table by one of the servants when the doors were opened for a second time that morning, making the servant jump in her skin, startled.

Princess Terreis, accompanied by Lady Satrina and Lady Cyrene, entered the antechamber.

“Your Grace,” the servant present curtsied, and threw a concerned glance towards the closed doors of the Imperial chambers.

“Have our illustrious Conqueror and the Queen’s Majesty given any signs of life, yet?” asked Lady Cyrene.

“Not as of yet, Lady Cyrene.” The servant cleared her throat and downcast her eyes at the young Princess, before she vacated the antechamber, carrying with her yesterday’s dirty dishes.

“The child misses her parents and her governess informed me most strenuously that her Grace demanded to see her parents, now, otherwise she would resume those horrible screams,” Lady Satrina whispered to the Conqueror’s mother. “My ears are still ringing.”

“So my grandchild has reached past the point of reason,” Lady Cyrene remarked.

“Her Grace is probably the most patient member of the Royal Family,” Lady Satrina snickered.

“Oh yes, no doubt,” Lady Cyrene concurred with a nod of her head.

” An outbreak of plague, fire or war, was it?” asked Lady Satrina.

“I believe so,” Lady Cyrene replied.

“Surely, the Lord Conqueror won’t punish her Grace for interrupting?” claimed Lady Satrina.

As Lady Cyrene leaned down to be on one level with her grandchild, she said, “Of course not,” to Lady Satrina then turned her attention to Princess Terreis and said, “Go to the doors, knock and wait for permission to enter, your Grace,” with a little nudge to the child’s shoulder.

With tiny, hesitant steps, Princess Terreis walked towards the doors, suspicious almost, which made the two older women rooted in their place behind her realize that the young Princess had clearly inherited her parents’ instincts. Upon reaching the doors to her parents’ bedchamber, the Princess halted. She raised her wee hand so to knock on the doors but stopped, then turned to look back at the two Ladies standing behind her in a seemingly safe distance.

Both Ladies nodded their heads with unabashed enthusiasm to further encourage the child.

Trusting, Princess Terreis knocked on the door.

At first, the Conqueror and the Queen – too engrossed in each other and what they were doing – did not hear the rapping on the doors.

After a few moments upon receiving no reply, Princess Terreis had to resort to louder knocks joined with a an exclamation, “Your Majesties, it’s me!”

Inside the Imperial bedchamber, the Conqueror and the Queen were torn out of their world. As soon as the Conqueror heard her youngest’ voice she froze, pressing down against her Queen, petrified.

“Terreis!” she whispered in a moment of lucidity as if she just remembered what had been that small irritating thing she’d thought she’d forgotten.

“I’m too close to stop,” the Queen whimpered, looking amusingly pitiful, and she kept on writhing to encourage her Lord to continue.

“A slave to your desire for me,” the Conqueror whispered a teasing jest.

“And proud of it,” the Queen whispered back her retort.

The Conqueror’s hands were full beneath the Queen’s body, one half buried and half twirling firmly over the Queen’s sex, and the other kneading a hefty breast. To keep quiet and not give away their fervent coupling, the Queen stuffed her mouth with linens to muzzle any uncontrolled sounds of pleasure she knew she would surely emit.

“Your Majesties,” Princess Terreis shouted again and wondered why it took so long to receive a response.

The urgent thrusts resumed to conclude the delightful morning mating, and when release overtook the Conqueror and the Queen only muffled sounds could be heard, sounds that did not reach outside their bedchamber doors.

As soon as they were able, they got off the bed and on weak legs they covered their naked bodies and slumped back onto the bed.

“Come in, little one,” the Conqueror called out, still rasping.

The doors flanged open widely and Princess Terreis charged in, eager to reach her parents’ bed already, only she remembered the presence of the two ladies standing in the antechamber and so her dash came to a halt and she curtsied before her parents and greeted them according to proper decorum. There was something in the sight of both her parents reclining together in their bed that made her feel happy and relieved beyond measure and those emotions were written across her visibly and unmistakably.

“Your Grace,” they greeted her back.

Realizing they were not alone, the Conqueror cast a glance behind and beyond her youngest, and glared at Lady Cyrene and Lady Satrina. “You two…” she muttered, and shook her head disapprovingly. “Hiding behind a little, defenseless child… Have you no shame?!”

“Majesties,” both Lady Cyrene and Lady Satrina curtsied before the Royals as well.

The glimmer in the Conqueror’s eyes and wee smile on her lips betrayed the true nature of the Conqueror’s playful mood.

“Lady Cyrene and Lady Satrina , ” the Queen greeted back.

“Majesties,” opened the Conqueror’s mother, “Now that I see that peace has clearly been restored to the world, then with your permission I shall not impose on you.”

“Thank you mother,” the Conqueror replied, smiling, and Lady Cyrene exited the Imperial Chambers.

“Satrina,” the Queen addressed the overjoyed seasoned steward, “Please, have my ladies in waiting attend to me after breakfast.”

“With pleasure, your Majesty,” Lady Satrina nearly giggled, and went about her business giddy.

Once the Royals were alone, Princess Terreis resumed her dash and leaped into her parents’ bed. When she settled comfortably between them, she sniffed the air and pointed out with the innocence of her young age, “It smells odd in here.”

Mortified, the Queen cringed in her place, murmuring beneath her breath to her Lord, “She has inherited your acute sense of smell.”

The Conqueror covered her daughter’s petite ears with both hands and murmured back to her wife, “One does not require my acute sense of smell to discern the unique odors in here.”

The Sovereign then removed her hands away from Terries’ ears. “Did you miss us, my little Princess?” she asked.

“Terribly, my Sire,” Terreis replied. “I was not permitted to visit with you . ”

“Your Sire and I have been busy,” the Queen replied and stroked her daughter’s hair.

“All is well now,” Terreis comment sounded almost like a question, and to receive the much needed confirmation she turned her comment into one, “is it not?!”

“All is well, now, little one,” the Conqueror assured.

Princess Terreis kissed both her parents and received many kisses from the both of them in return.

“May we visit the lions after breakfast?” Princess Terreis asked, hopeful.

“You are to attend your geography lesson with your tutor after breakfast,” the Queen answered and turned her eyes from her daughter to her Lord, but as soon as her eyes met those of her Lord’s she could see her Lord grow soft for their daughter.

“It is a beautiful morning, my Lady. Geography can keep, can it not?!” she asked.

Princess Terreis waited to hear her mother’s final word on the matter. “Your Sire has made a decision, Terreis. The menagerie it is, then.”

“Thank you, mother, and thank you, my Sire.” Terreis nearly jumped up and down in the bed with joy.

“Now go and inform your tutor about the postponement, and then invite Princess Sieglinde to join us,” the Queen instructed.

“Yes, mother,” Terreis said with exuberance and as she left the Imperial chambers nearly running, she could not believe her good luck.

The Conqueror laughed.

“My Lord,” the Queen said, rising from the bed, folding her arms over her bosom, “I exhort you to mind your indulging Terreis to the excessive. You do her no favors by spoiling her, but quite the contrary – you are doing her a great disservice, which you will most certainly reap in the future.”

The Conqueror rose from the bed as well. She knew, of course, that her wife was right. “It’s just that I find it quite difficult to deny that little version of you,” she said, knowing full well it was a poor argument not worthy of the word ‘defense.’

“I do empathize, for I have the same impediment where your firstborn is concerned, but Terreis is your second in line and so she must be prepared as well, and while I adore your softness towards her, I would greatly appreciate it if what she lacks in will-power and eagerness to learn you make up for with discipline.”

The Conqueror sat down to the table to take her breakfast, pulling her wife to sit on her knees.

“Of course, you are right, my Love,” the Conqueror agreed and sucked a mouthful of grapes from the cluster that her wife brought to her mouth.

“And while we are on the subject,” the Queen began to say.

“Yes?!” the Conqueror asked.

“If you’ll permit me to suggest to you, my Lord…” the Queen’s voice trailed off.

“What is it, my Love?”

“The love in you is so awesome, my Lord. Perhaps you might consider deflecting some of that soft affection you show Terreis towards Athena.”

The Conqueror contemplated her wife’s words for a few long moments. “She makes it difficult for me to do. She displeased me on too many occasions to ignore.”

“I know she did, and she will again, but it breaks my heart having her believe that you do not love her or that you love her less than you do Terreis.”

“I understand,” the Conqueror muttered and tightened her embrace around her Queen. “Now tell me more about how you commanded and oversaw the defense of Corinth .”

When the Conqueror and the Queen finished breakfast, which consisted more of the exchanges of countless kisses than actual eating, the Queen’s ladies in waiting arrived to attend to the Queen.

When the couple walked hand in hand together through the outer doors of the palace, they met with Princess Sieglinde and Princess Terreis already waiting for them.

“Good morning, Majesties,” both Princesses greeted and curtsied.

“Good morning,” the Conqueror and the Queen returned the greeting.

When the Conqueror leaned down to pick her daughter up in her arms, perching her over her shoulders, Princess Sieglinde observed the bright happiness that shone from them stronger, much stronger, than the late winter sun.

“It is so wonderful to see your Majesty so glowing with happiness at long last,” Princess Sieglinde whispered softly at the Queen’s ear.

“I trust that your day of happiness is at hand, too, dear Sieglinde,” the Queen whispered back.

As the Royals made their way through the palace grounds and gardens to the menagerie surrounded by hints of spring, from high up on the Conqueror’s shoulders, Terreis asked, “When will Athena return home?”

“Anytime between seven to ten days, your Grace,” Princess Sieglinde answered.

“Good,” Terreis expressed her satisfaction, “I cannot wait to show her how much my checkers has improved.”

In the menagerie, the Queen, Princess Sieglinde and Princess Terreis went inside the vast cages, keeping close to the Conqueror and being safe and protected by the proximity to her, until the lions were made to recognize them as the Conqueror’s pride of sorts and exhibited friendliness and playfulness as they did towards their Master.
Part 23
Just before suppertime, in a sizable villa in the outskirts of Athens , a servant holding an oil lamp in her hand opened the doors and nearly fainted as soon as her eyes fell on the Conqueror’s Heir standing at the threshold in full military regal attire, and two Imperial guardsmen holding burning torches standing to each side of her.

The servant became dumb with shock and immediately knelt before the esteemed visitor.

“Is Lady Demetra home?” Princess Athena inquired.

“Who are you kneeling before, your silly boy?” A feminine voice called out from behind the petrified servant as her footfalls neared the door. She grabbed him by his shirt and shoved him away from the doorsill before she noticed the familiar face.

“Your Grace!” she exclaimed at the pleasant surprise and curtsied, but less than a moment later, before she even completed the gesture, a dreadful realization hit her that there could only be one reason for being paid with such an eminent tribute.

The older Noblewoman began to tremble.

“Do not bow before me on this day, dear Lady,” Princess Athena spoke with a grave and heavy heart and looked down at the older noblewoman who kept her head down still as if not wishing to witness her worst nightmare being confirmed by the look in the Heir’s eyes.

“Please, your Grace…” Lady Demetra begged with a broken voice. “Please do not tell me, I beg you…” Inwardly she tried with all her mental strength to contain what her heart already feared to be true, and when she failed and a lump began to rise in her throat she dared to look up and behold the Conqueror’s Heir, whom she had known since the latter had reached her waist, and began to bargain as a last resort. “Which of them survived?” she asked frantically, ignoring the inner voice insisting on telling her that if the future Sovereign of the Realm had shown up on her doorstep in person, then none of her children had survived.

Princess Athena did her very best to maintain her composure but her eyes began to weld up with unshed tears as she watched the heartbroken lady going out of her mind with grief – unable to do anything about it.

“Please, your gracious Grace,” Lady Demetra began to cry, “which of my boys survived? Cleon or Dexios?”

Feeling as though her tongue was trapped under a heavy rock, the Heir just kept on standing there without saying a word.

“They are both dead! By the Gods!” the Noblewoman broke down.

Princess Athena caught the older woman half way to the ground and held her tightly in her arms.

“I am so sorry, Lady Demetra,” Princess Athena said, and after a while, she led the sobbing Lady to a nearby settee.

“Guards!” she called out through the gap in the door that was ajar.

Two Imperial guardsmen entered, each carrying an urn in one hand and a shield in the other.

Princess Athena stood in front of Lady Demetra. “Lady Demetra, it is my sad duty to present you with your sons’ ashes and your sons’ shields.”

The guards placed the urns and the shields on the table in the middle of Lady Demetra’s main chamber and left. Princess Athena took a seat next to the bereaved widow and wrapped a comforting arm over the quivering shoulders.

“I am so very sorry for your loss, dear Lady,” the Heir murmured. “The battles in the Nordic Lands were hard and bloody. I had to command my forces on the field.”

“Of course. Your Grace could not have watched over every single soldier on the battlefield,” the widow nodded with understanding. “They were warriors. They thought that they knew what was to be expected… they just never truly believed that they would…”

“None of us truly know what it is like to fight on the battlefield, when the enemy is so close that you can see the color of its eyes and smell the stench of its sweat,” the Heir explained thoughtfully. “We all think that we are invincible because the Lord Conqueror is invincible, but the truth is that while the Lord Conqueror is – some of our loyal warriors inevitably fall. Such is the nature of the beast that is war.”

Fresh silent tears streamed in the grief-stricken widow’s wrinkles that grew deeper by her sorrow. “The last time I saw them was eleven moons ago when they were given leave by their commanders to attend their father’s funeral. As I watched them leave to return back to their posts in Gaul , I missed them more than I missed my dead husband,” she almost sounded embarrassed.

Lady Demetra’s words suddenly made the Heir think about her parents and their great dissension.

“It is understandable, dear Lady,” she said and meant it.

The older woman wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Please, forgive me, your Grace, for bothering you with an old woman’s ramblings. I am simply too emotional at this time to mind what I say.”

“Do not trouble yourself on my account,” the Heir assured and tightened her hold around Lady Demetra’s shoulders.

After some quiet moments passed between them, Lady Demetra asked, “They were fine soldiers though, were they not?”

“Not just fine soldiers, dear Lady,” stated the Heir, “But the best of men as well, not just in my sight but in that of all those who knew them.”

“I am so very grateful to your Grace for bringing me the news in person rather than send a messenger as is customarily done,” Lady Demetra muttered and softly caressed both urns resting atop the table.

“For me, it was the only honorable course of action,” the Heir said firmly and without hesitation. “I remember the graces you have shown me when I was attending the Roman Military Academy with Cleon and Dexios . You came to visit with me as well as though I was your third child, whenever the Lord Conqueror and the Queen’s Majesty were otherwise detained in Corinth by their duties. Your sons were the closest thing to a friend one in my position can afford to have.”

Lady Demetra took a cease from her lament and watched the Heir intently with an examining look, and for the first time since first the Conqueror’s Heir had set foot in her place of abode, she understood that the warrior in the regal attire who had been the bearer of bad news that day was not the mischievous, self-indulgent and entitled pupil she had visited at the Roman Military Academy.

“If your Grace would permit me to say – The Lord Conqueror and her Majesty the Queen must be so very proud of your Grace.” Lady Demetra said.

“They are,” Princess Athena spoke as if she was saying a half-truth, but Lady Demetra didn’t notice it.

“Your Grace would make a true and honorable Sovereign one day,” Lady Demetra said and crossed her legs one over the over, making her dress crinkle with the movement beneath it. She then sighed deeply as if the calamity that had befallen her had drained her completely.

“Thank you for your kind words,” Princess Athena accepted the compliment with a smile.

“And how is her Grace, Princess Sieglinde?” Lady Demetra asked both out of genuine interest and out of want for a distraction from her plight.

The Heir’s smile widened on her lips. “Well, I trust. I haven’t seen her in nearly four moons. I came here first, you see.”

“Thank you, your Grace,” Lady Demetra quickly said then added with a motherly softness about her, and sparkling eyes, “My boys were on duty at the time and could not attend, but I attended your Grace’s wedding. I was so thrilled when a messenger delivered the invitation. I could hardly wait to see your Grace’s bride. I was confident that she would be beautiful, of course,” she said with a knowing smile on her lips.

The Heir thought it strange, surreal even to be reminded of her wedding day at that particular time. For many moons since that day and onwards she had been cursing that miserable day. It was interesting to hear another’s account of that day’s events, and from one who experienced something far different than she had.

“And was she?” the Heir finally asked and wondered if it was possible that one day she would look back and her perception of her wedding would alter and soften, and whether time passed would dull the sting of her resentment of having been forced into it.

“Oh,” gasped the widow and fanned her hand over her bosom, “Her Grace looked so beautiful, so majestic and virtuous on your wedding day. Your Grace must be eager to see her, already.”

Princess Athena rose to her feet. “I am,” she replied.

Lady Demetra stood as well, and then slapped her forehead with her palm like she’d just remembered something of great importance. “I haven’t even offered your Grace refreshments… Pray, forgive my gross –

“There is nothing to forgive, dear Lady,” the Heir said with an upheld hand.

“I urge your Grace to please take supper and stay the night in my humble home. What’s mine is yours,” Lady Demetra almost insisted then pressed on, “Surely it is better than to travel or spend the night in the open…”

Princess Athena suspected that the invitation was rooted not only in the inherent kindness and generosity of the widow’s nature but in the need for company, or more precisely, the reluctance to remain alone on the night when she’d been informed she had lost her boys.

And with that in mind, the Heir accepted the invitation wholeheartedly and throughout that evening and well into the small hours of the night they sat together and reminisced about the good old times at the Roman Military Academy with Cleon and Dexios, where the only mayhem existing was in the form of youthful indiscretion and mischief and the horrors of war had been theoretical and existed only in scrolls and lore of tutors and instructors.

***

Meanwhile, in the Imperial chambers, Queen Gabrielle waited for her Lord to join her in bed. The doors to the Imperial bedchamber were opened, turning the Queen’s attention from the flames in the hearth to the entrance. She watched the Conqueror clad in her robe enter.

“Have you kissed Terreis for me, too, my Lion?” she asked, turning to lie on her side.

“As you asked, my Love,” the Conqueror replied. “She exhorted me to relay a message to you.”

“And what is it?”

“That you owe her two stories at bedtime tomorrow on account of you not telling her a story tonight,” the Conqueror smiled with satisfaction.

“Look at you, all smug,” the Queen remarked and observed the Conqueror as she shook down her robe from her stalwart shoulders, which made her biceps flex, much to the Queen’s delight.

“This family breeds strong-headed, demanding progeny,” the Conqueror replied and sat next to where her wife was lying and placed a kiss on her exposed neck.

“You have only yourself to blame for it, my Lord,” the Queen giggled.

The Conqueror retaliated with a bout of merciless tickles to the Queen’s sides, till the Queen surrendered, too weak to laugh any more.

The Conqueror looked intently at her wife, who still maintained a smile on her lips, and said, “I have just received word that Athena is in Athens . She will arrive at Corinth tomorrow.”

“At long last!” the Queen exclaimed. “Has Sieglinde been informed?”

“I had Lady Satrina tell one of Sieglinde’s ladies in waiting,” the Conqueror replied.

The Queen sensed a change in her Lord’s mood and noticed grooves of worry adorn the firm, proud forehead and the beautiful, blue-blazing eyes narrow.

“I know what you are thinking,” she commented gently and caressed her Lord’s forehead.

“What am I thinking, my Lady?” the Conqueror asked, pensively.

“Battle-lust will be upon Athena when she returns,” the Queen stated matter-of-factly, “And you worry about Sieglinde.”

The Conqueror nodded her head in silence, feeling her forehead move beneath her wife’s divine fingertips.

“Something that Sieglinde said to me… She said ‘Your Lord has an appetite for you’…” the Queen started to say.

It made her Lord wonder what had been the occasion for such a private matter to be broached between the Queen and her daughter-on-law, but she said nothing so as not to interrupt her wife’s speech.

“And the way she spoke,” the Queen continued, “it sounded to me as if it was a mere oversight on her part not putting the words ‘At least’ at the beginning of her sentence. It made me think as though she envied me and so you see, my Lord, I am not even entirely certain that they have ever been… intimate. ”

The Conqueror rubbed her chin, contemplating whether she should tell her wife or not, but decided it was better not to keep secrets from her. “They have been intimate at least once.”

The Queen shot her Lord a surprised looked. “How do you know?” she asked.

“I have ordered Athena to take her wife to bed and consummate their marriage,” she answered with a dry throat.

“Oh, my beloved Lord…” the Queen sighed. “Forcing intercourse on the unwilling and unready won’t make their hearts grow fonder.”

Being a former body-slave, the Conqueror thought, her wife was in the position to know and it pinched her heart.

“Please, forgive my outspokenness, my Lord, but intimacy is not something you should force on any two people, least of all on members of your own family.”

“I wanted Athena to perform her duties rather than make a mockery of her marriage by keeping her wife intact. I admit – I would have been better equipped to manage it if I had had your guidance, Gabrielle. I should never have shut you out…”

The Queen placed a finger over her Lord’s lips. “I wasn’t being a wife to you. You were well within your rights.”

The Conqueror kissed her wife’s finger. “What do you think we should do? Should we intervene?” she asked and wrapped her arm around her wife’s waist, enjoying the simple joy of feeling close.

“I have already tried, my Lord,” the Queen said as her fingertip traced a distended vein on the Conqueror’s forearm that rested over her belly.

“Have you?!” the Conqueror asked, surprised.

The Queen nodded her head in the positive. “She was short with me and seemed reluctant to discuss the matter, saying only that she would not be the objective of Athena’s lust and that if she was to be its objective, she would perform her duty.”

“She is nescient and unprepared, my Lady,” the Conqueror commented decisively.

“I agree,” the Queen concurred.

“Will you go to her and speak with her again?” the Conqueror asked, then rubbed the back of her head and murmured, “It is not appropriate for me to address her with such matters.”

The Conqueror’s words and the way she said them made it impossible for the Queen to avoid mentally imagining her Lord trying to broach the matter with their innocent daughter-in-law, and it made her laugh to tears.

The Conqueror suspected her wife’s reason for laughing and frowned.

When the Queen’s laughter subsided, she turned to her Lord and asked, “Would you want me to go to her now?”

“Yes,” the Conqueror answered.

“Hmmm…” the Queen pondered aloud. “I think you are brewing a scheme in that wonderfully devious mind of yours, my Lord,” she said as she climbed off the bed and reached for her nightgown.

The Conqueror grabbed her wife by the arm, twirled her around to face her standing between her legs, and cupped her wife’s buttocks, pressing the smaller frame against her own. “Indeed. I intend to stick my hand into Athena’s beast’s cage and rattle it when Athena returns. Such a long road home from the battlefield can make the dark lust simmer down and burn low, but I want it to be as ferocious as it can be… I want it to be at its very peak.”

The Queen smiled knowingly, quickly following her Lord’s mind. “A woman, who refused to bow before Athena’s wife in the market, is not likely to capitulate to Athena’s battle-lust either… and the worse the battle-lust she’ll face, the worse her reaction to it will be.”

“How I’ve missed you, my Love,” the Conqueror said hoarsely and amorously buried her face between her wife’s breasts.

The Queen pressed her Lord’s head harder against her breasts and weaved her fingers through the black, thick main she adored. “You simply cannot restrain yourself from meddling, can you, my Lord? You leave nothing to chance and refuse to let nature take its course,” she playfully teased, raising a feigned reservation against one of the traits that endeared her Lord to her – her need for control over all things.

“Meddling, my beloved Queen, is the most efficient way to insure the desired outcome,” her Lord argued, equally playful. “With the benefit of your guidance and wisdom and with her inherent traits, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I think Princess Sieglinde has what is required to face Athena.”

“Very good, my Lord. I shall go and speak with her,” the Queen said, displeased for having to extract herself from her Lord’s alluring touch. “May I ask of you, my Lord, not to mention the feast that Cynna entertained during the rebellion when you rattle the proverbial cage? I gave Sieglinde my word that I would not.”

“You have my word.” The Conqueror released her wife’s flesh from her grasp and allowed her to dress. “Do not forget to tell her…” she asked, but the Queen sealed her Lord’s lips with her own.

“I shan’t forget to tell her the most important thing of all, my Love,” she mouthed her words against the Conqueror’s lips.

“Thank you, my Lady,” the Conqueror said.

Clad in her nightgown, the Queen was about to vacate their chambers when she turned to her Lord and asked, “Will you please keep awake until I return?”

“I will not close my eyes without you lying in my arms, Gabrielle,” the Conqueror assured.

The Queen relished her Lord’s answer. “And will you grant me your carnal love?” she further asked.

“You know I will.”

And with that, the Queen made her way to Princess Sieglinde’s chambers. She was glad to discover that the Princess was not yet asleep but rather staying wide awake perusing through some scroll she was holding to the dim light.

The Princess, the Queen thought, was perhaps too excited to sleep. That sentiment had not been unfamiliar to her. She had always derived great pleasure from merely anticipating her Lord’s return from the battle front.

Upon seeing the Queen standing at the doorway of her bedchamber in her nightwear, Princess Sieglinde laid down the scroll and was about to rise out of bed and curtsy, but with a gesture of her hand, the Queen signaled her daughter-in-law to remain in her bed.

The Queen pulled out a stool and placed it near Sieglinde’s bed.

“I was assured that you were informed that Athena shall arrive at Corinth tomorrow, your Grace,” the Queen said.

Princess Sieglinde wondered as to the reason for her Mother-in-Law’s unorthodox visit to her chambers at that time of night. Her initial thought was that the Queen meant to discus the matter of her brother. She knew perfectly well that traditionally the highest ranking was the one to present the Sovereign with the defeated enemy, therefore she had little doubt in her mind that Princess Athena would not return to Corinth to appear before the Lord Conqueror empty-handed. Baldr would be in Corinth soon, as well, and the closer to Corinth , the closer he was to his end and the closer she was to losing the family she’d originated from.

Towards her brother she bore a myriad of emotions varying between anger and shame to love and compassion.

She did not, however, regret appealing to the Lord Conqueror on the Queen’s behalf rather than her on her brother’s. Even though his end was nearer than ever, she trusted the Lord Conqueror’s benevolence to allow her to speak to him one last time and afford her to properly depart from him.

“I was indeed, your Majesty,” Sieglinde replied.

“How are you feeling?”

Princess Sieglinde took several moments to consider her answer then replied, “It is odd, but I feel more restless than I did before my wedding.”

The Queen chuckled. “It is understandable, your Grace.”

“I shall tire myself soon. Your Majesty needn’t trouble herself on my account.”

The Queen leaned closer to Sieglinde and said, “Some time ago I made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to explain to you about battle-lust,” she spoke gently and quietly.

Princess Sieglinde lowered her gaze. “Majesty,” she tried to say but this time the Queen was more insistent.

“It is my belief, as it is my Lord’s, that intimate matters between you and Athena are on the verge of altering very dramatically.”

And before Princess Sieglinde managed a vehement denial, not wishing to nurture false hope within herself, the Queen asked her, “Tell me, before Athena departed, what transpired between the two of you, for I noticed a change in her when she left for war.”

Princess Sieglinde gave a short account of their farewell to the Queen, and the tender yet passionate kiss they shared, inadvertently strengthening in the Queen the belief that she had been correct in her assumption that a major shift had been developing in her daughter’s heart.

When she began to explain, as delicately as possible, what the act of feral intimacy might entail, Princess Sieglinde repeated her argument that she would not be the one who’d receive it, but the Queen would have none of it.

“I am telling you this,” she said most fervently, “because you need to know.”

And after that, Princess Sieglinde offered no resistance and just listened carefully to what the Queen was teaching her. The young Nordic Princess blushed red like a ripe tomato hanging under the summer-sun all throughout the Queen’s lecture. Inwardly, she was grateful that the Queen took it upon herself to tutor her on such delicate matters as her own mother, Queen Ortlinde, had not had the chance to instruct her daughter before her death.

“The most important thing you should know is – ” the Queen spoke most deliberately, “Do not think that being dominated means that you are powerless. You are not without power, for you possess great power. You have the ability to stop it at any time. You are even capable of taming it.”

“Am I?!” Princess Sieglinde asked almost in disbelief.

“Absolutely,” the Queen said, very confidant and studied her daughter-in-law’s face. She saw a question there and goaded the young woman to ask away.

“Did your Majesty ever tame it?”

The Queen smiled as if savoring a delicious memory. “Twice,” she said, “Once, when I was with child, and my Lord returned from battle. To protect Athena in my womb, my Lord first suggested we should sleep apart, but I was dying of longing… and the second time – was several days ago.”

“May I ask, Majesty, did you ever stop the darkness?”

“I never wished to stop it, but I know that if I ever wanted to then all I ever need do is say the word and my Lord will stop… as will Athena, for my Lord has educated her well.”

A few long moments passed between them in silence.

“Thank you, your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde said.

“The darkness would want the whole of you, and it is demanding and uncompromising, but I have learnt that more than it wants your submission, your awe and your desire, it needs your love – it needs it the most.”

The Queen’s words soothed the Nordic Princess like warm, smooth mead in a snowstorm. She believed she had a better comprehension of what she realized was the unbreakable bond shared by the Realm’s Sovereigns – Not just profound and extraordinary love, but the mutual knowledge and understanding of souls and all-encompassing mutual acceptance were its foundations. It was something to envy, to covet, to strive to and to aspire to. She wondered whether it was possible between herself and the Heir. Her own parents hadn’t had such a bond and their marriage, she knew had been the cradle of her yearnings. For the first time since she had begun her journey to Corinth , she allowed herself to cultivate her childhood dream to be truly known, protected and loved anew.

“I am so grateful for your Majesty’s guidance,” Princess Sieglinde said and began to feel sleep pressing down her eyelids, about to overtake her.

“It is I who is grateful to you,” the Queen said and bade the Princess goodnight before she left her chambers and returned to the Imperial chambers, where her Lord had been waiting for her, awake as promised.

***

Bright and early the next morning, when dew still covered the overgrown grass around the villa, Princess Athena stood again at Lady Demetra doorstep and along with her goodbyes she promised the widow with the black circles around her eyes and whose agony had just begun that she would visit with her as often as her position afforded her and that her heart and doors would always be opened to her.

The Conqueror’s Heir joined her men who escorted her all the way from the Nordic Lands and began to cover the short distance back to Corinth .

The sun had yet to reach the highest point in the sky when Princess Athena, at the head of the small detachment of the Imperial Guard forming a cavalcade of sorts, rode victorious into Corinth with her long, smooth gilded-main fluttering widely against the blowing wind. As the Princess and her entourage passed through the streets of the city, people poured in masses into the streets and gathered on balconies and rooftops to glimpse at the conquering Heir, throwing flowers and petals on the path before her.

Athena waved at them, absorbing their freely and happily given adoration, and the cheers were loud enough to pierce the clear blue skies above, but the loudest of cheers came from Corinth’s young daughters, and as the Heir passed by them, those who did not swoon danced in her honor and to her pleasure.

Her heart pounded and in her chest and heated lifeblood pumped through enlarged veins, spreading rejuvenation and vivacious gluttony to devour the world. As her flaring eyes skimmed over the countless faces in the crowd, she discerned Cynna’s face.

Their eyes met and locked. Athena pulled at her horse’s reins and slowed down the animal. She was pleased to see Cynna. She had been missing her during their time apart.

Cynna pushed forward through the crowding people, urgently paving her way to the main road where the Royal cavalcade passed through.

From the abyss, a low growl only Athena could hear was made by the beast making its presence known and alerting her to its awakened state, reminding her that it hadn’t had its pound of flesh yet. The long journey back to Corinth behooved the dark beast to be cooped up by the Heir’s will, but occasionally, when the road home had summoned a lady to cross paths with the Heir, the beast would growl and the Heir would tug at its leash to deaden it.

But Princess Sieglinde waited for her not half a candle-mark ride away in the palace and the whole of Corinth was in the streets that day. The Heir would not shame her wife so publicly by embracing her mistress for all to see.

Cynna did not make it in time to accost the Royal cavalcade and when it passed her by she saw the Heir respectfully nod her head at her in acknowledgment and then keep on moderately riding on route to the palace.

When Princess Athena reached the palace gates, they were opened widely before her, accompanied by roars of joy and admiration of the guards on the palace grounds and sentries at the wall.

Princess Athena dismounted her horse, took the Conqueror’s crown out of her saddlebag, handed the reins to the stable boy, and ordered him to have luggage unpacked. To the company that rode with her, she gave the order to take her prisoner, Baldr, down to the dungeons.

Lady Satrina was the first to greet the returning Champion at the palace’s main entrance.

“Your Grace,” the steward curtsied with a joyous smile on her face.

“Lady Satrina,” the Heir returned a warm smile. After so many years of service in the Corinthian palace, Lady Satrina was synonymous with home to her.

“Your Grace’s brilliant victory is talked about in every tavern, bathhouse and street corner in the Realm.”

“How odd,” Princess Athena replied with a rise of her brow and a wicked look that the seasoned steward thought was a perfect mimic of the Conqueror’s expression, and rightfully so. “On the road back from the Nordic Lands, all I’ve heard them talk about in taverns, bathhouses and street corners was some fantastical story about the Lord Conqueror siccing lions on Likos’ men by command.”

Lady Satrina burst into laughter.

“With respect, your Grace,” she wiped the dampness from her eyes with a handkerchief, and said , “you possess the same brand of mean spirit in you as the Lord Conqueror,” then she lowered her voice and leaned closer to the Royal, making the latter lean down so to better hear her. “Besides, the Nordic Lands forces sounded to me like a tougher opponent to defeat.”

“Lady Satrina,” came the Heir’s jaunty rebuke, “that’s treasonous rhetoric,” she said when they came to stand at the entrance of the Great Hall, but then the Heir’s countenance became serious. She took Lady Satrina’s hand in hers – a personal gesture that gave the steward pause, and with a soft, concerned tone of voice she asked, “How are my parents?”

The smile that lightened up Lady Satrina’s face told the whole story. “See for yourself, your Grace,” she said and signaled the ceremony master at the entry to announce the arrival of the Heir.

The doors were opened and the Heir’s title was called into the Great Hall.

Princess Athena strode into the Great Hall with the Conqueror’s sparkling, heavy crown under her arm, the soles of her leather boots knocking in accurate military rhythm that echoed in the vast space.

She saw the Conqueror sitting casually on her Throne, surrounded by advisers and other courtiers. The Queen was sitting next to her. Over the lion’s head at the fore of the Conqueror’s Throne armrest, the Conqueror and the Queen’s hands rested together, fingers interlaced. Even from that distance, Athena noticed the Conqueror’s thumb caressing the side of the Queen’s hand. Princess Terries sat on her mother’s side. The seat at the other side of the Throne, her seat, was empty and to its left, her wife sat at the edge of her seat – and her eyes – her grey, modest eyes, Athena thought, spoke sublime happiness and longing. It seemed as though she had to be tied down to her seat to keep from leaping off of it and running to her.

She was in the Conqueror’s presence and in a formal capacity. Otherwise, the Heir thought, she wouldn’t have been able to tear her eyes away from her wife, nor would she have been able to keep from running to her and holding her in her arms, close to her body, as close to her body as her own skin.

Princess Athena stood before the Throne and bowed before her parents. “Your Majesties,” she called.

“Your Grace,” the Conqueror and the Queen greeted back.

“I have restored ordered and reclaimed the province of the Nordic Lands as the Realm’s in your name, Majesty,” Princess Athena stated.

“Good,” the Conqueror said. “And the traitor Baldr?”

At the mentioning of her brother’s name, Princess Sieglinde, on her mettle, moved uncomfortably in her seat. The courtiers around her averted their eyes to her in order to examine her response out of sheer curiosity – her loyalty to the Realm was never questioned.

Abruptly, Princess Athena’s gaze was also moved to her anxious wife. “In the dungeons awaiting your Majesty’s justice.”

“ I am pleased,” the Conqueror said.

“I have returned your Majesty’s crown to Corinth, and I can assure your Majesty that the Nordic Lands shall never forget who conquered them,” the Heir announced and took one step closer towards the dais and outstretched her arms forward, presenting the Conqueror with her crown. Protocol in the Realm dictated that the crown is never given to the Sovereign but presented for her to take.

The Conqueror released her hold from over her wife’s hand and regally stepped down the dais.

To Princess Athena, it seemed as though the Conqueror’s response to her brilliant victory was arrested, lukewarm. It piqued her that she had received a warmer welcome and a more enthusiastic reaction from strangers on the streets of Corinth than from her own Sire.

The Conqueror took the crown off her Heir’s hands and placed it over her head. “Clear the Hall,” she ordered the courtiers.

All but the Royals vacated the Great Hall and once gone, the Queen, Princess Terreis and Princess Sieglinde clomped down the dais and ran towards Princess Athena’s opened arms.

However, the reunion was short leaved for after a few short moments the Conqueror whispered a few words in her wife’s ear and then declared: “I wish to speak with her Grace alone.”

The Queen nodded her head knowingly, which made Princess Athena wonder what had passed in secret between her parents. The Queen took her younger daughter’s hand in hers and led her, not without protest, towards the Great Hall’s doors.

For Princess Sieglinde, letting go of Princess Athena and coming out of her embrace proved to be difficult.

“Will you come to me afterwards, Min Herre?” she asked, feeling like she was being robbed.

“I will, my Lady,” Princess Athena promised.

And with that promise, Princess Sieglinde left the Great Hall.
Part 24
Queen Gabrielle and Princess Sieglinde did not venture too far from the Great Hall, but occupied one of the chambers close to it and waited. The Queen, foreseeing the severe confrontation about to take place, entrusted her youngest daughter to the hands of her governess and instructed the latter to take Princess Terreis outside to soak in the sun for awhile.

Inside the Great Hall, Sire and Heir stood opposite each other as though they were about to engage in a fierce duel.

“How many of my men did you lose in battle?” the Conqueror asked and her voice, which had a metallic quality to it, sounded like a blade being drawn out of its sheath.

“Four thousand, your Majesty,” Princess Athena replied without a smudge of anything resembling a hint of apology.

The Conqueror clasped her hands behind her back, stretching to the fullest extent of her stature. “Four thousand and fifty eight, to be exact.”

That was the first yank at the tether of the gradually awakening beast lying in wait inside the Conqueror’s progeny. It irritated the Heir that her Sire was being so petty, and unappreciative.

“That is correct, Majesty,” she finally managed to bring herself to say without censure.

“Do you not think it essential that I should receive accurate information from the Chief Commander of my forces?” the Conqueror kept irking her firstborn, waiting for the latter to give way and the darkness to surface and present itself.

“Of course it is,” Athena replied, her fists beginning to tighten to the point where she thought it best to fold her arms over her chest.

“Do you not think that the lives of fifty eight men who died under your command are important enough – significant enough for you to mention and acknowledge?”

That was the sore spot, the Achilles heel. In her dark frame of mind and with her blood reaching boiling point, pumping in her veins screaming: ‘Strike! Strike! Strike!’ Princess Athena held back no more and liberated the darkness to rule her faculties.

“Do not accuse me of not caring for your men!” she shouted. “I was there! I saw their blood sprayed on the Nordic snow. I smelled the stench of their bowels being emptied on the field. I had to watch my steps from trampling over their severed limbs. I saw their heads being split in half by Nordic axes as though they were watermelons. Under my command they were my men.”

The Conqueror maintained a cool exterior, which only made Athena burn hotter.

“I had to return my childhood friends back to their mother in damned urns and tell her she had lost both her sons in battle. I had to face the lamenting woman that had visited me in the Academy when you hadn’t – crying, grief-stricken and inconsolable, Sire! So do not accuse me of not caring.”

“Four thousand and fifty eight dead -” the Conqueror stated, “is unacceptable!”

“We killed fifteen thousand of theirs!” the Heir shouted back.

“You are weak!” the Conqueror spat. It was like throwing a burning torch into a barrel of oil and waiting for it to explode.

Athena breathed fire and emitted smoke from her nostrils. She had to tighten her arms against her body to keep from launching at the Conqueror. If she hadn’t been so enraged and so mired with battle-lust, she would have been insulted and hurt.

“I have never been weak,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Under your tyranny, under your favoritism, under your intolerance – it was never possible for me to be weak, not for a single moment in my life.”

“Mind your tongue when you speak to me,” the Conqueror warned.

But Athena was beyond heeding any warnings and the raging lust in her body made her feel even more powerful.

“I’ve just said ‘favoritism’ to you and you do not bother to deny it.”

The Conqueror did not reply at first, but she reconsidered and retorted, “Shall I feel sorry for you?!”

“What is it?” Athena’s voice continued to roar and her forehead wrinkled with rage.

“What is what?” the Conqueror answered with a question, not following Athena’s meaning.

“What is the crime that I’ve committed against you? What trespass? What offense makes you hate me so much? Was it that I almost killed my mother, your beloved Queen, when I came out of her womb? Because I caused you to feel fear? Because I proved to you that you were vulnerable? Won’t you ever forgive me for it in spite of it not being my fault?”

Athena’s words seemed to have struck a nerve. The tightening of the Conqueror’s jaw was not lost on her firstborn.

Princess Athena stoutly turned to leave the Great Hall despite not being dismissed by the Sovereign.

“Off to your precious Empusa*, I suppose?!” the Conqueror called out from behind her. Just one last shaking of the cage and said Empusa would not stand a prayer, she calculated.

Princess Athena turned sharply to face the Conqueror again. “Tell me, Majesty,” she said, “How is it that you now appear to be your usual uxorious self? Have you done something insidious to Cynna while I was away, thus putting an end to the division between you and mother?”

The Conqueror sneered, “If I were to devise something wonderfully awful to befall that… woman of yours, I wouldn’t have waited for you to leave Corinth in order to do it.”

“Well, mother is obviously back in your bed. Was it something you’ve done to her, perhaps?”

The Conqueror smiled a chilling smile that made the hair on the back of Athena’s neck stand, but what came out next from the Conqueror’s mouth, Athena could never have anticipated.

“You could never match what I did to your mother,” the Conqueror said, her hand moving to rest over the whip attached to her leather belt, and her gaze momentarily dropping to the general area of her crotch, thus making her meaning perfectly clear and undeniable.

Princess Athena mustered every ounce of control she had in her to arrest her desire to reach for her sword. Her Sire’s remark, those ten short words and the crude unmistakable gestures blew in her an eddy of scathing emotions that shrilled for a satisfying outlet, for revenge. The thought of her gentle, beloved mother, whom she had put on a pedestal her entire life and had been very protective of, being a chattel to be used by her Sire’s cruel needs and having to hear her Sire crudely vaunt about it, raised in her a near-murderous wrath – never mind what her Sire had told her about the darkness being shared. Equally tormenting was the thought that she could never measure up to her Sire, not as a Ruler, not as a Warrior, and now not even as a Swiver of women.

As the Conqueror watched Athena and her wounded pride storm out of the Great Hall riddled with ire such as she had never seen before, she knew she could not have chosen a better, more affective weapon from her diverse arsenal and she had no doubt in her mind that in order to spite her and to sate the clamoring darkness and the flooding desire, Athena would head straight to Cynna’s villa.

The Sovereign sauntered towards the Great Hall’s entrance, passing by rows of tall, massive Corinthian pillars that had been carrying the high, arched ceiling for years and the intricate murals that decorated the Hall. She had been heartless and deceiving and she knew that there wasn’t any truth in what she had said. Nevertheless, it had to be done and one day, she thought, her firstborn would be grateful for the tuition that her Sire had collected from her.

A few short moments later, she found the Queen and Princess Sieglinde waiting in a nearby chamber.

“My Lord,” the Queen curtsied.

“Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde, whose face seemed fallen, curtsied as well.

“My Lady,” the Conqueror bowed and outstretched her arms when she saw her Queen rushing towards her.

“My Lord, we just saw her Grace striding down the corridor,” the Queen said and rested her hands over the Conqueror’s, feeling the large hands clasp around her forearms. “She passed us by without so much as a word.”

The Conqueror threw a glance over the Queen’s shoulder and noticed her daughter-in-law, dejected, leaning her weight against the windowsill, staring aimlessly outside and her grey eyes, like small clouds, raining down mute tears. Sadness and disappointment shaped her countenance. She had been waiting, patiently and dutifully for over three moons to be reunited with the Heir, only to be snubbed and abandoned again.

“Sieglinde.” It was the Conqueror calling out to her with the softest and most tender of voices that spoke volumes of profound compassion and of a wish to sooth and comfort.

That simple utterance made the Queen’s heart turn into a molten, flaming puddle of love.

It was so warm and tender and so personal that Princess Sieglinde directed her gaze to the Conqueror with a fair amount of shock.

The Conqueror beckoned the Princess over. “Come here, dear lass,” she requested, maintaining the same tone of voice.

Such tenderness, coming from a Sovereign so harsh who conquered the world by her will and commanded lions like soldiers in battle, was overpowering and defeating.

The Queen, of course, had been privy to that particular paradox for years, but to Princess Sieglinde it was a novelty, a clandestine side to the Ruler she never could have conceived of.

Compelled by it, Princess Sieglinde could no longer hold back her tears, and as she closed the gap between her and her parents-in-law, they streamed down her face, silently, with decorous dignity.

“Min Herre gave me her word that she would come to me.” It was her very first grievance that she had ever voiced since first she set foot in Corinth, and if it weren’t for the high expectations followed by the devastating disappointment, she would have succeeded in arresting it as she’d always done before.

“Daughter,” the Conqueror beheld the Nordic Princess and shined her face to her, “have my word instead.”

“Majesty?” Sieglinde asked, utterly confused by the great honor bestowed upon her by the Conqueror.

The Queen looked up at her Lord adoringly and understood.

“Her Grace will come to you. Go to your chambers and prepare yourself.”

A flicker of a smile appeared on Sieglinde’s features. She wiped her tears away.

“My Lord’s word is the best guarantee there is,” the Queen smiled at the Princess with kindness.

“Thank you, Majesties,” Sieglinde said. “Thank you,” she repeated and curtsied before them and made her way to her own chambers.

The Conqueror gathered the Queen in her arms and planted a kiss on the top of her head.

“Were you very hard on Athena, my Lord?” the Queen asked and rested her temple against her Lord’s collarbone.

“As hard as I needed to be, my Lady,” the Conqueror replied.

The Queen almost cringed at the thought.

“Do you trust me?” the Conqueror asked.

“Always,” the Queen replied, unreservedly, and her concerns ebbed away.

The Conqueror lifted her wife up, and the Queen entwined her limbs around the lengthy body she admired.

“Will you spar with me?” the Queen asked, grazing her Lord’s neck with her teeth.

“I shall carry you to bed this instance and spar with you for every kiss I wish to lay on your beautiful, most desirable body,” the Conqueror groaned as her Queen feasted on her.

The Queen began to laugh, “I meant sparring with staffs.”

The Conqueror raised an eyebrow as she considered what she thought was her wife’s adventurous spirit, “We can use staffs, if you wish.”

The Queen laughed harder. “I meant on the training field. I could use the exercise,” she further explained.

The Ruler understood, but decided to toy with her wife a little longer so to distract her mind off their daughter. “Do you not think it just a bit crass and distasteful to have me take you in public?!”

The Queen wrapped her arms around her Lord’s shoulders and feigned a frown. “You understand my meaning perfectly well. You simply enjoy tormenting me, ” she said then lowered her voice, “I respectfully and with all humility request that my Lord recompense me.”

It was the Conqueror’s turn to laugh. “What form of compensation does my Lady deem fair?” She tantalized her wife, knowing full well her wife’s wishes just by looking at her.

The Queen decided to deny her Lord the pleasure of hearing her speak her desire out loud, and so she placed a single finger over her Lord’s mouth and her other hand she brought meekly between her thighs.

“I shall grant it,” the Conqueror stated without hesitation and lowered her wife down to stand on her own feet.

Against her wife’s expectation, the Conqueror did not take her upstairs to the comfort and privacy of their own chambers, but gestured to her wife to lean herself against a nearby table, atop which stood a flask of spirits.

Astounded, the Queen’s eyes widened as she saw her Lord kneeling in front of her.

“Here?” she exclaimed.

“I cannot wait until we reach our bed,” the Conqueror replied, then took the flask, closed her teeth around it, yanked out the cork and blew it out of her mouth.

The Queen chuckled, feeling very flattered. “I say, just like when you were in your early twenties when you first acquired me and took me where ever you desired.”

The Conqueror nodded her head and grinned at the memories her Queen called to her mind. She took a large draught of the spirits and washed her mouth with it, rolling the intoxicant over her tongue, which she intended to lay on her wife’s tastiest, most delicate morsel, making it even warmer and more tingling.

The Conqueror swallowed hard. “I remember,” she husked.

The Queen felt two hot, large, strong hands slipping under the hems of her dress and sensuously slide up the skin of her calves and thighs.

“What if someone should see us?” the Queen asked then giggled when she saw the Conqueror’s head disappearing under her dress as well.

Upon sensing the scorching breath of the Conqueror caressing the apex of her thighs, the Queen spontaneously spread her legs and her own breath was caught in her throat.

“They will think that I am truly a benevolent Ruler,” the Conqueror answered.

The Queen began to laugh again but before long it abruptly turned into short gasps and then into labored breathing when her Lord beneath her dress touched her tongue to the Queen’s sensitive, swelling flesh. The long, firm strokes of the agile, sizzling tongue against her sex made the Queen grasp the edge of the table with one hand and her Lord’s hooded head with the other and gyrate her sex hard against her Lord’s mouth.

Shuddering release came too soon.

***

Galloping to Cynna’s villa, Princess Athena could still hear the Conqueror’s hurtful and shaming words ringing in her ears. She drove her horse relentlessly, stabbing the sides of the animal with her heels, making the heads of the people on the streets of Corinth turn, and before they even had a chance to bow before her she had already passed them by.

When she reached her destination, she jumped off her horse and burst into Cynna’s villa without warning, making a servant, who was present at the antechamber at the time, drop a jug half-filled with wine that he was carrying. It shattered into small pieces against the floor and the wine spilled like blood, staining the tiles red.

He immediately dropped to the ground onto the fragments of the broken jug scattered all over beneath him. They cut through his trousers and his knees and the wine stung the opened cuts, but he wouldn’t dare move.

“Where is Lady Cynna?” Princess Athena growled at him.

Shaking, he pointed at the direction of Cynna’s bedchamber.

Upon pushing open the doors, Princess Athena caught sight of her mistress lying in bed, startled out of her daytime slumber.

Cynna rubbed her eyes and for some reason pulled both lapels of her garment together to hide the exposed cleavage. She did not care for being imposed upon and in such a boorish manner.

The curtains were drawn to keep the sunlight out and so her bedchamber was poorly lit. She climbed out of bed and approached Princess Athena.

“A nod is all I get from you?” she complained. “You are gone for three moons and when you return – a tip of the head is all I receive and for all of Corinth to see…” She had a good measure more to spew but her voice trailed off when she suddenly sensed something akin to danger in a form of an inexplicable chill running down her spine.

She looked at the figure that stood in the middle of her bedchamber and saw a beast wearing Athena’s skin and glaring at her through Athena’s blue eyes. She had no idea a person could look like that, and she became very frightened.

“Forgive me, your Grace,” she said when finally her instincts took over.

Princess Athena did not seem impressed by the gesture. “Disrobe,” was all she cared to say.

Cynna was not accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner, and the sting of her pride being pricked was the only thing she could feel.

“Ask me again properly this time, as though I am the woman you love rather than some whore in a tavern,” Cynna said, nearly demanding as she grasped both sides of her hips.

“I will not repeat myself,” the Heir stated and removed her cloak from around her shoulders. She was in no mood to be challenged, especially not after the words she had had with her Sire, and if Cynna knew what was best, she would have known that disobedience on such a day might yield a catastrophic fate if she persisted on aggravating the Heir any further.

But above all else, Cynna felt offended and wronged. “I deserve better than to be treated as nothing more than a mere vessel to have your carnal needs dumped into.”

The Heir glared at her mistress and hanged her cloak on a chair’s backrest with misleadingly casual motions, then with a swift, aggressive motion she clasped Cynna’s frock and ripped the fabric with amazing ease.

Cynna’s exposed breasts were jolted by the force applied, and she immediately sent her arm to cover her bareness. She looked back into the Heir’s eyes at first with shock and then in defiance and scorn. She usually considered herself as one who possesses an indomitable spirit, and so she was unprepared to be at the receiving end of such belligerence. Nevertheless, she convinced herself it was a mere momentary slip and chose to ignore the tearing of her garment.

Although, what she considered as a demeaning slight burned her. “You would take anyone if they are female in every feature,” she half accused and half retaliated, as if by doing so it would lessen or dull her humiliation.

The Heir closed the gap between them then struck away the arm that stood in the way between her gaze and the breasts she wished to see.

“You will close your mouth unless I tell you otherwise and you will not cover yourself in my presence again,” the Heir informed in such a fashion that would have been amply clear. “Kneel!” came another order.

Cynna could not believe her ears, and she certainly did not recognize what stood before her, making unspeakable demands of her. Of course she had been told and even warned about the darkness that consumed. However, at the time, she had been more dazzled by the bright lights of riches and high station than she had been concerned by the gloom prospect of the darkness that would one day come to collect the remuneration for it.

“I do not kneel,” Cynna replied.

And in a heartbeat, a whip appeared gripped in the Heir’s mighty grasp, making Cynna gasp, and when the Heir sent it flying and wrapping around Cynna’s ankles, it was evident that until the moment that the leather made contact with her flesh, the former Amazon did not believe it would.

Once the whip was tightly wrapped around Cynna’s ankles, a powerful yank sent the smaller woman tumbling towards the ground. Now she was on her knees as the Heir had ordered. It was only then that she comprehended the grave peril she was in, and how unsafe she really was. A line that she had never believed would be crossed was just crossed, and once it was, there was no telling what other lines could be. She looked at the Heir, with whom she had shared her bed and to no small extent her life, and it felt as though she was truly seeing her now for the first time.

Cynna’s eyes leaked tears as she rubbed the right side of her thigh that had suffered a painful strike as it had been forced to the ground. She looked up to gaze at the Heir in order to find the one that had so charmingly courted her when in the Amazon Lands. “Who are you?!” she couldn’t help but ask.

“I am the harm that I inflict,” the Heir responded. “Who did you think I was?!” She grabbed the kneeling woman’s hair and pushed her head hard backwards.

“You are hurting me,” Cynna complained.

Cynna was not behaving according to the Heir’s expected design and with the insinuation her Sire had made in regards to her bedding abilities, Cynna’s behavior infuriated her beyond measure. “I will hurt you far worse and you will accommodate me as you told me you would, do you remember?” the Heir said. “Now, did I not tell you to shut your mouth?!” the Heir said and stuffed a piece of cloth into Cynna’s gagging gullet.

Cynna, choking on the cloth, tried to push it out of her mouth with her tongue, all the while coughing it up her throat.

A powerful slap to Cynna’s breast left a glowing, pulsating imprint of the Heir’s large palm over it. Cynna managed to push the cloth damming her mouth just in time to release a shrilling scream due to the pain.

“I don’t think that I am capable of accommodating you, Athena, please…” she cried.

“You’ll do well to remember that I am not your equal and refrain from addressing me by any name other than my honorific,” the Royal began to undo her trousers and unbuckle her belt. “How do you think it would look if it were to become known that the Heir to the Throne keeps a mistress whose word cannot be trusted?” she asked, and in her mind she tried to imagine her Sire’s measures and proceedings and was resolute in her mind to deliver hers twice as hard.

When Cynna saw the Heir’s long, thick leather belt being tested, she cowered, bracing herself. “I am frightened, your Grace,” she pleaded.

“As well you should be,” the Heir retorted and landed a lash to Cynna’s shoulder that reached all the way over her shoulder blade and half way down to the small of her back.

Cynna had never experienced such pain being applied to her body. It felt like her arm had been severed. The lash was so strong that it forced fresh tears out of her eyes despite her wish. She could not bear it any longer, not just the pain, but the position she was put in.

“You are perverse and your needs are depraved,” the words rushed out of her mouth before she could sublimate them for she was beyond upset and distraught.

The Heir fumed. She backhanded Cynna’s mouth so powerfully that she loosened three teeth and made the gums bleed, sending Cynna’s upper body backwards. The back of her head and shoulders were slammed against the floor, making her bent legs become trapped beneath the weight of her body in an awkward position.

Like a raptor, the Heir swooped over her mistress and embedded her fingers into her flesh like talons. “Is that the worth of your love, then? You love only those parts in me that suit your interests?”

“I do love you, only I wish no part in this sickening game,” Cynna squirmed, trying desperately yet fruitlessly to free herself from the Heir’s hold on her.

“If my tastes were not to your liking, you should have voiced it in a respectable manner and not pass judgment laced with insolence. If you loved me as I am, you would have loved the darkness in me as well even if you were not able to face it and submit to it. Your love for me is severely flawed and it makes me realize that the only thing you love is what being with me provides you with. You love yourself more, and I have no need for such love,” the Heir said and pierced the woman ensnared beneath her with her eyes.

The glare was so overbearing and its reach so deep that Cynna felt as though the Heir was able to see the most obscure corners of her soul. She knew in her heart with total certainty that if she were to utter anything other than the absolute truth, the Heir would know it – and so she said nothing, thus confirming the Heir’s educated suspicions.

“Quiet at last,” the Royal hissed.

“Get off me and leave,” Cynna said and in her eyes there was a mixture of fear and determination.

“Gladly, for I cannot stand the touch of you,” the Heir sneered, releasing Cynna and wiping her hands on her shirt. It insulted Cynna as she intended.

Princess Athena stood up. Her Sire had been right all along, naturally, she thought.

“But you are very much mistaken. I am not leaving. You are!” the Royal stated.

Cynna got off the floor and covered her nakedness with the torn fabric of her dress. “This is my house!” she claimed.

“This house,” the Royal spoke in a deliberate manner so that there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings, “is mine – not yours. I’ve merely resided you in it for my convenience. Being that you are no longer my mistress, you will leave it at once.”

Cynna looked around till her eyes rested on her jewelry box. The Heir noticed it and was quick to further state, “You will not take anything here which you haven’t brought with you when first you came to Corinth .”

With a pleading expression about her, designed to elicit compassion, Cynna requested, “Will you at least allow me to leave after sunset, for I do not wish for my neighbors to see me in my shame.”

“You do not have to concern yourself with gossip,” the Heir replied, “for you are hereby forbidden to ever setting foot in Corinth. You will never face your Corinthian neighbors again.”

Inwardly resenting what she perceived as the Heir’s vindictiveness, Cynna claimed, “It is all the work of Princess Sieglinde. She managed to poison your mind against me.”

Of all the invective that the Heir sustained that day, Cynna’s last venomous sentence infuriated her the most.

“You are not worthy of cleaning her Grace’s chamber-pot and I swear to you… If you should ever speak ill of her Grace again, I shall cut your tongue out.”

By the look on the Heir’s countenance, Cynna believed the true intent of the Heir’s vow to her like she had never believed anything else before in her life.

The Heir pointed at the direction of the door.

Cynna turned her back to her former lover and went to the chest at the foot of the bed. She retrieved her Amazon attire, which she had worn when she had arrived at Corinth. She then quickly disrobed and wore it again, thinking that the garment symbolized her brilliant failure. The conversation she had had with the Shamaness when Princess Athena had been on her way back from the Nordic Lands taunted her and at that moment she wished she had listened. It was an end of an era, she thought, and the first apprehension of what that meant began to fester inside her.

Silently, she looked at Princess Athena one last time, as if expecting the Conqueror’s Successor to change her verdict but knowing to her very core that there was no going back. She followed the direction to which the Royal was pointing and that was how she left her luxurious life behind.

As she walked the streets of Corinth, she kept her head down in order to avoid the looks she felt on her person. Her former neighbors, who had once dined at her table and had partaken of her banquets, followed her walk of shame. By the way she was dressed, they were quick to surmise her fall from grace and her loss of the Conqueror’s Heir’s favors. Some pointed at her, some whispered amongst themselves, other laughed at her. Very few things in life are as satisfying as seeing your neighbor’s plight, for it reminds one of his own good fortune which ought to be appreciated. It did not take long for Cynna’s misfortune to become the talk of the day under the Corinthian sky.

After awhile, when Princess Athena concluded sufficient time had gone by for Cynna to be far enough away, she left the empty villa and made her way back to the palace.

When Princess Athena reached Princess Sieglinde’s chambers, her heart, mind and soul were as black as coals, having experienced one disappointment too many from the two main protagonists in her life: her Sire, whom she resented herself for not being able to but admire for her supreme judgment of character; and her former mistress, whom she expected unconditional acceptance from – she wanted both to love her, as much as she hated to admit it to herself.

This was not how she had imagined her return home from battle would be. In her mind’s eye, she had seen the Sovereign who sired her being proud of her and the woman whom she had paid a steep price for, being loving.

All that had transpired that day made the downtrodden beast inside her even more vicious, more hateful and hungrier for that pound of flesh it had been denied.

The shields around the Heir’s heart were raised high, and the heart itself grew colder and stonier. The weakest needed to be made toughest – her Sire had always told her. The battlefield did not take kindly to weakness and it certainly did not spare those who were weak. Life was a battlefield, she thought as she placed her hand over the door handle. Mercy had no business on the battlefield, and as she had been taught, it would always be the weakest that would pay most dearly. Her mind immediately turned to the meek woman whom she knew waited for her on the other side of the door.

Sieglinde, her would-be victim, would be all alone, no doubt, without her ladies in waiting, vulnerable without anyone who would come to her rescue, for no one would defy the Conqueror’s Heir or dare stand in the way of her will.

And what could this wife of hers, whom she had not chosen, possibly know about lust, about dark and low desires, Athena thought. Her wife was a proper lady, a very young, proper lady with proper education, and proper upbringing, who knitted and sang and adored children. A lass, really, who was bred to marry and bear children without any guidance as to the ways of the world, and their consummation night, if anything, had been a perfect example of it.

Till her last moment on earth, she knew, she would never forget the look on Sieglinde’s face and her whimpers when she had carnal knowledge of her, at her Sire’s command. Sieglinde clearly had neither a concept of what the activity entailed nor of the pleasures that are given and taken. A virgin – she had been a bloody virgin, but more than that, unlike Cynna, who growing up as an Amazon had been at least well-informed, Sieglinde had been ridiculously naïve and ignorant, and she’d suffered more for it. It made the beast inside her roar, gloating.

Athena couldn’t help but wonder whether her wife had ever been aroused, had ever felt that hot, throbbing pulse beating in her loins and the overwhelming urge to rub it or have it rubbed to the point of release. Did she at all possess sexual proclivities of any kind? The very thought of her wife’s seemingly non-existing appetites of the flesh almost made the Heir laugh.

She pushed the door in ever so slightly, making it squeak on its hinges and making her arranged-marriage wife become aware of her presence and fearfully anticipate it. The Heir lingered for just a while longer, finding it almost odd that Sieglinde hadn’t come to the door to greet her yet.

The russet glow of the candlelight and the low burning hearth were the first to greet her as she took the first step into Sieglinde’s bedchamber.

The sight before her, which almost seemed as though it had been meticulously arranged solely for her benefit, took her breath away even more than it baffled her.

The Nordic wife, wearing only the traditional cap over her head and a demure expression about her countenance and nothing more, was kneeling on the floor and resting her backside on her heels. Had she not been naked, Athena would have thought it to be the chastest exhibition she had ever seen.

Rather than barge in, as was her initial intention, she stepped inside slowly and consciously, like she revered the display. She saw a shiver ripple down from Sieglinde’s shoulders and down her spine. Nevertheless, Sieglinde kept her eyes down.

It was the very first time, the Realm’s Princess realized, that she had seen her wife’s naked form. That night when she had taken her, she had not cared to expose her wife’s figure, much less examine it. But now she was riveted by the exquisite marvel that was her wife’s nakedness. The smooth skin that was as pale as the moon extended not just to Sieglinde’s face but as far as her fingers and toes. Two small, perfect pink domes decorated the apex of the small and firm, flawlessly shaped breasts.

“Lift up your head and look at me,” the Heir ordered as she towered above her wife.

Sieglinde lifted up her head, and her gaze following upwards, and she could barely meet Athena’s gaze.

Although Athena did not realize it yet, her wife was as appreciative of the sturdy, muscular physique and the rough-hewn features.

In her wife’s eyes, Athena discovered something she did not expect. Sieglinde’s eyes were smoky, with silver-grey mist crawling in them, which called to mind the silver-grey fog she had seen at the Nordic Lands – a low cloud that had descended down from the sky and hovered over the turquoise water which had reflected its image, before the cloud evaporated into a white fog that crept towards the mountains’ side and slithered stealthily near-morbidly alongside it, blanketing the snow-covered trees.

These mysterious, modest, Nordic eyes held in them something intangible that Athena had never seen before and the raging boil in her quieted some.

“Take your cap off and let down your hair,” the Heir’s commanding voice instructed. “I wish to see.”

Princess Sieglinde’s hands reached up and behind her white cap. She untied the garment’s laces under the bulge of her hair. Her lean fingers worked fastidiously, and quickly enough the tie was loose. Mindfully, she pulled her cap back and removed it completely, discarding it with a hasty hand on the floor. As soon as the cap was removed, countless strands of lush golden hair, so smooth that it untwined out the several braids all by itself unassisted, cascaded down the curvaceous tokens of Sieglinde’s body like brooks of gold down hills and valleys.

Athena observed, fascinated at the scores of golden streams of perfect hair, gushing like the many waterfalls she had seen in the Nordic Lands, over shoulders, breasts, waist and stomach, pooling down at the triangle between the pressed-together creamy thighs like they were holding a precious, delectable secret.

Princess Athena beheld her wife with a watering mouth. Mindlessly, she began to walk around the demurely kneeling woman and inwardly admired the staggering sight, revealing nothing of her sentiments upon her features. She wondered what had prompted her wife to present herself in such a pleasing and suitable fashion.

The alluring, shining, gilded hair reached all the way down and over Sieglinde’s buttocks. Athena believed that her wife had probably never touched a blade to her hair since birth. In the dancing firelight it seemed to glitter with many shades of bright gold and Athena could do nothing but swallow.

The beast inside the Heir was alert and primed to be unleashed on the delicious prize at its feet. It licked its canines, slobbering, ready to take the first bite, tear the succulent flesh offered, suck on the bone and consume the soul.

But Athena held it at bay. She looked down at her wife, who seemed ready and willing to accommodate her, and felt so utterly overawed.

“I cannot,” she said in a voice that sounded somewhere between a whisper and a hiss, “I cannot do this to you.”

“Min Herre?” Sieglinde whispered back confused, hoping she misunderstood, resolute in her mind not to weep.

It took every drop of power she had in her, to deny the darkness that eviscerated her insides trying to claw its way out of it bindings. She suspected she hadn’t strained herself that much, not even on the battlefield facing thousands, for never before in all her life had she ever desired to take, to have and to conquer as she desired at that moment. “ I cannot cause you any more pain than I already have,” the Heir said, and it sounded as if her words were spoken halfheartedly. She nearly wished she’d have done the less than decent thing and savaged her savory, pure wife as every drop of blood in her body wanted.

Sieglinde, whose lips and chin began to quiver slightly, moved to stand on her knees. Hesitantly, she reached for the Heir’s belt and took the rolled whip attached to it in her hands, raising it in front of Athena as if on a platter and said, “Please, Min Herre… I deserve better than your pity.”

Athena’s eyes briefly widened in disbelief, but maintained her composure. “It is not pity. I am trying to protect you,” she said with a flat, rigid tone of voice for it was getting harder to control the beast she had no desire to control.

But her wife’s next word sobered her with surprise.

“Why?!” Sieglinde asked. “I have earned it. I have earned the right to your lust, Min Herre.” It wasn’t a demand, even if her tone of voice sounded like it. Sieglinde stated what she believed was truth, undeniable.

“You do not appreciate the state that we are in. Do not tempt me for I have no will to hold what’s inside me.”

“Please, Min Herre,” Sieglinde would not give in.

“You do not know what you are asking, wife!” Athena huffed, at the end of her sinews.

“Perhaps not,” Sieglinde answered and raised the whip in her hands even higher, “But I want it.”

Athena took the whip from Sieglinde’s hands and let out a long, heavy breath.

* Empusa – is a she-demon from the Greek mythology with a single leg and a hoofed foot of a donkey, who seduced men in order to feed on their flesh and blood.
Part 25
The whip would have to be folded into two to better moderate the force of the lashes, Athena thought as she took the offered instrument from her wife’s hands. With the whip still rolled in her hands, she began to undo her shirt and discarded the white silk garment to the floor. She watched Sieglinde stealthily throwing glances at her, attempting to clap her curious eyes on her nakedness, and the Heir reveled in it, making a spectacle out of it to impress her captivated audience. When she unbuckled her belt and pulled it from around her lean waist, she made the muscles of her arms and chest swell for Sieglinde’s pleasure.

The bedchamber was hot, quiet and heavy with languor.

With a single, indolent motion she revealed her strong thighs and the corded muscles adorning them, deliberately hiding with her torso the device harnessed over her loins. She exposed a sculpted, robust back with twin shoulder blades sinking and emerging back up under packed flesh with the unhurried movement of her arms, drawing further her wife’s escalating anticipation.

When out of her trousers and boots, she stretched back to her full stature, bare, dropping one end of the whip to fall to the ground, keeping the handle firmly in her grip, as well as her gaze intensely upon Sieglinde. She saw Sieglinde blush as her gaze lingered with keen interest at the large shaft swaying between her thighs, and her wife’s complexion grew redder when she realized she was caught staring at it. The involuntary demonstration of innocence, excitement and bashfulness charmed and enchanted both the Heir and the beast that dwelled inside her.

Athena narrowed the distance between them and reached down to take a handful of that irresistible hair, which when she’d first clapped her eyes on it still in thick, healthy braids, it’d reminded her of the ropes on the battleship she’d commanded, which was the largest in the Realm’s fleet. Her action was not forceful. She tested its texture between her fingers to find that it was the softest thing ever to touch her skin and she became distracted by imagining the feeling of that softness everywhere on her body. Absentmindedly, her hold on the strands of hair loosened and the strands poured down from beneath her fingers and clung back against Sieglinde’s white flesh.

Unable to stop herself, she reached for the hair a second time, and when she leaned down and collected another sample, a low growl just above a whisper escaped her mouth. “It is so exquisite.”

“Thank you, Min Herre,” Sieglinde whispered above baited breath.

Under the blanket of gold, the increase in movement of Sieglinde’s breasts caught Athena’s attention.

“I see now why you hide your hair,” Athena said and brought her wife’s hair to her face, touching it against her cheek and closing her eyes in delight. “If it weren’t for your cap it would distract and entice everyone you cross paths with.”

When Athena opened her eyes she saw the blush spreading to Sieglinde’s ears.

“My hair is for your eyes and for your pleasure alone, Min Herre,” Sieglinde spoke with a small voice. She never imagined she would ever engage in such an intimate exchange. Her heart pounded so wildly in her chest that she could feel it slamming against her ribcage. Her mind was flooded with streams of something she could neither name nor recognize in her excited state.

“I am very pleased,” Athena said then leaned down even lower, feeling the breaking of the fetters arresting the darkness inside her. ” Are you ready?” she husked into her wife’s ear.

Sieglinde’s heartbeats quickened. “I am, Min Herre,” she rasped, sounding more confident than she felt. She had been waiting for this day, for this moment since her father, King Olof, had told her in so many words that she was to marry the Lord Conqueror’s Heir.

But the curiosity and anticipation for the Conqueror’s successor grew into more while on the long journey to Corinth. “ The Conqueror’s Heir is a lass, Princess,” Jarl Albrich had told her with a grave tone of voice. He’d felt sorry for her, she could tell, not marrying a man, but she hadn’t felt she needed to be pitied. “I was told she is more a lad than a lass, really,” he’d added to comfort her, but that had only made her even more intrigued. At her request, the Jarl had told her all that he knew about the queer Greek Princess and her illustrious lineage – And when she had seen those cobalt eyes in Corinth, as blue as the sky, the body chiseled by arduous training and the most handsome face, she’d learnt what want was. And then the pinch of pain in her heart whenever she’d seen Athena with Cynna had taught her she’d been feeling more than a simple wanting.

No force in the world, not even the darkness, would compel her to stop it now.

“Are you frightened?” the Heir asked.

“I am, Min Herre,” Sieglinde answered, then lowered her head just slightly and added, “But I am also happy, for now I shall truly be yours.”

The animalistic howl sounded near in the Heir’s ears. It wasn’t the proclamation of fear that made the blood course faster in her veins, but that of her wife’s belonging to her, she knew. “I will do all that I can to contain it,” she promised then added almost tentatively as though she felt it was too much to ask, “ With your help?”

“With my help,” Sieglinde confirmed with a shy smile.

And the beast was freed.

The Heir let Sieglinde’s hair loose from her hand as she straightened back up.

“Go to the bed and rest your back against the pillows,” Athena ordered.

Sieglinde rose to her feet and on quick legs went to the large bed in which she had spent all her night sleeping alone, all but one, and climbed up.

Athena seized the opportunity to feast her eyes on the slight sway of her wife’s buttocks and licked her suddenly dry lips.

As ordered, Sieglinde seated herself on the bed, reclined backwards against the pillows, and rested her head against the carved wooden headboard.

“Lift up your hair and reveal your treasures to me,” the Heir ordered as she folded the whip, closing her fist around both ends of it.

The tone of voice that Athena took with her made Sieglinde’s blood simmer, and she prayed in her heart to her gods that she would not fail. As she gathered her long hair in both hands and lifted it up, holding it against her head, Sieglinde’s focus shifted to the whip. She wondered what it would feel like.

The Heir watched her wife sitting on the bed with arms raised above her head making her body stretch in a most delightful manner – the small breasts rose with the motion of the arms and the ribs protruded beneath the tender flesh and their shape could be clearly seen above the taut stomach.

Athena sensed her sex becoming even harder, harder than she ever remembered it being her entire life – so hard, in fact, that she thought it could put a dent in a bronze-made shield, and she could barely walk towards the bed and join her wife for the aching need.

She stood on her knees between Siglinde’s legs and looked down and into the grey eyes that revered her and her heart swelled so vastly that she felt it might burst out of her chest at any moment. Such sensation was a novelty. This wasn’t simply the familiar battle-lust she’d been accustomed to, for the dark desire was not confined strictly to her lower parts but to her heart as well. The overwhelming craving to consume, the hunger that could not be denied extended far beyond anything she’d experienced before. Her heart was hungry, too, and demanded its release, a release, she realized, no other but Sieglinde could have given her.

The hand that held the folded whip delivered the lashes to Sieglinde’s breasts and stomach. Athena dispensed the strength applied to the lashes as if through a fine-withes sieve, purposeful reducing it, straining the brutality from coming out, in essence making the lashes seem and feel more like firm caresses rather than strikes.

The other hand ran over Sieglinde’s body in between each of the lashes, soothing the tingling, warm flesh.

Sieglinde was taken into a wondrous realm, unknown to her, in which everything was a blessed and welcomed discovery. The various sensations inhabiting her all but overloaded her senses. She was made to explore the thin line between pain and pleasure, for right after she felt the surprisingly gentle bite of the leather, she felt the instant pleasure as the warmth and exotic stimulation spread from the welts and throughout her body; and soon after that she felt the Heir’s palm tenderly rubbing her breasts, making her nipples stand.

She recalled the Queen’s words to her about battle-lust, as a peculiar pressure was building within the most private part of her anatomy: ”It is not just a need to conquer and dominate because of the war that birthed it,” she had told her, “but also a need to cling on to life after weltering in the clutches of death, for sex is life and living.”

With each stroke Athena was introducing Sieglinde’s own body to her, as if wordlessly saying, “touch here and your toes will curl” or “touch there and your skin will bristle.”

Athena lavished a few well-placed strokes worthy of a marksman to Sieglinde’s white thighs, then kneaded the creamy, soft flesh with her free hand to assuage it. She listened keenly to her wife as the air caught in the latter’s throat by a sharp gasp that quickly turned into a sensual moan of pleasure. She watched mesmerized as Sieglinde’s grasp on her hair tightened soon after each and every time that the whip made contact with her flesh. It was the most enticing and provocative sight she had ever beheld. Sieglinde’s innocence became that much sweeter.

“Is it too painful for you?” Athena asked to be sure as she studied the red loop-shaped welts she’d left on her wife’s form. She knew that they would fade no later than the following day.

Sieglinde was pulled out of her ecstatic state by Athena’s voice and noticed wetness seeping out of her womanhood, forming a wet spot on the sheets beneath her. She immediately tried to press her thighs together to keep her embarrassment from Athena’s eyes, for at first she thought that she had been bleeding, or worse – that in her excitement she’d accidentally wetted herself. But she couldn’t bring them together for Athena was standing on her knees between them.

“Not at all, Min Herre,” the blushed Nordic Princess rasped, “I never knew one could feel this way.” It was an excited utterance spoken without forethought.

And Athena reveled in it.

“Do you receive pleasure, then?” she asked with a sly twitch of her brow.

“Very much, Min Herre,” Sieglinde replied.

Athena lowered inspecting eyes to look between her wife’s legs. Closely and leisurely she examined the nook hidden beneath a trimmed gold patch. It seemed like a swan dipping in a pond created by the thawing of the snow. The irrefutable evidence of her wife’s acute arousal sent tremors throughout Athena’s form, and her heart was elated. Her wife clearly and undeniably desired her. Athena couldn’t recall any event in her life that made her as happy and as satisfied as she was at that moment. The noble woman from the North reveled in and under her touch.

“So I see.” Athena’s lips became ornamented with a wide smile stretching from one ear to the other. She sent a single finger to the oozing flux and delved it between the swollen slick petal-like lips.

Sieglinde blushed again and winced, while her mind was racing after an explanation to give to the Heir in regards to the mysterious wetness mercilessly and uncontrollably pouring out of her still. Unable to produce a satisfactory explanation, she lowered her eyes and emitted a shy apology with a soft, quiet voice, “I’m so very sorry, Min Herre . ”

At first the Heir did not comprehend what her wife was apologizing for. After a few short moments of bafflement, she looked at her finger coated in abundance with her wife’s heady liquid arousal and then back at her wife, whose feature’s shade of red grew hotter till reaching a beet’s complexion, and realization finally hit her. The moment it did, Athena could not curb a hearty laughter.

She did not intend it, but seeing Sieglinde’s distress grow tenfold in response to her laughter Athena stifled it and touched her wife’s elbow, signaling her to lower her hands and let her hair down.

“My precious Sieglinde,” Athena spoke in the most tender of voice. “You need not feel embarrassed,” she said with a reassuring smile. “Don’t you know what this is?” she asked and waved the glazed finger.

Sieglinde shook her head, still unable to look directly at the Heir but only glimpse at her from the corner of her eye.

“This is a most desirable sign of your passion for me,” Athena explained.

Not entirely convinced, thinking it was merely an act of kindness designed to pacify her discomfiture, Sieglinde still wouldn’t meet Athena’s gaze.

“I shall prove it to you, then,” Athena said determinedly and extended her other hand for her wife to take.

When Sieglinde hesitantly slipped her hand into Athena’s offered one, Athena gently pulled her wife to rise from reclining against the pillows and headboard so she could be better positioned to see.

When Sieglinde was in an upright position, Athena said to her, “Look,” accompanying her verbal request with a downcast of her eyes towards her crotch, “And see what you are doing to me.”

Sieglinde followed the drop of Athena’s gaze and beheld the sight she was asked to see, and sure enough, she saw cascades of wetness trickling down the Heir’s inner thighs. Her heart leaped in joy at the knowledge that she was the object of the Heir’s desire, that it was she and only she this time that held the Heir’s attention.

Sieglinde finally mustered the confidence and the courage to gaze directly into the Heir’s bright eyes.

Then Athena did something that stole Sieglinde’s breath away and increased the pace of the pulses in her core. She brought the finger, glistening with her wife’s essence, to her mouth. She could no longer resist tasting it.

Sieglinde was riveted by Athena’s action, and puzzlement was written across her face.

Athena greedily sucked Sieglinde’s nectar off her finger, occasionally releasing groans of pleasure. It was the most palatable confection she had ever tasted and it aggravated her hunger for her wife even more.

An “Oh,” escaped Sieglinde’s mouth, as she watched while Athena licked away the final drop off her finger. “I did not know…” she blurted out wide-eyed with a hint of a smile on her lips.

To Athena, her wife appeared as the model of virtue and wonder and it took another beat away from her heart.

“Lie back down and I will show you,” Athena said. She meant to say it in an inciting manner to further stoke her wife’s fire, but the way it came out of her mouth sounded very differently, more serious perhaps as if she intended to say something else.

Sieglinde leaned back to rest her body against the pile of pillows beneath her. She saw Athena discard the whip and lower herself down until her face was but a hair away from her womanhood.

Had she not been at the peak of her primal sexual awakening, Sieglinde might have had it in her to cross her legs and demonstrate her inherent modesty. With her overpowering need for something she had not yet been knowledgeable of or its nature, an altogether different form of urge rose in her to further broaden the spread of her legs, and she soon realized fighting that urge was a lost battle.

Unlike during the night of their sorry consummation where she had clogged her nostrils to keep from inhaling even a single whiff of her wife’s scent, now it seemed Athena couldn’t have enough of it, of that clear, simultaneously salty and sweet odor that reminded her of the North Sea.

With the flat of her tongue, Athena’s first stroke to her wife’s sex was a long, explorative and lingered one.

Sieglinde quivered with a sharp intake of breath. Her hands balled into tight fists desperately grasping at the linens. Not just her sopping region but her entire body convulsed. Her reaction to the unimaginable and unfamiliar pleasure her body sustained was a violent one. She felt as though she was unable to contain the heights to which her body was being taken to and she did not know the path, yet she had a distinct feeling that she was being guided towards some final destination.

Pleased with Sieglinde’s reaction, Athena smiled against her labia and asked with a hoarse voice, “Is it pleasurable?”

Sieglinde’s heart was beating so wildly and her breath was so short and shallow that she was unable to speak, so all she could offer as a reply was a vigorous nod of her head.

A second lash of Athena’s moist tongue centered on Sieglinde’s nub, making Sieglinde’s head tilt backwards and her neck strain.

The Nordic Princess could not even begin to conceive of such practices, but she was too far gone to care or fret over her lack of experience and insecurities, for the pleasure that was wreaked upon her was too intense to mind anything else. All that existed was Athena and the feral, delicious ache that she caused to throb everywhere in her body.

“Like sailing in a Fjord,” Athena’s playful words were carried on a hot exhale of air.

Upon hearing Athena’s jaunty remark, Sieglinde burst into laughter but a moment later she thought it inappropriate and stopped it.

Athena raised her head from between her wife’s legs and nearly mourned its abrupt loss.

“You may laugh if you wish,” Athena said and placed a small kiss on Sieglinde’s thigh.

“I thought it might displease or irritate you,” Sieglinde answered and covered half her mouth with her hand.

“I wish,” Athena began to say then stopped to contemplate. What was it that she really wanted? “I wish for you to act freely with me and do as you please.”

“Thank you, Min Herre. I will,” Sieglinde said and felt lighter.

But before she had time to fully enjoy it, Athena’s tongue licked her need and exorcized any other thoughts Sieglinde held to the wind. The slow, firm twirls against the stiffening bud made Sieglinde mad with unparalleled desire. She caught sight of Athena’s head between her thighs just before her eyelids became too heavy to keep open. Contorting with pleasure, yet still not used to being free and familiars – out of the customary, comfortable control she had always been used to exercising – she smothered her cries of passion rather than let them out.

Athena understood that it would require more time before such liberties could be taken, before they could be a couple of any kind rather than two people who happened to be married. It had taken her parents years to achieve it and she and Cynna had never had it.

Sieglinde’s thighs began to shake and Athena’s own lust tainted by bleak darkness necessitated its own claims, and so she flicked her tongue one last time against Sieglinde’s sex, not yet ready to carry the lass all the way to the precipice. Looking up as she rose to sit between Sieglinde’s legs, she noticed two enlarged veins pumping in Sieglinde’s blushed neck.

Sieglinde was now panting, her stunning hair was unkempt and her breasts were heaving and erect. An unspoken question could be seen, as loud as any scream could be heard. She wanted to know why the pleasure had stopped, and why she was feeling so wanting, still.

Athena did not answer these unspoken questions. Satisfied that her wife had been amply prepared by her, she slipped one finger inside her, and it glided right through with ease provided by the plentiful lubrication.

Through the heated, silken folds the Heir carefully pushed a second finger into her wife’s feminine depth. She was immediately met by a quick bout of fluttering clamping around her fingers.

Their eyes met in an intense, near unbreakable gaze.

“You are too tight inside, as is your opening,” Athena noted. She did not mean for it to sound like a complaint, but it was the beast that spoke out of her throat, using her voice before she had a chance to muzzle it.

“I’m sorry,” Sieglinde was quick to ask for pardon. “There is no help for it,” she tried to explain.

“The fault lies with me, Sieglinde,” Athena was equally as quick to respond, not wishing to prolong her wife’s anguish. “If I had taken you to bed more than once as I ought to have done, then you would have been more like a married woman rather than a lass still in her maidenhood.”

Sieglinde kept her lips sealed. It reminded her of her shame though she knew it was not Athena’s intention.

“This will cause you pain,” Athena warned her, “but it will be pleasurable as it progresses.”

Sieglinde nodded.

“I will do my best to be as gentle as I can,” Athena promised and rested a tender hand on Sieglinde’s shoulder. “Now lay your back on the pillows. It will hurt less this way,” she said and nudging her shoulder she guided Sieglinde backwards until the latter was prone on her back in a half-sitting position as before.

A third finger was inserted to join the others already inside the succulent, velvet-like crevice. As she began to stroke the flesh from the inside, brushing her thumb over Sieglinde’s hooded button, she thought it a marvel. She watched her wife as she writhed under her touch, completely enthralled by the sensation she was generating, and realized she had never seen such a perfect exhibition of eroticism. If she did not pace herself, she would surely burst. The pounding throbs in her loins were becoming increasingly unbearable. She wanted to have Sieglinde – Have her with every meaning of the word.

And in came a forth digit, not without difficulty.

Sieglinde strained against the intrusion and she felt the pain of being stretched to the limit enveloping her, blinding her, yet sending bursts of fire beneath her skin, everywhere. There was no denying the charging rising in her belly.

Athena splayed her free palm against Sieglinde’s thigh and coaxed it to spread even wider.

Perspiration formed over Sieglinde’s brow from the effort of sustaining both pain and pleasure and accommodating Athena’s large hand’s invasion.

Lastly, Athena’s thumb left its previous task then pressed forcibly through the thin, narrow barrier and into Sieglinde’s contracting center.

Sieglinde sensed her body rise, hover and fall. It felt like an assault, incapacitating and ensnaring her.

Athena halted all movement, allowing the initial shock to subside. She witnessed the air leaving Sieglinde’s lungs and her mouth gaping, and nothing more. Her fist was pressed hard by clenching strong muscles.

It was as if they were suspended in time – Athena filling Sieglinde, silently requesting acceptance, and Sieglinde being filled, silently giving acceptance. Their eyes never left each other.

And when that long moment passed, Athena felt clenching around her fist, sucking her in.

A guttural moan released itself from the prison that was Sieglinde’s mouth and the Heir thought she had never heard anything more sensual than that song of pleasure in all her life. That was not the whimpering of a wee mouse, Athena thought. Gently, she began to rotate her fist, entirely swollen by Sieglidne’s womanhood, and her thrusts against the moist, fleshy binding were precise and opportune. Nothing, she thought, nothing in the world could feel as good as that.

Pain ebbed away and turned into pure pleasure that sent Sieglinde soaring on the path to her release. As the pressure further amassed in her sex, her eyes wandered to glean at Athena’s biceps that bulged with every motion of her hands, the one inside her and the other still pry-opening her thighs.

Out of concern and care for her wife, Athena reined in her desire so as not to cause the sensitive organ any injury.

But Sieglinde could not stand that delicious torture any longer. She lifted herself upwards then sent a tentative hand and touched Athena’s biceps. With each flex of the strong, toiling muscles under her fingertips, the stronger the throbbing in her womanhood got. She felt her need strangling her.

“More!” Sieglinde wasn’t asking but demanding. Having Athena deep inside her so completely and so perfectly made the demure Nordic Princess violently erupt like a volcano that’d lain dormant for years.

Athena’s eyes shot wide open with surprise. She was not aware that Sieglinde possessed such tone of voice, let alone such boldness and assertiveness.

Confused, she emitted a “What?!”

And there it was again. Sieglinde introduced the Conqueror’s Heir’s beast to a beast of her own.

“More!” Sieglinde repeated, even more assertively, not really sure what she needed more for, only that she did. At that point she was well beyond need. There was no word, nor several words to describe her overwhelming desire.

The Nordic Princess rose to stand on her knees and pushed the Heir to lie on her back.

The Heir’s fist slipped out of the gloving cavern as the Nordic Princess straddled her just below the waist.

Impatiently, Sieglinde grabbed Athena’s shaft in her hand, knowing what it was for, guiding it to her soaking slit and shoving it inside her, while lowering herself onto it so to take it in her, in whole.

The Heir couldn’t believe her own eyes. Her wife indeed had a deceiving air about her, and if she had taken the time to get to know her rather than waste it on Cynna, she would have known all the shades of Sieglinde’s soul.

Sieglinde began a feverish rocking of her hips over Athena’s loins, causing Athena’s device to stir inside her.

Mesmerized, almost distracted from the consistent and relentless pounding need, she watched the Nordic Goddess riding her, grounding her sex against hers, taking what she needed and wanted with that gorgeous gold hair dancing against her skin and smoldering grey eyes – blooming and blazing outside of her demure shell.

At that moment it hit Athena like a rock being thrown from the highest mountain hitting the floor of the valley: more than anything in the world, more even than her Sire’s pride in her and approval of her, she yearned for the woman on top of her to love her, and she rued the fact that her past misdeeds had ruined any hope of it from ever happening.

This young woman, who was loyal, kind to a fault, generous beyond measure, virtuous to the brim and had dignity to spare… this woman could never love her after she’d ungraciously mocked her, coldheartedly humiliated her and egregiously took from her while giving nothing in return, nothing but grief.

Her Sire had been right all along. She did not deserve the outrageously modest and selfless Sieglinde and much less did she deserve her love. What she wouldn’t give to have Sieglinde look at her in the same way that her mother looked at her Sire.

Athena had no doubt in her mind that in spite of all that had happened between them, Sieglinde would continue to be a devoted wife to her, bear her children one day to continue her line and carry on to perform her duties both as wife and as future queen, because such was her supreme and gentle nature. But by her own hands, she had corrupted and destroyed any chance of Sieglinde acting out of love for her.

Sieglinde’s love would have been the finest thing that could ever have happened to her, a priceless possession more precious and more coveted than ruling the world and she would never have it. What a childish fool she had been. The loss was too great to bear and sadness such as she had never known before descended upon her and began eating at her and festering in her aching heart. If that bleak abyss of eviscerating pain was the worst side of love, she could only imagine the heights of happiness and pleasure that the best side of love must offer.

It was what her parents shared. How fortunate and blessed they were, she thought, for regardless of the few arguments and disagreements between them over the years – one thing, it seemed, they’d never doubted: They’d never doubted their love for one another.

Only then did she fully grasp it, and the fact that she would never have it with Sieglinde was so devastating she could hardly breathe. Mute, boiling and salty tears, as boiling and as salty as the waters of the river Styx, began their aimless journey down the plains of her features.

Seeing tears streaming down Athena’s eyes, Sieglinde halted her motion and froze, worried beyond measure. “Did I hurt you, Min Herre? Forgive me.” She collected a tear with her finger, as if she needed to touch it in order to believe it was real. “I got overexcited and didn’t mind…”

“You did not,” the Heir assured with a weak voice and even weaker smile like she had aged a century. “These are the bitter tears of regret, sweet Sieglinde.”

“Regret over what?” Sieglinde asked, mystified, incapable of even guessing the source of the Heir’s apparent upset.

Knowing she had absolutely no right, no standing and no claim to put any demands or even requests before her wife to consider, Athena let out a deep sigh that sounded like a cracking sound echoing in a vast hollow chipping away at her heart and eventually said, “It does not matter.”

“Min Herre harbors regret in her heart when we are connected as one flesh and it does not matter?!”

“Please,” Athena pleaded, fearing her will would betray her, “Let it be.”

Sieglinde did as she was asked and did not inquire any further. However, she did not resume the copulation. She wasn’t sure what she should do.

The Heir wiped the tears away with a crass gesture, and rose to sit while her wife was still straddling her, thinking she would rather have what she could get than nothing at all. She gripped Sieglinde’s hips in both hands and renewed the rhythm that had been neglected. The feel of Sieglinde’s delicate hands holding onto her shoulders, her nipples that grazed repeatedly up and down against her chest and her throaty moans made the Heir want to kiss Sieglinde’s lips.

It wasn’t enough. Athena wrapped her arms around her wife, lifted herself up to stand on her knees while her wife held on to her, then gently deposited Sieglinde onto the bed and covered her body with her own, still inside her.

Their bodies were entwined as were their gazes. Sieglinde’s lips were so close that Athena could feel the sweet breeze of her wife’s breath against her chin. Just a little lower and she could taste them again as she had before she had left for war, she thought, but being that she had gone to Cynna first, thus breaking the promise she had given to Sieglinde, she felt profoundly undeserving of such intimacy and unworthy of asking her wife to surrender such intimacy to her. She dallied a little while longer close to Sieglinde’s mouth to see if Sieglinde would reach up and claim the kiss that hung between them.

What Athena did not know was that her wife was waiting for her to do the same.

Instead, Athena dipped her head lower and closed her lips around a nipple and suckled it, nipping it, licking it, causing Sieglinde beneath her to buck her hips upwards to deepen the connection between them.

The sensation of skin against skin, flesh against flesh was sweltering and with slow, roving motions Athena moved her member out to the rim of Sieglinde’s sex and back into the depth of it again and again, engendering a tempest of wistful desire of bodies and souls.

Sieglinde delved her fingers into Athena’s gilded, long main and pressed her harder against her body. She felt like she was uplifted by countless strings of inconceivable, intolerable pleasure so that she could nearly reach and touch the skies. She was pushed further up with each of Athena’s plunges into her.

“Let go and release it,” Athena grunted under labored breath, on the brink of her own rapture.

Sieglinde’s grip on her tightened when Athena reached to grab a buttock and fiercely kneaded the firm mound.

“I shall be there with you, Sieglinde,” Athena encouraged her wife.

“Do you promise, Min Herre?” Sieglinde asked with baited breath shivering when she sensed the enormous, ominous and foreign wave about to wash over her.

“I promise, my Lady,” Athena said.

Their sensual embrace tightened and intensified. Sieglinde dug her heels into Athena’s calves and her hips rose clean off the bed and Athena arched her back and rammed herself deeper till she felt Sieglinde’s stiff bud being grinded against her. Climatic release such as Sieglinde had never imagined and Athena had never experienced claimed and reclaimed them over and over again, uniting them in acute, piercing pleasure, and eliciting from them loud grunts and moans.

When the final quiver and remnant of their climax left them they rested, still interlaced. Long moments passed. Both felt as if some cardinal event had happened between them yet neither spoke.

Sieglinde thought she’d never known better satisfaction, better contentment and better fulfillment, when Athena caressed away a few strands of hair away from her blushed face.

“How do you feel?” Athena softly asked.

Sieglinde was flooded with emotions she couldn’t name. She felt too much without any particular order, without any particular rules.

“Very well,” was all Sieglinde had to offer. She looked up and stared into the blue eyes seeking answers to questions she did not know how to ask from the one who was suppose to be the more experienced and knowledgeable in this matters.

Athena carefully detached herself from her wife’s exhausted body and rolled over to lie prone on her back.

Sieglinde mourned the loss and moved to lie on her side. Yearning for closeness, she rested her head on Athena’s shoulder, her hair blanketing the Heir’s torso with golden strands of silk.

“Will it feel this way always?” she asked, needing to hear the Heir’s voice.

Athena chuckled. “It will feel the same yet different every time,” she answered and wrapped her arm around Sieglinde’s form, pressing her closer to her like a warm welcome.

“Are there different ways to do it?” came another question.

Athena chuckled again. “Many,” she answered, “which I hope we shall explore…?”

Sieglinde raised her head from the nook between Athena’s neck and shoulder to adamantly nod her consent.

“Can we do it as often as we want?”

Sieglinde’s brand of exuberance such as can only be born out of innocence charmed Athena and caused her to fall deeper in love with her. And it reminded her again that she would never have Sieglinde’s love, and the sorrow plagued her soul again. She did not chuckle this time.

“Yes,” she answered shortly and flatly. She disentangled herself from the woman she loved with every fiber of her being. Briskly, she sat on the edge of the bed and touched her bare feet to the floorboards. What sentiments she had had for Cynna, she realized, weren’t love, for they did not compare for what she bore in her heart for her wife.

The sudden change in mood did not go unnoticed. Sieglinde touched hesitant fingertips to Athena’s strong back. “Please sleep in my bed, tonight, Min Herre,” she requested.

“Do you really want me to?” Athena asked, not turning her head to look at her wife.

“I do,” Sieglinde answered and there was a touch of sadness in her voice, which Athena did not detect. If she had to ask her spouse to remain in bed with her after such glorious intimacy was shared between them at long last, then nothing had really changed between them, Sieglinde understood, and was left to wonder why – why Athena had come to her at all.

Athena heavily exhaled then returned to take her place next to Sieglinde. She turned her head away from her wife and looked outside the window only to discover that the sun had already set and it was dark.

She felt Sieglinde guiding her arm and wrapping it back around her, pressing herself against her.

“You look sad, Min Herre,” Sieglinde dared to say.

“It will pass,” Athena replied. “You needn’t concern yourself with that.”
Part 26
Just after dawn the next day, bright and early, before she even opened her eyes Athena felt a weight gently pressing down on her chest. She opened her eyes and saw her wife sleeping peacefully with her head resting just beneath her collarbone, slowly rising and falling to the idle cadence of her breathing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conqueror looked at her firstborn unwaveringly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me everything that has happened,” the Conqueror requested.

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

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

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

“And?” the Conqueror urged on.

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

The Conqueror cleared her throat. “Lady Satrina was kind enough to mention something to that effect at breakfast,” she confirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, then?”

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

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

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

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

“All that I have,” Athena answered immediately.

“That’s not enough and it won’t do,” the Conqueror stated. “What else?”

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

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

“How?” Athena asked, skeptical raising an eyebrow.

“Woo her!” the Conqueror replied.

“Woo her?!” To Athena, her Sire’s answer sounded suspiciously short.

“Yes. Woo.” The Conqueror insisted vehemently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is her Grace?” she asked the Princess’s servants.

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

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

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

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

“Your Majesty,” Princess Sieglinde curtsied before the Queen, and quickly intercepted the Queen’s gaze lingering on her shoulder.

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

“There isn’t, your Majesty, thank you,” Sieglinde assured, blushing.

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

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

“Majesty,” Princess Athena bowed before her mother.

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

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

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

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

The Queen replied with an indecipherable smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“My Lord,” the Queen greeted with delight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seen by who?” the Queen inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, your Majesty,” both noble wife and noble husband murmured.

“You may leave my presence,” the Queen informed him.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I did,” the Conqueror grinned and pressed her lips against the Queen’s forehead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you be willing to share my bed as the Queen shares the Lord Conqueror’s bed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have?!” Athena asked in near disbelief and absorbed Sieglinde’s warmth through her sweet kisses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued in Part 27

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